Of course she hadn’t expected it. Not from him. Not George. Good, reliable, faithful, George. She’d stepped out on him a million times and he’d never seen fit to argue. She left and returned as she pleased and that was simply the way things were in their marriage. He never complained. He simply waited for her to return, which she invariably did, when she got bored. She’d never had any worry about losing him of course.
If he grew less effusive over her return as the years passed that was to be expected as well. The novelty must be wearing off for him, just as it had done for her. She’d never given a thought to it. It hardly mattered that by the end he’d simply acknowledged her presence with a nod over the top of his paper. Even his going off to town on occasion or spending the night at his club wasn’t to be suspected at all. He was a man of habits, habits that were hard to break even in North Cornwall.
Except now, in this empty little cottage, she is sitting on the faded couch, clutching her glass in silence as the solicitor drones on. He is telling her that she must vacate the premises and that the cottage is to be sold. That George, reliable, faithful, George, has left everything to someone else. Nothing but her belongings are hers. She doesn’t take in any of the other details and drinks one gin too many that night.
With the dawn she is herself again. She is a pragmatist at heart so there are few tears and instead much packing. She will take herself down to London first and then from there see about finding a place with any number of relatives along the Helford Estuary, as she has often done before. Silly George, the fond thought crosses her mind. She will of course enquire as to the disposal of his assets because she must know. He owes her that much.
In London there is sympathy and sad smiles all round. His friends have ever been a comfort. There are drinks and dinners to go to, fine gentlemen who remind her that she need only let them know what can be done. Except, they are reticent on the matter of George’s private liaisons. They all know. For all that they are spies, they are still human. They hide the possession of that particular intelligence poorly from her. She is, and ever was, most carefully observant. In the end, for she perseveres, there is the whisper of a French mistress to whom George was most fondly attached.
She doesn’t press the matter further with them. That George found some measure of happiness in her absence is enough. She has always owed him that much. Theirs has been, forever, a complicated relationship. Still, she determines to visit his solicitors, just one last time, to put a name to her enquiry.
In the end, she comes face to face with the benefactor of George’s will on the steps of the solicitor’s office. Peter Guillam is not so young anymore but the hard-eyed stare he fixes her with tells her enough. She knows that, were she to ask, he would probably relish telling her that she would have nothing of George’s. So instead she smiles warmly, as if he is an old friend, and takes her leave abruptly. She has family to call upon, other business to attend to, perhaps even a spot of shopping to do before she catches her train: These things take her away in unfaltering, determined, strides. It has nothing to do, whatsoever, with having left George’s mistress open mouthed on the steps behind her.