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   Chapter 26 No.26

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 7478

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On the following afternoon Craven called on Lady Sellingworth about five o'clock and was told by the new footman in a rather determined manner that she was "not at home."

"I hope her ladyship is quite well?" he said.

"I believe so, sir," replied the man. "Her ladyship has been out driving to-day."

"Please give her that card. Wait one moment."

He pencilled on the card, "I hope you are better,-A.C.," gave it to the man, and walked away, feeling sure that Lady Sellingworth was in the house but did not choose to see him.

In the evening he received the following note from her:

18A, BERKELEY SQUARE,

Thursday.

DEAR MR. CRAVEN,-How kind of you to call and to write that little message. I am sorry I could not see you. I'm not at all ill, and have been out driving. But, between you and me-for I hate to make a fuss about trifling matters of health-I feel rather played out. Perhaps it's partly old age! You know nothing about that. Any variation in my quiet life seems to act as a disturbing influence. And the restaurant the other night really was terribly hot. I mustn't go there again, though it is great fun. I suppose you didn't see Beryl? She has been to see me, but said nothing about it. Be nice to her. I don't think she has many real friends in London.-Yours very sincerely,

ADELA SELLINGWORTH.

"What is it? What has happened?" Craven thought, as he put down the letter.

He felt that some drama had been played out, or partially played out, within the last days which he did not understand, which he was not allowed to understand. Lady Sellingworth chose to keep him in the dark. Well, she had the right to do that. As he thought over things he realized that the heat in the restaurant could certainly not have been the sole reason of her strange conduct on the night when they had dined together. Something had upset her mentally. A physical reason only could not account for her behaviour. And again he thought of Arabian.

Instinctively he hated the man. Who was he? Where did he come from? Craven could not place him. Beyond feeling sure that he was a "wrong 'un" Craven had no very definite opinion about him. He was well dressed, good looking-too good looking-and no doubt knew how to behave. He might even possibly be a gentleman of sorts, come to England from some exotic land where the breed of gentleman was quite different from that which prevailed in England. But he was surely a beast. Craven detested his good looks, loathed his large and lustrous brown eyes. He was the sort of beast who did nothing but make up to women. Something inherently clean in Craven rejected the fellow, wished to drive him into outer darkness.

Could Lady Sellingworth know such a man?

That seemed quite impossible. Nevertheless, certain things persistently suggested to Craven that at least she had some knowledge of Arabian which she was deliberately concealing from him. The most salient of these things was her reiterated attempt to push him into the company of Beryl Van Tuyn. It was impossible not to think that Lady Sellingworth wished him to interfere between Beryl Van Tuyn and Arabian. On the night of the dinner in Soho she had attempted to persuade him to go back to the restaurant and to see Beryl home. And now here in this letter she returned to the matter.

"Be nice to her. I don't think she has many real friends in London."

"Go to see Beryl; don't come to see me."

Between the lines of Lady Sellingworth's letter Craven read those words and wondered at the ways of women. But he did not mean to obey the unwritten command. And he felt angry with Lady Sellingworth for giving it by implication. She might have what she considered a good reason for her extraordinary behav

iour. But as she did not allow him to understand it, as she chose to keep him entirely in the dark, he would be passive. It was not his business to run after Beryl Van Tuyn, to interfere almost forcibly between her and another man, even if that man were a scoundrel. Miss Van Tuyn was a free agent. She had the right to choose her own friends, her own lovers. Once he had decided that he would not give up his intimacy with her in favour of another man without a struggle, the sort of polite, and perhaps subtle, struggle which is suitable to the twentieth century, when man must only be barbarous in battle. But since the encounter in Glebe Place he had changed his mind. Disgust had seized him that day. What could he think but that Beryl Van Tuyn had deliberately induced him to come to Glebe Place, in order that he might see not only her absolute indifference to him but also her intimacy with Arabian? Her reason for such a crude exposure of her lightness of conduct escaped Craven. He could not conceive what she was up to, unless her design was to arouse in him violent jealousy. He did feel jealous, but he was certainly not going to show it. Besides, the delicacy that was natural in him was disquieted by what he thought of as the coarseness of her behaviour.

As once more he looked at Lady Sellingworth's letter he was struck by something final in the wording of it. There was nothing explicit in it. On the contrary, that seemed to be carefully avoided. But the allusions to old age, to disturbing influences, the decision not to go again to the Bella Napoli-these seemed to hint an intention to return to a former state of being, to abandon a new path of life. And he remembered a conversation with Francis Braybrooke at the club, the interest it had roused in him. Some slumbering feeling for romance had been stirred in him, he now thought, by that conversation, by the information he had received about the distinguished recluse who had lived a great life and then suddenly plunged into old age and complete retirement.

Now he seemed to hear a door shutting, and he was outside it. She had allowed him to enter her life for a short time, to enter it almost intimately. But she was surely repenting of that intimacy. He did not know why. Did he ever know why a woman did this or that? There was no suggestion in the letter that he should ever call again, no hint of a desire to see him. She was only sorry, politely sorry, that she had not been able to see him that day. But no reason was given for the inability. She had not considered it necessary to give him a reason. When she had gone abroad without letting him know he had said to himself that his brief friendship with her had come to an end. He felt that more acutely now. For she had come back from abroad. She was close to him in London. She had tried him again. Evidently she must have found him wanting. For once more she was giving him up. Perhaps he was too young. Perhaps he bored her. He did not know.

"I don't suppose I shall ever know."

To that conclusion he came at last. And the sense of finality grew in him, cold and inexorable. She was a mystery to him. He did not love her. He had never thought of her as she had thought of him. He had never known or suspected what her feelings for him had been. But he felt that something which might have meant a good deal, even perhaps a great deal, to him was being withdrawn from his life. And this withdrawal hurt him and saddened him.

He locked up her letter in his dispatch box. It would be a souvenir of a friendship which had seemed to promise much and which had ended abruptly in mystery. He did not answer it. Perhaps, probably, he would have done so but for the last two sentences in it.

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