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The first signs of spring, even such as make themselves felt towards the middle
of February, not only produce little white and violet flowers in the more sheltered
corners of woods and gardens, but bring to birth thoughts and desires
comparable to those faintly colored and sweetly scented petals in the minds of
men and women. Lives frozen by age, so far as the present is concerned, to a
hard surface, which neither reflects nor yields, at this season become soft and
fluid, reflecting the shapes and colors of the present, as well as the shapes and
colors of the past. In the case of Mrs. Hilbery, these early spring days were
chiefly upsetting inasmuch as they caused a general quickening of her emotional
powers, which, as far as the past was concerned, had never suffered much
diminution. But in the spring her desire for expression invariably increased. She
was haunted by the ghosts of phrases. She gave herself up to a sensual delight
in the combinations of words. She sought them in the pages of her favorite
authors. She made them for herself on scraps of paper, and rolled them on her
tongue when there seemed no occasion for such eloquence. She was upheld in
these excursions by the certainty that no language could outdo the splendor of
her father's memory, and although her efforts did not notably further the end of
his biography, she was under the impression of living more in his shade at such
times than at others. No one can escape the power of language, let alone those
of English birth brought up from childhood, as Mrs. Hilbery had been, to disport
themselves now in the Saxon plainness, now in the Latin splendor of the tongue,
and stored with memories, as she was, of old poets exuberating in an infinity of
vocables. Even Katharine was slightly affected against her better judgment by
her mother's enthusiasm. Not that her judgment could altogether acquiesce in the
necessity for a study of Shakespeare's sonnets as a preliminary to the fifth
chapter of her grandfather's biography. Beginning with a perfectly frivolous jest,
Mrs. Hilbery had evolved a theory that Anne Hathaway had a way, among other
things, of writing Shakespeare's sonnets; the idea, struck out to enliven a party of
professors, who forwarded a number of privately printed manuals within the next
few days for her instruction, had submerged her in a flood of Elizabethan
literature; she had come half to believe in her joke, which was, she said, at least
as good as other people's facts, and all her fancy for the time being centered
upon Stratford-on-Avon. She had a plan, she told Katharine, when, rather later
than usual, Katharine came into the room the morning after her walk by the river,
for visiting Shakespeare's tomb. Any fact about the poet had become, for the
moment, of far greater interest to her than the immediate present, and the
certainty that there was existing in England a spot of ground where Shakespeare
had undoubtedly stood, where his very bones lay directly beneath one's feet, was
so absorbing to her on this particular occasion that she greeted her daughter with
the exclamation:
"D'you think he ever passed this house?"
The question, for the moment, seemed to Katharine to have reference to Ralph