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   Chapter 34 No.34

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 10453

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Sir Seymour usually called on Lady Sellingworth about five o'clock in the afternoon when he was not detained by work or inevitable engagements. On the day of his visit to Garstin's studio with the inspector he felt that he owed it to Adela to go to Berkeley Square and to tell her what had happened in connexion with Arabian since he had last seen her. She must be anxious for news. It was not likely that she had seen Miss Van Tuyn, that beautiful prisoner in Claridge's hotel. Miss Van Tuyn might have telephoned to her and told her of his visits to the hotel. But Adela would certainly expect to see him, would certainly be waiting for him. He ought to go to her. Since the morning he had been very busy. He had not had time to call again on Miss Van Tuyn, who could, therefore-so at least he believed-know nothing of the outrage in the studio. That piece of news which would surely be welcome to her if she understood what it implied, should rightly come to her from the woman who had been unselfish for her sake. Adela ought to tell her that. But first it was his duty to tell Adela. He must go to Berkeley Square.

And he decided to go and set out on foot. But as he walked he was conscious of a strange and hideous reluctance to pay the customary visit-the visit which had been the bright spot in his day for so long. He had interfered with the design of Arabian. But Arabian unconsciously had stabbed him to the heart with a sentence, meant to be malicious, about Adela, but surely not intended to pierce him.

Young Craven! Young Craven!

When he reached the familiar door and was standing before it he hesitated to press the bell. He feared that he would not be perfectly natural with Adela. He feared that he would be constrained, that he would be unable not to seem cold and rigid. Almost he was tempted to turn away. He could write his news to her. Perhaps even now young Craven was in the house with her. Perhaps he, the old man, would be unwanted, would only be in the way if he went in. But it was not his habit to recoil from anything and, after a moment of uneasy waiting, he put his hand to the bell.

Murgatroyd opened the door.

"Good day, Murgatroyd. Is her Ladyship at home?"

"Yes, Sir Seymour."

He stepped into the hall, left his hat, coat and stick, and prepared to go upstairs.

"Anyone with her Ladyship?"

"No, Sir Seymour. Her Ladyship is alone."

A moment later Murgatroyd opened the drawing-room door and made the familiar announcement:

"Sir Seymour Portman!"

Adela was as usual on the sofa by the tea-table, near to the fireplace in which ship logs were blazing. She got up to greet him, and looked at him eagerly, almost anxiously.

"I was hoping you would come. Has anything happened?"

"Yes, a great deal," he said, as he took her hand.

"Why do you look at me like that?" she asked.

"But-do I look at you differently from-"

"Yes," she interrupted him.

He lowered his eyes, feeling almost guilty.

"But in what way?"

"As if you wanted to know something, as if-have you changed towards me?"

"My dear Adela! What a question from you after all these years!"

"You might change."

"Nonsense, my dear."

"No, no, it is not! Anyone may change. We are all incalculable."

"Give me some tea now. And let me tell you my news."

She sat down again, but her luminous eyes were still fixed on him, and there was an almost terrified expression in them.

"You haven't seen-him?" she asked.

"Yes."

"You have! I felt it! He has said something about me, something horrible!"

"Adela, do you really think I would take an opinion of you from a blackguard like that?"

"Please tell me everything," she said.

She looked painfully agitated, and something in her agitation made him feel very tender, for it gave her in his eyes a strange semblance of youthfulness. Yes, despite all she had done, all the years she had lived through, there was something youthful in her still. Perhaps it was that which persistently held out hands to youth! The thought struck him and the tenderness was lessened in his eyes.

"Seymour, you are hiding something from me," she said.

"Adela, give me a little time! I am going to tell you my news."

"Yes, yes, please do!"

"I want my tea," he said, with a smile.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!"

"How young you are!" he said.

"Young! How can you say such a thing?"

"Now really, Adela! As if I could ever be sarcastic with you!"

"That remark could only be sarcastic."

He sipped his tea.

"No; you will always have youth in you. It is undying. It makes half your charm, my dear. And perhaps-"

"Yes?"

"Well, perhaps it has caused most of the trouble in your life."

She looked down.

"Our best gifts have their-what shall I say-their shady side, I suppose. And we seem to have to pay very often for what are thought of as gifts. But now I must tell you."

"Yes."

And then he began to relate to her, swiftly although he was old, the events of his mission. She listened, and while she listened she sat very still. She had looked up. Her eyes were fixed upon him. Presently he reached the point in his narrative where Arabian walked into Dick Garstin's studio. Then she moved. S

he seemed suddenly seized with an uncontrollable restlessness. He went on without looking at her, but he heard her movements, the rustle of her gown, the touch of her hand on a sofa cushion, on the tea-table, the chink of moved china, touching other china. And two or three times he heard the faint sound of her breathing. He knew she was suffering intensely, and he believed it was because of the haunting, inexorable remembrance of the enticement that abominable fellow, Arabian, had had for her. But he had to go on. And he went on till he came to the scene in the flat at Rose Tree Gardens.

"You-you went to his room!" she then said, interrupting him.

"Yes."

He heard her sigh. But she said nothing more. He told what had happened in the flat, but not fully. He said nothing of Arabian's mention of her name, but he did tell her that he himself had spoken of her, had said that he was a friend of hers. And finally he told her how, carried away by indignation, he had spoken of his and Miss Van Tuyn's knowledge that Arabian had stolen her jewels.

"I didn't mean to tell him that," he added. "But-well, it came out. I-I hope you forgive me?"

He did not wait for her answer, but told her of his abrupt departure from the flat, and of his subsequent visit to Miss Van Tuyn, of what he had learnt at the hotel, and of what he had done there.

"The police!" she said, as if startled. "But if-if there should be a scandal! Oh, Seymour, that would be too horrible! I couldn't bear that! He might-it might come out! And my name-"

She got up from the sofa. Her face looked drawn with an anxiety that was like agony. He got up too.

"It was only a threat. But in any case it will be all right, Adela."

"But we don't know what he may do!" she said, with desperation.

"Wait till you know what he has done."

"What has he done?"

And then he told her of the outrage in the studio. When he was silent she made a slight swaying movement and took hold of the mantelpiece. He saw by her face that she had grasped at once what Arabian's action implied.

Flight!

"You see-he's done with. We've done with the fellow!" he said at last as she did not speak.

"Yes."

Her face, when not interfered with, was always pale. But now it looked horribly, unnaturally white. Relief, he believed, had shaken her in the very soul.

"Adela, did you think your good deed was going to recoil on you?" he said. "Did you really think it was going to bring punishment on you? I don't believe things go like that even in this distracted, inexplicable old world."

"Don't they? Mightn't they?"

"Surely not. You have saved that girl. You have paid back that scoundrel. And you have nothing to fear."

"Why did you look at me like that when you came into the room?"

"But you are-"

"No. You haven't told me something. Tell me!"

"Be happy in the good result of your self-sacrifice, Adela."

"I want you to tell me. There is something. I know there is."

"Yes. But it only concerns me."

"Seymour, I don't believe that!"

He was silent, looking at her with the old dog's eyes. But now there was something else in them besides faithfulness.

"Well, Adela," he said at last, "I believe very much in absolute sincerity between real friends. But I suppose friendship must be very real indeed to stand absolute sincerity. Don't you think so?"

"Yes, I do. But our friendship is as real as any friendship can be, I think."

"Yes, but on my side it is mixed up, it has always been mixed up, with something else."

"Yes, I know," she said in a low voice.

"And besides I'm afraid, if I speak quite frankly, I shall hurt you, my dear!"

"Then-hurt me, Seymour!"

"Shall I? Can I do that?"

"Be frank with me. I have been very frank with you. I have told you."

"Yes, indeed. You have been nobly, gloriously frank. Well, then-that horrible fellow did say something which I haven't told you, something that, I confess it, has upset me."

"What was it?" she said, still in the low voice, and bending her small head a little like one expecting punishment.

"He alluded to a friend of yours. He mentioned that nice boy I met here, young Craven?"

"Yes?"

"I really can't get what he said over my lips, Adela."

"I know what he said. You needn't tell me."

The were both silent for a minute. Then she came close to him.

"Seymour, perhaps you want to ask me a question about Mr. Craven. But-don't! You needn't. I have done, absolutely done, with all that side of my life which you hate. A part of my nature has persecuted me. It has often led me into follies and worse, as you know. But I have done with it. Indeed, indeed I can answer for myself. I wouldn't dare to speak like this to you, the soul of sincerity, if I couldn't. But I'll prove it to you. Seymour, you know what I am. I dare say you have always known. But the other night I told you myself."

"Yes."

"If I hadn't I shouldn't dare now to ask you what I am going to ask you. Is it possible that you still love me enough to care to be more than the friend you have always been to me?"

"Do you mean-"

He paused.

"Yes," she said.

"I ask nothing more of life than that, Adela."

"Nor do I, dear Seymour."

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