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The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 13457

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

A moment later there entered the room a slim, good-looking young man of about twenty-five years old, whose eyes were very bright and whose clothes were very smart, and who gave the impression of being at once in the highest spirits and at least a year in advance of the very latest expression of the mode. He was very fair, clean shaven, with smooth blond hair, white teeth, and the most mischievous smile in London.

Bertie Wilton had the reputation of being the wittiest of all the dandies, but his one great weakness was a mania for being dans le mouvement, and a certain contempt for any ideas, however valuable, that had been suggested earlier than, say, yesterday afternoon. Extremely good-natured, lively, and voluble, he was immensely popular, being considered, as indeed he was, one of the last of the conversationalists. He might be frivolous, but he was always interesting. He could talk about anything-and he did.

"I didn't know you'd got a motor, Bertie," said Woodville.

Wilton looked at it lovingly out of the window, arranged the gardenia in his button-hole, and said-

"Oh yes! I'm mad on motors. I've had three! This is my new toy. It's a ripper, the only right kind. It can go, I'll say that for it. I've been fined twice for exceeding the speed limit already."

"But you've never done anything else," said Woodville.

Bertie laughed.

"Ah! no; perhaps not. Well, anyway, I simply love it. I haven't even come here this morning merely to see you, Mervyn, or on the off-chance of meeting old Woodville, but simply to try the new Daimler before lunching in it-at least, not exactly lunching in it, but with it,-no, no, not with it, you know what I mean-with the dearest old gentleman who lives in the wilds of West Kensington. He's simply devoted to me. Why, I can't think. But he's got a sort of idea that I saved his life on a hill near Hastings. What really happened was, that his idiot of a chauffeur had utterly smashed up the car, and he and the old gentleman were sitting on the Downs with every probability of remaining there for the rest of their natural lives!"

"And this, I suppose, is where you came in," said Woodville.

"Rather! I was spinning along from Brighton, and I saw those poor creatures in their pitiable position. To hop out of the motor, have an explanation with the old gentleman (who was stone deaf, by the way), to persuade him to come with me, to drive him to his intensely comfortable and charming country house in the heart of Hastings, and to send for a surgeon to attend to the internal injuries of the car, was, for me, the work of a moment! I made up quite a romance about the old gentleman. You're a reading man, Woodville, and so you know, from books, that the slightest politeness to an eccentric millionaire sets you up in gilded luxury for life, don't you? I expected, of course, that he would cut off his family with a shilling, and would leave me at the very least £20,000 a year. Isn't it funny, my being wrong? It turned out that he neither could nor would do anything of the sort. He was neither eccentric nor a millionaire-though he was very well off and very clever. But, perhaps you ask yourself, had he a lovely daughter, whose hand he would offer me in marriage? Not he! He has only a hideous married son and daughter-in-law who live in Manchester, and all I've got out of the adventure, so far, is lunching with him, and talking to him, and heaps of practice in shouting; he's so deaf. Besides, he's a dear."

"What a wonderful chap you are! The last time I saw you, weren't you secretary to a foreign Duke, with a brilliant diplomatic future before you, or something?" said Woodville, while Mervyn appeared to be lost in thought.

"I know, but that was last season! Lots of people are just as keen as I am, you know. Broughton, for instance, has actually invented a car of his own. I once permitted myself to speak rather disrespectfully of Broughton's quite ridiculous car, and, of course, some kind friend told him practically every word I said; and he was quite hurt. We had a regular sort of scene about it."

"What did you say against the car?" said Mervyn judicially, waking up.

"Well, I may be wrong, but it seems to me that it isn't an ideally convenient arrangement (particularly for ladies) to have to climb into a motor, by means of a ladder, over the back! I understood that though Broughton's design had all sorts of capital new arrangements with regard to cushions and clocks and looking-glasses, and mud-guards, he had, most unfortunately, quite forgotten the door.

"Well, we met at the Bellairs' Fancy Ball (I went as Louis the Nineteenth) last week, you know, and had an explanation, and sort of made it up, but I'm afraid, like that uncomfortable old king, though he smiled at the jest, he never forgave the satire.

"I say, I must fly now. I have to lunch with the old gentleman. Can I drop you anywhere, Woodville?"

"I've got to be at the theatre at one, to rehearse," said Mervyn suddenly.

"Then you must be quick, old boy. It's a quarter to two now," said Bertie.

They took their leave.

After many tender inquiries after its health from the chauffeur, Bertie sprang into the motor with Woodville, and they started off.

"I say, Woodville," began Bertie, as they spun along, "I want to talk about Lady Chetwode. I'm awfully in love with her."

"Didn't know you knew her."

"I don't. That's nothing to do with it. You can be awfully in love with a person you don't know. In fact, I believe I can be far more seriously devoted to a perfect stranger than to a woman I know personally. But I've often seen her at the Opera. And I'm going to know her. I'm going to be brought to your party to-morrow night by Mrs. Ogilvie. Didn't you know? Tell me, why isn't Chetwode ever there?"

"Don't be an ass! They're devoted to each other. Turtle-doves aren't in it."

Bertie's eyes sparkled.

"I know! I suppose he stays away for fear of her getting tired of him. Quaint idea. Never been done before quite like that. Well, it may be very clever, but I shouldn't do it! Frankly, I should always be there or thereabouts, at all risks! You don't seem to understand (knowing them so intimately, of course you wouldn't) what Lady Chetwode is going to be. Why, she's simply the person already. I hear of her everywhere, and the sister, Miss Crofton; I saw her too the other night. She's quite beautiful. I don't believe they know what to do with her."

"What on earth do you mean?" said Woodville.

"My dear boy, I have my faults, but I have one little gift, and that is a flair for success. It will be all very well for Miss Sylvia to marry the Greek man to begin with--"

"Do you propose sh

e should marry any one else to go on with then?"

"Don't be absurd. I mean, of course, that would start her, and so on. He's a friend of exalted personages and that sort of thing, and it would certainly bring her forward. Although I think she could do better. But she ought to come out in tableaux or something and be really seen, quite soon; while she's a novelty."

"I really think there's something wrong with your tonneau," said Woodville.

Bertie smiled cheerfully. "Don't worry, my chauffeur's one of the best drivers in London. But, about tableaux; next month at Worcester House--"

"Miss Crofton doesn't care about that sort of thing," said Woodville.

"No? I heard she had rather a line of her own. What is her pose? She ought to settle on it. You know there is nothing so uncomfortable as not having settled on one's pose. Oh!" Bertie gave a start. "I beg your pardon. I see the whole thing! But of course! You're in love with her. What a fool I am!"

"You are indeed. I see very little of Miss Crofton. You're generally positive, and always wrong."

"Oh, is it as bad as that? My dear Woodville, I'm so sorry! What a tactless idiot I am! But Lady Chetwode, now. Her great friend, Vera Ogilvie, I know very well indeed. I met her last Tuesday, so she's quite an old friend. Mrs. Ogilvie's the pretty woman who thinks she has a Byzantine profile. She's all over strange jewels and scarabs, and uncut turquoises and things. She has a box on the second tier, and it was there that it all happened."

"That what happened?"

"Why, my falling in love at first sight; I mean, with Lady Chetwode, of course; and what makes me so bad is that I hear of her everywhere. Nothing worse than that! Her frocks and her mots,-it seems she's very clever, I hear, and says the most delightful things. And there's another thing, if I don't make a dash for it this season, I shan't have a chance next. I see that."

"Didn't I tell you she's simply wrapped up in her husband?"

"Of course. That's just the point. I don't know Chetwode, but he's the fellow who has the wonderful collection. First Empire things, and china, and all that. Besides, he goes racing. They say his horse has a chance of winning the Derby. Oh, you don't know what a distinguished family they are! Well, anyhow, you see he's busy, and if they do have honeymoons every now and then-as no doubt they do-I really hardly see what that matters to me."

"Frankly, nor do I," said Woodville.

"No, indeed; I like it better, because I don't mind telling you I've got heaps of things on just now."

"You look as if you had," said Woodville dryly.

"Is this meant for an attack on my tie? You'll be wearing one like it yourself in a fortnight! Mrs. Ogilvie's great fun. Yesterday she took me with her and a sort of country girl, a clergyman's daughter from Earl's Court, to buy a hat at Lewis's; (for the girl I mean). It was extraordinary! The girl isn't at all bad-looking, but naturally wears her hair perfectly flat, with a kind of knob at the back, the wrong kind. On the top of this the milliners stuck, first, the most enormous hat, eccentric beyond the dreams of the Rue de la Paix, all feathers, and said, Oh, quel joli mouvement, Madame! The poor girl, frightened to death, thinking the birds were alive, tore it off. So then they tried on those absurd, tiny, high, little things that require at least twenty-five imitation curls to keep them up, and show them off, and in which poor Miss Winter looked like an escaped lunatic. We tried everything in the shop, and at last Mrs. Ogilvie said, 'Perhaps we had better come again, later in the season, when the hats would be smaller, or not so large.'-Do you know Miss Winter? She has rather pretty red hair, and a dazed intellectual expression. She's the sort of girl who can only wear a sailor hat (I never saw a sailor in a straw), as they call them, or perhaps something considered picturesque in the suburbs; you know, with skyblue crêpe de chine strings under the chin. If she'd only been an athletic girl we could have gone straight to Scott's, and then we should have known where we were-but she's artistic, poor thing." Bertie smiled mischievously.

"Your valuable advice doesn't seem to have been much use, then?"

"Rather not! Especially as Mrs. Ogilvie has this craze about thinking she's Oriental (I wonder who put it into her head), and would order absurd beaded things, like Roman helmets, when of course she'd look delightful in a dark claret-coloured velvet sort of Gainsborough, with dull brown feathers. But women are so perverse. Look how they won't wear black when nothing suits them so well!"

"Won't they? I wonder you don't go into the millinery business. I think you'd do very well."

"Don't talk rot. I'm only interested as an amateur; it's art for art's sake. But I do understand frocks. I will say that I think women's dress is the only thing worth being really extravagant on. Don't you?"

"No, I don't."

They were now proceeding down Bond Street at a pace that the crowd compelled to be rather leisurely.

"There's Aunt William in her old-fashioned barouche with the grey horses. It's such a comfort to me, always, to see Mrs. Crofton; it makes one feel at least there is something stationary in this changeable world. Who's that boy looking at?-at you? Isn't it the Crofton boy?"

"Yes. Let's stop a minute; I want to speak to him."

Savile, seeing them, crossed the road, and said, before Bertie could begin-

"Extraordinary weather for the time of-year!"

"Come off the roof!" said Woodville, smiling. "What are you doing in Bond Street?"

"Oh, only going to Chappell's, the music shop, to get a song. One of those Sylvia doesn't sing," said Savile, looking straight at him.

"Oh, I know what it is," said Bertie; "it's Pale Hands that Burn, or Tosti's Good-bye!"

"No, it just isn't."

"Then it's something out of The Telephone Girl or something. Do tell us what it is. I hate these musical mysteries."

"It's not a mystery at all. It's Home sweet Home," said Savile.

They tried to persuade him to join them, but he walked off.

"Delightful boy," said Bertie, after a moment. "So correct. I'm sure he's the person at home, and spoilt, and does what he likes with them all, doesn't he? Of course, he's the person to be friends with if you want anything fixed up! Well, here we are at Onslow Square. It was jolly seeing you again. You must come for another longer spin soon. Isn't Mervyn a good chap? He's so really distinguished that it wouldn't ever matter what he wore, or where he went, or when. And you'd never dream he was an actor, would you?"

"Not unless you saw him act," said Woodville, getting out.

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