“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.