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Chapter II

The last train was not due till eleven-thirty, and having seen that the evening tray had sandwiches, Gyp went to Summerhay's study, the room at right angles to the body of the house, over which was their bedroom. Here, if she had nothing to do, she always came when he was away, feeling nearer to him. She would have been horrified if she had known of her father's sentiments on her behalf. Her instant denial of the wish to see more people had been quite genuine. The conditions of her life, in that respect, often seemed to her ideal. It was such a joy to be free of people one did not care two straws about, and of all empty social functions. Everything she had now was real--love, and nature, riding, music, animals, and poor people. What else was worth having? She would not have changed for anything. It often seemed to her that books and plays about the unhappiness of women in her position were all false. If one loved, what could one want better? Such women, if unhappy, could have no pride; or else could not really love! She had recently been reading "Anna Karenina," and had often said to herself: "There's something not true about it--as if Tolstoy wanted to make us believe that Anna was secretly feeling remorse. If one loves, one doesn't feel remorse. Even if my baby had been taken away, I shouldn't have felt remorse. One gives oneself to love--or one does not."

She even derived a positive joy from the feeling that her love imposed a sort of isolation; she liked to be apart--for him. Besides, by her very birth she was outside the fold of society, her love beyond the love of those within it--just as her father's love had been. And her pride was greater than theirs, too. How could women mope and moan because they were cast out, and try to scratch their way back where they were not welcome? How could any woman do that? Sometimes, she wondered whether, if Fiorsen died, she would marry her lover. What difference would it make? She could not love him more. It would only make him feel, perhaps, too sure of her, make it all a matter of course. For herself, she would rather go on as she was. But for him, she was not certain, of late had been less and less certain. He was not bound now, could leave her when he tired! And yet--did he perhaps feel himself more bound than if they were married--unfairly bound? It was this thought-- barely more than the shadow of a thought--which had given her, of late, the extra gravity noticed by her father.

In that unlighted room with the moonbeams drifting in, she sat down at Summerhay's bureau, where he often worked too late at his cases, depriving her of himself. She sat there resting her elbows on the bare wood, crossing her finger-tips, gazing out into the moonlight, her mind drifting on a stream of memories that seemed to have beginning only from the year when he came into her life. A smile crept out on her face, and now and then she uttered a little sigh of contentment.

So many memories, nearly all happy! Surely, the most adroit work of the jeweller who put the human soul together was his provision of its power to forget the dark and remember sunshine. The year and a half of her life with Fiorsen, the empty months that followed it were gone, dispersed like mist by the radiance of the last three years in whose sky had hung just one cloud, no bigger than a hand, of doubt whether Summerhay really loved her as much as she loved him, whether from her company he got as much as the all she got from his. She would not have been her distrustful self if she could have settled down in complacent security; and her mind was ever at stretch on that point, comparing past days and nights with the days and nights of the present. Her prevision that, when she loved, it would be desperately, had been fulfilled. He had become her life. When this befalls one whose besetting strength and weakness alike is pride--no wonder that she doubts.

For their Odyssey they had gone to Spain--that brown un-European land of "lyrio" flowers, and cries of "Agua!" in the streets, where the men seem cleft to the waist when they are astride of horses, under their wide black hats, and the black-clothed women with wonderful eyes still look as if they missed their Eastern veils. It had been a month of gaiety and glamour, last days of September and early days of October, a revel of enchanted wanderings in the streets of Seville, of embraces and laughter, of strange scents and stranger sounds, of orange light and velvety shadows, and all the warmth and deep gravity of Spain. The Alcazar, the cigarette- girls, the Gipsy dancers of Triana, the old brown ruins to which they rode, the streets, and the square with its grave talkers sitting on benches in the sun, the water-sellers and the melons; the mules, and the dark ragged man out of a dream, picking up the ends of cigarettes, the wine of Malaga, burnt fire and honey! Seville had bewitched them--they got no further. They had come back across the brown uplands of Castile to Madrid and Goya and Velasquez, till it was time for Paris, before the law-term began. There, in a queer little French hotel--all bedrooms, and a lift, coffee and carved beds, wood fires, and a chambermaid who seemed all France, and down below a restaurant, to which such as knew about eating came, with waiters who looked like monks, both fat and lean--they had spent a week. Three special memories of that week started up in the moonlight before Gyp's eyes: The long drive in the Bois among the falling leaves of trees flashing with colour in the crisp air under a brilliant sky. A moment in the Louvre before the Leonardo "Bacchus," when--his "restored" pink skin forgotten-- all the world seemed to drop away while she listened, with the listening figure before her, to some mysterious music of growing flowers and secret life. And that last most disconcerting memory, of the night before they returned. They were having supper after the theatre in their restaurant, when, in a mirror she saw three people come in and take seats at a table a little way behind-- Fiorsen, Rosek, and Daphne Wing! How she managed to show no sign she never knew! While they were ordering, she was safe, for Rosek was a gourmet, and the girl would certainly be hungry; but after that, she knew that nothing could save her being seen--Rosek would mark down every woman in the room! Should she pretend to feel faint and slip out into the hotel? Or let Bryan know? Or sit there laughing and talking, eating and drinking, as if nothing were behind her?

Her own face in the mirror had a flush, and her eyes were bright. When they saw her, they would see that she was happy, safe in her love. Her foot sought Summerhay's beneath the table. How splendid and brown and fit he looked, compared with those two pale, towny creatures! And he was gazing at her as though just discovering her beauty. How could she ever--that man with his little beard and his white face and those eyes--how could she ever! Ugh! And then, in the mirror, she saw Rosek's dark-circled eyes fasten on her and betray their recognition by a sudden gleam, saw his lips compressed, and a faint red come up in his cheeks. What would he do? The girl's back was turned--her perfect back--and she was eating. And Fiorsen was staring straight before him in that moody way she knew so well. All depended on that deadly little man, who had once kissed her throat. A sick feeling seized on Gyp. If her lover knew that within five yards of him were those two men! But she still smiled and talked, and touched his foot. Rosek had seen that she was conscious--was getting from it a kind of satisfaction. She saw him lean over and whisper to the girl, and Daphne Wing turning to look, and her mouth opening for a smothered "Oh!" Gyp saw her give an uneasy glance at Fiorsen, and then begin again to eat. Surely she would want to get away before he saw. Yes; very soon she rose. What little airs of the world she had now--quite mistress of the situation! The wrap must be placed exactly on her shoulders; and how she walked, giving just one startled look back from the door. Gone! The ordeal over! And Gyp said:

"Let's go up, darling."

She felt as if they had both escaped a deadly peril--not from anything those two could do to him or her, but from the cruel ache and jealousy of the past, which the sight of that man would have brought him.

Women, for their age, are surely older than men--married women, at all events, than men who have not had that experience. And all through those first weeks of their life together, there was a kind of wise watchfulness in Gyp. He was only a boy in knowledge of life as she saw it, and though his character was so much more decided, active, and insistent than her own, she felt it lay with her to shape the course and avoid the shallows and sunken rocks. The house they had seen together near the river, under the Berkshire downs, was still empty; and while it was being got ready, they lived at a London hotel. She had insisted that he should tell no one of their life together. If that must come, she wanted to be firmly settled in, with little Gyp and Betty and the horses, so that it should all be for him as much like respectable married life as possible. But, one day, in the first week after their return, while in her room, just back from a long day's shopping, a card was brought up to her: "Lady Summerhay." Her first impulse was to be "not at home"; her second, "I'd better face it. Bryan would wish me to see her!" When the page-boy was gone, she turned to the mirror and looked at herself doubtfully. She seemed to know exactly what that tall woman whom she had seen on the platform would think of her--too soft, not capable, not right for him!--not even if she were legally his wife. And touching her hair, laying a dab of scent on her eyebrows, she turned and went downstairs fluttering, but outwardly calm enough.

In the little low-roofed inner lounge of that old hotel, whose rooms were all "entirely renovated," Gyp saw her visitor standing at a table, rapidly turning the pages of an illustrated magazine, as people will when their minds are set upon a coming operation. And she thought: 'I believe she's more frightened than I am!'

Lady Summerhay held out a gloved hand.

"How do you do?" she said. "I hope you'll forgive my coming."

Gyp took the hand.

"Thank you. It was very good of you. I'm sorry Bryan isn't in yet. Will you have some tea?"

"I've had tea; but do let's sit down. How do you find the hotel?"

"Very nice."

On a velvet lounge that had survived the renovation, they sat side by side, screwed round toward each other.

"Bryan's told me what a pleasant time you had abroad. He's looking very well, I think. I'm devoted to him, you know."

Gyp answered softly:

"Yes, you must be." And her heart felt suddenly as hard as flint.

Lady Summerhay gave her a quick look.

"I--I hope you won't mind my being frank--I've been so worried. It's an unhappy position, isn't it?" Gyp did not answer, and she hurried on. "If there's anything I can do to help, I should be so glad--it must be horrid for you."

Gyp said very quietly:

"Oh! no. I'm perfectly happy--couldn't be happier." And she thought: 'I suppose she doesn't believe that.'

Lady Summerhay was looking at her fixedly.

"One doesn't realize these things at first--neither of you will, till you see how dreadfully Society can cold-shoulder."

Gyp made an effort to control a smile.

"One can only be cold-shouldered if one puts oneself in the way of it. I should never wish to see or speak to anyone who couldn't take me just for what I am. And I don't really see what difference it will make to Bryan; most men of his age have someone, somewhere." She felt malicious pleasure watching her visitor jib and frown at the cynicism of that soft speech; a kind of hatred had come on her of this society woman, who--disguise it as she would-- was at heart her enemy, who regarded her, must regard her, as an enslaver, as a despoiler of her son's worldly chances, a Delilah dragging him down. She said still more quietly: "He need tell no one of my existence; and you can be quite sure that if ever he feels he's had enough of me, he'll never be troubled by the sight of me again."

And she got up. Lady Summerhay also rose.

"I hope you don't think--I really am only too anxious to--"

"I think it's better to be quite frank. You will never like me, or forgive me for ensnaring Bryan. And so it had better be, please, as it would be if I were just his common mistress. That will be perfectly all right for both of us. It was very good of you to come, though. Thank you--and good-bye."

Lady Summerhay literally faltered with speech and hand.

With a malicious smile, Gyp watched her retirement among the little tables and elaborately modern chairs till her tall figure had disappeared behind a column. Then she sat down again on the lounge, pressing her hands to her burning ears. She had never till then known the strength of the pride-demon within her; at the moment, it was almost stronger than her love. She was still sitting there, when the page-boy brought her another card--her father's. She sprang up saying:

"Yes, here, please."

Winton came in all brisk and elated at sight of her after this long absence; and, throwing her arms round his neck, she hugged him tight. He was doubly precious to her after the encounter she had just gone though. When he had given her news of Mildenham and little Gyp, he looked at her steadily, and said:

"The coast'll be clear for you both down there, and at Bury Street, whenever you like to come, Gyp. I shall regard this as your real marriage. I shall have the servants in and make that plain."

A row like family prayers--and Dad standing up very straight, saying in his dry way: "You will be so good in future as to remember--" "I shall be obliged if you will," and so on; Betty's round face pouting at being brought in with all the others; Markey's soft, inscrutable; Mrs. Markey's demure and goggling; the maids' rabbit-faces; old Pettance's carved grin the film lifting from his little burning eyes: "Ha! Mr. Bryn Summer'ay; he bought her orse, and so she's gone to 'im!" And she said:

"Darling, I don't know! It's awfully sweet of you. We'll see later."

Winton patted her hand. "We must stand up to 'em, you know, Gyp. You mustn't get your tail down."

Gyp laughed.

"No, Dad; never!"

That same night, across the strip of blackness between their beds, she said:

"Bryan, promise me something!"

"It depends. I know you too well."

"No; it's quite reasonable, and possible. Promise!"

"All right; if it is."

"I want you to let me take the lease of the Red House--let it be mine, the whole thing--let me pay for everything there."

"Reasonable! What's the point?"

"Only that I shall have a proper home of my own. I can't explain, but your mother's coming to-day made me feel I must."

"My child, how could I possibly live on you there? It's absurd!"

"You can pay for everything else; London--travelling--clothes, if you like. We can make it square up. It's not a question of money, of course. I only want to feel that if, at any moment, you don't need me any more, you can simply stop coming."

"I think that's brutal, Gyp."

"No, no; so many women lose men's love because they seem to claim things of them. I don't want to lose yours that way--that's all."

"That's silly, darling!"

"It's not. Men--and women, too--always tug at chains. And when there is no chain--"

"Well then; let me take the house, and you can go away when you're tired of me." His voice sounded smothered, resentful; she could hear him turning and turning, as if angry with his pillows. And she murmured:

"No; I can't explain. But I really mean it."

"We're just beginning life together, and you talk as if you want to split it up. It hurts, Gyp, and that's all about it."

She said gently:

"Don't be angry, dear."

"Well! Why don't you trust me more?"

"I do. Only I must make as sure as I can."

The sound came again of his turning and turning.

"I can't!"

Gyp said slowly:

"Oh! Very well!"

A dead silence followed, both lying quiet in the darkness, trying to get the better of each other by sheer listening. An hour perhaps passed before he sighed, and, feeling his lips on hers, she knew that she had won.

John Galsworthy