Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higherand higher above her. For what could be more formidable than thatspace? Here she was again, she thought, stepping back to look at it,drawn out of gossip, out of living, out of community with people intothe presence of this formidable ancient enemy of hers—this other thing,this truth, this reality, which suddenly laid hands on her, emerged starkat the back of appearances and commanded her attention. She was halfunwilling, half reluctant. Why always be drawn out and haled away?
Why not left in peace, to talk to Mr Carmichael on the lawn? It was anexacting form of intercourse anyhow. Other worshipful objects were contentwith worship; men, women, God, all let one kneel prostrate; but thisform, were it only the shape of a white lamp-shade looming on a wickertable, roused one to perpetual combat, challenged one to a fight in whichone was bound to be worsted. Always (it was in her nature, or in her sex,she did not know which) before she exchanged the fluidity of life for theconcentration of painting she had a few moments of nakedness when sheseemed like an unborn soul, a soul reft of body, hesitating on somewindy pinnacle and exposed without protection to all the blasts ofdoubt. Why then did she do it? She looked at the canvas, lightly scoredwith running lines. It would be hung in the servants' bedrooms. It wouldbe rolled up and stuffed under a sofa. What was the good of doing itthen, and she heard some voice saying she couldn't paint, saying shecouldn't create, as if she were caught up in one of those habitual currentsin which after a certain time experience forms in the mind, so that one repeatswords without being aware any longer who originally spoke them.
Can't paint, can't write, she murmured monotonously, anxiously consideringwhat her plan of attack should be. For the mass loomed beforeher; it protruded; she felt it pressing on her eyeballs. Then, as if somejuice necessary for the lubrication of her faculties were spontaneouslysquirted, she began precariously dipping among the blues and umbers,moving her brush hither and thither, but it was now heavier and wentslower, as if it had fallen in with some rhythm which was dictated to her(she kept looking at the hedge, at the canvas) by what she rhythm wasstrong enough to bear her along with it on its current. Certainly she waslosing consciousness of outer things. And as she lost consciousness ofouter things, and her name and her personality and her appearance, andwhether Mr Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept throwing upfrom its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories andideas, like a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult whitespace, while she modelled it with greens and blues.
Charles Tansley used to say that, she remembered, women can't paint,can't write. Coming up behind her, he had stood close beside her, a thingshe hated, as she painted her on this very spot. "Shag tobacco," he said,"fivepence an ounce," parading his poverty, his principles. (But the warhad drawn the sting of her femininity. Poor devils, one thought, poordevils, of both sexes.) He was always carrying a book about under hisarm—a purple book. He "worked." He sat, she remembered, working ina blaze of sun. At dinner he would sit right in the middle of the view. Butafter all, she reflected, there was the scene on the beach. One must rememberthat. It was a windy morning. They had all gone down to thebeach. Mrs Ramsay sat down and wrote letters by a rock. She wrote andwrote. "Oh," she said, looking up at something floating in the sea, "is it alobster pot? Is it an upturned boat?" She was so short-sighted that shecould not see, and then Charles Tansley became as nice as he could possiblybe. He began playing ducks and drakes. They chose little flat blackstones and sent them skipping over the waves. Every now and then MrsRamsay looked up over her spectacles and laughed at them. What theysaid she could not remember, but only she and Charles throwing stonesand getting on very well all of a sudden and Mrs Ramsay watchingthem. She was highly conscious of that. Mrs Ramsay, she thought, steppingback and screwing up her eyes. (It must have altered the design agood deal when she was sitting on the step with James. There must havebeen a shadow.) When she thought of herself and Charles throwingducks and drakes and of the whole scene on the beach, it seemed to dependsomehow upon Mrs Ramsay sitting under the rock, with a pad onher knee, writing letters. (She wrote innumerable letters, and sometimesthe wind took them and she and Charles just saved a page from the sea.)But what a power was in the human soul! she thought. That woman sittingthere writing under the rock resolved everything into simplicity;made these angers, irritations fall off like old rags; she brought togetherthis and that and then this, and so made out of that miserable sillinessand spite (she and Charles squabbling, sparring, had been silly andspiteful) something—this scene on the beach for example, this momentof friendship and liking—which survived, after all these years complete,so that she dipped into it to re-fashion her memory of him, and there itstayed in the mind affecting one almost like a work of art.
"Like a work of art," she repeated, looking from her canvas to thedrawing-room steps and back again. She must rest for a moment. And,resting, looking from one to the other vaguely, the old question whichtraversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general questionwhich was apt to particularise itself at such moments as these, when shereleased faculties that had been on the strain, stood over her, pausedover her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life? That was all—asimple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The greatrevelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come.
Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedlyin the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herselfand Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs Ramsay bringing themtogether; Mrs Ramsay saying, "Life stand still here"; Mrs Ramsay makingof the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herselftried to make of the moment something permanent)—this was of thenature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternalpassing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking)was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs Ramsay said. "MrsRamsay! Mrs Ramsay!" she repeated. She owed it all to her.
All was silence. Nobody seemed yet to be stirring in the house. Shelooked at it there sleeping in the early sunlight with its windows greenand blue with the reflected leaves. The faint thought she was thinking ofMrs Ramsay seemed in consonance with this quiet house; this smoke;this fine early morning air. Faint and unreal, it was amazingly pure andexciting. She hoped nobody would open the window or come out of thehouse, but that she might be left alone to go on thinking, to go on painting.
She turned to her canvas. But impelled by some curiosity, driven bythe discomfort of the sympathy which she held undischarged, shewalked a pace or so to the end of the lawn to see whether, down there onthe beach, she could see that little company setting sail. Down thereamong the little boats which floated, some with their sails furled, someslowly, for it was very calm moving away, there was one rather apartfrom the others. The sail was even now being hoisted. She decided thatthere in that very distant and entirely silent little boat Mr Ramsay wassitting with Cam and James. Now they had got the sail up; now after alittle flagging and silence, she watched the boat take its way with deliberationpast the other boats out to sea.