Part 7 out of 10
got ready on purpose."
"Oh, you're ready, are you?" said Katharine, half turning in the midst
of her operations, and looking at Cassandra, who sat, clasping her
knees, on the edge of the bed.
"There are people dining here," she said, taking in the effect of
Cassandra from a new point of view. After an interval, the
distinction, the irregular charm, of the small face with its long
tapering nose and its bright oval eyes were very notable. The hair
rose up off the forehead rather stiffly, and, given a more careful
treatment by hairdressers and dressmakers, the light angular figure
might possess a likeness to a French lady of distinction in the
"Who's coming to dinner?" Cassandra asked, anticipating further
possibilities of rapture.
"There's William, and, I believe, Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Aubrey."
"I'm so glad William is coming. Did he tell you that he sent me his
manuscript? I think it's wonderful--I think he's almost good enough
for you, Katharine."
"You shall sit next to him and tell him what you think of him."
"I shan't dare do that," Cassandra asserted.
"Why? You're not afraid of him, are you?"
"A little--because he's connected with you."
"But then, with your well-known fidelity, considering that you're
staying here at least a fortnight, you won't have any illusions left
about me by the time you go. I give you a week, Cassandra. I shall see
my power fading day by day. Now it's at the climax; but to-morrow
it'll have begun to fade. What am I to wear, I wonder? Find me a blue
dress, Cassandra, over there in the long wardrobe."
She spoke disconnectedly, handling brush and comb, and pulling out the
little drawers in her dressing-table and leaving them open. Cassandra,
sitting on the bed behind her, saw the reflection of her cousin's face
in the looking-glass. The face in the looking-glass was serious and
intent, apparently occupied with other things besides the straightness
of the parting which, however, was being driven as straight as a Roman
road through the dark hair. Cassandra was impressed again by
Katharine's maturity; and, as she enveloped herself in the blue dress
which filled almost the whole of the long looking-glass with blue
light and made it the frame of a picture, holding not only the
slightly moving effigy of the beautiful woman, but shapes and colors
of objects reflected from the background, Cassandra thought that no
sight had ever been quite so romantic. It was all in keeping with the
room and the house, and the city round them; for her ears had not yet
ceased to notice the hum of distant wheels.
They went downstairs rather late, in spite of Katharine's extreme
speed in getting ready. To Cassandra's ears the buzz of voices inside
the drawing-room was like the tuning up of the instruments of the
orchestra. It seemed to her that there were numbers of people in the
room, and that they were strangers, and that they were beautiful and
dressed with the greatest distinction, although they proved to be
mostly her relations, and the distinction of their clothing was
confined, in the eyes of an impartial observer, to the white waistcoat
which Rodney wore. But they all rose simultaneously, which was by
itself impressive, and they all exclaimed, and shook hands, and she
was introduced to Mr. Peyton, and the door sprang open, and dinner was
announced, and they filed off, William Rodney offering her his
slightly bent black arm, as she had secretly hoped he would. In short,
had the scene been looked at only through her eyes, it must have been
described as one of magical brilliancy. The pattern of the
soup-plates, the stiff folds of the napkins, which rose by the side of
each plate in the shape of arum lilies, the long sticks of bread tied
with pink ribbon, the silver dishes and the sea-colored champagne
glasses, with the flakes of gold congealed in their stems--all these
details, together with a curiously pervasive smell of kid gloves,
contributed to her exhilaration, which must be repressed, however,
because she was grown up, and the world held no more for her to marvel
The world held no more for her to marvel at, it is true; but it held
other people; and each other person possessed in Cassandra's mind some
fragment of what privately she called "reality." It was a gift that
they would impart if you asked them for it, and thus no dinner-party
could possibly be dull, and little Mr. Peyton on her right and William
Rodney on her left were in equal measure endowed with the quality
which seemed to her so unmistakable and so precious that the way
people neglected to demand it was a constant source of surprise to
her. She scarcely knew, indeed, whether she was talking to Mr. Peyton
or to William Rodney. But to one who, by degrees, assumed the shape of
an elderly man with a mustache, she described how she had arrived in
London that very afternoon, and how she had taken a cab and driven
through the streets. Mr. Peyton, an editor of fifty years, bowed his
bald head repeatedly, with apparent understanding. At least, he
understood that she was very young and pretty, and saw that she was
excited, though he could not gather at once from her words or remember
from his own experience what there was to be excited about. "Were
there any buds on the trees?" he asked. "Which line did she travel
He was cut short in these amiable inquiries by her desire to know
whether he was one of those who read, or one of those who look out of
the window? Mr. Peyton was by no means sure which he did. He rather
thought he did both. He was told that he had made a most dangerous
confession. She could deduce his entire history from that one fact. He
challenged her to proceed; and she proclaimed him a Liberal Member of
William, nominally engaged in a desultory conversation with Aunt
Eleanor, heard every word, and taking advantage of the fact that
elderly ladies have little continuity of conversation, at least with
those whom they esteem for their youth and their sex, he asserted his
presence by a very nervous laugh.
Cassandra turned to him directly. She was enchanted to find that,
instantly and with such ease, another of these fascinating beings was
offering untold wealth for her extraction.
"There's no doubt what YOU do in a railway carriage, William," she
said, making use in her pleasure of his first name. "You never ONCE
look out of the window; you read ALL the time."
"And what facts do you deduce from that?" Mr. Peyton asked.
"Oh, that he's a poet, of course," said Cassandra. "But I must confess
that I knew that before, so it isn't fair. I've got your manuscript
with me," she went on, disregarding Mr. Peyton in a shameless way.
"I've got all sorts of things I want to ask you about it."
William inclined his head and tried to conceal the pleasure that her
remark gave him. But the pleasure was not unalloyed. However
susceptible to flattery William might be, he would never tolerate it
from people who showed a gross or emotional taste in literature, and
if Cassandra erred even slightly from what he considered essential in
this respect he would express his discomfort by flinging out his hands
and wrinkling his forehead; he would find no pleasure in her flattery
"First of all," she proceeded, "I want to know why you chose to write
"Ah! You mean it's not dramatic?"
"I mean that I don't see what it would gain by being acted. But then
does Shakespeare gain? Henry and I are always arguing about
Shakespeare. I'm certain he's wrong, but I can't prove it because I've
only seen Shakespeare acted once in Lincoln. But I'm quite positive,"
she insisted, "that Shakespeare wrote for the stage."
"You're perfectly right," Rodney exclaimed. "I was hoping you were on
that side. Henry's wrong--entirely wrong. Of course, I've failed, as
all the moderns fail. Dear, dear, I wish I'd consulted you before."
From this point they proceeded to go over, as far as memory served
them, the different aspects of Rodney's drama. She said nothing that
jarred upon him, and untrained daring had the power to stimulate
experience to such an extent that Rodney was frequently seen to hold
his fork suspended before him, while he debated the first principles
of the art. Mrs. Hilbery thought to herself that she had never seen
him to such advantage; yes, he was somehow different; he reminded her
of some one who was dead, some one who was distinguished--she had
forgotten his name.
Cassandra's voice rose high in its excitement.
"You've not read 'The Idiot'!" she exclaimed.
"I've read 'War and Peace'," William replied, a little testily.
"'WAR AND PEACE'!" she echoed, in a tone of derision.
"I confess I don't understand the Russians."
"Shake hands! Shake hands!" boomed Uncle Aubrey from across the table.
"Neither do I. And I hazard the opinion that they don't themselves."
The old gentleman had ruled a large part of the Indian Empire, but he
was in the habit of saying that he had rather have written the works
of Dickens. The table now took possession of a subject much to its
liking. Aunt Eleanor showed premonitory signs of pronouncing an
opinion. Although she had blunted her taste upon some form of
philanthropy for twenty-five years, she had a fine natural instinct
for an upstart or a pretender, and knew to a hairbreadth what
literature should be and what it should not be. She was born to the
knowledge, and scarcely thought it a matter to be proud of.
"Insanity is not a fit subject for fiction," she announced positively.
"There's the well-known case of Hamlet," Mr. Hilbery interposed, in
his leisurely, half-humorous tones.
"Ah, but poetry's different, Trevor," said Aunt Eleanor, as if she had
special authority from Shakespeare to say so. "Different altogether.
And I've never thought, for my part, that Hamlet was as mad as they
make out. What is your opinion, Mr. Peyton?" For, as there was a
minister of literature present in the person of the editor of an
esteemed review, she deferred to him.
Mr. Peyton leant a little back in his chair, and, putting his head
rather on one side, observed that that was a question that he had
never been able to answer entirely to his satisfaction. There was much
to be said on both sides, but as he considered upon which side he
should say it, Mrs. Hilbery broke in upon his judicious meditations.
"Lovely, lovely Ophelia!" she exclaimed. "What a wonderful power it
is--poetry! I wake up in the morning all bedraggled; there's a yellow
fog outside; little Emily turns on the electric light when she brings
me my tea, and says, 'Oh, ma'am, the water's frozen in the cistern,
and cook's cut her finger to the bone.' And then I open a little green
book, and the birds are singing, the stars shining, the flowers
twinkling--" She looked about her as if these presences had suddenly
manifested themselves round her dining-room table.
"Has the cook cut her finger badly?" Aunt Eleanor demanded, addressing
herself naturally to Katharine.
"Oh, the cook's finger is only my way of putting it," said Mrs.
Hilbery. "But if she had cut her arm off, Katharine would have sewn it
on again," she remarked, with an affectionate glance at her daughter,
who looked, she thought, a little sad. "But what horrid, horrid
thoughts," she wound up, laying down her napkin and pushing her chair
back. "Come, let us find something more cheerful to talk about
Upstairs in the drawing-room Cassandra found fresh sources of
pleasure, first in the distinguished and expectant look of the room,
and then in the chance of exercising her divining-rod upon a new
assortment of human beings. But the low tones of the women, their
meditative silences, the beauty which, to her at least, shone even
from black satin and the knobs of amber which encircled elderly necks,
changed her wish to chatter to a more subdued desire merely to watch
and to whisper. She entered with delight into an atmosphere in which
private matters were being interchanged freely, almost in
monosyllables, by the older women who now accepted her as one of
themselves. Her expression became very gentle and sympathetic, as if
she, too, were full of solicitude for the world which was somehow
being cared for, managed and deprecated by Aunt Maggie and Aunt
Eleanor. After a time she perceived that Katharine was outside the
community in some way, and, suddenly, she threw aside her wisdom and
gentleness and concern and began to laugh.
"What are you laughing at?" Katharine asked.
A joke so foolish and unfilial wasn't worth explaining.
"It was nothing--ridiculous--in the worst of taste, but still, if you
half shut your eyes and looked--" Katharine half shut her eyes and
looked, but she looked in the wrong direction, and Cassandra laughed
more than ever, and was still laughing and doing her best to explain
in a whisper that Aunt Eleanor, through half-shut eyes, was like the
parrot in the cage at Stogdon House, when the gentlemen came in and
Rodney walked straight up to them and wanted to know what they were
"I utterly refuse to tell you!" Cassandra replied, standing up
straight, clasping her hands in front of her, and facing him. Her
mockery was delicious to him. He had not even for a second the fear
that she had been laughing at him. She was laughing because life was
so adorable, so enchanting.
"Ah, but you're cruel to make me feel the barbarity of my sex," he
replied, drawing his feet together and pressing his finger-tips upon
an imaginary opera-hat or malacca cane. "We've been discussing all
sorts of dull things, and now I shall never know what I want to know
more than anything in the world."
"You don't deceive us for a minute!" she cried. "Not for a second. We
both know that you've been enjoying yourself immensely. Hasn't he,
"No," she replied, "I think he's speaking the truth. He doesn't care
much for politics."
Her words, though spoken simply, produced a curious change in the
light, sparkling atmosphere. William at once lost his look of
animation and said seriously:
"I detest politics."
"I don't think any man has the right to say that," said Cassandra,
"I agree. I mean that I detest politicians," he corrected himself
"You see, I believe Cassandra is what they call a Feminist," Katharine
went on. "Or rather, she was a Feminist six months ago, but it's no
good supposing that she is now what she was then. That is one of her
greatest charms in my eyes. One never can tell." She smiled at her as
an elder sister might smile.
"Katharine, you make one feel so horribly small!" Cassandra exclaimed.
"No, no, that's not what she means," Rodney interposed. "I quite agree
that women have an immense advantage over us there. One misses a lot
by attempting to know things thoroughly."
"He knows Greek thoroughly," said Katharine. "But then he also knows a
good deal about painting, and a certain amount about music. He's very
cultivated--perhaps the most cultivated person I know."
"And poetry," Cassandra added.
"Yes, I was forgetting his play," Katharine remarked, and turning her
head as though she saw something that needed her attention in a far
corner of the room, she left them.
For a moment they stood silent, after what seemed a deliberate
introduction to each other, and Cassandra watched her crossing the
"Henry," she said next moment, "would say that a stage ought to be no
bigger than this drawing-room. He wants there to be singing and
dancing as well as acting--only all the opposite of Wagner--you
They sat down, and Katharine, turning when she reached the window, saw
William with his hand raised in gesticulation and his mouth open, as
if ready to speak the moment Cassandra ceased.
Katharine's duty, whether it was to pull a curtain or move a chair,
was either forgotten or discharged, but she continued to stand by the
window without doing anything. The elderly people were all grouped
together round the fire. They seemed an independent, middle-aged
community busy with its own concerns. They were telling stories very
well and listening to them very graciously. But for her there was no
"If anybody says anything, I shall say that I'm looking at the river,"
she thought, for in her slavery to her family traditions, she was
ready to pay for her transgression with some plausible falsehood. She
pushed aside the blind and looked at the river. But it was a dark
night and the water was barely visible. Cabs were passing, and couples
were loitering slowly along the road, keeping as close to the railings
as possible, though the trees had as yet no leaves to cast shadow upon
their embraces. Katharine, thus withdrawn, felt her loneliness. The
evening had been one of pain, offering her, minute after minute,
plainer proof that things would fall out as she had foreseen. She had
faced tones, gestures, glances; she knew, with her back to them, that
William, even now, was plunging deeper and deeper into the delight of
unexpected understanding with Cassandra. He had almost told her that
he was finding it infinitely better than he could have believed. She
looked out of the window, sternly determined to forget private
misfortunes, to forget herself, to forget individual lives. With her
eyes upon the dark sky, voices reached her from the room in which she
was standing. She heard them as if they came from people in another
world, a world antecedent to her world, a world that was the prelude,
the antechamber to reality; it was as if, lately dead, she heard the
living talking. The dream nature of our life had never been more
apparent to her, never had life been more certainly an affair of four
walls, whose objects existed only within the range of lights and
fires, beyond which lay nothing, or nothing more than darkness. She
seemed physically to have stepped beyond the region where the light of
illusion still makes it desirable to possess, to love, to struggle.
And yet her melancholy brought her no serenity. She still heard the
voices within the room. She was still tormented by desires. She wished
to be beyond their range. She wished inconsistently enough that she
could find herself driving rapidly through the streets; she was even
anxious to be with some one who, after a moment's groping, took a
definite shape and solidified into the person of Mary Datchet. She
drew the curtains so that the draperies met in deep folds in the
middle of the window.
"Ah, there she is," said Mr. Hilbery, who was standing swaying affably
from side to side, with his back to the fire. "Come here, Katharine. I
couldn't see where you'd got to--our children," he observed
parenthetically, "have their uses--I want you to go to my study,
Katharine; go to the third shelf on the right-hand side of the door;
take down 'Trelawny's Recollections of Shelley'; bring it to me. Then,
Peyton, you will have to admit to the assembled company that you have
"'Trelawny's Recollections of Shelley.' The third shelf on the right
of the door," Katharine repeated. After all, one does not check
children in their play, or rouse sleepers from their dreams. She
passed William and Cassandra on her way to the door.
"Stop, Katharine," said William, speaking almost as if he were
conscious of her against his will. "Let me go." He rose, after a
second's hesitation, and she understood that it cost him an effort.
She knelt one knee upon the sofa where Cassandra sat, looking down at
her cousin's face, which still moved with the speed of what she had
"Are you--happy?" she asked.
"Oh, my dear!" Cassandra exclaimed, as if no further words were
needed. "Of course, we disagree about every subject under the sun,"
she exclaimed, "but I think he's the cleverest man I've ever met--and
you're the most beautiful woman," she added, looking at Katharine, and
as she looked her face lost its animation and became almost melancholy
in sympathy with Katharine's melancholy, which seemed to Cassandra the
last refinement of her distinction.
"Ah, but it's only ten o'clock," said Katharine darkly.
"As late as that! Well--?" She did not understand.
"At twelve my horses turn into rats and off I go. The illusion fades.
But I accept my fate. I make hay while the sun shines." Cassandra
looked at her with a puzzled expression.
"Here's Katharine talking about rats, and hay, and all sorts of odd
things," she said, as William returned to them. He had been quick.
"Can you make her out?"
Katharine perceived from his little frown and hesitation that he did
not find that particular problem to his taste at present. She stood
upright at once and said in a different tone:
"I really am off, though. I wish you'd explain if they say anything,
William. I shan't be late, but I've got to see some one."
"At this time of night?" Cassandra exclaimed.
"Whom have you got to see?" William demanded.
"A friend," she remarked, half turning her head towards him. She knew
that he wished her to stay, not, indeed, with them, but in their
neighborhood, in case of need.
"Katharine has a great many friends," said William rather lamely,
sitting down once more, as Katharine left the room.
She was soon driving quickly, as she had wished to drive, through the
lamp-lit streets. She liked both light and speed, and the sense of
being out of doors alone, and the knowledge that she would reach Mary
in her high, lonely room at the end of the drive. She climbed the
stone steps quickly, remarking the queer look of her blue silk skirt
and blue shoes upon the stone, dusty with the boots of the day, under
the light of an occasional jet of flickering gas.
The door was opened in a second by Mary herself, whose face showed not
only surprise at the sight of her visitor, but some degree of
embarrassment. She greeted her cordially, and, as there was no time
for explanations, Katharine walked straight into the sitting-room, and
found herself in the presence of a young man who was lying back in a
chair and holding a sheet of paper in his hand, at which he was
looking as if he expected to go on immediately with what he was in the
middle of saying to Mary Datchet. The apparition of an unknown lady in
full evening dress seemed to disturb him. He took his pipe from his
mouth, rose stiffly, and sat down again with a jerk.
"Have you been dining out?" Mary asked.
"Are you working?" Katharine inquired simultaneously.
The young man shook his head, as if he disowned his share in the
question with some irritation.
"Well, not exactly," Mary replied. "Mr. Basnett had brought some
papers to show me. We were going through them, but we'd almost
done. . . . Tell us about your party."
Mary had a ruffled appearance, as if she had been running her fingers
through her hair in the course of her conversation; she was dressed
more or less like a Russian peasant girl. She sat down again in a
chair which looked as if it had been her seat for some hours; the
saucer which stood upon the arm contained the ashes of many
cigarettes. Mr. Basnett, a very young man with a fresh complexion and
a high forehead from which the hair was combed straight back, was one
of that group of "very able young men" suspected by Mr. Clacton,
justly as it turned out, of an influence upon Mary Datchet. He had
come down from one of the Universities not long ago, and was now
charged with the reformation of society. In connection with the rest
of the group of very able young men he had drawn up a scheme for the
education of labor, for the amalgamation of the middle class and the
working class, and for a joint assault of the two bodies, combined in
the Society for the Education of Democracy, upon Capital. The scheme
had already reached the stage in which it was permissible to hire an
office and engage a secretary, and he had been deputed to expound the
scheme to Mary, and make her an offer of the Secretaryship, to which,
as a matter of principle, a small salary was attached. Since seven
o'clock that evening he had been reading out loud the document in
which the faith of the new reformers was expounded, but the reading
was so frequently interrupted by discussion, and it was so often
necessary to inform Mary "in strictest confidence" of the private
characters and evil designs of certain individuals and societies that
they were still only half-way through the manuscript. Neither of them
realized that the talk had already lasted three hours. In their
absorption they had forgotten even to feed the fire, and yet both Mr.
Basnett in his exposition, and Mary in her interrogation, carefully
preserved a kind of formality calculated to check the desire of the
human mind for irrelevant discussion. Her questions frequently began,
"Am I to understand--" and his replies invariably represented the
views of some one called "we."
By this time Mary was almost persuaded that she, too, was included in
the "we," and agreed with Mr. Basnett in believing that "our" views,
"our" society, "our" policy, stood for something quite definitely
segregated from the main body of society in a circle of superior
The appearance of Katharine in this atmosphere was extremely
incongruous, and had the effect of making Mary remember all sorts of
things that she had been glad to forget.
"You've been dining out?" she asked again, looking, with a little
smile, at the blue silk and the pearl-sewn shoes.
"No, at home. Are you starting something new?" Katharine hazarded,
rather hesitatingly, looking at the papers.
"We are," Mr. Basnett replied. He said no more.
"I'm thinking of leaving our friends in Russell Square," Mary
"I see. And then you will do something else."
"Well, I'm afraid I like working," said Mary.
"Afraid," said Mr. Basnett, conveying the impression that, in his
opinion, no sensible person could be afraid of liking to work.
"Yes," said Katharine, as if he had stated this opinion aloud. "I
should like to start something--something off one's own bat--that's
what I should like."
"Yes, that's the fun," said Mr. Basnett, looking at her for the first
time rather keenly, and refilling his pipe.
"But you can't limit work--that's what I mean," said Mary. "I mean
there are other sorts of work. No one works harder than a woman with
"Quite so," said Mr. Basnett. "It's precisely the women with babies we
want to get hold of." He glanced at his document, rolled it into a
cylinder between his fingers, and gazed into the fire. Katharine felt
that in this company anything that one said would be judged upon its
merits; one had only to say what one thought, rather barely and
tersely, with a curious assumption that the number of things that
could properly be thought about was strictly limited. And Mr. Basnett
was only stiff upon the surface; there was an intelligence in his face
which attracted her intelligence.
"When will the public know?" she asked.
"What d'you mean--about us?" Mr. Basnett asked, with a little smile.
"That depends upon many things," said Mary. The conspirators looked
pleased, as if Katharine's question, with the belief in their
existence which it implied, had a warming effect upon them.
"In starting a society such as we wish to start (we can't say any more
at present)," Mr. Basnett began, with a little jerk of his head,
"there are two things to remember--the Press and the public. Other
societies, which shall be nameless, have gone under because they've
appealed only to cranks. If you don't want a mutual admiration
society, which dies as soon as you've all discovered each other's
faults, you must nobble the Press. You must appeal to the public."
"That's the difficulty," said Mary thoughtfully.
"That's where she comes in," said Mr. Basnett, jerking his head in
Mary's direction. "She's the only one of us who's a capitalist. She
can make a whole-time job of it. I'm tied to an office; I can only
give my spare time. Are you, by any chance, on the look-out for a
job?" he asked Katharine, with a queer mixture of distrust and
"Marriage is her job at present," Mary replied for her.
"Oh, I see," said Mr. Basnett. He made allowances for that; he and his
friends had faced the question of sex, along with all others, and
assigned it an honorable place in their scheme of life. Katharine felt
this beneath the roughness of his manner; and a world entrusted to the
guardianship of Mary Datchet and Mr. Basnett seemed to her a good
world, although not a romantic or beautiful place or, to put it
figuratively, a place where any line of blue mist softly linked tree
to tree upon the horizon. For a moment she thought she saw in his
face, bent now over the fire, the features of that original man whom
we still recall every now and then, although we know only the clerk,
barrister, Governmental official, or workingman variety of him. Not
that Mr. Basnett, giving his days to commerce and his spare time to
social reform, would long carry about him any trace of his
possibilities of completeness; but, for the moment, in his youth and
ardor, still speculative, still uncramped, one might imagine him the
citizen of a nobler state than ours. Katharine turned over her small
stock of information, and wondered what their society might be going
to attempt. Then she remembered that she was hindering their business,
and rose, still thinking of this society, and thus thinking, she said
to Mr. Basnett:
"Well, you'll ask me to join when the time comes, I hope."
He nodded, and took his pipe from his mouth, but, being unable to
think of anything to say, he put it back again, although he would have
been glad if she had stayed.
Against her wish, Mary insisted upon taking her downstairs, and then,
as there was no cab to be seen, they stood in the street together,
looking about them.
"Go back," Katharine urged her, thinking of Mr. Basnett with his
papers in his hand.
"You can't wander about the streets alone in those clothes," said
Mary, but the desire to find a cab was not her true reason for
standing beside Katharine for a minute or two. Unfortunately for her
composure, Mr. Basnett and his papers seemed to her an incidental
diversion of life's serious purpose compared with some tremendous fact
which manifested itself as she stood alone with Katharine. It may have
been their common womanhood.
"Have you seen Ralph?" she asked suddenly, without preface.
"Yes," said Katharine directly, but she did not remember when or where
she had seen him. It took her a moment or two to remember why Mary
should ask her if she had seen Ralph.
"I believe I'm jealous," said Mary.
"Nonsense, Mary," said Katharine, rather distractedly, taking her arm
and beginning to walk up the street in the direction of the main road.
"Let me see; we went to Kew, and we agreed to be friends. Yes, that's
what happened." Mary was silent, in the hope that Katharine would tell
her more. But Katharine said nothing.
"It's not a question of friendship," Mary exclaimed, her anger rising,
to her own surprise. "You know it's not. How can it be? I've no right
to interfere--" She stopped. "Only I'd rather Ralph wasn't hurt," she
"I think he seems able to take care of himself," Katharine observed.
Without either of them wishing it, a feeling of hostility had risen
"Do you really think it's worth it?" said Mary, after a pause.
"How can one tell?" Katharine asked.
"Have you ever cared for any one?" Mary demanded rashly and foolishly.
"I can't wander about London discussing my feelings--Here's a cab--no,
there's some one in it."
"We don't want to quarrel," said Mary.
"Ought I to have told him that I wouldn't be his friend?" Katharine
asked. "Shall I tell him that? If so, what reason shall I give him?"
"Of course you can't tell him that," said Mary, controlling herself.
"I believe I shall, though," said Katharine suddenly.
"I lost my temper, Katharine; I shouldn't have said what I did."
"The whole thing's foolish," said Katharine, peremptorily. "That's
what I say. It's not worth it." She spoke with unnecessary vehemence,
but it was not directed against Mary Datchet. Their animosity had
completely disappeared, and upon both of them a cloud of difficulty
and darkness rested, obscuring the future, in which they had both to
find a way.
"No, no, it's not worth it," Katharine repeated. "Suppose, as you say,
it's out of the question--this friendship; he falls in love with me. I
don't want that. Still," she added, "I believe you exaggerate; love's
not everything; marriage itself is only one of the things--" They had
reached the main thoroughfare, and stood looking at the omnibuses and
passers-by, who seemed, for the moment, to illustrate what Katharine
had said of the diversity of human interests. For both of them it had
become one of those moments of extreme detachment, when it seems
unnecessary ever again to shoulder the burden of happiness and
self-assertive existence. Their neighbors were welcome to their
"I don't lay down any rules,"' said Mary, recovering herself first, as
they turned after a long pause of this description. "All I say is that
you should know what you're about--for certain; but," she added, "I
expect you do."
At the same time she was profoundly perplexed, not only by what she
knew of the arrangements for Katharine's marriage, but by the
impression which she had of her, there on her arm, dark and
They walked back again and reached the steps which led up to Mary's
flat. Here they stopped and paused for a moment, saying nothing.
"You must go in," said Katharine, rousing herself. "He's waiting all
this time to go on with his reading." She glanced up at the lighted
window near the top of the house, and they both looked at it and
waited for a moment. A flight of semicircular steps ran up to the
hall, and Mary slowly mounted the first two or three, and paused,
looking down upon Katharine.
"I think you underrate the value of that emotion," she said slowly,
and a little awkwardly. She climbed another step and looked down once
more upon the figure that was only partly lit up, standing in the
street with a colorless face turned upwards. As Mary hesitated, a cab
came by and Katharine turned and stopped it, saying as she opened the
"Remember, I want to belong to your society--remember," she added,
having to raise her voice a little, and shutting the door upon the
rest of her words.
Mary mounted the stairs step by step, as if she had to lift her body
up an extremely steep ascent. She had had to wrench herself forcibly
away from Katharine, and every step vanquished her desire. She held on
grimly, encouraging herself as though she were actually making some
great physical effort in climbing a height. She was conscious that Mr.
Basnett, sitting at the top of the stairs with his documents, offered
her solid footing if she were capable of reaching it. The knowledge
gave her a faint sense of exaltation.
Mr. Basnett raised his eyes as she opened the door.
"I'll go on where I left off," he said. "Stop me if you want anything
He had been re-reading the document, and making pencil notes in the
margin while he waited, and he went on again as if there had been no
interruption. Mary sat down among the flat cushions, lit another
cigarette, and listened with a frown upon her face.
Katharine leant back in the corner of the cab that carried her to
Chelsea, conscious of fatigue, and conscious, too, of the sober and
satisfactory nature of such industry as she had just witnessed. The
thought of it composed and calmed her. When she reached home she let
herself in as quietly as she could, in the hope that the household was
already gone to bed. But her excursion had occupied less time than she
thought, and she heard sounds of unmistakable liveliness upstairs. A
door opened, and she drew herself into a ground-floor room in case the
sound meant that Mr. Peyton were taking his leave. From where she
stood she could see the stairs, though she was herself invisible. Some
one was coming down the stairs, and now she saw that it was William
Rodney. He looked a little strange, as if he were walking in his
sleep; his lips moved as if he were acting some part to himself. He
came down very slowly, step by step, with one hand upon the banisters
to guide himself. She thought he looked as if he were in some mood of
high exaltation, which it made her uncomfortable to witness any longer
unseen. She stepped into the hall. He gave a great start upon seeing
her and stopped.
"Katharine!" he exclaimed. "You've been out?" he asked.
"Yes. . . . Are they still up?"
He did not answer, and walked into the ground-floor room through the
door which stood open.
"It's been more wonderful than I can tell you," he said, "I'm
He was scarcely addressing her, and she said nothing. For a moment
they stood at opposite sides of a table saying nothing. Then he asked
her quickly, "But tell me, how did it seem to you? What did you think,
Katharine? Is there a chance that she likes me? Tell me, Katharine!"
Before she could answer a door opened on the landing above and
disturbed them. It disturbed William excessively. He started back,
walked rapidly into the hall, and said in a loud and ostentatiously
"Good night, Katharine. Go to bed now. I shall see you soon. I hope I
shall be able to come to-morrow."
Next moment he was gone. She went upstairs and found Cassandra on the
landing. She held two or three books in her hand, and she was stooping
to look at others in a little bookcase. She said that she could never
tell which book she wanted to read in bed, poetry, biography, or
"What do you read in bed, Katharine?" she asked, as they walked
upstairs side by side.
"Sometimes one thing--sometimes another," said Katharine vaguely.
Cassandra looked at her.
"D'you know, you're extraordinarily queer," she said. "Every one seems
to me a little queer. Perhaps it's the effect of London."
"Is William queer, too?" Katharine asked.
"Well, I think he is a little," Cassandra replied. "Queer, but very
fascinating. I shall read Milton to-night. It's been one of the
happiest nights of my life, Katharine," she added, looking with shy
devotion at her cousin's beautiful face.
London, in the first days of spring, has buds that open and flowers
that suddenly shake their petals--white, purple, or crimson--in
competition with the display in the garden beds, although these city
flowers are merely so many doors flung wide in Bond Street and the
neighborhood, inviting you to look at a picture, or hear a symphony,
or merely crowd and crush yourself among all sorts of vocal,
excitable, brightly colored human beings. But, all the same, it is no
mean rival to the quieter process of vegetable florescence. Whether or
not there is a generous motive at the root, a desire to share and
impart, or whether the animation is purely that of insensate fervor
and friction, the effect, while it lasts, certainly encourages those
who are young, and those who are ignorant, to think the world one
great bazaar, with banners fluttering and divans heaped with spoils
from every quarter of the globe for their delight.
As Cassandra Otway went about London provided with shillings that
opened turnstiles, or more often with large white cards that
disregarded turnstiles, the city seemed to her the most lavish and
hospitable of hosts. After visiting the National Gallery, or Hertford
House, or hearing Brahms or Beethoven at the Bechstein Hall, she would
come back to find a new person awaiting her, in whose soul were
imbedded some grains of the invaluable substance which she still
called reality, and still believed that she could find. The Hilberys,
as the saying is, "knew every one," and that arrogant claim was
certainly upheld by the number of houses which, within a certain area,
lit their lamps at night, opened their doors after 3 p. m., and
admitted the Hilberys to their dining-rooms, say, once a month. An
indefinable freedom and authority of manner, shared by most of the
people who lived in these houses, seemed to indicate that whether it
was a question of art, music, or government, they were well within the
gates, and could smile indulgently at the vast mass of humanity which
is forced to wait and struggle, and pay for entrance with common coin
at the door. The gates opened instantly to admit Cassandra. She was
naturally critical of what went on inside, and inclined to quote what
Henry would have said; but she often succeeded in contradicting Henry,
in his absence, and invariably paid her partner at dinner, or the kind
old lady who remembered her grandmother, the compliment of believing
that there was meaning in what they said. For the sake of the light in
her eager eyes, much crudity of expression and some untidiness of
person were forgiven her. It was generally felt that, given a year or
two of experience, introduced to good dressmakers, and preserved from
bad influences, she would be an acquisition. Those elderly ladies, who
sit on the edge of ballrooms sampling the stuff of humanity between
finger and thumb and breathing so evenly that the necklaces, which
rise and fall upon their breasts, seem to represent some elemental
force, such as the waves upon the ocean of humanity, concluded, a
little smilingly, that she would do. They meant that she would in all
probability marry some young man whose mother they respected.
William Rodney was fertile in suggestions. He knew of little
galleries, and select concerts, and private performances, and somehow
made time to meet Katharine and Cassandra, and to give them tea or
dinner or supper in his rooms afterwards. Each one of her fourteen
days thus promised to bear some bright illumination in its sober text.
But Sunday approached. The day is usually dedicated to Nature. The
weather was almost kindly enough for an expedition. But Cassandra
rejected Hampton Court, Greenwich, Richmond, and Kew in favor of the
Zoological Gardens. She had once trifled with the psychology of
animals, and still knew something about inherited characteristics. On
Sunday afternoon, therefore, Katharine, Cassandra, and William Rodney
drove off to the Zoo. As their cab approached the entrance, Katharine
bent forward and waved her hand to a young man who was walking rapidly
in the same direction.
"There's Ralph Denham!" she exclaimed. "I told him to meet us here,"
she added. She had even come provided with a ticket for him. William's
objection that he would not be admitted was, therefore, silenced
directly. But the way in which the two men greeted each other was
significant of what was going to happen. As soon as they had admired
the little birds in the large cage William and Cassandra lagged
behind, and Ralph and Katharine pressed on rather in advance. It was
an arrangement in which William took his part, and one that suited his
convenience, but he was annoyed all the same. He thought that
Katharine should have told him that she had invited Denham to meet
"One of Katharine's friends," he said rather sharply. It was clear
that he was irritated, and Cassandra felt for his annoyance. They were
standing by the pen of some Oriental hog, and she was prodding the
brute gently with the point of her umbrella, when a thousand little
observations seemed, in some way, to collect in one center. The center
was one of intense and curious emotion. Were they happy? She dismissed
the question as she asked it, scorning herself for applying such
simple measures to the rare and splendid emotions of so unique a
couple. Nevertheless, her manner became immediately different, as if,
for the first time, she felt consciously womanly, and as if William
might conceivably wish later on to confide in her. She forgot all
about the psychology of animals, and the recurrence of blue eyes and
brown, and became instantly engrossed in her feelings as a woman who
could administer consolation, and she hoped that Katharine would keep
ahead with Mr. Denham, as a child who plays at being grown-up hopes
that her mother won't come in just yet, and spoil the game. Or was it
not rather that she had ceased to play at being grown-up, and was
conscious, suddenly, that she was alarmingly mature and in earnest?
There was still unbroken silence between Katharine and Ralph Denham,
but the occupants of the different cages served instead of speech.
"What have you been doing since we met?" Ralph asked at length.
"Doing?" she pondered. "Walking in and out of other people's houses. I
wonder if these animals are happy?" she speculated, stopping before a
gray bear, who was philosophically playing with a tassel which once,
perhaps, formed part of a lady's parasol.
"I'm afraid Rodney didn't like my coming," Ralph remarked.
"No. But he'll soon get over that," she replied. The detachment
expressed by her voice puzzled Ralph, and he would have been glad if
she had explained her meaning further. But he was not going to press
her for explanations. Each moment was to be, as far as he could make
it, complete in itself, owing nothing of its happiness to
explanations, borrowing neither bright nor dark tints from the future.
"The bears seem happy," he remarked. "But we must buy them a bag of
something. There's the place to buy buns. Let's go and get them." They
walked to the counter piled with little paper bags, and each
simultaneously produced a shilling and pressed it upon the young lady,
who did not know whether to oblige the lady or the gentleman, but
decided, from conventional reasons, that it was the part of the
gentleman to pay.
"I wish to pay," said Ralph peremptorily, refusing the coin which
Katharine tendered. "I have a reason for what I do," he added, seeing
her smile at his tone of decision.
"I believe you have a reason for everything," she agreed, breaking the
bun into parts and tossing them down the bears' throats, "but I can't
believe it's a good one this time. What is your reason?"
He refused to tell her. He could not explain to her that he was
offering up consciously all his happiness to her, and wished, absurdly
enough, to pour every possession he had upon the blazing pyre, even
his silver and gold. He wished to keep this distance between them--the
distance which separates the devotee from the image in the shrine.
Circumstances conspired to make this easier than it would have been,
had they been seated in a drawing-room, for example, with a tea-tray
between them. He saw her against a background of pale grottos and
sleek hides; camels slanted their heavy-ridded eyes at her, giraffes
fastidiously observed her from their melancholy eminence, and the
pink-lined trunks of elephants cautiously abstracted buns from her
outstretched hands. Then there were the hothouses. He saw her bending
over pythons coiled upon the sand, or considering the brown rock
breaking the stagnant water of the alligators' pool, or searching some
minute section of tropical forest for the golden eye of a lizard or
the indrawn movement of the green frogs' flanks. In particular, he saw
her outlined against the deep green waters, in which squadrons of
silvery fish wheeled incessantly, or ogled her for a moment, pressing
their distorted mouths against the glass, quivering their tails
straight out behind them. Again, there was the insect house, where she
lifted the blinds of the little cages, and marveled at the purple
circles marked upon the rich tussore wings of some lately emerged and
semi-conscious butterfly, or at caterpillars immobile like the knobbed
twigs of a pale-skinned tree, or at slim green snakes stabbing the
glass wall again and again with their flickering cleft tongues. The
heat of the air, and the bloom of heavy flowers, which swam in water
or rose stiffly from great red jars, together with the display of
curious patterns and fantastic shapes, produced an atmosphere in which
human beings tended to look pale and to fall silent.
Opening the door of a house which rang with the mocking and profoundly
unhappy laughter of monkeys, they discovered William and Cassandra.
William appeared to be tempting some small reluctant animal to descend
from an upper perch to partake of half an apple. Cassandra was reading
out, in her high-pitched tones, an account of this creature's secluded
disposition and nocturnal habits. She saw Katharine and exclaimed:
"Here you are! Do prevent William from torturing this unfortunate
"We thought we'd lost you," said William. He looked from one to the
other, and seemed to take stock of Denham's unfashionable appearance.
He seemed to wish to find some outlet for malevolence, but, failing
one, he remained silent. The glance, the slight quiver of the upper
lip, were not lost upon Katharine.
"William isn't kind to animals," she remarked. "He doesn't know what
they like and what they don't like."
"I take it you're well versed in these matters, Denham," said Rodney,
withdrawing his hand with the apple.
"It's mainly a question of knowing how to stroke them," Denham
"Which is the way to the Reptile House?" Cassandra asked him, not from
a genuine desire to visit the reptiles, but in obedience to her
new-born feminine susceptibility, which urged her to charm and
conciliate the other sex. Denham began to give her directions, and
Katharine and William moved on together.
"I hope you've had a pleasant afternoon," William remarked.
"I like Ralph Denham," she replied.
"Ca se voit," William returned, with superficial urbanity.
Many retorts were obvious, but wishing, on the whole, for peace,
Katharine merely inquired:
"Are you coming back to tea?"
"Cassandra and I thought of having tea at a little shop in Portland
Place," he replied. "I don't know whether you and Denham would care to
"I'll ask him," she replied, turning her head to look for him. But he
and Cassandra were absorbed in the aye-aye once more.
William and Katharine watched them for a moment, and each looked
curiously at the object of the other's preference. But resting his eye
upon Cassandra, to whose elegance the dressmakers had now done
justice, William said sharply:
"If you come, I hope you won't do your best to make me ridiculous."
"If that's what you're afraid of I certainly shan't come," Katharine
They were professedly looking into the enormous central cage of
monkeys, and being thoroughly annoyed by William, she compared him to
a wretched misanthropical ape, huddled in a scrap of old shawl at the
end of a pole, darting peevish glances of suspicion and distrust at
his companions. Her tolerance was deserting her. The events of the
past week had worn it thin. She was in one of those moods, perhaps not
uncommon with either sex, when the other becomes very clearly
distinguished, and of contemptible baseness, so that the necessity of
association is degrading, and the tie, which at such moments is always
extremely close, drags like a halter round the neck. William's
exacting demands and his jealousy had pulled her down into some
horrible swamp of her nature where the primeval struggle between man
and woman still rages.
"You seem to delight in hurting me," William persisted. "Why did you
say that just now about my behavior to animals?" As he spoke he
rattled his stick against the bars of the cage, which gave his words
an accompaniment peculiarly exasperating to Katharine's nerves.
"Because it's true. You never see what any one feels," she said. "You
think of no one but yourself."
"That is not true," said William. By his determined rattling he had
now collected the animated attention of some half-dozen apes. Either
to propitiate them, or to show his consideration for their feelings,
he proceeded to offer them the apple which he held.
The sight, unfortunately, was so comically apt in its illustration of
the picture in her mind, the ruse was so transparent, that Katharine
was seized with laughter. She laughed uncontrollably. William flushed
red. No display of anger could have hurt his feelings more profoundly.
It was not only that she was laughing at him; the detachment of the
sound was horrible.
"I don't know what you're laughing at," he muttered, and, turning,
found that the other couple had rejoined them. As if the matter had
been privately agreed upon, the couples separated once more, Katharine
and Denham passing out of the house without more than a perfunctory
glance round them. Denham obeyed what seemed to be Katharine's wish in
thus making haste. Some change had come over her. He connected it with
her laughter, and her few words in private with Rodney; he felt that
she had become unfriendly to him. She talked, but her remarks were
indifferent, and when he spoke her attention seemed to wander. This
change of mood was at first extremely disagreeable to him; but soon he
found it salutary. The pale drizzling atmosphere of the day affected
him, also. The charm, the insidious magic in which he had luxuriated,
were suddenly gone; his feeling had become one of friendly respect,
and to his great pleasure he found himself thinking spontaneously of
the relief of finding himself alone in his room that night. In his
surprise at the suddenness of the change, and at the extent of his
freedom, he bethought him of a daring plan, by which the ghost of
Katharine could be more effectually exorcised than by mere abstinence.
He would ask her to come home with him to tea. He would force her
through the mill of family life; he would place her in a light
unsparing and revealing. His family would find nothing to admire in
her, and she, he felt certain, would despise them all, and this, too,
would help him. He felt himself becoming more and more merciless
towards her. By such courageous measures any one, he thought, could
end the absurd passions which were the cause of so much pain and
waste. He could foresee a time when his experiences, his discovery,
and his triumph were made available for younger brothers who found
themselves in the same predicament. He looked at his watch, and
remarked that the gardens would soon be closed.
"Anyhow," he added, "I think we've seen enough for one afternoon.
Where have the others got to?" He looked over his shoulder, and,
seeing no trace of them, remarked at once:
"We'd better be independent of them. The best plan will be for you to
come back to tea with me."
"Why shouldn't you come with me?" she asked.
"Because we're next door to Highgate here," he replied promptly.
She assented, having very little notion whether Highgate was next door
to Regent's Park or not. She was only glad to put off her return to
the family tea-table in Chelsea for an hour or two. They proceeded
with dogged determination through the winding roads of Regent's Park,
and the Sunday-stricken streets of the neighborhood, in the direction
of the Tube station. Ignorant of the way, she resigned herself
entirely to him, and found his silence a convenient cover beneath
which to continue her anger with Rodney.
When they stepped out of the train into the still grayer gloom of
Highgate, she wondered, for the first time, where he was taking her.
Had he a family, or did he live alone in rooms? On the whole she was
inclined to believe that he was the only son of an aged, and possibly
invalid, mother. She sketched lightly, upon the blank vista down which
they walked, the little white house and the tremulous old lady rising
from behind her tea-table to greet her with faltering words about "my
son's friends," and was on the point of asking Ralph to tell her what
she might expect, when he jerked open one of the infinite number of
identical wooden doors, and led her up a tiled path to a porch in the
Alpine style of architecture. As they listened to the shaking of the
bell in the basement, she could summon no vision to replace the one so
"I must warn you to expect a family party," said Ralph. "They're
mostly in on Sundays. We can go to my room afterwards."
"Have you many brothers and sisters?" she asked, without concealing
"Six or seven," he replied grimly, as the door opened.
While Ralph took off his coat, she had time to notice the ferns and
photographs and draperies, and to hear a hum, or rather a babble, of
voices talking each other down, from the sound of them. The rigidity
of extreme shyness came over her. She kept as far behind Denham as she
could, and walked stiffly after him into a room blazing with unshaded
lights, which fell upon a number of people, of different ages, sitting
round a large dining-room table untidily strewn with food, and
unflinchingly lit up by incandescent gas. Ralph walked straight to the
far end of the table.
"Mother, this is Miss Hilbery," he said.
A large elderly lady, bent over an unsatisfactory spirit-lamp, looked
up with a little frown, and observed:
"I beg your pardon. I thought you were one of my own girls. Dorothy,"
she continued on the same breath, to catch the servant before she left
the room, "we shall want some more methylated spirits--unless the lamp
itself is out of order. If one of you could invent a good
spirit-lamp--" she sighed, looking generally down the table, and then
began seeking among the china before her for two clean cups for the
The unsparing light revealed more ugliness than Katharine had seen in
one room for a very long time. It was the ugliness of enormous folds
of brown material, looped and festooned, of plush curtains, from which
depended balls and fringes, partially concealing bookshelves swollen
with black school-texts. Her eye was arrested by crossed scabbards of
fretted wood upon the dull green wall, and whereever there was a high
flat eminence, some fern waved from a pot of crinkled china, or a
bronze horse reared so high that the stump of a tree had to sustain
his forequarters. The waters of family life seemed to rise and close
over her head, and she munched in silence.
At length Mrs. Denham looked up from her teacups and remarked:
"You see, Miss Hilbery, my children all come in at different hours and
want different things. (The tray should go up if you've done,
Johnnie.) My boy Charles is in bed with a cold. What else can you
expect?--standing in the wet playing football. We did try drawing-room
tea, but it didn't do."
A boy of sixteen, who appeared to be Johnnie, grumbled derisively both
at the notion of drawing-room tea and at the necessity of carrying a
tray up to his brother. But he took himself off, being enjoined by his
mother to mind what he was doing, and shut the door after him.
"It's much nicer like this," said Katharine, applying herself with
determination to the dissection of her cake; they had given her too
large a slice. She knew that Mrs. Denham suspected her of critical
comparisons. She knew that she was making poor progress with her cake.
Mrs. Denham had looked at her sufficiently often to make it clear to
Katharine that she was asking who this young woman was, and why Ralph
had brought her to tea with them. There was an obvious reason, which
Mrs. Denham had probably reached by this time. Outwardly, she was
behaving with rather rusty and laborious civility. She was making
conversation about the amenities of Highgate, its development and
"When I first married," she said, "Highgate was quite separate from
London, Miss Hilbery, and this house, though you wouldn't believe it,
had a view of apple orchards. That was before the Middletons built
their house in front of us."
"It must be a great advantage to live at the top of a hill," said
Katharine. Mrs. Denham agreed effusively, as if her opinion of
Katharine's sense had risen.
"Yes, indeed, we find it very healthy," she said, and she went on, as
people who live in the suburbs so often do, to prove that it was
healthier, more convenient, and less spoilt than any suburb round
London. She spoke with such emphasis that it was quite obvious that
she expressed unpopular views, and that her children disagreed with
"The ceiling's fallen down in the pantry again," said Hester, a girl
of eighteen, abruptly.
"The whole house will be down one of these days," James muttered.
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Denham. "It's only a little bit of plaster--I
don't see how any house could be expected to stand the wear and tear
you give it." Here some family joke exploded, which Katharine could
not follow. Even Mrs. Denham laughed against her will.
"Miss Hilbery's thinking us all so rude," she added reprovingly. Miss
Hilbery smiled and shook her head, and was conscious that a great many
eyes rested upon her, for a moment, as if they would find pleasure in
discussing her when she was gone. Owing, perhaps, to this critical
glance, Katharine decided that Ralph Denham's family was commonplace,
unshapely, lacking in charm, and fitly expressed by the hideous nature
of their furniture and decorations. She glanced along a mantelpiece
ranged with bronze chariots, silver vases, and china ornaments that
were either facetious or eccentric.
She did not apply her judgment consciously to Ralph, but when she
looked at him, a moment later, she rated him lower than at any other
time of their acquaintanceship.
He had made no effort to tide over the discomforts of her
introduction, and now, engaged in argument with his brother,
apparently forgot her presence. She must have counted upon his support
more than she realized, for this indifference, emphasized, as it was,
by the insignificant commonplace of his surroundings, awoke her, not
only to that ugliness, but to her own folly. She thought of one scene
after another in a few seconds, with that shudder which is almost a
blush. She had believed him when he spoke of friendship. She had
believed in a spiritual light burning steadily and steadfastly behind
the erratic disorder and incoherence of life. The light was now gone
out, suddenly, as if a sponge had blotted it. The litter of the table
and the tedious but exacting conversation of Mrs. Denham remained:
they struck, indeed, upon a mind bereft of all defences, and, keenly
conscious of the degradation which is the result of strife whether
victorious or not, she thought gloomily of her loneliness, of life's
futility, of the barren prose of reality, of William Rodney, of her
mother, and the unfinished book.
Her answers to Mrs. Denham were perfunctory to the verge of rudeness,
and to Ralph, who watched her narrowly, she seemed further away than
was compatible with her physical closeness. He glanced at her, and
ground out further steps in his argument, determined that no folly
should remain when this experience was over. Next moment, a silence,
sudden and complete, descended upon them all. The silence of all these
people round the untidy table was enormous and hideous; something
horrible seemed about to burst from it, but they endured it
obstinately. A second later the door opened and there was a stir of
relief; cries of "Hullo, Joan! There's nothing left for you to eat,"
broke up the oppressive concentration of so many eyes upon the
table-cloth, and set the waters of family life dashing in brisk little
waves again. It was obvious that Joan had some mysterious and
beneficent power upon her family. She went up to Katharine as if she
had heard of her, and was very glad to see her at last. She explained
that she had been visiting an uncle who was ill, and that had kept
her. No, she hadn't had any tea, but a slice of bread would do. Some
one handed up a hot cake, which had been keeping warm in the fender;
she sat down by her mother's side, Mrs. Denham's anxieties seemed to
relax, and every one began eating and drinking, as if tea had begun
over again. Hester voluntarily explained to Katharine that she was
reading to pass some examination, because she wanted more than
anything in the whole world to go to Newnham.
"Now, just let me hear you decline 'amo'--I love," Johnnie demanded.
"No, Johnnie, no Greek at meal-times," said Joan, overhearing him
instantly. "She's up at all hours of the night over her books, Miss
Hilbery, and I'm sure that's not the way to pass examinations," she
went on, smiling at Katharine, with the worried humorous smile of the
elder sister whose younger brothers and sisters have become almost
like children of her own.
"Joan, you don't really think that 'amo' is Greek?" Ralph
"Did I say Greek? Well, never mind. No dead languages at tea-time. My
dear boy, don't trouble to make me any toast--"
"Or if you do, surely there's the toasting-fork somewhere?" said Mrs.
Denham, still cherishing the belief that the bread-knife could be
spoilt. "Do one of you ring and ask for one," she said, without any
conviction that she would be obeyed. "But is Ann coming to be with
Uncle Joseph?" she continued. "If so, surely they had better send Amy
to us--" and in the mysterious delight of learning further details of
these arrangements, and suggesting more sensible plans of her own,
which, from the aggrieved way in which she spoke, she did not seem to
expect any one to adopt, Mrs. Denham completely forgot the presence of
a well-dressed visitor, who had to be informed about the amenities of
Highgate. As soon as Joan had taken her seat, an argument had sprung
up on either side of Katharine, as to whether the Salvation Army has
any right to play hymns at street corners on Sunday mornings, thereby
making it impossible for James to have his sleep out, and tampering
with the rights of individual liberty.
"You see, James likes to lie in bed and sleep like a hog," said
Johnnie, explaining himself to Katharine, whereupon James fired up
and, making her his goal, also exclaimed:
"Because Sundays are my one chance in the week of having my sleep out.
Johnnie messes with stinking chemicals in the pantry--"
They appealed to her, and she forgot her cake and began to laugh and
talk and argue with sudden animation. The large family seemed to her
so warm and various that she forgot to censure them for their taste in
pottery. But the personal question between James and Johnnie merged
into some argument already, apparently, debated, so that the parts had
been distributed among the family, in which Ralph took the lead; and
Katharine found herself opposed to him and the champion of Johnnie's
cause, who, it appeared, always lost his head and got excited in
argument with Ralph.
"Yes, yes, that's what I mean. She's got it right," he exclaimed,
after Katharine had restated his case, and made it more precise. The
debate was left almost solely to Katharine and Ralph. They looked into
each other's eyes fixedly, like wrestlers trying to see what movement
is coming next, and while Ralph spoke, Katharine bit her lower lip,
and was always ready with her next point as soon as he had done. They
were very well matched, and held the opposite views.
But at the most exciting stage of the argument, for no reason that
Katharine could see, all chairs were pushed back, and one after
another the Denham family got up and went out of the door, as if a
bell had summoned them. She was not used to the clockwork regulations
of a large family. She hesitated in what she was saying, and rose.
Mrs. Denham and Joan had drawn together and stood by the fireplace,
slightly raising their skirts above their ankles, and discussing
something which had an air of being very serious and very private.
They appeared to have forgotten her presence among them. Ralph stood
holding the door open for her.
"Won't you come up to my room?" he said. And Katharine, glancing back
at Joan, who smiled at her in a preoccupied way, followed Ralph
upstairs. She was thinking of their argument, and when, after the long
climb, he opened his door, she began at once.
"The question is, then, at what point is it right for the individual
to assert his will against the will of the State."
For some time they continued the argument, and then the intervals
between one statement and the next became longer and longer, and they
spoke more speculatively and less pugnaciously, and at last fell
silent. Katharine went over the argument in her mind, remembering how,
now and then, it had been set conspicuously on the right course by
some remark offered either by James or by Johnnie.
"Your brothers are very clever," she said. "I suppose you're in the
habit of arguing?"
"James and Johnnie will go on like that for hours," Ralph replied. "So
will Hester, if you start her upon Elizabethan dramatists."
"And the little girl with the pigtail?"
"Molly? She's only ten. But they're always arguing among themselves."
He was immensely pleased by Katharine's praise of his brothers and
sisters. He would have liked to go on telling her about them, but he
"I see that it must be difficult to leave them," Katharine continued.
His deep pride in his family was more evident to him, at that moment,
than ever before, and the idea of living alone in a cottage was
ridiculous. All that brotherhood and sisterhood, and a common
childhood in a common past mean, all the stability, the unambitious
comradeship, and tacit understanding of family life at its best, came
to his mind, and he thought of them as a company, of which he was the
leader, bound on a difficult, dreary, but glorious voyage. And it was
Katharine who had opened his eyes to this, he thought.
A little dry chirp from the corner of the room now roused her
"My tame rook," he explained briefly. "A cat had bitten one of its
legs." She looked at the rook, and her eyes went from one object to
"You sit here and read?" she said, her eyes resting upon his books. He
said that he was in the habit of working there at night.
"The great advantage of Highgate is the view over London. At night the
view from my window is splendid." He was extremely anxious that she
should appreciate his view, and she rose to see what was to be seen.
It was already dark enough for the turbulent haze to be yellow with
the light of street lamps, and she tried to determine the quarters of
the city beneath her. The sight of her gazing from his window gave him
a peculiar satisfaction. When she turned, at length, he was still
sitting motionless in his chair.
"It must be late," she said. "I must be going." She settled upon the
arm of the chair irresolutely, thinking that she had no wish to go
home. William would be there, and he would find some way of making
things unpleasant for her, and the memory of their quarrel came back
to her. She had noticed Ralph's coldness, too. She looked at him, and
from his fixed stare she thought that he must be working out some
theory, some argument. He had thought, perhaps, of some fresh point in
his position, as to the bounds of personal liberty. She waited,
silently, thinking about liberty.
"You've won again," he said at last, without moving.
"I've won?" she repeated, thinking of the argument.
"I wish to God I hadn't asked you here," he burst out.
"What do you mean?"
"When you're here, it's different--I'm happy. You've only to walk to
the window--you've only to talk about liberty. When I saw you down
there among them all--" He stopped short.
"You thought how ordinary I was."
"I tried to think so. But I thought you more wonderful than ever."
An immense relief, and a reluctance to enjoy that relief, conflicted
in her heart.
She slid down into the chair.
"I thought you disliked me," she said.
"God knows I tried," he replied. "I've done my best to see you as you
are, without any of this damned romantic nonsense. That was why I
asked you here, and it's increased my folly. When you're gone I shall
look out of that window and think of you. I shall waste the whole
evening thinking of you. I shall waste my whole life, I believe."
He spoke with such vehemence that her relief disappeared; she frowned;
and her tone changed to one almost of severity.
"This is what I foretold. We shall gain nothing but unhappiness. Look
at me, Ralph." He looked at her. "I assure you that I'm far more
ordinary than I appear. Beauty means nothing whatever. In fact, the
most beautiful women are generally the most stupid. I'm not that, but
I'm a matter-of-fact, prosaic, rather ordinary character; I order the
dinner, I pay the bills, I do the accounts, I wind up the clock, and I
never look at a book."
"You forget--" he began, but she would not let him speak.
"You come and see me among flowers and pictures, and think me
mysterious, romantic, and all the rest of it. Being yourself very
inexperienced and very emotional, you go home and invent a story about
me, and now you can't separate me from the person you've imagined me
to be. You call that, I suppose, being in love; as a matter of fact
it's being in delusion. All romantic people are the same," she added.
"My mother spends her life in making stories about the people she's
fond of. But I won't have you do it about me, if I can help it."
"You can't help it," he said.
"I warn you it's the source of all evil."
"And of all good," he added.
"You'll find out that I'm not what you think me."
"Perhaps. But I shall gain more than I lose."
"If such gain's worth having."
They were silent for a space.
"That may be what we have to face," he said. "There may be nothing
else. Nothing but what we imagine."
"The reason of our loneliness," she mused, and they were silent for a
"When are you to be married?" he asked abruptly, with a change of
"Not till September, I think. It's been put off."
"You won't be lonely then," he said. "According to what people say,
marriage is a very queer business. They say it's different from
anything else. It may be true. I've known one or two cases where it
seems to be true." He hoped that she would go on with the subject. But
she made no reply. He had done his best to master himself, and his
voice was sufficiently indifferent, but her silence tormented him. She
would never speak to him of Rodney of her own accord, and her reserve
left a whole continent of her soul in darkness.
"It may be put off even longer than that," she said, as if by an
afterthought. "Some one in the office is ill, and William has to take
his place. We may put it off for some time in fact."
"That's rather hard on him, isn't it?" Ralph asked.
"He has his work," she replied. "He has lots of things that interest
him. . . . I know I've been to that place," she broke off, pointing to
a photograph. "But I can't remember where it is--oh, of course it's
Oxford. Now, what about your cottage?"
"I'm not going to take it."
"How you change your mind!" she smiled.
"It's not that," he said impatiently. "It's that I want to be where I
can see you."
"Our compact is going to hold in spite of all I've said?" she asked.
"For ever, so far as I'm concerned," he replied.
"You're going to go on dreaming and imagining and making up stories
about me as you walk along the street, and pretending that we're
riding in a forest, or landing on an island--"
"No. I shall think of you ordering dinner, paying bills, doing the
accounts, showing old ladies the relics--"
"That's better," she said. "You can think of me to-morrow morning
looking up dates in the 'Dictionary of National Biography.'"
"And forgetting your purse," Ralph added.
At this she smiled, but in another moment her smile faded, either
because of his words or of the way in which he spoke them. She was
capable of forgetting things. He saw that. But what more did he see?
Was he not looking at something she had never shown to anybody? Was it
not something so profound that the notion of his seeing it almost
shocked her? Her smile faded, and for a moment she seemed upon the
point of speaking, but looking at him in silence, with a look that
seemed to ask what she could not put into words, she turned and bade
him good night.
Like a strain of music, the effect of Katharine's presence slowly died
from the room in which Ralph sat alone. The music had ceased in the
rapture of its melody. He strained to catch the faintest lingering
echoes; for a moment the memory lulled him into peace; but soon it
failed, and he paced the room so hungry for the sound to come again
that he was conscious of no other desire left in life. She had gone
without speaking; abruptly a chasm had been cut in his course, down
which the tide of his being plunged in disorder; fell upon rocks;
flung itself to destruction. The distress had an effect of physical
ruin and disaster. He trembled; he was white; he felt exhausted, as if
by a great physical effort. He sank at last into a chair standing
opposite her empty one, and marked, mechanically, with his eye upon
the clock, how she went farther and farther from him, was home now,
and now, doubtless, again with Rodney. But it was long before he could
realize these facts; the immense desire for her presence churned his
senses into foam, into froth, into a haze of emotion that removed all
facts from his grasp, and gave him a strange sense of distance, even
from the material shapes of wall and window by which he was
surrounded. The prospect of the future, now that the strength of his
passion was revealed to him, appalled him.
The marriage would take place in September, she had said; that allowed
him, then, six full months in which to undergo these terrible extremes
of emotion. Six months of torture, and after that the silence of the
grave, the isolation of the insane, the exile of the damned; at best,
a life from which the chief good was knowingly and for ever excluded.
An impartial judge might have assured him that his chief hope of
recovery lay in this mystic temper, which identified a living woman
with much that no human beings long possess in the eyes of each other;
she would pass, and the desire for her vanish, but his belief in what
she stood for, detached from her, would remain. This line of thought
offered, perhaps, some respite, and possessed of a brain that had its
station considerably above the tumult of the senses, he tried to
reduce the vague and wandering incoherency of his emotions to order.
The sense of self-preservation was strong in him, and Katharine
herself had strangely revived it by convincing him that his family
deserved and needed all his strength. She was right, and for their
sake, if not for his own, this passion, which could bear no fruit,
must be cut off, uprooted, shown to be as visionary and baseless as
she had maintained. The best way of achieving this was not to run away
from her, but to face her, and having steeped himself in her
qualities, to convince his reason that they were, as she assured him,
not those that he imagined. She was a practical woman, a domestic wife
for an inferior poet, endowed with romantic beauty by some freak of
unintelligent Nature. No doubt her beauty itself would not stand
examination. He had the means of settling this point at least. He
possessed a book of photographs from the Greek statues; the head of a
goddess, if the lower part were concealed, had often given him the
ecstasy of being in Katharine's presence. He took it down from the
shelf and found the picture. To this he added a note from her, bidding
him meet her at the Zoo. He had a flower which he had picked at Kew to
teach her botany. Such were his relics. He placed them before him, and
set himself to visualize her so clearly that no deception or delusion
was possible. In a second he could see her, with the sun slanting
across her dress, coming towards him down the green walk at Kew. He
made her sit upon the seat beside him. He heard her voice, so low and
yet so decided in its tone; she spoke reasonably of indifferent
matters. He could see her faults, and analyze her virtues. His pulse
became quieter, and his brain increased in clarity. This time she
could not escape him. The illusion of her presence became more and
more complete. They seemed to pass in and out of each other's minds,
questioning and answering. The utmost fullness of communion seemed to
be theirs. Thus united, he felt himself raised to an eminence,
exalted, and filled with a power of achievement such as he had never
known in singleness. Once more he told over conscientiously her
faults, both of face and character; they were clearly known to him;
but they merged themselves in the flawless union that was born of
their association. They surveyed life to its uttermost limits. How
deep it was when looked at from this height! How sublime! How the
commonest things moved him almost to tears! Thus, he forgot the
inevitable limitations; he forgot her absence, he thought it of no
account whether she married him or another; nothing mattered, save
that she should exist, and that he should love her. Some words of
these reflections were uttered aloud, and it happened that among them
were the words, "I love her." It was the first time that he had used
the word "love" to describe his feeling; madness, romance,
hallucination--he had called it by these names before; but having,
apparently by accident, stumbled upon the word "love," he repeated it
again and again with a sense of revelation.
"But I'm in love with you!" he exclaimed, with something like dismay.
He leant against the window-sill, looking over the city as she had
looked. Everything had become miraculously different and completely
distinct. His feelings were justified and needed no further
explanation. But he must impart them to some one, because his
discovery was so important that it concerned other people too.
Shutting the book of Greek photographs, and hiding his relics, he ran
downstairs, snatched his coat, and passed out of doors.
The lamps were being lit, but the streets were dark enough and empty
enough to let him walk his fastest, and to talk aloud as he walked. He
had no doubt where he was going. He was going to find Mary Datchet.
The desire to share what he felt, with some one who understood it, was
so imperious that he did not question it. He was soon in her street.
He ran up the stairs leading to her flat two steps at a time, and it
never crossed his mind that she might not be at home. As he rang her
bell, he seemed to himself to be announcing the presence of something
wonderful that was separate from himself, and gave him power and
authority over all other people. Mary came to the door after a
moment's pause. He was perfectly silent, and in the dusk his face
looked completely white. He followed her into her room.
"Do you know each other?" she said, to his extreme surprise, for he
had counted on finding her alone. A young man rose, and said that he
knew Ralph by sight.
"We were just going through some papers," said Mary. "Mr. Basnett has
to help me, because I don't know much about my work yet. It's the new
society," she explained. "I'm the secretary. I'm no longer at Russell
The voice in which she gave this information was so constrained as to
sound almost harsh.
"What are your aims?" said Ralph. He looked neither at Mary nor at Mr.
Basnett. Mr. Basnett thought he had seldom seen a more disagreeable or
formidable man than this friend of Mary's, this sarcastic-looking,
white-faced Mr. Denham, who seemed to demand, as if by right, an
account of their proposals, and to criticize them before he had heard
them. Nevertheless, he explained his projects as clearly as he could,
and knew that he wished Mr. Denham to think well of them.
"I see," said Ralph, when he had done. "D'you know, Mary," he suddenly
remarked, "I believe I'm in for a cold. Have you any quinine?" The
look which he cast at her frightened her; it expressed mutely, perhaps
without his own consciousness, something deep, wild, and passionate.
She left the room at once. Her heart beat fast at the knowledge of
Ralph's presence; but it beat with pain, and with an extraordinary
fear. She stood listening for a moment to the voices in the next room.
"Of course, I agree with you," she heard Ralph say, in this strange
voice, to Mr. Basnett. "But there's more that might be done. Have you
seen Judson, for instance? You should make a point of getting him."
Mary returned with the quinine.
"Judson's address?" Mr. Basnett inquired, pulling out his notebook and
preparing to write. For twenty minutes, perhaps, he wrote down names,
addresses, and other suggestions that Ralph dictated to him. Then,
when Ralph fell silent, Mr. Basnett felt that his presence was not
desired, and thanking Ralph for his help, with a sense that he was
very young and ignorant compared with him, he said good-bye.
"Mary," said Ralph, directly Mr. Basnett had shut the door and they
were alone together. "Mary," he repeated. But the old difficulty of
speaking to Mary without reserve prevented him from continuing. His
desire to proclaim his love for Katharine was still strong in him, but
he had felt, directly he saw Mary, that he could not share it with
her. The feeling increased as he sat talking to Mr. Basnett. And yet
all the time he was thinking of Katharine, and marveling at his love.
The tone in which he spoke Mary's name was harsh.
"What is it, Ralph?" she asked, startled by his tone. She looked at
him anxiously, and her little frown showed that she was trying
painfully to understand him, and was puzzled. He could feel her
groping for his meaning, and he was annoyed with her, and thought how
he had always found her slow, painstaking, and clumsy. He had behaved
badly to her, too, which made his irritation the more acute. Without
waiting for him to answer, she rose as if his answer were indifferent
to her, and began to put in order some papers that Mr. Basnett had
left on the table. She hummed a scrap of a tune under her breath, and
moved about the room as if she were occupied in making things tidy,
and had no other concern.
"You'll stay and dine?" she said casually, returning to her seat.
"No," Ralph replied. She did not press him further. They sat side by
side without speaking, and Mary reached her hand for her work basket,
and took out her sewing and threaded a needle.
"That's a clever young man," Ralph observed, referring to Mr. Basnett.
"I'm glad you thought so. It's tremendously interesting work, and
considering everything, I think we've done very well. But I'm inclined
to agree with you; we ought to try to be more conciliatory. We're
absurdly strict. It's difficult to see that there may be sense in what
one's opponents say, though they are one's opponents. Horace Basnett
is certainly too uncompromising. I mustn't forget to see that he
writes that letter to Judson. You're too busy, I suppose, to come on
to our committee?" She spoke in the most impersonal manner.
"I may be out of town," Ralph replied, with equal distance of manner.
"Our executive meets every week, of course," she observed. "But some
of our members don't come more than once a month. Members of
Parliament are the worst; it was a mistake, I think, to ask them."
She went on sewing in silence.
"You've not taken your quinine," she said, looking up and seeing the
tabloids upon the mantelpiece.
"I don't want it," said Ralph shortly.
"Well, you know best," she replied tranquilly.
"Mary, I'm a brute!" he exclaimed. "Here I come and waste your time,
and do nothing but make myself disagreeable."
"A cold coming on does make one feel wretched," she replied.
"I've not got a cold. That was a lie. There's nothing the matter with
me. I'm mad, I suppose. I ought to have had the decency to keep away.
But I wanted to see you--I wanted to tell you--I'm in love, Mary." He
spoke the word, but, as he spoke it, it seemed robbed of substance.
"In love, are you?" she said quietly. "I'm glad, Ralph."
"I suppose I'm in love. Anyhow, I'm out of my mind. I can't think, I
can't work, I don't care a hang for anything in the world. Good
Heavens, Mary! I'm in torment! One moment I'm happy; next I'm
miserable. I hate her for half an hour; then I'd give my whole life to
be with her for ten minutes; all the time I don't know what I feel, or
why I feel it; it's insanity, and yet it's perfectly reasonable. Can
you make any sense of it? Can you see what's happened? I'm raving, I
know; don't listen, Mary; go on with your work."
He rose and began, as usual, to pace up and down the room. He knew
that what he had just said bore very little resemblance to what he
felt, for Mary's presence acted upon him like a very strong magnet,
drawing from him certain expressions which were not those he made use
of when he spoke to himself, nor did they represent his deepest
feelings. He felt a little contempt for himself at having spoken thus;
but somehow he had been forced into speech.
"Do sit down," said Mary suddenly. "You make me so--" She spoke with
unusual irritability, and Ralph, noticing it with surprise, sat down
"You haven't told me her name--you'd rather not, I suppose?"
"Her name? Katharine Hilbery."
"But she's engaged--"
"To Rodney. They're to be married in September."
"I see," said Mary. But in truth the calm of his manner, now that he
was sitting down once more, wrapt her in the presence of something
which she felt to be so strong, so mysterious, so incalculable, that
she scarcely dared to attempt to intercept it by any word or question
that she was able to frame. She looked at Ralph blankly, with a kind
of awe in her face, her lips slightly parted, and her brows raised. He
was apparently quite unconscious of her gaze. Then, as if she could
look no longer, she leant back in her chair, and half closed her eyes.
The distance between them hurt her terribly; one thing after another
came into her mind, tempting her to assail Ralph with questions, to
force him to confide in her, and to enjoy once more his intimacy. But
she rejected every impulse, for she could not speak without doing
violence to some reserve which had grown between them, putting them a
little far from each other, so that he seemed to her dignified and
remote, like a person she no longer knew well.
"Is there anything that I could do for you?" she asked gently, and
even with courtesy, at length.
"You could see her--no, that's not what I want; you mustn't bother
about me, Mary." He, too, spoke very gently.
"I'm afraid no third person can do anything to help," she added.
"No," he shook his head. "Katharine was saying to-day how lonely we
are." She saw the effort with which he spoke Katharine's name, and
believed that he forced himself to make amends now for his concealment
in the past. At any rate, she was conscious of no anger against him;
but rather of a deep pity for one condemned to suffer as she had
suffered. But in the case of Katharine it was different; she was
indignant with Katharine.
"There's always work," she said, a little aggressively.
Ralph moved directly.
"Do you want to be working now?" he asked.
"No, no. It's Sunday," she replied. "I was thinking of Katharine. She
doesn't understand about work. She's never had to. She doesn't know
what work is. I've only found out myself quite lately. But it's the
thing that saves one--I'm sure of that."
"There are other things, aren't there?" he hesitated.
"Nothing that one can count upon," she returned. "After all, other
people--" she stopped, but forced herself to go on. "Where should I be
now if I hadn't got to go to my office every day? Thousands of people
would tell you the same thing--thousands of women. I tell you, work is
the only thing that saved me, Ralph." He set his mouth, as if her
words rained blows on him; he looked as if he had made up his mind to
bear anything she might say, in silence. He had deserved it, and there
would be relief in having to bear it. But she broke off, and rose as
if to fetch something from the next room. Before she reached the door
she turned back, and stood facing him, self-possessed, and yet defiant
and formidable in her composure.
"It's all turned out splendidly for me," she said. "It will for you,
too. I'm sure of that. Because, after all, Katharine is worth it."
"Mary--!" he exclaimed. But her head was turned away, and he could not
say what he wished to say. "Mary, you're splendid," he concluded. She
faced him as he spoke, and gave him her hand. She had suffered and
relinquished, she had seen her future turned from one of infinite
promise to one of barrenness, and yet, somehow, over what she scarcely
knew, and with what results she could hardly foretell, she had
conquered. With Ralph's eyes upon her, smiling straight back at him
serenely and proudly, she knew, for the first time, that she had
conquered. She let him kiss her hand.
The streets were empty enough on Sunday night, and if the Sabbath, and
the domestic amusements proper to the Sabbath, had not kept people
indoors, a high strong wind might very probably have done so. Ralph
Denham was aware of a tumult in the street much in accordance with his
own sensations. The gusts, sweeping along the Strand, seemed at the
same time to blow a clear space across the sky in which stars
appeared, and for a short time the quicks-peeding silver moon riding
through clouds, as if they were waves of water surging round her and
over her. They swamped her, but she emerged; they broke over her and
covered her again; she issued forth indomitable. In the country fields
all the wreckage of winter was being dispersed; the dead leaves, the
withered bracken, the dry and discolored grass, but no bud would be
broken, nor would the new stalks that showed above the earth take any
harm, and perhaps to-morrow a line of blue or yellow would show
through a slit in their green. But the whirl of the atmosphere alone
was in Denham's mood, and what of star or blossom appeared was only as
a light gleaming for a second upon heaped waves fast following each
other. He had not been able to speak to Mary, though for a moment he
had come near enough to be tantalized by a wonderful possibility of
understanding. But the desire to communicate something of the very
greatest importance possessed him completely; he still wished to
bestow this gift upon some other human being; he sought their company.
More by instinct than by conscious choice, he took the direction which
led to Rodney's rooms. He knocked loudly upon his door; but no one
answered. He rang the bell. It took him some time to accept the fact
that Rodney was out. When he could no longer pretend that the sound of
the wind in the old building was the sound of some one rising from his
chair, he ran downstairs again, as if his goal had been altered and
only just revealed to him. He walked in the direction of Chelsea.
But physical fatigue, for he had not dined and had tramped both far
and fast, made him sit for a moment upon a seat on the Embankment. One
of the regular occupants of those seats, an elderly man who had drunk
himself, probably, out of work and lodging, drifted up, begged a
match, and sat down beside him. It was a windy night, he said; times
were hard; some long story of bad luck and injustice followed, told so
often that the man seemed to be talking to himself, or, perhaps, the
neglect of his audience had long made any attempt to catch their
attention seem scarcely worth while. When he began to speak Ralph had
a wild desire to talk to him; to question him; to make him understand.
He did, in fact, interrupt him at one point; but it was useless. The
ancient story of failure, ill-luck, undeserved disaster, went down the
wind, disconnected syllables flying past Ralph's ears with a queer
alternation of loudness and faintness as if, at certain moments, the
man's memory of his wrongs revived and then flagged, dying down at
last into a grumble of resignation, which seemed to represent a final
lapse into the accustomed despair. The unhappy voice afflicted Ralph,
but it also angered him. And when the elderly man refused to listen
and mumbled on, an odd image came to his mind of a lighthouse besieged
by the flying bodies of lost birds, who were dashed senseless, by the
gale, against the glass. He had a strange sensation that he was both
lighthouse and bird; he was steadfast and brilliant; and at the same
time he was whirled, with all other things, senseless against the
glass. He got up, left his tribute of silver, and pressed on, with the
wind against him. The image of the lighthouse and the storm full of
birds persisted, taking the place of more definite thoughts, as he
walked past the Houses of Parliament and down Grosvenor Road, by the
side of the river. In his state of physical fatigue, details merged
themselves in the vaster prospect, of which the flying gloom and the
intermittent lights of lamp-posts and private houses were the outward
token, but he never lost his sense of walking in the direction of
Katharine's house. He took it for granted that something would then
happen, and, as he walked on, his mind became more and more full of
pleasure and expectancy. Within a certain radius of her house the
streets came under the influence of her presence. Each house had an
individuality known to Ralph, because of the tremendous individuality
of the house in which she lived. For some yards before reaching the
Hilberys' door he walked in a trance of pleasure, but when he reached
it, and pushed the gate of the little garden open, he hesitated. He
did not know what to do next. There was no hurry, however, for the
outside of the house held pleasure enough to last him some time
longer. He crossed the road, and leant against the balustrade of the
Embankment, fixing his eyes upon the house.
Lights burnt in the three long windows of the drawing-room. The space
of the room behind became, in Ralph's vision, the center of the dark,
flying wilderness of the world; the justification for the welter of
confusion surrounding it; the steady light which cast its beams, like
those of a lighthouse, with searching composure over the trackless
waste. In this little sanctuary were gathered together several
different people, but their identity was dissolved in a general glory
of something that might, perhaps, be called civilization; at any rate,
all dryness, all safety, all that stood up above the surge and
preserved a consciousness of its own, was centered in the drawing-room
of the Hilberys. Its purpose was beneficent; and yet so far above his
level as to have something austere about it, a light that cast itself
out and yet kept itself aloof. Then he began, in his mind, to
distinguish different individuals within, consciously refusing as yet
to attack the figure of Katharine. His thoughts lingered over Mrs.
Hilbery and Cassandra; and then he turned to Rodney and Mr. Hilbery.
Physically, he saw them bathed in that steady flow of yellow light
which filled the long oblongs of the windows; in their movements they
were beautiful; and in their speech he figured a reserve of meaning,
unspoken, but understood. At length, after all this half-conscious
selection and arrangement, he allowed himself to approach the figure
of Katharine herself; and instantly the scene was flooded with
excitement. He did not see her in the body; he seemed curiously to see
her as a shape of light, the light itself; he seemed, simplified and
exhausted as he was, to be like one of those lost birds fascinated by
the lighthouse and held to the glass by the splendor of the blaze.
These thoughts drove him to tramp a beat up and down the pavement
before the Hilberys' gate. He did not trouble himself to make any
plans for the future. Something of an unknown kind would decide both
the coming year and the coming hour. Now and again, in his vigil, he
sought the light in the long windows, or glanced at the ray which
gilded a few leaves and a few blades of grass in the little garden.
For a long time the light burnt without changing. He had just reached
the limit of his beat and was turning, when the front door opened, and
the aspect of the house was entirely changed. A black figure came down
the little pathway and paused at the gate. Denham understood instantly
that it was Rodney. Without hesitation, and conscious only of a great
friendliness for any one coming from that lighted room, he walked
straight up to him and stopped him. In the flurry of the wind Rodney
was taken aback, and for the moment tried to press on, muttering
something, as if he suspected a demand upon his charity.
"Goodness, Denham, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed, recognizing
Ralph mumbled something about being on his way home. They walked on
together, though Rodney walked quick enough to make it plain that he
had no wish for company.
He was very unhappy. That afternoon Cassandra had repulsed him; he had
tried to explain to her the difficulties of the situation, and to
suggest the nature of his feelings for her without saying anything
definite or anything offensive to her. But he had lost his head; under
the goad of Katharine's ridicule he had said too much, and Cassandra,
superb in her dignity and severity, had refused to hear another word,
and threatened an immediate return to her home. His agitation, after
an evening spent between the two women, was extreme. Moreover, he
could not help suspecting that Ralph was wandering near the Hilberys'
house, at this hour, for reasons connected with Katharine. There was
probably some understanding between them--not that anything of the
kind mattered to him now. He was convinced that he had never cared for
any one save Cassandra, and Katharine's future was no concern of his.
Aloud, he said, shortly, that he was very tired and wished to find a
cab. But on Sunday night, on the Embankment, cabs were hard to come
by, and Rodney found himself constrained to walk some distance, at any
rate, in Denham's company. Denham maintained his silence. Rodney's
irritation lapsed. He found the silence oddly suggestive of the good
masculine qualities which he much respected, and had at this moment
great reason to need. After the mystery, difficulty, and uncertainty
of dealing with the other sex, intercourse with one's own is apt to
have a composing and even ennobling influence, since plain speaking is
possible and subterfuges of no avail. Rodney, too, was much in need of
a confidant; Katharine, despite her promises of help, had failed him
at the critical moment; she had gone off with Denham; she was,
perhaps, tormenting Denham as she had tormented him. How grave and
stable he seemed, speaking little, and walking firmly, compared with
what Rodney knew of his own torments and indecisions! He began to cast
about for some way of telling the story of his relations with
Katharine and Cassandra that would not lower him in Denham's eyes. It
then occurred to him that, perhaps, Katharine herself had confided in
Denham; they had something in common; it was likely that they had
discussed him that very afternoon. The desire to discover what they
had said of him now came uppermost in his mind. He recalled
Katharine's laugh; he remembered that she had gone, laughing, to walk
"Did you stay long after we'd left?" he asked abruptly.
"No. We went back to my house."
This seemed to confirm Rodney's belief that he had been discussed. He
turned over the unpalatable idea for a while, in silence.
"Women are incomprehensible creatures, Denham!" he then exclaimed.
"Um," said Denham, who seemed to himself possessed of complete