The Painted Veil Chapter 25

For a moment he was silent. Then he took her hand again and pressed it gently.

‘You know, darling,’ he said, ‘whatever happens we must keep Dorothy out of this.’

She looked at him blankly.

‘But I don’t understand. How can we?’

‘Well, we can’t only think of ourselves in this world. You know, other things being equal, there’s nothing in this world I’d love more than to marry you. But it’s quite out of the question. I know Dorothy: nothing would induce her to divorce me.’

Kitty was becoming horribly frightened. She began to cry again. He got up and sat down beside her with his arm round her waist.

‘Try not to upset yourself, darling. We must keep our heads.’

‘I thought you loved me ... ’

‘Of course I love you,’ he said tenderly. ‘You surely can’t have any doubt of that now.’

‘If she won’t divorce you Walter will make you corespondent.’

He took an appreciable time to answer. His tone was dry.

‘Of course that would ruin my career, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do you much good. If the worst came to the worst I should make a clean breast of it to Dorothy; she’d be dreadfully hurt and wretched, but she’d forgive me.’ He had an idea. ‘I’m not sure if the best plan wouldn’t be to make a clean break of it anyhow. If she went to your husband I daresay she could persuade him to hold his tongue.’

‘Does that mean you don’t want her to divorce you?’

‘Well, I have got my boys to think of, haven’t I? And naturally I don’t want to make her unhappy. We’ve always got on very well together. She’s been an awfully good wife to me, you know.’

‘Why did you tell me that she meant nothing to you?’

‘I never did. I said I wasn’t in love with her. We haven’t slept together for years except now and then, on Christmas Day for instance, or the day before she was going home or the day she came back. She isn’t a woman who cares for that sort of thing. But we’ve always been excellent friends. I don’t mind telling you that I depend on her more than any one has any idea of.’

‘Don’t you think it would have been better to leave me alone then?’

She found it strange that with terror catching her breath she could speak so calmly.

‘You were the loveliest little thing I’d seen for years. I just fell madly in love with you. You can’t blame me for that.’

‘After all, you said you’d never let me down.’

‘But, good God, I’m not going to let you down. We’ve got in an awful scrape and I’m going to do everything that’s humanly possible to get you out of it.’

‘Except the one obvious and natural thing.’

He stood up and returned to his own chair.

‘My dear, you must be reasonable. We’d much better face the situation frankly. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but really I must tell you the truth. I’m very keen on my career. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be a Governor one of these days, and it’s a damned soft job to be a Colonial Governor. Unless we can hush this up I don’t stand a dog’s chance. I may not have to leave the service, but there’ll always be a black mark against me. If I do have to leave the service then I must go into business in China where I know people. In either case my only chance is for Dorothy to stick to me.’

‘Was it necessary to tell me that you wanted nothing in the world but me?’

The corners of his mouth drooped peevishly.

‘Oh, my dear, it’s rather hard to take quite literally the things a man says when he’s in love with you.’

‘Didn’t you mean them?’

‘At the moment.’

‘And what’s to happen to me if Walter divorces me?’

‘If we really haven’t a leg to stand on of course we won’t defend. There shouldn’t be any publicity and people are pretty broad-minded nowadays.’

For the first time Kitty thought of her mother. She shivered. She looked again at Townsend. Her pain now was tinged with resentment.

‘I’m sure you’d have no difficulty in bearing any inconvenience that I had to suffer,’ she said.

‘We’re not going to get much further by saying disagreeable things to one another,’ he answered.

She gave a cry of despair. It was dreadful that she should love him so devotedly and yet feel such bitterness towards him. It was not possible that he understood how much he meant to her.

‘Oh, Charlie, don’t you know how I love you?’

‘But, my dear, I love you. Only we’re not living in a desert island and we’ve got to make the best we can out of the circumstances that are forced upon us. You really must be reasonable.’

‘How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realise that to you it was only an episode.’

‘Of course it wasn’t an episode. But you know, when you ask me to get my wife, to whom I’m very much attached, to divorce me, and ruin my career by marrying you, you’re asking a good deal.’

‘No more than I’m willing to do for you.’

‘The circumstances are rather different.’

‘The only difference is that you don’t love me.’

‘One can be very much in love with a woman without wishing to spend the rest of one’s life with her.’

She gave him a quick look and despair seized her. Heavy tears rolled down her cheeks.

‘Oh, how cruel! How can you be so heartless?’

She began to sob hysterically. He gave an anxious glance at the door.

‘My dear, do try and control yourself.’

‘You don’t know how I love you,’ she gasped. 1 can’t live without you. Have you no pity for me?’

She could not speak any more. She wept without restraint.

‘I don’t want to be unkind and, Heaven knows I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I must tell you the truth.’

‘It’s the ruin of my whole life. Why couldn’t you leave me alone? What harm had I ever done you?’

‘Of course if it does you any good to put all the blame on me you may.’

Kitty blazed with sudden anger.

‘I suppose I threw myself at your head. I suppose I gave you no peace till you yielded to my entreaties.’

‘I don’t say that. But I certainly should never have thought of making love to you if you hadn’t made it perfectly clear that you were ready to be made love to.’

Oh, the shame of it! She knew that what he said was true. His face now was sullen and worried and his hands moved uneasily. Every now and then he gave her a little glance of exasperation.

‘Won’t your husband forgive you?’ he said after a while.

‘I never asked him.’

Instinctively he clenched his hands. She saw him suppress the exclamation of annoyance which came to his lips.

‘Why don’t you go to him and throw yourself on his mercy? If he’s as much in love with you as you say he’s bound to forgive you.’

‘How little you know him!’