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,