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Chapter XVI

Gyp walked on beneath her sunshade, making unconsciously for the peace of trees. Her mind was a whirl of impressions--Daphne Wing's figure against the door, Mr. Wagge's puggy grey-bearded countenance, the red pampas-grass, the blue bowl, Rosek's face swooping at her, her last glimpse of her baby asleep under the trees!

She reached Kensington Gardens, turned into that walk renowned for the beauty of its flowers and the plainness of the people who frequent it, and sat down on a bench. It was near the luncheon- hour; nursemaids, dogs, perambulators, old gentlemen--all were hurrying a little toward their food. They glanced with critical surprise at this pretty young woman, leisured and lonely at such an hour, trying to find out what was wrong with her, as one naturally does with beauty--bow legs or something, for sure, to balance a face like that! But Gyp noticed none of them, except now and again a dog which sniffed her knees in passing. For months she had resolutely cultivated insensibility, resolutely refused to face reality; the barrier was forced now, and the flood had swept her away. "Proceedings!" Mr. Wagge had said. To those who shrink from letting their secret affairs be known even by their nearest friends, the notion of a public exhibition of troubles simply never comes, and it had certainly never come to Gyp. With a bitter smile she thought: 'I'm better off than she is, after all! Suppose I loved him, too? No, I never--never--want to love. Women who love suffer too much.'

She sat on that bench a long time before it came into her mind that she was due at Monsieur Harmost's for a music lesson at three o'clock. It was well past two already; and she set out across the grass. The summer day was full of murmurings of bees and flies, cooings of blissful pigeons, the soft swish and stir of leaves, and the scent of lime blossom under a sky so blue, with few white clouds slow, and calm, and full. Why be unhappy? And one of those spotty spaniel dogs, that have broad heads, with frizzy topknots, and are always rascals, smelt at her frock and moved round and round her, hoping that she would throw her sunshade on the water for him to fetch, this being in his view the only reason why anything was carried in the hand.

She found Monsieur Harmost fidgeting up and down the room, whose opened windows could not rid it of the smell of latakia.

"Ah," he said, "I thought you were not coming! You look pale; are you not well? Is it the heat? Or"--he looked hard into her face-- "has someone hurt you, my little friend?" Gyp shook her head. "Ah, yes," he went on irritably; "you tell me nothing; you tell nobody nothing! You close up your pretty face like a flower at night. At your age, my child, one should make confidences; a secret grief is to music as the east wind to the stomach. Put off your mask for once." He came close to her. "Tell me your troubles. It is a long time since I have been meaning to ask. Come! We are only once young; I want to see you happy."

But Gyp stood looking down. Would it be relief to pour her soul out? Would it? His brown eyes questioned her like an old dog's. She did not want to hurt one so kind. And yet--impossible!

Monsieur Harmost suddenly sat down at the piano. Resting his hands on the keys, he looked round at her, and said:

"I am in love with you, you know. Old men can be very much in love, but they know it is no good--that makes them endurable. Still, we like to feel of use to youth and beauty; it gives us a little warmth. Come; tell me your grief!" He waited a moment, then said irritably: "Well, well, we go to music then!"

It was his habit to sit by her at the piano corner, but to-day he stood as if prepared to be exceptionally severe. And Gyp played, whether from overexcited nerves or from not having had any lunch, better than she had ever played. The Chopin polonaise in A flat, that song of revolution, which had always seemed so unattainable, went as if her fingers were being worked for her. When she had finished, Monsieur Harmost, bending forward, lifted one of her hands and put his lips to it. She felt the scrub of his little bristly beard, and raised her face with a deep sigh of satisfaction. A voice behind them said mockingly:

"Bravo!"

There, by the door, stood Fiorsen.

"Congratulations, madame! I have long wanted to see you under the inspiration of your--master!"

Gyp's heart began to beat desperately. Monsieur Harmost had not moved. A faint grin slowly settled in his beard, but his eyes were startled.

Fiorsen kissed the back of his own hand.

"To this old Pantaloon you come to give your heart. Ho--what a lover!"

Gyp saw the old man quiver; she sprang up and cried:

"You brute!"

Fiorsen ran forward, stretching out his arms toward Monsieur Harmost, as if to take him by the throat.

The old man drew himself up. "Monsieur," he said, "you are certainly drunk."

Gyp slipped between, right up to those outstretched hands till she could feel their knuckles against her. Had he gone mad? Would he strangle her? But her eyes never moved from his, and his began to waver; his hands dropped, and, with a kind of moan, he made for the door.

Monsieur Harmost's voice behind her said:

"Before you go, monsieur, give me some explanation of this imbecility!"

Fiorsen spun round, shook his fist, and went out muttering. They heard the front door slam. Gyp turned abruptly to the window, and there, in her agitation, she noticed little outside things as one does in moments of bewildered anger. Even into that back yard, summer had crept. The leaves of the sumach-tree were glistening; in a three-cornered little patch of sunlight, a black cat with a blue ribbon round its neck was basking. The voice of one hawking strawberries drifted melancholy from a side street. She was conscious that Monsieur Harmost was standing very still, with a hand pressed to his mouth, and she felt a perfect passion of compunction and anger. That kind and harmless old man--to be so insulted! This was indeed the culmination of all Gustav's outrages! She would never forgive him this! For he had insulted her as well, beyond what pride or meekness could put up with. She turned, and, running up to the old man, put both her hands into his.

"I'm so awfully sorry. Good-bye, dear, dear Monsieur Harmost; I shall come on Friday!" And, before he could stop her, she was gone.

She dived into the traffic; but, just as she reached the pavement on the other side, felt her dress plucked and saw Fiorsen just behind her. She shook herself free and walked swiftly on. Was he going to make a scene in the street? Again he caught her arm. She stopped dead, faced round on him, and said, in an icy voice:

"Please don't make scenes in the street, and don't follow me like this. If you want to talk to me, you can--at home."

Then, very calmly, she turned and walked on. But he was still following her, some paces off. She did not quicken her steps, and to the first taxicab driver that passed she made a sign, and saying:

"Bury Street--quick!" got in. She saw Fiorsen rush forward, too late to stop her. He threw up his hand and stood still, his face deadly white under his broad-brimmed hat. She was far too angry and upset to care.

From the moment she turned to the window at Monsieur Harmost's, she had determined to go to her father's. She would not go back to Fiorsen; and the one thought that filled her mind was how to get Betty and her baby. Nearly four! Dad was almost sure to be at his club. And leaning out, she said: "No; Hyde Park Corner, please."

The hall porter, who knew her, after calling to a page-boy: "Major Winton--sharp, now!" came specially out of his box to offer her a seat and The Times.

Gyp sat with it on her knee, vaguely taking in her surroundings--a thin old gentleman anxiously weighing himself in a corner, a white- calved footman crossing with a tea-tray; a number of hats on pegs; the green-baize board with its white rows of tapelike paper, and three members standing before it. One of them, a tall, stout, good-humoured-looking man in pince-nez and a white waistcoat, becoming conscious, removed his straw hat and took up a position whence, without staring, he could gaze at her; and Gyp knew, without ever seeming to glance at him, that he found her to his liking. She saw her father's unhurried figure passing that little group, all of whom were conscious now, and eager to get away out of this sanctum of masculinity, she met him at the top of the low steps, and said:

"I want to talk to you, Dad."

He gave her a quick look, selected his hat, and followed to the door. In the cab, he put his hand on hers and said:

"Now, my dear?"

But all she could get out was:

"I want to come back to you. I can't go on there. It's--it's-- I've come to an end."

His hand pressed hers tightly, as if he were trying to save her the need for saying more. Gyp went on:

"I must get baby; I'm terrified that he'll try to keep her, to get me back."

"Is he at home?"

"I don't know. I haven't told him that I'm going to leave him."

Winton looked at his watch and asked:

"Does the baby ever go out as late as this?"

"Yes; after tea. It's cooler."

"I'll take this cab on, then. You stay and get the room ready for her. Don't worry, and don't go out till I return."

And Gyp thought: 'How wonderful of him not to have asked a single question.'

The cab stopped at the Bury Street door. She took his hand, put it to her cheek, and got out. He said quietly:

"Do you want the dogs?"

"Yes--oh, yes! He doesn't care for them."

"All right. There'll be time to get you in some things for the night after I come back. I shan't run any risks to-day. Make Mrs. Markey give you tea."

Gyp watched the cab gather way again, saw him wave his hand; then, with a deep sigh, half anxiety, half relief, she rang the bell.

John Galsworthy