The Governor stopped speaking and it was silent in the big brightly lit drawing-room. He took out a handkerchief and wiped it over his face. His memories had excited him and his eyes were bright in the flushed face. He got to his feet and poured a whisky and soda for Bond, and one for himself.

Bond said: “What a mess. I suppose something like that was bound to happen sooner or later, but it was bad luck on Masters that it had to happen so soon She must have been a hard-hearted little bitch. Did she show any signs of being sorry for what she'd done?”

The Governor had finished lighting a fresh cigar. He looked at the glowing tip and blew on it. He said: “Oh no. She was having a wonderful time. She probably knew it wouldn't last for ever, but it was what she had dreamed about - what the readers of women's magazines dream about, and she was pretty typical of that sort of mentality. She had everything - the best catch on the island, love on the sands under the palm trees, gay times in the town and at the Mid-Ocean, fast drives in the car and the speedboat - all the trappings of cheap romance. And, to fall back on, a slave of a husband well out of the way, and a house to have a bath in and change her clothes and get some sleep. And she knew she could get Philip Masters back. He was so abject. There would be no difficulty. And then she could go round and apologize to everyone and turn on the charm again and everyone would forgive her. It would be all right. If it wasn't all right, there were plenty of other men in the world besides Philip Masters - and more attractive ones at that. Why, look at all the men at the golf club! She could have her pick of them at the drop of a hat. No, life was good, and if one was being a bit naughty it was after all only the way plenty of other people behaved. Look at the way the filmstars went on in Hollywood.”

“Well, she was soon put to the test. Tattersall got a bit tired of her and, thanks to the Governor's wife, the Tattersall parents were making the hell of a fuss. That gave Tattersall a good excuse to get out of it all without too much of a scene. And it was summer and the island was flooded with pretty American girls. It was time for some fresh blood. So he chucked Rhoda Masters. Like that. Just told her they were through. That his parents had insisted or they would cut off his allowance. It was a fortnight before Philip Masters was due back from Washington, and I will say she took it well. She was tough and she had known it would have to come some time or other. She didn't squeal. For that matter there was no one to squeal to. She just went and told Lady Burford that she was sorry and that she was now going to be a good wife to Philip Masters, and she started on the house and cleaned it up and got everything shipshape ready for the big reconciliation scene. The necessity for bringing about this reconciliation was made clear to her by the attitude of her former cronies at the Mid-Ocean. She had suddenly become bad news there. You know how these things can happen, even in an open-handed place like a country club in the tropics. Now not only the Government House set but also the Hamilton merchants clique frowned on her. She was suddenly shoddy goods, used and discarded. She tried to be the same gay little flirt, but it didn't work any more. She got sharply snubbed once or twice and stopped going. Now it was vital to get back to a secure base and start slowly working her way up again. She stayed at home and set to with a will, rehearsing over and over again the act she would put on- the tears, the air hostess cosseting, the lengthy, sincere excuses and explanations, the double bed.”

“And then Philip Masters came home.”

The Governor paused and looked reflectively over at Bond. He said: “You're not married, but I think it's the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn't care if the other is alive or dead, then it's just no good. That particular insult to the ego - worse, to the instinct of self-preservation - can never be forgiven. I've noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I've seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I've seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster - all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I've thought about this and I've invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace.”

Bond said: “That's a splendid name for it. It's certainly impressive enough. And of course I see what you mean. I should say you're absolutely right. Quantum of Solace - the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it's obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You've got to get away to save yourself. Did Masters see that?” The Governor didn't answer the question. He said: “Rhoda Masters should have been warned when her husband walked through the bungalow door. It wasn't so much what she saw on the surface - though the moustache had gone and Masters's hair was once again the untidy mop of their first meeting - it was the eyes and the mouth and the set of the chin. Rhoda Masters had put on her quietest frock. She had taken off most of her make-up and had arranged herself in a chair where the light from the window left her face in half shadow and illuminated the pages of a book on her lap. She had decided that, when he came through the door, she would look up from her book, docilely, submissively, and wait for him to speak. Then she would get up and come quietly to him and stand in front of him with her head bowed. She would tell him all and let the tears come and he would take her in his arms and she would promise and promise. She had practised the scene many times until she was satisfied.”

“She duly glanced up from her book. Masters quietly put down his suitcase and walked slowly over to the mantelpiece and stood looking vaguely down at her. His eyes were cold and impersonal and without interest. He put his hand in his inside pocket and took out a piece of paper. He said in the matter-of-fact voice of a house agent: 'Here is a plan of the house. I have divided the house in two. Your rooms are the kitchen and your bedroom. Mine are this room and the spare bedroom. You may use the bathroom when I am not in it.' He leant over and dropped the paper on the open pages of her book. 'You are never to enter my rooms except when we have friends in.' Rhoda Masters opened her mouth to speak. He held up his hand. 'This is the last time I shall speak to you in private. If you speak to me, I shall not answer. If you wish to communicate, you may leave a note in the bathroom. I shall expect my meals to be prepared punctually and placed in the dining-room, which you may use when I have finished. I shall give you twenty pounds a month to cover the housekeeping, and this amount will be sent to you by my lawyers on the first of each month. My lawyers are preparing the divorce papers. I am divorcing you, and you will not fight the action because you cannot. A private detective has provided full evidence against you. The action will take place in one year from now when my time in Bermuda is up. In the meantime, in public, we shall behave as a normal married couple.'”

“Masters put his hands in his pockets and looked politely down at her. By this time tears were pouring down her face. She looked terrified - as if someone had hit her. Masters said indifferently: 'Is there anything else you'd like to know? If not, you had better collect your belongings from here and move into the kitchen.' He looked at his watch. 'I would like dinner every evening at eight. It is now seven-thirty.'”

The Governor paused and sipped his whisky. He said: “I've put all this together from the little that Masters told me and from fuller details Rhoda Masters gave to Lady Burford. Apparently Rhoda Masters tried every way to shake him - arguments, pleadings, hysterics. He was unmoved. She simply couldn't reach him. It was as if he had gone away and had sent someone else to the house to represent him at this extraordinary interview. And in the end she had to agree. She had no money. She couldn't possibly afford the passage to England. To have a bed and food she had to do what he told her. And so it was. For a year they lived like that, polite to each other in public, but utterly silent and separate when they were alone. Of course, we were all astonished by the change. Neither of them told anyone of the arrangement. She would have been ashamed to do so and there was no reason why Masters should. He seemed to us a bit more withdrawn than before, but his work was first-class and everyone heaved a sigh of relief and agreed that by some miracle the marriage had been saved. Both of them gained great credit from the fact, and they became a popular couple with everything forgiven and forgotten.”

“The year passed and it was time for Masters to go. He announced that Rhoda would stay behind to close the house, and they went through the usual round of farewell parties. We were a bit surprised that she didn't come to see him off in the ship, but he said she wasn't feeling well. So that was that until, in a couple of weeks, news of the divorce case began leaking back from England. Then Rhoda Masters turned up at Government House and had a long interview with Lady Burford, and gradually the whole story, including its really terrible next chapter, leaked out.”

The Governor swallowed the last of his whisky. The ice made a hollow rattle as he put the glass softly down. He said: “Apparently on the day before Masters left he found a note from his wife in the bathroom. It said that she simply must see him for one last talk before he left her for ever. There had been notes like this before and Masters had always torn them up and left the bits on the shelf above the basin. This time he scribbled a note giving her an appointment in the sitting-room at six o'clock that evening. When the time arrived, Rhoda Masters came meekly in from the kitchen. She had long since given up making emotional scenes or trying to throw herself on his mercy. Now she just quietly stood and said that she had only ten pounds left from that month's housekeeping money and nothing else in the world. When he left she would be destitute.”

“'You have the jewels I gave you, and the fur cape.'”

“'I'd be lucky if I got fifty pounds for them.'”

“'You'll have to get some work.'”

“'It'll take time to find something. I've got to live somewhere. I have to be out of the house in a fortnight. Won't you give me anything at all? I shall starve.'”

“Masters looked at her dispassionately. 'You're pretty. You'll never starve.'”

“'You must help me, Philip. You must. It won't help your career having me begging at Government House.'”

“Nothing in the house belonged to them except a few odds and ends. They had taken it furnished. The owner had come the week before and agreed the inventory. There only remained their car, a Morris that Masters had bought second hand, and a radiogramophone he had bought as a last resort to try and keep his wife amused before she took up golf.”

“Philip Masters looked at her for the last time He was never to see her again. He said: 'All right. You can have the car and the radiogram. Now that's all. I've got to pack. Goodbye.' And he walked out of the door and up to his room.”

The Governor looked across at Bond. “At least one last little gesture. Yes?” The Governor smiled grimly. “When he had gone and Rhoda Masters was left alone, she took the car and her engagement ring and her few trinkets and the fox fur tippet and went into Hamilton and drove round the pawnbrokers. In the end she collected forty pounds for the jewellery and seven pounds for the bit of fur. Then she went to the car dealers whose nameplate was on the dashboard of the car and asked to see the manager. When she asked how much he would give her for the Morris he thought she was pulling his leg. 'But, madam, Mr Masters bought the car by hire purchase and he's very badly behind on his payments. Surely he told you that we had to send him a solicitor's letter about it only a week ago. We heard he was leaving. He wrote back that you would be coming in to make the necessary arrangements. Let me see' - he reached for a file and leafed through it. 'Yes, there's exactly two hundred pounds owing on the car.'”