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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Voyage Out - Chapter 22
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The Voyage Out - Chapter 22 Post by :epsftp Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :795

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The Voyage Out - Chapter 22

The darkness fell, but rose again, and as each day spread widely
over the earth and parted them from the strange day in the forest
when they had been forced to tell each other what they wanted,
this wish of theirs was revealed to other people, and in the process
became slightly strange to themselves. Apparently it was not anything
unusual that had happened; it was that they had become engaged
to marry each other. The world, which consisted for the most part
of the hotel and the villa, expressed itself glad on the whole
that two people should marry, and allowed them to see that they were
not expected to take part in the work which has to be done in order
that the world shall go on, but might absent themselves for a time.
They were accordingly left alone until they felt the silence as if,
playing in a vast church, the door had been shut on them.
They were driven to walk alone, and sit alone, to visit secret places
where the flowers had never been picked and the trees were solitary.
In solitude they could express those beautiful but too vast desires
which were so oddly uncomfortable to the ears of other men and women--
desires for a world, such as their own world which contained two
people seemed to them to be, where people knew each other intimately
and thus judged each other by what was good, and never quarrelled,
because that was waste of time.

They would talk of such questions among books, or out in the sun,
or sitting in the shade of a tree undisturbed. They were no
longer embarrassed, or half-choked with meaning which could not
express itself; they were not afraid of each other, or, like travellers
down a twisting river, dazzled with sudden beauties when the corner
is turned; the unexpected happened, but even the ordinary was lovable,
and in many ways preferable to the ecstatic and mysterious,
for it was refreshingly solid, and called out effort, and effort
under such circumstances was not effort but delight.

While Rachel played the piano, Terence sat near her, engaged,
as far as the occasional writing of a word in pencil testified,
in shaping the world as it appeared to him now that he and Rachel
were going to be married. It was different certainly. The book
called _Silence would not now be the same book that it would
have been. He would then put down his pencil and stare in front
of him, and wonder in what respects the world was different--
it had, perhaps, more solidity, more coherence, more importance,
greater depth. Why, even the earth sometimes seemed to him very deep;
not carved into hills and cities and fields, but heaped in great masses.
He would look out of the window for ten minutes at a time; but no, he did
not care for the earth swept of human beings. He liked human beings--
he liked them, he suspected, better than Rachel did. There she was,
swaying enthusiastically over her music, quite forgetful of him,--
but he liked that quality in her. He liked the impersonality
which it produced in her. At last, having written down a series
of little sentences, with notes of interrogation attached to them,
he observed aloud, "'Women--'under the heading Women I've written:

"'Not really vainer than men. Lack of self-confidence at the base
of most serious faults. Dislike of own sex traditional, or founded
on fact? Every woman not so much a rake at heart, as an optimist,
because they don't think.' What do you say, Rachel?" He paused
with his pencil in his hand and a sheet of paper on his knee.

Rachel said nothing. Up and up the steep spiral of a very late Beethoven
sonata she climbed, like a person ascending a ruined staircase,
energetically at first, then more laboriously advancing her feet
with effort until she could go no higher and returned with a run
to begin at the very bottom again.

"'Again, it's the fashion now to say that women are more practical
and less idealistic than men, also that they have considerable
organising ability but no sense of honour'--query, what is meant
by masculine term, honour?--what corresponds to it in your sex? Eh?"

Attacking her staircase once more, Rachel again neglected
this opportunity of revealing the secrets of her sex.
She had, indeed, advanced so far in the pursuit of wisdom
that she allowed these secrets to rest undisturbed; it seemed
to be reserved for a later generation to discuss them philosophically.

Crashing down a final chord with her left hand, she exclaimed at last,
swinging round upon him:

"No, Terence, it's no good; here am I, the best musician in
South America, not to speak of Europe and Asia, and I can't play
a note because of you in the room interrupting me every other second."

"You don't seem to realise that that's what I've been aiming
at for the last half-hour," he remarked. "I've no objection
to nice simple tunes--indeed, I find them very helpful
to my literary composition, but that kind of thing is merely
like an unfortunate old dog going round on its hind legs in the rain."

He began turning over the little sheets of note-paper which were
scattered on the table, conveying the congratulations of their friends.

"'--all possible wishes for all possible happiness,'" he read;
"correct, but not very vivid, are they?"

"They're sheer nonsense!" Rachel exclaimed. "Think of words
compared with sounds!" she continued. "Think of novels and plays
and histories--" Perched on the edge of the table, she stirred
the red and yellow volumes contemptuously. She seemed to herself
to be in a position where she could despise all human learning.
Terence looked at them too.

"God, Rachel, you do read trash!" he exclaimed. "And you're
behind the times too, my dear. No one dreams of reading this kind
of thing now--antiquated problem plays, harrowing descriptions
of life in the east end--oh, no, we've exploded all that.
Read poetry, Rachel, poetry, poetry, poetry!"

Picking up one of the books, he began to read aloud, his intention
being to satirise the short sharp bark of the writer's English;
but she paid no attention, and after an interval of meditation exclaimed:

"Does it ever seem to you, Terence, that the world is composed
entirely of vast blocks of matter, and that we're nothing but
patches of light--" she looked at the soft spots of sun wavering
over the carpet and up the wall--"like that?"

"No," said Terence, "I feel solid; immensely solid; the legs of my
chair might be rooted in the bowels of the earth. But at Cambridge,
I can remember, there were times when one fell into ridiculous states
of semi-coma about five o'clock in the morning. Hirst does now,
I expect--oh, no, Hirst wouldn't."

Rachel continued, "The day your note came, asking us to go on
the picnic, I was sitting where you're sitting now, thinking that;
I wonder if I could think that again? I wonder if the world's changed?
and if so, when it'll stop changing, and which is the real world?"

"When I first saw you," he began, "I thought you were like a
creature who'd lived all its life among pearls and old bones.
Your hands were wet, d'you remember, and you never said a word until
I gave you a bit of bread, and then you said, 'Human Beings!'"

"And I thought you--a prig," she recollected. "No; that's not quite it.
There were the ants who stole the tongue, and I thought you and
St. John were like those ants--very big, very ugly, very energetic,
with all your virtues on your backs. However, when I talked to you
I liked you--"

"You fell in love with me," he corrected her. "You were in love
with me all the time, only you didn't know it."

"No, I never fell in love with you," she asserted.

"Rachel--what a lie--didn't you sit here looking at my window--
didn't you wander about the hotel like an owl in the sun--?"

"No," she repeated, "I never fell in love, if falling in love
is what people say it is, and it's the world that tells the lies
and I tell the truth. Oh, what lies--what lies!"

She crumpled together a handful of letters from Evelyn M., from
Mr. Pepper, from Mrs. Thornbury and Miss Allan, and Susan Warrington.
It was strange, considering how very different these people were,
that they used almost the same sentences when they wrote to
congratulate her upon her engagement.

That any one of these people had ever felt what she felt, or could
ever feel it, or had even the right to pretend for a single second
that they were capable of feeling it, appalled her much as the church
service had done, much as the face of the hospital nurse had done;
and if they didn't feel a thing why did they go and pretend to?
The simplicity and arrogance and hardness of her youth, now concentrated
into a single spark as it was by her love of him, puzzled Terence;
being engaged had not that effect on him; the world was different,
but not in that way; he still wanted the things he had always wanted,
and in particular he wanted the companionship of other people
more than ever perhaps. He took the letters out of her hand,
and protested:

"Of course they're absurd, Rachel; of course they say things just
because other people say them, but even so, what a nice woman Miss
Allan is; you can't deny that; and Mrs. Thornbury too; she's got
too many children I grant you, but if half-a-dozen of them had gone
to the bad instead of rising infallibly to the tops of their trees--
hasn't she a kind of beauty--of elemental simplicity as Flushing
would say? Isn't she rather like a large old tree murmuring
in the moonlight, or a river going on and on and on? By the way,
Ralph's been made governor of the Carroway Islands--the youngest
governor in the service; very good, isn't it?"

But Rachel was at present unable to conceive that the vast majority
of the affairs of the world went on unconnected by a single thread
with her own destiny.

"I won't have eleven children," she asserted; "I won't have the eyes
of an old woman. She looks at one up and down, up and down,
as if one were a horse."

"We must have a son and we must have a daughter," said Terence,
putting down the letters, "because, let alone the inestimable
advantage of being our children, they'd be so well brought up."
They went on to sketch an outline of the ideal education--
how their daughter should be required from infancy to gaze at a large
square of cardboard painted blue, to suggest thoughts of infinity,
for women were grown too practical; and their son--he should be taught
to laugh at great men, that is, at distinguished successful men,
at men who wore ribands and rose to the tops of their trees.
He should in no way resemble (Rachel added) St. John Hirst.

At this Terence professed the greatest admiration for St. John Hirst.
Dwelling upon his good qualities he became seriously convinced of them;
he had a mind like a torpedo, he declared, aimed at falsehood.
Where should we all be without him and his like? Choked in weeds;
Christians, bigots,--why, Rachel herself, would be a slave with a fan
to sing songs to men when they felt drowsy.

"But you'll never see it!" he exclaimed; "because with all your virtues
you don't, and you never will, care with every fibre of your being
for the pursuit of truth! You've no respect for facts, Rachel;
you're essentially feminine." She did not trouble to deny it,
nor did she think good to produce the one unanswerable argument
against the merits which Terence admired. St. John Hirst said
that she was in love with him; she would never forgive that;
but the argument was not one to appeal to a man.

"But I like him," she said, and she thought to herself that she also
pitied him, as one pities those unfortunate people who are outside the warm
mysterious globe full of changes and miracles in which we ourselves
move about; she thought that it must be very dull to be St. John Hirst.

She summed up what she felt about him by saying that she would
not kiss him supposing he wished it, which was not likely.

As if some apology were due to Hirst for the kiss which she then
bestowed upon him, Terence protested:

"And compared with Hirst I'm a perfect Zany."

The clock here struck twelve instead of eleven.

"We're wasting the morning--I ought to be writing my book, and you
ought to be answering these."

"We've only got twenty-one whole mornings left," said Rachel.
"And my father'll be here in a day or two."

However, she drew a pen and paper towards her and began to write laboriously,

"My dear Evelyn--"

Terence, meanwhile, read a novel which some one else had written,
a process which he found essential to the composition of his own.
For a considerable time nothing was to be heard but the ticking
of the clock and the fitful scratch of Rachel's pen, as she produced
phrases which bore a considerable likeness to those which she
had condemned. She was struck by it herself, for she stopped writing
and looked up; looked at Terence deep in the arm-chair, looked
at the different pieces of furniture, at her bed in the corner,
at the window-pane which showed the branches of a tree filled
in with sky, heard the clock ticking, and was amazed at the gulf
which lay between all that and her sheet of paper. Would there
ever be a time when the world was one and indivisible? Even with
Terence himself--how far apart they could be, how little she knew
what was passing in his brain now! She then finished her sentence,
which was awkward and ugly, and stated that they were "both very happy,
and going to be married in the autumn probably and hope to live
in London, where we hope you will come and see us when we get back."
Choosing "affectionately," after some further speculation,
rather than sincerely, she signed the letter and was doggedly
beginning on another when Terence remarked, quoting from his book:

"Listen to this, Rachel. 'It is probable that Hugh' (he's the hero,
a literary man), 'had not realised at the time of his marriage,
any more than the young man of parts and imagination usually
does realise, the nature of the gulf which separates the needs
and desires of the male from the needs and desires of the female.
. . . At first they had been very happy. The walking tour in Switzerland
had been a time of jolly companionship and stimulating revelations
for both of them. Betty had proved herself the ideal comrade.
. . . They had shouted _Love _in _the _Valley to each other across
the snowy slopes of the Riffelhorn' (and so on, and so on--I'll skip
the descriptions). . . . 'But in London, after the boy's birth,
all was changed. Betty was an admirable mother; but it did not
take her long to find out that motherhood, as that function is
understood by the mother of the upper middle classes, did not absorb
the whole of her energies. She was young and strong, with healthy
limbs and a body and brain that called urgently for exercise.
. . .' (In short she began to give tea-parties.) . . . 'Coming
in late from this singular talk with old Bob Murphy in his smoky,
book-lined room, where the two men had each unloosened his soul
to the other, with the sound of the traffic humming in his ears,
and the foggy London sky slung tragically across his mind . . . he
found women's hats dotted about among his papers. Women's wraps
and absurd little feminine shoes and umbrellas were in the hall.
. . . Then the bills began to come in. . . . He tried to speak
frankly to her. He found her lying on the great polar-bear skin
in their bedroom, half-undressed, for they were dining with the Greens
in Wilton Crescent, the ruddy firelight making the diamonds wink
and twinkle on her bare arms and in the delicious curve of her breast--
a vision of adorable femininity. He forgave her all.' (Well, this
goes from bad to worse, and finally about fifty pages later,
Hugh takes a week-end ticket to Swanage and 'has it out with himself
on the downs above Corfe.' . . . Here there's fifteen pages or so
which we'll skip. The conclusion is . . .) 'They were different.
Perhaps, in the far future, when generations of men had struggled
and failed as he must now struggle and fail, woman would be, indeed,
what she now made a pretence of being--the friend and companion--
not the enemy and parasite of man.'

"The end of it is, you see, Hugh went back to his wife, poor fellow.
It was his duty, as a married man. Lord, Rachel," he concluded,
"will it be like that when we're married?"

Instead of answering him she asked,

"Why don't people write about the things they do feel?"

"Ah, that's the difficulty!" he sighed, tossing the book away.

"Well, then, what will it be like when we're married? What are
the things people do feel?"

She seemed doubtful.

"Sit on the floor and let me look at you," he commanded.
Resting her chin on his knee, she looked straight at him.

He examined her curiously.

"You're not beautiful," he began, "but I like your face.
I like the way your hair grows down in a point, and your eyes too--
they never see anything. Your mouth's too big, and your cheeks
would be better if they had more colour in them. But what I like
about your face is that it makes one wonder what the devil you're
thinking about--it makes me want to do that--" He clenched his fist
and shook it so near her that she started back, "because now you look
as if you'd blow my brains out. There are moments," he continued,
"when, if we stood on a rock together, you'd throw me into the sea."

Hypnotised by the force of his eyes in hers, she repeated, "If we
stood on a rock together--"

To be flung into the sea, to be washed hither and thither, and driven
about the roots of the world--the idea was incoherently delightful.
She sprang up, and began moving about the room, bending and thrusting
aside the chairs and tables as if she were indeed striking through
the waters. He watched her with pleasure; she seemed to be cleaving
a passage for herself, and dealing triumphantly with the obstacles
which would hinder their passage through life.

"It does seem possible!" he exclaimed, "though I've always thought
it the most unlikely thing in the world--I shall be in love
with you all my life, and our marriage will be the most exciting
thing that's ever been done! We'll never have a moment's peace--"
He caught her in his arms as she passed him, and they fought
for mastery, imagining a rock, and the sea heaving beneath them.
At last she was thrown to the floor, where she lay gasping,
and crying for mercy.

"I'm a mermaid! I can swim," she cried, "so the game's up."
Her dress was torn across, and peace being established, she fetched
a needle and thread and began to mend the tear.

"And now," she said, "be quiet and tell me about the world;
tell me about everything that's ever happened, and I'll tell you--
let me see, what can I tell you?--I'll tell you about Miss Montgomerie
and the river party. She was left, you see, with one foot in the boat,
and the other on shore."

They had spent much time already in thus filling out for the other
the course of their past lives, and the characters of their friends
and relations, so that very soon Terence knew not only what Rachel's
aunts might be expected to say upon every occasion, but also how
their bedrooms were furnished, and what kind of bonnets they wore.
He could sustain a conversation between Mrs. Hunt and Rachel, and carry
on a tea-party including the Rev. William Johnson and Miss Macquoid,
the Christian Scientists, with remarkable likeness to the truth.
But he had known many more people, and was far more highly skilled
in the art of narrative than Rachel was, whose experiences were,
for the most part, of a curiously childlike and humorous kind,
so that it generally fell to her lot to listen and ask questions.

He told her not only what had happened, but what he had thought and felt,
and sketched for her portraits which fascinated her of what other men
and women might be supposed to be thinking and feeling, so that she
became very anxious to go back to England, which was full of people,
where she could merely stand in the streets and look at them.
According to him, too, there was an order, a pattern which made
life reasonable, or if that word was foolish, made it of deep
interest anyhow, for sometimes it seemed possible to understand
why things happened as they did. Nor were people so solitary
and uncommunicative as she believed. She should look for vanity--
for vanity was a common quality--first in herself, and then
in Helen, in Ridley, in St. John, they all had their share of it--
and she would find it in ten people out of every twelve she met;
and once linked together by one such tie she would find them
not separate and formidable, but practically indistinguishable,
and she would come to love them when she found that they were
like herself.

If she denied this, she must defend her belief that human beings
were as various as the beasts at the Zoo, which had stripes
and manes, and horns and humps; and so, wrestling over the entire
list of their acquaintances, and diverging into anecdote
and theory and speculation, they came to know each other.
The hours passed quickly, and seemed to them full to leaking-point.
After a night's solitude they were always ready to begin again.

The virtues which Mrs. Ambrose had once believed to exist
in free talk between men and women did in truth exist for both
of them, although not quite in the measure she prescribed.
Far more than upon the nature of sex they dwelt upon the nature
of poetry, but it was true that talk which had no boundaries
deepened and enlarged the strangely small bright view of a girl.
In return for what he could tell her she brought him such curiosity
and sensitiveness of perception, that he was led to doubt
whether any gift bestowed by much reading and living was quite
the equal of that for pleasure and pain. What would experience
give her after all, except a kind of ridiculous formal balance,
like that of a drilled dog in the street? He looked at her face
and wondered how it would look in twenty years' time, when the eyes
had dulled, and the forehead wore those little persistent wrinkles
which seem to show that the middle-aged are facing something hard
which the young do not see? What would the hard thing be for them,
he wondered? Then his thoughts turned to their life in England.

The thought of England was delightful, for together they would see
the old things freshly; it would be England in June, and there would be
June nights in the country; and the nightingales singing in the lanes,
into which they could steal when the room grew hot; and there would
be English meadows gleaming with water and set with stolid cows,
and clouds dipping low and trailing across the green hills.
As he sat in the room with her, he wished very often to be back
again in the thick of life, doing things with Rachel.

He crossed to the window and exclaimed, "Lord, how good it is to
think of lanes, muddy lanes, with brambles and nettles, you know,
and real grass fields, and farmyards with pigs and cows, and men
walking beside carts with pitchforks--there's nothing to compare
with that here--look at the stony red earth, and the bright blue sea,
and the glaring white houses--how tired one gets of it! And the air,
without a stain or a wrinkle. I'd give anything for a sea mist."

Rachel, too, had been thinking of the English country: the flat land
rolling away to the sea, and the woods and the long straight roads,
where one can walk for miles without seeing any one, and the great
church towers and the curious houses clustered in the valleys,
and the birds, and the dusk, and the rain falling against the windows.

"But London, London's the place," Terence continued. They looked
together at the carpet, as though London itself were to be seen
there lying on the floor, with all its spires and pinnacles pricking
through the smoke.

"On the whole, what I should like best at this moment,"
Terence pondered, "would be to find myself walking down Kingsway,
by those big placards, you know, and turning into the Strand.
Perhaps I might go and look over Waterloo Bridge for a moment.
Then I'd go along the Strand past the shops with all the new
books in them, and through the little archway into the Temple.
I always like the quiet after the uproar. You hear your own footsteps
suddenly quite loud. The Temple's very pleasant. I think I should
go and see if I could find dear old Hodgkin--the man who writes
books about Van Eyck, you know. When I left England he was very sad
about his tame magpie. He suspected that a man had poisoned it.
And then Russell lives on the next staircase. I think you'd
like him. He's a passion for Handel. Well, Rachel," he concluded,
dismissing the vision of London, "we shall be doing that together
in six weeks' time, and it'll be the middle of June then--and June
in London--my God! how pleasant it all is!"

"And we're certain to have it too," she said. "It isn't as if we
were expecting a great deal--only to walk about and look at things."

"Only a thousand a year and perfect freedom," he replied.
"How many people in London d'you think have that?"

"And now you've spoilt it," she complained. "Now we've got to think
of the horrors." She looked grudgingly at the novel which had once
caused her perhaps an hour's discomfort, so that she had never opened
it again, but kept it on her table, and looked at it occasionally,
as some medieval monk kept a skull, or a crucifix to remind him
of the frailty of the body.

"Is it true, Terence," she demanded, "that women die with bugs
crawling across their faces?"

"I think it's very probable," he said. "But you must admit,
Rachel, that we so seldom think of anything but ourselves
that an occasional twinge is really rather pleasant."

Accusing him of an affection of cynicism which was just as bad as
sentimentality itself, she left her position by his side and knelt upon
the window sill, twisting the curtain tassels between her fingers.
A vague sense of dissatisfaction filled her.

"What's so detestable in this country," she exclaimed, "is the blue--
always blue sky and blue sea. It's like a curtain--all the things
one wants are on the other side of that. I want to know what's going
on behind it. I hate these divisions, don't you, Terence? One person
all in the dark about another person. Now I liked the Dalloways,"
she continued, "and they're gone. I shall never see them again.
Just by going on a ship we cut ourselves off entirely from the rest
of the world. I want to see England there--London there--all sorts
of people--why shouldn't one? why should one be shut up all by oneself
in a room?"

While she spoke thus half to herself and with increasing vagueness,
because her eye was caught by a ship that had just come into the bay,
she did not see that Terence had ceased to stare contentedly in front
of him, and was looking at her keenly and with dissatisfaction.
She seemed to be able to cut herself adrift from him, and to pass away
to unknown places where she had no need of him. The thought roused
his jealousy.

"I sometimes think you're not in love with me and never will be,"
he said energetically. She started and turned round at his words.

"I don't satisfy you in the way you satisfy me," he continued.
"There's something I can't get hold of in you. You don't want me
as I want you--you're always wanting something else."

He began pacing up and down the room.

"Perhaps I ask too much," he went on. "Perhaps it isn't really
possible to have what I want. Men and women are too different.
You can't understand--you don't understand--"

He came up to where she stood looking at him in silence.

It seemed to her now that what he was saying was perfectly true,
and that she wanted many more things than the love of one human being--
the sea, the sky. She turned again the looked at the distant blue,
which was so smooth and serene where the sky met the sea; she could
not possibly want only one human being.

"Or is it only this damnable engagement?" he continued. "Let's be
married here, before we go back--or is it too great a risk?
Are we sure we want to marry each other?"

They began pacing up and down the room, but although they came
very near each other in their pacing, they took care not to touch
each other. The hopelessness of their position overcame them both.
They were impotent; they could never love each other sufficiently
to overcome all these barriers, and they could never be satisfied
with less. Realising this with intolerable keenness she stopped
in front of him and exclaimed:

"Let's break it off, then."

The words did more to unite them than any amount of argument.
As if they stood on the edge of a precipice they clung together.
They knew that they could not separate; painful and terrible it
might be, but they were joined for ever. They lapsed into silence,
and after a time crept together in silence. Merely to be so close
soothed them, and sitting side by side the divisions disappeared,
and it seemed as if the world were once more solid and entire, and as if,
in some strange way, they had grown larger and stronger.

It was long before they moved, and when they moved it was with
great reluctance. They stood together in front of the looking-glass,
and with a brush tried to make themselves look as if they had been
feeling nothing all the morning, neither pain nor happiness.
But it chilled them to see themselves in the glass, for instead of
being vast and indivisible they were really very small and separate,
the size of the glass leaving a large space for the reflection
of other things.

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But no brush was able to efface completely the expression of happiness,so that Mrs. Ambrose could not treat them when they came downstairs as ifthey had spent the morning in a way that could be discussed naturally. This being so, she joined in the world's conspiracy to considerthem for the time incapacitated from the business of life,struck by their intensity of feeling into enmity against life,and almost succeeded in dismissing them from her thoughts.She reflected that she had done all that it was necessary to do inpractical matters. She had written a great many letters, and had obtainedWilloughby's consent.
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The Voyage Out - Chapter 21
Thanks to Mr. Flushing's discipline, the right stages of the riverwere reached at the right hours, and when next morning afterbreakfast the chairs were again drawn out in a semicircle in the bow,the launch was within a few miles of the native camp which wasthe limit of the journey. Mr. Flushing, as he sat down, advised themto keep their eyes fixed on the left bank they would soonpass a clearing, and in that clearing, was a hut where Mackenzie,the famous explorer, had died of fever some ten years ago,almost within reach of civilisation--Mackenzie, he repeated,the man who went farther
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