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   Chapter 18 No.18

December Love By Robert Hichens Characters: 17256

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Lady Sellingworth of course understood Beryl's purpose in visiting her so soon and in being so unreserved to her. The girl's intention was absolutely clear to her mind horribly experienced in the cruel ways of women. Nevertheless she believed that Beryl had spoken the truth about what had happened at Camber.

When it began to get dark Craven had wanted to hold Beryl's hand.

Lady Sellingworth felt that she hated Beryl, hated Alick Craven. And herself? She did not want to contemplate herself. It seemed to her that she was fastened up with, chained to, a being she longed to ignore, to be without knowledge of. Something of her was struggling to be away from something else of her that was hideous. Battle, confusion, dust, dying cries, flying, terror-stricken feet! She was aware of tumult and despair in the silence of her beautiful house. And she was aware also of that slow and terrible creeping of hatred, the thing that did harm to her, that set her far away from any nobility she possessed.

She had gone abroad to fight, and had come back having lost her battle. And already she was being scourged for her failure.

When she had been striving alone these two had evidently forgotten her existence. Directly she had passed for a short time out of their lives they had come together. Youth had instinctively sought out youth, and she, the old woman, had been as one dead to them. If she had stayed away for years, if she had never come back, it would not have mattered to them.

Beryl's lack of all affection for her did not seriously trouble her. She knew the dryness of vanity; she knew that it was practically impossible for a girl so vain as Beryl to care deeply, or at all unselfishly, for another woman. But Craven's conduct was not what she had looked for. It seemed to stamp him as typical, and she had supposed him to be exceptional. When Beryl had told her about Camber-so little and yet so much-she had been struck to the heart; and yet she had seen a vision of servants, the footman out in the dark with the under housemaid.

Seymour Portman's observant old eyes, the terrible eyes of affection, took in the change in her, not quite as a woman's eyes would have done, but in their own adequate way. His Adela looked different. Something had happened to her. The envelope had been touched up in some, to him, quite mysterious manner. And he did not like it. It even gave him a mild sort of shock. The touch of artificiality was cold on this amazingly straightforward old man. He loved his Adela with all the wrinkles, with the sagging skin, and the lined throat, and the curiously experienced weariness about the temples. She lived for him in the brilliant eyes, and was loved by him in them. And why should she suddenly try to change her appearance? It had certainly not been done for him-this Something. She was looking handsomer than usual, and yet he seemed to be aware that beneath the improved surface there was a tragic haggardness which had come into existence while she had been away.

He did not reproach her for the mystery of her absence, or for her silence; he did not ask her questions about where she had been, what she had done; he just sat with her and loved her. And his love made her horribly uneasy that day. She could not be still under it. She felt as if the soul of her kept shifting about, as a child shifts about under the watchful eyes of an elder. She felt the physical tingle of guilt. And she was thankful when at last Seymour went away and left her alone with her hatred.

All those weeks! She had deliberately left the ground free to Beryl for all those weeks, and she had returned with no expectation of the thing that of course had happened. And yet she had believed that she had an excellent knowledge of life and of human beings. No doubt she had been so concentrated upon herself, and the struggle within herself that she had been unable to make any use of that knowledge. And so now she was full of hatred and of profound humiliation.

When she had abruptly left England she had made up her mind to "have done with it," that is to have done with love, to have done even with sentimental friendship. She had resolved to plunge into complete loneliness. Since she could not take Seymour into her intimate life, since she now knew that was absolutely impossible, she must somehow manage to get along permanently with nothing. And so, yielding to a desperate impulse, she had resolved to seek an unaccustomed solitude. She had fled from London. But she had stopped in Paris; although she had intended to pass through it and to go straight on to Marseilles and the Riviera. When the train had run in to the Gare du Nord she had told her surprised maid that she was tired and would not go on that night. Suddenly she had decided to seek out Caroline Briggs, to make a confession, to ask for help and sympathy. And she had sent her maid to a hotel, and had driven to Caroline's house.

But Caroline was not in Paris. A blue-cheeked, close-shaven French footman had informed her that his mistress had been obliged to sail for America three days before.

It had been a great blow to her. Confession, the cry for help, had been almost on her lips as she had stood at the door before the keen-eyed young man. And she had gone away feeling strangely lost and abandoned.

On the following morning she had left Paris and had travelled to the Riviera. And, there, she had fought against herself and had lost the battle.

Perhaps if she had been able to see Caroline the issue would have been different. She almost believed that if she had once told the absolute truth about herself to someone she might have found the courage to put personal dignity in its right place at the head of her life as the arbiter of what must not be done. Although she had defied Caroline ten years ago, and had been punished for her defiance, she still had a deep belief in Caroline's strength of character and clear insight. And she knew that Caroline was really fond of her.

But Fate had removed her friend from her. And was it not because of that removal that she had lost her battle? The sense of loneliness, of a cold finality, had been too great for her. She had had too much time for remembrance. And she had remembered certain hours with Craven by the fire, had remembered the human warmth of them, till the longing for happiness had overpowered everything else in her. They had been very happy together. She had been able to make him happy. His eager eyes had shown it. And their joy had been quite innocent; there had been no harm in it at all. Why should she deliberately forego such innocent contentment? Walking alone on the sea front at Cannes in the warm and brilliant weather she had asked herself that question. If Craven were there! And in the long loneliness she had begun presently, as often before, to try to cheat herself. The drastic heart of London had seemed to change into another heart. And at last she had followed the example of a woman in Paris some ten years ago.

She had as it were got out of the train once more.

She had not, perhaps, been fully conscious of the terrible repetition brought about by a temperament which apparently refused to change. She had no doubt tried to deceive herself though she had not deceived herself ten years ago at the Gare du Nord. She had even lied to herself, saying that in London she had given way to a foolish and morbid mood of fear, induced in her by memories of disasters in the past, that she had imagined danger where no danger existed. In London panic had seized her. But now in a different atmosphere and environment, quite alone and able, therefore, to consider things carefully and quietly, to see them in their true light, she had told herself that it was preposterous to give up an innocent joy merely because long ago she had been subject to folly. Ten years had elapsed since her last fit of folly. She must have changed since then. It was inevitable that she had changed. She had lied to herself in London when she had told herself that Craven would be satisfied in their friendship, while she would be almost starving. Her subsequent prayer had been answered. Passion was dead in her. A tender, almost a motherly feeling-that really was what she felt and would always feel for Alick Craven. She need not fear such a feeling. She would not fear it. Morbidity had possessed her. The sunshine of Cannes had driven it away. She had presently been glad that she had not found Caroline in Paris. For if she had made that confession she would have put an obstacle in the path which she now reso

lved to tread.

She had told herself that, and finally she had decided to return to London.

But she had gone first to Geneva, and had put herself there into the hands of a certain specialist, whose fame had recently reached the ears of a prominent member of the "old guard," no other than the Duchess of Wellingborough.

And now she had come back with her sheaves and had been met on the threshold by Beryl with her hideous confidences.

She had not yet told Craven of her return. For the moment she was glad that she had not given way to her impulse and telephoned to him on the Sunday. She might have caught him with her message just as he was starting for Rye with Beryl. That would have been horrible. Of course she would not telephone to him now. She resolved to ignore him. He had forgotten all about her. She would seem to forget about him. There was nothing else to be done. Pride, the pride of the Grande Dame which she had never totally lost, rose up in her, hot, fiery even; it mingled with an intense jealousy, and made her wish to inflict punishment. She was like a wounded animal that longs to strike, to tear with its claws, to lacerate and leave bleeding. Nevertheless she had no intention of taking action against either of those who had hurt her. Beryl should have her triumph. Youth should be left in peace with its own cruelty.

Two days passed before Craven knew of Lady Sellingworth's return to Berkeley Square. Braybrooke told him of it in the club, and added the information that she had arrived on the previous Saturday.

"Oh!" said Craven, with apparent indifference. "Have you seen her?"

Braybrooke replied that he had seen her, and that she was looking, in his opinion, remarkably well, even somewhat younger than usual.

"She seems to have had an excellent time on the Riviera and in Switzerland."

"In Switzerland!" said Craven, thinking of Braybrooke's remarks about Catherine Bewdley and Lausanne.

"Yes, but I don't think she has been ill. I ventured to-just to say a word as to doctors, and she assured me she had been perfectly well all the time she was away. Are you going to see her?"

"I've got a good deal to do just now," said Craven, coldly and with a slight rise of colour. "But of course I hope to see Lady Sellingworth again some day. She is a charming woman. It's always a pleasure to have a talk with her."

"Yes, indeed! By the way, who is Beryl Van Tuyn's extraordinarily good-looking young friend? Do you happen to know?"

"What friend?" asked Craven, with sudden sharpness.

"The tall man she has been seen about with lately."

"I don't know."

After a slight pause, very intentional on Braybrooke's part, Craven replied:

"Miss Van Tuyn knows such lots of people."

"To be sure! And Lady Archie, though a dear woman, is perhaps a little inclined to gossip."

"Lady Archie Brooke?"

"Yes. She has met Miss Van Tuyn two or three times in Glebe Place, it seems, walking with a man whom she describes as a marvel of good looks. But there's Antring. I must have a word with him. He is just over from Paris."

And Braybrooke walked away with his usual discreet gait. He was feeling decidedly satisfied. Young Craven had certainly not been pleased with the information so casually imparted. It had aroused-Braybrooke was convinced of it-a sensation of jealousy which promised well for the future. Braybrooke was almost sure now that his young friend had fallen thoroughly in love with Beryl Van Tuyn. The coldness about Adela Sellingworth, the sudden touch of heat about Beryl Van Tuyn, surely indicated that. Braybrooke was not seriously upset about Lady Archie's remarks. She really was a tremendous gossip, although of course a delightful woman. And Miss Van Tuyn was always surrounded by men. Nevertheless he was decidedly curious about the good-looking stranger who had been seen in Glebe Place. He had a retentive memory, and had not forgotten Dick Garstin's extraordinary remark about the blackmailer.

Braybrooke was not mistaken about Craven. The information about Adela Sellingworth had renewed Craven's hot sense of injury. Braybrooke did not understand that. But the subsequent remark about Beryl Van Tuyn had added fuel to the fire, and the sharp jealousy of sensitive youth mingled with the feeling of injury. Craven had been hurt by the elderly woman. Was he now to be hurt by the girl? Braybrooke's news had made him feel really angry. Yet he knew he had no right to be angry. He began to wish that he had never gone to Berkeley Square on that autumn afternoon, had never met the two women who were beginning to complicate his life. For a moment he thought of dropping them both. But had not one of them already dropped him? He would certainly not call again in Berkeley Square. If Lady Sellingworth did not ask him to go there he would not attempt to see her. He was not going to fight for her friendship. And as to Beryl Van Tuyn-The curious name-Nicolas Arabian-came into his mind and a conversation at a box at a theatre. Miss Van Tuyn had told him about this magnificently handsome man, this "living bronze," but somehow he had never thought of her as specially intimate with a fellow who frequented the Cafe Royal, and who apparently sat as a model to painters. But now he realized that this must be the man of Glebe Place, and he felt more angry, more injured than before.

Yet he was not in love with Beryl Van Tuyn. Or had he fallen in love with her without being aware of it? She attracted him very much physically at times. She amused him, interested him. He liked being with her. He was angry at the thought of another man's intimacy with her. He wanted her to be fond of him, to need him, to prefer him to all other men. But he often felt critical about her, about her character, though not about her beauty. A lover surely could not feel like that. A lover just loved, and there was an end of it.

He could not understand his own feelings. But when he thought of Beryl Van Tuyn he felt full of the fighting instinct, and ready to take the initiative. He would never fight to retain Lady Sellingworth's friendship, but he would fight to assert himself with the beautiful American. She should not take him up and use him merely as a means to amusement without any care for what was due to him. Lady Sellingworth was old, and in a sense famous. Such a woman could do as she pleased. With her, protest would be ridiculous. But he would find a way with Beryl Van Tuyn.

On that day and the next Craven did not see Miss Van Tuyn. No message came to him from Lady Sellingworth. Evidently the latter wished to have nothing more to do with him. She had now been in London for nearly a week without letting him know it. Miss Van Tuyn had telephoned once suggesting a meeting. But Craven had charmingly put her off, alleging a tiresome engagement. He did not choose now to seem eager to meet her. He was considering what he would do. If he could manage to meet her in Glebe Place! But how to contrive such an encounter? While he was meditating about this he was again rung up by Miss Van Tuyn, who suggested that he should play golf with her at Beaconsfield on the following day, Saturday.

"You can't pretend you are working overtime at the F.O. to-morrow," she said.

Craven replied that the F.O. kept him very long even on Saturdays.

"What's the matter? What are you angry about?" asked Miss Van Tuyn through the telephone.

Craven intended to make a quietly evasive reply, but he found himself saying:

"If I work overtime at the F.O., are there not others who do much the same-in Glebe Place?"

After a pause Miss Van Tuyn said:

"I haven't an idea what you mean."

Craven said nothing. Already he was angry with himself, and regretted his impulsiveness.

"Well?" said Miss Van Tuyn.

"Well?" retorted Craven, feeling rather absurd.

Again there was a pause. Then, speaking quickly, Miss Van Tuyn said: "If you can escape from the F.O. you might be in Glebe Place about five on Monday. Good-bye!"

And she rang off, leaving Craven with the pleasant sensation that, as often before, he had "given himself away." Certainly he had shown Miss Van Tuyn his jealousy. She must have guessed what his mention of Glebe Place meant. And yet she had asked him to go there on the following Monday. If he did not go perhaps that neglect would cancel his imprudence at the telephone.

He made up his mind not to go.

Nevertheless, when he left the Foreign Office on the Monday about half-past four, instead of going towards Mayfair he found himself walking quickly in the direction of Chelsea.

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