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   Chapter 24 THE EXPLANATION

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 6815

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The fact that Chetwode was returning more than a week sooner than she had expected, seemed to Felicity a hopeful sign. She hesitated for about half an hour as to whether or not she should go and meet him at the station. Doubt and dignity suggested remaining at home, but impatience carried the day.

As she was waiting on the platform, the prophecy of Madame Zero occurred to her, and she thought to herself, with a smile-

"She doesn't seem so bad at prophesying what one's going to do. It's when she prophesies what one ought to have done that the poor dear gets out of her depth."

When he had arrived, and they were driving off together, she thought he looked neither more nor less serene and casual than usual; his actual presence seemed to radiate calm and dispose of anxiety; her suspicions began to melt away.

They had dined together, and talked on generalities, and neither had mentioned the subject. Chetwode's intense dislike to any disturbing topic infected Felicity; she now felt a desire to let him off even an explanation. She wished she had never seen the velvet case, or, at any rate, that she had never mentioned it to any one. He didn't, she fancied, look as if he were deceiving her in any way. His affection was not more marked than usual, nor less so. She observed there was no tinge in his manner of an attempt to make up for anything. Yet the question had to be asked.

"What did you do most of the time there?" began Felicity.

"Nothing. Played bridge."

"By the way," said Felicity, "you've never told me what Mrs. Tregelly's like."

"Of course I haven't. She isn't like anything."

"Isn't she very pretty?"

"Oh, I suppose she's all right-for Tregelly," said Chetwode.

"Then if you don't admire her at all, would you mind telling me why you have her portrait locked up in a velvet case?" demanded Felicity in a soft, sweet voice.

"I wonder!" said Chetwode.

"Oh, don't be so irritating. Don't you know you have it?"

"I haven't known it long."

His coolness roused her, and she said angrily-

"Then you ought to have known. I've been fearing that your casual ways are a very convenient screen for--"

"For what?" he asked, smiling. He was disposed to tease her for having doubted him.

She did not answer. He came and sat next to her.

"And so you would have cared?"

"Cared? I should think so. I've been miserable!"

"What a shame! I'm very sorry-I mean, very glad. But you might have spared yourself all this worry, dear, if you'd thought two minutes."

"How? How do you prove that what I imagined isn't true?"

"My dear girl, could you seriously suspect me of wanting to possess a coloured portrait on porcelain taken from a photograph? Did you think I'd have such a thing in the house-except inadvertently?"

"It's a pretty face," she said.

"But it's an appalling picture! Don't I care about things? I hope I haven't got any silly vanity about it, but I don't think I ever have anything wrong-I mean, artistically."

He looked round the room with the uncontrollable pride of the collector.

"No, my dear," he went on, "you've done me an injustice. From you I'm really surprised."

"But anything, as a souvenir of a person you like very much ..." she said hesitatingly.

"Oh, all right!" he answered. "Do you suppose if I'd an awful oleograph of you, even-that I'd keep it as a souvenir? Good heavens, Felicity, one

doesn't bring sentiment into that sort of thing! You ought to have known me better."

She waited a moment.

"Then on those grounds alone I'm to consider I'm utterly wrong?"

"Rather! Suppose you'd found a wonderful early sketch by Whistler or Burne-Jones, say, of a pretty woman-even then I should never have believed you'd be such a Philistine as to suppose that the person who sat for it had any interest for me. But a thing like that!" He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"How did it get there?"

"How did it get there?" he answered. "Last time I stayed with them, Tregelly sent it up to me for my critical opinion on it as a work of art." He laughed. "It made me so sick that I locked it up, and dropped or lost the key, or else I told the man to put it away. As he's an ass, I suppose he packed it among my things. I suppose Tregelly thought I gave it to his wife, and she thought I gave it back to him, as I heard no more about the thing then. But this time, as soon as I arrived," he smiled, "it was passionately reclaimed by both-and I promised to have a look."

Felicity clapped her hands.

"Then I'll send it back at once, and-will you have a look?"

"Good God, no! Never let me see the thing again." He took up a paper as if tired of the subject.

"Did you come back to look for it?" she asked.

"I came back because I received a three-volume novel wire from Savile, explaining what he called the situation."

"Fancy! Isn't he wonderful?"

"He's the limit," said Chetwode, laughing.

"But you might tell me, dear Chetwode; it isn't really for her that you go there?"

"Really, Felicity! I hardly ever see her! She's always busy with her children or rattling her house-keeping keys. Oh, she's all right-suits Tregelly, poor chap! Are we through now?" he asked, with patience.

"No. Won't you kiss me and forgive me?"

"Presently," he said, turning a page of the paper.

"May I just say that nothing of this sort could ever have happened if-if you didn't go away just a little too much? From the very first you know you were always absolutely free. I've the greatest horror of bothering you, or tyrannising in any way, but don't you think it's gone a little too far? If we hadn't been rather separated, I couldn't have made such a mistake about you. Suppose you'd found, privately locked up, a similar portrait of Bertie Wilton, say, wouldn't you have thought things?"

"Wilton's an ass," said Chetwode. "But he does know. To give him his due, I couldn't have found a similar portrait of him. He isn't capable of allowing such a thing to exist."

"Well, say a good portrait," said Felicity. "Do let us be perfectly frank with each other."

"We will," said Chetwode. "I am rather sick of Wilton."

"He's really an awfully good boy," said Felicity.

"Then let him be a good boy somewhere else. I'm tired of him."

"I'll see less of him," she answered.

"Good!" said Chetwode.

"And-I know it was a very long speech I made just now, but don't you think I'm right?"

"I didn't hear," he answered. "I was listening to your voice."

"Then must I say it all over again? I really want you to take it in, Chetwode," she said pleadingly.

"Say it all over again, and as much more as you like, dear."

"And then will you tell me you haven't heard?"

He threw down the newspaper.

"Very likely. I shall have been looking at your lips."

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