Section 4: Quiet descended on her, calm, content, as her needle...
Quiet descended on her, calm, content, as her needle, drawing the silk smoothly to its gentle pause, collected the green folds together and attached them, very lightly, to the belt. So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.
“Heavens, the front-door bell!” exclaimed Clarissa, staying her needle. Roused, she listened.
“Mrs. Dalloway will see me,” said the elderly man in the hall. “Oh yes, she will see me,” he repeated, putting Lucy aside very benevolently, and running upstairs ever so quickly. “Yes, yes, yes,” he muttered as he ran upstairs. “She will see me. After five years in India, Clarissa will see me.”
“Who can—what can,” asked Mrs. Dalloway (thinking it was outrageous to be interrupted at eleven o’clock on the morning of the day she was giving a party), hearing a step on the stairs. She heard a hand upon the door. She made to hide her dress, like a virgin protecting chastity, respecting privacy. Now the brass knob slipped. Now the door opened, and in came—for a single second she could not remember what he was called! so surprised she was to see him, so glad, so shy, so utterly taken aback to have Peter Walsh come to her unexpectedly in the morning! (She had not read his letter.)
“And how are you?” said Peter Walsh, positively trembling; taking both her hands; kissing both her hands. She’s grown older, he thought, sitting down. I shan’t tell her anything about it, he thought, for she’s grown older. She’s looking at me, he thought, a sudden embarrassment coming over him, though he had kissed her hands. Putting his hand into his pocket, he took out a large pocket-knife and half opened the blade.
Exactly the same, thought Clarissa; the same queer look; the same check suit; a little out of the straight his face is, a little thinner, dryer, perhaps, but he looks awfully well, and just the same.
“How heavenly it is to see you again!” she exclaimed. He had his knife out. That’s so like him, she thought.
He had only reached town last night, he said; would have to go down into the country at once; and how was everything, how was everybody—Richard? Elizabeth?
“And what’s all this?” he said, tilting his pen-knife towards her green dress.
He’s very well dressed, thought Clarissa; yet he always criticises me.
Here she is mending her dress; mending her dress as usual, he thought; here she’s been sitting all the time I’ve been in India; mending her dress; playing about; going to parties; running to the House and back and all that, he thought, growing more and more irritated, more and more agitated, for there’s nothing in the world so bad for some women as marriage, he thought; and politics; and having a Conservative husband, like the admirable Richard. So it is, so it is, he thought, shutting his knife with a snap.
“Richard’s very well. Richard’s at a Committee,” said Clarissa.
And she opened her scissors, and said, did he mind her just finishing what she was doing to her dress, for they had a party that night?
“Which I shan’t ask you to,” she said. “My dear Peter!” she said.
But it was delicious to hear her say that—my dear Peter! Indeed, it was all so delicious—the silver, the chairs; all so delicious!
Why wouldn’t she ask him to her party? he asked.
Now of course, thought Clarissa, he’s enchanting! perfectly enchanting! Now I remember how impossible it was ever to make up my mind—and why did I make up my mind—not to marry him? she wondered, that awful summer?
“But it’s so extraordinary that you should have come this morning!” she cried, putting her hands, one on top of another, down on her dress.
“Do you remember,” she said, “how the blinds used to flap at Bourton?”
“They did,” he said; and he remembered breakfasting alone, very awkwardly, with her father; who had died; and he had not written to Clarissa. But he had never got on well with old Parry, that querulous, weak-kneed old man, Clarissa’s father, Justin Parry.
“I often wish I’d got on better with your father,” he said.
“But he never liked any one who—our friends,” said Clarissa; and could have bitten her tongue for thus reminding Peter that he had wanted to marry her.
Of course I did, thought Peter; it almost broke my heart too, he thought; and was overcome with his own grief, which rose like a moon looked at from a terrace, ghastly beautiful with light from the sunken day. I was more unhappy than I’ve ever been since, he thought. And as if in truth he were sitting there on the terrace he edged a little towards Clarissa; put his hand out; raised it; let it fall. There above them it hung, that moon. She too seemed to be sitting with him on the terrace, in the moonlight.
“Herbert has it now,” she said. “I never go there now,” she said.
Then, just as happens on a terrace in the moonlight, when one person begins to feel ashamed that he is already bored, and yet as the other sits silent, very quiet, sadly looking at the moon, does not like to speak, moves his foot, clears his throat, notices some iron scroll on a table leg, stirs a leaf, but says nothing—so Peter Walsh did now. For why go back like this to the past? he thought. Why make him think of it again? Why make him suffer, when she had tortured him so infernally? Why?
“Do you remember the lake?” she said, in an abrupt voice, under the pressure of an emotion which caught her heart, made the muscles of her throat stiff, and contracted her lips in a spasm as she said “lake.” For she was a child, throwing bread to the ducks, between her parents, and at the same time a grown woman coming to her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them, grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life, which she put down by them and said, “This is what I have made of it! This!” And what had she made of it? What, indeed? sitting there sewing this morning with Peter.
She looked at Peter Walsh; her look, passing through all that time and that emotion, reached him doubtfully; settled on him tearfully; and rose and fluttered away, as a bird touches a branch and rises and flutters away. Quite simply she wiped her eyes.
“Yes,” said Peter. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said, as if she drew up to the surface something which positively hurt him as it rose. Stop! Stop! he wanted to cry. For he was not old; his life was not over; not by any means. He was only just past fifty. Shall I tell her, he thought, or not? He would like to make a clean breast of it all. But she is too cold, he thought; sewing, with her scissors; Daisy would look ordinary beside Clarissa. And she would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloways’ sense. Oh yes, he had no doubt about that; he was a failure, compared with all this—the inlaid table, the mounted paper-knife, the dolphin and the candlesticks, the chair-covers and the old valuable English tinted prints—he was a failure! I detest the smugness of the whole affair, he thought; Richard’s doing, not Clarissa’s; save that she married him. (Here Lucy came into the room, carrying silver, more silver, but charming, slender, graceful she looked, he thought, as she stooped to put it down.) And this has been going on all the time! he thought; week after week; Clarissa’s life; while I—he thought; and at once everything seemed to radiate from him; journeys; rides; quarrels; adventures; bridge parties; love affairs; work; work, work! and he took out his knife quite openly—his old horn-handled knife which Clarissa could swear he had had these thirty years—and clenched his fist upon it.
What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox, as he used. But I too, she thought, and, taking up her needle, summoned, like a Queen whose guards have fallen asleep and left her unprotected (she had been quite taken aback by this visit—it had upset her) so that any one can stroll in and have a look at her where she lies with the brambles curving over her, summoned to her help the things she did; the things she liked; her husband; Elizabeth; her self, in short, which Peter hardly knew now, all to come about her and beat off the enemy.
“Well, and what’s happened to you?” she said. So before a battle begins, the horses paw the ground; toss their heads; the light shines on their flanks; their necks curve. So Peter Walsh and Clarissa, sitting side by side on the blue sofa, challenged each other. His powers chafed and tossed in him. He assembled from different quarters all sorts of things; praise; his career at Oxford; his marriage, which she knew nothing whatever about; how he had loved; and altogether done his job.
“Millions of things!” he exclaimed, and, urged by the assembly of powers which were now charging this way and that and giving him the feeling at once frightening and extremely exhilarating of being rushed through the air on the shoulders of people he could no longer see, he raised his hands to his forehead.
Clarissa sat very upright; drew in her breath.
“I am in love,” he said, not to her however, but to some one raised up in the dark so that you could not touch her but must lay your garland down on the grass in the dark.
“In love,” he repeated, now speaking rather dryly to Clarissa Dalloway; “in love with a girl in India.” He had deposited his garland. Clarissa could make what she would of it.
“In love!” she said. That he at his age should be sucked under in his little bow-tie by that monster! And there’s no flesh on his neck; his hands are red; and he’s six months older than I am! her eye flashed back to her; but in her heart she felt, all the same, he is in love. He has that, she felt; he is in love.
But the indomitable egotism which for ever rides down the hosts opposed to it, the river which says on, on, on; even though, it admits, there may be no goal for us whatever, still on, on; this indomitable egotism charged her cheeks with colour; made her look very young; very pink; very bright-eyed as she sat with her dress upon her knee, and her needle held to the end of green silk, trembling a little. He was in love! Not with her. With some younger woman, of course.
“And who is she?” she asked.
Now this statue must be brought from its height and set down between them.
“A married woman, unfortunately,” he said; “the wife of a Major in the Indian Army.”
And with a curious ironical sweetness he smiled as he placed her in this ridiculous way before Clarissa.
(All the same, he is in love, thought Clarissa.)
“She has,” he continued, very reasonably, “two small children; a boy and a girl; and I have come over to see my lawyers about the divorce.”
There they are! he thought. Do what you like with them, Clarissa! There they are! And second by second it seemed to him that the wife of the Major in the Indian Army (his Daisy) and her two small children became more and more lovely as Clarissa looked at them; as if he had set light to a grey pellet on a plate and there had risen up a lovely tree in the brisk sea-salted air of their intimacy (for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy.
She flattered him; she fooled him, thought Clarissa; shaping the woman, the wife of the Major in the Indian Army, with three strokes of a knife. What a waste! What a folly! All his life long Peter had been fooled like that; first getting sent down from Oxford; next marrying the girl on the boat going out to India; now the wife of a Major in the Indian Army—thank Heaven she had refused to marry him! Still, he was in love; her old friend, her dear Peter, he was in love.
“But what are you going to do?” she asked him. Oh the lawyers and solicitors, Messrs. Hooper and Grateley of Lincoln’s Inn, they were going to do it, he said. And he actually pared his nails with his pocket-knife.
For Heaven’s sake, leave your knife alone! she cried to herself in irrepressible irritation; it was his silly unconventionality, his weakness; his lack of the ghost of a notion what any one else was feeling that annoyed her, had always annoyed her; and now at his age, how silly!
I know all that, Peter thought; I know what I’m up against, he thought, running his finger along the blade of his knife, Clarissa and Dalloway and all the rest of them; but I’ll show Clarissa—and then to his utter surprise, suddenly thrown by those uncontrollable forces thrown through the air, he burst into tears; wept; wept without the least shame, sitting on the sofa, the tears running down his cheeks.
And Clarissa had leant forward, taken his hand, drawn him to her, kissed him,—actually had felt his face on hers before she could down the brandishing of silver flashing—plumes like pampas grass in a tropic gale in her breast, which, subsiding, left her holding his hand, patting his knee and, feeling as she sat back extraordinarily at her ease with him and light-hearted, all in a clap it came over her, If I had married him, this gaiety would have been mine all day!
It was all over for her. The sheet was stretched and the bed narrow. She had gone up into the tower alone and left them blackberrying in the sun. The door had shut, and there among the dust of fallen plaster and the litter of birds’ nests how distant the view had looked, and the sounds came thin and chill (once on Leith Hill, she remembered), and Richard, Richard! she cried, as a sleeper in the night starts and stretches a hand in the dark for help. Lunching with Lady Bruton, it came back to her. He has left me; I am alone for ever, she thought, folding her hands upon her knee.
Peter Walsh had got up and crossed to the window and stood with his back to her, flicking a bandanna handkerchief from side to side. Masterly and dry and desolate he looked, his thin shoulder-blades lifting his coat slightly; blowing his nose violently. Take me with you, Clarissa thought impulsively, as if he were starting directly upon some great voyage; and then, next moment, it was as if the five acts of a play that had been very exciting and moving were now over and she had lived a lifetime in them and had run away, had lived with Peter, and it was now over.
Now it was time to move, and, as a woman gathers her things together, her cloak, her gloves, her opera-glasses, and gets up to go out of the theatre into the street, she rose from the sofa and went to Peter.
And it was awfully strange, he thought, how she still had the power, as she came tinkling, rustling, still had the power as she came across the room, to make the moon, which he detested, rise at Bourton on the terrace in the summer sky.
“Tell me,” he said, seizing her by the shoulders. “Are you happy, Clarissa? Does Richard—”
The door opened.
“Here is my Elizabeth,” said Clarissa, emotionally, histrionically, perhaps.
“How d’y do?” said Elizabeth coming forward.
The sound of Big Ben striking the half-hour struck out between them with extraordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that.
“Hullo, Elizabeth!” cried Peter, stuffing his handkerchief into his pocket, going quickly to her, saying “Good-bye, Clarissa” without looking at her, leaving the room quickly, and running downstairs and opening the hall door.
“Peter! Peter!” cried Clarissa, following him out on to the landing. “My party to-night! Remember my party to-night!” she cried, having to raise her voice against the roar of the open air, and, overwhelmed by the traffic and the sound of all the clocks striking, her voice crying “Remember my party to-night!” sounded frail and thin and very far away as Peter Walsh shut the door.