What was that? Her sons knew. She leant on them; on cubes and squareroots; that was what they were talking about now; on Voltaire and Madamede Stael; on the character of Napoleon; on the French system ofland tenure; on Lord Rosebery; on Creevey's Memoirs: she let it upholdher and sustain her, this admirable fabric of the masculine intelligence,which ran up and down, crossed this way and that, like iron girdersspanning the swaying fabric, upholding the world, so that she couldtrust herself to it utterly, even shut her eyes, or flicker them for a moment,as a child staring up from its pillow winks at the myriad layers ofthe leaves of a tree. Then she woke up. It was still being fabricated. WilliamBankes was praising the Waverly novels.
He read one of them every six months, he said. And why should thatmake Charles Tansley angry? He rushed in (all, thought Mrs Ramsay,because Prue will not be nice to him) and denounced the Waverly novelswhen he knew nothing about it, nothing about it whatsoever, Mrs Ram-say thought, observing him rather than listening to what he said. Shecould see how it was from his manner—he wanted to assert himself, andso it would always be with him till he got his Professorship or marriedhis wife, and so need not be always saying, "I—I—I." For that was whathis criticism of poor Sir Walter, or perhaps it was Jane Austen, amountedto. "I—I—I." He was thinking of himself and the impression he was making,as she could tell by the sound of his voice, and his emphasis and hisuneasiness. Success would be good for him. At any rate they were offagain. Now she need not listen. It could not last, she knew, but at themoment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to go round the tableunveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings,without effort like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and thereeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silenttrout are all lit up hanging, trembling. So she saw them; she heard them;but whatever they said had also this quality, as if what they said was likethe movement of a trout when, at the same time, one can see the rippleand the gravel, something to the right, something to the left; and thewhole is held together; for whereas in active life she would be nettingand separating one thing from another; she would be saying she likedthe Waverly novels or had not read them; she would be urging herselfforward; now she said nothing. For the moment, she hung suspended.
"Ah, but how long do you think it'll last?" said somebody. It was as ifshe had antennae trembling out from her, which, intercepting certainsentences, forced them upon her attention. This was one of them. Shescented danger for her husband. A question like that would lead, almostcertainly, to something being said which reminded him of his own failure.
How long would he be read—he would think at once. WilliamBankes (who was entirely free from all such vanity) laughed, and said heattached no importance to changes in fashion. Who could tell what wasgoing to last—in literature or indeed in anything else?
"Let us enjoy what we do enjoy," he said. His integrity seemed to MrsRamsay quite admirable. He never seemed for a moment to think, Buthow does this affect me? But then if you had the other temperament,which must have praise, which must have encouragement, naturally youbegan (and she knew that Mr Ramsay was beginning) to be uneasy; towant somebody to say, Oh, but your work will last, Mr Ramsay, orsomething like that. He showed his uneasiness quite clearly now by saying,with some irritation, that, anyhow, Scott (or was it Shakespeare ?)would last him his lifetime. He said it irritably. Everybody, she thought,felt a little uncomfortable, without knowing why. Then Minta Doyle,whose instinct was fine, said bluffly, absurdly, that she did not believethat any one really enjoyed reading Shakespeare. Mr Ramsay said grimly(but his mind was turned away again) that very few people liked it asmuch as they said they did. But, he added, there is considerable merit insome of the plays nevertheless, and Mrs Ramsay saw that it would be allright for the moment anyhow; he would laugh at Minta, and she, MrsRamsay saw, realising his extreme anxiety about himself, would, in herown way, see that he was taken care of, and praise him, somehow or other.
But she wished it was not necessary: perhaps it was her fault that itwas necessary. Anyhow, she was free now to listen to what Paul Rayleywas trying to say about books one had read as a boy. They lasted, hesaid. He had read some of Tolstoi at school. There was one he always remembered,but he had forgotten the name. Russian names were impossible,said Mrs Ramsay. "Vronsky," said Paul. He remembered thatbecause he always thought it such a good name for a villain. "Vronsky,"said Mrs Ramsay; "Oh, ANNA KARENINA," but that did not take themvery far; books were not in their line. No, Charles Tansley would putthem both right in a second about books, but it was all so mixed up with,Am I saying the right thing? Am I making a good impression? that, afterall, one knew more about him than about Tolstoi, whereas, what Paulsaid was about the thing, simply, not himself, nothing else. Like all stupidpeople, he had a kind of modesty too, a consideration for what youwere feeling, which, once in a way at least, she found attractive. Now hewas thinking, not about himself, or about Tolstoi, but whether she wascold, whether she felt a draught, whether she would like a pear.
No, she said, she did not want a pear. Indeed she had been keepingguard over the dish of fruit (without realising it) jealously, hoping thatnobody would touch it. Her eyes had been going in and out among thecurves and shadows of the fruit, among the rich purples of the lowlandgrapes, then over the horny ridge of the shell, putting a yellow against apurple, a curved shape against a round shape, without knowing why shedid it, or why, every time she did it, she felt more and more serene; until,oh, what a pity that they should do it—a hand reached out, took a pear,and spoilt the whole thing. In sympathy she looked at Rose. She lookedat Rose sitting between Jasper and Prue. How odd that one's childshould do that!
How odd to see them sitting there, in a row, her children, Jasper, Rose,Prue, Andrew, almost silent, but with some joke of their own going on,she guessed, from the twitching at their lips. It was something quiteapart from everything else, something they were hoarding up to laughover in their own room. It was not about their father, she hoped. No, shethought not. What was it, she wondered, sadly rather, for it seemed toher that they would laugh when she was not there. There was all thathoarded behind those rather set, still, mask-like faces, for they did notjoin in easily; they were like watchers, surveyors, a little raised or setapart from the grown-up people. But when she looked at Prue tonight,she saw that this was not now quite true of her. She was just beginning,just moving, just descending. The faintest light was on her face, as if theglow of Minta opposite, some excitement, some anticipation of happinesswas reflected in her, as if the sun of the love of men and womenrose over the rim of the table-cloth, and without knowing what it wasshe bent towards it and greeted it. She kept looking at Minta, shyly, yetcuriously, so that Mrs Ramsay looked from one to the other and said,speaking to Prue in her own mind, You will be as happy as she is one ofthese days. You will be much happier, she added, because you are mydaughter, she meant; her own daughter must be happier than otherpeople's daughters. But dinner was over. It was time to go. They wereonly playing with things on their plates. She would wait until they haddone laughing at some story her husband was telling. He was having ajoke with Minta about a bet. Then she would get up.