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   Chapter 25 No.25

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 9111

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The winter night was dark when Miss Van Tuyn stood in the hall of Lady Sellingworth's house waiting for the footman to find a taxicab for her. A big fire was burning on the hearth; the old-fashioned hooded chair stood beside it; and presently, as no taxicab came, she went to the chair and sat down in it. She felt very tired. Her whole body seemed to have been weakened by what she had just been through. But her mind was charged with intense vitality. The thoughts galloped through it, and they were dark as the night. The cold air of winter stole in through the doorway of the hall. She felt it and shivered as she lay back in the great chair which, with its walls and roof, was like a hiding-place; and for the first time in her life she longed to hide herself. She had never before known acute fear-fear that was based on ascertained facts. But she knew it now.

The young footman stood on the doorstep bareheaded, looking this way and that into the blackness, and she sat waiting. In her independence she had never before known what it was to feel abandoned to loneliness. She had always enjoyed her freedom. Now she felt a great longing to cling to someone, to be protected, to lean on somebody who was much stronger than herself, and who would defend her against any attack. At that moment she envied Lady Sellingworth safe above stairs in this silent and beautiful house, which was like a stronghold. She even envied, or thought she did, Lady Sellingworth for her years. In old age there was surely a security that youth could never have. For the riot of life was over and the greatest dangers were past.

She longed to stay with Adela that night. She thought of her as security. But she dared not expect anything more from Adela. She had already received a gift which she had surely not deserved, a gift which few women, if indeed any other woman, would have given her.

She looked towards the open door and saw the footman's flat back, and narrow head covered with carefully plastered hair. He was calling now with both hands to his mouth: "Taxi! Taxi!"

But there came no sound of wheels in the night, and she put her hands on the sides of the chair and got up.

"Can't you find a cab?"

"No, ma'am. I've very sorry, but there doesn't seem to be one about. Shall I go to the nearest cab rank?"

Miss Van Tuyn hesitated. Then she determined to fight her fear.

"It isn't raining, is it?"

"No, ma'am."

"Then I'll walk. It's not far. I shall pick up a cab on the way probably."

The young man looked relieved and stood aside to let her go out. He watched her as she walked down the square towards the block of flats which towered up where the pavement turned at right angles. The light from the hall shone out and made a patch of yellow about his feet. He noticed presently that the girl he was watching turned her head and looked back, almost as if she were hesitating. Then she walked on resolutely, and he stepped in and shut the door.

"Wonder if she's afraid of going like that all by herself!" he thought. "I only wish she was my class. I wouldn't mind seeing her home."

Just before she was out of sight of Lady Sellingworth's house Miss Van Tuyn looked back again. The light was gone. She knew that the door was shut and she shivered. She felt shut out. What was she going to do? She was going back to Claridge's of course. But-after that? She longed to take counsel with someone, with someone who was strong and clear brained, and who really cared for her. But who did care for her? Perhaps for the first time in her life she was the victim of sentimentality, of what she would have thought of certainly as sentimentality in another. A sort of yearning for affection came to her. A wave of self-pity swept over her. Her independence of spirit was in abeyance or dead. Arabian, it seemed, had struck her down to the ground. She felt humiliated, terrified, and strangely, horribly young, like a child almost who had been cruelly treated. She thought of her dead father. If he had been alive and near could she have gone to him? No; for years he had not cared very much about her. He had been kind, had given her plenty of money, but he had been immersed in pleasures and had always been in the hands of some woman or other. He had not really loved her. No one, she thought with desperation, had ever really loved her. She did not ask herself whether that was her fault, whether she had ever given to anyone what she wanted so terribly now, whether she had any right to expect generosity of feeling when she herse

lf was niggardly. She was stricken in her vanity and, because of that, she had come down to the dust.

It was frightful to her to think, to be obliged to think, that Arabian all this time had looked upon her as a prey, had marked her down as a prey. She understood everything now, his fixed gaze at her in the Cafe Royal when she had seen him for the first time, his coming to Garstin's studio, his subtle acting through the early days of their acquaintance. She understood his careful self-repression, his reticence, his evident reluctance to be painted, overcome no doubt by two desires-the desire to become intimate with her, and the desire to possess eventually a piece of work that would be worth a great deal of money. She understood the determination not to allow his portrait to be exhibited. She understood the look in his face when she had told him of her father's sudden death, the change in his demeanour to her since he had known the fact, the desire to hurry things on, to sweep her off her feet. She understood-ah, how she understood!-why he had not wished Adela to join them in the restaurant! She remembered a hundred things about him now, all mixed up together, in no coherent order, little things at which she had wondered but which she wondered at no longer; his distaste for Garstin's portraits because they were of people belonging to the underworld, his understanding of them, his calm contemplation of the victims of vice, his lack of all pity for them, his shrewd verdict on the judge which had so delighted Garstin. And how he had waited for her, how he had known how to wait! It was frightful-that deliberation of his! Garstin had been right about him. Garstin's instinct for people had not betrayed him. Although later Arabian's craft had puzzled even him he had summed up Arabian at a first glance. Garstin was diabolically clever. If only he were less hard, less brutally cynical, she might perhaps go to him now. For he had in his peculiar way warned her against Arabian. She flushed in the dark as she thought of Garstin's probable comments on her situation if he knew of it! And yet Garstin had told her that Arabian was in love with her. Was that possible? Her vanity faintly stirred like something, albeit feebly, reviving. Arabian had marked her down as a prey. She had no doubt about that. Her brain refused to doubt it. But perhaps, mingled with his hideous cupidity of the accomplished adventurer, the professional thief, there was something else, the lust, or even the sensual love, of the primitive man. Perhaps-she realized the possibility-he believed he had found in her the great opportunity of his life, the unique chance of combining the satisfaction of his predatory instincts with the satisfaction of his intimate personal desires, those desires which he shared with the men who lived far from the underworld.

If that were so-and suddenly she felt that it was so, that she had hit upon the truth-then she was surely in great danger. For Arabian was not the man to let an unique opportunity slip through his fingers without putting up a tremendous fight.

She must find someone to help her against this man. Again she thought of Garstin. But he had his own battle to fight, the battle about the portrait. Then she thought of Craven. Obscurely long ago-it seemed at least long ago-she had felt that she might some day need Craven in her life. How strange that was! What mysterious instinct had warned her then? But now Craven was hostile to her. How could she go to him? And then there flashed upon her the thought:

"But I can't go to anybody! I have promised Adela."

That thought struck her like a blow, struck her so hard that she stood still on the pavement. And she realized immediately that either she must do without any help at all, or that, in spite of all that had happened, she must ask Adela to help her. For she could never break her promise to Adela. She knew that. She knew that she would rather go under than betray Adela's confidence. Adela had done a fine thing, something that she, Beryl, had not believed it was in any woman to do. She could not have done it, but on the other hand she could not be vile. It was not in her to be vile.

She heard a step in the darkness and realized what she was doing. Instantly she hurried on, almost running. She must gain shelter, must be in the midst of light, must be between four walls, must speak to someone who knew her, and who would not do her harm. Claridge's-old Fanny! A few minutes later she entered the hotel almost breathless.

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