The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf - HTML preview
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The sun of that same day going down, dusk was saluted as usual at the hotel by an instantaneous sparkle of electric lights. The hours between dinner and bedtime were always difficult enough to kill, and the night after the dance they were further tarnished by the peevishness of dissipation. Certainly, in the opinion of Hirst and Hewet, who lay back in long arm-chairs in the middle of the hall, with their coffee-cups beside them, and their cigarettes in their hands, the evening was unusually dull, the women unusually badly dressed, the men unusually fatuous. Moreover, when the mail had been distributed half an hour ago there were no letters for either of the two young men. As every other person, practically, had received two or three plump letters from England, which they were now engaged in reading, this seemed hard, and prompted Hirst to make the caustic remark that the animals had been fed. Their silence, he said, reminded him of the silence in the lion-house when each beast holds a lump of raw meat in its paws. He went on, stimulated by this comparison, to liken some to hippopotamuses, some to canary birds, some to swine, some to parrots, and some to loathsome reptiles curled round the halfdecayed bodies of sheep. The intermittent sounds--now a cough, now a horrible wheezing or throat-clearing, now a little patter of conversation--were just, he declared, what you hear if you stand in the lion-house when the bones are being mauled. But these comparisons did not rouse Hewet, who, after a careless glance round the room, fixed his eyes upon a thicket of native spears which were so ingeniously arranged as to run their points at you whichever way you approached them. He was clearly oblivious of his surroundings; whereupon Hirst, perceiving that Hewet's mind was a complete blank, fixed his attention more closely upon his fellow-creatures. He was too far from them, however, to hear what they were saying, but it pleased him to construct little theories about them from their gestures and appearance.
Mrs. Thornbury had received a great many letters. She was completely engrossed in them. When she had finished a page she handed it to her husband, or gave him the sense of what she was reading in a series of short quotations linked together by a sound at the back of her throat. "Evie writes that George has gone to Glasgow. 'He finds Mr. Chadbourne so nice to work with, and we hope to spend Christmas together, but I should not like to move Betty and Alfred any great distance (no, quite right), though it is difficult to imagine cold weather in this heat. . . . Eleanor and Roger drove over in the new trap. . . . Eleanor certainly looked more like herself than I've seen her since the winter. She has put Baby on three bottles now, which I'm sure is wise (I'm sure it is too), and so gets better nights. . . . My hair still falls out. I find it on the pillow! But I am cheered by hearing from Tottie Hall Green. . . . Muriel is in Torquay enjoying herself greatly at dances. She _is_ going to show her black put after all.' . . . A line from Herbert--so busy, poor fellow! Ah! Margaret says, 'Poor old Mrs. Fairbank died on the eighth, quite suddenly in the conservatory, only a maid in the house, who hadn't the presence of mind to lift her up, which they think might have saved her, but the doctor says it might have come at any moment, and one can only feel thankful that it was in the house and not in the street (I should think so!). The pigeons have increased terribly, just as the rabbits did five years ago . . .'" While she read her husband kept nodding his head very slightly, but very steadily in sign of approval.
Near by, Miss Allan was reading her letters too. They were not altogether pleasant, as could be seen from the slight rigidity which came over her large fine face as she finished reading them and replaced them neatly in their envelopes. The lines of care and responsibility on her face made her resemble an elderly man rather than a woman. The letters brought her news of the failure of last year's fruit crop in New Zealand, which was a serious matter, for Hubert, her only brother, made his living on a fruit farm, and if it failed again, of course, he would throw up his place, come back to England, and what were they to do with him this time? The journey out here, which meant the loss of a term's work, became an extravagance and not the just and wonderful holiday due to her after fifteen years of punctual lecturing and correcting essays upon English literature. Emily, her sister, who was a teacher also, wrote: "We ought to be prepared, though I have no doubt Hubert will be more reasonable this time." And then went on in her sensible way to say that she was enjoying a very jolly time in the Lakes. "They are looking exceedingly pretty just now. I have seldom seen the trees so forward at this time of year. We have taken our lunch out several days. Old Alice is as young as ever, and asks after every one affectionately. The days pass very quickly, and term will soon be here. Political prospects _not_ good, I think privately, but do not like to damp Ellen's enthusiasm. Lloyd George has taken the Bill up, but so have many before now, and we are where we are; but trust to find myself mistaken. Anyhow, we have our work cut out for us. . . . Surely Meredith lacks the _human_ note one likes in W. W.?" she concluded, and went on to discuss some questions of English literature which Miss Allan had raised in her last letter.
At a little distance from Miss Allan, on a seat shaded and made semi-private by a thick clump of palm trees, Arthur and Susan were reading each other's letters. The big slashing manuscripts of hockey-playing young women in Wiltshire lay on Arthur's knee, while Susan deciphered tight little legal hands which rarely filled more than a page, and always conveyed the same impression of jocular and breezy goodwill."I do hope Mr. Hutchinson will like me, Arthur," she said, looking up. "Who's your loving Flo?" asked Arthur. "Flo Graves--the girl I told you about, who was engaged to that dreadful Mr. Vincent," said Susan. "Is Mr. Hutchinson married?" she asked.
Already her mind was busy with benevolent plans for her friends, or rather with one magnificent plan--which was simple too--they were all to get married--at once--directly she got back. Marriage, marriage that was the right thing, the only thing, the solution required by every one she knew, and a great part of her meditations was spent in tracing every instance of discomfort, loneliness, ill-health, unsatisfied ambition, restlessness, eccentricity, taking things up and dropping them again, public speaking, and philanthropic activity on the part of men and particularly on the part of women to the fact that they wanted to marry, were trying to marry, and had not succeeded in getting married. If, as she was bound to own, these symptoms sometimes persisted after marriage, she could only ascribe them to the unhappy law of nature which decreed that there was only one Arthur Venning, and only one Susan who could marry him. Her theory, of course, had the merit of being fully supported by her own case. She had been vaguely uncomfortable at home for two or three years now, and a voyage like this with her selfish old aunt, who paid her fare but treated her as servant and companion in one, was typical of the kind of thing people expected of her. Directly she became engaged, Mrs. Paley behaved with instinctive respect, positively protested when Susan as usual knelt down to lace her shoes, and appeared really grateful for an hour of Susan's company where she had been used to exact two or three as her right. She therefore foresaw a life of far greater comfort than she had been used to, and the change had already produced a great increase of warmth in her feelings towards other people.
It was close on twenty years now since Mrs. Paley had been able to lace her own shoes or even to see them, the disappearance of her feet having coincided more or less accurately with the death of her husband, a man of business, soon after which event Mrs. Paley began to grow stout. She was a selfish, independent old woman, possessed of a considerable income, which she spent upon the upkeep of a house that needed seven servants and a charwoman in Lancaster Gate, and another with a garden and carriagehorses in Surrey. Susan's engagement relieved her of the one great anxiety of her life-that her son Christopher should "entangle himself" with his cousin. Now that this familiar source of interest was removed, she felt a little low and inclined to see more in Susan than she used to. She had decided to give her a very handsome wedding present, a cheque for two hundred, two hundred and fifty, or possibly, conceivably--it depended upon the under-gardener and Huths' bill for doing up the drawing-room--three hundred pounds sterling.
She was thinking of this very question, revolving the figures, as she sat in her wheeled chair with a table spread with cards by her side. The Patience had somehow got into a muddle, and she did not like to call for Susan to help her, as Susan seemed to be busy with Arthur.
"She's every right to expect a handsome present from me, of course," she thought, looking vaguely at the leopard on its hind legs, "and I've no doubt she does! Money goes a long way with every one. The young are very selfish. If I were to die, nobody would miss me but Dakyns, and she'll be consoled by the will! However, I've got no reason to complain. . . . I can still enjoy myself. I'm not a burden to any-one. . . . I like a great many things a good deal, in spite of my legs."
Being slightly depressed, however, she went on to think of the only people she had known who had not seemed to her at all selfish or fond of money, who had seemed to her somehow rather finer than the general run; people she willingly acknowledged, who were finer than she was. There were only two of them. One was her brother, who had been drowned before her eyes, the other was a girl, her greatest friend, who had died in giving birth to her first child. These things had happened some fifty years ago.
"They ought not to have died," she thought. "However, they did--and we selfish old creatures go on." The tears came to her eyes; she felt a genuine regret for them, a kind of respect for their youth and beauty, and a kind of shame for herself; but the tears did not fall; and she opened one of those innumerable novels which she used to pronounce good or bad, or pretty middling, or really wonderful. "I can't think how people come to imagine such things," she would say, taking off her spectacles and looking up with the old faded eyes, that were becoming ringed with white.
Just behind the stuffed leopard Mr. Elliot was playing chess with Mr. Pepper. He was being defeated, naturally, for Mr. Pepper scarcely took his eyes off the board, and Mr. Elliot kept leaning back in his chair and throwing out remarks to a gentleman who had only arrived the night before, a tall handsome man, with a head resembling the head of an intellectual ram. After a few remarks of a general nature had passed, they were discovering that they knew some of the same people, as indeed had been obvious from their appearance directly they saw each other.
"Ah yes, old Truefit," said Mr. Elliot. "He has a son at Oxford. I've often stayed with them. It's a lovely old Jacobean house. Some exquisite Greuzes--one or two Dutch pictures which the old boy kept in the cellars. Then there were stacks upon stacks of prints. Oh, the dirt in that house! He was a miser, you know. The boy married a daughter of Lord Pinwells. I know them too. The collecting mania tends to run in families. This chap collects buckles--men's shoe-buckles they must be, in use between the years 1580 and 1660; the dates mayn't be right, but fact's as I say. Your true collector always has some unaccountable fad of that kind. On other points he's as level-headed as a breeder of shorthorns, which is what he happens to be. Then the Pinwells, as you probably know, have their share of eccentricity too. Lady Maud, for instance--" he was interrupted here by the necessity of considering his move,--"Lady Maud has a horror of cats and clergymen, and people with big front teeth. I've heard her shout across a table, 'Keep your mouth shut, Miss Smith; they're as yellow as carrots!' across a table, mind you. To me she's always been civility itself. She dabbles in literature, likes to collect a few of us in her drawing-room, but mention a clergyman, a bishop even, nay, the Archbishop himself, and she gobbles like a turkey-cock. I've been told it's a family feud--something to do with an ancestor in the reign of Charles the First. Yes," he continued, suffering check after check, "I always like to know something of the grandmothers of our fashionable young men. In my opinion they preserve all that we admire in the eighteenth century, with the advantage, in the majority of cases, that they are personally clean. Not that one would insult old Lady Barborough by calling her clean. How often d'you think, Hilda," he called out to his wife, "her ladyship takes a bath?""I should hardly like to say, Hugh," Mrs. Elliot tittered, "but wearing puce velvet, as she does even on the hottest August day, it somehow doesn't show." "Pepper, you have me," said Mr. Elliot. "My chess is even worse than I remembered." He accepted his defeat with great equanimity, because he really wished to talk.
He drew his chair beside Mr. Wilfrid Flushing, the newcomer. "Are these at all in your line?" he asked, pointing at a case in front of them, where highly polished crosses, jewels, and bits of embroidery, the work of the natives, were displayed to tempt visitors.
"Shams, all of them," said Mr. Flushing briefly. "This rug, now, isn't at all bad." He stopped and picked up a piece of the rug at their feet. "Not old, of course, but the design is quite in the right tradition. Alice, lend me your brooch. See the difference between the old work and the new."
A lady, who was reading with great concentration, unfastened her brooch and gave it to her husband without looking at him or acknowledging the tentative bow which Mr. Elliot was desirous of giving her. If she had listened, she might have been amused by the reference to old Lady Barborough, her great-aunt, but, oblivious of her surroundings, she went on reading.
The clock, which had been wheezing for some minutes like an old man preparing to cough, now struck nine. The sound slightly disturbed certain somnolent merchants, government officials, and men of independent means who were lying back in their chairs, chatting, smoking, ruminating about their affairs, with their eyes half shut; they raised their lids for an instant at the sound and then closed them again. They had the appearance of crocodiles so fully gorged by their last meal that the future of the world gives them no anxiety whatever. The only disturbance in the placid bright room was caused by a large moth which shot from light to light, whizzing over elaborate heads of hair, and causing several young women to raise their hands nervously and exclaim, "Some one ought to kill it!"Absorbed in their own thoughts, Hewet and Hirst had not spoken for a long time. When the clock struck, Hirst said:
"Ah, the creatures begin to stir. . . ." He watched them raise themselves, look about them, and settle down again. "What I abhor most of all," he concluded, "is the female breast. Imagine being Venning and having to get into bed with Susan! But the really repulsive thing is that they feel nothing at all--about what I do when I have a hot bath. They're gross, they're absurd, they're utterly intolerable!"
So saying, and drawing no reply from Hewet, he proceeded to think about himself, about science, about Cambridge, about the Bar, about Helen and what she thought of him, until, being very tired, he was nodding off to sleep.Suddenly Hewet woke him up. "How d'you know what you feel, Hirst?" "Are you in love?" asked Hirst. He put in his eyeglass. "Don't be a fool," said Hewet.
"Well, I'll sit down and think about it," said Hirst. "One really ought to. If these people would only think about things, the world would be a far better place for us all to live in. Are you trying to think?"That was exactly what Hewet had been doing for the last half-hour, but he did not find Hirst sympathetic at the moment. "I shall go for a walk," he said. "Remember we weren't in bed last night," said Hirst with a prodigious yawn. Hewet rose and stretched himself. "I want to go and get a breath of air," he said.
An unusual feeling had been bothering him all the evening and forbidding him to settle into any one train of thought. It was precisely as if he had been in the middle of a talk which interested him profoundly when some one came up and interrupted him. He could not finish the talk, and the longer he sat there the more he wanted to finish it. As the talk that had been interrupted was a talk with Rachel, he had to ask himself why he felt this, and why he wanted to go on talking to her. Hirst would merely say that he was in love with her. But he was not in love with her. Did love begin in that way, with the wish to go on talking? No. It always began in his case with definite physical sensations, and these were now absent, he did not even find her physically attractive. There was something, of course, unusual about her--she was young, inexperienced, and inquisitive, they had been more open with each other than was usually possible. He always found girls interesting to talk to, and surely these were good reasons why he should wish to go on talking to her; and last night, what with the crowd and the confusion, he had only been able to begin to talk to her. What was she doing now? Lying on a sofa and looking at the ceiling, perhaps. He could imagine her doing that, and Helen in an arm-chair, with her hands on the arm of it, so--looking ahead of her, with her great big eyes--oh no, they'd be talking, of course, about the dance. But suppose Rachel was going away in a day or two, suppose this was the end of her visit, and her father had arrived in one of the steamers anchored in the bay,--it was intolerable to know so little. Therefore he exclaimed, "How d'you know what you feel, Hirst?" to stop himself from thinking.
But Hirst did not help him, and the other people with their aimless movements and their unknown lives were disturbing, so that he longed for the empty darkness. The first thing he looked for when he stepped out of the hall door was the light of the Ambroses' villa. When he had definitely decided that a certain light apart from the others higher up the hill was their light, he was considerably reassured. There seemed to be at once a little stability in all this incoherence. Without any definite plan in his head, he took the turning to the right and walked through the town and came to the wall by the meeting of the roads, where he stopped. The booming of the sea was audible. The dark-blue mass of the mountains rose against the paler blue of the sky. There was no moon, but myriads of stars, and lights were anchored up and down in the dark waves of earth all round him. He had meant to go back, but the single light of the Ambroses' villa had now become three separate lights, and he was tempted to go on. He might as well make sure that Rachel was still there. Walking fast, he soon stood by the iron gate of their garden, and pushed it open; the outline of the house suddenly appeared sharply before his eyes, and the thin column of the verandah cutting across the palely lit gravel of the terrace. He hesitated. At the back of the house some one was rattling cans. He approached the front; the light on the terrace showed him that the sitting-rooms were on that side. He stood as near the light as he could by the corner of the house, the leaves of a creeper brushing his face. After a moment he could hear a voice. The voice went on steadily; it was not talking, but from the continuity of the sound it was a voice reading aloud. He crept a little closer; he crumpled the leaves together so as to stop their rustling about his ears. It might be Rachel's voice. He left the shadow and stepped into the radius of the light, and then heard a sentence spoken quite distinctly.
"And there we lived from the year 1860 to 1895, the happiest years of my parents' lives, and there in 1862 my brother Maurice was born, to the delight of his parents, as he was destined to be the delight of all who knew him."
The voice quickened, and the tone became conclusive rising slightly in pitch, as if these words were at the end of the chapter. Hewet drew back again into the shadow. There was a long silence. He could just hear chairs being moved inside. He had almost decided to go back, when suddenly two figures appeared at the window, not six feet from him.
"It was Maurice Fielding, of course, that your mother was engaged to," said Helen's voice. She spoke reflectively, looking out into the dark garden, and thinking evidently as much of the look of the night as of what she was saying."Mother?" said Rachel. Hewet's heart leapt, and he noticed the fact. Her voice, though low, was full of surprise. "You didn't know that?" said Helen.
"I never knew there'd been any one else," said Rachel. She was clearly surprised, but all they said was said low and inexpressively, because they were speaking out into the cool dark night.
"More people were in love with her than with any one I've ever known," Helen stated. "She had that power--she enjoyed things. She wasn't beautiful, but--I was thinking of her last night at the dance. She got on with every kind of person, and then she made it all so amazingly--funny."
It appeared that Helen was going back into the past, choosing her words deliberately, comparing Theresa with the people she had known since Theresa died.
"I don't know how she did it," she continued, and ceased, and there was a long pause, in which a little owl called first here, then there, as it moved from tree to tree in the garden.
Hewet drew still farther back. His heart was beating very quickly. Apparently Rachel tried to pull Helen out on to the terrace, and helen resisted. There was a certain amount of scuffling, entreating, resisting, and laughter from both of them. Then a man's form appeared. Hewet could not hear what they were all saying. In a minute they had gone in; he could hear bolts grating then; there was dead silence, and all the lights went out.
He turned away, still crumpling and uncrumpling a handful of leaves which he had torn from the wall. An exquisite sense of pleasure and relief possessed him; it was all so solid and peaceful after the ball at the hotel, whether he was in love with them or not, and he was not in love with them; no, but it was good that they should be alive.
After standing still for a minute or two he turned and began to walk towards the gate. With the movement of his body, the excitement, the romance and the richness of life crowded into his brain. He shouted out a line of poetry, but the words escaped him, and he stumbled among lines and fragments of lines which had no meaning at all except for the beauty of the words. He shut the gate, and ran swinging from side to side down the hill, shouting any nonsense that came into his head. "Here am I," he cried rhythmically, as his feet pounded to the left and to the right, "plunging along, like an elephant in the jungle, stripping the branches as I go (he snatched at the twigs of a bush at the roadside), roaring innumerable words, lovely words about innumerable things, running downhill and talking nonsense aloud to myself about roads and leaves and lights and women coming out into the darkness--about women--about Rachel, about Rachel." He stopped and drew a deep breath. The night seemed immense and hospitable, and although so dark there seemed to be things moving down there in the harbour and movement out at sea. He gazed until the darkness numbed him, and then he walked on quickly, still murmuring to himself. "And I ought to be in bed, snoring and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. Dreams and realities, dreams and realities, dreams and realities," he repeated all the way up the avenue, scarcely knowing what he said, until he reached the front door. Here he paused for a second, and collected himself before he opened the door.
His eyes were dazed, his hands very cold, and his brain excited and yet half asleep. Inside the door everything was as he had left it except that the hall was now empty. There were the chairs turning in towards each other where people had sat talking, and the empty glasses on little tables, and the newspapers scattered on the floor. As he shut the door he felt as if he were enclosed in a square box, and instantly shrivelled up. It was all very bright and very small. He stopped for a minute by the long table to find a paper which he had meant to read, but he was still too much under the influence of the dark and the fresh air to consider carefully which paper it was or where he had seen it.
As he fumbled vaguely among the papers he saw a figure cross the tail of his eye, coming downstairs. He heard the swishing sound of skirts, and to his great surprise, Evelyn M. came up to him, laid her hand on the table as if to prevent him from taking up a paper, and said:"You're just the person I wanted to talk to." Her voice was a little unpleasant and metallic, her eyes were very bright, and she kept them fixed upon him. "To talk to me?" he repeated. "But I'm half asleep." "But I think you understand better than most people," she answered, and sat down on a little chair placed beside a big leather chair so that Hewet had to sit down beside her. "Well?" he said. He yawned openly, and lit a cigarette. He could not believe that this was really happening to him. "What is it?" "Are you really sympathetic, or is it just a pose?" she demanded. "It's for you to say," he replied. "I'm interested, I think." He still felt numb all over and as if she was much too close to him.
"Any one can be interested!" she cried impatiently. "Your friend Mr. Hirst's interested, I daresay however, I do believe in you. You look as if you'd got a nice sister, somehow." She paused, picking at some sequins on her knees, and then, as if she had made up her mind, she started off, "Anyhow, I'm going to ask your advice. D'you ever get into a state where you don't know your own mind? That's the state I'm in now. You see, last night at the dance Raymond Oliver,--he's the tall dark boy who looks as if he had Indian blood in him, but he says he's not really,--well, we were sitting out together, and he told me all about himself, how unhappy he is at home, and how he hates being out here. They've put him into some beastly mining business. He says it's beastly--I should like it, I know, but that's neither here nor there. And I felt awfully sorry for him, one couldn't help being sorry for him, and when he asked me to let him kiss me, I did. I don't see any harm in that, do you? And then this morning he said he'd thought I meant something more, and I wasn't the sort to let any one kiss me. And we talked and talked. I daresay I was very silly, but one can't help liking people when one's sorry for them. I do like him most awfully--" She paused. "So I gave him half a promise, and then, you see, there's Alfred Perrott.""Oh, Perrott," said Hewet.
"We got to know each other on that picnic the other day," she continued. "He seemed so lonely, especially as Arthur had gone off with Susan, and one couldn't help guessing what was in his mind. So we had quite a long talk when you were looking at the ruins, and he told me all about his life, and his struggles, and how fearfully hard it had been. D'you know, he was a boy in a grocer's shop and took parcels to people's houses in a basket? That interested me awfully, because I always say it doesn't matter how you're born if you've got the right stuff in you. And he told me about his sister who's paralysed, poor girl, and one can see she's a great trial, though he's evidently very devoted to her. I must say I do admire people like that! I don't expect you do because you're so clever. Well, last night we sat out in the garden together, and I couldn't help seeing what he wanted to say, and comforting him a little, and telling him I did care--I really do--only, then, there's Raymond Oliver. What I want you to tell me is, can one be in love with two people at once, or can't one?"She became silent, and sat with her chin on her hands, looking very intent, as if she were facing a real problem which had to be discussed between them.
"I think it depends what sort of person you are," said Hewet. He looked at her. She was small and pretty, aged perhaps twenty-eight or twenty-nine, but though dashing and sharply cut, her features expressed nothing very clearly, except a great deal of spirit and good health."Who are you, what are you; you see, I know nothing about you," he continued.
"Well, I was coming to that," said Evelyn M. She continued to rest her chin on her hands and to look intently ahead of her. "I'm the daughter of a mother and no father, if that interests you," she said. "It's not a very nice thing to be. It's what often happens in the country. She was a farmer's daughter, and he was rather a swell--the young man up at the great house. He never made things straight--never married her--though he allowed us quite a lot of money. His people wouldn't let him. Poor father! I can't help liking him. Mother wasn't the sort of woman who could keep him straight, anyhow. He was killed in the war. I believe his men worshipped him. They say great big troopers broke down and cried over his body on the battlefield. I wish I'd known him. Mother had all the life crushed out of her. The world--" She clenched her fist. "Oh, people can be horrid to a woman like that!" She turned upon Hewet."Well," she said, "d'you want to know any more about me?"
"But you?" he asked, "Who looked after you?" "I've looked after myself mostly," she laughed. "I've had splendid friends. I do like people! That's the trouble. What would you do if you liked two people, both of them tremendously, and you couldn't tell which most?""I should go on liking them--I should wait and see. Why not?"
"But one has to make up one's mind," said Evelyn. "Or are you one of the people who doesn't believe in marriages and all that? Look here--this isn't fair, I do all the telling, and you tell nothing. Perhaps you're the same as your friend"--she looked at him suspiciously; "perhaps you don't like me?""I don't know you," said Hewet.
"I know when I like a person directly I see them! I knew I liked you the very first night at dinner. Oh dear," she continued impatiently, "what a lot of bother would be saved if only people would say the things they think straight out! I'm made like that. I can't help it.""But don't you find it leads to difficulties?" Hewet asked. "That's men's fault," she answered. "They always drag it in-love, I mean." "And so you've gone on having one proposal after another," said Hewet. "I don't suppose I've had more proposals than most women," said Evelyn, but she spoke without conviction. "Five, six, ten?" Hewet ventured. Evelyn seemed to intimate that perhaps ten was the right figure, but that it really was not a high one.
"I believe you're thinking me a heartless flirt," she protested. "But I don't care if you are. I don't care what any one thinks of me. Just because one's interested and likes to be friends with men, and talk to them as one talks to women, one's called a flirt.""But Miss Murgatroyd--" "I wish you'd call me Evelyn," she interrupted. "After ten proposals do you honestly think that men are the same as women?"
"Honestly, honestly,--how I hate that word! It's always used by prigs," cried Evelyn. "Honestly I think they ought to be. That's what's so disappointing. Every time one thinks it's not going to happen, and every time it does.""The pursuit of Friendship," said Hewet. "The title of a comedy." "You're horrid," she cried. "You don't care a bit really. You might be Mr. Hirst."
"Well," said Hewet, "let's consider. Let us consider--" He paused, because for the moment he could not remember what it was that they had to consider. He was far more interested in her than in her story, for as she went on speaking his numbness had disappeared, and he was conscious of a mixture of liking, pity, and distrust. "You've promised to marry both Oliver and Perrott?" he concluded.
"Not exactly promised," said Evelyn. "I can't make up my mind which I really like best. Oh how I detest modern life!" she flung off. "It must have been so much easier for the Elizabethans! I thought the other day on that mountain how I'd have liked to be one of those colonists, to cut down trees and make laws and all that, instead of fooling about with all these people who think one's just a pretty young lady. Though I'm not. I really might _do_ something." She reflected in silence for a minute. Then she said:"I'm afraid right down in my heart that Alfred Perrot _won't_ do. He's not strong, is he?" "Perhaps he couldn't cut down a tree," said Hewet. "Have you never cared for anybody?" he asked.
"I've cared for heaps of people, but not to marry them," she said. "I suppose I'm too fastidious. All my life I've wanted somebody I could look up to, somebody great and big and splendid. Most men are so small.""What d'you mean by splendid?" Hewet asked. "People are--nothing more." Evelyn was puzzled. "We don't care for people because of their qualities," he tried to explain. "It's just them that we care for,"--he struck a match--"just that," he said, pointing to the flames.
"I see what you mean," she said, "but I don't agree. I do know why I care for people, and I think I'm hardly ever wrong. I see at once what they've got in them. Now I think you must be rather splendid; but not Mr. Hirst."Hewlet shook his head. "He's not nearly so unselfish, or so sympathetic, or so big, or so understanding," Evelyn continued. Hewet sat silent, smoking his cigarette.
"I should hate cutting down trees," he remarked. "I'm not trying to flirt with you, though I suppose you think I am!" Evelyn shot out. "I'd never have come to you if I'd thought you'd merely think odious things of me!" The tears came into her eyes."Do you never flirt?" he asked.
"Of course I don't," she protested. "Haven't I told you? I want friendship; I want to care for some one greater and nobler than I am, and if they fall in love with me it isn't my fault; I don't want it; I positively hate it."
Hewet could see that there was very little use in going on with the conversation, for it was obvious that Evelyn did not wish to say anything in particular, but to impress upon him an image of herself, being, for some reason which she would not reveal, unhappy, or insecure. He was very tired, and a pale waiter kept walking ostentatiously into the middle of the room and looking at them meaningly.
"They want to shut up," he said. "My advice is that you should tell Oliver and Perrott tomorrow that you've made up your mind that you don't mean to marry either of them. I'm certain you don't. If you change your mind you can always tell them so. They're both sensible men; they'll understand. And then all this bother will be over." He got up.But Evelyn did not move. She sat looking up at him with her bright eager eyes, in the depths of which he thought he detected some disappointment, or dissatisfaction. "Good-night," he said. "There are heaps of things I want to say to you still," she said. "And I'm going to, some time. I suppose you must go to bed now?" "Yes," said Hewet. "I'm half asleep." He left her still sitting by herself in the empty hall.
"Why is it that they _won't_ be honest?" he muttered to himself as he went upstairs. Why was it that relations between different people were so unsatisfactory, so fragmentary, so hazardous, and words so dangerous that the instinct to sympathise with another human being was an instinct to be examined carefully and probably crushed? What had Evelyn really wished to say to him? What was she feeling left alone in the empty hall? The mystery of life and the unreality even of one's own sensations overcame him as he walked down the corridor which led to his room. It was dimly lighted, but sufficiently for him to see a figure in a bright dressing-gown pass swiftly in front of him, the figure of a woman crossing from one room to another.
Whether too slight or too vague the ties that bind people casually meeting in a hotel at midnight, they possess one advantage at least over the bonds which unite the elderly, who have lived together once and so must live for ever. Slight they may be, but vivid and genuine, merely because the power to break them is within the grasp of each, and there is no reason for continuance except a true desire that continue they shall. When two people have been married for years they seem to become unconscious of each other's bodily presence so that they move as if alone, speak aloud things which they do not expect to be answered, and in general seem to experience all the comfort of solitude without its loneliness. The joint lives of Ridley and Helen had arrived at this stage of community, and it was often necessary for one or the other to recall with an effort whether a thing had been said or only thought, shared or dreamt in private. At four o'clock in the afternoon two or three days later Mrs. Ambrose was standing brushing her hair, while her husband was in the dressing-room which opened out of her room, and occasionally, through the cascade of water--he was washing his face--she caught exclamations, "So it goes on year after year; I wish, I wish, I wish I could make an end of it," to which she paid no attention.
"It's white? Or only brown?" Thus she herself murmured, examining a hair which gleamed suspiciously among the brown. She pulled it out and laid it on the dressing-table. She was criticising her own appearance, or rather approving of it, standing a little way back from the glass and looking at her own face with superb pride and melancholy, when her husband appeared in the doorway in his shirt sleeves, his face half obscured by a towel."You often tell me I don't notice things," he remarked. "Tell me if this is a white hair, then?" she replied. She laid the hair on his hand. "There's not a white hair on your head," he exclaimed.
"Ah, Ridley, I begin to doubt," she sighed; and bowed her head under his eyes so that he might judge, but the inspection produced only a kiss where the line of parting ran, and husband and wife then proceeded to move about the room, casually murmuring."What was that you were saying?" Helen remarked, after an interval of conversation which no third person could have understood.
"Rachel--you ought to keep an eye upon Rachel," he observed significantly, and Helen, though she went on brushing her hair, looked at him. His observations were apt to be true."Young gentlemen don't interest themselves in young women's education without a motive," he remarked. "Oh, Hirst," said Helen. "Hirst and Hewet, they're all the same to me--all covered with spots," he replied. "He advises her to read Gibbon. Did you know that?" Helen did not know that, but she would not allow herself inferior to her husband in powers of observation. She merely said: "Nothing would surprise me. Even that dreadful flying man we met at the dance--even Mr. Dalloway--even--" "I advise you to be circumspect," said Ridley. "There's Willoughby, remember-Willoughby"; he pointed at a letter.
Helen looked with a sigh at an envelope which lay upon her dressing-table. Yes, there lay Willoughby, curt, inexpressive, perpetually jocular, robbing a whole continent of mystery, enquiring after his daughter's manners and morals--hoping she wasn't a bore, and bidding them pack her off to him on board the very next ship if she were--and then grateful and affectionate with suppressed emotion, and then half a page about his own triumphs over wretched little natives who went on strike and refused to load his ships, until he roared English oaths at them, "popping my head out of the window just as I was, in my shirt sleeves. The beggars had the sense to scatter.""If Theresa married Willoughby," she remarked, turning the page with a hairpin, "one doesn't see what's to prevent Rachel--"
But Ridley was now off on grievances of his own connected with the washing of his shirts, which somehow led to the frequent visits of Hughling Elliot, who was a bore, a pedant, a dry stick of a man, and yet Ridley couldn't simply point at the door and tell him to go. The truth of it was, they saw too many people. And so on and so on, more conjugal talk pattering softly and unintelligibly, until they were both ready to go down to tea.
The first thing that caught Helen's eye as she came downstairs was a carriage at the door, filled with skirts and feathers nodding on the tops of hats. She had only time to gain the drawing-room before two names were oddly mispronounced by the Spanish maid, and Mrs. Thornbury came in slightly in advance of Mrs. Wilfrid Flushing."Mrs. Wilfrid Flushing," said Mrs. Thornbury, with a wave of her hand. "A friend of our common friend Mrs. Raymond Parry."
Mrs. Flushing shook hands energetically. She was a woman of forty perhaps, very well set up and erect, splendidly robust, though not as tall as the upright carriage of her body made her appear.
She looked Helen straight in the face and said, "You have a charmin' house." She had a strongly marked face, her eyes looked straight at you, and though naturally she was imperious in her manner she was nervous at the same time. Mrs. Thornbury acted as interpreter, making things smooth all round by a series of charming commonplace remarks.
"I've taken it upon myself, Mr. Ambrose," she said, "to promise that you will be so kind as to give Mrs. Flushing the benefit of your experience. I'm sure no one here knows the country as well as you do. No one takes such wonderful long walks. No one, I'm sure, has your encyclopaedic knowledge upon every subject. Mr. Wilfrid Flushing is a collector. He has discovered really beautiful things already. I had no notion that the peasants were so artistic--though of course in the past--""Not old things--new things," interrupted Mrs. Flushing curtly. "That is, if he takes my advice."
The Ambroses had not lived for many years in London without knowing something of a good many people, by name at least, and Helen remembered hearing of the Flushings. Mr. Flushing was a man who kept an old furniture shop; he had always said he would not marry because most women have red cheeks, and would not take a house because most houses have narrow staircases, and would not eat meat because most animals bleed when they are killed; and then he had married an eccentric aristocratic lady, who certainly was not pale, who looked as if she ate meat, who had forced him to do all the things he most disliked--and this then was the lady. Helen looked at her with interest. They had moved out into the garden, where the tea was laid under a tree, and Mrs. Flushing was helping herself to cherry jam. She had a peculiar jerking movement of the body when she spoke, which caused the canary-coloured plume on her hat to jerk too. Her small but finely-cut and vigorous features, together with the deep red of lips and cheeks, pointed to many generations of well-trained and well-nourished ancestors behind her."Nothin' that's more than twenty years old interests me," she continued. "Mouldy old pictures, dirty old books, they stick 'em in museums when they're only fit for burnin'."
"I quite agree," Helen laughed. "But my husband spends his life in digging up manuscripts which nobody wants." She was amused by Ridley's expression of startled disapproval."There's a clever man in London called John who paints ever so much better than the old masters," Mrs. Flushing continued. "His pictures excite me--nothin' that's old excites me." "But even his pictures will become old," Mrs. Thornbury intervened. "Then I'll have 'em burnt, or I'll put it in my will," said Mrs. Flushing. "And Mrs. Flushing lived in one of the most beautiful old houses in England-
Chillingley," Mrs. Thornbury explained to the rest of them.
"If I'd my way I'd burn that to-morrow," Mrs. Flushing laughed. She had a laugh like the cry of a jay, at once startling and joyless.
"What does any sane person want with those great big houses?" she demanded. "If you go downstairs after dark you're covered with black beetles, and the electric lights always goin' out. What would you do if spiders came out of the tap when you turned on the hot water?" she demanded, fixing her eye on Helen.Mrs. Ambrose shrugged her shoulders with a smile.
"This is what I like," said Mrs. Flushing. She jerked her head at the Villa. "A little house in a garden. I had one once in Ireland. One could lie in bed in the mornin' and pick roses outside the window with one's toes.""And the gardeners, weren't they surprised?" Mrs. Thornbury enquired.
"There were no gardeners," Mrs. Flushing chuckled. "Nobody but me and an old woman without any teeth. You know the poor in Ireland lose their teeth after they're twenty. But you wouldn't expect a politician to understand that--Arthur Balfour wouldn't understand that."Ridley sighed that he never expected any one to understand anything, least of all politicians.
"However," he concluded, "there's one advantage I find in extreme old age--nothing matters a hang except one's food and one's digestion. All I ask is to be left alone to moulder away in solitude. It's obvious that the world's going as fast as it can to--the Nethermost Pit, and all I can do is to sit still and consume as much of my own smoke as possible." He groaned, and with a melancholy glance laid the jam on his bread, for he felt the atmosphere of this abrupt lady distinctly unsympathetic."I always contradict my husband when he says that," said Mrs. Thornbury sweetly. "You men! Where would you be if it weren't for the women!" "Read the _Symposium_," said Ridley grimly. "_Symposium_?" cried Mrs. Flushing. "That's Latin or Greek? Tell me, is there a good translation?" "No," said Ridley. "You will have to learn Greek."
Mrs. Flushing cried, "Ah, ah, ah! I'd rather break stones in the road. I always envy the men who break stones and sit on those nice little heaps all day wearin' spectacles. I'd infinitely rather break stones than clean out poultry runs, or feed the cows, or--"Here Rachel came up from the lower garden with a book in her hand. "What's that book?" said Ridley, when she had shaken hands. "It's Gibbon," said Rachel as she sat down.
"_The_ _Decline_ _and_ _Fall_ _of_ _the_ _Roman_ _Empire_?" said Mrs. Thornbury. "A very wonderful book, I know. My dear father was always quoting it at us, with the result that we resolved never to read a line."
"Gibbon the historian?" enquired Mrs. Flushing. "I connect him with some of the happiest hours of my life. We used to lie in bed and read Gibbon--about the massacres of the Christians, I remember--when we were supposed to be asleep. It's no joke, I can tell you, readin' a great big book, in double columns, by a night-light, and the light that comes through a chink in the door. Then there were the moths--tiger moths, yellow moths, and horrid cockchafers. Louisa, my sister, would have the window open. I wanted it shut. We fought every night of our lives over that window. Have you ever seen a moth dyin' in a night-light?" she enquired.Again there was an interruption. Hewet and Hirst appeared at the drawing-room window and came up to the tea-table.
Rachel's heart beat hard. She was conscious of an extraordinary intensity in everything, as though their presence stripped some cover off the surface of things; but the greetings were remarkably commonplace."Excuse me," said Hirst, rising from his chair directly he had sat down. He went into the drawing-room, and returned with a cushion which he placed carefully upon his seat. "Rheumatism," he remarked, as he sat down for the second time. "The result of the dance?" Helen enquired. "Whenever I get at all run down I tend to be rheumatic," Hirst stated. He bent his wrist back sharply. "I hear little pieces of chalk grinding together!" Rachel looked at him. She was amused, and yet she was respectful; if such a thing could be, the upper part of her face seemed to laugh, and the lower part to check its laughter. Hewet picked up the book that lay on the ground. "You like this?" he asked in an undertone.
"No, I don't like it," she replied. She had indeed been trying all the afternoon to read it, and for some reason the glory which she had perceived at first had faded, and, read as she would, she could not grasp the meaning with her mind.
"It goes round, round, round, like a roll of oil-cloth," she hazarded. Evidently she meant Hewet alone to hear her words, but Hirst demanded, "What d'you mean?"
"Ugly in body, repulsive in mind," she thought, instead of thinking about Gibbon's style. "Yes, but strong, searching, unyielding in mind." She looked at his big head, a disproportionate part of which was occupied by the forehead, and at the direct, severe eyes.
"I give you up in despair," he said. He meant it lightly, but she took it seriously, and believed that her value as a human being was lessened because she did not happen to admire the style of Gibbon. The others were talking now in a group about the native villages which Mrs. Flushing ought to visit."I despair too," she said impetuously. "How are you going to judge people merely by their minds?"
"You agree with my spinster Aunt, I expect," said St. John in his jaunty manner, which was always irritating because it made the person he talked to appear unduly clumsy and in earnest. "'Be good, sweet maid'--I thought Mr. Kingsley and my Aunt were now obsolete.""One can be very nice without having read a book," she asserted. Very silly and simple her words sounded, and laid her open to derision. "Did I ever deny it?" Hirst enquired, raising his eyebrows.
Most unexpectedly Mrs. Thornbury here intervened, either because it was her mission to keep things smooth or because she had long wished to speak to Mr. Hirst, feeling as she did that young men were her sons.
"I have lived all my life with people like your Aunt, Mr. Hirst," she said, leaning forward in her chair. Her brown squirrel-like eyes became even brighter than usual. "They have never heard of Gibbon. They only care for their pheasants and their peasants. They are great big men who look so fine on horseback, as people must have done, I think, in the days of the great wars. Say what you like against them--they are animal, they are unintellectual; they don't read themselves, and they don't want others to read, but they are some of the finest and the kindest human beings on the face of the earth! You would be surprised at some of the stories I could tell. You have never guessed, perhaps, at all the romances that go on in the heart of the country. There are the people, I feel, among whom Shakespeare will be born if he is ever born again. In those old houses, up among the Downs--"
"My Aunt," Hirst interrupted, "spends her life in East Lambeth among the degraded poor. I only quoted my Aunt because she is inclined to persecute people she calls 'intellectual,' which is what I suspect Miss Vinrace of doing. It's all the fashion now. If you're clever it's always taken for granted that you're completely without sympathy, understanding, affection--all the things that really matter. Oh, you Christians! You're the most conceited, patronising, hypocritical set of old humbugs in the kingdom! Of course," he continued, "I'm the first to allow your country gentlemen great merits. For one thing, they're probably quite frank about their passions, which we are not. My father, who is a clergyman in Norfolk, says that there is hardly a squire in the country who does not--""But about Gibbon?" Hewet interrupted. The look of nervous tension which had come over every face was relaxed by the interruption.
"You find him monotonous, I suppose. But you know--" He opened the book, and began searching for passages to read aloud, and in a little time he found a good one which he considered suitable. But there was nothing in the world that bored Ridley more than being read aloud to, and he was besides scrupulously fastidious as to the dress and behaviour of ladies. In the space of fifteen minutes he had decided against Mrs. Flushing on the ground that her orange plume did not suit her complexion, that she spoke too loud, that she crossed her legs, and finally, when he saw her accept a cigarette that Hewet offered her, he jumped up, exclaiming something about "bar parlours," and left them. Mrs. Flushing was evidently relieved by his departure. She puffed her cigarette, stuck her legs out, and examined Helen closely as to the character and reputation of their common friend Mrs. Raymond Parry. By a series of little strategems she drove her to define Mrs. Parry as somewhat elderly, by no means beautiful, very much made up--an insolent old harridan, in short, whose parties were amusing because one met odd people; but Helen herself always pitied poor Mr. Parry, who was understood to be shut up downstairs with cases full of gems, while his wife enjoyed herself in the drawing-room. "Not that I believe what people say against her--although she hints, of course--" Upon which Mrs. Flushing cried out with delight:"She's my first cousin! Go on--go on!"
When Mrs. Flushing rose to go she was obviously delighted with her new acquaintances. She made three or four different plans for meeting or going on an expedition, or showing Helen the things they had bought, on her way to the carriage. She included them all in a vague but magnificent invitation.
As Helen returned to the garden again, Ridley's words of warning came into her head, and she hesitated a moment and looked at Rachel sitting between Hirst and Hewet. But she could draw no conclusions, for Hewet was still reading Gibbon aloud, and Rachel, for all the expression she had, might have been a shell, and his words water rubbing against her ears, as water rubs a shell on the edge of a rock.
Hewet's voice was very pleasant. When he reached the end of the period Hewet stopped, and no one volunteered any criticism.
"Yes," said Hirst. A shade of depression crossed his face. "I've never weighed more than ten stone in my life," he said, "which is ridiculous, considering my height, and I've actually gone down in weight since we came here. I daresay that accounts for the rheumatism." Again he jerked his wrist back sharply, so that Helen might hear the grinding of the chalk stones. She could not help smiling.
"It's no laughing matter for me, I assure you," he protested. "My mother's a chronic invalid, and I'm always expecting to be told that I've got heart disease myself. Rheumatism always goes to the heart in the end."
"For goodness' sake, Hirst," Hewet protested; "one might think you were an old cripple of eighty. If it comes to that, I had an aunt who died of cancer myself, but I put a bold face on it--" He rose and began tilting his chair backwards and forwards on its hind legs. "Is any one here inclined for a walk?" he said. "There's a magnificent walk, up behind the house. You come out on to a cliff and look right down into the sea. The rocks are all red; you can see them through the water. The other day I saw a sight that fairly took my breath away--about twenty jelly-fish, semi-transparent, pink, with long streamers, floating on the top of the waves.""Sure they weren't mermaids?" said Hirst. "It's much too hot to climb uphill." He looked at Helen, who showed no signs of moving. "Yes, it's too hot," Helen decided. There was a short silence. "I'd like to come," said Rachel.
"But she might have said that anyhow," Helen thought to herself as Hewet and Rachel went away together, and Helen was left alone with St. John, to St. John's obvious satisfaction.
He may have been satisfied, but his usual difficulty in deciding that one subject was more deserving of notice than another prevented him from speaking for some time. He sat staring intently at the head of a dead match, while Helen considered--so it seemed from the expression of her eyes--something not closely connected with the present moment. At last St. John exclaimed, "Damn! Damn everything! Damn everybody!" he added. "At Cambridge there are people to talk to."
"At Cambridge there are people to talk to," Helen echoed him, rhythmically and absentmindedly. Then she woke up. "By the way, have you settled what you're going to do--is it to be Cambridge or the Bar?"
He pursed his lips, but made no immediate answer, for Helen was still slightly inattentive. She had been thinking about Rachel and which of the two young men she was likely to fall in love with, and now sitting opposite to Hirst she thought, "He's ugly. It's a pity they're so ugly."
She did not include Hewet in this criticism; she was thinking of the clever, honest, interesting young men she knew, of whom Hirst was a good example, and wondering whether it was necessary that thought and scholarship should thus maltreat their bodies, and should thus elevate their minds to a very high tower from which the human race appeared to them like rats and mice squirming on the flat.
"And the future?" she reflected, vaguely envisaging a race of men becoming more and more like Hirst, and a race of women becoming more and more like Rachel. "Oh no," she concluded, glancing at him, "one wouldn't marry you. Well, then, the future of the race is in the hands of Susan and Arthur; no--that's dreadful. Of farm labourers; no--not of the English at all, but of Russians and Chinese." This train of thought did not satisfy her, and was interrupted by St. John, who began again:"I wish you knew Bennett. He's the greatest man in the world."
"Bennett?" she enquired. Becoming more at ease, St. John dropped the concentrated abruptness of his manner, and explained that Bennett was a man who lived in an old windmill six miles out of Cambridge. He lived the perfect life, according to St. John, very lonely, very simple, caring only for the truth of things, always ready to talk, and extraordinarily modest, though his mind was of the greatest.
"Don't you think," said St. John, when he had done describing him, "that kind of thing makes this kind of thing rather flimsy? Did you notice at tea how poor old Hewet had to change the conversation? How they were all ready to pounce upon me because they thought I was going to say something improper? It wasn't anything, really. If Bennett had been there he'd have said exactly what he meant to say, or he'd have got up and gone. But there's something rather bad for the character in that--I mean if one hasn't got Bennett's character. It's inclined to make one bitter. Should you say that I was bitter?"Helen did not answer, and he continued:
"Of course I am, disgustingly bitter, and it's a beastly thing to be. But the worst of me is that I'm so envious. I envy every one. I can't endure people who do things better than I do--perfectly absurd things too--waiters balancing piles of plates--even Arthur, because Susan's in love with him. I want people to like me, and they don't. It's partly my appearance, I expect," he continued, "though it's an absolute lie to say I've Jewish blood in me--as a matter of fact we've been in Norfolk, Hirst of Hirstbourne Hall, for three centuries at least. It must be awfully soothing to be like you--every one liking one at once.""I assure you they don't," Helen laughed. "They do," said Hirst with conviction. "In the first place, you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen; in the second, you have an exceptionally nice nature."
If Hirst had looked at her instead of looking intently at his teacup he would have seen Helen blush, partly with pleasure, partly with an impulse of affection towards the young man who had seemed, and would seem again, so ugly and so limited. She pitied him, for she suspected that he suffered, and she was interested in him, for many of the things he said seemed to her true; she admired the morality of youth, and yet she felt imprisoned. As if her instinct were to escape to something brightly coloured and impersonal, which she could hold in her hands, she went into the house and returned with her embroidery. But he was not interested in her embroidery; he did not even look at it.
"About Miss Vinrace," he began,--"oh, look here, do let's be St. John and Helen, and Rachel and Terence--what's she like? Does she reason, does she feel, or is she merely a kind of footstool?"
"Oh no," said Helen, with great decision. From her observations at tea she was inclined to doubt whether Hirst was the person to educate Rachel. She had gradually come to be interested in her niece, and fond of her; she disliked some things about her very much, she was amused by others; but she felt her, on the whole, a live if unformed human being, experimental, and not always fortunate in her experiments, but with powers of some kind, and a capacity for feeling. Somewhere in the depths of her, too, she was bound to Rachel by the indestructible if inexplicable ties of sex. "She seems vague, but she's a will of her own," she said, as if in the interval she had run through her qualities.
The embroidery, which was a matter for thought, the design being difficult and the colours wanting consideration, brought lapses into the dialogue when she seemed to be engrossed in her skeins of silk, or, with head a little drawn back and eyes narrowed, considered the effect of the whole. Thus she merely said, "Um-m-m" to St. John's next remark, "I shall ask her to go for a walk with me."Perhaps he resented this division of attention. He sat silent watching Helen closely. "You're absolutely happy," he proclaimed at last. "Yes?" Helen enquired, sticking in her needle. "Marriage, I suppose," said St. John. "Yes," said Helen, gently drawing her needle out. "Children?" St. John enquired. "Yes," said Helen, sticking her needle in again. "I don't know why I'm happy," she suddenly laughed, looking him full in the face. There was a considerable pause.
"There's an abyss between us," said St. John. His voice sounded as if it issued from the depths of a cavern in the rocks. "You're infinitely simpler than I am. Women always are, of course. That's the difficulty. One never knows how a woman gets there. Supposing all the time you're thinking, 'Oh, what a morbid young man!'"
Helen sat and looked at him with her needle in her hand. From her position she saw his head in front of the dark pyramid of a magnolia-tree. With one foot raised on the rung of a chair, and her elbow out in the attitude for sewing, her own figure possessed the sublimity of a woman's of the early world, spinning the thread of fate--the sublimity possessed by many women of the present day who fall into the attitude required by scrubbing or sewing. St. John looked at her."I suppose you've never paid any a compliment in the course of your life," he said irrelevantly. "I spoil Ridley rather," Helen considered. "I'm going to ask you point blank--do you like me?" After a certain pause, she replied, "Yes, certainly." "Thank God!" he exclaimed. "That's one mercy. You see," he continued with emotion, "I'd rather you liked me than any one I've ever met." "What about the five philosophers?" said Helen, with a laugh, stitching firmly and swiftly at her canvas. "I wish you'd describe them."
Hirst had no particular wish to describe them, but when he began to consider them he found himself soothed and strengthened. Far away to the other side of the world as they were, in smoky rooms, and grey medieval courts, they appeared remarkable figures, freespoken men with whom one could be at ease; incomparably more subtle in emotion than the people here. They gave him, certainly, what no woman could give him, not Helen even. Warming at the thought of them, he went on to lay his case before Mrs. Ambrose. Should he stay on at Cambridge or should he go to the Bar? One day he thought one thing, another day another. Helen listened attentively. At last, without any preface, she pronounced her decision.
"Leave Cambridge and go to the Bar," she said. He pressed her for her reasons. "I think you'd enjoy London more," she said. It did not seem a very subtle reason, but she appeared to think it sufficient. She looked at him against the background of flowering magnolia. There was something curious in the sight. Perhaps it was that the heavy waxlike flowers were so smooth and inarticulate, and his face--he had thrown his hat away, his hair was rumpled, he held his eye-glasses in his hand, so that a red mark appeared on either side of his nose--was so worried and garrulous. It was a beautiful bush, spreading very widely, and all the time she had sat there talking she had been noticing the patches of shade and the shape of the leaves, and the way the great white flowers sat in the midst of the green. She had noticed it half-consciously, nevertheless the pattern had become part of their talk. She laid down her sewing, and began to walk up and down the garden, and Hirst rose too and paced by her side. He was rather disturbed, uncomfortable, and full of thought. Neither of them spoke.
The sun was beginning to go down, and a change had come over the mountains, as if they were robbed of their earthly substance, and composed merely of intense blue mist. Long thin clouds of flamingo red, with edges like the edges of curled ostrich feathers, lay up and down the sky at different altitudes. The roofs of the town seemed to have sunk lower than usual; the cypresses appeared very black between the roofs, and the roofs themselves were brown and white. As usual in the evening, single cries and single bells became audible rising from beneath.St. John stopped suddenly. "Well, you must take the responsibility," he said. "I've made up my mind; I shall go to the Bar." His words were very serious, almost emotional; they recalled Helen after a second's hesitation. "I'm sure you're right," she said warmly, and shook the hand he held out. "You'll be a great man, I'm certain."
Then, as if to make him look at the scene, she swept her hand round the immense circumference of the view. From the sea, over the roofs of the town, across the crests of the mountains, over the river and the plain, and again across the crests of the mountains it swept until it reached the villa, the garden, the magnolia-tree, and the figures of Hirst and herself standing together, when it dropped to her side.
Hewet and Rachel had long ago reached the particular place on the edge of the cliff where, looking down into the sea, you might chance on jelly-fish and dolphins. Looking the other way, the vast expanse of land gave them a sensation which is given by no view, however extended, in England; the villages and the hills there having names, and the farthest horizon of hills as often as not dipping and showing a line of mist which is the sea; here the view was one of infinite sun-dried earth, earth pointed in pinnacles, heaped in vast barriers, earth widening and spreading away and away like the immense floor of the sea, earth chequered by day and by night, and partitioned into different lands, where famous cities were founded, and the races of men changed from dark savages to white civilised men, and back to dark savages again. Perhaps their English blood made this prospect uncomfortably impersonal and hostile to them, for having once turned their faces that way they next turned them to the sea, and for the rest of the time sat looking at the sea. The sea, though it was a thin and sparkling water here, which seemed incapable of surge or anger, eventually narrowed itself, clouded its pure tint with grey, and swirled through narrow channels and dashed in a shiver of broken waters against massive granite rocks. It was this sea that flowed up to the mouth of the Thames; and the Thames washed the roots of the city of London.Hewet's thoughts had followed some such course as this, for the first thing he said as they stood on the edge of the cliff was-- "I'd like to be in England!"
Rachel lay down on her elbow, and parted the tall grasses which grew on the edge, so that she might have a clear view. The water was very calm; rocking up and down at the base of the cliff, and so clear that one could see the red of the stones at the bottom of it. So it had been at the birth of the world, and so it had remained ever since. Probably no human being had ever broken that water with boat or with body. Obeying some impulse, she determined to mar that eternity of peace, and threw the largest pebble she could find. It struck the water, and the ripples spread out and out. Hewet looked down too."It's wonderful," he said, as they widened and ceased. The freshness and the newness seemed to him wonderful. He threw a pebble next. There was scarcely any sound. "But England," Rachel murmured in the absorbed tone of one whose eyes are concentrated upon some sight. "What d'you want with England?" "My friends chiefly," he said, "and all the things one does."
He could look at Rachel without her noticing it. She was still absorbed in the water and the exquisitely pleasant sensations which a little depth of the sea washing over rocks suggests. He noticed that she was wearing a dress of deep blue colour, made of a soft thin cotton stuff, which clung to the shape of her body. It was a body with the angles and hollows of a young woman's body not yet developed, but in no way distorted, and thus interesting and even lovable. Raising his eyes Hewet observed her head; she had taken her hat off, and the face rested on her hand. As she looked down into the sea, her lips were slightly parted. The expression was one of childlike intentness, as if she were watching for a fish to swim past over the clear red rocks. Nevertheless her twenty-four years of life had given her a look of reserve. Her hand, which lay on the ground, the fingers curling slightly in, was well shaped and competent; the square-tipped and nervous fingers were the fingers of a musician. With something like anguish Hewet realised that, far from being unattractive, her body was very attractive to him. She looked up suddenly. Her eyes were full of eagerness and interest."You write novels?" she asked. For the moment he could not think what he was saying. He was overcome with the desire to hold her in his arms. "Oh yes," he said. "That is, I want to write them." She would not take her large grey eyes off his face.
"Novels," she repeated. "Why do you write novels? You ought to write music. Music, you see"--she shifted her eyes, and became less desirable as her brain began to work, inflicting a certain change upon her face--"music goes straight for things. It says all there is to say at once. With writing it seems to me there's so much"--she paused for an expression, and rubbed her fingers in the earth--"scratching on the matchbox. Most of the time when I was reading Gibbon this afternoon I was horribly, oh infernally, damnably bored!" She gave a shake of laughter, looking at Hewet, who laughed too."_I_ shan't lend you books," he remarked.
"Why is it," Rachel continued, "that I can laugh at Mr. Hirst to you, but not to his face? At tea I was completely overwhelmed, not by his ugliness--by his mind." She enclosed a circle in the air with her hands. She realised with a great sense of comfort who easily she could talk to Hewet, those thorns or ragged corners which tear the surface of some relationships being smoothed away.
"So I observed," said Hewet. "That's a thing that never ceases to amaze me." He had recovered his composure to such an extent that he could light and smoke a cigarette, and feeling her ease, became happy and easy himself.
"The respect that women, even well-educated, very able women, have for men," he went on. "I believe we must have the sort of power over you that we're said to have over horses. They see us three times as big as we are or they'd never obey us. For that very reason, I'm inclined to doubt that you'll ever do anything even when you have the vote." He looked at her reflectively. She appeared very smooth and sensitive and young. "It'll take at least six generations before you're sufficiently thick-skinned to go into law courts and business offices. Consider what a bully the ordinary man is," he continued, "the ordinary hard-working, rather ambitious solicitor or man of business with a family to bring up and a certain position to maintain. And then, of course, the daughters have to give way to the sons; the sons have to be educated; they have to bully and shove for their wives and families, and so it all comes over again. And meanwhile there are the women in the background. . . . Do you really think that the vote will do you any good?"
"The vote?" Rachel repeated. She had to visualise it as a little bit of paper which she dropped into a box before she understood his question, and looking at each other they smiled at something absurd in the question.
"Not to me," she said. "But I play the piano. . . . Are men really like that?" she asked, returning to the question that interested her. "I'm not afraid of you." She looked at him easily.
"Oh, I'm different," Hewet replied. "I've got between six and seven hundred a year of my own. And then no one takes a novelist seriously, thank heavens. There's no doubt it helps to make up for the drudgery of a profession if a man's taken very, very seriously by every one--if he gets appointments, and has offices and a title, and lots of letters after his name, and bits of ribbon and degrees. I don't grudge it 'em, though sometimes it comes over me
-what an amazing concoction! What a miracle the masculine conception of life is--judges, civil servants, army, navy, Houses of Parliament, lord mayors--what a world we've made of it! Look at Hirst now. I assure you," he said, "not a day's passed since we came here without a discussion as to whether he's to stay on at Cambridge or to go to the Bar. It's his career--his sacred career. And if I've heard it twenty times, I'm sure his mother and sister have heard it five hundred times. Can't you imagine the family conclaves, and the sister told to run out and feed the rabbits because St. John must have the school-room to himself--'St. John's working,' 'St. John wants his tea brought to him.' Don't you know the kind of thing? No wonder that St. John thinks it a matter of considerable importance. It is too. He has to earn his living. But St. John's sister--" Hewet puffed in silence. "No one takes her seriously, poor dear. She feeds the rabbits."
"Yes," said Rachel. "I've fed rabbits for twenty-four years; it seems odd now." She looked meditative, and Hewet, who had been talking much at random and instinctively adopting the feminine point of view, saw that she would now talk about herself, which was what he wanted, for so they might come to know each other.She looked back meditatively upon her past life. "How do you spend your day?" he asked.
She meditated still. When she thought of their day it seemed to her it was cut into four pieces by their meals. These divisions were absolutely rigid, the contents of the day having to accommodate themselves within the four rigid bars. Looking back at her life, that was what she saw.
"Breakfast nine; luncheon one; tea five; dinner eight," she said.
"Then I went shopping with one of my aunts. Or we went to see some one, or we took a message; or we did something that had to be done--the taps might be leaking. They visit the poor a good deal--old char-women with bad legs, women who want tickets for hospitals. Or I used to walk in the park by myself. And after tea people sometimes called; or in summer we sat in the garden or played croquet; in winter I read aloud, while they worked; after dinner I played the piano and they wrote letters. If father was at home we had friends of his to dinner, and about once a month we went up to the play. Every now and then we dined out; sometimes I went to a dance in London, but that was difficult because of getting back. The people we saw were old family friends, and relations, but we didn't see many people. There was the clergyman, Mr. Pepper, and the Hunts. Father generally wanted to be quiet when he came home, because he works very hard at Hull. Also my aunts aren't very strong. A house takes up a lot of time if you do it properly. Our servants were always bad, and so Aunt Lucy used to do a good deal in the kitchen, and Aunt Clara, I think, spent most of the morning dusting the drawing-room and going through the linen and silver. Then there were the dogs. They had to be exercised, besides being washed and brushed. Now Sandy's dead, but Aunt Clara has a very old cockatoo that came from India. Everything in our house," she exclaimed, "comes from somewhere! It's full of old furniture, not really old, Victorian, things mother's family had or father's family had, which they didn't like to get rid of, I suppose, though we've really no room for them. It's rather a nice house," she continued, "except that it's a little dingy--dull I should say." She called up before her eyes a vision of the drawing-room at home; it was a large oblong room, with a square window opening on the garden. Green plush chairs stood against the wall; there was a heavy carved book-case, with glass doors, and a general impression of faded sofa covers, large spaces of pale green, and baskets with pieces of wool-work dropping out of them. Photographs from old Italian masterpieces hung on the walls, and views of Venetian bridges and Swedish waterfalls which members of the family had seen years ago. There were also one or two portraits of fathers and grandmothers, and an engraving of John Stuart Mill, after the picture by Watts. It was a room without definite character, being neither typically and openly hideous, nor strenuously artistic, nor really comfortable. Rachel roused herself from the contemplation of this familiar picture."But this isn't very interesting for you," she said, looking up.
"Good Lord!" Hewet exclaimed. "I've never been so much interested in my life." She then realised that while she had been thinking of Richmond, his eyes had never left her face. The knowledge of this excited her.
"Go on, please go on," he urged. "Let's imagine it's a Wednesday. You're all at luncheon. You sit there, and Aunt Lucy there, and Aunt Clara here"; he arranged three pebbles on the grass between them.
"Aunt Clara carves the neck of lamb," Rachel continued. She fixed her gaze upon the pebbles. "There's a very ugly yellow china stand in front of me, called a dumb waiter, on which are three dishes, one for biscuits, one for butter, and one for cheese. There's a pot of ferns. Then there's Blanche the maid, who snuffles because of her nose. We talk--oh yes, it's Aunt Lucy's afternoon at Walworth, so we're rather quick over luncheon. She goes off. She has a purple bag, and a black notebook. Aunt Clara has what they call a G.F.S. meeting in the drawing-room on Wednesday, so I take the dogs out. I go up Richmond Hill, along the terrace, into the park. It's the 18th of April--the same day as it is here. It's spring in England. The ground is rather damp. However, I cross the road and get on to the grass and we walk along, and I sing as I always do when I'm alone, until we come to the open place where you can see the whole of London beneath you on a clear day. Hampstead Church spire there, Westminster Cathedral over there, and factory chimneys about here. There's generally a haze over the low parts of London; but it's often blue over the park when London's in a mist. It's the open place that the balloons cross going over to Hurlingham. They're pale yellow. Well, then, it smells very good, particularly if they happen to be burning wood in the keeper's lodge which is there. I could tell you now how to get from place to place, and exactly what trees you'd pass, and where you'd cross the roads. You see, I played there when I was small. Spring is good, but it's best in the autumn when the deer are barking; then it gets dusky, and I go back through the streets, and you can't see people properly; they come past very quick, you just see their faces and then they're gone--that's what I like--and no one knows in the least what you're doing--""But you have to be back for tea, I suppose?" Hewet checked her.
"Tea? Oh yes. Five o'clock. Then I say what I've done, and my aunts say what they've done, and perhaps some one comes in: Mrs. Hunt, let's suppose. She's an old lady with a lame leg. She has or she once had eight children; so we ask after them. They're all over the world; so we ask where they are, and sometimes they're ill, or they're stationed in a cholera district, or in some place where it only rains once in five months. Mrs. Hunt," she said with a smile, "had a son who was hugged to death by a bear."
Here she stopped and looked at Hewet to see whether he was amused by the same things that amused her. She was reassured. But she thought it necessary to apologise again; she had been talking too much."You can't conceive how it interests me," he said. Indeed, his cigarette had gone out, and he had to light another.
"Why does it interest you?" she asked. "Partly because you're a woman," he replied. When he said this, Rachel, who had become oblivious of anything, and had reverted to a childlike state of interest and pleasure, lost her freedom and became self-conscious. She felt herself at once singular and under observation, as she felt with St. John Hirst. She was about to launch into an argument which would have made them both feel bitterly against each other, and to define sensations which had no such importance as words were bound to give them when Hewet led her thoughts in a different direction.
"I've often walked along the streets where people live all in a row, and one house is exactly like another house, and wondered what on earth the women were doing inside," he said. "Just consider: it's the beginning of the twentieth century, and until a few years ago no woman had ever come out by herself and said things at all. There it was going on in the background, for all those thousands of years, this curious silent unrepresented life. Of course we're always writing about women--abusing them, or jeering at them, or worshipping them; but it's never come from women themselves. I believe we still don't know in the least how they live, or what they feel, or what they do precisely. If one's a man, the only confidences one gets are from young women about their love affairs. But the lives of women of forty, of unmarried women, of working women, of women who keep shops and bring up children, of women like your aunts or Mrs. Thornbury or Miss Allan--one knows nothing whatever about them. They won't tell you. Either they're afraid, or they've got a way of treating men. It's the man's view that's represented, you see. Think of a railway train: fifteen carriages for men who want to smoke. Doesn't it make your blood boil? If I were a woman I'd blow some one's brains out. Don't you laugh at us a great deal? Don't you think it all a great humbug? You, I mean--how does it all strike you?"
His determination to know, while it gave meaning to their talk, hampered her; he seemed to press further and further, and made it appear so important. She took some time to answer, and during that time she went over and over the course of her twenty-four years, lighting now on one point, now on another--on her aunts, her mother, her father, and at last her mind fixed upon her aunts and her father, and she tried to describe them as at this distance they appeared to her.
They were very much afraid of her father. He was a great dim force in the house, by means of which they held on to the great world which is represented every morning in the _Times_. But the real life of the house was something quite different from this. It went on independently of Mr. Vinrace, and tended to hide itself from him. He was goodhumoured towards them, but contemptuous. She had always taken it for granted that his point of view was just, and founded upon an ideal scale of things where the life of one person was absolutely more important than the life of another, and that in that scale they were much less importance than he was. But did she really believe that? Hewet's words made her think. She always submitted to her father, just as they did, but it was her aunts who influenced her really; her aunts who built up the fine, closely woven substance of their life at home. They were less splendid but more natural than her father was. All her rages had been against them; it was their world with its four meals, its punctuality, and servants on the stairs at half-past ten, that she examined so closely and wanted so vehemently to smash to atoms. Following these thoughts she looked up and said:
"And there's a sort of beauty in it--there they are at Richmond at this very moment building things up. They're all wrong, perhaps, but there's a sort of beauty in it," she repeated. "It's so unconscious, so modest. And yet they feel things. They do mind if people die. Old spinsters are always doing things. I don't quite know what they do. Only that was what I felt when I lived with them. It was very real."
She reviewed their little journeys to and fro, to Walworth, to charwomen with bad legs, to meetings for this and that, their minute acts of charity and unselfishness which flowered punctually from a definite view of what they ought to do, their friendships, their tastes and habits; she saw all these things like grains of sand falling, falling through innumerable days, making an atmosphere and building up a solid mass, a background. Hewet observed her as she considered this."Were you happy?" he demanded. Again she had become absorbed in something else, and he called her back to an unusually vivid consciousness of herself.
"I was both," she replied. "I was happy and I was miserable. You've no conception what it's like--to be a young woman." She looked straight at him. "There are terrors and agonies," she said, keeping her eye on him as if to detect the slightest hint of laughter."I can believe it," he said. He returned her look with perfect sincerity. "Women one sees in the streets," she said. "Prostitutes?" "Men kissing one." He nodded his head. "You were never told?" She shook her head.
"And then," she began and stopped. Here came in the great space of life into which no one had ever penetrated. All that she had been saying about her father and her aunts and walks in Richmond Park, and what they did from hour to hour, was merely on the surface. Hewet was watching her. Did he demand that she should describe that also? Why did he sit so near and keep his eye on her? Why did they not have done with this searching and agony? Why did they not kiss each other simply? She wished to kiss him. But all the time she went on spinning out words.
"A girl is more lonely than a boy. No one cares in the least what she does. Nothing's expected of her. Unless one's very pretty people don't listen to what you say. . . . And that is what I like," she added energetically, as if the memory were very happy. "I like walking in Richmond Park and singing to myself and knowing it doesn't matter a damn to anybody. I like seeing things go on--as we saw you that night when you didn't see us--I love the freedom of it--it's like being the wind or the sea." She turned with a curious fling of her hands and looked at the sea. It was still very blue, dancing away as far as the eye could reach, but the light on it was yellower, and the clouds were turning flamingo red.
A feeling of intense depression crossed Hewet's mind as she spoke. It seemed plain that she would never care for one person rather than another; she was evidently quite indifferent to him; they seemed to come very near, and then they were as far apart as ever again; and her gesture as she turned away had been oddly beautiful."Nonsense," he said abruptly. "You like people. You like admiration. Your real grudge against Hirst is that he doesn't admire you." She made no answer for some time. Then she said: "That's probably true. Of course I like people--I like almost every one I've ever met."
She turned her back on the sea and regarded Hewet with friendly if critical eyes. He was good-looking in the sense that he had always had a sufficiency of beef to eat and fresh air to breathe. His head was big; the eyes were also large; though generally vague they could be forcible; and the lips were sensitive. One might account him a man of considerable passion and fitful energy, likely to be at the mercy of moods which had little relation to facts; at once tolerant and fastidious. The breadth of his forehead showed capacity for thought. The interest with which Rachel looked at him was heard in her voice."What novels do you write?" she asked.
"I want to write a novel about Silence," he said; "the things people don't say. But the difficulty is immense." He sighed. "However, you don't care," he continued. He looked at her almost severely. "Nobody cares. All you read a novel for is to see what sort of person the writer is, and, if you know him, which of his friends he's put in. As for the novel itself, the whole conception, the way one's seen the thing, felt about it, make it stand in relation to other things, not one in a million cares for that. And yet I sometimes wonder whether there's anything else in the whole world worth doing. These other people," he indicated the hotel, "are always wanting something they can't get. But there's an extraordinary satisfaction in writing, even in the attempt to write. What you said just now is true: one doesn't want to be things; one wants merely to be allowed to see them."
Some of the satisfaction of which he spoke came into his face as he gazed out to sea. It was Rachel's turn now to feel depressed. As he talked of writing he had become suddenly impersonal. He might never care for any one; all that desire to know her and get at her, which she had felt pressing on her almost painfully, had completely vanished."Are you a good writer?" she asked. "Yes," he said. "I'm not first-rate, of course; I'm good second-rate; about as good as Thackeray, I should say."
Rachel was amazed. For one thing it amazed her to hear Thackeray called second-rate; and then she could not widen her point of view to believe that there could be great writers in existence at the present day, or if there were, that any one she knew could be a great writer, and his self-confidence astounded her, and he became more and more remote.
"My other novel," Hewet continued, "is about a young man who is obsessed by an idea-the idea of being a gentleman. He manages to exist at Cambridge on a hundred pounds a year. He has a coat; it was once a very good coat. But the trousers--they're not so good. Well, he goes up to London, gets into good society, owing to an early-morning adventure on the banks of the Serpentine. He is led into telling lies--my idea, you see, is to show the gradual corruption of the soul--calls himself the son of some great landed proprietor in Devonshire. Meanwhile the coat becomes older and older, and he hardly dares to wear the trousers. Can't you imagine the wretched man, after some splendid evening of debauchery, contemplating these garments--hanging them over the end of the bed, arranging them now in full light, now in shade, and wondering whether they will survive him, or he will survive them? Thoughts of suicide cross his mind. He has a friend, too, a man who somehow subsists upon selling small birds, for which he sets traps in the fields near Uxbridge. They're scholars, both of them. I know one or two wretched starving creatures like that who quote Aristotle at you over a fried herring and a pint of porter. Fashionable life, too, I have to represent at some length, in order to show my hero under all circumstances. Lady Theo Bingham Bingley, whose bay mare he had the good fortune to stop, is the daughter of a very fine old Tory peer. I'm going to describe the kind of parties I once went to--the fashionable intellectuals, you know, who like to have the latest book on their tables. They give parties, river parties, parties where you play games. There's no difficulty in conceiving incidents; the difficulty is to put them into shape--not to get run away with, as Lady Theo was. It ended disastrously for her, poor woman, for the book, as I planned it, was going to end in profound and sordid respectability. Disowned by her father, she marries my hero, and they live in a snug little villa outside Croydon, in which town he is set up as a house agent. He never succeeds in becoming a real gentleman after all. That's the interesting part of it. Does it seem to you the kind of book you'd like to read?" he enquired; "or perhaps you'd like my Stuart tragedy better," he continued, without waiting for her to answer him. "My idea is that there's a certain quality of beauty in the past, which the ordinary historical novelist completely ruins by his absurd conventions. The moon becomes the Regent of the Skies. People clap spurs to their horses, and so on. I'm going to treat people as though they were exactly the same as we are. The advantage is that, detached from modern conditions, one can make them more intense and more abstract then people who live as we do."Rachel had listened to all this with attention, but with a certain amount of bewilderment. They both sat thinking their own thoughts.
"I'm not like Hirst," said Hewet, after a pause; he spoke meditatively; "I don't see circles of chalk between people's feet. I sometimes wish I did. It seems to me so tremendously complicated and confused. One can't come to any decision at all; one's less and less capable of making judgments. D'you find that? And then one never knows what any one feels. We're all in the dark. We try to find out, but can you imagine anything more ludicrous than one person's opinion of another person? One goes along thinking one knows; but one really doesn't know."
As he said this he was leaning on his elbow arranging and rearranging in the grass the stones which had represented Rachel and her aunts at luncheon. He was speaking as much to himself as to Rachel. He was reasoning against the desire, which had returned with intensity, to take her in his arms; to have done with indirectness; to explain exactly what he felt. What he said was against his belief; all the things that were important about her he knew; he felt them in the air around them; but he said nothing; he went on arranging the stones."I like you; d'you like me?" Rachel suddenly observed.
"I like you immensely," Hewet replied, speaking with the relief of a person who is unexpectedly given an opportunity of saying what he wants to say. He stopped moving the pebbles."Mightn't we call each other Rachel and Terence?" he asked. "Terence," Rachel repeated. "Terence--that's like the cry of an owl."
She looked up with a sudden rush of delight, and in looking at Terence with eyes widened by pleasure she was struck by the change that had come over the sky behind them. The substantial blue day had faded to a paler and more ethereal blue; the clouds were pink, far away and closely packed together; and the peace of evening had replaced the heat of the southern afternoon, in which they had started on their walk."It must be late!" she exclaimed. It was nearly eight o'clock.
"But eight o'clock doesn't count here, does it?" Terence asked, as they got up and turned inland again. They began to walk rather quickly down the hill on a little path between the olive trees.
They felt more intimate because they shared the knowledge of what eight o'clock in Richmond meant. Terence walked in front, for there was not room for them side by side.
"What I want to do in writing novels is very much what you want to do when you play the piano, I expect," he began, turning and speaking over his shoulder. "We want to find out what's behind things, don't we?--Look at the lights down there," he continued, "scattered about anyhow. Things I feel come to me like lights. . . . I want to combine them. . . . Have you ever seen fireworks that make figures? . . . I want to make figures. . . . Is that what you want to do?"Now they were out on the road and could walk side by side.
"When I play the piano? Music is different. . . . But I see what you mean." They tried to invent theories and to make their theories agree. As Hewet had no knowledge of music, Rachel took his stick and drew figures in the thin white dust to explain how Bach wrote his fugues.
"My musical gift was ruined," he explained, as they walked on after one of these demonstrations, "by the village organist at home, who had invented a system of notation which he tried to teach me, with the result that I never got to the tune-playing at all. My mother thought music wasn't manly for boys; she wanted me to kill rats and birds--that's the worst of living in the country. We live in Devonshire. It's the loveliest place in the world. Only--it's always difficult at home when one's grown up. I'd like you to know one of my sisters. . . . Oh, here's your gate--" He pushed it open. They paused for a moment. She could not ask him to come in. She could not say that she hoped they would meet again; there was nothing to be said, and so without a word she went through the gate, and was soon invisible. Directly Hewet lost sight of her, he felt the old discomfort return, even more strongly than before. Their talk had been interrupted in the middle, just as he was beginning to say the things he wanted to say. After all, what had they been able to say? He ran his mind over the things they had said, the random, unnecessary things which had eddied round and round and used up all the time, and drawn them so close together and flung them so far apart, and left him in the end unsatisfied, ignorant still of what she felt and of what she was like. What was the use of talking, talking, merely talking?
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 might discover what was in Rachel's mind, but it was difficult to judge, for sometimes she would agree with the gloomiest thing that was said, at other times she refused to listen, and rammed Helen's theories down her throat with laughter, chatter, ridicule of the wildest, and fierce bursts of anger even at what she called the "croaking of a raven in the mud.""It's hard enough without that," she asserted. "What's hard?" Helen demanded. "Life," she replied, and then they both became silent.
Helen might draw her own conclusions as to why life was hard, as to why an hour later, perhaps, life was something so wonderful and vivid that the eyes of Rachel beholding it were positively exhilarating to a spectator. True to her creed, she did not attempt to interfere, although there were enough of those weak moments of depression to make it perfectly easy for a less scrupulous person to press through and know all, and perhaps Rachel was sorry that she did not choose. All these moods ran themselves into one general effect, which Helen compared to the sliding of a river, quick, quicker, quicker still, as it races to a waterfall. Her instinct was to cry out Stop! but even had there been any use in crying Stop! she would have refrained, thinking it best that things should take their way, the water racing because the earth was shaped to make it race.
It seemed that Rachel herself had no suspicion that she was watched, or that there was anything in her manner likely to draw attention to her. What had happened to her she did not know. Her mind was very much in the condition of the racing water to which Helen compared it. She wanted to see Terence; she was perpetually wishing to see him when he was not there; it was an agony to miss seeing him; agonies were strewn all about her day on account of him, but she never asked herself what this force driving through her life arose from. She thought of no result any more than a tree perpetually pressed downwards by the wind considers the result of being pressed downwards by the wind.
During the two or three weeks which had passed since their walk, half a dozen notes from him had accumulated in her drawer. She would read them, and spend the whole morning in a daze of happiness; the sunny land outside the window being no less capable of analysing its own colour and heat than she was of analysing hers. In these moods she found it impossible to read or play the piano, even to move being beyond her inclination. The time passed without her noticing it. When it was dark she was drawn to the window by the lights of the hotel. A light that went in and out was the light in Terence's window: there he sat, reading perhaps, or now he was walking up and down pulling out one book after another; and now he was seated in his chair again, and she tried to imagine what he was thinking about. The steady lights marked the rooms where Terence sat with people moving round him. Every one who stayed in the hotel had a peculiar romance and interest about them. They were not ordinary people. She would attribute wisdom to Mrs. Elliot, beauty to Susan Warrington, a splendid vitality to Evelyn M., because Terence spoke to them. As unreflecting and pervasive were the moods of depression. Her mind was as the landscape outside when dark beneath clouds and straitly lashed by wind and hail. Again she would sit passive in her chair exposed to pain, and Helen's fantastical or gloomy words were like so many darts goading her to cry out against the hardness of life. Best of all were the moods when for no reason again this stress of feeling slackened, and life went on as usual, only with a joy and colour in its events that was unknown before; they had a significance like that which she had seen in the tree: the nights were black bars separating her from the days; she would have liked to run all the days into one long continuity of sensation. Although these moods were directly or indirectly caused by the presence of Terence or the thought of him, she never said to herself that she was in love with him, or considered what was to happen if she continued to feel such things, so that Helen's image of the river sliding on to the waterfall had a great likeness to the facts, and the alarm which Helen sometimes felt was justified.
In her curious condition of unanalysed sensations she was incapable of making a plan which should have any effect upon her state of mind. She abandoned herself to the mercy of accidents, missing Terence one day, meeting him the next, receiving his letters always with a start of surprise. Any woman experienced in the progress of courtship would have come by certain opinions from all this which would have given her at least a theory to go upon; but no one had ever been in love with Rachel, and she had never been in love with any one. Moreover, none of the books she read, from _Wuthering_ _Heights_ to _Man_ _and_ _Superman_, and the plays of Ibsen, suggested from their analysis of love that what their heroines felt was what she was feeling now. It seemed to her that her sensations had no name.
She met Terence frequently. When they did not meet, he was apt to send a note with a book or about a book, for he had not been able after all to neglect that approach to intimacy. But sometimes he did not come or did not write for several days at a time. Again when they met their meeting might be one of inspiriting joy or of harassing despair. Over all their partings hung the sense of interruption, leaving them both unsatisfied, though ignorant that the other shared the feeling.
If Rachel was ignorant of her own feelings, she was even more completely ignorant of his. At first he moved as a god; as she came to know him better he was still the centre of light, but combined with this beauty a wonderful power of making her daring and confident of herself. She was conscious of emotions and powers which she had never suspected in herself, and of a depth in the world hitherto unknown. When she thought of their relationship she saw rather than reasoned, representing her view of what Terence felt by a picture of him drawn across the room to stand by her side. This passage across the room amounted to a physical sensation, but what it meant she did not know.
Thus the time went on, wearing a calm, bright look upon its surface. Letters came from England, letters came from Willoughby, and the days accumulated their small events which shaped the year. Superficially, three odes of Pindar were mended, Helen covered about five inches of her embroidery, and St. John completed the first two acts of a play. He and Rachel being now very good friends, he read them aloud to her, and she was so genuinely impressed by the skill of his rhythms and the variety of his adjectives, as well as by the fact that he was Terence's friend, that he began to wonder whether he was not intended for literature rather than for law. It was a time of profound thought and sudden revelations for more than one couple, and several single people.
A Sunday came, which no one in the villa with the exception of Rachel and the Spanish maid proposed to recognise. Rachel still went to church, because she had never, according to Helen, taken the trouble to think about it. Since they had celebrated the service at the hotel she went there expecting to get some pleasure from her passage across the garden and through the hall of the hotel, although it was very doubtful whether she would see Terence, or at any rate have the chance of speaking to him.
As the greater number of visitors at the hotel were English, there was almost as much difference between Sunday and Wednesday as there is in England, and Sunday appeared here as there, the mute black ghost or penitent spirit of the busy weekday. The English could not pale the sunshine, but they could in some miraculous way slow down the hours, dull the incidents, lengthen the meals, and make even the servants and page-boys wear a look of boredom and propriety. The best clothes which every one put on helped the general effect; it seemed that no lady could sit down without bending a clean starched petticoat, and no gentleman could breathe without a sudden crackle from a stiff shirtfront. As the hands of the clock neared eleven, on this particular Sunday, various people tended to draw together in the hall, clasping little red-leaved books in their hands. The clock marked a few minutes to the hour when a stout black figure passed through the hall with a preoccupied expression, as though he would rather not recognise salutations, although aware of them, and disappeared down the corridor which led from it."Mr. Bax," Mrs. Thornbury whispered.
The little group of people then began to move off in the same direction as the stout black figure. Looked at in an odd way by people who made no effort to join them, they moved with one exception slowly and consciously towards the stairs. Mrs. Flushing was the exception. She came running downstairs, strode across the hall, joined the procession much out of breath, demanding of Mrs. Thornbury in an agitated whisper, "Where, where?"
"We are all going," said Mrs. Thornbury gently, and soon they were descending the stairs two by two. Rachel was among the first to descend. She did not see that Terence and Hirst came in at the rear possessed of no black volume, but of one thin book bound in light-blue cloth, which St. John carried under his arm.
The chapel was the old chapel of the monks. It was a profound cool place where they had said Mass for hundreds of years, and done penance in the cold moonlight, and worshipped old brown pictures and carved saints which stood with upraised hands of blessing in the hollows in the walls. The transition from Catholic to Protestant worship had been bridged by a time of disuse, when there were no services, and the place was used for storing jars of oil, liqueur, and deck-chairs; the hotel flourishing, some religious body had taken the place in hand, and it was now fitted out with a number of glazed yellow benches, claret-coloured footstools; it had a small pulpit, and a brass eagle carrying the Bible on its back, while the piety of different women had supplied ugly squares of carpet, and long strips of embroidery heavily wrought with monograms in gold.
As the congregation entered they were met by mild sweet chords issuing from a harmonium, where Miss Willett, concealed from view by a baize curtain, struck emphatic chords with uncertain fingers. The sound spread through the chapel as the rings of water spread from a fallen stone. The twenty or twenty-five people who composed the congregation first bowed their heads and then sat up and looked about them. It was very quiet, and the light down here seemed paler than the light above. The usual bows and smiles were dispensed with, but they recognised each other. The Lord's Prayer was read over them. As the childlike battle of voices rose, the congregation, many of whom had only met on the staircase, felt themselves pathetically united and well-disposed towards each other. As if the prayer were a torch applied to fuel, a smoke seemed to rise automatically and fill the place with the ghosts of innumerable services on innumerable Sunday mornings at home. Susan Warrington in particular was conscious of the sweetest sense of sisterhood, as she covered her face with her hands and saw slips of bent backs through the chinks between her fingers. Her emotions rose calmly and evenly, approving of herself and of life at the same time. It was all so quiet and so good. But having created this peaceful atmosphere Mr. Bax suddenly turned the page and read a psalm. Though he read it with no change of voice the mood was broken.
"Be merciful unto me, O God," he read, "for man goeth about to devour me: he is daily fighting and troubling me. . . . They daily mistake my words: all that they imagine is to do me evil. They hold all together and keep themselves close. . . . Break their teeth, O God, in their mouths; smite the jaw-bones of the lions, O Lord: let them fall away like water that runneth apace; and when they shoot their arrows let them be rooted out."
Nothing in Susan's experience at all corresponded with this, and as she had no love of language she had long ceased to attend to such remarks, although she followed them with the same kind of mechanical respect with which she heard many of Lear's speeches read aloud. Her mind was still serene and really occupied with praise of her own nature and praise of God, that is of the solemn and satisfactory order of the world.
But it could be seen from a glance at their faces that most of the others, the men in particular, felt the inconvenience of the sudden intrusion of this old savage. They looked more secular and critical as then listened to the ravings of the old black man with a cloth round his loins cursing with vehement gesture by a camp-fire in the desert. After that there was a general sound of pages being turned as if they were in class, and then they read a little bit of the Old Testament about making a well, very much as school boys translate an easy passage from the _Anabasis_ when they have shut up their French grammar. Then they returned to the New Testament and the sad and beautiful figure of Christ. While Christ spoke they made another effort to fit his interpretation of life upon the lives they lived, but as they were all very different, some practical, some ambitious, some stupid, some wild and experimental, some in love, and others long past any feeling except a feeling of comfort, they did very different things with the words of Christ.
From their faces it seemed that for the most part they made no effort at all, and, recumbent as it were, accepted the ideas the words gave as representing goodness, in the same way, no doubt, as one of those industrious needlewomen had accepted the bright ugly pattern on her mat as beauty.
Whatever the reason might be, for the first time in her life, instead of slipping at once into some curious pleasant cloud of emotion, too familiar to be considered, Rachel listened critically to what was being said. By the time they had swung in an irregular way from prayer to psalm, from psalm to history, from history to poetry, and Mr. Bax was giving out his text, she was in a state of acute discomfort. Such was the discomfort she felt when forced to sit through an unsatisfactory piece of music badly played. Tantalised, enraged by the clumsy insensitiveness of the conductor, who put the stress on the wrong places, and annoyed by the vast flock of the audience tamely praising and acquiescing without knowing or caring, so she was not tantalized and enraged, only here, with eyes half-shut and lips pursed together, the atmosphere of forced solemnity increased her anger. All round her were people pretending to feel what they did not feel, while somewhere above her floated the idea which they could none of them grasp, which they pretended to grasp, always escaping out of reach, a beautiful idea, an idea like a butterfly. One after another, vast and hard and cold, appeared to her the churches all over the world where this blundering effort and misunderstanding were perpetually going on, great buildings, filled with innumerable men and women, not seeing clearly, who finally gave up the effort to see, and relapsed tamely into praise and acquiescence, half-shutting their eyes and pursing up their lips. The thought had the same sort of physical discomfort as is caused by a film of mist always coming between the eyes and the printed page. She did her best to brush away the film and to conceive something to be worshipped as the service went on, but failed, always misled by the voice of Mr. Bax saying things which misrepresented the idea, and by the patter of baaing inexpressive human voices falling round her like damp leaves. The effort was tiring and dispiriting. She ceased to listen, and fixed her eyes on the face of a woman near her, a hospital nurse, whose expression of devout attention seemed to prove that she was at any rate receiving satisfaction. But looking at her carefully she came to the conclusion that the hospital nurse was only slavishly acquiescent, and that the look of satisfaction was produced by no splendid conception of God within her. How indeed, could she conceive anything far outside her own experience, a woman with a commonplace face like hers, a little round red face, upon which trivial duties and trivial spites had drawn lines, whose weak blue eyes saw without intensity or individuality, whose features were blurred, insensitive, and callous? She was adoring something shallow and smug, clinging to it, so the obstinate mouth witnessed, with the assiduity of a limpet; nothing would tear her from her demure belief in her own virtue and the virtues of her religion. She was a limpet, with the sensitive side of her stuck to a rock, for ever dead to the rush of fresh and beautiful things past her. The face of this single worshipper became printed on Rachel's mind with an impression of keen horror, and she had it suddenly revealed to her what Helen meant and St. John meant when they proclaimed their hatred of Christianity. With the violence that now marked her feelings, she rejected all that she had implicitly believed.
Meanwhile Mr. Bax was half-way through the second lesson. She looked at him. He was a man of the world with supple lips and an agreeable manner, he was indeed a man of much kindliness and simplicity, though by no means clever, but she was not in the mood to give any one credit for such qualities, and examined him as though he were an epitome of all the vices of his service.
Right at the back of the chapel Mrs. Flushing, Hirst, and Hewet sat in a row in a very different frame of mind. Hewet was staring at the roof with his legs stuck out in front of him, for as he had never tried to make the service fit any feeling or idea of his, he was able to enjoy the beauty of the language without hindrance. His mind was occupied first with accidental things, such as the women's hair in front of him, the light on the faces, then with the words which seemed to him magnificent, and then more vaguely with the characters of the other worshippers. But when he suddenly perceived Rachel, all these thoughts were driven out of his head, and he thought only of her. The psalms, the prayers, the Litany, and the sermon were all reduced to one chanting sound which paused, and then renewed itself, a little higher or a little lower. He stared alternately at Rachel and at the ceiling, but his expression was now produced not by what he saw but by something in his mind. He was almost as painfully disturbed by his thoughts as she was by hers.
Early in the service Mrs. Flushing had discovered that she had taken up a Bible instead of a prayer-book, and, as she was sitting next to Hirst, she stole a glance over his shoulder. He was reading steadily in the thin pale-blue volume. Unable to understand, she peered closer, upon which Hirst politely laid the book before her, pointing to the first line of a Greek poem and then to the translation opposite."What's that?" she whispered inquisitively. "Sappho," he replied. "The one Swinburne did--the best thing that's ever been written."
Mrs. Flushing could not resist such an opportunity. She gulped down the Ode to Aphrodite during the Litany, keeping herself with difficulty from asking when Sappho lived, and what else she wrote worth reading, and contriving to come in punctually at the end with "the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and the life everlastin'. Amen."
Meanwhile Hirst took out an envelope and began scribbling on the back of it. When Mr. Bax mounted the pulpit he shut up Sappho with his envelope between the pages, settled his spectacles, and fixed his gaze intently upon the clergyman. Standing in the pulpit he looked very large and fat; the light coming through the greenish unstained window-glass made his face appear smooth and white like a very large egg.
He looked round at all the faces looking mildly up at him, although some of them were the faces of men and women old enough to be his grandparents, and gave out his text with weighty significance. The argument of the sermon was that visitors to this beautiful land, although they were on a holiday, owed a duty to the natives. It did not, in truth, differ very much from a leading article upon topics of general interest in the weekly newspapers. It rambled with a kind of amiable verbosity from one heading to another, suggesting that all human beings are very much the same under their skins, illustrating this by the resemblance of the games which little Spanish boys play to the games little boys in London streets play, observing that very small things do influence people, particularly natives; in fact, a very dear friend of Mr. Bax's had told him that the success of our rule in India, that vast country, largely depended upon the strict code of politeness which the English adopted towards the natives, which led to the remark that small things were not necessarily small, and that somehow to the virtue of sympathy, which was a virtue never more needed than to-day, when we lived in a time of experiment and upheaval--witness the aeroplane and wireless telegraph, and there were other problems which hardly presented themselves to our fathers, but which no man who called himself a man could leave unsettled. Here Mr. Bax became more definitely clerical, if it were possible, he seemed to speak with a certain innocent craftiness, as he pointed out that all this laid a special duty upon earnest Christians. What men were inclined to say now was, "Oh, that fellow--he's a parson." What we want them to say is, "He's a good fellow"--in other words, "He is my brother." He exhorted them to keep in touch with men of the modern type; they must sympathise with their multifarious interests in order to keep before their eyes that whatever discoveries were made there was one discovery which could not be superseded, which was indeed as much of a necessity to the most successful and most brilliant of them all as it had been to their fathers. The humblest could help; the least important things had an influence (here his manner became definitely priestly and his remarks seemed to be directed to women, for indeed Mr. Bax's congregations were mainly composed of women, and he was used to assigning them their duties in his innocent clerical campaigns). Leaving more definite instruction, he passed on, and his theme broadened into a peroration for which he drew a long breath and stood very upright,--"As a drop of water, detached, alone, separate from others, falling from the cloud and entering the great ocean, alters, so scientists tell us, not only the immediate spot in the ocean where it falls, but all the myriad drops which together compose the great universe of waters, and by this means alters the configuration of the globe and the lives of millions of sea creatures, and finally the lives of the men and women who seek their living upon the shores--as all this is within the compass of a single drop of water, such as any rain shower sends in millions to lose themselves in the earth, to lose themselves we say, but we know very well that the fruits of the earth could not flourish without them--so is a marvel comparable to this within the reach of each one of us, who dropping a little word or a little deed into the great universe alters it; yea, it is a solemn thought, _alters_ it, for good or for evil, not for one instant, or in one vicinity, but throughout the entire race, and for all eternity." Whipping round as though to avoid applause, he continued with the same breath, but in a different tone of voice,--"And now to God the Father . . ."
He gave his blessing, and then, while the solemn chords again issued from the harmonium behind the curtain, the different people began scraping and fumbling and moving very awkwardly and consciously towards the door. Half-way upstairs, at a point where the light and sounds of the upper world conflicted with the dimness and the dying hymn-tune of the under, Rachel felt a hand drop upon her shoulder."Miss Vinrace," Mrs. Flushing whispered peremptorily, "stay to luncheon. It's such a dismal day. They don't even give one beef for luncheon. Please stay."
Here they came out into the hall, where once more the little band was greeted with curious respectful glances by the people who had not gone to church, although their clothing made it clear that they approved of Sunday to the very verge of going to church. Rachel felt unable to stand any more of this particular atmosphere, and was about to say she must go back, when Terence passed them, drawn along in talk with Evelyn M. Rachel thereupon contented herself with saying that the people looked very respectable, which negative remark Mrs. Flushing interpreted to mean that she would stay."English people abroad!" she returned with a vivid flash of malice. "Ain't they awful! But we won't stay here," she continued, plucking at Rachel's arm. "Come up to my room." She bore her past Hewet and Evelyn and the Thornburys and the Elliots. Hewet stepped forward. "Luncheon--" he began.
"Miss Vinrace has promised to lunch with me," said Mrs. Flushing, and began to pound energetically up the staircase, as though the middle classes of England were in pursuit. She did not stop until she had slammed her bedroom door behind them."Well, what did you think of it?" she demanded, panting slightly. All the disgust and horror which Rachel had been accumulating burst forth beyond her control.
"I thought it the most loathsome exhibition I'd ever seen!" she broke out. "How can they-how dare they--what do you mean by it--Mr. Bax, hospital nurses, old men, prostitutes, disgusting--"
She hit off the points she remembered as fast as she could, but she was too indignant to stop to analyse her feelings. Mrs. Flushing watched her with keen gusto as she stood ejaculating with emphatic movements of her head and hands in the middle of the room."Go on, go on, do go on," she laughed, clapping her hands. "It's delightful to hear you!" "But why do you go?" Rachel demanded.
"I've been every Sunday of my life ever since I can remember," Mrs. Flushing chuckled, as though that were a reason by itself.
Rachel turned abruptly to the window. She did not know what it was that had put her into such a passion; the sight of Terence in the hall had confused her thoughts, leaving her merely indignant. She looked straight at their own villa, half-way up the side of the mountain. The most familiar view seen framed through glass has a certain unfamiliar distinction, and she grew calm as she gazed. Then she remembered that she was in the presence of some one she did not know well, and she turned and looked at Mrs. Flushing. Mrs. Flushing was still sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up, with her lips parted, so that her strong white teeth showed in two rows.
It might have been either of them and while Mrs. Flushing proceeded to describe them both, and to say that both frightened her, but one frightened her more than the other, Rachel looked for a chair. The room, of course, was one of the largest and most luxurious in the hotel. There were a great many arm-chairs and settees covered in brown holland, but each of these was occupied by a large square piece of yellow cardboard, and all the pieces of cardboard were dotted or lined with spots or dashes of bright oil paint.
"But you're not to look at those," said Mrs. Flushing as she saw Rachel's eye wander. She jumped up, and turned as many as she could, face downwards, upon the floor. Rachel, however, managed to possess herself of one of them, and, with the vanity of an artist, Mrs. Flushing demanded anxiously, "Well, well?"
"It's a hill," Rachel replied. There could be no doubt that Mrs. Flushing had represented the vigorous and abrupt fling of the earth up into the air; you could almost see the clods flying as it whirled.
Rachel passed from one to another. They were all marked by something of the jerk and decision of their maker; they were all perfectly untrained onslaughts of the brush upon some half-realised idea suggested by hill or tree; and they were all in some way characteristic of Mrs. Flushing.
"I see things movin'," Mrs. Flushing explained. "So"--she swept her hand through a yard of the air. She then took up one of the cardboards which Rachel had laid aside, seated herself on a stool, and began to flourish a stump of charcoal. While she occupied herself in strokes which seemed to serve her as speech serves others, Rachel, who was very restless, looked about her.
"Open the wardrobe," said Mrs. Flushing after a pause, speaking indistinctly because of a paint-brush in her mouth, "and look at the things."
As Rachel hesitated, Mrs. Flushing came forward, still with a paint-brush in her mouth, flung open the wings of her wardrobe, and tossed a quantity of shawls, stuffs, cloaks, embroideries, on to the bed. Rachel began to finger them. Mrs. Flushing came up once more, and dropped a quantity of beads, brooches, earrings, bracelets, tassels, and combs among the draperies. Then she went back to her stool and began to paint in silence. The stuffs were coloured and dark and pale; they made a curious swarm of lines and colours upon the counterpane, with the reddish lumps of stone and peacocks' feathers and clear pale tortoise-shell combs lying among them.
"The women wore them hundreds of years ago, they wear 'em still," Mrs. Flushing remarked. "My husband rides about and finds 'em; they don't know what they're worth, so we get 'em cheap. And we shall sell 'em to smart women in London," she chuckled, as though the thought of these ladies and their absurd appearance amused her. After painting for some minutes, she suddenly laid down her brush and fixed her eyes upon Rachel.
"I tell you what I want to do," she said. "I want to go up there and see things for myself. It's silly stayin' here with a pack of old maids as though we were at the seaside in England. I want to go up the river and see the natives in their camps. It's only a matter of ten days under canvas. My husband's done it. One would lie out under the trees at night and be towed down the river by day, and if we saw anythin' nice we'd shout out and tell 'em to stop." She rose and began piercing the bed again and again with a long golden pin, as she watched to see what effect her suggestion had upon Rachel.
"We must make up a party," she went on. "Ten people could hire a launch. Now you'll come, and Mrs. Ambrose'll come, and will Mr. Hirst and t'other gentleman come? Where's a pencil?"
She became more and more determined and excited as she evolved her plan. She sat on the edge of the bed and wrote down a list of surnames, which she invariably spelt wrong. Rachel was enthusiastic, for indeed the idea was immeasurably delightful to her. She had always had a great desire to see the river, and the name of Terence threw a lustre over the prospect, which made it almost too good to come true. She did what she could to help Mrs. Flushing by suggesting names, helping her to spell them, and counting up the days of the week upon her fingers. As Mrs. Flushing wanted to know all she could tell her about the birth and pursuits of every person she suggested, and threw in wild stories of her own as to the temperaments and habits of artists, and people of the same name who used to come to Chillingley in the old days, but were doubtless not the same, though they too were very clever men interested in Egyptology, the business took some time.
At last Mrs. Flushing sought her diary for help, the method of reckoning dates on the fingers proving unsatisfactory. She opened and shut every drawer in her writing-table, and then cried furiously, "Yarmouth! Yarmouth! Drat the woman! She's always out of the way when she's wanted!"
At this moment the luncheon gong began to work itself into its midday frenzy. Mrs. Flushing rang her bell violently. The door was opened by a handsome maid who was almost as upright as her mistress.
"Oh, Yarmouth," said Mrs. Flushing, "just find my diary and see where ten days from now would bring us to, and ask the hall porter how many men 'ud be wanted to row eight people up the river for a week, and what it 'ud cost, and put it on a slip of paper and leave it on my dressing-table. Now--" she pointed at the door with a superb forefinger so that Rachel had to lead the way."Oh, and Yarmouth," Mrs. Flushing called back over her shoulder. "Put those things away and hang 'em in their right places, there's a good girl, or it fusses Mr. Flushin'." To all of which Yarmouth merely replied, "Yes, ma'am."
As they entered the long dining-room it was obvious that the day was still Sunday, although the mood was slightly abating. The Flushings' table was set by the side in the window, so that Mrs. Flushing could scrutinise each figure as it entered, and her curiosity seemed to be intense.
"Old Mrs. Paley," she whispered as the wheeled chair slowly made its way through the door, Arthur pushing behind. "Thornburys" came next. "That nice woman," she nudged Rachel to look at Miss Allan. "What's her name?" The painted lady who always came in late, tripping into the room with a prepared smile as though she came out upon a stage, might well have quailed before Mrs. Flushing's stare, which expressed her steely hostility to the whole tribe of painted ladies. Next came the two young men whom Mrs. Flushing called collectively the Hirsts. They sat down opposite, across the gangway.
Mr. Flushing treated his wife with a mixture of admiration and indulgence, making up by the suavity and fluency of his speech for the abruptness of hers. While she darted and ejaculated he gave Rachel a sketch of the history of South American art. He would deal with one of his wife's exclamations, and then return as smoothly as ever to his theme. He knew very well how to make a luncheon pass agreeably, without being dull or intimate. He had formed the opinion, so he told Rachel, that wonderful treasures lay hid in the depths of the land; the things Rachel had seen were merely trifles picked up in the course of one short journey. He thought there might be giant gods hewn out of stone in the mountain-side; and colossal figures standing by themselves in the middle of vast green pasture lands, where none but natives had ever trod. Before the dawn of European art he believed that the primitive huntsmen and priests had built temples of massive stone slabs, had formed out of the dark rocks and the great cedar trees majestic figures of gods and of beasts, and symbols of the great forces, water, air, and forest among which they lived. There might be prehistoric towns, like those in Greece and Asia, standing in open places among the trees, filled with the works of this early race. Nobody had been there; scarcely anything was known. Thus talking and displaying the most picturesque of his theories, Rachel's attention was fixed upon him.
She did not see that Hewet kept looking at her across the gangway, between the figures of waiters hurrying past with plates. He was inattentive, and Hirst was finding him also very cross and disagreeable. They had touched upon all the usual topics--upon politics and literature, gossip and Christianity. They had quarrelled over the service, which was every bit as fine as Sappho, according to Hewet; so that Hirst's paganism was mere ostentation. Why go to church, he demanded, merely in order to read Sappho? Hirst observed that he had listened to every word of the sermon, as he could prove if Hewet would like a repetition of it; and he went to church in order to realise the nature of his Creator, which he had done very vividly that morning, thanks to Mr. Bax, who had inspired him to write three of the most superb lines in English literature, an invocation to the Deity.
"My dear Hewet, do you wish us both to be flung out of the hotel by an enraged mob of Thornburys and Elliots?" Hirst enquired. "The merest whisper would be sufficient to incriminate me for ever. God!" he broke out, "what's the use of attempting to write when the world's peopled by such damned fools? Seriously, Hewet, I advise you to give up literature. What's the good of it? There's your audience."
He nodded his head at the tables where a very miscellaneous collection of Europeans were now engaged in eating, in some cases in gnawing, the stringy foreign fowls. Hewet looked, and grew more out of temper than ever. Hirst looked too. His eyes fell upon Rachel, and he bowed to her."I rather think Rachel's in love with me," he remarked, as his eyes returned to his plate. "That's the worst of friendships with young women--they tend to fall in love with one."
To that Hewet made no answer whatever, and sat singularly still. Hirst did not seem to mind getting no answer, for he returned to Mr. Bax again, quoting the peroration about the drop of water; and when Hewet scarcely replied to these remarks either, he merely pursed his lips, chose a fig, and relapsed quite contentedly into his own thoughts, of which he always had a very large supply. When luncheon was over they separated, taking their cups of coffee to different parts of the hall.
From his chair beneath the palm-tree Hewet saw Rachel come out of the dining-room with the Flushings; he saw them look round for chairs, and choose three in a corner where they could go on talking in private. Mr. Flushing was now in the full tide of his discourse. He produced a sheet of paper upon which he made drawings as he went on with his talk. He saw Rachel lean over and look, pointing to this and that with her finger. Hewet unkindly compared Mr. Flushing, who was extremely well dressed for a hot climate, and rather elaborate in his manner, to a very persuasive shop-keeper. Meanwhile, as he sat looking at them, he was entangled in the Thornburys and Miss Allan, who, after hovering about for a minute or two, settled in chairs round him, holding their cups in their hands. They wanted to know whether he could tell them anything about Mr. Bax. Mr. Thornbury as usual sat saying nothing, looking vaguely ahead of him, occasionally raising his eye-glasses, as if to put them on, but always thinking better of it at the last moment, and letting them fall again. After some discussion, the ladies put it beyond a doubt that Mr. Bax was not the son of Mr. William Bax. There was a pause. Then Mrs. Thornbury remarked that she was still in the habit of saying Queen instead of King in the National Anthem. There was another pause. Then Miss Allan observed reflectively that going to church abroad always made her feel as if she had been to a sailor's funeral.
There was then a very long pause, which threatened to be final, when, mercifully, a bird about the size of a magpie, but of a metallic blue colour, appeared on the section of the terrace that could be seen from where they sat. Mrs. Thornbury was led to enquire whether we should like it if all our rooks were blue--"What do _you_ think, William?" she asked, touching her husband on the knee.
"If all our rooks were blue," he said,--he raised his glasses; he actually placed them on his nose--"they would not live long in Wiltshire," he concluded; he dropped his glasses to his side again. The three elderly people now gazed meditatively at the bird, which was so obliging as to stay in the middle of the view for a considerable space of time, thus making it unnecessary for them to speak again. Hewet began to wonder whether he might not cross over to the Flushings' corner, when Hirst appeared from the background, slipped into a chair by Rachel's side, and began to talk to her with every appearance of familiarity. Hewet could stand it no longer. He rose, took his hat and dashed out of doors.
Everything he saw was distasteful to him. He hated the blue and white, the intensity and definiteness, the hum and heat of the south; the landscape seemed to him as hard and as romantic as a cardboard background on the stage, and the mountain but a wooden screen against a sheet painted blue. He walked fast in spite of the heat of the sun.
Two roads led out of the town on the eastern side; one branched off towards the Ambroses' villa, the other struck into the country, eventually reaching a village on the plain, but many footpaths, which had been stamped in the earth when it was wet, led off from it, across great dry fields, to scattered farm-houses, and the villas of rich natives. Hewet stepped off the road on to one of these, in order to avoid the hardness and heat of the main road, the dust of which was always being raised in small clouds by carts and ramshackle flies which carried parties of festive peasants, or turkeys swelling unevenly like a bundle of air balls beneath a net, or the brass bedstead and black wooden boxes of some newly wedded pair.
The exercise indeed served to clear away the superficial irritations of the morning, but he remained miserable. It seemed proved beyond a doubt that Rachel was indifferent to him, for she had scarcely looked at him, and she had talked to Mr. Flushing with just the same interest with which she talked to him. Finally, Hirst's odious words flicked his mind like a whip, and he remembered that he had left her talking to Hirst. She was at this moment talking to him, and it might be true, as he said, that she was in love with him. He went over all the evidence for this supposition--her sudden interest in Hirst's writing, her way of quoting his opinions respectfully, or with only half a laugh; her very nickname for him, "the great Man," might have some serious meaning in it. Supposing that there were an understanding between them, what would it mean to him?
"Damn it all!" he demanded, "am I in love with her?" To that he could only return himself one answer. He certainly was in love with her, if he knew what love meant. Ever since he had first seen her he had been interested and attracted, more and more interested and attracted, until he was scarcely able to think of anything except Rachel. But just as he was sliding into one of the long feasts of meditation about them both, he checked himself by asking whether he wanted to marry her? That was the real problem, for these miseries and agonies could not be endured, and it was necessary that he should make up his mind. He instantly decided that he did not want to marry any one. Partly because he was irritated by Rachel the idea of marriage irritated him. It immediately suggested the picture of two people sitting alone over the fire; the man was reading, the woman sewing. There was a second picture. He saw a man jump up, say good-night, leave the company and hasten away with the quiet secret look of one who is stealing to certain happiness. Both these pictures were very unpleasant, and even more so was a third picture, of husband and wife and friend; and the married people glancing at each other as though they were content to let something pass unquestioned, being themselves possessed of the deeper truth. Other pictures--he was walking very fast in his irritation, and they came before him without any conscious effort, like pictures on a sheet--succeeded these. Here were the worn husband and wife sitting with their children round them, very patient, tolerant, and wise. But that too, was an unpleasant picture. He tried all sorts of pictures, taking them from the lives of friends of his, for he knew many different married couples; but he saw them always, walled up in a warm firelit room. When, on the other hand, he began to think of unmarried people, he saw them active in an unlimited world; above all, standing on the same ground as the rest, without shelter or advantage. All the most individual and humane of his friends were bachelors and spinsters; indeed he was surprised to find that the women he most admired and knew best were unmarried women. Marriage seemed to be worse for them than it was for men. Leaving these general pictures he considered the people whom he had been observing lately at the hotel. He had often revolved these questions in his mind, as he watched Susan and Arthur, or Mr. and Mrs. Thornbury, or Mr. and Mrs. Elliot. He had observed how the shy happiness and surprise of the engaged couple had gradually been replaced by a comfortable, tolerant state of mind, as if they had already done with the adventure of intimacy and were taking up their parts. Susan used to pursue Arthur about with a sweater, because he had one day let slip that a brother of his had died of pneumonia. The sight amused him, but was not pleasant if you substituted Terence and Rachel for Arthur and Susan; and Arthur was far less eager to get you in a corner and talk about flying and the mechanics of aeroplanes. They would settle down. He then looked at the couples who had been married for several years. It was true that Mrs. Thornbury had a husband, and that for the most part she was wonderfully successful in bringing him into the conversation, but one could not imagine what they said to each other when they were alone. There was the same difficulty with regard to the Elliots, except that they probably bickered openly in private. They sometimes bickered in public, though these disagreements were painfully covered over by little insincerities on the part of the wife, who was afraid of public opinion, because she was much stupider than her husband, and had to make efforts to keep hold of him. There could be no doubt, he decided, that it would have been far better for the world if these couples had separated. Even the Ambroses, whom he admired and respected profoundly--in spite of all the love between them, was not their marriage too a compromise? She gave way to him; she spoilt him; she arranged things for him; she who was all truth to others was not true to her husband, was not true to her friends if they came in conflict with her husband. It was a strange and piteous flaw in her nature. Perhaps Rachel had been right, then, when she said that night in the garden, "We bring out what's worst in each other--we should live separate."
No Rachel had been utterly wrong! Every argument seemed to be against undertaking the burden of marriage until he came to Rachel's argument, which was manifestly absurd. From having been the pursued, he turned and became the pursuer. Allowing the case against marriage to lapse, he began to consider the peculiarities of character which had led to her saying that. Had she meant it? Surely one ought to know the character of the person with whom one might spend all one's life; being a novelist, let him try to discover what sort of person she was. When he was with her he could not analyse her qualities, because he seemed to know them instinctively, but when he was away from her it sometimes seemed to him that he did not know her at all. She was young, but she was also old; she had little self-confidence, and yet she was a good judge of people. She was happy; but what made her happy? If they were alone and the excitement had worn off, and they had to deal with the ordinary facts of the day, what would happen? Casting his eye upon his own character, two things appeared to him: that he was very unpunctual, and that he disliked answering notes. As far as he knew Rachel was inclined to be punctual, but he could not remember that he had ever seen her with a pen in her hand. Let him next imagine a dinner-party, say at the Crooms, and Wilson, who had taken her down, talking about the state of the Liberal party. She would say--of course she was absolutely ignorant of politics. Nevertheless she was intelligent certainly, and honest too. Her temper was uncertain--that he had noticed--and she was not domestic, and she was not easy, and she was not quiet, or beautiful, except in some dresses in some lights. But the great gift she had was that she understood what was said to her; there had never been any one like her for talking to. You could say anything--you could say everything, and yet she was never servile. Here he pulled himself up, for it seemed to him suddenly that he knew less about her than about any one. All these thoughts had occurred to him many times already; often had he tried to argue and reason; and again he had reached the old state of doubt. He did not know her, and he did not know what she felt, or whether they could live together, or whether he wanted to marry her, and yet he was in love with her.Supposing he went to her and said (he slackened his pace and began to speak aloud, as if he were speaking to Rachel): "I worship you, but I loathe marriage, I hate its smugness, its safety, its compromise, and the thought of you interfering in my work, hindering me; what would you answer?"
He stopped, leant against the trunk of a tree, and gazed without seeing them at some stones scattered on the bank of the dry river-bed. He saw Rachel's face distinctly, the grey eyes, the hair, the mouth; the face that could look so many things--plain, vacant, almost insignificant, or wild, passionate, almost beautiful, yet in his eyes was always the same because of the extraordinary freedom with which she looked at him, and spoke as she felt. What would she answer? What did she feel? Did she love him, or did she feel nothing at all for him or for any other man, being, as she had said that afternoon, free, like the wind or the sea?
"Oh, you're free!" he exclaimed, in exultation at the thought of her, "and I'd keep you free. We'd be free together. We'd share everything together. No happiness would be like ours. No lives would compare with ours." He opened his arms wide as if to hold her and the world in one embrace.
No longer able to consider marriage, or to weigh coolly what her nature was, or how it would be if they lived together, he dropped to the ground and sat absorbed in the thought of her, and soon tormented by the desire to be in her presence again.
But Hewet need not have increased his torments by imagining that Hirst was still talking to Rachel. The party very soon broke up, the Flushings going in one direction, Hirst in another, and Rachel remaining in the hall, pulling the illustrated papers about, turning from one to another, her movements expressing the unformed restless desire in her mind. She did not know whether to go or to stay, though Mrs. Flushing had commanded her to appear at tea. The hall was empty, save for Miss Willett who was playing scales with her fingers upon a sheet of sacred music, and the Carters, an opulent couple who disliked the girl, because her shoe laces were untied, and she did not look sufficiently cheery, which by some indirect process of thought led them to think that she would not like them. Rachel certainly would not have liked them, if she had seen them, for the excellent reason that Mr. Carter waxed his moustache, and Mrs. Carter wore bracelets, and they were evidently the kind of people who would not like her; but she was too much absorbed by her own restlessness to think or to look.
She was turning over the slippery pages of an American magazine, when the hall door swung, a wedge of light fell upon the floor, and a small white figure upon whom the light seemed focussed, made straight across the room to her."What! You here?" Evelyn exclaimed. "Just caught a glimpse of you at lunch; but you wouldn't condescend to look at _me_."
It was part of Evelyn's character that in spite of many snubs which she received or imagined, she never gave up the pursuit of people she wanted to know, and in the long run generally succeeded in knowing them and even in making them like her.She looked round her. "I hate this place. I hate these people," she said. "I wish you'd come up to my room with me. I do want to talk to you."
As Rachel had no wish to go or to stay, Evelyn took her by the wrist and drew her out of the hall and up the stairs. As they went upstairs two steps at a time, Evelyn, who still kept hold of Rachel's hand, ejaculated broken sentences about not caring a hang what people said. "Why should one, if one knows one's right? And let 'em all go to blazes! Them's my opinions!"
She was in a state of great excitement, and the muscles of her arms were twitching nervously. It was evident that she was only waiting for the door to shut to tell Rachel all about it. Indeed, directly they were inside her room, she sat on the end of the bed and said, "I suppose you think I'm mad?"
Rachel was not in the mood to think clearly about any one's state of mind. She was however in the mood to say straight out whatever occurred to her without fear of the consequences.
"Somebody's proposed to you," she remarked.
She went to the wash-stand and began sponging her cheeks with cold water; for they were burning hot. Still sponging them and trembling slightly she turned and explained in the high pitched voice of nervous excitement: "Alfred Perrott says I've promised to marry him, and I say I never did. Sinclair says he'll shoot himself if I don't marry him, and I say, 'Well, shoot yourself!' But of course he doesn't--they never do. And Sinclair got hold of me this afternoon and began bothering me to give an answer, and accusing me of flirting with Alfred Perrott, and told me I'd no heart, and was merely a Siren, oh, and quantities of pleasant things like that. So at last I said to him, 'Well, Sinclair, you've said enough now. You can just let me go.' And then he caught me and kissed me--the disgusting brute--I can still feel his nasty hairy face just there--as if he'd any right to, after what he'd said!"She sponged a spot on her left cheek energetically.
"I've never met a man that was fit to compare with a woman!" she cried; "they've no dignity, they've no courage, they've nothing but their beastly passions and their brute strength! Would any woman have behaved like that--if a man had said he didn't want her? We've too much self-respect; we're infinitely finer than they are."She walked about the room, dabbing her wet cheeks with a towel. Tears were now running down with the drops of cold water. "It makes me angry," she explained, drying her eyes. Rachel sat watching her. She did not think of Evelyn's position; she only thought that the world was full or people in torment. "There's only one man here I really like," Evelyn continued; "Terence Hewet. One feels as if one could trust him." At these words Rachel suffered an indescribable chill; her heart seemed to be pressed together by cold hands. "Why?" she asked. "Why can you trust him?"
"I don't know," said Evelyn. "Don't you have feelings about people? Feelings you're absolutely certain are right? I had a long talk with Terence the other night. I felt we were really friends after that. There's something of a woman in him--" She paused as though she were thinking of very intimate things that Terence had told her, so at least Rachel interpreted her gaze.
She tried to force herself to say, "Has to be proposed to you?" but the question was too tremendous, and in another moment Evelyn was saying that the finest men were like women, and women were nobler than men--for example, one couldn't imagine a woman like Lillah Harrison thinking a mean thing or having anything base about her."How I'd like you to know her!" she exclaimed.
She was becoming much calmer, and her cheeks were now quite dry. Her eyes had regained their usual expression of keen vitality, and she seemed to have forgotten Alfred and Sinclair and her emotion. "Lillah runs a home for inebriate women in the Deptford Road," she continued. "She started it, managed it, did everything off her own bat, and it's now the biggest of its kind in England. You can't think what those women are like--and their homes. But she goes among them at all hours of the day and night. I've often been with her. . . . That's what's the matter with us. . . . We don't _do_ things. What do you _do_?" she demanded, looking at Rachel with a slightly ironical smile. Rachel had scarcely listened to any of this, and her expression was vacant and unhappy. She had conceived an equal dislike for Lillah Harrison and her work in the Deptford Road, and for Evelyn M. and her profusion of love affairs."I play," she said with an affection of stolid composure.
"That's about it!" Evelyn laughed. "We none of us do anything but play. And that's why women like Lillah Harrison, who's worth twenty of you and me, have to work themselves to the bone. But I'm tired of playing," she went on, lying flat on the bed, and raising her arms above her head. Thus stretched out, she looked more diminutive than ever.
"I'm going to do something. I've got a splendid idea. Look here, you must join. I'm sure you've got any amount of stuff in you, though you look--well, as if you'd lived all your life in a garden." She sat up, and began to explain with animation. "I belong to a club in London. It meets every Saturday, so it's called the Saturday Club. We're supposed to talk about art, but I'm sick of talking about art--what's the good of it? With all kinds of real things going on round one? It isn't as if they'd got anything to say about art, either. So what I'm going to tell 'em is that we've talked enough about art, and we'd better talk about life for a change. Questions that really matter to people's lives, the White Slave Traffic, Women Suffrage, the Insurance Bill, and so on. And when we've made up our mind what we want to do we could form ourselves into a society for doing it. . . . I'm certain that if people like ourselves were to take things in hand instead of leaving it to policemen and magistrates, we could put a stop to--prostitution"--she lowered her voice at the ugly word--"in six months. My idea is that men and women ought to join in these matters. We ought to go into Piccadilly and stop one of these poor wretches and say: 'Now, look here, I'm no better than you are, and I don't pretend to be any better, but you're doing what you know to be beastly, and I won't have you doing beastly things, because we're all the same under our skins, and if you do a beastly thing it does matter to me.' That's what Mr. Bax was saying this morning, and it's true, though you clever people--you're clever too, aren't you?--don't believe it."
When Evelyn began talking--it was a fact she often regretted--her thoughts came so quickly that she never had any time to listen to other people's thoughts. She continued without more pause than was needed for taking breath.
"I don't see why the Saturday club people shouldn't do a really great work in that way," she went on. "Of course it would want organisation, some one to give their life to it, but I'm ready to do that. My notion's to think of the human beings first and let the abstract ideas take care of themselves. What's wrong with Lillah--if there is anything wrong--is that she thinks of Temperance first and the women afterwards. Now there's one thing I'll say to my credit," she continued; "I'm not intellectual or artistic or anything of that sort, but I'm jolly human." She slipped off the bed and sat on the floor, looking up at Rachel. She searched up into her face as if she were trying to read what kind of character was concealed behind the face. She put her hand on Rachel's knee."It _is_ being human that counts, isn't it?" she continued. "Being real, whatever Mr. Hirst may say. Are you real?"
Rachel felt much as Terence had felt that Evelyn was too close to her, and that there was something exciting in this closeness, although it was also disagreeable. She was spared the need of finding an answer to the question, for Evelyn proceeded, "Do you _believe_ in anything?"
In order to put an end to the scrutiny of these bright blue eyes, and to relieve her own physical restlessness, Rachel pushed back her chair and exclaimed, "In everything!" and began to finger different objects, the books on the table, the photographs, the freshly leaved plant with the stiff bristles, which stood in a large earthenware pot in the window.
"I believe in the bed, in the photographs, in the pot, in the balcony, in the sun, in Mrs. Flushing," she remarked, still speaking recklessly, with something at the back of her mind forcing her to say the things that one usually does not say. "But I don't believe in God, I don't believe in Mr. Bax, I don't believe in the hospital nurse. I don't believe--" She took up a photograph and, looking at it, did not finish her sentence."That's my mother," said Evelyn, who remained sitting on the floor binding her knees together with her arms, and watching Rachel curiously.
Rachel considered the portrait. "Well, I don't much believe in her," she remarked after a time in a low tone of voice.
Mrs. Murgatroyd looked indeed as if the life had been crushed out of her; she knelt on a chair, gazing piteously from behind the body of a Pomeranian dog which she clasped to her cheek, as if for protection.
"And that's my dad," said Evelyn, for there were two photographs in one frame. The second photograph represented a handsome soldier with high regular features and a heavy black moustache; his hand rested on the hilt of his sword; there was a decided likeness between him and Evelyn.
"And it's because of them," said Evelyn, "that I'm going to help the other women. You've heard about me, I suppose? They weren't married, you see; I'm not anybody in particular. I'm not a bit ashamed of it. They loved each other anyhow, and that's more than most people can say of their parents."
Rachel sat down on the bed, with the two pictures in her hands, and compared them--the man and the woman who had, so Evelyn said, loved each other. That fact interested her more than the campaign on behalf of unfortunate women which Evelyn was once more beginning to describe. She looked again from one to the other."What d'you think it's like," she asked, as Evelyn paused for a minute, "being in love?"
"Have you never been in love?" Evelyn asked. "Oh no--one's only got to look at you to see that," she added. She considered. "I really was in love once," she said. She fell into reflection, her eyes losing their bright vitality and approaching something like an expression of tenderness. "It was heavenly!--while it lasted. The worst of it is it don't last, not with me. That's the bother."
She went on to consider the difficulty with Alfred and Sinclair about which she had pretended to ask Rachel's advice. But she did not want advice; she wanted intimacy. When she looked at Rachel, who was still looking at the photographs on the bed, she could not help seeing that Rachel was not thinking about her. What was she thinking about, then? Evelyn was tormented by the little spark of life in her which was always trying to work through to other people, and was always being rebuffed. Falling silent she looked at her visitor, her shoes, her stockings, the combs in her hair, all the details of her dress in short, as though by seizing every detail she might get closer to the life within.Rachel at last put down the photographs, walked to the window and remarked, "It's odd. People talk as much about love as they do about religion." "I wish you'd sit down and talk," said Evelyn impatiently. Instead Rachel opened the window, which was made in two long panes, and looked down into the garden below.
"That's where we got lost the first night," she said. "It must have been in those bushes." "They kill hens down there," said Evelyn. "They cut their heads off with a knife-disgusting! But tell me--what--""I'd like to explore the hotel," Rachel interrupted. She drew her head in and looked at Evelyn, who still sat on the floor. "It's just like other hotels," said Evelyn.
That might be, although every room and passage and chair in the place had a character of its own in Rachel's eyes; but she could not bring herself to stay in one place any longer. She moved slowly towards the door."What is it you want?" said Evelyn. "You make me feel as if you were always thinking of something you don't say. . . . Do say it!"
But Rachel made no response to this invitation either. She stopped with her fingers on the handle of the door, as if she remembered that some sort of pronouncement was due from her.
"I suppose you'll marry one of them," she said, and then turned the handle and shut the door behind her. She walked slowly down the passage, running her hand along the wall beside her. She did not think which way she was going, and therefore walked down a passage which only led to a window and a balcony. She looked down at the kitchen premises, the wrong side of the hotel life, which was cut off from the right side by a maze of small bushes. The ground was bare, old tins were scattered about, and the bushes wore towels and aprons upon their heads to dry. Every now and then a waiter came out in a white apron and threw rubbish on to a heap. Two large women in cotton dresses were sitting on a bench with blood-smeared tin trays in front of them and yellow bodies across their knees. They were plucking the birds, and talking as they plucked. Suddenly a chicken came floundering, half flying, half running into the space, pursued by a third woman whose age could hardly be under eighty. Although wizened and unsteady on her legs she kept up the chase, egged on by the laughter of the others; her face was expressive of furious rage, and as she ran she swore in Spanish. Frightened by hand-clapping here, a napkin there, the bird ran this way and that in sharp angles, and finally fluttered straight at the old woman, who opened her scanty grey skirts to enclose it, dropped upon it in a bundle, and then holding it out cut its head off with an expression of vindictive energy and triumph combined. The blood and the ugly wriggling fascinated Rachel, so that although she knew that some one had come up behind and was standing beside her, she did not turn round until the old woman had settled down on the bench beside the others. Then she looked up sharply, because of the ugliness of what she had seen. It was Miss Allan who stood beside her.
"Not a pretty sight," said Miss Allan, "although I daresay it's really more humane than our method. . . . I don't believe you've ever been in my room," she added, and turned away as if she meant Rachel to follow her. Rachel followed, for it seemed possible that each new person might remove the mystery which burdened her.
The bedrooms at the hotel were all on the same pattern, save that some were larger and some smaller; they had a floor of dark red tiles; they had a high bed, draped in mosquito curtains; they had each a writing-table and a dressing-table, and a couple of arm-chairs. But directly a box was unpacked the rooms became very different, so that Miss Allan's room was very unlike Evelyn's room. There were no variously coloured hatpins on her dressing-table; no scent-bottles; no narrow curved pairs of scissors; no great variety of shoes and boots; no silk petticoats lying on the chairs. The room was extremely neat. There seemed to be two pairs of everything. The writing-table, however, was piled with manuscript, and a table was drawn out to stand by the arm-chair on which were two separate heaps of dark library books, in which there were many slips of paper sticking out at different degrees of thickness. Miss Allan had asked Rachel to come in out of kindness, thinking that she was waiting about with nothing to do. Moreover, she liked young women, for she had taught many of them, and having received so much hospitality from the Ambroses she was glad to be able to repay a minute part of it. She looked about accordingly for something to show her. The room did not provide much entertainment. She touched her manuscript. "Age of Chaucer; Age of Elizabeth; Age of Dryden," she reflected; "I'm glad there aren't many more ages. I'm still in the middle of the eighteenth century. Won't you sit down, Miss Vinrace? The chair, though small, is firm. . . . Euphues. The germ of the English novel," she continued, glancing at another page. "Is that the kind of thing that interests you?"
She looked at Rachel with great kindness and simplicity, as though she would do her utmost to provide anything she wished to have. This expression had a remarkable charm in a face otherwise much lined with care and thought.
"Oh no, it's music with you, isn't it?" she continued, recollecting, "and I generally find that they don't go together. Sometimes of course we have prodigies--" She was looking about her for something and now saw a jar on the mantelpiece which she reached down and gave to Rachel. "If you put your finger into this jar you may be able to extract a piece of preserved ginger. Are you a prodigy?"But the ginger was deep and could not be reached. "Don't bother," she said, as Miss Allan looked about for some other implement. "I daresay I shouldn't like preserved ginger."
"You've never tried?" enquired Miss Allan. "Then I consider that it is your duty to try now. Why, you may add a new pleasure to life, and as you are still young--" She wondered whether a button-hook would do. "I make it a rule to try everything," she said. "Don't you think it would be very annoying if you tasted ginger for the first time on your death-bed, and found you never liked anything so much? I should be so exceedingly annoyed that I think I should get well on that account alone."
She was now successful, and a lump of ginger emerged on the end of the button-hook. While she went to wipe the button-hook, Rachel bit the ginger and at once cried, "I must spit it out!"
"Are you sure you have really tasted it?" Miss Allan demanded.
"An experience anyhow," said Miss Allan calmly. "Let me see--I have nothing else to offer you, unless you would like to taste this." A small cupboard hung above her bed, and she took out of it a slim elegant jar filled with a bright green fluid.
"Creme de Menthe," she said. "Liqueur, you know. It looks as if I drank, doesn't it? As a matter of fact it goes to prove what an exceptionally abstemious person I am. I've had that jar for six-and-twenty years," she added, looking at it with pride, as she tipped it over, and from the height of the liquid it could be seen that the bottle was still untouched."Twenty-six years?" Rachel exclaimed. Miss Allan was gratified, for she had meant Rachel to be surprised.
"When I went to Dresden six-and-twenty years ago," she said, "a certain friend of mine announced her intention of making me a present. She thought that in the event of shipwreck or accident a stimulant might be useful. However, as I had no occasion for it, I gave it back on my return. On the eve of any foreign journey the same bottle always makes its appearance, with the same note; on my return in safety it is always handed back. I consider it a kind of charm against accidents. Though I was once detained twentyfour hours by an accident to the train in front of me, I have never met with any accident myself. Yes," she continued, now addressing the bottle, "we have seen many climes and cupboards together, have we not? I intend one of these days to have a silver label made with an inscription. It is a gentleman, as you may observe, and his name is Oliver. . . . I do not think I could forgive you, Miss Vinrace, if you broke my Oliver," she said, firmly taking the bottle out of Rachel's hands and replacing it in the cupboard.Rachel was swinging the bottle by the neck. She was interested by Miss Allan to the point of forgetting the bottle. "Well," she exclaimed, "I do think that odd; to have had a friend for twenty-six years, and a bottle, and--to have made all those journeys."
"Not at all; I call it the reverse of odd," Miss Allan replied. "I always consider myself the most ordinary person I know. It's rather distinguished to be as ordinary as I am. I forget-are you a prodigy, or did you say you were not a prodigy?"
She smiled at Rachel very kindly. She seemed to have known and experienced so much, as she moved cumbrously about the room, that surely there must be balm for all anguish in her words, could one induce her to have recourse to them. But Miss Allan, who was now locking the cupboard door, showed no signs of breaking the reticence which had snowed her under for years. An uncomfortable sensation kept Rachel silent; on the one hand, she wished to whirl high and strike a spark out of the cool pink flesh; on the other she perceived there was nothing to be done but to drift past each other in silence."I'm not a prodigy. I find it very difficult to say what I mean--" she observed at length.
"It's a matter of temperament, I believe," Miss Allan helped her. "There are some people who have no difficulty; for myself I find there are a great many things I simply cannot say. But then I consider myself very slow. One of my colleagues now, knows whether she likes you or not--let me see, how does she do it?--by the way you say good-morning at breakfast. It is sometimes a matter of years before I can make up my mind. But most young people seem to find it easy?""Oh no," said Rachel. "It's hard!"
Miss Allan looked at Rachel quietly, saying nothing; she suspected that there were difficulties of some kind. Then she put her hand to the back of her head, and discovered that one of the grey coils of hair had come loose.
"I must ask you to be so kind as to excuse me," she said, rising, "if I do my hair. I have never yet found a satisfactory type of hairpin. I must change my dress, too, for the matter of that; and I should be particularly glad of your assistance, because there is a tiresome set of hooks which I _can_ fasten for myself, but it takes from ten to fifteen minutes; whereas with your help--"
She slipped off her coat and skirt and blouse, and stood doing her hair before the glass, a massive homely figure, her petticoat being so short that she stood on a pair of thick slategrey legs.
"People say youth is pleasant; I myself find middle age far pleasanter," she remarked, removing hair pins and combs, and taking up her brush. When it fell loose her hair only came down to her neck."When one was young," she continued, "things could seem so very serious if one was made that way. . . . And now my dress."
In a wonderfully short space of time her hair had been reformed in its usual loops. The upper half of her body now became dark green with black stripes on it; the skirt, however, needed hooking at various angles, and Rachel had to kneel on the floor, fitting the eyes to the hooks.
"Our Miss Johnson used to find life very unsatisfactory, I remember," Miss Allan continued. She turned her back to the light. "And then she took to breeding guinea-pigs for their spots, and became absorbed in that. I have just heard that the yellow guinea-pig has had a black baby. We had a bet of sixpence on about it. She will be very triumphant." The skirt was fastened. She looked at herself in the glass with the curious stiffening of her face generally caused by looking in the glass.
"Am I in a fit state to encounter my fellow-beings?" she asked. "I forget which way it is-but they find black animals very rarely have coloured babies--it may be the other way round. I have had it so often explained to me that it is very stupid of me to have forgotten again."
She moved about the room acquiring small objects with quiet force, and fixing them about her--a locket, a watch and chain, a heavy gold bracelet, and the parti-coloured button of a suffrage society. Finally, completely equipped for Sunday tea, she stood before Rachel, and smiled at her kindly. She was not an impulsive woman, and her life had schooled her to restrain her tongue. At the same time, she was possessed of an amount of good-will towards others, and in particular towards the young, which often made her regret that speech was so difficult."Shall we descend?" she said.
She put one hand upon Rachel's shoulder, and stooping, picked up a pair of walkingshoes with the other, and placed them neatly side by side outside her door. As they walked down the passage they passed many pairs of boots and shoes, some black and some brown, all side by side, and all different, even to the way in which they lay together.
"I always think that people are so like their boots," said Miss Allan. "That is Mrs. Paley's
-" but as she spoke the door opened, and Mrs. Paley rolled out in her chair, equipped also for tea.
"I was just saying that people are so like their boots," said Miss Allan. Mrs. Paley did not hear. She repeated it more loudly still. Mrs. Paley did not hear. She repeated it a third time. Mrs. Paley heard, but she did not understand. She was apparently about to repeat it for the fourth time, when Rachel suddenly said something inarticulate, and disappeared down the corridor. This misunderstanding, which involved a complete block in the passage, seemed to her unbearable. She walked quickly and blindly in the opposite direction, and found herself at the end of a _cul_ _de_ _sac_. There was a window, and a table and a chair in the window, and upon the table stood a rusty inkstand, an ashtray, an old copy of a French newspaper, and a pen with a broken nib. Rachel sat down, as if to study the French newspaper, but a tear fell on the blurred French print, raising a soft blot. She lifted her head sharply, exclaiming aloud, "It's intolerable!" Looking out of the window with eyes that would have seen nothing even had they not been dazed by tears, she indulged herself at last in violent abuse of the entire day. It had been miserable from start to finish; first, the service in the chapel; then luncheon; then Evelyn; then Miss Allan; then old Mrs. Paley blocking up the passage. All day long she had been tantalized and put off. She had now reached one of those eminences, the result of some crisis, from which the world is finally displayed in its true proportions. She disliked the look of it immensely--churches, politicians, misfits, and huge impostures--men like Mr. Dalloway, men like Mr. Bax, Evelyn and her chatter, Mrs. Paley blocking up the passage. Meanwhile the steady beat of her own pulse represented the hot current of feeling that ran down beneath; beating, struggling, fretting. For the time, her own body was the source of all the life in the world, which tried to burst forth here--there--and was repressed now by Mr. Bax, now by Evelyn, now by the imposition of ponderous stupidity, the weight of the entire world. Thus tormented, she would twist her hands together, for all things were wrong, all people stupid. Vaguely seeing that there were people down in the garden beneath she represented them as aimless masses of matter, floating hither and thither, without aim except to impede her. What were they doing, those other people in the world?"Nobody knows," she said. The force of her rage was beginning to spend itself, and the vision of the world which had been so vivid became dim.
"It's a dream," she murmured. She considered the rusty inkstand, the pen, the ash-tray, and the old French newspaper. These small and worthless objects seemed to her to represent human lives.
"We're asleep and dreaming," she repeated. But the possibility which now suggested itself that one of the shapes might be the shape of Terence roused her from her melancholy lethargy. She became as restless as she had been before she sat down. She was no longer able to see the world as a town laid out beneath her. It was covered instead by a haze of feverish red mist. She had returned to the state in which she had been all day. Thinking was no escape. Physical movement was the only refuge, in and out of rooms, in and out of people's minds, seeking she knew not what. Therefore she rose, pushed back the table, and went downstairs. She went out of the hall door, and, turning the corner of the hotel, found herself among the people whom she had seen from the window. But owing to the broad sunshine after shaded passages, and to the substance of living people after dreams, the group appeared with startling intensity, as though the dusty surface had been peeled off everything, leaving only the reality and the instant. It had the look of a vision printed on the dark at night. White and grey and purple figures were scattered on the green, round wicker tables, in the middle the flame of the tea-urn made the air waver like a faulty sheet of glass, a massive green tree stood over them as if it were a moving force held at rest. As she approached, she could hear Evelyn's voice repeating monotonously, "Here then--here--good doggie, come here"; for a moment nothing seemed to happen; it all stood still, and then she realised that one of the figures was Helen Ambrose; and the dust again began to settle.
The group indeed had come together in a miscellaneous way; one tea-table joining to another tea-table, and deck-chairs serving to connect two groups. But even at a distance it could be seen that Mrs. Flushing, upright and imperious, dominated the party. She was talking vehemently to Helen across the table.
"Ten days under canvas," she was saying. "No comforts. If you want comforts, don't come. But I may tell you, if you don't come you'll regret it all your life. You say yes?"
"Of course I'm coming. So are you, Helen. And Mr. Pepper too." As she sat she realised that she was surrounded by people she knew, but that Terence was not among them. From various angles people began saying what they thought of the proposed expedition. According to some it would be hot, but the nights would be cold; according to others, the difficulties would lie rather in getting a boat, and in speaking the language. Mrs. Flushing disposed of all objections, whether due to man or due to nature, by announcing that her husband would settle all that.
Meanwhile Mr. Flushing quietly explained to Helen that the expedition was really a simple matter; it took five days at the outside; and the place--a native village--was certainly well worth seeing before she returned to England. Helen murmured ambiguously, and did not commit herself to one answer rather than to another.
The tea-party, however, included too many different kinds of people for general conversation to flourish; and from Rachel's point of view possessed the great advantage that it was quite unnecessary for her to talk. Over there Susan and Arthur were explaining to Mrs. Paley that an expedition had been proposed; and Mrs. Paley having grasped the fact, gave the advice of an old traveller that they should take nice canned vegetables, fur cloaks, and insect powder. She leant over to Mrs. Flushing and whispered something which from the twinkle in her eyes probably had reference to bugs. Then Helen was reciting "Toll for the Brave" to St. John Hirst, in order apparently to win a sixpence which lay upon the table; while Mr. Hughling Elliot imposed silence upon his section of the audience by his fascinating anecdote of Lord Curzon and the undergraduate's bicycle. Mrs. Thornbury was trying to remember the name of a man who might have been another Garibaldi, and had written a book which they ought to read; and Mr. Thornbury recollected that he had a pair of binoculars at anybody's service. Miss Allan meanwhile murmured with the curious intimacy which a spinster often achieves with dogs, to the fox-terrier which Evelyn had at last induced to come over to them. Little particles of dust or blossom fell on the plates now and then when the branches sighed above. Rachel seemed to see and hear a little of everything, much as a river feels the twigs that fall into it and sees the sky above, but her eyes were too vague for Evelyn's liking. She came across, and sat on the ground at Rachel's feet.
"Well?" she asked suddenly. "What are you thinking about?" "Miss Warrington," Rachel replied rashly, because she had to say something. She did indeed see Susan murmuring to Mrs. Elliot, while Arthur stared at her with complete confidence in his own love. Both Rachel and Evelyn then began to listen to what Susan was saying.
"There's the ordering and the dogs and the garden, and the children coming to be taught," her voice proceeded rhythmically as if checking the list, "and my tennis, and the village, and letters to write for father, and a thousand little things that don't sound much; but I never have a moment to myself, and when I got to bed, I'm so sleepy I'm off before my head touches the pillow. Besides I like to be a great deal with my Aunts--I'm a great bore, aren't I, Aunt Emma?" (she smiled at old Mrs. Paley, who with head slightly drooped was regarding the cake with speculative affection), "and father has to be very careful about chills in winter which means a great deal of running about, because he won't look after himself, any more than you will, Arthur! So it all mounts up!"
Her voice mounted too, in a mild ecstasy of satisfaction with her life and her own nature. Rachel suddenly took a violent dislike to Susan, ignoring all that was kindly, modest, and even pathetic about her. She appeared insincere and cruel; she saw her grown stout and prolific, the kind blue eyes now shallow and watery, the bloom of the cheeks congealed to a network of dry red canals.Helen turned to her. "Did you go to church?" she asked. She had won her sixpence and seemed making ready to go. "Yes," said Rachel. "For the last time," she added. In preparing to put on her gloves, Helen dropped one. "You're not going?" Evelyn asked, taking hold of one glove as if to keep them. "It's high time we went," said Helen. "Don't you see how silent every one's getting--?"
A silence had fallen upon them all, caused partly by one of the accidents of talk, and partly because they saw some one approaching. Helen could not see who it was, but keeping her eyes fixed upon Rachel observed something which made her say to herself, "So it's Hewet." She drew on her gloves with a curious sense of the significance of the moment. Then she rose, for Mrs. Flushing had seen Hewet too, and was demanding information about rivers and boats which showed that the whole conversation would now come over again.
Rachel followed her, and they walked in silence down the avenue. In spite of what Helen had seen and understood, the feeling that was uppermost in her mind was now curiously perverse; if she went on this expedition, she would not be able to have a bath, the effort appeared to her to be great and disagreeable.
"It's so unpleasant, being cooped up with people one hardly knows," she remarked. "People who mind being seen naked."
"Thank God, Helen, I'm not like you! I sometimes think you don't think or feel or care to do anything but exist! You're like Mr. Hirst. You see that things are bad, and you pride yourself on saying so. It's what you call being honest; as a matter of fact it's being lazy, being dull, being nothing. You don't help; you put an end to things."Helen smiled as if she rather enjoyed the attack. "Well?" she enquired. "It seems to me bad--that's all," Rachel replied. "Quite likely," said Helen.
At any other time Rachel would probably have been silenced by her Aunt's candour; but this afternoon she was not in the mood to be silenced by any one. A quarrel would be welcome."You're only half alive," she continued. "Is that because I didn't accept Mr. Flushing's invitation?" Helen asked, "or do you always think that?"
At the moment it appeared to Rachel that she had always seen the same faults in Helen, from the very first night on board the _Euphrosyne_, in spite of her beauty, in spite of her magnanimity and their love."Oh, it's only what's the matter with every one!" she exclaimed. "No one feels--no one does anything but hurt. I tell you, Helen, the world's bad. It's an agony, living, wanting--"
Here she tore a handful of leaves from a bush and crushed them to control herself. "The lives of these people," she tried to explain, the aimlessness, the way they live. "One goes from one to another, and it's all the same. One never gets what one wants out of any of them."
Her emotional state and her confusion would have made her an easy prey if Helen had wished to argue or had wished to draw confidences. But instead of talking she fell into a profound silence as they walked on. Aimless, trivial, meaningless, oh no--what she had seen at tea made it impossible for her to believe that. The little jokes, the chatter, the inanities of the afternoon had shrivelled up before her eyes. Underneath the likings and spites, the comings together and partings, great things were happening--terrible things, because they were so great. Her sense of safety was shaken, as if beneath twigs and dead leaves she had seen the movement of a snake. It seemed to her that a moment's respite was allowed, a moment's make-believe, and then again the profound and reasonless law asserted itself, moulding them all to its liking, making and destroying.
She looked at Rachel walking beside her, still crushing the leaves in her fingers and absorbed in her own thoughts. She was in love, and she pitied her profoundly. But she roused herself from these thoughts and apologised. "I'm very sorry," she said, "but if I'm dull, it's my nature, and it can't be helped." If it was a natural defect, however, she found an easy remedy, for she went on to say that she thought Mr. Flushing's scheme a very good one, only needing a little consideration, which it appeared she had given it by the time they reached home. By that time they had settled that if anything more was said, they would accept the invitation.
When considered in detail by Mr. Flushing and Mrs. Ambrose the expedition proved neither dangerous nor difficult. They found also that it was not even unusual. Every year at this season English people made parties which steamed a short way up the river, landed, and looked at the native village, bought a certain number of things from the natives, and returned again without damage done to mind or body. When it was discovered that six people really wished the same thing the arrangements were soon carried out.
Since the time of Elizabeth very few people had seen the river, and nothing has been done to change its appearance from what it was to the eyes of the Elizabethan voyagers. The time of Elizabeth was only distant from the present time by a moment of space compared with the ages which had passed since the water had run between those banks, and the green thickets swarmed there, and the small trees had grown to huge wrinkled trees in solitude. Changing only with the change of the sun and the clouds, the waving green mass had stood there for century after century, and the water had run between its banks ceaselessly, sometimes washing away earth and sometimes the branches of trees, while in other parts of the world one town had risen upon the ruins of another town, and the men in the towns had become more and more articulate and unlike each other. A few miles of this river were visible from the top of the mountain where some weeks before the party from the hotel had picnicked. Susan and Arthur had seen it as they kissed each other, and Terence and Rachel as they sat talking about Richmond, and Evelyn and Perrott as they strolled about, imagining that they were great captains sent to colonise the world. They had seen the broad blue mark across the sand where it flowed into the sea, and the green cloud of trees mass themselves about it farther up, and finally hide its waters altogether from sight. At intervals for the first twenty miles or so houses were scattered on the bank; by degrees the houses became huts, and, later still, there was neither hut nor house, but trees and grass, which were seen only by hunters, explorers, or merchants, marching or sailing, but making no settlement.
By leaving Santa Marina early in the morning, driving twenty miles and riding eight, the party, which was composed finally of six English people, reached the river-side as the night fell. They came cantering through the trees--Mr. and Mrs. Flushing, Helen Ambrose, Rachel, Terence, and St. John. The tired little horses then stopped automatically, and the English dismounted. Mrs. Flushing strode to the river-bank in high spirits. The day had been long and hot, but she had enjoyed the speed and the open air; she had left the hotel which she hated, and she found the company to her liking. The river was swirling past in the darkness; they could just distinguish the smooth moving surface of the water, and the air was full of the sound of it. They stood in an empty space in the midst of great tree-trunks, and out there a little green light moving slightly up and down showed them where the steamer lay in which they were to embark.
When they all stood upon its deck they found that it was a very small boat which throbbed gently beneath them for a few minutes, and then shoved smoothly through the water. They seemed to be driving into the heart of the night, for the trees closed in front of them, and they could hear all round them the rustling of leaves. The great darkness had the usual effect of taking away all desire for communication by making their words sound thin and small; and, after walking round the deck three or four times, they clustered together, yawning deeply, and looking at the same spot of deep gloom on the banks. Murmuring very low in the rhythmical tone of one oppressed by the air, Mrs. Flushing began to wonder where they were to sleep, for they could not sleep downstairs, they could not sleep in a doghole smelling of oil, they could not sleep on deck, they could not sleep--She yawned profoundly. It was as Helen had foreseen; the question of nakedness had risen already, although they were half asleep, and almost invisible to each other. With St. John's help she stretched an awning, and persuaded Mrs. Flushing that she could take off her clothes behind this, and that no one would notice if by chance some part of her which had been concealed for forty-five years was laid bare to the human eye. Mattresses were thrown down, rugs provided, and the three women lay near each other in the soft open air.
The gentlemen, having smoked a certain number of cigarettes, dropped the glowing ends into the river, and looked for a time at the ripples wrinkling the black water beneath them, undressed too, and lay down at the other end of the boat. They were very tired, and curtained from each other by the darkness. The light from one lantern fell upon a few ropes, a few planks of the deck, and the rail of the boat, but beyond that there was unbroken darkness, no light reached their faces, or the trees which were massed on the sides of the river.
Soon Wilfrid Flushing slept, and Hirst slept. Hewet alone lay awake looking straight up into the sky. The gentle motion and the black shapes that were drawn ceaselessly across his eyes had the effect of making it impossible for him to think. Rachel's presence so near him lulled thought asleep. Being so near him, only a few paces off at the other end of the boat, she made it as impossible for him to think about her as it would have been impossible to see her if she had stood quite close to him, her forehead against his forehead. In some strange way the boat became identified with himself, and just as it would have been useless for him to get up and steer the boat, so was it useless for him to struggle any longer with the irresistible force of his own feelings. He was drawn on and on away from all he knew, slipping over barriers and past landmarks into unknown waters as the boat glided over the smooth surface of the river. In profound peace, enveloped in deeper unconsciousness than had been his for many nights, he lay on deck watching the tree-tops change their position slightly against the sky, and arch themselves, and sink and tower huge, until he passed from seeing them into dreams where he lay beneath the shadow of the vast trees, looking up into the sky.
When they woke next morning they had gone a considerable way up the river; on the right was a high yellow bank of sand tufted with trees, on the left a swamp quivering with long reeds and tall bamboos on the top of which, swaying slightly, perched vivid green and yellow birds. The morning was hot and still. After breakfast they drew chairs together and sat in an irregular semicircle in the bow. An awning above their heads protected them from the heat of the sun, and the breeze which the boat made aired them softly. Mrs. Flushing was already dotting and striping her canvas, her head jerking this way and that with the action of a bird nervously picking up grain; the others had books or pieces of paper or embroidery on their knees, at which they looked fitfully and again looked at the river ahead. At one point Hewet read part of a poem aloud, but the number of moving things entirely vanquished his words. He ceased to read, and no one spoke. They moved on under the shelter of the trees. There was now a covey of red birds feeding on one of the little islets to the left, or again a blue-green parrot flew shrieking from tree to tree. As they moved on the country grew wilder and wilder. The trees and the undergrowth seemed to be strangling each other near the ground in a multitudinous wrestle; while here and there a splendid tree towered high above the swarm, shaking its thin green umbrellas lightly in the upper air. Hewet looked at his books again. The morning was peaceful as the night had been, only it was very strange because he could see it was light, and he could see Rachel and hear her voice and be near to her. He felt as if he were waiting, as if somehow he were stationary among things that passed over him and around him, voices, people's bodies, birds, only Rachel too was waiting with him. He looked at her sometimes as if she must know that they were waiting together, and being drawn on together, without being able to offer any resistance. Again he read from his book:Whoever you are holding me now in your hand, Without one thing all will be useless. A bird gave a wild laugh, a monkey chuckled a malicious question, and, as fire fades in the hot sunshine, his words flickered and went out.
By degrees as the river narrowed, and the high sandbanks fell to level ground thickly grown with trees, the sounds of the forest could be heard. It echoed like a hall. There were sudden cries; and then long spaces of silence, such as there are in a cathedral when a boy's voice has ceased and the echo of it still seems to haunt about the remote places of the roof. Once Mr. Flushing rose and spoke to a sailor, and even announced that some time after luncheon the steamer would stop, and they could walk a little way through the forest."There are tracks all through the trees there," he explained. "We're no distance from civilisation yet."
He scrutinised his wife's painting. Too polite to praise it openly, he contented himself with cutting off one half of the picture with one hand, and giving a flourish in the air with the other.
"God!" Hirst exclaimed, staring straight ahead. "Don't you think it's amazingly beautiful?"
"Beautiful?" Helen enquired. It seemed a strange little word, and Hirst and herself both so small that she forgot to answer him.
"Shakespeare? I hate Shakespeare!" Mrs. Flushing exclaimed; and Wilfrid returned admiringly, "I believe you're the only person who dares to say that, Alice." But Mrs. Flushing went on painting. She did not appear to attach much value to her husband's compliment, and painted steadily, sometimes muttering a half-audible word or groan.The morning was now very hot. "Look at Hirst!" Mr. Flushing whispered. His sheet of paper had slipped on to the deck, his head lay back, and he drew a long snoring breath.
Terence picked up the sheet of paper and spread it out before Rachel. It was a continuation of the poem on God which he had begun in the chapel, and it was so indecent that Rachel did not understand half of it although she saw that it was indecent. Hewet began to fill in words where Hirst had left spaces, but he soon ceased; his pencil rolled on deck. Gradually they approached nearer and nearer to the bank on the righthand side, so that the light which covered them became definitely green, falling through a shade of green leaves, and Mrs. Flushing set aside her sketch and stared ahead of her in silence. Hirst woke up; they were then called to luncheon, and while they ate it, the steamer came to a standstill a little way out from the bank. The boat which was towed behind them was brought to the side, and the ladies were helped into it.
For protection against boredom, Helen put a book of memoirs beneath her arm, and Mrs. Flushing her paint-box, and, thus equipped, they allowed themselves to be set on shore on the verge of the forest.
They had not strolled more than a few hundred yards along the track which ran parallel with the river before Helen professed to find it was unbearably hot. The river breeze had ceased, and a hot steamy atmosphere, thick with scents, came from the forest.
"I shall sit down here," she announced, pointing to the trunk of a tree which had fallen long ago and was now laced across and across by creepers and thong-like brambles. She seated herself, opened her parasol, and looked at the river which was barred by the stems of trees. She turned her back to the trees which disappeared in black shadow behind her.
"I quite agree," said Mrs. Flushing, and proceeded to undo her paint-box. Her husband strolled about to select an interesting point of view for her. Hirst cleared a space on the ground by Helen's side, and seated himself with great deliberation, as if he did not mean to move until he had talked to her for a long time. Terence and Rachel were left standing by themselves without occupation. Terence saw that the time had come as it was fated to come, but although he realised this he was completely calm and master of himself. He chose to stand for a few moments talking to Helen, and persuading her to leave her seat. Rachel joined him too in advising her to come with them.
"Of all the people I've ever met," he said, "you're the least adventurous. You might be sitting on green chairs in Hyde Park. Are you going to sit there the whole afternoon? Aren't you going to walk?""Oh, no," said Helen, "one's only got to use one's eye. There's everything here-everything," she repeated in a drowsy tone of voice. "What will you gain by walking?"
"You'll be hot and disagreeable by tea-time, we shall be cool and sweet," put in Hirst. Into his eyes as he looked up at them had come yellow and green reflections from the sky and the branches, robbing them of their intentness, and he seemed to think what he did not say. It was thus taken for granted by them both that Terence and Rachel proposed to walk into the woods together; with one look at each other they turned away."Good-bye!" cried Rachel.
"Good-by. Beware of snakes," Hirst replied. He settled himself still more comfortably under the shade of the fallen tree and Helen's figure. As they went, Mr. Flushing called after them, "We must start in an hour. Hewet, please remember that. An hour."
Whether made by man, or for some reason preserved by nature, there was a wide pathway striking through the forest at right angles to the river. It resembled a drive in an English forest, save that tropical bushes with their sword-like leaves grew at the side, and the ground was covered with an unmarked springy moss instead of grass, starred with little yellow flowers. As they passed into the depths of the forest the light grew dimmer, and the noises of the ordinary world were replaced by those creaking and sighing sounds which suggest to the traveller in a forest that he is walking at the bottom of the sea. The path narrowed and turned; it was hedged in by dense creepers which knotted tree to tree, and burst here and there into star-shaped crimson blossoms. The sighing and creaking up above were broken every now and then by the jarring cry of some startled animal. The atmosphere was close and the air came at them in languid puffs of scent. The vast green light was broken here and there by a round of pure yellow sunlight which fell through some gap in the immense umbrella of green above, and in these yellow spaces crimson and black butterflies were circling and settling. Terence and Rachel hardly spoke.
Not only did the silence weigh upon them, but they were both unable to frame any thoughts. There was something between them which had to be spoken of. One of them had to begin, but which of them was it to be? Then Hewet picked up a red fruit and threw it as high as he could. When it dropped, he would speak. They heard the flapping of great wings; they heard the fruit go pattering through the leaves and eventually fall with a thud. The silence was again profound.
"Does this frighten you?" Terence asked when the sound of the fruit falling had completely died away.
The silence was then broken by their voices which joined in tones of strange unfamiliar sound which formed no words. Faster and faster they walked; simultaneously they stopped, clasped each other in their arms, then releasing themselves, dropped to the earth. They sat side by side. Sounds stood out from the background making a bridge across their silence; they heard the swish of the trees and some beast croaking in a remote world.
"We love each other," Terence repeated, searching into her face. Their faces were both very pale and quiet, and they said nothing. He was afraid to kiss her again. By degrees she drew close to him, and rested against him. In this position they sat for some time. She said "Terence" once; he answered "Rachel."
"Terrible--terrible," she murmured after another pause, but in saying this she was thinking as much of the persistent churning of the water as of her own feeling. On and on it went in the distance, the senseless and cruel churning of the water. She observed that the tears were running down Terence's cheeks.The next movement was on his part. A very long time seemed to have passed. He took out his watch.
"Flushing said an hour. We've been gone more than half an hour." "And it takes that to get back," said Rachel. She raised herself very slowly. When she was standing up she stretched her arms and drew a deep breath, half a sigh, half a yawn. She appeared to be very tired. Her cheeks were white. "Which way?" she asked."There," said Terence.
They began to walk back down the mossy path again. The sighing and creaking continued far overhead, and the jarring cries of animals. The butterflies were circling still in the patches of yellow sunlight. At first Terence was certain of his way, but as they walked he became doubtful. They had to stop to consider, and then to return and start once more, for although he was certain of the direction of the river he was not certain of striking the point where they had left the others. Rachel followed him, stopping where he stopped, turning where he turned, ignorant of the way, ignorant why he stopped or why he turned.
"I don't want to be late," he said, "because--" He put a flower into her hand and her fingers closed upon it quietly. "We're so late--so late--so horribly late," he repeated as if he were talking in his sleep. "Ah--this is right. We turn here."
They found themselves again in the broad path, like the drive in the English forest, where they had started when they left the others. They walked on in silence as people walking in their sleep, and were oddly conscious now and again of the mass of their bodies. Then Rachel exclaimed suddenly, "Helen!"
In the sunny space at the edge of the forest they saw Helen still sitting on the tree-trunk, her dress showing very white in the sun, with Hirst still propped on his elbow by her side. They stopped instinctively. At the sight of other people they could not go on. They stood hand in hand for a minute or two in silence. They could not bear to face other people.
"But we must go on," Rachel insisted at last, in the curious dull tone of voice in which they had both been speaking, and with a great effort they forced themselves to cover the short distance which lay between them and the pair sitting on the tree-trunk.As they approached, Helen turned round and looked at them. She looked at them for some time without speaking, and when they were close to her she said quietly: "Did you meet Mr. Flushing? He has gone to find you. He thought you must be lost, though I told him you weren't lost." Hirst half turned round and threw his head back so that he looked at the branches crossing themselves in the air above him. "Well, was it worth the effort?" he enquired dreamily. Hewet sat down on the grass by his side and began to fan himself. Rachel had balanced herself near Helen on the end of the tree trunk. "Very hot," she said. "You look exhausted anyhow," said Hirst.
"It's fearfully close in those trees," Helen remarked, picking up her book and shaking it free from the dried blades of grass which had fallen between the leaves. Then they were all silent, looking at the river swirling past in front of them between the trunks of the trees until Mr. Flushing interrupted them. He broke out of the trees a hundred yards to the left, exclaiming sharply:"Ah, so you found the way after all. But it's late--much later than we arranged, Hewet." He was slightly annoyed, and in his capacity as leader of the expedition, inclined to be dictatorial. He spoke quickly, using curiously sharp, meaningless words. "Being late wouldn't matter normally, of course," he said, "but when it's a question of keeping the men up to time--" He gathered them together and made them come down to the river-bank, where the boat was waiting to row them out to the steamer.
The heat of the day was going down, and over their cups of tea the Flushings tended to become communicative. It seemed to Terence as he listened to them talking, that existence now went on in two different layers. Here were the Flushings talking, talking somewhere high up in the air above him, and he and Rachel had dropped to the bottom of the world together. But with something of a child's directness, Mrs. Flushing had also the instinct which leads a child to suspect what its elders wish to keep hidden. She fixed Terence with her vivid blue eyes and addressed herself to him in particular. What would he do, she wanted to know, if the boat ran upon a rock and sank.
"Would you care for anythin' but savin' yourself? Should I? No, no," she laughed, "not one scrap--don't tell me. There's only two creatures the ordinary woman cares about," she continued, "her child and her dog; and I don't believe it's even two with men. One reads a lot about love--that's why poetry's so dull. But what happens in real life, he? It ain't love!" she cried.Terence murmured something unintelligible. Mr. Flushing, however, had recovered his urbanity. He was smoking a cigarette, and he now answered his wife.
"You must always remember, Alice," he said, "that your upbringing was very unnatural-unusual, I should say. They had no mother," he explained, dropping something of the formality of his tone; "and a father--he was a very delightful man, I've no doubt, but he cared only for racehorses and Greek statues. Tell them about the bath, Alice." "In the stable-yard," said Mrs. Flushing. "Covered with ice in winter. We had to get in; if we didn't, we were whipped. The strong ones lived--the others died. What you call survival of the fittest--a most excellent plan, I daresay, if you've thirteen children!""And all this going on in the heart of England, in the nineteenth century!" Mr. Flushing exclaimed, turning to Helen. "I'd treat my children just the same if I had any," said Mrs. Flushing.
Every word sounded quite distinctly in Terence's ears; but what were they saying, and who were they talking to, and who were they, these fantastic people, detached somewhere high up in the air? Now that they had drunk their tea, they rose and leant over the bow of the boat. The sun was going down, and the water was dark and crimson. The river had widened again, and they were passing a little island set like a dark wedge in the middle of the stream. Two great white birds with red lights on them stood there on stilt-like legs, and the beach of the island was unmarked, save by the skeleton print of birds' feet. The branches of the trees on the bank looked more twisted and angular than ever, and the green of the leaves was lurid and splashed with gold. Then Hirst began to talk, leaning over the bow.
"It makes one awfully queer, don't you find?" he complained. "These trees get on one's nerves--it's all so crazy. God's undoubtedly mad. What sane person could have conceived a wilderness like this, and peopled it with apes and alligators? I should go mad if I lived here--raving mad."
Terence attempted to answer him, but Mrs. Ambrose replied instead. She bade him look at the way things massed themselves--look at the amazing colours, look at the shapes of the trees. She seemed to be protecting Terence from the approach of the others.
"Yes," said Mr. Flushing. "And in my opinion," he continued, "the absence of population to which Hirst objects is precisely the significant touch. You must admit, Hirst, that a little Italian town even would vulgarise the whole scene, would detract from the vastness
-the sense of elemental grandeur." He swept his hands towards the forest, and paused for a moment, looking at the great green mass, which was now falling silent. "I own it makes us seem pretty small--us, not them." He nodded his head at a sailor who leant over the side spitting into the river. "And that, I think, is what my wife feels, the essential superiority of the peasant--" Under cover of Mr. Flushing's words, which continued now gently reasoning with St. John and persuading him, Terence drew Rachel to the side, pointing ostensibly to a great gnarled tree-trunk which had fallen and lay half in the water. He wished, at any rate, to be near her, but he found that he could say nothing. They could hear Mr. Flushing flowing on, now about his wife, now about art, now about the future of the country, little meaningless words floating high in air. As it was becoming cold he began to pace the deck with Hirst. Fragments of their talk came out distinctly as they passed--art, emotion, truth, reality.
"Is it true, or is it a dream?" Rachel murmured, when they had passed.
But the breeze freshened, and there was a general desire for movement. When the party rearranged themselves under cover of rugs and cloaks, Terence and Rachel were at opposite ends of the circle, and could not speak to each other. But as the dark descended, the words of the others seemed to curl up and vanish as the ashes of burnt paper, and left them sitting perfectly silent at the bottom of the world. Occasional starts of exquisite joy ran through them, and then they were peaceful again.