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   Chapter 30 No.30

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 19738

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Rather late in the afternoon of the same day, towards half-past five, Dick Garstin, who was alone in his studio upstairs smoking a pipe and reading Delacroix's "Mon Journal," heard his door bell ring. He was stretched out on a divan, and he lay for a moment without moving, puffing at his pipe with the book in his hand. Then he heard the bell again, and got up. Arabian's portrait stood on its easel in the middle of the room. Garstin glanced at it as he went toward the stairs. Since the day when he had shown it for the first time to Beryl Van Tuyn and Arabian he had not seen either of them. Nor had he had a word from them. This had not troubled him. Already he was at work on another sitter, a dancer in the Russian ballet, talented, decadent, impertinent, and, so Garstin believed, marked out for early death in a madhouse-altogether quite an interesting study. But now, looking at Arabian's portrait, Garstin thought:

"Probably the man himself. I knew he would come back, and we should have a battle. Now for it!"

And he smiled as he went striding downstairs.

But when he opened the door he found standing outside in the foggy darkness a tall, soldierly old man, with an upright figure, white hair, and moustache, a lined red face and dark eyes which looked straight into his.

"Who are you, sir?" said Garstin. "And what do you want?"

"Are you Mr. Dick Garstin?" said the old man.

"Or rather, elderly," Garstin now said to himself, glancing sharply over his visitor's strong, lean frame and broad shoulders.

"Yes, I am."

The stranger opened a leather case and took out a card.

"Perhaps you will kindly read that."

Garstin took the card.

"Beryl!" he said. "What's up?"

And he read: "To introduce Sir Seymour Portman, please see him. B. V. T."

"Are you Sir Seymour Portman?"


"Come in."

Sir Seymour stepped in.

"Take off your coat?"

"If you'll allow me. I won't keep you long."

"The longer the better!" said Garstin with offhand heartiness. He had taken a liking to his visitor at first sight.

"A damned fine old chap!" had been his instant mental comment on seeing Sir Seymour. "A fellow to swear by!"

"Come upstairs. I'll show you the way," he added.

He tramped up and Sir Seymour followed him.

"I do most of my painting here," said Garstin. "Sit down. Have a cigar."

"Thank you very much, but I won't smoke," said Sir Seymour, looking round casually at the portraits in the room before sitting down and crossing his right leg over his left leg. "And I won't take up your time for more than a few minutes."

At this moment he noticed at some distance the portrait of Arabian on its easel, and he put up his eyeglasses. Then he moved.

"Will you allow me to look at that portrait over there?" he asked.

"Rather! It's the last thing I've done, and not so bad either!"

Sir Seymour got up and went to stand in front of the portrait. He was puzzled, and his face showed that; he frowned and pursed his lips, bending forward.

"This is a portrait of a man called Arabian, isn't it?" he said at length, turning round to Garstin.

"Yes. D'you know the fellow?"

"I haven't that-privilege," replied Sir Seymour with an extraordinarily dry intonation. "But I must have seen him somewhere."

"About town. He's been here some time."

"But he's altered!" said Sir Seymour, still looking hard at the portrait.

"I'm not a photographer, you know!"

"A photographer!" said Sir Seymour, who was something of a connoisseur in painting, and had a few good specimens of the Barbizon School in his apartment at St. James's Palace. "No. This isn't a photograph in paint. It's a"-he gazed again at the portrait-"it's a masterly study of a remarkable and hideous personality."

"Hideous!" said Garstin sharply.

"Yes, hideous," said Sir Seymour grimly. "An abominable face! Ah!"

He had been bending, but now pulled himself up.

"I saw that man at the Ritz Hotel a good many years ago," he said. "I was giving a lunch. He was lunching close by with-let me see-an old woman, yes, in a rusty black wig. Someone spoke to me about him, and I-, Yes! I remember it all perfectly. But he looked much younger then. It must be over ten years ago. I spotted him at once as a shady character. One would, of course. But you have brought it all to the surface in some subtle way. Does he like it?"

"To tell the truth I don't believe he does."

"I wish to speak to you about that man."

"Sit down again. Have a whisky?"

"No, thanks."

"What is it? Are the police after him?"

"I'm not aware of it."

"I know everything about him, as you see"-he shot out an arm towards the portrait-"and nothing. I picked him up at the Cafe Royal. He's a magnificent specimen."

"No doubt. What I want to know is whether you will allow me to bring two or three people here to see this portrait? I'm doing this-I'm here now, and want to come here again, if you are so kind as to allow me-"

"Always jolly glad to see you!" interjected Garstin, with a sort of gruff heartiness.

"Thank you! I'm doing this for your friend, Miss Beryl Van Tuyn."

"Ha!" said Garstin.

"I don't think I need to go into the matter further than to say that she does not wish to have anything more to do with this Mr. Arabian."

"Oh, she's found him out at last, has she, and put you up to-"

Garstin paused. Then he added:

"It's like Beryl's cheek to ask a man of your type to interfere in such a matter. Fellows like Arabian are hardly in your line."

"Oh, I've had to deal with men of all classes."

"And quite able to, I should say. So Beryl's had enough of that chap?"

"Mr. Garstin, I am going to be frank with you, frank to this extent. Arabian is a blackguard."

"No news to me!"

"Miss Van Tuyn can have no further acquaintance with him, and I am going to do my best to see to that. But I believe this fellow is very persistent."

"I should say so. He's a hard nut to crack. You may depend on that."

"And therefore strong measures may be necessary."

"Whom do you want to bring here to look at my stuff?"

"Two or three officials from Scotland Yard."

Garstin uttered the thrush's song through half-closed lips.

"That's it! Well, you can bring them along whenever you like."

"Thank you. They may not be art experts, but they, or one of them, may possibly be useful for my purpose."

"Right you are! So you know something definite about the fellow?"


"Don't bother yourself! I don't want to know what it is," snapped out Garstin abruptly.

Sir Seymour smiled, and it was almost what Lady Sellingworth called his "beaming" smile. He got up and held out his hand.

"Thank you," he said.

Garstin gave him a strong grip.

"Glad I've met you!" he said. "Beryl's done me a good turn."

"Perhaps you will allow me to say-though I'm no expert, and my opinion may therefore have no value in your eyes-but you've painted a portrait such as one very seldom sees nowadays."

"D'you mean you think it's fine?"

"Very fine! Wonderful!"

Garstin's usually hard face softened in an extraordinary way.

"Your opinion goes down in my memory in red letters."

Sir Seymour turned to go. As he did so he cast a look round the studio, which suggested to Garstin that he would perhaps like to examine the other portraits dotted about on easels and hanging on the walls. A faint reddish line appeared in the painter's shaven blue cheeks.

"Not worth your while!" he almost muttered.

"Eh?" said Sir Seymour.

"A lot of decadent stuff. I've been choosing my models badly. But-" he paused, looking almost diffident for a moment.

"Yes?" said Sir Seymour.

"Perhaps, if we ever get to know each other a bit better, you'd let me have a shy at you for a change?"

"That would be an honour," said Sir Seymour with a touch of his very simple, courtly manner.

"In return you know for my letting in the detectives!" said Garstin, with a laugh. "Hulloh!"

He had heard the bell ring downstairs.

"If it's our man!" he said, instinctively lowering his voice.

"Arabian! Are you expecting him?"

"No. But it's just as likely as not. Want to meet him?"

"I can hardly say that!" said Sir Seymour, looking suddenly, Garstin thought, remarkably like a very well-bred ramrod.

"Well, then-"

"But it may be necessary." He hesitated obviously, then added: "If it should be Arabian by chance, perhaps it would be as well if I did see him."

"Just as you like."

"I'll stay if you will allow me," said Sir Seymour, with sudden decision, like a man who had just overcome something.

The bell rang again.

"Can you act?" said Garstin, quickly.

"Sufficiently, I dare say," said Sir Seymour, with a very faint and grim smile.

"Then you'd better! He can!"

And Garstin sprang down the stairs. Two or three minutes later Arabian walked into the studio with Garstin just behind him. When he saw Sir Seymour a slight look of surprise came into his face, and he half turned towards Garstin as if in inquiry. Sir Seymour realized that Garstin had not mentioned that there was a visitor in the studio.

"A friend of mine, Sir Seymour Portman," said Garstin. "Mr. Nicolas Arabian!"

Arabian bowed and said formally:

"Very glad to meet you."

Sir Seymour bowed, and said:


"Sit down, my boy!" said Garstin, with sudden heartiness, laying a hand on Arabian's shoulder. "And I know you'll put your lips to a whisky."

"Thank you," said Arabian.

And he sat down in a deep arm-chair. Sir Seymour saw his brown eyes, for a moment hard and inquiring, rest upon the visitor he had not expected to find, and wondered whether Arabian remembered having seen him before. If so Arabian would also remember that he, Seymour, was a friend of Adela Sellingworth, who had been with him at the Ritz on that day ten years ago.

"Say how much," said Garstin, coming up with the whisky.

Sir Seymour noticed that Arabian took a great deal of the spirit and very little soda-water with it. Directly his glass was filled-it was a long glass-he drank almost greedily.

"A cigar?" said Garstin. "But I know without asking."

"I do not refuse," said Arabian.

And Sir Seymour hated his voice, while realizing that it was agreeable, perhaps even seductive.

"There! Now we're cozy!" said Garstin. "But I wish Sir Seymour you'd join us!"

"If you will allow me I will smoke a light cigar I have here."

And Sir Seymour drew out a cigar-case and lit up a pale and long Havannah.

"That's better!" said Garstin, drinking. "How's Beryl, my boy?"

"I have not seen Miss Van Tuyn to-day," said Arabian. "But I hope to see her to-morrow."

He looked at Sir Seymour, and there seemed to be a flicker of suspicion in his eyes.

"DO you know Miss Van Tuyn?" he asked.

"Very slightly," said Sir Seymour. "I have met her once or twice in London. She is a very beautiful creature."

There was constraint in the room. Sir Seymour felt it strongly and feared that it came from something in him. Evidently he was not a very good actor. He found it difficult to be easy and agreeable with a man whom he longed to get hold of by the collar and thrash till it was time to hand him over to the police. But he resolved to make a strong effort to conceal what he could not conquer. And he began to talk to Arabian. Afterwards he could not remember what they had talked about just then. He could only remember the strangeness which he had realized as he sat there smoking his Havannah, the strangeness of life. That he should be smoking and chatting with the scoundrel who had changed Adela's existence, who had tricked her, robbed her, driven her into the solitude which had lasted ten years! And why was he doing it? He did not absolutely know. But his instinct had told him to stay on in Garstin's studio when everything else in him, revolting, had shrunk from meeting this beast, unless and until he could deal with him properly.

He had smoked about half his cigar, and the constraint in the room seemed to him to be lessened, though not abolished, when the conversation took a turn quite unexpected by him. And all that was said in the studio from that moment remained firmly fixed in his memory. Garstin got up to fetch some more whisky for Arabian, whose glass was now empty, and as he came back with the decanter he said to Arabian:

"Sir Seymour's had a good look at your portrait, Arabian."

"Indeed!" said Arabian.

"And he thinks it's damn fine. As I'm giving it to you, I thought you'd like to know that it's appreciated."

There was an unmistakably malicious expression on Garstin's face as he spoke, and his small eyes travelled quickly from Arabian to Sir Seymour.

"In fact," added Garstin, lifting the decanter to pour the whisky into Arabian's glass, "Sir Seymour is so pleased with my work that I shouldn't wonder if he lets me paint him."

"Ah!" said Arabian, looking at Sir Seymour, with a sudden hard intensity which strangely transformed his face, "this is good news. I am pleased. But-thank you!" (to Garstin who poured out some more whisky) "that will do, please! But you are not afraid of the drawback?"

"What drawback?" asked Sir Seymour.

"Mr. Dick Garstin makes us all look like canaille!"


"But have you not noticed this?" said Arabian.

And the agreeable softness of his voice altered, giving way to an almost rasping quality of sound. He put down his glass and got up, with a lithe and swift movement that seemed somehow menacing. It was so light, so agile, so noiseless and controlled.

"Surely you have. Please, look at all these!"

He made a sweeping circular movement with his arm. Sir Seymour got on his feet.

"Do you not see? There is the same thing in all. We are all placed by Mr. Dick Garstin in the same boat. Even the judge, he is there too. Look!"

Sir Seymour looked from canvas to canvas and then at Arabian.

"Well?" said Arabian, still in the rasping voice. "Do I say true? Are we not all turned into canaille by Dick Garstin?"

Sir Seymour did not answer.

"With you if you are painted," continued Arabian, "it will be the same. Dick Garstin must see bad in us all."

He laughed and his laugh was oddly shrill and ugly.

"It is an idee fixe," he said. "You see, I am frank. I say what I think, Dick Garstin."

"No objection to that!" said Garstin, with a mischievous smile. "But if you don't like your picture you won't want to have it. So let us consider our bargain cancelled."

"Oh, no," said Arabian, "the picture is mine."

"The bargain we made," said Garstin, turning to Sir Seymour, "was this: Mr. Arabian was to be kind enough to sit to me on two conditions. One was in my favour, the other in his."

"I beg your pardon!" said Arabian sharply.

But Garstin continued inflexibly:

"I was to have the right to exhibit the picture, and, after that, I was to hand it over as a present to Arabian."

"No, that was not the bargain, please!" said Arabian.

"Not the bargain?" said Garstin, with an air of humorous surprise.

"Oh, no. You kindly said that if I gave up my time to you, as I have done, very much of my time, you would give me the picture when it was finished. That was the bargain between us. But I did not say I would allow you to exhibit my picture."

"But I told you before I ever put a smudge of paint on the canvas that I should want to exhibit it."

"That is quite true."

"Well, then?"

"Two must speak to make a bargain. Is it not so?" He spoke to Sir Seymour.

"I presume so," said the latter, very solemnly.

He had realized that this odd scene had been brought about deliberately, and perhaps by both of the men who stood before him. Garstin had certainly started it, but Arabian had surely with purpose, taken the cue from Garstin.

"Ah! You hear!"

"I do!" said Garstin, composedly.

"Well, Dick Garstin, I did not say I would permit my picture to be exhibited by you. And that was on purpose. I intended to wait until I saw how you would make me appear. I have waited. There I am!" He pointed to the portrait. "It is fine, perhaps, as you say. But I do not choose that people should see that and be told, 'That is Nicolas Arabian.' I do not give you permission to show that portrait."

"You don't like it?"

"You have made of me a beast. That is what I say."

"Sorry you think so! But what's to be done? That picture is worth from eight hundred to a thousand pounds at the very least. You don't suppose I am going to give it to you without letting the people who care about my stuff have a look at it? Why, where is your sense of fairness, my boy?"

"I do not know really what you mean by that!"

"Well, I ask you, Sir Seymour, would it be fair that I should have all my trouble for nothing? He can have the picture. But I want my kudos. Eh?"

"I quite understand that," said Sir Seymour, calmly.

Arabian turned round and faced him. And as he did so Sir Seymour said to himself:

"The fellow's been drinking heavily."

This thought had not occurred in his mind till this moment, but he felt certain that Garstin's sharp eyes had noticed the fact sooner, probably directly they had seen Arabian at the street door. No doubt the very stiff whisky-and-soda Arabian had just drunk had made it more obvious. Anyhow, Sir Seymour had no doubt at all about it now. It was not noticeable in Arabian's face. But his manner began to show it to the experienced eyes of the old campaigner.

"But, please, do you understand my feeling? Would you like to be made what you are not-a beast?"

Sir Seymour saw Garstin, perhaps with difficulty, shutting off a smile.

"I can't say I should," he answered, with absolute gravity.

"Would you," pursued Arabian, apparently in desperate earnest, "would you allow a picture of you like this to be shown to all your friends?"

"I think," returned Sir Seymour, still with an absolute and simple gravity, "that I should object to that-strongly."

"You hear!" said Arabian to Garstin. "It is your friend who says this."

"I can't help that," said Garstin, totally unperturbed. "I'm going to exhibit that picture."

"No! No!" said Arabian.

And as he spoke he suddenly bared his teeth.

Garstin, without making any rejoinder to this almost brutally forcible exclamation, which was full of violent will, thrust a hand into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a big gold watch.

"I say, I'm awfully sorry," he said, with a swift glance at Sir Seymour, which the latter did not miss, "but I must turn you both out. I'm dining at the Arts Club to-night. Jinks-you know the Slade Jinks-is coming to pick me up. You'll forgive me, Sir Seymour?"

His voice was unusually gentle as he said the last words.

"Of course. I've stayed an unconscionable time. Are you going my way, Mr. Arabian?"

Garstin's mouth twitched. Before Arabian could reply, Garstin said:

"Look here, Arabian!"

"Yes-please?" said Arabian.

"You and I differ pretty badly about this business of your damned portrait."

"Ah, yes!"

"Sir Seymour's a just man, a very just man. Let's hear what he has to say."

"But you tell us you have no time!"

"Exactly! Jinks you know! He's a devil for punctuality. They set the clocks by him at the Slade! But you-"


"Talk it over with Sir Seymour. Get his unbiased verdict. And let me hear from you any time to-morrow. He'll say what's fair and square. I know that."

While speaking he went towards the head of the stairs, followed by Sir Seymour and Arabian. As Arabian passed the place where the whisky stood he picked up his glass and drunk it off at a gulp.

A minute later Sir Seymour and he were out in the night together.

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