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Chapter VII

They who have known the doldrums--how the sails of the listless ship droop, and the hope of escape dies day by day--may understand something of the life Gyp began living now. On a ship, even doldrums come to an end. But a young woman of twenty-three, who has made a mistake in her marriage, and has only herself to blame, looks forward to no end, unless she be the new woman, which Gyp was not. Having settled that she would not admit failure, and clenched her teeth on the knowledge that she was going to have a child, she went on keeping things sealed up even from Winton. To Fiorsen, she managed to behave as usual, making material life easy and pleasant for him--playing for him, feeding him well, indulging his amorousness. It did not matter; she loved no one else. To count herself a martyr would be silly! Her malaise, successfully concealed, was deeper--of the spirit; the subtle utter discouragement of one who has done for herself, clipped her own wings.

As for Rosek, she treated him as if that little scene had never taken place. The idea of appealing to her husband in a difficulty was gone for ever since the night he came home drunk. And she did not dare to tell her father. He would--what would he not do? But she was always on her guard, knowing that Rosek would not forgive her for that dart of ridicule. His insinuations about Daphne Wing she put out of mind, as she never could have if she had loved Fiorsen. She set up for herself the idol of pride, and became its faithful worshipper. Only Winton, and perhaps Betty, could tell she was not happy. Fiorsen's debts and irresponsibility about money did not worry her much, for she paid everything in the house-- rent, wages, food, and her own dress--and had so far made ends meet; and what he did outside the house she could not help.

So the summer wore on till concerts were over, and it was supposed to be impossible to stay in London. But she dreaded going away. She wanted to be left quiet in her little house. It was this which made her tell Fiorsen her secret one night, after the theatre. He had begun to talk of a holiday, sitting on the edge of the settee, with a glass in his hand and a cigarette between his lips. His cheeks, white and hollow from too much London, went a curious dull red; he got up and stared at her. Gyp made an involuntary movement with her hands.

"You needn't look at me. It's true."

He put down glass and cigarette and began to tramp the room. And Gyp stood with a little smile, not even watching him. Suddenly he clasped his forehead and broke out:

"But I don't want it; I won't have it--spoiling my Gyp." Then quickly going up to her with a scared face: "I don't want it; I'm afraid of it. Don't have it."

In Gyp's heart came the same feeling as when he had stood there drunk, against the wall--compassion, rather than contempt of his childishness. And taking his hand she said:

"All right, Gustav. It shan't bother you. When I begin to get ugly, I'll go away with Betty till it's over."

He went down on his knees.

"Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no! My beautiful Gyp!"

And Gyp sat like a sphinx, for fear that she too might let slip those words: "Oh, no!"

The windows were open, and moths had come in. One had settled on the hydrangea plant that filled the hearth. Gyp looked at the soft, white, downy thing, whose head was like a tiny owl's against the bluish petals; looked at the purple-grey tiles down there, and the stuff of her own frock, in the shaded gleam of the lamps. And all her love of beauty rebelled, called up by his: "Oh, no!" She would be unsightly soon, and suffer pain, and perhaps die of it, as her own mother had died. She set her teeth, listening to that grown-up child revolting against what he had brought on her, and touched his hand, protectingly.

It interested, even amused her this night and next day to watch his treatment of the disconcerting piece of knowledge. For when at last he realized that he had to acquiesce in nature, he began, as she had known he would, to jib away from all reminder of it. She was careful not to suggest that he should go away without her, knowing his perversity. But when he proposed that she should come to Ostend with him and Rosek, she answered, after seeming deliberation, that she thought she had better not--she would rather stay at home quite quietly; but he must certainly go and get a good holiday.

When he was really gone, peace fell on Gyp--peace such as one feels, having no longer the tight, banded sensations of a fever. To be without that strange, disorderly presence in the house! When she woke in the sultry silence of the next morning, she utterly failed to persuade herself that she was missing him, missing the sound of his breathing, the sight of his rumpled hair on the pillow, the outline of his long form under the sheet. Her heart was devoid of any emptiness or ache; she only felt how pleasant and cool and tranquil it was to lie there alone. She stayed quite late in bed. It was delicious, with window and door wide open and the puppies running in and out, to lie and doze off, or listen to the pigeons' cooing, and the distant sounds of traffic, and feel in command once more of herself, body and soul. Now that she had told Fiorsen, she had no longer any desire to keep her condition secret. Feeling that it would hurt her father to learn of it from anyone but herself, she telephoned to tell him she was alone, and asked if she might come to Bury Street and dine with him.

Winton had not gone away, because, between Goodwood and Doncaster there was no racing that he cared for; one could not ride at this time of year, so might just as well be in London. In fact, August was perhaps the pleasantest of all months in town; the club was empty, and he could sit there without some old bore buttonholing him. Little Boncarte, the fencing-master, was always free for a bout--Winton had long learned to make his left hand what his right hand used to be; the Turkish baths in Jermyn Street were nearly void of their fat clients; he could saunter over to Covent Garden, buy a melon, and carry it home without meeting any but the most inferior duchesses in Piccadilly; on warm nights he could stroll the streets or the parks, smoking his cigar, his hat pushed back to cool his forehead, thinking vague thoughts, recalling vague memories. He received the news that his daughter was alone and free from that fellow with something like delight. Where should he dine her? Mrs. Markey was on her holiday. Why not Blafard's? Quiet---small rooms--not too respectable--quite fairly cool--good things to eat. Yes; Blafard's!

When she drove up, he was ready in the doorway, his thin brown face with its keen, half-veiled eyes the picture of composure, but feeling at heart like a schoolboy off for an exeat. How pretty she was looking--though pale from London--her dark eyes, her smile! And stepping quickly to the cab, he said:

"No; I'm getting in--dining at Blafard's, Gyp--a night out!"

It gave him a thrill to walk into that little restaurant behind her; and passing through its low red rooms to mark the diners turn and stare with envy--taking him, perhaps, for a different sort of relation. He settled her into a far corner by a window, where she could see the people and be seen. He wanted her to be seen; while he himself turned to the world only the short back wings of his glossy greyish hair. He had no notion of being disturbed in his enjoyment by the sight of Hivites and Amorites, or whatever they might be, lapping champagne and shining in the heat. For, secretly, he was living not only in this evening but in a certain evening of the past, when, in this very corner, he had dined with her mother. His face then had borne the brunt; hers had been turned away from inquisition. But he did not speak of this to Gyp.

She drank two full glasses of wine before she told him her news. He took it with the expression she knew so well--tightening his lips and staring a little upward. Then he said quietly:

"When?"

"November, Dad."

A shudder, not to be repressed, went through Winton. The very month! And stretching his hand across the table, he took hers and pressed it tightly.

"It'll be all right, child; I'm glad."

Clinging to his hand, Gyp murmured:

"I'm not; but I won't be frightened--I promise."

Each was trying to deceive the other; and neither was deceived. But both were good at putting a calm face on things. Besides, this was "a night out"--for her, the first since her marriage--of freedom, of feeling somewhat as she used to feel with all before her in a ballroom of a world; for him, the unfettered resumption of a dear companionship and a stealthy revel in the past. After his, "So he's gone to Ostend?" and his thought: 'He would!' they never alluded to Fiorsen, but talked of horses, of Mildenham--it seemed to Gyp years since she had been there--of her childish escapades. And, looking at him quizzically, she asked:

"What were you like as a boy, Dad? Aunt Rosamund says that you used to get into white rages when nobody could go near you. She says you were always climbing trees, or shooting with a catapult, or stalking things, and that you never told anybody what you didn't want to tell them. And weren't you desperately in love with your nursery-governess?"

Winton smiled. How long since he had thought of that first affection. Miss Huntley! Helena Huntley--with crinkly brown hair, and blue eyes, and fascinating frocks! He remembered with what grief and sense of bitter injury he heard in his first school- holidays that she was gone. And he said:

"Yes, yes. By Jove, what a time ago! And my father's going off to India. He never came back; killed in that first Afghan business. When I was fond, I was fond. But I didn't feel things like you-- not half so sensitive. No; not a bit like you, Gyp."

And watching her unconscious eyes following the movements of the waiters, never staring, but taking in all that was going on, he thought: 'Prettiest creature in the world!'

"Well," he said: "What would you like to do now--drop into a theatre or music-hall, or what?"

Gyp shook her head. It was so hot. Could they just drive, and then perhaps sit in the park? That would be lovely. It had gone dark, and the air was not quite so exhausted--a little freshness of scent from the trees in the squares and parks mingled with the fumes of dung and petrol. Winton gave the same order he had given that long past evening: "Knightsbridge Gate." It had been a hansom then, and the night air had blown in their faces, instead of as now in these infernal taxis, down the back of one's neck. They left the cab and crossed the Row; passed the end of the Long Water, up among the trees. There, on two chairs covered by Winton's coat, they sat side by side. No dew was falling yet; the heavy leaves hung unstirring; the air was warm, sweet-smelling. Blotted against trees or on the grass were other couples darker than the darkness, very silent. All was quiet save for the never-ceasing hum of traffic. From Winton's lips, the cigar smoke wreathed and curled. He was dreaming. The cigar between his teeth trembled; a long ash fell. Mechanically he raised his hand to brush it off--his right hand! A voice said softly in his ear:

"Isn't it delicious, and warm, and gloomy black?"

Winton shivered, as one shivers recalled from dreams; and, carefully brushing off the ash with his left hand, he answered:

"Yes; very jolly. My cigar's out, though, and I haven't a match."

Gyp's hand slipped through his arm.

"All these people in love, and so dark and whispery--it makes a sort of strangeness in the air. Don't you feel it?"

Winton murmured:

"No moon to-night!"

Again they were silent. A puff of wind ruffled the leaves; the night, for a moment, seemed full of whispering; then the sound of a giggle jarred out and a girl's voice:

"Oh! Chuck it, 'Arry."

Gyp rose.

"I feel the dew now, Dad. Can we walk on?"

They went along paths, so as not to wet her feet in her thin shoes. And they talked. The spell was over; the night again but a common London night; the park a space of parching grass and gravel; the people just clerks and shop-girls walking out.

John Galsworthy