The Painted Veil Chapter 46

That evening Walter came back to the bungalow a little earlier than usual. Kitty was lying on the long chair by the open window. It was nearly dark.

‘Don’t you want a lamp?’ he asked.

‘They’ll bring it when dinner is ready.’

He talked to her always quite casually, of trifling things, as though they were friendly acquaintances, and there was never anything in his manner to suggest that he harboured malice in his heart. He never met her eyes and he never smiled. He was scrupulously polite.

‘Walter, what do you propose we should do if we get through the epidemic?’ she asked.

He waited for a moment before answering. She could not see his face.

‘I haven’t thought.’

In the old days she said carelessly whatever came into her head; it never occurred to her to think before she spoke; but now she was afraid of him; she felt her lips tremble and her heart beat painfully.

‘I went to the convent this afternoon.’

‘So I heard.’

She forced herself to speak though she could hardly frame the words.

‘Did you really want me to die when you brought me here?’

‘If I were you I’d leave well alone, Kitty. I don’t think any good will come of talking about what we should do much better to forget.’

‘But you don’t forget; neither do I. I’ve been thinking a great deal since I came here. Won’t you listen to what I have to say?’


‘I treated you very badly. I was unfaithful to you.’

He stood stock still. His immobility was strangely terrifying.

‘I don’t know whether you’ll understand what I mean. That sort of thing doesn’t mean very much to a woman when it’s over. I think women have never quite understood the attitude that men take up.’ She spoke abruptly, in a voice she would hardly have recognised as her own. ‘You know what Charlie was and you knew what he’d do. Well, you were quite right. He’s a worthless creature. I suppose I shouldn’t have been taken in by him if I hadn’t been as worthless as he. I don’t ask you to forgive me. I don’t ask you to love me as you used to love me. But couldn’t we be friends? With all these people dying in thousands round us, and with those nuns in their convent . . .’

‘What have they got to do with it?’ he interrupted.

‘I can’t quite explain. I had such a singular feeling when I went there to-day. It all seems to mean so much. It’s all so terrible and their self-sacrifice is so wonderful; I can’t help feeling it’s absurd and disproportionate, if you understand what I mean, to distress yourself because a foolish woman has been unfaithful to you. I’m much too worthless and insignificant for you to give me a thought.’

He did not answer, but he did not move away; he seemed to be waiting for her to continue.

‘Mr. Waddington and the nuns have told me such wonderful things about you. I’m very proud of you, Walter.’

‘You used not to be; you used to feel contempt for me. Don’t you still?’

‘Don’t you know that I’m afraid of you?’

Again he was silent.

‘I don’t understand you,’ he said at last. ‘I don’t know what it is you want.’

‘Nothing for myself. I only want you to be a little less unhappy.’

She felt him stiffen and his voice was very cold when he answered.

‘You’re mistaken in thinking I’m unhappy. I have a great deal too much to do to think of you very often.’

‘I have wondered if the nuns would allow me to go and work at the convent. They are very shorthanded and if I could be of any help I should be grateful to them.’

‘It is not easy work or pleasant work. I doubt if it would amuse you long.’

‘Do you absolutely despise me, Walter?’

‘No.’ He hesitated and his voice was strange. ‘I despise myself.’