Read PART THREE of December Love, free online book, by Robert Hichens, on ReadCentral.com.

CHAPTER I

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

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

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

Or perhaps Lady Sellingworth had defied it for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never.  Why should I have?  I hate society women.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garstin shifted his chair.

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

“Now, Dick, don’t be a bore!  If you would only listen occasionally, instead of continually ­”

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

“I will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who shall paint Beryl as Ceres?”

“I refuse to be pained by anyone as Ceres!” said Miss Van Tuyn, almost viciously.

“It ought to have been Leighton.  But he’s been translated.  I suggested McEvoy.”

“Oh, Lord!  He’d take the substance out of her, make her transparent!”

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

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

“What for, my girl?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come on, Beryl!”

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

“You are going to walk back with me?”

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

“Dick!”

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

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

“Then take a cab home and I’ll walk.”

“No, thank you.  I’d rather endure your abominable intelligence.”

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

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

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

“Catch on tight!  Let’s get across and down to Piccadilly.”

“Very well.”

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

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

“So you remember that I had begun ­”

“Of course I do.”

“Do you ever miss anything ­let anything escape you?”

“I don’t know.  Well, what is it?”

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

“Social!  Oh, Lord!”

“Now, Dick, don’t be a snob.  You are a snob in your pretended hatred of all decent people.”

“D’you call your society dames decent?”

“Be quiet if you can!  You’re worse than a woman.”

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

“You are listening?”

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

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

“Make of it?”

“Yes.”

“Does your little mind find it mysterious?”

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

“Not if they were stolen by a lover.”

“You think ­”

“It’s as obvious as that Martin, R.A., can’t paint and I can.”

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

“I didn’t say the Gare du Nord looked like a lover.”

“Don’t be utterly ridiculous.”

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

“Perhaps you are right.”

“Of course I am right.”

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

“That man ­” she said abruptly.

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

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

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

“Why don’t you paint me?”

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

“Didn’t you think him a wonderful type?”

“Yes.”

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

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

“Whether you know them or not?”

“Of course.”

“You ought to paint that man.”

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

“Have you ever seen him before to-night?”

“Yes.  I saw him last night.”

“For the first time?”

“Yes.”

“At the Cafe Royal?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think he is?”

“Probably a successful blackmailer.”

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

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

“And the a propos of all this?” asked Garstin

“You are beginning to see the morphia maniac, the drunkard, the cocaine fiend, the prostitute, the ­”

“Blackmailer?”

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

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

“Why?  Do you know anything about him?”

“Absolutely nothing.”

“Then your supposition about him is absurd and rather disgusting.”

“It isn’t a supposition.”

“What is it then?”

“Perhaps you don’t realize, my girl, that I’m highly sensitive.”

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

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

“Oh?”

“Let’s cross over.  Catch on!”

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

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

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

CHAPTER II

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 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.”

“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.”

“H’m?”

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 seemed 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?”

“Yes!”

“Past the Cafe Monico and ­Piccadilly Circus?”

“Yes!”

“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.

“Yes.”

“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.

CHAPTER III

Craven realized that he had “given himself away” directly Braybrooke was gone.  The two empty glasses stood on a low table in front of his chair.  He looked at them and for an instant was filled with anger against himself.  To be immortal ­he was old-fashioned enough to believe surreptitiously in his own immortality ­and yet to be deflected from the straight path of good sense by a couple of dry Martinis!  It was humiliating, and he raged against himself.

Braybrooke had certainly gone away thinking that he, Craven, had fallen in love with Lady Sellingworth.  That thought, too, might possibly have come out of one of those little glasses, the one on the left.  But nevertheless it would stick in Braybrooke’s mind long after the Martinis were forgotten.

And what if it did?

Craven said that to himself, but he felt far less defiant than sensitively uncomfortable.  He was surprised by himself.  Evidently he had not known his own feelings.  When Braybrooke mentioned Seymour Portman as a suitable husband for Lady Sellingworth something strong, almost violent, had risen up in Craven to protest.  What was that?  And why was he suddenly so angry?  He was surely not going to make a fool of himself.  He felt almost youthfully alarmed and also rather excited.  An odd sense of romance suddenly floated about him.  Did that too come from those cursed dry Martinis?  Impossible to be sure for the moment.  He found himself wondering whether teetotallers knew more about their souls than moderate drinkers, or less.

But the odd sense of romance persisted when the effect of the dry Martinis must certainly have worn off.  It was something such as Craven had never known, or even imagined before.  He had had his little adventures, and about them had thrown the woven robes that gleam with prismatic colours; he had even had deeper, passionate episodes ­as he thought them ­in his life.  As he had acknowledged in the Ristorante Bella Napoli he had seldom or never started on a journey abroad without a secret hope of romance meeting him on the way.  And sometimes it had met him.  Or so he had believed at the time.  But in all these episodes of the past there had been something definitely physical, something almost horribly natural, a prompting of the body, the kind of thing which belongs to youth, any youth, and which any doctor could explain in a few crude words.  Even then, in those now dead moments, Craven had sometimes felt sensitive youth’s impotent anger at being under the yoke which is laid upon the necks of innumerable others, clever, dull, aristocratic, common, the elect and the hopelessly vulgar.

In this new episode he was emancipated from that.  He was able to feel that he was peculiar, if not unique.  In the strong attraction which drew him towards Lady Sellingworth there was certainly nothing of the ­well, to himself he called it “the medically physical.”  Something of the body there might possibly be.  Indeed, perhaps it was impossible that there should not be.  But the predominant factor had nothing whatever to do with the body.  He felt certain of that.

When he got home from the Club he found on his table a note from Beryl Van Tuyn: 

HYDE PARK HOTEL, Thursday.

My dear Mr. Craven, ­What a pity you couldn’t get away last night.  But you were quite right to play Squire of Dames to our dear Lady Sellingworth.  We had a rather wonderful evening after you had gone.  Dick Garstin was in his best vein.  Green chartreuse brings out his genius in a wonderful way.  I wish it would do for me what it does for him.  But I have tried it ­in small doses ­quite in vain.  He and I walked home together and talked of everything under the stars.  I believe he is going to paint me.  Next time you make your way to the Bella Napoli we might go together.  Two lovers of Italy must always feel at home there, and the sight of Vesuvius is encouraging, I think.  So don’t forget that my “beat,” as you call it, often lies in Soho.

Isn’t dear Adela Sellingworth delightful?  She looked like a wonderful antique in that Italian frame.  I love every line in her face and would give my best bronze to have white hair like hers.  But somehow I am almost glad she didn’t fall to the Cafe Royal.  She is right.  It is too Georgian for her.  She is, as she says, definitely Edwardian and would scarcely understand the new jargon which comes as easily as how d’you do to our lips.

By the way, coming out of the Cafe Royal last night I saw a living bronze. ­Yours,

BERYL VAN TUYN.

This note half amused and half irritated Craven on a first reading.  On a second reading irritation predominated in him.  Miss Van Tuyn’s determined relegation of Lady Sellingworth to the past seemed somehow to strike at him, to make him ­or to intend to make him ­ridiculous; and her deliberate classing of him with herself in the underlined “our” seemed rather like an attempt to assert authority, the authority of youth over him.  But no doubt this was very natural.  Craven was quite sure that Miss Van Tuyn cared nothing about him.  But he was a not disagreeable and quite presentable young man; he had looked into her violet eyes, had pressed her hand, had held it longer than was at all necessary, had in fact shown that he was just a young man and easily susceptible; and so she did not choose to let an elderly woman take possession of him even for an hour without sharpening a weapon or two and bringing them into use.

No wonder that men are conceited when women so swiftly take up arms on their account!

For a moment Craven almost disliked Miss Van Tuyn, and made up his mind that there would be no “next time” for him in Soho while she was in London.  He knew that whenever they met he would feel her attraction; but he now classed it with those attractions of the past which were disgustingly explicable, and which just recently he had learnt to understand in a way that was almost old.

Was he putting on horn spectacles while his eyesight was still unimpaired?  He felt doubtful, almost confused for a moment.  Was his new feeling for Lady Sellingworth subtly pulling him away from his youth?  Where was he going?  Perhaps this new sensation of movement was only deceptive; perhaps he was not on the way to an unknown region.  For a moment he wished that he could talk freely, openly, with some understanding friend, a man of course.  But though he had plenty of men friends he could not think of one he would be able to confide his present feelings to.

Already he began to realize the human ridicule which always attends upon any departure from what, according to the decision of all absolutely ordinary people, is strictly normal.

Everybody would understand and approve if he were to fall desperately in love with Beryl Van Tuyn; but if he were to prefer a great friendship with Lady Sellingworth to a love affair with her youthful and beautiful friend no one would understand, and everybody would be ready to laugh and condemn.

He knew this and yet he felt obstinate, mulish almost, as he sat down to reply non-committally to Miss Van Tuyn’s letter.  It was only when he did this that he thought seriously about its last words.

Why had she troubled to write them down?  Comparatively young though he was he knew that a woman’s “by the way” usually means anything rather than what it seems to mean ­namely, a sentence thrown out by chance because it has just happened to turn up in the mind.  “A living bronze.”  Miss Van Tuyn was exceptionally fond of bronzes and collected them with enthusiasm.  She knew of course the Museum at Naples.  Craven had often visited it when he had been staying at the Villa Rosebery.  He could remember clearly almost every important bronze in that wonderful collection.  He realized what “a living bronze” must mean when written of by a woman.  Miss Van Tuyn had evidently seen an amazingly handsome man coming out of the Cafe Royal.  But why should she tell him about it?  Perhaps her motive was the very ordinary one, an attempt to rouse the swift jealousy of the male animal.  She was certainly “up” to all the usual feminine tricks.  He thoroughly realized her vanity and, contrasting it with Lady Sellingworth’s apparently almost careless lack of self-consciousness, he wondered whether Lady Sellingworth could ever have been what she was said to have been.  If so, as a snake sheds its skin she must surely have sloughed her original nature.  He was thankful for that, thankful for her absolute lack of pose and vanity.  He even delighted in her self-mockery, divined by him.  So few woman mocked at themselves and so many mocked at others.

If Miss Van Tuyn had intended to give a flick to his jealousy at the end of her letter she had failed.  If she met fifty living bronzes and added them to her collection it was nothing to him.  He compared his feeling when Braybrooke had suggested Seymour Portman as a husband for Lady Sellingworth with his lack of feeling about Miss Van Tuyn and her bronze, and he was almost startled.  And yet Miss Van Tuyn was lovely and certainly did not want him to go quite away out of her ken.  And, when she chose, she had made him very foolish about her.

What did it all mean?

He wrote a little letter in answer to hers, charmingly polite, but rather vague about Soho.  At the end of it, before signing himself “Yours” ­he could do no less with her letter before him ­he put, “I feel rather intrigued about the living bronze.  Was it in petticoats or trousers?”

CHAPTER IV

Craven had been right in his supposition about the world’s governess.  Braybrooke had gone away from the Club that evening firmly persuaded that his young friend had done the almost unbelievable thing, had fallen in love with Adela Sellingworth.  He was really perturbed about it.  A tremulous sense of the fitness of things governed his whole life, presided as it were over all his actions and even over most of his thoughts.  He instinctively shrank from everything that was bizarre, from everything that was, as he called it, “out of keeping.”  He was responsible for the introduction of young Craven into Adela Sellingworth’s life.  It would be very unfortunate indeed, it would be almost disastrous, if the result of that well-meant introduction were to be a preposterous passion!

When the effect of the two cocktails had subsided he tried to convince himself that he was giving way to undue anxiety, that there was really nothing in his supposition except alcohol taken in the afternoon.  But this effort failed.  He had lived a very long time, much longer than almost anyone knew; he was intimately familiar with the world, and, although unyieldingly discreet himself, was well acquainted with its follies and sins.  Life had taught him that practically nothing is impossible.  He had known old men to run ­or rather to walk ­off with young girls; he had known old women to be infatuated with mere boys; he had known well-born women to marry grooms and chauffeurs; a Peer of his acquaintance had linked himself to a cabman’s daughter and stuck to her; chorus girls of course perpetually married into the Peerage; human passions ­although he could not understand it ­ran as wild as the roots of eucalyptus trees planted high within reach of water.  So he could not rule out as impossible a sudden affection for Adela Sellingworth in the heart of young Craven.  It was really very unfortunate.  Feeling responsible, he thought perhaps he ought to do something discreetly.  The question was ­what?

Braybrooke was inclined to be a matchmaker, though he had neglected to make one match, his own.  Thinking things over now, he said to himself that it was quite time young Craven settled down.  He was a very promising fellow.  Eric Learington, of whom he had made some casual inquiries during the interval between the two parts of the concert at Queen’s Hall, had spoken quite warmly about Craven’s abilities, industry and ambition.  No doubt the young man would go far.  But he ought to have a clever wife with some money to help him.  A budding diplomatist needs a wife more than most men.  He is destined to do much entertaining.  Social matters are a part of his duty, of his career.  A suitable wife was clearly indicated for young Craven.  And it occurred to the world’s governess that as he had apparently done harm unwittingly, or approached the doing of harm, by introducing Craven to dear Adela Sellingworth, it was incumbent on him to try to do good, if possible, by now knocking the harm on the head, of course gently, as a well-bred man does things.

Beryl Van Tuyn came into his mind.

As he had told Craven, he knew her quite well and knew all about her.  She came of an excellent American family in Philadelphia.  She was the only child of parents who could not get on together, and who were divorced.  Both her father and mother had married again.  The former lived in New York in Fifth Avenue; the latter, who was a beauty, was usually somewhere in Europe ­now on the Riviera, now in Rome, at Aix, in Madrid, in London.  She sometimes visited Paris, but seldom stayed long anywhere.  She professed to be fond of Beryl, but the truth was that Beryl was far too good looking to be desirable as her companion.  She loved her child intensely ­at a distance.  Beryl was quite satisfied to be at a distance, for she had a passion for independence.  Her father gave her an ample allowance.  Her mother had long ago unearthed Fanny Cronin from some lair in Philadelphia to be her official companion.

Braybrooke knew all this, knew about how much money Miss Van Tuyn had, and about how much she would eventually have.  Without being vulgarly curious, he somehow usually got to know almost everything.

Beryl Van Tuyn would be just the wife for young Craven when she had settled down.  She was too independent, too original, too daring, and far too conventional for Braybrooke’s way of thinking.  But he believed her to be really quite all right.  Modern Americans held views about personal liberty which were not at all his, but that did not mean that they were not entirely respectable.  Beryl Van Tuyn was clever, beautiful, had plenty of money.  As a diplomatist’s wife, when she had settled down, she would be quite in her element.  After some anxious thought he decided that it was his duty to try to pull strings.

The ascertained fact that Craven had met Adela Sellingworth and Beryl Van Tuyn on the same day and together, and that the woman of sixty had evidently attracted him far more than the radiant girl of twenty-four, did not deter Braybrooke from his enterprise.  His long experience of the world had led him to know that human beings can, and perpetually do, interfere successfully in each other’s affairs, help in making of what are called destinies, head each other off from the prosecution of designs, in fact play Providence and the Devil to each other.

His laudable intention was to play Providence.

On the following day he considered it his social duty to pay a call at Number 18A, Berkeley Square.  Dear Adela Sellingworth would certainly wish to know how things were going in Paris.  Although she now never went there, and in fact never went anywhere, she still, thank God, had an interest in what was going on in the world.  It would be his pleasure to gratify it.

He found her at home and alone.  But before he was taken upstairs the butler said he was not sure whether her ladyship was seeing anyone and must find out.  He went away to do so, and returned with an affirmative answer.

When Braybrooke came into the big drawing-room on the first floor he fancied that his friend was looking older, and even paler, than usual.  As he took her hand he thought, “Can I be right?  Is it possible that Craven can imagine himself in love with her?”

It was an uncomplimentary thought, and he tried to put it from him as singularly unsuitable, and indeed almost outrageous at this moment, but it would not go.  It defied him and stuck firmly in his mind.  In his opinion Adela Sellingworth was the most truly distinguished woman in London.  But that she should attract a young man, almost indeed a boy, in that way!  It did really seem utterly impossible.

In answer to his inquiry, Lady Sellingworth acknowledged that she had not been feeling very well during the last two days.

“Perhaps you have been doing too much?” he suggested.

The mocking look came into her eyes.

“But what do I ever do now?” she said.  “I lie quietly on my shelf.  That surely can’t be very exhausting.”

“No one would ever connect you with being laid on the shelf,” said Braybrooke; “your personality forbids that.  Besides, I hear that you have been having quite a lively time.”

He paused ­it was his conception of the pause dramatic ­then added: 

“At the foot of a volcano!”

“Ah! you have heard about Vesuvius!”

“Yes.”

“What a marvellous gatherer of news you are!  Beryl Van Tuyn?”

“No.  I happened to meet young Craven at the St. James’s Club, and he told me of your excursion into Bohemia.”

“Bohemia!” she said.  “I haven’t set foot in that entertaining country since I gave up my apartment in Paris.  Soho is beyond its borders.  But I confess to Soho.  Beryl persuaded me, and I really quite enjoyed it.  The coffee was delicious, and the hairdressers put their souls into their guitars.  But I doubt if I shall go there again.”

“It tired you?  The atmosphere in those places is so mephitic.”

“Oh, I didn’t mind that.  Besides, we blew it away by walking home, at least part of the way home.”

“Down Shaftesbury Avenue?  That was surely rather dangerous.”

“Dangerous!  Why?”

“The sudden change from stuffiness to cold and damp.  Craven spoke of Toscanas.  And those cheap restaurants are so very small and badly ventilated.”

“Oh, we enjoyed our walk.”

“That’s good.  Craven was quite enthusiastic about the evening.”

Again the pause dramatic!

“He’s a nice boy.  I hope you liked him.  I feel a little responsible ­”

“Do you?  But why?”

“Because I ventured to introduce him to you.”

“Oh, don’t worry.  I assure you I like him very much.”

Her tone was very casual, but quite cordial.

“Well, he was enthusiastic about the evening, said it was like a bit of Italy.  You know he was once at the embassy in Rome.”

“Yes.  He told me so.”

“I hear very good accounts of him from the Foreign Office.  Eric Learington speaks very well of him.  He ought to rise high in the career.”

“I hope he will.  I like to see clever young men get on.  And he certainly has something in him.”

“Yes, I think so too.  By the way, he seems tremendously taken with Miss Van Tuyn.”

As the world’s governess said this he let his small hazel eyes fix themselves rather intently on Lady Sellingworth’s face.  He saw no change of expression there.  She still looked tired, but casual, neither specially interested nor in the least bored.  Her brilliant eyes still held their slightly mocking expression.

“Beryl must be almost irresistible to young men,” she said.  “She combines beauty with brains, and she has the audacity which nearly always appeals to youth.  Besides, unconventionality is really the salt of our over-civilized life, and she has it in abundance.  She doesn’t merely pretend to it.  It is part of her.”

“She may grow out of it in time.”

“I hope she won’t,” said Lady Sellingworth, rather decisively.  “If she did she would lose a great deal of her charm.”

“Well, but when she marries?”

“Is she thinking of marrying?”

“Girls of her age usually are, I fancy.”

“If she marries the right man he won’t mind her unconventionality.  He may even enjoy it.”

It occurred to Braybrooke that Adela Sellingworth was supposed to have done a great many unconventional things at one time.  Nevertheless he could not help saying: 

“I think most husbands prefer their wives to keep within bounds.”

“Beryl may never marry,” said Lady Sellingworth, rather thoughtfully.  “She is an odd girl.  I could imagine ­”

She paused, but not dramatically.

“Yes?” he said, with gentle insinuation.

“I could imagine her choosing to live a life of her own.”

“What, like Caroline Briggs?” he said.

Lady Sellingworth moved, and her face changed, suddenly looked more expressive.

“Ah, Caroline!” she said.  “I am very fond of her.  She is one in a thousand.  But she and Beryl are quite different in character.  Caroline lives for self-respect, I think.  And Beryl lives for life.  Caroline refuses, but Beryl accepts with both hands.”

“Then she will probably accept a husband some day.”

Suddenly Lady Sellingworth changed her manner.  She leaned forward towards the world’s governess, smiled at him, and said, half satirically, half confidentially: 

“Now what is it you have in the back of your mind?”

Braybrooke was slightly taken aback.  He coughed and half closed his eyes, then gently pulled up his perfectly creased trousers, taking hold of them just above the knees.

“I really don’t think ­” he began.

“You and I are old friends.  Do tell me.”

He certainly had not come intending to be quite frank, and this sudden attack rather startled him.

“You have formed some project,” she continued.  “I know it.  Now let me guess what it is.”

“But I assure you ­”

“You have found someone whom you think would suit Beryl as a husband.  Isn’t that it?”

“Well, I don’t know.  I confess it had just occurred to me that with her beauty, her cleverness, and her money ­for one has to think of money, unfortunately in these difficult days ­she would be a very desirable wife for a rising ambitious man.”

“No doubt.  And who is he?”

It was against all Braybrooke’s instincts to burst out abruptly into the open.  He scarcely knew what to do.  But he was sufficiently sharp to realize that Lady Sellingworth already knew the answer to her question.  So he made a virtue of necessity and replied: 

“It had merely occurred to me, after noting young Craven’s enthusiasm about her beauty and cleverness, that he might suit her very well.  He must marry and marry well if he wishes to rise high in the diplomatic career.”

“Oh, but some very famous diplomatists have been bachelors,” she said, still smiling.

She mentioned two or three.

“Yes, yes, I know, I know,” he rejoined.  “But it is really a great handicap.  If anyone needs a brilliant wife it is an ambassador.”

“You think Mr. Craven is destined to become an ambassador?”

“I don’t see why not ­in the fullness of time, of course.  Perhaps you don’t know how ambitious and hard-working he is.”

“I know really very little about him.”

“His abilities are excellent.  Learington has a great opinion of him.”

“And so you think Beryl would suit him!”

“It just occurred to me.  I wouldn’t say more than that.  I have a horror of matchmaking.”

“Of course.  Like all of us!  Well, you may be right.  She seemed to like him.  You don’t want me to do anything, I suppose?”

“Oh, no ­no!” he exclaimed, with almost unnecessary earnestness, and looking even slightly embarrassed.  “I only wished to know your opinion.  I value your opinion so very highly.”

She got up to stir the fire.  He sprang, or rather got, up too, rather quickly, to forestall her.  But she persisted.

“I know my poker so well,” she said.  “It will do things for me that it won’t do for anyone else.  There!  That is better.”

She remained standing by the hearth, looking tremendously tall.

“I don’t think I have an opinion,” she said.  “Beryl would be a brilliant wife for any man.  Mr. Craven seems a very pleasant boy.  They might do admirably together.  Or they might both be perfectly miserable.  I can’t tell.  Now do tell me about Paris.  Did you see Caroline Briggs?”

When Braybrooke left Berkeley Square that day he remembered having once said to Craven that Lady Sellingworth was interested in everything that was interesting except in love affairs, that she did not seem to care about love affairs.  And he had a vague feeling of having, perhaps, for once done the wrong thing.  Had he bored her?  He hoped not.  But he was not quite sure.

When he had gone, and she was once more alone.  Lady Sellingworth rang the bell.  A tall footman came in answer to it, and she told him that if anyone else called he was to say, “not at home.”  As he was about to leave the room after receiving this order she stopped him.

“Wait a moment.”

“Yes, my lady.”

She seemed to hesitate; then she said: 

“If Mr. Craven happens to call I will see him.  He was here two nights ago.  Do you know him by sight?”

“I can’t say I do, my lady.”

“Ah!  You were not in the hall when he called the other day?”

“No, my lady.”

“He is tall with dark hair, about thirty years old.  Murgatroyd is not in to-day, is he?”

“No, my lady.”

“Then if anyone calls like the gentleman I have described just ask him his name.  And if it is Mr. Craven you can let him in.”

“Yes, my lady.”

The footman went out.  A clock chimed in the distance, where the piano stood behind the big azalea.  It was half past five.  Lady Sellingworth made up the fire again, though it did not really need mending; then she stood beside it with one narrow foot resting on the low fender, holding her black dress up a little with her left hand.

Was Fate going to leave her alone?  That was how she put it to herself.  Or was she once more to be the victim of a temperament which she had sometimes hoped was dying out of her?  In these last few years she had suffered less and less from it.

She had made a grand effort of will.  That was now ten years ago.  It had cost her more than anyone would ever know; it had cost her those terrible tears of blood which only the soul weeps.  But she had persisted in her effort.  A horrible incident, humiliating her to the dust, had summoned all the pride that was left in her.  In a sort of cold frenzy of will she had flung life away from her, the life of the woman who was vain, who would have worship, who would have the desire of men, the life of the beauty who would have admiration.  All that she had clung to she had abandoned in that dreadful moment, had abandoned as by night a terrified being leaves a dwelling that is in flames.  Feeling naked, she had gone out from it into the blackness.  And for ten years she had stuck to her resolution, had been supported by the strength of her will fortified by a hideous memory.  She had grasped her nettle, had pressed it to her bosom.  She had taken to her all the semblance of old age, loneliness, dullness, had thrust away from her almost everything which she had formerly lived by.  For, like almost all those who yield themselves to a terrific spasm of will, she had done more than it was necessary for her to do.  From one extreme she had gone to another.  As once she had tried to emphasize youth, she had emphasized the loss of youth.  She had cruelly exposed her disabilities to an astonished world, had flung her loss of beauty, as it were, in the faces of the “old guard.”  She had called all men to look upon the ravages Time had brought about in her.  Few women had ever done what she had done.

And eventually she had had a sort of reward.  Gradually she had been enclosed by the curious tranquillity that habit, if not foolish or dangerous, brings to the human being.  Her temperament, which had long been her enemy, seemed at last to lie down and sleep.  There were times when she had wondered whether perhaps it would die.  And she had come upon certain compensations which were definite, and which she had learnt how to value.

By slow degrees she had lost the exasperation of desire.  The lust of the eye, spoken of to her by Caroline Briggs in Paris on the evening which preceded her enlightenment, had ceased to persecute her because she had taught herself deliberately the custody of the eye.  She had eventually attained to self-respect, even to a quiet sense of personal dignity, not the worldly dignity of the grande dame aware of her aristocratic birth and position in the eyes of the world, but the unworldly dignity of the woman who is keeping her womanhood from all degradation, or possibility of degradation.  Very often in those days she had recalled her conversation with Caroline Briggs in the Persian room of the big house in the Champs-Elysees.  Caroline had spoken of the women who try to defy the natural law, and had said that they were unhappy women, laughed at by youth, even secretly jeered at.  For years she, Adela Sellingworth, had been one of those women.  And often she had been very unhappy.  That misery at least was gone from her.  Her nerves had quieted down.  She who had been horribly restless had learnt to be still.  Sometimes she was almost at peace.  Often and often she had said to herself that Caroline was right, that the price paid by those who flung away their dignity of soul, as she had done in the past, was terrible, too terrible almost for endurance.  At last she could respect herself as she was now; at last she could tacitly claim and hope to receive the respect of others.  She no longer decked out her bones in jewels.  Caroline did not know the reason of the great and startling change in her and in her way of life, and probably supposed both to be due to that momentous conversation.  Anyhow, since then, whenever she and Lady Sellingworth had met, she had been extraordinarily kind, indeed, almost tender; and Lady Sellingworth knew that Caroline had taken her part against certain of the “old guard” who had shown almost acute animosity.  Caroline Briggs now was perhaps Lady Sellingworth’s best friend.  For at last they were on equal terms; and that fact had strengthened their friendship.  But Caroline was quite safe, and Lady Sellingworth from time to time had realized that for her life might possibly still hold peculiar dangers.  There had been moments in those ten years of temptation, of struggle, of a rending of the heart and flesh, which nobody knew of but herself.  But as the time went on, and habit more and more asserted its sway, they had been less and less frequent.  Calm, resignation had grown within her.  There was none of the peace that passeth understanding, but sometimes there was peace.  But even when there was, she was never quite certain that she had absolutely conquered herself.

Men and women may not know themselves thoroughly, but they usually know very well whether they have finally got the better of a once dominating tendency or vice, or whether there is still a possibility of their becoming again its victim.  In complete victory there is a knowledge which nothing can shake from its throne.  That knowledge Lady Sellingworth had never possessed.  She hoped, but she did not know.  For sometimes, though very seldom, the old wildness seemed to stir within her like a serpent uncoiling itself after its winter’s sleep.  Then she was frightened and made a great effort, an effort of fear.  She set her heel on the serpent, and after a time it lay still.  Sometimes, too, the loneliness of her life in her spacious and beautiful house became almost intolerable to her.  This was especially the case at night.  She did not care to show a haggard and lined face and white hair to her world when it was at play.  And though she had defied the “old guard,” she did not love meeting all those women whom she knew so well, and who looked so much younger and gayer than she did.  So she had many lonely evenings at home, when her servants were together below stairs, and she had for company only the fire and a book.

The dinner in Soho had been quite an experience for her, and though she had taken it so simply and casually, had seemed so thoroughly at home and in place with her feet on the sanded floor, eating to the sound of guitars, she had really been inwardly excited.  And when she had looked up and seen Craven gazing towards her she had felt an odd thrill at the heart.  For she had known Italy, too, as well as she had know Paris, and had memories connected with Italy.  And the guitars had spoken to her of days and nights which her will told her not to think of any more.

And now?  Was Fate going to leave her alone?  Or was she once more going to be attacked?  Something within her, no doubt woman’s instinct, scented danger.

Braybrooke’s visit had disturbed her.  She had known him for years, and knew the type of man he was ­careful, discreet, but often very busy.  He had a kind heart, but a brain which sometimes wove little plots.  On the whole he was a sincere man, except, of course, sometimes socially, but now and then he found it necessary to tell little lies.  Had he told her a little lie that day about young Craven and Beryl Van Tuyn?  Had he been weaving the first strands of a little plot ­a plot like a net ­and was it his intention to catch her in it?  She knew he had had a definite motive in coming to see her, and that the motive was not connected with his visit to Paris.

His remarks about Craven had interested her because she was interested in Craven, but it was not quite clear to her why Braybrooke should suddenly concentrate on the young man’s future, nor why he should, with so much precaution, try to get at her opinion on the question of Craven’s marriage.  When Braybrooke had first spoken to her of Craven he had not implied that he and Craven were specially intimate, or that he was deeply interested in Craven’s concerns or prospects.  He had merely told her that Craven was a clever and promising “boy,” with an interesting mind and a nice nature, who had a great desire to meet her.  And she had good-naturedly said that Craven might call.  It had all been very casual.  But Braybrooke’s manner had now completely changed.  He seemed to think he was almost responsible for the young man.  There had even been something furtive in his demeanour when speaking about Craven to her, and when she had forced him to explain and to say what was in his mind, for a moment he had been almost confused.

What had it to do with her whether Craven married Beryl Van Tuyn or did not marry her?

Although she had been interested when Braybrooke had spoken of Craven’s cleverness and energy, of his good prospects in his career, and of the appreciation of Eric Learington ­a man not given to undue praises ­she had been secretly irritated when he had come to the question of Beryl Van Tuyn and the importance of Craven’s marrying well.  Why should he marry at all?  And if he must, why Beryl Van Tuyn?

Lady Sellingworth hated the thought of that marriage and the idea that Braybrooke was probably intent on trying to bring it about, or at any rate was considering whether he should make the endeavour, roused in her resentment against him.

“Tiresome old man!” she said to herself, as she stood by the fire.  “Why won’t he let things alone?  What business is it of his?”

And then she felt as if Braybrooke were meditating a stroke against her, and had practically asked her to help him in delivering the blow.

She felt that definitely.  And immediately she had felt it she was startled, and the strong sensation of being near to danger took hold of her.

In all the ten years which had passed since the theft of her jewels she had never once deliberately stretched out her hands to happiness.  Palliatives she had made the most of; compensations she had been thankful for.  She had been very patient, and considering what she had been, very humble.  But she had definitely given up the thought of ever knowing again any intimate personal happiness.  That book was closed.  In ten years she had never once tried to open it.

And now, suddenly, without even being definitely conscious of what she was doing, she had laid her hands on it as if ­The change in her, the abrupt and dangerous change, had surely come about two nights ago.  And she felt now that something peculiar in Craven, rather than something unusual in herself, had caused it.

Beryl Van Tuyn and she were friends because the girl had professed a cult for her, had been very charming to her, and, when in London, had persistently sought her out.  Beryl had amused her.  She had even been interested in Beryl because she had noted in her certain traits which had once been predominant in herself.  And how she had understood Beryl’s vanity, Beryl’s passion for independence and love of the unconventional!  Although they were so different, of different nations and different breeds, there was something which made them akin.  And she had recognized it.  And, recognizing it, she had sometimes felt a secret pity and even fear for the girl, thinking of the inevitable fading of that beauty, of the inevitable exasperation of that vanity with the passing of the years.  The vanity would grow and the beauty would diminish as time went on.  And then, some day, what would Beryl be?  For in her vanity there was already exaggeration.  In it she had already reached a stage which had only been gained by Lady Sellingworth at a much later period in life.  Already she looked in the highways and byways for admiration.  She sought for it even among Italian hairdressers!  Some day it would make her suffer.

Lady Sellingworth had seen young Craven go away from his visit to her in Beryl’s company with perhaps just a touch of half-ironical amusement, mingled with just a touch of half-wistful longing for the days that were over and done with.  She knew so well that taking possession of a handsome young man on a first meeting.  There was nothing in it but vanity.  She had known and had done that sort of thing when she was a reigning beauty.  Craven had interested and pleased her at once; she hardly knew why.  There was something about him, about his look, bearing and manner which was sympathetic to her.  She had felt a quiet inclination to know more of him.  That was all.  Seymour Portman had liked him, too, and had said so when the door had closed behind the young couple, leaving the old couple to themselves.  He would come again some day, no doubt.  And while she and Sir Seymour had remained by the fire talking quietly together, in imagination she had seen those two, linked by their youth ­that wonderful bond ­walking through the London twilight, chattering gaily, laughing at trifling jokes, realizing their freemasonry.  And she had asked herself why it was that she could not feel that other freemasonry ­of age.  Seymour Portman had loved her for many years, loved her now, had never married because of her, would give up anything in London just to be quietly with her, would marry her now, ravaged though she was, worn, twice a widow, with a past behind her which he must know about, and which was not edifying.  And yet she could not love him, partly, perhaps chiefly, because there was still rooted in her that ineradicable passion ­it must be that, even now, a passion ­for youth and the fascination of youth.  When at last he had gone she had felt unusually bitter for a few minutes, had asked herself, as human beings ask themselves every day, the eternal why.  “Why, why, why am I as I am?  Why can’t I care for the suitable?  Why can’t I like the gift held out to me?  Why doesn’t my soul age with my body?  Why must I continue to be lonely just because of the taint in my nature which forbids me to find companionship in one who finds perfect companionship in me?  Why ­to sum up ­am I condemned eternally to be myself?”

There was no answer.  The voice was not in the whirlwind.  And presently she had dismissed those useless, those damnable questions, which only torture because they are never answered.

And then had come the night in Soho.  And there for the first time since they had known each other she had felt herself to be subtly involved in a woman’s obscure conflict with Beryl Van Tuyn.  She was not conscious of having taken up weapons.  Nevertheless she had no doubt about the conflict.  And on her side any force brought into play against her beautiful friend must have issued simply from her personality, from some influence, perhaps from some charm, which she had not deliberately used.  (At least she thought she was being sincere with herself in telling herself that.) Craven had been the cause of the conflict, and certainly he had been fully aware of Beryl Van Tuyn’s part in it.  And he had shown quiet determination, willfulness even.  That willfulness of his had pleased Lady Sellingworth more than anything had pleased her for a very long time.  It had even touched her.  At first she had thought that perhaps it had been prompted by chivalry, by something charmingly old-fashioned, and delicately gentlemanly in Craven.  Later on she had been glad ­intimately, warmly glad ­to be quite sure that something more personal had guided him in his conduct that night.

He had simply preferred her company to the company of Beryl Van Tuyn.  She was woman enough to rejoice in that fact.  It was even rather wonderful to her.  And it had given Craven a place in her estimation which no one had had for ten years.

Beryl’s pressure upon him had been very definite.  She had practically told him, and asked him, to do a certain thing ­to finish the evening with her.  And he had practically denied her right to command, and refused her request.  He had preferred to the Georgians and their lively American contemporary, sincerely preferred, an Edwardian.

The compliment was the greater because the Edwardian had not encouraged him.  Indeed in a way he had really defied her as well as Beryl Van Tuyn.

She had loved his defiance.  When he had flatly told her he did not intend to go back to the Cafe Royal she had felt thankful to him ­just that.  And just before his almost boyish remark, made with genuine vexation in his voice, about the driving of London chauffeurs had given her a little happy thrill such as she had not known for years.

She had not had the heart to leave him on her doorstep.

But now, standing by the fire, she knew that it would have been safer to have left him there.  And it would be safer now to ring the bell, summon the footman, and say that she was not at home to anyone that afternoon.  While she was thinking this the footman entered the room.  Hearing him she turned sharply.

“What is it?”

“Sir Seymour Portman has called, my lady.  I told him you were not at home.  But he asked me to make quite sure.”

Lady Sellingworth hesitated.  After a moment’s pause she said, in a dry voice: 

“Not at home.”

The footman went out.

There are moments in life which are full of revelation.  That was such a moment for Lady Sellingworth.  When she had heard the door open her instinct had played her false.  She had turned sharply feeling certain that Craven had called.  The reaction she felt when she heard the name of Sir Seymour told her definitely that she was in danger.  She felt angry with herself, even disgusted, as well as half frightened.

“What a brute I am!”

She formed those words with her lips.  An acute sense of disappointment pervaded her because Craven had not come, though she had no reason whatever to expect him.  But she was angry because of her feeling about Seymour Portman.  It was horrible to have such a tepid heart as hers was when such a long and deep devotion was given to it.  The accustomed thing then made scarcely any impression upon her, while the thing that was new, untried, perhaps worth very little, excited in her an expectation which amounted almost to longing!

“How can Seymour go on loving such a woman as I am?” she thought.

Stretching herself a little she was able to look into an oval Venetian mirror above the high marble frame of the fireplace.  She looked to scourge herself as punishment for what she was feeling.

“You miserable, ridiculous old woman!” she said to herself, as she saw her lined face which the mirror, an antique one, slightly distorted.

“You ought to be thankful to have such a friendship as Seymour’s!”

She said that, and she knew that if, disobeying her order to the footman, he had come upstairs, her one desire would have been to get rid of him, at all costs, to get him and his devotion out of the house, lest Craven should come and she should not have Craven alone.  If Seymour knew that surely even his love would turn into hatred!

And if Craven knew!

She felt that day as if all the rampart of will, which ten years’ labour had built up between her and the dangers and miseries attendant upon such a temperament as hers, were beginning before her eyes to crumble into dust, touched by the wand of a maleficent enchanter.

And it was Craven’s fault.  He should have been like other young men, obedient to the call of beauty and youth; he should have been wax in Beryl Van Tuyn’s pretty hands.  Then this would never have happened, this crumbling of will.  He had done a cruel thing without being aware of his cruelty.  He had been carried away by something that was not primarily physical.  And in yielding to that uncommon impulse, which proved that he was not typical, he had set in activity, in this hidden and violent activity, that which had been sleeping so deeply as to seem like something dead.

As Lady Sellingworth looked into the Venetian mirror, which made her ugliness of age look uglier than it was, she regretted sharply that she had allowed herself to grow old in this fearfully definite way.  It was too horrible to look like this and to be waiting eagerly, with an almost deceiving eagerness, for the opening of a door, a footfall, the sound of a voice that was young.  Mrs. Ackroyd, Lady Archie Brook ­they looked surely twenty years younger than she did.  She had been a fool!  She had been a passionate, impulsive fool!

No; she was being a fool now.

If only Caroline Briggs were in London!  At that moment Lady Sellingworth longed to be defended against herself.  She felt that she was near to the edge of a precipice, but that perhaps a strong hand could pull her away from it into the safety she had known for ten years.

“I am sixty.  That settles it.  There is nothing to be excited about, nothing to look for, nothing to draw back from or refuse.  The fact that I am sixty and look as I do settles the whole matter.”

They were brave words, but unfortunately they altered nothing.  Feeling was untouched by them.  Even conviction was not attained.  Lady Sellingworth knew she was sixty, but she felt like a woman of thirty at that moment.  And yet she was not deceived, was not deceiving herself.  She did know ­or felt that she absolutely knew ­that the curious spell she had evidently been able, how she scarcely knew, to exert upon Craven during his visit to her that night could not possibly be lasting.  He must be a quite unusual young man, perhaps even in some degree abnormal.  But even so the fascination he had felt, and had shown that he felt, could not possibly be a lasting fascination.  In such matters she knew.

Therefore surely the way was plain before her.  Ten years ago she had made up her mind, as a woman seldom makes up her mind.  She had seen facts, basic facts, naked in a glare of light.  Those facts had not changed.  But she had changed.  She was ten years older.  The horror of passing into the fifties had died out in the cold resignation of passing into the sixties.  Any folly now would be ten times more foolish than a folly of ten years ago.  She told herself that, reiterated it.

The clock struck six.  She heard it and turned from the fire.  Certainly Craven would not call now.  It was too late.  Only a very intimate friend would be likely to call after six o’clock, and Craven was not a very intimate friend, but only a new acquaintance whom she had been with twice.  When he had said good-bye to her after their long talk by the fire on the night of the dinner in Soho she had said nothing about his coming again.  And he had not mentioned it.  But she had felt then that to speak of such a thing was quite unnecessary, that it was tacitly understood between them that of course he would come again, and soon.  And she believed that he had felt as she did.  For despite her self-mockery, and even now when looking back, she had known, and still knew, that they had gone quite a long way together in a very short time.

That happens sometimes; but perhaps very seldom when one of the travellers is sixty and the other some thirty years younger.  Surely something peculiar in Craven rather than something unusual in herself had been at the root of the whole thing.

That night he had seemed so oddly at home in her house, and really he had seemed so happy and at ease.  They had talked about Italy, and he had told her what Italy meant to him, quite simply and without any pose, forgetting to be self-conscious in the English way.  He had passed a whole summer on the bay of Naples, and he had told her all about it.  And in the telling he had revealed a good deal of himself.  The prelude in Soho had no doubt prepared the way for such talk by carrying them to Naples on wings of music.  They would not have talked just like that after a banal dinner at Claridge’s or the Carlton.  Craven had shown the enthusiasm that was in him for the sun, the sea, life let loose from convention, nature and beautiful things.  The Foreign Office young man ­quiet, reserved, and rather older than his years ­had been pushed aside by a youth who had some Pagan blood in him, who had some agreeable wildness under the smooth surface which often covers only other layers of smoothness.  He had told her of his envy of the sea people and she had understood it; and, in return, she had told him of an American boy whom she had known long ago, and who, fired by a book about life on the bay of Naples which he had read in San Francisco, had got hold of a little money, taken ship to Naples, gone straight to the point at Posilpipo, and stayed there among the fishermen for nearly two years, living their life, eating their food, learning to speak their argot, becoming at length as one of them.  So thoroughly indeed had he identified himself with them that often he had acted as boatman to English and American tourists, and never had his nationality been discovered.  In the end, of course, he had gone back to San Francisco, and she believed, was now a lawyer in California.  But at least he had been wise enough to give up two years to a whim, and had bared his skin to the sun for two glorious summers.  And not everyone has the will to adventure even so far as that.

Then they had talked about the passion for adventure, and Craven had spoken of his love, not yet lost, for Browning’s poem, “Waring”; how he had read it when quite a boy and been fascinated by it as by few other poems.  He had even quoted some lines from it, and said them well, taking pains and not fearing any criticism or ridicule from her.  And they had wondered whether underneath the smooth surface of Browning, the persistent diner out, there had not been far down somewhere a brown and half-savage being who, in some other existence, had known life under lateen sails on seas that lie beyond the horizon line of civilization.  And they had spoken of the colours of sails, of the red, the brown, the tawny orange-hued canvases, that, catching the winds under sunset skies, bring romance, like some rare fruit from hidden magical islands, upon emerald, bright-blue or indigo seas.

The talk had run on without any effort.  They had been happily sunk in talk.  She had kept the fire from her face with the big fan.  But the fire had lit his face up sometimes and the flames had seemed to leap in his eyes.  And watching him without seeming to watch him the self-mockery had died out of her eyes.  She had forgotten to mock at herself and had let herself go down the stream:  floating from subject to subject, never touching bottom, never striking the bank, never brought up short by an obstacle.  It had been a perfect conversation.  Even her imp must have been quite absorbed in it.  For he had not tormented her during it.

But at last the clock had struck one, just one clear chiming blow.  And suddenly Craven had started up.  His blue eyes were shining and a dusky red had come into his cheeks.  And he had apologized, had said something about being “carried away” beyond all recollection of the hour.  She had stayed where she was and had bidden him good night quietly from the sofa, shutting up her fan and laying it on a table.  And she had said:  “I wonder what it was like with the Georgians!” And then he had again forgotten the hour, and had stood there talking about the ultra-modern young people of London as if he were very far away from them, were much older, much simpler, even much more akin to her, than they were.  He had prefaced his remarks with the words, “I had forgotten all about them!” and she had felt it was true.  Beryl Van Tuyn’s name had not been mentioned between them.  But she was not a Georgian.  Perhaps that fact accounted for the omission, or perhaps there were other reasons for their not speaking of her just then.  She had done her best to prevent the evening intimacy which had been theirs.  And they both knew it.  Perhaps that was why they did not speak of her.  Poor Beryl!  Just then Lady Sellingworth had known a woman’s triumph which was the sweeter because of her disadvantages.  Thirty-six years older than the young and vivid beauty!  And yet he had preferred to end his evening with her!  He must be an unusual, even perhaps a rather strange man.  Or else ­no, the tremendous humiliation she had endured ten years ago, acting on a nature which had always been impaired by a secret diffidence, had made her too humble to believe any longer that she had within herself the conqueror’s power.  He was not like other young men.  That was it.  She had come upon an exceptional nature.  Exceptional natures love, hate, are drawn and repelled in exceptional ways.  The rules which govern others do not apply to them.  Craven was dangerous because he was, he must be, peculiar.

When at last he had left her that night it had been nearly half-past one.  But he had not apologized again.  In going he had said:  “Thank God you refused to go to the Cafe Royal!”

Nearly half-past one!  Lady Sellingworth now looked at the clock.  It was nearly half-past six.

She had a lonely dinner, a lonely evening before her.

Suddenly all her resignation seemed to leave her, to abandon her, as if it had had enough of her and could not bear to be with her for another minute.  She saw her life as a desert, without one flower, one growing green thing in it.  How had she been able to endure it for so long?  It was a monstrous injustice that she should be condemned to this horrible, unnerving loneliness.  What was the use of living if one was entirely alone?  What was the use of money, of a great and beautiful house, of comfort and leisure, if nobody shares them with you?  People came to see her, of course.  But what is the use of visitors, of people who drop in, and drop out just when you most need someone to help you in facing life, in the evenings and when deep night closes in?  At that moment she felt, in her anger and rebellion, that she had never had anything in her life, that all the women she knew ­except perhaps Caroline Briggs ­had had more than herself, had had a far better time than she had had.  During the last ten years her brilliant past had faded until now she could scarcely believe in it.  It had become like a pale aquarelle.  Her memory retained events, of course, but they seemed to have happened in the life of someone she had known intimately rather than of herself.  They were to her like things told rather than like things lived.  There were times when she even felt innocent.  So much had she changed during the last ten years.  And now she revolted, like a woman who had never lived and wanted to live for the first time, like a woman who had never had anything and who demanded possession.  She even got up and stood out in the big room, saying to herself: 

“What shall I do to-night?  I can’t stay here all alone.  I must go out.  I must do something unusual to take me out of myself.  Mere stagnation here will drive me mad.  I’ve got to do something to get away from myself.”

But what could she do?  An elderly well-known woman cannot break out of her house in the night, like an unknown young man, and run wild in the streets of London, or wander in the parks, seeking distractions and adventures.

Ten years ago in Paris she had felt something of the same angry desire for the freedom of a man, something of the same impotence.  Her curbed wildness then had tortured her.  It tortured her now.  Life was in violent activity all about her.  Even the shop girls had something to look forward to.  Soon they would be going out with their lovers.  She knew something of the freedom of the modern girl.  Women were beginning to take what men had always had.  But all that freedom was too late for her!  (She forgot that she had taken it long ago in Paris and felt that she had never had it.  And that feeling made part of her anger.)

The clock struck the half-hour.

Just then the door was opened and the footman appeared before she had had time to move.  He looked faintly surprised at seeing her standing facing him in the middle of the room.

“Mr. Craven has called my lady.”

“Mr. Craven!  But I told you to let him in.  Have you sent him away?”

“No, my lady.  But Mr. Craven wouldn’t come up till I had seen your ladyship.  He said it was so late.  He asked me first to tell your ladyship he had called, and whether he might see you just for a minute, as he had a message to give your ladyship.”

“A message!  Please ask him to come up.”

The footman went out, and Lady Sellingworth went to sit down near the fire.  She now looked exactly as usual, casual, indifferent, but kind, not at all like a woman who would ever pity herself.  In a moment the footman announced “Mr. Craven,” and Craven walked in with an eager but slightly anxious expression on his face.

“I know it is much too late for a visit,” he said.  “But I thought I might perhaps just speak to you.”

“Of course.  I hear you have a message for me.  Is it from Beryl?”

He looked surprised.

“Miss Van Tuyn?  I haven’t seen her.”

“Yes?”

“I only wanted ­I wondered whether, if you are not doing anything to-night, I could persuade you to give me a great pleasure. . . .  Could I?”

“But what is it?”

“Would you dine with me at the Bella Napoli?”

Lady Sellingworth thought of the shop girls again, but now how differently!

“I would come and call for you just before eight.  It’s a fine night.  It’s dry, and it will be clear and starry.”

“You want me to walk?”

He slightly reddened.

“Or shall we dress and go in a taxi?” he said.

“No, no.  But I haven’t said I can come.”

His face fell.

“I will come,” she said.  “And we will walk.  But what would Mr.
Braybrooke say?”

“Have you seen him?  Has he told you?”

“What?”

“About our conversation in the club?”

“I have seen him, and I don’t think he is quite pleased about
Shaftesbury Avenue.  But never mind.  I cannot live to please Mr.
Braybrooke. Au revoir.  Just before eight.”

When he had gone Lady Sellingworth again looked in the glass.

“But it’s impossible!” she said to herself.  “It’s impossible!”

She hated her face at that moment, and could not help bitterly regretting the fierce impulse of ten years ago.  If she had not yielded to that impulse she might now have been looking, not at a young woman certainly, but a woman well preserved.  Now she was frankly a wreck.  She would surely look almost grotesque dining alone with young Craven.  People would think she was his grandmother.  Perhaps it would be better not to go.  She was filled with a sense of painful hesitation.  She came away from the glass.  No doubt Craven was “on the telephone.”  She might communicate with him, tell him not to come, that she had changed her mind, did not feel very well.  He would not believe her excuse whatever it was, but that could not be helped.  Anything was better than to make a spectacle of herself in a restaurant.  She had not put Craven’s address and telephone number in her address book, but she might perhaps have kept the note he had written to her before their first meeting.  She did not remember having torn it up.  She went to her writing-table, but could not find the note.  She found his card, but it had only his club address on it.  Then she went downstairs to a morning room she had on the ground floor.  There was another big writing-table there.  The telephone was there too.  After searching for several minutes she discovered Craven’s note, the only note he had ever written to her.  Stamped in the left-hand corner of the notepaper was a telephone number.

She was about to take down the receiver when she remembered that Craven had not yet had time to walk back to his flat from her house, even if he were going straight home.  She must wait a few minutes.  She came away from the writing-table, sat down in an armchair, and waited.

Night had closed in.  Heavy curtains were drawn across the tall windows.  One electric lamp, which she had just turned on, threw a strong light on the writing-table, on pens, stationery, an address book, a telephone book, a big blue-and-gold inkstand, some photographs which stood on a ledge protected by a tiny gilded rail.  The rest of the room was in shadow.  A low fire burned in the grate.

Lady Sellingworth did not take up a book or occupy herself in any way.  She just sat still in the armchair and waited.  Now and then she heard a faint footfall, the hoot of a motor horn, the slight noise of a passing car.  And loneliness crept upon her like something gathering her into a cold and terrible embrace.

It occurred to her that she might ask Craven presently through the telephone to come and dine in Berkeley Square.  No one would see her with him if she did that, except her own servants.

But that would be a compromise.  She was not fond of compromises.  Better one thing or the other.  Either she would go with him to the restaurant or she would not see him at all that night.

If Caroline Briggs were only here!  And yet if she were it would be difficult to speak about the matter to her.  If she were told of it, what would she say?  That would depend upon how she was told.  If she were told all the truth, not mere incidents, but also the feelings attending them, she would tell her friend to give the whole thing up.  Caroline was always drastic.  She always went straight to the point.

But Caroline was in Paris.

Lady Sellingworth looked at her watch.  Craven lived not far off.  He might be at home by now.  But perhaps she had better give him, and herself, a little more time.  For she was still undecided, did not yet know what she was going to do.  Impulse drove her on, but something else, reason perhaps, or fear, or secret, deep down, painfully acquired knowledge, was trying to hold her back.  She remembered her last stay in Paris, her hesitation then, her dinner with Caroline Briggs, the definite decision she had come to, her effort to carry it out, the terrible breakdown of her decision at the railway station and its horrible result.

Disaster had come upon her because she had yielded to an impulse ten years ago.  Surely that should teach her not to yield to an impulse now.  But the one was so different from the other, as different as that horrible man in Paris had been from young Craven.  That horrible man in Paris!  He had disappeared out of her life.  She had never seen him again, had never mentioned him to anybody.  He had gone, as mysteriously as he had come, carrying his booty with him, all those lovely things which had been hers, which she had worn on her neck and arms and bosom, in her hair and on her hands.  Sometimes she had wondered about him, about the mentality and the life of such a man as he was, a creature of the underworld, preying on women, getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, with thoughts of crime in his mind, using his gift of beauty loathsomely.  She had wondered, too, how it was that such loathsomeness as his was able to hide itself, how it was that he could look so manly, so athletic, even so wistful and eager for sympathy.

But Seymour Portman had seen through him at a first glance.  Evidently that type of man had a power to trick women’s instincts, but was less successful with men.  Perhaps Caroline was right, and the whole question was simply one of the lust of the eye.

Young Craven was good-looking too.  But surely she had not been attracted to him, brought into sympathy with him merely because of that.  She hoped not.  She tried hard to think not.  A woman of her age must surely be beyond the lure of mere looks in a man unconnected with the deeper things which make up personality.

And yet ten years ago she had been lured towards a loathsome and utterly abominable personality by mere looks.  Certainly her nature inclined her to be a prey to just that ­the lust of the eye.

(Caroline Briggs was horribly apposite in some of her remarks.)

She tried to reconstitute her evenings with Craven in her imagination, keeping the conversation exactly as it had been, but giving him a thoroughly plain face, a bad complexion, mouse-coloured feeble hair, undistinguished features, ordinary eyes, and a short broad figure.  Certainly it would have made a difference.  But how much difference?  Perhaps a good deal.  But he had enjoyed the conversation as much as she had, and there was nothing in her appearance now to arouse the lust of the eye.  Suddenly it occurred to her that she possessed now at least one advantage.  If a young man were attracted by her it must be her personality, herself in fact, which attracted him.  It could not be her looks.  And surely it is better to attract by your personality than by your looks.

A woman’s voice whispered within her just then, “It is better to attract by both.  Then you are safe.”

She moved uneasily.  Then she got up and went to the telephone.  The chances were in favour of Craven’s being in his flat by now.

As she put her hand on the receiver, but before she took it down, Lady Sellingworth thought of the Paris railway station, of what had happened there, of the stern resolution she had come to that day, of the tears of blood that had sealed it, of the will that had enabled her to stick to it during ten years.  And she thought, too, of that phrase of Caroline Briggs’s concerning the lust of the eye.

“I won’t go!” she said to herself.

And she took the receiver down.

Almost immediately she was put through, and heard Craven’s voice at the other end, the voice which had recited those lines from Browning’s “Waring” by the fire, saying: 

“Yes?  Who is it?”

“Lady Sellingworth,” she replied.

The sound of the voice changed at once, became eager as it said: 

“Oh ­Lady Sellingworth!  I have only just come in.  I know what it is.”

“But how can you?”

“I do.  You want me to dress for dinner.  And we are to go in a cab and be very respectable instead of Bohemian.  Isn’t that it?”

She hesitated.  Then she said: 

“No; it isn’t that.”

“Do tell me then!”

“I think ­I’m afraid I can’t come.”

“Oh, no ­it can’t be that!  But I have reserved the table in the corner for us.  And we are going to have gnocchi done in a special way with cheese.  Gnocchi with cheese!  Please ­please don’t disappoint me.”

“But I haven’t been very well the last two days, and I’m rather afraid of the cold.”

“I am so sorry.  But it’s absolutely dry under foot.  I swear it is!”

A pause.  Then his voice added: 

“Since I came in I have refused an invitation to dine out to-night.  I absolutely relied on you.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.  It was from Miss Van Tuyn, to dine with her at the Bella Napoli.”

“I’ll come!” said Lady Sellingworth.  “Good-bye.”

And she put up the receiver.

CHAPTER V

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 arrière 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.  Paris 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.

CHAPTER VI

The more he thought over his visit to Adela Sellingworth the more certain did Francis Braybrooke become that it had not gone off well.  For once he had not played his cards to the best advantage.  He felt sure that inadvertently he had irritated his hostess.  Her final dismissal of the subject of young Craven’s possible happiness with Beryl Van Tuyn, if circumstances should ever bring them together, had been very abrupt.  She had really almost kicked it out of the conversation.

But then, she had never been fond of discussing love affairs.  Braybrooke had noticed that.

As he considered the matter he began to feel rather uneasy.  Was it possible that Adela Sellingworth ­his mind hesitated, then took the unpleasant leap ­that Adela Sellingworth was beginning to like young Craven in an unsuitable way?

Craven certainly had behaved oddly when Adela Sellingworth had been discussed between them, and when Craven had been the subject of discussion with Adela Sellingworth she had behaved curiously.  There was something behind it all.  Of that Braybrooke was convinced.  But his perplexity and doubt increased to something like agitation a few days later when he met a well-born woman of his acquaintance, who had “gone in for” painting and living her own life, and had become a bit of a Bohemian.  She had happened to mention that she had seen his friend, “that wonderful-looking Lady Sellingworth,” dining at the Bella Napoli on a recent evening.  Naturally Braybrooke supposed that the allusion was to the night of Lady Sellingworth’s dinner with Beryl Van Tuyn, and he spoke of the lovely girl as Lady Sellingworth’s companion.  But his informant, looking rather surprised, told him that Lady Sellingworth had been with a very handsome young man, and, on discreet inquiry being made, gave an admirable description from the painter’s point of view, of Craven.

Braybrooke said nothing, but he was secretly almost distressed.  He though it such a mistake for his distinguished friend to go wandering about in Soho alone with a mere boy.  It was undignified.  It was not the thing.  He could not understand it unless really she was losing her head.  And then he remembered her past.  Although he never spoke of it, and now seldom thought about it, Braybrooke knew very well what sort of woman Adela Sellingworth had been.  But her dignified life of ten years had really almost wiped her former escapades out of his recollection.  There seemed to be a gulf fixed between the professional beauty and the white-haired recluse of Berkeley Square.  When he looked at her, sat with her now, if he ever gave a thought to her past it was accompanied, or immediately followed, by a mental question:  “Was it she who did that?” or “Can she ever have been like that?”

But now Braybrooke uneasily began to remember Lady Sellingworth’s past reputation and to think of the “old guard.”

If she were to fall back into folly now, after what she had done ten years ago, the “old guard” would show her no mercy.  Her character would be torn to pieces.  He regretted very much his introduction of Craven into her life.  But how could he have thought that she would fascinate a boy?

After much careful thought ­for he took his social responsibilities and duties very seriously ­he resolved to take action on the lines which had occurred to him when he first began to be anxious about Craven’s feeling towards Adela Sellingworth; he resolved to do his best to bring Beryl Van Tun and Craven together.

The first step he took was to call on Miss Cronin when Beryl Van Tuyn was out.  He went to Claridge’s in inquire for Miss Van Tuyn.  On ascertaining that she was not at home he sent up his name to Miss Cronin, who was practically always in the house.  At any rate, Braybrooke, who had met her several times at Miss Van Tuyn’s apartment in Paris, had understood so from herself.  If Miss Van Tuyn needed her as a chaperon she was, of course, to be counted upon to risk taking air and exercise.  Otherwise, as she frankly said, she preferred to stay quietly at home.  By nature she was sedentary.  Her temperament inclined her to a sitting posture, which, however, she frequently varied by definitely lying down.

On this occasion Miss Cronin was as usual in the house, and begged that Mr. Braybrooke would come up.  He found her in an arm-chair ­she had just vacated a large sofa ­with Bourget’s “Le Disciple” in her hand.  Her eyebrows were rather dim, for she had caught a slight London cold which had led her to neglect them.  But she was looking mildly cheerful, and was very glad to have a visitor.  Though quite happy alone with Bourget she was always ready for a comfortable gossip; and she liked Francis Braybrooke.

After a few words about the cold, Bourget and Paris, Braybrooke turned the conversation to Miss Van Tuyn.  He had understood that she meant only to make a short stay in London, and rather wondered about the change of plans which had brought Miss Cronin across the Channel.  Miss Cronin, he soon discovered, was rather wondering too.

“Beryl seems to have been quite got hold of by London,” she observed with mild surprise.

After a pause she added: 

“It may be ­mind I don’t say it is, but it may be ­the Wallace Collection.”

“The Wallace Collection?” said Braybrooke.

“I believe she goes there every day.  It is in Manchester Square, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Then I think it must be that.  Because two or three times lately I have heard her mention Manchester Square as if it were very much on her mind.  Once I remember her saying that Manchester Square was worth all the rest of London put together!  And another time she said that Manchester square ought to be in Paris.  That struck me as very strange, but after making inquiries I found that the Wallace Collection was situated there, or near there.”

“Hertford House is in the Square.”

“Then it is that.  You know how wrapped up Beryl is in that kind of thing.  And, of course, she knows all the Paris collections by heart.  Is the Wallace Collection large?  Does it contain much?”

“It contains innumerable priceless treasures,” returned Braybrooke.

“Innumerable!  Dear me!” murmured Fanny Cronin, managing to lift the dimly painted eyebrows in a distinctively plaintive manner.  “Then I dare say we shall be here for months.”

“You don’t think,” began Braybrooke with exquisite caution, “you don’t think that possibly she may have a more human reason for remaining in London?”

Fanny Cronin made a rabbit’s mouth and looked slightly bemused.

“Human!” she said.  “You think Beryl could have a human reason?”

“Oh, surely, surely!”

“But she prefers bronzes to people.  I assure you it is so.  I have heard her say that you can never be disappointed by a really good bronze, but that men and women often distress you by their absurdities and follies.”

“That sort of thing is only the outcome of a passing mood of youthful cynicism.”

“Is it?  I sometimes think that a born collector, like Beryl, sees more in bronze and marble than in flesh and blood.  She is very sweet, but she has quite a passion for possessing.”

“Is not the greatest possession of all the possession of another’s human heart?” said Braybrooke impressively, and with sentiment.

“I dare say it is, but really I cannot speak from experience,” said Fanny Cronin, with remarkable simplicity.

“Has it never occurred to you,” continued Braybrooke, “that your lovely charge is not likely to remain always Beryl Van Tuyn?”

Miss Cronin looked startled, and slightly moved her ears, a curious habit which she sometimes indulged in under the influence of sudden emotion, and which was indicative of mental stress.

“But if Beryl ever marries,” she said, “I might have to give up living in Paris!  I might have to go back to America!”

She leaned forward, with her small, plump, and conspicuously freckled hands grasping the arms of her chair.

“You don’t think, Mr. Braybrooke, that Beryl is not here for the Wallace Collection?  You don’t think that she is in love with someone in London?”

Francis Braybrooke was decidedly taken aback by this abrupt emotional outburst.  He had not meant to provoke it.  Indeed, in his preoccupation with Craven’s affairs and Adela Sellingworth’s possible indiscretions ­really he knew of no gentler word to apply to what he had in mind ­he had entirely forgotten that Fanny Cronin’s charming profession of sitting in deep arm-chairs, reposing on luxurious sofas, and lying in perfect French beds, might, indeed would, be drastically interfered with by Miss Van Tuyn’s marriage.  It was very careless of him.  He was inclined to blame himself almost severely.

“My dear Miss Cronin,” he hastily exclaimed.  “If you were ever to think of changing your ­your” ­he could not find the word; “condition” would not do; “state of life” suggested the Catechism; “profession” was preposterous, besides, he did not mean that ­“your sofa” ­he had got it ­“your sofa in the Avenue Henri Martin for a sofa somewhere else, I know of at least a dozen charming houses in Paris which would gladly, I might say thankfully, open their doors to receive you.”

This was really a lie.  At the moment Braybrooke did not know of one.  But he hastily made up his mind to be “responsible” for Fanny Cronin if anything should occur through his amiable machinations.

“Thank you, Mr. Braybrooke.  You are kindness itself.  So, then, Beryl is going to marry!  And she never hinted it to me, although we talked over marriage only yesterday, when I gave her Bourget’s views on it as expressed in his ‘Physiologie de l’amour moderne.’  She never said one word.  She never ­”

But at this point Braybrooke felt that an interruption, however rude, was obligatory.

“I have no reason whatever to suppose that Miss Van Tuyn is thinking of marriage at this moment,” he said, in an almost shrill voice.

“But surely you would not frighten me without a reason,” said Fanny Cronin with mild severity, sitting back again in her chair.

“Frighten you, dear Miss Cronin!  I would not do that for the world.  What have I said to frighten you?”

“You talked of my changing my sofa for a sofa somewhere else!  If Beryl is not going to marry why should I think of changing?”

“But nothing lasts for ever.  The whole world is in a state of flux.”

“Really, Mr. Braybrooke!  I am quite sure I am not in a state of flux!” said Miss Cronin with unusual dignity.  “We American women, you must understand, have our principles and know how to preserve them.”

“On my honour, I only meant that life inevitably brings with it changes.  I am sure you will bear me out in that.”

“I don’t know about bearing you out,” said Miss Cronin, looking rather helplessly at Francis Braybrooke’s fairly tall and well-nourished figure.  “But why should Beryl want to change?  She is very happy as she is.”

“I know ­I know.  But surely such a lovely girl is certain to marry some day.  And can we wish it otherwise?  Some day a man will come who knows how to appreciate her as she deserves, who understands her nature, who is ready to devote his life to fulfilling her deepest needs.”

Miss Cronin suddenly looked intelligent and at the same time like a dragon.  Never before had Braybrooke seen such an expression upon her face, such a stiffening of dignity to her ample figure.  She sat straight up, looked him full in the face, and observed: 

“I understand your meaning, Mr. Braybrooke.  You wish to marry Beryl.  Well, you must forgive me for saying that I think you are much too old for her.”

Braybrooke had not blushed for probably at least forty years, but he blushed scarlet now, and seized his beard with a hand that looked thoroughly unstrung.

“My dear Miss Cronin!” he said, in a voice which was almost hoarse with protest.  “You absolutely misunderstood me.  It is much too la ­I mean that I have no intention whatever of changing my condition.  No, no!  Let us talk of something else.  So you are reading ‘Le Disciple’” (he picked it up).  “A very striking book!  I always think it one of Bourget’s very best.”

He poured forth an energetic cataract of words in praise of Miss Cronin’s favourite author, and presently got away without any further quite definite misunderstanding.  But when he was out in the corridor on his way to the lift he indulged himself in a very unwonted expression of acrimonious condemnation.

“Damn these red-headed old women!” he muttered in his beard.  “There’s no doing anything with them!  The idea of my going to her to propose for Miss Van Tuyn!  What next, I wonder?”

When he was out in Brook Street he hesitated for a moment, then took out his watch and looked at it.  Half-past three!  He thought of the Wallace Collection.  It seemed to draw him strangely just then.  He put his watch back and walked towards Manchester Square.

He had gained the Square and was about to enter the enclosure before Hertford House by the gateway on the left, when he saw Miss Van Tuyn come out by the gateway on the right, and walk slowly towards Oxford Street in deep conversation with a small horsey-looking man, whose face he could not see, but whose back and legs, and whose dress and headgear, strongly suggested to him the ring at Newmarket and the Paddock at Ascot.

Braybrooke hesitated.  The attraction of the Wallace Collection no longer drew him.  Besides, it was getting late.  On the other hand, he scarcely liked to interrupt an earnest tete-a-tete.  If it had not been that he was exceptionally strung up at that moment he would probably have gone quietly off to one of his clubs.  But who knew what that foolish old woman at Claridge’s might say to Miss Van Tuyn when she reached her hotel?  It really was essential in the sacred interest of truth that he should forestall Fanny Cronin.  The jockey ­if it was a jockey ­Miss Van Tuyn was with must put up with an interruption.  But the interruption must be brought about naturally.  It would not do to come up behind them.  That would seem too intrusive.  He must manage to skip round deftly when the occasion offered, and by a piece of masterly strategy to come upon them face to face.

Seized of this intention Braybrooke did a thing he had never done before; he “dogged” two human beings, walking with infinite precaution.

His quarry presently turned into the thronging crowds of Oxford Street and made towards the Marble Arch, keeping to the right-hand pavement.  Braybrooke saw his opportunity.  He dodged across the road to an island, waited there till a policeman, extending a woollen thumb, stopped the traffic, then gained the opposite pavement, hurried decorously on that side towards the Marble Arch, and after a sprint of perhaps a couple of hundred yards recrossed the street almost at the risk of his life, and walked warily back towards Oxford Circus, keeping his eyes wide open.

Before many minutes had passed he discerned the graceful and athletic figure of Miss Van Tuyn coming towards him; then, immediately afterwards, he caught a glimpse of a blue shaven face with an aquiline nose beside her, and realized that the man he had taken for a jockey was Dick Garstin, the famous painter.

As Braybrooke knew everyone, he, of course, knew Garstin, and he wondered now why he had not recognized his back at Manchester Square.  Perhaps his mind had been too engrossed with Fanny Cronin and the outrage at Claridge’s.  He only knew the painter slightly, just sufficiently to dislike him very much.  Indeed, only the acknowledged eminence of the man induced Braybrooke to have anything to do with him.  But one has to know publicly acclaimed geniuses or consent to be thoroughly out of it.  So Braybrooke included Garstin in the enormous circle of his acquaintances, and went to his private views.

But now the recognition gave him pause, and he almost wished he had not taken so much trouble to meet Miss Van Tuyn and her companion.  For he could say nothing he wanted to say while Garstin was there.  And the man was so damnably unconventional, in fact, so downright rude, and so totally devoid of all delicacy, all insight in social matters, that even if he saw that Braybrooke wanted a quiet word with Miss Van Tuyn he would probably not let him have it.  However, it was too late now to avoid the steadily advancing couple.  Miss Van Tuyn had seen Braybrooke, and sent him a smile.  In a moment he was face to face with them, and she stopped to greet him.

“I have been spending an hour at the Wallace Collection with Mr. Garstin,” she said.  “And quarrelling with him all the time.  His views on French art are impossible.”

“Ah! how are you?” said Braybrooke, addressing the painter with almost exaggerated cordiality.

Garstin nodded in his usual offhand way.  He did not dislike Braybrooke.  When Braybrooke was there he perceived him, having eyes, and having ears heard his voice.  But hitherto Braybrooke had never succeeded in conveying any impression to the mind of Garstin.  On one occasion when Braybrooke had been discussed in Garstin’s presence, and Garstin had said:  “Who is he?” and had received a description of Braybrooke with the additional information:  “But he comes to your private views!  You have known him for years!” he had expressed his appreciation of Braybrooke’s personality and character by the exclamation:  “Oh, to be sure!  The beard with the gentleman!” Braybrooke did not know this, or he would certainly have disliked Garstin even more than he did already.

As Garstin’s nod was not followed by any other indication of humanity Braybrooke addressed Miss Van Tuyn, and told her of his call at Claridge’s.

“And as you were not to be found I paid a visit to Miss Cronin.”

“She must have bored you very much,” was the charming girl’s comment.  “She has the most confused mind I know.”

What an opening for Braybrooke!  But he could not take it because of Garstin, who stood by cruelly examining the stream of humanity which flowed past them hypnotized by the shops.

“May I ­shall I be in the way if I turn back with you for a few steps?” he ventured, with the sort of side glance at Garstin that a male dog gives to another male dog while walking round and round on a first meeting.  “It is such a pleasure to see you.”

Here he threw very definite admiration into the eyes which he fixed on Miss Van Tuyn.

She responded automatically and begged him to accompany them.

“Dick is leaving me at the Marble Arch,” she said.  “The reason he gives is that he is going to take a Turkish Bath in the Harrow Road.  But that is a lie that even an American girl brought up in Paris is unable to swallow.  What are you really going to do, Dick?”

As she spoke she walked on, having Garstin on one side of her and Francis Braybrooke on the other.

“I’m going to have a good sweat in the Harrow Road.”

Braybrooke was disgusted.  It was not that he really minded the word used to indicate the process which obtains in a Turkish Bath.  No; it was Garstin’s blatant way of speaking it that offended his susceptibilities.  The man was perpetually defying the decencies and delicacies which were as perfume in Braybrooke’s nostrils.

“The doctors say that it is an excellent thing to open the pores,” said Braybrooke discreetly.

Garstin cast a glance at him, as if he now saw him for the first time.

“Do you mean to tell us you believe in doctors?” he said.

“I do, in some doctors,” said Braybrooke.  “There are charlatans in all professions unfortunately.”

“And some of them are R.A.’s,” said Miss Van Tuyn.  “By the way, Dick is going to paint me.”

“Really!  How very splendid!” said Braybrooke, again with exaggerated cordiality.  “With such a subject I’m sure ­”

But here he was interrupted by Garstin, who said: 

“She tells everyone I’m going to paint her because she hopes by reiteration to force me to do it.  But she isn’t the type that interests me.”

“My dear Dick, I’ll gladly take to morphia or drink if it will help,” said Miss Van Tuyn.  “I can easily get the Cafe Royal expression.  One has only to sit with a glass of something the colour of absinthe in front of one and look sea-sick.  I’m perfectly certain that with a week or two’s practice I could look quite as degraded as Cora.”

“Cora?” said Braybrooke, alertly, hearing a name he did not know.

“She’s a horror who goes to the Cafe Royal and whom Dick calls a free woman.”

“Free from all the virtues, I suppose!” said Braybrooke smartly.

“Good-bye both of you!” said Garstin at this juncture.

“But we haven’t got to the Marble Arch!”

“What’s that got to do with it?  I’m off.”

He seemed to be going, then stopped, and directed the two pin-points of light at Miss Van Tuyn.

“I flatly refuse to make an Academy portrait of you, so don’t hope for it,” he said.  “But if you come along to the studio to-morrow afternoon you may possibly find me at work on a blackmailer.”

“Dick!” said Miss Van Tuyn, in a voice which startled Braybrooke.

“I don’t promise,” said the painter.  “I don’t believe in promises, unless you break ’em.  But it’s just on the cards.”

“You are painting a blackmailer!” said Braybrooke, with an air of earnest interest.  “How very original!”

“Original!  Why is it original to paint a blackmailer?”

“Oh ­well, one doesn’t often run across them.  They ­they seem to keep so much to themselves.”

“I don’t agree with you.  If they did some people would be a good deal better off than they are now.”

“Ah, to be sure!  That’s very true.  I had never looked at it in that light.”

“What time, Dick?” said Miss Van Tuyn, rather eagerly.

“You might look in about three.”

“I will.  That’s a bargain.”

Garstin turned on his heel and tramped away towards Berkeley Street.

“You are going home by Park Lane?” said Braybrooke, feeling greatly relieved, but still rather upset.

“Yes.  But why don’t you take me somewhere to tea?”

“Nothing I should like better.  Where shall we go?”

“Let’s go to the Ritz.  I had meant to walk, but let us take a taxi.”

There was suddenly a change in Miss Van Tuyn.  Braybrooke noticed it at once.  She seemed suddenly restless, almost excited, and as if she were in a hurry.

“There’s one!” she added, lifting her tightly furled umbrella.

The driver stopped, and in a moment they were on their way to the Ritz.

“You like Dick Garstin?” said Braybrooke, pulling up one of the windows and wondering what Miss Cronin would say if she could see him at this moment.

“I don’t like him,” returned Miss Van Tuyn.  “No one could do that.  But I admire him, and he interests me.  He is almost the only man I know who is really indifferent to opinion.  And he has occasional moments of good nature.  But I don’t wish him to be soft.  If he were he would be like everyone else.”

“I must confess I find it very difficult to get on with him.”

“He’s a wonderful painter.”

“No doubt ­in his way.”

“I think it a great mistake for any creative artist to be wonderful in someone else’s way,” said Miss Van Tuyn.

“I only meant that his way is sometimes rather startling.  And then his subjects!  Drugged women!  Dram drinking men!  And now it seems even blackmailers.”

“A blackmailer might have a wonderful face.”

“Possibly.  But it would be likely to have a disgusting expression.”

“It might.  On the other hand, I could imagine a blackmailer looking like Chaliapine as Mephistopheles.”

“I don’t like distressing art,” said Braybrooke, rather firmly.  “And I think there is too much of it nowadays.”

“Anything is better than the merely nice.  And you have far too much of that in England.  Men like Dick Garstin are a violent protest against that, and sometimes they go to extremes.  He has caught the secret of evil, and when he had done with it he may quite possibly catch the secret of good.”

“And then,” said Braybrooke, “I am sure he will paint you.”

It was meant to be a very charmingly turned compliment.  But Miss Van Tuyn received it rather doubtfully.

“I don’t know that I want to wait quite so long as that,” she murmured.  “Besides ­I think I rather come in between.  At least, I hope so.”

At this point in the conversation the cab stopped before the Ritz.

To Francis Braybrooke’s intense astonishment ­and it might almost be added confusion ­the first person his eyes lit on as they walked towards the tea-tables was Fanny Cronin, comfortably seated in an immense arm-chair, devouring a muffin in the company of an old lady, whose determined face was completely covered with a criss-cross of wrinkles, and whose withered hands were flashing with magnificent rings.  He was so taken aback that he was guilty of a definite start, and the exclamation, “Miss Cronin!” in a voice that suggested alarm.

“Oh, old Fanny with Mrs. Clem Hodson!” said Miss Van Tuyn.  “She’s a school friend of Fanny’s from Philadelphia.  Let us go to that table in the far corner.  I’ll just speak to them while you order tea.”

“But I thought Miss Cronin never went out.”

“She never does, except with Mrs. Clem, unless I want her.”

“How singularly unfortunate I am to-day!” thought Braybrooke, as he bowed to Miss Cronin in a rather confused manner and went to do as he was told.

He ordered tea, then sat down anxiously to wait for Miss Van Tuyn.  From his corner he watched her colloquy with the two school friends from Philadelphia, and it seemed to him that something very important was being told.  For Fanny Cronin looked almost animated, and her manner approached the emphatic as she spoke to the standing girl.  Mrs. Hodson seemed to take very little part in the conversation, but sat looking very determined and almost imperious as she listened.  And presently Braybrooke saw her extremely observant dark eyes ­small, protuberant and round as buttons ­turn swiftly, with even, he thought, a darting movement, in his direction.

“I shall be driven, really driven, to make the matter quite clear,” he thought, almost with desperation.  “Otherwise ­”

But at this moment Miss Van Tuyn came away to him, and their tea was brought by a waiter.

He thought she cast a rather satirical look at him as she sat down, but she only said;

“Dear old things!  They are very happy together.  Mrs. Clem is extraordinarily proud of having ‘got Fanny out,’ as she calls it.  A boy who had successfully drawn a badger couldn’t be more triumphant.  Now let’s forget them!”

This was all very well, and Braybrooke asked for nothing better; but he was totally unable to forget the two cronies, whom he saw in the distance with their white and chestnut heads alarmingly close together, talking eagerly, and, he was quite sure, not about the dear old days in Philadelphia.  What had they ­or rather what had Miss Cronin said to Miss Van Tuyn?  He longed to know.  It really was essential that he should know.  Yet he scarcely knew how to approach the subject.  It was rather difficult to explain elaborately to a beautiful girl that you had not the least wish to marry her.  He was certainly not at his best as he took his first cup of tea and sought about for an opening.  Miss Van Tuyn talked with her usual assurance, but he fancied that her violet eyes were full of inquiry when they glanced at him; and he began to feel positive that the worst had happened, and that Fanny Cronin had informed her ­no, misinformed her ­of what had happened at Claridge’s.  Now and then, as he met Miss Van Tuyn’s eyes, he thought they were searching his with an unusual consciousness, as if they expected something very special from him.  Presently, too, she let the conversation languish, and at last allowed it to drop.  In the silence that succeeded Braybrooke was seized by a terrible fear that perhaps she was waiting for him to propose.  If he did propose she would refuse him of course.  He had no doubt about that.  But though to be accepted by her, or indeed by anyone, would have caused him acute distress, on the other hand no one likes to be refused.

He thought of Craven.  Was it possible to make any use of Craven to get him out of his difficulty?  Dare he hint at the real reason of his visit to Miss Cronin?  He had intended delicately to “sound” the chaperon on the subject of matrimony, to find out if there was anything on the tapis in Paris, if Miss Van Tuyn had any special man friend there, in short to make sure of his ground before deciding to walk on it.  But he could hardly explain that to Miss Van Tuyn.  To do so would be almost brutal, and quite against all his traditions.

Again he caught her eye in the desperate silence.  Her gaze seemed to say to him:  “When are you going to begin?” He felt that he must say something, even though it were not what she was probably expecting.

“I was interested,” he hurriedly began, clasping his beard and looking away from his companion, “to hear the other day that a young friend of mine had met you, a very charming and promising young fellow, who has a great career before him, unless I am much mistaken.”

“Who?” she asked; he thought rather curtly.

“Alick Craven of the Foreign Office.  He told me he was introduced to you at Adela Sellingworth’s.”

“Oh yes, he was,” said Miss Van Tuyn.

And she said no more.

“He was very enthusiastic about you,” ventured Braybrooke, wondering how to interpret her silence.

“Really!”

“Yes.  We belong to the same club, the St. James’s.  He entertained me for more than an hour with your praises.”

Miss Van Tuyn looked at him with rather acute inquiry, as if she could not make up her mind about something with which he was closely concerned.

“He would like to meet you again,” said Braybrooke, with soft firmness.

“But I have met him again two or three times.  He called on me.”

“And I understand you were together in a restaurant in ­Soho, I think it was.”

“Yes, we were.”

“What did you think of him?” asked Braybrooke.

As he put the question he was aware that he was being far from subtle.  The vision in the distance ­now eating plum cake, but still very observant ­upset his nervous system and deprived him almost entirely of his usual savoir faire.

“He seems quite a nice sort of boy,” said Miss Van Tuyn, still looking rather coldly inquisitive, as if she were secretly puzzled but intended to emerge into complete understanding before she had done with Braybrooke.  “His Foreign Office manner is rather against him.  But perhaps some day he’ll grow out of that ­unless it becomes accentuated.”

“If you knew him better I feel sure you would like him.  He had no reservations about you ­none at all.  But, then, how could he have?”

“Well, at any rate I haven’t got the Foreign Office manner.”

“No, indeed!” said Braybrooke, managing a laugh that just indicated his appreciation of the remark as an excellent little joke.  “But it really means nothing.”

“That’s a pity.  One’s manner should always have a meaning of some kind.  Otherwise it is an absolute drawback to one’s personality.”

“That is perhaps a fault of the Englishman.  But we must remember that still waters run deep.”

“Do you think so?  But if they don’t run at all?”

“How do you mean?”

“There is such a thing as the village pond.”

“How very trying she is this afternoon!” thought poor Braybrooke, endeavouring mentally to pull up his socks.

“I half promised Craven the other day,” he lied, resolutely ignoring her unkind comparison of his protege to the abomination which is too often veiled with duckweed, “to contrive another meeting between you and him.  But I fear he has bored you.  And in that case perhaps I ought not to hold to my promise.  You meet so many brilliant Frenchmen that I dare say our slower, but really I sometimes think deeper, mentality scarcely appeals to you.”

(At this point he saw Fanny Cronin leaning impressively towards Mrs. Clem Hodson, as if about to impart some very secret information to that lady, who bent to receive it.)

“Again those deep waters!” said Miss Van Tuyn, this time with unmistakable satire.  “But perhaps you are right.  I remember a very brilliant American, who knew practically all the nations of Europe, telling me that in his opinion you English were the subtlest ­I’m afraid he was rude enough to say the most artful ­of the lot.”

As she spoke the word “artful” her fine eyes smiled straight into Braybrooke’s, and she pinched her red lips together very expressively.

“But I must confess,” she added, “that at the moment we were discussing diplomats.”

“Artful was rather unkind,” murmured Braybrooke.  “I ­I hope you don’t think my friend Craven is one of that type?”

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of Mr. Craven.”

The implication was fairly obvious, and Braybrooke did not miss it, although he was not in possession of his full mental powers.

“Perhaps it is our own fault,” he said.  “But I think we English are often misunderstood.”

As he spoke he shot a rather poignant glance in the direction of Fanny Cronin, who had now finished her tea, and was gathering her fur cloak about her as if in preparation for departure.

“In fact,” he added, “I am sure of it.  This very day even ­”

He paused, wondering how to put it, yet feeling that he really must at all costs make matters fairly clear to his companion.

“Yes?” said Miss Van Tuyn sweetly.

“To-day, this afternoon, I think that your dear Miss Cronin failed once or twice to grasp my full meaning when I was talking with her.”

“Oh, Fanny!  But she’s an old fool!  Of course she’s a dear, and I’m very fond of her, but she is essentially nebulous.  And what was it that you think she misunderstood?”

Braybrooke hesitated.  It really was very difficult to put what he wanted to say into words.  Scarcely ever before had he felt himself so incapable of dealing adequately with a socially awkward situation.  If only he knew what Miss Cronin had said to Miss Van Tuyn while he was ordering tea!

“I could scarcely say I know.  I really could not put my finger upon it,” he said at last.  “There was a general atmosphere of confusion, or so it seemed to me.  We ­we discussed marriage.”

“I hope the old dear didn’t think you were proposing to her?”

“Good heavens ­oh, no! no!  I don’t quite know what she thought.” (He lowered his eyes.) “But it wasn’t that.”

“That’s a mercy at any rate!”

Braybrooke still kept his eyes on the ground, but a dogged look came into his face, and he said, speaking more resolutely: 

“I’m afraid I alarmed dear Miss Cronin.”

“How perfectly splendid!” said Miss Van Tuyn.

“She is very fond of you.”

“Much fonder of Bourget!”

“I don’t think so,” he said, with emphasis.  “She is so devoted to you that quite inadvertently I alarmed her.  After all, we were ­we were” ­nobly he decided to take the dreadful plunge ­“we were two elderly people talking together as elderly people will, I thought quite freely and frankly, and I ventured ­do forgive me ­to hint that a great many men must wish to marry you; young men suited to you, promising men, men with big futures before them, anxious for a brilliant and beautiful wife.”

“That was very charming and solicitous of you,” said Miss Van Tuyn with a smile.  “But I don’t know that they do!”

“Do what?” said Braybrooke, almost losing his head, as he saw the vision in the distance, now cloaked and gloved, rustling in an evident preparation for something, which might be departure or might on the other hand be approach.

She observed him with a definite surprise, which she seemed desirous of showing.

“I was alluding to the promising men,” she said.

“Which men?” asked Braybrooke, still hypnotized by the vision.

“The men with big futures before them who you were kind enough to tell Fanny were longing to marry me.”

“Oh, yes!” (With a great effort he pulled himself together.) “Those men to be sure!”

The vision was now standing up and apparently disputing the bill, for it was evidently talking at great length to a man in livery, who had a slip of paper in his hand, and who occasionally pointed to it in a resentful manner and said something, whereupon the vision made negative gestures and there was much tossing and shaking of heads.  Resolutely Braybrooke looked away.  It was nothing to do with him even if the Ritz was trying to make an overcharge for plum cake.

“I just hinted that there must be men who ­but you understand?”

Miss Van Tuyn smiled unembarrassed assent.

“And then Miss Cronin” ­he lowered his voice ­“seemed thoroughly upset.  I scarcely knew what she thought I meant, but whatever it was I had not meant it.  That is certain.  But the fact is she is so devoted to you that the mere fact of your some day doing what all lovely and charming women are asked to do and usually consent to do ­but ­but Miss Cronin seems to ­I think she wants to say something to you.”

Miss Van Tuyn looked suddenly rather rebellious.  She did not glance towards the Philadelphia school friends, but turned her shoulder towards them and said: 

“Naturally my marriage would make a great difference to Fanny, but I have never known her to worry about it.”

“She is worrying now!” said poor Braybrooke, with earnest conviction.  “But really she ­I am sure she wishes to speak to you.”

The line showed itself in Miss Van Tuyn’s forehead.

“Will you be kind and just go and ask her what she wants?  Please tell her that I am not coming back yet as I am going to call on Lady Sellingworth when I leave here.”

Braybrooke got up, trying to conceal his reluctance to obey.  Miss Cronin, entrenched as it were behind her old school friend, and with dawnings of the dragon visible beneath her feathered hat, and even, strangely, mysteriously, underneath her long cloak of musquash, was endeavouring by signs and wonders to attract her Beryl’s attention, while Mrs. Clem Hodson stood looking imperious, and ready for any action that would prove her solidarity with her old schoolmate.

“What she wants ­and you are going to call on Lady Sellingworth!” said Braybrooke.

“Yes; and to-night I’m dining out.”

“Dining out to-night ­just so.”

There was no further excuse for delay, and he went towards the two old ladies, a grievous ambassador.  It really had been the most unpleasant afternoon he remembered to have spent.  He began to feel almost in fault, almost as if he had done ­or at the least had contemplated doing ­something outrageous, something for which he deserved the punishment which was now being meted out to him.  As he slowly approached Miss Cronin he endeavoured resolutely to bear himself like a man who had not proposed that day for Miss Van Tuyn’s hand.  But preposterously, Miss Cronin’s absurd misconception seemed to have power over his conscience, and that again over his appearance and gait.  He was fully aware, as he went forward to convey Miss Van Tuyn’s message, that he made a very poor show of it.  In fact, he was just then living up to Dick’s description of him as “the beard with the gentleman.”

“Oh, Mr. Braybrooke,” said Miss Cronin as he came up, “so you are here with Beryl!”

“Yes; so I am here with Miss Van Tuyn!”

Miss Cronin exchanged a glance with Mrs. Clem Hodson.

“You didn’t tell me when you called that you were taking her out to tea!”

“No, I didn’t!” said Braybrooke.

“This is my old schoolmate, Mrs. Clem Hodson.  Suzanne, this is Mr. Braybrooke, a friend of Beryl’s.”

Mrs. Clem Hodson bowed from the waist, and looked at Braybrooke with the expression of one who knew a great deal more about him than his own mother knew.

“This hotel overcharges,” she said firmly.

“Really!  I should have scarcely have thought ­”

“There were two pieces of plum cake on the bill, and we only ate one.”

“Oh, I’ve just remembered,” said Miss Cronin, as if irradiated with sudden light.

“What, dear?”

“I did have two slices.  One was before the muffin, while we were waiting for it, and the other was after.  And I only remembered the second.”

“In that case, dear, we’ve done the waiter an injustice and libelled the hotel.”

“I will make it all right if you will allow me,” said Braybrooke almost obsequiously.  “I’m well known here.  I will explain to the manager, a most charming man.”

He turned definitely to face Fanny Cronin.

“Miss Van Tuyn asked me to tell you what she wants.”

“Indeed!  Does she want something?”

“No.  I mean she told me to ask you what you want.”

Miss Cronin looked at Mrs. Clem Hodson, hesitated, and then made a very definite rabbit’s mouth.

“I don’t know that I want anything, thank you, Mr. Braybrooke.  But if Beryl is going ­she is not going?”

“I really don’t know exactly.”

“She hasn’t finished her tea, perhaps?”

“I don’t know for certain.  But she asked me to tell you she wasn’t coming back yet” ­the two old ladies exchanged glances which Braybrooke longed to contradict ­“as she is going to call on Lady Sellingworth presently.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Clem Hodson, gazing steadily at Fanny Cronin.

“In Berkeley Square!” added Braybrooke emphatically.  “And to-night she is dining out.”

“Did she say where?” asked Miss Cronin, slightly moving her ears.

“No; she didn’t.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Cronin.  “Good-bye, Mr. Braybrooke.”

She held out her hand like one making a large and difficult concession to her own Christianity.  Mrs. Clem Hodson bowed again from the waist and also made a concession.  She muttered, “Very glad to have met you!” and then cleared her throat, while the criss-cross of wrinkles moved all over her face.

“I will make it all right with the manager,” said Braybrooke, with over-anxious earnestness, and feeling now quite definitely that he must really have proposed to Miss Cronin for Miss Van Tuyn’s hand that afternoon, and that he must have just lied about the disposal of her time until she had to dress for dinner.

“The manager?” said Miss Cronin.

“What manager?” said Mrs. Clem Hodson.

“About the plum cake!  Surely you remember?”

“Oh ­the plum cake!” said Mrs. Hodson, looking steadily at Fanny Cronin.  “Thank you very much indeed!  Very good of you!”

“Thank you,” said Miss Cronin, with a sudden piteous look.  “I did eat two slices.  Come, Suzanne!  Good-bye again, Mr. Braybrooke.”

They turned to go out.  As Braybrooke watched the musquash slowly vanishing he knew in his bones that, when he did not become engaged to Miss Van Tuyn, Fanny Cronin, till the day of her death, would feel positive that he had proposed to her that afternoon and had been rejected.  And he muttered in his beard: 

“Damn these red-headed old women!  I will not make it all right with the manager about the plum cake!”

It was a poor revenge, but the only one he could think of at the moment.

“Is anything the matter?” asked Miss Van Tuyn when he rejoined her.  “Has old Fanny been tiresome?”

“Oh, no ­no!  But old Fan ­I beg your pardon, I mean Miss Cronin ­Miss Cronin has a peculiar ­but she is very charming.  I gave her your message, and she quite understood.  We were talking about plum cake.  That is why I was so long.”

“I see!  A fascinating subject like that must be difficult to get away from.”

“Yes ­very!  What a delightful woman Mrs. Hodson is.”

“I think her extremely wearisome.  Her nature is as wrinkled as her face.  And now I must be on my way to Adela Sellingworth’s.”

“May I walk with you as far as her door?”

“Of course.”

When they were out in Piccadilly he said: 

“And now what about my promise to Mr. Craven?”

“I shall be delighted to meet him again,” said Miss Van Tuyn in a careless voice.  “And I would not have you break a promise on my account.  Such a sacred thing!”

“But if he bores you ­”

“He doesn’t bore me more than many young men do.”

“Then I will let you know.  We might have a theatre party.”

“Anything you like.  And why not ask Adela Sellingworth to make a fourth?”

This suggestion was not at all to Braybrooke’s liking, but he scarcely knew what to say in answer to it.  Really, it seemed as if this afternoon was to end as it had begun ­in a contretemps.

“I am so fond of her,” continued Miss Van Tuyn.  “And I’m sure she would enjoy it.”

“But she so seldom goes out.”

“All the more reason to try to persuade her out of her shell.  I believe she will come if you tell her I and Mr. Craven make up the rest of the party.  We all got on so well together in Soho.”

“I will certainly ask her,” said Braybrooke.

What else could he say?

At the corner of Berkeley Square Miss Van Tuyn stopped and rather resolutely bade him good-bye.

When Braybrooke was alone he felt almost tired out.  If he had been an Italian he would probably have believed that someone had looked on him that day with the evil eye.  He feared that he had been almost maladroit.  His social self-confidence was severely shaken.  And yet he had only meant well; he had only been trying to do what he considered his duty.  It had all begun with Miss Cronin’s preposterous mistake.  That had thoroughly upset him, and from that moment he had not been in possession of his normal means.  And now he was let in for a party combining Adela Sellingworth with Miss Van Tuyn and Craven.  It was singularly unfortunate.  But probably Lady Sellingworth would refuse the invitation he now had to send her.  She really went out very seldom.  He could only hope for a refusal.  That, too, was tragic.  He could not remember ever before having actively wished that an invitation of his should be declined.

He was so reduced in self-confidence and spirits that he turned into the St. James’s Club, sank down alone in a remote corner, and called for a dry Martini, although he knew quite well that it would set up fermentation.