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Chapter VIII

Fiorsen's letters were the source of one long smile to Gyp. He missed her horribly; if only she were there!--and so forth--blended in the queerest way with the impression that he was enjoying himself uncommonly. There were requests for money, and careful omission of any real account of what he was doing. Out of a balance running rather low, she sent him remittances; this was her holiday, too, and she could afford to pay for it. She even sought out a shop where she could sell jewelry, and, with a certain malicious joy, forwarded him the proceeds. It would give him and herself another week.

One night she went with Winton to the Octagon, where Daphne Wing was still performing. Remembering the girl's squeaks of rapture at her garden, she wrote next day, asking her to lunch and spend a lazy afternoon under the trees.

The little dancer came with avidity. She was pale, and droopy from the heat, but happily dressed in Liberty silk, with a plain turn- down straw hat. They lunched off sweetbreads, ices, and fruit, and then, with coffee, cigarettes, and plenty of sugar-plums, settled down in the deepest shade of the garden, Gyp in a low wicker chair, Daphne Wing on cushions and the grass. Once past the exclamatory stage, she seemed a great talker, laying bare her little soul with perfect liberality. And Gyp--excellent listener--enjoyed it, as one enjoys all confidential revelations of existences very different from one's own, especially when regarded as a superior being.

"Of course I don't mean to stay at home any longer than I can help; only it's no good going out into life"--this phrase she often used-- "till you know where you are. In my profession, one has to be so careful. Of course, people think it's worse than it is; father gets fits sometimes. But you know, Mrs. Fiorsen, home's awful. We have mutton--you know what mutton is--it's really awful in your bedroom in hot weather. And there's nowhere to practise. What I should like would be a studio. It would be lovely, somewhere down by the river, or up here near you. That would be lovely. You know, I'm putting by. As soon as ever I have two hundred pounds, I shall skip. What I think would be perfectly lovely would be to inspire painters and musicians. I don't want to be just a common 'turn'--ballet business year after year, and that; I want to be something rather special. But mother's so silly about me; she thinks I oughtn't to take any risks at all. I shall never get on that way. It is so nice to talk to you, Mrs. Fiorsen, because you're young enough to know what I feel; and I'm sure you'd never be shocked at anything. You see, about men: Ought one to marry, or ought one to take a lover? They say you can't be a perfect artist till you've felt passion. But, then, if you marry, that means mutton over again, and perhaps babies, and perhaps the wrong man after all. Ugh! But then, on the other hand, I don't want to be raffish. I hate raffish people--I simply hate them. What do you think? It's awfully difficult, isn't it?"

Gyp, perfectly grave, answered:

"That sort of thing settles itself. I shouldn't bother beforehand."

Miss Daphne Wing buried her perfect chin deeper in her hands, and said meditatively:

"Yes; I rather thought that, too; of course I could do either now. But, you see, I really don't care for men who are not distinguished. I'm sure I shall only fall in love with a really distinguished man. That's what you did--isn't it?--so you must understand. I think Mr. Fiorsen is wonderfully distinguished."

Sunlight, piercing the shade, suddenly fell warm on Gyp's neck where her blouse ceased, and fortunately stilled the medley of emotion and laughter a little lower down. She continued to look gravely at Daphne Wing, who resumed:

"Of course, Mother would have fits if I asked her such a question, and I don't know what Father would do. Only it is important, isn't it? One may go all wrong from the start; and I do really want to get on. I simply adore my work. I don't mean to let love stand in its way; I want to make it help, you know. Count Rosek says my dancing lacks passion. I wish you'd tell me if you think it does. I should believe you."

Gyp shook her head.

"I'm not a judge."

Daphne Wing looked up reproachfully.

"Oh, I'm sure you are! If I were a man, I should be passionately in love with you. I've got a new dance where I'm supposed to be a nymph pursued by a faun; it's so difficult to feel like a nymph when you know it's only the ballet-master. Do you think I ought to put passion into that? You see, I'm supposed to be flying all the time; but it would be much more subtle, wouldn't it, if I could give the impression that I wanted to be caught. Don't you think so?"

Gyp said suddenly:

"Yes, I think it would do you good to be in love."

Miss Daphne's mouth fell a little open; her eyes grew round. She said:

"You frightened me when you said that. You looked so different-- so--intense."

A flame indeed had leaped up in Gyp. This fluffy, flabby talk of love set her instincts in revolt. She did not want to love; she had failed to fall in love. But, whatever love was like, it did not bear talking about. How was it that this little suburban girl, when she once got on her toes, could twirl one's emotions as she did?

"D'you know what I should simply revel in?" Daphne Wing went on: "To dance to you here in the garden some night. It must be wonderful to dance out of doors; and the grass is nice and hard now. Only, I suppose it would shock the servants. Do they look out this way?" Gyp shook her head. "I could dance over there in front of the drawing-room window. Only it would have to be moonlight. I could come any Sunday. I've got a dance where I'm supposed to be a lotus flower--that would do splendidly. And there's my real moonlight dance that goes to Chopin. I could bring my dresses, and change in the music-room, couldn't I?" She wriggled up, and sat cross-legged, gazing at Gyp, and clasping her hands. "Oh, may I?"

Her excitement infected Gyp. A desire to give pleasure, the queerness of the notion, and her real love of seeing this girl dance, made her say:

"Yes; next Sunday."

Daphne Wing got up, made a rush, and kissed her. Her mouth was soft, and she smelled of orange blossom; but Gyp recoiled a little-- she hated promiscuous kisses. Somewhat abashed, Miss Daphne hung her head, and said:

"You did look so lovely; I couldn't help it, really."

And Gyp gave her hand the squeeze of compunction.

They went indoors, to try over the music of the two dances; and soon after Daphne Wing departed, full of sugar-plums and hope.

She arrived punctually at eight o'clock next Sunday, carrying an exiguous green linen bag, which contained her dresses. She was subdued, and, now that it had come to the point, evidently a little scared. Lobster salad, hock, and peaches restored her courage. She ate heartily. It did not apparently matter to her whether she danced full or empty; but she would not smoke.

"It's bad for the--" She checked herself.

When they had finished supper, Gyp shut the dogs into the back premises; she had visions of their rending Miss Wing's draperies, or calves. Then they went into the drawing-room, not lighting up, that they might tell when the moonlight was strong enough outside. Though it was the last night of August, the heat was as great as ever--a deep, unstirring warmth; the climbing moon shot as yet but a thin shaft here and there through the heavy foliage. They talked in low voices, unconsciously playing up to the nature of the escapade. As the moon drew up, they stole out across the garden to the music-room. Gyp lighted the candles.

"Can you manage?"

Miss Daphne had already shed half her garments.

"Oh, I'm so excited, Mrs. Fiorsen! I do hope I shall dance well."

Gyp stole back to the house; it being Sunday evening, the servants had been easily disposed of. She sat down at the piano, turning her eyes toward the garden. A blurred white shape flitted suddenly across the darkness at the far end and became motionless, as it might be a white-flowering bush under the trees. Miss Daphne had come out, and was waiting for the moon. Gyp began to play. She pitched on a little Sicilian pastorale that the herdsmen play on their pipes coming down from the hills, softly, from very far, rising, rising, swelling to full cadence, and failing, failing away again to nothing. The moon rose over the trees; its light flooded the face of the house, down on to the grass, and spread slowly back toward where the girl stood waiting. It caught the border of sunflowers along the garden wall with a stroke of magical, unearthly colour--gold that was not gold.

Gyp began to play the dance. The pale blurr in the darkness stirred. The moonlight fell on the girl now, standing with arms spread, holding out her drapery--a white, winged statue. Then, like a gigantic moth she fluttered forth, blanched and noiseless flew over the grass, spun and hovered. The moonlight etched out the shape of her head, painted her hair with pallid gold. In the silence, with that unearthly gleam of colour along the sunflowers and on the girl's head, it was as if a spirit had dropped into the garden and was fluttering to and fro, unable to get out.

A voice behind Gyp said: "My God! What's this? An angel?"

Fiorsen was standing hall-way in the darkened room staring out into the garden, where the girl had halted, transfixed before the window, her eyes as round as saucers, her mouth open, her limbs rigid with interest and affright. Suddenly she turned and, gathering her garment, fled, her limbs gleaming in the moonlight.

And Gyp sat looking up at the apparition of her husband. She could just see his eyes straining after that flying nymph. Miss Daphne's faun! Why, even his ears were pointed! Had she never noticed before, how like a faun he was? Yes--on her wedding-night! And she said quietly:

"Daphne Wing was rehearsing her new dance. So you're back! Why didn't you let me know? Are you all right--you look splendid!"

Fiorsen bent down and clutched her by the shoulders.

"My Gyp! Kiss me!"

But even while his lips were pressed on hers, she felt rather than saw his eyes straying to the garden, and thought, "He would like to be kissing that girl!"

The moment he had gone to get his things from the cab, she slipped out to the music-room.

Miss Daphne was dressed, and stuffing her garments into the green linen bag. She looked up, and said piteously:

"Oh! Does he mind? It's awful, isn't it?"

Gyp strangled her desire to laugh.

"It's for you to mind."

"Oh, I don't, if you don't! How did you like the dance?"

"Lovely! When you're ready--come along!"

"Oh, I think I'd rather go home, please! It must seem so funny!"

"Would you like to go by this back way into the lane? You turn to the right, into the road."

"Oh, yes; please. It would have been better if he could have seen the dance properly, wouldn't it? What will he think?"

Gyp smiled, and opened the door into the lane. When she returned, Fiorsen was at the window, gazing out. Was it for her or for that flying nymph?

John Galsworthy