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Chapter XIII

Seventy-three Comrade Street, Soho, was difficult to find; but, with the aid of a milk-boy, Gyp discovered the alley at last, and the right door. There her pride took sudden alarm, and but for the milk-boy's eyes fixed on her while he let out his professional howl, she might have fled. A plump white hand and wrist emerging took the can, and Daphne Wing's voice said:

"Oh, where's the cream?"

"Ain't got none."

"Oh! I told you always--two pennyworth at twelve o'clock."

"Two penn'orth." The boy's eyes goggled.

"Didn't you want to speak to her, miss?" He beat the closing door. "Lidy wants to speak to you! Good-mornin', miss."

The figure of Daphne Wing in a blue kimono was revealed. Her eyes peered round at Gyp.

"Oh!" she said.

"May I come in?"

"Oh, yes! Oh, do! I've been practising. Oh, I am glad to see you!"

In the middle of the studio, a little table was laid for two. Daphne Wing went up to it, holding in one hand the milk-can and in the other a short knife, with which she had evidently been opening oysters. Placing the knife on the table, she turned round to Gyp. Her face was deep pink, and so was her neck, which ran V-shaped down into the folds of her kimono. Her eyes, round as saucers, met Gyp's, fell, met them again. She said:

"Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, I am glad! I really am. I wanted you so much to see my room--do you like it? How did you know where I was?" She looked down and added: "I think I'd better tell you. Mr. Fiorsen came here, and, since then, I've seen him at Count Rosek's-- and--and--"

"Yes; but don't trouble to tell me, please."

Daphne Wing hurried on.

"Of course, I'm quite mistress of myself now." Then, all at once, the uneasy woman-of-the-world mask dropped from her face and she seized Gyp's hand. "Oh, Mrs. Fiorsen, I shall never be like you!"

With a little shiver, Gyp said:

"I hope not." Her pride rushed up in her. How could she ask this girl anything? She choked back that feeling, and said stonily: "Do you remember my baby? No, of course; you never saw her. He and Count Rosek have just taken her away from me."

Daphne Wing convulsively squeezed the hand of which she had possessed herself.

"Oh, what a wicked thing! When?"

"Yesterday afternoon."

"Oh, I am glad I haven't seen him since! Oh, I do think that was wicked! Aren't you dreadfully distressed?" The least of smiles played on Gyp's mouth. Daphne Wing burst forth: "D'you know--I think--I think your self-control is something awful. It frightens me. If my baby had lived and been stolen like that, I should have been half dead by now."

Gyp answered stonily as ever:

"Yes; I want her back, and I wondered--"

Daphne Wing clasped her hands.

"Oh, I expect I can make him--" She stopped, confused, then added hastily: "Are you sure you don't mind?"

"I shouldn't mind if he had fifty loves. Perhaps he has."

Daphne Wing uttered a little gasp; then her teeth came down rather viciously on her lower lip.

"I mean him to do what I want now, not what he wants me. That's the only way when you love. Oh, don't smile like that, please; you do make me feel so--uncertain."

"When are you going to see him next?"

Daphne Wing grew very pink.

"I don't know. He might be coming in to lunch. You see, it's not as if he were a stranger, is it?" Casting up her eyes a little, she added: "He won't even let me speak your name; it makes him mad. That's why I'm sure he still loves you; only, his love is so funny." And, seizing Gyp's hand: "I shall never forget how good you were to me. I do hope you--you love somebody else." Gyp pressed those damp, clinging fingers, and Daphne Wing hurried on: "I'm sure your baby's a darling. How you must be suffering! You look quite pale. But it isn't any good suffering. I learned that."

Her eyes lighted on the table, and a faint ruefulness came into them, as if she were going to ask Gyp to eat the oysters.

Gyp bent forward and put her lips to the girl's forehead.

"Good-bye. My baby would thank you if she knew."

And she turned to go. She heard a sob. Daphne Wing was crying; then, before Gyp could speak, she struck herself on the throat, and said, in a strangled voice:

"Tha--that's idiotic! I--I haven't cried since--since, you know. I--I'm perfect mistress of myself; only, I--only--I suppose you reminded me--I never cry!"

Those words and the sound of a hiccough accompanied Gyp down the alley to her cab.

When she got back to Bury Street, she found Betty sitting in the hall with her bonnet on. She had not been sent for, nor had any reply come from Newmarket. Gyp could not eat, could settle to nothing. She went up to her bedroom to get away from the servants' eyes, and went on mechanically with a frock of little Gyp's she had begun on the fatal morning Fiorsen had come back. Every other minute she stopped to listen to sounds that never meant anything, went a hundred times to the window to look at nothing. Betty, too, had come upstairs, and was in the nursery opposite; Gyp could hear her moving about restlessly among her household gods. Presently, those sounds ceased, and, peering into the room, she saw the stout woman still in her bonnet, sitting on a trunk, with her back turned, uttering heavy sighs. Gyp stole back into her own room with a sick, trembling sensation. If--if her baby really could not be recovered except by that sacrifice! If that cruel letter were the last word, and she forced to decide between them! Which would she give up? Which follow--her lover or her child?

She went to the window for air--the pain about her heart was dreadful. And, leaning there against the shutter, she felt quite dizzy from the violence of a struggle that refused coherent thought or feeling, and was just a dumb pull of instincts, both so terribly strong--how terribly strong she had not till then perceived.

Her eyes fell on the picture that reminded her of Bryan; it seemed now to have no resemblance--none. He was much too real, and loved, and wanted. Less than twenty-four hours ago, she had turned a deaf ear to his pleading that she should go to him for ever. How funny! Would she not rush to him now--go when and where he liked? Ah, if only she were back in his arms! Never could she give him up-- never! But then in her ears sounded the cooing words, "Dear mum!" Her baby--that tiny thing--how could she give her up, and never again hold close and kiss that round, perfect little body, that grave little dark-eyed face?

The roar of London came in through the open window. So much life, so many people--and not a soul could help! She left the window and went to the cottage-piano she had there, out of Winton's way. But she only sat with arms folded, looking at the keys. The song that girl had sung at Fiorsen's concert--song of the broken heart--came back to her.

No, no; she couldn't--couldn't! It was to her lover she would cling. And tears ran down her cheeks.

A cab had stopped below, but not till Betty came rushing in did she look up.

John Galsworthy