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Chapter XI

Returning the next afternoon from the first ride for several days, Winton passed the station fly rolling away from the drive-gate with the light-hearted disillusionment peculiar to quite empty vehicles.

The sight of a fur coat and broad-brimmed hat in the hall warned him of what had happened.

"Mr. Fiorsen, sir; gone up to Mrs. Fiorsen."

Natural, but a d--d bore! And bad, perhaps, for Gyp. He asked:

"Did he bring things?"

"A bag, sir."

"Get a room ready, then."

To dine tete-a-tete with that fellow!

Gyp had passed the strangest morning in her life, so far. Her baby fascinated her, also the tug of its lips, giving her the queerest sensation, almost sensual; a sort of meltedness, an infinite warmth, a desire to grip the little creature right into her--which, of course, one must not do. And yet, neither her sense of humour nor her sense of beauty were deceived. It was a queer little affair with a tuft of black hair, in grace greatly inferior to a kitten. Its tiny, pink, crisped fingers with their infinitesimal nails, its microscopic curly toes, and solemn black eyes--when they showed, its inimitable stillness when it slept, its incredible vigour when it fed, were all, as it were, miraculous. Withal, she had a feeling of gratitude to one that had not killed nor even hurt her so very desperately--gratitude because she had succeeded, performed her part of mother perfectly--the nurse had said so--she, so distrustful of herself! Instinctively she knew, too, that this was her baby, not his, going "to take after her," as they called it. How it succeeded in giving that impression she could not tell, unless it were the passivity, and dark eyes of the little creature. Then from one till three they had slept together with perfect soundness and unanimity. She awoke to find the nurse standing by the bed, looking as if she wanted to tell her something.

"Someone to see you, my dear."

And Gyp thought: 'He! I can't think quickly; I ought to think quickly--I want to, but I can't.' Her face expressed this, for the nurse said at once:

"I don't think you're quite up to it yet."

Gyp answered:

"Yes. Only, not for five minutes, please."

Her spirit had been very far away, she wanted time to get it back before she saw him--time to know in some sort what she felt now; what this mite lying beside her had done for her and him. The thought that it was his, too--this tiny, helpless being--seemed unreal. No, it was not his! He had not wanted it, and now that she had been through the torture it was hers, not his--never his. The memory of the night when she first yielded to the certainty that the child was coming, and he had come home drunk, swooped on her, and made her shrink and shudder and put her arm round her baby. It had not made any difference. Only-- Back came the old accusing thought, from which these last days she had been free: 'But I married him--I chose to marry him. I can't get out of that!' And she felt as if she must cry out to the nurse: "Keep him away; I don't want to see him. Oh, please, I'm tired." She bit the words back. And presently, with a very faint smile, said:

"Now, I'm ready."

She noticed first what clothes he had on--his newest suit, dark grey, with little lighter lines--she had chosen it herself; that his tie was in a bow, not a sailor's knot, and his hair brighter than usual--as always just after being cut; and surely the hair was growing down again in front of his ears. Then, gratefully, almost with emotion, she realized that his lips were quivering, his whole face quivering. He came in on tiptoe, stood looking at her a minute, then crossed very swiftly to the bed, very swiftly knelt down, and, taking her hand, turned it over and put his face to it. The bristles of his moustache tickled her palm; his nose flattened itself against her fingers, and his lips kept murmuring words into the hand, with the moist warm touch of his lips. Gyp knew he was burying there all his remorse, perhaps the excesses he had committed while she had been away from him, burying the fears he had felt, and the emotion at seeing her so white and still. She felt that in a minute he would raise a quite different face. And it flashed through her: "If I loved him I wouldn't mind what he did--ever! Why don't I love him? There's something loveable. Why don't I?"

He did raise his face; his eyes lighted on the baby, and he grinned.

"Look at this!" he said. "Is it possible? Oh, my Gyp, what a funny one! Oh, oh, oh!" He went off into an ecstasy of smothered laughter; then his face grew grave, and slowly puckered into a sort of comic disgust. Gyp too had seen the humours of her baby, of its queer little reddish pudge of a face, of its twenty-seven black hairs, and the dribble at its almost invisible mouth; but she had also seen it as a miracle; she had felt it, and there surged up from her all the old revolt and more against his lack of consideration. It was not a funny one--her baby! It was not ugly! Or, if it were, she was not fit to be told of it. Her arm tightened round the warm bundled thing against her. Fiorsen put his finger out and touched its cheek.

"It is real--so it is. Mademoiselle Fiorsen. Tk, tk!"

The baby stirred. And Gyp thought: 'If I loved I wouldn't even mind his laughing at my baby. It would be different.'

"Don't wake her!" she whispered. She felt his eyes on her, knew that his interest in the baby had ceased as suddenly as it came, that he was thinking, "How long before I have you in my arms again?" He touched her hair. And, suddenly, she had a fainting, sinking sensation that she had never yet known. When she opened her eyes again, the economic agent was holding something beneath her nose and making sounds that seemed to be the words: "Well, I am a d--d fool!" repeatedly expressed. Fiorsen was gone.

Seeing Gyp's eyes once more open, the nurse withdrew the ammonia, replaced the baby, and saying: "Now go to sleep!" withdrew behind the screen. Like all robust personalities, she visited on others her vexations with herself. But Gyp did not go to sleep; she gazed now at her sleeping baby, now at the pattern of the wall-paper, trying mechanically to find the bird caught at intervals amongst its brown-and-green foliage--one bird in each alternate square of the pattern, so that there was always a bird in the centre of four other birds. And the bird was of green and yellow with a red beak.

On being turned out of the nursery with the assurance that it was "all right--only a little faint," Fiorsen went down-stairs disconsolate. The atmosphere of this dark house where he was a stranger, an unwelcome stranger, was insupportable. He wanted nothing in it but Gyp, and Gyp had fainted at his touch. No wonder he felt miserable. He opened a door. What room was this? A piano! The drawing-room. Ugh! No fire--what misery! He recoiled to the doorway and stood listening. Not a sound. Grey light in the cheerless room; almost dark already in the hall behind him. What a life these English lived--worse than the winter in his old country home in Sweden, where, at all events, they kept good fires. And, suddenly, all his being revolted. Stay here and face that father--and that image of a servant! Stay here for a night of this! Gyp was not his Gyp, lying there with that baby beside her, in this hostile house. Smothering his footsteps, he made for the outer hall. There were his coat and hat. He put them on. His bag? He could not see it. No matter! They could send it after him. He would write to her--say that her fainting had upset him-- that he could not risk making her faint again--could not stay in the house so near her, yet so far. She would understand. And there came over him a sudden wave of longing. Gyp! He wanted her. To be with her! To look at her and kiss her, and feel her his own again! And, opening the door, he passed out on to the drive and strode away, miserable and sick at heart. All the way to the station through the darkening lanes, and in the railway carriage going up, he felt that aching wretchedness. Only in the lighted street, driving back to Rosek's, did he shake it off a little. At dinner and after, drinking that special brandy he nearly lost it; but it came back when he went to bed, till sleep relieved him with its darkness and dreams.

John Galsworthy