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Night And Day - Chapter 21 Post by :mastrlynx Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :1533

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Night And Day - Chapter 21

Mary walked to the nearest station and reached home in an incredibly
short space of time, just so much, indeed, as was needed for the
intelligent understanding of the news of the world as the "Westminster
Gazette" reported it. Within a few minutes of opening her door, she
was in trim for a hard evening's work. She unlocked a drawer and took
out a manuscript, which consisted of a very few pages, entitled, in a
forcible hand, "Some Aspects of the Democratic State." The aspects
dwindled out in a cries-cross of blotted lines in the very middle of a
sentence, and suggested that the author had been interrupted, or
convinced of the futility of proceeding, with her pen in the
air. . . . Oh, yes, Ralph had come in at that point. She scored that
sheet very effectively, and, choosing a fresh one, began at a great
rate with a generalization upon the structure of human society, which
was a good deal bolder than her custom. Ralph had told her once that
she couldn't write English, which accounted for those frequent blots
and insertions; but she put all that behind her, and drove ahead with
such words as came her way, until she had accomplished half a page of
generalization and might legitimately draw breath. Directly her hand
stopped her brain stopped too, and she began to listen. A paper-boy
shouted down the street; an omnibus ceased and lurched on again with
the heave of duty once more shouldered; the dullness of the sounds
suggested that a fog had risen since her return, if, indeed, a fog has
power to deaden sound, of which fact, she could not be sure at the
present moment. It was the sort of fact Ralph Denham knew. At any
rate, it was no concern of hers, and she was about to dip a pen when
her ear was caught by the sound of a step upon the stone staircase.
She followed it past Mr. Chippen's chambers; past Mr. Gibson's; past
Mr. Turner's; after which it became her sound. A postman, a
washerwoman, a circular, a bill--she presented herself with each of
these perfectly natural possibilities; but, to her surprise, her mind
rejected each one of them impatiently, even apprehensively. The step
became slow, as it was apt to do at the end of the steep climb, and
Mary, listening for the regular sound, was filled with an intolerable
nervousness. Leaning against the table, she felt the knock of her
heart push her body perceptibly backwards and forwards--a state of
nerves astonishing and reprehensible in a stable woman. Grotesque
fancies took shape. Alone, at the top of the house, an unknown person
approaching nearer and nearer--how could she escape? There was no way
of escape. She did not even know whether that oblong mark on the
ceiling was a trap-door to the roof or not. And if she got on to the
roof--well, there was a drop of sixty feet or so on to the pavement.
But she sat perfectly still, and when the knock sounded, she got up
directly and opened the door without hesitation. She saw a tall figure
outside, with something ominous to her eyes in the look of it.

"What do you want?" she said, not recognizing the face in the fitful
light of the staircase.

"Mary? I'm Katharine Hilbery!"

Mary's self-possession returned almost excessively, and her welcome
was decidedly cold, as if she must recoup herself for this ridiculous
waste of emotion. She moved her green-shaded lamp to another table,
and covered "Some Aspects of the Democratic State" with a sheet of
blotting-paper.

"Why can't they leave me alone?" she thought bitterly, connecting
Katharine and Ralph in a conspiracy to take from her even this hour of
solitary study, even this poor little defence against the world. And,
as she smoothed down the sheet of blotting-paper over the manuscript,
she braced herself to resist Katharine, whose presence struck her, not
merely by its force, as usual, but as something in the nature of a
menace.

"You're working?" said Katharine, with hesitation, perceiving that she
was not welcome.

"Nothing that matters," Mary replied, drawing forward the best of the
chairs and poking the fire.

"I didn't know you had to work after you had left the office," said
Katharine, in a tone which gave the impression that she was thinking
of something else, as was, indeed, the case.

She had been paying calls with her mother, and in between the calls
Mrs. Hilbery had rushed into shops and bought pillow-cases and
blotting-books on no perceptible method for the furnishing of
Katharine's house. Katharine had a sense of impedimenta accumulating
on all sides of her. She had left her at length, and had come on to
keep an engagement to dine with Rodney at his rooms. But she did not
mean to get to him before seven o'clock, and so had plenty of time to
walk all the way from Bond Street to the Temple if she wished it. The
flow of faces streaming on either side of her had hypnotized her into
a mood of profound despondency, to which her expectation of an evening
alone with Rodney contributed. They were very good friends again,
better friends, they both said, than ever before. So far as she was
concerned this was true. There were many more things in him than she
had guessed until emotion brought them forth--strength, affection,
sympathy. And she thought of them and looked at the faces passing, and
thought how much alike they were, and how distant, nobody feeling
anything as she felt nothing, and distance, she thought, lay
inevitably between the closest, and their intimacy was the worst
presence of all. For, "Oh dear," she thought, looking into a
tobacconist's window, "I don't care for any of them, and I don't care
for William, and people say this is the thing that matters most, and I
can't see what they mean by it."

She looked desperately at the smooth-bowled pipes, and wondered--
should she walk on by the Strand or by the Embankment? It was not a
simple question, for it concerned not different streets so much as
different streams of thought. If she went by the Strand she would
force herself to think out the problem of the future, or some
mathematical problem; if she went by the river she would certainly
begin to think about things that didn't exist--the forest, the ocean
beach, the leafy solitudes, the magnanimous hero. No, no, no! A
thousand times no!--it wouldn't do; there was something repulsive in
such thoughts at present; she must take something else; she was out of
that mood at present. And then she thought of Mary; the thought gave
her confidence, even pleasure of a sad sort, as if the triumph of
Ralph and Mary proved that the fault of her failure lay with herself
and not with life. An indistinct idea that the sight of Mary might be
of help, combined with her natural trust in her, suggested a visit;
for, surely, her liking was of a kind that implied liking upon Mary's
side also. After a moment's hesitation she decided, although she
seldom acted upon impulse, to act upon this one, and turned down a
side street and found Mary's door. But her reception was not
encouraging; clearly Mary didn't want to see her, had no help to
impart, and the half-formed desire to confide in her was quenched
immediately. She was slightly amused at her own delusion, looked
rather absent-minded, and swung her gloves to and fro, as if doling
out the few minutes accurately before she could say good-by.

Those few minutes might very well be spent in asking for information
as to the exact position of the Suffrage Bill, or in expounding her
own very sensible view of the situation. But there was a tone in her
voice, or a shade in her opinions, or a swing of her gloves which
served to irritate Mary Datchet, whose manner became increasingly
direct, abrupt, and even antagonistic. She became conscious of a wish
to make Katharine realize the importance of this work, which she
discussed so coolly, as though she, too, had sacrificed what Mary
herself had sacrificed. The swinging of the gloves ceased, and
Katharine, after ten minutes, began to make movements preliminary to
departure. At the sight of this, Mary was aware--she was abnormally
aware of things to-night--of another very strong desire; Katharine was
not to be allowed to go, to disappear into the free, happy world of
irresponsible individuals. She must be made to realize--to feel.

"I don't quite see," she said, as if Katharine had challenged her
explicitly, "how, things being as they are, any one can help trying,
at least, to do something."

"No. But how ARE things?"

Mary pressed her lips, and smiled ironically; she had Katharine at her
mercy; she could, if she liked, discharge upon her head wagon-loads of
revolting proof of the state of things ignored by the casual, the
amateur, the looker-on, the cynical observer of life at a distance.
And yet she hesitated. As usual, when she found herself in talk with
Katharine, she began to feel rapid alternations of opinion about her,
arrows of sensation striking strangely through the envelope of
personality, which shelters us so conveniently from our fellows. What
an egoist, how aloof she was! And yet, not in her words, perhaps, but
in her voice, in her face, in her attitude, there were signs of a soft
brooding spirit, of a sensibility unblunted and profound, playing over
her thoughts and deeds, and investing her manner with an habitual
gentleness. The arguments and phrases of Mr. Clacton fell flat against
such armor.

"You'll be married, and you'll have other things to think of," she
said inconsequently, and with an accent of condescension. She was not
going to make Katharine understand in a second, as she would, all she
herself had learnt at the cost of such pain. No. Katharine was to be
happy; Katharine was to be ignorant; Mary was to keep this knowledge
of the impersonal life for herself. The thought of her morning's
renunciation stung her conscience, and she tried to expand once more
into that impersonal condition which was so lofty and so painless. She
must check this desire to be an individual again, whose wishes were in
conflict with those of other people. She repented of her bitterness.

Katharine now renewed her signs of leave-taking; she had drawn on one
of her gloves, and looked about her as if in search of some trivial
saying to end with. Wasn't there some picture, or clock, or chest of
drawers which might be singled out for notice? something peaceable and
friendly to end the uncomfortable interview? The green-shaded lamp
burnt in the corner, and illumined books and pens and blotting-paper.
The whole aspect of the place started another train of thought and
struck her as enviably free; in such a room one could work--one could
have a life of one's own.

"I think you're very lucky," she observed. "I envy you, living alone
and having your own things"--and engaged in this exalted way, which
had no recognition or engagement-ring, she added in her own mind.

Mary's lips parted slightly. She could not conceive in what respects
Katharine, who spoke sincerely, could envy her.

"I don't think you've got any reason to envy me," she said.

"Perhaps one always envies other people," Katharine observed vaguely.

"Well, but you've got everything that any one can want."

Katharine remained silent. She gazed into the fire quietly, and
without a trace of self-consciousness. The hostility which she had
divined in Mary's tone had completely disappeared, and she forgot that
she had been upon the point of going.

"Well, I suppose I have," she said at length. "And yet I sometimes
think--" She paused; she did not know how to express what she meant.

"It came over me in the Tube the other day," she resumed, with a
smile; "what is it that makes these people go one way rather than the
other? It's not love; it's not reason; I think it must be some idea.
Perhaps, Mary, our affections are the shadow of an idea. Perhaps there
isn't any such thing as affection in itself. . . ." She spoke
half-mockingly, asking her question, which she scarcely troubled to
frame, not of Mary, or of any one in particular.

But the words seemed to Mary Datchet shallow, supercilious,
cold-blooded, and cynical all in one. All her natural instincts were
roused in revolt against them.

"I'm the opposite way of thinking, you see," she said.

"Yes; I know you are," Katharine replied, looking at her as if now she
were about, perhaps, to explain something very important.

Mary could not help feeling the simplicity and good faith that lay
behind Katharine's words.

"I think affection is the only reality," she said.

"Yes," said Katharine, almost sadly. She understood that Mary was
thinking of Ralph, and she felt it impossible to press her to reveal
more of this exalted condition; she could only respect the fact that,
in some few cases, life arranged itself thus satisfactorily and pass
on. She rose to her feet accordingly. But Mary exclaimed, with
unmistakable earnestness, that she must not go; that they met so
seldom; that she wanted to talk to her so much. . . . Katharine was
surprised at the earnestness with which she spoke. It seemed to her
that there could be no indiscretion in mentioning Ralph by name.

Seating herself "for ten minutes," she said: "By the way, Mr. Denham
told me he was going to give up the Bar and live in the country. Has
he gone? He was beginning to tell me about it, when we were
interrupted."

"He thinks of it," said Mary briefly. The color at once came to her
face.

"It would be a very good plan," said Katharine in her decided way.

"You think so?"

"Yes, because he would do something worth while; he would write a
book. My father always says that he's the most remarkable of the young
men who write for him."

Mary bent low over the fire and stirred the coal between the bars with
a poker. Katharine's mention of Ralph had roused within her an almost
irresistible desire to explain to her the true state of the case
between herself and Ralph. She knew, from the tone of her voice, that
in speaking of Ralph she had no desire to probe Mary's secrets, or to
insinuate any of her own. Moreover, she liked Katharine; she trusted
her; she felt a respect for her. The first step of confidence was
comparatively simple; but a further confidence had revealed itself, as
Katharine spoke, which was not so simple, and yet it impressed itself
upon her as a necessity; she must tell Katharine what it was clear
that she had no conception of--she must tell Katharine that Ralph was
in love with her.

"I don't know what he means to do," she said hurriedly, seeking time
against the pressure of her own conviction. "I've not seen him since
Christmas."

Katharine reflected that this was odd; perhaps, after all, she had
misunderstood the position. She was in the habit of assuming, however,
that she was rather unobservant of the finer shades of feeling, and
she noted her present failure as another proof that she was a
practical, abstract-minded person, better fitted to deal with figures
than with the feelings of men and women. Anyhow, William Rodney would
say so.

"And now--" she said.

"Oh, please stay!" Mary exclaimed, putting out her hand to stop her.
Directly Katharine moved she felt, inarticulately and violently, that
she could not bear to let her go. If Katharine went, her only chance
of speaking was lost; her only chance of saying something tremendously
important was lost. Half a dozen words were sufficient to wake
Katharine's attention, and put flight and further silence beyond her
power. But although the words came to her lips, her throat closed upon
them and drove them back. After all, she considered, why should she
speak? Because it is right, her instinct told her; right to expose
oneself without reservations to other human beings. She flinched from
the thought. It asked too much of one already stripped bare. Something
she must keep of her own. But if she did keep something of her own?
Immediately she figured an immured life, continuing for an immense
period, the same feelings living for ever, neither dwindling nor
changing within the ring of a thick stone wall. The imagination of
this loneliness frightened her, and yet to speak--to lose her
loneliness, for it had already become dear to her, was beyond her
power.

Her hand went down to the hem of Katharine's skirt, and, fingering a
line of fur, she bent her head as if to examine it.

"I like this fur," she said, "I like your clothes. And you mustn't
think that I'm going to marry Ralph," she continued, in the same tone,
"because he doesn't care for me at all. He cares for some one else."
Her head remained bent, and her hand still rested upon the skirt.

"It's a shabby old dress," said Katharine, and the only sign that
Mary's words had reached her was that she spoke with a little jerk.

"You don't mind my telling you that?" said Mary, raising herself.

"No, no," said Katharine; "but you're mistaken, aren't you?" She was,
in truth, horribly uncomfortable, dismayed, indeed, disillusioned. She
disliked the turn things had taken quite intensely. The indecency of
it afflicted her. The suffering implied by the tone appalled her. She
looked at Mary furtively, with eyes that were full of apprehension.
But if she had hoped to find that these words had been spoken without
understanding of their meaning, she was at once disappointed. Mary lay
back in her chair, frowning slightly, and looking, Katharine thought,
as if she had lived fifteen years or so in the space of a few minutes.

"There are some things, don't you think, that one can't be mistaken
about?" Mary said, quietly and almost coldly. "That is what puzzles me
about this question of being in love. I've always prided myself upon
being reasonable," she added. "I didn't think I could have felt
this--I mean if the other person didn't. I was foolish. I let myself
pretend." Here she paused. "For, you see, Katharine," she proceeded,
rousing herself and speaking with greater energy, "I AM in love.
There's no doubt about that. . . . I'm tremendously in love . . . with
Ralph." The little forward shake of her head, which shook a lock of
hair, together with her brighter color, gave her an appearance at once
proud and defiant.

Katharine thought to herself, "That's how it feels then." She
hesitated, with a feeling that it was not for her to speak; and then
said, in a low tone, "You've got that."

"Yes," said Mary; "I've got that. One wouldn't NOT be in love. . . .
But I didn't mean to talk about that; I only wanted you to know.
There's another thing I want to tell you . . ." She paused. "I haven't
any authority from Ralph to say it; but I'm sure of this--he's in love
with you."

Katharine looked at her again, as if her first glance must have been
deluded, for, surely, there must be some outward sign that Mary was
talking in an excited, or bewildered, or fantastic manner. No; she
still frowned, as if she sought her way through the clauses of a
difficult argument, but she still looked more like one who reasons
than one who feels.

"That proves that you're mistaken--utterly mistaken," said Katharine,
speaking reasonably, too. She had no need to verify the mistake by a
glance at her own recollections, when the fact was so clearly stamped
upon her mind that if Ralph had any feeling towards her it was one of
critical hostility. She did not give the matter another thought, and
Mary, now that she had stated the fact, did not seek to prove it, but
tried to explain to herself, rather than to Katharine, her motives in
making the statement.

She had nerved herself to do what some large and imperious instinct
demanded her doing; she had been swept on the breast of a wave beyond
her reckoning.

"I've told you," she said, "because I want you to help me. I don't
want to be jealous of you. And I am--I'm fearfully jealous. The only
way, I thought, was to tell you."

She hesitated, and groped in her endeavor to make her feelings clear
to herself.

"If I tell you, then we can talk; and when I'm jealous, I can tell
you. And if I'm tempted to do something frightfully mean, I can tell
you; you could make me tell you. I find talking so difficult; but
loneliness frightens me. I should shut it up in my mind. Yes, that's
what I'm afraid of. Going about with something in my mind all my life
that never changes. I find it so difficult to change. When I think a
thing's wrong I never stop thinking it wrong, and Ralph was quite
right, I see, when he said that there's no such thing as right and
wrong; no such thing, I mean, as judging people--"

"Ralph Denham said that?" said Katharine, with considerable
indignation. In order to have produced such suffering in Mary, it
seemed to her that he must have behaved with extreme callousness. It
seemed to her that he had discarded the friendship, when it suited his
convenience to do so, with some falsely philosophical theory which
made his conduct all the worse. She was going on to express herself
thus, had not Mary at once interrupted her.

"No, no," she said; "you don't understand. If there's any fault it's
mine entirely; after all, if one chooses to run risks--"

Her voice faltered into silence. It was borne in upon her how
completely in running her risk she had lost her prize, lost it so
entirely that she had no longer the right, in talking of Ralph, to
presume that her knowledge of him supplanted all other knowledge. She
no longer completely possessed her love, since his share in it was
doubtful; and now, to make things yet more bitter, her clear vision of
the way to face life was rendered tremulous and uncertain, because
another was witness of it. Feeling her desire for the old unshared
intimacy too great to be borne without tears, she rose, walked to the
farther end of the room, held the curtains apart, and stood there
mastered for a moment. The grief itself was not ignoble; the sting of
it lay in the fact that she had been led to this act of treachery
against herself. Trapped, cheated, robbed, first by Ralph and then by
Katharine, she seemed all dissolved in humiliation, and bereft of
anything she could call her own. Tears of weakness welled up and
rolled down her cheeks. But tears, at least, she could control, and
would this instant, and then, turning, she would face Katharine, and
retrieve what could be retrieved of the collapse of her courage.

She turned. Katharine had not moved; she was leaning a little forward
in her chair and looking into the fire. Something in the attitude
reminded Mary of Ralph. So he would sit, leaning forward, looking
rather fixedly in front of him, while his mind went far away,
exploring, speculating, until he broke off with his, "Well, Mary?"--
and the silence, that had been so full of romance to her, gave way to
the most delightful talk that she had ever known.

Something unfamiliar in the pose of the silent figure, something
still, solemn, significant about it, made her hold her breath. She
paused. Her thoughts were without bitterness. She was surprised by her
own quiet and confidence. She came back silently, and sat once more by
Katharine's side. Mary had no wish to speak. In the silence she seemed
to have lost her isolation; she was at once the sufferer and the
pitiful spectator of suffering; she was happier than she had ever
been; she was more bereft; she was rejected, and she was immensely
beloved. Attempt to express these sensations was vain, and, moreover,
she could not help believing that, without any words on her side, they
were shared. Thus for some time longer they sat silent, side by side,
while Mary fingered the fur on the skirt of the old dress.

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