Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter II

Gyp was too proud to give by halves. And in those early days she gave Fiorsen everything except--her heart. She earnestly desired to give that too; but hearts only give themselves. Perhaps if the wild man in him, maddened by beauty in its power, had not so ousted the spirit man, her heart might have gone with her lips and the rest of her. He knew he was not getting her heart, and it made him, in the wildness of his nature and the perversity of a man, go just the wrong way to work, trying to conquer her by the senses, not the soul.

Yet she was not unhappy--it cannot be said she was unhappy, except for a sort of lost feeling sometimes, as if she were trying to grasp something that kept slipping, slipping away. She was glad to give him pleasure. She felt no repulsion--this was man's nature. Only there was always that feeling that she was not close. When he was playing, with the spirit-look on his face, she would feel: 'Now, now, surely I shall get close to him!' But the look would go; how to keep it there she did not know, and when it went, her feeling went too.

Their little suite of rooms was at the very end of the hotel, so that he might play as much as he wished. While he practised in the mornings she would go into the garden, which sloped in rock- terraces down to the sea. Wrapped in fur, she would sit there with a book. She soon knew each evergreen, or flower that was coming out--aubretia, and laurustinus, a little white flower whose name was uncertain, and one star-periwinkle. The air was often soft; the birds sang already and were busy with their weddings, and twice, at least, spring came in her heart--that wonderful feeling when first the whole being scents new life preparing in the earth and the wind--the feeling that only comes when spring is not yet, and one aches and rejoices all at once. Seagulls often came over her, craning down their greedy bills and uttering cries like a kitten's mewing.

Out here she had feelings, that she did not get with him, of being at one with everything. She did not realize how tremendously she had grown up in these few days, how the ground bass had already come into the light music of her life. Living with Fiorsen was opening her eyes to much beside mere knowledge of "man's nature"; with her perhaps fatal receptivity, she was already soaking up the atmosphere of his philosophy. He was always in revolt against accepting things because he was expected to; but, like most executant artists, he was no reasoner, just a mere instinctive kicker against the pricks. He would lose himself in delight with a sunset, a scent, a tune, a new caress, in a rush of pity for a beggar or a blind man, a rush of aversion from a man with large feet or a long nose, of hatred for a woman with a flat chest or an expression of sanctimony. He would swing along when he was walking, or dawdle, dawdle; he would sing and laugh, and make her laugh too till she ached, and half an hour later would sit staring into some pit of darkness in a sort of powerful brooding of his whole being. Insensibly she shared in this deep drinking of sensation, but always gracefully, fastidiously, never losing sense of other people's feelings.

In his love-raptures, he just avoided setting her nerves on edge, because he never failed to make her feel his enjoyment of her beauty; that perpetual consciousness, too, of not belonging to the proper and respectable, which she had tried to explain to her father, made her set her teeth against feeling shocked. But in other ways he did shock her. She could not get used to his utter oblivion of people's feelings, to the ferocious contempt with which he would look at those who got on his nerves, and make half-audible comments, just as he had commented on her own father when he and Count Rosek passed them, by the Schiller statue. She would visibly shrink at those remarks, though they were sometimes so excruciatingly funny that she had to laugh, and feel dreadful immediately after. She saw that he resented her shrinking; it seemed to excite him to run amuck the more. But she could not help it. Once she got up and walked away. He followed her, sat on the floor beside her knees, and thrust his head, like a great cat, under her hand.

"Forgive me, my Gyp; but they are such brutes. Who could help it? Now tell me--who could, except my Gyp?" And she had to forgive him. But, one evening, when he had been really outrageous during dinner, she answered:

"No; I can't. It's you that are the brute. You were a brute to them!"

He leaped up with a face of furious gloom and went out of the room. It was the first time he had given way to anger with her. Gyp sat by the fire, very disturbed; chiefly because she was not really upset at having hurt him. Surely she ought to be feeling miserable at that!

But when, at ten o'clock, he had not come back, she began to flutter in earnest. She had said a dreadful thing! And yet, in her heart, she did not take back her judgment. He really had been a brute. She would have liked to soothe herself by playing, but it was too late to disturb people, and going to the window, she looked out over the sea, feeling beaten and confused. This was the first time she had given free rein to her feeling against what Winton would have called his "bounderism." If he had been English, she would never have been attracted by one who could trample so on other people's feelings. What, then, had attracted her? His strangeness, wildness, the mesmeric pull of his passion for her, his music! Nothing could spoil that in him. The sweep, the surge, and sigh in his playing was like the sea out there, dark, and surf- edged, beating on the rocks; or the sea deep-coloured in daylight, with white gulls over it; or the sea with those sinuous paths made by the wandering currents, the subtle, smiling, silent sea, holding in suspense its unfathomable restlessness, waiting to surge and spring again. That was what she wanted from him--not his embraces, not even his adoration, his wit, or his queer, lithe comeliness touched with felinity; no, only that in his soul which escaped through his fingers into the air and dragged at her soul. If, when he came in, she were to run to him, throw her arms round his neck, make herself feel close, lose herself in him! Why not? It was her duty; why not her delight, too? But she shivered. Some instinct too deep for analysis, something in the very heart of her nerves made her recoil, as if she were afraid, literally scared of letting herself go, of loving--the subtlest instinct of self-preservation against something fatal; against being led on beyond--yes, it was like that curious, instinctive sinking which some feel at the mere sight of a precipice, a dread of going near, lest they should be drawn on and over by resistless attraction.

She passed into their bedroom and began slowly to undress. To go to bed without knowing where he was, what doing, thinking, seemed already a little odd; and she sat brushing her hair slowly with the silver-backed brushes, staring at her own pale face, whose eyes looked so very large and dark. At last there came to her the feeling: "I can't help it! I don't care!" And, getting into bed, she turned out the light. It seemed queer and lonely; there was no fire. And then, without more ado, she slept.

She had a dream of being between Fiorsen and her father in a railway-carriage out at sea, with the water rising higher and higher, swishing and sighing. Awakening always, like a dog, to perfect presence of mind, she knew that he was playing in the sitting-room, playing--at what time of night? She lay listening to a quivering, gibbering tune that she did not know. Should she be first to make it up, or should she wait for him? Twice she half slipped out of bed, but both times, as if fate meant her not to move, he chose that moment to swell out the sound, and each time she thought: 'No, I can't. It's just the same now; he doesn't care how many people he wakes up. He does just what he likes, and cares nothing for anyone.' And covering her ears with her hands, she continued to lie motionless.

When she withdrew her hands at last, he had stopped. Then she heard him coming, and feigned sleep. But he did not spare even sleep. She submitted to his kisses without a word, her heart hardening within her--surely he smelled of brandy! Next morning he seemed to have forgotten it all. But Gyp had not. She wanted badly to know what he had felt, where he had gone, but was too proud to ask.

She wrote twice to her father in the first week, but afterwards, except for a postcard now and then, she never could. Why tell him what she was doing, in company of one whom he could not bear to think of? Had he been right? To confess that would hurt her pride too much. But she began to long for London. The thought of her little house was a green spot to dwell on. When they were settled in, and could do what they liked without anxiety about people's feelings, it would be all right perhaps. When he could start again really working, and she helping him, all would be different. Her new house, and so much to do; her new garden, and fruit-trees coming into blossom! She would have dogs and cats, would ride when Dad was in town. Aunt Rosamund would come, friends, evenings of music, dances still, perhaps--he danced beautifully, and loved it, as she did. And his concerts--the elation of being identified with his success! But, above all, the excitement of making her home as dainty as she could, with daring experiments in form and colour. And yet, at heart she knew that to be already looking forward, banning the present, was a bad sign.

One thing, at all events, she enjoyed--sailing. They had blue days when even the March sun was warm, and there was just breeze enough. He got on excellently well with the old salt whose boat they used, for he was at his best with simple folk, whose lingo he could understand about as much as they could understand his.

In those hours, Gyp had some real sensations of romance. The sea was so blue, the rocks and wooded spurs of that Southern coast so dreamy in the bright land-haze. Oblivious of "the old salt," he would put his arm round her; out there, she could swallow down her sense of form, and be grateful for feeling nearer to him in spirit. She made loyal efforts to understand him in these weeks that were bringing a certain disillusionment. The elemental part of marriage was not the trouble; if she did not herself feel passion, she did not resent his. When, after one of those embraces, his mouth curled with a little bitter smile, as if to say, "Yes, much you care for me," she would feel compunctious and yet aggrieved. But the trouble lay deeper--the sense of an insuperable barrier; and always that deep, instinctive recoil from letting herself go. She could not let herself be known, and she could not know him. Why did his eyes often fix her with a stare that did not seem to see her? What made him, in the midst of serious playing, break into some furious or desolate little tune, or drop his violin? What gave him those long hours of dejection, following the maddest gaiety? Above all, what dreams had he in those rare moments when music transformed his strange pale face? Or was it a mere physical illusion--had he any dreams? "The heart of another is a dark forest"--to all but the one who loves.

One morning, he held up a letter.

"Ah, ha! Paul Rosek went to see our house. 'A pretty dove's nest!' he calls it."

The memory of the Pole's sphinxlike, sweetish face, and eyes that seemed to know so many secrets, always affected Gyp unpleasantly. She said quietly:

"Why do you like him, Gustav?"

"Like him? Oh, he is useful. A good judge of music, and--many things."

"I think he is hateful."

Fiorsen laughed.

"Hateful? Why hateful, my Gyp? He is a good friend. And he admires you--oh, he admires you very much! He has success with women. He always says, 'J'ai une technique merveilleuse pour seduire une femme'"

Gyp laughed.

"Ugh! He's like a toad, I think."

"Ah, I shall tell him that! He will be flattered."

"If you do; if you give me away--I--"

He jumped up and caught her in his arms; his face was so comically compunctious that she calmed down at once. She thought over her words afterwards and regretted them. All the same, Rosek was a sneak and a cold sensualist, she was sure. And the thought that he had been spying at their little house tarnished her anticipations of homecoming.

They went to Town three days later. While the taxi was skirting Lord's Cricket-ground, Gyp slipped her hand into Fiorsen's. She was brimful of excitement. The trees were budding in the gardens that they passed; the almond-blossom coming--yes, really coming! They were in the road now. Five, seven, nine--thirteen! Two more! There it was, nineteen, in white figures on the leaf-green railings, under the small green lilac buds; yes, and their almond- blossom was out, too! She could just catch a glimpse over those tall railings of the low white house with its green outside shutters. She jumped out almost into the arms of Betty, who stood smiling all over her broad, flushed face, while, from under each arm peered forth the head of a black devil, with pricked ears and eyes as bright as diamonds.

"Betty! What darlings!"

"Major Winton's present, my dear--ma'am!"

Giving the stout shoulders a hug, Gyp seized the black devils, and ran up the path under the trellis, while the Scotch-terrier pups, squeezed against her breast, made confused small noises and licked her nose and ears. Through the square hall she ran into the drawing-room, which opened out on to the lawn; and there, in the French window, stood spying back at the spick-and-span room, where everything was, of course, placed just wrong. The colouring, white, ebony, and satinwood, looked nicer even than she had hoped. Out in the garden--her own garden--the pear-trees were thickening, but not in blossom yet; a few daffodils were in bloom along the walls, and a magnolia had one bud opened. And all the time she kept squeezing the puppies to her, enjoying their young, warm, fluffy savour, and letting them kiss her. She ran out of the drawing-room, up the stairs. Her bedroom, the dressing-room, the spare room, the bathroom--she dashed into them all. Oh, it was nice to be in your own place, to be-- Suddenly she felt herself lifted off the ground from behind, and in that undignified position, her eyes flying, she turned her face till he could reach her lips.

John Galsworthy