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Chapter X

From the day of the nurse's arrival, Winton gave up hunting. He could not bring himself to be out of doors for more than half an hour at a time. Distrust of doctors did not prevent him having ten minutes every morning with the old practitioner who had treated Gyp for mumps, measles, and the other blessings of childhood. The old fellow--his name was Rivershaw--was a most peculiar survival. He smelled of mackintosh, had round purplish cheeks, a rim of hair which people said he dyed, and bulging grey eyes slightly bloodshot. He was short in body and wind, drank port wine, was suspected of taking snuff, read The Times, spoke always in a husky voice, and used a very small brougham with a very old black horse. But he had a certain low cunning, which had defeated many ailments, and his reputation for assisting people into the world stood extremely high. Every morning punctually at twelve, the crunch of his little brougham's wheels would be heard. Winton would get up, and, taking a deep breath, cross the hall to the dining-room, extract from a sideboard a decanter of port, a biscuit-canister, and one glass. He would then stand with his eyes fixed on the door, till, in due time, the doctor would appear, and he could say:

"Well, doctor? How is she?"

"Nicely; quite nicely."

"Nothing to make one anxious?"

The doctor, puffing out his cheeks, with eyes straying to the decanter, would murmur:

"Cardiac condition, capital--a little--um--not to matter. Taking its course. These things!"

And Winton, with another deep breath, would say:

"Glass of port, doctor?"

An expression of surprise would pass over the doctor's face.

"Cold day--ah, perhaps--" And he would blow his nose on his purple-and-red bandanna.

Watching him drink his port, Winton would mark:

"We can get you at any time, can't we?"

And the doctor, sucking his lips, would answer:

"Never fear, my dear sir! Little Miss Gyp--old friend of mine. At her service day and night. Never fear!"

A sensation of comfort would pass through Winton, which would last quite twenty minutes after the crunching of the wheels and the mingled perfumes of him had died away.

In these days, his greatest friend was an old watch that had been his father's before him; a gold repeater from Switzerland, with a chipped dial-plate, and a case worn wondrous thin and smooth--a favourite of Gyp's childhood. He would take it out about every quarter of an hour, look at its face without discovering the time, finger it, all smooth and warm from contact with his body, and put it back. Then he would listen. There was nothing whatever to listen to, but he could not help it. Apart from this, his chief distraction was to take a foil and make passes at a leather cushion, set up on the top of a low bookshelf. In these occupations, varied by constant visits to the room next the nursery, where--to save her the stairs--Gyp was now established, and by excursions to the conservatory to see if he could not find some new flower to take her, he passed all his time, save when he was eating, sleeping, or smoking cigars, which he had constantly to be relighting.

By Gyp's request, they kept from him knowledge of when her pains began. After that first bout was over and she was lying half asleep in the old nursery, he happened to go up. The nurse--a bonny creature--one of those free, independent, economic agents that now abound--met him in the sitting-room. Accustomed to the "fuss and botheration of men" at such times, she was prepared to deliver him a little lecture. But, in approaching, she became affected by the look on his face, and, realizing somehow that she was in the presence of one whose self-control was proof, she simply whispered:

"It's beginning; but don't be anxious--she's not suffering just now. We shall send for the doctor soon. She's very plucky"; and with an unaccustomed sensation of respect and pity she repeated: "Don't be anxious, sir."

"If she wants to see me at any time, I shall be in my study. Save her all you can, nurse."

The nurse was left with a feeling of surprise at having used the word "Sir"; she had not done such a thing since--since--! And, pensive, she returned to the nursery, where Gyp said at once:

"Was that my father? I didn't want him to know."

The nurse answered mechanically:

"That's all right, my dear."

"How long do you think before--before it'll begin again, nurse? I'd like to see him."

The nurse stroked her hair.

"Soon enough when it's all over and comfy. Men are always fidgety."

Gyp looked at her, and said quietly:

"Yes. You see, my mother died when I was born."

The nurse, watching those lips, still pale with pain, felt a queer pang. She smoothed the bed-clothes and said:

"That's nothing--it often happens--that is, I mean,--you know it has no connection whatever."

And seeing Gyp smile, she thought: 'Well, I am a fool.'

"If by any chance I don't get through, I want to be cremated; I want to go back as quick as I can. I can't bear the thought of the other thing. Will you remember, nurse? I can't tell my father that just now; it might upset him. But promise me."

And the nurse thought: 'That can't be done without a will or something, but I'd better promise. It's a morbid fancy, and yet she's not a morbid subject, either.' And she said:

"Very well, my dear; only, you're not going to do anything of the sort. That's flat."

Gyp smiled again, and there was silence, till she said:

"I'm awfully ashamed, wanting all this attention, and making people miserable. I've read that Japanese women quietly go out somewhere by themselves and sit on a gate."

The nurse, still busy with the bedclothes, murmured abstractedly:

"Yes, that's a very good way. But don't you fancy you're half the trouble most of them are. You're very good, and you're going to get on splendidly." And she thought: 'Odd! She's never once spoken of her husband. I don't like it for this sort--too perfect, too sensitive; her face touches you so!'

Gyp murmured again:

"I'd like to see my father, please; and rather quick."

The nurse, after one swift look, went out.

Gyp, who had clinched her hands under the bedclothes, fixed her eyes on the window. November! Acorns and the leaves--the nice, damp, earthy smell! Acorns all over the grass. She used to drive the old retriever in harness on the lawn covered with acorns and the dead leaves, and the wind still blowing them off the trees--in her brown velvet--that was a ducky dress! Who was it had called her once "a wise little owl," in that dress? And, suddenly, her heart sank. The pain was coming again. Winton's voice from the door said:

"Well, my pet?"

"It was only to see how you are. I'm all right. What sort of a day is it? You'll go riding, won't you? Give my love to the horses. Good-bye, Dad; just for now."

Her forehead was wet to his lips.

Outside, in the passage, her smile, like something actual on the air, preceded him--the smile that had just lasted out. But when he was back in the study, he suffered--suffered! Why could he not have that pain to bear instead?

The crunch of the brougham brought his ceaseless march over the carpet to an end. He went out into the hall and looked into the doctor's face--he had forgotten that this old fellow knew nothing of his special reason for deadly fear. Then he turned back into his study. The wild south wind brought wet drift-leaves whirling against the panes. It was here that he had stood looking out into the dark, when Fiorsen came down to ask for Gyp a year ago. Why had he not bundled the fellow out neck and crop, and taken her away?--India, Japan--anywhere would have done! She had not loved that fiddler, never really loved him. Monstrous--monstrous! The full bitterness of having missed right action swept over Winton, and he positively groaned aloud. He moved from the window and went over to the bookcase; there in one row were the few books he ever read, and he took one out. "Life of General Lee." He put it back and took another, a novel of Whyte Melville's: "Good for Nothing." Sad book--sad ending! The book dropped from his hand and fell with a flump on the floor. In a sort of icy discovery, he had seen his life as it would be if for a second time he had to bear such loss. She must not--could not die! If she did--then, for him--! In old times they buried a man with his horse and his dog, as if at the end of a good run. There was always that! The extremity of this thought brought relief. He sat down, and, for a long time, stayed staring into the fire in a sort of coma. Then his feverish fears began again. Why the devil didn't they come and tell him something, anything--rather than this silence, this deadly solitude and waiting? What was that? The front door shutting. Wheels? Had that hell-hound of an old doctor sneaked off? He started up. There at the door was Markey, holding in his hand some cards. Winton scanned them.

"Lady Summerhay; Mr. Bryan Summerhay. I said, 'Not at home,' sir."

Winton nodded.

"Well?"

"Nothing at present. You have had no lunch, sir."

"What time is it?"

"Four o'clock."

"Bring in my fur coat and the port, and make the fire up. I want any news there is."

Markey nodded.

Odd to sit in a fur coat before a fire, and the day not cold! They said you lived on after death. He had never been able to feel that she was living on. She lived in Gyp. And now if Gyp--! Death-- your own--no great matter! But--for her! The wind was dropping with the darkness. He got up and drew the curtains.

It was seven o'clock when the doctor came down into the hall, and stood rubbing his freshly washed hands before opening the study door. Winton was still sitting before the fire, motionless, shrunk into his fur coat. He raised himself a little and looked round dully.

The doctor's face puckered, his eyelids drooped half-way across his bulging eyes; it was his way of smiling. "Nicely," he said; "nicely--a girl. No complications."

Winton's whole body seemed to swell, his lips opened, he raised his hand. Then, the habit of a lifetime catching him by the throat, he stayed motionless. At last he got up and said:

"Glass of port, doctor?"

The doctor spying at him above the glass thought: 'This is "the fifty-two." Give me "the sixty-eight"--more body.'

After a time, Winton went upstairs. Waiting in the outer room he had a return of his cold dread. "Perfectly successful--the patient died from exhaustion!" The tiny squawking noise that fell on his ears entirely failed to reassure him. He cared nothing for that new being. Suddenly he found Betty just behind him, her bosom heaving horribly.

"What is it, woman? Don't!"

She had leaned against his shoulder, appearing to have lost all sense of right and wrong, and, out of her sobbing, gurgled:

"She looks so lovely--oh dear, she looks so lovely!"

Pushing her abruptly from him, Winton peered in through the just- opened door. Gyp was lying extremely still, and very white; her eyes, very large, very dark, were fastened on her baby. Her face wore a kind of wonder. She did not see Winton, who stood stone- quiet, watching, while the nurse moved about her business behind a screen. This was the first time in his life that he had seen a mother with her just-born baby. That look on her face--gone right away somewhere, right away--amazed him. She had never seemed to like children, had said she did not want a child. She turned her head and saw him. He went in. She made a faint motion toward the baby, and her eyes smiled. Winton looked at that swaddled speckled mite; then, bending down, he kissed her hand and tiptoed away.

At dinner he drank champagne, and benevolence towards all the world spread in his being. Watching the smoke of his cigar wreathe about him, he thought: 'Must send that chap a wire.' After all, he was a fellow being--might be suffering, as he himself had suffered only two hours ago. To keep him in ignorance--it wouldn't do! And he wrote out the form--

      "All well, a daughter.--WINTON,"

and sent it out with the order that a groom should take it in that night.

Gyp was sleeping when he stole up at ten o'clock.

He, too, turned in, and slept like a child.

John Galsworthy