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   Chapter 36 No.36

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 5389

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


One evening, some ten days later, before any rumour of Lady Sellingworth's new decision had gone about in the world of London, before even Braybrooke knew, on coming home from the Foreign Office Craven found a note lying on the table in the tiny hall of his flat. He picked it up and saw Miss Van Tuyn's handwriting. He had not seen either her or Lady Sellingworth since the evening when they had met in the Bella Napoli. Both women had come into his life together. And it seemed to him that both had gone out of it together. His acquaintance, or friendship, with them had been a short episode in his pilgrimage, and apparently the episode was definitely over.

But now-here was a letter from the beautiful girl! He took it up, carried it into his sitting-room, and tore open the envelope.

"CLARIDGE'S.

"Thursday.

"MY DEAR MR. CRAVEN,-I am going back to Paris almost directly and should very much like to see you if possible to say good-bye. Have you a few minutes to spare any time? If so, do come round to the hotel and let us have a last little talk.-Yours sincerely,

"BERYL VAN TUYN."

When he had read this brief note Craven was struck, as he had been struck when he had read Lady Sellingworth's letter to him, by a certain finality in the wording. Good-bye-a last little talk! Miss Van Tuyn might have put "au revoir," might have omitted the word "last."

He looked at the clock. It was not very late-only half-past five. He decided to go at once to the hotel. And he went. Miss Van Tuyn was at home. He went up in the lift and was shown into her sitting-room. He waited there for a few minutes. Then the door opened and she came in smiling.

"How good of you to come so soon! I hardly expected you."

"But-why not?" he said, as he took her hand.

She glanced at him inquiringly, he thought, then said:

"Oh, I don't know! You're a busy man, and have lots of engagements. Let us sit by the fire."

"Yes."

They sat down, and there was a moment of silence. For once Miss Van Tuyn seemed slightly embarrassed-not quite at her ease. Craven did not help her. He still remembered the encounter in Glebe Place with a feeling of anger. He still felt that he moved in a certain darkness, that both Lady Sellingworth and Miss Van Tuyn had been unkind to him, had treated him if not badly, at any rate in a way that was unfriendly, and, to him, inexplicable. He did not want to seem hurt, but, on the other hand, he did not feel that it was incumbent upon him to rush forward with gracious eagerness, or to show any keen desire for the old, intimate relations. So he just sat there trying not to look stiff, but not making any effort to look charming and sympathetic.

"Have you seen Adela lately?" Miss Van Tuyn said at last, breaking the silence.

"No," he said. "Not since the night when we met in the Bella Napoli."

"Oh, that's too bad!"

"Why too bad?"

"I thought you were such friends!"

"Scarcely that, I think," replied Craven, in his most definitely English manner. "I like Lady Sellingworth very much, but she has swarms of friends, and I can't expect her to bother very much about me."

"But I don't think she has swarms of friends."

"Perhaps nobody does. Still, she knows a tremendous number of people."

"I am sure she likes you," said Miss Van Tuyn. "Do go and see her sometimes. I think-I think she would appreciate it."

"No doubt I shall see her again. Why not?"

"Don't you like her anymore?"

"Of course I do."

Suddenly she leaned forward, almost impulsively, and said:

"You remember I had a sort of cult for Adela?"

"Did you?"

"But you know I had! Well, I only want to tell you that it isn't a cult now. I have got to know Adela better, to know her really. I used to admire her as a great lady. Now I love her as a splendid woman. She's rare. That is the word for her. Once-not long ago-I was talking to a man who knows what people are. And he summed Adela up in a phrase. He said she was a thoroughbred. We young ones-modern, I suppose we are-we can learn something from her. I have learnt something. Isn't that an admission? For the young generation to acknowledge that it has something to learn from-from what are sometimes called the 'has beens'!"

Craven looked at her and noticed with surprise that her violet eyes were clouded for a moment, as if some moisture had found its way into them. Perhaps she saw that look of his. For she laughed, changed the conversation, and from that moment talked in her usual lively way about less intimate topics. But when Craven presently got up to go she returned for a moment to her former more serious mood. As he took her hand to say good-bye she said:

"Perhaps we shall meet again-perhaps not. I don't know when I shall be back in London. I'm soon going over to America with Fanny. But don't think too badly of me."

"I? How could I think badly of you?"

"Oh, yes-you might! There are things I can't explain which may easily have given you a nasty impression of me. If I could explain them perhaps you would remember me more pleasantly. Anyhow, I shall always think of you as one of my friends. Good-bye."

And then she moved away, and he went to the door.

But just as he was going he turned round and said:

"Au revoir!"

She made a little kind gesture with her left hand, but she said nothing.

At that moment she was thinking of Adela.

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