The Painted Veil Chapter 10

During the next week she met him at three dances and now, his shyness perhaps wearing off a little, he was somewhat more communicative. He was a doctor, certainly, but he did not practise; he was a bacteriologist (Kitty had only a very vague idea what that meant) and he had a job at Hong-Kong. He was going back in the autumn. He talked a good deal about China. She made it a practice to appear interested in whatever people talked to her of, but indeed the life in Hong-Kong sounded quite jolly; there were clubs and tennis and racing and polo and golf.

‘Do people dance much there?’

‘Oh, yes, I think so.’

She wondered whether he told her these things with a motive. He seemed to like her society, but never by a pressure of the hand, by a glance or by a word, did he give the smallest indication that he looked upon her as anything but a girl whom you met and danced with. On the following Sunday he came again to their house. Her father happened to come in, it was raining and he had not been able to play golf, and he and Walter Fane had a long chat. She asked her father afterwards what they had talked of.

‘It appears he’s stationed at Hong-Kong. The Chief Justice is an old friend of mine at the Bar. He seems an unusually intelligent young man.’

She knew that her father was as a rule bored to death by the young people whom for her sake and now her sister’s he had been forced for years to entertain.

‘It’s not often you like any of my young men, father,’ she said.

His kind, tired eyes rested upon her.

‘Are you going to marry him by any chance?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Is he in love with you?’

‘He shows no sign of it.’

‘Do you like him?’

‘I don’t think I do very much. He irritates me a little.’

He was not her type at all. He was short, but not thickset, slight rather and thin; dark and clean-shaven, with very regular, clean-cut features. His eyes were almost black, but not large, they were not very mobile and they rested on objects with a singular persistence; they were curious, but not very pleasant eyes. With his straight, delicate nose, his fine brow and well-shaped mouth he ought to have been good-looking. But surprisingly enough he was not. When Kitty began to think of him at all she was surprised that he should have such good features when you took them one by one. His expression was slightly sarcastic and now that Kitty knew him better she realised that she was not quite at ease with him. He had no gaiety.

By the time the season drew to its end they had seen a good deal of one another, but he had remained as aloof and impenetrable as ever. He was not exactly shy with her, but embarrassed; his conversation remained strangely impersonal. Kitty came to the conclusion that he was not in the least in love with her. He liked her and found her easy to talk to, but when he returned to China in November he would not think of her again. She thought it not impossible that he was engaged all the time to some nurse in a hospital at Hong-Kong, the daughter of a clergyman, dull, plain, flat-footed and strenuous; that was the wife that would exactly suit him.

Then came the announcement of Doris’s engagement to Geoffrey Dennison. Doris, at eighteen, was making quite a suitable marriage, and she was twenty-five and single. Supposing she did not marry at all? That season the only person who had proposed to her was a boy of twenty who was still at Oxford: she couldn’t marry a boy five years younger than herself. She had made a hash of things. Last year she had refused a widowed Knight of the Bath with three children. She almost wished she hadn’t. Mother would be horrible now, and Doris, Doris who had always been sacrificed because she, Kitty, was expected to make the brilliant match, would not fail to crow over her. Kitty’s heart sank.