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Chapter XI

When Gyp recovered a consciousness, whose flight had been mercifully renewed with morphia, she was in her bed, and her first drowsy movement was toward her mate. With eyes still closed, she turned, as she was wont, and put out her hand to touch him before she dozed off again. There was no warmth, no substance; through her mind, still away in the mists of morphia, the thoughts passed vague and lonely: 'Ah, yes, in London!' And she turned on her back. London! Something--something up there! She opened her eyes. So the fire had kept in all night! Someone was in a chair there, or--was she dreaming! And suddenly, without knowing why, she began breathing hurriedly in little half-sobbing gasps. The figure moved, turned her face in the firelight. Betty! Gyp closed her eyes. An icy sweat had broken out all over her. A dream! In a whisper, she said:

"Betty!"

The muffled answer came.

"Yes, my darlin'."

"What is it?"

No answer; then a half-choked, "Don't 'ee think--don't 'ee think! Your Daddy'll be here directly, my sweetie!"

Gyp's eyes, wide open, passed from the firelight and that rocking figure to the little chink of light that was hardly light as yet, coming in at one corner of the curtain. She was remembering. Her tongue stole out and passed over her lips; beneath the bedclothes she folded both her hands tight across her heart. Then she was not dead with him--not dead! Not gone back with him into the ground-- not-- And suddenly there flickered in her a flame of maniacal hatred. They were keeping her alive! A writhing smile forced its way up on to her parched lips.

"Betty, I'm so thirsty--so thirsty. Get me a cup of tea."

The stout form heaved itself from the chair and came toward the bed.

"Yes, my lovey, at once. It'll do you good. That's a brave girl."

"Yes."

The moment the door clicked to, Gyp sprang up. Her veins throbbed; her whole soul was alive with cunning. She ran to the wardrobe, seized her long fur coat, slipped her bare feet into her slippers, wound a piece of lace round her head, and opened the door. All dark and quiet! Holding her breath, stifling the sound of her feet, she glided down the stairs, slipped back the chain of the front door, opened it, and fled. Like a shadow she passed across the grass, out of the garden gate, down the road under the black dripping trees. The beginning of light was mixing its grey hue into the darkness; she could just see her feet among the puddles on the road. She heard the grinding and whirring of a motor-car on its top gear approaching up the hill, and cowered away against the hedge. Its light came searching along, picking out with a mysterious momentary brightness the bushes and tree-trunks, making the wet road gleam. Gyp saw the chauffeur turn his head back at her, then the car's body passed up into darkness, and its tail- light was all that was left to see. Perhaps that car was going to the Red House with her father, the doctor, somebody, helping to keep her alive! The maniacal hate flared up in her again; she flew on. The light grew; a man with a dog came out of a gate she had passed, and called "Hallo!" She did not turn her head. She had lost her slippers, and ran with bare feet, unconscious of stones, or the torn-off branches strewing the road, making for the lane that ran right down to the river, a little to the left of the inn, the lane of yesterday, where the bank was free.

She turned into the lane; dimly, a hundred or more yards away, she could see the willows, the width of lighter grey that was the river. The river--"Away, my rolling river!"--the river--and the happiest hours of all her life! If he were anywhere, she would find him there, where he had sung, and lain with his head on her breast, and swum and splashed about her; where she had dreamed, and seen beauty, and loved him so! She reached the bank. Cold and grey and silent, swifter than yesterday, the stream was flowing by, its dim far shore brightening slowly in the first break of dawn. And Gyp stood motionless, drawing her breath in gasps after her long run; her knees trembled; gave way. She sat down on the wet grass, clasping her arms round her drawn-up legs, rocking herself to and fro, and her loosened hair fell over her face. The blood beat in her ears; her heart felt suffocated; all her body seemed on fire, yet numb. She sat, moving her head up and down--as the head of one moves that is gasping her last--waiting for breath--breath and strength to let go life, to slip down into the grey water. And that queer apartness from self, which is the property of fever, came on her, so that she seemed to see herself sitting there, waiting, and thought: 'I shall see myself dead, floating among the reeds. I shall see the birds wondering above me!' And, suddenly, she broke into a storm of dry sobbing, and all things vanished from her, save just the rocking of her body, the gasping of her breath, and the sound of it in her ears. Her boy--her boy--and his poor hair! "Away, my rolling river!" Swaying over, she lay face down, clasping at the wet grass and the earth.

The sun rose, laid a pale bright streak along the water, and hid himself again. A robin twittered in the willows; a leaf fell on her bare ankle.

Winton, who had been hunting on Saturday, had returned to town on Sunday by the evening tram, and gone straight to his club for some supper. There falling asleep over his cigar, he had to be awakened when they desired to close the club for the night. It was past two when he reached Bury Street and found a telegram.

"Something dreadful happened to Mr. Summerhay. Come quick.-- BETTY."

Never had he so cursed the loss of his hand as during the time that followed, when Markey had to dress, help his master, pack bags, and fetch a taxi equipped for so long a journey. At half-past three they started. The whole way down, Winton, wrapped in his fur coat, sat a little forward on his seat, ready to put his head through the window and direct the driver. It was a wild night, and he would not let Markey, whose chest was not strong, go outside to act as guide. Twice that silent one, impelled by feelings too strong even for his respectful taciturnity, had spoken.

"That'll be bad for Miss Gyp, sir."

"Bad, yes--terrible."

And later:

"D'you think it means he's dead, sir?"

Winton answered sombrely:

"God knows, Markey! We must hope for the best."

Dead! Could Fate be cruel enough to deal one so soft and loving such a blow? And he kept saying to himself: "Courage. Be ready for the worst. Be ready."

But the figures of Betty and a maid at the open garden gate, in the breaking darkness, standing there wringing their hands, were too much for his stoicism. Leaping out, he cried:

"What is it, woman? Quick!"

"Oh, sir! My dear's gone. I left her a moment to get her a cup of tea. And she's run out in the cold!"

Winton stood for two seconds as if turned to stone. Then, taking Betty by the shoulder, he asked quietly:

"What happened to him?"

Betty could not answer, but the maid said:

"The horse killed him at that linhay, sir, down in 'the wild.' And the mistress was unconscious till quarter of an hour ago."

"Which way did she go?"

"Out here, sir; the door and the gate was open--can't tell which way."

Through Winton flashed one dreadful thought: The river!

"Turn the cab round! Stay in, Markey! Betty and you, girl, go down to 'the wild,' and search there at once. Yes? What is it?"

The driver was leaning out.

"As we came up the hill, sir, I see a lady or something in a long dark coat with white on her head, against the hedge."

"Right! Drive down again sharp, and use your eyes."

At such moments, thought is impossible, and a feverish use of every sense takes its place. But of thought there was no need, for the gardens of villas and the inn blocked the river at all but one spot. Winton stopped the car where the narrow lane branched down to the bank, and jumping out, ran. By instinct he ran silently on the grass edge, and Markey, imitating, ran behind. When he came in sight of a black shape lying on the bank, he suffered a moment of intense agony, for he thought it was just a dark garment thrown away. Then he saw it move, and, holding up his hand for Markey to stand still, walked on alone, tiptoeing in the grass, his heart swelling with a sort of rapture. Stealthily moving round between that prostrate figure and the water, he knelt down and said, as best he could, for the husk in his throat:

"My darling!"

Gyp raised her head and stared at him. Her white face, with eyes unnaturally dark and large, and hair falling all over it, was strange to him--the face of grief itself, stripped of the wrappings of form. And he knew not what to do, how to help or comfort, how to save. He could see so clearly in her eyes the look of a wild animal at the moment of its capture, and instinct made him say:

"I lost her just as cruelly, Gyp."

He saw the words reach her brain, and that wild look waver. Stretching out his arm, he drew her close to him till her cheek was against his, her shaking body against him, and kept murmuring:

"For my sake, Gyp; for my sake!"

When, with Markey's aid, he had got her to the cab, they took her, not back to the house, but to the inn. She was in high fever, and soon delirious. By noon, Aunt Rosamund and Mrs. Markey, summoned by telegram, had arrived; and the whole inn was taken lest there should be any noise to disturb her.

At five o'clock, Winton was summoned downstairs to the little so- called reading-room. A tall woman was standing at the window, shading her eyes with the back of a gloved hand. Though they had lived so long within ten miles of each other he only knew Lady Summerhay by sight, and he waited for the poor woman to speak first. She said in a low voice:

"There is nothing to say; only, I thought I must see you. How is she?"

"Delirious."

They stood in silence a full minute, before she whispered:

"My poor boy! Did you see him--his forehead?" Her lips quivered. "I will take him back home." And tears rolled, one after the other, slowly down her flushed face under her veil. Poor woman! Poor woman! She had turned to the window, passing her handkerchief up under the veil, staring out at the little strip of darkening lawn, and Winton, too, stared out into that mournful daylight. At last, he said:

"I will send you all his things, except--except anything that might help my poor girl."

She turned quickly.

"And so it's ended like this! Major Winton, is there anything behind--were they really happy?"

Winton looked straight at her and answered:

"Ah, too happy!"

Without a quiver, he met those tear-darkened, dilated eyes straining at his; with a heavy sigh, she once more turned away, and, brushing her handkerchief across her face, drew down her veil.

It was not true--he knew from the mutterings of Gyp's fever--but no one, not even Summerhay's mother, should hear a whisper if he could help it. At the door, he murmured:

"I don't know whether my girl will get through, or what she will do after. When Fate hits, she hits too hard. And you! Good-bye."

Lady Summerhay pressed his outstretched hand.

"Good-bye," she said, in a strangled voice. "I wish you--good- bye." Then, turning abruptly, she hastened away.

Winton went back to his guardianship upstairs.

In the days that followed, when Gyp, robbed of memory, hung between life and death, Winton hardly left her room, that low room with creepered windows whence the river could be seen, gliding down under the pale November sunshine or black beneath the stars. He would watch it, fascinated, as one sometimes watches the relentless sea. He had snatched her as by a miracle from that snaky river.

He had refused to have a nurse. Aunt Rosamund and Mrs. Markey were skilled in sickness, and he could not bear that a strange person should listen to those delirious mutterings. His own part of the nursing was just to sit there and keep her secrets from the others-- if he could. And he grudged every minute away from his post. He would stay for hours, with eyes fixed on her face. No one could supply so well as he just that coherent thread of the familiar, by which the fevered, without knowing it, perhaps find their way a little in the dark mazes where they wander. And he would think of her as she used to be--well and happy--adopting unconsciously the methods of those mental and other scientists whom he looked upon as quacks.

He was astonished by the number of inquiries, even people whom he had considered enemies left cards or sent their servants, forcing him to the conclusion that people of position are obliged to reserve their human kindness for those as good as dead. But the small folk touched him daily by their genuine concern for her whose grace and softness had won their hearts. One morning he received a letter forwarded from Bury Street.

"DEAR MAJOR WINTON,

"I have read a paragraph in the paper about poor Mr. Summerhay's death. And, oh, I feel so sorry for her! She was so good to me; I do feel it most dreadfully. If you think she would like to know how we all feel for her, you would tell her, wouldn't you? I do think it's cruel.

"Very faithfully yours,

"DAPHNE WING."

So they knew Summerhay's name--he had not somehow expected that. He did not answer, not knowing what to say.

During those days of fever, the hardest thing to bear was the sound of her rapid whisperings and mutterings--incoherent phrases that said so little and told so much. Sometimes he would cover his ears, to avoid hearing of that long stress of mind at which he had now and then glimpsed. Of the actual tragedy, her wandering spirit did not seem conscious; her lips were always telling the depth of her love, always repeating the dread of losing his; except when they would give a whispering laugh, uncanny and enchanting, as at some gleam of perfect happiness. Those little laughs were worst of all to hear; they never failed to bring tears into his eyes. But he drew a certain gruesome comfort from the conclusion slowly forced on him, that Summerhay's tragic death had cut short a situation which might have had an even more tragic issue. One night in the big chair at the side of her bed, he woke from a doze to see her eyes fixed on him. They were different; they saw, were her own eyes again. Her lips moved.

"Dad."

"Yes, my pet."

"I remember everything."

At that dreadful little saying, Winton leaned forward and put his lips to her hand, that lay outside the clothes.

"Where is he buried?"

"At Widrington."

"Yes."

It was rather a sigh than a word and, raising his head, Winton saw her eyes closed again. Now that the fever had gone, the white transparency of her cheeks and forehead against the dark lashes and hair was too startling. Was it a living face, or was its beauty that of death?

He bent over. She was breathing--asleep.

John Galsworthy