The day after the evening at Richmond Soames returned from Henley by a morning train. Not constitutionally interested in amphibious sports, his visit had been one of business rather than pleasure, a client of some importance having asked him down.
He went straight to the City, but finding things slack, he left at three o’clock, glad of this chance to get home quietly. Irene did not expect him. Not that he had any desire to spy on her actions, but there was no harm in thus unexpectedly surveying the scene.
After changing to Park clothes he went into the drawing-room. She was sitting idly in the corner of the sofa, her favourite seat; and there were circles under her eyes, as though she had not slept.
He asked: “How is it you’re in? Are you expecting somebody?”
“Yes that is, not particularly.”
“Mr. Bosinney said he might come.”
“Bosinney. He ought to be at work.”
To this she made no answer.
“Well,” said Soames, “I want you to come out to the Stores with me, and after that we’ll go to the Park.”
“I don’t want to go out; I have a headache.”
Soames replied: “If ever I want you to do anything, you’ve always got a headache. It’ll do you good to come and sit under the trees.”
She did not answer.
Soames was silent for some minutes; at last he said: “I don’t know what your idea of a wife’s duty is. I never have known!”
He had not expected her to reply, but she did.
“I have tried to do what you want; it’s not my fault that I haven’t been able to put my heart into it.”
“Whose fault is it, then?” He watched her askance.
“Before we were married you promised to let me go if our marriage was not a success. Is it a success?”
“Success,” he stammered —“it would be a success if you behaved yourself properly!”
“I have tried,” said Irene. “Will you let me go?”
Soames turned away. Secretly alarmed, he took refuge in bluster.
“Let you go? You don’t know what you’re talking about. Let you go? How can I let you go? We’re married, aren’t we? Then, what are you talking about? For God’s sake, don’t let’s have any of this sort of nonsense! Get your hat on, and come and sit in the Park.”
“Then, you won’t let me go?”
He felt her eyes resting on him with a strange, touching look.
“Let you go!” he said; “and what on earth would you do with yourself if I did? You’ve got no money!”
“I could manage somehow.”
He took a swift turn up and down the room; then came and stood before her.
“Understand,” he said, “once and for all, I won’t have you say this sort of thing. Go and get your hat on!”
She did not move.
“I suppose,” said Soames, “you don’t want to miss Bosinney if he comes!”
Irene got up slowly and left the room. She came down with her hat on.
They went out.
In the Park, the motley hour of mid-afternoon, when foreigners and other pathetic folk drive, thinking themselves to be in fashion, had passed; the right, the proper, hour had come, was nearly gone, before Soames and Irene seated themselves under the Achilles statue.
It was some time since he had enjoyed her company in the Park. That was one of the past delights of the first two seasons of his married life, when to feel himself the possessor of this gracious creature before all London had been his greatest, though secret, pride. How many afternoons had he not sat beside her, extremely neat, with light grey gloves and faint, supercilious smile, nodding to acquaintances, and now and again removing his hat.
His light grey gloves were still on his hands, and on his lips his smile sardonic, but where the feeling in his heart?
The seats were emptying fast, but still he kept her there, silent and pale, as though to work out a secret punishment. Once or twice he made some comment, and she bent her head, or answered “Yes” with a tired smile.
Along the rails a man was walking so fast that people stared after him when he passed.
“Look at that ass!” said Soames; “he must be mad to walk like that in this heat!”
He turned; Irene had made a rapid movement.
“Hallo!” he said: “it’s our friend the Buccaneer!”
And he sat still, with his sneering smile, conscious that Irene was sitting still, and smiling too.
“Will she bow to him?” he thought.
But she made no sign.
Bosinney reached the end of the rails, and came walking back amongst the chairs, quartering his ground like a pointer. When he saw them he stopped dead, and raised his hat.
The smile never left Soames’ face; he also took off his hat.
Bosinney came up, looking exhausted, like a man after hard physical exercise; the sweat stood in drops on his brow, and Soames’ smile seemed to say: “You’ve had a trying time, my friend . . . . ..What are you doing in the Park?” he asked. “We thought you despised such frivolity!”
Bosinney did not seem to hear; he made his answer to Irene: “I’ve been round to your place; I hoped I should find you in.”
Somebody tapped Soames on the back, and spoke to him; and in the exchange of those platitudes over his shoulder, he missed her answer, and took a resolution.
“We’re just going in,” he said to Bosinney; “you’d better come back to dinner with us.” Into that invitation he put a strange bravado, a stranger pathos: “You, can’t deceive me,” his look and voice seemed saying, “but see — I trust you — I’m not afraid of you!”
They started back to Montpellier Square together, Irene between them. In the crowded streets Soames went on in front. He did not listen to their conversation; the strange resolution of trustfulness he had taken seemed to animate even his secret conduct. Like a gambler, he said to himself: ‘It’s a card I dare not throw away — I must play it for what it’s worth. I have not too many chances.’
He dressed slowly, heard her leave her room and go downstairs, and, for full five minutes after, dawdled about in his dressing-room. Then he went down, purposely shutting the door loudly to show that he was coming. He found them standing by the hearth, perhaps talking, perhaps not; he could not say.
He played his part out in the farce, the long evening through — his manner to his guest more friendly than it had ever been before; and when at last Bosinney went, he said: “You must come again soon; Irene likes to have you to talk about the house!” Again his voice had the strange bravado and the stranger pathos; but his hand was cold as ice.
Loyal to his resolution, he turned away from their parting, turned away from his wife as she stood under the hanging lamp to say good-night — away from the sight of her golden head shining so under the light, of her smiling mournful lips; away from the sight of Bosinney’s eyes looking at her, so like a dog’s looking at its master.
And he went to bed with the certainty that Bosinney was in love with his wife.
The summer night was hot, so hot and still that through every opened window came in but hotter air. For long hours he lay listening to her breathing.
She could sleep, but he must lie awake. And, lying awake, he hardened himself to play the part of the serene and trusting husband.
In the small hours he slipped out of bed, and passing into his dressing-room, leaned by the open window.
He could hardly breathe.
A night four years ago came back to him — the night but one before his marriage; as hot and stifling as this.
He remembered how he had lain in a long cane chair in the window of his sitting-room off Victoria Street. Down below in a side street a man had banged at a door, a woman had cried out; he remembered, as though it were now, the sound of the scuffle, the slam of the door, the dead silence that followed. And then the early water-cart, cleansing the reek of the streets, had approached through the strange-seeming, useless lamp-light; he seemed to hear again its rumble, nearer and nearer, till it passed and slowly died away.
He leaned far out of the dressing-room window over the little court below, and saw the first light spread. The outlines of dark walls and roofs were blurred for a moment, then came out sharper than before.
He remembered how that other night he had watched the lamps paling all the length of Victoria Street; how he had hurried on his clothes and gone down into the street, down past houses and squares, to the street where she was staying, and there had stood and looked at the front of the little house, as still and grey as the face of a dead man.
And suddenly it shot through his mind; like a sick man’s fancy: What’s he doing? — that fellow who haunts me, who was here this evening, who’s in love with my wife — prowling out there, perhaps, looking for her as I know he was looking for her this afternoon; watching my house now, for all I can tell!
He stole across the landing to the front of the house, stealthily drew aside a blind, and raised a window.
The grey light clung about the trees of the square, as though Night, like a great downy moth, had brushed them with her wings. The lamps were still alight, all pale, but not a soul stirred — no living thing in sight.
Yet suddenly, very faint, far off in the deathly stillness, he heard a cry writhing, like the voice of some wandering soul barred out of heaven, and crying for its happiness. There it was again — again! Soames shut the window, shuddering.
Then he thought: ‘Ah! it’s only the peacocks, across the water.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54