Night and Day
The lunch hour in the office was only partly spent by Denham in the consumption
of food. Whether fine or wet, he passed most of it pacing the gravel paths in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. The children got to know his figure, and the sparrows
expected their daily scattering of bread- crumbs. No doubt, since he often gave a
copper and almost always a handful of bread, he was not as blind to his
surroundings as he thought himself.
He thought that these winter days were spent in long hours before white papers
radiant in electric light; and in short passages through fog-dimmed streets. When
he came back to his work after lunch he carried in his head a picture of the
Strand, scattered with omnibuses, and of the purple shapes of leaves pressed
flat upon the gravel, as if his eyes had always been bent upon the ground. His
brain worked incessantly, but his thought was attended with so little joy that he
did not willingly recall it; but drove ahead, now in this direction, now in that; and
came home laden with dark books borrowed from a library.
Mary Datchet, coming from the Strand at lunch-time, saw him one day taking his
turn, closely buttoned in an overcoat, and so lost in thought that he might have
been sitting in his own room.
She was overcome by something very like awe by the sight of him; then she felt
much inclined to laugh, although her pulse beat faster. She passed him, and he
never saw her. She came back and touched him on the shoulder.
"Gracious, Mary!" he exclaimed. "How you startled me!"
"Yes. You looked as if you were walking in your sleep," she said. "Are you
arranging some terrible love affair? Have you got to reconcile a desperate
"I wasn't thinking about my work," Ralph replied, rather hastily. "And, besides,
that sort of thing's not in my line," he added, rather grimly.
The morning was fine, and they had still some minutes of leisure to spend. They
had not met for two or three weeks, and Mary had much to say to Ralph; but she
was not certain how far he wished for her company. However, after a turn or two,
in which a few facts were communicated, he suggested sitting down, and she
took the seat beside him. The sparrows came fluttering about them, and Ralph
produced from his pocket the half of a roll saved from his luncheon. He threw a
few crumbs among them.
"I've never seen sparrows so tame," Mary observed, by way of saying something.
"No," said Ralph. "The sparrows in Hyde Park aren't as tame as this. If we keep
perfectly still, I'll get one to settle on my arm."
Mary felt that she could have forgone this display of animal good temper, but
seeing that Ralph, for some curious reason, took a pride in the sparrows, she bet
him sixpence that he would not succeed.
"Done!" he said; and his eye, which had been gloomy, showed a spark of light.
His conversation was now addressed entirely to a bald cock- sparrow, who
seemed bolder than the rest; and Mary took the opportunity of looking at him.
She was not satisfied; his face was worn, and his expression stern. A child came