THE parlormaid handing eggs and bacon was making herself as sinuous and willowy as she knew how. Her short black uniform and silk stockings showed off rounded hips and slender legs to perfection. She was quite aware she had dove’s eyes and a pretty face, and her employer who breakfasted alone could not look at anyone else, there being no one else to look at.
It was all lost on Dr. Jessel-Turner. Eve invariably engaged attractive parlormaids, and he had long ago classified this one as a thyroid type and dismissed her from his mind. He helped himself to eggs and bacon and said: “Thank you. Please ring up the garage and tell Williams to have the car round at a quarter to nine.”
The parlormaid replied, “Very good, sir,” and curved out of the room. She admitted being crazy about the doctor. How could you help it? He was tall, dark, rather hawk-faced, only thirty-five, and didn’t get on with his wife. The parlormaid liked Eve as a mistress, despised her as a woman, and licked her lips over Eve’s clothes. Give her those frocks and undies and the doctor, and she’d take care he never wanted to look at anyone else.
Dr. Jessel-Turner ate his eggs and bacon and toast with the subconscious enjoyment of a healthy man, and tried, as an eminent specialist should, to put all emotional matters from him at the dawn of a working day and concentrate on the patients he had to see. Unfortunately, Fate seemed to be mingling the emotions and the patients for once in a manner very trying to the scientific mind.
Sighing, he put aside the eggs and bacon plate and the patients, and went on to toast and marmalade and his emotions.
It was just after eight a.m. He had risen at seven fifteen, bathed and shaved in his ultra-modern bathroom, all white tiles, porcelain finish, and glass. There were two more bathrooms in the flat, one for Eve and one for the servants. He had returned and dressed in his spacious dressing room, ideally furnished and arranged, and here he was in a dining room that reflected all that was best in the decorator’s art. Farther along a corridor Eve lay still asleep in a bedroom that was always being photographed for the women’s magazines, and beyond it her drawing-room repeated the bedroom’s triumph. That comprised their quarters, except his study, small and very quiet, austere yet luxurious, where he kept up with the literature of his calling and indeed composed some of it. The servants’ accommodation was shut off and self-contained. So far Eve had no child; a child would have interfered to some extent with the flat’s organization, though truly there existed a spare bedroom, which is more than everyone provides nowadays.
As their immediate circle knew, after three years of marriage Eve devoted herself to Edward Temperley, a wealthy young man who had written one or two books, as some consolation for the fact that her husband belonged more or less to Pamela Sloane. It could be said of Pamela Sloane that, aged twenty-five, coming of good people, she ran her own flat, lived her own life, enjoyed her own income, drove her own car and was asked everywhere. She dispensed entirely with ties, scruples, and illusions, which is quite amusing if a girl is good-looking as well, in the slim, piratical manner.
“It does seem a little ironic,” Dr. Jessel-Turner told himself, spreading vitamines in the form of butter on his crisp toast and adding marmalade with a lavish hand, “that I should be obliged to examine the heart of a man who for all I know is my wife’s lover, at ten-thirty this morning. The worst of G.P.’s nowadays is they won’t take any responsibility. If a death sentence must be pronounced they lay the burden on the back of someone in Harley Street. I know hardly anything about Temperley’s condition because Potter only gave me the sketchiest outline of the case. A nice state of affairs if I have to tell Eve’s lover, if he is her lover, that he’s only got three months to live. In the circumstances he’d probably think I was saying it out of sheer spite in order to frighten him off the earth. If Potter were a personal friend I’d tell him what I thought of him. Not that it’s his fault; Potter’s a St. Christopher’s man, and I’m the best heart specialist Christopher’s ever turned out. If doctors didn’t keep business in the family, obviously we’d all starve.”
THE hands of his wrist-watch pointed to eight-thirty. He got up, settled the morning coat that fitted so neatly, went along the corridor to Eve’s room and tapped on her door. A clear voice answered: “Come in!” He entered a room totally unlike a bedroom except for the bed. There were armchairs and a chesterfield, a beautiful writing table, the softest color scheme, and a general atmosphere of peace. Eve sat up in bed with her breakfast tray on a specially devised table that held everything under her nose and left her hands free. She seemed a small oasis of girl in a wilderness of headless, tailless bed, her head and shoulders propped against great square pillows. Behind her on the wall hung vast curtains, not because curtains were necessary, but in order to provide a sweep of color.
“Hullo!” said Dr. Jessel-Turner, and sat on the edge of the bed regarding her gravely. She had her dark hair cut in the latest, most exquisite shingle and one of those dramatic modern faces that show the similarity to one another of pictures belonging to the same school, and yet remain so individual. Her eyes seemed to hold knowledge far beyond her twenty-six years, and her mouth was a scarlet adventure. The transparent, sleeveless nightgown revealed white shoulders and two slender arms. Her hands moving "among the breakfast things were intelligent and fine. He realized with an almost physical chill that she felt no passion for him whatever. If she had been naked he would have embarrassed or disturbed her no more than the furniture in the room.
“Hullo, Ian!” she answered politely. “You’re early. Did Ashcroft give you a proper breakfast? Isn’t this sunshine lovely? I adore summer when it first comes.”
“I had an enchanting breakfast, thank you, Eve. I’m early because I’ve got a full day, and I shan’t be home for luncheon or dinner. Are you doing anything amusing in your lovely sunshine?”
“I’m lunching and dining out, too. You might tell Ashcroft you won’t want any meals. It saves her asking me.” She paused and considered him with calm detachment. “You look awf’ly fit, Ian. Strange how hard work seems to suit some men.”
Instinctively he longed to kiss her, or beat her—anything to shatter this polite indifference. At the same time he knew that neither kissing nor beating would avail him in the least, and it is a deathblow to a man’s vanity when he can no longer move a woman who once responded, even if the woman has ceased to move him.
“You look awf’ly fit too, Eve, and extraordinarily pretty. It’s a great gift to look your best first thing in the morning.
“One merely needs a powder puff and a comb. Well, I hope you don’t have a terribly sticky time in that consulting room. I should loathe seeing sick people on a fine day.
He took one of the intelligent hands and held it.
“Good-by, Eve. Amuse yourself. I expect I’ll survive,” he told her, and went out to the waiting car.
SLOWLY and pensively Eve poured herself a fresh cup of tea.
“There,” she said softly, “goes my official husband who gives me all this.” She indicated in a comprehensive gesture her bedroom and the flat. “Beyond what those words imply he doesn’t mean a thing to me. I admire him tremendously, for indeed he is admirable—and that’s the most damning thing I could say, because you can’t weigh up and praise the good points of some man for whom you feel a blind passion. You don’t know or very much care if he’s a genius or a guttersnipe. You only know you’ve got to have him or else die. It’s primitive, unrestrained and vulgar, but the fact remains.
“Ian, of course, is a splendid man. A child of distinguished parents, he was brought up at one of the best public schools, played rugger for his hospital and took brilliant degrees. He’s tall and athletic, the picture of health; a well-known specialist at an early age, an honored guest at Mayfair dinner tables, and a very desirable husband for any girl, however exacting. That’s why I could stab him so cheerfully, because he gives me no excuse that I could put into words for running off with Edward Temperley. Also, after the divorce very likely it’ll be perfectly foul being married to Edward, because you couldn’t depend on him as you can on Ian. Ian would always be good to me and a good provider. Edward temperamental and erratic and has a feminine streak, but I can’t give him up; he fascinates me and I despise him and it’s so marvellous to be able to despise a man although he fascinates you. I could never despise Ian because he’s so—what’s that awful word?—so sound. Therefore I respect him and he doesn’t fascinate me and that’s enough to make any woman a nervous wreck.”
She picked up her letters from a pile at her elbow, slit the envelopes, read them, tossed them aside. There was one from Edward briefly: “Please, pretty lady, meet me at the flat at noon, because I’ve got a bit of important business on this morning and I don’t quite know how long it’ll take! We’ll go on to the Berkeley afterward. Yours, Edward.”
She folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope casually. There was not, to all appearances, a line on her face, a cloud on her mind or a nerve in her body. She said at last: “I suppose our grandmothers would call me a disgusting little cat, hard-boiled, selfish and unscrupulous, but at least I’m honest. And after all Ian lives in Pamela Sloane’s pocket, and it’s a nice point whether I drove him to her or he drove me to Edward. Probably if the truth’s known we drove one another.”
She pressed the bell and the parlor-maid entered. “You can take these things, Ashcroft, and I want my bath in a quarter of an hour, please. Put out that new primrose thing with the green touches, and the hat and shoes to match. Did Dr. Jessel-Turner tell you neither of us will be in for luncheon or dinner?”
“Very good, madam. Yes, thank you, madam. What shall I say in reply to telephone calls, if you please?”
“Oh, say you don’t know what time I’ll be home.”
“And you don’t either, you well-mannered hypocrite,” she added under her breath. “Because I happen to be going away with Edward for good after luncheon—and won’t you open your eyes when you hear about it?”
ON the stroke of ten-thirty the doormaid at 947 Harley Street opened the door of the waiting room and said:
“Mr. Temperley, please.”
A tall young man with a sombre expression in his brown eyes rose with rather overdone calm and put down the illustrated paper he had not been reading. The other occupants of the waiting room, having started at the sound of the maid’s voice, glanced up from the illustrated papers they also had not been reading and stared balefully at the summoned. Probably he was not half so near death as they were and yet his turn had come first. True, their appointments were for a later hour, and still they hated him.
Edward Temperley followed the maid up a handsome, deeply-carpeted staircase to the first floor. In other rooms, as he passed, other doctors were going through the elaborate ritual of examining other patients. The house struck him as a kind of infernal universe leased out in self-contained hells to individual fiends.
The maid opened a door, stood aside for him to enter and announced: “Mr. Temperley, sir.”
A flight of stairs leading to his consulting room is invaluable to a doctor. They leave the patient a little breathless and slightly disconcerted. As he crosses the threshold he is for one second off his guard, during which the doctor can administer the Photographic Look and see what he might never see at all through the patient’s ordinary mask.
Edward Temperley, out of breath and confused, saw the man whose wife he was going to run away with, sitting at a table writing, and Dr. Jessel-Turner, glancing up for one concentrated second, saw the real Edward Temperley. The door closed, the patient resumed his mask, and the doctor said: “Hullo, Temperley, how are you?” at the same time stretching out a welcoming hand. The doctor’s handshake is not pure politeness or goodness of soul. The feel of the patient’s skin and the quality of his grip tell the trained mind a good deal.
“Oh, so-so, thanks. How are you?” answered Edward Temperley, and sat down in a chair arranged to face the light from a window.
Dr. Jessel-Turner, who had discovered a vast number of facts already, seemed not to notice. His attention was given almost ostentatiously to a letter.
“Well,” he went on, “Dr. Potter only gives me an outline of the case. Tell me just what you complain of, with as much detail as you like.”
The great thing is to get the patient to talk. He may not say anything of clinical interest, but he reveals his state of mind, his personality, and his hoodoos.
Since the doctor had drawn toward him the book in which he noted the secrets of souls and bodies, and was looking down at a virgin page, Edward Temperley felt comparatively at ease. It is so difficult to talk when two eyes that can see through skin and flesh and watch the very wheels go round are fixed on one.
“It’s my heart,” he explained in a carefully detached manner. “It doesn’t hurt or anything, but it plays me up in odd sorts of ways. I get waves of vague fear though there’s nothing to be afraid of, and then my heart seems to fade out.
When I go to bed at night it thumps until it feels as if it’s going to choke me, and I can’t stop it. Then again I wake in the middle of the night sometimes and practically die. When I say die I mean first I get the fright, and then the thumping, and then life seems to ebb away until I can’t feel any heartbeat and I practically have no pulse. I feel very cold, and begin to shiver and can’t stop, and then all my muscles go out of control and twitch until the bed shakes. I come out in a cold perspiration, and if I didn’t know it’d pass off I should think I was a goner.”
“And what do you do when these attacks occur in the night?” asked the doctor, writing in his book. Edward Temperley thought how like a doctor that was. You came to him to be told what to do, and he tried to get ideas from you.
“Do? I hold on to myself like blazes because I’m always afraid I’ll start screaming, and I feel that if I did I should never stop, and no one wants to pass out screaming. And I drink a little water and eat a plain biscuit, and by and by I stop shaking, and then I smoke a cigarette, and finally go to sleep.”
“How old are you?’’ asked the doctor.
“Any illness e s in the past?”
“D'you mean measles and all that?”
“Yes. Let’s have the lot . . . Good. Now then, tell me a few things about the life you lead: are you working very hard, smoking a great deal? Just finished a book and smoke a fair amount? Sometimes thirty cigarettes a day? I should knock off fifteen by degrees if I were you. Any ... er, emotional worries?”
Edward Temperley kept quite still. He paused one second before replying, and the pause told Dr. JesselTurner all he wanted to find out. Edward Temperley was thinking: “Of course he knows something about Eve and me unless he’s blind. Is he trying to get definite information from me professionally, the dirty cad?” Then he answered quietly: “I don’t think so.”
“Right. Now let’s have a go at you.”
It was a very methodical, detailed examination. Edward Temperley, who wrote and had a technique of his own, could not help one side of his mind being interested in the technique of someone else while another side followed it with growing anxiety. People who have, or think they have, heart trouble get very frightened, because the fright reacts on the heart and the agitation of the heart increases the fright.
At last the doctor had finished.
“That’s all, thanks,” he said casually, turned back to his desk and began to write in the book on the page devoted to Edward Temperley. The patient settled his jacket and waistcoat, the doctor’s pen glided smoothly over the paper.
“How long since you took a holiday?” he enquired at last, still writing; and then, quite suddenly Edward Temperley’s nerve broke.
“Good Lord, man!” he almost shrieked. “Don’t sit there writing in that cursed book like a blasted recording angel. Tell me what’s wrong. How long am I to go on like this? Is my heart absolutely crocked up? Am I going to die?” His voice quivered on the word “die” and it seemed as if tears would come into his eyes. Dr. Jessel-Turner said kindly:
‘‘My dear fellow, there’s nothing whatever to be alarmed about. Your heart’s perfectly sound. The trouble with you is you’re a bit overdone; you’ve got nervous indigestion, and the disturbance of your tummy makes your heart thump. On top of that, like all creative people, you’re highly strung, and so you worry about yourself. I’ll give you something for the indigestion and I think you ought to go away for a bit.”
EDWARD Temperley relaxed in his chair. A wave of incredible peace stole over him. He was not going to die. He would remain indefinitely in this delightful world of music and flowers, beautiful women, good food, and soft lodging. In the transition from fear to happiness he tingled with a sweet ache. Then, enjoying the irony underlying the words, he answered :
“Splendid! Forgive me for going in off the deep end. As a matter of fact I’m taking a holiday almost at once.” After all, luncheon with Eve at the Berkeley and the two o’clock boat train from Victoria Station were almost at once. Then a cruel doubt overcame him.
“But if my heart’s perfectly all right, why did Potter send me to you? If he knows anything at all about medicine I s’pose he can diagnose nervous indigestion?”
Dr. Jessel-Turner smiled blandly.
“Purely for the sake of your peace of mind. A specialist in Harley Street inspires confidence where a general practitioner fails. Potter realized you were anxious and inclined to doubt his word. I’m afraid your peace of mind will cost you five guineas. You might let me know in a week’s time how you are getting on.”
A second wave of content vanquished the cruel doubt. Edward Temperley produced cheque book and fountain pen, wrote a cheque, blotted it, and laid it on the writing table. Almost jauntily he held out a hand in farewell.
“Thanks awfully. I daresay I seemed a bit of an ass, but you doctors understand how a layman gets the wind up over these things. I’ll let you know with pleasure. Good-by.”
The door closed behind him. Ian Jessel-Turner sat back in his chair without ringing for the next patient. His lips curled with contempt.
“And that rat,” he thought, “is having an affair with Eve. He’s supposed to be a gentleman; he’s what’s called educated, and the meanest out-patient at the hospital has more guts. I can’t let Eve go on with it. He’s certain to let her down. He isn’t worth a good-looking housemaid wasting her time on him. How queer even intelligent women are! They always choose the most absolute swine to go crazy over. How much of all this is my fault and what shall I do about it?”
Regardless of the next patient fidgeting in the waiting room, he glanced at his list of appointments. It was a very full day, with only time for sandwiches and a glass of wine at one o’clock. The evening had been dedicated to Pamela Sloane. When the last patient departed he looked forward to a bath, a shave, evening clothes, and the journey to her flat. He would find Pamela, tall and slender, not strictly speaking beautiful yet how attractive, ready to offer her slightly ironic greeting and her faintly amused mouth. They would go out and dine and dance somewhere, and be very gay and irresponsible, so that he forgot patients, the stress of home and a career, since the Pamelas of this life represent first of all an anodyne.
He looked at his watch. Eleven-fifteen. Pamela wouldn’t have gone out yet. He picked up the telephone receiver and asked for her number. First a maid’s voice, then Pamela’s, distilling all the charm of life’s butterflies who merely sit waiting to be entertained and to entertain.
“Hullo, Pam! How’s the world?”
“Topping, thanks. Why aren’t you healing the sick at this hour?”
“I am, quantities of them. Look, I’m afraid tonight’s off. Frightfully sorry, but I can’t help it. Something’s turned up and I can’t tackle it earlier in the day because I’m booked with patients till six.”
“Confound you, Ian! I have a perfectly marvellous new frock. How can you let down your girl friend like this? Never mind, let’s make it another day. Ring me up tomorrow morning if you like. Good-by, my dear.”
Thank heaven for the modern girl! No temper, no questions, no reproaches, merely a calm acceptance of a situation. Once more he asked for a number and over the wire came the soothing duty-voice of Ashcroft.
“Dr. Jessel-Turner speaking. When Mrs. Jessel-Turner comes in, tell her I’ll be home at six-fifteen, and I’d like a word before she goes out, please.”
“Mrs. Jessel-Turner didn’t say when she’d be back, sir,” cooed Ashcroft.
“Well, she’s got to dress, hasn’t she? She can’t dine out in an afternoon frock. Just give her my message when she does come in,” the doctor said curtly. Amorous parlormaids tended to get on his nerves.
AS THE taxi bore her from Curzon Street to Queen’s Gate Gardens, Eve sat dreaming in the sunlight. The primrose thing with green touches echoed it; she felt part of the day a rejoicing nymph holding out her arms to summer. Marriage lay behind her and adventure ahead; a meeting with Edward in his Chelsea flat, a brief luncheon at the Berkeley, a suitcase to declaim from the cloakroom at Victoria Station, and then the boat train, Paris, and a new life. She 'thought rather pityingly of Ian listening to woeful symptoms from an assortment of sufferers.
“But then,” she told herself, “he’s got the satisfaction of being right. He does good in the world, he lives more or less on approved lines, except for Pamela, who I daresay is too sensible to let him compromise either of them very far. I know these Pamelas. Why should she when she needn’t? Poor Ian will never adventure very much because the main thing in his life is his career, and Pamela’s just a byproduct. I expect she knows and acts accordingly. Now, adventure’s a woman’s whole career if she can manage it. I’m burning my boats as calmly as if I were just buying a frock, and probably Edward will be in a dreadful state of nerves till we get clear. It’ll be a bore having to marry again, but that’s inevitable. I can’t just be left in the air. Besides, it would look as if Edward didn’t want to marry me. The only proof that he does is a wedding ring.”
The taxi stopped outside Edward’s block of flats, she climbed two flights of stairs and knocked at his door. Rather to her surprise he opened it himself; his note had given her the impression that he might be closeted with a solicitor all the morning, making a long and complicated will.
When the door had closed behind her she said, “Hullo, Edward!” and held up her mouth. He kissed her rapturously and there seemed about him a new suggestion of triumph. He led her into the large room where he wrote, a place of soft armchairs, a cushion-filled divan and extremely modern colors.
“Sit down, darling. We’ve got ten minutes to spare. Frightfully glad I was here to meet you. You look adorable and I adore you.”
She sat in one of the armchairs and considered him carefully. “You look as if you’d had good news. Tell me about it.”
“The girl is clairvoyant,” he proclaimed, standing before her, conscious of trousers that hung perfectly, brown shoes with an inward glow of polish, and the rest in conformity. “As a matter of fact you’re right. I didn’t say so to you—ever the little hero—but I’ve been living in a perfect hell of anxiety about my heart. If one’s heart goes phut it makes one feel ghastly and fills the mind with dreadful forebodings. I wanted to set my mind at rest before we hopped off, and so I decided to be sent to a specialist by my doctor. The specialist laughed away my fears, and told me I’ve only got indigestion from overwork. Not one cloud remains to mar our honeymoon, Eve my angel.”
In Eve’s brain two thoughts were born complementary to one another: Edward had consulted a heart specialist—Ian was a heart specialist. Of course it couldn’t be. No one could do such a thing. She looked up at him from under her eyelashes very calmly.
“Poor brave lamb to suffer in silence. I’m glad it’s all over. Whom did you see? I have an intimate knowledge of Harley Street.”
“Oh, just one of those very special specialists, you know, Potter, my G.P., chose him for me. Charged five guineas and all. Those fellers make their money pretty easily.”
He was smiling; behind his smile there seemed to lurk a consciousness of some subtle private joke. Eve did not so much guess as know.
“You went to Ian!”
There was that in her voice which warned him. Continuing to smile, he came instantly on guard.
“Eve, you look as if you’d like to kill me. Whoever said I went to Ian? I told you he was a man Potter recommended..."
She had risen to her feet. She asked precisely:
“Can you deny it was Ian? Don’t bother to lie. Remember I can find out quite easily.”
“Well, supposing I did? You don’t imagine in the circumstances I should have chosen him myself, do you? I was simply guided by my doctor. It merely represented an ordinary commercial transaction; he examined me, I paid my five guineas, and that ended it. I owe him nothing and he owes me nothing. It isn’t as if he made no charge just because we know one another. That I agree would have been a little distressing. As it is we’re quits ...”
“You don’t see anything foul, obscene, or disgusting in consulting during the morning a man with whose wife you propose to run away after luncheon?”
“My dear, I was going to run away with you, as you call it, in any case. I am, if you like a robber, the despoiler of a home, a ravisher if you insist, but is my robbery more dishonest because, for an agreed consideration, I avail myself of my victim’s technical knowledge, which he is reputed to enjoy to a degree not equalled by anybody else?”
“Of all the heart specialists in London was there no other man you could have chosen? Couldn’t you at least realize how ill-advised you were to consult the husband of your mistress, for after all that’s what I’d promised to be?”
Edward Temperley went very pale; he seemed to become in a moment ten years older.
“Do you mean Ian guessed and I put myself in his power—that he simply led me up the garden and assured me there was nothing the matter when I might die at any moment? Is that it, Eve? My heavens, surely you don’t suggest any man would be such a brute, such a cur?”
She looked at him, she laughed softly, picked up her gloves and began stroking one on.
“If you feel nervous,” she told him, “let me comfort you. Ian told you the truth. If he had guessed we were going to Paris he wouldn’t have seen you. As he saw you and examined you, you can rely on what he said. Doctors, Edward, have very sensitive professional consciences. In some ways I, too, have a sensitive conscience. Therefore I am not going to Paris with you. I shall never speak to you again, and if you call at my house, wherever it is, the door will be shut in your face.”
“But why?” began Edward Temperley very patiently, for he knew one must be patient with women. “Why are you so angry with me, Eve? What have I done?”
“You’ve dragged me so low,” Eve told him from the doorway, “that the worst woman in the town could laugh in my face. You compel me to go home, confess to Ian, and endure any penance he likes to inflict just to get clean again in my own eyes. As I loathe being humiliated, I hate you more than I can say. Frankly, I’m sorry there’s nothing wrong with your heart. You’d be so much better dead.”
AT SIX-TEN Dr. Jessel-Turner’s car set him down in Curzon Street outside his flat. He entered the hall thoughtfully and merely nodded in reply to the lift-attendant’s “Good evening, sir!” It had been a hard day, and the need arose to explain to Eve that the man who might very well be her lover wasn’t worth bothering about. “And these statements,” he reflected, “come so badly from a husband who seems necessarily biased, and only too ready to bear false witness against his neighbor when his neighbor covets his wife.”
The pretty parlormaid took his hat, stick and gloves.
“Madam is in, sir,” she announced with a faint air of protest, “but her instructions this morning were to say I didn’t know what time she would return home.”
“It’s just possible,” Dr. Turner replied with massive politeness, “that she changed her mind. People do, you know.”
He found Eve in her drawing-room standing by the window. She still wore her hat and the primrose thing with green touches. As he entered, her chin lifted the fraction of an inch.
“Hulio,” she said. “Ashcroft gave me your message,” and fell silent, a slim defiant figure. “Only,” thought Dr. Jessel-Turner, “I haven’t the least idea what she finds to be defiant about. She looks as if she might burst into tears or the worst sort of profanity at any moment. I shall have a very awkward time explaining the inexplicable.”
“I’m awfully glad you happen to be in,” he answered, helping himself to a cigarette from the box. “I’ve had a very full day. It’s just a bit of information I had to give you, that’s all.”
“Yes?” she enquired.
“The point is, Edward Temperley consulted me this morning. His G.P. sent him, a fellow named Potter. Edward had the wind up about his heart. As a matter of fact his heart’s perfectly all right, and he might quite well live to be a hundred. Of course, he was under a bit of a strain, anxious and all that, but I came to certain conclusions that I can discuss without violating the confidences of a patient to a doctor. If you’ll forgive my saying so, I believe Edward is a very great friend of yours, isn’t he, Eve?”
“Yes, Ian. Edward and I have been great friends for some time.”
A curiously flat voice issuing from a curiously still figure. Dr. Jessel-Turner sighed. He wanted his bath and a change into evening kit and a little recreation after a day’s work, and he had to say something quite impossible to a woman in a most peculiar psychological state who happened to be his wife.
“I’m not keeping you, am I, Eve?” “No. I’m not dining out. I’ve changed my mind.”
Dr. Jessel-Turner then took the plunge. “This comes badly from me seeing I’m your husband and no doubt capable of being thought jealous, but if I were you I should think very carefully before I made too great a friend of Edward. Strictly between ourselves, I don’t think a woman would find him a very sound investment. He shows great emotional instability and lack of self-control, and all the selfishness that goes with them. He’s the type who’ll sacrifice anybody or do anything to save his own skin. People’s characters reveal themselves in the consulting room as they never do elsewhere. Probably after this morning I know Edward better than he does himself. I hope you don’t think I’m trying to poison your mind against him or anything. This is supposed to be just a friendly tip.”
Eve nodded as if in confirmation of something, and asked:
“Why do you care what happens to me, Ian?”
A little taken aback, Dr. Jessel-Turner answered:
“Well, naturally I shouldn’t like to see you let down by anyone.”
“Probably I’ve let you down.”
“Probably I’ve let you down, but that’s a privilege of husbands and wives. It’s different outside the family.”
“Ian,” Eve told him wearily, “you don’t know it, but I’d promised to go away with Edward. We were to catch the two o’clock boat train from Victoria this afternoon. I met him at his flat, and we were to lunch at the Berkeley and then go on from there. That’s why I was lunching and dining out, and why I told Ashcroft to say she didn’t know when I’d be home.”
NOT the slightest flicker of emotion showed in Dr. Jessel-Turner’s face. Part of his job consisted in hearing patients sentence themselves to death. “What made you alter your plans?”
“I found out he’d come straight from you to meet me. He was half crazy with joy because you’d told him he needn’t worry about his heart. Then he went off into a panic and asked if I thought you knew he was in love with me, and if you’d told him a lie about his heart so that he should overstrain it and kill himself. I said he needn’t be alarmed, and that he could take you at your word.”
“Surely it was prudent of him to consult the best man in England about his heart?”
“Personally I’d rather die than consult the husband of a woman I intended to make my mistress.”
“Well,” said Dr. Jessel-Turner, “you mustn’t be angry with yourself for misjudging Edward’s character. I didn’t know what he was really like till this morning. I always considered him a bounder, but then bounders always appeal to women.”
“Possibly, but it’s always the female counterpart of a bounder who appeals to men. Unhappy people don’t want plaster saints and highly refined characters, Ian. They want someone who’ll provide them with highly colored emotions and not need a great deal of living up to. The unhappy wife or husband is the bounder’s opportunity. It doesn’t take much effort to live up to a bounder.”
In his rather tired mind Dr. JesselTurner conjured up Pamela Sloane. Did she provide highly colored emotions and need little living up to? Would one care to marry Pamela Sloane or not? Was she perhaps very slightly a bounder?
“But why did you tell me all this Eve?” he asked her. “I should never have known. You could have come back and dined at home and left me none the wiser.”
“Very likely, but Edward made me feel such a swine that I had to do some sort of penance to get clean again. I don’t feel a swine for intending to leave you, but I do feel a swine for intending to go to a thing like Edward. Naturally I shall leave you as it is, but I preferred to come back and tell you first. I must say it was frightfully civil of you to warn me about Edward. I wouldn’t warn you about Pamela—not that I know anything to make me. She’s probably quite remarkable, but in any case I’d let you go to ruin with her before I saved you. Women are more primitive than men.”
She stood there very cool and remote, crashed between an unworthy lover and a forsaken husband, without extenuating circumstances or a single plea for mercy. Dr. Jessel-Turner, having an unfair medical advantage, knew exactly how far she was from the breaking-point and tears, but he gave no sign.
“What are you going to do if you leave me?”
She gave an impatient shrug. “I haven’t thought. I’ve got a hundred pounds or so, and I suppose anyone with wits can find some sort of job. Aren’t you being rather sentimental over an erring wife, Ian, or rather a wife who had every intention of erring?”
“You see,” he explained gently, “I don’t want you to go. I shall never find anybody with as much courage as you. You’re so amazingly heroic. You did mean to leave me and you did make all the arrangements and when you found the man was a—well, let it go—you weren’t content with chucking him over, but you had to come back and tell me why. Eve, I see such a lot of cowards in my business that I can’t help admiring brave people. Are you quite sure you hate me altogether?”
The shoulders under the primrose thing drooped and the defiant chin lost its extra half inch of aggression.
“I can’t tell, Ian. No, I don’t altogether, not so much as I did. I hated you most because you’re so terribly sound that your few sins and Pamelas and things hardly redeem you. Besides, you’re too busy to satisfy my adventurous side. I want a bit of madness ever so often to give life a little kick. You think so much more of your job than you do of me.”
“Perhaps I did once, but I doubt if it’s true now.”
“Well,” she said, with rather a desperate smile, “if you swear you don’t really want Pamela, and that you’ll kill me first for what I was going to do, and then love me afterward ...”
In the shelter of his arms a thought struck her.
“But my dear, listen, you must run away and dress. Remember you’re dining out. Hurry!”
“No,” he murmured against her hair, “I’m not dining out now. I was like you, but like you I’ve changed my mind.”