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Night and Day

CHAPTER XXV
At a quarter-past three in the afternoon of the following Saturday Ralph Denham
sat on the bank of the lake in Kew Gardens, dividing the dial-plate of his watch
into sections with his forefinger. The just and inexorable nature of time itself was
reflected in his face. He might have been composing a hymn to the unhasting
and unresting march of that divinity. He seemed to greet the lapse of minute after
minute with stern acquiescence in the inevitable order. His expression was so
severe, so serene, so immobile, that it seemed obvious that for him at least there
was a grandeur in the departing hour which no petty irritation on his part was to
mar, although the wasting time wasted also high private hopes of his own.
His face was no bad index to what went on within him. He was in a condition of
mind rather too exalted for the trivialities of daily life. He could not accept the fact
that a lady was fifteen minutes late in keeping her appointment without seeing in
that accident the frustration of his entire life. Looking at his watch, he seemed to
look deep into the springs of human existence, and by the light of what he saw
there altered his course towards the north and the midnight. . . . Yes, one's
voyage must be made absolutely without companions through ice and black
water--towards what goal? Here he laid his finger upon the half-hour, and
decided that when the minute-hand reached that point he would go, at the same
time answering the question put by another of the many voices of consciousness
with the reply that there was undoubtedly a goal, but that it would need the most
relentless energy to keep anywhere in its direction. Still, still, one goes on, the
ticking seconds seemed to assure him, with dignity, with open eyes, with
determination not to accept the second-rate, not to be tempted by the unworthy,
not to yield, not to compromise. Twenty-five minutes past three were now marked
upon the face of the watch. The world, he assured himself, since Katharine
Hilbery was now half an hour behind her time, offers no happiness, no rest from
struggle, no certainty. In a scheme of things utterly bad from the start the only
unpardonable folly is that of hope. Raising his eyes for a moment from the face of
his watch, he rested them upon the opposite bank, reflectively and not without a
certain wistfulness, as if the sternness of their gaze were still capable of
mitigation. Soon a look of the deepest satisfaction filled them, though, for a
moment, he did not move. He watched a lady who came rapidly, and yet with a
trace of hesitation, down the broad grass-walk towards him. She did not see him.
Distance lent her figure an indescribable height, and romance seemed to
surround her from the floating of a purple veil which the light air filled and curved
from her shoulders.
"Here she comes, like a ship in full sail," he said to himself, half remembering
some line from a play or poem where the heroine bore down thus with feathers
flying and airs saluting her. The greenery and the high presences of the trees
surrounded her as if they stood forth at her coming. He rose, and she saw him;
her little exclamation proved that she was glad to find him, and then that she
blamed herself for being late.
 
 
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