The voyage out, p.1
Produced by Judith Boss and David Widger
THE VOYAGE OUT (1915)
by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
As the streets that lead from the Strand to the Embankment are verynarrow, 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 ladytypists will have to fidget behind you. In the streets of London wherebeauty goes unregarded, eccentricity must pay the penalty, and it isbetter not to be very tall, to wear a long blue cloak, or to beat theair with your left hand.
One afternoon in the beginning of October when the traffic was becomingbrisk a tall man strode along the edge of the pavement with a lady onhis arm. Angry glances struck upon their backs. The small, agitatedfigures--for in comparison with this couple most people lookedsmall--decorated with fountain pens, and burdened with despatch-boxes,had appointments to keep, and drew a weekly salary, so that therewas some reason for the unfriendly stare which was bestowed upon Mr.Ambrose's height and upon Mrs. Ambrose's cloak. But some enchantment hadput both man and woman beyond the reach of malice and unpopularity. Inhis guess one might guess from the moving lips that it was thought; andin hers from the eyes fixed stonily straight in front of her at a levelabove the eyes of most that it was sorrow. It was only by scorning allshe met that she kept herself from tears, and the friction of peoplebrushing past her was evidently painful. After watching the traffic onthe Embankment for a minute or two with a stoical gaze she twitched herhusband's sleeve, and they crossed between the swift discharge of motorcars. When they were safe on the further side, she gently withdrew herarm from his, allowing her mouth at the same time to relax, to tremble;then tears rolled down, and leaning her elbows on the balustrade, sheshielded her face from the curious. Mr. Ambrose attempted consolationhe patted her shoulder; but she showed no signs of admitting him, andfeeling it awkward to stand beside a grief that was greater than his, hecrossed his arms behind him, and took a turn along the pavement.
The embankment juts out in angles here and there, like pulpits; insteadof preachers, however, small boys occupy them, dangling string, droppingpebbles, or launching wads of paper for a cruise. With their sharp eyefor eccentricity, they were inclined to think Mr. Ambrose awful; butthe quickest witted cried "Bluebeard!" as he passed. In case they shouldproceed to tease his wife, Mr. Ambrose flourished his stick at them,upon which they decided that he was grotesque merely, and four insteadof one cried "Bluebeard!" in chorus.
Although Mrs. Ambrose stood quite still, much longer than is natural,the little boys let her be. Some one is always looking into the rivernear Waterloo Bridge; a couple will stand there talking for half an houron a fine afternoon most people, walking for pleasure, contemplate forthree minutes; when, having compared the occasion with other occasions,or made some sentence, they pass on. Sometimes the flats and churchesand hotels of Westminster are like the outlines of Constantinople in amist; sometimes the river is an opulent purple, sometimes mud-coloured,sometimes sparkling blue like the sea. It is always worth while to lookdown and see what is happening. But this lady looked neither up nordown; the only thing she had seen, since she stood there, was a circulariridescent patch slowly floating past with a straw in the middle of it.The straw and the patch swam again and again behind the tremulous mediumof a great welling tear, and the tear rose and fell and dropped into theriver. Then there struck close upon her ears--
Lars Porsena of Clusium By the nine Gods he swore--
and then more faintly, as if the speaker had passed her on his walk--
That the Great House of Tarquin Should suffer wrong no more.
Yes, she knew she must go back to all that, but at present she mustweep. Screening her face she sobbed more steadily than she had yet done,her shoulders rising and falling with great regularity. It was thisfigure that her husband saw when, having reached the polished Sphinx,having entangled himself with a man selling picture postcards, heturned; the stanza instantly stopped. He came up to her, laid his handon her shoulder, and said, "Dearest." His voice was supplicating. Butshe shut her face away from him, as much as to say, "You can't possiblyunderstand."
As he did not leave her, however, she had to wipe her eyes, and to raisethem to the level of the factory chimneys on the other bank. She sawalso the arches of Waterloo Bridge and the carts moving across them,like the line of animals in a shooting gallery. They were seen blankly,but to see anything was of course to end her weeping and begin to walk.
"I would rather walk," she said, her husband having hailed a cab alreadyoccupied by two city men.
The fixity of her mood was broken by the action of walking. The shootingmotor cars, more like spiders in the moon than terrestrial objects, thethundering drays, the jingling hansoms, and little black broughams,made her think of the world she lived in. Somewhere up there above thepinnacles where the smoke rose in a pointed hill, her children werenow asking for her, and getting a soothing reply. As for the mass ofstreets, squares, and public buildings which parted them, she only feltat this moment how little London had done to make her love it, althoughthirty of her forty years had been spent in a street. She knew howto read the people who were passing her; there were the rich who wererunning to and from each others' houses at this hour; there were thebigoted workers driving in a straight line to their offices; there werethe poor who were unhappy and rightly malignant. Already, though therewas sunlight in the haze, tattered old men and women were nodding offto sleep upon the seats. When one gave up seeing the beauty that clothedthings, this was the skeleton beneath.
A fine rain now made her still more dismal; vans with the odd namesof those engaged in odd industries--Sprules, Manufacturer of Saw-dust;Grabb, to whom no piece of waste paper comes amiss--fell flat as a badjoke; bold lovers, sheltered behind one cloak, seemed to her sordid,past their passion the flower women, a contented company, whose talkis always worth hearing, were sodden hags; the red, yellow, and blueflowers, whose heads were pressed together, would not blaze. Moreover,her husband walking with a quick rhythmic stride, jerking his free handoccasionally, was either a Viking or a stricken Nelson the sea-gullshad changed his note.
"Ridley, shall we drive? Shall we drive, Ridley?"
Mrs. Ambrose had to speak sharply; by this time he was far away.
The cab, by trotting steadily along the same road, soon withdrew themfrom the West End, and plunged them into London. It appeared that thiswas a great manufacturing place, where the people were engaged inmaking things, as though the West End, with its electric lamps, its vastplate-glass windows all shining yellow, its carefully-finished houses,and tiny live figures trotting on the pavement, or bowled along onwheels in the road, was the finished work. It appeared to her a verysmall bit of work for such an enormous factory to have made. For somereason it appeared to her as a small golden tassel on the edge of a vastblack cloak.
Observing that they passed no other hansom cab, but only vans andwaggons, and that not one of the thousand men and women she saw waseither a gentleman or a lady, Mrs. Ambrose understood that after allit is the ordinary thing to be poor, and that London is the city ofinnumerable poor people. Startled by this discovery and seeing herselfpacing a circle all the days of her life round Picadilly Circus she wasgreatly relieved to pass a building put up by the London County Councilfor Night Schools.
"Lord, how gloomy it is!" her husband groaned. "Poor creatures!"
What with the misery for her children, the poor, and the rain, her mindwas like a wound exposed to dry in the air.
At this point the cab stopped, for it was in danger of being crushedlike an egg-shell. The wide Embankment which had had room forcannonballs and squadrons, had now shrunk to a cobbled lane steamingwith smells of malt and oil and blocked by waggons. W
The river, which had a certain amount of troubled yellow light in it,ran with great force; bulky barges floated down swiftly escorted bytugs; police boats shot past everything; the wind went with the current.The open rowing-boat in which they sat bobbed and curtseyed across theline of traffic. In mid-stream the old man stayed his hands upon theoars, and as the water rushed past them, remarked that once he had takenmany passengers across, where now he took scarcely any. He seemed torecall an age when his boat, moored among rushes, carried delicate feetacross to lawns at Rotherhithe.
"They want bridges now," he said, indicating the monstrous outline ofthe Tower Bridge. Mournfully Helen regarded him, who was putting waterbetween her and her children. Mournfully she gazed at the ship they wereapproaching; anchored in the middle of the stream they could dimly readher name--_Euphrosyne_.
Very dimly in the falling dusk they could see the lines of the rigging,the masts and the dark flag which the breeze blew out squarely behind.
As the little boat sidled up to the steamer, and the old man shippedhis oars, he remarked once more pointing above, that ships all theworld over flew that flag the day they sailed. In the minds of both thepassengers the blue flag appeared a sinister token, and this the momentfor presentiments, but nevertheless they rose, gathered their thingstogether, and climbed on deck.
Down in the saloon of her father's ship, Miss Rachel Vinrace, agedtwenty-four, stood waiting her uncle and aunt nervously. To begin with,though nearly related, she scarcely remembered them; to go on with, theywere elderly people, and finally, as her father's daughter she must bein some sort prepared to entertain them. She looked forward to seeingthem as civilised people generally look forward to the first sight ofcivilised people, as though they were of the nature of an approachingphysical discomfort--a tight shoe or a draughty window. She was alreadyunnaturally braced to receive them. As she occupied herself in layingforks severely straight by the side of knives, she heard a man's voicesaying gloomily:
"On a dark night one would fall down these stairs head foremost," towhich a woman's voice added, "And be killed."
As she spoke the last words the woman stood in the doorway. Tall,large-eyed, draped in purple shawls, Mrs. Ambrose was romantic andbeautiful; not perhaps sympathetic, for her eyes looked straight andconsidered what they saw. Her face was much warmer than a Greek face;on the other hand it was much bolder than the face of the usual prettyEnglishwoman.
"Oh, Rachel, how d'you do," she said, shaking hands.
"How are you, dear," said Mr. Ambrose, inclining his forehead to bekissed. His niece instinctively liked his thin angular body, and the bighead with its sweeping features, and the acute, innocent eyes.
"Tell Mr. Pepper," Rachel bade the servant. Husband and wife then satdown on one side of the table, with their niece opposite to them.
"My father told me to begin," she explained. "He is very busy with themen. . . . You know Mr. Pepper?"
A little man who was bent as some trees are by a gale on one side ofthem had slipped in. Nodding to Mr. Ambrose, he shook hands with Helen.
"Draughts," he said, erecting the collar of his coat.
"You are still rheumatic?" asked Helen. Her voice was low and seductive,though she spoke absently enough, the sight of town and river beingstill present to her mind.
"Once rheumatic, always rheumatic, I fear," he replied. "To some extentit depends on the weather, though not so much as people are apt tothink."
"One does not die of it, at any rate," said Helen.
"As a general rule--no," said Mr. Pepper.
"Soup, Uncle Ridley?" asked Rachel.
"Thank you, dear," he said, and, as he held his plate out, sighedaudibly, "Ah! she's not like her mother." Helen was just too late inthumping her tumbler on the table to prevent Rachel from hearing, andfrom blushing scarlet with embarrassment.
"The way servants treat flowers!" she said hastily. She drew a greenvase with a crinkled lip towards her, and began pulling out the tightlittle chrysanthemums, which she laid on the table-cloth, arranging themfastidiously side by side.
There was a pause.
"You knew Jenkinson, didn't you, Ambrose?" asked Mr. Pepper across thetable.
"Jenkinson of Peterhouse?"
"He's dead," said Mr. Pepper.
"Ah, dear!--I knew him--ages ago," said Ridley. "He was the hero of thepunt accident, you remember? A queer card. Married a young woman out ofa tobacconist's, and lived in the Fens--never heard what became of him."
"Drink--drugs," said Mr. Pepper with sinister conciseness. "He left acommentary. Hopeless muddle, I'm told."
"The man had really great abilities," said Ridley.
"His introduction to Jellaby holds its own still," went on Mr. Pepper,"which is surprising, seeing how text-books change."
"There was a theory about the planets, wasn't there?" asked Ridley.
"A screw loose somewhere, no doubt of it," said Mr. Pepper, shaking hishead.
Now a tremor ran through the table, and a light outside swerved. At thesame time an electric bell rang sharply again and again.
"We're off," said Ridley.
A slight but perceptible wave seemed to roll beneath the floor; then itsank; then another came, more perceptible. Lights slid right across theuncurtained window. The ship gave a loud melancholy moan.
"We're off!" said Mr. Pepper. Other ships, as sad as she, answeredher outside on the river. The chuckling and hissing of water could beplainly heard, and the ship heaved so that the steward bringing plateshad to balance himself as he drew the curtain. There was a pause.
"Jenkinson of Cats--d'you still keep up with him?" asked Ambrose.
"As much as one ever does," said Mr. Pepper. "We meet annually. Thisyear he has had the misfortune to lose his wife, which made it painful,of course."
"Very painful," Ridley agreed.
"There's an unmarried daughter who keeps house for him, I believe, butit's never the same, not at his age."
Both gentlemen nodded sagely as they carved their apples.
"There was a book, wasn't there?" Ridley enquired.
"There _was_ a book, but there never _will_ be a book," said Mr. Pepperwith such fierceness that both ladies looked up at him.
"There never will be a book, because some one else has written it forhim," said Mr. Pepper with considerable acidity. "That's what comes ofputting things off, and collecting fossils, and sticking Norman archeson one's pigsties."
"I confess I sympathise," said Ridley with a melancholy sigh. "I have aweakness for people who can't begin."
". . . The accumulations of a lifetime wasted," continued Mr. pepper."He had accumulations enough to fill a barn."
"It's a vice that some of us escape," said Ridley. "Our friend Miles hasanother work out to-day."
Mr. Pepper gave an acid little laugh. "According to my calculations," hesaid, "he has produced two volumes and a half annually, which,allowing for time spent in the cradle and so forth, shows a commendableindustry."
"Yes, the old Master's saying of him has been pretty well realised,"said Ridley.
"A way they had," said Mr. Pepper. "You know the Bruce collection?--notfor publication, of course."
"I should suppose not," said Ridley significantly. "For a Divine hewas--remarkably free."
"The Pump in Neville's Row
"Precisely," said Ambrose.
Each of the ladies, being after the fashion of their sex, highly trainedin promoting men's talk without listening to it, could think--about theeducation of children, about the use of fog sirens in an opera--withoutbetraying herself. Only it struck Helen that Rachel was perhaps toostill for a hostess, and that she might have done something with herhands.
"Perhaps--?" she said at length, upon which they rose and left, vaguelyto the surprise of the gentlemen, who had either thought them attentiveor had forgotten their presence.
"Ah, one could tell strange stories of the old days," they heard Ridleysay, as he sank into his chair again. Glancing back, at the doorway,they saw Mr. Pepper as though he had suddenly loosened his clothes, andhad become a vivacious and malicious old ape.
Winding veils round their heads, the women walked on deck. They werenow moving steadily down the river, passing the dark shapes of shipsat anchor, and London was a swarm of lights with a pale yellow canopydrooping above it. There were the lights of the great theatres, thelights of the long streets, lights that indicated huge squares ofdomestic comfort, lights that hung high in air. No darkness wouldever settle upon those lamps, as no darkness had settled upon them forhundreds of years. It seemed dreadful that the town should blazefor ever in the same spot; dreadful at least to people going away toadventure upon the sea, and beholding it as a circumscribed mound,eternally burnt, eternally scarred. From the deck of the ship the greatcity appeared a crouched and cowardly figure, a sedentary miser.
Leaning over the rail, side by side, Helen said, "Won't you be cold?"Rachel replied, "No. . . . How beautiful!" she added a moment later.Very little was visible--a few masts, a shadow of land here, a line ofbrilliant windows there. They tried to make head against the wind.
"It blows--it blows!" gasped Rachel, the words rammed down her throat.Struggling by her side, Helen was suddenly overcome by the spirit ofmovement, and pushed along with her skirts wrapping themselves roundher knees, and both arms to her hair. But slowly the intoxication ofmovement died down, and the wind became rough and chilly. They lookedthrough a chink in the blind and saw that long cigars were being smokedin the dining-room; they saw Mr. Ambrose throw himself violently againstthe back of his chair, while Mr. Pepper crinkled his cheeks as thoughthey had been cut in wood. The ghost of a roar of laughter came out tothem, and was drowned at once in the wind. In the dry yellow-lightedroom Mr. Pepper and Mr. Ambrose were oblivious of all tumult; they werein Cambridge, and it was probably about the year 1875.
"They're old friends," said Helen, smiling at the sight. "Now, is therea room for us to sit in?"
Rachel opened a door.
"It's more like a landing than a room," she said. Indeed it had nothingof the shut stationary character of a room on shore. A table was rootedin the middle, and seats were stuck to the sides. Happily the tropicalsuns had bleached the tapestries to a faded blue-green colour, and themirror with its frame of shells, the work of the steward's love, whenthe time hung heavy in the southern seas, was quaint rather thanugly. Twisted shells with red lips like unicorn's horns ornamentedthe mantelpiece, which was draped by a pall of purple plush from whichdepended a certain number of balls. Two windows opened on to the deck,and the light beating through them when the ship was roasted on theAmazons had turned the prints on the opposite wall to a faint yellowcolour, so that "The Coliseum" was scarcely to be distinguished fromQueen Alexandra playing with her Spaniels. A pair of wicker arm-chairsby the fireside invited one to warm one's hands at a grate full of giltshavings; a great lamp swung above the table--the kind of lamp whichmakes the light of civilisation across dark fields to one walking in thecountry.
"It's odd that every one should be an old friend of Mr. Pepper's,"Rachel started nervously, for the situation was difficult, the roomcold, and Helen curiously silent.
"I suppose you take him for granted?" said her aunt.
"He's like this," said Rachel, lighting on a fossilised fish in a basin,and displaying it.
"I expect you're too severe," Helen remarked.
Rachel immediately tried to qualify what she had said against herbelief.
"I don't really know him," she said, and took refuge in facts, believingthat elderly people really like them better than feelings. She producedwhat she knew of William Pepper. She told Helen that he always called onSundays when they were at home; he knew about a great many things--aboutmathematics, history, Greek, zoology, economics, and the IcelandicSagas. He had turned Persian poetry into English prose, and Englishprose into Greek iambics; he was an authority upon coins; and--one otherthing--oh yes, she thought it was vehicular traffic.
He was here either to get things out of the sea, or to write upon theprobable course of Odysseus, for Greek after all was his hobby.
"I've got all his pamphlets," she said. "Little pamphlets. Little yellowbooks." It did not appear that she had read them.
"Has he ever been in love?" asked Helen, who had chosen a seat.
This was unexpectedly to the point.
"His heart's a piece of old shoe leather," Rachel declared, dropping thefish. But when questioned she had to own that she had never asked him.
"I shall ask him," said Helen.
"The last time I saw you, you were buying a piano," she continued. "Doyou remember--the piano, the room in the attic, and the great plantswith the prickles?"
"Yes, and my aunts said the piano would come through the floor, but attheir age one wouldn't mind being killed in the night?" she enquired.
"I heard from Aunt Bessie not long ago," Helen stated. "She is afraidthat you will spoil your arms if you insist upon so much practising."
"The muscles of the forearm--and then one won't marry?"
"She didn't put it quite like that," replied Mrs. Ambrose.
"Oh, no--of course she wouldn't," said Rachel with a sigh.
Helen looked at her. Her face was weak rather than decided, saved frominsipidity by the large enquiring eyes; denied beauty, now that she wassheltered indoors, by the lack of colour and definite outline. Moreover,a hesitation in speaking, or rather a tendency to use the wrong words,made her seem more than normally incompetent for her years. Mrs.Ambrose, who had been speaking much at random, now reflected that shecertainly did not look forward to the intimacy of three or four weekson board ship which was threatened. Women of her own age usually boringher, she supposed that girls would be worse. She glanced at Rachelagain. Yes! how clear it was that she would be vacillating, emotional,and when you said something to her it would make no more lastingimpression than the stroke of a stick upon water. There was nothingto take hold of in girls--nothing hard, permanent, satisfactory. DidWilloughby say three weeks, or did he say four? She tried to remember.
At this point, however, the door opened and a tall burly man enteredthe room, came forward and shook Helen's hand with an emotional kind ofheartiness, Willoughby himself, Rachel's father, Helen's brother-in-law.As a great deal of flesh would have been needed to make a fat man ofhim, his frame being so large, he was not fat; his face was a largeframework too, looking, by the smallness of the features and the glowin the hollow of the cheek, more fitted to withstand assaults of theweather than to express sentiments and emotions, or to respond to themin others.
"It is a great pleasure that you have come," he said, "for both of us."
Rachel murmured in obedience to her father's glance.
"We'll do our best to make you comfortable. And Ridley. We think itan honour to have charge of him. Pepper'll have some one to contradicthim--which I daren't do. You find this child grown, don't you? A youngwoman, eh?"
Still holding Helen's hand he drew his arm round Rachel's shoulder, thusmaking them come uncomfortably close, but Helen forbore to look.
"You think she does us credit?" he asked.
"Oh yes," said Helen.
"Because we expect great things of her," he continued, squeezing hisdaughter's arm and releasing her. "But about you now." They
At this Helen immediately brightened more than she had yet done, andexplained that her son was six and her daughter ten. Everybody said thather boy was like her and her girl like Ridley. As for brains, they werequick brats, she thought, and modestly she ventured on a little storyabout her son,--how left alone for a minute he had taken the pat ofbutter in his fingers, run across the room with it, and put it onthe fire--merely for the fun of the thing, a feeling which she couldunderstand.
"And you had to show the young rascal that these tricks wouldn't do,eh?"
"A child of six? I don't think they matter."
"I'm an old-fashioned father."
"Nonsense, Willoughby; Rachel knows better."
Much as Willoughby would doubtless have liked his daughter to praisehim she did not; her eyes were unreflecting as water, her fingers stilltoying with the fossilised fish, her mind absent. The elder people wenton to speak of arrangements that could be made for Ridley's comfort--atable placed where he couldn't help looking at the sea, far fromboilers, at the same time sheltered from the view of people passing.Unless he made this a holiday, when his books were all packed, hewould have no holiday whatever; for out at Santa Marina Helen knew, byexperience, that he would work all day; his boxes, she said, were packedwith books.
"Leave it to me--leave it to me!" said Willoughby, obviously intendingto do much more than she asked of him. But Ridley and Mr. Pepper wereheard fumbling at the door.
"How are you, Vinrace?" said Ridley, extending a limp hand as he camein, as though the meeting were melancholy to both, but on the whole moreso to him.
Willoughby preserved his heartiness, tempered by respect. For the momentnothing was said.
"We looked in and saw you laughing," Helen remarked. "Mr. Pepper hadjust told a very good story."
"Pish. None of the stories were good," said her husband peevishly.
"Still a severe judge, Ridley?" enquired Mr. Vinrace.
"We bored you so that you left," said Ridley, speaking directly to hiswife.
As this was quite true Helen did not attempt to deny it, and her nextremark, "But didn't they improve after we'd gone?" was unfortunate, forher husband answered with a droop of his shoulders, "If possible theygot worse."
The situation was now one of considerable discomfort for every oneconcerned, as was proved by a long interval of constraint and silence.Mr. Pepper, indeed, created a diversion of a kind by leaping on to hisseat, both feet tucked under him, with the action of a spinster whodetects a mouse, as the draught struck at his ankles. Drawn up there,sucking at his cigar, with his arms encircling his knees, he lookedlike the image of Buddha, and from this elevation began a discourse,addressed to nobody, for nobody had called for it, upon the unplumbeddepths of ocean. He professed himself surprised to learn that althoughMr. Vinrace possessed ten ships, regularly plying between London andBuenos Aires, not one of them was bidden to investigate the great whitemonsters of the lower waters.
"No, no," laughed Willoughby, "the monsters of the earth are too manyfor me!"
Rachel was heard to sigh, "Poor little goats!"
"If it weren't for the goats there'd be no music, my dear; music dependsupon goats," said her father rather sharply, and Mr. Pepper went on todescribe the white, hairless, blind monsters lying curled on the ridgesof sand at the bottom of the sea, which would explode if you broughtthem to the surface, their sides bursting asunder and scatteringentrails to the winds when released from pressure, with considerabledetail and with such show of knowledge, that Ridley was disgusted, andbegged him to stop.
From all this Helen drew her own conclusions, which were gloomy enough.Pepper was a bore; Rachel was an unlicked girl, no doubt prolific ofconfidences, the very first of which would be: "You see, I don't get onwith my father." Willoughby, as usual, loved his business and built hisEmpire, and between them all she would be considerably bored. Being awoman of action, however, she rose, and said that for her part she wasgoing to bed. At the door she glanced back instinctively at Rachel,expecting that as two of the same sex they would leave the roomtogether. Rachel rose, looked vaguely into Helen's face, and remarkedwith her slight stammer, "I'm going out to t-t-triumph in the wind."
Mrs. Ambrose's worst suspicions were confirmed; she went down thepassage lurching from side to side, and fending off the wall nowwith her right arm, now with her left; at each lurch she exclaimedemphatically, "Damn!"
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