Part 5 out of 10
dissolving and combining pattern of black particles; which, for the
moment, represented very well the involuntary procession of feelings
and thoughts which formed and dissolved in rapid succession in his own
mind. At one moment he exulted in the thought that Mary loved him; at
the next, it seemed that he was without feeling for her; her love was
repulsive to him. Now he felt urged to marry her at once; now to
disappear and never see her again. In order to control this disorderly
race of thought he forced himself to read the name on the chemist's
shop directly opposite him; then to examine the objects in the shop
windows, and then to focus his eyes exactly upon a little group of
women looking in at the great windows of a large draper's shop. This
discipline having given him at least a superficial control of himself,
he was about to turn and ask the waiter to bring the bill, when his
eye was caught by a tall figure walking quickly along the opposite
pavement--a tall figure, upright, dark, and commanding, much detached
from her surroundings. She held her gloves in her left hand, and the
left hand was bare. All this Ralph noticed and enumerated and
recognized before he put a name to the whole--Katharine Hilbery. She
seemed to be looking for somebody. Her eyes, in fact, scanned both
sides of the street, and for one second were raised directly to the
bow window in which Ralph stood; but she looked away again instantly
without giving any sign that she had seen him. This sudden apparition
had an extraordinary effect upon him. It was as if he had thought of
her so intensely that his mind had formed the shape of her, rather
than that he had seen her in the flesh outside in the street. And yet
he had not been thinking of her at all. The impression was so intense
that he could not dismiss it, nor even think whether he had seen her
or merely imagined her. He sat down at once, and said, briefly and
strangely, rather to himself than to Mary:
"That was Katharine Hilbery."
"Katharine Hilbery? What do you mean?" she asked, hardly understanding
from his manner whether he had seen her or not.
"Katharine Hilbery," he repeated. "But she's gone now."
"Katharine Hilbery!" Mary thought, in an instant of blinding
revelation; "I've always known it was Katharine Hilbery!" She knew it
After a moment of downcast stupor, she raised her eyes, looked
steadily at Ralph, and caught his fixed and dreamy gaze leveled at a
point far beyond their surroundings, a point that she had never
reached in all the time that she had known him. She noticed the lips
just parted, the fingers loosely clenched, the whole attitude of rapt
contemplation, which fell like a veil between them. She noticed
everything about him; if there had been other signs of his utter
alienation she would have sought them out, too, for she felt that it
was only by heaping one truth upon another that she could keep herself
sitting there, upright. The truth seemed to support her; it struck
her, even as she looked at his face, that the light of truth was
shining far away beyond him; the light of truth, she seemed to frame
the words as she rose to go, shines on a world not to be shaken by our
Ralph handed her her coat and her stick. She took them, fastened the
coat securely, grasped the stick firmly. The ivy spray was still
twisted about the handle; this one sacrifice, she thought, she might
make to sentimentality and personality, and she picked two leaves from
the ivy and put them in her pocket before she disencumbered her stick
of the rest of it. She grasped the stick in the middle, and settled
her fur cap closely upon her head, as if she must be in trim for a
long and stormy walk. Next, standing in the middle of the road, she
took a slip of paper from her purse, and read out loud a list of
commissions entrusted to her--fruit, butter, string, and so on; and
all the time she never spoke directly to Ralph or looked at him.
Ralph heard her giving orders to attentive, rosy-checked men in white
aprons, and in spite of his own preoccupation, he commented upon the
determination with which she made her wishes known. Once more he
began, automatically, to take stock of her characteristics. Standing
thus, superficially observant and stirring the sawdust on the floor
meditatively with the toe of his boot, he was roused by a musical and
familiar voice behind him, accompanied by a light touch upon his
"I'm not mistaken? Surely Mr. Denham? I caught a glimpse of your coat
through the window, and I felt sure that I knew your coat. Have you
seen Katharine or William? I'm wandering about Lincoln looking for the
It was Mrs. Hilbery; her entrance created some stir in the shop; many
people looked at her.
"First of all, tell me where I am," she demanded, but, catching sight
of the attentive shopman, she appealed to him. "The ruins--my party is
waiting for me at the ruins. The Roman ruins--or Greek, Mr. Denham?
Your town has a great many beautiful things in it, but I wish it
hadn't so many ruins. I never saw such delightful little pots of honey
in my life--are they made by your own bees? Please give me one of
those little pots, and tell me how I shall find my way to the ruins."
"And now," she continued, having received the information and the pot
of honey, having been introduced to Mary, and having insisted that
they should accompany her back to the ruins, since in a town with so
many turnings, such prospects, such delightful little half-naked boys
dabbling in pools, such Venetian canals, such old blue china in the
curiosity shops, it was impossible for one person all alone to find
her way to the ruins. "Now," she exclaimed, "please tell me what
you're doing here, Mr. Denham--for you ARE Mr. Denham, aren't you?"
she inquired, gazing at him with a sudden suspicion of her own
accuracy. "The brilliant young man who writes for the Review, I mean?
Only yesterday my husband was telling me he thought you one of the
cleverest young men he knew. Certainly, you've been the messenger of
Providence to me, for unless I'd seen you I'm sure I should never have
found the ruins at all."
They had reached the Roman arch when Mrs. Hilbery caught sight of her
own party, standing like sentinels facing up and down the road so as
to intercept her if, as they expected, she had got lodged in some
"I've found something much better than ruins!" she exclaimed. "I've
found two friends who told me how to find you, which I could never
have done without them. They must come and have tea with us. What a
pity that we've just had luncheon." Could they not somehow revoke that
Katharine, who had gone a few steps by herself down the road, and was
investigating the window of an ironmonger, as if her mother might have
got herself concealed among mowing-machines and garden-shears, turned
sharply on hearing her voice, and came towards them. She was a great
deal surprised to see Denham and Mary Datchet. Whether the cordiality
with which she greeted them was merely that which is natural to a
surprise meeting in the country, or whether she was really glad to see
them both, at any rate she exclaimed with unusual pleasure as she
"I never knew you lived here. Why didn't you say so, and we could have
met? And are you staying with Mary?" she continued, turning to Ralph.
"What a pity we didn't meet before."
Thus confronted at a distance of only a few feet by the real body of
the woman about whom he had dreamt so many million dreams, Ralph
stammered; he made a clutch at his self-control; the color either came
to his cheeks or left them, he knew not which; but he was determined
to face her and track down in the cold light of day whatever vestige
of truth there might be in his persistent imaginations. He did not
succeed in saying anything. It was Mary who spoke for both of them. He
was struck dumb by finding that Katharine was quite different, in some
strange way, from his memory, so that he had to dismiss his old view
in order to accept the new one. The wind was blowing her crimson scarf
across her face; the wind had already loosened her hair, which looped
across the corner of one of the large, dark eyes which, so he used to
think, looked sad; now they looked bright with the brightness of the
sea struck by an unclouded ray; everything about her seemed rapid,
fragmentary, and full of a kind of racing speed. He realized suddenly
that he had never seen her in the daylight before.
Meanwhile, it was decided that it was too late to go in search of
ruins as they had intended; and the whole party began to walk towards
the stables where the carriage had been put up.
"Do you know," said Katharine, keeping slightly in advance of the rest
with Ralph, "I thought I saw you this morning, standing at a window.
But I decided that it couldn't be you. And it must have been you all
"Yes, I thought I saw you--but it wasn't you," he replied.
This remark, and the rough strain in his voice, recalled to her memory
so many difficult speeches and abortive meetings that she was jerked
directly back to the London drawing-room, the family relics, and the
tea-table; and at the same time recalled some half-finished or
interrupted remark which she had wanted to make herself or to hear
from him--she could not remember what it was.
"I expect it was me," she said. "I was looking for my mother. It
happens every time we come to Lincoln. In fact, there never was a
family so unable to take care of itself as ours is. Not that it very
much matters, because some one always turns up in the nick of time to
help us out of our scrapes. Once I was left in a field with a bull
when I was a baby--but where did we leave the carriage? Down that
street or the next? The next, I think." She glanced back and saw that
the others were following obediently, listening to certain memories of
Lincoln upon which Mrs. Hilbery had started. "But what are you doing
here?" she asked.
"I'm buying a cottage. I'm going to live here--as soon as I can find a
cottage, and Mary tells me there'll be no difficulty about that."
"But," she exclaimed, almost standing still in her surprise, "you will
give up the Bar, then?" It flashed across her mind that he must
already be engaged to Mary.
"The solicitor's office? Yes. I'm giving that up."
"But why?" she asked. She answered herself at once, with a curious
change from rapid speech to an almost melancholy tone. "I think you're
very wise to give it up. You will be much happier."
At this very moment, when her words seemed to be striking a path into
the future for him, they stepped into the yard of an inn, and there
beheld the family coach of the Otways, to which one sleek horse was
already attached, while the second was being led out of the stable
door by the hostler.
"I don't know what one means by happiness," he said briefly, having to
step aside in order to avoid a groom with a bucket. "Why do you think
I shall be happy? I don't expect to be anything of the kind. I expect
to be rather less unhappy. I shall write a book and curse my charwoman
--if happiness consists in that. What do you think?"
She could not answer because they were immediately surrounded by other
members of the party--by Mrs. Hilbery, and Mary, Henry Otway, and
Rodney went up to Katharine immediately and said to her:
"Henry is going to drive home with your mother, and I suggest that
they should put us down half-way and let us walk back."
Katharine nodded her head. She glanced at him with an oddly furtive
"Unfortunately we go in opposite directions, or we might have given
you a lift," he continued to Denham. His manner was unusually
peremptory; he seemed anxious to hasten the departure, and Katharine
looked at him from time to time, as Denham noticed, with an expression
half of inquiry, half of annoyance. She at once helped her mother into
her cloak, and said to Mary:
"I want to see you. Are you going back to London at once? I will
write." She half smiled at Ralph, but her look was a little overcast
by something she was thinking, and in a very few minutes the Otway
carriage rolled out of the stable yard and turned down the high road
leading to the village of Lampsher.
The return drive was almost as silent as the drive from home had been
in the morning; indeed, Mrs. Hilbery leant back with closed eyes in
her corner, and either slept or feigned sleep, as her habit was in the
intervals between the seasons of active exertion, or continued the
story which she had begun to tell herself that morning.
About two miles from Lampsher the road ran over the rounded summit of
the heath, a lonely spot marked by an obelisk of granite, setting
forth the gratitude of some great lady of the eighteenth century who
had been set upon by highwaymen at this spot and delivered from death
just as hope seemed lost. In summer it was a pleasant place, for the
deep woods on either side murmured, and the heather, which grew thick
round the granite pedestal, made the light breeze taste sweetly; in
winter the sighing of the trees was deepened to a hollow sound, and
the heath was as gray and almost as solitary as the empty sweep of the
clouds above it.
Here Rodney stopped the carriage and helped Katharine to alight.
Henry, too, gave her his hand, and fancied that she pressed it very
slightly in parting as if she sent him a message. But the carriage
rolled on immediately, without wakening Mrs. Hilbery, and left the
couple standing by the obelisk. That Rodney was angry with her and had
made this opportunity for speaking to her, Katharine knew very well;
she was neither glad nor sorry that the time had come, nor, indeed,
knew what to expect, and thus remained silent. The carriage grew
smaller and smaller upon the dusky road, and still Rodney did not
speak. Perhaps, she thought, he waited until the last sign of the
carriage had disappeared beneath the curve of the road and they were
left entirely alone. To cloak their silence she read the writing on
the obelisk, to do which she had to walk completely round it. She was
murmuring a word to two of the pious lady's thanks above her breath
when Rodney joined her. In silence they set out along the cart-track
which skirted the verge of the trees.
To break the silence was exactly what Rodney wished to do, and yet
could not do to his own satisfaction. In company it was far easier to
approach Katharine; alone with her, the aloofness and force of her
character checked all his natural methods of attack. He believed that
she had behaved very badly to him, but each separate instance of
unkindness seemed too petty to be advanced when they were alone
"There's no need for us to race," he complained at last; upon which
she immediately slackened her pace, and walked too slowly to suit him.
In desperation he said the first thing he thought of, very peevishly
and without the dignified prelude which he had intended.
"I've not enjoyed my holiday."
"No. I shall be glad to get back to work again."
"Saturday, Sunday, Monday--there are only three days more," she
"No one enjoys being made a fool of before other people," he blurted
out, for his irritation rose as she spoke, and got the better of his
awe of her, and was inflamed by that awe.
"That refers to me, I suppose," she said calmly.
"Every day since we've been here you've done something to make me
appear ridiculous," he went on. "Of course, so long as it amuses you,
you're welcome; but we have to remember that we are going to spend our
lives together. I asked you, only this morning, for example, to come
out and take a turn with me in the garden. I was waiting for you ten
minutes, and you never came. Every one saw me waiting. The stable-boys
saw me. I was so ashamed that I went in. Then, on the drive you hardly
spoke to me. Henry noticed it. Every one notices it. . . . You find no
difficulty in talking to Henry, though."
She noted these various complaints and determined philosophically to
answer none of them, although the last stung her to considerable
irritation. She wished to find out how deep his grievance lay.
"None of these things seem to me to matter," she said.
"Very well, then. I may as well hold my tongue," he replied.
"In themselves they don't seem to me to matter; if they hurt you, of
course they matter," she corrected herself scrupulously. Her tone of
consideration touched him, and he walked on in silence for a space.
"And we might be so happy, Katharine!" he exclaimed impulsively, and
drew her arm through his. She withdrew it directly.
"As long as you let yourself feel like this we shall never be happy,"
The harshness, which Henry had noticed, was again unmistakable in her
manner. William flinched and was silent. Such severity, accompanied by
something indescribably cold and impersonal in her manner, had
constantly been meted out to him during the last few days, always in
the company of others. He had recouped himself by some ridiculous
display of vanity which, as he knew, put him still more at her mercy.
Now that he was alone with her there was no stimulus from outside to
draw his attention from his injury. By a considerable effort of
self-control he forced himself to remain silent, and to make himself
distinguish what part of his pain was due to vanity, what part to the
certainty that no woman really loving him could speak thus.
"What do I feel about Katharine?" he thought to himself. It was clear
that she had been a very desirable and distinguished figure, the
mistress of her little section of the world; but more than that, she
was the person of all others who seemed to him the arbitress of life,
the woman whose judgment was naturally right and steady, as his had
never been in spite of all his culture. And then he could not see her
come into a room without a sense of the flowing of robes, of the
flowering of blossoms, of the purple waves of the sea, of all things
that are lovely and mutable on the surface but still and passionate in
"If she were callous all the time and had only led me on to laugh at
me I couldn't have felt that about her," he thought. "I'm not a fool,
after all. I can't have been utterly mistaken all these years. And
yet, when she speaks to me like that! The truth of it is," he thought,
"that I've got such despicable faults that no one could help speaking
to me like that. Katharine is quite right. And yet those are not my
serious feelings, as she knows quite well. How can I change myself?
What would make her care for me?" He was terribly tempted here to
break the silence by asking Katharine in what respects he could change
himself to suit her; but he sought consolation instead by running over
the list of his gifts and acquirements, his knowledge of Greek and
Latin, his knowledge of art and literature, his skill in the
management of meters, and his ancient west-country blood. But the
feeling that underlay all these feelings and puzzled him profoundly
and kept him silent was the certainty that he loved Katharine as
sincerely as he had it in him to love any one. And yet she could speak
to him like that! In a sort of bewilderment he lost all desire to
speak, and would quite readily have taken up some different topic of
conversation if Katharine had started one. This, however, she did not
He glanced at her, in case her expression might help him to understand
her behavior. As usual, she had quickened her pace unconsciously, and
was now walking a little in front of him; but he could gain little
information from her eyes, which looked steadily at the brown heather,
or from the lines drawn seriously upon her forehead. Thus to lose
touch with her, for he had no idea what she was thinking, was so
unpleasant to him that he began to talk about his grievances again,
without, however, much conviction in his voice.
"If you have no feeling for me, wouldn't it be kinder to say so to me
"Oh, William," she burst out, as if he had interrupted some absorbing
train of thought, "how you go on about feelings! Isn't it better not
to talk so much, not to be worrying always about small things that
don't really matter?"
"That's the question precisely," he exclaimed. "I only want you to
tell me that they don't matter. There are times when you seem
indifferent to everything. I'm vain, I've a thousand faults; but you
know they're not everything; you know I care for you."
"And if I say that I care for you, don't you believe me?"
"Say it, Katharine! Say it as if you meant it! Make me feel that you
care for me!"
She could not force herself to speak a word. The heather was growing
dim around them, and the horizon was blotted out by white mist. To ask
her for passion or for certainty seemed like asking that damp prospect
for fierce blades of fire, or the faded sky for the intense blue vault
He went on now to tell her of his love for her, in words which bore,
even to her critical senses, the stamp of truth; but none of this
touched her, until, coming to a gate whose hinge was rusty, he heaved
it open with his shoulder, still talking and taking no account of his
effort. The virility of this deed impressed her; and yet, normally,
she attached no value to the power of opening gates. The strength of
muscles has nothing to do on the face of it with the strength of
affections; nevertheless, she felt a sudden concern for this power
running to waste on her account, which, combined with a desire to keep
possession of that strangely attractive masculine power, made her
rouse herself from her torpor.
Why should she not simply tell him the truth--which was that she had
accepted him in a misty state of mind when nothing had its right shape
or size? that it was deplorable, but that with clearer eyesight
marriage was out of the question? She did not want to marry any one.
She wanted to go away by herself, preferably to some bleak northern
moor, and there study mathematics and the science of astronomy. Twenty
words would explain the whole situation to him. He had ceased to
speak; he had told her once more how he loved her and why. She
summoned her courage, fixed her eyes upon a lightning-splintered
ash-tree, and, almost as if she were reading a writing fixed to the
"I was wrong to get engaged to you. I shall never make you happy. I
have never loved you."
"Katharine!" he protested.
"No, never," she repeated obstinately. "Not rightly. Don't you see, I
didn't know what I was doing?"
"You love some one else?" he cut her short.
"Absolutely no one."
"Henry?" he demanded.
"Henry? I should have thought, William, even you--"
"There is some one," he persisted. "There has been a change in the
last few weeks. You owe it to me to be honest, Katharine."
"If I could, I would," she replied.
"Why did you tell me you would marry me, then?" he demanded.
Why, indeed? A moment of pessimism, a sudden conviction of the
undeniable prose of life, a lapse of the illusion which sustains youth
midway between heaven and earth, a desperate attempt to reconcile
herself with facts--she could only recall a moment, as of waking from
a dream, which now seemed to her a moment of surrender. But who could
give reasons such as these for doing what she had done? She shook her
head very sadly.
"But you're not a child--you're not a woman of moods," Rodney
persisted. "You couldn't have accepted me if you hadn't loved me!" he
A sense of her own misbehavior, which she had succeeded in keeping
from her by sharpening her consciousness of Rodney's faults, now swept
over her and almost overwhelmed her. What were his faults in
comparison with the fact that he cared for her? What were her virtues
in comparison with the fact that she did not care for him? In a flash
the conviction that not to care is the uttermost sin of all stamped
itself upon her inmost thought; and she felt herself branded for ever.
He had taken her arm, and held her hand firmly in his, nor had she the
force to resist what now seemed to her his enormously superior
strength. Very well; she would submit, as her mother and her aunt and
most women, perhaps, had submitted; and yet she knew that every second
of such submission to his strength was a second of treachery to him.
"I did say I would marry you, but it was wrong," she forced herself to
say, and she stiffened her arm as if to annul even the seeming
submission of that separate part of her; "for I don't love you,
William; you've noticed it, every one's noticed it; why should we go
on pretending? When I told you I loved you, I was wrong. I said what I
knew to be untrue."
As none of her words seemed to her at all adequate to represent what
she felt, she repeated them, and emphasized them without realizing the
effect that they might have upon a man who cared for her. She was
completely taken aback by finding her arm suddenly dropped; then she
saw his face most strangely contorted; was he laughing, it flashed
across her? In another moment she saw that he was in tears. In her
bewilderment at this apparition she stood aghast for a second. With a
desperate sense that this horror must, at all costs, be stopped, she
then put her arms about him, drew his head for a moment upon her
shoulder, and led him on, murmuring words of consolation, until he
heaved a great sigh. They held fast to each other; her tears, too, ran
down her cheeks; and were both quite silent. Noticing the difficulty
with which he walked, and feeling the same extreme lassitude in her
own limbs, she proposed that they should rest for a moment where the
bracken was brown and shriveled beneath an oak-tree. He assented. Once
more he gave a great sigh, and wiped his eyes with a childlike
unconsciousness, and began to speak without a trace of his previous
anger. The idea came to her that they were like the children in the
fairy tale who were lost in a wood, and with this in her mind she
noticed the scattering of dead leaves all round them which had been
blown by the wind into heaps, a foot or two deep, here and there.
"When did you begin to feel this, Katharine?" he said; "for it isn't
true to say that you've always felt it. I admit I was unreasonable the
first night when you found that your clothes had been left behind.
Still, where's the fault in that? I could promise you never to
interfere with your clothes again. I admit I was cross when I found
you upstairs with Henry. Perhaps I showed it too openly. But that's
not unreasonable either when one's engaged. Ask your mother. And now
this terrible thing--" He broke off, unable for the moment to proceed
any further. "This decision you say you've come to--have you discussed
it with any one? Your mother, for example, or Henry?"
"No, no, of course not," she said, stirring the leaves with her hand.
"But you don't understand me, William--"
"Help me to understand you--"
"You don't understand, I mean, my real feelings; how could you? I've
only now faced them myself. But I haven't got the sort of
feeling--love, I mean--I don't know what to call it"--she looked
vaguely towards the horizon sunk under mist--"but, anyhow, without it
our marriage would be a farce--"
"How a farce?" he asked. "But this kind of analysis is disastrous!" he
"I should have done it before," she said gloomily.
"You make yourself think things you don't think," he continued,
becoming demonstrative with his hands, as his manner was. "Believe me,
Katharine, before we came here we were perfectly happy. You were full
of plans for our house--the chair-covers, don't you remember?--like
any other woman who is about to be married. Now, for no reason
whatever, you begin to fret about your feeling and about my feeling,
with the usual result. I assure you, Katharine, I've been through it
all myself. At one time I was always asking myself absurd questions
which came to nothing either. What you want, if I may say so, is some
occupation to take you out of yourself when this morbid mood comes on.
If it hadn't been for my poetry, I assure you, I should often have
been very much in the same state myself. To let you into a secret," he
continued, with his little chuckle, which now sounded almost assured,
"I've often gone home from seeing you in such a state of nerves that I
had to force myself to write a page or two before I could get you out
of my head. Ask Denham; he'll tell you how he met me one night; he'll
tell you what a state he found me in."
Katharine started with displeasure at the mention of Ralph's name. The
thought of the conversation in which her conduct had been made a
subject for discussion with Denham roused her anger; but, as she
instantly felt, she had scarcely the right to grudge William any use
of her name, seeing what her fault against him had been from first to
last. And yet Denham! She had a view of him as a judge. She figured
him sternly weighing instances of her levity in this masculine court
of inquiry into feminine morality and gruffly dismissing both her and
her family with some half-sarcastic, half-tolerant phrase which sealed
her doom, as far as he was concerned, for ever. Having met him so
lately, the sense of his character was strong in her. The thought was
not a pleasant one for a proud woman, but she had yet to learn the art
of subduing her expression. Her eyes fixed upon the ground, her brows
drawn together, gave William a very fair picture of the resentment
that she was forcing herself to control. A certain degree of
apprehension, occasionally culminating in a kind of fear, had always
entered into his love for her, and had increased, rather to his
surprise, in the greater intimacy of their engagement. Beneath her
steady, exemplary surface ran a vein of passion which seemed to him
now perverse, now completely irrational, for it never took the normal
channel of glorification of him and his doings; and, indeed, he almost
preferred the steady good sense, which had always marked their
relationship, to a more romantic bond. But passion she had, he could
not deny it, and hitherto he had tried to see it employed in his
thoughts upon the lives of the children who were to be born to them.
"She will make a perfect mother--a mother of sons," he thought; but
seeing her sitting there, gloomy and silent, he began to have his
doubts on this point. "A farce, a farce," he thought to himself. "She
said that our marriage would be a farce," and he became suddenly aware
of their situation, sitting upon the ground, among the dead leaves,
not fifty yards from the main road, so that it was quite possible for
some one passing to see and recognize them. He brushed off his face
any trace that might remain of that unseemly exhibition of emotion.
But he was more troubled by Katharine's appearance, as she sat rapt in
thought upon the ground, than by his own; there was something improper
to him in her self-forgetfulness. A man naturally alive to the
conventions of society, he was strictly conventional where women were
concerned, and especially if the women happened to be in any way
connected with him. He noticed with distress the long strand of dark
hair touching her shoulder and two or three dead beech-leaves attached
to her dress; but to recall her mind in their present circumstances to
a sense of these details was impossible. She sat there, seeming
unconscious of everything. He suspected that in her silence she was
reproaching herself; but he wished that she would think of her hair
and of the dead beech-leaves, which were of more immediate importance
to him than anything else. Indeed, these trifles drew his attention
strangely from his own doubtful and uneasy state of mind; for relief,
mixing itself with pain, stirred up a most curious hurry and tumult in
his breast, almost concealing his first sharp sense of bleak and
overwhelming disappointment. In order to relieve this restlessness and
close a distressingly ill-ordered scene, he rose abruptly and helped
Katharine to her feet. She smiled a little at the minute care with
which he tidied her and yet, when he brushed the dead leaves from his
own coat, she flinched, seeing in that action the gesture of a lonely
"William," she said, "I will marry you. I will try to make you happy."
The afternoon was already growing dark when the two other wayfarers,
Mary and Ralph Denham, came out on the high road beyond the outskirts
of Lincoln. The high road, as they both felt, was better suited to
this return journey than the open country, and for the first mile or
so of the way they spoke little. In his own mind Ralph was following
the passage of the Otway carriage over the heath; he then went back to
the five or ten minutes that he had spent with Katharine, and examined
each word with the care that a scholar displays upon the
irregularities of an ancient text. He was determined that the glow,
the romance, the atmosphere of this meeting should not paint what he
must in future regard as sober facts. On her side Mary was silent, not
because her thoughts took much handling, but because her mind seemed
empty of thought as her heart of feeling. Only Ralph's presence, as
she knew, preserved this numbness, for she could foresee a time of
loneliness when many varieties of pain would beset her. At the present
moment her effort was to preserve what she could of the wreck of her
self-respect, for such she deemed that momentary glimpse of her love
so involuntarily revealed to Ralph. In the light of reason it did not
much matter, perhaps, but it was her instinct to be careful of that
vision of herself which keeps pace so evenly beside every one of us,
and had been damaged by her confession. The gray night coming down
over the country was kind to her; and she thought that one of these
days she would find comfort in sitting upon the earth, alone, beneath
a tree. Looking through the darkness, she marked the swelling ground
and the tree. Ralph made her start by saying abruptly;
"What I was going to say when we were interrupted at lunch was that if
you go to America I shall come, too. It can't be harder to earn a
living there than it is here. However, that's not the point. The point
is, Mary, that I want to marry you. Well, what do you say?" He spoke
firmly, waited for no answer, and took her arm in his. "You know me by
this time, the good and the bad," he went on. "You know my tempers.
I've tried to let you know my faults. Well, what do you say, Mary?"
She said nothing, but this did not seem to strike him.
"In most ways, at least in the important ways, as you said, we know
each other and we think alike. I believe you are the only person in
the world I could live with happily. And if you feel the same about
me--as you do, don't you, Mary?--we should make each other happy."
Here he paused, and seemed to be in no hurry for an answer; he seemed,
indeed, to be continuing his own thoughts.
"Yes, but I'm afraid I couldn't do it," Mary said at last. The casual
and rather hurried way in which she spoke, together with the fact that
she was saying the exact opposite of what he expected her to say,
baffled him so much that he instinctively loosened his clasp upon her
arm and she withdrew it quietly.
"You couldn't do it?" he asked.
"No, I couldn't marry you," she replied.
"You don't care for me?"
She made no answer.
"Well, Mary," he said, with a curious laugh, "I must be an arrant
fool, for I thought you did." They walked for a minute or two in
silence, and suddenly he turned to her, looked at her, and exclaimed:
"I don't believe you, Mary. You're not telling me the truth."
"I'm too tired to argue, Ralph," she replied, turning her head away
from him. "I ask you to believe what I say. I can't marry you; I don't
want to marry you."
The voice in which she stated this was so evidently the voice of one
in some extremity of anguish that Ralph had no course but to obey her.
And as soon as the tone of her voice had died out, and the surprise
faded from his mind, he found himself believing that she had spoken
the truth, for he had but little vanity, and soon her refusal seemed a
natural thing to him. He slipped through all the grades of despondency
until he reached a bottom of absolute gloom. Failure seemed to mark
the whole of his life; he had failed with Katharine, and now he had
failed with Mary. Up at once sprang the thought of Katharine, and with
it a sense of exulting freedom, but this he checked instantly. No good
had ever come to him from Katharine; his whole relationship with her
had been made up of dreams; and as he thought of the little substance
there had been in his dreams he began to lay the blame of the present
catastrophe upon his dreams.
"Haven't I always been thinking of Katharine while I was with Mary? I
might have loved Mary if it hadn't been for that idiocy of mine. She
cared for me once, I'm certain of that, but I tormented her so with my
humors that I let my chances slip, and now she won't risk marrying me.
And this is what I've made of my life--nothing, nothing, nothing."
The tramp of their boots upon the dry road seemed to asseverate
nothing, nothing, nothing. Mary thought that this silence was the
silence of relief; his depression she ascribed to the fact that he had
seen Katharine and parted from her, leaving her in the company of
William Rodney. She could not blame him for loving Katharine, but
that, when he loved another, he should ask her to marry him--that
seemed to her the cruellest treachery. Their old friendship and its
firm base upon indestructible qualities of character crumbled, and her
whole past seemed foolish, herself weak and credulous, and Ralph
merely the shell of an honest man. Oh, the past--so much made up of
Ralph; and now, as she saw, made up of something strange and false and
other than she had thought it. She tried to recapture a saying she had
made to help herself that morning, as Ralph paid the bill for
luncheon; but she could see him paying the bill more vividly than she
could remember the phrase. Something about truth was in it; how to see
the truth is our great chance in this world.
"If you don't want to marry me," Ralph now began again, without
abruptness, with diffidence rather, "there is no need why we should
cease to see each other, is there? Or would you rather that we should
keep apart for the present?"
"Keep apart? I don't know--I must think about it."
"Tell me one thing, Mary," he resumed; "have I done anything to make
you change your mind about me?"
She was immensely tempted to give way to her natural trust in him,
revived by the deep and now melancholy tones of his voice, and to tell
him of her love, and of what had changed it. But although it seemed
likely that she would soon control her anger with him, the certainty
that he did not love her, confirmed by every word of his proposal,
forbade any freedom of speech. To hear him speak and to feel herself
unable to reply, or constrained in her replies, was so painful that
she longed for the time when she should be alone. A more pliant woman
would have taken this chance of an explanation, whatever risks
attached to it; but to one of Mary's firm and resolute temperament
there was degradation in the idea of self-abandonment; let the waves
of emotion rise ever so high, she could not shut her eyes to what she
conceived to be the truth. Her silence puzzled Ralph. He searched his
memory for words or deeds that might have made her think badly of him.
In his present mood instances came but too quickly, and on top of them
this culminating proof of his baseness--that he had asked her to marry
him when his reasons for such a proposal were selfish and
"You needn't answer," he said grimly. "There are reasons enough, I
know. But must they kill our friendship, Mary? Let me keep that, at
"Oh," she thought to herself, with a sudden rush of anguish which
threatened disaster to her self-respect, "it has come to this--to
this--when I could have given him everything!"
"Yes, we can still be friends," she said, with what firmness she could
"I shall want your friendship," he said. He added, "If you find it
possible, let me see you as often as you can. The oftener the better.
I shall want your help."
She promised this, and they went on to talk calmly of things that had
no reference to their feelings--a talk which, in its constraint, was
infinitely sad to both of them.
One more reference was made to the state of things between them late
that night, when Elizabeth had gone to her room, and the two young men
had stumbled off to bed in such a state of sleep that they hardly felt
the floor beneath their feet after a day's shooting.
Mary drew her chair a little nearer to the fire, for the logs were
burning low, and at this time of night it was hardly worth while to
replenish them. Ralph was reading, but she had noticed for some time
that his eyes instead of following the print were fixed rather above
the page with an intensity of gloom that came to weigh upon her mind.
She had not weakened in her resolve not to give way, for reflection
had only made her more bitterly certain that, if she gave way, it
would be to her own wish and not to his. But she had determined that
there was no reason why he should suffer if her reticence were the
cause of his suffering. Therefore, although she found it painful, she
"You asked me if I had changed my mind about you, Ralph," she said. "I
think there's only one thing. When you asked me to marry you, I don't
think you meant it. That made me angry--for the moment. Before, you'd
always spoken the truth."
Ralph's book slid down upon his knee and fell upon the floor. He
rested his forehead on his hand and looked into the fire. He was
trying to recall the exact words in which he had made his proposal to
"I never said I loved you," he said at last.
She winced; but she respected him for saying what he did, for this,
after all, was a fragment of the truth which she had vowed to live by.
"And to me marriage without love doesn't seem worth while," she said.
"Well, Mary, I'm not going to press you," he said. "I see you don't
want to marry me. But love--don't we all talk a great deal of nonsense
about it? What does one mean? I believe I care for you more genuinely
than nine men out of ten care for the women they're in love with. It's
only a story one makes up in one's mind about another person, and one
knows all the time it isn't true. Of course one knows; why, one's
always taking care not to destroy the illusion. One takes care not to
see them too often, or to be alone with them for too long together.
It's a pleasant illusion, but if you're thinking of the risks of
marriage, it seems to me that the risk of marrying a person you're in
love with is something colossal."
"I don't believe a word of that, and what's more you don't, either,"
she replied with anger. "However, we don't agree; I only wanted you to
understand." She shifted her position, as if she were about to go. An
instinctive desire to prevent her from leaving the room made Ralph
rise at this point and begin pacing up and down the nearly empty
kitchen, checking his desire, each time he reached the door, to open
it and step out into the garden. A moralist might have said that at
this point his mind should have been full of self-reproach for the
suffering he had caused. On the contrary, he was extremely angry, with
the confused impotent anger of one who finds himself unreasonably but
efficiently frustrated. He was trapped by the illogicality of human
life. The obstacles in the way of his desire seemed to him purely
artificial, and yet he could see no way of removing them. Mary's
words, the tone of her voice even, angered him, for she would not help
him. She was part of the insanely jumbled muddle of a world which
impedes the sensible life. He would have liked to slam the door or
break the hind legs of a chair, for the obstacles had taken some such
curiously substantial shape in his mind.
"I doubt that one human being ever understands another," he said,
stopping in his march and confronting Mary at a distance of a few
"Such damned liars as we all are, how can we? But we can try. If you
don't want to marry me, don't; but the position you take up about
love, and not seeing each other--isn't that mere sentimentality? You
think I've behaved very badly," he continued, as she did not speak.
"Of course I behave badly; but you can't judge people by what they do.
You can't go through life measuring right and wrong with a foot-rule.
That's what you're always doing, Mary; that's what you're doing now."
She saw herself in the Suffrage Office, delivering judgment, meting
out right and wrong, and there seemed to her to be some justice in the
charge, although it did not affect her main position.
"I'm not angry with you," she said slowly. "I will go on seeing you,
as I said I would."
It was true that she had promised that much already, and it was
difficult for him to say what more it was that he wanted--some
intimacy, some help against the ghost of Katharine, perhaps, something
that he knew he had no right to ask; and yet, as he sank into his
chair and looked once more at the dying fire it seemed to him that he
had been defeated, not so much by Mary as by life itself. He felt
himself thrown back to the beginning of life again, where everything
has yet to be won; but in extreme youth one has an ignorant hope. He
was no longer certain that he would triumph.
Happily for Mary Datchet she returned to the office to find that by
some obscure Parliamentary maneuver the vote had once more slipped
beyond the attainment of women. Mrs. Seal was in a condition bordering
upon frenzy. The duplicity of Ministers, the treachery of mankind, the
insult to womanhood, the setback to civilization, the ruin of her
life's work, the feelings of her father's daughter--all these topics
were discussed in turn, and the office was littered with newspaper
cuttings branded with the blue, if ambiguous, marks of her
displeasure. She confessed herself at fault in her estimate of human
"The simple elementary acts of justice," she said, waving her hand
towards the window, and indicating the foot-passengers and omnibuses
then passing down the far side of Russell Square, "are as far beyond
them as they ever were. We can only look upon ourselves, Mary, as
pioneers in a wilderness. We can only go on patiently putting the
truth before them. It isn't THEM," she continued, taking heart from
her sight of the traffic, "it's their leaders. It's those gentlemen
sitting in Parliament and drawing four hundred a year of the people's
money. If we had to put our case to the people, we should soon have
justice done to us. I have always believed in the people, and I do so
still. But--" She shook her head and implied that she would give them
one more chance, and if they didn't take advantage of that she
couldn't answer for the consequences.
Mr. Clacton's attitude was more philosophical and better supported by
statistics. He came into the room after Mrs. Seal's outburst and
pointed out, with historical illustrations, that such reverses had
happened in every political campaign of any importance. If anything,
his spirits were improved by the disaster. The enemy, he said, had
taken the offensive; and it was now up to the Society to outwit the
enemy. He gave Mary to understand that he had taken the measure of
their cunning, and had already bent his mind to the task which, so far
as she could make out, depended solely upon him. It depended, so she
came to think, when invited into his room for a private conference,
upon a systematic revision of the card-index, upon the issue of
certain new lemon-colored leaflets, in which the facts were marshaled
once more in a very striking way, and upon a large scale map of
England dotted with little pins tufted with differently colored plumes
of hair according to their geographical position. Each district, under
the new system, had its flag, its bottle of ink, its sheaf of
documents tabulated and filed for reference in a drawer, so that by
looking under M or S, as the case might be, you had all the facts with
respect to the Suffrage organizations of that county at your fingers'
ends. This would require a great deal of work, of course.
"We must try to consider ourselves rather in the light of a telephone
exchange--for the exchange of ideas, Miss Datchet," he said; and
taking pleasure in his image, he continued it. "We should consider
ourselves the center of an enormous system of wires, connecting us up
with every district of the country. We must have our fingers upon the
pulse of the community; we want to know what people all over England
are thinking; we want to put them in the way of thinking rightly." The
system, of course, was only roughly sketched so far--jotted down, in
fact, during the Christmas holidays.
"When you ought to have been taking a rest, Mr. Clacton," said Mary
dutifully, but her tone was flat and tired.
"We learn to do without holidays, Miss Datchet," said Mr. Clacton,
with a spark of satisfaction in his eye.
He wished particularly to have her opinion of the lemon-colored
leaflet. According to his plan, it was to be distributed in immense
quantities immediately, in order to stimulate and generate, "to
generate and stimulate," he repeated, "right thoughts in the country
before the meeting of Parliament."
"We have to take the enemy by surprise," he said. "They don't let the
grass grow under their feet. Have you seen Bingham's address to his
constituents? That's a hint of the sort of thing we've got to meet,
He handed her a great bundle of newspaper cuttings, and, begging her
to give him her views upon the yellow leaflet before lunch-time, he
turned with alacrity to his different sheets of paper and his
different bottles of ink.
Mary shut the door, laid the documents upon her table, and sank her
head on her hands. Her brain was curiously empty of any thought. She
listened, as if, perhaps, by listening she would become merged again
in the atmosphere of the office. From the next room came the rapid
spasmodic sounds of Mrs. Seal's erratic typewriting; she, doubtless,
was already hard at work helping the people of England, as Mr. Clacton
put it, to think rightly; "generating and stimulating," those were his
words. She was striking a blow against the enemy, no doubt, who didn't
let the grass grow beneath their feet. Mr. Clacton's words repeated
themselves accurately in her brain. She pushed the papers wearily over
to the farther side of the table. It was no use, though; something or
other had happened to her brain--a change of focus so that near things
were indistinct again. The same thing had happened to her once before,
she remembered, after she had met Ralph in the gardens of Lincoln's
Inn Fields; she had spent the whole of a committee meeting in thinking
about sparrows and colors, until, almost at the end of the meeting,
her old convictions had all come back to her. But they had only come
back, she thought with scorn at her feebleness, because she wanted to
use them to fight against Ralph. They weren't, rightly speaking,
convictions at all. She could not see the world divided into separate
compartments of good people and bad people, any more than she could
believe so implicitly in the rightness of her own thought as to wish
to bring the population of the British Isles into agreement with it.
She looked at the lemon-colored leaflet, and thought almost enviously
of the faith which could find comfort in the issue of such documents;
for herself she would be content to remain silent for ever if a share
of personal happiness were granted her. She read Mr. Clacton's
statement with a curious division of judgment, noting its weak and
pompous verbosity on the one hand, and, at the same time, feeling that
faith, faith in an illusion, perhaps, but, at any rate, faith in
something, was of all gifts the most to be envied. An illusion it was,
no doubt. She looked curiously round her at the furniture of the
office, at the machinery in which she had taken so much pride, and
marveled to think that once the copying-presses, the card-index, the
files of documents, had all been shrouded, wrapped in some mist which
gave them a unity and a general dignity and purpose independently of
their separate significance. The ugly cumbersomeness of the furniture
alone impressed her now. Her attitude had become very lax and
despondent when the typewriter stopped in the next room. Mary
immediately drew up to the table, laid hands on an unopened envelope,
and adopted an expression which might hide her state of mind from Mrs.
Seal. Some instinct of decency required that she should not allow Mrs.
Seal to see her face. Shading her eyes with her fingers, she watched
Mrs. Seal pull out one drawer after another in her search for some
envelope or leaflet. She was tempted to drop her fingers and exclaim:
"Do sit down, Sally, and tell me how you manage it--how you manage,
that is, to bustle about with perfect confidence in the necessity of
your own activities, which to me seem as futile as the buzzing of a
belated blue-bottle." She said nothing of the kind, however, and the
presence of industry which she preserved so long as Mrs. Seal was in
the room served to set her brain in motion, so that she dispatched her
morning's work much as usual. At one o'clock she was surprised to find
how efficiently she had dealt with the morning. As she put her hat on
she determined to lunch at a shop in the Strand, so as to set that
other piece of mechanism, her body, into action. With a brain working
and a body working one could keep step with the crowd and never be
found out for the hollow machine, lacking the essential thing, that
one was conscious of being.
She considered her case as she walked down the Charing Cross Road. She
put to herself a series of questions. Would she mind, for example, if
the wheels of that motor-omnibus passed over her and crushed her to
death? No, not in the least; or an adventure with that disagreeable-
looking man hanging about the entrance of the Tube station? No; she
could not conceive fear or excitement. Did suffering in any form
appall her? No, suffering was neither good nor bad. And this essential
thing? In the eyes of every single person she detected a flame; as if
a spark in the brain ignited spontaneously at contact with the things
they met and drove them on. The young women looking into the
milliners' windows had that look in their eyes; and elderly men
turning over books in the second-hand book-shops, and eagerly waiting
to hear what the price was--the very lowest price--they had it, too.
But she cared nothing at all for clothes or for money either. Books
she shrank from, for they were connected too closely with Ralph. She
kept on her way resolutely through the crowd of people, among whom she
was so much of an alien, feeling them cleave and give way before her.
Strange thoughts are bred in passing through crowded streets should
the passenger, by chance, have no exact destination in front of him,
much as the mind shapes all kinds of forms, solutions, images when
listening inattentively to music. From an acute consciousness of
herself as an individual, Mary passed to a conception of the scheme of
things in which, as a human being, she must have her share. She half
held a vision; the vision shaped and dwindled. She wished she had a
pencil and a piece of paper to help her to give a form to this
conception which composed itself as she walked down the Charing Cross
Road. But if she talked to any one, the conception might escape her.
Her vision seemed to lay out the lines of her life until death in a
way which satisfied her sense of harmony. It only needed a persistent
effort of thought, stimulated in this strange way by the crowd and the
noise, to climb the crest of existence and see it all laid out once
and for ever. Already her suffering as an individual was left behind
her. Of this process, which was to her so full of effort, which
comprised infinitely swift and full passages of thought, leading from
one crest to another, as she shaped her conception of life in this
world, only two articulate words escaped her, muttered beneath her
breath--"Not happiness--not happiness."
She sat down on a seat opposite the statue of one of London's heroes
upon the Embankment, and spoke the words aloud. To her they
represented the rare flower or splinter of rock brought down by a
climber in proof that he has stood for a moment, at least, upon the
highest peak of the mountain. She had been up there and seen the world
spread to the horizon. It was now necessary to alter her course to
some extent, according to her new resolve. Her post should be in one
of those exposed and desolate stations which are shunned naturally by
happy people. She arranged the details of the new plan in her mind,
not without a grim satisfaction.
"Now," she said to herself, rising from her seat, "I'll think of
Where was he to be placed in the new scale of life? Her exalted mood
seemed to make it safe to handle the question. But she was dismayed to
find how quickly her passions leapt forward the moment she sanctioned
this line of thought. Now she was identified with him and rethought
his thoughts with complete self-surrender; now, with a sudden cleavage
of spirit, she turned upon him and denounced him for his cruelty.
"But I refuse--I refuse to hate any one," she said aloud; chose the
moment to cross the road with circumspection, and ten minutes later
lunched in the Strand, cutting her meat firmly into small pieces, but
giving her fellow-diners no further cause to judge her eccentric. Her
soliloquy crystallized itself into little fragmentary phrases emerging
suddenly from the turbulence of her thought, particularly when she had
to exert herself in any way, either to move, to count money, or to
choose a turning. "To know the truth--to accept without bitterness"--
those, perhaps, were the most articulate of her utterances, for no one
could have made head or tail of the queer gibberish murmured in front
of the statue of Francis, Duke of Bedford, save that the name of Ralph
occurred frequently in very strange connections, as if, having spoken
it, she wished, superstitiously, to cancel it by adding some other
word that robbed the sentence with his name in it of any meaning.
Those champions of the cause of women, Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal, did
not perceive anything strange in Mary's behavior, save that she was
almost half an hour later than usual in coming back to the office.
Happily, their own affairs kept them busy, and she was free from their
inspection. If they had surprised her they would have found her lost,
apparently, in admiration of the large hotel across the square, for,
after writing a few words, her pen rested upon the paper, and her mind
pursued its own journey among the sun-blazoned windows and the drifts
of purplish smoke which formed her view. And, indeed, this background
was by no means out of keeping with her thoughts. She saw to the
remote spaces behind the strife of the foreground, enabled now to gaze
there, since she had renounced her own demands, privileged to see the
larger view, to share the vast desires and sufferings of the mass of
mankind. She had been too lately and too roughly mastered by facts to
take an easy pleasure in the relief of renunciation; such satisfaction
as she felt came only from the discovery that, having renounced
everything that made life happy, easy, splendid, individual, there
remained a hard reality, unimpaired by one's personal adventures,
remote as the stars, unquenchable as they are.
While Mary Datchet was undergoing this curious transformation from the
particular to the universal, Mrs. Seal remembered her duties with
regard to the kettle and the gas-fire. She was a little surprised to
find that Mary had drawn her chair to the window, and, having lit the
gas, she raised herself from a stooping posture and looked at her. The
most obvious reason for such an attitude in a secretary was some kind
of indisposition. But Mary, rousing herself with an effort, denied
that she was indisposed.
"I'm frightfully lazy this afternoon," she added, with a glance at her
table. "You must really get another secretary, Sally."
The words were meant to be taken lightly, but something in the tone of
them roused a jealous fear which was always dormant in Mrs. Seal's
breast. She was terribly afraid that one of these days Mary, the young
woman who typified so many rather sentimental and enthusiastic ideas,
who had some sort of visionary existence in white with a sheaf of
lilies in her hand, would announce, in a jaunty way, that she was
about to be married.
"You don't mean that you're going to leave us?" she said.
"I've not made up my mind about anything," said Mary--a remark which
could be taken as a generalization.
Mrs. Seal got the teacups out of the cupboard and set them on the
"You're not going to be married, are you?" she asked, pronouncing the
words with nervous speed.
"Why are you asking such absurd questions this afternoon, Sally?" Mary
asked, not very steadily. "Must we all get married?"
Mrs. Seal emitted a most peculiar chuckle. She seemed for one moment
to acknowledge the terrible side of life which is concerned with the
emotions, the private lives, of the sexes, and then to sheer off from
it with all possible speed into the shades of her own shivering
virginity. She was made so uncomfortable by the turn the conversation
had taken, that she plunged her head into the cupboard, and endeavored
to abstract some very obscure piece of china.
"We have our work," she said, withdrawing her head, displaying cheeks
more than usually crimson, and placing a jam-pot emphatically upon the
table. But, for the moment, she was unable to launch herself upon one
of those enthusiastic, but inconsequent, tirades upon liberty,
democracy, the rights of the people, and the iniquities of the
Government, in which she delighted. Some memory from her own past or
from the past of her sex rose to her mind and kept her abashed. She
glanced furtively at Mary, who still sat by the window with her arm
upon the sill. She noticed how young she was and full of the promise
of womanhood. The sight made her so uneasy that she fidgeted the cups
upon their saucers.
"Yes--enough work to last a lifetime," said Mary, as if concluding
some passage of thought.
Mrs. Seal brightened at once. She lamented her lack of scientific
training, and her deficiency in the processes of logic, but she set
her mind to work at once to make the prospects of the cause appear as
alluring and important as she could. She delivered herself of an
harangue in which she asked a great many rhetorical questions and
answered them with a little bang of one fist upon another.
"To last a lifetime? My dear child, it will last all our lifetimes. As
one falls another steps into the breach. My father, in his generation,
a pioneer--I, coming after him, do my little best. What, alas! can one
do more? And now it's you young women--we look to you--the future
looks to you. Ah, my dear, if I'd a thousand lives, I'd give them all
to our cause. The cause of women, d'you say? I say the cause of
humanity. And there are some"--she glanced fiercely at the window--
"who don't see it! There are some who are satisfied to go on, year
after year, refusing to admit the truth. And we who have the vision--
the kettle boiling over? No, no, let me see to it--we who know the
truth," she continued, gesticulating with the kettle and the teapot.
Owing to these encumbrances, perhaps, she lost the thread of her
discourse, and concluded, rather wistfully, "It's all so SIMPLE." She
referred to a matter that was a perpetual source of bewilderment to
her--the extraordinary incapacity of the human race, in a world where
the good is so unmistakably divided from the bad, of distinguishing
one from the other, and embodying what ought to be done in a few
large, simple Acts of Parliament, which would, in a very short time,
completely change the lot of humanity.
"One would have thought," she said, "that men of University training,
like Mr. Asquith--one would have thought that an appeal to reason
would not be unheard by them. But reason," she reflected, "what is
reason without Reality?"
Doing homage to the phrase, she repeated it once more, and caught the
ear of Mr. Clacton, as he issued from his room; and he repeated it a
third time, giving it, as he was in the habit of doing with Mrs.
Seal's phrases, a dryly humorous intonation. He was well pleased with
the world, however, and he remarked, in a flattering manner, that he
would like to see that phrase in large letters at the head of a
"But, Mrs. Seal, we have to aim at a judicious combination of the
two," he added in his magisterial way to check the unbalanced
enthusiasm of the women. "Reality has to be voiced by reason before it
can make itself felt. The weak point of all these movements, Miss
Datchet," he continued, taking his place at the table and turning to
Mary as usual when about to deliver his more profound cogitations, "is
that they are not based upon sufficiently intellectual grounds. A
mistake, in my opinion. The British public likes a pellet of reason in
its jam of eloquence--a pill of reason in its pudding of sentiment,"
he said, sharpening the phrase to a satisfactory degree of literary
His eyes rested, with something of the vanity of an author, upon the
yellow leaflet which Mary held in her hand. She rose, took her seat at
the head of the table, poured out tea for her colleagues, and gave her
opinion upon the leaflet. So she had poured out tea, so she had
criticized Mr. Clacton's leaflets a hundred times already; but now it
seemed to her that she was doing it in a different spirit; she had
enlisted in the army, and was a volunteer no longer. She had renounced
something and was now--how could she express it?;--not quite "in the
running" for life. She had always known that Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal
were not in the running, and across the gulf that separated them she
had seen them in the guise of shadow people, flitting in and out of
the ranks of the living--eccentrics, undeveloped human beings, from
whose substance some essential part had been cut away. All this had
never struck her so clearly as it did this afternoon, when she felt
that her lot was cast with them for ever. One view of the world
plunged in darkness, so a more volatile temperament might have argued
after a season of despair, let the world turn again and show another,
more splendid, perhaps. No, Mary thought, with unflinching loyalty to
what appeared to her to be the true view, having lost what is best, I
do not mean to pretend that any other view does instead. Whatever
happens, I mean to have no presences in my life. Her very words had a
sort of distinctness which is sometimes produced by sharp, bodily
pain. To Mrs. Seal's secret jubilation the rule which forbade
discussion of shop at tea-time was overlooked. Mary and Mr. Clacton
argued with a cogency and a ferocity which made the little woman feel
that something very important--she hardly knew what--was taking place.
She became much excited; one crucifix became entangled with another,
and she dug a considerable hole in the table with the point of her
pencil in order to emphasize the most striking heads of the discourse;
and how any combination of Cabinet Ministers could resist such
discourse she really did not know.
She could hardly bring herself to remember her own private instrument
of justice--the typewriter. The telephone-bell rang, and as she
hurried off to answer a voice which always seemed a proof of
importance by itself, she felt that it was at this exact spot on the
surface of the globe that all the subterranean wires of thought and
progress came together. When she returned, with a message from the
printer, she found that Mary was putting on her hat firmly; there was
something imperious and dominating in her attitude altogether.
"Look, Sally," she said, "these letters want copying. These I've not
looked at. The question of the new census will have to be gone into
carefully. But I'm going home now. Good night, Mr. Clacton; good
"We are very fortunate in our secretary, Mr. Clacton," said Mrs. Seal,
pausing with her hand on the papers, as the door shut behind Mary. Mr.
Clacton himself had been vaguely impressed by something in Mary's
behavior towards him. He envisaged a time even when it would become
necessary to tell her that there could not be two masters in one
office--but she was certainly able, very able, and in touch with a
group of very clever young men. No doubt they had suggested to her
some of her new ideas.
He signified his assent to Mrs. Seal's remark, but observed, with a
glance at the clock, which showed only half an hour past five:
"If she takes the work seriously, Mrs. Seal--but that's just what some
of your clever young ladies don't do." So saying he returned to his
room, and Mrs. Seal, after a moment's hesitation, hurried back to her
Mary walked to the nearest station and reached home in an incredibly
short space of time, just so much, indeed, as was needed for the
intelligent understanding of the news of the world as the "Westminster
Gazette" reported it. Within a few minutes of opening her door, she
was in trim for a hard evening's work. She unlocked a drawer and took
out a manuscript, which consisted of a very few pages, entitled, in a
forcible hand, "Some Aspects of the Democratic State." The aspects
dwindled out in a cries-cross of blotted lines in the very middle of a
sentence, and suggested that the author had been interrupted, or
convinced of the futility of proceeding, with her pen in the
air. . . . Oh, yes, Ralph had come in at that point. She scored that
sheet very effectively, and, choosing a fresh one, began at a great
rate with a generalization upon the structure of human society, which
was a good deal bolder than her custom. Ralph had told her once that
she couldn't write English, which accounted for those frequent blots
and insertions; but she put all that behind her, and drove ahead with
such words as came her way, until she had accomplished half a page of
generalization and might legitimately draw breath. Directly her hand
stopped her brain stopped too, and she began to listen. A paper-boy
shouted down the street; an omnibus ceased and lurched on again with
the heave of duty once more shouldered; the dullness of the sounds
suggested that a fog had risen since her return, if, indeed, a fog has
power to deaden sound, of which fact, she could not be sure at the
present moment. It was the sort of fact Ralph Denham knew. At any
rate, it was no concern of hers, and she was about to dip a pen when
her ear was caught by the sound of a step upon the stone staircase.
She followed it past Mr. Chippen's chambers; past Mr. Gibson's; past
Mr. Turner's; after which it became her sound. A postman, a
washerwoman, a circular, a bill--she presented herself with each of
these perfectly natural possibilities; but, to her surprise, her mind
rejected each one of them impatiently, even apprehensively. The step
became slow, as it was apt to do at the end of the steep climb, and
Mary, listening for the regular sound, was filled with an intolerable
nervousness. Leaning against the table, she felt the knock of her
heart push her body perceptibly backwards and forwards--a state of
nerves astonishing and reprehensible in a stable woman. Grotesque
fancies took shape. Alone, at the top of the house, an unknown person
approaching nearer and nearer--how could she escape? There was no way
of escape. She did not even know whether that oblong mark on the
ceiling was a trap-door to the roof or not. And if she got on to the
roof--well, there was a drop of sixty feet or so on to the pavement.
But she sat perfectly still, and when the knock sounded, she got up
directly and opened the door without hesitation. She saw a tall figure
outside, with something ominous to her eyes in the look of it.
"What do you want?" she said, not recognizing the face in the fitful
light of the staircase.
"Mary? I'm Katharine Hilbery!"
Mary's self-possession returned almost excessively, and her welcome
was decidedly cold, as if she must recoup herself for this ridiculous
waste of emotion. She moved her green-shaded lamp to another table,
and covered "Some Aspects of the Democratic State" with a sheet of
"Why can't they leave me alone?" she thought bitterly, connecting
Katharine and Ralph in a conspiracy to take from her even this hour of
solitary study, even this poor little defence against the world. And,
as she smoothed down the sheet of blotting-paper over the manuscript,
she braced herself to resist Katharine, whose presence struck her, not
merely by its force, as usual, but as something in the nature of a
"You're working?" said Katharine, with hesitation, perceiving that she
was not welcome.
"Nothing that matters," Mary replied, drawing forward the best of the
chairs and poking the fire.
"I didn't know you had to work after you had left the office," said
Katharine, in a tone which gave the impression that she was thinking
of something else, as was, indeed, the case.
She had been paying calls with her mother, and in between the calls
Mrs. Hilbery had rushed into shops and bought pillow-cases and
blotting-books on no perceptible method for the furnishing of
Katharine's house. Katharine had a sense of impedimenta accumulating
on all sides of her. She had left her at length, and had come on to
keep an engagement to dine with Rodney at his rooms. But she did not
mean to get to him before seven o'clock, and so had plenty of time to
walk all the way from Bond Street to the Temple if she wished it. The
flow of faces streaming on either side of her had hypnotized her into
a mood of profound despondency, to which her expectation of an evening
alone with Rodney contributed. They were very good friends again,
better friends, they both said, than ever before. So far as she was
concerned this was true. There were many more things in him than she
had guessed until emotion brought them forth--strength, affection,
sympathy. And she thought of them and looked at the faces passing, and
thought how much alike they were, and how distant, nobody feeling
anything as she felt nothing, and distance, she thought, lay
inevitably between the closest, and their intimacy was the worst
presence of all. For, "Oh dear," she thought, looking into a
tobacconist's window, "I don't care for any of them, and I don't care
for William, and people say this is the thing that matters most, and I
can't see what they mean by it."
She looked desperately at the smooth-bowled pipes, and wondered--
should she walk on by the Strand or by the Embankment? It was not a
simple question, for it concerned not different streets so much as
different streams of thought. If she went by the Strand she would
force herself to think out the problem of the future, or some
mathematical problem; if she went by the river she would certainly
begin to think about things that didn't exist--the forest, the ocean
beach, the leafy solitudes, the magnanimous hero. No, no, no! A
thousand times no!--it wouldn't do; there was something repulsive in
such thoughts at present; she must take something else; she was out of
that mood at present. And then she thought of Mary; the thought gave
her confidence, even pleasure of a sad sort, as if the triumph of
Ralph and Mary proved that the fault of her failure lay with herself
and not with life. An indistinct idea that the sight of Mary might be
of help, combined with her natural trust in her, suggested a visit;
for, surely, her liking was of a kind that implied liking upon Mary's
side also. After a moment's hesitation she decided, although she
seldom acted upon impulse, to act upon this one, and turned down a
side street and found Mary's door. But her reception was not
encouraging; clearly Mary didn't want to see her, had no help to
impart, and the half-formed desire to confide in her was quenched
immediately. She was slightly amused at her own delusion, looked
rather absent-minded, and swung her gloves to and fro, as if doling
out the few minutes accurately before she could say good-by.
Those few minutes might very well be spent in asking for information
as to the exact position of the Suffrage Bill, or in expounding her
own very sensible view of the situation. But there was a tone in her
voice, or a shade in her opinions, or a swing of her gloves which
served to irritate Mary Datchet, whose manner became increasingly
direct, abrupt, and even antagonistic. She became conscious of a wish
to make Katharine realize the importance of this work, which she
discussed so coolly, as though she, too, had sacrificed what Mary
herself had sacrificed. The swinging of the gloves ceased, and
Katharine, after ten minutes, began to make movements preliminary to
departure. At the sight of this, Mary was aware--she was abnormally
aware of things to-night--of another very strong desire; Katharine was
not to be allowed to go, to disappear into the free, happy world of
irresponsible individuals. She must be made to realize--to feel.
"I don't quite see," she said, as if Katharine had challenged her
explicitly, "how, things being as they are, any one can help trying,
at least, to do something."
"No. But how ARE things?"
Mary pressed her lips, and smiled ironically; she had Katharine at her
mercy; she could, if she liked, discharge upon her head wagon-loads of
revolting proof of the state of things ignored by the casual, the
amateur, the looker-on, the cynical observer of life at a distance.
And yet she hesitated. As usual, when she found herself in talk with
Katharine, she began to feel rapid alternations of opinion about her,
arrows of sensation striking strangely through the envelope of
personality, which shelters us so conveniently from our fellows. What
an egoist, how aloof she was! And yet, not in her words, perhaps, but
in her voice, in her face, in her attitude, there were signs of a soft
brooding spirit, of a sensibility unblunted and profound, playing over
her thoughts and deeds, and investing her manner with an habitual
gentleness. The arguments and phrases of Mr. Clacton fell flat against
"You'll be married, and you'll have other things to think of," she
said inconsequently, and with an accent of condescension. She was not
going to make Katharine understand in a second, as she would, all she
herself had learnt at the cost of such pain. No. Katharine was to be
happy; Katharine was to be ignorant; Mary was to keep this knowledge
of the impersonal life for herself. The thought of her morning's
renunciation stung her conscience, and she tried to expand once more
into that impersonal condition which was so lofty and so painless. She
must check this desire to be an individual again, whose wishes were in
conflict with those of other people. She repented of her bitterness.
Katharine now renewed her signs of leave-taking; she had drawn on one
of her gloves, and looked about her as if in search of some trivial
saying to end with. Wasn't there some picture, or clock, or chest of
drawers which might be singled out for notice? something peaceable and
friendly to end the uncomfortable interview? The green-shaded lamp
burnt in the corner, and illumined books and pens and blotting-paper.
The whole aspect of the place started another train of thought and
struck her as enviably free; in such a room one could work--one could
have a life of one's own.
"I think you're very lucky," she observed. "I envy you, living alone
and having your own things"--and engaged in this exalted way, which
had no recognition or engagement-ring, she added in her own mind.
Mary's lips parted slightly. She could not conceive in what respects
Katharine, who spoke sincerely, could envy her.
"I don't think you've got any reason to envy me," she said.
"Perhaps one always envies other people," Katharine observed vaguely.
"Well, but you've got everything that any one can want."
Katharine remained silent. She gazed into the fire quietly, and
without a trace of self-consciousness. The hostility which she had
divined in Mary's tone had completely disappeared, and she forgot that
she had been upon the point of going.
"Well, I suppose I have," she said at length. "And yet I sometimes
think--" She paused; she did not know how to express what she meant.
"It came over me in the Tube the other day," she resumed, with a
smile; "what is it that makes these people go one way rather than the
other? It's not love; it's not reason; I think it must be some idea.
Perhaps, Mary, our affections are the shadow of an idea. Perhaps there
isn't any such thing as affection in itself. . . ." She spoke
half-mockingly, asking her question, which she scarcely troubled to
frame, not of Mary, or of any one in particular.
But the words seemed to Mary Datchet shallow, supercilious,
cold-blooded, and cynical all in one. All her natural instincts were
roused in revolt against them.
"I'm the opposite way of thinking, you see," she said.
"Yes; I know you are," Katharine replied, looking at her as if now she
were about, perhaps, to explain something very important.
Mary could not help feeling the simplicity and good faith that lay
behind Katharine's words.
"I think affection is the only reality," she said.
"Yes," said Katharine, almost sadly. She understood that Mary was
thinking of Ralph, and she felt it impossible to press her to reveal
more of this exalted condition; she could only respect the fact that,
in some few cases, life arranged itself thus satisfactorily and pass
on. She rose to her feet accordingly. But Mary exclaimed, with
unmistakable earnestness, that she must not go; that they met so
seldom; that she wanted to talk to her so much. . . . Katharine was
surprised at the earnestness with which she spoke. It seemed to her
that there could be no indiscretion in mentioning Ralph by name.
Seating herself "for ten minutes," she said: "By the way, Mr. Denham
told me he was going to give up the Bar and live in the country. Has
he gone? He was beginning to tell me about it, when we were
"He thinks of it," said Mary briefly. The color at once came to her
"It would be a very good plan," said Katharine in her decided way.
"You think so?"
"Yes, because he would do something worth while; he would write a
book. My father always says that he's the most remarkable of the young
men who write for him."
Mary bent low over the fire and stirred the coal between the bars with
a poker. Katharine's mention of Ralph had roused within her an almost
irresistible desire to explain to her the true state of the case
between herself and Ralph. She knew, from the tone of her voice, that
in speaking of Ralph she had no desire to probe Mary's secrets, or to
insinuate any of her own. Moreover, she liked Katharine; she trusted
her; she felt a respect for her. The first step of confidence was
comparatively simple; but a further confidence had revealed itself, as
Katharine spoke, which was not so simple, and yet it impressed itself
upon her as a necessity; she must tell Katharine what it was clear
that she had no conception of--she must tell Katharine that Ralph was
in love with her.
"I don't know what he means to do," she said hurriedly, seeking time
against the pressure of her own conviction. "I've not seen him since
Katharine reflected that this was odd; perhaps, after all, she had
misunderstood the position. She was in the habit of assuming, however,
that she was rather unobservant of the finer shades of feeling, and
she noted her present failure as another proof that she was a
practical, abstract-minded person, better fitted to deal with figures
than with the feelings of men and women. Anyhow, William Rodney would
"And now--" she said.
"Oh, please stay!" Mary exclaimed, putting out her hand to stop her.
Directly Katharine moved she felt, inarticulately and violently, that
she could not bear to let her go. If Katharine went, her only chance
of speaking was lost; her only chance of saying something tremendously
important was lost. Half a dozen words were sufficient to wake
Katharine's attention, and put flight and further silence beyond her
power. But although the words came to her lips, her throat closed upon
them and drove them back. After all, she considered, why should she
speak? Because it is right, her instinct told her; right to expose
oneself without reservations to other human beings. She flinched from
the thought. It asked too much of one already stripped bare. Something
she must keep of her own. But if she did keep something of her own?
Immediately she figured an immured life, continuing for an immense
period, the same feelings living for ever, neither dwindling nor
changing within the ring of a thick stone wall. The imagination of
this loneliness frightened her, and yet to speak--to lose her
loneliness, for it had already become dear to her, was beyond her
Her hand went down to the hem of Katharine's skirt, and, fingering a
line of fur, she bent her head as if to examine it.
"I like this fur," she said, "I like your clothes. And you mustn't
think that I'm going to marry Ralph," she continued, in the same tone,
"because he doesn't care for me at all. He cares for some one else."
Her head remained bent, and her hand still rested upon the skirt.
"It's a shabby old dress," said Katharine, and the only sign that
Mary's words had reached her was that she spoke with a little jerk.
"You don't mind my telling you that?" said Mary, raising herself.
"No, no," said Katharine; "but you're mistaken, aren't you?" She was,
in truth, horribly uncomfortable, dismayed, indeed, disillusioned. She
disliked the turn things had taken quite intensely. The indecency of
it afflicted her. The suffering implied by the tone appalled her. She
looked at Mary furtively, with eyes that were full of apprehension.
But if she had hoped to find that these words had been spoken without
understanding of their meaning, she was at once disappointed. Mary lay
back in her chair, frowning slightly, and looking, Katharine thought,
as if she had lived fifteen years or so in the space of a few minutes.
"There are some things, don't you think, that one can't be mistaken
about?" Mary said, quietly and almost coldly. "That is what puzzles me
about this question of being in love. I've always prided myself upon
being reasonable," she added. "I didn't think I could have felt
this--I mean if the other person didn't. I was foolish. I let myself
pretend." Here she paused. "For, you see, Katharine," she proceeded,
rousing herself and speaking with greater energy, "I AM in love.
There's no doubt about that. . . . I'm tremendously in love . . . with
Ralph." The little forward shake of her head, which shook a lock of
hair, together with her brighter color, gave her an appearance at once
proud and defiant.
Katharine thought to herself, "That's how it feels then." She
hesitated, with a feeling that it was not for her to speak; and then
said, in a low tone, "You've got that."
"Yes," said Mary; "I've got that. One wouldn't NOT be in love. . . .
But I didn't mean to talk about that; I only wanted you to know.
There's another thing I want to tell you . . ." She paused. "I haven't
any authority from Ralph to say it; but I'm sure of this--he's in love
Katharine looked at her again, as if her first glance must have been
deluded, for, surely, there must be some outward sign that Mary was
talking in an excited, or bewildered, or fantastic manner. No; she
still frowned, as if she sought her way through the clauses of a
difficult argument, but she still looked more like one who reasons
than one who feels.
"That proves that you're mistaken--utterly mistaken," said Katharine,
speaking reasonably, too. She had no need to verify the mistake by a
glance at her own recollections, when the fact was so clearly stamped
upon her mind that if Ralph had any feeling towards her it was one of
critical hostility. She did not give the matter another thought, and
Mary, now that she had stated the fact, did not seek to prove it, but
tried to explain to herself, rather than to Katharine, her motives in
making the statement.
She had nerved herself to do what some large and imperious instinct
demanded her doing; she had been swept on the breast of a wave beyond
"I've told you," she said, "because I want you to help me. I don't
want to be jealous of you. And I am--I'm fearfully jealous. The only
way, I thought, was to tell you."
She hesitated, and groped in her endeavor to make her feelings clear
"If I tell you, then we can talk; and when I'm jealous, I can tell
you. And if I'm tempted to do something frightfully mean, I can tell
you; you could make me tell you. I find talking so difficult; but
loneliness frightens me. I should shut it up in my mind. Yes, that's
what I'm afraid of. Going about with something in my mind all my life
that never changes. I find it so difficult to change. When I think a
thing's wrong I never stop thinking it wrong, and Ralph was quite
right, I see, when he said that there's no such thing as right and
wrong; no such thing, I mean, as judging people--"
"Ralph Denham said that?" said Katharine, with considerable
indignation. In order to have produced such suffering in Mary, it
seemed to her that he must have behaved with extreme callousness. It
seemed to her that he had discarded the friendship, when it suited his
convenience to do so, with some falsely philosophical theory which
made his conduct all the worse. She was going on to express herself
thus, had not Mary at once interrupted her.
"No, no," she said; "you don't understand. If there's any fault it's
mine entirely; after all, if one chooses to run risks--"
Her voice faltered into silence. It was borne in upon her how
completely in running her risk she had lost her prize, lost it so
entirely that she had no longer the right, in talking of Ralph, to
presume that her knowledge of him supplanted all other knowledge. She
no longer completely possessed her love, since his share in it was
doubtful; and now, to make things yet more bitter, her clear vision of
the way to face life was rendered tremulous and uncertain, because
another was witness of it. Feeling her desire for the old unshared
intimacy too great to be borne without tears, she rose, walked to the
farther end of the room, held the curtains apart, and stood there
mastered for a moment. The grief itself was not ignoble; the sting of
it lay in the fact that she had been led to this act of treachery
against herself. Trapped, cheated, robbed, first by Ralph and then by
Katharine, she seemed all dissolved in humiliation, and bereft of
anything she could call her own. Tears of weakness welled up and
rolled down her cheeks. But tears, at least, she could control, and
would this instant, and then, turning, she would face Katharine, and
retrieve what could be retrieved of the collapse of her courage.
She turned. Katharine had not moved; she was leaning a little forward
in her chair and looking into the fire. Something in the attitude
reminded Mary of Ralph. So he would sit, leaning forward, looking
rather fixedly in front of him, while his mind went far away,
exploring, speculating, until he broke off with his, "Well, Mary?"--
and the silence, that had been so full of romance to her, gave way to
the most delightful talk that she had ever known.
Something unfamiliar in the pose of the silent figure, something
still, solemn, significant about it, made her hold her breath. She
paused. Her thoughts were without bitterness. She was surprised by her
own quiet and confidence. She came back silently, and sat once more by
Katharine's side. Mary had no wish to speak. In the silence she seemed
to have lost her isolation; she was at once the sufferer and the
pitiful spectator of suffering; she was happier than she had ever
been; she was more bereft; she was rejected, and she was immensely
beloved. Attempt to express these sensations was vain, and, moreover,
she could not help believing that, without any words on her side, they
were shared. Thus for some time longer they sat silent, side by side,
while Mary fingered the fur on the skirt of the old dress.
The fact that she would be late in keeping her engagement with William
was not the only reason which sent Katharine almost at racing speed
along the Strand in the direction of his rooms. Punctuality might have
been achieved by taking a cab, had she not wished the open air to fan
into flame the glow kindled by Mary's words. For among all the
impressions of the evening's talk one was of the nature of a
revelation and subdued the rest to insignificance. Thus one looked;
thus one spoke; such was love.
"She sat up straight and looked at me, and then she said, 'I'm in
love,'" Katharine mused, trying to set the whole scene in motion. It
was a scene to dwell on with so much wonder that not a grain of pity
occurred to her; it was a flame blazing suddenly in the dark; by its
light Katharine perceived far too vividly for her comfort the
mediocrity, indeed the entirely fictitious character of her own
feelings so far as they pretended to correspond with Mary's feelings.
She made up her mind to act instantly upon the knowledge thus gained,
and cast her mind in amazement back to the scene upon the heath, when
she had yielded, heaven knows why, for reasons which seemed now
imperceptible. So in broad daylight one might revisit the place where
one has groped and turned and succumbed to utter bewilderment in a
"It's all so simple," she said to herself. "There can't be any doubt.
I've only got to speak now. I've only got to speak," she went on
saying, in time to her own footsteps, and completely forgot Mary
William Rodney, having come back earlier from the office than he
expected, sat down to pick out the melodies in "The Magic Flute" upon
the piano. Katharine was late, but that was nothing new, and, as she
had no particular liking for music, and he felt in the mood for it,
perhaps it was as well. This defect in Katharine was the more strange,
William reflected, because, as a rule, the women of her family were
unusually musical. Her cousin, Cassandra Otway, for example, had a
very fine taste in music, and he had charming recollections of her in
a light fantastic attitude, playing the flute in the morning-room at
Stogdon House. He recalled with pleasure the amusing way in which her
nose, long like all the Otway noses, seemed to extend itself into the
flute, as if she were some inimitably graceful species of musical
mole. The little picture suggested very happily her melodious and
whimsical temperament. The enthusiasms of a young girl of
distinguished upbringing appealed to William, and suggested a thousand
ways in which, with his training and accomplishments, he could be of
service to her. She ought to be given the chance of hearing good
music, as it is played by those who have inherited the great
tradition. Moreover, from one or two remarks let fall in the course of
conversation, he thought it possible that she had what Katharine
professed to lack, a passionate, if untaught, appreciation of
literature. He had lent her his play. Meanwhile, as Katharine was
certain to be late, and "The Magic Flute" is nothing without a voice,
he felt inclined to spend the time of waiting in writing a letter to
Cassandra, exhorting her to read Pope in preference to Dostoevsky,
until her feeling for form was more highly developed. He set himself
down to compose this piece of advice in a shape which was light and
playful, and yet did no injury to a cause which he had near at heart,
when he heard Katharine upon the stairs. A moment later it was plain
that he had been mistaken, it was not Katharine; but he could not
settle himself to his letter. His temper had changed from one of
urbane contentment--indeed of delicious expansion--to one of
uneasiness and expectation. The dinner was brought in, and had to be
set by the fire to keep hot. It was now a quarter of an hour beyond
the specified time. He bethought him of a piece of news which had
depressed him in the earlier part of the day. Owing to the illness of
one of his fellow-clerks, it was likely that he would get no holiday
until later in the year, which would mean the postponement of their
marriage. But this possibility, after all, was not so disagreeable as
the probability which forced itself upon him with every tick of the
clock that Katharine had completely forgotten her engagement. Such
things had happened less frequently since Christmas, but what if they
were going to begin to happen again? What if their marriage should
turn out, as she had said, a farce? He acquitted her of any wish to
hurt him wantonly, but there was something in her character which made
it impossible for her to help hurting people. Was she cold? Was she
self-absorbed? He tried to fit her with each of these descriptions,
but he had to own that she puzzled him.
"There are so many things that she doesn't understand," he reflected,
glancing at the letter to Cassandra which he had begun and laid aside.
What prevented him from finishing the letter which he had so much
enjoyed beginning? The reason was that Katharine might, at any moment,
enter the room. The thought, implying his bondage to her, irritated
him acutely. It occurred to him that he would leave the letter lying
open for her to see, and he would take the opportunity of telling her
that he had sent his play to Cassandra for her to criticize. Possibly,
but not by any means certainly, this would annoy her--and as he
reached the doubtful comfort of this conclusion, there was a knock on
the door and Katharine came in. They kissed each other coldly and she
made no apology for being late. Nevertheless, her mere presence moved
him strangely; but he was determined that this should not weaken his
resolution to make some kind of stand against her; to get at the truth
about her. He let her make her own disposition of clothes and busied
himself with the plates.
"I've got a piece of news for you, Katharine," he said directly they
sat down to table; "I shan't get my holiday in April. We shall have to
put off our marriage."
He rapped the words out with a certain degree of briskness. Katharine
started a little, as if the announcement disturbed her thoughts.
"That won't make any difference, will it? I mean the lease isn't
signed," she replied. "But why? What has happened?"
He told her, in an off-hand way, how one of his fellow-clerks had
broken down, and might have to be away for months, six months even, in
which case they would have to think over their position. He said it in
a way which struck her, at last, as oddly casual. She looked at him.
There was no outward sign that he was annoyed with her. Was she well
dressed? She thought sufficiently so. Perhaps she was late? She looked
for a clock.
"It's a good thing we didn't take the house then," she repeated
"It'll mean, too, I'm afraid, that I shan't be as free for a
considerable time as I have been," he continued. She had time to
reflect that she gained something by all this, though it was too soon
to determine what. But the light which had been burning with such
intensity as she came along was suddenly overclouded, as much by his
manner as by his news. She had been prepared to meet opposition, which
is simple to encounter compared with--she did not know what it was
that she had to encounter. The meal passed in quiet, well-controlled
talk about indifferent things. Music was not a subject about which she
knew anything, but she liked him to tell her things; and could, she
mused, as he talked, fancy the evenings of married life spent thus,
over the fire; spent thus, or with a book, perhaps, for then she would
have time to read her books, and to grasp firmly with every muscle of
her unused mind what she longed to know. The atmosphere was very free.
Suddenly William broke off. She looked up apprehensively, brushing
aside these thoughts with annoyance.
"Where should I address a letter to Cassandra?" he asked her. It was
obvious again that William had some meaning or other to-night, or was
in some mood. "We've struck up a friendship," he added.
"She's at home, I think," Katharine replied.
"They keep her too much at home," said William. "Why don't you ask her
to stay with you, and let her hear a little good music? I'll just
finish what I was saying, if you don't mind, because I'm particularly
anxious that she should hear to-morrow."
Katharine sank back in her chair, and Rodney took the paper on his
knees, and went on with his sentence. "Style, you know, is what we
tend to neglect--"; but he was far more conscious of Katharine's eye
upon him than of what he was saying about style. He knew that she was
looking at him, but whether with irritation or indifference he could
In truth, she had fallen sufficiently into his trap to feel
uncomfortably roused and disturbed and unable to proceed on the lines
laid down for herself. This indifferent, if not hostile, attitude on
William's part made it impossible to break off without animosity,
largely and completely. Infinitely preferable was Mary's state, she
thought, where there was a simple thing to do and one did it. In fact,
she could not help supposing that some littleness of nature had a part
in all the refinements, reserves, and subtleties of feeling for which
her friends and family were so distinguished. For example, although
she liked Cassandra well enough, her fantastic method of life struck
her as purely frivolous; now it was socialism, now it was silkworms,
now it was music--which last she supposed was the cause of William's
sudden interest in her. Never before had William wasted the minutes of
her presence in writing his letters. With a curious sense of light
opening where all, hitherto, had been opaque, it dawned upon her that,
after all, possibly, yes, probably, nay, certainly, the devotion which
she had almost wearily taken for granted existed in a much slighter
degree than she had suspected, or existed no longer. She looked at him
attentively as if this discovery of hers must show traces in his face.
Never had she seen so much to respect in his appearance, so much that
attracted her by its sensitiveness and intelligence, although she saw
these qualities as if they were those one responds to, dumbly, in the
face of a stranger. The head bent over the paper, thoughtful as usual,
had now a composure which seemed somehow to place it at a distance,
like a face seen talking to some one else behind glass.
He wrote on, without raising his eyes. She would have spoken, but
could not bring herself to ask him for signs of affection which she
had no right to claim. The conviction that he was thus strange to her
filled her with despondency, and illustrated quite beyond doubt the
infinite loneliness of human beings. She had never felt the truth of
this so strongly before. She looked away into the fire; it seemed to
her that even physically they were now scarcely within speaking
distance; and spiritually there was certainly no human being with whom
she could claim comradeship; no dream that satisfied her as she was
used to be satisfied; nothing remained in whose reality she could
believe, save those abstract ideas--figures, laws, stars, facts, which
she could hardly hold to for lack of knowledge and a kind of shame.
When Rodney owned to himself the folly of this prolonged silence, and
the meanness of such devices, and looked up ready to seek some excuse
for a good laugh, or opening for a confession, he was disconcerted by
what he saw. Katharine seemed equally oblivious of what was bad or of
what was good in him. Her expression suggested concentration upon
something entirely remote from her surroundings. The carelessness of
her attitude seemed to him rather masculine than feminine. His impulse
to break up the constraint was chilled, and once more the exasperating
sense of his own impotency returned to him. He could not help
contrasting Katharine with his vision of the engaging, whimsical
Cassandra; Katharine undemonstrative, inconsiderate, silent, and yet
so notable that he could never do without her good opinion.
She veered round upon him a moment later, as if, when her train of
thought was ended, she became aware of his presence.
"Have you finished your letter?" she asked. He thought he heard faint
amusement in her tone, but not a trace of jealousy.
"No, I'm not going to write any more to-night," he said. "I'm not in
the mood for it for some reason. I can't say what I want to say."
"Cassandra won't know if it's well written or badly written,"
"I'm not so sure about that. I should say she has a good deal of
"Perhaps," said Katharine indifferently. "You've been neglecting my
education lately, by the way. I wish you'd read something. Let me
choose a book." So speaking, she went across to his bookshelves and
began looking in a desultory way among his books. Anything, she
thought, was better than bickering or the strange silence which drove
home to her the distance between them. As she pulled one book forward
and then another she thought ironically of her own certainty not an
hour ago; how it had vanished in a moment, how she was merely marking
time as best she could, not knowing in the least where they stood,
what they felt, or whether William loved her or not. More and more the
condition of Mary's mind seemed to her wonderful and enviable--if,
indeed, it could be quite as she figured it--if, indeed, simplicity
existed for any one of the daughters of women.
"Swift," she said, at last, taking out a volume at haphazard to settle
this question at least. "Let us have some Swift."
Rodney took the book, held it in front of him, inserted one finger
between the pages, but said nothing. His face wore a queer expression
of deliberation, as if he were weighing one thing with another, and
would not say anything until his mind were made up.
Katharine, taking her chair beside him, noted his silence and looked
at him with sudden apprehension. What she hoped or feared, she could
not have said; a most irrational and indefensible desire for some
assurance of his affection was, perhaps, uppermost in her mind.
Peevishness, complaints, exacting cross-examination she was used to,
but this attitude of composed quiet, which seemed to come from the
consciousness of power within, puzzled her. She did not know what was
going to happen next.
At last William spoke.
"I think it's a little odd, don't you?" he said, in a voice of
detached reflection. "Most people, I mean, would be seriously upset if
their marriage was put off for six months or so. But we aren't; now
how do you account for that?"
She looked at him and observed his judicial attitude as of one holding
far aloof from emotion.
"I attribute it," he went on, without waiting for her to answer, "to
the fact that neither of us is in the least romantic about the other.
That may be partly, no doubt, because we've known each other so long;
but I'm inclined to think there's more in it than that. There's
something temperamental. I think you're a trifle cold, and I suspect
I'm a trifle self-absorbed. If that were so it goes a long way to
explaining our odd lack of illusion about each other. I'm not saying
that the most satisfactory marriages aren't founded upon this sort of
understanding. But certainly it struck me as odd this morning, when
Wilson told me, how little upset I felt. By the way, you're sure we
haven't committed ourselves to that house?"
"I've kept the letters, and I'll go through them to-morrow; but I'm
certain we're on the safe side."
"Thanks. As to the psychological problem," he continued, as if the
question interested him in a detached way, "there's no doubt, I think,
that either of us is capable of feeling what, for reasons of
simplicity, I call romance for a third person--at least, I've little
doubt in my own case."
It was, perhaps, the first time in all her knowledge of him that
Katharine had known William enter thus deliberately and without sign
of emotion upon a statement of his own feelings. He was wont to
discourage such intimate discussions by a little laugh or turn of the
conversation, as much as to say that men, or men of the world, find
such topics a little silly, or in doubtful taste. His obvious wish to
explain something puzzled her, interested her, and neutralized the
wound to her vanity. For some reason, too, she felt more at ease with
him than usual; or her ease was more the ease of equality--she could
not stop to think of that at the moment though. His remarks interested
her too much for the light that they threw upon certain problems of
"What is this romance?" she mused.
"Ah, that's the question. I've never come across a definition that
satisfied me, though there are some very good ones"--he glanced in the
direction of his books.
"It's not altogether knowing the other person, perhaps--it's
ignorance," she hazarded.
"Some authorities say it's a question of distance--romance in
literature, that is--"