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  • 1915
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The exercise indeed served to clear away the superficial irritations of the morning, but he remained miserable. It seemed proved beyond a doubt that Rachel was indifferent to him, for she had scarcely looked at him, and she had talked to Mr. Flushing with just the same interest with which she talked to him. Finally, Hirst’s odious words flicked his mind like a whip, and he remembered that he had left her talking to Hirst. She was at this moment talking to him, and it might be true, as he said, that she was in love with him. He went over all the evidence for this supposition–her sudden interest in Hirst’s writing, her way of quoting his opinions respectfully, or with only half a laugh; her very nickname for him, “the great Man,” might have some serious meaning in it. Supposing that there were an understanding between them, what would it mean to him?

“Damn it all!” he demanded, “am I in love with her?” To that he could only return himself one answer. He certainly was in love with her, if he knew what love meant. Ever since he had first seen her he had been interested and attracted, more and more interested and attracted, until he was scarcely able to think of anything except Rachel. But just as he was sliding into one of the long feasts of meditation about them both, he checked himself by asking whether he wanted to marry her? That was the real problem, for these miseries and agonies could not be endured, and it was necessary that he should make up his mind. He instantly decided that he did not want to marry any one. Partly because he was irritated by Rachel the idea of marriage irritated him. It immediately suggested the picture of two people sitting alone over the fire; the man was reading, the woman sewing. There was a second picture. He saw a man jump up, say good-night, leave the company and hasten away with the quiet secret look of one who is stealing to certain happiness. Both these pictures were very unpleasant, and even more so was a third picture, of husband and wife and friend; and the married people glancing at each other as though they were content to let something pass unquestioned, being themselves possessed of the deeper truth. Other pictures– he was walking very fast in his irritation, and they came before him without any conscious effort, like pictures on a sheet– succeeded these. Here were the worn husband and wife sitting with their children round them, very patient, tolerant, and wise. But that too, was an unpleasant picture. He tried all sorts of pictures, taking them from the lives of friends of his, for he knew many different married couples; but he saw them always, walled up in a warm firelit room. When, on the other hand, he began to think of unmarried people, he saw them active in an unlimited world; above all, standing on the same ground as the rest, without shelter or advantage. All the most individual and humane of his friends were bachelors and spinsters; indeed he was surprised to find that the women he most admired and knew best were unmarried women. Marriage seemed to be worse for them than it was for men. Leaving these general pictures he considered the people whom he had been observing lately at the hotel. He had often revolved these questions in his mind, as he watched Susan and Arthur, or Mr. and Mrs. Thornbury, or Mr. and Mrs. Elliot. He had observed how the shy happiness and surprise of the engaged couple had gradually been replaced by a comfortable, tolerant state of mind, as if they had already done with the adventure of intimacy and were taking up their parts. Susan used to pursue Arthur about with a sweater, because he had one day let slip that a brother of his had died of pneumonia. The sight amused him, but was not pleasant if you substituted Terence and Rachel for Arthur and Susan; and Arthur was far less eager to get you in a corner and talk about flying and the mechanics of aeroplanes. They would settle down. He then looked at the couples who had been married for several years. It was true that Mrs. Thornbury had a husband, and that for the most part she was wonderfully successful in bringing him into the conversation, but one could not imagine what they said to each other when they were alone. There was the same difficulty with regard to the Elliots, except that they probably bickered openly in private. They sometimes bickered in public, though these disagreements were painfully covered over by little insincerities on the part of the wife, who was afraid of public opinion, because she was much stupider than her husband, and had to make efforts to keep hold of him. There could be no doubt, he decided, that it would have been far better for the world if these couples had separated. Even the Ambroses, whom he admired and respected profoundly–in spite of all the love between them, was not their marriage too a compromise? She gave way to him; she spoilt him; she arranged things for him; she who was all truth to others was not true to her husband, was not true to her friends if they came in conflict with her husband. It was a strange and piteous flaw in her nature. Perhaps Rachel had been right, then, when she said that night in the garden, “We bring out what’s worst in each other–we should live separate.”

No Rachel had been utterly wrong! Every argument seemed to be against undertaking the burden of marriage until he came to Rachel’s argument, which was manifestly absurd. From having been the pursued, he turned and became the pursuer. Allowing the case against marriage to lapse, he began to consider the peculiarities of character which had led to her saying that. Had she meant it? Surely one ought to know the character of the person with whom one might spend all one’s life; being a novelist, let him try to discover what sort of person she was. When he was with her he could not analyse her qualities, because he seemed to know them instinctively, but when he was away from her it sometimes seemed to him that he did not know her at all. She was young, but she was also old; she had little self-confidence, and yet she was a good judge of people. She was happy; but what made her happy? If they were alone and the excitement had worn off, and they had to deal with the ordinary facts of the day, what would happen? Casting his eye upon his own character, two things appeared to him: that he was very unpunctual, and that he disliked answering notes. As far as he knew Rachel was inclined to be punctual, but he could not remember that he had ever seen her with a pen in her hand. Let him next imagine a dinner-party, say at the Crooms, and Wilson, who had taken her down, talking about the state of the Liberal party. She would say–of course she was absolutely ignorant of politics. Nevertheless she was intelligent certainly, and honest too. Her temper was uncertain–that he had noticed–and she was not domestic, and she was not easy, and she was not quiet, or beautiful, except in some dresses in some lights. But the great gift she had was that she understood what was said to her; there had never been any one like her for talking to. You could say anything– you could say everything, and yet she was never servile. Here he pulled himself up, for it seemed to him suddenly that he knew less about her than about any one. All these thoughts had occurred to him many times already; often had he tried to argue and reason; and again he had reached the old state of doubt. He did not know her, and he did not know what she felt, or whether they could live together, or whether he wanted to marry her, and yet he was in love with her.

Supposing he went to her and said (he slackened his pace and began to speak aloud, as if he were speaking to Rachel):

“I worship you, but I loathe marriage, I hate its smugness, its safety, its compromise, and the thought of you interfering in my work, hindering me; what would you answer?”

He stopped, leant against the trunk of a tree, and gazed without seeing them at some stones scattered on the bank of the dry river-bed. He saw Rachel’s face distinctly, the grey eyes, the hair, the mouth; the face that could look so many things–plain, vacant, almost insignificant, or wild, passionate, almost beautiful, yet in his eyes was always the same because of the extraordinary freedom with which she looked at him, and spoke as she felt. What would she answer? What did she feel? Did she love him, or did she feel nothing at all for him or for any other man, being, as she had said that afternoon, free, like the wind or the sea?

“Oh, you’re free!” he exclaimed, in exultation at the thought of her, “and I’d keep you free. We’d be free together. We’d share everything together. No happiness would be like ours. No lives would compare with ours.” He opened his arms wide as if to hold her and the world in one embrace.

No longer able to consider marriage, or to weigh coolly what her nature was, or how it would be if they lived together, he dropped to the ground and sat absorbed in the thought of her, and soon tormented by the desire to be in her presence again.

Chapter XIX

But Hewet need not have increased his torments by imagining that Hirst was still talking to Rachel. The party very soon broke up, the Flushings going in one direction, Hirst in another, and Rachel remaining in the hall, pulling the illustrated papers about, turning from one to another, her movements expressing the unformed restless desire in her mind. She did not know whether to go or to stay, though Mrs. Flushing had commanded her to appear at tea. The hall was empty, save for Miss Willett who was playing scales with her fingers upon a sheet of sacred music, and the Carters, an opulent couple who disliked the girl, because her shoe laces were untied, and she did not look sufficiently cheery, which by some indirect process of thought led them to think that she would not like them. Rachel certainly would not have liked them, if she had seen them, for the excellent reason that Mr. Carter waxed his moustache, and Mrs. Carter wore bracelets, and they were evidently the kind of people who would not like her; but she was too much absorbed by her own restlessness to think or to look.

She was turning over the slippery pages of an American magazine, when the hall door swung, a wedge of light fell upon the floor, and a small white figure upon whom the light seemed focussed, made straight across the room to her.

“What! You here?” Evelyn exclaimed. “Just caught a glimpse of you at lunch; but you wouldn’t condescend to look at _me_.”

It was part of Evelyn’s character that in spite of many snubs which she received or imagined, she never gave up the pursuit of people she wanted to know, and in the long run generally succeeded in knowing them and even in making them like her.

She looked round her. “I hate this place. I hate these people,” she said. “I wish you’d come up to my room with me. I do want to talk to you.”

As Rachel had no wish to go or to stay, Evelyn took her by the wrist and drew her out of the hall and up the stairs. As they went upstairs two steps at a time, Evelyn, who still kept hold of Rachel’s hand, ejaculated broken sentences about not caring a hang what people said. “Why should one, if one knows one’s right? And let ’em all go to blazes! Them’s my opinions!”

She was in a state of great excitement, and the muscles of her arms were twitching nervously. It was evident that she was only waiting for the door to shut to tell Rachel all about it. Indeed, directly they were inside her room, she sat on the end of the bed and said, “I suppose you think I’m mad?”

Rachel was not in the mood to think clearly about any one’s state of mind. She was however in the mood to say straight out whatever occurred to her without fear of the consequences.

“Somebody’s proposed to you,” she remarked.

“How on earth did you guess that?” Evelyn exclaimed, some pleasure mingling with her surprise. “Do as I look as if I’d just had a proposal?”

“You look as if you had them every day,” Rachel replied.

“But I don’t suppose I’ve had more than you’ve had,” Evelyn laughed rather insincerely.

“I’ve never had one.”

“But you will–lots–it’s the easiest thing in the world–But that’s not what’s happened this afternoon exactly. It’s–Oh, it’s a muddle, a detestable, horrible, disgusting muddle!”

She went to the wash-stand and began sponging her cheeks with cold water; for they were burning hot. Still sponging them and trembling slightly she turned and explained in the high pitched voice of nervous excitement: “Alfred Perrott says I’ve promised to marry him, and I say I never did. Sinclair says he’ll shoot himself if I don’t marry him, and I say, ‘Well, shoot yourself!’ But of course he doesn’t–they never do. And Sinclair got hold of me this afternoon and began bothering me to give an answer, and accusing me of flirting with Alfred Perrott, and told me I’d no heart, and was merely a Siren, oh, and quantities of pleasant things like that. So at last I said to him, ‘Well, Sinclair, you’ve said enough now. You can just let me go.’ And then he caught me and kissed me–the disgusting brute–I can still feel his nasty hairy face just there–as if he’d any right to, after what he’d said!”

She sponged a spot on her left cheek energetically.

“I’ve never met a man that was fit to compare with a woman!” she cried; “they’ve no dignity, they’ve no courage, they’ve nothing but their beastly passions and their brute strength! Would any woman have behaved like that–if a man had said he didn’t want her? We’ve too much self-respect; we’re infinitely finer than they are.”

She walked about the room, dabbing her wet cheeks with a towel. Tears were now running down with the drops of cold water.

“It makes me angry,” she explained, drying her eyes.

Rachel sat watching her. She did not think of Evelyn’s position; she only thought that the world was full or people in torment.

“There’s only one man here I really like,” Evelyn continued; “Terence Hewet. One feels as if one could trust him.”

At these words Rachel suffered an indescribable chill; her heart seemed to be pressed together by cold hands.

“Why?” she asked. “Why can you trust him?”

“I don’t know,” said Evelyn. “Don’t you have feelings about people? Feelings you’re absolutely certain are right? I had a long talk with Terence the other night. I felt we were really friends after that. There’s something of a woman in him–” She paused as though she were thinking of very intimate things that Terence had told her, so at least Rachel interpreted her gaze.

She tried to force herself to say, “Has to be proposed to you?” but the question was too tremendous, and in another moment Evelyn was saying that the finest men were like women, and women were nobler than men–for example, one couldn’t imagine a woman like Lillah Harrison thinking a mean thing or having anything base about her.

“How I’d like you to know her!” she exclaimed.

She was becoming much calmer, and her cheeks were now quite dry. Her eyes had regained their usual expression of keen vitality, and she seemed to have forgotten Alfred and Sinclair and her emotion. “Lillah runs a home for inebriate women in the Deptford Road,” she continued. “She started it, managed it, did everything off her own bat, and it’s now the biggest of its kind in England. You can’t think what those women are like–and their homes. But she goes among them at all hours of the day and night. I’ve often been with her. . . . That’s what’s the matter with us. . . . We don’t _do_ things. What do you _do_?” she demanded, looking at Rachel with a slightly ironical smile. Rachel had scarcely listened to any of this, and her expression was vacant and unhappy. She had conceived an equal dislike for Lillah Harrison and her work in the Deptford Road, and for Evelyn M. and her profusion of love affairs.

“I play,” she said with an affection of stolid composure.

“That’s about it!” Evelyn laughed. “We none of us do anything but play. And that’s why women like Lillah Harrison, who’s worth twenty of you and me, have to work themselves to the bone. But I’m tired of playing,” she went on, lying flat on the bed, and raising her arms above her head. Thus stretched out, she looked more diminutive than ever.

“I’m going to do something. I’ve got a splendid idea. Look here, you must join. I’m sure you’ve got any amount of stuff in you, though you look–well, as if you’d lived all your life in a garden.” She sat up, and began to explain with animation. “I belong to a club in London. It meets every Saturday, so it’s called the Saturday Club. We’re supposed to talk about art, but I’m sick of talking about art– what’s the good of it? With all kinds of real things going on round one? It isn’t as if they’d got anything to say about art, either. So what I’m going to tell ’em is that we’ve talked enough about art, and we’d better talk about life for a change. Questions that really matter to people’s lives, the White Slave Traffic, Women Suffrage, the Insurance Bill, and so on. And when we’ve made up our mind what we want to do we could form ourselves into a society for doing it. . . . I’m certain that if people like ourselves were to take things in hand instead of leaving it to policemen and magistrates, we could put a stop to–prostitution”–she lowered her voice at the ugly word–“in six months. My idea is that men and women ought to join in these matters. We ought to go into Piccadilly and stop one of these poor wretches and say: ‘Now, look here, I’m no better than you are, and I don’t pretend to be any better, but you’re doing what you know to be beastly, and I won’t have you doing beastly things, because we’re all the same under our skins, and if you do a beastly thing it does matter to me.’ That’s what Mr. Bax was saying this morning, and it’s true, though you clever people–you’re clever too, aren’t you?– don’t believe it.”

When Evelyn began talking–it was a fact she often regretted– her thoughts came so quickly that she never had any time to listen to other people’s thoughts. She continued without more pause than was needed for taking breath.

“I don’t see why the Saturday club people shouldn’t do a really great work in that way,” she went on. “Of course it would want organisation, some one to give their life to it, but I’m ready to do that. My notion’s to think of the human beings first and let the abstract ideas take care of themselves. What’s wrong with Lillah–if there is anything wrong– is that she thinks of Temperance first and the women afterwards. Now there’s one thing I’ll say to my credit,” she continued; “I’m not intellectual or artistic or anything of that sort, but I’m jolly human.” She slipped off the bed and sat on the floor, looking up at Rachel. She searched up into her face as if she were trying to read what kind of character was concealed behind the face. She put her hand on Rachel’s knee.

“It _is_ being human that counts, isn’t it?” she continued. “Being real, whatever Mr. Hirst may say. Are you real?”

Rachel felt much as Terence had felt that Evelyn was too close to her, and that there was something exciting in this closeness, although it was also disagreeable. She was spared the need of finding an answer to the question, for Evelyn proceeded, “Do you _believe_ in anything?”

In order to put an end to the scrutiny of these bright blue eyes, and to relieve her own physical restlessness, Rachel pushed back her chair and exclaimed, “In everything!” and began to finger different objects, the books on the table, the photographs, the freshly leaved plant with the stiff bristles, which stood in a large earthenware pot in the window.

“I believe in the bed, in the photographs, in the pot, in the balcony, in the sun, in Mrs. Flushing,” she remarked, still speaking recklessly, with something at the back of her mind forcing her to say the things that one usually does not say. “But I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in Mr. Bax, I don’t believe in the hospital nurse. I don’t believe–” She took up a photograph and, looking at it, did not finish her sentence.

“That’s my mother,” said Evelyn, who remained sitting on the floor binding her knees together with her arms, and watching Rachel curiously.

Rachel considered the portrait. “Well, I don’t much believe in her,” she remarked after a time in a low tone of voice.

Mrs. Murgatroyd looked indeed as if the life had been crushed out of her; she knelt on a chair, gazing piteously from behind the body of a Pomeranian dog which she clasped to her cheek, as if for protection.

“And that’s my dad,” said Evelyn, for there were two photographs in one frame. The second photograph represented a handsome soldier with high regular features and a heavy black moustache; his hand rested on the hilt of his sword; there was a decided likeness between him and Evelyn.

“And it’s because of them,” said Evelyn, “that I’m going to help the other women. You’ve heard about me, I suppose? They weren’t married, you see; I’m not anybody in particular. I’m not a bit ashamed of it. They loved each other anyhow, and that’s more than most people can say of their parents.”

Rachel sat down on the bed, with the two pictures in her hands, and compared them–the man and the woman who had, so Evelyn said, loved each other. That fact interested her more than the campaign on behalf of unfortunate women which Evelyn was once more beginning to describe. She looked again from one to the other.

“What d’you think it’s like,” she asked, as Evelyn paused for a minute, “being in love?”

“Have you never been in love?” Evelyn asked. “Oh no–one’s only got to look at you to see that,” she added. She considered. “I really was in love once,” she said. She fell into reflection, her eyes losing their bright vitality and approaching something like an expression of tenderness. “It was heavenly!–while it lasted. The worst of it is it don’t last, not with me. That’s the bother.”

She went on to consider the difficulty with Alfred and Sinclair about which she had pretended to ask Rachel’s advice. But she did not want advice; she wanted intimacy. When she looked at Rachel, who was still looking at the photographs on the bed, she could not help seeing that Rachel was not thinking about her. What was she thinking about, then? Evelyn was tormented by the little spark of life in her which was always trying to work through to other people, and was always being rebuffed. Falling silent she looked at her visitor, her shoes, her stockings, the combs in her hair, all the details of her dress in short, as though by seizing every detail she might get closer to the life within.

Rachel at last put down the photographs, walked to the window and remarked, “It’s odd. People talk as much about love as they do about religion.”

“I wish you’d sit down and talk,” said Evelyn impatiently.

Instead Rachel opened the window, which was made in two long panes, and looked down into the garden below.

“That’s where we got lost the first night,” she said. “It must have been in those bushes.”

“They kill hens down there,” said Evelyn. “They cut their heads off with a knife–disgusting! But tell me–what–“

“I’d like to explore the hotel,” Rachel interrupted. She drew her head in and looked at Evelyn, who still sat on the floor.

“It’s just like other hotels,” said Evelyn.

That might be, although every room and passage and chair in the place had a character of its own in Rachel’s eyes; but she could not bring herself to stay in one place any longer. She moved slowly towards the door.

“What is it you want?” said Evelyn. “You make me feel as if you were always thinking of something you don’t say. . . . Do say it!”

But Rachel made no response to this invitation either. She stopped with her fingers on the handle of the door, as if she remembered that some sort of pronouncement was due from her.

“I suppose you’ll marry one of them,” she said, and then turned the handle and shut the door behind her. She walked slowly down the passage, running her hand along the wall beside her. She did not think which way she was going, and therefore walked down a passage which only led to a window and a balcony. She looked down at the kitchen premises, the wrong side of the hotel life, which was cut off from the right side by a maze of small bushes. The ground was bare, old tins were scattered about, and the bushes wore towels and aprons upon their heads to dry. Every now and then a waiter came out in a white apron and threw rubbish on to a heap. Two large women in cotton dresses were sitting on a bench with blood-smeared tin trays in front of them and yellow bodies across their knees. They were plucking the birds, and talking as they plucked. Suddenly a chicken came floundering, half flying, half running into the space, pursued by a third woman whose age could hardly be under eighty. Although wizened and unsteady on her legs she kept up the chase, egged on by the laughter of the others; her face was expressive of furious rage, and as she ran she swore in Spanish. Frightened by hand-clapping here, a napkin there, the bird ran this way and that in sharp angles, and finally fluttered straight at the old woman, who opened her scanty grey skirts to enclose it, dropped upon it in a bundle, and then holding it out cut its head off with an expression of vindictive energy and triumph combined. The blood and the ugly wriggling fascinated Rachel, so that although she knew that some one had come up behind and was standing beside her, she did not turn round until the old woman had settled down on the bench beside the others. Then she looked up sharply, because of the ugliness of what she had seen. It was Miss Allan who stood beside her.

“Not a pretty sight,” said Miss Allan, “although I daresay it’s really more humane than our method. . . . I don’t believe you’ve ever been in my room,” she added, and turned away as if she meant Rachel to follow her. Rachel followed, for it seemed possible that each new person might remove the mystery which burdened her.

The bedrooms at the hotel were all on the same pattern, save that some were larger and some smaller; they had a floor of dark red tiles; they had a high bed, draped in mosquito curtains; they had each a writing-table and a dressing-table, and a couple of arm-chairs. But directly a box was unpacked the rooms became very different, so that Miss Allan’s room was very unlike Evelyn’s room. There were no variously coloured hatpins on her dressing-table; no scent-bottles; no narrow curved pairs of scissors; no great variety of shoes and boots; no silk petticoats lying on the chairs. The room was extremely neat. There seemed to be two pairs of everything. The writing-table, however, was piled with manuscript, and a table was drawn out to stand by the arm-chair on which were two separate heaps of dark library books, in which there were many slips of paper sticking out at different degrees of thickness. Miss Allan had asked Rachel to come in out of kindness, thinking that she was waiting about with nothing to do. Moreover, she liked young women, for she had taught many of them, and having received so much hospitality from the Ambroses she was glad to be able to repay a minute part of it. She looked about accordingly for something to show her. The room did not provide much entertainment. She touched her manuscript. “Age of Chaucer; Age of Elizabeth; Age of Dryden,” she reflected; “I’m glad there aren’t many more ages. I’m still in the middle of the eighteenth century. Won’t you sit down, Miss Vinrace? The chair, though small, is firm. . . . Euphues. The germ of the English novel,” she continued, glancing at another page. “Is that the kind of thing that interests you?”

She looked at Rachel with great kindness and simplicity, as though she would do her utmost to provide anything she wished to have. This expression had a remarkable charm in a face otherwise much lined with care and thought.

“Oh no, it’s music with you, isn’t it?” she continued, recollecting, “and I generally find that they don’t go together. Sometimes of course we have prodigies–” She was looking about her for something and now saw a jar on the mantelpiece which she reached down and gave to Rachel. “If you put your finger into this jar you may be able to extract a piece of preserved ginger. Are you a prodigy?”

But the ginger was deep and could not be reached.

“Don’t bother,” she said, as Miss Allan looked about for some other implement. “I daresay I shouldn’t like preserved ginger.”

“You’ve never tried?” enquired Miss Allan. “Then I consider that it is your duty to try now. Why, you may add a new pleasure to life, and as you are still young–” She wondered whether a button-hook would do. “I make it a rule to try everything,” she said. “Don’t you think it would be very annoying if you tasted ginger for the first time on your death-bed, and found you never liked anything so much? I should be so exceedingly annoyed that I think I should get well on that account alone.”

She was now successful, and a lump of ginger emerged on the end of the button-hook. While she went to wipe the button-hook, Rachel bit the ginger and at once cried, “I must spit it out!”

“Are you sure you have really tasted it?” Miss Allan demanded.

For answer Rachel threw it out of the window.

“An experience anyhow,” said Miss Allan calmly. “Let me see–I have nothing else to offer you, unless you would like to taste this.” A small cupboard hung above her bed, and she took out of it a slim elegant jar filled with a bright green fluid.

“Creme de Menthe,” she said. “Liqueur, you know. It looks as if I drank, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact it goes to prove what an exceptionally abstemious person I am. I’ve had that jar for six-and-twenty years,” she added, looking at it with pride, as she tipped it over, and from the height of the liquid it could be seen that the bottle was still untouched.

“Twenty-six years?” Rachel exclaimed.

Miss Allan was gratified, for she had meant Rachel to be surprised.

“When I went to Dresden six-and-twenty years ago,” she said, “a certain friend of mine announced her intention of making me a present. She thought that in the event of shipwreck or accident a stimulant might be useful. However, as I had no occasion for it, I gave it back on my return. On the eve of any foreign journey the same bottle always makes its appearance, with the same note; on my return in safety it is always handed back. I consider it a kind of charm against accidents. Though I was once detained twenty-four hours by an accident to the train in front of me, I have never met with any accident myself. Yes,” she continued, now addressing the bottle, “we have seen many climes and cupboards together, have we not? I intend one of these days to have a silver label made with an inscription. It is a gentleman, as you may observe, and his name is Oliver. . . . I do not think I could forgive you, Miss Vinrace, if you broke my Oliver,” she said, firmly taking the bottle out of Rachel’s hands and replacing it in the cupboard.

Rachel was swinging the bottle by the neck. She was interested by Miss Allan to the point of forgetting the bottle.

“Well,” she exclaimed, “I do think that odd; to have had a friend for twenty-six years, and a bottle, and–to have made all those journeys.”

“Not at all; I call it the reverse of odd,” Miss Allan replied. “I always consider myself the most ordinary person I know. It’s rather distinguished to be as ordinary as I am. I forget– are you a prodigy, or did you say you were not a prodigy?”

She smiled at Rachel very kindly. She seemed to have known and experienced so much, as she moved cumbrously about the room, that surely there must be balm for all anguish in her words, could one induce her to have recourse to them. But Miss Allan, who was now locking the cupboard door, showed no signs of breaking the reticence which had snowed her under for years. An uncomfortable sensation kept Rachel silent; on the one hand, she wished to whirl high and strike a spark out of the cool pink flesh; on the other she perceived there was nothing to be done but to drift past each other in silence.

“I’m not a prodigy. I find it very difficult to say what I mean–” she observed at length.

“It’s a matter of temperament, I believe,” Miss Allan helped her. “There are some people who have no difficulty; for myself I find there are a great many things I simply cannot say. But then I consider myself very slow. One of my colleagues now, knows whether she likes you or not–let me see, how does she do it?–by the way you say good-morning at breakfast. It is sometimes a matter of years before I can make up my mind. But most young people seem to find it easy?”

“Oh no,” said Rachel. “It’s hard!”

Miss Allan looked at Rachel quietly, saying nothing; she suspected that there were difficulties of some kind. Then she put her hand to the back of her head, and discovered that one of the grey coils of hair had come loose.

“I must ask you to be so kind as to excuse me,” she said, rising, “if I do my hair. I have never yet found a satisfactory type of hairpin. I must change my dress, too, for the matter of that; and I should be particularly glad of your assistance, because there is a tiresome set of hooks which I _can_ fasten for myself, but it takes from ten to fifteen minutes; whereas with your help–“

She slipped off her coat and skirt and blouse, and stood doing her hair before the glass, a massive homely figure, her petticoat being so short that she stood on a pair of thick slate-grey legs.

“People say youth is pleasant; I myself find middle age far pleasanter,” she remarked, removing hair pins and combs, and taking up her brush. When it fell loose her hair only came down to her neck.

“When one was young,” she continued, “things could seem so very serious if one was made that way. . . . And now my dress.”

In a wonderfully short space of time her hair had been reformed in its usual loops. The upper half of her body now became dark green with black stripes on it; the skirt, however, needed hooking at various angles, and Rachel had to kneel on the floor, fitting the eyes to the hooks.

“Our Miss Johnson used to find life very unsatisfactory, I remember,” Miss Allan continued. She turned her back to the light. “And then she took to breeding guinea-pigs for their spots, and became absorbed in that. I have just heard that the yellow guinea-pig has had a black baby. We had a bet of sixpence on about it. She will be very triumphant.”

The skirt was fastened. She looked at herself in the glass with the curious stiffening of her face generally caused by looking in the glass.

“Am I in a fit state to encounter my fellow-beings?” she asked. “I forget which way it is–but they find black animals very rarely have coloured babies–it may be the other way round. I have had it so often explained to me that it is very stupid of me to have forgotten again.”

She moved about the room acquiring small objects with quiet force, and fixing them about her–a locket, a watch and chain, a heavy gold bracelet, and the parti-coloured button of a suffrage society. Finally, completely equipped for Sunday tea, she stood before Rachel, and smiled at her kindly. She was not an impulsive woman, and her life had schooled her to restrain her tongue. At the same time, she was possessed of an amount of good-will towards others, and in particular towards the young, which often made her regret that speech was so difficult.

“Shall we descend?” she said.

She put one hand upon Rachel’s shoulder, and stooping, picked up a pair of walking-shoes with the other, and placed them neatly side by side outside her door. As they walked down the passage they passed many pairs of boots and shoes, some black and some brown, all side by side, and all different, even to the way in which they lay together.

“I always think that people are so like their boots,” said Miss Allan. “That is Mrs. Paley’s–” but as she spoke the door opened, and Mrs. Paley rolled out in her chair, equipped also for tea.

She greeted Miss Allan and Rachel.

“I was just saying that people are so like their boots,” said Miss Allan. Mrs. Paley did not hear. She repeated it more loudly still. Mrs. Paley did not hear. She repeated it a third time. Mrs. Paley heard, but she did not understand. She was apparently about to repeat it for the fourth time, when Rachel suddenly said something inarticulate, and disappeared down the corridor. This misunderstanding, which involved a complete block in the passage, seemed to her unbearable. She walked quickly and blindly in the opposite direction, and found herself at the end of a _cul_ _de_ _sac_. There was a window, and a table and a chair in the window, and upon the table stood a rusty inkstand, an ashtray, an old copy of a French newspaper, and a pen with a broken nib. Rachel sat down, as if to study the French newspaper, but a tear fell on the blurred French print, raising a soft blot. She lifted her head sharply, exclaiming aloud, “It’s intolerable!” Looking out of the window with eyes that would have seen nothing even had they not been dazed by tears, she indulged herself at last in violent abuse of the entire day. It had been miserable from start to finish; first, the service in the chapel; then luncheon; then Evelyn; then Miss Allan; then old Mrs. Paley blocking up the passage. All day long she had been tantalized and put off. She had now reached one of those eminences, the result of some crisis, from which the world is finally displayed in its true proportions. She disliked the look of it immensely–churches, politicians, misfits, and huge impostures–men like Mr. Dalloway, men like Mr. Bax, Evelyn and her chatter, Mrs. Paley blocking up the passage. Meanwhile the steady beat of her own pulse represented the hot current of feeling that ran down beneath; beating, struggling, fretting. For the time, her own body was the source of all the life in the world, which tried to burst forth here–there–and was repressed now by Mr. Bax, now by Evelyn, now by the imposition of ponderous stupidity, the weight of the entire world. Thus tormented, she would twist her hands together, for all things were wrong, all people stupid. Vaguely seeing that there were people down in the garden beneath she represented them as aimless masses of matter, floating hither and thither, without aim except to impede her. What were they doing, those other people in the world?

“Nobody knows,” she said. The force of her rage was beginning to spend itself, and the vision of the world which had been so vivid became dim.

“It’s a dream,” she murmured. She considered the rusty inkstand, the pen, the ash-tray, and the old French newspaper. These small and worthless objects seemed to her to represent human lives.

“We’re asleep and dreaming,” she repeated. But the possibility which now suggested itself that one of the shapes might be the shape of Terence roused her from her melancholy lethargy. She became as restless as she had been before she sat down. She was no longer able to see the world as a town laid out beneath her. It was covered instead by a haze of feverish red mist. She had returned to the state in which she had been all day. Thinking was no escape. Physical movement was the only refuge, in and out of rooms, in and out of people’s minds, seeking she knew not what. Therefore she rose, pushed back the table, and went downstairs. She went out of the hall door, and, turning the corner of the hotel, found herself among the people whom she had seen from the window. But owing to the broad sunshine after shaded passages, and to the substance of living people after dreams, the group appeared with startling intensity, as though the dusty surface had been peeled off everything, leaving only the reality and the instant. It had the look of a vision printed on the dark at night. White and grey and purple figures were scattered on the green, round wicker tables, in the middle the flame of the tea-urn made the air waver like a faulty sheet of glass, a massive green tree stood over them as if it were a moving force held at rest. As she approached, she could hear Evelyn’s voice repeating monotonously, “Here then–here–good doggie, come here”; for a moment nothing seemed to happen; it all stood still, and then she realised that one of the figures was Helen Ambrose; and the dust again began to settle.

The group indeed had come together in a miscellaneous way; one tea-table joining to another tea-table, and deck-chairs serving to connect two groups. But even at a distance it could be seen that Mrs. Flushing, upright and imperious, dominated the party. She was talking vehemently to Helen across the table.

“Ten days under canvas,” she was saying. “No comforts. If you want comforts, don’t come. But I may tell you, if you don’t come you’ll regret it all your life. You say yes?”

At this moment Mrs. Flushing caught sight of Rachel.

“Ah, there’s your niece. She’s promised. You’re coming, aren’t you?” Having adopted the plan, she pursued it with the energy of a child.

Rachel took her part with eagerness.

“Of course I’m coming. So are you, Helen. And Mr. Pepper too.” As she sat she realised that she was surrounded by people she knew, but that Terence was not among them. From various angles people began saying what they thought of the proposed expedition. According to some it would be hot, but the nights would be cold; according to others, the difficulties would lie rather in getting a boat, and in speaking the language. Mrs. Flushing disposed of all objections, whether due to man or due to nature, by announcing that her husband would settle all that.

Meanwhile Mr. Flushing quietly explained to Helen that the expedition was really a simple matter; it took five days at the outside; and the place–a native village–was certainly well worth seeing before she returned to England. Helen murmured ambiguously, and did not commit herself to one answer rather than to another.

The tea-party, however, included too many different kinds of people for general conversation to flourish; and from Rachel’s point of view possessed the great advantage that it was quite unnecessary for her to talk. Over there Susan and Arthur were explaining to Mrs. Paley that an expedition had been proposed; and Mrs. Paley having grasped the fact, gave the advice of an old traveller that they should take nice canned vegetables, fur cloaks, and insect powder. She leant over to Mrs. Flushing and whispered something which from the twinkle in her eyes probably had reference to bugs. Then Helen was reciting “Toll for the Brave” to St. John Hirst, in order apparently to win a sixpence which lay upon the table; while Mr. Hughling Elliot imposed silence upon his section of the audience by his fascinating anecdote of Lord Curzon and the undergraduate’s bicycle. Mrs. Thornbury was trying to remember the name of a man who might have been another Garibaldi, and had written a book which they ought to read; and Mr. Thornbury recollected that he had a pair of binoculars at anybody’s service. Miss Allan meanwhile murmured with the curious intimacy which a spinster often achieves with dogs, to the fox-terrier which Evelyn had at last induced to come over to them. Little particles of dust or blossom fell on the plates now and then when the branches sighed above. Rachel seemed to see and hear a little of everything, much as a river feels the twigs that fall into it and sees the sky above, but her eyes were too vague for Evelyn’s liking. She came across, and sat on the ground at Rachel’s feet.

“Well?” she asked suddenly. “What are you thinking about?”

“Miss Warrington,” Rachel replied rashly, because she had to say something. She did indeed see Susan murmuring to Mrs. Elliot, while Arthur stared at her with complete confidence in his own love. Both Rachel and Evelyn then began to listen to what Susan was saying.

“There’s the ordering and the dogs and the garden, and the children coming to be taught,” her voice proceeded rhythmically as if checking the list, “and my tennis, and the village, and letters to write for father, and a thousand little things that don’t sound much; but I never have a moment to myself, and when I got to bed, I’m so sleepy I’m off before my head touches the pillow. Besides I like to be a great deal with my Aunts–I’m a great bore, aren’t I, Aunt Emma?” (she smiled at old Mrs. Paley, who with head slightly drooped was regarding the cake with speculative affection), “and father has to be very careful about chills in winter which means a great deal of running about, because he won’t look after himself, any more than you will, Arthur! So it all mounts up!”

Her voice mounted too, in a mild ecstasy of satisfaction with her life and her own nature. Rachel suddenly took a violent dislike to Susan, ignoring all that was kindly, modest, and even pathetic about her. She appeared insincere and cruel; she saw her grown stout and prolific, the kind blue eyes now shallow and watery, the bloom of the cheeks congealed to a network of dry red canals.

Helen turned to her. “Did you go to church?” she asked. She had won her sixpence and seemed making ready to go.

“Yes,” said Rachel. “For the last time,” she added.

In preparing to put on her gloves, Helen dropped one.

“You’re not going?” Evelyn asked, taking hold of one glove as if to keep them.

“It’s high time we went,” said Helen. “Don’t you see how silent every one’s getting–?”

A silence had fallen upon them all, caused partly by one of the accidents of talk, and partly because they saw some one approaching. Helen could not see who it was, but keeping her eyes fixed upon Rachel observed something which made her say to herself, “So it’s Hewet.” She drew on her gloves with a curious sense of the significance of the moment. Then she rose, for Mrs. Flushing had seen Hewet too, and was demanding information about rivers and boats which showed that the whole conversation would now come over again.

Rachel followed her, and they walked in silence down the avenue. In spite of what Helen had seen and understood, the feeling that was uppermost in her mind was now curiously perverse; if she went on this expedition, she would not be able to have a bath, the effort appeared to her to be great and disagreeable.

“It’s so unpleasant, being cooped up with people one hardly knows,” she remarked. “People who mind being seen naked.”

“You don’t mean to go?” Rachel asked.

The intensity with which this was spoken irritated Mrs. Ambrose.

“I don’t mean to go, and I don’t mean not to go,” she replied. She became more and more casual and indifferent.

“After all, I daresay we’ve seen all there is to be seen; and there’s the bother of getting there, and whatever they may say it’s bound to be vilely uncomfortable.”

For some time Rachel made no reply; but every sentence Helen spoke increased her bitterness. At last she broke out–

“Thank God, Helen, I’m not like you! I sometimes think you don’t think or feel or care to do anything but exist! You’re like Mr. Hirst. You see that things are bad, and you pride yourself on saying so. It’s what you call being honest; as a matter of fact it’s being lazy, being dull, being nothing. You don’t help; you put an end to things.”

Helen smiled as if she rather enjoyed the attack.

“Well?” she enquired.

“It seems to me bad–that’s all,” Rachel replied.

“Quite likely,” said Helen.

At any other time Rachel would probably have been silenced by her Aunt’s candour; but this afternoon she was not in the mood to be silenced by any one. A quarrel would be welcome.

“You’re only half alive,” she continued.

“Is that because I didn’t accept Mr. Flushing’s invitation?” Helen asked, “or do you always think that?”

At the moment it appeared to Rachel that she had always seen the same faults in Helen, from the very first night on board the _Euphrosyne_, in spite of her beauty, in spite of her magnanimity and their love.

“Oh, it’s only what’s the matter with every one!” she exclaimed. “No one feels–no one does anything but hurt. I tell you, Helen, the world’s bad. It’s an agony, living, wanting–“

Here she tore a handful of leaves from a bush and crushed them to control herself.

“The lives of these people,” she tried to explain, the aimlessness, the way they live. One goes from one to another, and it’s all the same. One never gets what one wants out of any of them.”

Her emotional state and her confusion would have made her an easy prey if Helen had wished to argue or had wished to draw confidences. But instead of talking she fell into a profound silence as they walked on. Aimless, trivial, meaningless, oh no–what she had seen at tea made it impossible for her to believe that. The little jokes, the chatter, the inanities of the afternoon had shrivelled up before her eyes. Underneath the likings and spites, the comings together and partings, great things were happening– terrible things, because they were so great. Her sense of safety was shaken, as if beneath twigs and dead leaves she had seen the movement of a snake. It seemed to her that a moment’s respite was allowed, a moment’s make-believe, and then again the profound and reasonless law asserted itself, moulding them all to its liking, making and destroying.

She looked at Rachel walking beside her, still crushing the leaves in her fingers and absorbed in her own thoughts. She was in love, and she pitied her profoundly. But she roused herself from these thoughts and apologised. “I’m very sorry,” she said, “but if I’m dull, it’s my nature, and it can’t be helped.” If it was a natural defect, however, she found an easy remedy, for she went on to say that she thought Mr. Flushing’s scheme a very good one, only needing a little consideration, which it appeared she had given it by the time they reached home. By that time they had settled that if anything more was said, they would accept the invitation.

Chapter XX

When considered in detail by Mr. Flushing and Mrs. Ambrose the expedition proved neither dangerous nor difficult. They found also that it was not even unusual. Every year at this season English people made parties which steamed a short way up the river, landed, and looked at the native village, bought a certain number of things from the natives, and returned again without damage done to mind or body. When it was discovered that six people really wished the same thing the arrangements were soon carried out.

Since the time of Elizabeth very few people had seen the river, and nothing has been done to change its appearance from what it was to the eyes of the Elizabethan voyagers. The time of Elizabeth was only distant from the present time by a moment of space compared with the ages which had passed since the water had run between those banks, and the green thickets swarmed there, and the small trees had grown to huge wrinkled trees in solitude. Changing only with the change of the sun and the clouds, the waving green mass had stood there for century after century, and the water had run between its banks ceaselessly, sometimes washing away earth and sometimes the branches of trees, while in other parts of the world one town had risen upon the ruins of another town, and the men in the towns had become more and more articulate and unlike each other. A few miles of this river were visible from the top of the mountain where some weeks before the party from the hotel had picnicked. Susan and Arthur had seen it as they kissed each other, and Terence and Rachel as they sat talking about Richmond, and Evelyn and Perrott as they strolled about, imagining that they were great captains sent to colonise the world. They had seen the broad blue mark across the sand where it flowed into the sea, and the green cloud of trees mass themselves about it farther up, and finally hide its waters altogether from sight. At intervals for the first twenty miles or so houses were scattered on the bank; by degrees the houses became huts, and, later still, there was neither hut nor house, but trees and grass, which were seen only by hunters, explorers, or merchants, marching or sailing, but making no settlement.

By leaving Santa Marina early in the morning, driving twenty miles and riding eight, the party, which was composed finally of six English people, reached the river-side as the night fell. They came cantering through the trees–Mr. and Mrs. Flushing, Helen Ambrose, Rachel, Terence, and St. John. The tired little horses then stopped automatically, and the English dismounted. Mrs. Flushing strode to the river-bank in high spirits. The day had been long and hot, but she had enjoyed the speed and the open air; she had left the hotel which she hated, and she found the company to her liking. The river was swirling past in the darkness; they could just distinguish the smooth moving surface of the water, and the air was full of the sound of it. They stood in an empty space in the midst of great tree-trunks, and out there a little green light moving slightly up and down showed them where the steamer lay in which they were to embark.

When they all stood upon its deck they found that it was a very small boat which throbbed gently beneath them for a few minutes, and then shoved smoothly through the water. They seemed to be driving into the heart of the night, for the trees closed in front of them, and they could hear all round them the rustling of leaves. The great darkness had the usual effect of taking away all desire for communication by making their words sound thin and small; and, after walking round the deck three or four times, they clustered together, yawning deeply, and looking at the same spot of deep gloom on the banks. Murmuring very low in the rhythmical tone of one oppressed by the air, Mrs. Flushing began to wonder where they were to sleep, for they could not sleep downstairs, they could not sleep in a doghole smelling of oil, they could not sleep on deck, they could not sleep–She yawned profoundly. It was as Helen had foreseen; the question of nakedness had risen already, although they were half asleep, and almost invisible to each other. With St. John’s help she stretched an awning, and persuaded Mrs. Flushing that she could take off her clothes behind this, and that no one would notice if by chance some part of her which had been concealed for forty-five years was laid bare to the human eye. Mattresses were thrown down, rugs provided, and the three women lay near each other in the soft open air.

The gentlemen, having smoked a certain number of cigarettes, dropped the glowing ends into the river, and looked for a time at the ripples wrinkling the black water beneath them, undressed too, and lay down at the other end of the boat. They were very tired, and curtained from each other by the darkness. The light from one lantern fell upon a few ropes, a few planks of the deck, and the rail of the boat, but beyond that there was unbroken darkness, no light reached their faces, or the trees which were massed on the sides of the river.

Soon Wilfrid Flushing slept, and Hirst slept. Hewet alone lay awake looking straight up into the sky. The gentle motion and the black shapes that were drawn ceaselessly across his eyes had the effect of making it impossible for him to think. Rachel’s presence so near him lulled thought asleep. Being so near him, only a few paces off at the other end of the boat, she made it as impossible for him to think about her as it would have been impossible to see her if she had stood quite close to him, her forehead against his forehead. In some strange way the boat became identified with himself, and just as it would have been useless for him to get up and steer the boat, so was it useless for him to struggle any longer with the irresistible force of his own feelings. He was drawn on and on away from all he knew, slipping over barriers and past landmarks into unknown waters as the boat glided over the smooth surface of the river. In profound peace, enveloped in deeper unconsciousness than had been his for many nights, he lay on deck watching the tree-tops change their position slightly against the sky, and arch themselves, and sink and tower huge, until he passed from seeing them into dreams where he lay beneath the shadow of the vast trees, looking up into the sky.

When they woke next morning they had gone a considerable way up the river; on the right was a high yellow bank of sand tufted with trees, on the left a swamp quivering with long reeds and tall bamboos on the top of which, swaying slightly, perched vivid green and yellow birds. The morning was hot and still. After breakfast they drew chairs together and sat in an irregular semicircle in the bow. An awning above their heads protected them from the heat of the sun, and the breeze which the boat made aired them softly. Mrs. Flushing was already dotting and striping her canvas, her head jerking this way and that with the action of a bird nervously picking up grain; the others had books or pieces of paper or embroidery on their knees, at which they looked fitfully and again looked at the river ahead. At one point Hewet read part of a poem aloud, but the number of moving things entirely vanquished his words. He ceased to read, and no one spoke. They moved on under the shelter of the trees. There was now a covey of red birds feeding on one of the little islets to the left, or again a blue-green parrot flew shrieking from tree to tree. As they moved on the country grew wilder and wilder. The trees and the undergrowth seemed to be strangling each other near the ground in a multitudinous wrestle; while here and there a splendid tree towered high above the swarm, shaking its thin green umbrellas lightly in the upper air. Hewet looked at his books again. The morning was peaceful as the night had been, only it was very strange because he could see it was light, and he could see Rachel and hear her voice and be near to her. He felt as if he were waiting, as if somehow he were stationary among things that passed over him and around him, voices, people’s bodies, birds, only Rachel too was waiting with him. He looked at her sometimes as if she must know that they were waiting together, and being drawn on together, without being able to offer any resistance. Again he read from his book:

Whoever you are holding me now in your hand, Without one thing all will be useless.

A bird gave a wild laugh, a monkey chuckled a malicious question, and, as fire fades in the hot sunshine, his words flickered and went out.

By degrees as the river narrowed, and the high sandbanks fell to level ground thickly grown with trees, the sounds of the forest could be heard. It echoed like a hall. There were sudden cries; and then long spaces of silence, such as there are in a cathedral when a boy’s voice has ceased and the echo of it still seems to haunt about the remote places of the roof. Once Mr. Flushing rose and spoke to a sailor, and even announced that some time after luncheon the steamer would stop, and they could walk a little way through the forest.

“There are tracks all through the trees there,” he explained. “We’re no distance from civilisation yet.”

He scrutinised his wife’s painting. Too polite to praise it openly, he contented himself with cutting off one half of the picture with one hand, and giving a flourish in the air with the other.

“God!” Hirst exclaimed, staring straight ahead. “Don’t you think it’s amazingly beautiful?”

“Beautiful?” Helen enquired. It seemed a strange little word, and Hirst and herself both so small that she forgot to answer him.

Hewet felt that he must speak.

“That’s where the Elizabethans got their style,” he mused, staring into the profusion of leaves and blossoms and prodigious fruits.

“Shakespeare? I hate Shakespeare!” Mrs. Flushing exclaimed; and Wilfrid returned admiringly, “I believe you’re the only person who dares to say that, Alice.” But Mrs. Flushing went on painting. She did not appear to attach much value to her husband’s compliment, and painted steadily, sometimes muttering a half-audible word or groan.

The morning was now very hot.

“Look at Hirst!” Mr. Flushing whispered. His sheet of paper had slipped on to the deck, his head lay back, and he drew a long snoring breath.

Terence picked up the sheet of paper and spread it out before Rachel. It was a continuation of the poem on God which he had begun in the chapel, and it was so indecent that Rachel did not understand half of it although she saw that it was indecent. Hewet began to fill in words where Hirst had left spaces, but he soon ceased; his pencil rolled on deck. Gradually they approached nearer and nearer to the bank on the right-hand side, so that the light which covered them became definitely green, falling through a shade of green leaves, and Mrs. Flushing set aside her sketch and stared ahead of her in silence. Hirst woke up; they were then called to luncheon, and while they ate it, the steamer came to a standstill a little way out from the bank. The boat which was towed behind them was brought to the side, and the ladies were helped into it.

For protection against boredom, Helen put a book of memoirs beneath her arm, and Mrs. Flushing her paint-box, and, thus equipped, they allowed themselves to be set on shore on the verge of the forest.

They had not strolled more than a few hundred yards along the track which ran parallel with the river before Helen professed to find it was unbearably hot. The river breeze had ceased, and a hot steamy atmosphere, thick with scents, came from the forest.

“I shall sit down here,” she announced, pointing to the trunk of a tree which had fallen long ago and was now laced across and across by creepers and thong-like brambles. She seated herself, opened her parasol, and looked at the river which was barred by the stems of trees. She turned her back to the trees which disappeared in black shadow behind her.

“I quite agree,” said Mrs. Flushing, and proceeded to undo her paint-box. Her husband strolled about to select an interesting point of view for her. Hirst cleared a space on the ground by Helen’s side, and seated himself with great deliberation, as if he did not mean to move until he had talked to her for a long time. Terence and Rachel were left standing by themselves without occupation. Terence saw that the time had come as it was fated to come, but although he realised this he was completely calm and master of himself. He chose to stand for a few moments talking to Helen, and persuading her to leave her seat. Rachel joined him too in advising her to come with them.

“Of all the people I’ve ever met,” he said, “you’re the least adventurous. You might be sitting on green chairs in Hyde Park. Are you going to sit there the whole afternoon? Aren’t you going to walk?”

“Oh, no,” said Helen, “one’s only got to use one’s eye. There’s everything here–everything,” she repeated in a drowsy tone of voice. “What will you gain by walking?”

“You’ll be hot and disagreeable by tea-time, we shall be cool and sweet,” put in Hirst. Into his eyes as he looked up at them had come yellow and green reflections from the sky and the branches, robbing them of their intentness, and he seemed to think what he did not say. It was thus taken for granted by them both that Terence and Rachel proposed to walk into the woods together; with one look at each other they turned away.

“Good-bye!” cried Rachel.

“Good-by. Beware of snakes,” Hirst replied. He settled himself still more comfortably under the shade of the fallen tree and Helen’s figure. As they went, Mr. Flushing called after them, “We must start in an hour. Hewet, please remember that. An hour.”

Whether made by man, or for some reason preserved by nature, there was a wide pathway striking through the forest at right angles to the river. It resembled a drive in an English forest, save that tropical bushes with their sword-like leaves grew at the side, and the ground was covered with an unmarked springy moss instead of grass, starred with little yellow flowers. As they passed into the depths of the forest the light grew dimmer, and the noises of the ordinary world were replaced by those creaking and sighing sounds which suggest to the traveller in a forest that he is walking at the bottom of the sea. The path narrowed and turned; it was hedged in by dense creepers which knotted tree to tree, and burst here and there into star-shaped crimson blossoms. The sighing and creaking up above were broken every now and then by the jarring cry of some startled animal. The atmosphere was close and the air came at them in languid puffs of scent. The vast green light was broken here and there by a round of pure yellow sunlight which fell through some gap in the immense umbrella of green above, and in these yellow spaces crimson and black butterflies were circling and settling. Terence and Rachel hardly spoke.

Not only did the silence weigh upon them, but they were both unable to frame any thoughts. There was something between them which had to be spoken of. One of them had to begin, but which of them was it to be? Then Hewet picked up a red fruit and threw it as high as he could. When it dropped, he would speak. They heard the flapping of great wings; they heard the fruit go pattering through the leaves and eventually fall with a thud. The silence was again profound.

“Does this frighten you?” Terence asked when the sound of the fruit falling had completely died away.

“No,” she answered. “I like it.”

She repeated “I like it.” She was walking fast, and holding herself more erect than usual. There was another pause.

“You like being with me?” Terence asked.

“Yes, with you,” she replied.

He was silent for a moment. Silence seemed to have fallen upon the world.

“That is what I have felt ever since I knew you,” he replied. “We are happy together.” He did not seem to be speaking, or she to be hearing.

“Very happy,” she answered.

They continued to walk for some time in silence. Their steps unconsciously quickened.

“We love each other,” Terence said.

“We love each other,” she repeated.

The silence was then broken by their voices which joined in tones of strange unfamiliar sound which formed no words. Faster and faster they walked; simultaneously they stopped, clasped each other in their arms, then releasing themselves, dropped to the earth. They sat side by side. Sounds stood out from the background making a bridge across their silence; they heard the swish of the trees and some beast croaking in a remote world.

“We love each other,” Terence repeated, searching into her face. Their faces were both very pale and quiet, and they said nothing. He was afraid to kiss her again. By degrees she drew close to him, and rested against him. In this position they sat for some time. She said “Terence” once; he answered “Rachel.”

“Terrible–terrible,” she murmured after another pause, but in saying this she was thinking as much of the persistent churning of the water as of her own feeling. On and on it went in the distance, the senseless and cruel churning of the water. She observed that the tears were running down Terence’s cheeks.

The next movement was on his part. A very long time seemed to have passed. He took out his watch.

“Flushing said an hour. We’ve been gone more than half an hour.”

“And it takes that to get back,” said Rachel. She raised herself very slowly. When she was standing up she stretched her arms and drew a deep breath, half a sigh, half a yawn. She appeared to be very tired. Her cheeks were white. “Which way?” she asked.

“There,” said Terence.

They began to walk back down the mossy path again. The sighing and creaking continued far overhead, and the jarring cries of animals. The butterflies were circling still in the patches of yellow sunlight. At first Terence was certain of his way, but as they walked he became doubtful. They had to stop to consider, and then to return and start once more, for although he was certain of the direction of the river he was not certain of striking the point where they had left the others. Rachel followed him, stopping where he stopped, turning where he turned, ignorant of the way, ignorant why he stopped or why he turned.

“I don’t want to be late,” he said, “because–” He put a flower into her hand and her fingers closed upon it quietly. “We’re so late– so late–so horribly late,” he repeated as if he were talking in his sleep. “Ah–this is right. We turn here.”

They found themselves again in the broad path, like the drive in the English forest, where they had started when they left the others. They walked on in silence as people walking in their sleep, and were oddly conscious now and again of the mass of their bodies. Then Rachel exclaimed suddenly, “Helen!”

In the sunny space at the edge of the forest they saw Helen still sitting on the tree-trunk, her dress showing very white in the sun, with Hirst still propped on his elbow by her side. They stopped instinctively. At the sight of other people they could not go on. They stood hand in hand for a minute or two in silence. They could not bear to face other people.

“But we must go on,” Rachel insisted at last, in the curious dull tone of voice in which they had both been speaking, and with a great effort they forced themselves to cover the short distance which lay between them and the pair sitting on the tree-trunk.

As they approached, Helen turned round and looked at them. She looked at them for some time without speaking, and when they were close to her she said quietly:

“Did you meet Mr. Flushing? He has gone to find you. He thought you must be lost, though I told him you weren’t lost.”

Hirst half turned round and threw his head back so that he looked at the branches crossing themselves in the air above him.

“Well, was it worth the effort?” he enquired dreamily.

Hewet sat down on the grass by his side and began to fan himself.

Rachel had balanced herself near Helen on the end of the tree trunk.

“Very hot,” she said.

“You look exhausted anyhow,” said Hirst.

“It’s fearfully close in those trees,” Helen remarked, picking up her book and shaking it free from the dried blades of grass which had fallen between the leaves. Then they were all silent, looking at the river swirling past in front of them between the trunks of the trees until Mr. Flushing interrupted them. He broke out of the trees a hundred yards to the left, exclaiming sharply:

“Ah, so you found the way after all. But it’s late–much later than we arranged, Hewet.”

He was slightly annoyed, and in his capacity as leader of the expedition, inclined to be dictatorial. He spoke quickly, using curiously sharp, meaningless words.

“Being late wouldn’t matter normally, of course,” he said, “but when it’s a question of keeping the men up to time–“

He gathered them together and made them come down to the river-bank, where the boat was waiting to row them out to the steamer.

The heat of the day was going down, and over their cups of tea the Flushings tended to become communicative. It seemed to Terence as he listened to them talking, that existence now went on in two different layers. Here were the Flushings talking, talking somewhere high up in the air above him, and he and Rachel had dropped to the bottom of the world together. But with something of a child’s directness, Mrs. Flushing had also the instinct which leads a child to suspect what its elders wish to keep hidden. She fixed Terence with her vivid blue eyes and addressed herself to him in particular. What would he do, she wanted to know, if the boat ran upon a rock and sank.

“Would you care for anythin’ but savin’ yourself? Should I? No, no,” she laughed, “not one scrap–don’t tell me. There’s only two creatures the ordinary woman cares about,” she continued, “her child and her dog; and I don’t believe it’s even two with men. One reads a lot about love–that’s why poetry’s so dull. But what happens in real life, he? It ain’t love!” she cried.

Terence murmured something unintelligible. Mr. Flushing, however, had recovered his urbanity. He was smoking a cigarette, and he now answered his wife.

“You must always remember, Alice,” he said, “that your upbringing was very unnatural–unusual, I should say. They had no mother,” he explained, dropping something of the formality of his tone; “and a father–he was a very delightful man, I’ve no doubt, but he cared only for racehorses and Greek statues. Tell them about the bath, Alice.”

“In the stable-yard,” said Mrs. Flushing. “Covered with ice in winter. We had to get in; if we didn’t, we were whipped. The strong ones lived–the others died. What you call survival of the fittest– a most excellent plan, I daresay, if you’ve thirteen children!”

“And all this going on in the heart of England, in the nineteenth century!” Mr. Flushing exclaimed, turning to Helen.

“I’d treat my children just the same if I had any,” said Mrs. Flushing.

Every word sounded quite distinctly in Terence’s ears; but what were they saying, and who were they talking to, and who were they, these fantastic people, detached somewhere high up in the air? Now that they had drunk their tea, they rose and leant over the bow of the boat. The sun was going down, and the water was dark and crimson. The river had widened again, and they were passing a little island set like a dark wedge in the middle of the stream. Two great white birds with red lights on them stood there on stilt-like legs, and the beach of the island was unmarked, save by the skeleton print of birds’ feet. The branches of the trees on the bank looked more twisted and angular than ever, and the green of the leaves was lurid and splashed with gold. Then Hirst began to talk, leaning over the bow.

“It makes one awfully queer, don’t you find?” he complained. “These trees get on one’s nerves–it’s all so crazy. God’s undoubtedly mad. What sane person could have conceived a wilderness like this, and peopled it with apes and alligators? I should go mad if I lived here–raving mad.”

Terence attempted to answer him, but Mrs. Ambrose replied instead. She bade him look at the way things massed themselves–look at the amazing colours, look at the shapes of the trees. She seemed to be protecting Terence from the approach of the others.

“Yes,” said Mr. Flushing. “And in my opinion,” he continued, “the absence of population to which Hirst objects is precisely the significant touch. You must admit, Hirst, that a little Italian town even would vulgarise the whole scene, would detract from the vastness–the sense of elemental grandeur.” He swept his hands towards the forest, and paused for a moment, looking at the great green mass, which was now falling silent. “I own it makes us seem pretty small–us, not them.” He nodded his head at a sailor who leant over the side spitting into the river. “And that, I think, is what my wife feels, the essential superiority of the peasant–” Under cover of Mr. Flushing’s words, which continued now gently reasoning with St. John and persuading him, Terence drew Rachel to the side, pointing ostensibly to a great gnarled tree-trunk which had fallen and lay half in the water. He wished, at any rate, to be near her, but he found that he could say nothing. They could hear Mr. Flushing flowing on, now about his wife, now about art, now about the future of the country, little meaningless words floating high in air. As it was becoming cold he began to pace the deck with Hirst. Fragments of their talk came out distinctly as they passed–art, emotion, truth, reality.

“Is it true, or is it a dream?” Rachel murmured, when they had passed.

“It’s true, it’s true,” he replied.

But the breeze freshened, and there was a general desire for movement. When the party rearranged themselves under cover of rugs and cloaks, Terence and Rachel were at opposite ends of the circle, and could not speak to each other. But as the dark descended, the words of the others seemed to curl up and vanish as the ashes of burnt paper, and left them sitting perfectly silent at the bottom of the world. Occasional starts of exquisite joy ran through them, and then they were peaceful again.

Chapter XXI

Thanks to Mr. Flushing’s discipline, the right stages of the river were reached at the right hours, and when next morning after breakfast the chairs were again drawn out in a semicircle in the bow, the launch was within a few miles of the native camp which was the limit of the journey. Mr. Flushing, as he sat down, advised them to keep their eyes fixed on the left bank, where they would soon pass a clearing, and in that clearing, was a hut where Mackenzie, the famous explorer, had died of fever some ten years ago, almost within reach of civilisation–Mackenzie, he repeated, the man who went farther inland than any one’s been yet. Their eyes turned that way obediently. The eyes of Rachel saw nothing. Yellow and green shapes did, it is true, pass before them, but she only knew that one was large and another small; she did not know that they were trees. These directions to look here and there irritated her, as interruptions irritate a person absorbed in thought, although she was not thinking of anything. She was annoyed with all that was said, and with the aimless movements of people’s bodies, because they seemed to interfere with her and to prevent her from speaking to Terence. Very soon Helen saw her staring moodily at a coil of rope, and making no effort to listen. Mr. Flushing and St. John were engaged in more or less continuous conversation about the future of the country from a political point of view, and the degree to which it had been explored; the others, with their legs stretched out, or chins poised on the hands, gazed in silence.

Mrs. Ambrose looked and listened obediently enough, but inwardly she was prey to an uneasy mood not readily to be ascribed to any one cause. Looking on shore as Mr. Flushing bade her, she thought the country very beautiful, but also sultry and alarming. She did not like to feel herself the victim of unclassified emotions, and certainly as the launch slipped on and on, in the hot morning sun, she felt herself unreasonably moved. Whether the unfamiliarity of the forest was the cause of it, or something less definite, she could not determine. Her mind left the scene and occupied itself with anxieties for Ridley, for her children, for far-off things, such as old age and poverty and death. Hirst, too, was depressed. He had been looking forward to this expedition as to a holiday, for, once away from the hotel, surely wonderful things would happen, instead of which nothing happened, and here they were as uncomfortable, as restrained, as self-conscious as ever. That, of course, was what came of looking forward to anything; one was always disappointed. He blamed Wilfrid Flushing, who was so well dressed and so formal; he blamed Hewet and Rachel. Why didn’t they talk? He looked at them sitting silent and self-absorbed, and the sight annoyed him. He supposed that they were engaged, or about to become engaged, but instead of being in the least romantic or exciting, that was as dull as everything else; it annoyed him, too, to think that they were in love. He drew close to Helen and began to tell her how uncomfortable his night had been, lying on the deck, sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and the stars so bright that he couldn’t get to sleep. He had lain awake all night thinking, and when it was light enough to see, he had written twenty lines of his poem on God, and the awful thing was that he’d practically proved the fact that God did not exist. He did not see that he was teasing her, and he went on to wonder what would happen if God did exist–“an old gentleman in a beard and a long blue dressing gown, extremely testy and disagreeable as he’s bound to be? Can you suggest a rhyme? God, rod, sod–all used; any others?”

Although he spoke much as usual, Helen could have seen, had she looked, that he was also impatient and disturbed. But she was not called upon to answer, for Mr. Flushing now exclaimed “There!” They looked at the hut on the bank, a desolate place with a large rent in the roof, and the ground round it yellow, scarred with fires and scattered with rusty open tins.

“Did they find his dead body there?” Mrs. Flushing exclaimed, leaning forward in her eagerness to see the spot where the explorer had died.

“They found his body and his skins and a notebook,” her husband replied. But the boat had soon carried them on and left the place behind.

It was so hot that they scarcely moved, except now to change a foot, or, again, to strike a match. Their eyes, concentrated upon the bank, were full of the same green reflections, and their lips were slightly pressed together as though the sights they were passing gave rise to thoughts, save that Hirst’s lips moved intermittently as half consciously he sought rhymes for God. Whatever the thoughts of the others, no one said anything for a considerable space. They had grown so accustomed to the wall of trees on either side that they looked up with a start when the light suddenly widened out and the trees came to an end.

“It almost reminds one of an English park,” said Mr. Flushing.

Indeed no change could have been greater. On both banks of the river lay an open lawn-like space, grass covered and planted, for the gentleness and order of the place suggested human care, with graceful trees on the top of little mounds. As far as they could gaze, this lawn rose and sank with the undulating motion of an old English park. The change of scene naturally suggested a change of position, grateful to most of them. They rose and leant over the rail.

“It might be Arundel or Windsor,” Mr. Flushing continued, “if you cut down that bush with the yellow flowers; and, by Jove, look!”

Rows of brown backs paused for a moment and then leapt with a motion as if they were springing over waves out of sight.

for a moment no one of them could believe that they had really seen live animals in the open–a herd of wild deer, and the sight aroused a childlike excitement in them, dissipating their gloom.

“I’ve never in my life seen anything bigger than a hare!” Hirst exclaimed with genuine excitement. “What an ass I was not to bring my Kodak!”

Soon afterwards the launch came gradually to a standstill, and the captain explained to Mr. Flushing that it would be pleasant for the passengers if they now went for a stroll on shore; if they chose to return within an hour, he would take them on to the village; if they chose to walk–it was only a mile or two farther on– he would meet them at the landing-place.

The matter being settled, they were once more put on shore: the sailors, producing raisins and tobacco, leant upon the rail and watched the six English, whose coats and dresses looked so strange upon the green, wander off. A joke that was by no means proper set them all laughing, and then they turned round and lay at their ease upon the deck.

Directly they landed, Terence and Rachel drew together slightly in advance of the others.

“Thank God!” Terence exclaimed, drawing a long breath. “At last we’re alone.”

“And if we keep ahead we can talk,” said Rachel.

Nevertheless, although their position some yards in advance of the others made it possible for them to say anything they chose, they were both silent.

“You love me?” Terence asked at length, breaking the silence painfully. To speak or to be silent was equally an effort, for when they were silent they were keenly conscious of each other’s presence, and yet words were either too trivial or too large.

She murmured inarticulately, ending, “And you?”

“Yes, yes,” he replied; but there were so many things to be said, and now that they were alone it seemed necessary to bring themselves still more near, and to surmount a barrier which had grown up since they had last spoken. It was difficult, frightening even, oddly embarrassing. At one moment he was clear-sighted, and, at the next, confused.

“Now I’m going to begin at the beginning,” he said resolutely. “I’m going to tell you what I ought to have told you before. In the first place, I’ve never been in love with other women, but I’ve had other women. Then I’ve great faults. I’m very lazy, I’m moody–” He persisted, in spite of her exclamation, “You’ve got to know the worst of me. I’m lustful. I’m overcome by a sense of futility–incompetence. I ought never to have asked you to marry me, I expect. I’m a bit of a snob; I’m ambitious–“

“Oh, our faults!” she cried. “What do they matter?” Then she demanded, “Am I in love–is this being in love–are we to marry each other?”

Overcome by the charm of her voice and her presence, he exclaimed, “Oh, you’re free, Rachel. To you, time will make no difference, or marriage or–“

The voices of the others behind them kept floating, now farther, now nearer, and Mrs. Flushing’s laugh rose clearly by itself.

“Marriage?” Rachel repeated.

The shouts were renewed behind, warning them that they were bearing too far to the left. Improving their course, he continued, “Yes, marriage.” The feeling that they could not be united until she knew all about him made him again endeavour to explain.

“All that’s been bad in me, the things I’ve put up with– the second best–“

She murmured, considered her own life, but could not describe how it looked to her now.

“And the loneliness!” he continued. A vision of walking with her through the streets of London came before his eyes. “We will go for walks together,” he said. The simplicity of the idea relieved them, and for the first time they laughed. They would have liked had they dared to take each other by the hand, but the consciousness of eyes fixed on them from behind had not yet deserted them.

“Books, people, sights–Mrs. Nutt, Greeley, Hutchinson,” Hewet murmured.

With every word the mist which had enveloped them, making them seem unreal to each other, since the previous afternoon melted a little further, and their contact became more and more natural. Up through the sultry southern landscape they saw the world they knew appear clearer and more vividly than it had ever appeared before As upon that occasion at the hotel when she had sat in the window, the world once more arranged itself beneath her gaze very vividly and in its true proportions. She glanced curiously at Terence from time to time, observing his grey coat and his purple tie; observing the man with whom she was to spend the rest of her life.

After one of these glances she murmured, “Yes, I’m in love. There’s no doubt; I’m in love with you.”

Nevertheless, they remained uncomfortably apart; drawn so close together, as she spoke, that there seemed no division between them, and the next moment separate and far away again. Feeling this painfully, she exclaimed, “It will be a fight.”

But as she looked at him she perceived from the shape of his eyes, the lines about his mouth, and other peculiarities that he pleased her, and she added:

“Where I want to fight, you have compassion. You’re finer than I am; you’re much finer.”

He returned her glance and smiled, perceiving, much as she had done, the very small individual things about her which made her delightful to him. She was his for ever. This barrier being surmounted, innumerable delights lay before them both.

“I’m not finer,” he answered. “I’m only older, lazier; a man, not a woman.”

“A man,” she repeated, and a curious sense of possession coming over her, it struck her that she might now touch him; she put out her hand and lightly touched his cheek. His fingers followed where hers had been, and the touch of his hand upon his face brought back the overpowering sense of unreality. This body of his was unreal; the whole world was unreal.

“What’s happened?” he began. “Why did I ask you to marry me? How did it happen?”

“Did you ask me to marry you?” she wondered. They faded far away from each other, and neither of them could remember what had been said.

“We sat upon the ground,” he recollected.

“We sat upon the ground,” she confirmed him. The recollection of sitting upon the ground, such as it was, seemed to unite them again, and they walked on in silence, their minds sometimes working with difficulty and sometimes ceasing to work, their eyes alone perceiving the things round them. Now he would attempt again to tell her his faults, and why he loved her; and she would describe what she had felt at this time or at that time, and together they would interpret her feeling. So beautiful was the sound of their voices that by degrees they scarcely listened to the words they framed. Long silences came between their words, which were no longer silences of struggle and confusion but refreshing silences, in which trivial thoughts moved easily. They began to speak naturally of ordinary things, of the flowers and the trees, how they grew there so red, like garden flowers at home, and there bent and crooked like the arm of a twisted old man.

Very gently and quietly, almost as if it were the blood singing in her veins, or the water of the stream running over stones, Rachel became conscious of a new feeling within her. She wondered for a moment what it was, and then said to herself, with a little surprise at recognising in her own person so famous a thing:

“This is happiness, I suppose.” And aloud to Terence she spoke, “This is happiness.”

On the heels of her words he answered, “This is happiness,” upon which they guessed that the feeling had sprung in both of them the same time. They began therefore to describe how this felt and that felt, how like it was and yet how different; for they were very different.

Voices crying behind them never reached through the waters in which they were now sunk. The repetition of Hewet’s name in short, dissevered syllables was to them the crack of a dry branch or the laughter of a bird. The grasses and breezes sounding and murmuring all round them, they never noticed that the swishing of the grasses grew louder and louder, and did not cease with the lapse of the breeze. A hand dropped abrupt as iron on Rachel’s shoulder; it might have been a bolt from heaven. She fell beneath it, and the grass whipped across her eyes and filled her mouth and ears. Through the waving stems she saw a figure, large and shapeless against the sky. Helen was upon her. Rolled this way and that, now seeing only forests of green, and now the high blue heaven; she was speechless and almost without sense. At last she lay still, all the grasses shaken round her and before her by her panting. Over her loomed two great heads, the heads of a man and woman, of Terence and Helen.

Both were flushed, both laughing, and the lips were moving; they came together and kissed in the air above her. Broken fragments of speech came down to her on the ground. She thought she heard them speak of love and then of marriage. Raising herself and sitting up, she too realised Helen’s soft body, the strong and hospitable arms, and happiness swelling and breaking in one vast wave. When this fell away, and the grasses once more lay low, and the sky became horizontal, and the earth rolled out flat on each side, and the trees stood upright, she was the first to perceive a little row of human figures standing patiently in the distance. For the moment she could not remember who they were.

“Who are they?” she asked, and then recollected.

Falling into line behind Mr. Flushing, they were careful to leave at least three yards’ distance between the toe of his boot and the rim of her skirt.

He led them across a stretch of green by the river-bank and then through a grove of trees, and bade them remark the signs of human habitation, the blackened grass, the charred tree-stumps, and there, through the trees, strange wooden nests, drawn together in an arch where the trees drew apart, the village which was the goal of their journey.

Stepping cautiously, they observed the women, who were squatting on the ground in triangular shapes, moving their hands, either plaiting straw or in kneading something in bowls. But when they had looked for a moment undiscovered, they were seen, and Mr. Flushing, advancing into the centre of the clearing, was engaged in talk with a lean majestic man, whose bones and hollows at once made the shapes of the Englishman’s body appear ugly and unnatural. The women took no notice of the strangers, except that their hands paused for a moment and their long narrow eyes slid round and fixed upon them with the motionless inexpensive gaze of those removed from each other far far beyond the plunge of speech. Their hands moved again, but the stare continued. It followed them as they walked, as they peered into the huts where they could distinguish guns leaning in the corner, and bowls upon the floor, and stacks of rushes; in the dusk the solemn eyes of babies regarded them, and old women stared out too. As they sauntered about, the stare followed them, passing over their legs, their bodies, their heads, curiously not without hostility, like the crawl of a winter fly. As she drew apart her shawl and uncovered her breast to the lips of her baby, the eyes of a woman never left their faces, although they moved uneasily under her stare, and finally turned away, rather than stand there looking at her any longer. When sweetmeats were offered them, they put out great red hands to take them, and felt themselves treading cumbrously like tight-coated soldiers among these soft instinctive people. But soon the life of the village took no notice of them; they had become absorbed in it. The women’s hands became busy again with the straw; their eyes dropped. If they moved, it was to fetch something from the hut, or to catch a straying child, or to cross the space with a jar balanced on their heads; if they spoke, it was to cry some harsh unintelligible cry. Voices rose when a child was beaten, and fell again; voices rose in song, which slid up a little way and down a little way, and settled again upon the same low and melancholy note. Seeking each other, Terence and Rachel drew together under a tree. Peaceful, and even beautiful at first, the sight of the women, who had given up looking at them, made them now feel very cold and melancholy.

“Well,” Terence sighed at length, “it makes us seem insignificant, doesn’t it?”

Rachel agreed. So it would go on for ever and ever, she said, those women sitting under the trees, the trees and the river. They turned away and began to walk through the trees, leaning, without fear of discovery, upon each other’s arms. They had not gone far before they began to assure each other once more that they were in love, were happy, were content; but why was it so painful being in love, why was there so much pain in happiness?

The sight of the village indeed affected them all curiously though all differently. St. John had left the others and was walking slowly down to the river, absorbed in his own thoughts, which were bitter and unhappy, for he felt himself alone; and Helen, standing by herself in the sunny space among the native women, was exposed to presentiments of disaster. The cries of the senseless beasts rang in her ears high and low in the air, as they ran from tree-trunk to tree-top. How small the little figures looked wandering through the trees! She became acutely conscious of the little limbs, the thin veins, the delicate flesh of men and women, which breaks so easily and lets the life escape compared with these great trees and deep waters. A falling branch, a foot that slips, and the earth has crushed them or the water drowned them. Thus thinking, she kept her eyes anxiously fixed upon the lovers, as if by doing so she could protect them from their fate. Turning, she found the Flushings by her side.

They were talking about the things they had bought and arguing whether they were really old, and whether there were not signs here and there of European influence. Helen was appealed to. She was made to look at a brooch, and then at a pair of ear-rings. But all the time she blamed them for having come on this expedition, for having ventured too far and exposed themselves. Then she roused herself and tried to talk, but in a few moments she caught herself seeing a picture of a boat upset on the river in England, at midday. It was morbid, she knew, to imagine such things; nevertheless she sought out the figures of the others between the trees, and whenever she saw them she kept her eyes fixed on them, so that she might be able to protect them from disaster.

But when the sun went down and the steamer turned and began to steam back towards civilisation, again her fears were calmed. In the semi-darkness the chairs on deck and the people sitting in them were angular shapes, the mouth being indicated by a tiny burning spot, and the arm by the same spot moving up or down as the cigar or cigarette was lifted to and from the lips. Words crossed the darkness, but, not knowing where they fell, seemed to lack energy and substance. Deep sights proceeded regularly, although with some attempt at suppression, from the large white mound which represented the person of Mrs. Flushing. The day had been long and very hot, and now that all the colours were blotted out the cool night air seemed to press soft fingers upon the eyelids, sealing them down. Some philosophical remark directed, apparently, at St. John Hirst missed its aim, and hung so long suspended in the air until it was engulfed by a yawn, that it was considered dead, and this gave the signal for stirring of legs and murmurs about sleep. The white mound moved, finally lengthened itself and disappeared, and after a few turns and paces St. John and Mr. Flushing withdrew, leaving the three chairs still occupied by three silent bodies. The light which came from a lamp high on the mast and a sky pale with stars left them with shapes but without features; but even in this darkness the withdrawal of the others made them feel each other very near, for they were all thinking of the same thing. For some time no one spoke, then Helen said with a sigh, “So you’re both very happy?”

As if washed by the air her voice sounded more spiritual and softer than usual. Voices at a little distance answered her, “Yes.”

Through the darkness she was looking at them both, and trying to distinguish him. What was there for her to say? Rachel had passed beyond her guardianship. A voice might reach her ears, but never again would it carry as far as it had carried twenty-four hours ago. Nevertheless, speech seemed to be due from her before she went to bed. She wished to speak, but she felt strangely old and depressed.

“D’you realise what you’re doing?” she demanded. “She’s young, you’re both young; and marriage–” Here she ceased. They begged her, however, to continue, with such earnestness in their voices, as if they only craved advice, that she was led to add:

“Marriage! well, it’s not easy.”

“That’s what we want to know,” they answered, and she guessed that now they were looking at each other.

“It depends on both of you,” she stated. Her face was turned towards Terence, and although he could hardly see her, he believed that her words really covered a genuine desire to know more about him. He raised himself from his semi-recumbent position and proceeded to tell her what she wanted to know. He spoke as lightly as he could in order to take away her depression.

“I’m twenty-seven, and I’ve about seven hundred a year,” he began. “My temper is good on the whole, and health excellent, though Hirst detects a gouty tendency. Well, then, I think I’m very intelligent.” He paused as if for confirmation.

Helen agreed.

“Though, unfortunately, rather lazy. I intend to allow Rachel to be a fool if she wants to, and–Do you find me on the whole satisfactory in other respects?” he asked shyly.

“Yes, I like what I know of you,” Helen replied.

“But then–one knows so little.”

“We shall live in London,” he continued, “and–” With one voice they suddenly enquired whether she did not think them the happiest people that she had ever known.

“Hush,” she checked them, “Mrs. Flushing, remember. She’s behind us.”

Then they fell silent, and Terence and Rachel felt instinctively that their happiness had made her sad, and, while they were anxious to go on talking about themselves, they did not like to.

“We’ve talked too much about ourselves,” Terence said. “Tell us–“

“Yes, tell us–” Rachel echoed. They were both in the mood to believe that every one was capable of saying something very profound.

“What can I tell you?” Helen reflected, speaking more to herself in a rambling style than as a prophetess delivering a message. She forced herself to speak.

“After all, though I scold Rachel, I’m not much wiser myself. I’m older, of course, I’m half-way through, and you’re just beginning. It’s puzzling–sometimes, I think, disappointing; the great things aren’t as great, perhaps, as one expects–but it’s interesting– Oh, yes, you’re certain to find it interesting–And so it goes on,” they became conscious here of the procession of dark trees into which, as far as they could see, Helen was now looking, “and there are pleasures where one doesn’t expect them (you must write to your father), and you’ll be very happy, I’ve no doubt. But I must go to bed, and if you are sensible you will follow in ten minutes, and so,” she rose and stood before them, almost featureless and very large, “Good-night.” She passed behind the curtain.

After sitting in silence for the greater part of the ten minutes she allowed them, they rose and hung over the rail. Beneath them the smooth black water slipped away very fast and silently. The spark of a cigarette vanished behind them. “A beautiful voice,” Terence murmured.

Rachel assented. Helen had a beautiful voice.

After a silence she asked, looking up into the sky, “Are we on the deck of a steamer on a river in South America? Am I Rachel, are you Terence?”

The great black world lay round them. As they were drawn smoothly along it seemed possessed of immense thickness and endurance. They could discern pointed tree-tops and blunt rounded tree-tops. Raising their eyes above the trees, they fixed them on the stars and the pale border of sky above the trees. The little points of frosty light infinitely far away drew their eyes and held them fixed, so that it seemed as if they stayed a long time and fell a great distance when once more they realised their hands grasping the rail and their separate bodies standing side by side.

“You’d forgotten completely about me,” Terence reproached her, taking her arm and beginning to pace the deck, “and I never forget you.”