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Chapter XX

Three days after her abortive attempt to break away, Gyp, with much heart-searching, wrote to Daphne Wing, telling her of Fiorsen's illness, and mentioning a cottage near Mildenham, where--if she liked to go--she would be quite comfortable and safe from all curiosity, and finally begging to be allowed to make good the losses from any broken dance-contracts.

Next morning, she found Mr. Wagge with a tall, crape-banded hat in his black-gloved hands, standing in the very centre of her drawing- room. He was staring into the garden, as if he had been vouchsafed a vision of that warm night when the moonlight shed its ghostly glamour on the sunflowers, and his daughter had danced out there. She had a perfect view of his thick red neck in its turndown collar, crossed by a black bow over a shiny white shirt. And, holding out her hand, she said:

"How do you do, Mr. Wagge? It was kind of you to come."

Mr. Wagge turned. His pug face wore a downcast expression.

"I hope I see you well, ma'am. Pretty place you 'ave 'ere. I'm fond of flowers myself. They've always been my 'obby."

"They're a great comfort in London, aren't they?"

"Ye-es; I should think you might grow the dahlia here." And having thus obeyed the obscure instincts of savoir faire, satisfied some obscurer desire to flatter, he went on: "My girl showed me your letter. I didn't like to write; in such a delicate matter I'd rather be vivey vocey. Very kind, in your position; I'm sure I appreciate it. I always try to do the Christian thing myself. Flesh passes; you never know when you may have to take your turn. I said to my girl I'd come and see you."

"I'm very glad. I hoped perhaps you would."

Mr. Wagge cleared his throat, and went on, in a hoarser voice:

"I don't want to say anything harsh about a certain party in your presence, especially as I read he's indisposed, but really I hardly know how to bear the situation. I can't bring myself to think of money in relation to that matter; all the same, it's a serious loss to my daughter, very serious loss. I've got my family pride to think of. My daughter's name, well--it's my own; and, though I say it, I'm respected--a regular attendant--I think I told you. Sometimes, I assure you, I feel I can't control myself, and it's only that--and you, if I may say so, that keeps me in check."

During this speech, his black-gloved hands were clenching and unclenching, and he shifted his broad, shining boots. Gyp gazed at them, not daring to look up at his eyes thus turning and turning from Christianity to shekels, from his honour to the world, from his anger to herself. And she said:

"Please let me do what I ask, Mr. Wagge. I should be so unhappy if I mightn't do that little something."

Mr. Wagge blew his nose.

"It's a delicate matter," he said. "I don't know where my duty lays. I don't, reelly."

Gyp looked up then.

"The great thing is to save Daisy suffering, isn't it?"

Mr. Wagge's face wore for a moment an expression of affront, as if from the thought: 'Sufferin'! You must leave that to her father!' Then it wavered; the curious, furtive warmth of the attracted male came for a moment into his little eyes; he averted them, and coughed. Gyp said softly:

"To please me."

Mr. Wagge's readjusted glance stopped in confusion at her waist. He answered, in a voice that he strove to make bland:

"If you put it in that way, I don't reelly know 'ow to refuse; but it must be quite between you and me--I can't withdraw my attitude."

Gyp murmured:

"No, of course. Thank you so much; and you'll let me know about everything later. I mustn't take up your time now." And she held out her hand.

Mr. Wagge took it in a lingering manner.

"Well, I have an appointment," he said; "a gentleman at Campden Hill. He starts at twelve. I'm never late. Good-morning."

When she had watched his square, black figure pass through the outer gate, busily rebuttoning those shining black gloves, she went upstairs and washed her face and hands.

For several days, Fiorsen wavered; but his collapse had come just in time, and with every hour the danger lessened. At the end of a fortnight of a perfectly white life, there remained nothing to do in the words of the doctor but "to avoid all recurrence of the predisposing causes, and shove in sea air!" Gyp had locked up all brandy--and violins; she could control him so long as he was tamed by his own weakness. But she passed some very bitter hours before she sent for her baby, Betty, and the dogs, and definitely took up life in her little house again. His debts had been paid, including the thousand pounds to Rosek, and the losses of Daphne Wing. The girl had gone down to that cottage where no one had ever heard of her, to pass her time in lonely grief and terror, with the aid of a black dress and a gold band on her third finger.

August and the first half of September were spent near Bude. Fiorsen's passion for the sea, a passion Gyp could share, kept him singularly moderate and free from restiveness. He had been thoroughly frightened, and such terror is not easily forgotten. They stayed in a farmhouse, where he was at his best with the simple folk, and his best could be charming. He was always trying to get his "mermaid," as he took to calling Gyp, away from the baby, getting her away to himself, along the grassy cliffs and among the rocks and yellow sands of that free coast. His delight was to find every day some new nook where they could bathe, and dry themselves by sitting in the sun. And very like a mermaid she was, on a seaweedy rock, with her feet close together in a little pool, her fingers combing her drowned hair, and the sun silvering her wet body. If she had loved him, it would have been perfect. But though, close to nature like this--there are men to whom towns are poison--he was so much more easy to bear, even to like, her heart never opened to him, never fluttered at his voice, or beat more quickly under his kisses. One cannot regulate these things. The warmth in her eyes when they looked at her baby, and the coolness when they looked at him, was such that not even a man, and he an egoist, could help seeing; and secretly he began to hate that tiny rival, and she began to notice that he did.

As soon as the weather broke, he grew restless, craving his violin, and they went back to town, in robust health--all three. During those weeks, Gyp had never been free of the feeling that it was just a lull, of forces held up in suspense, and the moment they were back in their house, this feeling gathered density and darkness, as rain gathers in the sky after a fine spell. She had often thought of Daphne Wing, and had written twice, getting in return one naive and pathetic answer:

'DEAR MRS. FIORSEN,

'Oh, it is kind of you to write, because I know what you must be feeling about me; and it was so kind of you to let me come here. I try not to think about things, but of course I can't help it; and I don't seem to care what happens now. Mother is coming down here later on. Sometimes I lie awake all night, listening to the wind. Don't you think the wind is the most melancholy thing in the world? I wonder if I shall die? I hope I shall. Oh, I do, really! Good- bye, dear Mrs. Fiorsen. I shall never forgive myself about you.

'Your grateful,

'DAPHNE WING.'

The girl had never once been mentioned between her and Fiorsen since the night when he sat by her bed, begging forgiveness; she did not know whether he ever gave the little dancer and her trouble a thought, or even knew what had become of her. But now that the time was getting near, Gyp felt more and more every day as if she must go down and see her. She wrote to her father, who, after a dose of Harrogate with Aunt Rosamund, was back at Mildenham. Winton answered that the nurse was there, and that there seemed to be a woman, presumably the mother, staying with her, but that he had not of course made direct inquiry. Could not Gyp come down? He was alone, and cubbing had begun. It was like him to veil his longings under such dry statements. But the thought of giving him pleasure, and of a gallop with hounds fortified intensely her feeling that she ought to go. Now that baby was so well, and Fiorsen still not drinking, she might surely snatch this little holiday and satisfy her conscience about the girl. Since the return from Cornwall, she had played for him in the music-room just as of old, and she chose the finish of a morning practice to say:

"Gustav, I want to go to Mildenham this afternoon for a week. Father's lonely."

He was putting away his violin, but she saw his neck grow red.

"To him? No. He will steal you as he stole the baby. Let him have the baby if he likes. Not you. No."

Gyp, who was standing by the piano, kept silence at this unexpected outburst, but revolt blazed up in her. She never asked him anything; he should not refuse this. He came up behind and put his arms round her.

"My Gyp, I want you here--I am lonely, too. Don't go away."

She tried to force his arms apart, but could not, and her anger grew. She said coldly:

"There's another reason why I must go."

"No, no! No good reason--to take you from me."

"There is! The girl who is just going to have your child is staying near Mildenham, and I want to see how she is."

He let go of her then, and recoiling against the divan, sat down. And Gyp thought: 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--but it serves him right.'

He muttered, in a dull voice:

"Oh, I hoped she was dead."

"Yes! For all you care, she might be. I'm going, but you needn't be afraid that I shan't come back. I shall be back to-day week; I promise."

He looked at her fixedly.

"Yes. You don't break your promises; you will not break it." But, suddenly, he said again: "Gyp, don't go!"

"I must."

He got up and caught her in his arms.

"Say you love me, then!"

But she could not. It was one thing to put up with embraces, quite another to pretend that. When at last he was gone, she sat smoothing her hair, staring before her with hard eyes, thinking: "Here--where I saw him with that girl! What animals men are!"

Late that afternoon, she reached Mildenham. Winton met her at the station. And on the drive up, they passed the cottage where Daphne Wing was staying. It stood in front of a small coppice, a creepered, plain-fronted, little brick house, with a garden still full of sunflowers, tenanted by the old jockey, Pettance, his widowed daughter, and her three small children. "That talkative old scoundrel," as Winton always called him, was still employed in the Mildenham stables, and his daughter was laundress to the establishment. Gyp had secured for Daphne Wing the same free, independent, economic agent who had watched over her own event; the same old doctor, too, was to be the presiding deity. There were no signs of life about the cottage, and she would not stop, too eager to be at home again, to see the old rooms, and smell the old savour of the house, to get to her old mare, and feel its nose nuzzling her for sugar. It was so good to be back once more, feeling strong and well and able to ride. The smile of the inscrutable Markey at the front door was a joy to her, even the darkness of the hall, where a gleam of last sunlight fell across the skin of Winton's first tiger, on which she had so often sunk down dead tired after hunting. Ah, it was nice to be at home!

In her mare's box, old Pettance was putting a last touch to cleanliness. His shaven, skin-tight, wicked old face, smiled deeply. He said in honeyed tones:

"Good evenin', miss; beautiful evenin', ma'am!" And his little burning brown eyes, just touched by age, regarded her lovingly.

"Well, Pettance, how are you? And how's Annie, and how are the children? And how's this old darling?"

"Wonderful, miss; artful as a kitten. Carry you like a bird to- morrow, if you're goin' out."

"How are her legs?"

And while Gyp passed her hand down those iron legs, the old mare examined her down the back of her neck.

"They 'aven't filled not once since she come in--she was out all July and August; but I've kept 'er well at it since, in 'opes you might be comin'."

"They feel splendid." And, still bending down, Gyp asked: "And how is your lodger--the young lady I sent you?"

"Well, ma'am, she's very young, and these very young ladies they get a bit excited, you know, at such times; I should say she've never been--" With obvious difficulty he checked the words, "to an 'orse before!" "Well, you must expect it. And her mother, she's a dreadful funny one, miss. She does needle me! Oh, she puts my back up properly! No class, of course--that's where it is. But this 'ere nurse--well, you know, miss, she won't 'ave no nonsense; so there we are. And, of course, you're bound to 'ave 'ighsteria, a bit--losin' her 'usband as young as that."

Gyp could feel his wicked old smile even before she raised herself. But what did it matter if he did guess? She knew he would keep a stable secret.

"Oh, we've 'ad some pretty flirts--up and cryin', dear me! I sleeps in the next room--oh, yes, at night-time--when you're a widder at that age, you can't expect nothin' else. I remember when I was ridin' in Ireland for Captain O'Neill, there was a young woman--"

Gyp thought: 'I mustn't let him get off--or I shall be late for dinner,' and she said:

"Oh, Pettance, who bought the young brown horse?"

"Mr. Bryn Summer'ay, ma'am, over at Widrington, for an 'unter, and 'ack in town, miss."

"Summerhay? Ah!" With a touch of the whip to her memory, Gyp recalled the young man with the clear eyes and teasing smile, on the chestnut mare, the bold young man who reminded her of somebody, and she added:

"That'll be a good home for him, I should think."

"Oh, yes, miss; good 'ome--nice gentleman, too. He come over here to see it, and asked after you. I told 'im you was a married lady now, miss. 'Ah,' he said; 'she rode beautiful!' And he remembered the 'orse well. The major, he wasn't 'ere just then, so I let him try the young un; he popped 'im over a fence or two, and when he come back he says, 'Well, I'm goin' to have 'im.' Speaks very pleasant, an' don't waste no time--'orse was away before the end of the week. Carry 'im well; 'e's a strong rider, too, and a good plucked one, but bad 'ands, I should say."

"Yes, Pettance; I must go in now. Will you tell Annie I shall be round to-morrow, to see her?"

"Very good, miss. 'Ounds meets at Filly Cross, seven-thirty. You'll be goin' out?"

"Rather. Good-night."

Flying back across the yard, Gyp thought: "'She rode beautiful!' How jolly! I'm glad he's got my horse."

John Galsworthy