MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 6 No.6

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 34425

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Miss Van Tuyn, enthroned among distinguished and definite Georgians in a nimbus of smoke, presently began to wonder what had become of a certain young man. Despite the clamour of voices about her, and the necessity for showing incessantly that, although she had never bothered to paint cubist pictures or to write minor poetry, or even to criticize and appreciate meticulously those who did, she was cleverer than any Georgian of them all, her mind would slip away to Berkeley Square. She had, of course, noted young Craven's tacit resistance to the pressure of her desire, and her girlish vanity had resented it. But she had remembered that even in these active days of the ruthless development of the ego a sense of politeness, of what is "due" from one human being to another, still lingers in some perhaps old-fashioned bosoms. Lady Sellingworth was elderly. Craven might have thought it was his absolute duty to protect her from the possible dangers lurking between Regent Street and Berkeley Square. But as time went on, despite the sallies of Dick Garstin, the bloodless cynicisms of Enid Blunt, who counted insolence as the chief of the virtues, the amorous sentimentalities of the Turkish refugee from Smyrna, whose moral ruin had been brought about by a few lines of praise from Pierre Loti, the touching appreciations of prison life by Penitence Murray, and the voluble intellectuality of Thapoulos, Jennings and Smith the sculptor, Miss Van Tuyn began to feel absent-minded. Her power of attraction was quite evidently being seriously challenged. She was now certain-how could she not be-that Craven had not merely gone to Number 18A, but had also "gone in."

That was unnecessary. It was even very strange. For she, Beryl Van Tuyn, was at least thirty-six years younger than Lady Sellingworth.

Miss Van Tuyn had an almost inordinate belief in the attraction youth holds for men. She had none of the hidden diffidence which had been such a troubling element in Lady Sellingworth's nature. Nor was there any imp which sat out of reach and mocked her. The violet eyes were satirical; but her satire was reserved for others, and was seldom or never directed against herself. She possessed a supply of self-assurance such as Lady Sellingworth had never had, though for many years she had had the appearance of it. Having this inordinate belief and this strong self-assurance, having also youth and beauty, and remembering certain little things which seemed to her proof positive that Craven was quite as susceptible to physical emotions as are most healthy and normal young men, she wondered why he had not returned to the Cafe Royal after leaving Lady Sellingworth decorously at her door. He had known perfectly well that she wished him to return. She had not even been subtle in conveying the wish to him. And yet he had defied it.

Or perhaps Lady Sellingworth had defied it for him.

Miss Van Tuyn was really as fond of Lady Sellingworth as she could be of a woman. She felt strongly the charm which so many others had felt. Lady Sellingworth also interested her brain and aroused strongly the curiosity which was a marked feature of her "make-up." She had called Lady Sellingworth a book of wisdom. She was also much influenced by distinction and personal prestige. About the distinction of her friend there could be no doubt; and the prestige of a once-famous woman of the world, and of a formerly great beauty whose name would have its place in the annals of King Edward the Seventh, still lingered about the now-faded recluse of Berkeley Square. But till this moment Miss Van Tuyn had never thought of Lady Sellingworth as a possible rival to herself.

Even now when the idea presented itself to her she was inclined to dismiss it as too absurd for consideration. And yet Craven had not come back, although he must know she was expecting him.

Perhaps Lady Sellingworth had made him go in against his will.

Miss Van Tuyn remembered the photograph she had seen at Mrs. Ackroyd's. That woman had the face of one who was on the watch for new lovers. And does a woman ever change? Only that very night she herself had said to Craven, as they walked from Soho to Regent Street, that she had a theory of the changelessness of character. Or perhaps she had really meant of temperament. She had even said that she believed that the Lady Sellingworth of to-day was to all intents and purposes the Lady Sellingworth of yesterday and of the other days of her past. If that were so-and she had meant what she had said-then in the white-haired woman, who seemed now indifferent to admiration and leagues removed from vanity, there still dwelt a woman on the pounce.

Young Craven was very good-looking, and there was something interesting about his personality. His casual manner, which was nevertheless very polite, was attractive. His blue eyes and black hair gave him an almost romantic appearance. He was very quiet, but was certainly far from being cold. And he undoubtedly understood a great deal, and must have had many experiences of which he never talked. Miss Van Tuyn was subtle enough to know that he was subtle too. She had made up her mind to explore his subtlety. And now someone else was exploring it in Berkeley Square. The line reappeared in her low white forehead, and her cult for Lady Sellingworth, like flannel steeped in water, underwent a shrinking process. She felt strongly the indecency of grasping old age. And through her there floated strange echoes of voices which had haunted Lady Sellingworth's youth, voices which had died away long ago in Berkeley Square, but which are captured by succeeding generations of women, and which persist through the ages, finding ever new dwellings.

The night was growing late, but the Georgians bitterly complained of the absurdity of London having a closing time. The heat and the noise seemed to swell with the passing of the hours, and a curious and anemic brutality dawned with the midnight upon many of the faces around the narrow tables. They looked at the same time bloodless and hard. Eyes full of languor, or feverish with apparent expectation of some impending adventure, stared fixedly through the smoke wreaths at other eyes in the distance. Loud voices hammered through the murk. Foreheads beaded with perspiration began to look painfully expressive. It was as if all faces were undressed.

Dick Garstin, the famous painter, a small, slight, clean-shaven man, who looked like an intellectual jockey with his powerful curved nose, thin, close-set lips, blue cheeks and prominent, bony chin, and who fostered the illusion deliberately by dressing in large-checked suits of a sporting cut, with big buttons and mighty pockets, kept on steadily drinking green chartreuse and smoking small, almost black, cigars. He was said to be made of iron, and certainly managed to combine perpetual dissipation with an astonishing amount of hard and admirable work. His models he usually found-or so he said-at the Cafe Royal, and he made a speciality of painting the portraits of women of the demi-monde, of women who drank, or took drugs, who were morphia maniacs, or were victims of other unhealthy and objectionable crazes. Nothing wholly sane, nothing entirely normal, nothing that suggested cold water, fresh air or sunshine, made any appeal to him. A daisy in the grass bored him; a gardenia emitting its strangely unreal perfume on a dung heap brought all his powers into play. He was an eccentric of genius, and in his strangeness was really true to himself, although normal people were apt to assert that his unlikeness to them was a pose. Simplicity, healthy goodness, the radiance of unsmirched youth seemed to his eyes wholly inexpressive. He loved the rotten as a dog loves garbage, and he raised it by his art to fascination. Even admirable people, walking through his occasional one-man exhibitions, felt a lure in his presentations of sin, of warped womanhood, and, gazing at the blurred faces, the dilated eyes, the haggard mouths, the vicious hands of his portraits, were shiveringly conscious of missed experiences, and for the moment felt ill at ease with what seemed just there, and just then, the dullness of virtue. The evil admired him because he made evil wonderful. To the perverse he was almost as a god.

Miss Van Tuyn was an admirer of Dick Garstin. She thought him a great painter, but apart from his gift his mind interested her intensely. He had a sort of melancholy understanding of human nature and of life, a strangely sure instinct in probing to the bottom of psychological mysteries, a cruelly sure hand in tearing away the veils which the victims hoped would shroud their weaknesses and sins. These gifts made her brain respect him, and tickled her youthful curiosity. It was really for Dick that she had specially wished Lady Sellingworth to join the Georgians that night. And now, in her secret vexation, she was moved to speak of the once famous Edwardian.

"Have you ever heard of Lady Sellingworth?" she said, leaning her elbow on the marble table in front of her, and bending towards Dick Garstin so that he might hear her through the uproar.

He finished one more chartreuse and turned his small black eyes upon her. Pin-points of piercing light gleamed in them. He lifted his large, coarse and capable painter's hand to his lips, put his cigar stump between them, inhaled a quantity of smoke, blew it out through his hairy nostrils, and then said in a big bass voice:

"Never. Why should I have? I hate society women."

Miss Van Tuyn suppressed a smile at the absurd and hackneyed phrase, which reminded her of picture papers. For a moment she thought of Dick Garstin as a sort of inverted snob. But she wanted something from him, so she pursued her conversational way, and inflicted upon him a rapid description of Lady Sellingworth, as she had been and as she was, recording the plunge from artificial youth into perfectly natural elderliness which had now, to her thinking, become definite old age.

The painter gave her a sort of deep and melancholy attention, keeping the two pin-points of light directed steadily upon her.

"Did you ever know a woman doing such a thing as that, Dick?" she asked. "Did you ever know of a woman clinging to her youth, and then suddenly, in a moment, flinging all pretence of it away from her?"

He did not trouble, or perhaps did not choose, to answer her question, but instead made the statement:

"She had been thrown off by some lover. In a moment of furious despair, thinking all was over for her for ever, she let everything go. And then she hadn't the cheek to try to take any of it back. She hadn't the toupet. But"-he flung a large hand stained with pigments out in an ugly, insolent gesture-"any one of these fleurs du mal would have jumped back from the white to the bronze age when the fit was passed, without caring a damn what anyone thought of them. All the moral bravery is in the underworld. That is why I paint it."

"That is absolute truth," said Jennings, who was sitting next to Dick Garstin and smoking an enormous pipe. "The lower you go the more truth you find."

"Then I suppose the gutter is full of it," said Miss Van Tuyn.

"The Cafe Royal is," said Garstin. "There are free women here. Your women of society are for ever waiting on the opinion of what they call their set-God help them! Your Lady Sellingworth, for instance-would she dare, after showing herself as an old woman, to become a young woman again? Not she! Her precious set would laugh at her for it. But Cora, for instance-" He pointed to a table a little way off, at which a woman was sitting alone. "Do you suppose Cora cares one single damn what you, or I, or anyone else thinks of her? She knows we all know exactly what she is, and it makes not a particle of difference to her. She'll tell you, or anyone else, what her nature is. If you don't happen to like it, you can go to Hell-for her. That's a free woman. Look at her face. Why, it's great, because her life and what she is is written all over it. I've painted her, and I'll paint her again. She's a human document, not a sentimental Valentine. Waiter! Waiter!"

His sonorous bass rolled out, dominating the uproar around him. Miss Van Tuyn looked at the woman he had been speaking of. She was tall, emaciated, high shouldered. Her face was dead white, with brightly painted lips. She had dark and widely dilated eyes which looked hungry, observant and desperate. The steadiness of their miserable gaze was like that of an animal. She was dressed in a perfectly cut coat and skirt with a neat collar and a black tie. Both her elbows were on the table, and her sharp white chin was supported by her hands, on which she wore white gloves sewn with black. Her features were good, and the shape of her small head was beautiful. Her expression was intense, but abstracted. In front of her was a small tumbler half full of a liquid the colour of water.

A waiter brought Garstin a gin-and-soda. He mixed drinks in an almost stupefying way, as few men can without apparent ill-effects unless they are Russians.

"Cora-a free woman, by God!" he observed, lighting another of his small but deadly cigars.

Enid Blunt, who was sitting with Smith the sculptor and others at the adjoining table, began slowly, and with an insolent drawl, reciting a sonnet. She was black as the night. Even her hands looked swarthy. There were yellow lights in her eyes. Her voice was guttural, and she pronounced English with a strong German accent, although she had no German blood in her veins and had never been in Germany. The little Bolshevik, who had the face of a Russian peasant, candid eyes and a squat figure, listened with an air of profound and somehow innocent attention. She possessed neither morals nor manners, denied the existence of God, and wished to pull the whole fabric of European civilization to pieces. Her small brain was obsessed by a desire for anarchy. She hated all laws and was really a calmly ferocious little animal. But she looked like a creature of the fields, and had something of the shepherdess in her round grey eyes. Thapoulos, a Levantine, who had once been a courier in Athens, but who was now a rich banker with a taste for Bohemia, kept one thin yellow hand on her shoulder as he appeared to listen, with her, to the sonnet. Smith, with whom the little Bolshevik was allied for the time, and who did in clay very much what Garstin did on canvas, but more roughly and with less subtlety, looked at the Levantine's hand with indifference. A large heavy man, with square shoulders and short bowed legs, he scarcely knew why he had anything to do with Anna, or remembered how they had come together. He did not understand her at all, but she cooked certain Russian dishes which he liked, and minded dirt as little as he did. Perhaps that lack of minding had thrown them together. He did not know; nobody knew or cared.

"Well, I'm a free woman," said Miss Van Tuyn, in answer to Garstin's exclamation about Cora. "But you've never bothered to paint me."

She spoke with a touch of irritation. Somehow things seemed to be going vaguely wrong for her to-night.

"I suppose I am not near enough to the gutter yet," she added.

"You're too much of the out-of-door type for me," said Garstin, looking at her with almost fierce attention. "There isn't a line about you except now and then in your forehead just above the nose. And even that only comes from bad temper."

"Really, Dick," said Miss Van Tuyn, "you are absurd. It's putting your art into a strait waistcoat only to paint Cafe Royal types. But if you want lines Lady Sellingworth ought to sit for you."

Her mind that night could not detach itself from Lady Sellingworth. In the midst of the noise, and crush, and strong light of the cafe she continually imagined a spacious, quiet, and dimly lit room, very calm, very elegant, faintly scented with flowers; she continually visualized two figures near together, talking quietly, earnestly, confidentially. Why had she allowed Jennings to lead her astray? She might have been in that spacious room, too, if she had not been stupid.

"I want to ask you something about Lady Sellingworth," she continued. "Come a little nearer."

Garstin shifted his chair.

"But I don't know her," he said, rumpling his hair with an air of boredom. "An old society woman! What's the good of that to me? What have I to do with dowagers? Bow wow dowagers! Even Rembrandt-"

"Now, Dick, don't be a bore! If you would only listen occasionally, instead of continually-"

"Go ahead, young woman! And bend down a little more. Why don't you take off your hat?"

"I will."

She did so quickly, and bent her lovely head nearer to him.

"That's better. You've got a damned fine head. Ceres might have owned it. But classical stuff is no good to me. You ought to have been painted by Leighton and hung on the line in the precious old Royal Academy."

Again the tell-tale mark appeared above the bridge of Miss Van Tuyn's charming nose.

"I painted by a Royal Academician!" she exclaimed. "Thank you, Dick!"

Garstin, who was as mischi

evous as a monkey, and who loved to play cat and mouse with a woman, continued to gaze at her with his assumption of fierce attention.

"But Leighton being unfortunately dead, we can't go to him for your portrait," he continued gravely. "I think we shall have to hand you over to McEvoy. Smith!" he suddenly roared.

"Well, what is it, Dick, what is it?" said the sculptor in a thin voice, with high notes which came surprisingly through the thicket of tangled hair about the cavern of his mouth.

"Who shall paint Beryl as Ceres?"

"I refuse to be painted by anyone as Ceres!" said Miss Van Tuyn, almost viciously.

"It ought to have been Leighton. But he's been translated. I suggested McEvoy."

"Oh, Lord! He'd take the substance out of her, make her transparent!"

"I have it then! Orpen! It shall be Orpen! Then she will be hung on the line."

"You talk as if I were the week's washing," said Miss Van Tuyn, recovering herself. "But I would rather be on the clothes-line than on the line at the Royal Academy. No, Dick, I shall wait."

"What for, my girl?"

"For you to get over your acute attack of Cafe Royal. You don't know how they laugh at you in Paris for always painting morphinomanes and chloral drinkers. That sort of thing was done to death in France in the youth of Degas. It may be new over here. But England always lags behind in art, always follows at the heels of the French. You are too big a man-"

"I've got it, Smith," said Garstin, interrupting in the quiet even voice of one who had been indulging an undisturbed process of steady thought, and who now announced the definite conclusion reached. "I have it. Frank Dicksee is the man!"

At this moment Jennings, who for some time had been uneasily groping through his beard, and turning the rings round and round on his thin damp fingers, broke in with a flood of speech about modern French art, in which names of all the latest painters of Paris spun by like twigs on a spate of turbulent water. The Georgians were soon up and after him in full cry. It was now nearly closing time, and several friends of Garstin's, models and others, who had been scattered about in the cafe, and who were on their way out, stopped to hear what was going on. Some adherents of Jennings also came up. The discussion became animated. Voices waxed roaringly loud or piercingly shrill. The little Bolshevik, suddenly losing her round faced calm and the shepherdess look in her eyes, burst forth in a voluble outcry in praise of the beauty of anarchy, expressing herself in broken English, spoken with a cockney accent, in broken French and liquid Russian. Enid Blunt, increasingly guttural, and mingling German words with her Bedford Park English, refuted, or strove to refute, Jennings's ecstatic praise of French verse, citing rapidly poems composed by members of the Sitwell group, songs of Siegfried Sassoon, and even lyrics by Lady Margaret Sackville and Miss Victoria Sackville West. Jennings, who thought he was still speaking about pictures and statues, though he had now abandoned the painters and sculptors to their horrid fates in the hands of Garstin and Smith, replied with a vivacity rather Gallic than British, and finally, emerging almost with passion from his native language, burst into the only tongue which expresses anything properly, and assailed his enemy in fluent French. Thapoulos muttered comments in modern Greek. And the Turkish refugee from Smyrna quoted again and again the words of praise from Pierre Loti, which had made of him a moral wreck, a nuisance to all who came into contact with him, a mere prancing megalomaniac.

Miss Van Tuyn did not join in the carnival of praises and condemnations. She had suddenly recovered her mental balance. Her native irony was roused from its sleep. She was once more the cool, self-possessed and beautiful girl from whose violet eyes satire looked out on all those about her.

"Let them all make fools of themselves for my benefit," was her comfortable thought as she listened to the chatter of tongues.

Even Garstin was being thoroughly absurd, although his adherents stood round catching his vociferations as if they were so many precious jewels.

"The most ridiculous human beings in the world at certain moments are those who work in the arts," was Miss Van Tuyn's mental comment. "Painters, poets, composers, novelists! All these people are living in blinkers. They can't see the wide world. They can only see studies and studios."

She wished she had Craven with her to share in her silent irony. At that moment she felt some of the very common conceit of the rich dilettante, who tastes but who never creates, for whom indeed most of the creation is arduously accomplished.

"They sweat for me, exhaust themselves for me, tear each other to pieces for me! If I were not here, if the world contained no such products as Beryl Van Tuyn and her like, female and male, what would all the Garstins, and Jenningses and Smiths and Enid Blunts do?"

And she felt superior in her incapacity to create because of her capacity to judge. Wrongly she might, and probably did, judge, but she and her like judged, spent much of their lives in eagerly judging. And the poor creators, whatever they might say, whatever airs they might give themselves, toiled to gain the favourable judgment of the innumerable Beryl Van Tuyns.

Closing time put an end at last to the fracas of tongues. Even geniuses must be driven forth from the electric light to the stars, however unwilling to go into a healthy atmosphere.

There was a general movement. Miss Van Tuyn put on her hat and fur coat, the latter with the assistance of Jennings. Garstin slipped into a yellow and brown ulster, and jammed a soft hat on to his head with its thick tangle of hair. He lit another cigar and waved his hand to Cora, who was on her way out with a friend.

"A free woman-by God!" he said once more, swinging round to where Miss Van Tuyn was standing between Jennings and Thapoulos. "I'll paint her again. I'll make a masterpiece of her."

"I'm sure you will. But now walk with me to the Hyde Park Hotel. It's on your way to Chelsea."

"She doesn't care whether I paint her or not. Cora doesn't care. Art means nothing to her. She's out for life, hunks of life. She's after life like a hungry dog after the refuse on a scrap heap. That's why I'll paint her. She's hungry. Look at her face."

Miss Van Tuyn, perhaps moved by the sudden, almost ferocious urgency of his loud bass voice, turned to have a last look at the woman who was "out for life"; but Cora was already lost in the crowd, and instead of gazing into the dead-white face which suggested to her some strange putrefaction, she gazed full into the face of a man. He was not far off-by the doorway through which people were streaming out into Regent Street-and he happened to be looking at her. She had been expecting to see a whiteness which was corpse-like. Instead she was almost startled by the sight of a skin which suggested to her one of her own precious bronzes in Paris. It was certainly less deep in colour, but its smooth and equal, unvarying tint of brown somehow recalled to her those treasures which she genuinely loved and assiduously collected. And he was marvellously handsome as some of her bronzes were handsome, with strong, manly, finely cut features-audacious features, she thought. His mouth specially struck her by its full-lipped audacity. He was tall and had an athletic figure. She could not help swiftly thinking what a curse the modern wrappings of such a figure were; the tubes of cloth or serge-he wore blue serge-the unmeaning waistcoat with tie and pale-blue collar above it, the double-breasted jacket. And then she saw his eyes. Magnificent eyes, she thought them, soft, intelligent, appealing, brown like his skin and hair. And they were gazing at her with a sort of sympathetic intention.

Suddenly she felt oddly restored. Really she had had a bad evening. Things had not gone quite right for her. She had saved the situation in a measure just at the end by taking refuge in irony. But in her irony she had been quite alone. And to be quite alone in anything is apt to be dull. Craven had let her down. Lady Sellingworth had not played the game-or had played it too well, which was worse. Garstin had been unusually tiresome with his allusions to the Royal Academy and his preposterous concentration on the Cora woman.

This brown stranger's gaze was really like manna falling from heaven in a hungry land. She boldly returned the gaze, stared, trusting to her own beauty. And as she stared she tried to sum up the stranger, and failed. She guessed him a little over thirty, but not much. And there somehow, after the quick, instinctive guess at his age, she stuck.

"Come on, Beryl!"

Garstin's deep strong voice startled her. At that moment she felt angry with him for calling her by her Christian name, though he had done it ever since they had first made friends-if they were friends-in Paris two years ago, when he had come to have a look at her bronzes with a French painter whom she knew well.

"You are going to walk back with me?"

"To be sure I am. He is devilish good looking, but he ought to be out of those clothes."

"Dick!"

He smiled at her sardonically. She knew that he seldom missed anything, but his sharp observation in the midst of the squash of people going out of the cafe took her genuinely aback. And then he had got at her thought, at one of her most definite thoughts at least, about the brown stranger!

"You are disgustingly clever," she said, as they made their way out, followed by the Georgians and their attendant cosmopolitans. "I believe I dislike you for it to-night."

"Then take a cab home and I'll walk."

"No, thank you. I'd rather endure your abominable intelligence."

He smiled, curling up the left corner of his sensual mouth.

"Come on then. Don't bother about good-byes to all these fools. They'll never stop talking if they once begin good-bying. Like sheep they don't know how to get away from each other since they've been herded together. Come on! Come on!"

He thrust an arm through hers and almost roughly, but forcibly, got her away through the throng. As he did so she was pushed by, or accidentally pushed against, several people. For a brief instant she was in contact with a man. She felt his side, the bone of one of his hips. It was the man who had looked at her in the cafe. She saw in the night the gleam of his big brown eyes looking down into hers. Then she and Garstin were tramping-Garstin always seemed to be tramping when he walked-over the pavement of Regent Street.

"Catch on tight! Let's get across and down to Piccadilly."

"Very well."

Presently they were passing the Ritz. They got away from the houses on that side. Now on their left were the tall railings that divided them from the stretching spaces of the Park shrouded in the darkness and mystery of night.

"Well, my girl, what are you after?" said Garstin, who never troubled about the conventionalities, and seemed never to care what anyone thought of him and his ways. "Go ahead. Let me have it. I'm not coming in to your beastly hotel, you know. So get on with your bow wow Dowager."

"So you remember that I had begun-"

"Of course I do."

"Do you ever miss anything-let anything escape you?"

"I don't know. Well, what is it?"

"I wanted to tell you something about Lady Sellingworth which has puzzled me and a friend of mine. It is a sort of social mystery."

"Social! Oh, Lord!"

"Now, Dick, don't be a snob. You are a snob in your pretended hatred of all decent people."

"D'you call your society dames decent?"

"Be quiet if you can! You're worse than a woman."

He did not say anything. His horsey profile looked hard and expressionless in the night. As she glanced at it she could not help thinking of Newmarket. He ought surely to have been a jockey with that face and figure.

"You are listening?"

He said nothing. But he turned his face and she saw the two pin-points of light. That was enough. She told him about the theft of Lady Sellingworth's jewels, her neglect of all endeavour to recover them, her immediate plunge into middle-age after the theft, and her avoidance of general society ever since.

"What do you make of it?" she asked, when she had finished.

"Make of it?"

"Yes."

"Does your little mind find it mysterious?"

"Well, isn't it rather odd for a woman who loses fifty thousand pounds' worth of jewels never to try to get them back?"

"Not if they were stolen by a lover."

"You think-"

"It's as obvious as that Martin, R.A., can't paint and I can."

"But I believe they were stolen at the Gare du Nord. Now does that look like a lover?"

"I didn't say the Gare du Nord looked like a lover."

"Don't be utterly ridiculous."

"I don't care where they were stolen-your old dowager's Gew-gaws. Depend upon it they were stolen by some man she'd been mixed up with, and she knew it, and didn't dare to prosecute. I can't see any mystery in the matter."

"Perhaps you are right."

"Of course I am right."

Miss Van Tuyn said nothing for two or three minutes. Her mind had gone from Lady Sellingworth to Craven, and then flitted on-she did not know why-to the man who had gazed at her so strangely in the Cafe Royal. She had been feeling rather neglected, badly treated almost, and his look had restored her to her normal supreme self-confidence. That fact would always be to the stranger's credit. She wondered very much who he was. His good looks had almost startled her. She began also to wonder what Garstin had thought of him. Garstin seldom painted men. But he did so now and then. Two of his finest portraits were of men: one a Breton fisherman who looked like an apache of the sea, the other a Spanish bullfighter dressed in his Sunday clothes with the book of the Mass in his hand. Miss Van Tuyn had seen them both. She now found herself wishing that Garstin would paint a portrait of the man who had looked at her. But was he a Cafe Royal type? At present Garstin painted nothing which did not come out of the Cafe Royal.

"That man-" she said abruptly.

"I was just wondering when we should get to him!" interjected Garstin. "I thought your old dowager wouldn't keep us away from him for long."

"I suppose you know by this time, Dick, that I don't care in the least what you think of me."

"The only reason I bother about you is because you are a thoroughly independent cuss and have a damned fine head."

"Why don't you paint me?"

"I may come to it. But if I do I'm mortally afraid they'll make an academician of me. Go on about your man."

"Didn't you think him a wonderful type?"

"Yes."

"Tell me! If you want to paint someone, what do you do?"

"Do? Go up and tell him or her to come along to the studio."

"Whether you know them or not?"

"Of course."

"You ought to paint that man."

"Just because you want me to pick hum up and then introduce him to you. I don't paint for reasons of that kind."

"Have you ever seen him before to-night?"

"Yes. I saw him last night."

"For the first time?"

"Yes."

"At the Cafe Royal?"

"Yes."

"What do you think he is?"

"Probably a successful blackmailer."

For some obscure reason Miss Van Tuyn felt outraged by this opinion of Garstin.

"The fact is," she said, but in quite an impersonal voice, "that your mind is getting warped by living always among the scum of London, and by studying and painting only the scum. It really is a great pity. A painter ought to be a man of the world, not a man of the underworld."

"And the a propos of all this?" asked Garstin

"You are beginning to see the morphia maniac, the drunkard, the cocaine fiend, the prostitute, the-"

"Blackmailer?"

"Yes, the blackmailer, if you like, in everyone you meet. You live in a sort of bad dream, Dick. You paint in a bad dream. If you go on like this you will lose all sense of the true values."

"But I honestly do believe the man you want me to pick up and then introduce to you to be a successful blackmailer."

"Why? Do you know anything about him?"

"Absolutely nothing."

"Then your supposition about him is absurd and rather disgusting."

"It isn't a supposition."

"What is it then?"

"Perhaps you don't realize, my girl, that I'm highly sensitive."

"You seldom seem so. But, of course, I realize that you couldn't paint as you do unless you were."

"Instead of using the word supposition in connexion with a fellow like myself your discrimination should have led you to choose the word instinct."

"Oh?"

"Let's cross over. Catch on!"

They crossed to the side of the road next to Hyde Park.

"My instinct tells me that the magnificently handsome man who stared at you to-night is of the tribe that lives by making those who are indiscreetly susceptible to beauty pay heavy tribute, in hard cash or its equivalent. He is probably a king in the underworld. Perhaps I really will paint him. No, I'm not coming in."

He left her on the doorstep of the hotel and tramped off towards Chelsea.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares