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Chapter XVII

When the cab debouched again into St. James' Street, Winton gave the order: "Quick as you can!" One could think better going fast! A little red had come into his brown cheeks; his eyes under their half-drawn lids had a keener light; his lips were tightly closed; he looked as he did when a fox was breaking cover. Gyp could do no wrong, or, if she could, he would stand by her in it as a matter of course. But he was going to take no risks--make no frontal attack. Time for that later, if necessary. He had better nerves than most people, and that kind of steely determination and resource which makes many Englishmen of his class formidable in small operations. He kept his cab at the door, rang, and asked for Gyp, with a kind of pleasure in his ruse.

"She's not in yet, sir. Mr. Fiorsen's in."

"Ah! And baby?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll come in and see her. In the garden?"

"Yes, sir."

"Dogs there, too?"

"Yes, sir. And will you have tea, please, sir?"

"No, thanks." How to effect this withdrawal without causing gossip, and yet avoid suspicion of collusion with Gyp? And he added: "Unless Mrs. Fiorsen comes in."

Passing out into the garden, he became aware that Fiorsen was at the dining-room window watching him, and decided to make no sign that he knew this. The baby was under the trees at the far end, and the dogs came rushing thence with a fury which lasted till they came within scent of him. Winton went leisurely up to the perambulator, and, saluting Betty, looked down at his grandchild. She lay under an awning of muslin, for fear of flies, and was awake. Her solemn, large brown eyes, already like Gyp's, regarded him with gravity. Clucking to her once or twice, as is the custom, he moved so as to face the house. In this position, he had Betty with her back to it. And he said quietly:

"I'm here with a message from your mistress, Betty. Keep your head; don't look round, but listen to me. She's at Bury Street and going to stay there; she wants you and baby and the dogs." The stout woman's eyes grew round and her mouth opened. Winton put his hand on the perambulator. "Steady, now! Go out as usual with this thing. It's about your time; and wait for me at the turning to Regent's Park. I'll come on in my cab and pick you all up. Don't get flurried; don't take anything; do exactly as you usually would. Understand?"

It is not in the nature of stout women with babies in their charge to receive such an order without question. Her colour, and the heaving of that billowy bosom made Winton add quickly:

"Now, Betty, pull yourself together; Gyp wants you. I'll tell you all about it in the cab."

The poor woman, still heaving vaguely, could only stammer:

"Yes, sir. Poor little thing! What about its night-things? And Miss Gyp's?"

Conscious of that figure still at the window, Winton made some passes with his fingers at the baby, and said:

"Never mind them. As soon as you see me at the drawing-room window, get ready and go. Eyes front, Betty; don't look round; I'll cover your retreat! Don't fail Gyp now. Pull yourself together."

With a sigh that could have been heard in Kensington, Betty murmured: "Very well, sir; oh dear!" and began to adjust the strings of her bonnet. With nods, as if he had been the recipient of some sage remarks about the baby, Winton saluted, and began his march again towards the house. He carefully kept his eyes to this side and to that, as if examining the flowers, but noted all the same that Fiorsen had receded from the window. Rapid thought told him that the fellow would come back there to see if he were gone, and he placed himself before a rose-bush, where, at that reappearance, he could make a sign of recognition. Sure enough, he came; and Winton quietly raising his hand to the salute passed on through the drawing-room window. He went quickly into the hall, listened a second, and opened the dining-room door. Fiorsen was pacing up and down, pale and restless. He came to a standstill and stared haggardly at Winton, who said:

"How are you? Gyp not in?"

"No."

Something in the sound of that "No" touched Winton with a vague--a very vague--compunction. To be left by Gyp! Then his heart hardened again. The fellow was a rotter--he was sure of it, had always been sure.

"Baby looks well," he said.

Fiorsen turned and began to pace up and down again.

"Where is Gyp? I want her to come in. I want her."

Winton took out his watch.

"It's not late." And suddenly he felt a great aversion for the part he was playing. To get the baby; to make Gyp safe--yes! But, somehow, not this pretence that he knew nothing about it. He turned on his heel and walked out. It imperilled everything; but he couldn't help it. He could not stay and go on prevaricating like this. Had that woman got clear? He went back into the drawing-room. There they were--just passing the side of the house. Five minutes, and they would be down at the turning. He stood at the window, waiting. If only that fellow did not come in! Through the partition wall he could hear him still tramping up and down the dining-room. What a long time a minute was! Three had gone when he heard the dining-room door opened, and Fiorsen crossing the hall to the front door. What was he after, standing there as if listening? And suddenly he heard him sigh. It was just such a sound as many times, in the long-past days, had escaped himself, waiting, listening for footsteps, in parched and sickening anxiety. Did this fellow then really love--almost as he had loved? And in revolt at spying on him like this, he advanced and said:

"Well, I won't wait any longer."

Fiorsen started; he had evidently supposed himself alone. And Winton thought: 'By Jove! he does look bad!'

"Good-bye!" he said; but the words: "Give my love to Gyp," perished on their way up to his lips.

"Good-bye!" Fiorsen echoed. And Winton went out under the trellis, conscious of that forlorn figure still standing at the half-opened door. Betty was nowhere in sight; she must have reached the turning. His mission had succeeded, but he felt no elation. Round the corner, he picked up his convoy, and, with the perambulator hoisted on to the taxi, journeyed on at speed. He had said he would explain in the cab, but the only remark he made was:

"You'll all go down to Mildenham to-morrow."

And Betty, who had feared him ever since their encounter so many years ago, eyed his profile, without daring to ask questions. Before he reached home, Winton stopped at a post-office, and sent this telegram:

"Gyp and the baby are with me letter follows.--WINTON."

It salved a conscience on which that fellow's figure in the doorway weighed; besides, it was necessary, lest Fiorsen should go to the police. The rest must wait till he had talked with Gyp.

There was much to do, and it was late before they dined, and not till Markey had withdrawn could they begin their talk.

Close to the open windows where Markey had placed two hydrangea plants--just bought on his own responsibility, in token of silent satisfaction--Gyp began. She kept nothing back, recounting the whole miserable fiasco of her marriage. When she came to Daphne Wing and her discovery in the music-room, she could see the glowing end of her father's cigar move convulsively. That insult to his adored one seemed to Winton so inconceivable that, for a moment, he stopped her recital by getting up to pace the room. In her own house--her own house! And--after that, she had gone on with him! He came back to his chair and did not interrupt again, but his stillness almost frightened her.

Coming to the incidents of the day itself, she hesitated. Must she tell him, too, of Rosek--was it wise, or necessary? The all-or- nothing candour that was part of her nature prevailed, and she went straight on, and, save for the feverish jerking of his evening shoe, Winton made no sign. When she had finished, he got up and slowly extinguished the end of his cigar against the window-sill; then looking at her lying back in her chair as if exhausted, he said: "By God!" and turned his face away to the window.

At that hour before the theatres rose, a lull brooded in the London streets; in this quiet narrow one, the town's hum was only broken by the clack of a half-drunken woman bickering at her man as they lurched along for home, and the strains of a street musician's fiddle, trying to make up for a blank day. The sound vaguely irritated Winton, reminding him of those two damnable foreigners by whom she had been so treated. To have them at the point of a sword or pistol--to teach them a lesson! He heard her say:

"Dad, I should like to pay his debts. Then things would be as they were when I married him."

He emitted an exasperated sound. He did not believe in heaping coals of fire.

"I want to make sure, too, that the girl is all right till she's over her trouble. Perhaps I could use some of that--that other money, if mine is all tied up?"

It was sheer anger, not disapproval of her impulse, that made him hesitate; money and revenge would never be associated in his mind. Gyp went on:

"I want to feel as if I'd never let him marry me. Perhaps his debts are all part of that--who knows? Please!"

Winton looked at her. How like--when she said that "Please!" How like--her figure sunk back in the old chair, and the face lifted in shadow! A sort of exultation came to him. He had got her back-- had got her back!

John Galsworthy