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Chapter V

Summerhay did not wear his heart on his sleeve, and when, on the closing-day of term, he left his chambers to walk to that last meeting, his face was much as usual under his grey top hat. But, in truth, he had come to a pretty pass. He had his own code of what was befitting to a gentleman. It was perhaps a trifle "old Georgian," but it included doing nothing to distress a woman. All these weeks he had kept himself in hand; but to do so had cost him more than he liked to reflect on. The only witness of his struggles was his old Scotch terrier, whose dreams he had disturbed night after night, tramping up and down the long back-to-front sitting-room of his little house. She knew--must know--what he was feeling. If she wanted his love, she had but to raise her finger; and she had not raised it. When he touched her, when her dress disengaged its perfume or his eyes traced the slow, soft movement of her breathing, his head would go round, and to keep calm and friendly had been torture.

While he could see her almost every day, this control had been just possible; but now that he was about to lose her--for weeks--his heart felt sick within him. He had been hard put to it before the world. A man passionately in love craves solitude, in which to alternate between fierce exercise and that trance-like stillness when a lover simply aches or is busy conjuring her face up out of darkness or the sunlight. He had managed to do his work, had been grateful for having it to do; but to his friends he had not given attention enough to prevent them saying: "What's up with old Bryan?" Always rather elusive in his movements, he was now too elusive altogether for those who had been accustomed to lunch, dine, dance, and sport with him. And yet he shunned his own company--going wherever strange faces, life, anything distracted him a little, without demanding real attention. It must be confessed that he had come unwillingly to discovery of the depth of his passion, aware that it meant giving up too much. But there are women who inspire feeling so direct and simple that reason does not come into play; and he had never asked himself whether Gyp was worth loving, whether she had this or that quality, such or such virtue. He wanted her exactly as she was; and did not weigh her in any sort of balance. It is possible for men to love passionately, yet know that their passion is but desire, possible for men to love for sheer spiritual worth, feeling that the loved one lacks this or that charm.

Summerhay's love had no such divided consciousness. About her past, too, he dismissed speculation. He remembered having heard in the hunting-field that she was Winton's natural daughter; even then it had made him long to punch the head of that covertside scandal- monger. The more there might be against the desirability of loving her, the more he would love her; even her wretched marriage only affected him in so far as it affected her happiness. It did not matter--nothing mattered except to see her and be with her as much as she would let him. And now she was going to the sea for a month, and he himself--curse it!--was due in Perthshire to shoot grouse. A month!

He walked slowly along the river. Dared he speak? At times, her face was like a child's when it expects some harsh or frightening word. One could not hurt her--impossible! But, at times, he had almost thought she would like him to speak. Once or twice he had caught a slow soft glance--gone the moment he had sight of it.

He was before his time, and, leaning on the river parapet, watched the tide run down. The sun shone on the water, brightening its yellowish swirl, and little black eddies--the same water that had flowed along under the willows past Eynsham, past Oxford, under the church at Clifton, past Moulsford, past Sonning. And he thought: 'My God! To have her to myself one day on the river--one whole long day!' Why had he been so pusillanimous all this time? He passed his hand over his face. Broad faces do not easily grow thin, but his felt thin to him, and this gave him a kind of morbid satisfaction. If she knew how he was longing, how he suffered! He turned away, toward Whitehall. Two men he knew stopped to bandy a jest. One of them was just married. They, too, were off to Scotland for the twelfth. Pah! How stale and flat seemed that which till then had been the acme of the whole year to him! Ah, but if he had been going to Scotland with her! He drew his breath in with a sigh that nearly removed the Home Office.

Oblivious of the gorgeous sentries at the Horse Guards, oblivious of all beauty, he passed irresolute along the water, making for their usual seat; already, in fancy, he was sitting there, prodding at the gravel, a nervous twittering in his heart, and that eternal question: Dare I speak? asking itself within him. And suddenly he saw that she was before him, sitting there already. His heart gave a jump. No more craning--he would speak!

She was wearing a maize-coloured muslin to which the sunlight gave a sort of transparency, and sat, leaning back, her knees crossed, one hand resting on the knob of her furled sunshade, her face half hidden by her shady hat. Summerhay clenched his teeth, and went straight up to her.

"Gyp! No, I won't call you anything else. This can't go on! You know it can't. You know I worship you! If you can't love me, I've got to break away. All day, all night, I think and dream of nothing but you. Gyp, do you want me to go?"

Suppose she said: "Yes, go!" She made a little movement, as if in protest, and without looking at him, answered very low:

"Of course I don't want you to go. How could I?"

Summerhay gasped.

"Then you do love me?"

She turned her face away.

"Wait, please. Wait a little longer. When we come back I'll tell you: I promise!"

"So long?"

"A month. Is that long? Please! It's not easy for me." She smiled faintly, lifted her eyes to him just for a second. "Please not any more now."

That evening at his club, through the bluish smoke of cigarette after cigarette, he saw her face as she had lifted it for that one second; and now he was in heaven, now in hell.

John Galsworthy