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   Chapter 3 No.3

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 7966

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


That day Craven walked away from Lady Sellingworth's house with Miss Van Tuyn, leaving Sir Seymour Portman behind him.

Miss Van Tuyn was staying with a friend at the Hyde Park Hotel, and, as she said she wanted some air, Craven offered to accompany her there on foot.

"Do!" she said in her frank and very conscious way. "I'm afraid of London on a Sunday."

"Afraid!"

"As I'm afraid of a heavy, dull person with a morose expression. Please don't be angry."

Craven smiled.

"I know! Paris is much lighter in hand than London on a Sunday."

"Isn't it? But there are people in London! Isn't she a precious person?"

"Lady Sellingworth?"

"Yes. You have marvellous old women in London who do all that we young people do, and who look astonishing. They might almost be somewhere in the thirties when one knows they are really in the sixties. They play games, ride, can still dance, have perfect digestions, sit up till two in the morning and are out shopping in Bond Street as fresh as paint by eleven, having already written dozens of acceptances to invitations, arranged dinners, theatre parties, heaven knows what! Made of cast iron, they seem. They even manage somehow to be fairly attractive to young men. They are living marvels, and I take off my toque to them. But Lady Sellingworth, quite old, ravaged, devastated by time one might say, who goes nowhere and who doesn't even play bridge-she beats them all. I love her. I love her wrinkled distinction, her husky voice, her careless walk. She walks anyhow, like a woman alone on a country road. She looks even older than she is. But what does it matter? If I were a man-"

"Would you fall in love with her?" Craven interposed.

"Oh, no!"

She shot a blue glance at him.

"But I should love her-if only she would let me. But she wouldn't. I feel that."

"I never saw her till to-day. She charmed me."

"Of course. But she didn't try to."

"Probably not."

"That's it! She doesn't try, and that's partly why she succeeds, being as God has made her. Do you know that some people hate her?"

"Impossible!"

"They do."

"Who do?"

"The young-old women of her time, the young-old Edwardian women. She dates them. She shows them up by looking as she does. She is their contemporary, and she has the impertinence to be old. And they can't forgive her for it."

"I understand," said Craven. "She has betrayed the 'old guard.' She has disobeyed the command inscribed on their banner. She has given up."

"Yes. They will never pardon her, never!"

"I wonder what made her do it?" said Craven.

And he proceeded to touch on Miss Van Tuyn's desire to get Lady Sellingworth to Paris. He soon found out that she did not know about the jewels episode. She showed curiosity, and he told her what he knew. She seemed deeply interested.

"I was sure there was a mystery in her life," she said. "I have always felt it. Ten years ago! And since then she has never stayed in Paris!"

"And since then-from that moment-she has betrayed the 'old guard.'"

"How? I don't understand."

Craven explained. Miss Van Tuyn listened with an intensity of interest which flattered him. He began to think her quite lovely, and she saw the pretty thought in his mind.

When he had finished she said:

"No attempt to recover the lost jewels, the desertion of Paris, the sudden change into old age! What do you make of it?"

"I can make nothing. Unless the chagrin she felt made her throw up everything in a fit of anger. And then, of course, once the thing was done she couldn't go back."

"You mean-go back to the Edwardian youthfulness she had abandoned?"

"Yes. One may refuse to grow old, but once one has become definitely, ruthlessly old, it's practically impossible to jump back to a pretence of the thirties."

"Of course. It would frighten people. But-it wasn't that."

"No?"

"No. For if she had felt the loss of her jewels so much as you suggest, she would have made every effort

to recover them."

"I suppose she would."

"The heart of the mystery lies in her not wishing to try to get the jewels back. That, to me, is inexplicable. Because we women love jewels. And no woman carries about jewels worth fifty thousand pounds without caring very much for them."

"Just what I have thought," said Craven.

After a short silence he added:

"Could Lady Sellingworth possibly have known who had stolen the jewels, do you think?"

"What! And refrained from denouncing the thief!"

"She might have had a reason."

Miss Van Tuyn's keen though still girlish eyes looked sharply into Craven's for an instant.

"I believe you men, you modern men are very apt to think terrible things about women," she said.

Craven warmly defended himself against this abrupt accusation.

"Well, but what did you mean?" persisted Miss Van Tuyn. "Now, go against your sex and be truthful for once to a woman."

"I really don't know exactly what I meant," said Craven. "But I suppose it's possible to conceive of circumstances in which a woman might know the identity of a thief and yet not wish to prosecute."

"Very well. I'll let you alone," she rejoined. "But this mystery makes Lady Sellingworth more fascinating to me than ever. I'm not particularly curious about other people. I'm too busy about myself for that. But I would give a great deal to know a little more of her truth. Do you remember her remark when I said 'I wish I had known you then'?"

"Yes. She said, 'You would not have known me then.'"

"There have been two Adela Sellingworths. And I only know one. I do want to know the other. But I am almost sure I never shall. And yet she's fond of me. I know that. She likes my being devoted to her. I feel she's a book of wisdom, and I have only read a few pages."

She walked on quickly with her light, athletic step. Just as they were passing Hyde Park Corner she said:

"I think I shall go to one of the 'old guard.'"

"Why?" asked Craven.

"You ask questions to which you know the answers," she retorted.

And then they talked of other things.

When they reached the hotel and Craven was about to say good-bye, Miss Van Tuyn said to him:

"Are you coming to see me one day?"

Her expression suggested that she was asking a question to which she knew the answer, in this following the example just given to her by Craven.

"I want to," he said.

"Then do give me your card."

He gave it to her.

"We both want to know her secret," she said, as she put it into her card-case. "Our curiosity about that dear, delightful woman is a link between us."

Craven looked into her animated eyes, which were strongly searching him for admiration. He took her hand and held it for a moment.

"I don't think I want to know Lady Sellingworth's secret if she doesn't wish me to know it," he said.

"Now-is that true?"

"Yes," he said, with a genuine earnestness which seemed to amuse her. "Really, really it is true."

She sent him a slightly mocking glance.

"Well, I am less delicate. I want to know it, whether she wishes me to or not. And yet I am more devoted to her than you are. I have known her for quite a long time."

"One can learn devotion very quickly," he said, pressing her hand before he let it go.

"In an afternoon?"

"Yes, in an afternoon."

"Happy Lady Sellingworth!" she said.

Then she turned to go into the hotel. Just before she passed through the swing door she looked round at Craven. The movement of her young head was delicious.

"After all, in spite of the charm that won't die," he thought, "there's nothing like youth for calling you."

He thought Lady Sellingworth really more charming than Miss Van Tuyn, but he knew that the feeling of her hand in his would not have thrilled something in him, a very intimate part of himself, as he had just been thrilled.

He felt almost angry with himself as he walked away, and he muttered under his breath:

"Damn the animal in me!"

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