Part 6 out of 10
"Possibly, in the case of art. But in the case of people it may be--"
"Have you no personal experience of it?" he asked, letting his eyes
rest upon her swiftly for a moment.
"I believe it's influenced me enormously," she said, in the tone of
one absorbed by the possibilities of some view just presented to them;
"but in my life there's so little scope for it," she added. She
reviewed her daily task, the perpetual demands upon her for good
sense, self-control, and accuracy in a house containing a romantic
mother. Ah, but her romance wasn't THAT romance. It was a desire, an
echo, a sound; she could drape it in color, see it in form, hear it in
music, but not in words; no, never in words. She sighed, teased by
desires so incoherent, so incommunicable.
"But isn't it curious," William resumed, "that you should neither feel
it for me, nor I for you?"
Katharine agreed that it was curious--very; but even more curious to
her was the fact that she was discussing the question with William. It
revealed possibilities which opened a prospect of a new relationship
altogether. Somehow it seemed to her that he was helping her to
understand what she had never understood; and in her gratitude she was
conscious of a most sisterly desire to help him, too--sisterly, save
for one pang, not quite to be subdued, that for him she was without
"I think you might be very happy with some one you loved in that way,"
"You assume that romance survives a closer knowledge of the person one
He asked the question formally, to protect himself from the sort of
personality which he dreaded. The whole situation needed the most
careful management lest it should degenerate into some degrading and
disturbing exhibition such as the scene, which he could never think of
without shame, upon the heath among the dead leaves. And yet each
sentence brought him relief. He was coming to understand something or
other about his own desires hitherto undefined by him, the source of
his difficulty with Katharine. The wish to hurt her, which had urged
him to begin, had completely left him, and he felt that it was only
Katharine now who could help him to be sure. He must take his time.
There were so many things that he could not say without the greatest
difficulty--that name, for example, Cassandra. Nor could he move his
eyes from a certain spot, a fiery glen surrounded by high mountains,
in the heart of the coals. He waited in suspense for Katharine to
continue. She had said that he might be very happy with some one he
loved in that way.
"I don't see why it shouldn't last with you," she resumed. "I can
imagine a certain sort of person--" she paused; she was aware that he
was listening with the greatest intentness, and that his formality was
merely the cover for an extreme anxiety of some sort. There was some
person then--some woman--who could it be? Cassandra? Ah, possibly--
"A person," she added, speaking in the most matter-of-fact tone she
could command, "like Cassandra Otway, for instance. Cassandra is the
most interesting of the Otways--with the exception of Henry. Even so,
I like Cassandra better. She has more than mere cleverness. She is a
character--a person by herself."
"Those dreadful insects!" burst from William, with a nervous laugh,
and a little spasm went through him as Katharine noticed. It WAS
Cassandra then. Automatically and dully she replied, "You could insist
that she confined herself to--to--something else. . . . But she cares
for music; I believe she writes poetry; and there can be no doubt that
she has a peculiar charm--"
She ceased, as if defining to herself this peculiar charm. After a
moment's silence William jerked out:
"I thought her affectionate?"
"Extremely affectionate. She worships Henry. When you think what a
house that is--Uncle Francis always in one mood or another--"
"Dear, dear, dear," William muttered.
"And you have so much in common."
"My dear Katharine!" William exclaimed, flinging himself back in his
chair, and uprooting his eyes from the spot in the fire. "I really
don't know what we're talking about. . . . I assure you. . . ."
He was covered with an extreme confusion.
He withdrew the finger that was still thrust between the pages of
Gulliver, opened the book, and ran his eye down the list of chapters,
as though he were about to select the one most suitable for reading
aloud. As Katharine watched him, she was seized with preliminary
symptoms of his own panic. At the same time she was convinced that,
should he find the right page, take out his spectacles, clear his
throat, and open his lips, a chance that would never come again in all
their lives would be lost to them both.
"We're talking about things that interest us both very much," she
said. "Shan't we go on talking, and leave Swift for another time? I
don't feel in the mood for Swift, and it's a pity to read any one when
that's the case--particularly Swift."
The presence of wise literary speculation, as she calculated, restored
William's confidence in his security, and he replaced the book in the
bookcase, keeping his back turned to her as he did so, and taking
advantage of this circumstance to summon his thoughts together.
But a second of introspection had the alarming result of showing him
that his mind, when looked at from within, was no longer familiar
ground. He felt, that is to say, what he had never consciously felt
before; he was revealed to himself as other than he was wont to think
him; he was afloat upon a sea of unknown and tumultuous possibilities.
He paced once up and down the room, and then flung himself impetuously
into the chair by Katharine's side. He had never felt anything like
this before; he put himself entirely into her hands; he cast off all
responsibility. He very nearly exclaimed aloud:
"You've stirred up all these odious and violent emotions, and now you
must do the best you can with them."
Her near presence, however, had a calming and reassuring effect upon
his agitation, and he was conscious only of an implicit trust that,
somehow, he was safe with her, that she would see him through, find
out what it was that he wanted, and procure it for him.
"I wish to do whatever you tell me to do," he said. "I put myself
entirely in your hands, Katharine."
"You must try to tell me what you feel," she said.
"My dear, I feel a thousand things every second. I don't know, I'm
sure, what I feel. That afternoon on the heath--it was then--then--"
He broke off; he did not tell her what had happened then. "Your
ghastly good sense, as usual, has convinced me--for the moment--but
what the truth is, Heaven only knows!" he exclaimed.
"Isn't it the truth that you are, or might be, in love with
Cassandra?" she said gently.
William bowed his head. After a moment's silence he murmured:
"I believe you're right, Katharine."
She sighed, involuntarily. She had been hoping all this time, with an
intensity that increased second by second against the current of her
words, that it would not in the end come to this. After a moment of
surprising anguish, she summoned her courage to tell him how she
wished only that she might help him, and had framed the first words of
her speech when a knock, terrific and startling to people in their
overwrought condition, sounded upon the door.
"Katharine, I worship you," he urged, half in a whisper.
"Yes," she replied, withdrawing with a little shiver, "but you must
open the door."
When Ralph Denham entered the room and saw Katharine seated with her
back to him, he was conscious of a change in the grade of the
atmosphere such as a traveler meets with sometimes upon the roads,
particularly after sunset, when, without warning, he runs from clammy
chill to a hoard of unspent warmth in which the sweetness of hay and
beanfield is cherished, as if the sun still shone although the moon is
up. He hesitated; he shuddered; he walked elaborately to the window
and laid aside his coat. He balanced his stick most carefully against
the folds of the curtain. Thus occupied with his own sensations and
preparations, he had little time to observe what either of the other
two was feeling. Such symptoms of agitation as he might perceive (and
they had left their tokens in brightness of eye and pallor of cheeks)
seemed to him well befitting the actors in so great a drama as that of
Katharine Hilbery's daily life. Beauty and passion were the breath of
her being, he thought.
She scarcely noticed his presence, or only as it forced her to adopt a
manner of composure, which she was certainly far from feeling.
William, however, was even more agitated than she was, and her first
instalment of promised help took the form of some commonplace upon the
age of the building or the architect's name, which gave him an excuse
to fumble in a drawer for certain designs, which he laid upon the
table between the three of them.
Which of the three followed the designs most carefully it would be
difficult to tell, but it is certain that not one of the three found
for the moment anything to say. Years of training in a drawing-room
came at length to Katharine's help, and she said something suitable,
at the same moment withdrawing her hand from the table because she
perceived that it trembled. William agreed effusively; Denham
corroborated him, speaking in rather high-pitched tones; they thrust
aside the plans, and drew nearer to the fireplace.
"I'd rather live here than anywhere in the whole of London," said
("And I've got nowhere to live") Katharine thought, as she agreed
"You could get rooms here, no doubt, if you wanted to," Rodney
"But I'm just leaving London for good--I've taken that cottage I was
telling you about." The announcement seemed to convey very little to
either of his hearers.
"Indeed?--that's sad. . . . You must give me your address. But you
won't cut yourself off altogether, surely--"
"You'll be moving, too, I suppose," Denham remarked.
William showed such visible signs of floundering that Katharine
collected herself and asked:
"Where is the cottage you've taken?"
In answering her, Denham turned and looked at her. As their eyes met,
she realized for the first time that she was talking to Ralph Denham,
and she remembered, without recalling any details, that she had been
speaking of him quite lately, and that she had reason to think ill of
him. What Mary had said she could not remember, but she felt that
there was a mass of knowledge in her mind which she had not had time
to examine--knowledge now lying on the far side of a gulf. But her
agitation flashed the queerest lights upon her past. She must get
through the matter in hand, and then think it out in quiet. She bent
her mind to follow what Ralph was saying. He was telling her that he
had taken a cottage in Norfolk, and she was saying that she knew, or
did not know, that particular neighborhood. But after a moment's
attention her mind flew to Rodney, and she had an unusual, indeed
unprecedented, sense that they were in touch and shared each other's
thoughts. If only Ralph were not there, she would at once give way to
her desire to take William's hand, then to bend his head upon her
shoulder, for this was what she wanted to do more than anything at the
moment, unless, indeed, she wished more than anything to be alone--
yes, that was what she wanted. She was sick to death of these
discussions; she shivered at the effort to reveal her feelings. She
had forgotten to answer. William was speaking now.
"But what will you find to do in the country?" she asked at random,
striking into a conversation which she had only half heard, in such a
way as to make both Rodney and Denham look at her with a little
surprise. But directly she took up the conversation, it was William's
turn to fall silent. He at once forgot to listen to what they were
saying, although he interposed nervously at intervals, "Yes, yes,
yes." As the minutes passed, Ralph's presence became more and more
intolerable to him, since there was so much that he must say to
Katharine; the moment he could not talk to her, terrible doubts,
unanswerable questions accumulated, which he must lay before
Katharine, for she alone could help him now. Unless he could see her
alone, it would be impossible for him ever to sleep, or to know what
he had said in a moment of madness, which was not altogether mad, or
was it mad? He nodded his head, and said, nervously, "Yes, yes," and
looked at Katharine, and thought how beautiful she looked; there was
no one in the world that he admired more. There was an emotion in her
face which lent it an expression he had never seen there. Then, as he
was turning over means by which he could speak to her alone, she rose,
and he was taken by surprise, for he had counted on the fact that she
would outstay Denham. His only chance, then, of saying something to
her in private, was to take her downstairs and walk with her to the
street. While he hesitated, however, overcome with the difficulty of
putting one simple thought into words when all his thoughts were
scattered about, and all were too strong for utterance, he was struck
silent by something that was still more unexpected. Denham got up from
his chair, looked at Katharine, and said:
"I'm going, too. Shall we go together?"
And before William could see any way of detaining him--or would it be
better to detain Katharine?--he had taken his hat, stick, and was
holding the door open for Katharine to pass out. The most that William
could do was to stand at the head of the stairs and say good-night. He
could not offer to go with them. He could not insist that she should
stay. He watched her descend, rather slowly, owing to the dusk of the
staircase, and he had a last sight of Denham's head and of Katharine's
head near together, against the panels, when suddenly a pang of acute
jealousy overcame him, and had he not remained conscious of the
slippers upon his feet, he would have run after them or cried out. As
it was he could not move from the spot. At the turn of the staircase
Katharine turned to look back, trusting to this last glance to seal
their compact of good friendship. Instead of returning her silent
greeting, William grinned back at her a cold stare of sarcasm or of
She stopped dead for a moment, and then descended slowly into the
court. She looked to the right and to the left, and once up into the
sky. She was only conscious of Denham as a block upon her thoughts.
She measured the distance that must be traversed before she would be
alone. But when they came to the Strand no cabs were to be seen, and
Denham broke the silence by saying:
"There seem to be no cabs. Shall we walk on a little?"
"Very well," she agreed, paying no attention to him.
Aware of her preoccupation, or absorbed in his own thoughts, Ralph
said nothing further; and in silence they walked some distance along
the Strand. Ralph was doing his best to put his thoughts into such
order that one came before the rest, and the determination that when
he spoke he should speak worthily, made him put off the moment of
speaking till he had found the exact words and even the place that
best suited him. The Strand was too busy. There was too much risk,
also, of finding an empty cab. Without a word of explanation he turned
to the left, down one of the side streets leading to the river. On no
account must they part until something of the very greatest importance
had happened. He knew perfectly well what he wished to say, and had
arranged not only the substance, but the order in which he was to say
it. Now, however, that he was alone with her, not only did he find the
difficulty of speaking almost insurmountable, but he was aware that he
was angry with her for thus disturbing him, and casting, as it was so
easy for a person of her advantages to do, these phantoms and pitfalls
across his path. He was determined that he would question her as
severely as he would question himself; and make them both, once and
for all, either justify her dominance or renounce it. But the longer
they walked thus alone, the more he was disturbed by the sense of her
actual presence. Her skirt blew; the feathers in her hat waved;
sometimes he saw her a step or two ahead of him, or had to wait for
her to catch him up.
The silence was prolonged, and at length drew her attention to him.
First she was annoyed that there was no cab to free her from his
company; then she recalled vaguely something that Mary had said to
make her think ill of him; she could not remember what, but the
recollection, combined with his masterful ways--why did he walk so
fast down this side street?--made her more and more conscious of a
person of marked, though disagreeable, force by her side. She stopped
and, looking round her for a cab, sighted one in the distance. He was
thus precipitated into speech.
"Should you mind if we walked a little farther?" he asked. "There's
something I want to say to you."
"Very well," she replied, guessing that his request had something to
do with Mary Datchet.
"It's quieter by the river," he said, and instantly he crossed over.
"I want to ask you merely this," he began. But he paused so long that
she could see his head against the sky; the slope of his thin cheek
and his large, strong nose were clearly marked against it. While he
paused, words that were quite different from those he intended to use
"I've made you my standard ever since I saw you. I've dreamt about
you; I've thought of nothing but you; you represent to me the only
reality in the world."
His words, and the queer strained voice in which he spoke them, made
it appear as if he addressed some person who was not the woman beside
him, but some one far away.
"And now things have come to such a pass that, unless I can speak to
you openly, I believe I shall go mad. I think of you as the most
beautiful, the truest thing in the world," he continued, filled with a
sense of exaltation, and feeling that he had no need now to choose his
words with pedantic accuracy, for what he wanted to say was suddenly
become plain to him.
"I see you everywhere, in the stars, in the river; to me you're
everything that exists; the reality of everything. Life, I tell you,
would be impossible without you. And now I want--"
She had heard him so far with a feeling that she had dropped some
material word which made sense of the rest. She could hear no more of
this unintelligible rambling without checking him. She felt that she
was overhearing what was meant for another.
"I don't understand," she said. "You're saying things that you don't
"I mean every word I say," he replied, emphatically. He turned his
head towards her. She recovered the words she was searching for while
he spoke. "Ralph Denham is in love with you." They came back to her in
Mary Datchet's voice. Her anger blazed up in her.
"I saw Mary Datchet this afternoon," she exclaimed.
He made a movement as if he were surprised or taken aback, but
answered in a moment:
"She told you that I had asked her to marry me, I suppose?"
"No!" Katharine exclaimed, in surprise.
"I did though. It was the day I saw you at Lincoln," he continued. "I
had meant to ask her to marry me, and then I looked out of the window
and saw you. After that I didn't want to ask any one to marry me. But
I did it; and she knew I was lying, and refused me. I thought then,
and still think, that she cares for me. I behaved very badly. I don't
"No," said Katharine, "I should hope not. There's no defence that I
can think of. If any conduct is wrong, that is." She spoke with an
energy that was directed even more against herself than against him.
"It seems to me," she continued, with the same energy, "that people
are bound to be honest. There's no excuse for such behavior." She
could now see plainly before her eyes the expression on Mary Datchet's
After a short pause, he said:
"I am not telling you that I am in love with you. I am not in love
"I didn't think that," she replied, conscious of some bewilderment.
"I have not spoken a word to you that I do not mean," he added.
"Tell me then what it is that you mean," she said at length.
As if obeying a common instinct, they both stopped and, bending
slightly over the balustrade of the river, looked into the flowing
"You say that we've got to be honest," Ralph began. "Very well. I will
try to tell you the facts; but I warn you, you'll think me mad. It's a
fact, though, that since I first saw you four or five months ago I
have made you, in an utterly absurd way, I expect, my ideal. I'm
almost ashamed to tell you what lengths I've gone to. It's become the
thing that matters most in my life." He checked himself. "Without
knowing you, except that you're beautiful, and all that, I've come to
believe that we're in some sort of agreement; that we're after
something together; that we see something. . . . I've got into the
habit of imagining you; I'm always thinking what you'd say or do; I
walk along the street talking to you; I dream of you. It's merely a
bad habit, a schoolboy habit, day-dreaming; it's a common experience;
half one's friends do the same; well, those are the facts."
Simultaneously, they both walked on very slowly.
"If you were to know me you would feel none of this," she said. "We
don't know each other--we've always been--interrupted. . . . Were you
going to tell me this that day my aunts came?" she asked, recollecting
the whole scene.
He bowed his head.
"The day you told me of your engagement," he said.
She thought, with a start, that she was no longer engaged.
"I deny that I should cease to feel this if I knew you," he went on.
"I should feel it more reasonably--that's all. I shouldn't talk the
kind of nonsense I've talked to-night. . . . But it wasn't nonsense.
It was the truth," he said doggedly. "It's the important thing. You
can force me to talk as if this feeling for you were an hallucination,
but all our feelings are that. The best of them are half illusions.
Still," he added, as if arguing to himself, "if it weren't as real a
feeling as I'm capable of, I shouldn't be changing my life on your
"What do you mean?" she inquired.
"I told you. I'm taking a cottage. I'm giving up my profession."
"On my account?" she asked, in amazement.
"Yes, on your account," he replied. He explained his meaning no
"But I don't know you or your circumstances," she said at last, as he
"You have no opinion about me one way or the other?"
"Yes, I suppose I have an opinion--" she hesitated.
He controlled his wish to ask her to explain herself, and much to his
pleasure she went on, appearing to search her mind.
"I thought that you criticized me--perhaps disliked me. I thought of
you as a person who judges--"
"No; I'm a person who feels," he said, in a low voice.
"Tell me, then, what has made you do this?" she asked, after a break.
He told her in an orderly way, betokening careful preparation, all
that he had meant to say at first; how he stood with regard to his
brothers and sisters; what his mother had said, and his sister Joan
had refrained from saying; exactly how many pounds stood in his name
at the bank; what prospect his brother had of earning a livelihood in
America; how much of their income went on rent, and other details
known to him by heart. She listened to all this, so that she could
have passed an examination in it by the time Waterloo Bridge was in
sight; and yet she was no more listening to it than she was counting
the paving-stones at her feet. She was feeling happier than she had
felt in her life. If Denham could have seen how visibly books of
algebraic symbols, pages all speckled with dots and dashes and twisted
bars, came before her eyes as they trod the Embankment, his secret joy
in her attention might have been dispersed. She went on, saying, "Yes,
I see. . . . But how would that help you? . . . Your brother has
passed his examination?" so sensibly, that he had constantly to keep
his brain in check; and all the time she was in fancy looking up
through a telescope at white shadow-cleft disks which were other
worlds, until she felt herself possessed of two bodies, one walking by
the river with Denham, the other concentrated to a silver globe aloft
in the fine blue space above the scum of vapors that was covering the
visible world. She looked at the sky once, and saw that no star was
keen enough to pierce the flight of watery clouds now coursing rapidly
before the west wind. She looked down hurriedly again. There was no
reason, she assured herself, for this feeling of happiness; she was
not free; she was not alone; she was still bound to earth by a million
fibres; every step took her nearer home. Nevertheless, she exulted as
she had never exulted before. The air was fresher, the lights more
distinct, the cold stone of the balustrade colder and harder, when by
chance or purpose she struck her hand against it. No feeling of
annoyance with Denham remained; he certainly did not hinder any flight
she might choose to make, whether in the direction of the sky or of
her home; but that her condition was due to him, or to anything that
he had said, she had no consciousness at all.
They were now within sight of the stream of cabs and omnibuses
crossing to and from the Surrey side of the river; the sound of the
traffic, the hooting of motor-horns, and the light chime of tram-bells
sounded more and more distinctly, and, with the increase of noise,
they both became silent. With a common instinct they slackened their
pace, as if to lengthen the time of semi-privacy allowed them. To
Ralph, the pleasure of these last yards of the walk with Katharine was
so great that he could not look beyond the present moment to the time
when she should have left him. He had no wish to use the last moments
of their companionship in adding fresh words to what he had already
said. Since they had stopped talking, she had become to him not so
much a real person, as the very woman he dreamt of; but his solitary
dreams had never produced any such keenness of sensation as that which
he felt in her presence. He himself was also strangely transfigured.
He had complete mastery of all his faculties. For the first time he
was in possession of his full powers. The vistas which opened before
him seemed to have no perceptible end. But the mood had none of the
restlessness or feverish desire to add one delight to another which
had hitherto marked, and somewhat spoilt, the most rapturous of his
imaginings. It was a mood that took such clear-eyed account of the
conditions of human life that he was not disturbed in the least by the
gliding presence of a taxicab, and without agitation he perceived that
Katharine was conscious of it also, and turned her head in that
direction. Their halting steps acknowledged the desirability of
engaging the cab; and they stopped simultaneously, and signed to it.
"Then you will let me know your decision as soon as you can?" he
asked, with his hand on the door.
She hesitated for a moment. She could not immediately recall what the
question was that she had to decide.
"I will write," she said vaguely. "No," she added, in a second,
bethinking her of the difficulties of writing anything decided upon a
question to which she had paid no attention, "I don't see how to
She stood looking at Denham, considering and hesitating, with her foot
upon the step. He guessed her difficulties; he knew in a second that
she had heard nothing; he knew everything that she felt.
"There's only one place to discuss things satisfactorily that I know
of," he said quickly; "that's Kew."
"Kew," he repeated, with immense decision. He shut the door and gave
her address to the driver. She instantly was conveyed away from him,
and her cab joined the knotted stream of vehicles, each marked by a
light, and indistinguishable one from the other. He stood watching for
a moment, and then, as if swept by some fierce impulse, from the spot
where they had stood, he turned, crossed the road at a rapid pace, and
He walked on upon the impetus of this last mood of almost supernatural
exaltation until he reached a narrow street, at this hour empty of
traffic and passengers. Here, whether it was the shops with their
shuttered windows, the smooth and silvered curve of the wood pavement,
or a natural ebb of feeling, his exaltation slowly oozed and deserted
him. He was now conscious of the loss that follows any revelation; he
had lost something in speaking to Katharine, for, after all, was the
Katharine whom he loved the same as the real Katharine? She had
transcended her entirely at moments; her skirt had blown, her feather
waved, her voice spoken; yes, but how terrible sometimes the pause
between the voice of one's dreams and the voice that comes from the
object of one's dreams! He felt a mixture of disgust and pity at the
figure cut by human beings when they try to carry out, in practice,
what they have the power to conceive. How small both he and Katharine
had appeared when they issued from the cloud of thought that enveloped
them! He recalled the small, inexpressive, commonplace words in which
they had tried to communicate with each other; he repeated them over
to himself. By repeating Katharine's words, he came in a few moments
to such a sense of her presence that he worshipped her more than ever.
But she was engaged to be married, he remembered with a start. The
strength of his feeling was revealed to him instantly, and he gave
himself up to an irresistible rage and sense of frustration. The image
of Rodney came before him with every circumstance of folly and
indignity. That little pink-cheeked dancing-master to marry Katharine?
that gibbering ass with the face of a monkey on an organ? that posing,
vain, fantastical fop? with his tragedies and his comedies, his
innumerable spites and prides and pettinesses? Lord! marry Rodney! She
must be as great a fool as he was. His bitterness took possession of
him, and as he sat in the corner of the underground carriage, he
looked as stark an image of unapproachable severity as could be
imagined. Directly he reached home he sat down at his table, and began
to write Katharine a long, wild, mad letter, begging her for both
their sakes to break with Rodney, imploring her not to do what would
destroy for ever the one beauty, the one truth, the one hope; not to
be a traitor, not to be a deserter, for if she were--and he wound up
with a quiet and brief assertion that, whatever she did or left
undone, he would believe to be the best, and accept from her with
gratitude. He covered sheet after sheet, and heard the early carts
starting for London before he went to bed.
The first signs of spring, even such as make themselves felt towards
the middle of February, not only produce little white and violet
flowers in the more sheltered corners of woods and gardens, but bring
to birth thoughts and desires comparable to those faintly colored and
sweetly scented petals in the minds of men and women. Lives frozen by
age, so far as the present is concerned, to a hard surface, which
neither reflects nor yields, at this season become soft and fluid,
reflecting the shapes and colors of the present, as well as the shapes
and colors of the past. In the case of Mrs. Hilbery, these early
spring days were chiefly upsetting inasmuch as they caused a general
quickening of her emotional powers, which, as far as the past was
concerned, had never suffered much diminution. But in the spring her
desire for expression invariably increased. She was haunted by the
ghosts of phrases. She gave herself up to a sensual delight in the
combinations of words. She sought them in the pages of her favorite
authors. She made them for herself on scraps of paper, and rolled them
on her tongue when there seemed no occasion for such eloquence. She
was upheld in these excursions by the certainty that no language could
outdo the splendor of her father's memory, and although her efforts
did not notably further the end of his biography, she was under the
impression of living more in his shade at such times than at others.
No one can escape the power of language, let alone those of English
birth brought up from childhood, as Mrs. Hilbery had been, to disport
themselves now in the Saxon plainness, now in the Latin splendor of
the tongue, and stored with memories, as she was, of old poets
exuberating in an infinity of vocables. Even Katharine was slightly
affected against her better judgment by her mother's enthusiasm. Not
that her judgment could altogether acquiesce in the necessity for a
study of Shakespeare's sonnets as a preliminary to the fifth chapter
of her grandfather's biography. Beginning with a perfectly frivolous
jest, Mrs. Hilbery had evolved a theory that Anne Hathaway had a way,
among other things, of writing Shakespeare's sonnets; the idea, struck
out to enliven a party of professors, who forwarded a number of
privately printed manuals within the next few days for her
instruction, had submerged her in a flood of Elizabethan literature;
she had come half to believe in her joke, which was, she said, at
least as good as other people's facts, and all her fancy for the time
being centered upon Stratford-on-Avon. She had a plan, she told
Katharine, when, rather later than usual, Katharine came into the room
the morning after her walk by the river, for visiting Shakespeare's
tomb. Any fact about the poet had become, for the moment, of far
greater interest to her than the immediate present, and the certainty
that there was existing in England a spot of ground where Shakespeare
had undoubtedly stood, where his very bones lay directly beneath one's
feet, was so absorbing to her on this particular occasion that she
greeted her daughter with the exclamation:
"D'you think he ever passed this house?"
The question, for the moment, seemed to Katharine to have reference to
"On his way to Blackfriars, I mean," Mrs. Hilbery continued, "for you
know the latest discovery is that he owned a house there."
Katharine still looked about her in perplexity, and Mrs. Hilbery
"Which is a proof that he wasn't as poor as they've sometimes said. I
should like to think that he had enough, though I don't in the least
want him to be rich."
Then, perceiving her daughter's expression of perplexity, Mrs. Hilbery
burst out laughing.
"My dear, I'm not talking about YOUR William, though that's another
reason for liking him. I'm talking, I'm thinking, I'm dreaming of MY
William--William Shakespeare, of course. Isn't it odd," she mused,
standing at the window and tapping gently upon the pane, "that for all
one can see, that dear old thing in the blue bonnet, crossing the road
with her basket on her arm, has never heard that there was such a
person? Yet it all goes on: lawyers hurrying to their work, cabmen
squabbling for their fares, little boys rolling their hoops, little
girls throwing bread to the gulls, as if there weren't a Shakespeare
in the world. I should like to stand at that crossing all day long and
say: 'People, read Shakespeare!'"
Katharine sat down at her table and opened a long dusty envelope. As
Shelley was mentioned in the course of the letter as if he were alive,
it had, of course, considerable value. Her immediate task was to
decide whether the whole letter should be printed, or only the
paragraph which mentioned Shelley's name, and she reached out for a
pen and held it in readiness to do justice upon the sheet. Her pen,
however, remained in the air. Almost surreptitiously she slipped a
clean sheet in front of her, and her hand, descending, began drawing
square boxes halved and quartered by straight lines, and then circles
which underwent the same process of dissection.
"Katharine! I've hit upon a brilliant idea!" Mrs. Hilbery
exclaimed--"to lay out, say, a hundred pounds or so on copies of
Shakespeare, and give them to working men. Some of your clever friends
who get up meetings might help us, Katharine. And that might lead to a
playhouse, where we could all take parts. You'd be Rosalind--but
you've a dash of the old nurse in you. Your father's Hamlet, come to
years of discretion; and I'm--well, I'm a bit of them all; I'm quite a
large bit of the fool, but the fools in Shakespeare say all the clever
things. Now who shall William be? A hero? Hotspur? Henry the Fifth?
No, William's got a touch of Hamlet in him, too. I can fancy that
William talks to himself when he's alone. Ah, Katharine, you must say
very beautiful things when you're together!" she added wistfully, with
a glance at her daughter, who had told her nothing about the dinner
the night before.
"Oh, we talk a lot of nonsense," said Katharine, hiding her slip of
paper as her mother stood by her, and spreading the old letter about
Shelley in front of her.
"It won't seem to you nonsense in ten years' time," said Mrs. Hilbery.
"Believe me, Katharine, you'll look back on these days afterwards;
you'll remember all the silly things you've said; and you'll find that
your life has been built on them. The best of life is built on what we
say when we're in love. It isn't nonsense, Katharine," she urged,
"it's the truth, it's the only truth."
Katharine was on the point of interrupting her mother, and then she
was on the point of confiding in her. They came strangely close
together sometimes. But, while she hesitated and sought for words not
too direct, her mother had recourse to Shakespeare, and turned page
after page, set upon finding some quotation which said all this about
love far, far better than she could. Accordingly, Katharine did
nothing but scrub one of her circles an intense black with her pencil,
in the midst of which process the telephone-bell rang, and she left
the room to answer it.
When she returned, Mrs. Hilbery had found not the passage she wanted,
but another of exquisite beauty as she justly observed, looking up for
a second to ask Katharine who that was?
"Mary Datchet," Katharine replied briefly.
"Ah--I half wish I'd called you Mary, but it wouldn't have gone with
Hilbery, and it wouldn't have gone with Rodney. Now this isn't the
passage I wanted. (I never can find what I want.) But it's spring;
it's the daffodils; it's the green fields; it's the birds."
She was cut short in her quotation by another imperative
telephone-bell. Once more Katharine left the room.
"My dear child, how odious the triumphs of science are!" Mrs. Hilbery
exclaimed on her return. "They'll be linking us with the moon
next--but who was that?"
"William," Katharine replied yet more briefly.
"I'll forgive William anything, for I'm certain that there aren't any
Williams in the moon. I hope he's coming to luncheon?"
"He's coming to tea."
"Well, that's better than nothing, and I promise to leave you alone."
"There's no need for you to do that," said Katharine.
She swept her hand over the faded sheet, and drew herself up squarely
to the table as if she refused to waste time any longer. The gesture
was not lost upon her mother. It hinted at the existence of something
stern and unapproachable in her daughter's character, which struck
chill upon her, as the sight of poverty, or drunkenness, or the logic
with which Mr. Hilbery sometimes thought good to demolish her
certainty of an approaching millennium struck chill upon her. She went
back to her own table, and putting on her spectacles with a curious
expression of quiet humility, addressed herself for the first time
that morning to the task before her. The shock with an unsympathetic
world had a sobering effect on her. For once, her industry surpassed
her daughter's. Katharine could not reduce the world to that
particular perspective in which Harriet Martineau, for instance, was a
figure of solid importance, and possessed of a genuine relationship to
this figure or to that date. Singularly enough, the sharp call of the
telephone-bell still echoed in her ear, and her body and mind were in
a state of tension, as if, at any moment, she might hear another
summons of greater interest to her than the whole of the nineteenth
century. She did not clearly realize what this call was to be; but
when the ears have got into the habit of listening, they go on
listening involuntarily, and thus Katharine spent the greater part of
the morning in listening to a variety of sounds in the back streets of
Chelsea. For the first time in her life, probably, she wished that
Mrs. Hilbery would not keep so closely to her work. A quotation from
Shakespeare would not have come amiss. Now and again she heard a sigh
from her mother's table, but that was the only proof she gave of her
existence, and Katharine did not think of connecting it with the
square aspect of her own position at the table, or, perhaps, she would
have thrown her pen down and told her mother the reason of her
restlessness. The only writing she managed to accomplish in the course
of the morning was one letter, addressed to her cousin, Cassandra
Otway--a rambling letter, long, affectionate, playful and commanding
all at once. She bade Cassandra put her creatures in the charge of a
groom, and come to them for a week or so. They would go and hear some
music together. Cassandra's dislike of rational society, she said, was
an affectation fast hardening into a prejudice, which would, in the
long run, isolate her from all interesting people and pursuits. She
was finishing the sheet when the sound she was anticipating all the
time actually struck upon her ears. She jumped up hastily, and slammed
the door with a sharpness which made Mrs. Hilbery start. Where was
Katharine off to? In her preoccupied state she had not heard the bell.
The alcove on the stairs, in which the telephone was placed, was
screened for privacy by a curtain of purple velvet. It was a pocket
for superfluous possessions, such as exist in most houses which harbor
the wreckage of three generations. Prints of great-uncles, famed for
their prowess in the East, hung above Chinese teapots, whose sides
were riveted by little gold stitches, and the precious teapots, again,
stood upon bookcases containing the complete works of William Cowper
and Sir Walter Scott. The thread of sound, issuing from the telephone,
was always colored by the surroundings which received it, so it seemed
to Katharine. Whose voice was now going to combine with them, or to
strike a discord?
"Whose voice?" she asked herself, hearing a man inquire, with great
determination, for her number. The unfamiliar voice now asked for Miss
Hilbery. Out of all the welter of voices which crowd round the far end
of the telephone, out of the enormous range of possibilities, whose
voice, what possibility, was this? A pause gave her time to ask
herself this question. It was solved next moment.
"I've looked out the train. . . . Early on Saturday afternoon
would suit me best. . . . I'm Ralph Denham. . . . But I'll write
it down. . . ."
With more than the usual sense of being impinged upon the point of a
bayonet, Katharine replied:
"I think I could come. I'll look at my engagements. . . . Hold on."
She dropped the machine, and looked fixedly at the print of the
great-uncle who had not ceased to gaze, with an air of amiable
authority, into a world which, as yet, beheld no symptoms of the
Indian Mutiny. And yet, gently swinging against the wall, within the
black tube, was a voice which recked nothing of Uncle James, of China
teapots, or of red velvet curtains. She watched the oscillation of the
tube, and at the same moment became conscious of the individuality of
the house in which she stood; she heard the soft domestic sounds of
regular existence upon staircases and floors above her head, and
movements through the wall in the house next door. She had no very
clear vision of Denham himself, when she lifted the telephone to her
lips and replied that she thought Saturday would suit her. She hoped
that he would not say good-bye at once, although she felt no
particular anxiety to attend to what he was saying, and began, even
while he spoke, to think of her own upper room, with its books, its
papers pressed between the leaves of dictionaries, and the table that
could be cleared for work. She replaced the instrument, thoughtfully;
her restlessness was assuaged; she finished her letter to Cassandra
without difficulty, addressed the envelope, and fixed the stamp with
her usual quick decision.
A bunch of anemones caught Mrs. Hilbery's eye when they had finished
luncheon. The blue and purple and white of the bowl, standing in a
pool of variegated light on a polished Chippendale table in the
drawing-room window, made her stop dead with an exclamation of
"Who is lying ill in bed, Katharine?" she demanded. "Which of our
friends wants cheering up? Who feels that they've been forgotten and
passed over, and that nobody wants them? Whose water rates are
overdue, and the cook leaving in a temper without waiting for her
wages? There was somebody I know--" she concluded, but for the moment
the name of this desirable acquaintance escaped her. The best
representative of the forlorn company whose day would be brightened by
a bunch of anemones was, in Katharine's opinion, the widow of a
general living in the Cromwell Road. In default of the actually
destitute and starving, whom she would much have preferred, Mrs.
Hilbery was forced to acknowledge her claims, for though in
comfortable circumstances, she was extremely dull, unattractive,
connected in some oblique fashion with literature, and had been
touched to the verge of tears, on one occasion, by an afternoon call.
It happened that Mrs. Hilbery had an engagement elsewhere, so that the
task of taking the flowers to the Cromwell Road fell upon Katharine.
She took her letter to Cassandra with her, meaning to post it in the
first pillar-box she came to. When, however, she was fairly out of
doors, and constantly invited by pillar-boxes and post-offices to slip
her envelope down their scarlet throats, she forbore. She made absurd
excuses, as that she did not wish to cross the road, or that she was
certain to pass another post-office in a more central position a
little farther on. The longer she held the letter in her hand,
however, the more persistently certain questions pressed upon her, as
if from a collection of voices in the air. These invisible people
wished to be informed whether she was engaged to William Rodney, or
was the engagement broken off? Was it right, they asked, to invite
Cassandra for a visit, and was William Rodney in love with her, or
likely to fall in love? Then the questioners paused for a moment, and
resumed as if another side of the problem had just come to their
notice. What did Ralph Denham mean by what he said to you last night?
Do you consider that he is in love with you? Is it right to consent to
a solitary walk with him, and what advice are you going to give him
about his future? Has William Rodney cause to be jealous of your
conduct, and what do you propose to do about Mary Datchet? What are
you going to do? What does honor require you to do? they repeated.
"Good Heavens!" Katharine exclaimed, after listening to all these
remarks, "I suppose I ought to make up my mind."
But the debate was a formal skirmishing, a pastime to gain breathing-
space. Like all people brought up in a tradition, Katharine was able,
within ten minutes or so, to reduce any moral difficulty to its
traditional shape and solve it by the traditional answers. The book of
wisdom lay open, if not upon her mother's knee, upon the knees of many
uncles and aunts. She had only to consult them, and they would at once
turn to the right page and read out an answer exactly suited to one in
her position. The rules which should govern the behavior of an
unmarried woman are written in red ink, graved upon marble, if, by
some freak of nature, it should fall out that the unmarried woman has
not the same writing scored upon her heart. She was ready to believe
that some people are fortunate enough to reject, accept, resign, or
lay down their lives at the bidding of traditional authority; she
could envy them; but in her case the questions became phantoms
directly she tried seriously to find an answer, which proved that the
traditional answer would be of no use to her individually. Yet it had
served so many people, she thought, glancing at the rows of houses on
either side of her, where families, whose incomes must be between a
thousand and fifteen-hundred a year lived, and kept, perhaps, three
servants, and draped their windows with curtains which were always
thick and generally dirty, and must, she thought, since you could only
see a looking-glass gleaming above a sideboard on which a dish of
apples was set, keep the room inside very dark. But she turned her
head away, observing that this was not a method of thinking the matter
The only truth which she could discover was the truth of what she
herself felt--a frail beam when compared with the broad illumination
shed by the eyes of all the people who are in agreement to see
together; but having rejected the visionary voices, she had no choice
but to make this her guide through the dark masses which confronted
her. She tried to follow her beam, with an expression upon her face
which would have made any passer-by think her reprehensibly and almost
ridiculously detached from the surrounding scene. One would have felt
alarmed lest this young and striking woman were about to do something
eccentric. But her beauty saved her from the worst fate that can
befall a pedestrian; people looked at her, but they did not laugh. To
seek a true feeling among the chaos of the unfeelings or half-feelings
of life, to recognize it when found, and to accept the consequences of
the discovery, draws lines upon the smoothest brow, while it quickens
the light of the eyes; it is a pursuit which is alternately
bewildering, debasing, and exalting, and, as Katharine speedily found,
her discoveries gave her equal cause for surprise, shame, and intense
anxiety. Much depended, as usual, upon the interpretation of the word
love; which word came up again and again, whether she considered
Rodney, Denham, Mary Datchet, or herself; and in each case it seemed
to stand for something different, and yet for something unmistakable
and something not to be passed by. For the more she looked into the
confusion of lives which, instead of running parallel, had suddenly
intersected each other, the more distinctly she seemed to convince
herself that there was no other light on them than was shed by this
strange illumination, and no other path save the one upon which it
threw its beams. Her blindness in the case of Rodney, her attempt to
match his true feeling with her false feeling, was a failure never to
be sufficiently condemned; indeed, she could only pay it the tribute
of leaving it a black and naked landmark unburied by attempt at
oblivion or excuse.
With this to humiliate there was much to exalt. She thought of three
different scenes; she thought of Mary sitting upright and saying, "I'm
in love--I'm in love"; she thought of Rodney losing his self-
consciousness among the dead leaves, and speaking with the abandonment
of a child; she thought of Denham leaning upon the stone parapet and
talking to the distant sky, so that she thought him mad. Her mind,
passing from Mary to Denham, from William to Cassandra, and from
Denham to herself--if, as she rather doubted, Denham's state of mind
was connected with herself--seemed to be tracing out the lines of some
symmetrical pattern, some arrangement of life, which invested, if not
herself, at least the others, not only with interest, but with a kind
of tragic beauty. She had a fantastic picture of them upholding
splendid palaces upon their bent backs. They were the lantern-bearers,
whose lights, scattered among the crowd, wove a pattern, dissolving,
joining, meeting again in combination. Half forming such conceptions
as these in her rapid walk along the dreary streets of South
Kensington, she determined that, whatever else might be obscure, she
must further the objects of Mary, Denham, William, and Cassandra. The
way was not apparent. No course of action seemed to her indubitably
right. All she achieved by her thinking was the conviction that, in
such a cause, no risk was too great; and that, far from making any
rules for herself or others, she would let difficulties accumulate
unsolved, situations widen their jaws unsatiated, while she maintained
a position of absolute and fearless independence. So she could best
serve the people who loved.
Read in the light of this exaltation, there was a new meaning in the
words which her mother had penciled upon the card attached to the
bunch of anemones. The door of the house in the Cromwell Road opened;
gloomy vistas of passage and staircase were revealed; such light as
there was seemed to be concentrated upon a silver salver of
visiting-cards, whose black borders suggested that the widow's friends
had all suffered the same bereavement. The parlor-maid could hardly be
expected to fathom the meaning of the grave tone in which the young
lady proffered the flowers, with Mrs. Hilbery's love; and the door
shut upon the offering.
The sight of a face, the slam of a door, are both rather destructive
of exaltation in the abstract; and, as she walked back to Chelsea,
Katharine had her doubts whether anything would come of her resolves.
If you cannot make sure of people, however, you can hold fairly fast
to figures, and in some way or other her thought about such problems
as she was wont to consider worked in happily with her mood as to her
friends' lives. She reached home rather late for tea.
On the ancient Dutch chest in the hall she perceived one or two hats,
coats, and walking-sticks, and the sound of voices reached her as she
stood outside the drawing-room door. Her mother gave a little cry as
she came in; a cry which conveyed to Katharine the fact that she was
late, that the teacups and milk-jugs were in a conspiracy of
disobedience, and that she must immediately take her place at the head
of the table and pour out tea for the guests. Augustus Pelham, the
diarist, liked a calm atmosphere in which to tell his stories; he
liked attention; he liked to elicit little facts, little stories,
about the past and the great dead, from such distinguished characters
as Mrs. Hilbery for the nourishment of his diary, for whose sake he
frequented tea-tables and ate yearly an enormous quantity of buttered
toast. He, therefore, welcomed Katharine with relief, and she had
merely to shake hands with Rodney and to greet the American lady who
had come to be shown the relics, before the talk started again on the
broad lines of reminiscence and discussion which were familiar to her.
Yet, even with this thick veil between them, she could not help
looking at Rodney, as if she could detect what had happened to him
since they met. It was in vain. His clothes, even the white slip, the
pearl in his tie, seemed to intercept her quick glance, and to
proclaim the futility of such inquiries of a discreet, urbane
gentleman, who balanced his cup of tea and poised a slice of bread and
butter on the edge of the saucer. He would not meet her eye, but that
could be accounted for by his activity in serving and helping, and the
polite alacrity with which he was answering the questions of the
It was certainly a sight to daunt any one coming in with a head full
of theories about love. The voices of the invisible questioners were
reinforced by the scene round the table, and sounded with a tremendous
self-confidence, as if they had behind them the common sense of twenty
generations, together with the immediate approval of Mr. Augustus
Pelham, Mrs. Vermont Bankes, William Rodney, and, possibly, Mrs.
Hilbery herself. Katharine set her teeth, not entirely in the
metaphorical sense, for her hand, obeying the impulse towards definite
action, laid firmly upon the table beside her an envelope which she
had been grasping all this time in complete forgetfulness. The address
was uppermost, and a moment later she saw William's eye rest upon it
as he rose to fulfil some duty with a plate. His expression instantly
changed. He did what he was on the point of doing, and then looked at
Katharine with a look which revealed enough of his confusion to show
her that he was not entirely represented by his appearance. In a
minute or two he proved himself at a loss with Mrs. Vermont Bankes,
and Mrs. Hilbery, aware of the silence with her usual quickness,
suggested that, perhaps, it was now time that Mrs. Bankes should be
shown "our things."
Katharine accordingly rose, and led the way to the little inner room
with the pictures and the books. Mrs. Bankes and Rodney followed her.
She turned on the lights, and began directly in her low, pleasant
voice: "This table is my grandfather's writing-table. Most of the
later poems were written at it. And this is his pen--the last pen he
ever used." She took it in her hand and paused for the right number of
seconds. "Here," she continued, "is the original manuscript of the
'Ode to Winter.' The early manuscripts are far less corrected than the
later ones, as you will see directly. . . . Oh, do take it yourself,"
she added, as Mrs. Bankes asked, in an awestruck tone of voice, for
that privilege, and began a preliminary unbuttoning of her white kid
"You are wonderfully like your grandfather, Miss Hilbery," the
American lady observed, gazing from Katharine to the portrait,
"especially about the eyes. Come, now, I expect she writes poetry
herself, doesn't she?" she asked in a jocular tone, turning to
William. "Quite one's ideal of a poet, is it not, Mr. Rodney? I cannot
tell you what a privilege I feel it to be standing just here with the
poet's granddaughter. You must know we think a great deal of your
grandfather in America, Miss Hilbery. We have societies for reading
him aloud. What! His very own slippers!" Laying aside the manuscript,
she hastily grasped the old shoes, and remained for a moment dumb in
contemplation of them.
While Katharine went on steadily with her duties as show-woman, Rodney
examined intently a row of little drawings which he knew by heart
already. His disordered state of mind made it necessary for him to
take advantage of these little respites, as if he had been out in a
high wind and must straighten his dress in the first shelter he
reached. His calm was only superficial, as he knew too well; it did
not exist much below the surface of tie, waistcoat, and white slip.
On getting out of bed that morning he had fully made up his mind to
ignore what had been said the night before; he had been convinced, by
the sight of Denham, that his love for Katharine was passionate, and
when he addressed her early that morning on the telephone, he had
meant his cheerful but authoritative tones to convey to her the fact
that, after a night of madness, they were as indissolubly engaged as
ever. But when he reached his office his torments began. He found a
letter from Cassandra waiting for him. She had read his play, and had
taken the very first opportunity to write and tell him what she
thought of it. She knew, she wrote, that her praise meant absolutely
nothing; but still, she had sat up all night; she thought this, that,
and the other; she was full of enthusiasm most elaborately scratched
out in places, but enough was written plain to gratify William's
vanity exceedingly. She was quite intelligent enough to say the right
things, or, even more charmingly, to hint at them. In other ways, too,
it was a very charming letter. She told him about her music, and about
a Suffrage meeting to which Henry had taken her, and she asserted,
half seriously, that she had learnt the Greek alphabet, and found it
"fascinating." The word was underlined. Had she laughed when she drew
that line? Was she ever serious? Didn't the letter show the most
engaging compound of enthusiasm and spirit and whimsicality, all
tapering into a flame of girlish freakishness, which flitted, for the
rest of the morning, as a will-o'-the-wisp, across Rodney's landscape.
He could not resist beginning an answer to her there and then. He
found it particularly delightful to shape a style which should express
the bowing and curtsying, advancing and retreating, which are
characteristic of one of the many million partnerships of men and
women. Katharine never trod that particular measure, he could not help
reflecting; Katharine--Cassandra; Cassandra--Katharine--they
alternated in his consciousness all day long. It was all very well to
dress oneself carefully, compose one's face, and start off punctually
at half-past four to a tea-party in Cheyne Walk, but Heaven only knew
what would come of it all, and when Katharine, after sitting silent
with her usual immobility, wantonly drew from her pocket and slapped
down on the table beneath his eyes a letter addressed to Cassandra
herself, his composure deserted him. What did she mean by her
He looked up sharply from his row of little pictures. Katharine was
disposing of the American lady in far too arbitrary a fashion. Surely
the victim herself must see how foolish her enthusiasms appeared in
the eyes of the poet's granddaughter. Katharine never made any attempt
to spare people's feelings, he reflected; and, being himself very
sensitive to all shades of comfort and discomfort, he cut short the
auctioneer's catalog, which Katharine was reeling off more and more
absent-mindedly, and took Mrs. Vermont Bankes, with a queer sense of
fellowship in suffering, under his own protection.
But within a few minutes the American lady had completed her
inspection, and inclining her head in a little nod of reverential
farewell to the poet and his shoes, she was escorted downstairs by
Rodney. Katharine stayed by herself in the little room. The ceremony
of ancestor-worship had been more than usually oppressive to her.
Moreover, the room was becoming crowded beyond the bounds of order.
Only that morning a heavily insured proof-sheet had reached them from
a collector in Australia, which recorded a change of the poet's mind
about a very famous phrase, and, therefore, had claims to the honor of
glazing and framing. But was there room for it? Must it be hung on the
staircase, or should some other relic give place to do it honor?
Feeling unable to decide the question, Katharine glanced at the
portrait of her grandfather, as if to ask his opinion. The artist who
had painted it was now out of fashion, and by dint of showing it to
visitors, Katharine had almost ceased to see anything but a glow of
faintly pleasing pink and brown tints, enclosed within a circular
scroll of gilt laurel-leaves. The young man who was her grandfather
looked vaguely over her head. The sensual lips were slightly parted,
and gave the face an expression of beholding something lovely or
miraculous vanishing or just rising upon the rim of the distance. The
expression repeated itself curiously upon Katharine's face as she
gazed up into his. They were the same age, or very nearly so. She
wondered what he was looking for; were there waves beating upon a
shore for him, too, she wondered, and heroes riding through the
leaf-hung forests? For perhaps the first time in her life she thought
of him as a man, young, unhappy, tempestuous, full of desires and
faults; for the first time she realized him for herself, and not from
her mother's memory. He might have been her brother, she thought. It
seemed to her that they were akin, with the mysterious kinship of
blood which makes it seem possible to interpret the sights which the
eyes of the dead behold so intently, or even to believe that they look
with us upon our present joys and sorrows. He would have understood,
she thought, suddenly; and instead of laying her withered flowers upon
his shrine, she brought him her own perplexities--perhaps a gift of
greater value, should the dead be conscious of gifts, than flowers and
incense and adoration. Doubts, questionings, and despondencies she
felt, as she looked up, would be more welcome to him than homage, and
he would hold them but a very small burden if she gave him, also, some
share in what she suffered and achieved. The depth of her own pride
and love were not more apparent to her than the sense that the dead
asked neither flowers nor regrets, but a share in the life which they
had given her, the life which they had lived.
Rodney found her a moment later sitting beneath her grandfather's
portrait. She laid her hand on the seat next her in a friendly way,
"Come and sit down, William. How glad I was you were here! I felt
myself getting ruder and ruder."
"You are not good at hiding your feelings," he returned dryly.
"Oh, don't scold me--I've had a horrid afternoon." She told him how
she had taken the flowers to Mrs. McCormick, and how South Kensington
impressed her as the preserve of officers' widows. She described how
the door had opened, and what gloomy avenues of busts and palm-trees
and umbrellas had been revealed to her. She spoke lightly, and
succeeded in putting him at his ease. Indeed, he rapidly became too
much at his ease to persist in a condition of cheerful neutrality. He
felt his composure slipping from him. Katharine made it seem so
natural to ask her to help him, or advise him, to say straight out
what he had in his mind. The letter from Cassandra was heavy in his
pocket. There was also the letter to Cassandra lying on the table in
the next room. The atmosphere seemed charged with Cassandra. But,
unless Katharine began the subject of her own accord, he could not
even hint--he must ignore the whole affair; it was the part of a
gentleman to preserve a bearing that was, as far as he could make it,
the bearing of an undoubting lover. At intervals he sighed deeply. He
talked rather more quickly than usual about the possibility that some
of the operas of Mozart would be played in the summer. He had received
a notice, he said, and at once produced a pocket-book stuffed with
papers, and began shuffling them in search. He held a thick envelope
between his finger and thumb, as if the notice from the opera company
had become in some way inseparably attached to it.
"A letter from Cassandra?" said Katharine, in the easiest voice in the
world, looking over his shoulder. "I've just written to ask her to
come here, only I forgot to post it."
He handed her the envelope in silence. She took it, extracted the
sheets, and read the letter through.
The reading seemed to Rodney to take an intolerably long time.
"Yes," she observed at length, "a very charming letter."
Rodney's face was half turned away, as if in bashfulness. Her view of
his profile almost moved her to laughter. She glanced through the
pages once more.
"I see no harm," William blurted out, "in helping her--with Greek, for
example--if she really cares for that sort of thing."
"There's no reason why she shouldn't care," said Katharine, consulting
the pages once more. "In fact--ah, here it is--'The Greek alphabet is
absolutely FASCINATING.' Obviously she does care."
"Well, Greek may be rather a large order. I was thinking chiefly of
English. Her criticisms of my play, though they're too generous,
evidently immature--she can't be more than twenty-two, I suppose?--
they certainly show the sort of thing one wants: real feeling for
poetry, understanding, not formed, of course, but it's at the root of
everything after all. There'd be no harm in lending her books?"
"No. Certainly not."
"But if it--hum--led to a correspondence? I mean, Katharine, I take
it, without going into matters which seem to me a little morbid, I
mean," he floundered, "you, from your point of view, feel that there's
nothing disagreeable to you in the notion? If so, you've only to
speak, and I never think of it again."
She was surprised by the violence of her desire that he never should
think of it again. For an instant it seemed to her impossible to
surrender an intimacy, which might not be the intimacy of love, but
was certainly the intimacy of true friendship, to any woman in the
world. Cassandra would never understand him--she was not good enough
for him. The letter seemed to her a letter of flattery--a letter
addressed to his weakness, which it made her angry to think was known
to another. For he was not weak; he had the rare strength of doing
what he promised--she had only to speak, and he would never think of
She paused. Rodney guessed the reason. He was amazed.
"She loves me," he thought. The woman he admired more than any one in
the world, loved him, as he had given up hope that she would ever love
him. And now that for the first time he was sure of her love, he
resented it. He felt it as a fetter, an encumbrance, something which
made them both, but him in particular, ridiculous. He was in her power
completely, but his eyes were open and he was no longer her slave or
her dupe. He would be her master in future. The instant prolonged
itself as Katharine realized the strength of her desire to speak the
words that should keep William for ever, and the baseness of the
temptation which assailed her to make the movement, or speak the word,
which he had often begged her for, which she was now near enough to
feeling. She held the letter in her hand. She sat silent.
At this moment there was a stir in the other room; the voice of Mrs.
Hilbery was heard talking of proof-sheets rescued by miraculous
providence from butcher's ledgers in Australia; the curtain separating
one room from the other was drawn apart, and Mrs. Hilbery and Augustus
Pelham stood in the doorway. Mrs. Hilbery stopped short. She looked at
her daughter, and at the man her daughter was to marry, with her
peculiar smile that always seemed to tremble on the brink of satire.
"The best of all my treasures, Mr. Pelham!" she exclaimed. "Don't
move, Katharine. Sit still, William. Mr. Pelham will come another
Mr. Pelham looked, smiled, bowed, and, as his hostess had moved on,
followed her without a word. The curtain was drawn again either by him
or by Mrs. Hilbery.
But her mother had settled the question somehow. Katharine doubted no
"As I told you last night," she said, "I think it's your duty, if
there's a chance that you care for Cassandra, to discover what your
feeling is for her now. It's your duty to her, as well as to me. But
we must tell my mother. We can't go on pretending."
"That is entirely in your hands, of course," said Rodney, with an
immediate return to the manner of a formal man of honor.
"Very well," said Katharine.
Directly he left her she would go to her mother, and explain that the
engagement was at an end--or it might be better that they should go
"But, Katharine," Rodney began, nervously attempting to stuff
Cassandra's sheets back into their envelope; "if Cassandra--should
Cassandra--you've asked Cassandra to stay with you."
"Yes; but I've not posted the letter."
He crossed his knees in a discomfited silence. By all his codes it was
impossible to ask a woman with whom he had just broken off his
engagement to help him to become acquainted with another woman with a
view to his falling in love with her. If it was announced that their
engagement was over, a long and complete separation would inevitably
follow; in those circumstances, letters and gifts were returned; after
years of distance the severed couple met, perhaps at an evening party,
and touched hands uncomfortably with an indifferent word or two. He
would be cast off completely; he would have to trust to his own
resources. He could never mention Cassandra to Katharine again; for
months, and doubtless years, he would never see Katharine again;
anything might happen to her in his absence.
Katharine was almost as well aware of his perplexities as he was. She
knew in what direction complete generosity pointed the way; but pride
--for to remain engaged to Rodney and to cover his experiments hurt
what was nobler in her than mere vanity--fought for its life.
"I'm to give up my freedom for an indefinite time," she thought, "in
order that William may see Cassandra here at his ease. He's not the
courage to manage it without my help--he's too much of a coward to
tell me openly what he wants. He hates the notion of a public breach.
He wants to keep us both."
When she reached this point, Rodney pocketed the letter and
elaborately looked at his watch. Although the action meant that he
resigned Cassandra, for he knew his own incompetence and distrusted
himself entirely, and lost Katharine, for whom his feeling was
profound though unsatisfactory, still it appeared to him that there
was nothing else left for him to do. He was forced to go, leaving
Katharine free, as he had said, to tell her mother that the engagement
was at an end. But to do what plain duty required of an honorable man,
cost an effort which only a day or two ago would have been
inconceivable to him. That a relationship such as he had glanced at
with desire could be possible between him and Katharine, he would have
been the first, two days ago, to deny with indignation. But now his
life had changed; his attitude had changed; his feelings were
different; new aims and possibilities had been shown him, and they had
an almost irresistible fascination and force. The training of a life
of thirty-five years had not left him defenceless; he was still master
of his dignity; he rose, with a mind made up to an irrevocable
"I leave you, then," he said, standing up and holding out his hand
with an effort that left him pale, but lent him dignity, "to tell your
mother that our engagement is ended by your desire."
She took his hand and held it.
"You don't trust me?" she said.
"I do, absolutely," he replied.
"No. You don't trust me to help you. . . . I could help you?"
"I'm hopeless without your help!" he exclaimed passionately, but
withdrew his hand and turned his back. When he faced her, she thought
that she saw him for the first time without disguise.
"It's useless to pretend that I don't understand what you're offering,
Katharine. I admit what you say. Speaking to you perfectly frankly, I
believe at this moment that I do love your cousin; there is a chance
that, with your help, I might--but no," he broke off, "it's
impossible, it's wrong--I'm infinitely to blame for having allowed
this situation to arise."
"Sit beside me. Let's consider sensibly--"
"Your sense has been our undoing--" he groaned.
"I accept the responsibility."
"Ah, but can I allow that?" he exclaimed. "It would mean--for we must
face it, Katharine--that we let our engagement stand for the time
nominally; in fact, of course, your freedom would be absolute."
"And yours too."
"Yes, we should both be free. Let us say that I saw Cassandra once,
twice, perhaps, under these conditions; and then if, as I think
certain, the whole thing proves a dream, we tell your mother
instantly. Why not tell her now, indeed, under pledge of secrecy?"
"Why not? It would be over London in ten minutes, besides, she would
never even remotely understand."
"Your father, then? This secrecy is detestable--it's dishonorable."
"My father would understand even less than my mother."
"Ah, who could be expected to understand?" Rodney groaned; "but it's
from your point of view that we must look at it. It's not only asking
too much, it's putting you into a position--a position in which I
could not endure to see my own sister."
"We're not brothers and sisters," she said impatiently, "and if we
can't decide, who can? I'm not talking nonsense," she proceeded. "I've
done my best to think this out from every point of view, and I've come
to the conclusion that there are risks which have to be taken,--though
I don't deny that they hurt horribly."
"Katharine, you mind? You'll mind too much."
"No I shan't," she said stoutly. "I shall mind a good deal, but I'm
prepared for that; I shall get through it, because you will help me.
You'll both help me. In fact, we'll help each other. That's a
Christian doctrine, isn't it?"
"It sounds more like Paganism to me," Rodney groaned, as he reviewed
the situation into which her Christian doctrine was plunging them.
And yet he could not deny that a divine relief possessed him, and that
the future, instead of wearing a lead-colored mask, now blossomed with
a thousand varied gaieties and excitements. He was actually to see
Cassandra within a week or perhaps less, and he was more anxious to
know the date of her arrival than he could own even to himself. It
seemed base to be so anxious to pluck this fruit of Katharine's
unexampled generosity and of his own contemptible baseness. And yet,
though he used these words automatically, they had now no meaning. He
was not debased in his own eyes by what he had done, and as for
praising Katharine, were they not partners, conspirators, people bent
upon the same quest together, so that to praise the pursuit of a
common end as an act of generosity was meaningless. He took her hand
and pressed it, not in thanks so much as in an ecstasy of comradeship.
"We will help each other," he said, repeating her words, seeking her
eyes in an enthusiasm of friendship.
Her eyes were grave but dark with sadness as they rested on him. "He's
already gone," she thought, "far away--he thinks of me no more." And
the fancy came to her that, as they sat side by side, hand in hand,
she could hear the earth pouring from above to make a barrier between
them, so that, as they sat, they were separated second by second by an
impenetrable wall. The process, which affected her as that of being
sealed away and for ever from all companionship with the person she
cared for most, came to an end at last, and by common consent they
unclasped their fingers, Rodney touching hers with his lips, as the
curtain parted, and Mrs. Hilbery peered through the opening with her
benevolent and sarcastic expression to ask whether Katharine could
remember was it Tuesday or Wednesday, and did she dine in Westminster?
"Dearest William," she said, pausing, as if she could not resist the
pleasure of encroaching for a second upon this wonderful world of love
and confidence and romance. "Dearest children," she added,
disappearing with an impulsive gesture, as if she forced herself to
draw the curtain upon a scene which she refused all temptation to
At a quarter-past three in the afternoon of the following Saturday
Ralph Denham sat on the bank of the lake in Kew Gardens, dividing the
dial-plate of his watch into sections with his forefinger. The just
and inexorable nature of time itself was reflected in his face. He
might have been composing a hymn to the unhasting and unresting march
of that divinity. He seemed to greet the lapse of minute after minute
with stern acquiescence in the inevitable order. His expression was so
severe, so serene, so immobile, that it seemed obvious that for him at
least there was a grandeur in the departing hour which no petty
irritation on his part was to mar, although the wasting time wasted
also high private hopes of his own.
His face was no bad index to what went on within him. He was in a
condition of mind rather too exalted for the trivialities of daily
life. He could not accept the fact that a lady was fifteen minutes
late in keeping her appointment without seeing in that accident the
frustration of his entire life. Looking at his watch, he seemed to
look deep into the springs of human existence, and by the light of
what he saw there altered his course towards the north and the
midnight. . . . Yes, one's voyage must be made absolutely without
companions through ice and black water--towards what goal? Here he
laid his finger upon the half-hour, and decided that when the
minute-hand reached that point he would go, at the same time answering
the question put by another of the many voices of consciousness with
the reply that there was undoubtedly a goal, but that it would need
the most relentless energy to keep anywhere in its direction. Still,
still, one goes on, the ticking seconds seemed to assure him, with
dignity, with open eyes, with determination not to accept the
second-rate, not to be tempted by the unworthy, not to yield, not to
compromise. Twenty-five minutes past three were now marked upon the
face of the watch. The world, he assured himself, since Katharine
Hilbery was now half an hour behind her time, offers no happiness, no
rest from struggle, no certainty. In a scheme of things utterly bad
from the start the only unpardonable folly is that of hope. Raising
his eyes for a moment from the face of his watch, he rested them upon
the opposite bank, reflectively and not without a certain wistfulness,
as if the sternness of their gaze were still capable of mitigation.
Soon a look of the deepest satisfaction filled them, though, for a
moment, he did not move. He watched a lady who came rapidly, and yet
with a trace of hesitation, down the broad grass-walk towards him. She
did not see him. Distance lent her figure an indescribable height, and
romance seemed to surround her from the floating of a purple veil
which the light air filled and curved from her shoulders.
"Here she comes, like a ship in full sail," he said to himself, half
remembering some line from a play or poem where the heroine bore down
thus with feathers flying and airs saluting her. The greenery and the
high presences of the trees surrounded her as if they stood forth at
her coming. He rose, and she saw him; her little exclamation proved
that she was glad to find him, and then that she blamed herself for
"Why did you never tell me? I didn't know there was this," she
remarked, alluding to the lake, the broad green space, the vista of
trees, with the ruffled gold of the Thames in the distance and the
Ducal castle standing in its meadows. She paid the rigid tail of the
Ducal lion the tribute of incredulous laughter.
"You've never been to Kew?" Denham remarked.
But it appeared that she had come once as a small child, when the
geography of the place was entirely different, and the fauna included
certainly flamingoes and, possibly, camels. They strolled on,
refashioning these legendary gardens. She was, as he felt, glad merely
to stroll and loiter and let her fancy touch upon anything her eyes
encountered--a bush, a park-keeper, a decorated goose--as if the
relaxation soothed her. The warmth of the afternoon, the first of
spring, tempted them to sit upon a seat in a glade of beech-trees,
with forest drives striking green paths this way and that around them.
She sighed deeply.
"It's so peaceful," she said, as if in explanation of her sigh. Not a
single person was in sight, and the stir of the wind in the branches,
that sound so seldom heard by Londoners, seemed to her as if wafted
from fathomless oceans of sweet air in the distance.
While she breathed and looked, Denham was engaged in uncovering with
the point of his stick a group of green spikes half smothered by the
dead leaves. He did this with the peculiar touch of the botanist. In
naming the little green plant to her he used the Latin name, thus
disguising some flower familiar even to Chelsea, and making her
exclaim, half in amusement, at his knowledge. Her own ignorance was
vast, she confessed. What did one call that tree opposite, for
instance, supposing one condescended to call it by its English name?
Beech or elm or sycamore? It chanced, by the testimony of a dead leaf,
to be oak; and a little attention to a diagram which Denham proceeded
to draw upon an envelope soon put Katharine in possession of some of
the fundamental distinctions between our British trees. She then asked
him to inform her about flowers. To her they were variously shaped and
colored petals, poised, at different seasons of the year, upon very
similar green stalks; but to him they were, in the first instance,
bulbs or seeds, and later, living things endowed with sex, and pores,
and susceptibilities which adapted themselves by all manner of
ingenious devices to live and beget life, and could be fashioned squat
or tapering, flame-colored or pale, pure or spotted, by processes
which might reveal the secrets of human existence. Denham spoke with
increasing ardor of a hobby which had long been his in secret. No
discourse could have worn a more welcome sound in Katharine's ears.
For weeks she had heard nothing that made such pleasant music in her
mind. It wakened echoes in all those remote fastnesses of her being
where loneliness had brooded so long undisturbed.
She wished he would go on for ever talking of plants, and showing her
how science felt not quite blindly for the law that ruled their
endless variations. A law that might be inscrutable but was certainly
omnipotent appealed to her at the moment, because she could find
nothing like it in possession of human lives. Circumstances had long
forced her, as they force most women in the flower of youth, to
consider, painfully and minutely, all that part of life which is
conspicuously without order; she had had to consider moods and wishes,
degrees of liking or disliking, and their effect upon the destiny of
people dear to her; she had been forced to deny herself any
contemplation of that other part of life where thought constructs a
destiny which is independent of human beings. As Denham spoke, she
followed his words and considered their bearing with an easy vigor
which spoke of a capacity long hoarded and unspent. The very trees and
the green merging into the blue distance became symbols of the vast
external world which recks so little of the happiness, of the
marriages or deaths of individuals. In order to give her examples of
what he was saying, Denham led the way, first to the Rock Garden, and
then to the Orchid House.
For him there was safety in the direction which the talk had taken.
His emphasis might come from feelings more personal than those science
roused in him, but it was disguised, and naturally he found it easy to
expound and explain. Nevertheless, when he saw Katharine among the
orchids, her beauty strangely emphasized by the fantastic plants,
which seemed to peer and gape at her from striped hoods and fleshy
throats, his ardor for botany waned, and a more complex feeling
replaced it. She fell silent. The orchids seemed to suggest absorbing
reflections. In defiance of the rules she stretched her ungloved hand
and touched one. The sight of the rubies upon her finger affected him
so disagreeably that he started and turned away. But next moment he
controlled himself; he looked at her taking in one strange shape after
another with the contemplative, considering gaze of a person who sees
not exactly what is before him, but gropes in regions that lie beyond
it. The far-away look entirely lacked self-consciousness. Denham
doubted whether she remembered his presence. He could recall himself,
of course, by a word or a movement--but why? She was happier thus. She
needed nothing that he could give her. And for him, too, perhaps, it
was best to keep aloof, only to know that she existed, to preserve
what he already had--perfect, remote, and unbroken. Further, her still
look, standing among the orchids in that hot atmosphere, strangely
illustrated some scene that he had imagined in his room at home. The
sight, mingling with his recollection, kept him silent when the door
was shut and they were walking on again.
But though she did not speak, Katharine had an uneasy sense that
silence on her part was selfishness. It was selfish of her to
continue, as she wished to do, a discussion of subjects not remotely
connected with any human beings. She roused herself to consider their
exact position upon the turbulent map of the emotions. Oh yes--it was
a question whether Ralph Denham should live in the country and write a
book; it was getting late; they must waste no more time; Cassandra
arrived to-night for dinner; she flinched and roused herself, and
discovered that she ought to be holding something in her hands. But
they were empty. She held them out with an exclamation.
"I've left my bag somewhere--where?" The gardens had no points of the
compass, so far as she was concerned. She had been walking for the
most part on grass--that was all she knew. Even the road to the Orchid
House had now split itself into three. But there was no bag in the
Orchid House. It must, therefore, have been left upon the seat. They
retraced their steps in the preoccupied manner of people who have to
think about something that is lost. What did this bag look like? What
did it contain?
"A purse--a ticket--some letters, papers," Katharine counted, becoming
more agitated as she recalled the list. Denham went on quickly in
advance of her, and she heard him shout that he had found it before
she reached the seat. In order to make sure that all was safe she
spread the contents on her knee. It was a queer collection, Denham
thought, gazing with the deepest interest. Loose gold coins were
tangled in a narrow strip of lace; there were letters which somehow
suggested the extreme of intimacy; there were two or three keys, and
lists of commissions against which crosses were set at intervals. But
she did not seem satisfied until she had made sure of a certain paper
so folded that Denham could not judge what it contained. In her relief
and gratitude she began at once to say that she had been thinking over
what Denham had told her of his plans.
He cut her short. "Don't let's discuss that dreary business."
"But I thought--"
"It's a dreary business. I ought never to have bothered you--"
"Have you decided, then?"
He made an impatient sound. "It's not a thing that matters."
She could only say rather flatly, "Oh!"
"I mean it matters to me, but it matters to no one else. Anyhow," he
continued, more amiably, "I see no reason why you should be bothered
with other people's nuisances."
She supposed that she had let him see too clearly her weariness of
this side of life.
"I'm afraid I've been absent-minded," she began, remembering how often
William had brought this charge against her.
"You have a good deal to make you absent-minded," he replied.
"Yes," she replied, flushing. "No," she contradicted herself. "Nothing
particular, I mean. But I was thinking about plants. I was enjoying
myself. In fact, I've seldom enjoyed an afternoon more. But I want to
hear what you've settled, if you don't mind telling me."
"Oh, it's all settled," he replied. "I'm going to this infernal
cottage to write a worthless book."
"How I envy you," she replied, with the utmost sincerity.
"Well, cottages are to be had for fifteen shillings a week."
"Cottages are to be had--yes," she replied. "The question is--" She
checked herself. "Two rooms are all I should want," she continued,
with a curious sigh; "one for eating, one for sleeping. Oh, but I
should like another, a large one at the top, and a little garden where
one could grow flowers. A path--so--down to a river, or up to a wood,
and the sea not very far off, so that one could hear the waves at
night. Ships just vanishing on the horizon--" She broke off. "Shall
you be near the sea?"
"My notion of perfect happiness," he began, not replying to her
question, "is to live as you've said."
"Well, now you can. You will work, I suppose," she continued; "you'll
work all the morning and again after tea and perhaps at night. You
won't have people always coming about you to interrupt."
"How far can one live alone?" he asked. "Have you tried ever?"
"Once for three weeks," she replied. "My father and mother were in
Italy, and something happened so that I couldn't join them. For three
weeks I lived entirely by myself, and the only person I spoke to was a
stranger in a shop where I lunched--a man with a beard. Then I went
back to my room by myself and--well, I did what I liked. It doesn't
make me out an amiable character, I'm afraid," she added, "but I can't
endure living with other people. An occasional man with a beard is
interesting; he's detached; he lets me go my way, and we know we shall
never meet again. Therefore, we are perfectly sincere--a thing not
possible with one's friends."
"Nonsense," Denham replied abruptly.
"Why 'nonsense'?" she inquired.
"Because you don't mean what you say," he expostulated.
"You're very positive," she said, laughing and looking at him. How
arbitrary, hot-tempered, and imperious he was! He had asked her to
come to Kew to advise him; he then told her that he had settled the
question already; he then proceeded to find fault with her. He was the
very opposite of William Rodney, she thought; he was shabby, his
clothes were badly made, he was ill versed in the amenities of life;
he was tongue-tied and awkward to the verge of obliterating his real
character. He was awkwardly silent; he was awkwardly emphatic. And yet
she liked him.
"I don't mean what I say," she repeated good-humoredly. "Well--?"
"I doubt whether you make absolute sincerity your standard in life,"
he answered significantly.
She flushed. He had penetrated at once to the weak spot--her
engagement, and had reason for what he said. He was not altogether
justified now, at any rate, she was glad to remember; but she could
not enlighten him and must bear his insinuations, though from the lips
of a man who had behaved as he had behaved their force should not have
been sharp. Nevertheless, what he said had its force, she mused;
partly because he seemed unconscious of his own lapse in the case of
Mary Datchet, and thus baffled her insight; partly because he always
spoke with force, for what reason she did not yet feel certain.
"Absolute sincerity is rather difficult, don't you think?" she
inquired, with a touch of irony.
"There are people one credits even with that," he replied a little
vaguely. He was ashamed of his savage wish to hurt her, and yet it was
not for the sake of hurting her, who was beyond his shafts, but in
order to mortify his own incredibly reckless impulse of abandonment to
the spirit which seemed, at moments, about to rush him to the
uttermost ends of the earth. She affected him beyond the scope of his
wildest dreams. He seemed to see that beneath the quiet surface of her
manner, which was almost pathetically at hand and within reach for all
the trivial demands of daily life, there was a spirit which she
reserved or repressed for some reason either of loneliness or--could
it be possible--of love. Was it given to Rodney to see her unmasked,
unrestrained, unconscious of her duties? a creature of uncalculating
passion and instinctive freedom? No; he refused to believe it. It was
in her loneliness that Katharine was unreserved. "I went back to my
room by myself and I did--what I liked." She had said that to him, and
in saying it had given him a glimpse of possibilities, even of
confidences, as if he might be the one to share her loneliness, the
mere hint of which made his heart beat faster and his brain spin. He
checked himself as brutally as he could. He saw her redden, and in the
irony of her reply he heard her resentment.
He began slipping his smooth, silver watch in his pocket, in the hope
that somehow he might help himself back to that calm and fatalistic
mood which had been his when he looked at its face upon the bank of
the lake, for that mood must, at whatever cost, be the mood of his
intercourse with Katharine. He had spoken of gratitude and
acquiescence in the letter which he had never sent, and now all the
force of his character must make good those vows in her presence.
She, thus challenged, tried meanwhile to define her points. She wished
to make Denham understand.
"Don't you see that if you have no relations with people it's easier
to be honest with them?" she inquired. "That is what I meant. One
needn't cajole them; one's under no obligation to them. Surely you
must have found with your own family that it's impossible to discuss
what matters to you most because you're all herded together, because
you're in a conspiracy, because the position is false--" Her reasoning
suspended itself a little inconclusively, for the subject was complex,
and she found herself in ignorance whether Denham had a family or not.
Denham was agreed with her as to the destructiveness of the family
system, but he did not wish to discuss the problem at that moment.
He turned to a problem which was of greater interest to him.
"I'm convinced," he said, "that there are cases in which perfect
sincerity is possible--cases where there's no relationship, though the
people live together, if you like, where each is free, where there's
no obligation upon either side."
"For a time perhaps," she agreed, a little despondently. "But
obligations always grow up. There are feelings to be considered.
People aren't simple, and though they may mean to be reasonable, they
end"--in the condition in which she found herself, she meant, but
added lamely--"in a muddle."
"Because," Denham instantly intervened, "they don't make themselves
understood at the beginning. I could undertake, at this instant," he
continued, with a reasonable intonation which did much credit to his
self-control, "to lay down terms for a friendship which should be
perfectly sincere and perfectly straightforward."
She was curious to hear them, but, besides feeling that the topic
concealed dangers better known to her than to him, she was reminded by
his tone of his curious abstract declaration upon the Embankment.
Anything that hinted at love for the moment alarmed her; it was as
much an infliction to her as the rubbing of a skinless wound.
But he went on, without waiting for her invitation.
"In the first place, such a friendship must be unemotional," he laid
it down emphatically. "At least, on both sides it must be understood
that if either chooses to fall in love, he or she does so entirely at
his own risk. Neither is under any obligation to the other. They must
be at liberty to break or to alter at any moment. They must be able to
say whatever they wish to say. All this must be understood."
"And they gain something worth having?" she asked.
"It's a risk--of course it's a risk," he replied. The word
was one that she had been using frequently in her arguments with
herself of late.
"But it's the only way--if you think friendship worth having," he
"Perhaps under those conditions it might be," she said reflectively.
"Well," he said, "those are the terms of the friendship I wish to
offer you." She had known that this was coming, but, none the less,
felt a little shock, half of pleasure, half of reluctance, when she
heard the formal statement.
"I should like it," she began, "but--"
"Would Rodney mind?"
"Oh no," she replied quickly.
"No, no, it isn't that," she went on, and again came to an end. She
had been touched by the unreserved and yet ceremonious way in which he
had made what he called his offer of terms, but if he was generous it
was the more necessary for her to be cautious. They would find
themselves in difficulties, she speculated; but, at this point, which
was not very far, after all, upon the road of caution, her foresight
deserted her. She sought for some definite catastrophe into which they
must inevitably plunge. But she could think of none. It seemed to her
that these catastrophes were fictitious; life went on and on--life was
different altogether from what people said. And not only was she at an
end of her stock of caution, but it seemed suddenly altogether
superfluous. Surely if any one could take care of himself, Ralph
Denham could; he had told her that he did not love her. And, further,
she meditated, walking on beneath the beech-trees and swinging her
umbrella, as in her thought she was accustomed to complete freedom,
why should she perpetually apply so different a standard to her
behavior in practice? Why, she reflected, should there be this
perpetual disparity between the thought and the action, between the
life of solitude and the life of society, this astonishing precipice
on one side of which the soul was active and in broad daylight, on the
other side of which it was contemplative and dark as night? Was it not
possible to step from one to the other, erect, and without essential
change? Was this not the chance he offered her--the rare and wonderful
chance of friendship? At any rate, she told Denham, with a sigh in
which he heard both impatience and relief, that she agreed; she
thought him right; she would accept his terms of friendship.
"Now," she said, "let's go and have tea."
In fact, these principles having been laid down, a great lightness of
spirit showed itself in both of them. They were both convinced that
something of profound importance had been settled, and could now give
their attention to their tea and the Gardens. They wandered in and out
of glass-houses, saw lilies swimming in tanks, breathed in the scent
of thousands of carnations, and compared their respective tastes in
the matter of trees and lakes. While talking exclusively of what they
saw, so that any one might have overheard them, they felt that the
compact between them was made firmer and deeper by the number of
people who passed them and suspected nothing of the kind. The question
of Ralph's cottage and future was not mentioned again.
Although the old coaches, with their gay panels and the guard's horn,
and the humors of the box and the vicissitudes of the road, have long
moldered into dust so far as they were matter, and are preserved in
the printed pages of our novelists so far as they partook of the
spirit, a journey to London by express train can still be a very
pleasant and romantic adventure. Cassandra Otway, at the age of
twenty-two, could imagine few things more pleasant. Satiated with
months of green fields as she was, the first row of artisans' villas
on the outskirts of London seemed to have something serious about it,
which positively increased the importance of every person in the
railway carriage, and even, to her impressionable mind, quickened the
speed of the train and gave a note of stern authority to the shriek of
the engine-whistle. They were bound for London; they must have
precedence of all traffic not similarly destined. A different demeanor
was necessary directly one stepped out upon Liverpool Street platform,
and became one of those preoccupied and hasty citizens for whose needs
innumerable taxi-cabs, motor-omnibuses, and underground railways were
in waiting. She did her best to look dignified and preoccupied too,
but as the cab carried her away, with a determination which alarmed
her a little, she became more and more forgetful of her station as a
citizen of London, and turned her head from one window to another,
picking up eagerly a building on this side or a street scene on that
to feed her intense curiosity. And yet, while the drive lasted no one
was real, nothing was ordinary; the crowds, the Government buildings,
the tide of men and women washing the base of the great glass windows,
were all generalized, and affected her as if she saw them on the
All these feelings were sustained and partly inspired by the fact that
her journey took her straight to the center of her most romantic
world. A thousand times in the midst of her pastoral landscape her
thoughts took this precise road, were admitted to the house in
Chelsea, and went directly upstairs to Katharine's room, where,
invisible themselves, they had the better chance of feasting upon the
privacy of the room's adorable and mysterious mistress. Cassandra
adored her cousin; the adoration might have been foolish, but was
saved from that excess and lent an engaging charm by the volatile
nature of Cassandra's temperament. She had adored a great many things
and people in the course of twenty-two years; she had been alternately
the pride and the desperation of her teachers. She had worshipped
architecture and music, natural history and humanity, literature and
art, but always at the height of her enthusiasm, which was accompanied
by a brilliant degree of accomplishment, she changed her mind and
bought, surreptitiously, another grammar. The terrible results which
governesses had predicted from such mental dissipation were certainly
apparent now that Cassandra was twenty-two, and had never passed an
examination, and daily showed herself less and less capable of passing
one. The more serious prediction that she could never possibly earn
her living was also verified. But from all these short strands of
different accomplishments Cassandra wove for herself an attitude, a
cast of mind, which, if useless, was found by some people to have the
not despicable virtues of vivacity and freshness. Katharine, for
example, thought her a most charming companion. The cousins seemed to
assemble between them a great range of qualities which are never found
united in one person and seldom in half a dozen people. Where
Katharine was simple, Cassandra was complex; where Katharine was solid
and direct, Cassandra was vague and evasive. In short, they
represented very well the manly and the womanly sides of the feminine
nature, and, for foundation, there was the profound unity of common
blood between them. If Cassandra adored Katharine she was incapable of
adoring any one without refreshing her spirit with frequent draughts
of raillery and criticism, and Katharine enjoyed her laughter at least
as much as her respect.
Respect was certainly uppermost in Cassandra's mind at the present
moment. Katharine's engagement had appealed to her imagination as the
first engagement in a circle of contemporaries is apt to appeal to the
imaginations of the others; it was solemn, beautiful, and mysterious;
it gave both parties the important air of those who have been
initiated into some rite which is still concealed from the rest of the
group. For Katharine's sake Cassandra thought William a most
distinguished and interesting character, and welcomed first his
conversation and then his manuscript as the marks of a friendship
which it flattered and delighted her to inspire.
Katharine was still out when she arrived at Cheyne Walk. After
greeting her uncle and aunt and receiving, as usual, a present of two
sovereigns for "cab fares and dissipation" from Uncle Trevor, whose
favorite niece she was, she changed her dress and wandered into
Katharine's room to await her. What a great looking-glass Katharine
had, she thought, and how mature all the arrangements upon the
dressing-table were compared to what she was used to at home. Glancing
round, she thought that the bills stuck upon a skewer and stood for
ornament upon the mantelpiece were astonishingly like Katharine, There
wasn't a photograph of William anywhere to be seen. The room, with its
combination of luxury and bareness, its silk dressing-gowns and
crimson slippers, its shabby carpet and bare walls, had a powerful air
of Katharine herself; she stood in the middle of the room and enjoyed
the sensation; and then, with a desire to finger what her cousin was
in the habit of fingering, Cassandra began to take down the books
which stood in a row upon the shelf above the bed. In most houses this
shelf is the ledge upon which the last relics of religious belief
lodge themselves as if, late at night, in the heart of privacy,
people, skeptical by day, find solace in sipping one draught of the
old charm for such sorrows or perplexities as may steal from their
hiding-places in the dark. But there was no hymn-book here. By their
battered covers and enigmatical contents, Cassandra judged them to be
old school-books belonging to Uncle Trevor, and piously, though
eccentrically, preserved by his daughter. There was no end, she
thought, to the unexpectedness of Katharine. She had once had a
passion for geometry herself, and, curled upon Katharine's quilt, she
became absorbed in trying to remember how far she had forgotten what
she once knew. Katharine, coming in a little later, found her deep in
this characteristic pursuit.
"My dear," Cassandra exclaimed, shaking the book at her cousin, "my
whole life's changed from this moment! I must write the man's name
down at once, or I shall forget--"
Whose name, what book, which life was changed Katharine proceeded to
ascertain. She began to lay aside her clothes hurriedly, for she was
"May I sit and watch you?" Cassandra asked, shutting up her book. "I