The Philanderers

Chapter VII

A.E.W. Mason

BIT BY BIT she sought to reconstruct the scene, piecing it together out of Drake’s words; but somehow that scene would not be reconstructed. She gradually found herself considering Drake’s words as a light thrown upon the man who spoke them, rather than as the description of an actual incident. The humiliation which she experienced made her shrink with a certain repulsion from her recollections of Gorley and dwell instead upon the contrasting tones in Drake’s voice, the contrasting expressions upon his face when he spoke to her and when he merely narrated his story. In the first instance gentleness had been the dominant characteristic, in the second indifference; and that very indifference, while it repelled her, magnetised her thoughts.

Something indeed of the same process which had caused that appearance of indifference in Drake was now repeating itself in Clarice. Drake was superseding Gorley in her mind. She struggled against the obsession and morbidly strove to picture to herself the actual execution: the black troops ranged in a clearing before the smouldering village, looking up at one figure—Gorley’s—spinning on a rope. But even upon that picture Drake’s face obtruded. She thrust out her hands to keep it off, as though it was living and pressing in upon her; for a moment she tried to conjure up Gorley’s face, but it was blurred—only his form she could see spinning on a rope, and Drake beneath it, his features clear like an intaglio and firm-set with that same sense of duty which had forced him sternly to recount to her the truth that afternoon. She recurred to her recent habit of comparing him with Mallinson. She had a vision of Mallinson, with the same experience to relate,—if that were imaginable—fidgeting through evasions, grasping at any diversion she might throw out for him to play with.

But what if Drake’s frankness, outspoken to the point of cruelty, sprang from an indifference to her? Clarice had seen a good deal of Drake lately. She caught herself almost smiling at the idea, softening at its palpable falsity. In a last effort at resistance she fixed her thoughts on the cruelty, the callousness, in his method of narration, and began to feel herself on solid ground. She was consequently inspired to run over all that he had said, in order to make her footing yet firmer, and at the outset she was brought to a check. Why had she never questioned him upon the matter before? he had asked. Clarice stopped and asked the question of herself. At the beginning of their acquaintance certainly there had always been others by, but afterwards there had been opportunities enough. But by that time, what with her father’s and Mrs. Willoughby’s hostility, she had begun to suspect that Drake was in some way implicated in the mystery. Was it because she was afraid to know it for certain that she had refrained? She recalled her letter to him written last Monday, and how she had crossed out ‘importance’ and substituted ‘interest.’ Was this knowledge important to her, really important, bearing issues in the future? It could only be important, she realised, if she set great store upon her acquaintanceship with Drake. Drake, in fact, had achieved something of a triumph, though quite unknown to himself, for he had compelled Clarice Le Mesurier to abandon the consideration of his attitude towards her in favour of a search after the state of her feelings towards him.

She was still engaged in the search when the clock struck six, and, rousing herself brusquely, she rang the bell for the lamps to be brought.

At that moment Mrs. Willoughby had just finished telling to Fielding the story which Drake had told to Clarice.

‘So that’s what Drake was referring to on Sunday,’ said Fielding.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Willoughby.

‘What in the world made you attack him in that way, if you didn’t want Clarice to suspect?’

‘The fact was, I was a fool, I suppose. I just put my head down and charged. But what I want your advice upon is this, ought Clarice to be told now—before things go further?’

‘No, no!’ said Fielding. He saw the curtain descending precipitately upon his comedy before the climax was reached, and he added quite sincerely, ‘I like Drake. I don’t see why he shouldn’t have a run for her money.’

Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtful for a moment, and then she said, ‘Very well.’ She hesitated for a second: ‘I think I like him too.’

The Philanderers - Contents    |     Chapter VIII

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