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Chapter IX

Gyp stayed in her room doing little things--as a woman will when she is particularly wretched--sewing pale ribbons into her garments, polishing her rings. And the devil that had entered into her when she woke that morning, having had his fling, slunk away, leaving the old bewildered misery. She had stabbed her lover with words and looks, felt pleasure in stabbing, and now was bitterly sad. What use--what satisfaction? How by vengeful prickings cure the deep wound, disperse the canker in her life? How heal herself by hurting him whom she loved so? If he came up again now and made but a sign, she would throw herself into his arms. But hours passed, and he did not come, and she did not go down--too truly miserable. It grew dark, but she did not draw the curtains; the sight of the windy moonlit garden and the leaves driving across brought a melancholy distraction. Little Gyp came in and prattled. There was a tree blown down, and she had climbed on it; they had picked up two baskets of acorns, and the pigs had been so greedy; and she had been blown away, so that Betty had had to run after her. And Baryn was walking in the study; he was so busy he had only given her one kiss.

When she was gone, Gyp opened the window and let the wind full into her face. If only it would blow out of her heart this sickening sense that all was over, no matter how he might pretend to love her out of pity! In a nature like hers, so doubting and self- distrustful, confidence, once shaken to the roots, could never be restored. A proud nature that went all lengths in love could never be content with a half-love. She had been born too doubting, proud, and jealous, yet made to love too utterly. She--who had been afraid of love, and when it came had fought till it swept her away; who, since then, had lived for love and nothing else, who gave all, and wanted all--knew for certain and for ever that she could not have all.

It was "nothing" he had said! Nothing! That for months he had been thinking at least a little of another woman besides herself. She believed what he had told her, that there had been no more than a kiss--but was it nothing that they had reached that kiss? This girl--this cousin--who held all the cards, had everything on her side--the world, family influence, security of life; yes, and more, so terribly much more--a man's longing for the young and unawakened. This girl he could marry! It was this thought which haunted her. A mere momentary outbreak of man's natural wildness she could forgive and forget--oh, yes! It was the feeling that it was a girl, his own cousin, besieging him, dragging him away, that was so dreadful. Ah, how horrible it was--how horrible! How, in decent pride, keep him from her, fetter him?

She heard him come up to his dressing-room, and while he was still there, stole out and down. Life must go on, the servants be hoodwinked, and so forth. She went to the piano and played, turning the dagger in her heart, or hoping forlornly that music might work some miracle. He came in presently and stood by the fire, silent.

Dinner, with the talk needful to blinding the household--for what is more revolting than giving away the sufferings of the heart?-- was almost unendurable and directly it was over, they went, he to his study, she back to the piano. There she sat, ready to strike the notes if anyone came in; and tears fell on the hands that rested in her lap. With all her soul she longed to go and clasp him in her arms and cry: "I don't care--I don't care! Do what you like--go to her--if only you'll love me a little!" And yet to love--a little! Was it possible? Not to her!

In sheer misery she went upstairs and to bed. She heard him come up and go into his dressing-room--and, at last, in the firelight saw him kneeling by her.

"Gyp!"

She raised herself and threw her arms round him. Such an embrace a drowning woman might have given. Pride and all were abandoned in an effort to feel him close once more, to recover the irrecoverable past. For a long time she listened to his pleading, explanations, justifications, his protestations of undying love--strange to her and painful, yet so boyish and pathetic. She soothed him, clasping his head to her breast, gazing out at the flickering fire. In that hour, she rose to a height above herself. What happened to her own heart did not matter so long as he was happy, and had all that he wanted with her and away from her--if need be, always away from her.

But, when he had gone to sleep, a terrible time began; for in the small hours, when things are at their worst, she could not keep back her weeping, though she smothered it into the pillow. It woke him, and all began again; the burden of her cry: "It's gone!" the burden of his: "It's not--can't you see it isn't?" Till, at last, that awful feeling that he must knock his head against the wall made him leap up and tramp up and down like a beast in a cage--the cage of the impossible. For, as in all human tragedies, both were right according to their natures. She gave him all herself, wanted all in return, and could not have it. He wanted her, the rest besides, and no complaining, and could not have it. He did not admit impossibility; she did.

At last came another of those pitying lulls till he went to sleep in her arms. Long she lay awake, staring at the darkness, admitting despair, trying to find how to bear it, not succeeding. Impossible to cut his other life away from him--impossible that, while he lived it, this girl should not be tugging him away from her. Impossible to watch and question him. Impossible to live dumb and blind, accepting the crumbs left over, showing nothing. Would it have been better if they had been married? But then it might have been the same--reversed; perhaps worse! The roots were so much deeper than that. He was not single-hearted and she was. In spite of all that he said, she knew he didn't really want to give up that girl. How could he? Even if the girl would let him go! And slowly there formed within her a gruesome little plan to test him. Then, ever so gently withdrawing her arms, she turned over and slept, exhausted.

Next morning, remorselessly carrying out that plan, she forced herself to smile and talk as if nothing had happened, watching the relief in his face, his obvious delight at the change, with a fearful aching in her heart. She waited till he was ready to go down, and then, still smiling, said:

"Forget all about yesterday, darling. Promise me you won't let it make any difference. You must keep up your friendship; you mustn't lose anything. I shan't mind; I shall be quite happy." He knelt down and leaned his forehead against her waist. And, stroking his hair, she repeated: "I shall only be happy if you take everything that comes your way. I shan't mind a bit." And she watched his face that had lost its trouble.

"Do you really mean that?"

"Yes; really!"

"Then you do see that it's nothing, never has been anything-- compared with you--never!"

He had accepted her crucifixion. A black wave surged into her heart.

"It would be so difficult and awkward for you to give up that intimacy. It would hurt your cousin so."

She saw the relief deepen in his face and suddenly laughed. He got up from his knees and stared at her.

"Oh, Gyp, for God's sake don't begin again!"

But she went on laughing; then, with a sob, turned away and buried her face in her hands. To all his prayers and kisses she answered nothing, and breaking away from him, she rushed toward the door. A wild thought possessed her. Why go on? If she were dead, it would be all right for him, quiet--peaceful, quiet--for them all! But he had thrown himself in the way.

"Gyp, for heaven's sake! I'll give her up--of course I'll give her up. Do--do--be reasonable! I don't care a finger-snap for her compared with you!"

And presently there came another of those lulls that both were beginning to know were mere pauses of exhaustion. They were priceless all the same, for the heart cannot go on feeling at that rate.

It was Sunday morning, the church-bells ringing, no wind, a lull in the sou'westerly gale--one of those calms that fall in the night and last, as a rule, twelve or fifteen hours, and the garden all strewn with leaves of every hue, from green spotted with yellow to deep copper.

Summerhay was afraid; he kept with her all the morning, making all sorts of little things to do in her company. But he gradually lost his fear, she seemed so calm now, and his was a nature that bore trouble badly, ever impatient to shake it off. And then, after lunch, the spirit-storm beat up again, with a swiftness that showed once more how deceptive were those lulls, how fearfully deep and lasting the wound. He had simply asked her whether he should try to match something for her when he went up, to-morrow. She was silent a moment, then answered:

"Oh, no, thanks; you'll have other things to do; people to see!"

The tone of her voice, the expression on her face showed him, with a fresh force of revelation, what paralysis had fallen on his life. If he could not reconvince her of his love, he would be in perpetual fear--that he might come back and find her gone, fear that she might even do something terrible to herself. He looked at her with a sort of horror, and, without a word, went out of the room. The feeling that he must hit his head against something was on him once more, and once more he sought to get rid of it by tramping up and down. Great God! Such a little thing, such fearful consequences! All her balance, her sanity almost, destroyed. Was what he had done so very dreadful? He could not help Diana loving him!

In the night, Gyp had said: "You are cruel. Do you think there is any man in the world that I wouldn't hate the sight of if I knew that to see him gave you a moment's pain?" It was true--he felt it was true. But one couldn't hate a girl simply because she loved you; at least he couldn't--not even to save Gyp pain. That was not reasonable, not possible. But did that difference between a man and a woman necessarily mean that Gyp loved him so much more than he loved her? Could she not see things in proportion? See that a man might want, did want, other friendships, even passing moments of passion, and yet could love her just the same? She thought him cruel, called him cruel--what for? Because he had kissed a girl who had kissed him; because he liked talking to her, and--yes, might even lose his head with her. But cruel! He was not! Gyp would always be first with him. He must make her see--but how? Give up everything? Give up--Diana? (Truth is so funny--it will out even in a man's thoughts!) Well, and he could! His feeling was not deep--that was God's truth! But it would be difficult, awkward, brutal to give her up completely! It could be done, though, sooner than that Gyp should think him cruel to her. It could be--should be done!

Only, would it be any use? Would she believe? Would she not always now be suspecting him when he was away from her, whatever he did? Must he then sit down here in inactivity? And a gust of anger with her swept him. Why should she treat him as if he were utterly unreliable? Or--was he? He stood still. When Diana had put her arms round his neck, he could no more have resisted answering her kiss than he could now fly through the window and over those poplar trees. But he was not a blackguard, not cruel, not a liar! How could he have helped it all? The only way would have been never to have answered the girl's first letter, nearly a year ago. How could he foresee? And, since then, all so gradual, and nothing, really, or almost nothing. Again the surge of anger swelled his heart. She must have read the letter which had been under that cursed bust of old Voltaire all those months ago. The poison had been working ever since! And in sudden fury at that miserable mischance, he drove his fist into the bronze face. The bust fell over, and Summerhay looked stupidly at his bruised hand. A silly thing to do! But it had quenched his anger. He only saw Gyp's face now--so pitifully unhappy. Poor darling! What could he do? If only she would believe! And again he had the sickening conviction that whatever he did would be of no avail. He could never get back, was only at the beginning, of a trouble that had no end. And, like a rat in a cage, his mind tried to rush out of this entanglement now at one end, now at the other. Ah, well! Why bruise your head against walls? If it was hopeless--let it go! And, shrugging his shoulders, he went out to the stables, and told old Pettance to saddle Hotspur. While he stood there waiting, he thought: 'Shall I ask her to come?' But he could not stand another bout of misery--must have rest! And mounting, he rode up towards the downs.

Hotspur, the sixteen-hand brown horse, with not a speck of white, that Gyp had ridden hunting the day she first saw Summerhay, was nine years old now. His master's two faults as a horseman--a habit of thrusting, and not too light hands--had encouraged his rather hard mouth, and something had happened in the stables to-day to put him into a queer temper; or perhaps he felt--as horses will--the disturbance raging within his rider. At any rate, he gave an exhibition of his worst qualities, and Summerhay derived perverse pleasure from that waywardness. He rode a good hour up there; then, hot, with aching arms--for the brute was pulling like the devil!--he made his way back toward home and entered what little Gyp called "the wild," those two rough sedgy fields with the linhay in the corner where they joined. There was a gap in the hedge- growth of the bank between them, and at this he put Hotspur at speed. The horse went over like a bird; and for the first time since Diana's kiss Summerhay felt a moment's joy. He turned him round and sent him at it again, and again Hotspur cleared it beautifully. But the animal's blood was up now. Summerhay could hardly hold him. Muttering: "Oh, you brute, don't pull!" he jagged the horse's mouth. There darted into his mind Gyp's word: "Cruel!" And, viciously, in one of those queer nerve-crises that beset us all, he struck the pulling horse.

They were cantering toward the corner where the fields joined, and suddenly he was aware that he could no more hold the beast than if a steam-engine had been under him. Straight at the linhay Hotspur dashed, and Summerhay thought: "My God! He'll kill himself!" Straight at the old stone linhay, covered by the great ivy bush. Right at it--into it! Summerhay ducked his head. Not low enough-- the ivy concealed a beam! A sickening crash! Torn backward out of the saddle, he fell on his back in a pool of leaves and mud. And the horse, slithering round the linhay walls, checked in his own length, unhurt, snorting, frightened, came out, turning his wild eyes on his master, who never stirred, then trotted back into the field, throwing up his head.

John Galsworthy