Page:The Voyage Out.djvu/311

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309
THE VOYAGE OUT

women in particular. She liked women, but where emotion was concerned they were as flies on a lump of sugar. They would be certain to ask her questions. Evelyn M. would say: "Are you in love? Is it nice being in love?" And Mrs. Thornbury—her eyes would go up and down, up and down—she shuddered at the thought of it. Indeed, the retirement of their life since their engagement had made her so sensitive, that she was not exaggerating her case.

She found an ally in Helen, who proceeded to expound her views of the human race, as she regarded with complacency the pyramid of variegated fruits in the centre of the table. It wasn't that they were cruel, or meant to hurt, or even stupid exactly; but she had always found that the ordinary person had so little emotion in his own life that the scent of it in the lives of others was like the scent of blood in the nostrils of a bloodhound. Warming to the theme, she continued:

"Directly anything happens—it may be a marriage, or a birth, or a death—on the whole they prefer it to be death—every one wants to see you. They insist upon seeing you. They've got nothing to say; they don't care a rap for you; but you're got to go to lunch or to tea or to dinner, and if you don't you're damned. It's the smell of blood," she continued; "I don't blame 'em; only they shan't have mine if I know it!"

She looked about her as if she had called up a legion of human beings, all hostile and all disagreeable, who encircled the table, with mouths gaping for blood, and made it appear a little island of neutral country in the midst of the enemy's country.

Her words roused her husband, who had been muttering rhythmically to himself, surveying his guests and his food and his wife with eyes that were now melancholy and now fierce, according to the fortunes of the lady in his ballad. He cut Helen short with a protest. He hated even the semblance of cynicism in women. "Nonsense, nonsense," he remarked abruptly.

Terence and Rachel glanced at each other across the table, which meant that when they were married they would not behave like that. The entrance of Ridley into the conversa-