Section 6: So the elderly nurse knitted over the sleeping baby...
So the elderly nurse knitted over the sleeping baby in Regent’s Park. So Peter Walsh snored.
He woke with extreme suddenness, saying to himself, “The death of the soul.”
“Lord, Lord!” he said to himself out loud, stretching and opening his eyes. “The death of the soul.” The words attached themselves to some scene, to some room, to some past he had been dreaming of. It became clearer; the scene, the room, the past he had been dreaming of.
It was at Bourton that summer, early in the ‘nineties, when he was so passionately in love with Clarissa. There were a great many people there, laughing and talking, sitting round a table after tea and the room was bathed in yellow light and full of cigarette smoke. They were talking about a man who had married his housemaid, one of the neighbouring squires, he had forgotten his name. He had married his housemaid, and she had been brought to Bourton to call—an awful visit it had been. She was absurdly over-dressed, “like a cockatoo,” Clarissa had said, imitating her, and she never stopped talking. On and on she went, on and on. Clarissa imitated her. Then somebody said—Sally Seton it was—did it make any real difference to one’s feelings to know that before they’d married she had had a baby? (In those days, in mixed company, it was a bold thing to say.) He could see Clarissa now, turning bright pink; somehow contracting; and saying, “Oh, I shall never be able to speak to her again!” Whereupon the whole party sitting round the tea-table seemed to wobble. It was very uncomfortable.
He hadn’t blamed her for minding the fact, since in those days a girl brought up as she was, knew nothing, but it was her manner that annoyed him; timid; hard; something arrogant; unimaginative; prudish. “The death of the soul.” He had said that instinctively, ticketing the moment as he used to do—the death of her soul.
Every one wobbled; every one seemed to bow, as she spoke, and then to stand up different. He could see Sally Seton, like a child who has been in mischief, leaning forward, rather flushed, wanting to talk, but afraid, and Clarissa did frighten people. (She was Clarissa’s greatest friend, always about the place, totally unlike her, an attractive creature, handsome, dark, with the reputation in those days of great daring and he used to give her cigars, which she smoked in her bedroom. She had either been engaged to somebody or quarrelled with her family and old Parry disliked them both equally, which was a great bond.) Then Clarissa, still with an air of being offended with them all, got up, made some excuse, and went off, alone. As she opened the door, in came that great shaggy dog which ran after sheep. She flung herself upon him, went into raptures. It was as if she said to Peter—it was all aimed at him, he knew—”I know you thought me absurd about that woman just now; but see how extraordinarily sympathetic I am; see how I love my Rob!”
They had always this queer power of communicating without words. She knew directly he criticised her. Then she would do something quite obvious to defend herself, like this fuss with the dog—but it never took him in, he always saw through Clarissa. Not that he said anything, of course; just sat looking glum. It was the way their quarrels often began.
She shut the door. At once he became extremely depressed. It all seemed useless—going on being in love; going on quarrelling; going on making it up, and he wandered off alone, among outhouses, stables, looking at the horses. (The place was quite a humble one; the Parrys were never very well off; but there were always grooms and stable-boys about—Clarissa loved riding—and an old coachman—what was his name?—an old nurse, old Moody, old Goody, some such name they called her, whom one was taken to visit in a little room with lots of photographs, lots of bird-cages.)
It was an awful evening! He grew more and more gloomy, not about that only; about everything. And he couldn’t see her; couldn’t explain to her; couldn’t have it out. There were always people about—she’d go on as if nothing had happened. That was the devilish part of her—this coldness, this woodenness, something very profound in her, which he had felt again this morning talking to her; an impenetrability. Yet Heaven knows he loved her. She had some queer power of fiddling on one’s nerves, turning one’s nerves to fiddle-strings, yes.
He had gone in to dinner rather late, from some idiotic idea of making himself felt, and had sat down by old Miss Parry—Aunt Helena—Mr. Parry’s sister, who was supposed to preside. There she sat in her white Cashmere shawl, with her head against the window—a formidable old lady, but kind to him, for he had found her some rare flower, and she was a great botanist, marching off in thick boots with a black collecting-box slung between her shoulders. He sat down beside her, and couldn’t speak. Everything seemed to race past him; he just sat there, eating. And then half-way through dinner he made himself look across at Clarissa for the first time. She was talking to a young man on her right. He had a sudden revelation. “She will marry that man,” he said to himself. He didn’t even know his name.
For of course it was that afternoon, that very afternoon, that Dalloway had come over; and Clarissa called him “Wickham”; that was the beginning of it all. Somebody had brought him over; and Clarissa got his name wrong. She introduced him to everybody as Wickham. At last he said “My name is Dalloway!”—that was his first view of Richard—a fair young man, rather awkward, sitting on a deck-chair, and blurting out “My name is Dalloway!” Sally got hold of it; always after that she called him “My name is Dalloway!”
He was a prey to revelations at that time. This one—that she would marry Dalloway—was blinding—overwhelming at the moment. There was a sort of—how could he put it?—a sort of ease in her manner to him; something maternal; something gentle. They were talking about politics. All through dinner he tried to hear what they were saying.
Afterwards he could remember standing by old Miss Parry’s chair in the drawing-room. Clarissa came up, with her perfect manners, like a real hostess, and wanted to introduce him to some one—spoke as if they had never met before, which enraged him. Yet even then he admired her for it. He admired her courage; her social instinct; he admired her power of carrying things through. “The perfect hostess,” he said to her, whereupon she winced all over. But he meant her to feel it. He would have done anything to hurt her after seeing her with Dalloway. So she left him. And he had a feeling that they were all gathered together in a conspiracy against him—laughing and talking—behind his back. There he stood by Miss Parry’s chair as though he had been cut out of wood, he talking about wild flowers. Never, never had he suffered so infernally! He must have forgotten even to pretend to listen; at last he woke up; he saw Miss Parry looking rather disturbed, rather indignant, with her prominent eyes fixed. He almost cried out that he couldn’t attend because he was in Hell! People began going out of the room. He heard them talking about fetching cloaks; about its being cold on the water, and so on. They were going boating on the lake by moonlight—one of Sally’s mad ideas. He could hear her describing the moon. And they all went out. He was left quite alone.
“Don’t you want to go with them?” said Aunt Helena—old Miss Parry!—she had guessed. And he turned round and there was Clarissa again. She had come back to fetch him. He was overcome by her generosity—her goodness.
“Come along,” she said. “They’re waiting.”
He had never felt so happy in the whole of his life! Without a word they made it up. They walked down to the lake. He had twenty minutes of perfect happiness. Her voice, her laugh, her dress (something floating, white, crimson), her spirit, her adventurousness; she made them all disembark and explore the island; she startled a hen; she laughed; she sang. And all the time, he knew perfectly well, Dalloway was falling in love with her; she was falling in love with Dalloway; but it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing mattered. They sat on the ground and talked—he and Clarissa. They went in and out of each other’s minds without any effort. And then in a second it was over. He said to himself as they were getting into the boat, “She will marry that man,” dully, without any resentment; but it was an obvious thing. Dalloway would marry Clarissa.
Dalloway rowed them in. He said nothing. But somehow as they watched him start, jumping on to his bicycle to ride twenty miles through the woods, wobbling off down the drive, waving his hand and disappearing, he obviously did feel, instinctively, tremendously, strongly, all that; the night; the romance; Clarissa. He deserved to have her.
For himself, he was absurd. His demands upon Clarissa (he could see it now) were absurd. He asked impossible things. He made terrible scenes. She would have accepted him still, perhaps, if he had been less absurd. Sally thought so. She wrote him all that summer long letters; how they had talked of him; how she had praised him, how Clarissa burst into tears! It was an extraordinary summer—all letters, scenes, telegrams—arriving at Bourton early in the morning, hanging about till the servants were up; appalling tête-à-têtes with old Mr. Parry at breakfast; Aunt Helena formidable but kind; Sally sweeping him off for talks in the vegetable garden; Clarissa in bed with headaches.
The final scene, the terrible scene which he believed had mattered more than anything in the whole of his life (it might be an exaggeration—but still so it did seem now) happened at three o’clock in the afternoon of a very hot day. It was a trifle that led up to it—Sally at lunch saying something about Dalloway, and calling him “My name is Dalloway”; whereupon Clarissa suddenly stiffened, coloured, in a way she had, and rapped out sharply, “We’ve had enough of that feeble joke.” That was all; but for him it was precisely as if she had said, “I’m only amusing myself with you; I’ve an understanding with Richard Dalloway.” So he took it. He had not slept for nights. “It’s got to be finished one way or the other,” he said to himself. He sent a note to her by Sally asking her to meet him by the fountain at three. “Something very important has happened,” he scribbled at the end of it.
The fountain was in the middle of a little shrubbery, far from the house, with shrubs and trees all round it. There she came, even before the time, and they stood with the fountain between them, the spout (it was broken) dribbling water incessantly. How sights fix themselves upon the mind! For example, the vivid green moss.
She did not move. “Tell me the truth, tell me the truth,” he kept on saying. He felt as if his forehead would burst. She seemed contracted, petrified. She did not move. “Tell me the truth,” he repeated, when suddenly that old man Breitkopf popped his head in carrying the Times; stared at them; gaped; and went away. They neither of them moved. “Tell me the truth,” he repeated. He felt that he was grinding against something physically hard; she was unyielding. She was like iron, like flint, rigid up the backbone. And when she said, “It’s no use. It’s no use. This is the end”—after he had spoken for hours, it seemed, with the tears running down his cheeks—it was as if she had hit him in the face. She turned, she left him, went away.
“Clarissa!” he cried. “Clarissa!” But she never came back. It was over. He went away that night. He never saw her again.