The Heat of the Day Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The afternoon of the first Sunday in September, 1942, finds Harrison sitting at a band concert in Regent Park. He is not listening to the music but is merely killing time until eight o’clock, when he can see Stella Rodney. Thinking of Stella and the awkward subject he must discuss with her, he keeps thrusting the fist of his right hand into the palm of his left. This unconscious motion, as well as his obvious indifference to the music, arouses the curiosity of an adjacent listener, Louie Lewis, a clumsy, cheaply clad young woman with an artless and somewhat bovine expression. Lonely without her soldier husband and entirely a creature of impulse, she offends Harrison by breaking into his reverie with naïve comments that he brusquely rebuffs. Unabashed, she trails after him when he leaves the concert, giving up only when he abruptly leaves her to keep his engagement.

In her top-floor flat in Weymouth Street, Stella wonders idly why Harrison is late. Her attitude of waiting is more defiant than expectant, for she has no love for her expected visitor. She hardly knows how he has managed to insinuate himself into her life; first, he turned up unaccountably at the funeral of Cousin Francis Morris, and, since then, his attentions have steadily increased. There was a subtle shade of menace in his demand that she see him that night, and a curious sense of apprehension prompted her to consent. As she awaits his knock, her glance flickers impatiently about the charming flat, and she recalls the facts that give shape to her existence: her young son, Roderick, now in the British army; her former husband, long divorced and dead; her own war work with Y.X.D.; and her lover, Robert Kelway, who is also in government service.

When Harrison arrives, he receives a cool and perfunctory greeting. His first remarks are hesitant and enigmatic, but he soon launches into words that leave Stella wide-eyed with shock and disbelief. He tells her that her lover is a Nazi agent passing English secrets to Germany. Harrison himself is connected with British intelligence, and he had been assigned to cover Kelway’s movements. There is just one way to save the traitor. Stella must give him up and switch her interest to Harrison. If she does, Kelway’s fate might be averted or indefinitely postponed.

The blunt proposition unnerves Stella. She refuses to believe in Kelway’s guilt, for Harrison does not impress her as a trustworthy man. She plays for time, winning a month’s delay in which to make up her mind. Harrison sharply advises her not to warn Robert: The slightest change in his pattern of action would result in his immediate arrest. As the interview ends, the telephone rings. It is Roderick, announcing his arrival on leave in London. Upon Harrison’s departure, Stella pulls herself together and makes quick preparations to receive her son.

Roderick’s...

(The entire section is 1178 words.)