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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Day - Chapter 13
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Night And Day - Chapter 13 Post by :sedan55 Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :654

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Night And Day - Chapter 13

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 couple?"

"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 bowling its hoop through
the concourse of birds, and Ralph threw his last crumbs of bread into
the bushes with a snort of impatience.

"That's what always happens--just as I've almost got him," he said.
"Here's your sixpence, Mary. But you've only got it thanks to that
brute of a boy. They oughtn't to be allowed to bowl hoops here--"

"Oughtn't to be allowed to bowl hoops! My dear Ralph, what nonsense!"

"You always say that," he complained; "and it isn't nonsense. What's
the point of having a garden if one can't watch birds in it? The
street does all right for hoops. And if children can't be trusted in
the streets, their mothers should keep them at home."

Mary made no answer to this remark, but frowned.

She leant back on the seat and looked about her at the great houses
breaking the soft gray-blue sky with their chimneys.

"Ah, well," she said, "London's a fine place to live in. I believe I
could sit and watch people all day long. I like my fellow-
creatures. . . ."

Ralph sighed impatiently.

"Yes, I think so, when you come to know them," she added, as if his
disagreement had been spoken.

"That's just when I don't like them," he replied. "Still, I don't see
why you shouldn't cherish that illusion, if it pleases you." He spoke
without much vehemence of agreement or disagreement. He seemed
chilled.

"Wake up, Ralph! You're half asleep!" Mary cried, turning and pinching
his sleeve. "What have you been doing with yourself? Moping? Working?
Despising the world, as usual?"

As he merely shook his head, and filled his pipe, she went on:

"It's a bit of a pose, isn't it?"

"Not more than most things," he said.

"Well," Mary remarked, "I've a great deal to say to you, but I must go
on--we have a committee." She rose, but hesitated, looking down upon
him rather gravely. "You don't look happy, Ralph," she said. "Is it
anything, or is it nothing?"

He did not immediately answer her, but rose, too, and walked with her
towards the gate. As usual, he did not speak to her without
considering whether what he was about to say was the sort of thing
that he could say to her.

"I've been bothered," he said at length. "Partly by work, and partly
by family troubles. Charles has been behaving like a fool. He wants to
go out to Canada as a farmer--"

"Well, there's something to be said for that," said Mary; and they
passed the gate, and walked slowly round the Fields again, discussing
difficulties which, as a matter of fact, were more or less chronic in
the Denham family, and only now brought forward to appease Mary's
sympathy, which, however, soothed Ralph more than he was aware of. She
made him at least dwell upon problems which were real in the sense
that they were capable of solution; and the true cause of his
melancholy, which was not susceptible to such treatment, sank rather
more deeply into the shades of his mind.

Mary was attentive; she was helpful. Ralph could not help feeling
grateful to her, the more so, perhaps, because he had not told her the
truth about his state; and when they reached the gate again he wished
to make some affectionate objection to her leaving him. But his
affection took the rather uncouth form of expostulating with her about
her work.

"What d'you want to sit on a committee for?" he asked. "It's waste of
your time, Mary."

"I agree with you that a country walk would benefit the world more,"
she said. "Look here," she added suddenly, "why don't you come to us
at Christmas? It's almost the best time of year."

"Come to you at Disham?" Ralph repeated.

"Yes. We won't interfere with you. But you can tell me later," she
said, rather hastily, and then started off in the direction of Russell
Square. She had invited him on the impulse of the moment, as a vision
of the country came before her; and now she was annoyed with herself
for having done so, and then she was annoyed at being annoyed.

"If I can't face a walk in a field alone with Ralph," she reasoned,
"I'd better buy a cat and live in a lodging at Ealing, like Sally Seal
--and he won't come. Or did he mean that he WOULD come?"

She shook her head. She really did not know what he had meant. She
never felt quite certain; but now she was more than usually baffled.
Was he concealing something from her? His manner had been odd; his
deep absorption had impressed her; there was something in him that she
had not fathomed, and the mystery of his nature laid more of a spell
upon her than she liked. Moreover, she could not prevent herself from
doing now what she had often blamed others of her sex for doing--from
endowing her friend with a kind of heavenly fire, and passing her life
before it for his sanction.

Under this process, the committee rather dwindled in importance; the
Suffrage shrank; she vowed she would work harder at the Italian
language; she thought she would take up the study of birds. But this
program for a perfect life threatened to become so absurd that she
very soon caught herself out in the evil habit, and was rehearsing her
speech to the committee by the time the chestnut-colored bricks of
Russell Square came in sight. Indeed, she never noticed them. She ran
upstairs as usual, and was completely awakened to reality by the sight
of Mrs. Seal, on the landing outside the office, inducing a very large
dog to drink water out of a tumbler.

"Miss Markham has already arrived," Mrs. Seal remarked, with due
solemnity, "and this is her dog."

"A very fine dog, too," said Mary, patting him on the head.

"Yes. A magnificent fellow, Mrs. Seal agreed. "A kind of St. Bernard,
she tells me--so like Kit to have a St. Bernard. And you guard your
mistress well, don't you, Sailor? You see that wicked men don't break
into her larder when she's out at HER work--helping poor souls who
have lost their way. . . . But we're late--we must begin!" and
scattering the rest of the water indiscriminately over the floor, she
hurried Mary into the committee-room.

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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 wasunexpectedly made plain to him that it was the chance of seeingKatharine that had brought him all the way to Chelsea on pretence ofseeing her father.He made some show of considering the matter, and was taken upstairs tothe drawing-room. As upon that first occasion, some weeks ago, thedoor closed as if it were a thousand doors softly excluding the world;and once more
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