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Chapter IV

Gyp was in the habit of walking with Winton to the Kochbrunnen, where, with other patient-folk, he was required to drink slowly for twenty minutes every morning. While he was imbibing she would sit in a remote corner of the garden, and read a novel in the Reclam edition, as a daily German lesson.

She was sitting there, the morning after the "at-home" at the Baroness von Maisen's, reading Turgenev's "Torrents of Spring," when she saw Count Rosek sauntering down the path with a glass of the waters in his hand. Instant memory of the smile with which he had introduced Fiorsen made her take cover beneath her sunshade. She could see his patent-leathered feet, and well-turned, peg-top- trousered legs go by with the gait of a man whose waist is corseted. The certainty that he wore those prerogatives of womanhood increased her dislike. How dare men be so effeminate? Yet someone had told her that he was a good rider, a good fencer, and very strong. She drew a breath of relief when he was past, and, for fear he might turn and come back, closed her little book and slipped away. But her figure and her springing step were more unmistakable than she knew.

Next morning, on the same bench, she was reading breathlessly the scene between Gemma and Sanin at the window, when she heard Fiorsen's voice, behind her, say:

"Miss Winton!"

He, too, held a glass of the waters in one hand, and his hat in the other.

"I have just made your father's acquaintance. May I sit down a minute?"

Gyp drew to one side on the bench, and he sat down.

"What are you reading?"

"A story called 'Torrents of Spring.'"

"Ah, the finest ever written! Where are you?"

"Gemma and Sanin in the thunderstorm."

"Wait! You have Madame Polozov to come! What a creation! How old are you, Miss Winton?"

"Twenty-two."

"You would be too young to appreciate that story if you were not you. But you know much--by instinct. What is your Christian name-- forgive me!"

"Ghita."

"Ghita? Not soft enough."

"I am always called Gyp."

"Gyp--ah, Gyp! Yes; Gyp!"

He repeated her name so impersonally that she could not be angry.

"I told your father I have had the pleasure of meeting you. He was very polite."

Gyp said coldly:

"My father is always polite."

"Like the ice in which they put champagne."

Gyp smiled; she could not help it.

And suddenly he said:

"I suppose they have told you that I am a mauvais sujet." Gyp inclined her head. He looked at her steadily, and said: "It is true. But I could be better--much."

She wanted to look at him, but could not. A queer sort of exultation had seized on her. This man had power; yet she had power over him. If she wished she could make him her slave, her dog, chain him to her. She had but to hold out her hand, and he would go on his knees to kiss it. She had but to say, "Come," and he would come from wherever he might be. She had but to say, "Be good," and he would be good. It was her first experience of power; and it was intoxicating. But--but! Gyp could never be self- confident for long; over her most victorious moments brooded the shadow of distrust. As if he read her thought, Fiorsen said:

"Tell me to do something--anything; I will do it, Miss Winton."

"Then--go back to London at once. You are wasting yourself here, you know. You said so!"

He looked at her, bewildered and upset, and muttered:

"You have asked me the one thing I can't do, Miss--Miss Gyp!"

"Please--not that; it's like a servant!"

"I am your servant!"

"Is that why you won't do what I ask you?"

"You are cruel."

Gyp laughed.

He got up and said, with sudden fierceness:

"I am not going away from you; do not think it." Bending with the utmost swiftness, he took her hand, put his lips to it, and turned on his heel.

Gyp, uneasy and astonished, stared at her hand, still tingling from the pressure of his bristly moustache. Then she laughed again--it was just "foreign" to have your hand kissed--and went back to her book, without taking in the words.

Was ever courtship more strange than that which followed? It is said that the cat fascinates the bird it desires to eat; here the bird fascinated the cat, but the bird too was fascinated. Gyp never lost the sense of having the whip-hand, always felt like one giving alms, or extending favour, yet had a feeling of being unable to get away, which seemed to come from the very strength of the spell she laid on him. The magnetism with which she held him reacted on herself. Thoroughly sceptical at first, she could not remain so. He was too utterly morose and unhappy if she did not smile on him, too alive and excited and grateful if she did. The change in his eyes from their ordinary restless, fierce, and furtive expression to humble adoration or wistful hunger when they looked at her could never have been simulated. And she had no lack of chance to see that metamorphosis. Wherever she went, there he was. If to a concert, he would be a few paces from the door, waiting for her entrance. If to a confectioner's for tea, as likely as not he would come in. Every afternoon he walked where she must pass, riding to the Neroberg.

Except in the gardens of the Kochbrunnen, when he would come up humbly and ask to sit with her five minutes, he never forced his company, or tried in any way to compromise her. Experience, no doubt, served him there; but he must have had an instinct that it was dangerous with one so sensitive. There were other moths, too, round that bright candle, and they served to keep his attentions from being too conspicuous. Did she comprehend what was going on, understand how her defences were being sapped, grasp the danger to retreat that lay in permitting him to hover round her? Not really. It all served to swell the triumphant intoxication of days when she was ever more and more in love with living, more and more conscious that the world appreciated and admired her, that she had power to do what others couldn't.

Was not Fiorsen, with his great talent, and his dubious reputation, proof of that? And he excited her. Whatever else one might be in his moody, vivid company, one would not be dull. One morning, he told her something of his life. His father had been a small Swedish landowner, a very strong man and a very hard drinker; his mother, the daughter of a painter. She had taught him the violin, but died while he was still a boy. When he was seventeen he had quarrelled with his father, and had to play his violin for a living in the streets of Stockholm. A well-known violinist, hearing him one day, took him in hand. Then his father had drunk himself to death, and he had inherited the little estate. He had sold it at once--"for follies," as he put it crudely. "Yes, Miss Winton; I have committed many follies, but they are nothing to those I shall commit the day I do not see you any more!" And, with that disturbing remark, he got up and left her. She had smiled at his words, but within herself she felt excitement, scepticism, compassion, and something she did not understand at all. In those days, she understood herself very little.

But how far did Winton understand, how far see what was going on? He was a stoic; but that did not prevent jealousy from taking alarm, and causing him twinges more acute than those he still felt in his left foot. He was afraid of showing disquiet by any dramatic change, or he would have carried her off a fortnight at least before his cure was over. He knew too well the signs of passion. That long, loping, wolfish fiddling fellow with the broad cheekbones and little side-whiskers (Good God!) and greenish eyes whose looks at Gyp he secretly marked down, roused his complete distrust. Perhaps his inbred English contempt for foreigners and artists kept him from direct action. He could not take it quite seriously. Gyp, his fastidious perfect Gyp, succumbing, even a little to a fellow like that! Never! His jealous affection, too, could not admit that she would neglect to consult him in any doubt or difficulty. He forgot the sensitive secrecy of girls, forgot that his love for her had ever shunned words, her love for him never indulged in confidences. Nor did he see more than a little of what there was to see, and that little was doctored by Fiorsen for his eyes, shrewd though they were. Nor was there in all so very much, except one episode the day before they left, and of that he knew nothing.

That last afternoon was very still, a little mournful. It had rained the night before, and the soaked tree-trunks, the soaked fallen leaves gave off a faint liquorice-like perfume. In Gyp there was a feeling, as if her spirit had been suddenly emptied of excitement and delight. Was it the day, or the thought of leaving this place where she had so enjoyed herself? After lunch, when Winton was settling his accounts, she wandered out through the long park stretching up the valley. The sky was brooding-grey, the trees were still and melancholy. It was all a little melancholy, and she went on and on, across the stream, round into a muddy lane that led up through the outskirts of a village, on to the higher ground whence she could return by the main road. Why must things come to an end? For the first time in her life, she thought of Mildenham and hunting without enthusiasm. She would rather stay in London. There she would not be cut off from music, from dancing, from people, and all the exhilaration of being appreciated. On the air came the shrilly, hollow droning of a thresher, and the sound seemed exactly to express her feelings. A pigeon flew over, white against the leaden sky; some birch-trees that had gone golden shivered and let fall a shower of drops. It was lonely here! And, suddenly, two little boys bolted out of the hedge, nearly upsetting her, and scurried down the road. Something had startled them. Gyp, putting up her face to see, felt on it soft pin-points of rain. Her frock would be spoiled, and it was one she was fond of-- dove-coloured, velvety, not meant for weather. She turned for refuge to the birch-trees. It would be over directly, perhaps. Muffled in distance, the whining drone of that thresher still came travelling, deepening her discomfort. Then in the hedge, whence the boys had bolted down, a man reared himself above the lane, and came striding along toward her. He jumped down the bank, among the birch-trees. And she saw it was Fiorsen--panting, dishevelled, pale with heat. He must have followed her, and climbed straight up the hillside from the path she had come along in the bottom, before crossing the stream. His artistic dandyism had been harshly treated by that scramble. She might have laughed; but, instead, she felt excited, a little scared by the look on his hot, pale face. He said, breathlessly:

"I have caught you. So you are going to-morrow, and never told me! You thought you would slip away--not a word for me! Are you always so cruel? Well, I will not spare you, either!"

Crouching suddenly, he took hold of her broad ribbon sash, and buried his face in it. Gyp stood trembling--the action had not stirred her sense of the ridiculous. He circled her knees with his arms.

"Oh, Gyp, I love you--I love you--don't send me away--let me be with you! I am your dog--your slave. Oh, Gyp, I love you!"

His voice moved and terrified her. Men had said "I love you" several times during those last two years, but never with that lost-soul ring of passion, never with that look in the eyes at once fiercely hungry and so supplicating, never with that restless, eager, timid touch of hands. She could only murmur:

"Please get up!"

But he went on:

"Love me a little, only a little--love me! Oh, Gyp!"

The thought flashed through Gyp: 'To how many has he knelt, I wonder?' His face had a kind of beauty in its abandonment--the beauty that comes from yearning--and she lost her frightened feeling. He went on, with his stammering murmur: "I am a prodigal, I know; but if you love me, I will no longer be. I will do great things for you. Oh, Gyp, if you will some day marry me! Not now. When I have proved. Oh, Gyp, you are so sweet--so wonderful!"

His arms crept up till he had buried his face against her waist. Without quite knowing what she did, Gyp touched his hair, and said again:

"No; please get up."

He got up then, and standing near, with his hands hard clenched at his sides, whispered:

"Have mercy! Speak to me!"

She could not. All was strange and mazed and quivering in her, her spirit straining away, drawn to him, fantastically confused. She could only look into his face with her troubled, dark eyes. And suddenly she was seized and crushed to him. She shrank away, pushing him back with all her strength. He hung his head, abashed, suffering, with eyes shut, lips trembling; and her heart felt again that quiver of compassion. She murmured:

"I don't know. I will tell you later--later--in England."

He bowed, folding his arms, as if to make her feel safe from him. And when, regardless of the rain, she began to move on, he walked beside her, a yard or so away, humbly, as though he had never poured out those words or hurt her lips with the violence of his kiss.

Back in her room, taking off her wet dress, Gyp tried to remember what he had said and what she had answered. She had not promised anything. But she had given him her address, both in London and the country. Unless she resolutely thought of other things, she still felt the restless touch of his hands, the grip of his arms, and saw his eyes as they were when he was kissing her; and once more she felt frightened and excited.

He was playing at the concert that evening--her last concert. And surely he had never played like that--with a despairing beauty, a sort of frenzied rapture. Listening, there came to her a feeling-- a feeling of fatality--that, whether she would or no, she could not free herself from him.

John Galsworthy