The voyage out, p.6
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       The Voyage Out, p.6
 

           Virginia Woolf

  Chapter VI

  "That's the tragedy of life--as I always say!" said Mrs. Dalloway."Beginning things and having to end them. Still, I'm not going to let_this_ end, if you're willing." It was the morning, the sea was calm,and the ship once again was anchored not far from another shore.

  She was dressed in her long fur cloak, with the veils wound around herhead, and once more the rich boxes stood on top of each other so thatthe scene of a few days back seemed to be repeated.

  "D'you suppose we shall ever meet in London?" said Ridley ironically."You'll have forgotten all about me by the time you step out there."

  He pointed to the shore of the little bay, where they could now see theseparate trees with moving branches.

  "How horrid you are!" she laughed. "Rachel's coming to see meanyhow--the instant you get back," she said, pressing Rachel's arm."Now--you've no excuse!"

  With a silver pencil she wrote her name and address on the flyleaf of_Persuasion_, and gave the book to Rachel. Sailors were shouldering theluggage, and people were beginning to congregate. There were CaptainCobbold, Mr. Grice, Willoughby, Helen, and an obscure grateful man in ablue jersey.

  "Oh, it's time," said Clarissa. "Well, good-bye. I _do_ like you," shemurmured as she kissed Rachel. People in the way made it unnecessaryfor Richard to shake Rachel by the hand; he managed to look at her verystiffly for a second before he followed his wife down the ship's side.

  The boat separating from the vessel made off towards the land, and forsome minutes Helen, Ridley, and Rachel leant over the rail, watching.Once Mrs. Dalloway turned and waved; but the boat steadily grew smallerand smaller until it ceased to rise and fall, and nothing could be seensave two resolute backs.

  "Well, that's over," said Ridley after a long silence. "We shall neversee _them_ again," he added, turning to go to his books. A feeling ofemptiness and melancholy came over them; they knew in their hearts thatit was over, and that they had parted for ever, and the knowledge filledthem with far greater depression than the length of their acquaintanceseemed to justify. Even as the boat pulled away they could feel othersights and sounds beginning to take the place of the Dalloways, and thefeeling was so unpleasant that they tried to resist it. For so, too,would they be forgotten.

  In much the same way as Mrs. Chailey downstairs was sweeping thewithered rose-leaves off the dressing-table, so Helen was anxious tomake things straight again after the visitors had gone. Rachel's obviouslanguor and listlessness made her an easy prey, and indeed Helen haddevised a kind of trap. That something had happened she now felt prettycertain; moreover, she had come to think that they had been strangerslong enough; she wished to know what the girl was like, partly of coursebecause Rachel showed no disposition to be known. So, as they turnedfrom the rail, she said:

  "Come and talk to me instead of practising," and led the way to thesheltered side where the deck-chairs were stretched in the sun. Rachelfollowed her indifferently. Her mind was absorbed by Richard; by theextreme strangeness of what had happened, and by a thousand feelings ofwhich she had not been conscious before. She made scarcely any attemptto listen to what Helen was saying, as Helen indulged in commonplaces tobegin with. While Mrs. Ambrose arranged her embroidery, sucked her silk,and threaded her needle, she lay back gazing at the horizon.

  "Did you like those people?" Helen asked her casually.

  "Yes," she replied blankly.

  "You talked to him, didn't you?"

  She said nothing for a minute.

  "He kissed me," she said without any change of tone.

  Helen started, looked at her, but could not make out what she felt.

  "M-m-m'yes," she said, after a pause. "I thought he was that kind ofman."

  "What kind of man?" said Rachel.

  "Pompous and sentimental."

  "I like him," said Rachel.

  "So you really didn't mind?"

  For the first time since Helen had known her Rachel's eyes lit upbrightly.

  "I did mind," she said vehemently. "I dreamt. I couldn't sleep."

  "Tell me what happened," said Helen. She had to keep her lips fromtwitching as she listened to Rachel's story. It was poured out abruptlywith great seriousness and no sense of humour.

  "We talked about politics. He told me what he had done for the poorsomewhere. I asked him all sorts of questions. He told me about his ownlife. The day before yesterday, after the storm, he came in to see me.It happened then, quite suddenly. He kissed me. I don't know why." Asshe spoke she grew flushed. "I was a good deal excited," she continued."But I didn't mind till afterwards; when--" she paused, and saw thefigure of the bloated little man again--"I became terrified."

  From the look in her eyes it was evident she was again terrified. Helenwas really at a loss what to say. From the little she knew of Rachel'supbringing she supposed that she had been kept entirely ignorant asto the relations of men with women. With a shyness which she felt withwomen and not with men she did not like to explain simply what theseare. Therefore she took the other course and belittled the whole affair.

  "Oh, well," she said, "He was a silly creature, and if I were you, I'dthink no more about it."

  "No," said Rachel, sitting bolt upright, "I shan't do that. I shallthink about it all day and all night until I find out exactly what itdoes mean."

  "Don't you ever read?" Helen asked tentatively.

  "_Cowper's_ _Letters_--that kind of thing. Father gets them for me or myAunts."

  Helen could hardly restrain herself from saying out loud what shethought of a man who brought up his daughter so that at the age oftwenty-four she scarcely knew that men desired women and was terrifiedby a kiss. She had good reason to fear that Rachel had made herselfincredibly ridiculous.

  "You don't know many men?" she asked.

  "Mr. Pepper," said Rachel ironically.

  "So no one's ever wanted to marry you?"

  "No," she answered ingenuously.

  Helen reflected that as, from what she had said, Rachel certainly wouldthink these things out, it might be as well to help her.

  "You oughtn't to be frightened," she said. "It's the most natural thingin the world. Men will want to kiss you, just as they'll want to marryyou. The pity is to get things out of proportion. It's like noticingthe noises people make when they eat, or men spitting; or, in short, anysmall thing that gets on one's nerves."

  Rachel seemed to be inattentive to these remarks.

  "Tell me," she said suddenly, "what are those women in Piccadilly?"

  "In Picadilly? They are prostituted," said Helen.

  "It _is_ terrifying--it _is_ disgusting," Rachel asserted, as if sheincluded Helen in the hatred.

  "It is," said Helen. "But--"

  "I did like him," Rachel mused, as if speaking to herself. "I wanted totalk to him; I wanted to know what he'd done. The women in Lancashire--"

  It seemed to her as she recalled their talk that there was somethinglovable about Richard, good in their attempted friendship, and strangelypiteous in the way they had parted.

  The softening of her mood was apparent to Helen.

  "You see," she said, "you must take things as they are; and if you wantfriendship with men you must run risks. Personally," she continued,breaking into a smile, "I think it's worth it; I don't mind beingkissed; I'm rather jealous, I believe, that Mr. Dalloway kissed you anddidn't kiss me. Though," she added, "he bored me considerably."

  But Rachel did not return the smile or dismiss the whole affair, asHelen meant her to. Her mind was working very quickly, inconsistentlyand painfully. Helen's words hewed down great blocks which had stoodthere always, and the light which came in was cold. After sitting for atime with fixed eyes, she burst out:

  "So that's why I can't walk alone!"

  By this new light she saw her life for the first time a creepinghedged-in thing, driven cautiously between high walls, here turnedaside, there plunged in darkness, made dull and crippled for ever--herlife that was the only chance she had--a thousand words and actionsbecame plain to
her.

  "Because men are brutes! I hate men!" she exclaimed.

  "I thought you said you liked him?" said Helen.

  "I liked him, and I liked being kissed," she answered, as if that onlyadded more difficulties to her problem.

  Helen was surprised to see how genuine both shock and problem were, butshe could think of no way of easing the difficulty except by going ontalking. She wanted to make her niece talk, and so to understand whythis rather dull, kindly, plausible politician had made so deep animpression on her, for surely at the age of twenty-four this was notnatural.

  "And did you like Mrs. Dalloway too?" she asked.

  As she spoke she saw Rachel redden; for she remembered silly things shehad said, and also, it occurred to her that she treated this exquisitewoman rather badly, for Mrs. Dalloway had said that she loved herhusband.

  "She was quite nice, but a thimble-pated creature," Helen continued. "Inever heard such nonsense! Chitter-chatter-chitter-chatter--fish andthe Greek alphabet--never listened to a word any one said--chock-full ofidiotic theories about the way to bring up children--I'd far rather talkto him any day. He was pompous, but he did at least understand what wassaid to him."

  The glamour insensibly faded a little both from Richard and Clarissa.They had not been so wonderful after all, then, in the eyes of a matureperson.

  "It's very difficult to know what people are like," Rachel remarked, andHelen saw with pleasure that she spoke more naturally. "I suppose I wastaken in."

  There was little doubt about that according to Helen, but she restrainedherself and said aloud:

  "One has to make experiments."

  "And they _were_ nice," said Rachel. "They were extraordinarilyinteresting." She tried to recall the image of the world as a livething that Richard had given her, with drains like nerves, andbad houses like patches of diseased skin. She recalled hiswatch-words--Unity--Imagination, and saw again the bubbles meeting inher tea-cup as he spoke of sisters and canaries, boyhood and his father,her small world becoming wonderfully enlarged.

  "But all people don't seem to you equally interesting, do they?" askedMrs. Ambrose.

  Rachel explained that most people had hitherto been symbols; but thatwhen they talked to one they ceased to be symbols, and became--"I couldlisten to them for ever!" she exclaimed. She then jumped up, disappeareddownstairs for a minute, and came back with a fat red book.

  "_Who's_ _Who_," she said, laying it upon Helen's knee and turning thepages. "It gives short lives of people--for instance: 'Sir Roland Beal;born 1852; parents from Moffatt; educated at Rugby; passed firstinto R.E.; married 1878 the daughter of T. Fishwick; served in theBechuanaland Expedition 1884-85 (honourably mentioned). Clubs: UnitedService, Naval and Military. Recreations: an enthusiastic curler.'"

  Sitting on the deck at Helen's feet she went on turning the pages andreading biographies of bankers, writers, clergymen, sailors, surgeons,judges, professors, statesmen, editors, philanthropists, merchants, andactresses; what clubs they belonged to, where they lived, what gamesthey played, and how many acres they owned.

  She became absorbed in the book.

  Helen meanwhile stitched at her embroidery and thought over the thingsthey had said. Her conclusion was that she would very much like to showher niece, if it were possible, how to live, or as she put it, how to bea reasonable person. She thought that there must be something wrong inthis confusion between politics and kissing politicians, and that anelder person ought to be able to help.

  "I quite agree," she said, "that people are very interesting; only--"Rachel, putting her finger between the pages, looked up enquiringly.

  "Only I think you ought to discriminate," she ended. "It's a pity tobe intimate with people who are--well, rather second-rate, like theDalloways, and to find it out later."

  "But how does one know?" Rachel asked.

  "I really can't tell you," replied Helen candidly, after a moment'sthought. "You'll have to find out for yourself. But try and--Why don'tyou call me Helen?" she added. "'Aunt's' a horrid name. I never liked myAunts."

  "I should like to call you Helen," Rachel answered.

  "D'you think me very unsympathetic?"

  Rachel reviewed the points which Helen had certainly failed tounderstand; they arose chiefly from the difference of nearly twentyyears in age between them, which made Mrs. Ambrose appear too humorousand cool in a matter of such moment.

  "No," she said. "Some things you don't understand, of course."

  "Of course," Helen agreed. "So now you can go ahead and be a person onyour own account," she added.

  The vision of her own personality, of herself as a real everlastingthing, different from anything else, unmergeable, like the sea or thewind, flashed into Rachel's mind, and she became profoundly excited atthe thought of living.

  "I can by m-m-myself," she stammered, "in spite of you, in spite of theDalloways, and Mr. Pepper, and Father, and my Aunts, in spite of these?"She swept her hand across a whole page of statesmen and soldiers.

  "In spite of them all," said Helen gravely. She then put down herneedle, and explained a plan which had come into her head as theytalked. Instead of wandering on down the Amazons until she reached somesulphurous tropical port, where one had to lie within doors all daybeating off insects with a fan, the sensible thing to do surely was tospend the season with them in their villa by the seaside, where amongother advantages Mrs. Ambrose herself would be at hand to--"After all,Rachel," she broke off, "it's silly to pretend that because there'stwenty years' difference between us we therefore can't talk to eachother like human beings."

  "No; because we like each other," said Rachel.

  "Yes," Mrs. Ambrose agreed.

  That fact, together with other facts, had been made clear by theirtwenty minutes' talk, although how they had come to these conclusionsthey could not have said.

  However they were come by, they were sufficiently serious to send Mrs.Ambrose a day or two later in search of her brother-in-law. Shefound him sitting in his room working, applying a stout blue pencilauthoritatively to bundles of filmy paper. Papers lay to left and toright of him, there were great envelopes so gorged with papers that theyspilt papers on to the table. Above him hung a photograph of a woman'shead. The need of sitting absolutely still before a Cockney photographerhad given her lips a queer little pucker, and her eyes for the samereason looked as though she thought the whole situation ridiculous.Nevertheless it was the head of an individual and interesting woman, whowould no doubt have turned and laughed at Willoughby if she could havecaught his eye; but when he looked up at her he sighed profoundly. Inhis mind this work of his, the great factories at Hull which showed likemountains at night, the ships that crossed the ocean punctually, theschemes for combining this and that and building up a solid mass ofindustry, was all an offering to her; he laid his success at her feet;and was always thinking how to educate his daughter so that Theresamight be glad. He was a very ambitious man; and although he had notbeen particularly kind to her while she lived, as Helen thought, he nowbelieved that she watched him from Heaven, and inspired what was good inhim.

  Mrs. Ambrose apologised for the interruption, and asked whether shemight speak to him about a plan of hers. Would he consent to leave hisdaughter with them when they landed, instead of taking her on up theAmazons?

  "We would take great care of her," she added, "and we should really likeit."

  Willoughby looked very grave and carefully laid aside his papers.

  "She's a good girl," he said at length. "There is a likeness?"--henodded his head at the photograph of Theresa and sighed. Helen lookedat Theresa pursing up her lips before the Cockney photographer. Itsuggested her in an absurd human way, and she felt an intense desire toshare some joke.

  "She's the only thing that's left to me," sighed Willoughby. "We go onyear after year without talking about these things--" He broke off. "Butit's better so. Only life's very hard."

  Helen was sorry for him, and patted him on the shoulder, but she feltuncomfortable wh
en her brother-in-law expressed his feelings, and tookrefuge in praising Rachel, and explaining why she thought her plan mightbe a good one.

  "True," said Willoughby when she had done. "The social conditions arebound to be primitive. I should be out a good deal. I agreed because shewished it. And of course I have complete confidence in you. . . . Yousee, Helen," he continued, becoming confidential, "I want to bringher up as her mother would have wished. I don't hold with these modernviews--any more than you do, eh? She's a nice quiet girl, devoted to hermusic--a little less of _that_ would do no harm. Still, it's kept herhappy, and we lead a very quiet life at Richmond. I should like her tobegin to see more people. I want to take her about with me when I gethome. I've half a mind to rent a house in London, leaving my sisters atRichmond, and take her to see one or two people who'd be kind to herfor my sake. I'm beginning to realise," he continued, stretching himselfout, "that all this is tending to Parliament, Helen. It's the only wayto get things done as one wants them done. I talked to Dalloway aboutit. In that case, of course, I should want Rachel to be able totake more part in things. A certain amount of entertaining would benecessary--dinners, an occasional evening party. One's constituents liketo be fed, I believe. In all these ways Rachel could be of great help tome. So," he wound up, "I should be very glad, if we arrange this visit(which must be upon a business footing, mind), if you could see your wayto helping my girl, bringing her out--she's a little shy now,--making awoman of her, the kind of woman her mother would have liked her to be,"he ended, jerking his head at the photograph.

  Willoughby's selfishness, though consistent as Helen saw with realaffection for his daughter, made her determined to have the girl to staywith her, even if she had to promise a complete course of instructionin the feminine graces. She could not help laughing at the notionof it--Rachel a Tory hostess!--and marvelling as she left him at theastonishing ignorance of a father.

  Rachel, when consulted, showed less enthusiasm than Helen could havewished. One moment she was eager, the next doubtful. Visions of a greatriver, now blue, now yellow in the tropical sun and crossed by brightbirds, now white in the moon, now deep in shade with moving trees andcanoes sliding out from the tangled banks, beset her. Helen promised ariver. Then she did not want to leave her father. That feeling seemedgenuine too, but in the end Helen prevailed, although when she hadwon her case she was beset by doubts, and more than once regrettedthe impulse which had entangled her with the fortunes of another humanbeing.

 
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