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Chapter XVII
It was now the height of the season, and every ship that came from England left a few
people on the shores of Santa Marina who drove up to the hotel. The fact that the
Ambroses had a house where one could escape momentarily from the slightly inhuman
atmosphere of an hotel was a source of genuine pleasure not only to Hirst and Hewet, but
to the Elliots, the Thornburys, the Flushings, Miss Allan, Evelyn M., together with other
people whose identity was so little developed that the Ambroses did not discover that
they possessed names. By degrees there was established a kind of correspondence
between the two houses, the big and the small, so that at most hours of the day one house
could guess what was going on in the other, and the words "the villa" and "the hotel"
called up the idea of two separate systems of life. Acquaintances showed signs of
developing into friends, for that one tie to Mrs. Parry's drawing-room had inevitably split
into many other ties attached to different parts of England, and sometimes these alliances
seemed cynically fragile, and sometimes painfully acute, lacking as they did the
supporting background of organised English life. One night when the moon was round
between the trees, Evelyn M. told Helen the story of her life, and claimed her everlasting
friendship; or another occasion, merely because of a sigh, or a pause, or a word
thoughtlessly dropped, poor Mrs. Elliot left the villa half in tears, vowing never again to
meet the cold and scornful woman who had insulted her, and in truth, meet again they
never did. It did not seem worth while to piece together so slight a friendship.
Hewet, indeed, might have found excellent material at this time up at the villa for some
chapters in the novel which was to be called "Silence, or the Things People don't say."
Helen and Rachel had become very silent. Having detected, as she thought, a secret, and
judging that Rachel meant to keep it from her, Mrs. Ambrose respected it carefully, but
from that cause, though unintentionally, a curious atmosphere of reserve grew up
between them. Instead of sharing their views upon all subjects, and plunging after an idea
wherever it might lead, they spoke chiefly in comment upon the people they saw, and the
secret between them made itself felt in what they said even of Thornburys and Elliots.
Always calm and unemotional in her judgments, Mrs. Ambrose was now inclined to be
definitely pessimistic. She was not severe upon individuals so much as incredulous of the
kindness of destiny, fate, what happens in the long run, and apt to insist that this was
generally adverse to people in proportion as they deserved well. Even this theory she was
ready to discard in favour of one which made chaos triumphant, things happening for no
reason at all, and every one groping about in illusion and ignorance. With a certain
pleasure she developed these views to her niece, taking a letter from home as her test:
which gave good news, but might just as well have given bad. How did she know that at
this very moment both her children were not lying dead, crushed by motor omnibuses?
"It's happening to somebody: why shouldn't it happen to me?" she would argue, her face
taking on the stoical expression of anticipated sorrow. However sincere these views may
have been, they were undoubtedly called forth by the irrational state of her niece's mind.
It was so fluctuating, and went so quickly from joy to despair, that it seemed necessary to
confront it with some stable opinion which naturally became dark as well as stable.
Perhaps Mrs. Ambrose had some idea that in leading the talk into these quarters she