The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter XXVII
All that evening the clouds gathered, until they closed entirely over the blue of the sky.
They seemed to narrow the space between earth and heaven, so that there was no room
for the air to move in freely; and the waves, too, lay flat, and yet rigid, as if they were
restrained. The leaves on the bushes and trees in the garden hung closely together, and
the feeling of pressure and restraint was increased by the short chirping sounds which
came from birds and insects.
So strange were the lights and the silence that the busy hum of voices which usually filled
the dining-room at meal times had distinct gaps in it, and during these silences the clatter
of the knives upon plates became audible. The first roll of thunder and the first heavy
drop striking the pane caused a little stir.
"It's coming!" was said simultaneously in many different languages.
There was then a profound silence, as if the thunder had withdrawn into itself. People had
just begun to eat again, when a gust of cold air came through the open windows, lifting
tablecloths and skirts, a light flashed, and was instantly followed by a clap of thunder
right over the hotel. The rain swished with it, and immediately there were all those
sounds of windows being shut and doors slamming violently which accompany a storm.
The room grew suddenly several degrees darker, for the wind seemed to be driving waves
of darkness across the earth. No one attempted to eat for a time, but sat looking out at the
garden, with their forks in the air. The flashes now came frequently, lighting up faces as
if they were going to be photographed, surprising them in tense and unnatural
expressions. The clap followed close and violently upon them. Several women half rose
from their chairs and then sat down again, but dinner was continued uneasily with eyes
upon the garden. The bushes outside were ruffled and whitened, and the wind pressed
upon them so that they seemed to stoop to the ground. The waiters had to press dishes
upon the diners' notice; and the diners had to draw the attention of waiters, for they were
all absorbed in looking at the storm. As the thunder showed no signs of withdrawing, but
seemed massed right overhead, while the lightning aimed straight at the garden every
time, an uneasy gloom replaced the first excitement.
Finishing the meal very quickly, people congregated in the hall, where they felt more
secure than in any other place because they could retreat far from the windows, and
although they heard the thunder, they could not see anything. A little boy was carried
away sobbing in the arms of his mother.
While the storm continued, no one seemed inclined to sit down, but they collected in little
groups under the central skylight, where they stood in a yellow atmosphere, looking
upwards. Now and again their faces became white, as the lightning flashed, and finally a
terrific crash came, making the panes of the skylight lift at the joints.