For years, the house stands deserted. “The trifling airs…seemed to have triumphed” and everything is rusty, moldy, decaying, broken. Plants grow in the rooms and birds nest in them. Otherwise, “only the Lighthouse beam” enters the rooms. Then, Mrs. McNab receives a letter out of the blue asking her to ready the house right away, so she and Mrs. Bast drag themselves through the arduous effort of cleaning the house, rescuing it “from the pool of Time” just as the house is on the verge of slipping “downwards to the depths of darkness.” In parentheses, Lily and Mr. Carmichael arrive by train.
Nature’s cycles and human structures of meaning are positioned as opposing forces in a struggle. Though nature seems to have “triumphed,” Mrs. McNab and Mrs. Bast end up pulling the house back into human order at the last minute. As the house is reclaimed for human life, time begins to slow down and the text starts to keep pace with the daily time of human experience again. The novel’s two living artists, Lily and Mr. Carmichael, return.