Considering that Mr. Hilbery lived in a house which was accurately numbered i_rder with its fellows, and that he filled up forms, paid rent, and had seve_ore years of tenancy to run, he had an excuse for laying down laws for th_onduct of those who lived in his house, and this excuse, though profoundl_nadequate, he found useful during the interregnum of civilization with whic_e now found himself faced. In obedience to those laws, Rodney disappeared; Cassandra was dispatched to catch the eleven-thirty on Monday morning; Denha_as seen no more; so that only Katharine, the lawful occupant of the uppe_ooms, remained, and Mr. Hilbery thought himself competent to see that she di_othing further to compromise herself. As he bade her good morning next day h_as aware that he knew nothing of what she was thinking, but, as he reflecte_ith some bitterness, even this was an advance upon the ignorance of th_revious mornings. He went to his study, wrote, tore up, and wrote again _etter to his wife, asking her to come back on account of domesti_ifficulties which he specified at first, but in a later draft more discreetl_eft unspecified. Even if she started the very moment that she got it, h_eflected, she would not be home till Tuesday night, and he counte_ugubriously the number of hours that he would have to spend in a position o_etestable authority alone with his daughter.
What was she doing now, he wondered, as he addressed the envelope to his wife.
He could not control the telephone. He could not play the spy. She might b_aking any arrangements she chose. Yet the thought did not disturb him so muc_s the strange, unpleasant, illicit atmosphere of the whole scene with th_oung people the night before. His sense of discomfort was almost physical.
Had he known it, Katharine was far enough withdrawn, both physically an_piritually, from the telephone. She sat in her room with the dictionarie_preading their wide leaves on the table before her, and all the pages whic_hey had concealed for so many years arranged in a pile. She worked with th_teady concentration that is produced by the successful effort to think dow_ome unwelcome thought by means of another thought. Having absorbed th_nwelcome thought, her mind went on with additional vigor, derived from th_ictory; on a sheet of paper lines of figures and symbols frequently an_irmly written down marked the different stages of its progress. And yet i_as broad daylight; there were sounds of knocking and sweeping, which prove_hat living people were at work on the other side of the door, and the door, which could be thrown open in a second, was her only protection against th_orld. But she had somehow risen to be mistress in her own kingdom, assumin_er sovereignty unconsciously.
Steps approached her unheard. It is true that they were steps that lingered, divagated, and mounted with the deliberation natural to one past sixty whos_rms, moreover, are full of leaves and blossoms; but they came on steadily, and soon a tap of laurel boughs against the door arrested Katharine's penci_s it touched the page. She did not move, however, and sat blank-eyed as i_aiting for the interruption to cease. Instead, the door opened. At first, sh_ttached no meaning to the moving mass of green which seemed to enter the roo_ndependently of any human agency. Then she recognized parts of her mother'_ace and person behind the yellow flowers and soft velvet of the palm-buds.
"From Shakespeare's tomb!" exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, dropping the entire mas_pon the floor, with a gesture that seemed to indicate an act of dedication.
Then she flung her arms wide and embraced her daughter.
"Thank God, Katharine!" she exclaimed. "Thank God!" she repeated.
"You've come back?" said Katharine, very vaguely, standing up to receive th_mbrace.
Although she recognized her mother's presence, she was very far from takin_art in the scene, and yet felt it to be amazingly appropriate that her mothe_hould be there, thanking God emphatically for unknown blessings, and strewin_he floor with flowers and leaves from Shakespeare's tomb.
"Nothing else matters in the world!" Mrs. Hilbery continued. "Names aren'_verything; it's what we feel that's everything. I didn't want silly, kind, interfering letters. I didn't want your father to tell me. I knew it from th_irst. I prayed that it might be so."
"You knew it?" Katharine repeated her mother's words softly and vaguely, looking past her. "How did you know it?" She began, like a child, to finger _assel hanging from her mother's cloak.
"The first evening you told me, Katharine. Oh, and thousands of times—dinner- parties—talking about books—the way he came into the room—your voice when yo_poke of him."
Katharine seemed to consider each of these proofs separately. Then she sai_ravely:
"I'm not going to marry William. And then there's Cassandra—"
"Yes, there's Cassandra," said Mrs. Hilbery. "I own I was a little grudging a_irst, but, after all, she plays the piano so beautifully. Do tell me, Katharine," she asked impulsively, "where did you go that evening she playe_ozart, and you thought I was asleep?"
Katharine recollected with difficulty.
"To Mary Datchet's," she remembered.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Hilbery, with a slight note of disappointment in her voice. "_ad my little romance—my little speculation." She looked at her daughter.
Katharine faltered beneath that innocent and penetrating gaze; she flushed, turned away, and then looked up with very bright eyes.
"I'm not in love with Ralph Denham," she said.
"Don't marry unless you're in love!" said Mrs. Hilbery very quickly. "But,"
she added, glancing momentarily at her daughter, "aren't there different ways, Katharine—different—?"
"We want to meet as often as we like, but to be free," Katharine continued.
"To meet here, to meet in his house, to meet in the street." Mrs. Hilbery ra_ver these phrases as if she were trying chords that did not quite satisfy he_ar. It was plain that she had her sources of information, and, indeed, he_ag was stuffed with what she called "kind letters" from the pen of he_ister-in-law.
"Yes. Or to stay away in the country," Katharine concluded.
Mrs. Hilbery paused, looked unhappy, and sought inspiration from the window.
"What a comfort he was in that shop—how he took me and found the ruins a_nce—how SAFE I felt with him—"
"Safe? Oh, no, he's fearfully rash—he's always taking risks. He wants to thro_p his profession and live in a little cottage and write books, though h_asn't a penny of his own, and there are any number of sisters and brother_ependent on him."
"Ah, he has a mother?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"Yes. Rather a fine-looking old lady, with white hair." Katharine began t_escribe her visit, and soon Mrs. Hilbery elicited the facts that not only wa_he house of excruciating ugliness, which Ralph bore without complaint, bu_hat it was evident that every one depended on him, and he had a room at th_op of the house, with a wonderful view over London, and a rook.
"A wretched old bird in a corner, with half its feathers out," she said, wit_ tenderness in her voice that seemed to commiserate the sufferings o_umanity while resting assured in the capacity of Ralph Denham to alleviat_hem, so that Mrs. Hilbery could not help exclaiming:
"But, Katharine, you ARE in love!" at which Katharine flushed, looke_tartled, as if she had said something that she ought not to have said, an_hook her head.
Hastily Mrs. Hilbery asked for further details of this extraordinary house, and interposed a few speculations about the meeting between Keats an_oleridge in a lane, which tided over the discomfort of the moment, and dre_atharine on to further descriptions and indiscretions. In truth, she found a_xtraordinary pleasure in being thus free to talk to some one who was equall_ise and equally benignant, the mother of her earliest childhood, whos_ilence seemed to answer questions that were never asked. Mrs. Hilber_istened without making any remark for a considerable time. She seemed to dra_er conclusions rather by looking at her daughter than by listening to her, and, if cross-examined, she would probably have given a highly inaccurat_ersion of Ralph Denham's life-history except that he was penniless, fatherless, and lived at Highgate—all of which was much in his favor. But b_eans of these furtive glances she had assured herself that Katharine was in _tate which gave her, alternately, the most exquisite pleasure and the mos_rofound alarm.
She could not help ejaculating at last:
"It's all done in five minutes at a Registry Office nowadays, if you think th_hurch service a little florid—which it is, though there are noble things i_t."
"But we don't want to be married," Katharine replied emphatically, and added,
"Why, after all, isn't it perfectly possible to live together without bein_arried?"
Again Mrs. Hilbery looked discomposed, and, in her trouble, took up the sheet_hich were lying upon the table, and began turning them over this way an_hat, and muttering to herself as she glanced:
"A plus B minus C equals 'x y z'. It's so dreadfully ugly, Katharine. That'_hat I feel—so dreadfully ugly."
Katharine took the sheets from her mother's hand and began shuffling the_bsent-mindedly together, for her fixed gaze seemed to show that her thought_ere intent upon some other matter.
"Well, I don't know about ugliness," she said at length.
"But he doesn't ask it of you?" Mrs. Hilbery exclaimed. "Not that grave youn_an with the steady brown eyes?"
"He doesn't ask anything—we neither of us ask anything."
"If I could help you, Katharine, by the memory of what I felt—"
"Yes, tell me what you felt."
Mrs. Hilbery, her eyes growing blank, peered down the enormously long corrido_f days at the far end of which the little figures of herself and her husban_ppeared fantastically attired, clasping hands upon a moonlit beach, wit_oses swinging in the dusk.
"We were in a little boat going out to a ship at night," she began. "The su_ad set and the moon was rising over our heads. There were lovely silve_ights upon the waves and three green lights upon the steamer in the middle o_he bay. Your father's head looked so grand against the mast. It was life, i_as death. The great sea was round us. It was the voyage for ever and ever."
The ancient fairy-tale fell roundly and harmoniously upon Katharine's ears.
Yes, there was the enormous space of the sea; there were the three gree_ights upon the steamer; the cloaked figures climbed up on deck. And so, voyaging over the green and purple waters, past the cliffs and the sand_agoons and through pools crowded with the masts of ships and the steeples o_hurches—here they were. The river seemed to have brought them and deposite_hem here at this precise point. She looked admiringly at her mother, tha_ncient voyager.
"Who knows," exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery, continuing her reveries, "where we ar_ound for, or why, or who has sent us, or what we shall find—who know_nything, except that love is our faith—love—" she crooned, and the soft soun_eating through the dim words was heard by her daughter as the breaking o_aves solemnly in order upon the vast shore that she gazed upon. She woul_ave been content for her mother to repeat that word almost indefinitely—_oothing word when uttered by another, a riveting together of the shattere_ragments of the world. But Mrs. Hilbery, instead of repeating the word love, said pleadingly:
"And you won't think those ugly thoughts again, will you, Katharine?" at whic_ords the ship which Katharine had been considering seemed to put into harbo_nd have done with its seafaring. Yet she was in great need, if not exactly o_ympathy, of some form of advice, or, at least, of the opportunity of settin_orth her problems before a third person so as to renew them in her own eyes.
"But then," she said, ignoring the difficult problem of ugliness, "you kne_ou were in love; but we're different. It seems," she continued, frowning _ittle as she tried to fix the difficult feeling, "as if something came to a_nd suddenly—gave out—faded—an illusion—as if when we think we're in love w_ake it up—we imagine what doesn't exist. That's why it's impossible that w_hould ever marry. Always to be finding the other an illusion, and going of_nd forgetting about them, never to be certain that you cared, or that h_asn't caring for some one not you at all, the horror of changing from on_tate to the other, being happy one moment and miserable the next—that's th_eason why we can't possibly marry. At the same time," she continued, "w_an't live without each other, because—" Mrs. Hilbery waited patiently for th_entence to be completed, but Katharine fell silent and fingered her sheet o_igures.
"We have to have faith in our vision," Mrs. Hilbery resumed, glancing at th_igures, which distressed her vaguely, and had some connection in her min_ith the household accounts, "otherwise, as you say—" She cast a lightnin_lance into the depths of disillusionment which were, perhaps, not altogethe_nknown to her.
"Believe me, Katharine, it's the same for every one—for me, too—for you_ather," she said earnestly, and sighed. They looked together into the abys_nd, as the elder of the two, she recovered herself first and asked:
"But where is Ralph? Why isn't he here to see me?"
Katharine's expression changed instantly.
"Because he's not allowed to come here," she replied bitterly.
Mrs. Hilbery brushed this aside.
"Would there be time to send for him before luncheon?" she asked.
Katharine looked at her as if, indeed, she were some magician. Once more sh_elt that instead of being a grown woman, used to advise and command, she wa_nly a foot or two raised above the long grass and the little flowers an_ntirely dependent upon the figure of indefinite size whose head went up int_he sky, whose hand was in hers, for guidance.
"I'm not happy without him," she said simply.
Mrs. Hilbery nodded her head in a manner which indicated complet_nderstanding, and the immediate conception of certain plans for the future.
She swept up her flowers, breathed in their sweetness, and, humming a littl_ong about a miller's daughter, left the room.
The case upon which Ralph Denham was engaged that afternoon was not apparentl_eceiving his full attention, and yet the affairs of the late John Leake o_ublin were sufficiently confused to need all the care that a solicitor coul_estow upon them, if the widow Leake and the five Leake children of tender ag_ere to receive any pittance at all. But the appeal to Ralph's humanity ha_ittle chance of being heard to-day; he was no longer a model o_oncentration. The partition so carefully erected between the differen_ections of his life had been broken down, with the result that though hi_yes were fixed upon the last Will and Testament, he saw through the page _ertain drawing-room in Cheyne Walk.
He tried every device that had proved effective in the past for keeping up th_artitions of the mind, until he could decently go home; but a little to hi_larm he found himself assailed so persistently, as if from outside, b_atharine, that he launched forth desperately into an imaginary interview wit_er. She obliterated a bookcase full of law reports, and the corners and line_f the room underwent a curious softening of outline like that which sometime_akes a room unfamiliar at the moment of waking from sleep. By degrees, _ulse or stress began to beat at regular intervals in his mind, heaping hi_houghts into waves to which words fitted themselves, and without muc_onsciousness of what he was doing, he began to write on a sheet of draf_aper what had the appearance of a poem lacking several words in each line.
Not many lines had been set down, however, before he threw away his pen a_iolently as if that were responsible for his misdeeds, and tore the pape_nto many separate pieces. This was a sign that Katharine had asserted hersel_nd put to him a remark that could not be met poetically. Her remark wa_ntirely destructive of poetry, since it was to the effect that poetry ha_othing whatever to do with her; all her friends spent their lives in makin_p phrases, she said; all his feeling was an illusion, and next moment, as i_o taunt him with his impotence, she had sunk into one of those dreamy state_hich took no account whatever of his existence. Ralph was roused by hi_assionate attempts to attract her attention to the fact that he was standin_n the middle of his little private room in Lincoln's Inn Fields at _onsiderable distance from Chelsea. The physical distance increased hi_esperation. He began pacing in circles until the process sickened him, an_hen took a sheet of paper for the composition of a letter which, he vowe_efore he began it, should be sent that same evening.
It was a difficult matter to put into words; poetry would have done it bette_ustice, but he must abstain from poetry. In an infinite number of half- obliterated scratches he tried to convey to her the possibility that althoug_uman beings are woefully ill-adapted for communication, still, such communio_s the best we know; moreover, they make it possible for each to have acces_o another world independent of personal affairs, a world of law, o_hilosophy, or more strangely a world such as he had had a glimpse of th_ther evening when together they seemed to be sharing something, creatin_omething, an ideal—a vision flung out in advance of our actual circumstances.
If this golden rim were quenched, if life were no longer circled by a_llusion (but was it an illusion after all?), then it would be too dismal a_ffair to carry to an end; so he wrote with a sudden spurt of conviction whic_ade clear way for a space and left at least one sentence standing whole.
Making every allowance for other desires, on the whole this conclusio_ppeared to him to justify their relationship. But the conclusion wa_ystical; it plunged him into thought. The difficulty with which even thi_mount was written, the inadequacy of the words, and the need of writing unde_hem and over them others which, after all, did no better, led him to leav_ff before he was at all satisfied with his production, and unable to resis_he conviction that such rambling would never be fit for Katharine's eye. H_elt himself more cut off from her than ever. In idleness, and because h_ould do nothing further with words, he began to draw little figures in th_lank spaces, heads meant to resemble her head, blots fringed with flame_eant to represent—perhaps the entire universe. From this occupation he wa_oused by the message that a lady wished to speak to him. He had scarcely tim_o run his hands through his hair in order to look as much like a solicitor a_ossible, and to cram his papers into his pocket, already overcome with sham_hat another eye should behold them, when he realized that his preparation_ere needless. The lady was Mrs. Hilbery.
"I hope you're not disposing of somebody's fortune in a hurry," she remarked, gazing at the documents on his table, "or cutting off an entail at one blow, because I want to ask you to do me a favor. And Anderson won't keep his hors_aiting. (Anderson is a perfect tyrant, but he drove my dear father to th_bbey the day they buried him.) I made bold to come to you, Mr. Denham, no_xactly in search of legal assistance (though I don't know who I'd rather com_o, if I were in trouble), but in order to ask your help in settling som_iresome little domestic affairs that have arisen in my absence. I've been t_tratford-on-Avon (I must tell you all about that one of these days), an_here I got a letter from my sister-in-law, a dear kind goose who like_nterfering with other people's children because she's got none of her own.
(We're dreadfully afraid that she's going to lose the sight of one of he_yes, and I always feel that our physical ailments are so apt to turn int_ental ailments. I think Matthew Arnold says something of the same kind abou_ord Byron.) But that's neither here nor there."
The effect of these parentheses, whether they were introduced for that purpos_r represented a natural instinct on Mrs. Hilbery's part to embellish th_areness of her discourse, gave Ralph time to perceive that she possessed al_he facts of their situation and was come, somehow, in the capacity o_mbassador.
"I didn't come here to talk about Lord Byron," Mrs. Hilbery continued, with _ittle laugh, "though I know that both you and Katharine, unlike other youn_eople of your generation, still find him worth reading." She paused. "I'm s_lad you've made Katharine read poetry, Mr. Denham!" she exclaimed, "and fee_oetry, and look poetry! She can't talk it yet, but she will—oh, she will!"
Ralph, whose hand was grasped and whose tongue almost refused to articulate, somehow contrived to say that there were moments when he felt hopeless, utterly hopeless, though he gave no reason for this statement on his part.
"But you care for her?" Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"Good God!" he exclaimed, with a vehemence which admitted of no question.
"It's the Church of England service you both object to?" Mrs. Hilbery inquire_nnocently.
"I don't care a damn what service it is," Ralph replied.
"You would marry her in Westminster Abbey if the worst came to the worst?"
Mrs. Hilbery inquired.
"I would marry her in St. Paul's Cathedral," Ralph replied. His doubts upo_his point, which were always roused by Katharine's presence, had vanishe_ompletely, and his strongest wish in the world was to be with he_mmediately, since every second he was away from her he imagined her slippin_arther and farther from him into one of those states of mind in which he wa_nrepresented. He wished to dominate her, to possess her.
"Thank God!" exclaimed Mrs. Hilbery. She thanked Him for a variety o_lessings: for the conviction with which the young man spoke; and not leas_or the prospect that on her daughter's wedding-day the noble cadences, th_tately periods, the ancient eloquence of the marriage service would resoun_ver the heads of a distinguished congregation gathered together near the ver_pot where her father lay quiescent with the other poets of England. The tear_illed her eyes; but she remembered simultaneously that her carriage wa_aiting, and with dim eyes she walked to the door. Denham followed he_ownstairs.
It was a strange drive. For Denham it was without exception the mos_npleasant he had ever taken. His only wish was to go as straightly an_uickly as possible to Cheyne Walk; but it soon appeared that Mrs. Hilber_ither ignored or thought fit to baffle this desire by interposing variou_rrands of her own. She stopped the carriage at post-offices, and coffee- shops, and shops of inscrutable dignity where the aged attendants had to b_reeted as old friends; and, catching sight of the dome of St. Paul's abov_he irregular spires of Ludgate Hill, she pulled the cord impulsively, an_ave directions that Anderson should drive them there. But Anderson ha_easons of his own for discouraging afternoon worship, and kept his horse'_ose obstinately towards the west. After some minutes, Mrs. Hilbery realize_he situation, and accepted it good-humoredly, apologizing to Ralph for hi_isappointment.
"Never mind," she said, "we'll go to St. Paul's another day, and it may tur_ut, though I can't promise that it WILL, that he'll take us past Westminste_bbey, which would be even better."
Ralph was scarcely aware of what she went on to say. Her mind and body bot_eemed to have floated into another region of quick-sailing clouds rapidl_assing across each other and enveloping everything in a vaporou_ndistinctness. Meanwhile he remained conscious of his own concentrate_esire, his impotence to bring about anything he wished, and his increasin_gony of impatience.
Suddenly Mrs. Hilbery pulled the cord with such decision that even Anderso_ad to listen to the order which she leant out of the window to give him. Th_arriage pulled up abruptly in the middle of Whitehall before a large buildin_edicated to one of our Government offices. In a second Mrs. Hilbery wa_ounting the steps, and Ralph was left in too acute an irritation by thi_urther delay even to speculate what errand took her now to the Board o_ducation. He was about to jump from the carriage and take a cab, when Mrs.
Hilbery reappeared talking genially to a figure who remained hidden behin_er.
"There's plenty of room for us all," she was saying. "Plenty of room. We coul_ind space for FOUR of you, William," she added, opening the door, and Ralp_ound that Rodney had now joined their company. The two men glanced at eac_ther. If distress, shame, discomfort in its most acute form were ever visibl_pon a human face, Ralph could read them all expressed beyond the eloquence o_ords upon the face of his unfortunate companion. But Mrs. Hilbery was eithe_ompletely unseeing or determined to appear so. She went on talking; sh_alked, it seemed to both the young men, to some one outside, up in the air.
She talked about Shakespeare, she apostrophized the human race, she proclaime_he virtues of divine poetry, she began to recite verses which broke down i_he middle. The great advantage of her discourse was that it was self- supporting. It nourished itself until Cheyne Walk was reached upon half _ozen grunts and murmurs.
"Now," she said, alighting briskly at her door, "here we are!"
There was something airy and ironical in her voice and expression as sh_urned upon the doorstep and looked at them, which filled both Rodney an_enham with the same misgivings at having trusted their fortunes to such a_mbassador; and Rodney actually hesitated upon the threshold and murmured t_enham:
"You go in, Denham. I… " He was turning tail, but the door opening and th_amiliar look of the house asserting its charm, he bolted in on the wake o_he others, and the door shut upon his escape. Mrs. Hilbery led the wa_pstairs. She took them to the drawing-room. The fire burnt as usual, th_ittle tables were laid with china and silver. There was nobody there.
"Ah," she said, "Katharine's not here. She must be upstairs in her room. Yo_ave something to say to her, I know, Mr. Denham. You can find your way?" sh_aguely indicated the ceiling with a gesture of her hand. She had becom_uddenly serious and composed, mistress in her own house. The gesture wit_hich she dismissed him had a dignity that Ralph never forgot. She seemed t_ake him free with a wave of her hand to all that she possessed. He left th_oom.
The Hilberys' house was tall, possessing many stories and passages with close_oors, all, once he had passed the drawing-room floor, unknown to Ralph. H_ounted as high as he could and knocked at the first door he came to.
"May I come in?" he asked.
A voice from within answered "Yes."
He was conscious of a large window, full of light, of a bare table, and of _ong looking-glass. Katharine had risen, and was standing with some whit_apers in her hand, which slowly fluttered to the ground as she saw he_isitor. The explanation was a short one. The sounds were inarticulate; no on_ould have understood the meaning save themselves. As if the forces of th_orld were all at work to tear them asunder they sat, clasping hands, nea_nough to be taken even by the malicious eye of Time himself for a unite_ouple, an indivisible unit.
"Don't move, don't go," she begged of him, when he stooped to gather th_apers she had let fall. But he took them in his hands and, giving her by _udden impulse his own unfinished dissertation, with its mystical conclusion, they read each other's compositions in silence.
Katharine read his sheets to an end; Ralph followed her figures as far as hi_athematics would let him. They came to the end of their tasks at about th_ame moment, and sat for a time in silence.
"Those were the papers you left on the seat at Kew," said Ralph at length.
"You folded them so quickly that I couldn't see what they were."
She blushed very deeply; but as she did not move or attempt to hide her fac_he had the appearance of some one disarmed of all defences, or Ralph likene_er to a wild bird just settling with wings trembling to fold themselve_ithin reach of his hand. The moment of exposure had been exquisitel_ainful—the light shed startlingly vivid. She had now to get used to the fac_hat some one shared her loneliness. The bewilderment was half shame and hal_he prelude to profound rejoicing. Nor was she unconscious that on the surfac_he whole thing must appear of the utmost absurdity. She looked to see whethe_alph smiled, but found his gaze fixed on her with such gravity that sh_urned to the belief that she had committed no sacrilege but enriched herself, perhaps immeasurably, perhaps eternally. She hardly dared steep herself in th_nfinite bliss. But his glance seemed to ask for some assurance upon anothe_oint of vital interest to him. It beseeched her mutely to tell him whethe_hat she had read upon his confused sheet had any meaning or truth to her. Sh_ent her head once more to the papers she held.
"I like your little dot with the flames round it," she said meditatively.
Ralph nearly tore the page from her hand in shame and despair when he saw he_ctually contemplating the idiotic symbol of his most confused and emotiona_oments.
He was convinced that it could mean nothing to another, although somehow t_im it conveyed not only Katharine herself but all those states of mind whic_ad clustered round her since he first saw her pouring out tea on a Sunda_fternoon. It represented by its circumference of smudges surrounding _entral blot all that encircling glow which for him surrounded, inexplicably, so many of the objects of life, softening their sharp outline, so that h_ould see certain streets, books, and situations wearing a halo almos_erceptible to the physical eye. Did she smile? Did she put the paper dow_earily, condemning it not only for its inadequacy but for its falsity? Wa_he going to protest once more that he only loved the vision of her? But i_id not occur to her that this diagram had anything to do with her. She sai_imply, and in the same tone of reflection:
"Yes, the world looks something like that to me too."
He received her assurance with profound joy. Quietly and steadily there ros_p behind the whole aspect of life that soft edge of fire which gave its re_int to the atmosphere and crowded the scene with shadows so deep and dar_hat one could fancy pushing farther into their density and still farther, exploring indefinitely. Whether there was any correspondence between the tw_rospects now opening before them they shared the same sense of the impendin_uture, vast, mysterious, infinitely stored with undeveloped shapes which eac_ould unwrap for the other to behold; but for the present the prospect of th_uture was enough to fill them with silent adoration. At any rate, thei_urther attempts to communicate articulately were interrupted by a knock o_he door, and the entrance of a maid who, with a due sense of mystery, announced that a lady wished to see Miss Hilbery, but refused to allow he_ame to be given.
When Katharine rose, with a profound sigh, to resume her duties, Ralph wen_ith her, and neither of them formulated any guess, on their way downstairs, as to who this anonymous lady might prove to be. Perhaps the fantastic notio_hat she was a little black hunchback provided with a steel knife, which sh_ould plunge into Katharine's heart, appeared to Ralph more probable tha_nother, and he pushed first into the dining-room to avert the blow. Then h_xclaimed "Cassandra!" with such heartiness at the sight of Cassandra Otwa_tanding by the dining-room table that she put her finger to her lips an_egged him to be quiet.
"Nobody must know I'm here," she explained in a sepulchral whisper. "I misse_y train. I have been wandering about London all day. I can bear it no longer.
Katharine, what am I to do?"
Katharine pushed forward a chair; Ralph hastily found wine and poured it ou_or her. If not actually fainting, she was very near it.
"William's upstairs," said Ralph, as soon as she appeared to be recovered.
"I'll go and ask him to come down to you." His own happiness had given him _onfidence that every one else was bound to be happy too. But Cassandra ha_er uncle's commands and anger too vividly in her mind to dare any suc_efiance. She became agitated and said that she must leave the house at once.
She was not in a condition to go, had they known where to send her.
Katharine's common sense, which had been in abeyance for the past week or two, still failed her, and she could only ask, "But where's your luggage?" in th_ague belief that to take lodgings depended entirely upon a sufficiency o_uggage. Cassandra's reply, "I've lost my luggage," in no way helped her to _onclusion.
"You've lost your luggage," she repeated. Her eyes rested upon Ralph, with a_xpression which seemed better fitted to accompany a profound thanksgiving fo_is existence or some vow of eternal devotion than a question about luggage.
Cassandra perceived the look, and saw that it was returned; her eyes fille_ith tears. She faltered in what she was saying. She began bravely again t_iscuss the question of lodging when Katharine, who seemed to hav_ommunicated silently with Ralph, and obtained his permission, took her rub_ing from her finger and giving it to Cassandra, said: "I believe it will fi_ou without any alteration."
These words would not have been enough to convince Cassandra of what she ver_uch wished to believe had not Ralph taken the bare hand in his and demanded:
"Why don't you tell us you're glad?" Cassandra was so glad that the tears ra_own her cheeks. The certainty of Katharine's engagement not only relieved he_f a thousand vague fears and self-reproaches, but entirely quenched tha_pirit of criticism which had lately impaired her belief in Katharine. Her ol_aith came back to her. She seemed to behold her with that curious intensit_hich she had lost; as a being who walks just beyond our sphere, so that lif_n their presence is a heightened process, illuminating not only ourselves bu_ considerable stretch of the surrounding world. Next moment she contraste_er own lot with theirs and gave back the ring.
"I won't take that unless William gives it me himself," she said. "Keep it fo_e, Katharine."
"I assure you everything's perfectly all right," said Ralph. "Let me tel_illiam—"
He was about, in spite of Cassandra's protest, to reach the door, when Mrs.
Hilbery, either warned by the parlor-maid or conscious with her usua_rescience of the need for her intervention, opened the door and smilingl_urveyed them.
"My dear Cassandra!" she exclaimed. "How delightful to see you back again!
What a coincidence!" she observed, in a general way. "William is upstairs. Th_ettle boils over. Where's Katharine, I say? I go to look, and I fin_assandra!" She seemed to have proved something to her own satisfaction, although nobody felt certain what thing precisely it was.
"I find Cassandra," she repeated.
"She missed her train," Katharine interposed, seeing that Cassandra was unabl_o speak.
"Life," began Mrs. Hilbery, drawing inspiration from the portraits on the wal_pparently, "consists in missing trains and in finding—" But she pulle_erself up and remarked that the kettle must have boiled completely ove_verything.
To Katharine's agitated mind it appeared that this kettle was an enormou_ettle, capable of deluging the house in its incessant showers of steam, th_nraged representative of all those household duties which she had neglected.
She ran hastily up to the drawing-room, and the rest followed her, for Mrs.
Hilbery put her arm round Cassandra and drew her upstairs. They found Rodne_bserving the kettle with uneasiness but with such absence of mind tha_atharine's catastrophe was in a fair way to be fulfilled. In putting th_atter straight no greetings were exchanged, but Rodney and Cassandra chos_eats as far apart as possible, and sat down with an air of people making _ery temporary lodgment. Either Mrs. Hilbery was impervious to thei_iscomfort, or chose to ignore it, or thought it high time that the subjec_as changed, for she did nothing but talk about Shakespeare's tomb.
"So much earth and so much water and that sublime spirit brooding over i_ll," she mused, and went on to sing her strange, half-earthly song of dawn_nd sunsets, of great poets, and the unchanged spirit of noble loving whic_hey had taught, so that nothing changes, and one age is linked with another, and no one dies, and we all meet in spirit, until she appeared oblivious o_ny one in the room. But suddenly her remarks seemed to contract th_normously wide circle in which they were soaring and to alight, airily an_emporarily, upon matters of more immediate moment.
"Katharine and Ralph," she said, as if to try the sound. "William an_assandra."
"I feel myself in an entirely false position," said William desperately, thrusting himself into this breach in her reflections. "I've no right to b_itting here. Mr. Hilbery told me yesterday to leave the house. I'd n_ntention of coming back again. I shall now—"
"I feel the same too," Cassandra interrupted. "After what Uncle Trevor said t_e last night—"
"I have put you into a most odious position," Rodney went on, rising from hi_eat, in which movement he was imitated simultaneously by Cassandra. "Until _ave your father's consent I have no right to speak to you—let alone in thi_ouse, where my conduct"—he looked at Katharine, stammered, and fel_ilent—"where my conduct has been reprehensible and inexcusable in th_xtreme," he forced himself to continue. "I have explained everything to you_other. She is so generous as to try and make me believe that I have done n_arm—you have convinced her that my behavior, selfish and weak as i_as—selfish and weak—" he repeated, like a speaker who has lost his notes.
Two emotions seemed to be struggling in Katharine; one the desire to laugh a_he ridiculous spectacle of William making her a formal speech across the tea- table, the other a desire to weep at the sight of something childlike an_onest in him which touched her inexpressibly. To every one's surprise sh_ose, stretched out her hand, and said:
"You've nothing to reproach yourself with—you've been always—" but here he_oice died away, and the tears forced themselves into her eyes, and ran dow_er cheeks, while William, equally moved, seized her hand and pressed it t_is lips. No one perceived that the drawing-room door had opened itsel_ufficiently to admit at least half the person of Mr. Hilbery, or saw him gaz_t the scene round the tea-table with an expression of the utmost disgust an_xpostulation. He withdrew unseen. He paused outside on the landing trying t_ecover his self-control and to decide what course he might with most dignit_ursue. It was obvious to him that his wife had entirely confused the meanin_f his instructions. She had plunged them all into the most odious confusion.
He waited a moment, and then, with much preliminary rattling of the handle, opened the door a second time. They had all regained their places; som_ncident of an absurd nature had now set them laughing and looking under th_able, so that his entrance passed momentarily unperceived. Katharine, wit_lushed cheeks, raised her head and said:
"Well, that's my last attempt at the dramatic."
"It's astonishing what a distance they roll," said Ralph, stooping to turn u_he corner of the hearthrug.
"Don't trouble—don't bother. We shall find it—" Mrs. Hilbery began, and the_aw her husband and exclaimed: "Oh, Trevor, we're looking for Cassandra'_ngagement-ring!"
Mr. Hilbery looked instinctively at the carpet. Remarkably enough, the rin_ad rolled to the very point where he stood. He saw the rubies touching th_ip of his boot. Such is the force of habit that he could not refrain fro_tooping, with an absurd little thrill of pleasure at being the one to fin_hat others were looking for, and, picking the ring up, he presented it, wit_ bow that was courtly in the extreme, to Cassandra. Whether the making of _ow released automatically feelings of complaisance and urbanity, Mr. Hilber_ound his resentment completely washed away during the second in which he ben_nd straightened himself. Cassandra dared to offer her cheek and received hi_mbrace. He nodded with some degree of stiffness to Rodney and Denham, who ha_oth risen upon seeing him, and now altogether sat down. Mrs. Hilbery seeme_o have been waiting for the entrance of her husband, and for this precis_oment in order to put to him a question which, from the ardor with which sh_nnounced it, had evidently been pressing for utterance for some time past.
"Oh, Trevor, please tell me, what was the date of the first performance of
In order to answer her Mr. Hilbery had to have recourse to the exac_cholarship of William Rodney, and before he had given his excellen_uthorities for believing as he believed, Rodney felt himself admitted onc_ore to the society of the civilized and sanctioned by the authority of n_ess a person than Shakespeare himself. The power of literature, which ha_emporarily deserted Mr. Hilbery, now came back to him, pouring over the ra_gliness of human affairs its soothing balm, and providing a form into whic_uch passions as he had felt so painfully the night before could be molded s_hat they fell roundly from the tongue in shapely phrases, hurting nobody. H_as sufficiently sure of his command of language at length to look a_atharine and again at Denham. All this talk about Shakespeare had acted as _oporific, or rather as an incantation upon Katharine. She leaned back in he_hair at the head of the tea-table, perfectly silent, looking vaguely pas_hem all, receiving the most generalized ideas of human heads agains_ictures, against yellow-tinted walls, against curtains of deep crimso_elvet. Denham, to whom he turned next, shared her immobility under his gaze.
But beneath his restraint and calm it was possible to detect a resolution, _ill, set now with unalterable tenacity, which made such turns of speech a_r. Hilbery had at command appear oddly irrelevant. At any rate, he sai_othing. He respected the young man; he was a very able young man; he wa_ikely to get his own way. He could, he thought, looking at his still and ver_ignified head, understand Katharine's preference, and, as he thought this, h_as surprised by a pang of acute jealousy. She might have married Rodne_ithout causing him a twinge. This man she loved. Or what was the state o_ffairs between them? An extraordinary confusion of emotion was beginning t_et the better of him, when Mrs. Hilbery, who had been conscious of a sudde_ause in the conversation, and had looked wistfully at her daughter once o_wice, remarked:
"Don't stay if you want to go, Katharine. There's the little room over there.
Perhaps you and Ralph—"
"We're engaged," said Katharine, waking with a start, and looking straight a_er father. He was taken aback by the directness of the statement; h_xclaimed as if an unexpected blow had struck him. Had he loved her to see he_wept away by this torrent, to have her taken from him by this uncontrollabl_orce, to stand by helpless, ignored? Oh, how he loved her! How he loved her!
He nodded very curtly to Denham.
"I gathered something of the kind last night," he said. "I hope you'll deserv_er." But he never looked at his daughter, and strode out of the room, leavin_n the minds of the women a sense, half of awe, half of amusement, at th_xtravagant, inconsiderate, uncivilized male, outraged somehow and gon_ellowing to his lair with a roar which still sometimes reverberates in th_ost polished of drawing-rooms. Then Katharine, looking at the shut door, looked down again, to hide her tears.