The Altar of the Dead HTML version

Chapter 6
She was always in mourning, yet the day he came back from the longest
absence he had yet made her appearance immediately told him she had lately
had a bereavement. They met on this occasion as she was leaving the church,
so that postponing his own entrance he instantly offered to turn round and walk
away with her. She considered, then she said: "Go in now, but come and see me
in an hour." He knew the small vista of her street, closed at the end and as
dreary as an empty pocket, where the pairs of shabby little houses, semi-
detached but indissolubly united, were like married couples on bad terms. Often,
however, as he had gone to the beginning he had never gone beyond. Her aunt
was dead--that he immediately guessed, as well as that it made a difference; but
when she had for the first time mentioned her number he found himself, on her
leaving him, not a little agitated by this sudden liberality. She wasn't a person
with whom, after all, one got on so very fast: it had taken him months and months
to learn her name, years and years to learn her address. If she had looked, on
this reunion, so much older to him, how in the world did he look to her? She had
reached the period of life he had long since reached, when, after separations, the
marked clock-face of the friend we meet announces the hour we have tried to
forget. He couldn't have said what he expected as, at the end of his waiting, he
turned the corner where for years he had always paused; simply not to pause
was a efficient cause for emotion. It was an event, somehow; and in all their long
acquaintance there had never been an event. This one grew larger when, five
minutes later, in the faint elegance of her little drawing-room, she quavered out a
greeting that showed the measure she took of it. He had a strange sense of
having come for something in particular; strange because literally there was
nothing particular between them, nothing save that they were at one on their
great point, which had long ago become a magnificent matter of course. It was
true that after she had said "You can always come now, you know," the thing he
was there for seemed already to have happened. He asked her if it was the
death of her aunt that made the difference; to which she replied: "She never
knew I knew you. I wished her not to." The beautiful clearness of her candour--
her faded beauty was like a summer twilight-- disconnected the words from any
image of deceit. They might have struck him as the record of a deep
dissimulation; but she had always given him a sense of noble reasons. The
vanished aunt was present, as he looked about him, in the small complacencies
of the room, the beaded velvet and the fluted moreen; and though, as we know,
he had the worship of the Dead, he found himself not definitely regretting this
lady. If she wasn't in his long list, however, she was in her niece's short one, and
Stransom presently observed to the latter that now at least, in the place they
haunted together, she would have another object of devotion.
"Yes, I shall have another. She was very kind to me. It's that that's the
He judged, wondering a good deal before he made any motion to leave her, that
the difference would somehow be very great and would consist of still other