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Chapter IV

So far, they had seen nothing of Rosek at the little house. She wondered if Fiorsen had passed on to him her remark, though if he had, he would surely say he hadn't; she had learned that her husband spoke the truth when convenient, not when it caused him pain. About music, or any art, however, he could be implicitly relied on; and his frankness was appalling when his nerves were ruffled.

But at the first concert she saw Rosek's unwelcome figure on the other side of the gangway, two rows back. He was talking to a young girl, whose face, short and beautifully formed, had the opaque transparency of alabaster. With her round blue eyes fixed on him, and her lips just parted, she had a slightly vacant look. Her laugh, too, was just a little vacant. And yet her features were so beautiful, her hair so smooth and fair, her colouring so pale and fine, her neck so white and round, the poise of her body so perfect that Gyp found it difficult to take her glance away. She had refused her aunt's companionship. It might irritate Fiorsen and affect his playing to see her with "that stiff English creature." She wanted, too, to feel again the sensations of Wiesbaden. There would be a kind of sacred pleasure in knowing that she had helped to perfect sounds which touched the hearts and senses of so many listeners. She had looked forward to this concert so long. And she sat scarcely breathing, abstracted from consciousness of those about her, soft and still, radiating warmth and eagerness.

Fiorsen looked his worst, as ever, when first coming before an audience--cold, furtive, defensive, defiant, half turned away, with those long fingers tightening the screws, touching the strings. It seemed queer to think that only six hours ago she had stolen out of bed from beside him. Wiesbaden! No; this was not like Wiesbaden! And when he played she had not the same emotions. She had heard him now too often, knew too exactly how he produced those sounds; knew that their fire and sweetness and nobility sprang from fingers, ear, brain--not from his soul. Nor was it possible any longer to drift off on those currents of sound into new worlds, to hear bells at dawn, and the dews of evening as they fell, to feel the divinity of wind and sunlight. The romance and ecstasy that at Wiesbaden had soaked her spirit came no more. She was watching for the weak spots, the passages with which he had struggled and she had struggled; she was distracted by memories of petulance, black moods, and sudden caresses. And then she caught his eye. The look was like, yet how unlike, those looks at Wiesbaden. It had the old love-hunger, but had lost the adoration, its spiritual essence. And she thought: 'Is it my fault, or is it only because he has me now to do what he likes with?' It was all another disillusionment, perhaps the greatest yet. But she kindled and flushed at the applause, and lost herself in pleasure at his success. At the interval, she slipped out at once, for her first visit to the artist's room, the mysterious enchantment of a peep behind the scenes. He was coming down from his last recall; and at sight of her his look of bored contempt vanished; lifting her hand, he kissed it. Gyp felt happier than she had since her marriage. Her eyes shone, and she whispered:

"Beautiful!"

He whispered back:

"So! Do you love me, Gyp?"

She nodded. And at that moment she did, or thought so.

Then people began to come; amongst them her old music-master, Monsieur Harmost, grey and mahogany as ever, who, after a "Merveilleux," "Tres fort" or two to Fiorsen, turned his back on him to talk to his old pupil.

So she had married Fiorsen--dear, dear! That was extraordinary, but extraordinary! And what was it like, to be always with him--a little funny--not so? And how was her music? It would be spoiled now. Ah, what a pity! No? She must come to him, then; yes, come again. All the time he patted her arm, as if playing the piano, and his fingers, that had the touch of an angel, felt the firmness of her flesh, as though debating whether she were letting it deteriorate. He seemed really to have missed "his little friend," to be glad at seeing her again; and Gyp, who never could withstand appreciation, smiled at him. More people came. She saw Rosek talking to her husband, and the young alabaster girl standing silent, her lips still a little parted, gazing up at Fiorsen. A perfect figure, though rather short; a dovelike face, whose exquisitely shaped, just-opened lips seemed to be demanding sugar- plums. She could not be more than nineteen. Who was she?

A voice said almost in her ear:

"How do you do, Mrs. Fiorsen? I am fortunate to see you again at last."

She was obliged to turn. If Gustav had given her away, one would never know it from this velvet-masked creature, with his suave watchfulness and ready composure, who talked away so smoothly. What was it that she so disliked in him? Gyp had acute instincts, the natural intelligence deep in certain natures not over intellectual, but whose "feelers" are too delicate to be deceived. And, for something to say, she asked:

"Who is the girl you were talking to, Count Rosek? Her face is so lovely."

He smiled, exactly the smile she had so disliked at Wiesbaden; following his glance, she saw her husband talking to the girl, whose lips at that moment seemed more than ever to ask for sugar-plums.

"A young dancer, Daphne Wing--she will make a name. A dove flying! So you admire her, Madame Gyp?"

Gyp said, smiling:

"She's very pretty--I can imagine her dancing beautifully."

"Will you come one day and see her? She has still to make her debut."

Gyp answered:

"Thank you. I don't know. I love dancing, of course."

"Good! I will arrange it."

And Gyp thought: "No, no! I don't want to have anything to do with you! Why do I not speak the truth? Why didn't I say I hate dancing?"

Just then a bell sounded; people began hurrying away. The girl came up to Rosek.

"Miss Daphne Wing--Mrs. Fiorsen."

Gyp put out her hand with a smile--this girl was certainly a picture. Miss Daphne Wing smiled, too, and said, with the intonation of those who have been carefully corrected of an accent:

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, how beautifully your husband plays--doesn't he?"

It was not merely the careful speech but something lacking when the perfect mouth moved--spirit, sensibility, who could say? And Gyp felt sorry, as at blight on a perfect flower. With a friendly nod, she turned away to Fiorsen, who was waiting to go up on to the platform. Was it at her or at the girl he had been looking? She smiled at him and slid away. In the corridor, Rosek, in attendance, said:

"Why not this evening? Come with Gustav to my rooms. She shall dance to us, and we will all have supper. She admires you, Madame Gyp. She will love to dance for you."

Gyp longed for the simple brutality to say: "I don't want to come. I don't like you!" But all she could manage was:

"Thank you. I--I will ask Gustav."

Once in her seat again, she rubbed the cheek that his breath had touched. A girl was singing now--one of those faces that Gyp always admired, reddish-gold hair, blue eyes--the very antithesis of herself--and the song was "The Bens of Jura," that strange outpouring from a heart broken by love:

      "And my heart reft of its own sun--"

Tears rose in her eyes, and the shiver of some very deep response passed through her. What was it Dad had said: "Love catches you, and you're gone!"

She, who was the result of love like that, did not want to love!

The girl finished singing. There was little applause. Yet she had sung beautifully; and what more wonderful song in the world? Was it too tragic, too painful, too strange--not "pretty" enough? Gyp felt sorry for her. Her head ached now. She would so have liked to slip away when it was all over. But she had not the needful rudeness. She would have to go through with this evening at Rosek's and be gay. And why not? Why this shadow over everything? But it was no new sensation, that of having entered by her own free will on a life which, for all effort, would not give her a feeling of anchorage or home. Of her own accord she had stepped into the cage!

On the way to Rosek's rooms, she disguised from Fiorsen her headache and depression. He was in one of his boy-out-of-school moods, elated by applause, mimicking her old master, the idolatries of his worshippers, Rosek, the girl dancer's upturned expectant lips. And he slipped his arm round Gyp in the cab, crushing her against him and sniffing at her cheek as if she had been a flower.

Rosek had the first floor of an old-time mansion in Russell Square. The smell of incense or some kindred perfume was at once about one; and, on the walls of the dark hall, electric light burned, in jars of alabaster picked up in the East. The whole place was in fact a sanctum of the collector's spirit. Its owner had a passion for black--the walls, divans, picture-frames, even some of the tilings were black, with glimmerings of gold, ivory, and moonlight. On a round black table there stood a golden bowl filled with moonlight- coloured velvety "palm" and "honesty"; from a black wall gleamed out the ivory mask of a faun's face; from a dark niche the little silver figure of a dancing girl. It was beautiful, but deathly. And Gyp, though excited always by anything new, keenly alive to every sort of beauty, felt a longing for air and sunlight. It was a relief to get close to one of the black-curtained windows, and see the westering sun shower warmth and light on the trees of the Square gardens. She was introduced to a Mr. and Mrs. Gallant, a dark-faced, cynical-looking man with clever, malicious eyes, and one of those large cornucopias of women with avid blue stares. The little dancer was not there. She had "gone to put on nothing," Rosek informed them.

He took Gyp the round of his treasures, scarabs, Rops drawings, death-masks, Chinese pictures, and queer old flutes, with an air of displaying them for the first time to one who could truly appreciate. And she kept thinking of that saying, "Une technique merveilleuse." Her instinct apprehended the refined bone- viciousness of this place, where nothing, save perhaps taste, would be sacred. It was her first glimpse into that gilt-edged bohemia, whence the generosities, the elans, the struggles of the true bohemia are as rigidly excluded as from the spheres where bishops moved. But she talked and smiled; and no one could have told that her nerves were crisping as if at contact with a corpse. While showing her those alabaster jars, her host had laid his hand softly on her wrist, and in taking it away, he let his fingers, with a touch softer than a kitten's paw, ripple over the skin, then put them to his lips. Ah, there it was--the--the technique! A desperate desire to laugh seized her. And he saw it--oh, yes, he saw it! He gave her one look, passed that same hand over his smooth face, and--behold!--it showed as before, unmortified, unconscious. A deadly little man!

When they returned to the salon, as it was called, Miss Daphne Wing in a black kimono, whence her face and arms emerged more like alabaster than ever, was sitting on a divan beside Fiorsen. She rose at once and came across to Gyp.

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen"--why did everything she said begin with "Oh"-- "isn't this room lovely? It's perfect for dancing. I only brought cream, and flame-colour; they go so beautifully with black."

She threw back her kimono for Gyp to inspect her dress--a girdled cream-coloured shift, which made her ivory arms and neck seem more than ever dazzling; and her mouth opened, as if for a sugar-plum of praise. Then, lowering her voice, she murmured:

"Do you know, I'm rather afraid of Count Rosek."

"Why?"

"Oh, I don't know; he's so critical, and smooth, and he comes up so quietly. I do think your husband plays wonderfully. Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, you are beautiful, aren't you?" Gyp laughed. "What would you like me to dance first? A waltz of Chopin's?"

"Yes; I love Chopin."

"Then I shall. I shall dance exactly what you like, because I do admire you, and I'm sure you're awfully sweet. Oh, yes; you are; I can see that! And I think your husband's awfully in love with you. I should be, if I were a man. You know, I've been studying five years, and I haven't come out yet. But now Count Rosek's going to back me, I expect it'll be very soon. Will you come to my first night? Mother says I've got to be awfully careful. She only let me come this evening because you were going to be here. Would you like me to begin?"

She slid across to Rosek, and Gyp heard her say:

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen wants me to begin; a Chopin waltz, please. The one that goes like this."

Rosek went to the piano, the little dancer to the centre of the room. Gyp sat down beside Fiorsen.

Rosek began playing, his eyes fixed on the girl, and his mouth loosened from compression in a sweetish smile. Miss Daphne Wing was standing with her finger-tips joined at her breast--a perfect statue of ebony and palest wax. Suddenly she flung away the black kimono. A thrill swept Gyp from head to foot. She could dance-- that common little girl! Every movement of her round, sinuous body, of her bare limbs, had the ecstasy of natural genius, controlled by the quivering balance of a really fine training. "A dove flying!" So she was. Her face had lost its vacancy, or rather its vacancy had become divine, having that look--not lost but gone before--which dance demands. Yes, she was a gem, even if she had a common soul. Tears came up in Gyp's eyes. It was so lovely--like a dove, when it flings itself up in the wind, breasting on up, up--wings bent back, poised. Abandonment, freedom--chastened, shaped, controlled!

When, after the dance, the girl came and sat down beside her, she squeezed her hot little hand, but the caress was for her art, not for this moist little person with the lips avid of sugar-plums.

"Oh, did you like it? I'm so glad. Shall I go and put on my flame-colour, now?"

The moment she was gone, comment broke out freely. The dark and cynical Gallant thought the girl's dancing like a certain Napierkowska whom he had seen in Moscow, without her fire--the touch of passion would have to be supplied. She wanted love! Love! And suddenly Gyp was back in the concert-hall, listening to that other girl singing the song of a broken heart.

      "Thy kiss, dear love--
        Like watercress gathered fresh from cool streams."

Love! in this abode--of fauns' heads, deep cushions, silver dancing girls! Love! She had a sudden sense of deep abasement. What was she, herself, but just a feast for a man's senses? Her home, what but a place like this? Miss Daphne Wing was back again. Gyp looked at her husband's face while she was dancing. His lips! How was it that she could see that disturbance in him, and not care? If she had really loved him, to see his lips like that would have hurt her, but she might have understood perhaps, and forgiven. Now she neither quite understood nor quite forgave.

And that night, when he kissed her, she murmured:

"Would you rather it were that girl--not me?"

"That girl! I could swallow her at a draft. But you, my Gyp--I want to drink for ever!"

Was that true? If she had loved him--how good to hear!

John Galsworthy