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Chapter I

Gyp was going up to town. She sat in the corner of a first-class carriage, alone. Her father had gone up by an earlier train, for the annual June dinner of his old regiment, and she had stayed to consult the doctor concerning "little Gyp," aged nearly nineteen months, to whom teeth were making life a burden.

Her eyes wandered from window to window, obeying the faint excitement within her. All the winter and spring, she had been at Mildenham, very quiet, riding much, and pursuing her music as best she could, seeing hardly anyone except her father; and this departure for a spell of London brought her the feeling that comes on an April day, when the sky is blue, with snow-white clouds, when in the fields the lambs are leaping, and the grass is warm for the first time, so that one would like to roll in it. At Widrington, a porter entered, carrying a kit-bag, an overcoat, and some golf- clubs; and round the door a little group, such as may be seen at any English wayside station, clustered, filling the air with their clean, slightly drawling voices. Gyp noted a tall woman whose blonde hair was going grey, a young girl with a fox-terrier on a lead, a young man with a Scotch terrier under his arm and his back to the carriage. The girl was kissing the Scotch terrier's head.

"Good-bye, old Ossy! Was he nice! Tumbo, keep down! You're not going!"

"Good-bye, dear boy! Don't work too hard!"

The young man's answer was not audible, but it was followed by irrepressible gurgles and a smothered:

"Oh, Bryan, you are-- Good-bye, dear Ossy!" "Good-bye!" "Good- bye!" The young man who had got in, made another unintelligible joke in a rather high-pitched voice, which was somehow familiar, and again the gurgles broke forth. Then the train moved. Gyp caught a side view of him, waving his hat from the carriage window. It was her acquaintance of the hunting-field--the "Mr. Bryn Summer'ay," as old Pettance called him, who had bought her horse last year. Seeing him pull down his overcoat, to bank up the old Scotch terrier against the jolting of the journey, she thought: 'I like men who think first of their dogs.' His round head, with curly hair, broad brow, and those clean-cut lips, gave her again the wonder: 'Where have I seen someone like him?' He raised the window, and turned round.

"How would you like-- Oh, how d'you do! We met out hunting. You don't remember me, I expect."

"Yes; perfectly. And you bought my horse last summer. How is he?"

"In great form. I forgot to ask what you called him; I've named him Hotspur--he'll never be steady at his fences. I remember how he pulled with you that day."

They were silent, smiling, as people will in remembrance of a good run.

Then, looking at the dog, Gyp said softly:

"He looks rather a darling. How old?"

"Twelve. Beastly when dogs get old!"

There was another little silence while he contemplated her steadily with his clear eyes.

"I came over to call once--with my mother; November the year before last. Somebody was ill."

"Yes--I."

"Badly?"

Gyp shook her head.

"I heard you were married--" The little drawl in his voice had increased, as though covering the abruptness of that remark. Gyp looked up.

"Yes; but my little daughter and I live with my father again." What "came over" her--as they say--to be so frank, she could not have told.

He said simply:

"Ah! I've often thought it queer I've never seen you since. What a run that was!"

"Perfect! Was that your mother on the platform?"

"Yes--and my sister Edith. Extraordinary dead-alive place, Widrington; I expect Mildenham isn't much better?"

"It's very quiet, but I like it."

"By the way, I don't know your name now?"

"Fiorsen."

"Oh, yes! The violinist. Life's a bit of a gamble, isn't it?"

Gyp did not answer that odd remark, did not quite know what to make of this audacious young man, whose hazel eyes and lazy smile were queerly lovable, but whose face in repose had such a broad gravity. He took from his pocket a little red book.

"Do you know these? I always take them travelling. Finest things ever written, aren't they?"

The book--Shakespeare's Sonnets--was open at that which begins:

    "Let me not to the marriage of true minds
          Admit impediments. Love is not love
      Which alters when it alteration finds,
          Or bends with the remover to remove--"

Gyp read on as far as the lines:

    "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
          Within his bending sickle's compass come.
      Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
          But bears it out even to the edge of doom--"

and looked out of the window. The train was passing through a country of fields and dykes, where the sun, far down in the west, shone almost level over wide, whitish-green space, and the spotted cattle browsed or stood by the ditches, lazily flicking their tufted tails. A shaft of sunlight flowed into the carriage, filled with dust motes; and, handing the little book back through that streak of radiance, she said softly:

"Yes; that's wonderful. Do you read much poetry?"

"More law, I'm afraid. But it is about the finest thing in the world, isn't it?"

"No; I think music."

"Are you a musician?"

"Only a little."

"You look as if you might be."

"What? A little?"

"No; I should think you had it badly."

"Thank you. And you haven't it at all?"

"I like opera."

"The hybrid form--and the lowest!"

"That's why it suits me. Don't you like it, though?"

"Yes; that's why I'm going up to London."

"Really? Are you a subscriber?"

"This season."

"So am I. Jolly--I shall see you."

Gyp smiled. It was so long since she had talked to a man of her own age, so long since she had seen a face that roused her curiosity and admiration, so long since she had been admired. The sun-shaft, shifted by a westward trend of the train, bathed her from the knees up; and its warmth increased her light-hearted sense of being in luck--above her fate, instead of under it.

Astounding how much can be talked of in two or three hours of a railway journey! And what a friendly after-warmth clings round those hours! Does the difficulty of making oneself heard provoke confidential utterance? Or is it the isolation or the continual vibration that carries friendship faster and further than will a spasmodic acquaintanceship of weeks? But in that long talk he was far the more voluble. There was, too, much of which she could not speak. Besides, she liked to listen. His slightly drawling voice fascinated her--his audacious, often witty way of putting things, and the irrepressible bubble of laughter that would keep breaking from him. He disclosed his past, such as it was, freely--public- school and college life, efforts at the bar, ambitions, tastes, even his scrapes. And in this spontaneous unfolding there was perpetual flattery; Gyp felt through it all, as pretty women will, a sort of subtle admiration. Presently he asked her if she played piquet.

"Yes; I play with my father nearly every evening."

"Shall we have a game, then?"

She knew he only wanted to play because he could sit nearer, joined by the evening paper over their knees, hand her the cards after dealing, touch her hand by accident, look in her face. And this was not unpleasant; for she, in turn, liked looking at his face, which had what is called "charm"--that something light and unepiscopal, entirely lacking to so many solid, handsome, admirable faces.

But even railway journeys come to an end; and when he gripped her hand to say good-bye, she gave his an involuntary little squeeze. Standing at her cab window, with his hat raised, the old dog under his arm, and a look of frank, rather wistful, admiration on his face, he said:

"I shall see you at the opera, then, and in the Row perhaps; and I may come along to Bury Street, some time, mayn't I?"

Nodding to those friendly words, Gyp drove off through the sultry London evening. Her father was not back from the dinner, and she went straight to her room. After so long in the country, it seemed very close in Bury Street; she put on a wrapper and sat down to brush the train-smoke out of her hair.

For months after leaving Fiorsen, she had felt nothing but relief. Only of late had she begun to see her new position, as it was--that of a woman married yet not married, whose awakened senses have never been gratified, whose spirit is still waiting for unfoldment in love, who, however disillusioned, is--even if in secret from herself--more and more surely seeking a real mate, with every hour that ripens her heart and beauty. To-night--gazing at her face, reflected, intent and mournful, in the mirror--she saw that position more clearly, in all its aridity, than she had ever seen it. What was the use of being pretty? No longer use to anyone! Not yet twenty-six, and in a nunnery! With a shiver, but not of cold, she drew her wrapper close. This time last year she had at least been in the main current of life, not a mere derelict. And yet--better far be like this than go back to him whom memory painted always standing over her sleeping baby, with his arms stretched out and his fingers crooked like claws.

After that early-morning escape, Fiorsen had lurked after her for weeks, in town, at Mildenham, followed them even to Scotland, where Winton had carried her off. But she had not weakened in her resolution a second time, and suddenly he had given up pursuit, and gone abroad. Since then--nothing had come from him, save a few wild or maudlin letters, written evidently during drinking-bouts. Even they had ceased, and for four months she had heard no word. He had "got over" her, it seemed, wherever he was--Russia, Sweden-- who knew--who cared?

She let the brush rest on her knee, thinking again of that walk with her baby through empty, silent streets, in the early misty morning last October, of waiting dead-tired outside here, on the pavement, ringing till they let her in. Often, since, she had wondered how fear could have worked her up to that weird departure. She only knew that it had not been unnatural at the time. Her father and Aunt Rosamund had wanted her to try for a divorce, and no doubt they had been right. But her instincts had refused, still refused to let everyone know her secrets and sufferings--still refused the hollow pretence involved, that she had loved him when she never had. No, it had been her fault for marrying him without love--

      "Love is not love
        Which alters when it alteration finds!"

What irony--giving her that to read--if her fellow traveller had only known!

She got up from before the mirror, and stood looking round her room, the room she had always slept in as a girl. So he had remembered her all this time! It had not seemed like meeting a stranger. They were not strangers now, anyway. And, suddenly, on the wall before her, she saw his face; or, if not, what was so like that she gave a little gasp. Of course! How stupid of her not to have known at once! There, in a brown frame, hung a photograph of the celebrated Botticelli or Masaccio "Head of a Young Man" in the National Gallery. She had fallen in love with it years ago, and on the wall of her room it had been ever since. That broad face, the clear eyes, the bold, clean-cut mouth, the audacity--only, the live face was English, not Italian, had more humour, more "breeding," less poetry--something "old Georgian" about it. How he would laugh if she told him he was like that peasant acolyte with fluffed-out hair, and a little ruching round his neck! And, smiling, Gyp plaited her own hair and got into bed.

But she could not sleep; she heard her father come in and go up to his room, heard the clocks strike midnight, and one, and two, and always the dull roar of Piccadilly. She had nothing over her but a sheet, and still it was too hot. There was a scent in the room, as of honeysuckle. Where could it come from? She got up at last, and went to the window. There, on the window-sill, behind the curtains, was a bowl of jessamine. Her father must have brought it up for her--just like him to think of that!

And, burying her nose in those white blossoms, she was visited by a memory of her first ball--that evening of such delight and disillusionment. Perhaps Bryan Summerhay had been there--all that time ago! If he had been introduced to her then, if she had happened to dance with him instead of with that man who had kissed her arm, might she not have felt different toward all men? And if he had admired her--and had not everyone, that night--might she not have liked, perhaps more than liked, him in return? Or would she have looked on him as on all her swains before she met Fiorsen, so many moths fluttering round a candle, foolish to singe themselves, not to be taken seriously? Perhaps she had been bound to have her lesson, to be humbled and brought low!

Taking a sprig of jessamine and holding it to her nose, she went up to that picture. In the dim light, she could just see the outline of the face and the eyes gazing at her. The scent of the blossom penetrated her nerves; in her heart, something faintly stirred, as a leaf turns over, as a wing flutters. And, blossom and all, she clasped her hands over her breast, where again her heart quivered with that faint, shy tremor.

It was late, no--early, when she fell asleep and had a strange dream. She was riding her old mare through a field of flowers. She had on a black dress, and round her head a crown of bright, pointed crystals; she sat without saddle, her knee curled up, perched so lightly that she hardly felt the mare's back, and the reins she held were long twisted stems of honeysuckle. Singing as she rode, her eyes flying here and there, over the field, up to the sky, she felt happier, lighter than thistledown. While they raced along, the old mare kept turning her head and biting at the honeysuckle flowers; and suddenly that chestnut face became the face of Summerhay, looking back at her with his smile. She awoke. Sunlight, through the curtains where she had opened them to find the flowers, was shining on her.

John Galsworthy