MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 21 No.21

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 39651

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Come up! Come up, my boy! I've something to show you!"

She heard steps mounting the stairs, and got up from the sofa. She looked once more at the portrait, then turned round to meet the two men, standing so that she was directly in front of it. Just then she had a wish to conceal it from Arabian, to delay, if only for a moment, his knowledge of what had been done.

Arabian came into the studio and saw her in her mourning facing him. At once he came up to her with Dick Garstin behind him. He looked grave, sympathetic, almost reverential. His brown eyes held a tender expression of kindness.

"Miss Van Tuyn! I did not know you were here."

She saw Garstin smiling ironically. Arabian took her hand and pressed it.

"I am glad to see you again."

His look, his pressure, were full of ardent sympathy.

"I have been thinking often of you and your great sorrow."

"Thank you!" she said, almost stammering.

"And what is it I am to see?" said Arabian, turning to Garstin.

"Stand away, Beryl!" said Garstin roughly.

She moved. What else could she do? Arabian saw the portrait and said:

"Oh, my picture at last!"

Then he took a step forward, and there was a silence in the studio.

Miss Van Tuyn looked at the floor at first. Then, as the silence continued, she raised her eyes to Arabian's. She did not know what she expected to see, but she was surprised at what she did see. Standing quite still immediately in front of the picture, with his large eyes fixed upon it, Arabian was looking very calm. There was, indeed, scarcely any expression in his face. He had thrust both hands into the pockets of his overcoat. Miss Van Tuyn wondered whether those hands would betray any feeling if she could see them. In the calmness of his face she thought there was something stony, but she was not quite sure. She was, perhaps, too painfully moved, too violently excited just then to be a completely accurate observer. And she was aware of that. She wished Arabian would speak. When was he going to speak?

"Well?" said Garstin at last, perhaps catching her feeling. "What do you think of the thing? Are you satisfied with it? I've been a long time over it, but there it is at last."

He laughed slightly, uneasily, she thought.

"What's the verdict?"

"One moment-please!" said Arabian in an unusually soft voice.

Miss Van Tuyn was again struck, as she had been struck, when she first met Arabian in the studio, by the man's enormous self-possession. She felt sure that he must be feeling furiously angry, yet he did not show a trace of anger, of surprise, of any emotion. Only the marked softness of his voice was unusual. He seemed to be examining the picture with quiet interest and care.

"Well? Well?" said Garstin at last, with a sort of acute impatience which betrayed to her that he was really uneasy. "Let's hear what you think, though we know you don't set up for being a judge of painting."

"I think it is very like," said Arabian.

"Oh, Lord-like!" exclaimed Garstin, on an angry gust of breath. "I'm not a damned photographer!"

"Should not a portrait be like?" said Arabian, still in the very soft voice. "Am I wrong, then?"

"Of course not!" said Miss Van Tuyn, frowning at Garstin.

At that moment absolutely, and without any reserve, she hated him.

"Then you're satisfied?" jerked out Garstin.

"Indeed-yes, Dick Garstin. This is a valuable possession for me."

"Possession?" said Garstin, as if startled. "Oh, yes, to be sure! You're to have it-presently!"

"Quite so. I am to have it. It is indeed very fine. Do not you think so, Miss Van Tuyn?"

For the first time since he had seen the portrait he looked away from it, and his eyes rested on her. She felt that she trembled under those eyes, and hoped that he did not see it.

"You do not say! Surely this is a very fine picture?"

He seemed to be asking her to tell him whether or not the portrait ought to be admired. There was just then an odd simplicity, or pretence of simplicity, in his manner which was almost boyish. And his eyes seemed to be appealing to her.

"It is a magnificent piece of painting," she forced herself to say.

But she said it coldly, reluctantly.

"Then I am not wrong."

He looked pleased.

"My eye is not very educated. I fear to express my opinion before people such as you"-he looked towards Garstin, and added-"and you, Dick Garstin."

And then he turned away from the picture with the manner of a man who had done with it. She was amazed at his coolness, his perfect ease of manner.

"May I ask for a cigar, Dick Garstin?" he said.

"Pardon!" said Garstin gruffly.

Miss Van Tuyn noticed that he seemed very ill at ease. His rough self-possession had deserted him. He looked almost shy and awkward. Before going to the cabinet he went to the easel and noisily wheeled it away. Then he fetched the cigar and poured out a drink for Arabian.

"Light up, old chap! Have a drink!"

There was surely reluctant admiration in his voice.

Arabian accepted the drink, lit the cigar, sat down, and began to talk about his flat. At that moment he dominated them both. Miss Van Tuyn felt it. He talked much more than she had ever before heard him talk in the studio, and expressed himself better, with more fluency than usual. Garstin said very little. There was a fixed flush on his cheek-bones and an angry light in his eyes. He sat watching Arabian with a hostile, and yet half-admiring, scrutiny, smoking rapidly, nervously, and twisting his large hands about.

Presently Miss Van Tuyn got up to go.

"Going already?" said Garstin.

"Yes, I must."

"Oh, well-"

"I will accompany you," said Arabian.

She looked away from him and said nothing. Garstin went with them downstairs and opened the door.

"Bye-bye!" he said in a loud voice. "See you again soon. Good luck to you!"

Arabian held out his hand.

"Good-bye."

Miss Van Tuyn nodded without speaking. Garstin shut the door noisily.

They walked down Glebe Place in silence. When they got to the corner Arabian said:

"Are you in a hurry to-day?"

"No, not specially."

"Shall we take a little walk? It is not very late."

"A walk? Where to?"

"Shall we go along by the river?"

She hesitated. She was torn by conflicting feelings. She was very angry with Garstin. She still continued to say, though now to herself, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" And yet she knew that Garstin's portrait had greatly increased her strange fear of Arabian.

"This way will take us to the river."

She knew he was looking straight at her though she did not look at him. At that moment a remembrance of Craven and Camber flashed through her mind.

"Yes, I know," she said, "But-"

"I am fond of the river," he said.

"Yes-but in winter!"

"Let us go. Or will you come back to-"

"No, I will go. I like it too. London looks its best from the waterside."

And she walked on again with him. He said nothing more, and she did not speak till they had crossed the broad road and were on the path by the dark river, which flowed at full tide under a heavy blackish grey sky. Then Arabian spoke again, and the peculiar softness she had noticed that afternoon had gone out of his voice.

"I am fortunate, am I not," he said, "to be the possessor of that very fine picture by Dick Garstin? Many people would be glad to buy it, I suppose."

"Oh, yes!"

"Do you consider it one of Dick Garstin's best paintings? I know you are a good judge. I wish to hear what you really think."

"He has never painted anything more finely that I have seen."

"Ah! That is indeed lucky for me."

"Yes."

"I shall send and fetch it away."

"Oh, but-"

She stopped speaking. She was startled by his tone and also by what he had said. She glanced at him, then looked away and across the dark river. Dead leaves brushed against her feet with a dry, brittle noise.

"What is that you say, please?"

"I only-I thought it was arranged that the picture was to be exhibited," she said, falteringly.

"Oh, no. I shall not permit Dick Garstin to exhibit that picture."

Now intense curiosity was born in her and seemed for the moment to submerge her uneasiness and fear.

"But wasn't it understood?" she said.

"Please, what do you say was understood?"

"Didn't Mr. Garstin say he meant to exhibit the picture and afterwards give it to you?"

"But I say that I shall not permit Dick Garstin to exhibit my picture."

"Why won't you allow it?" she asked.

In her curiosity she was at last regaining some of her usual self-possession. She scented a struggle between these two men, both of them of tough fibre, both of them, she believed, far from scrupulous, both of them likely to be enormously energetic and determined when roused.

"Do you not know?" he asked.

"No! How can I know such a thing? How can I know what is in your mind unless you tell me?"

"Oh, but I will tell you then! I will not let Dick Garstin exhibit that picture because it is a lie about me."

"A lie? How can that be?"

"A man can speak a lie. Is it not so?"

"Of course."

"Cannot a man write a lie?"

"Yes."

"And a man can paint a lie. Dick Garstin has painted a lie about me."

"But then-if it is so-"

"Certainly it is so."

There was now a hard sound in his voice, and, when she looked at him, she saw that his face had changed. The quiet self-control which had amazed her in the studio was evidently leaving him. Or he no longer cared to exercise it.

"But, then, do you wish to possess the picture? Do you wish to possess a lie?"

"Is it not right that I possess it rather than someone else?"

"Yes, perhaps it is."

"Certainly it is. I shall take that picture away."

"But Dick Garstin intends to exhibit it. I know that. I know he will not let you have it till it has been shown."

"What is the law in England that one man should paint a wicked portrait of another man and that this other should be helpless to prevent it from being shown to all the world? Is that just?"

"No, I don't think it is."

He stopped abruptly and stood by the river wall. It was a cold and dreary afternoon, menacing and dark. Few people were out in that place. She stood still beside him.

"Miss Van Tuyn," he said, looking hard at her with an expression of-apparently-angry sincerity in his eyes. "This happens. I sit quietly in the Cafe Royal, a public place. A strange man comes up. Never have I seen him before. He says himself to be a painter. He asks to paint me-he begs! I go to his studio, as you know. I hesitate when I have seen his pictures-all of horrible persons, bad women and a beastly old man. At last he persuades me to be painted, promising to give me the picture when finished. He paints and paints, destroys and destroys. I am patient. I give up nearly all my time to him. I sit there day after day for hours. At last he has painted me. And when I look I find he has made of me a beast, a monster, worse than all the other horrible persons. And when I come in he is showing this monster to you, a lady, my friend, one I respect and admire above all, and who, perhaps, has thought of me with kindness, who has been to me in trouble, to my flat, who has told me her sorrow and put trust in me as in none other. 'Here he is!' says Dick Garstin. 'This beast, this monster-it is he! Look at him. I introduce you to Nicolas Arabian!' Am I, in return for such things, to say, 'All right! Now take this beast, this monster, and show him to all the world and say, "There is Nicolas Arabian!"' Do you say I should do this?"

"But I have nothing to do with it."

"Have you not?"

Her eyes gave way before his and looked down.

"Anyhow," he said, "I will not do it. I have a will as well as he."

"Yes," she thought. "You have a will, a tremendous will."

"To you," he said, "I show what I would not show to him, that I have feelings and that I am very much hurt to-day."

"I am sorry. I told Dick Garstin-"

"Yes? What?"

"Before you came I told him he ought not to exhibit the picture."

"Ah! Thank you! Thank you!"

He smiled, and the lustrously soft look came into his eyes.

"A woman-she always knows what a man is!" he said, in a low voice.

"It is cold standing here!" she said.

She shivered as she spoke and looked at the water.

"We will go to my flat," he said, with a sudden air of authority. "There is a big fire there."

"Oh, no, I can't!"

"Why not? You have been there."

"Yes, but I ought not to have gone. I am in mourning."

"You go to Dick Garstin. What is the difference?"

"People are so foolish. They talk."

"But you go to Dick Garstin!"

He had turned, and now made her walk back by his side along the river bank among the whirling leaves.

"People have begun to talk about us," she said, almost desperately. "That women, Mrs. Birchington, who lives opposite to you-she's a gossip."

"And do you mind such people?" he asked, with an air of surprised contempt.

"A girl has to be careful what she does."

As Miss Van Tuyn said this she marvelled at her own conventionality. That she should be driven to such banality, she who had defied the opinion of both Paris and London!

"Please come once more. I want you to help me."

"I! How can I help you?"

"With Dick Garstin. I do not want to fight with that man. I am not what he thinks, but I do not wish to quarrel. You can help."

"I don't see how."

"By the fire I will tell you."

"I don't think I ought to come."

"What is life if it is always what ought and what ought not? I do not go by that. I am not able to think always of that. And do you? Oh, no!"

He cast a peculiar glance at her, full of intense shrewdness. It made her remember the Cafe Royal on the evening of her meeting with the Georgians, her pressure put on Dick Garstin to make Arabian's acquaintance, her lonely walk in the dark when Arabian had followed her, her first visit to Garstin's studio, her pretended reason for many subsequent visits there. This man must surely have understood always the motive which had governed her in what she had done. His glance told her that. It pierced through her pretences like a weapon and quivered in the truth of her. He had always understood her. Was he at last going to let her understand him? His eyes seemed to say, "Why pretend any longer with me? You wanted to know me. You chose to know me. It is too late now to play the conventional maiden with me."

It is too late now.

Her will seemed to be dying out of her. She walked on beside him mechanically. She knew that she was going to do what he wished, that she was going to his flat again; and when they reached Rose Tree Gardens without any further protest she got into the lift with him and went up to his floor. But when he was putting the latchkey into the door the almost solemn words of Dick Garstin came back to her: "Beryl, believe it or not, as you can, that is Arabian!" And she hesitated. An intense disinclination to go into the flat struggled with the intense desire to yield herself to Arabian's will. Arabian was before her eyes, standing there by the opening door, and Garstin's portrait was before the eyes of her mind in all its magnificent depravation. Which showed the real man and which the unreal? Garstin said that he had painted her intuition about Arabian, that she knew Arabian's secret and had conveyed it to him. Was that true?

"Please!" said Arabian, holding open the door.

"I cannot come in," she said, in a dull, low voice.

Beyond the gap of the doorway there lay perhaps the unknown territory called by Garstin the underworld. She remembered the piercingly shrewd look Arabian had cast at her by the river, a look which had surely included her with him in the region which lies outside all the barriers. But she did not belong to that region. Despite her keen curiosities, her resolute defiance of the conventions, her intensely modern determination to live as she chose to live, she would never belong to it. A horrible longing which she could not understand fought with the fear which Garstin that day had dragged up from the depths of her to the surface. But she now gave herself to the fear, and she repeated doggedly:

"I cannot come in."

But just at this moment her intention was changed, and her subsequent action was determined in her by a trifling event, one of those events which teach the world to believe in Fate. A door, the door of Mrs. Birchington's flat, clicked behind her. Someone was coming out.

Instantly, driven by the thought "I mustn't be seen!" Miss Van Tuyn stepped into Arabian's flat. She expected to hear the front door of it close immediately behind her. But instead she heard Mrs. Birchington's high soprano voice saying:

"Oh, how d'you do? Glad to meet you again!"

Quickly she opened the second door on the left and stepped into Arabian's drawing-room. Why had he been so slow in shutting the front door? She must have been seen. Certainly she had been seen by that horrible Minnie Birchington. There would be more gossip. It would be all over London that she was perpetually in this man's flat. Why had not he shut the door directly she had stepped into the hall? Her nervous tension found momentary relief in sudden violent anger against him, and when at length she heard the door shut, and his footstep outside, she turned round to meet him with fierce resolution.

"Why did you do that?"

"Beg pardon!" he said, gently, and looking surprised.

"Why didn't you shut the front door? That-Mrs. Birchington must have seen me. I know she has seen me!"

"I had no time. I could not refuse to speak to her, could I? I could not be rude to a lady."

"But I didn't wish her to see me!"

She was losing her self-control and knew it. She was angry with herself as well as with him, but she could not regain her self-possession.

"Why not?" he said, still very gently. "What is the harm? Are we doing wrong? I cannot see it. I say again, I had no time to shut the door."

"Did she see me?"

"Really I do not know."

He shut the sitting-room door.

"I hope," he said, "that you are not ashamed to be acquainted with me."

His voice sounded hurt, and now an expression of acute vexation had come into his face.

"Really after what has happened with Dick Garstin to-day I-"

His face now had an expression almost of pain.

"I am really not canaille," he said. "I am not accustomed to be thought of and treated as if I were canaille."

"It's all right," she said. "But-you see my mourning! I am in deep mourning, and I ought not-"

She stopped. She felt the uselessness of her protest, the ungraciousness of her demeanour. Without another word she went to the sofa by one of the windows and sat down. He came and sat down beside her.

"I want you to help me about Dick Garstin," he said.

"How? What can I do? I have no influence with him."

"Oh, yes, you have. A lady like you has always influence with a man."

"Not with him."

"But I say you have."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to tell him what I have said to you to-day."

"That you won't have the picture exhibited?"

"Yes."

"He'll only laugh."

"Beg him for your sake to yield."

"But what have I to do with it?"

"Very much, I think. It will be better that he yields-really."

She raised her eyes to his.

"We do not want a scandal, do we?"

"But-"

"If it should come to a fight between Dick Garstin and me there might be a scandal."

"But my name wouldn't-"

Again she was silent.

"I might try. But it wouldn't be any use."

He put out a hand and took one of hers.

"But it all came through you. Didn't it?"

"But-but you said you had never seen Dick Garstin till he came up and asked yo

u to sit to him."

"That was not true. I saw him with you that night at the Cafe Royal. That is why I came to the studio. I knew I should meet you there. And-you knew."

Again the terribly shrewd glance came into his eyes. She saw it and felt no strength for denial. From the first he must have thoroughly understood her.

"You and I, we are not babies," he said gently. "We wanted to know each other, and so it happened. I have done all this for you. Now I ask you to tell Dick Garstin for me."

"I'll do what I can," she said.

He pressed her hand softly.

"You are not one of those who are afraid," he said. "You do what you choose-even at night."

She thought of the episode in Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Then you-you-"

"But I do not need to take a shilling from a lady!"

"You didn't know me that night!" she said defiantly.

"Ah, but when I heard you speak in the studio I knew!"

"And you follow women like that at night!"

She tried to draw away her hand, but he would not let her.

"You drew me after you-not knowing. It was what they call occult."

"Then why did you go away?"

"I felt that I had been wrong, that you didn't wish me to speak to you."

"Do you mean when I-that you suspected what I was?"

"Something said to me, 'This is a lady. She does strange things, she is not like others, but she is a lady. Go away.'"

"And in the studio-"

"When you spoke I knew."

She felt degraded. She could not explain. And she felt confused. She did not understand this man. His curious reticence that night, after his audacity, was inexplicable to her. What could he think of her? What must he think?

"I was going out that night to dine in a restaurant in Soho with some friends," she said, trying to speak very naturally. "I wanted some fresh air, so I walked."

"Why not? I beg you to forgive me for my rudeness. I feel very ashamed of it now. I have learnt in all these days to respect you very much."

His voice sounded so earnest, so sincere, that she felt suddenly a sense of relief. After all, he had always treated her with respect. He had never been impertinent, or even really audacious, and yet he had always known that she had wanted to meet him, that she had meant to meet him! He had never taken advantage of that knowledge. If he were really what Dick Garstin said he was, surely he would have acted differently.

"Do you really respect me?" she said.

"Yes. Have I not shown it in all these days? Have I ever done anything a lady could object to?"

"No."

Her hand still lay in his, and his touch had aroused in her that strange and intense desire to belong to him which seemed a desire entirely of the body, something with which the mind had little or nothing to do.

"Are you evil?" her eyes were asking him.

And his eyes, looking straight down into hers, seemed steadily and simply to deny it.

"Do you believe the lie of Dick Garstin?" they said to her.

And she no longer knew whether she believed it or not.

He drew a little nearer to her.

"I respect you-yes," he said. "But that is not all. I have another feeling for you. I have had it ever since I first saw you that night, when I was standing by the door in the Cafe Royal and you looked at me."

"But-but you-"

"Yes?"

Her lips trembled. Again jealousy seized her.

"I saw you that night in Conduit Street," she said. "You thought I didn't, but I did."

He still looked perfectly calm and untroubled.

"You were dining with Dick Garstin. May I not dine with someone?"

"Then why did you leave the restaurant?"

"I did not want you to see me."

"Ah!"

"I thought you might not understand."

"I do understand. I understand perfectly!"

She drew her hand sharply away from his.

"Are you angry with me?"

"Angry? No! What does it matter to me?"

"I am a man. I live alone. My life is lonely. Must I give up everything before I know that some day I shall have the only thing I really wish? You know men. You know how we are. I do not defend. I only say that I am not better than the other men. I want to be happy. If that is not for me, then I want to make the time pass. I do not pretend. Men generally pretend very much to beautiful girls. But you would not believe such nonsense."

"Then why didn't you stay in the restaurant?"

"Because I thought to do that would be like an insult for you. Such girls as that-mud-they must not come into your life even by chance, even for a few minutes. No man wishes to show himself with mud to a lady he respects. I tell you just the truth."

"Have you-have you seen her again?"

"She is in Paris. She has been in Paris for many days. But she is nothing. Why speak of such people?"

"I don't know. But I hate-"

She moved restlessly. Then she got up and went to the fire. He followed her. She could not understand her own jealousy. It humiliated her as she had never been humiliated before. She felt jealous of this man's absolute freedom, of his past. A sort of rage possessed her when she thought of all the experiences he must certainly have had. She almost hated him for those experiences. She wished she could lay hands on them, tear them out of him, so that he should not have them any longer in memory's treasury. And yet she knew that, without them, he would probably attract her much less.

"Do you care then?" he said.

"Care?"

"Do you care what I do?"

"No, of course not!"

"But-you do care!" he said.

He said it without any triumph of the male, quite simply, almost as a boy might have said it.

"You do care!" he repeated.

And very gently, slowly, he put his arm round her, drew her close to him, bent down and gave her a long kiss.

For a moment she shut her eyes. She was giving herself up entirely to physical sensation. Fear, thought, everything except bodily feeling, seemed to cease in her entirely at that moment. Some fascination which he possessed, an intense fascination for women, entirely mysterious and inexplicable, a thing rooted in the body, absolutely overpowered her at that moment.

It was he who broke the physical spell. He lifted his lips from hers and she heard the words:

"I want you to marry me. Will you?"

Instantly she was released. A flood of thoughts, doubts, wonderings, flowed through her. She felt terribly startled.

Marriage with this man! Marriage with Nicolas Arabian! In all her thoughts of him she had never included the thought of marriage. Yet she had imagined many situations in which he and she played their parts. Wild dreams had come to her in sleepless nights, the dreams that visit women who are awake under fascination. She had lived through romances with him. She had been with him in strange places, had travelled with him in sandy wastes, seen the night come with him in remote corners of the earth, stood with him in great cities, watched the sea waves slipping away with him on the decks of Atlantic liners. All this she had done in imagination with him. But never had she seen herself as his wife.

To be the wife of Arabian!

He let her go directly he felt the surprise in her body.

"Marry you!" she said.

"It could not be anything else," he said, very simply. "Could it?"

She flushed as if he had punished her by his respect for her.

"But-but we scarcely know each other!" she stammered.

"You say that now!"

Again she felt rebuked, as if she were lighter than he and as if he were surprised by her lightness.

"But we are only-I mean-"

"Let us not talk of it then now if you dislike. But I cannot take such a thing any way but seriously, knowing what you are. I love you; I would follow you anywhere. Naturally, therefore, I must think of marriage with you, or that I am to have nothing."

He stopped. She said nothing; could not say anything.

"With light women one is light. I do not pretend to be a very good man, better than the others. Those so very good men, I do not believe in them very much. But I know that many women are good. Just at first, let me confess, I was not sure how you were. At the Cafe Royal that night, seeing you with all those funny people, I made a mistake. I thought, 'She is beautiful. She is audacious. She likes adventures. She wishes an adventure with me.' And I came to Dick Garstin's thinking of an adventure. But soon I knew-no! I heard you talk. I got to know your cultivation, your very fine mind. And then you held back from me, waiting till you should know me better. That pleased me. It taught me the value of you. And when at last you did not hold back, were willing to be alone with me, to lunch with me, to walk with me, I understood you had made up your mind: 'He is all right!' But, best of all, you at last asked me to your hotel, introduced me to the dear lady you live with. I understood what was in your mind: 'She, too, must be satisfied.' Then I knew it was not an adventure. And when you told me first about your sorrow! Ah! That was the great day for me! I knew you would not have told such a thing, kept from even Dick Garstin, unless you put me in your mind away from the others. That was a very great day for me!"

She shivered slightly by the fire. He was telling her things. She could not in return tell him the truth of herself. Perhaps he really believed all he had just said. And yet that shrewd glance he had given her by the river and again in that room! What had it meant if now he had spoken the truth?

"I knew then that you cared," he said, quietly and with earnest conviction. "I knew then that some day I could ask you to marry me. Anything else-it is impossible between you and me."

"Yes, of course! I never-you mustn't suppose-"

"I do not suppose. I know you as now you know me."

He did not touch her again, though, of course, he must know-any man must have known by this time-his physical power to charm, even to overwhelm her. His power over himself amazed her. It proved to her the strength in his character. The man was strong, and in two ways. She worshipped strength, but his still made her afraid.

"Now let us leave it," he said, with a change of manner. "It is getting dark. It is dreary outside. I will shut the curtains. I will sing to you in the firelight."

He went over to the windows, drew down the blinds, pulled forward the curtains. She watched him, sitting motionless, wondering at herself and at him. For the moment he was certainly her master. He governed her as much by what he did not do as by what he did. And it had always been so ever since she had known him. The assurance in his quiet was enormous. How many things he must have carried through in his life, the life of which she knew absolutely nothing! But this-would he carry through this? She tried to tell herself with certainty that he would not. And yet, as she looked at him, she was not sure. Will can drown will. Great power can overcome lesser power, mysteriously sometimes, but certainly. That play of which she had read an account in the Westminster Gazette was founded on the possibilities, was based upon a solid foundation. To the ignorant it might seem grotesque, incredible even, but not to those who had really studied life and the eddying currents of life. In life, almost all that is said to be impossible happens at times, though perhaps not often. And who knows, who can say with absolute certainty, that he or she is not an exception, was not born an exception?

As Miss Van Tuyn watched Arabian drawing the curtains across the windows which looked upon the Thames she did not know positively that she would not marry him. She remembered her sensation under his kiss. It had been a sensation of absolute surrender. That was why she had shut her eyes.

She might shut her eyes again. He might even make her do that.

After the curtains were drawn, and only the light from the fire lit up the room, Arabian went over to the piano, a baby grand, and sat down on the music-stool. He was looking very grave, almost romantically grave, but quite un-self-conscious. She wondered whether, even now, he cared what she thought about him. He showed none of the diffidence of the not-yet-accepted lover, eager to please, anxious about the future. But he showed nothing of triumph. The firelight played over his face as he struck a few chords. She wondered whether his manservant was with them in the flat, or whether they were quite alone-shut in together. He had not offered her tea. Perhaps the man had gone out. She did not feel afraid of Arabian at this moment. After what he had said she knew she had no reason to be afraid of him just now. But if she gave herself to him, if they ever were married? How would it be then? Life with him would surely be an extraordinary business. She remembered her solicitude about not being seen with him in public places. Already that seemed long ago. Dick Garstin had told her she had travelled. No doubt that was true. One may travel far perhaps in mind and in feeling without being self-consciously aware of it. But when one was aware, when one knew, it must surely be possible to stop. He had made to her a tremendous suggestion. She could refuse to entertain it. And when she refused, if she did refuse, what would happen? What would he say, do, when he realized her determination? How would he take a determined refusal? She could not imagine. But she knew that she could not imagine Arabian ever yielding his will to hers in any big matter which would seriously upset his life.

"Now, shall I sing to you?" he said, fixing his eyes upon her.

"Yes, please do," she answered, looking away from him into the fire.

"You know how I sing. I am not a musician of cultivation, but I have music in me. I have always had it. I have always sung, even as a boy. It is natural to me. But I have been very idle in my life. I have never been able to work, alas!"

She looked at him again. Always he was playing softly, improvising.

"Have you really never done any work?"

"Never. Unfortunately, perhaps, I have always had enough money to be idle."

"He's not poor!" she thought.

And then she felt glad, suddenly remembering how rich she was now, since the death of her father.

He said nothing more, but played a short prelude and began to sing in his small, but warm, tenor voice. And, sitting there by the fire, she watched him while he sang, and wondered again, as she had wondered in the studio, at the musical sense that was in him and that could show itself so easily and completely, without apparently any strong effort. The fascination she felt in him filled all his music, and appealed not only to her senses but to her musical understanding. She had a genuine passion for the right in all the arts, for the inevitable word in literature, the inevitable touch of colour that lights up a painting, fusing the whole into harmony, the inevitable emotional colouring of a musical phrase, the slackening or quickening of time, which make a song exactly what it should be. And to that passion he was able to appeal with his gift. He sang two Italian songs, and she felt Italy in them. Then he sang in French, and finally in Spanish-guitar songs. And presently she gave herself entirely to him as a singer. He had temperament, and she loved that. It meant, perhaps, too much to her. That, no doubt, was what drew her to him more surely than his remarkable physical beauty-temperament which has the keys of so many doors, and can open them at will, showing glimpses of wonderful rooms, and of gardens bathed in sunshine or steeped in mysterious twilight, and of savage wastes, the wilderness, the windy tracts by the sea, landscapes in snow, autumn breathing in mist; temperament which can even simulate knowledge, and can rouse all the under-longings which so often lie sleeping and unknown in women.

"With that man I could never be dull!"

That thought slipped through her while she listened. Where did he come from? In how many lands had he lived? How had his life been passed? She ought to know. Perhaps some day he would tell her. He must surely tell her. One cannot do great things which affect one's life in the dark.

Dark-that's his word! When had she thought that? She remembered. It had been in that room. And since then she had seen Garstin's terrible portrait.

But he was like a palm tree singing. Even Garstin had been forced to say that of him.

When at last he stopped all the artistic part of her was under his spell. He had, perhaps deliberately, perhaps at haphazard-she could not tell-aroused in her a great longing for multifarious experiences such as she had never yet suffered under or enjoyed. He had let her recklessness loose from its tethering chain. Was she just then the same woman who a short time ago had feared Minnie Birchington's curious eyes? She could scarcely believe it.

He got up from the piano. She too got up. He came up to her, put his hands on her shoulders gently, pressed them, contracting his strong brown fingers, and said, looking down into her eyes:

"How beautiful you are! Mon Dieu! how beautiful you are!"

And her vanity was gratified as it had never been gratified before by all the compliments she had received, by all the longings she had aroused in men.

Still holding her shoulders he said:

"Do something for me to-night."

"What is it? What do you want?"

"Oh, only a very simple thing."

She felt disappointed, but she said nothing.

"Let us dine together to-night! Afterwards I will take you to your hotel and leave you to think."

He smiled down at her.

"I am no longer afraid to let you think. Will you come?"

"Yes," she said.

"Where was it you were walking to that night when I was so rude as to follow after you?"

"To a restaurant in Soho."

"Yes?"

"To the Bella Napoli."

"Napoli!"

He half shut his eyes.

"I love Naples. Is it Italian?"

"Yes."

"Really Italian?"

"Yes."

"Let us go there. And before we go I will sing you a street song of Naples."

"You-you are not a Neapolitan?" she asked.

"No. I come from South America. But I know Naples very, very well. Listen!"

And almost laughing, and looking suddenly buffo, he spoke a few sentences in the Neapolitan patois.

"Ah, they are rascals there! But one forgives them because they are happy in their naughtiness, or at any rate they seem happy. And there is nothing like happiness for getting forgiveness. We will be happy to-night, and we shall get forgiven. We will go to the Bella Napoli."

She did not say "yes" or "no." She was thinking at that moment of Craven and Adela Sellingworth. It was just possible that they might be there. But if they were? What did it matter? Minnie Birchington had seen her with Arabian. Lady Archie Brooke had seen her. Craven had seen her. And why should she be ashamed. Ought and ought not! Had she ever been governed in her life and her doing by fear of opinion?

"Do you say yes?" he asked. "Or must you go back to dear Mademoiselle Cronin?"

She shook her head.

"Then what do you say?"

"Yes, I'll go there with you," she answered.

But there was a sound of defiance in her voice, and at that moment she had a feeling that she was going to do something more decisively unconventional, even more dangerous, than she had ever yet done.

If they were there! She remembered Craven's look at Arabian. She remembered, too, the change in Arabian's face as Craven had passed them.

But Craven had gone back to Adela Sellingworth. Arabian, perhaps, had been the cause of that return.

"Why do you look like that? What are you thinking of?"

"Naples," she said.

"I will sing you the street song. And then, presently, we will go. I know we must not be too late, or your dear Mademoiselle Cronin will be frightened about you."

He left her, and went once more to the piano.

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