Like a strain of music, the effect of Katharine's presence slowly died fro_he room in which Ralph sat alone. The music had ceased in the rapture of it_elody. He strained to catch the faintest lingering echoes; for a moment th_emory lulled him into peace; but soon it failed, and he paced the room s_ungry for the sound to come again that he was conscious of no other desir_eft in life. She had gone without speaking; abruptly a chasm had been cut i_is course, down which the tide of his being plunged in disorder; fell upo_ocks; flung itself to destruction. The distress had an effect of physica_uin and disaster. He trembled; he was white; he felt exhausted, as if by _reat physical effort. He sank at last into a chair standing opposite he_mpty one, and marked, mechanically, with his eye upon the clock, how she wen_arther and farther from him, was home now, and now, doubtless, again wit_odney. But it was long before he could realize these facts; the immens_esire for her presence churned his senses into foam, into froth, into a haz_f emotion that removed all facts from his grasp, and gave him a strange sens_f distance, even from the material shapes of wall and window by which he wa_urrounded. The prospect of the future, now that the strength of his passio_as revealed to him, appalled him.
The marriage would take place in September, she had said; that allowed him, then, six full months in which to undergo these terrible extremes of emotion.
Six months of torture, and after that the silence of the grave, the isolatio_f the insane, the exile of the damned; at best, a life from which the chie_ood was knowingly and for ever excluded. An impartial judge might hav_ssured him that his chief hope of recovery lay in this mystic temper, whic_dentified a living woman with much that no human beings long possess in th_yes of each other; she would pass, and the desire for her vanish, but hi_elief in what she stood for, detached from her, would remain. This line o_hought offered, perhaps, some respite, and possessed of a brain that had it_tation considerably above the tumult of the senses, he tried to reduce th_ague and wandering incoherency of his emotions to order. The sense of self- preservation was strong in him, and Katharine herself had strangely revived i_y convincing him that his family deserved and needed all his strength. Sh_as right, and for their sake, if not for his own, this passion, which coul_ear no fruit, must be cut off, uprooted, shown to be as visionary an_aseless as she had maintained. The best way of achieving this was not to ru_way from her, but to face her, and having steeped himself in her qualities, to convince his reason that they were, as she assured him, not those that h_magined. She was a practical woman, a domestic wife for an inferior poet, endowed with romantic beauty by some freak of unintelligent Nature. No doub_er beauty itself would not stand examination. He had the means of settlin_his point at least. He possessed a book of photographs from the Gree_tatues; the head of a goddess, if the lower part were concealed, had ofte_iven him the ecstasy of being in Katharine's presence. He took it down fro_he shelf and found the picture. To this he added a note from her, bidding hi_eet her at the Zoo. He had a flower which he had picked at Kew to teach he_otany. Such were his relics. He placed them before him, and set himself t_isualize her so clearly that no deception or delusion was possible. In _econd he could see her, with the sun slanting across her dress, comin_owards him down the green walk at Kew. He made her sit upon the seat besid_im. He heard her voice, so low and yet so decided in its tone; she spok_easonably of indifferent matters. He could see her faults, and analyze he_irtues. His pulse became quieter, and his brain increased in clarity. Thi_ime she could not escape him. The illusion of her presence became more an_ore complete. They seemed to pass in and out of each other's minds, questioning and answering. The utmost fullness of communion seemed to b_heirs. Thus united, he felt himself raised to an eminence, exalted, an_illed with a power of achievement such as he had never known in singleness.
Once more he told over conscientiously her faults, both of face and character; they were clearly known to him; but they merged themselves in the flawles_nion that was born of their association. They surveyed life to its uttermos_imits. How deep it was when looked at from this height! How sublime! How th_ommonest things moved him almost to tears! Thus, he forgot the inevitabl_imitations; he forgot her absence, he thought it of no account whether sh_arried him or another; nothing mattered, save that she should exist, and tha_e should love her. Some words of these reflections were uttered aloud, and i_appened that among them were the words, "I love her." It was the first tim_hat he had used the word "love" to describe his feeling; madness, romance, hallucination—he had called it by these names before; but having, apparentl_y accident, stumbled upon the word "love," he repeated it again and agai_ith a sense of revelation.
"But I'm in love with you!" he exclaimed, with something like dismay. He lean_gainst the window-sill, looking over the city as she had looked. Everythin_ad become miraculously different and completely distinct. His feelings wer_ustified and needed no further explanation. But he must impart them to som_ne, because his discovery was so important that it concerned other peopl_oo. Shutting the book of Greek photographs, and hiding his relics, he ra_ownstairs, snatched his coat, and passed out of doors.
The lamps were being lit, but the streets were dark enough and empty enough t_et him walk his fastest, and to talk aloud as he walked. He had no doub_here he was going. He was going to find Mary Datchet. The desire to shar_hat he felt, with some one who understood it, was so imperious that he di_ot question it. He was soon in her street. He ran up the stairs leading t_er flat two steps at a time, and it never crossed his mind that she might no_e at home. As he rang her bell, he seemed to himself to be announcing th_resence of something wonderful that was separate from himself, and gave hi_ower and authority over all other people. Mary came to the door after _oment's pause. He was perfectly silent, and in the dusk his face looke_ompletely white. He followed her into her room.
"Do you know each other?" she said, to his extreme surprise, for he ha_ounted on finding her alone. A young man rose, and said that he knew Ralph b_ight.
"We were just going through some papers," said Mary. "Mr. Basnett has to hel_e, because I don't know much about my work yet. It's the new society," sh_xplained. "I'm the secretary. I'm no longer at Russell Square."
The voice in which she gave this information was so constrained as to soun_lmost harsh.
"What are your aims?" said Ralph. He looked neither at Mary nor at Mr.
Basnett. Mr. Basnett thought he had seldom seen a more disagreeable o_ormidable man than this friend of Mary's, this sarcastic-looking, white-face_r. Denham, who seemed to demand, as if by right, an account of thei_roposals, and to criticize them before he had heard them. Nevertheless, h_xplained his projects as clearly as he could, and knew that he wished Mr.
Denham to think well of them.
"I see," said Ralph, when he had done. "D'you know, Mary," he suddenl_emarked, "I believe I'm in for a cold. Have you any quinine?" The look whic_e cast at her frightened her; it expressed mutely, perhaps without his ow_onsciousness, something deep, wild, and passionate. She left the room a_nce. Her heart beat fast at the knowledge of Ralph's presence; but it bea_ith pain, and with an extraordinary fear. She stood listening for a moment t_he voices in the next room.
"Of course, I agree with you," she heard Ralph say, in this strange voice, t_r. Basnett. "But there's more that might be done. Have you seen Judson, fo_nstance? You should make a point of getting him."
Mary returned with the quinine.
"Judson's address?" Mr. Basnett inquired, pulling out his notebook an_reparing to write. For twenty minutes, perhaps, he wrote down names, addresses, and other suggestions that Ralph dictated to him. Then, when Ralp_ell silent, Mr. Basnett felt that his presence was not desired, and thankin_alph for his help, with a sense that he was very young and ignorant compare_ith him, he said good-bye.
"Mary," said Ralph, directly Mr. Basnett had shut the door and they were alon_ogether. "Mary," he repeated. But the old difficulty of speaking to Mar_ithout reserve prevented him from continuing. His desire to proclaim his lov_or Katharine was still strong in him, but he had felt, directly he saw Mary, that he could not share it with her. The feeling increased as he sat talkin_o Mr. Basnett. And yet all the time he was thinking of Katharine, an_arveling at his love. The tone in which he spoke Mary's name was harsh.
"What is it, Ralph?" she asked, startled by his tone. She looked at hi_nxiously, and her little frown showed that she was trying painfully t_nderstand him, and was puzzled. He could feel her groping for his meaning, and he was annoyed with her, and thought how he had always found her slow, painstaking, and clumsy. He had behaved badly to her, too, which made hi_rritation the more acute. Without waiting for him to answer, she rose as i_is answer were indifferent to her, and began to put in order some papers tha_r. Basnett had left on the table. She hummed a scrap of a tune under he_reath, and moved about the room as if she were occupied in making thing_idy, and had no other concern.
"You'll stay and dine?" she said casually, returning to her seat.
"No," Ralph replied. She did not press him further. They sat side by sid_ithout speaking, and Mary reached her hand for her work basket, and took ou_er sewing and threaded a needle.
"That's a clever young man," Ralph observed, referring to Mr. Basnett.
"I'm glad you thought so. It's tremendously interesting work, and considerin_verything, I think we've done very well. But I'm inclined to agree with you; we ought to try to be more conciliatory. We're absurdly strict. It's difficul_o see that there may be sense in what one's opponents say, though they ar_ne's opponents. Horace Basnett is certainly too uncompromising. I mustn'_orget to see that he writes that letter to Judson. You're too busy, _uppose, to come on to our committee?" She spoke in the most impersona_anner.
"I may be out of town," Ralph replied, with equal distance of manner.
"Our executive meets every week, of course," she observed. "But some of ou_embers don't come more than once a month. Members of Parliament are th_orst; it was a mistake, I think, to ask them."
She went on sewing in silence.
"You've not taken your quinine," she said, looking up and seeing the tabloid_pon the mantelpiece.
"I don't want it," said Ralph shortly.
"Well, you know best," she replied tranquilly.
"Mary, I'm a brute!" he exclaimed. "Here I come and waste your time, and d_othing but make myself disagreeable."
"A cold coming on does make one feel wretched," she replied.
"I've not got a cold. That was a lie. There's nothing the matter with me. I'_ad, I suppose. I ought to have had the decency to keep away. But I wanted t_ee you—I wanted to tell you—I'm in love, Mary." He spoke the word, but, as h_poke it, it seemed robbed of substance.
"In love, are you?" she said quietly. "I'm glad, Ralph."
"I suppose I'm in love. Anyhow, I'm out of my mind. I can't think, I can'_ork, I don't care a hang for anything in the world. Good Heavens, Mary! I'_n torment! One moment I'm happy; next I'm miserable. I hate her for half a_our; then I'd give my whole life to be with her for ten minutes; all the tim_ don't know what I feel, or why I feel it; it's insanity, and yet it'_erfectly reasonable. Can you make any sense of it? Can you see what'_appened? I'm raving, I know; don't listen, Mary; go on with your work."
He rose and began, as usual, to pace up and down the room. He knew that wha_e had just said bore very little resemblance to what he felt, for Mary'_resence acted upon him like a very strong magnet, drawing from him certai_xpressions which were not those he made use of when he spoke to himself, no_id they represent his deepest feelings. He felt a little contempt for himsel_t having spoken thus; but somehow he had been forced into speech.
"Do sit down," said Mary suddenly. "You make me so—" She spoke with unusua_rritability, and Ralph, noticing it with surprise, sat down at once.
"You haven't told me her name—you'd rather not, I suppose?"
"Her name? Katharine Hilbery."
"But she's engaged—"
"To Rodney. They're to be married in September."
"I see," said Mary. But in truth the calm of his manner, now that he wa_itting down once more, wrapt her in the presence of something which she fel_o be so strong, so mysterious, so incalculable, that she scarcely dared t_ttempt to intercept it by any word or question that she was able to frame.
She looked at Ralph blankly, with a kind of awe in her face, her lips slightl_arted, and her brows raised. He was apparently quite unconscious of her gaze.
Then, as if she could look no longer, she leant back in her chair, and hal_losed her eyes. The distance between them hurt her terribly; one thing afte_nother came into her mind, tempting her to assail Ralph with questions, t_orce him to confide in her, and to enjoy once more his intimacy. But sh_ejected every impulse, for she could not speak without doing violence to som_eserve which had grown between them, putting them a little far from eac_ther, so that he seemed to her dignified and remote, like a person she n_onger knew well.
"Is there anything that I could do for you?" she asked gently, and even wit_ourtesy, at length.
"You could see her—no, that's not what I want; you mustn't bother about me, Mary." He, too, spoke very gently.
"I'm afraid no third person can do anything to help," she added.
"No," he shook his head. "Katharine was saying to-day how lonely we are." Sh_aw the effort with which he spoke Katharine's name, and believed that h_orced himself to make amends now for his concealment in the past. At an_ate, she was conscious of no anger against him; but rather of a deep pity fo_ne condemned to suffer as she had suffered. But in the case of Katharine i_as different; she was indignant with Katharine.
"There's always work," she said, a little aggressively.
Ralph moved directly.
"Do you want to be working now?" he asked.
"No, no. It's Sunday," she replied. "I was thinking of Katharine. She doesn'_nderstand about work. She's never had to. She doesn't know what work is. I'v_nly found out myself quite lately. But it's the thing that saves one—I'm sur_f that."
"There are other things, aren't there?" he hesitated.
"Nothing that one can count upon," she returned. "After all, other people—"
she stopped, but forced herself to go on. "Where should I be now if I hadn'_ot to go to my office every day? Thousands of people would tell you the sam_hing—thousands of women. I tell you, work is the only thing that saved me, Ralph." He set his mouth, as if her words rained blows on him; he looked as i_e had made up his mind to bear anything she might say, in silence. He ha_eserved it, and there would be relief in having to bear it. But she brok_ff, and rose as if to fetch something from the next room. Before she reache_he door she turned back, and stood facing him, self-possessed, and ye_efiant and formidable in her composure.
"It's all turned out splendidly for me," she said. "It will for you, too. I'_ure of that. Because, after all, Katharine is worth it."
"Mary—!" he exclaimed. But her head was turned away, and he could not say wha_e wished to say. "Mary, you're splendid," he concluded. She faced him as h_poke, and gave him her hand. She had suffered and relinquished, she had see_er future turned from one of infinite promise to one of barrenness, and yet, somehow, over what she scarcely knew, and with what results she could hardl_oretell, she had conquered. With Ralph's eyes upon her, smiling straight bac_t him serenely and proudly, she knew, for the first time, that she ha_onquered. She let him kiss her hand.
The streets were empty enough on Sunday night, and if the Sabbath, and th_omestic amusements proper to the Sabbath, had not kept people indoors, a hig_trong wind might very probably have done so. Ralph Denham was aware of _umult in the street much in accordance with his own sensations. The gusts, sweeping along the Strand, seemed at the same time to blow a clear spac_cross the sky in which stars appeared, and for a short time the quicks- peeding silver moon riding through clouds, as if they were waves of wate_urging round her and over her. They swamped her, but she emerged; they brok_ver her and covered her again; she issued forth indomitable. In the countr_ields all the wreckage of winter was being dispersed; the dead leaves, th_ithered bracken, the dry and discolored grass, but no bud would be broken, nor would the new stalks that showed above the earth take any harm, an_erhaps to-morrow a line of blue or yellow would show through a slit in thei_reen. But the whirl of the atmosphere alone was in Denham's mood, and what o_tar or blossom appeared was only as a light gleaming for a second upon heape_aves fast following each other. He had not been able to speak to Mary, thoug_or a moment he had come near enough to be tantalized by a wonderfu_ossibility of understanding. But the desire to communicate something of th_ery greatest importance possessed him completely; he still wished to besto_his gift upon some other human being; he sought their company. More b_nstinct than by conscious choice, he took the direction which led to Rodney'_ooms. He knocked loudly upon his door; but no one answered. He rang the bell.
It took him some time to accept the fact that Rodney was out. When he could n_onger pretend that the sound of the wind in the old building was the sound o_ome one rising from his chair, he ran downstairs again, as if his goal ha_een altered and only just revealed to him. He walked in the direction o_helsea.
But physical fatigue, for he had not dined and had tramped both far and fast, made him sit for a moment upon a seat on the Embankment. One of the regula_ccupants of those seats, an elderly man who had drunk himself, probably, ou_f work and lodging, drifted up, begged a match, and sat down beside him. I_as a windy night, he said; times were hard; some long story of bad luck an_njustice followed, told so often that the man seemed to be talking t_imself, or, perhaps, the neglect of his audience had long made any attempt t_atch their attention seem scarcely worth while. When he began to speak Ralp_ad a wild desire to talk to him; to question him; to make him understand. H_id, in fact, interrupt him at one point; but it was useless. The ancien_tory of failure, ill-luck, undeserved disaster, went down the wind, disconnected syllables flying past Ralph's ears with a queer alternation o_oudness and faintness as if, at certain moments, the man's memory of hi_rongs revived and then flagged, dying down at last into a grumble o_esignation, which seemed to represent a final lapse into the accustome_espair. The unhappy voice afflicted Ralph, but it also angered him. And whe_he elderly man refused to listen and mumbled on, an odd image came to hi_ind of a lighthouse besieged by the flying bodies of lost birds, who wer_ashed senseless, by the gale, against the glass. He had a strange sensatio_hat he was both lighthouse and bird; he was steadfast and brilliant; and a_he same time he was whirled, with all other things, senseless against th_lass. He got up, left his tribute of silver, and pressed on, with the win_gainst him. The image of the lighthouse and the storm full of bird_ersisted, taking the place of more definite thoughts, as he walked past th_ouses of Parliament and down Grosvenor Road, by the side of the river. In hi_tate of physical fatigue, details merged themselves in the vaster prospect, of which the flying gloom and the intermittent lights of lamp-posts an_rivate houses were the outward token, but he never lost his sense of walkin_n the direction of Katharine's house. He took it for granted that somethin_ould then happen, and, as he walked on, his mind became more and more full o_leasure and expectancy. Within a certain radius of her house the streets cam_nder the influence of her presence. Each house had an individuality known t_alph, because of the tremendous individuality of the house in which sh_ived. For some yards before reaching the Hilberys' door he walked in a tranc_f pleasure, but when he reached it, and pushed the gate of the little garde_pen, he hesitated. He did not know what to do next. There was no hurry, however, for the outside of the house held pleasure enough to last him som_ime longer. He crossed the road, and leant against the balustrade of th_mbankment, fixing his eyes upon the house.
Lights burnt in the three long windows of the drawing-room. The space of th_oom behind became, in Ralph's vision, the center of the dark, flyin_ilderness of the world; the justification for the welter of confusio_urrounding it; the steady light which cast its beams, like those of _ighthouse, with searching composure over the trackless waste. In this littl_anctuary were gathered together several different people, but their identit_as dissolved in a general glory of something that might, perhaps, be calle_ivilization; at any rate, all dryness, all safety, all that stood up abov_he surge and preserved a consciousness of its own, was centered in th_rawing-room of the Hilberys. Its purpose was beneficent; and yet so far abov_is level as to have something austere about it, a light that cast itself ou_nd yet kept itself aloof. Then he began, in his mind, to distinguis_ifferent individuals within, consciously refusing as yet to attack the figur_f Katharine. His thoughts lingered over Mrs. Hilbery and Cassandra; and the_e turned to Rodney and Mr. Hilbery. Physically, he saw them bathed in tha_teady flow of yellow light which filled the long oblongs of the windows; i_heir movements they were beautiful; and in their speech he figured a reserv_f meaning, unspoken, but understood. At length, after all this half-consciou_election and arrangement, he allowed himself to approach the figure o_atharine herself; and instantly the scene was flooded with excitement. He di_ot see her in the body; he seemed curiously to see her as a shape of light, the light itself; he seemed, simplified and exhausted as he was, to be lik_ne of those lost birds fascinated by the lighthouse and held to the glass b_he splendor of the blaze.
These thoughts drove him to tramp a beat up and down the pavement before th_ilberys' gate. He did not trouble himself to make any plans for the future.
Something of an unknown kind would decide both the coming year and the comin_our. Now and again, in his vigil, he sought the light in the long windows, o_lanced at the ray which gilded a few leaves and a few blades of grass in th_ittle garden. For a long time the light burnt without changing. He had jus_eached the limit of his beat and was turning, when the front door opened, an_he aspect of the house was entirely changed. A black figure came down th_ittle pathway and paused at the gate. Denham understood instantly that it wa_odney. Without hesitation, and conscious only of a great friendliness for an_ne coming from that lighted room, he walked straight up to him and stoppe_im. In the flurry of the wind Rodney was taken aback, and for the momen_ried to press on, muttering something, as if he suspected a demand upon hi_harity.
"Goodness, Denham, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed, recognizing him.
Ralph mumbled something about being on his way home. They walked on together, though Rodney walked quick enough to make it plain that he had no wish fo_ompany.
He was very unhappy. That afternoon Cassandra had repulsed him; he had trie_o explain to her the difficulties of the situation, and to suggest the natur_f his feelings for her without saying anything definite or anything offensiv_o her. But he had lost his head; under the goad of Katharine's ridicule h_ad said too much, and Cassandra, superb in her dignity and severity, ha_efused to hear another word, and threatened an immediate return to her home.
His agitation, after an evening spent between the two women, was extreme.
Moreover, he could not help suspecting that Ralph was wandering near th_ilberys' house, at this hour, for reasons connected with Katharine. There wa_robably some understanding between them—not that anything of the kin_attered to him now. He was convinced that he had never cared for any one sav_assandra, and Katharine's future was no concern of his. Aloud, he said, shortly, that he was very tired and wished to find a cab. But on Sunday night, on the Embankment, cabs were hard to come by, and Rodney found himsel_onstrained to walk some distance, at any rate, in Denham's company. Denha_aintained his silence. Rodney's irritation lapsed. He found the silence oddl_uggestive of the good masculine qualities which he much respected, and had a_his moment great reason to need. After the mystery, difficulty, an_ncertainty of dealing with the other sex, intercourse with one's own is ap_o have a composing and even ennobling influence, since plain speaking i_ossible and subterfuges of no avail. Rodney, too, was much in need of _onfidant; Katharine, despite her promises of help, had failed him at th_ritical moment; she had gone off with Denham; she was, perhaps, tormentin_enham as she had tormented him. How grave and stable he seemed, speakin_ittle, and walking firmly, compared with what Rodney knew of his own torment_nd indecisions! He began to cast about for some way of telling the story o_is relations with Katharine and Cassandra that would not lower him i_enham's eyes. It then occurred to him that, perhaps, Katharine herself ha_onfided in Denham; they had something in common; it was likely that they ha_iscussed him that very afternoon. The desire to discover what they had sai_f him now came uppermost in his mind. He recalled Katharine's laugh; h_emembered that she had gone, laughing, to walk with Denham.
"Did you stay long after we'd left?" he asked abruptly.
"No. We went back to my house."
This seemed to confirm Rodney's belief that he had been discussed. He turne_ver the unpalatable idea for a while, in silence.
"Women are incomprehensible creatures, Denham!" he then exclaimed.
"Um," said Denham, who seemed to himself possessed of complete understanding, not merely of women, but of the entire universe. He could read Rodney, too, like a book. He knew that he was unhappy, and he pitied him, and wished t_elp him.
"You say something and they—fly into a passion. Or for no reason at all, the_augh. I take it that no amount of education will—" The remainder of th_entence was lost in the high wind, against which they had to struggle; bu_enham understood that he referred to Katharine's laughter, and that th_emory of it was still hurting him. In comparison with Rodney, Denham fel_imself very secure; he saw Rodney as one of the lost birds dashed senseles_gainst the glass; one of the flying bodies of which the air was full. But h_nd Katharine were alone together, aloft, splendid, and luminous with _wofold radiance. He pitied the unstable creature beside him; he felt a desir_o protect him, exposed without the knowledge which made his own way s_irect. They were united as the adventurous are united, though one reaches th_oal and the other perishes by the way.
"You couldn't laugh at some one you cared for."
This sentence, apparently addressed to no other human being, reached Denham'_ars. The wind seemed to muffle it and fly away with it directly. Had Rodne_poken those words?
"You love her." Was that his own voice, which seemed to sound in the ai_everal yards in front of him?
"I've suffered tortures, Denham, tortures!"
"Yes, yes, I know that."
"She's laughed at me."
The wind blew a space between the words—blew them so far away that they seeme_nspoken.
"How I've loved her!"
This was certainly spoken by the man at Denham's side. The voice had all th_arks of Rodney's character, and recalled, with; strange vividness, hi_ersonal appearance. Denham could see him against the blank buildings an_owers of the horizon. He saw him dignified, exalted, and tragic, as he migh_ave appeared thinking of Katharine alone in his rooms at night.
"I am in love with Katharine myself. That is why I am here to-night."
Ralph spoke distinctly and deliberately, as if Rodney's confession had mad_his statement necessary.
Rodney exclaimed something inarticulate.
"Ah, I've always known it," he cried, "I've known it from the first. You'l_arry her!"
The cry had a note of despair in it. Again the wind intercepted their words.
They said no more. At length they drew up beneath a lamp-post, simultaneously.
"My God, Denham, what fools we both are!" Rodney exclaimed. They looked a_ach other, queerly, in the light of the lamp. Fools! They seemed to confes_o each other the extreme depths of their folly. For the moment, under th_amp-post, they seemed to be aware of some common knowledge which did awa_ith the possibility of rivalry, and made them feel more sympathy for eac_ther than for any one else in the world. Giving simultaneously a little nod, as if in confirmation of this understanding, they parted without speakin_gain.