But she stopped. There was a smell of burning. Could they have let theBOEUF EN DAUBE overboil? she wondered, pray heaven not! when thegreat clangour of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that allthose scattered about, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of theirown, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or fasteningdresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on theirwashing-tables and dressing tables, and the novels on the bed-tables,and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the dining-roomfor dinner.
But what have I done with my life? thought Mrs Ramsay, taking herplace at the head of the table, and looking at all the plates making whitecircles on it. "William, sit by me," she said. "Lily," she said, wearily, "overthere." They had that—Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle—she, only this—aninfinitely long table and plates and knives. At the far end was her husband,sitting down, all in a heap, frowning. What at? She did not know.
She did not mind. She could not understand how she had ever felt anyemotion or affection for him. She had a sense of being past everything,through everything, out of everything, as she helped the soup, as if therewas an eddy—there— and one could be in it, or one could be out of it,and she was out of it. It's all come to an end, she thought, while theycame in one after another, Charles Tansley—"Sit there, please," shesaid—Augustus Carmichael—and sat down. And meanwhile shewaited, passively, for some one to answer her, for something to happen.
But this is not a thing, she thought, ladling out soup, that one says.
Raising her eyebrows at the discrepancy—that was what she wasthinking, this was what she was doing—ladling out soup—she felt, moreand more strongly, outside that eddy; or as if a shade had fallen, and,robbed of colour, she saw things truly. The room (she looked round it)was very shabby. There was no beauty anywhere. She forebore to look atMr Tansley. Nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate. Andthe whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested onher. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for ifshe did not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving herself a little shakethat one gives a watch that has stopped, the old familiar pulse beganbeating, as the watch begins ticking—one, two, three, one, two, three.
And so on and so on, she repeated, listening to it, sheltering and fosteringthe still feeble pulse as one might guard a weak flame with a newspaper.
And so then, she concluded, addressing herself by bending silentlyin his direction to William Bankes—poor man! who had no wife,and no children and dined alone in lodgings except for tonight; and inpity for him, life being now strong enough to bear her on again, shebegan all this business, as a sailor not without weariness sees the windfill his sail and yet hardly wants to be off again and thinks how, had theship sunk, he would have whirled round and round and found rest onthe floor of the sea.
"Did you find your letters? I told them to put them in the hall for you,"she said to William Bankes.