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December Love
by Robert Hichens
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"Do you care about music?"

And then Arabian had said that he was very fond of music, and played and sang a little himself, but that he had been too lazy to study seriously and had an uneducated ear.

Garstin had told him bluntly to go to the piano and show them what he could do. And Arabian had surprised Miss Van Tuyn by at once complying with this request, which had sounded like an order.

His performance had been the sort of thing she, having "advanced" views on musical matters, was generally inclined to sneer at or avoid. He had played two or three coon songs and a tango. But there had been in his playing a sheer "musicalness," as she had called it afterwards, which had enticed her almost against her will. And when he had sung some little Spanish songs she had been conquered, though she had not said so.

His voice was a warm and soft tenor, and he had sung very naturally, carelessly almost. But everything had been just right. When he had stolen time, when he had given it back, the stealing and repayment had been right. His expression had been charming and not overdone. There had been at moments a delightful impudence in his singing. The touches of tenderness had been light as a feather, but they had had real meaning. Through his last song he had kept a cigarette alight in his mouth. He had merely hummed the melody, but it had been quite delicious. Even Garstin had approved, and had said: "The stuff was sheer rot, but it was like a palm tree singing."

And then Arabian had given them a piece of information.

"I was brought up among palm trees."

"Florida?" Garstin had said.

But somehow the question had not been answered. Perhaps she—Beryl—had spoken just then. She was not sure. But she had been "got at" by the music. And at that moment she had realized why Arabian was dangerous to her. Not only his looks appealed to her. He had other, more secret weapons. Charm, suppleness of temperament, heat and desire were his. Otherwise he could not have sung and played that rubbish as he had done.

That day, later on, he had not actually said, but had implied that some Spanish blood ran in his veins.

"But I belong to no country," he had added quickly. "I am a gamin of the world."

"Not a citizen?" she had said.

"No; I am the eternal gamin. I shall never be anything else."

All very well! But at moments she was convinced that there was a very hard and a very wary man in Arabian.

Perhaps sitting under the singing palm tree there was a savage!

She wanted to know what Arabian was. She began to feel that she must know. For, in spite of her ignorance, their intimacy was deepening. And now people were beginning to talk. Although she had been so careful not to show herself with Arabian in any smart restaurants, not to walk with him in the more frequented parts of the West End, they had been seen together. On the day when she had brought him to Claridge's some American friends had seen them pass through the hall, and afterwards had asked her who he was. Another day, when she was coming away with him from the studio, she had met Lady Archie Brooke at the corner of Glebe Place. She had not stopped to speak. But Lady Archie had stared at Arabian. And Miss Van Tuyn knew what that meant. The "old guard" would be told of Beryl's wonderful new man.

She felt nervously sensitive about Arabian. And yet she had been about Paris with all sorts of men, and had not cared what people had thought or said. But those men had been clever, workers in the arts, men with names that were known, or that would be known presently. Arabian was different. She felt oddly shy about being seen with him. Her audacity seemed fading away in her. She realized that and felt alarmed. If only she knew something definite about Arabian, who he was, what his people were, where he came from, she would feel much easier. She began to worry about the matter. She lay awake at night. At moments a sort of desperation came upon her like a wave. Sometimes she said to herself, "I wish I had never met him." And yet she knew that she did not want to get rid of him. But she wished no one to know of her friendship; with this man—if it were a friendship.

Garstin was watching her through it all. She hated his eyes. He did not care what was happening to her. He only cared what appearance it caused; how it affected her eyes, her manner, her expression, the line of her mouth, the movements of her hands. He had said that she was waking up. But—to what?

All this time she seemed to be aware of an almost fatal growing intention in Arabian. Nevertheless, he waited. She had never been able to forget the article she had read in the Westminster Gazette. When she had read about the woman in the play she had instinctively compared herself with that woman. And then something in her revolted. She had thought of it as her Americanism, which loathed the idea of slavery in any form. But nevertheless, she had been aware of alarming possibilities within her. She was able to understand the woman in the play. And that must surely be because she was obscurely akin to her. And she knew that when she had read the article the man in the play had made her think of Arabian. That, of course, was absurd. But she understood why it was. That woman had been attracted by a man of whom she knew nothing. She, Beryl Van Tuyn, was in the same situation. But of course she did not compare poor Arabian in her mind with a homicidal maniac.

He was gentle and charming. Old Fanny liked him immensely, said he had a kind heart. And Fanny was sensitive.

Yet again she thought of the savage sitting under the palm tree and of Dick Garstin's allusion to a king in the underworld.

She resented being worried. She resented having her nerves on edge. She was angry with Dick Garstin, and even angry with herself. In bed at night, when she could not sleep, she read books on New Thought, and tried to learn how to govern her mind and to control her thought processes. But she was not successful in the attempt. Her mind continually went to Arabian, and then she was filled with anxiety, with suspicion, with jealousy, and with a strange sort of longing mysteriously combined with repulsion and dread. And underneath all her feelings and thoughts there was a basic excitement which troubled her and which she could not get rid of.

One morning she got up full of restlessness. That day Dick Garstin was not painting. It was a Sunday, and he had gone into the country to stay with some friends. Miss Van Tuyn had made no arrangement to see Arabian. Indeed, she never saw him except on the painting days, for she still kept up the pretence that he was merely an acquaintance, and that she only met him because of her interest in Garstin's work and her wish to learn more of the technique of painting. The day was free before her. She went to the telephone and called up Alick Craven.

It was a fine morning, cold and crisp, with a pale sun. She longed to be out of town, and she suggested to Craven to join her in hiring a Daimler car, to run down to Rye, and to have a round of golf on the difficult course by the sea. She had a friend close to Rye who would introduce them as visiting players. They would take a hamper and lunch in the car on the way down.

Craven agreed with apparent eagerness. By ten they were off. Soon after one they were on the links. They played the full round, eighteen holes, and Craven beat her. Then they had tea in the house below the club-house on the left-hand side of the road as you go towards Camber Sands.

After tea Miss Van Tuyn suggested running a little farther on in the car and taking a walk on the sands before starting on the journey back to London.

"I love hard sands and the wind and the lines upon lines of surf!" she said. "The wind blows away some of my civilization."

"I know!" said Craven, looking at her with admiration.

He liked her strength and energy, the indefatigable youth of her.

"En route!"

Soon the car stopped. They got out, and over the sandy hill, with its rough sea-grasses, they made their way to the sands.

The tide was low. There was room and to spare on the hard, level expanse. Lines of white surf stretched to right and left far as the eyes could see. The piercing cries of the gulls floating on the eddying wind were relieved against the blooming diapason of the sea. And the solitude was as the solitude of some lost island of the main. They descended, sinking in the loose, fine sand of the banks, and the soft, pale sand that edged them, and made their way to the yellow and vast sands that extended to the calling monster, whose voice filled their ears, and seemed to be summoning them persistently, with an almost tragic arrogance, away from all they knew, from all that was trying to hold and keep them, to the unknown, to the big things that lie always far off over the edge of the horizon.

"Let us turn our backs on Rye!" said the girl.

They swung round with the wind behind them, and walked on easily side by side, helped by the firm and delicate floor under their feet.

She was wearing a wine-coloured "jumper," a short skirt of a rough heathery material, a small brown hat pinned low on her head, pressed down on her smooth forehead. Her cheeks were glowing. The wind sent the red to them. She stepped along with a free, strongly athletic movement. There was a hint of the Amazon in her. On her white neck some wisps of light yellow hair, loosened by the wind's fingers, quivered as if separately alive and wilful with energy.

Craven, striding along in knickerbockers beside her, felt the animal charm of her as he had never felt it in London. She had thrust her gloves away in some hidden pocket. Her right hand grasped a stick firmly. The white showed at the knuckles. He felt through her silence that she was giving herself heart and soul to the spirit of the place, to the sweeping touch of the wind, to the eternal sound in the voice of the sea.

They walked on for a long time into the far away. There was a dull lemon light over the sea pushing through the grey, hinting at sunset. A flock of gulls tripped jauntily on some wet sand near to them, in which radiance from the sky was mysteriously retained. A film of moving moisture from the sea spread from the nearest surf edge, herald of the turning tide. Miss Van Tuyn raised her arms, shook them, cried out with all her force. And the gulls rose, easily, strongly, and flew insolently towards their element.

"Let us turn!" she said.

"All right!"

Those were the first words they had spoken.

"Let us go and sit down in a sand-bank and see the twilight come."

"Yes."

They sat down presently among the spear-like blades of the spiky grass, facing the tides and the evening sky, and Craven, with some difficulty, lit his pipe and persuaded it to draw, while she looked at his long-fingered brown hands.

"I couldn't sit here with some people I know," she said. "Desolation like this needs the right companion. Isn't it odd how some people are only for certain places?"

"And I suppose the one person is for all places."

"Do you feel at home with me here?" she asked him, rather abruptly and with a searching look at him.

"Yes, quite—since our game. A good game is a link, isn't it?"

"For bodies."

"Well, that means a good deal. We live in the body."

"Some people marry through games, or hunting. They're the bodily people. Others marry through the arts. Music pulls them together, or painting, or literature. They are mental."

"Bodies—minds! And what about hearts?" asked Craven.

"The tide's coming in. Hearts? They work in mystery, I believe. I expect when you love someone who hasn't a taste in common with you your heart must be hard at work. Perhaps it is only opposites who can really love, those who don't understand why. If you understand why you are on the ground, you have no need of wings. Have you ever been afraid of anyone?"

Craven looked at her with a dawning of surprise.

"Do you mean of a German soldier, for instance?" he said.

"No, no! Of course not. Of anyone you have known personally; afraid of anyone as an individual? That's what I mean."

"I can't remember that I ever have."

"Do you think it possible to love someone who inspires you at moments with unreasoning dread?"

"No; candidly I don't."

"I think there can be attraction in repulsion."

"I should be very sorry for myself if I yielded to such an attraction."

"Why?"

"Because I think it would probably lead to disaster."

"How soberly you speak!" said Miss Van Tuyn, almost with an air of distaste.

After a moment of silence she added:

"I don't believe an Englishman has the power to lose his head."

Craven sat a little nearer to her.

"Would you like to see me lose mine?" he asked.

"I don't say that. But I should like you to be able to."

"And you? You are an American girl. Don't you pride yourself on your coolness, your self-control, your power to deal with any situation? If Englishmen are sober minded, what about American women? Do they lose their heads easily?"

"No. That's why—"

She stopped abruptly.

"What is it you want to say to me? What are you trying to say?"

"Nothing!" she answered.

And her voice sounded almost sulky.

The bar of lemon light over the sea narrowed. Clouds, with gold tinted edges, were encroaching upon it. The tide had turned, and, because they knew it, the voice of the sea sounded louder to them. Already they could imagine those sands by night, could imagine their bleak desolation, could almost feel the cold thrill of their loneliness.

Craven stretched out his hand and took one of hers and held it.

"Why do you do that?" she said. "You don't care for me really."

He pressed her hand. He wanted to kiss her at that moment. His youth, the game they had played together, this isolation and nearness, the oncoming night—they all seemed to be working together, pushing him towards her mysteriously. But just at that moment on the sands close to them two dark figures appeared, a fisherman in his Sunday best walking with his girl. They did not see Miss Van Tuyn and Craven on the sandbank. With their arms spread round each other's waists, and slightly lurching in the wind, they walked slowly on, sinking at each step a little in the sand. Their red faces looked bovine in the twilight.

Almost mechanically Craven's fingers loosened on Miss Van Tuyn's hand. She, too, was chilled by this vision of Sunday love, and her hand came away from his.

"They are having their Sunday out," she said, with a slight, cold laugh. "And we have had ours!"

And she got up and shook the sand grains from her rough skirt.

"And that's happiness!" she added, almost with a sneer.

Like him she felt angry and almost tricked, hostile to the working of sex, vulgarized by the sight of that other drawing together of two human beings. Oh! the ineptitude of the echoes we are! Now she was irritated with Craven because he had taken her hand. And yet she had been on the edge of a great experiment. She knew that Craven did not love her—yet. Perhaps he would never really love her. Certainly she did not love him. And yet that day she had come out from London with a desire to take refuge in him. It almost amounted to that. When they started she had not known exactly what she was going to do. But she had set Craven, the safe man, the man whom she could place, could understand, could certainly trust up to a point, in her mind against Arabian, the unsafe man, whom she could not place, could not understand, could not trust. And, mentally, she had clung to Craven. And if those two bovine sentimentalists had not intruded flat-footed upon the great waste of Camber and the romance of the coming night, and Craven had yielded to his impulse and had kissed her, she might have clung to him in very truth. And then? She might have been protected against Arabian. But evidently it was not to be. At the critical moment Fate had intervened, had sent two human puppets to change the atmosphere.

She had really a sense of Fate upon her as she shook the sand from her skirt. And the voice of the slowly approaching sea sounded in her ears like the voice of the inevitable.

What must be must be.

The lemon in the sky was fast fading. The gold was dying away from the edges of the clouds. The long lines of surf mingled together in a blur of tangled whiteness. She looked for a moment into the gathering dimness, and she felt a menace in it; she heard a menace in the cry of the tides. And within herself she seemed to be aware of a menace.

"It's all there in us, every bit of it!" she said to herself. "That's the horrible thing. It doesn't come upon us. It's in us."

And she said to Craven:

"Come!"

It was rapidly getting dark. The ground was uneven and rough, the sand loose and crumbling.

"Do take my arm!" he said, but rather coldly, with constraint.

She hesitated, then took it. And the feeling of his arm, which was strong and muscular, brought back to her that strange desire to use him as a refuge.

Somewhat as Lady Sellingworth had thought of Seymour Portman, Beryl Van Tuyn thought of Craven, who would certainly not have enjoyed knowledge of it.

When they had scrambled down to the road, and saw the bright eyes of the car staring at them from the edge of the marshes, she dropped his arm.

"How Adela Sellingworth would have enjoyed all this if she had been here to-day instead of me!" she said.

"Lady Sellingworth!" said Craven, as if startled. "What made you think of her just then?"

"I don't know. Stop a moment!"

She stood very still.

"I believe she has come back to London," she said. "Perhaps she sent the thought to me from Berkeley Square. How long has she been away?"

"About five weeks, I should think."

"Would you be glad if she were back?"

"It would make very little difference to me," he said in a casual voice. "Now put on your coat."

He helped her into the car, and they drove away from the sands and the links, from the sea and their mood by the sea.

They drove through the darkness towards London, Lady Sellingworth and Arabian.



CHAPTER IV

On the following day Miss Van Tuyn, remembering her feeling at Camber in the twilight, went to the telephone and called up Number 18A, Berkeley Square. The solemn voice of a butler—she knew at once a butler was speaking—replied inquiring her business. She gave her name and asked whether Lady Sellingworth had returned to London. The answer was that her ladyship had arrived in London from the Continent on Saturday evening.

"Please tell her ladyship that her friend, Miss Van Tuyn, will call on her this afternoon about five o'clock," said Miss Van Tuyn.

Soon afterwards she put on her hat and fur coat and set off on her way to Chelsea.

A little before five she turned into Berkeley Square on foot, coming from Carlos Place.

She felt both curious and slightly hostile. She wondered very much why Adela had gone away so mysteriously; she wondered where Adela had been and whether she had returned changed. When Miss Van Tuyn had alluded to the sheaves the thought in her mind had been markedly feminine. It had occurred to her that Adela might have stolen away to have "things" done to her; that she might come back to London mysteriously rejuvenated. Such a thing was possible even at sixty. Miss Van Tuyn had known of waning beauties who had vanished, and who had returned to the world looking alarmingly young. Certainly she had never known of a woman as old in appearance as Adela becoming transformed. Nevertheless in modern days, when the culture of beauty counts in its service such marvellous experts, almost all things are possible. If Adela had gone quite mad about Alick Craven the golden age might be found suddenly domiciled in Number 18A. Then Adela's intention would be plain. She would have returned from abroad armed cap-a-pie for conquest.

The knowledge that Adela was in London had revived in Miss Van Tuyn the creeping hostility which she had felt before her friend's departure. She remembered her lonely walk to Soho, what she had seen through the lit-up window of the Bella Napoli. The sensation of ill treatment returned to her. She would have scorned to acknowledge even to herself that she was afraid of Adela, that she dreaded Adela's influence on a man. But when she thought of Craven she was conscious of a strange fluttering of anxiety. She wanted to keep Craven as a friend. She wanted him to be her special friend. This he had been, but only since Lady Sellingworth had been out of London. Now she had come back. Over there shone the light above the door of the house in which she was at this moment. How would it be now?

A hard, resolute look came into Miss Van Tuyn's face as she walked past the block of flats at the top of the square. She had a definite and strong feeling that she must keep Craven as her friend, that she might need him in the future. And of what use is a man who belongs to another woman?

Arabian had told her that day that he had found a flat which suited him in Chelsea looking over the river, and that he was leaving the Charing Cross Hotel. For some reason the news had startled her. He had spoken in a casual way, but his eyes had not been casual as they looked into hers. And she had felt that Arabian had taken a step forward, that he was moving towards some project with which she was connected in his mind, and that the taking of this flat was part of the project.

She must not lose Craven as a friend. If she did she would lose one on whom she was beginning to rely. Women are of no use in certain contingencies, and a beautiful woman can seldom thoroughly trust another woman. Miss Van Tuyn absolutely trusted no woman. But she trusted Craven. She thought she must be very fond of him. And yet she had none of the feeling for him which persecuted her now when she was with Arabian. Arabian drew her in an almost occult way. She felt his tug like the mysterious tug of water when one stands near a weir in a river. When she was with him she sometimes had a physical impulse to lean backward. And that came because of another strong and opposing impulse which seemed mental.

Adela should not entice Craven back to her. She was long past the age of needing trusty comrades and possible helpers, in Beryl's opinion. Whatever she did, or hoped, or wanted, or strove for, life was really over for her, the life that is life, with its unsuspected turns, and intrigues, and passions and startling occurrences. Even if for a time such a man as Craven were hypnotized by a woman's strong will-power, such an unnatural condition could not possibly last. But Beryl made up her mind that she would not suffer even a short interim of power exercised by Adela. Even for poor Adela's own sake such an interim was undesirable. It would only lead to suffering. And while it lasted she, Beryl, might need something and lack it. That must not be. Adela was finished, and she must learn to understand that she was finished. No woman ought to seek to prolong her reign beyond a certain age. If Adela had come back with her sheaves they must be resolutely scattered to the winds—by somebody.

Arabian had taken a flat in Chelsea looking over the river. Evidently he was going to settle down in London.

"But I live in Paris!" thought Miss Van Tuyn, as she pushed Lady Sellingworth's bell.

Her ladyship was at home, and Miss Van Tuyn mounted the stairs full of expectation.

When she came into the big drawing-room she noticed at once how dimly lit it was. Besides the firelight there was only one electric lamp turned on, and that was protected by a rather large shade, and stood on a table at some distance from Lady Sellingworth's sofa. A tall figure got up from this sofa as Miss Van Tuyn made her way towards the fire, and the well-remembered and very individual husky voice said:

"Dear Beryl! It's good of you to come to see me so soon. I only arrived on Saturday."

"Dearest! How dark it is! I can scarcely see you."

"I love to give the firelight a chance. Didn't you know that? Come and sit down and tell me what you have been doing. You have quite given up Paris?"

"Yes, for the time. I've become engrossed in painting. Dick Garstin has given me the run of his studio. But where have you been?"

As she put the question Miss Van Tuyn looked closely at her friend, and, in spite of the dimness, she noticed a difference in her appearance. The white hair still crowned the beautifully shaped head, but it looked thicker, more alive than formerly. The change which struck her most, however, was in the appearance of the face. It seemed, she thought, markedly younger and fresher, smoother than she remembered it, firmer in texture. Surely some, many even, of the wrinkles had disappeared. And the lips, once so pale and weary, were rosy now—if the light was not deceiving her. The invariable black dress, too, had vanished. Adela wore a lovely gown of a deep violet colour and had a violet band in her hair. She sat very upright. Her tall figure seemed almost braced up. And surely she looked less absolutely natural than usual. There was something—a slight hardness, perhaps, a touch of conscious imperviousness in look and manner, a watchful something—which made Miss Van Tuyn for a moment think of a photograph she had seen on a member of the "old guard's" table.

The sheaves! The sheaves!

But the girl longed for more light. She knew she was not deceived entirely by the dimness, but she longed for crude revelation. Already her mind was busily at work on the future. She felt, although she had only been in the room for two or three minutes, that the Lady Sellingworth who had just come back to London must presently be her enemy. And she wished to get in the first blow, since blows there would have to be.

"Where have I been?" said Lady Sellingworth. "In the place of the swans—in Geneva."

"Geneva! We thought you had gone to the Riviera, probably to Cap Martin."

"I did go to the Riviera first."

"It must have been a desert."

"Not quite. Cannes would have been quite pleasant. But I had to go on to Geneva to see a friend."

Miss Van Tuyn thought of Lausanne, of doctors. Many women whom she knew in Paris swore by the doctors of Berne and Lausanne. There were wonderful treatments now for old women. Extraordinary things were done with monkey glands and other mysterious preparations and inoculations. Was not Adela's manner changed? Did she not diffuse an atmosphere of intention, of vigour, which had not been hers before? Did she not seem younger?

"Did you stay long at the Beau Rivage?" she asked.

"Yes, I did."

"We have missed you."

"I like to think that."

"London loses its most characteristic note for me when you are not in it."

Miss Van Tuyn's curiosity was becoming intense, but how could she gratify it? She sought about for an opening, but found none. For it was seldom her way to be quite blunt with women, though with men she was often blunt.

"Everyone has been wondering where you were," she said. "Mr. Braybrooke was quite in a turmoil. Does he know you are back?"

"I haven't told him. But he gets to know everything in less than five minutes. And what have you been doing?"

This simple question suddenly gave Miss Van Tuyn the idea for a plan of campaign. It sprang into her brain, flashed upon it like an inspiration. For a moment she was rigid. Her body was strongly influenced. Then as the idea made itself at home in her she became supple and soft again.

"I've got a lot to tell you," she said, "if you won't be bored."

"You never bore me, Beryl."

"No, I don't believe I do. Well, first I must tell you how good Dick Garstin has been to me."

"Garstin the painter?"

"Yes."

And she enlarged upon her intense interest in painting, her admiration for Garstin's genius, her curiosity about his methods and aims, her passion for understanding the arts although she could not create herself. Lady Sellingworth, who knew the girl's genuine interest in all art developments, listened quite convinced of Beryl's sincerity. Arabian was never mentioned. Miss Van Tuyn did not go into details. She spoke only of models, of Garstin's varying moods, of his way of getting a thing on to canvas, of his views on colour and technique.

"It must be absorbingly interesting to watch such a man at work," Lady Sellingworth said presently.

"It is. It's fascinating."

"And so that is the reason why you are staying so long in smoky old London?"

"No, Adela, it isn't. At least, that's not the only reason."

The words were spoken slowly and were followed by a curiously conscious, almost, indeed, embarrassed look from the girl's violet eyes.

"No?"

After a long pause Beryl said:

"You know I have always looked upon you as a book of wisdom."

"It's very difficult to be wise," said Lady Sellingworth, with a touch of bitterness. "And sometimes very dull."

"But you are wise, dearest. I feel it. You have known and done so much, and you have had brains to understand, to seek out the truth from experience. You have lived with understanding. You are not like the people who travel round the world and come back just the same as if they had been from Piccadilly Circus to Hampstead Heath and back. One feels you have been round the world when one is with you."

"Does one?" said Lady Sellingworth, rather drily. "But I fancied nowadays the young thought all the wisdom lay with them."

"Well, I don't. And, besides, I think you are marvellously discreet."

"Wise! Discreet! I begin to feel as if I ought to sit on the Bench!"

Again there was the touch of bitterness in the voice. A very faint smile hovered for an instant about Miss Van Tuyn's lips.

"Judging the foolish women! Well, I think you are one of the few who would have a right to do that. You are so marvellously sensible."

"Anyhow, I have no wish to do it. But—you were going to tell me?"

"In confidence."

"Of course. The book of wisdom never opens its leaves to the mob."

"I want very much to know your opinion of young Alick Craven."

As she heard the word "young" Lady Sellingworth had great difficulty in keeping her face still. Her mouth wanted to writhe, to twist to the left. She had the same intense shooting feeling that had hurt her when Seymour Portman had called Alick Craven a boy.

"Of Mr. Craven!" she said, with sudden severe reserve. "Why? Why?"

Directly she had spoken she regretted the repetition. Her mind felt stiff, unyielding. And all her body felt stiff too.

"That's what I want to tell you," said Miss Van Tuyn, speaking with some apparent embarrassment.

And immediately Lady Sellingworth knew that she did not want to hear, that it would be dangerous, almost deadly, for her to hear. She longed to spread out her hands in the protesting gesture of one keeping something off, away from her, to say, "Don't! Don't! I won't hear!" And she sat very still, and murmured a casual "Yes?"

And then Miss Van Tuyn shot her bolt very cleverly, her aim being careful and good, her hand steady as a rock, her eyes fixed undeviatingly on the object she meant to bring down. She consulted Lady Sellingworth about her great friendship with Craven, told Lady Sellingworth how for some time, "ever since the night we all went to the theatre," Craven had been seeking her out persistently, spoke of his visits, their dinners together, their games of golf at Beaconsfield, finally came to Sunday, "yesterday."

"In the morning the telephone rang and we had a little talk. A Daimler car was suggested and a run down to Rye. You know my American ideas, Adela. A long day alone in the country with a boy—"

"Mr. Craven is scarcely a boy, I think!"

"But we call them boys!"

"Oh, yes!"

"With a boy means nothing extraordinary to a girl with my ideas. But I think he took it rather differently. Anyhow, we spent the whole day out playing golf together, and in the evening, when twilight was coming on, we drove to Camber Sands. Do you know them?"

"No."

"They are vast and absolutely deserted. It was rather stormy, but we took a long walk on them, and then sat on a sand bank to watch the night coming on. I dare say it all sounds very ridiculous and sentimental to you! I am sure it must!"

"No, no. Besides, I know you Americans do all these things with no sentiment at all, merely pour passer le temps."

"Yes, sometimes. But he isn't an American."

Again she looked slightly embarrassed and seemed to hesitate.

"You mean—you think that he—?"

"It was that evening . . . last night only, in fact—"

"Oh, yes, of course it was last night. To-day is Monday."

"That I began to realize that we were getting into a rather different relation to each other. When it began to get dark he wanted to hold my hand and—but I needn't go into all that. It would only seem silly to you. You see, we are both young, though, of course, he is older than I. But he is very young, quite a boy in feeling and even in manner very often. I have seen him lately in all sorts of circumstances, so I know."

She stopped as if thinking. Lady Sellingworth sat very upright on her sofa, with her head held rather high, and her hands, in their long white gloves, quite still. And there was a moment of absolute silence in the drawing-room. At last Miss Van Tuyn spoke again.

"I feel since last night that things are different between Alick and me."

"Are you engaged to him—to Mr. Craven?"

"Oh, no. He hasn't asked me to be. But I want to know what you think of him. It would help me. I like him very much. But you know far more about men than I do."

"I doubt it, Beryl. I see scarcely anyone now. You live in Paris surrounded by clever men and—"

"But you have had decades more of experience than I have. In fact, you have been round the world and I have, so to speak, only crossed the Channel. Do help me, Adela. I am full of hesitation and doubt, and yet I am getting very fond of Alick. And I don't want to hurt him. I think I hurt him a little yesterday, but—"

"Sir Seymour Portman!" said Murgatroyd's heavy voice at the door.

And the old courtier entered almost eagerly, his dark eyes shining under the thatch of eyebrows and the white gleam of the "cauliflower."

And very soon Miss Van Tuyn went away, without the advice which she was so anxious to have. As she walked through Berkeley Square she felt more at ease than when she had come into it. But she was puzzled about something. And she said to herself:

"Can she have tried monkey glands too?"



CHAPTER V

Lady Sellingworth of course understood Beryl's purpose in visiting her so soon and in being so unreserved to her. The girl's intention was absolutely clear to her mind horribly experienced in the cruel ways of women. Nevertheless she believed that Beryl had spoken the truth about what had happened at Camber.

When it began to get dark Craven had wanted to hold Beryl's hand.

Lady Sellingworth felt that she hated Beryl, hated Alick Craven. And herself? She did not want to contemplate herself. It seemed to her that she was fastened up with, chained to, a being she longed to ignore, to be without knowledge of. Something of her was struggling to be away from something else of her that was hideous. Battle, confusion, dust, dying cries, flying, terror-stricken feet! She was aware of tumult and despair in the silence of her beautiful house. And she was aware also of that slow and terrible creeping of hatred, the thing that did harm to her, that set her far away from any nobility she possessed.

She had gone abroad to fight, and had come back having lost her battle. And already she was being scourged for her failure.

When she had been striving alone these two had evidently forgotten her existence. Directly she had passed for a short time out of their lives they had come together. Youth had instinctively sought out youth, and she, the old woman, had been as one dead to them. If she had stayed away for years, if she had never come back, it would not have mattered to them.

Beryl's lack of all affection for her did not seriously trouble her. She knew the dryness of vanity; she knew that it was practically impossible for a girl so vain as Beryl to care deeply, or at all unselfishly, for another woman. But Craven's conduct was not what she had looked for. It seemed to stamp him as typical, and she had supposed him to be exceptional. When Beryl had told her about Camber—so little and yet so much—she had been struck to the heart; and yet she had seen a vision of servants, the footman out in the dark with the under housemaid.

Seymour Portman's observant old eyes, the terrible eyes of affection, took in the change in her, not quite as a woman's eyes would have done, but in their own adequate way. His Adela looked different. Something had happened to her. The envelope had been touched up in some, to him, quite mysterious manner. And he did not like it. It even gave him a mild sort of shock. The touch of artificiality was cold on this amazingly straightforward old man. He loved his Adela with all the wrinkles, with the sagging skin, and the lined throat, and the curiously experienced weariness about the temples. She lived for him in the brilliant eyes, and was loved by him in them. And why should she suddenly try to change her appearance? It had certainly not been done for him—this Something. She was looking handsomer than usual, and yet he seemed to be aware that beneath the improved surface there was a tragic haggardness which had come into existence while she had been away.

He did not reproach her for the mystery of her absence, or for her silence; he did not ask her questions about where she had been, what she had done; he just sat with her and loved her. And his love made her horribly uneasy that day. She could not be still under it. She felt as if the soul of her kept shifting about, as a child shifts about under the watchful eyes of an elder. She felt the physical tingle of guilt. And she was thankful when at last Seymour went away and left her alone with her hatred.

All those weeks! She had deliberately left the ground free to Beryl for all those weeks, and she had returned with no expectation of the thing that of course had happened. And yet she had believed that she had an excellent knowledge of life and of human beings. No doubt she had been so concentrated upon herself, and the struggle within herself that she had been unable to make any use of that knowledge. And so now she was full of hatred and of profound humiliation.

When she had abruptly left England she had made up her mind to "have done with it," that is to have done with love, to have done even with sentimental friendship. She had resolved to plunge into complete loneliness. Since she could not take Seymour into her intimate life, since she now knew that was absolutely impossible, she must somehow manage to get along permanently with nothing. And so, yielding to a desperate impulse, she had resolved to seek an unaccustomed solitude. She had fled from London. But she had stopped in Paris; although she had intended to pass through it and to go straight on to Marseilles and the Riviera. When the train had run in to the Gare du Nord she had told her surprised maid that she was tired and would not go on that night. Suddenly she had decided to seek out Caroline Briggs, to make a confession, to ask for help and sympathy. And she had sent her maid to a hotel, and had driven to Caroline's house.

But Caroline was not in Paris. A blue-cheeked, close-shaven French footman had informed her that his mistress had been obliged to sail for America three days before.

It had been a great blow to her. Confession, the cry for help, had been almost on her lips as she had stood at the door before the keen-eyed young man. And she had gone away feeling strangely lost and abandoned.

On the following morning she had left Paris and had travelled to the Riviera. And, there, she had fought against herself and had lost the battle.

Perhaps if she had been able to see Caroline the issue would have been different. She almost believed that if she had once told the absolute truth about herself to someone she might have found the courage to put personal dignity in its right place at the head of her life as the arbiter of what must not be done. Although she had defied Caroline ten years ago, and had been punished for her defiance, she still had a deep belief in Caroline's strength of character and clear insight. And she knew that Caroline was really fond of her.

But Fate had removed her friend from her. And was it not because of that removal that she had lost her battle? The sense of loneliness, of a cold finality, had been too great for her. She had had too much time for remembrance. And she had remembered certain hours with Craven by the fire, had remembered the human warmth of them, till the longing for happiness had overpowered everything else in her. They had been very happy together. She had been able to make him happy. His eager eyes had shown it. And their joy had been quite innocent; there had been no harm in it at all. Why should she deliberately forego such innocent contentment? Walking alone on the sea front at Cannes in the warm and brilliant weather she had asked herself that question. If Craven were there! And in the long loneliness she had begun presently, as often before, to try to cheat herself. The drastic heart of London had seemed to change into another heart. And at last she had followed the example of a woman in Paris some ten years ago.

She had as it were got out of the train once more.

She had not, perhaps, been fully conscious of the terrible repetition brought about by a temperament which apparently refused to change. She had no doubt tried to deceive herself though she had not deceived herself ten years ago at the Gare du Nord. She had even lied to herself, saying that in London she had given way to a foolish and morbid mood of fear, induced in her by memories of disasters in the past, that she had imagined danger where no danger existed. In London panic had seized her. But now in a different atmosphere and environment, quite alone and able, therefore, to consider things carefully and quietly, to see them in their true light, she had told herself that it was preposterous to give up an innocent joy merely because long ago she had been subject to folly. Ten years had elapsed since her last fit of folly. She must have changed since then. It was inevitable that she had changed. She had lied to herself in London when she had told herself that Craven would be satisfied in their friendship, while she would be almost starving. Her subsequent prayer had been answered. Passion was dead in her. A tender, almost a motherly feeling—that really was what she felt and would always feel for Alick Craven. She need not fear such a feeling. She would not fear it. Morbidity had possessed her. The sunshine of Cannes had driven it away. She had presently been glad that she had not found Caroline in Paris. For if she had made that confession she would have put an obstacle in the path which she now resolved to tread.

She had told herself that, and finally she had decided to return to London.

But she had gone first to Geneva, and had put herself there into the hands of a certain specialist, whose fame had recently reached the ears of a prominent member of the "old guard," no other than the Duchess of Wellingborough.

And now she had come back with her sheaves and had been met on the threshold by Beryl with her hideous confidences.

She had not yet told Craven of her return. For the moment she was glad that she had not given way to her impulse and telephoned to him on the Sunday. She might have caught him with her message just as he was starting for Rye with Beryl. That would have been horrible. Of course she would not telephone to him now. She resolved to ignore him. He had forgotten all about her. She would seem to forget about him. There was nothing else to be done. Pride, the pride of the Grande Dame which she had never totally lost, rose up in her, hot, fiery even; it mingled with an intense jealousy, and made her wish to inflict punishment. She was like a wounded animal that longs to strike, to tear with its claws, to lacerate and leave bleeding. Nevertheless she had no intention of taking action against either of those who had hurt her. Beryl should have her triumph. Youth should be left in peace with its own cruelty.

Two days passed before Craven knew of Lady Sellingworth's return to Berkeley Square. Braybrooke told him of it in the club, and added the information that she had arrived on the previous Saturday.

"Oh!" said Craven, with apparent indifference. "Have you seen her?"

Braybrooke replied that he had seen her, and that she was looking, in his opinion, remarkably well, even somewhat younger than usual.

"She seems to have had an excellent time on the Riviera and in Switzerland."

"In Switzerland!" said Craven, thinking of Braybrooke's remarks about Catherine Bewdley and Lausanne.

"Yes, but I don't think she has been ill. I ventured to—just to say a word as to doctors, and she assured me she had been perfectly well all the time she was away. Are you going to see her?"

"I've got a good deal to do just now," said Craven, coldly and with a slight rise of colour. "But of course I hope to see Lady Sellingworth again some day. She is a charming woman. It's always a pleasure to have a talk with her."

"Yes, indeed! By the way, who is Beryl Van Tuyn's extraordinarily good-looking young friend? Do you happen to know?"

"What friend?" asked Craven, with sudden sharpness.

"The tall man she has been seen about with lately."

"I don't know."

After a slight pause, very intentional on Braybrooke's part, Craven replied:

"Miss Van Tuyn knows such lots of people."

"To be sure! And Lady Archie, though a dear woman, is perhaps a little inclined to gossip."

"Lady Archie Brooke?"

"Yes. She has met Miss Van Tuyn two or three times in Glebe Place, it seems, walking with a man whom she describes as a marvel of good looks. But there's Antring. I must have a word with him. He is just over from Paris."

And Braybrooke walked away with his usual discreet gait. He was feeling decidedly satisfied. Young Craven had certainly not been pleased with the information so casually imparted. It had aroused—Braybrooke was convinced of it—a sensation of jealousy which promised well for the future. Braybrooke was almost sure now that his young friend had fallen thoroughly in love with Beryl Van Tuyn. The coldness about Adela Sellingworth, the sudden touch of heat about Beryl Van Tuyn, surely indicated that. Braybrooke was not seriously upset about Lady Archie's remarks. She really was a tremendous gossip, although of course a delightful woman. And Miss Van Tuyn was always surrounded by men. Nevertheless he was decidedly curious about the good-looking stranger who had been seen in Glebe Place. He had a retentive memory, and had not forgotten Dick Garstin's extraordinary remark about the blackmailer.

Braybrooke was not mistaken about Craven. The information about Adela Sellingworth had renewed Craven's hot sense of injury. Braybrooke did not understand that. But the subsequent remark about Beryl Van Tuyn had added fuel to the fire, and the sharp jealousy of sensitive youth mingled with the feeling of injury. Craven had been hurt by the elderly woman. Was he now to be hurt by the girl? Braybrooke's news had made him feel really angry. Yet he knew he had no right to be angry. He began to wish that he had never gone to Berkeley Square on that autumn afternoon, had never met the two women who were beginning to complicate his life. For a moment he thought of dropping them both. But had not one of them already dropped him? He would certainly not call again in Berkeley Square. If Lady Sellingworth did not ask him to go there he would not attempt to see her. He was not going to fight for her friendship. And as to Beryl Van Tuyn—The curious name—Nicolas Arabian—came into his mind and a conversation at a box at a theatre. Miss Van Tuyn had told him about this magnificently handsome man, this "living bronze," but somehow he had never thought of her as specially intimate with a fellow who frequented the Cafe Royal, and who apparently sat as a model to painters. But now he realized that this must be the man of Glebe Place, and he felt more angry, more injured than before.

Yet he was not in love with Beryl Van Tuyn. Or had he fallen in love with her without being aware of it? She attracted him very much physically at times. She amused him, interested him. He liked being with her. He was angry at the thought of another man's intimacy with her. He wanted her to be fond of him, to need him, to prefer him to all other men. But he often felt critical about her, about her character, though not about her beauty. A lover surely could not feel like that. A lover just loved, and there was an end of it.

He could not understand his own feelings. But when he thought of Beryl Van Tuyn he felt full of the fighting instinct, and ready to take the initiative. He would never fight to retain Lady Sellingworth's friendship, but he would fight to assert himself with the beautiful American. She should not take him up and use him merely as a means to amusement without any care for what was due to him. Lady Sellingworth was old, and in a sense famous. Such a woman could do as she pleased. With her, protest would be ridiculous. But he would find a way with Beryl Van Tuyn.

On that day and the next Craven did not see Miss Van Tuyn. No message came to him from Lady Sellingworth. Evidently the latter wished to have nothing more to do with him. She had now been in London for nearly a week without letting him know it. Miss Van Tuyn had telephoned once suggesting a meeting. But Craven had charmingly put her off, alleging a tiresome engagement. He did not choose now to seem eager to meet her. He was considering what he would do. If he could manage to meet her in Glebe Place! But how to contrive such an encounter? While he was meditating about this he was again rung up by Miss Van Tuyn, who suggested that he should play golf with her at Beaconsfield on the following day, Saturday.

"You can't pretend you are working overtime at the F.O. to-morrow," she said.

Craven replied that the F.O. kept him very long even on Saturdays.

"What's the matter? What are you angry about?" asked Miss Van Tuyn through the telephone.

Craven intended to make a quietly evasive reply, but he found himself saying:

"If I work overtime at the F.O., are there not others who do much the same—in Glebe Place?"

After a pause Miss Van Tuyn said:

"I haven't an idea what you mean."

Craven said nothing. Already he was angry with himself, and regretted his impulsiveness.

"Well?" said Miss Van Tuyn.

"Well?" retorted Craven, feeling rather absurd.

Again there was a pause. Then, speaking quickly, Miss Van Tuyn said: "If you can escape from the F.O. you might be in Glebe Place about five on Monday. Good-bye!"

And she rang off, leaving Craven with the pleasant sensation that, as often before, he had "given himself away." Certainly he had shown Miss Van Tuyn his jealousy. She must have guessed what his mention of Glebe Place meant. And yet she had asked him to go there on the following Monday. If he did not go perhaps that neglect would cancel his imprudence at the telephone.

He made up his mind not to go.

Nevertheless, when he left the Foreign Office on the Monday about half-past four, instead of going towards Mayfair he found himself walking quickly in the direction of Chelsea.



CHAPTER VI

Miss Van Tuyn was in Garstin's studio on that day. Although apparently calm and self-possessed she was in a condition of acute nervous excitement. Craven's mention of Glebe Place through the telephone had startled her. At once she had understood. People had begun to gossip, and the gossip had reached Craven's ears. She had reddened as she stood by the telephone. A definite sensation of anxiety mingled with shame had crept in her. But it had been succeeded by a decisive feeling more really characteristic of her. As Craven now evidently knew of her close acquaintance with Arabian the two men should meet. She would conquer her reluctance, and put Arabian to the test with Craven. For a long time she had wished to know what Craven would think of Arabian; for a long time, too, she had been afraid to know. But now she would hesitate no more. Dick Garstin was to have a sitting from Arabian on the Monday afternoon. It ought to be over about half-past four. She could easily manage to prolong matters in the studio till five, so that Craven might have time to get to Glebe Place from the Foreign Office. Of course, he might not choose to come. But if he were really jealous she thought he would come.

Now she was anticipating the coming interview with an uneasiness which she could only conceal by a strong effort.

At last, after repeated failures, Garstin was beginning to work with energy and real satisfaction. Of late he had been almost venomous. His impotence to do what he wished to do had made him more disagreeable, more brutal even than usual. His habitual brusqueness had often degenerated into downright rudeness. But suddenly a change had come, one of those mysterious changes in the mood and powers of an artist which neither he nor anyone else can understand. Abruptly the force which had abandoned him had returned.

The change had occurred on the day of Miss Van Tuyn's conversation through the telephone with Craven, a Friday.

Arabian had refused to sit on the Saturday and Sunday. He said he was moving into his Chelsea flat, and had many things to do. He could not come to the studio again till the Monday afternoon at half-past two. Garstin had been furious, but he had been met by a will apparently as inflexible as his own.

"I am sorry, but I cannot help it, Dick Garstin," Arabian had said.

And after a pause he had added:

"I hope I have not shown impatience all this long time?"

Garstin had cursed, but he had not persisted. Evidently he had realized that persistence would be useless. On the Monday he had received Arabian with frigid hauteur, but soon he had become intent on his work and had apparently forgotten his grievance.

Half-past four struck—then the quarter to five. Garstin had been painting for more than two hours. Now he put down his brush and frowned, still looking at Arabian, who was sitting in an easy, almost casual position, with his magnificent brown throat and shoulders exposed.

"Finished!" he said in his loud bass voice.

Miss Van Tuyn, who was curled up on a divan in a corner of the studio, moved and put down a book which she had been pretending to read. Garstin had forbidden her to come near to him that day while he was painting.

"Finished!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean—"

"No, damn it, I don't!" said Garstin, with exasperation. "I don't! Do you take me for a magician, or what? I have finished for to-day! Now then!"

He began to move the easel. Miss Van Tuyn got up, and Arabian, without saying a word, stretched himself, looked at her steadily for a moment, then pulled up his silk vest and carefully buttoned it with his strong-looking fingers. Then he too got up, and went away to the dressing-room to put on his shirt, waistcoat, collar and tie.

"May I see, Dick?" asked Miss Van Tuyn.

"No, you mayn't."

"Are you satisfied?"

"He's coming out more as I want him this time."

"Do you think you have found his secret?"

"Or yours, eh? What is happening in you, my girl?"

Before she could answer a telephone bell rang below.

"Damn!" said Garstin, going towards the staircase.

Before he went down he turned round and said:

"You're travelling fast."

And he disappeared. She heard him below tramping to the telephone. Then she went to a small square window in the studio, pushed it open, and looked out. There was a tiny space of garden below. She saw a plane tree shivering in the wind, yellow leaves on the rain-sodden ground. A sparrow flitted by and perched on the grimy coping of a low wall. And she shivered like the plane tree.

"Beryl!"

She started, turned, and went to the head of the stairs.

"What is it?"

"The telephone's for you. Come along down!"

"Coming!" she answered.

"Who is it?" she said, as she saw him standing by the telephone with the receiver in his hand.

"Some old woman, by the voice. She says she must speak to you. Here—take it, my girl!"

"It must be old Fanny!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with a touch of irritation. "Nobody else would know I was here. But I stupidly told Fanny."

She took the receiver out of his hand.

"I'm here! Who is it? Do make haste. I'm in a hurry."

She was thinking of Craven. It was nearly five o'clock, and she did not want to be late in Glebe Place, though she dreaded the encounter she expected there.

"Oh, Beryl, there's bad news!"

"Bad news! What news?"

"I can't tell you like this."

"Nonsense! Tell me at once!"

"I can't! I simply cannot. Oh, my dear, get into a taxi and come back at once."

"I insist on your telling me what is the matter!" said Miss Van Tuyn sharply.

Her nerves were already on edge, and something in the sound of the voice through the telephone frightened her.

"Tell me at once what it is! Now speak plainly!"

There was a pause; then the agitated voice said:

"A cable has come from the Bahamas."

"The Bahamas! Well? Well?"

"Your poor father has—"

The voice failed.

"Oh, do tell me! For Heaven's sake, what is it?"

"Your poor father is dead. Oh, Beryl!"

Miss Van Tuyn stood quite still for a moment.

"My father—dead!" she thought.

She felt surprised. She felt shocked. But she was not conscious of any real sorrow. She very seldom saw her father. Since he had married again—he had married a woman with whom he was very much in love—his strongly independent daughter had faded into the background of his life. Beryl had not set her eyes upon him during the last eighteen months. It was impossible that she could miss him much, a father with whom she had spent for years so little of her time. She knew that she would not miss him. Yet she had had a shock. After an instant she said:

"Thank you, Fanny. I shall be home very soon. Of course, I shall leave the studio at once. Good-bye."

She hung up the receiver and went upstairs slowly. And as she went she resolved not to say anything about what had happened to Dick Garstin. He was incapable of expressing conventional sympathy, and would probably say something bizarre which would jar on her nerves if she told him.

She found the two men standing together in the studio. Arabian had on his overcoat and gloves, and was holding his hat and umbrella.

"It was only Fanny Cronin!" she said.

As she spoke she looked narrowly at Garstin. Could Fanny have told him the news? The casual expression on his face set her mind at ease on that point. She was certain that he knew nothing.

"I must go," she said.

"I will walk with you to a taxi if you kindly allow me," said Arabian, getting her fur coat.

"Thank you!"

As he stood behind her helping her to get into the coat she was conscious of a strange and terrible feeling of fear mingled with an intense desire to give herself up to the power in this man. Was Craven outside? Something in her hoped, almost prayed, that he might be. It was surely the part of her that was afraid.

"Good-bye, Dick!" she said in an offhand voice.

"Good-bye!" he said. "Take care of her, Arabian."

She sent him a look full of intense and hostile inquiry. He met it with a half-amused smile.

"I shall do better now," he said.

"Ah?" said Arabian, looking polite and imperturbable.

"Come along!" said Miss Van Tuyn. "It must be getting late."

As she spoke a clock in the room began striking five. For a moment she felt confused and almost ill. Her brain seemed too full of rushing thoughts for its holding capacity. Her head throbbed. Her legs felt weak.

"Anything the matter?" asked Garstin, gazing at her with keen attention and curiosity.

"No," she said coldly. "Good-bye."

And she went down the stairs followed by Arabian.

Garstin did not accompany them. He had gone to stand before his picture of Arabian.

Miss Van Tuyn opened the door. A soft gust of wind blew some small rain into her face.

"Let me hold my umbrella over you, please," said Arabian. "Do take my arm while we look for a taxi."

"No, no!"

She walked on.

"There is nothing the matter, I hope?"

"I had some bad news through the telephone."

She felt impelled to say this to him, though she had said nothing to Garstin. Her brain still felt horribly overcharged, and an impulse had come to her to seek instant relief.

"My father is dead," she added.

As she spoke she looked up at him, and she saw a sharp quiver distort his lips for an instant.

"Did you know him?" she exclaimed, standing still.

"I? Indeed no! Why should you suppose so?"

"I thought—I don't know!"

He was now looking so calm, so earnestly sympathetic, that she almost believed that her eyes had played her a trick and that his face had not changed at her news.

"I'm not normal to-day," she thought.

"I am deeply grieved, deeply. Please accept from me my most full sympathy."

"Thank you. I scarcely ever saw my father, but naturally this news has upset me. He died in the Bahamas."

"How very sad! So far away!"

"Yes."

They were still standing together, and he was holding his umbrella over her head and gazing down at her earnestly, when Craven turned the corner of the road and came up to them. Miss Van Tuyn flushed. Although she had asked Craven to come, she felt startled when she saw him, and her confusion of mind increased. She did not feel competent to deal with the situation which she had deliberately brought about. Craven had come upon them too suddenly. She had somehow not expected him just at that moment, when she and Arabian were standing still. Before she was able to recover her normal self-possession, Craven had taken off his hat to her and gone rapidly past them. She had just time to see the grim line of his lips and the hard, searching glance he sent to her companion. Arabian, she noticed, looked after him, and she saw that, while he looked, his large eyes lost all their melting gentleness. They had a cruel, almost menacing expression in them, and they were horribly intelligent at that moment.

"What does this man not know?" she thought.

He might have little, or no, ordinary learning, but she was positive that he had an almost appallingly intimate knowledge of many chapters in the dark books of life.

"Shall we—?" said Arabian.

And they walked on slowly together.

"May I make a suggestion, Miss Van Tuyn," he said gently.

"What is it?"

"My little flat is close by, in Rose Tree Gardens. It is not quite arranged, but tea will be ready. Let me please offer you a cup of tea and a cigarette. There is a taxi!"

He made a signal with his left hand.

"We will keep it at the door, so that you may at once leave when you feel refreshed. You have had this bad shock. You need a moment to recover."

The cab stopped beside them.

"No, I must really go home," she said, with an attempt at determination.

"Of course! But please let me have the privilege. You have told me first of all of your grief. This is real friendship. Let me then be also friendly, and help you to recover yourself."

"But really I must—"

"Four, Rose Tree Gardens! You know them?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good!"

The taxi glided away from the kerb.

And Miss Van Tuyn made no further protest. She had a strange feeling just then that her will had abandoned her. Fanny Cronin's message must have had an imperious effect upon her. Yet she still felt no real sorrow at her father's death. She seemed to be enveloped in something which made mental activity difficult, indeed almost impossible.

When the cab stopped, she said:

"I can only stay five minutes."

"Certainly! Dear Mademoiselle Cronin will expect you. Please wait for the lady!"

Miss Van Tuyn was vaguely glad to hear him say that to the chauffeur.

She got out and looked upwards. She saw a big block of flats towering up in front of her.

"On the other side they face the river Thames," said Arabian. "All my windows except three look out that way. We will go up in the elevator."

They passed through a handsome hall and stepped into the lift, which carried them up to the fourth floor of the building. Arabian put a latch-key into a polished mahogany door with a big letter M in brass nailed to it.

"Please!" he said, standing back for Miss Van Tuyn to pass in.

But she hesitated. She saw a pretty little hall, a bunch of roses in a vase on a Chippendale table, two or three closed doors. She was aware of a very faint and pleasant odour, like the odour of flowers not roses, and guessed that someone had been burning some perfume in the flat. There was certainly nothing repellent in this temporary home of Arabian. Yet she felt with a painful strength that she had better go away without entering it. While she paused, but before she had said anything, she heard a quiet step, and a thin man of about thirty with a very dark narrow face and light, grey eyes appeared.

"Please bring tea for two at once," said Arabian in Spanish.

"Yes, sir, in a moment," said the man, also in Spanish.

Miss Van Tuyn stepped in, and the door was gently shut behind her by Arabian's manservant.

Arabian opened the second door on the left of the hall.

"This is my little salon," he said. "May I—"

"No, thank you. I'll keep on my coat. I must go home in a minute. I shall have a good deal to do. Really I oughtn't to be here at all. If anyone—after such news—"

She looked at Arabian. She had just had news of the death of her father, and she had come out to tea with this man. Was she crazy?

"I don't know why I came!" she said bluntly, angrily almost.

"Do please sit down," he said, pushing forward a large arm-chair. "If these curtains were not drawn we could see the river Thames from here. It is a fine view."

He bent down and poked the fire, then stood beside it, looking down at her as she sat in the chair.

She glanced round the room. It was well furnished and contained two or three good pieces, but there was nothing in it which showed personality, a thoughtful guiding mind and taste; there was nothing in it even which marked it definitely as the home of a woman rather than a man, or vice versa.

"I rent it furnished," said Arabian, evidently guessing her thought.

"Are you here for long?"

"I do not quite know. That depends."

His large eyes were fixed upon her as he said this, and she longed to ask him what intentions he had with regard to her. He had never made love to her. He had never even been what is sometimes called "foolish" with her. Not a word to which she could object had ever come from his lips. By no action had he ever claimed anything from her. And yet she felt that in some way he was governing her, was imposing his will on her. Certainly he had once followed her in the street. But on that occasion he had not known who she was. Now, as he gazed at her, she felt certain that he had formed some definite project with regard to her, and meant to carry it out at whatever cost. Garstin said he, Arabian, was in love with her. Probably he was. But if he was in love with her, why did he never hint at it when they were alone together except by the expression in his eyes? She asked herself why she was afraid of him, and the answer she seemed to get was that his reticence frightened her. There was something in his continued inaction which alarmed her. It was a silence of conduct which lay like a weight upon her. She felt it now as he stared at her.

"What do you want with me?"

That was what she longed, and yet was afraid, to say to him. Did he know how violently she was attracted by him and how fiercely he sometimes repelled her? No doubt he did. No doubt he knew that at times she believed him to be horrible, suspected him of nameless things, of abominable relationships; no doubt he knew that she was degradingly jealous of him. When his eyes were thus fixed upon her she felt that he knew everything that was going on in her with which he had to do. Yet he never spoke of his knowledge.

His reserve almost terrified her. That was the truth.

The dark man with the light eyes brought in tea on a large sliver tray. She began to drink it hastily.

"You—forgive me for asking—you will not leave London because of this sad news?" said Arabian.

"Do you mean for America?"

"Yes."

Miss Van Tuyn had not thought of such a possibility till he alluded to it. She could not, of course, be at her father's funeral. That was impossible. But suddenly it occurred to her that she had no doubt come into a very large fortune. There might be business to do. She might have to cross the Atlantic. At the thought of this possibility her sense of confusion and almost of mental blackness increased, and yet she realized more vividly than before the death of her father.

"I don't know. I don't think so. No, thank you. I won't smoke. I must go. I ought never to have come after receiving such news."

She stood up. He took her hand. His was warm and strong, and a great deal of her personality seemed to her to be in its clasp—too much indeed. His body fascinated hers, made her realize in a startling way that the coldness of which some men had complained had either been overcome by something that could burn and be consumed, or perhaps had never existed.

"You will not go to America without telling me?" he said.

"No, no. Of course not."

"You told me first of your sorrow!"

"Why—why did I?" she thought, wondering.

"And you did not tell Dick Garstin."

"No."

"And you came here to me."

"No, no! With you!"

"To my rooms in spite of your grief. We are friends from to-night."

"To-night . . . but it is afternoon!"

He still had her hand in his. She felt, or fancied she felt, a pulse beating in his hand. It gave her a sense of terrible intimacy with him, as if she were close to the very sources of his being. And yet she knew nothing about him.

"It gets dark so early now," he said.

Dark! As he said it she thought, "That's his word! That's his word!" Everyone has his word, and dark was Arabian's.

"Good-bye!" she said.

"I will take you down."

Quietly and very naturally, he let her hand go. And at once she had a sensation of being out in the cold.

They went down together in the lift. Just as they left it, and were in the hall, a woman whom Miss Van Tuyn knew slightly, a Mrs. Birchington, an intimate of the Ackroyde and Lady Wrackley set, met them coming from the entrance.

"Oh, Miss Van Tuyn!" she said, stopping.

She held out her hand, looking from Miss Van Tuyn to Arabian.

"How are you?"

Her light eyes were searching and inquisitive. She had an evening paper in her hand.

"I—I am so grieved," she added, again looking at Arabian.

"Mr. Arabian—Mrs. Birchington!" Miss Van Tuyn felt obliged to say.

Mrs. Birchington and Arabian bowed.

"Grieved!" said Miss Van Tuyn.

"Yes. I have just seen the sad news about your father in the paper."

Miss Van Tuyn realized at once that she was caught, unless she lied. But she did not choose to lie before Arabian. Something—her pride of a free American girl, perhaps—forbade that. And she only said:

"Thank you for your sympathy. Good-bye."

"Good-bye!"

Mrs. Birchington bowed again to Arabian, swept him with her sharp inquisitive eyes, and stepped into the lift.

"She lives here," he said, "in the apartment opposite to mine."

As Miss Van Tuyn drove away towards Claridge's she wondered whether Arabian was glad because of that fortuitous meeting.

Because of it her close intimacy with him—it would certainly now be called, and thought of, as that—would very soon be public property. All those women would hear about it. How crazy she had been to visit Arabian's flat at such a moment! She was angry with herself, and yet she believed that in like circumstances she would do the same thing again. Her power of will had deserted her, or this man, Arabian, had the power to inhibit her will. And Craven? What could he be thinking about her? She knew he was a sensitive man. What must he be thinking? That she had asked him to come all the way to Glebe Place merely in order that he might see her in deep conversation with another man. And she had not even spoken to him. He would be furious. She remembered his face. He was furious. By what she had done she had certainly alienated Craven.

And her father was dead!

She leaned back in the darkness of the cab, feeling weak and miserable, almost terrified. Surely Fate had her in a tight grip. She remembered Arabian's question: would it be necessary for her to go to America? Her father was very rich. She was his only child. He must certainly have left her a great deal of his money, for his second wife was wealthy and would not need it. There might be business to do which would necessitate her presence in New York. At that moment she almost wished for an urgent summons from the New World. A few hours in a train, the crossing of a gang-plank, the hoot of a siren, and she would be free from all these complications! The sea would lie between her and Arabian—Adela Sellingworth—Craven. She would stay away for months. She would not come back at all.

But this man, Arabian, would he let her go without a word, without doing something? Would his strange and horrible reserve last till her ship was at sea? She could not believe it. If she made up her mind to sail, and he knew it, he would speak, act. Something would happen. There would be some revelation of character, of intention. She was sure of it. Arabian was a man who could wait—but not for ever.

She still seemed to feel the pulse beating in his warm hand as she drove through the rain and the darkness.



PART SIX



CHAPTER I

Mrs. Ackroyde had a pretty little house in Upper Grosvenor Street, but she spent a good deal of her time in a country house which she had bought at Coombe close to London. She was always there from Saturday to Monday, when she was not paying visits or abroad, and Coombe Hall, as her place was called, was a rallying ground for members of the "old guard." Invariably guests came down on the Sunday to lunch and tea. Bridge was the great attraction for some. For others there were lawn tennis and golf. And often there was good music. For Mrs. Ackroyde was an excellent musician as well as an ardent card-player.

Lady Sellingworth had occasionally been to Coombe Hall, but for several years now she had ceased from going there. She did not care to show her white hair and lined face in Mrs. Ackroyde's rooms, which were always thronged with women she knew too well and with men who had ceased from admiring her. And she was no longer deeply interested in the gossip of a world in which formerly she had been one of the ruling spirits. She was, therefore, rather surprised at receiving a note from Mrs. Ackroyde soon after her return from Geneva urging her to motor to Coombe on the following Sunday for lunch.

"I suppose there will be the usual crowd," Mrs. Ackroyde wrote. "And I've asked Alick Craven and two or three who don't often come. What do you think of Beryl Van Tuyn's transformation into an heiress? I hear she's come into over three million dollars. I suppose she'll be more unconventional than ever now. Minnie Birchington met her just after her father's death, in fact the very day his death was announced in the papers. She'd just been to tea with a marvellously good-looking man called something Arabian, who has taken a flat in Rose Tree Gardens opposite to Minnie's. Evidently this is the newest way of going into deep mourning."

Lady Sellingworth hesitated for some time before answering this note. Probably, indeed almost certainly, she would have refused the invitation but for the last three sentences about Beryl Van Tuyn. She did not want to see the girl again, for she could not help hating her. She had, of course, sent a note of sympathy to Claridge's, and had received an affectionate reply, which she had torn up and burnt after reading it. But she had not gone to tell her regret at this death to Beryl, and Beryl had expressed no wish to see her.

In her heart Lady Sellingworth hated humbug, and she knew, of course, that any pretence of real friendship between Beryl and her would be humbug in an acute form. She might in the future sometimes have to pretend, but she was resolved not to rush upon insincerity. If Beryl sought her out again she would play her part of friend gallantly to conceal her wounds. But she would certainly not seek out Beryl.

She had not seen Craven since her return to London. In spite of her anger against him, which was complicated by a feeling of almost contemptuous disgust, she longed to see him again. Each day, when she had sat in her drawing-room in the late afternoon and had heard Murgatroyd's heavy step outside and the opening of the door, her heart beat fast, and she had thought, "Can it be he?" Each day, after the words "Sir Seymour Portman!" her heart had sunk and she had felt bitter and weary.

And now came this invitation, putting it in her power to meet Craven again naturally. Should she go?

She read Dindie Ackroyde's note once more carefully, and a strange feeling stung her. She had been angry with Beryl for being fond of Craven. (For she had supposed a real fondness in Beryl.) Now she was angry with Beryl for a totally different reason. It was evident to her that Beryl was behaving badly to Craven. As she looked at the note in her hand she remembered a conversation in a box at the theatre. Arabian! That was the name of the man Dick Garstin was painting, or had been painting. Dindie Ackroyde called him "Something Arabian." Lady Sellingworth's mind supplied the other name. It was Nicolas. Beryl had described him as "a living bronze."

She had gone out to tea with him in a flat on the day her father's sudden death had been announced in the papers. And yet she had pretended that she was hovering on the verge of love for Alick Craven. She had even implied that she was thinking of marrying him. Lady Sellingworth saw Beryl as a treacherous lover, as well as an unkind friend and a heartless daughter, and suddenly her anger against Craven died in pity. She had believed for a little while that she hated him, but now she longed to protect him from pain, to comfort him, to make him happy, as surely she had once made him happy, if only for an hour or two. She forgot her pride and her sense of injury in a sudden rush of feeling that was new to her, that perhaps, really, had something of motherliness in it. And she sat down quickly and wrote an acceptance to Mrs. Ackroyde.

When Sunday came she felt excited and eager, absurdly so for a woman of sixty. But her secret diffidence troubled her. She looked into her mirror and thought of the piercing eyes of the "old guard," of those merciless and horribly intelligent women who had marked with amazement her sudden collapse into old age ten years ago, who would mark with a perhaps even greater amazement this bizarre attempt at a partial return towards what she had once been.

And what would Alick Craven think?

Nevertheless she put a little more red on her lips, called her maid, had something done to her hair.

"It has been a great success!" said the little Frenchwoman. "Miladi looks wonderful to-day. Black and white is much better than unrelieved black for miladi. And the soupcon of blue on the hat and in the earrings of miladi lights up the whole personality. Miladi never did a wiser thing than when she visited Switzerland."

"You think not, Cecile?"

"Indeed yes, miladi. There is no specialist even in Paris like Monsieur Paulus. And as to the Doctor Lavallois, he is a marvel. Every woman who is no longer a girl should go to him."

Lady Sellingworth picked up a big muff and went down to the motor, leaving Cecile smiling behind her. As she disappeared down the stairs Cecile, who was on the bright side of thirty, with a smooth, clear skin and chestnut-coloured hair, pushed out her under-lip slowly and shook her head.

"La vieillesse!" she murmured. "La vieillesse amoureuse! Quelle horreur!"

Lady Sellingworth had never given the maid any confidence about her secret reasons for doing this or that. But Cecile was a Parisian. She fully understood the reason for their visit to Geneva. Miladi had fallen in love.

Lady Sellingworth's excitement increased as she drove towards Coombe. It was complicated by a feeling of shyness. To herself she said that she was like an old debutante. She had been out of the world for so long, and now she was venturing once more among the merciless women of the world that never rests from amusing itself, from watching the lives of others, from gossiping about them, from laughing at them. She had been a leader of this world until she had denied it, had shut herself away from it. And now she was venturing back—because of a man. As she drove on swiftly through the wintry and dull-looking streets, streets that seemed to grow meaner, more dingy, more joyless, as she drew near to the outskirts of London, she looked back over the past. And she saw always the same reason for the important actions of her life. All of them had been committed because of a man. And now, even at sixty—Presently she saw by the look of the landscape that she was nearing Coombe, and she drew a little mirror out of her muff and gazed into it anxiously.

"What will they say? What will he think? What will happen to me to-day?"

The car turned into a big gravel sweep between tall, red-brick walls, and drew up before Mrs. Ackroyde's door.

In the long drawing-room, with its four windows opening on to a terrace, from which Coombe Woods could be seen sunk in the misty winter, Lady Sellingworth found many cheerful people whom she knew. Mrs. Ackroyde gave her blunt, but kindly, greeting, with her strange eyes, fierce and remote, yet notably honest, taking in at a glance the results of Geneva. Lady Wrackley was there in an astonishing black hat trimmed with bird of paradise plumes. Glancing about her while she still spoke to Dindie Ackroyde carelessly, Lady Sellingworth saw young Leving; Sir Robert Syng; the Duchess of Wellingborough, shaking her broad shoulders and tossing up her big chin as she laughed at some joke; Jennie Farringdon, with her puffy pale cheeks and parrot-like nose, talking to old Hubert Mostine, the man of innumerable weddings, funerals and charity fetes, with his blinking eyelids and moustaches that drooped over a large and gossiping mouth; Magdalen Dearing, whose Mona Lisa smile had attracted three generations of men, and who had managed to look sad and be riotous for at least four decades; Frances Braybrooke, pulling at his beard; Mrs. Birchington; Lady Anne Smith, wiry, cock-nosed, brown, ugly, but supremely smart and self-assured; Eve Colton, painted like a wall, and leaning, with an old hand blazing with jewels, on a stick with a jade handle; Mrs. Dews, the witty actress, with her white, mobile face, and the large irresponsible eyes which laughed at herself, the critics and the world; Lord Alfred Craydon, thin, high church and political, who loved pretty women but receded farther and farther from marriage as the years spun by; and Lady Twickenham, a French poupee; and Julian Lamberhurst, the composer, who looked as if he had grown up to his six foot four in one night, like the mustard seed; and Hilary Lane, the friend of poets; and—how many more! For Dindie Ackroyde loved to gather a crowd for lunch, and had a sort of physical love of noise and human complications.

At the far end of the room there was a section which was raised a few inches above the rest. Here stood two Steinway grand pianos, tail to tail, their dark polished cases shining soberly in the pale light of November. There were some deep settees on this species of dais, and, looking towards it, over the heads of the crowd in the lower part of the room, Lady Sellingworth saw Craven again.

He was sitting beside a pretty girl, whom Lady Sellingworth did not know, and talking. His face looked hard and bored, but he was leaning towards the girl as if trying to seem engrossed, intent, on the conversation and on her.

Francis Braybrooke came up. Lady Sellingworth was busy, greeting and being greeted. Once more she made part of the regiment. But the ranks were broken. There was no review order here. Only for an instant had she been aware of formality, of the "eyes right" atmosphere—when she had entered the room. Then the old voices hummed about her. And she saw the well-known and experienced eyes examining her. And she had to listen and to answer, to be charming, to "hold her own."

"I'm putting Alick Craven next to you at lunch, Adela. I know you and he are pals. He's over there with Lily Bright."

"And who is Lily Bright?" said Lady Sellingworth in her most offhand way.

"A dear little New Englander, Knickerbocker to the bone."

She turned away composedly to meet another guest.

Francis Braybrooke began to talk to Lady Sellingworth, and almost immediately Lady Wrackley and Mrs. Birchington joined them.

"How marvellous you look, Adela!" said Lady Wrackley, staring with her birdlike eyes. "You will cut us all out. I must go to Geneva. Have you heard about Beryl? But of course you have. She was so delighted at coming into a fortune that she rushed away to Rose Tree Gardens to celebrate the event with a man without even waiting till she had got her mourning. Didn't she, Minnie?"

Francis Braybrooke was looking shocked.

"I cannot believe that Miss Van Tuyn—" he began.

But Mrs. Birchington interrupted him.

"But I was there!" she said.

"I beg your pardon!" said Braybrooke.

"It was the very day the death of her father was in the evening papers. I came back from the club with the paper in my hand, and met Beryl Van Tuyn getting out of the lift in Rose Tree Gardens with the man who lives opposite to me. She absolutely looked embarrassed."

"Impossible!" said Lady Wrackley. "She couldn't!"

"I assure you she did! But she introduced me to him."

"She cannot have heard of her father's death," said Braybrooke.

"But she had! For I expressed my sympathy and she thanked me."

Braybrooke looked very ill at ease and glanced plaintively towards the place where Craven was sitting with the pretty American.

"No doubt she had been to visit old friends," he said, "American friends."

"But this man, Nicolas Arabian, lives alone in his flat. And I'm sure he's not an American. Lady Archie has seen him several times with Beryl."

"What's he like?" asked Lady Wrackley.

"Marvellously handsome! A charmeur if ever there was one. Beryl certainly had good taste, but—"

At this moment there was a general movement. The butler had murmured to Mrs. Ackroyde that lunch was ready.

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