“What old woman?”
“Why, the old ass with the platitudes!”
Halidome’s countenance grew cold, a little shocked, as though he had been assailed in person.
“Do you mean Pirbright?” he said. “I think he’s ripping.”
Shelton turned to the play rebuffed; he felt guilty of a breach of manners, sitting as he was in one of his friend’s stalls, and he naturally set to work to watch the play more critically than ever. Antonia’s words again recurred to him, “I don’t like unhealthy people,” and they seemed to throw a sudden light upon this play. It was healthy!
The scene was a drawing-room, softly lighted by electric lamps, with a cat (Shelton could not decide whether she was real or not) asleep upon the mat.
The husband, a thick-set, healthy man in evening dress, was drinking off neat whisky. He put down his tumbler, and deliberately struck a match; then with even greater deliberation he lit a gold-tipped cigarette....
Shelton was no inexperienced play-goer. He shifted his elbows, for he felt that something was about to happen; and when the match was pitched into the fire, he leaned forward in his seat. The husband poured more whisky out, drank it at a draught, and walked towards the door; then, turning to the audience as if to admit them to the secret of some tremendous resolution, he puffed at them a puff of smoke. He left the room, returned, and once more filled his glass. A lady now entered, pale of face and dark of eye—his wife. The husband crossed the stage, and stood before the fire, his legs astride, in the attitude which somehow Shelton had felt sure he would assume. He spoke:
“Come in, and shut the door.”
Shelton suddenly perceived that he was face to face with one of those dumb moments in which two people declare their inextinguishable hatred—the hatred underlying the sexual intimacy of two ill-assorted creatures—and he was suddenly reminded of a scene he had once witnessed in a restaurant. He remembered with extreme minuteness how the woman and the man had sat facing each other across the narrow patch of white, emblazoned by a candle with cheap shades and a thin green vase with yellow flowers. He remembered the curious scornful anger of their voices, subdued so that only a few words reached him. He remembered the cold loathing in their eyes. And, above all, he remembered his impression that this sort of scene happened between them every other day, and would continue so to happen; and as he put on his overcoat and paid his bill he had asked himself, “Why in the name of decency do they go on living together?” And now he thought, as he listened to the two players wrangling on the stage: “What ’s the good of all this talk? There’s something here past words.”
The curtain came down upon the act, and he looked at the lady next him. She was shrugging her shoulders at her husband, whose face was healthy and offended.