MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 24 No.24

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 41544

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Miss Van Tuyn was not in the hotel when Lady Sellingworth called. She did not come back till late, and when she entered the hall she was unusually pale, and looked both tired and excited. She had been to Dick Garstin on an unpleasant errand, and she had failed in achieving what she had attempted to bring about. Garstin had flatly refused not to exhibit Arabian's portrait. And she had been obliged to tell Arabian of his refusal.

The man at the bureau gave her Lady Sellingworth's note, and she took it up with her to her sitting-room. As she sat down to read it she noticed the words on the envelope, "Strictly private," and wondered what it contained. She did not recognize the handwriting as Adela's. She took the letter out of the envelope and saw again the warning words.

"What can it be about?"

Before she read further she felt some unpleasant information was in store for her, and for a moment she hesitated. Then she looked at the address on the paper: "18A Berkeley Square."

It was from Adela! She frowned. She felt hostile, already on the defensive, though she had, of course, no idea what the letter was about. But when she had read it her cheeks were scarlet, and she crushed the paper up in her hand.

"How dare she write to me like that! I don't believe it. I don't believe a word of it! She only wants to take him away from me as she is trying to take Alick Craven."

Instantly she had come to a conclusion about Adela's reason for writing that letter. She remembered the strange episode in the Bella Napoli on the previous evening-Adela's extraordinary departure when Craven had come to speak to her and Arabian. She had not seen Craven again. There had been no explanation of that flight. In this letter, between the lines, she read the explanation. Adela must know Arabian, must have had something to do with him in the past. They had, perhaps, even been lovers. She did not know the age of Arabian, but she guessed that he was about thirty-five, perhaps even thirty-eight. Adela was sixty now. They might have been lovers when Arabian was quite young, perhaps almost a boy. At that time Adela had been a brilliant and conquering beauty, middle-aged certainly, over forty, but still beautiful, still full of charm, still bent on conquest. Miss Van Tuyn remembered the photograph of Adela which she had seen at Mrs. Ackroyde's. Yes, that was it. Adela knew Arabian. They had been lovers. And now, out of jealousy, she had written this abominable letter.

But the girl read it again, and began to wonder. It was strangely explicit, even for a letter of a jealous and spiteful woman. It told her that Arabian was beyond the pale, that he ought to be in prison. In prison! That was going very far in attack. To write that, unless it were true, was to write an atrocious libel. But a jealous woman would do anything, risk anything to "get her own back."

Nevertheless Miss Van Tuyn felt afraid. This strange and terrible letter dovetailed with Dick Garstin's warning, and both fitted in as it were with the underthings in her own mind, with those things which Garstin had summed up in one word "intuition."

Arabian had taken her news about Garstin quite coolly.

"I will see about that myself," he had said. "But now-"

And then he had made passionate love to her. There had been-she had noticed it all through her visit-a new pressure in his manner, a new and, as she now began to think, almost desperate authority in his whole demeanour. His long reticence, the reserve which had puzzled and alarmed her, had given place to a frankness, a heat, which had almost swept her away. She still tingled at the memory of what she had been through. But now she began to think of it with a certain anxiety. In spite of her anger against Adela her brain was beginning to work with some of its normal calmness.

Arabian had been very slow in advances. But now was not he like a man in great haste, like a man who wished to bring something to a conclusion rapidly, if possible immediately? Passion for her, perhaps, drove him on now that at last he had spoken, had held her in his arms. But suppose he had another reason for haste? He had seen Lady Sellingworth. He knew that she was a friend of the girl he wanted to marry. Miss Van Tuyn remembered that he had not welcomed her suggestion that the two couples, he and she, Lady Sellingworth and Craven, should have coffee together. He had spoken of the smallness of the tables in the Bella Napoli. But that might have been because he was jealous of Craven.

She read the letter a third time, very slowly and carefully. Then she put it back into its envelope and rang the bell.

A waiter came.

"It's about seven, isn't it?" she said.

"Half past seven, madam."

"Please bring me up some dinner at once-anything. Bring me a sole and an omelette. That will do. But I want it as soon as possible."

"Yes, madame."

The waiter went out. Then Miss Van Tuyn went to see old Fanny, and explained that she must dine alone that evening as she was in a hurry.

"I have to go to Berkeley Square directly after dinner to visit a friend, Lady Sellingworth."

"Then I am to dine by myself, dear?" said Miss Cronin plaintively.

"Yes, you must dine alone. Good night, Fanny."

"Shan't I see you when you come in?"

"I may be late. Don't bother about me."

She went out and shut the door, leaving old Fanny distressed. Something very serious was certainly happening. Beryl looked quite unusual, so strung up, so excited. What could be the matter? If only they could get back to Paris! There everything went so differently! There Beryl was always in good spirits. The London atmosphere seemed to hold poison. Even Bourget's spell was lessened in this city of darkness and strange inexplicable perturbations.

That night, about a quarter to nine when Lady Sellingworth had just finished her solitary dinner and gone up to the drawing-room, a footman came in and said:

"Will you see Miss Van Tuyn, my lady? She has called and is in the hall. She begs you to see her for a moment."

Two spots of red appeared in Lady Sellingworth's white cheeks. For a moment she hesitated. A feeling almost of horror had come to her, a longing for instant flight. She had not expected this. She did not know what exactly she had expected, but it had certainly not been this.

"Did you say I was in?" she said, at last.

The footman-a new man in the house-looked uncomfortable.

"I said your Ladyship was not out, but that I did not know whether your Ladyship was at home to anyone."

After another pause Lady Sellingworth said:

"Please ask Miss Van Tuyn to come up."

As she spoke she got up from her sofa. She felt that she could not receive Beryl sitting, that she must stand to confront what was coming to her with the girl.

The footman went out and almost immediately returned.

"Miss Van Tuyn, my lady."

"Do forgive me, Adela!" said Miss Van Tuyn, coming in with her usual graceful self-possession and looking, Lady Sellingworth thought in that first moment, quite untroubled. "This is a most unorthodox hour. But I knew you were often alone in the evening, and I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind seeing me for a few minutes."

She took Lady Sellingworth's hand and started. For the hand was cold. Then she looked round and saw that the footman had left the room. The big door was shut. They were alone together.

"Of course you know why I've come, Adela," she said. "I've had your letter."

As she spoke she drew it out of the muff she was carrying.

"I was obliged to write it," said Lady Sellingworth. "It was my duty to write it."

"Yes?"

"But I don't want to discuss it."

They were both still standing. Now Miss Van Tuyn said;

"Do you mind if I sit down?"

"No; do sit."

"And may I take off my coat?"

Lady Sellingworth was obliged to say:

"Yes, do."

Very composedly and rather slowly Miss Van Tuyn took off her fur coat, laid aside her muff, and sat down near the fire.

"I'm very sorry, Adela, but really, we must discuss this letter," she said. "I don't understand it."

"Surely it is explicit enough."

"Yes. It is too explicit not to be discussed between us."

"Beryl, I don't want to discuss it. I can't discuss it."

"Why not?"

"Because it is too painful-a horrible subject. You must take my word for it that I have written you the plain truth."

"Please don't think I doubt your word, Adela."

"No, of course not. And that being so let the matter end there. It must end there."

"But-where? I don't quite understand really."

"I felt obliged to send you a warning, a very serious warning. I greatly disliked, I hated doing it. But I couldn't do otherwise. You are young-a girl. I am an-I am almost an old woman. We have been friends. I saw you in danger. What could I do but tell you of it? I knew of course you were quite innocent in the matter. I am putting no blame whatever on you. You will do me that justice."

"Oh, yes."

"So there is nothing more to discuss. I have done what I was bound to do, and I know you will heed my warning."

She looked at the letter in Beryl's hand, and remembered her feeling of danger when she wrote it.

"And now please burn that letter, Beryl. Throw it into the fire."

As she spoke she pointed to the fire on the hearth. But Miss Van Tuyn kept the letter in her hand.

"Please wait a minute, Adela!" she said.

And a mutinous look came into her face.

"You don't quite understand how things are. It's all very well to think you can make me give up my friend-any friend of mine-at a moment's notice and at a word from you. But I don't see things quite in the same light."

"That-that man isn't your friend. Don't say that."

"But I do say it," said the girl, with a now intense obstinacy.

"You met him in Mr. Garstin's studio, didn't you?"

"Perhaps I did. There is nothing against him in that."

"I do not say there is. But I do say you know nothing about him."

"But how do you know that? You assume a great deal, Adela."

"Do you know anything about him?"

"Suppose I were to ask you questions in my turn?"

"Questions? But I have told you-"

"Yes, you have told me certain things, but you have explained nothing. You seem to expect everything from me. Am I not to expect anything from you?"

"Anything! But what?"

"An explanation, surely."

Lady Sellingworth was silent. She was still standing. The two spots of red still glowed in her white face. Her eyes looked like the eyes of one who was in dread. They had lost their usual expression of self-command, and resembled the eyes of a creature being hunted. Miss Van Tuyn saw that and wondered. A fierce animosity woke in her and made her more obstinate, more determined to get at the truth of this mystery. She would not leave this house until light was given to her. She had a strong will. It was now fully roused, and she was ready to pit it against Adela's will. And she had another weapon in her armoury. She was now very angry, with an anger which she did not fully understand, and which was made up of several elements. One of these elements was certainly passion. This anger rendered her merciless.

"Well, Adela?" she said at length, as Lady Sellingworth did not speak.

"What is it you want, Beryl?" said Lady Sellingworth, looking into her eyes and then quickly away.

"But I have told you-an explanation."

She unfolded the letter slowly.

"I can't give you one. I have told you the truth, and I ask you to accept it, and I beg, I implore you to act upon it."

"Suppose I were to make a violent attack on one of your friends, on Mr. Craven for instance?"

"Please don't bracket Mr. Craven and that man together!" said Lady Sellingworth sharply.

Beryl Van Tuyn flushed with anger.

"But I do!" she said. "I choose to do that for the sake of argument."

"Two such men have nothing in common, nothing! One is a gentleman, the other is a blackguard!"

Miss Van Tuyn thought of the previous evening, when Lady Sellingworth had dined with Craven while she had dined with Arabian, and she was stung to the quick.

"I cannot allow you to speak like this of a friend of mine without an explanation," she said bitterly. "And now"-she spoke more hurriedly, as if fearing to be interrupted-"I will finish what I was going to say, if you will allow me. Suppose I were to make an attack on, say, Mr. Craven, to tell you that I happened to know he was thoroughly bad, immoral, a liar, anything you like. Do you mean to say you would give him up at once without insisting on knowing from me my exact reasons for branding him as unfit for your company? Of course you wouldn't. And not only you! No one would do such a thing who had any courage or any will in them."

She lifted the letter.

"In this letter you say that Mr. Arabian is unfit to be the companion of any decent woman, that he is a blackguard in the full acceptance of the word, that he is beyond the pale, and finally, that he ought to be in prison. Very well! I don't say for a moment that I doubt your word, but I do ask you to justify it. Of course I know that you easily can. Otherwise I am sure that you would never have written such awful accusations against anyone. It would be too wicked, and I know you are not wicked. Please tell me your exact reason for writing this letter, Adela."

"I can't."

"You really mean that?"

"I won't. It's impossible."

Miss Van Tuyn's face became very hard.

"Well, then, Adela-"

She paused. Suddenly there had come into her mind the thought of a possible way of forcing the confidence which Lady Sellingworth refused to give her. Should she take it? She hesitated. Arabian's will was upon her even here in this quiet drawing-room. His large eyes seemed fixed upon her. She still felt the long and soft touch of his lips clinging to hers like the lips of a thirsty man. Would he wish her to take this way? For a moment she felt afraid of him. But then her strong independence of an American girl rose up to combat this imaginative, almost occult, domination. Arabian himself, his fate perhaps, was concerned in this matter. She could not, she would not allow even Arabian, whose will imposed itself on hers, who had gathered her strangely, mysteriously, into a grip which she felt almost like a thing palpable upon her, to prevent her from finding out the truth which Lady Sellingworth seemed resolved to keep from her. She still believed, indeed she felt practically certain, that Lady Sellingworth and Arabian in the past had been lovers. Her jealousy was furiously awake. She felt reckless of consequences and ready to take any course which would bring to her what she needed, full knowledge of what had led Adela Sellingworth to send her that letter.

Lady Sellingworth was looking at her now steadily, with, she thought, a sort of almost fierce pleading. But she cared very little for Adela's feelings just then.

"You really refuse to tell me?"

"I must, Beryl."

"I don't think that's fair. It isn't fair to me or to him."

"I can't help that. Please don't ask me anything more. And please destroy that letter. Or let me destroy it."

She held out her hand, but Miss Van Tuyn sat quite still.

"I must tell you something," she said. "If you will not explain to me I think I ought to go for an explanation to someone else."

"Someone else!" said Lady Sellingworth in a startled voice. "But-do you know-to whom would you go?"

"I think I ought to go to him, to the man you accuse of nameless things."

"But you can't do that!"

"Why not? It would only be fair."

"But what reason could you give?"

"Naturally I should have to say that you had warned me against him."

"No-no, you mustn't do that."

"Really? I am to be bound hand and foot while you-"

"You saw what I wrote in that letter."

"Yes, of course. Naturally I will not show it. But I shall have to say that you warned me to drop him."

"I can't have my name mentioned to that man," said Lady Sellingworth desperately.

"And I can't drop him without telling him why."

"Beryl, you haven't read to the end of my letter."

"But I have!"

"Then have you forgotten it? Look! I wrote in it that I don't think he will ask for your reason if you refuse to see him again."

"That only proves how little you know about him. I shall not do it, Adela. You are not very frank with me, but I am sincere with you. Either you must give me an explanation of your reason for writing this letter, or you must give me permission to tell Mr. Arabian of your warning, or-if you won't do either the one or the other-I shall take no action because of this letter. I shall behave as if I had never received it and read it."

"Beryl! What reason could I have for writing as I have written if I had nothing against this man?"

"I don't know. It is very difficult to understand the reasons women have for doing what they do. But I have come here to ask you what your reason is. That's why I am here now."

"Could I have a bad reason, a selfish reason?"

"How can I tell?"

"Then have you a bad opinion of me, of my character?"

"I have always admired you very much. You know that."

"Once-once you called me a book of wisdom."

"Did I?"

"Don't you remember?"

"I dare say I did."

"And I think you meant of worldly wisdom. Then can't you, won't you, trust my opinion of this man?"

"Oh if it's only your opinion!"

"But it is not. It is knowledge."

"Then you know Mr. Arabian?"

"I didn't say that."

"Do you know him?"

Lady Sellingworth turned away for a moment. She stood with her back to Miss Van Tuyn and her face towards the fire, holding the mantelpiece with her right hand. Miss Van Tuyn, motionless, stared at her tall figure. She felt this was a real battle between herself and her friend, or enemy. She was determined to win it somehow. She still had a weapon in reserve, the weapon she had thought of just now when she had resolutely put away her fear of Arabian. But perhaps she would not be forced to use it, perhaps she could overcome Adela's extraordinary resistance without it. As she looked at the woman turned from her she began to think that might be possible. Adela was surely weakening. This pause, this sudden moving away, this long hesitation suggested weakness. At last Lady Sellingworth turned round.

"You ask me whether I know that man."

"I asked you whether you knew Mr. Arabian!" said Miss Van Tuyn, on a note of acute exasperation.

"I don't know him."

"That is a lie!" said Miss Van Tuyn to herself.

To Lady Sellingworth she said:

"Then if you don't know Mr. Arabian you are only repeating hearsay."

"No!"

"But you must be!"

"I am not."

"Adela, you are incomprehensible, or else I must be densely stupid. One or the other!"

"One may know things about a man's character and life without being personally acquainted with him."

"Then it's hearsay. I am not going to drop Mr. Arabian because of hearsay, more especially when I don't even know what the hearsay is."

"It is not hearsay."

"It doesn't come from other people?"

"No."

"Then"-a sudden thought struck her-"is it from the newspapers? Has he ever been in some case, some scandal, that's been in the newspapers?"

"Not that I know of. It isn't that."

"Really this is like the 'Mysteries of Udolpho,'" said Miss van Tuyn, concealing her anger and her burning curiosity under a pretence of petulance. "And I really can't take it seriously."

"But you must, Beryl. You must!"

Lady Sellingworth came to her quickly and sat down beside her.

"I know my conduct must seem very strange."

"It does, indeed!"

"And I dare say all sorts of suspicions, ugly suspicions perhaps, have come into your mind. But try to put them away. Try to believe that I am honestly doing my best to be a friend to you, a true friend."

"Forgive me, Adela, for being brutally frank with you. But I don't think you care very much for me."

"I wrote that letter against my own desire simply because I thought I ought to. I wrote it simply for your sake. I would have given a great deal not to write it. I knew that there was even danger in writing it."

"What danger?"

"It was possible that you might disregard my request and show my letter. I felt practically certain you wouldn't, but you might have done so."

"And if I had?"

"If you had-then-but I only tell you this to prove that in this instance I was trying to be a friend to you."

"If I had shown this letter, or if I were to show it to Mr. Arabian he might bring an action for libel on it, I should think."

"I dare say he could do that."

"Well-but if you could justify!"

"But I couldn't!"

"You co

uldn't! You write me a libel about a friend of mine which you yourself say you couldn't justify!"

"I can't bear to hear you speak of that man as your friend."

"He is my friend. I like him very much indeed. And I know him, have known him for weeks, while you tell me you don't know him. I shall venture to set my knowledge, my personal knowledge, against your ignorance, Adela, and to go on with my friendship. But you need not be afraid." She smiled contemptuously. "I will not show Mr. Arabian this cruel letter which you yourself say you couldn't justify."

As she spoke she returned the letter to her muff, which was lying on a table beside her.

"Well," she added, "I don't know that there is anything more I need say. I came here to have it out with you. That is my way, perhaps an American way, of doing things. We don't care for underhand dealings. We like things fair and square."

She got up.

"You have your way of doing things and we have ours! I'll tell you what mine would have been, Adela, if the situation had been reversed. I should not have written at all. I should have come to see you, and if I had had some grave, hideous charge to make I should have made it, and fully explained my reasons for making it to you. I should have put you in the same state of complete knowledge as I was in. That is my idea of friendship and fair dealing. But you think otherwise. So what is the good of our arguing any more about the matter?"

Lady Sellingworth was still sitting. For a moment she did not move, but remained where she was looking up at the girl. Just then she was assailed by a fierce temptation. After all, had not she done her part? Had not she done all that anyone could expect from her, from any woman under the existing circumstances? Had not she done even much more than many women could have brought themselves to do? Beryl had not been very kind to her. Beryl was really the enemy of her happiness, of her poor little attempt after happiness. And yet she had taken a risk in order to try and save Beryl from danger. And the girl would not be saved. Headstrong, wilful, embittered, she refused to be saved. Then why not let her go? She had been warned. She chose to defy the warning. That was not Lady Sellingworth's fault.

"I've done enough! I've done all I can do."

She said this to herself as she sat and looked at the girl.

"I can't do any more!"

Miss Van Tuyn reached out for her coat and began very deliberately to put it on. Then she picked up the muff in which the letter lay hidden.

"Well, good night, Adela!"

Lady Sellingworth got up slowly.

"I promise that I will not show your letter. So don't be afraid."

"I'm not afraid."

Miss Van Tuyn held out her hand.

"No doubt you have your reasons for doing what you have done. I don't pretend to understand them. And I don't understand you. But women are often incomprehensible to me. Perhaps that is why I usually prefer men. They don't plunge you in subtleties. They let you understand things."

"Ah!" exclaimed Lady Sellingworth.

And there was a passion of acute irony in the exclamation.

"What's the matter?" said Miss Van Tuyn, looking surprised, almost startled.

But Lady Sellingworth did not tell her.

"If you will go like this, Beryl-go!" she said. "I cannot force you to do, or not to do, anything. But"-she laid a hand on the girl's arm and pressed it till her hand almost hurt Beryl-"but I tell you that you are in danger, in great danger. I dread to think of what may be in store for you."

Something in the grasp of her hand, in her manner, in her eyes, impressed Miss Van Tuyn in spite of herself. Again fear, a fear mysterious and cold, crept in her. Garstin had warned her in his way. Now Adela was warning her. And she remembered that other warning whispered by something within herself. She stood still looking into Lady Sellingworth's eyes. Then she looked down. She seemed to be considering something. At last she looked up again and said:

"You said to me to-night that you did not know Mr. Arabian-now."

"I don't know him."

"But have you known him? Did you know him long ago?"

"I have never known him."

"Then I don't understand. And-and I will not act in ignorance. It isn't fair to expect me to do that."

"I have done all that I can do," said Lady Sellingworth, with a sort of despair, taking her hand from the girl's arm.

"Very well."

Beryl moved and went slowly towards the door. Lady Sellingworth stood looking after her. She thought the hideous interview was over. But she did not know Beryl even yet, did not realize even yet the passionate force of curiosity which possessed Beryl at this moment. When the girl was not far from the door, and when Lady Sellingworth was reaching out her hand to touch the bell in order that the footman might know that her visitor was leaving her, Beryl turned round.

"Adela!" she said.

"Yes. What is it?"

"Perhaps you think that I have been very persistent to-night, that I have almost cross-examined you."

"I don't blame you. It is natural that you wished to know more."

"Yes, it is natural, because Mr. Arabian wants me to marry him."

"To marry him!"

Lady Sellingworth started forward impulsively.

"Marry? He wants-you-you-"

"He loves me. He has asked me to marry him."

She turned away, and went to the door and opened it.

"Beryl, come here!"

"Why?"

"Beryl!"

"But what is the good? You refuse to tell me anything, I tell you everything. Now you understand why I feel angry at these horrible accusations."

"You don't mean to tell me you have ever dreamed of marrying such a man!"

"Don't abuse him! I don't wish to hear him abused. I hate it. I won't have it."

"But-Beryl! But only a few days ago you as good as told me you cared for Alick Craven. You-you gave me to understand that you liked him very much, that you-"

"Oh, this is intolerable!" said Miss Van Tuyn. "Really! Why do you interfere in my life like this? What have I done to set you against me? You talk of being my friend, but you do everything you can to upset my happiness. It is enough that I like anyone for you to try to come between us. First it was Alick Craven! Now it is Mr. Arabian! It is unbearable. You have had your life. You have had a splendid life, everything any woman could wish to have. I am a girl. I am only beginning. Why can't you leave me alone? Why can't you let me have some happiness without thrusting yourself in and trying to spoil everything for me? Won't you ever have had enough? Ever since I have known Mr. Craven you have tried to get him away from me. And now you are doing your best to make me give up a man who loves me and wants to marry me."

"Beryl! Please!"

"No, I will not bear it. I will not! I admired you. I had a cult for you. Everyone knew it. I went about praising you, telling everyone you were the most wonderful woman I had ever known. You can ask anybody. People used to laugh at me about my infatuation for you. I stood up for you always. They told me-but I wouldn't believe!"

"What did they tell you?"

"Never mind. But now I begin to believe it is true. You can't bear to see other women happy. That's what it is."

"Beryl, it isn't that! No, it isn't that!"

"You have had it all. But that doesn't satisfy you. You want to prevent other women from having any of the happiness that you can't have now. It is cruel. I never thought you were like that. I took you as a pattern of what a woman of your age should be. I looked up to you. I would have come to you for counsel, for advice. You were my book of wisdom. I thought you were far above all the pettinesses that disfigure other women, the women who hate us girls, who want to snatch everything from us. And now you are trying to do me more harm than any other woman has ever tried to do me!"

"I-I will prove to you that it isn't so!" said Lady Sellingworth. "Please shut the door."

Miss Van Tuyn obeyed.

"But-but-first tell me something."

"What?"

"Tell me the absolute truth."

"I am not a liar, Adela."

"But sometimes-truth is difficult sometimes."

"What is it you want to know?"

"Do you care for this-do you care for Mr. Arabian?"

"Perhaps I do."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"Do you mean that you are really thinking of doing what he wishes you to do?"

"I haven't told him yet."

"But you are thinking of marrying him?"

"I know nothing against him. He cares for me very much."

Lady Sellingworth was silent.

"Perhaps you don't believe that? Perhaps you think that's impossible?"

"Oh, no! But-"

"I know exactly what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am rich now that my father is dead. But he is rich too. He does not need my money. He has never done any work. He has been an idler all his life. He has often told me that he has had too much money and that it has done him harm, made him an idler."

"And you believe all that?"

"I believe that he cares for me very much. I know he does."

"Once I thought that man-"

She stopped.

"Promise me one thing," she said at last in a different voice. "Promise me that you will not marry Mr. Arabian. I won't ask anything else of you; only that."

"But I won't promise. I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because-because I don't know what I am going to do, what I might do." She looked down, then added in a low voice; "He fascinates me."

For the first time since she had come into the room there was a helpless sound in Miss Van Tuyn's voice, a sound that was wholly girlish, absolutely, transparently sincere. Lady Sellingworth did not miss it.

"I haven't made up my mind," she said. "But he fascinates me."

And at that moment Lady Sellingworth knew she was speaking the truth. She remembered her own madnesses, sunk away in the past, but still present to her, gripped between the tentacles of memory. Beryl, too, was then capable of the great follies which often exist side by side with great vanity. The wild heart confronted Lady Sellingworth in another. And she felt suddenly a deep sense of pity, a sense that seemed flooded with tears, the pity that age sometimes feels for youth coming on into life, on into the devious ways, with their ambushes, their traps, their pitfalls full of darkness and fear. She was even conscious of a tenderness of age which till now had been a rare visitor in her difficult nature. Seymour Portman seemed near her, almost with her in the room. She could almost hear his voice speaking of spring with all its daffodils.

Noblesse oblige. In her torn heart could she find a nobleness sufficient for this occasion? Seymour's eyes, the terrible eyes of affection, which require so much and which sometimes, because of that, seem to be endowed with creative power, forcing into life that which they long to see, were surely upon her, watching for her nobility, asking for it, demanding it of her.

She took Beryl Van Tuyn by the wrist and led her away from the shut door back to the fire.

"Sit down, Beryl," she said.

The girl looked at her wondering, feeling a great change in her and not understanding it.

"Why?" she said.

"I have something I must say to you."

Beryl dropped her muff and sat down. Lady Sellingworth stood near her.

"Beryl," she said, "you think I have been and am your enemy. I must show you I am not. And there's only one way. You say I can't bear to see you happy. I don't think that's true. I hope it isn't. I don't think I wish unhappiness to others, but, even at my age, I still wish to have a little happiness myself. There's never a time in one's life, I suppose, when one doesn't long to be happy. But I don't want to interfere with your happiness, I only want to interfere between you and a very great danger, something which would certainly bring disaster into your life."

She stopped speaking. She was looking grave, indeed almost tragically sad, but calm and resolute. The spots of red had faded out of her cheeks. There was no fever in her manner. Miss Van Tuyn's wonder grew as she looked at her former friend, who now dominated her, and began to extort from her a strange and unwilling admiration, which recalled to her the admiration of that past time when she had first met Alick Craven in this drawing-room.

After a long pause Lady Sellingworth continued, with a sort of strong simplicity in which there was moral power:

"Don't be angry with me, Beryl, when I tell you that you have one of my dominant characteristics."

"What is it?" Miss Van Tuyn asked, in a low voice.

"Vanity. You and I-we were both born with great vanity in us. Mine has troubled me, tortured me, been a curse to me, all my life. It led me at last into a very horrible situation, in which the-that man who calls himself Nicolas Arabian was mixed up."

"But you said you didn't know him, that you had never known him!"

"That's quite true. I have never spoken to him in my life. But it was he who led me to change my life. You must have heard of it. You must have heard how, ten years ago, I suddenly gave up everything and began to lead a life of retirement."

"Yes."

"But for that man I should probably never have done that. But for him I might have been going about London now with dyed hair, pretending to be ten or fifteen years younger than I really am."

"But-if you never knew him? I can't understand!"

"Did you ever hear that about ten years ago I lost a great quantity of jewels, that they were stolen out of a train at the Gare du Nord in Paris?"

A look of fear, almost of horror, came into Beryl Van Tuyn's eyes. She got up from the sofa on which she was sitting.

"Adela!"

Already she knew what was coming, what Lady Sellingworth was going to tell her. She even knew the very words Lady Sellingworth was about to say, and when she heard them it was as if she herself had spoken them.

"That man stole them."

"Adela!"

"You said that he had money, that he was not obliged to work. Now you know why he has money and what his work is."

"Adela! But-but why didn't you-"

Her voice faded away.

"I couldn't. My hands were tied."

"How?"

"He caught me in a trap. He laid a bait for my vanity, Beryl, and I took the bait.

"But what was it?"

"He made me believe that he had fallen in love with me. I was a woman of fifty and he made me believe that! That is how vanity leads us!"

And then she told the girl all the truth about Arabian and herself, all the truth of ten years ago. Having made up her mind, having begun to do what Seymour would have called "the right thing," she did not hesitate, did not spare herself. She went on to the bitter end. But the strange, the wonderful thing was that it was less bitter than she had thought it must be. While she was speaking, while she was exposing her own folly, her own shame even, she began to feel a sense of relief. She gave the secret which she had kept for ten years to this girl who had treated her cruelly, and in the giving, instead of abject humiliation, she was conscious of liberation. Her mind seemed to be released from a long bondage. Her soul seemed to breathe more freely, like a live thing let out from a close prison into the air. A strange feeling of being at peace with herself came to her and comforted her.

"And that is all, Beryl!" she said at last. "Now, do you forgive me?"

Beryl had been standing quite still, with her eyes fixed on Lady Sellingworth. She had listened without moving. Even her hands had been still, folded together in front of her. But the colour had come and gone in her face as she had listened, as it can only come and go in a face that is young. She was very pale now. Even her lips looked much paler than usual. She stood there and did not say anything. But her eyes were no longer fastened on Lady Sellingworth's face. She was looking down now. Lady Sellingworth could not see her eyes, but only her white eyelids fringed with long lashes which curled up at the ends.

"I had to tell you, Beryl."

Still the girl said nothing and did not move. But Lady Sellingworth saw two tears come from under her eyelids and fall down her face. Other tears followed. She did not take out her handkerchief to wipe them away. She did not seem to be aware of them, or of any necessity for trying to stop them from coming. And then she began to shake. She shook from head to foot, still keeping her hands folded. And that-the folded hands-made her look like a tall doll shaking. There was something so peculiar and horrible in the contrast between her attitude and the evident agony which was convulsing her that for a moment Lady Sellingworth felt helpless, did not dare to speak to her or to touch her. It was impossible to tell whether she was shaken by anger, by self-pity, or by the despair of youth deceived and outraged. But as she continued to weep, and as her body went on trembling, Lady Sellingworth at last could not bear it any longer. She felt that she must do something, must try to help her, and she put a hand on the girl's shoulder gently.

"Beryl!" she said. "Beryl! I didn't want to hurt you, but I had to tell you."

The girl suddenly turned and caught her by the arms.

"Oh, Adela!" she said, in a faltering voice. "No other woman would have-how could you? Oh, how could you?"

Her face was distorted. She looked at Lady Sellingworth with eyes that were bloodshot behind their tears.

"Both of us! Both of us!" she exclaimed. "It's too horrible!"

She still held Lady Sellingworth's arms.

"I couldn't have done it! I should have let you go on. I shouldn't have written-I shouldn't have spoken! And I have been alone with him. I have let him-I have let him-"

"Beryl!"

"No, no! It isn't too late! Don't be afraid!"

"Thank God!" said Lady Sellingworth.

She had no feeling of self-pity now. All her compassion for herself was obscured for the moment in compassion for the girl. The years at last were helping her, those years which so often had brought her misery.

"But what am I to do? I'm afraid of him. Oh, do help me."

"Hush, Beryl! What can he do? There's nothing to be afraid of."

"But I've nobody. I'm all alone. Fanny is no use. And he means-he won't give it up. I know he won't give it up. I was always afraid in a way. I always had suspicions, but I trampled them down. Dick Garstin told me, but I would not listen. Dick Garstin showed me what he was."

"How could he?"

"He did. It's there in the studio-that horrible picture, the real man, the man I couldn't see. But I must always have known what he was. Something in me must always have known!"

She seemed to make a violent effort to recover her self-control. She dropped her hands, took out a handkerchief and wiped the tears from her eyes. Then she went to the sofa where her muff was lying, drew out the letter that was in it, went over to the fireplace and threw the letter into the flames.

"Adela," she said, "I've been a beast to you. You know-my last visit to you. You're brave. I suppose I always felt there was something fine in you, but I didn't know how fine you could be. All I can do in return is this-never to tell. It isn't much, is it?"

"It's quite enough, Beryl."

"There isn't anything else I can do, is there?"

Her eyes were asking a question. Lady Sellingworth met them calmly, earnestly. She knew what the girl was thinking at that moment. She was thinking of Alick Craven.

"No, there isn't anything else."

"Are you quite sure, Adela? I owe you a great deal. I may forget it. One never knows. And I suppose I'm horribly selfish. But if I make you a promise now I'll keep it. If you want me to promise anything, tell me now."

"But I don't want anything from you," said Lady Sellingworth.

She said it very quietly, without emotion. There was even a coldness in her voice.

The great effort she had just made seemed to have changed her. By making it she felt as if, unwittingly, she had built up an insurmountable barrier between herself and youth. She had not known, perhaps, what she was doing, but now, suddenly, she knew.

I grow too old a comrade, let us part. Pass thou away!

The words ran in her mind. How often she had thought of them! How often she had struggled with that wild heart which God had given her, which in a way she clung to desperately, and yet which, as she had long known, she ought to give up. She was too old a comrade for that wild heart, and now surely she was saying farewell to it-this time a final farewell. But she had felt, had really felt as if in her very entrails, for a moment the appeal of youth. And she could never forget that, and, having responded, she knew that she could never struggle against youth again.

Beryl had conquered her without knowing it.

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