“I’m Gyp Labelle.”
She waltzed and somersaulted round the stage, and as the curtain fell she stood before the footlights, panting, her thin arms raised triumphantly. He could see the tortured pulse leaping in her throat. He thought he read her lips as they moved in a voiceless exclamation:
“Quand meme—quand meme.”
The audience melted away indifferently. They, at any rate, did not know what they had seen.
And the next day he had another little note from her, written in a great sprawling hand. She had made all her arrangements, and she thought she had better reserve rooms in his hospital in about six weeks’ time for about a month. After that, no doubt, she would require less accommodation.
A silly, fatuous effort, in execrable taste.
Robert Stonehouse took a second leave that he could not afford and went back to the grey cottage on the moors, and tramped the hills in haunted solitude. The spring ran beside him, a crude, bitter, young spring, gazing into the future with an earnest, passionate face, full of arrogance and hope, and self-distrust. His own frustrated youth rose in him like a painful sap. He was much younger than the Robert Stonehouse who, proud in his mature strength, had dragged an exhausted, secretively smiling Cosgrave on his relentless pursuit—young and insecure, with odd nameless rushes of emotion and desire and grief that had had no part in his ordered life.
The hills had changed too. They had been the background to his exploits. They had become brooding, mysterious partners whose purpose with him he had not fathomed. The things that ran across his path, the quaint furry hares and scurrying pheasants had ceased to be objects on which he could vent his strength and cunning. They were live things, deeply, secretly related to him and to a dying, very infamous woman, and his levelled gun sank time after time under the pressure of an inexplicable pity. He had stood resolutely aloof from life, and now it was dragging him down into its warmth with invisible, resistless hands. Its values, which he had learnt to judge coldly and dispassionately, weighing one against another, were shifting like sand. He seemed to stand, naked and alone, in a changing, terrifying world.
In those days the papers in their frivolous columns, were full of Gyp Labelle. Her press-agent was working frenziedly. It seemed that she had quarrelled with her manager, torn her contract into shreds, and slapped his face. There were gay doings nightly at the Kensington house—orgies. One paper hinted at a certain South African millionaire.
A last fling—the reckless gesture of a worthless panic-stricken soul, without dignity.
Or perhaps she had found that his diagnosis had been a mistake. Or she would not believe the truth. Or she was drugging herself into forgetfulness. Perhaps she might even have the courage to make an end before the time came when forgetfulness would be impossible.