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   Chapter 28 THE TWELFTH HOUR

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 9539

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Sir James was extremely annoyed with the weather. In his young days, as he remarked with bitterness, spring was spring, and it didn't thunder and snow in April. He was prattling pompously of the sunshine in the past, when a sudden heavy shower of hail, falling rather defiantly in spite of his hints, made him lose his temper. Sir James, looking angrily up at the sky, declared that unless it stopped within half an hour he would write to the Times about it.

Whether or not this threat had any real meteorological influence, there is no doubt that the clouds dispersed rather hastily, the sun hurriedly appeared, and the weather promptly prepared to enable Sir James to venture out, which he did with a gracious wave of the hand to the entire horizon, as though willing to say no more about it.

Sylvia had been as anxious for the thermometer to go up as her father himself, for it was several days now since she had seen Woodville alone. And he had been nervously counting the minutes until the moment of freedom, having, to-day, a stronger reason than ever before to desire a quiet talk.

Woodville had expressed some remorse-not much, though considerably more than he felt-for what Sylvia called his conduct during their last interview, and she meant this morning to forgive him.

"I've only come," said Sylvia, sitting opposite him at the writing-table, "because I saw you were really sorry for ... the other day. Are you sorry?"

"Awfully."

"That's not very flattering," said Sylvia.

"I wanted you, too, dreadfully this morning," he said eagerly. "I've got something wonderful to tell you-to show you."

"Anything dreadful?" she asked, turning pale.

He took out a letter.

"Listen! Since the other day I had made up my mind to go away from here. I began to see I couldn't bear it. At least, for a time."

"What!" cried Sylvia, rising to her feet.

"Yes. But you needn't worry. I've changed my mind, darling. And before I tell you any more--"

He leant across the writing-table and kissed her softly, and at some length.

"Now," he said, "read this letter."

"From the Greek fiend! Is he trying to take you away from me again?"

"No, he's not. Read it aloud."

Sylvia read:-

"'Ritz Hotel, Paris.

"'My dear Woodville,-In the short time since I had the pleasure of seeing you, certain changes have come over my views on many subjects; my future is likely to be entirely different from what I had supposed, and I felt impelled to let you know, before any one else, of the unexpected happiness that is about to dawn for me.'

"Oh, Frank, how long-winded and flowery!"

"Never mind that. It's his style always when he's sentimental. Do go on reading."

Sylvia went on. "'I was greatly disappointed at first to know you were unwilling to go to Athens. Perhaps, however, it is better as it is. Briefly, I have found in la ville lumière what I had longed for and despaired of-a reciprocal affection-that of a young and innocent girl-'"

"Sylvia, don't waste time. Go on!"

"'My heart'"-Sylvia continued to read-"'is filled with joy; but I will not take up all my letter to you with ecstatic rhapsodies; nor will I indulge myself by referring to her beauty, her charm, her Madonna-like face and sylph-like form. Her extraordinary affection for me (I speak with all humility)-tempered as it naturally was by the modesty of her age (she is barely seventeen)-was, I think, what first drew me towards her. We are to be married in May. You know that the sorrow of my life was that I had never been loved for myself. I have been called a successful man, but in my own heart I know that this is the only real success I have ever had during fifty-five years. It is certainly a great pleasure to think, as I do, that I shall be able to give my Gabrielle all (humanly speaking) that she can desire....'"

"Will you stop laughing? You must get through the preliminaries, Sylvia!"

"It seems all preliminaries," murmured Sylvia.

"'But, in my happiness, your troubles are not forgotten: and I hope now to be able to remove them in all essentials.

"'First, let me ask you to remember me to Miss Sylvia, and to tell her that with the deepest respect I now formally relinquish all hopes of her hand.'

"Very kind of him! He seems to claim some merit for not wanting to marry us both," Sylvia cried.

"'No doubt you remember my telling you of a post, similar to that which I proposed for you in the bank at Athens, and that might be vacant soon, in London. Since, to please my bride, (who is devoted to her mother), I intend to make my home in Paris, I have made arrangements for you to take that post now, if you will.

"'Shortly after this epistle a formal note will reach you, explaining all details. You will, I am sur

e, not refuse me the great pleasure of smoothing a little your path, under the present circumstances-since it is a very dear wish of mine to see you and Miss Sylvia happy.

"'I foresee no obstacles now to your wishes. Explain to Sir James that I intend to be your best friend, and shall be able, no doubt, to be of great assistance to you if you adopt this career.

"'At some future date I hope to present to you Mademoiselle de Beaugarde-and looking forward to your reply, I remain,

"'My dear Woodville,

"'Yours, with a thousand good wishes,

"'G. Ridokanaki.

"'P.S.-I should have written at greater length, but I am expecting Madame Beaugarde and her daughter, as I am to escort them to see some pictures. You will, therefore, grant me your indulgence for the bold, almost abrupt way in which I have conveyed to you my news. You will make excuses for the happy lover! She has an oval face, with a peach-like complexion. Her eyes resemble sapphires: her teeth are like pearls. Let me hear from you soon.'"

"Now, isn't he a wonderful chap?" asked Woodville. "And the best fellow in the world. I always liked him. How gifted he is! He describes people in detail, and by the yard, without giving one the very slightest idea of their appearance. He has a real genius for platitudes."

"And what an original description! Peach cheeks and sapphire eyes! Fruit and jewellery! But I daresay she's a dear, and I forgive him now. And Frank, do you realise what this means-to us?"

"I've been realising it since the first post this morning, Sylvia."

"You'll accept it?"

"Naturally. Everything is right, as you said it would be. We'll tell Sir James to-day."

"Look here, darling Frank, let me ring up a messenger to send a wire at once to accept, so that nothing can come between us!"

"Not just yet," said Woodville.

* * *

Savile's only comment when they told him was, "Just like that rotter to prefer another alien!" and he immediately wrote brief notes to Chetwode and Jasmyn Vere.

Sir James heard the news with real surprise and conventional indignation, principally because it was his practice to receive news in that way.

He refused his consent, sent Sylvia to her room, and turning round on Savile declared that the whole thing was caused by the disgraceful idleness of that boy, who ought to be at school. Such long holidays were not heard of in his younger days, and did the greatest harm mentally and physically to the boys and all their relatives.

The arrival of Aunt William diverted the storm. Sir James became far more angry with her for defending the young people than with them for requiring defence.

When she had left, he said that perhaps he would take it into consideration in a couple of years, if Woodville left the house at once, and they neither met nor corresponded in the interval.

At dinner he began to chaff them a little, and said Sylvia always got her own way with him.

After dinner, when he was smoking in the library, the desire to say "Take her, you dog, and be happy," or words to that effect, was too strong for him. He sent for Woodville, consented enthusiastically, and from that moment began to believe that with farseeing thoughtfulness he had planned her marriage from the very beginning. And he began to look forward to the list of political and other celebrities that would appear in the papers the day after the wedding.

Of course it was to be a long engagement and a quiet wedding; but entirely through the eager impetuosity of Sir James, they were married in six weeks, and every one said that in general splendour and gorgeousness it surpassed even the wedding of Sir James's elder daughter. Savile's attitude as best man was of such extraordinary correctness that it was the feature of the ceremony, and even distracted public attention from the bride and bridegroom.

* * *

THE END

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Transcriber's note

The following changes have been made to the text:

Page 9: "expert in hand-writing" changed to "expert in handwriting".

Page 12: "I bar him rather" changed to "I bear him rather".

Page 58: "goodlooking young man" changed to "good-looking young man".

Page 96: "Wont you make" changed to "Won't you make".

Page 111: "St.James's" changed to "St. James's".

Page 155: "blue-green Empire teagown" changed to "blue-green Empire tea-gown".

Page 159: ""Bertie Wilton?" axclaimed" changed to ""Bertie Wilton?" exclaimed".

Page 173: "Saville their only confidant" changed to "Savile their only confidant".

Page 218: "in tears and a teagown" changed to "in tears and a tea-gown".

Page 228: "you going to do today" changed to "you going to do to-day".

Page 243: "sooth-sayer is a marvel" changed to "soothsayer is a marvel".

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