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Chapter XV

The tenth of July that year was as the first day of summer. There had been much fine weather, but always easterly or northerly; now, after a broken, rainy fortnight, the sun had come in full summer warmth with a gentle breeze, drifting here and there scent of the opening lime blossom. In the garden, under the trees at the far end, Betty sewed at a garment, and the baby in her perambulator had her seventh morning sleep. Gyp stood before a bed of pansies and sweet peas. How monkeyish the pansies' faces! The sweet peas, too, were like tiny bright birds fastened to green perches swaying with the wind. And their little green tridents, growing out from the queer, flat stems, resembled the antennae of insects. Each of these bright frail, growing things had life and individuality like herself!

The sound of footsteps on the gravel made her turn. Rosek was coming from the drawing-room window. Rather startled, Gyp looked at him over her shoulder. What had brought him at eleven o'clock in the morning? He came up to her, bowed, and said:

"I came to see Gustav. He's not up yet, it seems. I thought I would speak to you first. Can we talk?"

Hesitating just a second, Gyp drew off her gardening-gloves:

"Of course! Here? Or in the drawing-room?"

Rosek answered:

"In the drawing-room, please."

A faint tremor passed through her, but she led the way, and seated herself where she could see Betty and the baby. Rosek stood looking down at her; his stillness, the sweetish gravity of his well-cut lips, his spotless dandyism stirred in Gyp a kind of unwilling admiration.

"What is it?" she said.

"Bad business, I'm afraid. Something must be done at once. I have been trying to arrange things, but they will not wait. They are even threatening to sell up this house."

With a sense of outrage, Gyp cried:

"Nearly everything here is mine."

Rosek shook his head.

"The lease is in his name--you are his wife. They can do it, I assure you." A sort of shadow passed over his face, and he added: "I cannot help him any more--just now."

Gyp shook her head quickly.

"No--of course! You ought not to have helped him at all. I can't bear--" He bowed, and she stopped, ashamed. "How much does he owe altogether?"

"About thirteen hundred pounds. It isn't much, of course. But there is something else--"

"Worse?"

Rosek nodded.

"I am afraid to tell you; you will think again perhaps that I am trying to make capital out of it. I can read your thoughts, you see. I cannot afford that you should think that, this time."

Gyp made a little movement as though putting away his words.

"No; tell me, please."

Rosek shrugged his shoulders.

"There is a man called Wagge, an undertaker--the father of someone you know--"

"Daphne Wing?"

"Yes. A child is coming. They have made her tell. It means the cancelling of her engagements, of course--and other things."

Gyp uttered a little laugh; then she said slowly:

"Can you tell me, please, what this Mr.--Wagge can do?"

Again Rosek shrugged his shoulders.

"He is rabid--a rabid man of his class is dangerous. A lot of money will be wanted, I should think--some blood, perhaps."

He moved swiftly to her, and said very low:

"Gyp, it is a year since I told you of this. You did not believe me then. I told you, too, that I loved you. I love you more, now, a hundred times! Don't move! I am going up to Gustav."

He turned, and Gyp thought he was really going; but he stopped and came back past the line of the window. The expression of his face was quite changed, so hungry that, for a moment, she felt sorry for him. And that must have shown in her face, for he suddenly caught at her, and tried to kiss her lips; she wrenched back, and he could only reach her throat, but that he kissed furiously. Letting her go as suddenly, he bent his head and went out without a look.

Gyp stood wiping his kisses off her throat with the back of her hand, dumbly, mechanically thinking: "What have I done to be treated like this? What have I done?" No answer came. And such rage against men flared up that she just stood there, twisting her garden-gloves in her hands, and biting the lips he would have kissed. Then, going to her bureau, she took up her address book and looked for the name: Wing, 88, Frankland Street, Fulham. Unhooking her little bag from off the back of the chair, she put her cheque-book into it. Then, taking care to make no sound, she passed into the hall, caught up her sunshade, and went out, closing the door without noise.

She walked quickly toward Baker Street. Her gardening-hat was right enough, but she had come out without gloves, and must go into the first shop and buy a pair. In the choosing of them, she forgot her emotions for a minute. Out in the street again, they came back as bitterly as ever. And the day was so beautiful--the sun bright, the sky blue, the clouds dazzling white; from the top of her 'bus she could see all its brilliance. There rose up before her the memory of the man who had kissed her arm at the first ball. And now--this! But, mixed with her rage, a sort of unwilling compassion and fellow feeling kept rising for that girl, that silly, sugar-plum girl, brought to such a pass by--her husband. These feelings sustained her through that voyage to Fulham. She got down at the nearest corner, walked up a widish street of narrow grey houses till she came to number eighty-eight. On that newly scrubbed step, waiting for the door to open, she very nearly turned and fled. What exactly had she come to do?

The door was opened by a servant in an untidy frock. Mutton! The smell of mutton--there it was, just as the girl had said!

"Is Miss--Miss Daphne Wing at home?"

In that peculiar "I've given it up" voice of domestics in small households, the servant answered:

"Yes; Miss Disey's in. D'you want to see 'er? What nyme?"

Gyp produced her card. The maid looked at it, at Gyp, and at two brown-painted doors, as much as to say, "Where will you have it?" Then, opening the first of them, she said:

"Tyke a seat, please; I'll fetch her."

Gyp went in. In the middle of what was clearly the dining-room, she tried to subdue the tremor of her limbs and a sense of nausea. The table against which her hand rested was covered with red baize, no doubt to keep the stains of mutton from penetrating to the wood. On the mahogany sideboard reposed a cruet-stand and a green dish of very red apples. A bamboo-framed talc screen painted with white and yellow marguerites stood before a fireplace filled with pampas- grass dyed red. The chairs were of red morocco, the curtains a brownish-red, the walls green, and on them hung a set of Landseer prints. The peculiar sensation which red and green in juxtaposition produce on the sensitive was added to Gyp's distress. And, suddenly, her eyes lighted on a little deep-blue china bowl. It stood on a black stand on the mantel-piece, with nothing in it. To Gyp, in this room of red and green, with the smell of mutton creeping in, that bowl was like the crystallized whiff of another world. Daphne Wing--not Daisy Wagge--had surely put it there! And, somehow, it touched her--emblem of stifled beauty, emblem of all that the girl had tried to pour out to her that August afternoon in her garden nearly a year ago. Thin Eastern china, good and really beautiful! A wonder they allowed it to pollute this room!

A sigh made her turn round. With her back against the door and a white, scared face, the girl was standing. Gyp thought: 'She has suffered horribly.' And, going impulsively up to her, she held out her hand.

Daphne Wing sighed out: "Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen!" and, bending over that hand, kissed it. Gyp saw that her new glove was wet. Then the girl relapsed, her feet a little forward, her head a little forward, her back against the door. Gyp, who knew why she stood thus, was swept again by those two emotions--rage against men, and fellow feeling for one about to go through what she herself had just endured.

"It's all right," she said, gently; "only, what's to be done?"

Daphne Wing put her hands up over her white face and sobbed. She sobbed so quietly but so terribly deeply that Gyp herself had the utmost difficulty not to cry. It was the sobbing of real despair by a creature bereft of hope and strength, above all, of love--the sort of weeping which is drawn from desolate, suffering souls only by the touch of fellow feeling. And, instead of making Gyp glad or satisfying her sense of justice, it filled her with more rage against her husband--that he had taken this girl's infatuation for his pleasure and then thrown her away. She seemed to see him discarding that clinging, dove-fair girl, for cloying his senses and getting on his nerves, discarding her with caustic words, to abide alone the consequences of her infatuation. She put her hand timidly on that shaking shoulder, and stroked it. For a moment the sobbing stopped, and the girl said brokenly:

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, I do love him so!" At those naive words, a painful wish to laugh seized on Gyp, making her shiver from head to foot. Daphne Wing saw it, and went on: "I know--I know--it's awful; but I do--and now he--he--" Her quiet but really dreadful sobbing broke out again. And again Gyp began stroking and stroking her shoulder. "And I have been so awful to you! Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, do forgive me, please!"

All Gyp could find to answer, was:

"Yes, yes; that's nothing! Don't cry--don't cry!"

Very slowly the sobbing died away, till it was just a long shivering, but still the girl held her hands over her face and her face down. Gyp felt paralyzed. The unhappy girl, the red and green room, the smell of mutton--creeping!

At last, a little of that white face showed; the lips, no longer craving for sugar-plums, murmured:

"It's you he--he--really loves all the time. And you don't love him--that's what's so funny--and--and--I can't understand it. Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, if I could see him--just see him! He told me never to come again; and I haven't dared. I haven't seen him for three weeks--not since I told him about it. What shall I do? What shall I do?"

His being her own husband seemed as nothing to Gyp at that moment. She felt such pity and yet such violent revolt that any girl should want to crawl back to a man who had spurned her. Unconsciously, she had drawn herself up and pressed her lips together. The girl, who followed every movement, said piteously:

"I don't seem to have any pride. I don't mind what he does to me, or what he says, if only I can see him."

Gyp's revolt yielded to her pity. She said:

"How long before?"

"Three months."

Three months--and in this state of misery!

"I think I shall do something desperate. Now that I can't dance, and they know, it's too awful! If I could see him, I wouldn't mind anything. But I know--I know he'll never want me again. Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, I wish I was dead! I do!"

A heavy sigh escaped Gyp, and, bending suddenly, she kissed the girl's forehead. Still that scent of orange blossom about her skin or hair, as when she asked whether she ought to love or not; as when she came, moth-like, from the tree-shade into the moonlight, spun, and fluttered, with her shadow spinning and fluttering before her. Gyp turned away, feeling that she must relieve the strain. and pointing to the bowl, said:

"You put that there, I'm sure. It's beautiful."

The girl answered, with piteous eagerness:

"Oh, would you like it? Do take it. Count Rosek gave it me." She started away from the door. "Oh, that's papa. He'll be coming in!"

Gyp heard a man clear his throat, and the rattle of an umbrella falling into a stand; the sight of the girl wilting and shrinking against the sideboard steadied her. Then the door opened, and Mr. Wagge entered. Short and thick, in black frock coat and trousers, and a greyish beard, he stared from one to the other. He looked what he was, an Englishman and a chapelgoer, nourished on sherry and mutton, who could and did make his own way in the world. His features, coloured, as from a deep liverishness, were thick, like his body, and not ill-natured, except for a sort of anger in his small, rather piggy grey eyes. He said in a voice permanently gruff, but impregnated with a species of professional ingratiation:

"Ye-es? Whom 'ave I--?"

"Mrs. Fiorsen."

"Ow!" The sound of his breathing could be heard distinctly; he twisted a chair round and said:

"Take a seat, won't you?"

Gyp shook her head.

In Mr. Wagge's face a kind of deference seemed to struggle with some more primitive emotion. Taking out a large, black-edged handkerchief, he blew his nose, passed it freely over his visage, and turning to his daughter, muttered:

"Go upstairs."

The girl turned quickly, and the last glimpse of her white face whipped up Gyp's rage against men. When the door was shut, Mr. Wagge cleared his throat; the grating sound carried with it the suggestion of enormously thick linings.

He said more gruffly than ever:

"May I ask what 'as given us the honour?"

"I came to see your daughter."

His little piggy eyes travelled from her face to her feet, to the walls of the room, to his own watch-chain, to his hands that had begun to rub themselves together, back to her breast, higher than which they dared not mount. Their infinite embarrassment struck Gyp. She could almost hear him thinking: 'Now, how can I discuss it with this attractive young female, wife of the scoundrel who's ruined my daughter? Delicate-that's what it is!' Then the words burst hoarsely from him.

"This is an unpleasant business, ma'am. I don't know what to say. Reelly I don't. It's awkward; it's very awkward."

Gyp said quietly:

"Your daughter is desperately unhappy; and that can't be good for her just now."

Mr. Wagge's thick figure seemed to writhe. "Pardon me, ma'am," he spluttered, "but I must call your husband a scoundrel. I'm sorry to be impolite, but I must do it. If I had 'im 'ere, I don't know that I should be able to control myself--I don't indeed." Gyp made a movement of her gloved hands, which he seemed to interpret as sympathy, for he went on in a stream of husky utterance: "It's a delicate thing before a lady, and she the injured party; but one has feelings. From the first I said this dancin' was in the face of Providence; but women have no more sense than an egg. Her mother she would have it; and now she's got it! Career, indeed! Pretty career! Daughter of mine! I tell you, ma'am, I'm angry; there's no other word for it--I'm angry. If that scoundrel comes within reach of me, I shall mark 'im--I'm not a young man, but I shall mark 'im. An' what to say to you, I'm sure I don't know. That my daughter should be'ave like that! Well, it's made a difference to me. An' now I suppose her name'll be dragged in the mud. I tell you frankly I 'oped you wouldn't hear of it, because after all the girl's got her punishment. And this divorce-court-- it's not nice--it's a horrible thing for respectable people. And, mind you, I won't see my girl married to that scoundrel, not if you do divorce 'im. No; she'll have her disgrace for nothing."

Gyp, who had listened with her head a little bent, raised it suddenly, and said:

"There'll be no public disgrace, Mr. Wagge, unless you make it yourself. If you send Daphne--Daisy--quietly away somewhere till her trouble's over, no one need know anything."

Mr. Wagge, whose mouth had opened slightly, and whose breathing could certainly have been heard in the street, took a step forward and said:

"Do I understand you to say that you're not goin' to take proceedings, ma'am?"

Gyp shuddered, and shook her head.

Mr. Wagge stood silent, slightly moving his face up and down.

"Well," he said, at length, "it's more than she deserves; but I don't disguise it's a relief to me. And I must say, in a young lady like you, and--and handsome, it shows a Christian spirit." Again Gyp shivered, and shook her head. "It does. You'll allow me to say so, as a man old enough to be your father--and a regular attendant."

He held out his hand. Gyp put her gloved hand into it.

"I'm very, very sorry. Please be nice to her."

Mr. Wagge recoiled a little, and for some seconds stood ruefully rubbing his hands together and looking from side to side.

"I'm a domestic man," he said suddenly. "A domestic man in a serious line of life; and I never thought to have anything like this in my family--never! It's been--well, I can't tell you what it's been!"

Gyp took up her sunshade. She felt that she must get away; at any moment he might say something she could not bear--and the smell of mutton rising fast!

"I am sorry," she said again; "good-bye"; and moved past him to the door. She heard him breathing hard as he followed her to open it, and thought: 'If only--oh! please let him be silent till I get outside!' Mr. Wagge passed her and put his hand on the latch of the front door. His little piggy eyes scanned her almost timidly.

"Well," he said, "I'm very glad to have the privilege of your acquaintance; and, if I may say so, you 'ave--you 'ave my 'earty sympathy. Good-day."

The door once shut behind her, Gyp took a long breath and walked swiftly away. Her cheeks were burning; and, with a craving for protection, she put up her sunshade. But the girl's white face came up again before her, and the sound of her words:

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, I wish I was dead! I do!"

John Galsworthy