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   Chapter 33 No.33

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 7256

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On the following morning, true to his word, Sir Seymour visited Scotland Yard, and had a talk with a certain authority there who was a very old friend of his. The authority asked a few questions, but no questions that were indiscreet, or that Sir Seymour was unable to answer without betraying Lady Sellingworth's confidence. The sequel to this conversation was that a tall, thin, lemon-coloured man, with tight lips and small, dull-looking eyes, which saw much more than most bright eyes ever see, accompanied Sir Seymour in a cab to Glebe Place. They arrived there about half-past eleven. Sir Seymour rang the bell, and in a moment Dick Garstin opened the door.

"What's the matter?" was Sir Seymour's unconventional greeting to him.

For the painter's face was flushed in patches and his small eyes glowed fiercely.

"Who's this?" he said, looking at Sir Seymour's companion.

"Detective Inspector Horridge-Mr. Dick Garstin," said Sir Seymour.

"Oh, come to see the picture! Well, you're too late!" said Garstin in a harsh voice.

"Too late!"

"Yes, a damned sight too late! But come up!"

They went in, and Garstin, without any more words, took them up to the studio.

"There you are!" he said, still in the harsh and unnatural voice.

He flung out his arm towards the easel which stood in the middle of the room. Sir Seymour and the inspector went up to it. Part of the canvas on which Arabian's portrait had been painted was still there. But the head and face had been cleanly cut away. Only the torso remained.

"When was this done?" asked Sir Seymour.

"Some time last night, I suppose."

"But-"

"I didn't sleep here. I often don't, more often than not. But last night I was a fool to be away. Well, I've paid for my folly!"

"But how-"

"God knows! The fellow got in. It doesn't much matter how. A false key, I suppose."

"Does anyone know?"

"Not a soul, except us."

Sir Seymour was silent. He had realized at once that Miss Van Tuyn was safe now, safe, too, from further scandal, unless Garstin chose to make trouble. He looked at the painter, and from him to the inspector.

"What are you going to do?" he said to Dick Garstin.

"I don't know!" said Garstin.

And he flung himself down on the old sofa by the wall.

"I don't know!"

For a moment he put his hands up to his temples and stared on the ground. As he sat there thus he looked like a man who had just been thrashed. After a moment Sir Seymour went over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

Garstin looked up.

"What's that for?"

He stared into Sir Seymour's face for an instant. Perhaps he read something there. For he seemed to pull himself together, and got up.

"Well, inspector," he said, "you've had your visit for nothing. It wasn't a bad picture, either. I should like you to have had a squint at it. But-perhaps I'll do better yet. Who knows? Perhaps I've stuck to those Cafe Royal types too long. Eh, Sir Seymour? Perhaps I'd better make a start in a new line. Have a whisky?"

"Thank you. But it's rather too early," said the lemon-coloured man. "Do you wish-"

"No, I don't!" said Garstin. "We'll leave it at that?"

Again he flung out his arm towards the mutilated canvas.

"I made a bargain with the fellow whose portrait that was. I was to paint it and exhibit it, and then he was to have it. Well, I suppose we're about quits. I can't exhibit it, but I'm damned if he can make much money out of it. We're quits!"

Sir Seymour turned to the inspector.

"Well, inspector, I'm very sorry to have given you this trouble for nothing," he said. "I know you're a busy man.

You take the cab back to Scotland Yard. Here-you must allow me to pay the shot. I'll stay on for a few minutes. And"-he glanced towards Garstin-"by the way, we may as well keep this matter between us, if Mr. Garstin is good enough to agree."

"I agree! I agree!" said Garstin.

"The fact is there's a woman in it, quite a girl. We don't want a scandal. It would distress her. And I suppose this is really-this outrage-I suppose it is purely a matter for Mr. Garstin to decide whether he wishes any sequel to it or not."

"Oh, certainly," said the inspector. "If Mr. Garstin doesn't wish any action to be taken-"

"I don't! That's flat!"

"Very well," said the inspector. "Good morning."

"Back in a moment," said Garstin to Sir Seymour. And he went downstairs to let the inspector out.

"So that's how it ends!" said Sir Seymour to himself when he was alone. "That's how it ends!"

And he went over to what had been Arabian's portrait, and gazed at the hole which surmounted the magnificent torso. He had no doubt that Arabian had gone out of Miss Van Tuyn's life for ever. Probably, almost certainly, he had returned to the hotel on the previous evening, had been given the note Miss Van Tuyn had written to dictation, and also a hint from that very discreet and capable fellow, Henriques, of what might happen if he persisted in trying to force himself upon her. And then he had come to the decision which had led to the outrage in the studio. Where was he now? No longer in Rose Tree Gardens if Sir Seymour knew anything of men.

"The morning boat to Paris, and-the underworld!" Sir Seymour muttered to himself.

"Not much to look at now, is it?" said Garstin's voice behind him.

He turned round quickly.

Garstin was gazing at his ruined masterpiece with a curious twisted smile.

"What can one say?" said Sir Seymour. "When Horridge was here I thought: 'When he's gone I'll tell Mr. Garstin!' And now he is gone, and-and-"

He went up to Garstin and held out his hand.

"I know I don't understand what you feel about this. No one could but a fellow-painter as big as you are. But I wish I could make you understand what I feel about something else."

"And what's that?" said Garstin, as he took Sir Seymour's hand, almost doubtfully.

"About the way you've taken it, and your letting the blackguard off."

"Oh, as to that, I bet you he'll be in Paris by five to-day."

"Just what I think. But still-"

He pressed Garstin's hand, and Garstin returned the pressure.

"Beryl wanted me to paint him, but I painted him to please myself. I'm a selfish brute, like most painters, I suppose."

"But you're letting him go because of Miss Van Tuyn."

"Damn it, I believe I am. I say, are you ever coming here again?"

"If I may."

"I wish you would."

He gazed at Sir Seymour's strong head.

"I've spent half my life in showing people up on canvas," he said. "I should like to try something else."

"And what's that?"

"I should like to try to reveal the underneath fine instead of the underneath filth. It'd be a new experiment for me."

He laughed.

"Perhaps I should make a failure of it. But-if you'd allow me-I would try to make a start with you."

"I can only say I shall be honoured," said Sir Seymour, with a touch of almost shamefaced modesty which he endeavoured to hide with a very grave courtliness. "Please let me know, if you don't change your mind. I'm a good bit battered, but such as I am I am always at your service-out of work hours."

His last words to Garstin at the street door were:

"You've taught an old soldier how to take a hard knock."

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