Nothing stirred in the drawing-room or in the dining-room or on thestaircase. Only through the rusty hinges and swollen sea-moistenedwoodwork certain airs, detached from the body of the wind (the housewas ramshackle after all) crept round corners and ventured indoors. Almostone might imagine them, as they entered the drawing-room questioningand wondering, toying with the flap of hanging wall-paper, asking,would it hang much longer, when would it fall? Then smoothlybrushing the walls, they passed on musingly as if asking the red and yellowroses on the wall-paper whether they would fade, and questioning(gently, for there was time at their disposal) the torn letters in thewastepaper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open tothem and asking, Were they allies? Were they enemies? How long wouldthey endure?
So some random light directing them with its pale footfall upon stairand mat, from some uncovered star, or wandering ship, or the Lighthouseeven, with its pale footfall upon stair and mat, the little airs mountedthe staircase and nosed round bedroom doors. But here surely, theymust cease. Whatever else may perish and disappear, what lies here issteadfast. Here one might say to those sliding lights, those fumbling airsthat breathe and bend over the bed itself, here you can neither touch nordestroy. Upon which, wearily, ghostlily, as if they had feather-light fingersand the light persistency of feathers, they would look, once, on theshut eyes, and the loosely clasping fingers, and fold their garments wearilyand disappear. And so, nosing, rubbing, they went to the window onthe staircase, to the servants' bedrooms, to the boxes in the attics; descending,blanched the apples on the dining-room table, fumbled thepetals of roses, tried the picture on the easel, brushed the mat and blew alittle sand along the floor. At length, desisting, all ceased together,gathered together, all sighed together; all together gave off an aimlessgust of lamentation to which some door in the kitchen replied; swungwide; admitted nothing; and slammed to.
[Here Mr Carmichael, who was reading Virgil, blew out his candle. Itwas past midnight.]
But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darknessdims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faintgreen quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night,however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store anddeals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen;they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness.
The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flagskindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters onmarble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn faraway in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight,in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour,and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to theshore.
It seemed now as if, touched by human penitence and all its toil, divinegoodness had parted the curtain and displayed behind it, single,distinct, the hare erect; the wave falling; the boat rocking; which, did wedeserve them, should be ours always. But alas, divine goodness, twitchingthe cord, draws the curtain; it does not please him; he covers histreasures in a drench of hail, and so breaks them, so confuses them that itseems impossible that their calm should ever return or that we shouldever compose from their fragments a perfect whole or read in the litteredpieces the clear words of truth. For our penitence deserves a glimpseonly; our toil respite only.
The nights now are full of wind and destruction; the trees plunge andbend and their leaves fly helter skelter until the lawn is plastered withthem and they lie packed in gutters and choke rain pipes and scatterdamp paths. Also the sea tosses itself and breaks itself, and should anysleeper fancying that he might find on the beach an answer to his doubts,a sharer of his solitude, throw off his bedclothes and go down by himselfto walk on the sand, no image with semblance of serving and divinepromptitude comes readily to hand bringing the night to order andmaking the world reflect the compass of the soul. The hand dwindles inhis hand; the voice bellows in his ear. Almost it would appear that it isuseless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, andwhy, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek ananswer.
[Mr Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretchedhis arms out, but Mrs Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before,his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]]