Damn it, he’d just said good-night to her husband
Roger climbed the stairs slowly. As he reached the landing he saw that a door on the left was half open, so that he could see part of a cream wall and the end of a dressing-table littered with small feminine debris. Lust glowed in him as he thought: Rosemary will be sitting up in bed reading, in a flimsy, silk nightgown … He checked his mind, hating it. Damn it, he’d just said good-night to her husband. He walked resolutely past the door towards his own bedroom.
But he stopped at once, although her call was only faint. He heard: ‘Roger?’
He walked back and stood by the door. He heard himself whispering: ‘Yes?’
She said: ‘Come in.’
He pushed the door open and walked in. She lay back against pillows, not in a nightgown but in carefully cut silk pyjamas. Her dark hair was braided back behind the clear oval of her face. A book rested on the hollow of her lap; one smooth, small hand marking the place. Verse, he noticed. With the lamp-light shaded on her face, she looked no more than thirty.
He said awkwardly: ‘You wanted me?’
She smiled at him enigmatically.
‘Just curiosity,’ she said. ‘I remember you saying once you only read poetry at school. Have you read any since?’
He said hoarsely: ‘A bit. I don’t have much time …’
She patted the bed beside her. ‘Come and sit down. I’ll read you some.’
Roger advanced reluctantly. ‘But Stephen …’
‘Don’t worry about Stephen.’ She looked at her small, gold wrist-watch. ‘He works from eleven to one on his new book analysing the defects of socialism. He thinks more clearly then.’
Roger sat down carefully beside her. She looked at him critically.
‘I do believe you’ve slipped back, Roger,’ she said. ‘And you were a most promisingly gallant boy. The sort that can be relied on for tasteful, harmless decoration. The pale cast of thought does make you look sickly.’
Roger said: ‘Why do you read poetry, Rosemary? It’s never seemed right for you.’
She stared at him. ‘Red herrings. And clumsy ones. I believe you are trying to understand me.’
He insisted. ‘But seriously …’
She fingered the book. ‘Dead men make no demands.’ She added with her curious, flat malice: ‘Though live men should.’
She took his wrist and drew his face towards her own.
‘Don’t be ungallant, Roger,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t tell me I look old.’
He let the last thread of detachment go, and drowned voluptuously in the senses.
Retiring, later, to his own bedroom, he could feel only a confused pain of loathing and disgust. Less than half an hour ago he had been championing, he remembered, the innate goodness of man. Including the goodness of sneaking in to your host’s wife’s bedroom at night.