Night and Day
Is Mr. Hilbery at home, or Mrs. Hilbery?" Denham asked, of the parlor- maid in
Chelsea, a week later.
"No, sir. But Miss Hilbery is at home," the girl answered.
Ralph had anticipated many answers, but not this one, and now it was
unexpectedly made plain to him that it was the chance of seeing Katharine that
had brought him all the way to Chelsea on pretence of seeing her father.
He made some show of considering the matter, and was taken upstairs to the
drawing-room. As upon that first occasion, some weeks ago, the door closed as if
it were a thousand doors softly excluding the world; and once more Ralph
received an impression of a room full of deep shadows, firelight, unwavering
silver candle flames, and empty spaces to be crossed before reaching the round
table in the middle of the room, with its frail burden of silver trays and china
teacups. But this time Katharine was there by herself; the volume in her hand
showed that she expected no visitors.
Ralph said something about hoping to find her father.
"My father is out," she replied. "But if you can wait, I expect him soon."
It might have been due merely to politeness, but Ralph felt that she received him
almost with cordiality. Perhaps she was bored by drinking tea and reading a book
all alone; at any rate, she tossed the book on to a sofa with a gesture of relief.
"Is that one of the moderns whom you despise?" he asked, smiling at the
carelessness of her gesture.
"Yes," she replied. "I think even you would despise him."
"Even I?" he repeated. "Why even I?"
"You said you liked modern things; I said I hated them."
This was not a very accurate report of their conversation among the relics,
perhaps, but Ralph was flattered to think that she remembered anything about it.
"Or did I confess that I hated all books?" she went on, seeing him look up with an
air of inquiry. "I forget--"
"Do you hate all books?" he asked.
"It would be absurd to say that I hate all books when I've only read ten, perhaps;
but--' Here she pulled herself up short.
"Yes, I do hate books," she continued. "Why do you want to be for ever talking
about your feelings? That's what I can't make out. And poetry's all about feelings-
-novels are all about feelings."
She cut a cake vigorously into slices, and providing a tray with bread and butter
for Mrs. Hilbery, who was in her room with a cold, she rose to go upstairs.
Ralph held the door open for her, and then stood with clasped hands in the
middle of the room. His eyes were bright, and, indeed, he scarcely knew whether
they beheld dreams or realities. All down the street and on the doorstep, and
while he mounted the stairs, his dream of Katharine possessed him; on the
threshold of the room he had dismissed it, in order to prevent too painful a
collision between what he dreamt of her and what she was. And in five minutes