Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

Part III.

. . . dove il Sol tace.

DANTE

I.

Frau Krause was ill pleased at his unlooked-for reappearance, and did not scruple to say so. From the condition of disorder in which he found his room, Maurice judged that it had been occupied, during his absence, by the entire family. Having been caught napping, Frau Krause carried the matter off with a high hand: she gave him to understand that his behaviour in descending upon her thus, was not that of a decent lodger. Maurice never parleyed with her; ascertaining by a glance that his books and music had been left untouched, he made his escape from the pails of water that were straightway brought into evidence, as well as from her irate assurances that the room would be ready for him in a quarter of an hour.

He went into the town, and did various small errands necessary to the taking up anew of the old life. After he had had dinner, and had looked through the newspapers, the temptation was strong to go to Louise, and spend the hot afternoon hours at her side. But he resisted; for that would have been a poor beginning to the sensible way of life they would have to follow, from now on. Besides, with the certainty of seeing her again in a very short time, it was not impossible to be patient. No more uncertainty, no more doubts and fears! — the day for these was over. — And so, having satisfied himself that his room was still uninhabitable, he strolled to the Conservatorium, to see what notices had remained affixed to the notice-board. As he was leaving again, he met the janitor, and from him learned that his name was down for the first ADBENDUNTERHALTUNG of the coming month.

In the shadeless street, he paused irresolute. The heat of the slumbrous afternoon was oppressive; all animation seemed suspended. The trees in streets and gardens drooped, brownishyellow, and heavy with dust. The sun met the eyes blindingly, and was reflected from every house-wall. Maurice went for a walk in the woods. In his pocket he had a letter, still unread, which he had found waiting for him that day. It was from his mother, and his eyes slid carelessly over the pages. There were the usual reproaches for his prolonged silences, the never-failing reminders that his time in Leipzig would come to an end the following spring, as well as several details of domestic interest. Then, however, followed a piece of news, which rallied his attention.

YOU WILL DOUBTLESS BE INTERESTED TO HEAR, she wrote, THAT YOUR FRIEND THE OLD MUSIC TEACHER IN NORWICH DIED SUDDENLY LAST WEEK. HIS PUPILS HAD FALLEN OFF GREATLY OF LATE AND WHEN EVERYTHING HAD BEEN SOLD THERE WAS SCARCELY ENOUGH TO COVER THE FUNERAL EXPENSES. YOUR FATHER THINKS THAT THOUGH A YOUNG PERSON FROM LONDON OF THE NAME OF SMITH OR SMYTHE HAS LATELY SET UP THERE AND ATTRACTED MANY OF THE BEST PAYING FAMILIES YET THE OLD CONNECTION MIGHT BE WORKED UP AGAIN AND IT WOULD BE WORTH YOUR WHILE TRYING TO DO IT. AT FIRST YOU COULD LIVE AT HOME AND GO OVER ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK. YOUR FATHER HAS BEEN MAKING INQUIRIES ABOUT A SUITABLE ROOM.

This news called up a feeling of repugnance in Maurice: it came like a message from another world; the very baldness of its expression seemed to throw him back, at one stroke, into the hated atmosphere of his home. He folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope, with such a conscious hostility to all that his blood-relations did or said, as he had not felt since the day when, in their midst, he had struggled to assert his independence. How little they understood him! It was like them, in their unimaginative dulness, to suppose that they could arrange his life for him — draw up the lines on which it was to be spent. He saw himself bound down hand and foot again, to the occupation he so hated; saw himself striving to oust the young person from London, just as no doubt his old friend had striven; saw himself becoming proficient in all the mean, petty tricks of rival teachers, and either vanquishing or being vanquished, in the effort to earn a living.

However he viewed them, his prospects had nothing hopeful in them. They were vague, too, to the last degree. On one question alone was his mind made up: he meant to marry Louise at the earliest possible date. Whatever else happened, this should come to pass. For the first time, he thought with something akin to remorse, over the turn affairs had taken. He had been blind and dizzy with his infatuation, sick for her to his very marrow — he could only look back on those feverish weeks in June as on the horrors of a nightmare — and he would not have missed a single hour of the happy days at Rochlitz. But, none the less, he had always felt a peculiar aversion to people who allowed their feelings to get the better of them. Now, he himself was one of them. If only she were his wife! Had she consented, he would have married her there and then, without reflection. They might have lived on, just as they were going to do, and have kept their marriage a secret, reserving to themselves the pleasure of knowing that their intimacy was legal. At it was, he must console himself with the thought that, married or not, they were indissolubly bound: he knew now better than before, that no other woman would ever exist for him; and surely, in the case of an all-absorbing passion such as this, the overstepping of conventional boundaries would not be counted too heavily against them: laws and conventions existed only for the weak and vacillating loves of the rest of the world.

Then, however, and almost against his will, the other side of the question forced itself upon his notice. As the marriage had not already taken place, as, indeed, Louise chose to evade the subject when he brought it up, he could not but admit to it would be pleasanter for him if it were now postponed until he was independent of home-support. His family would, he knew, bitterly resent his taking the step; and in regard to them, he was proud. Where Louise was concerned, of course, it was a different matter: there, no misplaced pride should stand in the way. She had ample means for her own needs; it was merely a question of earning enough to keep himself. The sole advantage of the present state of affairs was, that it might still be concealed; whereas even a secret marriage implied a possible publicity; it might somehow leak out, and, in the event of this, he knew that his parents would immediately cut off supplies. If once he were independent of them, he could do as he liked. He set his teeth at the thought of it. To no small extent, his way was mapped out for him. Marrying Louise meant giving up all idea of returning home. He understood now, more clearly than before, how unfitted she was for the narrow life that would there be expected of her. And even — if he had longed for approval and consent, he would never have had courage to ask her to face the petty, ignoble details of conventional propriety, which such a sanction implied. No, if he wished to ensure her happiness, he must secure to her the freer atmosphere in which she was accustomed to live. He must burn his ships behind him, and the most satisfactory thing was, that he was able to do it without a pang.

He racked his brains as to the means of making a livelihood. There was nothing he would not do. He was more ready to work than ever a labourer with a starving family at his back. But, having let every possibility pass before his mind’s eye, he was forced to the conclusion that the only occupation open to him was the one he had come to Leipzig to escape. He was fit for nothing but to be a teacher. All he could do at the piano, hundreds of others could do better; his talents as a conductor were, he had learned, of the meagrest; the pleasing little songs he might compose, of small value. Yet, if this were the price he had to pay for making her his wife, he was content to pay it: no sacrifice was too great for him. And then, to be a teacher here meant something different from what it meant in England. Here, it was possible to retain your self-respect — the caste of the class was another to begin with — and also to remain in touch with all that was best worth knowing. As a foreigner, he might add to his earnings by teaching English; but piano-lessons would of necessity be his chief source of income. They were plentiful enough: Avery Hill supported herself entirely by them, and Furst kept his family. Of course, though, this was due to Schwarz: his influence was a key to all doors. Both of these were favourite pupils; while a melancholy fact, which had to be faced, was, that he did not stand well with Schwarz. Somehow, they had never taken to each other: he, perhaps, had had too open an eye for the master’s foibles, and Schwarz had no doubt been aware, from the first, of his pupil’s fatally divided interests. The crown had probably been set by his ill-considered flight in July. If he wished ultimately to achieve something, the interest he had forfeited must be regained, cost what it might. He would work, in these coming months, as never before. Could he make a brilliant, even a wholly respectable job of the trio he was to play, it would go far towards reinstating him in Schwarz’s good graces: and he might then venture to approach the master with a request for assistance. This was the first piece of work that lay to his hand, and he would do it with all his might. After that, the rest.

There was no time to lose. A mild despair overcame him at the thought of the intricate sonata, the long, mazy concerto by Hummel, which had formed his holiday task. In exactly a fortnight from this date, the vacation came to an end, and, as yet, he did not know a note of them. Through the motionless heat of the paved streets, he went home, and turning Frau Krause out of his room, sat down at the piano to scales and exercises. Not until he felt suppleness and strength coming back to his fingers, did he allow his thoughts to wander. Then, however, they leapt to Louise; after this break in his consciousness, he seemed to have been absent from her for days.

The sun was full on her windows; curtains and blinds were drawn against it. While he hesitated, still dazzled by the glare of the streets, she sprang to meet him, laying both hands on his shoulders.

“At last!”

He blinked, and laughed, and held her at arm’s length. “At last? — Why, what does that mean?”

“That I have been waiting for you, and hoping you would come — for hours.”

“But, dearest, I’m too early as it is. It’s not six o’clock.”

“Yes, I know. But I was so sure you would come sooner — that you wouldn’t be able to stay away! Oh, the afternoon has been endless; and the heat was suffocating. I couldn’t dress, and I haven’t unpacked a thing.”

Now he saw that she was in her dressing-gown, and that the bags and valises stood in a corner, just as they had been carried up from the droschke.

With her hands still on his shoulders, she put back her head. A thin line of white appeared between her lips, and, under their drooped lids, her eyes shone with a moist brilliance. She looked at him eagerly for some seconds, and it seemed to hirn wistfully, too. Then, in an inexplicable change of mood, she let her arms fall, and turned away. She had grown pale and despondent. There was only one thing for him to do: to put his arms round her and draw her to his knee. Holding her thus, he whispered in her ear words such as she loved to hear. He had grown skilled in repeating them. Under the even murmur of his voice, her face grew tranquil; she sank little by little into a state of well-being; her one fear was that he would cease speaking.

On the writing-table, a gold-faced clock ticked solemnly: its minutes went by unheeded. Maurice was the first to feel the disillusioning shudder of reality; simultaneously, the remembrance returned to him of what he had come intending to tell her. — He loosened her arms.

“Louise!” he said in an altered voice. “Look up, dear! — and let me see your eyes. You won’t believe me, I think, but I came this evening meaning to talk very sensibly — nothing but common sense, in fact. There’s a great deal I want to say to you. Come, let us be two rational people — yes? As a beginning, I’ll draw up the blinds. The sun’s behind the houses now, and the room is so close.”

Louise shrank from the violent, dusty light; and her face, a moment back rapturously content, took on at once a look of apprehension.

“Not to-night, Maurice — not to-night! It’s too . . . too hot for common sense to-night.”

He laughed and took her hand. “Be my own brave girl, and help me. You have only to look at me, as you know, to make me forget everything. And that mustn’t be. We have got to be serious for a little — have you ever thought, Louise, how seldom you and I have talked seriously together? There was never time, was there? . . . in all these weeks. There was only time to tell you how much you are to me. — But now — well, so many things were running in my head this afternoon. This letter from home was the beginning of them. Read it — this page here, at least — and then I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking.”

He put the letter into her hand, and she ran her eyes over the page. But she laid it down without comment.

A fear crossed his mind. “Don’t misunderstand it,” he said hastily. “You know that point was settled months ago. There’s no question of going back for me now — and I’m glad of it. I never want to see England again. But it gave me a lot to think about — how the staying here was to be managed, and things like that.”

He was conscious of becoming somewhat wordy; and as she did not respond, his uneasiness grew. In his anxiety to make her think as he did, he clasped his hand over hers.

“I needn’t say again, need I, darling, what the past weeks have meant to me? I’m so grateful to you for them that I could only prove it with years of my life. But — and don’t misunderstand this either, or think I don’t love you more now than ever before — you know I do. But, look at it as we will, those weeks were play — glorious play, worth half one’s existence, but still only play. They couldn’t last for ever. Now we’ve come back, and we have to face work and the workaday world — you see what I mean, I’m sure?”

There was a note of entreaty in his voice. As she still kept silence, he gave his whole strength to demolishing the mute opposition he felt in her.

“From now on, dear, we must make up our minds to be two very sensible people. I’ve an enormous amount of work to get through, in the coming months. And at Easter, I shall probably be thrown on my own resources. But I’ll fight my way somehow — here, beside you. We’ll live our own life. Just you and I. — Let me tell you what I propose to do,”— and here, he laid before her, in their entirety, his plans for winning over Schwarz, for gaining a foothold, and for making a modest income. “A good PRUFUNG,” he concluded, “and I’ll be able to get anything I want out of him. In the meantime, I’ve got to make a decent job next month of the trio — I’m pretty well in his black books, I can guess, for going off as I did in July. I must work as I’ve never done before. Each single day must be mapped out, and nothing allowed to interfere. It’s an undertaking; but you’ll help me, won’t you, darling? — as only you can. I’ve let things go, far too much — I see it now. But it was impossible — frankly, I didn’t care. I only wanted you. Now, it will . . . it must be different. The unrest is gone; you belong to me, and I to you. We are sure of each other.”

“Oh, it’s stifling! There’s no air in the room.”

She rose from his side, and went to the open window, where she stood with her back to him. As a result of his words, her life seemed suddenly to stretch before her, just as dry, and dusty, and commonplace, as the street she looked down on.

“I want to show you, too,” he continued behind her, “that you haven’t utterly thrown yourself away. I know how little I can do; but honest endeavour must count for something. I ask nothing better than to work for you, Louise — and you know it.”

A wave of warm air came in at the window; the dying afternoon turned to twilight.

“Yes . . . and I? What am I to do? What room is there for me in your plans of work?”

He glanced sharply at her; but she had not moved.

“Louise, dearest! I know that what I say must sound selfish and inconsiderate. And yet I can’t help it. I’m forced to ask you to wait . . . merely to wait. And for what? Good Heavens, no one realises it as I do! I have nothing to offer you, in return — but my love for you. But if you knew how strong that is — if you knew how happy I am resolved to make you! Have a little patience, darling! It will all come right in the end — if only you love me! And you do, don’t you? Say once more you do.”

She turned so swiftly that the tail of her dressing-gown twisted, and fell over on itself.

“Can you still ask that? Have you not had proof enough? Is there an inch of you that doesn’t believe in my love for you? Oh, Maurice! . . . It’s only that I’m tired to-night — and restless. I was so wretched at having to come back. And the heat has got on my nerves. I wish a great storm would come, and shake the house, and make the branches of the trees beat against the panes — do you remember? And we were so safe. The worse the storm was, the closer you held me.” She sat down beside him, on the arm of the sofa. “Such a night seemed doubly wild after the long, still days that had gone before it — do you remember? — Oh, why had it all to end? Weren’t we happy enough? Or did we ask too much? Why must time go just the same over happiness and unhappiness alike?” She got up again, and strayed back to the window. “Days like those will never — CAN never — come again. Even as it is, coming back has made a difference. Could you even yesterday have spoken as you do to-day? Was there any room then for common sense between us? No, we were too happy. It was enough to know we were alive.”

“Be reasonable, darling. I am as sorry as you that these weeks are over; but, glorious as they were, they couldn’t last for ever. And trust me; we shall know other days just as happy. — But if, because I talk like this, you imagine I don’t love you a hundred times better even than yesterday — but you don’t mean that! You know me better, my Rachel!”

“Yes. Perhaps you’re right — you ARE right. But I am right, too.”

She came back, and sat down on the sofa again, and propped her chin on her hand.

“You’re tired to-night, dear — that’s all. To-morrow things will look different, and you’ll see the truth of what I say. At night, things get distorted ——”

“No, no, one only really sees in the dark,” she interrupted him.

—“but in the morning, one can smile at one’s fears. Trust me, Louise, and believe in me. All our future happiness depends on how we act just now.”

“Our future happiness . . . yes,” she said slowly. “But what of the present?”

“Isn’t it worth while sacrificing a brief present to a long future?”

She threw him a quick glance. “You talk like an orthodox Christian, Maurice,” she said, and added: “The present is here: it belongs to us. The future is so unclear — who knows what it will bring us!”

“And isn’t it just for that very reason that I speak as I do? If everything lay clear and straight before us, do you think I should bother about anything but you? It’s the uncertainty of the whole thing that troubles me. But however vague it is, I can tell you one thing that will happen. And you know, dearest, what that is — the only ambition I have left: to make you my wife at the earliest possible moment.”

She gazed at him meditatively.

“Why wouldn’t you let me have my way at first?” he cried. “Why were you against it? We could have kept it a secret: no one need have known a thing about it. And I should never have asked you to go to England, or to see my people. Call it narrow, if you must, I can’t help it; it’s the only thing for us to do. Why won’t you agree? Tell me what you have against it. Listen!” He knelt down and put his arms round her. “We have still a fortnight — that’s time enough. Let us go to England to-morrow, and be married without a word to anyone — in the first registrar’s office we find. Only marry me!”

“Would it make you love me more?”

She looked at him intently, turning the whole weight of her dark glance upon him.

“You!” he said. “You to ask such a thing! You with these eyes . . . and this hair! And these hands! — I love every line of them . . . You can’t understand, can you, you bundle of emotions, that I should care for you as I do, and yet be able to talk soberly? It seems to you a man’s way of loving — and poor at that. But if you imagine I don’t love you all the more for what you have sacrificed for me — no, you didn’t say that, I know, but it comes to the same thing in the end.”

She made no answer; and a feeling of discouragement began to creep over him. He rose to his feet.

“A man who loves a woman as I love you,” he said almost violently, “has only one wish — can have only one. I shall never rest or be thoroughly happy till you consent to marry me. That you can refuse as you do, seems to prove that you don’t care for me enough.”

She put her arms round his neck: her wide sleeves fell back, leaving her arms bear. “Maurice,” she said gently, “why must you worry yourself? — You know if you are set on our marrying, I’ll give way. But I don’t want to be married — not yet. There’s plenty of time. It’s only a small matter now; it doesn’t seem as if it could make any difference; and yet it might. The sense of being bound; of some one — no, of the law permitting us to love each other . . . no, Maurice, not yet. — Listen! I’m older and wiser than you, and I know. Happiness like this doesn’t come every day. Instead of brooding and hesitating, one must seize it while it’s there: it’s such a slippery thing; it’s gone before you know it. You can’t bind it fast, and say it shall last so and so long. We have it now; don’t let us talk and reason about it. — Oh, to-day, I’m nervous! Let me make a confession. As a child I had presentiments — things I foresaw came true, and on the morning of a misfortune, I’ve felt such a load on my chest that I could hardly breathe. Well, to-day, when I came into this room again, it seemed as if two black wings shut out the sunlight; and I was afraid. The past weeks have been so unreasonably happy — such happiness mustn’t be let go. Help me to hold it; I can’t do it alone. Don’t try to make it fast to the future; while you do that, it’s going — do you think one can draw out happiness like a thread? Oh, help me! — don’t let any thing take it from us. And I will give up everything to it. Only you must always be beside me, Maurice, and love me. Don’t let anything come between us! For my sake, for my sake!”

In the face of this outpouring, his own opinions seemed of little matter; his one concern was to ward off the tears that he saw were imminent. He held her to him, stroked her hair, and murmured words of comfort. But when she raised her head again, her eyelids were reddened, as though she had actually wept.

“Now I know you. Now you are my own again,” she whispered. “How could I know you as you were then? I’d never seen you like that — seen you cold and sensible.”

He looked down at her without speaking, in a preoccupied way.

She touched his face with her finger. “Here are lines I don’t know — I see them now for the first time — lines of reason, of common sense, of all that is strange to me in you.”

He caught her hand, continuing to gaze at her with the same expression of aloofness. “I need them for us both. You have none.”

Her lips parted in a smile. Then this faded, and she looked at him with eyes that reminded him of an untamed animal, or of a startled child.

“Mine . . . still mine!” she said passionately. — And in the hours it took to reassure her, his primly reasoned conclusions were blown like chaff before the wind.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33