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
"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