[Mr Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, whichhad an unexpected success. The war, people said, had revived their interestin poetry.]
Night after night, summer and winter, the torment of storms, the arrow-like stillness of fine (had there been any one to listen) from the upperrooms of the empty house only gigantic chaos streaked with lightningcould have been heard tumbling and tossing, as the winds and wavesdisported themselves like the amorphous bulks of leviathans whosebrows are pierced by no light of reason, and mounted one on top of another,and lunged and plunged in the darkness or the daylight (for nightand day, month and year ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, untilit seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusionand wanton lust aimlessly by itself.
In spring the garden urns, casually filled with wind-blown plants,were gay as ever. Violets came and daffodils. But the stillness and thebrightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night,with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there, looking beforethem, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.
Thinking no harm, for the family would not come, never again, somesaid, and the house would be sold at Michaelmas perhaps, Mrs McNabstooped and picked a bunch of flowers to take home with her. She laidthem on the table while she dusted. She was fond of flowers. It was apity to let them waste. Suppose the house were sold (she stood armsakimbo in front of the looking-glass) it would want seeing to—it would.
There it had stood all these years without a soul in it. The books andthings were mouldy, for, what with the war and help being hard to get,the house had not been cleaned as she could have wished. It was beyondone person's strength to get it straight now. She was too old. Her legspained her. All those books needed to be laid out on the grass in the sun;there was plaster fallen in the hall; the rain-pipe had blocked over thestudy window and let the water in; the carpet was ruined quite. Butpeople should come themselves; they should have sent somebody downto see. For there were clothes in the cupboards; they had left clothes in allthe bedrooms. What was she to do with them? They had the moth inthem—Mrs Ramsay's things. Poor lady! She would never want THEMagain. She was dead, they said; years ago, in London. There was the oldgrey cloak she wore gardening (Mrs McNab fingered it). She could seeher, as she came up the drive with the washing, stooping over herflowers (the garden was a pitiful sight now, all run to riot, and rabbitsscuttling at you out of the beds)—she could see her with one of the childrenby her in that grey cloak. There were boots and shoes; and a brushand comb left on the dressing-table, for all the world as if she expected tocome back tomorrow. (She had died very sudden at the end, they said.)And once they had been coming, but had put off coming, what with thewar, and travel being so difficult these days; they had never come allthese years; just sent her money; but never wrote, never came, and expectedto find things as they had left them, ah, dear! Why the dressing-table drawers were full of things (she pulled them open), handkerchiefs,bits of ribbon. Yes, she could see Mrs Ramsay as she came up the drivewith the washing.
"Good-evening, Mrs McNab," she would say.
She had a pleasant way with her. The girls all liked her. But, dear,many things had changed since then (she shut the drawer); many familieshad lost their dearest. So she was dead; and Mr Andrew killed; andMiss Prue dead too, they said, with her first baby; but everyone had lostsome one these years. Prices had gone up shamefully, and didn't comedown again neither. She could well remember her in her grey cloak.
"Good-evening, Mrs McNab," she said, and told cook to keep a plate ofmilk soup for her—quite thought she wanted it, carrying that heavy basketall the way up from town. She could see her now, stooping over herflowers; and faint and flickering, like a yellow beam or the circle at theend of a telescope, a lady in a grey cloak, stooping over her flowers, wentwandering over the bedroom wall, up the dressing-table, across thewash-stand, as Mrs McNab hobbled and ambled, dusting, straightening.