The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XXI
Thanks to Mr. Flushing's discipline, the right stages of the river were reached at the right
hours, and when next morning after breakfast the chairs were again drawn out in a
semicircle in the bow, the launch was within a few miles of the native camp which was
the limit of the journey. Mr. Flushing, as he sat down, advised them to keep their eyes
fixed on the left bank, where they would soon pass a clearing, and in that clearing, was a
hut where Mackenzie, the famous explorer, had died of fever some ten years ago, almost
within reach of civilisation--Mackenzie, he repeated, the man who went farther inland
than any one's been yet. Their eyes turned that way obediently. The eyes of Rachel saw
nothing. Yellow and green shapes did, it is true, pass before them, but she only knew that
one was large and another small; she did not know that they were trees. These directions
to look here and there irritated her, as interruptions irritate a person absorbed in thought,
although she was not thinking of anything. She was annoyed with all that was said, and
with the aimless movements of people's bodies, because they seemed to interfere with her
and to prevent her from speaking to Terence. Very soon Helen saw her staring moodily at
a coil of rope, and making no effort to listen. Mr. Flushing and St. John were engaged in
more or less continuous conversation about the future of the country from a political
point of view, and the degree to which it had been explored; the others, with their legs
stretched out, or chins poised on the hands, gazed in silence.
Mrs. Ambrose looked and listened obediently enough, but inwardly she was prey to an
uneasy mood not readily to be ascribed to any one cause. Looking on shore as Mr.
Flushing bade her, she thought the country very beautiful, but also sultry and alarming.
She did not like to feel herself the victim of unclassified emotions, and certainly as the
launch slipped on and on, in the hot morning sun, she felt herself unreasonably moved.
Whether the unfamiliarity of the forest was the cause of it, or something less definite, she
could not determine. Her mind left the scene and occupied itself with anxieties for
Ridley, for her children, for far-off things, such as old age and poverty and death. Hirst,
too, was depressed. He had been looking forward to this expedition as to a holiday, for,
once away from the hotel, surely wonderful things would happen, instead of which
nothing happened, and here they were as uncomfortable, as restrained, as self-conscious
as ever. That, of course, was what came of looking forward to anything; one was always
disappointed. He blamed Wilfrid Flushing, who was so well dressed and so formal; he
blamed Hewet and Rachel. Why didn't they talk? He looked at them sitting silent and
self-absorbed, and the sight annoyed him. He supposed that they were engaged, or about
to become engaged, but instead of being in the least romantic or exciting, that was as dull
as everything else; it annoyed him, too, to think that they were in love. He drew close to
Helen and began to tell her how uncomfortable his night had been, lying on the deck,
sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and the stars so bright that he couldn't get to
sleep. He had lain awake all night thinking, and when it was light enough to see, he had
written twenty lines of his poem on God, and the awful thing was that he'd practically
proved the fact that God did not exist. He did not see that he was teasing her, and he went
on to wonder what would happen if God did exist--"an old gentleman in a beard and a