Night and Day
The afternoon was already growing dark when the two other wayfarers, Mary and
Ralph Denham, came out on the high road beyond the outskirts of Lincoln. The
high road, as they both felt, was better suited to this return journey than the open
country, and for the first mile or so of the way they spoke little. In his own mind
Ralph was following the passage of the Otway carriage over the heath; he then
went back to the five or ten minutes that he had spent with Katharine, and
examined each word with the care that a scholar displays upon the irregularities
of an ancient text. He was determined that the glow, the romance, the
atmosphere of this meeting should not paint what he must in future regard as
sober facts. On her side Mary was silent, not because her thoughts took much
handling, but because her mind seemed empty of thought as her heart of feeling.
Only Ralph's presence, as she knew, preserved this numbness, for she could
foresee a time of loneliness when many varieties of pain would beset her. At the
present moment her effort was to preserve what she could of the wreck of her
self-respect, for such she deemed that momentary glimpse of her love so
involuntarily revealed to Ralph. In the light of reason it did not much matter,
perhaps, but it was her instinct to be careful of that vision of herself which keeps
pace so evenly beside every one of us, and had been damaged by her
confession. The gray night coming down over the country was kind to her; and
she thought that one of these days she would find comfort in sitting upon the
earth, alone, beneath a tree. Looking through the darkness, she marked the
swelling ground and the tree. Ralph made her start by saying abruptly;
"What I was going to say when we were interrupted at lunch was that if you go to
America I shall come, too. It can't be harder to earn a living there than it is here.
However, that's not the point. The point is, Mary, that I want to marry you. Well,
what do you say?" He spoke firmly, waited for no answer, and took her arm in
his. "You know me by this time, the good and the bad," he went on. "You know
my tempers. I've tried to let you know my faults. Well, what do you say, Mary?"
She said nothing, but this did not seem to strike him.
"In most ways, at least in the important ways, as you said, we know each other
and we think alike. I believe you are the only person in the world I could live with
happily. And if you feel the same about me--as you do, don't you, Mary?--we
should make each other happy." Here he paused, and seemed to be in no hurry
for an answer; he seemed, indeed, to be continuing his own thoughts.
"Yes, but I'm afraid I couldn't do it," Mary said at last. The casual and rather
hurried way in which she spoke, together with the fact that she was saying the
exact opposite of what he expected her to say, baffled him so much that he
instinctively loosened his clasp upon her arm and she withdrew it quietly.
"You couldn't do it?" he asked.
"No, I couldn't marry you," she replied.
"You don't care for me?"
She made no answer.