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Chapter XI

Though Gyp had never seemed to look round she had been quite conscious of Summerhay still standing where they had parted, watching her into the house in Bury Street. The strength of her own feeling surprised her, as a bather in the sea is surprised, finding her feet will not touch bottom, that she is carried away helpless--only, these were the waters of ecstasy.

For the second night running, she hardly slept, hearing the clocks of St. James's strike, and Big Ben boom, hour after hour. At breakfast, she told her father of Fiorsen's reappearance. He received the news with a frown and a shrewd glance.

"Well, Gyp?"

"I told him."

His feelings, at that moment, were perhaps as mixed as they had ever been--curiosity, parental disapproval, to which he knew he was not entitled, admiration of her pluck in letting that fellow know, fears for the consequences of this confession, and, more than all, his profound disturbance at knowing her at last launched into the deep waters of love. It was the least of these feelings that found expression.

"How did he take it?"

"Rushed away. The only thing I feel sure of is that he won't divorce me."

"No, by George; I don't suppose even he would have that impudence!" And Winton was silent, trying to penetrate the future. "Well," he said suddenly, "it's on the knees of the gods then. But be careful, Gyp."

About noon, Betty returned from the sea, with a solemn, dark-eyed, cooing little Gyp, brown as a roasted coffee-berry. When she had been given all that she could wisely eat after the journey, Gyp carried her off to her own room, undressed her for sheer delight of kissing her from head to foot, and admiring her plump brown legs, then cuddled her up in a shawl and lay down with her on the bed. A few sleepy coos and strokings, and little Gyp had left for the land of Nod, while her mother lay gazing at her black lashes with a kind of passion. She was not a child-lover by nature; but this child of her own, with her dark softness, plump delicacy, giving disposition, her cooing voice, and constant adjurations to "dear mum," was adorable. There was something about her insidiously seductive. She had developed so quickly, with the graceful roundness of a little animal, the perfection of a flower. The Italian blood of her great-great-grandmother was evidently prepotent in her as yet; and, though she was not yet two years old, her hair, which had lost its baby darkness, was already curving round her neck and waving on her forehead. One of her tiny brown hands had escaped the shawl and grasped its edge with determined softness. And while Gyp gazed at the pinkish nails and their absurdly wee half-moons, at the sleeping tranquillity stirred by breathing no more than a rose-leaf on a windless day, her lips grew fuller, trembled, reached toward the dark lashes, till she had to rein her neck back with a jerk to stop such self-indulgence. Soothed, hypnotized, almost in a dream, she lay there beside her baby.

That evening, at dinner, Winton said calmly:

"Well, I've been to see Fiorsen, and warned him off. Found him at that fellow Rosek's." Gyp received the news with a vague sensation of alarm. "And I met that girl, the dancer, coming out of the house as I was going in--made it plain I'd seen her, so I don't think he'll trouble you."

An irresistible impulse made her ask:

"How was she looking, Dad?"

Winton smiled grimly. How to convey his impression of the figure he had seen coming down the steps--of those eyes growing rounder and rounder at sight of him, of that mouth opening in an: "Oh!"

"Much the same. Rather flabbergasted at seeing me, I think. A white hat--very smart. Attractive in her way, but common, of course. Those two were playing the piano and fiddle when I went up. They tried not to let me in, but I wasn't to be put off. Queer place, that!"

Gyp smiled. She could see it all so well. The black walls, the silver statuettes, Rops drawings, scent of dead rose-leaves and pastilles and cigarettes--and those two by the piano--and her father so cool and dry!

"One can't stand on ceremony with fellows like that. I hadn't forgotten that Polish chap's behaviour to you, my dear."

Through Gyp passed a quiver of dread, a vague return of the feelings once inspired by Rosek.

"I'm almost sorry you went, Dad. Did you say anything very--"

"Did I? Let's see! No; I think I was quite polite." He added, with a grim, little smile: "I won't swear I didn't call one of them a ruffian. I know they said something about my presuming on being a cripple."

"Oh, darling!"

"Yes; it was that Polish chap--and so he is!"

Gyp murmured:

"I'd almost rather it had been--the other." Rosek's pale, suave face, with the eyes behind which there were such hidden things, and the lips sweetish and restrained and sensual--he would never forgive! But Winton only smiled again, patting her arm. He was pleased with an encounter which had relieved his feelings.

Gyp spent all that evening writing her first real love-letter. But when, next afternoon at six, in fulfilment of its wording, she came to Summerhay's little house, her heart sank; for the blinds were down and it had a deserted look. If he had been there, he would have been at the window, waiting. Had he, then, not got her letter, not been home since yesterday? And that chill fear which besets lovers' hearts at failure of a tryst smote her for the first time. In the three-cornered garden stood a decayed statue of a naked boy with a broken bow--a sparrow was perching on his greenish shoulder; sooty, heart-shaped lilac leaves hung round his head, and at his legs the old Scotch terrier was sniffing. Gyp called: "Ossian! Ossy!" and the old dog came, wagging his tail feebly.

"Master! Where is your master, dear?"

Ossian poked his long nose into her calf, and that gave her a little comfort. She passed, perforce, away from the deserted house and returned home; but all manner of frightened thoughts beset her. Where had he gone? Why had he gone? Why had he not let her know? Doubts--those hasty attendants on passion--came thronging, and scepticism ran riot. What did she know of his life, of his interests, of him, except that he said he loved her? Where had he gone? To Widrington, to some smart house-party, or even back to Scotland? The jealous feelings that had so besieged her at the bungalow when his letters ceased came again now with redoubled force. There must be some woman who, before their love began, had claim on him, or some girl that he admired. He never told her of any such--of course, he would not! She was amazed and hurt by her capacity for jealousy. She had always thought she would be too proud to feel jealousy--a sensation so dark and wretched and undignified, but--alas!--so horribly real and clinging.

She had said she was not dining at home; so Winton had gone to his club, and she was obliged to partake of a little trumped-up lonely meal. She went up to her room after it, but there came on her such restlessness that presently she put on her things and slipped out. She went past St. James's Church into Piccadilly, to the further, crowded side, and began to walk toward the park. This was foolish; but to do a foolish thing was some relief, and she went along with a faint smile, mocking her own recklessness. Several women of the town--ships of night with sails set--came rounding out of side streets or down the main stream, with their skilled, rapid-seeming slowness. And at the discomfited, half-hostile stares on their rouged and powdered faces, Gyp felt a wicked glee. She was disturbing, hurting them--and she wanted to hurt.

Presently, a man, in evening dress, with overcoat thrown open, gazed pointblank into her face, and, raising his hat, ranged up beside her. She walked straight on, still with that half-smile, knowing him puzzled and fearfully attracted. Then an insensate wish to stab him to the heart made her turn her head and look at him. At the expression on her face, he wilted away from her, and again she felt that wicked glee at having hurt him.

She crossed out into the traffic, to the park side, and turned back toward St. James's; and now she was possessed by profound, black sadness. If only her lover were beside her that beautiful evening, among the lights and shadows of the trees, in the warm air! Why was he not among these passers-by? She who could bring any casual man to her side by a smile could not conjure up the only one she wanted from this great desert of a town! She hurried along, to get in and hide her longing. But at the corner of St. James's Street, she stopped. That was his club, nearly opposite. Perhaps he was there, playing cards or billiards, a few yards away, and yet as in another world. Presently he would come out, go to some music-hall, or stroll home thinking of her--perhaps not even thinking of her! Another woman passed, giving her a furtive glance. But Gyp felt no glee now. And, crossing over, close under the windows of the club, she hurried home. When she reached her room, she broke into a storm of tears. How could she have liked hurting those poor women, hurting that man--who was only paying her a man's compliment, after all? And with these tears, her jealous, wild feelings passed, leaving only her longing.

Next morning brought a letter. Summerhay wrote from an inn on the river, asking her to come down by the eleven o'clock train, and he would meet her at the station. He wanted to show her a house that he had seen; and they could have the afternoon on the river! Gyp received this letter, which began: "My darling!" with an ecstasy that she could not quite conceal. And Winton, who had watched her face, said presently:

"I think I shall go to Newmarket, Gyp. Home to-morrow evening."

In the train on the way down, she sat with closed eyes, in a sort of trance. If her lover had been there holding her in his arms, he could not have seemed nearer.

She saw him as the train ran in; but they met without a hand-clasp, without a word, simply looking at each other and breaking into smiles.

A little victoria "dug up"--as Summerhay said--"horse, driver and all," carried them slowly upward. Under cover of the light rugs their hands were clasped, and they never ceased to look into each other's faces, except for those formal glances of propriety which deceive no one.

The day was beautiful, as only early September days can be--when the sun is hot, yet not too hot, and its light falls in a silken radiance on trees just losing the opulent monotony of summer, on silvery-gold reaped fields, silvery-green uplands, golden mustard; when shots ring out in the distance, and, as one gazes, a leaf falls, without reason, as it would seem. Presently they branched off the main road by a lane past a clump of beeches and drew up at the gate of a lonely house, built of very old red brick, and covered by Virginia creeper just turning--a house with an ingle- nook and low, broad chimneys. Before it was a walled, neglected lawn, with poplars and one large walnut-tree. The sunlight seemed to have collected in that garden, and there was a tremendous hum of bees. Above the trees, the downs could be seen where racehorses, they said, were trained. Summerhay had the keys of the house, and they went in. To Gyp, it was like a child's "pretending"--to imagine they were going to live there together, to sort out the rooms and consecrate each. She would not spoil this perfect day by argument or admission of the need for a decision. And when he asked:

"Well, darling, what do you think of it?" she only answered:

"Oh, lovely, in a way; but let's go back to the river and make the most of it."

They took boat at 'The Bowl of Cream,' the river inn where Summerhay was staying. To him, who had been a rowing man at Oxford, the river was known from Lechlade to Richmond; but Gyp had never in her life been on it, and its placid magic, unlike that of any other river in the world, almost overwhelmed her. On this glistening, windless day, to drift along past the bright, flat water-lily leaves over the greenish depths, to listen to the pigeons, watch the dragon-flies flitting past, and the fish leaping lazily, not even steering, letting her hand dabble in the water, then cooling her sun-warmed cheek with it, and all the time gazing at Summerhay, who, dipping his sculls gently, gazed at her--all this was like a voyage down some river of dreams, the very fulfilment of felicity. There is a degree of happiness known to the human heart which seems to belong to some enchanted world--a bright maze into which, for a moment now and then, we escape and wander. To-day, he was more than ever like her Botticelli "Young Man," with his neck bare, and his face so clear-eyed and broad and brown. Had she really had a life with another man? And only a year ago? It seemed inconceivable!

But when, in the last backwater, he tied the boat up and came to sit with her once more, it was already getting late, and the vague melancholy of the now shadowy river was stealing into her. And, with a sort of sinking in her heart, she heard him begin:

"Gyp, we must go away together. We can never stand it going on apart, snatching hours here and there."

Pressing his hand to her cheeks, she murmured:

"Why not, darling? Hasn't this been perfect? What could we ever have more perfect? It's been paradise itself!"

"Yes; but to be thrown out every day! To be whole days and nights without you! Gyp, you must--you must! What is there against it? Don't you love me enough?"

She looked at him, and then away into the shadows.

"Too much, I think. It's tempting Providence to change. Let's go on as we are, Bryan. No; don't look like that--don't be angry!"

"Why are you afraid? Are you sorry for our love?"

"No; but let it be like this. Don't let's risk anything."

"Risk? Is it people--society--you're afraid of? I thought you wouldn't care."

Gyp smiled.

"Society? No; I'm not afraid of that."

"What, then? Of me?"

"I don't know. Men soon get tired. I'm a doubter, Bryan, I can't help it."

"As if anyone could get tired of you! Are you afraid of yourself?"

Again Gyp smiled.

"Not of loving too little, I told you."

"How can one love too much?"

She drew his head down to her. But when that kiss was over, she only said again:

"No, Bryan; let's go on as we are. I'll make up to you when I'm with you. If you were to tire of me, I couldn't bear it."

For a long time more he pleaded--now with anger, now with kisses, now with reasonings; but, to all, she opposed that same tender, half-mournful "No," and, at last, he gave it up, and, in dogged silence, rowed her to the village, whence she was to take train back. It was dusk when they left the boat, and dew was falling. Just before they reached the station, she caught his hand and pressed it to her breast.

"Darling, don't be angry with me! Perhaps I will--some day."

And, in the train, she tried to think herself once more in the boat, among the shadows and the whispering reeds and all the quiet wonder of the river.

John Galsworthy