Part 5 out of 8
"I advise you to be circumspect," said Ridley. "There's Willoughby,
remember--Willoughby"; he pointed at a letter.
Helen looked with a sigh at an envelope which lay upon her dressing-table.
Yes, there lay Willoughby, curt, inexpressive, perpetually jocular,
robbing a whole continent of mystery, enquiring after his daughter's
manners and morals--hoping she wasn't a bore, and bidding them
pack her off to him on board the very next ship if she were--
and then grateful and affectionate with suppressed emotion,
and then half a page about his own triumphs over wretched little
natives who went on strike and refused to load his ships, until he
roared English oaths at them, "popping my head out of the window
just as I was, in my shirt sleeves. The beggars had the sense to scatter."
"If Theresa married Willoughby," she remarked, turning the page
with a hairpin, "one doesn't see what's to prevent Rachel--"
But Ridley was now off on grievances of his own connected with
the washing of his shirts, which somehow led to the frequent visits
of Hughling Elliot, who was a bore, a pedant, a dry stick of a man,
and yet Ridley couldn't simply point at the door and tell him to go.
The truth of it was, they saw too many people. And so on and so on,
more conjugal talk pattering softly and unintelligibly, until they
were both ready to go down to tea.
The first thing that caught Helen's eye as she came downstairs
was a carriage at the door, filled with skirts and feathers nodding
on the tops of hats. She had only time to gain the drawing-room
before two names were oddly mispronounced by the Spanish maid,
and Mrs. Thornbury came in slightly in advance of Mrs. Wilfrid Flushing.
"Mrs. Wilfrid Flushing," said Mrs. Thornbury, with a wave of her hand.
"A friend of our common friend Mrs. Raymond Parry."
Mrs. Flushing shook hands energetically. She was a woman of
forty perhaps, very well set up and erect, splendidly robust,
though not as tall as the upright carriage of her body made her appear.
She looked Helen straight in the face and said, "You have a charmin' house."
She had a strongly marked face, her eyes looked straight at you,
and though naturally she was imperious in her manner she was nervous
at the same time. Mrs. Thornbury acted as interpreter, making things
smooth all round by a series of charming commonplace remarks.
"I've taken it upon myself, Mr. Ambrose," she said, "to promise
that you will be so kind as to give Mrs. Flushing the benefit
of your experience. I'm sure no one here knows the country as
well as you do. No one takes such wonderful long walks. No one,
I'm sure, has your encyclopaedic knowledge upon every subject.
Mr. Wilfrid Flushing is a collector. He has discovered really beautiful
things already. I had no notion that the peasants were so artistic--
though of course in the past--"
"Not old things--new things," interrupted Mrs. Flushing curtly.
"That is, if he takes my advice."
The Ambroses had not lived for many years in London without knowing
something of a good many people, by name at least, and Helen remembered
hearing of the Flushings. Mr. Flushing was a man who kept an old
furniture shop; he had always said he would not marry because most
women have red cheeks, and would not take a house because most houses
have narrow staircases, and would not eat meat because most animals
bleed when they are killed; and then he had married an eccentric
aristocratic lady, who certainly was not pale, who looked as if she
ate meat, who had forced him to do all the things he most disliked--
and this then was the lady. Helen looked at her with interest.
They had moved out into the garden, where the tea was laid under
a tree, and Mrs. Flushing was helping herself to cherry jam.
She had a peculiar jerking movement of the body when she spoke,
which caused the canary-coloured plume on her hat to jerk too.
Her small but finely-cut and vigorous features, together with the deep
red of lips and cheeks, pointed to many generations of well-trained
and well-nourished ancestors behind her.
"Nothin' that's more than twenty years old interests me,"
she continued. "Mouldy old pictures, dirty old books, they stick
'em in museums when they're only fit for burnin'."
"I quite agree," Helen laughed. "But my husband spends his life
in digging up manuscripts which nobody wants." She was amused
by Ridley's expression of startled disapproval.
"There's a clever man in London called John who paints ever
so much better than the old masters," Mrs. Flushing continued.
"His pictures excite me--nothin' that's old excites me."
"But even his pictures will become old," Mrs. Thornbury intervened.
"Then I'll have 'em burnt, or I'll put it in my will," said Mrs. Flushing.
"And Mrs. Flushing lived in one of the most beautiful old houses
in England--Chillingley," Mrs. Thornbury explained to the rest
"If I'd my way I'd burn that to-morrow," Mrs. Flushing laughed.
She had a laugh like the cry of a jay, at once startling and joyless.
"What does any sane person want with those great big houses?"
she demanded. "If you go downstairs after dark you're covered
with black beetles, and the electric lights always goin' out.
What would you do if spiders came out of the tap when you turned
on the hot water?" she demanded, fixing her eye on Helen.
Mrs. Ambrose shrugged her shoulders with a smile.
"This is what I like," said Mrs. Flushing. She jerked her head at
the Villa. "A little house in a garden. I had one once in Ireland.
One could lie in bed in the mornin' and pick roses outside the window
with one's toes."
"And the gardeners, weren't they surprised?" Mrs. Thornbury enquired.
"There were no gardeners," Mrs. Flushing chuckled. "Nobody but me
and an old woman without any teeth. You know the poor in Ireland
lose their teeth after they're twenty. But you wouldn't expect
a politician to understand that--Arthur Balfour wouldn't understand that."
Ridley sighed that he never expected any one to understand anything,
least of all politicians.
"However," he concluded, "there's one advantage I find in extreme
old age--nothing matters a hang except one's food and one's digestion.
All I ask is to be left alone to moulder away in solitude. It's obvious
that the world's going as fast as it can to--the Nethermost Pit,
and all I can do is to sit still and consume as much of my own
smoke as possible." He groaned, and with a melancholy glance laid
the jam on his bread, for he felt the atmosphere of this abrupt
lady distinctly unsympathetic.
"I always contradict my husband when he says that," said Mrs. Thornbury
sweetly. "You men! Where would you be if it weren't for the women!"
"Read the _Symposium_," said Ridley grimly.
"_Symposium_?" cried Mrs. Flushing. "That's Latin or Greek?
Tell me, is there a good translation?"
"No," said Ridley. "You will have to learn Greek."
Mrs. Flushing cried, "Ah, ah, ah! I'd rather break stones in the road.
I always envy the men who break stones and sit on those nice little
heaps all day wearin' spectacles. I'd infinitely rather break
stones than clean out poultry runs, or feed the cows, or--"
Here Rachel came up from the lower garden with a book in her hand.
"What's that book?" said Ridley, when she had shaken hands.
"It's Gibbon," said Rachel as she sat down.
"_The_ _Decline_ _and_ _Fall_ _of_ _the_ _Roman_ _Empire_?"
said Mrs. Thornbury. "A very wonderful book, I know. My dear
father was always quoting it at us, with the result that we resolved
never to read a line."
"Gibbon the historian?" enquired Mrs. Flushing. "I connect him
with some of the happiest hours of my life. We used to lie in bed
and read Gibbon--about the massacres of the Christians, I remember--
when we were supposed to be asleep. It's no joke, I can tell you,
readin' a great big book, in double columns, by a night-light,
and the light that comes through a chink in the door. Then there
were the moths--tiger moths, yellow moths, and horrid cockchafers.
Louisa, my sister, would have the window open. I wanted it shut.
We fought every night of our lives over that window. Have you ever
seen a moth dyin' in a night-light?" she enquired.
Again there was an interruption. Hewet and Hirst appeared
at the drawing-room window and came up to the tea-table.
Rachel's heart beat hard. She was conscious of an extraordinary
intensity in everything, as though their presence stripped some cover
off the surface of things; but the greetings were remarkably commonplace.
"Excuse me," said Hirst, rising from his chair directly he
had sat down. He went into the drawing-room, and returned
with a cushion which he placed carefully upon his seat.
"Rheumatism," he remarked, as he sat down for the second time.
"The result of the dance?" Helen enquired.
"Whenever I get at all run down I tend to be rheumatic," Hirst stated.
He bent his wrist back sharply. "I hear little pieces of chalk
Rachel looked at him. She was amused, and yet she was respectful;
if such a thing could be, the upper part of her face seemed to laugh,
and the lower part to check its laughter.
Hewet picked up the book that lay on the ground.
"You like this?" he asked in an undertone.
"No, I don't like it," she replied. She had indeed been trying
all the afternoon to read it, and for some reason the glory which
she had perceived at first had faded, and, read as she would,
she could not grasp the meaning with her mind.
"It goes round, round, round, like a roll of oil-cloth," she hazarded.
Evidently she meant Hewet alone to hear her words, but Hirst demanded,
"What d'you mean?"
She was instantly ashamed of her figure of speech, for she could
not explain it in words of sober criticism.
"Surely it's the most perfect style, so far as style goes, that's ever
been invented," he continued. "Every sentence is practically perfect,
and the wit--"
"Ugly in body, repulsive in mind," she thought, instead of thinking
about Gibbon's style. "Yes, but strong, searching, unyielding in mind."
She looked at his big head, a disproportionate part of which was
occupied by the forehead, and at the direct, severe eyes.
"I give you up in despair," he said. He meant it lightly, but she
took it seriously, and believed that her value as a human being was
lessened because she did not happen to admire the style of Gibbon.
The others were talking now in a group about the native villages
which Mrs. Flushing ought to visit.
"I despair too," she said impetuously. "How are you going to judge
people merely by their minds?"
"You agree with my spinster Aunt, I expect," said St. John in his
jaunty manner, which was always irritating because it made the person
he talked to appear unduly clumsy and in earnest. "'Be good,
sweet maid'--I thought Mr. Kingsley and my Aunt were now obsolete."
"One can be very nice without having read a book," she asserted.
Very silly and simple her words sounded, and laid her open
"Did I ever deny it?" Hirst enquired, raising his eyebrows.
Most unexpectedly Mrs. Thornbury here intervened, either because it
was her mission to keep things smooth or because she had long
wished to speak to Mr. Hirst, feeling as she did that young men
were her sons.
"I have lived all my life with people like your Aunt, Mr. Hirst,"
she said, leaning forward in her chair. Her brown squirrel-like
eyes became even brighter than usual. "They have never heard
of Gibbon. They only care for their pheasants and their peasants.
They are great big men who look so fine on horseback, as people
must have done, I think, in the days of the great wars. Say what
you like against them--they are animal, they are unintellectual;
they don't read themselves, and they don't want others to read,
but they are some of the finest and the kindest human beings on
the face of the earth! You would be surprised at some of the stories
I could tell. You have never guessed, perhaps, at all the romances
that go on in the heart of the country. There are the people, I feel,
among whom Shakespeare will be born if he is ever born again.
In those old houses, up among the Downs--"
"My Aunt," Hirst interrupted, "spends her life in East Lambeth
among the degraded poor. I only quoted my Aunt because she is
inclined to persecute people she calls 'intellectual,' which is
what I suspect Miss Vinrace of doing. It's all the fashion now.
If you're clever it's always taken for granted that you're completely
without sympathy, understanding, affection--all the things that
really matter. Oh, you Christians! You're the most conceited,
patronising, hypocritical set of old humbugs in the kingdom! Of course,"
he continued, "I'm the first to allow your country gentlemen great merits.
For one thing, they're probably quite frank about their passions,
which we are not. My father, who is a clergyman in Norfolk,
says that there is hardly a squire in the country who does not--"
"But about Gibbon?" Hewet interrupted. The look of nervous tension
which had come over every face was relaxed by the interruption.
"You find him monotonous, I suppose. But you know--" He opened
the book, and began searching for passages to read aloud, and in
a little time he found a good one which he considered suitable.
But there was nothing in the world that bored Ridley more than being
read aloud to, and he was besides scrupulously fastidious as to
the dress and behaviour of ladies. In the space of fifteen minutes
he had decided against Mrs. Flushing on the ground that her orange
plume did not suit her complexion, that she spoke too loud, that she
crossed her legs, and finally, when he saw her accept a cigarette
that Hewet offered her, he jumped up, exclaiming something about
"bar parlours," and left them. Mrs. Flushing was evidently relieved
by his departure. She puffed her cigarette, stuck her legs out,
and examined Helen closely as to the character and reputation
of their common friend Mrs. Raymond Parry. By a series of little
strategems she drove her to define Mrs. Parry as somewhat elderly,
by no means beautiful, very much made up--an insolent old harridan,
in short, whose parties were amusing because one met odd people;
but Helen herself always pitied poor Mr. Parry, who was understood
to be shut up downstairs with cases full of gems, while his
wife enjoyed herself in the drawing-room. "Not that I believe
what people say against her--although she hints, of course--"
Upon which Mrs. Flushing cried out with delight:
"She's my first cousin! Go on--go on!"
When Mrs. Flushing rose to go she was obviously delighted with
her new acquaintances. She made three or four different plans
for meeting or going on an expedition, or showing Helen the things
they had bought, on her way to the carriage. She included them
all in a vague but magnificent invitation.
As Helen returned to the garden again, Ridley's words of warning
came into her head, and she hesitated a moment and looked at Rachel
sitting between Hirst and Hewet. But she could draw no conclusions,
for Hewet was still reading Gibbon aloud, and Rachel, for all
the expression she had, might have been a shell, and his words
water rubbing against her ears, as water rubs a shell on the edge
of a rock.
Hewet's voice was very pleasant. When he reached the end
of the period Hewet stopped, and no one volunteered any criticism.
"I do adore the aristocracy!" Hirst exclaimed after a moment's pause.
"They're so amazingly unscrupulous. None of us would dare to behave
as that woman behaves."
"What I like about them," said Helen as she sat down, "is that they're
so well put together. Naked, Mrs. Flushing would be superb.
Dressed as she dresses, it's absurd, of course."
"Yes," said Hirst. A shade of depression crossed his face.
"I've never weighed more than ten stone in my life," he said,
"which is ridiculous, considering my height, and I've actually
gone down in weight since we came here. I daresay that accounts
for the rheumatism." Again he jerked his wrist back sharply,
so that Helen might hear the grinding of the chalk stones.
She could not help smiling.
"It's no laughing matter for me, I assure you," he protested.
"My mother's a chronic invalid, and I'm always expecting to be
told that I've got heart disease myself. Rheumatism always goes
to the heart in the end."
"For goodness' sake, Hirst," Hewet protested; "one might think
you were an old cripple of eighty. If it comes to that, I had
an aunt who died of cancer myself, but I put a bold face on it--"
He rose and began tilting his chair backwards and forwards
on its hind legs. "Is any one here inclined for a walk?"
he said. "There's a magnificent walk, up behind the house.
You come out on to a cliff and look right down into the sea.
The rocks are all red; you can see them through the water.
The other day I saw a sight that fairly took my breath away--
about twenty jelly-fish, semi-transparent, pink, with long streamers,
floating on the top of the waves."
"Sure they weren't mermaids?" said Hirst. "It's much too hot
to climb uphill." He looked at Helen, who showed no signs of moving.
"Yes, it's too hot," Helen decided.
There was a short silence.
"I'd like to come," said Rachel.
"But she might have said that anyhow," Helen thought to herself
as Hewet and Rachel went away together, and Helen was left alone
with St. John, to St. John's obvious satisfaction.
He may have been satisfied, but his usual difficulty in deciding
that one subject was more deserving of notice than another prevented
him from speaking for some time. He sat staring intently at the head
of a dead match, while Helen considered--so it seemed from the expression
of her eyes--something not closely connected with the present moment.
At last St. John exclaimed, "Damn! Damn everything! Damn everybody!"
he added. "At Cambridge there are people to talk to."
"At Cambridge there are people to talk to," Helen echoed him,
rhythmically and absent-mindedly. Then she woke up. "By the way,
have you settled what you're going to do--is it to be Cambridge or
He pursed his lips, but made no immediate answer, for Helen was
still slightly inattentive. She had been thinking about Rachel
and which of the two young men she was likely to fall in love with,
and now sitting opposite to Hirst she thought, "He's ugly.
It's a pity they're so ugly."
She did not include Hewet in this criticism; she was thinking
of the clever, honest, interesting young men she knew, of whom
Hirst was a good example, and wondering whether it was necessary
that thought and scholarship should thus maltreat their bodies,
and should thus elevate their minds to a very high tower from which
the human race appeared to them like rats and mice squirming on the flat.
"And the future?" she reflected, vaguely envisaging a race of men
becoming more and more like Hirst, and a race of women becoming
more and more like Rachel. "Oh no," she concluded, glancing at him,
"one wouldn't marry you. Well, then, the future of the race
is in the hands of Susan and Arthur; no--that's dreadful.
Of farm labourers; no--not of the English at all, but of Russians
and Chinese." This train of thought did not satisfy her, and was
interrupted by St. John, who began again:
"I wish you knew Bennett. He's the greatest man in the world."
"Bennett?" she enquired. Becoming more at ease, St. John dropped
the concentrated abruptness of his manner, and explained that Bennett
was a man who lived in an old windmill six miles out of Cambridge.
He lived the perfect life, according to St. John, very lonely,
very simple, caring only for the truth of things, always ready to talk,
and extraordinarily modest, though his mind was of the greatest.
"Don't you think," said St. John, when he had done describing him,
"that kind of thing makes this kind of thing rather flimsy? Did you
notice at tea how poor old Hewet had to change the conversation?
How they were all ready to pounce upon me because they thought I
was going to say something improper? It wasn't anything, really.
If Bennett had been there he'd have said exactly what he meant to say,
or he'd have got up and gone. But there's something rather bad for
the character in that--I mean if one hasn't got Bennett's character.
It's inclined to make one bitter. Should you say that I was bitter?"
Helen did not answer, and he continued:
"Of course I am, disgustingly bitter, and it's a beastly thing to be.
But the worst of me is that I'm so envious. I envy every one.
I can't endure people who do things better than I do--perfectly absurd
things too--waiters balancing piles of plates--even Arthur,
because Susan's in love with him. I want people to like me,
and they don't. It's partly my appearance, I expect," he continued,
"though it's an absolute lie to say I've Jewish blood in me--
as a matter of fact we've been in Norfolk, Hirst of Hirstbourne Hall,
for three centuries at least. It must be awfully soothing to be like you--
every one liking one at once."
"I assure you they don't," Helen laughed.
"They do," said Hirst with conviction. "In the first place,
you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen; in the second,
you have an exceptionally nice nature."
If Hirst had looked at her instead of looking intently at his teacup
he would have seen Helen blush, partly with pleasure, partly with
an impulse of affection towards the young man who had seemed,
and would seem again, so ugly and so limited. She pitied him,
for she suspected that he suffered, and she was interested in him,
for many of the things he said seemed to her true; she admired
the morality of youth, and yet she felt imprisoned. As if her
instinct were to escape to something brightly coloured and impersonal,
which she could hold in her hands, she went into the house and returned
with her embroidery. But he was not interested in her embroidery;
he did not even look at it.
"About Miss Vinrace," he began,--"oh, look here, do let's be St. John
and Helen, and Rachel and Terence--what's she like? Does she reason,
does she feel, or is she merely a kind of footstool?"
"Oh no," said Helen, with great decision. From her observations
at tea she was inclined to doubt whether Hirst was the person to
educate Rachel. She had gradually come to be interested in her niece,
and fond of her; she disliked some things about her very much,
she was amused by others; but she felt her, on the whole, a live
if unformed human being, experimental, and not always fortunate
in her experiments, but with powers of some kind, and a capacity
for feeling. Somewhere in the depths of her, too, she was bound
to Rachel by the indestructible if inexplicable ties of sex.
"She seems vague, but she's a will of her own," she said, as if in
the interval she had run through her qualities.
The embroidery, which was a matter for thought, the design being
difficult and the colours wanting consideration, brought lapses
into the dialogue when she seemed to be engrossed in her skeins
of silk, or, with head a little drawn back and eyes narrowed,
considered the effect of the whole. Thus she merely said, "Um-m-m" to
St. John's next remark, "I shall ask her to go for a walk with me."
Perhaps he resented this division of attention. He sat silent
watching Helen closely.
"You're absolutely happy," he proclaimed at last.
"Yes?" Helen enquired, sticking in her needle.
"Marriage, I suppose," said St. John.
"Yes," said Helen, gently drawing her needle out.
"Children?" St. John enquired.
"Yes," said Helen, sticking her needle in again. "I don't know why
I'm happy," she suddenly laughed, looking him full in the face.
There was a considerable pause.
"There's an abyss between us," said St. John. His voice sounded
as if it issued from the depths of a cavern in the rocks.
"You're infinitely simpler than I am. Women always are, of course.
That's the difficulty. One never knows how a woman gets there.
Supposing all the time you're thinking, 'Oh, what a morbid
Helen sat and looked at him with her needle in her hand.
From her position she saw his head in front of the dark pyramid
of a magnolia-tree. With one foot raised on the rung of a chair,
and her elbow out in the attitude for sewing, her own figure possessed
the sublimity of a woman's of the early world, spinning the thread
of fate--the sublimity possessed by many women of the present
day who fall into the attitude required by scrubbing or sewing.
St. John looked at her.
"I suppose you've never paid any a compliment in the course
of your life," he said irrelevantly.
"I spoil Ridley rather," Helen considered.
"I'm going to ask you point blank--do you like me?"
After a certain pause, she replied, "Yes, certainly."
"Thank God!" he exclaimed. "That's one mercy. You see," he continued
with emotion, "I'd rather you liked me than any one I've ever met."
"What about the five philosophers?" said Helen, with a laugh,
stitching firmly and swiftly at her canvas. "I wish you'd
Hirst had no particular wish to describe them, but when he began
to consider them he found himself soothed and strengthened. Far away
to the other side of the world as they were, in smoky rooms, and grey
medieval courts, they appeared remarkable figures, free-spoken men
with whom one could be at ease; incomparably more subtle in emotion
than the people here. They gave him, certainly, what no woman
could give him, not Helen even. Warming at the thought of them,
he went on to lay his case before Mrs. Ambrose. Should he stay
on at Cambridge or should he go to the Bar? One day he thought
one thing, another day another. Helen listened attentively.
At last, without any preface, she pronounced her decision.
"Leave Cambridge and go to the Bar," she said. He pressed her
for her reasons.
"I think you'd enjoy London more," she said. It did not seem
a very subtle reason, but she appeared to think it sufficient.
She looked at him against the background of flowering magnolia.
There was something curious in the sight. Perhaps it was that the heavy
wax-like flowers were so smooth and inarticulate, and his face--
he had thrown his hat away, his hair was rumpled, he held his
eye-glasses in his hand, so that a red mark appeared on either side
of his nose--was so worried and garrulous. It was a beautiful bush,
spreading very widely, and all the time she had sat there talking she
had been noticing the patches of shade and the shape of the leaves,
and the way the great white flowers sat in the midst of the green.
She had noticed it half-consciously, nevertheless the pattern had
become part of their talk. She laid down her sewing, and began to walk
up and down the garden, and Hirst rose too and paced by her side.
He was rather disturbed, uncomfortable, and full of thought.
Neither of them spoke.
The sun was beginning to go down, and a change had come over the mountains,
as if they were robbed of their earthly substance, and composed merely
of intense blue mist. Long thin clouds of flamingo red, with edges
like the edges of curled ostrich feathers, lay up and down the sky
at different altitudes. The roofs of the town seemed to have sunk
lower than usual; the cypresses appeared very black between the roofs,
and the roofs themselves were brown and white. As usual in the evening,
single cries and single bells became audible rising from beneath.
St. John stopped suddenly.
"Well, you must take the responsibility," he said. "I've made up
my mind; I shall go to the Bar."
His words were very serious, almost emotional; they recalled Helen
after a second's hesitation.
"I'm sure you're right," she said warmly, and shook the hand he
held out. "You'll be a great man, I'm certain."
Then, as if to make him look at the scene, she swept her hand round
the immense circumference of the view. From the sea, over the roofs
of the town, across the crests of the mountains, over the river
and the plain, and again across the crests of the mountains it
swept until it reached the villa, the garden, the magnolia-tree,
and the figures of Hirst and herself standing together, when it
dropped to her side.
Hewet and Rachel had long ago reached the particular place on
the edge of the cliff where, looking down into the sea, you might
chance on jelly-fish and dolphins. Looking the other way, the vast
expanse of land gave them a sensation which is given by no view,
however extended, in England; the villages and the hills there
having names, and the farthest horizon of hills as often as not
dipping and showing a line of mist which is the sea; here the view
was one of infinite sun-dried earth, earth pointed in pinnacles,
heaped in vast barriers, earth widening and spreading away and away
like the immense floor of the sea, earth chequered by day and by night,
and partitioned into different lands, where famous cities were founded,
and the races of men changed from dark savages to white civilised men,
and back to dark savages again. Perhaps their English blood
made this prospect uncomfortably impersonal and hostile to them,
for having once turned their faces that way they next turned them
to the sea, and for the rest of the time sat looking at the sea.
The sea, though it was a thin and sparkling water here, which seemed
incapable of surge or anger, eventually narrowed itself, clouded its
pure tint with grey, and swirled through narrow channels and dashed
in a shiver of broken waters against massive granite rocks.
It was this sea that flowed up to the mouth of the Thames;
and the Thames washed the roots of the city of London.
Hewet's thoughts had followed some such course as this, for the
first thing he said as they stood on the edge of the cliff was--
"I'd like to be in England!"
Rachel lay down on her elbow, and parted the tall grasses which grew
on the edge, so that she might have a clear view. The water was
very calm; rocking up and down at the base of the cliff, and so clear
that one could see the red of the stones at the bottom of it.
So it had been at the birth of the world, and so it had remained
ever since. Probably no human being had ever broken that water
with boat or with body. Obeying some impulse, she determined to mar
that eternity of peace, and threw the largest pebble she could find.
It struck the water, and the ripples spread out and out.
Hewet looked down too.
"It's wonderful," he said, as they widened and ceased. The freshness
and the newness seemed to him wonderful. He threw a pebble next.
There was scarcely any sound.
"But England," Rachel murmured in the absorbed tone of one whose eyes
are concentrated upon some sight. "What d'you want with England?"
"My friends chiefly," he said, "and all the things one does."
He could look at Rachel without her noticing it. She was still
absorbed in the water and the exquisitely pleasant sensations
which a little depth of the sea washing over rocks suggests.
He noticed that she was wearing a dress of deep blue colour, made of
a soft thin cotton stuff, which clung to the shape of her body.
It was a body with the angles and hollows of a young woman's body
not yet developed, but in no way distorted, and thus interesting
and even lovable. Raising his eyes Hewet observed her head;
she had taken her hat off, and the face rested on her hand.
As she looked down into the sea, her lips were slightly parted.
The expression was one of childlike intentness, as if she were
watching for a fish to swim past over the clear red rocks.
Nevertheless her twenty-four years of life had given her a look
of reserve. Her hand, which lay on the ground, the fingers curling
slightly in, was well shaped and competent; the square-tipped
and nervous fingers were the fingers of a musician. With something
like anguish Hewet realised that, far from being unattractive,
her body was very attractive to him. She looked up suddenly.
Her eyes were full of eagerness and interest.
"You write novels?" she asked.
For the moment he could not think what he was saying. He was
overcome with the desire to hold her in his arms.
"Oh yes," he said. "That is, I want to write them."
She would not take her large grey eyes off his face.
"Novels," she repeated. "Why do you write novels? You ought
to write music. Music, you see"--she shifted her eyes, and became
less desirable as her brain began to work, inflicting a certain
change upon her face--"music goes straight for things. It says
all there is to say at once. With writing it seems to me there's
so much"--she paused for an expression, and rubbed her fingers
in the earth--"scratching on the matchbox. Most of the time when I
was reading Gibbon this afternoon I was horribly, oh infernally,
damnably bored!" She gave a shake of laughter, looking at Hewet,
who laughed too.
"_I_ shan't lend you books," he remarked.
"Why is it," Rachel continued, "that I can laugh at Mr. Hirst
to you, but not to his face? At tea I was completely overwhelmed,
not by his ugliness--by his mind." She enclosed a circle in the air
with her hands. She realised with a great sense of comfort who
easily she could talk to Hewet, those thorns or ragged corners
which tear the surface of some relationships being smoothed away.
"So I observed," said Hewet. "That's a thing that never ceases
to amaze me." He had recovered his composure to such an extent
that he could light and smoke a cigarette, and feeling her ease,
became happy and easy himself.
"The respect that women, even well-educated, very able women,
have for men," he went on. "I believe we must have the sort of power
over you that we're said to have over horses. They see us three times
as big as we are or they'd never obey us. For that very reason,
I'm inclined to doubt that you'll ever do anything even when you
have the vote." He looked at her reflectively. She appeared very
smooth and sensitive and young. "It'll take at least six generations
before you're sufficiently thick-skinned to go into law courts
and business offices. Consider what a bully the ordinary man is,"
he continued, "the ordinary hard-working, rather ambitious solicitor
or man of business with a family to bring up and a certain position
to maintain. And then, of course, the daughters have to give way
to the sons; the sons have to be educated; they have to bully and
shove for their wives and families, and so it all comes over again.
And meanwhile there are the women in the background. . . . Do you
really think that the vote will do you any good?"
"The vote?" Rachel repeated. She had to visualise it as a little
bit of paper which she dropped into a box before she understood
his question, and looking at each other they smiled at something
absurd in the question.
"Not to me," she said. "But I play the piano. . . . Are men really
like that?" she asked, returning to the question that interested her.
"I'm not afraid of you." She looked at him easily.
"Oh, I'm different," Hewet replied. "I've got between six and seven
hundred a year of my own. And then no one takes a novelist seriously,
thank heavens. There's no doubt it helps to make up for the drudgery
of a profession if a man's taken very, very seriously by every one--
if he gets appointments, and has offices and a title, and lots
of letters after his name, and bits of ribbon and degrees.
I don't grudge it 'em, though sometimes it comes over me--what an
amazing concoction! What a miracle the masculine conception of
life is--judges, civil servants, army, navy, Houses of Parliament,
lord mayors--what a world we've made of it! Look at Hirst now.
I assure you," he said, "not a day's passed since we came here without
a discussion as to whether he's to stay on at Cambridge or to go
to the Bar. It's his career--his sacred career. And if I've
heard it twenty times, I'm sure his mother and sister have heard
it five hundred times. Can't you imagine the family conclaves,
and the sister told to run out and feed the rabbits because St. John
must have the school-room to himself--'St. John's working,' 'St. John
wants his tea brought to him.' Don't you know the kind of thing?
No wonder that St. John thinks it a matter of considerable importance.
It is too. He has to earn his living. But St. John's sister--"
Hewet puffed in silence. "No one takes her seriously, poor dear.
She feeds the rabbits."
"Yes," said Rachel. "I've fed rabbits for twenty-four years; it seems
odd now." She looked meditative, and Hewet, who had been talking
much at random and instinctively adopting the feminine point of view,
saw that she would now talk about herself, which was what he wanted,
for so they might come to know each other.
She looked back meditatively upon her past life.
"How do you spend your day?" he asked.
She meditated still. When she thought of their day it seemed
to her it was cut into four pieces by their meals. These divisions
were absolutely rigid, the contents of the day having to accommodate
themselves within the four rigid bars. Looking back at her life,
that was what she saw.
"Breakfast nine; luncheon one; tea five; dinner eight," she said.
"Well," said Hewet, "what d'you do in the morning?"
"I need to play the piano for hours and hours."
"And after luncheon?"
"Then I went shopping with one of my aunts. Or we went to see some one,
or we took a message; or we did something that had to be done--
the taps might be leaking. They visit the poor a good deal--
old char-women with bad legs, women who want tickets for hospitals.
Or I used to walk in the park by myself. And after tea people
sometimes called; or in summer we sat in the garden or played croquet;
in winter I read aloud, while they worked; after dinner I played
the piano and they wrote letters. If father was at home we had friends
of his to dinner, and about once a month we went up to the play.
Every now and then we dined out; sometimes I went to a dance
in London, but that was difficult because of getting back.
The people we saw were old family friends, and relations, but we
didn't see many people. There was the clergyman, Mr. Pepper,
and the Hunts. Father generally wanted to be quiet when he
came home, because he works very hard at Hull. Also my aunts aren't
very strong. A house takes up a lot of time if you do it properly.
Our servants were always bad, and so Aunt Lucy used to do a good deal
in the kitchen, and Aunt Clara, I think, spent most of the morning
dusting the drawing-room and going through the linen and silver.
Then there were the dogs. They had to be exercised, besides being
washed and brushed. Now Sandy's dead, but Aunt Clara has a very
old cockatoo that came from India. Everything in our house,"
she exclaimed, "comes from somewhere! It's full of old furniture,
not really old, Victorian, things mother's family had or father's
family had, which they didn't like to get rid of, I suppose,
though we've really no room for them. It's rather a nice house,"
she continued, "except that it's a little dingy--dull I should say."
She called up before her eyes a vision of the drawing-room at home;
it was a large oblong room, with a square window opening on the garden.
Green plush chairs stood against the wall; there was a heavy carved
book-case, with glass doors, and a general impression of faded
sofa covers, large spaces of pale green, and baskets with pieces
of wool-work dropping out of them. Photographs from old Italian
masterpieces hung on the walls, and views of Venetian bridges and
Swedish waterfalls which members of the family had seen years ago.
There were also one or two portraits of fathers and grandmothers,
and an engraving of John Stuart Mill, after the picture by Watts.
It was a room without definite character, being neither typically
and openly hideous, nor strenuously artistic, nor really comfortable.
Rachel roused herself from the contemplation of this familiar
"But this isn't very interesting for you," she said, looking up.
"Good Lord!" Hewet exclaimed. "I've never been so much interested
in my life." She then realised that while she had been thinking
of Richmond, his eyes had never left her face. The knowledge
of this excited her.
"Go on, please go on," he urged. "Let's imagine it's a Wednesday.
You're all at luncheon. You sit there, and Aunt Lucy there,
and Aunt Clara here"; he arranged three pebbles on the grass
"Aunt Clara carves the neck of lamb," Rachel continued.
She fixed her gaze upon the pebbles. "There's a very ugly yellow
china stand in front of me, called a dumb waiter, on which are
three dishes, one for biscuits, one for butter, and one for cheese.
There's a pot of ferns. Then there's Blanche the maid, who snuffles
because of her nose. We talk--oh yes, it's Aunt Lucy's afternoon
at Walworth, so we're rather quick over luncheon. She goes off.
She has a purple bag, and a black notebook. Aunt Clara has
what they call a G.F.S. meeting in the drawing-room on Wednesday,
so I take the dogs out. I go up Richmond Hill, along the terrace,
into the park. It's the 18th of April--the same day as it is here.
It's spring in England. The ground is rather damp. However, I cross
the road and get on to the grass and we walk along, and I sing
as I always do when I'm alone, until we come to the open place
where you can see the whole of London beneath you on a clear day.
Hampstead Church spire there, Westminster Cathedral over there,
and factory chimneys about here. There's generally a haze over the low
parts of London; but it's often blue over the park when London's
in a mist. It's the open place that the balloons cross going over
to Hurlingham. They're pale yellow. Well, then, it smells very good,
particularly if they happen to be burning wood in the keeper's lodge
which is there. I could tell you now how to get from place to place,
and exactly what trees you'd pass, and where you'd cross the roads.
You see, I played there when I was small. Spring is good, but it's
best in the autumn when the deer are barking; then it gets dusky,
and I go back through the streets, and you can't see people properly;
they come past very quick, you just see their faces and then
they're gone--that's what I like--and no one knows in the least what
"But you have to be back for tea, I suppose?" Hewet checked her.
"Tea? Oh yes. Five o'clock. Then I say what I've done, and my
aunts say what they've done, and perhaps some one comes in:
Mrs. Hunt, let's suppose. She's an old lady with a lame leg.
She has or she once had eight children; so we ask after them.
They're all over the world; so we ask where they are, and sometimes
they're ill, or they're stationed in a cholera district, or in
some place where it only rains once in five months. Mrs. Hunt,"
she said with a smile, "had a son who was hugged to death by
Here she stopped and looked at Hewet to see whether he was amused
by the same things that amused her. She was reassured. But she
thought it necessary to apologise again; she had been talking too much.
"You can't conceive how it interests me," he said.
Indeed, his cigarette had gone out, and he had to light another.
"Why does it interest you?" she asked.
"Partly because you're a woman," he replied. When he said this,
Rachel, who had become oblivious of anything, and had reverted to a
childlike state of interest and pleasure, lost her freedom and became
self-conscious. She felt herself at once singular and under observation,
as she felt with St. John Hirst. She was about to launch into an argument
which would have made them both feel bitterly against each other,
and to define sensations which had no such importance as words
were bound to give them when Hewet led her thoughts in a different direction.
"I've often walked along the streets where people live all in a row,
and one house is exactly like another house, and wondered what on
earth the women were doing inside," he said. "Just consider:
it's the beginning of the twentieth century, and until a few years
ago no woman had ever come out by herself and said things at all.
There it was going on in the background, for all those thousands
of years, this curious silent unrepresented life. Of course we're
always writing about women--abusing them, or jeering at them,
or worshipping them; but it's never come from women themselves.
I believe we still don't know in the least how they live,
or what they feel, or what they do precisely. If one's a man,
the only confidences one gets are from young women about their
love affairs. But the lives of women of forty, of unmarried women,
of working women, of women who keep shops and bring up children,
of women like your aunts or Mrs. Thornbury or Miss Allan--
one knows nothing whatever about them. They won't tell you.
Either they're afraid, or they've got a way of treating men.
It's the man's view that's represented, you see. Think of a
railway train: fifteen carriages for men who want to smoke.
Doesn't it make your blood boil? If I were a woman I'd blow
some one's brains out. Don't you laugh at us a great deal?
Don't you think it all a great humbug? You, I mean--how does it
all strike you?"
His determination to know, while it gave meaning to their talk,
hampered her; he seemed to press further and further, and made it
appear so important. She took some time to answer, and during that
time she went over and over the course of her twenty-four years,
lighting now on one point, now on another--on her aunts, her mother,
her father, and at last her mind fixed upon her aunts and her father,
and she tried to describe them as at this distance they appeared
They were very much afraid of her father. He was a great dim force
in the house, by means of which they held on to the great world
which is represented every morning in the _Times_. But the real
life of the house was something quite different from this.
It went on independently of Mr. Vinrace, and tended to hide itself
from him. He was good-humoured towards them, but contemptuous.
She had always taken it for granted that his point of view was just,
and founded upon an ideal scale of things where the life of one
person was absolutely more important than the life of another,
and that in that scale they were much less importance than he was.
But did she really believe that? Hewet's words made her think.
She always submitted to her father, just as they did, but it was her
aunts who influenced her really; her aunts who built up the fine,
closely woven substance of their life at home. They were less
splendid but more natural than her father was. All her rages
had been against them; it was their world with its four meals,
its punctuality, and servants on the stairs at half-past ten, that she
examined so closely and wanted so vehemently to smash to atoms.
Following these thoughts she looked up and said:
"And there's a sort of beauty in it--there they are at Richmond
at this very moment building things up. They're all wrong,
perhaps, but there's a sort of beauty in it," she repeated.
"It's so unconscious, so modest. And yet they feel things.
They do mind if people die. Old spinsters are always doing things.
I don't quite know what they do. Only that was what I felt when I
lived with them. It was very real."
She reviewed their little journeys to and fro, to Walworth,
to charwomen with bad legs, to meetings for this and that,
their minute acts of charity and unselfishness which flowered
punctually from a definite view of what they ought to do,
their friendships, their tastes and habits; she saw all these things
like grains of sand falling, falling through innumerable days,
making an atmosphere and building up a solid mass, a background.
Hewet observed her as she considered this.
"Were you happy?" he demanded.
Again she had become absorbed in something else, and he called
her back to an unusually vivid consciousness of herself.
"I was both," she replied. "I was happy and I was miserable.
You've no conception what it's like--to be a young woman."
She looked straight at him. "There are terrors and agonies,"
she said, keeping her eye on him as if to detect the slightest hint
"I can believe it," he said. He returned her look with perfect sincerity.
"Women one sees in the streets," she said.
"Men kissing one."
He nodded his head.
"You were never told?"
She shook her head.
"And then," she began and stopped. Here came in the great space
of life into which no one had ever penetrated. All that she had been
saying about her father and her aunts and walks in Richmond Park,
and what they did from hour to hour, was merely on the surface.
Hewet was watching her. Did he demand that she should describe
that also? Why did he sit so near and keep his eye on her?
Why did they not have done with this searching and agony? Why did
they not kiss each other simply? She wished to kiss him. But all
the time she went on spinning out words.
"A girl is more lonely than a boy. No one cares in the least what
she does. Nothing's expected of her. Unless one's very pretty
people don't listen to what you say. . . . And that is what I like,"
she added energetically, as if the memory were very happy.
"I like walking in Richmond Park and singing to myself and
knowing it doesn't matter a damn to anybody. I like seeing
things go on--as we saw you that night when you didn't see us--
I love the freedom of it--it's like being the wind or the sea."
She turned with a curious fling of her hands and looked at the sea.
It was still very blue, dancing away as far as the eye could reach,
but the light on it was yellower, and the clouds were turning
A feeling of intense depression crossed Hewet's mind as she spoke.
It seemed plain that she would never care for one person rather
than another; she was evidently quite indifferent to him; they seemed
to come very near, and then they were as far apart as ever again;
and her gesture as she turned away had been oddly beautiful.
"Nonsense," he said abruptly. "You like people. You like admiration.
Your real grudge against Hirst is that he doesn't admire you."
She made no answer for some time. Then she said:
"That's probably true. Of course I like people--I like almost
every one I've ever met."
She turned her back on the sea and regarded Hewet with friendly
if critical eyes. He was good-looking in the sense that he had
always had a sufficiency of beef to eat and fresh air to breathe.
His head was big; the eyes were also large; though generally
vague they could be forcible; and the lips were sensitive.
One might account him a man of considerable passion and fitful energy,
likely to be at the mercy of moods which had little relation to facts;
at once tolerant and fastidious. The breadth of his forehead showed
capacity for thought. The interest with which Rachel looked at him
was heard in her voice.
"What novels do you write?" she asked.
"I want to write a novel about Silence," he said; "the things people
don't say. But the difficulty is immense." He sighed. "However, you
don't care," he continued. He looked at her almost severely.
"Nobody cares. All you read a novel for is to see what sort of person
the writer is, and, if you know him, which of his friends he's put in.
As for the novel itself, the whole conception, the way one's seen
the thing, felt about it, make it stand in relation to other things,
not one in a million cares for that. And yet I sometimes wonder
whether there's anything else in the whole world worth doing.
These other people," he indicated the hotel, "are always wanting
something they can't get. But there's an extraordinary satisfaction
in writing, even in the attempt to write. What you said just now
is true: one doesn't want to be things; one wants merely to be
allowed to see them."
Some of the satisfaction of which he spoke came into his face as he
gazed out to sea.
It was Rachel's turn now to feel depressed. As he talked of writing
he had become suddenly impersonal. He might never care for any one;
all that desire to know her and get at her, which she had felt
pressing on her almost painfully, had completely vanished.
"Are you a good writer?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "I'm not first-rate, of course; I'm good second-rate;
about as good as Thackeray, I should say."
Rachel was amazed. For one thing it amazed her to hear Thackeray
called second-rate; and then she could not widen her point of
view to believe that there could be great writers in existence
at the present day, or if there were, that any one she knew
could be a great writer, and his self-confidence astounded her,
and he became more and more remote.
"My other novel," Hewet continued, "is about a young man
who is obsessed by an idea--the idea of being a gentleman.
He manages to exist at Cambridge on a hundred pounds a year.
He has a coat; it was once a very good coat. But the trousers--
they're not so good. Well, he goes up to London, gets into
good society, owing to an early-morning adventure on the banks
of the Serpentine. He is led into telling lies--my idea, you see,
is to show the gradual corruption of the soul--calls himself the son
of some great landed proprietor in Devonshire. Meanwhile the coat
becomes older and older, and he hardly dares to wear the trousers.
Can't you imagine the wretched man, after some splendid evening
of debauchery, contemplating these garments--hanging them over
the end of the bed, arranging them now in full light, now in shade,
and wondering whether they will survive him, or he will survive them?
Thoughts of suicide cross his mind. He has a friend, too, a man
who somehow subsists upon selling small birds, for which he sets
traps in the fields near Uxbridge. They're scholars, both of them.
I know one or two wretched starving creatures like that who quote
Aristotle at you over a fried herring and a pint of porter.
Fashionable life, too, I have to represent at some length,
in order to show my hero under all circumstances. Lady Theo
Bingham Bingley, whose bay mare he had the good fortune to stop,
is the daughter of a very fine old Tory peer. I'm going to describe
the kind of parties I once went to--the fashionable intellectuals,
you know, who like to have the latest book on their tables.
They give parties, river parties, parties where you play games.
There's no difficulty in conceiving incidents; the difficulty is
to put them into shape--not to get run away with, as Lady Theo was.
It ended disastrously for her, poor woman, for the book, as I
planned it, was going to end in profound and sordid respectability.
Disowned by her father, she marries my hero, and they live in a snug
little villa outside Croydon, in which town he is set up as a
house agent. He never succeeds in becoming a real gentleman after all.
That's the interesting part of it. Does it seem to you the kind of book
you'd like to read?" he enquired; "or perhaps you'd like my Stuart
tragedy better," he continued, without waiting for her to answer him.
"My idea is that there's a certain quality of beauty in the past,
which the ordinary historical novelist completely ruins by his
absurd conventions. The moon becomes the Regent of the Skies.
People clap spurs to their horses, and so on. I'm going to treat
people as though they were exactly the same as we are. The advantage
is that, detached from modern conditions, one can make them more
intense and more abstract then people who live as we do."
Rachel had listened to all this with attention, but with a certain
amount of bewilderment. They both sat thinking their own thoughts.
"I'm not like Hirst," said Hewet, after a pause; he spoke meditatively;
"I don't see circles of chalk between people's feet. I sometimes wish
I did. It seems to me so tremendously complicated and confused.
One can't come to any decision at all; one's less and less capable
of making judgments. D'you find that? And then one never knows
what any one feels. We're all in the dark. We try to find out,
but can you imagine anything more ludicrous than one person's
opinion of another person? One goes along thinking one knows;
but one really doesn't know."
As he said this he was leaning on his elbow arranging and rearranging
in the grass the stones which had represented Rachel and her aunts
at luncheon. He was speaking as much to himself as to Rachel.
He was reasoning against the desire, which had returned with intensity,
to take her in his arms; to have done with indirectness; to explain
exactly what he felt. What he said was against his belief;
all the things that were important about her he knew; he felt them
in the air around them; but he said nothing; he went on arranging
"I like you; d'you like me?" Rachel suddenly observed.
"I like you immensely," Hewet replied, speaking with the relief
of a person who is unexpectedly given an opportunity of saying
what he wants to say. He stopped moving the pebbles.
"Mightn't we call each other Rachel and Terence?" he asked.
"Terence," Rachel repeated. "Terence--that's like the cry of an owl."
She looked up with a sudden rush of delight, and in looking at
Terence with eyes widened by pleasure she was struck by the change
that had come over the sky behind them. The substantial blue day
had faded to a paler and more ethereal blue; the clouds were pink,
far away and closely packed together; and the peace of evening
had replaced the heat of the southern afternoon, in which they
had started on their walk.
"It must be late!" she exclaimed.
It was nearly eight o'clock.
"But eight o'clock doesn't count here, does it?" Terence asked,
as they got up and turned inland again. They began to walk rather
quickly down the hill on a little path between the olive trees.
They felt more intimate because they shared the knowledge of
what eight o'clock in Richmond meant. Terence walked in front,
for there was not room for them side by side.
"What I want to do in writing novels is very much what you want to do
when you play the piano, I expect," he began, turning and speaking over
his shoulder. "We want to find out what's behind things, don't we?--
Look at the lights down there," he continued, "scattered about anyhow.
Things I feel come to me like lights. . . . I want to combine them.
. . . Have you ever seen fireworks that make figures? . . . I want
to make figures. . . . Is that what you want to do?"
Now they were out on the road and could walk side by side.
"When I play the piano? Music is different. . . . But I see what you mean."
They tried to invent theories and to make their theories agree.
As Hewet had no knowledge of music, Rachel took his stick and drew
figures in the thin white dust to explain how Bach wrote his fugues.
"My musical gift was ruined," he explained, as they walked on after
one of these demonstrations, "by the village organist at home,
who had invented a system of notation which he tried to teach me,
with the result that I never got to the tune-playing at all.
My mother thought music wasn't manly for boys; she wanted me to
kill rats and birds--that's the worst of living in the country.
We live in Devonshire. It's the loveliest place in the world.
Only--it's always difficult at home when one's grown up. I'd like
you to know one of my sisters. . . . Oh, here's your gate--"
He pushed it open. They paused for a moment. She could not ask him
to come in. She could not say that she hoped they would meet again;
there was nothing to be said, and so without a word she went through
the gate, and was soon invisible. Directly Hewet lost sight of her,
he felt the old discomfort return, even more strongly than before.
Their talk had been interrupted in the middle, just as he
was beginning to say the things he wanted to say. After all,
what had they been able to say? He ran his mind over the things
they had said, the random, unnecessary things which had eddied round
and round and used up all the time, and drawn them so close together
and flung them so far apart, and left him in the end unsatisfied,
ignorant still of what she felt and of what she was like. What was
the use of talking, talking, merely talking?
It was now the height of the season, and every ship that came from
England left a few people on the shores of Santa Marina who drove
up to the hotel. The fact that the Ambroses had a house where one
could escape momentarily from the slightly inhuman atmosphere of an
hotel was a source of genuine pleasure not only to Hirst and Hewet,
but to the Elliots, the Thornburys, the Flushings, Miss Allan,
Evelyn M., together with other people whose identity was so little
developed that the Ambroses did not discover that they possessed names.
By degrees there was established a kind of correspondence between
the two houses, the big and the small, so that at most hours
of the day one house could guess what was going on in the other,
and the words "the villa" and "the hotel" called up the idea of two
separate systems of life. Acquaintances showed signs of developing
into friends, for that one tie to Mrs. Parry's drawing-room had
inevitably split into many other ties attached to different parts
of England, and sometimes these alliances seemed cynically fragile,
and sometimes painfully acute, lacking as they did the supporting
background of organised English life. One night when the moon was
round between the trees, Evelyn M. told Helen the story of her life,
and claimed her everlasting friendship; or another occasion,
merely because of a sigh, or a pause, or a word thoughtlessly dropped,
poor Mrs. Elliot left the villa half in tears, vowing never again
to meet the cold and scornful woman who had insulted her, and in truth,
meet again they never did. It did not seem worth while to piece
together so slight a friendship.
Hewet, indeed, might have found excellent material at this time up
at the villa for some chapters in the novel which was to be called
"Silence, or the Things People don't say." Helen and Rachel had
become very silent. Having detected, as she thought, a secret,
and judging that Rachel meant to keep it from her, Mrs. Ambrose
respected it carefully, but from that cause, though unintentionally,
a curious atmosphere of reserve grew up between them. Instead of
sharing their views upon all subjects, and plunging after an idea
wherever it might lead, they spoke chiefly in comment upon
the people they saw, and the secret between them made itself felt
in what they said even of Thornburys and Elliots. Always calm
and unemotional in her judgments, Mrs. Ambrose was now inclined
to be definitely pessimistic. She was not severe upon individuals
so much as incredulous of the kindness of destiny, fate, what happens
in the long run, and apt to insist that this was generally adverse
to people in proportion as they deserved well. Even this theory she
was ready to discard in favour of one which made chaos triumphant,
things happening for no reason at all, and every one groping about
in illusion and ignorance. With a certain pleasure she developed
these views to her niece, taking a letter from home as her test:
which gave good news, but might just as well have given bad.
How did she know that at this very moment both her children were
not lying dead, crushed by motor omnibuses? "It's happening
to somebody: why shouldn't it happen to me?" she would argue,
her face taking on the stoical expression of anticipated sorrow.
however sincere these views may have been, they were undoubtedly
called forth by the irrational state of her niece's mind.
It was so fluctuating, and went so quickly from joy to despair,
that it seemed necessary to confront it with some stable opinion
which naturally became dark as well as stable. Perhaps Mrs. Ambrose
had some idea that in leading the talk into these quarters she might
discover what was in Rachel's mind, but it was difficult to judge,
for sometimes she would agree with the gloomiest thing that was said,
at other times she refused to listen, and rammed Helen's theories
down her throat with laughter, chatter, ridicule of the wildest,
and fierce bursts of anger even at what she called the "croaking of a
raven in the mud."
"It's hard enough without that," she asserted.
"What's hard?" Helen demanded.
"Life," she replied, and then they both became silent.
Helen might draw her own conclusions as to why life was hard, as to why
an hour later, perhaps, life was something so wonderful and vivid
that the eyes of Rachel beholding it were positively exhilarating
to a spectator. True to her creed, she did not attempt to interfere,
although there were enough of those weak moments of depression
to make it perfectly easy for a less scrupulous person to press
through and know all, and perhaps Rachel was sorry that she did
not choose. All these moods ran themselves into one general effect,
which Helen compared to the sliding of a river, quick, quicker,
quicker still, as it races to a waterfall. Her instinct was to cry
out Stop! but even had there been any use in crying Stop! she would
have refrained, thinking it best that things should take their way,
the water racing because the earth was shaped to make it race.
It seemed that Rachel herself had no suspicion that she was watched,
or that there was anything in her manner likely to draw attention to her.
What had happened to her she did not know. Her mind was very much
in the condition of the racing water to which Helen compared it.
She wanted to see Terence; she was perpetually wishing to see
him when he was not there; it was an agony to miss seeing him;
agonies were strewn all about her day on account of him, but she never
asked herself what this force driving through her life arose from.
She thought of no result any more than a tree perpetually pressed
downwards by the wind considers the result of being pressed downwards
by the wind.
During the two or three weeks which had passed since their walk,
half a dozen notes from him had accumulated in her drawer. She would
read them, and spend the whole morning in a daze of happiness;
the sunny land outside the window being no less capable of analysing
its own colour and heat than she was of analysing hers. In these moods
she found it impossible to read or play the piano, even to move being
beyond her inclination. The time passed without her noticing it.
When it was dark she was drawn to the window by the lights of the hotel.
A light that went in and out was the light in Terence's window:
there he sat, reading perhaps, or now he was walking up and down
pulling out one book after another; and now he was seated in his
chair again, and she tried to imagine what he was thinking about.
The steady lights marked the rooms where Terence sat with people
moving round him. Every one who stayed in the hotel had a peculiar
romance and interest about them. They were not ordinary people.
She would attribute wisdom to Mrs. Elliot, beauty to Susan Warrington,
a splendid vitality to Evelyn M., because Terence spoke to them.
As unreflecting and pervasive were the moods of depression.
Her mind was as the landscape outside when dark beneath clouds
and straitly lashed by wind and hail. Again she would sit passive
in her chair exposed to pain, and Helen's fantastical or gloomy
words were like so many darts goading her to cry out against the
hardness of life. Best of all were the moods when for no reason
again this stress of feeling slackened, and life went on as usual,
only with a joy and colour in its events that was unknown before;
they had a significance like that which she had seen in the tree:
the nights were black bars separating her from the days;
she would have liked to run all the days into one long continuity
of sensation. Although these moods were directly or indirectly
caused by the presence of Terence or the thought of him, she never
said to herself that she was in love with him, or considered
what was to happen if she continued to feel such things, so that
Helen's image of the river sliding on to the waterfall had a great
likeness to the facts, and the alarm which Helen sometimes felt
In her curious condition of unanalysed sensations she was incapable
of making a plan which should have any effect upon her state of mind.
She abandoned herself to the mercy of accidents, missing Terence one day,
meeting him the next, receiving his letters always with a start
of surprise. Any woman experienced in the progress of courtship
would have come by certain opinions from all this which would have
given her at least a theory to go upon; but no one had ever been
in love with Rachel, and she had never been in love with any one.
Moreover, none of the books she read, from _Wuthering_ _Heights_
to _Man_ _and_ _Superman_, and the plays of Ibsen, suggested from
their analysis of love that what their heroines felt was what she
was feeling now. It seemed to her that her sensations had no name.
She met Terence frequently. When they did not meet, he was apt
to send a note with a book or about a book, for he had not been
able after all to neglect that approach to intimacy. But sometimes
he did not come or did not write for several days at a time.
Again when they met their meeting might be one of inspiriting joy
or of harassing despair. Over all their partings hung the sense
of interruption, leaving them both unsatisfied, though ignorant
that the other shared the feeling.
If Rachel was ignorant of her own feelings, she was even more
completely ignorant of his. At first he moved as a god;
as she came to know him better he was still the centre of light,
but combined with this beauty a wonderful power of making her daring
and confident of herself. She was conscious of emotions and powers
which she had never suspected in herself, and of a depth in the world
hitherto unknown. When she thought of their relationship she saw
rather than reasoned, representing her view of what Terence felt
by a picture of him drawn across the room to stand by her side.
This passage across the room amounted to a physical sensation,
but what it meant she did not know.
Thus the time went on, wearing a calm, bright look upon its surface.
Letters came from England, letters came from Willoughby,
and the days accumulated their small events which shaped the year.
Superficially, three odes of Pindar were mended, Helen covered about
five inches of her embroidery, and St. John completed the first
two acts of a play. He and Rachel being now very good friends,
he read them aloud to her, and she was so genuinely impressed
by the skill of his rhythms and the variety of his adjectives,
as well as by the fact that he was Terence's friend, that he began
to wonder whether he was not intended for literature rather than
for law. It was a time of profound thought and sudden revelations
for more than one couple, and several single people.
A Sunday came, which no one in the villa with the exception of
Rachel and the Spanish maid proposed to recognise. Rachel still
went to church, because she had never, according to Helen,
taken the trouble to think about it. Since they had celebrated
the service at the hotel she went there expecting to get some
pleasure from her passage across the garden and through the hall
of the hotel, although it was very doubtful whether she would
see Terence, or at any rate have the chance of speaking to him.
As the greater number of visitors at the hotel were English,
there was almost as much difference between Sunday and Wednesday
as there is in England, and Sunday appeared here as there, the mute
black ghost or penitent spirit of the busy weekday. The English
could not pale the sunshine, but they could in some miraculous way
slow down the hours, dull the incidents, lengthen the meals, and make
even the servants and page-boys wear a look of boredom and propriety.
The best clothes which every one put on helped the general effect;
it seemed that no lady could sit down without bending a clean starched
petticoat, and no gentleman could breathe without a sudden crackle
from a stiff shirt-front. As the hands of the clock neared eleven,
on this particular Sunday, various people tended to draw together
in the hall, clasping little redleaved books in their hands.
The clock marked a few minutes to the hour when a stout black figure
passed through the hall with a preoccupied expression, as though
he would rather not recognise salutations, although aware of them,
and disappeared down the corridor which led from it.
"Mr. Bax," Mrs. Thornbury whispered.
The little group of people then began to move off in the same
direction as the stout black figure. Looked at in an odd
way by people who made no effort to join them, they moved
with one exception slowly and consciously towards the stairs.
Mrs. Flushing was the exception. She came running downstairs,
strode across the hall, joined the procession much out of breath,
demanding of Mrs. Thornbury in an agitated whisper, "Where, where?"
"We are all going," said Mrs. Thornbury gently, and soon they
were descending the stairs two by two. Rachel was among
the first to descend. She did not see that Terence and Hirst
came in at the rear possessed of no black volume, but of one
thin book bound in light-blue cloth, which St. John carried under his arm.
The chapel was the old chapel of the monks. It was a profound cool
place where they had said Mass for hundreds of years, and done penance
in the cold moonlight, and worshipped old brown pictures and carved
saints which stood with upraised hands of blessing in the hollows
in the walls. The transition from Catholic to Protestant worship
had been bridged by a time of disuse, when there were no services,
and the place was used for storing jars of oil, liqueur, and deck-chairs;
the hotel flourishing, some religious body had taken the place in hand,
and it was now fitted out with a number of glazed yellow benches,
claret-coloured footstools; it had a small pulpit, and a brass eagle
carrying the Bible on its back, while the piety of different women
had supplied ugly squares of carpet, and long strips of embroidery
heavily wrought with monograms in gold.
As the congregation entered they were met by mild sweet chords
issuing from a harmonium, where Miss Willett, concealed from view
by a baize curtain, struck emphatic chords with uncertain fingers.
The sound spread through the chapel as the rings of water spread
from a fallen stone. The twenty or twenty-five people who composed
the congregation first bowed their heads and then sat up and looked
about them. It was very quiet, and the light down here seemed paler
than the light above. The usual bows and smiles were dispensed with,
but they recognised each other. The Lord's Prayer was read over them.
As the childlike battle of voices rose, the congregation,
many of whom had only met on the staircase, felt themselves
pathetically united and well-disposed towards each other.
As if the prayer were a torch applied to fuel, a smoke seemed to rise
automatically and fill the place with the ghosts of innumerable
services on innumerable Sunday mornings at home. Susan Warrington
in particular was conscious of the sweetest sense of sisterhood,
as she covered her face with her hands and saw slips of bent backs
through the chinks between her fingers. Her emotions rose calmly
and evenly, approving of herself and of life at the same time.
It was all so quiet and so good. But having created this peaceful
atmosphere Mr. Bax suddenly turned the page and read a psalm.
Though he read it with no change of voice the mood was broken.
"Be merciful unto me, O God," he read, "for man goeth about to devour me:
he is daily fighting and troubling me. . . . They daily mistake
my words: all that they imagine is to do me evil. They hold
all together and keep themselves close. . . . Break their teeth,
O God, in their mouths; smite the jaw-bones of the lions, O Lord:
let them fall away like water that runneth apace; and when they shoot
their arrows let them be rooted out."
Nothing in Susan's experience at all corresponded with this,
and as she had no love of language she had long ceased to attend
to such remarks, although she followed them with the same kind
of mechanical respect with which she heard many of Lear's speeches
read aloud. Her mind was still serene and really occupied with
praise of her own nature and praise of God, that is of the solemn
and satisfactory order of the world.
But it could be seen from a glance at their faces that most of the others,
the men in particular, felt the inconvenience of the sudden intrusion
of this old savage. They looked more secular and critical as then
listened to the ravings of the old black man with a cloth round his
loins cursing with vehement gesture by a camp-fire in the desert.
After that there was a general sound of pages being turned as if
they were in class, and then they read a little bit of the Old
Testament about making a well, very much as school boys translate
an easy passage from the _Anabasis_ when they have shut up their
French grammar. Then they returned to the New Testament and the sad
and beautiful figure of Christ. While Christ spoke they made
another effort to fit his interpretation of life upon the lives
they lived, but as they were all very different, some practical,
some ambitious, some stupid, some wild and experimental, some in love,
and others long past any feeling except a feeling of comfort,
they did very different things with the words of Christ.
From their faces it seemed that for the most part they made
no effort at all, and, recumbent as it were, accepted the ideas
the words gave as representing goodness, in the same way, no doubt,
as one of those industrious needlewomen had accepted the bright
ugly pattern on her mat as beauty.
Whatever the reason might be, for the first time in her life,
instead of slipping at once into some curious pleasant cloud
of emotion, too familiar to be considered, Rachel listened critically
to what was being said. By the time they had swung in an irregular
way from prayer to psalm, from psalm to history, from history
to poetry, and Mr. Bax was giving out his text, she was in a state
of acute discomfort. Such was the discomfort she felt when forced
to sit through an unsatisfactory piece of music badly played.
Tantalised, enraged by the clumsy insensitiveness of the conductor,
who put the stress on the wrong places, and annoyed by the vast
flock of the audience tamely praising and acquiescing without
knowing or caring, so she was not tantalized and enraged, only here,
with eyes half-shut and lips pursed together, the atmosphere of
forced solemnity increased her anger. All round her were people
pretending to feel what they did not feel, while somewhere above
her floated the idea which they could none of them grasp, which they
pretended to grasp, always escaping out of reach, a beautiful idea,
an idea like a butterfly. One after another, vast and hard and cold,
appeared to her the churches all over the world where this blundering
effort and misunderstanding were perpetually going on, great buildings,
filled with innumerable men and women, not seeing clearly,
who finally gave up the effort to see, and relapsed tamely into praise
and acquiescence, half-shutting their eyes and pursing up their lips.
The thought had the same sort of physical discomfort as is caused
by a film of mist always coming between the eyes and the printed page.
She did her best to brush away the film and to conceive something
to be worshipped as the service went on, but failed, always misled
by the voice of Mr. Bax saying things which misrepresented the idea,
and by the patter of baaing inexpressive human voices falling round
her like damp leaves. The effort was tiring and dispiriting.
She ceased to listen, and fixed her eyes on the face of a woman
near her, a hospital nurse, whose expression of devout attention
seemed to prove that she was at any rate receiving satisfaction.
But looking at her carefully she came to the conclusion that the
hospital nurse was only slavishly acquiescent, and that the look of
satisfaction was produced by no splendid conception of God within her.
How indeed, could she conceive anything far outside her own experience,
a woman with a commonplace face like hers, a little round red face,
upon which trivial duties and trivial spites had drawn lines, whose weak
blue eyes saw without intensity or individuality, whose features
were blurred, insensitive, and callous? She was adoring something
shallow and smug, clinging to it, so the obstinate mouth witnessed,
with the assiduity of a limpet; nothing would tear her from her
demure belief in her own virtue and the virtues of her religion.
She was a limpet, with the sensitive side of her stuck to a rock,
for ever dead to the rush of fresh and beautiful things past her.
The face of this single worshipper became printed on Rachel's mind
with an impression of keen horror, and she had it suddenly revealed
to her what Helen meant and St. John meant when they proclaimed their
hatred of Christianity. With the violence that now marked her feelings,
she rejected all that she had implicitly believed.
Meanwhile Mr. Bax was half-way through the second lesson.
She looked at him. He was a man of the world with supple lips
and an agreeable manner, he was indeed a man of much kindliness
and simplicity, though by no means clever, but she was not in
the mood to give any one credit for such qualities, and examined
him as though he were an epitome of all the vices of his service.
Right at the back of the chapel Mrs. Flushing, Hirst, and Hewet
sat in a row in a very different frame of mind. Hewet was staring
at the roof with his legs stuck out in front of him, for as he
had never tried to make the service fit any feeling or idea of his,
he was able to enjoy the beauty of the language without hindrance.
His mind was occupied first with accidental things, such as the
women's hair in front of him, the light on the faces, then with
the words which seemed to him magnificent, and then more vaguely
with the characters of the other worshippers. But when he suddenly
perceived Rachel, all these thoughts were driven out of his head,
and he thought only of her. The psalms, the prayers, the Litany,
and the sermon were all reduced to one chanting sound which paused,
and then renewed itself, a little higher or a little lower.
He stared alternately at Rachel and at the ceiling, but his expression
was now produced not by what he saw but by something in his mind.
He was almost as painfully disturbed by his thoughts as she was
Early in the service Mrs. Flushing had discovered that she had taken up
a Bible instead of a prayer-book, and, as she was sitting next to Hirst,
she stole a glance over his shoulder. He was reading steadily in
the thin pale-blue volume. Unable to understand, she peered closer,
upon which Hirst politely laid the book before her, pointing to
the first line of a Greek poem and then to the translation opposite.
"What's that?" she whispered inquisitively.
"Sappho," he replied. "The one Swinburne did--the best thing
that's ever been written."
Mrs. Flushing could not resist such an opportunity. She gulped
down the Ode to Aphrodite during the Litany, keeping herself with
difficulty from asking when Sappho lived, and what else she wrote
worth reading, and contriving to come in punctually at the end
with "the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body,
and the life everlastin'. Amen."
Meanwhile Hirst took out an envelope and began scribbling on the back
of it. When Mr. Bax mounted the pulpit he shut up Sappho with his
envelope between the pages, settled his spectacles, and fixed his
gaze intently upon the clergyman. Standing in the pulpit he looked
very large and fat; the light coming through the greenish unstained
window-glass made his face appear smooth and white like a very large egg.
He looked round at all the faces looking mildly up at him,
although some of them were the faces of men and women old enough to be
his grandparents, and gave out his text with weighty significance.
The argument of the sermon was that visitors to this beautiful land,
although they were on a holiday, owed a duty to the natives.
It did not, in truth, differ very much from a leading article upon
topics of general interest in the weekly newspapers. It rambled
with a kind of amiable verbosity from one heading to another,
suggesting that all human beings are very much the same under
their skins, illustrating this by the resemblance of the games
which little Spanish boys play to the games little boys in London
streets play, observing that very small things do influence people,
particularly natives; in fact, a very dear friend of Mr. Bax's had
told him that the success of our rule in India, that vast country,
largely depended upon the strict code of politeness which the
English adopted towards the natives, which led to the remark
that small things were not necessarily small, and that somehow
to the virtue of sympathy, which was a virtue never more needed
than to-day, when we lived in a time of experiment and upheaval--
witness the aeroplane and wireless telegraph, and there were
other problems which hardly presented themselves to our fathers,
but which no man who called himself a man could leave unsettled.
Here Mr. Bax became more definitely clerical, if it were possible,
he seemed to speak with a certain innocent craftiness, as he pointed
out that all this laid a special duty upon earnest Christians.
What men were inclined to say now was, "Oh, that fellow--he's a parson."
What we want them to say is, "He's a good fellow"--in other words,
"He is my brother." He exhorted them to keep in touch with men
of the modern type; they must sympathise with their multifarious
interests in order to keep before their eyes that whatever discoveries
were made there was one discovery which could not be superseded,
which was indeed as much of a necessity to the most successful
and most brilliant of them all as it had been to their fathers.
The humblest could help; the least important things had an influence
(here his manner became definitely priestly and his remarks seemed
to be directed to women, for indeed Mr. Bax's congregations were
mainly composed of women, and he was used to assigning them their
duties in his innocent clerical campaigns). Leaving more definite
instruction, he passed on, and his theme broadened into a peroration
for which he drew a long breath and stood very upright,--"As a drop
of water, detached, alone, separate from others, falling from
the cloud and entering the great ocean, alters, so scientists
tell us, not only the immediate spot in the ocean where it falls,
but all the myriad drops which together compose the great universe
of waters, and by this means alters the configuration of the globe
and the lives of millions of sea creatures, and finally the lives
of the men and women who seek their living upon the shores--
as all this is within the compass of a single drop of water,
such as any rain shower sends in millions to lose themselves
in the earth, to lose themselves we say, but we know very well
that the fruits of the earth could not flourish without them--
so is a marvel comparable to this within the reach of each one
of us, who dropping a little word or a little deed into the great
universe alters it; yea, it is a solemn thought, _alters_ it,
for good or for evil, not for one instant, or in one vicinity,
but throughout the entire race, and for all eternity." Whipping round
as though to avoid applause, he continued with the same breath,
but in a different tone of voice,--"And now to God the Father . .
He gave his blessing, and then, while the solemn chords again issued
from the harmonium behind the curtain, the different people began
scraping and fumbling and moving very awkwardly and consciously
towards the door. Half-way upstairs, at a point where the light and
sounds of the upper world conflicted with the dimness and the dying
hymn-tune of the under, Rachel felt a hand drop upon her shoulder.
"Miss Vinrace," Mrs. Flushing whispered peremptorily, "stay to luncheon.
It's such a dismal day. They don't even give one beef for luncheon.
Here they came out into the hall, where once more the little
band was greeted with curious respectful glances by the people
who had not gone to church, although their clothing made it clear
that they approved of Sunday to the very verge of going to church.
Rachel felt unable to stand any more of this particular atmosphere,
and was about to say she must go back, when Terence passed them,
drawn along in talk with Evelyn M. Rachel thereupon contented
herself with saying that the people looked very respectable,
which negative remark Mrs. Flushing interpreted to mean that she
"English people abroad!" she returned with a vivid flash of malice.
"Ain't they awful! But we won't stay here," she continued,
plucking at Rachel's arm. "Come up to my room."
She bore her past Hewet and Evelyn and the Thornburys and the Elliots.
Hewet stepped forward.
"Luncheon--" he began.
"Miss Vinrace has promised to lunch with me," said Mrs. Flushing,
and began to pound energetically up the staircase, as though
the middle classes of England were in pursuit. She did not stop
until she had slammed her bedroom door behind them.
"Well, what did you think of it?" she demanded, panting slightly.
All the disgust and horror which Rachel had been accumulating burst
forth beyond her control.
"I thought it the most loathsome exhibition I'd ever seen!"
she broke out. "How can they--how dare they--what do you mean by it--
Mr. Bax, hospital nurses, old men, prostitutes, disgusting--"
She hit off the points she remembered as fast as she could, but she
was too indignant to stop to analyse her feelings. Mrs. Flushing
watched her with keen gusto as she stood ejaculating with emphatic
movements of her head and hands in the middle of the room.
"Go on, go on, do go on," she laughed, clapping her hands.
"It's delightful to hear you!"
"But why do you go?" Rachel demanded.
"I've been every Sunday of my life ever since I can remember,"
Mrs. Flushing chuckled, as though that were a reason by itself.
Rachel turned abruptly to the window. She did not know what it
was that had put her into such a passion; the sight of Terence in
the hall had confused her thoughts, leaving her merely indignant.
She looked straight at their own villa, half-way up the side of
the mountain. The most familiar view seen framed through glass has
a certain unfamiliar distinction, and she grew calm as she gazed.
Then she remembered that she was in the presence of some one she
did not know well, and she turned and looked at Mrs. Flushing.
Mrs. Flushing was still sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up,
with her lips parted, so that her strong white teeth showed in
"Tell me," she said, "which d'you like best, Mr. Hewet or Mr. Hirst?"
"Mr. Hewet," Rachel replied, but her voice did not sound natural.
"Which is the one who reads Greek in church?" Mrs. Flushing demanded.
It might have been either of them and while Mrs. Flushing proceeded
to describe them both, and to say that both frightened her, but one
frightened her more than the other, Rachel looked for a chair.
The room, of course, was one of the largest and most luxurious
in the hotel. There were a great many arm-chairs and settees
covered in brown holland, but each of these was occupied by a large
square piece of yellow cardboard, and all the pieces of cardboard
were dotted or lined with spots or dashes of bright oil paint.
"But you're not to look at those," said Mrs. Flushing as she saw
Rachel's eye wander. She jumped up, and turned as many as she could,
face downwards, upon the floor. Rachel, however, managed to
possess herself of one of them, and, with the vanity of an artist,
Mrs. Flushing demanded anxiously, "Well, well?"
"It's a hill," Rachel replied. There could be no doubt that
Mrs. Flushing had represented the vigorous and abrupt fling of the
earth up into the air; you could almost see the clods flying as it whirled.
Rachel passed from one to another. They were all marked by something
of the jerk and decision of their maker; they were all perfectly untrained
onslaughts of the brush upon some half-realised idea suggested by
hill or tree; and they were all in some way characteristic of Mrs. Flushing.
"I see things movin'," Mrs. Flushing explained. "So"--she
swept her hand through a yard of the air. She then took up one
of the cardboards which Rachel had laid aside, seated herself
on a stool, and began to flourish a stump of charcoal. While she
occupied herself in strokes which seemed to serve her as speech
serves others, Rachel, who was very restless, looked about her.
"Open the wardrobe," said Mrs. Flushing after a pause, speaking
indistinctly because of a paint-brush in her mouth, "and look at the things."
As Rachel hesitated, Mrs. Flushing came forward, still with a paint-brush
in her mouth, flung open the wings of her wardrobe, and tossed
a quantity of shawls, stuffs, cloaks, embroideries, on to the bed.
Rachel began to finger them. Mrs. Flushing came up once more,
and dropped a quantity of beads, brooches, earrings, bracelets, tassels,
and combs among the draperies. Then she went back to her stool
and began to paint in silence. The stuffs were coloured and dark
and pale; they made a curious swarm of lines and colours upon
the counterpane, with the reddish lumps of stone and peacocks'
feathers and clear pale tortoise-shell combs lying among them.
"The women wore them hundreds of years ago, they wear 'em still,"
Mrs. Flushing remarked. "My husband rides about and finds 'em;
they don't know what they're worth, so we get 'em cheap. And we
shall sell 'em to smart women in London," she chuckled, as though
the thought of these ladies and their absurd appearance amused her.
After painting for some minutes, she suddenly laid down her brush and
fixed her eyes upon Rachel.
"I tell you what I want to do," she said. "I want to go up there
and see things for myself. It's silly stayin' here with a pack
of old maids as though we were at the seaside in England. I want
to go up the river and see the natives in their camps. It's only
a matter of ten days under canvas. My husband's done it. One would
lie out under the trees at night and be towed down the river by day,
and if we saw anythin' nice we'd shout out and tell 'em to stop."
She rose and began piercing the bed again and again with a long
golden pin, as she watched to see what effect her suggestion had
"We must make up a party," she went on. "Ten people could hire
a launch. Now you'll come, and Mrs. Ambrose'll come, and will
Mr. Hirst and t'other gentleman come? Where's a pencil?"
She became more and more determined and excited as she evolved her plan.
She sat on the edge of the bed and wrote down a list of surnames,
which she invariably spelt wrong. Rachel was enthusiastic, for indeed
the idea was immeasurably delightful to her. She had always had a
great desire to see the river, and the name of Terence threw a lustre
over the prospect, which made it almost too good to come true.
She did what she could to help Mrs. Flushing by suggesting names,
helping her to spell them, and counting up the days of the week upon
her fingers. As Mrs. Flushing wanted to know all she could tell
her about the birth and pursuits of every person she suggested,
and threw in wild stories of her own as to the temperaments and
habits of artists, and people of the same name who used to come
to Chillingley in the old days, but were doubtless not the same,
though they too were very clever men interested in Egyptology,
the business took some time.
At last Mrs. Flushing sought her diary for help, the method
of reckoning dates on the fingers proving unsatisfactory.
She opened and shut every drawer in her writing-table, and then
cried furiously, "Yarmouth! Yarmouth! Drat the woman!
She's always out of the way when she's wanted!"
At this moment the luncheon gong began to work itself into its
midday frenzy. Mrs. Flushing rang her bell violently. The door
was opened by a handsome maid who was almost as upright as her mistress.
"Oh, Yarmouth," said Mrs. Flushing, "just find my diary and see
where ten days from now would bring us to, and ask the hall porter
how many men 'ud be wanted to row eight people up the river for a week,
and what it 'ud cost, and put it on a slip of paper and leave it
on my dressing-table. Now--" she pointed at the door with a superb
forefinger so that Rachel had to lead the way.
"Oh, and Yarmouth," Mrs. Flushing called back over her shoulder.
"Put those things away and hang 'em in their right places, there's a
good girl, or it fusses Mr. Flushin'."
To all of which Yarmouth merely replied, "Yes, ma'am."
As they entered the long dining-room it was obvious that the day
was still Sunday, although the mood was slightly abating.
The Flushings' table was set by the side in the window,
so that Mrs. Flushing could scrutinise each figure as it entered,
and her curiosity seemed to be intense.
"Old Mrs. Paley," she whispered as the wheeled chair slowly made its
way through the door, Arthur pushing behind. "Thornburys" came next.
"That nice woman," she nudged Rachel to look at Miss Allan.
"What's her name?" The painted lady who always came in late,
tripping into the room with a prepared smile as though she came out
upon a stage, might well have quailed before Mrs. Flushing's stare,
which expressed her steely hostility to the whole tribe of painted ladies.
Next came the two young men whom Mrs. Flushing called collectively
the Hirsts. They sat down opposite, across the gangway.
Mr. Flushing treated his wife with a mixture of admiration and indulgence,
making up by the suavity and fluency of his speech for the abruptness
of hers. While she darted and ejaculated he gave Rachel a sketch
of the history of South American art. He would deal with one of his
wife's exclamations, and then return as smoothly as ever to his theme.
He knew very well how to make a luncheon pass agreeably, without being
dull or intimate. He had formed the opinion, so he told Rachel,
that wonderful treasures lay hid in the depths of the land;
the things Rachel had seen were merely trifles picked up in the course
of one short journey. He thought there might be giant gods hewn
out of stone in the mountain-side; and colossal figures standing
by themselves in the middle of vast green pasture lands, where none
but natives had ever trod. Before the dawn of European art he
believed that the primitive huntsmen and priests had built temples
of massive stone slabs, had formed out of the dark rocks and the great
cedar trees majestic figures of gods and of beasts, and symbols
of the great forces, water, air, and forest among which they lived.
There might be prehistoric towns, like those in Greece and Asia,
standing in open places among the trees, filled with the works of this
early race. Nobody had been there; scarcely anything was known.
Thus talking and displaying the most picturesque of his theories,
Rachel's attention was fixed upon him.
She did not see that Hewet kept looking at her across the gangway,
between the figures of waiters hurrying past with plates.
He was inattentive, and Hirst was finding him also very cross
and disagreeable. They had touched upon all the usual topics--
upon politics and literature, gossip and Christianity. They had
quarrelled over the service, which was every bit as fine as Sappho,
according to Hewet; so that Hirst's paganism was mere ostentation.
Why go to church, he demanded, merely in order to read Sappho?
Hirst observed that he had listened to every word of the sermon,
as he could prove if Hewet would like a repetition of it; and he went
to church in order to realise the nature of his Creator, which he had
done very vividly that morning, thanks to Mr. Bax, who had inspired
him to write three of the most superb lines in English literature,
an invocation to the Deity.
"I wrote 'em on the back of the envelope of my aunt's last letter,"
he said, and pulled it from between the pages of Sappho.
"Well, let's hear them," said Hewet, slightly mollified
by the prospect of a literary discussion.
"My dear Hewet, do you wish us both to be flung out of the hotel
by an enraged mob of Thornburys and Elliots?" Hirst enquired.
"The merest whisper would be sufficient to incriminate me
for ever. God!" he broke out, "what's the use of attempting to write
when the world's peopled by such damned fools? Seriously, Hewet,
I advise you to give up literature. What's the good of it?
There's your audience."
He nodded his head at the tables where a very miscellaneous collection
of Europeans were now engaged in eating, in some cases in gnawing,
the stringy foreign fowls. Hewet looked, and grew more out of
temper than ever. Hirst looked too. His eyes fell upon Rachel,
and he bowed to her.
"I rather think Rachel's in love with me," he remarked, as his
eyes returned to his plate. "That's the worst of friendships
with young women--they tend to fall in love with one."
To that Hewet made no answer whatever, and sat singularly still.
Hirst did not seem to mind getting no answer, for he returned
to Mr. Bax again, quoting the peroration about the drop of water;
and when Hewet scarcely replied to these remarks either, he merely
pursed his lips, chose a fig, and relapsed quite contentedly into
his own thoughts, of which he always had a very large supply.
When luncheon was over they separated, taking their cups of coffee to
different parts of the hall.
From his chair beneath the palm-tree Hewet saw Rachel come out of
the dining-room with the Flushings; he saw them look round for chairs,
and choose three in a corner where they could go on talking
in private. Mr. Flushing was now in the full tide of his discourse.
He produced a sheet of paper upon which he made drawings as he went
on with his talk. He saw Rachel lean over and look, pointing to this
and that with her finger. Hewet unkindly compared Mr. Flushing,
who was extremely well dressed for a hot climate, and rather
elaborate in his manner, to a very persuasive shop-keeper. Meanwhile,
as he sat looking at them, he was entangled in the Thornburys
and Miss Allan, who, after hovering about for a minute or two,
settled in chairs round him, holding their cups in their hands.
They wanted to know whether he could tell them anything about Mr. Bax.
Mr. Thornbury as usual sat saying nothing, looking vaguely ahead
of him, occasionally raising his eye-glasses, as if to put them on,
but always thinking better of it at the last moment, and letting
them fall again. After some discussion, the ladies put it
beyond a doubt that Mr. Bax was not the son of Mr. William Bax.
There was a pause. Then Mrs. Thornbury remarked that she was still
in the habit of saying Queen instead of King in the National Anthem.
There was another pause. Then Miss Allan observed reflectively that
going to church abroad always made her feel as if she had been to a
There was then a very long pause, which threatened to be final,
when, mercifully, a bird about the size of a magpie, but of a metallic
blue colour, appeared on the section of the terrace that could
be seen from where they sat. Mrs. Thornbury was led to enquire
whether we should like it if all our rooks were blue--"What
do _you_ think, William?" she asked, touching her husband on the knee.
"If all our rooks were blue," he said,--he raised his glasses;
he actually placed them on his nose--"they would not live long
in Wiltshire," he concluded; he dropped his glasses to his side again.
The three elderly people now gazed meditatively at the bird,
which was so obliging as to stay in the middle of the view for a
considerable space of time, thus making it unnecessary for them to
speak again. Hewet began to wonder whether he might not cross over
to the Flushings' corner, when Hirst appeared from the background,
slipped into a chair by Rachel's side, and began to talk to her with
every appearance of familiarity. Hewet could stand it no longer.
He rose, took his hat and dashed out of doors.
Everything he saw was distasteful to him. He hated the blue and white,
the intensity and definiteness, the hum and heat of the south;
the landscape seemed to him as hard and as romantic as a cardboard
background on the stage, and the mountain but a wooden screen
against a sheet painted blue. He walked fast in spite of the heat
of the sun.
Two roads led out of the town on the eastern side; one branched off
towards the Ambroses' villa, the other struck into the country,
eventually reaching a village on the plain, but many footpaths,
which had been stamped in the earth when it was wet, led off from it,
across great dry fields, to scattered farm-houses, and the villas
of rich natives. Hewet stepped off the road on to one of these,
in order to avoid the hardness and heat of the main road,
the dust of which was always being raised in small clouds by carts
and ramshackle flies which carried parties of festive peasants,
or turkeys swelling unevenly like a bundle of air balls beneath
a net, or the brass bedstead and black wooden boxes of some newly