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Chapter X

When, at her words, Summerhay went out of the room, Gyp's heart sank. All the morning she had tried so hard to keep back her despairing jealousy, and now at the first reminder had broken down again. It was beyond her strength! To live day after day knowing that he, up in London, was either seeing that girl or painfully abstaining from seeing her! And then, when he returned, to be to him just what she had been, to show nothing--would it ever be possible? Hardest to bear was what seemed to her the falsity of his words, maintaining that he still really loved her. If he did, how could he hesitate one second? Would not the very thought of the girl be abhorrent to him? He would have shown that, not merely said it among other wild things. Words were no use when they contradicted action. She, who loved with every bit of her, could not grasp that a man can really love and want one woman and yet, at the same time, be attracted by another.

That sudden fearful impulse of the morning to make away with herself and end it for them both recurred so vaguely that it hardly counted in her struggles; the conflict centred now round the question whether life would be less utterly miserable if she withdrew from him and went back to Mildenham. Life without him? That was impossible! Life with him? Just as impossible, it seemed! There comes a point of mental anguish when the alternatives between which one swings, equally hopeless, become each so monstrous that the mind does not really work at all, but rushes helplessly from one to the other, no longer trying to decide, waiting on fate. So in Gyp that Sunday afternoon, doing little things all the time--mending a hole in one of his gloves, brushing and applying ointment to old Ossy, sorting bills and letters.

At five o'clock, knowing little Gyp must soon be back from her walk, and feeling unable to take part in gaiety, she went up and put on her hat. She turned from contemplation of her face with disgust. Since it was no longer the only face for him, what was the use of beauty? She slipped out by the side gate and went down toward the river. The lull was over; the south-west wind had begun sighing through the trees again, and gorgeous clouds were piled up from the horizon into the pale blue. She stood by the river watching its grey stream, edged by a scum of torn-off twigs and floating leaves, watched the wind shivering through the spoiled plume-branches of the willows. And, standing there, she had a sudden longing for her father; he alone could help her--just a little--by his quietness, and his love, by his mere presence.

She turned away and went up the lane again, avoiding the inn and the riverside houses, walking slowly, her head down. And a thought came, her first hopeful thought. Could they not travel--go round the world? Would he give up his work for that--that chance to break the spell? Dared she propose it? But would even that be anything more than a putting-off? If she was not enough for him now, would she not be still less, if his work were cut away? Still, it was a gleam, a gleam in the blackness. She came in at the far end of the fields they called "the wild." A rose-leaf hue tinged the white cloud-banks, which towered away to the east beyond the river; and peeping over that mountain-top was the moon, fleecy and unsubstantial in the flax-blue sky. It was one of nature's moments of wild colour. The oak-trees above the hedgerows had not lost their leaves, and in the darting, rain-washed light from the setting sun, had a sheen of old gold with heart of ivy-green; the hail-stripped beeches flamed with copper; the russet tufts of the ash-trees glowed. And past Gyp, a single leaf blown off, went soaring, turning over and over, going up on the rising wind, up-- up, higher--higher into the sky, till it was lost--away.

The rain had drenched the long grass, and she turned back. At the gate beside the linhay, a horse was standing. It whinnied. Hotspur, saddled, bridled, with no rider! Why? Where--then? Hastily she undid the latch, ran through, and saw Summerhay lying in the mud--on his back, with eyes wide-open, his forehead and hair all blood. Some leaves had dropped on him. God! O God! His eyes had no sight, his lips no breath; his heart did not beat; the leaves had dropped even on his face--in the blood on his poor head. Gyp raised him--stiffened, cold as ice! She gave one cry, and fell, embracing his dead, stiffened body with all her strength, kissing his lips, his eyes, his broken forehead; clasping, warming him, trying to pass life into him; till, at last, she, too, lay still, her lips on his cold lips, her body on his cold body in the mud and the fallen leaves, while the wind crept and rustled in the ivy, and went over with the scent of rain. Close by, the horse, uneasy, put his head down and sniffed at her, then, backing away, neighed, and broke into a wild gallop round the field. . . .

Old Pettance, waiting for Summerhay's return to stable-up for the night, heard that distant neigh and went to the garden gate, screwing up his little eyes against the sunset. He could see a loose horse galloping down there in "the wild," where no horse should be, and thinking: "There now; that artful devil's broke away from the guv'nor! Now I'll 'ave to ketch 'im!' he went back, got some oats, and set forth at the best gait of his stiff-jointed feet. The old horseman characteristically did not think of accidents. The guv'nor had got off, no doubt, to unhitch that heavy gate--the one you had to lift. That 'orse--he was a masterpiece of mischief! His difference with the animal still rankled in a mind that did not easily forgive.

Half an hour later, he entered the lighted kitchen shaking and gasping, tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks into the corners of his gargoyle's mouth, and panted out:

"O, my Gord! Fetch the farmer--fetch an 'urdle! O my Gord! Betty, you and cook--I can't get 'er off him. She don't speak. I felt her--all cold. Come on, you sluts--quick! O my Gord! The poor guv'nor! That 'orse must 'a' galloped into the linhay and killed him. I've see'd the marks on the devil's shoulder where he rubbed it scrapin' round the wall. Come on--come on! Fetch an 'urdle or she'll die there on him in the mud. Put the child to bed and get the doctor, and send a wire to London, to the major, to come sharp. Oh, blarst you all--keep your 'eads! What's the good o' howlin' and blubberin'!"

In the whispering corner of those fields, light from a lantern and the moon fell on the old stone linhay, on the ivy and the broken gate, on the mud, the golden leaves, and the two quiet bodies clasped together. Gyp's consciousness had flown; there seemed no difference between them. And presently, over the rushy grass, a procession moved back in the wind and the moonlight--two hurdles, two men carrying one, two women and a man the other, and, behind, old Pettance and the horse.

John Galsworthy