As summer neared, as the evenings lengthened, there came to thewakeful, the hopeful, walking the beach, stirring the pool, imaginationsof the strangest kind—of flesh turned to atoms which drove before thewind, of stars flashing in their hearts, of cliff, sea, cloud, and sky broughtpurposely together to assemble outwardly the scattered parts of the visionwithin. In those mirrors, the minds of men, in those pools of uneasywater, in which clouds for ever turn and shadows form, dreams persisted,and it was impossible to resist the strange intimation which everygull, flower, tree, man and woman, and the white earth itself seemed todeclare (but if questioned at once to withdraw) that good triumphs, happinessprevails, order rules; or to resist the extraordinary stimulus torange hither and thither in search of some absolute good, some crystal ofintensity, remote from the known pleasures and familiar virtues,something alien to the processes of domestic life, single, hard, bright, likea diamond in the sand, which would render the possessor secure.
Moreover, softened and acquiescent, the spring with her bees hummingand gnats dancing threw her cloak about her, veiled her eyes, avertedher head, and among passing shadows and flights of small rain seemedto have taken upon her a knowledge of the sorrows of mankind.
[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth,which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said,had promised so well.]
And now in the heat of summer the wind sent its spies about thehouse again. Flies wove a web in the sunny rooms; weeds that hadgrown close to the glass in the night tapped methodically at the windowpane. When darkness fell, the stroke of the Lighthouse, which had laid itselfwith such authority upon the carpet in the darkness, tracing its pattern,came now in the softer light of spring mixed with moonlight glidinggently as if it laid its caress and lingered steathily and looked andcame lovingly again. But in the very lull of this loving caress, as the longstroke leant upon the bed, the rock was rent asunder; another fold of theshawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed. Through the short summernights and the long summer days, when the empty rooms seemed tomurmur with the echoes of the fields and the hum of flies, the longstreamer waved gently, swayed aimlessly; while the sun so striped andbarred the rooms and filled them with yellow haze that Mrs McNab,when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like atropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.
But slumber and sleep though it might there came later in the summerominous sounds like the measured blows of hammers dulled on felt,which, with their repeated shocks still further loosened the shawl andcracked the tea-cups. Now and again some glass tinkled in the cupboardas if a giant voice had shrieked so loud in its agony that tumblers stoodinside a cupboard vibrated too. Then again silence fell; and then, nightafter night, and sometimes in plain mid-day when the roses were brightand light turned on the wall its shape clearly there seemed to drop intothis silence, this indifference, this integrity, the thud of something falling.
[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up inFrance, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, wasinstantaneous.]
At that season those who had gone down to pace the beach and ask ofthe sea and sky what message they reported or what vision they affirmedhad to consider among the usual tokens of divine bounty—thesunset on the sea, the pallor of dawn, the moon rising, fishing-boatsagainst the moon, and children making mud pies or pelting each otherwith handfuls of grass, something out of harmony with this jocundityand this serenity. There was the silent apparition of an ashen-colouredship for instance, come, gone; there was a purplish stain upon the blandsurface of the sea as if something had boiled and bled, invisibly, beneath.
This intrusion into a scene calculated to stir the most sublime reflectionsand lead to the most comfortable conclusions stayed their pacing. It wasdifficult blandly to overlook them; to abolish their significance in thelandscape; to continue, as one walked by the sea, to marvel how beautyoutside mirrored beauty within.