The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XIV
The sun of that same day going down, dusk was saluted as usual at the hotel by an
instantaneous sparkle of electric lights. The hours between dinner and bedtime were
always difficult enough to kill, and the night after the dance they were further tarnished
by the peevishness of dissipation. Certainly, in the opinion of Hirst and Hewet, who lay
back in long arm-chairs in the middle of the hall, with their coffee-cups beside them, and
their cigarettes in their hands, the evening was unusually dull, the women unusually
badly dressed, the men unusually fatuous. Moreover, when the mail had been distributed
half an hour ago there were no letters for either of the two young men. As every other
person, practically, had received two or three plump letters from England, which they
were now engaged in reading, this seemed hard, and prompted Hirst to make the caustic
remark that the animals had been fed. Their silence, he said, reminded him of the silence
in the lion-house when each beast holds a lump of raw meat in its paws. He went on,
stimulated by this comparison, to liken some to hippopotamuses, some to canary birds,
some to swine, some to parrots, and some to loathsome reptiles curled round the half-
decayed bodies of sheep. The intermittent sounds--now a cough, now a horrible wheezing
or throat-clearing, now a little patter of conversation--were just, he declared, what you
hear if you stand in the lion-house when the bones are being mauled. But these
comparisons did not rouse Hewet, who, after a careless glance round the room, fixed his
eyes upon a thicket of native spears which were so ingeniously arranged as to run their
points at you whichever way you approached them. He was clearly oblivious of his
surroundings; whereupon Hirst, perceiving that Hewet's mind was a complete blank,
fixed his attention more closely upon his fellow-creatures. He was too far from them,
however, to hear what they were saying, but it pleased him to construct little theories
about them from their gestures and appearance.
Mrs. Thornbury had received a great many letters. She was completely engrossed in
them. When she had finished a page she handed it to her husband, or gave him the sense
of what she was reading in a series of short quotations linked together by a sound at the
back of her throat. "Evie writes that George has gone to Glasgow. 'He finds Mr.
Chadbourne so nice to work with, and we hope to spend Christmas together, but I should
not like to move Betty and Alfred any great distance (no, quite right), though it is difficult
to imagine cold weather in this heat. . . . Eleanor and Roger drove over in the new trap. . .
. Eleanor certainly looked more like herself than I've seen her since the winter. She has
put Baby on three bottles now, which I'm sure is wise (I'm sure it is too), and so gets
better nights. . . . My hair still falls out. I find it on the pillow! But I am cheered by
hearing from Tottie Hall Green. . . . Muriel is in Torquay enjoying herself greatly at
dances. She _is_ going to show her black put after all.' . . . A line from Herbert--so busy,
poor fellow! Ah! Margaret says, 'Poor old Mrs. Fairbank died on the eighth, quite
suddenly in the conservatory, only a maid in the house, who hadn't the presence of mind
to lift her up, which they think might have saved her, but the doctor says it might have
come at any moment, and one can only feel thankful that it was in the house and not in
the street (I should think so!). The pigeons have increased terribly, just as the rabbits did