By Robert Hichens
By Robert Hichens
Alick Craven, who was something in the Foreign Office, had been living in London, except for an interval of military service during the war, for several years, and had plenty of interesting friends and acquaintances, when one autumn day, in a club, Frances Braybrooke, who knew everybody, sat down beside him and began, as his way was, talking of people. Braybrooke talked well and was an exceedingly agreeable man, but he seldom discussed ideas. His main interest lay in the doings of the human race, the "human animal," to use a favorite phrase of his, in what the human race was "up to." People were his delight. He could not live away from the centre of their activities. He was never tired of meeting new faces, and would go to endless trouble to bring an interesting personality within the circle of his acquaintance. Craven's comparative indifference about society, his laziness in social matters, was a perpetual cause of surprise to Braybrooke, who nevertheless was always ready to do Craven a good turn, whether he wanted it done to him or not. Indeed, Craven was indebted to his kind old friend for various introductions which had led to pleasant times, and for these he was quite grateful. Braybrooke was much older than most people, though he seldom looked it, and decades older than Craven, and he had a genial way of taking those younger than himself in charge, always with a view to their social advancement. He was a very ancient hand at the social game; he loved to play it; and he wanted as many as possible to join in, provided, of course, that they were "suitable" for such a purpose. Perhaps he slightly resembled "the world's governess," as a witty woman had once called him. But he was really a capital fellow and a mine of worldly wisdom.
On the occasion in question, after chatting for about an hour, he happened to mention Lady Sellingworth—"Adela Sellingworth," as he called her. Craven did not know her, and said so in the simplest way.
"I don't know Lady Sellingworth."
Braybrooke sat for a moment in silence looking at Craven over his carefully trimmed grey and brown beard.
"How very strange!" he said at last.
"Why is it strange?"
"All these years in London and not know Adela Sellingworth!"
"I know about her, of course. I know she was a famous beauty when King Edward was Prince of Wales, and was tremendously prominent in society after he came to the throne. But I have never seen her about since I have been settled in London. To tell the honest truth, I thought Lady Sellingworth was what is called a back number."
"Adela Sellingworth a back number!"
Braybrooke bristled gently and caught his beard-point with his broad-fingered right hand. His small, observant hazel eyes rebuked Craven mildly, and he slightly shook his head, covered with thick, crinkly and carefully brushed hair.
"Well—but," Craven protested. "But surely she long ago retired from the fray! Isn't she over sixty?"
"She is about sixty. But that is nothing nowadays."
"No doubt she had a terrific career."
"Terrific! What do you mean exactly by terrific?"
"Why, that she was what used to be called a professional beauty, a social ruler, immensely distinguished and smart and all that sort of thing. But I understood that she suddenly gave it all up. I remember someone telling me that she abdicated, and that those who knew her best were most surprised about it."
"A woman told you that, no doubt."
"Yes, I think it was a woman."
"If I remember rightly, she said that Lady Sellingworth was the very last woman one had expected to do such a thing, that she was one of the old guard, whose motto is 'never give up,' that she went on expecting, and tacitly demanding, the love and admiration which most men only give with sincerity to young women long after she was no more young and had begun to lose her looks. Perhaps it was all lies."
"No, no. There is something in it."
He looked meditative.
"It certainly was a sudden business," he presently added. "I have often thought so. It came about after her return from Paris some ten years ago—that time when her jewels were stolen."
"Were they?" said Craven.
Braybrooke's tone just then really did rather suggest the world's governess.
"My dear fellow—yes, they were, to the tune of about fifty thousand pounds."
"What a dreadful business! Did she get them back?"
"No. She never even tried to. But, of course, it came out eventually."
"It seems to me that everything anyone wishes to hide does come out eventually in London," said Craven, with perhaps rather youthful cynicism. "But surely Lady Sellingworth must have wanted to get her jewels back. What can have induced her to be silent about such a loss?"
"It's a mystery. I have wondered why—often," said Braybrooke, gently stroking his beard.
He even slightly wrinkled his forehead, until he remembered that such an indulgence is apt to lead to permanent lines, whereupon he abruptly became as smooth as a baby, and added:
"She must have had a tremendous reason. But I'm not aware that anyone knows what it is unless—" he paused meditatively. "I have sometimes suspected that perhaps Seymour Portman—"
"Sir Seymour, the general?"
"Yes. He knows her better than anyone else does. He cared for her when she was a girl, through both her marriages, and cares for her just as much still, I believe."
"How were her jewels stolen?" Craven asked.
Braybrooke had roused his interest. A woman who lost jewels worth fifty thousand pounds, and made no effort to get them back, must surely be an extraordinary creature.
"They were stolen in Paris at the Gare du Nord out of a first-class compartment reserved for Adela Sellingworth. That much came out through her maid."
"And nothing was done?"
"I believe not. Adela Sellingworth is said to have behaved most fatalistically when the story came out. She said the jewels were gone long ago, and there was an end of it, and that she couldn't be bothered."
"Bothered!—about such a loss?"
"And, what's more, she got rid of the maid."
"It was. Very odd! Her abdication also was very odd and abrupt. She changed her way of living, gave up society, let her hair go white, allowed her face to do whatever it chose, and, in fact, became very much what she is now—the most charming old woman in London."
"Oh, is she charming?"
"Is she charming!"
Braybrooke raised his thick eyebrows and looked really pitiful.
"I will see if I can take you there one day," he continued, after a rebuking pause. "But don't count on it. She doesn't see very many people. Still, I think she might like you. You have tastes in common. She is interested in everything that is interesting—except, perhaps, in love affairs. She doesn't seem to care about love affairs. And yet some young girls are devoted to her."
"Perhaps that is because she has abdicated."
Braybrooke looked at Craven with rather sharp inquiry.
"I only mean that I don't think, as a rule, young girls are very fond of elderly women whose motto is 'never give up.'" Craven explained.
Braybrooke was silent. Then, lighting a cigarette, he remarked:
"Youth is very charming, but one must say that it is set free from cruelty."
"I agree with you. But what about the old guard?" Craven asked. "Is that always so very kind?"
Then he suddenly remembered that in London there is an "old guard" of men, and that undoubtedly Braybrooke belonged to it; and, afraid that he was blundering, he changed the conversation.
A fortnight later Craven received a note from his old friend saying that Braybrooke had spoken about him to "Adela Sellingworth," and that she would be glad to know him. Braybrooke was off to Paris to stay with the Mariguys, but all Craven had to do was to leave a card at Number 18A, Berkeley Square, and when this formality had been accomplished Lady Sellingworth would no doubt write to him and suggest an hour for a meeting. Craven thanked his friend, left a card at Number 18A, and a day or two later received an invitation to go to tea with Lady Sellingworth on the following Sunday. He stayed in London on purpose to do this, although he had promised to go into the country from Saturday to Monday. Braybrooke had succeeded in rousing keen interest in him. It was not Craven's habit to be at the feet of old ladies. He much preferred to them young or youngish women, unmarried or married. But Lady Sellingworth "intrigued" him. She had been a reigning beauty. She had "lived" as not many English women had lived. And then—the stolen jewels and her extraordinary indifference about their loss!
Decidedly he wanted to know her!
Number 18A, Berkeley Square was a large town mansion, and on the green front door there was a plate upon which was engraved in bold lettering, "The Dowager Countess of Sellingworth." Craven looked at this plate and at the big knocker above it as he rang the electric bell. Almost as soon as he had pressed the button the big door was opened, and a very tall footman in a pale pink livery appeared. Behind him stood a handsome, middle-aged butler.
A large square hall was before Craven, with a hooded chair and a big fire burning on a wide hearth. Beyond was a fine staircase, which had a balustrade of beautifully wrought ironwork with gold ornamentations. He gave his hat, coat and stick to the footman—after taking his name, the butler had moved away, and was pausing not far from the staircase—Craven suddenly felt as if he stood in a London more solid, more dignified, more peaceful, even more gentlemanlike, than the London he was accustomed to. There seemed to be in this house a large calm, an almost remote stillness, which put modern Bond Street, just around the corner, at a very great distance. As he followed the butler, walking softly, up the beautiful staircase, Craven was conscious of a flavour in this mansion which was new to him, but which savoured of spacious times, when the servant question was not acute, when decent people did not move from house to house like gipsies changing camp, when flats were unknown—spacious times and more elegant times than ours.
The butler and Craven gained a large landing on which was displayed a remarkable collection of oriental china. The butler opened a tall mahogany door and bent his head again to receive the murmur of Craven's name. It was announced, and Craven found himself in a great drawing-room, at the far end of which, by a fire, were sitting three people. They were Lady Sellingworth, the faithful Sir Seymour Portman, and a beautiful girl, slim, fair, with an athletic figure, and vividly intelligent, though rather sarcastic, violet eyes. This was Miss Beryl Van Tuyn. (Craven did not know who she was, though he recognized at once the erect figure, faithful, penetrating eyes and curly white hair—cauliflower hair—of the general, whom he had often seen about town and "in attendance" on royalty at functions.)
Lady Sellingworth got up to receive him. As she did so he was almost startled by her height.
She was astonishingly tall, probably well over six feet, very slim, thin even, with a small head covered with rather wavy white hair and set on a long neck, sloping shoulders, long, aristocratic hands on which she wore loose white gloves, narrow, delicate feet, very fine wrists and ankles. Her head reminded Craven of the head of a deer. As for her face, once marvellously beautiful according to the report of competent judges who had seen all the beauties of their day, it was now quite frankly a ruin, lined, fallen in here and there, haggard, drawn. Nevertheless, looking upon it, one could guess that once upon a time it must have been a face with a mobile, almost imperial, outline, perhaps almost insolently striking, the arrogant countenance of a conqueror. When gazing at it one gazed at the ruin, not of a cottage or of a gimcrack villa, but at the ruins of a palace. Lady Sellingworth's eyes were very dark and still magnificent, like two brilliant lamps in her head. A keen intelligence gazed out of them. There was often something half sad, half mocking in their expression. But Craven thought that they mocked at herself rather than at others. She was very plainly dressed in black, and her dress was very high at the neck. She wore no ornaments except a wedding ring, and two sapphires in her ears, which were tiny and beautiful.
Her greeting to Craven was very kind. He noticed at once that her manner was as natural almost as a frank, manly schoolboy's, carelessly, strikingly natural. There could never, he thought, have been a grain of affectation in her. The idea even came into his head that she was as natural as a tramp. Nevertheless the stamp of the great lady was imprinted all over her. She had a voice that was low, very sensitive and husky.
Instantly she fascinated Craven. Instantly he did not care whether she was old or young, in perfect preservation or a ruin. For she seemed to him penetratingly human, simply and absolutely herself as God had made her. And what a rare joy that was, to meet in London a woman of the great world totally devoid of the smallest shred of make-believe! Craven felt that if she appeared before her Maker she would be exactly as she was when she said how do you do to him.
She introduced him to Miss Van Tuyn and the general, made him sit next to her, and gave him tea.
Miss Van Tuyn began talking, evidently continuing a conversation which had been checked for a moment by the arrival of Craven. She was obviously intelligent and had enormous vitality. She was also obviously preoccupied with her own beauty and with the effect it was having upon her hearers. She not only listened to herself while she spoke; she seemed also to be trying to visualize herself while she spoke. In her imagination she was certainly watching herself, and noting with interest and pleasure her young and ardent beauty, which seemed to Craven more remarkable when she was speaking than when she was silent. She must, Craven thought, often have stood before a mirror and carefully "memorized" herself in all her variety and detail. As he sat there listening he could not help comparing her exquisite bloom of youth with the ravages of time so apparent in Lady Sellingworth, and being struck by the inexorable cruelty of life. Yet there was something which persisted and over which time had no empire—charm. On that afternoon the charm of Lady Sellingworth's quiet attention to her girl visitor seemed to Craven even greater than the charm of that girl visitor's vivid vitality.
Sir Seymour, who had the self-contained and rather detached manner of the old courtier, mingled with the straight-forward self-possession of the old soldier thoroughly accustomed to dealing with men in difficult moments, threw in a word or two occasionally. Although a grave, even a rather sad-looking man, he was evidently entertained by Miss Van Tuyn's volubility and almost passionate, yet not vulgar, egoism. Probably he thought such a lovely girl had a right to admire herself. She talked of herself in modern Paris with the greatest enthusiasm, cleverly grouping Paris, its gardens, its monuments, its pictures, its brilliant men and women as a decor around the one central figure—Miss Beryl Van Tuyn.
"Why do you never come to Paris, dearest?" she presently said to Lady Sellingworth. "You used to know it so very well, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes; I had an apartment in Paris for years. But that was almost before you were born," said the husky, sympathetic voice of her hostess.
Craven glanced at her. She was smiling.
"Surely you loved Paris, didn't you?" said Miss Van Tuyn.
"Very much, and understood it very well."
"Oh—that! She understands everything, doesn't she, Sir Seymour?"
"Perhaps we ought to except mathematics and military tactics," he replied, with a glance at Lady Sellingworth half humorous, half affectionate. "But certainly everything connected with the art of living is her possession."
"And—the art of dying?" Lady Sellingworth said, with a lightly mocking sound in her voice.
Miss Van Tuyn opened her violet eyes very wide.
"But is there an art of dying? Living—yes; for that is being and is continuous. But dying is ceasing."
"And there is an art of ceasing, Beryl. Some day you may know that."
"Well, but even very old people are always planning for the future on earth. No one expects to cease. Isn't it so, Mr. Craven?"
She turned to him, and he agreed with her and instanced a certain old duchess who, at the age of eighty, was preparing for a tour round the world when influenza stepped in and carried her off, to the great vexation of Thomas Cook and Son.
"We must remember that that duchess was an American," observed Sir Seymour.
"You mean that we Americans are more determined not to cease than you English?" she asked. "That we are very persistent?"
"Don't you think so?"
"Perhaps we are."
She turned and laid a hand gently, almost caressingly, on Lady Sellingworth's.
"I shall persist until I get you over to Paris," she said. "I do want you to see my apartment, and my bronzes—particularly my bronzes. When were you last in Paris?"
"Passing through or staying—do you mean?"
Lady Sellingworth was silent for an instant, and Craven saw the half sad, half mocking expression in her eyes.
"I haven't stayed in Paris for ten years," she said.
She glanced at Sir Seymour, who slightly bent his curly head as if in assent.
"It's almost incredible, isn't it, Mr. Craven?" said Miss Van Tuyn. "So unlike the man who expressed a wish to be buried in Paris."
Craven remembered at that moment Braybrooke's remark in the club that Lady Sellingworth's jewelry were stolen in Paris at the Gare du Nord ten years ago. Did Miss Van Tuyn know about that? He wondered as he murmured something non-committal.
Miss Van Tuyn now tried to extract a word of honour promise from Lady Sellingworth to visit her in Paris, where, it seemed, she lived very independently with a dame de compagnie, who was always in one room with a cold reading the novels of Paul Bourget. ("Bourget keeps on writing for her!" the gay girl said, not without malice.)
But Lady Sellingworth evaded her gently.
"I'm too lazy for Paris now," she said. "I no longer care for moving about. This old town house of mine has become to me like my shell. I'm lazy, Beryl; I'm lazy. You don't know what that is; nor do you, Mr. Craven. Even you, Seymour, you don't know. For you are a man of action, and at Court there is always movement. But I, my friends—" She gave Craven a deliciously kind yet impersonal smile. "I am a contemplative. There is nothing oriental about me, but I am just a quiet British contemplative, untouched by the unrest of your age."
"But it's your age, too!" cried Miss Van Tuyn.
"No, dear. I was an Edwardian."
"I wish I had known you then!" said Miss Van Tuyn impulsively.
"You would not have known me then," returned Lady Sellingworth, with the slightest possible stress on the penultimate word.
Then she changed the conversation. Craven felt that she was not fond of talking about herself.
That day Craven walked away from Lady Sellingworth's house with Miss Van Tuyn, leaving Sir Seymour Portman behind him.
Miss Van Tuyn was staying with a friend at the Hyde Park Hotel, and, as she said she wanted some air, Craven offered to accompany her there on foot.
"Do!" she said in her frank and very conscious way. "I'm afraid of London on a Sunday."
"As I'm afraid of a heavy, dull person with a morose expression. Please don't be angry."
"I know! Paris is much lighter in hand than London on a Sunday."
"Isn't it? But there are people in London! Isn't she a precious person?"
"Yes. You have marvellous old women in London who do all that we young people do, and who look astonishing. They might almost be somewhere in the thirties when one knows they are really in the sixties. They play games, ride, can still dance, have perfect digestions, sit up till two in the morning and are out shopping in Bond Street as fresh as paint by eleven, having already written dozens of acceptances to invitations, arranged dinners, theatre parties, heaven knows what! Made of cast iron, they seem. They even manage somehow to be fairly attractive to young men. They are living marvels, and I take off my toque to them. But Lady Sellingworth, quite old, ravaged, devastated by time one might say, who goes nowhere and who doesn't even play bridge—she beats them all. I love her. I love her wrinkled distinction, her husky voice, her careless walk. She walks anyhow, like a woman alone on a country road. She looks even older than she is. But what does it matter? If I were a man—"
"Would you fall in love with her?" Craven interposed.
She shot a blue glance at him.
"But I should love her—if only she would let me. But she wouldn't. I feel that."
"I never saw her till to-day. She charmed me."
"Of course. But she didn't try to."
"That's it! She doesn't try, and that's partly why she succeeds, being as God has made her. Do you know that some people hate her?"
"The young-old women of her time, the young-old Edwardian women. She dates them. She shows them up by looking as she does. She is their contemporary, and she has the impertinence to be old. And they can't forgive her for it."
"I understand," said Craven. "She has betrayed the 'old guard.' She has disobeyed the command inscribed on their banner. She has given up."
"Yes. They will never pardon her, never!"
"I wonder what made her do it?" said Craven.
And he proceeded to touch on Miss Van Tuyn's desire to get Lady Sellingworth to Paris. He soon found out that she did not know about the jewels episode. She showed curiosity, and he told her what he knew. She seemed deeply interested.
"I was sure there was a mystery in her life," she said. "I have always felt it. Ten years ago! And since then she has never stayed in Paris!"
"And since then—from that moment—she has betrayed the 'old guard.'"
"How? I don't understand."
Craven explained. Miss Van Tuyn listened with an intensity of interest which flattered him. He began to think her quite lovely, and she saw the pretty thought in his mind.
When he had finished she said:
"No attempt to recover the lost jewels, the desertion of Paris, the sudden change into old age! What do you make of it?"
"I can make nothing. Unless the chagrin she felt made her throw up everything in a fit of anger. And then, of course, once the thing was done she couldn't go back."
"You mean—go back to the Edwardian youthfulness she had abandoned?"
"Yes. One may refuse to grow old, but once one has become definitely, ruthlessly old, it's practically impossible to jump back to a pretence of the thirties."
"Of course. It would frighten people. But—it wasn't that."
"No. For if she had felt the loss of her jewels so much as you suggest, she would have made every effort to recover them."
"I suppose she would."
"The heart of the mystery lies in her not wishing to try to get the jewels back. That, to me, is inexplicable. Because we women love jewels. And no woman carries about jewels worth fifty thousand pounds without caring very much for them."
"Just what I have thought," said Craven.
After a short silence he added:
"Could Lady Sellingworth possibly have known who had stolen the jewels, do you think?"
"What! And refrained from denouncing the thief!"
"She might have had a reason."
Miss Van Tuyn's keen though still girlish eyes looked sharply into Craven's for an instant.
"I believe you men, you modern men are very apt to think terrible things about women," she said.
Craven warmly defended himself against this abrupt accusation.
"Well, but what did you mean?" persisted Miss Van Tuyn. "Now, go against your sex and be truthful for once to a woman."
"I really don't know exactly what I meant," said Craven. "But I suppose it's possible to conceive of circumstances in which a woman might know the identity of a thief and yet not wish to prosecute."
"Very well. I'll let you alone," she rejoined. "But this mystery makes Lady Sellingworth more fascinating to me than ever. I'm not particularly curious about other people. I'm too busy about myself for that. But I would give a great deal to know a little more of her truth. Do you remember her remark when I said 'I wish I had known you then'?"
"Yes. She said, 'You would not have known me then.'"
"There have been two Adela Sellingworths. And I only know one. I do want to know the other. But I am almost sure I never shall. And yet she's fond of me. I know that. She likes my being devoted to her. I feel she's a book of wisdom, and I have only read a few pages."
She walked on quickly with her light, athletic step. Just as they were passing Hyde Park Corner she said:
"I think I shall go to one of the 'old guard.'"
"Why?" asked Craven.
"You ask questions to which you know the answers," she retorted.
And then they talked of other things.
When they reached the hotel and Craven was about to say good-bye, Miss Van Tuyn said to him:
"Are you coming to see me one day?"
Her expression suggested that she was asking a question to which she knew the answer, in this following the example just given to her by Craven.
"I want to," he said.
"Then do give me your card."
He gave it to her.
"We both want to know her secret," she said, as she put it into her card-case. "Our curiosity about that dear, delightful woman is a link between us."
Craven looked into her animated eyes, which were strongly searching him for admiration. He took her hand and held it for a moment.
"I don't think I want to know Lady Sellingworth's secret if she doesn't wish me to know it," he said.
"Now—is that true?"
"Yes," he said, with a genuine earnestness which seemed to amuse her. "Really, really it is true."
She sent him a slightly mocking glance.
"Well, I am less delicate. I want to know it, whether she wishes me to or not. And yet I am more devoted to her than you are. I have known her for quite a long time."
"One can learn devotion very quickly," he said, pressing her hand before he let it go.
"In an afternoon?"
"Yes, in an afternoon."
"Happy Lady Sellingworth!" she said.
Then she turned to go into the hotel. Just before she passed through the swing door she looked round at Craven. The movement of her young head was delicious.
"After all, in spite of the charm that won't die," he thought, "there's nothing like youth for calling you."
He thought Lady Sellingworth really more charming than Miss Van Tuyn, but he knew that the feeling of her hand in his would not have thrilled something in him, a very intimate part of himself, as he had just been thrilled.
He felt almost angry with himself as he walked away, and he muttered under his breath:
"Damn the animal in me!"
Not many days later Craven received a note from Miss Van Tuyn asking him to come to see her at a certain hour on a certain day. He went and found her alone in a private sitting-room overlooking the Park. For the first time he saw her without a hat. With her beautiful corn-coloured hair uncovered she looked, he thought, more lovely than when he had seen her at Lady Sellingworth's. She noted that thought at once, caught it on the wing through his mind, as it were, and caged it comfortably in hers.
"I have seen the 'old guard,'" she said, after she had let him hold and press her hand for two or three seconds.
"What, the whole regiment?" said Craven.
She sat down on a sofa by a basket of roses. He sat down near her.
"No; only two or three of the leaders."
"Do I know them?"
"Probably. Mrs. Ackroyde?"
"I know her."
"Lady Archie Brook?"
"I've also seen Lady Wrackley."
"I have met Lady Wrackley, but I can hardly say I know her. Still, she shows her teeth at me when I come into a room where she is."
"They are wonderful teeth, aren't they?"
"And they are her own—not by purchase."
"Are you sure she doesn't owe for them?"
"Positive; except, of course, to her Creator. Isn't it wonderful to think that those three women are contemporaries of Lady Sellingworth?"
"Indeed it is! But surely you didn't let them know that you knew they were? Or shall I say know they are?"
She smiled, showing perfect teeth, and shook her corn-coloured head.
"You see, I'm so young and live in Paris! And then I'm American. They have no idea how much I know. I just let them suppose that I only knew they were old enough to remember Lady Sellingworth when she was still a reigning beauty. I implied that they were buds then."
"And they accepted the implication?"
"Oh, they are women of the world! They just swallowed it very quietly, as a well-bred person swallows a small easy-going bonbon."
Craven could not help laughing. As he did so he saw in Miss Van Tuyn's eyes the thought:
"You think me witty, and you're not far out."
"And did you glean any knowledge of Lady Sellingworth?" he asked.
"Oh, yes; quite a good deal. Mrs. Ackroyde showed me a photograph of her as she was about eleven years ago."
"A year before the plunge!"
"Yes. She looked very handsome in the photograph. Of course, it was tremendously touched up. Still, it gave me a real idea of what she must once have been. But, oh! how she has changed!"
"I mean in expression. In the photograph she looks vain, imperious. Do you know how a woman looks who is always on the watch for new lovers?"
"Well—yes, I think perhaps I do."
"Lady Sellingworth in the photograph has that on the pounce expression."
"That's rather awful, isn't it?"
"Yes; because, of course, one can see she isn't really at all young. It's only a fausse jeunesse after all, but still very effective. The gap between the woman of the photograph and the woman of 18A Berkeley Square is as the gulf between Dives and Lazarus. I shouldn't have loved her then. But perhaps—perhaps a man might have thought he did. I mean in the real way of a man—perhaps."
Craven did not inquire what Miss Van Tuyn meant exactly by that. Instead, he asked:
"And did these ladies of the 'old guard' speak kindly of the white-haired traitress?"
"They were careful. But I gathered that Lady Sellingworth had been for years and years one of those who go on their way chanting, 'Let us eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die.' I gathered, too, that her efforts were chiefly concentrated on translating into appropriate action the third 'let us.' But that no doubt was for the sake of her figure and face. Lady Archie said that the motto of Lady Sellingworth's life at that period was 'after me the deluge,' and that she had so dinned it into the ears of her friends that when she let her hair grow white they all instinctively put up umbrellas."
"And yet the deluge never came."
"It never does. I could almost wish it would."
"No; after me."
He looked deep into her eyes, and as he did so she seemed deliberately to make them more profound so that he might not touch bottom.
"It's difficult to think of an after you," he said.
"But there will be, I suppose, some day when the Prince of Wales wears a grey beard and goes abroad in the winter to escape bronchial troubles. Oh, dear! What a brute Time is!"
She tried to look pathetic, and succeeded better than Craven had expected.
"I shall put up my en tout cas then," said Craven very seriously.
Still looking pathetic, she allowed her eyes to stray to a neighbouring mirror, waited for a moment, then smiled.
"Time's a brute, but there's still plenty of him for me," she said. "And for you, too."
"He isn't half so unpleasant to men as to women," said Craven. "He makes a very unfair distinction between the sexes."
"Naturally—because he's a man."
"What did Lady Wrackley say?" asked Craven, returning to their subject.
"Why do you ask specially what she said?"
"Because she has a reputation, a bad one, for speaking her mind."
"She certainly was the least guarded of the 'old guard.' But she said she loved Lady Sellingworth now, because she was so changed."
"Physically, I suppose."
"She didn't say that. She said morally."
"That wasn't stupid of her."
"Just what I thought. She said a moral revolution had taken place in Lady Sellingworth after the jewels were stolen."
"That sounds almost too tumultuous to be comfortable."
"Like 'A Tale of Two Cities' happening in one's interior."
"And what did she attribute such a phenomenon to?"
"Well, she took almost a clerical view of the matter."
"How very unexpected!"
"She said she believed that Adela—she called her Adela—that Adela took the loss of her jewels as a punishment for her sins."
"Do you mean to say she used the word sins?"
"No; she said 'many lapses.' But that's what she meant."
"Lapses from what?"
"She didn't exactly say. But I'm afraid she meant from a strict moral code."
"Oh, Lord!" said Craven, thinking of Lady Wrackley's smile.
"Why do you say that?"
"Please—never mind! So Lady Wrackley thinks that Lady Sellingworth considered the loss of her jewels such a fitting punishment for her many lapses from a strict moral code that she never tried to get them back?"
"Apparently. She said that Addie—she called her Addie then—that Addie bowed her head."
"Not beneath the rod! Don't tell me she used the word rod!"
"But she did!"
"Wasn't it? But women are like that when they belong to the 'old guard.' Do you think she can be right?"
"If it is so, Lady Sellingworth must be a very unusual sort of woman."
"She is—now. For she really did give up all in a moment. And she has never repented of what she did, as far as anyone knows. I think—"
She paused, looking thoughtful at the mirror.
"Yes?" said Craven gently.
"I think it's rather fine to plunge into old age like that. You go on being young and beautiful till everyone marvels, and then one day—or night, perhaps—you look in the glass and you see the wrinkles as they are—"
"Does any woman ever do that?"
"She must have! And you say to yourself, 'C'est fini!' and you throw up the sponge. No more struggles for you! From one day to another you become an old woman. I think I shall do as Lady Sellingworth has done."
"When I'm—perhaps at fifty, yes, at fifty. No man really cares for a woman, as a woman wants him to care, after fifty."
"I wonder," said Craven.
She sent him a sharp, questioning glance.
"Did you ever wonder before you went to Berkeley Square?"
A slight shadow seemed to pass over Miss Van Tuyn's face.
"I believe there was a famous French actress who was loved after she was seventy," said Craven.
"Then the man must have been a freak."
"Lots of us are freaks."
"I don't think you are," she said provocatively.
"I have my little private reasons," she murmured.
At that moment Craven was conscious of a silly desire to take her in his arms, bundle of vanities though he knew her to be. He hated himself for being so ordinary. But there it was!
He looked at her eyebrows. They were dark and beautifully shaped and made an almost unnerving contrast with her corn-coloured hair.
"I know what you are thinking," she said.
"You are thinking that I darken them. But I don't."
And then Craven gave up and became frankly foolish.
Though ordinary enough in her youthful egoism, and entirely du jour in her flagrantly shown vanity, Miss Van Tuyn, as Craven was to find out, was really something of an original. Her independence was abnormal and was mental as well as physical. She lived a life of her own, and her brain was not purely imitative. She not only acted often originally, but thought for herself. She was not merely a very pretty girl. She was somebody. And somehow she had trained people to accept her daring way of life. In Paris she did exactly what she chose, and quite openly. There was no secrecy in her methods. In London she pursued the same housetop course. She seldom troubled about a chaperon, and would calmly give a lunch at the Carlton without one if she wanted to. Indeed, she had been seen there more than once, making one of a party of six, five of whom were men. She did not care for women as a sex, and said so in the plainest language, denouncing their mentality as still afflicted by a narrowness that smacked of the harem. But for certain women she had a cult, and among these women Lady Sellingworth held a prominent, perhaps the most prominent, place.
Three days after his visit to the Hyde Park Hotel Craven, having no dinner invitation and feeling disinclined for the well-known formality of the club where he often dined, resolved to yield to a faint inclination towards a very mild Bohemianism which sometimes beset him, and made his way in a day suit to Soho seeking a restaurant. He walked first down Greek Street, then turned into Frith Street. There he peeped into two or three restaurants without making up his mind to sample their cooking, and presently was attracted by a sound of guitars giving forth with almost Neapolitan fervour the well-known tune, "O Sole Mio!" The music issued from an unpretentious building over the door of which was inscribed, "Ristorante Bella Napoli."
It was a cold, dark evening, and Craven was feeling for the moment rather depressed and lonely. The music drew his thoughts to dear Italy, to sunshine, a great blue bay, brown, half-naked fishermen pulling in nets from the deep with careless and Pagan gestures, to the thoughtless, delicious life only possible in the golden heart of the South. He did not know the restaurant, but he hesitated no longer. Never mind what the cooking was like; he would eat to the sound of those guitars which he knew were being thrummed by Italian fingers. He pushed the swing door and at once found himself in a room which seemed redolent of the country which everyone loves.
It was a narrow room, with a sanded floor and the usual small tables. The walls were painted with volcanic pictures in which Vesuvius played a principal part. Vesuvius erupted on one wall, slept in the moonlight on another, at the end of the room was decked out in all the glories of an extremely Neapolitan sunset. Upon the ceiling was Capri, stretching out from an azure sea. For the moment the guitars had ceased, but their players, swarthy, velvet eyed, and unmistakable children of Italy, sat at ease, their instruments still held in brown hands ready for further plucking of the sonorous strings. And the room was alive with the uproar of Italian voices talking their native language, with the large and unselfconscious gestures of Italian hands, with the movement of Italian heads, with the flash and sparkle of animated Italian eyes. Chianti was being drunk; macaroni, minestra, gnocchi, ravioli, alaione were being eaten; here and there Toscanas were being smoked. Italy was in the warm air, and in an instant from Craven's consciousness London was blotted out.
For a moment he stood just inside the door feeling almost confused. Opposite to him was the padrona, a large and lustrous woman with sleepy, ox-like eyes, sitting behind a sort of counter. Italian girls, with coal-black hair, slipped deftly to and fro among the tables serving the customers. The musicians stared at Craven with the fixed, unwinking definiteness which the traveller from England begins to meet with soon after he passes Lugano. Where was a table for an Englishman?
An Italian girl smiled and beckoned with a sort of intimate liveliness and understanding that quite warmed Craven's heart. There was a table free, just one, under Vesuvius erupting. Craven took it, quickly ordered all the Italian dishes he could think of and a bottle of Chianti Rosso, and then looked about the long, little room. He looked—to see Italian faces, and he saw many; but suddenly, instead of merely looking, he stared. His eyelids quivered; even his lips parted. Was it possible? Yes, it was! At a table tucked into a corner by the window were sitting Beryl Van Tuyn and actually—Santa Lucia!—Lady Sellingworth! And they were both eating—what was it? Craven stretched his neck—they were both eating Risotto alla Milanese!
At this moment the guitars struck up that most Neapolitan of songs, the "Canzona di Mergellina," the smiling Italian girl popped a heaped-up plate of macaroni blushing gently with tomato sauce before Craven, and placed a straw bottle of ruby hued Chianti by the bit of bread at his left hand, and Miss Van Tuyn turned her corn-coloured head to have a good look at the room and, incidentally, to allow the room to have a good look at her.
The violet eyes, full of conscious assurance, travelled from table to table and arrived at Craven and his macaroni. She looked surprised, then sent him a brilliant smile, turned quickly and spoke to Lady Sellingworth. The latter then also looked towards Craven, smiled kindly, and bowed with the careless, haphazard grace which seemed peculiar to her.
Craven hesitated for an instant, then got up and threading his way among Italians, went to greet the two ladies. It struck him that Lady Sellingworth looked marvellously at home with her feet on the sanded floor. Could she ever be not at home anywhere? He spoke a few words, then returned to his table with Miss Van Tuyn's parting sentence in his ears; "When you have dined come and smoke your Toscana with us."
As he ate his excellently cooked meal he felt pleasantly warmed and even the least bit excited. This was a wholly unexpected encounter. To meet the old age and the radiant youth which at the moment interested him more than any other old age, any other radiant youth, in London, in these surroundings, to watch them with the music of guitars in his ears and the taste of ravioli on his lips, silently to drink to them in authentic Chianti—all this gave a savour to his evening which he had certainly not anticipated. When now and then his eyes sought the table tucked into the corner by the window, he saw his two acquaintances plunged deep in conversation. Presently Miss Van Tuyn lit a cigarette, which she smoked in the short interval between two courses. She moved, and sat in such a way that her profile was presented to the room as clearly and definitely as a profile stamped on a finely cut coin. Certainly she was marvellously good-looking. She had not only the beauty of colouring; she had also the more distinguished and lasting beauty of line.
An Italian voice near to Craven remarked loudly, with a sort of coarse sentimentality:
"Che bella ragassa!"
Another Italian voice replied:
"Ha ragione di venire qui con quella povera vecchia! Com'e brutta la vecchiezza!"
For a moment Craven felt hot with a sort of intimate anger; but the guitars began "Santa Lucia," and took him away again to Naples. And what is the use of being angry with the Italian point of view? As well be angry with the Mediterranean for being a tideless sea. But he glanced at the profile and remembered the words, and could not help wondering whether Miss Van Tuyn's cult for Lady Sellingworth had its foundations in self-love rather than in attraction to her whom Braybrooke had called "the most charming old woman in London."
Presently Miss Van Tuyn, turning three-quarters face, sent him a "coffee-look," and he saw that a coffee apparatus of the hour-glass type was being placed on the table by the window. He nodded, but held up a clean spoon to indicate that his zabaione had yet to be swallowed. She smiled, understanding, and spoke again to Lady Sellingworth. A few minutes later Craven left his table and joined them, taking his Toscana with him.
They were charmingly prepared for his advent. Three cups were on the table, and coffee for three was mounting in the hour glass. The two friends were smoking cigarettes.
As he prepared to sit down on the chair placed ready for him with his back to the window, Miss Van Tuyn said:
"One minute! Please give the musicians this!"
She put five shillings into his hand.
"And ask them to play the Sicilian Pastorale, and 'A Mezzanotte,' and the Barcarola di Sorrento, and not to play 'Funiculi, Funicula.' Do you mind?"
"Of course not! But do let me—"
"No, no! This is my little treat to Lady Sellingworth. She has never been here before."
Craven went round to the musicians and carried out his directions. As he did so he saw adoring looks of comprehension come into their dark faces, and, turning, he caught a wonderful smile that was meant for them flickering on the soft lips of Miss Van Tuyn. That smile was as provocative, as definitely full of the siren quality, as if it had dawned for the only lover, instead of for three humble Italians, "hairdressers in the daytime," as Miss Van Tuyn explained to Craven while she poured out his coffee.
"I often come here," she added. "You're surprised, I can see."
"I must say I am," said Craven. "I thought your beat lay rather in the direction of the Carlton, the Ritz, and Claridge's."
"You see how little he knows me!" she said, turning to Lady Sellingworth.
"Beryl does not always tread beaten paths," said Lady Sellingworth to Craven.
"I hate beaten paths. One meets all the dull people on them, the people who hope they are walking where everyone walks. Beaten paths are like the front at Brighton on a Sunday morning. What do you say to our coffee, dearest?"
"It is the best I have drunk for a long while outside my own house," Lady Sellingworth answered.
Then she turned to Craven.
"Are you really going to smoke a Toscana?"
"If you really don't mind? It isn't a habit with me, but I assure you I know how to do it quite adequately."
"He's an artist," said Miss Van Tuyn. "He knows it's the only cigar that really goes with Vesuvius. Do light up!"
"I'm thankful I came here to-night," he said. "I felt very dull and terrifically English, so I turned to Soho as an antidote. The guitars lured me in here. I was at the Embassy in Rome for a year. In the summer we lived at the Villa Rosebery, near Naples. Ever since that time I've had an almost childish love of guitars."
Miss Van Tuyn held up a hand and formed "Sh!" with her rosy lips.
"It's the Barcarola di Sorrento!" she whispered.
A silence fell in the narrow room. The Italian voices were hushed. The padrona dreamed behind her counter with her large arms laid upon it, like an Italian woman spread out on her balcony for an afternoon's watching of the street below her window. And Craven let himself go to the music, as so many English people only let themselves go when something Italian is calling them. On his left Miss Van Tuyn, with one arm leaning on the table, listened intently, but not so intently that she forgot to watch Craven and to keep track of his mind. On his right Lady Sellingworth sat very still. She had put away her only half-smoked cigarette. Her eyes looked down on the table cloth. Her very tall figure was held upright, but without any stiffness. One of her hands was hidden. The other, in a long white glove, rested on the table, and presently the fingers of it began gently to close and unclose, making, as they did this, a faint shuffling noise against the cloth.
Miss Van Tuyn glanced at those fingers and then again at Craven, but for the moment he did not notice her. He was standing by the little harbour at the Villa Rosebery, looking across the bay to Capri on a warm summer evening. And the sea people were in his thoughts. How often had he envied them their lives, as men envy those whose lives are utterly different from theirs!
But presently Miss Van Tuyn's persistent and vigorous mind must have got some hold on his, for he began to remember her beauty and to feel the lure of it in the music. And then, almost simultaneously, he was conscious of Lady Sellingworth, of her old age and of her departed beauty. And he felt her loss in the music.
Could such a woman enjoy listening to such music? Must it not rather bring a subtle pain into her heart, the pain that Italy brings to her devotees, when the years have stolen from them the last possibilities of personal romance? For a moment Craven imaginatively projected himself into old age, saw himself with white hair, a lined face, heavily-veined hands, faded eyes.
But her eyes were not faded. They still shone like lamps. Was she, perhaps, the victim of a youthful soul hidden in an old body, like trembling Love caged in a decaying tabernacle from which it could not escape?
He looked up. At the same moment Lady Sellingworth looked up. Their eyes met. She smiled faintly, and her eyes mocked something or someone; fate, perhaps, him, or herself. He did not know what or whom they mocked.
The music stopped, and, after some applause, conversation broke out again.
"Have you given up Italy as you have given up Paris?" Miss Van Tuyn asked of Lady Sellingworth.
"Oh, yes, long ago. I only go to Aix now for a cure, and sometimes in the early spring to Cap Martin."
"Yes; the hotel. I like the pine woods."
"So do I. But, to my mind, there's no longer a vestige of real romance on the French Riviera. Too many grand dukes have passed over it."
Lady Sellingworth laughed.
"But I don't seek romance when I leave London."
She looked oddly doubtful for a moment. Then she said:
"Mr. Craven, will you tell us the truth?"
"It depends. What about?"
"Oh, a very simple matter."
"I'll do my best, but all men are liars."
"We only ask you to do your best."
"We!" he said, with a glance at Lady Sellingworth.
"Yes—yes," she said. "I go solid with my sex."
"Then—what is it?"
"Do you ever go travelling—ever, without a secret hope of romance meeting you on your travels, somewhere, somehow, wonderfully, suddenly? Do you?"
He thought for a moment. Then he said:
"Honestly, I don't think I ever do."
"There!" said Miss Van Tuyn triumphantly. "Nor do I."
She looked half defiantly, half inquisitively at Lady Sellingworth.
"My dear Beryl!" said the latter, "for all these lacks in your temperament you must wait."
"Wait? For how long?"
"Till you are fifty, perhaps."
"I know I shall want romance at fifty."
"Let us say sixty, then."
"Or," interrupted Craven, "until you are comfortably married."
"Comfortably married!" she cried. "Quelle horreur!"
"I had no idea Americans were so romantic," said Lady Sellingworth, with just a touch of featherweight malice.
"Americans! I believe the longing for romance covers both sexes and all the human race."
She let her eyes go into Craven's.
"Only up till a certain age," said Lady Sellingworth. "When we love to sit by the fire, we can do very well without it. But we must be careful to lay up treasure for our old age, mental treasure. We must cultivate tastes and habits which have nothing to do with wildness. A man in Sorrento taught me about that."
"A man in Sorrento!" said Miss Van Tuyn, suddenly and sharply on the alert.
"Yes. He was a famous writer, and had, I dare say, been a famous lover in his time. One day, as we drove beyond the town towards the hills, he described to me the compensations old age holds for sensible people. It's a question of cultivating and preparing the mind, of filling the storehouse against the day of famine. He had done it, and assured me that he didn't regret his lost youth or sigh after its unrecoverable pleasures. He had accustomed his mind to its task."
"What task, dearest?"
"Acting in connexion with the soul—his word that—as a thoroughly efficient substitute for his body as a pleasure giver."
At this moment the adoring eyes of the three musicians who were "hairdressers in the daytime" focussed passionately upon Miss Van Tuyn, distracted her attention. She felt masculinity intent upon her and responded automatically.
"The dear boys! They are asking if they shall play the Pastorale for me. Look at their eyes!" she said.
Craven did not bother to do that, but looked instead at hers, wondering a little at her widespread energy in net casting. Was it possible that once Lady Sellingworth had been like that, ceaselessly on the lookout for worship, requiring it as a right, even from men who were hairdressers in the daytime? As the musicians began to play he met her eyes again and felt sure that it could not have been so. Whatever she had done, whatever she had been, she could never have frequented the back stairs. That thought seemed a rather cruel thrust at Miss Van Tuyn. But there is a difference in vanities. Wonderful variety of nature!
When the players had finished the Pastorale and "A Mezzanotte," and had been rewarded by a long look of thanks from Miss Van Tuyn which evidently drove them over the borders of admiration into the regions of unfulfilled desire, Lady Sellingworth said she must go. And then an unexpected thing happened. It appeared that Miss Van Tuyn had asked a certain famous critic, who though English by birth was more Parisian than most French people, to call for her at the restaurant and take her on to join a party at the Cafe Royal. She, therefore, could not go yet, and she begged Lady Sellingworth to stay on and to finish up the evening in the company of Georgians at little marble tables. But Lady Sellingworth laughingly jibbed at the Cafe Royal.
"I should fall out of my assiette there!" she said.
"But no one is ever surprised at the Cafe Royal, dearest. It is the one place in London where—Ah! here is Jennings come to fetch us!"
A very small man, with a pointed black beard and wandering green eyes, wearing a Spanish sombrero and a black cloak, and carrying an ebony stick nearly as tall as himself, at this moment slipped furtively into the room, and, without changing his delicately plaintive expression, came up to Miss Van Tuyn and ceremoniously shook hands with her.
Lady Sellingworth looked for a moment at Craven.
"May I escort you home?" he said. "At any rate, let me get you a taxi."
"Lady Sellingworth, may I introduce Ambrose Jennings," said Miss Van Tuyn in a rather firm voice at this moment.
Lady Sellingworth bent kindly to the little man far down below her. After a word or two she said:
"Now I must go."
"Must you really? Then Mr. Craven will get you a taxi."
"If it's fine, I will walk. It seems more suitable to walk home after dining here."
"Walk! Then let us all walk together, and we'll persuade you into the Cafe Royal."
"Dick Garstin will be there," said Ambrose Jennings in a frail voice, "Enid Blunt, a Turkish refugee from Smyrna who writes quite decent verse, Thapoulos, Penitence Murray, who is just out of prison, and Smith the sculptor, with his mistress, a round-faced little Russian girl. She's the dearest little Bolshevik I know."
He looked plaintively yet critically at Lady Sellingworth, and pulled his little black beard with fingers covered with antique rings.
"Dear little bloodthirsty thing!" he added to Lady Sellingworth. "You would like her. I know it."
"I'm sure I should. There is something so alluring about Bolshevism when it's safely tucked up at the Cafe Royal. But I will only walk to the door."
"And then Mr. Craven will get you a taxi," said Miss Van Tuyn. "Shall we go?"
They fared forth into the London night—Craven last.
He realized that Miss Van Tuyn had made up her mind to keep both him and Jennings as her possessions of the evening, and to send Lady Sellingworth, if she would go home early, back to Berkeley Square without an escort. Her cult for her friend, though doubtless genuine, evidently weakened when there was any question of the allegiance of men. Craven made up his mind that he would not leave Lady Sellingworth until they were at the door of Number 18A, Berkeley Square.
In the street he found himself by the side of Miss Van Tuyn, behind Lady Sellingworth and Ambrose Jennings, who were really a living caricature as they proceeded through the night towards Shaftesbury Avenue. The smallness of Jennings, accentuated by his bat-like cloth cloak, his ample sombrero and fantastically long stick, made Lady Sellingworth look like a moving tower as she walked at his side, like a leaning tower when she bent graciously to catch the murmur of his persistent conversation. And as over the theatres in letters of fire were written the names of the stars in the London firmament—Marie Lohr, Moscovitch, Elsie Janis—so over, all over, Lady Sellingworth seemed to be written for Craven to read: "I am really not a Bohemian."
"Do you genuinely wish Lady Sellingworth to finish the evening at the Cafe Royal?" he asked of his companion.
"Yes. They would love her there. She would bring a new note."
"Probably. But would she love them?"
"I don't think you quite understand her," said Miss Van Tuyn.
"I'm quite sure I don't. Still—"
"In past years I am certain she has been to all the odd cafes of Paris."
"Perhaps. But one changes. And you yourself said there were—or was it had been?—two Adela Sellingworths, and that you only knew one."
"Yes. But perhaps at the Cafe Royal I should get to know the other."
"May she not be dead?"
"I have a theory that nothing of us really dies while we live. Our abode changes. We know that. But I believe the inhabitant is permanent. We are what we were, with, of course, innumerable additions brought to us by the years. For instance, I believe that Lady Sellingworth now is what she was, to all intents and purposes, with additions which naturally have made great apparent changes in her. An old moss-covered house, overgrown with creepers, looks quite different from the same house when it is new and bare. But go inside—the rooms are the same, and under the moss and the creepers are the same walls."
"It may be so. But what a difference the moss and the creepers make. Some may be climbing roses."
Craven felt the shrewd girlish eyes were looking at him closely.
"In her case some of them certainly are!" she said. "Oh, do look at them turning the corner! If Cirella were here he would have a subject for one of his most perfect caricatures. It is the leaning tower of Pisa with a bat."
The left wing of Ambrose Jennings's cloak flew out as he whirled into Regent Street by Lady Sellingworth's side.
At the door of the Cafe Royal they stopped, and Miss Van Tuyn laid a hand on Lady Sellingworth's arm.
"Do come in, dearest. It will really amuse you," she said urgently. "And—I'll be truthful—I want to show you off to the Georgians as my friend. I want them to know how wonderful an Edwardian can be."
"Please—please!" pleaded Jennings from under his sombrero. "Dick would revel in you. You would whip him into brilliance. I know it. You admire his work, surely?"
"I admire it very much."
"And he is more wonderful still when he's drunk. And to-night—I feel it—he will be drunk. I pledge myself that Dick Garstin will be drunk."
"I'm sure it would be a very great privilege to see Mr. Garstin drunk. But I must go home. Good night, dear Beryl."
"But the little Bolshevik! You must meet the little Bolshevik!" cried Jennings.
Lady Sellingworth shook her deer-like head, smiling.
"Good night, Mr. Craven."
"But he is going to get you a taxi," said Miss Van Tuyn.
"Yes, and if you will allow me I am going to leave you at your door," said Craven, with decision.
A line appeared in Miss Van Tuyn's low forehead, but she only said:
"And then you will come back and join us."
"Thank you," said Craven.
He took off his hat. Miss Van Tuyn gave him a long and eloquent look, which was really not unlike a Leap Year proposal. Then she entered the cafe with Jennings. Craven thought at that moment that her back looked unusually rigid.
A taxi was passing. He held up his hand. It stopped. Lady Sellingworth and he got in, after he had given the address to the chauffeur.
"What a lovely girl Beryl Van Tuyn is!" said Lady Sellingworth, as they drove off.
"She is—very lovely."
"And she has a lot of courage, moral courage."
"Is it?" he could not help saying.
"Yes. She lives as she chooses to live. And yet she isn't married."
"Would marriage make it all easier for her?"
"Much, if she married the man who suited her."
"I wonder what sort of a man that would be."
"So does she, I think. But she's a strange girl. I should not be surprised if she were never to marry at all."
"Don't you think she would fall in love?"
"Yes. For I think every living woman is capable of that. But she has the sort of intellect which would not be tricked for very long by the heart. Any weakness of hers would soon be over, I fancy."
"I dare say you are right. In fact I believe you are generally right. She told me you were a book of wisdom. And I feel that it is true."
"Here is Berkeley Square."
"How wrong it is of these chauffeurs to drive so fast! It is almost as bad as in Paris. They defy the law. I should like to have this man up."
He got out. She followed him, looking immensely tall in the dimness.
"I am not going back to the Cafe Royal," he said.
"But it will be amusing. And I think they are certainly expecting you."
"I am not going there."
She rang. Instantly the door was opened by the handsome middle-aged butler.
"Then come in for a little while," she said casually. "Murgatroyd, you might bring us up some tea and lemon, or will you have whisky and soda, Mr. Craven?"
"I would much rather have tea and lemon, please," he said.
A great fire was burning in the hall. Again Craven felt that he was in a more elegant London than the London of modern days. As he went up the wide, calm staircase, and tasted the big silence of the house, he thought of the packed crowd in the Cafe Royal, of the uproar there, of the smoke wreaths, of the staring heterogeneous faces, of the shouting or sullenly folded lips, of the—perhaps—tipsy man of genius, of Jennings with his green eyes, his black beard, his tall ebony staff, of the "little bloodthirsty thing" with the round Russian face, of Miss Van Tuyn in the midst of it all, sitting by the side of Enid Blunt, smoking cigarettes, and searching the men's faces for the looks which were food for her craving. And he loved the contrast which was given to him.
"Do go in and sit by the fire, and I'll come in a moment," said the husky voice he was learning to love. "I'm just going to take off my hat."
Craven opened the great mahogany door and went in.
The big room was very dimly lighted by two standard electric lamps, one near the fireplace, the other in a distant corner where a grand piano stood behind a huge china bowl in which a pink azalea was blooming. There was a low armchair near the fire by a sofa. He sat down in it, and picked up a book which lay on a table close beside it. What did she read—this book of wisdom?
"Musiciens d'aujourd'hui," by Romain Rolland.
Craven thought he was disappointed. There was no revelation for him in that. He held the book on his knee, and wondered what he had expected to find, what type of book. What special line of reading was Lady Sellingworth's likely to be? He could imagine her dreaming over "Wisdom and Destiny," or perhaps over "The Book of Pity and of Death." On the other hand, it seemed quite natural to think of her smiling her mocking smile over a work of delicate, or even of bitter, irony, such as Anatole France's story of Pilate at the Baths of Baies, or study of the Penguins. He could not think that she cared for sentimental books, though she might perhaps have a taste for works dealing with genuine passion.
He heard the door open gently, and got up. Lady Sellingworth came in. She had not changed her dress, which was a simple day dress of black. She had only taken off her fur and hat, and now came towards him, still wearing white gloves and holding a large black fan in her hand.
"What's that you've got?" she asked. "Oh—my book!"
"Yes. I took it up because I wondered what you were reading. I think what people read by preference tells one something of what they are. I was interested to know what you read. Forgive my curiosity."
She sat down by the fire, opened the fan, and held it between her face and the flames.
"I read all sorts of things."
"I very seldom read a novel now. Here is our tea. But I know you would rather have a whisky-and-soda."
"As a rule I should, but not to-night. I want to drink what you are drinking."
"And to smoke what I am smoking?" she said, with a faintly ironic smile.
She held out a box of cigarettes. The butler went out of the room.
"I love this house," said Craven abruptly. "I love its atmosphere."
"It isn't a modern atmosphere, is it?"
"Neither distinctively modern, nor in the least old-fashioned. I think the right adjective for it would be perhaps—"
He paused and sat silent for a moment.
"I hardly know. There's something remote, distinguished and yet very warm and intimate about it."
He looked at her and added, almost with hardihood.
"It's not a cold, or even a reserved house."
"Coldness and unnecessary reserve are tiresome—indeed, I might almost say abhorrent—to me."
She had given him his tea and lemon and taken hers.
"But not aloofness?"
"You have travelled?"
"Well, you know how, when travelling, it is easy to get into intimacies with people whom one doesn't want to be intimate with at home."
"Yes. I know all about that."
"At my age one has learnt to avoid not only such intimacies but many others less disagreeable, but which at moments might give one what I can only call mental gooseflesh. Is that aloofness?"
"I think it would probably be called so by some."
"Oh, by mental gooseflesh-givers!"
She laughed, laughed quite out with a completeness which had something almost of youth in it.
"I wonder," he added rather ruefully, after the pause which the laugh had filled up, "I wonder whether I am one of them?"
"I don't think you are."
"And Ambrose Jennings?"
"That's a clever man!" was her reply.
And then she changed the conversation to criticism in general, and to the type of clever mind which, unable to create, analyses the creations of others sensitively.
"But I much prefer the creators," she presently said.
"So do I. They are like the fresh air compared with the air in a carefully closed room," said Craven. "Talking of closed rooms, don't you think it is strange the liking many brilliant men and women have, both creators and analysers of creators, for the atmosphere of garish or sordid cafes?"
"You are thinking of the Cafe Royal?"
"Yes. Do you know it?"
"Don't tell Beryl—but I have never been in it. Nevertheless, I know exactly what it is like."
"Oh, no. In years gone by I have been into many of the cafes in Paris."
"And did you like them and the life in them?"
"In those days they often fascinated me, as no doubt the Cafe Royal and its life fascinates Beryl to-day. The hectic appeals to something in youth, when there is often fever in the blood. Strong lights, noise, the human pressure of crowds, the sight of myriads of faces, the sound of many voices—all that represents life to us when we are young. Calm, empty spaces, single notes, room all round us for breathing amply and fully, a face here or there—that doesn't seem like life to us then. Beryl dines with me alone sometimes. But she must finish up in the evening with a crowd if she is near the door of the place where the crowd is. And you must not tell me you never like the Cafe Royal, for if you do I shall not believe you."
"I do like it at times," he acknowledged. "But to-night, sitting here, the mere thought of it is almost hateful to me. It is all vermilion and orange colour, while this . . ."
"No, indeed! Dim purple, perhaps, or deepest green."
"You couldn't bear it for long. You would soon begin longing for vermilion again."
"You seem to think me very young. I am twenty-nine."
"Have you ceased to love wildness already?"
"No," he answered truthfully. "But there is something there which makes me feel as if it were almost vulgar."
"No, no. It need not be vulgar. It can be wonderful—beautiful, even. It can be like the wild light which sometimes breaks out in the midst of the blackness of a storm and which is wilder far than the darkest clouds. Do you ever read William Watson?"
"I have read some of his poems."
"There is one I think very beautiful. I wonder if you know it. 'Pass, thou wild heart, wild heart of youth that still hast half a will to stay—'"
She stopped and held her fan a little higher.
"I don't know it," he said.
"It always makes me feel that the man or woman who has never had the wild heart has never been truly and intensely human. But one must know when to stop, when to let the wild heart pass away."
"But if the heart wants to remain?"
"Then you must dominate it. Nothing is more pitiable, nothing is more disgusting, even, than wildness in old age. I have a horror of that. And I am certain that nothing else can affect youth so painfully. Old wildness—that must give youth nausea of the soul."
She spoke with a thrill of energy which penetrated Craven in a peculiar and fascinating way. He felt almost as if she sent a vital fluid through his veins.
Suddenly he thought of the "old guard," and he knew that not one of the truly marvellous women who belonged to it could hold him or charm him as this white-haired woman, with the frankly old face, could and did.
"After all," he thought, "it isn't the envelope that matters; it is the letter inside."
Deeply he believed that just then. He was, indeed, under a sort of spell for the moment. Could the spell be lasting? He looked at Lady Sellingworth's eyes in the lamplight and firelight, and, despite a certain not forgotten moment connected with the Hyde Park Hotel, he believed that it could. And Lady Sellingworth looked at him and knew that it could not. About such a matter she had no illusions.
And yet for years she had lived a life cloudy with illusions. What had led her out from those clouds? Braybrooke had hinted to Craven that possibly Seymour Portman knew the secret of Lady Sellingworth's abrupt desertion of the "old guard" and plunge into old age. But even he did not know it. For he loved her in a still, determined, undeviating way. And no woman would care to tell such a secret to a man who loved her and who was almost certain, barring the explosion of a moral bombshell, and perhaps even then, to go on loving her.
No one knew why Lady Sellingworth had abruptly and finally emerged from the world of illusions in which she had lived. But possibly a member of the underworld, a light-fingered gentleman of brazen assurance, had long ago guessed the reason for her sudden departure from the regiment of which she had been a conspicuous member; possibly he had guessed, or surmised, why she had sent in her papers. But even he could scarcely be certain.
The truth of the matter was this.
Lady Sellingworth belonged to a great English family, and had been brought up in healthy splendour, saved from the canker of too much luxury by the aristocratic love of sport which is a tradition in such English families as hers. As a girl she had been what a certain sporting earl described as "a leggy beauty." Even then she had shown a decided inclination to run wild and had seldom checked the inclination. Unusually tall and athletic, rather boyish in appearance, and of the thin, greyhound type, she had excelled in games and held her own in sports. She had shot in an era when comparatively few women shot, and in the hunting-field she had shown a reckless courage which had fascinated the hard-riding men who frequented her father's house. As she grew older her beauty had rapidly developed, and with it an insatiable love of admiration. Early she had realized that she was going to be a beauty, and had privately thanked the gods for her luck. She could scarcely have borne not to be a beauty; but, mercifully, it was all right. Woman's greatest gift was to be hers. When she looked into the glass and knew that, when she looked into men's eyes and knew it even more definitely, she felt merciless and eternal. In the dawn no end was in sight; in the dawn no end seemed possible.
From the age of sixteen onwards hers was the intimate joy, certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all the joys of women, of knowing that all men looked at her with pleasure, that many men looked at her with longing, that she was incessantly desired.
From the time when she was sixteen she lived perpetually in that atmosphere which men throw round a daring and beautiful woman without even conscious intention, creating it irresistibly merely by their natural desire. And that atmosphere was the breath of life to her. Soon she could not imagine finding any real value in life without it. She often considered plain girls, dull girls, middle-aged women who had never had any beauty, any saving grace but that of freshness, and wondered how they managed to get along at all. What was the use of life to them? Nobody bothered about them, except, perhaps, a few relations, or what are called "old friends"—that is, people who, having always been accustomed to you, put up with you comfortably, and wear their carpet slippers in your presence without troubling whether you like slippers or would prefer them in high-heeled shoes.
As to old women, those from whom almost the last vestiges of what they once had been physically had fallen away, she was always charming to them; but she always wondered why they still seemed to cling on to life. They were done with. It was long ago all over for them. They did not matter any more, even if once they had mattered. Why did they still keep a hold on life with their skinny hands? Was it from fear of death, or what? Once she expressed her wonder about this to a man.
"Of course," she said. "I know they can't go just because they want to. But why do they want to stay?"
"Oh," he said, "I think lots of old ladies enjoy themselves immensely in their own way."
"Well, I can't understand it!" she said.
And she spoke the truth.
She flirted, of course. Her youthful years were complicated by a maze of flirtations, through which she wandered with apparently the greatest assurance, gaining knowledge of men.
Finally she married. She made what is called "a great match," the sort of match in every way suitable to such an aristocratic, beautiful and daring girl.
Then began her real reign.
Although such a keen sportswoman, she was also a woman who had a good brain, a quick understanding, and a genuine love of the intellectual and artistic side of life, for its own sake, not for any reason of fashion. She was of the type that rather makes fashions than follows them. As a married woman she was not only Diana in the open country, she was Egeria elsewhere. She liked and she wanted all types of men; the hard-bitten, keen-eyed, lean-flanked men who could give her a lead or take a lead from her over difficult country, and the softer breed of men, whose more rounded bodies were informed by sharp spirits, who, many of them, could not have sat a horse over the easiest fence, or perhaps even have brought down a stag at twenty paces, but who would dominate thousands from their desks, or from the stages of opera houses, or from adjustable seats in front of pianos, or from studios hung with embroideries and strewn with carpets of the East.
These knew how to admire and long for a beautiful woman quite as well as the men of the moors and the hunting field, and they were often more subtle in their ways of showing their feelings.
Lady Sellingworth had horses named after her and books dedicated to her. She moved in all sets which were penetrated by the violent zest for the life of the big world, and in all sets she more than held her own. She was as much at home in Chelsea as she was at Newmarket. Her beautifully disguised search for admiration extended far and wide, and she found what she wanted sometimes in unexpected places, in sombre Oxford libraries, in time-worn deaneries, in East-End settlements, through which she flashed now and then like a bird of Paradise, darting across the murk of a strange black country on its way to golden regions, as well as in Mayfair, in the Shires, in foreign capitals, and on the moors of Scotland.
Her husband was no obstacle in her way. She completely dominated him, even though she gave him no child. He knew she was, as he expressed it, "worth fifty" of him. Emphatically he was the husband of his wife, and five years after their marriage he died still adoring her.
She was sorry; she was even very sorry. And she withdrew from the great world in which she had been a moving spirit now for over ten years for the period of mourning, a year. But she was not overwhelmed by sorrow. It is so very difficult for the woman who lives by, and for, her beauty and her charm for men to be overwhelmed. One man has gone and she mourns him; but there are so many men left, all of them with eyes in which lamps may be set and with hearts to be broken.
It was at this time that she became very familiar with Paris.
She wanted to be away from London, so she took an apartment in Paris, and began to live there very quietly. Friends, of course, came to see her, and she began to study Paris thoroughly, not the gay, social Paris, but a very interesting Paris. Presently her freedom from the ordinary social ties began to amuse her. She had now so much time for all sorts of things which women very much in society miss more often than not. Never going to parties, she was able to go elsewhere. She went elsewhere. Always there had dwelt caged in her a certain wildness which did not come from her English blood. There was a foreign strain in her from the borders of Asia mingled with a strong Celtic strain. This wildness which in her girlhood she had let loose happily in games and sports, in violent flirtations, and in much daring skating over thin ice, which in her married life had spent itself in the whirl of society, and in the energies necessary to the attainment of an unchallenged position at the top of things, in her widowhood began to seek an outlet in Bohemia.
Paris can be a very kind or a very cruel city, in its gaiety hiding velvet or the claws of a tiger. To Lady Sellingworth—then Lady Manham—it was kind. It gave her its velvet. She knew a fresh type of life there, with much for the intellect, with not a little for the senses, even with something for the heart. It was there that she visited out-of-the-way cafes, where clever men met and talked over every subject on earth. A place like the Cafe Royal in London had no attraction for the Lady Sellingworth over sixty. That sort of thing, raised to the nth degree, had been familiar to her years and years ago, before Beryl Van Tuyn and Enid Blunt had been in their cradles.
And the freedom of her widowhood, with no tie at all, had become gradually very dear to her. She had felt free enough in her marriage. But this manner of life had more breathing space in it. There is no doubt that in that Paris year, especially in the second half of it, she allowed the wild strain in her to play as it had never played before, like a reckless child out of sight of parents and all relations.
When the mourning was over and she returned to London she was a woman who had progressed, but whether upon an upward or a downward path who shall decide? She had certainly become more fascinating. Her beauty was at its height. The year in Paris, lived almost wholly among clever and very unprejudiced French people, had given her a peculiar polish—one Frenchman who knew English slang called it "a shine"—which made her stand out among her English contemporaries. Many of them when girls had received a "finish" in Paris. But girls cannot go about as she had gone about. They had learnt French; she had learnt Paris. From that time onward she was probably the most truly cosmopolitan of all the aristocratic Englishwomen of her day. Distinguished foreigners who visited London generally paid their first private call on her. Her house was European rather than English. She kept, too, her apartment in Paris, and lived there almost as much as she lived in London. And, perhaps, her secret wildness was more at home there.
Scandal, of course, could not leave her untouched. But her position in society was never challenged. People said dreadful things about her, but everyone who did not know her wanted to know her, and no one who knew her wished not to know her. She "stood out" from all the other women in England of her day, not merely because of her beauty—she was not more beautiful than several of her contemporaries—but because of her gay distinction, a daring which was never, which could not be, ill bred, her extraordinary lack of all affectation, and a peculiar and delightful bonhomie which made her at home with everyone and everyone at home with her. Servants and dependents loved her. Everyone about her was fond of her. And yet she was certainly selfish. Invariably almost she was kind to people, but herself came first with her. She made few sacrifices, and many sacrificed themselves to her. There was seldom a moment when incense was not rising up before her altar, and the burnt offerings to her were innumerable.
And all through these years she was sinking more deeply into slavery, while she was ruling others. Her slavery was to herself. She was the captive of her own vanity. Her love of admiration had developed into an insatiable passion. She was ceaselessly in her tower spying out for fresh lovers. From afar off she perceived them, and when they drew near to her castle she stopped them on their way. She did not love them and cast them to death like Tamara of the Caucasus. No; but she required of them the pause on their travels, which was a tribute to her power. No one must pass her by as if she were an ordinary woman.
Probably there is no weed in all the human garden which grows so fast as vanity. Lady Sellingworth's vanity grew and grew with the years until it almost devoured her. It became an idee fixe in her. A few people no doubt knew this—a few women. But she was saved from all vulgarity of vanity by an inherent distinction, not only of manner but of something more intimate, which never quite abandoned her, which her vanity was never able to destroy. Although her vanity was colossal, she usually either concealed it, or if she showed it showed it subtly. She was not of the type which cannot pass a mirror in a restaurant without staring into it. She only looked into mirrors in private. Nor was she one of those women who powder their faces and rouge their lips before men in public places. It was impossible for her to be blatant. Nevertheless, her moral disease led her gradually to fall from her own secret standard of what a woman of her world should be. Craven had once said to himself that Lady Sellingworth could never seek the backstairs. He was not wholly right in this surmise about her. There was a time in her life—the time when she was, or was called, a professional beauty—when she could scarcely see a man's face without watching it for admiration. Although she preserved her delightfully unselfconscious manner she was almost ceaselessly conscious of self. Her own beauty was the idol which she worshipped and which she presented to the world expectant of the worship of others. There have been many women like her, but few who have been so clever in hiding their disease. But always seated in her brain there was an imp who understood, was contemptuous and mocked, an imp who knew what was coming to her, what comes to all the daughters of men who outlive youth and its shadowy triumphs. Her brain was ironic, while her temperament was passionate, and greedy in its pursuit of the food it clamoured for; her brain watched the unceasing chase with almost a bitterness of sarcasm, merging sometimes into a bitterness of pity. In some women there seems at times to be a dual personality, a woman of the blood at odds with a woman of the grey matter. It was so in Lady Sellingworth's case, but for a long time the former woman dominated the latter, whose empire was to come later with white hair and a ravaged face.
At the age of thirty-five, after some years of brilliant and even of despotic widowhood, she married again—Lord Sellingworth.
He was twenty-five years older than she was, ruggedly handsome, huge, lean, self-possessed, very clever, very worldly, and that unusual phenomenon, a genuine atheist. There was no doubt that he had a keen passion for her, one of those passions which sometimes flare up in a man of a strong and impetuous nature, who has lived too much, who is worn out, haunted at times by physical weariness, yet still fiercely determined to keep a tight grip on life and life's few real pleasures, the greatest of which is perhaps the indulgence of love.
Like her first marriage this marriage was apparently a success. Lord Sellingworth's cleverness fascinated his wife's brain, and led her to value the pursuits of the intellect more than she had ever done before. She was proud of his knowledge and wit, proud of being loved by a man of obvious value. After this marriage her house became more than ever the resort of the brilliant men of the day. But though Lord Sellingworth undoubtedly improved his wife's mental capacities, enlarged the horizon of her mind, and gave her new interests, without specially intending it he injured her soul. For he increased her worldliness and infected her with his atheism. She had always been devoted to the world. He continually suggested to her that there was nothing else, nothing beyond. All sense of mysticism had been left out of his nature. What he called "priestcraft" was abhorrent to him. The various religions seemed to him merely different forms of superstition, the assertions of their leaders only varying forms of humbug. He was greedy in searching for food to content the passions of the body, and was restless in pursuit of nutriment for the mind. But not believing in the soul he took no trouble about it.
Lady Sellingworth had this man at her feet. Nevertheless, in a certain way he dominated her. In hard mental power he was much her superior, and her mind became gradually subservient to his in many subtle ways. It was in his day that she developed that noticeable and almost reckless egoism which is summed up by the laconic saying, "after me the deluge." For Lord Sellingworth's atheism was not of the type which leads to active humanitarianism, but of the opposite type which leads to an exquisite selfishness. And he led his wife with him. He taught her the whole art of self-culture, and with it the whole art of self-worship, subtly extending to her mind that which for long had been concerned mainly with the body. They were two of the most selfish and two of the most charming people in London. For they were both thorough bred and naturally kind-hearted, and so there were always showers of crumbs falling from their well-spread table for the benefit of those about them. Their friends had a magnificent time with them and so did their servants. They liked others to be pleased with them and satisfied because of them. For they must live in a warm atmosphere. And nothing makes the atmosphere so cold about a man or woman as the egoism which shows itself in miserliness, or in the unwillingness that others should have a good time.
When Lady Sellingworth was thirty-nine Lord Sellingworth died abruptly. The doctors said that his heart was worn out; others said something different, something less kind.
For the second time Lady Sellingworth was a widow; for the second time she spent the period of mourning in Paris. And when it was over she went for a tour round the world with a small party of friends; Sir Guy Letchworth and his plain, but gay and clever wife, and Roger Brand, a millionaire and a famous Edwardian.
Brand was a bachelor, and had long been a devoted adherent of Lady Sellingworth's, and people, of course, said that he was going to marry her. But they eventually came back from their long tour comfortably disengaged. Brand went back to his enormous home in Park Lane, and Lady Sellingworth settled down in number 18A Berkeley Square.
She was now forty-one. She had arrived at a very difficult period in the life of a beauty. The freshness and bloom of youth had inevitably left her. The adjectives applied to her were changing. The word "lovely" was dropped. Its place was taken by such epithets as "handsome," "splendid looking," "brilliant," "striking," "alluring." People spoke of Lady Sellingworth's "good days"; and said of her, "Isn't she astonishing?" The word "zenith" was occasionally used in reference to her. A verb which began to be mixed up with her a good deal was the verb "to last." It was said of her that she "lasted" wonderfully. Women put the question, "Isn't it miraculous how Adela Sellingworth lasts?"
All this might, perhaps, be called complimentary. But women are not as a rule specially fond of such compliments. When kind friends speak of a woman's "good days" there is an implication that some of her days are bad. Lady Sellingworth knew as well as any woman which compliments are left-handed and which are not. On one occasion soon after she returned to London from her tour round the world a woman friend said to her:
"Adela, you have never looked better than you do now. Do you know what you remind me of?"
The woman was an American. Lady Sellingworth replied carelessly:
"I haven't the slightest idea."
"You remind me of our wonderful Indian summers that come in October. How do you manage it?"
That come in October?
These words struck a chill through Lady Sellingworth. Suddenly she felt the autumn in her. She had been in America: she had known the glory of its Indian summer; she had also known that Indian summer's startling sudden collapse. Winter comes swiftly after those almost unnaturally golden days. And what is there left in winter for a woman who has lived for her beauty since she was sixteen years old? The freedom of a second widowhood would be only chill loneliness in winter. She saw herself like a figure in the distance, sitting over a fire alone. But little warmth would come from that fire. The warmth that was necessary to her came from quite other sources than coal or wood kindled and giving out flames.
Her vanity shuddered. She realized strongly, perhaps, for the first time, that people were just beginning to think of her as a woman inevitably on the wane. She looked into her mirror, stared into it, and tried to consider herself impartially. She was certainly very good-looking. Her tall figure had never been made ugly by fatness. She was not the victim of what is sometimes called "the elderly spread." But although she was slim, considering her great height, she thought that she discerned signs of a thickening tendency. She must take that in time. Her figure must not be allowed to degenerate. And her face?
She was so accustomed to her face, and so accustomed to its being a beautiful face, that it was difficult to her to regard it with cold impartiality. But she tried to; tried to look at it as she might have looked at the face of another woman, of say, a rival beauty.
What age did the face seem to be? If she had seen it passing by in the street what age would she have guessed its owner to be? Something in the thirties; but perhaps in the late thirties? She wasn't quite certain about it. Really it is so difficult to look at yourself quite impartially. And she did not wish to fall into exaggeration, to be hypercritical. She wished to be strictly reasonable, to see herself exactly as she was. The eyes were brilliant, but did they look like young eyes?
No, they didn't. And yet they were full of light. There was nothing faded about them. But somehow at that moment they looked terribly experienced. With a conscious effort she tried to change their expression, to make them look less full of knowledge. But it seemed to her that she failed utterly. No, they were not young eyes; they never could be young eyes. The long accustomed woman of the world was mirrored in them with her many experiences. They were beautiful in their way, but their way had nothing to do with youth. And near the eyes, very near, there were definite traces of maturity. A few, as yet very faint, lines showed; and there were shadows; and there was—she could only call it to herself "a slightly hollow look," which she had never observed in any girl, or, so far as she remembered, in any young woman.