Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 13

  • There were many rooms in the villa, but one room which possessed a characte_f its own because the door was always shut, and no sound of music or laughte_ssued from it. Every one in the house was vaguely conscious that somethin_ent on behind that door, and without in the least knowing what it was, wer_nfluenced in their own thoughts by the knowledge that if the passed it th_oor would be shut, and if they made a noise Mr. Ambrose inside would b_isturbed. Certain acts therefore possessed merit, and others were bad, s_hat life became more harmonious and less disconnected than it would have bee_ad Mr. Ambrose given up editing  _Pindar_ , and taken to a nomad existence,
  • in and out of every room in the house. As it was, every one was conscious tha_y observing certain rules, such as punctuality and quiet, by cooking well,
  • and performing other small duties, one ode after another was satisfactoril_estored to the world, and they shared the continuity of the scholar's life.
  • Unfortunately, as age puts one barrier between human beings, and learnin_nother, and sex a third, Mr. Ambrose in his study was some thousand mile_istant from the nearest human being, who in this household was inevitably _oman. He sat hour after hour among white-leaved books, alone like an idol i_n empty church, still except for the passage of his hand from one side of th_heet to another, silent save for an occasional choke, which drove him t_xtend his pipe a moment in the air. As he worked his way further and furthe_nto the heart of the poet, his chair became more and more deeply encircled b_ooks, which lay open on the floor, and could only be crossed by a carefu_rocess of stepping, so delicate that his visitors generally stopped an_ddressed him from the outskirts.
  • On the morning after the dance, however, Rachel came into her uncle's room an_ailed him twice, "Uncle Ridley," before he paid her any attention.
  • At length he looked over his spectacles.
  • "Well?" he asked.
  • "I want a book," she replied. "Gibbon's  _History_   _of_   _the_   _Roman_Empire_. May I have it?"
  • She watched the lines on her uncle's face gradually rearrange themselves a_er question. It had been smooth as a mask before she spoke.
  • "Please say that again," said her uncle, either because he had not heard o_ecause he had not understood.
  • She repeated the same words and reddened slightly as she did so.
  • "Gibbon! What on earth d'you want him for?" he enquired.
  • "Somebody advised me to read it," Rachel stammered.
  • "But I don't travel about with a miscellaneous collection of eighteenth-
  • century historians!" her uncle exclaimed. "Gibbon! Ten big volumes at least."
  • Rachel said that she was sorry to interrupt, and was turning to go.
  • "Stop!" cried her uncle. He put down his pipe, placed his book on one side,
  • and rose and led her slowly round the room, holding her by the arm. "Plato,"
  • he said, laying one finger on the first of a row of small dark books, "an_orrocks next door, which is wrong. Sophocles, Swift. You don't care fo_erman commentators, I presume. French, then. You read French? You should rea_alzac. Then we come to Wordsworth and Coleridge, Pope, Johnson, Addison,
  • Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats. One thing leads to another. Why is Marlowe here?
  • Mrs. Chailey, I presume. But what's the use of reading if you don't rea_reek? After all, if you read Greek, you need never read anything else, pur_aste of time—pure waste of time," thus speaking half to himself, with quic_ovements of his hands; they had come round again to the circle of books o_he floor, and their progress was stopped.
  • "Well," he demanded, "which shall it be?"
  • "Balzac," said Rachel, "or have you the  _Speech_   _on_   _the_   _American_Revolution_ , Uncle Ridley?"
  • " _The_   _Speech_   _on_   _the_   _American_   _Revolution_?" he asked. H_ooked at her very keenly again. "Another young man at the dance?"
  • "No. That was Mr. Dalloway," she confessed.
  • "Good Lord!" he flung back his head in recollection of Mr. Dalloway.
  • She chose for herself a volume at random, submitted it to her uncle, who,
  • seeing that it was  _La_   _Cousine_   _bette_ , bade her throw it away if sh_ound it too horrible, and was about to leave him when he demanded whether sh_ad enjoyed her dance?
  • He then wanted to know what people did at dances, seeing that he had only bee_o one thirty-five years ago, when nothing had seemed to him more meaningles_nd idiotic. Did they enjoy turning round and round to the screech of _iddle? Did they talk, and say pretty things, and if so, why didn't they d_t, under reasonable conditions? As for himself—he sighed and pointed at th_igns of industry lying all about him, which, in spite of his sigh, filled hi_ace with such satisfaction that his niece thought good to leave. On bestowin_ kiss she was allowed to go, but not until she had bound herself to learn a_ny rate the Greek alphabet, and to return her French novel when done with,
  • upon which something more suitable would be found for her.
  • As the rooms in which people live are apt to give off something of the sam_hock as their faces when seen for the first time, Rachel walked very slowl_ownstairs, lost in wonder at her uncle, and his books, and his neglect o_ances, and his queer, utterly inexplicable, but apparently satisfactory vie_f life, when her eye was caught by a note with her name on it lying in th_all. The address was written in a small strong hand unknown to her, and th_ote, which had no beginning, ran:—
  • I send the first volume of Gibbon as I promised. Personally I find little t_e said for the moderns, but I'm going to send you Wedekind when I've don_im. Donne? Have you read Webster and all that set? I envy you reading the_or the first time. Completely exhausted after last night. And you?
  • The flourish of initials which she took to be St. J. A. H., wound up th_etter. She was very much flattered that Mr. Hirst should have remembered her,
  • and fulfilled his promise so quickly.
  • There was still an hour to luncheon, and with Gibbon in one hand, and Balza_n the other she strolled out of the gate and down the little path of beate_ud between the olive trees on the slope of the hill. It was too hot fo_limbing hills, but along the valley there were trees and a grass path runnin_y the river bed. In this land where the population was centred in the town_t was possible to lose sight of civilisation in a very short time, passin_nly an occasional farmhouse, where the women were handling red roots in th_ourtyard; or a little boy lying on his elbows on the hillside surrounded by _lock of black strong-smelling goats. Save for a thread of water at th_ottom, the river was merely a deep channel of dry yellow stones. On the ban_rew those trees which Helen had said it was worth the voyage out merely t_ee. April had burst their buds, and they bore large blossoms among thei_lossy green leaves with petals of a thick wax-like substance coloured a_xquisite cream or pink or deep crimson. But filled with one of thos_nreasonable exultations which start generally from an unknown cause, an_weep whole countries and skies into their embrace, she walked without seeing.
  • The night was encroaching upon the day. Her ears hummed with the tunes she ha_layed the night before; she sang, and the singing made her walk faster an_aster. She did not see distinctly where she was going, the trees and th_andscape appearing only as masses of green and blue, with an occasional spac_f differently coloured sky. Faces of people she had seen last night cam_efore her; she heard their voices; she stopped singing, and began sayin_hings over again or saying things differently, or inventing things that migh_ave been said. The constraint of being among strangers in a long silk dres_ade it unusually exciting to stride thus alone. Hewet, Hirst, Mr. Venning,
  • Miss Allan, the music, the light, the dark trees in the garden, the dawn,—a_he walked they went surging round in her head, a tumultuous background fro_hich the present moment, with its opportunity of doing exactly as she liked,
  • sprung more wonderfully vivid even than the night before.
  • So she might have walked until she had lost all knowledge of her way, had i_ot been for the interruption of a tree, which, although it did not gro_cross her path, stopped her as effectively as if the branches had struck he_n the face. It was an ordinary tree, but to her it appeared so strange tha_t might have been the only tree in the world. Dark was the trunk in th_iddle, and the branches sprang here and there, leaving jagged intervals o_ight between them as distinctly as if it had but that second risen from th_round. Having seen a sight that would last her for a lifetime, and for _ifetime would preserve that second, the tree once more sank into the ordinar_anks of trees, and she was able to seat herself in its shade and to pick th_ed flowers with the thin green leaves which were growing beneath it. She lai_hem side by side, flower to flower and stalk to stalk, caressing them fo_alking alone. Flowers and even pebbles in the earth had their own life an_isposition, and brought back the feelings of a child to whom they wer_ompanions. Looking up, her eye was caught by the line of the mountains flyin_ut energetically across the sky like the lash of a curling whip. She looke_t the pale distant sky, and the high bare places on the mountain-tops lyin_xposed to the sun. When she sat down she had dropped her books on to th_arth at her feet, and now she looked down on them lying there, so square i_he grass, a tall stem bending over and tickling the smooth brown cover o_ibbon, while the mottled blue Balzac lay naked in the sun. With a feelin_hat to open and read would certainly be a surprising experience, she turne_he historian's page and read that—
  • His generals, in the early part of his reign, attempted the reduction o_ethiopia and Arabia Felix. They marched near a thousand miles to the south o_he tropic; but the heat of the climate soon repelled the invaders an_rotected the unwarlike natives of those sequestered regions… . The norther_ountries of Europe scarcely deserved the expense and labour of conquest. Th_orests and morasses of Germany were filled with a hardy race of barbarians,
  • who despised life when it was separated from freedom.
  • Never had any words been so vivid and so beautiful—Arabia Felix—Aethiopia. Bu_hose were not more noble than the others, hardy barbarians, forests, an_orasses. They seemed to drive roads back to the very beginning of the world,
  • on either side of which the populations of all times and countries stood i_venues, and by passing down them all knowledge would be hers, and the book o_he world turned back to the very first page. Such was her excitement at th_ossibilities of knowledge now opening before her that she ceased to read, an_ breeze turning the page, the covers of Gibbon gently ruffled and close_ogether. She then rose again and walked on. Slowly her mind became les_onfused and sought the origins of her exaltation, which were twofold an_ould be limited by an effort to the persons of Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet. An_lear analysis of them was impossible owing to the haze of wonder in whic_hey were enveloped. She could not reason about them as about people whos_eelings went by the same rule as her own did, and her mind dwelt on them wit_ kind of physical pleasure such as is caused by the contemplation of brigh_hings hanging in the sun. From them all life seemed to radiate; the ver_ords of books were steeped in radiance. She then became haunted by _uspicion which she was so reluctant to face that she welcomed a trip an_tumble over the grass because thus her attention was dispersed, but in _econd it had collected itself again. Unconsciously she had been walkin_aster and faster, her body trying to outrun her mind; but she was now on th_ummit of a little hillock of earth which rose above the river and displaye_he valley. She was no longer able to juggle with several ideas, but must dea_ith the most persistent, and a kind of melancholy replaced her excitement.
  • She sank down on to the earth clasping her knees together, and looking blankl_n front of her. For some time she observed a great yellow butterfly, whic_as opening and closing its wings very slowly on a little flat stone.
  • "What is it to be in love?" she demanded, after a long silence; each word a_t came into being seemed to shove itself out into an unknown sea. Hypnotise_y the wings of the butterfly, and awed by the discovery of a terribl_ossibility in life, she sat for some time longer. When the butterfly fle_way, she rose, and with her two books beneath her arm returned home again,
  • much as a soldier prepared for battle.