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Although the old coaches, with their gay panels and the guard's horn, and the
humors of the box and the vicissitudes of the road, have long moldered into dust
so far as they were matter, and are preserved in the printed pages of our
novelists so far as they partook of the spirit, a journey to London by express train
can still be a very pleasant and romantic adventure. Cassandra Otway, at the
age of twenty-two, could imagine few things more pleasant. Satiated with months
of green fields as she was, the first row of artisans' villas on the outskirts of
London seemed to have something serious about it, which positively increased
the importance of every person in the railway carriage, and even, to her
impressionable mind, quickened the speed of the train and gave a note of stern
authority to the shriek of the engine-whistle. They were bound for London; they
must have precedence of all traffic not similarly destined. A different demeanor
was necessary directly one stepped out upon Liverpool Street platform, and
became one of those preoccupied and hasty citizens for whose needs
innumerable taxi-cabs, motor-omnibuses, and underground railways were in
waiting. She did her best to look dignified and preoccupied too, but as the cab
carried her away, with a determination which alarmed her a little, she became
more and more forgetful of her station as a citizen of London, and turned her
head from one window to another, picking up eagerly a building on this side or a
street scene on that to feed her intense curiosity. And yet, while the drive lasted
no one was real, nothing was ordinary; the crowds, the Government buildings,
the tide of men and women washing the base of the great glass windows, were
all generalized, and affected her as if she saw them on the stage.
All these feelings were sustained and partly inspired by the fact that her journey
took her straight to the center of her most romantic world. A thousand times in
the midst of her pastoral landscape her thoughts took this precise road, were
admitted to the house in Chelsea, and went directly upstairs to Katharine's room,
where, invisible themselves, they had the better chance of feasting upon the
privacy of the room's adorable and mysterious mistress. Cassandra adored her
cousin; the adoration might have been foolish, but was saved from that excess
and lent an engaging charm by the volatile nature of Cassandra's temperament.
She had adored a great many things and people in the course of twenty-two
years; she had been alternately the pride and the desperation of her teachers.
She had worshipped architecture and music, natural history and humanity,
literature and art, but always at the height of her enthusiasm, which was
accompanied by a brilliant degree of accomplishment, she changed her mind and
bought, surreptitiously, another grammar. The terrible results which governesses
had predicted from such mental dissipation were certainly apparent now that
Cassandra was twenty-two, and had never passed an examination, and daily
showed herself less and less capable of passing one. The more serious
prediction that she could never possibly earn her living was also verified. But
from all these short strands of different accomplishments Cassandra wove for
herself an attitude, a cast of mind, which, if useless, was found by some people