"Is it possible that I look at all that sort of age?" was Lady Sellingworth's thought as, for a brief instant, she contemplated him, with an intensity, a sort of almost fierce sharpness which she was scarcely aware of.
He looked up, made a twitching movement; his pince-nez fell to his black coat, and he got up alertly.
She shut the door and went towards him, and as she did so she thought:
"If I had seen Alick Craven sitting there reading!"
"I was having a look at this."
He held up the book. It was Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal."
"Not the book for you!" she said. "Though your French is so good."
He laid it down, and she noticed the tangle of veins on his hand.
"The dandy in literature doesn't appeal to me. I must say many of these poets strike me as decadent fellows, not helped to anything like real manliness by their gifts."
She sat down on the sofa, just where she had sat to have those long talks with Craven about Waring and Italy, the sea people, the colours of the sails on those ships which look magical in sunsets, which move on as if bearing argosies from gorgeous hidden lands of the East.
"But never mind Baudelaire," he continued, and his eyes, heavily lidded and shrouded by those big bushy eyebrows which seem to sprout almost with ardent violence as the body grows old, looked at her with melting kindness. "What have you been doing, my dear? The old dog wants to know. There is something on your mind, isn't there?"
Lady Sellingworth had once said to Sir Seymour that he reminded her of a big dog, and he had laughed and said that he was a big dog belonging to her. Since that day, when he wrote to her, he had often signed himself "the old dog." And often she had thought of him almost as one thinks of a devoted dog, absolutely trustworthy, ready for instant attack on your enemies, faithful with unquestioning faithfulness through anything.
As he spoke he gently took her hand, and she thought, "If Alick Craven were taking my hand!"
The touch of his skin was warm and very dry. It gave her a woman's thoughts, not to be told of.
"What is it?" he asked.
Very gently she released her hand, and as she did so she looked on it almost sternly.
"Why?" she said. "Do I look unhappy—or what? Sit down, Seymour dear."
She seemed to add the last word with a sort of pressure, with almost self-conscious intention.
He drew the tails of his braided morning coat forward with both hands and sat down, and she thought, "How differently a young man sits down!"
"Unhappy!" he said, in his quiet and strong, rather deep voice.
He looked at her with the scrutinizing eyes of affection, whose gaze sometimes is so difficult to bear. And she felt that something within her was writhing under his eyes.
"I don't think you often look happy, Adela. No; it isn't that. But you look to-day as if you had been going through something which had tried your nerves—some crisis."
He paused. She remained silent and looked at his hands and then at his eyelids and eyebrows. And there was a terrible coldness in her scrutiny, which she did not show to him, but of which she was painfully aware. His nails were not flat, but were noticeably curved. For a moment the thought in her mind was simply, "Could I live with those nails?" She hated herself for that thought; she despised herself for it; she considered herself almost inhuman and certainly despicable, and she recalled swiftly what Seymour was, the essential beauty and fineness of his character, his truth, his touching faithfulness. And almost simultaneously she thought, "Why do old men get those terribly bushy eyebrows, like thickets?"
"Perhaps I think too much," she said. "Living alone, one thinks—and thinks. You have so much to do and I so little."
"Sometimes I think of retiring," he said.
"From the court?"
"Oh, but they would never let you!"
"My place could be filled easily enough."
"Oh, no, it couldn't."
And she added, leaning forward now, and looking at him differently:
"Don't you ever realize how rare you are, Seymour? There is scarcely anyone left like you, and yet you are not old-fashioned. Do you know that I have never yet met a man who really was a man—"
"Now, now, Adela!"
"No, I will say it! I have never met a real man who, knowing you, didn't think you were rare. They wouldn't let you go. Besides, what would you retire to?"
Again she looked at him with a scrutiny which she felt to be morally cruel. She could not refrain from it just then. It seemed to come inevitably from her own misery and almost desperation. At one moment she felt a rush of tenderness for him, at another an almost stony hardness.
"Ah—that's just it! I dare say it will be better to die in harness."
"Die!" she said, as if startled.
At that moment the thought assailed her, "If Seymour were suddenly to die!" There would be a terrible gap in her life. Her loneliness then would be horrible indeed unless—she pulled herself up with a sort of fierce mental violence. "I won't! I won't!" she cried out to herself.
"You are very strong and healthy, Seymour," she said, "I think you will live to be very old."
"Probably. Palaces usually contain a few dodderers. But is anything the matter, Adela? The old dog is very persistent, you know."
"I've been feeling a little depressed."
"You stay alone too much, I believe."
"It isn't that. I was out at the theatre with a party only last night. We went to The Great Lover. But he wasn't like you. You are a really great lover."
And again she leaned forward towards him, trying to feel physically what surely she was feeling in another way.
"The greatest in London, I am sure."
"I don't know," he said, very simply. "But certainly I have the gift of faithfulness, if it is a gift."
"We had great discussions on love and jealousy last night."
"Did you? Whom were you with?"
"I went with Beryl Van Tuyn and Francis Braybrooke."
"An oddly uneven pair!"
"Alick Craven was with us, too."
"The boy I met here one Sunday."
Lady Sellingworth felt an almost fierce flash of irritation as she heard him say "boy."
"He's hardly a boy," she said. "He must be at least thirty, and I think he seems even older than he is."
"Does he? He struck me as very young. When he went away with that pretty girl it was like young April going out of the room with all the daffodils. They matched."
The intense irritation grew in Lady Sellingworth. She felt as if she were being pricked by a multitude of pins.
"Beryl is years and years younger than he is!" she said. "I don't think you are very clever about ages, Seymour. There must be nearly ten years difference between them."
Scarcely had she said this than her mind added, "And about thirty years' difference between him and me!" And then something in her—she thought of it as the soul—crumpled up, almost as if trying to die and know nothing more.
"What is it, Adela?" again he said, gently. "Can't I help you?"
"No, no, you can't!" she answered, almost with desperation, no longer able to control herself thoroughly.
Suddenly she felt as if she were losing her head, as if she might break down before him, let him into her miserable secret.
"The fact is," she continued, fixing her eyes upon him, as a criminal might fix his eyes on his judge while denying everything. "The fact is that none of us really can help anyone else. We may think we can sometimes, but we can't. We all work out our own destinies in absolute loneliness. You and I are very old friends, and yet we are far away from each other, always have been and always shall be. No, you haven't the power to help me, Seymour."
"But what is the matter, my dear?"
"Life—life!" she said, and there was a fierce exasperation in her voice. "I cannot understand the unfairnesses of life, the cruel injustices."
"Are you specially suffering from them to-day?" he asked, and for a moment his eyes were less soft, more penetrating, as they looked at her.
"Yes!" she said.
A terrible feeling of "I don't care!" was taking possession of her, was beginning to drive her. And she thought of the women of the streets who, in anger or misery, vomit forth their feelings with reckless disregard of opinion in a torrent of piercing language.
"I'm really just like one of them!" was her thought. "Trimmed up as a lady!"
"Some people have such happy lives, years and years of happiness, and others are tortured and tormented, and all their efforts to be happy, or even to be at peace, without any real happiness, are in vain. It is of no use rebelling, of course, and rebellion only reacts on the rebel and makes everything worse, but still—"
Her face suddenly twisted. In all her life she thought she had never felt so utterly hopeless before.
Sir Seymour stretched out a hand to put it on hers, but she drew away.
"No, no—don't! I'm not—you can't do anything, Seymour. It's no use!"
She got up from the sofa, and walked away down the long drawing-room, trying to struggle with herself, to get back self-control. It was like madness this abrupt access of passion and violent despair, and she did not know how to deal with it, did not feel capable of dealing with it. She looked out of the window into Berkeley Square, after pulling back curtain and blind. Always Berkeley Square! Berkeley Square till absolute old age, and then death came! And she seemed to see her own funeral leaving the door. Good-bye to Berkeley Square! She let the blind drop, the curtain fall into its place.
Sir Seymour had got up and was standing by the fire. She saw him in the distance, that faithful old man, and she wished she could love him. She clenched her hands, trying to will herself to love him and to want to take him into her intimate life. But she could not bring herself to go back to him just then, and she did not know what she was going to do. Perhaps she would have left the room had not an interruption occurred. She heard the door open and saw Murgatroyd and the footman bringing in tea.
"You can turn up another light, Murgatroyd," she said, instantly recovering herself sufficiently to speak in a natural voice.
And she walked back down the room to Sir Seymour, carrying with her a little silver vase full of very large white carnations.
"These are the flowers I was speaking about," she said to him. "Have you ever seen any so large before? They look almost unnatural, don't they?"
When the servants were gone she said:
"You must think me half crazy, Seymour."
"No; but I don't understand what has happened."
"I have happened, I and my miserable disgusting mind and brain and temperament. That's all!"
"You are very severe on yourself."
"Tell me—have you ever been severe on me in your mind? You don't really know me. Nobody does or ever will. But you know me what is called well. Have you ever been mentally severe, hard on me?"
"Yes, sometimes," he answered gravely.
She felt suddenly rather cold, and she knew that his answer had surprised her. She had certainly expected him to say, "Never, my dear!"
"I thought so," she said.
And, while saying it, she was scarcely conscious that she was telling a lie.
"But you must not think that such thoughts about you ever make the least difference in my feeling for you," he said. "That has never changed, never could change."
"Oh—I don't know!" she said in a rather hard voice. "Everything can change, I think."
"I suppose you have often disapproved of things I have done?"
"Sometimes I have."
"Tell me, if—if things had been different, and you and I had come together, what would you have done if you had disapproved of my conduct?"
"What is the good of entering upon that?"
"Yes; do tell me! I want to know."
"I hope I should find the way to hold a woman who was mine," he said, with a sort of decisive calmness, but with a great temperateness.
"But if you married an ungovernable creature?"
"I doubt if anybody is absolutely ungovernable. In the army I have had to deal with some stiff propositions; but there is always a way."
"Is there? But in the army you deal with men. And we are so utterly different."
"I think I should have found the way."
"Could he find the way now?" she thought. "Shall I do it? Shall I risk it?"
"Why do you look at me like that?" he asked; "almost as if you were looking at me for the first time and were trying to make me out?"
She did not answer, but gave him his tea and sat back on her sofa.
"You sent for me for some special reason. You had some plan, some project in your mind," he continued. "I did not realize that at first, but now I am sure of it. You want me to help you in some way, don't you?"
She was still companioned by the desperation which had come upon her when she had made that, for her, terrible comparison between Beryl Van Tuyn's age and Craven's. Somehow it had opened her eyes—her own remark. In hearing it she had seemed to hear other voices, almost a sea of voices, saying things about herself, pitying things, sneering things, bitter things; worst of all, things which sent a wave of contemptuous laughter through the society to which she belonged. Ten years multiplied by three! No, it was impossible! But there was only one way out. She was almost sure that if she were left to herself, were left to be her own mistress in perfect freedom, her temperament would run away with her again as it had so often done in the past. She was almost sure that she would brave the ridicule, would turn a face of stone to the subtle condemnation, would defy the contempt of the "old guard," the sorrow and pity of Seymour, the anger of Beryl Van Tuyn, even her own self-contempt, in order to satisfy the imperious driving force within her which once again gave her no rest. Seymour could save her from all that, save her almost forcibly. Safety from it was there with her in the room. Rocheouart, Rupert Louth, other young men were about her for a moment. The brown eyes of the man who had stolen her jewels looked down into hers pleading for—her property. After all her experiences could she be fool enough to follow a marshlight again? But Alick Craven was different from all these men. She gave him something that he really seemed to want. He would be sorry, he would perhaps be resentful, if she took it away.
"Adela, if you cannot trust the old dog whom can you trust?"
"I know—I know!"
But again she was silent. If Seymour only knew how near he perhaps was to his greatest desire's fulfilment! If he only knew the conflict which was raging in her! At one moment she was on the edge of giving in, and flinging herself into prison and safety. At another she recoiled. How much did Seymour know of her? How well did he understand her?
"You said just now that you had sometimes been hard on me in your mind," she said abruptly. "What about?"
"That's all long ago."
"How long ago?"
"Years and years."
"You have—you have respected me for ten years?"
"And loved you for a great many more."
"Never mind about love! You have respected me for ten years."
"Tell me—have you loved me more since you have been able to respect me?"
"I think I have. To respect means a great deal with me."
"I must have often disgusted you very much before ten years ago. I expect you have often wondered very much about me, Seymour?"
"It is difficult to understand the great differences between your own temperament and another's, of course."
"Yes. How can faithfulness be expected to understand its opposite? You have lived like a monk, almost, and I—I have lived like a courtesan."
His deep voice sounded terribly hurt.
"Oh, Seymour, you and I—we have always lived in the world. We know all its humbug by heart. We are both old—old now, and why should we pretend to each other? You know how lots of us have lived, no one better. And I suppose I have been one of the worst. But, as you say, for ten years now I have behaved myself."
She stopped. She longed to say, "And, my God, Seymour, I am sick of behaving myself!" That would have been the naked truth. But even to him, after what she had just said, she could not utter it. Instead, she added after a moment:
"A great many lies have been lifted up as guiding lamps to men in the darkness. One of them is the saying: 'Virtue is its own reward.' I have behaved for ten years, and I know it is a lie."
"Adela, what is exasperating you to-day? Can't you tell me?"
Once more she looked at him with a sharp and intense scrutiny. She thought it was really a final look, and one that was to decide her fate; his too, though he did not know it. She knew his worth. She knew the value of the dweller in his temple, and had no need to debate about that. But she was one of those to whom the temple means much. She could not dissociate dweller from dwelling. The outside had always had a tremendous influence upon her, and time had not lessened that influence. Perhaps Sir Seymour felt that she was trying to come to some great decision, though he did not know, or even suspect, what that decision was. For long ago he had finally given up all hope of ever winning her for his wife. He sat still after asking this question. The lamplight shone over his thick, curly white hair, his lined, weather-beaten, distinguished old face, broad, cavalryman's hands, upright figure, shone into his faithful dog's eyes. And she looked and took in every physical detail, as only a woman can when she looks at a man whom she is considering in a certain way.
The silence seemed long. At last he broke it. For he had seen an expression of despair come into her face.
"My dear, what is it? You must tell me!"
But suddenly the look of despair gave place to a mocking look which he knew very well.
"It's only boredom, Seymour. I have had too much of Berkeley Square. I think I shall go away for a little."
"To Cap Martin?"
"Perhaps. Where does one go when one wants to run away from oneself?"
And then she changed the conversation and talked, as she generally talked to Sir Seymour, of the life they both knew, of the doings at Court, of politics, people, the state of the country, what was likely to come to old England.
She had decided against Seymour. But she had not decided for Craven. After a moment of despair, of feeling herself lost, she had suddenly said to herself, or a voice had said in her, a voice coming from she knew not where:
"I will remain free, but henceforth I will be my own mistress in freedom, not the slave of myself."
And then mentally she had dismissed both Seymour and Craven out of her life, the one as a possible husband, the other as a friend.
If she could not bring herself to take the one, then she would not keep the other. She must seek for peace in loneliness. Evidently that was her destiny. She gave herself to it with mocking eyes and despair in her heart.
Three days later, soon after four o'clock, Craven rang the bell at Lady Sellingworth's door. As he stood for a moment waiting for it to be answered he wondered whether she would be at home to him, how she would greet him if she chose to see him. The door was opened by a footman.
"Is her ladyship at home?"
"Her ladyship has gone out of town, sir."
"When will she be back?"
"I couldn't say, sir. Her ladyship has gone abroad."
Craven stood for a moment without speaking. He was amazed, and felt as if he had received a blow. Finally, he said:
"Do you think she will be long away?"
"Her ladyship has gone for some time, sir, I believe."
The young man's face, firm, with rosy cheeks and shallow, blue eyes, was strangely inexpressive. Craven hesitated, then said:
"Do you know where her ladyship has gone? I—I wish to write a note to her."
"I believe it's some place near Monte Carlo, sir. Her ladyship gave orders that no letters were to be forwarded for the present."
Craven turned away and walked slowly towards Mayfair. He felt startled and hurt, even angry. So this was friendship! And he had been foolish enough to think that Lady Sellingworth was beginning to value his company, that she was a lonely woman, and that perhaps his visits, his sympathy, meant something, even a great deal to her. What a young fool he had been! And what a humbug she must be! Suddenly London seemed empty. He remembered the coldness in the wording of the note she had sent him saying that she could not see him the day after the theatre party. She had put forward no excuse, no explanation. What had happened? He felt that something must have happened which had changed her feeling towards him. For though he told himself that she must be a humbug, he did not really feel that she was one. Perhaps she was angry with him, and that was why she had not chosen to tell him that she was going abroad before she started. But what reason had he given her for anger? Mentally he reviewed the events of their last evening together. It had been quite a gay evening. Nothing disagreeable had happened unless—Lady Wrackley and Mrs. Ackroyde came to his mind. He saw them before him with their observant, experienced eyes, their smiling, satirical lips. They had made him secretly uncomfortable. He had felt undressed when he was with them, and had realized that they knew of and were probably amused by his friendship for Lady Sellingworth. And he had hated their knowledge. Perhaps she had hated it too, although she had not shown a trace of discomfort. Or, perhaps, she had disliked his manner with Miss Van Tuyn, assumed to hide his own sensitiveness. And at that moment he thought of his intercourse with Miss Van Tuyn with exaggeration. It was possible that he had acted badly, had been blatant. But anyhow Lady Sellingworth had been very unkind. She ought to have told him that she was going abroad, to have let him see her before she went.
He felt that this short episode in his life was quite over. It had ended abruptly, undramatically. It had seemed to mean a good deal, and it had really meant nothing. What a boy he had been through it all! His cheeks burned at the thought. And he had prided himself on being a thorough man of the world. Evidently, despite his knowledge of life, his Foreign Office training, his experience of war—he had been a soldier for two years—he was really something of a simpleton. He had "given himself away" in Braybrooke, and probably to others as well, to Lady Wrackley, Mrs. Ackroyde, and perhaps even to Miss Van Tuyn. And to Lady Sellingworth!
What had she thought of him? What did she think of him? Nothing perhaps. She had belonged to the "old guard." Many men had passed through her hands. He felt at that moment acute hostility to women. They were treacherous, unreliable, even the best of them. They had not the continuity which belonged to men. Even elderly women—he was thinking of women of the world—even they were not to be trusted. Life was warfare even when war was over. One had to fight always against the instability of those around you. And yet there was planted in a man—at any rate there was planted in him—a deep longing for stability, a need to trust, a desire to attach himself to someone with whom he could be quite unreserved, to whom he could "open out" without fear of criticism or of misunderstand.
He had believed that in Lady Sellingworth he had found such an one, and now he had been shown his mistake. He reached the house in which he lived, but although he had walked to it with the intention of going in he paused on the threshold, then turned away and went on towards Hyde Park. Night was falling; the damp softness of late autumn companioned him wistfully. The streets were not very full. London seemed unusually quiet that evening. But when he reached the Marble Arch he saw people streaming hither and thither, hurrying towards Oxford Street, pouring into the Edgware Road, climbing upon omnibuses which were bound for Notting Hill, Ealing and Acton, drifting towards the wide and gloomy spaces of the Park. He crossed the great roadway and went into the Park, too. Attracted by a small gathering of dark figures he joined them, and standing among nondescript loungers he listened for a few minutes to a narrow-chested man with a long, haggard face, a wispy beard and protruding, decayed teeth, who was addressing those about him on the mysteries of life.
He spoke of the struggle for bread, of materialism, of the illusions of sensuality, of the Universal Intelligence, of the blind cruelty of existence.
"You are all unhappy!" he exclaimed, in a thin but carrying voice, which sounded genteel and fanatical. "You rush here and there not knowing why or wherefore. Many of you have come into this very Park to-night without any object, driven by the wish for something to take you out of your miseries. Can you deny it, I say?"
A tall soldier who was standing near Craven looked down at the plump girl beside him and said:
"How's that, Lil? We're both jolly miserable, ain't we?"
"Go along with yer! Not me!" was the response, with an impudent look.
"Then let's get on where it's quieter. What ho!"
They moved demurely away.
"Can you deny," the narrow-chested man continued, sawing the air with a thin, dirty hand, "that you are all dissatisfied with life, that you wonder about it, as Plato wondered, as Tolstoi wondered, as the Dean of St. Paul's wonders, as I am wondering now? From this very Park you look up at the stars, when there are any, and you ask yourselves—"
At this point in the discourse Craven turned away, feeling that edification was scarcely to be found by him here.
Certainly at this moment he was dissatisfied with life. But that was Lady Sellingworth's fault. If he were sitting with her now in Berkeley square the scheme of things would probably not seem all out of gear. He wondered where she was, what she was doing! The footman had said he believed she was near Monte Carlo. Craven remembered once hearing her say she was fond of Cap Martin. Probably she was staying there. It occurred to him that possibly she had told some of her friends of her approaching departure, though she had chosen to conceal it from him. Miss Van Tuyn might have known of it. He resolved to go to Brook Street and find out whether the charming girl had been in the secret. Claridge's was close by. It would be something to do. If he could not see Lady Sellingworth he wanted to talk about her. And at that moment his obscure irritation made him turn towards youth. Old age had cheated him. Well, he was young; he would seek consolation!
At Claridge's he inquired for Miss Van Tuyn, and was told she was out, had been out since the morning. Craven was pulling his card-case out of his pocket when he heard a voice say: "Are there any letters for me?" He swung round and there stood Miss Van Tuyn quite near him. For an instant she did not see him, and he had time to note that she looked even unusually vivid and brilliant. An attendant handed her some letters. She took them, turned and saw Craven.
"I had just asked for you," he said, taking off his hat.
"Oh! How nice of you!"
Her eyes were shining. He felt a controlled excitement in her. Her face seemed to be trying to tell something which her mind would not choose to tell. He wondered what it was, this secret which he divined.
"Come upstairs and we'll have a talk in my sitting-room."
She looked at him narrowly, he thought, as they went together to the lift. She seemed to have a little less self-possession than usual, even to be slightly self-conscious and because of that watchful.
When they were in her sitting-room she took off her hat, as if tired, put it on a table and sat down by the fire.
"I've been out all day," she said.
"Yes? Are you still having painting lessons?"
"That's it—painting lessons. Dick is an extraordinary man."
"You mean Dick Garstin. I don't know him."
"He's absolutely unscrupulous, but a genius. I believe genius always is unscrupulous. I am sure of it. It cannot be anything else."
"That's a pity."
"I don't know that it is."
"But how does Dick Garstin show his unscrupulousness?"
Miss Van Tuyn looked suddenly wary.
"Oh—in all sorts of ways. He uses people. He looks on people as mere material. He doesn't care for their feelings. He doesn't care what happens to them. If he gets out of them what he wants it's enough. After that they may go to perdition, and he wouldn't stretch out a finger to save them."
"What a delightful individual!"
"Ah!—you don't understand genius."
Craven felt rather nettled. He cared a good deal for the arts, and had no wish to be set among the Philistines.
"And—do you?" he asked.
"Yes, I think so. I'm not creative, but I'm very comprehending. Artists of all kinds feel that instinctively. That's why they come round me in Paris."
"Yes, you do understand!" he acknowledged, remembering her enthusiasm at the theatre. "But I think you are unscrupulous, too."
He said it hardily, looking straight at her, and wondering what she had been doing that afternoon before she arrived at the hotel.
She smiled, making her eyes narrow.
"Then perhaps I am half-way to genius."
"Would you be willing to sacrifice all the moral qualities if you could have genius in exchange?"
"You can't expect me to say so. But it would be grand to have power over men."
"You have that already."
She looked at him satirically.
"Do you know you're a terrible humbug?" she said.
"And are not you?"
"No; I think I show myself very much as I really am."
"Can a woman do that?" he said, with sudden moodiness.
"It depends. Mrs. Ackroyde can and Lady Wrackley can't."
"And—Lady Sellingworth?" he asked.
"I'm afraid she is a bit of a humbug," said Miss Van Tuyn, without venom.
"I wonder when she'll be back?"
"Back? Where from?"
"Surely you know she had gone abroad?"
The look of surprise in Miss Van Tuyn's face was so obviously genuine that Craven added:
"You didn't? Well, she has gone away for some time."
"Somewhere on the Riviera, I believe. Probably Cap Martin. But letters are not to be forwarded."
"At this time of year! Has she gone away alone?"
"I suppose so."
Miss Van Tuyn looked at him with a sort of cold, almost hostile shrewdness.
"And she told you she was going?"
"Why should she tell me?" he said, with a hint of defiance.
Miss Van Tuyn left that at once.
"So Adela has run away!" she said.
She sat for a moment quite still, like one considering something carefully.
"But she will come back," she said presently, looking up at him, "bringing her sheaves with her."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you remember—in the Bible?"
"But what has that to do with Lady Sellingworth?"
"Perhaps you'll understand when she comes back."
"I am really quite in the dark," he said, with obvious sincerity. "And it's nothing to me whether Lady Sellingworth comes back or stops away."
"I thought you joined with me in adoring her."
"Adoration isn't the word. And you know it."
"And letters are not to be forwarded?" said Miss Van Tuyn.
"I heard so."
"Ah! when you went to call on her!"
"Now you are merely guessing!"
"It must be terrible to be old!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with a change of manner. "Just think of going off alone to the Riviera in the autumn at the age of sixty! Beauties ought to die at fifty. Plain women can live to a hundred if they like, and it doesn't really matter. Their tragedy is not much worse then than it is at thirty-five. But beauties should never live beyond fifty—at the very latest."
"Then you must commit suicide at that age."
"Thank you. The old women in hotels!"
She shivered, and it seemed to him that her body shook naturally, as if it couldn't help shaking.
"But—remember—she'll come back with her sheaves!" she added, looking at him. "And then the 'old guard' will fall upon her."
For a moment she looked cruel, and though he did not understand her meaning Craven realized that she would not have much pity for Lady Sellingworth in misfortune. But Lady Sellingworth was cruel, too, had been cruel to him. And he saw humanity without tenderness, teeth and claws at work, barbarity coming to its own through the varnish.
He only said:
"I may be very stupid, but I don't understand."
And then he changed the subject of conversation. Miss Van Tuyn became gradually nicer to him, but he felt that she still cherished a faint hostility to him. Perhaps she thought he regarded her as a substitute. And was not that really the fact? He tried to sweep the hostility away. He laid himself out to be charming to her. The Lady Sellingworth episode was over. He would give himself to a different side of his nature, a side to which Miss Van Tuyn appealed. She did not encourage him at first, and he was driven to force the note slightly. When he went away they had arranged to play golf together, to dine together one night at the Bella Napoli. It was he who had suggested, even urged these diversions. For she had almost made him plead to her, had seemed oddly doubtful about seeing more of him in intimacy. And when he left her he was half angry with himself for making such a fuss about trifles. But the truth was—and perhaps she suspected it—that he was trying to escape from depression, caused by a sense of injury, through an adventure. He felt Miss Van Tuyn's great physical attraction, and just then he wished that it would overwhelm him. If it did he would soon cease from minding what Lady Sellingworth had done. A certain recklessness possessed him.
He dined with a friend at the club and stayed there rather late. When he was leaving about half past eleven Braybrooke dropped in after a party, and he told Braybrooke of Lady Sellingworth's departure for the Continent. The world's governess showed even more surprise than Miss Van Tuyn had shown. He had had no idea that Adela Sellingworth was going abroad. She must have decided on it very abruptly. He had seen nothing in the Morning Post. Had she gone alone? And no letters to be forwarded! Dear me! It was all very odd and unexpected. And she had gone on the Riviera at this time of year! But it was a desert; not a soul one knew would be there. The best hotels were not even open, he believed.
As he made his comments he observed Craven closely with his small hazel eyes, but the young man showed no feeling, and Braybrooke began to think that really perhaps he had made a mountain out of a molehill, that he had done Adela Sellingworth an injustice. If she had really been inclined to any folly about his young friend she would certainly not have left London in this mysterious manner.
"I suppose she let you know she was going?" he hazarded.
"Oh, no. I happened to call and the footman gave me the news."
"I hope she isn't ill," said Braybrooke with sudden gravity.
"Ill? Why should you think—?"
"There are women who hate it to be known when they are ill. Catherine Bewdley went away without a word and was operated on at Lausanne, and not one of us knew of it till it was all over. I don't quite like the look of things. Letters not being forwarded—ha!"
"But near Monte Carlo!"
"Is it near Monte Carlo?"
He pursed his lips and went into the club looking grave, while Craven went out into the night. It was black and damp. The pavement seemed sweating. The hands of both autumn and winter were laid upon London. But soon the hands of autumn would fail and winter would have the huge city as its possession.
"Is it Monte Carlo?"
Braybrooke's question echoed in Craven's mind. Could he have done Lady Sellingworth a wrong? Was there perhaps something behind her sudden departure in silence which altogether excused it? She might be ill and have disappeared without a word to some doctor's clinic, as Braybrooke had suggested. Women sometimes had heroic silences. Craven thought she could be heroic. There was something very strong in her, he thought, combined perhaps with many weaknesses. He wished he knew where she was, what she was doing, whom she was with or whether she was alone. His desire trailed after her against his will. Undoubtedly he missed her, and felt oddly homeless now she was gone.
Miss Van Tuyn believed that things were coming her way after all. Young Craven was suddenly released, and another very strong interest was dawning in her life. Craven had not been wrong in thinking that she was secretly excited when he met her in the hall at Claridge's. She had fulfilled her promise to Dick Garstin, driven to fulfilment by his taunt. No one should say with truth that she was afraid of anyone, man or woman. She would prove to Garstin that she was not afraid of the man he was trying to paint. So, on the day of their conversation in the studio, she had left Glebe Place with Arabian. For the first time she had been alone with him for more than a few minutes.
She had gone both eagerly and reluctantly; reluctantly because there was really something in Arabian which woke in her a sort of frail and quivering anxiety such as she had never felt before in any man's company; eagerly because Garstin had put into words what had till then been only a suspicion in her mind. He had told her that Arabian was in love with her. Was that true? Even now she was not sure. That was part of the reason why she was not quite at ease with Arabian. She was not sure of anything about him except that he was marvellously handsome. But Garstin was piercingly sharp. What he asserted about anyone was usually the fact. He could hardly be mistaken. Yet how could a woman be in doubt about such a thing? And she was still, in spite of her vanity, in doubt.
When Arabian had come into the studio that day, and had seen the sketch of him ripped up by the palette knife, he had looked almost fierce for a moment. He had turned towards Garstin with a sort of hauteur like one demanding, and having the right to demand, an explanation.
"What's the row?" Garstin had said, with almost insolent defiance. "I destroyed it because it's damned bad. I hadn't got you."
And then he had taken the canvas from the easel and had thrown it contemptuously into a corner of the studio.
Arabian had said nothing, but there had been a cloud on his face, and Miss Van Tuyn had known that he was angry, as a man is angry when he sees a bit of his property destroyed by another. And she had remembered her words to Arabian, that the least sketch by Garstin was worth a great deal of money.
Surely Arabian was a greedy man.
No work had been done in the studio that morning. They had sat and talked for a while. Garstin had said most. He had been more agreeable than usual, and had explained to Arabian, rather as one explains to a child, that a worker in an art is sometimes baffled for a time, a writer by his theme, a musician by his floating and perhaps half-nebulous conception, a painter by his subject. Then he must wait, cursing perhaps, damning his own impotence, dreading its continuance. But there is nothing else to be done. Pazienza! And he had enlarged upon patience. And Arabian had listened politely, had looked as if he were trying to understand.
"I'll try again!" Garstin had said. "You must give me time, my boy. You're not in a hurry to leave London, are you?"
And then Miss Van Tuyn had seen Arabian's eyes turn to her as he had said, but rather doubtfully:
"I don't know whether I am."
Garstin's eyes had said to her with sharp imperativeness:
"Keep him! You're not to let him go!"
And she had kept her promise; she had gone away from the studio with Arabian leaving Garstin smiling at the door. And at that moment she had almost hated Garstin.
Arabian had asked her to lunch with him. She had consented. He had suggested a cab, and the Savoy or the Carlton, or the Ritz if she preferred it. But she had quickly replied that she knew of a small restaurant close to Sloane Square Station where the food was very good. Many painters and writers went there.
"But we are not painters and writers!" Arabian had said.
Nevertheless they had gone there, and had lunched in a quiet corner, and she had left him about three o'clock.
On the day of Craven's call at Claridge's she had been with Arabian again. Garstin had begun another picture, and had worked on through the lunch hour. Later they had had some food, a sort of picnic, in the studio, and then she had walked away with Arabian. She had just left him when she met Craven in the hall of the hotel. Garstin had not allowed either her or Arabian to look at what he had done. He had, Miss Van Tuyn thought, seemed unusually nervous and diffident about his work. She did not know how he had gone on, and was curious. But she was going to dine with him that night. Perhaps he would tell her then, or perhaps he had only asked her to dinner that she might tell him about Arabian.
And in the midst of all this had come Craven with his changed manner and his news about Lady Sellingworth.
Decidedly things were taking a turn for the better. To Miss Cronin's increasingly plaintive inquiries as to when they would return to Paris Miss Van Tuyn gave evasive replies. She was held in London, and had almost forgotten her friends in Paris.
She wondered why Adela had gone away so abruptly. Although she had half hinted to Craven that she guessed the reason of this sudden departure, and had asserted that Adela would presently come back bringing sheaves with her, she was not at all sure that her guess was right. Adela might return mysteriously rejuvenated and ready to plunge once more into the fray, braving opinion. It might be a case of reculer pour mieux sauter. On the other hand, it might be a flight from danger. Miss Van Tuyn was practically certain that Adela had fallen in love with Alick Craven. Was she being sensible and deliberately keeping out of his way, or was she being mad and trying to be made young at sixty in order to return armed for his captivation. Time would show. Meanwhile the ground was unexpectedly clear. Craven was seeking her, and she, by Garstin's orders and in the strict service of art, was pushing her way towards a sort of intimacy with Arabian. But the difference between the two men!
Craven's visit to Claridge's immediately after the hours spent with Arabian had emphasized for her the mystery of the latter. Her understanding of Craven underlined her ignorance about Arabian. The confidence she felt in Craven—a confidence quite independent of his liking, or not liking her—marked for her the fact that she had no confidence in Arabian. Craven was just an English gentleman. He might have done all sorts of things, but he was obviously a thoroughly straight and decent fellow. A woman had only to glance at him to know the things he could never do. But when she looked at Arabian—well, then, the feeling was rather that Arabian might do anything. Craven belonged obviously to a class, although he had a strong and attractive individuality. English diplomacy presented many men of his type to the embassies in foreign countries. But to what class did Arabian belong? Even Dick Garstin was quite comprehensible, in spite of his extraordinary manners and almost violent originality. He was a Bohemian, with touches of genius, touches of vulgarity. There were others less than him, yet not wholly unlike him, men of the studios, of the painting schools, smelling as it were of Chelsea and the Quartier Latin. But Arabian seemed to stand alone. When with him Miss Van Tuyn could not tell what type of man must inevitably be his natural comrade, what must inevitably be his natural environment. She could see him at Monte Carlo, in the restaurants of Paris, in the Galleria at Naples, in Cairo, in Tunis, in a dozen places. But she could not see him at home. Was he the eternal traveller, with plenty of money, a taste for luxury and the wandering spirit? Or had he some purpose which drove him about the world?
After Craven had left her that day at Claridge's she had a sudden wish to bring him and Craven together, to see how they got on together, to hear Craven's opinion of Arabian. Perhaps she could manage a meeting between the two men presently. Why not?
Arabian had not attempted to make love to her on either of the two occasions when she had been with him alone. Only his eyes had seemed to tell her that he admired her very much, that he wanted something of her. His manner had been noncommittal. He had seemed to be on his guard.
There was something in Arabian which suggested to Miss Van Tuyn suspicion. He was surely a man who, despite his "open" look, his bold features, his enormously self-possessed manner, was suspicious of others. He had little confidence in others. She was almost certain of that. There was nothing cat-like in his appearance, yet at moments when with him she thought of a tomcat, of its swiftness, suppleness, gliding energies and watchful reserve. She suspected claws in his velvet, too. And yet surely he looked honest. She thought his look was honest, but that his "atmosphere" was not. Often he had a straight look—she could not deny that to herself. He could gaze at you and let you return his gaze. And yet she had not been able to read what he was in his eyes.
He was not very easy to get on with somehow, although there was a great deal of charm in his manner and although he was full of self-confidence and evidently accustomed to women. But to what women was he accustomed? That was a question which Miss Van Tuyn asked herself. Craven was obviously at home in the society of ordinary ladies and of women of the world. You knew that somehow directly you were with him. But—Arabian?
Miss Van Tuyn could see him with smart cocottes. He would surely be very much at ease with them. And many of them would be ready to adore such a man. For there was probably a strain of brutality somewhere under his charm. And they would love that. She could even see him, or fancied that she could, with street women. For there was surely a touch of the street in him. He must have been bred up in cities. He did not belong to any fields or any woods that she knew or knew of. And—other women? Well, she was numbered among those other women. And how was he with her so far? Charming, easy, bold—yes; but also reserved, absolutely non-committal. She was not at all sure whether she was going to be of much use to Dick Garstin, except perhaps in her own person. Instead of delivering to him the man he wanted to come at perhaps she would end by delivering a woman worth painting—herself.
For there was something in Arabian that was certainly dangerous to her, something in him that excited her, that lifted her into an unusual vitality. She did not quite know what it was. But she felt it definitely. When she was with him alone she seemed to be in an adventure through which a current of definite danger was flowing. No other man had ever brought a sensation like that into her life, although she had met many types of men in Paris, had known well talented men of acknowledged bad character, reckless of the convenances, men who snapped their fingers at all the prejudices of the orthodox, and who made no distinction between virtues and vices, following only their own inclinations.
Such a man was Dick Garstin. Yet Miss Van Tuyn had never with him had the sensation of being near to something dangerous which she had with Arabian. Yet Arabian was scrupulously polite, was quiet, almost gentle in manner, and had a great deal of charm.
She remembered his following her in the street at night. What would he be like with women of that sort? Would his gentleness be in evidence with them, or would a totally different individual rise to the surface of him, a beast of prey perhaps with the jungle in its eyes?
Something in her shrank from Arabian as she had never yet shrunk from a human being. But something else was fascinated by him. She had the American woman's outlook on men. She expected men to hold their own in the world with other men, to be self-possessed, cool-headed, and bold in their careers, but to be subservient in their relations with women. To be ruled by a husband would have seemed to her to be quite unnatural, to rule him quite natural. She felt sure that no woman would be likely to rule Arabian. She felt sure that his outlook on women was absolutely unlike that of the American man. When she looked at him she thought of the rape of the Sabines. Surely he was a primitive under his mask of almost careful smartness and conventionality. There was something primitive in her, too, and she became aware of that now. Hitherto she had been inclined to believe that she was essentially complex, cerebral, free from any trace of sentimentality, quiveringly responsive to the appealing voices of the arts, healthily responsive to the joys of athleticism almost in the way of a Greek youth in the early days of the world, but that she was free from all taint of animalism. Men had told her that, in spite of her charm and the fascination they felt in her, she lacked one thing—what they chose to call temperament. That was why, they said, she was able to live as she did, audaciously, even eccentrically, without being kicked out of society as "impossible." She was saved from disaster by her interior coldness. She lived by the brain rather than by the senses. And she had taken this verdict to herself as praise. She had felt refinement in her freedom from ordinary desire. She had been proud of worshipping beauty without any coarse longing. To her her bronzes had typified something that she valued in herself. Her immense vanity had not been blended with those passions which shake many women, which had devastated Lady Sellingworth. A coarseness in her mind made her love to be physically desired by men, but no coarseness of body made her desire them. And she had supposed that she represented the ultra modern type of woman, the woman who without being cold—she would not acknowledge that she was cold—was free from the slavish instinct which makes all the ordinary women sisters in the vulgar bosom of nature.
But since she had seen Arabian she felt less highly civilized; she knew that in her, too, lurked the horrible primitive. And that troubled and at the same time fascinated her.
Was that why when she had seen Arabian for the first time she had resolved to get to know him? She had called him a living bronze, but she had thought of him from the first, perhaps, with ardour as flesh and blood.
And yet at moments he repelled her. She, who was so audacious, did not want to show herself with him at the Ritz, to walk down Piccadilly with him in daylight. As she had said to Dick Garstin, an atmosphere seemed to hang about Arabian—an unsafe atmosphere. She did not know where she was in it. She lost her bearings, could not see her way, heard steps and voices that sounded strange. And the end of it all was—"I don't know." When she thought of Arabian always that sentence was in her mind—"I don't know."
She was strangely excited. And now Craven came to her. And he attracted her, too, but in such a different way!
Suddenly London was interesting! And "I don't know when we shall go back to Paris!" she said to Miss Cronin.
"Is it the Wallace Collection, Beryl?" murmured "Old Fanny," with plaintive suspicion over her cup of camomile tea.
"Yes, it's the Wallace Collection," said Miss Van Tuyn.
And she went away to dress for her dinner with Dick Garstin.
She met him at a tiny and very French restaurant in Conduit Street, where the cooking was absolutely first rate, where there was no sound of music, and where very few English people went. There were only some eight or ten tables in the cosy, warm little room, and when Miss Van Tuyn entered it there were not a dozen people dining. Dick Garstin was not there. It was just like him to be late and to keep a woman waiting. But he had engaged a table in the corner of the room on the right, away from the window. And Miss Van Tuyn was shown to it by a waiter, and sat down. On the way she had bought The Westminster Gazette. She opened it, lit a cigarette, and began to glance at the news. There happened to be a letter from Paris in which the writer described a new play which had just been produced in an outlying theatre. Miss Van Tuyn read the account. She began reading in a casual mood, but almost immediately all her attention was grasped and held tight. She forgot where she was, let her cigarette go out, did not see Garstin when he came in from the street. When he came up and laid a hand on her arm she started violently.
An angry look came into her face.
"Why did you do that?"
"What's the matter?"
He stared at her almost as if fascinated.
"By Jove . . . you look wonderful!"
"I forbid you to touch me like that! I hate being pawed, and you know it."
He glanced at the pale green paper.
"The sea-green incorruptible!"
He stretched out his hand, but she quickly moved the paper out of his reach.
"Let us dine. You've kept me waiting for ages."
Garstin sent a look to his waiter, and sat down opposite to Miss Van Tuyn with his back to the room.
"I'll buy a Westminster going back," he observed. "Bisque! Bring a bottle of the Lanson, Raoul."
He addressed the waiter in French.
"Certainement, Monsieur Garstin."
"Better tempered now, Beryl?"
"You always make out that I have the temper of a fiend. I hate being startled. That's all."
"You're awfully nervy these days."
"I think you are the cruellest man I know. If it weren't for your painting no one would have anything to do with you."
"I shouldn't care."
"Yes, you would. You love being worshipped and run after."
"Good soup, isn't it?"
She made no answer to this. After a silence she said:
"Why were you so late?"
"To give you time to study the evening paper."
"Were you working?"
"This damned portrait's going to be no good either!"
"Then you'd better give it up."
He shot a piercing glance at her.
"It isn't my way to give things up once I've put my hand to them," he observed drily. "And you seem to forget that you put me up to it."
"That was only a whim. You didn't take it seriously."
"I do now, though."
"But if you're baffled?"
"For the moment. I've nearly always found that the best work comes hardest. One has to sweat blood before one reaches the big thing. I may begin on him half a dozen times, cut him to ribbons half a dozen time—and then do a masterpiece."
"I don't think he'll wait long enough. Another stab of the palette knife and you'll probably see the last of him."
"Ah—he didn't like it, did he?"
"He was furious."
"Did he say anything about it afterwards to you?"
"Not a word. But he was furious. You stabbed money!"
Garstin smiled appreciatively. Raoul was pouring out the champagne. Garstin lifted his glass and set it down half empty.
"Had you told him—"
"He knows everything you do is worth money, a lot of money."
"He's got the hairy heel. I always knew that. We'll get to his secret yet, you and I between us."
"I am not sure that I can stay over here very much longer, Dick. Paris is my home, and I can't waste my money at Claridge's for ever."
"If you like I'll pay the bill."
"Do you really think that if I were to go he—Arabian—"
"He'd follow you by the next boat."
"I'm sure he wouldn't."
"You're not half so vain as I thought you were."
"When we are alone he never attempts to make love to me. We talk platitudes. I know him no better than I did before."
"He's a wary bird. But the dawn must come and with it his crow."
"Well, Dick, I tell you frankly that I may go back to Paris any day."
"I knew you were nervy to-night. I wish I could find a woman who was a match for a man in the nervous system. But there isn't one. That's why we are so superior. We've got steel where you've all got fiddle strings. Raoul!"
He drank again and ate heartily. He was a voracious eater at times. But there were days when he ate nothing and worked incessantly.
They had begun dinner late, and the little restaurant was getting empty. Three sets of diners had gone out since they had sat down. The waiters were clearing some of the tables. A family party, obviously French, lingered at a round table in the middle of the room over their coffee. A pale man sat alone in a corner eating pressed duck with greedy avidity. And Raoul, leaving Miss Van Tuyn and Garstin, placed a large vase of roses on a table close to the window near the door.
Miss Van Tuyn happened to see this action, and a vagrant thought slipped through her mind. "Then we are not the last!"
"My nerves are certainly not fiddle strings," she said. "But I have interests which pull me towards Paris."
"Greater interests here. Have some more champagne! Raoul!"
"You can't deceive me, Beryl."
"Your pose of omniscience bores me. Apart from your gift you're a very ordinary man, Dick, if you could only be brought to see it."
"Arabian fascinates you."
"And that's why you're afraid of him. You're afraid of his power because you don't trust him. He's doing a lot for you. You're waking up. You're becoming interesting. A few days ago you were only a beautiful spoilt American girl, as cool and as hard as ice, brainy, vain, and totally without temperament as far as one could see. Your torch was unlit. Now this blackguard's put the match to it."
"What nonsense, Dick!"
"That's all very well. But my intention is to paint him, not you. Why don't you get to work hard? Why don't you put your back into it?"
"This is beyond bearing, Dick, even from you!"
She was looking really indignant. Her cheeks and forehead had reddened, her eyes seemed to spit fire at him, and her hands trembled.
"Your absolute lack of decent consideration is—you're canaille! Because you're impotent to paint I am to—no, it's too much! Canaille! Canaille! That's what you are! I shall go back to Paris. I shall—"
Suddenly she stopped speaking and stared. The red faded out of her face. A curiously conscious and intent look came into her eyes. She began to move her head as if in recognition of some one, stopped and sat rigid, pressing her lips together till her mouth had a hard grim line. Garstin, who could only see her and the wall at her back, watched all this with sharp interest, then, growing curious, turned round. As he did so he saw a tall, very handsome dark girl, who had certainly not been in the room when he entered it, going slowly, and as if reluctantly, towards the doorway. She was obviously a woman of the demi-monde and probably French. As she reached the door she turned her smart, impudent head and covered Miss Van Tuyn with an appraising look, cold, keen, vicious in its detached intensity, a look such as only a woman can send to another woman.
Then she went out, followed by Raoul, who seemed rather agitated, and whose back looked appealing.
"Black hair with blue lights in it!" said Garstin. "What a beauty!"
Miss Van Tuyn sighed.
"Why wouldn't she stay?"
He was still sitting half turned towards the door.
"A table with flowers all ready for her! And she goes! Was she alone? Ah—who was with her?"
"Arabian!" said Miss Van Tuyn, coldly.
"He saw us!"
"And took her away! What a lark! Too timid to face us! The naughty boy caught out in an escapade! I'll chaff him to-morrow. All their dinner wasted, and I'll bet it was a good one."
He chuckled over his wine.
"Did he know that you saw him?"
"I don't know. He was behind her. He barely showed himself, saw us and vanished. He must have called to her, beckoned from the hall. She went quite up to the table."
"So—you've taught him timidity! He doesn't want you to know of his under life."
"Oh, for heaven's sake let us talk of something else!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with an almost passionate note of exasperation. "You bore me, bore me, bore me with this man! He seems becoming an obsession with you. Paint him, for God's sake, and then let there be an end of him as far as we are concerned. There are lots of other men better-looking than he is. But once you have taken an idea into your head there is no peace until you have worked it out on canvas. Genius it may be, but it's terribly tiresome to everyone about you. Paint the man—and then let him sink back into the depths!"
"Like a sea monster, eh?"
"He is horrible. I always knew it."
"Come, now! You told me—"
"It doesn't matter what I told you. He is horrible."
"What! Just because he comes out to dine with a pretty girl of a certain class? I had no idea you were such a Puritan. Raoul!"
Garstin was evidently enjoying himself.
"I know those women! Arabian's catching it like the devil in Conduit Street. She's giving him something he'll remember."
"No!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with hard emphasis.
"What d'you mean?"
"I mean that Arabian is the sort of man who can frighten women. Now if you don't talk of something else I shall leave you here alone. Another word on that subject and I go!"
"Tell me, Beryl. What do you really thing of Wyndham Lewis? You know his portrait of Ezra Pound?"
"Of course I do."
"Don't you think it's a masterpiece?"
"Do you? I can never get at your real ideas about modern painting."
"And I thought I wore them all down in my own pictures."
"You certainly don't sit on the fence when you paint."
And then they talked pictures. Perhaps Garstin at that moment for once laid himself out to be charming. He could fascinate Miss Van Tuyn's mind when he chose. She respected his brain. It could lure her. As a worker she secretly almost loved Garstin, and she believed that the world would remember him when he was gone to the shadows and the dust.
Two champagne bottles had been emptied when they got up to go. The little room was deserted and had a look of being settled in for the night. Raoul took his tip and yawned behind his big yellow hand. As Miss Van Tuyn was about to leave the restaurant he bent down to the floor and picked up a paper which had fallen against the wall near her seat.
"Madame—" he began.
Miss Van Tuyn, who was on her way to the door, did not hear him, and Garstin swiftly and softly took the paper and slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat. When he had said good-bye to Beryl he went back to Glebe Place. He mounted the stairs to the studio on the first floor, turned on the lights, went to the Spanish cabinet, poured himself out a drink, lit one of the black cigars, then sat down in a worn arm-chair, put his feet on the sofa, and unfolded The Westminster Gazette. What had she been reading so intently? What was it in the paper that had got on her nerves?
The political news, the weather, the leading article, notes, reviews of new books. He looked carefully at each of the reviews. Not there! Then he began to read the news of the day, but found nothing which seemed to him capable of gripping Beryl's attention. Finally, he turned to the last page but one of the paper, saw the heading, "Our Paris Letter," and gave the thrush's call softly. Paris—Beryl! This was sure to be it. He began to read, and almost immediately was absorbed. His brows contracted, his lips went up towards his long, hooked nose. A strong light shone in his hard, intelligent eyes, eyes surely endowed with the power to pierce into hidden places. Presently he put the paper down. So that was it! That was why Beryl had been so startled when he touched her in the restaurant!
He got up and walked to the easel on which was the new sketch for Arabian's portrait, stood before it and looked at it for a very long time. And all the time he stood there what he had just read was in his mind. Fear! The fascination of fear! There were women who could only love what they could also fear. Perhaps Beryl was one of them. Perhaps underneath all her audacity, her self-possession, her "damned cheek," her abnormal vanity, there was the thing that could shrink, and quiver, and love the brute.
Was that her secret? And his? Arabian's?
Garstin threw himself down presently and looked at the paper again. The article which he felt sure had gripped Miss Van Tuyn's attention described a new play which had just made a sensation in Paris. A woman, apparently courageous almost to hardness, self-engrossed, beautiful and cold, became in this play fascinated by a man about whom she knew nothing, whom she did not understand, who was not in her circle of society, who knew none of her friends, who came from she knew not where. Her instinct hinted to her that there was in him something abominable. She distrusted him. She was even afraid of him. But he made an enormous impression upon her. And she said of him to a man who warned her against him, "But he means a great deal to me and other men mean little or nothing. There is something in him which speaks to me and in others there is nothing but silence. There is something in him which leads me along a path and others leave me standing where I am."
Eventually, against the warning of her own instinct, and, as it were, in spite of herself, she gave herself up to the man, and after a very short association with him—only a few days—he strangled her. She had a long and very beautiful neck. Hidden in him was a homicidal tendency. Her throat had drawn his hands, and, behind his hands, him. And she? Apparently she had been drawn to the murderer hidden in him, to the strong, ruthless, terribly intent, crouching thing that wanted to destroy her.
As the writer of the article pointed out, the play was a Grand Guignol piece produced away from its proper environment. It was called The Lure of Destruction.
How Beryl had started when a hand had touched her in the restaurant! And how angry she had been afterwards! Garstin smiled as he remembered her anger. But she had looked wonderful. She might be worth painting presently. He did not really care to paint a Ceres. But she was rapidly losing the Ceres look.
Before he went to bed he again stood in front of the scarcely begun sketch for the portrait of Arabian, and looked at it for a long time. His face became grim and set as he looked. Presently he moved his lips as if he were saying something to a listener within. And the listener heard:
"In the underworld—but is the fellow a king?"
Francis Braybrooke was pleased. Young Craven and Beryl were evidently "drawing together" now Adela Sellingworth was happily out of the way. He heard of them dining together at the Bella Napoli, playing golf together at Beaconsfield—or was it Chorley Wood? He was not quite sure. He heard of young Craven being seen at Claridge's going up in the lift to Miss Van Tuyn's floor. All this was very encouraging. Braybrooke's former fears were swept away and his confidence in his social sense was re-established upon its throne. Evidently he had been quite mistaken, and there had been nothing in that odd friendship with Adela Sellingworth. This would teach him not to let himself go to suspicion in the future.
He still did not know where Lady Sellingworth was. Nothing had appeared in the Morning Post about her movements. Nobody seemed to know anything about her. He met various members of the "old guard" and made inquiry, but "Haven't an idea" was the invariable reply. Even, and this was strangest of all, Seymour Portman did not know where she was. Braybrooke met him one day at the Marlborough and spoke of the matter, and Seymour Portman, with his most self-contained and reserved manner, replied that he believed Lady Sellingworth had gone abroad to "take a rest," but that he was not sure where she was "at the moment." She was probably moving about.
Why should she take a rest? She never did anything specially laborious. It really was quite mysterious. One day Braybrooke inquired discreetly in Berkeley Square, alleging a desire to communicate with Lady Sellingworth about a charity bazaar in which he was interested; but the footman did not know where her ladyship was or when she was coming back to town. And still letters were not being forwarded.
Meanwhile Fanny Cronin felt that Paris was drifting quite out of her ken. The autumn was deepening. The first fogs of winter had made a premature appearance, and the spell of the Wallace Collection was evidently as strong as ever on Beryl. But was it the Wallace Collection? Miss Cronin never knew much about what Beryl was doing. Still, she was a woman and had her instincts, rudimentary though they were. Mr. Braybrooke must certainly have received his conge. Mrs. Clem Hodson quite agreed with Miss Cronin on that point. Beryl had probably refused the poor foolish old man that day at the Ritz when there had been that unpleasant dispute about the plum cake. But now there was this Mr. Craven! Miss Cronin had found him once with Beryl in the latter's sitting-room; she had reason to believe they had played golf together. The young man was certainly handsome. And then Beryl had seemed quite altered just lately. Her temper was decidedly uncertain. She was unusually restless and preoccupied. Twice she had been exceedingly cross about Bourget. And she looked different, too; even Suzanne Hodson had noticed it. There was something in her face—"a sort of look," Miss Cronin called it, with an apt feeling for the choice of words—which was new and alarming. Mrs. Clem declared that Beryl had the expression of a woman who was crazy about a man.
"It's the eyes and the cheek-bones that tell the tale, Fanny!" she had observed. "They can't deceive a woman. Don't talk to me about the Wallace Collection."
Poor Miss Cronin was very uneasy. The future looked almost as dark as the London days. As she lay upon the French bed, or reclined upon the sofa, or sat deep in her arm-chair, she envisaged an awful change, when the Avenue Henri Martin would know her no more, when she might have to return to the lair in Philadelphia from which Miss Van Tuyn had summoned her to take charge of Beryl.
One day, when she was almost brooding over the fire, between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, the door opened and Beryl appeared. She had been out since eleven in the morning. But that was nothing new. She went out very often about half-past ten and scarcely ever came back to lunch.
"Fanny!" she said. "I want you."
"What is it, dear?" said Miss Cronin, sitting forward a little in her chair and laying aside her book.
"I've brought back a friend, and I want you to know him. Come into my sitting-room."
Miss Cronin got up obediently and remembering Mrs. Clem's words, looked at Beryl's cheek-bones and eyes.
"Is it Mr. Craven?" she asked in a quavering voice.
"Mr. Craven—no! You know him already."
"I have seen him once, dear."
Miss Cronin followed her into the lobby. The door of the sitting-room was open, and by the fire was standing a stalwart-looking man in a dark blue overcoat. As Miss Cronin came in he gazed at her, and she thought she had never before seen such a pair of matching brown eyes. Beryl introduced him as Mr. Arabian.
The stranger bowed, and then pressed Miss Cronin's freckled right hand gently, but strongly too.
"I have been hoping to meet you," he said, in a strong but gentle voice which had, Miss Cronin thought, almost caressing inflexions.
"Very glad to meet you, indeed!" said the companion.
"Yes. Miss Van Tuyn has told me what you are to her."
"Forgive me for a minute!" said Miss Van Tuyn. "I must take off my things. They all feel as if they were full of fog. Fanny, entertain Mr. Arabian until I come back. But don't talk about Bourget. He's never read Bourget, I'm sure."
She looked at Fanny Cronin and went out of the room. And in that look old Fanny, slow in the uptake though she undoubtedly was, read a tremendous piece of news.
This must be the Wallace Collection!
That was how her mind put it. This must be the great reason of Beryl's lingering in London, this total stranger of whom she had never heard till this moment. Her instinct had not deceived her. Beryl had at last fallen in love. And probably Mr. Braybrooke had been aware of it when he had called that afternoon and talked so persistently about the changes and chances of life. In that case Miss Cronin had wronged him. And he had perhaps come to plead the cause of another.
"The weather—it is really terrible, is it not? You are wise to stay in the warm."
So the conversation began between Miss Cronin and Arabian, and it continued for quite a quarter of an hour. Then Miss Van Tuyn came back in a tea gown, looking lovely with her uncovered hair and her shining, excited eyes, and some twenty minutes later Arabian went away.
When he had gone Miss Van Tuyn said carelessly:
"Fanny, darling, what do you think of him?"
Fanny, darling! That was not Beryl's usual way of putting things. Miss Cronin was much shaken. She felt the ground of her life, as it were, rocking beneath her feet, and yet she answered—she could not help it:
"I think Mr. Arabian is the most—the most—he is fascinating. He is a charming man. And how very good-looking!"
"Yes, he's a handsome fellow. And so you liked him?"
"No one has ever been so charming to me as he was—that I can remember. He must have a most sympathetic make-up. Who is he?"
"A friend of Dick Garstin, the painter. And so he attracted you?"
"I think him certainly most attractive. I should imagine he must have a very kind heart. There is something almost childlike about him, so simple!"
"So—so you find nothing repellent in him?"
"Repellent!" said Miss Cronin, almost with fear. "Do you mean to say—then don't you like him?"
"I like him well enough. But, as you ought to know, I'm not given to raving about men."
"Well," said Miss Cronin almost severely, "Mr. Arabian—Is that his true name?"
"Yes. I told you so."
"It's such an odd name! Mr. Arabian is a most kind and warm-hearted man. I am certain of that. And he is not above being charming and thoughtful to an ordinary old woman like me. He understand me, and that shows he has sympathy. I am sure Suzanne would like him too."
"Really, you quite rave about him!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with a light touch of sarcasm.
But her eyes looked pleased, and that evening she was exceptionally kind to old Fanny.
She had not yet brought Arabian and Alick Craven together. Somehow she shrank from that far more than she had shrunk from the test with Fanny. Craven was very English, and Englishmen are apt to be intolerant about men of other nations. And Craven was a man, and apparently was beginning to like her very much. He would not be a fair judge. Undoubtedly he would be prejudiced.
And at this point in her mental communings Miss Van Tuyn realized that she was losing her independence of mind. What did it matter if Fanny thought this and Alick Craven that? What did it matter what anyone thought but herself?
But she was surely confused, was walking in the clouds. Dick Garstin had given her a lead that night of the meeting of the Georgians. She had certainly been affected by his words. Perhaps he had even infected her with his thought. Thought can infect, and Garstin had a powerful mind. And now she was seeking to oppose to Garstin's thought the opinion of others. How terribly weak that was! And she had always prided herself on her strength. She was startled, even angered, by the change in herself.
Her connexion with Craven was peculiar.
Ever since Lady Sellingworth's abrupt departure from England he had persistently sought her out, had shown a sort of almost obstinate desire to be in her company. Remembering what had happened when Lady Sellingworth was still in Berkeley Square, Miss Van Tuyn had been on her guard. Craven had hurt her vanity once. She did not quite understand him. She suspected him of peculiarity. She even wondered whether he had had a quarrel with Adela which had been concealed from her, and which might account for Adela's departure and for Craven's present assiduity. Possibly, but for one reason, her injured vanity would have kept Craven at a distance—at any rate, for a time. It would have been pleasant to deal out suitable punishment to one who certainly deserved it. But there was the reason for the taking of the other course—Arabian.
An obscure instinct drove her into intimacy with Craven because of Arabian. She was not sure that she wanted Craven just now, but she might want him, perhaps very much, later. She knew he was not really in love with her, but they were beginning to get on well together. He admired her; she held out a hand to his youth. There was something of comradeship in their association. And their minds understood each other rather well, she thought. For they were both genuinely interested in the arts, though neither of them was an artist. And she felt very safe with Alick Craven. So she forgave Craven for his behaviour with Adela Sellingworth. She let him off his punishment. She relied upon him as her friend. And she needed to rely upon someone. For the calm self-possession of her nature was beginning to be seriously affected. She was losing some of her hitherto immense self-assurance. Her faith in the coolness and dominating strength of her own temperament was shaken.
Arabian troubled her increasingly.
That night at the restaurant in Conduit Street she had felt that she hated him, and when she had left Garstin she had realized something, that the measure of her nervous hatred was the measure of something else. Why should she mind what Arabian did? What was his way of life to her? Other men could do what they chose and her well-poised, well-disciplined brain retained its normal calm. So long as they gave her the admiration which her vanity needed, she was not persecuted by any undue anxieties about the secret conduct of their lives. But she was tormented by the memory of that girl in the restaurant. And she remembered the conversation about jealousy round the dinner table at the Carlton. She was jealous now. That was why she had been so angry with Garstin. That was why she had lain awake that night.
And yet the next morning she had gone to the studio in Glebe Place. She had greeted Arabian as usual. She had never let him know that she had seen him in the restaurant, and she had persuaded Dick Garstin to say nothing about it. No doubt Arabian supposed that he had been too quick for them, and that they did not know he was with the woman who had come in and had almost immediately gone out.
But since that night Miss Van Tuyn had been persecuted by a secret jealousy such as she had never known till now.
Let him sink back to the depths! She had said that, but she did not want him to disappear out of her life. She had said, too, that he was horrible. The words were spoken in a moment of intense nervous irritation. But were they true? She thought of him as a night bird. Yet she brought him to Claridge's and introduced him to Fanny, and sought Fanny's opinion of him, and been pleased that it was favourable. And she saw him almost daily. And she knew she would go on seeing him till—what?
She could not foresee the end of this adventure brought about by her own audacious wilfulness. Some day she supposed Dick Garstin would be satisfied with his work. A successful portrait of Arabian would stand on the easel in Glebe Place. Garstin was not at all satisfied yet. She knew that. He had put aside two more beginnings angrily, had started again, had paused, taken up other work, taken a rest, sent for Arabian once more. But this strange impotence of Garstin to satisfy himself would surely not last for ever. Either he would succeed, or he would abandon the attempt to succeed, or—a third possibility presented itself to Miss Van Tuyn's mind—his model would get tired of the conflict and refuse to "sit" any more.
And then—the depths?
Till now Arabian's patience had been remarkable. Evidently Garstin's obstinacy was matched by an obstinacy in him. Although he had once perhaps been secretly reluctant to sit, had been tempted to become Garstin's model by the promise of the finished picture, he now seemed determined to do his part, endured Garstin's irritability, dissatisfaction, abandoned and renewed attempts to "make a first-rate job of him" with remarkable good temper. He was evidently resolved not to give up this enterprise without his reward. There was fixed purpose in his patience.
"By God he's a stayer!" Garstin had said of him in a puffing breath one day when the palette knife had been angrily used once more. "Either he's waiting for the money value of a portrait by me like a cat for a mouse, or he's afraid of the finish."
"Why?" Miss Van Tuyn had asked.
"Well, you're in the thing! Perhaps he's afraid that when he says good-bye to my studio he says good-bye to you too. Or perhaps the two reasons govern him—love of money, love of woman. Anyhow he's a sticker!"
"He only wants the picture," she had said.
But that remark had been made for the benefit of Garstin. By this time she knew that Arabian had a further purpose, and that it was connected with herself. She was sure that he was intent on her. And she wondered very much what he would do when at last the picture was finished. Surely then something definite must happen. She both longed for and dreaded that moment. She knew Garstin, and she knew that once he had achieved what he was trying—"sweating blood," he called it—to achieve his interest in Arabian would almost certainly cease. Arabian would then be nothing but used material of no more value in Garstin's life. The picture would be exhibited, and then handed over to Arabian, and Garstin would be off on some other track.
She had now been with Arabian probably as many times as she had been with Craven. Yet she thoroughly understood the essential qualities of the Englishman, or believed that she did, and she still knew very little about Arabian. She did not even know what race he belonged to. He had evidently travelled a great deal. Sometimes he casually mentioned having been here or there. He spoke of America as one who had often been in New York. Once he had mentioned San Francisco as if he were very familiar with it. Miss Van Tuyn had relatives there, and had asked him if he knew them. But he had not known them. Whom did he know? She often wondered. He must know somebody besides that horrible girl she had seen for a moment in the restaurant in Conduit Street. But she did not like to ask him direct questions. To do that would be to show too much interest in him. And something else, too, prevented her from questioning him. She had no faith in his word. She felt that he was a man who would say anything which suited his purpose. She had never caught him out in a direct lie, but she was quite certain he would not mind telling one. Of course she had often known men about whom she knew really very little. But she could not remember ever having known a man about whose character, position, education and former life she was so ignorant as she was about Arabian's.
He was still a vague sort of Cosmopolitan to her, a floating foreign man whom she could not place. He was still the magnificent mongrel belonging to no known breed.
Certain things about him she did know, however. She knew he was at present living at the Charing Cross Hotel, though he said he was looking for a flat in the West End. He spoke several languages; certainly English, French, German and Spanish. He had some knowledge of horseflesh, and evidently took an interest in racing. He seemed interested, too, in finance. And he played the piano and sang.
That gift of his had surprised her. One day in the studio, when Garstin had finished painting, and they had lingered smoking and talking, the conversation had turned on music, and Garstin, who had some knowledge of all the arts, had spoken about Stravinsky, whom he knew, and whose music he professed to understand. Miss Van Tuyn had joined in, and had given her view on Le Sacre du Printemps, The Nightingale, and other works. Arabian had sat smoking in discreet silence, till she had said to him bluntly: