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   Chapter 14 LORD CHETWODE

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 10609

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"I have to go down to Fulham this morning; don't let me forget it," said Lord Chetwode.

He was sitting in the green library with Felicity, markedly abstaining from the newspapers surrounding him, and reading over an old catalogue. He was a fair, delicate-looking young man of twenty-eight years the amiability of whose expression seemed accentuated by the upward turning of his minute blonde moustache. He had deep blue eyes, rather far apart, regular features, and a full, very high forehead, on which the fair hair was already growing scanty. Tall and slight, he had a rather casual, boyish air, and beautiful but useful-looking white hands, the hands of the artist. His voice and manner had the soft unobtrusive gentleness that comes to those whose ancestors for long years have dared and commanded. In time, when there's nothing more to fight for, the dash naturally dies out.

"My dear boy, why Fulham?" said Felicity, who was sitting at her writing-table not answering letters.

"About that bit of china."

"We don't want any more china, dear."

"It isn't a question of what we want! It is a question of what it would be a crime to miss. Old Staffordshire going for nothing! Really, Felicity!"

Felicity gave up the point. "I see.... How long are you going to stay in London?" she said.

"Well, I was just thinking.... You know, I don't care much about the season."

"You haven't had ten days of it," his wife answered. "Don't you think it looks rather odd always letting me go to dances and things alone?"

"No. Why odd? You like them. I don't."

She looked rather impatient. "Has it ever struck you that I'm-rather young-and not absolutely hideous?"

"Yes, very often," he said smiling. "Don't I show how it strikes me? Why?"

"It's so difficult to say. Don't you see; people try to flirt with me, and that sort of thing."

"Oh yes, they would. Naturally."

"Sometimes," said Felicity, darting a look at him like a needle, "I shouldn't be surprised if people fell in love with me. So there!"

"You couldn't be less surprised than I should," said her husband, rather proudly. "Shows their good taste."

"Well, for instance-you know Bertie Wilton, don't you?"

"Oh yes, I think I've seen him. A boy who rattles about in a staring red motor-car. How any one on earth can stand those things when they can have horses--"

"That's not the point, Chetwode. I think Bertie Wilton is really in love with me. I really do."

Chetwode tried to look interested. "Is he though?"

"Well, I don't like it," she said pettishly.

"Then, don't stand it. But why? Isn't he a nice fellow?"

"Oh yes, he's very nice. But he seems to-sort of think you neglect me."

"But other men go away, for months at a time, shooting big game, or anything of that sort. Only shows he doesn't know.... What an ass he must be!" Chetwode's voice showed slight irritation.

"No he's not. He was quite disappointed that you came home the other night when Savile went to fetch you. He went away at once."

"Poor chap!-Well, ask him to dinner," relented Chetwode.

She got up and went close to him. "You're hopeless! Chetwode, do you really care for me-or do you like your curiosities and things better?"

Lord Chetwode looked slightly nervous. His one mortal horror was anything that bore the most distant resemblance to a scene.

"My dear child, why, surely you know you are far and away the most beautiful thing I am ever likely to have in my collection!" he said, most admiringly.

She turned away. She was terribly hurt; in her heart she had always feared her husband regarded her as a bibelot. The subject was, to her, too painful to discuss further. That he was sure of her-that showed knowledge of her-that she deserved. But he ought to have minded about little things as she would. And he ought not always to be satisfied to leave her safe as the gem of the collection-and just come and look at it sometimes.

Chetwode returned to the catalogue, and then said, "Of course you know I'm going to Teignmouth's for a week."

"And you don't want me to go?"

"It's a man's party, darling! Only a week."

"But wouldn't you like me to go racing with you sometimes? I would. I should love to."

He looked up lazily. "I don't think a racecourse is the place for a woman. I like you better here. Of course, come if you like. Whenever you like. Would you like to see Princess Ida run?"

"No, thanks.-Shall you be home to lunch?"

"Yes, I dare say I shall. Are you lunching at home?"

"I was going to Vera's, but I'd rather stay at home-for you."

"Oh, don't do that, dear," he said decidedly. "I may look in at White's."

"Well, when shall I see you?"

"Why this evening, of course. Aren't we going to the opera, or something?" he asked.

"Is it great agony for you to sit out Wagner?" She showed real sympathy. "It's Tannh?user, you know."

"Can't say I'm keen about it," he answered in a depressed voice.

"If you like," she said, slightly piqued, "I could easily go with Sylvia and papa."

"All right-or, I know-don't let us go at all!" said Chetwode. He was now in the hall, and she followed him. "Anything I can do for you, darling?" Then he added, "Don't move for a minute!" He was admiring her golden hair against the tapestry, and smiled with th

e real pride of the collectionneur. "Yes, you must really have your portrait painted, Felicity," he said. "Sargent's the man, I think-or-well, we'll talk it over." He went out, and the door banged relentlessly.

Felicity moved back to the library and looked in the little carved silver mirror that lay on the table. She saw tears gradually stealing into her beautiful blue eyes, enlarging them, and she grew so sorry for the lovely little sad face-in fact for herself!-that she hastily put down the looking-glass, ran upstairs, and rang for her maid to dress her to go out.

* * *

Chetwode completely failed in his mission, as the china-man, not expecting him to call so soon, had gone out for the day. He strolled down the Brompton Road, stopping from time to time to look at various pretty things in little curiosity shops, and then he thought, as a contrast, he would have a look at the Albert Memorial. But, changing his mind again, he went a little way into Kensington Gardens. Suddenly, he thought he recognised two people, rather beautiful people, who were sitting under a tree, talking together with animation. It was his sister-in-law, Sylvia, with her little dog, and Woodville. Before they saw him, Sylvia got up and walked quickly towards the Row with the dog. Woodville looked after her, and then strolled slowly towards the bridge. How well the sylvan surroundings suited them! Sylvia was a wood nymph in a fashionable dress; Woodville, a faun in Bond Street clothes. Chetwode smiled to himself. Then for a moment he was surprised.... It seemed odd to see the secretary so far from his usual haunts. Why should Sylvia sit in Kensington Gardens with him, and then go on alone to the Row? However, he thought, it wasn't his business. As he walked towards Knightsbridge, it struck him that he would tell Felicity. She would understand, and explain. Then he thought he wouldn't tell Felicity. He had a curious delicate dislike to mentioning anything he had seen accidentally. He would chaff Sylvia about it when he saw her again.... No, he wouldn't; it would be a shame to make a girl uncomfortable. He would mention it to Woodville. Yes, that was it; he would chaff Woodville about it....

Seeing a hansom, he jumped into it and went to the Club. As he drove there he remembered vaguely several little things that he had noticed subconsciously before, and he began to think that probably Woodville and Sylvia were in love with each other. What more natural! In that case one wouldn't talk about it. It might annoy them. There was nothing on earth Lord Chetwode disliked so much as the idea of anything that would annoy any one.

So he never did tell Woodville nor anybody else. When it did not slip his memory, his almost morbid dread of anything disagreeable prevented his mentioning it, and he left London without having spoken of the incident. Probably it was of no importance after all.

At this time Woodville was really miserable. Their position was more difficult than ever. Of course he had kept his word to her, and written to Ridokanaki that he could not accept the offer. They remained privately engaged, and waiting; Savile their only confidant. He had got rid of the little studio, and was half sorry and half relieved not to be able to go there as a retreat. It had some painful but also some exquisite associations. Since he had made the sacrifice of Athens for Sylvia-for it was a sacrifice-he was, of course, more in love with her than before. That quarter of an hour in Kensington Gardens this morning was the only clandestine appointment they had ever made in the course of five years.

How often he remembered the day he had first arrived at the Croftons! Sylvia was fifteen then, and her governess, Miss Dawe, took the place, as far as could be, of her dead mother, chaperoning Felicity and teaching Sylvia. He remembered that it was bitterly cold and snowing hard. As he passed the schoolroom, of which the door was open, to his own room, escorted by the servant, he heard what sounded like a quarrel going on. A poor old man with a battered accordion was making a pathetic noise on the cold pavement.

"You shall not do it, Sylvia!" Miss Dawe was speaking authoritatively. "Your father did not give you five pounds to throw away. It isn't the right thing for young ladies to run down to the hall." And Felicity's voice said imperiously, he knew it afterwards, "Quick; ring the bell, and tell Price to give him the money."

While the electric bell was being rung he distinctly heard the window flung wide open, and a soft thud on the pavement. Sylvia had thrown her purse into the street. From his own room next to the schoolroom, he saw the man pick it up and go away. The doors were closed now, but he imagined the governess's anger. The incident had afterwards seemed very characteristic of the two girls, and he often thought of it.... That evening at dinner he met Sylvia for the first time, and he felt now as if he had loved her ever since. But it was not until three years ago, when she was seventeen, that he betrayed himself, by some word or look.... As she grew into a woman she filled his life, became his one joy and torment. On Felicity's wedding-day he had told Sylvia of his love, and they had become engaged. How was it to end?

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