The Painted Veil Chapter 18

He came into the room: Her heart was beating wildly and her hands were shaking; it was lucky that she lay on the sofa. She was holding an open book as though she had been reading. He stood for an instant on the threshold and their eyes met. Her heart sank; she felt on a sudden a cold chill pass through her limbs and she shivered. She had that feeling which you describe by saying that some one was walking over your grave. His face was deathly pale; she had seen it like that once before, when they sat together in the Park and he asked her to marry him. His dark eyes, immobile and inscrutable, seemed pretematurally large. He knew everything.

‘You’re back early,’ she remarked.

Her lips trembled so that she could hardly frame the words. She was terrified. She was afraid she would faint.

‘I think it’s about the usual time.’

His voice sounded strange to her. It was raised on the last word in order to give his remark a casual air, but it was forced. She wondered if he saw that she was shaking in every limb. It was only by an effort that she did not scream. He dropped his eyes.

‘I’m just going to dress.’

He left the room. She was shattered. For two or three minutes she could not stir, but at last, raising herself from the sofa, with difficulty, as though she had. had an illness and were still weak, she found her feet. She did not know if her legs would support her. She felt her way by means of chairs and tables to the verandah and then with one hand on the wall went to her room. She put on a tea-gown and when she went back into her boudoir (they only used the drawing-room when there was a party) he was standing at a table looking at the pictures of the Sketch. She had to force herself to enter.

‘Shall we go down? Dinner is ready.’

‘Have I kept you waiting?’

It was dreadful that she could not control the trembling of her lips.

When was he going to speak?

They sat down and for a moment there was silence between them. Then he made a remark and because it was so commonplace it had a sinister air.

‘The Empress didn’t come in to-day,’ he said. ‘I wonder if she’s been delayed by a storm.’

‘Was she due to-day?’


She looked at him now and saw that his eyes were fixed on his plate. He made another observation, equally trivial, about a tennis tournament that was about to be played, and he spoke at length. His voice as a rule was agreeable, with a variety of tone, but now he spoke on one note. It was strangely unnatural. It gave Kitty the impression that he was speaking from a long way off. And all the time his eyes were directed to his plate, or the table, or to a picture on the wall. He would not meet hers. She realised that he could not bear to look at her.

‘Shall we go upstairs?’ he said when dinner was finished.

‘If you like.’

She rose and he held open the door for her. His eyes were cast down as she passed him. When they reached the sittingroom he took up the illustrated paper once more.

‘Is this a new Sketch? I don’t think I’ve seen it.’

‘I don’t know. I haven’t noticed.’

It had been lying about for a fortnight and she knew that he had looked it through and through. He took it and sat down. She lay again on the sofa and took her book. As a rule in the evening, when they were alone, they played coon-can or patience. He was leaning back in an arm-chair, in a comfortable attitude, and his attention seemed absorbed by the illustration he was looking at. He did not turn the page. She tried to read, but she could not see the print before her eyes. The words were blurred. Her head began to ache violently.

When would he speak?

They sat in silence for an hour. She gave up the pretence of reading, and letting her novel fall on her lap, gazed into space. She was afraid to make the smallest gesture or the smallest sound. He sat quite still, in that same easy attitude, and stared with those wide, immobile eyes of his at the picture. His stillness was strangely menacing. It gave Kitty the feeling of a wild beast prepared to spring.

When suddenly he stood up she started. She clenched her hands and she felt herself grow pale. Now!

‘I have some work to do,’ he said in that quiet, toneless voice, his eyes averted. ‘If you don’t mind I’ll go into my study. I daresay you’ll have gone to bed by the time I’ve finished.’

‘I am rather tired to-night.’

‘Well, good-night.’


He left the room.