The Voyage Out HTML version

Chapter IX
An hour passed, and the downstairs rooms at the hotel grew dim and were almost
deserted, while the little box-like squares above them were brilliantly irradiated. Some
forty or fifty people were going to bed. The thump of jugs set down on the floor above
could be heard and the clink of china, for there was not as thick a partition between the
rooms as one might wish, so Miss Allan, the elderly lady who had been playing bridge,
determined, giving the wall a smart rap with her knuckles. It was only matchboard, she
decided, run up to make many little rooms of one large one. Her grey petticoats slipped to
the ground, and, stooping, she folded her clothes with neat, if not loving fingers, screwed
her hair into a plait, wound her father's great gold watch, and opened the complete works
of Wordsworth. She was reading the "Prelude," partly because she always read the
"Prelude" abroad, and partly because she was engaged in writing a short _Primer_ _of_
_English_ _Literature_--_Beowulf_ _to_ _Swinburne_--which would have a paragraph
on Wordsworth. She was deep in the fifth book, stopping indeed to pencil a note, when a
pair of boots dropped, one after another, on the floor above her. She looked up and
speculated. Whose boots were they, she wondered. She then became aware of a swishing
sound next door--a woman, clearly, putting away her dress. It was succeeded by a gentle
tapping sound, such as that which accompanies hair-dressing. It was very difficult to keep
her attention fixed upon the "Prelude." Was it Susan Warrington tapping? She forced
herself, however, to read to the end of the book, when she placed a mark between the
pages, sighed contentedly, and then turned out the light.
Very different was the room through the wall, though as like in shape as one egg-box is
like another. As Miss Allan read her book, Susan Warrington was brushing her hair. Ages
have consecrated this hour, and the most majestic of all domestic actions, to talk of love
between women; but Miss Warrington being alone could not talk; she could only look
with extreme solicitude at her own face in the glass. She turned her head from side to
side, tossing heavy locks now this way now that; and then withdrew a pace or two, and
considered herself seriously.
"I'm nice-looking," she determined. "Not pretty--possibly," she drew herself up a little.
"Yes--most people would say I was handsome."
She was really wondering what Arthur Venning would say she was. Her feeling about
him was decidedly queer. She would not admit to herself that she was in love with him or
that she wanted to marry him, yet she spent every minute when she was alone in
wondering what he thought of her, and in comparing what they had done to-day with
what they had done the day before.
"He didn't ask me to play, but he certainly followed me into the hall," she meditated,
summing up the evening. She was thirty years of age, and owing to the number of her
sisters and the seclusion of life in a country parsonage had as yet had no proposal of
marriage. The hour of confidences was often a sad one, and she had been known to jump
into bed, treating her hair unkindly, feeling herself overlooked by life in comparison with