MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 10 No.10

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 30564

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Miss Van Tuyn had not intended to stay long in London when she came over from Paris. But now she changed her mind. She was pulled at by three interests-Lady Sellingworth, Craven and the living bronze. A cold hand had touched her vanity on the night of the dinner in Soho. She had felt angry with Craven for not coming back to the Cafe Royal, and angrier still with Lady Sellingworth for keeping him with her. Although she did not positively know that Craven had spent the last part of the evening in the drawing-room at Berkeley Square, she felt certain that he had done so. Probably Lady Sellingworth had pressed him to go in. But perhaps he had been glad to go, perhaps he had submitted to an influence which had carried him for the time out of his younger, more beautiful friend's reach.

Miss Van Tuyn resolved definitely that Craven must at once be added to the numerous men who were mad about her. So much was due to her vanity. Besides, she liked Craven, and might grow to like him very much if she knew him better. She decided to know him better, much better, and wrote her letter to him. Craven had puzzled a little over the final sentence of that letter. There were two reasons for its apparently casual insertion. Miss Van Tuyn wished to whip Craven into alertness by giving his male vanity a flick. Her other reason was more subtle. Some instinct seemed to tell her that in the future she might want to use the stranger as a weapon in connexion with Craven. She did not know how exactly. But in that sentence of her letter she felt that she was somehow preparing the ground for incidents which would be brought about by destiny, or which chance would allow to happen.

That she would some day know "the living bronze" she felt certain. For she meant to know him. Garstin's brutal comment on him had frightened her. She did not believe it to be just. Garstin was always brutal in his comments. And he lived so perpetually among shady, or more than shady, people that it was difficult for him to believe in the decency of anybody who was worth knowing. For him the world seemed to be divided into the hopelessly dull and conventional, who did not count, and the definitely outrageous, who were often interesting and worthy of being studied and sometimes painted. It must be obvious to anyone that the living bronze could not be numbered among the merely dull and conventional. Naturally enough, then, Garstin supposed him to be a successful blackmailer. Miss Van Tuyn was not going to allow herself to be influenced by the putrescence of Garstin's mind. She had her own views on everything and usually held to them. She had quite decided that she would get to know the living bronze through Garstin, who always managed to know anyone he was interested in. Being totally unconventional and not, as he said, caring a damn about the proprieties, if he wished to speak to someone he spoke to him, if he wished to paint him he told him to come along to the studio. There was a simplicity about Garstin's methods which was excused in some degree by his fame. But if he had not been famous he would have acted in just the same way. No shyness hindered him; no doubts about himself ever assailed him. He just did what he wanted to do without arriere pensee. There was certainly strength in Garstin, although it was not moral strength.

The morning after the dinner in Soho Miss Van Tuyn telegraphed to Fanny Cronin to come over at once, with Bourget's latest works, and engaged an apartment at Claridge's. Although she sometime dined in the shadow of Vesuvius, she preferred to issue forth from some lair which was unmistakably smart and comfortable. Claridge's was both, and everybody came there. Miss Cronin wired obedience and would be on the way immediately. Meanwhile Miss Van Tuyn received Craven's note in answer to hers.

She grasped all its meaning, surface and subterranean, immediately. It meant a very polite, very carefully masked, withdrawal from the sphere of her influence. The passage about Soho was perfectly clear to her mind, although to many it might have seemed to convey an agreeably worded acceptance of her suggestion, only laying its translation into action in a rather problematical future, the sort of future which would become present when "neither of us has an engagement."

Craven had evidently been "got at" by Adela Sellingworth.

On the morning after Miss Van Tuyn's telegram to Paris Fanny Cronin arrived, with Bourget's latest book in her hand, and later they settled in at Claridge's. Miss Cronin went to bed, and Miss Van Tuyn, who had no engagement for that evening, went presently to the telephone. Although in her note to Craven by implication she had left it to him to suggest a tete-a-tete dinner in Soho, she was now resolved to ask him. She was a girl of the determined modern type, not much troubled by the delicacies or inclined to wait humbly on the pleasure of men. If a man did not show her the way, she was quite ready to show the way to him. Without being precisely of the huntress type, she knew how to take bow and arrow in her hand.

She rang up Craven, and the following dialogue took place at the telephone.

"Yes? Yes?"

"Is Mr. Craven there?"

"Yes, I am Alick Craven. Who is it, please?"

"Don't you know?"

"One minute! Is it-I'm afraid I don't."

"Beryl Van Tuyn."

"Of course! I knew the voice at once, but somehow I couldn't place it. How are you, Miss Van Tuyn?"

"Dangerously well."

"That's splendid."

"And you?"

"I'm what dull people call very fit and cheery."

"How dreadful! Now, tell me-are you engaged to-night? I'm sure you aren't, because I want you to take me to dine at the Bella Napoli. We agreed to tell each other when we were free. So I take you at your word."

"Oh, I'm awfully sorry!"

"What?"

"I'm ever so sorry."

"Why?"

"I have a dinner engagement to-night."

"What a bore! But surely you can get out of it?"

"I'm afraid not. No, really I can't."

"Send an excuse! Say you are ill."

"I can't honestly. It's-it's rather important. Besides, the fact is, I'm the host."

"Oh!"

The timbre of Miss Van Tuyn's voice changed slightly at this crisis in the conversation.

"Oh-if you're the host, of course. . . . You really are the host?"

"Yes, I really am. So you see!"

"No, but I hear and understand. Never mind. Ask me another night."

"Yes-that's it. Another night. Thank you so much. By the way, does the living bronze-"

"What? The living what?"

"Bronze! . . . The living bronze-"

"Oh, yes. Well, what about it?"

"Does it wear petticoats or trousers?"

"Trousers."

"Then I think I rather hate it."

"You-"

But at this point the exchange intervened. Then something happened; and then Craven heard a voice saying:

"No, darling! It's the teeth-the teeth on the left-hand side. You know when we were at the Carlton I was in agony. Tell Annie not to-"

It was useless to persist. Besides, he did not want to. So he put up the receiver. Almost immediately afterwards he was rung up by Lady Sellingworth, hung on the edge of disappointment for an instant, and then was caught back into happiness.

When he finally left the telephone and went to his bedroom to change his clothes, but not to "dress," he thanked God for having clinched matters so swiftly. Lady Sellingworth had certainly meant to let him down. Some instinct had told him what to say to her to make her change her mind. At least, he supposed so. For she had abruptly changed her mind after hearing of Miss Van Tuyn's invitation. But why had she meant to give up the dinner? What had happened between his exit from her house and her ringing him up? For he could not believe in the excuse of ill-health put forward by her. He was puzzled. Women certainly were difficult to understand. But it was all right now. His audacity-for he thought it rather audacious of him to have asked Lady Sellingworth to dine alone with him at the Bella Napoli-was going to be rewarded. As he changed his clothes he hummed to himself:

"O Napoli! Bella Napoli!"

At Claridge's meanwhile Miss Van Tuyn was not humming. As she came away from the telephone she felt in a very bad temper. Things were not going well for her just now in London, and she was accustomed to things going well. As in Craven's letter, so just now at the telephone, she had been aware of resistance, of a distinct holding back from her influence. This was a rare experience for her, and she resented it. She believed Craven's excuse for not dining with her. It was incredible that a young man who had nothing to do would refuse to pass an evening in her company. No; he was engaged. But she had felt at the telephone that he was not sorry he was engaged; she still felt it. He was going to do something which he preferred doing to dining with her. The tell-tale line showed itself in her low white forehead.

Fanny Cronin had gone to bed; otherwise they might have dined downstairs in the restaurant, where they would have been sure of meeting people whom Miss Van Tuyn knew. She did not choose to go down and dine alone. A lonely dinner followed by a lonely evening upstairs did not appeal to her; for a moment, like Lady Sellingworth in Berkeley Square, she felt the oppression of solitude. She went to the window of her sitting-room, drew the curtain back, pulled aside the blind, and looked out. The night was going to be fine; the sky was clear and starry; the London outside drew her. For a moment she thought of telephoning to Garstin to come out somewhere and dine with her. He was rude to her, seldom paid her a compliment, and never made love to her. But he was famous and interesting. They could always get on in a tete-a-tete conversation. And then there was now that link between them of the living bronze and her plan with which Garstin was connected. She meant to know that man; she meant it more strongly now that Craven was behaving so strangely. She dropped the blind, drew the curtains forward, went to the fire, and lit a cigarette.

She wondered where Craven was dining. At some delightful restaurant with someone he liked very much. She was quite sure of that; or-perhaps he had told her a lie! Perhaps he was dining at Number 18A, Berkeley Square! Suddenly she felt certain that she had hit on the truth. That was it! He was dining in Berkeley Square with Adela Sellingworth. They were going to have another evening together. Possessed by this conviction, and acting on an almost fierce impulse-for her vanity was now suffering severely-she went again to the telephone and rang up Lady Sellingworth. When she was put through, and heard the characteristic husky voice of her so-called friend at the other end of the line, she begged Lady Sellingworth to come and dine at Claridge's that night and have a quiet talk over things. As she had expected, she got a refusal. Lady Sellingworth was engaged. Miss Van Tuyn, with a discreet half-question, half-expression of disappointment, elicited the fact that Lady Sellingworth was dining out, not having people at home. The conversation concluded at both ends with charming expressions of regret, and promises to be together as soon as was humanly possible.

Again Miss Van Tuyn believed an excuse; again her instinct told her that she had invited someone to dine who was glad to be engaged. There was only one explanation of the two happy refusals. She was now absolutely positive that Lady Sellingworth and Craven were going to dine together, and not in Berkeley Square, and Craven was going to be the host, as he had said. He had invited Lady Sellingworth to go out and dine somewhere alone with him, and she had consented to do so. Where would they go? She thought of the Bella Napoli. It was very unlikely that they would meet anyone there whom they both knew, and they had met at the Bella Napoli. Perhaps they-or perhaps she-had romantic recollections connected with it! Perhaps they had arranged the other evening to dine there again-and without Beryl Van Tuyn this time! If so, the intervention at the telephone must have seemed an ironic stroke to them both.

For a moment Miss Van Tuyn's injured vanity made her feel as if they were involved in a plot directed against her and her happiness, as if they had both behaved abominably to her. She had always been so charming to Lady Sellingworth, had always praised her, had taken her part, had even had quite a cult for her! It was very disgusting. It showed Miss Van Tuyn how right she had been in generally cultivating men instead of women. For, of course, Craven could not get out of things with an experienced rusee woman of the world like Adela Sellingworth. Women of that type always knew how to "corner" a man, especially if he were young and had decent instincts. Poor Craven!

But at the telephone Miss Van Tuyn had felt that Craven was glad to be engaged that evening, that he was looking forward to something.

After sitting still for a few minutes, always with the tell-tale line in her forehead, Miss Van Tuyn got up with an air of purpose. She went to a door at the end of the sitting-room, opened it, crossed a lobby, opened double doors, and entered a bedroom in which a large, mild-looking woman, with square cheeks, chestnut-coloured smooth hair, large, chestnut-coloured eyes under badly painted eyebrows, and a mouth with teeth that suggested a very kind and well-meaning rabbit, was lying in bed with a cup and a pot of camomile tea beside her, and Bourget's "Mensonges" in her hand. This was Fanny Cronin, originally from Philadelphia, but now largely French in a simple and unpretending way. The painted eyebrows must not be taken as evidence against her. They were the only artificiality of which Miss Cronin was guilty; and as an unkind fate had absolutely denied her any eyebrows of her own, she had conceived it only decent to supply their place.

"I've got back to 'Mensonges,' Beryl," she said, as she saw Miss Van Tuyn. "After all, there's nothing like it. It bites right into one, even on a third reading."

"Dear old Fanny! I'm so glad you're being bitten into. I know how you love it, and I'm not going to disturb you. I only came to tell you that I'm going out this evening, and may possibly come back late."

"I hope you will enjoy yourself, dear, and meet pleasant people."

Miss Cronin was thoroughly well trained, and seldom asked any questions. She had long ago been carefully taught that the duty of a dame de compagnie consisted solely in being alive in a certain place-the place selected for her by the person she was dame de compagnie to. It was, after all, an easy enough profession so long as a beneficent Providence permitted your heart to beat and your lungs to function. The place at present was Claridge's Hotel. She had nothing to do except to lie comfortably in bed there. And this small feat, well within her competence, she was now accomplishing with complete satisfaction to herself. She took a happy sip of her camomile tea and added:

"But I know you always do that. You have such a wide choice and are so clever in selection."

Miss Van Tuyn slightly frowned.

"There isn't such a wide choice in London as there is in Paris," she said rather morosely.

"I dare say not. P

aris is much smaller than London, but much cleverer, I think. Where would you find an author like Bourget among the English? Which of them could have written 'Mensonges'? Which of them could-"

"I know, dear, I know! They haven't the bite. That is what you mean. They have only the bark."

"Exactly! And when one sits down to a book-"

"Just so, dear. The dog that can only bark is a very dull dog. I saw a wonderful dog the other day that looked as if it could bite."

"Indeed! In London?"

"Yes. But I'm sure it wasn't English."

"Was it a poodle?"

"No, quite the contrary."

Fanny Cronin looked rather vague. She was really trying to think what dog was quite the contrary of a poodle, but, after the Channel, her mind was unequal to the effort. So she took another sip of the camomile tea and said:

"What colour was it?"

"It was all brown like a brown bronze. Well, good night, Fanny."

"Good night, dear. I really wish you would read 'Mensonges' again when I have finished with it. One cannot read over these masterpieces too often."

"You shall lend it me."

She went out of the room, and Fanny Cronin settled comfortably down once more to the competent exercise of her profession.

It was now nearly eight o'clock. Miss Van Tuyn went to her bedroom. She had a maid with her, but she did not ring for the woman. Instead she shut her door, and began to "do" things for herself. She began by taking off her gown and putting on a loose wrapper. Then she sat down before the dressing-table and changed the way in which her corn-coloured hair was done, making it sit much closer to the head than before, and look much less striking and conspicuous. The new way of doing her hair changed her appearance considerably, made her less like a Ceres and more like a Puritan. When she was quite satisfied with her hair she got out of her wrapper, and presently put on an absolutely plain black coat and skirt, a black hat which came down very low on her forehead, a black veil and black suede gloves. Then she took a tightly furled umbrella with an ebony handle out of her wardrobe, picked up her purse, unlocked her door and stepped out into the lobby.

Her French maid appeared from somewhere. She was a rather elderly woman with a clever, but not unpleasantly subtle, face. Miss Van Tuyn said a few words to her in a low voice, opened the lobby door and went out.

She took the lift, glided down, walked slowly and carelessly across the hall and passed out by the swing door.

"A taxi, madam?" said the commissionaire in livery.

She shook her head and walked away down Brook Street in the direction of Grosvenor Square.

As Craven had predicted it was a fine clear night, dry underfoot, starry overhead. If Miss Van Tuyn had had with her a chosen companion she would have enjoyed her walk. She was absolutely self-possessed, and thoroughly capable of taking care of herself. No terrors of London affected her spirit. But she was angry and bored at being alone. She felt almost for the first time in her life neglected and even injured. And she was determined to try to find out whether her strong suspicions about Lady Sellingworth and Craven were well founded. If really Craven was giving a dinner somewhere, and Lady Sellingworth was dining with friends somewhere else, she had no special reason for irritation. She might possibly be mistaken in her unpleasant conviction that both of them had something to do which they preferred to dining with her. But if they were dining together and alone she would know exactly how things were between them. For neither of them had done what would surely have been the natural thing to do if there were no desire for concealment; neither of them had frankly stated the truth about the dinner.

"If they are dining together they don't wish me to know it," Miss Van Tuyn said to herself, as she walked along Grosvenor Square and turned down Carlos Place. "For if I had known it they might have felt obliged to invite me to join them, as I was inviting them, and as I was the one who introduced Adela Sellingworth to the Bella Napoli."

And as she remembered this she felt more definitely injured. For she had taken a good deal of trouble to persuade Lady Sellingworth to dine out in Soho, had taken trouble about the food and about the music, had, in fact, done everything that was possible to make the evening entertaining and delightful to her friend. It was even she, by the way, who had beckoned Craven to their table and had asked him to join them after dinner.

And in return for all this Adela Sellingworth had carried him off, and perhaps to-night was dining with him alone at the Bella Napoli!

"These old beauties are always the most unscrupulous women in the world," thought Miss Van Tuyn, as she came into Berkeley Square. "They never know when to stop. They are never satisfied. It's bad enough to be with a greedy child, but it's really horrible to have much to do with a greedy old person. I should never have thought that Adela Sellingworth was like this."

It did not occur to her that perhaps some day she would be an old beauty herself, and even then would perhaps still want a few pleasures and joys to make life endurable to her.

In passing through Berkeley Square she deliberately walked on the left side of it, and presently came to the house where Lady Sellingworth lived. The big mansion was dark. As Miss Van Tuyn went by it she felt an access of ill-humour, and for an instant she knew something of the feeling which had often come to its owner-the feeling of being abandoned to loneliness in the midst of a city which held multitudes who were having a good time.

She walked on towards Berkeley, thought of Piccadilly, retraced her steps, turned up Hay Hill, crossed Bond Street, and eventually came into Regent Street. There were a good many people here, and several loitering men looked hard at her. But she walked composedly on, keeping at an even steady pace. At the main door of the Cafe Royal three or four men were lounging. She did not look at them as she went by. But presently she felt that she was being followed. This did not disturb her. She often went out alone in Paris on foot, though not at night, and was accustomed to being followed. She knew perfectly well how to deal with impertinent men. In Shaftesbury Avenue the man who was dogging her footsteps came nearer, and presently, though she did not turn her head, she knew that he was walking almost level with her, and that his eyes were fixed steadily on her. Without altering her pace she took a shilling out of the purse she was carrying and held it in her hand. The man drew up till he was walking by her side. She felt that he was going to speak to her. She stopped, held out the hand with the shilling in it, and said:

"Here's a shilling! Take it. I'm sorry I can't afford more than that."

As she finished speaking for the first time she looked at her pursuer, and met the brown eyes of the living bronze. He stood for an instant gazing at her veil, and then turned round and walked away in the direction of Regent Street. The shilling dropped from her hand to the pavement. She did not try to find it, but at once went on.

It was very seldom that her self-possession was shaken. It was not exactly shaken now. But the recognition of the stranger whom she had been thinking about in the man who had followed her in the street had certainly startled her. For a moment a strong feeling of disgust overcame her, and she thought of Garstin's brutal comment upon this man. Was he then really one of the horrible night loungers who abound in all great cities, one of the night birds who come out when the darkness falls with vague hopes of doing evil to their own advantage? It was possible. He must have been hanging about near the door of the Cafe Royal when she passed and watching the passers-by. He must have seen her then. Could he have recognized her? In that case perhaps he was merely an adventurous fellow who had been pushed to the doing of an impertinent thing by his strong admiration of her. As she thought this she happened to be passing a lit-up shop, a tobacconist's, which had mirrors fixed on each side of the window. She stopped and looked into one of the mirrors. No, he could not have recognized her through the veil she was wearing. She felt certain of that. But he might have been struck by her figure. He might have noticed it that night at the Cafe Royal, have fancied he recognized it to-night, and have followed her because he was curious to know whether, or not, she was the girl he had already seen and admired. And of course, as she was walking in Regent Street alone at night, he must have thought her a girl who would not mind being spoken to. It was her own fault for being so audacious, so determined always to do what she wanted to do, however unconventional, even outrageous-according to commonplace ideas-it was.

She forgave the man his impertinence and smiled as she thought of his abrupt departure. If he were really a night bird he would surely have stood his ground. He would not have been got rid of so easily. No; he would probably have coolly pocketed the shilling, and then have entered into conversation with her, have chaffed her vulgarly about her methods with admirers, and have asked her to go to a cafe or somewhere with him, and to spend the shilling and other shillings in his company.

No doubt he had been waiting for a friend at the door of the Cafe Royal, had seen her go by, and had yielded to an impulse prompting him to an adventure. He was not an Englishman or an American. She felt certain of that. And she knew very well the views many foreigners, especially Latins, even of good birth hold about the propriety of showing their admiration for women in the street.

She was glad she had had a thick veil on. If later she made acquaintance with this man, she did not wish him to know that she and the girl who had offered him a shilling were one and the same. If he knew she might be at a certain disadvantage with him.

She turned into Soho and was immediately conscious of a slightly different atmosphere. There were fewer people about and the street was not so brightly lit up, or at any rate seemed to her darker. She heard voices speaking Italian in the shadows. The lights of small restaurants glimmered faintly on the bone-dry pavement. She was nearing the Bella Napoli. Soon she heard the distant sound of guitars.

Where she was walking at this moment there was no one. She stood still for an instant considering. If Lady Sellingworth and Craven were really dining together, as she suspected, and at the Bella Napoli, she could see them from the street if they had a table near the window. If they were not seated near the window she might not be able to see them. In that case, what was she going to do?

After a moment's thought she resolved that if she did not see them from the street she would go into the restaurant and dine there alone. They would see her of course, if they were there, and would no doubt be surprised and decidedly uncomfortable. But that could not be helped. Having come so far she was determined not to go back to the hotel without making sure whether her suspicion was correct. If, on the other hand, they were dining at a table near the window she resolved not to enter the restaurant.

Having come to this decision she walked on.

The musicians were playing "O Sole mio!" And as the music grew more distinct in her ears she felt more solitary, more injured and more ill-humoured. Music of that type makes youth feel that the world ought of right to belong to it, that the old are out of place in the regions of adventure, romance and passion. That they should not hang about where they are no longer wanted, like beggars about the door of a house in which happy people are feasting.

"Such music is for me not for Adela Sellingworth," thought Miss Van Tuyn. "Let her listen to Bach and Beethoven, or to Brahms if she likes. She can have the classics and the intellectuals. But the songs of Naples are for me, not for her."

And at that moment she felt very hard, even cruel.

She came up to the restaurant. The window was lighted up brilliantly. No blind was drawn over it. There was opaque glass at the bottom, but not at the top. She was tall and could look through the glass at the top. She did so, and at once saw Lady Sellingworth and Craven.

They were sitting at her table-the table which was always reserved for her when she dined at the Bella Napoli, and at which she had entertained Lady Sellingworth; and they were talking-confidentially, eagerly, she thought. Lady Sellingworth looked unusually happy and animated, even perhaps a little younger than usual. Yes! Very old, but younger than usual! They were not eating at the moment, but were no doubt waiting for a course. Craven was leaning forward to his companion. The guitars still sounded. But these two had apparently so much to say to one another that they had neither time or inclination to listen to the music.

Miss Van Tuyn stood very still on the pavement staring into the restaurant.

But suddenly Craven, as if attracted by something, turned abruptly half round towards the window. Instantly Miss Van Tuyn moved away. He could not have seen her. But perhaps he had felt that she-or rather of course that someone-was there. For he could not possibly have felt that she, Beryl Van Tuyn, was there looking in.

After drawing back Miss Van Tuyn walked slowly away. She was considering something, debating something within herself. Should she go in and dine alone in the restaurant? By doing so she would certainly make those two who had treated her badly uncomfortable; she would probably spoil the rest of their evening. Should she do that? Some indelicate devil prompted her, urged her, to do it. It would "serve them right," she thought. Adela Sellingworth especially deserved a touch of the whip. But it would be an undignified thing to do. They would never know of course why she had come alone to the Bella Napoli! They would think that, being audaciously unconventional, she had just drifted in there because she had nothing else to do, as Craven had drifted in alone the other night. She wanted to do it. Yet she hesitated to do it.

Finally she gave up the idea. She felt malicious, but she could not quite make up her mind to dine alone where they would see her. Probably they would feel obliged to ask her to join them. But she would not join them. Nothing could induce her to do that. And was she to come over to them when coffee was brought, as Craven had come at her invitation? No; that would be a condescension unworthy of her beauty and youth. Her fierce vanity forbade it, even though her feeling of malice told her to do it.

Her vanity won. She walked on and came into Shaftesbury Avenue.

"I know what I'll do," she said to herself. "I'll go and dine upstairs at the Cafe Royal, and go into the cafe downstairs afterwards. Garstin is certain to be there."

Garstin-and others!

This time she obeyed her inclination. Not many minutes later she was seated at a table in a corner of the restaurant at the Cafe Royal, and was carefully choosing a dinner.

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