Volume III
Chapter XV. Wherein is Seen the Old Adam and the Garden
 

At Ridley Court and Peppingham all was serene to the eye. Letters had come to the Court at least once every two weeks from Gaston, and the minds of the Baronet and his wife were at ease. They even went so far as to hope that he would influence his uncle; for it was clear to them both that whatever Gaston's faults were, they were agreeably different from Ian's. His fame and promise were sweet to their nostrils. Indeed, the young man had brought the wife and husband nearer than they had been since Robert vanished over-sea. Each had blamed the other in an indefinite, secret way; but here was Robert's son, on whom they could lavish--as they did--their affection, long since forfeited by Ian. Finally, one day, after a little burst of thanksgiving, on getting an excellent letter from Gaston, telling of his simple, amusing life in Paris, Sir William sent him one thousand pounds, begging him to buy a small yacht, or to do what he pleased with it.

"A very remarkable man, my dear," Sir William said, as he enclosed the cheque. "Excellent wisdom--excellent!"

"Who could have guessed that he knew so much about the poor and the East End, and all those social facts and figures?!" Lady Belward answered complacently.

"An unusual mind, with a singular taste for history, and yet a deep observation of the present. I don't know when and how he does it. I really do not know."

"It is nice to think that Lord Faramond approves of him."

"Most noticeable. And we have not been a Parliamentary family since the first Charles's time. And then it was a Gaston. Singular--quite singular! Coincidences of looks and character. Nature plays strange games. Reproduction--reproduction!"

"The Pall Mall Gazette says that he may soon reach the Treasury Bench."

Sir William was abstracted. He was thinking of that afternoon in Gaston's bedroom, when his grandson had acted, before Lady Dargan and Cluny Vosse, Sir Gaston's scene with Buckingham.

"Really, most mysterious, most unaccountable. But it's one of the virtues of having a descent. When it is most needed, it counts, it counts."

"Against the half-breed mother!" Lady Belward added.

"Quite so, against the--was it Cree or Blackfoot? I've heard him speak of both, but which is in him I do not remember."

"It is very painful; but, poor fellow, it is not his fault, and we ought to be content."

"Indeed, it gives him great originality. Our old families need refreshing now and then."

"Ah, yes, I said so to Mrs. Gasgoyne the other day, and she replied that the refreshment might prove intoxicating. Reine was always rude."

Truth is, Mrs. Gasgoyne was not quite satisfied. That very day she said to her husband:

"You men always stand by each other; but I know you, and you know that I know."

"'Thou knowest the secrets of our hearts'; well, then, you know how we love you. So, be merciful."

"Nonsense, Warren! I tell you he oughtn't to have gone when he did. He has the wild man in him, and I am not satisfied."

"What do you want--me to play the spy?"

"Warren, you're a fool! What do I want? I want the first of September to come quickly, that we may have him with us. With Delia he must go straight. She influences him, he admires her--which is better than mere love. Away from her just now, who can tell what mad adventure--! You see, he has had the curb so long!"

But in a day or two there came a letter-unusually long for Gaston-- to Mrs. Gasgoyne herself. It was simple, descriptive, with a dash of epigram. It acknowledged that he had felt the curb, and wanted a touch of the unconventional. It spoke of Ian Belward in a dry phrase, and it asked for the date of the yacht's arrival at Gibraltar.

"Warren, the man is still sensible," she said. "This letter is honest. He is much a heathen at heart, but I believe he hasn't given Delia cause to blush--and that's a good deal! Dear me, I am fond of the fellow-- he is so clever. But clever men are trying."

As for Delia, like every sensible English girl, she enjoyed herself in the time of youth, drinking in delightedly the interest attaching to Gaston's betrothed. His letters had been regular, kind yet not emotionally affectionate, interesting, uncommon. He had a knack of saying as much in one page as most people did in five. Her imagination was not great, but he stimulated it. If he wrote a pungent line on Daudet or Whistler, on Montaigne or Fielding, she was stimulated to know them. One day he sent her Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which he had picked up in New York on his way to England. This startled her. She had never heard of Whitman. To her he seemed coarse, incomprehensible, ungentlemanly. She could not understand how Gaston could say beautiful things about Montaigne and about Whitman too. She had no conception how he had in him the strain of that first Sir Gaston Belward, and was also the son of a half-heathen.

He interested her all the more. Her letters were hardly so fascinating to him. She was beautifully correct, but she could not make a sentence breathe. He was grateful, but nothing stirred in him. He could live without her--that he knew regretfully. But he did his part with sincere intention.

That was up to the day when he saw Andree as Mademoiselle Victorine. Then came a swift change. Day after day he visited her, always in the presence of Annette. Soon they dined often together, still in Annette's presence, and the severity of that rule was never relaxed.

Count Ploare came no more; he had received his dismissal. Occasionally Gaston visited the menagerie, but generally after the performance, when Victorine had a half-hour's or an hour's romp with her animals. This was a pleasant time to Gaston. The wild life in him responded.

These were hours when the girl was quite naive and natural, when she spent herself in ripe enjoyment--almost child-like, healthy. At other times there was an indefinable something which Gaston had not noticed in England. But then he had only seen her once. She, too, saw something in him unnoticed before. It was on his tongue a hundred times to tell her that that something was Delia Gasgoyne. He did not. Perhaps because it seemed so grotesque, perhaps because it was easier to drift. Besides, as he said to himself, he would soon go to join the yacht at Gibraltar, and all this would be over-over. All this? All what? A gipsy, a dompteuse --what was she to him? She interested him, he liked her, and she liked him, but there had been nothing more between them. Near as he was to her now, he very often saw her in his mind's eye as she passed over Ridley Common, looking towards him, her eyes shaded by her hand.

She, too, had continually said to herself that this man could be nothing to her--nothing, never! Yet, why not? Count Ploare had offered her his hand. But she knew what had been in Count Ploare's mind. Gaston Belward was different--he had befriended her father. She had not singular scruples regarding men, for she despised most of them. She was not a Mademoiselle Cerise, nor a Madame Juliette, though they were higher on the plane of art than she; or so the world put it. She had not known a man who had not, one time or another, shown himself common or insulting. But since the first moment she had seen Gaston, he had treated her as a lady.

A lady? She had seen enough to smile at that. She knew that she hadn't it in her veins, that she was very much an actress, except in this man's company, when she was mostly natural--as natural as one can be who has a painful secret. They had talked together--for how many hours? She knew exactly. And he had never descended to that which--she felt instinctively--he would not have shown to the ladies of his English world. She knew what ladies were. In her first few weeks in Paris, her fame mounting, she had lunched with some distinguished people, who entertained her as they would have done one of her lions, if that were possible. She understood. She had a proud, passionate nature; she rebelled at this. Invitations were declined at first on pink note-paper with gaudy flowers in a corner, afterwards on cream-laid vellum, when she saw what the great folk did.

And so the days went on, he telling her of his life from his boyhood up --all but the one thing! But that one thing she came to know, partly by instinct, partly by something he accidentally dropped, partly from something Jacques once said to him. Well, what did it matter to her? He would go back; she would remain. It didn't matter.--Yet, why should she lie to herself? It did matter. And why should she care about that girl in England? She was not supposed to know. The other had everything in her favour; what had Andree the gipsy girl, or Mademoiselle Victorine, the dompteuse?

One Sunday evening, after dining together, she asked him to take her to see Saracen. It was a long-standing promise. She had never seen him riding; for their hours did not coincide until the late afternoon or evening. Taking Annette, they went to his new apartments. He had furnished a large studio as a sitting-room, not luxuriantly but pleasantly. It opened into a pretty little garden, with a few plants and trees. They sat there while Jacques went for the horse. Next door a number of students were singing a song of the boulevards. It was followed by one in a woman's voice, sweet and clear and passionate, pitifully reckless. It was, as if in pure contradiction, the opposite of the other--simple, pathetic. At first there were laughing interruptions from the students; but the girl kept on, and soon silence prevailed, save for the voice:

              "And when the wine is dry upon the lip,
               And when the flower is broken by the hand,
               And when I see the white sails of thy ship
               Fly on, and leave me there upon the sand:
               Think you that I shall weep?  Nay, I shall smile:
               The wine is drunk, the flower it is gone,
               One weeps not when the days no more beguile,
               How shall the tear-drops gather in a stone?"

When it was ended, Andree, who had listened intently, drew herself up with a little shudder. She sat long, looking into the garden, the cub playing at her feet. Gaston did not disturb her. He got refreshments and put them on the table, rolled a cigarette, and regarded the scene. Her knee was drawn up slightly in her hands, her hat was off, her rich brown hair fell loosely about her head, framing it, her dark eyes glowed under her bent brows. The lion's cub crawled up on the divan, and thrust its nose under an arm. Its head clung to her waist. Who was she? thought Gaston. Delilah, Cleopatra--who? She was lost in thought. She remained so until the garden door opened, and Jacques entered with Saracen.

She looked. Suddenly she came to her feet with a cry of delight, and ran out towards the horse. There was something essentially child-like in her, something also painfully wild-an animal, and a philosopher, and twenty-three.

Jacques put out his hand as he had done with Mademoiselle Cerise.

"No, no; he is savage."

"Nonsense!" she rejoined, and came closer.

Gaston watched, interested. He guessed what she would do.

"A horse!" she added. "Why, you have seen my lions! Leave him free: stand away from him."

Her words were peremptory, and Jacques obeyed. The horse stood alone, a hoof pawing the ground. Presently it sprang away, then half-turned towards the girl, and stood still. She kept talking to him and calling softly, making a coaxing, animal-like sound, as she always did with her lions.

She stepped forward a little and paused. The horse suddenly turned straight towards her, came over slowly, and, with arched neck, dropped his head on her shoulder. She felt the folds of his neck and kissed him. He followed her about the garden like a dog. She brought him to Gaston, locked up, and said with a teasing look, "I have conquered him: he is mine!"

Gaston looked her in her eyes. "He is yours."

"And you?"

"He is mine." His look burned into her soul-how deep, how joyful!

She turned away, her face going suddenly pale. She kept the horse for some time, but at last gave him up again to Jacques. Gaston stepped from the doorway into the garden and met her. It was now dusk. Annette was inside. They walked together in silence for a time. Presently she drew close to him. He felt his veins bounding. Her hand slid into his arm, and, dark as it was, he could see her eyes lifting to his, shining, profound. They had reached the end of the garden, and now turned to come back again.

Suddenly he said, his eyes holding hers: "The horse is yours--and mine."

She stood still; but he could see her bosom heaving hard. She threw up her head with a sound half sob, half laugh. . . .

"You are mad!" she said a moment afterwards, as she lifted her head from his breast.

He laughed softly, catching her cheek to his. "Why be sane? It was to be."

"The gipsy and the gentleman?"

"Gipsies all!"

"And the end of it?"

"Do you not love me, Andree?" She caught her hands over her eyes.

"I do not know what it is--only that it is madness! I see, oh, I see a hundred things."

Her hot eyes were on space. "What do you see?!" he urged. She gave a sudden cry:

"I see you at my feet--dead."

"Better than you at mine, Andree."

"Let us go," she said hurriedly.

"Wait," he whispered.

They talked for a little time. Then they entered the studio. Annette was asleep in her chair. Andree waked her, and they bade Gaston good- night.