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Chapter I

When a girl first sits opposite the man she has married, of what does she think? Not of the issues and emotions that lie in wait. They are too overwhelming; she would avoid them while she can. Gyp thought of her frock, a mushroom-coloured velvet cord. Not many girls of her class are married without "fal-lals," as Winton had called them. Not many girls sit in the corner of their reserved first-class compartments without the excitement of having been supreme centre of the world for some flattering hours to buoy them up on that train journey, with no memories of friends' behaviour, speech, appearance, to chat of with her husband, so as to keep thought away. For Gyp, her dress, first worn that day, Betty's breakdown, the faces, blank as hats, of the registrar and clerk, were about all she had to distract her. She stole a look at her husband, clothed in blue serge, just opposite. Her husband! Mrs. Gustav Fiorsen! No! People might call her that; to herself, she was Ghita Winton. Ghita Fiorsen would never seem right. And, not confessing that she was afraid to meet his eyes, but afraid all the same, she looked out of the window. A dull, bleak, dismal day; no warmth, no sun, no music in it--the Thames as grey as lead, the willows on its banks forlorn.

Suddenly she felt his hand on hers. She had not seen his face like that before--yes; once or twice when he was playing--a spirit shining though. She felt suddenly secure. If it stayed like that, then!--His hand rested on her knee; his face changed just a little; the spirit seemed to waver, to be fading; his lips grew fuller. He crossed over and sat beside her. Instantly she began to talk about their house, where they were going to put certain things--presents and all that. He, too, talked of the house; but every now and then he glanced at the corridor, and muttered. It was pleasant to feel that the thought of her possessed him through and through, but she was tremulously glad of that corridor. Life is mercifully made up of little things! And Gyp was always able to live in the moment. In the hours they had spent together, up to now, he had been like a starved man snatching hasty meals; now that he had her to himself for good, he was another creature altogether--like a boy out of school, and kept her laughing nearly all the time.

Presently he got down his practise violin, and putting on the mute, played, looking at her over his shoulder with a droll smile. She felt happy, much warmer at heart, now. And when his face was turned away, she looked at him. He was so much better looking now than when he had those little whiskers. One day she had touched one of them and said: "Ah! if only these wings could fly!" Next morning they had flown. His face was not one to be easily got used to; she was not used to it yet, any more than she was used to his touch. When it grew dark, and he wanted to draw down the blinds, she caught him by the sleeve, and said:

"No, no; they'll know we're honeymooners!"

"Well, my Gyp, and are we not?"

But he obeyed; only, as the hours went on, his eyes seemed never to let her alone.

At Torquay, the sky was clear and starry; the wind brought whiffs of sea-scent into their cab; lights winked far out on a headland; and in the little harbour, all bluish dark, many little boats floated like tame birds. He had put his arm round her, and she could feel his hand resting on her heart. She was grateful that he kept so still. When the cab stopped and they entered the hall of the hotel, she whispered:

"Don't let's let them see!"

Still, mercifully, little things! Inspecting the three rooms, getting the luggage divided between dressing-room and bedroom, unpacking, wondering which dress to put on for dinner, stopping to look out over the dark rocks and the sea, where the moon was coming up, wondering if she dared lock the door while she was dressing, deciding that it would be silly; dressing so quickly, fluttering when she found him suddenly there close behind her, beginning to do up her hooks. Those fingers were too skilful! It was the first time she had thought of his past with a sort of hurt pride and fastidiousness. When he had finished, he twisted her round, held her away, looked at her from head to foot, and said below his breath:

"Mine!"

Her heart beat fast then; but suddenly he laughed, slipped his arm about her, and danced her twice round the room. He let her go demurely down the stairs in front of him, saying:

"They shan't see--my Gyp. Oh, they shan't see! We are old married people, tired of each other--very!"

At dinner it amused him at first--her too, a little--to keep up this farce of indifference. But every now and then he turned and stared at some inoffensive visitor who was taking interest in them, with such fierce and genuine contempt that Gyp took alarm; whereon he laughed. When she had drunk a little wine and he had drunk a good deal, the farce of indifference came to its end. He talked at a great rate now, slying nicknaming the waiters and mimicking the people around--happy thrusts that made her smile but shiver a little, lest they should be heard or seen. Their heads were close together across the little table. They went out into the lounge. Coffee came, and he wanted her to smoke with him. She had never smoked in a public room. But it seemed stiff and "missish" to refuse--she must do now as his world did. And it was another little thing; she wanted little things, all the time wanted them. She drew back a window-curtain, and they stood there side by side. The sea was deep blue beneath bright stars, and the moon shone through a ragged pine-tree on a little headland. Though she stood five feet six in her shoes, she was only up to his mouth. He sighed and said: "Beautiful night, my Gyp!" And suddenly it struck her that she knew nothing of what was in him, and yet he was her husband! "Husband"--funny word, not pretty! She felt as a child opening the door of a dark room, and, clutching his arm, said:

"Look! There's a sailing-boat. What's it doing out there at night?" Another little thing! Any little thing!

Presently he said:

"Come up-stairs! I'll play to you."

Up in their sitting-room was a piano, but--not possible; to-morrow they would have to get another. To-morrow! The fire was hot, and he took off his coat to play. In one of his shirt-sleeves there was a rent. She thought, with a sort of triumph: 'I shall mend that!' It was something definite, actual--a little thing. There were lilies in the room that gave a strong, sweet scent. He brought them up to her to sniff, and, while she was sniffing, stooped suddenly and kissed her neck. She shut her eyes with a shiver. He took the flowers away at once, and when she opened her eyes again, his violin was at his shoulder. For a whole hour he played, and Gyp, in her cream-coloured frock, lay back, listening. She was tired, not sleepy. It would have been nice to have been sleepy. Her mouth had its little sad tuck or dimple at the corner; her eyes were deep and dark--a cloudy child. His gaze never left her face; he played and played, and his own fitful face grew clouded. At last he put away the violin, and said:

"Go to bed, Gyp; you're tired."

Obediently she got up and went into the bedroom. With a sick feeling in her heart, and as near the fire as she could get, she undressed with desperate haste, and got to bed. An age--it seemed-- she lay there shivering in her flimsy lawn against the cold sheets, her eyes not quite closed, watching the flicker of the firelight. She did not think--could not--just lay stiller than the dead. The door creaked. She shut her eyes. Had she a heart at all? It did not seem to beat. She lay thus, with eyes shut, till she could bear it no longer. By the firelight she saw him crouching at the foot of the bed; could just see his face--like a face--a face--where seen? Ah yes!--a picture--of a wild man crouching at the feet of Iphigenia--so humble, so hungry--so lost in gazing. She gave a little smothered sob and held out her hand.

John Galsworthy