MoboReader> Literature > December Love

   Chapter 15 No.15

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 30402

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Miss Van Tuyn believed that things were coming her way after all. Young Craven was suddenly released, and another very strong interest was dawning in her life. Craven had not been wrong in thinking that she was secretly excited when he met her in the hall at Claridge's. She had fulfilled her promise to Dick Garstin, driven to fulfilment by his taunt. No one should say with truth that she was afraid of anyone, man or woman. She would prove to Garstin that she was not afraid of the man he was trying to paint. So, on the day of their conversation in the studio, she had left Glebe Place with Arabian. For the first time she had been alone with him for more than a few minutes.

She had gone both eagerly and reluctantly; reluctantly because there was really something in Arabian which woke in her a sort of frail and quivering anxiety such as she had never felt before in any man's company; eagerly because Garstin had put into words what had till then been only a suspicion in her mind. He had told her that Arabian was in love with her. Was that true? Even now she was not sure. That was part of the reason why she was not quite at ease with Arabian. She was not sure of anything about him except that he was marvellously handsome. But Garstin was piercingly sharp. What he asserted about anyone was usually the fact. He could hardly be mistaken. Yet how could a woman be in doubt about such a thing? And she was still, in spite of her vanity, in doubt.

When Arabian had come into the studio that day, and had seen the sketch of him ripped up by the palette knife, he had looked almost fierce for a moment. He had turned towards Garstin with a sort of hauteur like one demanding, and having the right to demand, an explanation.

"What's the row?" Garstin had said, with almost insolent defiance. "I destroyed it because it's damned bad. I hadn't got you."

And then he had taken the canvas from the easel and had thrown it contemptuously into a corner of the studio.

Arabian had said nothing, but there had been a cloud on his face, and Miss Van Tuyn had known that he was angry, as a man is angry when he sees a bit of his property destroyed by another. And she had remembered her words to Arabian, that the least sketch by Garstin was worth a great deal of money.

Surely Arabian was a greedy man.

No work had been done in the studio that morning. They had sat and talked for a while. Garstin had said most. He had been more agreeable than usual, and had explained to Arabian, rather as one explains to a child, that a worker in an art is sometimes baffled for a time, a writer by his theme, a musician by his floating and perhaps half-nebulous conception, a painter by his subject. Then he must wait, cursing perhaps, damning his own impotence, dreading its continuance. But there is nothing else to be done. Pazienza! And he had enlarged upon patience. And Arabian had listened politely, had looked as if he were trying to understand.

"I'll try again!" Garstin had said. "You must give me time, my boy. You're not in a hurry to leave London, are you?"

And then Miss Van Tuyn had seen Arabian's eyes turn to her as he had said, but rather doubtfully:

"I don't know whether I am."

Garstin's eyes had said to her with sharp imperativeness:

"Keep him! You're not to let him go!"

And she had kept her promise; she had gone away from the studio with Arabian leaving Garstin smiling at the door. And at that moment she had almost hated Garstin.

Arabian had asked her to lunch with him. She had consented. He had suggested a cab, and the Savoy or the Carlton, or the Ritz if she preferred it. But she had quickly replied that she knew of a small restaurant close to Sloane Square Station where the food was very good. Many painters and writers went there.

"But we are not painters and writers!" Arabian had said.

Nevertheless they had gone there, and had lunched in a quiet corner, and she had left him about three o'clock.

On the day of Craven's call at Claridge's she had been with Arabian again. Garstin had begun another picture, and had worked on through the lunch hour. Later they had had some food, a sort of picnic, in the studio, and then she had walked away with Arabian. She had just left him when she met Craven in the hall of the hotel. Garstin had not allowed either her or Arabian to look at what he had done. He had, Miss Van Tuyn thought, seemed unusually nervous and diffident about his work. She did not know how he had gone on, and was curious. But she was going to dine with him that night. Perhaps he would tell her then, or perhaps he had only asked her to dinner that she might tell him about Arabian.

And in the midst of all this had come Craven with his changed manner and his news about Lady Sellingworth.

Decidedly things were taking a turn for the better. To Miss Cronin's increasingly plaintive inquiries as to when they would return to Paris Miss Van Tuyn gave evasive replies. She was held in London, and had almost forgotten her friends in Paris.

She wondered why Adela had gone away so abruptly. Although she had half hinted to Craven that she guessed the reason of this sudden departure, and had asserted that Adela would presently come back bringing sheaves with her, she was not at all sure that her guess was right. Adela might return mysteriously rejuvenated and ready to plunge once more into the fray, braving opinion. It might be a case of reculer pour mieux sauter. On the other hand, it might be a flight from danger. Miss Van Tuyn was practically certain that Adela had fallen in love with Alick Craven. Was she being sensible and deliberately keeping out of his way, or was she being mad and trying to be made young at sixty in order to return armed for his captivation. Time would show. Meanwhile the ground was unexpectedly clear. Craven was seeking her, and she, by Garstin's orders and in the strict service of art, was pushing her way towards a sort of intimacy with Arabian. But the difference between the two men!

Craven's visit to Claridge's immediately after the hours spent with Arabian had emphasized for her the mystery of the latter. Her understanding of Craven underlined her ignorance about Arabian. The confidence she felt in Craven-a confidence quite independent of his liking, or not liking her-marked for her the fact that she had no confidence in Arabian. Craven was just an English gentleman. He might have done all sorts of things, but he was obviously a thoroughly straight and decent fellow. A woman had only to glance at him to know the things he could never do. But when she looked at Arabian-well, then, the feeling was rather that Arabian might do anything. Craven belonged obviously to a class, although he had a strong and attractive individuality. English diplomacy presented many men of his type to the embassies in foreign countries. But to what class did Arabian belong? Even Dick Garstin was quite comprehensible, in spite of his extraordinary manners and almost violent originality. He was a Bohemian, with touches of genius, touches of vulgarity. There were others less than him, yet not wholly unlike him, men of the studios, of the painting schools, smelling as it were of Chelsea and the Quartier Latin. But Arabian seemed to stand alone. When with him Miss Van Tuyn could not tell what type of man must inevitably be his natural comrade, what must inevitably be his natural environment. She could see him at Monte Carlo, in the restaurants of Paris, in the Galleria at Naples, in Cairo, in Tunis, in a dozen places. But she could not see him at home. Was he the eternal traveller, with plenty of money, a taste for luxury and the wandering spirit? Or had he some purpose which drove him about the world?

After Craven had left her that day at Claridge's she had a sudden wish to bring him and Craven together, to see how they got on together, to hear Craven's opinion of Arabian. Perhaps she could manage a meeting between the two men presently. Why not?

Arabian had not attempted to make love to her on either of the two occasions when she had been with him alone. Only his eyes had seemed to tell her that he admired her very much, that he wanted something of her. His manner had been noncommittal. He had seemed to be on his guard.

There was something in Arabian which suggested to Miss Van Tuyn suspicion. He was surely a man who, despite his "open" look, his bold features, his enormously self-possessed manner, was suspicious of others. He had little confidence in others. She was almost certain of that. There was nothing cat-like in his appearance, yet at moments when with him she thought of a tomcat, of its swiftness, suppleness, gliding energies and watchful reserve. She suspected claws in his velvet, too. And yet surely he looked honest. She thought his look was honest, but that his "atmosphere" was not. Often he had a straight look-she could not deny that to herself. He could gaze at you and let you return his gaze. And yet she had not been able to read what he was in his eyes.

He was not very easy to get on with somehow, although there was a great deal of charm in his manner and although he was full of self-confidence and evidently accustomed to women. But to what women was he accustomed? That was a question which Miss Van Tuyn asked herself. Craven was obviously at home in the society of ordinary ladies and of women of the world. You knew that somehow directly you were with him. But-Arabian?

Miss Van Tuyn could see him with smart cocottes. He would surely be very much at ease with them. And many of them would be ready to adore such a man. For there was probably a strain of brutality somewhere under his charm. And they would love that. She could even see him, or fancied that she could, with street women. For there was surely a touch of the street in him. He must have been bred up in cities. He did not belong to any fields or any woods that she knew or knew of. And-other women? Well, she was numbered among those other women. And how was he with her so far? Charming, easy, bold-yes; but also reserved, absolutely non-committal. She was not at all sure whether she was going to be of much use to Dick Garstin, except perhaps in her own person. Instead of delivering to him the man he wanted to come at perhaps she would end by delivering a woman worth painting-herself.

For there was something in Arabian that was certainly dangerous to her, something in him that excited her, that lifted her into an unusual vitality. She did not quite know what it was. But she felt it definitely. When she was with him alone she seemed to be in an adventure through which a current of definite danger was flowing. No other man had ever brought a sensation like that into her life, although she had met many types of men in Paris, had known well talented men of acknowledged bad character, reckless of the convenances, men who snapped their fingers at all the prejudices of the orthodox, and who made no distinction between virtues and vices, following only their own inclinations.

Such a man was Dick Garstin. Yet Miss Van Tuyn had never with him had the sensation of being near to something dangerous which she had with Arabian. Yet Arabian was scrupulously polite, was quiet, almost gentle in manner, and had a great deal of charm.

She remembered his following her in the street at night. What would he be like with women of that sort? Would his gentleness be in evidence with them, or would a totally different individual rise to the surface of him, a beast of prey perhaps with the jungle in its eyes?

Something in her shrank from Arabian as she had never yet shrunk from a human being. But something else was fascinated by him. She had the American woman's outlook on men. She expected men to hold their own in the world with other men, to be self-possessed, cool-headed, and bold in their careers, but to be subservient in their relations with women. To be ruled by a husband would have seemed to her to be quite unnatural, to rule him quite natural. She felt sure that no woman would be likely to rule Arabian. She felt sure that his outlook on women was absolutely unlike that of the American man. When she looked at him she thought of the rape of the Sabines. Surely he was a primitive under his mask of almost careful smartness and conventionality. There was something primitive in her, too, and she became aware of that now. Hitherto she had been inclined to believe that she was essentially complex, cerebral, free from any trace of sentimentality, quiveringly responsive to the appealing voices of the arts, healthily responsive to the joys of athleticism almost in the way of a Greek youth in the early days of the world, but that she was free from all taint of animalism. Men had told her that, in spite of her charm and the fascination they felt in her, she lacked one thing-what they chose to call temperament. That was why, they said, she was able to live as she did, audaciously, even eccentrically, without being kicked out of society as "impossible." She was saved from disaster by her interior coldness. She lived by the brain rather than by the senses. And she had taken this verdict to herself as praise. She had felt refinement in her freedom from ordinary desire. She had been proud of worshipping beauty without any coarse longing. To her her bronzes had typified something that she valued in herself. Her immense vanity had not been blended with those passions which shake many women, which had devastated Lady Sellingworth. A coarseness in her mind made her love to be physically desired by men, but no coarseness of body made her desire them. And she had supposed that she represented the ultra modern type of woman, the woman who without being cold-she would not acknowledge that she was cold-was free from the slavish instinct which makes all the ordinary women sisters in the vulgar bosom of nature.

But since she had seen Arabian she felt less highly civilized; she knew that in her, too, lurked the horrible primitive. And that troubled and at the same time fascinated her.

Was that why when she had seen Arabian for the first time she had resolved to get to know him? She had called him a living bronze, but she had thought of him from the first, perhaps, with ardour as flesh and blood.

And yet at moments he repelled her. She, who was so audacious, did not want to show herself with him at the Ritz, to walk down Piccadilly with him in daylight. As she had said to Dick Garstin, an atmosphere seemed to hang about Arabian-an unsafe atmosphere. She did not know where she was in it. She lost her bearings, could not see her way, heard steps and voices that sounded strange. And the end of it all was-"I don't know." When she thought of Arabian always that sentence was in her mind-"I don't know."

She was strangely excited. And now Craven came to her. And he attracted her, too, but in such a different way!

Suddenly London was interesting! And "I don't know when we shall go back to Paris!" she said to Miss Cronin.

"Is it the Wallace Collection, Beryl?" murmured "Old Fanny," with plaintive suspicion over her cup of camomile tea.

"Yes, it's t

he Wallace Collection," said Miss Van Tuyn.

And she went away to dress for her dinner with Dick Garstin.

She met him at a tiny and very French restaurant in Conduit Street, where the cooking was absolutely first rate, where there was no sound of music, and where very few English people went. There were only some eight or ten tables in the cosy, warm little room, and when Miss Van Tuyn entered it there were not a dozen people dining. Dick Garstin was not there. It was just like him to be late and to keep a woman waiting. But he had engaged a table in the corner of the room on the right, away from the window. And Miss Van Tuyn was shown to it by a waiter, and sat down. On the way she had bought The Westminster Gazette. She opened it, lit a cigarette, and began to glance at the news. There happened to be a letter from Paris in which the writer described a new play which had just been produced in an outlying theatre. Miss Van Tuyn read the account. She began reading in a casual mood, but almost immediately all her attention was grasped and held tight. She forgot where she was, let her cigarette go out, did not see Garstin when he came in from the street. When he came up and laid a hand on her arm she started violently.

"Who's-Dick!"

An angry look came into her face.

"Why did you do that?"

"What's the matter?"

He stared at her almost as if fascinated.

"By Jove . . . you look wonderful!"

"I forbid you to touch me like that! I hate being pawed, and you know it."

He glanced at the pale green paper.

"The sea-green incorruptible!"

He stretched out his hand, but she quickly moved the paper out of his reach.

"Let us dine. You've kept me waiting for ages."

Garstin sent a look to his waiter, and sat down opposite to Miss Van Tuyn with his back to the room.

"I'll buy a Westminster going back," he observed. "Bisque! Bring a bottle of the Lanson, Raoul."

He addressed the waiter in French.

"Oui, m'sieu."

"Well iced!"

"Certainement, Monsieur Garstin."

"Better tempered now, Beryl?"

"You always make out that I have the temper of a fiend. I hate being startled. That's all."

"You're awfully nervy these days."

"I think you are the cruellest man I know. If it weren't for your painting no one would have anything to do with you."

"I shouldn't care."

"Yes, you would. You love being worshipped and run after."

"Good soup, isn't it?"

She made no answer to this. After a silence she said:

"Why were you so late?"

"To give you time to study the evening paper."

"Were you working?"

"No-cursing."

"Why?"

"This damned portrait's going to be no good either!"

"Then you'd better give it up."

He shot a piercing glance at her.

"It isn't my way to give things up once I've put my hand to them," he observed drily. "And you seem to forget that you put me up to it."

"That was only a whim. You didn't take it seriously."

"I do now, though."

"But if you're baffled?"

"For the moment. I've nearly always found that the best work comes hardest. One has to sweat blood before one reaches the big thing. I may begin on him half a dozen times, cut him to ribbons half a dozen times-and then do a masterpiece."

"I don't think he'll wait long enough. Another stab of the palette knife and you'll probably see the last of him."

"Ah-he didn't like it, did he?"

"He was furious."

"Did he say anything about it afterwards to you?"

"Not a word. But he was furious. You stabbed money!"

Garstin smiled appreciatively. Raoul was pouring out the champagne. Garstin lifted his glass and set it down half empty.

"Had you told him-"

He paused.

"He knows everything you do is worth money, a lot of money."

"He's got the hairy heel. I always knew that. We'll get to his secret yet, you and I between us."

"I am not sure that I can stay over here very much longer, Dick. Paris is my home, and I can't waste my money at Claridge's for ever."

"If you like I'll pay the bill."

She reddened.

"Do you really think that if I were to go he-Arabian-"

"He'd follow you by the next boat."

"I'm sure he wouldn't."

"You're not half so vain as I thought you were."

"When we are alone he never attempts to make love to me. We talk platitudes. I know him no better than I did before."

"He's a wary bird. But the dawn must come and with it his crow."

"Well, Dick, I tell you frankly that I may go back to Paris any day."

"I knew you were nervy to-night. I wish I could find a woman who was a match for a man in the nervous system. But there isn't one. That's why we are so superior. We've got steel where you've all got fiddle strings. Raoul!"

He drank again and ate heartily. He was a voracious eater at times. But there were days when he ate nothing and worked incessantly.

They had begun dinner late, and the little restaurant was getting empty. Three sets of diners had gone out since they had sat down. The waiters were clearing some of the tables. A family party, obviously French, lingered at a round table in the middle of the room over their coffee. A pale man sat alone in a corner eating pressed duck with greedy avidity. And Raoul, leaving Miss Van Tuyn and Garstin, placed a large vase of roses on a table close to the window near the door.

Miss Van Tuyn happened to see this action, and a vagrant thought slipped through her mind. "Then we are not the last!"

"My nerves are certainly not fiddle strings," she said. "But I have interests which pull me towards Paris."

"Greater interests here. Have some more champagne! Raoul!"

"M'sieu!"

"You can't deceive me, Beryl."

"Your pose of omniscience bores me. Apart from your gift you're a very ordinary man, Dick, if you could only be brought to see it."

"Arabian fascinates you."

"He doesn't."

"And that's why you're afraid of him. You're afraid of his power because you don't trust him. He's doing a lot for you. You're waking up. You're becoming interesting. A few days ago you were only a beautiful spoilt American girl, as cool and as hard as ice, brainy, vain, and totally without temperament as far as one could see. Your torch was unlit. Now this blackguard's put the match to it."

"What nonsense, Dick!"

"Raoul!"

"M'sieu?"

"That's all very well. But my intention is to paint him, not you. Why don't you get to work hard? Why don't you put your back into it?"

"This is beyond bearing, Dick, even from you!"

She was looking really indignant. Her cheeks and forehead had reddened, her eyes seemed to spit fire at him, and her hands trembled.

"Your absolute lack of decent consideration is-you're canaille! Because you're impotent to paint I am to-no, it's too much! Canaille! Canaille! That's what you are! I shall go back to Paris. I shall-"

Suddenly she stopped speaking and stared. The red faded out of her face. A curiously conscious and intent look came into her eyes. She began to move her head as if in recognition of some one, stopped and sat rigid, pressing her lips together till her mouth had a hard grim line. Garstin, who could only see her and the wall at her back, watched all this with sharp interest, then, growing curious, turned round. As he did so he saw a tall, very handsome dark girl, who had certainly not been in the room when he entered it, going slowly, and as if reluctantly, towards the doorway. She was obviously a woman of the demi-monde and probably French. As she reached the door she turned her smart, impudent head and covered Miss Van Tuyn with an appraising look, cold, keen, vicious in its detached intensity, a look such as only a woman can send to another woman.

Then she went out, followed by Raoul, who seemed rather agitated, and whose back looked appealing.

"Black hair with blue lights in it!" said Garstin. "What a beauty!"

Miss Van Tuyn sighed.

"Why wouldn't she stay?"

He was still sitting half turned towards the door.

"A table with flowers all ready for her! And she goes! Was she alone? Ah-who was with her?"

"Arabian!" said Miss Van Tuyn, coldly.

"And he-"

"He saw us!"

"And took her away! What a lark! Too timid to face us! The naughty boy caught out in an escapade! I'll chaff him to-morrow. All their dinner wasted, and I'll bet it was a good one."

He chuckled over his wine.

"Did he know that you saw him?"

"I don't know. He was behind her. He barely showed himself, saw us and vanished. He must have called to her, beckoned from the hall. She went quite up to the table."

"So-you've taught him timidity! He doesn't want you to know of his under life."

"Oh, for heaven's sake let us talk of something else!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with an almost passionate note of exasperation. "You bore me, bore me, bore me with this man! He seems becoming an obsession with you. Paint him, for God's sake, and then let there be an end of him as far as we are concerned. There are lots of other men better-looking than he is. But once you have taken an idea into your head there is no peace until you have worked it out on canvas. Genius it may be, but it's terribly tiresome to everyone about you. Paint the man-and then let him sink back into the depths!"

"Like a sea monster, eh?"

"He is horrible. I always knew it."

"Come, now! You told me-"

"It doesn't matter what I told you. He is horrible."

"What! Just because he comes out to dine with a pretty girl of a certain class? I had no idea you were such a Puritan. Raoul!"

"M'sieu!"

Garstin was evidently enjoying himself.

"I know those women! Arabian's catching it like the devil in Conduit Street. She's giving him something he'll remember."

"No!" said Miss Van Tuyn, with hard emphasis.

"What d'you mean?"

"I mean that Arabian is the sort of man who can frighten women. Now if you don't talk of something else I shall leave you here alone. Another word on that subject and I go!"

"Tell me, Beryl. What do you really think of Wyndham Lewis? You know his portrait of Ezra Pound?"

"Of course I do."

"Don't you think it's a masterpiece?"

"Do you? I can never get at your real ideas about modern painting."

"And I thought I wore them all down in my own pictures."

"You certainly don't sit on the fence when you paint."

And then they talked pictures. Perhaps Garstin at that moment for once laid himself out to be charming. He could fascinate Miss Van Tuyn's mind when he chose. She respected his brain. It could lure her. As a worker she secretly almost loved Garstin, and she believed that the world would remember him when he was gone to the shadows and the dust.

Two champagne bottles had been emptied when they got up to go. The little room was deserted and had a look of being settled in for the night. Raoul took his tip and yawned behind his big yellow hand. As Miss Van Tuyn was about to leave the restaurant he bent down to the floor and picked up a paper which had fallen against the wall near her seat.

"Madame-" he began.

Miss Van Tuyn, who was on her way to the door, did not hear him, and Garstin swiftly and softly took the paper and slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat. When he had said good-bye to Beryl he went back to Glebe Place. He mounted the stairs to the studio on the first floor, turned on the lights, went to the Spanish cabinet, poured himself out a drink, lit one of the black cigars, then sat down in a worn arm-chair, put his feet on the sofa, and unfolded The Westminster Gazette. What had she been reading so intently? What was it in the paper that had got on her nerves?

The political news, the weather, the leading article, notes, reviews of new books. He looked carefully at each of the reviews. Not there! Then he began to read the news of the day, but found nothing which seemed to him capable of gripping Beryl's attention. Finally, he turned to the last page but one of the paper, saw the heading, "Our Paris Letter," and gave the thrush's call softly. Paris-Beryl! This was sure to be it. He began to read, and almost immediately was absorbed. His brows contracted, his lips went up towards his long, hooked nose. A strong light shone in his hard, intelligent eyes, eyes surely endowed with the power to pierce into hidden places. Presently he put the paper down. So that was it! That was why Beryl had been so startled when he touched her in the restaurant!

He got up and walked to the easel on which was the new sketch for Arabian's portrait, stood before it and looked at it for a very long time. And all the time he stood there what he had just read was in his mind. Fear! The fascination of fear! There were women who could only love what they could also fear. Perhaps Beryl was one of them. Perhaps underneath all her audacity, her self-possession, her "damned cheek," her abnormal vanity, there was the thing that could shrink, and quiver, and love the brute.

Was that her secret? And his? Arabian's?

Garstin threw himself down presently and looked at the paper again. The article which he felt sure had gripped Miss Van Tuyn's attention described a new play which had just made a sensation in Paris. A woman, apparently courageous almost to hardness, self-engrossed, beautiful and cold, became in this play fascinated by a man about whom she knew nothing, whom she did not understand, who was not in her circle of society, who knew none of her friends, who came from she knew not where. Her instinct hinted to her that there was in him something abominable. She distrusted him. She was even afraid of him. But he made an enormous impression upon her. And she said of him to a man who warned her against him, "But he means a great deal to me and other men mean little or nothing. There is something in him which speaks to me and in others there is nothing but silence. There is something in him which leads me along a path and others leave me standing where I am."

Eventually, against the warning of her own instinct, and, as it were, in spite of herself, she gave herself up to the man, and after a very short association with him-only a few days-he strangled her. She had a long and very beautiful neck. Hidden in him was a homicidal tendency. Her throat had drawn his hands, and, behind his hands, him. And she? Apparently she had been drawn to the murderer hidden in him, to the strong, ruthless, terribly intent, crouching thing that wanted to destroy her.

As the writer of the article pointed out, the play was a Grand Guignol piece produced away from its proper environment. It was called The Lure of Destruction.

How Beryl had started when a hand had touched her in the restaurant! And how angry she had been afterwards! Garstin smiled as he remembered her anger. But she had looked wonderful. She might be worth painting presently. He did not really care to paint a Ceres. But she was rapidly losing the Ceres look.

Before he went to bed he again stood in front of the scarcely begun sketch for the portrait of Arabian, and looked at it for a long time. His face became grim and set as he looked. Presently he moved his lips as if he were saying something to a listener within. And the listener heard:

"In the underworld-but is the fellow a king?"

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