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Night And Day - Chapter 5 Post by :anglox Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :1208

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Night And Day - Chapter 5

Denham had no conscious intention of following Katharine, but, seeing
her depart, he took his hat and ran rather more quickly down the
stairs than he would have done if Katharine had not been in front of
him. He overtook a friend of his, by name Harry Sandys, who was going
the same way, and they walked together a few paces behind Katharine
and Rodney.

The night was very still, and on such nights, when the traffic thins
away, the walker becomes conscious of the moon in the street, as if
the curtains of the sky had been drawn apart, and the heaven lay bare,
as it does in the country. The air was softly cool, so that people who
had been sitting talking in a crowd found it pleasant to walk a little
before deciding to stop an omnibus or encounter light again in an
underground railway. Sandys, who was a barrister with a philosophic
tendency, took out his pipe, lit it, murmured "hum" and "ha," and was
silent. The couple in front of them kept their distance accurately,
and appeared, so far as Denham could judge by the way they turned
towards each other, to be talking very constantly. He observed that
when a pedestrian going the opposite way forced them to part they came
together again directly afterwards. Without intending to watch them he
never quite lost sight of the yellow scarf twisted round Katharine's
head, or the light overcoat which made Rodney look fashionable among
the crowd. At the Strand he supposed that they would separate, but
instead they crossed the road, and took their way down one of the
narrow passages which lead through ancient courts to the river. Among
the crowd of people in the big thoroughfares Rodney seemed merely to
be lending Katharine his escort, but now, when passengers were rare
and the footsteps of the couple were distinctly heard in the silence,
Denham could not help picturing to himself some change in their
conversation. The effect of the light and shadow, which seemed to
increase their height, was to make them mysterious and significant, so
that Denham had no feeling of irritation with Katharine, but rather a
half-dreamy acquiescence in the course of the world. Yes, she did very
well to dream about--but Sandys had suddenly begun to talk. He was a
solitary man who had made his friends at college and always addressed
them as if they were still undergraduates arguing in his room, though
many months or even years had passed in some cases between the last
sentence and the present one. The method was a little singular, but
very restful, for it seemed to ignore completely all accidents of
human life, and to span very deep abysses with a few simple words.

On this occasion he began, while they waited for a minute on the edge
of the Strand:

"I hear that Bennett has given up his theory of truth."

Denham returned a suitable answer, and he proceeded to explain how
this decision had been arrived at, and what changes it involved in the
philosophy which they both accepted. Meanwhile Katharine and Rodney
drew further ahead, and Denham kept, if that is the right expression
for an involuntary action, one filament of his mind upon them, while
with the rest of his intelligence he sought to understand what Sandys
was saying.

As they passed through the courts thus talking, Sandys laid the tip of
his stick upon one of the stones forming a time-worn arch, and struck
it meditatively two or three times in order to illustrate something
very obscure about the complex nature of one's apprehension of facts.
During the pause which this necessitated, Katharine and Rodney turned
the corner and disappeared. For a moment Denham stopped involuntarily
in his sentence, and continued it with a sense of having lost
something.

Unconscious that they were observed, Katharine and Rodney had come out
on the Embankment. When they had crossed the road, Rodney slapped his
hand upon the stone parapet above the river and exclaimed:

"I promise I won't say another word about it, Katharine! But do stop a
minute and look at the moon upon the water."

Katharine paused, looked up and down the river, and snuffed the air.

"I'm sure one can smell the sea, with the wind blowing this way," she
said.

They stood silent for a few moments while the river shifted in its
bed, and the silver and red lights which were laid upon it were torn
by the current and joined together again. Very far off up the river a
steamer hooted with its hollow voice of unspeakable melancholy, as if
from the heart of lonely mist-shrouded voyagings.

"Ah!" Rodney cried, striking his hand once more upon the balustrade,
"why can't one say how beautiful it all is? Why am I condemned for
ever, Katharine, to feel what I can't express? And the things I can
give there's no use in my giving. Trust me, Katharine," he added
hastily, "I won't speak of it again. But in the presence of beauty--
look at the iridescence round the moon!--one feels--one feels--Perhaps
if you married me--I'm half a poet, you see, and I can't pretend not
to feel what I do feel. If I could write--ah, that would be another
matter. I shouldn't bother you to marry me then, Katharine."

He spoke these disconnected sentences rather abruptly, with his eyes
alternately upon the moon and upon the stream.

"But for me I suppose you would recommend marriage?" said Katharine,
with her eyes fixed on the moon.

"Certainly I should. Not for you only, but for all women. Why, you're
nothing at all without it; you're only half alive; using only half
your faculties; you must feel that for yourself. That is why--" Here
he stopped himself, and they began to walk slowly along the
Embankment, the moon fronting them.

"With how sad steps she climbs the sky,
How silently and with how wan a face,"

Rodney quoted.

"I've been told a great many unpleasant things about myself to-night,"
Katharine stated, without attending to him. "Mr. Denham seems to think
it his mission to lecture me, though I hardly know him. By the way,
William, you know him; tell me, what is he like?"

William drew a deep sigh.

"We may lecture you till we're blue in the face--"

"Yes--but what's he like?"

"And we write sonnets to your eyebrows, you cruel practical creature.
Denham?" he added, as Katharine remained silent. "A good fellow, I
should think. He cares, naturally, for the right sort of things, I
expect. But you mustn't marry him, though. He scolded you, did he--
what did he say?"

"What happens with Mr. Denham is this: He comes to tea. I do all I can
to put him at his ease. He merely sits and scowls at me. Then I show
him our manuscripts. At this he becomes really angry, and tells me
I've no business to call myself a middle-class woman. So we part in a
huff; and next time we meet, which was to-night, he walks straight up
to me, and says, 'Go to the Devil!' That's the sort of behavior my
mother complains of. I want to know, what does it mean?"

She paused and, slackening her steps, looked at the lighted train
drawing itself smoothly over Hungerford Bridge.

"It means, I should say, that he finds you chilly and unsympathetic."

Katharine laughed with round, separate notes of genuine amusement.

"It's time I jumped into a cab and hid myself in my own house," she
exclaimed.

"Would your mother object to my being seen with you? No one could
possibly recognize us, could they?" Rodney inquired, with some
solicitude.

Katharine looked at him, and perceiving that his solicitude was
genuine, she laughed again, but with an ironical note in her laughter.

"You may laugh, Katharine, but I can tell you that if any of your
friends saw us together at this time of night they would talk about
it, and I should find that very disagreeable. But why do you laugh?"

"I don't know. Because you're such a queer mixture, I think. You're
half poet and half old maid."

"I know I always seem to you highly ridiculous. But I can't help
having inherited certain traditions and trying to put them into
practice."

"Nonsense, William. You may come of the oldest family in Devonshire,
but that's no reason why you should mind being seen alone with me on
the Embankment."

"I'm ten years older than you are, Katharine, and I know more of the
world than you do."

"Very well. Leave me and go home."

Rodney looked back over his shoulder and perceived that they were
being followed at a short distance by a taxicab, which evidently
awaited his summons. Katharine saw it, too, and exclaimed:

"Don't call that cab for me, William. I shall walk."

"Nonsense, Katharine; you'll do nothing of the kind. It's nearly
twelve o'clock, and we've walked too far as it is."

Katharine laughed and walked on so quickly that both Rodney and the
taxicab had to increase their pace to keep up with her.

"Now, William," she said, "if people see me racing along the
Embankment like this they WILL talk. You had far better say
good-night, if you don't want people to talk."

At this William beckoned, with a despotic gesture, to the cab with one
hand, and with the other he brought Katharine to a standstill.

"Don't let the man see us struggling, for God's sake!" he murmured.
Katharine stood for a moment quite still.

"There's more of the old maid in you than the poet," she observed
briefly.

William shut the door sharply, gave the address to the driver, and
turned away, lifting his hat punctiliously high in farewell to the
invisible lady.

He looked back after the cab twice, suspiciously, half expecting that
she would stop it and dismount; but it bore her swiftly on, and was
soon out of sight. William felt in the mood for a short soliloquy of
indignation, for Katharine had contrived to exasperate him in more
ways than one.

"Of all the unreasonable, inconsiderate creatures I've ever known,
she's the worst!" he exclaimed to himself, striding back along the
Embankment. "Heaven forbid that I should ever make a fool of myself
with her again. Why, I'd sooner marry the daughter of my landlady than
Katharine Hilbery! She'd leave me not a moment's peace--and she'd
never understand me--never, never, never!"

Uttered aloud and with vehemence so that the stars of Heaven might
hear, for there was no human being at hand, these sentiments sounded
satisfactorily irrefutable. Rodney quieted down, and walked on in
silence, until he perceived some one approaching him, who had
something, either in his walk or his dress, which proclaimed that he
was one of William's acquaintances before it was possible to tell
which of them he was. It was Denham who, having parted from Sandys at
the bottom of his staircase, was now walking to the Tube at Charing
Cross, deep in the thoughts which his talk with Sandys had suggested.
He had forgotten the meeting at Mary Datchet's rooms, he had forgotten
Rodney, and metaphors and Elizabethan drama, and could have sworn that
he had forgotten Katharine Hilbery, too, although that was more
disputable. His mind was scaling the highest pinnacles of its alps,
where there was only starlight and the untrodden snow. He cast strange
eyes upon Rodney, as they encountered each other beneath a lamp-post.

"Ha!" Rodney exclaimed.

If he had been in full possession of his mind, Denham would probably
have passed on with a salutation. But the shock of the interruption
made him stand still, and before he knew what he was doing, he had
turned and was walking with Rodney in obedience to Rodney's invitation
to come to his rooms and have something to drink. Denham had no wish
to drink with Rodney, but he followed him passively enough. Rodney was
gratified by this obedience. He felt inclined to be communicative with
this silent man, who possessed so obviously all the good masculine
qualities in which Katharine now seemed lamentably deficient.

"You do well, Denham," he began impulsively, "to have nothing to do
with young women. I offer you my experience--if one trusts them one
invariably has cause to repent. Not that I have any reason at this
moment," he added hastily, "to complain of them. It's a subject that
crops up now and again for no particular reason. Miss Datchet, I dare
say, is one of the exceptions. Do you like Miss Datchet?"

These remarks indicated clearly enough that Rodney's nerves were in a
state of irritation, and Denham speedily woke to the situation of the
world as it had been one hour ago. He had last seen Rodney walking
with Katharine. He could not help regretting the eagerness with which
his mind returned to these interests, and fretted him with the old
trivial anxieties. He sank in his own esteem. Reason bade him break
from Rodney, who clearly tended to become confidential, before he had
utterly lost touch with the problems of high philosophy. He looked
along the road, and marked a lamp-post at a distance of some hundred
yards, and decided that he would part from Rodney when they reached
this point.

"Yes, I like Mary; I don't see how one could help liking her," he
remarked cautiously, with his eye on the lamp-post.

"Ah, Denham, you're so different from me. You never give yourself
away. I watched you this evening with Katharine Hilbery. My instinct
is to trust the person I'm talking to. That's why I'm always being
taken in, I suppose."

Denham seemed to be pondering this statement of Rodney's, but, as a
matter of fact, he was hardly conscious of Rodney and his revelations,
and was only concerned to make him mention Katharine again before they
reached the lamp-post.

"Who's taken you in now?" he asked. "Katharine Hilbery?"

Rodney stopped and once more began beating a kind of rhythm, as if he
were marking a phrase in a symphony, upon the smooth stone balustrade
of the Embankment.

"Katharine Hilbery," he repeated, with a curious little chuckle. "No,
Denham, I have no illusions about that young woman. I think I made
that plain to her to-night. But don't run away with a false
impression," he continued eagerly, turning and linking his arm through
Denham's, as though to prevent him from escaping; and, thus compelled,
Denham passed the monitory lamp-post, to which, in passing, he
breathed an excuse, for how could he break away when Rodney's arm was
actually linked in his? "You must not think that I have any bitterness
against her--far from it. It's not altogether her fault, poor girl.
She lives, you know, one of those odious, self-centered lives--at
least, I think them odious for a woman--feeding her wits upon
everything, having control of everything, getting far too much her own
way at home--spoilt, in a sense, feeling that every one is at her
feet, and so not realizing how she hurts--that is, how rudely she
behaves to people who haven't all her advantages. Still, to do her
justice, she's no fool," he added, as if to warn Denham not to take
any liberties. "She has taste. She has sense. She can understand you
when you talk to her. But she's a woman, and there's an end of it," he
added, with another little chuckle, and dropped Denham's arm.

"And did you tell her all this to-night?" Denham asked.

"Oh dear me, no. I should never think of telling Katharine the truth
about herself. That wouldn't do at all. One has to be in an attitude
of adoration in order to get on with Katharine.

"Now I've learnt that she's refused to marry him why don't I go home?"
Denham thought to himself. But he went on walking beside Rodney, and
for a time they did not speak, though Rodney hummed snatches of a tune
out of an opera by Mozart. A feeling of contempt and liking combine
very naturally in the mind of one to whom another has just spoken
unpremeditatedly, revealing rather more of his private feelings than
he intended to reveal. Denham began to wonder what sort of person
Rodney was, and at the same time Rodney began to think about Denham.

"You're a slave like me, I suppose?" he asked.

"A solicitor, yes."

"I sometimes wonder why we don't chuck it. Why don't you emigrate,
Denham? I should have thought that would suit you."

"I've a family."

"I'm often on the point of going myself. And then I know I couldn't
live without this"--and he waved his hand towards the City of London,
which wore, at this moment, the appearance of a town cut out of gray-
blue cardboard, and pasted flat against the sky, which was of a deeper
blue.

"There are one or two people I'm fond of, and there's a little good
music, and a few pictures, now and then--just enough to keep one
dangling about here. Ah, but I couldn't live with savages! Are you
fond of books? Music? Pictures? D'you care at all for first editions?
I've got a few nice things up here, things I pick up cheap, for I
can't afford to give what they ask."

They had reached a small court of high eighteenth-century houses, in
one of which Rodney had his rooms. They climbed a very steep
staircase, through whose uncurtained windows the moonlight fell,
illuminating the banisters with their twisted pillars, and the piles
of plates set on the window-sills, and jars half-full of milk.
Rodney's rooms were small, but the sitting-room window looked out into
a courtyard, with its flagged pavement, and its single tree, and
across to the flat red-brick fronts of the opposite houses, which
would not have surprised Dr. Johnson, if he had come out of his grave
for a turn in the moonlight. Rodney lit his lamp, pulled his curtains,
offered Denham a chair, and, flinging the manuscript of his paper on
the Elizabethan use of Metaphor on to the table, exclaimed:

"Oh dear me, what a waste of time! But it's over now, and so we may
think no more about it."

He then busied himself very dexterously in lighting a fire, producing
glasses, whisky, a cake, and cups and saucers. He put on a faded
crimson dressing-gown, and a pair of red slippers, and advanced to
Denham with a tumbler in one hand and a well-burnished book in the
other.

"The Baskerville Congreve," said Rodney, offering it to his guest. "I
couldn't read him in a cheap edition."

When he was seen thus among his books and his valuables, amiably
anxious to make his visitor comfortable, and moving about with
something of the dexterity and grace of a Persian cat, Denham relaxed
his critical attitude, and felt more at home with Rodney than he would
have done with many men better known to him. Rodney's room was the
room of a person who cherishes a great many personal tastes, guarding
them from the rough blasts of the public with scrupulous attention.
His papers and his books rose in jagged mounds on table and floor,
round which he skirted with nervous care lest his dressing-gown might
disarrange them ever so slightly. On a chair stood a stack of
photographs of statues and pictures, which it was his habit to
exhibit, one by one, for the space of a day or two. The books on his
shelves were as orderly as regiments of soldiers, and the backs of
them shone like so many bronze beetle-wings; though, if you took one
from its place you saw a shabbier volume behind it, since space was
limited. An oval Venetian mirror stood above the fireplace, and
reflected duskily in its spotted depths the faint yellow and crimson
of a jarful of tulips which stood among the letters and pipes and
cigarettes upon the mantelpiece. A small piano occupied a corner of
the room, with the score of "Don Giovanni" open upon the bracket.

"Well, Rodney," said Denham, as he filled his pipe and looked about
him, "this is all very nice and comfortable."

Rodney turned his head half round and smiled, with the pride of a
proprietor, and then prevented himself from smiling.

"Tolerable," he muttered.

"But I dare say it's just as well that you have to earn your own
living."

"If you mean that I shouldn't do anything good with leisure if I had
it, I dare say you're right. But I should be ten times as happy with
my whole day to spend as I liked."

"I doubt that," Denham replied.

They sat silent, and the smoke from their pipes joined amicably in a
blue vapor above their heads.

"I could spend three hours every day reading Shakespeare," Rodney
remarked. "And there's music and pictures, let alone the society of
the people one likes."

"You'd be bored to death in a year's time."

"Oh, I grant you I should be bored if I did nothing. But I should
write plays."

"H'm!"

"I should write plays," he repeated. "I've written three-quarters of
one already, and I'm only waiting for a holiday to finish it. And it's
not bad--no, some of it's really rather nice."

The question arose in Denham's mind whether he should ask to see this
play, as, no doubt, he was expected to do. He looked rather stealthily
at Rodney, who was tapping the coal nervously with a poker, and
quivering almost physically, so Denham thought, with desire to talk
about this play of his, and vanity unrequited and urgent. He seemed
very much at Denham's mercy, and Denham could not help liking him,
partly on that account.

"Well, . . . will you let me see the play?" Denham asked, and Rodney
looked immediately appeased, but, nevertheless, he sat silent for a
moment, holding the poker perfectly upright in the air, regarding it
with his rather prominent eyes, and opening his lips and shutting them
again.

"Do you really care for this kind of thing?" he asked at length, in a
different tone of voice from that in which he had been speaking. And,
without waiting for an answer, he went on, rather querulously: "Very
few people care for poetry. I dare say it bores you."

"Perhaps," Denham remarked.

"Well, I'll lend it you," Rodney announced, putting down the poker.

As he moved to fetch the play, Denham stretched a hand to the bookcase
beside him, and took down the first volume which his fingers touched.
It happened to be a small and very lovely edition of Sir Thomas
Browne, containing the "Urn Burial," the "Hydriotaphia," and the
"Garden of Cyrus," and, opening it at a passage which he knew very
nearly by heart, Denham began to read and, for some time, continued to
read.

Rodney resumed his seat, with his manuscript on his knee, and from
time to time he glanced at Denham, and then joined his finger-tips and
crossed his thin legs over the fender, as if he experienced a good
deal of pleasure. At length Denham shut the book, and stood, with his
back to the fireplace, occasionally making an inarticulate humming
sound which seemed to refer to Sir Thomas Browne. He put his hat on
his head, and stood over Rodney, who still lay stretched back in his
chair, with his toes within the fender.

"I shall look in again some time," Denham remarked, upon which Rodney
held up his hand, containing his manuscript, without saying anything
except--"If you like."

Denham took the manuscript and went. Two days later he was much
surprised to find a thin parcel on his breakfastplate, which, on being
opened, revealed the very copy of Sir Thomas Browne which he had
studied so intently in Rodney's rooms. From sheer laziness he returned
no thanks, but he thought of Rodney from time to time with interest,
disconnecting him from Katharine, and meant to go round one evening
and smoke a pipe with him. It pleased Rodney thus to give away
whatever his friends genuinely admired. His library was constantly
being diminished.

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