Against her will she had come to the surface, and found herself halfout of the picture, looking, little dazedly, as if at unreal things, at MrCarmichael. He lay on his chair with his hands clasped above his paunchnot reading, or sleeping, but basking like a creature gorged with existence.
His book had fallen on to the grass.
She wanted to go straight up to him and say, "Mr Carmichael!" Thenhe would look up benevolently as always, from his smoky vague greeneyes. But one only woke people if one knew what one wanted to say tothem. And she wanted to say not one thing, but everything. Little wordsthat broke up the thought and dismembered it said nothing. "About life,about death; about Mrs Ramsay"—no, she thought, one could say nothingto nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark.
Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then onegave it up; then the idea sunk back again; then one became like mostmiddle-aged people, cautious, furtive, with wrinkles between the eyesand a look of perpetual apprehension. For how could one express inwords these emotions of the body? express that emptiness there? (Shewas looking at the drawing-room steps; they looked extraordinarilyempty.) It was one's body feeling, not one's mind. The physical sensationsthat went with the bare look of the steps had become suddenly extremelyunpleasant. To want and not to have, sent all up her body ahardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have—towant and want—how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again andagain! Oh, Mrs Ramsay! she called out silently, to that essence which satby the boat, that abstract one made of her, that woman in grey, as if toabuse her for having gone, and then having gone, come back again. Ithad seemed so safe, thinking of her. Ghost, air, nothingness, a thing youcould play with easily and safely at any time of day or night, she hadbeen that, and then suddenly she put her hand out and wrung the heartthus. Suddenly, the empty drawing-room steps, the frill of the chair inside,the puppy tumbling on the terrace, the whole wave and whisper ofthe garden became like curves and arabesques flourishing round a centreof complete emptiness.
"What does it mean? How do you explain it all?" she wanted to say,turning to Mr Carmichael again. For the whole world seemed to havedissolved in this early morning hour into a pool of thought, a deep basinof reality, and one could almost fancy that had Mr Carmichael spoken,for instance, a little tear would have rent the surface pool. And then? Somethingwould emerge. A hand would be shoved up, a blade would beflashed. It was nonsense of course.
A curious notion came to her that he did after all hear the things shecould not say. He was an inscrutable old man, with the yellow stain onhis beard, and his poetry, and his puzzles, sailing serenely through aworld which satisfied all his wants, so that she thought he had only toput down his hand where he lay on the lawn to fish up anything hewanted. She looked at her picture. That would have been his answer,presumably—how "you" and "I" and "she" pass and vanish; nothingstays; all changes; but not words, not paint. Yet it would be hung in theattics, she thought; it would be rolled up and flung under a sofa; yeteven so, even of a picture like that, it was true. One might say, even ofthis scrawl, not of that actual picture, perhaps, but of what it attempted,that it "remained for ever," she was going to say, or, for the wordsspoken sounded even to herself, too boastful, to hint, wordlessly; when,looking at the picture, she was surprised to find that she could not see it.
Her eyes were full of a hot liquid (she did not think of tears at first)which, without disturbing the firmness of her lips, made the air thick,rolled down her cheeks. She had perfect control of herself—Oh, yes!—inevery other way. Was she crying then for Mrs Ramsay, without beingaware of any unhappiness? She addressed old Mr Carmichael again.
What was it then? What did it mean? Could things thrust their hands upand grip one; could the blade cut; the fist grasp? Was there no safety? Nolearning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but allwas miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air? Couldit be, even for elderly people, that this was life?—startling, unexpected,unknown? For one moment she felt that if they both got up, here, nowon the lawn, and demanded an explanation, why was it so short, whywas it so inexplicable, said it with violence, as two fully equipped humanbeings from whom nothing should be hid might speak, then, beautywould roll itself up; the space would fill; those empty flourishes wouldform into shape; if they shouted loud enough Mrs Ramsay would return.