S’amor non e che dunque e quel ch’io sento? Ma s’egli e amor, per Dio, che cosa e quale? Petrarch
One noon in 189-, a young man stood in front of the new Gewandhaus in Leipzig, and watched the neat, grass-laid square, until then white and silent in the sunshine, grow dark with many figures.
The public rehearsal of the weekly concert was just over, and, from the half light of the warm-coloured hall, which for more than two hours had held them secluded, some hundreds of people hastened, with renewed anticipation, towards sunlight and street sounds. There was a medley of tongues, for many nationalities were represented in the crowd that surged through the ground-floor and out of the glass doors, and much noisy ado, for the majority was made up of young people, at an age that enjoys the sound of its own voice. In black, diverging lines they poured through the heavy swinging doors, which flapped ceaselessly to and fro, never quite closing, always opening afresh, and on descending the shallow steps, they told off into groups, where all talked at once, with lively gesticulation. A few faces had the strained look that indicates the conscientious listener; but most of these young musicians were under the influence of a stimulant more potent than wine, which manifested itself in a nervous garrulity and a nervous mirth.
They hummed like bees before a hive. Maurice Guest, who had come out among the first, lingered to watch a scene that was new to him, of which he was as yet an onlooker only. Here and there came a member of the orchestra; with violin-case or black-swathed wind-instrument in hand, he deftly threaded his way through the throng, bestowing, as he went, a hasty nod of greeting upon a colleague, a sweep of the hat on an obsequious pupil. The crowd began to disperse and to overflow in the surrounding streets. Some of the stragglers loitered to swell the group that was forming round the back entrance to the building; here the lank-haired Belgian violinist would appear, the wonders of whose technique had sent thrills of enthusiasm through his hearers, and whose close proximity would presently affect them in precisely the same way. Others again made off, not for the town, with its prosaic suggestion of work and confinement, but for the freedom of the woods that lay beyond.
Maurice Guest followed them.
It was a blowy day in early spring. Round white masses of cloud moved lightly across a deep blue sky, and the trees, still thin and naked, bent their heads and shook their branches, as if to elude the gambols of a boisterous playfellow. The sun shone vividly, with restored power, and though the clouds sometimes passed over his very face, the shadows only lasted for a moment, and each returning radiance seemed brighter than the one before. In the pure breath of the wind, as it gustily swept the earth, was a promise of things vernal, of the tender beauties of a coming spring; but there was still a keen, delightful freshness in the air, a vague reminder of frosty starlights and serene white snow—the untrodden snow of deserted, moon-lit streets—that quickened the blood, and sent a craving for movement through the veins. The people who trod the broad, clean roads and the paths of the wood walked with a spring in their steps; voices were light and high, and each breath that was drawn increased the sense of buoyancy, of undiluted satisfaction. With these bursts of golden sunshine, so other than the pallid gleamings of the winter, came a fresh impulse to life; and the most insensible was dimly conscious how much had to be made up for, how much lived into such a day.
Maurice Guest walked among the mossgreen tree-trunks, each of which vied with the other in the brilliancy of its coating. He was under the sway of a twofold intoxication: great music and a day rich in promise. From the flood of melody that had broken over him, the frenzied storms of applause, he had come out, not into a lamplit darkness that would have crushed his elation back upon him and hemmed it in, but into the spacious lightness of a fair blue day, where all that he felt could expand, as a flower does in the sun.
His walk brought him to a broad stream, which flashed through the wood like a line of light. He paused on a suspension bridge, and leaning over the railing, gazed up the river into the distance, at the horizon and its trees, delicate and feathery in their nakedness against the sky. Swollen with recent rains and snows, the water came hurrying towards him—the storm-bed of the little river, which, meandering in from the country, through pleasant woods, in ever narrowing curves, ran through the town as a small stream, to be swelled again on the outskirts by the waters of two other rivers, which joined it at right angles. The bridge trembled at first, when other people crossed it, on their way to the woods that lay on the further side, but soon the last stragglers vanished, and he was alone.
As he looked about, eager to discover beauty in the strip of landscape that stretched before him—the line of water, its banks of leafless trees—he was instinctively filled with a desire for something grander, for a feature in the scene that would answer to his mood. There, where the water appeared to end in a clump of trees, there, should be mountains, a gently undulating line, blue with the unapproachable blue of distance, and high enough to form a background to the view; in sumer, heavy with haze, melting into the sky; in winter, lined and edged with snow. From this, his thoughts sprang back to the music he had heard that morning. All the vague yet eager hopes that had run riot in his brain, for months past, seemed to have been summed up and made clear to him, in one supreme phrase of it, a great phrase in C major, in the concluding movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. First sounded by the shrill sweet winds, it had suddenly been given out by the strings, in magnificient unison, and had mounted up and on, to the jubilant trilling of the little flutes. There was such a courageous sincerity in this theme, such undauntable resolve; it expressed more plainly than words what he intended his life of the next few years to be; for he was full to the brim of ambitious intentions, which he had never yet had a chance of putting into practice. He felt so ready for work, so fresh and unworn; the fervour of a deep enthusiasm was rampant in him. What a single-minded devotion to art, he promised himself his should be! No other fancy or interest should share his heart with it, he vowed that to himself this day, when he stood for the first time on historic ground, where the famous musicians of the past had found inspiration for their immortal works. And his thoughts spread their wings and circled above his head; he saw himself already of these masters’ craft, their art his, he wrenching ever new secrets from them, penetrating the recesses of their genius, becoming one of themselves. In a vision as vivid as those that cross the brain in a sleepless night, he saw a dark, compact multitude wait, with breath suspended, to catch the notes that fell like raindrops from his fingers; saw himself the all-conspicuous figure, as, with masterful gestures, he compelled the soul that lay dormant in brass and strings, to give voice to, to interpret to the many, his subtlest emotions. And he was overcome by a tremulous compassion with himself at the idea of wielding such power over an unknown multitude, at the latent nobility of mind and aim this power implied.
Even when swinging back to the town, he had not shaken himself free of dreams. The quiet of a foreign midday lay upon the streets, and there were few discordant sounds, few passers-by, to break the chain of his thought. He had movememt, silence, space. And as is usual with active-brained dreamers, he had little or no eye for the real life about him; he was not struck by the air of comfortable prosperity, of thriving content, which marked the great commercial centre, and he let pass, unnoticed, the unfamiliar details of a foreign street, the trifling yet significant incidents of foreign life. Such impressions as he received, bore the stamp of his own mood. He was sensible, for instance, in face of the picturesque houses that clustered together in the centre of the town, of the spiritual GEMUTLICHKEIT, the absence of any pomp or pride in their romantic past, which characterises the old buildings of a German town. These quaint and stately houses, wedged one into the other, with their many storeys, their steeply sloping roofs and eye-like roof-windows, were still in sympathetic touch with the trivial life of the day which swarmed in and about them. He wandered leisurely along the narrow streets that ran at all angles off the Market Place, one side of which was formed by the gabled RATHAUS, with its ground-floor row of busy little shops; and, in fancy, he peopled these streets with the renowned figures that had once walked them. He looked up at the dark old houses in which great musicians had lived, died and been born, and he saw faces that he recognised lean out of the projecting windows, to watch the life and bustle below, to catch the last sunbeam that filtered in; he saw them take their daily walk along these very streets, in the antiquated garments of their time. They passed him by, shadelike and misanthropic, and seemed to steal down the opposite side, to avoid his too pertinent gaze. Bluff, preoccupied, his keen eyes lowered, the burly Cantor passed, as he had once done day after day, with the disciplined regularity of high genius, of the honest citizen, to his appointed work in the shadows of the organ-loft; behind him, one who had pointed to the giant with a new burst of ardour, the genial little improviser, whose triumphs had been those of this town, whose fascinating gifts and still more fascinating personality, had made him the lion of his age. And it was only another step in this train of half-conscious thought, that, before a large lettered poster, which stood out black and white against the reds and yellows of the circular advertisement-column, and bore the word “Siegfried,” Maurice Guest should not merely be filled with the anticipation of a world of beauty still unexplored, but that the world should stand to him for a symbol, as it were, of the easeful and luxurious side of a life dedicated to art—of a world-wide fame; the society of princes, kings; the gloss of velvet; the dull glow of gold.—And again, tapering vistas opened up, through which he could peer into the future, happy in the knowledge, that he stood firm in a present which made all things possible to a holy zeal, to an unhesitating grasp.
But it was growing late, and he slowly retraced his steps. In the restaurant into which he turned for dinner, he was the only customer. The principal business of the day was at an end; two waiters sat dozing in corners, and a man behind the counter, who was washing metal-topped beer-glasses, had almost the whole pile polished bright before him. Maurice Guest sat down at a table by the window; and, when he had finished his dinner and lighted a cigarette, he watched the passers-by, who crossed the pane of glass like the figures in a moving photograph.
Suddenly the door opened with an energetic click, and a lady came in, enveloped in an old-fashioned, circular cloak, and carrying on one arm a pile of paper-covered music. This, she laid on the table next that at which the young man was sitting, then took off her hat. When she had also hung up the unbecoming cloak, he saw that she was young and slight. For the rest, she seemed to bring with her, into the warm, tranquil atmosphere of the place, heavy with midday musings, a breath of wind and outdoor freshness—a suggestion that was heightened by the quick decisiveness of her movements: the briskness with which she divested herself of her wrappings, the quick smooth of the hair on either side, the business-like way in which she drew up her chair to the table and unfolded her napkin.
She seemed to be no stranger there, for, on her entrance, the younger and more active waiter had at once sprung up with officious haste, and almost before she was ready, the little table was newly spread and set, and the dinner of the day before her. She spoke to the man in a friendly way as she took her seat, and he replied with a pleased and smiling respect.
Then she began to eat, deliberately, and with an overemphasised nicety. As she carried her soup-spoon to her lips, Maurice Guest felt that she was observing him; and throughout the meal, of which she ate but little, he was aware of a peculiarly straight and penetrating gaze. It ended by disconcerting him. Beckoning the waiter, he went through the business of paying his bill, and this done, was about to push back his chair and rise to his feet, when the man, in gathering up the money, addressed what seemed to be a question to him. Fearful lest he had made a mistake in the strange coinage, Maurice looked up apprehensively. The waiter repeated his words, but the slight nervousness that gained on the young man made him incapable of separating the syllables, which were indistinguishably blurred. He coloured, stuttered, and felt mortally uncomfortable, as, for the third time, the waiter repeated his remark, with the utmost slowness.
At this point, the girl at the adjacent table put down her knife and fork, and leaned slightly forward.
“Excuse me,” she said, and smiled. “The waiter only said he thought you must be a stranger here: DER HERR IST GEWISS FREMD IN LEIPZIG?” Her rather prominent teeth were visible as she spoke.
Maurice, who understood instantly her pronunciation of the words, was not set any more at his ease by her explanation. “Thanks very much.” he said, still redder than usual. “I . . . er . . . thought the fellow was saying something about the money.”
“And the Saxon dialect is barbarous, isn’t it?” she added kindly. “But perhaps you have not had much experience of it yet.”
“No. I only arrived this morning.”
At this, she opened her eyes wide. “Why, you are a courageous person!” she said and laughed, but did not explain what she meant, and he did not like to ask her.
A cup of coffee was set on the table before her; she held a lump of sugar in her spoon, and watched it grow brown and dissolve. “Are you going to make a long stay?” she asked, to help him over his embarrassment.
“Two years, I hope,” said the young man.
“Music?” she queried further, and, as he replied affirmatively: “Then the Con. of course?”—an enigmatic question that needed to be explained. “You’re piano, are you not?” she went on. “I thought so. It is hardly possible to mistake the hands”—here she just glanced at her own, which, large, white, and well formed, were lying on the table. “With strings, you know, the right hand is as a rule shockingly defective.”
He found the high clearness of her voice very agreeable after the deep roundnesses of German, and could have gone on listening to it. But she was brushing the crumbs from her skirt, preparatory to rising.
“Are you an old resident here?” he queried in the hope of detaining her.
“Yes, quite. I’m at the end of my second year; and don’t know whether to be glad or sorry,” she answered. “Time goes like a flash.—Now, look here, as one who knows the ways of the place, would you let me give you a piece of advice? Yes?—It’s this. You intend to enter the Conservatorium, you say. Well, be sure you get under a good man—that’s half the battle. Try and play privately to either Schwarz or Bendel. If you go in for the public examination with all the rest, the people in the BUREAU will put you to anyone they like, and that is disastrous. Choose your own master, and beard him in his den beforehand.”
“Yes . . . and you recommend? May I ask whom you are with?” he said eagerly.
“Schwarz is my master; and I couldn’t wish for a better. But Bendel is good, too, in his way, and is much sought after by the Americans—you’re not American, are you? No.—Well, the English colony runs the American close nowadays. We’re a regular army. If you don’t want to, you need hardly mix with foreigners as long as you’re here. We have our clubs and balls and other social functions—and our geniuses—and our masters who speak English like natives . . . But there!—you’ll soon know all about it yourself.”
She nodded pleasantly and rose.
“I must be off,” she said. “To-day every minute is precious. That wretched PROBE spoils the morning, and directly it is over, I have to rush to an organ-lesson—that’s why I’m here. For I can’t expect a PENSION to keep dinner hot for me till nearly three o’clock—can I? Morning rehearsals are a mistake. What?—you were there, too? Really?—after a night in the train? Well, you didn’t get much, did you, for your energy? A dull aria, an overture that ‘belongs in the theatre,’ as they say here, an indifferently played symphony that one has heard at least a dozen times. And for us poor pianists, not a fresh dish this season. Nothing but yesterday’s remains heated up again.”
She laughed as she spoke, and Maurice Guest laughed, too, not being able at the moment to think of anything to say.
Getting the better of the waiter, who stood by, napkin on arm, smiling and officious, he helped her into the unbecoming cloak; then took up the parcel of music and opened the door. In his manner of doing this, there may have been a touch of over-readiness, for no sooner was she outside, than she quietly took the music from him, and, without even offering him her hand, said a friendly but curt good-bye: almost before he had time to return it, he saw her hurrying up the street, as though she had never vouchsafed him word or thought. The abruptness of the dismissal left him breathless; in his imagination, they had walked at least a strip of the street together. He stepped off the pavement into the road, that he might keep her longer in sight, and for some time he saw her head, in the close-fitting hat, bobbing along above the heads of other people.
On turning again, he found that the waiter was watching him from the window of the restaurant, and it seemed to the young man that the pale, servile face wore a malicious smile. With the feeling of disconcertion that springs from being caught in an impulsive action we have believed unobserved, Maurice spun round on his heel and took a few quick steps in the opposite direction. When once he was out of range of the window, however, he dropped his pace, and at the next corner stopped altogether. He would at least have liked to know her name. And what in all the world was he to do with himself now?
Clouds had gathered; the airy blue and whiteness of the morning had become a level sheet of grey, which wiped the colour out of everything; the wind, no longer tempered by the sun, was chilly, as it whirled down the narrow streets and freaked about the corners. There was little temptation now to linger on one’s steps. But Maurice Guest was loath to return to the solitary room that stood to him for home, to shut himself up with himself, inside four walls: and turning up his coat collar, he began to walk slowly along the curved GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE. But the streets were by this time black with people, most of whom came hurrying towards him, brisk and bustling, and gay, in spite of the prevailing dullness, at the prospect of the warm, familiar evening. He was continually obliged to step off the pavement into the road, to allow a bunch of merry, chattering girls, their cheeks coloured by the wind beneath the dark fur of their hats, or a line of gaudy capped, thickset students, to pass him by, unbroken; and it seemed to him that he was more frequently off the pavement than on it. He began to feel disconsolate among these jovial people, who were hastening forward, with such spirit, to some end, and he had not gone far, before he turned down a side street to be out of their way. Vaguely damped by his environment, which, with the sun’s retreat, had lost its charm, he gave himself up to his own thoughts, and was soon busily engaged in thinking over all that had been said by his quondam acquaintance of the dinner-table, in inventing neatly turned phrases and felicitous replies. He walked without aim, in a leisurely way down quiet streets, quickly across big thoroughfares, and paid no attention to where he was going. The falling darkness made the quaint streets look strangely alike; it gave them, too, an air of fantastic unreality: the dark old houses, marshalled in rows on either side, stood as if lost in contemplation, in the saddening dusk. The lighting of the street-lamps, which started one by one into existence, and the conflict with the fading daylight of the uneasily beating flame, that was swept from side to side in the wind like a woman’s hair—these things made his surroundings seem still shadowier and less real.
He was roused from his reverie by finding himself on what was apparently the outskirts of the town. With much difficulty he made his way back, but he was still far from certain of his whereabouts, when an unexpected turn to the right brought him out on the spacious AUGUSTUSPLATZ, in front of the New Theatre. He had been in this square once already, but now its appearance was changed. The big buildings that flanked it were lit up; the file of droschkes waiting for fares, under the bare trees, formed a dotted line of lights. A double row of hanging lamps before the CAFE FRANCAIS made the corner of the GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE dazzling to the eyes; and now, too, the massive white theatre was awake as well. Lights shone from all its high windows, streamed out through the Corinthian columns and low-porched doorways. Its festive air was inviting, after his twilight wanderings, and he went across the square to it. Immediately before the theatre, early corners stood in knots and chatted; programme—and text-vendors cried and sold their wares; people came hurrying from all directions, as to a magnet; hastily they ascended the low steps and disappeared beneath the portico.
He watched until the last late-comer had vanished. Only he was left; he again was the outsider. And now, as he stood there in the deserted square, which, a moment before, had been so animated, he had a sudden sinking of the heart: he was seized by that acute sense of desolation that lies in wait for one, caught by nightfall, alone in a strange city. It stirs up a wild longing, not so much for any particular spot on earth, as for some familiar hand or voice, to take the edge off an intolerable loneliness.
He turned and walked rapidly back to the small hotel near the railway station, at which he was staying until he found lodgings. He was tired out, and for the first time became thoroughly conscious of this; but the depression that now closed in upon him, was not due to fatigue alone, and he knew it. In sane moments—such as the present—when neither excitement nor enthusiasm warped his judgment, he was under no illusion about himself; and as he strode through the darkness, he admitted that, all day long, he had been cheating himself in the usual way. He understood perfectly that it was by no means a matter of merely stretching out his hand, to pluck what he would, from this tree that waved before him; he reminded himself with some bitterness that he stood, an unheralded stranger, before a solidly compact body of things and people on which he had not yet made any impression. It was the old story: he played at expecting a ready capitulation of the whole—gods and men—and, at the same time, was only too well aware of the laborious process that was his sole means of entry and fellowship. Again—to instance another of his mental follies—the pains he had been at to take possession of the town, to make it respond to his forced interpretation of it! In reality, it had repelled him—yes, he was chilled to the heart by the aloofness of this foreign town, to which not a single tie yet bound him.
By the light of a fluttering candle, in the dingy hotel bedroom, he sat and wrote a letter, briefly announcing his safe arrival. About to close the envelope, he hesitated, and then, unfolding the sheet of paper again, added a few lines to what he had written. These cost him more trouble than all the rest.
ONCE MORE, HEARTY THANKS TO YOU BOTH, MY DEAR PARENTS, FOR LETTING ME HAVE MY OWN WAY. I HOPE YOU WILL NEVER HAVE REASON TO REGRET IT. ONE THING, AT LEAST, I CAN PROMISE YOU, AND THAT IS, THAT NOT A DAY OF MY TIME HERE SHALL BE WASTED OR MISSPENT. YOU HAVE NOT, I KNOW, THE SAME FAITH IN ME THAT I HAVE MYSELF, AND THIS HAS OFTEN BEEN A BITTER THOUGHT TO ME. BUT ONLY HAVE PATIENCE. SOMETHING STRONGER THAN MYSELF DROVE ME TO IT, AND IF I AM TO SUCCEED ANYWHERE, IT WILL BE HERE. AND I MEAN TO SUCCEED, IF HUMAN WILL CAN DO IT.
He threw himself on the creaking wooden bed and tried to sleep. But his brain was active, and the street was noisy; people talked late in the adjoining room, and trod heavily in the one above. It was long after midnight before the house was still and he fell into an uneasy sleep.
Towards morning, he had a strange dream, from which he wakened in a cold sweat. Once more he was wandering through the streets, as he had done the previous day, apparently in search of something he could not find. But he did not know himself what he sought. All of a sudden, on turning a corner, he came upon a crowd of people gathered round some object in the road, and at once said to himself, this is it, here it is. He could not, however, see what it actually was, for the people, who were muttering to themselves in angry tones, strove to keep him back. At all costs, he felt, he must get nearer to the mysterious thing, and, in a spirit of bravado, he was pushing through the crowd to reach it, when a great clamour arose; every one sprang back, and fled wildly, shrieking: “Moloch, Moloch!” He did not know in the least what it meant, but the very strangeness of the word added to the horror, and he, too, fled with the rest; fled blindly, desperately, up streets and down, watched, it seemed to him, from every window by a cold, malignant eye, but never daring to turn his head, lest he should see the awful thing behind him; fled on and on, through streets that grew ever vaguer and more shadowy, till at last his feet would carry him no further: he sank down, with a loud cry, sank down, down, down, and wakened to find that he was sitting up in bed, clammy with fear, and that dawn was stealing in at the sides of the window.
« Poslednja izmena: 03. Dec 2006, 12:21:32 od Ace_Ventura »
In Maurice Guest, it might be said that the smouldering unrest of two generations burst into flame. As a young man, his father, then a poor teacher in a small provincial town, had been a prey to certain dreams and wishes, which harmonised ill with the conditions of his life. When, for example, on a mild night, he watched the moon scudding a silvery, cloud-flaked sky; when white clouds sailed swiftly, and soft spring breezes were hastening past; when, in a word, all things seemed to be making for some place, unknown, afar-off, where he was not, then he, too, was seized with a desire to be moving, to strap on a knapsack and be gone, to wander through foreign countries, to see strange cities and hear strange tongues, was unconsciously filled with the desire to taste, lighthearted, irresponsible, the joys and experiences of the WANDERJAHRE, before settling down to face the matter-of-factnesss of life. And as the present continually pushed the realisation of his dreams into the future, he satisfied the immediate thirst of his soul by playing the flute, and by breathing into the thin, reedy tones he drew from it, all that he dreamed of, but would never know. For he presently came to a place in his life where two paths diverged, and he was forced to make a choice between them. It was characteristic of the man that he chose the way of least resistance, and having married, more or less improvidently, he turned his back on the visions that had haunted his youth: afterwards, the cares, great and small, that came in the train of the years, drove them ever further into the background. Want of sympathy in his home-life blunted the finer edges of his nature; of a gentle and yielding disposition, he took on the commonplace colour of his surroundings. After years of unhesitating toil, it is true, the most pressing material needs died down, but the dreams and ambitions had died, too, never to come again. And as it is in the nature of things that no one is less lenient towards romantic longings than he who has suffered disappointment in them, who has failed to transmute them into reality, so, in this case, the son’s first tentative leanings to a wider life, met with a more deeply-rooted, though less decisive, opposition, on the part of the father than of the mother.
But Maurice Guest had a more tenacious hold on life.
The home in which he grew up, was one of those cheerless, middle-class homes, across which never passes a breath of the great gladness, the ideal beauty of life; where thought never swings itself above the material interests of the day gone, the day to come, and existence grows as timid and trivial as the petty griefs and pleasures that intersperse it. The days drip past, one by one, like water from a spout after a rain-shower; and the dull monotony of them benumbs all wholesome temerity at its core. Maurice Guest had known days of this kind. For before the irksomeness of the school-bench was well behind him, he had begun his training as a teacher, and as soon as he had learnt how to instil his own half-digested knowledge into the minds of others, he received a small post in the school at which his father taught. The latter had, for some time, secretly cherished a wish to send the boy to study at the neighbouring university, to make a scholar of his eldest son; but the longer he waited, the more unfavourable did circumstances seem, and the idea finally died before it was born.
Maurice Guest looked back on the four years he had just come through, with bitterness; and it was only later, when he was engrossed heart and soul in congenial work, that he began to recognise, and be vaguely grateful for, the spirit of order with which they had familiarised him. At first, he could not recall them without an aversion that was almost physical: this machine-like regularity, which, in its disregard of mood and feeling, had something of a divine callousness to human stirrings; the jarring contact with automaton-like people; his inadequacy and distaste for a task that grew day by day more painful. His own knowledge was so hesitating, so uncertain, too slight for self-confidence, just too much and too fresh to allow him to generalise with the unthinking assurance that was demanded of him. Yet had anyone, he asked himself, more obstacles to overcome than he, in his efforts to set himself free? This silent, undemonstrative father, who surrounded himself with an unscalable wall of indifference; this hard-faced, careworn mother, about whose mouth the years had traced deep lines, and for whom, in the course of a single-handed battle with life, the true reality had come to be success or failure in the struggle for bread. What was art to them but an empty name, a pastime for the drones and idlers of existence? How could he set up his ambitions before them, to be bowled over like so many ninepins? When, at length, after much heartburning and conscientious scrupling, he was mastered by a healthier spirit of self-assertion, which made him rebel against the uselessness of the conflict, and doggedly resolve to put an end to it, he was only enabled to stand firm by summoning to his aid all the strengthening egoism, which is latent in every more or less artistic nature. To the mother, in her honest narrowness, the son’s choice of a calling which she held to be unfitting, was something of a tragedy. She allowed no item of her duty to escape her, and moved about the house as usual, sternly observant of her daily task, but her lips were compressed to a thin line, and her face reflected the anger that burnt in her heart, too deep for speech. In the months that followed, Maurice learnt that the censure hardest to meet is that which is never put into words, which refuses to argue or discuss: he chafed inwardly against the unspoken opposition that will not come out to be grappled with, and overthrown. And, as he was only too keenly aware, there was more to be faced than a mere determined aversion to the independence with which he had struck out: there was, in the first place, a pardonably human sense of aggrievedness that the eldest-born should cross their plans and wishes; that, after the year-long care and thought they had bestowed on him, he should demand fresh efforts from them; and, again, most harassing of all and most invulnerable, such an entire want of faith in the powers he was yearning to test—the prophet’s lot in the mean blindness of the family—that, at times, it threatened to shake his hard-won faith in himself.—But before the winter drew to a close he was away.
Away!—to go out into the world and be a musican—that was his longing and his dream. And he never came to quite an honest understanding with himself on this point, for desire and dream were interwoven in his mind; he could not separate the one from the other. But when he weighed them, and allowed them to rise up and take shape before him, it was invariably in this order that they did so. In reality, although he himself was but vaguely conscious of the fact, it was to some extent as means to an end, that, when his eyes had been opened to its presence, he clutched—like a drowning man who seizes upon a spar—clutched and held fast to his talent. But the necessary insight into his powers had first to be gained, for it was not one of those talents which, from the beginning, strut their little world with the assurance of the peacock. He was, it is true, gifted with an instinctive feeling for the value and significance of tones—as a child he sang by ear in a small, sweet voice, which gained him the only notice he received at school, and he easily picked out his notes, and taught himself little pieces, on the old-fashioned, silk-faced piano, which had belonged to his mother as a girl, and at which, in the early days of her marriage, she had sung in a high, shrill voice, the sentimental songs of her youth. But here, for want of incentive, matters remained; Maurice was kept close at his school-books, and, boylike, he had no ambition to distinguish himself in a field so different from that in which his comrades won their spurs. It was only when, with the end of his schooldays in sight, he was putting away childish things, that he seriously turned his attention to the piano and his hands. They were those of the pianist, broad, strong and supple, and the new occupation soon engrossed him deeply; he gave up all his spare time to it, and, in a few months, attained so creditable a proficiency, that he went through a course of instruction with a local teacher of music, who, scenting talent, dismissed preliminaries with the assurance of his kind, and initiated his pupil into all that is false and meretricious in the literature of the piano—the cheaply pathetic, the tinsel of transcription, the titillating melancholy of Slavonic dance-music—to leave him, but for an increased agility of finger, not a whit further forward than he had found him. Then followed months when the phantom of discontent stalked large through Maurice’s life, grew, indeed, day by day more tangible, more easily defined; for there came the long, restless summer evenings, when it seemed as if a tranquil darkness would never fall and bar off the distant, the unattainable; and as he followed some flat, white country road, that was lost to sight on the horizon as a tapering line, or looked out across a stretch of low, luxuriant meadows, the very placidity of which made heart and blood throb quicker, in a sense of opposition: then the desire to have finished with the life he knew, grew almost intolerable, and only a spark was needed to set his resolve ablaze.
It was one evening when the summer had already dragged itself to a close, that Maurice walked through a drizzling rain to the neighbouring cathedral town, to attend a performance of ELIJAH. It was the first important musical experience of his life, and, carried away by the volumes of sound, he repressed his agitation so ill, that it became apparent to his neighbour, a small, wizened, old man, who was leaning forward, his hands hanging between his knees and his eyes fixed on the floor, alternately shaking and nodding his head. In the interval between the parts, they exchanged a few words, halting, excited on Maurice’s part, interrogative on his companion’s; when the performance was over, they walked a part of the way together, and found so much to say, that often, after this, when his week’s work was behind him, Maurice would cover the intervening miles for the pleasure of a few hours’ conversation with this new friend. In a small, dark room, the air of which was saturated with tobacco-smoke, he learned, by degrees, the story of the old musician’s life: how, some thirty years previously, he had drifted into the midst of this provincial population, where he found it easy to earn enough for his needs, and where his position was below that of a dancing-master; but how, long ago, in his youth—that youth of which he spoke with a far-away tone in his voice, and at which he seemed to be looking out as at a fading shore—it had been his intention to perfect himself as a pianist. Life had been against him; when, the resolve was strongest, poverty and ill-heath kept him down, and since then, with the years that passed, he had come to see that his place would only have been among the multitude of little talents, whose destiny it is to imitate and vulgarise the strivings of genius, to swell the over-huge mass of mediocrity. And so, he had chosen that his life should he a failure—a failure, that is, in the eyes of the world; for himself, he judged otherwise. The truth that could be extracted from words was such a fluctuating, relative truth. Failure! success!—what WAS success, but a clinging fast, unabashed by smile or neglect, to that better part in art, in one’s self, that cannot be taken away?—never for a thought’s space being untrue to the ideal each one of us bears in his breast; never yielding jot or tittle to the world’s opinion. That was what it meant, and he who was proudly conscious of having succeeded thus, could well afford to regard the lives of others as half-finished and imperfect; he alone was at one with himself, his life alone was a harmonious whole.
To Maurice Guest, all this mattered little or not at all; it was merely the unavoidable introduction. The chief thing was that the old man had known the world which Maurice so desired to know; he had seen life, had lived much of his youth in foreign lands, and had the conversation been skilfully set agoing in this direction, he would lay a wrinkled hand on his listener’s shoulder, and tell him of this shadowy past, with short hoarse chuckles of pleasure and reminiscence, which invariably ended in a cough. He painted it in vivid colours, and with the unconscious heightening of effect that comes natural to one who looks back upon a happy past, from which the countless pricks and stings that make up reality have faded, leaving in their place a sense of dreamy, unreal brightness, like that of sunset upon distant hills. He told him of Germany, and the gay, careless years he had spent there, working at his art, years of inspiriting, untrammelled progress; told him of famous musicians he had seen and known, of great theatre performances at which he had assisted, of stirring PREMIERES, long since forgotten, of burning youthful enthusiasms, of nights sleepless with holy excitement, and days of fruitful, meditative idleness. Under the spell of these reminiscences, he seemed to come into touch again with life, and his eyes lit with a spark of the old fire. At moments, he forgot his companion altogether, and gazed long and silently before him, nodding and smiling to himself at the memories he had stirred up in his brain, memories of things that had long ceased to be, of people who had long been quiet and unassertive beneath their handful of earth, but for whom alone, the brave, fair world had once seemed to exist. Then he would lose himself among strange names, in vague histories of those who had borne these names, and of what they had become in their subsequent journeyings towards the light, for which they had set out, side by side, with so much ardour (and oftenest what he had to tell was a modest mediocrity); but the greater number of them had lost sight one of the other; the most inseparable friends had, once parted, soon forgotten. And the bluish smoke sent upwards as he talked, in clouds and spirals that mounted rapidly and vanished, seemed to Maurice symbolic of the brief and shadowy lives that were unrolled before him. But, after all this, when the lights came, the piano was opened, and then, for an hour or two, the world was forgotten in a different way. It was here that the chief landmarks of music emerged from the mists in which, for Maurice, they had hitherto been enveloped; here he learned that Bach and Beethoven were giants, and made uncertain efforts at appreciation; learnt that Gluck was a great composer, Mozart a genius of many parts, Mendelssohn the direct successor in this line of kings. Sonatas, symphonies, operas, were hammered out with tremendous force and precision on the harsh, scrupulously tuned piano; and all were dominated alike by the hoarse voice of the old man, who never wavered, never faltered, but sang from beginning to end with all his might. Each one of the pleasant hours spent in this new world helped to deepen Maurice’s resolution to free himself while there was yet time; each one gave more clearness and precision to his somewhat formless desires; for, in all that concerned his art, the nameless old musician hated his native land, with the hatred of the bigot for those who are hostile or indifferent to his faith.
With a long and hot-chased goal in sight, a goal towards which our hearts, in joyous eagerness, have already leapt out, it is astonishing how easy it becomes to make light of the last, monotonous stretch of road that remains to be travelled. Is there not, just beyond, a resting-place?—and cool, green shadows? Events and circumstances which had hitherto loomed forth gigantic, threatening to crush, now appeared to Maurice trivial and of little moment; he saw them in other proportions now, for it seemed to him that he was no longer in their midst: he stood above them and overlooked them, and, with his eyes fixed upon a starry future, he joyfully prepared himself for his new life. What is more, those around him helped him to this altered view of things. For as the present marched steadily upon the future, devouring as it went; as the departure this future contained took on the shape of a fact, the countless details of which called for attention, it began to be accepted as even the most unpalatable facts in the long run usually are, with an ungracious resignation in face of the inevitable. Thus, with all his ardour to be gone, Maurice Guest came to see the last stage of his home-life almost in a bright light, and even with a touch of melancholy, as something that was fast slipping from him, never to be there in all its entirety, exactly as it now was, again: the last calm hour of respite before he plunged into the triumphs, but also into the tossings and agitations of the future.
It was April, and a day such as April will sometimes bring: one of those days when the air is full of a new, mysterious fragrance, when the sunshine lies like a flood upon the earth, and high clouds hang motionless in the far-distant blue—a day at the very heels of which it would seem that summer was lurking. Maurice Guest stood at his window, both sides of which were flung open, drinking in the warm air, and gazing absently up at the stretch of sky, against which the dark roof-lines of the houses opposite stood out abruptly. His hands were in his pockets, and, to a light beat of the foot, he hummed softly to himself, but what, he could not have told: whether some fragment of melody that had lingered in a niche of his brain and now came to his lips, or whether a mere audible expression of his mood. The strong, unreal sun of the afternoon was just beginning to reach the house; it slanted in, golden, by the side of the window, and threw on the wall above the piano, a single long bar of light.
He leaned over and looked down into the street far below—still no one there! But it was only half-past four. He stretched himself long and luxuriously, as if, by doing so, he would get rid of a restlessness which arose from repressed physical energy, and also from an impatience to be more keenly conscious of life, to feel it, as it were, quicken in him, not unakin to that passionate impulse towards perfection, which, out-of-doors, was urging on the sap and loosening firm green buds: he had a day’s imprisonment behind him, and all spring’s magic was at work to ferment his blood. How small and close the room was! He leaned out on the sill, as far out as he could, in the sun. It was shining full down the street now, gilding the canal-like river at the foot, and throwing over the tall, dingy houses on the opposite side, a tawdry brightness, which, unlike that of the morning with its suggestion of dewy shade, only served to bring out the shabbiness of broken plaster and paintless window; a shamefaced yet aggressive shabbiness, where high-arched doorways and wide entries spoke to better days, and also to a subsequent decay, now openly admitted in the little placards which dotted them here and there, bearing the bold-typed words GARCON LOGIS, and dangling bravely yellow from the windows of the cheap lodgings they proclaimed vacant. It was very still; the hoarse voice of a fruit-seller crying his wares in the adjoining streets, was to be heard at intervals, but each time less distinctly, and from the distance came the faint tones of a single piano. How different it was in the morning! Then, if, pausing a moment from his work, he opened the window and leaned out for a brief refreshment, what a delightful confusion of sounds met his ear! Pianos rolled noisily up and down, ploughing one through the other, beating one against the other, key to key, rhythm to rhythm, each in a clamorous despair at being unable to raise its voice above the rest, at having to form part of this jumble of discord: some so near at hand or so directly opposite that, none the less, it was occasionally possible to follow them through the persistent reiterations of a fugue, or through some brilliant glancing ETUDE, the notes of which flew off like sparks; others, further away, of which were audible only the convulsive treble outbursts and the toneless rumblings of the bass, now and then cut shrilly through by the piercing sharpness of a violin, now and then, at quieter moments, borne up and accompanied by the deep, guttural tones of a neighbouring violoncello. This was always discovered at work upon scales, uncertain, hesitating scales on the lower strings, and, heard suddenly, after the other instruments’ genial hubbub, it sounded like some inarticulate animal making uncouth attempts at expression. At rare intervals there came a lull, and then, before all burst forth again together, or fell in, one by one, a single piano or the violin would, like a solo voice in a symphony, bear the whole burden; or if the wind were in the west, it would sometimes carry over with it, from the woods on the left, the mournful notes of a French horn, which some unskilful player had gone out to practise.
This was that new world of which he was now a part—into which he had been so auspiciously received.
Yes, the beginning and the thousand petty disquiets that go with beginnings, were behind him; he had made a start, and he believed a good one—thanks to Dove. He was really grateful to Dove. A chance acquaintance, formed on one of those early days when he loitered, timid and unsure, about the BUREAU of the Conservatorium, Dove had taken him up with what struck even the grateful new-comer as extraordinary good-nature, going deliberately out of his way to be of service to him, meeting him at every turn with assistance and advice. It was Dove who had helped him over the embarrassments of the examination; it was through Dove’s influence that he had obtained a private interview with Schwarz, and, in Dove’s opinion, Schwarz was the only master in Leipzig under whom it was worth while to study; the only one who could be relied on to give the exhaustive TECHNIQUE that was indispensable, without, in the process, destroying what was of infinitely more account, the individuality, the TEMPERAMENT of the student. This and more, Dove set forth at some length in their conversations; then, warming to his work, he would go further: would go on to speak of phrasings and interpretations; of an artistic use of the pedals, and the legitimate participation of the emotions; of the confines of absolute music as touched in the Ninth Symphony: would refer incidentally to Schopenhauer and make Wagner his authority, using terms that were new to his hearer, and, now and then, by way of emphasis, bringing his palm down flat and noiselessly upon the table.—It had not taken them long to become friends; fellow-countrymen, of the same age, with similar aims and interests, they had soon slipped into one of the easy-going friendships of youth.
A quarter to five! As the strokes from the neighbouring church—clock died away, the melody of Siegfried’s horn was whistled up from the street, and looking over, Maurice saw his friend. He seized his music and went hastily down the four flights of stairs.
They crossed the river and came to newer streets. It was delightful out-of-doors. A light breeze met them as they turned, and a few ragged, fleecy clouds that it was driving up, only made the sky seem bluer, The two young men walked leisurely, laughing and talking rather loudly. Maurice Guest had already, in dress and bearing, taken on a touch of musicianly disorder, but Dove’s lengthier residence had left no trace upon him; he might have stepped that day from the streets of the provincial English town to which he belonged. His well brushed clothes sat with an easy inelegance, his tie was small, his linen clean, and the only concession he made to his surroundings, the broad-brimmed, soft felt hat, looked oddly out of place on his close-cut hair. He carried himself erectly, swinging a little on his hips.
As they went, he passed in review the important items of the day: so-and-so had strained a muscle, so-and-so had spoilt a second piano. But his particular interest centred upon that evening’s ABENDUNTERHALTUNG. A man named Schilsky, whom it was no exaggeration to call their finest, very finest violinist was to play Vieuxtemps’ Concerto in D. Dove all but smacked his lips as he spoke of it. In reply to a query from Maurice, he declared with vehemence that this Schilsky was a genius. Although so great a violinist, he could play almost every other instrument with case; his memory had become a by-word; his compositions were already famous. At the present moment, he was said to be at work upon a symphonic poem, having for its base a new and extraordinary book, half poetry, half philosophy, a book which he, Dove, could confidently assert, would effect a revolution in human thought, but of which, just at the minute, he was unable to remember the name. Infected by his friend’s enthusiasm, Maurice here recalled having, only the day before, met some one who answered to Dove’s description: the genial Pole had been storming up the steps of the Conservatorium, two at a time, with wild, affrighted eyes, and a halo of dishevelled auburn hair.—Dove made no doubt that he had been seized with a sudden inspiration.
Gewandhaus and Conservatorium lay close together, in a new quarter of the town. The Conservatorium, a handsome, stone-faced building, three lofty storeys high, was just now all the more imposing in appearance as it stood alone in an unfinished street-block, and as, opposite, hoardings still shut in all that had yet been raised of the great library, which would eventually overshadow it. The severe plainness of its long front, with the unbroken lines of windows, did not fail to impress the unused beholder, who had not for very long gone daily out and in; it suggested to him the earnest, unswerving efforts, imperative on his pursuit of the ideal; an ideal which, to many, was as it were personified by the concert-house in the adjoining square: it was hither, towards this clear-limned goal, that bore him, like a magic carpet, the young enthusiast’s most ambitious dream.—But in the life that swarmed about the Conservatorium, there was nothing of a tedious austerity. It was one of the briskest times of day, and the short street and the steps of the building were alive with young people of both sexes. Young men sauntered to and from the cafe at the corner, or stood gesticulating in animated groups. All alike were conspicuous for a rather wilful slovenliness, for smooth faces and bushy hair, while the numerous girls, with whom they paused to laugh and trifle, were, for the most part, showy in dress and loudly vivacious in manner. On the kerbstone, a knot of the latter, tittering among themselves, shot furtive glances at Dove and Maurice as they passed. Here, a pretty, laughing face was the centre of a little circle; there, a bevy of girls clustered about a young man, who, his hands in his pockets, leaned carelessly against the door-arch; and again, another, plump and much befeathered, with a string of large pearlbeads round her fat, white neck, had isolated herself from the rest, to take up, on the steps, a more favourable stand. A master who went by, a small, jovial man in a big hat, had a word for all the girls, even a chuck of the chin for one unusually saucy face. Inside, classes were filing out of the various rooms, other classes were going in; there was a noisy flocking up and down the broad, central staircase, i crowding about the notice-board, a going and coming in the long, stone corridors. The concert-hall was being lighted.
Maurice slowly made his way through the midst of all these people, while Dove loitered, or stepped out of hearing, with one friend after another. In a side corridor, off which, cell like, opened a line of rooms, they pushed a pair of doubledoors, and went in to take their lesson.
The room they entered was light and high, and contained, besides a couple of grand pianos, a small table and a row of wooden chairs. Schwarz stood with his back to the window, biting his nails. He was a short, thickset man, with keen eyes, and a hard, prominent mouth, which was rather emphasised than concealed, by the fair, scanty tuft of hair that hung from his chin. Upon the two new-comers, he bent a cold, deliberate gaze, which, for some instants, he allowed to rest chillingly on them, then as deliberately withdrew, having—so at least it seemed to those who were its object—having, without the tremor of an eyelid, scanned them like an open page: it was the look, impenetrable, all-seeing, of the physician for his patient. At the piano, a young man was playing the Waldstein Sonata. So intent was he on what he was doing, that his head all but touched the music standing open before him, while his body, bent thus double, swayed vigorously from side to side. His face was crimson, and on his forehead stood out beads of perspiration. He had no cuffs on, and his sleeves were a little turned back. The movement at an end, he paused, and drawing a soiled handkerchief from his pocket, passed it rapidly over neck and brow. In the ADAGIO which followed, he displayed an extreme delicacy of touch—not, however, but what this also cost him some exertion, for, previous to the striking of each faint, soft note, his hand described a curve in the air, the finger he was about to use, lowered, the others slightly raised, and there was always a second of something like suspense, before it finally sank upon the expectant note. But suddenly, without warning, just as the last, lingering tones were dying to the close they sought, the ADAGIO slipped over into the limpid gaiety of the RONDO, and then, there was no time more for premeditation: then his hands twinkled up and down, joining, crossing, flying asunder, alert with little sprightly quirks and turns, going ever more nimbly, until the brook was a river, the allegretto a prestissimo, which flew wildly to its end amid a shower of dazzling trills.
Schwarz stood grave and apparently impassive; from time to time, however, when unobserved, he swept the three listeners with a rapid glance. Maurice Guest was quite carried away; he had never heard playing like this, and he leaned forward in his seat, and gazed full at the player, in open admiration. But his neighbour, a pale, thin man, with one of those engaging and not uncommon faces which, in mould of feature, in mildness of expression, and still more in the cut of hair and beard, bear so marked a likeness to the conventional Christ-portrait: this neighbour looked on with only a languid interest, which seemed unable to get the upper hand of melancholy thoughts. Maurice, who believed his feelings shared by all about him, was chilled by such indifference: he only learned later, after they had become friends, that nothing roused in Boehmer a real or lasting interest, save what he, Boehmer, did himself. Dove sat absorbed, as reverent as if at prayer; but there were also moments when, with his head a little on one side, he wore an anxious air, as if not fully at one with the player’s rendering; others again, after a passage of peculiar brilliancy, when he threw at Schwarz a humbly grateful look. While Schwarz, the sonata over, was busy with his pencil on the margin of the music, Dove leaned over to Maurice and whispered behind his hand: “Furst—our best pianist.”
Now came the turn of the others, and the master’s attention wandered; he stretched himself, yawned, and sighed aloud, then, in the search for something he could not find, turned out on the lid of the second piano the contents of sundry pockets. While Dove played, he wrote as if for life in a bulky notebook.
Maurice remarked this without being properly conscious of it, so impressed had he been by the sonata. The exultant beauty of the great final theme had permeated his every fibre, inciting him, emboldening him, and, still under the sway of this little elation when his own turn to play came, he was the richer by it, and acquitted himself with unusual verve.
As the class was about to leave the room, Schwarz signed to Maurice to remain behind. For several moments, he paced the floor in silence; then he stopped suddenly short in front of the young man, and, with legs apart, one hand at his back, he said in a tone which wavered between being brutal and confidential, emphasising his words with a series of smart pencil-raps on his hearer’s shoulder:
“Let me tell you something: if I were not of the opinion that you had ability, I should not detain you this evening. It is no habit of mine, mark this, to interfere with my pupils. Outside this room, most of them do not exist for me. In your case, I am making an exception, because . . .”—Maurice was here so obviously gratified that the speaker made haste to substitute: “because I should much like to know how it is that you come to me in the state you do.” And without waiting for a reply: “For you know nothing, or, let us say, worse than nothing, since what you do know, you must make it your first concern to forget.” He paused, and the young man’s face fell so much that he prolonged the pause, to enjoy the discomfiture he had produced. “But give me time,” he continued, “adequate time, and I will undertake to make something of you.” He lowered his voice, and the taps became more confidential. “There is good stuff here; you have talent, great talent, and, as I have observed to-day, you are not wanting in intelligence. But,” and again his voice grew harsher, his eye more piercing, “understand me, if you please, no trifling with other studies; let us have no fiddling, no composing. Who works with me, works for me alone. And a lifetime, I repeat it, a lifetime, is not long enough to master such an instrument as this!”
He brought his hand down heavily on the lid of the piano, and glared at Maurice as if he expected the latter to contradict him. Then, noisily clearing his throat, he began anew to pace the room.
As Maurice stood waiting for his dismissal, with very varied feelings, of which, however, a faint pride was uppermost; as he stood waiting, the door opened, and a girl looked in. She hesitated a moment, then entered, and going up to Schwarz, asked him something in a low voice. He nodded an assent, nodded two or three times, and with quite another face; its hitherto unmoved severity had given way to an indulgent friendliness. She laid her hat and jacket on the table, and went to the piano.
Schwarz motioned Maurice to a chair. He sat down almost opposite her.
And now came for him one of those moments in life, which, unlooked-for, undivined, send before them no promise of being different, in any way, from the commonplace moments that make up the balance of our days. No gently graduated steps lead up to them: they are upon us with the violent abruptness of a streak of lightning, and like this, they, too, may leave behind them a scarry trace. What such a moment holds within it, is something which has never existed for us before, something it has never entered our minds to go out and seek—the corner of earth, happened on by chance, which comes most near the Wineland of our dreams; the page, idly perhaps begun, which brings us a new god; the face of the woman who is to be our fate—but, whatever it may be, let it once exist for us, and the soul responds forthwith, catching in blind haste at the dimly missed ideal.
For one instant Maurice Guest had looked at the girl before him with unconcern, but the next it was with an intentness that soon became intensity, and feverishly grew, until he could not tear his eyes away. The beauty, whose spell thus bound him, was of that subtle kind which leaves many a one cold, but, as if just for this reason, is almost always fateful for those who feel its charm: at them is lanced its accumulated force. The face was far from faultless; there was no regularity of feature, no perfection of line, nor was there more than a touch of the sweet girlish freshness that gladdens like a morning in May. The features, save for a peremptory turn of mouth and chin, were unremarkable, and the expression was distant, unchanging . . . but what was that to him? This deep white skin, the purity of which was only broken by the pale red of the lips; this dull black hair, which lay back from the low brow in such wonderful curves, and seemed, of itself, to fall into the loose knot on the neck—there was something romantic, exotic about her, which was unlike anything he had ever seen: she made him think of a rare, hothouse flower; some scentless, tropical flower, with stiff, waxen petals. And then her eyes! So profound was their darkness that, when they threw off their covering of heavy lid, it seemed to his excited fancy as if they must scorch what they rested on; they looked out from the depths of their setting like those of a wild beast crouched within a cavern; they lit up about them like stars, and when they fell, they went out like stars, and her face took on the pallor of early dawn.
She was playing from memory. She gazed straight before her with far-away eyes, which only sometimes looked down at her hands, to aid them in a difficult passage. At her belt, she wore a costly yellow rose, and as she once leaned towards the treble, where both hands were at work close together, it fell to the floor. Maurice started forward, and picking it up, laid it on the piano; beneath the gaslight, it sank a shadowy gold image in the mirror-like surface. As yet she had paid no heed to him, but, at this, she turned her head, and, still continuing to play, let her eyes rest absently on him.
They sank their eyes in each other’s. A thrill ran through Maurice, a quick, sharp thrill, which no sensation of his later life outdid in keenness and which, on looking back, he could always feel afresh. The colour rose to his face and his heart beat audibly, but he did not lower his eyes, and for not doing so, seemed to himself infinitely bold. A host of confused feelings bore down upon him, well-nigh blotting out the light; but, in a twinkling, all were swallowed up in an overpowering sense of gratitude, in a large, vague, happy thankfulness, which touched him almost to the point of tears. As it swelled through him and possessed him, he yearned to pour it forth, to make an offering of this gratefulness—fine tangle of her beauty and his own glad mood—and, by sustaining her look, he seemed to lay the offering at her feet. Nor would any tongue have persuaded him that she did not understand. The few seconds were eternities: when she turned away it was as if untold hours had passed over him in a body, like a flight of birds; as if a sudden gulf had gaped between where he now was and where he had previously stood.
Dismissed curtly, with a word, he hung about the corridor in the hope of seeing her again; but the piano went on and on, unceasingly. Here, after some time, he was found by Dove, who carried him off with loud expressions of surprise.
The concert was more than half over. The main part of the hall was brightly lit and full of people: from behind, one looked across a sea of heads. On the platform at the other end, a girl in red was playing a sonata; a master sat by her side, and leant forward, at regular intervals, to turn the leaves of the music. Dove and Maurice remained standing at the back, under the gallery, among a portion of the audience which shifted continuously: those about them wandered in and out of the hall at pleasure, now inside, head in hand, critically intent, now out in the vestibule, stretching their legs, lounging in easy chat. In the pause that followed the sonata, Dove went towards the front, to join some ladies who beckoned him, and, while some one sang a noisy aria, Maurice gave himself up to his own thoughts. They all led to the same point: how he should contrive to see her again, how he should learn her name, and, beside them, everything else seemed remote, unreal; he saw the people next him as if from a distance. But in a wait that was longer than usual, he was awakened to his surroundings: a stir ran over the audience, like a gust of wind over still water; the heads in the seats before him inclined one to another, wagged and nodded; there was a gentle buzz of voices. Behind him, the doors opened and shut, letting in all who were outside: they pressed forward expectantly. On his left, a row of girls tried to start a round of applause and tittered nervously at their failure. Schilsky had come down the platform and commenced tuning. He bent his long, thin body as he pressed his violin to his knee, and his reddish hair fell over his face. The accompanist, his hands on the keys, waited for the signal to begin.
Maurice drew a deep breath of anticipation. But the first shrill, sweet notes had hardly cut the silence, when, the door opening once more, some one entered and pushed through the standing crowd. He looked round, uneasy at the disturbance, and found that it was she: what is more, she came up to his very side. He turned away so hastily that he touched her arm, causing it to yield a little, and some moments went by before he ventured to look again. When he did, in some tremor, he saw that, without fear of discovery, he might look as long or as often as he chose. She was listening to the player with the raptness of a painted saint: her whole face listened, the tightened lips, the open nostrils, the wide, vigilant eyes. Maurice, lost in her presence, grew dizzy with the scent of her hair—that indefinable odour, which has something of the raciness in it of new-turned earth—and foolish wishes arose and jostled one another in his mind: he would have liked to plunge both hands into the dark, luxuriant mass; still better, cautiously to draw his palm down this whitest skin, which, seen so near, had a faint, satin-like sheen. The mere imagining of it set him throbbing, and the excitement in his blood was heightened by the sensuous melancholy of the violin, which, just beyond the pale of his consciousness, throbbed and languished with him under the masterful bow.
Shortly before the end of the concerto, she turned and made her way out. Maurice let a few seconds elapse, then followed. But the long white corridors stretched empty before him; there was no trace of her to he seen. As he was peering about, in places that were strange to him, a tumult of applause shook the hall, the doors flew open and the audience poured out.
Dove had joined other friends, and a number of them left the building together; everyone spoke loudly and at once. But soon Maurice and Dove outstepped their companions, for these came to words over the means used by Schilsky to mount, with bravour, a certain gaudy scale of octaves, and, at every second pace, they stopped, and wheeled round with eloquent gesture. In their presence Dove had said little; now he gave rein to his feelings: his honest face glowed with enthusiasm, the names of renowned players ran off his lips like beads off a string, and, in predicting Schilsky a career still more brilliant, his voice grew husky with emotion.
Maurice listened unmoved to his friend’s outpouring, and the first time Dove stopped for breath, went straight for the matter which, in his eyes, had dwarfed all others. So eager was he to learn something of her, that he even made shift to describe her; his attempt fell out lamely, and a second later he could have bitten off his tongue.
Dove had only half an ear for him.
“Eh? What? What do you say?” he asked as Maurice paused; but his thoughts were plainly elsewhere. This fact is, just at this moment, he was intent on watching some ladies: were they going to notice him or not? The bow made and returned, he brought his mind back to Maurice with a great show of interest.
Here, however, they all turned in to Seyffert’s Cafe and, seating themselves at a long, narrow table, waited for Schilsky, whom they intended to fete. But minutes passed, a quarter, then half of an hour, and still he did not come. To while the time, his playing of the concerto was roundly commented and discussed. There was none of the ten or twelve young men but had the complete jargon of the craft at his finger-tips; not one, too, but was rancorous and admiring in a breath, now detecting flaws as many as motes in a beam, now heaping praise. The spirited talk, flying thus helter-skelter through the gamut of opinion, went forward chiefly in German, which the foreigners of the party spoke with various accents, but glibly enough; only now and then did one of them spring over to his mother-tongue, to fetch a racy idiom or point a joke.
Not having heard a note of Schilsky’s playing, Maurice did not trust himself to say much, and so was free to observe his right-hand neighbour, a young man who had entered late, and taken a vacant chair beside him. To the others present, the new-comer paid no heed, to Maurice he murmured an absent greeting, and then, having called for beer and emptied his glass at a draught, he appeared mentally to return whence he had come, or to engage without delay in some urgent train of thought. His movements were noiseless, but startlingly abrupt. Thus, after sitting quiet for a time, his head in his hands, he flung back in his seat with a sort of wildness, and began to stare fixedly at the ceiling. His face was one of those, which, as by a mystery, preserve the innocent beauty of their childhood, long after childhood is a thing of the past: delicate as the rosy lining of a great sea-shell was the colour that spread from below the forked blue veins of the temples, and it paled and came again as readily as a girl’s. Girlish, too, were the limpid eyes, which, but for a trick of dropping unexpectedly, seemed always to be gazing, in thoughtful surprise, at something that was visible to them alone. As to the small, frail body, it existed only for sake of the hands: narrow hands, with long, fleshless fingers, nervous hands, that were never still.
All at once, in a momentary lull, he leant towards Maurice, and, without even looking up, asked the latter if he could recall the opening bars of the prelude to TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. If so, there was a certain point he would like to lay before him.
“You see, it’s this way, old fellow,” he said confidentially. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if, at the end of the third bar, Wagner had——”
“Throw him out, throw him out!” cried an American who was sitting opposite them. “You might as well try to stop a nigger in heat as Krafft on Wagner.”
“That’s so,” said another American named Ford, who, on arriving, had not been quite sober, and now, after a few glasses of beer, was exceedingly tipsy. “That’s so. As I’ve always said, it’s a disgrace to the township, a disgrace, sir. Ought to be put down. Why don’t he write them himself?”
From the depths of his brown study, Krafft looked vaguely at the speakers, and checked, but not discomposed, drew out a notebook and jotted down an idea.
Meanwhile, at the far end of the table, Boehmer and a Russian violinist still harped upon the original string. And, having worked out Schilsky, they passed on to Zeppelin, his master, and the Russian, who was not Zeppelin’s pupil, set to showing with vehemence that his “method” was a worthless one. He was barely started when a wiry American, in a high, grating voice, called Schilsky a wretched fool: why had he not gone to Berlin at Easter, as he had planned, instead of dawdling on here where he had no more to gain? At this, several of the young men laughed and looked significant. Furst—he had proved to be a jolly little man, who, with unbuttoned vest, absorbed large quantities of beer and perspired freely—Furst alone was of the opinion, which he expressed forcibly, in his hearty Saxon dialect, that had Schilsky left Leipzig at this particular time, he would have been a fool indeed.
“Look here, boys,” he cried, pounding the table to get attention. “That’s all very well, but he must have an eye to the practical side of things, too——”
“DER BIEDERE SACHSE HOCH!” threw in Boehmer, who was Prussian, and of a more ideal cast of mind.
“—and a chance such as this, he will certainly never have again. A hundred thousand marks, if a pfennig, and a face to turn after in the street! No, he is a confounded deal wiser to stay here and make sure of her, for that sort is as slippery as an eel.”
“Krafft can tell us; he let her go; is she?—is it true?” shouted half a dozen.
Krafft looked up and winked. His reply was so gross and so witty that there was a very howl of mirth.
“KRAFFT HOCH, HOCH KRAFFT!” they cried, and roared again, until the proprietor, a mild, round-faced man, who was loath to meddle with his best customers, advanced to the middle of the floor, where he stood smiling uneasily and rubbing his hands.
But it was growing late.
“Why the devil doesn’t he come?” yawned Boehmer.
Perhaps,” said Dove, mouthing deliberately as if he had a good thing on his tongue; perhaps, by now, he is safe in the arms of——”
“Jesus or Morpheus?” asked a cockney ‘cellist.
“Safe in the arms of Jesus!” sang the tipsy pianist; but he was outsung by Krafft, who, rising from his seat, gave with dramatic gesture:
O sink’ hernieder, Nacht der Liebe, gieb Vergessen, dass ich lebe . . .
After this, with much laughter and ado, they broke up to seek another cafe in the heart of the town, where the absinthe was good and the billiard-table better, two of his friends supporting Ford, who was testily debating with himself why a composer should compose his own works. At the first corner, Maurice whispered a word to Dove, and, unnoticed by the rest, slipped away. For some time, he heard the sound of their voices down the quiet street. A member of the group, in defiance of the night, began to sing; and then, just as one bird is provoked by another, rose a clear, sweet voice he recognised as Krafft’s, in a song the refrain of which was sung by all:
Give me the Rose of Sharon, And a bottle of Cyprus wine!
What followed was confused, indistinct, but over and over again he heard:
. . . the Rose of Sharon, . . . a bottle of Cyprus wine!
until that, too, was lost in the distance.
When he reached his room, he did not light the lamp, but crossed to the window and stood looking out into the darkness. The day’s impressions, motley as the changes of a kaleidoscope, seethed in his brain, clamoured to be recalled and set in order; but he kept them back; he could not face the task. He felt averse to any mental effort, in need of a repose as absolute as the very essence of silence itself. The sky was overcast; a wayward breeze blew coolly in upon him and refreshed him; a few single raindrops fell. In the air a gentle melancholy was abroad, and, as he stood there, wax for any passing mood, it descended on him and enveloped him. He gave himself up to it, unresistingly, allowed himself to toy with it, to sink beneath it. Just, however, as he was sinking, sinking, he was roused, suddenly, as from sleep, by the vivid presentiment that something was about to happen to him: it seemed as if an important event were looming in the near distance, ready to burst in upon his life, and not only instantly, but with a monstrous crash of sound. His pulses beat more quickly, his nerves stretched, like bows. But it was very still; everything around him slept, and the streets were deserted.
A keen sense of desolation came over him; never, in his life, had he felt so utterly alone. In all this great city that spread, ocean-like, around him, not a heart was the lighter for his being there. Oh, to have some one beside him!—some one who would talk soothingly to him, of shadowy, far-off things, or, still better, be merely a sympathetic presence. He passed rapidly in review people he had known, saw their faces and heard their voices, but not one of them would do. No, he wanted a friend, the friend he had often dreamed of, whose thoughts would be his thoughts, with whom there would be no need of speech. Then his longing swelled, grew fiercer and more undefined, and a sudden burst of energy convulsed him and struggled to find vent. His breath came hard, and he stretched his arms out into the night, uncertainly, as if to grasp something he did not see; but they fell to his side again. He would have liked to sweep through the air, to feel the wind rushing dizzily through him; or to be set down before some feat that demanded the strength of a Titan—anything, no matter what, to be rid of the fever in his veins. But it beset him, again and again, only by slow degrees weakening and dying away.
A bitter moisture sprang to his eyes. Leaning his head on his arms, he endeavoured to call up her face. But it was of no use, though he strained every nerve; for some time he could see only the rose that had lain beside her on the piano, and in the troubled image that at last crowned his patience, her eyes looked out, like jewels, from a setting of golden petals.
Lying wakeful in the darkness, he saw them more clearly. Now, though, they had a bluish light, were like moons, moons that burnt. If he lit the lamp and tried to read, they got between him and the book, and danced up and down the pages, with jerky, clockwork movements, like stage fireflies. He put the light out, and lay staring vacantly at the pale square of the window. And then, just when he was least expecting it, he saw the whole face, so close to him and so distinctly, that he started up on his elbow; and in the second or two it remained—a Medusa-face, opaquely white, with deep, unfathomable eyes—he recognised, with a shock, that his peace of mind was gone; that the sudden experience of a few hours back had given his life new meaning; that something had happened to him which could not be undone; in other words—with an incredulous gasp at his own folly—that he was head over ears in love.
Through the uneasy sleep into which he ultimately fell, she, and the yellow rose, and the Rose of Sharon—a giant flower, with monstrous crimson petals—passed and repassed, in one of those glorious tangles, which no dreamer has ever unravelled.
When he wakened, it was broad daylight, and things wore a different aspect. Not that his impression of the night had faded, but it was forced to retire behind the hard, clear affairs of the morning. He got up, full of vigour, impatient to be at work, and having breakfasted, sat down at the piano, where he remained until his hands dropped from the keys with fatigue. Throughout these hours, his mind ran chiefly on the words Schwarz had said to him, the previous evening. They rose before him in their full significance, and he leisurely chewed the honeyed cud of praise. “I will undertake to make something of you, undertake to make something of you”—his brain tore the phrase to tatters. “Something” was properly vague, as praise should be, and allowed the imagination free scope. Under the stimulus, everything came easy; he mastered a passage of bound sixths that had baffled him for days. And in this elated frame of mind, there was something almost pleasurable in the pang with which he would become conscious of a shadow in the background, a spot on his sun to make him unhappy.
Unhappy?—no: it gave a zest to his goings—out and comings-in. Through long hours of work he was borne up by an ardent hope: afterwards, he might see her. It made the streets exciting places of possible surprises. Might she not, at any moment, turn the corner and be before him? Might she not, this very instant, be going in the same direction as he, in the next street? But a very little of this pleasant dallying with chance was enough. One morning, when the houses opposite were ablaze with sunshine, and he had settled down to practice with a keen relish for the obstacles to be overcome; on this morning, within half an hour, his mood swung round to the other extreme, and, from now on, his desire to see her again was a burning unrest, which roused him from sleep, and drove him out, at odd hours, no matter what he was doing. Moodily he scoured the streets round the Conservatorium, disconcerted by his own folly, and pricked incessantly by the consciousness of time wasted. A companion at his side might have dispelled the cobwebs; but Dove, his only friend, he avoided, for the reason that Dove’s unfailing good spirits needed to be met with a similiar mood. And as for speaking of the matter, the mere thought of the detailed explanation that would now be necessary, did he open his lips, filled him with dismay. When four or five days had gone by in this manner, without result, he took to hanging about, with other idlers, on the steps of the Conservatorium, always hoping that she would suddenly emerge from the doors behind him, or come towards him, a roll of music in her hand.
But she never came.
One afternoon, however, as he loitered there, he encountered his acquaintance of the very first day. He recognised her while she was still some distance off, by her peculiar springy gait; at each step, she rose slightly on the front part of her foot, as if her heels were on springs. As before, she was indifferently dressed; a small, close hat came down over her face and hid her forehead; her skirt seemed shrunken, and hung limp about her ankles, accentuating the straightness of her figure. But below the brim of the hat her eyes were as bright as ever, and took note of all that happened. On seeing Maurice, she professed to remember him “perfectly,” beginning to speak before she had quite come up to him.
The following day they met once more at the same place. This time, she raised her eyebrows.
“You here again?” she said.
She disappeared inside the building; but a few minutes later returned, and said she was going for a walk: would he come, too?
He assented, with grateful surprise, and they set off together in the direction of the woods, as briskly as though they were on an errand. But when they had crossed the suspension-bridge and reached the quieter paths that ran through the NONNE, they simultaneously slackened their pace. The luxuriant undergrowth of shrub, which filled in, like lacework, the spaces between the tree-trunks, was sprinkled with its first dots and pricks of green, and the afternoon was pleasant for walking—sunless and still, and just a little fragrantly damp from all the rife budding and sprouting. It was a day to further a friendship more effectually than half a dozen brighter ones; a day on which to speak out thoughts which a June sky, the indiscreet playing of full sunlight, even the rustling of the breeze in the leaves might scare, like fish, from the surface.
When they had laughingly introduced themselves to each other Maurice Guest’s companion talked about herself, with a frankness that left nothing to be desired, and impressed the young man at her side very agreeably. Before they had gone far, he knew all about her. Her name was Madeleine Wade; she came from a small town in Leicestershire, and, except for a step-brother, stood alone in the world. For several years, she had been a teacher in a large school near London, and the position was open for her to return to, when she had completed this, the final year of her course. Then, however, she would devote herself exclusively to the teaching of music, and, with this in view, she had here taken up as many branches of study as she had time for. Besides piano, which was her chief subject, she learned singing, organ, counterpoint, and the elements of the violin.
“So much is demanded nowadays,” she said in her dear soprano. “And if you want to get on, it doesn’t do to be behindhand. Of course, it means hard work, but that is nothing to me—I am used to work and love it. Since I was seventeen—I am twenty-six now—I can fairly say I have never got up in the morning, without having my whole day mapped and planned before me.—So you see idlers can have no place on my list of saints.”
She spoke lightly, yet with a certain under-meaning. As, however, Maurice Guest, on whom her words made a sympathetic impression, as of something strong and self-reliant—as he did not respond to it, she fell back on directness, and asked him what he had been doing when she met him, both on this day and the one before.
“I tell you candidly, I was astonished to find you there again,” she said. “As a rule, new-comers are desperately earnest brooms.”
His laugh was a trifle uneasy; and he answered evasively, not meaning to say much. But he had reckoned without the week of silence that lay behind him; it had been more of a strain than he knew, and his pent-up speech once set agoing could not be brought to a stop. An almost physical need of comunication made itself felt in him; he spoke with a volubility that was foreign to him, began his sentences with a confidential “You see,” and said things at which he himself was amazed. He related impressions, not facts, and impressions which, until now, he had not been conscious of receiving; he told unguardedly of his plans and ambitions, and even went back and touched on his home-life, dwelling with considerable bitterness on the scant sympathy he had received.
His companion looked at him curiously. She had expected a casual answer to her casual words, a surface frankness, such as she herself had shown, and, at first, she felt sceptical towards this unbidden confidence: she did not care for people who gave themselves away at a word; either they were naive to foolishness or inordinately vain. But having listened for some time to his outpourings, she began to feel reassured; and soon she understood that he was talking thus at random, merely because he was lonely and bottled-up. Before he had finished, she was even a little gratified by his openness, and on his confiding to her what Schwarz had said to him, she smiled indulgently.
“Perhaps I took it to mean more than it actually did,” said Maurice apologetically. “But anyhow it was cheering to hear it. You see, I must prove to the people at home that I was right and they were wrong. Failure was preached at me on every side. I was the only soul to believe in myself.”
“And you really disliked teaching so?”
“Hated it with all my heart.”
She frankly examined him. He had a pale, longish face, with thin lips, which might indicate either narrow prejudice or a fanatic tenacity. When he grew animated, he had a habit of opening his eyes very wide, and of staring straight before him. At such moments, too, he tossed back his head, with the impatient movements of a young horse. His hands and feet were good, his clothes of a provincial cut. Her fingers itched to retie the bow of his cravat for him, to pull him here and there into shape. Altogether, he made the impression upon her of being a very young man: when he coloured, or otherwise grew embarrassed, under her steady gaze, she mentally put him down for less than twenty. But he had good manners; he allowed her to pass before him, where the way grew narrow; walked on the outside of the path; made haste to draw back an obstreperous branch; and not one of these trifling conventionalities was lost on Madeleine Wade.
They had turned their steps homewards, and were drawing near the edge of the wood, when, through the tree-trunks, which here were bare and far apart, they saw two people walking arm in arm; and on turning a corner found the couple coming straight towards them, on the same path as themselves. In the full flush of his talk, Maurice Guest did not at first grasp what was about to happen. He had ended the sentence he was at, and begun another, before the truth broke on him. Then he stuttered, lost the thread of his thought, was abruptly silent; and what he had been going to say, and what, a moment before, had seemed of the utmost importance, was never said. His companion did not seem to notice his preoccupation; she gave an exclamation of what sounded like surprise, and herself looked steadily at the approaching pair. Thus they went forward to a meeting which the young man had imagined to himself in many ways, but not in this. The moment he had waited for had come; and now he wished himself miles away. Meanwhile, they walked on, in a brutal, matter-of-fact fashion, and at a fairish pace, though each step he took was an event, and his feet were as heavy and awkward as if they did not belong to him.
The other two sauntered towards them, without haste. The man she was with had his arm through hers, her hand in his left hand, while in his right he twirled a cane. They were not speaking; she looked before her, rather listlessly, with dark, indifferent eyes. To see this, to see also that she was taller and broader than he had believed, and in full daylight somewhat sallow, Maurice had first to conquer an aversion to look at all, on account of the open familiarity of their attitude. It was not like this that he had dreamt of finding her. And so it happened that when, without a word to him, his companion crossed the path and confronted the other two, he only lingered for an instant, in an agony of indecision, and then, by an impulse over which he had no control, walked on and stood out of earshot.
He drew a deep breath, like one who has escaped a danger; but almost simultaneously he bit his lip with mortification: could any power on earth make it clear to him why he had acted in this way? All his thoughts had been directed towards this moment for so long, only to take this miserable end. A string of contemptuous epithets for himself rose to his lips. But when he looked back at the group, the reason of his folly was apparent to him; at the sight of this other beside her, a sharp twinge of jealousy had run through him and disturbed his balance. He gazed ardently at her in the hope that she would look round, but it was only the man—he was caressing his slight moustache and hitting at loose stones while the girls talked—who turned, as if drawn by Maurice’s stare, and looked full at him, with studied insolence. In him, Maurice recognised the violinist of the concert, but he, too, was taller than he had believed, and much younger. A mere boy, said Maurice to himself; a mere boy, with a disagreeable dissipated face.
Madeleine Wade came hurrying to rejoin him, apologising for the delay; the meeting had, however, been fortunate, as she had had a message from Schwarz to deliver. Maurice let a few seconds elapse, then asked without preamble: “Who is that?”
His companion looked quickly at him, struck both by his tone and by his unconscious use of the singular. The air of indifference with which he was looking out across the meadowland, told its own tale.
“Schilsky? Don’t you know Schilsky? Our Joachim IN SPE?” she asked, to tease him.
Maurice Guest coloured. “Yes, I heard him play the other night,” he answered in good faith. “But I didn’t mean him. I meant the—the lady he was with.”
The girl at his side laughed, not very heartily.
“ET TU, BRUTE!” she said. “I might have known it. It really is remarkable that though so many people don’t think Louise goodlooking—I have often heard her called plain—yet I never knew a man go past her without turning his head.—You want to know who and what she is? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Schwarz would tell you she was one of his most gifted pupils—but no: he always says that of his pretty girls, and some do find her pretty, you know.”
“She is, indeed, very,” said Maurice with warmth. “Though I think pretty is not just the word.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is,” said Madeleine, and this time there was a note of mockery in her laugh. But Maurice did not let himself be deterred. As it seemed likely that she was going to let the subject rest here, he persisted: “But suppose I asked you—what would you say?”
She gave him a shrewd side-glance. “I think I won’t tell you,” she said, more gravely. “If a man has once thought a girl pretty, and all the rest of it, he’s never grateful for the truth. If I said Louise was a baggage, or a minx, or some other horrid thing, you would always bear me a grudge for it, so please note, I don’t say it—for we are going to be friends, I hope?”
“I hope so, too,” said the young man.
They walked some distance along the unfinished end of the MOZARTSTRASSE, where only a few villas stood, in newly made gardens.
“At least, I should like to know her name her whole name. You said Louise, I think?”
She laughed outright at this. “Her name is Dufrayer, Louise Dufrayer, and she has been here studying with Schwarz for about a year and a half now. She has some talent, but is indolent to the last degree, and only works when she can’t help it. Also she always has an admirer of some kind in tow. This, to-day, is her last particular friend.—Is that biographical matter enough?”
He was afraid he had made himself ridiculous in her eyes, and did not answer. They walked the rest of the way in silence. At her house-door, they paused to take leave of each other.
“Good-bye. Come and see me sometimes when you have time. We were once colleagues, you know, and are now fellow-pupils. I should be glad to help you if you ever need help.”
He thanked her and promised to remember; then walked home without, knowing how he did it. He had room in brain for one thought only; he knew her name, he knew her name. He said it again and again to himself, walked in time with it, and found it as heady as wine; the mere sound of the spoken syllables seemed to bring her nearer to him, to establish a mysterious connection between them. Moreover, in itself it pleased him extraordinarily; and he was vaguely grateful to something outside himself, that it was a name he could honestly admire.
In a kind of defiant challenge to unseen powers, he doubled his arm and felt the muscles in it. Then he sat down at his piano, and, to the dismay of his landlady—for it was now late evening—practised for a couple of hours without stopping. And the scales he sent flying up and down in the darkness had a ring of exultation in them, were like cries of triumph.
He had discovered the “Open Sesame” to his treasure. And there was time and to spare. He left everything to the future, in blind trust that it would bring him good fortune. It was enough that they were here together, inhabitants of the same town. Besides, he had formed a friendship with some one who knew her; a way would surely open up, in which he might make her aware of his presence. In the meantime, it was something to live for. Each day that dawned might be THE day.
But little by little, like a fountain run dry, his elation subsided, and, as he lay sleepless, he had a sudden fit of jealous despair. He remembered, with a horrid distinctness, how he had seen her. Again she came towards them, at the other’s side, hand in hand with him, inattentive to all but him. Now he could almost have wept at the recollection. Those clasped hands!—he could have forgiven everything else, but the thought of these remained with him and stung him. Here he lay, thinking wild and foolish things, building castles that had no earthly foundation, and all the time it was another who had the right to be with her, to walk at her side, and share her thoughts. Again he was the outsider; behind these two was a life full of detail and circumstance, of which he knew nothing. His excited brain called up pictures, imagined fiercely at words and looks, until the darkness and stillness of the room became unendurable; and he sprang up, threw on his clothing, and went out. Retracing his steps, he found the very spot where they had met. Guiltily, with a stealthy look round him, though wood and night were black as ink, he knelt down and kissed the gravel where he thought she had stood.
It was through Dove’s agency—Dove was always on the spot to guide and assist his friends; to advise where the best, or cheapest, or rarest, of anything was to be had, from secondhand Wagner scores to hair pomade; he knew those shops where the “half-quarters” of ham or roast-beef weighed heavier than elsewhere, restaurants where the beer had least froth and the cutlets were largest for the money; knew the ins and outs of Leipzig as no other foreigner did, knew all that went on, and the affairs of everybody, as though he went through life garnering in just those little facts that others were apt to overlook. Through Dove, Maurice became a paying guest at a dinner-table kept by two maiden ladies, who eked out their income by providing a plain meal, at a low price, for respectable young people.
The company was made up to a large extent of English-speaking foreigners. There were several university students—grave-faced, older men, with beards and spectacles—who looked down on the young musicians, and talked, of set purpose, on abstruse subjects. More noteworthy were two American pianists: Ford, who could not carry a single glass of beer, and played better when he had had more than one; and James, a wiry, red-haired man, with an unfaltering opinion of himself, and an iron wrist—by means of a week’s practice, he could ruin any piano. Two ladies were also present. Philadelphia Jensen; of German-American parentage, was a student of voice-production, under a Swedish singing master who had lately set musical circles in a ferment, with his new and extraordinary method: its devotees swore that, in time, it would display marvellous results; but, in the meantime, the most advanced pupils were only emitting single notes, and the greater number stood, every morning, before their respective mirrors, watching their mouths open and shut, fish-fashion, without producing a sound. Miss Jensen—she preferred the English pronunciation of the J—was a large, fleshy woman, with a curled fringe and prominent eyes. Her future stage-presence was the object of general admiration; it was whispered that she aimed at Isolde. Loud in voice and manner, she was fond of proclaiming her views on all kinds of subjects, from diaphragmatic respiration, through GHOSTS, which was being read by a bold, advanced few, down to the continental methods of regulating vice—to the intense embarrassment of those who sat next her at table. Still another American lady, Miss Martin, was studying with Bendel, the rival of Schwarz; and as she lived in the same quarter of the town as Dove and Maurice, the three of them often walked home together. For the most part, Miss Martin was in a state of tragic despair. With the frankness of her race, she admitted that she had arrived in Leipzig, expecting to astonish. In this she had been disappointed; Bendel had treated her like any other of his pupils; she was still playing Haydn and Czerny, and saw endless vistas of similar composers “back of these.” Dove laid the whole blame on Bendel’s method—which he denounced with eloquence—and strongly advocated her becoming a pupil of Schwarz. He himself undertook to arrange matters, and, in what seemed an incredibly short time, the change was effected. For a little, things went better; Schwarz was reported to have said that she had talent, great talent, and that he would make something of her; but soon, she was complaining anew: if there were any difference between Czerny and Bertini, Haydn and Dussek, some one might “slick up “and tell her what it was. Off the subject of her own gifts, she was a lively, affable girl, with china-blue eyes, pale flaxen hair, and coal-black eyebrows; and both young men got on well with her, in the usual superficial way. For Maurice Guest, she had the additional attraction, that he had once seen her in the street with the object of his romantic fancy.
Since the afternoon when he had heard from Madeleine Wade who this was, he had not advanced a step nearer making her acquaintance; though a couple of weeks had passed, though he now knew two people who knew her, and though his satisfaction at learning her name had immediately yielded to a hunger for more. And now, hardly a day went by, on which he did not see her. His infatuation had made him keen of scent; by following her, with due precaution, he had found out for himself in the BRUDERSTRASSE, the roomy old house she lived in; had found out how she came and went. He knew her associates, knew the streets she preferred, the hour of day at which she was to be met at the Conservatorium. Far away, at the other end of one of the quiet streets that lay wide and sunny about the Gewandhaus, when, to other eyes she was a mere speck in the distance, he learned to recognise her—if only by the speed at which his heart beat—and he even gave chase to imaginary resemblances. Once he remained sitting in a tramway far beyond his destination, because he traced, in one of the passengers, a curious likeness to her, in long, wavy eyebrows that were highest in the middle of the forehead.
Thus the pale face with the heavy eyes haunted him by day and by night.
He was very happy and very unhappy, by turns—never at rest. If he imagined she had looked observantly at him as she passed, he was elated for hours after. If she did not seem to notice him, it was brought home to him anew that he was nothing to her; and once, when he had gazed too boldly, instead of turning away his eyes, as she went close by him to Schwarz’s room, and she had resented the look with cold surprise, he felt as culpable as if he had insulted her. He atoned for his behaviour, the next time they met, by assuming his very humblest air; once, too, he deliberately threw himself in her way, for the mere pleasure of standing aside with the emphatic deference of a slave. Throughout this period, and particularly after an occasion such as the last, his self-consciousness was so peculiarly intensified that his surroundings ceased to exist for him—they two were the gigantic figures on a shadow background—and what he sometimes could not believe was, that such feelings as these should be seething in him, and she remain ignorant of them. He lost touch with reality, and dreamed dreams of imperceptible threads, finer than any gossamer, which could be spun from soul to soul, without the need of speech.
He heaped on her all the spiritual perfections that answered to her appearance. And he did not, for a time, observe anything to make him waver in his faith that she was whiter, stiller, and more unapproachable—of a different clay, in short, from other women. Then, however, this illusion was shattered. Late one afternoon, she came down the stairs of the house she lived in, and, pausing at the door, looked up and down the hot, empty street, shading her eyes with her hand. No one was in sight, and she was about to turn away, when, from where he was watching in a neighbouring doorway, Maurice saw the red-haired violinist come swiftly round the corner. She saw him, too, took a few, quick steps towards him, and, believing herself unseen, looked up in is face as they met; and the passionate tenderness of the look, the sudden lighting of lip and eye, racked the poor, unwilling spy for days. To suit this abrupt descent from the pedestal, he was obliged to carve a new attribute to his idol, and laboriously adapt it.
Schilsky, this insolent boy, was the thorn in his side. It was Schilsky she was oftenest to be met with; he was her companion at the most unexpected hours; and, with reluctance, Maurice had to admit to himself that she had apparently no thought to spare for anyone else. But it did not make any difference. The curious way in which he felt towards her, the strange, overwhelming effect her face had on him, took no account of outside things. Though he might never hope for a word from her; though he should learn in the coming moment that she was the other’s promised wife; he could not for that reason banish her from his mind. His feelings were not to be put on and off, like clothes; he had no power over them. It was simply a case of accepting things as they were, and this he sought to do.
But his imagination made it hard for him, by throwing up pictures in which Schilsky was all-prominent. He saw him the confidant of her joys and troubles; HE knew their origin, knew what key her day was set in. If her head ached, if she were tired or spiritless, his hand was on her brow. The smallest events in her life were an open book to him; and it was these worthless details that Maurice Guest envied him most. He kept a tight hold on his fancy, but if, as sometimes happened, it slipped control, and painted further looks of the kind he had seen exchanged between them, a kiss or an embrace, he was as wretched as if he had in reality been present.
At other times, this jealous unrest was not the bitterest drop in his cup; it was bitterer to know that she was squandering her love on one who was unworthy of it. At first, from a feeling of exaggerated delicacy, he had gone out of his way to escape hearing Schilsky’s name; but this mood passed, and gave place to an undignified hankering to learn everything he could, concerning the young man. What he heard amounted to this: a talented rascal, the best violinist the Conservatorium had turned out for years, one to whom all gates would open; but—this “but” always followed, with a meaning smile and a wink of the eye: and then came the anecdotes. They had nothing heaven-scaling in them—these soiled love-stories; this perpetual impecuniosity; this inability to refuse money, no matter whose the hand that offered it; this fine art in the disregarding of established canons—and, to Maurice Guest, bred to sterner standards, they seemed unspeakably low and mean. Hours came when he strove in vain to understand her. Ignorant of these things she could not be; was it within the limits of the possible that she could overlook them?—and he shivered lest he should be forced to think less highly of her. Ultimately, sending his mind back over what he had read and heard, drawing on his own slight experience, he came to a compromise with himself. He said that most often the best and fairest women loved men who were unworthy of them. Was it not a weakness and a strength of her sex to see good where no good was?—a kind of divine frailty, a wilful blindness, a sweet inability to discern.
At times, again, he felt almost content that Schilsky was what he was. If the day should ever come when, all barriers down, he, Maurice Guest, might be intimately associated with her life; if he should ever have the chance of proving to her what real love was, what a holy mystic thing, how far removed from a blind passing fancy; if he might serve her, be her slave, lay his hands under her feet, lead her up and on, all suffused in a sunset of tenderness: then, she would see that what she had believed to be love had been nothing but a FATA MORGANA, a mirage of the skies. And he heard himself whispering words of incredible fondness to her, saw her listening with wonder in her eyes.
At still other moments, he was ready to renounce every hope, if, by doing so, he could add jot or tittle to her happiness.
The further he spun himself into his dreams, however, and the better he learnt to know her in imagination, the harder it grew to take the first step towards realising his wishes. In those few, brief days, when he hugged her name to him as a talisman, he waited cheerfully for something to happen, something unusual, that would bring him to her notice—a dropped handkerchief, a seat vacated for her at a concert, even a timely accident. But as day after day went by, in eventless monotony, he began to cast about him for human aid. From Dove, his daily companion, Dove of the outstretched paws of continual help, he now shrank away. Miss Martin was not to be spoken to except in Dove’s company. There was only one person who could assist him, if she would, and that was Madeleine Wade. He called to mind the hearty invitation she had given him, and reproached himself for not having taken advantage of it.
One afternoon, towards six o’clock, he rang the bell of her lodgings in the MOZARTSTRASSE. This was a new street, the first blocks of which gave directly on the Gewandhaus square; but, at the further end, where she lived, a phalanx of redbrick and stucco fronts looked primly across at a similar line. In the third storey of one of these houses, Madeleine Wade had a single, large room, the furniture of which was so skilfully contrived, that, by day, all traces of the room’s double calling were obliterated.
As he entered, on this first occasion, she was practising at a grand piano which stood before one of the windows. She rose at once, and, having greeted him warmly, made him sit down among the comfortable cushions that lined the sofa. Then she took cups and saucers from a cupboard in the wall, and prepared tea over a spirit-lamp. He soon felt quite at home with her, and enjoyed himself so well that many such informal visits followed.
But the fact was not to be denied: it was her surroundings that attracted him, rather than she herself. True, he found her frankness delightfully “refreshing,” and when he spoke of her, it was as of an “awfully good sort,” “a first-class girl”; for Madeleine was invariably lively, kind and helpful. At the same time, she was without doubt a trifle too composed, too sure of herself; she had too keen an eye for human foibles; she came towards you with a perfectly natural openness, and she came all the way—there was nothing left for you to explore. And when not actually with her, it was easy to forget her; there was never a look or a smile, never a barbed word, never a sudden spontaneous gesture—the vivid translation of a thought—to stamp itself on your memory.
But it was only at the outset that he thought things like these. Madeleine Wade had been through experiences of the same kind before; and hardly a fortnight later they were calling each other by their Christian names.
When he came to her, towards evening, tired and inclined to be lonely, she seated him in a corner of the sofa, and did not ask him to say much until she had made the tea. Then, when the cups were steaming in front of them, she discussed sympathetically with him the progress of his work. She questioned him, too, about
When he came to her, tired and inclined to be lonely, she seated him in a corner of the sofa, and did not ask him to say much until she made tea. Then, when the cups were steaming in front of them, she discussed sympathetically with him the progress of his work. She questioned him, too, about his home and family, and he read her parts of his mother’s letters, which arrived without fail every Tuesday morning. She also drew from him a more detailed account of his previous life; and, in this connection, they had several animated discussions about teaching, a calling to which Madeleine looked composedly forward to returning, while Maurice, in strong superlative, declared he had rather force a flock of sheep to walk in line. She told him, too, some of the gossip the musical quarter of the town was rife with, about those in high places; and, in particular, of the bitter rivalry that had grown up with the years between Schwarz and Bendel, the chief masters of the piano. If these two met in the street, they passed each other with a stony stare; if, at an ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, a pupil of one was to play, the other rose ostentatiously and left the hall. She also hinted that in order to obtain all you wanted at the Conservatorium, to be favoured above your fellows, it was only necessary flagrantly to bribe one of the clerks, Kleefeld by name, who was open to receive anything, being wretchedly impecunious and the father of a large family.
Finding, too, that Maurice was bent on learning German, she, who spoke the language fluently, proposed that they should read it together; and soon it became their custom to work through a few pages of QUINTUS FIXLEIN, a scene or two of Schiller, some lyrics of Heine. They also began to play duets, symphonies old and new, and Madeleine took care constantly to have something fresh and interesting at hand. To all this the young man brought an unbounded zeal, and, if he had had his way, they would have gone on playing or reading far into the evening.
She smiled at his eagerness. “You absorb like a sponge.”
When it grew too dark to see, he confided to her that his dearest wish was to be a conductor. He was not yet clear how it could be managed, but he was sure that this was the branch of his art for which he had most aptitude.
Here she interrupted him. “Do you never write verses?”
Her question seemed to him so meaningless that he only laughed, and went on with what he was saying. For the event of his plan proving impracticable—at home they had no idea of it—he was training as a concert-player; but he intended to miss no chance that offered, of learning how to handle an orchestra.
Throughout these hours of stimulating companionship, however, he did not lose sight of his original purpose in going to see Madeleine. It was only that just the right moment never seemed to come; and the name he was so anxious to hear, had not once been mentioned between them. Often, in the dusk, his lips twitched to speak it; but he feared his own awkwardness, and her quick tongue; then, too, the subject was usually far aside from what they were talking of, and it would have made a ludicrous impression to drag it in by the hair.
But one day his patience was rewarded. He had carelessly taken up a paper-bound volume of Chopin, and was on the point of commenting upon it, for he had lately begun to understand the difference between a Litolff and a Mikuli. But it slipped from his hand, and he was obliged to crawl under the piano to pick it up; on a corner of the cover, in a big, black, scrawly writing, was the name of Marie Louise Dufrayer. He cleared his throat, laid the volume down, took it up again; then, realising that the moment had come, he put a bold face on the matter.
“I see this belongs to Miss Dufrayer,” he said bluntly, and, as his companion’s answer was only a careless: “Yes, Louise forgot it the last time she was here,” he went on without delay: “I should like to know Miss Dufrayer, Madeleine. Do you think you could introduce me to her?”
Madeleine, who was in the act of taking down a book from her hanging shelves, turned and looked at him. He was still red in the face, from the exertion of stooping.
“Introduce you to Louise?” she queried. “Why?—why do you want to be introduced to her?”
“Oh, I don’t know. For no particular reason.”
She sat down at the table, opened the book, and turned the leaves.
“Oh well, I daresay I can, if you wish it, and an opportunity occurs—if you’re with me some day when I meet her.—Now shall we go on with the JUNGFRAU? We were beginning the third act, I think. Here it is:
Wir waren Herzensbruder, Waffenfreunde, Fur eine Sache hoben wir den Arm!”
But Maurice did not take the book she handed him across the table.
“Won’t you give me a more definite promise than that?”
Madeleine sat back in her chair, and, folding her arms, looked thoughtfully at him.
Only a momentary silence followed his words, but, in this fraction of time, a series of impressions swept through her brain with the continuity of a bird’s flight. It was clear to her at once, that what prompted his insistence was not an ordinary curiosity, or a passing whim; in a flash, she understood that here, below the surface, something was at work in him, the existence of which she had not even suspected. She was more than annoyed with herself at her own foolish obtuseness; she had had these experiences before, and then, as now, the object of her interest had invariably been turned aside by the first pretty, silly face that came his way. The main difference was that she had been more than ordinarily drawn to Maurice Guest; and, believing it impossible, in this case, for anyone else to be sharing the field with her, she had over-indulged the hope that he sought her out for herself alone.
She endeavoured to learn more. But this time Maurice was on his guard, and the questions she put, straight though they were, only elicited the response that he had seen Miss Dufrayer shortly after arriving, and had been much struck by her.
Madeleine’s brain travelled rapidly backwards. “But if I remember rightly, Maurice, we met Louise one day in the SCHEIBENHOLZ, the first time we went for a walk together. Why didn’t you stop then, and be introduced to her, if you were so anxious?”
“Why do we ever do foolish things?”
Her amazement was so patent that he made uncomfortable apology for himself. “It is ridiculous, I know,” he said and coloured. “And it must seem doubly so to you. But that I should want to know her—there’s nothing strange in that, is there? You, too, Madeleine, have surely admired people sometimes—some one, say, who has done a fine thing—and have felt that you must know them personally, at all costs?”
“Perhaps I have. But romantic feelings of that kind are sure to end in smoke. As a rule they’ve no foundation but our own wishes.—If you take my advice, Maurice, you will be content to admire Louise at a distance. Think her as pretty as you like, and imagine her to be all that’s sweet and charming: but never mind about knowing her.”
“But why on earth not?”
“Why, nothing will come of it.”
“That depends on what you mean by nothing.”
“You don’t understand. I must be plainer.—Do sit down, and don’t fidget so.—How long have you been here now? Nearly two months. Well, that’s long enough to know something of what’s going on. You must have both seen and heard that Louise has no eyes for anyone but a certain person, to put it bluntly, that she is wrapped up in Schilsky. This has been going on for over a year now, and she seems to grow more infatuated every day. When she first came to Leipzig, we were friends; she lived in this neighbourhood, and I was able to be of service to her. Now, weeks go by and I don’t see her; she has broken with every one—for Louise is not a girl to do things by halves.—Introduce you? Of course I can. But suppose it done, with all pomp and ceremony, what will you get from it? I know Louise. A word or two, if her ladyship is in the mood; if not, you will be so much thin air for her. And after that, a nod if she meets you in the street—and that’s all.”
“You’re easily satisfied.—But tell me, honestly now, Maurice, what possible good can that do you?”
He moved aimlessly about the room. “Good? Must one always look for good in everything?—I can see quite well that from your point of view the whole thing must seem absurd. I expect nothing whatever from it, but I’m going to know her, and that’s all about it.”
Still in the same position, with folded arms, Madeleine observed him with unblinking eyes.
“And you won’t bear me a grudge, if things go badly?—I mean if you are disappointed, or dissatisfied?”
He made a gesture of impatience.
“Yes, but I know Louise, and you don’t.”
He had picked up from the writing-table the photograph of a curate, and he stared at it as if he had no thought but to let the mild features stamp themselves on his mind. Madeleine’s eyes continued to bore him through. At last, out of a silence, she said slowly: “Of course I can introduce you—it’s done with a wave of the hand. But, as your friend, I think it only right to warn you what you must expect. For I can see you don’t understand in the least, and are laying up a big disappointment for yourself. However, you shall have your way—if only to show you that I am right.”
“Thanks, Madeleine—thanks awfully.”
They settled down to read Schiller. But Maurice made one slip after another, and she let them pass uncorrected. She was annoyed with herself afresh, for having made too much of the matter, for having blown it up to a fictitious importance, when the wiser way would have been to treat it as of no consequence at all.
The next afternoon he arrived, with expectation in his face; but not on this day, nor the next, nor the next again, did she bring the subject up between them. On the fourth, however, as he was leaving, she said abruptly: “You must have patience for a little, Maurice. Louise has gone to Dresden.”
“That’s why the blinds are down,” he exclaimed without thinking, then coloured furiously at his own words, and, to smooth them over, asked: “Why has she gone? For how long?”
But Madeleine caught him up. “SIEH DA, some one has been playing sentinel!” she said in raillery; and it seemed to him that every fold in his brain was laid bare to her, before she answered: “She has gone for a week or ten days—to visit some friends who are staying there.”
He nodded, and was about to open the door, when she added: “But set your mind at rest—HE is here.”
Maurice looked sharply up; but a minute or two passed before the true meaning of her words broke on him. He coloured again—a mortifying habit he had not outgrown, and one which seemed to affect him more in the presence of Madeleine than of anyone else.
“It’s hardly a thing to joke about.”
“Joke!—who is joking?” she asked, and raised her eyebrows so high that her forehead was filled with wrinkles. “Nothing was further from my thoughts.”
Maurice hesitated, and stood undecided, holding the doorhandle. Then, following an impulse, he turned and sat down again. “Madeleine, tell me—I wouldn’t ask anyone but you—what sort of a fellow IS this Schilsky?”
“What sort of a fellow?” She laughed sarcastically. “To be quite truthful, Maurice, the best fiddler the Con. has turned out for years.”
“Now you’re joking again. As if I didn’t know that. Everyone says the same.”
“You want his moral character? Well, I’ll be equally candid. Or, at least, I’ll give you my opinion of him. It’s another superlative. Just as I consider him the best violinist, I also hold him to be the greatest scamp in the place—and I’ve no objection to use a stronger word if you like. I wouldn’t take his hand, no, not if he offered it to me. The last time he was in this room, about six months ago, he— well, let us say he borrowed, without a word to me, five or six marks that were lying loose on the writing-table. Yes, it’s a fact,” she repeated, complacently eyeing Maurice’s dismay. “Otherwise?—oh, otherwise, he was born, I think, with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has one piece of luck after another. Zeppelin discovered him ten years ago, on a concert-tour—his father is a smith in Warsaw—and brought him to Leipzig. He was a prodigy, then, and a rich Jewish banker took him up, and paid for his education; and when he washed his hands of him in disgust, Schaefele’s wife—Schaefele is head of the HANDELVEREIN, you know—adopted him as a son—some people say as more than a son, for, though she was nearly forty, she was perfectly crazy over him, and behaved as foolishly as any of the dozens of silly girls who have lost their hearts to him.”
“I suppose they are engaged,” said Maurice after a pause, speaking out of his own thoughts.
“Do you?” she asked with mild humour. “I really never asked them.—But this is just another example of his good fortune. When he has worn out every one else’s patience, through his dishonest extravagance, he picks up a rich wife, who is not averse to supporting him before marriage.”
Maurice looked at her reproachfully. “I wonder you care to repeat such gossip.”
“It’s not gossip, Maurice. Every one knows it. Louise makes no mystery of her doings—doesn’t care that much what people say. While as for him—well, it’s enough to know it’s Schilsky. The thing is an open secret. Listen, now, and I’ll tell you how it began—just to let you judge for yourself what kind of a girl you have to deal with in Louise, and how Schilsky behaves when he wants a thing, and whether such a pair think a formal engagement necessary to their happiness. When Louise came here, a year and a half ago, Schilsky was away somewhere with Zeppelin, and didn’t get back till a couple of months afterwards. As I said, I knew Louise pretty well at that time; she had got herself into trouble with—but that’s neither here nor there. Well, my lord returns—he himself tells how it happened. It was a Thursday evening, and a Radius Commemoration was going on at the Con. He went in late, and stood at the back of the hall. Louise was there, too, just before him, and, from the first minute he saw her, he couldn’t take his eyes off her—others who were by say, too, he seemed perfectly fascinated. No one can stare as rudely as Schilsky, and he ended by making her so uncomfortable that she couldn’t bear it any longer, and went out of the hall. He after her, and it didn’t take him an hour to find out all about her. The next evening, at an ABEND, they were both there again it was just like Louise to go!—and the same thing was repeated. She left again before it was over, he followed, and this time found her in one of the side corridors; and there—mind you, without a single word having passed between them!—he took her in his arms and kissed her, kissed her soundly, half a dozen times—though they had never once spoken to each other: he boasts of it to this day. That same evening——”
“Don’t, Madeleine—please, don’t say any more! I don’t care to hear it,” broke in Maurice. He had flushed to the roots of his hair, at some points of resemblance to his own case, then grown pale again, and now he waved his arm meaninglessly in the air. “He is a scoundrel, a—a——” But he recognised that he could not condemn one without the other, and stopped short.
“My dear boy, if I don’t tell you, other people will. And at least you know I mean well by you. Besides,” she went on, not without a touch of malice as she eyed him sitting there, spoiling the leaves of a book. “Besides, I may as well show you, how you have to treat Louise, if you want to make an impression on her. You call him a scoundrel, but what of her? Believe me, Maurice,” she said more seriously, “Louise is not a whit too good for him; they were made for each other. And of course he will marry her eventually, for the sake of her, money “—here she paused and looked deliberately at him—“if not for her own.”
This time there was no mistaking the meaning of her words.
He rose from his seat with such force that the table tilted.
But Madeleine did not falter. “I told you already, you know, that Louise doesn’t care what is said about her. As soon as this unfortunate affair began, she threw up the rooms she was in at the time, and moved nearer the TALSTRASSE—where he lives. Rumour has it also that she provided herself with an accommodating landlady, who can be blind and deaf when necessary.”
“How CAN you repeat such atrocious scandal?”
He stared at her, in incredulous dismay. Her words were so many arrows, the points of which remained sticking in him.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Your not believing it doesn’t affect the truth of the story, Maurice. It was the talk of the place when it happened. And you may despise rumour as you will, my experience is, a report never springs up that hasn’t some basis of fact to go on—however small.”
He choked back, with an effort, the eloquent words that came to his lips; of what use was it to make himself still more ridiculous in her eyes? His hat had fallen to the floor; he picked it up, and brushed it on his sleeve, without knowing what he did. “Oh, well, of course, if you think that,” he said as coolly as he was able, “nothing I could say would make any difference. Every one is free to his opinions, I suppose. But, all the same, I must say, Madeleine”—he grew hot in spite of himself. “You have been her friend, you say; you have known her intimately; and yet just because she . . . she cares for this fellow in such a way that she sets caring for him above being cautious—why, not one woman in a thousand would have the courage for that sort of thing! It needs courage, not to mind what people—no, what your friends imagine, and how falsely they interpret what you do. Besides, one has only to look at her to see how absurd it is. That face and—I don’t know her, Madeleine; I’ve never spoken to her, and never may, yet I am absolutely certain that what is said about her isn’t true. So certain that—But after all, if this is what you think about . . . about it, then all I have to say is, we had better not discuss the subject again. It does no good, and we should never be of the same opinion.”
Not without embarrassment, now that he had said his say, he turned to the door. But Madeleine was not in the least angry. She gave him her hand, and said, with a smile, yet gravely, too: “Agreed, Maurice! We will not speak of Louise again.”
He shunned Madeleine for days after this. He was morose and unhappy, and brooded darkly over the baseness of wagging tongues. For the first time in his life he had come into touch with slander, that invisible Hydra, and straightway it seized upon the one person to whom he was not indifferent. In this mood it was a relief to him that certain three windows in the BRUDERSTRASSE remained closed and shuttered; with the load of malicious gossip fresh on his mind, he chose rather not to see her; he must first accustom himself to it, as to the scar left by a wound.
He did not, of course, believe what Madeleine, with her infernal frankness, had told him; but the knowledge that such a report was abroad, depressed him unspeakably: it took colour from the sky and light from the sun. Sometimes in these days, as he sat at his piano, he had a sudden fit of discouragement, which made it seem not worth while to continue playing. It was unthinkable that she could be aware how busy scandal was with her name, and how her careless acts were spied on and misrepresented; and he turned over in his mind ways and means by which she might be induced to take more thought for herself in future.
He did not believe it; but hours of distracting uncertainty came, none the less, when small things which his memory had stored up made him go so far as to ask himself, what if it should be true?—what then? But he had not courage enough to face an answer; he put the possibility away from him, in the extreme background of his mind, refused to let his brain piece its observations together. The mere suspicion was a blasphemy, a blasphemy against her dignified reserve, against her sweet pale face, her supreme disregard of those about her. Not thus would guilt have shown itself.
Schilsky, who was the origin of all the evil, he made wide circuits to avoid. He thought of him, at this time, with what he believed to be a feeling of purely personal antipathy. In his most downcast moments, he had swift and foolish visions publicly executing vengeance on him; but if, a moment later, he saw the violinist’s red hair or big hat before him in the street, he turned aside as though the other had been plague-struck. Once, however, when he was going up the steps of the Conservatorium, and Schilsky, in leaping down, pushed carelessly against him, he returned the knock so rudely and swore with such downrightness that, in spite of his hurry, Schilsky stopped and fixed him, and with equal vehemence damned him for a fool of an Englishman.
His despondency spread like a weed. A furious impatience overcame him, too, at the thought of the innumerable hours he would be forced to spend at the piano, day in, day out, for months to come, before the result could be compared with the achievements even of many a fellow-student. As the private lessons Schwarz gave were too expensive for him, he decided, as a compromise, to take a course of extra lessons with Furst, who prepared pupils for the master, and was quite willing to come to terms, in other words, who taught for what he could get.
Once a week, then, for the rest of the summer, Maurice climbed the steep, winding stair of the house in the BRANDVORWERKSTRASSE where Furst lived with his mother. It was so dark on this stair that, in dull weather, ill-trimmed lamps burnt all day long on the different landings. To its convolutions, in its unaired corners, clung what seemed to be the stale, accumulated smells of years; and these were continually reinforced; since every day at dinnertime, the various kitchen-windows, all of which gave on the stair, were opened to let the piercing odours of cooking escape. The house, like the majority of its kind in this relatively new street, was divided into countless small lodgings; three families, with three rooms apiece, lived on each storey, and on the fifth floor, at the top of the house, the same number of rooms was let out singly. Part of the third storey was occupied by a bird-fancier; and between him and the Fursts above waged perpetual war, one of those petty, unending wars that can only arise and be kept up when, as here, such heterogeneous elements are forced to live side by side, under one roof. The fancier, although his business was nominally in the town, had enough of his wares beside him to make his house a lively, humming kind of place, and the strife dated back to a day when, the door standing temptingly ajar, Peter, the Fursts’ lean cat, had sneaked stealthily in upon this, to him, enchanted ground, and, according to the fancier, had caused the death, from fright, of a delicate canary, although the culprit had done nothing more than sit before the cage, licking his lips. This had happened several years ago, but each party was still fertile in planning annoyances for the other, and the females did not bow when they met. On the fourth floor, next the Fursts, lived a pale, harassed teacher, with a family which had long since outgrown its accommodation; for the wife was perpetually in childbed, and cots and cradles were the chief furniture of the house. As the critical moments of her career drew nigh, the “Frau Lehrer” complained, with an aggravated bitterness, of the unceasing music that went on behind the thin partition; and this grievance, together with the racy items of gossip left behind the midwife’s annual visit, like a trail of smoke, provided her and Furst’s mother with infinite food for talk. They were thick friends again a few minutes after a scene so lively that blows seemed imminent, and they met every morning on the landing, where, with broom or child in hand, they stood gossiping by the hour.
When Maurice rang, Frau Furst opened the door to him herself, having first cautiously examined him through the kitchen window. Drying her hands on her apron, she ushered him through the tiny entry—a place of dangers, pitch-dark as it was, and lumbered with chests and presses—into Franz’s room, the “best room” of the house. Here were collected a red plush suite, which was the pride of Frau Furst’s heart, and all the round, yellowing family photographs; here, too, stood the well-used Bechstein, pile upon pile of music, a couple of music-stands, a bust of Schubert, a faded, framed diploma. For years, assuredly, the windows had never been thrown wide open; the odours of stale coffee and forgotten dinners, of stove and warmed wood, of piano, music and beeswax: all these lay as it were in streaks in the atmosphere, and made it heavy and thought-benumbing.
A willing listener was worth more than gold to Frau Furst and here, the first time he came, while waiting for Franz, Maurice heard in detail the history of the family. The father had been an oboist in the Gewandhaus orchestra, and had died a few years previously, of a chill incurred after a performance of DIE MEISTERSINGER. At his death, it had fallen on Franz to support the family; and, thanks to Schwarz’s aid and influence, Franz was able to get as many pupils as he had time to teach. It was easy to see that this, her eldest son, was the apple of Frau Furst’s eye; her other children seemed to be there only to meet his needs; his lightest wish was law. Each additional pupil that sought him out, was a fresh tribute to his genius, each one that left him, no matter after how long, was unthankful and a traitor. For the nights on which his quartet met at the house, she prepared as another woman would for a personal fete; and she watched the candles grow shorter without a tinge of regret. When Franz played at an ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, the family turned out in a body. Schwarz was a god, all-powerful, on whom their welfare depended; and it was necessary to propitiate him by a quarterly visit on a Sunday morning, when, over wine and biscuits, she wept real and feigned tears of gratitude.
In this hard-working, careworn woman, who was seldom to be seen but in petticoat, bed-jacket, and heelless, felt shoes; who, her whole life long, had been little better than a domestic servant; in her there existed a devotion to art which had never wavered. It would have seemed to her contrary to nature that Franz should be anything but a musician, and it was also quite in the order of things for them to be poor. Two younger boys, who were still at school, gave up all their leisure time to music—they had never in their lives tumbled round a football or swung a bat—and Franz believed that the elder would prove a skilful violinist. Of the little girls, one had a pure voice and a good ear, and was to be a singer—for before this Juggernaut, prejudice went down. Had anyone suggested to Frau Furst that her daughter should be a clerk, even a teacher, she would have flung up hands of horror; but music!—that was a different matter. It was, moreover, the single one of the arts, in which this staunch advocate of womanliness granted her sex a share.
“Ask Franz,” she said to Maurice. “Franz knows. He will explain. All women can do is to reproduce what some one else has thought or felt.”
As an immortal example of the limits set by sex, she invariably fell back on Clara Schumann, with whom she had more than once come into personal contact. In her youth, Frau Furst had had a clear soprano voice, and, to Maurice’s interest, she told him how she had sometimes been sent for to the Schumann’s house in the INSELSTRASSE, to sing Robert’s songs for him.
“Clara accompanied me,” she said, relating this, the great reminiscence of her life; “and he was there, too, although I never saw him face to face. He was too shy for that. But he was behind a screen, and sometimes he would call: ‘I must alter that; it is too high;’ or ‘Quicker, quicker!’ Sometimes even ‘Bravo!’”
Her motherly ambitions for Franz knew no bounds. One of the few diversions she allowed herself was a visit to the theatre—when Franz had tickets given to him; when one of her favourite operas was performed; or on the anniversary of her husband’s death—and, on such occasions, she pointed out to the younger children, the links that bound and would yet bind them to the great house.
“That was your father’s seat,” she reminded them every time. “The second row from the end. He came in at the door to the left. And that,” pointing to the conductor’s raised chair, “is where Franz will sit some day.” For she dreamed of Franz in all the glory of KAPELLMEISTER; saw him swinging the little stick that dominated the theatre-audience, singers and players alike.
And the children, hanging over the high gallery, shuffling their restless feet, thus had their path as dearly traced for them, their destiny as surely sealed, as any fate-shackled heroes of antiquity.
* * * * *
Late one afternoon about this time, Franz might have been found together with his friends Krafft and Schilsky, at the latter’s lodging in the TALSTRASSE. He was astride a chair, over the back of which he had folded his arms; and his chubby, rubicund face glistened with moisture.
In the middle of the room, at the corner of a bare deal table that was piled with loose music and manuscript, Schilsky sat improving and correcting the tails and bodies of hastily made, notes. He was still in his nightshirt, over which he had thrown coat and trousers; and, wide open at the neck, it exposed to the waist a skin of the dead whiteness peculiar to red-haired people. His face, on the other hand, was sallow and unfresh; and the reddish rims of the eyes, and the coarsely self-indulgent mouth, contrasted strikingly with the general youthfulness of his appearance. He had the true musician’s head: round as a cannon-ball, with a vast, bumpy forehead, on which the soft fluffy hair began far back, and stood out like a nimbus. His eyes were either desperately dreamy or desperately sharp, never normally attentive or at rest; his blunted nose and chin were so short as to make the face look top-heavy. A carefully tended young moustache stood straight out along his cheeks. He had large, slender hands, and quick movements.
The air of the room was like a thin grey veiling, for all three puffed hard at cigarettes. Without removing his from between his teeth, Schilsky related an adventure of the night before. He spoke in jerks, with a strong lisp, intent on what he was doing than on what he was saying.
“Do you think he’d budge?” he asked in a thick, spluttery way. “Not he. Till nearly two. And then I couldn’t get him along. He thought it wasn’t eleven, and wanted to relieve himself at every corner. To irritate an imaginary bobby. He disputed with them, too. Heavens, what sport it was! At last I dragged him up here and got him on the sofa. Off he rolls again. So I let him lie. He didn’t disturb me.”
Heinrich Krafft, the hero of the episode lay on the short, uncomfortable sofa, with the table-cover for a blanket. In answer to Schilsky, he said faintly, without opening his eyes: “Nothing would. You are an ox. When I wake this morning, with a mouth like gum arabic, he sits there as if he had not stirred all night. Then to bed, and snores till midday, through all the hellish light and noise.”
Here Furst could not resist making a little joke. He announced himself by a chuckle-like the click of a clock about to strike.
“He’s got to make the most of his liberty. He doesn’t often get off duty. We know, we know.” He laughed tonelessly, and winked at Krafft.
In der Woche zwier—
“Now, you fellows, shut up!” said Schilsky. It was plain that banter of this kind was not disagreeable to him; at the same time he was just at the moment too engrossed, to have more than half an car for what was said. With his short-sighted eyes close to the paper, he was listening with all his might to some harmonies that his fingers played on the table. When, a few minutes later he rose and stretched the stiffness from his limbs, his face, having lost its expression of rapt concentration, seemed suddenly to have grown younger. He set about dressing himself by drawing off his nightshirt over his head. At a word from him, Furst sprang to collect utensils for making coffee. Heinrich Krafft opened his eyes and followed their movements; and the look he had for Schilsky was as warily watchful as a cat’s.
Schilsky, an undeveloped Hercules—he was narrow in proportion to his height—and still naked to the waist, took some bottles from a long line of washes and perfumes that stood on the washstand, and, crossing to an elegant Venetian-glass mirror, hung beside the window, lathered his chin. It was a peculiarity of his only to be able to attend thoroughly to one thing at a time, and a string of witticisms uttered by Furst passed unheeded. But Krafft’s first words made him start.
Having watched him for some time, the latter said slowly. “I say, old fellow, are you sure it’s all square about Lulu and this Dresden business?”
Razor in hand, Schilsky turned and looked at him. As he did so, he coloured, and answered with an over-anxious haste: “Of course I am. I made her go. She didn’t want to”
“That’s a well-known trick.”
The young man scowled and thrust out his under-lip. “Do you think I’m not up to their tricks? Do you want to teach me how to manage a woman? I tell you I sent her away.”
He tried to continue shaving, but was visibly uneasy. “Well, if you won’t believe me,” he said, with sudden anger, though neither of the others had spoken. “Now where the deuce is that letter?”
He rummaged among the music and papers on the table; in chaotic drawers; beneath dirty, fat-scaled dinner-dishes on the washstand; between door and stove, through a kind of rubbishheap that had formed with time, of articles of dress, spoiled sheets of music-paper, soiled linen, empty bottles, and boots, countless boots, single and in pairs. When he had found what he looked for, he ran his eyes down the page, as if he were going to read it aloud. Then, however, he changed his mind; a boyish gratification overspread his face, and, tossing the letter to Krafft, he bade them read it for themselves. Furst leaned over the end of the sofa. It was written in English, in a bold, scrawly hand, and ran, without date or heading:
MY OWN DEAREST
NOW ONLY FOUR DAYS MORE—I COUNT THEM MORNING AND NIGHT. I AM GOOD FOR NOTHING—MY THOUGHTS ARE ALWAYS WITH YOU. YESTERDAY AT THE GALLERY I SAT ALONE IN THE ROOM WHERE THE MADONNA IS, PRETENDING ENTHUSIASM—WHILE THE REST WENT TO HOLBEIN—AND READ YOUR LETTER OVER AND OVER AGAIN. BUT IT MADE ME A LITTLE UNHAPPY TOO, FOR I SOON FOUND OUT THAT YOU HAD WRITTEN IT AT THREE DIFFERENT TIMES. IS IT REALLY SO HARD TO WRITE TO LULU?
HAVE YOU WORKED BETTER FOR WANT OF INTERRUPTION ?—MY DAMNED INTERRUPTIONS, AS YOU CALLED THEM LAST WEEK WHEN YOU WERE SO ANGRY WITH ME. SHALL YOU HAVE A GREAT DEAL TO SHOW ME WHEN I COME HOME? NO—DON’T SAY YOU WILL—OR I SHALL HATE ZARATHUSTRA MORE THAN I DO ALREADY.
AND NOW ONLY TILL FRIDAY. THIS TIME YOU WILL MEET ME YES?—AND NOT COME TO THE STATION AN HOUR LATE, AS YOU SAID YOU DID LAST TIME. IF YOU ARE NOT THERE—I WARN YOU—I SHALL THROW MYSELF UNDER THE TRAIN. I AM WRITING, TO GRUNHUT. GET FLOWERS—THERE IS MONEY IN ONE OF THE VASES ON THE WRITING-TABLE. OH, IF YOU ONLY WILL, WE SHALL HAVE SUCH A HAPPY EVENING—IF ONLY YOU WILL. AND I SHALL NEVER LEAVE YOU AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN.
YOUR OWN LOVING, L.
Furst could not make out much of this; he was still spelling through the first paragraph when Krafft had finished. Schilsky, who had gone on dressing, kept a sharp eye on his friends—particularly on Krafft.
“Well?” he asked eagerly as the letter was laid down.
Krafft was silent, but Furst kissed his finger-tips to a large hanging photograph of the girl in question, and was facetious on the subject of dark, sallow women.
“And you, Heinz? What do you say?” demanded Schilsky with growing impatience.
Still Krafft did not reply, and Schilsky was mastered by a violent irritation.
“Why the devil can’t you open your mouth? What’s the matter with you? Have YOU anything like that to show—you Joseph, you?”
Krafft let a waxen hand drop over the side of the sofa and trail on the floor. “The letters were burned, dear boy—when you appeared.” He closed his eyes and smiled, seeming to remember something. But a moment later, he fixed Schilsky sharply, and asked: “You want my opinion, do you?”
“Of course I do,” said Schilsky, and flung things about the room.
“Lulu,” said Krafft with deliberation, “Lulu is getting you under her thumb.”
The other sprang up, swore, and aimed a boot, which he had been vainly trying to put on the wrong foot, at a bottle that protruded from the rubbish-heap.
“Me? Me under her thumb?” he spluttered—his lips became more marked under excitement. “I should like to see her try it. You don’t know me. You don’t know Lulu. I am her master, I tell you. She can’t call her soul her own.”
“And yet,” said Krafft, unmoved, “it’s a fact all the same.”
Schilsky applied a pair of curling tongs to his hair, at such a degree of heat that a lock frizzled, and came off in his hand. His anger redoubled. “Is it my fault that she acts like a wet-nurse? Is that what you call being under her thumb?” he cried.
Furst tried to conciliate him and to make peace. “You’re a lucky dog, old fellow, and you know you are. We all know it—in spite of occasional tantaras. But you would be still luckier if you took a friend’s sound advice and got you to the registrar. Ten minutes before the registrar, and everything would be different. Then she might play up as she liked; you would be master in earnest.”
“Registrar?” echoed Krafft with deep scorn. “Listen to the ape! Not if we can hinder it. When he’s fool enough for that—I know him—it will be with something fresher and less faded, something with the bloom still on it.”
Schilsky winced as though he had been struck. Her age—she was eight years older than he—was one of his sorest points.
“Oh, come on, now,” said Furst as he poured out the coffee. “That’s hardly fair. She’s not so young as she might be, it’s true, but no one can hold a candle to her still. Lulu is Lulu.”
“Ten minutes before the registrar,” continued Krafft, meditatively shaking his head. “And for the rest of life, chains. And convention. And security, which stales. And custom, which satiates. Oh no, I am not for matrimony!”
Schilsky’s ill-humour evaporated in a peal of boisterous laughter. “Yes, and tell us why, chaste Joseph, tell us why,” he cried, throwing a brush at his friend. “Or go to the devil—where you’re at home.”
Krafft warded off the brush. “Look here,” he said, “confess. Have you kissed another girl for months? Have you had a single billet-doux?”
But Schilsky only winked provokingly. Having finished laughing, he said with emphasis: “But after Lulu, they are all tame. Lulu is Lulu, and that’s the beginning and end of the matter.”
“Exactly my opinion,” said Furst. “And yet, boys, if I wanted to make your mouths water, I could.” He closed one eye and smacked his lips. “I know of something—something young and blond . . . and dimpled . . . and round, round as a feather-pillow”—he made descriptive movements of the hand—“with a neck, boys, a neck, I say——” Here in sheer ecstasy, he stuck fast, and could get no further.
Schilsky roared anew. “He knows of something . . . so he does,” he cried—Furst’s pronounced tastes were a standing joke among them. “Show her to us, old man, show her to us! Where are you hiding her? If she’s under eighteen, she’ll do—under eighteen, mind you, not a day over. Come along, I’m on for a spree. Up with you, Joseph!”
He was ready, come forth from the utter confusion around him, like a god from a cloud. He wore light grey clothes, a loosely knotted, bright blue tie, with floating ends and conspicuous white spots, and buttoned boots of brown kid. Hair and handkerchief were strongly scented.
Krafft, having been prevailed on to rise, made no further toilet than that of dipping his head in a basin of water, which stood on the tail of the grand piano. His hair emerged a mass of dripping ringlets, covetously eyed by his companions.
They walked along the streets, Schilsky between the others, whom he overtopped by head and shoulders: three young rebels out against the Philistines: three bursting charges of animal spirits.
There was to be a concert that evening at the Conservatorium, and, through vestibule and entrance-halls, which, for this reason, were unusually crowded, the young men made a kind of triumphal progress. Especially Schilsky. Not a girl, young or old, but peddled for a word or a look from him; and he was only too prodigal of insolently expressive glances, whispered greetings, and warm pressures of the hand. The open flattery and bold adoration of which he was the object mounted to his head; he felt secure in his freedom, and brimful of selfconfidence; and, as the three of them walked back to the town, his exhilaration, a sheer excess of well-being, was no longer to be kept within decent bounds.
“Wait!” he cried suddenly as they were passing the Gewandhaus. “Wait a minute! See me make that woman there take a fit.”
He ran across the road to the opposite pavement, where the only person in sight, a stout, middle-aged woman, was dragging slowly along, her arms full of parcels; and, planting himself directly in front of her, so that she was forced to stop, he seized both her hands and worked them up and down.
“Now upon my soul, who would have thought of seeing you here, you baggage, you?” he cried vociferously.
The woman was speechless from amazement; her packages fell to the ground, and she gazed open-mouthed at the wild-haired lad before her, making, at the same time, vain attempts to free her hands.
“No, this really is luck,” he went on, holding her fast. “Come, a kiss, my duck, just one! EIN KUSSCHEN IN EHREN, you know——” and, in very fact, he leaned forward and pecked at her cheek.
The blood dyed her face and she panted with rage.
“You young scoundrel!” she gasped. “You impertinent young dog! I’ll give you in charge. I’ll—I’II report you to the police. Let me go this instant—this very instant, do you hear?—or I’ll scream for help.”
The other two had come over to enjoy the fun. Schilsky turned to them with a comical air of dismay, and waved his arm. “Well I declare, if I haven’t been and made a mistake!” he exclaimed, and slapped his forehead. “I’m out by I don’t know how much—by twenty years, at least. No thank you, Madam, keep your kisses! You’re much too old and ugly for me.”
He flourished his big hat in her face, pirouetted on his heel, and the three of them went down the street, hallooing with laughter.
They had supper together at the BAVARIA, Schilsky standing treat; for they had gone by way of the BRUDERSTRASSE, where he called in to investigate the vase mentioned in the letter. Afterwards, they commenced an informal wandering from one haunt to another, now by themselves, now with stray acquaintances. Krafft, who was still enfeebled by the previous night, and who, under the best of circumstances, could not carry as much as his friends, was the first to give in. For a time, they got him about between them. Then Furst grew obstreperous, and wanted to pour his beer on the floor as soon as it was set before him, so that they were put out of two places, in the second of which they left Krafft. But the better half of the night was over before Schilsky was comfortably drunk, and in a state to unbosom himself to a sympathetic waitress, about the hardship it was to be bound to some one older than yourself. He shed tears of pity at his lot, and was extremely communicative. “‘N KORPER, SCHA-AGE IHNEN, ‘N KORPER!” but old, old, a “HALB’SCH JAHR’ UND’RT” older than he was, and desperately jealous.
“It’s too bad; such a nice young man as you are,” said the MAMSELL, who, herself not very sober, was sitting at ease on his knee, swinging her legs. “But you nice ones are always chicken-hearted. Treat her as she deserves, my chuck, and make no bones about it. Just let her rip—and you stick to me!”
One cold, windy afternoon, when dust was stirring and rain seemed imminent, Maurice Guest walked with bent head and his hat pulled over his eyes. He was returning from the ZEITZERSTRASSE, where, in a photographer’s show-case, he had a few days earlier discovered a large photograph of Louise. This was a source of great pleasure to him. Here, no laws of breeding or delicacy hindered him from gazing at her as often as he chose.
On this particular day, whether he had looked too long, or whether the unrest of the weather, the sense of something impending, the dusty dryness that craved rain, had got into his blood and disquieted him: whatever it was, he felt restless and sick for news of her, and, at this very moment, was on his way to Madeleine, in the foolish hope of hearing her name.
But a little adventure befell him which made him forget his intention.
He was about to turn the corner of a street, when a sudden blast of wind swept round, bearing with it some half dozen single sheets of music. For a moment they whirled high, then sank fluttering to the ground, only to rise again and race one another along the road. Maurice instinctively gave chase, but it was not easy to catch them; no sooner had he secured one than the next was out of his reach.
Meanwhile their owner, a young and very pretty girl, looked on and laughed, without making any effort to help him; and the more he exerted himself, the more she laughed. In one hand she was carrying a violin-case, in the other a velvet muff, which now and again she raised to her lips, as if to conceal her mirth. It was a graceful movement, but an unnecessary one, for her laughter was of that charming kind, which never gives offence; and, besides that, although it was continuous, it was neither hearty enough nor frank enough to be unbecoming the face was well under control. She stood there, with her head slightly on one side, and the parted lips showed both rows of small, even teeth; but the smile was unvarying, and, in spite of her merriment, her eyes did not for an instant quit the young man’s face, as he darted to and fro.
Maurice could not help laughing himself, red and out of breath though he was.
“Now for the last one,” he said in German.
At these words she seemed more amused than ever. “I don’t speak German,” she answered in English, with a strong American accent.
Having captured all the sheets, Maurice tried to arrange them for her.
“It’s my Kayser,” she explained with a quick, upward glance, adding the next minute with a fresh ripple of laughter. “He’s all to pieces.”
“You have too much to carry,” said Maurice. “On such a windy day, too.”
“That’s what Joan said—Joan is my sister,” she continued. “But I guess it’s so cold this afternoon I had to bring a muff along. If my fingers are stiff I can’t play, and then Herr Becker is angry.” But she laughed again as she spoke, and it was plain that the master’s wrath did not exactly incite fear. “Joan always comes along, but to-day she’s sick.”
“Will you let me help you?” asked Maurice, and a moment later he was walking at her side.
She handed over music and violin to him without a trace of hesitation; and, as they went along the PROMENADE, she talked to him with as little embarrassment as though they were old acquaintances. It was so kind of him to help her, she thought; she couldn’t imagine how she would ever have got home without him, alone against the wind; and she was perfectly sure he must be American—no one but an American would be so nice. When Maurice denied this, she laughed very much indeed, and was not sure, this being the case, whether she could like him or not; as a rule, she didn’t like English people; they were stiff and horrid, and were always wanting either to be introduced or to shake hands. Here she carried her muff up to her lips again, and her eyes shone mischievously at him over the dark velvet. Maurice had never known anyone so easily moved to laughter; whenever she spoke she laughed, and she laughed at everything he said.
Off the PROMENADE, where the trees were of a marvellous Pale green, they turned into a street of high spacious houses, the dark lines of which were here and there broken by an arched gateway, or the delicate tints of a spring garden. To a window in one of the largest houses Maurice’s little friend looked up, and smiled and nodded.
“There’s my sister.”
The young man looked, too, and saw a dark, thin-faced girl, who, when she found four eyes fixed on her, abruptly drew in her head, and as abruptly put it out again, leaning her two hands on the sill.
“She’s wondering who it is,” said Maurice’s companion gleefully. Then, turning her face up, she made a speaking-trumpet of her hands, and cried: “It’s all right, Joan.—Now I must run right up and tell her about it,” she said to Maurice. “Perhaps she’ll scold; Joan is very particular. Good-bye. Thank you ever so much for being so good to me—oh, won’t you tell me your name?”
The very next morning brought him a small pink note, faintly scented. The pointed handwriting was still childish, but there was a coquettish flourish beneath the pretty signature: Ephie Cayhill. Besides a graceful word of thanks, she wrote: WE ARE AT HOME EVERY SUNDAY. MAMMA WOULD BE VERY PLEASED.
Maurice did not scruple to call the following week, and on doing so, found himself in the midst of one of those English-speaking coteries, which spring up in all large, continental towns. Foreigners were not excluded—Maurice discovered two or three of his German friends, awkwardly balancing their cups on their knees. In order, however, to gain access to the circle, it was necessary for them to have a smattering of English; they had also to be flint against any open or covert fun that might be made of them or their country; and above all, to be skilled in the art of looking amiable, while these visitors from other lands heatedly readjusted, to their own satisfaction, all that did not please them in the life and laws of this country that was temporarily their home.
Mrs. Cayhill was a handsome woman, who led a comfortable, vegetable existence, and found it a task to rise from the plump sofa-cushion. Her pleasant features were slack, and in those moments of life which called for a sudden decision, they wore the helpless bewilderment of a woman who has never been required to think for herself. Her grasp on practical matters was rendered the more lax, too, by her being an immoderate reader, who fed on novels from morning till night, and slept with a page turned down beside her bed. She was for ever lost in the joys or sorrows of some fictitious person, and, in consequence, remained for the most part completely ignorant of what was going on around her. When she did happen to become conscious of her surroundings, she was callous, or merely indifferent, to them; for, compared with romance, life was dull and diffuse; it lacked the wilful simplicity, the exaggerative omissions, and forcible perspectives, which make up art: in other words, life demanded that unceasing work of selection and rejection, which it is the story-teller’s duty to Perform for his readers. All novels were fish to Mrs. Cayhill’s net; she lived in a world of intrigue and excitement, and, seated in her easy-chair by the sitting-room window, was generally as remote from her family as though she were in Timbuctoo.
There was a difference of ten years in age between her daughters, and it was the younger of the two whose education was being completed. Johanna, the elder, had been a disappointment to her mother. Left to her own devices at an impressionable age, the girl had developed bookish tastes at the cost of her appearance: influenced by a free-thinking tutor of her brothers’, she had read Huxley and Haeckel, Goethe and Schopenhauer. Her wish had been for a university career, but she was not of a self-assertive nature, and when Mrs. Cayhill, who felt her world toppling about her ears at the mention of such a thing, said: “Not while I live!” she yielded, without a further word; and the fact that such an emphatic expression of opinion had been drawn from the mild-tempered mother, made it a matter of course that no other member of the family took Johanna’s part. So she buried her ambitions, and kept her mother’s house in an admirable, methodical way.
It was not the sacrifice it seemed, however, because Johanna adored her little sister, and would cheerfully have given up more than this for her sake. Ephie, who was at that time just emerging from childhood, was very pretty and precocious, and her mother had great hopes of her. She also tired early of her lesson-books, and, soon after she turned sixteen, declared her intention of leaving school. As at least a couple of years had still to elapse before she was old enough to be introduced in society, Mrs. Cayhill, taking the one decisive step of her life, determined that travel in Europe should put the final touches to Ephie’s education: a little German and French; some finishing lessons on the violin; a run through Italy and Switzerland, and then to Paris, whence they would carry back with them a complete and costly outfit. So, valiantly, Mrs. Cayhill had her trunks packed, and, together with Johanna, who would as soon have thought of denying her age as of letting these two helpless beings go out into the world alone, they crossed the Atlantic.
For some three months now, they had been established in Leipzig. A circulating library, rich in English novels, had been discovered; Mrs. Cayhill was content; and it began to be plain to Johanna that the greater part of their two years’ absence would be spent in this place. Ephie, too, had already had time to learn that, as far as music was concerned, her business was not so much with finishing as with beginning, and that the road to art, which she with all the rest must follow, was a steep one. She might have found it still more arduous, had Herr Becker, her master, not been a young man and very impressionable. And Ephie never looked more charming than when, with her rounded, dimpled arm raised in an exquisite curve, she leaned her cheek against the glossy brown wood of her violin.
She was pretty with that untouched, infantine prettiness, before which old and young go helplessly down. She was small and plump, with a full, white throat and neck, and soft, rounded hands and wrists, that were dimpled like a baby’s. Her brown hair was drawn back from the low forehead, but, both here and at the back of her neck, it broke into innumerable little curls, which were much lighter in colour than the rest. Her skin, faintly tinged, was as smooth as the skin of a cherry; it had that exquisite freshness which is only to be found in a very young girl, and is lovelier than the bloom on ripe fruit. Her dark blue eyes were well opened, but the black lashes were so long and so peculiarly straight that the eyes themselves were usually hidden, and this made it all the more effective did she suddenly look up. Moulded like wax, the small, upturned nose seemed to draw the top lip after it; anyhow, the upper lip was too short to meet the lower, and consequently, they were always slightly apart, in a kind of questioning amaze. This mouth was the real beauty of the face: bright red, full, yet delicate, arched like a bow, with corners that went in and upwards, it belonged, by right of its absolute innocence, to the face of a little child; and the thought was monstrous that nature and the years would eventually combine to destroy so perfect a thing.
She also had a charming laugh, with a liquid note in it, that made one think of water bubbling on a dry summer day.
It was this laugh that held the room on Sunday afternoon, and drew the handful of young men together, time after time.
Mrs. Cayhill, who, on these occasions, was wont to lay aside her book, was virtually a deeper echo of her little daughter, and Johanna only counted in so far as she made and distributed cups of tea at the end of the room. She did not look with favour on the young men who gathered there, and her manner to them was curt and unpleasing. Each of them in turn, as he went up to her for his cup, cudgelled his brain for something to say; but it was no easy matter to converse with Johanna. The ordinary small change and polite commonplace of conversation, she met with a silent contempt. In musical chit-chat, she took no interest whatever, and pretended to none, openly indeed “detested music,” and was unable to distinguish Mendelssohn from Wagner, “except by the noise;” while if a bolder man than the rest rashly ventured on the literary ground that was her special demesne, she either smiled at what he said, in a disagreeably sarcastic way, or flatly contradicted him. She was the thorn in the flesh of these young men; and after having dutifully spent a few awkward moments at her side, they stole back, one by one, to the opposite end of the room. Here Ephie, bewitchingly dressed in blue, swung to and fro in a big American rocking-chair—going backwards, it carried her feet right off the ground—and talked charming nonsense, to the accompaniment of her own light laugh, and her mother’s deeper notes, which went on like an organ-point, Mrs. Cayhill finding everything Ephic said, matchlessly amusing.
As Dove and Maurice walked there together for the first time—it now leaked out that Dove spent every Sunday afternoon in the LESSINGSTRASSE—he spoke to Maurice of Johanna. Not in a disparaging way; Dove had never been heard to mention a woman’s name otherwise than with respect. And, in this case, he deliberately showed up Johanna’s good qualities, in the hope that Maurice might feel attracted by her, and remain at her side; for Dove had fallen deeply in love with Ephie, and had, as it was, more rivals than he cared for, in the field.
“You should get on with her, I think, Guest,” he said slily. “You read these German writers she is so interested in. But don’t be discouraged by her manner. For though she’s one of the most unselfish women I ever met, her way of Speaking is sometimes abrupt. She reminds me, if it doesn’t sound unkind, of a faithful watch-dog, or something of the sort, which cannot express its devotion as it would like to.”
When, after a lively greeting from Ephie, and a few pleasant words from Mrs. Cayhill, Maurice found himself standing beside Johanna, the truth of Dove’s simile was obvious to him. This dark, unattractive girl had apparently no thought for anything but her tea-making; she moved the cups this way and that, filled the pot with water, blew out and lighted again the flame of the spirit-lamp, without paying the least heed to Maurice, making, indeed, such an ostentatious show of being occupied, that it would have needed a brave man to break in upon her duties with idle words. He remained standing, however, in a constrained silence, which lasted until she could not invent anything else to do, and was obliged to drink her own tea. Then he said abruptly, in a tone which he meant to be easy, but which was only jaunty: “And how do you like being in Germany, Miss Cayhill? Does it not seem very strange after America?”
Johanna lifted her shortsighted eyes to his face, and looked coolly and disconcertingly at him through her glasses, as if she had just become aware of his presence.
“Strange? Why should it?” she asked in an unfriendly tone.
“Why, what I mean is, everything must be so different here from what you are accustomed to—at least it is from what we are used to in England,” he corrected himself. “The ways and manners, and the language, and all that sort of thing, you know.”
“Excuse me, I do not know,” she answered in the same tone as before. “If a person takes the trouble to prepare himself for residence in a foreign country, nothing need seem either strange or surprising. But English people, as is well known, expect to find a replica of England in every country they go to.”
There was a pause, in which James, the pianist, who was a regular visitor, approached to have his cup refilled. All the circle knew, of course, that Johanna was “doing for a new man”; and it seemed to Maurice that James half closed one eye at him, and gave him a small, sympathetic nudge with his elbow.
So he held to his guns. When James had retired, he began anew, without preamble.
“My friend Dove tells me you are interested in German literature?” he said with a slight upward inflection in his voice.
Johanna did not reply, but she shot a quick glance at him, and colouring perceptibly, began to fidget with the tea-things.
“I’ve done a little in that line myself,” continued Maurice, as she made no move to answer him. “In a modest way, of course. Just lately I finished reading the JUNGFRAU VON ORLEANS.”
“Is that so?” said Johanna with an emphasis which made him colour also.
“It is very fine, is it not?” he asked less surely, and as she again acted as though he had not spoken, he lost his presence of mind. “I suppose you know it? You’re sure to.”
This time Johanna turned scarlet, as if he had touched her on a sore spot, and answered at once, sharply and rudely. “And I suppose,” she said, and her hands shook a little as they fussed about the tray, “that you have also read MARIA STUART, and TELL, and a page or two of Jean Paul. You have perhaps heard of Lessing and Goethe, and you consider Heine the one and only German poet.”
Maurice did not understand what she meant, but she had spoken so loudly and forbiddingly that several eyes were turned on them, making it incumbent on him not to take offence. He emptied his cup, and put it down, and tried to give the matter an airy turn.
“And why not?” he asked pleasantly. “Is there anything wrong in thinking so? Schiller and Goethe WERE great poets, weren’t they? And you will grant that Heine is the only German writer who has had anything approaching a style?”
Johanna’s face grew stony. “I have no intention of granting anything,” she said. “Like all English people—it flatters your national vanity, I presume—you think German literature began and ended with Heine.—A miserable Jew!”
“Yes, but I say, one can hardly make him responsible for being a Jew, can you? What has that got to do with it?” exclaimed Maurice, this being a point of view that had never presented itself to him. And as Johanna only murmured something that was inaudible, he added lamely: “Then you don’t think much of Heine?”
But she declined to be drawn into a discussion, even into an expression of opinion, and the young man continued, with apology in his tone: “It may be bad taste on my part, of course. But one hears it said on every side. If you could tell me what I ought to read . . . or, perhaps, advise me a little?” he ended tentatively.
“I don’t lend my books,” said Johanna more rudely than she had yet spoken. And that was all Maurice could get from her. A minute or two later, she rose and went out of the room.
It became much less restrained as soon as the door had closed behind her. Ephie laughed more roguishly, and Mrs. Cayhill allowed herself to find what her little daughter said, droller than before. With an appearance of unconcern, Maurice strolled back to the group by the window. Dove was also talking of literature.
“That reminds me, how did you like the book I lent you on Wednesday, Mrs. Cayhill?” he asked, at the same instant springing forward to pick up Ephie’s handkerchief, which had fallen to the ground.
“Oh, very much indeed, very interesting, very good of you,” answered Mrs. Cayhill. “Ephie, darling, the sun is shining right on your face.”
“What was it?” asked James, while Dove jumped up anew to lower the blind, and Ephie raised a bare, dimpled arm to shade her eyes.
Mrs. Cayhill could not recollect the title just at once she had a “wretched memory for names”—and went over what she had been reading.
“Let me see, it was . . . no, that was yesterday: SHADOWED BY THREE, a most delightful Book. On Friday, RICHARD ELSMERE, and—oh, yes, I know, it was about a farm, an Australian farm.”
“THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM,” put in Dove mildly, returning to his seat.
“Australian or African, it doesn’t matter which,” said Mrs. Cayhill. “Yes, a nice book, but a little coarse in parts, and very foolish at the end—the disguising, and the dying out of doors, and the looking-glass, and all that.”
“I must say I think it a very powerful book,” said Dove solemnly. “That part, you know, where the boy listens to the clock ticking in the night, and thinks to himself that with every tick, a soul goes home to God. A very striking idea!”
“Why, I think it must be a horrid book,” cried Ephie. “All about dying. Fancy some one dying every minute. It couldn’t possibly be true. For then the world would soon be empty.”
“Always there are coming more into it,” said Furst, in his blunt, broken English.
A pause ensued. Dove flicked dust off his trouser-leg; and the American men present were suddenly fascinated by the bottoms of their cups. Ephie was the first to regain her composure.
“Now let us talk of something pleasant, something quite different—from dying.” She turned and, over her shoulder, laughed mischievously at Maurice, who was siting behind her. Then, leaning forward in her chair, with every eye upon her, she told how Maurice had saved her music from the wind, and, with an arch face, made him appear very ridiculous. By her prettily exaggerated description of a heated, perspiring young man, darting to and fro, and muttering to himself in German, her hearers, Maurice included, were highly diverted—and no one more than Mrs. Cayhill.
“You puss, you puss!” she cried, wiping her eyes and shaking a finger at the naughty girl.
The general amusement had hardly subsided when Furst rose to his feet, and, drawing his heels together, made a flowery little speech, the gist of which was, that he would have esteemed himself a most fortunate man, had he been in Maurice’s place. Ephie and her mother exchanged looks, and shook with ill-concealed mirth, so that Furst, who had spoken serioulsy and in good faith, sat down red and uncomfortable; and Boehmer, who was dressed in what he believed to be American fashion, smiled in a superior manner, to show he was aware that Furst was making himself ridiculous.
“Look here, Miss Ephie,” said James; “the next time you have to go out alone, just send for me, and I’ll take care of you.”
“Or me” said Dove. “You have only to let me know.”
“No, no, Mr. Dove!” cried Mrs. Cayhill. “You do far too much for her as it is. You’ll spoil her altogether.”
But at this, several of the young men exclaimed loudly: that would be impossible. And Ephie coloured becomingly, raised her lashes, and distributed winning smiles. Then quiet had been restored, she assured them that they all very kind, but she would never let anyone go with her but Joan—dear old Joan. They could not imagine how fond she was of Joan.
“She is worth more than all of you put together.” And at the cries of: “Oh, oh!” she was thrown into a new fit of merriment, and went still further. “I would not give Joan’s little finger for anyone in the world.”
And meanwhile, as all her hearers—all, that is to say, except Dove, who sat moody, fingering his slight moustache, and gazing at Ephie with fondly reproachful eyes—as all of them, with Mrs. Cayhill at their head, made vehement protest against this sweeping assertion, Johanna sat alone in her bedroom, at the back of the house. It was a dull room, looking on a courtyard, but she was always glad to escape to it from the flippant chatter in the sitting-room. Drawing a little table to the window, she sat down and began to read. But, on this day, her thoughts wandered; and, ultimately, propping her chin on her hand, she fell into reverie, which began with something like “the fool and his Schiller!” and ended with her rising, and going to the well-stocked book-shelves that stood at the foot of the bed.
She took out a couple of volumes and looked through them, then returned them to their places on the shelf. No, she said to herself, why should she? What she had told the young man was true: she never lent her books; he would soil them, or, worse still, not appreciate them as he ought—she could not give anyone who visited there on Sunday, credit for a nice taste.
Unknown to herself, however, something worked in her, for, the very next time Maurice was there, she met him in the passage, as he was leaving, and impulsively thrust a paper parcel into his hand.
“There is a book, if you care to take it.”
He did not express the surprise he felt, nor did he look at the title. But Ephie, who was accompanying him to the door, made a face of laughing stupefaction behind her sister’s back, and went out on the landing with him, to whisper: “What HAVE you been doing to Joan?”—at which remark, and at Maurice’s blank face, she laughed so immoderately that she was forced to go down the stairs with him, for fear Joan should hear her; and, in the house-door, she stood, a white-clad little figure, and waved her hand to him until he turned the corner.
Having read the first volume of HAMMER UND AMBOSS deep into two nights, Maurice returned it and carried away the second. But it was only after he had finished PROBLEMATISCHE NATUREN, and had expressed himself with due enthusiasm, that Johanna began to thaw a little. She did not discuss what he read with him; but, going on the assumption that a person who could relish her favourite author had some good in him, she gave the young man the following proof of her favour.
Between Ephie and him there had sprung up spontaneously a mutual liking, which it is hard to tell the cause of. For Ephie knew nothing of Maurice’s tastes, interests and ambitions, and he did not dream of asking her to share them. Yet, with the safe instincts of a young girl, she chose him for a brother from among all her other acquaintances; called him “Morry”; scarcely ever coquetted with him; and let him freely into her secrets. It is easier to see why Maurice was attracted to her; for not only was Ephie pretty and charming; she was also adorably equable—she did not know what it was to be out of humour. And she was always glad to see him, always in the best possible spirits. When he was dull or tired, it acted like a tonic on him, to sit and let her merry chatter run over him. And soon, he found plenty of makeshifts to see her; amongst other things, he arranged to help her twice a week with harmony, which was, to her, an unexplorable abyss; and he ransacked the rooms and shelves of his acquaintances to find old Tauchnitz volumes to lend to Mrs. Cayhill.
The latter paid even less attention to the sudden friendship of her daughter with this young man than the ordinary American mother would have done; but Johanna’s toleration of it was, for the most part, to be explained by the literary interests before mentioned. For Johanna was always in a tremble lest Ephie should become spoiled; and thoughtless Ephie could, at times, cause her a most subtle torture, by being prettily insincere, by assuming false coquettish airs, or by seeming to have private thoughts which she did not confide to her sister. This, and the knowledge that Ephie was now of an age when every day might be expected to widen the distance between them, sometimes made Johanna very gruff and short, even with Ephie herself. As her sister, she alone knew how much was good and true under the child’s light exterior; she admired in Ephie all that she herself had not—her fair prettiness, her blithe manner, her easy, graceful words—and, had it been necessary, she would have gone down on her knees to remove the stones from Ephie’s path.
Thus although on the casual observer, Johanna only made the impression of a dark, morose figure, which hovered round two childlike beings, intercepting the sunshine of their lives, yet Maurice had soon come often enough into contact with her to appreciate her unselfishness; and, for the care she took of Ephie, he could almost have liked her, had Johanna shown the least readiness to be liked. Naturally, he did not understand how highly he was favoured by her; he knew neither the depth of her affection for Ephie, nor the exact degree of contempt in which she held the young men who dangled there on a Sunday—poor fools who were growing fat on emotion and silly ideas, when they should have been taking plain, hard fare at college. To Dove, Johanna had a particular aversion; chiefly, and in a contradictory spirit, because it was evident to all that his intentions were serious. But she could not hinder wayward Ephie from making a shameless use of him, and then laughing at him behind his back—a laugh in which Mrs. Cayhill was not always able to refrain from joining, though it must be said that she was usually loud in her praises of Dove, at the expense of all visitors who were not American.
“From these Dutch you can’t expect much, one way or the other,” she declared. “And young Guest sometimes sits there with a face as long as my arm. But Dove is really a most sensible young fellow—why, he thinks just as I do about Arnerica.”
And as a special mark of favour, when Dove left the house on Sunday afternoon, his pockets bulged with NEW YORK HERALDS.
Meanwhile, before the blinds in the BRUDERSTRASSE were drawn up again, Maurice had found his way back to Madeleine. When they met, she smiled at him in a somewhat sarcastic manner, but no reference was made to the little falling-out they had had, and they began afresh to read and play together. On the first afternoon, Maurice was full of his new friends, and described them at length to her. But Madeleine damped his ardour.
“I know them, yes, of course,” she said. “The usual Americans—even the blue-stocking, from whom heaven defend us. The little one is pretty enough as long as she keeps her mouth shut. But the moment she speaks, every illusion is shattered.—Why I don’t go there on a Sunday? Good gracious, do you think they want me?—me, or any other petticoat? Are honours made to be divided?—No, Maurice, I don’t like Americans. I was once offered a position in America, as ‘professor of piano and voice-production’ in a place called Schenectady; but I didn’t hesitate. I said to myself, better one hundred a year in good old England, than five in a country where the population is so inflated with its importance that I should always be in danger of running amuck. And besides that, I should lose my accent, and forget how to say ‘leg’; while the workings of the stomach would be discussed before me with an unpleasant freedom.”
“You’re too hard on them, Madeleine,” said Maurice, smiling in spite of himself. But he was beginning to stand in awe of her sharp tongue and decided opinions; and, in the week that followed, he took himself resolutely together, and did not let a certain name cross his lips.
Consequently, he was more than surprised on returning to his room one day, to find a note from Madeleine, saying that she expected Louise that very afternoon at three.
It was not news to Maurice that Louise had come home. The evening before, as he turned out of the BRUDERSTRASSE, a closed droschke turned into it. After the vehicle had lumbered past him and disappeared, the thought crossed his mind that she might be inside it. He had not then had time to go back but early this very morning, he had passed the house and found the windows open. So Madeleine had engaged her immediately! As usual, Furst had kept him waiting for his lesson; it was nearly three o’clock already, and he was so hurried that he could only change his collar; but, on the way there, in a sudden spurt of gratitude, he ran to a flower-shop, and bought a large bunch of carnations.
He arrived at Madeleine’s room in an elation he did not try to hide; and over the carnations they had a mock reconciliation. Madeleine wished to distribute the flowers in different vases about the room, but he asked her put them all together on the centre table. She laughed and complied.
For several weeks now, musical circles had been in a stir over the advent of a new piano-teacher named Schrievers—a person who called himself a pupil of Liszt, held progressive views, arid, being a free lance, openly ridiculed the antiquated methods of the Conservatorium. Madeleine was extremely interested in the case, and, as they sat waiting, talked about it to Maurice with great warmth, enlarging especially upon the number of people who had the audacity to call themselves pupils of Liszt. To Maurice, in his present frame of mind, the matter seemed of no possible consequence—for all he cared, the whole population of the town might lay claim to having been at Weimar—and he could not understand Madeleine finding it important. For he was in one of those moods when the entire consciousness is so intently directed towards some end that, outside this end, nothing has colour or vitality: all that has previously impressed and interested one, has no more solidity than papier mache. Meanwhile she spoke on, and did not appear to notice how time was flying. He was forced at length to take out his watch, and exclaim, in feigned surprise, at the hour.
“A quarter to four already!”
“Is it so late?” But on seeing his disturbance, she added: “It will be all right. Louise was never punctual in her life.”
He did his best to look unconcerned, and they spoke of that evening’s ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, at which Furst was to play. But by the time the clock struck four, Maurice had relapsed, in spite of himself, into silence. Madeleine rallied him.
“You must make shift with my company, Maurice. Not but what I am sure Louise will come. But you see from this what she is—the most unreliable creature in the world.”
To pass the time, she suggested that he should help her to make tea, and they were both busy, when the electric bell in the passage whizzed harshly, and the next moment there came a knock at the door. But it was not Louise. Instead, two persons entered, one of whom was Heinrich Krafft, the other a short, thickset girl, in a man’s felt hat and a closely buttoned ulster.
On recognising her visitors, Madeleine made a movement of annoyance, and drew her brows together. “You, Heinz!” she said.
Undaunted by this greeting, Krafft advanced to her and, taking her hands, kissed them, one after the other. He was also about to kiss her on the lips, but she defended herself. “Stop! We are not alone.”
“Just for that reason,” said the girl in the ulster drily.
“What ill wind blows you here to-day?” Madeleine asked him.
As he was still wearing his hat, she took it off, and dropped it on the floor beside him; then she recollected Maurice, and made him known to the other two. Coming forward, Maurice recalled to Krafft’s memory where they had already met, and what had passed between them. Before he had finished speaking, Krafft burst into an unmannerly peal of laughter. Madeleine laughed, too, and shook her finger at him. “You have been up to your tricks again!” Avery Hill, the girl in the ulster, did not laugh aloud, but a smile played round her mouth, which Maurice found even more disagreeable than the mirth of which he had been the innocent cause. He coloured, and withdrew to the window.
Krafft was so convulsed that he was obliged to sit down on the sofa, where Madeleine fanned him with a sheet of music. He had been seized by a kind of paroxysm, and laughed on and on, in a mirthless way, till Avery Hill said suddenly and angrily: “Stop laughing at once, Heinz! You will have hysterics.”
In an instant he was sobered, and now he seemed to fall, without transition, into a mood of dejection. Taking out his penknife, he set to paring his nails, in a precise and preoccupied manner. Madeleine turned to Maurice.
“You’ll wonder what all this is about,” she said apologetically. “But Heinz is never happier than when he has succeeded in imposing on some one—as he evidently did on you.”
“Indeed!” said Maurice. Their laughter had been offensive to him, and he found Krafft, and Madeleine with him, exceedingly foolish.
There was a brief silence. Krafft was absorbed in what he was doing, and Avery Hill, on sitting down, had lighted a cigarette, which she smoked steadily, in long-drawn whiffs. She was a pretty girl, in spite of her severe garb, in spite, too, of her expression, which was too composed and too self-sure to be altogether pleasing. Her face was fresh of skin, below smooth fair hair, and her lips were the red, ripe lips of Botticelli’s angels and Madonnas. But the under one, being fuller than the other, gave the mouth a look of over-decision, and it would be difficult to imagine anything less girlish than were the cold grey eyes.
“We came for the book you promised to lend Heinz,” she said, blowing off the spike of ash that had accumulated at the tip of the cigarette. “He could not rest till he had it.”
Madeleine placed a saucer on the table with the request to use it as an ash-tray, and taking down a volume of De Quincey from the hanging shelf, held it out to Krafft.
“There you are. It will interest me to hear what you make of it.”
Krafft ceased his paring to glance at the title-page. “I shall probably not open it,” he said.
Madeleine laughed, and gave him a light blow on the hand with the book. “How like you that is! As soon as you know that you can get a thing, you don’t want it any longer.”
“Yes, that’s Heinz all over,” said Avery Hill. “Only what he hasn’t got, seems worth having.”
Krafft shut his knife with a click, and put it back in his pocket.” And that’s what you women can’t understand, isn’t it?—that the best of things is the wishing for them. Once there, and they are nothing—only another delusion. The happiest man is the man whose wishes are never fulfilled. He always has a moon to cry for.”
“Come, come now,” said Madeleine. “We know your love for paradox. But not to-day. There’s no time for philosophising today. Besides, you are in a pessimistic mood, and that’s a bad sign.”
“I and pessimism? Listen, heart of my heart, I have a new story for you.” He moved closer to her, and put his arm round her neck. “There was once a man and his wife——”
But, at the first word, Madeleine put her hands to her ears.
“Mercy, have mercy, Heinz! No stories, I entreat you. And behave yourself, too. Take your arm away.” She tried to remove it. “I have told you already, I can’t have you here to-day. I’m expecting a visitor.”
He laid his head on her shoulder. “Let him come. Let the whole world come. I don’t budge. I am happy here.”
“You must go and be happy elsewhere,” said Madeleine more decisively than she had yet spoken. “And before she comes, too.”
“She? What she?”
“For that very reason, Mada.”
She whispered a word in his ear. He looked at her, incredulously at first, then whimsically, with a sham dismay; and then, as if Maurice had only just taken shape for him, he turned and looked at him also, and from him to Madeleine, and back to him, finally bursting afresh into a roar of laughter. Madeleine laid her hand over his mouth. “Take him away, do,” she said to Avery Hill—“as a favour to me.”
“Yes, when I have finished my cigarette,” said the girl without stirring.
Unsettled all the same, it would seem, by what he had heard, Krafft rose and shuffled about the room, with his hands in his pockets. Approaching Maurice, he even stood for a moment and contemplated him, with a kind of mock gravity. Maurice acted as if he did not see Krafft; long since, he had taken up a magazine, and, half hidden in a chair between window and writing-table, pretended to bury himself in its contents. But he heard very plainly all that passed, and, at the effect produced on Krafft by the name of the expected visitor, his hands trembled with anger. If the fellow had stood looking at him for another second, he would have got up and knocked him down. But Krafft turned nonchalantly to the piano, where his attention was caught by a song that was standing on the rack. He chuckled, and set about making merciless fun of the music—the composer was an elderly singing-teacher, of local fame. Madeleine grew angry, and tried to take it from him.
“Hold your tongue, Heinz! If your own songs were more like this, they would have a better chance of success. Now be quiet! I won’t hear another word. Herr Wendling is a very good friend of mine.”
“A friend! Heavens! She says friend as if it were an excuse for him.—Mada, let your friend cease making music if he hopes for salvation. Let him buy a broom and sweep the streets—let him——”
“You are disgusting!”
She had got the music from him, but he was already at the piano, parodying, from memory, the conventional accompaniment and sentimental words of the song. “And this,” he said, “from the learned ass who is not yet convinced that the FEUERZAUBER is music, and who groans like a dredge when the last act of SIEGFRIED is mentioned. Wendling and Wagner! Listen to this!—for once, I am a full-blooded Wagnerite.”
He felt after the chords that prelude Brunnhilde’s awakening by Siegfried. Until now, Avery Hill had sat indifferent, as though what went on had nothing to do with her; but no sooner had Krafft commenced to play than she grew uneasy; her eyes lost their cold assurance, and, suddenly getting up and going round to the front of the piano, she pushed the young man’s hands from the keys. Krafft yielded his place to her, and, taking up the chords where he had left them, she went on. She played very well—even Maurice in his disturbance could, not but notice it—with a firm, masculine touch, and that inborn ease, that enviable appearance of perfect fitness, of being one with the instrument, which even the greatest players do not always attain. She had, besides, grip and rhythm, and long, close-knit hands insinuated themselves artfully among the complicated harmonies.
When she began to play, Madeleine made “Tch, tch, tch!” and shook her head, in despair of now ever being rid of them. Krafft remained standing behind the piano at the window leaning his forehead on the glass. Maurice, who watched them both surreptitiously, saw his face change, and grow thoughful as he stood there; but when Avery Hill ceased abruptly on a discord, he wheeled round at once and patted her on the back. While looking over to Maurice, he said: “No doubt you found that very pretty and affecting?”
“I think that’s none of your business,” said Maurice.
But Krafft did not take umbrage. “You don’t say so?” he murmured with a show of surprise.
“Now, go, go, go!” cried Madeleine. “What have I done to be subjected to such a visitation? No, Heinz, you don’t sit down again. Here’s your hat. Away with you!—or I’ll have you put out by force.”
And at last they really did go, to a cool bow from Maurice, who still sat holding his magazine. But Madeleine had hardly closed the door behind them, when, like a whirlwind, Krafft burst into the room again.
“Mada, I forgot to ask you something,” he said in a stage-whisper, drawing her aside. “Tell me—you KUPPLERIN, you!—does he know her?” He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb at Maurice.
Madeleine shook her head, in real vexation and distress, and laid a finger on her lip. But it was of no use. Stepping over to Maurice, Krafft bowed low, and held his hat against his breast.
“It is impossible for you to understand how deeply it has interested me to meet you,” he said. “Allow me, from the bottom of my heart, to wish you success.” Whereupon, before Maurice could say “damn!” he was gone again, leaving his elfin laugh behind him in the air, like smoke.
Madeleine shut the door energetically and gave a sigh of relief.
“Thank goodness! I thought they would never go. And now, the chances are, they’ll run into Louise on the stairs. You’ll wonder why I was so bent on getting rid of them. It’s a long story. I’ll tell it to you some other time. But if Louise had found them here when she came, she would not have stayed. She won’t have anything to do with Heinz.”
“I don’t wonder at it,” said Maurice. He stood up and threw the magazine on the table.
Madeleine displayed more astonishment than she felt. “Why what’s the matter? You’re surely not going to take what Heinz said, seriously? He was in a bad mood to-day, I know, and I noticed you were very short with him. But you mustn’t be foolish enough to be offended by him. No one ever is. He is allowed to say and do just what he likes. He’s our spoilt child.”
Maurice laughed. “The fellow is either a cad, or an unutterable fool. You, Madeleine, may find his impertinence amusing. I tell you candidly, I don’t!” and he went on to make it clear to her that the fault would not be his, were Krafft and he ever in the same room together again. “The kind of man one wants to kick downstairs. What the deuce did he mean by guffawing like that when you told him who was coming?”
“You mean about Louise?” Madeleine gave a slight shrug. “Yes, Maurice—unfortunately that was not to be avoided. But sit down again, and let me explain things to you. When you hear——”
But he did not want explanations; he did not even want an answer to the question he had put; his chief concern now was to get away. To stay there, in that room, for another quarter of an hour, would be impossible, on such tenterhooks was he. To stay—for what? Only to listen to more slanderous hints, of the kind he had heard before. As it was, he did not believe he could face her frankly, should she still come. He felt as if, in some occult way, he had assisted at a tampering with her good name.
“You will surely not be so childish?” said Madeleine, on seeing him take up his hat.
“Childish?—you call it childish?” he exclaimed, growing angry with her, too. “Do you know what time it is? Three o’clock, you write me, and it’s now a quarter past five. I have sat here doing nothing for over two mortal hours. It seems to me that’s enough, without being made the butt of your friends’ wit into the bargain. I’m sick of the whole thing. Good-bye.”
“We seem bound to quarrel,” said Madeleine calmly. “And always about Louise. But there’s no use in being angry. I am not responsible for what Heinz says and does. And on the mere chance of his coming in to-day, to sit down and unroll another savoury story to you, about your idol—would you have thanked me for it? Remember the time I did try to open you eyes!—It’s not fair either to blame me because Louise hasn’t come. I did my best for you. I can’t help it if she’s as stable as water.”
“I think you dislike her too much to want to help it,” said Maurice grimly. He stood staring at the carnations, and his resentment gave way to depression, as he recalled the mood which he had bought them.
“Come back as soon as you feel better. I’m not offended, remember!” Madeleine called after him as he went down the stairs. When she was alone, she said “Silly boy!” and, still smiling, made excuses for him: he had come with such pleasurable anticipations, and everything had gone wrong. Heinz had behaved disagracefully, as only he could. While as for Louise, one was no more able to rely on her than on a wisp straw; and she, Madeleine, was little better than a fool not to have known it.
She moved about the room, putting chairs and papers in their places, for she could not endure disorder of any kind. Then she sat down to write a letter; and when, some half hour later, the girl for whom they had waited, actually came, she met her with exclamations of genuine surprise.
“Is it really you? I had given you up long ago. Pray, do you know what time it is?”
She took out her watch and dangled it before the other’s eyes. But Louise Dufrayer hardly glanced at it. As, however, Madeleine persisted, she said: “I’m late, I know. But it was not my fault. I couldn’t get away.”
She unpinned her hat, and shook back her hair; and Madeleine helped her to take off her jacket, talking all the time. “I have been much annoyed with you. Does it never occur to you that you may put other people in awkward positions, by not keeping your word? But you are just the same as of old—incorrigible.”
“Then why try to improve me?” said the other with a show of lightness. But almost simultaneously she turned away from Madeleine’s matter-of-fact tone, passed her handkerchief over her lips, and after making a vain attempt to control herself, burst into tears.
Madeleine eyed her shrewdly. “What’s the matter with you?”
But the girl who had sunk into a corner of the sofa merely shook her head, and sobbed; and Madeleine, to whom such emotional outbreaks were distasteful, went to the writing-table and busied herself there, with her back to the room. She did not ask for an explanation, nor did her companion offer any.
Louise abandoned herself to her tears with as little restraint as though she were alone, holding her handkerchief to her eyes with both hands and giving deep, spasmodic sobs, which had apparently been held for some time in cheek.
Afterwards, she sat with her elbow on the end of the sofa, her face on her hand, and, still shaken at intervals by a convulsive breath, watched Madeleine make fresh tea. But when she took the cup that was handed to her, she was so far herself again as to inquire whom she was to have met, although her voice still did not obey her properly.
“Some one who is anxious to know you,” replied Madeleine an air of mystery. “But he couldn’t, or rather would not, wait so long.”
Louise showed no further curiosity. But when Madeleine said with meaning emphasis that Krafft had also been there in the course of the afternoon, she shrank perceptibly and flushed.
“What! Does he still exist?” she asked with an effort at playfulness.
“As you very well know,” answered Madeleine drily. “Tell me, Louise, how do you manage to keep out of his way?”
Louise made no rejoinder; she raised her cup to her lips, and the dark blood that had stained her face, in a manner distressing to see, slowly retreated. She continued to look down, and, the light of her big, dark eyes gone out, her face seemed wan and dead. Madeleine, studying her, asked herself, not for the first time, but, as always, with an unclear irritation, what the secret of the other’s charm was. Beautiful she had never thought Louise; she was not even pretty, in an honest way—at best, a strange, foreign-looking creature, dark-skinned, black of eyes and hair, with flashing teeth, and a wonderfully mobile mouth—and some people, hopeless devotees of a pink and white fairness, had been known to call her plain. At this moment, she was looking her worst; the heavy, blue-black lines beneath her eyes were deepened by crying; her rough hair had been hastily coiled, unbrushed; and she was wearing a shabby red blouse that was pinned across in front, where a button was missing. There was nothing young or fresh about her; she looked her twenty-eight years, every day of them—and more.
And yet, Madeleine knew that those who admired Louise would find her as desirable at this moment as at any other. Hers was a nameless charm; it was present in each gesture of the slim hands, in each turn of the head, in every movement of, the broad, slender body. Strangers felt it instantly; her very walk seemed provocative of notice; there was something in the way her skirts clung, and moved with her, that was different from the motion of other women’s. And those whose type she embodied went crazy about her. Madeleine remembered as though it were yesterday, the afternoon on which Heinz had burst in to rave to her of his discovery; and how he would have dragged her out hatless to see this miracle. She remembered, too, after—days, when she had had him there, pacing the floor, and pouring out his feelings to her, infatuated, mad. An he was not the only one; they bowled over like ninepins; an it would be the same for years to come—was there any reason to wonder at Maurice Guest?
Meanwhile, as Madeleine sat thinking these and similar things, Maurice was tramping through the ROSENTAL. The May afternoon, of lucent sunshine and heaped, fleecy clouds, had tempted a host of people into the great park, but he soon left them all behind him, for he walked as though he were pursued. These people, placid, and content of face, and the brightness of the day, jarred on him; he was out of patience with himself, with Madeleine, with the World at large. Especially with Madeleine, he bore her a grudge for her hints and innuendoes, for being behind the scenes, as it were, and also for being so ready to enlighten him; but, most of all, for a certain malicious gratification, which was to be felt in ever word she said about Louise.
He went steadily on, against the level bars of the afternoon sun and, by the time he had tired himself bodily, he had worked off his inward vexation as well. As he walked back towards the town, he was almost ready to smile at his previous heat. What did all these others matter to him? They could not hinder him from carrying through what he had set his mind on. To-morrow was a day, and the next was another, and the next again; and life, considered thus in days and opportunities, was infinitely long.
He now felt not only an aversion to dwelling on his thoughts of an hour back, but also the need of forgetting them altogether. And, in nearing the LESSINGSTRASSE, he followed an impulse to go to Ephie and to let her merry laugh wipe out the last traces of his ill-humour.
Mrs. Cayhill and Johanna were both reading in the sitting room, and though Johanna agreeably laid aside her book, conversation languished. Ephie was sent for, but did not come, and Maurice was beginning to wish he had thought twice before calling, when her voice was heard in the passage, and, a moment later, she burst into the room, with her arms full of lilac, branches of lilac, which she explained had been bought early that morning at the flower-market, by one of their fellow-boarders. She hardly greeted Maurice, but going over to him held up her scented burden, and was not content till he had buried his face in it.
“Isn’t it just sweet?” she cried holding it high for all to see. “And the very first that is to be had. Again, Maurice again, put your face right down into the middle of it—like that.”
Mrs. Cayhill laughed, as Maurice obediently bowed his head, but Johanna reproved her sister.
“Don’t be silly, Ephie. You behave as if you had never seen lilac before.”
“Well, neither I have—not such lilac as this, and Maurice hasn’t either,” answered Ephie. “You shall smell it too, old Joan!”—and in spite of Johanna’s protests, she forced her sister also to sink her face in the fragrant white and purple blossoms. But then she left them lying on the table, and it was Johanna who put them in water.
Mrs. Cayhill withdrew to her bedroom to be undisturbed, and Johanna went out on an errand. Maurice and Ephie sat side by side on the sofa, and he helped her to distinguish chords of the seventh, and watched her make, in her music-book, the big, tailless notes, at which she herself was always hugely tickled, they‘reminded her so of eggs. But on this particular evening, she was not in a studious mood, and bock, pencil and india-rubber slid to the floor. Both windows were wide open; the air that entered was full of pleasant scents, while that of the room was heavy with lilac. Ephie had taken a spray from one of the vases, and was playing with it; and when Maurice chid her for thoughtlessly destroying it, she stuck the pieces in her hair. Not content with this, she also put bits behind Maurice’s ears, and tried to twist one in the piece of hair that fell on his forehead. Having thus bedizened them, she leaned back, and, with her hands clasped behind her head, began to tease the young man. A little bird, it seemed, had whispered her any number of interesting things about Madeleine and Maurice, and she had stored them all up. Now, she repeated them, with a charming impertinence, and was so provoking that, in laughing exasperation, Maurice took her fluffy, flower-bedecked head between his hands, and stopped her lips with two sound kisses.
He acted impulsively, without reflecting, but, as soon as it was done, he felt a curious sense of satisfaction, which had nothing to do with Ephie, and was like a kind of unconscious revenge taken on some one else. He was not, however, prepared for the effect of his hasty deed. Ephie turned scarlet, and jumping up from the sofa, so that all the blossoms fell from her hair at once, stamped her foot.
“Maurice Guest! How dare you!” she cried angrily, and, to his surprise, the young man saw that she had tears in her eyes.
He had never known Ephie to be even annoyed, and was consequently dumfounded; he could not believe, after the direct provocation she had given him, that his crime had been so great
“But Ephie dear!” he protested. “I had no idea, upon my word I hadn’t, that you would take it like this. What’s the matter? It was nothing. Don’t cry. I’m a brute.”
“Yes, you are, a horrid brute! I shall never forgive you—never!” said Ephie, and then she began to cry in earnest.
He put his arm round her, and coaxing her to sit down, wiped away her tears with his own handkerchief. In vain did he beg her to tell him why she was so vexed. To all he said, she only shook her head, and answered: “You had no right to do it.”
He vowed solemnly that it should never happen again, but at least a quarter of an hour elapsed before he succeeded in comforting her, and even then, she remained more subdued than usual. But when Maurice had gone, and she had dropped the scattered sprays of lilac out of the window on his head, she clasped her hands at the back of her neck, and dropped a curtsy to herself in the locking-glass.
“Him, too!” she said aloud.
She nodded at her reflected self, but her face was grave; for between these two, small, blue-robed figures was a deep and unsuspected secret.
And Maurice, as he walked away, wondered to himself for still a little why she should have been so disproportionately angry; but not for long; for, when he was not actually with Ephie, he was not given to thinking much about her. Besides, from there, he went straight to the latter half of an ABENDANTERKALTUNG, to hear Furst play Brahms’ VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY HANDEL
That night he had a vivid dream. He dreamt that he was in a garden, where nothing but lilac grew—grew with a luxuriance he could not have believed possible, and on fantastic bushes: there were bushes like steeples and bushes smaller than himself, big and little, broad and slender, but all were of lilac, and in flower—an extravagant profusion of white and purple blossoms. He gazed round him in delight, and took an eager step forward; but, before he could reach the nearest bush, he saw that it had been an illusion: the bush was stripped and bare, and the rest were bare as well. “You’re too late. It has all been gathered,” he heard a voice say, and at this moment, he saw Ephie at the end of a long alley of bushes, coming towards him, her arms full of lilac. She smiled and nodded to him over it, and he heard her laugh, but when she was half-way down the path, he discovered his mistake: it was not Ephie but Louise. She came slowly forward, her laden arms outstretched, and he would have given his life to be able to advance and to take what she offered him; but he could not stir, could not lift hand or foot, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. Her steps grew more hesitating, she seemed hardly to move; and then, just as she reached the spot where he stood, he found that it was not she after all, but Madeleine, who laughed at his disappointment and said: “I’m not offended, remember!”—The revulsion of feeling was too great; he turned away, without taking the flowers she held out to him—and awoke.
This dream was present to him all the morning, like a melody that haunts and recalls. But he worked more laboriously than usual; for he was aggrieved with himself for having idled away the previous afternoon, and then, too, Furst’s playing had made a profound impression on him. In vigorous imitation, he sat down to the piano again, after a hasty dinner snatched in the neighbourhood; but as he was only playing scales, he propped open before him a little volume of Goethe’s poems, which Johanna had lent him, and suiting his scales to the metre of the lines, read through one after another of the poems he liked best. At a particular favourite, he stopped playing and held the book in both hands.
He had hardly begun anew when the door of his room was unceremoniously opened, and Dove entered, in the jocose way he adopted when in a rosy mood. Maurice made a movement to conceal his book, merely in order to avoid the explanation he new must follow; but was too late; Dove had espied it. He did not belie himself on this occasion; he was extremely astonished to find Maurice “still at it,” but much more so to see a book open before him; and he vented his surprise loudly and wordily.
“Liszt used to read the newspaper,” said Maurice, for the sake of saying something. He had swung round in the piano-chair, and he yawned as he spoke, without attempting to disguise it.
“Why, yes, of course, why not?” agreed Dove cordially, afraid lest he had seemed discouraging. “Why not, indeed? For those who can do it. I wish I could. But will you believe me, Guest”—here he seated himself, and settled into an attitude for talking, one hand inserted between his crossed knees—“will you believe me, when I say I find it a difficult business to read at all?—at any time. I find it too stimulating, too ANREGEND, don’t you know? I assure you, for weeks now, I have been trying to read PAST AND PRESENT, and have not yet got beyond the first page. It gives one so much to think about, opens up so many new ideas, that I stop myself and say: ‘Old fellow, that must be digested.’ This, I see, is poetry”—he ran quickly and disparagingly through Maurice’s little volume, and laid it down again. “I don’t care much for poetry myself, or for novels either. There’s so much in life worth knowing that is true, or of some use to one; and besides, as we all know, fact is stranger than fiction.”
They spoke also of Furst’s performance the evening before, and Dove gave it its due, although he could not conceal his opinion that Furst’s star would ultimately pale before that of a new-comer to the town, a late addition to the list of Schwarz’s pupils, whom he, Dove, had been “putting up to things a bit.” This was a “Manchester man” and former pupil of Halle’s, and it would certainly not be long before he set the place in a stir. Dove had just come from his lodgings, where he had been permitted to sit and hear him practise finger-exercises.
“A touch like velvet,” declared Dove. “And a stretch!—I have never seen anything like it. He spans a tenth, nay, an eleventh, more easily than we do an octave.”
The object of Dove’s visit was, it transpired, to propose that Maurice should accompany him that evening to the theatre, where DIE WALKURE was to be performed; and as, on this day, Dove had reasons for seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses, he suggested, out of the fulness of his heart, that they should also invite Madeleine to join them. Maurice was nothing loath to have the meeting with her over, and so, though it was not quite three o’clock, they went together to the MOZARTSTRASSE.
They found Madeleine before her writing-table, which was strewn with closely written sheets. This was mail-day for America, she explained, and begged the young men to excuse her finishing an important letter to an American journalist, with whom she had once “chummed up” on a trip to Italy.
“One never knows when these people may be of use to one,” she was accustomed to say.
Having addressed and stamped the envelope, and tossed it to the others, she rose and gave a hand to each. At Maurice, she smiled in a significant way.
“You should have stayed, my son. Some one came, after all.”
Maurice laid an imploring finger on his lips, but Dove had seized the opportunity of glancing at his cravat in the mirror, and did not seem to hear.
She agreed willingly to their plan of going to the theatre; she had thought of it herself; then, a girl she knew had asked her to come to hear her play in ENSEMBLESPIEL.
“However, I will let that slip. Schelper and Moran-Olden are to sing; it will be a fine performance. I suppose some one is to be there,” she said laughingly to Dove, “or you would not be of the party.”
But Dove only smiled and looked sly.
Without delay, Madeleine began to detail to Maurice, the leading motives on which the WALKURE was built up; and Dove, having hummed, strummed and whistled all those he knew by heart, settled down to a discourse on the legitimacy and development of the motive, and especially in how far it was to be considered a purely intellectual implement. He spoke with the utmost good-nature, and was so unconscious of being a bore that it was impossible to take him amiss. Madeleine, however, could not resist, from time to time, throwing in a “Really!” “How extraordinary!” “You don’t say so!” among his abstruse remarks. But her sarcasm was lost on Dove; and even if he had noticed it, he would only have smiled, unhit, being too sensible and good-humoured easily to take offence.
It was always a mystery to his friends where Dove got his information; he was never seen to read, and there was little theorising about art, little but the practical knowledge of it, in the circles to which he belonged. But just as he went about picking up small items of gossip, so he also gathered in stray scraps of thought and information, and being by nature endowed with an excellent memory, he let nothing that he had once heard escape him. He had, besides, the talker’s gift of neatly stringing together these tags he had pulled off other people, of connecting them, and giving them a varnish of originality.
“By no means a fool,” Madeleine was in the habit of saying of him. “He would be easier to deal with if he were.”
Here, on the leading motive as handled by Wagner and Wagner’s forerunners, he had an unwritten treatise ripe in his brain. But he had only just compared the individual motives to the lettered ribbons that issue from the mouths of the figures in medieval pictures, and began to hint at the IDEE FIXE of Berlioz, when he was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“HEREIN!” cried Madeleine in her clear voice; and at the sight of the person who opened the door, Maurice involuntarily started up from his chair, and taking his stand behind it, held the back of it firmly with both hands, in self-defence.
It was Louise.
On seeing the two young men, she hesitated, and, with the door-handle still in her hand, smiled a faint questioning smile at Madeleine, raising her eyebrows and showing a thin line of white between her lips.
“May I come in?” she asked, with her head a little on one side.
“Why, of course you know you may,” said Madeleine with some asperity.
And so Louise entered, and came forward to the table at which they had been sitting; but before anything further could be said, she raised her arms to catch up a piece of hair which had fallen loose on her neck. The young men were standing, waiting to greet her, Maurice still behind his chair; but she did not hurry on their account, or “just on their account did not hurry,” as Madeleine mentally remarked.
Both watched Louise, and followed her movements. To their eyes, she appeared to be very simply dressed; it was only Madeleine who appreciated the cost and care of this seeming simplicity. She wore a plain, close-fitting black dress, of a smooth, shiny stuff, which obeyed and emphasised the lines and outlines of her body; and, as she stood, with her arms upraised, composedly aware of being observed, they could see the line of her side rising and falling with the rise and fall of each breath. Otherwise, she wore a large black hat, with feathers and an overhanging brim, which threw shadows on her face, and made her eyes seem darker than ever.
Letting her arms drop with a sigh of relief, she shook hands with Dove, and Dove—to Madeleine’s diversion and Maurice’s intense disgust—introduced Maurice to her as his friend. She looked full at the latter, and held out her hand; but before he could take it, she withdrew it again, and put both it and her left hand behind her back.
“No, no,” she said. “I mustn’t shake hands with you to-day. Today is Friday. And to give one’s hand for the first time on a Friday would bring bad luck—to you, if not to me.”
She was serious, but both the others laughed, and Maurice, having let his outstretched hand fall, coloured, and smiled rather foolishly. She did not seem to notice his discomfiture; turning to Madeleine, she began to speak of a piece of music she wished to borrow; and then Maurice had a chance of observing her at his ease, and of listening to her voice, in which he heard all manner of impossible things. But while Madeleine, with Dove’s assistance, was looking through a pile of music, Louise came suddenly up to him and said: “You are not offended with me, are you?” She had a low voice, with a childish cadence in it, which touched him like a caress.
“Offended? I with you?” He meant to laugh, but his voice shook.
She stared at him, openly astonished, not only at his words, but also at the tone in which they were said; and the strange, fervent gaze bent on her by this man whom she saw for the first time in her life, confused her and made her uneasy. Slowly and coldly she turned away, but Madeleine, who was charitably occupying Dove as long as she could, did not take any notice of her. And as the young man continued to stare at her, she looked out of the window at the lowering grey sky, and said, with a shudder: “What a day for June!”
All eyes followed hers, Maurice’s with the rest; but almost instantly he brought them back again to her face.
“Louise is a true Southerner,” said Madeleine; “and is wretched if there’s a cloud in the sky.”
Louise smiled, and he saw her strong white teeth. “It’s not quite as bad as that,” she said; and then, although herself not clear why she should have answered these searching eyes, she added, looking at Maurice: “I come from Australia.”
If she had said she was a visitant from another world, Maurice would not, at the moment, have felt much surprise; but on hearing the name of this distant land, on which he would probably never set foot, a sense of desolation overcame him. He realised anew, with a pang, what an utter stranger he was to her; of her past life, her home, her country, he knew and could know nothing.
“That is very far away,” he said, speaking out of this feeling, and then was vexed with himself for having done so. His words sounded foolish as they lingered on in the stillness that followed them, and would, he believed, lay him open to Madeleine’s ridicule. But he had not much time in which to repent of them; the music had been found, and she was going again. He heard her refuse an invitation to stay: she had an engagement at half-past four. And now Dove, who, throughout, had kept in the background, looked at his watch and took up his hat: he had previously offered, unopposed, to do the long wait outside the theatre, which was necessary when one had no tickets, and now it was time to go. But when Louise heard the word theatre, she laid a slim, ungloved hand on Dove’s arm.
“The very thing for such a night!”
They all said “AUF WIEDERSEHEN!” to one another; she did not offer to shake hands again, and Maurice nursed a faint hope that it was on his account. He opened the window, leant out, and watched them, until they went round the corner of the street.
Madeleine smiled shrewdly behind his back, but when he turned, she was grave. She did not make any reference to what had passed, nor did she, as he feared she would, put questions to him: instead, she showed him a song of Krafft’s, and asked him to play the accompaniment for her. He gratefully consented, without knowing what he was undertaking. For the song, a setting of a poem by Lenau, was nominally in C sharp minor; but it was black with accidentals, and passed through many keys before it came to a close in D flat major. Besides this, the right hand had much hard passage-work in quaint scales and broken octaves, to a syncopated bass of chords that were adapted to the stretch of no ordinary hand.
“LIEBLOS UND OHNE GOTT AUF EINER HAIDE,” sang Madeleine on the high F sharp; but Maurice, having collected neither his wits nor his fingers, began blunderingly, could not right himself, and after scrambling through a few bars, came to a dead stop, and let his hands fall from the keys.
“Not to-day, Madeleine.”
She laughed good-naturedly. “Very well—not to-day. One shouldn’t ask you to believe to-day that DIE GANZE WELT IST ZUM VERZWEIFELN TRAURIG.”
While she made tea, he returned to the window, where he stood with his hands in his pockets, lost in thought. He told himself once more what he found it impossible to believe: that he was going to see Louise again in a few hours; and not only to see her, but to speak to her, to be at her side. And when his jubilation at this had subsided, he went over in memory all that had just taken place. His first impression, he could afford now to admit it, had been almost one of disappointment: that came from having dreamed so long of a shadowy being, whom he had called by her name, that the real she was a stranger to him. Everything about her had been different from what he had expected—her voice, her smile, her gestures—and in the first moments of their meeting, he had been chill with fear, lest—lest . . . even yet he did not venture to think out the thought. But this first sensation of strangeness over, he had found her more charming, more desirable, than even he had hoped; and what almost wrung a cry of pleasure from him as he remembered it, was that not the smallest trifle—no touch of coquetry, no insincerely spoken word—had marred the perfect impression of the whole. To know her, to stand before her, he recognised it now, gave the lie to false slander and report. Hardest of all, however, was it to grasp that the meeting had actually come to pass and was over: it had been so ordinary, so everyday, the most natural thing in the world; there had been no blast of trumpets, nor had any occult sympathy warned her that she was in the presence of one who had trembled for weeks at the idea of this moment and again he leaned forward and gazed at the spot in the street, where she had disappeared from sight. He was filled with envy of Dove—this was the latter’s reward for his unfailing readiness to oblige others—and in fancy he saw Dove walking street after street at her side.
In reality, the two parted from each other shortly after turning the first corner.
On any other day, Dove would have been still more prompt to take leave of his companion; but, on this particular one, he was in the mood to be a little reckless. In the morning, he had received, with a delightful shock, his first letter from Ephie, a very frank, warmly written note, in which she relied on his great kindness to secure her, WITHOUT FAIL—these words were deeply underscored—two places in the PARQUET of the theatre, for that evening’s performance. Not the letter alone, but also its confiding tone, and the reliance it placed in him, had touched Dove to a deep pleasure; he had been one of the first to arrive at the box-office that morning, and, although he had not ventured, unasked, to take himself a seat beside the sisters, he was now living in the anticipation of promenading the FOYER with them in the intervals between the acts, and of afterwards escorting them home.
On leaving Louise he made for the theatre with a swinging stride—had he been in the country, stick in hand, he would have slashed off the heads of innumerable green and flowering things. As it was, he whistled—an unusual thing for him to do in the street—then assumed the air of a man hard pressed for time. Gradually the passers-by began to look at him with the right amount of attention; he jostled, as if by accident, one or two of those who were unobservant, then apologised for his hurry. It was not pleasurable anticipation alone that was responsible for Dove’s state of mind, and for the heightening and radiation of his self-consciousness. In offering to go early to the theatre, and to stand at the doors for at least three-quarters of an hour, in order that the others, coming considerably later might still have a chance of gaining their favourite seats: in doing this, Dove was not actuated by a wholly unselfish motive, but by the more complicated one, which, consciously or unconsciously, was present beneath all the friendly cares and attentions he bestowed on people. He was never more content with himself, and with the world at large, than when he felt that he was essential to the comfort and well-being of some of his fellow-mortals; than when he, so to speak, had a finger in the pie of their existence. It engendered a sense of importance, gave life fulness and variety; and this far outweighed the trifling inconveniences such welldoing implied. Indeed, he throve on them. For, in his mild way, Dove had a touch of Caesarean mania—of a lust for power.
Left to herself, Louise Dufrayer walked slowly home to her room in the BRUDERSTRASSE, but only to throw a hasty look round. It was just as she had expected: although it was long past the appointed time, he was not there. At a flower-shop in a big adjoining street, she bought a bunch of many-coloured roses, and with these in her hands, went straight to where Schilsky lived.
Mounting to the third floor of the house in the TALSTRASSE, she opened, without ceremony, the door of his room, which gave direct on the landing; but so stealthily that the young man, who was sitting with his back to the door, did not hear her enter. Before he could turn, she had sprung forward, her arms were round his neck, and the roses under his nose. He drew his face away from their damp fragrance, but did not look up, and, without removing his cigarette, asked in a tone of extreme bad temper: “What are you doing here, Lulu? What nonsense is this? For God’s sake, shut the door!”
She ruffled his hair with her lips. “You didn’t come. And the day has seemed so long.”
He tried to free himself, putting the roses aside with one hand, while, with his cigarette, he pointed to the sheets of music-paper that lay before him. “For a very good reason. I’ve had no time.”
She went back and closed the door; and then, sitting down on his knee, unpinned her big hat, and threw it and the roses on the bed. He put his arm round her to steady her, and as soon as he held her to him, his ill-temper was vanquished. He talked volubly of the instrumentation he was busy with. But she, who could point out almost every fresh note he put on paper, saw plainly that he had not been at work for more than a quarter of an hour; and, in a miserable swell of doubt and jealousy, such as she could never subdue, she asked:
“Were you practising as well?”
He took no notice of these words, and she did not trust herself to say more, until, with his free hand, he began jotting again, making notes that were no bigger than pin-heads. Then she laid her hand on his. “I haven’t seen you all day.”
But he was too engrossed to listen. “Look here,” he said pointing to a thick-sown bar. “That gave me the deuce of a bother. While here “—and now he explained to her, in detail, the properties of the tenor-tuba in B, and the bass-tuba in F, and the use to which he intended to put these instruments. She heard him with lowered eyes, lightly caressing the back of his hand with her finger-tips. But when he ceased speaking, she rubbed her cheek against his.
“It is enough for to-day. Lulu has been lonely.”
Not one of his thoughts was with her, she saw that, as he answered: “I must get this finished.”
“If I can. You know well enough, Lulu, when I’m in the swing——”
“Yes, yes, I know. If only it wouldn’t always come, just when I want you most.”
Her face lost its brightness; she rose from his knee and roamed about the room, watched from the wall by her pictured self.
“But is there ever a moment in the day when you don’t want me? You are never satisfied.” He spoke abstractedly, without interest in the answer she might make, and, relieved of her weight, leant forward again, while his fingers played some notes on the table. But when she began to let her hands stray over the loose papers and other articles that encumbered chairs, piano and washstand, he raised his head and watched her with a sharp eye.
“For goodness’ sake, let those things alone, can’t you?” he said after he had borne her fidgeting for some time.
“You have no secrets from me, I suppose?” She said it with her tenderest smile, but he scowled so darkly in reply that she went over to him again, to touch him with her hand. Standing behind him, with her fingers in his hair, she said: “Just to-day I wanted you so much. This morning I was so depressed that I could have killed myself.”
He turned his head, to give her a significant glance.
“Good reason for the blues, Lulu. I warned you. You want too much of everything. And can’t expect to escape a KATER.”
“Too much?” she echoed, quick to resent his words. “Does it seem so to you? Would days and days of happiness be too much after we have been separated for a week?—after Wednesday night?—after what you said to me yesterday?”
“Yesterday I was in the devil of a temper. Why rake up old scores? Now go home. Or at least keep quiet, and let me get something done.”
He shook his head free of her caressing hand, and, worse still, scratched the place where it had lain. She stood irresolute, not venturing to touch him again, looking hungrily at him. Her eyes fell on the piece of neck, smooth, lightly browned, that showed between his hair and the low collar; and, in an uncontrollable rush of feeling, she stooped and kissed it. As he accepted the caress, without demur, she said: “I thought of going to the theatre to-night, dear.”
He was pleased and showed it. “That’s right—it’s just what you need to cheer you up.”
“But I want you to come, too.”
He struck the table with his fist. “Good God, can’t you get it into your head that I want to work?”
She laughed, with ready bitterness. “I should think I could. That’s nothing new. You are always busy when I ask you to do anything. You have time for everything and every one but me. If this were something you yourself wanted to do to-night, neither your work nor anything else would stand in the way of it; but my wishes can always be ignored. Have you forgotten already that I only came home the day before yesterday?”
He looked sullen. “Now don’t make a scene, Lulu. It doesn’t do a whit of good.”
“A scene!” she cried, seizing on his words. “Whenever I open my lips now, you call it a scene. Tell me what I have done, Eugen! Why do you treat me like this? Are you beginning to care less for me? The first evening, the very first, I get home, you won’t stay with me—you haven’t even kept that evening free for me—and when I ask you about it, and try to get at the truth—oh, do you remember all the cruel things you said to me yesterday? I shall never forget them as long as I live. And now, when I ask you to come out with me—it is such a little thing-oh, I can’t sit at home this evening, Eugen, I can’t do it! If you really loved me, you would understand.”
She flung herself across the bed and sobbed despairingly. Schilsky, who had again made believe during this outburst to be absorbed in his work, cast a look of mingled anger and discomfort at the prostrate figure, and for some few moments, succeeded in continuing his occupation with a show of indifference; but as, in place of abating, her sobs grew more heart-rending, his own face began to twitch, and finally he dropped pencil and cigarette, and with a loud expression of annoyance went over to the bed.
“Lulu,” he said persuasively. “Come, Lulu,” and bending over her, he laid his hands on her shoulders and tried to force her to rise. She resisted him with all her might, but he was the stronger, and presently he had her on her feet, where, with her head on his shoulder, she wept out the rest of her tears. He held her to him, and although his face above her was still dark, did what he could to soothe her. He could never bear, to see or to hear a woman cry, and this loud passionate weeping, so careless of anything but itself, racked his nerves, and filled him with an uneasy wrath against invisible powers.
“Don’t cry, darling, don’t cry!” he said again and again. Gradually she grew calmer, and he, too, was still; but when her sobs were hushed, and she was clinging to him in silence, he put his hands on her shoulders and held her back from him, that he might look at her. His face wore a stubborn expression, which she knew, and which made him appear years older than he was.
“Now listen to me, Lulu,” he said. “When you behave in this way again, you won’t see me afterwards for a week—I promise you that, and you know I keep my word. Instead of being glad that I am in the right mood and can get something done, you come here—which you know I have repeatedly forbidden you to do—and make a fool of yourself like this. I have explained everything to you. I could not possibly stay on Wednesday night—why didn’t you time your arrival better? But it’s just like you. You would throw the whole of one’s future into the balance for the sake of a whim. Yesterday I was in a beast of a temper—I’ve admitted it. But that was made all right last night; and no one but you would drag it up again.”
He spoke with a kind of dogged restraint, which only sometimes gave way, when the injustice she was guilty of forced itself upon him. “Now, like a good girl, go home—go to the theatre and enjoy yourself. I don’t mind you being happy without me. At least, go!—under any circumstances you ought not to be here. How often have I told you that!” His moderation swept over into the feverish irritation she knew so well how to kindle in him, and his lisp became so marked that he was almost unintelligible. “You won’t have a rag of reputation left.”
“If I don’t care, why should you?” She felt for his hand. But he turned his back. “I won’t have it, I tell you. You know what the student underneath said the last time he met you on the stair.”
She pressed her handkerchief to her lips to keep from bursting anew into sobs, and there was a brief silence—he stood at the window, gazing savagely at the opposite house-wall—before she said: “Don’t speak to me like that. I’m going—now—this moment. I will never do it again—never again.”
As he only mumbled disbelief at this, she put her arms round his neck, and raised her tear-stained face to his: her eyes were blurred and sunken with crying, and her lips were white. He knew every line of her face by heart; he had known it in so many moods, and under so many conditions, that he was not as sensitive to its influence as he had once been; and he stood unwilling, with his hands in his pockets, while she clung to him and let him feel her weight. But he was very fond of her, and, as she continued mutely to implore forgiveness—she, Lulu, his Lulu, whom every one envied him—his hasty anger once more subsided; he put his arms round her and kissed her. She nestled in against him, over-happy at his softening, and for some moments they stood like this, in the absolute physical agreement that always overcame their differences. In his arms, with her head on his shoulder, she smoothed back his hair; and while she gazed, with adoring eyes, at this face that constituted her world, she murmured words of endearment; and all the unsatisfactory day was annulled by these few moments of perfect harmony.
It was he who loosened his grasp. “Now, it’s all right, isn’t it? No more tears. But you really must be off, or you’ll be late.”
“Yes. And you?”
He had taken up his violin and was tuning it, preparatory to playing himself back into the mood she had dissipated. He ran his fingers up and down, tried flageolets, and slashed chords across the strings.
But when she had sponged her face and pinned on her hat, he said, in response to her beseeching eyes, which, as so often before, made the granting of this one request, a touchstone of his love for her: “Look here, Lulu, if I possibly can, I’ll drop in at the end of the first act. Look out for me then, in the FOYER.”
When, shortly after five o’clock, Madeleine and Maurice arrived at the New Theatre, they took their places at the end of a queue which extended to the corner of the main building; and before they had stood very long, so many fresh people had been added to the line, that it had lengthened out until it all but reached the arch of the theatre-cafe. Dove was well to the fore, and would be one of the first to gain the box-office. A quarter of an hour had still to elapse before the doors opened; and Maurice borrowed his companion’s textbook, and read studiously, to acquaint himself with the plot of the opera. Madeleine took out Wolzogen’s FUHRER, with the intention of brushing up her knowledge of the motives; but, before she had finished a page, she had grown so interested in what two people behind her were saying that she turned and took part in the conversation.
The broad expanse of the AUGUSTUSPLATZ facing the theatre was bare and sunny. A policeman arrived, and ordered the queue in a straighter line; then he strolled up and down, stroking and smoothing his white gloves. More people came hurrying over the square to the theatre, and ranged themselves at the end of the tail. As the hands of the big clock on the post-office neared the quarter past five, a kind of tremor ran through the waiting line; it gathered itself more compactly together. One clock after another boomed the single stroke; sounds came from within the building; the burly policeman placed himself at the head of the line. There was a noise of drawn bolts and grating locks, and after a moment’s suspense, light shone out and the big door was flung open.
“Gent—ly!” shouted the policeman, but the leaders of the queue charged with a will, and about a dozen people had dashed forward, before he could throw down a stemming arm, on which those thus hindered leaned as on a bar of iron. Madeleine and Maurice were to the front of the second batch. And the arm down, in they flew also, Madeleine leading through the swing-doors at the side of the corridor, up the steep, wooden stairs, one flight after another, higher and higher, round and round, past one, two, three, tiers—a mad race, which ended almost in the arms of the gate-keeper at the topmost gallery.
Dove was waiting with the tickets, and they easily secured the desired places; not in the middle of the gallery, where, as Madeleine explained while she tucked her hat and jacket under the seat, the monstrous chandelier hid the greater part of the stage, but at the right-hand side, next the lattice that separated the seats at seventy-five from those at fifty pfennigs.
“This is first-rate for seeing,” said Maurice.
Madeleine laughed. “You see too much—that’s the trouble. Wait till you’ve watched the men running about the bottom of the Rhine, working the cages the Rhine-daughters swim in.”
As yet, with the exception of the gallery, the great building was empty. Now the iron fire-curtain rose; but the sunken well of the orchestra was in darkness, and the expanse of seats on the ground floor far below, was still encased in white wrappings—her and there an attendant began to peel them off. Maurice, poring over his book, had to strain his eyes to read, and this, added to the difficulty of the German, and his own sense of pleasurable excitement, made him soon give up the attempt, and attend wholly to what Madeleine was saying.
It was hot already, and the air of the crowded gallery was permeated with various, pungent odours: some people behind them were eating a strong-smelling sausage, and the man on the other side of the lattice reeked of cheap tobacco. When they had been in their seats for about a quarter of an hour, the lights throughout the theatre went up, and, directly afterwards, the lower tiers and the ground floor were sprinkled with figures. One by, one, the members of the orchestra dropped in,, turned up the lamps attached to their stands, and taking their instruments, commenced to tune and flourish; and soon stray motives and scraps of motives came mounting up, like lost birds, from wind and strings; the man of the drums beat a soft rattatoo, and applied his ear to the skins of his instruments. Now the players were in their seats, waiting for the conductor; late-comers in the audience entered with an air of guilty haste. The chief curtain had risen, and the stage was hidden only by stuff curtains, bordered with a runic scroll. A delightful sense of expectation pervaded the theatre.
Maurice had more than once looked furtively at his watch; and, at every fresh noise behind him, he turned his head—turned so often that the people in the back seats grew suspicious, and whispered to one another. Madeleine had drawn his attention to everything worth noticing; and now, with her opera-glass at her eyes, she pointed out to him people whom he ought to know. Dove, having eaten a ham-roll at the buffet on the stair, had ever since sat with his opera-glass glued to his face, and only at this moment did he remove it with a sigh of relief.
“There they are,” said Madeleine, and showed Maurice the place in the PARQUET, where Ephie and Johanna Cayhill were sitting. But the young man only glanced cursorily in the direction she indicated; he was wondering why Louise did not come—the time had all but gone. He could not bring himself to ask, partly from fear of being disappointed, partly because, now that he knew her, it was harder than before to bring her name over his lips. But the conductor had entered by the orchestra-door; he stood speaking to the first violinist, and the next moment would climb into his seat. The players held their instruments in readiness—and a question trembled on Maurice’s tongue. But at this very moment, a peremptory fanfare rang out behind the scene, and Madeleine said: “The sword motive, Maurice,” to add in the same breath: “There’s Louise.”
He looked behind him. “Where?”
She nudged him. “Not here, you silly,” she said in a loud whisper. “Surely you haven’t been expecting her to come up here? PARQUET, fourth row from the front, between two women in plaid dresses—oh, now the lights have gone.”
“Ssh!” said at least half a dozen people about them: her voice was audible above the growling of the thunder.
Maurice took her opera-glass, and, notwithstanding the darkness into which the theatre had been plunged, travelled his eyes up and down the row she named—naturally without success. When the curtains parted and disclosed the stage, it was a little lighter, but not light enough for him; he could not find the plaids; or rather there were only plaids in the row; and there was also more than one head that resembled hers. To know that she was there was enough to distract him; and he was conscious of the music and action of the opera merely as something that was going on outside him, until he received another sharp nudge from Madeleine on his righthand side.
“You’re not attending. And this is the only act you’ll be able to make anything of.”
He gave a guilty start, and turned to the stage, where Hunding had just entered to a pompous measure. In his endeavours to understand what followed, he was aided by his companions, who prompted him alternately. But Siegmund’s narration seemed endless, and his thoughts wandered in spite of himself.
“Listen to this,” said Dove of a sudden. “It’s one of the few songs Wagner has written.” He swayed his head from side to side, to the opening bars of the love-song; and Maurice found the rhythm so inviting that he began keeping time with his foot, to the indignation of a music-loving policeman behind them, who gave an angry: “Pst!”
“One of the finest love-scenes that was ever written,” whispered Madeleine in her decisive way. And Maurice believed her. From this point on, the music took him up and carried him with it; and when the great doors burst open, and let in the spring night, he applauded vigorously with the rest, keeping it up so long that Dove disappeared, and Madeleine grew impatient.
“Let us go. The interval is none too long.”
They went downstairs to the first floor of the building, and entered a long, broad, brilliantly lighted corridor. Here the majority of the audience was walking round and round, in a procession of twos and threes; groups of people also stood at both ends and looked on; others went in and out of the doors that opened on the great loggia. Madeleine and Maurice joined the perambulating throng, Madeleine bowing and smiling to her acquaintances, Maurice eagerly scanning the faces that came towards him on the opposite side.
Suddenly, a stout gentleman, in gold spectacles, kid gloves tight to bursting, and a brown frock coat, over the amplitude of which was slung an opera-glass, started up from a corner, and, seizing both Madeleine’s hands, worked them up and down. At the same time, he made a ceremonious little speech about the length of time that had elapsed since their last meeting, and paid her a specious compliment on the taste she displayed in being present at so serious an opera. Madeleine laughed, and said a few words in her hard, facile German: the best was yet to come; “DIE MORAN” was divine as Brunnhilde. Having bowed and said: “Lohse” to Maurice, the stranger took no further notice of him, but, drawing Madeleine’s hand through his arm, in a manner half gallant, half paternal, invited her to take ices with him, at the adjoining buffet.
Maurice remained standing in a corner, scrutinising those who passed him. He exchanged a few words with one of his companions of the dinner-table—a small-bodied, big-headed chemical student called Dickensey, who had a reputation for his cynicism. He had just asked Maurice whether Siegmund reminded him more of a pork-butcher or a prizefighter, and had offered to lay a bet that he would never attend a performance in this theatre when the doors of Hunding’s house flew open, or the sword lit up, at exactly the right moment—when Maurice caught sight of Dove and the Cayhills. He excused himself, and went to join them.
Not one of the three looked happy. Johanna was unspeakably bored and did not conceal it; she gazed with contempt on the noisy, excited crowd. Dove was not only burning to devote himself to Ephie; he had also got himself into a dilemma, and was at this moment doing his best to explain the first act of the opera to Johanna, without touching on the relationship of the lovers. His face was red with the effort, and he hailed Maurice’s appearance as a welcome diversion. But Ephie, too, greeted him with pleasure, and touching his arm, drew him back, so that they dropped behind the others. She was coquettishly dressed this evening, and looked so charming that people drew one another’s attention to DIE REIZENDE KLEINE ENGLADNDERIN. But Maurice soon discovered that she was out of spirits, and disposed to be cross. For fear lest he was the offender, he asked if she had quite forgiven him, and if they were good friends again. “Oh, I had forgotten all about it!” But, a moment after, she was grave and quiet—altogether unlike herself.
“Are you not enjoying yourself, Ephie?”
“No, I’m not. I think it’s stupid. And they’re all so fat.”
This referred to the singers, and was indisputable; Maurice could only agree with her, and try to rally her. Meanwhile, he continued surreptitiously to scour the hall, with an evergrowing sense of disappointment.
Then, suddenly, among those who were passing in the opposite direction, he saw Louise. In a flash he understood why he had not been able to find her in the row of seats: he had looked for her in a black dress, and she was all in white, with heavy white lace at her neck. Her companion was an Englishman called Eggis, of whom it was rumoured that he had found it advisable abruptly to leave his native land: here, he made a precarious living by journalism, and by doing odd jobs for the consulate. In spite of his shabby clothes, this man, prematurely bald, with dissipated features, had polished manners and an air of refinement; and, thoroughly enjoying his position, he was talking to his companion with vivacity. It was plain that Louise was only half listening to him; with a faint, absent smile on her lips, she, too, restlessly scanned the crowd.
They all caught sight of Schilsky at the same moment, and Maurice, on whom nothing was lost, saw as well the quick look that passed between Louise and him, and its immediate effect: Louise flashed into a smile, and was full of gracious attentiveness to the little man at her side.
Schilsky leant against the wall, with his hands in his pockets, his conspicuous head well back. On entering the FOYER, he had been pounced on by Miss Jensen. The latter, showily dressed in a large-striped stuff, had in tow a fellow-singer about half her own size, whom she was rarely to be seen without; but, on this occasion, the wan little American stood disconsolately apart, for Miss Jensen was paying no attention to him. In common with the rest of her sex, she had a weakness for Schilsky; and besides, on this evening, she needed specially receptive ears, for she had been studying the role of Sieglinde, and was full of criticisms and objections. As Ephie and Maurice passed them, she nodded to the latter and said: “Good evening, neighbour!” while Schilsky, seizing the chance, broke away, without troubling to excuse himself. Thus deserted, Miss Jensen detained Maurice, and so he lost the couple he wanted to keep in sight. But at the first pause in the conversation, Ephie plucked at his sleeve.
“Let us go out on the balcony.”
They went outside on the loggia, where groups of people stood refreshing themselves in the mild evening air, which was pleasant with the scent of lilac. Ephie led the way, and Maurice followed her to the edge of the parapet, where they leaned against one of the pillars. Here, he found himself again in the neighbourhood of the other two. Louise, leaning both hands on the stone-work, was looking out over the square; but Schilsky, lounging as before, with his legs crossed, his hands in his pockets, had his back to it, and was letting his eyes range indifferently over the faces before him. As Maurice and Ephie came up, he yawned long and heartily, and, in so doing, showed all his defective teeth. Furtively watching them, Maurice saw him lean towards his companion and say something to her; at the same time, he touched with his fingertips the lace she wore at the front of her dress. The familiarity of the action grated on Maurice, and he turned away his head. When he looked again, a moment or two later, he was disturbed anew. Louise was leaning forward, still in the same position, but Schilsky was plainly conversing by means of signs with some one else. He frowned, half closed his eyes, shook his head, and, as if by chance, laid a finger on his lips.
“Who’s he doing that to?” Maurice asked himself, and followed the direction of the other’s eyes, which were fixed on the corner where he and Ephie stood. He turned, and looked from side to side; and, as he did this, he caught a glimpse of Ephie’s face, which made him observe her more nearly: it was flushed, and she was gazing hard at Schilsky. With a rush of enlightenment, Maurice looked back at the young man, but this time Schilsky saw that he was being watched; stooping, he said a nonchalant word to his companion, and thereupon they went indoors again. All this passed like a flash, but it left, none the less, a disagreeable impression, and before Maurice had recovered from it, Ephie said: “Let us go in.”
They pressed towards the door.
“I’m poor company to-night, Ephie,” he said, feeling already the need of apologising to her for his ridiculous suspicion. “But you are quiet, too.” He glanced down at her as he spoke, and again was startled; her expression was set and defiant, but her baby lips trembled. “What’s the matter? I believe you are angry with me for being so silent.”
“I guess it doesn’t make any difference to me whether you talk or not,” she replied pettishly. “But I think it’s just as dull and stupid as it can be. I wish I hadn’t come.”
“Would you like to go home?”
“Of course I wouldn’t. I’ll stop now I’m here—oh, can’t we go quicker? How slow you are! Do make haste.”
He thought he heard tears in her voice, and looked at her in perplexity. While he contemplated getting her into a quiet corner and making her tell him truthfully what the matter was, they came upon Madeleine, who had been searching everywhere for Maurice. Madeleine had more colour in her cheeks than usual, and, in the pleasing consciousness that she was having a successful evening, she brought her good spirits to bear on Ephie, who stood fidgeting beside them.
“You look nice, child,” she remarked in her patronising way. “Your dress is very pretty. But why is your face so red? One would think you had been crying.”
Ephie, growing still redder, tossed her head. “It’s no wonder, I’m sure. The theatre is as hot as an oven. But at least my nose isn’t red as well.”
Madeleine was on the point of retorting, but at this moment, the interval came to an end, and the electric bells rang shrilly. The people who were nearest the doors went out at once, upstairs and down. Among the first were Louise and Schilsky, the latter’s head as usual visible above every one else’s.
“I will go, too,” said Ephie hurriedly. “No, don’t bother to come with me. I’ll find my way all right. I guess the others are in front.”
“There’s something wrong with that child to-night,” said Madeleine as she and Maurice climbed to the gallery. “Pert little thing! But I suppose even such sparrow-brains have their troubles.”
“I suppose they have,” said Maurice. He had just realised that the longed-for interval was over, and with it more of the hopes he had nursed.
Dove was already in his seat, eating another roll. He moved along to make room for them, but not a word was to be got out of him, and as soon as he had finished eating, he raised the opera-glass to his eyes again. Behind his back, Madeleine whispered a mischievous remark to Maurice, but the latter smiled wintrily in return. He had searched swiftly and thoroughly up and down the fourth row of the PARQUET, only to find that Louise was not in it. This time there could be no doubt whatever; not a single white dress was in the row, and towards the middle a seat was vacant. They had gone home then; he would not see her again—and once more the provoking darkness enveloped the theatre.
This second act had no meaning for him, and he found the various scenes intolerably long. Dove volunteered no further aid, and Madeleine’s explanations were insufficient; he was perplexed and bored, and when the curtains fell, joined in the applause merely to save appearances. The others rose, but he said he would not go downstairs; and when they had drawn back to let Dove push by and hurry away, Madeleine said she, too, would stay. However they would at least go into the corridor, where the air was better. After they had promenaded several times up and down, they descended to a lower floor and there, through a little half-moon window that gave on the FOYER below, they watched the living stream which, underneath, was going round as before. Madeleine talked without a pause.
“Look at Dove!” She pointed him out as he went by with the two sisters. “Did you ever see such a gloomy air? He might sit for Werther to-night. And oh, look, there’s Boehmer with his widow—see, the pretty fattish little woman. She’s over forty and has buried two husbands, but is crazy about Boehmer. They say she’s going to marry him, though he’s more than twenty years younger than she is.”
At this juncture, to his astonishment, Maurice saw Schilsky and Louise. He uttered an involuntary exclamation, and Madeleine understood it. She stopped her gossip to say: “You thought she had gone, didn’t you? Probably she has only changed her seat. They do that sometimes—he hates PARQUET.” And, after a pause: “How cross she looks! She’s evidently in a temper about something. I never saw people hide their feelings as badly as they do. It’s positively indecent.”
Her strictures were justifiable; as long as the two below were in sight, and as often as they came round, they did not exchange word or look with each other. Schilsky frowned sulkily, and his loose-knitted body seemed to hang together more loosely than usual, while as for Louise—Maurice staring hard from his point of vantage could not have believed it possible for her face to change in this way. She looked suddenly older, and very tired; and her mobile mouth was hard.
When, an hour later, after a tedious colloquy between Brunnhilde and Wotan, this long and disappointing evening came to an end, to the more human strains of the FEUERZAUBER, and they, the last of the gallery-audience to leave, had tramped down the wooden stairs, Maurice’s heart leapt to his throat to discover, as they turned the last bend, not only the two Cayhills waiting for them, but also, a little distance further off, Louise. She stood there, in her white dress, with a thin scarf over her head.
Madeleine was surprised too. “Louise! Is it you? And alone?”
The girl did not respond. “I want to borrow some money from you, Madeleine—about five or six marks,” she said, without smiling, in one of those colourless voices that preclude further questioning.
Madeleine was not sure if she had more than a couple of marks in her purse, and confirmed this on looking through it under a lamp; but both young men put their hands in their pockets, and the required sum was made up. As they walked across the square, Louise explained. Dressed, and ready to start for the theatre, she had not been able to find her purse.
“I looked everywhere. And yet I had it only this morning. At the last moment, I came down here to Markwald’s. He knows me; and he let me have the seats on trust. I said I would go in afterwards.”
They waited outside the tobacconist’s, while she settled her debt. Before she came out again, Madeleine cast her eyes over the group, and, having made a rapid surmise, said good-naturedly to Johanna: “Well, I suppose we shall walk together as far as we can. Shall you and I lead off?”
Maurice had a sudden vision of bliss; but no sooner had Louise appeared again, with the shopman bowing behind her, then Ephie came round to his side, with a naive, matter-of-course air that admitted of no rebuff, and asked him to carry her opera-glass. Dove and Louise brought up the rear.
But Dove had only one thought: to be in Maurice’s place. Ephie had behaved so strangely in the theatre; he had certainly done something to offend her, and, although he had more than once gone over his conduct of the past week, without finding any want of correctness on his part, whatever it was, he must make it good without delay.
“You know my friend Guest, I think,” he said at last, having racked his brains to no better result—not for the world would he have had his companion suspect his anxiety to leave her. “He’s a clever fellow, a very clever fellow. Schwarz thinks a great deal of him. I wonder what his impressions of the opera were. This was his first experience of Wagner; it would be interesting to hear what he has to say.”
Louise was moody and preoccupied, but Dove’s words made her smile.
“Let us ask him,” she said.
They quickened their steps and overtook the others. And when Dove, without further ado, had marched round to Ephie’s side, Louise, left slightly to herself, called Maurice back to her.
“Mr. Guest, we want your opinion of the WALKURE.”
Confused to find her suddenly beside him, Maurice was still more disconcerted at the marked way in which she slackened her pace to let the other two get in front. Believing, too, that he heard a note of mockery in her voice, he coloured and hesitated. Only a moment ago he had had several things worth saying on his tongue; now they would not out. He stammered a few words, and broke down in them half-way. She said nothing, and after one of the most embarrassing pauses he had ever experienced, he avowed in a burst of forlorn courage: “To tell the truth, I did not hear much of the music.”
But Louise, who had merely exchanged one chance companion for another, did not ask the reason, or display any interest in his confession, and they went on in silence. Maurice looked stealthily at her: her white scarf had slipped back and her wavy head was bare. She had not heard what he said, he told himself; her thoughts had nothing to do with him. But as he stole glances at her thus, unreproved, he wakened to a sudden consciousness of what was happening to him: here and now, after long weeks of waiting, he was walking at her side; he knew her, was alone with her, in the summer darkness, and, though a cold hand gripped his throat at the thought, he took the resolve not to let this moment pass him by, empty-handed. He must say something that would rouse her to the fact of his existence; something that would linger in her mind, and make her remember him when he was not there. But they were half way down the GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE; at the end, where the PETERSTRASSE crossed it, Dove and the Cayhills would branch off, and Madeleine return to them. He had no time to choose his phrases.
“When I was introduced to you this afternoon, Miss Dufrayer, you did not know who I was,” he said bluntly. “But I knew you very well—by sight, I mean, of course. I have seen you often—very often.”
He had done what he had hoped to do, had arrested her attention. She turned and considered him, struck by the tone in which he spoke.
“The first time I saw you,” continued Maurice, with the same show of boldness—“you, of course, will not remember it. It was one evening in Schwarz’s room—in April—months ago. And since then, I . . . well . . . I——”
She was gazing at him now, in surprise. She remembered at this minute, how once before, that day, his manner of saying some simple thing had affected her disagreeably. Then, she had eluded the matter with an indifferent word; now, she was not in a mood to do this, or in a mood to show leniency. She was dispirited, at war with herself, and she welcomed the excuse to vent her own bitterness on another.
“And since then—well?”
“Since then . . . “He hesitated, and gave a nervous laugh at his own daring. “Since then . . . well, I have thought about you more than—than is good for my peace of mind.”
For a moment amazement kept her silent; then she, too, laughed, and the walls of the dark houses they were passing seemed to the young man to re-echo the sound.
“Your peace of mind!”
She repeated the words after him, with such an ironical emphasis that his unreflected courage curled and shrivelled. He wished the ground had swallowed him up before he had said them. For, as they fell from her lips, the audacity he had been guilty of, and the absurdity that was latent in the words themselves, struck him in the face like pellets of hail.
“Your peace of mind! What has your peace of mind to do with me?” she cried, growing extravagantly angry. “I never saw you in my life till to-day; I may never see you again, and it is all the same to me whether I do or not.—Oh, my own peace of mind, as you call it, is quite hard enough to take care of, without having a stranger’s thrown at me! What do you mean by making me responsible for it! I have never done anything to you.”
All the foolish castles Maurice had built came tumbling about his cars. He grew pale and did not venture to look at her.
“Make you responsible! Oh, how can you misunderstand me so cruelly!”
His consternation was so palpable that it touched her in spite of herself. Her face had been as naively miserable as a child’s, now it softened, and she spoke more kindly.
“Don’t mind what I say. To-night I am tired . . . have a headache . . . anything you like.”
A wave of compassion drowned his petty feelings of injury, and his sympathy found vent in a few inadequate words.
“Help me?—you?” She laughed, in an unhappy way. “To help, one must understand, and you couldn’t understand though you tried. All you others lead such quiet lives; you know nothing of what goes on in a life like mine. Every day I ask myself why I have not thrown myself out of the window, or over one of the bridges into the river, and put an end to it.”
Wrapped up though she was in herself, she could not help smiling at his frank gesture of dismay.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said, and the smile lingered on her lips. “I shall never do it. I’m too fond of life, and too afraid of death. But at least,” she caught herself up again, “you will see how ridiculous it is for you to talk to me of your peace of mind. Peace of mind! I have never even been passably content. Something is always wanting. To-night, for instance, I feel so much energy in me, and I can make nothing of it—nothing! If I were a man, I should walk for hours, bareheaded, through the woods. But to be a woman . . . to be cooped up inside four walls . . . when the night itself is not large enough to hold it all!——”
She threw out her hands to emphasise her helplessness, then let them drop to her sides again. There was a silence, for Maurice could not think of anything to say; her fluency made him tongue-tied. He struggled with his embarrassment until they were all but within earshot of the rest, at the bottom of the street.
“If I . . . if you would let me . . . There is nothing in the world I wouldn’t do to help you,” he ended fervently.
She did not reply; they had reached the corner where the others waited. There was a general leave-taking. Through a kind of mist, Maurice saw that Ephie’s face still wore a hostile look; and she hardly moved her lips when she bade him good-night.
Madeleine drew her own conclusions as she walked the rest of the way home between two pale and silent people. She had seen, on coming out of the theatre, that Louise was in one of her bad moods—a fact easily to be accounted for by Schilsky’s absence. Maurice had evidently been made to suffer under it, too, for not a syllable was to be drawn from him, and, after several unavailing attempts she let him alone.
As they crossed the ROSSPLATZ, which lay wide and deserted in the starlight, Louise said abruptly: “Suppose, instead of going home, we walk to Connewitz?”
At this proposal, and at Maurice’s seconding of it, Madeleine laughed with healthy derision.
“That is just like one of your crazy notions,” she said “What a creature you are! For my part, I decline with thanks. I have to get a Moscheles ETUDE ready by to-morrow afternoon, and need all my wits. But don’t let me hinder you. Walk to Grimma if you want to.”
“What do you say? Shall you and I go on?” Louise turned to Maurice; and the young man did not know whether she spoke in jest or in earnest.
Madeleine knew her better. “Louise!” she said warningly. “Maurice has work to do to-morrow, too.”
“You thought I meant it,” said the girl, and laughed so ungovernably that Madeleine was again driven to remonstrance.
“For goodness’ sake, be quiet! We shall have a policeman after us, if you laugh like that.”
Nothing more was said until they stood before the housedoor in the BRUDERSTRASSE. There Louise, who had lapsed once more into her former indifference, asked Madeleine to come upstairs with her.
“I will look for the purse again; and then I can give you what I owe you. Or else I am sure to forget. Oh, it’s still early; and the night is so long. No one can think of sleep yet.”
Madeleine was not a night-bird, but she was also not averse to having a debt paid. Louise looked from her to Maurice. “Will you come, too, Mr. Guest? It will only take a few minutes,” she said, and, seeing his unhappy face, and remembering what had passed between them, she spoke more gently than she had yet done.
Maurice felt that he ought to refuse; it was late. But Madeleine answered for him. “Of course. Come along, Maurice,” and he crossed the threshold behind them.
After lighting a taper, they entered a paved vestibule, and mounted a flight of broad and very shallow stairs; half-way up, there was a deep recess for pot-plants, and a wooden seat was attached to the wall. The house had been a fine one in its day; it was solidly built, had massive doors with heavy brass fittings, and thick mahogany banisters. On the first floor were two doors, a large and a small one, side by side. Louise unlocked the larger, and they stepped into a commodious lobby, off which several rooms opened. She led the way to the furthest of these, and entered in front of her companions.
Maurice, hesitating just inside the door, found himself close to a grand piano, which stood free on all sides, was open, and disorderly with music. It was a large room, with three windows; and one end of it was shut off by a high screen, which stretched almost from wall to wall. A deep sofa stood in an oriel-window; a writing-table was covered with bric-a-brac, and three tall flower-vases were filled with purple lilac. But there was a general air of untidiness about the room; for strewn over the chairs and tables were numerous small articles of dress and the toilet-hairpins, a veil, a hat and a skirt—all traces of her intimate presence.
As she lifted the lamp from the writing-table to place it on the square table before the sofa, Madeleine called her attention to a folded paper that had lain beneath it.
“It seems to be a letter for you.”
She caught at it with a kind of avidity, tore it open, and heedless of their presence, devoured it, not only with her eyes: but with her parted lips and eager hands. When she looked up again, her cheeks had a tinge of colour in them; her eyes shone like faceted jewels; her smile was radiant and infectious. With no regard for appearances, she buttoned the note in the bosom of her dress.
“Now we will look for the purse,” she said. “But come in, Mr. Guest—you are still standing at the door. I shall think you are offended with me. Oh, how hot the room is!—and the lilac is stifling. First the windows open! And then this scarf off, and some more light. You will help me to look, will you not?”
It was to Maurice she spoke, with a childlike upturning of her face to his—an irresistibly confiding gesture. She disappeared behind the screen, and came out bareheaded, nestling with both hands at the coil of hair on her neck. Then she lit two candles that stood on the piano in brass candlesticks, and Maurice lighted her round the room, while she searched in likely and unlikely places—inside the piano, in empty vases, in the folds of the curtains—laughing at herself as she did so, until Madeleine said that this was only nonsense, and came after them herself. When Maurice held the candle above the writing-table, he lighted three large photographs of Schilsky, one more dandified than the other; and he was obliged to raise his other hand to steady the candlestick.
At last, following a hint from Madeleine, they discovered the purse between the back of the sofa and the seat; and now Louise remembered that it had been in the pocket of her dressing-gown that afternoon.
“How stupid of me! I might have known,” she said contritely. “So many things have gone down there in their day. Once a silver hair-brush that I was fond of; and I sometimes look there when bangles or hat-pins are missing,” and letting her eyes dance at Maurice, she threw back her head and laughed.
Here, however, another difficulty arose; except for a few nickel coins, the purse was found to contain only gold, and the required change could not be made up.
“Never mind; take one of the twenty-mark pieces,” she urged. “Yes, Madeleine, I would rather you did;” and when Madeleine hinted that Maurice might not find it too troublesome to come back with the change the following day, she turned to the young man, and saying: “Yes, if Mr. Guest would be so kind,” smiled at him with such a gracious warmth that it was all he could do to reply with a decent unconcern.
But the hands of the clock on the writing-table were nearing half-past eleven, and now it was she who referred to the lateness of the hour.
“Thank you very much,” she said to Maurice on parting. “And you must forget the nonsense I talked this evening. I didn’t mean it—not a word of it.” She laughed and held out her hand. “I wouldn’t shake hands with you this afternoon, but now—if you will? For to-night I am not superstitious. Nothing bad will happen; I’m sure of that. And I am very much obliged to you—for everything. Good night.”
Only a few minutes back, he had been steeped in pity for her; now it seemed as if no one had less need of pity or sympathy than she. He was bewildered, and went home to pass alternately from a mood of rapture to one of jealous despair. And the latter was torturous, for, as they walked, Madeleine had let fall such a vile suspicion that he had parted from her in anger, calling as he went that if he believed what she said to be true, he would never put faith in a human being again.
In the light of the morning, of course, he knew that it was incredible, a mere phantasm born of the dark; and towards four o’clock that afternoon, he called at the BRUDERSTRASSE with the change. But Louise was not at home, and as he did not find her in on three successive days, he did not venture to return. He wrote his name on a card, and left this, together with the money, in an envelope.
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