When considered in detail by Mr. Flushing and Mrs. Ambrose the expeditio_roved neither dangerous nor difficult. They found also that it was not eve_nusual. Every year at this season English people made parties which steamed _hort way up the river, landed, and looked at the native village, bought _ertain number of things from the natives, and returned again without damag_one to mind or body. When it was discovered that six people really wished th_ame thing the arrangements were soon carried out.
Since the time of Elizabeth very few people had seen the river, and nothin_as been done to change its appearance from what it was to the eyes of th_lizabethan voyagers. The time of Elizabeth was only distant from the presen_ime by a moment of space compared with the ages which had passed since th_ater had run between those banks, and the green thickets swarmed there, an_he small trees had grown to huge wrinkled trees in solitude. Changing onl_ith the change of the sun and the clouds, the waving green mass had stoo_here for century after century, and the water had run between its bank_easelessly, 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 anothe_own, and the men in the towns had become more and more articulate and unlik_ach other. A few miles of this river were visible from the top of th_ountain where some weeks before the party from the hotel had picnicked. Susa_nd Arthur had seen it as they kissed each other, and Terence and Rachel a_hey sat talking about Richmond, and Evelyn and Perrott as they strolle_bout, 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 th_ea, and the green cloud of trees mass themselves about it farther up, an_inally hide its waters altogether from sight. At intervals for the firs_wenty miles or so houses were scattered on the bank; by degrees the house_ecame huts, and, later still, there was neither hut nor house, but trees an_rass, which were seen only by hunters, explorers, or merchants, marching o_ailing, but making no settlement.
By leaving Santa Marina early in the morning, driving twenty miles and ridin_ight, the party, which was composed finally of six English people, reache_he river-side as the night fell. They came cantering through the trees—Mr.
and Mrs. Flushing, Helen Ambrose, Rachel, Terence, and St. John. The tire_ittle horses then stopped automatically, and the English dismounted. Mrs.
Flushing strode to the river-bank in high spirits. The day had been long an_ot, but she had enjoyed the speed and the open air; she had left the hote_hich she hated, and she found the company to her liking. The river wa_wirling past in the darkness; they could just distinguish the smooth movin_urface of the water, and the air was full of the sound of it. They stood i_n empty space in the midst of great tree-trunks, and out there a little gree_ight moving slightly up and down showed them where the steamer lay in whic_hey were to embark.
When they all stood upon its deck they found that it was a very small boa_hich throbbed gently beneath them for a few minutes, and then shoved smoothl_hrough the water. They seemed to be driving into the heart of the night, fo_he trees closed in front of them, and they could hear all round them th_ustling of leaves. The great darkness had the usual effect of taking away al_esire 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 slee_ownstairs, they could not sleep in a doghole smelling of oil, they could no_leep on deck, they could not sleep—She yawned profoundly. It was as Helen ha_oreseen; the question of nakedness had risen already, although they were hal_sleep, and almost invisible to each other. With St. John's help she stretche_n awning, and persuaded Mrs. Flushing that she could take off her clothe_ehind this, and that no one would notice if by chance some part of her whic_ad 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 eac_ther in the soft open air.
The gentlemen, having smoked a certain number of cigarettes, dropped th_lowing ends into the river, and looked for a time at the ripples wrinklin_he black water beneath them, undressed too, and lay down at the other end o_he 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, n_ight reached their faces, or the trees which were massed on the sides of th_iver.
Soon Wilfrid Flushing slept, and Hirst slept. Hewet alone lay awake lookin_traight up into the sky. The gentle motion and the black shapes that wer_rawn ceaselessly across his eyes had the effect of making it impossible fo_im to think. Rachel's presence so near him lulled thought asleep. Being s_ear him, only a few paces off at the other end of the boat, she made it a_mpossible for him to think about her as it would have been impossible to se_er if she had stood quite close to him, her forehead against his forehead. I_ome strange way the boat became identified with himself, and just as it woul_ave been useless for him to get up and steer the boat, so was it useless fo_im to struggle any longer with the irresistible force of his own feelings. H_as drawn on and on away from all he knew, slipping over barriers and pas_andmarks into unknown waters as the boat glided over the smooth surface o_he river. In profound peace, enveloped in deeper unconsciousness than ha_een his for many nights, he lay on deck watching the tree-tops change thei_osition slightly against the sky, and arch themselves, and sink and towe_uge, until he passed from seeing them into dreams where he lay beneath th_hadow of the vast trees, looking up into the sky.
When they woke next morning they had gone a considerable way up the river; o_he right was a high yellow bank of sand tufted with trees, on the left _wamp quivering with long reeds and tall bamboos on the top of which, swayin_lightly, perched vivid green and yellow birds. The morning was hot and still.
After breakfast they drew chairs together and sat in an irregular semicircl_n the bow. An awning above their heads protected them from the heat of th_un, and the breeze which the boat made aired them softly. Mrs. Flushing wa_lready dotting and striping her canvas, her head jerking this way and tha_ith the action of a bird nervously picking up grain; the others had books o_ieces of paper or embroidery on their knees, at which they looked fitfull_nd again looked at the river ahead. At one point Hewet read part of a poe_loud, but the number of moving things entirely vanquished his words. H_eased to read, and no one spoke. They moved on under the shelter of th_rees. There was now a covey of red birds feeding on one of the little islet_o the left, or again a blue-green parrot flew shrieking from tree to tree. A_hey moved on the country grew wilder and wilder. The trees and th_ndergrowth seemed to be strangling each other near the ground in _ultitudinous wrestle; while here and there a splendid tree towered high abov_he swarm, shaking its thin green umbrellas lightly in the upper air. Hewe_ooked 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 se_achel 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 aroun_im, voices, people's bodies, birds, only Rachel too was waiting with him. H_ooked 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. Agai_e 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 fir_ades in the hot sunshine, his words flickered and went out.
By degrees as the river narrowed, and the high sandbanks fell to level groun_hickly grown with trees, the sounds of the forest could be heard. It echoe_ike a hall. There were sudden cries; and then long spaces of silence, such a_here are in a cathedral when a boy's voice has ceased and the echo of i_till seems to haunt about the remote places of the roof. Once Mr. Flushin_ose and spoke to a sailor, and even announced that some time after luncheo_he 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 n_istance from civilisation yet."
He scrutinised his wife's painting. Too polite to praise it openly, h_ontented himself with cutting off one half of the picture with one hand, an_iving a flourish in the air with the other.
"Beautiful?" Helen enquired. It seemed a strange little word, and Hirst an_erself 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 th_rofusion of leaves and blossoms and prodigious fruits.
"Shakespeare? I hate Shakespeare!" Mrs. Flushing exclaimed; and Wilfri_eturned 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 muc_alue to her husband's compliment, and painted steadily, sometimes muttering _alf-audible word or groan.
The morning was now very hot.
"Look at Hirst!" Mr. Flushing whispered. His sheet of paper had slipped on t_he 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 _ontinuation of the poem on God which he had begun in the chapel, and it wa_o indecent that Rachel did not understand half of it although she saw that i_as indecent. Hewet began to fill in words where Hirst had left spaces, but h_oon ceased; his pencil rolled on deck. Gradually they approached nearer an_earer to the bank on the right-hand side, so that the light which covere_hem became definitely green, falling through a shade of green leaves, an_rs. Flushing set aside her sketch and stared ahead of her in silence. Hirs_oke up; they were then called to luncheon, and while they ate it, the steame_ame to a standstill a little way out from the bank. The boat which was towe_ehind 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 themselve_o be set on shore on the verge of the forest.
They had not strolled more than a few hundred yards along the track which ra_arallel 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 whic_ad 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 rive_hich was barred by the stems of trees. She turned her back to the trees whic_isappeared in black shadow behind her.
"I quite agree," said Mrs. Flushing, and proceeded to undo her paint-box. He_usband strolled about to select an interesting point of view for her. Hirs_leared a space on the ground by Helen's side, and seated himself with grea_eliberation, as if he did not mean to move until he had talked to her for _ong time. Terence and Rachel were left standing by themselves withou_ccupation. Terence saw that the time had come as it was fated to come, bu_lthough he realised this he was completely calm and master of himself. H_hose to stand for a few moments talking to Helen, and persuading her to leav_er 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. Yo_ight be sitting on green chairs in Hyde Park. Are you going to sit there th_hole afternoon? Aren't you going to walk?"
"Oh, no," said Helen, "one's only got to use one's eye. There's everythin_ere—everything," she repeated in a drowsy tone of voice. "What will you gai_y walking?"
"You'll be hot and disagreeable by tea-time, we shall be cool and sweet," pu_n Hirst. Into his eyes as he looked up at them had come yellow and gree_eflections 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 b_hem 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 mor_omfortably under the shade of the fallen tree and Helen's figure. As the_ent, Mr. Flushing called after them, "We must start in an hour. Hewet, pleas_emember that. An hour."
Whether made by man, or for some reason preserved by nature, there was a wid_athway striking through the forest at right angles to the river. It resemble_ drive in an English forest, save that tropical bushes with their sword-lik_eaves grew at the side, and the ground was covered with an unmarked spring_oss instead of grass, starred with little yellow flowers. As they passed int_he depths of the forest the light grew dimmer, and the noises of the ordinar_orld were replaced by those creaking and sighing sounds which suggest to th_raveller in a forest that he is walking at the bottom of the sea. The pat_arrowed and turned; it was hedged in by dense creepers which knotted tree t_ree, and burst here and there into star-shaped crimson blossoms. The sighin_nd creaking up above were broken every now and then by the jarring cry o_ome startled animal. The atmosphere was close and the air came at them i_anguid puffs of scent. The vast green light was broken here and there by _ound of pure yellow sunlight which fell through some gap in the immens_mbrella of green above, and in these yellow spaces crimson and blac_utterflies were circling and settling. Terence and Rachel hardly spoke.
Not only did the silence weigh upon them, but they were both unable to fram_ny thoughts. There was something between them which had to be spoken of. On_f them had to begin, but which of them was it to be? Then Hewet picked up _ed 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 patterin_hrough the leaves and eventually fall with a thud. The silence was agai_rofound.
"Does this frighten you?" Terence asked when the sound of the fruit fallin_ad completely died away.
"No," she answered. "I like it."
She repeated "I like it." She was walking fast, and holding herself more erec_han 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 happ_ogether." 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 unconsciousl_uickened.
"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 strang_nfamiliar sound which formed no words. Faster and faster they walked; simultaneously they stopped, clasped each other in their arms, then releasin_hemselves, dropped to the earth. They sat side by side. Sounds stood out fro_he background making a bridge across their silence; they heard the swish o_he trees and some beast croaking in a remote world.
"We love each other," Terence repeated, searching into her face. Their face_ere both very pale and quiet, and they said nothing. He was afraid to kis_er again. By degrees she drew close to him, and rested against him. In thi_osition they sat for some time. She said "Terence" once; he answered
"Terrible—terrible," she murmured after another pause, but in saying this sh_as thinking as much of the persistent churning of the water as of her ow_eeling. On and on it went in the distance, the senseless and cruel churnin_f 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. H_ook 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 _igh, 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 creakin_ontinued far overhead, and the jarring cries of animals. The butterflies wer_ircling still in the patches of yellow sunlight. At first Terence was certai_f his way, but as they walked he became doubtful. They had to stop t_onsider, and then to return and start once more, for although he was certai_f the direction of the river he was not certain of striking the point wher_hey had left the others. Rachel followed him, stopping where he stopped, turning where he turned, ignorant of the way, ignorant why he stopped or wh_e turned.
"I don't want to be late," he said, "because—" He put a flower into her han_nd her fingers closed upon it quietly. "We're so late—so late—so horribl_ate," he repeated as if he were talking in his sleep. "Ah—this is right. W_urn here."
They found themselves again in the broad path, like the drive in the Englis_orest, where they had started when they left the others. They walked on i_ilence as people walking in their sleep, and were oddly conscious now an_gain 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 o_he tree-trunk, her dress showing very white in the sun, with Hirst stil_ropped on his elbow by her side. They stopped instinctively. At the sight o_ther people they could not go on. They stood hand in hand for a minute or tw_n silence. They could not bear to face other people.
"But we must go on," Rachel insisted at last, in the curious dull tone o_oice in which they had both been speaking, and with a great effort the_orced themselves to cover the short distance which lay between them and th_air sitting on the tree-trunk.
As they approached, Helen turned round and looked at them. She looked at the_or some time without speaking, and when they were close to her she sai_uietly:
"Did you meet Mr. Flushing? He has gone to find you. He thought you must b_ost, though I told him you weren't lost."
Hirst half turned round and threw his head back so that he looked at th_ranches 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 an_haking it free from the dried blades of grass which had fallen between th_eaves. Then they were all silent, looking at the river swirling past in fron_f 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 w_rranged, 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 _uestion of keeping the men up to time—"
He gathered them together and made them come down to the river-bank, where th_oat was waiting to row them out to the steamer.
The heat of the day was going down, and over their cups of tea the Flushing_ended to become communicative. It seemed to Terence as he listened to the_alking, that existence now went on in two different layers. Here were th_lushings talking, talking somewhere high up in the air above him, and he an_achel had dropped to the bottom of the world together. But with something o_ child's directness, Mrs. Flushing had also the instinct which leads a chil_o suspect what its elders wish to keep hidden. She fixed Terence with he_ivid 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," sh_aughed, "not one scrap—don't tell me. There's only two creatures the ordinar_oman cares about," she continued, "her child and her dog; and I don't believ_t's even two with men. One reads a lot about love—that's why poetry's s_ull. But what happens in real life, he? It ain't love!" she cried.
Terence murmured something unintelligible. Mr. Flushing, however, ha_ecovered his urbanity. He was smoking a cigarette, and he now answered hi_ife.
"You must always remember, Alice," he said, "that your upbringing was ver_nnatural—unusual, I should say. They had no mother," he explained, droppin_omething of the formality of his tone; "and a father—he was a very delightfu_an, I've no doubt, but he cared only for racehorses and Greek statues. Tel_hem about the bath, Alice."
"In the stable-yard," said Mrs. Flushing. "Covered with ice in winter. We ha_o get in; if we didn't, we were whipped. The strong ones lived—the other_ied. 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 the_aying, and who were they talking to, and who were they, these fantasti_eople, detached somewhere high up in the air? Now that they had drunk thei_ea, they rose and leant over the bow of the boat. The sun was going down, an_he water was dark and crimson. The river had widened again, and they wer_assing a little island set like a dark wedge in the middle of the stream. Tw_reat white birds with red lights on them stood there on stilt-like legs, an_he 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 angula_han ever, and the green of the leaves was lurid and splashed with gold. The_irst began to talk, leaning over the bow.
"It makes one awfully queer, don't you find?" he complained. "These trees ge_n one's nerves—it's all so crazy. God's undoubtedly mad. What sane perso_ould have conceived a wilderness like this, and peopled it with apes an_lligators? I should go mad if I lived here—raving mad."
Terence attempted to answer him, but Mrs. Ambrose replied instead. She bad_im look at the way things massed themselves—look at the amazing colours, loo_t the shapes of the trees. She seemed to be protecting Terence from th_pproach of the others.
"Yes," said Mr. Flushing. "And in my opinion," he continued, "the absence o_opulation to which Hirst objects is precisely the significant touch. You mus_dmit, Hirst, that a little Italian town even would vulgarise the whole scene, would detract from the vastness—the sense of elemental grandeur." He swept hi_ands towards the forest, and paused for a moment, looking at the great gree_ass, 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 spittin_nto the river. "And that, I think, is what my wife feels, the essentia_uperiority of the peasant—" Under cover of Mr. Flushing's words, whic_ontinued now gently reasoning with St. John and persuading him, Terence dre_achel to the side, pointing ostensibly to a great gnarled tree-trunk whic_ad 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 flowin_n, 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 h_egan to pace the deck with Hirst. Fragments of their talk came out distinctl_s 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. Whe_he party rearranged themselves under cover of rugs and cloaks, Terence an_achel 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 an_anish as the ashes of burnt paper, and left them sitting perfectly silent a_he bottom of the world. Occasional starts of exquisite joy ran through them, and then they were peaceful again.