"Yes?" said Sir Seymour.
"Perhaps, if we ever get to know each other a bit better, you'd let me have a shy at you for a change?"
"That would be an honour," said Sir Seymour with a touch of his very simple, courtly manner.
"In return you know for my letting in the detectives!" said Garstin, with a laugh. "Hulloh!"
He had heard the bell ring downstairs.
"If it's our man!" he said, instinctively lowering his voice.
"Arabian! Are you expecting him?"
"No. But it's just as likely as not. Want to meet him?"
"I can hardly say that!" said Sir Seymour, looking suddenly, Garstin thought, remarkably like a very well-bred ramrod.
"But it may be necessary." He hesitated obviously, then added: "If it should be Arabian by chance, perhaps it would be as well if I did see him."
"Just as you like."
"I'll stay if you will allow me," said Sir Seymour, with sudden decision, like a man who had just overcome something.
The bell rang again.
"Can you act?" said Garstin, quickly.
"Sufficiently, I dare say," said Sir Seymour, with a very faint and grim smile.
"Then you'd better! He can!"
And Garstin sprang down the stairs. Two or three minutes later Arabian walked into the studio with Garstin just behind him. When he saw Sir Seymour a slight look of surprise came into his face, and he half turned towards Garstin as if in inquiry. Sir Seymour realized that Garstin had not mentioned that there was a visitor in the studio.
"A friend of mine, Sir Seymour Portman," said Garstin. "Mr. Nicolas Arabian!"
Arabian bowed and said formally:
"Very glad to meet you."
Sir Seymour bowed, and said:
"Sit down, my boy!" said Garstin, with sudden heartiness, laying a hand on Arabian's shoulder. "And I know you'll put your lips to a whisky."
"Thank you," said Arabian.
And he sat down in a deep arm-chair. Sir Seymour saw his brown eyes, for a moment hard and inquiring, rest upon the visitor he had not expected to find, and wondered whether Arabian remembered having seen him before. If so Arabian would also remember that he, Seymour, was a friend of Adela Sellingworth, who had been with him at the Ritz on that day ten years ago.
"Say how much," said Garstin, coming up with the whisky.
Sir Seymour noticed that Arabian took a great deal of the spirit and very little soda-water with it. Directly his glass was filled—it was a long glass—he drank almost greedily.
"A cigar?" said Garstin. "But I know without asking."
"I do not refuse," said Arabian.
And Sir Seymour hated his voice, while realizing that it was agreeable, perhaps even seductive.
"There! Now we're cozy!" said Garstin. "But I wish Sir Seymour you'd join us!"
"If you will allow me I will smoke a light cigar I have here."
And Sir Seymour drew out a cigar-case and lit up a pale and long Havannah.
"That's better!" said Garstin, drinking. "How's Beryl, my boy?"
"I have not seen Miss Van Tuyn to-day," said Arabian. "But I hope to see her to-morrow."
He looked at Sir Seymour, and there seemed to be a flicker of suspicion in his eyes.
"DO you know Miss Van Tuyn?" he asked.
"Very slightly," said Sir Seymour. "I have met her once or twice in London. She is a very beautiful creature."
There was constraint in the room. Sir Seymour felt it strongly and feared that it came from something in him. Evidently he was not a very good actor. He found it difficult to be easy and agreeable with a man whom he longed to get hold of by the collar and thrash till it was time to hand him over to the police. But he resolved to make a strong effort to conceal what he could not conquer. And he began to talk to Arabian. Afterwards he could not remember what they had talked about just then. He could only remember the strangeness which he had realized as he sat there smoking his Havannah, the strangeness of life. That he should be smoking and chatting with the scoundrel who had changed Adela's existence, who had tricked her, robbed her, driven her into the solitude which had lasted ten years! And why was he doing it? He did not absolutely know. But his instinct had told him to stay on in Garstin's studio when everything else in him, revolting, had shrunk from meeting this beast, unless and until he could deal with him properly.
He had smoked about half his cigar, and the constraint in the room seemed to him to be lessened, though not abolished, when the conversation took a turn quite unexpected by him. And all that was said in the studio from that moment remained firmly fixed in his memory. Garstin got up to fetch some more whisky for Arabian, whose glass was now empty, and as he came back with the decanter he said to Arabian:
"Sir Seymour's had a good look at your portrait, Arabian."
"Indeed!" said Arabian.
"And he thinks it's damn fine. As I'm giving it to you, I thought you'd like to know that it's appreciated."
There was an unmistakably malicious expression on Garstin's face as he spoke, and his small eyes travelled quickly from Arabian to Sir Seymour.
"In fact," added Garstin, lifting the decanter to pour the whisky into Arabian's glass, "Sir Seymour is so pleased with my work that I shouldn't wonder if he lets me paint him."
"Ah!" said Arabian, looking at Sir Seymour, with a sudden hard intensity which strangely transformed his face, "this is good news. I am pleased. But—thank you!" (to Garstin who poured out some more whisky) "that will do, please! But you are not afraid of the drawback?"
"What drawback?" asked Sir Seymour.
"Mr. Dick Garstin makes us all look like canaille!"
"But have you not noticed this?" said Arabian.
And the agreeable softness of his voice altered, giving way to an almost rasping quality of sound. He put down his glass and got up, with a lithe and swift movement that seemed somehow menacing. It was so light, so agile, so noiseless and controlled.
"Surely you have. Please, look at all these!"
He made a sweeping circular movement with his arm. Sir Seymour got on his feet.
"Do you not see? There is the same thing in all. We are all placed by Mr. Dick Garstin in the same boat. Even the judge, he is there too. Look!"
Sir Seymour looked from canvas to canvas and then at Arabian.
"Well?" said Arabian, still in the rasping voice. "Do I say true? Are we not all turned into canaille by Dick Garstin?"
Sir Seymour did not answer.
"With you if you are painted," continued Arabian, "it will be the same. Dick Garstin must see bad in us all."
He laughed and his laugh was oddly shrill and ugly.
"It is an idee fixe," he said. "You see, I am frank. I say what I think, Dick Garstin."
"No objection to that!" said Garstin, with a mischievous smile. "But if you don't like your picture you won't want to have it. So let us consider our bargain cancelled."
"Oh, no," said Arabian, "the picture is mine."
"The bargain we made," said Garstin, turning to Sir Seymour, "was this: Mr. Arabian was to be kind enough to sit to me on two conditions. One was in my favour, the other in his."
"I beg your pardon!" said Arabian sharply.
But Garstin continued inflexibly:
"I was to have the right to exhibit the picture, and, after that, I was to hand it over as a present to Arabian."
"No, that was not the bargain, please!" said Arabian.
"Not the bargain?" said Garstin, with an air of humorous surprise.
"Oh, no. You kindly said that if I gave up my time to you, as I have done, very much of my time, you would give me the picture when it was finished. That was the bargain between us. But I did not say I would allow you to exhibit my picture."
"But I told you before I ever put a smudge of paint on the canvas that I should want to exhibit it."
"That is quite true."
"Two must speak to make a bargain. Is it not so?" He spoke to Sir Seymour.
"I presume so," said the latter, very solemnly.
He had realized that this odd scene had been brought about deliberately, and perhaps by both of the men who stood before him. Garstin had certainly started it, but Arabian had surely with purpose, taken the cue from Garstin.
"Ah! You hear!"
"I do!" said Garstin, composedly.
"Well, Dick Garstin, I did not say I would permit my picture to be exhibited by you. And that was on purpose. I intended to wait until I saw how you would make me appear. I have waited. There I am!" He pointed to the portrait. "It is fine, perhaps, as you say. But I do not choose that people should see that and be told, 'That is Nicolas Arabian.' I do not give you permission to show that portrait."
"You don't like it?"
"You have made of me a beast. That is what I say."
"Sorry you think so! But what's to be done? That picture is worth from eight hundred to a thousand pounds at the very least. You don't suppose I am going to give it to you without letting the people who care about my stuff have a look at it? Why, where is your sense of fairness, my boy?"
"I do not know really what you mean by that!"
"Well, I ask you, Sir Seymour, would it be fair that I should have all my trouble for nothing? He can have the picture. But I want my kudos. Eh?"
"I quite understand that," said Sir Seymour, calmly.
Arabian turned round and faced him. And as he did so Sir Seymour said to himself:
"The fellow's been drinking heavily."
This thought had not occurred in his mind till this moment, but he felt certain that Garstin's sharp eyes had noticed the fact sooner, probably directly they had seen Arabian at the street door. No doubt the very stiff whisky-and-soda Arabian had just drunk had made it more obvious. Anyhow, Sir Seymour had no doubt at all about it now. It was not noticeable in Arabian's face. But his manner began to show it to the experienced eyes of the old campaigner.
"But, please, do you understand my feeling? Would you like to be made what you are not—a beast?"
Sir Seymour saw Garstin, perhaps with difficulty, shutting off a smile.
"I can't say I should," he answered, with absolute gravity.
"Would you," pursued Arabian, apparently in desperate earnest, "would you allow a picture of you like this to be shown to all your friends?"
"I think," returned Sir Seymour, still with an absolute and simple gravity, "that I should object to that—strongly."
"You hear!" said Arabian to Garstin. "It is your friend who says this."
"I can't help that," said Garstin, totally unperturbed. "I'm going to exhibit that picture."
"No! No!" said Arabian.
And as he spoke he suddenly bared his teeth.
Garstin, without making any rejoinder to this almost brutally forcible exclamation, which was full of violent will, thrust a hand into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a big gold watch.
"I say, I'm awfully sorry," he said, with a swift glance at Sir Seymour, which the latter did not miss, "but I must turn you both out. I'm dining at the Arts Club to-night. Jinks—you know the Slade Jinks—is coming to pick me up. You'll forgive me, Sir Seymour?"
His voice was unusually gentle as he said the last words.
"Of course. I've stayed an unconscionable time. Are you going my way, Mr. Arabian?"
Garstin's mouth twitched. Before Arabian could reply, Garstin said:
"Look here, Arabian!"
"Yes—please?" said Arabian.
"You and I differ pretty badly about this business of your damned portrait."
"Sir Seymour's a just man, a very just man. Let's hear what he has to say."
"But you tell us you have no time!"
"Exactly! Jinks you know! He's a devil for punctuality. They set the clocks by him at the Slade! But you—"
"Talk it over with Sir Seymour. Get his unbiased verdict. And let me hear from you any time to-morrow. He'll say what's fair and square. I know that."
While speaking he went towards the head of the stairs, followed by Sir Seymour and Arabian. As Arabian passed the place where the whisky stood he picked up his glass and drunk it off at a gulp.
A minute later Sir Seymour and he were out in the night together.
"Which way do you go, please?" asked Arabian.
"I'll go your way if you like. I live in St. James's Palace. But I'm in no hurry. Do you live in my direction?"
"Oh, no. I live quite near in Chelsea."
"I can walk to your door then if you don't mind having my company," said Sir Seymour.
And they walked on together in silence. Sir Seymour wondered what was passing in the mind of the man beside him. He felt sure that Arabian had been at first suspicious of him in the studio. Had he been able by his manner to lull that suspicion to rest? He was inclined to believe so. But it was impossible for him to be sure. After two or three minutes of silence he spoke again. But he made no allusion to the recent scene in the studio, or to Garstin's parting words. His instinct counselled silence on that point. So he talked of London, the theatres, the affairs of the day, trying to seem natural, like a man of the world with a casual acquaintance. He noticed that Arabian's answers and comments were brief. Sometimes when he did speak he spoke at random. It was obvious that he was preoccupied. He seemed to Sir Seymour to be brooding darkly over something. This state of things continued until they reached Rose Tree Gardens.
"This is it," said Arabian, stopping before the big porch.
Sir Seymour stopped, too, hesitated, then said:
"I'll say good night to you."
Arabian shot a piercing and morose glance at him, moved his right hand as if about to extend it, dropped it and said:
"Well, but we have not spoken any more about my picture!"
"Dick Garstin said you would decide."
"Scarcely that—was it?"
"But I think it was."
"Well, but it's really not my affair."
"But he made it so."
"Perhaps. But you didn't say—"
"But I should like to know what you think."
"Very good of you. But I'm an outsider. I wasn't there when you made what you say was a bargain."
Again he sent a piercing glance to Sir Seymour, who received it with absolute sangfroid, and stood looking completely detached, firm and simple. At that moment Sir Seymour felt positive that a struggle was going on in Arabian in which the drink he had taken was playing a part. The intensely suspicious nature of the enemy of society, always on the alert, because always liable to be in danger, was at odds with the demon that steals away the wits of men, unchains their recklessness, unlocks their tongues, uncovers often their most secret inclinations. Arabian was hesitating. At that moment the least thing would turn him one way or the other, would prompt him to give himself to the intense caution which was probably natural to him, or would drive him to the incaution which he would regret when he was physically normal again. It seemed to Sir Seymour that he knew this, and that he had it in his power just then to turn the scale, to make it drop to whichever side he wished. And as Arabian hesitated at that moment so Sir Seymour hesitated too. He longed to get away from the man, to have done with him forever. But he had put his hand to a task. He had here an opportunity. Garstin had certainly given it to him deliberately. It would be weak not to take advantage of it. He was not accustomed to yield to his weak inclinations, and he resolved not to do so now. He was sure that if he showed the least sign of wishing to push himself into Arabian's affairs the man would recoil at once, in spite of the drink which was slightly, but definitely, clouding his perceptions. So he took the contrary course. He forced himself to hold out his hand to the beast, and said:
But Arabian did not take his hand.
"Oh, but please come in for a moment!" he said. "Why to away?"
"It's getting late."
"But I will not keep you long. Dick Garstin said you should judge between us, that I was to come to-morrow and tell him. I know you will say I have the right. Come up. I will explain to you."
"Very well," said Sir Seymour, with apparent reluctance, "but really I must not stay long."
"No, no! You are very good. It is not your business. But really it is important. Here! We will take the elevator."
As he got into the lift Sir Seymour wondered whether he would have tricked Arabian if the latter had not been drinking. While the lift was going swiftly and smoothly up he decided that before he came down in it he would make quite plain to Arabian why he had been to Dick Garstin's studio that day. The opportunity which was given to him he would take advantage of to the full. If only he could strike a blow for Adela instead of for Miss Van Tuyn! But Adela had let this brute go. And could she have done anything else? For she had had her own folly to be afraid of. But all that was ten years ago. And now—She was different now! He reiterated that to himself as he stood in the lift almost touching Arabian. Adela was quite different now. She had given herself to the best that was in her.
"Here it is!"
The lift had stopped. They got out on a landing, and Arabian put a key into a door.
"Do please take off your coat. It is all warm in here!"
"Yes, and some brute's been burning scent in a shovel!" thought Sir Seymour, as he stepped into the flat.
"I think I'll keep my coat," he said. "I shan't be staying long."
"Oh, if you are in such a hurry!" said Arabian, with sudden moody irritation.
He shut the door with a bang. In the electric light he looked tired and menacing. At least Sir Seymour thought so. But the light in the little hall was shaded and not very strong.
"You will be much too hot truly!" said Arabian.
"Then I'll leave my coat," said Sir Seymour.
And he took it off, laid it on a chair and went into a room on the left, the door of which Arabian held open.
"This is my salon. I take the flat furnished. The river is there."
He pointed towards the windows now covered by curtains.
"Please sit down by the fire. I will explain. I know you will be on my side."
He pressed a bell on the right of the mantelpiece.
Almost instantaneously the door was opened and a thin man—who looked about thirty, Sir Seymour thought—showed himself. He had a very dark narrow face and curiously light-grey eyes. Arabian spoke to him in Spanish. He listened, motionless, turned and went softly out.
"You must have a little whisky with me!" said Arabian.
"No, thank you!"
"I never take it at this time."
"Well, I must have some. I have got a cold. This climate in winter—it is awful!"
He shook his broad shoulders and blinked rapidly several times, then suddenly opened his eyes very wide and yawned.
"Well now!" he said. "But please sit down."
Sir Seymour sat down. Arabian stood with his back to the fire and his hands thrust into his trouser pockets. Sir Seymour noticed what a magnificently made man he was. He had certainly been endowed with physical gifts for the undoing of women. But his brown face, strikingly handsome though it undoubtedly was, had the hard stamp of vice on it. Long ago at a first glance Sir Seymour had seen that this man was a wrong 'un, and now, as he looked at Arabian, he found himself wondering how anyone could fail to see that.
"Now I will tell you exactly," Arabian said.
And he explained carefully and lucidly enough—though through occasional yawns—what had happened between Garstin and himself. He did not mention Miss Van Tuyn's name. As he was getting towards the end of his narrative his servant came in with a tray on which were bottles and glasses. He said nothing and Arabian said nothing to him, but went on talking and did not appear to notice him. But directly he had gone Arabian poured out some whisky, added a little soda and drank it.
"There! That is how we did!" he said at last.
And he dropped softly, with an odd lightness, into a chair near Sir Seymour, and nodded:
"Now, have I not the right over the picture? Can I not send to-morrow and take it away? Is it not just?"
"Just!" said Sir Seymour. "Do you care so much about justice?"
"Eh?" said Arabian, suddenly leaning forward in his chair. "What is that?"
The bitter sarcasm which Sir Seymour had not been able to keep out of his voice had evidently startled Arabian.
"You are English," he said, as Sir Seymour said nothing. "Do you not care that a stranger in your country should have justice?"
"Oh, yes. I care very much about that."
The intense dryness of the voice that answered evidently made an impression on Arabian. For he fixed his eyes on his guest with intense and hard inquiry, and laid his brown hands on the arms of his chair, as if in readiness for something. But he only said:
Sir Seymour's inclination was to get up. But he did not obey it. He sat without moving, and returned Arabian's stare with a firm, soldier's gaze. The fearlessness of his eyes was absolute, unflinching.
"I thoroughly understand why you don't want Mr. Garstin to show people that picture," he said.
"The biggest fool in creation, if he saw it, would understand."
"Pardon!" said Arabian sharply. "What do you mean?"
He was up. But Sir Seymour sat still.
"Mr. Garstin uncovered your secret," he said. "A man such as you are naturally objects to that."
"What have you come here for?" said Arabian.
"You asked me to come."
"What did you go to Dick Garstin for?"
"That is my business."
Sir Seymour got up slowly, very deliberately even, from his chair.
"My secret, you say. What do you know about me?"
In the voice there was intense suspicion.
"We needn't discuss that. I am not going to discuss it."
"What did you go to Dick Garstin for?"
"I went to ask him if he would allow me to bring two or three people to his studio to look at his portrait of you."
"My portrait! What is my portrait to you? Why should you bring people?"
But Sir Seymour did not answer the question. Instead he put one hand on the mantelpiece, leaned slightly towards Arabian, and said:
"You wanted my verdict on the rights of the case between you and Mr. Garstin. That isn't my affair. You must fight it out between you. But I should seriously advise you not to take too long over the quarrel. You said just now that the English climate was awful. Get out of it as soon as you can."
"Get out of it! What is it to you whether I stay or go?"
"I'm afraid if you delay here much longer you may be sorry for it."
"Who are you?" said Arabian fiercely.
"I'm a friend of Miss Van Tuyn."
"What has that to do with me? Why do you try to interfere with me?"
"Miss Van Tuyn—I saw her this morning—wishes me to see to it that you leave her alone, get out of her life."
"Are you her father, a relation?"
"Then what have you to do with it? You—you impertinent old man!"
Sir Seymour's brick-red, weather-beaten face took on a darker, almost a purplish, hue, and the hand that had been holding the mantelpiece tightened into a fist.
"You will leave this young lady alone," he said sternly. "Do you hear? You will leave her alone. She knows what you are."
Arabian had pushed out his full under-lip and was staring now intently at Sir Seymour. His gaze was intense, and yet there was a cloudy look in his eyes. The effect of what he had drunk was certainly increasing upon him in the heat of the rather small room.
"When I came into the studio," he said after a moment's silence, "I remembered your face, and, 'Why is he here?' That was my thought. Why is he there? Where did I see you?"
"That doesn't matter. You will give up your acquaintance with Miss Van Tuyn. You will get out of London. And then no measures will be taken against you."
"Where was it?" persisted Arabian. "Do you remember me?"
"Yes," said Sir Seymour.
He debated within himself for an instant, and then took a decision.
"I saw you at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly ten years or more ago."
"At the Ritz!"
"I was lunching with a friend. I was lunching with Lady Sellingworth."
"Ah!" exclaimed Arabian. "That was it! I remember. So—she sent—I see! I see!"
He half shut his eyes and a vein in his forehead swelled, giving to his brow a look of violence.
"She has—She has—"
He shut his mouth with a snap of the teeth. Sir Seymour was aware of a struggle taking place in him. Something, urged on by drink, was fighting hard with his natural caution. But the caution, long trained, no doubt, and kept in almost perpetual use, was fighting hard too.
"No one sent me," said Sir Seymour with contempt. "But that's no matter. You understand now that you are to leave this young lady alone. Her acquaintance with you has ceased. It won't be renewed. If you call on her you will be sent off. If you write to her your letters will be burnt without being read. If you try to persecute her in any way means will be found to protect her and to punish you. I shall see to that."
Arabian's mouth was still tightly shut and he was standing quite still and seemed to be thinking, or trying to think, deeply. For his eyes now had a curiously inward look. If Sir Seymour had expected a burst of rage as the sequel to his very plain speaking he was deceived. Apparently this man was serenely beyond that society in which a human being can be insulted and resent it. Or else had he been thinking with such intensity that he had not even heard what had just been said to him? For a moment Sir Seymour was inclined to believe so. And he was about to reiterate what he had said, to force it on Arabian's attention, when the latter stopped him.
"Yes—yes!" he said. "I hear! Do not!"
He seemed to be turning something over in his mind with complete self-possession under the eyes of the man who had just scornfully attacked him. At last he said:
"I fear I was rude just now. You startled me. I said it was impertinence. But I see, I understand now. The women—they are clever. And when age comes—ah, we have no longer much defence against them."
And he smiled.
"What d'you mean?" said Sir Seymour, longing to knock the fellow down, and feeling an almost insuperable difficulty in retaining his self-control.
"This I mean! You say you come to me sent by Miss Van Tuyn. But I say—no! You come to me sent by Lady Sellingworth."
Sir Seymour was startled. Was the fellow so brazen that he was going to allude to what had happened over ten years ago? That seemed incredible, but with such a man perhaps everything was possible.
"It is like this!" continued Arabian, in a suave and explanatory voice. "Lady Sellingworth she hates Miss Van Tuyn. They have quarrelled about a young man. His name is Craven. I have met him in a restaurant. I dine there with Miss van Tuyn. He dines there that night with Lady Sellingworth, who is in love with him, as old women are with nice-looking boys, and—"
"Hold your tongue, you infernal blackguard!"
"Miss Van Tuyn calls Craven to us, and Lady Sellingworth is so jealous that she runs out of the restaurant, so that he is obliged to follow her and leave Miss Van Tuyn—"
"You damned ruffian!" said Sir Seymour.
His face was congested with anger. He put out his arm as if he were going to seize Arabian by the collar of his jacket. For once in his life he "saw red"; for once he was forced by indignation into saying something he would never have said had he given himself time to think. He was carried away by impulse like a youth in spite of his years, of his white hair, of his immense natural self-control.
Arabian moved backwards with a swift, wary movement. Sir Seymour did not follow him. He stood where he was and said again:
"You damned ruffian! If you don't get out of the country I'll set the police on you."
"Indeed! What for, please?"
"For stealing Lady Sellingworth's jewels in Paris ten years ago!"
Arabian bared his teeth like an animal and half shut his eyes. There was a strange look about his temples, as if under the deep brown of his skin something had gone suddenly white.
"Miss Van Tuyn knows that you stole them!"
Arabian drew in his breath sharply. His mouth opened wide.
Sir Seymour turned and went out of the room. He shut the door behind him. In the little scented hall he caught up his coat and hat. He heard a door click. The dark man with the light grey eyes showed himself.
"Keep away, you!" said Sir Seymour.
The man stood where he was, and Sir Seymour went out of the flat.
When Sir Seymour was going out of the main hall of the building in which Arabian lived a taxicab happened to drive up. A man got out of it and paid the chauffeur. Sir Seymour made a sign to the chauffeur, who jerked his head and said:
"Drive me to Claridge's Hotel, please," said Sir Seymour.
He got into the taxicab and was soon away in the night. When he reached the hotel he went to the bureau and inquired if Miss Van Tuyn was at home. The man at the bureau, who knew him well, said that she was in, that she had not been out all day. He would inquire at once if she was at home to visitors. As he spoke he looked at Sir Seymour with an air of discreet interest. After a moment at the telephone he asked Sir Seymour to go upstairs, and called a page-boy to accompany him and show him the way.
"Henriques," said Sir Seymour, pausing as he was about to follow the page. "You're a discreet fellow, I know."
"I hope so, Sir Seymour."
"If by chance a man called Arabian should come here, while I am upstairs, get rid of him, will you? I am speaking on Miss Van Tuyn's behalf and with her authority."
"I won't let the gentleman up, Sir Seymour."
"Has he called to-day?"
"Yes, Sir Seymour. He called early this afternoon. I had orders to say Miss Van Tuyn and Miss Cronin were both out. He wrote a note downstairs which was sent up."
"He may call again at any time. Get rid of him."
"Yes, Sir Seymour."
"Thanks. I rely on your discretion."
And Sir Seymour went towards the lift, where the page-boy was waiting.
Miss Van Tuyn met him at the threshold of her sitting-room. She was very pale. She greeted him eagerly.
"How good of you to call again! Do come in. I haven't stirred. I haven't been out all day."
She shut the sitting-room door.
"He has been here!"
"So I heard."
"How? Who has—"
"I ventured to speak to Henriques, the young man at the bureau, before coming up. I know him quite well. I took it on myself to give an order on your behalf."
"That he wasn't to be allowed to come up?"
"Yes. I told Henriques to get rid of him."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you! I've been in misery all day thinking at every moment that he might open my door and walk in."
"They won't let him up."
"But they mightn't happen to see him. If there were many people in the hall he might pass by unnoticed and—"
"In a hotel of this type people don't pass by unnoticed. You need not be afraid."
"But I am horribly afraid. I can't help it. And it's so dreadful not daring to move. It's—it's like living in a nightmare!"
"Come, Miss Van Tuyn!" said Sir Seymour, and in his voice and manner there was just a hint of the old disciplinarian, "pull yourself together. You're not helpless, and you've got friends."
"Oh, do forgive me! I know I have. But there's something so absolutely hideous in feeling like this about a man who—whom I—"
She broke off, and sat down on a sofa abruptly, almost as if her limbs had given way under her.
"I quite understand that. I've just been with the fellow."
Miss Van Tuyn started up.
"You've seen him?"
"I went to Mr. Garstin's studio to have a look at the portrait and say a word to him. While I was there Arabian called. I stayed on and sat with him for some time. Afterwards I walked with him to the building where he is living temporarily and went in."
"Went in? You went into his flat!"
"As I say."
Miss Van Tuyn looked at him without speaking. Her expression showed intense astonishment, amounting almost to incredulity.
"I had it out with him," said Sir Seymour grimly, after a pause. "And in the heat of the moment I told him something which I had not intended to tell him, which I had not meant to speak of at all."
"I told him I knew about the theft of ten years ago."
"And I told him also that you knew about it."
"That I—oh! How did he take it? What did he say?"
"I didn't wait to hear. The flat was—well—scented, and I wanted to get out of it."
His face expressed such a stern and acute disgust that Miss Van Tuyn's eyes dropped beneath his.
"You may think—it would be natural to think that the fact of my having told the man about your knowledge of his crime would prevent him from ever attempting to see you again," Sir Seymour continued, "but I don't feel sure of that."
"You think that even after that he might—"
"I'll be frank with you. I can't tell what he might or might not do. He may follow my suggestion—"
"What did you—"
"I suggested to him that he had better clear out of the country at once. It's quite possible that he may take my view and go, but in case he doesn't, and tries to bother you any more—"
"He's been! He's written! He says he will see me. He has guessed that something has turned me against him."
"He knows now what it is. Now I want you to write a note to him which I will leave at the bureau in case he calls to-night or to-morrow morning."
She went to the writing-table and sat down.
"If you will allow me to suggest the wording."
She took up a pen and dipped it in the ink. Then Sir Seymour dictated:
SIR,—Sir Seymour Portman has told me of his meeting with you to-day and of what occurred at it. What he said to you about me is true. I know. If you call you will not see me. I refuse absolutely to see you or to have anything more to do with you, now or at any future time.
"And then your name at the end."
Miss van Tuyn wrote with a hand that slightly trembled. "B. VAN TUYN."
"If you will put that into an envelope and address it I will take it down and leave it at the bureau."
Miss Van Tuyn put the note into an envelope, closed the envelope and addressed it.
Sir Seymour held out his hand and she gave him the note.
"Now, good night."
"You are going!"
He smiled slightly.
"I don't sleep at Claridge's as you and Miss Cronin do."
"No, of course not. Thank you so very, very much! But I can never thank you properly."
She paused. Then she said with sudden bitterness:
"And I used to pride myself on my independence!"
"Ah—independence! A word!" said Sir Seymour.
He turned away to go, but when he was near the door he stopped and seemed hesitating.
"What is it?" said Miss Van Tuyn anxiously.
"Even men sometimes have instincts," he said, turning round.
"May I use your telephone?"
"Of course! But—do—you—"
"Where—Oh, there it is!"
He went to it and called up the bureau. Then he said: "Sir Seymour Portman is speaking from Miss Van Tuyn's sitting-room . . . is that Mr. Henriques? Please tell me, has that man, Arabian, of whom we spoke just now, called again?"
There was a silence in which Miss Van Tuyn, watching, saw a frown wrinkle deeply Sir Seymour's forehead.
"Ah! Has he gone? Did you get rid of him? . . . How long ago? . . . Only two or three minutes! . . . Do you think he knows I am here? . . . Thank you. I'll be down in a moment."
He put the receiver back.
"Oh, but don't leave me!" said Miss Van Tuyn distractedly. "You see, in spite of what you told him he has come!"
"Yes. He has been. He's a determined fellow."
"He'll never give it up! What can I do?"
"All you can do at present is to remain quietly up here in your comfortable rooms. Leave the rest to me."
"But if he gets in?"
"He won't. Even if he came upstairs—and he won't be allowed to—he has no key of your outer door. Now I'll go down and leave this note at the bureau. If he comes back and receives it, that will probably decide him to give the thing up. He is counting on the weakness of your will. This note will show him you have made up your mind. By the way"—he fixed his dark eyes on her—"you have made up your mind?"
She blushed up to her hair.
"Very well. To-morrow I shall go to Scotland Yard. We'll get him out of the country one way or another."
She accompanied him to the outer door of the apartment. When he had gone out she shut it behind him, and he heard the click of a bolt being pushed home.
Before leaving the hotel Sir Seymour again sought his discreet friend Henriques, to whom he gave Miss Van Tuyn's note.
"So the fellow has been?" he said.
"Yes, Sir Seymour."
"Did you get rid of him easily?"
"Well, to tell the truth, Sir Seymour, he tried to be obstinate. I think—if you'll excuse me—I certainly think that he was slightly under the influence of drink. Not drunk, you'll understand, not at all as much as that! But still—"
"Yes—yes. If he comes back give him that note. And—do you think it would be wise to give him a hint that any further annoyance might lead to the intervention of the police? The young lady is very much upset and frightened. Do you think you might drop a word or two—at your discretion?"
"I'll manage it, Sir Seymour. Leave it to me!"
"Very good of you, Henriques. Good night."
"Good night, Sir Seymour. Always very glad to do anything for you."
As Sir Seymour stepped out into Brook Street he glanced swiftly up and down the thoroughfare. But he did not see the man he was looking for. He stood still for a moment. There was hesitation in his mind. The natural thing, he felt, would be to go at once to Berkeley Square and to have a talk with Adela. It was late. He was beginning to feel hungry. Adela would give him some dinner. But—could he go to Adela just now? No; he could not. And he hailed a cab and drove home. Something the beast had said had made a horrible impression upon the faithful lover, an impression which remained with him, which seemed to be eating its way, like a powerful acid, into his very soul, corroding, destroying.
Was it possible? Was there then never to be an end to that mania, which had been Adela's curse, and the tragedy of the man who had loved her with the long love which is so rare among men?
There was bitterness in Sir Seymour's heart that night, and that bitterness sent him home, to the home that was no real home, to the solitude that she had given him.
On the following morning, true to his word, Sir Seymour visited Scotland Yard, and had a talk with a certain authority there who was a very old friend of his. The authority asked a few questions, but no questions that were indiscreet, or that Sir Seymour was unable to answer without betraying Lady Sellingworth's confidence. The sequel to this conversation was that a tall, thin, lemon-coloured man, with tight lips and small, dull-looking eyes, which saw much more than most bright eyes ever see, accompanied Sir Seymour in a cab to Glebe Place. They arrived there about half-past eleven. Sir Seymour rang the bell, and in a moment Dick Garstin opened the door.
"What's the matter?" was Sir Seymour's unconventional greeting to him.
For the painter's face was flushed in patches and his small eyes glowed fiercely.
"Who's this?" he said, looking at Sir Seymour's companion.
"Detective Inspector Horridge—Mr. Dick Garstin," said Sir Seymour.
"Oh, come to see the picture! Well, you're too late!" said Garstin in a harsh voice.
"Yes, a damned sight too late! But come up!"
They went in, and Garstin, without any more words, took them up to the studio.
"There you are!" he said, still in the harsh and unnatural voice.
He flung out his arm towards the easel which stood in the middle of the room. Sir Seymour and the inspector went up to it. Part of the canvas on which Arabian's portrait had been painted was still there. But the head and face had been cleanly cut away. Only the torso remained.
"When was this done?" asked Sir Seymour.
"Some time last night, I suppose."
"I didn't sleep here. I often don't, more often than not. But last night I was a fool to be away. Well, I've paid for my folly!"
"God knows! The fellow got in. It doesn't much matter how. A false key, I suppose."
"Does anyone know?"
"Not a soul, except us."
Sir Seymour was silent. He had realized at once that Miss Van Tuyn was safe now, safe, too, from further scandal, unless Garstin chose to make trouble. He looked at the painter, and from him to the inspector.
"What are you going to do?" he said to Dick Garstin.
"I don't know!" said Garstin.
And he flung himself down on the old sofa by the wall.
"I don't know!"
For a moment he put his hands up to his temples and stared on the ground. As he sat there thus he looked like a man who had just been thrashed. After a moment Sir Seymour went over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
Garstin looked up.
"What's that for?"
He stared into Sir Seymour's face for an instant. Perhaps he read something there. For he seemed to pull himself together, and got up.
"Well, inspector," he said, "you've had your visit for nothing. It wasn't a bad picture, either. I should like you to have had a squint at it. But—perhaps I'll do better yet. Who knows? Perhaps I've stuck to those Cafe Royal types too long. Eh, Sir Seymour? Perhaps I'd better make a start in a new line. Have a whisky?"
"Thank you. But it's rather too early," said the lemon-coloured man. "Do you wish—"
"No, I don't!" said Garstin. "We'll leave it at that?"
Again he flung out his arm towards the mutilated canvas.
"I made a bargain with the fellow whose portrait that was. I was to paint it and exhibit it, and then he was to have it. Well, I suppose we're about quits. I can't exhibit it, but I'm damned if he can make much money out of it. We're quits!"
Sir Seymour turned to the inspector.
"Well, inspector, I'm very sorry to have given you this trouble for nothing," he said. "I know you're a busy man. You take the cab back to Scotland Yard. Here—you must allow me to pay the shot. I'll stay on for a few minutes. And"—he glanced towards Garstin—"by the way, we may as well keep this matter between us, if Mr. Garstin is good enough to agree."
"I agree! I agree!" said Garstin.
"The fact is there's a woman in it, quite a girl. We don't want a scandal. It would distress her. And I suppose this is really—this outrage—I suppose it is purely a matter for Mr. Garstin to decide whether he wishes any sequel to it or not."
"Oh, certainly," said the inspector. "If Mr. Garstin doesn't wish any action to be taken—"
"I don't! That's flat!"
"Very well," said the inspector. "Good morning."
"Back in a moment," said Garstin to Sir Seymour. And he went downstairs to let the inspector out.
"So that's how it ends!" said Sir Seymour to himself when he was alone. "That's how it ends!"
And he went over to what had been Arabian's portrait, and gazed at the hole which surmounted the magnificent torso. He had no doubt that Arabian had gone out of Miss Van Tuyn's life for ever. Probably, almost certainly, he had returned to the hotel on the previous evening, had been given the note Miss Van Tuyn had written to dictation, and also a hint from that very discreet and capable fellow, Henriques, of what might happen if he persisted in trying to force himself upon her. And then he had come to the decision which had led to the outrage in the studio. Where was he now? No longer in Rose Tree Gardens if Sir Seymour knew anything of men.
"The morning boat to Paris, and—the underworld!" Sir Seymour muttered to himself.
"Not much to look at now, is it?" said Garstin's voice behind him.
He turned round quickly.
Garstin was gazing at his ruined masterpiece with a curious twisted smile.
"What can one say?" said Sir Seymour. "When Horridge was here I thought: 'When he's gone I'll tell Mr. Garstin!' And now he is gone, and—and—"
He went up to Garstin and held out his hand.
"I know I don't understand what you feel about this. No one could but a fellow-painter as big as you are. But I wish I could make you understand what I feel about something else."
"And what's that?" said Garstin, as he took Sir Seymour's hand, almost doubtfully.
"About the way you've taken it, and your letting the blackguard off."
"Oh, as to that, I bet you he'll be in Paris by five to-day."
"Just what I think. But still—"
He pressed Garstin's hand, and Garstin returned the pressure.
"Beryl wanted me to paint him, but I painted him to please myself. I'm a selfish brute, like most painters, I suppose."
"But you're letting him go because of Miss Van Tuyn."
"Damn it, I believe I am. I say, are you ever coming here again?"
"If I may."
"I wish you would."
He gazed at Sir Seymour's strong head.
"I've spent half my life in showing people up on canvas," he said. "I should like to try something else."
"And what's that?"
"I should like to try to reveal the underneath fine instead of the underneath filth. It'd be a new experiment for me."
"Perhaps I should make a failure of it. But—if you'd allow me—I would try to make a start with you."
"I can only say I shall be honoured," said Sir Seymour, with a touch of almost shamefaced modesty which he endeavoured to hide with a very grave courtliness. "Please let me know, if you don't change your mind. I'm a good bit battered, but such as I am I am always at your service—out of work hours."
His last words to Garstin at the street door were:
"You've taught an old soldier how to take a hard knock."
Sir Seymour usually called on Lady Sellingworth about five o'clock in the afternoon when he was not detained by work or inevitable engagements. On the day of his visit to Garstin's studio with the inspector he felt that he owed it to Adela to go to Berkeley Square and to tell her what had happened in connexion with Arabian since he had last seen her. She must be anxious for news. It was not likely that she had seen Miss Van Tuyn, that beautiful prisoner in Claridge's hotel. Miss Van Tuyn might have telephoned to her and told her of his visits to the hotel. But Adela would certainly expect to see him, would certainly be waiting for him. He ought to go to her. Since the morning he had been very busy. He had not had time to call again on Miss Van Tuyn, who could, therefore—so at least he believed—know nothing of the outrage in the studio. That piece of news which would surely be welcome to her if she understood what it implied, should rightly come to her from the woman who had been unselfish for her sake. Adela ought to tell her that. But first it was his duty to tell Adela. He must go to Berkeley Square.
And he decided to go and set out on foot. But as he walked he was conscious of a strange and hideous reluctance to pay the customary visit—the visit which had been the bright spot in his day for so long. He had interfered with the design of Arabian. But Arabian unconsciously had stabbed him to the heart with a sentence, meant to be malicious, about Adela, but surely not intended to pierce him.
Young Craven! Young Craven!
When he reached the familiar door and was standing before it he hesitated to press the bell. He feared that he would not be perfectly natural with Adela. He feared that he would be constrained, that he would be unable not to seem cold and rigid. Almost he was tempted to turn away. He could write his news to her. Perhaps even now young Craven was in the house with her. Perhaps he, the old man, would be unwanted, would only be in the way if he went in. But it was not his habit to recoil from anything and, after a moment of uneasy waiting, he put his hand to the bell.
Murgatroyd opened the door.
"Good day, Murgatroyd. Is her Ladyship at home?"
"Yes, Sir Seymour."
He stepped into the hall, left his hat, coat and stick, and prepared to go upstairs.
"Anyone with her Ladyship?"
"No, Sir Seymour. Her Ladyship is alone."
A moment later Murgatroyd opened the drawing-room door and made the familiar announcement:
"Sir Seymour Portman!"
Adela was as usual on the sofa by the tea-table, near to the fireplace in which ship logs were blazing. She got up to greet him, and looked at him eagerly, almost anxiously.
"I was hoping you would come. Has anything happened?"
"Yes, a great deal," he said, as he took her hand.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she asked.
"But—do I look at you differently from—"
"Yes," she interrupted him.
He lowered his eyes, feeling almost guilty.
"But in what way?"
"As if you wanted to know something, as if—have you changed towards me?"
"My dear Adela! What a question from you after all these years!"
"You might change."
"Nonsense, my dear."
"No, no, it is not! Anyone may change. We are all incalculable."
"Give me some tea now. And let me tell you my news."
She sat down again, but her luminous eyes were still fixed on him, and there was an almost terrified expression in them.
"You haven't seen—him?" she asked.
"You have! I felt it! He has said something about me, something horrible!"
"Adela, do you really think I would take an opinion of you from a blackguard like that?"
"Please tell me everything," she said.
She looked painfully agitated, and something in her agitation made him feel very tender, for it gave her in his eyes a strange semblance of youthfulness. Yes, despite all she had done, all the years she had lived through, there was something youthful in her still. Perhaps it was that which persistently held out hands to youth! The thought struck him and the tenderness was lessened in his eyes.
"Seymour, you are hiding something from me," she said.
"Adela, give me a little time! I am going to tell you my news."
"Yes, yes, please do!"
"I want my tea," he said, with a smile.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!"
"How young you are!" he said.
"Young! How can you say such a thing?"
"Now really, Adela! As if I could ever be sarcastic with you!"
"That remark could only be sarcastic."
He sipped his tea.
"No; you will always have youth in you. It is undying. It makes half your charm, my dear. And perhaps—"
"Well, perhaps it has caused most of the trouble in your life."
She looked down.
"Our best gifts have their—what shall I say—their shady side, I suppose. And we seem to have to pay very often for what are thought of as gifts. But now I must tell you."
And then he began to relate to her, swiftly although he was old, the events of his mission. She listened, and while she listened she sat very still. She had looked up. Her eyes were fixed upon him. Presently he reached the point in his narrative where Arabian walked into Dick Garstin's studio. Then she moved. She seemed suddenly seized with an uncontrollable restlessness. He went on without looking at her, but he heard her movements, the rustle of her gown, the touch of her hand on a sofa cushion, on the tea-table, the chink of moved china, touching other china. And two or three times he heard the faint sound of her breathing. He knew she was suffering intensely, and he believed it was because of the haunting, inexorable remembrance of the enticement that abominable fellow, Arabian, had had for her. But he had to go on. And he went on till he came to the scene in the flat at Rose Tree Gardens.
"You—you went to his room!" she then said, interrupting him.
He heard her sigh. But she said nothing more. He told what had happened in the flat, but not fully. He said nothing of Arabian's mention of her name, but he did tell her that he himself had spoken of her, had said that he was a friend of hers. And finally he told her how, carried away by indignation, he had spoken of his and Miss Van Tuyn's knowledge that Arabian had stolen her jewels.
"I didn't mean to tell him that," he added. "But—well, it came out. I—I hope you forgive me?"
He did not wait for her answer, but told her of his abrupt departure from the flat, and of his subsequent visit to Miss Van Tuyn, of what he had learnt at the hotel, and of what he had done there.
"The police!" she said, as if startled. "But if—if there should be a scandal! Oh, Seymour, that would be too horrible! I couldn't bear that! He might—it might come out! And my name—"
She got up from the sofa. Her face looked drawn with an anxiety that was like agony. He got up too.
"It was only a threat. But in any case it will be all right, Adela."
"But we don't know what he may do!" she said, with desperation.
"Wait till you know what he has done."
"What has he done?"
And then he told her of the outrage in the studio. When he was silent she made a slight swaying movement and took hold of the mantelpiece. He saw by her face that she had grasped at once what Arabian's action implied.
"You see—he's done with. We've done with the fellow!" he said at last as she did not speak.
Her face, when not interfered with, was always pale. But now it looked horribly, unnaturally white. Relief, he believed, had shaken her in the very soul.
"Adela, did you think your good deed was going to recoil on you?" he said. "Did you really think it was going to bring punishment on you? I don't believe things go like that even in this distracted, inexplicable old world."
"Don't they? Mightn't they?"
"Surely not. You have saved that girl. You have paid back that scoundrel. And you have nothing to fear."
"Why did you look at me like that when you came into the room?"
"But you are—"
"No. You haven't told me something. Tell me!"
"Be happy in the good result of your self-sacrifice, Adela."
"I want you to tell me. There is something. I know there is."
"Yes. But it only concerns me."
"Seymour, I don't believe that!"
He was silent, looking at her with the old dog's eyes. But now there was something else in them besides faithfulness.
"Well, Adela," he said at last, "I believe very much in absolute sincerity between real friends. But I suppose friendship must be very real indeed to stand absolute sincerity. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, I do. But our friendship is as real as any friendship can be, I think."
"Yes, but on my side it is mixed up, it has always been mixed up, with something else."
"Yes, I know," she said in a low voice.
"And besides I'm afraid, if I speak quite frankly, I shall hurt you, my dear!"
"Then—hurt me, Seymour!"
"Shall I? Can I do that?"
"Be frank with me. I have been very frank with you. I have told you."
"Yes, indeed. You have been nobly, gloriously frank. Well, then—that horrible fellow did say something which I haven't told you, something that, I confess it, has upset me."
"What was it?" she said, still in the low voice, and bending her small head a little like one expecting punishment.
"He alluded to a friend of yours. He mentioned that nice boy I met here, young Craven?"
"I really can't get what he said over my lips, Adela."
"I know what he said. You needn't tell me."
The were both silent for a minute. Then she came close to him.
"Seymour, perhaps you want to ask me a question about Mr. Craven. But—don't! You needn't. I have done, absolutely done, with all that side of my life which you hate. A part of my nature has persecuted me. It has often led me into follies and worse, as you know. But I have done with it. Indeed, indeed I can answer for myself. I wouldn't dare to speak like this to you, the soul of sincerity, if I couldn't. But I'll prove it to you. Seymour, you know what I am. I dare say you have always known. But the other night I told you myself."
"If I hadn't I shouldn't dare now to ask you what I am going to ask you. Is it possible that you still love me enough to care to be more than the friend you have always been to me?"
"Do you mean—"
"Yes," she said.
"I ask nothing more of life than that, Adela."
"Nor do I, dear Seymour."
That evening Miss Van Tuyn learnt through the telephone from Lady Sellingworth what had happened in Dick Garstin's studio during the previous night. On the following morning at breakfast time she learnt from Sir Seymour that the flat in Rose Tree Gardens had been abruptly deserted by its tenant, who had left very early the day before.
She was free from persecution, and, of course, she realized her freedom; but, so strange are human impulses, she was at first unable to be happy in her knowledge that the burden of fear had been lifted from her. The misfortune which had fallen on Dick Garstin obsessed her mind. Her egoism was drowned in her passionate anger at what Arabian had done. She went early to the studio and found Garstin there alone.
"Hulloh, Beryl, my girl!" he said, in his usual offhand manner. "Come round to see the remains?"
"Oh, Dick!" she exclaimed, grasping his hand. "Oh, I'm so grieved, so horrified! What an awful thing to happen to you! And it's all my fault! Where—what have you done with—"
"What's left do you mean? Go and see for yourself."
She hurried upstairs to the studio. When he followed he found her standing before the mutilated picture, which was still in its place, with tears rolling down her flushed cheeks.
"Good God! Beryl! What's up? What are you whimpering about?"
"How you must hate me!" she said, in a broken voice. "How you must hate me!"
"Rubbish! What for?"
"This has all happened because of me. If it hadn't been for me you would never have painted him."
"I painted the fellow to please myself."
"But I asked you to get him to come here."
"What you ask, or don't ask, doesn't bother me."
She gazed at him through her tears as if in surprise.
"Dick, I never thought you could be like this," she said.
"Like what? What's all the fuss about?" he exclaimed irritably.
"I always thought you were really a brute."
"That showed your sound judgment."
"How can you take it like this? Your masterpiece—ruined! For you'll never do anything like it again."
"That's probably gospel truth. My girl, you are standing in front of my epitaph on the Cafe Royal. There it is. Look well at it! I've buried my past, and I'm going to start again. And who do you think is to be my next victim?"
"You'll never guess—a gentleman!"
"A gentleman? What do you mean, Dick? The word had gone out."
"But not the thing, thank God, so long as Sir Seymour Portman keeps about on his dear old pins."
"You are going to paint Sir Seymour?"
"I am! Think I can do him?"
She looked at him for a moment, and her violet eyes searched him as if to see whether he were worthy. Then she said soberly:
"Then let's turn the damned epitaph with its hole to the wall!"
And he lifted what remained of Arabian's portrait from the easel and threw it into a dark corner of the studio.
One evening, some ten days later, before any rumour of Lady Sellingworth's new decision had gone about in the world of London, before even Braybrooke knew, on coming home from the Foreign Office Craven found a note lying on the table in the tiny hall of his flat. He picked it up and saw Miss Van Tuyn's handwriting. He had not seen either her or Lady Sellingworth since the evening when they had met in the Bella Napoli. Both women had come into his life together. And it seemed to him that both had gone out of it together. His acquaintance, or friendship, with them had been a short episode in his pilgrimage, and apparently the episode was definitely over.
But now—here was a letter from the beautiful girl! He took it up, carried it into his sitting-room, and tore open the envelope.
"MY DEAR MR. CRAVEN,—I am going back to Paris almost directly and should very much like to see you if possible to say good-bye. Have you a few minutes to spare any time? If so, do come round to the hotel and let us have a last little talk.—Yours sincerely,
"BERYL VAN TUYN."
When he had read this brief note Craven was struck, as he had been struck when he had read Lady Sellingworth's letter to him, by a certain finality in the wording. Good-bye—a last little talk! Miss Van Tuyn might have put "au revoir," might have omitted the word "last."
He looked at the clock. It was not very late—only half-past five. He decided to go at once to the hotel. And he went. Miss Van Tuyn was at home. He went up in the lift and was shown into her sitting-room. He waited there for a few minutes. Then the door opened and she came in smiling.
"How good of you to come so soon! I hardly expected you."
"But—why not?" he said, as he took her hand.
She glanced at him inquiringly, he thought, then said:
"Oh, I don't know! You're a busy man, and have lots of engagements. Let us sit by the fire."
They sat down, and there was a moment of silence. For once Miss Van Tuyn seemed slightly embarrassed—not quite at her ease. Craven did not help her. He still remembered the encounter in Glebe Place with a feeling of anger. He still felt that he moved in a certain darkness, that both Lady Sellingworth and Miss Van Tuyn had been unkind to him, had treated him if not badly, at any rate in a way that was unfriendly, and, to him, inexplicable. He did not want to seem hurt, but, on the other hand, he did not feel that it was incumbent upon him to rush forward with gracious eagerness, or to show any keen desire for the old, intimate relations. So he just sat there trying not to look stiff, but not making any effort to look charming and sympathetic.
"Have you seen Adela lately?" Miss Van Tuyn said at last, breaking the silence.
"No," he said. "Not since the night when we met in the Bella Napoli."
"Oh, that's too bad!"
"Why too bad?"
"I thought you were such friends!"
"Scarcely that, I think," replied Craven, in his most definitely English manner. "I like Lady Sellingworth very much, but she has swarms of friends, and I can't expect her to bother very much about me."
"But I don't think she has swarms of friends."
"Perhaps nobody does. Still, she knows a tremendous number of people."
"I am sure she likes you," said Miss Van Tuyn. "Do go and see her sometimes. I think—I think she would appreciate it."
"No doubt I shall see her again. Why not?"
"Don't you like her anymore?"
"Of course I do."
Suddenly she leaned forward, almost impulsively, and said:
"You remember I had a sort of cult for Adela?"
"But you know I had! Well, I only want to tell you that it isn't a cult now. I have got to know Adela better, to know her really. I used to admire her as a great lady. Now I love her as a splendid woman. She's rare. That is the word for her. Once—not long ago—I was talking to a man who knows what people are. And he summed Adela up in a phrase. He said she was a thoroughbred. We young ones—modern, I suppose we are—we can learn something from her. I have learnt something. Isn't that an admission? For the young generation to acknowledge that it has something to learn from—from what are sometimes called the 'has beens'!"
Craven looked at her and noticed with surprise that her violet eyes were clouded for a moment, as if some moisture had found its way into them. Perhaps she saw that look of his. For she laughed, changed the conversation, and from that moment talked in her usual lively way about less intimate topics. But when Craven presently got up to go she returned for a moment to her former more serious mood. As he took her hand to say good-bye she said:
"Perhaps we shall meet again—perhaps not. I don't know when I shall be back in London. I'm soon going over to America with Fanny. But don't think too badly of me."
"I? How could I think badly of you?"
"Oh, yes—you might! There are things I can't explain which may easily have given you a nasty impression of me. If I could explain them perhaps you would remember me more pleasantly. Anyhow, I shall always think of you as one of my friends. Good-bye."
And then she moved away, and he went to the door.
But just as he was going he turned round and said:
She made a little kind gesture with her left hand, but she said nothing.
At that moment she was thinking of Adela.