Chapters 8-10 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Bast: caretaker, born in Glasgow; did not know the Ramsays; assists Mrs. McNab
George: Mrs. Bast’s son; quiet, hard worker
Mrs. McNab has heard that the family will never come again. She picks some flowers to take home with her. She wonders what will happen to the house. She looks at the moldy books and knows they should be laid out on the grass in the sun. Talking to herself, she thinks that the war and the difficulty in finding help, have rendered the house beyond repair. It’s beyond her strength to do it. But, why hasn’t anyone come to see it? Why did they leave clothes in all the bedrooms? She thinks that poor Mrs. Ramsay won’t want them again; she has been dead for years. Mrs. McNab fingers Mrs. Ramsay’s grey gardening cloak. She remembers her in the garden as she walked up the drive with the washing. She knows that once they had planned to come to the house, but the war made travel impossible.
Mrs. McNab recalls the day that she brought the washing. Mrs. Ramsay had asked the cook to keep a plate of soup for her. She thinks how all the help liked Mrs. Ramsay, she had a pleasant way with her. As she thinks of Mrs. Ramsay, she thinks how much has changed. Prue and Andrew are dead, and there have been so many other losses during the war. Prices had gone up and never come down. She is despairing as she looks at the falling plaster, where the rain has come in. It was too much for one woman to repair. She locks the house and leaves.
The deserted house degenerates even further. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with grains of salt now that life has left it. The night and the airs seem to have triumphed. What power could prevent the fertility, the insensibility of nature? Mrs. McNab’s memories are not powerful enough to stay the rack and ruin. Only the Lighthouse beam enters the house for a moment, looking with calmness at the decay.
The fate of the house is poised, a feather could change the balance. A feather could result in the house pitching into darkness. Stray picnickers or lovers or tramps might take over. The roof might cave in, briars and hemlocks might cover the steps and windows. A broken china cup might be the only evidence of human habitation a trespasser might discover.
Suddenly, a letter from one of the young ladies requests that the house be put to order. Mrs. McNab and Mrs. Bast, old and stiff, with creaking legs, are set to work. They become the force that stays the rot; they rescue the house from the pool of Time. A kind of laborious birth takes place. Together with Mrs. Bast’s son, George, they slowly return the house to life.
The two women pause sometimes for tea, contemplating their magnificent conquests and their partial triumphs. As they rescue the books from spiders and pale mushrooms, she remembers Mr. Ramsay, lean as a rake, talking to himself on the lawn. He had never noticed her.
Mrs. McNab remembers the pleasant times in the house—the kind cook with the sense of humor who saved delicious morsels for the help. She thinks they lived well then. Mrs. Bast, who never knew them, asks about the beast’s skull. Mrs. McNab tells her that the Ramsays had friends in eastern countries, perhaps one of them had brought it. She remembers the gay evenings with ladies in evening dress and jewelry. She would be asked to do the washing up and might stay as late as midnight. Mrs. Bast comments that they’d find it changed.
As she watches George scything the grass, she thinks again that they’d find it changed, referring to the grounds. Old Kennedy, who was supposed to have charge of it, had fallen from a cart and couldn’t work.
At last, after days of labor, the task is finished. There seemed to arise a kind of melody, an intermittent music of barking, and humming and all manner of sounds which the ear strains to bring together in harmony. Then, as evening falls, quiet descends. (Late one evening in September, Lily Briscoe had her bag carried up to the house.)
(The entire section is 1,535 words.)