The Painted Veil Chapter 66

They sauntered along the causeway till they came to the top of the hill on which stood that archway, the memorial to a virtuous widow, which had occupied so large a part of Kitty’s impression of the place. It was a symbol, but of what she scarcely knew; she could not tell why it bore a note of so sardonic irony.

‘Shall we sit down a little? We haven’t sat here for ages.’ The plain was spread before her widely; it was tranquil and serene in the morning light. ‘It’s only a few weeks that I’ve been here and it seems a lifetime.’

He did not answer and for a while she allowed her thoughts to wander. She gave a sigh.

‘Do you think that the soul is immortal?’ she asked.

He did not seem surprised at the question.

‘How should I know?’

‘Just now, when they’d washed Walter, before they put him into the coffin I looked at him. He looked very young. Too young to die. Do you remember that beggar that we saw the first time you took me for a walk? I was frightened not because he was dead, but because he looked as though he’d never been a human being. He was just a dead animal. And now again, with Walter, it looked so like a machine that has run down. That’s what is so frightening. And if it is only a machine how futile is all this suffering and the heart pains and the misery.’

He did not answer, but his eyes travelled over the landscape at their feet. The wide expanse on that gay and sunny morning filled the heart with exultation. The trim little rice-fields stretched as far as the eye could see and in many of them the blue-clad peasants with their buffaloes were working industriously. It was a peaceful and a happy scene. Kitty broke the silence.

‘I can’t tell you how deeply moved I’ve been by all I’ve seen at the convent. They’re wonderful, those nuns, they make me feel utterly worthless. They give up everything, their home, their country, love, children, freedom; and all the little things which I sometimes think must be harder still to give up, flowers and green fields, going for a walk on an autumn day, books and music, comfort, everything they give up, everything. And they do it so that they may devote themselves to a life of sacrifice and poverty, obedience, killing work and prayer. To all of them this world is really and truly a place of exile. Life is a cross which they willingly bear, but in their hearts all the time is the desire – oh, it’s so much stronger than desire, it’s a longing, an eager, passionate longing for the death which shall lead them to life everlasting.’

Kitty clasped her hands and looked at him with anguish.


‘Supposing there is no life everlasting? Think what it means if death is really the end of all things. They’ve given up all for nothing. They’ve been cheated. They’re dupes.’

Waddington reflected for a little while.

‘I wonder. I wonder if it matters that what they have aimed at is illusion. Their lives are in themselves beautiful. I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.’

Kitty sighed. What he said seemed hard. She wanted more.

‘Have you ever been to a symphony concert?’ he continued.

‘Yes,’ she smiled. ‘I know nothing of music, but I’m rather fond of it.’

‘Each member of the orchestra plays his own little instrument, and what do you think he knows of the complicated harmonies which unroll themselves on the indifferent air? He is concerned only with his own small share. But he knows that the symphony is lovely, and though there’s none to hear it, it is lovely still, and he is content to play his part.’

‘You spoke of Tao the other day,’ said Kitty, after a pause. ‘Tell me what it is.’

Waddington gave her a little look, hesitated an instant, and then with a faint smile on his comic face answered:

‘It is the Way and the Waygoer. It is the eternal road along which walk all beings, but no being made it, for itself is being. It is everything and nothing. From it all things spring, all things conform to it, and to it at last all things return. It is a square without angles, a sound which ears cannot hear, and an image without form. It is a vast net and though its meshes are as wide as the sea it lets nothing through. It is the sanctuary where all things find refuge. It is nowhere, but without looking out of the window you may see it. Desire not to desire, it teaches, and leave all things to take their course. He that humbles himself shall be preserved entire. He that bends shall be made straight. Failure is the foundation of success and success is the lurking-place of failure; but who can tell when the turning point will come? He who strives after tenderness can become even as a little child. Gentleness brings victory to him who attacks and safety to him who defends. Mighty is he who conquers himself.’

‘Does it mean anything?’

‘Sometimes, when I’ve had half a dozen whiskies and look at the stars, I think perhaps it does.’

Silence fell upon them and when it was broken it was again by Kitty.

‘Tell me, is: the dog it was that died, a quotation?’

Waddington’s lips outlined a smile and he was ready with his answer. But perhaps at that moment his sensibilities were abnormally acute. Kitty was not looking at him, but there was something about her expression which made him change his mind.

‘If it is I don’t know it,’ he answered warily. ‘Why?’

‘Nothing. It crossed my mind. It had a familiar ring.’

There was another silence.

‘When you were alone with your husband,’ said Waddington presently, ‘I had a talk with the regimental surgeon. I thought we ought to have some details.’


‘He was in a very hysterical state. I couldn’t really quite understand what he meant. So far as I can make out your husband got infected during the course of experiments he was making.’

‘He was always experimenting. He wasn’t really a doctor, he was a bacteriologist; that is why he was so anxious to come here.’

‘But I can’t quite make out from the surgeon’s statements whether he was infected accidentally or whether he was actually experimenting on himself.’

Kitty grew very pale. The suggestion made her shudder. Waddington took her hand.

‘Forgive me for talking about this again,’ he said gently, ‘but I thought it might comfort you – I know how frightfully difficult it is on these occasions to say anything that is of the least use – I thought it might mean something to you that Walter died a martyr to science and to his duty.’

Kitty shrugged her shoulders with a suspicion of impatience.

‘Walter died of a broken heart,’ she said.

Waddington did not answer. She turned and looked at him slowly. Her face was white and set.

‘What did he mean by saying: the dog it was that died? What is it?’

‘It’s the last line of Goldsmith’s Elegy’.