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The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 14599

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Felicity was dressing to meet her husband at the station. She tried on three new hats, and finally went back to one that Lord Chetwode had seen before.

"It's too absurd," she said to herself as she drove off. "The extraordinary long time he has been away! Of course I know that nothing but racing or furniture takes him from me. What long letters he writes-he can't be forgetting me! When I see him I never like him to think that I mind. I think a husband ought to have perfect freedom; it's the only way to keep him. It seems to keep him away! Very odd!"

Felicity arrived before the train was due. When it came in and no Chetwode appeared, she blamed the porter and the guard, and asked to see the station-master. He was very charmed with her, but could only patiently repeat that there was not another train that day from the remote little village where Chetwode had gone from Newmarket to pick up an old piece of furniture.

"Really this is too much," said Felicity as she got into the carriage, and with difficulty prevented herself from bursting into tears. "What shall I do? How utterly sickening!" When she got home she found a telegram from Chetwode putting off his return for a day or two, as there was an old dresser in the kitchen of a farmhouse which the owner wouldn't part with, and that he (Chetwode) was not going to lose. It would be a crime to miss it. His telegram (they were always nearly as long as his letters) concluded by saying that, given the information straight from the stables, Peter Pan had a good chance at Sandown.

"Oh!" she said again to herself. "Why, good gracious, I'm miserable! I've put off everything to-day. The worst of it is I can't do anything Chetwode wouldn't like, because he likes everything I do."

She got back into the carriage, and told the coachman to drive to Mrs. Ogilvie's. Poor Vera! She was unhappy too. On her way she met F. J. Rivers walking with the red-haired girl, so she felt sure that Lucy Winter was no longer a thorn in the flesh to Vera. And possibly Vera was very happy to-day! So Felicity wasn't in the mood for her.

She drove to the Park instead (she had put aside all engagements because Chetwode was coming home), and was thoughtful. Suddenly she caught sight of Bertie Wilton chattering to another boy by the railings. He bowed very formally. She stopped the carriage and beckoned to him.

"Would you like to come for a drive?" she said in her sweetest, lowest tone.

"I should like to immensely, as you know only too well, Lady Chetwode, but perhaps I'd better not. My bank-holiday manners might bore you."

"How fickle you are. Come along," she commanded.

He had just been on his way, he said, to an Exhibition of Old Masters to see if there was anything there like the little Romney he had at Half Moon Street that was so like her. So they drove to the New Gallery together.

"I was in the depths of despair when I met you. So much so that I was trying to drown my sorrows in gossip," said Mr. Wilton.

"And I am feeling rather sad," said Felicity; "if we are both horribly depressed perhaps we shall cheer each other up."

"Ah, but I was depressed about you, and you were depressed about some one else. I wonder who it is."

"Guess," she said.

"About some one who isn't here? How extraordinary of him not to be here! Perhaps that's why you like him so much. Perhaps it's very clever-with a person like you-to be never there! Perhaps it's the only way to make you think about him!"

"What do you mean by a person like me?"

"You are right. There is no one like you. Anyhow, it's a cleverness I could never pretend to. I know I should be always there, or thereabouts. At all risks! Yes, all! I always say so."

The New Gallery certainly did seem to raise their spirits. They sat there for a long time exchanging ideas and avoiding the pictures in a marked manner. Felicity had nothing whatever to do that evening, which she had intended to spend with her husband. Savile, who was staying with her, wouldn't be back from Craig-y-nos till heaven knew when. Oddly enough, Mr. Wilton also had no engagement that evening. "So much so," he said, that he had taken a large box at the Gaiety all by himself, to go and see that new thing. Felicity, oddly enough-it was the first night-had not seen the piece. He advised that she should. Then she would have to dine all alone at home while poor Mr. Wilton was going to dine in lonely solemnity at the Carlton. Matters were adjusted so far that she agreed to meet him at the restaurant on condition he made up a party.

"Ask Vera Ogilvie and Captain Henderson. Perhaps the horrid noise and vulgarity, and your society, may brighten me up," she said consolingly, "or at least divert my thoughts."

He sincerely hoped so. Much telephoning at the Club resulted in a promise from Bob and Mrs. Ogilvie to come too, so all was well.

But Felicity dressed for dinner in quite an irritable frame of mind, and nearly cried because she accidentally broke a fan Chetwode had given her.

Mr. Wilton could not have been quite so depressed, really, for after flying off in the adored motor to the Gaiety and the Carlton on urgent matters of business, he went home and looked a very long time at the little Romney quite cheerfully. He found himself beaming so markedly in the mirror over his button-hole and white waistcoat when dressing, that it suddenly struck him both the smile and the button-hole were overdone. They were triumphant, and triumph was vulgar (and premature). He removed them both, and went out with a suitable tinge of gentle restrained melancholy, at once very becoming, respectful, and, he trusted, interesting. He knew he had not lost much ground by his boldness at his first visit. A woman can pardon a moment of audacity more easily than a moment of misplaced respectful coldness. The one may be an attack on her dignity, but the other is a slight to her charm. And Felicity had such pretty manners; there was a touch of formality always with all her gaiety that left a dashing young man in doubt. It was certainly an interesting doubt.

* * *

"I never met any one quite so definite in my life as that young man," said Felicity as she ate her toast, holding the Daily Mail upside down. She and Savile were sitting rather late over a somewhat silent breakfast. He appeared rather absent-minded and replied to her remark.

"Yes, she was perfectly gorgeous, she looked magnificent. (Pass me the toast, old girl. Thanks.) I say, she looked at me!"

"He said such peculiar things. He's different from other people, certainly," said Felicity argumentatively. "A really brilliant talker. It's so rare."

"No wonder she was called the Nightingale! Thanks very much. Don't talk to me about Jenny Lind."

"I wasn't. You see he's rather lonely and unhappy, after all, you know, under all that cynicism and rattling. Every one has two sides to their character (I believe in Browning up to a certain point)-one to face the world with, and the other to show."

"As to Clara Butt, or any of these newfangled people, that's all rot! I tell you straight, I don't believe it," said Savile.

"You're quite right, dear. One can't deny that he's amusing. There's something so ready about him, and he's so kind and good-hearted as

well as clever. He has personality. That's the word."

"Yes, she's a ripping, glorious creature! Oh, it is a pity she married again before I knew her! And a Swede too! But still, that's her business...."

"Of course I told him not to call again until I wrote. There's a good deal in him-when you know him better, you know."

Suddenly Savile looked up and said-

"I say, Felicity, what are you doing to-night?"

"I don't know, I haven't thought of it."

"Chetwode not turning up yesterday you were disappointed."

"I know I was. And, yet-look at this letter!" she showed him another of her husband's long elaborate love-letters.

"Letters are all right, and of course no man, especially your husband, would write all that stuff-I beg your pardon-unless everything was all right. But Chetwode's eccentric."

"I suppose he is. I think I shall dine out to-night, Savile, after all."

"After all what?" asked Savile.

"I'm engaged to-night, dear."

"You're surely not going to dine with Mrs. Ogilvie and her pals-and Wilton, at the Carlton again?"

"How right you are! Clever boy! I'm not, we're going to the Savoy."

"Same idea. Look here, Felicity, you're a bit off colour. It's about Chetwode. He doesn't know it. He ought to."

"Somehow I can't tell him I hate his being away. When he's here there's no need. Besides it's pride, or the family obstinacy."

"Look here, if I could go to Wales for myself, I can go to-what's the name of the place-for you. I'll go off this morning, and pretend I've come to help Chetwode to dig up old cabinets and things. I'll bring him back, give him a hint that people talk. Oh, I know how to do it-and there you are."

"My dear boy, how sweet of you! But it must come from yourself, mind. Perhaps you'd better not. Then I shall see him to-night? You'll bring him."

"I'll undertake to-if you'll give up your Savoy."

Felicity hesitated. "I'll ask them to dine here. I should be too nervous alone. Then you will just come in with Chetwode as early as you can this evening!" (She clapped her hands.) "This evening, won't you? He'll be at the village this afternoon, you know. He says he'll return to-morrow."

"And to-morrow he'll go straight on to York for the races. He only puts it off because he doesn't know you want him. My dear old girl, this has got to be put straight. Now, then, shut up, Felicity!"

"But, Savile, darling-pet! Suppose--"

"Pass me the Bradshaw!"

Felicity made no objection. He again started off for a long and tedious journey. He was supported by the feeling he was doing the right thing, and by re-reading the programme of the Craig-y-nos concert and remembering the look he firmly believed SHE had given him.

Felicity, after telegraphing to Bertie Wilton-"Come to dine here to-night. Can't go out. Felicity Chetwode"-then went to Onslow Square, where she found Sylvia in the garden. Sylvia was not reading a book, and seemed very busy smiling-smiling to herself in a dream of some rose-coloured happiness.

They interchanged ideas without words for a time. Then Sylvia said, "I do hope, Felicity, that Chetwode--"

"He's coming back to-night," she answered decidedly; then said rather abruptly-

"How's Mr. Woodville?"

For the first time Sylvia blushed at his name, as she bent down to pick up the book she had dropped.

"Oh, all right, I suppose. Won't it be nice when we go on the river? We're going quite early-in July."

"Is papa going to have the same house he had last year?"

"Oh, yes; but he's having it all differently furnished. He means to buy it, I think. And I'm to have a music-room opening out of my bedroom, in pale green! Won't it be lovely?"

"Yes," said Felicity, "lovely. And ... what did you say you thought of Bertie Wilton? There's something I rather like about his face."

"Yes, I know what it is-he's very good-looking. Not only that, he might be-well, rather too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean. I wouldn't flirt with him, Felicity."

"I know you wouldn't, darling." Felicity smiled.

"You don't really, I know! It's only fun. Besides, people only love once. You would never care for any one but Chetwode."

"Care! I should think not. But Bertie Wilton's amusing. And he knows simply everything. He's a perfectly brilliant gossip. What do you think is the latest thing about the Valettas and Guy Scott?"

Mrs. Ogilvie and Bob preferred the restaurant; Wilton accepted by telephone, telegraphing afterwards to know if it was all right. A tête-à-tête dinner on so short an acquaintance with the most fascinating of hostesses seemed to him almost too great a privilege to be real. Afterwards she told his fortune by cards and he told hers by palmistry.

"You don't tell me all," she said.

"If I told you all-all you are to me-I suppose you would ring for a glass of iced-water again?" said he.

"Oh, no, I shouldn't. I am in a very good temper to-night," said Felicity, laughing.

She had a telegram announcing Chetwode's arrival by the 9.15. She had not mentioned it.

Bertie Wilton looked at her. She seemed rather nervous. He persuaded himself not to go too far again, but it was really rather wonderful that she had, after the iced-water incident, asked him to spend the evening with her.

They had music. He had a voice, a way of singing, and a choice of songs that had often been most useful to him in the beginning of his social and sentimental career. But he was surprised to see that while he was singing something about "my dream, my desire, my despair" she was standing in front of the looking-glass making play with a powder-puff as if he wasn't present, and then appeared to be listening at the door.

He came from the piano and she thanked him with an absent-minded warmth.

Incautiously he said, "It's just what you are, 'My dream.' Will you tell me something? But I shall be in disgrace if I ask."

"What is it?"

"Will you always be my despair?"

"Oh no; oh yes-I mean." Then she said, "There he is!"

There was a sound of cabs outside. Then the door opened and Savile came in, while a voice outside with a slight drawl said, "Where are you, Felicity?"

Felicity ran out of the room and shut the door.

"Extraordinary weather for the time of year," remarked Savile, with a condescending air of putting Wilton at his ease. The young man was smiling, rather uncomfortably for him.

"Very," he answered. "No, thanks," to Savile's hospitable offer of a cigarette. "You've been travelling. How delightful."

"I've just come back with Chetwode from Yorkshire. By the way, you'll excuse my sister for a few minutes. You know what these newly married couples are!"

Bertie Wilton rose.

"Do I not? I should be more than grieved to intrude on anything so sacred as a-shall I say-a home chat? Thanks very much. No, I won't stay now. Ask Lady Chetwode to excuse me. I shall hope to have the pleasure of meeting your brother-in-law here some time quite soon."

He took his leave very cordially, with his usual smiling courtesy, Savile making no effort to detain him, and chuckling a little to himself as he tried to fancy the language Wilton would probably use in the cab on his way home. Then the boy, saying "Well, I've made that all right!" went back to Onslow square.

* * *

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