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   Chapter 19 THE VELVET CASE

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 18170

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Savile, remembering that Chetwode had told him he was going away for 'a week end for ten days', and that Felicity had said he was going away for three days, went to see his sister. He had not received the promised wire from Chetwode, but instead a cordial invitation to lunch at the Savoy, in the course of which he told Savile that the whole thing had been laid before Teignmouth; that Teignmouth was slow but sure; that he was frightfully keen on arranging it, but said it can't be done in three days. Savile forbore to press the matter, and said that he, of course, disliked going back to school under the present circumstances; but if he could rely on Chetwode and Teignmouth he would only worry two more people. The spirit of emulation that Savile hoped to rouse in his brother-in-law was not observable. But Savile knew him to be a man of his word, and really felt certain of Teignmouth's influence-he had Aunt William and Jasmyn Vere up his sleeve. Aunt William was very rich and very interested in politics, being an ardent member of the Primrose League; Jasmyn Vere was so frightfully good-natured, and so anxious to set people at their ease, that if Savile appeared with a shy request (he smiled to himself as he thought of his being shy of old Jasmyn!) he would probably grant the request if he could. In fact, having seen in the World a paragraph speaking of Jasmyn as "one of the leaders of society, the brilliancy of whose entertainments was only equalled by their delightful originality" had decided Savile on the question.

"A chap," he said to himself, "who has a room arranged on purpose for bright conversation at supper, with the subjects on the menu, and spends thousands on orchids and gardenias for his parties, and admires Mrs. Wilkinson, and yet is at large, must have some peculiar power! I should have thought he'd got nothing in him; but he's got such a tremendous lot on him and around him, I suppose it does instead."

Thus Savile, lost in these thoughts, rang rather judicially at the house in Park Street that no ordinary house-agent could speak of without emotion as a noble mansion; others, more genuinely enthusiastic still, called it, with self-restraint, a commodious residence.

In the little blue-striped room that opened out of her bedroom he found Felicity in tears and a tea-gown. He remembered that day he had found Sylvia crying, and congratulated himself; first, that he was not a girl, secondly, that he and not another man had seen them thus grieving.

Felicity looked up and said, "Oh, Savile, you're just the person I want-an appalling thing has happened."

Savile sat down, lit a cigarette, and offered one to her, which she accepted.

Her manner was rather like that of a young man who, though he dislikes it, has decided to confide in a friend.

"Look here," she said, "I've had a wire from Chetwode to say he's going to stay on at the Tregellys till next week."

"Well, what of that? That can't be all, surely?"

"You're right, it's not. I was looking in one of his innumerable carved chests for some novels, when I found a locked velvet case." She stopped a minute. He was silent.

"I found a key that fitted it," she went on.

"Did you, though?" said Savile.

"In it I found a lovely porcelain picture of a woman. Blanche Tregelly was written on the back. Where he's staying, you know. I've never seen her. I vaguely knew Tregelly was more or less married: he was at Oxford with Chetwode; but as they live so far away I've never got to know them."

"Don't see your point," said Savile.

"Why has he got that picture, and is staying on?"

"Tregelly," said Savile, "probably gave it to Chetwode to get something done to it-get it framed or something."

"Chetwode's not a framemaker! Why is he staying on?"

"Because he's having a good time."

"You're shirking the whole thing. The point is that when he stays away so long, it isn't only racing."

"Of course not. At the Tregellys, it's bridge."

"Yes-and Mrs. Tregelly."

Angry tears again filled her eyes, but she brushed them away.

"You know Chetwode does admire beauty," she said.

Savile looked at the picture. "But only the very most beautiful. I've never yet seen him admire anything second-rate. Have you?"

She beamed and said, "Savile, is she second-rate?"

"Perhaps not, on porcelain."

"Savile, you know that if Chetwode likes her, she's not only pretty, but very charming. In fact, I'm certain Blanche is perfectly delightful! Pretending to oneself that one's rival is hideous and vulgar is a bit too cheap. It doesn't console me."

"You're worse than an ordinary woman, Felicity," said Savile, with a laugh. "What do you propose to do? Go and consult George Lewis?"

"You're worse than an ordinary boy. I'm consulting you."

"No, you're not. You're asking my opinion. Chetwode is very--" He paused. "I've never seen him look at any other woman."

"Let's face facts, dear," said Felicity. "It's not what we've seen, of course."

"What have you decided to do?" said Savile. "To write and tell him you've found the photograph?"

"Yes."

"I thought you wanted him to come home."

"Don't you?"

"Yes, rather!" said Savile. "And I don't think he would come home if he thought there was going to be a row of any kind. Lots of people love rows. He doesn't."

She looked rather at a loss, and then said, "Well, what would you do if you were in my place?"

He waited a minute and then said: "Don't you always write to him, when he's away, as if you were enjoying yourself?"

"Yes."

"Doesn't he ever think that there's a good deal of Wilton one-way or another?"

"I think he has," she said, brightening up a little.

"Well, for heaven's sake don't try that with Chetwode! The more he was riled, the more he'd say to himself, 'Of course she's enjoying herself. There's no harm in it. No hurry to go back.'"

"Chetwode," said Felicity, "is one of those very English men who would never own they're jealous unless things came to extremities, which, of course, naturally, they never would."

"Look here, you're making a fool of yourself," said Savile. "You're making yourself miserable over nothing at all." He stood up. "Don't do anything till after lunch, perhaps not till this evening. You've just had a bit of a shock. You'll find you're wrong. Telephone when you want me."

He kissed her and went away.

Felicity closed the velvet case. She then dressed very beautifully to go out, but when it came to putting on her hat she couldn't. It requires fairly good spirits to put on a modern hat and veil. She thought she would go downstairs and think. Then she saw Bertie's green motor at the door. She hesitated a moment about letting him come in; then she thought that she would tell him about it, and according to how he behaved, would test him once for all. If he didn't do exactly the right thing, she would never see him again.

As Wilton came in, all the fluent conversation and compliments, the gossip and jokes he had been saving up to tell her, died away on his lips. He saw she had been crying. He sat down further away than usual, and said-

"Don't tell me if you'd rather not. I'll go away, shall I? I'm quite sure you're not in the mood for me."

She said, "No, don't go."

There was a moment's silence.

"What was the party like last night at the Harpers?" she then asked.

"I haven't the slightest idea," he answered.

"But you must have been there? I didn't tell you I'd changed my mind about going. I meant to, and then at the last minute something rather dreadful happened, and I stayed at home."

"Yes, I'm almost sure I was there," said Wilton thoughtfully. "I think I must have gone if I expected to see you. But I don't remember anything about it. I must look in the Morning Post and see if I'm in the list of guests. I'm afraid you think I'm not the sort of friend to tell anything serious to, but really, Lady Chetwode, you're wrong there. If there was anything on earth that I could do--"

"It's something so annoying, so horrid," she said. Her voice was trembling.

"Tell me."

He looked so genuinely unhappy for her sake that, not being of the disposition that conceals its sorrows from the sympathetic, Felicity of course told him all about it.

He waited a minute, pale with interest, and then said-

"I appreciate your telling me this. But, of course, the whole trouble is entirely imaginary. Oh, I know that doesn't make it any better for the moment; but it's more evanescent."

"Imaginary? Why do you think that?"

"Well, the one thing that I pride myself on just the least little bit is an instinct-an instinct for temperament. I would undertake to swear that Chetwode is one of those exceptional people who only love one woman in their lives. He would never think of looking at any one except you. Of course, I know there are many men who don't really appreciate the most perfect woman if she happens to belong to them. But Chetwode isn't like that. He hasn't a fickle nature; he doesn't seek for variety and novelty. What you

suppose is impossible to him. Not only now, but it always will be."

"You may be quite right about his temperament, Bertie. I dare say you are. But how do you account for the picture?"

"I don't. But there is an explanation. I don't pretend to be one of those wonderful thought-readers who, in some public calamity, see in the crystal everything they've read in the papers. You'll soon find out about it. It's some mistake."

She held out the picture to him.

"But she's very pretty, Bertie."

Wilton examined the picture.

"A very dull, harmless, insipid style of prettiness," he said consolingly. "The kind of face that once seen is never remembered, as has been so well said of the characteristic British face. This woman is devoted to her husband; goes to church every Sunday, takes great interest in parish work, adores her children--"

"How many has she?"

He looked at the picture again.

"From her expression, I should say two-two boys; and I'm quite sure she's very much more interested in their reports and their colds, their sins and their talents, than in-for instance-Chetwode, or in anything of the kind you seem to suggest."

"She never comes to London," said Felicity. "They live nearly all the year round at their country place."

"Of course she doesn't come to London. Why should she? She has a domestic face. Her home is her world. If she ever does come to town, she wears a short serge skirt and a blouse with tight sleeves-because she doesn't know they're coming in again-and takes one of the boys to the dentist."

"And you can see all that in the porcelain picture?" said Felicity, laughing.

"More. Far more. And all in your favour."

"But I think you're rather prejudiced, Bertie. You're such a convinced Londoner yourself that you think every one who lives in the country must be a paragon of virtue, just as people who live in the country suppose their London friends to be given up to wickedness and frivolity. Lots of people have a very good time in the country."

"No one knows that better than I do. I assure you I'm not a bit prejudiced. I quite believe and realise that people can have a good time anywhere. Why, even in provincial towns-what was that case at Bradford, that astonished everybody so much? However, my point is, that Mrs. Tregelly doesn't."

"Why? I think she looks very happy," said Felicity.

"Yes. Exactly. Happy, but perfectly calm. A woman placed as she is could not possibly look as calm as that if she had a secret purple romance with Chetwode, or with any other man. It just shows-if I may say so-how blind Love is. If this had happened to anybody else, you would be the first to see, on the face of it, that anything like a flirtation between the Lady of the Velvet Case and your husband is one of those hopeless impossibilities that only the wildly imaginative and charming people who have no relation to real life, like yourself, could possibly conceive."

Felicity seemed comforted.

"You think it utterly impossible?"

"Oh, I go further than that. I think it highly improbable. Can you see," continued Wilton, "this gentle, harmless creature, a woman capable of having her portrait painted on porcelain, from a photograph, and framed in crimson velvet, who never in her life had a secret except when she concealed from her husband her real reason for sending the housemaid away in order to give the girl another chance by giving her a good character-can you see her, I say, privately slipping this enormous case into Chetwode's small and reluctant white hand just as she was going to church, and saying, 'Keep it for my sake'?"

"You make the whole thing so ridiculous, Bertie, I begin to think you're right, but still it's very extraordinary that he did have it."

"Our not knowing the reason is not nearly so extraordinary as your explanation."

"But I can't wait for the real explanation. Suspense is torture," she said.

"But delightful-or there'd be no gambling in the world. Still, if you dislike it, why not telegraph?" Wilton suggested.

"Because, you see, if there's nothing in it, I should appear so utterly absurd. And if there was, is it likely that Chetwode would wire and say so?"

"Scarcely. You have sparks of real genius, Lady Chetwode, I must say! I never thought of that! The best way would be to make him come back as quickly as possible. Of course, he'd return if you were ill?"

"Rather. Besides, I am. Very."

"So you are. Then write to that effect."

"I think I will, but not yet." She remembered Savile's advice to wait till after dinner.

"May I ask," inquired Wilton, "if you're delaying in order to confide in women? This, I know, seems very impertinent of me, but I can't help advising you not. You'd be so sorry afterwards! When you go and tell Vera that it is all right after all, however pleased she is, there'll always be an uncomfortable feeling on your side that perhaps she doesn't quite believe you-that she thinks you're making the best of it. And Miss Sylvia will be so gloriously indignant and jealous for you that she won't do you any good."

"I know, Bertie. You are absolutely right. But I never do confide in women-only in men whom I can trust. Like you-and Savile."

"Thank you. And how right you are! Then if you're going to delay any action in the matter and put the picture aside, what are you going to do to-day?"

"I half promised Vera to meet her marvellous new palmist, Madame Zero, at her house this afternoon."

She took Vera's note out of a long grey envelope sealed with an Egyptian seal.

"It seems she's too wonderful. Only one or two people are going."

"Mrs. Ogilvie kindly asked me," said Bertie modestly. "Of course you'll go and hear what the soothsayer has to say about the velvet case?"

"Perhaps, but I'm not sure.... I feel restless.... I must say, it does seem unlikely there could be much harm in a woman who has her portrait painted in porcelain from a photograph-by the young lady at the photographer's, I dare say, who makes the appointments and touches up the negatives. And yet-perhaps that very innocence-that sweet, blank expression-even the tight sleeves and the two boys may make her all the more attractive!"

Wilton got up.

"Good-bye," he said. "You're perverse. It's no use, I see, telling you not to worry; but please try to realise there's no occasion."

"Wouldn't you say just the same if you thought there had been occasion?" she persisted.

"Absolutely. But that doesn't prove I'm not sincere now."

He pressed her hand with a look that he hoped conveyed the highest respect, the tenderest sympathy, a deep, though carefully suppressed passion, and a longing to administer some refined and courteous consolation, and went away.

Wilton was only twenty-five, so, naturally, as soon as he got home, he tried the expression in the mirror, and was horribly disappointed in it.

"I must have looked as if I'd suddenly got an awful twinge of neuralgia," he said to himself.

"It shows how careful one ought to be. Confound it!"

* * *

Felicity, however, was not troubling herself about Wilton or his expressive looks. The complicated glance, which he feared was a failure, had not even been seen by her. What he had said cheered her for the moment, and au fond, at the back of her brain, with her real sound common sense, she did not actually believe in the cause of her grief. But passion and jealousy, unfortunately, are not governed by sound common sense; they work in circles. Argument and reasoning have but a temporary effect on them; they come back to the point at which they started.

As she looked at Mrs. Tregelly's picture, the feverish chills of suspicion again took possession of her. She told herself repeatedly that she had only been married a year, that Chetwode was in love with her, and had always seemed cold to other women. But he was continually away. He was charming and attractive. Perhaps the other women he met thought she lived for amusement and was utterly neglectful of him. She was afraid she had been imprudent in being seen so much with Wilton, but Chetwode never seemed, really, to mind. He trusted her as she deserved, and as she ought to trust him. Considering the terms that they were on-far more like lovers than husband and wife-it would be real treachery on his part. He was incapable of treachery. She would trust him.

Then the image of Chetwode making love to that pretty woman abruptly forced itself on her mental vision in spite of all reasoning, like a sudden violent physical pain, and she burst into tears.

* * *

She controlled them as soon as possible, for she strongly dissented from the old-fashioned idea that a good cry was consoling. On the contrary, she thought that the headache and unbecoming traces of emotion that followed tears had a particularly depressing effect, and left one with nerves. She resolved to dismiss the subject for the moment, anyhow, and to go to Vera's in the afternoon to meet Madame Zero and two or three of Vera's most favoured and intimate friends.

* * *

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