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Chapter VII

One afternoon at the beginning of November, the old Scotch terrier, Ossian, lay on the path in the pale sunshine. He had lain there all the morning since his master went up by the early train. Nearly sixteen years old, he was deaf now and disillusioned, and every time that Summerhay left him, his eyes seemed to say: "You will leave me once too often!" The blandishments of the other nice people about the house were becoming to him daily less and less a substitute for that which he felt he had not much time left to enjoy; nor could he any longer bear a stranger within the gate. From her window, Gyp saw him get up and stand with his back ridged, growling at the postman, and, fearing for the man's calves, she hastened out.

Among the letters was one in that dreaded hand writing marked "Immediate," and forwarded from his chambers. She took it up, and put it to her nose. A scent--of what? Too faint to say. Her thumb nails sought the edge of the flap on either side. She laid the letter down. Any other letter, but not that--she wanted to open it too much. Readdressing it, she took it out to put with the other letters. And instantly the thought went through her: 'What a pity! If I read it, and there was nothing!' All her restless, jealous misgivings of months past would then be set at rest! She stood, uncertain, with the letter in her hand. Ah--but if there were something! She would lose at one stroke her faith in him, and her faith in herself--not only his love but her own self-respect. She dropped the letter on the table. Could she not take it up to him herself? By the three o'clock slow train, she could get to him soon after five. She looked at her watch. She would just have time to walk down. And she ran upstairs. Little Gyp was sitting on the top stair--her favourite seat--looking at a picture-book.

"I'm going up to London, darling. Tell Betty I may be back to- night, or perhaps I may not. Give me a good kiss."

Little Gyp gave the good kiss, and said:

"Let me see you put your hat on, Mum."

While Gyp was putting on hat and furs, she thought: "I shan't take a bag; I can always make shift at Bury Street if--" She did not finish the thought, but the blood came up in her cheeks. "Take care of Ossy, darling!" She ran down, caught up the letter, and hastened away to the station. In the train, her cheeks still burned. Might not this first visit to his chambers be like her old first visit to the little house in Chelsea? She took the letter out. How she hated that large, scrawly writing for all the thoughts and fears it had given her these past months! If that girl knew how much anxiety and suffering she had caused, would she stop writing, stop seeing him? And Gyp tried to conjure up her face, that face seen only for a minute, and the sound of that clipped, clear voice but once heard--the face and voice of one accustomed to have her own way. No! It would only make her go on all the more. Fair game, against a woman with no claim--but that of love. Thank heaven she had not taken him away from any woman-- unless--that girl perhaps thought she had! Ah! Why, in all these years, had she never got to know his secrets, so that she might fight against what threatened her? But would she have fought? To fight for love was degrading, horrible! And yet--if one did not? She got up and stood at the window of her empty carriage. There was the river--and there--yes, the very backwater where he had begged her to come to him for good. It looked so different, bare and shorn, under the light grey sky; the willows were all polled, the reeds cut down. And a line from one of his favourite sonnets came into her mind:

      "Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

Ah, well! Time enough to face things when they came. She would only think of seeing him! And she put the letter back to burn what hole it liked in the pocket of her fur coat.

The train was late; it was past five, already growing dark, when she reached Paddington and took a cab to the Temple. Strange to be going there for the first time--not even to know exactly where Harcourt Buildings were. At Temple Lane, she stopped the cab and walked down that narrow, ill-lighted, busy channel into the heart of the Great Law.

"Up those stone steps, miss; along the railin', second doorway." Gyp came to the second doorway and in the doubtful light scrutinized the names. "Summerhay--second floor." She began to climb the stairs. Her heart beat fast. What would he say? How greet her? Was it not absurd, dangerous, to have come? He would be having a consultation perhaps. There would be a clerk or someone to beard, and what name could she give? On the first floor she paused, took out a blank card, and pencilled on it:

      "Can I see you a minute?--G."

Then, taking a long breath to quiet her heart, she went on up. There was the name, and there the door. She rang--no one came; listened--could hear no sound. All looked so massive and bleak and dim--the iron railings, stone stairs, bare walls, oak door. She rang again. What should she do? Leave the letter? Not see him after all--her little romance all come to naught--just a chilly visit to Bury Street, where perhaps there would be no one but Mrs. Markey, for her father, she knew, was at Mildenham, hunting, and would not be up till Sunday! And she thought: 'I'll leave the letter, go back to the Strand, have some tea, and try again.'

She took out the letter, with a sort of prayer pushed it through the slit of the door, heard it fall into its wire cage; then slowly descended the stairs to the outer passage into Temple Lane. It was thronged with men and boys, at the end of the day's work. But when she had nearly reached the Strand, a woman's figure caught her eye. She was walking with a man on the far side; their faces were turned toward each other. Gyp heard their voices, and, faint, dizzy, stood looking back after them. They passed under a lamp; the light glinted on the woman's hair, on a trick of Summerhay's, the lift of one shoulder, when he was denying something; she heard his voice, high-pitched. She watched them cross, mount the stone steps she had just come down, pass along the railed stone passage, enter the doorway, disappear. And such horror seized on her that she could hardly walk away.

"Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!" So it went in her mind--a kind of moaning, like that of a cold, rainy wind through dripping trees. What did it mean? Oh, what did it mean? In this miserable tumult, the only thought that did not come to her was that of going back to his chambers. She hurried away. It was a wonder she was not run over, for she had no notion what she was doing, where going, and crossed the streets without the least attention to traffic. She came to Trafalgar Square, and stood leaning against its parapet in front of the National Gallery. Here she had her first coherent thought: So that was why his chambers had been empty! No clerk-- no one! That they might be alone. Alone, where she had dreamed of being alone with him! And only that morning he had kissed her and said, "Good-bye, treasure!" A dreadful little laugh got caught in her throat, confused with a sob. Why--why had she a heart? Down there, against the plinth of one of the lions, a young man leaned, with his arms round a girl, pressing her to him. Gyp turned away from the sight and resumed her miserable wandering. She went up Bury Street. No light; not any sign of life! It did not matter; she could not have gone in, could not stay still, must walk! She put up her veil to get more air, feeling choked.

The trees of the Green Park, under which she was passing now, had still a few leaves, and they gleamed in the lamplight copper- coloured as that girl's hair. All sorts of torturing visions came to her. Those empty chambers! She had seen one little minute of their intimacy. A hundred kisses might have passed between them--a thousand words of love! And he would lie to her. Already he had acted a lie! She had not deserved that. And this sense of the injustice done her was the first relief she felt--this definite emotion of a mind clouded by sheer misery. She had not deserved that he should conceal things from her. She had not had one thought or look for any man but him since that night down by the sea, when he came to her across the garden in the moonlight--not one thought--and never would! Poor relief enough! She was in Hyde Park now, wandering along a pathway which cut diagonally across the grass. And with more resolution, more purpose, she began searching her memory for signs, proofs of when he had changed to her. She could not find them. He had not changed in his ways to her; not at all. Could one act love, then? Act passion, or--horrible thought!--when he kissed her nowadays, was he thinking of that girl?

She heard the rustling of leaves behind. A youth was following her along the path, some ravening youth, whose ungoverned breathing had a kind of pathos in it. Heaven! What irony! She was too miserable to care, hardly even knew when, in the main path again, she was free from his pursuit. Love! Why had it such possession of her, that a little thing--yes, a little thing--only the sight of him with another, should make her suffer so? She came out on the other side of the park. What should she do? Crawl home, creep into her hole, and lie there stricken! At Paddington she found a train just starting and got in. There were other people in the carriage, business men from the city, lawyers, from that--place where she had been. And she was glad of their company, glad of the crackle of evening papers and stolid faces giving her looks of stolid interest from behind them, glad to have to keep her mask on, afraid of the violence of her emotion. But one by one they got out, to their cars or their constitutionals, and she was left alone to gaze at darkness and the deserted river just visible in the light of a moon smothered behind the sou'westerly sky. And for one wild moment she thought: 'Shall I open the door and step out--one step--peace!'

She hurried away from the station. It was raining, and she drew up her veil to feel its freshness on her hot face. There was just light enough for her to see the pathway through the beech clump. The wind in there was sighing, soughing, driving the dark boughs, tearing off the leaves, little black wet shapes that came whirling at her face. The wild melancholy in that swaying wood was too much for Gyp; she ran, thrusting her feet through the deep rustling drifts of leaves not yet quite drenched. They clung all wet round her thin stockings, and the rainy wind beat her forehead. At the edge, she paused for breath, leaning against the bole of a beech, peering back, where the wild whirling wind was moaning and tearing off the leaves. Then, bending her head to the rain, she went on in the open, trying to prepare herself to show nothing when she reached home.

She got in and upstairs to her room, without being seen. If she had possessed any sedative drug she would have taken it. Anything to secure oblivion from this aching misery! Huddling before the freshly lighted fire, she listened to the wind driving through the poplars; and once more there came back to her the words of that song sung by the Scottish girl at Fiorsen's concert:

      "And my heart reft of its own sun,
        Deep lies in death-torpor cold and grey."

Presently she crept into bed, and at last fell asleep.

She woke next morning with the joyful thought: 'It's Saturday; he'll be down soon after lunch!' And then she remembered. Ah, no! It was too much! At the pang of that remembrance, it was as if a devil entered into her--a devil of stubborn pride, which grew blacker with every hour of that morning. After lunch, that she might not be in when he came, she ordered her mare, and rode up on the downs alone. The rain had ceased, but the wind still blew strong from the sou'west, and the sky was torn and driven in swathes of white and grey to north, south, east, and west, and puffs of what looked like smoke scurried across the cloud banks and the glacier-blue rifts between. The mare had not been out the day before, and on the springy turf stretched herself in that thoroughbred gallop which bears a rider up, as it were, on air, till nothing but the thud of hoofs, the grass flying by, the beating of the wind in her face betrayed to Gyp that she was moving. For full two miles they went without a pull, only stopped at last by the finish of the level. From there, one could see far-- away over to Wittenham Clumps across the Valley, and to the high woods above the river in the east--away, in the south and west, under that strange, torn sky, to a whole autumn land, of whitish grass, bare fields, woods of grey and gold and brown, fast being pillaged. But all that sweep of wind, and sky, freshness of rain, and distant colour could not drive out of Gyp's heart the hopeless aching and the devil begotten of it.

John Galsworthy