by JOHN GALSWORTHY
"Che faro senza—!"
To THOMAS HARDY
At the door of St. George's registry office, Charles Clare Winton strolled forward in the wake of the taxi-cab that was bearing his daughter away with "the fiddler fellow" she had married. His sense of decorum forbade his walking with Nurse Betty—the only other witness of the wedding. A stout woman in a highly emotional condition would have been an incongruous companion to his slim, upright figure, moving with just that unexaggerated swing and balance becoming to a lancer of the old school, even if he has been on the retired list for sixteen years.
Poor Betty! He thought of her with irritated sympathy—she need not have given way to tears on the door-step. She might well feel lost now Gyp was gone, but not so lost as himself! His pale-gloved hand—the one real hand he had, for his right hand had been amputated at the wrist—twisted vexedly at the small, grizzling moustache lifting itself from the corners of his firm lips. On this grey February day he wore no overcoat; faithful to the absolute, almost shamefaced quietness of that wedding, he had not even donned black coat and silk hat, but wore a blue suit and a hard black felt. The instinct of a soldier and hunting man to exhibit no sign whatever of emotion did not desert him this dark day of his life; but his grey-hazel eyes kept contracting, staring fiercely, contracting again; and, at moments, as if overpowered by some deep feeling, they darkened and seemed to draw back in his head. His face was narrow and weathered and thin-cheeked, with a clean-cut jaw, small ears, hair darker than the moustache, but touched at the side wings with grey—the face of a man of action, self-reliant, resourceful. And his bearing was that of one who has always been a bit of a dandy, and paid attention to "form," yet been conscious sometimes that there were things beyond. A man, who, preserving all the precision of a type, yet had in him a streak of something that was not typical. Such often have tragedy in their pasts.
Making his way towards the park, he turned into Mount Street. There was the house still, though the street had been very different then—the house he had passed, up and down, up and down in the fog, like a ghost, that November afternoon, like a cast-out dog, in such awful, unutterable agony of mind, twenty-three years ago, when Gyp was born. And then to be told at the door—he, with no right to enter, he, loving as he believed man never loved woman—to be told at the door that SHE was dead—dead in bearing what he and she alone knew was their child! Up and down in the fog, hour after hour, knowing her time was upon her; and at last to be told that! Of all fates that befall man, surely the most awful is to love too much.
Queer that his route should take him past the very house to-day, after this new bereavement! Accursed luck—that gout which had sent him to Wiesbaden, last September! Accursed luck that Gyp had ever set eyes on this fellow Fiorsen, with his fatal fiddle! Certainly not since Gyp had come to live with him, fifteen years ago, had he felt so forlorn and fit for nothing. To-morrow he would get back to Mildenham and see what hard riding would do. Without Gyp—to be without Gyp! A fiddler! A chap who had never been on a horse in his life! And with his crutch-handled cane he switched viciously at the air, as though carving a man in two.
His club, near Hyde Park Corner, had never seemed to him so desolate. From sheer force of habit he went into the card-room. The afternoon had so darkened that electric light already burned, and there were the usual dozen of players seated among the shaded gleams falling decorously on dark-wood tables, on the backs of chairs, on cards and tumblers, the little gilded coffee-cups, the polished nails of fingers holding cigars. A crony challenged him to piquet. He sat down listless. That three-legged whist—bridge—had always offended his fastidiousness—a mangled short cut of a game! Poker had something blatant in it. Piquet, though out of fashion, remained for him the only game worth playing—the only game which still had style. He held good cards and rose the winner of five pounds that he would willingly have paid to escape the boredom of the bout. Where would they be by now? Past Newbury; Gyp sitting opposite that Swedish fellow with his greenish wildcat's eyes. Something furtive, and so foreign, about him! A mess—if he were any judge of horse or man! Thank God he had tied Gyp's money up—every farthing! And an emotion that was almost jealousy swept him at the thought of the fellow's arms round his soft-haired, dark-eyed daughter—that pretty, willowy creature, so like in face and limb to her whom he had loved so desperately.
Eyes followed him when he left the card-room, for he was one who inspired in other men a kind of admiration—none could say exactly why. Many quite as noted for general good sportsmanship attracted no such attention. Was it "style," or was it the streak of something not quite typical—the brand left on him by the past?
Abandoning the club, he walked slowly along the railings of Piccadilly towards home, that house in Bury Street, St. James's, which had been his London abode since he was quite young—one of the few in the street that had been left untouched by the general passion for puffing down and building up, which had spoiled half London in his opinion.
A man, more silent than anything on earth, with the soft, quick, dark eyes of a woodcock and a long, greenish, knitted waistcoat, black cutaway, and tight trousers strapped over his boots, opened the door.
"I shan't go out again, Markey. Mrs. Markey must give me some dinner. Anything'll do."
Markey signalled that he had heard, and those brown eyes under eyebrows meeting and forming one long, dark line, took his master in from head to heel. He had already nodded last night, when his wife had said the gov'nor would take it hard. Retiring to the back premises, he jerked his head toward the street and made a motion upward with his hand, by which Mrs. Markey, an astute woman, understood that she had to go out and shop because the gov'nor was dining in. When she had gone, Markey sat down opposite Betty, Gyp's old nurse. The stout woman was still crying in a quiet way. It gave him the fair hump, for he felt inclined to howl like a dog himself. After watching her broad, rosy, tearful face in silence for some minutes, he shook his head, and, with a gulp and a tremor of her comfortable body, Betty desisted. One paid attention to Markey.
Winton went first into his daughter's bedroom, and gazed at its emptied silken order, its deserted silver mirror, twisting viciously at his little moustache. Then, in his sanctum, he sat down before the fire, without turning up the light. Anyone looking in, would have thought he was asleep; but the drowsy influence of that deep chair and cosy fire had drawn him back into the long-ago. What unhappy chance had made him pass HER house to-day!
Some say there is no such thing as an affinity, no case—of a man, at least—made bankrupt of passion by a single love. In theory, it may be so; in fact, there are such men—neck-or-nothing men, quiet and self-contained, the last to expect that nature will play them such a trick, the last to desire such surrender of themselves, the last to know when their fate is on them. Who could have seemed to himself, and, indeed, to others, less likely than Charles Clare Winton to fall over head and ears in love when he stepped into the Belvoir Hunt ballroom at Grantham that December evening, twenty-four years ago? A keen soldier, a dandy, a first-rate man to hounds, already almost a proverb in his regiment for coolness and for a sort of courteous disregard of women as among the minor things of life—he had stood there by the door, in no hurry to dance, taking a survey with an air that just did not give an impression of "side" because it was not at all put on. And—behold!—SHE had walked past him, and his world was changed for ever. Was it an illusion of light that made her whole spirit seem to shine through a half-startled glance? Or a little trick of gait, a swaying, seductive balance of body; was it the way her hair waved back, or a subtle scent, as of a flower? What was it? The wife of a squire of those parts, with a house in London. Her name? It doesn't matter—she has been long enough dead. There was no excuse—not an ill-treated woman; an ordinary, humdrum marriage, of three years standing; no children. An amiable good fellow of a husband, fifteen years older than herself, inclined already to be an invalid. No excuse! Yet, in one month from that night, Winton and she were lovers, not only in thought but in deed. A thing so utterly beyond "good form" and his sense of what was honourable and becoming in an officer and gentleman that it was simply never a question of weighing pro and con, the cons had it so completely. And yet from that first evening, he was hers, she his. For each of them the one thought was how to be with the other. If so—why did they not at least go off together? Not for want of his beseeching. And no doubt, if she had survived Gyp's birth, they would have gone. But to face the prospect of ruining two men, as it looked to her, had till then been too much for that soft-hearted creature. Death stilled her struggle before it was decided. There are women in whom utter devotion can still go hand in hand with a doubting soul. Such are generally the most fascinating; for the power of hard and prompt decision robs women of mystery, of the subtle atmosphere of change and chance. Though she had but one part in four of foreign blood, she was not at all English. But Winton was English to his back-bone, English in his sense of form, and in that curious streak of whole-hearted desperation that will break form to smithereens in one department and leave it untouched in every other of its owner's life. To have called Winton a "crank" would never have occurred to any one—his hair was always perfectly parted; his boots glowed; he was hard and reticent, accepting and observing every canon of well-bred existence. Yet, in that, his one infatuation, he was as lost to the world and its opinion as the longest-haired lentil-eater of us all. Though at any moment during that one year of their love he would have risked his life and sacrificed his career for a whole day in her company, he never, by word or look, compromised her. He had carried his punctilious observance of her "honour" to a point more bitter than death, consenting, even, to her covering up the tracks of their child's coming. Paying that gambler's debt was by far the bravest deed of his life, and even now its memory festered.
To this very room he had come back after hearing she was dead; this very room which he had refurnished to her taste, so that even now, with its satinwood chairs, little dainty Jacobean bureau, shaded old brass candelabra, divan, it still had an air exotic to bachelordom. There, on the table, had been a letter recalling him to his regiment, ordered on active service. If he had realized what he would go through before he had the chance of trying to lose his life out there, he would undoubtedly have taken that life, sitting in this very chair before the fire—the chair sacred to her and memory. He had not the luck he wished for in that little war—men who don't care whether they live or die seldom have. He secured nothing but distinction. When it was over, he went on, with a few more lines in his face, a few more wrinkles in his heart, soldiering, shooting tigers, pig-sticking, playing polo, riding to hounds harder than ever; giving nothing away to the world; winning steadily the curious, uneasy admiration that men feel for those who combine reckless daring with an ice-cool manner. Since he was less of a talker even than most of his kind, and had never in his life talked of women, he did not gain the reputation of a woman-hater, though he so manifestly avoided them. After six years' service in India and Egypt, he lost his right hand in a charge against dervishes, and had, perforce, to retire, with the rank of major, aged thirty-four. For a long time he had hated the very thought of the child—his child, in giving birth to whom the woman he loved had died. Then came a curious change of feeling; and for three years before his return to England, he had been in the habit of sending home odds and ends picked up in the bazaars, to serve as toys. In return, he had received, twice annually at least, a letter from the man who thought himself Gyp's father. These letters he read and answered. The squire was likable, and had been fond of HER; and though never once had it seemed possible to Winton to have acted otherwise than he did, he had all the time preserved a just and formal sense of the wrong he had done this man. He did not experience remorse, but he had always an irksome feeling as of a debt unpaid, mitigated by knowledge that no one had ever suspected, and discounted by memory of the awful torture he had endured to make sure against suspicion.
When, plus distinction and minus his hand, he was at last back in England, the squire had come to see him. The poor man was failing fast from Bright's disease. Winton entered again that house in Mount Street with an emotion, to stifle which required more courage than any cavalry charge. But one whose heart, as he would have put it, is "in the right place" does not indulge the quaverings of his nerves, and he faced those rooms where he had last seen her, faced that lonely little dinner with her husband, without sign of feeling. He did not see little Ghita, or Gyp, as she had nicknamed herself, for she was already in her bed; and it was a whole month before he brought himself to go there at an hour when he could see the child if he would. The fact is, he was afraid. What would the sight of this little creature stir in him? When Betty, the nurse, brought her in to see the soldier gentleman with "the leather hand," who had sent her those funny toys, she stood calmly staring with her large, deep-brown eyes. Being seven, her little brown-velvet frock barely reached the knees of her thin, brown-stockinged legs planted one just in front of the other, as might be the legs of a small brown bird; the oval of her gravely wondering face was warm cream colour without red in it, except that of the lips, which were neither full nor thin, and had a little tuck, the tiniest possible dimple at one corner. Her hair of warm dark brown had been specially brushed and tied with a narrow red ribbon back from her forehead, which was broad and rather low, and this added to her gravity. Her eyebrows were thin and dark and perfectly arched; her little nose was perfectly straight, her little chin in perfect balance between round and point. She stood and stared till Winton smiled. Then the gravity of her face broke, her lips parted, her eyes seemed to fly a little. And Winton's heart turned over within him—she was the very child of her that he had lost! And he said, in a voice that seemed to him to tremble:
"Thank you for my toys; I like them."
He held out his hand, and she gravely put her small hand into it. A sense of solace, as if some one had slipped a finger in and smoothed his heart, came over Winton. Gently, so as not to startle her, he raised her hand a little, bent, and kissed it. It may have been from his instant recognition that here was one as sensitive as child could be, or the way many soldiers acquire from dealing with their men—those simple, shrewd children—or some deeper instinctive sense of ownership between them; whatever it was, from that moment, Gyp conceived for him a rushing admiration, one of those headlong affections children will sometimes take for the most unlikely persons.
He used to go there at an hour when he knew the squire would be asleep, between two and five. After he had been with Gyp, walking in the park, riding with her in the Row, or on wet days sitting in her lonely nursery telling stories, while stout Betty looked on half hypnotized, a rather queer and doubting look on her comfortable face—after such hours, he found it difficult to go to the squire's study and sit opposite him, smoking. Those interviews reminded him too much of past days, when he had kept such desperate check on himself—too much of the old inward chafing against the other man's legal ownership—too much of the debt owing. But Winton was triple-proofed against betrayal of feeling. The squire welcomed him eagerly, saw nothing, felt nothing, was grateful for his goodness to the child. Well, well! He had died in the following spring. And Winton found that he had been made Gyp's guardian and trustee. Since his wife's death, the squire had muddled his affairs, his estate was heavily mortgaged; but Winton accepted the position with an almost savage satisfaction, and, from that moment, schemed deeply to get Gyp all to himself. The Mount Street house was sold; the Lincolnshire place let. She and Nurse Betty were installed at his own hunting-box, Mildenham. In this effort to get her away from all the squire's relations, he did not scruple to employ to the utmost the power he undoubtedly had of making people feel him unapproachable. He was never impolite to any of them; he simply froze them out. Having plenty of money himself, his motives could not be called in question. In one year he had isolated her from all except stout Betty. He had no qualms, for Gyp was no more happy away from him than he from her. He had but one bad half-hour. It came when he had at last decided that she should be called by his name, if not legally at least by custom, round Mildenham. It was to Markey he had given the order that Gyp was to be little Miss Winton for the future. When he came in from hunting that day, Betty was waiting in his study. She stood in the centre of the emptiest part of that rather dingy room, as far as possible away from any good or chattel. How long she had been standing there, heaven only knew; but her round, rosy face was confused between awe and resolution, and she had made a sad mess of her white apron. Her blue eyes met Winton's with a sort of desperation.
"About what Markey told me, sir. My old master wouldn't have liked it, sir."
Touched on the raw by this reminder that before the world he had been nothing to the loved one, that before the world the squire, who had been nothing to her, had been everything, Winton said icily:
"Indeed! You will be good enough to comply with my wish, all the same."
The stout woman's face grew very red. She burst out, breathless:
"Yes, sir; but I've seen what I've seen. I never said anything, but I've got eyes. If Miss Gyp's to take your name, sir, then tongues'll wag, and my dear, dead mistress—"
But at the look on his face she stopped, with her mouth open.
"You will be kind enough to keep your thoughts to yourself. If any word or deed of yours gives the slightest excuse for talk—you go. Understand me, you go, and you never see Gyp again! In the meantime you will do what I ask. Gyp is my adopted daughter."
She had always been a little afraid of him, but she had never seen that look in his eyes or heard him speak in that voice. And she bent her full moon of a face and went, with her apron crumpled as apron had never been, and tears in her eyes. And Winton, at the window, watching the darkness gather, the leaves flying by on a sou'-westerly wind, drank to the dregs a cup of bitter triumph. He had never had the right to that dead, forever-loved mother of his child. He meant to have the child. If tongues must wag, let them! This was a defeat of all his previous precaution, a deep victory of natural instinct. And his eyes narrowed and stared into the darkness.
In spite of his victory over all human rivals in the heart of Gyp, Winton had a rival whose strength he fully realized perhaps for the first time now that she was gone, and he, before the fire, was brooding over her departure and the past. Not likely that one of his decisive type, whose life had so long been bound up with swords and horses, would grasp what music might mean to a little girl. Such ones, he knew, required to be taught scales, and "In a Cottage near a Wood" with other melodies. He took care not to go within sound of them, so that he had no conception of the avidity with which Gyp had mopped up all, and more than all, her governess could teach her. He was blind to the rapture with which she listened to any stray music that came its way to Mildenham—to carols in the Christmas dark, to certain hymns, and one special "Nunc Dimittis" in the village church, attended with a hopeless regularity; to the horn of the hunter far out in the quivering, dripping coverts; even to Markey's whistling, which was full and strangely sweet.
He could share her love of dogs and horses, take an anxious interest in her way of catching bumblebees in the hollow of her hand and putting them to her small, delicate ears to hear them buzz, sympathize with her continual ravages among the flowerbeds, in the old-fashioned garden, full of lilacs and laburnums in spring, pinks, roses, cornflowers in summer, dahlias and sunflowers in autumn, and always a little neglected and overgrown, a little squeezed in, and elbowed by the more important surrounding paddocks. He could sympathize with her attempts to draw his attention to the song of birds; but it was simply not in him to understand how she loved and craved for music. She was a cloudy little creature, up and down in mood—rather like a brown lady spaniel that she had, now gay as a butterfly, now brooding as night. Any touch of harshness she took to heart fearfully. She was the strangest compound of pride and sell-disparagement; the qualities seemed mixed in her so deeply that neither she nor any one knew of which her cloudy fits were the result. Being so sensitive, she "fancied" things terribly. Things that others did to her, and thought nothing of, often seemed to her conclusive evidence that she was not loved by anybody, which was dreadfully unjust, because she wanted to love everyone—nearly. Then suddenly she would feel: "If they don't love me, I don't care. I don't want anything of anybody!" Presently, all would blow away just like a cloud, and she would love and be gay, until something fresh, perhaps not at all meant to hurt her, would again hurt her horribly. In reality, the whole household loved and admired her. But she was one of those delicate-treading beings, born with a skin too few, who—and especially in childhood—suffer from themselves in a world born with a skin too many.
To Winton's extreme delight, she took to riding as a duck to water, and knew no fear on horseback. She had the best governess he could get her, the daughter of an admiral, and, therefore, in distressed circumstances; and later on, a tutor for her music, who came twice a week all the way from London—a sardonic man who cherished for her even more secret admiration than she for him. In fact, every male thing fell in love with her at least a little. Unlike most girls, she never had an epoch of awkward plainness, but grew like a flower, evenly, steadily. Winton often gazed at her with a sort of intoxication; the turn of her head, the way those perfectly shaped, wonderfully clear brown eyes would "fly," the set of her straight, round neck, the very shaping of her limbs were all such poignant reminders of what he had so loved. And yet, for all that likeness to her mother, there was a difference, both in form and character. Gyp had, as it were, an extra touch of "breeding," more chiselling in body, more fastidiousness in soul, a little more poise, a little more sheer grace; in mood, more variance, in mind, more clarity and, mixed with her sweetness, a distinct spice of scepticism which her mother had lacked.
In modern times there are no longer "toasts," or she would have been one with both the hunts. Though delicate in build, she was not frail, and when her blood was up would "go" all day, and come in so bone-tired that she would drop on to the tiger skin before the fire, rather than face the stairs. Life at Mildenham was lonely, save for Winton's hunting cronies, and they but few, for his spiritual dandyism did not gladly suffer the average country gentleman and his frigid courtesy frightened women.
Besides, as Betty had foreseen, tongues did wag—those tongues of the countryside, avid of anything that might spice the tedium of dull lives and brains. And, though no breath of gossip came to Winton's ears, no women visited at Mildenham. Save for the friendly casual acquaintanceships of churchyard, hunting-field, and local race-meetings, Gyp grew up knowing hardly any of her own sex. This dearth developed her reserve, kept her backward in sex-perception, gave her a faint, unconscious contempt for men—creatures always at the beck and call of her smile, and so easily disquieted by a little frown—gave her also a secret yearning for companions of her own gender. Any girl or woman that she did chance to meet always took a fancy to her, because she was so nice to them, which made the transitory nature of these friendships tantalizing. She was incapable of jealousies or backbiting. Let men beware of such—there is coiled in their fibre a secret fascination!
Gyp's moral and spiritual growth was not the sort of subject that Winton could pay much attention to. It was pre-eminently a matter one did not talk about. Outward forms, such as going to church, should be preserved; manners should be taught her by his own example as much as possible; beyond this, nature must look after things. His view had much real wisdom. She was a quick and voracious reader, bad at remembering what she read; and though she had soon devoured all the books in Winton's meagre library, including Byron, Whyte-Melville, and Humboldt's "Cosmos," they had not left too much on her mind. The attempts of her little governess to impart religion were somewhat arid of result, and the interest of the vicar, Gyp, with her instinctive spice of scepticism soon put into the same category as the interest of all the other males she knew. She felt that he enjoyed calling her "my dear" and patting her shoulder, and that this enjoyment was enough reward for his exertions.
Tucked away in that little old dark manor house, whose stables alone were up to date—three hours from London, and some thirty miles from The Wash, it must be confessed that her upbringing lacked modernity. About twice a year, Winton took her up to town to stay with his unmarried sister Rosamund in Curzon Street. Those weeks, if they did nothing else, increased her natural taste for charming clothes, fortified her teeth, and fostered her passion for music and the theatre. But the two main nourishments of the modern girl—discussion and games—she lacked utterly. Moreover, those years of her life from fifteen to nineteen were before the social resurrection of 1906, and the world still crawled like a winter fly on a window-pane. Winton was a Tory, Aunt Rosamund a Tory, everybody round her a Tory. The only spiritual development she underwent all those years of her girlhood was through her headlong love for her father. After all, was there any other way in which she could really have developed? Only love makes fruitful the soul. The sense of form that both had in such high degree prevented much demonstration; but to be with him, do things for him, to admire, and credit him with perfection; and, since she could not exactly wear the same clothes or speak in the same clipped, quiet, decisive voice, to dislike the clothes and voices of other men—all this was precious to her beyond everything. If she inherited from him that fastidious sense of form, she also inherited his capacity for putting all her eggs in one basket. And since her company alone gave him real happiness, the current of love flowed over her heart all the time. Though she never realized it, abundant love FOR somebody was as necessary to her as water running up the stems of flowers, abundant love FROM somebody as needful as sunshine on their petals. And Winton's somewhat frequent little runs to town, to Newmarket, or where not, were always marked in her by a fall of the barometer, which recovered as his return grew near.
One part of her education, at all events, was not neglected—cultivation of an habitual sympathy with her poorer neighbours. Without concerning himself in the least with problems of sociology, Winton had by nature an open hand and heart for cottagers, and abominated interference with their lives. And so it came about that Gyp, who, by nature also never set foot anywhere without invitation, was always hearing the words: "Step in, Miss Gyp"; "Step in, and sit down, lovey," and a good many words besides from even the boldest and baddest characters. There is nothing like a soft and pretty face and sympathetic listening for seducing the hearts of "the people."
So passed the eleven years till she was nineteen and Winton forty-six. Then, under the wing of her little governess, she went to the hunt-ball. She had revolted against appearing a "fluffy miss," wanting to be considered at once full-fledged; so that her dress, perfect in fit, was not white but palest maize-colour, as if she had already been to dances. She had all Winton's dandyism, and just so much more as was appropriate to her sex. With her dark hair, wonderfully fluffed and coiled, waving across her forehead, her neck bare for the first time, her eyes really "flying," and a demeanour perfectly cool—as though she knew that light and movement, covetous looks, soft speeches, and admiration were her birthright—she was more beautiful than even Winton had thought her. At her breast she wore some sprigs of yellow jasmine procured by him from town—a flower of whose scent she was very fond, and that he had never seen worn in ballrooms. That swaying, delicate creature, warmed by excitement, reminded him, in every movement and by every glance of her eyes, of her whom he had first met at just such a ball as this. And by the carriage of his head, the twist of his little moustache, he conveyed to the world the pride he was feeling.
That evening held many sensations for Gyp—some delightful, one confused, one unpleasant. She revelled in her success. Admiration was very dear to her. She passionately enjoyed dancing, loved feeling that she was dancing well and giving pleasure. But, twice over, she sent away her partners, smitten with compassion for her little governess sitting there against the wall—all alone, with no one to take notice of her, because she was elderly, and roundabout, poor darling! And, to that loyal person's horror, she insisted on sitting beside her all through two dances. Nor would she go in to supper with anyone but Winton. Returning to the ballroom on his arm, she overheard an elderly woman say: "Oh, don't you know? Of course he really IS her father!" and an elderly man answer: "Ah, that accounts for it—quite so!" With those eyes at the back of the head which the very sensitive possess, she could see their inquisitive, cold, slightly malicious glances, and knew they were speaking of her. And just then her partner came for her.
"Really IS her father!" The words meant TOO much to be grasped this evening of full sensations. They left a little bruise somewhere, but softened and anointed, just a sense of confusion at the back of her mind. And very soon came that other sensation, so disillusioning, that all else was crowded out. It was after a dance—a splendid dance with a good-looking man quite twice her age. They were sitting behind some palms, he murmuring in his mellow, flown voice admiration for her dress, when suddenly he bent his flushed face and kissed her bare arm above the elbow. If he had hit her he could not have astonished or hurt her more. It seemed to her innocence that he would never have done such a thing if she had not said something dreadful to encourage him. Without a word she got up, gazed at him a moment with eyes dark from pain, shivered, and slipped away. She went straight to Winton. From her face, all closed up, tightened lips, and the familiar little droop at their corners, he knew something dire had happened, and his eyes boded ill for the person who had hurt her; but she would say nothing except that she was tired and wanted to go home. And so, with the little faithful governess, who, having been silent perforce nearly all the evening, was now full of conversation, they drove out into the frosty night. Winton sat beside the chauffeur, smoking viciously, his fur collar turned up over his ears, his eyes stabbing the darkness, under his round, low-drawn fur cap. Who had dared upset his darling? And, within the car, the little governess chattered softly, and Gyp, shrouded in lace, in her dark corner sat silent, seeing nothing but the vision of that insult. Sad end to a lovely night!
She lay awake long hours in the darkness, while a sort of coherence was forming in her mind. Those words: "Really IS her father!" and that man's kissing of her bare arm were a sort of revelation of sex-mystery, hardening the consciousness that there was something at the back of her life. A child so sensitive had not, of course, quite failed to feel the spiritual draughts around her; but instinctively she had recoiled from more definite perceptions. The time before Winton came was all so faint—Betty, toys, short glimpses of a kind, invalidish man called "Papa." As in that word there was no depth compared with the word "Dad" bestowed on Winton, so there had been no depth in her feelings towards the squire. When a girl has no memory of her mother, how dark are many things! None, except Betty, had ever talked of her mother. There was nothing sacred in Gyp's associations, no faiths to be broken by any knowledge that might come to her; isolated from other girls, she had little realisation even of the conventions. Still, she suffered horribly, lying there in the dark—from bewilderment, from thorns dragged over her skin, rather than from a stab in the heart. The knowledge of something about her conspicuous, doubtful, provocative of insult, as she thought, grievously hurt her delicacy. Those few wakeful hours made a heavy mark. She fell asleep at last, still all in confusion, and woke up with a passionate desire to KNOW. All that morning she sat at her piano, playing, refusing to go out, frigid to Betty and the little governess, till the former was reduced to tears and the latter to Wordsworth. After tea she went to Winton's study, that dingy little room where he never studied anything, with leather chairs and books which—except "Mr. Jorrocks," Byron, those on the care of horses, and the novels of Whyte-Melville—were never read; with prints of superequine celebrities, his sword, and photographs of Gyp and of brother officers on the walls. Two bright spots there were indeed—the fire, and the little bowl that Gyp always kept filled with flowers.
When she came gliding in like that, a slender, rounded figure, her creamy, dark-eyed, oval face all cloudy, she seemed to Winton to have grown up of a sudden. He had known all day that something was coming, and had been cudgelling his brains finely. From the fervour of his love for her, he felt an anxiety that was almost fear. What could have happened last night—that first night of her entrance into society—meddlesome, gossiping society! She slid down to the floor against his knee. He could not see her face, could not even touch her; for she had settled down on his right side. He mastered his tremors and said:
"A little bit?"
"Was it up to what you thought, last night?"
The logs hissed and crackled; the long flames ruffled in the chimney-draught; the wind roared outside—then, so suddenly that it took his breath away:
"Dad, are you really and truly my father?"
When that which one has always known might happen at last does happen, how little one is prepared! In the few seconds before an answer that could in no way be evaded, Winton had time for a tumult of reflection. A less resolute character would have been caught by utter mental blankness, then flung itself in panic on "Yes" or "No." But Winton was incapable of losing his head; he would not answer without having faced the consequences of his reply. To be her father was the most warming thing in his life; but if he avowed it, how far would he injure her love for him? What did a girl know? How make her understand? What would her feeling be about her dead mother? How would that dead loved one feel? What would she have wished?
It was a cruel moment. And the girl, pressed against his knee, with face hidden, gave him no help. Impossible to keep it from her, now that her instinct was roused! Silence, too, would answer for him. And clenching his hand on the arm of his chair, he said:
"Yes, Gyp; your mother and I loved each other." He felt a quiver go through her, would have given much to see her face. What, even now, did she understand? Well, it must be gone through with, and he said:
"What made you ask?"
She shook her head and murmured:
Grief, shock, even surprise would have roused all his loyalty to the dead, all the old stubborn bitterness, and he would have frozen up against her. But this acquiescent murmur made him long to smooth it down.
"Nobody has ever known. She died when you were born. It was a fearful grief to me. If you've heard anything, it's just gossip, because you go by my name. Your mother was never talked about. But it's best you should know, now you're grown up. People don't often love as she and I loved. You needn't be ashamed."
She had not moved, and her face was still turned from him. She said quietly:
"I'm not ashamed. Am I very like her?"
"Yes; more than I could ever have hoped."
Very low she said:
"Then you don't love me for myself?"
Winton was but dimly conscious of how that question revealed her nature, its power of piercing instinctively to the heart of things, its sensitive pride, and demand for utter and exclusive love. To things that go too deep, one opposes the bulwark of obtuseness. And, smiling, he simply said:
"What do you think?"
Then, to his dismay, he perceived that she was crying—struggling against it so that her shoulder shook against his knee. He had hardly ever known her cry, not in all the disasters of unstable youth, and she had received her full meed of knocks and tumbles. He could only stroke that shoulder, and say:
"Don't cry, Gyp; don't cry!"
She ceased as suddenly as she had begun, got up, and, before he too could rise, was gone.
That evening, at dinner, she was just as usual. He could not detect the slightest difference in her voice or manner, or in her good-night kiss. And so a moment that he had dreaded for years was over, leaving only the faint shame which follows a breach of reticence on the spirits of those who worship it. While the old secret had been quite undisclosed, it had not troubled him. Disclosed, it hurt him. But Gyp, in those twenty-four hours, had left childhood behind for good; her feeling toward men had hardened. If she did not hurt them a little, they would hurt her! The sex-instinct had come to life. To Winton she gave as much love as ever, even more, perhaps; but the dew was off.
The next two years were much less solitary, passed in more or less constant gaiety. His confession spurred Winton on to the fortification of his daughter's position. He would stand no nonsense, would not have her looked on askance. There is nothing like "style" for carrying the defences of society—only, it must be the genuine thing. Whether at Mildenham, or in London under the wing of his sister, there was no difficulty. Gyp was too pretty, Winton too cool, his quietness too formidable. She had every advantage. Society only troubles itself to make front against the visibly weak.
The happiest time of a girl's life is that when all appreciate and covet her, and she herself is free as air—a queen of hearts, for none of which she hankers; or, if not the happiest, at all events it is the gayest time. What did Gyp care whether hearts ached for her—she knew not love as yet, perhaps would never know the pains of unrequited love. Intoxicated with life, she led her many admirers a pretty dance, treating them with a sort of bravura. She did not want them to be unhappy, but she simply could not take them seriously. Never was any girl so heart-free. She was a queer mixture in those days, would give up any pleasure for Winton, and most for Betty or her aunt—her little governess was gone—but of nobody else did she seem to take account, accepting all that was laid at her feet as the due of her looks, her dainty frocks, her music, her good riding and dancing, her talent for amateur theatricals and mimicry. Winton, whom at least she never failed, watched that glorious fluttering with quiet pride and satisfaction. He was getting to those years when a man of action dislikes interruption of the grooves into which his activity has fallen. He pursued his hunting, racing, card-playing, and his very stealthy alms and services to lame ducks of his old regiment, their families, and other unfortunates—happy in knowing that Gyp was always as glad to be with him as he to be with her. Hereditary gout, too, had begun to bother him.
The day that she came of age they were up in town, and he summoned her to the room, in which he now sat by the fire recalling all these things, to receive an account of his stewardship. He had nursed her greatly embarrassed inheritance very carefully till it amounted to some twenty thousand pounds. He had never told her of it—the subject was dangerous, and, since his own means were ample, she had not wanted for anything. When he had explained exactly what she owned, shown her how it was invested, and told her that she must now open her own banking account, she stood gazing at the sheets of paper, whose items she had been supposed to understand, and her face gathered the look which meant that she was troubled. Without lifting her eyes she asked:
"Does it all come from—him?"
He had not expected that, and flushed under his tan.
"No; eight thousand of it was your mother's."
Gyp looked at him, and said:
"Then I won't take the rest—please, Dad."
Winton felt a sort of crabbed pleasure. What should be done with that money if she did not take it, he did not in the least know. But not to take it was like her, made her more than ever his daughter—a kind of final victory. He turned away to the window from which he had so often watched for her mother. There was the corner she used to turn! In one minute, surely she would be standing there, colour glowing in her cheeks, her eyes soft behind her veil, her breast heaving a little with her haste, waiting for his embrace. There she would stand, drawing up her veil. He turned round. Difficult to believe it was not she! And he said:
"Very well, my love. But you will take the equivalent from me instead. The other can be put by; some one will benefit some day!"
At those unaccustomed words, "My love," from his undemonstrative lips, the colour mounted in her cheeks and her eyes shone. She threw her arms round his neck.
She had her fill of music in those days, taking piano lessons from a Monsieur Harmost, a grey-haired native of Liege, with mahogany cheeks and the touch of an angel, who kept her hard at it and called her his "little friend." There was scarcely a concert of merit that she did not attend or a musician of mark whose playing she did not know, and, though fastidiousness saved her from squirming in adoration round the feet of those prodigious performers, she perched them all on pedestals, men and women alike, and now and then met them at her aunt's house in Curzon Street.
Aunt Rosamund, also musical, so far as breeding would allow, stood for a good deal to Gyp, who had built up about her a romantic story of love wrecked by pride from a few words she had once let drop. She was a tall and handsome woman, a year older than Winton, with a long, aristocratic face, deep-blue, rather shining eyes, a gentlemanly manner, warm heart, and one of those indescribable, not unmelodious drawls that one connects with an unshakable sense of privilege. She, in turn, was very fond of Gyp; and what passed within her mind, by no means devoid of shrewdness, as to their real relationship, remained ever discreetly hidden. She was, so far again as breeding would allow, something of a humanitarian and rebel, loving horses and dogs, and hating cats, except when they had four legs. The girl had just that softness which fascinates women who perhaps might have been happier if they had been born men. Not that Rosamund Winton was of an aggressive type—she merely had the resolute "catch hold of your tail, old fellow" spirit so often found in Englishwomen of the upper classes. A cheery soul, given to long coats and waistcoats, stocks, and a crutch-handled stick, she—like her brother—had "style," but more sense of humour—valuable in musical circles! At her house, the girl was practically compelled to see fun as well as merit in all those prodigies, haloed with hair and filled to overflowing with music and themselves. And, since Gyp's natural sense of the ludicrous was extreme, she and her aunt could rarely talk about anything without going into fits of laughter.
Winton had his first really bad attack of gout when Gyp was twenty-two, and, terrified lest he might not be able to sit a horse in time for the opening meets, he went off with her and Markey to Wiesbaden. They had rooms in the Wilhelmstrasse, overlooking the gardens, where leaves were already turning, that gorgeous September. The cure was long and obstinate, and Winton badly bored. Gyp fared much better. Attended by the silent Markey, she rode daily on the Neroberg, chafing at regulations which reduced her to specified tracks in that majestic wood where the beeches glowed. Once or even twice a day she went to the concerts in the Kurhaus, either with her father or alone.
The first time she heard Fiorsen play she was alone. Unlike most violinists, he was tall and thin, with great pliancy of body and swift sway of movement. His face was pale, and went strangely with hair and moustache of a sort of dirt-gold colour, and his thin cheeks with very broad high cheek-bones had little narrow scraps of whisker. Those little whiskers seemed to Gyp awful—indeed, he seemed rather awful altogether—but his playing stirred and swept her in the most uncanny way. He had evidently remarkable technique; and the emotion, the intense wayward feeling of his playing was chiselled by that technique, as if a flame were being frozen in its swaying. When he stopped, she did not join in the tornado of applause, but sat motionless, looking up at him. Quite unconstrained by all those people, he passed the back of his hand across his hot brow, shoving up a wave or two of that queer-coloured hair; then, with a rather disagreeable smile, he made a short supple bow or two. And she thought, "What strange eyes he has—like a great cat's!" Surely they were green; fierce, yet shy, almost furtive—mesmeric! Certainly the strangest man she had ever seen, and the most frightening. He seemed looking straight at her; and, dropping her gaze, she clapped. When she looked again, his face had lost that smile for a kind of wistfulness. He made another of those little supple bows straight at her—it seemed to Gyp—and jerked his violin up to his shoulder. "He's going to play to me," she thought absurdly. He played without accompaniment a little tune that seemed to twitch the heart. When he finished, this time she did not look up, but was conscious that he gave one impatient bow and walked off.
That evening at dinner she said to Winton:
"I heard a violinist to-day, Dad, the most wonderful playing—Gustav Fiorsen. Is that Swedish, do you think—or what?"
"Very likely. What sort of a bounder was he to look at? I used to know a Swede in the Turkish army—nice fellow, too."
"Tall and thin and white-faced, with bumpy cheek-bones, and hollows under them, and queer green eyes. Oh, and little goldy side-whiskers."
"By Jove! It sounds the limit."
Gyp murmured, with a smile:
"Yes; I think perhaps he is."
She saw him next day in the gardens. They were sitting close to the Schiller statue, Winton reading The Times, to whose advent he looked forward more than he admitted, for he was loath by confessions of boredom to disturb Gyp's manifest enjoyment of her stay. While perusing the customary comforting animadversions on the conduct of those "rascally Radicals" who had just come into power, and the account of a Newmarket meeting, he kept stealing sidelong glances at his daughter.
Certainly she had never looked prettier, daintier, shown more breeding than she did out here among these Germans with their thick pasterns, and all the cosmopolitan hairy-heeled crowd in this God-forsaken place! The girl, unconscious of his stealthy regalement, was letting her clear eyes rest, in turn, on each figure that passed, on the movements of birds and dogs, watching the sunlight glisten on the grass, burnish the copper beeches, the lime-trees, and those tall poplars down there by the water. The doctor at Mildenham, once consulted on a bout of headache, had called her eyes "perfect organs," and certainly no eyes could take things in more swiftly or completely. She was attractive to dogs, and every now and then one would stop, in two minds whether or no to put his nose into this foreign girl's hand. From a flirtation of eyes with a great Dane, she looked up and saw Fiorsen passing, in company with a shorter, square man, having very fashionable trousers and a corseted waist. The violinist's tall, thin, loping figure was tightly buttoned into a brownish-grey frock-coat suit; he wore a rather broad-brimmed, grey, velvety hat; in his buttonhole was a white flower; his cloth-topped boots were of patent leather; his tie was bunched out at the ends over a soft white-linen shirt—altogether quite a dandy! His most strange eyes suddenly swept down on hers, and he made a movement as if to put his hand to his hat.
'Why, he remembers me,' thought Gyp. That thin-waisted figure with head set just a little forward between rather high shoulders, and its long stride, curiously suggested a leopard or some lithe creature. He touched his short companion's arm, muttered something, turned round, and came back. She could see him staring her way, and knew he was coming simply to look at her. She knew, too, that her father was watching. And she felt that those greenish eyes would waver before his stare—that stare of the Englishman of a certain class, which never condescends to be inquisitive. They passed; Gyp saw Fiorsen turn to his companion, slightly tossing back his head in their direction, and heard the companion laugh. A little flame shot up in her.
"Rum-looking Johnnies one sees here!"
"That was the violinist I told you of—Fiorsen."
"Oh! Ah!" But he had evidently forgotten.
The thought that Fiorsen should have picked her out of all that audience for remembrance subtly flattered her vanity. She lost her ruffled feeling. Though her father thought his dress awful, it was really rather becoming. He would not have looked as well in proper English clothes. Once, at least, during the next two days, she noticed the short, square young man who had been walking with him, and was conscious that he followed her with his eyes.
And then a certain Baroness von Maisen, a cosmopolitan friend of Aunt Rosamund's, German by marriage, half-Dutch, half-French by birth, asked her if she had heard the Swedish violinist, Fiorsen. He would be, she said, the best violinist of the day, if—and she shook her head. Finding that expressive shake unquestioned, the baroness pursued her thoughts:
"Ah, these musicians! He wants saving from himself. If he does not halt soon, he will be lost. Pity! A great talent!"
Gyp looked at her steadily and asked:
"Does he drink, then?"
"Pas mal! But there are things besides drink, ma chere."
Instinct and so much life with Winton made the girl regard it as beneath her to be shocked. She did not seek knowledge of life, but refused to shy away from it or be discomfited; and the baroness, to whom innocence was piquant, went on:
"Des femmes—toujours des femmes! C'est grand dommage. It will spoil his spirit. His sole chance is to find one woman, but I pity her; sapristi, quelle vie pour elle!"
Gyp said calmly:
"Would a man like that ever love?"
The baroness goggled her eyes.
"I have known such a man become a slave. I have known him running after a woman like a lamb while she was deceiving him here and there. On ne peut jamais dire. Ma belle, il y a des choses que vous ne savez pas encore." She took Gyp's hand. "And yet, one thing is certain. With those eyes and those lips and that figure, YOU have a time before you!"
Gyp withdrew her hand, smiled, and shook her head; she did not believe in love.
"Ah, but you will turn some heads! No fear! as you English say. There is fatality in those pretty brown eyes!"
A girl may be pardoned who takes as a compliment the saying that her eyes are fatal. The words warmed Gyp, uncontrollably light-hearted in these days, just as she was warmed when people turned to stare at her. The soft air, the mellowness of this gay place, much music, a sense of being a rara avis among people who, by their heavier type, enhanced her own, had produced in her a kind of intoxication, making her what the baroness called "un peu folle." She was always breaking into laughter, having that precious feeling of twisting the world round her thumb, which does not come too often in the life of one who is sensitive. Everything to her just then was either "funny" or "lovely." And the baroness, conscious of the girl's chic, genuinely attracted by one so pretty, took care that she saw all the people, perhaps more than all, that were desirable.
To women and artists, between whom there is ever a certain kinship, curiosity is a vivid emotion. Besides, the more a man has conquered, the more precious field he is for a woman's conquest. To attract a man who has attracted many, what is it but a proof that one's charm is superior to that of all those others? The words of the baroness deepened in Gyp the impression that Fiorsen was "impossible," but secretly fortified the faint excitement she felt that he should have remembered her out of all that audience. Later on, they bore more fruit than that. But first came that queer incident of the flowers.
Coming in from a ride, a week after she had sat with Winton under the Schiller statue, Gyp found on her dressing-table a bunch of Gloire de Dijon and La France roses. Plunging her nose into them, she thought: "How lovely! Who sent me these?" There was no card. All that the German maid could say was that a boy had brought them from a flower shop "fur Fraulein Vinton"; it was surmised that they came from the baroness. In her bodice at dinner, and to the concert after, Gyp wore one La France and one Gloire de Dijon—a daring mixture of pink and orange against her oyster-coloured frock, which delighted her, who had a passion for experiments in colour. They had bought no programme, all music being the same to Winton, and Gyp not needing any. When she saw Fiorsen come forward, her cheeks began to colour from sheer anticipation.
He played first a minuet by Mozart; then the Cesar Franck sonata; and when he came back to make his bow, he was holding in his hand a Gloire de Dijon and a La France rose. Involuntarily, Gyp raised her hand to her own roses. His eyes met hers; he bowed just a little lower. Then, quite naturally, put the roses to his lips as he was walking off the platform. Gyp dropped her hand, as if it had been stung. Then, with the swift thought: "Oh, that's schoolgirlish!" she contrived a little smile. But her cheeks were flushing. Should she take out those roses and let them fall? Her father might see, might notice Fiorsen's—put two and two together! He would consider she had been insulted. Had she? She could not bring herself to think so. It was too pretty a compliment, as if he wished to tell her that he was playing to her alone. The baroness's words flashed through her mind: "He wants saving from himself. Pity! A great talent!" It WAS a great talent. There must be something worth saving in one who could play like that! They left after his last solo. Gyp put the two roses carefully back among the others.
Three days later, she went to an afternoon "at home" at the Baroness von Maisen's. She saw him at once, over by the piano, with his short, square companion, listening to a voluble lady, and looking very bored and restless. All that overcast afternoon, still and with queer lights in the sky, as if rain were coming, Gyp had been feeling out of mood, a little homesick. Now she felt excited. She saw the short companion detach himself and go up to the baroness; a minute later, he was brought up to her and introduced—Count Rosek. Gyp did not like his face; there were dark rings under the eyes, and he was too perfectly self-possessed, with a kind of cold sweetness; but he was very agreeable and polite, and spoke English well. He was—it seemed—a Pole, who lived in London, and seemed to know all that was to be known about music. Miss Winton—he believed—had heard his friend Fiorsen play; but not in London? No? That was odd; he had been there some months last season. Faintly annoyed at her ignorance, Gyp answered:
"Yes; but I was in the country nearly all last summer."
"He had a great success. I shall take him back; it is best for his future. What do you think of his playing?"
In spite of herself, for she did not like expanding to this sphinxlike little man, Gyp murmured:
"Oh, simply wonderful, of course!"
He nodded, and then rather suddenly said, with a peculiar little smile:
"May I introduce him? Gustav—Miss Winton!"
Gyp turned. There he was, just behind her, bowing; and his eyes had a look of humble adoration which he made no attempt whatever to conceal. Gyp saw another smile slide over the Pole's lips; and she was alone in the bay window with Fiorsen. The moment might well have fluttered a girl's nerves after his recognition of her by the Schiller statue, after that episode of the flowers, and what she had heard of him. But life had not yet touched either her nerves or spirit; she only felt amused and a little excited. Close to, he had not so much that look of an animal behind bars, and he certainly was in his way a dandy, beautifully washed—always an important thing—and having some pleasant essence on his handkerchief or hair, of which Gyp would have disapproved if he had been English. He wore a diamond ring also, which did not somehow seem bad form on that particular little finger. His height, his broad cheek-bones, thick but not long hair, the hungry vitality of his face, figure, movements, annulled those evidences of femininity. He was male enough, rather too male. Speaking with a queer, crisp accent, he said:
"Miss Winton, you are my audience here. I play to you—only to you."
"You laugh at me; but you need not. I play for you because I admire you. I admire you terribly. If I sent you those flowers, it was not to be rude. It was my gratitude for the pleasure of your face." His voice actually trembled. And, looking down, Gyp answered:
"Thank you. It was very kind of you. I want to thank you for your playing. It is beautiful—really beautiful!"
He made her another little bow.
"When I go back to London, will you come and hear me?"
"I should think any one would go to hear you, if they had the chance."
He gave a short laugh.
"Bah! Here, I do it for money; I hate this place. It bores me—bores me! Was that your father sitting with you under the statue?"
Gyp nodded, suddenly grave. She had not forgotten the slighting turn of his head.
He passed his hand over his face, as if to wipe off its expression.
"He is very English. But you—of no country—you belong to all!"
Gyp made him an ironical little bow.
"No; I should not know your country—you are neither of the North nor of the South. You are just Woman, made to be adored. I came here hoping to meet you; I am extremely happy. Miss Winton, I am your very devoted servant."
He was speaking very fast, very low, with an agitated earnestness that surely could not be put on. But suddenly muttering: "These people!" he made her another of his little bows and abruptly slipped away. The baroness was bringing up another man. The chief thought left by that meeting was: "Is that how he begins to everyone?" She could not quite believe it. The stammering earnestness of his voice, those humbly adoring looks! Then she remembered the smile on the lips of the little Pole, and thought: "But he must know I'm not silly enough just to be taken in by vulgar flattery!"
Too sensitive to confide in anyone, she had no chance to ventilate the curious sensations of attraction and repulsion that began fermenting in her, feelings defying analysis, mingling and quarrelling deep down in her heart. It was certainly not love, not even the beginning of that; but it was the kind of dangerous interest children feel in things mysterious, out of reach, yet within reach, if only they dared! And the tug of music was there, and the tug of those words of the baroness about salvation—the thought of achieving the impossible, reserved only for the woman of supreme charm, for the true victress. But all these thoughts and feelings were as yet in embryo. She might never see him again! And she certainly did not know whether she even wanted to.
Gyp was in the habit of walking with Winton to the Kochbrunnen, where, with other patient-folk, he was required to drink slowly for twenty minutes every morning. While he was imbibing she would sit in a remote corner of the garden, and read a novel in the Reclam edition, as a daily German lesson.
She was sitting there, the morning after the "at-home" at the Baroness von Maisen's, reading Turgenev's "Torrents of Spring," when she saw Count Rosek sauntering down the path with a glass of the waters in his hand. Instant memory of the smile with which he had introduced Fiorsen made her take cover beneath her sunshade. She could see his patent-leathered feet, and well-turned, peg-top-trousered legs go by with the gait of a man whose waist is corseted. The certainty that he wore those prerogatives of womanhood increased her dislike. How dare men be so effeminate? Yet someone had told her that he was a good rider, a good fencer, and very strong. She drew a breath of relief when he was past, and, for fear he might turn and come back, closed her little book and slipped away. But her figure and her springing step were more unmistakable than she knew.
Next morning, on the same bench, she was reading breathlessly the scene between Gemma and Sanin at the window, when she heard Fiorsen's voice, behind her, say:
He, too, held a glass of the waters in one hand, and his hat in the other.
"I have just made your father's acquaintance. May I sit down a minute?"
Gyp drew to one side on the bench, and he sat down.
"What are you reading?"
"A story called 'Torrents of Spring.'"
"Ah, the finest ever written! Where are you?"
"Gemma and Sanin in the thunderstorm."
"Wait! You have Madame Polozov to come! What a creation! How old are you, Miss Winton?"
"You would be too young to appreciate that story if you were not YOU. But you know much—by instinct. What is your Christian name—forgive me!"
"Ghita? Not soft enough."
"I am always called Gyp."
"Gyp—ah, Gyp! Yes; Gyp!"
He repeated her name so impersonally that she could not be angry.
"I told your father I have had the pleasure of meeting you. He was very polite."
Gyp said coldly:
"My father is always polite."
"Like the ice in which they put champagne."
Gyp smiled; she could not help it.
And suddenly he said:
"I suppose they have told you that I am a mauvais sujet." Gyp inclined her head. He looked at her steadily, and said: "It is true. But I could be better—much."
She wanted to look at him, but could not. A queer sort of exultation had seized on her. This man had power; yet she had power over him. If she wished she could make him her slave, her dog, chain him to her. She had but to hold out her hand, and he would go on his knees to kiss it. She had but to say, "Come," and he would come from wherever he might be. She had but to say, "Be good," and he would be good. It was her first experience of power; and it was intoxicating. But—but! Gyp could never be self-confident for long; over her most victorious moments brooded the shadow of distrust. As if he read her thought, Fiorsen said:
"Tell me to do something—anything; I will do it, Miss Winton."
"Then—go back to London at once. You are wasting yourself here, you know. You said so!"
He looked at her, bewildered and upset, and muttered:
"You have asked me the one thing I can't do, Miss—Miss Gyp!"
"Please—not that; it's like a servant!"
"I AM your servant!"
"Is that why you won't do what I ask you?"
"You are cruel."
He got up and said, with sudden fierceness:
"I am not going away from you; do not think it." Bending with the utmost swiftness, he took her hand, put his lips to it, and turned on his heel.
Gyp, uneasy and astonished, stared at her hand, still tingling from the pressure of his bristly moustache. Then she laughed again—it was just "foreign" to have your hand kissed—and went back to her book, without taking in the words.
Was ever courtship more strange than that which followed? It is said that the cat fascinates the bird it desires to eat; here the bird fascinated the cat, but the bird too was fascinated. Gyp never lost the sense of having the whip-hand, always felt like one giving alms, or extending favour, yet had a feeling of being unable to get away, which seemed to come from the very strength of the spell she laid on him. The magnetism with which she held him reacted on herself. Thoroughly sceptical at first, she could not remain so. He was too utterly morose and unhappy if she did not smile on him, too alive and excited and grateful if she did. The change in his eyes from their ordinary restless, fierce, and furtive expression to humble adoration or wistful hunger when they looked at her could never have been simulated. And she had no lack of chance to see that metamorphosis. Wherever she went, there he was. If to a concert, he would be a few paces from the door, waiting for her entrance. If to a confectioner's for tea, as likely as not he would come in. Every afternoon he walked where she must pass, riding to the Neroberg.
Except in the gardens of the Kochbrunnen, when he would come up humbly and ask to sit with her five minutes, he never forced his company, or tried in any way to compromise her. Experience, no doubt, served him there; but he must have had an instinct that it was dangerous with one so sensitive. There were other moths, too, round that bright candle, and they served to keep his attentions from being too conspicuous. Did she comprehend what was going on, understand how her defences were being sapped, grasp the danger to retreat that lay in permitting him to hover round her? Not really. It all served to swell the triumphant intoxication of days when she was ever more and more in love with living, more and more conscious that the world appreciated and admired her, that she had power to do what others couldn't.
Was not Fiorsen, with his great talent, and his dubious reputation, proof of that? And he excited her. Whatever else one might be in his moody, vivid company, one would not be dull. One morning, he told her something of his life. His father had been a small Swedish landowner, a very strong man and a very hard drinker; his mother, the daughter of a painter. She had taught him the violin, but died while he was still a boy. When he was seventeen he had quarrelled with his father, and had to play his violin for a living in the streets of Stockholm. A well-known violinist, hearing him one day, took him in hand. Then his father had drunk himself to death, and he had inherited the little estate. He had sold it at once—"for follies," as he put it crudely. "Yes, Miss Winton; I have committed many follies, but they are nothing to those I shall commit the day I do not see you any more!" And, with that disturbing remark, he got up and left her. She had smiled at his words, but within herself she felt excitement, scepticism, compassion, and something she did not understand at all. In those days, she understood herself very little.
But how far did Winton understand, how far see what was going on? He was a stoic; but that did not prevent jealousy from taking alarm, and causing him twinges more acute than those he still felt in his left foot. He was afraid of showing disquiet by any dramatic change, or he would have carried her off a fortnight at least before his cure was over. He knew too well the signs of passion. That long, loping, wolfish fiddling fellow with the broad cheekbones and little side-whiskers (Good God!) and greenish eyes whose looks at Gyp he secretly marked down, roused his complete distrust. Perhaps his inbred English contempt for foreigners and artists kept him from direct action. He COULD not take it quite seriously. Gyp, his fastidious perfect Gyp, succumbing, even a little to a fellow like that! Never! His jealous affection, too, could not admit that she would neglect to consult him in any doubt or difficulty. He forgot the sensitive secrecy of girls, forgot that his love for her had ever shunned words, her love for him never indulged in confidences. Nor did he see more than a little of what there was to see, and that little was doctored by Fiorsen for his eyes, shrewd though they were. Nor was there in all so very much, except one episode the day before they left, and of that he knew nothing.
That last afternoon was very still, a little mournful. It had rained the night before, and the soaked tree-trunks, the soaked fallen leaves gave off a faint liquorice-like perfume. In Gyp there was a feeling, as if her spirit had been suddenly emptied of excitement and delight. Was it the day, or the thought of leaving this place where she had so enjoyed herself? After lunch, when Winton was settling his accounts, she wandered out through the long park stretching up the valley. The sky was brooding-grey, the trees were still and melancholy. It was all a little melancholy, and she went on and on, across the stream, round into a muddy lane that led up through the outskirts of a village, on to the higher ground whence she could return by the main road. Why must things come to an end? For the first time in her life, she thought of Mildenham and hunting without enthusiasm. She would rather stay in London. There she would not be cut off from music, from dancing, from people, and all the exhilaration of being appreciated. On the air came the shrilly, hollow droning of a thresher, and the sound seemed exactly to express her feelings. A pigeon flew over, white against the leaden sky; some birch-trees that had gone golden shivered and let fall a shower of drops. It was lonely here! And, suddenly, two little boys bolted out of the hedge, nearly upsetting her, and scurried down the road. Something had startled them. Gyp, putting up her face to see, felt on it soft pin-points of rain. Her frock would be spoiled, and it was one she was fond of—dove-coloured, velvety, not meant for weather. She turned for refuge to the birch-trees. It would be over directly, perhaps. Muffled in distance, the whining drone of that thresher still came travelling, deepening her discomfort. Then in the hedge, whence the boys had bolted down, a man reared himself above the lane, and came striding along toward her. He jumped down the bank, among the birch-trees. And she saw it was Fiorsen—panting, dishevelled, pale with heat. He must have followed her, and climbed straight up the hillside from the path she had come along in the bottom, before crossing the stream. His artistic dandyism had been harshly treated by that scramble. She might have laughed; but, instead, she felt excited, a little scared by the look on his hot, pale face. He said, breathlessly:
"I have caught you. So you are going to-morrow, and never told me! You thought you would slip away—not a word for me! Are you always so cruel? Well, I will not spare you, either!"
Crouching suddenly, he took hold of her broad ribbon sash, and buried his face in it. Gyp stood trembling—the action had not stirred her sense of the ridiculous. He circled her knees with his arms.
"Oh, Gyp, I love you—I love you—don't send me away—let me be with you! I am your dog—your slave. Oh, Gyp, I love you!"
His voice moved and terrified her. Men had said "I love you" several times during those last two years, but never with that lost-soul ring of passion, never with that look in the eyes at once fiercely hungry and so supplicating, never with that restless, eager, timid touch of hands. She could only murmur:
"Please get up!"
But he went on:
"Love me a little, only a little—love me! Oh, Gyp!"
The thought flashed through Gyp: 'To how many has he knelt, I wonder?' His face had a kind of beauty in its abandonment—the beauty that comes from yearning—and she lost her frightened feeling. He went on, with his stammering murmur: "I am a prodigal, I know; but if you love me, I will no longer be. I will do great things for you. Oh, Gyp, if you will some day marry me! Not now. When I have proved. Oh, Gyp, you are so sweet—so wonderful!"
His arms crept up till he had buried his face against her waist. Without quite knowing what she did, Gyp touched his hair, and said again:
"No; please get up."
He got up then, and standing near, with his hands hard clenched at his sides, whispered:
"Have mercy! Speak to me!"
She could not. All was strange and mazed and quivering in her, her spirit straining away, drawn to him, fantastically confused. She could only look into his face with her troubled, dark eyes. And suddenly she was seized and crushed to him. She shrank away, pushing him back with all her strength. He hung his head, abashed, suffering, with eyes shut, lips trembling; and her heart felt again that quiver of compassion. She murmured:
"I don't know. I will tell you later—later—in England."
He bowed, folding his arms, as if to make her feel safe from him. And when, regardless of the rain, she began to move on, he walked beside her, a yard or so away, humbly, as though he had never poured out those words or hurt her lips with the violence of his kiss.
Back in her room, taking off her wet dress, Gyp tried to remember what he had said and what she had answered. She had not promised anything. But she had given him her address, both in London and the country. Unless she resolutely thought of other things, she still felt the restless touch of his hands, the grip of his arms, and saw his eyes as they were when he was kissing her; and once more she felt frightened and excited.
He was playing at the concert that evening—her last concert. And surely he had never played like that—with a despairing beauty, a sort of frenzied rapture. Listening, there came to her a feeling—a feeling of fatality—that, whether she would or no, she could not free herself from him.
Once back in England, Gyp lost that feeling, or very nearly. Her scepticism told her that Fiorsen would soon see someone else who seemed all he had said she was! How ridiculous to suppose that he would stop his follies for her, that she had any real power over him! But, deep down, she did not quite believe this. It would have wounded her belief in herself too much—a belief so subtle and intimate that she was not conscious of it; belief in that something about her which had inspired the baroness to use the word "fatality."
Winton, who breathed again, hurried her off to Mildenham. He had bought her a new horse. They were in time for the last of the cubbing. And, for a week at least, the passion for riding and the sight of hounds carried all before it. Then, just as the real business of the season was beginning, she began to feel dull and restless. Mildenham was dark; the autumn winds made dreary noises. Her little brown spaniel, very old, who seemed only to have held on to life just for her return, died. She accused herself terribly for having left it so long when it was failing. Thinking of all the days Lass had been watching for her to come home—as Betty, with that love of woeful recital so dear to simple hearts, took good care to make plain—she felt as if she had been cruel. For events such as these, Gyp was both too tender-hearted and too hard on herself. She was quite ill for several days. The moment she was better, Winton, in dismay, whisked her back to Aunt Rosamund, in town. He would lose her company, but if it did her good, took her out of herself, he would be content. Running up for the week-end, three days later, he was relieved to find her decidedly perked-up, and left her again with the easier heart.
It was on the day after he went back to Mildenham that she received a letter from Fiorsen, forwarded from Bury Street. He was—it said—just returning to London; he had not forgotten any look she had ever given him, or any word she had spoken. He should not rest till he could see her again. "For a long time," the letter ended, "before I first saw you, I was like the dead—lost. All was bitter apples to me. Now I am a ship that comes from the whirlpools to a warm blue sea; now I see again the evening star. I kiss your hands, and am your faithful slave—Gustav Fiorsen." These words, which from any other man would have excited her derision, renewed in Gyp that fluttered feeling, the pleasurable, frightened sense that she could not get away from his pursuit.
She wrote in answer to the address he gave her in London, to say that she was staying for a few days in Curzon Street with her aunt, who would be glad to see him if he cared to come in any afternoon between five and six, and signed herself "Ghita Winton." She was long over that little note. Its curt formality gave her satisfaction. Was she really mistress of herself—and him; able to dispose as she wished? Yes; and surely the note showed it.
It was never easy to tell Gyp's feelings from her face; even Winton was often baffled. Her preparation of Aunt Rosamund for the reception of Fiorsen was a masterpiece of casualness. When he duly came, he, too, seemed doubly alive to the need for caution, only gazing at Gyp when he could not be seen doing so. But, going out, he whispered: "Not like this—not like this; I must see you alone—I must!" She smiled and shook her head. But bubbles had come back to the wine in her cup.
That evening she said quietly to Aunt Rosamund:
"Dad doesn't like Mr. Fiorsen—can't appreciate his playing, of course."
And this most discreet remark caused Aunt Rosamund, avid—in a well-bred way—of music, to omit mention of the intruder when writing to her brother. The next two weeks he came almost every day, always bringing his violin, Gyp playing his accompaniments, and though his hungry stare sometimes made her feel hot, she would have missed it.
But when Winton next came up to Bury Street, she was in a quandary. To confess that Fiorsen was here, having omitted to speak of him in her letters? Not to confess, and leave him to find it out from Aunt Rosamund? Which was worse? Seized with panic, she did neither, but told her father she was dying for a gallop. Hailing that as the best of signs, he took her forthwith back to Mildenham. And curious were her feelings—light-hearted, compunctious, as of one who escapes yet knows she will soon be seeking to return. The meet was rather far next day, but she insisted on riding to it, since old Pettance, the superannuated jockey, charitably employed as extra stable help at Mildenham, was to bring on her second horse. There was a good scenting-wind, with rain in the offing, and outside the covert they had a corner to themselves—Winton knowing a trick worth two of the field's at-large. They had slipped there, luckily unseen, for the knowing were given to following the one-handed horseman in faded pink, who, on his bang-tailed black mare, had a knack of getting so well away. One of the whips, a little dark fellow with smouldery eyes and sucked-in weathered cheeks, dashed out of covert, rode past, saluting, and dashed in again. A jay came out with a screech, dived, and doubled back; a hare made off across the fallow—the light-brown lopping creature was barely visible against the brownish soil. Pigeons, very high up, flew over and away to the next wood. The shrilling voices of the whips rose from the covert-depths, and just a whimper now and then from the hounds, swiftly wheeling their noses among the fern and briers.
Gyp, crisping her fingers on the reins, drew-in deep breaths. It smelled so sweet and soft and fresh under that sky, pied of blue, and of white and light-grey swift-moving clouds—not half the wind down here that there was up there, just enough to be carrying off the beech and oak leaves, loosened by frost two days before. If only a fox would break this side, and they could have the first fields to themselves! It was so lovely to be alone with hounds! One of these came trotting out, a pretty young creature, busy and unconcerned, raising its tan-and-white head, its mild reproachful deep-brown eyes, at Winton's, "Loo-in Trix!" What a darling! A burst of music from the covert, and the darling vanished among the briers.
Gyp's new brown horse pricked its ears. A young man in a grey cutaway, buff cords, and jack-boots, on a low chestnut mare, came slipping round the covert. Oh—did that mean they were all coming? Impatiently she glanced at this intruder, who raised his hat a little and smiled. That smile, faintly impudent, was so infectious, that Gyp was melted to a slight response. Then she frowned. He had spoiled their lovely loneliness. Who was he? He looked unpardonably serene and happy sitting there. She did not remember his face at all, yet there was something familiar about it. He had taken his hat off—a broad face, very well cut, and clean-shaved, with dark curly hair, extraordinary clear eyes, a bold, cool, merry look. Where had she seen somebody like him?
A tiny sound from Winton made her turn her head. The fox—stealing out beyond those further bushes! Breathless, she fixed her eyes on her father's face. It was hard as steel, watching. Not a sound, not a quiver, as if horse and man had turned to metal. Was he never going to give the view-halloo? Then his lips writhed, and out it came. Gyp cast a swift smile of gratitude at the young man for having had taste and sense to leave that to her father, and again he smiled at her. There were the first hounds streaming out—one on the other—music and feather! Why didn't Dad go? They would all be round this way in a minute!
Then the black mare slid past her, and, with a bound, her horse followed. The young man on the chestnut was away on the left. Only the hunts-man and one whip—beside their three selves! Glorious! The brown horse went too fast at that first fence and Winton called back: "Steady, Gyp! Steady him!" But she couldn't; and it didn't matter. Grass, three fields of grass! Oh, what a lovely fox—going so straight! And each time the brown horse rose, she thought: "Perfect! I CAN ride! Oh, I am happy!" And she hoped her father and the young man were looking. There was no feeling in the world like this, with a leader like Dad, hounds moving free, good going, and the field distanced. Better than dancing; better—yes, better than listening to music. If one could spend one's life galloping, sailing over fences; if it would never stop! The new horse was a darling, though he DID pull.
She crossed the next fence level with the young man, whose low chestnut mare moved with a stealthy action. His hat was crammed down now, and his face very determined, but his lips still had something of that smile. Gyp thought: "He's got a good seat—very strong, only he looks like 'thrusting.' Nobody rides like Dad—so beautifully quiet!" Indeed, Winton's seat on a horse was perfection, all done with such a minimum expenditure. The hounds swung round in a curve. Now she was with them, really with them! What a pace—cracking! No fox could stand this long!
And suddenly she caught sight of him, barely a field ahead, scurrying desperately, brush down; and the thought flashed through her: 'Oh! don't let's catch you. Go on, fox; go on! Get away!' Were they really all after that little hunted red thing—a hundred great creatures, horses and men and women and dogs, and only that one little fox! But then came another fence, and quickly another, and she lost feelings of shame and pity in the exultation of flying over them. A minute later the fox went to earth within a few hundred yards of the leading hound, and she was glad. She had been in at deaths before—horrid! But it had been a lovely gallop. And, breathless, smiling rapturously, she wondered whether she could mop her face before the field came up, without that young man noticing.
She could see him talking to her father, and taking out a wisp of a handkerchief that smelled of cyclamen, she had a good scrub round. When she rode up, the young man raised his hat, and looking full at her said: "You did go!" His voice, rather high-pitched, had in it a spice of pleasant laziness. Gyp made him an ironical little bow, and murmured: "My new horse, you mean." He broke again into that irrepressible smile, but, all the same, she knew that he admired her. And she kept thinking: 'Where HAVE I seen someone like him?'
They had two more runs, but nothing like that first gallop. Nor did she again see the young man, whose name—it seemed—was Summerhay, son of a certain Lady Summerhay at Widrington, ten miles from Mildenham.
All that long, silent jog home with Winton in fading daylight, she felt very happy—saturated with air and elation. The trees and fields, the hay-stacks, gates, and ponds beside the lanes grew dim; lights came up in the cottage windows; the air smelled sweet of wood smoke. And, for the first time all day, she thought of Fiorsen, thought of him almost longingly. If he could be there in the cosy old drawing-room, to play to her while she lay back—drowsing, dreaming by the fire in the scent of burning cedar logs—the Mozart minuet, or that little heart-catching tune of Poise, played the first time she heard him, or a dozen other of the things he played unaccompanied! That would be the most lovely ending to this lovely day. Just the glow and warmth wanting, to make all perfect—the glow and warmth of music and adoration!
And touching the mare with her heel, she sighed. To indulge fancies about music and Fiorsen was safe here, far away from him; she even thought she would not mind if he were to behave again as he had under the birch-trees in the rain at Wiesbaden. It was so good to be adored. Her old mare, ridden now six years, began the series of contented snuffles that signified she smelt home. Here was the last turn, and the loom of the short beech-tree avenue to the house—the old manor-house, comfortable, roomy, rather dark, with wide shallow stairs. Ah, she was tired; and it was drizzling now. She would be nicely stiff to-morrow. In the light coming from the open door she saw Markey standing; and while fishing from her pocket the usual lumps of sugar, heard him say: "Mr. Fiorsen, sir—gentleman from Wiesbaden—to see you."
Her heart thumped. What did this mean? Why had he come? How had he dared? How could he have been so treacherous to her? Ah, but he was ignorant, of course, that she had not told her father. A veritable judgment on her! She ran straight in and up the stairs. The voice of Betty, "Your bath's ready, Miss Gyp," roused her. And crying, "Oh, Betty darling, bring me up my tea!" she ran into the bathroom. She was safe there; and in the delicious heat of the bath faced the situation better.