The voyage out, p.4
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Voyage Out, p.4

           Virginia Woolf

  Chapter IV

  Next morning Clarissa was up before anyone else. She dressed, and wasout on deck, breathing the fresh air of a calm morning, and, making thecircuit of the ship for the second time, she ran straight into the leanperson of Mr. Grice, the steward. She apologised, and at the same timeasked him to enlighten her: what were those shiny brass stands for, halfglass on the top? She had been wondering, and could not guess. When hehad done explaining, she cried enthusiastically:

  "I do think that to be a sailor must be the finest thing in the world!"

  "And what d'you know about it?" said Mr. Grice, kindling in a strangemanner. "Pardon me. What does any man or woman brought up in Englandknow about the sea? They profess to know; but they don't."

  The bitterness with which he spoke was ominous of what was to come.He led her off to his own quarters, and, sitting on the edge of abrass-bound table, looking uncommonly like a sea-gull, with her whitetapering body and thin alert face, Mrs. Dalloway had to listen to thetirade of a fanatical man. Did she realise, to begin with, what a verysmall part of the world the land was? How peaceful, how beautiful, howbenignant in comparison the sea? The deep waters could sustain Europeunaided if every earthly animal died of the plague to-morrow. Mr. Gricerecalled dreadful sights which he had seen in the richest city of theworld--men and women standing in line hour after hour to receive a mugof greasy soup. "And I thought of the good flesh down here waitingand asking to be caught. I'm not exactly a Protestant, and I'm nota Catholic, but I could almost pray for the days of popery to comeagain--because of the fasts."

  As he talked he kept opening drawers and moving little glass jars. Herewere the treasures which the great ocean had bestowed upon him--palefish in greenish liquids, blobs of jelly with streaming tresses, fishwith lights in their heads, they lived so deep.

  "They have swum about among bones," Clarissa sighed.

  "You're thinking of Shakespeare," said Mr. Grice, and taking down a copyfrom a shelf well lined with books, recited in an emphatic nasal voice:

  "Full fathom five thy father lies,

  "A grand fellow, Shakespeare," he said, replacing the volume.

  Clarissa was so glad to hear him say so.

  "Which is your favourite play? I wonder if it's the same as mine?"

  "_Henry the Fifth_," said Mr. Grice.

  "Joy!" cried Clarissa. "It is!"

  _Hamlet_ was what you might call too introspective for Mr. Grice, thesonnets too passionate; Henry the Fifth was to him the model of anEnglish gentleman. But his favourite reading was Huxley, HerbertSpencer, and Henry George; while Emerson and Thomas Hardy he read forrelaxation. He was giving Mrs. Dalloway his views upon the present stateof England when the breakfast bell rung so imperiously that she had totear herself away, promising to come back and be shown his sea-weeds.

  The party, which had seemed so odd to her the night before, was alreadygathered round the table, still under the influence of sleep, andtherefore uncommunicative, but her entrance sent a little flutter like abreath of air through them all.

  "I've had the most interesting talk of my life!" she exclaimed, takingher seat beside Willoughby. "D'you realise that one of your men is aphilosopher and a poet?"

  "A very interesting fellow--that's what I always say," said Willoughby,distinguishing Mr. Grice. "Though Rachel finds him a bore."

  "He's a bore when he talks about currents," said Rachel. Her eyes werefull of sleep, but Mrs. Dalloway still seemed to her wonderful.

  "I've never met a bore yet!" said Clarissa.

  "And I should say the world was full of them!" exclaimed Helen. But herbeauty, which was radiant in the morning light, took the contrarinessfrom her words.

  "I agree that it's the worst one can possibly say of any one," saidClarissa. "How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!" sheadded, with her usual air of saying something profound. "One can fancyliking a murderer. It's the same with dogs. Some dogs are awful bores,poor dears."

  It happened that Richard was sitting next to Rachel. She was curiouslyconscious of his presence and appearance--his well-cut clothes, hiscrackling shirt-front, his cuffs with blue rings round them, and thesquare-tipped, very clean fingers with the red stone on the littlefinger of the left hand.

  "We had a dog who was a bore and knew it," he said, addressing her incool, easy tones. "He was a Skye terrier, one of those long chaps, withlittle feet poking out from their hair like--like caterpillars--no, likesofas I should say. Well, we had another dog at the same time, a blackbrisk animal--a Schipperke, I think, you call them. You can't imaginea greater contrast. The Skye so slow and deliberate, looking up atyou like some old gentleman in the club, as much as to say, 'You don'treally mean it, do you?' and the Schipperke as quick as a knife. I likedthe Skye best, I must confess. There was something pathetic about him."

  The story seemed to have no climax.

  "What happened to him?" Rachel asked.

  "That's a very sad story," said Richard, lowering his voice and peelingan apple. "He followed my wife in the car one day and got run over by abrute of a cyclist."

  "Was he killed?" asked Rachel.

  But Clarissa at her end of the table had overheard.

  "Don't talk of it!" she cried. "It's a thing I can't bear to think of tothis day."

  Surely the tears stood in her eyes?

  "That's the painful thing about pets," said Mr. Dalloway; "they die. Thefirst sorrow I can remember was for the death of a dormouse. I regret tosay that I sat upon it. Still, that didn't make one any the less sorry.Here lies the duck that Samuel Johnson sat on, eh? I was big for myage."

  "Then we had canaries," he continued, "a pair of ring-doves, a lemur,and at one time a martin."

  "Did you live in the country?" Rachel asked him.

  "We lived in the country for six months of the year. When I say 'we' Imean four sisters, a brother, and myself. There's nothing like coming ofa large family. Sisters particularly are delightful."

  "Dick, you were horribly spoilt!" cried Clarissa across the table.

  "No, no. Appreciated," said Richard.

  Rachel had other questions on the tip of her tongue; or rather oneenormous question, which she did not in the least know how to put intowords. The talk appeared too airy to admit of it.

  "Please tell me--everything." That was what she wanted to say. He haddrawn apart one little chink and showed astonishing treasures. It seemedto her incredible that a man like that should be willing to talk to her.He had sisters and pets, and once lived in the country. She stirred hertea round and round; the bubbles which swam and clustered in the cupseemed to her like the union of their minds.

  The talk meanwhile raced past her, and when Richard suddenly stated in ajocular tone of voice, "I'm sure Miss Vinrace, now, has secret leaningstowards Catholicism," she had no idea what to answer, and Helen couldnot help laughing at the start she gave.

  However, breakfast was over and Mrs. Dalloway was rising. "I alwaysthink religion's like collecting beetles," she said, summing up thediscussion as she went up the stairs with Helen. "One person has apassion for black beetles; another hasn't; it's no good arguing aboutit. What's _your_ black beetle now?"

  "I suppose it's my children," said Helen.

  "Ah--that's different," Clarissa breathed. "Do tell me. You have a boy,haven't you? Isn't it detestable, leaving them?"

  It was as though a blue shadow had fallen across a pool. Their eyesbecame deeper, and their voices more cordial. Instead of joining themas they began to pace the deck, Rachel was indignant with the prosperousmatrons, who made her feel outside their world and motherless, andturning back, she left them abruptly. She slammed the door of her room,and pulled out her music. It was all old music--Bach and Beethoven,Mozart and Purcell--the pages yellow, the engraving rough to the finger.In three minutes she was deep in a very difficult, very classical fuguein A, and over her face came a queer remote impersonal expression ofcomplete absorption and anxious satisfaction. Now she stumbled; now shefaltered and had to play the same b
ar twice over; but an invisibleline seemed to string the notes together, from which rose a shape,a building. She was so far absorbed in this work, for it was reallydifficult to find how all these sounds should stand together, and drewupon the whole of her faculties, that she never heard a knock at thedoor. It was burst impulsively open, and Mrs. Dalloway stood in the roomleaving the door open, so that a strip of the white deck and of the bluesea appeared through the opening. The shape of the Bach fugue crashed tothe ground.

  "Don't let me interrupt," Clarissa implored. "I heard you playing, and Icouldn't resist. I adore Bach!"

  Rachel flushed and fumbled her fingers in her lap. She stood upawkwardly.

  "It's too difficult," she said.

  "But you were playing quite splendidly! I ought to have stayed outside."

  "No," said Rachel.

  She slid _Cowper's_ _Letters_ and _Wuthering_ _Heights_ out of thearm-chair, so that Clarissa was invited to sit there.

  "What a dear little room!" she said, looking round. "Oh, _Cowper'sLetters_! I've never read them. Are they nice?"

  "Rather dull," said Rachel.

  "He wrote awfully well, didn't he?" said Clarissa; "--if one likesthat kind of thing--finished his sentences and all that. _Wuthering__Heights_! Ah--that's more in my line. I really couldn't exist withoutthe Brontes! Don't you love them? Still, on the whole, I'd rather livewithout them than without Jane Austen."

  Lightly and at random though she spoke, her manner conveyed anextraordinary degree of sympathy and desire to befriend.

  "Jane Austen? I don't like Jane Austen," said Rachel.

  "You monster!" Clarissa exclaimed. "I can only just forgive you. Tell mewhy?"

  "She's so--so--well, so like a tight plait," Rachel floundered. "Ah--Isee what you mean. But I don't agree. And you won't when you're older.At your age I only liked Shelley. I can remember sobbing over him in thegarden.

  He has outsoared the shadow of our night, Envy and calumny and hate and pain-- you remember?

  Can touch him not and torture not again From the contagion of the world's slow stain.

  How divine!--and yet what nonsense!" She looked lightly round the room."I always think it's _living_, not dying, that counts. I really respectsome snuffy old stockbroker who's gone on adding up column after columnall his days, and trotting back to his villa at Brixton with some oldpug dog he worships, and a dreary little wife sitting at the end of thetable, and going off to Margate for a fortnight--I assure you I knowheaps like that--well, they seem to me _really_ nobler than poets whomevery one worships, just because they're geniuses and die young. But Idon't expect _you_ to agree with me!"

  She pressed Rachel's shoulder.

  "Um-m-m--" she went on quoting--

  Unrest which men miscall delight--

  "When you're my age you'll see that the world is _crammed_ withdelightful things. I think young people make such a mistake aboutthat--not letting themselves be happy. I sometimes think that happinessis the only thing that counts. I don't know you well enough to say, butI should guess you might be a little inclined to--when one's young andattractive--I'm going to say it!--_every_thing's at one's feet." Sheglanced round as much as to say, "not only a few stuffy books and Bach."

  "I long to ask questions," she continued. "You interest me so much. IfI'm impertinent, you must just box my ears."

  "And I--I want to ask questions," said Rachel with such earnestness thatMrs. Dalloway had to check her smile.

  "D'you mind if we walk?" she said. "The air's so delicious."

  She snuffed it like a racehorse as they shut the door and stood on deck.

  "Isn't it good to be alive?" she exclaimed, and drew Rachel's arm withinhers.

  "Look, look! How exquisite!"

  The shores of Portugal were beginning to lose their substance; butthe land was still the land, though at a great distance. They coulddistinguish the little towns that were sprinkled in the folds of thehills, and the smoke rising faintly. The towns appeared to be very smallin comparison with the great purple mountains behind them.

  "Honestly, though," said Clarissa, having looked, "I don't like views.They're too inhuman." They walked on.

  "How odd it is!" she continued impulsively. "This time yesterday we'dnever met. I was packing in a stuffy little room in the hotel. We knowabsolutely nothing about each other--and yet--I feel as if I _did_ knowyou!"

  "You have children--your husband was in Parliament?"

  "You've never been to school, and you live--?"

  "With my aunts at Richmond."


  "You see, my aunts like the Park. They like the quiet."

  "And you don't! I understand!" Clarissa laughed.

  "I like walking in the Park alone; but not--with the dogs," shefinished.

  "No; and some people _are_ dogs; aren't they?" said Clarissa, as if shehad guessed a secret. "But not every one--oh no, not every one."

  "Not every one," said Rachel, and stopped.

  "I can quite imagine you walking alone," said Clarissa: "andthinking--in a little world of your own. But how you will enjoy it--someday!"

  "I shall enjoy walking with a man--is that what you mean?" said Rachel,regarding Mrs. Dalloway with her large enquiring eyes.

  "I wasn't thinking of a man particularly," said Clarissa. "But youwill."

  "No. I shall never marry," Rachel determined.

  "I shouldn't be so sure of that," said Clarissa. Her sidelong glancetold Rachel that she found her attractive although she was inexplicablyamused.

  "Why do people marry?" Rachel asked.

  "That's what you're going to find out," Clarissa laughed.

  Rachel followed her eyes and found that they rested for a second, on therobust figure of Richard Dalloway, who was engaged in striking a matchon the sole of his boot; while Willoughby expounded something, whichseemed to be of great interest to them both.

  "There's nothing like it," she concluded. "Do tell me about theAmbroses. Or am I asking too many questions?"

  "I find you easy to talk to," said Rachel.

  The short sketch of the Ambroses was, however, somewhat perfunctory, andcontained little but the fact that Mr. Ambrose was her uncle.

  "Your mother's brother?"

  When a name has dropped out of use, the lightest touch upon it tells.Mrs. Dalloway went on:

  "Are you like your mother?"

  "No; she was different," said Rachel.

  She was overcome by an intense desire to tell Mrs. Dalloway things shehad never told any one--things she had not realised herself until thismoment.

  "I am lonely," she began. "I want--" She did not know what she wanted,so that she could not finish the sentence; but her lip quivered.

  But it seemed that Mrs. Dalloway was able to understand without words.

  "I know," she said, actually putting one arm round Rachel's shoulder."When I was your age I wanted too. No one understood until I metRichard. He gave me all I wanted. He's man and woman as well." Her eyesrested upon Mr. Dalloway, leaning upon the rail, still talking. "Don'tthink I say that because I'm his wife--I see his faults more clearlythan I see any one else's. What one wants in the person one lives withis that they should keep one at one's best. I often wonder what I'vedone to be so happy!" she exclaimed, and a tear slid down her cheek. Shewiped it away, squeezed Rachel's hand, and exclaimed:

  "How good life is!" At that moment, standing out in the fresh breeze,with the sun upon the waves, and Mrs. Dalloway's hand upon her arm, itseemed indeed as if life which had been unnamed before was infinitelywonderful, and too good to be true.

  Here Helen passed them, and seeing Rachel arm-in-arm with a comparativestranger, looking excited, was amused, but at the same time slightlyirritated. But they were immediately joined by Richard, who had enjoyeda very interesting talk with Willoughby and was in a sociable mood.

  "Observe my Panama," he said, touching the brim of his hat. "Are youaware, Miss Vinrace, how much can be done to induce fine weather byappropriate headdre
ss? I have determined that it is a hot summer day; Iwarn you that nothing you can say will shake me. Therefore I am goingto sit down. I advise you to follow my example." Three chairs in a rowinvited them to be seated.

  Leaning back, Richard surveyed the waves.

  "That's a very pretty blue," he said. "But there's a little too much ofit. Variety is essential to a view. Thus, if you have hills you oughtto have a river; if a river, hills. The best view in the world in myopinion is that from Boars Hill on a fine day--it must be a fine day,mark you--A rug?--Oh, thank you, my dear . . . in that case you havealso the advantage of associations--the Past."

  "D'you want to talk, Dick, or shall I read aloud?"

  Clarissa had fetched a book with the rugs.

  "_Persuasion_," announced Richard, examining the volume.

  "That's for Miss Vinrace," said Clarissa. "She can't bear our belovedJane."

  "That--if I may say so--is because you have not read her," said Richard."She is incomparably the greatest female writer we possess."

  "She is the greatest," he continued, "and for this reason: she does notattempt to write like a man. Every other woman does; on that account, Idon't read 'em."

  "Produce your instances, Miss Vinrace," he went on, joining hisfinger-tips. "I'm ready to be converted."

  He waited, while Rachel vainly tried to vindicate her sex from theslight he put upon it.

  "I'm afraid he's right," said Clarissa. "He generally is--the wretch!"

  "I brought _Persuasion_," she went on, "because I thought it was alittle less threadbare than the others--though, Dick, it's no good_your_ pretending to know Jane by heart, considering that she alwayssends you to sleep!"

  "After the labours of legislation, I deserve sleep," said Richard.

  "You're not to think about those guns," said Clarissa, seeing that hiseye, passing over the waves, still sought the land meditatively, "orabout navies, or empires, or anything." So saying she opened the bookand began to read:

  "'Sir Walter Elliott, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a manwho, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the_Baronetage_'--don't you know Sir Walter?--'There he found occupationfor an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one.' She does writewell, doesn't she? 'There--'" She read on in a light humorous voice. Shewas determined that Sir Walter should take her husband's mind off theguns of Britain, and divert him in an exquisite, quaint, sprightly, andslightly ridiculous world. After a time it appeared that the sun wassinking in that world, and the points becoming softer. Rachel lookedup to see what caused the change. Richard's eyelids were closing andopening; opening and closing. A loud nasal breath announced that he nolonger considered appearances, that he was sound asleep.

  "Triumph!" Clarissa whispered at the end of a sentence. Suddenly sheraised her hand in protest. A sailor hesitated; she gave the book toRachel, and stepped lightly to take the message--"Mr. Grice wishedto know if it was convenient," etc. She followed him. Ridley, who hadprowled unheeded, started forward, stopped, and, with a gesture ofdisgust, strode off to his study. The sleeping politician was left inRachel's charge. She read a sentence, and took a look at him. In sleephe looked like a coat hanging at the end of a bed; there were all thewrinkles, and the sleeves and trousers kept their shape though no longerfilled out by legs and arms. You can then best judge the age and stateof the coat. She looked him all over until it seemed to her that he mustprotest.

  He was a man of forty perhaps; and here there were lines round his eyes,and there curious clefts in his cheeks. Slightly battered he appeared,but dogged and in the prime of life.

  "Sisters and a dormouse and some canaries," Rachel murmured, nevertaking her eyes off him. "I wonder, I wonder" she ceased, her chin uponher hand, still looking at him. A bell chimed behind them, and Richardraised his head. Then he opened his eyes which wore for a second thequeer look of a shortsighted person's whose spectacles are lost. Ittook him a moment to recover from the impropriety of having snored, andpossibly grunted, before a young lady. To wake and find oneself leftalone with one was also slightly disconcerting.

  "I suppose I've been dozing," he said. "What's happened to everyone?Clarissa?"

  "Mrs. Dalloway has gone to look at Mr. Grice's fish," Rachel replied.

  "I might have guessed," said Richard. "It's a common occurrence. And howhave you improved the shining hour? Have you become a convert?"

  "I don't think I've read a line," said Rachel.

  "That's what I always find. There are too many things to look at. I findnature very stimulating myself. My best ideas have come to me out ofdoors."

  "When you were walking?"

  "Walking--riding--yachting--I suppose the most momentous conversationsof my life took place while perambulating the great court at Trinity.I was at both universities. It was a fad of my father's. He thought itbroadening to the mind. I think I agree with him. I can remember--whatan age ago it seems!--settling the basis of a future state with thepresent Secretary for India. We thought ourselves very wise. I'm notsure we weren't. We were happy, Miss Vinrace, and we were young--giftswhich make for wisdom."

  "Have you done what you said you'd do?" she asked.

  "A searching question! I answer--Yes and No. If on the one hand I havenot accomplished what I set out to accomplish--which of us does!--on theother I can fairly say this: I have not lowered my ideal."

  He looked resolutely at a sea-gull, as though his ideal flew on thewings of the bird.

  "But," said Rachel, "what _is_ your ideal?"

  "There you ask too much, Miss Vinrace," said Richard playfully.

  She could only say that she wanted to know, and Richard was sufficientlyamused to answer.

  "Well, how shall I reply? In one word--Unity. Unity of aim, of dominion,of progress. The dispersion of the best ideas over the greatest area."

  "The English?"

  "I grant that the English seem, on the whole, whiter than most men,their records cleaner. But, good Lord, don't run away with the idea thatI don't see the drawbacks--horrors--unmentionable things done in ourvery midst! I'm under no illusions. Few people, I suppose, havefewer illusions than I have. Have you ever been in a factory, MissVinrace!--No, I suppose not--I may say I hope not."

  As for Rachel, she had scarcely walked through a poor street, and alwaysunder the escort of father, maid, or aunts.

  "I was going to say that if you'd ever seen the kind of thing that'sgoing on round you, you'd understand what it is that makes me and menlike me politicians. You asked me a moment ago whether I'd done what Iset out to do. Well, when I consider my life, there is one fact Iadmit that I'm proud of; owing to me some thousands of girls inLancashire--and many thousands to come after them--can spend an hourevery day in the open air which their mothers had to spend over theirlooms. I'm prouder of that, I own, than I should be of writing Keats andShelley into the bargain!"

  It became painful to Rachel to be one of those who write Keats andShelley. She liked Richard Dalloway, and warmed as he warmed. He seemedto mean what he said.

  "I know nothing!" she exclaimed.

  "It's far better that you should know nothing," he said paternally, "andyou wrong yourself, I'm sure. You play very nicely, I'm told, and I'veno doubt you've read heaps of learned books."

  Elderly banter would no longer check her.

  "You talk of unity," she said. "You ought to make me understand."

  "I never allow my wife to talk politics," he said seriously. "For thisreason. It is impossible for human beings, constituted as they are, bothto fight and to have ideals. If I have preserved mine, as I am thankfulto say that in great measure I have, it is due to the fact that I havebeen able to come home to my wife in the evening and to find that shehas spent her day in calling, music, play with the children, domesticduties--what you will; her illusions have not been destroyed. She givesme courage to go on. The strain of public life is very great," he added.

  This made him appear a battered martyr, parting every day with some ofthe finest gold, in the service of mankind.
r />
  "I can't think," Rachel exclaimed, "how any one does it!"

  "Explain, Miss Vinrace," said Richard. "This is a matter I want to clearup."

  His kindness was genuine, and she determined to take the chance he gaveher, although to talk to a man of such worth and authority made herheart beat.

  "It seems to me like this," she began, doing her best first to recollectand then to expose her shivering private visions.

  "There's an old widow in her room, somewhere, let us suppose in thesuburbs of Leeds."

  Richard bent his head to show that he accepted the widow.

  "In London you're spending your life, talking, writing things, gettingbills through, missing what seems natural. The result of it all is thatshe goes to her cupboard and finds a little more tea, a few lumps ofsugar, or a little less tea and a newspaper. Widows all over the countryI admit do this. Still, there's the mind of the widow--the affections;those you leave untouched. But you waste you own."

  "If the widow goes to her cupboard and finds it bare," Richard answered,"her spiritual outlook we may admit will be affected. If I may pickholes in your philosophy, Miss Vinrace, which has its merits, I wouldpoint out that a human being is not a set of compartments, but anorganism. Imagination, Miss Vinrace; use your imagination that's whereyou young Liberals fail. Conceive the world as a whole. Now for yoursecond point; when you assert that in trying to set the house inorder for the benefit of the young generation I am wasting my highercapabilities, I totally disagree with you. I can conceive no moreexalted aim--to be the citizen of the Empire. Look at it in this way,Miss Vinrace; conceive the state as a complicated machine; we citizensare parts of that machine; some fulfil more important duties; others(perhaps I am one of them) serve only to connect some obscure parts ofthe mechanism, concealed from the public eye. Yet if the meanest screwfails in its task, the proper working of the whole is imperilled."

  It was impossible to combine the image of a lean black widow, gazing outof her window, and longing for some one to talk to, with the image of avast machine, such as one sees at South Kensington, thumping, thumping,thumping. The attempt at communication had been a failure.

  "We don't seem to understand each other," she said.

  "Shall I say something that will make you very angry?" he replied.

  "It won't," said Rachel.

  "Well, then; no woman has what I may call the political instinct. Youhave very great virtues; I am the first, I hope, to admit that; but Ihave never met a woman who even saw what is meant by statesmanship. I amgoing to make you still more angry. I hope that I never shall meet sucha woman. Now, Miss Vinrace, are we enemies for life?"

  Vanity, irritation, and a thrusting desire to be understood, urged herto make another attempt.

  "Under the streets, in the sewers, in the wires, in the telephones,there is something alive; is that what you mean? In things likedust-carts, and men mending roads? You feel that all the time when youwalk about London, and when you turn on a tap and the water comes?"

  "Certainly," said Richard. "I understand you to mean that the whole ofmodern society is based upon cooperative effort. If only more peoplewould realise that, Miss Vinrace, there would be fewer of your oldwidows in solitary lodgings!"

  Rachel considered.

  "Are you a Liberal or are you a Conservative?" she asked.

  "I call myself a Conservative for convenience sake," said Richard,smiling. "But there is more in common between the two parties thanpeople generally allow."

  There was a pause, which did not come on Rachel's side from any lack ofthings to say; as usual she could not say them, and was further confusedby the fact that the time for talking probably ran short. She washaunted by absurd jumbled ideas--how, if one went back far enough,everything perhaps was intelligible; everything was in common for themammoths who pastured in the fields of Richmond High Street had turnedinto paving stones and boxes full of ribbon, and her aunts.

  "Did you say you lived in the country when you were a child?" she asked.

  Crude as her manners seemed to him, Richard was flattered. There couldbe no doubt that her interest was genuine.

  "I did," he smiled.

  "And what happened?" she asked. "Or do I ask too many questions?"

  "I'm flattered, I assure you. But--let me see--what happened? Well,riding, lessons, sisters. There was an enchanted rubbish heap, Iremember, where all kinds of queer things happened. Odd, what thingsimpress children! I can remember the look of the place to this day.It's a fallacy to think that children are happy. They're not; they'reunhappy. I've never suffered so much as I did when I was a child."

  "Why?" she asked.

  "I didn't get on well with my father," said Richard shortly. "He wasa very able man, but hard. Well--it makes one determined not to sin inthat way oneself. Children never forget injustice. They forgive heaps ofthings grown-up people mind; but that sin is the unpardonable sin. Mindyou--I daresay I was a difficult child to manage; but when I think whatI was ready to give! No, I was more sinned against than sinning. Andthen I went to school, where I did very fairly well; and and then, asI say, my father sent me to both universities. . . . D'you know, MissVinrace, you've made me think? How little, after all, one can tellanybody about one's life! Here I sit; there you sit; both, I doubt not,chock-full of the most interesting experiences, ideas, emotions; yet howcommunicate? I've told you what every second person you meet might tellyou."

  "I don't think so," she said. "It's the way of saying things, isn't it,not the things?"

  "True," said Richard. "Perfectly true." He paused. "When I look backover my life--I'm forty-two--what are the great facts that stand out?What were the revelations, if I may call them so? The misery of the poorand--" (he hesitated and pitched over) "love!"

  Upon that word he lowered his voice; it was a word that seemed to unveilthe skies for Rachel.

  "It's an odd thing to say to a young lady," he continued. "But have youany idea what--what I mean by that? No, of course not. I don't use theword in a conventional sense. I use it as young men use it. Girls arekept very ignorant, aren't they? Perhaps it's wise--perhaps--You _don't_know?"

  He spoke as if he had lost consciousness of what he was saying.

  "No; I don't," she said, scarcely speaking above her breath.

  "Warships, Dick! Over there! Look!" Clarissa, released from Mr. Grice,appreciative of all his seaweeds, skimmed towards them, gesticulating.

  She had sighted two sinister grey vessels, low in the water, and baldas bone, one closely following the other with the look of eyeless beastsseeking their prey. Consciousness returned to Richard instantly.

  "By George!" he exclaimed, and stood shielding his eyes.

  "Ours, Dick?" said Clarissa.

  "The Mediterranean Fleet," he answered.

  "The _Euphrosyne_ was slowly dipping her flag. Richard raised his hat.Convulsively Clarissa squeezed Rachel's hand.

  "Aren't you glad to be English!" she said.

  The warships drew past, casting a curious effect of discipline andsadness upon the waters, and it was not until they were again invisiblethat people spoke to each other naturally. At lunch the talk was allof valour and death, and the magnificent qualities of British admirals.Clarissa quoted one poet, Willoughby quoted another. Life on board aman-of-war was splendid, so they agreed, and sailors, whenever one metthem, were quite especially nice and simple.

  This being so, no one liked it when Helen remarked that it seemed to heras wrong to keep sailors as to keep a Zoo, and that as for dying on abattle-field, surely it was time we ceased to praise courage--"or towrite bad poetry about it," snarled Pepper.

  But Helen was really wondering why Rachel, sitting silent, looked soqueer and flushed.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment