The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter VIII
The next few months passed away, as many years can pass away, without definite events,
and yet, if suddenly disturbed, it would be seen that such months or years had a character
unlike others. The three months which had passed had brought them to the beginning of
March. The climate had kept its promise, and the change of season from winter to spring
had made very little difference, so that Helen, who was sitting in the drawing-room with
a pen in her hand, could keep the windows open though a great fire of logs burnt on one
side of her. Below, the sea was still blue and the roofs still brown and white, though the
day was fading rapidly. It was dusk in the room, which, large and empty at all times, now
appeared larger and emptier than usual. Her own figure, as she sat writing with a pad on
her knee, shared the general effect of size and lack of detail, for the flames which ran
along the branches, suddenly devouring little green tufts, burnt intermittently and sent
irregular illuminations across her face and the plaster walls. There were no pictures on
the walls but here and there boughs laden with heavy-petalled flowers spread widely
against them. Of the books fallen on the bare floor and heaped upon the large table, it was
only possible in this light to trace the outline.
Mrs. Ambrose was writing a very long letter. Beginning "Dear Bernard," it went on to
describe what had been happening in the Villa San Gervasio during the past three
months, as, for instance, that they had had the British Consul to dinner, and had been
taken over a Spanish man-of-war, and had seen a great many processions and religious
festivals, which were so beautiful that Mrs. Ambrose couldn't conceive why, if people
must have a religion, they didn't all become Roman Catholics. They had made several
expeditions though none of any length. It was worth coming if only for the sake of the
flowering trees which grew wild quite near the house, and the amazing colours of sea and
earth. The earth, instead of being brown, was red, purple, green. "You won't believe me,"
she added, "there is no colour like it in England." She adopted, indeed, a condescending
tone towards that poor island, which was now advancing chilly crocuses and nipped
violets in nooks, in copses, in cosy corners, tended by rosy old gardeners in mufflers,
who were always touching their hats and bobbing obsequiously. She went on to deride
the islanders themselves. Rumours of London all in a ferment over a General Election
had reached them even out here. "It seems incredible," she went on, "that people should
care whether Asquith is in or Austen Chamberlin out, and while you scream yourselves
hoarse about politics you let the only people who are trying for something good starve or
simply laugh at them. When have you ever encouraged a living artist? Or bought his best
work? Why are you all so ugly and so servile? Here the servants are human beings. They
talk to one as if they were equals. As far as I can tell there are no aristocrats."
Perhaps it was the mention of aristocrats that reminded her of Richard Dalloway and
Rachel, for she ran on with the same penful to describe her niece.
"It's an odd fate that has put me in charge of a girl," she wrote, "considering that I have
never got on well with women, or had much to do with them. However, I must retract
some of the things that I have said against them. If they were properly educated I don't