Next morning Clarissa was up before anyone else. She dressed, and was out on deck, breathing the fresh air of a calm morning, and, making the circuit of the ship for the second time, she ran straight into the lean person of Mr. Grice, the steward. She apologised, and at the same time asked him to enlighten her: what were those shiny brass stands for, half glass on the top? She had been wondering, and could not guess. When he had done explaining, she cried enthusiastically:
“I do think that to be a sailor must be the finest thing in the world!”
“And what d’you know about it?” said Mr. Grice, kindling in a strange manner. “Pardon me. What does any man or woman brought up in England know about the sea? They profess to know; but they don’t.”
The bitterness with which he spoke was ominous of what was to come. He led her off to his own quarters, and, sitting on the edge of a brass-bound table, looking uncommonly like a sea-gull, with her white tapering body and thin alert face, Mrs. Dalloway had to listen to the tirade of a fanatical man. Did she realise, to begin with, what a very small part of the world the land was? How peaceful, how beautiful, how benignant in comparison the sea? The deep waters could sustain Europe unaided if every earthly animal died of the plague to-morrow. Mr. Grice recalled dreadful sights which he had seen in the richest city of the world — men and women standing in line hour after hour to receive a mug of greasy soup. “And I thought of the good flesh down here waiting and asking to be caught. I’m not exactly a Protestant, and I’m not a Catholic, but I could almost pray for the days of popery to come again — because of the fasts.”
As he talked he kept opening drawers and moving little glass jars. Here were the treasures which the great ocean had bestowed upon him — pale fish in greenish liquids, blobs of jelly with streaming tresses, fish with lights in their heads, they lived so deep.
“They have swum about among bones,” Clarissa sighed.
“You’re thinking of Shakespeare,” said Mr. Grice, and taking down a copy from a shelf well lined with books, recited in an emphatic nasal voice:
Full fathom five thy father lies,
“A grand fellow, Shakespeare,” he said, replacing the volume.
Clarissa was so glad to hear him say so.
“Which is your favourite play? I wonder if it’s the same as mine?”
“Henry the Fifth,” said Mr. Grice.
“Joy!” cried Clarissa. “It is!”
Hamlet was what you might call too introspective for Mr. Grice, the sonnets too passionate; Henry the Fifth was to him the model of an English gentleman. But his favourite reading was Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and Henry George; while Emerson and Thomas Hardy he read for relaxation. He was giving Mrs. Dalloway his views upon the present state of England when the breakfast bell rung so imperiously that she had to tear herself away, promising to come back and be shown his sea-weeds.
The party, which had seemed so odd to her the night before, was already gathered round the table, still under the influence of sleep, and therefore uncommunicative, but her entrance sent a little flutter like a breath of air through them all.
“I’ve had the most interesting talk of my life!” she exclaimed, taking her seat beside Willoughby. “D’you realise that one of your men is a philosopher and a poet?”
“A very interesting fellow — that’s what I always say,” said Willoughby, distinguishing Mr. Grice. “Though Rachel finds him a bore.”
“He’s a bore when he talks about currents,” said Rachel. Her eyes were full of sleep, but Mrs. Dalloway still seemed to her wonderful.
“I’ve never met a bore yet!” said Clarissa.
“And I should say the world was full of them!” exclaimed Helen. But her beauty, which was radiant in the morning light, took the contrariness from her words.
“I agree that it’s the worst one can possibly say of any one,” said Clarissa. “How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!” she added, with her usual air of saying something profound. “One can fancy liking a murderer. It’s the same with dogs. Some dogs are awful bores, poor dears.”
It happened that Richard was sitting next to Rachel. She was curiously conscious of his presence and appearance — his well-cut clothes, his crackling shirt-front, his cuffs with blue rings round them, and the square-tipped, very clean fingers with the red stone on the little finger of the left hand.
“We had a dog who was a bore and knew it,” he said, addressing her in cool, easy tones. “He was a Skye terrier, one of those long chaps, with little feet poking out from their hair like — like caterpillars — no, like sofas I should say. Well, we had another dog at the same time, a black brisk animal — a Schipperke, I think, you call them. You can’t imagine a greater contrast. The Skye so slow and deliberate, looking up at you like some old gentleman in the club, as much as to say, “You don’t really mean it, do you?” and the Schipperke as quick as a knife. I liked the Skye best, I must confess. There was something pathetic about him.”
The story seemed to have no climax.
“What happened to him?” Rachel asked.
“That’s a very sad story,” said Richard, lowering his voice and peeling an apple. “He followed my wife in the car one day and got run over by a brute of a cyclist.”
“Was he killed?” asked Rachel.
But Clarissa at her end of the table had overheard.
“Don’t talk of it!” she cried. “It’s a thing I can’t bear to think of to this day.”
Surely the tears stood in her eyes?
“That’s the painful thing about pets,” said Mr. Dalloway; “they die. The first sorrow I can remember was for the death of a dormouse. I regret to say that I sat upon it. Still, that didn’t make one any the less sorry. Here lies the duck that Samuel Johnson sat on, eh? I was big for my age.”
“Then we had canaries,” he continued, “a pair of ring-doves, a lemur, and at one time a martin.”
“Did you live in the country?” Rachel asked him.
“We lived in the country for six months of the year. When I say ‘we’ I mean four sisters, a brother, and myself. There’s nothing like coming of a large family. Sisters particularly are delightful.”
“Dick, you were horribly spoilt!” cried Clarissa across the table.
“No, no. Appreciated,” said Richard.
Rachel had other questions on the tip of her tongue; or rather one enormous question, which she did not in the least know how to put into words. The talk appeared too airy to admit of it.
“Please tell me — everything.” That was what she wanted to say. He had drawn apart one little chink and showed astonishing treasures. It seemed to her incredible that a man like that should be willing to talk to her. He had sisters and pets, and once lived in the country. She stirred her tea round and round; the bubbles which swam and clustered in the cup seemed to her like the union of their minds.
The talk meanwhile raced past her, and when Richard suddenly stated in a jocular tone of voice, “I’m sure Miss Vinrace, now, has secret leanings towards Catholicism,” she had no idea what to answer, and Helen could not help laughing at the start she gave.
However, breakfast was over and Mrs. Dalloway was rising. “I always think religion’s like collecting beetles,” she said, summing up the discussion as she went up the stairs with Helen. “One person has a passion for black beetles; another hasn’t; it’s no good arguing about it. What’s your black beetle now?”
“I suppose it’s my children,” said Helen.
“Ah — that’s different,” Clarissa breathed. “Do tell me. You have a boy, haven’t you? Isn’t it detestable, leaving them?”
It was as though a blue shadow had fallen across a pool. Their eyes became deeper, and their voices more cordial. Instead of joining them as they began to pace the deck, Rachel was indignant with the prosperous matrons, who made her feel outside their world and motherless, and turning back, she left them abruptly. She slammed the door of her room, and pulled out her music. It was all old music — Bach and Beethoven, Mozart and Purcell — the pages yellow, the engraving rough to the finger. In three minutes she was deep in a very difficult, very classical fugue in A, and over her face came a queer remote impersonal expression of complete absorption and anxious satisfaction. Now she stumbled; now she faltered and had to play the same bar twice over; but an invisible line seemed to string the notes together, from which rose a shape, a building. She was so far absorbed in this work, for it was really difficult to find how all these sounds should stand together, and drew upon the whole of her faculties, that she never heard a knock at the door. It was burst impulsively open, and Mrs. Dalloway stood in the room leaving the door open, so that a strip of the white deck and of the blue sea appeared through the opening. The shape of the Bach fugue crashed to the ground.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Clarissa implored. “I heard you playing, and I couldn’t resist. I adore Bach!”
Rachel flushed and fumbled her fingers in her lap. She stood up awkwardly.
“It’s too difficult,” she said.
“But you were playing quite splendidly! I ought to have stayed outside.”
“No,” said Rachel.
She slid Cowper’s Letters and Wuthering Heights out of the arm-chair, so that Clarissa was invited to sit there.
“What a dear little room!” she said, looking round. “Oh, Cowper’s Letters>!” I’ve never read them. Are they nice?”
“Rather dull,” said Rachel.
“He wrote awfully well, didn’t he?” said Clarissa; “— if one likes that kind of thing — finished his sentences and all that. Wuthering Heights! Ah — that’s more in my line. I really couldn’t exist without the Brontes! Don’t you love them? Still, on the whole, I’d rather live without them than without Jane Austen.”
Lightly and at random though she spoke, her manner conveyed an extraordinary degree of sympathy and desire to befriend.
“Jane Austen? I don’t like Jane Austen,” said Rachel.
“You monster!” Clarissa exclaimed. “I can only just forgive you. Tell me why?”
“She’s so — so — well, so like a tight plait,” Rachel floundered. “Ah — I see what you mean. But I don’t agree. And you won’t when you’re older. At your age I only liked Shelley. I can remember sobbing over him in the garden.
He has outsoared the shadow of our night,
Envy and calumny and hate and pain — you remember?
Can touch him not and torture not again
From the contagion of the world’s slow stain.
How divine! — and yet what nonsense!” She looked lightly round the room. “I always think it’s living, not dying, that counts. I really respect some snuffy old stockbroker who’s gone on adding up column after column all his days, and trotting back to his villa at Brixton with some old pug dog he worships, and a dreary little wife sitting at the end of the table, and going off to Margate for a fortnight — I assure you I know heaps like that — well, they seem to me really nobler than poets whom every one worships, just because they’re geniuses and die young. But I don’t expect you to agree with me!”
She pressed Rachel’s shoulder.
“Um-m-m —” she went on quoting —
Unrest which men miscall delight —
“when you’re my age you’ll see that the world is crammed with delightful things. I think young people make such a mistake about that — not letting themselves be happy. I sometimes think that happiness is the only thing that counts. I don’t know you well enough to say, but I should guess you might be a little inclined to — when one’s young and attractive — I’m going to say it! — every_thing’s at one’s feet.” She glanced round as much as to say, “not only a few stuffy books and Bach.”
“I long to ask questions,” she continued. “You interest me so much. If I’m impertinent, you must just box my ears.”
“And I— I want to ask questions,” said Rachel with such earnestness that Mrs. Dalloway had to check her smile.
“D’you mind if we walk?” she said. “The air’s so delicious.”
She snuffed it like a racehorse as they shut the door and stood on deck.
“Isn’t it good to be alive?” she exclaimed, and drew Rachel’s arm within hers.
“Look, look! How exquisite!”
The shores of Portugal were beginning to lose their substance; but the land was still the land, though at a great distance. They could distinguish the little towns that were sprinkled in the folds of the hills, and the smoke rising faintly. The towns appeared to be very small in comparison with the great purple mountains behind them.
“Honestly, though,” said Clarissa, having looked, “I don’t like views. They’re too inhuman.” They walked on.
“How odd it is!” she continued impulsively. “This time yesterday we’d never met. I was packing in a stuffy little room in the hotel. We know absolutely nothing about each other — and yet — I feel as if I did know you!”
“You have children — your husband was in Parliament?”
“You’ve never been to school, and you live —?”
“With my aunts at Richmond.”
“You see, my aunts like the Park. They like the quiet.”
“And you don’t! I understand!” Clarissa laughed.
“I like walking in the Park alone; but not — with the dogs,” she finished.
“No; and some people are dogs; aren’t they?” said Clarissa, as if she had guessed a secret. “But not every one — oh no, not every one.”
“Not every one,” said Rachel, and stopped.
“I can quite imagine you walking alone,” said Clarissa: “and thinking — in a little world of your own. But how you will enjoy it — some day!”
“I shall enjoy walking with a man — is that what you mean?” said Rachel, regarding Mrs. Dalloway with her large enquiring eyes.
“I wasn’t thinking of a man particularly,” said Clarissa. “But you will.”
“No. I shall never marry,” Rachel determined.
“I shouldn’t be so sure of that,” said Clarissa. Her sidelong glance told Rachel that she found her attractive although she was inexplicably amused.
“Why do people marry?” Rachel asked.
“That’s what you’re going to find out,” Clarissa laughed.
Rachel followed her eyes and found that they rested for a second, on the robust figure of Richard Dalloway, who was engaged in striking a match on the sole of his boot; while Willoughby expounded something, which seemed to be of great interest to them both.
“There’s nothing like it,” she concluded. “Do tell me about the Ambroses. Or am I asking too many questions?”
“I find you easy to talk to,” said Rachel.
The short sketch of the Ambroses was, however, somewhat perfunctory, and contained little but the fact that Mr. Ambrose was her uncle.
“Your mother’s brother?”
When a name has dropped out of use, the lightest touch upon it tells. Mrs. Dalloway went on:
“Are you like your mother?”
“No; she was different,” said Rachel.
She was overcome by an intense desire to tell Mrs. Dalloway things she had never told any one — things she had not realised herself until this moment.
“I am lonely,” she began. “I want —” She did not know what she wanted, so that she could not finish the sentence; but her lip quivered.
But it seemed that Mrs. Dalloway was able to understand without words.
“I know,” she said, actually putting one arm round Rachel’s shoulder. “When I was your age I wanted too. No one understood until I met Richard. He gave me all I wanted. He’s man and woman as well.” Her eyes rested upon Mr. Dalloway, leaning upon the rail, still talking. “Don’t think I say that because I’m his wife — I see his faults more clearly than I see any one else’s. What one wants in the person one lives with is that they should keep one at one’s best. I often wonder what I’ve done to be so happy!” she exclaimed, and a tear slid down her cheek. She wiped it away, squeezed Rachel’s hand, and exclaimed:
“How good life is!” At that moment, standing out in the fresh breeze, with the sun upon the waves, and Mrs. Dalloway’s hand upon her arm, it seemed indeed as if life which had been unnamed before was infinitely wonderful, and too good to be true.
Here Helen passed them, and seeing Rachel arm-in-arm with a comparative stranger, looking excited, was amused, but at the same time slightly irritated. But they were immediately joined by Richard, who had enjoyed a very interesting talk with Willoughby and was in a sociable mood.
“Observe my Panama,” he said, touching the brim of his hat. “Are you aware, Miss Vinrace, how much can be done to induce fine weather by appropriate headdress? I have determined that it is a hot summer day; I warn you that nothing you can say will shake me. Therefore I am going to sit down. I advise you to follow my example.” Three chairs in a row invited them to be seated.
Leaning back, Richard surveyed the waves.
“That’s a very pretty blue,” he said. “But there’s a little too much of it. Variety is essential to a view. Thus, if you have hills you ought to have a river; if a river, hills. The best view in the world in my opinion is that from Boars Hill on a fine day — it must be a fine day, mark you — A rug? — Oh, thank you, my dear. . . . in that case you have also the advantage of associations — the Past.”
“D’you want to talk, Dick, or shall I read aloud?”
Clarissa had fetched a book with the rugs.
“Persuasion,” announced Richard, examining the volume.
“That’s for Miss Vinrace,” said Clarissa. “She can’t bear our beloved Jane.”
“That — if I may say so — is because you have not read her,” said Richard. “She is incomparably the greatest female writer we possess.”
“She is the greatest,” he continued, “and for this reason: she does not attempt to write like a man. Every other woman does; on that account, I don’t read ’em.”
“Produce your instances, Miss Vinrace,” he went on, joining his finger-tips. “I’m ready to be converted.”
He waited, while Rachel vainly tried to vindicate her sex from the slight he put upon it.
“I’m afraid he’s right,” said Clarissa. “He generally is — the wretch!”
“I brought Persuasion,” she went on, “because I thought it was a little less threadbare than the others — though, Dick, it’s no good your pretending to know Jane by heart, considering that she always sends you to sleep!”
“After the labours of legislation, I deserve sleep,” said Richard.
“You’re not to think about those guns,” said Clarissa, seeing that his eye, passing over the waves, still sought the land meditatively, “or about navies, or empires, or anything.” So saying she opened the book and began to read:
“‘Sir Walter Elliott, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage’— don’t you know Sir Walter? —‘There he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one.’ She does write well, doesn’t she? ‘There —’” She read on in a light humorous voice. She was determined that Sir Walter should take her husband’s mind off the guns of Britain, and divert him in an exquisite, quaint, sprightly, and slightly ridiculous world. After a time it appeared that the sun was sinking in that world, and the points becoming softer. Rachel looked up to see what caused the change. Richard’s eyelids were closing and opening; opening and closing. A loud nasal breath announced that he no longer considered appearances, that he was sound asleep.
“Triumph!” Clarissa whispered at the end of a sentence. Suddenly she raised her hand in protest. A sailor hesitated; she gave the book to Rachel, and stepped lightly to take the message —”Mr. Grice wished to know if it was convenient,” etc. She followed him. Ridley, who had prowled unheeded, started forward, stopped, and, with a gesture of disgust, strode off to his study. The sleeping politician was left in Rachel’s charge. She read a sentence, and took a look at him. In sleep he looked like a coat hanging at the end of a bed; there were all the wrinkles, and the sleeves and trousers kept their shape though no longer filled out by legs and arms. You can then best judge the age and state of the coat. She looked him all over until it seemed to her that he must protest.
He was a man of forty perhaps; and here there were lines round his eyes, and there curious clefts in his cheeks. Slightly battered he appeared, but dogged and in the prime of life.
“Sisters and a dormouse and some canaries,” Rachel murmured, never taking her eyes off him. “I wonder, I wonder” she ceased, her chin upon her hand, still looking at him. A bell chimed behind them, and Richard raised his head. Then he opened his eyes which wore for a second the queer look of a shortsighted person’s whose spectacles are lost. It took him a moment to recover from the impropriety of having snored, and possibly grunted, before a young lady. To wake and find oneself left alone with one was also slightly disconcerting.
“I suppose I’ve been dozing,” he said. “What’s happened to everyone? Clarissa?”
“Mrs. Dalloway has gone to look at Mr. Grice’s fish,” Rachel replied.
“I might have guessed,” said Richard. “It’s a common occurrence. And how have you improved the shining hour? Have you become a convert?”
“I don’t think I’ve read a line,” said Rachel.
“That’s what I always find. There are too many things to look at. I find nature very stimulating myself. My best ideas have come to me out of doors.”
“When you were walking?”
“Walking — riding — yachting — I suppose the most momentous conversations of my life took place while perambulating the great court at Trinity. I was at both universities. It was a fad of my father’s. He thought it broadening to the mind. I think I agree with him. I can remember — what an age ago it seems! — settling the basis of a future state with the present Secretary for India. We thought ourselves very wise. I’m not sure we weren’t. We were happy, Miss Vinrace, and we were young — gifts which make for wisdom.”
“Have you done what you said you’d do?” she asked.
“A searching question! I answer — Yes and No. If on the one hand I have not accomplished what I set out to accomplish — which of us does! — on the other I can fairly say this: I have not lowered my ideal.”
He looked resolutely at a sea-gull, as though his ideal flew on the wings of the bird.
“But,” said Rachel, “what is your ideal?”
“There you ask too much, Miss Vinrace,” said Richard playfully.
She could only say that she wanted to know, and Richard was sufficiently amused to answer.
“Well, how shall I reply? In one word — Unity. Unity of aim, of dominion, of progress. The dispersion of the best ideas over the greatest area.”
“I grant that the English seem, on the whole, whiter than most men, their records cleaner. But, good Lord, don’t run away with the idea that I don’t see the drawbacks — horrors — unmentionable things done in our very midst! I’m under no illusions. Few people, I suppose, have fewer illusions than I have. Have you ever been in a factory, Miss Vinrace! — No, I suppose not — I may say I hope not.
As for Rachel, she had scarcely walked through a poor street, and always under the escort of father, maid, or aunts.
“I was going to say that if you’d ever seen the kind of thing that’s going on round you, you’d understand what it is that makes me and men like me politicians. You asked me a moment ago whether I’d done what I set out to do. Well, when I consider my life, there is one fact I admit that I’m proud of; owing to me some thousands of girls in Lancashire — and many thousands to come after them — can spend an hour every day in the open air which their mothers had to spend over their looms. I’m prouder of that, I own, than I should be of writing Keats and Shelley into the bargain!”
It became painful to Rachel to be one of those who write Keats and Shelley. She liked Richard Dalloway, and warmed as he warmed. He seemed to mean what he said.
“I know nothing!” she exclaimed.
“It’s far better that you should know nothing,” he said paternally, “and you wrong yourself, I’m sure. You play very nicely, I’m told, and I’ve no doubt you’ve read heaps of learned books.”
Elderly banter would no longer check her.
“You talk of unity,” she said. “You ought to make me understand.”
“I never allow my wife to talk politics,” he said seriously. “For this reason. It is impossible for human beings, constituted as they are, both to fight and to have ideals. If I have preserved mine, as I am thankful to say that in great measure I have, it is due to the fact that I have been able to come home to my wife in the evening and to find that she has spent her day in calling, music, play with the children, domestic duties — what you will; her illusions have not been destroyed. She gives me courage to go on. The strain of public life is very great,” he added.
This made him appear a battered martyr, parting every day with some of the finest gold, in the service of mankind.
“I can’t think,” Rachel exclaimed, “how any one does it!”
“Explain, Miss Vinrace,” said Richard. “This is a matter I want to clear up.”
His kindness was genuine, and she determined to take the chance he gave her, although to talk to a man of such worth and authority made her heart beat.
“It seems to me like this,” she began, doing her best first to recollect and then to expose her shivering private visions.
“There’s an old widow in her room, somewhere, let us suppose in the suburbs of Leeds.”
Richard bent his head to show that he accepted the widow.
“In London you’re spending your life, talking, writing things, getting bills through, missing what seems natural. The result of it all is that she goes to her cupboard and finds a little more tea, a few lumps of sugar, or a little less tea and a newspaper. Widows all over the country I admit do this. Still, there’s the mind of the widow — the affections; those you leave untouched. But you waste you own.”
“If the widow goes to her cupboard and finds it bare,” Richard answered, “her spiritual outlook we may admit will be affected. If I may pick holes in your philosophy, Miss Vinrace, which has its merits, I would point out that a human being is not a set of compartments, but an organism. Imagination, Miss Vinrace; use your imagination; that’s where you young Liberals fail. Conceive the world as a whole. Now for your second point; when you assert that in trying to set the house in order for the benefit of the young generation I am wasting my higher capabilities, I totally disagree with you. I can conceive no more exalted aim — to be the citizen of the Empire. Look at it in this way, Miss Vinrace; conceive the state as a complicated machine; we citizens are parts of that machine; some fulfil more important duties; others (perhaps I am one of them) serve only to connect some obscure parts of the mechanism, concealed from the public eye. Yet if the meanest screw fails in its task, the proper working of the whole is imperilled.”
It was impossible to combine the image of a lean black widow, gazing out of her window, and longing for some one to talk to, with the image of a vast machine, such as one sees at South Kensington, thumping, thumping, thumping. The attempt at communication had been a failure.
“We don’t seem to understand each other,” she said.
“Shall I say something that will make you very angry?” he replied.
“It won’t,” said Rachel.
“Well, then; no woman has what I may call the political instinct. You have very great virtues; I am the first, I hope, to admit that; but I have never met a woman who even saw what is meant by statesmanship. I am going to make you still more angry. I hope that I never shall meet such a woman. Now, Miss Vinrace, are we enemies for life?”
Vanity, irritation, and a thrusting desire to be understood, urged her to make another attempt.
“Under the streets, in the sewers, in the wires, in the telephones, there is something alive; is that what you mean? In things like dust-carts, and men mending roads? You feel that all the time when you walk about London, and when you turn on a tap and the water comes?”
“Certainly,” said Richard. “I understand you to mean that the whole of modern society is based upon cooperative effort. If only more people would realise that, Miss Vinrace, there would be fewer of your old widows in solitary lodgings!”
“Are you a Liberal or are you a Conservative?” she asked.
“I call myself a Conservative for convenience sake,” said Richard, smiling. “But there is more in common between the two parties than people generally allow.”
There was a pause, which did not come on Rachel’s side from any lack of things to say; as usual she could not say them, and was further confused by the fact that the time for talking probably ran short. She was haunted by absurd jumbled ideas — how, if one went back far enough, everything perhaps was intelligible; everything was in common; for the mammoths who pastured in the fields of Richmond High Street had turned into paving stones and boxes full of ribbon, and her aunts.
“Did you say you lived in the country when you were a child?” she asked.
Crude as her manners seemed to him, Richard was flattered. There could be no doubt that her interest was genuine.
“I did,” he smiled.
“And what happened?” she asked. “Or do I ask too many questions?”
“I’m flattered, I assure you. But — let me see — what happened? Well, riding, lessons, sisters. There was an enchanted rubbish heap, I remember, where all kinds of queer things happened. Odd, what things impress children! I can remember the look of the place to this day. It’s a fallacy to think that children are happy. They’re not; they’re unhappy. I’ve never suffered so much as I did when I was a child.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I didn’t get on well with my father,” said Richard shortly. “He was a very able man, but hard. Well — it makes one determined not to sin in that way oneself. Children never forget injustice. They forgive heaps of things grown-up people mind; but that sin is the unpardonable sin. Mind you — I daresay I was a difficult child to manage; but when I think what I was ready to give! No, I was more sinned against than sinning. And then I went to school, where I did very fairly well; and and then, as I say, my father sent me to both universities. . . . D’you know, Miss Vinrace, you’ve made me think? How little, after all, one can tell anybody about one’s life! Here I sit; there you sit; both, I doubt not, chock-full of the most interesting experiences, ideas, emotions; yet how communicate? I’ve told you what every second person you meet might tell you.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s the way of saying things, isn’t it, not the things?”
“True,” said Richard. “Perfectly true.” He paused. “When I look back over my life — I’m forty-two — what are the great facts that stand out? What were the revelations, if I may call them so? The misery of the poor and —” (he hesitated and pitched over) “love!”
Upon that word he lowered his voice; it was a word that seemed to unveil the skies for Rachel.
“It’s an odd thing to say to a young lady,” he continued. “But have you any idea what — what I mean by that? No, of course not. I don’t use the word in a conventional sense. I use it as young men use it. Girls are kept very ignorant, aren’t they? Perhaps it’s wise — perhaps — You don’t know?”
He spoke as if he had lost consciousness of what he was saying.
“No; I don’t,” she said, scarcely speaking above her breath.
“Warships, Dick! Over there! Look!” Clarissa, released from Mr. Grice, appreciative of all his seaweeds, skimmed towards them, gesticulating.
She had sighted two sinister grey vessels, low in the water, and bald as bone, one closely following the other with the look of eyeless beasts seeking their prey. Consciousness returned to Richard instantly.
“By George!” he exclaimed, and stood shielding his eyes.
“Ours, Dick?” said Clarissa.
“The Mediterranean Fleet,” he answered.
“The Euphrosyne was slowly dipping her flag. Richard raised his hat. Convulsively Clarissa squeezed Rachel’s hand.
“Aren’t you glad to be English!” she said.
The warships drew past, casting a curious effect of discipline and sadness upon the waters, and it was not until they were again invisible that people spoke to each other naturally. At lunch the talk was all of valour and death, and the magnificent qualities of British admirals. Clarissa quoted one poet, Willoughby quoted another. Life on board a man-of-war was splendid, so they agreed, and sailors, whenever one met them, were quite especially nice and simple.
This being so, no one liked it when Helen remarked that it seemed to her as wrong to keep sailors as to keep a Zoo, and that as for dying on a battle-field, surely it was time we ceased to praise courage —”or to write bad poetry about it,” snarled Pepper.
But Helen was really wondering why Rachel, sitting silent, looked so queer and flushed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01