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Chapter XII

On reaching home she let herself in stealthily, and, though she had not had dinner, went up at once to her room. She was just taking off her blouse when Betty entered, her round face splotched with red, and tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Betty! What is it?"

"Oh, my dear, where have you been? Such a dreadful piece of news! They've stolen her! That wicked man--your husband--he took her right out of her pram--and went off with her in a great car--he and that other one! I've been half out of my mind!" Gyp stared aghast. "I hollered to a policeman. 'He's stolen her--her father! Catch them!' I said. 'However shall I face my mistress?'" She stopped for breath, then burst out again. "'He's a bad one,' I said. 'A foreigner! They're both foreigners!' 'Her father?' he said. 'Well, why shouldn't he? He's only givin' her a joy ride. He'll bring her back, never you fear.' And I ran home--I didn't know where you were. Oh dear! The major away and all--what was I to do? I'd just turned round to shut the gate of the square gardens, and I never saw him till he'd put his great long arm over the pram and snatched her out." And, sitting on the bed, she gave way utterly.

Gyp stood still. Nemesis for her happiness? That vengeful wretch, Rosek! This was his doing. And she said:

"Oh, Betty, she must be crying!"

A fresh outburst of moans was the only answer. Gyp remembered suddenly what the lawyer had said over a year ago--it had struck her with terror at the time. In law, Fiorsen owned and could claim her child. She could have got her back, then, by bringing a horrible case against him, but now, perhaps, she had no chance. Was it her return to Fiorsen that they aimed at--or the giving up of her lover? She went over to her mirror, saying:

"We'll go at once, Betty, and get her back somehow. Wash your face."

While she made ready, she fought down those two horrible fears--of losing her child, of losing her lover; the less she feared, the better she could act, the more subtly, the swifter. She remembered that she had somewhere a little stiletto, given her a long time ago. She hunted it out, slipped off its red-leather sheath, and, stabbing the point into a tiny cork, slipped it beneath her blouse. If they could steal her baby, they were capable of anything. She wrote a note to her father, telling him what had happened, and saying where she had gone. Then, in a taxi, they set forth. Cold water and the calmness of her mistress had removed from Betty the main traces of emotion; but she clasped Gyp's hand hard and gave vent to heavy sighs.

Gyp would not think. If she thought of her little one crying, she knew she would cry, too. But her hatred for those who had dealt this cowardly blow grew within her. She took a resolution and said quietly:

"Mr. Summerhay, Betty. That's why they've stolen our darling. I suppose you know he and I care for each other. They've stolen her so as to make me do anything they like."

A profound sigh answered her.

Behind that moon-face with the troubled eyes, what conflict was in progress--between unquestioning morality and unquestioning belief in Gyp, between fears for her and wishes for her happiness, between the loyal retainer's habit of accepting and the old nurse's feeling of being in charge? She said faintly:

"Oh dear! He's a nice gentleman, too!" And suddenly, wheezing it out with unexpected force: "To say truth, I never did hold you was rightly married to that foreigner in that horrible registry place-- no music, no flowers, no blessin' asked, nor nothing. I cried me eyes out at the time."

Gyp said quietly:

"No; Betty, I never was. I only thought I was in love." A convulsive squeeze and creaking, whiffling sounds heralded a fresh outburst. "Don't cry; we're just there. Think of our darling!"

The cab stopped. Feeling for her little weapon, she got out, and with her hand slipped firmly under Betty's arm, led the way upstairs. Chilly shudders ran down her spine--memories of Daphne Wing and Rosek, of that large woman--what was her name?--of many other faces, of unholy hours spent up there, in a queer state, never quite present, never comfortable in soul; memories of late returnings down these wide stairs out to their cab, of Fiorsen beside her in the darkness, his dim, broad-cheekboned face moody in the corner or pressed close to hers. Once they had walked a long way homeward in the dawn, Rosek with them, Fiorsen playing on his muted violin, to the scandal of the policemen and the cats. Dim, unreal memories! Grasping Betty's arm more firmly, she rang the bell. When the man servant, whom she remembered well, opened the door, her lips were so dry that they could hardly form the words:

"Is Mr. Fiorsen in, Ford?"

"No, ma'am; Mr. Fiorsen and Count Rosek went into the country this afternoon. I haven't their address at present." She must have turned white, for she could hear the man saying: "Anything I can get you, ma'am?"

"When did they start, please?"

"One o'clock, ma'am--by car. Count Rosek was driving himself. I should say they won't be away long--they just had their bags with them." Gyp put out her hand helplessly; she heard the servant say in a concerned voice: "I could let you know the moment they return, ma'am, if you'd kindly leave me your address."

Giving her card, and murmuring:

"Thank you, Ford; thank you very much," she grasped Betty's arm again and leaned heavily on her going down the stairs.

It was real, black fear now. To lose helpless things--children-- dogs--and know for certain that one cannot get to them, no matter what they may be suffering! To be pinned down to ignorance and have in her ears the crying of her child--this horror, Gyp suffered now. And nothing to be done! Nothing but to go to bed and wait-- hardest of all tasks! Mercifully--thanks to her long day in the open--she fell at last into a dreamless sleep, and when she was called, there was a letter from Fiorsen on the tray with her tea.

"Gyp:

"I am not a baby-stealer like your father. The law gives me the right to my own child. But swear to give up your lover, and the baby shall come back to you at once. If you do not give him up, I will take her away out of England. Send me an answer to this post- office, and do not let your father try any tricks upon me.

"GUSTAV FIORSEN."

Beneath was written the address of a West End post-office.

When Gyp had finished reading, she went through some moments of such mental anguish as she had never known, but--just as when Betty first told her of the stealing--her wits and wariness came quickly back. Had he been drinking when he wrote that letter? She could almost fancy that she smelled brandy, but it was so easy to fancy what one wanted to. She read it through again--this time, she felt almost sure that it had been dictated to him. If he had composed the wording himself, he would never have resisted a gibe at the law, or a gibe at himself for thus safeguarding her virtue. It was Rosek's doing. Her anger flamed up anew. Since they used such mean, cruel ways, why need she herself be scrupulous? She sprang out of bed and wrote:

"How could you do such a brutal thing? At all events, let the darling have her nurse. It's not like you to let a little child suffer. Betty will be ready to come the minute you send for her. As for myself, you must give me time to decide. I will let you know within two days.

"GYP."

When she had sent this off, and a telegram to her father at Newmarket, she read Fiorsen's letter once more, and was more than ever certain that it was Rosek's wording. And, suddenly, she thought of Daphne Wing, whom her father had seen coming out of Rosek's house. Through her there might be a way of getting news. She seemed to see again the girl lying so white and void of hope when robbed by death of her own just-born babe. Yes; surely it was worth trying.

An hour later, her cab stopped before the Wagges' door in Frankland Street. But just as she was about to ring the bell, a voice from behind her said:

"Allow me; I have a key. What may I-- Oh, it's you!" She turned. Mr. Wagge, in professional habiliments, was standing there. "Come in; come in," he said. "I was wondering whether perhaps we shouldn't be seeing you after what's transpired."

Hanging his tall black hat, craped nearly to the crown, on a knob of the mahogany stand, he said huskily:

"I did think we'd seen the last of that," and opened the dining- room door. "Come in, ma'am. We can put our heads together better in here."

In that too well remembered room, the table was laid with a stained white cloth, a cruet-stand, and bottle of Worcestershire sauce. The little blue bowl was gone, so that nothing now marred the harmony of red and green. Gyp said quickly:

"Doesn't Daph--Daisy live at home, then, now?"

The expression on Mr. Wagge's face was singular; suspicion, relief, and a sort of craftiness were blended with that furtive admiration which Gyp seemed always to excite in him.

"Do I understand that you--er--"

"I came to ask if Daisy would do something for me."

Mr. Wagge blew his nose.

"You didn't know--" he began again.

"Yes; I dare say she sees my husband, if that's what you mean; and I don't mind--he's nothing to me now."

Mr. Wagge's face became further complicated by the sensations of a husband.

"Well," he said, "it's not to be wondered at, perhaps, in the circumstances. I'm sure I always thought--"

Gyp interrupted swiftly.

"Please, Mr. Wagge--please! Will you give me Daisy's address?"

Mr. Wagge remained a moment in deep thought; then he said, in a gruff, jerky voice:

"Seventy-three Comrade Street, So'o. Up to seeing him there on Tuesday, I must say I cherished every hope. Now I'm sorry I didn't strike him--he was too quick for me--" He had raised one of his gloved hands and was sawing it up and down. The sight of that black object cleaving the air nearly made Gyp scream, her nerves were so on edge. "It's her blasted independence--I beg pardon--but who wouldn't?" he ended suddenly.

Gyp passed him.

"Who wouldn't?" she heard his voice behind her. "I did think she'd have run straight this time--" And while she was fumbling at the outer door, his red, pudgy face, with its round grey beard, protruded almost over her shoulder. "If you're going to see her, I hope you'll--"

Gyp was gone. In her cab she shivered. Once she had lunched with her father at a restaurant in the Strand. It had been full of Mr. Wagges. But, suddenly, she thought: 'It's hard on him, poor man!'

John Galsworthy