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   Chapter 3 A LOVE SCENE

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 8177

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

There was a knock at the door. Woodville looked up. It was Sylvia.

Sylvia had that curious gift, abstract beauty, the sort of beauty that recalls vaguely some ideal or antique memory. Hence, at various times various people had remarked on her striking resemblance to Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Dante's Beatrice, the Venus of the Luxembourg, one of Botticelli's angels, and La Giaconda!

Her head was purely Greek, her hair, fine in texture, and in colour golden-brown, grew very low in thick ripples on a broad forehead. The illusion of the remote or mythical was intensified by the symmetry of her slim figure, by her spiritual eyes, and beautiful, Pagan mouth. Tall and slender, her rounded arms and fine hands with their short pointed fingers seemed to terminate naturally in anything she held, such as a fan or flower, or fell in graceful curves in her lap. Sylvia had not the chiffonnée restless charm of the contemporary pretty woman; she did not, like Felicity, arouse with stimulating intensity one's sense of the modern.

Goddess, heroine, or angel she might be (her height, indeed, suggested heaven rather than hockey). Her beauty was of other days, not of the Summer Number. She was not, however, to do her justice, intentionally picturesque. She did not "go in for the artistic style"; that is to say, she did not part her hair and draw it over her ears, wear oddly-shaped blouses and bead necklaces, and look absent. The iron had obviously entered into her hair (or into every seventh wave, at least, of her hair), and her dresses fitted her as a flower its sheath. She was natural, but not in the least wild; no primrose by a river's brim, nor an artificial bloom, but rather a hothouse flower just plucked and very carefully wired. Hence she was at once the despair of the portrait painters, who had never as yet been able to help making her look on canvas like a bad Leighton in a Doucet dress, and the joy of the photographers, who in her honour set aside their pillars and their baskets of flowers, their curtains and their picture hats, being certain that she would pose herself exquisitely, and that her lines were so right that not even a photographer could improve on them.

Sylvia was so truly artistic in temperament and so extremely unpractical that it was not surprising she made an admirable housekeeper, having fortunately that inborn gift for organisation, and for seeing things on the whole, that is so much more important in home life than any small fussing about the unimportant details. And she would receive excuses from servants with a smile so sweet yet so incredulous that it disarmed deceit and made incompetence hide its head (or give notice).

She came round to the writing-table, bent her head over his shoulder, and said in a low voice of emotion, as though it were a secret-

"How are you getting on? Did you want me to find anything-an address, or anything?"

He put his hand on hers and looked up at her. Then he looked away.

"Don't, Sylvia. I wish you would go away. Or go to the other side of the room ... I can't stand it."

"Oh, Frank! How rude and unkind!" But she was apparently not offended, as she blushed and smiled while she moved a little away. Then she said, looking at the cards-

"Will the party be awful, do you think?"

"No, it won't be bad. Except for me, of course. To see you talking to other people. Not that I really care, because I know you have to. And besides, you won't, will you?"

"I promise I won't! I'll just be a hostess, and talk to old ladies, or stray girls, or perhaps just a few dull old married men."

"I approve of that programme. But-of course I have no right to advise, and I may be entirely wrong-supposing you were to leave out the old married men? You will have to talk to all the clever young men, I am afraid. Don't go to supper with F. G. Rivers. That's all I ask. I couldn't bear it."

"F. G. Rivers! Of course not! Felicity will do all that sort of thing. She has a talent for celebrities-like papa. But why on earth mustn't I go to supper with just F. G. Rivers?"

"Oh, I don't know. You can if you like. I don't care," said Woodville jealously.

"I thought he was a wonderfully clever novelist, tremendously successful and celebrated!"

"Yes, I know. That's what I meant," Woodville said.

"Aren't his books rather weird and uncanny ... and romantic,-all about local colour, and awfully cynical?"

"How well you know what to say about things! Weird! Delightful! I dare say that's what Rivers would expect a nice girl to say of his books. He spends half his time being afraid people should think his work is lurid, and the rest in being simply terrified that people should think it's not. He's very clever really, and a delightful companion."

"Is he cynical?" she asked.

"He's so sceptical, that he believes in everything, but especially hard work, like table-turning, crystal-gazing, and Sandow's exercises.... I was at Oxford with him, you know," Frank added explanatorily.

"I see, it's an old affection. Anybody else I'm not to speak to?"

"Nonsense, Sylvia; I want you to be charming to every one, of course. I believe in that sort of thing. It's the right atmosphere for a party. Don't think about me."

"How can I help it?"

Her grey eyes were reproachful.

Woodville looked into them, then abruptly looked away.

"What are you going to wear, Sylvia?"

"My white satin, I think. Do you like it? Or don't you?"

"No; it makes you look too much like a Gainsborough-or no, more like a Sargent-which is worse. I mean worse for me, of course."

"Oh, dear! why am I always like something? Well, what am I to wear, Frank? I've just ordered a sort of fluffy grey chiffon-like a cloud."

"Wear that. You're always in the clouds, and I'm always looking up at them.... I hope it has a silver lining?"

"Perhaps it has. I don't know yet, it hasn't come home. Felicity's going to wear a sort of Watteau-ish dress, pink and white and blue, you know. Of course, she won't wear any jewels-she never will. You see, Chetwode has such a lot of old ones in his family. She says she's afraid, if she did, the Perfect Lady or Home Chirps might say 'Lady Chetwode as usual appeared in the "Chetwode emeralds"'-or something idiotic of that sort."

"How like her! Then just wear your string of pearls."

"Mayn't I wear the little turquoise heart that you-didn't give me, the one I bought in the Brompton Road and gave it to myself from you, so that I could honestly say you hadn't?"

"Better not, Sylvia. It looks as if it came out of a cracker. And we don't need any symbols and things, do we?"

"Very well.... I'm afraid, Frank ... I shall have to go now."

Woodville looked hurt.

"What? Already! Then why did you waste the precious minutes alone in making epigrams about F. G. Rivers? He's such a good fellow too, I always got on with him at Oxford."

"Did I make epigrams? How funny! I didn't know I could."

She came a little nearer. Woodville said in a low voice, rather quickly-

"You looked really divine just now through the window, with the hyacinths in your hands-like the goddess of something or other-spring, I suppose.... When I look at you, I understand all the old poetry. To Amaryllis and Herrick-and-you know."

"Dear Frank!... Am I to find an address?"

"You can't, dearest. There is no address. Besides, they've moved. And I found it myself ever so long ago."

She laughed.

"Oh, Frank!"

Woodville put his hand out and took hers.

"Oh, don't go just yet!" he said imploringly.

"Why, you told me to go away just now-or to the other side of the room!"

"Ah, but that was ages ago! Why, you haven't been here two minutes! You can't be in such a hurry.... Anyhow, come here a second."

She obeyed, and leant over his shoulder.... Then he said abruptly-

"Yes, you had better go."

Blushing, she glided away at once, without another word.

Woodville remained at the desk, looking a little pale, and frowning. He had a theory that he was a very scrupulous man, with a high sense of honour. It was a worrying theory.

With a sigh he returned to the invitation cards.

* * *

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