Scolding, she had long ago realised, was a useless waste of time and energy where Comus was concerned, but this evening she unloosed her tongue for the mere relief that it gave to her surcharged feelings. He sat listening without comment, though she purposely let fall remarks that she hoped might sting him into self-defence or protest. It was an unsparing indictment, the more damaging in that it was so irrefutably true, the more tragic in that it came from perhaps the one person in the world whose opinion he had ever cared for. And he sat through it as silent and seemingly unmoved as though she had been rehearsing a speech for some drawing-room comedy. When she had had her say his method of retort was not the soft answer that turneth away wrath but the inconsequent one that shelves it.
“Let’s go and dress for dinner.”
The meal, like so many that Francesca and Comus had eaten in each other’s company of late, was a silent one. Now that the full bearings of the disaster had been discussed in all its aspects there was nothing more to be said. Any attempt at ignoring the situation, and passing on to less controversial topics would have been a mockery and pretence which neither of them would have troubled to sustain. So the meal went forward with its dragged-out dreary intimacy of two people who were separated by a gulf of bitterness, and whose hearts were hard with resentment against one another.
Francesca felt a sense of relief when she was able to give the maid the order to serve her coffee upstairs. Comus had a sullen scowl on his face, but he looked up as she rose to leave the room, and gave his half-mocking little laugh.
“You needn’t look so tragic,” he said, “You’re going to have your own way. I’ll go out to that West African hole.”
Comus found his way to his seat in the stalls of the Straw Exchange Theatre and turned to watch the stream of distinguished and distinguishable people who made their appearance as a matter of course at a First Night in the height of the Season. Pit and gallery were already packed with a throng, tense, expectant and alert, that waited for the rise of the curtain with the eager patience of a terrier watching a dilatory human prepare for outdoor exercises. Stalls and boxes filled slowly and hesitatingly with a crowd whose component units seemed for the most part to recognise the probability that they were quite as interesting as any play they were likely to see. Those who bore no particular face-value themselves derived a certain amount of social dignity from the near neighbourhood of obvious notabilities; if one could not obtain recognition oneself there was some vague pleasure in being able to recognise notoriety at intimately close quarters.
“Who is that woman with the auburn hair and a rather effective belligerent gleam in her eyes?” asked a man sitting just behind Comus; “she looks as if she might have created the world in six days and destroyed it on the seventh.”