The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XIII
There were many rooms in the villa, but one room which possessed a character of its own
because the door was always shut, and no sound of music or laughter issued from it.
Every one in the house was vaguely conscious that something went on behind that door,
and without in the least knowing what it was, were influenced in their own thoughts by
the knowledge that if the passed it the door would be shut, and if they made a noise Mr.
Ambrose inside would be disturbed. Certain acts therefore possessed merit, and others
were bad, so that life became more harmonious and less disconnected than it would have
been had Mr. Ambrose given up editing _Pindar_, and taken to a nomad existence, in and
out of every room in the house. As it was, every one was conscious that by observing
certain rules, such as punctuality and quiet, by cooking well, and performing other small
duties, one ode after another was satisfactorily restored to the world, and they shared the
continuity of the scholar's life. Unfortunately, as age puts one barrier between human
beings, and learning another, and sex a third, Mr. Ambrose in his study was some
thousand miles distant from the nearest human being, who in this household was
inevitably a woman. He sat hour after hour among white-leaved books, alone like an idol
in an empty church, still except for the passage of his hand from one side of the sheet to
another, silent save for an occasional choke, which drove him to extend his pipe a
moment in the air. As he worked his way further and further into the heart of the poet, his
chair became more and more deeply encircled by books, which lay open on the floor, and
could only be crossed by a careful process of stepping, so delicate that his visitors
generally stopped and addressed him from the outskirts.
On the morning after the dance, however, Rachel came into her uncle's room and hailed
him twice, "Uncle Ridley," before he paid her any attention.
At length he looked over his spectacles.
"Well?" he asked.
"I want a book," she replied. "Gibbon's _History_ _of_ _the_ _Roman_ _Empire_. May I
have it?"
She watched the lines on her uncle's face gradually rearrange themselves at her question.
It had been smooth as a mask before she spoke.
"Please say that again," said her uncle, either because he had not heard or because he had
not understood.
She repeated the same words and reddened slightly as she did so.
"Gibbon! What on earth d'you want him for?" he enquired.
"Somebody advised me to read it," Rachel stammered.