The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XV
Whether too slight or too vague the ties that bind people casually meeting in a hotel at
midnight, they possess one advantage at least over the bonds which unite the elderly, who
have lived together once and so must live for ever. Slight they may be, but vivid and
genuine, merely because the power to break them is within the grasp of each, and there is
no reason for continuance except a true desire that continue they shall. When two people
have been married for years they seem to become unconscious of each other's bodily
presence so that they move as if alone, speak aloud things which they do not expect to be
answered, and in general seem to experience all the comfort of solitude without its
loneliness. The joint lives of Ridley and Helen had arrived at this stage of community,
and it was often necessary for one or the other to recall with an effort whether a thing had
been said or only thought, shared or dreamt in private. At four o'clock in the afternoon
two or three days later Mrs. Ambrose was standing brushing her hair, while her husband
was in the dressing-room which opened out of her room, and occasionally, through the
cascade of water--he was washing his face--she caught exclamations, "So it goes on year
after year; I wish, I wish, I wish I could make an end of it," to which she paid no
"It's white? Or only brown?" Thus she herself murmured, examining a hair which
gleamed suspiciously among the brown. She pulled it out and laid it on the dressing-table.
She was criticising her own appearance, or rather approving of it, standing a little way
back from the glass and looking at her own face with superb pride and melancholy, when
her husband appeared in the doorway in his shirt sleeves, his face half obscured by a
"You often tell me I don't notice things," he remarked.
"Tell me if this is a white hair, then?" she replied. She laid the hair on his hand.
"There's not a white hair on your head," he exclaimed.
"Ah, Ridley, I begin to doubt," she sighed; and bowed her head under his eyes so that he
might judge, but the inspection produced only a kiss where the line of parting ran, and
husband and wife then proceeded to move about the room, casually murmuring.
"What was that you were saying?" Helen remarked, after an interval of conversation
which no third person could have understood.
"Rachel--you ought to keep an eye upon Rachel," he observed significantly, and Helen,
though she went on brushing her hair, looked at him. His observations were apt to be
"Young gentlemen don't interest themselves in young women's education without a
motive," he remarked.