The Voyage Out HTML version
As the streets that lead from the Strand to the Embankment are very narrow, it is better
not to walk down them arm-in-arm. If you persist, lawyers' clerks will have to make
flying leaps into the mud; young lady typists will have to fidget behind you. In the streets
of London where beauty goes unregarded, eccentricity must pay the penalty, and it is
better not to be very tall, to wear a long blue cloak, or to beat the air with your left hand.
One afternoon in the beginning of October when the traffic was becoming brisk a tall
man strode along the edge of the pavement with a lady on his arm. Angry glances struck
upon their backs. The small, agitated figures--for in comparison with this couple most
people looked small--decorated with fountain pens, and burdened with despatch-boxes,
had appointments to keep, and drew a weekly salary, so that there was some reason for
the unfriendly stare which was bestowed upon Mr. Ambrose's height and upon Mrs.
Ambrose's cloak. But some enchantment had put both man and woman beyond the reach
of malice and unpopularity. In his guess one might guess from the moving lips that it was
thought; and in hers from the eyes fixed stonily straight in front of her at a level above the
eyes of most that it was sorrow. It was only by scorning all she met that she kept herself
from tears, and the friction of people brushing past her was evidently painful. After
watching the traffic on the Embankment for a minute or two with a stoical gaze she
twitched her husband's sleeve, and they crossed between the swift discharge of motor
cars. When they were safe on the further side, she gently withdrew her arm from his,
allowing her mouth at the same time to relax, to tremble; then tears rolled down, and
leaning her elbows on the balustrade, she shielded her face from the curious. Mr.
Ambrose attempted consolation; he patted her shoulder; but she showed no signs of
admitting him, and feeling it awkward to stand beside a grief that was greater than his, he
crossed his arms behind him, and took a turn along the pavement.
The embankment juts out in angles here and there, like pulpits; instead of preachers,
however, small boys occupy them, dangling string, dropping pebbles, or launching wads
of paper for a cruise. With their sharp eye for eccentricity, they were inclined to think Mr.
Ambrose awful; but the quickest witted cried "Bluebeard!" as he passed. In case they
should proceed to tease his wife, Mr. Ambrose flourished his stick at them, upon which
they decided that he was grotesque merely, and four instead of one cried "Bluebeard!" in
Although Mrs. Ambrose stood quite still, much longer than is natural, the little boys let
her be. Some one is always looking into the river near Waterloo Bridge; a couple will
stand there talking for half an hour on a fine afternoon; most people, walking for
pleasure, contemplate for three minutes; when, having compared the occasion with other
occasions, or made some sentence, they pass on. Sometimes the flats and churches and
hotels of Westminster are like the outlines of Constantinople in a mist; sometimes the
river is an opulent purple, sometimes mud-coloured, sometimes sparkling blue like the
sea. It is always worth while to look down and see what is happening. But this lady