MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 4 No.4

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 8618

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

Not many days later Craven received a note from Miss Van Tuyn asking him to come to see her at a certain hour on a certain day. He went and found her alone in a private sitting-room overlooking the Park. For the first time he saw her without a hat. With her beautiful corn-coloured hair uncovered she looked, he thought, more lovely than when he had seen her at Lady Sellingworth's. She noted that thought at once, caught it on the wing through his mind, as it were, and caged it comfortably in hers.

"I have seen the 'old guard,'" she said, after she had let him hold and press her hand for two or three seconds.

"What, the whole regiment?" said Craven.

She sat down on a sofa by a basket of roses. He sat down near her.

"No; only two or three of the leaders."

"Do I know them?"

"Probably. Mrs. Ackroyde?"

"I know her."

"Lady Archie Brook?"

"Her, too."

"I've also seen Lady Wrackley."

"I have met Lady Wrackley, but I can hardly say I know her. Still, she shows her teeth at me when I come into a room where she is."

"They are wonderful teeth, aren't they?"


"And they are her own-not by purchase."

"Are you sure she doesn't owe for them?"

"Positive; except, of course, to her Creator. Isn't it wonderful to think that those three women are contemporaries of Lady Sellingworth?"

"Indeed it is! But surely you didn't let them know that you knew they were? Or shall I say know they are?"

She smiled, showing perfect teeth, and shook her corn-coloured head.

"You see, I'm so young and live in Paris! And then I'm American. They have no idea how much I know. I just let them suppose that I only knew they were old enough to remember Lady Sellingworth when she was still a reigning beauty. I implied that they were buds then."

"And they accepted the implication?"

"Oh, they are women of the world! They just swallowed it very quietly, as a well-bred person swallows a small easy-going bonbon."

Craven could not help laughing. As he did so he saw in Miss Van Tuyn's eyes the thought:

"You think me witty, and you're not far out."

"And did you glean any knowledge of Lady Sellingworth?" he asked.

"Oh, yes; quite a good deal. Mrs. Ackroyde showed me a photograph of her as she was about eleven years ago."

"A year before the plunge!"

"Yes. She looked very handsome in the photograph. Of course, it was tremendously touched up. Still, it gave me a real idea of what she must once have been. But, oh! how she has changed!"


"I mean in expression. In the photograph she looks vain, imperious. Do you know how a woman looks who is always on the watch for new lovers?"

"Well-yes, I think perhaps I do."

"Lady Sellingworth in the photograph has that on the pounce expression."

"That's rather awful, isn't it?"

"Yes; because, of course, one can see she isn't really at all young. It's only a fausse jeunesse after all, but still very effective. The gap between the woman of the photograph and the woman of 18A Berkeley Square is as the gulf between Dives and Lazarus. I shouldn't have loved her then. But perhaps-perhaps a man might have thought he did. I mean in the real way of a man-perhaps."

Craven did not inquire what Miss Van Tuyn meant exactly by that. Instead, he asked:

"And did these ladies of the 'old guard' speak kindly of the white-haired traitress?"

"They were careful. But I gathered that Lady Sellingworth had been for years and years one of those who go on their way chanting, 'Let us eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die.' I gathered, too, that her efforts were chiefly concentrated on translating into appropriate action the third 'let us.' But that no doubt was for the sake of her figure and face. Lady Archie said that the motto of Lady Sellingworth's life at that period was 'after me the deluge,' and that she had so dinned it into the ears of her friends that when she let her hair grow white they all instinctively put up umbrellas."

"And yet the deluge never came."

"It never does. I could almost wish it would."


"No; after me."

He looked deep into her eyes, and as he did so she seemed deliberately to make them more profound so that he might not touch bottom.

"It's difficult to think of an after you," he said.

"But the

re will be, I suppose, some day when the Prince of Wales wears a grey beard and goes abroad in the winter to escape bronchial troubles. Oh, dear! What a brute Time is!"

She tried to look pathetic, and succeeded better than Craven had expected.

"I shall put up my en tout cas then," said Craven very seriously.

Still looking pathetic, she allowed her eyes to stray to a neighbouring mirror, waited for a moment, then smiled.

"Time's a brute, but there's still plenty of him for me," she said. "And for you, too."

"He isn't half so unpleasant to men as to women," said Craven. "He makes a very unfair distinction between the sexes."

"Naturally-because he's a man."

"What did Lady Wrackley say?" asked Craven, returning to their subject.

"Why do you ask specially what she said?"

"Because she has a reputation, a bad one, for speaking her mind."

"She certainly was the least guarded of the 'old guard.' But she said she loved Lady Sellingworth now, because she was so changed."

"Physically, I suppose."

"She didn't say that. She said morally."

"That wasn't stupid of her."

"Just what I thought. She said a moral revolution had taken place in Lady Sellingworth after the jewels were stolen."

"That sounds almost too tumultuous to be comfortable."

"Like 'A Tale of Two Cities' happening in one's interior."

"And what did she attribute such a phenomenon to?"

"Well, she took almost a clerical view of the matter."

"How very unexpected!"

"She said she believed that Adela-she called her Adela-that Adela took the loss of her jewels as a punishment for her sins."

"Do you mean to say she used the word sins?"

"No; she said 'many lapses.' But that's what she meant."

"Lapses from what?"

"She didn't exactly say. But I'm afraid she meant from a strict moral code."

"Oh, Lord!" said Craven, thinking of Lady Wrackley's smile.

"Why do you say that?"

"Please-never mind! So Lady Wrackley thinks that Lady Sellingworth considered the loss of her jewels such a fitting punishment for her many lapses from a strict moral code that she never tried to get them back?"

"Apparently. She said that Addie-she called her Addie then-that Addie bowed her head."

"Not beneath the rod! Don't tell me she used the word rod!"

"But she did!"


"Wasn't it? But women are like that when they belong to the 'old guard.' Do you think she can be right?"

"If it is so, Lady Sellingworth must be a very unusual sort of woman."

"She is-now. For she really did give up all in a moment. And she has never repented of what she did, as far as anyone knows. I think-"

She paused, looking thoughtful at the mirror.

"Yes?" said Craven gently.

"I think it's rather fine to plunge into old age like that. You go on being young and beautiful till everyone marvels, and then one day-or night, perhaps-you look in the glass and you see the wrinkles as they are-"

"Does any woman ever do that?"

"She must have! And you say to yourself, 'C'est fini!' and you throw up the sponge. No more struggles for you! From one day to another you become an old woman. I think I shall do as Lady Sellingworth has done."


"When I'm-perhaps at fifty, yes, at fifty. No man really cares for a woman, as a woman wants him to care, after fifty."

"I wonder," said Craven.

She sent him a sharp, questioning glance.

"Did you ever wonder before you went to Berkeley Square?"

"Perhaps not."

A slight shadow seemed to pass over Miss Van Tuyn's face.

"I believe there was a famous French actress who was loved after she was seventy," said Craven.

"Then the man must have been a freak."

"Lots of us are freaks."

"I don't think you are," she said provocatively.

"Why not?"

"I have my little private reasons," she murmured.

At that moment Craven was conscious of a silly desire to take her in his arms, bundle of vanities though he knew her to be. He hated himself for being so ordinary. But there it was!

He looked at her eyebrows. They were dark and beautifully shaped and made an almost unnerving contrast with her corn-coloured hair.

"I know what you are thinking," she said.


"You are thinking that I darken them. But I don't."

And then Craven gave up and became frankly foolish.

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