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Chapter Twenty-Three

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« on: August 26, 2023, 08:47:37 am »

PHILIP Jocelyn came home early that evening. As he let himself in with his key he could hear Anne at the telephone. He stood for a moment, listening not so much to what she was saying as to her voice, wondering as he always did when he allowed himself to think, why it should be Anne’s voice as he remembered it and yet a stranger’s, just as Anne was herself a stranger. He had no thought of overhearing a private conversation. She appeared to be making an appointment to have her hair done. He heard her say, “Is that Félise? . . . This is Lady Jocelyn speaking. I want an appointment with Mr. Felix. He isn’t there, I suppose? . . . No? Well will you tell him I don’t think the treatment he prescribed is suiting my hair at all. I am very upset about it---will you tell him that? I want to see him as soon as possible. Tell him I can’t go on with the treatment and he must change it. I can come tomorrow afternoon---that’s one of his days, isn’t it? Will you get into touch with him and find out what time he can see me, and then ring me up and let me know. I shall be in all the evening.”

She hung up the receiver and turned from the study table to see Philip in the doorway.

“I didn’t hear you come in.”

He said, “You had your head in the telephone.”

“I was just making an appointment about my hair.”

She had gone over to the window and was straightening the curtains there.

“So I heard. What endless time women spend having their hair done.”

She came back to the table, half smiling.

“Mine has got into such a bad state---I do want to get it right again. This man is said to be very good, but the stuff he gave me to rub in isn’t suiting me at all.”

“Then I shouldn’t use it.”

“I’ve just been making an appointment to tell him he must give me something else. Why are you home so early?”

He had come up to the table and set an attaché case on it.

“I’ve got something I can work on here. I shall probably be late.”

“What time would you like dinner?”

“Oh, the usual. I’d like some coffee in here afterwards if it wouldn’t be a trouble.”

“Of course it wouldn’t.” She smiled at him again and went out of the room.

He found himself thinking, “Domestic scene between any husband and wife---any charming, affectionate wife.” She didn’t let it become obtrusive, but he was constantly aware that Anne was presenting herself in this light. The flat was beautifully run, water always hot, meals punctual to the moment and beautifully cooked. A smile and a pleasant word for him whenever a smile and a word were called for. He hadn’t seen her out of temper or out of humour yet. The girl he had married had none of this efficiency and tact. If she didn’t like anything she said so. If he had wanted to work late into the night, leaving her to sit alone, it would have been, “Oh, Philip, what a bore!” He opened his despatch-case and began to get out his papers. On every possible count Anne had gained, and so had he. Only it didn’t feel like it. Most ungratefully, he didn’t feel like it. He felt rather like Ben Jonson when he wrote:

   “Still to be neat, still to be drest,
    As you were going to a feast;
    Still to be powdered, still perfumed:
    Lady, it is to be presumed,
    Though art’s hid causes are not found,
    All is not sweet, all is not sound.”


His lip twisted as he sat down to the table.

The telephone bell rang whilst they were having dinner. Anne went to it, leaving the door open. He heard her from across the passage say, “Yes, that will be all right.”

She came back and shut the door.

“Just to confirm my appointment. He’s a specialist---he doesn’t live in.”

His mind on the work which he had left, he hardly noticed what she said.

It was later in the meal that he remembered he had something to tell her.

“I ran into a friend of yours at lunch-time.”

“Oh, did you? Who was it?”

“Girl who was your bridesmaid---the lumpy one---Joan Tallent. She’s in the A.T.S. Very buxom, but better-looking than she used to be. She wants to come and see you.”

“When?”

He laughed.

“You don’t seem over-joyed.”

“Well, I’m not. She was rather a tiresome girl.”

“Why did you have her for a bridesmaid?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I used to see a lot of her when I was with Aunt Jane---she was some sort of fiftieth cousin of the Kendals. I’m sure she’ll bore me horribly now.”

“Well, you’ll have to bear it. She’s as keen as mustard.”

Anne looked resigned.

“When is she coming?”

“She did say something about tonight, and I’m afraid I rather encouraged her. I thought you could have coffee and a heart-to-heart whilst I was working. It’s very dull for you.”

She shook her head, smiling.

“Oh, no---after the last three years it’s heaven. I don’t feel dull---I feel safe.”

For the first time, something she said touched him. He had been sorry for her before, but at a distance, like hearing about a famine in China. Now all at once something in her voice when she said “safe” brought her much nearer. He thought, “She’s had a hell of a time.” He said aloud, “You’d better wait and see if she turns up. I don’t mind when I have my coffee.”

The front door bell buzzed just as Anne finished washing up. Rather to her surprise, Philip had not vanished into the study. He did not vanish now. Before she could reach the door herself he was opening it and ushering in the guest.

Joan Tallent was certainly buxom. She filled her khaki uniform to capacity. Under the peaked cap her cheeks were as hard and red as apples. She said in a hearty, ringing voice, “Well, Anne, it’s a long time since we met. I expect I’ve changed more than you have. It’s the uniform. Of course I’m lucky---I’ve got a good colour. Girls who haven’t look grim in khaki. Don’t you think I’m thinner? Of course one doesn’t want to get too thin, but I’ve still got some way to go.” She laughed a hearty laugh. Then, as they came into the lighted drawing-room, she fixed a round blue stare on Anne. “I say, you’re not slimming or anything, are you? You’ve got much thinner.”

“I’ve been in occupied France. One doesn’t have to slim there.”

The blue stare was turned on Philip.

“You ought to make her drink cocoa---that’s the stuff for putting on. I adore it, but I simply daren’t. We’ve got a corporal who drinks it all the time. She’s had her uniform let out three times, and now there’s no more stuff. We’re having bets on whether they’ll put a bit in next time or give her a new uniform.”

Philip had draped himself against the mantelpiece. He showed no sign of going to the study. As Anne went to fetch the coffee she heard him say in a languid voice,

“She might sign the pledge and go off cocoa for the duration.”

When she came back Joan was still talking about food. “You simply can’t eat it all,” she said with the earnest expression of one who has tried.

When she saw Anne she sprang up brightly and very nearly upset the coffee-tray in an effort to be helpful. And whether she was stumbling over a footstool, dragging a chair forward which jerked and rucked the carpet, or balancing a coffee-cup on a precarious knee, she never stopped talking. The old days---the wedding---“You looked marvellous, Anne.” The bridesmaids’ dresses---“Mine was too tight---I couldn’t eat any lunch. Wouldn’t it have been awful if it had unzipped in church? And of course white is frightfully enlarging. I don’t know that it really suited any of us. You know Diana’s in the Middle East. And Sylvia’s married---two babies, and she can’t get any household help. And that little thing---what was her name---Lyn Something-or-other---I believe she’s in the Wrens. She had a frightful crush on you, hadn’t she? Wasn’t she frightfully pleased when you turned up again?”

Still in that languid voice, Philip said, “She was.”

With all her heart Anne wished that he would go, but he remained just where he was, incredibly tall, fair, and aloof, his coffee-cup at his elbow only occasionally sipped from, a cigarette between his fingers, which he hardly smoked.

Joan Tallent had a cigarette too. She smoked, as she talked, in hearty jerks. She went on talking about Lyndall until Anne could have boxed her ears. But she had learned to conceal her thoughts. She sat there smiling and pleasant. Philip could change the subject if he wished to. She wouldn’t do it for him, or let him see she cared who spoke of Lyndall, or what was said.

“She wasn’t exactly pretty, but there was something about her, don’t you think?”

This time Philip had nothing to say. He came over and filled his cup with black coffee. As he stood there, Joan swung round in her chair to face them both, grabbed at her cup just in time to save it, and said, “I’ll have some more too. Do you still keep your diary, Anne?”

Reaching for the cup, Anne smiled and shook her head. Joan craned up at Philip with the coffee-pot in his hand.

“Does she show it to you?” She giggled. “It was the most marvellous diary. We used to rag her about it. She used to put down simply everything.” She turned to Anne. “Did you stop doing it when you married?”

Another smiling shake of the head.

“I stopped when I got to France. It would have been too dangerous there. Imagine what would have happened if one had said what one really thought about the Germans!”

She took the coffee-pot from Philip and began to fill Joan’s cup. He picked up his own and went back to the fire. He said, “Does one put that sort of thing in a diary? I keep one, but it doesn’t run to anything more compromising than ‘Lunch---Smith---1:30.’ ”

Joan gave a loud giggle.

“Anne’s wasn’t a bit like that. I read a piece once, and she nearly killed me. She put down simply everything---I mean, the sort of thing you wouldn’t think anyone would---like that old what’s-his-name Pepys, only of course I don’t mean to say the same sort of things, because his was all about having affairs with women. Anne’s wasn’t like that, only she just put down everything, the same as he did.”

Anne was still smiling. She said smoothly, “Rather taking my character away, aren’t you, Joan?”

And with that her look crossed Philip’s. The two pairs of grey eyes, so much alike, glanced together, and glanced away. There was just a moment, then Philip drained his cup and came over to set it down on the tray.

“Well, I must go and work,” he said.

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