The Painted Veil Chapter 80

They dined. Mr. Garstin gave Kitty the details of his wife’s illness and death, and he told her of the kindness of the friends who had written (there were piles of sympathetic letters on his table and he sighed when he considered the burden of answering them) and of the arrangements he had made for the funeral. Then they went back into his study. This was the only room in the house which had a fire. He mechanically took from the chimney-piece his pipe and began to fill it, but he gave his daughter a doubtful look and put it down.

‘Aren’t you going to smoke?’ she asked.

‘Your mother didn’t very much like the smell of a pipe after dinner and since the war I’ve given up cigars.’

His answer gave Kitty a little pang. It seemed dreadful that a man of sixty should hesitate to smoke what he wanted in his own study.

‘I like the smell of a pipe,’ she smiled.

A faint look of relief crossed his face and taking his pipe once more he lit it. They sat opposite one another on each side of the fire. He felt that he must talk to Kitty of her own troubles.

‘You received the letter your mother wrote to you to Port Saïd, I suppose. The news of poor Walter’s death was a great shock to both of us. I thought him a very nice fellow.’

Kitty did not know what to say.

‘Your mother told me that you were going to have a baby.’


‘When do you expect it?’

‘In about four months.’

‘It will be a great consolation to you. You must go and see Doris’s boy. He’s a fine little fellow.’

They were talking more distantly than if they were strangers who had just met, for if they had been he would have been interested in her just because of that, and curious, but their common past was a wall of indifference between them. Kitty knew too well that she had done nothing to beget her father’s affection, he had never counted in the house and had been taken for granted, the bread-winner who was a little despised because he could provide no more luxuriously for his family; but she had taken for granted that he loved her just because he was her father, and it was a shock to discover that his heart was empty of feeling for her. She had known that they were all bored by him, but it had never occurred to her that he was equally bored by them. He was as ever kind and subdued, but the sad perspicacity which she had learnt in suffering suggested to her that, though he had probably never acknowledged it to himself and never would, in his heart he disliked her.

His pipe was not drawing and he rose to find something to poke it with. Perhaps it was an excuse to hide his nervousness.

‘Your mother wished you to stay here till your baby was born and she was going to have your old room got ready for you.’

‘I know. I promise you I won’t be a bother.’

‘Oh, it’s not that. Under the circumstances it was evident that the only place for you to come to was your father’s house. But the fact is that I’ve just been offered the post of Chief Justice of the Bahamas and I have accepted it.’

‘Oh, father, I’m so glad. I congratulate you with all my heart.’

‘The offer arrived too late for me to tell your poor mother. It would have given her a great satisfaction.’

The bitter irony of fate! After all her efforts, intrigues and humiliations, Mrs. Garstin had died without knowing that her ambition, however modified by past disappointments, was at last achieved.

‘I am sailing early next month. Of course this house will be put in the agent’s hands and my intention was to sell the furniture. I’m sorry that I shan’t be able to have you to stay here, but if you’d like any of the furniture to furnish a flat I shall be extremely pleased to give it you.’

Kitty looked into the fire. Her heart beat quickly; it was curious that on a sudden she should be so nervous. But at last she forced herself to speak. In her voice was a little tremor.

‘Couldn’t I come with you, father?’

‘You? Oh, my dear Kitty.’ His face fell. She had often heard the expression, but thought it only a phrase, and now for the first time in her life she saw the movement that it described. It was so marked that it startled her. ‘But all your friends are here and Doris is here. I should have thought you’d be much happier if you took a flat in London. I don’t exactly know what your circumstances are, but I shall be very glad to pay the rent of it.’

‘I have enough money to live on.’

‘I’m going to a strange place. I know nothing of the conditions.’

‘I’m used to strange places. London means nothing to me any more. I couldn’t breathe here.’

He closed his eyes for a moment and she thought he was going to cry. His face bore an expression of utter misery. It wrung her heart. She had been right; the death of his wife had filled him with relief and now this chance to break entirely with the past had offered him freedom. He had seen a new life spread before him and at last after all these years rest and the mirage of happiness. She saw dimly all the suffering that had preyed on his heart for thirty years. At last he opened his eyes. He could not prevent the sigh that escaped him.

‘Of course if you wish to come I shall be very pleased.’

It was pitiful. The struggle had been short and he had surrendered to his sense of duty. With those few words he abandoned all his hopes. She rose from her chair and going over to him knelt down and seized his hands.

‘No, father, I won’t come unless you want me. You’ve sacrificed yourself enough. If you want to go alone, go. Don’t think of me for a minute.’

He released one of her hands and stroked her pretty hair.

‘Of course I want you, my dear. After all I’m your father and you’re a widow and alone. If you want to be with me it would be very unkind of me not to want you.’

‘But that’s just it, I make no claims on you because I’m your daughter, you owe me nothing.’

‘Oh, my dear child.’

‘Nothing,’ she repeated vehemently. ‘My heart sinks when I think how we’ve battened on you all our lives and have given you nothing in return. Not even a little affection. I’m afraid you’ve not had a very happy life. Won’t you let me try to make up a little for all I’ve failed to do in the past?’

He frowned a little. Her emotion embarrassed him.

‘I don’t know what you mean. I’ve never had any complaint to make of you.’

‘Oh, father, I’ve been through so much, I’ve been so unhappy. I’m not the Kitty I was when I went away. I’m terribly weak, but I don’t think I’m the filthy cad I was then. Won’t you give me a chance? I have nobody but you in the world now. Won’t you let me try to make you love me? Oh, father, I’m so lonely and so miserable; I want your love so badly.’

She buried her face in his lap and cried as though her heart were breaking.

‘Oh, my Kitty, my little Kitty,’ he murmured.

She looked up and put her arms round his neck.

‘Oh, father, be kind to me. Let us be kind to one another.’

He kissed her, on the lips as a lover might, and his cheeks were wet with tears.

‘Of course you shall come with me.’

‘Do you want me to? Do you really want me to?’


‘I’m so grateful to you.’

‘Oh, my dear, don’t say things like that to me. It makes me feel quite awkward.’

He took out his handkerchief and dried her eyes. He smiled in a way that she had never seen him smile before. Once more she threw her arms round his neck.

‘We’ll have such a lark, father dear. You don’t know what fun we’re going to have together.’

‘You haven’t forgotten that you’re going to have a baby.’

‘I’m glad she’ll be born out there within sound of the sea and under a wide blue sky.’

‘Have you already made up your mind about the sex?’ he murmured, with his thin, dry smile.

‘I want a girl because I want to bring her up so that she shan’t make the mistakes I’ve made. When I look back upon the girl I was I hate myself. But I never had a chance. I’m going to bring up my daughter so that she’s free and can stand on her own feet. I’m not going to bring a child into the world, and love her, and bring her up, just so that some man may want to sleep with her so much that he’s willing to provide her with board and lodging for the rest of her life.’

She felt her father stiffen. He had never spoken of such things and it shocked him to hear these words in his daughter’s mouth.

‘Let me be frank just this once, father. I’ve been foolish and wicked and hateful. I’ve been terribly punished. I’m determined to save my daughter from all that. I want her to be fearless and frank. I want her to be a person, independent of others because she is possessed of herself, and I want her to take life like a free man and make a better job of it than I have.’

‘Why, my love, you talk as though you were fifty. You’ve got all your life before you. You mustn’t be downhearted.’

Kitty shook her head and slowly smiled.

‘I’m not. I have hope and courage.’

The past was finished; let the dead bury their dead. Was that dreadfully callous? She hoped with all her heart that she had learnt compassion and charity. She could not know what the future had in store for her, but she felt in herself the strength to accept whatever was to come with a light and buoyant spirit. Then, on a sudden, for no reason that she knew of, from the depths of her unconscious arose a reminiscence of the journey they had taken, she and poor Walter, to the plague-ridden city where he had met his death: one morning they set out in their chairs while it was still dark, and as the day broke she divined rather than saw a scene of such breath-taking loveliness that for a brief period the anguish of her heart was assuaged. It reduced to insignificance all human tribulation. The sun rose, dispelling the mist, and she saw winding onwards as far as the eye could reach, among the rice-fields, across a little river and through undulating country the path they were to follow: perhaps her faults and follies, the unhappiness she had suffered, were not entirely vain if she could follow the path that now she dimly discerned before her, not the path that kind funny old Waddington had spoken of that led nowhither, but the path those dear nuns at the convent followed so humbly, the path that led to peace.