The summer passed, and always there was that little patch of silence in her heart, and in his. The tall, bright days grew taller, slowly passed their zenith, slowly shortened. On Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes with Winton and little Gyp, but more often alone, they went on the river. For Gyp, it had never lost the magic of their first afternoon upon it--never lost its glamour as of an enchanted world. All the week she looked forward to these hours of isolation with him, as if the surrounding water secured her not only against a world that would take him from her, if it could, but against that side of his nature, which, so long ago she had named "old Georgian." She had once adventured to the law courts by herself, to see him in his wig and gown. Under that stiff grey crescent on his broad forehead, he seemed so hard and clever--so of a world to which she never could belong, so of a piece with the brilliant bullying of the whole proceeding. She had come away feeling that she only possessed and knew one side of him. On the river, she had that side utterly--her lovable, lazy, impudently loving boy, lying with his head in her lap, plunging in for a swim, splashing round her; or with his sleeves rolled up, his neck bare, and a smile on his face, plying his slow sculls down- stream, singing, "Away, my rolling river," or puffing home like a demon in want of his dinner. It was such a blessing to lose for a few hours each week this growing consciousness that she could never have the whole of him. But all the time the patch of silence grew, for doubt in the heart of one lover reacts on the heart of the other.
When the long vacation came, she made an heroic resolve. He must go to Scotland, must have a month away from her, a good long rest. And while Betty was at the sea with little Gyp, she would take her father to his cure. She held so inflexibly to this resolve, that, after many protests, he said with a shrug:
"Very well, I will then--if you're so keen to get rid of me."
"Keen to get rid!" When she could not bear to be away from him! But she forced her feeling back, and said, smiling:
"At last! There's a good boy!" Anything! If only it would bring him back to her exactly as he had been. She asked no questions as to where, or to whom, he would go.
Tunbridge Wells, that charming purgatory where the retired prepare their souls for a more permanent retirement, was dreaming on its hills in long rows of adequate villas. Its commons and woods had remained unscorched, so that the retired had not to any extent deserted it, that August, for the sea. They still shopped in the Pantiles, strolled the uplands, or flourished their golf-clubs in the grassy parks; they still drank tea in each other's houses and frequented the many churches. One could see their faces, as it were, goldened by their coming glory, like the chins of children by reflection from buttercups. From every kind of life they had retired, and, waiting now for a more perfect day, were doing their utmost to postpone it. They lived very long.
Gyp and her father had rooms in a hotel where he could bathe and drink the waters without having to climb three hills. This was the first cure she had attended since the long-past time at Wiesbaden. Was it possible that was only six years ago? She felt so utterly, so strangely different! Then life had been sparkling sips of every drink, and of none too much; now it was one long still draft, to quench a thirst that would not be quenched.
During these weeks she held herself absolutely at her father's disposal, but she lived for the post, and if, by any chance, she did not get her daily letter, her heart sank to the depths. She wrote every day, sometimes twice, then tore up that second letter, remembering for what reason she had set herself to undergo this separation. During the first week, his letters had a certain equanimity; in the second week they became ardent; in the third, they were fitful--now beginning to look forward, now moody and dejected; and they were shorter. During this third week Aunt Rosamund joined them. The good lady had become a staunch supporter of Gyp's new existence, which, in her view, served Fiorsen right. Why should the poor child's life be loveless? She had a definitely low opinion of men, and a lower of the state of the marriage-laws; in her view, any woman who struck a blow in that direction was something of a heroine. And she was oblivious of the fact that Gyp was quite guiltless of the desire to strike a blow against the marriage-laws, or anything else. Aunt Rosamund's aristocratic and rebellious blood boiled with hatred of what she called the "stuffy people" who still held that women were men's property. It had made her specially careful never to put herself in that position.
She had brought Gyp a piece of news.
"I was walking down Bond Street past that tea-and-tart shop, my dear--you know, where they have those special coffee-creams, and who should come out of it but Miss Daphne Wing and our friend Fiorsen; and pretty hangdog he looked. He came up to me, with his little lady watching him like a lynx. Really, my dear, I was rather sorry for him; he'd got that hungry look of his; she'd been doing all the eating, I'm sure. He asked me how you were. I told him, 'Very well.'
"'When you see her,' he said, 'tell her I haven't forgotten her, and never shall. But she was quite right; this is the sort of lady that I'm fit for.' And the way he looked at that girl made me feel quite uncomfortable. Then he gave me one of his little bows; and off they went, she as pleased as Punch. I really was sorry for him."
Gyp said quietly:
"Ah! you needn't have been, Auntie; he'll always be able to be sorry for himself."
A little shocked at her niece's cynicism, Aunt Rosamund was silent. The poor lady had not lived with Fiorsen!
That same afternoon, Gyp was sitting in a shelter on the common, a book on her knee--thinking her one long thought: 'To-day is Thursday--Monday week! Eleven days--still!'--when three figures came slowly toward her, a man, a woman, and what should have been a dog. English love of beauty and the rights of man had forced its nose back, deprived it of half its ears, and all but three inches or so of tail. It had asthma--and waddled in disillusionment. A voice said:
"This'll do, Maria. We can take the sun 'ere."
But for that voice, with the permanent cold hoarseness caught beside innumerable graves, Gyp might not have recognized Mr. Wagge, for he had taken off his beard, leaving nothing but side-whiskers, and Mrs. Wagge had filled out wonderfully. They were some time settling down beside her.
"You sit here, Maria; you won't get the sun in your eyes."
"No, Robert; I'll sit here. You sit there."
"No, you sit there."
"No, I will. Come, Duckie!"
But the dog, standing stockily on the pathway was gazing at Gyp, while what was left of its broad nose moved from side to side. Mr. Wagge followed the direction of its glance.
"Oh!" he said, "oh, this is a surprise!" And fumbling at his straw hat, he passed his other hand over his sleeve and held it out to Gyp. It felt almost dry, and fatter than it had been. While she was shaking it, the dog moved forward and sat down on her feet. Mrs. Wagge also extended her hand, clad in a shiny glove.
"This is a--a--pleasure," she murmured. "Who would have thought of meeting you! Oh, don't let Duckie sit against your pretty frock! Come, Duckie!"
But Duckie did not move, resting his back against Gyp's shin-bones. Mr. Wagge, whose tongue had been passing over a mouth which she saw to its full advantage for the first time, said abruptly:
"You 'aven't come to live here, 'ave you?"
"Oh no! I'm only with my father for the baths."
"Ah, I thought not, never havin' seen you. We've been retired here ourselves a matter of twelve months. A pretty spot."
"Yes; lovely, isn't it?"
"We wanted nature. The air suits us, though a bit--er--too irony, as you might say. But it's a long-lived place. We were quite a time lookin' round."
Mrs. Wagge added in her thin voice:
"Yes--we'd thought of Wimbledon, you see, but Mr. Wagge liked this better; he can get his walk, here; and it's more--select, perhaps. We have several friends. The church is very nice."
Mr. Wagge's face assumed an uncertain expression. He said bluffly:
"I was always a chapel man; but--I don't know how it is--there's something in a place like this that makes church seem more--more suitable; my wife always had a leaning that way. I never conceal my actions."
"It's a question of atmosphere, isn't it?"
Mr. Wagge shook his head.
"No; I don't hold with incense--we're not 'Igh Church. But how are you, ma'am? We often speak of you. You're looking well."
His face had become a dusky orange, and Mrs. Wagge's the colour of a doubtful beetroot. The dog on Gyp's feet stirred, snuffled, turned round, and fell heavily against her legs again. She said quietly:
"I was hearing of Daisy only to-day. She's quite a star now, isn't she?"
Mrs. Wagge sighed. Mr. Wagge looked away and answered:
"It's a sore subject. There she is, making her forty and fifty pound a week, and run after in all the papers. She's a success--no doubt about it. And she works. Saving a matter of fifteen 'undred a year, I shouldn't be surprised. Why, at my best, the years the influenza was so bad, I never cleared a thousand net. No, she's a success."
Mrs. Wagge added:
"Have you seen her last photograph--the one where she's standing between two hydrangea-tubs? It was her own idea."
Mr. Wagge mumbled suddenly:
"I'm always glad to see her when she takes a run down in a car. But I've come here for quiet after the life I've led, and I don't want to think about it, especially before you, ma'am. I don't-- that's a fact."
A silence followed, during which Mr. and Mrs. Wagge looked at their feet, and Gyp looked at the dog.
"Ah!--here you are!" It was Winton, who had come up from behind the shelter, and stood, with eyebrows slightly raised. Gyp could not help a smile. Her father's weathered, narrow face, half-veiled eyes, thin nose, little crisp, grey moustache that did not hide his firm lips, his lean, erect figure, the very way he stood, his thin, dry, clipped voice were the absolute antithesis of Mr. Wagge's thickset, stoutly planted form, thick-skinned, thick-featured face, thick, rather hoarse yet oily voice. It was as if Providence had arranged a demonstration of the extremes of social type. And she said:
"Mr. and Mrs. Wagge--my father."
Winton raised his hat. Gyp remained seated, the dog Duckie being still on her feet.
"'Appy to meet you, sir. I hope you have benefit from the waters. They're supposed to be most powerful, I believe."
"Thank you--not more deadly than most. Are you drinking them?"
Mr. Wagge smiled.
"Nao!" he said, "we live here."
"Indeed! Do you find anything to do?"
"Well, as a fact, I've come here for rest. But I take a Turkish bath once a fortnight--find it refreshing; keeps the pores of the skin acting."
Mrs. Wagge added gently:
"It seems to suit my husband wonderfully."
"Yes. Is this your dog? Bit of a philosopher, isn't he?"
Mrs. Wagge answered:
"Oh, he's a naughty dog, aren't you, Duckie?"
The dog Duckie, feeling himself the cynosure of every eye, rose and stood panting into Gyp's face. She took the occasion to get up.
"We must go, I'm afraid. Good-bye. It's been very nice to meet you again. When you see Daisy, will you please give her my love?"
Mrs. Wagge unexpectedly took a handkerchief from her reticule. Mr. Wagge cleared his throat heavily. Gyp was conscious of the dog Duckie waddling after them, and of Mrs. Wagge calling, "Duckie, Duckie!" from behind her handkerchief.
Winton said softly:
"So those two got that pretty filly! Well, she didn't show much quality, when you come to think of it. She's still with our friend, according to your aunt."
"Yes; and I do hope she's happy."
"He isn't, apparently. Serves him right."
Gyp shook her head.
"Oh no, Dad!"
"Well, one oughtn't to wish any man worse than he's likely to get. But when I see people daring to look down their noses at you--by Jove! I get--"
"Darling, what does that matter?"
Winton answered testily:
"It matters very much to me--the impudence of it!" His mouth relaxed in a grim little smile: "Ah, well--there's not much to choose between us so far as condemning our neighbours goes. 'Charity Stakes--also ran, Charles Clare Winton, the Church, and Mrs. Grundy.'"
They opened out to each other more in those few days at Tunbridge Wells than they had for years. Whether the process of bathing softened his crust, or the air that Mr. Wagge found "a bit--er--too irony, as you might say," had upon Winton the opposite effect, he certainly relaxed that first duty of man, the concealment of his spirit, and disclosed his activities as he never had before--how such and such a person had been set on his feet, so and so sent out to Canada, this man's wife helped over her confinement, that man's daughter started again after a slip. And Gyp's child-worship of him bloomed anew.
On the last afternoon of their stay, she strolled out with him through one of the long woods that stretched away behind their hotel. Excited by the coming end of her self-inflicted penance, moved by the beauty among those sunlit trees, she found it difficult to talk. But Winton, about to lose her, was quite loquacious. Starting from the sinister change in the racing-world-- so plutocratic now, with the American seat, the increase of bookmaking owners, and other tragic occurrences--he launched forth into a jeremiad on the condition of things in general. Parliament, he thought, especially now that members were paid, had lost its self-respect; the towns had eaten up the country; hunting was threatened; the power and vulgarity of the press were appalling; women had lost their heads; and everybody seemed afraid of having any "breeding." By the time little Gyp was Gyp's age, they would all be under the thumb of Watch Committees, live in Garden Cities, and have to account for every half-crown they spent, and every half-hour of their time; the horse, too, would be an extinct animal, brought out once a year at the lord-mayor's show. He hoped--the deuce--he might not be alive to see it. And suddenly he added: "What do you think happens after death, Gyp?"
They were sitting on one of those benches that crop up suddenly in the heart of nature. All around them briars and bracken were just on the turn; and the hum of flies, the vague stir of leaves and life formed but a single sound. Gyp, gazing into the wood, answered:
"Nothing, Dad. I think we just go back."
"Ah-- My idea, too!"
Neither of them had ever known what the other thought about it before!
"La vie est vaine--
Un peu d'amour,
Un peu de haine,
Et puis bonjour!"
Not quite a grunt or quite a laugh emerged from the depths of Winton, and, looking up at the sky, he said:
"And what they call 'God,' after all, what is it? Just the very best you can get out of yourself--nothing more, so far as I can see. Dash it, you can't imagine anything more than you can imagine. One would like to die in the open, though, like Whyte- Melville. But there's one thing that's always puzzled me, Gyp. All one's life one's tried to have a single heart. Death comes, and out you go! Then why did one love, if there's to be no meeting after?"
"Yes; except for that, who would care? But does the wanting to meet make it any more likely, Dad? The world couldn't go on without love; perhaps loving somebody or something with all your heart is all in itself."
Winton stared; the remark was a little deep.
"Ye-es," he said at last. "I often think the religious johnnies are saving their money to put on a horse that'll never run after all. I remember those Yogi chaps in India. There they sat, and this jolly world might rot round them for all they cared--they thought they were going to be all right themselves, in Kingdom Come. But suppose it doesn't come?"
Gyp murmured with a little smile:
"Perhaps they were trying to love everything at once."
"Rum way of showing it. And, hang it, there are such a lot of things one can't love! Look at that!" He pointed upwards. Against the grey bole of a beech-tree hung a board, on which were the freshly painted words:
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
"That board is stuck up all over this life and the next. Well, we won't give them the chance to warn us off, Gyp."
Slipping her hand through his arm, she pressed close up to him.
"No, Dad; you and I will go off with the wind and the sun, and the trees and the waters, like Procris in my picture."
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