The Painted Veil Page 0,1

government official, but you may as well get what you can out of it."

He must be right. She stood up and turning to him stretched out her arms: he took her in his and kissed her on the lips. It was such rapture that it was pain. She adored him. He released her and she went to the window. She slid back the bolt and opening the shutter a little looked out. There was not a soul. She slipped on to the verandah, looked into her husband's dressing-room and then into her own sitting-room. Both were empty. She went back to the bedroom and beckoned to him.

"Nobody."

"I believe the whole thing was an optical delusion."

"Don't laugh. I was terrified. Go into my siting-room and sit down. I'll put on my stockings an some shoes."

II

HE did as she bade and in five minutes she joined him. He was smoking a cigarette.

"I say, could I have a brandy and soda?"

"Yes, I'll ring."

"I don't think it would hurt you by the look of things."

They waited in silence for the boy to answer. She gave the order.

"Ring up the laboratory and ask if Walter is there," she said then. "They won't know your voice."

He took up the receiver and asked for the number. He inquired whether Dr. Fane was in. He put down the receiver.

"He hasn't been in since tiffin," he told her. "Ask the boy whether he has been here."

"I daren't. It'll look so funny if he has and I didn't see him."

The boy brought the drinks and Townsend helped himself. When he offered her some she shook her head.

"What's to be done if it was Walter?" she asked.

"Perhaps he wouldn't care."

"Walter?"

Her tone was incredulous.

"It's always struck me he was rather shy. Some men can't bear scenes, you know. He's got sense enough to know that there's nothing to be gained by making a scandal. I don't believe for a minute it was Walter, but even if it was, my impression is that he'll do nothing. I think he'll ignore it."

She reflected for a moment.

"He's awfully in love with me."

"Well, that's all to the good. You'll get round him."

He gave her that charming smile of his which she had always found so irresistible. It was a slow smile which started in his clear blue eyes and travelled by perceptible degrees to his shapely mouth. He had small white even teeth. It was a very sensual smile and it made her heart melt in her body.

"I don't very much care," she said, with a flash of gaiety. "It was worth it."

"It was my fault."

"Why did you come? I was amazed to see you."

"I couldn't resist it."

"You dear."

She leaned a little towards him, her dark and shining eyes gazing passionately into his, her mouth a little open with desire, and he put his arms round her. She abandoned herself with a sigh of ecstasy to their shelter.

"You know you can always count on me," he said.

"I'm so happy with you. I wish I could make you as happy as you make me."

"You're not frightened any more?"

"I hate Walter," she answered.

He did not quite know what to say to this, so he kissed her. Her face was very soft against his.

But he took her wrist on which was a little gold watch and looked at the time.

"Do you know what I must do now?"

"Bolt?" she smiled.

He nodded. For one instant she clung to him more closely, but she felt his desire to go, and she released him.

"It's shameful the way you neglect your work. Be off with you."

He could never resist the temptation to flirt.

"You seem in a devil of a hurry to get rid of me," he said lightly.

"You know that I hate to let you go."

Her answer was low and deep and serious. He gave a flattered laugh.

"Don't worry your pretty little head about our mysterious visitor. I'm quite sure it was the amah. And if there's any trouble I guarantee to get you out of it."

"Have you had a lot of experience?"

His smile was amused and complacent.

"No, but I flatter myself that I've got a head screwed on my shoulders."

III

SHE went out on to the verandah and watched him leave the house. He waved his hand to her. It gave her a little thrill as she looked at him; he was forty-one, but he had the lithe figure and the springing step of a boy.

The verandah was in shadow; and lazily, her heart at ease

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