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Chapter XIV

The human creature has wonderful power of putting up with things. Gyp never really believed that Daphne Wing was of the past. Her sceptical instinct told her that what Fiorsen might honestly mean to do was very different from what he would do under stress of opportunity carefully put within his reach.

Since her return, Rosek had begun to come again, very careful not to repeat his mistake, but not deceiving her at all. Though his self-control was as great as Fiorsen's was small, she felt he had not given up his pursuit of her, and would take very good care that Daphne Wing was afforded every chance of being with her husband. But pride never let her allude to the girl. Besides, what good to speak of her? They would both lie--Rosek, because he obviously saw the mistaken line of his first attack; Fiorsen, because his temperament did not permit him to suffer by speaking the truth.

Having set herself to endure, she found she must live in the moment, never think of the future, never think much of anything. Fortunately, nothing so conduces to vacuity as a baby. She gave herself up to it with desperation. It was a good baby, silent, somewhat understanding. In watching its face, and feeling it warm against her, Gyp succeeded daily in getting away into the hypnotic state of mothers, and cows that chew the cud. But the baby slept a great deal, and much of its time was claimed by Betty. Those hours, and they were many, Gyp found difficult. She had lost interest in dress and household elegance, keeping just enough to satisfy her fastidiousness; money, too, was scarce, under the drain of Fiorsen's irregular requirements. If she read, she began almost at once to brood. She was cut off from the music-room, had not crossed its threshold since her discovery. Aunt Rosamund's efforts to take her into society were fruitless--all the effervescence was out of that, and, though her father came, he never stayed long for fear of meeting Fiorsen. In this condition of affairs, she turned more and more to her own music, and one morning, after she had come across some compositions of her girlhood, she made a resolution. That afternoon she dressed herself with pleasure, for the first time for months, and sallied forth into the February frost.

Monsieur Edouard Harmost inhabited the ground floor of a house in the Marylebone Road. He received his pupils in a large back room overlooking a little sooty garden. A Walloon by extraction, and of great vitality, he grew old with difficulty, having a soft corner in his heart for women, and a passion for novelty, even for new music, that was unappeasable. Any fresh discovery would bring a tear rolling down his mahogany cheeks into his clipped grey beard, the while he played, singing wheezily to elucidate the wondrous novelty; or moved his head up and down, as if pumping.

When Gyp was shown into this well-remembered room he was seated, his yellow fingers buried in his stiff grey hair, grieving over a pupil who had just gone out. He did not immediately rise, but stared hard at Gyp.

"Ah," he said, at last, "my little old friend! She has come back! Now that is good!" And, patting her hand he looked into her face, which had a warmth and brilliance rare to her in these days. Then, making for the mantelpiece, he took therefrom a bunch of Parma violets, evidently brought by his last pupil, and thrust them under her nose. "Take them, take them--they were meant for me. Now--how much have you forgotten? Come!" And, seizing her by the elbow, he almost forced her to the piano. "Take off your furs. Sit down!"

And while Gyp was taking off her coat, he fixed on her his prominent brown eyes that rolled easily in their slightly blood- shot whites, under squared eyelids and cliffs of brow. She had on what Fiorsen called her "humming-bird" blouse--dark blue, shot with peacock and old rose, and looked very warm and soft under her fur cap. Monsieur Harmost's stare seemed to drink her in; yet that stare was not unpleasant, having in it only the rather sad yearning of old men who love beauty and know that their time for seeing it is getting short.

"Play me the 'Carnival,'" he said. "We shall soon see!"

Gyp played. Twice he nodded; once he tapped his fingers on his teeth, and showed her the whites of his eyes--which meant: "That will have to be very different!" And once he grunted. When she had finished, he sat down beside her, took her hand in his, and, examining the fingers, began:

"Yes, yes, soon again! Spoiling yourself, playing for that fiddler! Trop sympathique! The back-bone, the back-bone--we shall improve that. Now, four hours a day for six weeks--and we shall have something again."

Gyp said softly:

"I have a baby, Monsieur Harmost."

Monsieur Harmost bounded.

"What! That is a tragedy!" Gyp shook her head. "You like it? A baby! Does it not squall?"

"Very little."

"Mon Dieu! Well, well, you are still as beautiful as ever. That is something. Now, what can you do with this baby? Could you get rid of it a little? This is serious. This is a talent in danger. A fiddler, and a baby! C'est beaucoup! C'est trop!"

Gyp smiled. And Monsieur Harmost, whose exterior covered much sensibility, stroked her hand.

"You have grown up, my little friend," he said gravely. "Never mind; nothing is wasted. But a baby!" And he chirruped his lips. "Well; courage! We shall do things yet!"

Gyp turned her head away to hide the quiver of her lips. The scent of latakia tobacco that had soaked into things, and of old books and music, a dark smell, like Monsieur Harmost's complexion; the old brown curtains, the sooty little back garden beyond, with its cat-runs, and its one stunted sumach tree; the dark-brown stare of Monsieur Harmost's rolling eyes brought back that time of happiness, when she used to come week after week, full of gaiety and importance, and chatter away, basking in his brusque admiration and in music, all with the glamourous feeling that she was making him happy, and herself happy, and going to play very finely some day.

The voice of Monsieur Harmost, softly gruff, as if he knew what she was feeling, increased her emotion; her breast heaved under the humming-bird blouse, water came into her eyes, and more than ever her lips quivered. He was saying:

"Come, come! The only thing we cannot cure is age. You were right to come, my child. Music is your proper air. If things are not all what they ought to be, you shall soon forget. In music--in music, we can get away. After all, my little friend, they cannot take our dreams from us--not even a wife, not even a husband can do that. Come, we shall have good times yet!"

And Gyp, with a violent effort, threw off that sudden weakness. From those who serve art devotedly there radiates a kind of glamour. She left Monsieur Harmost that afternoon, infected by his passion for music. Poetic justice--on which all homeopathy is founded--was at work to try and cure her life by a dose of what had spoiled it. To music, she now gave all the hours she could spare. She went to him twice a week, determining to get on, but uneasy at the expense, for monetary conditions were ever more embarrassed. At home, she practised steadily and worked hard at composition. She finished several songs and studies during the spring and summer, and left still more unfinished. Monsieur Harmost was tolerant of these efforts, seeming to know that harsh criticism or disapproval would cut her impulse down, as frost cuts the life of flowers. Besides, there was always something fresh and individual in her things. He asked her one day:

"What does your husband think of these?"

Gyp was silent a moment.

"I don't show them to him."

She never had; she instinctively kept back the knowledge that she composed, dreading his ruthlessness when anything grated on his nerves, and knowing that a breath of mockery would wither her belief in herself, frail enough plant already. The only person, besides her master, to whom she confided her efforts was--strangely enough--Rosek. But he had surprised her one day copying out some music, and said at once: "I knew. I was certain you composed. Ah, do play it to me! I am sure you have talent." The warmth with which he praised that little "caprice" was surely genuine; and she felt so grateful that she even played him others, and then a song for him to sing. From that day, he no longer seemed to her odious; she even began to have for him a certain friendliness, to be a little sorry, watching him, pale, trim, and sphinx-like, in her drawing-room or garden, getting no nearer to the fulfilment of his desire. He had never again made love to her, but she knew that at the least sign he would. His face and his invincible patience made him pathetic to her. Women such as Gyp cannot actively dislike those who admire them greatly. She consulted him about Fiorsen's debts. There were hundreds of pounds owing, it seemed, and, in addition, much to Rosek himself. The thought of these debts weighed unbearably on her. Why did he, how did he get into debt like this? What became of the money he earned? His fees, this summer, were good enough. There was such a feeling of degradation about debt. It was, somehow, so underbred to owe money to all sorts of people. Was it on that girl, on other women, that he spent it all? Or was it simply that his nature had holes in every pocket?

Watching Fiorsen closely, that spring and early summer, she was conscious of a change, a sort of loosening, something in him had given way--as when, in winding a watch, the key turns on and on, the ratchet being broken. Yet he was certainly working hard-- perhaps harder than ever. She would hear him, across the garden, going over and over a passage, as if he never would be satisfied. But his playing seemed to her to have lost its fire and sweep; to be stale, and as if disillusioned. It was all as though he had said to himself: "What's the use?" In his face, too, there was a change. She knew--she was certain that he was drinking secretly. Was it his failure with her? Was it the girl? Was it simply heredity from a hard-drinking ancestry?

Gyp never faced these questions. To face them would mean useless discussion, useless admission that she could not love him, useless asseveration from him about the girl, which she would not believe, useless denials of all sorts. Hopeless!

He was very irritable, and seemed especially to resent her music lessons, alluding to them with a sort of sneering impatience. She felt that he despised them as amateurish, and secretly resented it. He was often impatient, too, of the time she gave to the baby. His own conduct with the little creature was like all the rest of him. He would go to the nursery, much to Betty's alarm, and take up the baby; be charming with it for about ten minutes, then suddenly dump it back into its cradle, stare at it gloomily or utter a laugh, and go out. Sometimes, he would come up when Gyp was there, and after watching her a little in silence, almost drag her away.

Suffering always from the guilty consciousness of having no love for him, and ever more and more from her sense that, instead of saving him she was, as it were, pushing him down-hill--ironical nemesis for vanity!--Gyp was ever more and more compliant to his whims, trying to make up. But this compliance, when all the time she felt further and further away, was straining her to breaking- point. Hers was a nature that goes on passively enduring till something snaps; after that--no more.

Those months of spring and summer were like a long spell of drought, when moisture gathers far away, coming nearer, nearer, till, at last, the deluge bursts and sweeps the garden.

John Galsworthy