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Night and Day

CHAPTER II
The young man shut the door with a sharper slam than any visitor had used that
afternoon, and walked up the street at a great pace, cutting the air with his
walking-stick. He was glad to find himself outside that drawing-room, breathing
raw fog, and in contact with unpolished people who only wanted their share of
the pavement allowed them. He thought that if he had had Mr. or Mrs. or Miss
Hilbery out here he would have made them, somehow, feel his superiority, for he
was chafed by the memory of halting awkward sentences which had failed to
give even the young woman with the sad, but inwardly ironical eyes a hint of his
force. He tried to recall the actual words of his little outburst, and unconsciously
supplemented them by so many words of greater expressiveness that the
irritation of his failure was somewhat assuaged. Sudden stabs of the unmitigated
truth assailed him now and then, for he was not inclined by nature to take a rosy
view of his conduct, but what with the beat of his foot upon the pavement, and
the glimpse which half-drawn curtains offered him of kitchens, dining- rooms, and
drawing-rooms, illustrating with mute power different scenes from different lives,
his own experience lost its sharpness.
His own experience underwent a curious change. His speed slackened, his head
sank a little towards his breast, and the lamplight shone now and again upon a
face grown strangely tranquil. His thought was so absorbing that when it became
necessary to verify the name of a street, he looked at it for a time before he read
it; when he came to a crossing, he seemed to have to reassure himself by two or
three taps, such as a blind man gives, upon the curb; and, reaching the
Underground station, he blinked in the bright circle of light, glanced at his watch,
decided that he might still indulge himself in darkness, and walked straight on.
And yet the thought was the thought with which he had started. He was still
thinking about the people in the house which he had left; but instead of
remembering, with whatever accuracy he could, their looks and sayings, he had
consciously taken leave of the literal truth. A turn of the street, a firelit room,
something monumental in the procession of the lamp-posts, who shall say what
accident of light or shape had suddenly changed the prospect within his mind,
and led him to murmur aloud:
"She'll do. . . . Yes, Katharine Hilbery'll do. . . . I'll take Katharine Hilbery."
As soon as he had said this, his pace slackened, his head fell, his eyes became
fixed. The desire to justify himself, which had been so urgent, ceased to torment
him, and, as if released from constraint, so that they worked without friction or
bidding, his faculties leapt forward and fixed, as a matter of course, upon the
form of Katharine Hilbery. It was marvellous how much they found to feed upon,
considering the destructive nature of Denham's criticism in her presence. The
charm, which he had tried to disown, when under the effect of it, the beauty, the
character, the aloofness, which he had been determined not to feel, now
possessed him wholly; and when, as happened by the nature of things, he had
exhausted his memory, he went on with his imagination. He was conscious of
what he was about, for in thus dwelling upon Miss Hilbery's qualities, he showed
 
 
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