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Chapter III

To wake, and hear the birds at early practise, and feel that winter is over--is there any pleasanter moment?

That first morning in her new house, Gyp woke with the sparrow, or whatever the bird which utters the first cheeps and twitters, soon eclipsed by so much that is more important in bird-song. It seemed as if all the feathered creatures in London must be assembled in her garden; and the old verse came into her head:

      "All dear Nature's children sweet
      Lie at bride and bridegroom's feet,
      Blessing their sense.
      Not a creature of the air,
      Bird melodious or bird fair,
      Be absent hence!"

She turned and looked at her husband. He lay with his head snoozled down into the pillow, so that she could only see his thick, rumpled hair. And a shiver went through her, exactly as if a strange man were lying there. Did he really belong to her, and she to him--for good? And was this their house--together? It all seemed somehow different, more serious and troubling, in this strange bed, of this strange room, that was to be so permanent. Careful not to wake him, she slipped out and stood between the curtains and the window. Light was all in confusion yet; away low down behind the trees, the rose of dawn still clung. One might almost have been in the country, but for the faint, rumorous noises of the town beginning to wake, and that film of ground-mist which veils the feet of London mornings. She thought: "I am mistress in this house, have to direct it all--see to everything! And my pups! Oh, what do they eat?"

That was the first of many hours of anxiety, for she was very conscientious. Her fastidiousness desired perfection, but her sensitiveness refused to demand it of others--especially servants. Why should she harry them?

Fiorsen had not the faintest notion of regularity. She found that he could not even begin to appreciate her struggles in housekeeping. And she was much too proud to ask his help, or perhaps too wise, since he was obviously unfit to give it. To live like the birds of the air was his motto. Gyp would have liked nothing better; but, for that, one must not have a house with three servants, several meals, two puppy-dogs, and no great experience of how to deal with any of them.

She spoke of her difficulties to no one and suffered the more. With Betty--who, bone-conservative, admitted Fiorsen as hardly as she had once admitted Winton--she had to be very careful. But her great trouble was with her father. Though she longed to see him, she literally dreaded their meeting. He first came--as he had been wont to come when she was a tiny girl--at the hour when he thought the fellow to whom she now belonged would most likely be out. Her heart beat, when she saw him under the trellis. She opened the door herself, and hung about him so that his shrewd eyes should not see her face. And she began at once to talk of the puppies, whom she had named Don and Doff. They were perfect darlings; nothing was safe from them; her slippers were completely done for; they had already got into her china-cabinet and gone to sleep there! He must come and see all over.

Hooking her arm into his, and talking all the time, she took him up-stairs and down, and out into the garden, to the studio, or music-room, at the end, which had an entrance to itself on to a back lane. This room had been the great attraction. Fiorsen could practice there in peace. Winton went along with her very quietly, making a shrewd comment now and then. At the far end of the garden, looking over the wall, down into that narrow passage which lay between it and the back of another garden he squeezed her arm suddenly and said:

"Well, Gyp, what sort of a time?"

The question had come at last.

"Oh, rather lovely--in some ways." But she did not look at him, nor he at her. "See, Dad! The cats have made quite a path there!"

Winton bit his lips and turned from the wall. The thought of that fellow was bitter within him. She meant to tell him nothing, meant to keep up that lighthearted look--which didn't deceive him a bit!

"Look at my crocuses! It's really spring today!"

It was. Even a bee or two had come. The tiny leaves had a transparent look, too thin as yet to keep the sunlight from passing through them. The purple, delicate-veined crocuses, with little flames of orange blowing from their centres, seemed to hold the light as in cups. A wind, without harshness, swung the boughs; a dry leaf or two still rustled round here and there. And on the grass, and in the blue sky, and on the almond-blossom was the first spring brilliance. Gyp clasped her hands behind her head.

"Lovely--to feel the spring!"

And Winton thought: 'She's changed!' She had softened, quickened-- more depth of colour in her, more gravity, more sway in her body, more sweetness in her smile. But--was she happy?

A voice said:

"Ah, what a pleasure!"

The fellow had slunk up like the great cat he was. And it seemed to Winton that Gyp had winced.

"Dad thinks we ought to have dark curtains in the music-room, Gustav."

Fiorsen made a bow.

"Yes, yes--like a London club."

Winton, watching, was sure of supplication in her face. And, forcing a smile, he said:

"You seem very snug here. Glad to see you again. Gyp looks splendid."

Another of those bows he so detested! Mountebank! Never, never would he be able to stand the fellow! But he must not, would not, show it. And, as soon as he decently could, he went, taking his lonely way back through this region, of which his knowledge was almost limited to Lord's Cricket-ground, with a sense of doubt and desolation, an irritation more than ever mixed with the resolve to be always at hand if the child wanted him.

He had not been gone ten minutes before Aunt Rosamund appeared, with a crutch-handled stick and a gentlemanly limp, for she, too, indulged her ancestors in gout. A desire for exclusive possession of their friends is natural to some people, and the good lady had not known how fond she was of her niece till the girl had slipped off into this marriage. She wanted her back, to go about with and make much of, as before. And her well-bred drawl did not quite disguise this feeling.

Gyp could detect Fiorsen subtly mimicking that drawl; and her ears began to burn. The puppies afforded a diversion--their points, noses, boldness, and food, held the danger in abeyance for some minutes. Then the mimicry began again. When Aunt Rosamund had taken a somewhat sudden leave, Gyp stood at the window of her drawing-room with the mask off her face. Fiorsen came up, put his arm round her from behind, and said with a fierce sigh:

"Are they coming often--these excellent people?"

Gyp drew back from him against the wall.

"If you love me, why do you try to hurt the people who love me too?"

"Because I am jealous. I am jealous even of those puppies."

"And shall you try to hurt them?"

"If I see them too much near you, perhaps I shall."

"Do you think I can be happy if you hurt things because they love me?"

He sat down and drew her on to his knee. She did not resist, but made not the faintest return to his caresses. The first time--the very first friend to come into her own new home! It was too much!

Fiorsen said hoarsely:

"You do not love me. If you loved me, I should feel it through your lips. I should see it in your eyes. Oh, love me, Gyp! You shall!"

But to say to Love: "Stand and deliver!" was not the way to touch Gyp. It seemed to her mere ill-bred stupidity. She froze against him in soul, all the more that she yielded her body. When a woman refuses nothing to one whom she does not really love, shadows are already falling on the bride-house. And Fiorsen knew it; but his self-control about equalled that of the two puppies.

Yet, on the whole, these first weeks in her new home were happy, too busy to allow much room for doubting or regret. Several important concerts were fixed for May. She looked forward to these with intense eagerness, and pushed everything that interfered with preparation into the background. As though to make up for that instinctive recoil from giving her heart, of which she was always subconscious, she gave him all her activities, without calculation or reserve. She was ready to play for him all day and every day, just as from the first she had held herself at the disposal of his passion. To fail him in these ways would have tarnished her opinion of herself. But she had some free hours in the morning, for he had the habit of lying in bed till eleven, and was never ready for practise before twelve. In those early hours she got through her orders and her shopping--that pursuit which to so many women is the only real "sport"--a chase of the ideal; a pitting of one's taste and knowledge against that of the world at large; a secret passion, even in the beautiful, for making oneself and one's house more beautiful. Gyp never went shopping without that faint thrill running up and down her nerves. She hated to be touched by strange fingers, but not even that stopped her pleasure in turning and turning before long mirrors, while the saleswoman or man, with admiration at first crocodilic and then genuine, ran the tips of fingers over those curves, smoothing and pinning, and uttering the word, "moddam."

On other mornings, she would ride with Winton, who would come for her, leaving her again at her door after their outings. One day, after a ride in Richmond Park, where the horse-chestnuts were just coming into flower, they had late breakfast on the veranda of a hotel before starting for home. Some fruit-trees were still in blossom just below them, and the sunlight showering down from a blue sky brightened to silver the windings of the river, and to gold the budding leaves of the oak-trees. Winton, smoking his after-breakfast cigar, stared down across the tops of those trees toward the river and the wooded fields beyond. Stealing a glance at him, Gyp said very softly:

"Did you ever ride with my mother, Dad?"

"Only once--the very ride we've been to-day. She was on a black mare; I had a chestnut--" Yes, in that grove on the little hill, which they had ridden through that morning, he had dismounted and stood beside her.

Gyp stretched her hand across the table and laid it on his.

"Tell me about her, dear. Was she beautiful?"

"Yes."

"Dark? Tall?"

"Very like you, Gyp. A little--a little"--he did not know how to describe that difference--"a little more foreign-looking perhaps. One of her grandmothers was Italian, you know."

"How did you come to love her? Suddenly?"

"As suddenly as"--he drew his hand away and laid it on the veranda rail--"as that sun came on my hand."

Gyp said quietly, as if to herself:

"Yes; I don't think I understand that--yet."

Winton drew breath through his teeth with a subdued hiss.

"Did she love you at first sight, too?"

He blew out a long puff of smoke.

"One easily believes what one wants to--but I think she did. She used to say so."

"And how long?"

"Only a year."

Gyp said very softly:

"Poor darling Dad." And suddenly she added: "I can't bear to think I killed her--I can't bear it!"

Winton got up in the discomfort of these sudden confidences; a blackbird, startled by the movement, ceased his song. Gyp said in a hard voice:

"No; I don't want to have any children."

"Without that, I shouldn't have had you, Gyp."

"No; but I don't want to have them. And I don't--I don't want to love like that. I should be afraid."

Winton looked at her for a long time without speaking, his brows drawn down, frowning, puzzled, as though over his own past.

"Love," he said, "it catches you, and you're gone. When it comes, you welcome it, whether it's to kill you or not. Shall we start back, my child?"

When she got home, it was not quite noon. She hurried over her bath and dressing, and ran out to the music-room. Its walls had been hung with Willesden scrim gilded over; the curtains were silver-grey; there was a divan covered with silver-and-gold stuff, and a beaten brass fireplace. It was a study in silver, and gold, save for two touches of fantasy--a screen round the piano-head, covered with brilliantly painted peacocks' tails, and a blue Persian vase, in which were flowers of various hues of red.

Fiorsen was standing at the window in a fume of cigarette smoke. He did not turn round. Gyp put her hand within his arm, and said:

"So sorry, dear. But it's only just half-past twelve."

His face was as if the whole world had injured him.

"Pity you came back! Very nice, riding, I'm sure!"

Could she not go riding with her own father? What insensate jealousy and egomania! She turned away, without a word, and sat down at the piano. She was not good at standing injustice--not good at all! The scent of brandy, too, was mixed with the fumes of his cigarette. Drink in the morning was so ugly--really horrid! She sat at the piano, waiting. He would be like this till he had played away the fumes of his ill mood, and then he would come and paw her shoulders and put his lips to her neck. Yes; but it was not the way to behave, not the way to make her love him. And she said suddenly:

"Gustav; what exactly have I done that you dislike?"

"You have had a father."

Gyp sat quite still for a few seconds, and then began to laugh. He looked so like a sulky child, standing there. He turned swiftly on her and put his hand over her mouth. She looked up over that hand which smelled of tobacco. Her heart was doing the grand ecart within her, this way in compunction, that way in resentment. His eyes fell before hers; he dropped his hand.

"Well, shall we begin?" she said.

He answered roughly: "No," and went out into the garden.

Gyp was left dismayed, disgusted. Was it possible that she could have taken part in such a horrid little scene? She remained sitting at the piano, playing over and over a single passage, without heeding what it was.

John Galsworthy