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Chapter IX

Fiorsen, passing Markey like a blind man, made his way out into the street, but had not gone a hundred yards before he was hurrying back. He had left his hat. The servant, still standing there, handed him that wide-brimmed object and closed the door in his face. Once more he moved away, going towards Piccadilly. If it had not been for the expression on Gyp's face, what might he not have done? And, mixed with sickening jealousy, he felt a sort of relief, as if he had been saved from something horrible. So she had never loved him! Never at all? Impossible! Impossible that a woman on whom he had lavished such passion should never have felt passion for him--never any! Innumerable images of her passed before him--surrendering, always surrendering. It could not all have been pretence! He was not a common man--she herself had said so; he had charm--or, other women thought so! She had lied; she must have lied, to excuse herself!

He went into a cafe and asked for a fine champagne. They brought him a carafe, with the measures marked. He sat there a long time. When he rose, he had drunk nine, and he felt better, with a kind of ferocity that was pleasant in his veins and a kind of nobility that was pleasant in his soul. Let her love, and be happy with her lover! But let him get his fingers on that fellow's throat! Let her be happy, if she could keep her lover from him! And suddenly, he stopped in his tracks, for there on a sandwich-board just in front of him were the words: "Daphne Wing. Pantheon. Daphne Wing. Plastic Danseuse. Poetry of Motion. To-day at three o'clock. Pantheon. Daphne Wing."

Ah, she had loved him--little Daphne! It was past three. Going in, he took his place in the stalls, close to the stage, and stared before him, with a sort of bitter amusement. This was irony indeed! Ah--and here she came! A Pierrette--in short, diaphanous muslin, her face whitened to match it; a Pierrette who stood slowly spinning on her toes, with arms raised and hands joined in an arch above her glistening hair.

Idiotic pose! Idiotic! But there was the old expression on her face, limpid, dovelike. And that something of the divine about her dancing smote Fiorsen through all the sheer imbecility of her posturings. Across and across she flitted, pirouetting, caught up at intervals by a Pierrot in black tights with a face as whitened as her own, held upside down, or right end up with one knee bent sideways, and the toe of a foot pressed against the ankle of the other, and arms arched above her. Then, with Pierrot's hands grasping her waist, she would stand upon one toe and slowly twiddle, lifting her other leg toward the roof, while the trembling of her form manifested cunningly to all how hard it was; then, off the toe, she capered out to the wings, and capered back, wearing on her face that divine, lost, dovelike look, while her perfect legs gleamed white up to the very thigh-joint. Yes; on the stage she was adorable! And raising his hands high, Fiorsen clapped and called out: "Brava!" He marked the sudden roundness of her eyes, a tiny start--no more. She had seen him. 'Ah! Some don't forget me!' he thought.

And now she came on for her second dance, assisted this time only by her own image reflected in a little weedy pool about the middle of the stage. From the programme Fiorsen read, "Ophelia's last dance," and again he grinned. In a clinging sea-green gown, cut here and there to show her inevitable legs, with marguerites and corn-flowers in her unbound hair, she circled her own reflection, languid, pale, desolate; then slowly gaining the abandon needful to a full display, danced with frenzy till, in a gleam of limelight, she sank into the apparent water and floated among paper water- lilies on her back. Lovely she looked there, with her eyes still open, her lips parted, her hair trailing behind. And again Fiorsen raised his hands high to clap, and again called out: 'Brava!' But the curtain fell, and Ophelia did not reappear. Was it the sight of him, or was she preserving the illusion that she was drowned? That "arty" touch would be just like her.

Averting his eyes from two comedians in calico, beating each other about the body, he rose with an audible "Pish!" and made his way out. He stopped in the street to scribble on his card, "Will you see me?--G. F." and took it round to the stage-door. The answer came back:

"Miss Wing will see you m a minute, sir."

And leaning against the distempered wall of the draughty corridor, a queer smile on his face, Fiorsen wondered why the devil he was there, and what the devil she would say.

When he was admitted, she was standing with her hat on, while her "dresser" buttoned her patent-leather shoes. Holding out her hand above the woman's back, she said:

"Oh, Mr. Fiorsen, how do you do?"

Fiorsen took the little moist hand; and his eyes passed over her, avoiding a direct meeting with her eyes. He received an impression of something harder, more self-possessed, than he remembered. Her face was the same, yet not the same; only her perfect, supple little body was as it had been. The dresser rose, murmured: "Good- afternoon, miss," and went.

Daphne Wing smiled faintly.

"I haven't seen you for a long time, have I?"

"No; I've been abroad. You dance as beautifully as ever."

"Oh, yes; it hasn't hurt my dancing."

With an effort, he looked her in the face. Was this really the same girl who had clung to him, cloyed him with her kisses, her tears, her appeals for love--just a little love? Ah, but she was more desirable, much more desirable than he had remembered! And he said:

"Give me a kiss, little Daphne!"

Daphne Wing did not stir; her white teeth rested on her lower lip; she said:

"Oh, no, thank you! How is Mrs. Fiorsen?"

Fiorsen turned abruptly.

"There is none."

"Oh, has she divorced you?"

"No. Stop talking of her; stop talking, I say!"

Daphne Wing, still motionless in the centre of her little crowded dressing-room said, in a matter-of-fact voice:

"You are polite, aren't you? It's funny; I can't tell whether I'm glad to see you. I had a bad time, you know; and Mrs. Fiorsen was an angel. Why do you come to see me now?"

Exactly! Why had he come? The thought flashed through him: 'She'll help me to forget.' And he said:

"I was a great brute to you, Daphne. I came to make up, if I can."

"Oh, no; you can't make up--thank you!" A shudder ran through her, and she began drawing on her gloves. "You taught me a lot, you know. I ought to be quite grateful. Oh, you've grown a little beard! D'you think that improves you? It makes you look rather like Mephistopheles, I think."

Fiorsen stared fixedly at that perfectly shaped face, where a faint, underdone pink mingled with the fairness of the skin. Was she mocking him? Impossible! She looked too matter of fact.

"Where do you live now?" he said.

"I'm on my own, in a studio. You can come and see it, if you like."

"With pleasure."

"Only, you'd better understand. I've had enough of love."

Fiorsen grinned.

"Even for another?" he said.

Daphne Wing answered calmly:

"I wish you would treat me like a lady."

Fiorsen bit his lip, and bowed.

"May I have the pleasure of giving you some tea?"

"Yes, thank you; I'm very hungry. I don't eat lunch on matinee- days; I find it better not. Do you like my Ophelia dance?"

"It's artificial."

"Yes, it is artificial--it's done with mirrors and wire netting, you know. But do I give you the illusion of being mad?" Fiorsen nodded. "I'm so glad. Shall we go? I do want my tea."

She turned round, scrutinized herself in the glass, touched her hat with both hands, revealing, for a second, all the poised beauty of her figure, took a little bag from the back of a chair, and said:

"I think, if you don't mind going on, it's less conspicuous. I'll meet you at Ruffel's--they have lovely things there. Au revoir."

In a state of bewilderment, irritation, and queer meekness, Fiorsen passed down Coventry Street, and entering the empty Ruffel's, took a table near the window. There he sat staring before him, for the sudden vision of Gyp sitting on that oaken chest, at the foot of her bed, had blotted the girl clean out. The attendant coming to take his order, gazed at his pale, furious face, and said mechanically:

"What can I get you, please?"

Looking up, Fiorsen saw Daphne Wing outside, gazing at the cakes in the window. She came in.

"Oh, here you are! I should like iced coffee and walnut cake, and some of those marzipan sweets--oh, and some whipped cream with my cake. Do you mind?" And, sitting down, she fixed her eyes on his face and asked:

"Where have you been abroad?"

"Stockholm, Budapest, Moscow, other places."

"How perfect! Do you think I should make a success in Budapest or Moscow?"

"You might; you are English enough."

"Oh! Do you think I'm very English?"

"Utterly. Your kind of--" But even he was not quite capable of finishing that sentence--"your kind of vulgarity could not be produced anywhere else." Daphne Wing finished it for him:

"My kind of beauty?"

Fiorsen grinned and nodded.

"Oh, I think that's the nicest thing you ever said to me! Only, of course, I should like to think I'm more of the Greek type--pagan, you know."

She fell silent, casting her eyes down. Her profile at that moment, against the light, was very pure and soft in line. And he said:

"I suppose you hate me, little Daphne? You ought to hate me."

Daphne Wing looked up; her round, blue-grey eyes passed over him much as they had been passing over the marzipan.

"No; I don't hate you--now. Of course, if I had any love left for you, I should. Oh, isn't that Irish? But one can think anybody a rotter without hating them, can't one?"

Fiorsen bit his lips.

"So you think me a 'rotter'?"

Daphne Wing's eyes grew rounder.

"But aren't you? You couldn't be anything else--could you?--with the sort of things you did."

"And yet you don't mind having tea with me?"

Daphne Wing, who had begun to eat and drink, said with her mouth full:

"You see, I'm independent now, and I know life. That makes you harmless."

Fiorsen stretched out his hand and seized hers just where her little warm pulse was beating very steadily. She looked at it, changed her fork over, and went on eating with the other hand. Fiorsen drew his hand away as if he had been stung.

"Ah, you have changed--that is certain!"

"Yes; you wouldn't expect anything else, would you? You see, one doesn't go through that for nothing. I think I was a dreadful little fool--" She stopped, with her spoon on its way to her mouth--"and yet--"

"I love you still, little Daphne."

She slowly turned her head toward him, and a faint sigh escaped her.

"Once I would have given a lot to hear that."

And turning her head away again, she picked a large walnut out of her cake and put it in her mouth.

"Are you coming to see my studio? I've got it rather nice and new. I'm making twenty-five a week; my next engagement, I'm going to get thirty. I should like Mrs. Fiorsen to know-- Oh, I forgot; you don't like me to speak of her! Why not? I wish you'd tell me!" Gazing, as the attendant had, at his furious face, she went on: "I don't know how it is, but I'm not a bit afraid of you now. I used to be. Oh, how is Count Rosek? Is he as pale as ever? Aren't you going to have anything more? You've had hardly anything. D'you know what I should like--a chocolate eclair and a raspberry ice- cream soda with a slice of tangerine in it."

When she had slowly sucked up that beverage, prodding the slice of tangerine with her straws, they went out and took a cab. On that journey to her studio, Fiorsen tried to possess himself of her hand, but, folding her arms across her chest, she said quietly:

"It's very bad manners to take advantage of cabs." And, withdrawing sullenly into his corner, he watched her askance. Was she playing with him? Or had she really ceased to care the snap of a finger? It seemed incredible. The cab, which had been threading the maze of the Soho streets, stopped. Daphne Wing alighted, proceeded down a narrow passage to a green door on the right, and, opening it with a latch-key, paused to say:

"I like it's being in a little sordid street--it takes away all amateurishness. It wasn't a studio, of course; it was the back part of a paper-maker's. Any space conquered for art is something, isn't it?" She led the way up a few green-carpeted stairs, into a large room with a skylight, whose walls were covered in Japanese silk the colour of yellow azaleas. Here she stood for a minute without speaking, as though lost in the beauty of her home: then, pointing to the walls, she said:

"It took me ages, I did it all myself. And look at my little Japanese trees; aren't they dickies?" Six little dark abortions of trees were arranged scrupulously on a lofty window-sill, whence the skylight sloped. She added suddenly: "I think Count Rosek would like this room. There's something bizarre about it, isn't there? I wanted to surround myself with that, you know--to get the bizarre note into my work. It's so important nowadays. But through there I've got a bedroom and a bathroom and a little kitchen with everything to hand, all quite domestic; and hot water always on. My people are so funny about this room. They come sometimes, and stand about. But they can't get used to the neighbourhood; of course it is sordid, but I think an artist ought to be superior to that."

Suddenly touched, Fiorsen answered gently:

"Yes, little Daphne."

She looked at him, and another tiny sigh escaped her.

"Why did you treat me like you did?" she said. "It's such a pity, because now I can't feel anything at all." And turning, she suddenly passed the back of her hand across her eyes. Really moved by that, Fiorsen went towards her, but she had turned round again, and putting out her hand to keep him off, stood shaking her head, with half a tear glistening on her eyelashes.

"Please sit down on the divan," she said. "Will you smoke? These are Russians." And she took a white box of pink-coloured cigarettes from a little golden birchwood table. "I have everything Russian and Japanese so far as I can; I think they help more than anything with atmosphere. I've got a balalaika; you can't play on it, can you? What a pity! If only I had a violin! I should have liked to hear you play again." She clasped her hands: "Do you remember when I danced to you before the fire?"

Fiorsen remembered only too well. The pink cigarette trembled in his fingers, and he said rather hoarsely:

"Dance to me now, Daphne!"

She shook her head.

"I don't trust you a yard. Nobody would--would they?"

Fiorsen started up.

"Then why did you ask me here? What are you playing at, you little--" At sight of her round, unmoving eyes, he stopped. She said calmly:

"I thought you'd like to see that I'd mastered my fate--that's all. But, of course, if you don't, you needn't stop."

Fiorsen sank back on the divan. A conviction that everything she said was literal had begun slowly to sink into him. And taking a long pull at that pink cigarette he puffed the smoke out with a laugh.

"What are you laughing at?"

"I was thinking, little Daphne, that you are as great an egoist as I."

"I want to be. It's the only thing, isn't it?"

Fiorsen laughed again.

"You needn't worry. You always were."

She had seated herself on an Indian stool covered with a bit of Turkish embroidery, and, joining her hands on her lap, answered gravely:

"No; I think I wasn't, while I loved you. But it didn't pay, did it?"

Fiorsen stared at her.

"It has made a woman of you, Daphne. Your face is different. Your mouth is prettier for my kisses--or the want of them. All over, you are prettier." Pink came up in Daphne Wing's cheeks. And, encouraged by that flush, he went on warmly: "If you loved me now, I should not tire of you. Oh, you can believe me! I--"

She shook her head.

"We won't talk about love, will we? Did you have a big triumph in Moscow and St. Petersburg? It must be wonderful to have really great triumphs!"

Fiorsen answered gloomily:

"Triumphs? I made a lot of money."

Daphne Wing purred:

"Oh, I expect you're very happy."

Did she mean to be ironic?

"I'm miserable."

He got up and went towards her. She looked up in his face.

"I'm sorry if you're miserable. I know what it feels like."

"You can help me not to be. Little Daphne, you can help me to forget." He had stopped, and put his hands on her shoulders. Without moving Daphne Wing answered:

"I suppose it's Mrs. Fiorsen you want to forget, isn't it?"

"As if she were dead. Ah, let it all be as it was, Daphne! You have grown up; you are a woman, an artist, and you--"

Daphne Wing had turned her head toward the stairs.

"That was the bell," she said. "Suppose it's my people? It's just their time! Oh, isn't that awkward?"

Fiorsen dropped his grasp of her and recoiled against the wall. There with his head touching one of the little Japanese trees, he stood biting his fingers. She was already moving toward the door.

"My mother's got a key, and it's no good putting you anywhere, because she always has a good look round. But perhaps it isn't them. Besides, I'm not afraid now; it makes a wonderful difference being on one's own."

She disappeared. Fiorsen could hear a woman's acid voice, a man's, rather hoarse and greasy, the sound of a smacking kiss. And, with a vicious shrug, he stood at bay. Trapped! The little devil! The little dovelike devil! He saw a lady in a silk dress, green shot with beetroot colour, a short, thick gentleman with a round, greyish beard, in a grey suit, having a small dahlia in his buttonhole, and, behind them, Daphne Wing, flushed, and very round- eyed. He took a step, intending to escape without more ado. The gentleman said:

"Introduce us, Daisy. I didn't quite catch--Mr. Dawson? How do you do, sir? One of my daughter's impresarios, I think. 'Appy to meet you, I'm sure."

Fiorsen took a long breath, and bowed. Mr. Wagge's small piggy eyes had fixed themselves on the little trees.

"She's got a nice little place here for her work--quiet and unconventional. I hope you think well of her talent, sir? You might go further and fare worse, I believe."

Again Fiorsen bowed.

"You may be proud of her," he said; "she is the rising star."

Mr. Wagge cleared his throat.

"Ow," he said; "ye'es! From a little thing, we thought she had stuff in her. I've come to take a great interest in her work. It's not in my line, but I think she's a sticker; I like to see perseverance. Where you've got that, you've got half the battle of success. So many of these young people seem to think life's all play. You must see a lot of that in your profession, sir."

"Robert!"

A shiver ran down Fiorsen's spine.

"Ye-es?"

"The name was not Dawson!"

There followed a long moment. On the one side was that vinegary woman poking her head forward like an angry hen, on the other, Daphne Wing, her eyes rounder and rounder, her cheeks redder and redder, her lips opening, her hands clasped to her perfect breast, and, in the centre, that broad, grey-bearded figure, with reddening face and angry eyes and hoarsening voice:

"You scoundrel! You infernal scoundrel!" It lurched forward, raising a pudgy fist. Fiorsen sprang down the stairs and wrenched open the door. He walked away in a whirl of mortification. Should he go back and take that pug-faced vulgarian by the throat? As for that minx! But his feelings about her were too complicated for expression. And then--so dark and random are the ways of the mind-- his thoughts darted back to Gyp, sitting on the oaken chest, making her confession; and the whips and stings of it scored him worse than ever.

John Galsworthy