The Voyage Out, by Virginia Woolf

Chapter 24

They reached the hotel rather early in the afternoon, so that most people were still lying down, or sitting speechless in their bedrooms, and Mrs. Thornbury, although she had asked them to tea, was nowhere to be seen. They sat down, therefore, in the shady hall, which was almost empty, and full of the light swishing sounds of air going to and fro in a large empty space. Yes, this arm-chair was the same arm-chair in which Rachel had sat that afternoon when Evelyn came up, and this was the magazine she had been looking at, and this the very picture, a picture of New York by lamplight. How odd it seemed — nothing had changed.

By degrees a certain number of people began to come down the stairs and to pass through the hall, and in this dim light their figures possessed a sort of grace and beauty, although they were all unknown people. Sometimes they went straight through and out into the garden by the swing door, sometimes they stopped for a few minutes and bent over the tables and began turning over the newspapers. Terence and Rachel sat watching them through their half-closed eyelids — the Johnsons, the Parkers, the Baileys, the Simmons’, the Lees, the Morleys, the Campbells, the Gardiners. Some were dressed in white flannels and were carrying racquets under their arms, some were short, some tall, some were only children, and some perhaps were servants, but they all had their standing, their reason for following each other through the hall, their money, their position, whatever it might be. Terence soon gave up looking at them, for he was tired; and, closing his eyes, he fell half asleep in his chair. Rachel watched the people for some time longer; she was fascinated by the certainty and the grace of their movements, and by the inevitable way in which they seemed to follow each other, and loiter and pass on and disappear. But after a time her thoughts wandered, and she began to think of the dance, which had been held in this room, only then the room itself looked quite different. Glancing round, she could hardly believe that it was the same room. It had looked so bare and so bright and formal on that night when they came into it out of the darkness; it had been filled, too, with little red, excited faces, always moving, and people so brightly dressed and so animated that they did not seem in the least like real people, nor did you feel that you could talk to them. And now the room was dim and quiet, and beautiful silent people passed through it, to whom you could go and say anything you liked. She felt herself amazingly secure as she sat in her arm-chair, and able to review not only the night of the dance, but the entire past, tenderly and humorously, as if she had been turning in a fog for a long time, and could now see exactly where she had turned. For the methods by which she had reached her present position, seemed to her very strange, and the strangest thing about them was that she had not known where they were leading her. That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living. Perhaps, then, every one really knew as she knew now where they were going; and things formed themselves into a pattern not only for her, but for them, and in that pattern lay satisfaction and meaning. When she looked back she could see that a meaning of some kind was apparent in the lives of her aunts, and in the brief visit of the Dalloways whom she would never see again, and in the life of her father.

The sound of Terence, breathing deep in his slumber, confirmed her in her calm. She was not sleepy although she did not see anything very distinctly, but although the figures passing through the hall became vaguer and vaguer, she believed that they all knew exactly where they were going, and the sense of their certainty filled her with comfort. For the moment she was as detached and disinterested as if she had no longer any lot in life, and she thought that she could now accept anything that came to her without being perplexed by the form in which it appeared. What was there to frighten or to perplex in the prospect of life? Why should this insight ever again desert her? The world was in truth so large, so hospitable, and after all it was so simple. “Love,” St. John had said, “that seems to explain it all.” Yes, but it was not the love of man for woman, of Terence for Rachel. Although they sat so close together, they had ceased to be little separate bodies; they had ceased to struggle and desire one another. There seemed to be peace between them. It might be love, but it was not the love of man for woman.

Through her half-closed eyelids she watched Terence lying back in his chair, and she smiled as she saw how big his mouth was, and his chin so small, and his nose curved like a switchback with a knob at the end. Naturally, looking like that he was lazy, and ambitious, and full of moods and faults. She remembered their quarrels, and in particular how they had been quarreling about Helen that very afternoon, and she thought how often they would quarrel in the thirty, or forty, or fifty years in which they would be living in the same house together, catching trains together, and getting annoyed because they were so different. But all this was superficial, and had nothing to do with the life that went on beneath the eyes and the mouth and the chin, for that life was independent of her, and independent of everything else. So too, although she was going to marry him and to live with him for thirty, or forty, or fifty years, and to quarrel, and to be so close to him, she was independent of him; she was independent of everything else. Nevertheless, as St. John said, it was love that made her understand this, for she had never felt this independence, this calm, and this certainty until she fell in love with him, and perhaps this too was love. She wanted nothing else.

For perhaps two minutes Miss Allan had been standing at a little distance looking at the couple lying back so peacefully in their arm-chairs. She could not make up her mind whether to disturb them or not, and then, seeming to recollect something, she came across the hall. The sound of her approach woke Terence, who sat up and rubbed his eyes. He heard Miss Allan talking to Rachel.

“Well,” she was saying, “this is very nice. It is very nice indeed. Getting engaged seems to be quite the fashion. It cannot often happen that two couples who have never seen each other before meet in the same hotel and decide to get married.” Then she paused and smiled, and seemed to have nothing more to say, so that Terence rose and asked her whether it was true that she had finished her book. Some one had said that she had really finished it. Her face lit up; she turned to him with a livelier expression than usual.

“Yes, I think I can fairly say I have finished it,” she said. “That is, omitting Swinburne — Beowulf to Browning — I rather like the two B’s myself. Beowulf to Browning,” she repeated, “I think that is the kind of title which might catch one’s eye on a railway book-stall.”

She was indeed very proud that she had finished her book, for no one knew what an amount of determination had gone to the making of it. Also she thought that it was a good piece of work, and, considering what anxiety she had been in about her brother while she wrote it, she could not resist telling them a little more about it.

“I must confess,” she continued, “that if I had known how many classics there are in English literature, and how verbose the best of them contrive to be, I should never have undertaken the work. They only allow one seventy thousand words, you see.”

“Only seventy thousand words!” Terence exclaimed.

“Yes, and one has to say something about everybody,” Miss Allan added. “That is what I find so difficult, saying something different about everybody.” Then she thought that she had said enough about herself, and she asked whether they had come down to join the tennis tournament. “The young people are very keen about it. It begins again in half an hour.”

Her gaze rested benevolently upon them both, and, after a momentary pause, she remarked, looking at Rachel as if she had remembered something that would serve to keep her distinct from other people.

“You’re the remarkable person who doesn’t like ginger.” But the kindness of the smile in her rather worn and courageous face made them feel that although she would scarcely remember them as individuals, she had laid upon them the burden of the new generation.

“And in that I quite agree with her,” said a voice behind; Mrs. Thornbury had overheard the last few words about not liking ginger. “It’s associated in my mind with a horrid old aunt of ours (poor thing, she suffered dreadfully, so it isn’t fair to call her horrid) who used to give it to us when we were small, and we never had the courage to tell her we didn’t like it. We just had to put it out in the shrubbery — she had a big house near Bath.”

They began moving slowly across the hall, when they were stopped by the impact of Evelyn, who dashed into them, as though in running downstairs to catch them her legs had got beyond her control.

“Well,” she exclaimed, with her usual enthusiasm, seizing Rachel by the arm, “I call this splendid! I guessed it was going to happen from the very beginning! I saw you two were made for each other. Now you’ve just got to tell me all about it — when’s it to be, where are you going to live — are you both tremendously happy?”

But the attention of the group was diverted to Mrs. Elliot, who was passing them with her eager but uncertain movement, carrying in her hands a plate and an empty hot-water bottle. She would have passed them, but Mrs. Thornbury went up and stopped her.

“Thank you, Hughling’s better,” she replied, in answer to Mrs. Thornbury’s enquiry, “but he’s not an easy patient. He wants to know what his temperature is, and if I tell him he gets anxious, and if I don’t tell him he suspects. You know what men are when they’re ill! And of course there are none of the proper appliances, and, though he seems very willing and anxious to help” (here she lowered her voice mysteriously), “one can’t feel that Dr. Rodriguez is the same as a proper doctor. If you would come and see him, Mr. Hewet,” she added, “I know it would cheer him up — lying there in bed all day — and the flies — But I must go and find Angelo — the food here — of course, with an invalid, one wants things particularly nice.” And she hurried past them in search of the head waiter. The worry of nursing her husband had fixed a plaintive frown upon her forehead; she was pale and looked unhappy and more than usually inefficient, and her eyes wandered more vaguely than ever from point to point.

“Poor thing!” Mrs. Thornbury exclaimed. She told them that for some days Hughling Elliot had been ill, and the only doctor available was the brother of the proprietor, or so the proprietor said, whose right to the title of doctor was not above suspicion.

“I know how wretched it is to be ill in a hotel,” Mrs. Thornbury remarked, once more leading the way with Rachel to the garden. “I spent six weeks on my honeymoon in having typhoid at Venice,” she continued. “But even so, I look back upon them as some of the happiest weeks in my life. Ah, yes,” she said, taking Rachel’s arm, “you think yourself happy now, but it’s nothing to the happiness that comes afterwards. And I assure you I could find it in my heart to envy you young people! You’ve a much better time than we had, I may tell you. When I look back upon it, I can hardly believe how things have changed. When we were engaged I wasn’t allowed to go for walks with William alone — some one had always to be in the room with us — I really believe I had to show my parents all his letters! — though they were very fond of him too. Indeed, I may say they looked upon him as their own son. It amuses me,” she continued, “to think how strict they were to us, when I see how they spoil their grand-children!”

The table was laid under the tree again, and taking her place before the teacups, Mrs. Thornbury beckoned and nodded until she had collected quite a number of people, Susan and Arthur and Mr. Pepper, who were strolling about, waiting for the tournament to begin. A murmuring tree, a river brimming in the moonlight, Terence’s words came back to Rachel as she sat drinking the tea and listening to the words which flowed on so lightly, so kindly, and with such silvery smoothness. This long life and all these children had left her very smooth; they seemed to have rubbed away the marks of individuality, and to have left only what was old and maternal.

“And the things you young people are going to see!” Mrs. Thornbury continued. She included them all in her forecast, she included them all in her maternity, although the party comprised William Pepper and Miss Allan, both of whom might have been supposed to have seen a fair share of the panorama. “When I see how the world has changed in my lifetime,” she went on, “I can set no limit to what may happen in the next fifty years. Ah, no, Mr. Pepper, I don’t agree with you in the least,” she laughed, interrupting his gloomy remark about things going steadily from bad to worse. “I know I ought to feel that, but I don’t, I’m afraid. They’re going to be much better people than we were. Surely everything goes to prove that. All round me I see women, young women, women with household cares of every sort, going out and doing things that we should not have thought it possible to do.”

Mr. Pepper thought her sentimental and irrational like all old women, but her manner of treating him as if he were a cross old baby baffled him and charmed him, and he could only reply to her with a curious grimace which was more a smile than a frown.

“And they remain women,” Mrs. Thornbury added. “They give a great deal to their children.”

As she said this she smiled slightly in the direction of Susan and Rachel. They did not like to be included in the same lot, but they both smiled a little self-consciously, and Arthur and Terence glanced at each other too. She made them feel that they were all in the same boat together, and they looked at the women they were going to marry and compared them. It was inexplicable how any one could wish to marry Rachel, incredible that any one should be ready to spend his life with Susan; but singular though the other’s taste must be, they bore each other no ill-will on account of it; indeed, they liked each other rather the better for the eccentricity of their choice.

“I really must congratulate you,” Susan remarked, as she leant across the table for the jam.

There seemed to be no foundation for St. John’s gossip about Arthur and Susan. Sunburnt and vigorous they sat side by side, with their racquets across their knees, not saying much but smiling slightly all the time. Through the thin white clothes which they wore, it was possible to see the lines of their bodies and legs, the beautiful curves of their muscles, his leanness and her flesh, and it was natural to think of the firm-fleshed sturdy children that would be theirs. Their faces had too little shape in them to be beautiful, but they had clear eyes and an appearance of great health and power of endurance, for it seemed as if the blood would never cease to run in his veins, or to lie deeply and calmly in her cheeks. Their eyes at the present moment were brighter than usual, and wore the peculiar expression of pleasure and self-confidence which is seen in the eyes of athletes, for they had been playing tennis, and they were both first-rate at the game.

Evelyn had not spoken, but she had been looking from Susan to Rachel. Well — they had both made up their minds very easily, they had done in a very few weeks what it sometimes seemed to her that she would never be able to do. Although they were so different, she thought that she could see in each the same look of satisfaction and completion, the same calmness of manner, and the same slowness of movement. It was that slowness, that confidence, that content which she hated, she thought to herself. They moved so slowly because they were not single but double, and Susan was attached to Arthur, and Rachel to Terence, and for the sake of this one man they had renounced all other men, and movement, and the real things of life. Love was all very well, and those snug domestic houses, with the kitchen below and the nursery above, which were so secluded and self-contained, like little islands in the torrents of the world; but the real things were surely the things that happened, the causes, the wars, the ideals, which happened in the great world outside, and went so independently of these women, turning so quietly and beautifully towards the men. She looked at them sharply. Of course they were happy and content, but there must be better things than that. Surely one could get nearer to life, one could get more out of life, one could enjoy more and feel more than they would ever do. Rachel in particular looked so young — what could she know of life? She became restless, and getting up, crossed over to sit beside Rachel. She reminded her that she had promised to join her club.

“The bother is,” she went on, “that I mayn’t be able to start work seriously till October. I’ve just had a letter from a friend of mine whose brother is in business in Moscow. They want me to stay with them, and as they’re in the thick of all the conspiracies and anarchists, I’ve a good mind to stop on my way home. It sounds too thrilling.” She wanted to make Rachel see how thrilling it was. “My friend knows a girl of fifteen who’s been sent to Siberia for life merely because they caught her addressing a letter to an anarchist. And the letter wasn’t from her, either. I’d give all I have in the world to help on a revolution against the Russian government, and it’s bound to come.”

She looked from Rachel to Terence. They were both a little touched by the sight of her remembering how lately they had been listening to evil words about her, and Terence asked her what her scheme was, and she explained that she was going to found a club — a club for doing things, really doing them. She became very animated, as she talked on and on, for she professed herself certain that if once twenty people — no, ten would be enough if they were keen — set about doing things instead of talking about doing them, they could abolish almost every evil that exists. It was brains that were needed. If only people with brains — of course they would want a room, a nice room, in Bloomsbury preferably, where they could meet once a week. . . .

As she talked Terence could see the traces of fading youth in her face, the lines that were being drawn by talk and excitement round her mouth and eyes, but he did not pity her; looking into those bright, rather hard, and very courageous eyes, he saw that she did not pity herself, or feel any desire to exchange her own life for the more refined and orderly lives of people like himself and St. John, although, as the years went by, the fight would become harder and harder. Perhaps, though, she would settle down; perhaps, after all, she would marry Perrott. While his mind was half occupied with what she was saying, he thought of her probable destiny, the light clouds of tobacco smoke serving to obscure his face from her eyes.

Terence smoked and Arthur smoked and Evelyn smoked, so that the air was full of the mist and fragrance of good tobacco. In the intervals when no one spoke, they heard far off the low murmur of the sea, as the waves quietly broke and spread the beach with a film of water, and withdrew to break again. The cool green light fell through the leaves of the tree, and there were soft crescents and diamonds of sunshine upon the plates and the tablecloth. Mrs. Thornbury, after watching them all for a time in silence, began to ask Rachel kindly questions — When did they all go back? Oh, they expected her father. She must want to see her father — there would be a great deal to tell him, and (she looked sympathetically at Terence) he would be so happy, she felt sure. Years ago, she continued, it might have been ten or twenty years ago, she remembered meeting Mr. Vinrace at a party, and, being so much struck by his face, which was so unlike the ordinary face one sees at a party, that she had asked who he was, and she was told that it was Mr. Vinrace, and she had always remembered the name — an uncommon name — and he had a lady with him, a very sweet-looking woman, but it was one of those dreadful London crushes, where you don’t talk — you only look at each other — and although she had shaken hands with Mr. Vinrace, she didn’t think they had said anything. She sighed very slightly, remembering the past.

Then she turned to Mr. Pepper, who had become very dependent on her, so that he always chose a seat near her, and attended to what she was saying, although he did not often make any remark of his own.

“You who know everything, Mr. Pepper,” she said, “tell us how did those wonderful French ladies manage their salons? Did we ever do anything of the same kind in England, or do you think that there is some reason why we cannot do it in England?”

Mr. Pepper was pleased to explain very accurately why there has never been an English salon. There were three reasons, and they were very good ones, he said. As for himself, when he went to a party, as one was sometimes obliged to, from a wish not to give offence — his niece, for example, had been married the other day — he walked into the middle of the room, said “Ha! ha!” as loud as ever he could, considered that he had done his duty, and walked away again. Mrs. Thornbury protested. She was going to give a party directly she got back, and they were all to be invited, and she should set people to watch Mr. Pepper, and if she heard that he had been caught saying “Ha! ha!” she would — she would do something very dreadful indeed to him. Arthur Venning suggested that what she must do was to rig up something in the nature of a surprise — a portrait, for example, of a nice old lady in a lace cap, concealing a bath of cold water, which at a signal could be sprung on Pepper’s head; or they’d have a chair which shot him twenty feet high directly he sat on it.

Susan laughed. She had done her tea; she was feeling very well contented, partly because she had been playing tennis brilliantly, and then every one was so nice; she was beginning to find it so much easier to talk, and to hold her own even with quite clever people, for somehow clever people did not frighten her any more. Even Mr. Hirst, whom she had disliked when she first met him, really wasn’t disagreeable; and, poor man, he always looked so ill; perhaps he was in love; perhaps he had been in love with Rachel — she really shouldn’t wonder; or perhaps it was Evelyn — she was of course very attractive to men. Leaning forward, she went on with the conversation. She said that she thought that the reason why parties were so dull was mainly because gentlemen will not dress: even in London, she stated, it struck her very much how people don’t think it necessary to dress in the evening, and of course if they don’t dress in London they won’t dress in the country. It was really quite a treat at Christmas-time when there were the Hunt balls, and the gentlemen wore nice red coats, but Arthur didn’t care for dancing, so she supposed that they wouldn’t go even to the ball in their little country town. She didn’t think that people who were fond of one sport often care for another, although her father was an exception. But then he was an exception in every way — such a gardener, and he knew all about birds and animals, and of course he was simply adored by all the old women in the village, and at the same time what he really liked best was a book. You always knew where to find him if he were wanted; he would be in his study with a book. Very likely it would be an old, old book, some fusty old thing that no one else would dream of reading. She used to tell him that he would have made a first-rate old bookworm if only he hadn’t had a family of six to support, and six children, she added, charmingly confident of universal sympathy, didn’t leave one much time for being a bookworm.

Still talking about her father, of whom she was very proud, she rose, for Arthur upon looking at his watch found that it was time they went back again to the tennis court. The others did not move.

“They’re very happy!” said Mrs. Thornbury, looking benignantly after them. Rachel agreed; they seemed to be so certain of themselves; they seemed to know exactly what they wanted.

“D’you think they are happy?” Evelyn murmured to Terence in an undertone, and she hoped that he would say that he did not think them happy; but, instead, he said that they must go too — go home, for they were always being late for meals, and Mrs. Ambrose, who was very stern and particular, didn’t like that. Evelyn laid hold of Rachel’s skirt and protested. Why should they go? It was still early, and she had so many things to say to them. “No,” said Terence, “we must go, because we walk so slowly. We stop and look at things, and we talk.”

“What d’you talk about?” Evelyn enquired, upon which he laughed and said that they talked about everything.

Mrs. Thornbury went with them to the gate, trailing very slowly and gracefully across the grass and the gravel, and talking all the time about flowers and birds. She told them that she had taken up the study of botany since her daughter married, and it was wonderful what a number of flowers there were which she had never seen, although she had lived in the country all her life and she was now seventy-two. It was a good thing to have some occupation which was quite independent of other people, she said, when one got old. But the odd thing was that one never felt old. She always felt that she was twenty-five, not a day more or a day less, but, of course, one couldn’t expect other people to agree to that.

“It must be very wonderful to be twenty-five, and not merely to imagine that you’re twenty-five,” she said, looking from one to the other with her smooth, bright glance. “It must be very wonderful, very wonderful indeed.” She stood talking to them at the gate for a long time; she seemed reluctant that they should go.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91v/chapter24.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 11:53