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   Chapter 31 No.31

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 16501

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Which way do you go, please?" asked Arabian.

"I'll go your way if you like. I live in St. James's Palace. But I'm in no hurry. Do you live in my direction?"

"Oh, no. I live quite near in Chelsea."

"I can walk to your door then if you don't mind having my company," said Sir Seymour.

"Thank you!"

And they walked on together in silence. Sir Seymour wondered what was passing in the mind of the man beside him. He felt sure that Arabian had been at first suspicious of him in the studio. Had he been able by his manner to lull that suspicion to rest? He was inclined to believe so. But it was impossible for him to be sure. After two or three minutes of silence he spoke again. But he made no allusion to the recent scene in the studio, or to Garstin's parting words. His instinct counselled silence on that point. So he talked of London, the theatres, the affairs of the day, trying to seem natural, like a man of the world with a casual acquaintance. He noticed that Arabian's answers and comments were brief. Sometimes when he did speak he spoke at random. It was obvious that he was preoccupied. He seemed to Sir Seymour to be brooding darkly over something. This state of things continued until they reached Rose Tree Gardens.

"This is it," said Arabian, stopping before the big porch.

Sir Seymour stopped, too, hesitated, then said:

"I'll say good night to you."

Arabian shot a piercing and morose glance at him, moved his right hand as if about to extend it, dropped it and said:

"Well, but we have not spoken any more about my picture!"

"No."

"Dick Garstin said you would decide."

"Scarcely that-was it?"

"But I think it was."

"Well, but it's really not my affair."

"But he made it so."

"Perhaps. But you didn't say-"

"But I should like to know what you think."

"Very good of you. But I'm an outsider. I wasn't there when you made what you say was a bargain."

"No, but-"

Again he sent a piercing glance to Sir Seymour, who received it with absolute sangfroid, and stood looking completely detached, firm and simple. At that moment Sir Seymour felt positive that a struggle was going on in Arabian in which the drink he had taken was playing a part. The intensely suspicious nature of the enemy of society, always on the alert, because always liable to be in danger, was at odds with the demon that steals away the wits of men, unchains their recklessness, unlocks their tongues, uncovers often their most secret inclinations. Arabian was hesitating. At that moment the least thing would turn him one way or the other, would prompt him to give himself to the intense caution which was probably natural to him, or would drive him to the incaution which he would regret when he was physically normal again. It seemed to Sir Seymour that he knew this, and that he had it in his power just then to turn the scale, to make it drop to whichever side he wished. And as Arabian hesitated at that moment so Sir Seymour hesitated too. He longed to get away from the man, to have done with him forever. But he had put his hand to a task. He had here an opportunity. Garstin had certainly given it to him deliberately. It would be weak not to take advantage of it. He was not accustomed to yield to his weak inclinations, and he resolved not to do so now. He was sure that if he showed the least sign of wishing to push himself into Arabian's affairs the man would recoil at once, in spite of the drink which was slightly, but definitely, clouding his perceptions. So he took the contrary course. He forced himself to hold out his hand to the beast, and said:

"Well-good-night!"

But Arabian did not take his hand.

"Oh, but please come in for a moment!" he said. "Why go away?"

"It's getting late."

"But I will not keep you long. Dick Garstin said you should judge between us, that I was to come to-morrow and tell him. I know you will say I have the right. Come up. I will explain to you."

"Very well," said Sir Seymour, with apparent reluctance, "but really I must not stay long."

"No, no! You are very good. It is not your business. But really it is important. Here! We will take the elevator."

As he got into the lift Sir Seymour wondered whether he would have tricked Arabian if the latter had not been drinking. While the lift was going swiftly and smoothly up he decided that before he came down in it he would make quite plain to Arabian why he had been to Dick Garstin's studio that day. The opportunity which was given to him he would take advantage of to the full. If only he could strike a blow for Adela instead of for Miss Van Tuyn! But Adela had let this brute go. And could she have done anything else? For she had had her own folly to be afraid of. But all that was ten years ago. And now-She was different now! He reiterated that to himself as he stood in the lift almost touching Arabian. Adela was quite different now. She had given herself to the best that was in her.

"Here it is!"

The lift had stopped. They got out on a landing, and Arabian put a key into a door.

"Do please take off your coat. It is all warm in here!"

"Yes, and some brute's been burning scent in a shovel!" thought Sir Seymour, as he stepped into the flat.

"I think I'll keep my coat," he said. "I shan't be staying long."

"Oh, if you are in such a hurry!" said Arabian, with sudden moody irritation.

He shut the door with a bang. In the electric light he looked tired and menacing. At least Sir Seymour thought so. But the light in the little hall was shaded and not very strong.

"You will be much too hot truly!" said Arabian.

"Then I'll leave my coat," said Sir Seymour.

And he took it off, laid it on a chair and went into a room on the left, the door of which Arabian held open.

"This is my salon. I take the flat furnished. The river is there."

He pointed towards the windows now covered by curtains.

"Please sit down by the fire. I will explain. I know you will be on my side."

He pressed a bell on the right of the mantelpiece.

Almost instantaneously the door was opened and a thin man-who looked about thirty, Sir Seymour thought-showed himself. He had a very dark narrow face and curiously light-grey eyes. Arabian spoke to him in Spanish. He listened, motionless, turned and went softly out.

"You must have a little whisky with me!" said Arabian.

"No, thank you!"

"But-why not?"

"I never take it at this time."

"Well, I must have some. I have got a cold. This climate in winter-it is awful!"

He shook his broad shoulders and blinked rapidly several times, then suddenly opened his eyes very wide and yawned.

"Well now!" he said. "But please sit down."

Sir Seymour sat down. Arabian stood with his back to the fire and his hands thrust into his trouser pockets. Sir Seymour noticed what a magnificently made man he was. He had certainly been endowed with physical gifts for the undoing of women. But his brown face, strikingly handsome though it undoubtedly was, had the hard stamp of vice on it. Long ago at a first glance Sir Seymour had seen that this man was a wrong 'un, and now, as he looked at Arabian, he found himself wondering how anyone could fail to see that.

"Now I will tell you exactly," Arabian said.

And he explained carefully and lucidly enough-though through occasional yawns-what had happened between Garstin and himself. He did not mention Miss Van Tuyn's name. As he was getting towards the end of his narrative his servant came in with a tray on which were bottles and glasses. He said nothing and Arabian said nothing to him, but went on talking and did not appear to notice him. But directly he had gone Arabian poured out some whisky, added a little soda and drank it.

"There! That is how we did!" he said at last.

And he dropped softly, with an odd lightness, into a chair near Sir Seymour, and nodded:

"Now, have I not the right over the picture? Can I not send to-morrow and take it away? Is it not just?"

"Just!" said Sir Seymour. "Do you care so much about justice?"

"Eh?" said Arabian, suddenly leaning forward in his chair. "What is that?"

The bitter sarcasm which Sir Seymour had not been able to keep out of his voice had evidently startle

d Arabian.

"You are English," he said, as Sir Seymour said nothing. "Do you not care that a stranger in your country should have justice?"

"Oh, yes. I care very much about that."

The intense dryness of the voice that answered evidently made an impression on Arabian. For he fixed his eyes on his guest with intense and hard inquiry, and laid his brown hands on the arms of his chair, as if in readiness for something. But he only said:

"Well-please?"

Sir Seymour's inclination was to get up. But he did not obey it. He sat without moving, and returned Arabian's stare with a firm, soldier's gaze. The fearlessness of his eyes was absolute, unflinching.

"I thoroughly understand why you don't want Mr. Garstin to show people that picture," he said.

"Ah!"

"The biggest fool in creation, if he saw it, would understand."

"Understand what-please?"

"Understand you."

"Pardon!" said Arabian sharply. "What do you mean?"

He was up. But Sir Seymour sat still.

"Mr. Garstin uncovered your secret," he said. "A man such as you are naturally objects to that."

"What have you come here for?" said Arabian.

"You asked me to come."

"What did you go to Dick Garstin for?"

"That is my business."

Sir Seymour got up slowly, very deliberately even, from his chair.

"My secret, you say. What do you know about me?"

In the voice there was intense suspicion.

"We needn't discuss that. I am not going to discuss it."

"What did you go to Dick Garstin for?"

"I went to ask him if he would allow me to bring two or three people to his studio to look at his portrait of you."

"My portrait! What is my portrait to you? Why should you bring people?"

But Sir Seymour did not answer the question. Instead he put one hand on the mantelpiece, leaned slightly towards Arabian, and said:

"You wanted my verdict on the rights of the case between you and Mr. Garstin. That isn't my affair. You must fight it out between you. But I should seriously advise you not to take too long over the quarrel. You said just now that the English climate was awful. Get out of it as soon as you can."

"Get out of it! What is it to you whether I stay or go?"

"I'm afraid if you delay here much longer you may be sorry for it."

"Who are you?" said Arabian fiercely.

"I'm a friend of Miss Van Tuyn."

"What has that to do with me? Why do you try to interfere with me?"

"Miss Van Tuyn-I saw her this morning-wishes me to see to it that you leave her alone, get out of her life."

"Are you her father, a relation?"

"No."

"Then what have you to do with it? You-you impertinent old man!"

Sir Seymour's brick-red, weather-beaten face took on a darker, almost a purplish, hue, and the hand that had been holding the mantelpiece tightened into a fist.

"You will leave this young lady alone," he said sternly. "Do you hear? You will leave her alone. She knows what you are."

Arabian had pushed out his full under-lip and was staring now intently at Sir Seymour. His gaze was intense, and yet there was a cloudy look in his eyes. The effect of what he had drunk was certainly increasing upon him in the heat of the rather small room.

"When I came into the studio," he said after a moment's silence, "I remembered your face, and, 'Why is he here?' That was my thought. Why is he there? Where did I see you?"

"That doesn't matter. You will give up your acquaintance with Miss Van Tuyn. You will get out of London. And then no measures will be taken against you."

"Where was it?" persisted Arabian. "Do you remember me?"

"Yes," said Sir Seymour.

He debated within himself for an instant, and then took a decision.

"I saw you at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly ten years or more ago."

"At the Ritz!"

"I was lunching with a friend. I was lunching with Lady Sellingworth."

"Ah!" exclaimed Arabian. "That was it! I remember. So-she sent-I see! I see!"

He half shut his eyes and a vein in his forehead swelled, giving to his brow a look of violence.

"She has-She has-"

He shut his mouth with a snap of the teeth. Sir Seymour was aware of a struggle taking place in him. Something, urged on by drink, was fighting hard with his natural caution. But the caution, long trained, no doubt, and kept in almost perpetual use, was fighting hard too.

"No one sent me," said Sir Seymour with contempt. "But that's no matter. You understand now that you are to leave this young lady alone. Her acquaintance with you has ceased. It won't be renewed. If you call on her you will be sent off. If you write to her your letters will be burnt without being read. If you try to persecute her in any way means will be found to protect her and to punish you. I shall see to that."

Arabian's mouth was still tightly shut and he was standing quite still and seemed to be thinking, or trying to think, deeply. For his eyes now had a curiously inward look. If Sir Seymour had expected a burst of rage as the sequel to his very plain speaking he was deceived. Apparently this man was serenely beyond that society in which a human being can be insulted and resent it. Or else had he been thinking with such intensity that he had not even heard what had just been said to him? For a moment Sir Seymour was inclined to believe so. And he was about to reiterate what he had said, to force it on Arabian's attention, when the latter stopped him.

"Yes-yes!" he said. "I hear! Do not!"

He seemed to be turning something over in his mind with complete self-possession under the eyes of the man who had just scornfully attacked him. At last he said:

"I fear I was rude just now. You startled me. I said it was impertinence. But I see, I understand now. The women-they are clever. And when age comes-ah, we have no longer much defence against them."

And he smiled.

"What d'you mean?" said Sir Seymour, longing to knock the fellow down, and feeling an almost insuperable difficulty in retaining his self-control.

"This I mean! You say you come to me sent by Miss Van Tuyn. But I say-no! You come to me sent by Lady Sellingworth."

Sir Seymour was startled. Was the fellow so brazen that he was going to allude to what had happened over ten years ago? That seemed incredible, but with such a man perhaps everything was possible.

"It is like this!" continued Arabian, in a suave and explanatory voice. "Lady Sellingworth she hates Miss Van Tuyn. They have quarrelled about a young man. His name is Craven. I have met him in a restaurant. I dine there with Miss van Tuyn. He dines there that night with Lady Sellingworth, who is in love with him, as old women are with nice-looking boys, and-"

"Hold your tongue, you infernal blackguard!"

"Miss Van Tuyn calls Craven to us, and Lady Sellingworth is so jealous that she runs out of the restaurant, so that he is obliged to follow her and leave Miss Van Tuyn-"

"You damned ruffian!" said Sir Seymour.

His face was congested with anger. He put out his arm as if he were going to seize Arabian by the collar of his jacket. For once in his life he "saw red"; for once he was forced by indignation into saying something he would never have said had he given himself time to think. He was carried away by impulse like a youth in spite of his years, of his white hair, of his immense natural self-control.

Arabian moved backwards with a swift, wary movement. Sir Seymour did not follow him. He stood where he was and said again:

"You damned ruffian! If you don't get out of the country I'll set the police on you."

"Indeed! What for, please?"

"For stealing Lady Sellingworth's jewels in Paris ten years ago!"

Arabian bared his teeth like an animal and half shut his eyes. There was a strange look about his temples, as if under the deep brown of his skin something had gone suddenly white.

"Miss Van Tuyn knows that you stole them!"

Arabian drew in his breath sharply. His mouth opened wide.

Sir Seymour turned and went out of the room. He shut the door behind him. In the little scented hall he caught up his coat and hat. He heard a door click. The dark man with the light grey eyes showed himself.

"Keep away, you!" said Sir Seymour.

The man stood where he was, and Sir Seymour went out of the flat.

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