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Chapter XIII

That night, Gyp slept peacefully, as though nothing had happened, as though there were no future at all before her. She woke into misery. Her pride would never let her show the world what she had discovered, would force her to keep an unmoved face and live an unmoved life. But the struggle between mother-instinct and revolt was still going on within her. She was really afraid to see her baby, and she sent word to Betty that she thought it would be safer if she kept quite quiet till the afternoon.

She got up at noon and stole downstairs. She had not realized how violent was her struggle over his child till she was passing the door of the room where it was lying. If she had not been ordered to give up nursing, that struggle would never have come. Her heart ached, but a demon pressed her on and past the door. Downstairs she just pottered round, dusting her china, putting in order the books which, after house-cleaning, the maid had arranged almost too carefully, so that the first volumes of Dickens and Thackeray followed each other on the top shell, and the second volumes followed each other on the bottom shelf. And all the time she thought dully: 'Why am I doing this? What do I care how the place looks? It is not my home. It can never be my home!'

For lunch she drank some beef tea, keeping up the fiction of her indisposition. After that, she sat down at her bureau to write. Something must be decided! There she sat, her forehead on her hand, and nothing came--not one word--not even the way to address him; just the date, and that was all. At a ring of the bell she started up. She could not see anybody! But the maid only brought a note from Aunt Rosamund, and the dogs, who fell frantically on their mistress and instantly began to fight for her possession. She went on her knees to separate them, and enjoin peace and good- will, and their little avid tongues furiously licked her cheeks. Under the eager touch of those wet tongues the band round her brain and heart gave way; she was overwhelmed with longing for her baby. Nearly a day since she had seen her--was it possible? Nearly a day without sight of those solemn eyes and crinkled toes and fingers! And followed by the dogs, she went upstairs.

The house was invisible from the music-room; and, spurred on by thought that, until Fiorsen knew she was back, those two might be there in each other's arms any moment of the day or night, Gyp wrote that evening:

"DEAR GUSTAV,--We are back.--GYP."

What else in the world could she say? He would not get it till he woke about eleven. With the instinct to take all the respite she could, and knowing no more than before how she would receive his return, she went out in the forenoon and wandered about all day shopping and trying not to think. Returning at tea-time, she went straight up to her baby, and there heard from Betty that he had come, and gone out with his violin to the music-room.

Bent over the child, Gyp needed all her self-control--but her self- control was becoming great. Soon, the girl would come fluttering down that dark, narrow lane; perhaps at this very minute her fingers were tapping at the door, and he was opening it to murmur, "No; she's back!" Ah, then the girl would shrink! The rapid whispering--some other meeting-place! Lips to lips, and that look on the girl's face; till she hurried away from the shut door, in the darkness, disappointed! And he, on that silver-and-gold divan, gnawing his moustache, his eyes--catlike---staring at the fire! And then, perhaps, from his violin would come one of those swaying bursts of sound, with tears in them, and the wind in them, that had of old bewitched her! She said:

"Open the window just a little, Betty dear--it's hot."

There it was, rising, falling! Music! Why did it so move one even when, as now, it was the voice of insult! And suddenly she thought: "He will expect me to go out there again and play for him. But I will not, never!"

She put her baby down, went into her bedroom, and changed hastily into a teagown for the evening, ready to go downstairs. A little shepherdess in china on the mantel-shelf attracted her attention, and she took it in her hand. She had bought it three and more years ago, when she first came to London, at the beginning of that time of girl-gaiety when all life seemed a long cotillion, and she its leader. Its cool daintiness made it seem the symbol of another world, a world without depths or shadows, a world that did not feel--a happy world!

She had not long to wait before he tapped on the drawing-room window. She got up from the tea-table to let him in. Why do faces gazing in through glass from darkness always look hungry-- searching, appealing for what you have and they have not? And while she was undoing the latch she thought: 'What am I going to say? I feel nothing!' The ardour of his gaze, voice, hands seemed to her so false as to be almost comic; even more comically false his look of disappointment when she said:

"Please take care; I'm still brittle!" Then she sat down again and asked:

"Will you have some tea?"

"Tea! I have you back, and you ask me if I will have tea Gyp! Do you know what I have felt like all this time? No; you don't know. You know nothing of me--do you?"

A smile of sheer irony formed on her lips--without her knowing it was there. She said:

"Have you had a good time at Count Rosek's?" And, without her will, against her will, the words slipped out: "I'm afraid you've missed the music-room!"

His stare wavered; he began to walk up and down.

"Missed! Missed everything! I have been very miserable, Gyp. You've no idea how miserable. Yes, miserable, miserable, miserable!" With each repetition of that word, his voice grew gayer. And kneeling down in front of her, he stretched his long arms round her till they met behind her waist: "Ah, my Gyp! I shall be a different being, now."

And Gyp went on smiling. Between that, and stabbing these false raptures to the heart, there seemed to be nothing she could do. The moment his hands relaxed, she got up and said:

"You know there's a baby in the house?"

He laughed.

"Ah, the baby! I'd forgotten. Let's go up and see it."

Gyp answered:

"You go."

She could feel him thinking: 'Perhaps it will make her nice to me!' He turned suddenly and went.

She stood with her eyes shut, seeing the divan in the music-room and the girl's arm shivering. Then, going to the piano, she began with all her might to play a Chopin polonaise.

That evening they dined out, and went to "The Tales of Hoffmann." By such devices it was possible to put off a little longer what she was going to do. During the drive home in the dark cab, she shrank away into her corner, pretending that his arm would hurt her dress; her exasperated nerves were already overstrung. Twice she was on the very point of crying out: "I am not Daphne Wing!" But each time pride strangled the words in her throat. And yet they would have to come. What other reason could she find to keep him from her room?

But when in her mirror she saw him standing behind her--he had crept into the bedroom like a cat--fierceness came into her. She could see the blood rush up in her own white face, and, turning round she said:

"No, Gustav, go out to the music-room if you want a companion."

He recoiled against the foot of the bed and stared at her haggardly, and Gyp, turning back to her mirror, went on quietly taking the pins out of her hair. For fully a minute she could see him leaning there, moving his head and hands as though in pain. Then, to her surprise, he went. And a vague feeling of compunction mingled with her sense of deliverance. She lay awake a long time, watching the fire-glow brighten and darken on the ceiling, tunes from "The Tales of Hoffmann" running in her head; thoughts and fancies crisscrossing in her excited brain. Falling asleep at last, she dreamed she was feeding doves out of her hand, and one of them was Daphne Wing. She woke with a start. The fire still burned, and by its light she saw him crouching at the foot of the bed, just as he had on their wedding-night--the same hungry yearning in his face, and an arm outstretched. Before she could speak, he began:

"Oh, Gyp, you don't understand! All that is nothing--it is only you I want--always. I am a fool who cannot control himself. Think! It's a long time since you went away from me."

Gyp said, in a hard voice:

"I didn't want to have a child."

He said quickly:

"No; but now you have it you are glad. Don't be unmerciful, my Gyp! It is like you to be merciful. That girl--it is all over--I swear--I promise."

His hand touched her foot through the soft eiderdown. Gyp thought: 'Why does he come and whine to me like this? He has no dignity-- none!' And she said:

"How can you promise? You have made the girl love you. I saw her face."

He drew his hand back.

"You saw her?"

"Yes."

He was silent, staring at her. Presently he began again:

"She is a little fool. I do not care for the whole of her as much as I care for your one finger. What does it matter what one does in that way if one does not care? The soul, not the body, is faithful. A man satisfies appetite--it is nothing."

Gyp said:

"Perhaps not; but it is something when it makes others miserable."

"Has it made you miserable, my Gyp?"

His voice had a ring of hope. She answered, startled:

"I? No--her."

"Her? Ho! It is an experience for her--it is life. It will do her no harm."

"No; nothing will do anybody harm if it gives you pleasure."

At that bitter retort, he kept silence a long time, now and then heaving a long sigh. His words kept sounding in her heart: "The soul, not the body, is faithful." Was he, after all, more faithful to her than she had ever been, could ever be--who did not love, had never loved him? What right had she to talk, who had married him out of vanity, out of--what?

And suddenly he said:

"Gyp! Forgive!"

She uttered a sigh, and turned away her face.

He bent down against the eider-down. She could hear him drawing long, sobbing breaths, and, in the midst of her lassitude and hopelessness, a sort of pity stirred her. What did it matter? She said, in a choked voice:

"Very well, I forgive."

John Galsworthy