The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XXIII
But no brush was able to efface completely the expression of happiness, so that Mrs.
Ambrose could not treat them when they came downstairs as if they had spent the
morning in a way that could be discussed naturally. This being so, she joined in the
world's conspiracy to consider them for the time incapacitated from the business of life,
struck by their intensity of feeling into enmity against life, and almost succeeded in
dismissing them from her thoughts.
She reflected that she had done all that it was necessary to do in practical matters. She
had written a great many letters, and had obtained Willoughby's consent. She had dwelt
so often upon Mr. Hewet's prospects, his profession, his birth, appearance, and
temperament, that she had almost forgotten what he was really like. When she refreshed
herself by a look at him, she used to wonder again what he was like, and then, concluding
that they were happy at any rate, thought no more about it.
She might more profitably consider what would happen in three years' time, or what
might have happened if Rachel had been left to explore the world under her father's
guidance. The result, she was honest enough to own, might have been better--who
knows? She did not disguise from herself that Terence had faults. She was inclined to
think him too easy and tolerant, just as he was inclined to think her perhaps a trifle hard--
no, it was rather that she was uncompromising. In some ways she found St. John
preferable; but then, of course, he would never have suited Rachel. Her friendship with
St. John was established, for although she fluctuated between irritation and interest in a
way that did credit to the candour of her disposition, she liked his company on the whole.
He took her outside this little world of love and emotion. He had a grasp of facts.
Supposing, for instance, that England made a sudden move towards some unknown port
on the coast of Morocco, St. John knew what was at the back of it, and to hear him
engaged with her husband in argument about finance and the balance of power, gave her
an odd sense of stability. She respected their arguments without always listening to them,
much as she respected a solid brick wall, or one of those immense municipal buildings
which, although they compose the greater part of our cities, have been built day after day
and year after year by unknown hands. She liked to sit and listen, and even felt a little
elated when the engaged couple, after showing their profound lack of interest, slipped
from the room, and were seen pulling flowers to pieces in the garden. It was not that she
was jealous of them, but she did undoubtedly envy them their great unknown future that
lay before them. Slipping from one such thought to another, she was at the dining-room
with fruit in her hands. Sometimes she stopped to straighten a candle stooping with the
heat, or disturbed some too rigid arrangement of the chairs. She had reason to suspect that
Chailey had been balancing herself on the top of a ladder with a wet duster during their
absence, and the room had never been quite like itself since. Returning from the dining-
room for the third time, she perceived that one of the arm-chairs was now occupied by St.
John. He lay back in it, with his eyes half shut, looking, as he always did, curiously
buttoned up in a neat grey suit and fenced against the exuberance of a foreign climate