Of all the hours of an ordinary working week-day, which are the pleasantest t_ook forward to and to look back upon? If a single instance is of use i_raming a theory, it may be said that the minutes between nine-twenty-five an_ine-thirty in the morning had a singular charm for Mary Datchet. She spen_hem 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 he_ven in November, striking straight at curtain, chair, and carpet, an_ainting there three bright, true spaces of green, blue, and purple, upo_hich 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 he_oots, and as she followed the yellow rod from curtain to breakfast-table sh_sually breathed some sigh of thankfulness that her life provided her wit_uch 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 breakfas_lone in a room which had nice colors in it, clean from the skirting of th_oards to the corners of the ceiling, seemed to suit her so thoroughly tha_he used at first to hunt about for some one to apologize to, or for some fla_n the situation. She had now been six months in London, and she could find n_law, 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, a_he stood with her dispatch-box in her hand at the door of her flat, and gav_ne look back into the room to see that everything was straight before sh_eft, she said to herself that she was very glad that she was going to leav_t 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 thi_our, take their way in rapid single file along all the broad pavements of th_ity, with their heads slightly lowered, as if all their effort were to follo_ach other as closely as might be; so that Mary used to figure to herself _traight rabbit-run worn by their unswerving feet upon the pavement. But sh_iked to pretend that she was indistinguishable from the rest, and that when _et day drove her to the Underground or omnibus, she gave and took her shar_f crowd and wet with clerks and typists and commercial men, and shared wit_hem the serious business of winding-up the world to tick for another four- and-twenty hours.
Thus thinking, on the particular morning in question, she made her away acros_incoln's Inn Fields and up Kingsway, and so through Southampton Row until sh_eached her office in Russell Square. Now and then she would pause and loo_nto 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 reveale_ state of undress. Mary felt kindly disposed towards the shopkeepers, an_oped that they would trick the midday public into purchasing, for at thi_our of the morning she ranged herself entirely on the side of the shopkeeper_nd bank clerks, and regarded all who slept late and had money to spend as he_nemy and natural prey. And directly she had crossed the road at Holborn, he_houghts all came naturally and regularly to roost upon her work, and sh_orgot that she was, properly speaking, an amateur worker, whose services wer_npaid, 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 whic_ary's society for woman's suffrage had offered it.
She was thinking all the way up Southampton Row of notepaper and foolscap, an_ow 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 organizer_lways pounce, to begin with, upon trifles like these, and build up thei_riumphant reforms upon a basis of absolute solidity; and, withou_cknowledging it for a moment, Mary Datchet was determined to be a grea_rganizer, and had already doomed her society to reconstruction of the mos_adical kind. Once or twice lately, it is true, she had started, broad awake, before turning into Russell Square, and denounced herself rather sharply fo_eing already in a groove, capable, that is, of thinking the same thought_very morning at the same hour, so that the chestnut-colored brick of th_ussell Square houses had some curious connection with her thoughts abou_ffice economy, and served also as a sign that she should get into trim fo_eeting Mr. Clacton, or Mrs. Seal, or whoever might be beforehand with her a_he office. Having no religious belief, she was the more conscientious abou_er life, examining her position from time to time very seriously, and nothin_nnoyed her more than to find one of these bad habits nibbling away unheede_t the precious substance. What was the good, after all, of being a woman i_ne didn't keep fresh, and cram one's life with all sorts of views an_xperiments? Thus she always gave herself a little shake, as she turned th_orner, and, as often as not, reached her own door whistling a snatch of _omersetshire 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 wa_ow let out in slices to a number of societies which displayed assorte_nitials upon doors of ground glass, and kept, each of them, a typewrite_hich clicked busily all day long. The old house, with its great ston_taircase, echoed hollowly to the sound of typewriters and of errand-boys fro_en to six. The noise of different typewriters already at work, disseminatin_heir views upon the protection of native races, or the value of cereals a_oodstuffs, quickened Mary's steps, and she always ran up the last flight o_teps which led to her own landing, at whatever hour she came, so as to ge_er typewriter to take its place in competition with the rest.
She sat herself down to her letters, and very soon all these speculations wer_orgotten, and the two lines drew themselves between her eyebrows, as th_ontents of the letters, the office furniture, and the sounds of activity i_he next room gradually asserted their sway upon her. By eleven o'clock th_tmosphere of concentration was running so strongly in one direction that an_hought of a different order could hardly have survived its birth more than _oment or so. The task which lay before her was to organize a series o_ntertainments, the profits of which were to benefit the society, whic_rooped for want of funds. It was her first attempt at organization on a larg_cale, and she meant to achieve something remarkable. She meant to use th_umbrous machine to pick out this, that, and the other interesting person fro_he muddle of the world, and to set them for a week in a pattern which mus_atch the eyes of Cabinet Ministers, and the eyes once caught, the ol_rguments were to be delivered with unexampled originality. Such was th_cheme as a whole; and in contemplation of it she would become quite flushe_nd excited, and have to remind herself of all the details that intervene_etween her and success.
The door would open, and Mr. Clacton would come in to search for a certai_eaflet buried beneath a pyramid of leaflets. He was a thin, sandy-haired ma_f about thirty-five, spoke with a Cockney accent, and had about him a fruga_ook, as if nature had not dealt generously with him in any way, which, naturally, prevented him from dealing generously with other people. When h_ad found his leaflet, and offered a few jocular hints upon keeping papers i_rder, the typewriting would stop abruptly, and Mrs. Seal would burst into th_oom with a letter which needed explanation in her hand. This was a mor_erious interruption than the other, because she never knew exactly what sh_anted, and half a dozen requests would bolt from her, no one of which wa_learly stated. Dressed in plum-colored velveteen, with short, gray hair, an_ face that seemed permanently flushed with philanthropic enthusiasm, she wa_lways in a hurry, and always in some disorder. She wore two crucifixes, whic_ot themselves entangled in a heavy gold chain upon her breast, and seemed t_ary expressive of her mental ambiguity. Only her vast enthusiasm and he_orship of Miss Markham, one of the pioneers of the society, kept her in he_lace, for which she had no sound qualification.
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 fel_ver 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 o_evolutionary fireworks—for some such metaphor represents what she felt abou_er work, when her brain had been heated by three hours of application.
Shortly before one o'clock Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal desisted from thei_abors, and the old joke about luncheon, which came out regularly at thi_our, was repeated with scarcely any variation of words. Mr. Clacto_atronized a vegetarian restaurant; Mrs. Seal brought sandwiches, which sh_te beneath the plane-trees in Russell Square; while Mary generally went to _audy establishment, upholstered in red plush, near by, where, much to th_egetarian's disapproval, you could buy steak, two inches thick, or a roas_ection of fowl, swimming in a pewter dish.
"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. Clacto_emarked. "I should sleep all the afternoon, I know, if I took a heavy meal i_he middle of the day."
"What's the very latest thing in literature?" Mary asked, good-humoredl_ointing to the yellow-covered volume beneath Mr. Clacton's arm, for h_nvariably read some new French author at lunch-time, or squeezed in a visi_o a picture gallery, balancing his social work with an ardent culture o_hich he was secretly proud, as Mary had very soon divined.
So they parted and Mary walked away, wondering if they guessed that she reall_anted to get away from them, and supposing that they had not quite reache_hat degree of subtlety. She bought herself an evening paper, which she rea_s she ate, looking over the top of it again and again at the queer people wh_ere buying cakes or imparting their secrets, until some young woman whom sh_new came in, and she called out, "Eleanor, come and sit by me," and the_inished their lunch together, parting on the strip of pavement among th_ifferent lines of traffic with a pleasant feeling that they were steppin_nce more into their separate places in the great and eternally moving patter_f human life.
But, instead of going straight back to the office to-day, Mary turned into th_ritish Museum, and strolled down the gallery with the shapes of stone unti_he found an empty seat directly beneath the gaze of the Elgin marbles. Sh_ooked at them, and seemed, as usual, borne up on some wave of exaltation an_motion, by which her life at once became solemn and beautiful—an impressio_hich was due as much, perhaps, to the solitude and chill and silence of th_allery 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 a_he Ulysses for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. S_ecure did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded to a_mpulse to say "I am in love with you" aloud. The presence of this immense an_nduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious of her desire, and at th_ame time proud of a feeling which did not display anything like the sam_roportions when she was going about her daily work.
She repressed her impulse to speak aloud, and rose and wandered about rathe_imlessly among the statues until she found herself in another gallery devote_o engraved obelisks and winged Assyrian bulls, and her emotion took anothe_urn. She began to picture herself traveling with Ralph in a land where thes_onsters were couchant in the sand. "For," she thought to herself, as sh_azed fixedly at some information printed behind a piece of glass, "th_onderful thing about you is that you're ready for anything; you're not in th_east conventional, like most clever men."
And she conjured up a scene of herself on a camel's back, in the desert, whil_alph commanded a whole tribe of natives.
"That is what you can do," she went on, moving on to the next statue. "Yo_lways 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 i_he privacy of her own mind, "I am in love with you," and that sentence migh_ery well never have framed itself. She was, indeed, rather annoyed wit_erself for having allowed such an ill-considered breach of her reserve, weakening her powers of resistance, she felt, should this impulse retur_gain. For, as she walked along the street to her office, the force of all he_ustomary objections to being in love with any one overcame her. She did no_ant to marry at all. It seemed to her that there was something amateurish i_ringing love into touch with a perfectly straightforward friendship, such a_ers was with Ralph, which, for two years now, had based itself upon commo_nterests in impersonal topics, such as the housing of the poor, or th_axation of land values.
But the afternoon spirit differed intrinsically from the morning spirit. Mar_ound herself watching the flight of a bird, or making drawings of th_ranches 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 hi_oom. Mrs. Seal wandered about with newspaper cuttings, which seemed to he_ither "quite splendid" or "really too bad for words." She used to paste thes_nto books, or send them to her friends, having first drawn a broad bar i_lue pencil down the margin, a proceeding which signified equally an_ndistinguishably the depths of her reprobation or the heights of he_pproval.
About four o'clock on that same afternoon Katharine Hilbery was walking u_ingsway. The question of tea presented itself. The street lamps were bein_it already, and as she stood still for a moment beneath one of them, sh_ried to think of some neighboring drawing-room where there would be fireligh_nd talk congenial to her mood. That mood, owing to the spinning traffic an_he 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 thi_ueer 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 sens_f adventure that was out of all proportion to the deed itself. She foun_erself in a dimly lighted hall, unguarded by a porter, and pushed open th_irst swing door. But the office-boy had never heard of Miss Datchet. Did sh_elong to the S.R.F.R.? Katharine shook her head with a smile of dismay. _oice from within shouted, "No. The S.G.S.—top floor."
Katharine mounted past innumerable glass doors, with initials on them, an_ecame steadily more and more doubtful of the wisdom of her venture. At th_op she paused for a moment to breathe and collect herself. She heard th_ypewriter and formal professional voices inside, not belonging, she thought, to any one she had ever spoken to. She touched the bell, and the door wa_pened almost immediately by Mary herself. Her face had to change it_xpression entirely when she saw Katharine.
"You!" she exclaimed. "We thought you were the printer." Still holding th_oor open, she called back, "No, Mr. Clacton, it's not Penningtons. I shoul_ing them up again—double three double eight, Central. Well, this is _urprise. 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 wa_issipated at once, and she was glad that Katharine had found them in _omentary press of activity, owing to the failure of the printer to send bac_ertain proofs.
The unshaded electric light shining upon the table covered with papers daze_atharine for a moment. After the confusion of her twilight walk, and he_andom thoughts, life in this small room appeared extremely concentrated an_right. She turned instinctively to look out of the window, which wa_ncurtained, but Mary immediately recalled her.
"It was very clever of you to find your way," she said, and Katharin_ondered, as she stood there, feeling, for the moment, entirely detached an_nabsorbed, why she had come. She looked, indeed, to Mary's eyes strangely ou_f 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 wa_f another world, and, therefore, subversive of her world. She becam_mmediately anxious that Katharine should be impressed by the importance o_er world, and hoped that neither Mrs. Seal nor Mr. Clacton would appear unti_he impression of importance had been received. But in this she wa_isappointed. 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 ligh_o the gas, which flared up, exploded, and went out.
"Always the way, always the way," she muttered. "Kit Markham is the onl_erson who knows how to deal with the thing."
Mary had to go to her help, and together they spread the table, and apologize_or the disparity between the cups and the plainness of the food.
"If we had known Miss Hilbery was coming, we should have bought a cake," sai_ary, 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 i_is hand, which he was reading aloud.
"Salford's affiliated," he said.
"Well done, Salford!" Mrs. Seal exclaimed enthusiastically, thumping th_eapot 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 _ery formal manner, if she were interested "in our work."
"And the proofs still not come?" said Mrs. Seal, putting both her elbows o_he 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. Whic_eminds me, Mr. Clacton, don't you think we should circularize the province_ith Partridge's last speech? What? You've not read it? Oh, it's the bes_hing 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 penn_ach 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 o_mpressing her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Mrs. Seal apologized. "It's my misfortune to be a_nthusiast," she said, turning to Katharine. "My father's daughter coul_ardly be anything else. I think I've been on as many committees as mos_eople. Waifs and Strays, Rescue Work, Church Work, C. O. S.—loca_ranch—besides the usual civic duties which fall to one as a householder. Bu_'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 th_able. "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, an_ade a deprecating "tut-tut-tut" in her throat, looking alternately a_atharine 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, an_topped short.
Mr. Clacton hastily reverted to the joke about luncheon, and explained ho_rs. Seal fed on a bag of biscuits under the trees, whatever the weather migh_e, rather, Katharine thought, as though Mrs. Seal were a pet dog who ha_onvenient 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 reall_ery sustaining, and the bare boughs against the sky do one so much GOOD. Bu_ shall have to give up going into the square," she proceeded, wrinkling he_orehead. "The injustice of it! Why should I have a beautiful square all t_yself, when poor women who need rest have nowhere at all to sit?" She looke_iercely at Katharine, giving her short locks a little shake. "It's dreadfu_hat a tyrant one still is, in spite of all one's efforts. One tries to lead _ecent life, but one can't. Of course, directly one thinks of it, one see_hat ALL squares should be open to EVERY ONE. Is there any society with tha_bject, Mr. Clacton? If not, there should be, surely."
"A most excellent object," said Mr. Clacton in his professional manner. "A_he same time, one must deplore the ramification of organizations, Mrs. Seal.
So much excellent effort thrown away, not to speak of pounds, shillings, an_ence. Now how many organizations of a philanthropic nature do you suppos_here are in the City of London itself, Miss Hilbery?" he added, screwing hi_outh into a queer little smile, as if to show that the question had it_rivolous 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 wa_ondering who she was; this same unlikeness had subtly stimulated Mrs. Seal t_ry and make a convert of her. Mary, too, looked at her almost as if sh_egged her to make things easy. For Katharine had shown no disposition to mak_hings easy. She had scarcely spoken, and her silence, though grave and eve_houghtful, 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 th_round floor you protect natives, on the next you emigrate women and tel_eople 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 sam_ouse 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, whic_eemed to him to place her among those cultivated and luxurious people of who_e used to dream. Mary, on the other hand, was more of his own sort, and _ittle too much inclined to order him about. He picked up crumbs of dr_iscuit and put them into his mouth with incredible rapidity.
"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 sh_ould 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, almos_pologetically. "We have to remind her sometimes that others have a right t_heir views even if they differ from our own… . "Punch" has a very funn_icture this week, about a Suffragist and an agricultural laborer. Have yo_een this week's "Punch," Miss Datchet?"
Mary laughed, and said "No."
Mr. Clacton then told them the substance of the joke, which, however, depende_ good deal for its success upon the expression which the artist had put int_he people's faces. Mrs. Seal sat all the time perfectly grave. Directly h_ad done speaking she burst out:
"But surely, if you care about the welfare of your sex at all, you must wis_hem 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 _oment's hesitation, he put to Katharine.
"Are you in any way related, I wonder, to the poet Alardyce? His daughter, _elieve, married a Mr. Hilbery."
"Yes; I'm the poet's granddaughter," said Katharine, with a little sigh, afte_ pause; and for a moment they were all silent.
"The poet's granddaughter!" Mrs. Seal repeated, half to herself, with a shak_f 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 t_our grandfather, Miss Hilbery. At one time I could have repeated the greate_art 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 u_ith renewed hope in her eyes, and exclaiming:
"The proofs at last!" ran to open the door. "Oh, it's only Mr. Denham!" sh_ried, without any attempt to conceal her disappointment. Ralph, Katharin_upposed, was a frequent visitor, for the only person he thought it necessar_o greet was herself, and Mary at once explained the strange fact of her bein_here 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, whic_isplayed themselves by a tossing movement of her head, and, as Ralph took _etter from his pocket, and placed his finger upon a certain sentence, sh_orestalled him by exclaiming in confusion:
"Now, I know what you're going to say, Mr. Denham! But it was the day Ki_arkham was here, and she upsets one so—with her wonderful vitality, alway_hinking of something new that we ought to be doing and aren't—and I wa_onscious at the time that my dates were mixed. It had nothing to do with Mar_t all, I assure you."
"My dear Sally, don't apologize," said Mary, laughing. "Men are suc_edants—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 bein_ound fault with by a woman, in argument with whom he was fond of callin_imself "a mere man." He wished, however, to enter into a literar_onservation 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 wit_our grandfather? Let me see. There's Chenier and Hugo and Alfred d_usset—wonderful men, but, at the same time, there's a richness, a freshnes_bout Alardyce—"
Here the telephone bell rang, and he had to absent himself with a smile and _ow 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 t_ell you what I know of back-stairs intrigue, and what can be done by th_ower 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 on_f the pioneers, Mr. Denham, and on his tombstone I had that verse from th_salms put, about the sowers and the seed… . And what wouldn't I give that h_hould be alive now, seeing what we're going to see—" but reflecting that th_lories 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, composition.
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 he_aughed at.
"The standard of morality seems to me frightfully low," she observe_eflectively, pouring out a second cup of tea, "especially among women wh_ren't well educated. They don't see that small things matter, and that'_here the leakage begins, and then we find ourselves in difficulties—I ver_early lost my temper yesterday," she went on, looking at Ralph with a littl_mile, as though he knew what happened when she lost her temper. "It makes m_ery angry when people tell me lies—doesn't it make you angry?" she aske_atharine.
"But considering that every one tells lies," Katharine remarked, looking abou_he room to see where she had put down her umbrella and her parcel, for ther_as an intimacy in the way in which Mary and Ralph addressed each other whic_ade her wish to leave them. Mary, on the other hand, was anxious, superficially at least, that Katharine should stay and so fortify her in he_etermination not to be in love with Ralph.
Ralph, while lifting his cup from his lips to the table, had made up his min_hat 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, d_ou, Ralph?" Mary continued.
Katharine laughed, with more gayety, as it seemed to Mary, than she coul_roperly account for. What was she laughing at? At them, presumably. Katharin_ad risen, and was glancing hither and thither, at the presses and th_upboards, and all the machinery of the office, as if she included them all i_er rather malicious amusement, which caused Mary to keep her eyes on he_traightly 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, withou_ny warning. Two women less like each other could scarcely be imagined, Ralp_hought, looking from one to the other. Next moment, he too, rose, and noddin_o Mary, as Katharine said good-bye, opened the door for her, and followed he_ut.
Mary sat still and made no attempt to prevent them from going. For a second o_wo after the door had shut on them her eyes rested on the door with _traightforward fierceness in which, for a moment, a certain degree o_ewilderment seemed to enter; but, after a brief hesitation, she put down he_up and proceeded to clear away the tea-things.
The impulse which had driven Ralph to take this action was the result of _ery swift little piece of reasoning, and thus, perhaps, was not quite so muc_f an impulse as it seemed. It passed through his mind that if he missed thi_hance of talking to Katharine, he would have to face an enraged ghost, whe_e was alone in his room again, demanding an explanation of his cowardl_ndecision. It was better, on the whole, to risk present discomfiture than t_aste an evening bandying excuses and constructing impossible scenes with thi_ncompromising section of himself. For ever since he had visited the Hilbery_e had been much at the mercy of a phantom Katharine, who came to him when h_at alone, and answered him as he would have her answer, and was always besid_im to crown those varying triumphs which were transacted almost every night, in imaginary scenes, as he walked through the lamplit streets home from th_ffice. To walk with Katharine in the flesh would either feed that phanto_ith fresh food, which, as all who nourish dreams are aware, is a process tha_ecomes necessary from time to time, or refine it to such a degree of thinnes_hat it was scarcely serviceable any longer; and that, too, is sometimes _elcome change to a dreamer. And all the time Ralph was well aware that th_ulk of Katharine was not represented in his dreams at all, so that when h_et her he was bewildered by the fact that she had nothing to do with hi_ream of her.
When, on reaching the street, Katharine found that Mr. Denham proceeded t_eep 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 obscur_egion of the mind required solitude. If she had had her way, she would hav_alked very fast down the Tottenham Court Road, and then sprung into a cab an_aced swiftly home. The view she had had of the inside of an office was of th_ature of a dream to her. Shut off up there, she compared Mrs. Seal, and Mar_atchet, and Mr. Clacton to enchanted people in a bewitched tower, with th_piders' webs looping across the corners of the room, and all the tools of th_ecromancer's craft at hand; for so aloof and unreal and apart from the norma_orld did they seem to her, in the house of innumerable typewriters, murmurin_heir incantations and concocting their drugs, and flinging their frai_piders' 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 o_ers, for she certainly did not wish to share it with Ralph. To him, sh_upposed, Mary Datchet, composing leaflets for Cabinet Ministers among he_ypewriters, represented all that was interesting and genuine; and, accordingly, she shut them both out from all share in the crowded street, wit_ts pendant necklace of lamps, its lighted windows, and its throng of men an_omen, which exhilarated her to such an extent that she very nearly forgot he_ompanion. She walked very fast, and the effect of people passing in th_pposite direction was to produce a queer dizziness both in her head and i_alph's, which set their bodies far apart. But she did her duty by he_ompanion almost unconsciously.
"Mary Datchet does that sort of work very well… . She's responsible for it, _uppose?"
"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 togethe_gain, and Ralph felt much as though he were addressing the summit of a popla_n 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 to_f it.
"But which way are you going?" Katharine asked, waking a little from th_rance into which movement among moving things had thrown her.
"I'm going to the Temple," Ralph replied, inventing a destination on the spu_f the moment. He felt the change come over her as they sat down and th_mnibus began to move forward. He imagined her contemplating the avenue i_ront of them with those honest sad eyes which seemed to set him at such _istance from them. But the breeze was blowing in their faces; it lifted he_at for a second, and she drew out a pin and stuck it in again,—a littl_ction which seemed, for some reason, to make her rather more fallible. Ah, i_nly her hat would blow off, and leave her altogether disheveled, accepting i_rom his hands!
"This is like Venice," she observed, raising her hand. "The motor-cars, _ean, shooting about so quickly, with their lights."
"I've never seen Venice," he replied. "I keep that and some other things fo_y 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 i_ou had the chance?"
Instead of answering her, he wondered whether he should tell her somethin_hat was quite true about himself; and as he wondered, he told her.
"I've planned out my life in sections ever since I was a child, to make i_ast longer. You see, I'm always afraid that I'm missing something—"
"And so am I!" Katharine exclaimed. "But, after all," she added, "why shoul_ou miss anything?"
"Why? Because I'm poor, for one thing," Ralph rejoined. "You, I suppose, ca_ave 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 whic_ne was that this strange young man pronounced Dante as she was used t_earing it pronounced, and another, that he had, most unexpectedly, a feelin_bout life that was familiar to her. Perhaps, then, he was the sort of perso_he might take an interest in, if she came to know him better, and as she ha_laced him among those whom she would never want to know better, this wa_nough to make her silent. She hastily recalled her first view of him, in th_ittle room where the relics were kept, and ran a bar through half he_mpressions, as one cancels a badly written sentence, having found the righ_ne.
"But to know that one might have things doesn't alter the fact that one hasn'_ot them," she said, in some confusion. "How could I go to India, for example?
Besides," she began impulsively, and stopped herself. Here the conductor cam_ound, and interrupted them. Ralph waited for her to resume her sentence, bu_he said no more.
"I have a message to give your father," he remarked. "Perhaps you would giv_t 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 t_eep her from rising, as she threatened to do.
But she got up in spite of him, and said good-bye with her usual air o_ecision, and left him with a quickness which Ralph connected now with all he_ovements. He looked down and saw her standing on the pavement edge, an alert, commanding figure, which waited its season to cross, and then walked boldl_nd swiftly to the other side. That gesture and action would be added to th_icture he had of her, but at present the real woman completely routed th_hantom one.