MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 28 No.28

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 22865

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


As soon as Beryl had gone Lady Sellingworth went downstairs to her writing-room. She turned on the electric light as she went in to the room, and glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. The hands pointed to half-past nine. She wondered where Seymour was dining. He might chance to be at home. It was much more likely that he was dining out, at one of his clubs or elsewhere. If he were at home and alone he would come to her at once; if not she would perhaps have to wait till half-past ten or eleven. She hoped to find him at St. James's Palace. As this thing had to be done-and now she had burnt her boats, for she had promised Beryl-she wished to do it quickly.

She inquired through the telephone if Seymour was at home. His servant replied that he was out. She asked where. The servant did not know. His master had dressed and gone out at a quarter to eight without saying where he was dining. Lady Sellingworth frowned as she received this information. She hesitated for a moment, then she said:

"As soon as Sir Seymour comes in, however late it may be, I want to see him on an urgent matter. If you go to bed before he comes back, will you please leave a written message in the hall asking him to visit Lady Sellingworth at once in Berkeley Square. It is very important."

"Yes, my lady," said the voice.

"You won't forget? I shall be sitting up for Sir Seymour."

"No, my lady. I will stay up and inform Sir Seymour."

"Thank you."

She put the receiver back in its place and again looked at the clock. She had not much hope of seeing Seymour before eleven at the earliest. He might be at a big dinner. He might be at the theatre. Probably he would go to his club afterwards. She might not see him till midnight, even later perhaps. Well, it could not be helped. She must just be patient, must wait calmly. But she did not want to wait. She was beginning to feel nervous, and she knew that the nervousness would increase in suspense. How unlucky that Seymour was out!

She rang the bell. Murgatroyd came.

"I am expecting Sir Seymour to-night, Murgatroyd," she said, "about some important business. But I can't find out where he is, so he won't know till he goes home. That may be late. But he will come here directly he gets my message. I'm sorry to keep you up, but I should like you to let him in."

"Certainly, my lady," said Murgatroyd.

"I shall be waiting for him in the drawing-room. Bring me up some camomile tea, will you? And put out a cigar and whisky and Perrier for Sir Seymour."

"Yes, my lady."

"That's all."

Murgatroyd stood back to let her pass out of the room. She thought at that moment there was something sympathetic in his face.

"I believe he's rather devoted to me, and to Seymour too," she said to herself as she went upstairs. "I don't think he'll say anything to the others. Not that it matters if he does!"

Nevertheless she felt oddly shy about Seymour coming to her very late at night, and wondered what Murgatroyd thought of that long friendship. No doubt he knew, no doubt all the servants knew, how devoted to her Seymour was.

She went into the drawing-room and sat down by the fire, and very soon Murgatroyd brought in the camomile tea. Then he placed on a side table a box of cigars, whisky and Perrier water, and went out.

The clock chimed the quarter before ten.

Camomile tea is generally supposed to be good for the nerves. That was why Lady Sellingworth had ordered it; that was why she drank it now. For now she was beginning to feel horribly nervous, and the feeling seemed to increase in her with every passing moment. It was dreadful waiting for Seymour like this. She felt all her courage and determination oozing away. When Beryl had been there, and that strange and abrupt decision had been come to, Lady Sellingworth had felt almost glad. Seymour would know what Beryl knew, the worst and perhaps the best, of his old friend. And there was no one else she could go to. Seymour was an old soldier, a thorough man of the world, absolutely discreet, with a silent tongue and proved courage and coolness. No one surely existed more fitted to deal drastically with a scoundrel than he. Lady Sellingworth had no idea what he would do. But he would surely find a way to get rid of Arabian, to "drive" him, as Beryl had put it, out of the girl's life for ever. Yes, he would find a way. Lady Sellingworth felt positive of that, and, feeling thus positive, she realized how absolutely she trusted Seymour, trusted his heart, his brain, his whole character.

Nevertheless she looked again and again at the clock, and began to feel almost sick with anxiety.

The thought of confession had scarcely frightened her when Beryl was with her. Indeed, it had brought her a sense of relief. But now she began to feel almost panic-stricken at the knowledge of what was before her. And she began to wonder exactly how much Seymour understood of her character, exactly how much he knew of her past. He must certainly know a great deal, and perhaps suspect more than he knew. She had once been almost explicit with him, on the terrible day when she had tried to make up her mind to marry him, and had failed. And yet he might be surprised, he might even be horrified when she told him. It was such an ugly story, such a hideous story. And Seymour was full of natural rectitude. Whatever he had done in his life, he must always have been incapable of stooping down to the gutter, as she had stooped. She grew hot and then cold at the thought of telling him. Perhaps he would not be able to bear it. Perhaps even his love could not stand so much as that. If, after she had told him, he looked at her with different eyes, if he changed towards her! He would not want to change, but if he could not help it!

How awful that would be! Something deep down within her seemed to founder at the mere thought of it. To lose Seymour! That would indeed be the end of everything that made life worth living for her. She shuddered on her sofa. Then she got up and stood before the blazing fire. But still she felt cold. Surely she had acted imprudently when Beryl was there. She had been carried away, had yielded to a sudden impulse. And yet no! For she had stood with her back to Beryl for several minutes before she had said she was going to tell Seymour. And through those minutes she had been thinking hard. Yes; but she had not thought as she was thinking now.

She began to feel desperate. It was nearly eleven o'clock. The time had flown. Why had she asked Seymour to come to-night? She might just as well have waited till to-morrow, have "slept on it." The night brings counsel. Yet how could she break her promise to Beryl? It would be no use debating, for she had promised.

The clock struck eleven.

Seymour might come now in a moment. On the other hand, he might not reach home till midnight, or even later. It would really be a shame to bring him out again at such an hour. She had been thoughtless when she was at the telephone. And she was keeping his man up; Murgatroyd too. That was scarcely fair. It would not matter if Seymour came now, but if he did not get home till much later, as was possible, even probable! She had surely been rather selfish in her desire to do something quickly for Beryl. There was no such terrible hurry about the matter.

An overwhelming desire to postpone things took hold of her. She wanted to have time to think over how she would put it to Seymour. Would not it perhaps be possible to obtain his help for Beryl without telling him the whole truth about Arabian? She might just say that she knew the man was a blackguard without saying why she knew. There was perhaps no need to be absolutely explicit. Seymour would take it from her without asking awkward questions. He was the least curious of men. He would probably much rather not know the truth. It would be as horrible for him to hear it as for her to tell it. But she must have time to think carefully over how she would put it to him. Yes, she must have time. Better to see him to-morrow morning.

A quarter-past eleven!

It would really be monstrous to drag Seymour out to have a long confabulation about a girl whom he scarcely knew, and could have no interest in, at this time of night.

And she turned from the fire and went decisively towards the door. She would go down at once and telephone to Seymour's apartment in St. James's Palace cancelling her request to his manservant.

She found Murgatroyd waiting in the hall. He looked faintly surprised at seeing her.

"Oh, Murgatroyd!" she said. "It's getting so late that I've decided to put off Sir Seymour till to-morrow. I'm just going to telephone now. So you needn't sit up any longer."

"Very well, my lady."

"Good night."

"Good night, my lady."

"I'll turn out the lights when I go up."

"Shan't I-"

"No-you needn't. Good night."

She went into the writing-room and shut the door behind her. The thought of the intense relief she would feel directly she had spoken through the telephone and put off Seymour, directly it was settled that he was not to come and see her that night, sent her straight to the telephone. She was eager to communicate with his servant. But she wished now intensely that she had not waited so long. She might possibly be too late. Seymour might have returned home, had her message, and started for Berkeley Square. She took the receiver in her hand and was just going to speak when she heard a cab outside in the Square. She listened. It came up and stopped at her door.

That was Seymour! She was certain of it. She put the receiver back in its place and stood quite still, listening. The bell was rung. Murgatroyd could not have gone to bed. He would answer the bell no doubt. If he did not she would have to answer it. After a pause she heard the bell again, then, almost immediately the front door being opened, and a faint murmur of voices. An instant later she heard the cab drive away. Perhaps-had Seymour called and gone away? Could Murgatroyd have-The door behind her opened. She turned sharply.

"Sir Seymour Portman has called to see you, my lady."

Looking beyond Murgatroyd she saw Seymour standing in the hall, in evening dress and a thick black overcoat.

Seymour had sent away his cab!

She went into the hall smiling faintly.

"So you have come! I was just going to speak to your man through the telephone, to tell him not to bother you, that it didn't matter, and that to-morrow would do as well. It's so very late."

He began to take off his overcoat, helped by Murgatroyd.

"Not a bit too late!" he said. "I shall enjoy a little talk with you by the fire. Thanks, Murgatroyd! I was dining out with the Montgomeries in Eaton Square."

"Come upstairs."

She led the way, and as she mounted slowly with him close behind her she felt weak and now horribly afraid. She went into the drawing-room. He followed and shut the door, then came slowly, with his firm tread, towards her and the fire.

"Ah!" he said. "You thought of me!"

He had seen the cigar-box, the whisky and Perrier. A very gentle, intensely kind, almost beaming look came into his lined face.

"Or-was it Murgatroyd?"

"No."

"I wonder whether you know what it means to an old fellow like myself to be thought of now and then in these little ways!"

"Oh-Seymour!" she said.

Tears stood in her eyes. His few simple

words had suddenly brought home to her in a strange, intense way the long loneliness to which she had condemned him. And now he was an old fellow! And he was grateful, beamingly grateful, for a little commonplace thought about his comfort such as any hostess might surely have had!

"Don't!" she added. "You hurt me when you say such a thing."

"Do I? And if I take a cigar?"

"Here! Let me clip it for you!"

As she clipped it he said:

"There is nothing serious the matter, is there, Adela? When I had your message I felt a little anxious."

She lit a match for him. She felt very tender over him, but she felt also very much afraid of him.

"Your hand is trembling, my dear!"

He took hold of her wrist, and held it while she lit his cigar. And his dry, firm fingers seemed to send her some strength.

"If only I had as little to be ashamed of as he has!" she thought, with a sort of writhing despair.

And she longed, as never before, for an easy conscience.

"I've had rather a trying time just lately," she said. "Come and sit down. Will you drink something?"

"Not yet, thank you."

He sat down in an arm-chair and crossed his legs, putting the right leg over the left, as he always did. She was on her sofa, leaning on her left arm, and looking at him. She was trying to read him, to read his whole character, to force her way to his secret, that she might be sure how much she might dare. Could he ever turn against her? Was that possible? His kind, dark eyes were fixed upon her. Could they ever look unkindly at her? She could scarcely believe that they could. But she knew that in human nature few things are impossible. Such terrible changes can take place in a moment. And the mystery is never really solved.

"Well, my dear, would you like to tell me what is troubling you? Perhaps I can do something."

"I want you to do something for me. Or rather-it would really be for somebody else. You remember Beryl Van Tuyn?"

"The daffodil girl-yes."

"She has been here to-night. She is in a great difficulty. By the way, of course she knows about my consulting you. I told her I would do it."

"I did not suppose you would give away a confidence."

"No! Seymour, has it ever struck you that there is something in you and in me which is akin in spite of the tremendous differences in our natures?"

"Oh yes."

"I'm glad. I like to feel that and-and I want you to feel it."

"I do. I feel it strongly."

"Whatever happens it would always be there."

"Yes, of course."

"It helps you to understand me, I expect."

"Surely it must."

"I wonder if you could ever-"

"What is it, Adela?"

"I wonder if you could ever turn against me."

"I don't think that is very likely," he said.

She looked at him. He was smiling.

"But-could nothing cause you to change towards me?"

"Some things might cause me to change towards anyone."

"Ah!"

"But as they are not in your nature we need not consider them."

"But how do you know?"

"I do know."

"But-what?"

"I know what you might do, or may have done. I know just as well what you have never done and could never do."

"But I have done some horrible things, Seymour."

"They are past. Let us forget them."

"But-horrible things come back in one's life! They are like revenants. After years-they rise up."

"What is the matter, Adela? Do tell me."

"I want to, but I'm afraid."

And directly she had told him that she felt less afraid.

"What are you afraid of?"

"I'm afraid of you."

"Of me?"

"Of what you may think of me, feel towards me, if I tell you."

"Then-you do care what I feel?"

"I care very much. I care terribly."

Sir Seymour uncrossed his legs and made a slight movement as if he were going to get up. Then he sat still and took a pull at his cigar, and then he said:

"You need not be afraid of me, Adela. I have made up my mind about you. Do you know what that means? It means that you cannot surprise me. And I think it is surprise which oftenest brings about changes in feeling. What is it? You say it is something to do with Miss Van Tuyn?"

"Yes, but my life is in it, too; a horrible bit of my life."

"What can I do unless you tell me?"

"That's true."

She sat for a moment in silence gazing at him, at the lean figure, the weather-beaten face, the curly white hair, and at the dark eyes which were looking steadily at her, but not penetratingly, not cruelly. And then she sat straight up, took her arm from the sofa, folded her hands on her lap with an effort to make them look calm, and began to tell him. She spoke very simply, very steadily. She dressed nothing up. She strove to diminish nothing. Her only aim was to be quite unemotional and perfectly truthful. She began with Beryl Van Tuyn's acquaintance with Arabian, how she had met him in Garstin's studio, and went on till she came to the night when she and Craven had seen them together at the Bella Napoli.

"I recognized the man Beryl was with," she said. "I knew him to be a blackguard."

She described her abrupt departure from the restaurant, Craven's following her, her effort to persuade him to go back and to take Beryl home.

"I went home alone," she said, "and considered what I ought to do. Finally I wrote Beryl a letter, it was something like this."

She gave him the gist of the letter. Seymour sat smoking and did not say a word. Her narrative had been so consecutive and plain that he had no need to ask any question. And she was glad of his silence. Any interruption, she felt, would have upset her, perhaps even have confused her.

"Beryl was not satisfied with that letter," she went on. "On the night when she had it-last night-she came to me to ask for an explanation. I didn't want to give one. I did my best to avoid giving one. But when I found she was obstinate, and would not drop this man unless I gave her my reasons for warning her against him, when I found she had even thought of marrying him, I felt that it was my duty to tell her everything. So I told her-this."

And then she told him all the truth about the affair of the jewels, emphasizing nothing, but omitting nothing. She looked away from him, turned her eyes towards the fire, and tried to feel very calm and very detached. It was all ten years ago. But did that make any difference? For was she essentially different from the woman who had been Arabian's victim?

Still Seymour sat as before and went on smoking. As she was gazing at the fire she did not know for certain whether he was still looking at her or not.

At last she had finished the personal part of her narrative, though she had still to tell him how Beryl had taken it and what had happened that day. Before going on to that she paused for a moment. And immediately she heard Seymour move. He got up and went slowly to the table where the whisky and Perrier water had been placed by Murgatroyd. Then she looked at him. He stood with his back to her. She saw him bend down and pour out a glass of the water. Without turning he lifted the glass to his mouth and drank. Then he put the glass down; and then he stood for a moment quite still, always keeping his back towards her. She wondered what he was looking at. That was the question in her mind. "What can Seymour be looking at?"

At last he turned round. She thought that his face looked unusually stern, and his bushy eyebrows seemed-so she fancied-to be drawn down low above his eyes.

"Go on-my dear," he said in a rather gruff and very low voice.

She quivered. She, perhaps, scarcely knew why. At the moment she really believed that she did not know why. Suddenly emotion began to gain on her. But she struggled resolutely against it.

"Aren't you-don't you mean to sit down again?" she said.

"No. I think I'll stand."

And he came slowly to stand by the fire.

"Well," she began again, making a great effort, "I thought that was all. I didn't think there was anything more for me to do. But Beryl came back again to-night and begged me to help her. She is terrified of what he may do. I tried to reassure her. But it was no good."

And again she narrated, now with difficulty forcing herself to seem calm and unembarrassed, exactly what had happened that day between Beryl Van Tuyn and herself, till she came to the moment when she had turned away from Beryl and had gone to stand by the fire. Then once more she paused and seemed seized by hesitation. As Sir Seymour said nothing, did not help her out, at last she went on:

"Then I thought of you. I had never meant to tell anyone but Beryl, but as I could do nothing to help her, and as she is perhaps, really in danger-she is only a girl, and she spoke of the fascination of fear-I felt I must make a further effort to do something. And I thought of you."

"Why was that?" asked Sir Seymour, turning towards her, but not impulsively.

"Because I knew if anyone could stop this thing you could."

"That was your reason?"

"That-and-and I knew that I could never tell all this-about myself, I mean-to anyone but you. For ten years no one has known it."

"You felt you could tell me!"

The way in which he said those words was so inexpressive that Lady Sellingworth did not know what was the feeling behind them, whether it was astonishment, indignation, or something quite different.

"I-I didn't want to-" She almost faltered, again full of fear, almost of terror. "I was afraid to. But I felt I could, and I had told Beryl so."

"I wonder what made you feel you could," he said, still in the same curiously inexpressive way.

She said nothing. She leaned back on the sofa and her hands began to move restlessly, nervously. She plucked at her dress, put a hand to the ruby pinned in the front of her bodice, lifted the hand to her face, laid it on the back of the sofa.

"What was it?" he said.

"I hardly feel I can tell you," she said.

"Then don't, if you would rather not. But I should be glad to know."

"Would you? I told Beryl the reason."

She felt forced to say that, forced to speak that bit of truth.

"Then, if so, cannot you tell me?"

"I said-I said I could tell you because I knew you were fond of me."

"Ah-that was it!"

He was silent. At last he said:

"I should like to ask you a question. May I?"

"Yes-please do."

"Are you very fond of Beryl Van Tuyn?"

"Oh, no!"

"Aren't you at all fond of her?"

"I'm afraid not. No. But I like her much better than I did."

"Since you have done something for her?"

"Perhaps it is that."

"It is that."

He came towards the sofa and stood by it looking down at her.

"I told you just now, Adela, that you couldn't surprise me. What you have done in connexion with Beryl Van Tuyn has not surprised me. I always knew you were capable of such a thing; yes, even of a thing as fine as that. Thank God you have had your opportunity. Of course you took it. But thank God you have had it."

"I had to take it. I couldn't do anything else."

"Of course you couldn't."

She got up. She did not know why. She just felt that she had to get up. Seymour put his hands on her shoulders.

"Have you ever wondered why I was able to go on loving you?" he asked her.

"Yes, very often."

"Well, now perhaps you won't wonder any more."

And he lifted his hands from her shoulders. But he stood there for a moment looking at her. And in his eyes she read her reward.

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