Instead, Mr Ramsay smiled. His pall, his draperies, his infirmities fellfrom him. Ah, yes, he said, holding his foot up for her to look at, theywere first-rate boots. There was only one man in England who couldmake boots like that. Boots are among the chief curses of mankind, hesaid. "Bootmakers make it their business," he exclaimed, "to cripple andtorture the human foot." They are also the most obstinate and perverse ofmankind. It had taken him the best part of his youth to get boots made asthey should be made. He would have her observe (he lifted his right footand then his left) that she had never seen boots made quite that shapebefore. They were made of the finest leather in the world, also. Mostleather was mere brown paper and cardboard. He looked complacentlyat his foot, still held in the air. They had reached, she felt, a sunny islandwhere peace dwelt, sanity reigned and the sun for ever shone, theblessed island of good boots. Her heart warmed to him. "Now let me seeif you can tie a knot," he said. He poohpoohed her feeble system. Heshowed her his own invention. Once you tied it, it never came undone.
Three times he knotted her shoe; three times he unknotted it.
Why, at this completely inappropriate moment, when he was stoopingover her shoe, should she be so tormented with sympathy for him that,as she stooped too, the blood rushed to her face, and, thinking of her callousness(she had called him a play-actor) she felt her eyes swell andtingle with tears? Thus occupied he seemed to her a figure of infinitepathos. He tied knots. He bought boots. There was no helping Mr Ram-say on the journey he was going. But now just as she wished to saysomething, could have said something, perhaps, here they were—Camand James. They appeared on the terrace. They came, lagging, side byside, a serious, melancholy couple.
But why was it like THAT that they came? She could not help feelingannoyed with them; they might have come more cheerfully; they mighthave given him what, now that they were off, she would not have thechance of giving him. For she felt a sudden emptiness; a frustration. Herfeeling had come too late; there it was ready; but he no longer needed it.
He had become a very distinguished, elderly man, who had no need ofher whatsoever. She felt snubbed. He slung a knapsack round hisshoulders. He shared out the parcels—there were a number of them, illtied in brown paper. He sent Cam for a cloak. He had all the appearanceof a leader making ready for an expedition. Then, wheeling about, he ledthe way with his firm military tread, in those wonderful boots, carryingbrown paper parcels, down the path, his children following him. Theylooked, she thought, as if fate had devoted them to some stern enterprise,and they went to it, still young enough to be drawn acquiescent intheir father's wake, obediently, but with a pallor in their eyes whichmade her feel that they suffered something beyond their years in silence.
So they passed the edge of the lawn, and it seemed to Lily that shewatched a procession go, drawn on by some stress of common feelingwhich made it, faltering and flagging as it was, a little company boundtogether and strangely impressive to her. Politely, but very distantly, MrRamsay raised his hand and saluted her as they passed.
But what a face, she thought, immediately finding the sympathywhich she had not been asked to give troubling her for expression. Whathad made it like that? Thinking, night after night, she supposed—aboutthe reality of kitchen tables, she added, remembering the symbol whichin her vagueness as to what Mr Ramsay did think about Andrew hadgiven her. (He had been killed by the splinter of a shell instantly, she bethoughther.) The kitchen table was something visionary, austere;something bare, hard, not ornamental. There was no colour to it; it wasall edges and angles; it was uncompromisingly plain. But Mr Ramsaykept always his eyes fixed upon it, never allowed himself to be distractedor deluded, until his face became worn too and ascetic and partook ofthis unornamented beauty which so deeply impressed her. Then, she recalled(standing where he had left her, holding her brush), worries hadfretted it—not so nobly. He must have had his doubts about that table,she supposed; whether the table was a real table; whether it was worththe time he gave to it; whether he was able after all to find it. He had haddoubts, she felt, or he would have asked less of people. That was whatthey talked about late at night sometimes, she suspected; and then nextday Mrs Ramsay looked tired, and Lily flew into a rage with him oversome absurd little thing. But now he had nobody to talk to about thattable, or his boots, or his knots; and he was like a lion seeking whom hecould devour, and his face had that touch of desperation, of exaggerationin it which alarmed her, and made her pull her skirts about her. Andthen, she recalled, there was that sudden revivification, that sudden flare(when she praised his boots), that sudden recovery of vitality and interestin ordinary human things, which too passed and changed (for hewas always changing, and hid nothing) into that other final phase whichwas new to her and had, she owned, made herself ashamed of her ownirritability, when it seemed as if he had shed worries and ambitions, andthe hope of sympathy and the desire for praise, had entered some otherregion, was drawn on, as if by curiosity, in dumb colloquy, whether withhimself or another, at the head of that little procession out of one's range.
An extraordinary face! The gate banged.