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Chapter III

There, in the study, the moonlight had reached her face; an owl was hooting not far away, and still more memories came--the happiest of all, perhaps--of first days in this old house together.

Summerhay damaged himself out hunting that first winter. The memory of nursing him was strangely pleasant, now that it was two years old. For convalescence they had gone to the Pyrenees-- Argeles in March, all almond-blossom and snows against the blue--a wonderful fortnight. In London on the way back they had their first awkward encounter. Coming out of a theatre one evening, Gyp heard a woman's voice, close behind, say: "Why, it's Bryan! What ages!" And his answer defensively drawled out:

"Halo! How are you, Diana?"

"Oh, awfully fit. Where are you, nowadays? Why don't you come and see us?"

Again the drawl:

"Down in the country. I will, some time. Good-bye."

A tall woman or girl--red-haired, with one of those wonderful white skins that go therewith; and brown--yes, brown eyes; Gyp could see those eyes sweeping her up and down with a sort of burning-live curiosity. Bryan's hand was thrust under her arm at once.

"Come on, let's walk and get a cab."

As soon as they were clear of the crowd, she pressed his hand to her breast, and said:

"Did you mind?"

"Mind? Of course not. It's for you to mind."

"Who was it?"

"A second cousin. Diana Leyton."

"Do you know her very well?"

"Oh yes--used to."

"And do you like her very much?"

"Rather!"

He looked round into her face, with laughter bubbling up behind his gravity. Ah, but could one tease on such a subject as their love? And to this day the figure of that tall girl with the burning-white skin, the burning-brown eyes, the burning-red hair was not quite a pleasant memory to Gyp. After that night, they gave up all attempt to hide their union, going to whatever they wished, whether they were likely to meet people or not. Gyp found that nothing was so easily ignored as Society when the heart was set on other things. Besides, they were seldom in London, and in the country did not wish to know anyone, in any case. But she never lost the feeling that what was ideal for her might not be ideal for him. He ought to go into the world, ought to meet people. It would not do for him to be cut off from social pleasures and duties, and then some day feel that he owed his starvation to her. To go up to London, too, every day was tiring, and she persuaded him to take a set of residential chambers in the Temple, and sleep there three nights a week. In spite of all his entreaties, she herself never went to those chambers, staying always at Bury Street when she came up. A kind of superstition prevented her; she would not risk making him feel that she was hanging round his neck. Besides, she wanted to keep herself desirable--so little a matter of course that he would hanker after her when he was away. And she never asked him where he went or whom he saw. But, sometimes, she wondered whether he could still be quite faithful to her in thought, love her as he used to; and joy would go down behind a heavy bank of clouds, till, at his return, the sun came out again. Love such as hers-- passionate, adoring, protective, longing to sacrifice itself, to give all that it had to him, yet secretly demanding all his love in return--for how could a proud woman love one who did not love her?-- such love as this is always longing for a union more complete than it is likely to get in a world where all things move and change. But against the grip of this love she never dreamed of fighting now. From the moment when she knew she must cling to him rather than to her baby, she had made no reservations; all her eggs were in one basket, as her father's had been before her--all!

The moonlight was shining full on the old bureau and a vase of tulips standing there, giving those flowers colour that was not colour, and an unnamed look, as if they came from a world which no human enters. It glinted on a bronze bust of old Voltaire, which she had bought him for a Christmas present, so that the great writer seemed to be smiling from the hollows of his eyes. Gyp turned the bust a little, to catch the light on its far cheek; a letter was disclosed between it and the oak. She drew it out thinking: 'Bless him! He uses everything for paper-weights'; and, in the strange light, its first words caught her eyes:

"DEAR BRYAN,

"But I say--you are wasting yourself--"

She laid it down, methodically pushing it back under the bust. Perhaps he had put it there on purpose! She got up and went to the window, to check the temptation to read the rest of that letter and see from whom it was. No! She did not admit that she was tempted. One did not read letters. Then the full import of those few words struck into her: "Dear Bryan. But I say--you are wasting yourself." A letter in a chain of correspondence, then! A woman's hand; but not his mother's, nor his sisters'--she knew their writings. Who had dared to say he was wasting himself? A letter in a chain of letters! An intimate correspondent, whose name she did not know, because--he had not told her! Wasting himself--on what?--on his life with her down here? And was he? Had she herself not said that very night that he had lost his laugh? She began searching her memory. Yes, last Christmas vacation--that clear, cold, wonderful fortnight in Florence, he had been full of fun. It was May now. Was there no memory since--of his old infectious gaiety? She could not think of any. "But I say--you are wasting yourself." A sudden hatred flared up in her against the unknown woman who had said that thing--and fever, running through her veins, made her ears burn. She longed to snatch forth and tear to pieces the letter, with its guardianship of which that bust seemed mocking her; and she turned away with the thought: 'I'll go and meet him; I can't wait here.'

Throwing on a cloak she walked out into the moonlit garden, and went slowly down the whitened road toward the station. A magical, dewless night! The moonbeams had stolen in to the beech clump, frosting the boles and boughs, casting a fine ghostly grey over the shadow-patterned beech-mast. Gyp took the short cut through it. Not a leaf moved in there, no living thing stirred; so might an earth be where only trees inhabited! She thought: 'I'll bring him back through here.' And she waited at the far corner of the clump, where he must pass, some little distance from the station. She never gave people unnecessary food for gossip--any slighting of her irritated him, she was careful to spare him that. The train came in; a car went whizzing by, a cyclist, then the first foot- passenger, at a great pace, breaking into a run. She saw that it was he, and, calling out his name, ran back into the shadow of the trees. He stopped dead in his tracks, then came rushing after her. That pursuit did not last long, and, in his arms, Gyp said:

"If you aren't too hungry, darling, let's stay here a little--it's so wonderful!"

They sat down on a great root, and leaning against him, looking up at the dark branches, she said:

"Have you had a hard day?"

"Yes; got hung up by a late consultation; and old Leyton asked me to come and dine."

Gyp felt a sensation as when feet happen on ground that gives a little.

"The Leytons--that's Eaton Square, isn't it? A big dinner?"

"No. Only the old people, and Bertie and Diana."

"Diana? That's the girl we met coming out of the theatre, isn't it?"

"When? Oh--ah--what a memory, Gyp!"

"Yes; it's good for things that interest me."

"Why? Did she interest you?"

Gyp turned and looked into his face.

"Yes. Is she clever?"

"H'm! I suppose you might call her so."

"And in love with you?"

"Great Scott! Why?"

"Is it very unlikely? I am."

He began kissing her lips and hair. And, closing her eyes, Gyp thought: 'If only that's not because he doesn't want to answer!' Then, for some minutes, they were silent as the moonlit beech clump.

"Answer me truly, Bryan. Do you never--never--feel as if you were wasting yourself on me?"

She was certain of a quiver in his grasp; but his face was open and serene, his voice as usual when he was teasing.

"Well, hardly ever! Aren't you funny, dear?"

"Promise me faithfully to let me know when you've had enough of me. Promise!"

"All right! But don't look for fulfilment in this life."

"I'm not so sure."

"I am."

Gyp put up her lips, and tried to drown for ever in a kiss the memory of those words: "But I say--you are wasting yourself."

John Galsworthy