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The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 13008

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

When Felicity woke up in her enormous, over-draped, over-decorated, gilded, carved, and curved bed she was immediately as wide awake as though she had been up several hours.

There was no slow rousing to the realities of life, no sleepy yawning or languid return from a land of dreams. She dashed the hair out of her eyes, at once put on her glasses (for in private she was short-sighted), and began immediately and systematically to tell her fortune by cards. She did this regularly every morning. It was a preliminary to her day's campaign, when Everett came in with the tea and letters, drew aside the heavy blue curtains, embroidered all over with gold fleur-de-lys, and let in a ray of April sunshine. According to her usual practice, Felicity kept up a running commentary on her correspondence.

"From darling Chetwode.-'My own beautiful little angel, It is quite'-what's this? hop-picking? no-'heart-breaking that I can't get back to you for another week. Tobacco Trust was beaten by a short head, as of course you know, but Onlooker is a dead certainty for to-morrow. Will wire result.

"'I saw a most marvellous old cabinet in a cottage near here'-he would!-'an extraordinary bargain. It will just go in the corner of--'" She put the four closely written sheets down and opened some more envelopes.

"'Lady Virginia Creeper at home. Five to seven.' Well, I can't help it. Let her stop at home. It's the best place for her.

"'Dearest Lady Chetwode, you haven't forgotten, I am sure, that you promised to see me at three to-morrow. I come to you with my tears. You are the greatest adviser and consoler in all heart troubles. Of late I have been enamoured of sorrow. But for your wonderful "Bureau de Consultation Sentimentale," where should we poor sentimentalists be! Agatha has been simply brutal to me lately. I can find no other word. I look forward to pouring my grief into your shell-like ear. I will bring my new song, "Cruel as the Grave."' How cheering! Jasmyn Vere is perfectly absurd about Agatha. He's a bore, anyhow.

"'Dear old girl; I'm coming to lunch to-day. Everything is rather rotten. I have news of HER. Your aff. brother Savile.'

"'Darling Felicity, be a perfect angel and let my maid see your mauve tea-gown. I know you are so good-natured or I wouldn't dare to ask. I am very anxious about HIM. Oh, why are men always the same? I found out that the wretch instead of being ill, the other day, had taken that awful Lucy Winter to a picture-gallery. What a girl! All red hair and eye-glasses. Let me see you soon. Your devoted friend, Vera Ogilvie.' I am sure Vera needn't worry. Lucy Winter was evidently wild about F. J. Rivers last night. I must tell her. What stupid letters! Oh! here's a new handwriting.

"'98 Half Moon Street, 2 o'clock a.m.-Dear Lady Chetwode, I should be counting the minutes till 4.30, but they pass too slowly to be counted. It's thirteen hours and a half, anyhow. I can't believe I shall really see you again. How eternal yesterday was! Why do the gods follow each feast day with a fast? By the way, I have a little Romney here so marvellously like you that you really ought to see it.'" Felicity smiled. "Steady! Rather a nice handwriting. 'Sincerely yours, Bertie Wilton.' Very promising. 'P.S. I have left a long space between the lines so that you should read between them.' Everett, I'll wear my tailor-made dress this morning and for lunch. The mauve tea-gown at four. I'm only going to the theatre to-night. Let me see, what is it? Oh! the St. James's. The white crêpe de chine. Then, remind me to wire to the Creepers on the evening of their afternoon to say I have a chill. Have some gardenias and lilies for the drawing-room, and let me see them. There's the telephone! I suppose Chetwode has rung me up again."

Then followed a one-sided conversation through the telephone, which was fixed by the side of the Louis Quinze bed.

"Yes, darling.... Oh, all right.... Didn't he?... I say, you might come back soon.... I really shouldn't bother about that screen.... What?... I said screen, not scream.... We have heaps more than we want already.... Oh! and ever so many people are coming this afternoon.... A perfectly new young man.... What?... Oh, not bad!... Safety in numbers?... Even if you take the numbers one at a time?... Good-bye."

Savile at lunch was gloomy and taciturn. Absently he had partaken three times of a certain favourite dish, made of chestnuts and cream, repeatedly proffered, with empressement and a sort of respectful sympathy, by Greenstock. Then he pushed his plate away, and said when they were alone-

"Funny! I can't eat a thing! Sylvia says I live on nothing but oranges. Pretty rotten sign, eh? Here's what I've heard about HER."

He took out of his purse a neatly-cut-out paragraph from The Queen. It stated that Madame Patti had been warmly greeted by all the village of Craig-y-nos, and was about to give an afternoon concert there for the benefit of the poor.

"I shan't have another chance to see HER before I go back," said Savile, looking steadily at his sister.

She followed his idea in a second. "All right! Poor boy! There's no great harm. Shall I give you the-change"-(to Savile, Felicity always spoke of money as change)-"to run up to Wales and hear her sing, and then come back the same evening? It doesn't really matter what time you arrive home, you see. You can stay with me. I'll tell papa you're going to a concert and I want you to stay with me."

Savile was nearly purple with joy. "Would you really? What bricks girls can be!" He shook hands with her with intense self-restraint, and murmured, "I shan't forget this, old girl."

Felicity completed the arrangements, and Savile left, a very happy boy.

At three o'clock Felicity, in her wonderful orchid-mauve tea-gown, was conversing pathetically with Jasmyn Vere, one of the habitués of what her friends called her sentimental bureau.

He was not one of her favourite clients. He was egotistical, and his mania for Agatha was becoming rather a bore. Agatha was a plain, muscular, middle-aged widow who drove him to distraction by her temper and her flirtations. Felicity only stood it at all because he sang and played beautifully, imitated popular actors in his lighter moments, and gave amusing dinners at restaurants.

"What would you have done?" he said. "By mistake, Agatha posted this letter to me!"

He took out of a pale grey morocco case a note with "Stanhope Gate" and a large "

A" on it in scarlet and black.

She read-

Dear Bob,

Excuse rush. All rubbish about Jasmin. He's a hopeless idiot, but a good old sort. Mind you fetch me in time for Lingfield Races to-morrow and put me on to a good thing.



Felicity handed it back.

"Just fancy, Lady Chetwode! I confronted her with this. She had put it in the wrong envelope and sent a note meant for me to Captain Henderson. She only roared with laughter. I broke it off finally and she said I should probably break it on again next day."

"And did you?"

"Nothing of the kind. I went away and wrote her a really beautiful letter. I said that I would wipe out the past and begin afresh if she promised never even to recognise Captain Henderson again in the street-or anywhere."

"What did she say, Mr. Vere?"

"Say! She wired 'Sorry imprac.' So it's all over. Now, what do you advise?"

"If you would only leave her alone for about two minutes, she would come round all right; she is so used to you. Or, make her jealous."

"Well, I hope you'll forgive me, but I did try that. In our last interview I said I was coming to see you, and that you were a really womanly woman."

"Oh, thanks very much," said Felicity angrily. "What did she say to that?"

"Laughed that awful laugh of hers, and said I need not worry, as you were very busy."

"She was perfectly right, I am," said Felicity. "Have you left her alone since that?"

"Practically. At least, I only sent her a little thing I thought she'd like."

"A diamond horse-shoe-by any chance?"

"Oh, just a trifle as a souvenir of our long friendship. Then I suggested we should have one final meeting-a diner d'adieu."

"And she didn't send the trinket back, and she didn't refuse? Oh, you're all right!"

"I am not all right, dear Lady Chetwode."

"When are you going to see her again?"

"I'm bound to say that I hope to see her next Saturday evening. But just think! She has actually spoken, written of me as a 'hopeless idiot'!"

"Yes. I understood that."

"Should a man forgive such a thing?"

At this stage Felicity's eyes began straying to the clock. "Certainly, if it is true," she said absently.

He left a copy of "Cruel as the Grave" when he went, with many expressions of gratitude, and Felicity said to herself: "What an extraordinary thing! What can he see in Agatha? What can Agatha see in Bob? And there is Vera Ogilvie-really pretty and charming-worrying herself about that dull Captain Henderson, who makes love to every woman he sees, and doesn't care two straws about her." At this point she took up a very handsome photograph of her husband, and looked at it until the tears came into her eyes. It was a charming portrait.

When Bertie Wilton arrived, she brightened up a good deal. He looked better in the afternoon than in the evening, she thought. She liked his bright, intelligent face. And confidences about others do pall after a time. The reaction from Jasmyn made her perhaps more encouraging than she was aware of-she was so depressed about Chetwode's absence. After tea and preliminary platitudes, Mr. Wilton sat beside her on the sofa and took her hand.

"What on earth do you mean by that?" she said, looking more annoyed than surprised.

"You said yourself that life was so short the other night! I haven't the time-I tell you frankly-to be a tame cat and a hanger-on and one of your collection!"

"Really! Sorry you're so busy. I looked upon you as one of the unemployed." She was amazed at his tactlessness.

"You were mistaken. When a thing like this happens-a genuine coup-de-foudre-a man is only a fool who doesn't face it and admit it at once. I care for you really, though I haven't known you-very long. I'll cut it out of my life unless you give me ever such a distant hope that you will-like me-too."

"Will you look at my husband's photograph, Mr. Wilton? He's really very handsome-and particularly amusing. We've been married just thirteen months."

"An unlucky number! Yes, I know he's handsome-and, no doubt, delightful. But he isn't here."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Everything. You know he might be here-with you, and he's not."

"That's his business."

"And mine!" audaciously answered the young man.

"Will you please not take my hand, and recollect that I'm not a housemaid 'walking out' with her young man?"

He did not obey her.

"I should never have suspected you of such bank-holiday manners," she said, at once amused and angry.

"You can call it bank-holiday or anything you like-and if you don't like it I'm sorry, but really you deserve it! You may drive people mad with your little ways, and they may stand it if they like. I can't."

Evidently Mr. Wilton was losing his head. It was quite interesting.

"I saw from the first that firmness is my only chance with you," he said half apologetically. He then made the terrible mistake of trying to kiss her. She slid away like an acrobat, pressed the electric bell, and sat down again with a heightened colour.

"I beg your pardon," said Wilton humbly. "I know it was very wrong. I couldn't help it. You needn't ring and turn me out of the house,-I'll go."

"I wasn't going to."

Greenstock appeared.

"Please bring a glass of iced-water," said Felicity in clear crystal tones.

"Oh, Lady Chetwode!"

During the moment's somewhat awkward interval Felicity stroked up her hair and looked tenderly at Lord Chetwode's photograph.

When the iced-water was brought in he drank it.

She burst out laughing.

"What a penance! Just after tea! Well, I'll forgive you this once only. I think it unspeakable. You're of course very young, so you shall have another chance. You never will be like that again, will you?"

He stood up.

"I never will. I'm very sorry. I quite understand. I can see you are accustomed to invertebrate admirers who spoil you. I made a mistake, because you see I don't happen to be one."

"Chetwode isn't invertebrate!"

Bertie bowed. "Ah, I dare say not. Of that I have no kind of doubt. But you see, he's not here. He's never here. Good-bye."

He took his leave in a very final manner.

Felicity thought over the question with interest. She was sure she would never see Wilton again. Why was Chetwode always away like this? Everybody noticed it.

* * *

When Felicity came back from the St. James's Theatre that night she thought that she was a little in love with Bertie Wilton. But she knew she wasn't.

* * *

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