It was frightful to her to think, to be obliged to think, that Arabian all this time had looked upon her as a prey, had marked her down as a prey. She understood everything now, his fixed gaze at her in the Cafe Royal when she had seen him for the first time, his coming to Garstin's studio, his subtle acting through the early days of their acquaintance. She understood his careful self-repression, his reticence, his evident reluctance to be painted, overcome no doubt by two desires—the desire to become intimate with her, and the desire to possess eventually a piece of work that would be worth a great deal of money. She understood the determination not to allow his portrait to be exhibited. She understood the look in his face when she had told him of her father's sudden death, the change in his demeanour to her since he had known the fact, the desire to hurry things on, to sweep her off her feet. She understood—ah, how she understood!—why he had not wished Adela to join them in the restaurant! She remembered a hundred things about him now, all mixed up together, in no coherent order, little things at which she had wondered but which she wondered at no longer; his distaste for Garstin's portraits because they were of people belonging to the underworld, his understanding of them, his calm contemplation of the victims of vice, his lack of all pity for them, his shrewd verdict on the judge which had so delighted Garstin. And how he had waited for her, how he had known how to wait! It was frightful—that deliberation of his! Garstin had been right about him. Garstin's instinct for people had not betrayed him. Although later Arabian's craft had puzzled even him he had summed up Arabian at a first glance. Garstin was diabolically clever. If only he were less hard, less brutally cynical, she might perhaps go to him now. For he had in his peculiar way warned her against Arabian. She flushed in the dark as she thought of Garstin's probable comments on her situation if he knew of it! And yet Garstin had told her that Arabian was in love with her. Was that possible? Her vanity faintly stirred like something, albeit feebly, reviving. Arabian had marked her down as a prey. She had no doubt about that. Her brain refused to doubt it. But perhaps, mingled with his hideous cupidity of the accomplished adventurer, the professional thief, there was something else, the lust, or even the sensual love, of the primitive man. Perhaps—she realized the possibility—he believed he had found in her the great opportunity of his life, the unique chance of combining the satisfaction of his predatory instincts with the satisfaction of his intimate personal desires, those desire which he shared with the men who lived far from the underworld.
If that were so—and suddenly she felt that it was so, that she had hit upon the truth—then she was surely in great danger. For Arabian was not the man to let an unique opportunity slip through his fingers without putting up a tremendous fight.
She must find someone to help her against this man. Again she thought of Garstin. But he had his own battle to fight, the battle about the portrait. Then she thought of Craven. Obscurely long ago—it seemed at least long ago—she had felt that she might some day need Craven in her life. How strange that was! What mysterious instinct had warned her then? But now Craven was hostile to her. How could she go to him? And then there flashed upon her the thought:
"But I can't go to anybody! I have promised Adela."
That thought struck her like a blow, struck her so hard that she stood still on the pavement. And she realized immediately that either she must do without any help at all, or that, in spite of all that had happened, she must ask Adela to help her. For she could never break her promise to Adela. She knew that. She knew that she would rather go under than betray Adela's confidence. Adela had done a fine thing, something that she, Beryl, had not believed it was in any woman to do. She could not have done it, but on the other hand she could not be vile. It was not in her to be vile.
She heard a step in the darkness and realized what she was doing. Instantly she hurried on, almost running. She must gain shelter, must be in the midst of light, must be between four walls, must speak to someone who knew her, and who would not do her harm. Claridge's—old Fanny! A few minutes later she entered the hotel almost breathless.
On the following afternoon Craven called on Lady Sellingworth about five o'clock and was told by the new footman in a rather determined manner that she was "not at home."
"I hope her ladyship is quite well?" he said.
"I believe so, sir," replied the man. "Her ladyship has been out driving to-day."
"Please give her that card. Wait one moment."
He pencilled on the card, "I hope you are better,—A.C.," gave it to the man, and walked away, feeling sure that Lady Sellingworth was in the house but did not choose to see him.
In the evening he received the following note from her:
18A, BERKELEY SQUARE,
DEAR MR. CRAVEN,—How kind of you to call and to write that little message. I am sorry I could not see you. I'm not at all ill, and have been out driving. But, between you and me—for I hate to make a fuss about trifling matters of health—I feel rather played out. Perhaps it's partly old age! You know nothing abut that. Any variation in my quiet life seems to act as a disturbing influence. And the restaurant the other night really was terribly hot. I mustn't go there again, though it is great fun. I suppose you didn't see Beryl? She has been to see me, but said nothing about it. Be nice to her. I don't think she has many real friends in London.—Yours very sincerely,
"What is it? What has happened?" Craven thought, as he put down the letter.
He felt that some drama had been played out, or partially played out, within the last days which he did not understand, which he was not allowed to understand. Lady Sellingworth chose to keep him in the dark. Well, she had the right to do that. As he thought over things he realized that the heat in the restaurant could certainly not have been the sole reason of her strange conduct on the night when they had dined together. Something had upset her mentally. A physical reason only could not account for her behaviour. And again he thought of Arabian.
Instinctively he hated the man. Who was he? Where did he come from? Craven could not place him. Beyond feeling sure that he was a "wrong 'un" Craven had no very definite opinion about him. He was well dressed, good looking—too good looking—and no doubt knew how to behave. He might even possibly be a gentleman of sorts, come to England from some exotic land where the breed of gentleman was quite different from that which prevailed in England. But he was surely a beast. Craven detested his good looks, loathed his large and lustrous brown eyes. He was the sort of beast who did nothing but make up to women. Something inherently clean in Craven rejected the fellow, wished to drive him into outer darkness.
Could Lady Sellingworth know such a man?
That seemed quite impossible. Nevertheless, certain things persistently suggested to Craven that at least she had some knowledge of Arabian which she was deliberately concealing from him. The most salient of these things was her reiterated attempt to push him into the company of Beryl Van Tuyn. It was impossible not to think that Lady Sellingworth wished him to interfere between Beryl Van Tuyn and Arabian. On the night of the dinner in Soho she had attempted to persuade him to go back to the restaurant and to see Beryl home. And now here in this letter she returned to the matter.
"Be nice to her. I don't think she has many real friends in London."
"Go to see Beryl; don't come to see me."
Between the lines of Lady Sellingworth's letter Craven read those words and wondered at the ways of women. But he did not mean to obey the unwritten command. And he felt angry with Lady Sellingworth for giving it by implication. She might have what she considered a good reason for her extraordinary behaviour. But as she did not allow him to understand it, as she chose to keep him entirely in the dark, he would be passive. It was not his business to run after Beryl Van Tuyn, to interfere almost forcibly between her and another man, even if that man were a scoundrel. Miss Van Tuyn was a free agent. She had the right to choose her own friends, her own lovers. Once he had decided that he would not give up his intimacy with her in favour of another man without a struggle, the sort of polite, and perhaps subtle, struggle which is suitable to the twentieth century, when man must only be barbarous in battle. But since the encounter in Glebe Place he had changed his mind. Disgust had seized him that day. What could he think but that Beryl Van Tuyn had deliberately induced him to come to Glebe Place, in order that he might see not only her absolute indifference to him but also her intimacy with Arabian? Her reason for such a crude exposure of her lightness of conduct escaped Craven. He could not conceive what she was up to, unless her design was to arouse in him violent jealousy. He did feel jealous, but he was certainly not going to show it. Besides, the delicacy that was natural in him was disquieted by what he thought of as the coarseness of her behaviour.
As once more he looked at Lady Sellingworth's letter he was struck by something final in the wording of it. There was nothing explicit in it. On the contrary, that seemed to be carefully avoided. But the allusions to old age, to disturbing influences, the decision not to go again to the Bella Napoli—these seemed to hint an intention to return to a former state of being, to abandon a new path of life. And he remembered a conversation with Francis Braybrooke at the club, the interest it had roused in him. Some slumbering feeling for romance had been stirred in him, he now thought, by that conversation, by the information he had received about the distinguished recluse who had lived a great life and then suddenly plunged into old age and complete retirement.
Now he seemed to hear a door shutting, and he was outside it. She had allowed him to enter her life for a short time, to enter it almost intimately. But she was surely repenting of that intimacy. He did not know why. Did he ever know why a woman did this or that? There was no suggestion in the letter that he should ever call again, no hint of a desire to see him. She was only sorry, politely sorry, that she had not been able to see him that day. But no reason was given for the inability. She had not considered it necessary to give him a reason. When she had gone abroad without letting him know he had said to himself that his brief friendship with her had come to an end. He felt that more acutely now. For she had come back from abroad. She was close to him in London. She had tried him again. Evidently she must have found him wanting. For once more she was giving him up. Perhaps he was too young. Perhaps he bored her. He did not know.
"I don't suppose I shall ever know."
To that conclusion he came at last. And the sense of finality grew in him, cold and inexorable. She was a mystery to him. He did not love her. He had never thought of her as she had thought of him. He had never known or suspected what her feelings for him had been. But he felt that something which might have meant a good deal, even perhaps a great deal, to him was being withdrawn from his life. And this withdrawal hurt him and saddened him.
He locked up her letter in his dispatch box. It would be a souvenir of a friendship which had seemed to promise much and which had ended abruptly in mystery. He did not answer it. Perhaps, probably, he would have done so but for the last two sentences in it.
After Lady Sellingworth had written and sent her note to Craven she felt that she was facing a new phase of life, and she thought of it as the last phase. Her sacrifice of self was surely complete at last. She had exposed her nature naked to Beryl Van Tuyn. She had given up her friendship with Alick Craven. There was nothing more for her to do. The call of youth had wrung from her a response which created loneliness around her. And now she had to find within herself the resolution to face this loneliness bravely.
When she wrote to Craven she had meant him to understand something of what he had understood. Yet she did not desire to hurt him. She would not have hurt him for the world. Secretly her heart yearned over him. But she could never let him know that. He might be puzzled by her letter. He might even resent it. But he would soon forget any feeling roused by it. And he would no doubt soon forget her, the old woman who had been kind to him for a time, who had even been almost Bohemian with him in a very mild way, and who had then tacitly given him up. Perhaps she would see him again. Probably she would. She had no intentions of permanently closing her door against him. But she would not encourage him to come. She would never dine out with him again. If he came he must come as an ordinary caller at the ordinary caller's hour.
Seymour Portman called on her in the late afternoon of the day when she wrote to Craven. Just before his arrival she was feeling peculiarly blank and almost confusedly dull. She had gone through so much recently, had lived at such high tension, had suffered such intense nervous excitement, in the restaurant of the Bella Napoli and afterwards, that both body and mind refused to function quite normally. Long ago she had stayed at St. Moritz in the depth of the winter, and had got up each morning to greet the fierce blue sky, the blazing sun, the white glare of the enveloping snows with a strange feeling of light, yet depressed, detachment. She began to have a similar feeling now. Far down she was horribly sad. But her surface seemed to say, "Nothing matters, because I am in an abnormal condition, and while I remain in this condition nothing can really matter to me." Surface and depths were in contradiction, yet she was not even fully aware of that. A numbness held her, and yet she was nervous.
She heard the drawing-room door open and Murgatroyd's voice make the familiar announcement; she saw Seymour's upright, soldierly figure come into the room; she smiled a greeting to her old friend; and the sound of Murgatroyd's voice, the sight of Seymour coming towards her, her own response to sound and sight, did not conquer the sensation of numbness.
"Yes, he is here. He does not forget me. He loves me and will always love me. But what does it matter?"
A voice seemed to be saying that within her. Recently she had suffered acutely; she had made a great effort; she had conquered herself and been conquered by another. And it had all been just too much for her. She was, she thought, like one who had fought desperately lying in deadly silence and calm on the deserted battlefield, utterly passive because utterly tired out.
But Seymour did not know that. He knew nothing of all that had happened, and Beryl knew everything. And she thought of a picture called "Love locked out." It was hardly fair that Seymour should know so little. And while he was quietly talking to her, telling her little bits of news which he thought would interest her, letting her in by proxy as it were to the life of the great world which she had abandoned but in which he still played a part, she was thinking, "If Seymour knew what I have done! If I told him, what would he think, what would he say?" He would be pleased, no doubt. But would he be surprised? And while she listened and talked she began to wonder, but always without intensity, about that. Seymour would think she had done the inevitable thing, what any thoroughbred was bound to do. And yet—would he be surprised nevertheless that she had been able to do it? She began presently to feel a slight tingle of curiosity about that. Had she, perhaps, to a certain extent justified Seymour's fidelity? He had a splendid character. She certainly had not. She had done countless things that Seymour must have hated, and secretly condemned. And yet he had somehow been able to go on loving her. Was that because he had always instinctively known that somewhere within her there was a traditional virtue which marched with his, that there was a voice which spoke his language?
"I suppose, in spite of all, in a way we are akin," she thought.
And she began to wish vaguely that he knew it, that he knew what had happened between her and Beryl. As she looked at his "cauliflower," bent towards her while he talked, at his strong soldier's face, at his faithful eyes, the eyes of the "old dog," she wished that it were possible to let Seymour know a little bit of the best of her. Not that she was proud of what she had done. She was too much akin to Seymour to be proud of such a thing, But Seymour would be pleased with her. And it would be pleasant to give him pleasure. It would be like giving him a small, a very small, reward for his long faithfulness, for his very beautiful and touching loyalty.
"What is it, Adela?" he said.
And a keen, searching look had come into his eyes.
She smiled vaguely, meeting his gaze. She still felt curiously detached, although she was able to think quite connectedly.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I feel you are not as usual to-day."
"In what way?"
"Something has happened. I don't, of course, wish to know what it is. But it has changed you, my dear."
"In what way?" she said again.
His reply startled her, set her free from her feeling of numbness, of light detachment, from what she called to herself her "St. Moritz feeling."
"I feel as if you were coming into possession of your true self at last," he said very gravely. "But as if perhaps you scarcely knew it yet."
A slow red crept in her cheeks, which would never know again the touch of the artificial red.
"Dear Seymour! My true self! I wonder what sort of self you think that is?"
"That's easily told. It is the self I have been loving for so many years. And now—"
He got up, still alert in his movement, out of his chair.
"You are going?"
"Yes. I have to meet 'Better not' at the Marlborough to talk over His Majesty's visit to Manchester."
"Ah!" she said.
"Better not" was the nickname given at Court to a certain much-valued gentleman about the king.
She did not try to detain Seymour. But when he had gone deep depression overcame her. She was the helpless victim of a tremendous reaction. So long as she had been in activity she had been able to endure. Even the horror of the Bella Napoli, complex and cruelly intense as the probing of steel among the nerves of the body, she had been able to live through without obvious flinching. But then there had been something to do, something to deal with, something to get the better of. There had been a necessity for action. And now there was nothing. Her activities were over. Seymour had broken the curious spell which for a short time had bound her, and now she realized everything with unnatural acuteness.
What was the good of coming into possession of her true self? What was the good of anything? Life was activity. Her late close contact with youth, her obligation to do something difficult and, to her, tremendous for youth had taught her that anew, and now she must somehow reconcile herself to extinction. For this was really what lay before her now—extinction while still alive. Better surely to be struggling with horrors than to be merely dying away. She even looked back to the scene with Beryl and thought of it almost with longing. For how she had lived in that scene! At moments during it she had entirely forgotten herself.
Was that perhaps life, the only real life—entire forgetfulness of self? If so, how seldom she had lived! In all her sixty years, in all her so-called "great life," for how short a time she had lived!
She had just then, even in the midst of her reaction, a feeling of illumination. She was in darkness, but around the darkness, as if enclosing it and her in it, there was light, a light she had never been really aware of till now. Something within her said:
She went up to her bedroom, shut herself in, went to a bookshelf, and took down a Bible which stood on it. She turned its pages till she came to the Sermon on the Mount. Then she began to read. And presently, as she read, a queer thought came to her. "If the 'old guard' could see me now!"
It was late when she stopped reading. She shut up the Holy Book, put it back on the shelf, and took down a volume of poems. And after reading the Bible she read the poem of the Wild Heart. And then she read nothing more. But her reading had waked up in her a longing which was not familiar to her except in connexion with what she supposed was the baser part of her, the part which had troubled, had even tortured her so many times in her life. She had often longed to do things for men whom she loved, or fancied she loved. Now she was conscious of a yearning more altruistic. She wished to be purely unselfish, if that were ever possible. And she believed it to be possible. For was not Seymour unselfish? He surely often forgot himself in her. But she had always remembered herself in others.
"What a monstrous egoist I have been all my life!" she thought, with a sense of despair. "Only once have I acted with a purely unselfish motive, and that was with Beryl. Yes, Beryl gave me the one opportunity I took advantage of. And now it is all over. Everything is finished. It is too late to try a new way of living."
She forgot many little sacrifices she had made in the war, or she did not count them to her credit. For patriotism in war seemed as natural to her as drawing breath. She was thinking of her personal life in connexion with individuals. She had once been unselfish—for Beryl. That was over. Everything was over. And yet Seymour had said that he felt as if at last she were coming into possession of her true self. So he had noticed a difference. It was as if what she had been able to do for Beryl had subtly altered her. But there was nothing more for her to do.
That evening she felt loneliness as she had never felt it before. A sort of mental nausea seized her as she dressed for her solitary dinner. For whom was she changing her gown? For Murgatroyd! How grotesque the unwritten regulations of a life like hers were! Why go down to dinner at all? She had no appetite. Nevertheless, everything was done in due order. Her hair was arranged. Cecile looked at her critically to see that everything was right. For Murgatroyd! Even a jewel was brought to be pinned in to the front of her gown. It was a big ruby surrounded by diamonds, and as it flashed in the light it brought back to her the hideous memory of Arabian.
What would he do now? It was very strange that after ten years she had been able, indeed she had been obliged, to revenge herself upon him, this man whom she had never known, to whom she had never even spoken. And she had never dreamed of revenge. She had let him go with his prey. Probably her jewels had enabled him to live as he wished to live for years. And now she had paid him back! Did Fate work blindly, or was there a terribly subtle and inexorable plan at work through all human life?
"Miladi does not like to wear this ruby?" said Cecile.
"Why do you say that?"
"Milady looks at it so strangely!"
"It reminds me of something. Yes, I will wear it to-night. But what's the good?"
"No one will see it but myself."
"Milady should go out more, much more, and receive company here."
"Perhaps I'll give a series of dinners," said Lady Sellingworth with a smile.
And she turned away and went down.
Murgatroyd and a footman were waiting for her. On the dining table was a menu telling her what she had to eat, what her cook had been, and was, busy over in the kitchen. She sat down at the big table, picked up the menu and glanced at it. But she did not see what was written on it. She saw only in imagination the years before her, perhaps five years, perhaps ten, perhaps even more. For her race was a long living one. She might, like some of her forbears, live to be very old. Ten years more of dinners like this one in Berkeley Square! Could that be endured? As she sipped her soup she thought of travelling. She might shut up the house, go over the seas, wander through the world. There were things to be seen. Nature spread her infinite variety for the sons and the daughters of men. She might advertise in The Times for a travelling companion. There would be plenty of answers. Or she might get one of her many acquaintances to come with her, some pleasant woman who would not talk too much, or too little.
When, finally, some fruit had been put before her, and Murgatroyd and the footman had left the room, she remained—so she thought of it—like a mummy in the tomb which belonged to her. And presently through the profound silence she heard the hoot of a motor-horn. Someone going somewhere! Someone who had something to do, somewhere to go! Someone from whom all the activities had not passed away for ever!
The motor-horn sounded again nearer. Now she heard the faint sound of wheels. The car was coming down her side of the Square. The buzz of the machine reached her ears now, then the grinding of brakes. The car had stopped somewhere close by, at the next house perhaps.
She heard an electric bell. That was in her own house. Then the car had stopped at her door.
She listened, and immediately heard a step in the hall. Murgatroyd, or the footman, was going to the door. She wondered who the caller could be. Possibly Seymour! But he never came at that hour.
A moment later Murgatroyd appeared in the room.
"Miss Van Tuyn has called, my lady, and begs you to see her."
"Miss Van Tuyn! Ask her—take her up to the drawing-room, please. I am just finishing. I will come in a minute."
"Yes, my lady."
Murgatroyd went out and shut the door behind him.
Then Lady Sellingworth took a peach from a dish in front of her and began to peel it. She had not intended to eat any fruit before Murgatroyd had given her this news. But she felt that she must have a few minutes by herself. Not long ago she had been appalled by the thought of extinction: had yearned for activity, had even desired opportunities for unselfishness. Now, suddenly, she was afraid, and clung to her loneliness. For she felt certain that Beryl had come to ask her to do something in connexion with Arabian. Something must have happened since their interview yesterday, and the girl had come to her to ask her help.
She ate the peach very slowly, scarcely tasting it. At last it was finished, and she got up from the table. She must not keep Beryl waiting any longer. She must go upstairs. But she went reluctantly, almost in fear, wondering, dreading what was coming upon her.
When she opened the drawing-room door she saw Beryl standing by the fire.
Beryl came forward hurriedly with a nervous manner Lady Sellingworth had never noticed in her before. Her face was very pale. There were dark rings under her eyes. She looked apprehensive, distracted even.
"Do forgive me for bursting in on you like this at such an hour!"
She took Beryl's hand. It was hot, and clasped hers with a closeness that was almost violent.
"What is it? Is anything the matter?"
"I want your advice. I don't—I don't quite know what to do. You see, there's nobody but you I can come to. I know I have no right—I have no claim upon you. You have been so good to me already. No other woman would have done what you have done. But you see, I promised never to—I can't speak to anyone else. I might have gone to Dick Garstin perhaps. . . . I don't know! But as it is I can't speak to a soul but you."
"Is it something about that man?"
"Yes. I'm afraid of him."
"I'm sure he doesn't mean to—I'm sure he won't give me up easily. I know he won't!"
"Sit down, Beryl."
"Have you seen him?"
"Has he written?"
"Yes. And he has called to-day. Last night directly I got back to the hotel I gave orders at the bureau that if he called they were to say 'not at home.'"
"But he got in!"
"How could he?"
"When they said I was out he asked for Fanny—Fanny Cronin, my companion. He sent up his card to her, and as I hadn't spoken to her—you know I promised not to say anything—she told them to let him come up. She likes him!"
"And were you in the hotel?"
"No, thank God I was really out. But I came back while he was still there."
"No, I didn't see him, as I told you. When I was just going up in the lift, something—it was almost like second sight, I think—prompted me to go to the bureau and ask if anyone was in our rooms. And they told me he was with Fanny, had been with her for over an hour."
"What did you do?"
"I went out at once. I called on one or two people, I stayed out till nearly half-past seven. I walked about in the dark. I was afraid to go near the hotel. It was horrible. Finally I thought he must have gone and I ventured to go back. I hurried through the hall. The lift was there. I went into it at once. I didn't look round. I was afraid he might have come down and be waiting about for me. When I got to our apartment I went straight to my bedroom and rang for my maid. She said he was gone. Then I went to Fanny. He had been having tea with her and had stayed two hours. He had—she's very foolish, poor old thing!—he had completely fascinated her."
Suddenly she blushed violently.
"I have no right to say that about Fanny. But I mean he had laid himself out to—"
"I quite understand," said Lady Sellingworth, with a sort of awkward dryness which she could not evade though she hated herself for it.
It was hideous, she felt, being mixed up with this old Miss Cronin and Beryl Van Tuyn in a sort of horrible sisterhood of victims of this vile man's fascination. Her flesh crept at the indignity of it, and all her patrician pride revolted at being remembered among his probably innumerable conquests. At that moment she felt punished for having so often in her life betrayed the best part of her nature.
"I quite understand, Beryl. You need not explain."
There was an unpleasant silence during which neither woman looked at the other. Then Lady Sellingworth said:
"But you haven't told me everything. And if I am to—if anything is to be done, can be done, I suppose you had better tell me everything."
"Yes. I want to. I must. Mr.—he told Fanny that I was—that I had promised to marry him."
"He told her that I had been to his flat on the very day that I had heard of my father's death and since. He promised Fanny that—that when we were married she should have a home with us. Isn't that horrible? Fanny has been afraid of my marrying because, you see, she depends in a way on me. She doesn't want to leave me. She's got accustomed—"
"He told her that people knew about my visits to him. Mrs. Birchington lives in the flat opposite his, and she knows. He contrived that she should know. I realize that now."
"A man like that lays his plans carefully."
"Yes. Oh—how humiliating it all is! Fanny was enthusiastic about him."
"What did you say?"
"I was very careful. Because I promised you! But I know she thinks—she must think I am in love with him. But that doesn't matter. Only it makes things difficult. But it isn't that which brought me here. I'm afraid of him."
"Have you ever written to him?"
"But you say he has written to you."
"Yes. When he left Fanny he wrote a letter in the hotel and had it sent up to my room. Fanny gave it me just now. I've got it here."
She drew a letter out of a little bag she had brought with her.
"I—I can't show it—"
"Oh—please—I don't want to see it!" said Lady Sellingworth, with an irrepressible shrinking of disgust.
"No, of course not. Adela, please don't think I imagined you did! But I must tell you—I know you hate all this. You must hate it. Oh, do forgive me for coming here! I know I oughtn't to. But I'm afraid—I'm afraid of him!"
"Why are you so afraid? What can he do?"
"A man like that might do anything!"
"Are you sure? I think such a man is probably a coward at heart."
But Miss Van Tuyn shook her head.
"He's got nerves of steel. I am sure of it. Besides—"
She paused, and a strange conscious look came into her face—a look which Lady Sellingworth did not understand.
"Yes?" she said at last, as Beryl did not speak.
"Adela, I know you will not believe me. I know—you spoke once of my being very vain, but—but there are things a girl does know about a man, really there are! They may seem ridiculous, crazy to others, but—"
"What is it, Beryl?"
"I believe besides wanting my money he wants me. That's why I'm afraid. If it weren't for that I—perhaps I shouldn't have come to-night. Can you believe it?"
Lady Sellingworth looked at the girl with eyes which in spite of herself were hard. She knew they were hard, but she could not help it. Then she said:
"Yes, I can believe it."
"And that he may—he may persist in spite of all. He may refuse to give it up."
"Haven't you got a will?"
"Can't you use it?"
"Yes. But I'm afraid of him. I believe I've always been afraid of him. No one else has ever been able to make me feel as I do about him. Once I read an article in a paper. It was about a horrible play—a woman who was drawn to a man irresistibly in spite of herself, to a hateful man, a murderer. And she went; she had to go. I remember I thought of him then. It was a fascination of fear, Adela. There are such things."
"Do you mean to say that after what I have told you—"
"I want someone to get him away, to drive him away from me so that I shall never see him, so that he will never come near me again! I might go to Paris. But it would be no use. He would follow me there. I might go to America. But that would be just the same. He says so in this letter."
She held up the letter in her hand.
"Does he threaten you?"
"No—not exactly! No, he doesn't! It's worse than that. If he did I think I might find the courage. He's subtle, Adela. He's horribly subtle! Besides, he doesn't know—he can't know that you have told me what he is."
"He might guess it. He probably guessed it. He recognized me in the restaurant."
"Yes. He didn't want you to come to our table. But he never spoke of you afterwards. He didn't say a word, or show the slightest sign. But in this letter I feel that he suspects—that he is afraid something may happen through you, and that—"
"Perhaps he knows you came to see me last night."
"How could he?"
"It wouldn't be difficult for a man of that type."
"I walked home alone, and nobody—"
"That doesn't prove anything. He is subtle, as you say."
"I am sure from this letter that he guesses something has happened, that I may have been set against him, and that he doesn't mean to give me up, whatever happens. I feel that in his letter. And I want someone to drive him away from me. Oh, I wish I had never seen him! I wish I had never seen him!"
Again Lady Sellingworth heard the cry of youth, and this time it was piteous, almost despairing. She did not answer it in words. Indeed, instead of showing any pity, any strong instinct of protection, she turned away from Beryl.
The girl wondered why she did this, and for a moment thought that perhaps she was angry. The situation was difficult, horribly difficult. Beryl had delicacy enough to understand that. Perhaps she ought not to have come to Adela again. Perhaps she was asking too much, more than any woman could bring herself to do, or to try to do. But she had not one else to go to, and she was really afraid, miserably afraid.
Lady Sellingworth stood quite still by the fire with her back to Beryl, and as the silence continued at last Beryl made up her mind that there was nothing to be hoped for from her and got up slowly.
"Adela," she said, trying to summon some pride, some courage, "I understand. You can't do anything more. I oughtn't to have come. It was monstrous, I suppose. But—it's like that in life. So few people will help. And those that do—well, they get asked for more. I'll—I'll manage somehow. It's all my own fault. I must try to—"
Then Lady Sellingworth turned round. Her white face was very grave, almost stern, like the face of one who was thinking with concentration.
"I'm ready to try to do what I can, Beryl," she said. "But there's only one way I can think of. And to take it I shall have to tell the whole truth."
"About you and myself."
"Oh—but you couldn't do that!"
"I believe that I ought to."
"There's only one person I could possibly speak to, and he's the finest man I have ever met. He might do something. I'm thinking of Seymour Portman."
"Adela! But you couldn't tell him!"
"Adela—he loves you. Everyone knows that."
"And that's just why I could tell him—him only."
Miss Van Tuyn looked down. Suddenly she felt that she had tears in her eyes.
"You have kept your cab, haven't you?" said Lady Sellingworth.
"Go home now. I will telephone to Seymour. I'll let you know later—to-morrow morning perhaps—what he thinks had better be done. Now, good night, Beryl!"
She held out her hand. Beryl took it, but did not press it. Somehow she felt awed, and at a distance from this pale quiet woman.
Lady Sellingworth touched the bell, and Beryl Van Tuyn left the room.
As soon as Beryl had gone Lady Sellingworth went downstairs to her writing-room. She turned on the electric light as she went in to the room, and glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. The hands pointed to half-past nine. She wondered where Seymour was dining. He might chance to be at home. It was much more likely that he was dining out, at one of his clubs or elsewhere. If he were at home and alone he would come to her at once; if not she would perhaps have to wait till half-past ten or eleven. She hoped to find him at St. James's Palace. As this thing had to be done—and now she had burnt her boats, for she had promised Beryl—she wished to do it quickly.
She inquired through the telephone if Seymour was at home. His servant replied that he was out. She asked where. The servant did not know. His master had dressed and gone out at a quarter to eight without saying where he was dining. Lady Sellingworth frowned as she received this information. She hesitated for a moment, then she said:
"As soon as Sir Seymour comes in, however late it may be, I want to see him on an urgent matter. If you go to bed before he comes back, will you please leave a written message in the hall asking him to visit Lady Sellingworth at once in Berkeley Square. It is very important."
"Yes, my lady," said the voice.
"You won't forget? I shall be sitting up for Sir Seymour."
"No, my lady. I will stay up and inform Sir Seymour."
She put the receiver back in its place and again looked at the clock. She had not much hope of seeing Seymour before eleven at the earliest. He might be at a big dinner. He might be at the theatre. Probably he would go to his club afterwards. She might not see him till midnight, even later perhaps. Well, it could not be helped. She must just be patient, must wait calmly. But she did not want to wait. She was beginning to feel nervous, and she knew that the nervousness would increase in suspense. How unlucky that Seymour was out!
She rang the bell. Murgatroyd came.
"I am expecting Sir Seymour to-night, Murgatroyd," she said, "about some important business. But I can't find out where he is, so he won't know till he goes home. That may be late. But he will come here directly he gets my message. I'm sorry to keep you up, but I should like you to let him in."
"Certainly, my lady," said Murgatroyd.
"I shall be waiting for him in the drawing-room. Bring me up some camomile tea, will you? And put out a cigar and whisky and Perrier for Sir Seymour."
"Yes, my lady."
Murgatroyd stood back to let her pass out of the room. She thought at that moment there was something sympathetic in his face.
"I believe he's rather devoted to me, and to Seymour too," she said to herself as she went upstairs. "I don't think he'll say anything to the others. Not that it matters if he does!"
Nevertheless she felt oddly shy about Seymour coming to her very late at night, and wondered what Murgatroyd thought of that long friendship. No doubt he knew, no doubt all the servants knew, how devoted to her Seymour was.
She went into the drawing-room and sat down by the fire, and very soon Murgatroyd brought in the camomile tea. Then he placed on a side table a box of cigars, whisky and Perrier water, and went out.
The clock chimed the quarter before ten.
Camomile tea is generally supposed to be good for the nerves. That was why Lady Sellingworth had ordered it; that was why she drank it now. For now she was beginning to feel horribly nervous, and the feeling seemed to increase in her with every passing moment. It was dreadful waiting for Seymour like this. She felt all her courage and determination oozing away. When Beryl had been there, and that strange and abrupt decision had been come to, Lady Sellingworth had felt almost glad. Seymour would know what Beryl knew, the worst and perhaps the best, of his old friend. And there was no one else she could go to. Seymour was an old soldier, a thorough man of the world, absolutely discreet, with a silent tongue and proved courage and coolness. No one surely existed more fitted to deal drastically with a scoundrel than he. Lady Sellingworth had no idea what he would do. But he would surely find a way to get rid of Arabian, to "drive" him, as Beryl had put it, out of the girl's life for ever. Yes, he would find a way. Lady Sellingworth felt positive of that, and, feeling thus positive, she realized how absolutely she trusted Seymour, trusted his heart, his brain, his whole character.
Nevertheless she looked again and again at the clock, and began to feel almost sick with anxiety.
The thought of confession had scarcely frightened her when Beryl was with her. Indeed, it had brought her a sense of relief. But now she began to feel almost panic-stricken at the knowledge of what was before her. And she began to wonder exactly how much Seymour understood of her character, exactly how much he knew of her past. He must certainly know a great deal, and perhaps suspect more than he knew. She had once been almost explicit with him, on the terrible day when she had tried to make up her mind to marry him, and had failed. And yet he might be surprised, he might even be horrified when she told him. It was such an ugly story, such a hideous story. And Seymour was full of natural rectitude. Whatever he had done in his life, he must always have been incapable of stooping down to the gutter, as she had stooped. She grew hot and then cold at the thought of telling him. Perhaps he would not be able to bear it. Perhaps even his love could not stand so much as that. If, after she had told him, he looked at her with different eyes, if he changed towards her! He would not want to change, but if he could not help it!
How awful that would be! Something deep down within her seemed to founder at the mere thought of it. To lose Seymour! That would indeed be the end of everything that made life worth living for her. She shuddered on her sofa. Then she got up and stood before the blazing fire. But still she felt cold. Surely she had acted imprudently when Beryl was there. She had been carried away, had yielded to a sudden impulse. And yet no! For she had stood with her back to Beryl for several minutes before she had said she was going to tell Seymour. And through those minutes she had been thinking hard. Yes; but she had not thought as she was thinking now.
She began to feel desperate. It was nearly eleven o'clock. The time had flown. Why had she asked Seymour to come to-night? She might just have well have waited till to-morrow, have "slept on it." The night brings counsel. Yet how could she break her promise to Beryl? It would be no use debating, for she had promised.
The clock struck eleven.
Seymour might come now in a moment. On the other hand, he might not reach home till midnight, or even later. It would really be a shame to bring him out again at such an hour. She had been thoughtless when she was at the telephone. And she was keeping his man up; Murgatroyd too. That was scarcely fair. It would not matter if Seymour came now, but if he did not get home till much later, as was possible, even probable! She had surely been rather selfish in her desire to do something quickly for Beryl. There was no such terrible hurry about the matter.
An overwhelming desire to postpone things took hold of her. She wanted to have time to think over how she would put it to Seymour. Would not it perhaps be possible to obtain his help for Beryl without telling him the whole truth about Arabian? She might just say that she knew the man was a blackguard without saying why she knew. There was perhaps no need to be absolutely explicit. Seymour would take it from her without asking awkward questions. He was the least curious of men. He would probably much rather not know the truth. It would be as horrible for him to hear it as for her to tell it. But she must have time to think carefully over how she would put it to him. Yes, she must have time. Better to see him to-morrow morning.
A quarter-past eleven!
It would really be monstrous to drag Seymour out to have a long confabulation about a girl whom he scarcely knew, and could have no interest in, at this time of night.
And she turned from the fire and went decisively towards the door. She would go down at once and telephone to Seymour's apartment in St. James's Palace cancelling her request to his manservant.
She found Murgatroyd waiting in the hall. He looked faintly surprised at seeing her.
"Oh, Murgatroyd!" she said. "It's getting so late that I've decided to put off Sir Seymour till to-morrow. I'm just going to telephone now. So you needn't sit up any longer."
"Very well, my lady."
"Good night, my lady."
"I'll turn out the lights when I go up."
"No—you needn't. Good night."
She went into the writing-room and shut the door behind her. The thought of the intense relief she would feel directly she had spoken through the telephone and put off Seymour, directly it was settled that he was not to come and see her that night, sent her straight to the telephone. She was eager to communicate with his servant. But she wished now intensely that she had not waited so long. She might possibly be too late. Seymour might have returned home, had her message, and started for Berkeley Square. She took the receiver in her hand and was just going to speak when she heard a cab outside in the Square. She listened. It came up and stopped at her door.
That was Seymour! She was certain of it. She put the receiver back in its place and stood quite still, listening. The bell was rung. Murgatroyd could not have gone to bed. He would answer the bell no doubt. If he did not she would have to answer it. After a pause she heard the bell again, then, almost immediately the front door being opened, and a faint murmur of voices. An instant later she heard the cab drive away. Perhaps—had Seymour called and gone away? Could Murgatroyd have—The door behind her opened. She turned sharply.
"Sir Seymour Portman has called to see you, my lady."
Looking beyond Murgatroyd she saw Seymour standing in the hall, in evening dress and a thick black overcoat.
Seymour had sent away his cab!
She went into the hall smiling faintly.
"So you have come! I was just going to speak to your man through the telephone, to tell him not to bother you, that it didn't matter, and that to-morrow would do as well. It's so very late."
He began to take off his overcoat, helped by Murgatroyd.
"Not a bit too late!" he said. "I shall enjoy a little talk with you by the fire. Thanks, Murgatroyd! I was dining out with the Montgomeries in Eaton Square."
She led the way, and as she mounted slowly with him close behind her she felt weak and now horribly afraid. She went into the drawing-room. He followed and shut the door, then came slowly, with his firm tread, towards her and the fire.
"Ah!" he said. "You thought of me!"
He had seen the cigar-box, the whisky and Perrier. A very gentle, intensely kind, almost beaming look came into his lined face.
"Or—was it Murgatroyd?"
"I wonder whether you know what it means to an old fellow like myself to be thought of now and then in these little ways!"
"Oh—Seymour!" she said.
Tears stood in her eyes. His few simple words had suddenly brought home to her in a strange, intense way the long loneliness to which she had condemned him. And now he was an old fellow! And he was grateful, beamingly grateful, for a little commonplace thought about his comfort such as any hostess might surely have had!
"Don't!" she added. "You hurt me when you say such a thing."
"Do I? And if I take a cigar?"
"Here! Let me clip it for you!"
As she clipped it he said:
"There is nothing serious the matter, is there, Adela? When I had your message I felt a little anxious."
She lit a match for him. She felt very tender over him, but she felt also very much afraid of him.
"Your hand is trembling, my dear!"
He took hold of her wrist, and held it while she lit his cigar. And his dry, firm fingers seemed to send her some strength.
"If only I had as little to be ashamed of as he has!" she thought, with a sort of writhing despair.
And she longed, as never before, for an easy conscience.
"I've had rather a trying time just lately," she said. "Come and sit down. Will you drink something?"
"Not yet, thank you."
He sat down in an arm-chair and crossed his legs, putting the right leg over the left, as he always did. She was on her sofa, leaning on her left arm, and looking at him. She was trying to read him, to read his whole character, to force her way to his secret, that she might be sure how much she might dare. Could he ever turn against her? Was that possible? His kind, dark eyes were fixed upon her. Could they ever look unkindly at her? She could scarcely believe that they could. But she knew that in human nature few things are impossible. Such terrible changes can take place in a moment. And the mystery is never really solved.
"Well, my dear, would you like to tell me what is troubling you? Perhaps I can do something."
"I want you to do something for me. Or rather—it would really be for somebody else. You remember Beryl Van Tuyn?"
"The daffodil girl—yes."
"She has been here to-night. She is in a great difficulty. By the way, of course she knows about my consulting you. I told her I would do it."
"I did not suppose you would give away a confidence."
"No! Seymour, has it ever struck you that there is something in you and in me which is akin in spite of the tremendous differences in our natures?"
"I'm glad. I like to feel that and—and I want you to feel it."
"I do. I feel it strongly."
"Whatever happens it would always be there."
"Yes, of course."
"It helps you to understand me, I expect."
"Surely it must."
"I wonder if you could ever—"
"What is it, Adela?"
"I wonder if you could ever turn against me."
"I don't think that is very likely," he said.
She looked at him. He was smiling.
"But—could nothing cause you to change towards me?"
"Some things might cause me to change towards anyone."
"But as they are not in your nature we need not consider them."
"But how do you know?"
"I do know."
"I know what you might do, or may have done. I know just as well what you have never done and could never do."
"But I have done some horrible things, Seymour."
"They are past. Let us forget them."
"But—horrible things come back in one's life! They are like revenants. After years—they rise up."
"What is the matter, Adela? Do tell me."
"I want to, but I'm afraid."
And directly she had told him that she felt less afraid.
"What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid of you."
"Of what you may think of me, feel towards me, if I tell you."
"Then—you do care what I feel?"
"I care very much. I care terribly."
Sir Seymour uncrossed his legs and made a slight movement as if he were going to get up. Then he sat still and took a pull at his cigar, and then he said:
"You need not be afraid of me, Adela. I have made up my mind about you. Do you know what that means? It means that you cannot surprise me. And I think it is surprise which oftenest brings about changes in feeling. What is it? You say it is something to do with Miss Van Tuyn?"
"Yes, but my life is in it, too; a horrible bit of my life."
"What can I do unless you tell me?"
She sat for a moment in silence gazing at him, at the lean figure, the weather-beaten face, the curly white hair, and at the dark eyes which were looking steadily at her, but not penetratingly, not cruelly. And then she sat straight up, took her arm from the sofa, folded her hands on her lap with an effort to make them look calm, and began to tell him. She spoke very simply, very steadily. She dressed nothing up. She strove to diminish nothing. Her only aim was to be quite unemotional and perfectly truthful. She began with Beryl Van Tuyn's acquaintance with Arabian, how she had met him in Garstin's studio, and went on till she came to the night when she and Craven had seen them together at the Bella Napoli.
"I recognized the man Beryl was with," she said. "I knew him to be a blackguard."
She described her abrupt departure from the restaurant, Craven's following her, her effort to persuade him to go back and to take Beryl home.
"I went home alone," she said, "and considered what I ought to do. Finally I wrote Beryl a letter, it was something like this."
She gave him the gist of the letter. Seymour sat smoking and did not say a word. Her narrative had been so consecutive and plain that he had not need to ask any question. And she was glad of his silence. Any interruption, she felt, would have upset her, perhaps even have confused her.
"Beryl was not satisfied with that letter," she went on. "On the night when she had it—last night—she came to me to ask for an explanation. I didn't want to give one. I did my best to avoid giving one. But when I found she was obstinate, and would not drop this man unless I gave her my reasons for warning her against him, when I found she had even thought of marrying him, I felt that it was my duty to tell her everything. So I told her—this."
And then she told him all the truth about the affair of the jewels, emphasizing nothing, but omitting nothing. She looked away from him, turned her eyes towards the fire, and tried to feel very calm and very detached. It was all ten years ago. But did that make any difference? For was she essentially different from the woman who had been Arabian's victim?
Still Seymour sat as before and went on smoking. As she was gazing at the fire she did not know for certain whether he was still looking at her or not.
At last she had finished the personal part of her narrative, though she had still to tell him how Beryl had taken it and what had happened that day. Before going on to that she paused for a moment. And immediately she heard Seymour move. He got up and went slowly to the table where the whisky and Perrier water had been placed by Murgatroyd. Then she looked at him. He stood with his back to her. She saw him bend down and pour out a glass of the water. Without turning he lifted the glass to his mouth and drank. Then he put the glass down; and then he stood for a moment quite still, always keeping his back towards her. She wondered what he was looking at. That was the question in her mind. "What can Seymour be looking at?"
At last he turned round. She thought that his face looked unusually stern, and his bushy eyebrows seemed—so she fancied—to be drawn down low above his eyes.
"Go on—my dear," he said in a rather gruff and very low voice.
She quivered. She, perhaps, scarcely knew why. At the moment she really believed that she did not know why. Suddenly emotion began to gain on her. But she struggled resolutely against it.
"Aren't you—don't you mean to sit down again?" she said.
"No. I think I'll stand."
And he came slowly to stand by the fire.
"Well," she began again, making a great effort, "I thought that was all. I didn't think there was anything more for me to do. But Beryl came back again to-night and begged me to help her. She is terrified of what he may do. I tried to reassure her. But it was no good."
And again she narrated, now with difficulty forcing herself to seem calm and unembarrassed, exactly what had happened that day between Beryl Van Tuyn and herself, till she came to the moment when she had turned away from Beryl and had gone to stand by the fire. Then once more she paused and seemed seized by hesitation. As Sir Seymour said nothing, did not help her out, at last she went on:
"Then I thought of you. I had never meant to tell anyone but Beryl, but as I could do nothing to help her, and as she is perhaps, really in danger—she is only a girl, and she spoke of the fascination of fear—I felt I must make a further effort to do something. And I thought of you."
"Why was that?" asked Sir Seymour, turning towards her, but not impulsively.
"Because I knew if anyone could stop this thing you could."
"That was your reason?"
"That—and—and I knew that I could never tell all this—about myself, I mean—to anyone but you. For ten years no one has known it."
"You felt you could tell me!"
The way in which he said those words was so inexpressive that Lady Sellingworth did not know what was the feeling behind them, whether it was astonishment, indignation, or something quite different.
"I—I didn't want to—" She almost faltered, again full of fear, almost of terror. "I was afraid to. But I felt I could, and I had told Beryl so."
"I wonder what made you feel you could," he said, still in the same curiously inexpressive way.
She said nothing. She leaned back on the sofa and her hands began to move restlessly, nervously. She plucked at her dress, put a hand to the ruby pinned in the front of her bodice, lifted the hand to her face, laid it on the back of the sofa.
"What was it?" he said.
"I hardly feel I can tell you," she said.
"Then don't, if you would rather not. But I should be glad to know."
"Would you? I told Beryl the reason."
She felt forced to say that, forced to speak that bit of truth.
"Then, if so, cannot you tell me?"
"I said—I said I could tell you because I knew you were fond of me."
"Ah—that was it!"
He was silent. At last he said:
"I should like to ask you a question. May I?"
"Are you very fond of Beryl Van Tuyn?"
"Aren't you at all fond of her?"
"I'm afraid not. No. But I like her much better than I did."
"Since you have done something for her?"
"Perhaps it is that."
"It is that."
He came towards the sofa and stood by it looking down at her.
"I told you just now, Adela, that you couldn't surprise me. What you have done in connexion with Beryl Van Tuyn has not surprised me. I always knew you were capable of such a thing; yes, even of a thing as fine as that. Thank God you have had your opportunity. Of course you took it. But thank God you have had it."
"I had to take it. I couldn't do anything else."
"Of course you couldn't."
She got up. She did not know why. She just felt that she had to get up. Seymour put his hands on her shoulders.
"Have you ever wondered why I was able to go on loving you?" he asked her.
"Yes, very often."
"Well, now perhaps you won't wonder any more."
And he lifted his hands from her shoulders. But he stood there for a moment looking at her. And in his eyes she read her reward.
Early on the following morning, soon after ten o'clock Miss Van Tuyn was startled by a knock on her bedroom door. Everything at all unexpected startled her just now. Her nerves, as even old Fanny could not help noticing, had gone "all to pieces." She lived in perpetual fear. Nearly all the previous night she had been lying awake turning over and over in her mind the horrible possibilities of the future. It was in vain that she tried to call her normal common sense to the rescue, in vain that she tried to look at facts calmly, to sum them up dispassionately, and to draw from them reasonable conclusions. She could not be reasonable. Her brain said to her: "You have no reason for fear. You are perfectly safe. Your folly and wilfulness, your carelessness of opinion, your reckless spirit of defiant independence, your ugly and abominable desires"—her brain did not spare her—"might easily have brought you to irretrievable ruin. They might have destroyed you. But Fate has intervened to protect you. You have been saved from the consequences of your own imprudence—to call it by no other name. Give thanks to the God of luck, and to the woman who sacrificed her pride for your sake, and live differently in the future." Her brain, in fact, told her she was saved. But something else that she could not classify, something still and remote and persistent, told her that she was in great danger. She said to herself, thinking of Arabian: "What can he do? I am my own mistress. If I choose to cut him dead he must accept my decision to have nothing more to do with him and go out of my life. He simply can't do anything else. I have the whole thing in my hands. He hasn't a scrap of my writing. He can't blackmail me. He can't compromise me more than I have already compromised myself by going about with him and being seen in his flat. He is helpless, and I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of." She said all this to herself, and yet she was full of fear. That fear had driven her to Lady Sellingworth on the previous evening, and it had grown in the night. The thought of Arabian tormented her. She said to herself that he could do nothing and, even while she said it, the inexorable something within her whispered: "What might not that man do?" Her imagination put no limit now to his possibilities for evil. All the horrors of the underworld were, for her, congregated together in him. She trembled at the memory of having been in his arms, shut up alone with him in the flat by the river. She attributed to him nameless powers. Something mysterious in him, something occult, had reduced her apparently to the level of an imaginative child, who peoples the night with spectres and conceives of terrors she cannot describe.
She felt that Arabian was not as other men, that he really was what Garstin had called him, a king in the underworld, and that that was why he had had power over her. She felt that he had within him something which ruled, which would have its way. She felt that he was more persistent than other men, more crafty, more self-possessed, more capable, more subtle. She felt that he had greatness as a ruffian, as another man might have greatness as a saint. And she felt above all that he was an expert with women.
If he had wanted Adela Sellingworth as well as her jewels, how would it have been then? What would have happened ten years ago? He had not wanted Adela Sellingworth. But he wanted her. She was positive of that. That he had known she was well off and was going to be rich she did not doubt for a moment. She could never forget as long as she lived the fleeting expression which had changed his face when she had told him of the death of her father. At that moment he had certainly felt that a fortune was probably almost within his grasp. Nevertheless she was positive, she was absolutely certain as a girl can be about such a thing, that he wanted and had long wanted her. He had waited because mingled with his man's desire for her there had been the other desire. He might have rushed at an intrigue. Such a man could have no real delicacies. He was too wise to rush at a marriage. And he must have had marriage in his mind almost ever since he had met her. He must have made inquiries, have found out all about her, and then laid his plans. Her looks had probably brought him for the first time to Garstin's studio. But it was not only his admiration for her appearance which had brought him there again and again, which had taught him detached self-control, almost distant respect, puzzling reserve, secrecy in intimacy, which had taught him to wait—till he knew.
And when he had not waited, when he had chosen to give way because the right moment had come, when he had made her go with him to his flat, when he had shown her what he wanted! His warmth then had not been a pretending. And yet, just before he had taken her in his arms, he had deliberately managed so that Mrs. Birchington should see her go into his flat. What a horrible mingling of elements there was in this man! Even his natural passions were intertwined with his hideous professional instincts The stretched-out hand of the lover was also the stretched-out hand of the thief.
When she heard the knock on her bedroom door she trembled.
"Yes?" she said, after a moment of hesitation.
She was up and was sitting in an arm-chair near the window having breakfast, and looking at her post.
"Come in!" she cried.
The door was gingerly opened and a page-boy showed himself. Miss Van Tuyn looked at him with dread.
"What is it? Something for me?"
"There's a gentleman wants to see you, ma'am."
"I can't see anyone. I told them so at the bureau. Where is he?"
"Down below, ma'am."
"Send him away. Say I'm still asleep. Say—"
She noticed for the first time that the boy had a card. He had been hiding it pressed to a salver against his trouser-leg. Now he lifted the salver. But Miss Van Tuyn did not take the card. She was certain the man below was Arabian.
"I can't see anyone. It's much too early."
"The gentleman said it was very important, ma'am, and I was to say so," said the page, with a certain chubby dignity that was almost official.
Miss Van Tuyn was now terrified. It was Arabian, and he would not go till he had seen her. She was certain of that. He would wait downstairs. She would be a prisoner in her rooms. All her fear of him seemed to rush upon her intensified, a fear such as she had never felt before. She got up tingling all over, and with a feeling as if all the blood had suddenly sunk away from her temples.
"You must tell him—"
The page-boy was now holding out the salver with the card on it, almost as if in self-protection. Her eyes fell on it against her will, and she saw there were four printed words on it. On Arabian's card there were only two: Nicolas Arabian. Instantly she stretched out her hand and took the card up—
"General Sir Seymour Portman."
Her relief was so great that she could not conceal it.
"Oh!" she exclaimed.
"Ma'am?" said the boy, looking more official.
"Please run down—"
"Yes—down at once and bring the gentleman up to my sitting-room. Be as quick as you can."
The page retired with a stiff back and rather slow-moving legs.
So Adela had wasted no time! She had been as good as her word. What a splendid woman she was!
Miss Van Tuyn did something to her gown, to her hair. Not that she wanted to make an impression on Sir Seymour. Circumstances were combining at present to drive her away from her vanity. Really she acted mechanically. Then she prepared to go to the sitting-room. And then, at the bedroom door she hesitated, suddenly realizing what lay before her. Finally she opened the door and listened. She heard almost immediately another door opened and a boy's chirpy voice say:
"This way, sir, please!"
Then she went out and came upon Sir Seymour Portman in the lobby.
"How very kind of you to come!" she said, with an attempt at eager cordiality but feeling now strangely shy and guilty. "And so early!"
"Good morning! May I put my hat here?"
"Yes, do. And leave your coat. Is it cold out?"
"This is my little room."
She went before him into the sitting-room which had a dreadfully early morning air, with its only just beginning fire, and its wintry dimness of the poor and struggling day.
"If only we could have met in the evening!" she thought.
It was awful to discuss such a situation as hers when the milkman had scarcely finished his rounds, and when her vitality had not been warmed up.
"Do sit down, Sir Seymour!" she said.
And he sat down in a businesslike sort of way, and at once began.
"Rather late last night I saw Lady Sellingworth."
"She sent for me. You know why, I understand."
"Yes. I had been with her."
"She told me the whole matter."
"Oh! Did she? I—I've been awfully foolish. I deserve to—I deserve everything. I know that. Adela has been so good to me. I can never say how good. She might so easily have—I mean considering the way I have—"
She stopped. Adela could not have told Sir Seymour about the unkindness of the girl she had sent him to help. Miss Van Tuyn remembered that just in time.
"Lady Sellingworth did what you wished," said Sir Seymour, still in a quiet and businesslike way, "and consulted me. She told me what you wanted; that this man, Arabian, should be made to understand that he must finally give up any plans he had formed with regard to you."
Miss Van Tuyn felt the red beginning to creep in her cheeks.
"Yes," she said, looking down.
"Perhaps this can be done," continued Sir Seymour, in a practical way, rather like a competent man at a board meeting. "We must see."
He did not suggest that she could do it herself. She was thankful to him for that.
"Have you a photograph of this man?" he continued.
"That is a pity."
"But why do you want—"
"I should like to have his photograph to show at Scotland Yard."
"Oh!" she exclaimed.
Her face was scarlet now. Her forehead was burning. An acute and horrible sense of shame possessed her, seemed to be wrapped round her like a stinging garment.
"I've—I've never had a photograph of him," she said.
After a short pause Sir Seymour said:
"You've got his address."
The words seemed a statement as he said them.
"Yes," she said.
"Will you kindly write it down for me?"
She got up, still wrapped up in shame, and went to the writing-table. She took up a pen to write Arabian's address. But she could not remember the number of the flat. Her memory refused to give it to her.
"I can't remember the number," she said, standing by the writing-table.
"If you can give me the address of the flats I can easily find out the number."
"It is Rose Tree Gardens"—she began writing it down—"Rose Tree Gardens, Chelsea. It is close to the river."
She came away from the writing-table, and gave him the paper with the address on it.
He took the paper, folded it up, drew out a leather case from an inner pocket of his braided black jacket, and consigned the paper to it. Miss Van Tuyn sat down again.
"I understand you met this man at the studio of Mr. Garstin, the painter?" said Sir Seymour.
"Yes. But he wasn't a friend of Mr. Garstin's. Mr. Garstin saw him at the Cafe Royal and wished to paint him, so he asked him to come to the studio."
"And he has painted a portrait of him?"
"Is it a good one?"
"Yes, wonderful!" she said, with a shudder.
"I mean really is it a good likeness?"
"Oh! Yes, it is very like in a way, horribly like."
"In a way?"
"I mean that it gives the worst side. But it is like."
"I suppose the portrait is still in Mr. Garstin's studio?"
"I suppose it is. I haven't seen Mr. Garstin for two or three days. But I suppose it's there."
"Please give me the Mr. Garstin's address—the studio address," said Sir Seymour.
She got up again and went to the writing-table. There seemed to her to be something deadly in this interview. She could not feel humanity in it. Sir Seymour was terribly impersonal. There was something almost machine like about him. She did not know him well, but how different he had been to her in Berkeley Square! There he had been a charming old courtier. He had shown a sort of gallant admiration of her. He had beamed kindly upon her youth and her daring. Now he showed nothing.
But—Adela had told him!
She wrote down Dick Garstin's address in Glebe Place, and was about to come away from the writing-table when Sir Seymour said:
"Could you also kindly give me your card with a line of introduction to Mr. Garstin? I don't know him."
"Oh, I will of course!"
She found one of her cards and hesitated.
"What shall I put?" she asked.
"You might put 'To introduce,' and then my name."
She wrote the words on the card.
"Perhaps it might be as well to add 'Please see him,' and underline it. I understand Mr. Garstin is a brusque sort of fellow."
"Yes, he is."
She added the words he had suggested.
"It's very—it's more than kind of you to take all this trouble," she said, again coming to him. "I am ashamed."
She gave him the card. She could not look into his face.
"I am ashamed," she repeated, in a low voice.
"Well now," he said, "try to get the matter off your mind. Don't give way to useless fears. Most of us fear far more than there is any occasion for."
He stood up.
"If you wish for me, call me up. I am at St. James's Palace. But I don't suppose you will have need of me. By the way, there's one thing more I perhaps ought to ask you. Forgive me! Has there ever been anything in the nature of a threat from this fellow?"
"Oh, no!" she said. "No, no, no!"
She was swallowing sobs that suddenly began rising in her throat, sobs of utter shame and of stricken vanity.
"It's all too horrible!" she thought.
For a moment she hated the straight-backed, soldierly old man who was standing before her. For he saw her in the dust, where no one ought ever to see her.
"He's in love with me!" she said.
It was as if the words were forced out of her against her will. Directly she had said them she bitterly regretted them. They were the cry of her undying vanity that must try to put itself right, to stand up for itself at whatever cost. Directly she had spoken them she saw a slight twitch pull the left side of his face upward. It had upon her a moral effect. She felt it as his irresistible comment—a comment of the body, but coming from elsewhere—on her and her nature, and her recent association with Arabian. And suddenly her hatred died, and she longed to do something to establish herself in his regard, to gain his respect.
Already he was holding out his hand to her. She took his hand and held it tightly.
"Don't think too badly of me," she said imploringly. "I want you not to. Because I think you see clearly—you see people as they are. You saw Adela as she is. And perhaps no one else did. But you don't know how fine she is—even you don't. I had treated her badly. I had been unkind to her, very unkind. I had—I had been spiteful to her, and tried to harm her happiness. And yet she told me! I am sure no other woman would ever have done what she has done."
"She had to do it," he said gravely.
But his hand now slightly pressed hers.
"Had to? But why?"
"Because she happens to be a thoroughbred."
"Ah!" she breathed.
She was looking into his dark old eyes, and now they were kind, almost soft.
"We must take care," he added, "that what she had done shall not be done in vain. We owe her that. Good-bye."
"And you don't think too badly about me?"
"Once I called you the daffodil girl to her."
"Youth is pretty cruel sometimes. When you've forgotten all this, don't forget to be kind."
"To her! But how could I?"
"But I don't mean only to her!"
And then he left her.
When he had gone she sat still for a long while, thinking. And the strange thing was that for once she was not thinking about herself.
Rather late in the afternoon of the same day, towards half-past five, Dick Garstin, who was alone in his studio upstairs smoking a pipe and reading Delacroix's "Mon Journal," heard his door bell ring. He was stretched out on a divan, and he lay for a moment without moving, puffing at his pipe with the book in his hand. Then he heard the bell again, and got up. Arabian's portrait stood on its easel in the middle of the room. Garstin glanced at it as he went toward the stairs. Since the day when he had shown it for the first time to Beryl Van Tuyn and Arabian he had not seen either of them. Nor had he had a word from them. This had not troubled him. Already he was at work on another sitter, a dancer in the Russian ballet, talented, decadent, impertinent, and, so Garstin believed, marked out for early death in a madhouse—altogether quite an interesting study. But now, looking at Arabian's portrait, Garstin thought:
"Probably the man himself. I knew he would come back, and we should have a battle. Now for it!"
And he smiled as he went striding downstairs.
But when he opened the door he found standing outside in the foggy darkness a tall, soldierly old man, with an upright figure, white hair, and moustache, a lined red face and dark eyes which looked straight into his.
"Who are you, sir?" said Garstin. "And what do you want?"
"Are you Mr. Dick Garstin?" said the old man.
"Or rather, elderly," Garstin now said to himself, glancing sharply over his visitor's strong, lean frame and broad shoulders.
"Yes, I am."
The stranger opened a leather case and took out a card.
"Perhaps you will kindly read that."
Garstin took the card.
"Beryl!" he said. "What's up?"
And he read: "To introduce Sir Seymour Portman, please see him. B. V. T."
"Are you Sir Seymour Portman?"
Sir Seymour stepped in.
"Take off your coat?"
"If you'll allow me. I won't keep you long."
"The longer the better!" said Garstin with offhand heartiness. He had taken a liking to his visitor at first sight.
"A damned fine old chap!" had been his instant mental comment on seeing Sir Seymour. "A fellow to swear by!"
"Come upstairs. I'll show you the way," he added.
He tramped up and Sir Seymour followed him.
"I do most of my painting here," said Garstin. "Sit down. Have a cigar."
"Thank you very much, but I won't smoke," said Sir Seymour, looking round casually at the portraits in the room before sitting down and crossing his right leg over his left leg. "And I won't take up your time for more than a few minutes."
At this moment he noticed at some distance the portrait of Arabian on its easel, and he put up his eyeglasses. Then he moved.
"Will you allow me to look at that portrait over there?" he asked.
"Rather! It's the last thing I've done, and not so bad either!"
Sir Seymour got up and went to stand in front of the portrait. He was puzzled, and his face showed that; he frowned and pursed his lips, bending forward.
"This is a portrait of a man called Arabian, isn't it?" he said at length, turning round to Garstin.
"Yes. D'you know the fellow?"
"I haven't that—privilege," replied Sir Seymour with an extraordinarily dry intonation. "But I must have seen him somewhere."
"About town. He's been here some time."
"But he's altered!" said Sir Seymour, still looking hard at the portrait.
"I'm not a photographer, you know!"
"A photographer!" said Sir Seymour, who was something of a connoisseur in painting, and had a few good specimens of the Barbizon School in his apartment at St. James's Palace. "No. This isn't a photograph in paint. It's a"—he gazed again at the portrait—"it's a masterly study of a remarkable and hideous personality."
"Hideous!" said Garstin sharply.
"Yes, hideous," said Sir Seymour grimly. "An abominable face! Ah!"
He had been bending, but now pulled himself up.
"I saw that man at the Ritz Hotel a good many years ago," he said. "I was giving a lunch. He was lunching close by with—let me see—an old woman, yes, in a rusty black wig. Someone spoke to me about him, and I—, Yes! I remember it all perfectly. But he looked much younger then. It must be over ten years ago. I spotted him at once as a shady character. One would, of course. But you have brought it all to the surface in some subtle way. Does he like it?"
"To tell the truth I don't believe he does."
"I wish to speak to you about that man."
"Sit down again. Have a whisky?"
"What is it? Are the police after him?"
"I'm not aware of it."
"I know everything about him, as you see"—he shot out an arm towards the portrait—"and nothing. I picked him up at the Cafe Royal. He's a magnificent specimen."
"No doubt. What I want to know is whether you will allow me to bring two or three people here to see this portrait? I'm doing this—I'm here now, and want to come here again, if you are so kind as to allow me—"
"Always jolly glad to see you!" interjected Garstin, with a sort of gruff heartiness.
"Thank you! I'm doing this for your friend, Miss Beryl Van Tuyn."
"Ha!" said Garstin.
"I don't think I need to go into the matter further than to say that she does not wish to have anything more to do with this Mr. Arabian."
"Oh, she's found him out at last, has she, and put you up to—"
Garstin paused. Then he added:
"It's like Beryl's cheek to ask a man of your type to interfere in such a matter. Fellows like Arabian are hardly in your line."
"Oh, I've had to deal with men of all classes."
"And quite able to, I should say. So Beryl's had enough of that chap?"
"Mr. Garstin, I am going to be frank with you, frank to this extent. Arabian is a blackguard."
"No news to me!"
"Miss Van Tuyn can have no further acquaintance with him, and I am going to do my best to see to that. But I believe this fellow is very persistent."
"I should say so. He's a hard nut to crack. You may depend on that."
"And therefore strong measures may be necessary."
"Whom do you want to bring here to look at my stuff?"
"Two or three officials from Scotland Yard."
Garstin uttered the thrush's song through half-closed lips.
"That's it! Well, you can bring them along whenever you like."
"Thank you. They may not be art experts, but they, or one of them, may possibly be useful for my purpose."
"Right you are! So you know something definite about the fellow?"
"Don't bother yourself! I don't want to know what it is," snapped out Garstin abruptly.
Sir Seymour smiled, and it was almost what Lady Sellingworth called his "beaming" smile. He got up and held out his hand.
"Thank you," he said.
Garstin gave him a strong grip.
"Glad I've met you!" he said. "Beryl's done me a good turn."
"Perhaps you will allow me to say—though I'm no expert, and my opinion may therefore have no value in your eyes—but you've painted a portrait such as one very seldom sees nowadays."
"D'you mean you think it's fine?"
"Very fine! Wonderful!"
Garstin's usually hard face softened in an extraordinary way.
"Your opinion goes down in my memory in red letters."
Sir Seymour turned to go. As he did so he cast a look round the studio, which suggested to Garstin that he would perhaps like to examine the other portraits dotted about on easels and hanging on the walls. A faint reddish line appeared in the painter's shaven blue cheeks.
"Not worth your while!" he almost muttered.
"Eh?" said Sir Seymour.
"A lot of decadent stuff. I've been choosing my models badly. But—" he paused, looking almost diffident for a moment.