Part 9 out of 10
vision of her own that Mary gradually felt more than protective--she
became actually alarmed at the prospect of some collision between
Katharine and the forces of the outside world. Directly they had done,
Katharine announced her intention of going.
"But where are you going to?" Mary asked, desiring vaguely to hinder
"Oh, I'm going home--no, to Highgate perhaps."
Mary saw that it would be useless to try to stop her. All she could do
was to insist upon coming too, but she met with no opposition;
Katharine seemed indifferent to her presence. In a few minutes they
were walking along the Strand. They walked so rapidly that Mary was
deluded into the belief that Katharine knew where she was going. She
herself was not attentive. She was glad of the movement along lamp-lit
streets in the open air. She was fingering, painfully and with fear,
yet with strange hope, too, the discovery which she had stumbled upon
unexpectedly that night. She was free once more at the cost of a gift,
the best, perhaps, that she could offer, but she was, thank Heaven, in
love no longer. She was tempted to spend the first instalment of her
freedom in some dissipation; in the pit of the Coliseum, for example,
since they were now passing the door. Why not go in and celebrate her
independence of the tyranny of love? Or, perhaps, the top of an
omnibus bound for some remote place such as Camberwell, or Sidcup, or
the Welsh Harp would suit her better. She noticed these names painted
on little boards for the first time for weeks. Or should she return to
her room, and spend the night working out the details of a very
enlightened and ingenious scheme? Of all possibilities this appealed
to her most, and brought to mind the fire, the lamplight, the steady
glow which had seemed lit in the place where a more passionate flame
had once burnt.
Now Katharine stopped, and Mary woke to the fact that instead of
having a goal she had evidently none. She paused at the edge of the
crossing, and looked this way and that, and finally made as if in the
direction of Haverstock Hill.
"Look here--where are you going?" Mary cried, catching her by the
hand. "We must take that cab and go home." She hailed a cab and
insisted that Katharine should get in, while she directed the driver
to take them to Cheyne Walk.
Katharine submitted. "Very well," she said. "We may as well go there
as anywhere else."
A gloom seemed to have fallen on her. She lay back in her corner,
silent and apparently exhausted. Mary, in spite of her own
preoccupation, was struck by her pallor and her attitude of dejection.
"I'm sure we shall find him," she said more gently than she had yet
"It may be too late," Katharine replied. Without understanding her,
Mary began to pity her for what she was suffering.
"Nonsense," she said, taking her hand and rubbing it. "If we don't
find him there we shall find him somewhere else."
"But suppose he's walking about the streets--for hours and hours?"
She leant forward and looked out of the window.
"He may refuse ever to speak to me again," she said in a low voice,
almost to herself.
The exaggeration was so immense that Mary did not attempt to cope with
it, save by keeping hold of Katharine's wrist. She half expected that
Katharine might open the door suddenly and jump out. Perhaps Katharine
perceived the purpose with which her hand was held.
"Don't be frightened," she said, with a little laugh. "I'm not going
to jump out of the cab. It wouldn't do much good after all."
Upon this, Mary ostentatiously withdrew her hand.
"I ought to have apologized," Katharine continued, with an effort,
"for bringing you into all this business; I haven't told you half,
either. I'm no longer engaged to William Rodney. He is to marry
Cassandra Otway. It's all arranged--all perfectly right. . . . And
after he'd waited in the streets for hours and hours, William made me
bring him in. He was standing under the lamp-post watching our
windows. He was perfectly white when he came into the room. William
left us alone, and we sat and talked. It seems ages and ages ago, now.
Was it last night? Have I been out long? What's the time?" She sprang
forward to catch sight of a clock, as if the exact time had some
important bearing on her case.
"Only half-past eight!" she exclaimed. "Then he may be there still."
She leant out of the window and told the cabman to drive faster.
"But if he's not there, what shall I do? Where could I find him? The
streets are so crowded."
"We shall find him," Mary repeated.
Mary had no doubt but that somehow or other they would find him. But
suppose they did find him? She began to think of Ralph with a sort of
strangeness, in her effort to understand how he could be capable of
satisfying this extraordinary desire. Once more she thought herself
back to her old view of him and could, with an effort, recall the haze
which surrounded his figure, and the sense of confused, heightened
exhilaration which lay all about his neighborhood, so that for months
at a time she had never exactly heard his voice or seen his face--or
so it now seemed to her. The pain of her loss shot through her.
Nothing would ever make up--not success, or happiness, or oblivion.
But this pang was immediately followed by the assurance that now, at
any rate, she knew the truth; and Katharine, she thought, stealing a
look at her, did not know the truth; yes, Katharine was immensely to
The cab, which had been caught in the traffic, was now liberated and
sped on down Sloane Street. Mary was conscious of the tension with
which Katharine marked its progress, as if her mind were fixed upon a
point in front of them, and marked, second by second, their approach
to it. She said nothing, and in silence Mary began to fix her mind, in
sympathy at first, and later in forgetfulness of her companion, upon a
point in front of them. She imagined a point distant as a low star
upon the horizon of the dark. There for her too, for them both, was
the goal for which they were striving, and the end for the ardors of
their spirits was the same: but where it was, or what it was, or why
she felt convinced that they were united in search of it, as they
drove swiftly down the streets of London side by side, she could not
"At last," Katharine breathed, as the cab drew up at the door. She
jumped out and scanned the pavement on either side. Mary, meanwhile,
rang the bell. The door opened as Katharine assured herself that no
one of the people within view had any likeness to Ralph. On seeing
her, the maid said at once:
"Mr. Denham called again, miss. He has been waiting for you for some
Katharine vanished from Mary's sight. The door shut between them, and
Mary walked slowly and thoughtfully up the street alone.
Katharine turned at once to the dining-room. But with her fingers upon
the handle, she held back. Perhaps she realized that this was a moment
which would never come again. Perhaps, for a second, it seemed to her
that no reality could equal the imagination she had formed. Perhaps
she was restrained by some vague fear or anticipation, which made her
dread any exchange or interruption. But if these doubts and fears or
this supreme bliss restrained her, it was only for a moment. In
another second she had turned the handle and, biting her lip to
control herself, she opened the door upon Ralph Denham. An
extraordinary clearness of sight seemed to possess her on beholding
him. So little, so single, so separate from all else he appeared, who
had been the cause of these extreme agitations and aspirations. She
could have laughed in his face. But, gaining upon this clearness of
sight against her will, and to her dislike, was a flood of confusion,
of relief, of certainty, of humility, of desire no longer to strive
and to discriminate, yielding to which, she let herself sink within
his arms and confessed her love.
Nobody asked Katharine any questions next day. If cross-examined she
might have said that nobody spoke to her. She worked a little, wrote a
little, ordered the dinner, and sat, for longer than she knew, with
her head on her hand piercing whatever lay before her, whether it was
a letter or a dictionary, as if it were a film upon the deep prospects
that revealed themselves to her kindling and brooding eyes. She rose
once, and going to the bookcase, took out her father's Greek
dictionary and spread the sacred pages of symbols and figures before
her. She smoothed the sheets with a mixture of affectionate amusement
and hope. Would other eyes look on them with her one day? The thought,
long intolerable, was now just bearable.
She was quite unaware of the anxiety with which her movements were
watched and her expression scanned. Cassandra was careful not to be
caught looking at her, and their conversation was so prosaic that were
it not for certain jolts and jerks between the sentences, as if the
mind were kept with difficulty to the rails, Mrs. Milvain herself
could have detected nothing of a suspicious nature in what she
William, when he came in late that afternoon and found Cassandra
alone, had a very serious piece of news to impart. He had just passed
Katharine in the street and she had failed to recognize him.
"That doesn't matter with me, of course, but suppose it happened with
somebody else? What would they think? They would suspect something
merely from her expression. She looked--she looked"--he hesitated--
"like some one walking in her sleep."
To Cassandra the significant thing was that Katharine had gone out
without telling her, and she interpreted this to mean that she had
gone out to meet Ralph Denham. But to her surprise William drew no
comfort from this probability.
"Once throw conventions aside," he began, "once do the things that
people don't do--" and the fact that you are going to meet a young man
is no longer proof of anything, except, indeed, that people will talk.
Cassandra saw, not without a pang of jealousy, that he was extremely
solicitous that people should not talk about Katharine, as if his
interest in her were still proprietary rather than friendly. As they
were both ignorant of Ralph's visit the night before they had not that
reason to comfort themselves with the thought that matters were
hastening to a crisis. These absences of Katharine's, moreover, left
them exposed to interruptions which almost destroyed their pleasure in
being alone together. The rainy evening made it impossible to go out;
and, indeed, according to William's code, it was considerably more
damning to be seen out of doors than surprised within. They were so
much at the mercy of bells and doors that they could hardly talk of
Macaulay with any conviction, and William preferred to defer the
second act of his tragedy until another day.
Under these circumstances Cassandra showed herself at her best. She
sympathized with William's anxieties and did her utmost to share them;
but still, to be alone together, to be running risks together, to be
partners in the wonderful conspiracy, was to her so enthralling that
she was always forgetting discretion, breaking out into exclamations
and admirations which finally made William believe that, although
deplorable and upsetting, the situation was not without its sweetness.
When the door did open, he started, but braved the forthcoming
revelation. It was not Mrs. Milvain, however, but Katharine herself
who entered, closely followed by Ralph Denham. With a set expression
which showed what an effort she was making, Katharine encountered
their eyes, and saying, "We're not going to interrupt you," she led
Denham behind the curtain which hung in front of the room with the
relics. This refuge was none of her willing, but confronted with wet
pavements and only some belated museum or Tube station for shelter,
she was forced, for Ralph's sake, to face the discomforts of her own
house. Under the street lamps she had thought him looking both tired
Thus separated, the two couples remained occupied for some time with
their own affairs. Only the lowest murmurs penetrated from one section
of the room to the other. At length the maid came in to bring a
message that Mr. Hilbery would not be home for dinner. It was true
that there was no need that Katharine should be informed, but William
began to inquire Cassandra's opinion in such a way as to show that,
with or without reason, he wished very much to speak to her.
From motives of her own Cassandra dissuaded him.
"But don't you think it's a little unsociable?" he hazarded. "Why not
do something amusing?--go to the play, for instance? Why not ask
Katharine and Ralph, eh?" The coupling of their names in this manner
caused Cassandra's heart to leap with pleasure.
"Don't you think they must be--?" she began, but William hastily took
"Oh, I know nothing about that. I only thought we might amuse
ourselves, as your uncle's out."
He proceeded on his embassy with a mixture of excitement and
embarrassment which caused him to turn aside with his hand on the
curtain, and to examine intently for several moments the portrait of a
lady, optimistically said by Mrs. Hilbery to be an early work of Sir
Joshua Reynolds. Then, with some unnecessary fumbling, he drew aside
the curtain, and with his eyes fixed upon the ground, repeated his
message and suggested that they should all spend the evening at the
play. Katharine accepted the suggestion with such cordiality that it
was strange to find her of no clear mind as to the precise spectacle
she wished to see. She left the choice entirely to Ralph and William,
who, taking counsel fraternally over an evening paper, found
themselves in agreement as to the merits of a music-hall. This being
arranged, everything else followed easily and enthusiastically.
Cassandra had never been to a music-hall. Katharine instructed her in
the peculiar delights of an entertainment where Polar bears follow
directly upon ladies in full evening dress, and the stage is
alternately a garden of mystery, a milliner's band-box, and a fried-
fish shop in the Mile End Road. Whatever the exact nature of the
program that night, it fulfilled the highest purposes of dramatic art,
so far, at least, as four of the audience were concerned.
No doubt the actors and the authors would have been surprised to learn
in what shape their efforts reached those particular eyes and ears;
but they could not have denied that the effect as a whole was
tremendous. The hall resounded with brass and strings, alternately of
enormous pomp and majesty, and then of sweetest lamentation. The reds
and creams of the background, the lyres and harps and urns and skulls,
the protuberances of plaster, the fringes of scarlet plush, the
sinking and blazing of innumerable electric lights, could scarcely
have been surpassed for decorative effect by any craftsman of the
ancient or modern world.
Then there was the audience itself, bare-shouldered, tufted and
garlanded in the stalls, decorous but festal in the balconies, and
frankly fit for daylight and street life in the galleries. But,
however they differed when looked at separately, they shared the same
huge, lovable nature in the bulk, which murmured and swayed and
quivered all the time the dancing and juggling and love-making went on
in front of it, slowly laughed and reluctantly left off laughing, and
applauded with a helter-skelter generosity which sometimes became
unanimous and overwhelming. Once William saw Katharine leaning forward
and clapping her hands with an abandonment that startled him. Her
laugh rang out with the laughter of the audience.
For a second he was puzzled, as if this laughter disclosed something
that he had never suspected in her. But then Cassandra's face caught
his eye, gazing with astonishment at the buffoon, not laughing, too
deeply intent and surprised to laugh at what she saw, and for some
moments he watched her as if she were a child.
The performance came to an end, the illusion dying out first here and
then there, as some rose to put on their coats, others stood upright
to salute "God Save the King," the musicians folded their music and
encased their instruments, and the lights sank one by one until the
house was empty, silent, and full of great shadows. Looking back over
her shoulder as she followed Ralph through the swing doors, Cassandra
marveled to see how the stage was already entirely without romance.
But, she wondered, did they really cover all the seats in brown
holland every night?
The success of this entertainment was such that before they separated
another expedition had been planned for the next day. The next day was
Saturday; therefore both William and Ralph were free to devote the
whole afternoon to an expedition to Greenwich, which Cassandra had
never seen, and Katharine confused with Dulwich. On this occasion
Ralph was their guide. He brought them without accident to Greenwich.
What exigencies of state or fantasies of imagination first gave birth
to the cluster of pleasant places by which London is surrounded is
matter of indifference now that they have adapted themselves so
admirably to the needs of people between the ages of twenty and thirty
with Saturday afternoons to spend. Indeed, if ghosts have any interest
in the affections of those who succeed them they must reap their
richest harvests when the fine weather comes again and the lovers, the
sightseers, and the holiday-makers pour themselves out of trains and
omnibuses into their old pleasure-grounds. It is true that they go,
for the most part, unthanked by name, although upon this occasion
William was ready to give such discriminating praise as the dead
architects and painters received seldom in the course of the year.
They were walking by the river bank, and Katharine and Ralph, lagging
a little behind, caught fragments of his lecture. Katharine smiled at
the sound of his voice; she listened as if she found it a little
unfamiliar, intimately though she knew it; she tested it. The note of
assurance and happiness was new. William was very happy. She learnt
every hour what sources of his happiness she had neglected. She had
never asked him to teach her anything; she had never consented to read
Macaulay; she had never expressed her belief that his play was second
only to the works of Shakespeare. She followed dreamily in their wake,
smiling and delighting in the sound which conveyed, she knew, the
rapturous and yet not servile assent of Cassandra.
Then she murmured, "How can Cassandra--" but changed her sentence to
the opposite of what she meant to say and ended, "how could she
herself have been so blind?" But it was unnecessary to follow out such
riddles when the presence of Ralph supplied her with more interesting
problems, which somehow became involved with the little boat crossing
the river, the majestic and careworn City, and the steamers homecoming
with their treasury, or starting in search of it, so that infinite
leisure would be necessary for the proper disentanglement of one from
the other. He stopped, moreover, and began inquiring of an old boatman
as to the tides and the ships. In thus talking he seemed different,
and even looked different, she thought, against the river, with the
steeples and towers for background. His strangeness, his romance, his
power to leave her side and take part in the affairs of men, the
possibility that they should together hire a boat and cross the river,
the speed and wildness of this enterprise filled her mind and inspired
her with such rapture, half of love and half of adventure, that
William and Cassandra were startled from their talk, and Cassandra
exclaimed, "She looks as if she were offering up a sacrifice! Very
beautiful," she added quickly, though she repressed, in deference to
William, her own wonder that the sight of Ralph Denham talking to a
boatman on the banks of the Thames could move any one to such an
attitude of adoration.
That afternoon, what with tea and the curiosities of the Thames tunnel
and the unfamiliarity of the streets, passed so quickly that the only
method of prolonging it was to plan another expedition for the
following day. Hampton Court was decided upon, in preference to
Hampstead, for though Cassandra had dreamt as a child of the brigands
of Hampstead, she had now transferred her affections completely and
for ever to William III. Accordingly, they arrived at Hampton Court
about lunch-time on a fine Sunday morning. Such unity marked their
expressions of admiration for the red-brick building that they might
have come there for no other purpose than to assure each other that
this palace was the stateliest palace in the world. They walked up and
down the Terrace, four abreast, and fancied themselves the owners of
the place, and calculated the amount of good to the world produced
indubitably by such a tenancy.
"The only hope for us," said Katharine, "is that William shall die,
and Cassandra shall be given rooms as the widow of a distinguished
"Or--" Cassandra began, but checked herself from the liberty of
envisaging Katharine as the widow of a distinguished lawyer. Upon
this, the third day of junketing, it was tiresome to have to restrain
oneself even from such innocent excursions of fancy. She dared not
question William; he was inscrutable; he never seemed even to follow
the other couple with curiosity when they separated, as they
frequently did, to name a plant, or examine a fresco. Cassandra was
constantly studying their backs. She noticed how sometimes the impulse
to move came from Katharine, and sometimes from Ralph; how, sometimes,
they walked slow, as if in profound intercourse, and sometimes fast,
as if in passionate. When they came together again nothing could be
more unconcerned than their manner.
"We have been wondering whether they ever catch a fish . . ." or, "We
must leave time to visit the Maze." Then, to puzzle her further,
William and Ralph filled in all interstices of meal-times or railway
journeys with perfectly good-tempered arguments; or they discussed
politics, or they told stories, or they did sums together upon the
backs of old envelopes to prove something. She suspected that
Katharine was absent-minded, but it was impossible to tell. There were
moments when she felt so young and inexperienced that she almost
wished herself back with the silkworms at Stogdon House, and not
embarked upon this bewildering intrigue.
These moments, however, were only the necessary shadow or chill which
proved the substance of her bliss, and did not damage the radiance
which seemed to rest equally upon the whole party. The fresh air of
spring, the sky washed of clouds and already shedding warmth from its
blue, seemed the reply vouchsafed by nature to the mood of her chosen
spirits. These chosen spirits were to be found also among the deer,
dumbly basking, and among the fish, set still in mid-stream, for they
were mute sharers in a benignant state not needing any exposition by
the tongue. No words that Cassandra could come by expressed the
stillness, the brightness, the air of expectancy which lay upon the
orderly beauty of the grass walks and gravel paths down which they
went walking four abreast that Sunday afternoon. Silently the shadows
of the trees lay across the broad sunshine; silence wrapt her heart in
its folds. The quivering stillness of the butterfly on the half-opened
flower, the silent grazing of the deer in the sun, were the sights her
eye rested upon and received as the images of her own nature laid open
to happiness and trembling in its ecstasy.
But the afternoon wore on, and it became time to leave the gardens. As
they drove from Waterloo to Chelsea, Katharine began to have some
compunction about her father, which, together with the opening of
offices and the need of working in them on Monday, made it difficult
to plan another festival for the following day. Mr. Hilbery had taken
their absence, so far, with paternal benevolence, but they could not
trespass upon it indefinitely. Indeed, had they known it, he was
already suffering from their absence, and longing for their return.
He had no dislike of solitude, and Sunday, in particular, was
pleasantly adapted for letter-writing, paying calls, or a visit to his
club. He was leaving the house on some such suitable expedition
towards tea-time when he found himself stopped on his own doorstep by
his sister, Mrs. Milvain. She should, on hearing that no one was at
home, have withdrawn submissively, but instead she accepted his
half-hearted invitation to come in, and he found himself in the
melancholy position of being forced to order tea for her and sit in
the drawing-room while she drank it. She speedily made it plain that
she was only thus exacting because she had come on a matter of
business. He was by no means exhilarated at the news.
"Katharine is out this afternoon," he remarked. "Why not come round
later and discuss it with her--with us both, eh?"
"My dear Trevor, I have particular reasons for wishing to talk to you
alone. . . . Where is Katharine?"
"She's out with her young man, naturally. Cassandra plays the part of
chaperone very usefully. A charming young woman that--a great favorite
of mine." He turned his stone between his fingers, and conceived
different methods of leading Celia away from her obsession, which, he
supposed, must have reference to the domestic affairs of Cyril as
"With Cassandra," Mrs. Milvain repeated significantly. "With
"Yes, with Cassandra," Mr. Hilbery agreed urbanely, pleased at the
diversion. "I think they said they were going to Hampton Court, and I
rather believe they were taking a protege of mine, Ralph Denham, a
very clever fellow, too, to amuse Cassandra. I thought the arrangement
very suitable." He was prepared to dwell at some length upon this safe
topic, and trusted that Katharine would come in before he had done
"Hampton Court always seems to me an ideal spot for engaged couples.
There's the Maze, there's a nice place for having tea--I forget what
they call it--and then, if the young man knows his business he
contrives to take his lady upon the river. Full of
possibilities--full. Cake, Celia?" Mr. Hilbery continued. "I respect
my dinner too much, but that can't possibly apply to you. You've never
observed that feast, so far as I can remember."
Her brother's affability did not deceive Mrs. Milvain; it slightly
saddened her; she well knew the cause of it. Blind and infatuated as
"Who is this Mr. Denham?" she asked.
"Ralph Denham?" said Mr. Hilbery, in relief that her mind had taken
this turn. "A very interesting young man. I've a great belief in him.
He's an authority upon our mediaeval institutions, and if he weren't
forced to earn his living he would write a book that very much wants
"He is not well off, then?" Mrs. Milvain interposed.
"Hasn't a penny, I'm afraid, and a family more or less dependent on
"A mother and sisters?-- His father is dead?"
"Yes, his father died some years ago," said Mr. Hilbery, who was
prepared to draw upon his imagination, if necessary, to keep Mrs.
Milvain supplied with facts about the private history of Ralph Denham
since, for some inscrutable reason, the subject took her fancy.
"His father has been dead some time, and this young man had to take
"A legal family?" Mrs. Milvain inquired. "I fancy I've seen the name
Mr. Hilbery shook his head. "I should be inclined to doubt whether
they were altogether in that walk of life," he observed. "I fancy that
Denham once told me that his father was a corn merchant. Perhaps he
said a stockbroker. He came to grief, anyhow, as stockbrokers have a
way of doing. I've a great respect for Denham," he added. The remark
sounded to his ears unfortunately conclusive, and he was afraid that
there was nothing more to be said about Denham. He examined the tips
of his fingers carefully. "Cassandra's grown into a very charming
young woman," he started afresh. "Charming to look at, and charming to
talk to, though her historical knowledge is not altogether profound.
Another cup of tea?"
Mrs. Milvain had given her cup a little push, which seemed to indicate
some momentary displeasure. But she did not want any more tea.
"It is Cassandra that I have come about," she began. "I am very sorry
to say that Cassandra is not at all what you think her, Trevor. She
has imposed upon your and Maggie's goodness. She has behaved in a way
that would have seemed incredible--in this house of all houses--were
it not for other circumstances that are still more incredible."
Mr. Hilbery looked taken aback, and was silent for a second.
"It all sounds very black," he remarked urbanely, continuing his
examination of his finger-nails. "But I own I am completely in the
Mrs. Milvain became rigid, and emitted her message in little short
sentences of extreme intensity.
"Who has Cassandra gone out with? William Rodney. Who has Katharine
gone out with? Ralph Denham. Why are they for ever meeting each other
round street corners, and going to music-halls, and taking cabs late
at night? Why will Katharine not tell me the truth when I question
her? I understand the reason now. Katharine has entangled herself with
this unknown lawyer; she has seen fit to condone Cassandra's conduct."
There was another slight pause.
"Ah, well, Katharine will no doubt have some explanation to give me,"
Mr. Hilbery replied imperturbably. "It's a little too complicated for
me to take in all at once, I confess--and, if you won't think me rude,
Celia, I think I'll be getting along towards Knightsbridge."
Mrs. Milvain rose at once.
"She has condoned Cassandra's conduct and entangled herself with Ralph
Denham," she repeated. She stood very erect with the dauntless air of
one testifying to the truth regardless of consequences. She knew from
past discussions that the only way to counter her brother's indolence
and indifference was to shoot her statements at him in a compressed
form once finally upon leaving the room. Having spoken thus, she
restrained herself from adding another word, and left the house with
the dignity of one inspired by a great ideal.
She had certainly framed her remarks in such a way as to prevent her
brother from paying his call in the region of Knightsbridge. He had no
fears for Katharine, but there was a suspicion at the back of his mind
that Cassandra might have been, innocently and ignorantly, led into
some foolish situation in one of their unshepherded dissipations. His
wife was an erratic judge of the conventions; he himself was lazy; and
with Katharine absorbed, very naturally--Here he recalled, as well as
he could, the exact nature of the charge. "She has condoned
Cassandra's conduct and entangled herself with Ralph Denham." From
which it appeared that Katharine was NOT absorbed, or which of them
was it that had entangled herself with Ralph Denham? From this maze of
absurdity Mr. Hilbery saw no way out until Katharine herself came to
his help, so that he applied himself, very philosophically on the
whole, to a book.
No sooner had he heard the young people come in and go upstairs than
he sent a maid to tell Miss Katharine that he wished to speak to her
in the study. She was slipping furs loosely onto the floor in the
drawing-room in front of the fire. They were all gathered round,
reluctant to part. The message from her father surprised Katharine,
and the others caught from her look, as she turned to go, a vague
sense of apprehension.
Mr. Hilbery was reassured by the sight of her. He congratulated
himself, he prided himself, upon possessing a daughter who had a sense
of responsibility and an understanding of life profound beyond her
years. Moreover, she was looking to-day unusual; he had come to take
her beauty for granted; now he remembered it and was surprised by it.
He thought instinctively that he had interrupted some happy hour of
hers with Rodney, and apologized.
"I'm sorry to bother you, my dear. I heard you come in, and thought
I'd better make myself disagreeable at once--as it seems,
unfortunately, that fathers are expected to make themselves
disagreeable. Now, your Aunt Celia has been to see me; your Aunt Celia
has taken it into her head apparently that you and Cassandra have
been--let us say a little foolish. This going about together--these
pleasant little parties--there's been some kind of misunderstanding. I
told her I saw no harm in it, but I should just like to hear from
yourself. Has Cassandra been left a little too much in the company of
Katharine did not reply at once, and Mr. Hilbery tapped the coal
encouragingly with the poker. Then she said, without embarrassment or
"I don't see why I should answer Aunt Celia's questions. I've told her
already that I won't."
Mr. Hilbery was relieved and secretly amused at the thought of the
interview, although he could not license such irreverence outwardly.
"Very good. Then you authorize me to tell her that she's been
mistaken, and there was nothing but a little fun in it? You've no
doubt, Katharine, in your own mind? Cassandra is in our charge, and I
don't intend that people should gossip about her. I suggest that you
should be a little more careful in future. Invite me to your next
She did not respond, as he had hoped, with any affectionate or
humorous reply. She meditated, pondering something or other, and he
reflected that even his Katharine did not differ from other women in
the capacity to let things be. Or had she something to say?
"Have you a guilty conscience?" he inquired lightly. "Tell me,
Katharine," he said more seriously, struck by something in the
expression of her eyes.
"I've been meaning to tell you for some time," she said, "I'm not
going to marry William."
"You're not going--!" he exclaimed, dropping the poker in his immense
surprise. "Why? When? Explain yourself, Katharine."
"Oh, some time ago--a week, perhaps more." Katharine spoke hurriedly
and indifferently, as if the matter could no longer concern any one.
"But may I ask--why have I not been told of this--what do you mean by
"We don't wish to be married--that's all."
"This is William's wish as well as yours?"
"Oh, yes. We agree perfectly."
Mr. Hilbery had seldom felt more completely at a loss. He thought that
Katharine was treating the matter with curious unconcern; she scarcely
seemed aware of the gravity of what she was saying; he did not
understand the position at all. But his desire to smooth everything
over comfortably came to his relief. No doubt there was some quarrel,
some whimsey on the part of William, who, though a good fellow, was a
little exacting sometimes--something that a woman could put right. But
though he inclined to take the easiest view of his responsibilities,
he cared too much for this daughter to let things be.
"I confess I find great difficulty in following you. I should like to
hear William's side of the story," he said irritably. "I think he
ought to have spoken to me in the first instance."
"I wouldn't let him," said Katharine. "I know it must seem to you very
strange," she added. "But I assure you, if you'd wait a little--until
mother comes back."
This appeal for delay was much to Mr. Hilbery's liking. But his
conscience would not suffer it. People were talking. He could not
endure that his daughter's conduct should be in any way considered
irregular. He wondered whether, in the circumstances, it would be
better to wire to his wife, to send for one of his sisters, to forbid
William the house, to pack Cassandra off home--for he was vaguely
conscious of responsibilities in her direction, too. His forehead was
becoming more and more wrinkled by the multiplicity of his anxieties,
which he was sorely tempted to ask Katharine to solve for him, when
the door opened and William Rodney appeared. This necessitated a
complete change, not only of manner, but of position also.
"Here's William," Katharine exclaimed, in a tone of relief. "I've told
father we're not engaged," she said to him. "I've explained that I
prevented you from telling him."
William's manner was marked by the utmost formality. He bowed very
slightly in the direction of Mr. Hilbery, and stood erect, holding one
lapel of his coat, and gazing into the center of the fire. He waited
for Mr. Hilbery to speak.
Mr. Hilbery also assumed an appearance of formidable dignity. He had
risen to his feet, and now bent the top part of his body slightly
"I should like your account of this affair, Rodney--if Katharine no
longer prevents you from speaking."
William waited two seconds at least.
"Our engagement is at an end," he said, with the utmost stiffness.
"Has this been arrived at by your joint desire?"
After a perceptible pause William bent his head, and Katharine said,
as if by an afterthought:
Mr. Hilbery swayed to and fro, and moved his lips as if to utter
remarks which remained unspoken.
"I can only suggest that you should postpone any decision until the
effect of this misunderstanding has had time to wear off. You have now
known each other--" he began.
"There's been no misunderstanding," Katharine interposed. "Nothing at
all." She moved a few paces across the room, as if she intended to
leave them. Her preoccupied naturalness was in strange contrast to her
father's pomposity and to William's military rigidity. He had not once
raised his eyes. Katharine's glance, on the other hand, ranged past
the two gentlemen, along the books, over the tables, towards the door.
She was paying the least possible attention, it seemed, to what was
happening. Her father looked at her with a sudden clouding and
troubling of his expression. Somehow his faith in her stability and
sense was queerly shaken. He no longer felt that he could ultimately
entrust her with the whole conduct of her own affairs after a
superficial show of directing them. He felt, for the first time in
many years, responsible for her.
"Look here, we must get to the bottom of this," he said, dropping his
formal manner and addressing Rodney as if Katharine were not present.
"You've had some difference of opinion, eh? Take my word for it, most
people go through this sort of thing when they're engaged. I've seen
more trouble come from long engagements than from any other form of
human folly. Take my advice and put the whole matter out of your
minds--both of you. I prescribe a complete abstinence from emotion.
Visit some cheerful seaside resort, Rodney."
He was struck by William's appearance, which seemed to him to indicate
profound feeling resolutely held in check. No doubt, he reflected,
Katharine had been very trying, unconsciously trying, and had driven
him to take up a position which was none of his willing. Mr. Hilbery
certainly did not overrate William's sufferings. No minutes in his
life had hitherto extorted from him such intensity of anguish. He was
now facing the consequences of his insanity. He must confess himself
entirely and fundamentally other than Mr. Hilbery thought him.
Everything was against him. Even the Sunday evening and the fire and
the tranquil library scene were against him. Mr. Hilbery's appeal to
him as a man of the world was terribly against him. He was no longer a
man of any world that Mr. Hilbery cared to recognize. But some power
compelled him, as it had compelled him to come downstairs, to make his
stand here and now, alone and unhelped by any one, without prospect of
reward. He fumbled with various phrases; and then jerked out:
"I love Cassandra."
Mr. Hilbery's face turned a curious dull purple. He looked at his
daughter. He nodded his head, as if to convey his silent command to
her to leave the room; but either she did not notice it or preferred
not to obey.
"You have the impudence--" Mr. Hilbery began, in a dull, low voice
that he himself had never heard before, when there was a scuffling and
exclaiming in the hall, and Cassandra, who appeared to be insisting
against some dissuasion on the part of another, burst into the room.
"Uncle Trevor," she exclaimed, "I insist upon telling you the truth!"
She flung herself between Rodney and her uncle, as if she sought to
intercept their blows. As her uncle stood perfectly still, looking
very large and imposing, and as nobody spoke, she shrank back a
little, and looked first at Katharine and then at Rodney. "You must
know the truth," she said, a little lamely.
"You have the impudence to tell me this in Katharine's presence?" Mr.
Hilbery continued, speaking with complete disregard of Cassandra's
"I am aware, quite aware--" Rodney's words, which were broken in
sense, spoken after a pause, and with his eyes upon the ground,
nevertheless expressed an astonishing amount of resolution. "I am
quite aware what you must think of me," he brought out, looking Mr.
Hilbery directly in the eyes for the first time.
"I could express my views on the subject more fully if we were alone,"
Mr. Hilbery returned.
"But you forget me," said Katharine. She moved a little towards
Rodney, and her movement seemed to testify mutely to her respect for
him, and her alliance with him. "I think William has behaved perfectly
rightly, and, after all, it is I who am concerned--I and Cassandra."
Cassandra, too, gave an indescribably slight movement which seemed to
draw the three of them into alliance together. Katharine's tone and
glance made Mr. Hilbery once more feel completely at a loss, and in
addition, painfully and angrily obsolete; but in spite of an awful
inner hollowness he was outwardly composed.
"Cassandra and Rodney have a perfect right to settle their own affairs
according to their own wishes; but I see no reason why they should do
so either in my room or in my house. . . . I wish to be quite clear on
this point, however; you are no longer engaged to Rodney."
He paused, and his pause seemed to signify that he was extremely
thankful for his daughter's deliverance.
Cassandra turned to Katharine, who drew her breath as if to speak and
checked herself; Rodney, too, seemed to await some movement on her
part; her father glanced at her as if he half anticipated some further
revelation. She remained perfectly silent. In the silence they heard
distinctly steps descending the staircase, and Katharine went straight
to the door.
"Wait," Mr. Hilbery commanded. "I wish to speak to you--alone," he
She paused, holding the door ajar.
"I'll come back," she said, and as she spoke she opened the door and
went out. They could hear her immediately speak to some one outside,
though the words were inaudible.
Mr. Hilbery was left confronting the guilty couple, who remained
standing as if they did not accept their dismissal, and the
disappearance of Katharine had brought some change into the situation.
So, in his secret heart, Mr. Hilbery felt that it had, for he could
not explain his daughter's behavior to his own satisfaction.
"Uncle Trevor," Cassandra exclaimed impulsively, "don't be angry,
please. I couldn't help it; I do beg you to forgive me."
Her uncle still refused to acknowledge her identity, and still talked
over her head as if she did not exist.
"I suppose you have communicated with the Otways," he said to Rodney
"Uncle Trevor, we wanted to tell you," Cassandra replied for him. "We
waited--" she looked appealingly at Rodney, who shook his head ever so
"Yes? What were you waiting for?" her uncle asked sharply, looking at
her at last.
The words died on her lips. It was apparent that she was straining her
ears as if to catch some sound outside the room that would come to her
help. He received no answer. He listened, too.
"This is a most unpleasant business for all parties," he concluded,
sinking into his chair again, hunching his shoulders and regarding the
flames. He seemed to speak to himself, and Rodney and Cassandra looked
at him in silence.
"Why don't you sit down?" he said suddenly. He spoke gruffly, but the
force of his anger was evidently spent, or some preoccupation had
turned his mood to other regions. While Cassandra accepted his
invitation, Rodney remained standing.
"I think Cassandra can explain matters better in my absence," he said,
and left the room, Mr. Hilbery giving his assent by a slight nod of
Meanwhile, in the dining-room next door, Denham and Katharine were
once more seated at the mahogany table. They seemed to be continuing a
conversation broken off in the middle, as if each remembered the
precise point at which they had been interrupted, and was eager to go
on as quickly as possible. Katharine, having interposed a short
account of the interview with her father, Denham made no comment, but
"Anyhow, there's no reason why we shouldn't see each other."
"Or stay together. It's only marriage that's out of the question,"
"But if I find myself coming to want you more and more?"
"If our lapses come more and more often?"
He sighed impatiently, and said nothing for a moment.
"But at least," he renewed, "we've established the fact that my lapses
are still in some odd way connected with you; yours have nothing to do
with me. Katharine," he added, his assumption of reason broken up by
his agitation, "I assure you that we are in love--what other people
call love. Remember that night. We had no doubts whatever then. We
were absolutely happy for half an hour. You had no lapse until the day
after; I had no lapse until yesterday morning. We've been happy at
intervals all day until I--went off my head, and you, quite naturally,
"Ah," she exclaimed, as if the subject chafed her, "I can't make you
understand. It's not boredom--I'm never bored. Reality--reality," she
ejaculated, tapping her finger upon the table as if to emphasize and
perhaps explain her isolated utterance of this word. "I cease to be
real to you. It's the faces in a storm again--the vision in a
hurricane. We come together for a moment and we part. It's my fault,
too. I'm as bad as you are--worse, perhaps."
They were trying to explain, not for the first time, as their weary
gestures and frequent interruptions showed, what in their common
language they had christened their "lapses"; a constant source of
distress to them, in the past few days, and the immediate reason why
Ralph was on his way to leave the house when Katharine, listening
anxiously, heard him and prevented him. What was the cause of these
lapses? Either because Katharine looked more beautiful, or more
strange, because she wore something different, or said something
unexpected, Ralph's sense of her romance welled up and overcame him
either into silence or into inarticulate expressions, which Katharine,
with unintentional but invariable perversity, interrupted or
contradicted with some severity or assertion of prosaic fact. Then the
vision disappeared, and Ralph expressed vehemently in his turn the
conviction that he only loved her shadow and cared nothing for her
reality. If the lapse was on her side it took the form of gradual
detachment until she became completely absorbed in her own thoughts,
which carried her away with such intensity that she sharply resented
any recall to her companion's side. It was useless to assert that
these trances were always originated by Ralph himself, however little
in their later stages they had to do with him. The fact remained that
she had no need of him and was very loath to be reminded of him. How,
then, could they be in love? The fragmentary nature of their
relationship was but too apparent.
Thus they sat depressed to silence at the dining-room table, oblivious
of everything, while Rodney paced the drawing-room overhead in such
agitation and exaltation of mind as he had never conceived possible,
and Cassandra remained alone with her uncle. Ralph, at length, rose
and walked gloomily to the window. He pressed close to the pane.
Outside were truth and freedom and the immensity only to be
apprehended by the mind in loneliness, and never communicated to
another. What worse sacrilege was there than to attempt to violate
what he perceived by seeking to impart it? Some movement behind him
made him reflect that Katharine had the power, if she chose, to be in
person what he dreamed of her spirit. He turned sharply to implore her
help, when again he was struck cold by her look of distance, her
expression of intentness upon some far object. As if conscious of his
look upon her she rose and came to him, standing close by his side,
and looking with him out into the dusky atmosphere. Their physical
closeness was to him a bitter enough comment upon the distance between
their minds. Yet distant as she was, her presence by his side
transformed the world. He saw himself performing wonderful deeds of
courage; saving the drowning, rescuing the forlorn. Impatient with
this form of egotism, he could not shake off the conviction that
somehow life was wonderful, romantic, a master worth serving so long
as she stood there. He had no wish that she should speak; he did not
look at her or touch her; she was apparently deep in her own thoughts
and oblivious of his presence.
The door opened without their hearing the sound. Mr. Hilbery looked
round the room, and for a moment failed to discover the two figures in
the window. He started with displeasure when he saw them, and observed
them keenly before he appeared able to make up his mind to say
anything. He made a movement finally that warned them of his presence;
they turned instantly. Without speaking, he beckoned to Katharine to
come to him, and, keeping his eyes from the region of the room where
Denham stood, he shepherded her in front of him back to the study.
When Katharine was inside the room he shut the study door carefully
behind him as if to secure himself from something that he disliked.
"Now, Katharine," he said, taking up his stand in front of the fire,
"you will, perhaps, have the kindness to explain--" She remained
silent. "What inferences do you expect me to draw?" he said
sharply. . . . "You tell me that you are not engaged to Rodney; I see
you on what appear to be extremely intimate terms with another--with
Ralph Denham. What am I to conclude? Are you," he added, as she still
said nothing, "engaged to Ralph Denham?"
"No," she replied.
His sense of relief was great; he had been certain that her answer
would have confirmed his suspicions, but that anxiety being set at
rest, he was the more conscious of annoyance with her for her
"Then all I can say is that you've very strange ideas of the proper
way to behave. . . . People have drawn certain conclusions, nor am I
surprised. . . . The more I think of it the more inexplicable I find
it," he went on, his anger rising as he spoke. "Why am I left in
ignorance of what is going on in my own house? Why am I left to hear
of these events for the first time from my sister? Most disagreeable--
most upsetting. How I'm to explain to your Uncle Francis--but I wash
my hands of it. Cassandra goes tomorrow. I forbid Rodney the house. As
for the other young man, the sooner he makes himself scarce the
better. After placing the most implicit trust in you, Katharine--" He
broke off, disquieted by the ominous silence with which his words were
received, and looked at his daughter with the curious doubt as to her
state of mind which he had felt before, for the first time, this
evening. He perceived once more that she was not attending to what he
said, but was listening, and for a moment he, too, listened for sounds
outside the room. His certainty that there was some understanding
between Denham and Katharine returned, but with a most unpleasant
suspicion that there was something illicit about it, as the whole
position between the young people seemed to him gravely illicit.
"I'll speak to Denham," he said, on the impulse of his suspicion,
moving as if to go.
"I shall come with you," Katharine said instantly, starting forward.
"You will stay here," said her father.
"What are you going to say to him?" she asked.
"I suppose I may say what I like in my own house?" he returned.
"Then I go, too," she replied.
At these words, which seemed to imply a determination to go--to go for
ever, Mr. Hilbery returned to his position in front of the fire, and
began swaying slightly from side to side without for the moment making
"I understood you to say that you were not engaged to him," he said at
length, fixing his eyes upon his daughter.
"We are not engaged," she said.
"It should be a matter of indifference to you, then, whether he comes
here or not--I will not have you listening to other things when I am
speaking to you!" he broke off angrily, perceiving a slight movement
on her part to one side. "Answer me frankly, what is your relationship
with this young man?"
"Nothing that I can explain to a third person," she said obstinately.
"I will have no more of these equivocations," he replied.
"I refuse to explain," she returned, and as she said it the front door
banged to. "There!" she exclaimed. "He is gone!" She flashed such a
look of fiery indignation at her father that he lost his self-control
for a moment.
"For God's sake, Katharine, control yourself!" he cried.
She looked for a moment like a wild animal caged in a civilized
dwelling-place. She glanced over the walls covered with books, as if
for a second she had forgotten the position of the door. Then she made
as if to go, but her father laid his hand upon her shoulder. He
compelled her to sit down.
"These emotions have been very upsetting, naturally," he said. His
manner had regained all its suavity, and he spoke with a soothing
assumption of paternal authority. "You've been placed in a very
difficult position, as I understand from Cassandra. Now let us come to
terms; we will leave these agitating questions in peace for the
present. Meanwhile, let us try to behave like civilized beings. Let us
read Sir Walter Scott. What d'you say to 'The Antiquary,' eh? Or 'The
Bride of Lammermoor'?"
He made his own choice, and before his daughter could protest or make
her escape, she found herself being turned by the agency of Sir Walter
Scott into a civilized human being.
Yet Mr. Hilbery had grave doubts, as he read, whether the process was
more than skin-deep. Civilization had been very profoundly and
unpleasantly overthrown that evening; the extent of the ruin was still
undetermined; he had lost his temper, a physical disaster not to be
matched for the space of ten years or so; and his own condition
urgently required soothing and renovating at the hands of the
classics. His house was in a state of revolution; he had a vision of
unpleasant encounters on the staircase; his meals would be poisoned
for days to come; was literature itself a specific against such
disagreeables? A note of hollowness was in his voice as he read.
Considering that Mr. Hilbery lived in a house which was accurately
numbered in order with its fellows, and that he filled up forms, paid
rent, and had seven more years of tenancy to run, he had an excuse for
laying down laws for the conduct of those who lived in his house, and
this excuse, though profoundly inadequate, he found useful during the
interregnum of civilization with which he now found himself faced. In
obedience to those laws, Rodney disappeared; Cassandra was dispatched
to catch the eleven-thirty on Monday morning; Denham was seen no more;
so that only Katharine, the lawful occupant of the upper rooms,
remained, and Mr. Hilbery thought himself competent to see that she
did nothing further to compromise herself. As he bade her good morning
next day he was aware that he knew nothing of what she was thinking,
but, as he reflected with some bitterness, even this was an advance
upon the ignorance of the previous mornings. He went to his study,
wrote, tore up, and wrote again a letter to his wife, asking her to
come back on account of domestic difficulties which he specified at
first, but in a later draft more discreetly left unspecified. Even if
she started the very moment that she got it, he reflected, she would
not be home till Tuesday night, and he counted lugubriously the number
of hours that he would have to spend in a position of detestable
authority alone with his daughter.
What was she doing now, he wondered, as he addressed the envelope to
his wife. He could not control the telephone. He could not play the
spy. She might be making any arrangements she chose. Yet the thought
did not disturb him so much as the strange, unpleasant, illicit
atmosphere of the whole scene with the young people the night before.
His sense of discomfort was almost physical.
Had he known it, Katharine was far enough withdrawn, both physically
and spiritually, from the telephone. She sat in her room with the
dictionaries spreading their wide leaves on the table before her, and
all the pages which they had concealed for so many years arranged in a
pile. She worked with the steady concentration that is produced by the
successful effort to think down some unwelcome thought by means of
another thought. Having absorbed the unwelcome thought, her mind went
on with additional vigor, derived from the victory; on a sheet of
paper lines of figures and symbols frequently and firmly written down
marked the different stages of its progress. And yet it was broad
daylight; there were sounds of knocking and sweeping, which proved
that living people were at work on the other side of the door, and the
door, which could be thrown open in a second, was her only protection
against the world. But she had somehow risen to be mistress in her own
kingdom, assuming her sovereignty unconsciously.
Steps approached her unheard. It is true that they were steps that
lingered, divagated, and mounted with the deliberation natural to one
past sixty whose arms, moreover, are full of leaves and blossoms; but
they came on steadily, and soon a tap of laurel boughs against the
door arrested Katharine's pencil as it touched the page. She did not
move, however, and sat blank-eyed as if waiting for the interruption
to cease. Instead, the door opened. At first, she attached no meaning
to the moving mass of green which seemed to enter the room
independently of any human agency. Then she recognized parts of her
mother's face and person behind the yellow flowers and soft velvet of
"From Shakespeare's tomb!" exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, dropping the entire
mass upon the floor, with a gesture that seemed to indicate an act of
dedication. Then she flung her arms wide and embraced her daughter.
"Thank God, Katharine!" she exclaimed. "Thank God!" she repeated.
"You've come back?" said Katharine, very vaguely, standing up to
receive the embrace.
Although she recognized her mother's presence, she was very far from
taking part in the scene, and yet felt it to be amazingly appropriate
that her mother should be there, thanking God emphatically for unknown
blessings, and strewing the floor with flowers and leaves from
"Nothing else matters in the world!" Mrs. Hilbery continued. "Names
aren't everything; it's what we feel that's everything. I didn't want
silly, kind, interfering letters. I didn't want your father to tell
me. I knew it from the first. I prayed that it might be so."
"You knew it?" Katharine repeated her mother's words softly and
vaguely, looking past her. "How did you know it?" She began, like a
child, to finger a tassel hanging from her mother's cloak.
"The first evening you told me, Katharine. Oh, and thousands of times
--dinner-parties--talking about books--the way he came into the room--
your voice when you spoke of him."
Katharine seemed to consider each of these proofs separately. Then she
"I'm not going to marry William. And then there's Cassandra--"
"Yes, there's Cassandra," said Mrs. Hilbery. "I own I was a little
grudging at first, but, after all, she plays the piano so beautifully.
Do tell me, Katharine," she asked impulsively, "where did you go that
evening she played Mozart, and you thought I was asleep?"
Katharine recollected with difficulty.
"To Mary Datchet's," she remembered.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Hilbery, with a slight note of disappointment in her
voice. "I had my little romance--my little speculation." She looked at
her daughter. Katharine faltered beneath that innocent and penetrating
gaze; she flushed, turned away, and then looked up with very bright
"I'm not in love with Ralph Denham," she said.
"Don't marry unless you're in love!" said Mrs. Hilbery very quickly.
"But," she added, glancing momentarily at her daughter, "aren't there
different ways, Katharine--different--?"
"We want to meet as often as we like, but to be free," Katharine
"To meet here, to meet in his house, to meet in the street." Mrs.
Hilbery ran over these phrases as if she were trying chords that did
not quite satisfy her ear. It was plain that she had her sources of
information, and, indeed, her bag was stuffed with what she called
"kind letters" from the pen of her sister-in-law.
"Yes. Or to stay away in the country," Katharine concluded.
Mrs. Hilbery paused, looked unhappy, and sought inspiration from the
"What a comfort he was in that shop--how he took me and found the
ruins at once--how SAFE I felt with him--"
"Safe? Oh, no, he's fearfully rash--he's always taking risks. He wants
to throw up his profession and live in a little cottage and write
books, though he hasn't a penny of his own, and there are any number
of sisters and brothers dependent on him."
"Ah, he has a mother?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"Yes. Rather a fine-looking old lady, with white hair." Katharine
began to describe her visit, and soon Mrs. Hilbery elicited the facts
that not only was the house of excruciating ugliness, which Ralph bore
without complaint, but that it was evident that every one depended on
him, and he had a room at the top of the house, with a wonderful view
over London, and a rook.
"A wretched old bird in a corner, with half its feathers out," she
said, with a tenderness in her voice that seemed to commiserate the
sufferings of humanity while resting assured in the capacity of Ralph
Denham to alleviate them, so that Mrs. Hilbery could not help
"But, Katharine, you ARE in love!" at which Katharine flushed, looked
startled, as if she had said something that she ought not to have
said, and shook her head.
Hastily Mrs. Hilbery asked for further details of this extraordinary
house, and interposed a few speculations about the meeting between
Keats and Coleridge in a lane, which tided over the discomfort of the
moment, and drew Katharine on to further descriptions and
indiscretions. In truth, she found an extraordinary pleasure in being
thus free to talk to some one who was equally wise and equally
benignant, the mother of her earliest childhood, whose silence seemed
to answer questions that were never asked. Mrs. Hilbery listened
without making any remark for a considerable time. She seemed to draw
her conclusions rather by looking at her daughter than by listening to
her, and, if cross-examined, she would probably have given a highly
inaccurate version of Ralph Denham's life-history except that he was
penniless, fatherless, and lived at Highgate--all of which was much in
his favor. But by means of these furtive glances she had assured
herself that Katharine was in a state which gave her, alternately, the
most exquisite pleasure and the most profound alarm.
She could not help ejaculating at last:
"It's all done in five minutes at a Registry Office nowadays, if you
think the Church service a little florid--which it is, though there
are noble things in it."
"But we don't want to be married," Katharine replied emphatically, and
added, "Why, after all, isn't it perfectly possible to live together
without being married?"
Again Mrs. Hilbery looked discomposed, and, in her trouble, took up
the sheets which were lying upon the table, and began turning them
over this way and that, and muttering to herself as she glanced:
"A plus B minus C equals 'x y z'. It's so dreadfully ugly, Katharine.
That's what I feel--so dreadfully ugly."
Katharine took the sheets from her mother's hand and began shuffling
them absent-mindedly together, for her fixed gaze seemed to show that
her thoughts were intent upon some other matter.
"Well, I don't know about ugliness," she said at length.
"But he doesn't ask it of you?" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "Not that
grave young man with the steady brown eyes?"
"He doesn't ask anything--we neither of us ask anything."
"If I could help you, Katharine, by the memory of what I felt--"
"Yes, tell me what you felt."
Mrs. Hilbery, her eyes growing blank, peered down the enormously long
corridor of days at the far end of which the little figures of herself
and her husband appeared fantastically attired, clasping hands upon a
moonlit beach, with roses swinging in the dusk.
"We were in a little boat going out to a ship at night," she began.
"The sun had set and the moon was rising over our heads. There were
lovely silver lights upon the waves and three green lights upon the
steamer in the middle of the bay. Your father's head looked so grand
against the mast. It was life, it was death. The great sea was round
us. It was the voyage for ever and ever."
The ancient fairy-tale fell roundly and harmoniously upon Katharine's
ears. Yes, there was the enormous space of the sea; there were the
three green lights upon the steamer; the cloaked figures climbed up on
deck. And so, voyaging over the green and purple waters, past the
cliffs and the sandy lagoons and through pools crowded with the masts
of ships and the steeples of churches--here they were. The river
seemed to have brought them and deposited them here at this precise
point. She looked admiringly at her mother, that ancient voyager.
"Who knows," exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, continuing her reveries, "where
we are bound for, or why, or who has sent us, or what we shall
find--who knows anything, except that love is our faith--love--" she
crooned, and the soft sound beating through the dim words was heard by
her daughter as the breaking of waves solemnly in order upon the vast
shore that she gazed upon. She would have been content for her mother
to repeat that word almost indefinitely--a soothing word when uttered
by another, a riveting together of the shattered fragments of the
world. But Mrs. Hilbery, instead of repeating the word love, said
"And you won't think those ugly thoughts again, will you, Katharine?"
at which words the ship which Katharine had been considering seemed to
put into harbor and have done with its seafaring. Yet she was in great
need, if not exactly of sympathy, of some form of advice, or, at
least, of the opportunity of setting forth her problems before a third
person so as to renew them in her own eyes.
"But then," she said, ignoring the difficult problem of ugliness, "you
knew you were in love; but we're different. It seems," she continued,
frowning a little as she tried to fix the difficult feeling, "as if
something came to an end suddenly--gave out--faded--an illusion--as if
when we think we're in love we make it up--we imagine what doesn't
exist. That's why it's impossible that we should ever marry. Always to
be finding the other an illusion, and going off and forgetting about
them, never to be certain that you cared, or that he wasn't caring for
some one not you at all, the horror of changing from one state to the
other, being happy one moment and miserable the next--that's the
reason why we can't possibly marry. At the same time," she continued,
"we can't live without each other, because--" Mrs. Hilbery waited
patiently for the sentence to be completed, but Katharine fell silent
and fingered her sheet of figures.
"We have to have faith in our vision," Mrs. Hilbery resumed, glancing
at the figures, which distressed her vaguely, and had some connection
in her mind with the household accounts, "otherwise, as you say--" She
cast a lightning glance into the depths of disillusionment which were,
perhaps, not altogether unknown to her.
"Believe me, Katharine, it's the same for every one--for me, too--for
your father," she said earnestly, and sighed. They looked together
into the abyss and, as the elder of the two, she recovered herself
first and asked:
"But where is Ralph? Why isn't he here to see me?"
Katharine's expression changed instantly.
"Because he's not allowed to come here," she replied bitterly.
Mrs. Hilbery brushed this aside.
"Would there be time to send for him before luncheon?" she asked.
Katharine looked at her as if, indeed, she were some magician. Once
more she felt that instead of being a grown woman, used to advise and
command, she was only a foot or two raised above the long grass and
the little flowers and entirely dependent upon the figure of
indefinite size whose head went up into the sky, whose hand was in
hers, for guidance.
"I'm not happy without him," she said simply.
Mrs. Hilbery nodded her head in a manner which indicated complete
understanding, and the immediate conception of certain plans for the
future. She swept up her flowers, breathed in their sweetness, and,
humming a little song about a miller's daughter, left the room.
The case upon which Ralph Denham was engaged that afternoon was not
apparently receiving his full attention, and yet the affairs of the
late John Leake of Dublin were sufficiently confused to need all the
care that a solicitor could bestow upon them, if the widow Leake and
the five Leake children of tender age were to receive any pittance at
all. But the appeal to Ralph's humanity had little chance of being
heard to-day; he was no longer a model of concentration. The partition
so carefully erected between the different sections of his life had
been broken down, with the result that though his eyes were fixed upon
the last Will and Testament, he saw through the page a certain
drawing-room in Cheyne Walk.
He tried every device that had proved effective in the past for
keeping up the partitions of the mind, until he could decently go
home; but a little to his alarm he found himself assailed so
persistently, as if from outside, by Katharine, that he launched forth
desperately into an imaginary interview with her. She obliterated a
bookcase full of law reports, and the corners and lines of the room
underwent a curious softening of outline like that which sometimes
makes a room unfamiliar at the moment of waking from sleep. By
degrees, a pulse or stress began to beat at regular intervals in his
mind, heaping his thoughts into waves to which words fitted
themselves, and without much consciousness of what he was doing, he
began to write on a sheet of draft paper what had the appearance of a
poem lacking several words in each line. Not many lines had been set
down, however, before he threw away his pen as violently as if that
were responsible for his misdeeds, and tore the paper into many
separate pieces. This was a sign that Katharine had asserted herself
and put to him a remark that could not be met poetically. Her remark
was entirely destructive of poetry, since it was to the effect that
poetry had nothing whatever to do with her; all her friends spent
their lives in making up phrases, she said; all his feeling was an
illusion, and next moment, as if to taunt him with his impotence, she
had sunk into one of those dreamy states which took no account
whatever of his existence. Ralph was roused by his passionate attempts
to attract her attention to the fact that he was standing in the
middle of his little private room in Lincoln's Inn Fields at a
considerable distance from Chelsea. The physical distance increased
his desperation. He began pacing in circles until the process sickened
him, and then took a sheet of paper for the composition of a letter
which, he vowed before he began it, should be sent that same evening.
It was a difficult matter to put into words; poetry would have done it
better justice, but he must abstain from poetry. In an infinite number
of half-obliterated scratches he tried to convey to her the
possibility that although human beings are woefully ill-adapted for
communication, still, such communion is the best we know; moreover,
they make it possible for each to have access to another world
independent of personal affairs, a world of law, of philosophy, or
more strangely a world such as he had had a glimpse of the other
evening when together they seemed to be sharing something, creating
something, an ideal--a vision flung out in advance of our actual
circumstances. If this golden rim were quenched, if life were no
longer circled by an illusion (but was it an illusion after all?),
then it would be too dismal an affair to carry to an end; so he wrote
with a sudden spurt of conviction which made clear way for a space and
left at least one sentence standing whole. Making every allowance for
other desires, on the whole this conclusion appeared to him to justify
their relationship. But the conclusion was mystical; it plunged him
into thought. The difficulty with which even this amount was written,
the inadequacy of the words, and the need of writing under them and
over them others which, after all, did no better, led him to leave off
before he was at ail satisfied with his production, and unable to
resist the conviction that such rambling would never be fit for
Katharine's eye. He felt himself more cut off from her than ever. In
idleness, and because he could do nothing further with words, he began
to draw little figures in the blank spaces, heads meant to resemble
her head, blots fringed with flames meant to represent--perhaps the
entire universe. From this occupation he was roused by the message
that a lady wished to speak to him. He had scarcely time to run his
hands through his hair in order to look as much like a solicitor as
possible, and to cram his papers into his pocket, already overcome
with shame that another eye should behold them, when he realized that
his preparations were needless. The lady was Mrs. Hilbery.
"I hope you're not disposing of somebody's fortune in a hurry," she
remarked, gazing at the documents on his table, "or cutting off an
entail at one blow, because I want to ask you to do me a favor. And
Anderson won't keep his horse waiting. (Anderson is a perfect tyrant,
but he drove my dear father to the Abbey the day they buried him.) I
made bold to come to you, Mr. Denham, not exactly in search of legal
assistance (though I don't know who I'd rather come to, if I were in
trouble), but in order to ask your help in settling some tiresome
little domestic affairs that have arisen in my absence. I've been to
Stratford-on-Avon (I must tell you all about that one of these days),
and there I got a letter from my sister-in-law, a dear kind goose who
likes interfering with other people's children because she's got none
of her own. (We're dreadfully afraid that she's going to lose the
sight of one of her eyes, and I always feel that our physical ailments
are so apt to turn into mental ailments. I think Matthew Arnold says
something of the same kind about Lord Byron.) But that's neither here
The effect of these parentheses, whether they were introduced for that
purpose or represented a natural instinct on Mrs. Hilbery's part to
embellish the bareness of her discourse, gave Ralph time to perceive
that she possessed all the facts of their situation and was come,
somehow, in the capacity of ambassador.
"I didn't come here to talk about Lord Byron," Mrs. Hilbery continued,
with a little laugh, "though I know that both you and Katharine,
unlike other young people of your generation, still find him worth
reading." She paused. "I'm so glad you've made Katharine read poetry,
Mr. Denham!" she exclaimed, "and feel poetry, and look poetry! She
can't talk it yet, but she will--oh, she will!"
Ralph, whose hand was grasped and whose tongue almost refused to
articulate, somehow contrived to say that there were moments when he
felt hopeless, utterly hopeless, though he gave no reason for this
statement on his part.
"But you care for her?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"Good God!" he exclaimed, with a vehemence which admitted of no
"It's the Church of England service you both object to?" Mrs. Hilbery
"I don't care a damn what service it is," Ralph replied.
"You would marry her in Westminster Abbey if the worst came to the
worst?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"I would marry her in St. Paul's Cathedral," Ralph replied. His doubts
upon this point, which were always roused by Katharine's presence, had
vanished completely, and his strongest wish in the world was to be
with her immediately, since every second he was away from her he
imagined her slipping farther and farther from him into one of those
states of mind in which he was unrepresented. He wished to dominate
her, to possess her.
"Thank God!" exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery. She thanked Him for a variety of
blessings: for the conviction with which the young man spoke; and not
least for the prospect that on her daughter's wedding-day the noble
cadences, the stately periods, the ancient eloquence of the marriage
service would resound over the heads of a distinguished congregation
gathered together near the very spot where her father lay quiescent
with the other poets of England. The tears filled her eyes; but she
remembered simultaneously that her carriage was waiting, and with dim
eyes she walked to the door. Denham followed her downstairs.
It was a strange drive. For Denham it was without exception the most
unpleasant he had ever taken. His only wish was to go as straightly
and quickly as possible to Cheyne Walk; but it soon appeared that Mrs.
Hilbery either ignored or thought fit to baffle this desire by
interposing various errands of her own. She stopped the carriage at
post-offices, and coffee-shops, and shops of inscrutable dignity where
the aged attendants had to be greeted as old friends; and, catching
sight of the dome of St. Paul's above the irregular spires of Ludgate
Hill, she pulled the cord impulsively, and gave directions that
Anderson should drive them there. But Anderson had reasons of his own
for discouraging afternoon worship, and kept his horse's nose
obstinately towards the west. After some minutes, Mrs. Hilbery
realized the situation, and accepted it good-humoredly, apologizing to
Ralph for his disappointment.
"Never mind," she said, "we'll go to St. Paul's another day, and it
may turn out, though I can't promise that it WILL, that he'll take us
past Westminster Abbey, which would be even better."
Ralph was scarcely aware of what she went on to say. Her mind and body
both seemed to have floated into another region of quick-sailing
clouds rapidly passing across each other and enveloping everything in
a vaporous indistinctness. Meanwhile he remained conscious of his own
concentrated desire, his impotence to bring about anything he wished,
and his increasing agony of impatience.
Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery pulled the cord with such decision that even
Anderson had to listen to the order which she leant out of the window
to give him. The carriage pulled up abruptly in the middle of
Whitehall before a large building dedicated to one of our Government
offices. In a second Mrs. Hilbery was mounting the steps, and Ralph
was left in too acute an irritation by this further delay even to
speculate what errand took her now to the Board of Education. He was
about to jump from the carriage and take a cab, when Mrs. Hilbery
reappeared talking genially to a figure who remained hidden behind
"There's plenty of room for us all," she was saying. "Plenty of room.
We could find space for FOUR of you, William," she added, opening the
door, and Ralph found that Rodney had now joined their company. The
two men glanced at each other. If distress, shame, discomfort in its
most acute form were ever visible upon a human face, Ralph could read
them all expressed beyond the eloquence of words upon the face of his
unfortunate companion. But Mrs. Hilbery was either completely unseeing
or determined to appear so. She went on talking; she talked, it seemed
to both the young men, to some one outside, up in the air. She talked
about Shakespeare, she apostrophized the human race, she proclaimed
the virtues of divine poetry, she began to recite verses which broke
down in the middle. The great advantage of her discourse was that it
was self-supporting. It nourished itself until Cheyne Walk was reached
upon half a dozen grunts and murmurs.
"Now," she said, alighting briskly at her door, "here we are!"
There was something airy and ironical in her voice and expression as
she turned upon the doorstep and looked at them, which filled both
Rodney and Denham with the same misgivings at having trusted their
fortunes to such an ambassador; and Rodney actually hesitated upon the
threshold and murmured to Denham:
"You go in, Denham. I . . ." He was turning tail, but the door opening
and the familiar look of the house asserting its charm, he bolted in
on the wake of the others, and the door shut upon his escape. Mrs.
Hilbery led the way upstairs. She took them to the drawing-room. The
fire burnt as usual, the little tables were laid with china and
silver. There was nobody there.
"Ah," she said, "Katharine's not here. She must be upstairs in her
room. You have something to say to her, I know, Mr. Denham. You can
find your way?" she vaguely indicated the ceiling with a gesture of
her hand. She had become suddenly serious and composed, mistress in
her own house. The gesture with which she dismissed him had a dignity
that Ralph never forgot. She seemed to make him free with a wave of
her hand to all that she possessed. He left the room.
The Hilberys' house was tall, possessing many stories and passages
with closed doors, all, once he had passed the drawing-room floor,
unknown to Ralph. He mounted as high as he could and knocked at the
first door he came to.
"May I come in?" he asked.
A voice from within answered "Yes."
He was conscious of a large window, full of light, of a bare table,
and of a long looking-glass. Katharine had risen, and was standing
with some white papers in her hand, which slowly fluttered to the
ground as she saw her visitor. The explanation was a short one. The
sounds were inarticulate; no one could have understood the meaning
save themselves. As if the forces of the world were all at work to
tear them asunder they sat, clasping hands, near enough to be taken
even by the malicious eye of Time himself for a united couple, an
"Don't move, don't go," she begged of him, when he stooped to gather
the papers she had let fall. But he took them in his hands and, giving
her by a sudden impulse his own unfinished dissertation, with its
mystical conclusion, they read each other's compositions in silence.
Katharine read his sheets to an end; Ralph followed her figures as far
as his mathematics would let him. They came to the end of their tasks
at about the same moment, and sat for a time in silence.
"Those were the papers you left on the seat at Kew," said Ralph at
length. "You folded them so quickly that I couldn't see what they
She blushed very deeply; but as she did not move or attempt to hide
her face she had the appearance of some one disarmed of all defences,
or Ralph likened her to a wild bird just settling with wings trembling
to fold themselves within reach of his hand. The moment of exposure
had been exquisitely painful--the light shed startlingly vivid. She
had now to get used to the fact that some one shared her loneliness.
The bewilderment was half shame and half the prelude to profound
rejoicing. Nor was she unconscious that on the surface the whole thing
must appear of the utmost absurdity. She looked to see whether Ralph
smiled, but found his gaze fixed on her with such gravity that she
turned to the belief that she had committed no sacrilege but enriched
herself, perhaps immeasurably, perhaps eternally. She hardly dared
steep herself in the infinite bliss. But his glance seemed to ask for
some assurance upon another point of vital interest to him. It
beseeched her mutely to tell him whether what she had read upon his
confused sheet had any meaning or truth to her. She bent her head once
more to the papers she held.
"I like your little dot with the flames round it," she said
Ralph nearly tore the page from her hand in shame and despair when he
saw her actually contemplating the idiotic symbol of his most confused
and emotional moments.
He was convinced that it could mean nothing to another, although
somehow to him it conveyed not only Katharine herself but all those
states of mind which had clustered round her since he first saw her
pouring out tea on a Sunday afternoon. It represented by its
circumference of smudges surrounding a central blot all that
encircling glow which for him surrounded, inexplicably, so many of the
objects of life, softening their sharp outline, so that he could see
certain streets, books, and situations wearing a halo almost
perceptible to the physical eye. Did she smile? Did she put the paper
down wearily, condemning it not only for its inadequacy but for its
falsity? Was she going to protest once more that he only loved the
vision of her? But it did not occur to her that this diagram had
anything to do with her. She said simply, and in the same tone of
"Yes, the world looks something like that to me too."
He received her assurance with profound joy. Quietly and steadily
there rose up behind the whole aspect of life that soft edge of fire
which gave its red tint to the atmosphere and crowded the scene with
shadows so deep and dark that one could fancy pushing farther into
their density and still farther, exploring indefinitely. Whether there
was any correspondence between the two prospects now opening before
them they shared the same sense of the impending future, vast,
mysterious, infinitely stored with undeveloped shapes which each would
unwrap for the other to behold; but for the present the prospect of
the future was enough to fill them with silent adoration. At any rate,
their further attempts to communicate articulately were interrupted by
a knock on the door, and the entrance of a maid who, with a due sense
of mystery, announced that a lady wished to see Miss Hilbery, but
refused to allow her name to be given.
When Katharine rose, with a profound sigh, to resume her duties, Ralph
went with her, and neither of them formulated any guess, on their way
downstairs, as to who this anonymous lady might prove to be. Perhaps
the fantastic notion that she was a little black hunchback provided
with a steel knife, which she would plunge into Katharine's heart,
appeared to Ralph more probable than another, and he pushed first into
the dining-room to avert the blow. Then he exclaimed "Cassandra!" with
such heartiness at the sight of Cassandra Otway standing by the
dining-room table that she put her finger to her lips and begged him
to be quiet.
"Nobody must know I'm here," she explained in a sepulchral whisper. "I
missed my train. I have been wandering about London all day. I can
bear it no longer. Katharine, what am I to do?"
Katharine pushed forward a chair; Ralph hastily found wine and poured
it out for her. If not actually fainting, she was very near it.
"William's upstairs," said Ralph, as soon as she appeared to be
recovered. "I'll go and ask him to come down to you." His own
happiness had given him a confidence that every one else was bound to
be happy too. But Cassandra had her uncle's commands and anger too
vividly in her mind to dare any such defiance. She became agitated and
said that she must leave the house at once. She was not in a condition
to go, had they known where to send her. Katharine's common sense,
which had been in abeyance for the past week or two, still failed her,
and she could only ask, "But where's your luggage?" in the vague
belief that to take lodgings depended entirely upon a sufficiency of
luggage. Cassandra's reply, "I've lost my luggage," in no way helped
her to a conclusion.
"You've lost your luggage," she repeated. Her eyes rested upon Ralph,
with an expression which seemed better fitted to accompany a profound
thanksgiving for his existence or some vow of eternal devotion than a
question about luggage. Cassandra perceived the look, and saw that it
was returned; her eyes filled with tears. She faltered in what she was
saying. She began bravely again to discuss the question of lodging
when Katharine, who seemed to have communicated silently with Ralph,
and obtained his permission, took her ruby ring from her finger and
giving it to Cassandra, said: "I believe it will fit you without any
These words would not have been enough to convince Cassandra of what
she very much wished to believe had not Ralph taken the bare hand in
his and demanded:
"Why don't you tell us you're glad?" Cassandra was so glad that the
tears ran down her cheeks. The certainty of Katharine's engagement not
only relieved her of a thousand vague fears and self-reproaches, but
entirely quenched that spirit of criticism which had lately impaired
her belief in Katharine. Her old faith came back to her. She seemed to
behold her with that curious intensity which she had lost; as a being
who walks just beyond our sphere, so that life in their presence is a
heightened process, illuminating not only ourselves but a considerable
stretch of the surrounding world. Next moment she contrasted her own
lot with theirs and gave back the ring.
"I won't take that unless William gives it me himself," she said.
"Keep it for me, Katharine."
"I assure you everything's perfectly all right," said Ralph. "Let me
He was about, in spite of Cassandra's protest, to reach the door, when
Mrs. Hilbery, either warned by the parlor-maid or conscious with her
usual prescience of the need for her intervention, opened the door and
smilingly surveyed them.
"My dear Cassandra!" she exclaimed. "How delightful to see you back
again! What a coincidence!" she observed, in a general way. "William
is upstairs. The kettle boils over. Where's Katharine, I say? I go to
look, and I find Cassandra!" She seemed to have proved something to
her own satisfaction, although nobody felt certain what thing
precisely it was.
"I find Cassandra," she repeated.
"She missed her train," Katharine interposed, seeing that Cassandra
was unable to speak.
"Life," began Mrs. Hilbery, drawing inspiration from the portraits on
the wall apparently, "consists in missing trains and in finding--" But
she pulled herself up and remarked that the kettle must have boiled
completely over everything.
To Katharine's agitated mind it appeared that this kettle was an
enormous kettle, capable of deluging the house in its incessant
showers of steam, the enraged representative of all those household
duties which she had neglected. She ran hastily up to the
drawing-room, and the rest followed her, for Mrs. Hilbery put her arm
round Cassandra and drew her upstairs. They found Rodney observing the
kettle with uneasiness but with such absence of mind that Katharine's
catastrophe was in a fair way to be fulfilled. In putting the matter
straight no greetings were exchanged, but Rodney and Cassandra chose
seats as far apart as possible, and sat down with an air of people
making a very temporary lodgment. Either Mrs. Hilbery was impervious
to their discomfort, or chose to ignore it, or thought it high time
that the subject was changed, for she did nothing but talk about
"So much earth and so much water and that sublime spirit brooding over
it all," she mused, and went on to sing her strange, half-earthly song
of dawns and sunsets, of great poets, and the unchanged spirit of
noble loving which they had taught, so that nothing changes, and one
age is linked with another, and no one dies, and we all meet in
spirit, until she appeared oblivious of any one in the room. But
suddenly her remarks seemed to contract the enormously wide circle in
which they were soaring and to alight, airily and temporarily, upon
matters of more immediate moment.
"Katharine and Ralph," she said, as if to try the sound. "William and
"I feel myself in an entirely false position," said William
desperately, thrusting himself into this breach in her reflections.
"I've no right to be sitting here. Mr. Hilbery told me yesterday to
leave the house. I'd no intention of coming back again. I shall now--"
"I feel the same too," Cassandra interrupted. "After what Uncle Trevor
said to me last night--"
"I have put you into a most odious position," Rodney went on, rising
from his seat, in which movement he was imitated simultaneously by
Cassandra. "Until I have your father's consent I have no right to
speak to you--let alone in this house, where my conduct"--he looked at
Katharine, stammered, and fell silent--"where my conduct has been
reprehensible and inexcusable in the extreme," he forced himself to
continue. "I have explained everything to your mother. She is so
generous as to try and make me believe that I have done no harm--you
have convinced her that my behavior, selfish and weak as it
was--selfish and weak--" he repeated, like a speaker who has lost his
Two emotions seemed to be struggling in Katharine; one the desire to
laugh at the ridiculous spectacle of William making her a formal
speech across the tea-table, the other a desire to weep at the sight
of something childlike and honest in him which touched her
inexpressibly. To every one's surprise she rose, stretched out her
hand, and said:
"You've nothing to reproach yourself with--you've been always--" but
here her voice died away, and the tears forced themselves into her
eyes, and ran down her cheeks, while William, equally moved, seized
her hand and pressed it to his lips. No one perceived that the
drawing-room door had opened itself sufficiently to admit at least
half the person of Mr. Hilbery, or saw him gaze at the scene round the
tea-table with an expression of the utmost disgust and expostulation.
He withdrew unseen. He paused outside on the landing trying to recover
his self-control and to decide what course he might with most dignity
pursue. It was obvious to him that his wife had entirely confused the
meaning of his instructions. She had plunged them all into the most
odious confusion. He waited a moment, and then, with much preliminary
rattling of the handle, opened the door a second time. They had all
regained their places; some incident of an absurd nature had now set
them laughing and looking under the table, so that his entrance passed
momentarily unperceived. Katharine, with flushed cheeks, raised her
head and said:
"Well, that's my last attempt at the dramatic."
"It's astonishing what a distance they roll," said Ralph, stooping to
turn up the corner of the hearthrug.
"Don't trouble--don't bother. We shall find it--" Mrs. Hilbery began,
and then saw her husband and exclaimed: "Oh, Trevor, we're looking for
Mr. Hilbery looked instinctively at the carpet. Remarkably enough, the
ring had rolled to the very point where he stood. He saw the rubies
touching the tip of his boot. Such is the force of habit that he could
not refrain from stooping, with an absurd little thrill of pleasure at
being the one to find what others were looking for, and, picking the
ring up, he presented it, with a bow that was courtly in the extreme,
to Cassandra. Whether the making of a bow released automatically
feelings of complaisance and urbanity, Mr. Hilbery found his
resentment completely washed away during the second in which he bent
and straightened himself. Cassandra dared to offer her cheek and
received his embrace. He nodded with some degree of stiffness to
Rodney and Denham, who had both risen upon seeing him, and now
altogether sat down. Mrs. Hilbery seemed to have been waiting for the
entrance of her husband, and for this precise moment in order to put
to him a question which, from the ardor with which she announced it,
had evidently been pressing for utterance for some time past.
"Oh, Trevor, please tell me, what was the date of the first
performance of 'Hamlet'?"
In order to answer her Mr. Hilbery had to have recourse to the exact
scholarship of William Rodney, and before he had given his excellent
authorities for believing as he believed, Rodney felt himself admitted
once more to the society of the civilized and sanctioned by the
authority of no less a person than Shakespeare himself. The power of
literature, which had temporarily deserted Mr. Hilbery, now came back
to him, pouring over the raw ugliness of human affairs its soothing
balm, and providing a form into which such passions as he had felt so
painfully the night before could be molded so that they fell roundly
from the tongue in shapely phrases, hurting nobody. He was
sufficiently sure of his command of language at length to look at
Katharine and again at Denham. All this talk about Shakespeare had
acted as a soporific, or rather as an incantation upon Katharine. She
leaned back in her chair at the head of the tea-table, perfectly
silent, looking vaguely past them all, receiving the most generalized
ideas of human heads against pictures, against yellow-tinted walls,
against curtains of deep crimson velvet. Denham, to whom he turned
next, shared her immobility under his gaze. But beneath his restraint
and calm it was possible to detect a resolution, a will, set now with
unalterable tenacity, which made such turns of speech as Mr. Hilbery
had at command appear oddly irrelevant. At any rate, he said nothing.
He respected the young man; he was a very able young man; he was
likely to get his own way. He could, he thought, looking at his still
and very dignified head, understand Katharine's preference, and, as he
thought this, he was surprised by a pang of acute jealousy. She might
have married Rodney without causing him a twinge. This man she loved.
Or what was the state of affairs between them? An extraordinary
confusion of emotion was beginning to get the better of him, when Mrs.
Hilbery, who had been conscious of a sudden pause in the conversation,
and had looked wistfully at her daughter once or twice, remarked:
"Don't stay if you want to go, Katharine. There's the little room over
there. Perhaps you and Ralph--"
"We're engaged," said Katharine, waking with a start, and looking
straight at her father. He was taken aback by the directness of the
statement; he exclaimed as if an unexpected blow had struck him. Had
he loved her to see her swept away by this torrent, to have her taken
from him by this uncontrollable force, to stand by helpless, ignored?
Oh, how he loved her! How he loved her! He nodded very curtly to
"I gathered something of the kind last night," he said. "I hope you'll
deserve her." But he never looked at his daughter, and strode out of
the room, leaving in the minds of the women a sense, half of awe, half
of amusement, at the extravagant, inconsiderate, uncivilized male,
outraged somehow and gone bellowing to his lair with a roar which
still sometimes reverberates in the most polished of drawing-rooms.
Then Katharine, looking at the shut door, looked down again, to hide
The lamps were lit; their luster reflected itself in the polished
wood; good wine was passed round the dinner-table; before the meal was
far advanced civilization had triumphed, and Mr. Hilbery presided over
a feast which came to wear more and more surely an aspect, cheerful,
dignified, promising well for the future. To judge from the expression
in Katharine's eyes it promised something--but he checked the approach
sentimentality. He poured out wine; he bade Denham help himself.
They went upstairs and he saw Katharine and Denham abstract themselves
directly Cassandra had asked whether she might not play him something
--some Mozart? some Beethoven? She sat down to the piano; the door
closed softly behind them. His eyes rested on the closed door for some
seconds unwaveringly, but, by degrees, the look of expectation died
out of them, and, with a sigh, he listened to the music.
Katharine and Ralph were agreed with scarcely a word of discussion as
to what they wished to do, and in a moment she joined him in the hall
dressed for walking. The night was still and moonlit, fit for walking,
though any night would have seemed so to them, desiring more than
anything movement, freedom from scrutiny, silence, and the open air.
"At last!" she breathed, as the front door shut. She told him how she
had waited, fidgeted, thought he was never coming, listened for the
sound of doors, half expected to see him again under the lamp-post,
looking at the house. They turned and looked at the serene front with
its gold-rimmed windows, to him the shrine of so much adoration. In
spite of her laugh and the little pressure of mockery on his arm, he
would not resign his belief, but with her hand resting there, her
voice quickened and mysteriously moving in his ears, he had not time--
they had not the same inclination--other objects drew his attention.
How they came to find themselves walking down a street with many
lamps, corners radiant with light, and a steady succession of motor-
omnibuses plying both ways along it, they could neither of them tell;
nor account for the impulse which led them suddenly to select one of
these wayfarers and mount to the very front seat. After curving
through streets of comparative darkness, so narrow that shadows on the
blinds were pressed within a few feet of their faces, they came to one
of those great knots of activity where the lights, having drawn close
together, thin out again and take their separate ways. They were borne
on until they saw the spires of the city churches pale and flat
against the sky.
"Are you cold?" he asked, as they stopped by Temple Bar.
"Yes, I am rather," she replied, becoming conscious that the splendid
race of lights drawn past her eyes by the superb curving and swerving
of the monster on which she sat was at an end. They had followed some
such course in their thoughts too; they had been borne on, victors in
the forefront of some triumphal car, spectators of a pageant enacted
for them, masters of life. But standing on the pavement alone, this
exaltation left them; they were glad to be alone together. Ralph stood
still for a moment to light his pipe beneath a lamp.
She looked at his face isolated in the little circle of light.
"Oh, that cottage," she said. "We must take it and go there."
"And leave all this?" he inquired.
"As you like," she replied. She thought, looking at the sky above
Chancery Lane, how the roof was the same everywhere; how she was now
secure of all that this lofty blue and its steadfast lights meant to
her; reality, was it, figures, love, truth?
"I've something on my mind," said Ralph abruptly. "I mean I've been
thinking of Mary Datchet. We're very near her rooms now. Would you
mind if we went there?"
She had turned before she answered him. She had no wish to see any one
to-night; it seemed to her that the immense riddle was answered; the
problem had been solved; she held in her hands for one brief moment
the globe which we spend our lives in trying to shape, round, whole,
and entire from the confusion of chaos. To see Mary was to risk the
destruction of this globe.
"Did you treat her badly?" she asked rather mechanically, walking on.
"I could defend myself," he said, almost defiantly. "But what's the
use, if one feels a thing? I won't be with her a minute," he said.
"I'll just tell her--"
"Of course, you must tell her," said Katharine, and now felt anxious
for him to do what appeared to be necessary if he, too, were to hold
his globe for a moment round, whole, and entire.
"I wish--I wish--" she sighed, for melancholy came over her and
obscured at least a section of her clear vision. The globe swam before
her as if obscured by tears.
"I regret nothing," said Ralph firmly. She leant towards him almost as
if she could thus see what he saw. She thought how obscure he still
was to her, save only that more and more constantly he appeared to her
a fire burning through its smoke, a source of life.