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Chapter VI

Looking at Fiorsen, next morning, still sunk in heavy sleep, her first thought was: 'He looks exactly the same.' And, suddenly, it seemed queer to her that she had not been, and still was not, disgusted. It was all too deep for disgust, and somehow, too natural. She took this new revelation of his unbridled ways without resentment. Besides, she had long known of this taste of his--one cannot drink brandy and not betray it.

She stole noiselessly from bed, noiselessly gathered up his boots and clothes all tumbled on to a chair, and took them forth to the dressing-room. There she held the garments up to the early light and brushed them, then, noiseless, stole back to bed, with needle and thread and her lace. No one must know; not even he must know. For the moment she had forgotten that other thing so terrifically important. It came back to her, very sudden, very sickening. So long as she could keep it secret, no one should know that either-- he least of all.

The morning passed as usual; but when she came to the music-room at noon, she found that he had gone out. She was just sitting down to lunch when Betty, with the broad smile which prevailed on her moon- face when someone had tickled the right side of her, announced:

"Count Rosek."

Gyp got up, startled.

"Say that Mr. Fiorsen is not in, Betty. But--but ask if he will come and have some lunch, and get a bottle of hock up, please."

In the few seconds before her visitor appeared, Gyp experienced the sort of excitement one has entering a field where a bull is grazing.

But not even his severest critics could accuse Rosek of want of tact. He had hoped to see Gustav, but it was charming of her to give him lunch--a great delight!

He seemed to have put off, as if for her benefit, his corsets, and some, at all events, of his offending looks--seemed simpler, more genuine. His face was slightly browned, as if, for once, he had been taking his due of air and sun. He talked without cynical submeanings, was most appreciative of her "charming little house," and even showed some warmth in his sayings about art and music. Gyp had never disliked him less. But her instincts were on the watch. After lunch, they went out across the garden to see the music-room, and he sat down at the piano. He had the deep, caressing touch that lies in fingers of steel worked by a real passion for tone. Gyp sat on the divan and listened. She was out of his sight there; and she looked at him, wondering. He was playing Schumann's Child Music. How could one who produced such fresh idyllic sounds have sinister intentions? And presently she said:

"Count Rosek!"

"Madame?"

"Will you please tell me why you sent Daphne Wing here yesterday?"

"I send her?"

"Yes."

But instantly she regretted having asked that question. He had swung round on the music-stool and was looking full at her. His face had changed.

"Since you ask me, I thought you should know that Gustav is seeing a good deal of her."

He had given the exact answer she had divined.

"Do you think I mind that?"

A flicker passed over his face. He got up and said quietly:

"I am glad that you do not."

"Why glad?"

She, too, had risen. Though he was little taller than herself, she was conscious suddenly of how thick and steely he was beneath his dapper garments, and of a kind of snaky will-power in his face. Her heart beat faster.

He came toward her and said:

"I am glad you understand that it is over with Gustav--finished--" He stopped dead, seeing at once that he had gone wrong, and not knowing quite where. Gyp had simply smiled. A flush coloured his cheeks, and he said:

"He is a volcano soon extinguished. You see, I know him. Better you should know him, too. Why do you smile?"

"Why is it better I should know?"

He went very pale, and said between his teeth:

"That you may not waste your time; there is love waiting for you."

But Gyp still smiled.

"Was it from love of me that you made him drunk last night?"

His lips quivered.

"Gyp!" Gyp turned. But with the merest change of front, he had put himself between her and the door. "You never loved him. That is my excuse. You have given him too much already--more than he is worth. Ah! God! I am tortured by you; I am possessed."

He had gone white through and through like a flame, save for his smouldering eyes. She was afraid, and because she was afraid, she stood her ground. Should she make a dash for the door that opened into the little lane and escape that way? Then suddenly he seemed to regain control; but she could feel that he was trying to break through her defences by the sheer intensity of his gaze--by a kind of mesmerism, knowing that he had frightened her.

Under the strain of this duel of eyes, she felt herself beginning to sway, to get dizzy. Whether or no he really moved his feet, he seemed coming closer inch by inch. She had a horrible feeling--as if his arms were already round her.

With an effort, she wrenched her gaze from his, and suddenly his crisp hair caught her eyes. Surely--surely it was curled with tongs! A kind of spasm of amusement was set free in her heart, and, almost inaudibly, the words escaped her lips: "Une technique merveilleuse!" His eyes wavered; he uttered a little gasp; his lips fell apart. Gyp walked across the room and put her hand on the bell. She had lost her fear. Without a word, he turned, and went out into the garden. She watched him cross the lawn. Gone! She had beaten him by the one thing not even violent passions can withstand--ridicule, almost unconscious ridicule. Then she gave way and pulled the bell with nervous violence. The sight of the maid, in her trim black dress and spotless white apron, coming from the house completed her restoration. Was it possible that she had really been frightened, nearly failing in that encounter, nearly dominated by that man--in her own house, with her own maids down there at hand? And she said quietly:

"I want the puppies, please."

"Yes, ma'am."

Over the garden, the day brooded in the first-gathered warmth of summer. Mid-June of a fine year. The air was drowsy with hum and scent.

And Gyp, sitting in the shade, while the puppies rolled and snapped, searched her little world for comfort and some sense of safety, and could not find it; as if there were all round her a hot heavy fog in which things lurked, and where she kept erect only by pride and the will not to cry out that she was struggling and afraid.

Fiorsen, leaving his house that morning, had walked till he saw a taxi-cab. Leaning back therein, with hat thrown off, he caused himself to be driven rapidly, at random. This was one of his habits when his mind was not at ease--an expensive idiosyncrasy, ill-afforded by a pocket that had holes. The swift motion and titillation by the perpetual close shaving of other vehicles were sedative to him. He needed sedatives this morning. To wake in his own bed without the least remembering how he had got there was no more new to him than to many another man of twenty-eight, but it was new since his marriage. If he had remembered even less he would have been more at ease. But he could just recollect standing in the dark drawing-room, seeing and touching a ghostly Gyp quite close to him. And, somehow, he was afraid. And when he was afraid--like most people--he was at his worst.

If she had been like all the other women in whose company he had eaten passion-fruit, he would not have felt this carking humiliation. If she had been like them, at the pace he had been going since he obtained possession of her, he would already have "finished," as Rosek had said. And he knew well enough that he had not "finished." He might get drunk, might be loose-ended in every way, but Gyp was hooked into his senses, and, for all that he could not get near her, into his spirit. Her very passivity was her strength, the secret of her magnetism. In her, he felt some of that mysterious sentiency of nature, which, even in yielding to man's fevers, lies apart with a faint smile--the uncapturable smile of the woods and fields by day or night, that makes one ache with longing. He felt in her some of the unfathomable, soft, vibrating indifference of the flowers and trees and streams, of the rocks, of birdsongs, and the eternal hum, under sunshine or star-shine. Her dark, half-smiling eyes enticed him, inspired an unquenchable thirst. And his was one of those natures which, encountering spiritual difficulty, at once jib off, seek anodynes, try to bandage wounded egoism with excess--a spoiled child, with the desperations and the inherent pathos, the something repulsive and the something lovable that belong to all such. Having wished for this moon, and got her, he now did not know what to do with her, kept taking great bites at her, with a feeling all the time of getting further and further away. At moments, he desired revenge for his failure to get near her spiritually, and was ready to commit follies of all kinds. He was only kept in control at all by his work. For he did work hard; though, even there, something was lacking. He had all the qualities of making good, except the moral backbone holding them together, which alone could give him his rightful--as he thought--pre-eminence. It often surprised and vexed him to find that some contemporary held higher rank than himself.

Threading the streets in his cab, he mused:

"Did I do anything that really shocked her last night? Why didn't I wait for her this morning and find out the worst?" And his lips twisted awry--for to find out the worst was not his forte. Meditation, seeking as usual a scapegoat, lighted on Rosek. Like most egoists addicted to women, he had not many friends. Rosek was the most constant. But even for him, Fiorsen had at once the contempt and fear that a man naturally uncontrolled and yet of greater scope has for one of less talent but stronger will-power. He had for him, too, the feeling of a wayward child for its nurse, mixed with the need that an artist, especially an executant artist, feels for a connoisseur and patron with well-lined pockets.

'Curse Paul!' he thought. 'He must know--he does know--that brandy of his goes down like water. Trust him, he saw I was getting silly! He had some game on. Where did I go after? How did I get home?' And again: 'Did I hurt Gyp?' If the servants had seen-- that would be the worst; that would upset her fearfully! And he laughed. Then he had a fresh access of fear. He didn't know her, never knew what she was thinking or feeling, never knew anything about her. And he thought angrily: 'That's not fair! I don't hide myself from her. I am as free as nature; I let her see everything. What did I do? That maid looked very queerly at me this morning!' And suddenly he said to the driver: "Bury Street, St. James's." He could find out, at all events, whether Gyp had been to her father's. The thought of Winton ever afflicted him; and he changed his mind several times before the cab reached that little street, but so swiftly that he had not time to alter his instructions to the driver. A light sweat broke out on his forehead while he was waiting for the door to be opened.

"Mrs. Fiorsen here?"

"No, sir."

"Not been here this morning?"

"No, sir."

He shrugged away the thought that he ought to give some explanation of his question, and got into the cab again, telling the man to drive to Curzon Street. If she had not been to "that Aunt Rosamund" either it would be all right. She had not. There was no one else she would go to. And, with a sigh of relief, he began to feel hungry, having had no breakfast. He would go to Rosek's, borrow the money to pay his cab, and lunch there. But Rosek was not in. He would have to go home to get the cab paid. The driver seemed to eye him queerly now, as though conceiving doubts about the fare.

Going in under the trellis, Fiorsen passed a man coming out, who held in his hand a long envelope and eyed him askance.

Gyp, who was sitting at her bureau, seemed to be adding up the counterfoils in her cheque-book. She did not turn round, and Fiorsen paused. How was she going to receive him?

"Is there any lunch?" he said.

She reached out and rang the bell. He felt sorry for himself. He had been quite ready to take her in his arms and say: "Forgive me, little Gyp; I'm sorry!"

Betty answered the bell.

"Please bring up some lunch for Mr. Fiorsen."

He heard the stout woman sniff as she went out. She was a part of his ostracism. And, with sudden rage, he said:

"What do you want for a husband--a bourgeois who would die if he missed his lunch?"

Gyp turned round to him and held out her cheque-book.

"I don't in the least mind about meals; but I do about this." He read on the counterfoil:

"Messrs. Travers & Sanborn, Tailors, Account rendered: L54 35s. 7d." "Are there many of these, Gustav?"

Fiorsen had turned the peculiar white that marked deep injury to his sell-esteem. He said violently:

"Well, what of that? A bill! Did you pay it? You have no business to pay my bills."

"The man said if it wasn't paid this time, he'd sue you." Her lips quivered. "I think owing money is horrible. It's undignified. Are there many others? Please tell me!"

"I shall not tell you. What is it to you?"

"It is a lot to me. I have to keep this house and pay the maids and everything, and I want to know how I stand. I am not going to make debts. That's hateful."

Her face had a hardness that he did not know. He perceived dimly that she was different from the Gyp of this hour yesterday--the last time when, in possession of his senses, he had seen or spoken to her. The novelty of her revolt stirred him in strange ways, wounded his self-conceit, inspired a curious fear, and yet excited his senses. He came up to her, said softly:

"Money! Curse money! Kiss me!" With a certain amazement at the sheer distaste in her face, he heard her say:

"It's childish to curse money. I will spend all the income I have; but I will not spend more, and I will not ask Dad."

He flung himself down in a chair.

"Ho! Ho! Virtue!"

"No--pride."

He said gloomily:

"So you don't believe in me. You don't believe I can earn as much as I want--more than you have--any time? You never have believed in me."

"I think you earn now as much as you are ever likely to earn."

"That is what you think! I don't want money--your money! I can live on nothing, any time. I have done it--often."

"Hssh!"

He looked round and saw the maid in the doorway.

"Please, sir, the driver says can he have his fare, or do you want him again? Twelve shillings."

Fiorsen stared at her a moment in the way that--as the maid often said--made you feel like a silly.

"No. Pay him."

The girl glanced at Gyp, answered: "Yes, sir," and went out.

Fiorsen laughed; he laughed, holding his sides. It was droll coming on the top of his assertion, too droll! And, looking up at her, he said:

"That was good, wasn't it, Gyp?"

But her face had not abated its gravity; and, knowing that she was even more easily tickled by the incongruous than himself, he felt again that catch of fear. Something was different. Yes; something was really different.

"Did I hurt you last night?"

She shrugged her shoulders and went to the window. He looked at her darkly, jumped up, and swung out past her into the garden. And, almost at once, the sound of his violin, furiously played in the music-room, came across the lawn.

Gyp listened with a bitter smile. Money, too! But what did it matter? She could not get out of what she had done. She could never get out. Tonight he would kiss her; and she would pretend it was all right. And so it would go on and on! Well, it was her own fault. Taking twelve shillings from her purse, she put them aside on the bureau to give the maid. And suddenly she thought: 'Perhaps he'll get tired of me. If only he would get tired!' That was a long way the furthest she had yet gone.

John Galsworthy