The voyage out, p.7
The Voyage Out, p.7
From a distance the _Euphrosyne_ looked very small. Glasses were turnedupon her from the decks of great liners, and she was pronounced a tramp,a cargo-boat, or one of those wretched little passenger steamers wherepeople rolled about among the cattle on deck. The insect-like figuresof Dalloways, Ambroses, and Vinraces were also derided, both from theextreme smallness of their persons and the doubt which only strongglasses could dispel as to whether they were really live creatures oronly lumps on the rigging. Mr. Pepper with all his learning had beenmistaken for a cormorant, and then, as unjustly, transformed into acow. At night, indeed, when the waltzes were swinging in the saloon, andgifted passengers reciting, the little ship--shrunk to a few beadsof light out among the dark waves, and one high in air upon themast-head--seemed something mysterious and impressive to heated partnersresting from the dance. She became a ship passing in the night--anemblem of the loneliness of human life, an occasion for queerconfidences and sudden appeals for sympathy.
On and on she went, by day and by night, following her path, until onemorning broke and showed the land. Losing its shadow-like appearance itbecame first cleft and mountainous, next coloured grey and purple, nextscattered with white blocks which gradually separated themselves, andthen, as the progress of the ship acted upon the view like a field-glassof increasing power, became streets of houses. By nine o'clock the_Euphrosyne_ had taken up her position in the middle of a great bay;she dropped her anchor; immediately, as if she were a recumbent giantrequiring examination, small boats came swarming about her. She rangwith cries; men jumped on to her; her deck was thumped by feet. Thelonely little island was invaded from all quarters at once, and afterfour weeks of silence it was bewildering to hear human speech. Mrs.Ambrose alone heeded none of this stir. She was pale with suspense whilethe boat with mail bags was making towards them. Absorbed in her lettersshe did not notice that she had left the _Euphrosyne_, and felt nosadness when the ship lifted up her voice and bellowed thrice like a cowseparated from its calf.
"The children are well!" she exclaimed. Mr. Pepper, who sat oppositewith a great mound of bag and rug upon his knees, said, "Gratifying."Rachel, to whom the end of the voyage meant a complete change ofperspective, was too much bewildered by the approach of the shore torealise what children were well or why it was gratifying. Helen went onreading.
Moving very slowly, and rearing absurdly high over each wave, the littleboat was now approaching a white crescent of sand. Behind this was adeep green valley, with distinct hills on either side. On the slope ofthe right-hand hill white houses with brown roofs were settled, likenesting sea-birds, and at intervals cypresses striped the hill withblack bars. Mountains whose sides were flushed with red, but whosecrowns were bald, rose as a pinnacle, half-concealing another pinnaclebehind it. The hour being still early, the whole view was exquisitelylight and airy; the blues and greens of sky and tree were intense butnot sultry. As they drew nearer and could distinguish details, theeffect of the earth with its minute objects and colours and differentforms of life was overwhelming after four weeks of the sea, and keptthem silent.
"Three hundred years odd," said Mr. Pepper meditatively at length.
As nobody said, "What?" he merely extracted a bottle and swallowed apill. The piece of information that died within him was to the effectthat three hundred years ago five Elizabethan barques had anchored wherethe _Euphrosyne_ now floated. Half-drawn up upon the beach lay an equalnumber of Spanish galleons, unmanned, for the country was still a virginland behind a veil. Slipping across the water, the English sailorsbore away bars of silver, bales of linen, timbers of cedar wood, goldencrucifixes knobbed with emeralds. When the Spaniards came down fromtheir drinking, a fight ensued, the two parties churning up the sand,and driving each other into the surf. The Spaniards, bloated with fineliving upon the fruits of the miraculous land, fell in heaps; but thehardy Englishmen, tawny with sea-voyaging, hairy for lack of razors,with muscles like wire, fangs greedy for flesh, and fingers itching forgold, despatched the wounded, drove the dying into the sea, and soonreduced the natives to a state of superstitious wonderment. Here asettlement was made; women were imported; children grew. All seemed tofavour the expansion of the British Empire, and had there been menlike Richard Dalloway in the time of Charles the First, the map wouldundoubtedly be red where it is now an odious green. But it must besupposed that the political mind of that age lacked imagination, and,merely for want of a few thousand pounds and a few thousand men, thespark died that should have been a conflagration. From the interior cameIndians with subtle poisons, naked bodies, and painted idols; from thesea came vengeful Spaniards and rapacious Portuguese; exposed to allthese enemies (though the climate proved wonderfully kind and the earthabundant) the English dwindled away and all but disappeared. Somewhereabout the middle of the seventeenth century a single sloop watched itsseason and slipped out by night, bearing within it all that was left ofthe great British colony, a few men, a few women, and perhaps a dozendusky children. English history then denies all knowledge of the place.Owing to one cause and another civilisation shifted its centre to a spotsome four or five hundred miles to the south, and to-day Santa Marina isnot much larger than it was three hundred years ago. In population it isa happy compromise, for Portuguese fathers wed Indian mothers, and theirchildren intermarry with the Spanish. Although they get their ploughsfrom Manchester, they make their coats from their own sheep, their silkfrom their own worms, and their furniture from their own cedar trees,so that in arts and industries the place is still much where it was inElizabethan days.
The reasons which had drawn the English across the sea to found a smallcolony within the last ten years are not so easily described, and willnever perhaps be recorded in history books. Granted facility oftravel, peace, good trade, and so on, there was besides a kind ofdissatisfaction among the English with the older countries and theenormous accumulations of carved stone, stained glass, and rich brownpainting which they offered to the tourist. The movement in search ofsomething new was of course infinitely small, affecting only a handfulof well-to-do people. It began by a few schoolmasters serving theirpassage out to South America as the pursers of tramp steamers. Theyreturned in time for the summer term, when their stories of thesplendours and hardships of life at sea, the humours of sea-captains,the wonders of night and dawn, and the marvels of the place delightedoutsiders, and sometimes found their way into print. The country itselftaxed all their powers of description, for they said it was much biggerthan Italy, and really nobler than Greece. Again, they declared that thenatives were strangely beautiful, very big in stature, dark, passionate,and quick to seize the knife. The place seemed new and full of new formsof beauty, in proof of which they showed handkerchiefs which the womenhad worn round their heads, and primitive carvings coloured brightgreens and blues. Somehow or other, as fashions do, the fashion spread;an old monastery was quickly turned into a hotel, while a famous line ofsteamships altered its route for the convenience of passengers.
Oddly enough it happened that the least satisfactory of Helen Ambrose'sbrothers had been sent out years before to make his fortune, at any rateto keep clear of race-horses, in the very spot which had now become sopopular. Often, leaning upon the column in the verandah, he had watchedthe English ships with English schoolmasters for pursers steaming intothe bay. Having at length earned enough to take a holiday, and beingsick of the place, he proposed to put his villa, on the slope of themountain, at his sister's disposal. She, too, had been a little stirredby the talk of a new world, where there was always sun and never a fog,which went on around her, and the chance, when they were planning whereto spend the winter out of England, seemed too good to be missed.For these reasons she determined to accept Willoughby's offer of freepassages on his ship, to place the children with their grand-parents,and to do the thing thoroughly while she was about it.
Taking seats in a carriage drawn by long-tailed horses with pheasants'feathers erect between their ears, the Ambroses, Mr. Pepper, and Rachelrattled out of the harbour. The day increased in heat as they droveup the hill. The road passed through the town, where men seemed to bebeating brass and crying "Water," where the passage was blocked by mulesand cleared by whips and curses, where the women walked barefoot,their heads balancing baskets, and cripples hastily displayed mutilatedmembers; it issued among steep green fields, not so green but that theearth showed through. Great trees now shaded all but the centre of theroad, and a mountain stream, so shallow and so swift that it plaiteditself into strands as it ran, raced along the edge. Higher they went,until Ridley and Rachel walked behind; next they turned along a lanescattered with stones, where Mr. Pepper raised his stick and silentlyindicated a shrub, bearing among sparse leaves a voluminous purpleblossom; and at a rickety canter the last stage of the way wasaccomplished.
The villa was a roomy white house, which, as is the case with mostcontinental houses, looked to an English eye frail, ramshackle, andabsurdly frivolous, more like a pagoda in a tea-garden than a placewhere one slept. The garden called urgently for the services ofgardener. Bushes waved their branches across the paths, and the bladesof grass, with spaces of earth between them, could be counted. In thecircular piece of ground in front of the verandah were two crackedvases, from which red flowers drooped, with a stone fountain betweenthem, now parched in the sun. The circular garden led to a long garden,where the gardener's shears had scarcely been, unless now and then, whenhe cut a bough of blossom for his beloved. A few tall trees shaded it,and round bushes with wax-like flowers mobbed their heads together ina row. A garden smoothly laid with turf, divided by thick hedges, withraised beds of bright flowers, such as we keep within walls in England,would have been out of place upon the side of this bare hill. Therewas no ugliness to shut out, and the villa looked straight across theshoulder of a slope, ribbed with olive trees, to the sea.
The indecency of the whole place struck Mrs. Chailey forcibly. Therewere no blinds to shut out the sun, nor was there any furniture to speakof for the sun to spoil. Standing in the bare stone hall, and surveyinga staircase of superb breadth, but cracked and carpetless, she furtherventured the opinion that there were rats, as large as terriers athome, and that if one put one's foot down with any force one would comethrough the floor. As for hot water--at this point her investigationsleft her speechless.
"Poor creature!" she murmured to the sallow Spanish servant-girl whocame out with the pigs and hens to receive them, "no wonder youhardly look like a human being!" Maria accepted the compliment withan exquisite Spanish grace. In Chailey's opinion they would have donebetter to stay on board an English ship, but none knew better than shethat her duty commanded her to stay.
When they were settled in, and in train to find daily occupation, therewas some speculation as to the reasons which induced Mr. Pepper to stay,taking up his lodging in the Ambroses' house. Efforts had been madefor some days before landing to impress upon him the advantages of theAmazons.
"That great stream!" Helen would begin, gazing as if she saw a visionarycascade, "I've a good mind to go with you myself, Willoughby--only Ican't. Think of the sunsets and the moonrises--I believe the colours areunimaginable."
"There are wild peacocks," Rachel hazarded.
"And marvellous creatures in the water," Helen asserted.
"One might discover a new reptile," Rachel continued.
"There's certain to be a revolution, I'm told," Helen urged.
The effect of these subterfuges was a little dashed by Ridley, who,after regarding Pepper for some moments, sighed aloud, "Poor fellow!"and inwardly speculated upon the unkindness of women.
He stayed, however, in apparent contentment for six days, playing witha microscope and a notebook in one of the many sparsely furnishedsitting-rooms, but on the evening of the seventh day, as they sat atdinner, he appeared more restless than usual. The dinner-table was setbetween two long windows which were left uncurtained by Helen's orders.Darkness fell as sharply as a knife in this climate, and the town thensprang out in circles and lines of bright dots beneath them. Buildingswhich never showed by day showed by night, and the sea flowed rightover the land judging by the moving lights of the steamers. The sightfulfilled the same purpose as an orchestra in a London restaurant, andsilence had its setting. William Pepper observed it for some time; heput on his spectacles to contemplate the scene.
"I've identified the big block to the left," he observed, and pointedwith his fork at a square formed by several rows of lights.
"One should infer that they can cook vegetables," he added.
"An hotel?" said Helen.
"Once a monastery," said Mr. Pepper.
Nothing more was said then, but, the day after, Mr. Pepper returned froma midday walk, and stood silently before Helen who was reading in theverandah.
"I've taken a room over there," he said.
"You're not going?" she exclaimed.
"On the whole--yes," he remarked. "No private cook _can_ cookvegetables."
Knowing his dislike of questions, which she to some extent shared,Helen asked no more. Still, an uneasy suspicion lurked in her mind thatWilliam was hiding a wound. She flushed to think that her words, or herhusband's, or Rachel's had penetrated and stung. She was half-moved tocry, "Stop, William; explain!" and would have returned to the subject atluncheon if William had not shown himself inscrutable and chill, liftingfragments of salad on the point of his fork, with the gesture of a manpronging seaweed, detecting gravel, suspecting germs.
"If you all die of typhoid I won't be responsible!" he snapped.
"If you die of dulness, neither will I," Helen echoed in her heart.
She reflected that she had never yet asked him whether he had been inlove. They had got further and further from that subject instead ofdrawing nearer to it, and she could not help feeling it a relief whenWilliam Pepper, with all his knowledge, his microscope, his note-books,his genuine kindliness and good sense, but a certain dryness ofsoul, took his departure. Also she could not help feeling it sad thatfriendships should end thus, although in this case to have the roomempty was something of a comfort, and she tried to console herself withthe reflection that one never knows how far other people feel the thingsthey might be supposed to feel.
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