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The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 14788

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Is Lady Chetwode at home?"

Before Greenstock, who seemed about to give a negative answer, could reply, Wilton went on.

"Oh yes, she must be at home; please ask her to read this note, and send me down a verbal answer immediately."

"Very well, sir."

"I won't get out, Greenstock. I'll just wait in the motor till I get an answer."

"Yes, sir."

Wilton turned to the chauffeur and said, "How do you think she's looking to-day, Pearce?"

The motor had recently been painted green, because Felicity had said it was too compromising to drive with Wilton in a scarlet one.

"Never better, sir," said the chauffeur.

"You know I was right, Pearce. Green suits her much better than scarlet. In fact, I rather doubt whether you could point me out a case in which I am ever wrong, Pearce. With regard to the motor, I mean, of course."

"Oh no, sir."

"How do you mean 'Oh no'? Do you mean I'm ever wrong then?"

"Oh no, sir."

They both looked with suppressed pride at the automobile which was snorting rather impatiently under these personal remarks.

Greenstock appeared.

"Will you step in, sir?"

At the summons Wilton sprang out and ran quickly up into the drawing-room.

It was a beautiful room with hardly anything in it; a large, high, empty room in pure First Empire style. A small yellow sofa with gilded claws, and narrow bolster cushions, was near the fireplace; a light blue curved settee, with animals' heads, was in the middle of the room. There was a highly polished parquet floor with no carpet, a magnificent chandelier, and the curtains were held up by elaborately carved and gilded cornices with warlike ornaments.

Bertie wandered round the room, tried, vainly, to see himself in the narrow looking-glass, which was placed too high, and admired the refreshing absence of fat cushions, unnecessary draperies, photographs, and vases of flowers. On a small console-table was one immense basket of mauve orchids. Bertie was looking at this with some curiosity, not unmixed with annoyance, when Felicity came into the room.

"How marvellous of you!" he exclaimed. "Again I'm thunderstruck at your having exactly the right thing to wear, to come down early in the morning to see a too persistent friend!" He looked at her dress. "Pale green-how well it suits you; and how wonderful of you to be so empireish-at this hour!"

"What do you want, Bertie?" said Felicity, smiling, but impatiently.

"Oh, please don't be so definite! and I thought you knew!"

"Please don't be so imbecile; I don't want to know."

They both sat down, and she held out the letter.

"I didn't read all this," she said; "but you seem to have given me a programme of your engagements for to-day. I can't think why."

"Because I want to know yours. To come to the point," said Wilton. "If I go to the Ogilvies', will you be there?"

"Well, of course! As if Vera could have a musical afternoon without me!"

"Good, that's settled. And what are you doing to-night?"

"Well, which do you advise?" she said. "The Creepers'? Or Jasmyn Vere's party?"

"If I might advise, do go there. His things are really rather jolly. Is Chetwode coming?"

"No, Chetwode's struck. He won't go to anything more. He's going away on Saturday for the week end, so I shall stop at home with him to-morrow. To-night I'll go to Jasmyn Vere's. What time does one get there?"

"One gets there a little before you do, for the pleasure of the anxiety and agonising suspense of dreading you won't come and knowing you will." He got up. "If you would turn up at half-past ten-before the crush-we could sort of sit out, and laugh at the people."

"Perhaps I shall," said Felicity.

"Lady Chetwode, you are as good as you are beautiful."

"Oh, don't carry on like that, Bertie! I suppose it's through your having gone to that ball as Louis XIX; every now and then you seem to think you're in the last century."

"But when I'm here, I know I'm in the next," and he took his leave in the highest spirits.

* * *

At lunch, "Chetwode," said Felicity, "I shall be at Vera's till seven. They're going to have the wonderful new child harpist. He looks like a sort of cherub, with golden hair."

"Little beast," said Chetwode, "he ought to be in bed."

"Oh, darling, not at four in the afternoon! And what about to-night? I suppose we dine together at home? and then I'm going to Jasmyn Vere's, one of his musical parties."

"Oh, yes."

"Chetwode dear, you know the horses will be out all the afternoon. I thought I'd have the carriage just to take me to the party and come home in a cab-it's only round the corner. Is there any off-chance of your coming to fetch me? Oh do! You really might!"

"No," said Chetwode. He added, "No doubt Wilton will see you home."

She looked up quickly. Was there a tone of irony in his voice? Could he be a shade jealous? How delightful!

"Why, I can come home alone," she said. "It's not sure that Bertie and I will both want to leave at the same time."

"But I should think it's on the cards," said Chetwode, rather coldly.

"No use bothering you to come?"

"None at all. Who does the hostess at Jasmyn's parties?"

"Oh, Bertie's mother, Lady Nora Wilton, you know."

"I see."

"Did you think," said Felicity, laughing, "that it would be Agatha, Mrs. Wilkinson?"

"Oh-you mean the woman who's so fond of horses. Why, is she a friend of Vere's?"

"Some people say so, of course I don't know."

"I always see her," said Chetwode, "at races, with Bobby Henderson."

"Oh yes," said Felicity, "but that's only intellectual sympathy! I can't see the point of Bobby Henderson, can you? Vera likes him so much too."

"There is no point about him. He's just the usual sporting, stupid guardsman."

Felicity lit her husband's cigarette and left him.

* * *

Her dress this afternoon had been very carefully thought out to contrast with Vera's.

Vera was dressed in dull flame colour, becoming to her white skin and black hair. Felicity was in black and white. She wore a white hat, with a black velvet bow, and one enormous gardenia. It was impossible not to be pleased at Bertie's suppressed enthusiasm when she arrived. He was so fastidious about clothes, and she knew she was a real success to-day.

"Oh, Felicity, isn't it too horrible? The chief person can't come!" Vera was fluttering a telegram and evidently trying not to cry. "The great tenor, you know." She turned to Wilton. "Isn't it cruel at the last minute?"

"Oh, don't worry, darling. Most likely no one will notice it-you see you kept it dark as a surprise, luckily," said Felicity.

"And it is a surprise-to me!" said Vera.

"Oh, isn't the little harpy infant phenomenon coming?" asked Felicity.

"Oh yes, that's all right; he's here now, playing draughts with his mother in my room to prevent him getting nervous; and eating bread and jam. Thank goodness for that!"

"Oh, what sort of jam?" asked Wilton eagerly. "Pray don't keep it from me! Raspberry, greengage-please tell me, Mrs. Ogilvie!"

"Why, what can it matter?"

"It matters enormously."

"One would think you were a reporter," said Felicity.

"I'm not. I'm only a psychologist."

"Same thing," said Felicity.

"Well, anyhow, it's marmalade-so there!" said Vera.

"Oh, how delightful," exclaimed Wilton; "to match his hair, of course. Of course it's his mo

ther's idea though. What a good mother she must be!"

"Oh, here he is, at last. Where are his wings?"

The boy, with his white suit and golden hair and small harp, looked, literally, angelic. There was a murmur of admiration.

"There oughtn't to be a dry eye in the room when he plays Schumann," said Felicity; "and fancy, Savile wouldn't come because he said he would long to kick him, and he was afraid Vera wouldn't like it."

"I rather agree with Vera there," said Bertie.

"No one would like, at one's musical party, to have one's artists kicked!"

"Everything is all right," said Felicity, as she smiled and bowed to some one.

"Why is everything all right? You gave one of your special smiles just now! Who was it?"

"De Valdez. It's rather jolly of him to have come here to-day. He was expected at the Spanish Embassy."

"Probably going on afterwards."

"Possibly not," said Felicity.

"I admit I admire De Valdez very much," said Wilton. "Caring for nothing on earth but music and philosophy, and the kindest-hearted man in the world, he has been literally hounded into society by admiring women, and all the fuss about him hasn't spoilt him a bit; he would keep a royal party waiting for luncheon while he ran down to Bedford Park to spend the day with an old friend."

"The point is," said Felicity calmly, "that he's a genius."

"Oh, is he? I don't know much about music," said Wilton rather jealously.

"I know you don't."

"The point is, that he's remarkably handsome," said Bertie.

"Now you're being disagreeable. Of course he's handsome, but that's not the point."

At this moment De Valdez joined them. Felicity took his arm and went down to tea.

The boy harpist created wildest enthusiasm; a little later De Valdez sang (after which nearly every husband present suggested it was time to go), and, on the whole, the afternoon was as great a success as these things ever are.

Quite late Bob Henderson arrived, full of tips-straight from the stable. Vera did not try to detain her lingering guests. Mr. Ogilvie never appeared on these occasions, but came home to dinner at eight, cross-questioned Vera, and did not listen to her answers in his usual amiable manner.

* * *

Jasmyn Vere was extremely anxious, as he always was, to have something a little out of the way for his party. He literally lived for society, and, in a minor degree, for Agatha. As he was a bachelor, and had devoted even more time and energy to knowing none of the wrong people than to knowing all the right ones, a party of his was looked upon as not a thing to miss, particularly as a decorous originality was always to be expected.

Lady Nora Wilton, a beauty of the early '80's, was a graceful and still pretty woman of forty-five; it was probably from her that Bertie had inherited his good looks and high spirits.

"What can we do just a little original?" Jasmyn had asked her.

"What sort of thing? You don't mean to be American and let all the people come dressed as children, or ask some wild animals to look in in the evening?"

Jasmyn threw up his hands in horror.

"My dear Lady Nora, don't make fun of me! No, some rather intelligent people are coming."

"Really? I thought your parties were always very smart!"

"There'll be some people who can talk, don't you know."

"What about?" said Lady Nora.

"Ah! that's the point! Now, I propose that when supper's on there shall be a special supper served at one table for ten in my little octagon room, and with the menu a subject for conversation with each item! It will, of course, not bore people, because, from the programme, they will see there is an ordinary supper-room too, and they can choose!"

"It will be a general conversation, remember; and people aren't very keen on that," said Lady Nora.

"Well, we shall see. So long as you don't disapprove (and one other lady to whom I shall speak of it). I think it's not a bad idea. I shall not have good music, Lady Nora. It isn't a concert-it's a conversazione."

"But you won't have bad music? I can't imagine anything bad in your house," said Lady Nora.

"No, but music that encourages talk. De Valdez once sang at my house-Everybody was there, and they all talked! He got up and said, in the middle of Although, that lovely song, 'Here are five hundred people who want to talk, and only one who wants to sing. The odds are not fair. I give in.' And nothing would induce him to go on. But as he remained and was most agreeable to every one, one could hardly call it the caprice of a spoilt artist. Indeed, I think he was quite right."

Lady Nora sighed. "But how uncomfortable! Well, then, you'd better have the Blue Hungarians and the Red ones too. Those who don't like the one can listen to the other."

He laughed and said, "Bertie's the image of his mother. I shall have a first-rate band and second-rate music."

"Agatha, Mrs. Wilkinson," was delighted at all the plans but said she simply must go to supper with Bobby Henderson, as it would be too marked to be escorted by the host.

As a matter of fact, nothing Agatha did was ever noticed, because she never did anything that was not extraordinary.

* * *

"Do I look all right, Chetwode?"

"Quite unnecessarily so," said Chetwode, and he gave her a look, which she recognised as the greatest compliment she ever received.

Her eyes brightened and she blushed.

"And who," said Chetwode, "may I ask, put it into your head to wear an entirely gold dress with your golden hair?"

She hesitated half a second.

"Oh! not the dressmaker? and it wasn't your own idea? I can only think of one other person. Do congratulate Wilton from me on his success as a designer."

"Chetwode! if I did ask him to design it, it was so that you should be pleased with the dress."

He smiled. "Quite so. And I am."

"Oh, won't you come and fetch me?"

"It's quite impossible. How late shall you stay?"

"I'll come back just when you like."

"Oh, enjoy yourself, dear. I'm going to stop at home."

He seemed to have regained the equanimity that for a moment he seemed to have lost.

Driving along, Felicity thought, "Perhaps if Chetwode could be a shade jealous of Bertie, it might be a good thing. Still, that sort of thing is so commonplace. We oughtn't to have to descend to it."

Surely Chetwode, who never went by the opinion of others, who absolutely judged for himself, and for whom general success by no means raised the value of his choice, could not care a shade more for his wife because she was admired by Wilton, and would care less for her if he did not think her incapable of admiring any one but himself.

"Are any of those eternal vulgar theories about love really ever true?" thought Felicity. Then wasn't Chetwode superior? Of course he was. That was why she loved him, and in wishing him to be an ordinary jealous man, she was wishing him to descend. However, when "Faute des roses" greeted her (exquisitely played by the Hungarians), and she was sitting in a bower of roses in her gold dress, with her respectfully worshipping and delightfully amusing Bertie, Felicity forgot her anxiety and thoroughly enjoyed herself. She was made much of, and admired; the homage was intoxicating, she was young, and she imprudently gave every one present the impression that she was flirting desperately with Bertie Wilton.

* * *

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