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Chapter X

That same evening, standing at the corner of Bury Street, Summerhay watched Gyp going swiftly to her father's house. He could not bring himself to move while there was still a chance to catch a glimpse of her face, a sign from her hand. Gone! He walked away with his head down. The more blissful the hours just spent, the greater the desolation when they are over. Of such is the nature of love, as he was now discerning. The longing to have her always with him was growing fast. Since her husband knew--why wait? There would be no rest for either of them in an existence of meetings and partings like this, with the menace of that fellow. She must come away with him at once--abroad--until things had declared themselves; and then he must find a place where they could live and she feel safe and happy. He must show he was in dead earnest, set his affairs in order. And he thought: 'No good doing things by halves. Mother must know. The sooner the better. Get it over--at once!' And, with a grimace of discomfort, he set out for his aunt's house in Cadogan Gardens, where his mother always stayed when she was in town.

Lady Summerhay was in the boudoir, waiting for dinner and reading a book on dreams. A red-shaded lamp cast a mellow tinge over the grey frock, over one reddish cheek and one white shoulder. She was a striking person, tall and well built, her very blonde hair only just turning grey, for she had married young and been a widow fifteen years--one of those women whose naturally free spirits have been netted by association with people of public position. Bubbles were still rising from her submerged soul, but it was obvious that it would not again set eyes on the horizon. With views neither narrow nor illiberal, as views in society go, she judged everything now as people of public position must--discussion, of course, but no alteration in one's way of living. Speculation and ideas did not affect social usage. The countless movements in which she and her friends were interested for the emancipation and benefit of others were, in fact, only channels for letting off her superfluous goodwill, conduit-pipes, for the directing spirit bred in her. She thought and acted in terms of the public good, regulated by what people of position said at luncheon and dinner. And it was surely not her fault that such people must lunch and dine. When her son had bent and kissed her, she held up the book to him and said:

"Well, Bryan, I think this man's book disgraceful; he simply runs his sex-idea to death. Really, we aren't all quite so obsessed as that. I do think he ought to be put in his own lunatic asylum."

Summerhay, looking down at her gloomily, answered:

"I've got bad news for you, Mother."

Lady Summerhay closed the book and searched his face with apprehension. She knew that expression. She knew that poise of his head, as if butting at something. He looked like that when he came to her in gambling scrapes. Was this another? Bryan had always been a pickle. His next words took her breath away.

"The people at Mildenham, Major Winton and his daughter--you know. Well, I'm in love with her--I'm--I'm her lover."

Lady Summerhay uttered a gasp.

"But--but--Bryan--"

"That fellow she married drinks. He's impossible. She had to leave him a year ago, with her baby--other reasons, too. Look here, Mother: This is hateful, but you'd got to know. I can't talk of her. There's no chance of a divorce." His voice grew higher. "Don't try to persuade me out of it. It's no good."

Lady Summerhay, from whose comely face a frock, as it were, had slipped, clasped her hands together on the book.

Such a swift descent of "life" on one to whom it had for so long been a series of "cases" was cruel, and her son felt this without quite realizing why. In the grip of his new emotions, he still retained enough balance to appreciate what an abominably desolate piece of news this must be to her, what a disturbance and disappointment. And, taking her hand, he put it to his lips.

"Cheer up, Mother! It's all right. She's happy, and so am I."

Lady Summerhay could only press her hand against his kiss, and murmur:

"Yes; that's not everything, Bryan. Is there--is there going to be a scandal?"

"I don't know. I hope not; but, anyway, he knows about it."

"Society doesn't forgive."

Summerhay shrugged his shoulders.

"Awfully sorry for you, Mother."

"Oh, Bryan!"

This repetition of her plaint jarred his nerves.

"Don't run ahead of things. You needn't tell Edith or Flo. You needn't tell anybody. We don't know what'll happen yet."

But in Lady Summerhay all was too sore and blank. This woman she had never seen, whose origin was doubtful, whose marriage must have soiled her, who was some kind of a siren, no doubt. It really was too hard! She believed in her son, had dreamed of public position for him, or, rather, felt he would attain it as a matter of course. And she said feebly:

"This Major Winton is a man of breeding, isn't he?"

"Rather!" And, stopping before her, as if he read her thoughts, he added: "You think she's not good enough for me? She's good enough for anyone on earth. And she's the proudest woman I've ever met. If you're bothering as to what to do about her--don't! She won't want anything of anybody--I can tell you that. She won't accept any crumbs."

"That's lucky!" hovered on Lady Summerhay's lips; but, gazing at her son, she became aware that she stood on the brink of a downfall in his heart. Then the bitterness of her disappointment rising up again, she said coldly:

"Are you going to live together openly?"

"Yes; if she will."

"You don't know yet?"

"I shall--soon."

Lady Summerhay got up, and the book on dreams slipped off her lap with a thump. She went to the fireplace, and stood there looking at her son. He had altered. His merry look was gone; his face was strange to her. She remembered it like that, once in the park at Widrington, when he lost his temper with a pony and came galloping past her, sitting back, his curly hair stivered up like a little demon's. And she said sadly:

"You can hardly expect me to like it for you, Bryan, even if she is what you say. And isn't there some story about--"

"My dear mother, the more there is against her, the more I shall love her--that's obvious."

Lady Summerhay sighed again.

"What is this man going to do? I heard him play once."

"I don't know. Nothing, I dare say. Morally and legally, he's out of court. I only wish to God he would bring a case, and I could marry her; but Gyp says he won't."

Lady Summerhay murmured:

"Gyp? Is that her name?" And a sudden wish, almost a longing, not a friendly one, to see this woman seized her. "Will you bring her to see me? I'm alone here till Wednesday."

"I'll ask her, but I don't think she'll come." He turned his head away. "Mother, she's wonderful!"

An unhappy smile twisted Lady Summerhay's lips. No doubt! Aphrodite herself had visited her boy. Aphrodite! And--afterward? She asked desolately:

"Does Major Winton know?"

"Yes."

"What does he say to it?"

"Say? What can anyone say? From your point of view, or his, it's rotten, of course. But in her position, anything's rotten."

At that encouraging word, the flood-gates gave way in Lady Summerhay, and she poured forth a stream of words.

"Oh, my dear, can't you pull up? I've seen so many of these affairs go wrong. It really is not for nothing that law and conventions are what they are--believe me! Really, Bryan, experience does show that the pressure's too great. It's only once in a way--very exceptional people, very exceptional circumstances. You mayn't think now it'll hamper you, but you'll find it will-- most fearfully. It's not as if you were a writer or an artist, who can take his work where he likes and live in a desert if he wants. You've got to do yours in London, your whole career is bound up with society. Do think, before you go butting up against it! It's all very well to say it's no affair of anyone's, but you'll find it is, Bryan. And then, can you--can you possibly make her happy in the long-run?"

She stopped at the expression on his face. It was as if he were saying: "I have left your world. Talk to your fellows; all this is nothing to me."

"Look here, Mother: you don't seem to understand. I'm devoted-- devoted so that there's nothing else for me."

"How long will that last, Bryan? You mean bewitched."

Summerhay said, with passion:

"I don't. I mean what I said. Good-night!" And he went to the door.

"Won't you stay to dinner, dear?"

But he was gone, and the full of vexation, anxiety, and wretchedness came on Lady Summerhay. It was too hard! She went down to her lonely dinner, desolate and sore. And to the book on dreams, opened beside her plate, she turned eyes that took in nothing.

Summerhay went straight home. The lamps were brightening in the early-autumn dusk, and a draughty, ruffling wind flicked a yellow leaf here and there from off the plane trees. It was just the moment when evening blue comes into the colouring of the town--that hour of fusion when day's hard and staring shapes are softening, growing dark, mysterious, and all that broods behind the lives of men and trees and houses comes down on the wings of illusion to repossess the world--the hour when any poetry in a man wells up. But Summerhay still heard his mother's, "Oh, Bryan!" and, for the first time, knew the feeling that his hand was against everyone's. There was a difference already, or so it seemed to him, in the expression of each passer-by. Nothing any more would be a matter of course; and he was of a class to whom everything has always been a matter of course. Perhaps he did not realize this clearly yet; but he had begun to take what the nurses call "notice," as do those only who are forced on to the defensive against society.

Putting his latch-key into the lock, he recalled the sensation with which, that afternoon, he had opened to Gyp for the first time-- half furtive, half defiant. It would be all defiance now. This was the end of the old order! And, lighting a fire in his sitting- room, he began pulling out drawers, sorting and destroying. He worked for hours, burning, making lists, packing papers and photographs. Finishing at last, he drank a stiff whisky and soda, and sat down to smoke. Now that the room was quiet, Gyp seemed to fill it again with her presence. Closing his eyes, he could see her there by the hearth, just as she stood before they left, turning her face up to him, murmuring: "You won't stop loving me, now you're so sure I love you?" Stop loving her! The more she loved him, the more he would love her. And he said aloud: "By God! I won't!" At that remark, so vehement for the time of night, the old Scotch terrier, Ossian, came from his corner and shoved his long black nose into his master's hand.

"Come along up, Ossy! Good dog, Oss!" And, comforted by the warmth of that black body beside him in the chair, Summerhay fell asleep in front of the fire smouldering with blackened fragments of his past.

John Galsworthy