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Read the story to the end. What tone does the story carry ? What thoughts and feelings does it leave the reader with ?

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Following his steps so closely as to be slightly puzzled by his gestures came two elderly women of the lower middle class, one stout and ponderous, the other rosy cheeked and nimble. Like most people of their station they were frankly fascinated by any signs of eccentricity betokening a disordered brain, especially in the well-to-do ; but they were too far off to be certain whether the gestures were merely eccentric or genuinely mad. After they had scrutinized the old man’s back in silence for a moment and given each other a queer, sly look, they went on energetically piecing together their very com­plicated dialogue:

“Nell, Bert, Lot, Cess, Phil, Pa, he says, I says, she says, I says, I says…”

“My Bert, Sis, Bill, Grandad, the old man, sugar, Sugar, flour, kippers, greens, Sugar, sugar, sugar.”

The ponderous woman looked through the pattern of falling words at the flowers standing cool, firm, and upright in the earth, with a curious expression. She saw them as a sleeper waking from a heavy sleep sees
a brass candlestick reflecting the light in an unfamiliar way, and closes his eyes and opens them, and seeing the brass candlestick again, finally starts broad awake and stares at the candlestick with all his powers. So the heavy woman came to a standstill opposite the oval-shaped flower bed, and ceased even to pretend to listen to what the other woman was saying. She stood there letting the words fall over her, swaying the top part of her body slowly backwards and forwards, looking at the flowers. Then she suggested that they should find a seat and have their tea.

The snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it. Let alone the effort needed for climbing a leaf, he was doubtful whether the thin texture which vibrated with such an alarming crackle when touched even by the tip of his horns would bear his weight ; and this determined him finally to creep beneath it, for there was a point where the leaf curved high enough from the ground to admit him. He had just inserted his head in the opening and was taking stock of the high brown roof and was getting used to the cool brown light when two other people came past outside on the turf. This time they were both young, a young man and a young woman. They were both in the prime of youth, or even in that season which precedes the prime of youth, the season before the smooth pink folds of the flower have burst their gummy case, when the wings of the butterfly, though fully grown, are motionless in the sun.



“Lucky it isn’t Friday,” he observed.

“Why ? D’you believe in luck ?”

“They make you pay sixpence on Friday.”

“What’s sixpence anyway ? Isn’t it worth sixpence ?”

“What’s “it”- what do you mean by “it” ?”

“O, anything -I mean - you know what I mean.”

Long pauses came between each of these remarks ; they were uttered in toneless and monotonous voices. The couple stood still on the edge of the flower-bed, and together pressed the end of her parasol deep down into the soft earth. The action and the fact that his hand rested on the top of hers expressed their feelings in a strange way, as these short insignificant words also expressed something, words with short wings for their heavy body of meaning, inadequate to carry them far and thus alight­ing awkwardly upon the very common objects that surrounded them, and were to their inexperienced touch so massive ; but who knows (so they thought as they pressed the parasol into the earth) what precipices aren’t concealed in them, or what slopes of ice don’t shine in the sun on the other side ? Who knows ? Who has ever seen this before ? Even when she won­dered what sort of tea they gave you at Kew, he felt that some­thing loomed up behind her words, and stood vast and solid behind them ; and the mist very slowly rose and uncovered — O, Heavens, what were those shapes ? — little white tables, and waitresses who looked first at her and then at him ; and there was a bill that he would pay with a real two shilling piece, and it was real, all real, he assured himself, fingering the coin in his pocket, real to everyone except to him and to her ; even to him it began to seem real ; and then — but it was too exciting to stand and think any longer, and he pulled the parasol out of the earth with a jerk and was impatient to find the place where one had tea with other people, like other people.

“Come along, Trissie ; it’s time we had our tea !”

“Wherever does one have one’s tea ?” she asked with the oddest thrill of excitement in her voice, looking vaguely round and letting herself be drawn on down the grass path, trailing her parasol, turning her head this way and that way forgetting her tea, wishing to go down there and then down there, remember­ing orchids and cranes among wild flowers, a Chinese pagoda and a crimson crested bird ; but he bore her on.

Thus one couple after another with much the same irregular and aimless movement passed the flower-bed and were en­veloped in layer after layer of green blue vapour, in which at first their bodies had substance and a dash of colour, but later both substance and colour dissolved in the green-blue atmosphere. How hot it was ! So hot that even the thrush chose to hop, like a mechanical bird, in the shadow of the flowers, with long pauses between one movement and the next ; instead of rambling vaguely the white butterflies danced one above another, making with their white shifting flakes the outline of a shattered marble column above the tallest flowers ; the glass roofs of the palm house shone as if
a whole market full of shiny green umbrellas had opened in the sun ; and in the drone of the aeroplane the voice of the summer sky murmured its fierce soul. Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours, men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with red and blue. It seemed as if all gross and heavy bodies had sunk down in the heat motionless and lay huddled upon the ground, but their voices went wavering from them as if they were flames lolling from the thick waxen bodies of candles. Voices. Yes, voices. Wordless voices, breaking the silence suddenly with such depth of contentment, such passion of desire, or, in the voices of children, such freshness of surprise ; breaking the silence ? But there was no silence ; all the time the motor omnibuses were turning their wheels and changing their gear ; like a vast nest of Chinese boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within another the city murmured ; on the top of which the voices cried aloud and the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air.

 

 


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