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Night and Day

CHAPTER I
It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young
ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea. Perhaps a fifth part of
her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining parts leapt over the little barrier
of day which interposed between Monday morning and this rather subdued
moment, and played with the things one does voluntarily and normally in the
daylight. But although she was silent, she was evidently mistress of a situation
which was familiar enough to her, and inclined to let it take its way for the six
hundredth time, perhaps, without bringing into play any of her unoccupied
faculties. A single glance was enough to show that Mrs. Hilbery was so rich in the
gifts which make tea-parties of elderly distinguished people successful, that she
scarcely needed any help from her daughter, provided that the tiresome business
of teacups and bread and butter was discharged for her.
Considering that the little party had been seated round the tea-table for less than
twenty minutes, the animation observable on their faces, and the amount of
sound they were producing collectively, were very creditable to the hostess. It
suddenly came into Katharine's mind that if some one opened the door at this
moment he would think that they were enjoying themselves; he would think,
"What an extremely nice house to come into!" and instinctively she laughed, and
said something to increase the noise, for the credit of the house presumably,
since she herself had not been feeling exhilarated. At the very same moment,
rather to her amusement, the door was flung open, and a young man entered the
room. Katharine, as she shook hands with him, asked him, in her own mind,
"Now, do you think we're enjoying ourselves enormously?" . . . "Mr. Denham,
mother," she said aloud, for she saw that her mother had forgotten his name.
That fact was perceptible to Mr. Denham also, and increased the awkwardness
which inevitably attends the entrance of a stranger into a room full of people
much at their ease, and all launched upon sentences. At the same time, it
seemed to Mr. Denham as if a thousand softly padded doors had closed between
him and the street outside. A fine mist, the etherealized essence of the fog, hung
visibly in the wide and rather empty space of the drawing-room, all silver where
the candles were grouped on the tea-table, and ruddy again in the firelight. With
the omnibuses and cabs still running in his head, and his body still tingling with
his quick walk along the streets and in and out of traffic and foot-passengers, this
drawing-room seemed very remote and still; and the faces of the elderly people
were mellowed, at some distance from each other, and had a bloom on them
owing to the fact that the air in the drawing-room was thickened by blue grains of
mist. Mr. Denham had come in as Mr. Fortescue, the eminent novelist, reached
the middle of a very long sentence. He kept this suspended while the newcomer
sat down, and Mrs. Hilbery deftly joined the severed parts by leaning towards him
and remarking:
"Now, what would you do if you were married to an engineer, and had to live in
Manchester, Mr. Denham?"
 
 
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