Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
NIGHT AND DAY
By Virginia Woolf
TO VANESSA BELL
BUT, LOOKING FOR A PHRASE,
I FOUND NONE TO STAND
BESIDE YOUR NAME
NIGHT AND DAY
It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young
ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea. Perhaps a
fifth part of her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining parts leapt
over the little barrier of day which interposed between Monday morning
and this rather subdued moment, and played with the things one does
voluntarily and normally in the daylight. But although she was silent,
she was evidently mistress of a situation which was familiar enough to
her, and inclined to let it take its way for the six hundredth time,
perhaps, without bringing into play any of her unoccupied faculties. A
single glance was enough to show that Mrs. Hilbery was so rich in the
gifts which make tea-parties of elderly distinguished people successful,
that she scarcely needed any help from her daughter, provided that the
tiresome business of teacups and bread and butter was discharged for
Considering that the little party had been seated round the tea-table
for less than twenty minutes, the animation observable on their faces,
and the amount of sound they were producing collectively, were very
creditable to the hostess. It suddenly came into Katharine's mind that
if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that they were
enjoying themselves; he would think, "What an extremely nice house
to come into!" and instinctively she laughed, and said something to
increase the noise, for the credit of the house presumably, since she
herself had not been feeling exhilarated. At the very same moment,
rather to her amusement, the door was flung open, and a young man
entered the room. Katharine, as she shook hands with him, asked him,
in her own mind, "Now, do you think we're enjoying ourselves
enormously?"... "Mr. Denham, mother," she said aloud, for she saw that
her mother had forgotten his name.
That fact was perceptible to Mr. Denham also, and increased the
awkwardness which inevitably attends the entrance of a stranger into a
room full of people much at their ease, and all launched upon sentences.
At the same time, it seemed to Mr. Denham as if a thousand softly padded
doors had closed between him and the street outside. A fine mist, the
etherealized essence of the fog, hung visibly in the wide and rather
empty space of the drawing-room, all silver where the candles were
grouped on the tea-table, and ruddy again in the firelight. With
the omnibuses and cabs still running in his head, and his body still
tingling with his quick walk along the streets and in and out of traffic
and foot-passengers, this drawing-room seemed very remote and still;
and the faces of the elderly people were mellowed, at some distance from
each other, and had a bloom on them owing to the fact that the air in
the drawing-room was thickened by blue grains of mist. Mr. Denham had
come in as Mr. Fortescue, the eminent novelist, reached the middle of a
very long sentence. He kept this suspended while the newcomer sat down,
and Mrs. Hilbery deftly joined the severed parts by leaning towards him
"Now, what would you do if you were married to an engineer, and had to
live in Manchester, Mr. Denham?"
"Surely she could learn Persian," broke in a thin, elderly gentleman.
"Is there no retired schoolmaster or man of letters in Manchester with
whom she could read Persian?"
"A cousin of ours has married and gone to live in Manchester," Katharine
explained. Mr. Denham muttered something, which was indeed all that
was required of him, and the novelist went on where he had left off.
Privately, Mr. Denham cursed himself very sharply for having exchanged
the freedom of the street for this sophisticated drawing-room, where,
among other disagreeables, he certainly would not appear at his best. He
glanced round him, and saw that, save for Katharine, they were all over
forty, the only consolation being that Mr. Fortescue was a considerable
celebrity, so that to-morrow one might be glad to have met him.
"Have you ever been to Manchester?" he asked Katharine.
"Never," she replied.
"Why do you object to it, then?"
Katharine stirred her tea, and seemed to speculate, so Denham thought,
upon the duty of filling somebody else's cup, but she was really
wondering how she was going to keep this strange young man in harmony
with the rest. She observed that he was compressing his teacup, so that
there was danger lest the thin china might cave inwards. She could see
that he was nervous; one would expect a bony young man with his face
slightly reddened by the wind, and his hair not altogether smooth, to
be nervous in such a party. Further, he probably disliked this kind of
thing, and had come out of curiosity, or because her father had invited
him--anyhow, he would not be easily combined with the rest.
"I should think there would be no one to talk to in Manchester," she
replied at random. Mr. Fortescue had been observing her for a moment or
two, as novelists are inclined to observe, and at this remark he smiled,
and made it the text for a little further speculation.
"In spite of a slight tendency to exaggeration, Katharine decidedly
hits the mark," he said, and lying back in his chair, with his opaque
contemplative eyes fixed on the ceiling, and the tips of his fingers
pressed together, he depicted, first the horrors of the streets of
Manchester, and then the bare, immense moors on the outskirts of the
town, and then the scrubby little house in which the girl would live,
and then the professors and the miserable young students devoted to the
more strenuous works of our younger dramatists, who would visit her,
and how her appearance would change by degrees, and how she would fly to
London, and how Katharine would have to lead her about, as one leads an
eager dog on a chain, past rows of clamorous butchers' shops, poor dear
"Oh, Mr. Fortescue," exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, as he finished, "I had just
written to say how I envied her! I was thinking of the big gardens and
the dear old ladies in mittens, who read nothing but the "Spectator,"
and snuff the candles. Have they ALL disappeared? I told her she would
find the nice things of London without the horrid streets that depress
"There is the University," said the thin gentleman, who had previously
insisted upon the existence of people knowing Persian.
"I know there are moors there, because I read about them in a book the
other day," said Katharine.
"I am grieved and amazed at the ignorance of my family," Mr. Hilbery
remarked. He was an elderly man, with a pair of oval, hazel eyes which
were rather bright for his time of life, and relieved the heaviness of
his face. He played constantly with a little green stone attached to his
watch-chain, thus displaying long and very sensitive fingers, and had
a habit of moving his head hither and thither very quickly without
altering the position of his large and rather corpulent body, so that he
seemed to be providing himself incessantly with food for amusement and
reflection with the least possible expenditure of energy. One might
suppose that he had passed the time of life when his ambitions were
personal, or that he had gratified them as far as he was likely to
do, and now employed his considerable acuteness rather to observe and
reflect than to attain any result.
Katharine, so Denham decided, while Mr. Fortescue built up another
rounded structure of words, had a likeness to each of her parents, but
these elements were rather oddly blended. She had the quick, impulsive
movements of her mother, the lips parting often to speak, and closing
again; and the dark oval eyes of her father brimming with light upon
a basis of sadness, or, since she was too young to have acquired a
sorrowful point of view, one might say that the basis was not sadness so
much as a spirit given to contemplation and self-control. Judging by her
hair, her coloring, and the shape of her features, she was striking,
if not actually beautiful. Decision and composure stamped her, a
combination of qualities that produced a very marked character, and one
that was not calculated to put a young man, who scarcely knew her, at
his ease. For the rest, she was tall; her dress was of some quiet color,
with old yellow-tinted lace for ornament, to which the spark of an
ancient jewel gave its one red gleam. Denham noticed that, although
silent, she kept sufficient control of the situation to answer
immediately her mother appealed to her for help, and yet it was obvious
to him that she attended only with the surface skin of her mind. It
struck him that her position at the tea-table, among all these elderly
people, was not without its difficulties, and he checked his inclination
to find her, or her attitude, generally antipathetic to him. The talk
had passed over Manchester, after dealing with it very generously.
"Would it be the Battle of Trafalgar or the Spanish Armada, Katharine?"
her mother demanded.
"Trafalgar, of course! How stupid of me! Another cup of tea, with a thin
slice of lemon in it, and then, dear Mr. Fortescue, please explain my
absurd little puzzle. One can't help believing gentlemen with Roman
noses, even if one meets them in omnibuses."
Mr. Hilbery here interposed so far as Denham was concerned, and talked
a great deal of sense about the solicitors' profession, and the changes
which he had seen in his lifetime. Indeed, Denham properly fell to his
lot, owing to the fact that an article by Denham upon some legal matter,
published by Mr. Hilbery in his Review, had brought them acquainted. But
when a moment later Mrs. Sutton Bailey was announced, he turned to her,
and Mr. Denham found himself sitting silent, rejecting possible things
to say, beside Katharine, who was silent too. Being much about the same
age and both under thirty, they were prohibited from the use of a great
many convenient phrases which launch conversation into smooth waters.
They were further silenced by Katharine's rather malicious determination
not to help this young man, in whose upright and resolute bearing she
detected something hostile to her surroundings, by any of the usual
feminine amenities. They therefore sat silent, Denham controlling his
desire to say something abrupt and explosive, which should shock her
into life. But Mrs. Hilbery was immediately sensitive to any silence
in the drawing-room, as of a dumb note in a sonorous scale, and leaning
across the table she observed, in the curiously tentative detached
manner which always gave her phrases the likeness of butterflies
flaunting from one sunny spot to another, "D'you know, Mr. Denham, you
remind me so much of dear Mr. Ruskin.... Is it his tie, Katharine, or
his hair, or the way he sits in his chair? Do tell me, Mr. Denham, are
you an admirer of Ruskin? Some one, the other day, said to me, 'Oh, no,
we don't read Ruskin, Mrs. Hilbery.' What DO you read, I wonder?--for
you can't spend all your time going up in aeroplanes and burrowing into
the bowels of the earth."
She looked benevolently at Denham, who said nothing articulate, and
then at Katharine, who smiled but said nothing either, upon which Mrs.
Hilbery seemed possessed by a brilliant idea, and exclaimed:
"I'm sure Mr. Denham would like to see our things, Katharine. I'm sure
he's not like that dreadful young man, Mr. Ponting, who told me that he
considered it our duty to live exclusively in the present. After all,
what IS the present? Half of it's the past, and the better half, too, I
should say," she added, turning to Mr. Fortescue.
Denham rose, half meaning to go, and thinking that he had seen all that
there was to see, but Katharine rose at the same moment, and saying,
"Perhaps you would like to see the pictures," led the way across the
drawing-room to a smaller room opening out of it.
The smaller room was something like a chapel in a cathedral, or a
grotto in a cave, for the booming sound of the traffic in the distance
suggested the soft surge of waters, and the oval mirrors, with their
silver surface, were like deep pools trembling beneath starlight. But
the comparison to a religious temple of some kind was the more apt of
the two, for the little room was crowded with relics.
As Katharine touched different spots, lights sprang here and there, and
revealed a square mass of red-and-gold books, and then a long skirt
in blue-and-white paint lustrous behind glass, and then a mahogany
writing-table, with its orderly equipment, and, finally, a picture above
the table, to which special illumination was accorded. When Katharine
had touched these last lights, she stood back, as much as to say,
"There!" Denham found himself looked down upon by the eyes of the great
poet, Richard Alardyce, and suffered a little shock which would have led
him, had he been wearing a hat, to remove it. The eyes looked at him out
of the mellow pinks and yellows of the paint with divine friendliness,
which embraced him, and passed on to contemplate the entire world. The
paint had so faded that very little but the beautiful large eyes were
left, dark in the surrounding dimness.
Katharine waited as though for him to receive a full impression, and
then she said:
"This is his writing-table. He used this pen," and she lifted a quill
pen and laid it down again. The writing-table was splashed with old ink,
and the pen disheveled in service. There lay the gigantic gold-rimmed
spectacles, ready to his hand, and beneath the table was a pair of
large, worn slippers, one of which Katharine picked up, remarking:
"I think my grandfather must have been at least twice as large as any
one is nowadays. This," she went on, as if she knew what she had to say
by heart, "is the original manuscript of the 'Ode to Winter.' The early
poems are far less corrected than the later. Would you like to look at
While Mr. Denham examined the manuscript, she glanced up at her
grandfather, and, for the thousandth time, fell into a pleasant dreamy
state in which she seemed to be the companion of those giant men, of
their own lineage, at any rate, and the insignificant present moment was
put to shame. That magnificent ghostly head on the canvas, surely, never
beheld all the trivialities of a Sunday afternoon, and it did not seem
to matter what she and this young man said to each other, for they were
only small people.
"This is a copy of the first edition of the poems," she continued,
without considering the fact that Mr. Denham was still occupied with the
manuscript, "which contains several poems that have not been reprinted,
as well as corrections." She paused for a minute, and then went on, as
if these spaces had all been calculated.
"That lady in blue is my great-grandmother, by Millington. Here is my
uncle's walking-stick--he was Sir Richard Warburton, you know, and rode
with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow. And then, let me see--oh, that's
the original Alardyce, 1697, the founder of the family fortunes, with
his wife. Some one gave us this bowl the other day because it has their
crest and initials. We think it must have been given them to celebrate
their silver wedding-day."
Here she stopped for a moment, wondering why it was that Mr. Denham said
nothing. Her feeling that he was antagonistic to her, which had lapsed
while she thought of her family possessions, returned so keenly that
she stopped in the middle of her catalog and looked at him. Her mother,
wishing to connect him reputably with the great dead, had compared him
with Mr. Ruskin; and the comparison was in Katharine's mind, and led
her to be more critical of the young man than was fair, for a young man
paying a call in a tail-coat is in a different element altogether from
a head seized at its climax of expressiveness, gazing immutably from
behind a sheet of glass, which was all that remained to her of Mr.
Ruskin. He had a singular face--a face built for swiftness and decision
rather than for massive contemplation; the forehead broad, the nose long
and formidable, the lips clean-shaven and at once dogged and sensitive,
the cheeks lean, with a deeply running tide of red blood in them. His
eyes, expressive now of the usual masculine impersonality and authority,
might reveal more subtle emotions under favorable circumstances, for
they were large, and of a clear, brown color; they seemed unexpectedly
to hesitate and speculate; but Katharine only looked at him to wonder
whether his face would not have come nearer the standard of her dead
heroes if it had been adorned with side-whiskers. In his spare build
and thin, though healthy, cheeks, she saw tokens of an angular and acrid
soul. His voice, she noticed, had a slight vibrating or creaking sound
in it, as he laid down the manuscript and said:
"You must be very proud of your family, Miss Hilbery."
"Yes, I am," Katharine answered, and she added, "Do you think there's
anything wrong in that?"
"Wrong? How should it be wrong? It must be a bore, though, showing your
things to visitors," he added reflectively.
"Not if the visitors like them."
"Isn't it difficult to live up to your ancestors?" he proceeded.
"I dare say I shouldn't try to write poetry," Katharine replied.
"No. And that's what I should hate. I couldn't bear my grandfather
to cut me out. And, after all," Denham went on, glancing round him
satirically, as Katharine thought, "it's not your grandfather only.
You're cut out all the way round. I suppose you come of one of the most
distinguished families in England. There are the Warburtons and the
Mannings--and you're related to the Otways, aren't you? I read it all in
some magazine," he added.
"The Otways are my cousins," Katharine replied.
"Well," said Denham, in a final tone of voice, as if his argument were
"Well," said Katharine, "I don't see that you've proved anything."
Denham smiled, in a peculiarly provoking way. He was amused and
gratified to find that he had the power to annoy his oblivious,
supercilious hostess, if he could not impress her; though he would have
preferred to impress her.
He sat silent, holding the precious little book of poems unopened in
his hands, and Katharine watched him, the melancholy or contemplative
expression deepening in her eyes as her annoyance faded. She appeared to
be considering many things. She had forgotten her duties.
"Well," said Denham again, suddenly opening the little book of poems,
as though he had said all that he meant to say or could, with propriety,
say. He turned over the pages with great decision, as if he were judging
the book in its entirety, the printing and paper and binding, as well
as the poetry, and then, having satisfied himself of its good or bad
quality, he placed it on the writing-table, and examined the malacca
cane with the gold knob which had belonged to the soldier.
"But aren't you proud of your family?" Katharine demanded.
"No," said Denham. "We've never done anything to be proud of--unless you
count paying one's bills a matter for pride."
"That sounds rather dull," Katharine remarked.
"You would think us horribly dull," Denham agreed.
"Yes, I might find you dull, but I don't think I should find you
ridiculous," Katharine added, as if Denham had actually brought that
charge against her family.
"No--because we're not in the least ridiculous. We're a respectable
middle-class family, living at Highgate."
"We don't live at Highgate, but we're middle class too, I suppose."
Denham merely smiled, and replacing the malacca cane on the rack, he
drew a sword from its ornamental sheath.
"That belonged to Clive, so we say," said Katharine, taking up her
duties as hostess again automatically.
"Is it a lie?" Denham inquired.
"It's a family tradition. I don't know that we can prove it."
"You see, we don't have traditions in our family," said Denham.
"You sound very dull," Katharine remarked, for the second time.
"Merely middle class," Denham replied.
"You pay your bills, and you speak the truth. I don't see why you should
Mr. Denham carefully sheathed the sword which the Hilberys said belonged
"I shouldn't like to be you; that's all I said," he replied, as if he
were saying what he thought as accurately as he could.
"No, but one never would like to be any one else."
"I should. I should like to be lots of other people."
"Then why not us?" Katharine asked.
Denham looked at her as she sat in her grandfather's arm-chair, drawing
her great-uncle's malacca cane smoothly through her fingers, while her
background was made up equally of lustrous blue-and-white paint, and
crimson books with gilt lines on them. The vitality and composure of
her attitude, as of a bright-plumed bird poised easily before further
flights, roused him to show her the limitations of her lot. So soon, so
easily, would he be forgotten.
"You'll never know anything at first hand," he began, almost savagely.
"It's all been done for you. You'll never know the pleasure of buying
things after saving up for them, or reading books for the first time, or
"Go on," Katharine observed, as he paused, suddenly doubtful, when he
heard his voice proclaiming aloud these facts, whether there was any
truth in them.
"Of course, I don't know how you spend your time," he continued, a
little stiffly, "but I suppose you have to show people round. You
are writing a life of your grandfather, aren't you? And this kind of
thing"--he nodded towards the other room, where they could hear bursts
of cultivated laughter--"must take up a lot of time."
She looked at him expectantly, as if between them they were decorating
a small figure of herself, and she saw him hesitating in the disposition
of some bow or sash.
"You've got it very nearly right," she said, "but I only help my mother.
I don't write myself."
"Do you do anything yourself?" he demanded.
"What do you mean?" she asked. "I don't leave the house at ten and come
back at six."
"I don't mean that."
Mr. Denham had recovered his self-control; he spoke with a quietness
which made Katharine rather anxious that he should explain himself, but
at the same time she wished to annoy him, to waft him away from her on
some light current of ridicule or satire, as she was wont to do with
these intermittent young men of her father's.
"Nobody ever does do anything worth doing nowadays," she remarked. "You
see"--she tapped the volume of her grandfather's poems--"we don't
even print as well as they did, and as for poets or painters or
novelists--there are none; so, at any rate, I'm not singular."
"No, we haven't any great men," Denham replied. "I'm very glad that we
haven't. I hate great men. The worship of greatness in the nineteenth
century seems to me to explain the worthlessness of that generation."
Katharine opened her lips and drew in her breath, as if to reply with
equal vigor, when the shutting of a door in the next room withdrew her
attention, and they both became conscious that the voices, which had
been rising and falling round the tea-table, had fallen silent; the
light, even, seemed to have sunk lower. A moment later Mrs. Hilbery
appeared in the doorway of the ante-room. She stood looking at them with
a smile of expectancy on her face, as if a scene from the drama of
the younger generation were being played for her benefit. She was a
remarkable-looking woman, well advanced in the sixties, but owing to the
lightness of her frame and the brightness of her eyes she seemed to have
been wafted over the surface of the years without taking much harm
in the passage. Her face was shrunken and aquiline, but any hint of
sharpness was dispelled by the large blue eyes, at once sagacious and
innocent, which seemed to regard the world with an enormous desire that
it should behave itself nobly, and an entire confidence that it could do
so, if it would only take the pains.
Certain lines on the broad forehead and about the lips might be taken to
suggest that she had known moments of some difficulty and perplexity in
the course of her career, but these had not destroyed her trustfulness,
and she was clearly still prepared to give every one any number of fresh
chances and the whole system the benefit of the doubt. She wore a great
resemblance to her father, and suggested, as he did, the fresh airs and
open spaces of a younger world.
"Well," she said, "how do you like our things, Mr. Denham?"
Mr. Denham rose, put his book down, opened his mouth, but said nothing,
as Katharine observed, with some amusement.
Mrs. Hilbery handled the book he had laid down.
"There are some books that LIVE," she mused. "They are young with us,
and they grow old with us. Are you fond of poetry, Mr. Denham? But what
an absurd question to ask! The truth is, dear Mr. Fortescue has almost
tired me out. He is so eloquent and so witty, so searching and so
profound that, after half an hour or so, I feel inclined to turn out all
the lights. But perhaps he'd be more wonderful than ever in the dark.
What d'you think, Katharine? Shall we give a little party in complete
darkness? There'd have to be bright rooms for the bores...."
Here Mr. Denham held out his hand.
"But we've any number of things to show you!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed,
taking no notice of it. "Books, pictures, china, manuscripts, and the
very chair that Mary Queen of Scots sat in when she heard of Darnley's
murder. I must lie down for a little, and Katharine must change her
dress (though she's wearing a very pretty one), but if you don't mind
being left alone, supper will be at eight. I dare say you'll write a
poem of your own while you're waiting. Ah, how I love the firelight!
Doesn't our room look charming?"
She stepped back and bade them contemplate the empty drawing-room, with
its rich, irregular lights, as the flames leapt and wavered.
"Dear things!" she exclaimed. "Dear chairs and tables! How like old
friends they are--faithful, silent friends. Which reminds me, Katharine,
little Mr. Anning is coming to-night, and Tite Street, and Cadogan
Square.... Do remember to get that drawing of your great-uncle glazed.
Aunt Millicent remarked it last time she was here, and I know how it
would hurt me to see MY father in a broken glass."
It was like tearing through a maze of diamond-glittering spiders' webs
to say good-bye and escape, for at each movement Mrs. Hilbery remembered
something further about the villainies of picture-framers or the
delights of poetry, and at one time it seemed to the young man that he
would be hypnotized into doing what she pretended to want him to do,
for he could not suppose that she attached any value whatever to his
presence. Katharine, however, made an opportunity for him to leave, and
for that he was grateful to her, as one young person is grateful for the
understanding of another.
The young man shut the door with a sharper slam than any visitor had
used that afternoon, and walked up the street at a great pace, cutting
the air with his walking-stick. He was glad to find himself outside that
drawing-room, breathing raw fog, and in contact with unpolished people
who only wanted their share of the pavement allowed them. He thought
that if he had had Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Hilbery out here he would have
made them, somehow, feel his superiority, for he was chafed by the
memory of halting awkward sentences which had failed to give even the
young woman with the sad, but inwardly ironical eyes a hint of his
force. He tried to recall the actual words of his little outburst,
and unconsciously supplemented them by so many words of greater
expressiveness that the irritation of his failure was somewhat assuaged.
Sudden stabs of the unmitigated truth assailed him now and then, for he
was not inclined by nature to take a rosy view of his conduct, but
what with the beat of his foot upon the pavement, and the glimpse
which half-drawn curtains offered him of kitchens, dining-rooms, and
drawing-rooms, illustrating with mute power different scenes from
different lives, his own experience lost its sharpness.
His own experience underwent a curious change. His speed slackened, his
head sank a little towards his breast, and the lamplight shone now and
again upon a face grown strangely tranquil. His thought was so absorbing
that when it became necessary to verify the name of a street, he looked
at it for a time before he read it; when he came to a crossing, he
seemed to have to reassure himself by two or three taps, such as a blind
man gives, upon the curb; and, reaching the Underground station, he
blinked in the bright circle of light, glanced at his watch, decided
that he might still indulge himself in darkness, and walked straight on.
And yet the thought was the thought with which he had started. He was
still thinking about the people in the house which he had left; but
instead of remembering, with whatever accuracy he could, their looks and
sayings, he had consciously taken leave of the literal truth. A turn of
the street, a firelit room, something monumental in the procession
of the lamp-posts, who shall say what accident of light or shape had
suddenly changed the prospect within his mind, and led him to murmur
"She'll do.... Yes, Katharine Hilbery'll do.... I'll take Katharine
As soon as he had said this, his pace slackened, his head fell, his eyes
became fixed. The desire to justify himself, which had been so urgent,
ceased to torment him, and, as if released from constraint, so that
they worked without friction or bidding, his faculties leapt forward and
fixed, as a matter of course, upon the form of Katharine Hilbery. It was
marvellous how much they found to feed upon, considering the destructive
nature of Denham's criticism in her presence. The charm, which he had
tried to disown, when under the effect of it, the beauty, the character,
the aloofness, which he had been determined not to feel, now possessed
him wholly; and when, as happened by the nature of things, he had
exhausted his memory, he went on with his imagination. He was conscious
of what he was about, for in thus dwelling upon Miss Hilbery's
qualities, he showed a kind of method, as if he required this vision of
her for a particular purpose. He increased her height, he darkened
her hair; but physically there was not much to change in her. His most
daring liberty was taken with her mind, which, for reasons of his own,
he desired to be exalted and infallible, and of such independence that
it was only in the case of Ralph Denham that it swerved from its high,
swift flight, but where he was concerned, though fastidious at first,
she finally swooped from her eminence to crown him with her approval.
These delicious details, however, were to be worked out in all their
ramifications at his leisure; the main point was that Katharine Hilbery
would do; she would do for weeks, perhaps for months. In taking her he
had provided himself with something the lack of which had left a
bare place in his mind for a considerable time. He gave a sigh of
satisfaction; his consciousness of his actual position somewhere in the
neighborhood of Knightsbridge returned to him, and he was soon speeding
in the train towards Highgate.
Although thus supported by the knowledge of his new possession of
considerable value, he was not proof against the familiar thoughts which
the suburban streets and the damp shrubs growing in front gardens
and the absurd names painted in white upon the gates of those gardens
suggested to him. His walk was uphill, and his mind dwelt gloomily upon
the house which he approached, where he would find six or seven brothers
and sisters, a widowed mother, and, probably, some aunt or uncle sitting
down to an unpleasant meal under a very bright light. Should he put in
force the threat which, two weeks ago, some such gathering had wrung
from him--the terrible threat that if visitors came on Sunday he should
dine alone in his room? A glance in the direction of Miss Hilbery
determined him to make his stand this very night, and accordingly,
having let himself in, having verified the presence of Uncle Joseph by
means of a bowler hat and a very large umbrella, he gave his orders to
the maid, and went upstairs to his room.
He went up a great many flights of stairs, and he noticed, as he had
very seldom noticed, how the carpet became steadily shabbier, until it
ceased altogether, how the walls were discolored, sometimes by cascades
of damp, and sometimes by the outlines of picture-frames since removed,
how the paper flapped loose at the corners, and a great flake of plaster
had fallen from the ceiling. The room itself was a cheerless one to
return to at this inauspicious hour. A flattened sofa would, later
in the evening, become a bed; one of the tables concealed a washing
apparatus; his clothes and boots were disagreeably mixed with books
which bore the gilt of college arms; and, for decoration, there
hung upon the wall photographs of bridges and cathedrals and large,
unprepossessing groups of insufficiently clothed young men, sitting in
rows one above another upon stone steps. There was a look of meanness
and shabbiness in the furniture and curtains, and nowhere any sign of
luxury or even of a cultivated taste, unless the cheap classics in the
book-case were a sign of an effort in that direction. The only object
that threw any light upon the character of the room's owner was a large
perch, placed in the window to catch the air and sun, upon which a tame
and, apparently, decrepit rook hopped dryly from side to side. The bird,
encouraged by a scratch behind the ear, settled upon Denham's shoulder.
He lit his gas-fire and settled down in gloomy patience to await his
dinner. After sitting thus for some minutes a small girl popped her head
in to say,
"Mother says, aren't you coming down, Ralph? Uncle Joseph--"
"They're to bring my dinner up here," said Ralph, peremptorily;
whereupon she vanished, leaving the door ajar in her haste to be gone.
After Denham had waited some minutes, in the course of which neither
he nor the rook took their eyes off the fire, he muttered a curse, ran
downstairs, intercepted the parlor-maid, and cut himself a slice of
bread and cold meat. As he did so, the dining-room door sprang open, a
voice exclaimed "Ralph!" but Ralph paid no attention to the voice, and
made off upstairs with his plate. He set it down in a chair opposite
him, and ate with a ferocity that was due partly to anger and partly to
hunger. His mother, then, was determined not to respect his wishes; he
was a person of no importance in his own family; he was sent for and
treated as a child. He reflected, with a growing sense of injury, that
almost every one of his actions since opening the door of his room had
been won from the grasp of the family system. By rights, he should have
been sitting downstairs in the drawing-room describing his afternoon's
adventures, or listening to the afternoon's adventures of other people;
the room itself, the gas-fire, the arm-chair--all had been fought for;
the wretched bird, with half its feathers out and one leg lamed by a
cat, had been rescued under protest; but what his family most resented,
he reflected, was his wish for privacy. To dine alone, or to sit alone
after dinner, was flat rebellion, to be fought with every weapon
of underhand stealth or of open appeal. Which did he dislike
most--deception or tears? But, at any rate, they could not rob him of
his thoughts; they could not make him say where he had been or whom he
had seen. That was his own affair; that, indeed, was a step entirely in
the right direction, and, lighting his pipe, and cutting up the remains
of his meal for the benefit of the rook, Ralph calmed his rather
excessive irritation and settled down to think over his prospects.
This particular afternoon was a step in the right direction, because it
was part of his plan to get to know people beyond the family circuit,
just as it was part of his plan to learn German this autumn, and to
review legal books for Mr. Hilbery's "Critical Review." He had always
made plans since he was a small boy; for poverty, and the fact that
he was the eldest son of a large family, had given him the habit of
thinking of spring and summer, autumn and winter, as so many stages in a
prolonged campaign. Although he was still under thirty, this forecasting
habit had marked two semicircular lines above his eyebrows, which
threatened, at this moment, to crease into their wonted shapes. But
instead of settling down to think, he rose, took a small piece of
cardboard marked in large letters with the word OUT, and hung it
upon the handle of his door. This done, he sharpened a pencil, lit a
reading-lamp and opened his book. But still he hesitated to take his
seat. He scratched the rook, he walked to the window; he parted the
curtains, and looked down upon the city which lay, hazily luminous,
beneath him. He looked across the vapors in the direction of Chelsea;
looked fixedly for a moment, and then returned to his chair. But the
whole thickness of some learned counsel's treatise upon Torts did not
screen him satisfactorily. Through the pages he saw a drawing-room,
very empty and spacious; he heard low voices, he saw women's figures, he
could even smell the scent of the cedar log which flamed in the grate.
His mind relaxed its tension, and seemed to be giving out now what
it had taken in unconsciously at the time. He could remember Mr.
Fortescue's exact words, and the rolling emphasis with which he
delivered them, and he began to repeat what Mr. Fortescue had said, in
Mr. Fortescue's own manner, about Manchester. His mind then began to
wander about the house, and he wondered whether there were other rooms
like the drawing-room, and he thought, inconsequently, how beautiful the
bathroom must be, and how leisurely it was--the life of these well-kept
people, who were, no doubt, still sitting in the same room, only they
had changed their clothes, and little Mr. Anning was there, and the aunt
who would mind if the glass of her father's picture was broken. Miss
Hilbery had changed her dress ("although she's wearing such a pretty
one," he heard her mother say), and she was talking to Mr. Anning,
who was well over forty, and bald into the bargain, about books. How
peaceful and spacious it was; and the peace possessed him so completely
that his muscles slackened, his book drooped from his hand, and he
forgot that the hour of work was wasting minute by minute.
He was roused by a creak upon the stair. With a guilty start he composed
himself, frowned and looked intently at the fifty-sixth page of his
volume. A step paused outside his door, and he knew that the person,
whoever it might be, was considering the placard, and debating whether
to honor its decree or not. Certainly, policy advised him to sit still
in autocratic silence, for no custom can take root in a family unless
every breach of it is punished severely for the first six months or so.
But Ralph was conscious of a distinct wish to be interrupted, and his
disappointment was perceptible when he heard the creaking sound rather
farther down the stairs, as if his visitor had decided to withdraw. He
rose, opened the door with unnecessary abruptness, and waited on the
landing. The person stopped simultaneously half a flight downstairs.
"Ralph?" said a voice, inquiringly.
"I was coming up, but I saw your notice."
"Well, come along in, then." He concealed his desire beneath a tone as
grudging as he could make it.
Joan came in, but she was careful to show, by standing upright with
one hand upon the mantelpiece, that she was only there for a definite
purpose, which discharged, she would go.
She was older than Ralph by some three or four years. Her face was round
but worn, and expressed that tolerant but anxious good humor which is
the special attribute of elder sisters in large families. Her pleasant
brown eyes resembled Ralph's, save in expression, for whereas he seemed
to look straightly and keenly at one object, she appeared to be in the
habit of considering everything from many different points of view. This
made her appear his elder by more years than existed in fact between
them. Her gaze rested for a moment or two upon the rook. She then said,
without any preface:
"It's about Charles and Uncle John's offer.... Mother's been talking to
me. She says she can't afford to pay for him after this term. She says
she'll have to ask for an overdraft as it is."
"That's simply not true," said Ralph.
"No. I thought not. But she won't believe me when I say it."
Ralph, as if he could foresee the length of this familiar argument, drew
up a chair for his sister and sat down himself.
"I'm not interrupting?" she inquired.
Ralph shook his head, and for a time they sat silent. The lines curved
themselves in semicircles above their eyes.
"She doesn't understand that one's got to take risks," he observed,
"I believe mother would take risks if she knew that Charles was the sort
of boy to profit by it."
"He's got brains, hasn't he?" said Ralph. His tone had taken on that
shade of pugnacity which suggested to his sister that some personal
grievance drove him to take the line he did. She wondered what it might
be, but at once recalled her mind, and assented.
"In some ways he's fearfully backward, though, compared with what you
were at his age. And he's difficult at home, too. He makes Molly slave
Ralph made a sound which belittled this particular argument. It was
plain to Joan that she had struck one of her brother's perverse moods,
and he was going to oppose whatever his mother said. He called her
"she," which was a proof of it. She sighed involuntarily, and the sigh
annoyed Ralph, and he exclaimed with irritation:
"It's pretty hard lines to stick a boy into an office at seventeen!"
"Nobody WANTS to stick him into an office," she said.
She, too, was becoming annoyed. She had spent the whole of the afternoon
discussing wearisome details of education and expense with her
mother, and she had come to her brother for help, encouraged, rather
irrationally, to expect help by the fact that he had been out somewhere,
she didn't know and didn't mean to ask where, all the afternoon.
Ralph was fond of his sister, and her irritation made him think how
unfair it was that all these burdens should be laid on her shoulders.
"The truth is," he observed gloomily, "that I ought to have accepted
Uncle John's offer. I should have been making six hundred a year by this
"I don't think that for a moment," Joan replied quickly, repenting of
her annoyance. "The question, to my mind, is, whether we couldn't cut
down our expenses in some way."
"A smaller house?"
"Fewer servants, perhaps."
Neither brother nor sister spoke with much conviction, and after
reflecting for a moment what these proposed reforms in a strictly
economical household meant, Ralph announced very decidedly:
"It's out of the question."
It was out of the question that she should put any more household work
upon herself. No, the hardship must fall on him, for he was determined
that his family should have as many chances of distinguishing themselves
as other families had--as the Hilberys had, for example. He believed
secretly and rather defiantly, for it was a fact not capable of proof,
that there was something very remarkable about his family.
"If mother won't run risks--"
"You really can't expect her to sell out again."
"She ought to look upon it as an investment; but if she won't, we must
find some other way, that's all."
A threat was contained in this sentence, and Joan knew, without asking,
what the threat was. In the course of his professional life, which now
extended over six or seven years, Ralph had saved, perhaps, three or
four hundred pounds. Considering the sacrifices he had made in order to
put by this sum it always amazed Joan to find that he used it to gamble
with, buying shares and selling them again, increasing it sometimes,
sometimes diminishing it, and always running the risk of losing every
penny of it in a day's disaster. But although she wondered, she could
not help loving him the better for his odd combination of Spartan
self-control and what appeared to her romantic and childish folly. Ralph
interested her more than any one else in the world, and she often broke
off in the middle of one of these economic discussions, in spite of
their gravity, to consider some fresh aspect of his character.
"I think you'd be foolish to risk your money on poor old Charles,"
she observed. "Fond as I am of him, he doesn't seem to me exactly
brilliant.... Besides, why should you be sacrificed?"
"My dear Joan," Ralph exclaimed, stretching himself out with a gesture
of impatience, "don't you see that we've all got to be sacrificed?
What's the use of denying it? What's the use of struggling against it?
So it always has been, so it always will be. We've got no money and we
never shall have any money. We shall just turn round in the mill every
day of our lives until we drop and die, worn out, as most people do,
when one comes to think of it."
Joan looked at him, opened her lips as if to speak, and closed them
again. Then she said, very tentatively:
"Aren't you happy, Ralph?"
"No. Are you? Perhaps I'm as happy as most people, though. God knows
whether I'm happy or not. What is happiness?"
He glanced with half a smile, in spite of his gloomy irritation, at his
sister. She looked, as usual, as if she were weighing one thing with
another, and balancing them together before she made up her mind.
"Happiness," she remarked at length enigmatically, rather as if she were
sampling the word, and then she paused. She paused for a considerable
space, as if she were considering happiness in all its bearings. "Hilda
was here to-day," she suddenly resumed, as if they had never mentioned
happiness. "She brought Bobbie--he's a fine boy now." Ralph observed,
with an amusement that had a tinge of irony in it, that she was now
going to sidle away quickly from this dangerous approach to intimacy on
to topics of general and family interest. Nevertheless, he reflected,
she was the only one of his family with whom he found it possible to
discuss happiness, although he might very well have discussed happiness
with Miss Hilbery at their first meeting. He looked critically at Joan,
and wished that she did not look so provincial or suburban in her high
green dress with the faded trimming, so patient, and almost resigned. He
began to wish to tell her about the Hilberys in order to abuse them,
for in the miniature battle which so often rages between two quickly
following impressions of life, the life of the Hilberys was getting the
better of the life of the Denhams in his mind, and he wanted to assure
himself that there was some quality in which Joan infinitely surpassed
Miss Hilbery. He should have felt that his own sister was more original,
and had greater vitality than Miss Hilbery had; but his main impression
of Katharine now was of a person of great vitality and composure; and at
the moment he could not perceive what poor dear Joan had gained from
the fact that she was the granddaughter of a man who kept a shop, and
herself earned her own living. The infinite dreariness and sordidness of
their life oppressed him in spite of his fundamental belief that, as a
family, they were somehow remarkable.
"Shall you talk to mother?" Joan inquired. "Because, you see, the
thing's got to be settled, one way or another. Charles must write to
Uncle John if he's going there."
Ralph sighed impatiently.
"I suppose it doesn't much matter either way," he exclaimed. "He's
doomed to misery in the long run."
A slight flush came into Joan's cheek.
"You know you're talking nonsense," she said. "It doesn't hurt any one
to have to earn their own living. I'm very glad I have to earn mine."
Ralph was pleased that she should feel this, and wished her to continue,
but he went on, perversely enough.
"Isn't that only because you've forgotten how to enjoy yourself? You
never have time for anything decent--"
"As for instance?"
"Well, going for walks, or music, or books, or seeing interesting
people. You never do anything that's really worth doing any more than I
"I always think you could make this room much nicer, if you liked," she
"What does it matter what sort of room I have when I'm forced to spend
all the best years of my life drawing up deeds in an office?"
"You said two days ago that you found the law so interesting."
"So it is if one could afford to know anything about it."
("That's Herbert only just going to bed now," Joan interposed, as a
door on the landing slammed vigorously. "And then he won't get up in the
Ralph looked at the ceiling, and shut his lips closely together. Why,
he wondered, could Joan never for one moment detach her mind from the
details of domestic life? It seemed to him that she was getting more and
more enmeshed in them, and capable of shorter and less frequent flights
into the outer world, and yet she was only thirty-three.
"D'you ever pay calls now?" he asked abruptly.
"I don't often have the time. Why do you ask?"
"It might be a good thing, to get to know new people, that's all."
"Poor Ralph!" said Joan suddenly, with a smile. "You think your sister's
getting very old and very dull--that's it, isn't it?"
"I don't think anything of the kind," he said stoutly, but he flushed.
"But you lead a dog's life, Joan. When you're not working in an office,
you're worrying over the rest of us. And I'm not much good to you, I'm
Joan rose, and stood for a moment warming her hands, and, apparently,
meditating as to whether she should say anything more or not. A feeling
of great intimacy united the brother and sister, and the semicircular
lines above their eyebrows disappeared. No, there was nothing more to
be said on either side. Joan brushed her brother's head with her hand as
she passed him, murmured good night, and left the room. For some minutes
after she had gone Ralph lay quiescent, resting his head on his hand,
but gradually his eyes filled with thought, and the line reappeared
on his brow, as the pleasant impression of companionship and ancient
sympathy waned, and he was left to think on alone.
After a time he opened his book, and read on steadily, glancing once or
twice at his watch, as if he had set himself a task to be accomplished
in a certain measure of time. Now and then he heard voices in the house,
and the closing of bedroom doors, which showed that the building, at
the top of which he sat, was inhabited in every one of its cells. When
midnight struck, Ralph shut his book, and with a candle in his hand,
descended to the ground floor, to ascertain that all lights were extinct
and all doors locked. It was a threadbare, well-worn house that he thus
examined, as if the inmates had grazed down all luxuriance and plenty to
the verge of decency; and in the night, bereft of life, bare places
and ancient blemishes were unpleasantly visible. Katharine Hilbery, he
thought, would condemn it off-hand.
Denham had accused Katharine Hilbery of belonging to one of the most
distinguished families in England, and if any one will take the trouble
to consult Mr. Galton's "Hereditary Genius," he will find that this
assertion is not far from the truth. The Alardyces, the Hilberys, the
Millingtons, and the Otways seem to prove that intellect is a possession
which can be tossed from one member of a certain group to another almost
indefinitely, and with apparent certainty that the brilliant gift will
be safely caught and held by nine out of ten of the privileged race.
They had been conspicuous judges and admirals, lawyers and servants of
the State for some years before the richness of the soil culminated
in the rarest flower that any family can boast, a great writer, a poet
eminent among the poets of England, a Richard Alardyce; and having
produced him, they proved once more the amazing virtues of their race
by proceeding unconcernedly again with their usual task of breeding
distinguished men. They had sailed with Sir John Franklin to the North
Pole, and ridden with Havelock to the Relief of Lucknow, and when they
were not lighthouses firmly based on rock for the guidance of their
generation, they were steady, serviceable candles, illuminating the
ordinary chambers of daily life. Whatever profession you looked
at, there was a Warburton or an Alardyce, a Millington or a Hilbery
somewhere in authority and prominence.
It may be said, indeed, that English society being what it is, no very
great merit is required, once you bear a well-known name, to put you
into a position where it is easier on the whole to be eminent than
obscure. And if this is true of the sons, even the daughters,
even in the nineteenth century, are apt to become people of
importance--philanthropists and educationalists if they are spinsters,
and the wives of distinguished men if they marry. It is true that there
were several lamentable exceptions to this rule in the Alardyce group,
which seems to indicate that the cadets of such houses go more rapidly
to the bad than the children of ordinary fathers and mothers, as if it
were somehow a relief to them. But, on the whole, in these first years
of the twentieth century, the Alardyces and their relations were keeping
their heads well above water. One finds them at the tops of professions,
with letters after their names; they sit in luxurious public offices,
with private secretaries attached to them; they write solid books in
dark covers, issued by the presses of the two great universities, and
when one of them dies the chances are that another of them writes his
Now the source of this nobility was, of course, the poet, and his
immediate descendants, therefore, were invested with greater luster than
the collateral branches. Mrs. Hilbery, in virtue of her position as
the only child of the poet, was spiritually the head of the family, and
Katharine, her daughter, had some superior rank among all the cousins
and connections, the more so because she was an only child. The
Alardyces had married and intermarried, and their offspring were
generally profuse, and had a way of meeting regularly in each
other's houses for meals and family celebrations which had acquired
a semi-sacred character, and were as regularly observed as days of
feasting and fasting in the Church.
In times gone by, Mrs. Hilbery had known all the poets, all the
novelists, all the beautiful women and distinguished men of her time.
These being now either dead or secluded in their infirm glory, she
made her house a meeting-place for her own relations, to whom she would
lament the passing of the great days of the nineteenth century, when
every department of letters and art was represented in England by two or
three illustrious names. Where are their successors? she would ask, and
the absence of any poet or painter or novelist of the true caliber at
the present day was a text upon which she liked to ruminate, in a sunset
mood of benignant reminiscence, which it would have been hard to disturb
had there been need. But she was far from visiting their inferiority
upon the younger generation. She welcomed them very heartily to her
house, told them her stories, gave them sovereigns and ices and good
advice, and weaved round them romances which had generally no likeness
to the truth.
The quality of her birth oozed into Katharine's consciousness from a
dozen different sources as soon as she was able to perceive anything.
Above her nursery fireplace hung a photograph of her grandfather's tomb
in Poets' Corner, and she was told in one of those moments of grown-up
confidence which are so tremendously impressive to the child's mind,
that he was buried there because he was a "good and great man." Later,
on an anniversary, she was taken by her mother through the fog in a
hansom cab, and given a large bunch of bright, sweet-scented flowers
to lay upon his tomb. The candles in the church, the singing and the
booming of the organ, were all, she thought, in his honor. Again and
again she was brought down into the drawing-room to receive the blessing
of some awful distinguished old man, who sat, even to her childish eye,
somewhat apart, all gathered together and clutching a stick, unlike an
ordinary visitor in her father's own arm-chair, and her father himself
was there, unlike himself, too, a little excited and very polite. These
formidable old creatures used to take her in their arms, look very
keenly in her eyes, and then to bless her, and tell her that she must
mind and be a good girl, or detect a look in her face something like
Richard's as a small boy. That drew down upon her her mother's fervent
embrace, and she was sent back to the nursery very proud, and with a
mysterious sense of an important and unexplained state of things, which
time, by degrees, unveiled to her.
There were always visitors--uncles and aunts and cousins "from India,"
to be reverenced for their relationship alone, and others of the
solitary and formidable class, whom she was enjoined by her parents to
"remember all your life." By these means, and from hearing constant
talk of great men and their works, her earliest conceptions of the
world included an august circle of beings to whom she gave the names of
Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, and so on, who were, for some
reason, much more nearly akin to the Hilberys than to other people. They
made a kind of boundary to her vision of life, and played a considerable
part in determining her scale of good and bad in her own small affairs.
Her descent from one of these gods was no surprise to her, but matter
for satisfaction, until, as the years wore on, the privileges of her
lot were taken for granted, and certain drawbacks made themselves very
manifest. Perhaps it is a little depressing to inherit not lands but an
example of intellectual and spiritual virtue; perhaps the conclusiveness
of a great ancestor is a little discouraging to those who run the risk
of comparison with him. It seems as if, having flowered so splendidly,
nothing now remained possible but a steady growth of good, green stalk
and leaf. For these reasons, and for others, Katharine had her moments
of despondency. The glorious past, in which men and women grew to
unexampled size, intruded too much upon the present, and dwarfed it too
consistently, to be altogether encouraging to one forced to make her
experiment in living when the great age was dead.
She was drawn to dwell upon these matters more than was natural, in the
first place owing to her mother's absorption in them, and in the second
because a great part of her time was spent in imagination with the dead,
since she was helping her mother to produce a life of the great poet.
When Katharine was seventeen or eighteen--that is to say, some ten years
ago--her mother had enthusiastically announced that now, with a daughter
to help her, the biography would soon be published. Notices to this
effect found their way into the literary papers, and for some time
Katharine worked with a sense of great pride and achievement.
Lately, however, it had seemed to her that they were making no way at
all, and this was the more tantalizing because no one with the ghost of
a literary temperament could doubt but that they had materials for one
of the greatest biographies that has ever been written. Shelves and
boxes bulged with the precious stuff. The most private lives of the
most interesting people lay furled in yellow bundles of close-written
manuscript. In addition to this Mrs. Hilbery had in her own head as
bright a vision of that time as now remained to the living, and could
give those flashes and thrills to the old words which gave them almost
the substance of flesh. She had no difficulty in writing, and covered a
page every morning as instinctively as a thrush sings, but nevertheless,
with all this to urge and inspire, and the most devout intention
to accomplish the work, the book still remained unwritten. Papers
accumulated without much furthering their task, and in dull moments
Katharine had her doubts whether they would ever produce anything at all
fit to lay before the public. Where did the difficulty lie? Not in their
materials, alas! nor in their ambitions, but in something more profound,
in her own inaptitude, and above all, in her mother's temperament.
Katharine would calculate that she had never known her write for more
than ten minutes at a time. Ideas came to her chiefly when she was in
motion. She liked to perambulate the room with a duster in her hand,
with which she stopped to polish the backs of already lustrous books,
musing and romancing as she did so. Suddenly the right phrase or the
penetrating point of view would suggest itself, and she would drop her
duster and write ecstatically for a few breathless moments; and then the
mood would pass away, and the duster would be sought for, and the old
books polished again. These spells of inspiration never burnt steadily,
but flickered over the gigantic mass of the subject as capriciously as
a will-o'-the-wisp, lighting now on this point, now on that. It was as
much as Katharine could do to keep the pages of her mother's manuscript
in order, but to sort them so that the sixteenth year of Richard
Alardyce's life succeeded the fifteenth was beyond her skill. And
yet they were so brilliant, these paragraphs, so nobly phrased, so
lightning-like in their illumination, that the dead seemed to crowd the
very room. Read continuously, they produced a sort of vertigo, and set
her asking herself in despair what on earth she was to do with them? Her
mother refused, also, to face the radical questions of what to leave in
and what to leave out. She could not decide how far the public was to
be told the truth about the poet's separation from his wife. She drafted
passages to suit either case, and then liked each so well that she could
not decide upon the rejection of either.
But the book must be written. It was a duty that they owed the world,
and to Katharine, at least, it meant more than that, for if they could
not between them get this one book accomplished they had no right to
their privileged position. Their increment became yearly more and
more unearned. Besides, it must be established indisputably that her
grandfather was a very great man.
By the time she was twenty-seven, these thoughts had become very
familiar to her. They trod their way through her mind as she sat
opposite her mother of a morning at a table heaped with bundles of
old letters and well supplied with pencils, scissors, bottles of gum,
india-rubber bands, large envelopes, and other appliances for the
manufacture of books. Shortly before Ralph Denham's visit, Katharine had
resolved to try the effect of strict rules upon her mother's habits
of literary composition. They were to be seated at their tables every
morning at ten o'clock, with a clean-swept morning of empty, secluded
hours before them. They were to keep their eyes fast upon the paper, and
nothing was to tempt them to speech, save at the stroke of the hour when
ten minutes for relaxation were to be allowed them. If these rules
were observed for a year, she made out on a sheet of paper that the
completion of the book was certain, and she laid her scheme before her
mother with a feeling that much of the task was already accomplished.
Mrs. Hilbery examined the sheet of paper very carefully. Then she
clapped her hands and exclaimed enthusiastically:
"Well done, Katharine! What a wonderful head for business you've got!
Now I shall keep this before me, and every day I shall make a little
mark in my pocketbook, and on the last day of all--let me think, what
shall we do to celebrate the last day of all? If it weren't the winter
we could take a jaunt to Italy. They say Switzerland's very lovely in
the snow, except for the cold. But, as you say, the great thing is to
finish the book. Now let me see--"
When they inspected her manuscripts, which Katharine had put in order,
they found a state of things well calculated to dash their spirits, if
they had not just resolved on reform. They found, to begin with, a great
variety of very imposing paragraphs with which the biography was
to open; many of these, it is true, were unfinished, and resembled
triumphal arches standing upon one leg, but, as Mrs. Hilbery observed,
they could be patched up in ten minutes, if she gave her mind to it.
Next, there was an account of the ancient home of the Alardyces, or
rather, of spring in Suffolk, which was very beautifully written,
although not essential to the story. However, Katharine had put together
a string of names and dates, so that the poet was capably brought into
the world, and his ninth year was reached without further mishap. After
that, Mrs. Hilbery wished, for sentimental reasons, to introduce the
recollections of a very fluent old lady, who had been brought up in the
same village, but these Katharine decided must go. It might be advisable
to introduce here a sketch of contemporary poetry contributed by Mr.
Hilbery, and thus terse and learned and altogether out of keeping with
the rest, but Mrs. Hilbery was of opinion that it was too bare, and made
one feel altogether like a good little girl in a lecture-room, which was
not at all in keeping with her father. It was put on one side. Now came
the period of his early manhood, when various affairs of the heart must
either be concealed or revealed; here again Mrs. Hilbery was of
two minds, and a thick packet of manuscript was shelved for further
Several years were now altogether omitted, because Mrs. Hilbery had
found something distasteful to her in that period, and had preferred to
dwell upon her own recollections as a child. After this, it seemed
to Katharine that the book became a wild dance of will-o'-the-wisps,
without form or continuity, without coherence even, or any attempt to
make a narrative. Here were twenty pages upon her grandfather's taste in
hats, an essay upon contemporary china, a long account of a summer day's
expedition into the country, when they had missed their train, together
with fragmentary visions of all sorts of famous men and women, which
seemed to be partly imaginary and partly authentic. There were,
moreover, thousands of letters, and a mass of faithful recollections
contributed by old friends, which had grown yellow now in their
envelopes, but must be placed somewhere, or their feelings would be
hurt. So many volumes had been written about the poet since his death
that she had also to dispose of a great number of misstatements, which
involved minute researches and much correspondence. Sometimes Katharine
brooded, half crushed, among her papers; sometimes she felt that it was
necessary for her very existence that she should free herself from the
past; at others, that the past had completely displaced the present,
which, when one resumed life after a morning among the dead, proved to
be of an utterly thin and inferior composition.
The worst of it was that she had no aptitude for literature. She did
not like phrases. She had even some natural antipathy to that process of
self-examination, that perpetual effort to understand one's own feeling,
and express it beautifully, fitly, or energetically in language, which
constituted so great a part of her mother's existence. She was, on the
contrary, inclined to be silent; she shrank from expressing herself even
in talk, let alone in writing. As this disposition was highly convenient
in a family much given to the manufacture of phrases, and seemed to
argue a corresponding capacity for action, she was, from her childhood
even, put in charge of household affairs. She had the reputation, which
nothing in her manner contradicted, of being the most practical of
people. Ordering meals, directing servants, paying bills, and so
contriving that every clock ticked more or less accurately in time, and
a number of vases were always full of fresh flowers was supposed to be a
natural endowment of hers, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery often observed that
it was poetry the wrong side out. From a very early age, too, she had
to exert herself in another capacity; she had to counsel and help and
generally sustain her mother. Mrs. Hilbery would have been perfectly
well able to sustain herself if the world had been what the world is
not. She was beautifully adapted for life in another planet. But the
natural genius she had for conducting affairs there was of no real use
to her here. Her watch, for example, was a constant source of surprise
to her, and at the age of sixty-five she was still amazed at the
ascendancy which rules and reasons exerted over the lives of other
people. She had never learnt her lesson, and had constantly to be
punished for her ignorance. But as that ignorance was combined with a
fine natural insight which saw deep whenever it saw at all, it was not
possible to write Mrs. Hilbery off among the dunces; on the contrary,
she had a way of seeming the wisest person in the room. But, on the
whole, she found it very necessary to seek support in her daughter.
Katharine, thus, was a member of a very great profession which has, as
yet, no title and very little recognition, although the labor of mill
and factory is, perhaps, no more severe and the results of less benefit
to the world. She lived at home. She did it very well, too. Any one
coming to the house in Cheyne Walk felt that here was an orderly place,
shapely, controlled--a place where life had been trained to show to
the best advantage, and, though composed of different elements, made to
appear harmonious and with a character of its own. Perhaps it was
the chief triumph of Katharine's art that Mrs. Hilbery's character
predominated. She and Mr. Hilbery appeared to be a rich background for
her mother's more striking qualities.
Silence being, thus, both natural to her and imposed upon her, the only
other remark that her mother's friends were in the habit of making about
it was that it was neither a stupid silence nor an indifferent silence.
But to what quality it owed its character, since character of some sort
it had, no one troubled themselves to inquire. It was understood that
she was helping her mother to produce a great book. She was known to
manage the household. She was certainly beautiful. That accounted for
her satisfactorily. But it would have been a surprise, not only to other
people but to Katharine herself, if some magic watch could have taken
count of the moments spent in an entirely different occupation from her
ostensible one. Sitting with faded papers before her, she took part in
a series of scenes such as the taming of wild ponies upon the American
prairies, or the conduct of a vast ship in a hurricane round a black
promontory of rock, or in others more peaceful, but marked by her
complete emancipation from her present surroundings and, needless to
say, by her surpassing ability in her new vocation. When she was rid of
the pretense of paper and pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned
her attention in a more legitimate direction, though, strangely enough,
she would rather have confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and
prairie than the fact that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early
in the morning or sat up late at night to... work at mathematics. No
force on earth would have made her confess that. Her actions when thus
engaged were furtive and secretive, like those of some nocturnal animal.
Steps had only to sound on the staircase, and she slipped her paper
between the leaves of a great Greek dictionary which she had purloined
from her father's room for this purpose. It was only at night, indeed,
that she felt secure enough from surprise to concentrate her mind to the
Perhaps the unwomanly nature of the science made her instinctively wish
to conceal her love of it. But the more profound reason was that in her
mind mathematics were directly opposed to literature. She would not
have cared to confess how infinitely she preferred the exactitude, the
star-like impersonality, of figures to the confusion, agitation, and
vagueness of the finest prose. There was something a little unseemly in
thus opposing the tradition of her family; something that made her feel
wrong-headed, and thus more than ever disposed to shut her desires away
from view and cherish them with extraordinary fondness. Again and again
she was thinking of some problem when she should have been thinking
of her grandfather. Waking from these trances, she would see that her
mother, too, had lapsed into some dream almost as visionary as her own,
for the people who played their parts in it had long been numbered
among the dead. But, seeing her own state mirrored in her mother's face,
Katharine would shake herself awake with a sense of irritation. Her
mother was the last person she wished to resemble, much though she
admired her. Her common sense would assert itself almost brutally, and
Mrs. Hilbery, looking at her with her odd sidelong glance, that was half
malicious and half tender, would liken her to "your wicked old Uncle
Judge Peter, who used to be heard delivering sentence of death in the
bathroom. Thank Heaven, Katharine, I've not a drop of HIM in me!"
At about nine o'clock at night, on every alternate Wednesday, Miss Mary
Datchet made the same resolve, that she would never again lend her
rooms for any purposes whatsoever. Being, as they were, rather large and
conveniently situated in a street mostly dedicated to offices off the
Strand, people who wished to meet, either for purposes of enjoyment,
or to discuss art, or to reform the State, had a way of suggesting that
Mary had better be asked to lend them her rooms. She always met the
request with the same frown of well-simulated annoyance, which presently
dissolved in a kind of half-humorous, half-surly shrug, as of a large
dog tormented by children who shakes his ears. She would lend her room,
but only on condition that all the arrangements were made by her. This
fortnightly meeting of a society for the free discussion of everything
entailed a great deal of moving, and pulling, and ranging of furniture
against the wall, and placing of breakable and precious things in safe
places. Miss Datchet was quite capable of lifting a kitchen table on
her back, if need were, for although well-proportioned and
dressed becomingly, she had the appearance of unusual strength and
She was some twenty-five years of age, but looked older because she
earned, or intended to earn, her own living, and had already lost the
look of the irresponsible spectator, and taken on that of the private in
the army of workers. Her gestures seemed to have a certain purpose, the
muscles round eyes and lips were set rather firmly, as though the senses
had undergone some discipline, and were held ready for a call on them.
She had contracted two faint lines between her eyebrows, not from
anxiety but from thought, and it was quite evident that all the feminine
instincts of pleasing, soothing, and charming were crossed by others in
no way peculiar to her sex. For the rest she was brown-eyed, a little
clumsy in movement, and suggested country birth and a descent from
respectable hard-working ancestors, who had been men of faith and
integrity rather than doubters or fanatics.
At the end of a fairly hard day's work it was certainly something of an
effort to clear one's room, to pull the mattress off one's bed, and lay
it on the floor, to fill a pitcher with cold coffee, and to sweep a long
table clear for plates and cups and saucers, with pyramids of little
pink biscuits between them; but when these alterations were effected,
Mary felt a lightness of spirit come to her, as if she had put off the
stout stuff of her working hours and slipped over her entire being some
vesture of thin, bright silk. She knelt before the fire and looked out
into the room. The light fell softly, but with clear radiance, through
shades of yellow and blue paper, and the room, which was set with one
or two sofas resembling grassy mounds in their lack of shape, looked
unusually large and quiet. Mary was led to think of the heights of
a Sussex down, and the swelling green circle of some camp of ancient
warriors. The moonlight would be falling there so peacefully now, and
she could fancy the rough pathway of silver upon the wrinkled skin of
"And here we are," she said, half aloud, half satirically, yet with
evident pride, "talking about art."
She pulled a basket containing balls of differently colored wools and a
pair of stockings which needed darning towards her, and began to set her
fingers to work; while her mind, reflecting the lassitude of her body,
went on perversely, conjuring up visions of solitude and quiet, and she
pictured herself laying aside her knitting and walking out on to the
down, and hearing nothing but the sheep cropping the grass close to the
roots, while the shadows of the little trees moved very slightly this
way and that in the moonlight, as the breeze went through them. But
she was perfectly conscious of her present situation, and derived some
pleasure from the reflection that she could rejoice equally in solitude,
and in the presence of the many very different people who were now
making their way, by divers paths, across London to the spot where she
As she ran her needle in and out of the wool, she thought of the
various stages in her own life which made her present position seem the
culmination of successive miracles. She thought of her clerical father
in his country parsonage, and of her mother's death, and of her own
determination to obtain education, and of her college life, which had
merged, not so very long ago, in the wonderful maze of London, which
still seemed to her, in spite of her constitutional level-headedness,
like a vast electric light, casting radiance upon the myriads of men and
women who crowded round it. And here she was at the very center of it
all, that center which was constantly in the minds of people in remote
Canadian forests and on the plains of India, when their thoughts turned
to England. The nine mellow strokes, by which she was now apprised of
the hour, were a message from the great clock at Westminster itself. As
the last of them died away, there was a firm knocking on her own door,
and she rose and opened it. She returned to the room, with a look of
steady pleasure in her eyes, and she was talking to Ralph Denham, who
"Alone?" he said, as if he were pleasantly surprised by that fact.
"I am sometimes alone," she replied.
"But you expect a great many people," he added, looking round him. "It's
like a room on the stage. Who is it to-night?"
"William Rodney, upon the Elizabethan use of metaphor. I expect a good
solid paper, with plenty of quotations from the classics."
Ralph warmed his hands at the fire, which was flapping bravely in the
grate, while Mary took up her stocking again.
"I suppose you are the only woman in London who darns her own
stockings," he observed.
"I'm only one of a great many thousands really," she replied, "though I
must admit that I was thinking myself very remarkable when you came in.
And now that you're here I don't think myself remarkable at all. How
horrid of you! But I'm afraid you're much more remarkable than I am.
You've done much more than I've done."
"If that's your standard, you've nothing to be proud of," said Ralph
"Well, I must reflect with Emerson that it's being and not doing that
matters," she continued.
"Emerson?" Ralph exclaimed, with derision. "You don't mean to say you
"Perhaps it wasn't Emerson; but why shouldn't I read Emerson?" she
asked, with a tinge of anxiety.
"There's no reason that I know of. It's the combination that's
odd--books and stockings. The combination is very odd." But it seemed
to recommend itself to him. Mary gave a little laugh, expressive of
happiness, and the particular stitches that she was now putting into her
work appeared to her to be done with singular grace and felicity. She
held out the stocking and looked at it approvingly.
"You always say that," she said. "I assure you it's a common
'combination,' as you call it, in the houses of the clergy. The only
thing that's odd about me is that I enjoy them both--Emerson and the
A knock was heard, and Ralph exclaimed:
"Damn those people! I wish they weren't coming!"
"It's only Mr. Turner, on the floor below," said Mary, and she felt
grateful to Mr. Turner for having alarmed Ralph, and for having given a
"Will there be a crowd?" Ralph asked, after a pause.
"There'll be the Morrises and the Crashaws, and Dick Osborne, and
Septimus, and all that set. Katharine Hilbery is coming, by the way, so
William Rodney told me."
"Katharine Hilbery!" Ralph exclaimed.
"You know her?" Mary asked, with some surprise.
"I went to a tea-party at her house."
Mary pressed him to tell her all about it, and Ralph was not at all
unwilling to exhibit proofs of the extent of his knowledge. He described
the scene with certain additions and exaggerations which interested Mary
"But, in spite of what you say, I do admire her," she said. "I've only
seen her once or twice, but she seems to me to be what one calls a
"I didn't mean to abuse her. I only felt that she wasn't very
sympathetic to me."
"They say she's going to marry that queer creature Rodney."
"Marry Rodney? Then she must be more deluded than I thought her."
"Now that's my door, all right," Mary exclaimed, carefully putting
her wools away, as a succession of knocks reverberated unnecessarily,
accompanied by a sound of people stamping their feet and laughing. A
moment later the room was full of young men and women, who came in with
a peculiar look of expectation, exclaimed "Oh!" when they saw Denham,
and then stood still, gaping rather foolishly.
The room very soon contained between twenty and thirty people, who found
seats for the most part upon the floor, occupying the mattresses, and
hunching themselves together into triangular shapes. They were all young
and some of them seemed to make a protest by their hair and dress, and
something somber and truculent in the expression of their faces, against
the more normal type, who would have passed unnoticed in an omnibus or
an underground railway. It was notable that the talk was confined to
groups, and was, at first, entirely spasmodic in character, and muttered
in undertones as if the speakers were suspicious of their fellow-guests.
Katharine Hilbery came in rather late, and took up a position on
the floor, with her back against the wall. She looked round quickly,
recognized about half a dozen people, to whom she nodded, but failed to
see Ralph, or, if so, had already forgotten to attach any name to him.
But in a second these heterogeneous elements were all united by the
voice of Mr. Rodney, who suddenly strode up to the table, and began very
rapidly in high-strained tones:
"In undertaking to speak of the Elizabethan use of metaphor in poetry--"
All the different heads swung slightly or steadied themselves into a
position in which they could gaze straight at the speaker's face, and
the same rather solemn expression was visible on all of them. But,
at the same time, even the faces that were most exposed to view, and
therefore most tautly under control, disclosed a sudden impulsive tremor
which, unless directly checked, would have developed into an outburst of
laughter. The first sight of Mr. Rodney was irresistibly ludicrous.
He was very red in the face, whether from the cool November night or
nervousness, and every movement, from the way he wrung his hands to the
way he jerked his head to right and left, as though a vision drew him
now to the door, now to the window, bespoke his horrible discomfort
under the stare of so many eyes. He was scrupulously well dressed, and
a pearl in the center of his tie seemed to give him a touch of
aristocratic opulence. But the rather prominent eyes and the impulsive
stammering manner, which seemed to indicate a torrent of ideas
intermittently pressing for utterance and always checked in their course
by a clutch of nervousness, drew no pity, as in the case of a more
imposing personage, but a desire to laugh, which was, however, entirely
lacking in malice. Mr. Rodney was evidently so painfully conscious of
the oddity of his appearance, and his very redness and the starts to
which his body was liable gave such proof of his own discomfort,
that there was something endearing in this ridiculous susceptibility,
although most people would probably have echoed Denham's private
exclamation, "Fancy marrying a creature like that!"
His paper was carefully written out, but in spite of this precaution
Mr. Rodney managed to turn over two sheets instead of one, to choose the
wrong sentence where two were written together, and to discover his own
handwriting suddenly illegible. When he found himself possessed of a
coherent passage, he shook it at his audience almost aggressively, and
then fumbled for another. After a distressing search a fresh discovery
would be made, and produced in the same way, until, by means of repeated
attacks, he had stirred his audience to a degree of animation quite
remarkable in these gatherings. Whether they were stirred by his
enthusiasm for poetry or by the contortions which a human being was
going through for their benefit, it would be hard to say. At length Mr.
Rodney sat down impulsively in the middle of a sentence, and, after a
pause of bewilderment, the audience expressed its relief at being able
to laugh aloud in a decided outburst of applause.
Mr. Rodney acknowledged this with a wild glance round him, and, instead
of waiting to answer questions, he jumped up, thrust himself through
the seated bodies into the corner where Katharine was sitting, and
exclaimed, very audibly:
"Well, Katharine, I hope I've made a big enough fool of myself even for
you! It was terrible! terrible! terrible!"
"Hush! You must answer their questions," Katharine whispered, desiring,
at all costs, to keep him quiet. Oddly enough, when the speaker was no
longer in front of them, there seemed to be much that was suggestive in
what he had said. At any rate, a pale-faced young man with sad eyes was
already on his feet, delivering an accurately worded speech with perfect
composure. William Rodney listened with a curious lifting of his upper
lip, although his face was still quivering slightly with emotion.
"Idiot!" he whispered. "He's misunderstood every word I said!"
"Well then, answer him," Katharine whispered back.
"No, I shan't! They'd only laugh at me. Why did I let you persuade me
that these sort of people care for literature?" he continued.
There was much to be said both for and against Mr. Rodney's paper. It
had been crammed with assertions that such-and-such passages, taken
liberally from English, French, and Italian, are the supreme pearls of
literature. Further, he was fond of using metaphors which, compounded
in the study, were apt to sound either cramped or out of place as he
delivered them in fragments. Literature was a fresh garland of spring
flowers, he said, in which yew-berries and the purple nightshade mingled
with the various tints of the anemone; and somehow or other this garland
encircled marble brows. He had read very badly some very beautiful
quotations. But through his manner and his confusion of language there
had emerged some passion of feeling which, as he spoke, formed in the
majority of the audience a little picture or an idea which each now was
eager to give expression to. Most of the people there proposed to spend
their lives in the practice either of writing or painting, and merely
by looking at them it could be seen that, as they listened to Mr. Purvis
first, and then to Mr. Greenhalgh, they were seeing something done by
these gentlemen to a possession which they thought to be their own. One
person after another rose, and, as with an ill-balanced axe, attempted
to hew out his conception of art a little more clearly, and sat down
with the feeling that, for some reason which he could not grasp, his
strokes had gone awry. As they sat down they turned almost invariably to
the person sitting next them, and rectified and continued what they
had just said in public. Before long, therefore, the groups on the
mattresses and the groups on the chairs were all in communication with
each other, and Mary Datchet, who had begun to darn stockings again,
stooped down and remarked to Ralph:
"That was what I call a first-rate paper."
Both of them instinctively turned their eyes in the direction of the
reader of the paper. He was lying back against the wall, with his
eyes apparently shut, and his chin sunk upon his collar. Katharine was
turning over the pages of his manuscript as if she were looking for
some passage that had particularly struck her, and had a difficulty in
"Let's go and tell him how much we liked it," said Mary, thus suggesting
an action which Ralph was anxious to take, though without her he would
have been too proud to do it, for he suspected that he had more interest
in Katharine than she had in him.
"That was a very interesting paper," Mary began, without any shyness,
seating herself on the floor opposite to Rodney and Katharine. "Will you
lend me the manuscript to read in peace?"
Rodney, who had opened his eyes on their approach, regarded her for a
moment in suspicious silence.
"Do you say that merely to disguise the fact of my ridiculous failure?"
Katharine looked up from her reading with a smile.
"He says he doesn't mind what we think of him," she remarked. "He says
we don't care a rap for art of any kind."
"I asked her to pity me, and she teases me!" Rodney exclaimed.
"I don't intend to pity you, Mr. Rodney," Mary remarked, kindly, but
firmly. "When a paper's a failure, nobody says anything, whereas now,
just listen to them!"
The sound, which filled the room, with its hurry of short syllables, its
sudden pauses, and its sudden attacks, might be compared to some animal
hubbub, frantic and inarticulate.
"D'you think that's all about my paper?" Rodney inquired, after a
moment's attention, with a distinct brightening of expression.
"Of course it is," said Mary. "It was a very suggestive paper."
She turned to Denham for confirmation, and he corroborated her.
"It's the ten minutes after a paper is read that proves whether it's
been a success or not," he said. "If I were you, Rodney, I should be
very pleased with myself."
This commendation seemed to comfort Mr. Rodney completely, and he began
to bethink him of all the passages in his paper which deserved to be
"Did you agree at all, Denham, with what I said about Shakespeare's
later use of imagery? I'm afraid I didn't altogether make my meaning
Here he gathered himself together, and by means of a series of frog-like
jerks, succeeded in bringing himself close to Denham.
Denham answered him with the brevity which is the result of having
another sentence in the mind to be addressed to another person. He
wished to say to Katharine: "Did you remember to get that picture glazed
before your aunt came to dinner?" but, besides having to answer Rodney,
he was not sure that the remark, with its assertion of intimacy, would
not strike Katharine as impertinent. She was listening to what some one
in another group was saying. Rodney, meanwhile, was talking about the
He was a curious-looking man since, upon first sight, especially if
he chanced to be talking with animation, he appeared, in some way,
ridiculous; but, next moment, in repose, his face, with its large nose,
thin cheeks and lips expressing the utmost sensibility, somehow recalled
a Roman head bound with laurel, cut upon a circle of semi-transparent
reddish stone. It had dignity and character. By profession a clerk in
a Government office, he was one of those martyred spirits to whom
literature is at once a source of divine joy and of almost intolerable
irritation. Not content to rest in their love of it, they must attempt
to practise it themselves, and they are generally endowed with very
little facility in composition. They condemn whatever they produce.
Moreover, the violence of their feelings is such that they seldom meet
with adequate sympathy, and being rendered very sensitive by their
cultivated perceptions, suffer constant slights both to their own
persons and to the thing they worship. But Rodney could never resist
making trial of the sympathies of any one who seemed favorably disposed,
and Denham's praise had stimulated his very susceptible vanity.
"You remember the passage just before the death of the Duchess?" he
continued, edging still closer to Denham, and adjusting his elbow and
knee in an incredibly angular combination. Here, Katharine, who had been
cut off by these maneuvers from all communication with the outer world,
rose, and seated herself upon the window-sill, where she was joined by
Mary Datchet. The two young women could thus survey the whole party.
Denham looked after them, and made as if he were tearing handfuls of
grass up by the roots from the carpet. But as it fell in accurately
with his conception of life that all one's desires were bound to be
frustrated, he concentrated his mind upon literature, and determined,
philosophically, to get what he could out of that.
Katharine was pleasantly excited. A variety of courses was open to her.
She knew several people slightly, and at any moment one of them might
rise from the floor and come and speak to her; on the other hand, she
might select somebody for herself, or she might strike into Rodney's
discourse, to which she was intermittently attentive. She was conscious
of Mary's body beside her, but, at the same time, the consciousness of
being both of them women made it unnecessary to speak to her. But Mary,
feeling, as she had said, that Katharine was a "personality," wished so
much to speak to her that in a few moments she did.
"They're exactly like a flock of sheep, aren't they?" she said,
referring to the noise that rose from the scattered bodies beneath her.
Katharine turned and smiled.
"I wonder what they're making such a noise about?" she said.
"The Elizabethans, I suppose."
"No, I don't think it's got anything to do with the Elizabethans. There!
Didn't you hear them say, 'Insurance Bill'?"
"I wonder why men always talk about politics?" Mary speculated. "I
suppose, if we had votes, we should, too."
"I dare say we should. And you spend your life in getting us votes,
"I do," said Mary, stoutly. "From ten to six every day I'm at it."
Katharine looked at Ralph Denham, who was now pounding his way through
the metaphysics of metaphor with Rodney, and was reminded of his talk
that Sunday afternoon. She connected him vaguely with Mary.
"I suppose you're one of the people who think we should all have
professions," she said, rather distantly, as if feeling her way among
the phantoms of an unknown world.
"Oh dear no," said Mary at once.
"Well, I think I do," Katharine continued, with half a sigh. "You will
always be able to say that you've done something, whereas, in a crowd
like this, I feel rather melancholy."
"In a crowd? Why in a crowd?" Mary asked, deepening the two lines
between her eyes, and hoisting herself nearer to Katharine upon the
"Don't you see how many different things these people care about? And
I want to beat them down--I only mean," she corrected herself, "that I
want to assert myself, and it's difficult, if one hasn't a profession."
Mary smiled, thinking that to beat people down was a process that should
present no difficulty to Miss Katharine Hilbery. They knew each other
so slightly that the beginning of intimacy, which Katharine seemed to
initiate by talking about herself, had something solemn in it, and they
were silent, as if to decide whether to proceed or not. They tested the
"Ah, but I want to trample upon their prostrate bodies!" Katharine
announced, a moment later, with a laugh, as if at the train of thought
which had led her to this conclusion.
"One doesn't necessarily trample upon people's bodies because one runs
an office," Mary remarked.
"No. Perhaps not," Katharine replied. The conversation lapsed, and Mary
saw Katharine looking out into the room rather moodily with closed lips,
the desire to talk about herself or to initiate a friendship having,
apparently, left her. Mary was struck by her capacity for being thus
easily silent, and occupied with her own thoughts. It was a habit that
spoke of loneliness and a mind thinking for itself. When Katharine
remained silent Mary was slightly embarrassed.
"Yes, they're very like sheep," she repeated, foolishly.
"And yet they are very clever--at least," Katharine added, "I suppose
they have all read Webster."
"Surely you don't think that a proof of cleverness? I've read Webster,
I've read Ben Jonson, but I don't think myself clever--not exactly, at
"I think you must be very clever," Katharine observed.
"Why? Because I run an office?"
"I wasn't thinking of that. I was thinking how you live alone in this
room, and have parties."
Mary reflected for a second.
"It means, chiefly, a power of being disagreeable to one's own family,
I think. I have that, perhaps. I didn't want to live at home, and I
told my father. He didn't like it.... But then I have a sister, and you
haven't, have you?"
"No, I haven't any sisters."
"You are writing a life of your grandfather?" Mary pursued.
Katharine seemed instantly to be confronted by some familiar thought
from which she wished to escape. She replied, "Yes, I am helping my
mother," in such a way that Mary felt herself baffled, and put back
again into the position in which she had been at the beginning of their
talk. It seemed to her that Katharine possessed a curious power of
drawing near and receding, which sent alternate emotions through her
far more quickly than was usual, and kept her in a condition of
curious alertness. Desiring to classify her, Mary bethought her of the
convenient term "egoist."
"She's an egoist," she said to herself, and stored that word up to
give to Ralph one day when, as it would certainly fall out, they were
discussing Miss Hilbery.
"Heavens, what a mess there'll be to-morrow morning!" Katharine
exclaimed. "I hope you don't sleep in this room, Miss Datchet?"
"What are you laughing at?" Katharine demanded.
"I won't tell you."
"Let me guess. You were laughing because you thought I'd changed the
"Because you think--" She paused.
"If you want to know, I was laughing at the way you said Miss Datchet."
"Mary, then. Mary, Mary, Mary."
So saying, Katharine drew back the curtain in order, perhaps, to conceal
the momentary flush of pleasure which is caused by coming perceptibly
nearer to another person.
"Mary Datchet," said Mary. "It's not such an imposing name as Katharine
Hilbery, I'm afraid."
They both looked out of the window, first up at the hard silver moon,
stationary among a hurry of little grey-blue clouds, and then down upon
the roofs of London, with all their upright chimneys, and then below
them at the empty moonlit pavement of the street, upon which the joint
of each paving-stone was clearly marked out. Mary then saw Katharine
raise her eyes again to the moon, with a contemplative look in them, as
though she were setting that moon against the moon of other nights,
held in memory. Some one in the room behind them made a joke about
star-gazing, which destroyed their pleasure in it, and they looked back
into the room again.
Ralph had been watching for this moment, and he instantly produced his
"I wonder, Miss Hilbery, whether you remembered to get that picture
glazed?" His voice showed that the question was one that had been
"Oh, you idiot!" Mary exclaimed, very nearly aloud, with a sense that
Ralph had said something very stupid. So, after three lessons in Latin
grammar, one might correct a fellow student, whose knowledge did not
embrace the ablative of "mensa."
"Picture--what picture?" Katharine asked. "Oh, at home, you mean--that
Sunday afternoon. Was it the day Mr. Fortescue came? Yes, I think I
The three of them stood for a moment awkwardly silent, and then Mary
left them in order to see that the great pitcher of coffee was properly
handled, for beneath all her education she preserved the anxieties of
one who owns china.
Ralph could think of nothing further to say; but could one have stripped
off his mask of flesh, one would have seen that his will-power was
rigidly set upon a single object--that Miss Hilbery should obey him.
He wished her to stay there until, by some measures not yet apparent
to him, he had conquered her interest. These states of mind transmit
themselves very often without the use of language, and it was evident to
Katharine that this young man had fixed his mind upon her. She instantly
recalled her first impressions of him, and saw herself again proffering
family relics. She reverted to the state of mind in which he had
left her that Sunday afternoon. She supposed that he judged her very
severely. She argued naturally that, if this were the case, the burden
of the conversation should rest with him. But she submitted so far as
to stand perfectly still, her eyes upon the opposite wall, and her lips
very nearly closed, though the desire to laugh stirred them slightly.
"You know the names of the stars, I suppose?" Denham remarked, and from
the tone of his voice one might have thought that he grudged Katharine
the knowledge he attributed to her.
She kept her voice steady with some difficulty.
"I know how to find the Pole star if I'm lost."
"I don't suppose that often happens to you."
"No. Nothing interesting ever happens to me," she said.
"I think you make a system of saying disagreeable things, Miss Hilbery,"
he broke out, again going further than he meant to. "I suppose it's one
of the characteristics of your class. They never talk seriously to their
Whether it was that they were meeting on neutral ground to-night, or
whether the carelessness of an old grey coat that Denham wore gave an
ease to his bearing that he lacked in conventional dress, Katharine
certainly felt no impulse to consider him outside the particular set in
which she lived.
"In what sense are you my inferior?" she asked, looking at him gravely,
as though honestly searching for his meaning. The look gave him great
pleasure. For the first time he felt himself on perfectly equal terms
with a woman whom he wished to think well of him, although he could
not have explained why her opinion of him mattered one way or another.
Perhaps, after all, he only wanted to have something of her to take home
to think about. But he was not destined to profit by his advantage.
"I don't think I understand what you mean," Katharine repeated, and then
she was obliged to stop and answer some one who wished to know whether
she would buy a ticket for an opera from them, at a reduction. Indeed,
the temper of the meeting was now unfavorable to separate conversation;
it had become rather debauched and hilarious, and people who scarcely
knew each other were making use of Christian names with apparent
cordiality, and had reached that kind of gay tolerance and general
friendliness which human beings in England only attain after sitting
together for three hours or so, and the first cold blast in the air
of the street freezes them into isolation once more. Cloaks were being
flung round the shoulders, hats swiftly pinned to the head; and Denham
had the mortification of seeing Katharine helped to prepare herself by
the ridiculous Rodney. It was not the convention of the meeting to say
good-bye, or necessarily even to nod to the person with whom one was
talking; but, nevertheless, Denham was disappointed by the completeness
with which Katharine parted from him, without any attempt to finish her
sentence. She left with Rodney.
Denham had no conscious intention of following Katharine, but, seeing
her depart, he took his hat and ran rather more quickly down the stairs
than he would have done if Katharine had not been in front of him. He
overtook a friend of his, by name Harry Sandys, who was going the same
way, and they walked together a few paces behind Katharine and Rodney.
The night was very still, and on such nights, when the traffic thins
away, the walker becomes conscious of the moon in the street, as if the
curtains of the sky had been drawn apart, and the heaven lay bare, as
it does in the country. The air was softly cool, so that people who
had been sitting talking in a crowd found it pleasant to walk a little
before deciding to stop an omnibus or encounter light again in an
underground railway. Sandys, who was a barrister with a philosophic
tendency, took out his pipe, lit it, murmured "hum" and "ha," and was
silent. The couple in front of them kept their distance accurately, and
appeared, so far as Denham could judge by the way they turned towards
each other, to be talking very constantly. He observed that when a
pedestrian going the opposite way forced them to part they came together
again directly afterwards. Without intending to watch them he never
quite lost sight of the yellow scarf twisted round Katharine's head, or
the light overcoat which made Rodney look fashionable among the crowd.
At the Strand he supposed that they would separate, but instead they
crossed the road, and took their way down one of the narrow passages
which lead through ancient courts to the river. Among the crowd of
people in the big thoroughfares Rodney seemed merely to be lending
Katharine his escort, but now, when passengers were rare and the
footsteps of the couple were distinctly heard in the silence, Denham
could not help picturing to himself some change in their conversation.
The effect of the light and shadow, which seemed to increase their
height, was to make them mysterious and significant, so that Denham
had no feeling of irritation with Katharine, but rather a half-dreamy
acquiescence in the course of the world. Yes, she did very well to dream
about--but Sandys had suddenly begun to talk. He was a solitary man who
had made his friends at college and always addressed them as if they
were still undergraduates arguing in his room, though many months or
even years had passed in some cases between the last sentence and the
present one. The method was a little singular, but very restful, for
it seemed to ignore completely all accidents of human life, and to span
very deep abysses with a few simple words.
On this occasion he began, while they waited for a minute on the edge of
"I hear that Bennett has given up his theory of truth."
Denham returned a suitable answer, and he proceeded to explain how
this decision had been arrived at, and what changes it involved in the
philosophy which they both accepted. Meanwhile Katharine and Rodney drew
further ahead, and Denham kept, if that is the right expression for an
involuntary action, one filament of his mind upon them, while with the
rest of his intelligence he sought to understand what Sandys was saying.
As they passed through the courts thus talking, Sandys laid the tip of
his stick upon one of the stones forming a time-worn arch, and struck
it meditatively two or three times in order to illustrate something very
obscure about the complex nature of one's apprehension of facts. During
the pause which this necessitated, Katharine and Rodney turned the
corner and disappeared. For a moment Denham stopped involuntarily in his
sentence, and continued it with a sense of having lost something.
Unconscious that they were observed, Katharine and Rodney had come out
on the Embankment. When they had crossed the road, Rodney slapped his
hand upon the stone parapet above the river and exclaimed:
"I promise I won't say another word about it, Katharine! But do stop a
minute and look at the moon upon the water."
Katharine paused, looked up and down the river, and snuffed the air.
"I'm sure one can smell the sea, with the wind blowing this way," she
They stood silent for a few moments while the river shifted in its bed,
and the silver and red lights which were laid upon it were torn by the
current and joined together again. Very far off up the river a steamer
hooted with its hollow voice of unspeakable melancholy, as if from the
heart of lonely mist-shrouded voyagings.
"Ah!" Rodney cried, striking his hand once more upon the balustrade,
"why can't one say how beautiful it all is? Why am I condemned for
ever, Katharine, to feel what I can't express? And the things I can give
there's no use in my giving. Trust me, Katharine," he added hastily,
"I won't speak of it again. But in the presence of beauty--look at
the iridescence round the moon!--one feels--one feels--Perhaps if you
married me--I'm half a poet, you see, and I can't pretend not to feel
what I do feel. If I could write--ah, that would be another matter. I
shouldn't bother you to marry me then, Katharine."
He spoke these disconnected sentences rather abruptly, with his eyes
alternately upon the moon and upon the stream.
"But for me I suppose you would recommend marriage?" said Katharine,
with her eyes fixed on the moon.
"Certainly I should. Not for you only, but for all women. Why, you're
nothing at all without it; you're only half alive; using only half
your faculties; you must feel that for yourself. That is why--" Here he
stopped himself, and they began to walk slowly along the Embankment, the
moon fronting them.
"With how sad steps she climbs the sky,
How silently and with how wan a face,"
"I've been told a great many unpleasant things about myself to-night,"
Katharine stated, without attending to him. "Mr. Denham seems to think
it his mission to lecture me, though I hardly know him. By the way,
William, you know him; tell me, what is he like?"
William drew a deep sigh.
"We may lecture you till we're blue in the face--"
"Yes--but what's he like?"
"And we write sonnets to your eyebrows, you cruel practical creature.
Denham?" he added, as Katharine remained silent. "A good fellow, I
should think. He cares, naturally, for the right sort of things, I
expect. But you mustn't marry him, though. He scolded you, did he--what
did he say?"
"What happens with Mr. Denham is this: He comes to tea. I do all I can
to put him at his ease. He merely sits and scowls at me. Then I show him
our manuscripts. At this he becomes really angry, and tells me I've no
business to call myself a middle-class woman. So we part in a huff; and
next time we meet, which was to-night, he walks straight up to me, and
says, 'Go to the Devil!' That's the sort of behavior my mother complains
of. I want to know, what does it mean?"
She paused and, slackening her steps, looked at the lighted train
drawing itself smoothly over Hungerford Bridge.
"It means, I should say, that he finds you chilly and unsympathetic."
Katharine laughed with round, separate notes of genuine amusement.
"It's time I jumped into a cab and hid myself in my own house," she
"Would your mother object to my being seen with you? No one could
possibly recognize us, could they?" Rodney inquired, with some
Katharine looked at him, and perceiving that his solicitude was genuine,
she laughed again, but with an ironical note in her laughter.
"You may laugh, Katharine, but I can tell you that if any of your
friends saw us together at this time of night they would talk about it,
and I should find that very disagreeable. But why do you laugh?"
"I don't know. Because you're such a queer mixture, I think. You're half
poet and half old maid."
"I know I always seem to you highly ridiculous. But I can't help having
inherited certain traditions and trying to put them into practice."
"Nonsense, William. You may come of the oldest family in Devonshire,
but that's no reason why you should mind being seen alone with me on the
"I'm ten years older than you are, Katharine, and I know more of the
world than you do."
"Very well. Leave me and go home."
Rodney looked back over his shoulder and perceived that they were being
followed at a short distance by a taxicab, which evidently awaited his
summons. Katharine saw it, too, and exclaimed:
"Don't call that cab for me, William. I shall walk."
"Nonsense, Katharine; you'll do nothing of the kind. It's nearly twelve
o'clock, and we've walked too far as it is."
Katharine laughed and walked on so quickly that both Rodney and the
taxicab had to increase their pace to keep up with her.
"Now, William," she said, "if people see me racing along the Embankment
like this they WILL talk. You had far better say good-night, if you
don't want people to talk."
At this William beckoned, with a despotic gesture, to the cab with one
hand, and with the other he brought Katharine to a standstill.
"Don't let the man see us struggling, for God's sake!" he murmured.
Katharine stood for a moment quite still.
"There's more of the old maid in you than the poet," she observed
William shut the door sharply, gave the address to the driver, and
turned away, lifting his hat punctiliously high in farewell to the
He looked back after the cab twice, suspiciously, half expecting that
she would stop it and dismount; but it bore her swiftly on, and was
soon out of sight. William felt in the mood for a short soliloquy of
indignation, for Katharine had contrived to exasperate him in more ways
"Of all the unreasonable, inconsiderate creatures I've ever known, she's
the worst!" he exclaimed to himself, striding back along the Embankment.
"Heaven forbid that I should ever make a fool of myself with her
again. Why, I'd sooner marry the daughter of my landlady than Katharine
Hilbery! She'd leave me not a moment's peace--and she'd never understand
me--never, never, never!"
Uttered aloud and with vehemence so that the stars of Heaven might
hear, for there was no human being at hand, these sentiments sounded
satisfactorily irrefutable. Rodney quieted down, and walked on in
silence, until he perceived some one approaching him, who had something,
either in his walk or his dress, which proclaimed that he was one of
William's acquaintances before it was possible to tell which of them he
was. It was Denham who, having parted from Sandys at the bottom of his
staircase, was now walking to the Tube at Charing Cross, deep in the
thoughts which his talk with Sandys had suggested. He had forgotten the
meeting at Mary Datchet's rooms, he had forgotten Rodney, and metaphors
and Elizabethan drama, and could have sworn that he had forgotten
Katharine Hilbery, too, although that was more disputable. His mind
was scaling the highest pinnacles of its alps, where there was only
starlight and the untrodden snow. He cast strange eyes upon Rodney, as
they encountered each other beneath a lamp-post.
"Ha!" Rodney exclaimed.
If he had been in full possession of his mind, Denham would probably
have passed on with a salutation. But the shock of the interruption made
him stand still, and before he knew what he was doing, he had turned and
was walking with Rodney in obedience to Rodney's invitation to come to
his rooms and have something to drink. Denham had no wish to drink with
Rodney, but he followed him passively enough. Rodney was gratified by
this obedience. He felt inclined to be communicative with this silent
man, who possessed so obviously all the good masculine qualities in
which Katharine now seemed lamentably deficient.
"You do well, Denham," he began impulsively, "to have nothing to do
with young women. I offer you my experience--if one trusts them one
invariably has cause to repent. Not that I have any reason at this
moment," he added hastily, "to complain of them. It's a subject that
crops up now and again for no particular reason. Miss Datchet, I dare
say, is one of the exceptions. Do you like Miss Datchet?"
These remarks indicated clearly enough that Rodney's nerves were in a
state of irritation, and Denham speedily woke to the situation of the
world as it had been one hour ago. He had last seen Rodney walking with
Katharine. He could not help regretting the eagerness with which his
mind returned to these interests, and fretted him with the old trivial
anxieties. He sank in his own esteem. Reason bade him break from Rodney,
who clearly tended to become confidential, before he had utterly lost
touch with the problems of high philosophy. He looked along the road,
and marked a lamp-post at a distance of some hundred yards, and decided
that he would part from Rodney when they reached this point.
"Yes, I like Mary; I don't see how one could help liking her," he
remarked cautiously, with his eye on the lamp-post.
"Ah, Denham, you're so different from me. You never give yourself away.
I watched you this evening with Katharine Hilbery. My instinct is to
trust the person I'm talking to. That's why I'm always being taken in, I
Denham seemed to be pondering this statement of Rodney's, but, as a
matter of fact, he was hardly conscious of Rodney and his revelations,
and was only concerned to make him mention Katharine again before they
reached the lamp-post.
"Who's taken you in now?" he asked. "Katharine Hilbery?"
Rodney stopped and once more began beating a kind of rhythm, as if he
were marking a phrase in a symphony, upon the smooth stone balustrade of
"Katharine Hilbery," he repeated, with a curious little chuckle. "No,
Denham, I have no illusions about that young woman. I think I made that
plain to her to-night. But don't run away with a false impression,"
he continued eagerly, turning and linking his arm through Denham's, as
though to prevent him from escaping; and, thus compelled, Denham passed
the monitory lamp-post, to which, in passing, he breathed an excuse, for
how could he break away when Rodney's arm was actually linked in his?
"You must not think that I have any bitterness against her--far from it.
It's not altogether her fault, poor girl. She lives, you know, one of
those odious, self-centered lives--at least, I think them odious for a
woman--feeding her wits upon everything, having control of everything,
getting far too much her own way at home--spoilt, in a sense, feeling
that every one is at her feet, and so not realizing how she hurts--that
is, how rudely she behaves to people who haven't all her advantages.
Still, to do her justice, she's no fool," he added, as if to warn
Denham not to take any liberties. "She has taste. She has sense. She can
understand you when you talk to her. But she's a woman, and there's an
end of it," he added, with another little chuckle, and dropped Denham's
"And did you tell her all this to-night?" Denham asked.
"Oh dear me, no. I should never think of telling Katharine the truth
about herself. That wouldn't do at all. One has to be in an attitude of
adoration in order to get on with Katharine.
"Now I've learnt that she's refused to marry him why don't I go home?"
Denham thought to himself. But he went on walking beside Rodney, and for
a time they did not speak, though Rodney hummed snatches of a tune out
of an opera by Mozart. A feeling of contempt and liking combine
very naturally in the mind of one to whom another has just spoken
unpremeditatedly, revealing rather more of his private feelings than he
intended to reveal. Denham began to wonder what sort of person Rodney
was, and at the same time Rodney began to think about Denham.
"You're a slave like me, I suppose?" he asked.
"A solicitor, yes."
"I sometimes wonder why we don't chuck it. Why don't you emigrate,
Denham? I should have thought that would suit you."
"I've a family."
"I'm often on the point of going myself. And then I know I couldn't live
without this"--and he waved his hand towards the City of London, which
wore, at this moment, the appearance of a town cut out of gray-blue
cardboard, and pasted flat against the sky, which was of a deeper blue.
"There are one or two people I'm fond of, and there's a little good
music, and a few pictures, now and then--just enough to keep one
dangling about here. Ah, but I couldn't live with savages! Are you fond
of books? Music? Pictures? D'you care at all for first editions? I've
got a few nice things up here, things I pick up cheap, for I can't
afford to give what they ask."
They had reached a small court of high eighteenth-century houses, in
one of which Rodney had his rooms. They climbed a very steep staircase,
through whose uncurtained windows the moonlight fell, illuminating the
banisters with their twisted pillars, and the piles of plates set on the
window-sills, and jars half-full of milk. Rodney's rooms were small, but
the sitting-room window looked out into a courtyard, with its flagged
pavement, and its single tree, and across to the flat red-brick fronts
of the opposite houses, which would not have surprised Dr. Johnson, if
he had come out of his grave for a turn in the moonlight. Rodney lit
his lamp, pulled his curtains, offered Denham a chair, and, flinging
the manuscript of his paper on the Elizabethan use of Metaphor on to the
"Oh dear me, what a waste of time! But it's over now, and so we may
think no more about it."
He then busied himself very dexterously in lighting a fire, producing
glasses, whisky, a cake, and cups and saucers. He put on a faded crimson
dressing-gown, and a pair of red slippers, and advanced to Denham with a
tumbler in one hand and a well-burnished book in the other.
"The Baskerville Congreve," said Rodney, offering it to his guest. "I
couldn't read him in a cheap edition."
When he was seen thus among his books and his valuables, amiably anxious
to make his visitor comfortable, and moving about with something of
the dexterity and grace of a Persian cat, Denham relaxed his critical
attitude, and felt more at home with Rodney than he would have done with
many men better known to him. Rodney's room was the room of a person
who cherishes a great many personal tastes, guarding them from the rough
blasts of the public with scrupulous attention. His papers and his books
rose in jagged mounds on table and floor, round which he skirted with
nervous care lest his dressing-gown might disarrange them ever so
slightly. On a chair stood a stack of photographs of statues and
pictures, which it was his habit to exhibit, one by one, for the space
of a day or two. The books on his shelves were as orderly as
regiments of soldiers, and the backs of them shone like so many bronze
beetle-wings; though, if you took one from its place you saw a shabbier
volume behind it, since space was limited. An oval Venetian mirror stood
above the fireplace, and reflected duskily in its spotted depths the
faint yellow and crimson of a jarful of tulips which stood among the
letters and pipes and cigarettes upon the mantelpiece. A small piano
occupied a corner of the room, with the score of "Don Giovanni" open
upon the bracket.
"Well, Rodney," said Denham, as he filled his pipe and looked about him,
"this is all very nice and comfortable."
Rodney turned his head half round and smiled, with the pride of a
proprietor, and then prevented himself from smiling.
"Tolerable," he muttered.
"But I dare say it's just as well that you have to earn your own
"If you mean that I shouldn't do anything good with leisure if I had
it, I dare say you're right. But I should be ten times as happy with my
whole day to spend as I liked."
"I doubt that," Denham replied.
They sat silent, and the smoke from their pipes joined amicably in a
blue vapor above their heads.
"I could spend three hours every day reading Shakespeare," Rodney
remarked. "And there's music and pictures, let alone the society of the
people one likes."
"You'd be bored to death in a year's time."
"Oh, I grant you I should be bored if I did nothing. But I should write
"I should write plays," he repeated. "I've written three-quarters of one
already, and I'm only waiting for a holiday to finish it. And it's not
bad--no, some of it's really rather nice."
The question arose in Denham's mind whether he should ask to see this
play, as, no doubt, he was expected to do. He looked rather stealthily
at Rodney, who was tapping the coal nervously with a poker, and
quivering almost physically, so Denham thought, with desire to talk
about this play of his, and vanity unrequited and urgent. He seemed very
much at Denham's mercy, and Denham could not help liking him, partly on
"Well,... will you let me see the play?" Denham asked, and Rodney looked
immediately appeased, but, nevertheless, he sat silent for a moment,
holding the poker perfectly upright in the air, regarding it with his
rather prominent eyes, and opening his lips and shutting them again.
"Do you really care for this kind of thing?" he asked at length, in a
different tone of voice from that in which he had been speaking. And,
without waiting for an answer, he went on, rather querulously: "Very few
people care for poetry. I dare say it bores you."
"Perhaps," Denham remarked.
"Well, I'll lend it you," Rodney announced, putting down the poker.
As he moved to fetch the play, Denham stretched a hand to the bookcase
beside him, and took down the first volume which his fingers touched.
It happened to be a small and very lovely edition of Sir Thomas Browne,
containing the "Urn Burial," the "Hydriotaphia," and the "Garden of
Cyrus," and, opening it at a passage which he knew very nearly by heart,
Denham began to read and, for some time, continued to read.
Rodney resumed his seat, with his manuscript on his knee, and from
time to time he glanced at Denham, and then joined his finger-tips and
crossed his thin legs over the fender, as if he experienced a good deal
of pleasure. At length Denham shut the book, and stood, with his back to
the fireplace, occasionally making an inarticulate humming sound which
seemed to refer to Sir Thomas Browne. He put his hat on his head, and
stood over Rodney, who still lay stretched back in his chair, with his
toes within the fender.
"I shall look in again some time," Denham remarked, upon which Rodney
held up his hand, containing his manuscript, without saying anything
except--"If you like."
Denham took the manuscript and went. Two days later he was much
surprised to find a thin parcel on his breakfast-plate, which, on being
opened, revealed the very copy of Sir Thomas Browne which he had studied
so intently in Rodney's rooms. From sheer laziness he returned no
thanks, but he thought of Rodney from time to time with interest,
disconnecting him from Katharine, and meant to go round one evening and
smoke a pipe with him. It pleased Rodney thus to give away whatever his
friends genuinely admired. His library was constantly being diminished.
Of all the hours of an ordinary working week-day, which are the
pleasantest to look forward to and to look back upon? If a single
instance is of use in framing a theory, it may be said that the minutes
between nine-twenty-five and nine-thirty in the morning had a singular
charm for Mary Datchet. She spent them in a very enviable frame of mind;
her contentment was almost unalloyed. High in the air as her flat was,
some beams from the morning sun reached her even in November, striking
straight at curtain, chair, and carpet, and painting there three bright,
true spaces of green, blue, and purple, upon which the eye rested with a
pleasure which gave physical warmth to the body.
There were few mornings when Mary did not look up, as she bent to
lace her boots, and as she followed the yellow rod from curtain to
breakfast-table she usually breathed some sigh of thankfulness that her
life provided her with such moments of pure enjoyment. She was robbing
no one of anything, and yet, to get so much pleasure from simple things,
such as eating one's breakfast alone in a room which had nice colors in
it, clean from the skirting of the boards to the corners of the ceiling,
seemed to suit her so thoroughly that she used at first to hunt about
for some one to apologize to, or for some flaw in the situation. She had
now been six months in London, and she could find no flaw, but that, as
she invariably concluded by the time her boots were laced, was solely
and entirely due to the fact that she had her work. Every day, as she
stood with her dispatch-box in her hand at the door of her flat, and
gave one look back into the room to see that everything was straight
before she left, she said to herself that she was very glad that she
was going to leave it all, that to have sat there all day long, in the
enjoyment of leisure, would have been intolerable.
Out in the street she liked to think herself one of the workers who,
at this hour, take their way in rapid single file along all the broad
pavements of the city, with their heads slightly lowered, as if all
their effort were to follow each other as closely as might be; so that
Mary used to figure to herself a straight rabbit-run worn by their
unswerving feet upon the pavement. But she liked to pretend that she was
indistinguishable from the rest, and that when a wet day drove her to
the Underground or omnibus, she gave and took her share of crowd and
wet with clerks and typists and commercial men, and shared with them
the serious business of winding-up the world to tick for another
Thus thinking, on the particular morning in question, she made her away
across Lincoln's Inn Fields and up Kingsway, and so through Southampton
Row until she reached her office in Russell Square. Now and then she
would pause and look into the window of some bookseller or flower shop,
where, at this early hour, the goods were being arranged, and empty gaps
behind the plate glass revealed a state of undress. Mary felt kindly
disposed towards the shopkeepers, and hoped that they would trick the
midday public into purchasing, for at this hour of the morning she
ranged herself entirely on the side of the shopkeepers and bank clerks,
and regarded all who slept late and had money to spend as her enemy
and natural prey. And directly she had crossed the road at Holborn, her
thoughts all came naturally and regularly to roost upon her work, and
she forgot that she was, properly speaking, an amateur worker, whose
services were unpaid, and could hardly be said to wind the world up for
its daily task, since the world, so far, had shown very little desire to
take the boons which Mary's society for woman's suffrage had offered it.
She was thinking all the way up Southampton Row of notepaper and
foolscap, and how an economy in the use of paper might be effected
(without, of course, hurting Mrs. Seal's feelings), for she was certain
that the great organizers always pounce, to begin with, upon trifles
like these, and build up their triumphant reforms upon a basis of
absolute solidity; and, without acknowledging it for a moment, Mary
Datchet was determined to be a great organizer, and had already doomed
her society to reconstruction of the most radical kind. Once or twice
lately, it is true, she had started, broad awake, before turning into
Russell Square, and denounced herself rather sharply for being already
in a groove, capable, that is, of thinking the same thoughts every
morning at the same hour, so that the chestnut-colored brick of the
Russell Square houses had some curious connection with her thoughts
about office economy, and served also as a sign that she should get
into trim for meeting Mr. Clacton, or Mrs. Seal, or whoever might be
beforehand with her at the office. Having no religious belief, she was
the more conscientious about her life, examining her position from time
to time very seriously, and nothing annoyed her more than to find one of
these bad habits nibbling away unheeded at the precious substance. What
was the good, after all, of being a woman if one didn't keep fresh, and
cram one's life with all sorts of views and experiments? Thus she always
gave herself a little shake, as she turned the corner, and, as often as
not, reached her own door whistling a snatch of a Somersetshire ballad.
The suffrage office was at the top of one of the large Russell Square
houses, which had once been lived in by a great city merchant and his
family, and was now let out in slices to a number of societies which
displayed assorted initials upon doors of ground glass, and kept, each
of them, a typewriter which clicked busily all day long. The old
house, with its great stone staircase, echoed hollowly to the sound of
typewriters and of errand-boys from ten to six. The noise of different
typewriters already at work, disseminating their views upon the
protection of native races, or the value of cereals as foodstuffs,
quickened Mary's steps, and she always ran up the last flight of steps
which led to her own landing, at whatever hour she came, so as to get
her typewriter to take its place in competition with the rest.
She sat herself down to her letters, and very soon all these
speculations were forgotten, and the two lines drew themselves between
her eyebrows, as the contents of the letters, the office furniture, and
the sounds of activity in the next room gradually asserted their sway
upon her. By eleven o'clock the atmosphere of concentration was running
so strongly in one direction that any thought of a different order could
hardly have survived its birth more than a moment or so. The task which
lay before her was to organize a series of entertainments, the profits
of which were to benefit the society, which drooped for want of funds.
It was her first attempt at organization on a large scale, and she meant
to achieve something remarkable. She meant to use the cumbrous machine
to pick out this, that, and the other interesting person from the muddle
of the world, and to set them for a week in a pattern which must
catch the eyes of Cabinet Ministers, and the eyes once caught, the old
arguments were to be delivered with unexampled originality. Such was
the scheme as a whole; and in contemplation of it she would become quite
flushed and excited, and have to remind herself of all the details that
intervened between her and success.
The door would open, and Mr. Clacton would come in to search for a
certain leaflet buried beneath a pyramid of leaflets. He was a thin,
sandy-haired man of about thirty-five, spoke with a Cockney accent, and
had about him a frugal look, as if nature had not dealt generously with
him in any way, which, naturally, prevented him from dealing generously
with other people. When he had found his leaflet, and offered a few
jocular hints upon keeping papers in order, the typewriting would stop
abruptly, and Mrs. Seal would burst into the room with a letter which
needed explanation in her hand. This was a more serious interruption
than the other, because she never knew exactly what she wanted, and
half a dozen requests would bolt from her, no one of which was clearly
stated. Dressed in plum-colored velveteen, with short, gray hair, and a
face that seemed permanently flushed with philanthropic enthusiasm,
she was always in a hurry, and always in some disorder. She wore two
crucifixes, which got themselves entangled in a heavy gold chain upon
her breast, and seemed to Mary expressive of her mental ambiguity. Only
her vast enthusiasm and her worship of Miss Markham, one of the pioneers
of the society, kept her in her place, for which she had no sound
So the morning wore on, and the pile of letters grew, and Mary felt, at
last, that she was the center ganglion of a very fine network of nerves
which fell over England, and one of these days, when she touched the
heart of the system, would begin feeling and rushing together and
emitting their splendid blaze of revolutionary fireworks--for some such
metaphor represents what she felt about her work, when her brain had
been heated by three hours of application.
Shortly before one o'clock Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal desisted from their
labors, and the old joke about luncheon, which came out regularly
at this hour, was repeated with scarcely any variation of words.
Mr. Clacton patronized a vegetarian restaurant; Mrs. Seal brought
sandwiches, which she ate beneath the plane-trees in Russell Square;
while Mary generally went to a gaudy establishment, upholstered in red
plush, near by, where, much to the vegetarian's disapproval, you could
buy steak, two inches thick, or a roast section of fowl, swimming in a
"The bare branches against the sky do one so much GOOD," Mrs. Seal
asserted, looking out into the Square.
"But one can't lunch off trees, Sally," said Mary.
"I confess I don't know how you manage it, Miss Datchet," Mr. Clacton
remarked. "I should sleep all the afternoon, I know, if I took a heavy
meal in the middle of the day."
"What's the very latest thing in literature?" Mary asked, good-humoredly
pointing to the yellow-covered volume beneath Mr. Clacton's arm, for he
invariably read some new French author at lunch-time, or squeezed in
a visit to a picture gallery, balancing his social work with an ardent
culture of which he was secretly proud, as Mary had very soon divined.
So they parted and Mary walked away, wondering if they guessed that she
really wanted to get away from them, and supposing that they had not
quite reached that degree of subtlety. She bought herself an evening
paper, which she read as she ate, looking over the top of it again
and again at the queer people who were buying cakes or imparting their
secrets, until some young woman whom she knew came in, and she called
out, "Eleanor, come and sit by me," and they finished their lunch
together, parting on the strip of pavement among the different lines of
traffic with a pleasant feeling that they were stepping once more into
their separate places in the great and eternally moving pattern of human
But, instead of going straight back to the office to-day, Mary turned
into the British Museum, and strolled down the gallery with the shapes
of stone until she found an empty seat directly beneath the gaze of the
Elgin marbles. She looked at them, and seemed, as usual, borne up on
some wave of exaltation and emotion, by which her life at once became
solemn and beautiful--an impression which was due as much, perhaps,
to the solitude and chill and silence of the gallery as to the actual
beauty of the statues. One must suppose, at least, that her emotions
were not purely esthetic, because, after she had gazed at the Ulysses
for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. So secure
did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded to an
impulse to say "I am in love with you" aloud. The presence of this
immense and enduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious of her
desire, and at the same time proud of a feeling which did not display
anything like the same proportions when she was going about her daily
She repressed her impulse to speak aloud, and rose and wandered about
rather aimlessly among the statues until she found herself in another
gallery devoted to engraved obelisks and winged Assyrian bulls, and her
emotion took another turn. She began to picture herself traveling with
Ralph in a land where these monsters were couchant in the sand. "For,"
she thought to herself, as she gazed fixedly at some information printed
behind a piece of glass, "the wonderful thing about you is that you're
ready for anything; you're not in the least conventional, like most
And she conjured up a scene of herself on a camel's back, in the desert,
while Ralph commanded a whole tribe of natives.
"That is what you can do," she went on, moving on to the next statue.
"You always make people do what you want."
A glow spread over her spirit, and filled her eyes with brightness.
Nevertheless, before she left the Museum she was very far from saying,
even in the privacy of her own mind, "I am in love with you," and that
sentence might very well never have framed itself. She was, indeed,
rather annoyed with herself for having allowed such an ill-considered
breach of her reserve, weakening her powers of resistance, she felt,
should this impulse return again. For, as she walked along the street to
her office, the force of all her customary objections to being in love
with any one overcame her. She did not want to marry at all. It seemed
to her that there was something amateurish in bringing love into touch
with a perfectly straightforward friendship, such as hers was with
Ralph, which, for two years now, had based itself upon common interests
in impersonal topics, such as the housing of the poor, or the taxation
of land values.
But the afternoon spirit differed intrinsically from the morning spirit.
Mary found herself watching the flight of a bird, or making drawings of
the branches of the plane-trees upon her blotting-paper. People came in
to see Mr. Clacton on business, and a seductive smell of cigarette smoke
issued from his room. Mrs. Seal wandered about with newspaper cuttings,
which seemed to her either "quite splendid" or "really too bad for
words." She used to paste these into books, or send them to her friends,
having first drawn a broad bar in blue pencil down the margin, a
proceeding which signified equally and indistinguishably the depths of
her reprobation or the heights of her approval.
About four o'clock on that same afternoon Katharine Hilbery was walking
up Kingsway. The question of tea presented itself. The street lamps were
being lit already, and as she stood still for a moment beneath one of
them, she tried to think of some neighboring drawing-room where there
would be firelight and talk congenial to her mood. That mood, owing to
the spinning traffic and the evening veil of unreality, was ill-adapted
to her home surroundings. Perhaps, on the whole, a shop was the best
place in which to preserve this queer sense of heightened existence.
At the same time she wished to talk. Remembering Mary Datchet and her
repeated invitations, she crossed the road, turned into Russell Square,
and peered about, seeking for numbers with a sense of adventure that was
out of all proportion to the deed itself. She found herself in a dimly
lighted hall, unguarded by a porter, and pushed open the first swing
door. But the office-boy had never heard of Miss Datchet. Did she belong
to the S.R.F.R.? Katharine shook her head with a smile of dismay. A
voice from within shouted, "No. The S.G.S.--top floor."
Katharine mounted past innumerable glass doors, with initials on them,
and became steadily more and more doubtful of the wisdom of her venture.
At the top she paused for a moment to breathe and collect herself.
She heard the typewriter and formal professional voices inside, not
belonging, she thought, to any one she had ever spoken to. She touched
the bell, and the door was opened almost immediately by Mary herself.
Her face had to change its expression entirely when she saw Katharine.
"You!" she exclaimed. "We thought you were the printer." Still holding
the door open, she called back, "No, Mr. Clacton, it's not Penningtons.
I should ring them up again--double three double eight, Central. Well,
this is a surprise. Come in," she added. "You're just in time for tea."
The light of relief shone in Mary's eyes. The boredom of the afternoon
was dissipated at once, and she was glad that Katharine had found them
in a momentary press of activity, owing to the failure of the printer to
send back certain proofs.
The unshaded electric light shining upon the table covered with papers
dazed Katharine for a moment. After the confusion of her twilight walk,
and her random thoughts, life in this small room appeared extremely
concentrated and bright. She turned instinctively to look out of the
window, which was uncurtained, but Mary immediately recalled her.
"It was very clever of you to find your way," she said, and Katharine
wondered, as she stood there, feeling, for the moment, entirely detached
and unabsorbed, why she had come. She looked, indeed, to Mary's eyes
strangely out of place in the office. Her figure in the long cloak,
which took deep folds, and her face, which was composed into a mask of
sensitive apprehension, disturbed Mary for a moment with a sense of
the presence of some one who was of another world, and, therefore,
subversive of her world. She became immediately anxious that Katharine
should be impressed by the importance of her world, and hoped that
neither Mrs. Seal nor Mr. Clacton would appear until the impression of
importance had been received. But in this she was disappointed. Mrs.
Seal burst into the room holding a kettle in her hand, which she set
upon the stove, and then, with inefficient haste, she set light to the
gas, which flared up, exploded, and went out.
"Always the way, always the way," she muttered. "Kit Markham is the only
person who knows how to deal with the thing."
Mary had to go to her help, and together they spread the table, and
apologized for the disparity between the cups and the plainness of the
"If we had known Miss Hilbery was coming, we should have bought a cake,"
said Mary, upon which Mrs. Seal looked at Katharine for the first time,
suspiciously, because she was a person who needed cake.
Here Mr. Clacton opened the door, and came in, holding a typewritten
letter in his hand, which he was reading aloud.
"Salford's affiliated," he said.
"Well done, Salford!" Mrs. Seal exclaimed enthusiastically, thumping the
teapot which she held upon the table, in token of applause.
"Yes, these provincial centers seem to be coming into line at last,"
said Mr. Clacton, and then Mary introduced him to Miss Hilbery, and
he asked her, in a very formal manner, if she were interested "in our
"And the proofs still not come?" said Mrs. Seal, putting both her elbows
on the table, and propping her chin on her hands, as Mary began to pour
out tea. "It's too bad--too bad. At this rate we shall miss the
country post. Which reminds me, Mr. Clacton, don't you think we should
circularize the provinces with Partridge's last speech? What? You've not
read it? Oh, it's the best thing they've had in the House this Session.
Even the Prime Minister--"
But Mary cut her short.
"We don't allow shop at tea, Sally," she said firmly. "We fine her a
penny each time she forgets, and the fines go to buying a plum cake,"
she explained, seeking to draw Katharine into the community. She had
given up all hope of impressing her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Mrs. Seal apologized. "It's my misfortune to be
an enthusiast," she said, turning to Katharine. "My father's daughter
could hardly be anything else. I think I've been on as many committees
as most people. Waifs and Strays, Rescue Work, Church Work, C. O.
S.--local branch--besides the usual civic duties which fall to one as a
householder. But I've given them all up for our work here, and I don't
regret it for a second," she added. "This is the root question, I feel;
until women have votes--"
"It'll be sixpence, at least, Sally," said Mary, bringing her fist down
on the table. "And we're all sick to death of women and their votes."
Mrs. Seal looked for a moment as though she could hardly believe her
ears, and made a deprecating "tut-tut-tut" in her throat, looking
alternately at Katharine and Mary, and shaking her head as she did so.
Then she remarked, rather confidentially to Katharine, with a little nod
in Mary's direction:
"She's doing more for the cause than any of us. She's giving her
youth--for, alas! when I was young there were domestic circumstances--"
she sighed, and stopped short.
Mr. Clacton hastily reverted to the joke about luncheon, and explained
how Mrs. Seal fed on a bag of biscuits under the trees, whatever the
weather might be, rather, Katharine thought, as though Mrs. Seal were a
pet dog who had convenient tricks.
"Yes, I took my little bag into the square," said Mrs. Seal, with the
self-conscious guilt of a child owning some fault to its elders. "It was
really very sustaining, and the bare boughs against the sky do one
so much GOOD. But I shall have to give up going into the square," she
proceeded, wrinkling her forehead. "The injustice of it! Why should I
have a beautiful square all to myself, when poor women who need rest
have nowhere at all to sit?" She looked fiercely at Katharine, giving
her short locks a little shake. "It's dreadful what a tyrant one still
is, in spite of all one's efforts. One tries to lead a decent life,
but one can't. Of course, directly one thinks of it, one sees that ALL
squares should be open to EVERY ONE. Is there any society with that
object, Mr. Clacton? If not, there should be, surely."
"A most excellent object," said Mr. Clacton in his professional manner.
"At the same time, one must deplore the ramification of organizations,
Mrs. Seal. So much excellent effort thrown away, not to speak of pounds,
shillings, and pence. Now how many organizations of a philanthropic
nature do you suppose there are in the City of London itself, Miss
Hilbery?" he added, screwing his mouth into a queer little smile, as if
to show that the question had its frivolous side.
Katharine smiled, too. Her unlikeness to the rest of them had, by this
time, penetrated to Mr. Clacton, who was not naturally observant, and
he was wondering who she was; this same unlikeness had subtly stimulated
Mrs. Seal to try and make a convert of her. Mary, too, looked at her
almost as if she begged her to make things easy. For Katharine had shown
no disposition to make things easy. She had scarcely spoken, and her
silence, though grave and even thoughtful, seemed to Mary the silence of
one who criticizes.
"Well, there are more in this house than I'd any notion of," she said.
"On the ground floor you protect natives, on the next you emigrate women
and tell people to eat nuts--"
"Why do you say that 'we' do these things?" Mary interposed, rather
sharply. "We're not responsible for all the cranks who choose to lodge
in the same house with us."
Mr. Clacton cleared his throat and looked at each of the young ladies
in turn. He was a good deal struck by the appearance and manner of Miss
Hilbery, which seemed to him to place her among those cultivated and
luxurious people of whom he used to dream. Mary, on the other hand, was
more of his own sort, and a little too much inclined to order him about.
He picked up crumbs of dry biscuit and put them into his mouth with
"You don't belong to our society, then?" said Mrs. Seal.
"No, I'm afraid I don't," said Katharine, with such ready candor that
Mrs. Seal was nonplussed, and stared at her with a puzzled expression,
as if she could not classify her among the varieties of human beings
known to her.
"But surely," she began.
"Mrs. Seal is an enthusiast in these matters," said Mr. Clacton, almost
apologetically. "We have to remind her sometimes that others have a
right to their views even if they differ from our own.... "Punch" has
a very funny picture this week, about a Suffragist and an agricultural
laborer. Have you seen this week's "Punch," Miss Datchet?"
Mary laughed, and said "No."
Mr. Clacton then told them the substance of the joke, which, however,
depended a good deal for its success upon the expression which the
artist had put into the people's faces. Mrs. Seal sat all the time
perfectly grave. Directly he had done speaking she burst out:
"But surely, if you care about the welfare of your sex at all, you must
wish them to have the vote?"
"I never said I didn't wish them to have the vote," Katharine protested.
"Then why aren't you a member of our society?" Mrs. Seal demanded.
Katharine stirred her spoon round and round, stared into the swirl of
the tea, and remained silent. Mr. Clacton, meanwhile, framed a question
which, after a moment's hesitation, he put to Katharine.
"Are you in any way related, I wonder, to the poet Alardyce? His
daughter, I believe, married a Mr. Hilbery."
"Yes; I'm the poet's granddaughter," said Katharine, with a little sigh,
after a pause; and for a moment they were all silent.
"The poet's granddaughter!" Mrs. Seal repeated, half to herself, with a
shake of her head, as if that explained what was otherwise inexplicable.
The light kindled in Mr. Clacton's eye.
"Ah, indeed. That interests me very much," he said. "I owe a great debt
to your grandfather, Miss Hilbery. At one time I could have repeated
the greater part of him by heart. But one gets out of the way of reading
poetry, unfortunately. You don't remember him, I suppose?"
A sharp rap at the door made Katharine's answer inaudible. Mrs. Seal
looked up with renewed hope in her eyes, and exclaiming:
"The proofs at last!" ran to open the door. "Oh, it's only Mr. Denham!"
she cried, without any attempt to conceal her disappointment. Ralph,
Katharine supposed, was a frequent visitor, for the only person he
thought it necessary to greet was herself, and Mary at once explained
the strange fact of her being there by saying:
"Katharine has come to see how one runs an office."
Ralph felt himself stiffen uncomfortably, as he said:
"I hope Mary hasn't persuaded you that she knows how to run an office?"
"What, doesn't she?" said Katharine, looking from one to the other.
At these remarks Mrs. Seal began to exhibit signs of discomposure, which
displayed themselves by a tossing movement of her head, and, as Ralph
took a letter from his pocket, and placed his finger upon a certain
sentence, she forestalled him by exclaiming in confusion:
"Now, I know what you're going to say, Mr. Denham! But it was the
day Kit Markham was here, and she upsets one so--with her wonderful
vitality, always thinking of something new that we ought to be doing and
aren't--and I was conscious at the time that my dates were mixed. It had
nothing to do with Mary at all, I assure you."
"My dear Sally, don't apologize," said Mary, laughing. "Men are such
pedants--they don't know what things matter, and what things don't."
"Now, Denham, speak up for our sex," said Mr. Clacton in a jocular
manner, indeed, but like most insignificant men he was very quick to
resent being found fault with by a woman, in argument with whom he was
fond of calling himself "a mere man." He wished, however, to enter into
a literary conservation with Miss Hilbery, and thus let the matter drop.
"Doesn't it seem strange to you, Miss Hilbery," he said, "that the
French, with all their wealth of illustrious names, have no poet who can
compare with your grandfather? Let me see. There's Chenier and Hugo
and Alfred de Musset--wonderful men, but, at the same time, there's a
richness, a freshness about Alardyce--"
Here the telephone bell rang, and he had to absent himself with a smile
and a bow which signified that, although literature is delightful, it
is not work. Mrs. Seal rose at the same time, but remained hovering over
the table, delivering herself of a tirade against party government. "For
if I were to tell you what I know of back-stairs intrigue, and what can
be done by the power of the purse, you wouldn't credit me, Mr. Denham,
you wouldn't, indeed. Which is why I feel that the only work for my
father's daughter--for he was one of the pioneers, Mr. Denham, and on
his tombstone I had that verse from the Psalms put, about the sowers
and the seed.... And what wouldn't I give that he should be alive now,
seeing what we're going to see--" but reflecting that the glories of the
future depended in part upon the activity of her typewriter, she bobbed
her head, and hurried back to the seclusion of her little room, from
which immediately issued sounds of enthusiastic, but obviously erratic,
Mary made it clear at once, by starting a fresh topic of general
interest, that though she saw the humor of her colleague, she did not
intend to have her laughed at.
"The standard of morality seems to me frightfully low," she observed
reflectively, pouring out a second cup of tea, "especially among women
who aren't well educated. They don't see that small things matter,
and that's where the leakage begins, and then we find ourselves in
difficulties--I very nearly lost my temper yesterday," she went on,
looking at Ralph with a little smile, as though he knew what happened
when she lost her temper. "It makes me very angry when people tell me
lies--doesn't it make you angry?" she asked Katharine.
"But considering that every one tells lies," Katharine remarked, looking
about the room to see where she had put down her umbrella and her
parcel, for there was an intimacy in the way in which Mary and Ralph
addressed each other which made her wish to leave them. Mary, on the
other hand, was anxious, superficially at least, that Katharine should
stay and so fortify her in her determination not to be in love with
Ralph, while lifting his cup from his lips to the table, had made up his
mind that if Miss Hilbery left, he would go with her.
"I don't think that I tell lies, and I don't think that Ralph tells
lies, do you, Ralph?" Mary continued.
Katharine laughed, with more gayety, as it seemed to Mary, than
she could properly account for. What was she laughing at? At them,
presumably. Katharine had risen, and was glancing hither and thither, at
the presses and the cupboards, and all the machinery of the office, as
if she included them all in her rather malicious amusement, which caused
Mary to keep her eyes on her straightly and rather fiercely, as if she
were a gay-plumed, mischievous bird, who might light on the topmost
bough and pick off the ruddiest cherry, without any warning. Two women
less like each other could scarcely be imagined, Ralph thought, looking
from one to the other. Next moment, he too, rose, and nodding to Mary,
as Katharine said good-bye, opened the door for her, and followed her
Mary sat still and made no attempt to prevent them from going. For a
second or two after the door had shut on them her eyes rested on the
door with a straightforward fierceness in which, for a moment, a certain
degree of bewilderment seemed to enter; but, after a brief hesitation,
she put down her cup and proceeded to clear away the tea-things.
The impulse which had driven Ralph to take this action was the result of
a very swift little piece of reasoning, and thus, perhaps, was not quite
so much of an impulse as it seemed. It passed through his mind that if
he missed this chance of talking to Katharine, he would have to face
an enraged ghost, when he was alone in his room again, demanding an
explanation of his cowardly indecision. It was better, on the whole, to
risk present discomfiture than to waste an evening bandying excuses
and constructing impossible scenes with this uncompromising section of
himself. For ever since he had visited the Hilberys he had been much at
the mercy of a phantom Katharine, who came to him when he sat alone, and
answered him as he would have her answer, and was always beside him to
crown those varying triumphs which were transacted almost every night,
in imaginary scenes, as he walked through the lamplit streets home from
the office. To walk with Katharine in the flesh would either feed that
phantom with fresh food, which, as all who nourish dreams are aware, is
a process that becomes necessary from time to time, or refine it to such
a degree of thinness that it was scarcely serviceable any longer; and
that, too, is sometimes a welcome change to a dreamer. And all the time
Ralph was well aware that the bulk of Katharine was not represented in
his dreams at all, so that when he met her he was bewildered by the fact
that she had nothing to do with his dream of her.
When, on reaching the street, Katharine found that Mr. Denham proceeded
to keep pace by her side, she was surprised and, perhaps, a little
annoyed. She, too, had her margin of imagination, and to-night her
activity in this obscure region of the mind required solitude. If she
had had her way, she would have walked very fast down the Tottenham
Court Road, and then sprung into a cab and raced swiftly home. The view
she had had of the inside of an office was of the nature of a dream to
her. Shut off up there, she compared Mrs. Seal, and Mary Datchet, and
Mr. Clacton to enchanted people in a bewitched tower, with the spiders'
webs looping across the corners of the room, and all the tools of the
necromancer's craft at hand; for so aloof and unreal and apart from
the normal world did they seem to her, in the house of innumerable
typewriters, murmuring their incantations and concocting their drugs,
and flinging their frail spiders' webs over the torrent of life which
rushed down the streets outside.
She may have been conscious that there was some exaggeration in this
fancy of hers, for she certainly did not wish to share it with Ralph.
To him, she supposed, Mary Datchet, composing leaflets for Cabinet
Ministers among her typewriters, represented all that was interesting
and genuine; and, accordingly, she shut them both out from all share
in the crowded street, with its pendant necklace of lamps, its lighted
windows, and its throng of men and women, which exhilarated her to such
an extent that she very nearly forgot her companion. She walked very
fast, and the effect of people passing in the opposite direction was
to produce a queer dizziness both in her head and in Ralph's, which set
their bodies far apart. But she did her duty by her companion almost
"Mary Datchet does that sort of work very well.... She's responsible for
it, I suppose?"
"Yes. The others don't help at all.... Has she made a convert of you?"
"Oh no. That is, I'm a convert already."
"But she hasn't persuaded you to work for them?"
"Oh dear no--that wouldn't do at all."
So they walked on down the Tottenham Court Road, parting and coming
together again, and Ralph felt much as though he were addressing the
summit of a poplar in a high gale of wind.
"Suppose we get on to that omnibus?" he suggested.
Katharine acquiesced, and they climbed up, and found themselves alone on
top of it.
"But which way are you going?" Katharine asked, waking a little from the
trance into which movement among moving things had thrown her.
"I'm going to the Temple," Ralph replied, inventing a destination on the
spur of the moment. He felt the change come over her as they sat down
and the omnibus began to move forward. He imagined her contemplating the
avenue in front of them with those honest sad eyes which seemed to set
him at such a distance from them. But the breeze was blowing in their
faces; it lifted her hat for a second, and she drew out a pin and stuck
it in again,--a little action which seemed, for some reason, to make her
rather more fallible. Ah, if only her hat would blow off, and leave her
altogether disheveled, accepting it from his hands!
"This is like Venice," she observed, raising her hand. "The motor-cars,
I mean, shooting about so quickly, with their lights."
"I've never seen Venice," he replied. "I keep that and some other things
for my old age."
"What are the other things?" she asked.
"There's Venice and India and, I think, Dante, too."
"Think of providing for one's old age! And would you refuse to see
Venice if you had the chance?"
Instead of answering her, he wondered whether he should tell her
something that was quite true about himself; and as he wondered, he told
"I've planned out my life in sections ever since I was a child, to make
it last longer. You see, I'm always afraid that I'm missing something--"
"And so am I!" Katharine exclaimed. "But, after all," she added, "why
should you miss anything?"
"Why? Because I'm poor, for one thing," Ralph rejoined. "You, I suppose,
can have Venice and India and Dante every day of your life."
She said nothing for a moment, but rested one hand, which was bare
of glove, upon the rail in front of her, meditating upon a variety of
things, of which one was that this strange young man pronounced Dante
as she was used to hearing it pronounced, and another, that he had, most
unexpectedly, a feeling about life that was familiar to her. Perhaps,
then, he was the sort of person she might take an interest in, if she
came to know him better, and as she had placed him among those whom she
would never want to know better, this was enough to make her silent.
She hastily recalled her first view of him, in the little room where
the relics were kept, and ran a bar through half her impressions, as one
cancels a badly written sentence, having found the right one.
"But to know that one might have things doesn't alter the fact that one
hasn't got them," she said, in some confusion. "How could I go to India,
for example? Besides," she began impulsively, and stopped herself. Here
the conductor came round, and interrupted them. Ralph waited for her to
resume her sentence, but she said no more.
"I have a message to give your father," he remarked. "Perhaps you would
give it him, or I could come--"
"Yes, do come," Katharine replied.
"Still, I don't see why you shouldn't go to India," Ralph began, in
order to keep her from rising, as she threatened to do.
But she got up in spite of him, and said good-bye with her usual air of
decision, and left him with a quickness which Ralph connected now with
all her movements. He looked down and saw her standing on the pavement
edge, an alert, commanding figure, which waited its season to cross,
and then walked boldly and swiftly to the other side. That gesture and
action would be added to the picture he had of her, but at present the
real woman completely routed the phantom one.
"And little Augustus Pelham said to me, 'It's the younger generation
knocking at the door,' and I said to him, 'Oh, but the younger
generation comes in without knocking, Mr. Pelham.' Such a feeble little
joke, wasn't it, but down it went into his notebook all the same."
"Let us congratulate ourselves that we shall be in the grave before that
work is published," said Mr. Hilbery.
The elderly couple were waiting for the dinner-bell to ring and for
their daughter to come into the room. Their arm-chairs were drawn up
on either side of the fire, and each sat in the same slightly crouched
position, looking into the coals, with the expressions of people who
have had their share of experiences and wait, rather passively, for
something to happen. Mr. Hilbery now gave all his attention to a piece
of coal which had fallen out of the grate, and to selecting a favorable
position for it among the lumps that were burning already. Mrs. Hilbery
watched him in silence, and the smile changed on her lips as if her mind
still played with the events of the afternoon.
When Mr. Hilbery had accomplished his task, he resumed his crouching
position again, and began to toy with the little green stone attached to
his watch-chain. His deep, oval-shaped eyes were fixed upon the flames,
but behind the superficial glaze seemed to brood an observant and
whimsical spirit, which kept the brown of the eye still unusually vivid.
But a look of indolence, the result of skepticism or of a taste too
fastidious to be satisfied by the prizes and conclusions so easily
within his grasp, lent him an expression almost of melancholy. After
sitting thus for a time, he seemed to reach some point in his thinking
which demonstrated its futility, upon which he sighed and stretched his
hand for a book lying on the table by his side.
Directly the door opened he closed the book, and the eyes of father
and mother both rested on Katharine as she came towards them. The sight
seemed at once to give them a motive which they had not had before.
To them she appeared, as she walked towards them in her light evening
dress, extremely young, and the sight of her refreshed them, were it
only because her youth and ignorance made their knowledge of the world
of some value.
"The only excuse for you, Katharine, is that dinner is still later than
you are," said Mr. Hilbery, putting down his spectacles.
"I don't mind her being late when the result is so charming," said Mrs.
Hilbery, looking with pride at her daughter. "Still, I don't know that I
LIKE your being out so late, Katharine," she continued. "You took a cab,
Here dinner was announced, and Mr. Hilbery formally led his wife
downstairs on his arm. They were all dressed for dinner, and, indeed,
the prettiness of the dinner-table merited that compliment. There was
no cloth upon the table, and the china made regular circles of deep blue
upon the shining brown wood. In the middle there was a bowl of tawny
red and yellow chrysanthemums, and one of pure white, so fresh that the
narrow petals were curved backwards into a firm white ball. From the
surrounding walls the heads of three famous Victorian writers surveyed
this entertainment, and slips of paper pasted beneath them testified
in the great man's own handwriting that he was yours sincerely or
affectionately or for ever. The father and daughter would have been
quite content, apparently, to eat their dinner in silence, or with a few
cryptic remarks expressed in a shorthand which could not be understood
by the servants. But silence depressed Mrs. Hilbery, and far from
minding the presence of maids, she would often address herself to them,
and was never altogether unconscious of their approval or disapproval of
her remarks. In the first place she called them to witness that the room
was darker than usual, and had all the lights turned on.
"That's more cheerful," she exclaimed. "D'you know, Katharine, that
ridiculous goose came to tea with me? Oh, how I wanted you! He tried to
make epigrams all the time, and I got so nervous, expecting them, you
know, that I spilt the tea--and he made an epigram about that!"
"Which ridiculous goose?" Katharine asked her father.
"Only one of my geese, happily, makes epigrams--Augustus Pelham, of
course," said Mrs. Hilbery.
"I'm not sorry that I was out," said Katharine.
"Poor Augustus!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "But we're all too hard on him.
Remember how devoted he is to his tiresome old mother."
"That's only because she is his mother. Any one connected with
"No, no, Katharine--that's too bad. That's--what's the word I mean,
Trevor, something long and Latin--the sort of word you and Katharine
Mr. Hilbery suggested "cynical."
"Well, that'll do. I don't believe in sending girls to college, but I
should teach them that sort of thing. It makes one feel so dignified,
bringing out these little allusions, and passing on gracefully to the
next topic. But I don't know what's come over me--I actually had to ask
Augustus the name of the lady Hamlet was in love with, as you were out,
Katharine, and Heaven knows what he mayn't put down about me in his
"I wish," Katharine started, with great impetuosity, and checked
herself. Her mother always stirred her to feel and think quickly, and
then she remembered that her father was there, listening with attention.
"What is it you wish?" he asked, as she paused.
He often surprised her, thus, into telling him what she had not meant to
tell him; and then they argued, while Mrs. Hilbery went on with her own
"I wish mother wasn't famous. I was out at tea, and they would talk to
me about poetry."
"Thinking you must be poetical, I see--and aren't you?"
"Who's been talking to you about poetry, Katharine?" Mrs. Hilbery
demanded, and Katharine was committed to giving her parents an account
of her visit to the Suffrage office.
"They have an office at the top of one of the old houses in Russell
Square. I never saw such queer-looking people. And the man discovered
I was related to the poet, and talked to me about poetry. Even Mary
Datchet seems different in that atmosphere."
"Yes, the office atmosphere is very bad for the soul," said Mr. Hilbery.
"I don't remember any offices in Russell Square in the old days, when
Mamma lived there," Mrs. Hilbery mused, "and I can't fancy turning one
of those noble great rooms into a stuffy little Suffrage office. Still,
if the clerks read poetry there must be something nice about them."
"No, because they don't read it as we read it," Katharine insisted.
"But it's nice to think of them reading your grandfather, and not
filling up those dreadful little forms all day long," Mrs. Hilbery
persisted, her notion of office life being derived from some chance view
of a scene behind the counter at her bank, as she slipped the sovereigns
into her purse.
"At any rate, they haven't made a convert of Katharine, which was what I
was afraid of," Mr. Hilbery remarked.
"Oh no," said Katharine very decidedly, "I wouldn't work with them for
"It's curious," Mr. Hilbery continued, agreeing with his daughter, "how
the sight of one's fellow-enthusiasts always chokes one off. They
show up the faults of one's cause so much more plainly than one's
antagonists. One can be enthusiastic in one's study, but directly one
comes into touch with the people who agree with one, all the glamor
goes. So I've always found," and he proceeded to tell them, as he peeled
his apple, how he committed himself once, in his youthful days, to make
a speech at a political meeting, and went there ablaze with enthusiasm
for the ideals of his own side; but while his leaders spoke, he became
gradually converted to the other way of thinking, if thinking it could
be called, and had to feign illness in order to avoid making a fool of
himself--an experience which had sickened him of public meetings.
Katharine listened and felt as she generally did when her father, and
to some extent her mother, described their feelings, that she quite
understood and agreed with them, but, at the same time, saw something
which they did not see, and always felt some disappointment when they
fell short of her vision, as they always did. The plates succeeded each
other swiftly and noiselessly in front of her, and the table was decked
for dessert, and as the talk murmured on in familiar grooves, she sat
there, rather like a judge, listening to her parents, who did, indeed,
feel it very pleasant when they made her laugh.
Daily life in a house where there are young and old is full of curious
little ceremonies and pieties, which are discharged quite punctually,
though the meaning of them is obscure, and a mystery has come to brood
over them which lends even a superstitious charm to their performance.
Such was the nightly ceremony of the cigar and the glass of port, which
were placed on the right hand and on the left hand of Mr. Hilbery, and
simultaneously Mrs. Hilbery and Katharine left the room. All the years
they had lived together they had never seen Mr. Hilbery smoke his cigar
or drink his port, and they would have felt it unseemly if, by chance,
they had surprised him as he sat there. These short, but clearly marked,
periods of separation between the sexes were always used for an intimate
postscript to what had been said at dinner, the sense of being women
together coming out most strongly when the male sex was, as if by some
religious rite, secluded from the female. Katharine knew by heart
the sort of mood that possessed her as she walked upstairs to the
drawing-room, her mother's arm in hers; and she could anticipate the
pleasure with which, when she had turned on the lights, they both
regarded the drawing-room, fresh swept and set in order for the
last section of the day, with the red parrots swinging on the chintz
curtains, and the arm-chairs warming in the blaze. Mrs. Hilbery stood
over the fire, with one foot on the fender, and her skirts slightly
"Oh, Katharine," she exclaimed, "how you've made me think of Mamma and
the old days in Russell Square! I can see the chandeliers, and the
green silk of the piano, and Mamma sitting in her cashmere shawl by
the window, singing till the little ragamuffin boys outside stopped to
listen. Papa sent me in with a bunch of violets while he waited round
the corner. It must have been a summer evening. That was before things
As she spoke an expression of regret, which must have come frequently to
cause the lines which now grew deep round the lips and eyes, settled on
her face. The poet's marriage had not been a happy one. He had left his
wife, and after some years of a rather reckless existence, she had
died, before her time. This disaster had led to great irregularities
of education, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery might be said to have escaped
education altogether. But she had been her father's companion at the
season when he wrote the finest of his poems. She had sat on his knee in
taverns and other haunts of drunken poets, and it was for her sake, so
people said, that he had cured himself of his dissipation, and become
the irreproachable literary character that the world knows, whose
inspiration had deserted him. As Mrs. Hilbery grew old she thought more
and more of the past, and this ancient disaster seemed at times almost
to prey upon her mind, as if she could not pass out of life herself
without laying the ghost of her parent's sorrow to rest.
Katharine wished to comfort her mother, but it was difficult to do this
satisfactorily when the facts themselves were so much of a legend. The
house in Russell Square, for example, with its noble rooms, and the
magnolia-tree in the garden, and the sweet-voiced piano, and the sound
of feet coming down the corridors, and other properties of size and
romance--had they any existence? Yet why should Mrs. Alardyce live all
alone in this gigantic mansion, and, if she did not live alone, with
whom did she live? For its own sake, Katharine rather liked this tragic
story, and would have been glad to hear the details of it, and to have
been able to discuss them frankly. But this it became less and less
possible to do, for though Mrs. Hilbery was constantly reverting to the
story, it was always in this tentative and restless fashion, as though
by a touch here and there she could set things straight which had been
crooked these sixty years. Perhaps, indeed, she no longer knew what the
"If they'd lived now," she concluded, "I feel it wouldn't have happened.
People aren't so set upon tragedy as they were then. If my father had
been able to go round the world, or if she'd had a rest cure, everything
would have come right. But what could I do? And then they had bad
friends, both of them, who made mischief. Ah, Katharine, when you marry,
be quite, quite sure that you love your husband!"
The tears stood in Mrs. Hilbery's eyes.
While comforting her, Katharine thought to herself, "Now this is what
Mary Datchet and Mr. Denham don't understand. This is the sort of
position I'm always getting into. How simple it must be to live as they
do!" for all the evening she had been comparing her home and her father
and mother with the Suffrage office and the people there.
"But, Katharine," Mrs. Hilbery continued, with one of her sudden changes
of mood, "though, Heaven knows, I don't want to see you married,
surely if ever a man loved a woman, William loves you. And it's a nice,
rich-sounding name too--Katharine Rodney, which, unfortunately, doesn't
mean that he's got any money, because he hasn't."
The alteration of her name annoyed Katharine, and she observed, rather
sharply, that she didn't want to marry any one.
"It's very dull that you can only marry one husband, certainly," Mrs.
Hilbery reflected. "I always wish that you could marry everybody who
wants to marry you. Perhaps they'll come to that in time, but meanwhile
I confess that dear William--" But here Mr. Hilbery came in, and the
more solid part of the evening began. This consisted in the reading
aloud by Katharine from some prose work or other, while her mother
knitted scarves intermittently on a little circular frame, and her
father read the newspaper, not so attentively but that he could comment
humorously now and again upon the fortunes of the hero and the heroine.
The Hilberys subscribed to a library, which delivered books on Tuesdays
and Fridays, and Katharine did her best to interest her parents in the
works of living and highly respectable authors; but Mrs. Hilbery was
perturbed by the very look of the light, gold-wreathed volumes, and
would make little faces as if she tasted something bitter as the reading
went on; while Mr. Hilbery would treat the moderns with a curious
elaborate banter such as one might apply to the antics of a promising
child. So this evening, after five pages or so of one of these masters,
Mrs. Hilbery protested that it was all too clever and cheap and nasty
"Please, Katharine, read us something REAL."
Katharine had to go to the bookcase and choose a portly volume in sleek,
yellow calf, which had directly a sedative effect upon both her parents.
But the delivery of the evening post broke in upon the periods of Henry
Fielding, and Katharine found that her letters needed all her attention.
She took her letters up to her room with her, having persuaded her
mother to go to bed directly Mr. Hilbery left them, for so long as she
sat in the same room as her mother, Mrs. Hilbery might, at any moment,
ask for a sight of the post. A very hasty glance through many sheets
had shown Katharine that, by some coincidence, her attention had to be
directed to many different anxieties simultaneously. In the first place,
Rodney had written a very full account of his state of mind, which was
illustrated by a sonnet, and he demanded a reconsideration of their
position, which agitated Katharine more than she liked. Then there were
two letters which had to be laid side by side and compared before she
could make out the truth of their story, and even when she knew the
facts she could not decide what to make of them; and finally she had
to reflect upon a great many pages from a cousin who found himself in
financial difficulties, which forced him to the uncongenial occupation
of teaching the young ladies of Bungay to play upon the violin.
But the two letters which each told the same story differently were the
chief source of her perplexity. She was really rather shocked to find it
definitely established that her own second cousin, Cyril Alardyce, had
lived for the last four years with a woman who was not his wife, who
had borne him two children, and was now about to bear him another. This
state of things had been discovered by Mrs. Milvain, her aunt Celia,
a zealous inquirer into such matters, whose letter was also under
consideration. Cyril, she said, must be made to marry the woman at once;
and Cyril, rightly or wrongly, was indignant with such interference with
his affairs, and would not own that he had any cause to be ashamed of
himself. Had he any cause to be ashamed of himself, Katharine wondered;
and she turned to her aunt again.
"Remember," she wrote, in her profuse, emphatic statement, "that he
bears your grandfather's name, and so will the child that is to be
born. The poor boy is not so much to blame as the woman who deluded him,
thinking him a gentleman, which he IS, and having money, which he has
"What would Ralph Denham say to this?" thought Katharine, beginning to
pace up and down her bedroom. She twitched aside the curtains, so that,
on turning, she was faced by darkness, and looking out, could just
distinguish the branches of a plane-tree and the yellow lights of some
one else's windows.
"What would Mary Datchet and Ralph Denham say?" she reflected, pausing
by the window, which, as the night was warm, she raised, in order to
feel the air upon her face, and to lose herself in the nothingness of
night. But with the air the distant humming sound of far-off crowded
thoroughfares was admitted to the room. The incessant and tumultuous
hum of the distant traffic seemed, as she stood there, to represent
the thick texture of her life, for her life was so hemmed in with the
progress of other lives that the sound of its own advance was inaudible.
People like Ralph and Mary, she thought, had it all their own way, and
an empty space before them, and, as she envied them, she cast her mind
out to imagine an empty land where all this petty intercourse of men and
women, this life made up of the dense crossings and entanglements of men
and women, had no existence whatever. Even now, alone, at night, looking
out into the shapeless mass of London, she was forced to remember that
there was one point and here another with which she had some connection.
William Rodney, at this very moment, was seated in a minute speck of
light somewhere to the east of her, and his mind was occupied, not with
his book, but with her. She wished that no one in the whole world
would think of her. However, there was no way of escaping from one's
fellow-beings, she concluded, and shut the window with a sigh, and
returned once more to her letters.
She could not doubt but that William's letter was the most genuine she
had yet received from him. He had come to the conclusion that he could
not live without her, he wrote. He believed that he knew her, and
could give her happiness, and that their marriage would be unlike other
marriages. Nor was the sonnet, in spite of its accomplishment, lacking
in passion, and Katharine, as she read the pages through again, could
see in what direction her feelings ought to flow, supposing they
revealed themselves. She would come to feel a humorous sort of
tenderness for him, a zealous care for his susceptibilities, and, after
all, she considered, thinking of her father and mother, what is love?
Naturally, with her face, position, and background, she had experience
of young men who wished to marry her, and made protestations of love,
but, perhaps because she did not return the feeling, it remained
something of a pageant to her. Not having experience of it herself, her
mind had unconsciously occupied itself for some years in dressing up an
image of love, and the marriage that was the outcome of love, and the
man who inspired love, which naturally dwarfed any examples that came
her way. Easily, and without correction by reason, her imagination made
pictures, superb backgrounds casting a rich though phantom light upon
the facts in the foreground. Splendid as the waters that drop with
resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge downwards into
the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she dreamt, drawing
into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing them all asunder in
the superb catastrophe in which everything was surrendered, and nothing
might be reclaimed. The man, too, was some magnanimous hero, riding a
great horse by the shore of the sea. They rode through forests together,
they galloped by the rim of the sea. But waking, she was able to
contemplate a perfectly loveless marriage, as the thing one did actually
in real life, for possibly the people who dream thus are those who do
the most prosaic things.
At this moment she was much inclined to sit on into the night, spinning
her light fabric of thoughts until she tired of their futility, and went
to her mathematics; but, as she knew very well, it was necessary that
she should see her father before he went to bed. The case of Cyril
Alardyce must be discussed, her mother's illusions and the rights of the
family attended to. Being vague herself as to what all this amounted
to, she had to take counsel with her father. She took her letters in her
hand and went downstairs. It was past eleven, and the clocks had
come into their reign, the grandfather's clock in the hall ticking in
competition with the small clock on the landing. Mr. Hilbery's study ran
out behind the rest of the house, on the ground floor, and was a very
silent, subterranean place, the sun in daytime casting a mere abstract
of light through a skylight upon his books and the large table, with its
spread of white papers, now illumined by a green reading-lamp. Here Mr.
Hilbery sat editing his review, or placing together documents by means
of which it could be proved that Shelley had written "of" instead of
"and," or that the inn in which Byron had slept was called the "Nag's
Head" and not the "Turkish Knight," or that the Christian name of
Keats's uncle had been John rather than Richard, for he knew more minute
details about these poets than any man in England, probably, and was
preparing an edition of Shelley which scrupulously observed the poet's
system of punctuation. He saw the humor of these researches, but that
did not prevent him from carrying them out with the utmost scrupulosity.
He was lying back comfortably in a deep arm-chair smoking a cigar, and
ruminating the fruitful question as to whether Coleridge had wished to
marry Dorothy Wordsworth, and what, if he had done so, would have been
the consequences to him in particular, and to literature in general.
When Katharine came in he reflected that he knew what she had come for,
and he made a pencil note before he spoke to her. Having done this, he
saw that she was reading, and he watched her for a moment without saying
anything. She was reading "Isabella and the Pot of Basil," and her mind
was full of the Italian hills and the blue daylight, and the hedges set
with little rosettes of red and white roses. Feeling that her father
waited for her, she sighed and said, shutting her book:
"I've had a letter from Aunt Celia about Cyril, father.... It seems to
be true--about his marriage. What are we to do?"
"Cyril seems to have been behaving in a very foolish manner," said Mr.
Hilbery, in his pleasant and deliberate tones.
Katharine found some difficulty in carrying on the conversation, while
her father balanced his finger-tips so judiciously, and seemed to
reserve so many of his thoughts for himself.
"He's about done for himself, I should say," he continued. Without
saying anything, he took Katharine's letters out of her hand, adjusted
his eyeglasses, and read them through.
At length he said "Humph!" and gave the letters back to her.
"Mother knows nothing about it," Katharine remarked. "Will you tell
"I shall tell your mother. But I shall tell her that there is nothing
whatever for us to do."
"But the marriage?" Katharine asked, with some diffidence.
Mr. Hilbery said nothing, and stared into the fire.
"What in the name of conscience did he do it for?" he speculated at
last, rather to himself than to her.
Katharine had begun to read her aunt's letter over again, and she now
quoted a sentence. "Ibsen and Butler.... He has sent me a letter full of
quotations--nonsense, though clever nonsense."
"Well, if the younger generation want to carry on its life on those
lines, it's none of our affair," he remarked.
"But isn't it our affair, perhaps, to make them get married?" Katharine
asked rather wearily.
"Why the dickens should they apply to me?" her father demanded with
"Only as the head of the family--"
"But I'm not the head of the family. Alfred's the head of the family.
Let them apply to Alfred," said Mr. Hilbery, relapsing again into his
arm-chair. Katharine was aware that she had touched a sensitive spot,
however, in mentioning the family.
"I think, perhaps, the best thing would be for me to go and see them,"
"I won't have you going anywhere near them," Mr. Hilbery replied with
unwonted decision and authority. "Indeed, I don't understand why they've
dragged you into the business at all--I don't see that it's got anything
to do with you."
"I've always been friends with Cyril," Katharine observed.
"But did he ever tell you anything about this?" Mr. Hilbery asked rather
Katharine shook her head. She was, indeed, a good deal hurt that Cyril
had not confided in her--did he think, as Ralph Denham or Mary Datchet
might think, that she was, for some reason, unsympathetic--hostile even?
"As to your mother," said Mr. Hilbery, after a pause, in which he seemed
to be considering the color of the flames, "you had better tell her the
facts. She'd better know the facts before every one begins to talk about
it, though why Aunt Celia thinks it necessary to come, I'm sure I don't
know. And the less talk there is the better."
Granting the assumption that gentlemen of sixty who are highly
cultivated, and have had much experience of life, probably think of many
things which they do not say, Katharine could not help feeling rather
puzzled by her father's attitude, as she went back to her room. What a
distance he was from it all! How superficially he smoothed these events
into a semblance of decency which harmonized with his own view of life!
He never wondered what Cyril had felt, nor did the hidden aspects of the
case tempt him to examine into them. He merely seemed to realize, rather
languidly, that Cyril had behaved in a way which was foolish, because
other people did not behave in that way. He seemed to be looking through
a telescope at little figures hundreds of miles in the distance.
Her selfish anxiety not to have to tell Mrs. Hilbery what had happened
made her follow her father into the hall after breakfast the next
morning in order to question him.
"Have you told mother?" she asked. Her manner to her father was almost
stern, and she seemed to hold endless depths of reflection in the dark
of her eyes.
Mr. Hilbery sighed.
"My dear child, it went out of my head." He smoothed his silk hat
energetically, and at once affected an air of hurry. "I'll send a note
round from the office.... I'm late this morning, and I've any amount of
proofs to get through."
"That wouldn't do at all," Katharine said decidedly. "She must be
told--you or I must tell her. We ought to have told her at first."
Mr. Hilbery had now placed his hat on his head, and his hand was on the
door-knob. An expression which Katharine knew well from her childhood,
when he asked her to shield him in some neglect of duty, came into his
eyes; malice, humor, and irresponsibility were blended in it. He nodded
his head to and fro significantly, opened the door with an adroit
movement, and stepped out with a lightness unexpected at his age. He
waved his hand once to his daughter, and was gone. Left alone, Katharine
could not help laughing to find herself cheated as usual in domestic
bargainings with her father, and left to do the disagreeable work which
belonged, by rights, to him.
Katharine disliked telling her mother about Cyril's misbehavior quite as
much as her father did, and for much the same reasons. They both shrank,
nervously, as people fear the report of a gun on the stage, from all
that would have to be said on this occasion. Katharine, moreover, was
unable to decide what she thought of Cyril's misbehavior. As usual, she
saw something which her father and mother did not see, and the effect of
that something was to suspend Cyril's behavior in her mind without any
qualification at all. They would think whether it was good or bad; to
her it was merely a thing that had happened.
When Katharine reached the study, Mrs. Hilbery had already dipped her
pen in the ink.
"Katharine," she said, lifting it in the air, "I've just made out such
a queer, strange thing about your grandfather. I'm three years and six
months older than he was when he died. I couldn't very well have been
his mother, but I might have been his elder sister, and that seems to me
such a pleasant fancy. I'm going to start quite fresh this morning, and
get a lot done."
She began her sentence, at any rate, and Katharine sat down at her own
table, untied the bundle of old letters upon which she was working,
smoothed them out absent-mindedly, and began to decipher the faded
script. In a minute she looked across at her mother, to judge her mood.
Peace and happiness had relaxed every muscle in her face; her lips
were parted very slightly, and her breath came in smooth, controlled
inspirations like those of a child who is surrounding itself with a
building of bricks, and increasing in ecstasy as each brick is placed in
position. So Mrs. Hilbery was raising round her the skies and trees of
the past with every stroke of her pen, and recalling the voices of
the dead. Quiet as the room was, and undisturbed by the sounds of the
present moment, Katharine could fancy that here was a deep pool of past
time, and that she and her mother were bathed in the light of sixty
years ago. What could the present give, she wondered, to compare with
the rich crowd of gifts bestowed by the past? Here was a Thursday
morning in process of manufacture; each second was minted fresh by the
clock upon the mantelpiece. She strained her ears and could just hear,
far off, the hoot of a motor-car and the rush of wheels coming nearer
and dying away again, and the voices of men crying old iron and
vegetables in one of the poorer streets at the back of the house. Rooms,
of course, accumulate their suggestions, and any room in which one has
been used to carry on any particular occupation gives off memories
of moods, of ideas, of postures that have been seen in it; so that to
attempt any different kind of work there is almost impossible.
Katharine was unconsciously affected, each time she entered her mother's
room, by all these influences, which had had their birth years ago,
when she was a child, and had something sweet and solemn about them,
and connected themselves with early memories of the cavernous glooms and
sonorous echoes of the Abbey where her grandfather lay buried. All the
books and pictures, even the chairs and tables, had belonged to him,
or had reference to him; even the china dogs on the mantelpiece and the
little shepherdesses with their sheep had been bought by him for a penny
a piece from a man who used to stand with a tray of toys in Kensington
High Street, as Katharine had often heard her mother tell. Often she
had sat in this room, with her mind fixed so firmly on those vanished
figures that she could almost see the muscles round their eyes and lips,
and had given to each his own voice, with its tricks of accent, and his
coat and his cravat. Often she had seemed to herself to be moving among
them, an invisible ghost among the living, better acquainted with them
than with her own friends, because she knew their secrets and possessed
a divine foreknowledge of their destiny. They had been so unhappy, such
muddlers, so wrong-headed, it seemed to her. She could have told them
what to do, and what not to do. It was a melancholy fact that they
would pay no heed to her, and were bound to come to grief in their own
antiquated way. Their behavior was often grotesquely irrational; their
conventions monstrously absurd; and yet, as she brooded upon them, she
felt so closely attached to them that it was useless to try to pass
judgment upon them. She very nearly lost consciousness that she was
a separate being, with a future of her own. On a morning of slight
depression, such as this, she would try to find some sort of clue to the
muddle which their old letters presented; some reason which seemed
to make it worth while to them; some aim which they kept steadily in
view--but she was interrupted.
Mrs. Hilbery had risen from her table, and was standing looking out of
the window at a string of barges swimming up the river.
Katharine watched her. Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery turned abruptly, and
"I really believe I'm bewitched! I only want three sentences, you see,
something quite straightforward and commonplace, and I can't find 'em."
She began to pace up and down the room, snatching up her duster; but she
was too much annoyed to find any relief, as yet, in polishing the backs
"Besides," she said, giving the sheet she had written to Katharine, "I
don't believe this'll do. Did your grandfather ever visit the Hebrides,
Katharine?" She looked in a strangely beseeching way at her daughter.
"My mind got running on the Hebrides, and I couldn't help writing a
little description of them. Perhaps it would do at the beginning of a
chapter. Chapters often begin quite differently from the way they go on,
you know." Katharine read what her mother had written. She might have
been a schoolmaster criticizing a child's essay. Her face gave Mrs.
Hilbery, who watched it anxiously, no ground for hope.
"It's very beautiful," she stated, "but, you see, mother, we ought to go
from point to point--"
"Oh, I know," Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "And that's just what I can't do.
Things keep coming into my head. It isn't that I don't know everything
and feel everything (who did know him, if I didn't?), but I can't put
it down, you see. There's a kind of blind spot," she said, touching her
forehead, "there. And when I can't sleep o' nights, I fancy I shall die
without having done it."
From exultation she had passed to the depths of depression which the
imagination of her death aroused. The depression communicated itself
to Katharine. How impotent they were, fiddling about all day long with
papers! And the clock was striking eleven and nothing done! She watched
her mother, now rummaging in a great brass-bound box which stood by her
table, but she did not go to her help. Of course, Katharine reflected,
her mother had now lost some paper, and they would waste the rest of the
morning looking for it. She cast her eyes down in irritation, and read
again her mother's musical sentences about the silver gulls, and the
roots of little pink flowers washed by pellucid streams, and the blue
mists of hyacinths, until she was struck by her mother's silence. She
raised her eyes. Mrs. Hilbery had emptied a portfolio containing old
photographs over her table, and was looking from one to another.
"Surely, Katharine," she said, "the men were far handsomer in those days
than they are now, in spite of their odious whiskers? Look at old John
Graham, in his white waistcoat--look at Uncle Harley. That's Peter the
manservant, I suppose. Uncle John brought him back from India."
Katharine looked at her mother, but did not stir or answer. She had
suddenly become very angry, with a rage which their relationship made
silent, and therefore doubly powerful and critical. She felt all the
unfairness of the claim which her mother tacitly made to her time and
sympathy, and what Mrs. Hilbery took, Katharine thought bitterly, she
wasted. Then, in a flash, she remembered that she had still to tell her
about Cyril's misbehavior. Her anger immediately dissipated itself; it
broke like some wave that has gathered itself high above the rest; the
waters were resumed into the sea again, and Katharine felt once more
full of peace and solicitude, and anxious only that her mother should be
protected from pain. She crossed the room instinctively, and sat on
the arm of her mother's chair. Mrs. Hilbery leant her head against her
"What is nobler," she mused, turning over the photographs, "than to be
a woman to whom every one turns, in sorrow or difficulty? How have the
young women of your generation improved upon that, Katharine? I can see
them now, sweeping over the lawns at Melbury House, in their flounces
and furbelows, so calm and stately and imperial (and the monkey and
the little black dwarf following behind), as if nothing mattered in
the world but to be beautiful and kind. But they did more than we do, I
sometimes think. They WERE, and that's better than doing. They seem to
me like ships, like majestic ships, holding on their way, not shoving or
pushing, not fretted by little things, as we are, but taking their way,
like ships with white sails."
Katharine tried to interrupt this discourse, but the opportunity did not
come, and she could not forbear to turn over the pages of the album in
which the old photographs were stored. The faces of these men and women
shone forth wonderfully after the hubbub of living faces, and seemed,
as her mother had said, to wear a marvelous dignity and calm, as if they
had ruled their kingdoms justly and deserved great love. Some were of
almost incredible beauty, others were ugly enough in a forcible way, but
none were dull or bored or insignificant. The superb stiff folds of the
crinolines suited the women; the cloaks and hats of the gentlemen seemed
full of character. Once more Katharine felt the serene air all round
her, and seemed far off to hear the solemn beating of the sea upon the
shore. But she knew that she must join the present on to this past.
Mrs. Hilbery was rambling on, from story to story.
"That's Janie Mannering," she said, pointing to a superb, white-haired
dame, whose satin robes seemed strung with pearls. "I must have told you
how she found her cook drunk under the kitchen table when the Empress
was coming to dinner, and tucked up her velvet sleeves (she always
dressed like an Empress herself), cooked the whole meal, and appeared in
the drawing-room as if she'd been sleeping on a bank of roses all day.
She could do anything with her hands--they all could--make a cottage or
embroider a petticoat.
"And that's Queenie Colquhoun," she went on, turning the pages, "who
took her coffin out with her to Jamaica, packed with lovely shawls and
bonnets, because you couldn't get coffins in Jamaica, and she had a
horror of dying there (as she did), and being devoured by the white
ants. And there's Sabine, the loveliest of them all; ah! it was like
a star rising when she came into the room. And that's Miriam, in her
coachman's cloak, with all the little capes on, and she wore great
top-boots underneath. You young people may say you're unconventional,
but you're nothing compared with her."
Turning the page, she came upon the picture of a very masculine,
handsome lady, whose head the photographer had adorned with an imperial
"Ah, you wretch!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed, "what a wicked old despot you
were, in your day! How we all bowed down before you! 'Maggie,' she used
to say, 'if it hadn't been for me, where would you be now?' And it was
true; she brought them together, you know. She said to my father, 'Marry
her,' and he did; and she said to poor little Clara, 'Fall down and
worship him,' and she did; but she got up again, of course. What else
could one expect? She was a mere child--eighteen--and half dead with
fright, too. But that old tyrant never repented. She used to say that
she had given them three perfect months, and no one had a right to more;
and I sometimes think, Katharine, that's true, you know. It's more than
most of us have, only we have to pretend, which was a thing neither of
them could ever do. I fancy," Mrs. Hilbery mused, "that there was a kind
of sincerity in those days between men and women which, with all your
outspokenness, you haven't got."
Katharine again tried to interrupt. But Mrs. Hilbery had been gathering
impetus from her recollections, and was now in high spirits.
"They must have been good friends at heart," she resumed, "because she
used to sing his songs. Ah, how did it go?" and Mrs. Hilbery, who had a
very sweet voice, trolled out a famous lyric of her father's which had
been set to an absurdly and charmingly sentimental air by some early
"It's the vitality of them!" she concluded, striking her fist against
the table. "That's what we haven't got! We're virtuous, we're earnest,
we go to meetings, we pay the poor their wages, but we don't live as
they lived. As often as not, my father wasn't in bed three nights out
of the seven, but always fresh as paint in the morning. I hear him now,
come singing up the stairs to the nursery, and tossing the loaf
for breakfast on his sword-stick, and then off we went for a day's
pleasuring--Richmond, Hampton Court, the Surrey Hills. Why shouldn't we
go, Katharine? It's going to be a fine day."
At this moment, just as Mrs. Hilbery was examining the weather from the
window, there was a knock at the door. A slight, elderly lady came in,
and was saluted by Katharine, with very evident dismay, as "Aunt Celia!"
She was dismayed because she guessed why Aunt Celia had come. It was
certainly in order to discuss the case of Cyril and the woman who was
not his wife, and owing to her procrastination Mrs. Hilbery was quite
unprepared. Who could be more unprepared? Here she was, suggesting that
all three of them should go on a jaunt to Blackfriars to inspect the
site of Shakespeare's theater, for the weather was hardly settled enough
for the country.
To this proposal Mrs. Milvain listened with a patient smile, which
indicated that for many years she had accepted such eccentricities in
her sister-in-law with bland philosophy. Katharine took up her position
at some distance, standing with her foot on the fender, as though by so
doing she could get a better view of the matter. But, in spite of her
aunt's presence, how unreal the whole question of Cyril and his morality
appeared! The difficulty, it now seemed, was not to break the news
gently to Mrs. Hilbery, but to make her understand it. How was one
to lasso her mind, and tether it to this minute, unimportant spot? A
matter-of-fact statement seemed best.
"I think Aunt Celia has come to talk about Cyril, mother," she said
rather brutally. "Aunt Celia has discovered that Cyril is married. He
has a wife and children."
"No, he is NOT married," Mrs. Milvain interposed, in low tones,
addressing herself to Mrs. Hilbery. "He has two children, and another on
Mrs. Hilbery looked from one to the other in bewilderment.
"We thought it better to wait until it was proved before we told you,"
"But I met Cyril only a fortnight ago at the National Gallery!" Mrs.
Hilbery exclaimed. "I don't believe a word of it," and she tossed her
head with a smile on her lips at Mrs. Milvain, as though she could quite
understand her mistake, which was a very natural mistake, in the case of
a childless woman, whose husband was something very dull in the Board of
"I didn't WISH to believe it, Maggie," said Mrs. Milvain. "For a long
time I COULDN'T believe it. But now I've seen, and I HAVE to believe
"Katharine," Mrs. Hilbery demanded, "does your father know of this?"
"Cyril married!" Mrs. Hilbery repeated. "And never telling us a word,
though we've had him in our house since he was a child--noble William's
son! I can't believe my ears!"
Feeling that the burden of proof was laid upon her, Mrs. Milvain
now proceeded with her story. She was elderly and fragile, but her
childlessness seemed always to impose these painful duties on her, and
to revere the family, and to keep it in repair, had now become the chief
object of her life. She told her story in a low, spasmodic, and somewhat
"I have suspected for some time that he was not happy. There were new
lines on his face. So I went to his rooms, when I knew he was engaged
at the poor men's college. He lectures there--Roman law, you know, or it
may be Greek. The landlady said Mr. Alardyce only slept there about once
a fortnight now. He looked so ill, she said. She had seen him with a
young person. I suspected something directly. I went to his room, and
there was an envelope on the mantelpiece, and a letter with an address
in Seton Street, off the Kennington Road."
Mrs. Hilbery fidgeted rather restlessly, and hummed fragments of her
tune, as if to interrupt.
"I went to Seton Street," Aunt Celia continued firmly. "A very low
place--lodging-houses, you know, with canaries in the window. Number
seven just like all the others. I rang, I knocked; no one came. I went
down the area. I am certain I saw some one inside--children--a cradle.
But no reply--no reply." She sighed, and looked straight in front of her
with a glazed expression in her half-veiled blue eyes.
"I stood in the street," she resumed, "in case I could catch a sight of
one of them. It seemed a very long time. There were rough men singing
in the public-house round the corner. At last the door opened, and some
one--it must have been the woman herself--came right past me. There was
only the pillar-box between us."
"And what did she look like?" Mrs. Hilbery demanded.
"One could see how the poor boy had been deluded," was all that Mrs.
Milvain vouchsafed by way of description.
"Poor thing!" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed.
"Poor Cyril!" Mrs. Milvain said, laying a slight emphasis upon Cyril.
"But they've got nothing to live upon," Mrs. Hilbery continued. "If he'd
come to us like a man," she went on, "and said, 'I've been a fool,' one
would have pitied him; one would have tried to help him. There's nothing
so disgraceful after all--But he's been going about all these years,
pretending, letting one take it for granted, that he was single. And the
poor deserted little wife--"
"She is NOT his wife," Aunt Celia interrupted.
"I've never heard anything so detestable!" Mrs. Hilbery wound up,
striking her fist on the arm of her chair. As she realized the facts she
became thoroughly disgusted, although, perhaps, she was more hurt by
the concealment of the sin than by the sin itself. She looked splendidly
roused and indignant; and Katharine felt an immense relief and pride in
her mother. It was plain that her indignation was very genuine, and
that her mind was as perfectly focused upon the facts as any one could
wish--more so, by a long way, than Aunt Celia's mind, which seemed to
be timidly circling, with a morbid pleasure, in these unpleasant shades.
She and her mother together would take the situation in hand, visit
Cyril, and see the whole thing through.
"We must realize Cyril's point of view first," she said, speaking
directly to her mother, as if to a contemporary, but before the words
were out of her mouth, there was more confusion outside, and Cousin
Caroline, Mrs. Hilbery's maiden cousin, entered the room. Although she
was by birth an Alardyce, and Aunt Celia a Hilbery, the complexities of
the family relationship were such that each was at once first and second
cousin to the other, and thus aunt and cousin to the culprit Cyril, so
that his misbehavior was almost as much Cousin Caroline's affair as
Aunt Celia's. Cousin Caroline was a lady of very imposing height and
circumference, but in spite of her size and her handsome trappings,
there was something exposed and unsheltered in her expression, as if
for many summers her thin red skin and hooked nose and reduplication of
chins, so much resembling the profile of a cockatoo, had been bared to
the weather; she was, indeed, a single lady; but she had, it was the
habit to say, "made a life for herself," and was thus entitled to be
heard with respect.
"This unhappy business," she began, out of breath as she was. "If the
train had not gone out of the station just as I arrived, I should have
been with you before. Celia has doubtless told you. You will agree with
me, Maggie. He must be made to marry her at once for the sake of the
"But does he refuse to marry her?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired, with a return
of her bewilderment.
"He has written an absurd perverted letter, all quotations," Cousin
Caroline puffed. "He thinks he's doing a very fine thing, where we only
see the folly of it.... The girl's every bit as infatuated as he is--for
which I blame him."
"She entangled him," Aunt Celia intervened, with a very curious
smoothness of intonation, which seemed to convey a vision of threads
weaving and interweaving a close, white mesh round their victim.
"It's no use going into the rights and wrongs of the affair now, Celia,"
said Cousin Caroline with some acerbity, for she believed herself the
only practical one of the family, and regretted that, owing to the
slowness of the kitchen clock, Mrs. Milvain had already confused
poor dear Maggie with her own incomplete version of the facts. "The
mischief's done, and very ugly mischief too. Are we to allow the third
child to be born out of wedlock? (I am sorry to have to say these things
before you, Katharine.) He will bear your name, Maggie--your father's
"But let us hope it will be a girl," said Mrs. Hilbery.
Katharine, who had been looking at her mother constantly, while the
chatter of tongues held sway, perceived that the look of straightforward
indignation had already vanished; her mother was evidently casting
about in her mind for some method of escape, or bright spot, or sudden
illumination which should show to the satisfaction of everybody that all
had happened, miraculously but incontestably, for the best.
"It's detestable--quite detestable!" she repeated, but in tones of no
great assurance; and then her face lit up with a smile which, tentative
at first, soon became almost assured. "Nowadays, people don't think
so badly of these things as they used to do," she began. "It will be
horribly uncomfortable for them sometimes, but if they are brave, clever
children, as they will be, I dare say it'll make remarkable people of
them in the end. Robert Browning used to say that every great man has
Jewish blood in him, and we must try to look at it in that light. And,
after all, Cyril has acted on principle. One may disagree with
his principle, but, at least, one can respect it--like the French
Revolution, or Cromwell cutting the King's head off. Some of the most
terrible things in history have been done on principle," she concluded.
"I'm afraid I take a very different view of principle," Cousin Caroline
"Principle!" Aunt Celia repeated, with an air of deprecating such a word
in such a connection. "I will go to-morrow and see him," she added.
"But why should you take these disagreeable things upon yourself,
Celia?" Mrs. Hilbery interposed, and Cousin Caroline thereupon protested
with some further plan involving sacrifice of herself.
Growing weary of it all, Katharine turned to the window, and stood among
the folds of the curtain, pressing close to the window-pane, and gazing
disconsolately at the river much in the attitude of a child depressed
by the meaningless talk of its elders. She was much disappointed in her
mother--and in herself too. The little tug which she gave to the blind,
letting it fly up to the top with a snap, signified her annoyance. She
was very angry, and yet impotent to give expression to her anger, or
know with whom she was angry. How they talked and moralized and made up
stories to suit their own version of the becoming, and secretly praised
their own devotion and tact! No; they had their dwelling in a mist, she
decided; hundreds of miles away--away from what? "Perhaps it would be
better if I married William," she thought suddenly, and the thought
appeared to loom through the mist like solid ground. She stood there,
thinking of her own destiny, and the elder ladies talked on, until
they had talked themselves into a decision to ask the young woman to
luncheon, and tell her, very friendlily, how such behavior appeared to
women like themselves, who knew the world. And then Mrs. Hilbery was
struck by a better idea.
Messrs. Grateley and Hooper, the solicitors in whose firm Ralph Denham
was clerk, had their office in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and there Ralph
Denham appeared every morning very punctually at ten o'clock. His
punctuality, together with other qualities, marked him out among the
clerks for success, and indeed it would have been safe to wager that in
ten years' time or so one would find him at the head of his profession,
had it not been for a peculiarity which sometimes seemed to make
everything about him uncertain and perilous. His sister Joan had already
been disturbed by his love of gambling with his savings. Scrutinizing
him constantly with the eye of affection, she had become aware of a
curious perversity in his temperament which caused her much anxiety, and
would have caused her still more if she had not recognized the germs
of it in her own nature. She could fancy Ralph suddenly sacrificing his
entire career for some fantastic imagination; some cause or idea or even
(so her fancy ran) for some woman seen from a railway train, hanging up
clothes in a back yard. When he had found this beauty or this cause,
no force, she knew, would avail to restrain him from pursuit of it. She
suspected the East also, and always fidgeted herself when she saw him
with a book of Indian travels in his hand, as though he were sucking
contagion from the page. On the other hand, no common love affair, had
there been such a thing, would have caused her a moment's uneasiness
where Ralph was concerned. He was destined in her fancy for something
splendid in the way of success or failure, she knew not which.
And yet nobody could have worked harder or done better in all the
recognized stages of a young man's life than Ralph had done, and Joan
had to gather materials for her fears from trifles in her brother's
behavior which would have escaped any other eye. It was natural that
she should be anxious. Life had been so arduous for all of them from
the start that she could not help dreading any sudden relaxation of his
grasp upon what he held, though, as she knew from inspection of her own
life, such sudden impulse to let go and make away from the discipline
and the drudgery was sometimes almost irresistible. But with Ralph,
if he broke away, she knew that it would be only to put himself under
harsher constraint; she figured him toiling through sandy deserts under
a tropical sun to find the source of some river or the haunt of some
fly; she figured him living by the labor of his hands in some city slum,
the victim of one of those terrible theories of right and wrong which
were current at the time; she figured him prisoner for life in the house
of a woman who had seduced him by her misfortunes. Half proudly, and
wholly anxiously, she framed such thoughts, as they sat, late at night,
talking together over the gas-stove in Ralph's bedroom.
It is likely that Ralph would not have recognized his own dream of a
future in the forecasts which disturbed his sister's peace of mind.
Certainly, if any one of them had been put before him he would have
rejected it with a laugh, as the sort of life that held no attractions
for him. He could not have said how it was that he had put these absurd
notions into his sister's head. Indeed, he prided himself upon being
well broken into a life of hard work, about which he had no sort of
illusions. His vision of his own future, unlike many such forecasts,
could have been made public at any moment without a blush; he attributed
to himself a strong brain, and conferred on himself a seat in the House
of Commons at the age of fifty, a moderate fortune, and, with luck,
an unimportant office in a Liberal Government. There was nothing
extravagant in a forecast of that kind, and certainly nothing
dishonorable. Nevertheless, as his sister guessed, it needed all Ralph's
strength of will, together with the pressure of circumstances, to
keep his feet moving in the path which led that way. It needed, in
particular, a constant repetition of a phrase to the effect that he
shared the common fate, found it best of all, and wished for no other;
and by repeating such phrases he acquired punctuality and habits of
work, and could very plausibly demonstrate that to be a clerk in a
solicitor's office was the best of all possible lives, and that other
ambitions were vain.
But, like all beliefs not genuinely held, this one depended very much
upon the amount of acceptance it received from other people, and in
private, when the pressure of public opinion was removed, Ralph let
himself swing very rapidly away from his actual circumstances upon
strange voyages which, indeed, he would have been ashamed to describe.
In these dreams, of course, he figured in noble and romantic parts, but
self-glorification was not the only motive of them. They gave outlet
to some spirit which found no work to do in real life, for, with the
pessimism which his lot forced upon him, Ralph had made up his mind that
there was no use for what, contemptuously enough, he called dreams, in
the world which we inhabit. It sometimes seemed to him that this spirit
was the most valuable possession he had; he thought that by means of
it he could set flowering waste tracts of the earth, cure many ills, or
raise up beauty where none now existed; it was, too, a fierce and potent
spirit which would devour the dusty books and parchments on the office
wall with one lick of its tongue, and leave him in a minute standing in
nakedness, if he gave way to it. His endeavor, for many years, had been
to control the spirit, and at the age of twenty-nine he thought he could
pride himself upon a life rigidly divided into the hours of work and
those of dreams; the two lived side by side without harming each other.
As a matter of fact, this effort at discipline had been helped by the
interests of a difficult profession, but the old conclusion to which
Ralph had come when he left college still held sway in his mind, and
tinged his views with the melancholy belief that life for most people
compels the exercise of the lower gifts and wastes the precious ones,
until it forces us to agree that there is little virtue, as well
as little profit, in what once seemed to us the noblest part of our
Denham was not altogether popular either in his office or among his
family. He was too positive, at this stage of his career, as to what was
right and what wrong, too proud of his self-control, and, as is natural
in the case of persons not altogether happy or well suited in their
conditions, too apt to prove the folly of contentment, if he found
any one who confessed to that weakness. In the office his rather
ostentatious efficiency annoyed those who took their own work more
lightly, and, if they foretold his advancement, it was not altogether
sympathetically. Indeed, he appeared to be rather a hard and
self-sufficient young man, with a queer temper, and manners that were
uncompromisingly abrupt, who was consumed with a desire to get on in the
world, which was natural, these critics thought, in a man of no means,
but not engaging.
The young men in the office had a perfect right to these opinions,
because Denham showed no particular desire for their friendship. He
liked them well enough, but shut them up in that compartment of life
which was devoted to work. Hitherto, indeed, he had found little
difficulty in arranging his life as methodically as he arranged his
expenditure, but about this time he began to encounter experiences which
were not so easy to classify. Mary Datchet had begun this confusion two
years ago by bursting into laughter at some remark of his, almost the
first time they met. She could not explain why it was. She thought him
quite astonishingly odd. When he knew her well enough to tell her how he
spent Monday and Wednesday and Saturday, she was still more amused; she
laughed till he laughed, too, without knowing why. It seemed to her very
odd that he should know as much about breeding bulldogs as any man in
England; that he had a collection of wild flowers found near London;
and his weekly visit to old Miss Trotter at Ealing, who was an authority
upon the science of Heraldry, never failed to excite her laughter. She
wanted to know everything, even the kind of cake which the old lady
supplied on these occasions; and their summer excursions to churches
in the neighborhood of London for the purpose of taking rubbings of the
brasses became most important festivals, from the interest she took in
them. In six months she knew more about his odd friends and hobbies than
his own brothers and sisters knew, after living with him all his life;
and Ralph found this very pleasant, though disordering, for his own view
of himself had always been profoundly serious.
Certainly it was very pleasant to be with Mary Datchet and to become,
directly the door was shut, quite a different sort of person, eccentric
and lovable, with scarcely any likeness to the self most people knew. He
became less serious, and rather less dictatorial at home, for he was apt
to hear Mary laughing at him, and telling him, as she was fond of doing,
that he knew nothing at all about anything. She made him, also, take an
interest in public questions, for which she had a natural liking; and
was in process of turning him from Tory to Radical, after a course
of public meetings, which began by boring him acutely, and ended by
exciting him even more than they excited her.
But he was reserved; when ideas started up in his mind, he divided them
automatically into those he could discuss with Mary, and those he must
keep for himself. She knew this and it interested her, for she was
accustomed to find young men very ready to talk about themselves, and
had come to listen to them as one listens to children, without any
thought of herself. But with Ralph, she had very little of this
maternal feeling, and, in consequence, a much keener sense of her own
Late one afternoon Ralph stepped along the Strand to an interview with
a lawyer upon business. The afternoon light was almost over, and already
streams of greenish and yellowish artificial light were being poured
into an atmosphere which, in country lanes, would now have been soft
with the smoke of wood fires; and on both sides of the road the shop
windows were full of sparkling chains and highly polished leather
cases, which stood upon shelves made of thick plate-glass. None of these
different objects was seen separately by Denham, but from all of them he
drew an impression of stir and cheerfulness. Thus it came about that he
saw Katharine Hilbery coming towards him, and looked straight at her, as
if she were only an illustration of the argument that was going forward
in his mind. In this spirit he noticed the rather set expression in
her eyes, and the slight, half-conscious movement of her lips, which,
together with her height and the distinction of her dress, made her look
as if the scurrying crowd impeded her, and her direction were different
from theirs. He noticed this calmly; but suddenly, as he passed her, his
hands and knees began to tremble, and his heart beat painfully. She did
not see him, and went on repeating to herself some lines which had stuck
to her memory: "It's life that matters, nothing but life--the process
of discovering--the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery
itself at all." Thus occupied, she did not see Denham, and he had not
the courage to stop her. But immediately the whole scene in the Strand
wore that curious look of order and purpose which is imparted to the
most heterogeneous things when music sounds; and so pleasant was this
impression that he was very glad that he had not stopped her, after
all. It grew slowly fainter, but lasted until he stood outside the
When his interview with the barrister was over, it was too late to go
back to the office. His sight of Katharine had put him queerly out of
tune for a domestic evening. Where should he go? To walk through the
streets of London until he came to Katharine's house, to look up at the
windows and fancy her within, seemed to him possible for a moment;
and then he rejected the plan almost with a blush as, with a curious
division of consciousness, one plucks a flower sentimentally and throws
it away, with a blush, when it is actually picked. No, he would go and
see Mary Datchet. By this time she would be back from her work.
To see Ralph appear unexpectedly in her room threw Mary for a second off
her balance. She had been cleaning knives in her little scullery,
and when she had let him in she went back again, and turned on the
cold-water tap to its fullest volume, and then turned it off again.
"Now," she thought to herself, as she screwed it tight, "I'm not going
to let these silly ideas come into my head.... Don't you think Mr.
Asquith deserves to be hanged?" she called back into the sitting-room,
and when she joined him, drying her hands, she began to tell him about
the latest evasion on the part of the Government with respect to the
Women's Suffrage Bill. Ralph did not want to talk about politics, but
he could not help respecting Mary for taking such an interest in public
questions. He looked at her as she leant forward, poking the fire, and
expressing herself very clearly in phrases which bore distantly the
taint of the platform, and he thought, "How absurd Mary would think me
if she knew that I almost made up my mind to walk all the way to Chelsea
in order to look at Katharine's windows. She wouldn't understand it, but
I like her very much as she is."
For some time they discussed what the women had better do; and as Ralph
became genuinely interested in the question, Mary unconsciously let
her attention wander, and a great desire came over her to talk to Ralph
about her own feelings; or, at any rate, about something personal, so
that she might see what he felt for her; but she resisted this wish. But
she could not prevent him from feeling her lack of interest in what he
was saying, and gradually they both became silent. One thought after
another came up in Ralph's mind, but they were all, in some way,
connected with Katharine, or with vague feelings of romance and
adventure such as she inspired. But he could not talk to Mary about such
thoughts; and he pitied her for knowing nothing of what he was feeling.
"Here," he thought, "is where we differ from women; they have no sense
"Well, Mary," he said at length, "why don't you say something amusing?"
His tone was certainly provoking, but, as a general rule, Mary was not
easily provoked. This evening, however, she replied rather sharply:
"Because I've got nothing amusing to say, I suppose."
Ralph thought for a moment, and then remarked:
"You work too hard. I don't mean your health," he added, as she laughed
scornfully, "I mean that you seem to me to be getting wrapped up in your
"And is that a bad thing?" she asked, shading her eyes with her hand.
"I think it is," he returned abruptly.
"But only a week ago you were saying the opposite." Her tone was
defiant, but she became curiously depressed. Ralph did not perceive it,
and took this opportunity of lecturing her, and expressing his latest
views upon the proper conduct of life. She listened, but her main
impression was that he had been meeting some one who had influenced him.
He was telling her that she ought to read more, and to see that
there were other points of view as deserving of attention as her own.
Naturally, having last seen him as he left the office in company
with Katharine, she attributed the change to her; it was likely that
Katharine, on leaving the scene which she had so clearly despised, had
pronounced some such criticism, or suggested it by her own attitude.
But she knew that Ralph would never admit that he had been influenced by
"You don't read enough, Mary," he was saying. "You ought to read more
It was true that Mary's reading had been rather limited to such works
as she needed to know for the sake of examinations; and her time for
reading in London was very little. For some reason, no one likes to be
told that they do not read enough poetry, but her resentment was only
visible in the way she changed the position of her hands, and in the
fixed look in her eyes. And then she thought to herself, "I'm behaving
exactly as I said I wouldn't behave," whereupon she relaxed all her
muscles and said, in her reasonable way:
"Tell me what I ought to read, then."
Ralph had unconsciously been irritated by Mary, and he now delivered
himself of a few names of great poets which were the text for a
discourse upon the imperfection of Mary's character and way of life.
"You live with your inferiors," he said, warming unreasonably, as he
knew, to his text. "And you get into a groove because, on the whole,
it's rather a pleasant groove. And you tend to forget what you're there
for. You've the feminine habit of making much of details. You don't see
when things matter and when they don't. And that's what's the ruin of
all these organizations. That's why the Suffragists have never done
anything all these years. What's the point of drawing-room meetings and
bazaars? You want to have ideas, Mary; get hold of something big; never
mind making mistakes, but don't niggle. Why don't you throw it all up
for a year, and travel?--see something of the world. Don't be content
to live with half a dozen people in a backwater all your life. But you
won't," he concluded.
"I've rather come to that way of thinking myself--about myself, I mean,"
said Mary, surprising him by her acquiescence. "I should like to go
somewhere far away."
For a moment they were both silent. Ralph then said:
"But look here, Mary, you haven't been taking this seriously, have you?"
His irritation was spent, and the depression, which she could not keep
out of her voice, made him feel suddenly with remorse that he had been
"You won't go away, will you?" he asked. And as she said nothing, he
added, "Oh no, don't go away."
"I don't know exactly what I mean to do," she replied. She hovered
on the verge of some discussion of her plans, but she received no
encouragement. He fell into one of his queer silences, which seemed to
Mary, in spite of all her precautions, to have reference to what she
also could not prevent herself from thinking about--their feeling
for each other and their relationship. She felt that the two lines of
thought bored their way in long, parallel tunnels which came very close
indeed, but never ran into each other.
When he had gone, and he left her without breaking his silence more than
was needed to wish her good night, she sat on for a time, reviewing what
he had said. If love is a devastating fire which melts the whole being
into one mountain torrent, Mary was no more in love with Denham than
she was in love with her poker or her tongs. But probably these extreme
passions are very rare, and the state of mind thus depicted belongs to
the very last stages of love, when the power to resist has been eaten
away, week by week or day by day. Like most intelligent people, Mary
was something of an egoist, to the extent, that is, of attaching great
importance to what she felt, and she was by nature enough of a moralist
to like to make certain, from time to time, that her feelings were
creditable to her. When Ralph left her she thought over her state of
mind, and came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to learn
a language--say Italian or German. She then went to a drawer, which she
had to unlock, and took from it certain deeply scored manuscript pages.
She read them through, looking up from her reading every now and then
and thinking very intently for a few seconds about Ralph. She did her
best to verify all the qualities in him which gave rise to emotions in
her; and persuaded herself that she accounted reasonably for them all.
Then she looked back again at her manuscript, and decided that to write
grammatical English prose is the hardest thing in the world. But
she thought about herself a great deal more than she thought about
grammatical English prose or about Ralph Denham, and it may therefore
be disputed whether she was in love, or, if so, to which branch of the
family her passion belonged.
"It's life that matters, nothing but life--the process of discovering,
the everlasting and perpetual process," said Katharine, as she passed
under the archway, and so into the wide space of King's Bench Walk, "not
the discovery itself at all." She spoke the last words looking up at
Rodney's windows, which were a semilucent red color, in her honor, as
she knew. He had asked her to tea with him. But she was in a mood when
it is almost physically disagreeable to interrupt the stride of one's
thought, and she walked up and down two or three times under the trees
before approaching his staircase. She liked getting hold of some book
which neither her father or mother had read, and keeping it to herself,
and gnawing its contents in privacy, and pondering the meaning without
sharing her thoughts with any one, or having to decide whether the book
was a good one or a bad one. This evening she had twisted the words of
Dostoevsky to suit her mood--a fatalistic mood--to proclaim that the
process of discovery was life, and that, presumably, the nature of one's
goal mattered not at all. She sat down for a moment upon one of the
seats; felt herself carried along in the swirl of many things;
decided, in her sudden way, that it was time to heave all this thinking
overboard, and rose, leaving a fishmonger's basket on the seat behind
her. Two minutes later her rap sounded with authority upon Rodney's
"Well, William," she said, "I'm afraid I'm late."
It was true, but he was so glad to see her that he forgot his annoyance.
He had been occupied for over an hour in making things ready for her,
and he now had his reward in seeing her look right and left, as she
slipped her cloak from her shoulders, with evident satisfaction,
although she said nothing. He had seen that the fire burnt well;
jam-pots were on the table, tin covers shone in the fender, and the
shabby comfort of the room was extreme. He was dressed in his old
crimson dressing-gown, which was faded irregularly, and had bright new
patches on it, like the paler grass which one finds on lifting a stone.
He made the tea, and Katharine drew off her gloves, and crossed her legs
with a gesture that was rather masculine in its ease. Nor did they talk
much until they were smoking cigarettes over the fire, having placed
their teacups upon the floor between them.
They had not met since they had exchanged letters about their
relationship. Katharine's answer to his protestation had been short and
sensible. Half a sheet of notepaper contained the whole of it, for she
merely had to say that she was not in love with him, and so could not
marry him, but their friendship would continue, she hoped, unchanged.
She had added a postscript in which she stated, "I like your sonnet very
So far as William was concerned, this appearance of ease was assumed.
Three times that afternoon he had dressed himself in a tail-coat, and
three times he had discarded it for an old dressing-gown; three times he
had placed his pearl tie-pin in position, and three times he had removed
it again, the little looking-glass in his room being the witness of
these changes of mind. The question was, which would Katharine prefer on
this particular afternoon in December? He read her note once more,
and the postscript about the sonnet settled the matter. Evidently she
admired most the poet in him; and as this, on the whole, agreed with his
own opinion, he decided to err, if anything, on the side of shabbiness.
His demeanor was also regulated with premeditation; he spoke little, and
only on impersonal matters; he wished her to realize that in visiting
him for the first time alone she was doing nothing remarkable, although,
in fact, that was a point about which he was not at all sure.
Certainly Katharine seemed quite unmoved by any disturbing thoughts;
and if he had been completely master of himself, he might, indeed,
have complained that she was a trifle absent-minded. The ease, the
familiarity of the situation alone with Rodney, among teacups and
candles, had more effect upon her than was apparent. She asked to look
at his books, and then at his pictures. It was while she held photograph
from the Greek in her hands that she exclaimed, impulsively, if
"My oysters! I had a basket," she explained, "and I've left it
somewhere. Uncle Dudley dines with us to-night. What in the world have I
done with them?"
She rose and began to wander about the room. William rose also, and
stood in front of the fire, muttering, "Oysters, oysters--your basket of
oysters!" but though he looked vaguely here and there, as if the oysters
might be on the top of the bookshelf, his eyes returned always to
Katharine. She drew the curtain and looked out among the scanty leaves
of the plane-trees.
"I had them," she calculated, "in the Strand; I sat on a seat. Well,
never mind," she concluded, turning back into the room abruptly, "I dare
say some old creature is enjoying them by this time."
"I should have thought that you never forgot anything," William
remarked, as they settled down again.
"That's part of the myth about me, I know," Katharine replied.
"And I wonder," William proceeded, with some caution, "what the truth
about you is? But I know this sort of thing doesn't interest you," he
added hastily, with a touch of peevishness.
"No; it doesn't interest me very much," she replied candidly.
"What shall we talk about then?" he asked.
She looked rather whimsically round the walls of the room.
"However we start, we end by talking about the same thing--about poetry,
I mean. I wonder if you realize, William, that I've never read even
Shakespeare? It's rather wonderful how I've kept it up all these years."
"You've kept it up for ten years very beautifully, as far as I'm
concerned," he said.
"Ten years? So long as that?"
"And I don't think it's always bored you," he added.
She looked into the fire silently. She could not deny that the surface
of her feeling was absolutely unruffled by anything in William's
character; on the contrary, she felt certain that she could deal with
whatever turned up. He gave her peace, in which she could think of
things that were far removed from what they talked about. Even now,
when he sat within a yard of her, how easily her mind ranged hither and
thither! Suddenly a picture presented itself before her, without any
effort on her part as pictures will, of herself in these very rooms; she
had come in from a lecture, and she held a pile of books in her hand,
scientific books, and books about mathematics and astronomy which
she had mastered. She put them down on the table over there. It was a
picture plucked from her life two or three years hence, when she was
married to William; but here she checked herself abruptly.
She could not entirely forget William's presence, because, in spite of
his efforts to control himself, his nervousness was apparent. On such
occasions his eyes protruded more than ever, and his face had more than
ever the appearance of being covered with a thin crackling skin, through
which every flush of his volatile blood showed itself instantly. By this
time he had shaped so many sentences and rejected them, felt so many
impulses and subdued them, that he was a uniform scarlet.
"You may say you don't read books," he remarked, "but, all the same, you
know about them. Besides, who wants you to be learned? Leave that to the
poor devils who've got nothing better to do. You--you--ahem!--"
"Well, then, why don't you read me something before I go?" said
Katharine, looking at her watch.
"Katharine, you've only just come! Let me see now, what have I got to
show you?" He rose, and stirred about the papers on his table, as if in
doubt; he then picked up a manuscript, and after spreading it smoothly
upon his knee, he looked up at Katharine suspiciously. He caught her
"I believe you only ask me to read out of kindness," he burst out.
"Let's find something else to talk about. Who have you been seeing?"
"I don't generally ask things out of kindness," Katharine observed;
"however, if you don't want to read, you needn't."
William gave a queer snort of exasperation, and opened his manuscript
once more, though he kept his eyes upon her face as he did so. No face
could have been graver or more judicial.
"One can trust you, certainly, to say unpleasant things," he said,
smoothing out the page, clearing his throat, and reading half a stanza
to himself. "Ahem! The Princess is lost in the wood, and she hears the
sound of a horn. (This would all be very pretty on the stage, but I
can't get the effect here.) Anyhow, Sylvano enters, accompanied by
the rest of the gentlemen of Gratian's court. I begin where he
soliloquizes." He jerked his head and began to read.
Although Katharine had just disclaimed any knowledge of literature, she
listened attentively. At least, she listened to the first twenty-five
lines attentively, and then she frowned. Her attention was only aroused
again when Rodney raised his finger--a sign, she knew, that the meter
was about to change.
His theory was that every mood has its meter. His mastery of meters was
very great; and, if the beauty of a drama depended upon the variety
of measures in which the personages speak, Rodney's plays must
have challenged the works of Shakespeare. Katharine's ignorance of
Shakespeare did not prevent her from feeling fairly certain that plays
should not produce a sense of chill stupor in the audience, such as
overcame her as the lines flowed on, sometimes long and sometimes short,
but always delivered with the same lilt of voice, which seemed to nail
each line firmly on to the same spot in the hearer's brain. Still, she
reflected, these sorts of skill are almost exclusively masculine; women
neither practice them nor know how to value them; and one's husband's
proficiency in this direction might legitimately increase one's respect
for him, since mystification is no bad basis for respect. No one could
doubt that William was a scholar. The reading ended with the finish of
the Act; Katharine had prepared a little speech.
"That seems to me extremely well written, William; although, of course,
I don't know enough to criticize in detail."
"But it's the skill that strikes you--not the emotion?"
"In a fragment like that, of course, the skill strikes one most."
"But perhaps--have you time to listen to one more short piece? the scene
between the lovers? There's some real feeling in that, I think. Denham
agrees that it's the best thing I've done."
"You've read it to Ralph Denham?" Katharine inquired, with surprise.
"He's a better judge than I am. What did he say?"
"My dear Katharine," Rodney exclaimed, "I don't ask you for criticism,
as I should ask a scholar. I dare say there are only five men in England
whose opinion of my work matters a straw to me. But I trust you where
feeling is concerned. I had you in my mind often when I was writing
those scenes. I kept asking myself, 'Now is this the sort of thing
Katharine would like?' I always think of you when I'm writing,
Katharine, even when it's the sort of thing you wouldn't know about.
And I'd rather--yes, I really believe I'd rather--you thought well of my
writing than any one in the world."
This was so genuine a tribute to his trust in her that Katharine was
"You think too much of me altogether, William," she said, forgetting
that she had not meant to speak in this way.
"No, Katharine, I don't," he replied, replacing his manuscript in the
drawer. "It does me good to think of you."
So quiet an answer, followed as it was by no expression of love, but
merely by the statement that if she must go he would take her to the
Strand, and would, if she could wait a moment, change his dressing-gown
for a coat, moved her to the warmest feeling of affection for him that
she had yet experienced. While he changed in the next room, she stood by
the bookcase, taking down books and opening them, but reading nothing on
She felt certain that she would marry Rodney. How could one avoid it?
How could one find fault with it? Here she sighed, and, putting the
thought of marriage away, fell into a dream state, in which she became
another person, and the whole world seemed changed. Being a frequent
visitor to that world, she could find her way there unhesitatingly. If
she had tried to analyze her impressions, she would have said that there
dwelt the realities of the appearances which figure in our world; so
direct, powerful, and unimpeded were her sensations there, compared with
those called forth in actual life. There dwelt the things one might have
felt, had there been cause; the perfect happiness of which here we taste
the fragment; the beauty seen here in flying glimpses only. No doubt
much of the furniture of this world was drawn directly from the
past, and even from the England of the Elizabethan age. However the
embellishment of this imaginary world might change, two qualities were
constant in it. It was a place where feelings were liberated from the
constraint which the real world puts upon them; and the process of
awakenment was always marked by resignation and a kind of stoical
acceptance of facts. She met no acquaintance there, as Denham did,
miraculously transfigured; she played no heroic part. But there
certainly she loved some magnanimous hero, and as they swept together
among the leaf-hung trees of an unknown world, they shared the feelings
which came fresh and fast as the waves on the shore. But the sands of
her liberation were running fast; even through the forest branches came
sounds of Rodney moving things on his dressing-table; and Katharine woke
herself from this excursion by shutting the cover of the book she was
holding, and replacing it in the bookshelf.
"William," she said, speaking rather faintly at first, like one sending
a voice from sleep to reach the living. "William," she repeated firmly,
"if you still want me to marry you, I will."
Perhaps it was that no man could expect to have the most momentous
question of his life settled in a voice so level, so toneless, so
devoid of joy or energy. At any rate William made no answer. She waited
stoically. A moment later he stepped briskly from his dressing-room, and
observed that if she wanted to buy more oysters he thought he knew where
they could find a fishmonger's shop still open. She breathed deeply a
sigh of relief.
Extract from a letter sent a few days later by Mrs. Hilbery to her
sister-in-law, Mrs. Milvain:
"... How stupid of me to forget the name in my telegram. Such a nice,
rich, English name, too, and, in addition, he has all the graces of
intellect; he has read literally EVERYTHING. I tell Katharine, I shall
always put him on my right side at dinner, so as to have him by me when
people begin talking about characters in Shakespeare. They won't be
rich, but they'll be very, very happy. I was sitting in my room late one
night, feeling that nothing nice would ever happen to me again, when I
heard Katharine outside in the passage, and I thought to myself, 'Shall
I call her in?' and then I thought (in that hopeless, dreary way one
does think, with the fire going out and one's birthday just over), 'Why
should I lay my troubles on HER?' But my little self-control had its
reward, for next moment she tapped at the door and came in, and sat on
the rug, and though we neither of us said anything, I felt so happy all
of a second that I couldn't help crying, 'Oh, Katharine, when you come
to my age, how I hope you'll have a daughter, too!' You know how silent
Katharine is. She was so silent, for such a long time, that in my
foolish, nervous state I dreaded something, I don't quite know what.
And then she told me how, after all, she had made up her mind. She had
written. She expected him to-morrow. At first I wasn't glad at all. I
didn't want her to marry any one; but when she said, 'It will make no
difference. I shall always care for you and father most,' then I saw how
selfish I was, and I told her she must give him everything, everything,
everything! I told her I should be thankful to come second. But why,
when everything's turned out just as one always hoped it would turn out,
why then can one do nothing but cry, nothing but feel a desolate old
woman whose life's been a failure, and now is nearly over, and age is so
cruel? But Katharine said to me, 'I am happy. I'm very happy.' And
then I thought, though it all seemed so desperately dismal at the time,
Katharine had said she was happy, and I should have a son, and it would
all turn out so much more wonderfully than I could possibly imagine, for
though the sermons don't say so, I do believe the world is meant for us
to be happy in. She told me that they would live quite near us, and see
us every day; and she would go on with the Life, and we should finish it
as we had meant to. And, after all, it would be far more horrid if
she didn't marry--or suppose she married some one we couldn't endure?
Suppose she had fallen in love with some one who was married already?
"And though one never thinks any one good enough for the people one's
fond of, he has the kindest, truest instincts, I'm sure, and though
he seems nervous and his manner is not commanding, I only think these
things because it's Katharine. And now I've written this, it comes over
me that, of course, all the time, Katharine has what he hasn't. She
does command, she isn't nervous; it comes naturally to her to rule and
control. It's time that she should give all this to some one who will
need her when we aren't there, save in our spirits, for whatever people
say, I'm sure I shall come back to this wonderful world where one's
been so happy and so miserable, where, even now, I seem to see myself
stretching out my hands for another present from the great Fairy Tree
whose boughs are still hung with enchanting toys, though they are rarer
now, perhaps, and between the branches one sees no longer the blue sky,
but the stars and the tops of the mountains.
"One doesn't know any more, does one? One hasn't any advice to give
one's children. One can only hope that they will have the same
vision and the same power to believe, without which life would be so
meaningless. That is what I ask for Katharine and her husband."
"Is Mr. Hilbery at home, or Mrs. Hilbery?" Denham asked, of the
parlor-maid in Chelsea, a week later.
"No, sir. But Miss Hilbery is at home," the girl answered.
Ralph had anticipated many answers, but not this one, and now it
was unexpectedly made plain to him that it was the chance of seeing
Katharine that had brought him all the way to Chelsea on pretence of
seeing her father.
He made some show of considering the matter, and was taken upstairs to
the drawing-room. As upon that first occasion, some weeks ago, the door
closed as if it were a thousand doors softly excluding the world; and
once more Ralph received an impression of a room full of deep shadows,
firelight, unwavering silver candle flames, and empty spaces to be
crossed before reaching the round table in the middle of the room,
with its frail burden of silver trays and china teacups. But this time
Katharine was there by herself; the volume in her hand showed that she
expected no visitors.
Ralph said something about hoping to find her father.
"My father is out," she replied. "But if you can wait, I expect him
It might have been due merely to politeness, but Ralph felt that she
received him almost with cordiality. Perhaps she was bored by drinking
tea and reading a book all alone; at any rate, she tossed the book on to
a sofa with a gesture of relief.
"Is that one of the moderns whom you despise?" he asked, smiling at the
carelessness of her gesture.
"Yes," she replied. "I think even you would despise him."
"Even I?" he repeated. "Why even I?"
"You said you liked modern things; I said I hated them."
This was not a very accurate report of their conversation among the
relics, perhaps, but Ralph was flattered to think that she remembered
anything about it.
"Or did I confess that I hated all books?" she went on, seeing him look
up with an air of inquiry. "I forget--"
"Do you hate all books?" he asked.
"It would be absurd to say that I hate all books when I've only read
ten, perhaps; but--' Here she pulled herself up short.
"Yes, I do hate books," she continued. "Why do you want to be for ever
talking about your feelings? That's what I can't make out. And poetry's
all about feelings--novels are all about feelings."
She cut a cake vigorously into slices, and providing a tray with bread
and butter for Mrs. Hilbery, who was in her room with a cold, she rose
to go upstairs.
Ralph held the door open for her, and then stood with clasped hands in
the middle of the room. His eyes were bright, and, indeed, he scarcely
knew whether they beheld dreams or realities. All down the street and
on the doorstep, and while he mounted the stairs, his dream of Katharine
possessed him; on the threshold of the room he had dismissed it, in
order to prevent too painful a collision between what he dreamt of her
and what she was. And in five minutes she had filled the shell of the
old dream with the flesh of life; looked with fire out of phantom eyes.
He glanced about him with bewilderment at finding himself among her
chairs and tables; they were solid, for he grasped the back of the chair
in which Katharine had sat; and yet they were unreal; the atmosphere was
that of a dream. He summoned all the faculties of his spirit to seize
what the minutes had to give him; and from the depths of his mind there
rose unchecked a joyful recognition of the truth that human nature
surpasses, in its beauty, all that our wildest dreams bring us hints of.
Katharine came into the room a moment later. He stood watching her come
towards him, and thought her more beautiful and strange than his dream
of her; for the real Katharine could speak the words which seemed
to crowd behind the forehead and in the depths of the eyes, and the
commonest sentence would be flashed on by this immortal light. And she
overflowed the edges of the dream; he remarked that her softness was
like that of some vast snowy owl; she wore a ruby on her finger.
"My mother wants me to tell you," she said, "that she hopes you have
begun your poem. She says every one ought to write poetry.... All my
relations write poetry," she went on. "I can't bear to think of it
sometimes--because, of course, it's none of it any good. But then one
needn't read it--"
"You don't encourage me to write a poem," said Ralph.
"But you're not a poet, too, are you?" she inquired, turning upon him
with a laugh.
"Should I tell you if I were?"
"Yes. Because I think you speak the truth," she said, searching him for
proof of this apparently, with eyes now almost impersonally direct. It
would be easy, Ralph thought, to worship one so far removed, and yet of
so straight a nature; easy to submit recklessly to her, without thought
of future pain.
"Are you a poet?" she demanded. He felt that her question had an
unexplained weight of meaning behind it, as if she sought an answer to a
question that she did not ask.
"No. I haven't written any poetry for years," he replied. "But all the
same, I don't agree with you. I think it's the only thing worth doing."
"Why do you say that?" she asked, almost with impatience, tapping her
spoon two or three times against the side of her cup.
"Why?" Ralph laid hands on the first words that came to mind. "Because,
I suppose, it keeps an ideal alive which might die otherwise."
A curious change came over her face, as if the flame of her mind were
subdued; and she looked at him ironically and with the expression which
he had called sad before, for want of a better name for it.
"I don't know that there's much sense in having ideals," she said.
"But you have them," he replied energetically. "Why do we call them
ideals? It's a stupid word. Dreams, I mean--"
She followed his words with parted lips, as though to answer eagerly
when he had done; but as he said, "Dreams, I mean," the door of the
drawing-room swung open, and so remained for a perceptible instant. They
both held themselves silent, her lips still parted.
Far off, they heard the rustle of skirts. Then the owner of the skirts
appeared in the doorway, which she almost filled, nearly concealing the
figure of a very much smaller lady who accompanied her.
"My aunts!" Katharine murmured, under her breath. Her tone had a hint of
tragedy in it, but no less, Ralph thought, than the situation required.
She addressed the larger lady as Aunt Millicent; the smaller was Aunt
Celia, Mrs. Milvain, who had lately undertaken the task of marrying
Cyril to his wife. Both ladies, but Mrs. Cosham (Aunt Millicent)
in particular, had that look of heightened, smoothed, incarnadined
existence which is proper to elderly ladies paying calls in London about
five o'clock in the afternoon. Portraits by Romney, seen through glass,
have something of their pink, mellow look, their blooming softness, as
of apricots hanging upon a red wall in the afternoon sun. Mrs. Cosham
was so appareled with hanging muffs, chains, and swinging draperies that
it was impossible to detect the shape of a human being in the mass of
brown and black which filled the arm-chair. Mrs. Milvain was a much
slighter figure; but the same doubt as to the precise lines of her
contour filled Ralph, as he regarded them, with dismal foreboding.
What remark of his would ever reach these fabulous and fantastic
characters?--for there was something fantastically unreal in the curious
swayings and noddings of Mrs. Cosham, as if her equipment included a
large wire spring. Her voice had a high-pitched, cooing note, which
prolonged words and cut them short until the English language seemed
no longer fit for common purposes. In a moment of nervousness, so Ralph
thought, Katharine had turned on innumerable electric lights. But Mrs.
Cosham had gained impetus (perhaps her swaying movements had that end in
view) for sustained speech; and she now addressed Ralph deliberately and
"I come from Woking, Mr. Popham. You may well ask me, why Woking? and to
that I answer, for perhaps the hundredth time, because of the sunsets.
We went there for the sunsets, but that was five-and-twenty years ago.
Where are the sunsets now? Alas! There is no sunset now nearer than the
South Coast." Her rich and romantic notes were accompanied by a wave
of a long white hand, which, when waved, gave off a flash of diamonds,
rubies, and emeralds. Ralph wondered whether she more resembled an
elephant, with a jeweled head-dress, or a superb cockatoo, balanced
insecurely upon its perch, and pecking capriciously at a lump of sugar.
"Where are the sunsets now?" she repeated. "Do you find sunsets now, Mr.
"I live at Highgate," he replied.
"At Highgate? Yes, Highgate has its charms; your Uncle John lived at
Highgate," she jerked in the direction of Katharine. She sank her head
upon her breast, as if for a moment's meditation, which past, she looked
up and observed: "I dare say there are very pretty lanes in Highgate.
I can recollect walking with your mother, Katharine, through lanes
blossoming with wild hawthorn. But where is the hawthorn now? You
remember that exquisite description in De Quincey, Mr. Popham?--but
I forget, you, in your generation, with all your activity and
enlightenment, at which I can only marvel"--here she displayed both her
beautiful white hands--"do not read De Quincey. You have your Belloc,
your Chesterton, your Bernard Shaw--why should you read De Quincey?"
"But I do read De Quincey," Ralph protested, "more than Belloc and
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Cosham, with a gesture of surprise and
relief mingled. "You are, then, a 'rara avis' in your generation. I am
delighted to meet anyone who reads De Quincey."
Here she hollowed her hand into a screen, and, leaning towards
Katharine, inquired, in a very audible whisper, "Does your friend
"Mr. Denham," said Katharine, with more than her usual clearness and
firmness, "writes for the Review. He is a lawyer."
"The clean-shaven lips, showing the expression of the mouth! I recognize
them at once. I always feel at home with lawyers, Mr. Denham--"
"They used to come about so much in the old days," Mrs. Milvain
interposed, the frail, silvery notes of her voice falling with the sweet
tone of an old bell.
"You say you live at Highgate," she continued. "I wonder whether you
happen to know if there is an old house called Tempest Lodge still in
existence--an old white house in a garden?"
Ralph shook his head, and she sighed.
"Ah, no; it must have been pulled down by this time, with all the other
old houses. There were such pretty lanes in those days. That was how
your uncle met your Aunt Emily, you know," she addressed Katharine.
"They walked home through the lanes."
"A sprig of May in her bonnet," Mrs. Cosham ejaculated, reminiscently.
"And next Sunday he had violets in his buttonhole. And that was how we
Katharine laughed. She looked at Ralph. His eyes were meditative, and
she wondered what he found in this old gossip to make him ponder so
contentedly. She felt, she hardly knew why, a curious pity for him.
"Uncle John--yes, 'poor John,' you always called him. Why was that?"
she asked, to make them go on talking, which, indeed, they needed little
invitation to do.
"That was what his father, old Sir Richard, always called him. Poor
John, or the fool of the family," Mrs. Milvain hastened to inform
them. "The other boys were so brilliant, and he could never pass his
examinations, so they sent him to India--a long voyage in those days,
poor fellow. You had your own room, you know, and you did it up. But he
will get his knighthood and a pension, I believe," she said, turning to
Ralph, "only it is not England."
"No," Mrs. Cosham confirmed her, "it is not England. In those days we
thought an Indian Judgeship about equal to a county-court judgeship at
home. His Honor--a pretty title, but still, not at the top of the tree.
However," she sighed, "if you have a wife and seven children, and people
nowadays very quickly forget your father's name--well, you have to take
what you can get," she concluded.
"And I fancy," Mrs. Milvain resumed, lowering her voice rather
confidentially, "that John would have done more if it hadn't been for
his wife, your Aunt Emily. She was a very good woman, devoted to him, of
course, but she was not ambitious for him, and if a wife isn't ambitious
for her husband, especially in a profession like the law, clients soon
get to know of it. In our young days, Mr. Denham, we used to say that we
knew which of our friends would become judges, by looking at the girls
they married. And so it was, and so, I fancy, it always will be. I don't
think," she added, summing up these scattered remarks, "that any man is
really happy unless he succeeds in his profession."
Mrs. Cosham approved of this sentiment with more ponderous sagacity from
her side of the tea-table, in the first place by swaying her head, and
in the second by remarking:
"No, men are not the same as women. I fancy Alfred Tennyson spoke the
truth about that as about many other things. How I wish he'd lived to
write 'The Prince'--a sequel to 'The Princess'! I confess I'm almost
tired of Princesses. We want some one to show us what a good man can be.
We have Laura and Beatrice, Antigone and Cordelia, but we have no heroic
man. How do you, as a poet, account for that, Mr. Denham?"
"I'm not a poet," said Ralph good-humoredly. "I'm only a solicitor."
"But you write, too?" Mrs. Cosham demanded, afraid lest she should
be balked of her priceless discovery, a young man truly devoted to
"In my spare time," Denham reassured her.
"In your spare time!" Mrs. Cosham echoed. "That is a proof of devotion,
indeed." She half closed her eyes, and indulged herself in a fascinating
picture of a briefless barrister lodged in a garret, writing immortal
novels by the light of a farthing dip. But the romance which fell upon
the figures of great writers and illumined their pages was no false
radiance in her case. She carried her pocket Shakespeare about with
her, and met life fortified by the words of the poets. How far she saw
Denham, and how far she confused him with some hero of fiction, it would
be hard to say. Literature had taken possession even of her memories.
She was matching him, presumably, with certain characters in the old
novels, for she came out, after a pause, with:
"Um--um--Pendennis--Warrington--I could never forgive Laura," she
pronounced energetically, "for not marrying George, in spite of
everything. George Eliot did the very same thing; and Lewes was a little
frog-faced man, with the manner of a dancing master. But Warrington,
now, had everything in his favor; intellect, passion, romance,
distinction, and the connection was a mere piece of undergraduate folly.
Arthur, I confess, has always seemed to me a bit of a fop; I can't
imagine how Laura married him. But you say you're a solicitor, Mr.
Denham. Now there are one or two things I should like to ask you--about
Shakespeare--" She drew out her small, worn volume with some difficulty,
opened it, and shook it in the air. "They say, nowadays, that
Shakespeare was a lawyer. They say, that accounts for his knowledge of
human nature. There's a fine example for you, Mr. Denham. Study your
clients, young man, and the world will be the richer one of these days,
I have no doubt. Tell me, how do we come out of it, now; better or worse
than you expected?"
Thus called upon to sum up the worth of human nature in a few words,
Ralph answered unhesitatingly:
"Worse, Mrs. Cosham, a good deal worse. I'm afraid the ordinary man is a
bit of a rascal--"
"And the ordinary woman?"
"No, I don't like the ordinary woman either--"
"Ah, dear me, I've no doubt that's very true, very true." Mrs. Cosham
sighed. "Swift would have agreed with you, anyhow--" She looked at him,
and thought that there were signs of distinct power in his brow. He
would do well, she thought, to devote himself to satire.
"Charles Lavington, you remember, was a solicitor," Mrs. Milvain
interposed, rather resenting the waste of time involved in talking about
fictitious people when you might be talking about real people. "But you
wouldn't remember him, Katharine."
"Mr. Lavington? Oh, yes, I do," said Katharine, waking from other
thoughts with her little start. "The summer we had a house near Tenby. I
remember the field and the pond with the tadpoles, and making haystacks
with Mr. Lavington."
"She is right. There WAS a pond with tadpoles," Mrs. Cosham
corroborated. "Millais made studies of it for 'Ophelia.' Some say that
is the best picture he ever painted--"
"And I remember the dog chained up in the yard, and the dead snakes
hanging in the toolhouse."
"It was at Tenby that you were chased by the bull," Mrs. Milvain
continued. "But that you couldn't remember, though it's true you were
a wonderful child. Such eyes she had, Mr. Denham! I used to say to her
father, 'She's watching us, and summing us all up in her little mind.'
And they had a nurse in those days," she went on, telling her story with
charming solemnity to Ralph, "who was a good woman, but engaged to a
sailor. When she ought to have been attending to the baby, her eyes were
on the sea. And Mrs. Hilbery allowed this girl--Susan her name was--to
have him to stay in the village. They abused her goodness, I'm sorry
to say, and while they walked in the lanes, they stood the perambulator
alone in a field where there was a bull. The animal became enraged by
the red blanket in the perambulator, and Heaven knows what might have
happened if a gentleman had not been walking by in the nick of time, and
rescued Katharine in his arms!"
"I think the bull was only a cow, Aunt Celia," said Katharine.
"My darling, it was a great red Devonshire bull, and not long after it
gored a man to death and had to be destroyed. And your mother forgave
Susan--a thing I could never have done."
"Maggie's sympathies were entirely with Susan and the sailor, I
am sure," said Mrs. Cosham, rather tartly. "My sister-in-law," she
continued, "has laid her burdens upon Providence at every crisis in her
life, and Providence, I must confess, has responded nobly, so far--"
"Yes," said Katharine, with a laugh, for she liked the rashness which
irritated the rest of the family. "My mother's bulls always turn into
cows at the critical moment."
"Well," said Mrs. Milvain, "I'm glad you have some one to protect you
from bulls now."
"I can't imagine William protecting any one from bulls," said Katharine.
It happened that Mrs. Cosham had once more produced her pocket volume
of Shakespeare, and was consulting Ralph upon an obscure passage in
"Measure for Measure." He did not at once seize the meaning of what
Katharine and her aunt were saying; William, he supposed, referred to
some small cousin, for he now saw Katharine as a child in a pinafore;
but, nevertheless, he was so much distracted that his eye could hardly
follow the words on the paper. A moment later he heard them speak
distinctly of an engagement ring.
"I like rubies," he heard Katharine say.
"To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world...."
Mrs. Cosham intoned; at the same instant "Rodney" fitted itself to
"William" in Ralph's mind. He felt convinced that Katharine was engaged
to Rodney. His first sensation was one of violent rage with her for
having deceived him throughout the visit, fed him with pleasant old
wives' tales, let him see her as a child playing in a meadow, shared
her youth with him, while all the time she was a stranger entirely, and
engaged to marry Rodney.
But was it possible? Surely it was not possible. For in his eyes she was
still a child. He paused so long over the book that Mrs. Cosham had time
to look over his shoulder and ask her niece:
"And have you settled upon a house yet, Katharine?"
This convinced him of the truth of the monstrous idea. He looked up at
once and said:
"Yes, it's a difficult passage."
His voice had changed so much, he spoke with such curtness and even with
such contempt, that Mrs. Cosham looked at him fairly puzzled. Happily
she belonged to a generation which expected uncouthness in its men, and
she merely felt convinced that this Mr. Denham was very, very clever.
She took back her Shakespeare, as Denham seemed to have no more to say,
and secreted it once more about her person with the infinitely pathetic
resignation of the old.
"Katharine's engaged to William Rodney," she said, by way of filling in
the pause; "a very old friend of ours. He has a wonderful knowledge of
literature, too--wonderful." She nodded her head rather vaguely. "You
should meet each other."
Denham's one wish was to leave the house as soon as he could; but the
elderly ladies had risen, and were proposing to visit Mrs. Hilbery in
her bedroom, so that any move on his part was impossible. At the same
time, he wished to say something, but he knew not what, to Katharine
alone. She took her aunts upstairs, and returned, coming towards him
once more with an air of innocence and friendliness that amazed him.
"My father will be back," she said. "Won't you sit down?" and she
laughed, as if now they might share a perfectly friendly laugh at the
But Ralph made no attempt to seat himself.
"I must congratulate you," he said. "It was news to me." He saw her face
change, but only to become graver than before.
"My engagement?" she asked. "Yes, I am going to marry William Rodney."
Ralph remained standing with his hand on the back of a chair in absolute
silence. Abysses seemed to plunge into darkness between them. He looked
at her, but her face showed that she was not thinking of him. No regret
or consciousness of wrong disturbed her.
"Well, I must go," he said at length.
She seemed about to say something, then changed her mind and said
"You will come again, I hope. We always seem"--she hesitated--"to be
He bowed and left the room.
Ralph strode with extreme swiftness along the Embankment. Every muscle
was taut and braced as if to resist some sudden attack from outside. For
the moment it seemed as if the attack were about to be directed
against his body, and his brain thus was on the alert, but without
understanding. Finding himself, after a few minutes, no longer under
observation, and no attack delivered, he slackened his pace, the pain
spread all through him, took possession of every governing seat, and met
with scarcely any resistance from powers exhausted by their first effort
at defence. He took his way languidly along the river embankment, away
from home rather than towards it. The world had him at its mercy. He
made no pattern out of the sights he saw. He felt himself now, as he had
often fancied other people, adrift on the stream, and far removed from
control of it, a man with no grasp upon circumstances any longer. Old
battered men loafing at the doors of public-houses now seemed to be his
fellows, and he felt, as he supposed them to feel, a mingling of envy
and hatred towards those who passed quickly and certainly to a goal of
their own. They, too, saw things very thin and shadowy, and were wafted
about by the lightest breath of wind. For the substantial world, with
its prospect of avenues leading on and on to the invisible distance,
had slipped from him, since Katharine was engaged. Now all his life
was visible, and the straight, meager path had its ending soon enough.
Katharine was engaged, and she had deceived him, too. He felt for
corners of his being untouched by his disaster; but there was no
limit to the flood of damage; not one of his possessions was safe now.
Katharine had deceived him; she had mixed herself with every thought of
his, and reft of her they seemed false thoughts which he would blush to
think again. His life seemed immeasurably impoverished.
He sat himself down, in spite of the chilly fog which obscured the
farther bank and left its lights suspended upon a blank surface, upon
one of the riverside seats, and let the tide of disillusionment sweep
through him. For the time being all bright points in his life were
blotted out; all prominences leveled. At first he made himself believe
that Katharine had treated him badly, and drew comfort from the thought
that, left alone, she would recollect this, and think of him and tender
him, in silence, at any rate, an apology. But this grain of comfort
failed him after a second or two, for, upon reflection, he had to admit
that Katharine owed him nothing. Katharine had promised nothing, taken
nothing; to her his dreams had meant nothing. This, indeed, was the
lowest pitch of his despair. If the best of one's feelings means nothing
to the person most concerned in those feelings, what reality is left
us? The old romance which had warmed his days for him, the thoughts of
Katharine which had painted every hour, were now made to appear foolish
and enfeebled. He rose, and looked into the river, whose swift race of
dun-colored waters seemed the very spirit of futility and oblivion.
"In what can one trust, then?" he thought, as he leant there. So feeble
and insubstantial did he feel himself that he repeated the word aloud.
"In what can one trust? Not in men and women. Not in one's dreams about
them. There's nothing--nothing, nothing left at all."
Now Denham had reason to know that he could bring to birth and keep
alive a fine anger when he chose. Rodney provided a good target for
that emotion. And yet at the moment, Rodney and Katharine herself seemed
disembodied ghosts. He could scarcely remember the look of them. His
mind plunged lower and lower. Their marriage seemed of no importance to
him. All things had turned to ghosts; the whole mass of the world was
insubstantial vapor, surrounding the solitary spark in his mind, whose
burning point he could remember, for it burnt no more. He had once
cherished a belief, and Katharine had embodied this belief, and she did
so no longer. He did not blame her; he blamed nothing, nobody; he saw
the truth. He saw the dun-colored race of waters and the blank shore.
But life is vigorous; the body lives, and the body, no doubt, dictated
the reflection, which now urged him to movement, that one may cast
away the forms of human beings, and yet retain the passion which seemed
inseparable from their existence in the flesh. Now this passion burnt on
his horizon, as the winter sun makes a greenish pane in the west through
thinning clouds. His eyes were set on something infinitely far and
remote; by that light he felt he could walk, and would, in future, have
to find his way. But that was all there was left to him of a populous
and teeming world.
The lunch hour in the office was only partly spent by Denham in the
consumption of food. Whether fine or wet, he passed most of it pacing
the gravel paths in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The children got to know
his figure, and the sparrows expected their daily scattering of
bread-crumbs. No doubt, since he often gave a copper and almost always a
handful of bread, he was not as blind to his surroundings as he thought
He thought that these winter days were spent in long hours before
white papers radiant in electric light; and in short passages through
fog-dimmed streets. When he came back to his work after lunch he carried
in his head a picture of the Strand, scattered with omnibuses, and of
the purple shapes of leaves pressed flat upon the gravel, as if his eyes
had always been bent upon the ground. His brain worked incessantly, but
his thought was attended with so little joy that he did not willingly
recall it; but drove ahead, now in this direction, now in that; and came
home laden with dark books borrowed from a library.
Mary Datchet, coming from the Strand at lunch-time, saw him one day
taking his turn, closely buttoned in an overcoat, and so lost in thought
that he might have been sitting in his own room.
She was overcome by something very like awe by the sight of him; then
she felt much inclined to laugh, although her pulse beat faster. She
passed him, and he never saw her. She came back and touched him on the
"Gracious, Mary!" he exclaimed. "How you startled me!"
"Yes. You looked as if you were walking in your sleep," she said. "Are
you arranging some terrible love affair? Have you got to reconcile a
"I wasn't thinking about my work," Ralph replied, rather hastily. "And,
besides, that sort of thing's not in my line," he added, rather grimly.
The morning was fine, and they had still some minutes of leisure to
spend. They had not met for two or three weeks, and Mary had much to
say to Ralph; but she was not certain how far he wished for her company.
However, after a turn or two, in which a few facts were communicated, he
suggested sitting down, and she took the seat beside him. The sparrows
came fluttering about them, and Ralph produced from his pocket the half
of a roll saved from his luncheon. He threw a few crumbs among them.
"I've never seen sparrows so tame," Mary observed, by way of saying
"No," said Ralph. "The sparrows in Hyde Park aren't as tame as this. If
we keep perfectly still, I'll get one to settle on my arm."
Mary felt that she could have forgone this display of animal good
temper, but seeing that Ralph, for some curious reason, took a pride in
the sparrows, she bet him sixpence that he would not succeed.
"Done!" he said; and his eye, which had been gloomy, showed a spark
of light. His conversation was now addressed entirely to a bald
cock-sparrow, who seemed bolder than the rest; and Mary took the
opportunity of looking at him. She was not satisfied; his face was worn,
and his expression stern. A child came bowling its hoop through the
concourse of birds, and Ralph threw his last crumbs of bread into the
bushes with a snort of impatience.
"That's what always happens--just as I've almost got him," he said.
"Here's your sixpence, Mary. But you've only got it thanks to that brute
of a boy. They oughtn't to be allowed to bowl hoops here--"
"Oughtn't to be allowed to bowl hoops! My dear Ralph, what nonsense!"
"You always say that," he complained; "and it isn't nonsense. What's the
point of having a garden if one can't watch birds in it? The street does
all right for hoops. And if children can't be trusted in the streets,
their mothers should keep them at home."
Mary made no answer to this remark, but frowned.
She leant back on the seat and looked about her at the great houses
breaking the soft gray-blue sky with their chimneys.
"Ah, well," she said, "London's a fine place to live in. I believe I
could sit and watch people all day long. I like my fellow-creatures...."
Ralph sighed impatiently.
"Yes, I think so, when you come to know them," she added, as if his
disagreement had been spoken.
"That's just when I don't like them," he replied. "Still, I don't see
why you shouldn't cherish that illusion, if it pleases you." He spoke
without much vehemence of agreement or disagreement. He seemed chilled.
"Wake up, Ralph! You're half asleep!" Mary cried, turning and pinching
his sleeve. "What have you been doing with yourself? Moping? Working?
Despising the world, as usual?"
As he merely shook his head, and filled his pipe, she went on:
"It's a bit of a pose, isn't it?"
"Not more than most things," he said.
"Well," Mary remarked, "I've a great deal to say to you, but I must go
on--we have a committee." She rose, but hesitated, looking down upon
him rather gravely. "You don't look happy, Ralph," she said. "Is it
anything, or is it nothing?"
He did not immediately answer her, but rose, too, and walked with her
towards the gate. As usual, he did not speak to her without considering
whether what he was about to say was the sort of thing that he could say
"I've been bothered," he said at length. "Partly by work, and partly by
family troubles. Charles has been behaving like a fool. He wants to go
out to Canada as a farmer--"
"Well, there's something to be said for that," said Mary; and they
passed the gate, and walked slowly round the Fields again, discussing
difficulties which, as a matter of fact, were more or less chronic
in the Denham family, and only now brought forward to appease Mary's
sympathy, which, however, soothed Ralph more than he was aware of. She
made him at least dwell upon problems which were real in the sense that
they were capable of solution; and the true cause of his melancholy,
which was not susceptible to such treatment, sank rather more deeply
into the shades of his mind.
Mary was attentive; she was helpful. Ralph could not help feeling
grateful to her, the more so, perhaps, because he had not told her the
truth about his state; and when they reached the gate again he wished to
make some affectionate objection to her leaving him. But his affection
took the rather uncouth form of expostulating with her about her work.
"What d'you want to sit on a committee for?" he asked. "It's waste of
your time, Mary."
"I agree with you that a country walk would benefit the world more,"
she said. "Look here," she added suddenly, "why don't you come to us at
Christmas? It's almost the best time of year."
"Come to you at Disham?" Ralph repeated.
"Yes. We won't interfere with you. But you can tell me later," she said,
rather hastily, and then started off in the direction of Russell Square.
She had invited him on the impulse of the moment, as a vision of the
country came before her; and now she was annoyed with herself for having
done so, and then she was annoyed at being annoyed.
"If I can't face a walk in a field alone with Ralph," she reasoned, "I'd
better buy a cat and live in a lodging at Ealing, like Sally Seal--and
he won't come. Or did he mean that he WOULD come?"
She shook her head. She really did not know what he had meant. She never
felt quite certain; but now she was more than usually baffled. Was
he concealing something from her? His manner had been odd; his deep
absorption had impressed her; there was something in him that she had
not fathomed, and the mystery of his nature laid more of a spell upon
her than she liked. Moreover, she could not prevent herself from doing
now what she had often blamed others of her sex for doing--from endowing
her friend with a kind of heavenly fire, and passing her life before it
for his sanction.
Under this process, the committee rather dwindled in importance;
the Suffrage shrank; she vowed she would work harder at the Italian
language; she thought she would take up the study of birds. But this
program for a perfect life threatened to become so absurd that she very
soon caught herself out in the evil habit, and was rehearsing her speech
to the committee by the time the chestnut-colored bricks of Russell
Square came in sight. Indeed, she never noticed them. She ran upstairs
as usual, and was completely awakened to reality by the sight of Mrs.
Seal, on the landing outside the office, inducing a very large dog to
drink water out of a tumbler.
"Miss Markham has already arrived," Mrs. Seal remarked, with due
solemnity, "and this is her dog."
"A very fine dog, too," said Mary, patting him on the head.
"Yes. A magnificent fellow," Mrs. Seal agreed. "A kind of St. Bernard,
she tells me--so like Kit to have a St. Bernard. And you guard your
mistress well, don't you, Sailor? You see that wicked men don't break
into her larder when she's out at HER work--helping poor souls who have
lost their way.... But we're late--we must begin!" and scattering the
rest of the water indiscriminately over the floor, she hurried Mary into
Mr. Clacton was in his glory. The machinery which he had perfected and
controlled was now about to turn out its bi-monthly product, a committee
meeting; and his pride in the perfect structure of these assemblies was
great. He loved the jargon of committee-rooms; he loved the way in which
the door kept opening as the clock struck the hour, in obedience to
a few strokes of his pen on a piece of paper; and when it had opened
sufficiently often, he loved to issue from his inner chamber with
documents in his hands, visibly important, with a preoccupied expression
on his face that might have suited a Prime Minister advancing to meet
his Cabinet. By his orders the table had been decorated beforehand with
six sheets of blotting-paper, with six pens, six ink-pots, a tumbler
and a jug of water, a bell, and, in deference to the taste of the lady
members, a vase of hardy chrysanthemums. He had already surreptitiously
straightened the sheets of blotting-paper in relation to the ink-pots,
and now stood in front of the fire engaged in conversation with Miss
Markham. But his eye was on the door, and when Mary and Mrs. Seal
entered, he gave a little laugh and observed to the assembly which was
scattered about the room:
"I fancy, ladies and gentlemen, that we are ready to commence."
So speaking, he took his seat at the head of the table, and arranging
one bundle of papers upon his right and another upon his left, called
upon Miss Datchet to read the minutes of the previous meeting. Mary
obeyed. A keen observer might have wondered why it was necessary for the
secretary to knit her brows so closely over the tolerably matter-of-fact
statement before her. Could there be any doubt in her mind that it had
been resolved to circularize the provinces with Leaflet No. 3, or to
issue a statistical diagram showing the proportion of married women
to spinsters in New Zealand; or that the net profits of Mrs. Hipsley's
Bazaar had reached a total of five pounds eight shillings and twopence
Could any doubt as to the perfect sense and propriety of these
statements be disturbing her? No one could have guessed, from the look
of her, that she was disturbed at all. A pleasanter and saner woman
than Mary Datchet was never seen within a committee-room. She seemed a
compound of the autumn leaves and the winter sunshine; less poetically
speaking, she showed both gentleness and strength, an indefinable
promise of soft maternity blending with her evident fitness for honest
labor. Nevertheless, she had great difficulty in reducing her mind to
obedience; and her reading lacked conviction, as if, as was indeed the
case, she had lost the power of visualizing what she read. And directly
the list was completed, her mind floated to Lincoln's Inn Fields and the
fluttering wings of innumerable sparrows. Was Ralph still enticing the
bald-headed cock-sparrow to sit upon his hand? Had he succeeded? Would
he ever succeed? She had meant to ask him why it is that the sparrows in
Lincoln's Inn Fields are tamer than the sparrows in Hyde Park--perhaps
it is that the passers-by are rarer, and they come to recognize their
benefactors. For the first half-hour of the committee meeting, Mary
had thus to do battle with the skeptical presence of Ralph Denham, who
threatened to have it all his own way. Mary tried half a dozen methods
of ousting him. She raised her voice, she articulated distinctly, she
looked firmly at Mr. Clacton's bald head, she began to write a note.
To her annoyance, her pencil drew a little round figure on the
blotting-paper, which, she could not deny, was really a bald-headed
cock-sparrow. She looked again at Mr. Clacton; yes, he was bald, and so
are cock-sparrows. Never was a secretary tormented by so many unsuitable
suggestions, and they all came, alas! with something ludicrously
grotesque about them, which might, at any moment, provoke her to such
flippancy as would shock her colleagues for ever. The thought of what
she might say made her bite her lips, as if her lips would protect her.
But all these suggestions were but flotsam and jetsam cast to the
surface by a more profound disturbance, which, as she could not consider
it at present, manifested its existence by these grotesque nods
and beckonings. Consider it, she must, when the committee was over.
Meanwhile, she was behaving scandalously; she was looking out of the
window, and thinking of the color of the sky, and of the decorations
on the Imperial Hotel, when she ought to have been shepherding her
colleagues, and pinning them down to the matter in hand. She could not
bring herself to attach more weight to one project than to another.
Ralph had said--she could not stop to consider what he had said, but he
had somehow divested the proceedings of all reality. And then, without
conscious effort, by some trick of the brain, she found herself becoming
interested in some scheme for organizing a newspaper campaign. Certain
articles were to be written; certain editors approached. What line was
it advisable to take? She found herself strongly disapproving of what
Mr. Clacton was saying. She committed herself to the opinion that now
was the time to strike hard. Directly she had said this, she felt that
she had turned upon Ralph's ghost; and she became more and more in
earnest, and anxious to bring the others round to her point of view.
Once more, she knew exactly and indisputably what is right and what
is wrong. As if emerging from a mist, the old foes of the public
good loomed ahead of her--capitalists, newspaper proprietors,
anti-suffragists, and, in some ways most pernicious of all, the masses
who take no interest one way or another--among whom, for the time being,
she certainly discerned the features of Ralph Denham. Indeed, when Miss
Markham asked her to suggest the names of a few friends of hers, she
expressed herself with unusual bitterness:
"My friends think all this kind of thing useless." She felt that she was
really saying that to Ralph himself.
"Oh, they're that sort, are they?" said Miss Markham, with a little
laugh; and with renewed vigor their legions charged the foe.
Mary's spirits had been low when she entered the committee-room; but now
they were considerably improved. She knew the ways of this world; it was
a shapely, orderly place; she felt convinced of its right and its
wrong; and the feeling that she was fit to deal a heavy blow against her
enemies warmed her heart and kindled her eye. In one of those flights of
fancy, not characteristic of her but tiresomely frequent this afternoon,
she envisaged herself battered with rotten eggs upon a platform, from
which Ralph vainly begged her to descend. But--
"What do I matter compared with the cause?" she said, and so on. Much to
her credit, however teased by foolish fancies, she kept the surface of
her brain moderate and vigilant, and subdued Mrs. Seal very tactfully
more than once when she demanded, "Action!--everywhere!--at once!" as
became her father's daughter.
The other members of the committee, who were all rather elderly people,
were a good deal impressed by Mary, and inclined to side with her and
against each other, partly, perhaps, because of her youth. The feeling
that she controlled them all filled Mary with a sense of power; and she
felt that no work can equal in importance, or be so exciting as, the
work of making other people do what you want them to do. Indeed, when
she had won her point she felt a slight degree of contempt for the
people who had yielded to her.
The committee now rose, gathered together their papers, shook them
straight, placed them in their attache-cases, snapped the locks firmly
together, and hurried away, having, for the most part, to catch trains,
in order to keep other appointments with other committees, for they were
all busy people. Mary, Mrs. Seal, and Mr. Clacton were left alone; the
room was hot and untidy, the pieces of pink blotting-paper were lying at
different angles upon the table, and the tumbler was half full of water,
which some one had poured out and forgotten to drink.
Mrs. Seal began preparing the tea, while Mr. Clacton retired to his room
to file the fresh accumulation of documents. Mary was too much excited
even to help Mrs. Seal with the cups and saucers. She flung up the
window and stood by it, looking out. The street lamps were already lit;
and through the mist in the square one could see little figures hurrying
across the road and along the pavement, on the farther side. In her
absurd mood of lustful arrogance, Mary looked at the little figures and
thought, "If I liked I could make you go in there or stop short; I could
make you walk in single file or in double file; I could do what I liked
with you." Then Mrs. Seal came and stood by her.
"Oughtn't you to put something round your shoulders, Sally?" Mary asked,
in rather a
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