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The Voyage Out

Chapter XXVI
For two or three hours longer the moon poured its light through the empty air. Unbroken
by clouds it fell straightly, and lay almost like a chill white frost over the sea and the
earth. During these hours the silence was not broken, and the only movement was caused
by the movement of trees and branches which stirred slightly, and then the shadows that
lay across the white spaces of the land moved too. In this profound silence one sound
only was audible, the sound of a slight but continuous breathing which never ceased,
although it never rose and never fell. It continued after the birds had begun to flutter from
branch to branch, and could be heard behind the first thin notes of their voices. It
continued all through the hours when the east whitened, and grew red, and a faint blue
tinged the sky, but when the sun rose it ceased, and gave place to other sounds.
The first sounds that were heard were little inarticulate cries, the cries, it seemed, of
children or of the very poor, of people who were very weak or in pain. But when the sun
was above the horizon, the air which had been thin and pale grew every moment richer
and warmer, and the sounds of life became bolder and more full of courage and authority.
By degrees the smoke began to ascend in wavering breaths over the houses, and these
slowly thickened, until they were as round and straight as columns, and instead of
striking upon pale white blinds, the sun shone upon dark windows, beyond which there
was depth and space.
The sun had been up for many hours, and the great dome of air was warmed through and
glittering with thin gold threads of sunlight, before any one moved in the hotel. White
and massive it stood in the early light, half asleep with its blinds down.
At about half-past nine Miss Allan came very slowly into the hall, and walked very
slowly to the table where the morning papers were laid, but she did not put out her hand
to take one; she stood still, thinking, with her head a little sunk upon her shoulders. She
looked curiously old, and from the way in which she stood, a little hunched together and
very massive, you could see what she would be like when she was really old, how she
would sit day after day in her chair looking placidly in front of her. Other people began to
come into the room, and to pass her, but she did not speak to any of them or even look at
them, and at last, as if it were necessary to do something, she sat down in a chair, and
looked quietly and fixedly in front of her. She felt very old this morning, and useless too,
as if her life had been a failure, as if it had been hard and laborious to no purpose. She did
not want to go on living, and yet she knew that she would. She was so strong that she
would live to be a very old woman. She would probably live to be eighty, and as she was
now fifty, that left thirty years more for her to live. She turned her hands over and over in
her lap and looked at them curiously; her old hands, that had done so much work for her.
There did not seem to be much point in it all; one went on, of course one went on. . . .
She looked up to see Mrs. Thornbury standing beside her, with lines drawn upon her
forehead, and her lips parted as if she were about to ask a question.
Miss Allan anticipated her.