MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 7 No.7

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 17677

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

Craven went away from Berkeley Square that night still under the spell and with a mind unusually vivid and alive. As he had told Lady Sellingworth, he was now twenty-nine and no longer considered himself young. At the F.O. there are usually a good many old young men, just as in London society there are always a great many young old women. Craven was one of the former. He was clever, discreet and careful in his work. He was also ambitious and intended to rise in the career he had chosen. To succeed he knew that energy was necessary, and consequently he was secretly energetic. But his energy did not usually show above the surface. Tradition rather forbade that. He had a quiet, even a lazy manner as a rule, and he thought he often felt old, especially in London. There was something in the London atmosphere which he considered antagonistic to youth. He had felt decades younger in Italy, especially when his ambassador had taken him to Naples in summer-time. But that was all over now. It might be a long time before he was again attached to an embassy.

When he reached his rooms, or, rather, his flat, which was just off Curzon Street, he went to look at his bookshelves, and ran his finger along them until he came to the poems of William Watson, which were next to Rupert Brooke's poems. After looking at the index he found the lyric he wanted, sat down, lit his pipe, and read it four times, thinking of Lady Sellingworth. Then he put away the book and meditated. Finally-it was after one o'clock-he went almost reluctantly to bed.

In the morning he, of course, felt different-one always feels different in the morning-but nevertheless he was aware that something definite had come into his life which had made a change in it. This something was his acquaintance with Lady Sellingworth. Already he found it difficult to believe that he had lived for twenty-eight years without knowing her.

He was one of those rather unusual young men who feel strongly the vulgarity of their own time, and who have in them something which seems at moments to throw back into the past. Not infrequently he felt that this mysterious something was lifting up the voice of the laudator temporis acti. But what did he, the human being who contained this voice and many other voices, know of those times now gone? They seemed to draw him in ignorance, and had for him something of the fascination which attaches to the unknown. And this fascination, or something akin to it, hung about Lady Sellingworth, and even about the house in which she dwelt, and drew him to both. He knew that he had never been in any house in London which he liked so much as he liked hers, that in no other London house had he ever felt so much at home, so almost curiously in place. The mere thought of the hall with its blazing fire, its beehive-chair, its staircase with the balustrade of wrought ironwork and gold, filled him with a longing to return to it, to hang up his hat-and remain. And the lady of the house was ideally right in it. He wondered whether in the future he would often be there, whether Lady Sellingworth would allow him to be one of the few real intimates to whom her door was open. He hoped so; he believed so; but he was not quite certain about it. For there was something elusive about her, not insincere but just that-elusive. She might not care to see very much of him although he knew that she liked him. They had touched the fringe of intimacy on the preceding night.

After his work at the Foreign Office was over he walked to the club, and the first man he saw on entering it was Francis Braybrooke just back from Paris. Braybrooke was buying some stamps in the hall, and greeted Craven with his usual discreet cordiality.

"I'll come in a moment," he said. "If you're not busy we might have a talk. I shall like to hear how you fared with Adela Sellingworth."

Craven begged him to come, and in a few minutes they were settled in two deep arm-chairs in a quiet corner, and Craven was telling of his first visit to Berkeley Square.

"Wasn't I right?" said Braybrooke. "Could Adela Sellingworth ever be a back number? I think that was your expression."

Craven slightly reddened.

"Was it?"

"I think so," said Braybrooke, gently but firmly.

"I was a-a young fool to use it."

"I fancy it's a newspaper phrase that has pushed its way somehow into the language."

"Vulgarity pushes its way in everywhere now. Braybrooke, I want to thank you very much for your introduction to Lady Sellingworth. You were right. She has a wonderful charm. It's a privilege for a young man, as I am I suppose, to know her. To be with her makes life seem more what it ought to be, what one wants it to be."

Braybrooke looked extremely pleased, almost touched.

"I am glad you appreciate her," he said. "It shows that real distinction has still a certain appeal. And so you met Beryl Van Tuyn there."

"Do you know her?"

Braybrooke raised his eyebrows.

"Know her? How should I not know her when I am constantly running over to Paris?"

"Then I suppose she's very much 'in it' there?"

"Yes. She is criticized, of course. She lives very unconventionally, although Fanny Cronin is always officially with her."

"Fanny Cronin?"

"Her dame de compagnie."

"Oh, the lady who reads Paul Bourget!"

"I believe she does. Anyhow, one seldom sees her about. Beryl Van Tuyn is very audacious. She does things that no other lovely girl in her position would ever dare to do, or could do without peril to her reputation. But somehow she brings them off. Mind, I haven't a word to say against her. She is exceedingly clever and has mastered the difficult art of making people accept from her what they wouldn't accept for a moment from any other unmarried girl in society. She may be said to have a position of her own. Do you like her?"

"Yes, I think I do. She is lovely and very good company."

"Frenchmen rave about her."

"And Frenchwomen?"

"Oh, they all know her. She carries things through. That really is the art of life, to be able to carry things through. Her bronzes are quite remarkable. By the way, she has an excellent brain. She cares for the arts. She is by no means a fribble. I have been surprised by her knowledge more than once."

"She seems very fond of Lady Sellingworth. She wants to get her over to Paris."

"Adela Sellingworth won't go."

"Why not?"

"She seems to hate Paris now. It is years since she had stayed there."

After a pause Craven said:

"Lady Sellingworth is something of a mystery, I think. I wonder-I wonder if she feels lonely in that big house of hers."

"Far more people feel lonely than seem lonely," said Braybrooke.

"I expect they do. But I think that somehow Lady Sellingworth seems lonely. And yet she is full of mockery."


"Yes. I feel it."

"But didn't you find her very kind?"

"Oh, yes. I meant of self-mockery."

Braybrooke looked rather dubious.

"I think," continued Craven, perhaps a little obstinately, "that she looks upon herself with irony, while Miss Van Tuyn looks upon others with irony. Perhaps, though, that is rather a question of the different outlooks of youth and age."


Braybrooke pulled at his grey-and-brown beard.

"I scarcely see-I scarcely see, I confess, why age should be more disposed to self-mockery than youth. Age, if properly met and suitably faced-that is, with dignity and self-respect, such as Adela Sellingworth undoubtedly shows-has no reason for self-mockery; whereas youth, although charming and delightful might well laugh occasionally at its own foolishness."

"Ah, but it never does!"

"I think for once I shall have a cocktail," said Braybrooke, signing to an attendant in livery, who at that moment came from some hidden region and looked around warily.

"You will join me, Craven? Let it be dry Martinis. Eh? Yes! Two dry Martinis."

As the attendant went away Braybrooke added:

"My dear boy, if you will excuse me for saying so, are you not getting the Foreign Office habit of being older than your years? I hope you will not begin wearing horn spectacles while your sight is still unimpaired."

Craven laughed and felt suddenly younger.

The two dry Martinis were brought, and the talk grew a little more lively. Braybrooke, who seldom took a cocktail, was good enough to allow it to go to his head, and became, for him, almost unbuttoned. Craven, entertained by his elderly friend's unwonted exuberance, talked more freely and a little more intimately to him than usual, and presently alluded to the events of the previous night, and described his expedition to Soho.

"D'you know the Ristorante Bella Napoli?" he asked Braybrooke. "Vesuvius all over the walls, and hair-dressers playing Neapolitan tunes?"

Braybrooke did not, but seeme

d interested, for he cocked his head to one side, and looked almost volcanic for a moment over the tiny glass in his hand. Craven described the restaurant, the company, the general atmosphere, the Chianti and Toscanas, and, proceeding with artful ingenuity, at last came to his climax-Lady Sellingworth and Miss Van Tuyn in their corner with their feet on the sanded floor and a smoking dish of Risotto alla Milanese before them.

"Adela Sellingworth in Soho! Adela Sellingworth in the midst of such a society!" exclaimed the world's governess with unfeigned astonishment. "What could have induced her-but to be sure, Beryl Van Tuyn is famous for her escapades, and for bringing the most unlikely people into them. I remember once in Paris she actually induced Madame Marretti to go to-ha-ah!"

He pulled himself up short.

"These Martinis are surely very strong!" he murmured into his beard reproachfully.

"I don't think so."

"My doctor tells me that all cocktails are rank poison. They set up fermentation."

"In the mind?" asked Craven.

"No-no-in the-they cause indigestion, in fact. How poor Adela Sellingworth must have hated it!"

"I don't think she did. She seemed quite at home. Besides, she has been to many of the Paris cafes. She told me so."

"It must have been a long time ago. And in Paris it is all so different. And you sat with them?"

Craven recounted the tale of the previous evening. When he came to the Cafe Royal suggestion the world's governess looked really outraged.

"Adela Sellingworth at the Cafe Royal!" he said. "How could Beryl Van Tuyn? And with a Bolshevik, a Turkish refugee-from Smyrna too!"

"There were the Georgians for chaperons."

"Georgians!" said Braybrooke, with almost sharp vivacity. "I really hate that word. We are all subjects of King George. No one has a right to claim a monopoly of the present reign. I-waiter, bring me two more dry Martinis, please."

"Yes, sir."

"What was I saying? Oh, yes-about that preposterous claim of certain groups and coteries! If anybody is a Georgian we are all Georgians together. I am a Georgian, if it comes to that."

"Why not? But Lady Sellingworth is definitely not one."

"How so? I must deny that, really. I know these young poets and painters like to imagine that everyone who has had the great honour of living under Queen Victoria-"

"Forgive me! It isn't that at all."

"Well, then-oh, our dry Martinis! How much is it, waiter?"

"Two shillings, sir."

"Two-thank you. Well, then, Craven, I affirm that Lady Sellingworth is as much a Georgian as any young person who writes bad poetry in Cheyne Walk or paints impossible pictures in Glebe Place."

"She would deny that. She said, in my presence and in that of Sir Seymour Portman and Miss Van Tuyn, that she did not belong to this age."

"What an-what an extraordinary statement!" said Braybrooke, drinking down his second cocktail at a gulp.

"She said she was-or rather, had been-an Edwardian. She would not have it that she belonged to the present day at all."

"A whim! It must have been a whim! The best of women are subject to caprice. It is the greatest mistake to class yourself as belonging to the past. It dates you. It-it-it practically inters you!"

"I think she meant that her glory was Edwardian, that her real life was then. I don't think she chooses to realize how immensely attractive she is now in the Georgian days."

"Well, I really can't understand such a view. I shall-when I meet her-I shall really venture to remonstrate with her about it. And besides, apart from the personal question, one owes something to one's contemporaries. Upon my word, I begin to understand at last why certain very charming women haven't a good word to say for Adela Sellingworth."

"You mean the 'old guard,' I suppose?"

"I don't wish to mention any names. It is always a mistake to mention names. One cannot guard against it too carefully. But having done what she did ten years ago dear Adela Sellingworth should really-but it is not for me to criticise her. Only there is nothing people-women-are more sensitive about than the question of age. No one likes to be laid on the shelf. Adela Sellingworth has chosen to-well-one might feel such a very drastic step to be quite uncalled for-quite uncalled for. And so-but you haven't told me! Did Adela Sellingworth allow herself to be persuaded to go to the Cafe Royal?"

"No, she didn't."

"Thank God for that!" said the world's governess, looking immensely relieved.

"I escorted her to Berkeley Square."

"Good! good!"

"But we walked to the door of the Cafe Royal."

"What-down Shaftesbury Avenue?"


"Past the Cafe Monico and-Piccadilly Circus?"


"What time was it?"

"Well after ten."

"Very unsuitable! I must say that-very unsuitable! That corner by the Monico at night is simply chock-a-block-I-I should say, teems, that's the word-teems with people whom nobody knows or could ever wish to know. Beryl Van Tuyn should really be more careful. She grows quite reckless. And Adela Sellingworth is so tall and unmistakable. I do hope nobody saw her."

"I'm afraid scores of people did!"

"No, no! I mean people she knows-women especially."

"I don't think she would care."

"Her friends would care for her!" retorted Braybrooke, almost severely. "To retire from life is all very well. I confess I think it a mistake. But that is merely one man's opinion. But to retire from life, a great life such as hers was, and then after ten years to burst forth into-into the type of existence represented by Shaftesbury Avenue and the Cafe Royal, that would be unheard of, and really almost unforgivable."

"It would, in fact, be old wildness," said Craven, with a faint touch of sarcasm.

"Old wildness! What a very strange expression!"

"But I think it covers the suggested situation. And we know what old wildness is-or if we don't some of the 'old guard' can teach us. But Lady Sellingworth will never be the one to give us such a horrible lesson. If there is a woman in London with true dignity, dignity of the soul, she has it. She has almost too much of it even. I could almost wish she had less."

Braybrooke looked suddenly surprised and then alertly observant.

"Less dignity?" he queried, after a slight but significant pause.


"But can a grande dame, as she is, ever have too much dignity of the soul?"

"I think even such a virtue as that can be carried to morbidity. It may become a weapon against the happiness of the one who has it. Those who have no dignity are disgusting. As Lady Sellingworth said to me, they create nausea-"

"Nausea!" interrupted Braybrooke, in an almost startled voice.

"Yes-in others. But those who have too much dignity wrap themselves up in a secret reserve, and reserve shuts out natural happiness, I think, and creates loneliness. I'm sure Lady Sellingworth feels terribly alone in that beautiful house. I know she does."

"Has she told you so?"

"Good heavens-no. But she never would."

"She need not be alone," observed Braybrooke. "She could have a companion to-morrow."

"I can't imagine her with a Fanny Cronin."

"I don't mean a dame de compagnie. I mean a husband."

Craven's ardent blue eyes looked a question.

"Seymour Portman is always there waiting and hoping."

"Sir Seymour?" cried Craven.

"Well, why not?" said Braybrooke, almost with severity. "Why not?"

"But his age!"

The world's governess, who was older than Sir Seymour, though not a soul knew it, looked more severe.

"His age would be in every way suitable to Adele Sellingworth's," he said firmly.

"Oh, but-"

"Go on!"

"I can't see an old man like Sir Seymour as her husband. Oh, no! It wouldn't do. She would never marry such an old man. I am certain of that."

Braybrooke pinched his lips together and felt for his beard.

"I hope," he said, lifting and lowering his bushy eyebrows, "I hope, at any rate, she will never be so foolish as to marry a man who is what is called young. That would be a terrible mistake, both for her and for him. Now I really must be going. I am dining to-night rather early with-oh, by the way, it is with one of your chiefs-Eric Learington. A good fellow-a good fellow! We are going to some music afterwards at Queen's Hall. Good-bye. I'm very glad you realize Adela Sellingworth's great distinction and charm. But-" He paused, as if considering something carefully; then he added:

"But don't forget that she and Seymour Portman would be perfectly suitable to one another. She is a delightful creature, but she is no longer a young woman. But I need not tell you that."

And having thus done the needless thing he went away, walking with a certain unwonted self-consciousness which had its source solely in dry Martinis.

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