The Voyage Out, by Virginia Woolf
Part 3 out of 8
"Better luck to-night, Susan?"
"All the luck's on our side," said a young man who until now had kept
his back turned to the window. He appeared to be rather stout,
and had a thick crop of hair.
"Luck, Mr. Hewet?" said his partner, a middle-aged lady with spectacles.
"I assure you, Mrs. Paley, our success is due solely to our brilliant play."
"Unless I go to bed early I get practically no sleep at all,"
Mrs. Paley was heard to explain, as if to justify her seizure of Susan,
who got up and proceeded to wheel the chair to the door.
"They'll get some one else to take my place," she said cheerfully.
But she was wrong. No attempt was made to find another player,
and after the young man had built three stories of a card-house,
which fell down, the players strolled off in different directions.
Mr. Hewet turned his full face towards the window. They could
see that he had large eyes obscured by glasses; his complexion
was rosy, his lips clean-shaven; and, seen among ordinary people,
it appeared to be an interesting face. He came straight towards them,
but his eyes were fixed not upon the eavesdroppers but upon a spot
where the curtain hung in folds.
"Asleep?" he said.
Helen and Rachel started to think that some one had been sitting near
to them unobserved all the time. There were legs in the shadow.
A melancholy voice issued from above them.
"Two women," it said.
A scuffling was heard on the gravel. The women had fled. They did
not stop running until they felt certain that no eye could penetrate
the darkness and the hotel was only a square shadow in the distance,
with red holes regularly cut in it.
An hour passed, and the downstairs rooms at the hotel grew dim
and were almost deserted, while the little box-like squares above
them were brilliantly irradiated. Some forty or fifty people
were going to bed. The thump of jugs set down on the floor above
could be heard and the clink of china, for there was not as thick
a partition between the rooms as one might wish, so Miss Allan,
the elderly lady who had been playing bridge, determined, giving
the wall a smart rap with her knuckles. It was only matchboard,
she decided, run up to make many little rooms of one large one.
Her grey petticoats slipped to the ground, and, stooping, she folded
her clothes with neat, if not loving fingers, screwed her hair into
a plait, wound her father's great gold watch, and opened the complete
works of Wordsworth. She was reading the "Prelude," partly because she
always read the "Prelude" abroad, and partly because she was engaged
in writing a short _Primer_ _of_ _English_ _Literature_--_Beowulf_
_to_ _Swinburne_--which would have a paragraph on Wordsworth.
She was deep in the fifth book, stopping indeed to pencil a note,
when a pair of boots dropped, one after another, on the floor
above her. She looked up and speculated. Whose boots were they,
she wondered. She then became aware of a swishing sound next door--
a woman, clearly, putting away her dress. It was succeeded by a gentle
tapping sound, such as that which accompanies hair-dressing. It
was very difficult to keep her attention fixed upon the "Prelude."
Was it Susan Warrington tapping? She forced herself, however, to read
to the end of the book, when she placed a mark between the pages,
sighed contentedly, and then turned out the light.
Very different was the room through the wall, though as like in
shape as one egg-box is like another. As Miss Allan read her book,
Susan Warrington was brushing her hair. Ages have consecrated
this hour, and the most majestic of all domestic actions, to talk
of love between women; but Miss Warrington being alone could not talk;
she could only look with extreme solicitude at her own face in
the glass. She turned her head from side to side, tossing heavy
locks now this way now that; and then withdrew a pace or two,
and considered herself seriously.
"I'm nice-looking," she determined. "Not pretty--possibly," she drew
herself up a little. "Yes--most people would say I was handsome."
She was really wondering what Arthur Venning would say she was.
Her feeling about him was decidedly queer. She would not admit to
herself that she was in love with him or that she wanted to marry him,
yet she spent every minute when she was alone in wondering what he
thought of her, and in comparing what they had done to-day with
what they had done the day before.
"He didn't ask me to play, but he certainly followed me into the hall,"
she meditated, summing up the evening. She was thirty years of age,
and owing to the number of her sisters and the seclusion of life
in a country parsonage had as yet had no proposal of marriage.
The hour of confidences was often a sad one, and she had been known
to jump into bed, treating her hair unkindly, feeling herself overlooked
by life in comparison with others. She was a big, well-made woman,
the red lying upon her cheeks in patches that were too well defined,
but her serious anxiety gave her a kind of beauty.
She was just about to pull back the bed-clothes when she exclaimed,
"Oh, but I'm forgetting," and went to her writing-table. A
brown volume lay there stamped with the figure of the year.
She proceeded to write in the square ugly hand of a mature child,
as she wrote daily year after year, keeping the diaries, though she
seldom looked at them.
"A.M.--Talked to Mrs. H. Elliot about country neighbours. She knows
the Manns; also the Selby-Carroways. How small the world is!
Like her. Read a chapter of _Miss_ _Appleby's_ _Adventure_ to Aunt
E. P.M.--Played lawn-tennis with Mr. Perrott and Evelyn M. Don't
_like_ Mr. P. Have a feeling that he is not 'quite,' though
clever certainly. Beat them. Day splendid, view wonderful.
One gets used to no trees, though much too bare at first.
Cards after dinner. Aunt E. cheerful, though twingy, she says.
Mem.: _ask_ _about_ _damp_ _sheets_."
She knelt in prayer, and then lay down in bed, tucking the blankets
comfortably about her, and in a few minutes her breathing showed that she
was asleep. With its profoundly peaceful sighs and hesitations it resembled
that of a cow standing up to its knees all night through in the long grass.
A glance into the next room revealed little more than a nose,
prominent above the sheets. Growing accustomed to the darkness,
for the windows were open and showed grey squares with splinters
of starlight, one could distinguish a lean form, terribly like
the body of a dead person, the body indeed of William Pepper,
asleep too. Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight--here were three
Portuguese men of business, asleep presumably, since a snore came
with the regularity of a great ticking clock. Thirty-nine was a
corner room, at the end of the passage, but late though it was--"One"
struck gently downstairs--a line of light under the door showed
that some one was still awake.
"How late you are, Hugh!" a woman, lying in bed, said in a peevish
but solicitous voice. Her husband was brushing his teeth,
and for some moments did not answer.
"You should have gone to sleep," he replied. "I was talking
"But you know that I never can sleep when I'm waiting for you,"
To that he made no answer, but only remarked, "Well then, we'll turn
out the light." They were silent.
The faint but penetrating pulse of an electric bell could now be heard
in the corridor. Old Mrs. Paley, having woken hungry but without
her spectacles, was summoning her maid to find the biscuit-box. The
maid having answered the bell, drearily respectful even at this hour
though muffled in a mackintosh, the passage was left in silence.
Downstairs all was empty and dark; but on the upper floor a light still
burnt in the room where the boots had dropped so heavily above Miss
Allan's head. Here was the gentleman who, a few hours previously,
in the shade of the curtain, had seemed to consist entirely of legs.
Deep in an arm-chair he was reading the third volume of Gibbon's
_History_ _of_ _the_ _Decline_ _and_ _Fall_ _of_ _Rome_ by candle-light.
As he read he knocked the ash automatically, now and again,
from his cigarette and turned the page, while a whole procession
of splendid sentences entered his capacious brow and went marching
through his brain in order. It seemed likely that this process
might continue for an hour or more, until the entire regiment had
shifted its quarters, had not the door opened, and the young man,
who was inclined to be stout, come in with large naked feet.
"Oh, Hirst, what I forgot to say was--"
"Two minutes," said Hirst, raising his finger.
He safely stowed away the last words of the paragraph.
"What was it you forgot to say?" he asked.
"D'you think you _do_ make enough allowance for feelings?"
asked Mr. Hewet. He had again forgotten what he had meant to say.
After intense contemplation of the immaculate Gibbon Mr. Hirst
smiled at the question of his friend. He laid aside his book
"I should call yours a singularly untidy mind," he observed.
"Feelings? Aren't they just what we do allow for? We put love
up there, and all the rest somewhere down below." With his left
hand he indicated the top of a pyramid, and with his right the base.
"But you didn't get out of bed to tell me that," he added severely.
"I got out of bed," said Hewet vaguely, "merely to talk I suppose."
"Meanwhile I shall undress," said Hirst. When naked of all but
his shirt, and bent over the basin, Mr. Hirst no longer impressed
one with the majesty of his intellect, but with the pathos of his
young yet ugly body, for he stooped, and he was so thin that there
were dark lines between the different bones of his neck and shoulders.
"Women interest me," said Hewet, who, sitting on the bed with his
chin resting on his knees, paid no attention to the undressing
of Mr. Hirst.
"They're so stupid," said Hirst. "You're sitting on my pyjamas."
"I suppose they _are_ stupid?" Hewet wondered.
"There can't be two opinions about that, I imagine," said Hirst,
hopping briskly across the room, "unless you're in love--that fat
woman Warrington?" he enquired.
"Not one fat woman--all fat women," Hewet sighed.
"The women I saw to-night were not fat," said Hirst, who was taking
advantage of Hewet's company to cut his toe-nails.
"Describe them," said Hewet.
"You know I can't describe things!" said Hirst. "They were much
like other women, I should think. They always are."
"No; that's where we differ," said Hewet. "I say everything's different.
No two people are in the least the same. Take you and me now."
"So I used to think once," said Hirst. "But now they're all types.
Don't take us,--take this hotel. You could draw circles round
the whole lot of them, and they'd never stray outside."
("You can kill a hen by doing that"), Hewet murmured.
"Mr. Hughling Elliot, Mrs. Hughling Elliot, Miss Allan, Mr. and
Mrs. Thornbury--one circle," Hirst continued. "Miss Warrington,
Mr. Arthur Venning, Mr. Perrott, Evelyn M. another circle;
then there are a whole lot of natives; finally ourselves."
"Are we all alone in our circle?" asked Hewet.
"Quite alone," said Hirst. "You try to get out, but you can't.
You only make a mess of things by trying."
"I'm not a hen in a circle," said Hewet. "I'm a dove on a tree-top."
"I wonder if this is what they call an ingrowing toe-nail?"
said Hirst, examining the big toe on his left foot.
"I flit from branch to branch," continued Hewet. "The world
is profoundly pleasant." He lay back on the bed, upon his arms.
"I wonder if it's really nice to be as vague as you are?" asked Hirst,
looking at him. "It's the lack of continuity--that's what's
so odd bout you," he went on. "At the age of twenty-seven,
which is nearly thirty, you seem to have drawn no conclusions.
A party of old women excites you still as though you were three."
Hewet contemplated the angular young man who was neatly brushing
the rims of his toe-nails into the fire-place in silence for a moment.
"I respect you, Hirst," he remarked.
"I envy you--some things," said Hirst. "One: your capacity
for not thinking; two: people like you better than they like me.
Women like you, I suppose."
"I wonder whether that isn't really what matters most?" said Hewet.
Lying now flat on the bed he waved his hand in vague circles
"Of course it is," said Hirst. "But that's not the difficulty.
The difficulty is, isn't it, to find an appropriate object?"
"There are no female hens in your circle?" asked Hewet.
"Not the ghost of one," said Hirst.
Although they had known each other for three years Hirst had never
yet heard the true story of Hewet's loves. In general conversation
it was taken for granted that they were many, but in private
the subject was allowed to lapse. The fact that he had money enough
to do no work, and that he had left Cambridge after two terms
owing to a difference with the authorities, and had then travelled
and drifted, made his life strange at many points where his friends'
lives were much of a piece.
"I don't see your circles--I don't see them," Hewet continued.
"I see a thing like a teetotum spinning in and out--knocking into things--
dashing from side to side--collecting numbers--more and more and more,
till the whole place is thick with them. Round and round they go--
out there, over the rim--out of sight."
His fingers showed that the waltzing teetotums had spun over the edge
of the counterpane and fallen off the bed into infinity.
"Could you contemplate three weeks alone in this hotel?" asked Hirst,
after a moment's pause.
Hewet proceeded to think.
"The truth of it is that one never is alone, and one never is
in company," he concluded.
"Meaning?" said Hirst.
"Meaning? Oh, something about bubbles--auras--what d'you call 'em?
You can't see my bubble; I can't see yours; all we see of each
other is a speck, like the wick in the middle of that flame.
The flame goes about with us everywhere; it's not ourselves exactly,
but what we feel; the world is short, or people mainly; all kinds
"A nice streaky bubble yours must be!" said Hirst.
"And supposing my bubble could run into some one else's bubble--"
"And they both burst?" put in Hirst.
"Then--then--then--" pondered Hewet, as if to himself, "it would be
an e-nor-mous world," he said, stretching his arms to their full width,
as though even so they could hardly clasp the billowy universe,
for when he was with Hirst he always felt unusually sanguine
"I don't think you altogether as foolish as I used to, Hewet,"
said Hirst. "You don't know what you mean but you try to say it."
"But aren't you enjoying yourself here?" asked Hewet.
"On the whole--yes," said Hirst. "I like observing people.
I like looking at things. This country is amazingly beautiful.
Did you notice how the top of the mountain turned yellow to-night?
Really we must take our lunch and spend the day out. You're getting
disgustingly fat." He pointed at the calf of Hewet's bare leg.
"We'll get up an expedition," said Hewet energetically. "We'll ask
the entire hotel. We'll hire donkeys and--"
"Oh, Lord!" said Hirst, "do shut it! I can see Miss Warrington
and Miss Allan and Mrs. Elliot and the rest squatting on the stones
and quacking, 'How jolly!'"
"We'll ask Venning and Perrott and Miss Murgatroyd--every one we can
lay hands on," went on Hewet. "What's the name of the little old
grasshopper with the eyeglasses? Pepper?--Pepper shall lead us."
"Thank God, you'll never get the donkeys," said Hirst.
"I must make a note of that," said Hewet, slowly dropping his feet
to the floor. "Hirst escorts Miss Warrington; Pepper advances alone on
a white ass; provisions equally distributed--or shall we hire a mule?
The matrons--there's Mrs. Paley, by Jove!--share a carriage."
"That's where you'll go wrong," said Hirst. "Putting virgins
"How long should you think that an expedition like that
would take, Hirst?" asked Hewet.
"From twelve to sixteen hours I would say," said Hirst. "The time
usually occupied by a first confinement."
"It will need considerable organisation," said Hewet. He was
now padding softly round the room, and stopped to stir the books
on the table. They lay heaped one upon another.
"We shall want some poets too," he remarked. "Not Gibbon; no;
d'you happen to have _Modern_ _Love_ or _John_ _Donne_? You see,
I contemplate pauses when people get tired of looking at the view,
and then it would be nice to read something rather difficult aloud."
"Mrs. Paley _will_ enjoy herself," said Hirst.
"Mrs. Paley will enjoy it certainly," said Hewet. "It's one of the
saddest things I know--the way elderly ladies cease to read poetry.
And yet how appropriate this is:
I speak as one who plumbs
Life's dim profound,
One who at length can sound
Clear views and certain.
But--after love what comes?
A scene that lours,
A few sad vacant hours,
And then, the Curtain.
I daresay Mrs. Paley is the only one of us who can really understand that."
"We'll ask her," said Hirst. "Please, Hewet, if you must go to bed,
draw my curtain. Few things distress me more than the moonlight."
Hewet retreated, pressing the poems of Thomas Hardy beneath his arm,
and in their beds next door to each other both the young men were
Between the extinction of Hewet's candle and the rising of a dusky
Spanish boy who was the first to survey the desolation of the hotel
in the early morning, a few hours of silence intervened. One could
almost hear a hundred people breathing deeply, and however wakeful
and restless it would have been hard to escape sleep in the middle
of so much sleep. Looking out of the windows, there was only
darkness to be seen. All over the shadowed half of the world
people lay prone, and a few flickering lights in empty streets
marked the places where their cities were built. Red and yellow
omnibuses were crowding each other in Piccadilly; sumptuous women
were rocking at a standstill; but here in the darkness an owl flitted
from tree to tree, and when the breeze lifted the branches the moon
flashed as if it were a torch. Until all people should awake
again the houseless animals were abroad, the tigers and the stags,
and the elephants coming down in the darkness to drink at pools.
The wind at night blowing over the hills and woods was purer
and fresher than the wind by day, and the earth, robbed of detail,
more mysterious than the earth coloured and divided by roads
and fields. For six hours this profound beauty existed, and then
as the east grew whiter and whiter the ground swam to the surface,
the roads were revealed, the smoke rose and the people stirred,
and the sun shone upon the windows of the hotel at Santa Marina until
they were uncurtained, and the gong blaring all through the house
gave notice of breakfast.
Directly breakfast was over, the ladies as usual circled vaguely,
picking up papers and putting them down again, about the hall.
"And what are you going to do to-day?" asked Mrs. Elliot drifting
up against Miss Warrington.
Mrs. Elliot, the wife of Hughling the Oxford Don, was a short woman,
whose expression was habitually plaintive. Her eyes moved from thing
to thing as though they never found anything sufficiently pleasant
to rest upon for any length of time.
"I'm going to try to get Aunt Emma out into the town," said Susan.
"She's not seen a thing yet."
"I call it so spirited of her at her age," said Mrs. Elliot,
"coming all this way from her own fireside."
"Yes, we always tell her she'll die on board ship," Susan replied.
"She was born on one," she added.
"In the old days," said Mrs. Elliot, "a great many people were.
I always pity the poor women so! We've got a lot to complain of!"
She shook her head. Her eyes wandered about the table, and she
remarked irrelevantly, "The poor little Queen of Holland!
Newspaper reporters practically, one may say, at her bedroom door!"
"Were you talking of the Queen of Holland?" said the pleasant voice
of Miss Allan, who was searching for the thick pages of _The_
_Times_ among a litter of thin foreign sheets.
"I always envy any one who lives in such an excessively flat country,"
"How very strange!" said Mrs. Elliot. "I find a flat country
"I'm afraid you can't be very happy here then, Miss Allan,"
"On the contrary," said Miss Allan, "I am exceedingly fond of mountains."
Perceiving _The_ _Times_ at some distance, she moved off to secure it.
"Well, I must find my husband," said Mrs. Elliot, fidgeting away.
"And I must go to my aunt," said Miss Warrington, and taking up
the duties of the day they moved away.
Whether the flimsiness of foreign sheets and the coarseness of
their type is any proof of frivolity and ignorance, there is no
doubt that English people scarce consider news read there as news,
any more than a programme bought from a man in the street inspires
confidence in what it says. A very respectable elderly pair,
having inspected the long tables of newspapers, did not think it
worth their while to read more than the headlines.
"The debate on the fifteenth should have reached us by now,"
Mrs. Thornbury murmured. Mr. Thornbury, who was beautifully clean
and had red rubbed into his handsome worn face like traces of paint
on a weather-beaten wooden figure, looked over his glasses and saw
that Miss Allan had _The_ _Times_.
The couple therefore sat themselves down in arm-chairs and waited.
"Ah, there's Mr. Hewet," said Mrs. Thornbury. "Mr. Hewet,"
she continued, "do come and sit by us. I was telling my husband
how much you reminded me of a dear old friend of mine--Mary Umpleby.
She was a most delightful woman, I assure you. She grew roses.
We used to stay with her in the old days."
"No young man likes to have it said that he resembles
an elderly spinster," said Mr. Thornbury.
"On the contrary," said Mr. Hewet, "I always think it a compliment
to remind people of some one else. But Miss Umpleby--why did she
"Ah, poor thing," said Mrs. Thornbury, "that's a long story.
She had gone through dreadful sorrows. At one time I think she
would have lost her senses if it hadn't been for her garden.
The soil was very much against her--a blessing in disguise;
she had to be up at dawn--out in all weathers. And then there
are creatures that eat roses. But she triumphed. She always did.
She was a brave soul." She sighed deeply but at the same time
"I did not realise that I was monopolising the paper," said Miss Allan,
coming up to them.
"We were so anxious to read about the debate," said Mrs. Thornbury,
accepting it on behalf of her husband.
"One doesn't realise how interesting a debate can be until one has
sons in the navy. My interests are equally balanced, though; I have
sons in the army too; and one son who makes speeches at the Union--
"Hirst would know him, I expect," said Hewet.
"Mr. Hirst has such an interesting face," said Mrs. Thornbury.
"But I feel one ought to be very clever to talk to him.
Well, William?" she enquired, for Mr. Thornbury grunted.
"They're making a mess of it," said Mr. Thornbury. He had reached
the second column of the report, a spasmodic column, for the Irish
members had been brawling three weeks ago at Westminster over a
question of naval efficiency. After a disturbed paragraph or two,
the column of print once more ran smoothly.
"You have read it?" Mrs. Thornbury asked Miss Allan.
"No, I am ashamed to say I have only read about the discoveries
in Crete," said Miss Allan.
"Oh, but I would give so much to realise the ancient world!"
cried Mrs. Thornbury. "Now that we old people are alone,--we're on our
second honeymoon,--I am really going to put myself to school again.
After all we are _founded_ on the past, aren't we, Mr. Hewet?
My soldier son says that there is still a great deal to be learnt
from Hannibal. One ought to know so much more than one does.
Somehow when I read the paper, I begin with the debates first, and,
before I've done, the door always opens--we're a very large party
at home--and so one never does think enough about the ancients
and all they've done for us. But _you_ begin at the beginning,
"When I think of the Greeks I think of them as naked black men,"
said Miss Allan, "which is quite incorrect, I'm sure."
"And you, Mr. Hirst?" said Mrs. Thornbury, perceiving that the gaunt
young man was near. "I'm sure you read everything."
"I confine myself to cricket and crime," said Hirst. "The worst
of coming from the upper classes," he continued, "is that one's
friends are never killed in railway accidents."
Mr. Thornbury threw down the paper, and emphatically dropped
his eyeglasses. The sheets fell in the middle of the group,
and were eyed by them all.
"It's not gone well?" asked his wife solicitously.
Hewet picked up one sheet and read, "A lady was walking yesterday
in the streets of Westminster when she perceived a cat in the window
of a deserted house. The famished animal--"
"I shall be out of it anyway," Mr. Thornbury interrupted peevishly.
"Cats are often forgotten," Miss Allan remarked.
"Remember, William, the Prime Minister has reserved his answer,"
said Mrs. Thornbury.
"At the age of eighty, Mr. Joshua Harris of Eeles Park, Brondesbury,
has had a son," said Hirst.
". . . The famished animal, which had been noticed by workmen
for some days, was rescued, but--by Jove! it bit the man's hand
"Wild with hunger, I suppose," commented Miss Allan.
"You're all neglecting the chief advantage of being abroad,"
said Mr. Hughling Elliot, who had joined the group. "You might
read your news in French, which is equivalent to reading no news
Mr. Elliot had a profound knowledge of Coptic, which he concealed
as far as possible, and quoted French phrases so exquisitely that it
was hard to believe that he could also speak the ordinary tongue.
He had an immense respect for the French.
"Coming?" he asked the two young men. "We ought to start before
it's really hot."
"I beg of you not to walk in the heat, Hugh," his wife pleaded,
giving him an angular parcel enclosing half a chicken and some raisins.
"Hewet will be our barometer," said Mr. Elliot. "He will melt
before I shall." Indeed, if so much as a drop had melted off his
spare ribs, the bones would have lain bare. The ladies were left
alone now, surrounding _The_ _Times_ which lay upon the floor.
Miss Allan looked at her father's watch.
"Ten minutes to eleven," she observed.
"Work?" asked Mrs. Thornbury.
"Work," replied Miss Allan.
"What a fine creature she is!" murmured Mrs. Thornbury, as the square
figure in its manly coat withdrew.
"And I'm sure she has a hard life," sighed Mrs. Elliot.
"Oh, it _is_ a hard life," said Mrs. Thornbury. "Unmarried women--
earning their livings--it's the hardest life of all."
"Yet she seems pretty cheerful," said Mrs. Elliot.
"It must be very interesting," said Mrs. Thornbury. "I envy her
"But that isn't what women want," said Mrs. Elliot.
"I'm afraid it's all a great many can hope to have," sighed
Mrs. Thornbury. "I believe that there are more of us than ever now.
Sir Harley Lethbridge was telling me only the other day how difficult
it is to find boys for the navy--partly because of their teeth,
it is true. And I have heard young women talk quite openly of--"
"Dreadful, dreadful!" exclaimed Mrs. Elliot. "The crown, as one may
call it, of a woman's life. I, who know what it is to be childless--"
she sighed and ceased.
"But we must not be hard," said Mrs. Thornbury. "The conditions
are so much changed since I was a young woman."
"Surely _maternity_ does not change," said Mrs. Elliot.
"In some ways we can learn a great deal from the young,"
said Mrs. Thornbury. "I learn so much from my own daughters."
"I believe that Hughling really doesn't mind," said Mrs. Elliot.
"But then he has his work."
"Women without children can do so much for the children of others,"
observed Mrs. Thornbury gently.
"I sketch a great deal," said Mrs. Elliot, "but that isn't really
an occupation. It's so disconcerting to find girls just beginning
doing better than one does oneself! And nature's difficult--
"Are there not institutions--clubs--that you could help?"
asked Mrs. Thornbury.
"They are so exhausting," said Mrs. Elliot. "I look strong,
because of my colour; but I'm not; the youngest of eleven never is."
"If the mother is careful before," said Mrs. Thornbury judicially,
"there is no reason why the size of the family should make
any difference. And there is no training like the training
that brothers and sisters give each other. I am sure of that.
I have seen it with my own children. My eldest boy Ralph, for instance--"
But Mrs. Elliot was inattentive to the elder lady's experience,
and her eyes wandered about the hall.
"My mother had two miscarriages, I know," she said suddenly.
"The first because she met one of those great dancing bears--
they shouldn't be allowed; the other--it was a horrid story--our cook
had a child and there was a dinner party. So I put my dyspepsia
down to that."
"And a miscarriage is so much worse than a confinement,"
Mrs. Thornbury murmured absentmindedly, adjusting her spectacles
and picking up _The_ _Times_. Mrs. Elliot rose and fluttered away.
When she had heard what one of the million voices speaking in
the paper had to say, and noticed that a cousin of hers had married
a clergyman at Minehead--ignoring the drunken women, the golden
animals of Crete, the movements of battalions, the dinners,
the reforms, the fires, the indignant, the learned and benevolent,
Mrs. Thornbury went upstairs to write a letter for the mail.
The paper lay directly beneath the clock, the two together seeming
to represent stability in a changing world. Mr. Perrott passed through;
Mr. Venning poised for a second on the edge of a table. Mrs. Paley
was wheeled past. Susan followed. Mr. Venning strolled after her.
Portuguese military families, their clothes suggesting late rising
in untidy bedrooms, trailed across, attended by confidential nurses
carrying noisy children. As midday drew on, and the sun beat straight
upon the roof, an eddy of great flies droned in a circle; iced drinks
were served under the palms; the long blinds were pulled down with
a shriek, turning all the light yellow. The clock now had a silent
hall to tick in, and an audience of four or five somnolent merchants.
By degrees white figures with shady hats came in at the door,
admitting a wedge of the hot summer day, and shutting it out again.
After resting in the dimness for a minute, they went upstairs.
Simultaneously, the clock wheezed one, and the gong sounded,
beginning softly, working itself into a frenzy, and ceasing.
There was a pause. Then all those who had gone upstairs came down;
cripples came, planting both feet on the same step lest they
should slip; prim little girls came, holding the nurse's finger;
fat old men came still buttoning waistcoats. The gong had been
sounded in the garden, and by degrees recumbent figures rose and
strolled in to eat, since the time had come for them to feed again.
There were pools and bars of shade in the garden even at midday,
where two or three visitors could lie working or talking at
Owing to the heat of the day, luncheon was generally a silent meal,
when people observed their neighbors and took stock of any new faces
there might be, hazarding guesses as to who they were and what they did.
Mrs. Paley, although well over seventy and crippled in the legs,
enjoyed her food and the peculiarities of her fellow-beings. She
was seated at a small table with Susan.
"I shouldn't like to say what _she_ is!" she chuckled, surveying a tall woman
dressed conspicuously in white, with paint in the hollows of her cheeks,
who was always late, and always attended by a shabby female follower,
at which remark Susan blushed, and wondered why her aunt said such things.
Lunch went on methodically, until each of the seven courses was left
in fragments and the fruit was merely a toy, to be peeled and sliced
as a child destroys a daisy, petal by petal. The food served as an
extinguisher upon any faint flame of the human spirit that might
survive the midday heat, but Susan sat in her room afterwards,
turning over and over the delightful fact that Mr. Venning had come
to her in the garden, and had sat there quite half an hour while she
read aloud to her aunt. Men and women sought different corners
where they could lie unobserved, and from two to four it might be
said without exaggeration that the hotel was inhabited by bodies
without souls. Disastrous would have been the result if a fire
or a death had suddenly demanded something heroic of human nature,
but tragedies come in the hungry hours. Towards four o'clock
the human spirit again began to lick the body, as a flame licks
a black promontory of coal. Mrs. Paley felt it unseemly to open her
toothless jaw so widely, though there was no one near, and Mrs. Elliot
surveyed her found flushed face anxiously in the looking-glass.
Half an hour later, having removed the traces of sleep, they met
each other in the hall, and Mrs. Paley observed that she was going
to have her tea.
"You like your tea too, don't you?" she said, and invited Mrs. Elliot,
whose husband was still out, to join her at a special table which
she had placed for her under a tree.
"A little silver goes a long way in this country," she chuckled.
She sent Susan back to fetch another cup.
"They have such excellent biscuits here," she said, contemplating
a plateful. "Not sweet biscuits, which I don't like--dry biscuits
. . . Have you been sketching?"
"Oh, I've done two or three little daubs," said Mrs. Elliot, speaking
rather louder than usual. "But it's so difficult after Oxfordshire,
where there are so many trees. The light's so strong here.
Some people admire it, I know, but I find it very fatiguing."
"I really don't need cooking, Susan," said Mrs. Paley, when her
niece returned. "I must trouble you to move me." Everything had
to be moved. Finally the old lady was placed so that the light
wavered over her, as though she were a fish in a net. Susan poured
out tea, and was just remarking that they were having hot weather
in Wiltshire too, when Mr. Venning asked whether he might join them.
"It's so nice to find a young man who doesn't despise tea,"
said Mrs. Paley, regaining her good humour. "One of my nephews
the other day asked for a glass of sherry--at five o'clock! I
told him he could get it at the public house round the corner,
but not in my drawing room."
"I'd rather go without lunch than tea," said Mr. Venning.
"That's not strictly true. I want both."
Mr. Venning was a dark young man, about thirty-two years of age,
very slapdash and confident in his manner, although at this moment
obviously a little excited. His friend Mr. Perrott was a barrister,
and as Mr. Perrott refused to go anywhere without Mr. Venning it
was necessary, when Mr. Perrott came to Santa Marina about a Company,
for Mr. Venning to come too. He was a barrister also, but he
loathed a profession which kept him indoors over books, and directly
his widowed mother died he was going, so he confided to Susan,
to take up flying seriously, and become partner in a large business
for making aeroplanes. The talk rambled on. It dealt, of course,
with the beauties and singularities of the place, the streets,
the people, and the quantities of unowned yellow dogs.
"Don't you think it dreadfully cruel the way they treat dogs
in this country?" asked Mrs. Paley.
"I'd have 'em all shot," said Mr. Venning.
"Oh, but the darling puppies," said Susan.
"Jolly little chaps," said Mr. Venning. "Look here, you've got
nothing to eat." A great wedge of cake was handed Susan on the point
of a trembling knife. Her hand trembled too as she took it.
"I have such a dear dog at home," said Mrs. Elliot.
"My parrot can't stand dogs," said Mrs. Paley, with the air
of one making a confidence. "I always suspect that he (or she)
was teased by a dog when I was abroad."
"You didn't get far this morning, Miss Warrington," said Mr. Venning.
"It was hot," she answered. Their conversation became private,
owing to Mrs. Paley's deafness and the long sad history
which Mrs. Elliot had embarked upon of a wire-haired terrier,
white with just one black spot, belonging to an uncle of hers,
which had committed suicide. "Animals do commit suicide,"
she sighed, as if she asserted a painful fact.
"Couldn't we explore the town this evening?" Mr. Venning suggested.
"My aunt--" Susan began.
"You deserve a holiday," he said. "You're always doing things
for other people."
"But that's my life," she said, under cover of refilling the teapot.
"That's no one's life," he returned, "no young person's. You'll come?"
"I should like to come," she murmured.
At this moment Mrs. Elliot looked up and exclaimed, "Oh, Hugh!
He's bringing some one," she added.
"He would like some tea," said Mrs. Paley. "Susan, run and get
some cups--there are the two young men."
"We're thirsting for tea," said Mr. Elliot. "You know
Mr. Ambrose, Hilda? We met on the hill."
"He dragged me in," said Ridley, "or I should have been ashamed.
I'm dusty and dirty and disagreeable." He pointed to his boots
which were white with dust, while a dejected flower drooping in
his buttonhole, like an exhausted animal over a gate, added to the
effect of length and untidiness. He was introduced to the others.
Mr. Hewet and Mr. Hirst brought chairs, and tea began again,
Susan pouring cascades of water from pot to pot, always cheerfully,
and with the competence of long use.
"My wife's brother," Ridley explained to Hilda, whom he
failed to remember, "has a house here, which he has lent us.
I was sitting on a rock thinking of nothing at all when Elliot
started up like a fairy in a pantomime."
"Our chicken got into the salt," Hewet said dolefully to Susan.
"Nor is it true that bananas include moisture as well as sustenance.
Hirst was already drinking.
"We've been cursing you," said Ridley in answer to Mrs. Elliot's
kind enquiries about his wife. "You tourists eat up all the eggs,
Helen tells me. That's an eye-sore too"--he nodded his head
at the hotel. "Disgusting luxury, I call it. We live with pigs
in the drawing-room."
"The food is not at all what it ought to be, considering the price,"
said Mrs. Paley seriously. "But unless one goes to a hotel where is
one to go to?"
"Stay at home," said Ridley. "I often wish I had! Everyone ought
to stay at home. But, of course, they won't."
Mrs. Paley conceived a certain grudge against Ridley, who seemed
to be criticising her habits after an acquaintance of five minutes.
"I believe in foreign travel myself," she stated, "if one knows one's
native land, which I think I can honestly say I do. I should not
allow any one to travel until they had visited Kent and Dorsetshire--
Kent for the hops, and Dorsetshire for its old stone cottages.
There is nothing to compare with them here."
"Yes--I always think that some people like the flat and other people
like the downs," said Mrs. Elliot rather vaguely.
Hirst, who had been eating and drinking without interruption,
now lit a cigarette, and observed, "Oh, but we're all agreed
by this time that nature's a mistake. She's either very ugly,
appallingly uncomfortable, or absolutely terrifying. I don't know which
alarms me most--a cow or a tree. I once met a cow in a field by night.
The creature looked at me. I assure you it turned my hair grey.
It's a disgrace that the animals should be allowed to go at large."
"And what did the cow think of _him_?" Venning mumbled to Susan,
who immediately decided in her own mind that Mr. Hirst was a dreadful
young man, and that although he had such an air of being clever he
probably wasn't as clever as Arthur, in the ways that really matter.
"Wasn't it Wilde who discovered the fact that nature makes no
allowance for hip-bones?" enquired Hughling Elliot. He knew by this
time exactly what scholarships and distinction Hirst enjoyed,
and had formed a very high opinion of his capacities.
But Hirst merely drew his lips together very tightly and made
Ridley conjectured that it was now permissible for him to take
his leave. Politeness required him to thank Mrs. Elliot for his tea,
and to add, with a wave of his hand, "You must come up and see us."
The wave included both Hirst and Hewet, and Hewet answered,
"I should like it immensely."
The party broke up, and Susan, who had never felt so happy in her life,
was just about to start for her walk in the town with Arthur,
when Mrs. Paley beckoned her back. She could not understand
from the book how Double Demon patience is played; and suggested
that if they sat down and worked it out together it would fill
up the time nicely before dinner.
Among the promises which Mrs. Ambrose had made her niece should she
stay was a room cut off from the rest of the house, large, private--
a room in which she could play, read, think, defy the world, a fortress
as well as a sanctuary. Rooms, she knew, became more like worlds
than rooms at the age of twenty-four. Her judgment was correct,
and when she shut the door Rachel entered an enchanted place,
where the poets sang and things fell into their right proportions.
Some days after the vision of the hotel by night she was sitting alone,
sunk in an arm-chair, reading a brightly-covered red volume lettered
on the back _Works_ _of_ _Henrik_ _Ibsen_. Music was open on
the piano, and books of music rose in two jagged pillars on the floor;
but for the moment music was deserted.
Far from looking bored or absent-minded, her eyes were concentrated
almost sternly upon the page, and from her breathing, which was slow
but repressed, it could be seen that her whole body was constrained
by the working of her mind. At last she shut the book sharply,
lay back, and drew a deep breath, expressive of the wonder which always
marks the transition from the imaginary world to the real world.
"What I want to know," she said aloud, "is this: What is the truth?
What's the truth of it all?" She was speaking partly as herself,
and partly as the heroine of the play she had just read.
The landscape outside, because she had seen nothing but print
for the space of two hours, now appeared amazingly solid and clear,
but although there were men on the hill washing the trunks of olive
trees with a white liquid, for the moment she herself was the most
vivid thing in it--an heroic statue in the middle of the foreground,
dominating the view. Ibsen's plays always left her in that condition.
She acted them for days at a time, greatly to Helen's amusement;
and then it would be Meredith's turn and she became Diana of
the Crossways. But Helen was aware that it was not all acting,
and that some sort of change was taking place in the human being.
When Rachel became tired of the rigidity of her pose on the back
of the chair, she turned round, slid comfortably down into it,
and gazed out over the furniture through the window opposite which
opened on the garden. (Her mind wandered away from Nora, but she
went on thinking of things that the book suggested to her, of women
During the three months she had been here she had made up considerably,
as Helen meant she should, for time spent in interminable walks
round sheltered gardens, and the household gossip of her aunts.
But Mrs. Ambrose would have been the first to disclaim any influence,
or indeed any belief that to influence was within her power.
She saw her less shy, and less serious, which was all to the good,
and the violent leaps and the interminable mazes which had led
to that result were usually not even guessed at by her. Talk was
the medicine she trusted to, talk about everything, talk that
was free, unguarded, and as candid as a habit of talking with men
made natural in her own case. Nor did she encourage those habits
of unselfishness and amiability founded upon insincerity which are
put at so high a value in mixed households of men and women.
She desired that Rachel should think, and for this reason offered
books and discouraged too entire a dependence upon Bach and Beethoven
and Wagner. But when Mrs. Ambrose would have suggested Defoe,
Maupassant, or some spacious chronicle of family life, Rachel chose
modern books, books in shiny yellow covers, books with a great deal
of gilding on the back, which were tokens in her aunt's eyes of harsh
wrangling and disputes about facts which had no such importance
as the moderns claimed for them. But she did not interfere.
Rachel read what she chose, reading with the curious literalness
of one to whom written sentences are unfamiliar, and handling words
as though they were made of wood, separately of great importance,
and possessed of shapes like tables or chairs. In this way
she came to conclusions, which had to be remodelled according
to the adventures of the day, and were indeed recast as liberally
as any one could desire, leaving always a small grain of belief
Ibsen was succeeded by a novel such as Mrs. Ambrose detested,
whose purpose was to distribute the guilt of a woman's downfall
upon the right shoulders; a purpose which was achieved, if the
reader's discomfort were any proof of it. She threw the book down,
looked out of the window, turned away from the window, and relapsed
into an arm-chair.
The morning was hot, and the exercise of reading left her mind
contracting and expanding like the main-spring of a clock,
and the small noises of midday, which one can ascribe to no
definite cause, in a regular rhythm. It was all very real, very big,
very impersonal, and after a moment or two she began to raise her
first finger and to let it fall on the arm of her chair so as to
bring back to herself some consciousness of her own existence.
She was next overcome by the unspeakable queerness of the fact
that she should be sitting in an arm-chair, in the morning,
in the middle of the world. Who were the people moving in the house--
moving things from one place to another? And life, what was that?
It was only a light passing over the surface and vanishing,
as in time she would vanish, though the furniture in the room
would remain. Her dissolution became so complete that she
could not raise her finger any more, and sat perfectly still,
listening and looking always at the same spot. It became stranger
and stranger. She was overcome with awe that things should exist
at all. . . . She forgot that she had any fingers to raise.
. . . The things that existed were so immense and so desolate.
. . . She continued to be conscious of these vast masses of substance
for a long stretch of time, the clock still ticking in the midst
of the universal silence.
"Come in," she said mechanically, for a string in her brain seemed
to be pulled by a persistent knocking at the door. With great
slowness the door opened and a tall human being came towards her,
holding out her arm and saying:
"What am I to say to this?"
The utter absurdity of a woman coming into a room with a piece
of paper in her hand amazed Rachel.
"I don't know what to answer, or who Terence Hewet is," Helen continued,
in the toneless voice of a ghost. She put a paper before Rachel
on which were written the incredible words:
DEAR MRS. AMBROSE--I am getting up a picnic for next Friday,
when we propose to start at eleven-thirty if the weather is fine,
and to make the ascent of Monte Rosa. It will take some time,
but the view should be magnificent. It would give me great pleasure
if you and Miss Vinrace would consent to be of the party.--
Yours sincerely, TERENCE HEWET
Rachel read the words aloud to make herself believe in them.
For the same reason she put her hand on Helen's shoulder.
"Books--books--books," said Helen, in her absent-minded way.
"More new books--I wonder what you find in them. . . ."
For the second time Rachel read the letter, but to herself.
This time, instead of seeming vague as ghosts, each word was
astonishingly prominent; they came out as the tops of mountains
come through a mist. _Friday_--_eleven-thirty_--_Miss_ _Vinrace_.
The blood began to run in her veins; she felt her eyes brighten.
"We must go," she said, rather surprising Helen by her decision.
"We must certainly go"--such was the relief of finding that things
still happened, and indeed they appeared the brighter for the mist
"Monte Rosa--that's the mountain over there, isn't it?" said Helen;
"but Hewet--who's he? One of the young men Ridley met, I suppose.
Shall I say yes, then? It may be dreadfully dull."
She took the letter back and went, for the messenger was waiting
for her answer.
The party which had been suggested a few nights ago in Mr. Hirst's
bedroom had taken shape and was the source of great satisfaction
to Mr. Hewet, who had seldom used his practical abilities, and was
pleased to find them equal to the strain. His invitations had been
universally accepted, which was the more encouraging as they had
been issued against Hirst's advice to people who were very dull,
not at all suited to each other, and sure not to come.
"Undoubtedly," he said, as he twirled and untwirled a note signed
Helen Ambrose, "the gifts needed to make a great commander have
been absurdly overrated. About half the intellectual effort
which is needed to review a book of modern poetry has enabled
me to get together seven or eight people, of opposite sexes,
at the same spot at the same hour on the same day. What else
is generalship, Hirst? What more did Wellington do on the field
of Waterloo? It's like counting the number of pebbles of a path,
tedious but not difficult."
He was sitting in his bedroom, one leg over the arm of the chair,
and Hirst was writing a letter opposite. Hirst was quick to point
out that all the difficulties remained.
"For instance, here are two women you've never seen. Suppose one
of them suffers from mountain-sickness, as my sister does,
and the other--"
"Oh, the women are for you," Hewet interrupted. "I asked them solely
for your benefit. What you want, Hirst, you know, is the society of
young women of your own age. You don't know how to get on with women,
which is a great defect, considering that half the world consists of women."
Hirst groaned that he was quite aware of that.
But Hewet's complacency was a little chilled as he walked with
Hirst to the place where a general meeting had been appointed.
He wondered why on earth he had asked these people, and what one
really expected to get from bunching human beings up together.
"Cows," he reflected, "draw together in a field; ships in a calm;
and we're just the same when we've nothing else to do. But why do we
do it?--is it to prevent ourselves from seeing to the bottom of things"
(he stopped by a stream and began stirring it with his walking-stick
and clouding the water with mud), "making cities and mountains
and whole universes out of nothing, or do we really love each other,
or do we, on the other hand, live in a state of perpetual uncertainty,
knowing nothing, leaping from moment to moment as from world to world?--
which is, on the whole, the view _I_ incline to."
He jumped over the stream; Hirst went round and joined him,
remarking that he had long ceased to look for the reason of any
Half a mile further, they came to a group of plane trees and the
salmon-pink farmhouse standing by the stream which had been chosen
as meeting-place. It was a shady spot, lying conveniently just where
the hill sprung out from the flat. Between the thin stems of the plane
trees the young men could see little knots of donkeys pasturing,
and a tall woman rubbing the nose of one of them, while another
woman was kneeling by the stream lapping water out of her palms.
As they entered the shady place, Helen looked up and then held
out her hand.
"I must introduce myself," she said. "I am Mrs. Ambrose."
Having shaken hands, she said, "That's my niece."
Rachel approached awkwardly. She held out her hand, but withdrew it.
"It's all wet," she said.
Scarcely had they spoken, when the first carriage drew up.
The donkeys were quickly jerked into attention, and the second
carriage arrived. By degrees the grove filled with people--
the Elliots, the Thornburys, Mr. Venning and Susan, Miss Allan,
Evelyn Murgatroyd, and Mr. Perrott. Mr. Hirst acted the part of
hoarse energetic sheep-dog. By means of a few words of caustic Latin
he had the animals marshalled, and by inclining a sharp shoulder he
lifted the ladies. "What Hewet fails to understand," he remarked,
"is that we must break the back of the ascent before midday."
He was assisting a young lady, by name Evelyn Murgatroyd, as he spoke.
She rose light as a bubble to her seat. With a feather drooping
from a broad-brimmed hat, in white from top to toe, she looked like
a gallant lady of the time of Charles the First leading royalist
troops into action.
"Ride with me," she commanded; and, as soon as Hirst had swung
himself across a mule, the two started, leading the cavalcade.
"You're not to call me Miss Murgatroyd. I hate it," she said.
"My name's Evelyn. What's yours?"
"St. John," he said.
"I like that," said Evelyn. "And what's your friend's name?"
"His initials being R. S. T., we call him Monk," said Hirst.
"Oh, you're all too clever," she said. "Which way?" Pick me a branch.
She gave her donkey a sharp cut with a switch and started forward.
The full and romantic career of Evelyn Murgatroyd is best hit off
by her own words, "Call me Evelyn and I'll call you St. John."
She said that on very slight provocation--her surname was enough--
but although a great many young men had answered her already
with considerable spirit she went on saying it and making choice
of none. But her donkey stumbled to a jog-trot, and she had to
ride in advance alone, for the path when it began to ascend one
of the spines of the hill became narrow and scattered with stones.
The cavalcade wound on like a jointed caterpillar, tufted with the
white parasols of the ladies, and the panama hats of the gentlemen.
At one point where the ground rose sharply, Evelyn M. jumped off,
threw her reins to the native boy, and adjured St. John Hirst to
dismount too. Their example was followed by those who felt the need
"I don't see any need to get off," said Miss Allan to Mrs. Elliot
just behind her, "considering the difficulty I had getting on."
"These little donkeys stand anything, _n'est-ce_ _pas_?"
Mrs. Elliot addressed the guide, who obligingly bowed his head.
"Flowers," said Helen, stooping to pick the lovely little bright
flowers which grew separately here and there. "You pinch their leaves
and then they smell," she said, laying one on Miss Allan's knee.
"Haven't we met before?" asked Miss Allan, looking at her.
"I was taking it for granted," Helen laughed, for in the confusion
of meeting they had not been introduced.
"How sensible!" chirped Mrs. Elliot. "That's just what one would
always like--only unfortunately it's not possible." "Not possible?"
said Helen. "Everything's possible. Who knows what mayn't happen
before night-fall?" she continued, mocking the poor lady's timidity,
who depended implicitly upon one thing following another that the mere
glimpse of a world where dinner could be disregarded, or the table
moved one inch from its accustomed place, filled her with fears
for her own stability.
Higher and higher they went, becoming separated from the world.
The world, when they turned to look back, flattened itself out,
and was marked with squares of thin green and grey.
"Towns are very small," Rachel remarked, obscuring the whole
of Santa Marina and its suburbs with one hand. The sea filled
in all the angles of the coast smoothly, breaking in a white frill,
and here and there ships were set firmly in the blue. The sea
was stained with purple and green blots, and there was a glittering
line upon the rim where it met the sky. The air was very clear and
silent save for the sharp noise of grasshoppers and the hum of bees,
which sounded loud in the ear as they shot past and vanished.
The party halted and sat for a time in a quarry on the hillside.
"Amazingly clear," exclaimed St. John, identifying one cleft
in the land after another.
Evelyn M. sat beside him, propping her chin on her hand.
She surveyed the view with a certain look of triumph.
"D'you think Garibaldi was ever up here?" she asked Mr. Hirst.
Oh, if she had been his bride! If, instead of a picnic party,
this was a party of patriots, and she, red-shirted like the rest,
had lain among grim men, flat on the turf, aiming her gun at the white
turrets beneath them, screening her eyes to pierce through the smoke!
So thinking, her foot stirred restlessly, and she exclaimed:
"I don't call this _life_, do you?"
"What do you call life?" said St. John.
"Fighting--revolution," she said, still gazing at the doomed city.
"You only care for books, I know."
"You're quite wrong," said St. John.
"Explain," she urged, for there were no guns to be aimed at bodies,
and she turned to another kind of warfare.
"What do I care for? People," he said.
"Well, I _am_ surprised!" she exclaimed. "You look so awfully serious.
Do let's be friends and tell each other what we're like. I hate
being cautious, don't you?"
But St. John was decidedly cautious, as she could see by the sudden
constriction of his lips, and had no intention of revealing his
soul to a young lady. "The ass is eating my hat," he remarked,
and stretched out for it instead of answering her. Evelyn blushed
very slightly and then turned with some impetuosity upon Mr. Perrott,
and when they mounted again it was Mr. Perrott who lifted her to
"When one has laid the eggs one eats
the omelette," said Hughling Elliot, exquisitely
in French, a hint to the rest of them that it was time to ride on again.
The midday sun which Hirst had foretold was beginning to beat
down hotly. The higher they got the more of the sky appeared,
until the mountain was only a small tent of earth against an enormous
blue background. The English fell silent; the natives who walked
beside the donkeys broke into queer wavering songs and tossed jokes
from one to the other. The way grew very steep, and each rider kept
his eyes fixed on the hobbling curved form of the rider and donkey
directly in front of him. Rather more strain was being put upon
their bodies than is quite legitimate in a party of pleasure,
and Hewet overheard one or two slightly grumbling remarks.
"Expeditions in such heat are perhaps a little unwise," Mrs. Elliot
murmured to Miss Allan.
But Miss Allan returned, "I always like to get to the top";
and it was true, although she was a big woman, stiff in the joints,
and unused to donkey-riding, but as her holidays were few she made
the most of them.
The vivacious white figure rode well in front; she had somehow possessed
herself of a leafy branch and wore it round her hat like a garland.
They went on for a few minutes in silence.
"The view will be wonderful," Hewet assured them, turning round
in his saddle and smiling encouragement. Rachel caught his eye and
smiled too. They struggled on for some time longer, nothing being
heard but the clatter of hooves striving on the loose stones.
Then they saw that Evelyn was off her ass, and that Mr. Perrott
was standing in the attitude of a statesman in Parliament Square,
stretching an arm of stone towards the view. A little to the left
of them was a low ruined wall, the stump of an Elizabethan watch-tower.
"I couldn't have stood it much longer," Mrs. Elliot confided to
Mrs. Thornbury, but the excitement of being at the top in another
moment and seeing the view prevented any one from answering her.
One after another they came out on the flat space at the top and stood
overcome with wonder. Before them they beheld an immense space--
grey sands running into forest, and forest merging in mountains,
and mountains washed by air, the infinite distances of South America.
A river ran across the plain, as flat as the land, and appearing
quite as stationary. The effect of so much space was at first
rather chilling. They felt themselves very small, and for some
time no one said anything. Then Evelyn exclaimed, "Splendid!"
She took hold of the hand that was next her; it chanced to be Miss
"North--South--East--West," said Miss Allan, jerking her head
slightly towards the points of the compass.
Hewet, who had gone a little in front, looked up at his guests
as if to justify himself for having brought them. He observed
how strangely the people standing in a row with their figures bent
slightly forward and their clothes plastered by the wind to the shape
of their bodies resembled naked statues. On their pedestal of earth
they looked unfamiliar and noble, but in another moment they had
broken their rank, and he had to see to the laying out of food.
Hirst came to his help, and they handed packets of chicken and bread
from one to another.
As St. John gave Helen her packet she looked him full in the face
"Do you remember--two women?"
He looked at her sharply.
"I do," he answered.
"So you're the two women!" Hewet exclaimed, looking from Helen
"Your lights tempted us," said Helen. "We watched you playing cards,
but we never knew that we were being watched."
"It was like a thing in a play," Rachel added.
"And Hirst couldn't describe you," said Hewet.
It was certainly odd to have seen Helen and to find nothing to say
Hughling Elliot put up his eyeglass and grasped the situation.
"I don't know of anything more dreadful," he said, pulling at the joint
of a chicken's leg, "than being seen when one isn't conscious of it.
One feels sure one has been caught doing something ridiculous--
looking at one's tongue in a hansom, for instance."
Now the others ceased to look at the view, and drawing together
sat down in a circle round the baskets.
"And yet those little looking-glasses in hansoms have a
fascination of their own," said Mrs. Thornbury. "One's features
look so different when one can only see a bit of them."
"There will soon be very few hansom cabs left," said Mrs. Elliot.
"And four-wheeled cabs--I assure you even at Oxford it's almost
impossible to get a four-wheeled cab."
"I wonder what happens to the horses," said Susan.
"Veal pie," said Arthur.
"It's high time that horses should become extinct anyhow," said Hirst.
"They're distressingly ugly, besides being vicious."
But Susan, who had been brought up to understand that the horse
is the noblest of God's creatures, could not agree, and Venning
thought Hirst an unspeakable ass, but was too polite not to continue
"When they see us falling out of aeroplanes they get some of their
own back, I expect," he remarked.
"You fly?" said old Mr. Thornbury, putting on his spectacles to look
"I hope to, some day," said Arthur.
Here flying was discussed at length, and Mrs. Thornbury delivered
an opinion which was almost a speech to the effect that it would
be quite necessary in time of war, and in England we were terribly
behind-hand. "If I were a young fellow," she concluded, "I should
certainly qualify." It was odd to look at the little elderly lady,
in her grey coat and skirt, with a sandwich in her hand, her eyes lighting
up with zeal as she imagined herself a young man in an aeroplane.
For some reason, however, the talk did not run easily after this,
and all they said was about drink and salt and the view.
Suddenly Miss Allan, who was seated with her back to the ruined wall,
put down her sandwich, picked something off her neck, and remarked,
"I'm covered with little creatures." It was true, and the discovery
was very welcome. The ants were pouring down a glacier of loose
earth heaped between the stones of the ruin--large brown ants
with polished bodies. She held out one on the back of her hand
for Helen to look at.
"Suppose they sting?" said Helen.
"They will not sting, but they may infest the victuals," said Miss Allan,
and measures were taken at once to divert the ants from their course.
At Hewet's suggestion it was decided to adopt the methods of modern
warfare against an invading army. The table-cloth represented
the invaded country, and round it they built barricades of baskets,
set up the wine bottles in a rampart, made fortifications of bread
and dug fosses of salt. When an ant got through it was exposed to
a fire of bread-crumbs, until Susan pronounced that that was cruel,
and rewarded those brave spirits with spoil in the shape of tongue.
Playing this game they lost their stiffness, and even became
unusually daring, for Mr. Perrott, who was very shy, said, "Permit me,"
and removed an ant from Evelyn's neck.
"It would be no laughing matter really," said Mrs. Elliot confidentially
to Mrs. Thornbury, "if an ant did get between the vest and the skin."
The noise grew suddenly more clamorous, for it was discovered that
a long line of ants had found their way on to the table-cloth by a
back entrance, and if success could be gauged by noise, Hewet had
every reason to think his party a success. Nevertheless he became,
for no reason at all, profoundly depressed.
"They are not satisfactory; they are ignoble," he thought, surveying his
guests from a little distance, where he was gathering together the plates.
He glanced at them all, stooping and swaying and gesticulating round
the table-cloth. Amiable and modest, respectable in many ways,
lovable even in their contentment and desire to be kind, how mediocre
they all were, and capable of what insipid cruelty to one another!
There was Mrs. Thornbury, sweet but trivial in her maternal egoism;
Mrs. Elliot, perpetually complaining of her lot; her husband a mere
pea in a pod; and Susan--she had no self, and counted neither one way
nor the other; Venning was as honest and as brutal as a schoolboy;
poor old Thornbury merely trod his round like a horse in a mill;
and the less one examined into Evelyn's character the better,
he suspected. Yet these were the people with money, and to them
rather than to others was given the management of the world.
Put among them some one more vital, who cared for life or for beauty,
and what an agony, what a waste would they inflict on him if he tried
to share with them and not to scourge!
"There's Hirst," he concluded, coming to the figure of his friend;
with his usual little frown of concentration upon his forehead he
was peeling the skin off a banana. "And he's as ugly as sin."
For the ugliness of St. John Hirst, and the limitations that went
with it, he made the rest in some way responsible. It was their
fault that he had to live alone. Then he came to Helen, attracted to
her by the sound of her laugh. She was laughing at Miss Allan.
"You wear combinations in this heat?" she said in a voice which
was meant to be private. He liked the look of her immensely,
not so much her beauty, but her largeness and simplicity,
which made her stand out from the rest like a great stone woman,
and he passed on in a gentler mood. His eye fell upon Rachel.
She was lying back rather behind the others resting on one elbow;
she might have been thinking precisely the same thoughts as Hewet himself.
Her eyes were fixed rather sadly but not intently upon the row
of people opposite her. Hewet crawled up to her on his knees,
with a piece of bread in his hand.
"What are you looking at?" he asked.
She was a little startled, but answered directly, "Human beings."
One after another they rose and stretched themselves, and in a few
minutes divided more or less into two separate parties. One of these
parties was dominated by Hughling Elliot and Mrs. Thornbury, who,
having both read the same books and considered the same questions,
were now anxious to name the places beneath them and to hang upon them
stores of information about navies and armies, political parties,
natives and mineral products--all of which combined, they said,
to prove that South America was the country of the future.
Evelyn M. listened with her bright blue eyes fixed upon the oracles.
"How it makes one long to be a man!" she exclaimed.
Mr. Perrott answered, surveying the plain, that a country with
a future was a very fine thing.
"If I were you," said Evelyn, turning to him and drawing her glove
vehemently through her fingers, "I'd raise a troop and conquer some
great territory and make it splendid. You'd want women for that.
I'd love to start life from the very beginning as it ought to be--
nothing squalid--but great halls and gardens and splendid men and women.
But you--you only like Law Courts!"
"And would you really be content without pretty frocks and sweets
and all the things young ladies like?" asked Mr. Perrott,
concealing a certain amount of pain beneath his ironical manner.
"I'm not a young lady," Evelyn flashed; she bit her underlip.
"Just because I like splendid things you laugh at me. Why are there
no men like Garibaldi now?" she demanded.
"Look here," said Mr. Perrott, "you don't give me a chance.
You think we ought to begin things fresh. Good. But I don't
see precisely--conquer a territory? They're all conquered already,
"It's not any territory in particular," Evelyn explained.
"It's the idea, don't you see? We lead such tame lives. And I
feel sure you've got splendid things in you."
Hewet saw the scars and hollows in Mr. Perrott's sagacious face
relax pathetically. He could imagine the calculations which even
then went on within his mind, as to whether he would be justified
in asking a woman to marry him, considering that he made no more
than five hundred a year at the Bar, owned no private means,
and had an invalid sister to support. Mr. Perrott again knew
that he was not "quite," as Susan stated in her diary; not quite
a gentleman she meant, for he was the son of a grocer in Leeds,
had started life with a basket on his back, and now, though practically
indistinguishable from a born gentleman, showed his origin to keen
eyes in an impeccable neatness of dress, lack of freedom in manner,
extreme cleanliness of person, and a certain indescribable timidity
and precision with his knife and fork which might be the relic of days
when meat was rare, and the way of handling it by no means gingerly.
The two parties who were strolling about and losing their unity
now came together, and joined each other in a long stare over
the yellow and green patches of the heated landscape below.
The hot air danced across it, making it impossible to see the roofs
of a village on the plain distinctly. Even on the top of the mountain
where a breeze played lightly, it was very hot, and the heat, the food,
the immense space, and perhaps some less well-defined cause produced
a comfortable drowsiness and a sense of happy relaxation in them.
They did not say much, but felt no constraint in being silent.
"Suppose we go and see what's to be seen over there?" said Arthur
to Susan, and the pair walked off together, their departure certainly
sending some thrill of emotion through the rest.
"An odd lot, aren't they?" said Arthur. "I thought we should
never get 'em all to the top. But I'm glad we came, by Jove!
I wouldn't have missed this for something."
"I don't _like_ Mr. Hirst," said Susan inconsequently. "I suppose
he's very clever, but why should clever people be so--I expect
he's awfully nice, really," she added, instinctively qualifying
what might have seemed an unkind remark.
"Hirst? Oh, he's one of these learned chaps," said Arthur indifferently.
"He don't look as if he enjoyed it. You should hear him talking
to Elliot. It's as much as I can do to follow 'em at all.
. . . I was never good at my books."
With these sentences and the pauses that came between them they
reached a little hillock, on the top of which grew several slim trees.
"D'you mind if we sit down here?" said Arthur, looking about him.
"It's jolly in the shade--and the view--" They sat down, and looked
straight ahead of them in silence for some time.
"But I do envy those clever chaps sometimes," Arthur remarked.
"I don't suppose they ever . . ." He did not finish his sentence.
"I can't see why you should envy them," said Susan, with great sincerity.
"Odd things happen to one," said Arthur. "One goes along smoothly enough,
one thing following another, and it's all very jolly and plain sailing,
and you think you know all about it, and suddenly one doesn't know
where one is a bit, and everything seems different from what it
used to seem. Now to-day, coming up that path, riding behind you,
I seemed to see everything as if--" he paused and plucked a piece
of grass up by the roots. He scattered the little lumps of earth
which were sticking to the roots--"As if it had a kind of meaning.
You've made the difference to me," he jerked out, "I don't see
why I shouldn't tell you. I've felt it ever since I knew you.
. . . It's because I love you."
Even while they had been saying commonplace things Susan had been
conscious of the excitement of intimacy, which seemed not only to lay
bare something in her, but in the trees and the sky, and the progress
of his speech which seemed inevitable was positively painful to her,
for no human being had ever come so close to her before.
She was struck motionless as his speech went on, and her heart gave
great separate leaps at the last words. She sat with her fingers
curled round a stone, looking straight in front of her down the
mountain over the plain. So then, it had actually happened to her,
a proposal of marriage.
Arthur looked round at her; his face was oddly twisted. She was
drawing her breath with such difficulty that she could hardly answer.
"You might have known." He seized her in his arms; again and again
and again they clasped each other, murmuring inarticulately.
"Well," sighed Arthur, sinking back on the ground, "that's the most
wonderful thing that's ever happened to me." He looked as if he
were trying to put things seen in a dream beside real things.
There was a long silence.
"It's the most perfect thing in the world," Susan stated, very gently
and with great conviction. It was no longer merely a proposal
of marriage, but of marriage with Arthur, with whom she was in love.
In the silence that followed, holding his hand tightly in hers,
she prayed to God that she might make him a good wife.
"And what will Mr. Perrott say?" she asked at the end of it.
"Dear old fellow," said Arthur who, now that the first shock was over,
was relaxing into an enormous sense of pleasure and contentment.
"We must be very nice to him, Susan."
He told her how hard Perrott's life had been, and how absurdly
devoted he was to Arthur himself. He went on to tell her about
his mother, a widow lady, of strong character. In return Susan
sketched the portraits of her own family--Edith in particular,
her youngest sister, whom she loved better than any one else,
"except you, Arthur. . . . Arthur," she continued, "what was it
that you first liked me for?"
"It was a buckle you wore one night at sea," said Arthur,
after due consideration. "I remember noticing--it's an absurd
thing to notice!--that you didn't take peas, because I don't either."
From this they went on to compare their more serious tastes, or rather
Susan ascertained what Arthur cared about, and professed herself
very fond of the same thing. They would live in London, perhaps have
a cottage in the country near Susan's family, for they would find
it strange without her at first. Her mind, stunned to begin with,
now flew to the various changes that her engagement would make--
how delightful it would be to join the ranks of the married women--
no longer to hang on to groups of girls much younger than herself--
to escape the long solitude of an old maid's life. Now and then her
amazing good fortune overcame her, and she turned to Arthur with an
exclamation of love.
They lay in each other's arms and had no notion that they were observed.
Yet two figures suddenly appeared among the trees above them.
"Here's shade," began Hewet, when Rachel suddenly stopped dead.
They saw a man and woman lying on the ground beneath them, rolling
slightly this way and that as the embrace tightened and slackened.
The man then sat upright and the woman, who now appeared to be Susan
Warrington, lay back upon the ground, with her eyes shut and an absorbed
look upon her face, as though she were not altogether conscious.
Nor could you tell from her expression whether she was happy, or had
suffered something. When Arthur again turned to her, butting her
as a lamb butts a ewe, Hewet and Rachel retreated without a word.
Hewet felt uncomfortably shy.
"I don't like that," said Rachel after a moment.
"I can remember not liking it either," said Hewet. "I can remember--"
but he changed his mind and continued in an ordinary tone of voice,
"Well, we may take it for granted that they're engaged. D'you think
he'll ever fly, or will she put a stop to that?"
But Rachel was still agitated; she could not get away from the sight
they had just seen. Instead of answering Hewet she persisted.
"Love's an odd thing, isn't it, making one's heart beat."
"It's so enormously important, you see," Hewet replied.
"Their lives are now changed for ever."
"And it makes one sorry for them too," Rachel continued, as though
she were tracing the course of her feelings. "I don't know either
of them, but I could almost burst into tears. That's silly,
"Just because they're in love," said Hewet. "Yes," he added after
a moment's consideration, "there's something horribly pathetic
about it, I agree."
And now, as they had walked some way from the grove of trees,
and had come to a rounded hollow very tempting to the back,
they proceeded to sit down, and the impression of the lovers
lost some of its force, though a certain intensity of vision,
which was probably the result of the sight, remained with them.
As a day upon which any emotion has been repressed is different
from other days, so this day was now different, merely because they
had seen other people at a crisis of their lives.
"A great encampment of tents they might be," said Hewet, looking in
front of him at the mountains. "Isn't it like a water-colour too--
you know the way water-colours dry in ridges all across the paper--
I've been wondering what they looked like."
His eyes became dreamy, as though he were matching things,
and reminded Rachel in their colour of the green flesh of a snail.
She sat beside him looking at the mountains too. When it became
painful to look any longer, the great size of the view seeming to
enlarge her eyes beyond their natural limit, she looked at the ground;
it pleased her to scrutinise this inch of the soil of South
America so minutely that she noticed every grain of earth and made
it into a world where she was endowed with the supreme power.
She bent a blade of grass, and set an insect on the utmost tassel
of it, and wondered if the insect realised his strange adventure,
and thought how strange it was that she should have bent that tassel
rather than any other of the million tassels.
"You've never told me you name," said Hewet suddenly.
"Miss Somebody Vinrace. . . . I like to know people's Christian names."
"Rachel," she replied.
"Rachel," he repeated. "I have an aunt called Rachel, who put
the life of Father Damien into verse. She is a religious fanatic--
the result of the way she was brought up, down in Northamptonshire,
never seeing a soul. Have you any aunts?"
"I live with them," said Rachel.
"And I wonder what they're doing now?" Hewet enquired.
"They are probably buying wool," Rachel determined. She tried
to describe them. "They are small, rather pale women," she began,
"very clean. We live in Richmond. They have an old dog, too,
who will only eat the marrow out of bones. . . . They are
always going to church. They tidy their drawers a good deal."
But here she was overcome by the difficulty of describing people.
"It's impossible to believe that it's all going on still!"
The sun was behind them and two long shadows suddenly lay upon the
ground in front of them, one waving because it was made by a skirt,
and the other stationary, because thrown by a pair of legs in trousers.
"You look very comfortable!" said Helen's voice above them.
"Hirst," said Hewet, pointing at the scissorlike shadow; he then
rolled round to look up at them.
"There's room for us all here," he said.
When Hirst had seated himself comfortably, he said:
"Did you congratulate the young couple?"
It appeared that, coming to the same spot a few minutes after Hewet
and Rachel, Helen and Hirst had seen precisely the same thing.
"No, we didn't congratulate them," said Hewet. "They seemed
"Well," said Hirst, pursing up his lips, "so long as I needn't
marry either of them--"
"We were very much moved," said Hewet.
"I thought you would be," said Hirst. "Which was it, Monk?
The thought of the immortal passions, or the thought of new-born
males to keep the Roman Catholics out? I assure you," he said
to Helen, "he's capable of being moved by either."
Rachel was a good deal stung by his banter, which she felt to be
directed equally against them both, but she could think of no repartee.
"Nothing moves Hirst," Hewet laughed; he did not seem to be stung
at all. "Unless it were a transfinite number falling in love with
a finite one--I suppose such things do happen, even in mathematics."
"On the contrary," said Hirst with a touch of annoyance,
"I consider myself a person of very strong passions."
It was clear from the way he spoke that he meant it seriously;
he spoke of course for the benefit of the ladies.
"By the way, Hirst," said Hewet, after a pause, "I have a terrible
confession to make. Your book--the poems of Wordsworth, which if
you remember I took off your table just as we were starting,
and certainly put in my pocket here--"
"Is lost," Hirst finished for him.
"I consider that there is still a chance," Hewet urged, slapping
himself to right and left, "that I never did take it after all."
"No," said Hirst. "It is here." He pointed to his breast.
"Thank God," Hewet exclaimed. "I need no longer feel as though
I'd murdered a child!"
"I should think you were always losing things," Helen remarked,
looking at him meditatively.
"I don't lose things," said Hewet. "I mislay them. That was the
reason why Hirst refused to share a cabin with me on the voyage out."
"You came out together?" Helen enquired.
"I propose that each member of this party now gives a short biographical
sketch of himself or herself," said Hirst, sitting upright.
"Miss Vinrace, you come first; begin."
Rachel stated that she was twenty-four years of age, the daughter
of a ship-owner, that she had never been properly educated;
played the piano, had no brothers or sisters, and lived at Richmond
with aunts, her mother being dead.
"Next," said Hirst, having taken in these facts; he pointed at Hewet.
"I am the son of an English gentleman. I am twenty-seven,"
Hewet began. "My father was a fox-hunting squire. He died when I
was ten in the hunting field. I can remember his body coming home,
on a shutter I suppose, just as I was going down to tea,
and noticing that there was jam for tea, and wondering whether I
should be allowed--"
"Yes; but keep to the facts," Hirst put in.
"I was educated at Winchester and Cambridge, which I had to leave
after a time. I have done a good many things since--"
"Literary. I'm writing a novel."
"Brothers and sisters?"
"Three sisters, no brother, and a mother."
"Is that all we're to hear about you?" said Helen. She stated
that she was very old--forty last October, and her father had been
a solicitor in the city who had gone bankrupt, for which reason she
had never had much education--they lived in one place after another--
but an elder brother used to lend her books.
"If I were to tell you everything--" she stopped and smiled.
"It would take too long," she concluded. "I married when I was thirty,
and I have two children. My husband is a scholar. And now--
it's your turn," she nodded at Hirst.
"You've left out a great deal," he reproved her. "My name is
St. John Alaric Hirst," he began in a jaunty tone of voice.
"I'm twenty-four years old. I'm the son of the Reverend
Sidney Hirst, vicar of Great Wappyng in Norfolk. Oh, I got
scholarships everywhere--Westminster--King's. I'm now a fellow
of King's. Don't it sound dreary? Parents both alive (alas).
Two brothers and one sister. I'm a very distinguished young man," he added.
"One of the three, or is it five, most distinguished men in England,"
"Quite correct," said Hirst.
"That's all very interesting," said Helen after a pause.
"But of course we've left out the only questions that matter.
For instance, are we Christians?"
"I am not," "I am not," both the young men replied.
"I am," Rachel stated.
"You believe in a personal God?" Hirst demanded, turning round
and fixing her with his eyeglasses.
"I believe--I believe," Rachel stammered, "I believe there are
things we don't know about, and the world might change in a minute
and anything appear."
At this Helen laughed outright. "Nonsense," she said. "You're not
a Christian. You've never thought what you are.--And there are
lots of other questions," she continued, "though perhaps we can't
ask them yet." Although they had talked so freely they were all
uncomfortably conscious that they really knew nothing about each other.
"The important questions," Hewet pondered, "the really interesting ones.
I doubt that one ever does ask them."
Rachel, who was slow to accept the fact that only a very few things
can be said even by people who know each other well, insisted on
knowing what he meant.
"Whether we've ever been in love?" she enquired. "Is that the kind
of question you mean?"
Again Helen laughed at her, benignantly strewing her with handfuls
of the long tasselled grass, for she was so brave and so foolish.
"Oh, Rachel," she cried. "It's like having a puppy in the house
having you with one--a puppy that brings one's underclothes down
into the hall."
But again the sunny earth in front of them was crossed by fantastic
wavering figures, the shadows of men and women.
"There they are!" exclaimed Mrs. Elliot. There was a touch of
peevishness in her voice. "And we've had _such_ a hunt to find you.
Do you know what the time is?"
Mrs. Elliot and Mr. and Mrs. Thornbury now confronted them; Mrs. Elliot
was holding out her watch, and playfully tapping it upon the face.
Hewet was recalled to the fact that this was a party for which he
was responsible, and he immediately led them back to the watch-tower,
where they were to have tea before starting home again. A bright
crimson scarf fluttered from the top of the wall, which Mr. Perrott
and Evelyn were tying to a stone as the others came up. The heat
had changed just so far that instead of sitting in the shadow they
sat in the sun, which was still hot enough to paint their faces red
and yellow, and to colour great sections of the earth beneath them.
"There's nothing half so nice as tea!" said Mrs. Thornbury,
taking her cup.
"Nothing," said Helen. "Can't you remember as a child chopping
up hay--" she spoke much more quickly than usual, and kept her eye
fixed upon Mrs. Thornbury, "and pretending it was tea, and getting
scolded by the nurses--why I can't imagine, except that nurses
are such brutes, won't allow pepper instead of salt though there's
no earthly harm in it. Weren't your nurses just the same?"
During this speech Susan came into the group, and sat down by
Helen's side. A few minutes later Mr. Venning strolled up from
the opposite direction. He was a little flushed, and in the mood
to answer hilariously whatever was said to him.
"What have you been doing to that old chap's grave?" he asked,
pointing to the red flag which floated from the top of the stones.
"We have tried to make him forget his misfortune in having died
three hundred years ago," said Mr. Perrott.
"It would be awful--to be dead!" ejaculated Evelyn M.
"To be dead?" said Hewet. "I don't think it would be awful.
It's quite easy to imagine. When you go to bed to-night fold your
hands so--breathe slower and slower--" He lay back with his hands
clasped upon his breast, and his eyes shut, "Now," he murmured in an
even monotonous voice, "I shall never, never, never move again."
His body, lying flat among them, did for a moment suggest death.
"This is a horrible exhibition, Mr. Hewet!" cried Mrs. Thornbury.
"More cake for us!" said Arthur.
"I assure you there's nothing horrible about it," said Hewet,
sitting up and laying hands upon the cake.
"It's so natural," he repeated. "People with children should make
them do that exercise every night. . . . Not that I look forward
to being dead."
"And when you allude to a grave," said Mr. Thornbury, who spoke almost
for the first time, "have you any authority for calling that ruin a grave?
I am quite with you in refusing to accept the common interpretation
which declares it to be the remains of an Elizabethan watch-tower--
any more than I believe that the circular mounds or barrows
which we find on the top of our English downs were camps.
The antiquaries call everything a camp. I am always asking them,
Well then, where do you think our ancestors kept their cattle?
Half the camps in England are merely the ancient pound or barton
as we call it in my part of the world. The argument that no one
would keep his cattle in such exposed and inaccessible spots has
no weight at all, if you reflect that in those days a man's cattle
were his capital, his stock-in-trade, his daughter's dowries.
Without cattle he was a serf, another man's man. . . ." His eyes
slowly lost their intensity, and he muttered a few concluding words
under his breath, looking curiously old and forlorn.
Hughling Elliot, who might have been expected to engage the old
gentleman in argument, was absent at the moment. He now came up
holding out a large square of cotton upon which a fine design was
printed in pleasant bright colours that made his hand look pale.
"A bargain," he announced, laying it down on the cloth. "I've just
bought it from the big man with the ear-rings. Fine, isn't it?
It wouldn't suit every one, of course, but it's just the thing--
isn't it, Hilda?--for Mrs. Raymond Parry."
"Mrs. Raymond Parry!" cried Helen and Mrs. Thornbury at the same moment.
They looked at each other as though a mist hitherto obscuring
their faces had been blown away.
"Ah--you have been to those wonderful parties too?" Mrs. Elliot
asked with interest.
Mrs. Parry's drawing-room, though thousands of miles away,
behind a vast curve of water on a tiny piece of earth, came before
their eyes. They who had had no solidity or anchorage before seemed
to be attached to it somehow, and at once grown more substantial.
Perhaps they had been in the drawing-room at the same moment;
perhaps they had passed each other on the stairs; at any rate they
knew some of the same people. They looked one another up and down
with new interest. But they could do no more than look at each other,
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