The Painted Veil Chapter 75

Kitty did not know whether it was by chance or by design that she never found herself for a moment alone with Charlie. His tact was exquisite. He remained kindly, sympathetic, pleasant and amiable. No one could have guessed that they had ever been more than acquaintances. But one afternoon when she was lying on a sofa outside her room reading he passed along the verandah and stopped.

‘What is that you’re reading?’ he asked.

‘A book.’

She looked at him with irony. He smiled.

‘Dorothy’s gone to a garden-party at Government House.’

‘I know. Why haven’t you gone too?’

‘I didn’t feel I could face it and I thought I’d come back and keep you company. The car’s outside, would you like to come for a drive round the island?’

‘No, thank you.’

He sat down on the foot of the sofa on which she lay.

‘We haven’t had the chance of a talk by ourselves since you got here.’

She looked straight into his eyes with cool insolence.

‘Do you think we have anything to say to one another?’


She shifted her feet a little so that she should not touch him.

‘Are you still angry with me?’ he asked, the shadow of a smile on his lips and his eyes melting.

‘Not a bit,’ she laughed.

‘I don’t think you’d laugh if you weren’t.’

‘You’re mistaken; I despise you much too much to be angry with you.’

He was unruffled.

‘I think you’re rather hard on me. Looking back calmly, don’t you honestly think I was right?’

‘From your standpoint.’

‘Now that you know Dorothy, you must admit she’s rather nice?’

‘Of course. I shall always be grateful for her great kindness to me.’

‘She’s one in a thousand. I should never have had a moment’s peace if we’d bolted. It would have been a rotten trick to play on her. And after all I had to think of my children; it would have been an awful handicap for them.’

For a minute she held him in her reflective gaze. She felt completely mistress of the situation.

‘I’ve watched you very carefully during the week I’ve been here. I’ve come to the conclusion that you really are fond of Dorothy. I should never have thought you capable of it.’

‘I told you I was fond of her. I wouldn’t do anything to cause her a moment’s uneasiness. She’s the best wife a man ever had.’

‘Have you never thought that you owed her any loyalty?’

‘What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve for,’ he smiled.

She shrugged her shoulders.

‘You’re despicable.’

‘I’m human. I don’t know why you should think me such a cad because I fell head over ears in love with you. I didn’t particularly want to, you know.’

It gave her a little twist of the heart-strings to hear him say that.

‘I was fair game,’ she answered bitterly.

‘Naturally I couldn’t foresee that we were going to get into such a devil of a scrape.’

‘And in any case you had a pretty shrewd idea that if any one suffered it wouldn’t be you.’

‘I think that’s a bit thick. After all, now it’s all over, you must see I acted for the best for both of us. You lost your head and you ought to be jolly glad that I kept mine. Do you think it would have been a success if I’d done what you wanted me to? We were dashed uncomfortable in the frying-pan, but we should have been a damned sight worse off in the fire. And you haven’t come to any harm. Why can’t we kiss and make friends?’

She almost laughed.

‘You hardly expect me to forget that you sent me to almost certain death without a shadow of compunction?’

‘Oh, what nonsense! I told you there was no risk if you took reasonable precautions. Do you think I’d have let you go for a moment if I hadn’t been perfectly convinced of that?’

‘You were convinced because you wanted to be. You’re one of those cowards who only think what it’s profitable for them to think.’

‘Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You have come back, and if you don’t mind my saying anything so objectionable you’ve come back prettier than ever.’

‘And Walter?’

He could not resist the facetious answer which came to his mind. Charlie smiled.

‘Nothing suits you so well as black.’

She stared at him for a moment. Tears filled her eyes and she began to cry. Her beautiful face was distorted with grief. She did not seek to hide it, but lay on her back with her hands along her sides.

‘For God’s sake don’t cry like that. I didn’t mean to say anything unkind. It was only a joke. You know how sincerely I feel for you in your bereavement.’

‘Oh, hold your stupid tongue.’

‘I’d give anything to have Walter back again.’

‘He died because of you and me.’

He took her hand, but she snatched it away from him.

‘Please go away,’ she sobbed. ‘That’s the only thing you can do for me now. I hate and despise you. Walter was worth ten of you and I was too big a fool to see it. Go away. Go away.’

She saw he was going to speak again and she sprang to her feet and went into her room. He followed her, and as he entered, with instinctive prudence, drew the shutter so that they were almost in darkness.

‘I can’t leave you like this,’ he said, putting his arms round her. ‘You know I didn’t mean to hurt you.’

‘Don’t touch me. For God’s sake go. Go away.’

She tried to tear herself from him, but he would not let her. She was crying hysterically now.

‘Darling, don’t you know that I’ve always loved you,’ he said in his deep, charming voice. ‘I love you more than ever.’

‘How can you tell such lies! Let me go. Damn you, let me go.’

‘Don’t be unkind to me, Kitty. I know I’ve been a brute to you, but forgive me.’

She was shaking and sobbing, struggling to get away from him, but the pressure of his arms was strangely comforting. She had so longed to feel them round her once more, just once, and all her body trembled. She felt dreadfully weak. It seemed as though her bones were melting, and the sorrow she felt for Walter shifted into pity for herself.

‘Oh, how could you be so unkind to me?’ she sobbed. ‘Don’t you know that I loved you with all my heart. No one has ever loved you as I loved you.’


He began to kiss her.

‘No, no,’ she cried.

He sought her face, but she turned it away; he sought her lips; she did not know what he was saying, broken, passionate words of love; and his arms held her so firmly that she felt like a child that has been lost and now at last is safe at home. She moaned faintly. Her eyes were closed and her face was wet with tears. And then he found her lips and the pressure of his upon them shot through her body like the flame of God. It was an ecstasy and she was burnt to a cinder and she glowed as though she were transfigured. In her dreams, in her dreams she had known this rapture. What was he doing with her now? She did not know. She was not a woman, her personality was dissolved, she was nothing but desire. He lifted her off her feet, she was very light in his arms, he carried her and she clung to him, desperate and adoring; her head sank on the pillow and his lips clung to hers.