The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XXIV
They reached the hotel rather early in the afternoon, so that most people were still lying
down, or sitting speechless in their bedrooms, and Mrs. Thornbury, although she had
asked them to tea, was nowhere to be seen. They sat down, therefore, in the shady hall,
which was almost empty, and full of the light swishing sounds of air going to and fro in a
large empty space. Yes, this arm-chair was the same arm-chair in which Rachel had sat
that afternoon when Evelyn came up, and this was the magazine she had been looking at,
and this the very picture, a picture of New York by lamplight. How odd it seemed--
nothing had changed.
By degrees a certain number of people began to come down the stairs and to pass through
the hall, and in this dim light their figures possessed a sort of grace and beauty, although
they were all unknown people. Sometimes they went straight through and out into the
garden by the swing door, sometimes they stopped for a few minutes and bent over the
tables and began turning over the newspapers. Terence and Rachel sat watching them
through their half-closed eyelids--the Johnsons, the Parkers, the Baileys, the Simmons',
the Lees, the Morleys, the Campbells, the Gardiners. Some were dressed in white flannels
and were carrying racquets under their arms, some were short, some tall, some were only
children, and some perhaps were servants, but they all had their standing, their reason for
following each other through the hall, their money, their position, whatever it might be.
Terence soon gave up looking at them, for he was tired; and, closing his eyes, he fell half
asleep in his chair. Rachel watched the people for some time longer; she was fascinated
by the certainty and the grace of their movements, and by the inevitable way in which
they seemed to follow each other, and loiter and pass on and disappear. But after a time
her thoughts wandered, and she began to think of the dance, which had been held in this
room, only then the room itself looked quite different. Glancing round, she could hardly
believe that it was the same room. It had looked so bare and so bright and formal on that
night when they came into it out of the darkness; it had been filled, too, with little red,
excited faces, always moving, and people so brightly dressed and so animated that they
did not seem in the least like real people, nor did you feel that you could talk to them.
And now the room was dim and quiet, and beautiful silent people passed through it, to
whom you could go and say anything you liked. She felt herself amazingly secure as she
sat in her arm-chair, and able to review not only the night of the dance, but the entire
past, tenderly and humorously, as if she had been turning in a fog for a long time, and
could now see exactly where she had turned. For the methods by which she had reached
her present position, seemed to her very strange, and the strangest thing about them was
that she had not known where they were leading her. That was the strange thing, that one
did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering
so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing
led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one
reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people
called living. Perhaps, then, every one really knew as she knew now where they were