Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

IV.

Towards seven o’clock the following evening, Maurice loitered about the vestibule of the Conservatorium. In spite of his attempt to time himself, he had arrived too early, and his predecessor on the programme had still to play two movements of a sonata by Beethoven.

As he stood there, Madeleine entered by the street-door.

“Is that you?” she asked, in the ironical tone she now habitually used to him. “You look just as if you were posing for the John in a Rubens Crucifixion. — Feel shaky? No? You ought to, you know. One plays all the better for it. — Well, good luck to you! I’ll hold my thumbs.”

He went along the passage to the little green-room, at the heels of his string-players. On seeing them go by, it had occurred to him that he might draw their attention to a passage in the VARIATIONS, with which he had not been satisfied at rehearsal that day. But when he caught them up, they were so deep in talk that he hesitated to interrupt. The ‘cellist, a greasy, little fellow with a mop of touzled hair, was relating an adventure he had had the night before. His droll way of telling it was more amusing than the long-winded story, and he himself was more tickled by it than was the violinist, a lanky German-American boy, with oily black hair and a pimpled face. Throughout, both tuned their instruments assiduously, with that air of inattention common to string-players.

Meanwhile, the sonata by Beethoven ran its course. While the story-teller still smacked his lips, it came to an end, and the performer, a tall, Polish girl, with a long, sallow, bird-like neck, round which was wound a piece of black velvet, descended the steps. Behind her was heard the applause of many hands. As this showed no sign of ceasing, Schwarz, who had come out of the hall by a lower door, bade her return and bow her thanks. At his words, the girl burst into tears.

“NA, NA, NA!” he said soothingly. “What’s all this about? You did excellently.”

She seized his hand and clung to it. The ‘cellist ran to fetch water; the other two young men were embarrassed, and looked away.

Here, however, several friends burst into the room, and bore Fraulein Prybowski off. Schwarz gave the signal, the stringplayers picked up their instruments, and the little procession, with Maurice at its head, mounted the steps to the platform.

Although before an audience for the first time in his life, Maurice had never felt more composed. Passing by the organ, and the empty seats of the orchestra, he descended to the front of the platform, where two grand pianos stood side by side; and, as he went, he noted that the hall was exceptionally well filled. He let down the lid of the piano to the peg for chambermusic; he lowered the piano-chair, and flicked the keys with his handkerchief. And Schwarz, sitting by him, to turn the pages of the music, felt so sure of this pupil’s coolness that he yawned, and stroked the insides of his trouser-legs.

Maurice was just ready for the start, when the ‘cellist, who was restless, discovered that the stand which had been placed for him was insecure; rising from his scat, he went to fetch another from the back of the platform. In the delay that ensued, Maurice looked round at the audience. He saw innumerable heads and faces, all turned expectantly towards him, like lines of globular fruits. His eye ranged indifferently over the occupants of the front seats — strange faces, which told him nothing — until his attention was arrested by a face almost directly beneath him, in the second row. For the flash of a second, he thought he knew the person to whom it belonged, and struggled to recall a name. Then, almost as swiftly, he dismissed the idea. It was, however, a face of that kind which, once seen, is never forgotten — a frog-like face, with protruding eyes, and the frog’s expressive leer. Somewhere, not very long ago, this face had been before him, and had stared at him in the same disconcerting manner — but where? when? In the few seconds that remained, his brain worked furiously, sped back in desperate haste over all the likely places where he might have seen it. And a restaurant evolved itself; a table in a secluded corner; chrysanthemums and their acrid scent; a screen, round which this repulsive face had peered. It had fixed them both, with such malevolence that it had destroyed his pleasure, and he had persuaded Louise to go home. His memory was now so alert that he could recall the man’s two companions as well.

The scene built itself up with inconceivable rapidity. And while he was still absorbed by it, Schwarz raised a decisive hand. It was the signal to begin; he obeyed unthinkingly; and was at the bottom of the first page before he knew it.

Throughout the whole of the opening movement, he was not rightly awake to what he was doing. His fingers, like well-drilled soldiers, went automatically through their work, neither blundering nor forgetting; but the mind which should have controlled them was unable to concentrate itself: he heard himself play as though he were listening to some one else. He was only roused by the burst of applause that succeeded the final chords. As he struck the first notes of the ANDANTE WITH VARIATIONS, he nerved himself for an effort; but now, as if it were the result of his previous inattention, an odd uneasiness beset him; and his beginning to weigh each note as he played it, his fingers hesitated and grew less sure. Having failed, through over-care, in the rounding of a turn, he resolved to let things go as they would, and his thoughts wander at will. The movements of the trio succeeded one another; the VARIATIONS ceased, and were followed by the crisp gaiety of the MINUET. The lights above his head were reflected in the shining ebony of the piano; regularly, every moment or two, he was struck by the appearance of Schwarz’s broad, fat hand, which crossed his range of vision to turn a leaf; he meditated absently on a sharp uplifting of this hand that occurred, as though the master were dissatisfied with the rhythm — the ‘cellist’s fault, no doubt: he had been inexact at rehearsal, and, this evening, was too much taken up with his own witticisms beforehand, to think about what he had to do. And thus the four divisions of the trio slipped past, separated by a disturbing noise of hands, which continued to seem as unreal to Maurice as everything else. Only as the last notes of the PRESTISSIMO died away, in the disappointing, ineffectual scales in C major, with which the trio closed — not till then did he grasp that the event to which he had looked forward for many weeks was behind him, and also that no one present knew less of how it had passed off than he himself.

With his music in his hand, he turned to Schwarz, to learn what success he had had, from the master’s face. According to custom, Schwarz shook hands with him; he also nodded. but he did not smile. He was, however, in a hurry; the old: white-haired director had left his seat, and stood waiting to speak to him. Both ‘cellist and violinist had vanished on the instant; the audience, eager as ever at the end of a concert to shake off an imposed restraint, had risen while Maurice still played the final notes; and, by this time, the hall was all but empty.

He slowly ascended the platform. Now that it was over, he felt how tired he was; his very legs were tired, as though he had walked for miles. The green-room was deserted; the gas-jet had been screwed down to a peep. None of his friends had come to say a word to him. He had really hardly expected it; but, all the same, a hope had lurked in him that Krafft would perhaps afterwards make some sign — even Madeleine. As, however, neither of them appeared, he seemed to read a confirmation of his failure in their absence, and he loitered for some time in the semi-darkness, unwilling to face the dispersing crowd. When at length he went down the passage, only a few stragglers remained. One or two acquaintances congratulated him in due form, but he knew neither well enough to try to get at the truth. As he was nearing the street-door, however, Dove came out of the BUREAU. He made for Maurice at once; his manner was eager, his face bore the imprint of interesting news.

“I say, Guest!” he cried, while still some way off. “An odd coincidence. Young Leumann is to play this very same trio next week. A little chap in knickerbockers, you know — pupils of Rendel’s. He is said to have a glorious LEGATO— just the very thing for the VARIATIONS.”

“Indeed?” said Maurice with a well-emphasised dryness. His tone nudged Dove’s memory.

“By the way, all congratulations, of course,” he hastened to add. “Never heard you play better. Especially the MENUETTO. Some people sitting behind me were reminded of Rubinstein.”

“Well, good-night, I’m off,” said Maurice, and, even as he spoke, he shot away, leaving his companion in some surprise.

Once out of Dove’s sight, he took off his hat and passed his hand over his forehead. Any slender hope he might have had was now crushed; his playing had been so little remarkable that even Dove had been on the point of overlooking it altogether.

Louise threw herself into his arms. At last! she exulted to herself. But his greeting had not its usual fervour; instead of kissing her, he laid his face against her hair. Instantly, she became uncertain. She did not quite know what she had been expecting; perhaps it had been something of the old, pleasurable excitement that she had learnt to associate with an occasion like the present. She put back her head and looked at him, and her look was a question.

“Yes. At least it’s over, thank goodness!” he said in reply.

Not knowing what answer to make to this, she led him to the sofa. They sat down, and, for a few minutes, neither spoke. Then, he did what on the way there, he had imagined himself doing: laid his head on her lap, and himself placed her hands on his hair. She passed them backwards and forwards; her sense of having been repulsed, yielded, and she tried to change the current of his thoughts.

“Did you notice, Maurice, as you came along, how full the air was of different scents to-night?” she asked as her cool hands went to and fro. “It was like an evening in July. I was at the window trying to make them out. But the roses were too strong for them; for you see — or rather you have not seen — all the roses I have got for you — yes, just dark red roses. This afternoon I went to the little shop at the corner, and bought all they had. The pretty girl served me — do you remember the pretty girl with the yellow hair, who tried to make friends with you last summer? You like roses, too, don’t you? Though not as much as I do. They were always my favourite flowers. As a child, I used to imagine what it would be like to gather them for a whole day, without stopping. But, like all my wishes then, this had to be postponed, too, till that wonderful future, which was to bring me all I wanted. There were only a few bushes where I lived; it was too dry for them. But the smell of them takes me back — always. I have only to shut my eyes, and I am full of the old extravagant longings — the childish impatience with time, which seemed to crawl so slowly . . . even to stand still.”

“Tell me all about it,” he murmured, without raising his head.

She smiled and humoured him.

“I like flowers best for their scents,” she went on. “No matter what beautiful colours they have. A camelia is a foolish flower; like a blind man’s face — the chief thing is wanting. But then, of course, the smell must remind one of pleasant things. It’s strange, isn’t it, how much association has to do with pleasure? — or pain. Some things affect me so strongly that they make me wretched. There’s music I can’t listen to; I have to put my hands to my ears, and run away from it; and all because it takes me back to an unhappy hour, or to a time of my life that I hated. There are streets I never walk through, even words I dread to hear anyone say, because they are connected with some one I disliked, or a day I would rather not have lived. And it is just the same with smells. Wood smouldering outside! — and all the country round is smoky with bush fires. Mimosa in the room — and I can feel the sun beating down on deserted shafts and the stillness of the bush. Rotting leaves and the smell of moist earth, and I am a little girl again, in short dresses, standing by a grave — my father’s to which I was driven in a high buggy, between two men in black coats. I can’t remember crying at all, or even feeling sorry; I only smelt the earth — it was in the rainy season and there was water in the grave. — But flowers give me my pleasantest memories. Passion-flowers and periwinkles — you will say they have no smell, but it’s not true. Flat, open passionflowers — red or white — with purplish-fringed centres, have a honey-smell, and make me think of long, hot, cloudless days, which seemed to have neither beginning nor end. And little periwinkles have a cool green smell; for they grew along an old paling fence, which was shady and sometimes even damp. And violets? I never really cared for violets; not till . . . I mean . . . I never . . .”

She had entangled herself, and broke off so abruptly that he moved. He was afraid this soothing flow of words was going to cease.

“Yes, yes, go on, tell me some more — about violets.”

She hastened to recover herself. “They are silly little flowers. Made to wither in one’s dress . . . or to be crushed. Unless one could have them in such masses that they filled the room. But lilac, Maurice, great sprays and bunches of lilac-white and purple — you know, don’t you, who will always be associated with lilac for me? Do you remember some of those evenings at the theatre, on the balcony between the acts? The gallery was so hot, and out there it seemed as if the whole town were steeped in lilac. Or walking home — those glorious nights — when some one was so silent . . . so moody — do you remember?”

At the peculiar veiled tone that had come into her voice; at this reminder of a past day of alternate rapture and despair, so different from the secured happiness of the present; at the thought of this common memory that had built itself up for them round a flower’s scent, a rush of grateful content overcame Maurice, and, for the first time since entering the room, he looked up at her with a lover’s eyes.

Safe, with her arms round him, he was strong enough to face the worst. “How good you are to me, dearest! And I don’t deserve it. To-night, you might just have sent me away again, when I came. For I was in a disagreeable mood — and still am. But you won’t give me up just yet for all that, will you? However despondent I get about myself? For you are all I have, Louise — in the whole world. Yes, I may as well confess it to you, to-night was a failure — not a noisy, open one but all the same, it’s no use calling it anything else.”

He had laid his head on her lap again, so did not see her face. While he spoke, Louise looked at him, in a kind of unwilling surprise. Instinctively, she ceased to pass her hands over his hair.

“Oh, no, Maurice,” she then protested, but weakly, without conviction.

“Yes — failure,” he repeated, and put more emphasis than before on the word. “It’s no good beating about the bush. — And do you realise what it — what failure means for us, Louise?”

“Oh, no,” she said again, vaguely trying to ward off what she foresaw was coming. “And why talk about it to-night? You are tired. Things will seem different in the morning. Shut your eyes again, and lie quite still.”

But, the ice once broken, he felt the need of speaking — of speaking out relentlessly all that was in him. And, as he talked. he found it impossible to keep still; he paced the room. He was very pale and very voluble, and made a clean breast of everything that troubled him; not so much, however, with the idea of confessing it to her, as of easing his own mind. And now, again, he let her see into his real self, and, unlike the previous occasion, it was here more than a glimpse that she caught. He was distressingly frank with her. She heard now, for the first time, of the foolish ambitions with which he had begun his studies in Leipzig; heard of their gradual subsidence, and his humble acceptance of his inferiority, as well as of his present fear that, when his time came to an end, he would have nothing to show for it — and under the influence of what had just happened, this fear grew more vivid. It was one thing, he made clear to her, and unpleasant enough at best, to have to find yourself to rights as a mediocrity, when you had hoped with all your heart that you were something more. But what if, having staked everything on it, you should discover that you had mistaken your calling altogether?

“To-night, you see, I think I should have been a better chimney-sweep. The real something that makes the musician — even the genuinely musical outsider — is wanting in me. I’ve learnt to see that, by degrees, though I don’t know in the least what it is. — But even suppose I were mistaken — who could tell me that I was? One’s friends are only too glad to avoid giving a downright opinion, and then, too, which of them would one care to trust? I believe in the end I shall go straight to Schwarz, and get him to tell me what he thinks of me — whether I’m making a fool of myself or not.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” Louise said quickly.

It was the first time she had interrupted him. She had sat and followed his restless movements with a look of apprehension. A certain board in the floor creaked when he trod on it, and she found herself listening, each time, for the creaking of this board. She was sorry for him, but she could not attach the importance he did to his assumed want of success, nor was she able to subdue the feeling of distaste with which his doubtings inspired her. It was so necessary, too, this outpouring; she had never felt curious about the side of his nature which was not the lover’s side. Tonight, it became clear to her that she would have preferred to remain in ignorance of it. And besides, what he said was so palpable, so undeniable, that she could not understand his dragging the matter to the surface: she had never thought of him but as one of the many honest workers, who swell the majority, and are not destined to rise above the crowd. She had not dreamed of his considering himself in another light, and it was painful to her now, to find that he had done so. To put an end to such embarrassing confidences, she went over to him, and, with her hands on his shoulders, her face upturned, said all the consoling words she could think of, to make him forget. They had never yet failed in their effect. But to-night too much was at work in Maurice, for him to be influenced by them. He kissed her, and touched her cheek with his hand, then began anew; and she moved away, with a slight impatience, which she did not try to conceal.

“You brood too much, Maurice . . . and you exaggerate things, too. What if every one took himself so seriously? — and talked of failure because on a single occasion he didn’t do himself justice?”

“It’s more than that with me, dear. — But it’s a bad habit, I know — not that I really mean to take myself too seriously; but all my life I have been forced to worry about things, and to turn them over.”

“It’s unhealthy always to be looking into yourself. Let things go more, and they’ll carry you with them.”

He took her hands. “What wise-sounding words! And I’m in the wrong, I know, as usual. But, in this case, it’s impossible not to worry. What happened this evening seems a trifle to you, and no doubt would to every one else, too. But I had made a kind of touchstone of it; it was to help to decide the future — that hideously uncertain future of ours! I believe now, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care whether I ever come to anything or not. Of course, I should rather have been a success — we all would! — but caring for you has swallowed up the ridiculous notions I once had. For your sake — it’s you I torment myself about. WHAT is to become of us?”

“If that’s all, Maurice! Something will turn up, I’m sure it will. Have a little patience, and faith in luck . . . or fate . . . or whatever you like to call it.”

“That’s a woman’s way of looking at things.”

He was conscious of speaking somewhat unkindly; but he was hurt by her lack of sympathy. Instead, however, of smoothing things over, he was impelled, by an unconquerable impulse, to disclose himself still further. “Besides, that’s not all,” he said, and avoided her eyes. “There’s something else, and I may just as well make a clean breast of it. It’s not only that the future is every bit as shadowy to-night as it has always been: I haven’t advanced it by an inch. But I feel to-night that if I could have been what I once hoped to be — no, how shall I put it? You know, dear, from the very beginning there has been something wrong, a kind of barrier between ushasn’t there? How often I’ve tried to find out what it is! Well, to-night I seem to know. If I were not such an out-and-out mediocrity, if I had really been able to achieve something, you would care for me — yes, that’s it! — as you can’t possibly care now. You would have to; you wouldn’t be able to help yourself.”

Her first impulsive denial died on her lips; as he continued to speak, she seemed to feel in his words an intention to wound her, or, at least, to accuse her of want of love. When she spoke, it was in a cool voice, as though she were on her guard against being touched too deeply.

“That has nothing whatever to do with it,” she said. “It’s you yourself, Maurice, I care for — not what you can or can’t do.”

But these words added fuel to his despondency. “Yes, that’s just it,” he answered. “For you, I’m in two parts, and one of them means nothing to you. I’ve felt it, often enough, though I’ve never spoken of it till to-night. Only one side of me really matters to you. But if I’d been able to accomplish what I once intended — to make a name for myself, or something of that sort — then it would all have been different. I could have forced you to be interested in every single thing I did — not only in the me that loves you, but in every jot of my outside life as well.”

Louise did not reply: she had a moment of genuine despondency. The staunch tenderness she had been resolved to feel for him this evening, collapsed and shrivelled up; for the morbid self-probing in which he was indulging made her see him with other eyes. What he said belonged to that category of things which are too true to be put into words: why could not he, like every one else, let them rest, and act as if they did not exist? It was as clear as day: if he were different, the whole story of their relations would be different, too. But as he could not change his nature, what was the use of talking about it, and of turning out to her gaze, traits of mind with which she could not possibly sympathise? Standing, a long white figure, beside the piano, she let her arms hang weakly at her sides. She did not try to reason with him again, or even to comfort him; she let him go on and on, always in the same strain, till her nerves suddenly rebelled at the needless irritation.

“Oh, WHY must you be like this to-night?” she broke in on him. “Why try to destroy such happiness as we have? Can you never be content?”

From the way in which he seized upon these words, it seemed as if he had only been waiting for her to say them. “Such happiness as we have!” he repeated. “There! — listen! — you yourself admit it. Admit all I’ve been saying. — And do you think I can realise that, and be happy? No, I’ve suffered under it from the first day. Oh, why, loving you as I do, could I not have been different? — more worthy of you. Why couldn’t I, too, be one of those favoured mortals . . .? Listen to me,” he said lowering his voice, and speaking rapidly. “Let me make another confession. Do you know why to-night is doubly hard to bear? It’s because — yes, because I know you must be forced — and not to-night only, but often — to compare me what I am and what I can do — with . . . with . . . you know who I mean. It’s inevitable — the comparison must be thrust on you every day of your life. But does that, do you think, make it any the easier for me?”

As the gist of what he was trying to say was borne in upon her, Louise winced. Her face lost its tired expression, and grew hard. “You are breaking your word,” she said, in a tone she had never before used to him. “You promised me once, the past should never be mentioned between us.”

“I’m not blind, Louise,” he went on, as though she had not spoken. “Nor am I in a mood to-night to make myself any illusions. The remembrance of what he was — he was never doubtful of himself, was he? — must always — HAS always stood between us, while I have racked my brains to discover what it was. To-night it came over me like a flash that it was he — that he . . . he spoiled you utterly for anyone else; made it impossible for you to care for anyone who wasn’t made of the same stuff as he was. It would never have occurred to him, would it, to torment you and make you suffer for his own failure? For the very good reason that he never was a failure. Oh, I haven’t the least doubt what a sorry figure I must cut beside him!”

The unhappy words came out slowly, and seemed to linger in the air. Louise did not break the pause that followed, and by her silence, assented to what he said. She still stood motionless beside the piano.

“Or tell me,” Maurice cried abruptly, with a ray of hope; “tell me the truth about it all, for once. Was it mere exaggeration, or was he really worth so much more than all the rest of us? Of course he could play — I know that — but so can many a fool. But all the other part of it — his incredible talent, or luck in everything he touched — was it just report, or was it really something else? — Tell me.”

“He was a genius,” she answered, very coldly and distinctly; and her voice warned him once more that he was trespassing on ground to which he had no right. But he was too excited to take the warning.

“A genius!” he echoed. “He was a genius! Yes, what did I tell you? Your very words imply a comparison as you say them. For I? — what am I? A miserable bungler, a wretched dilettant — or have you another word for it? Oh, never mind — don’t be afraid to say it! — I’m not sensitive tonight. I can bear to hear your real opinion of me; for it could not possibly be lower than my own. Let us get at the truth for once, by all means! — But what I want to know,” he cried a moment later, “is, why one should be given so much and the other so little. To one all the talents and all your love; and the other unhappy wretch remains an outsider his whole life long. When you speak in that tone about him, I could wish with all my heart that he had been no better than I am. It would give me pleasure to know that he, too, had only been a dabbling amateur — the victim of a pitiable wish to be what he hadn’t the talent for.”

He could not face her amazement; he stared at the yellow globe of the lamp till his eyes smarted.

“It no doubt seems despicable to you,” he went on, “but I can’t help it. I hate him for the way he was able to absorb you. He’s my worst enemy, for he has made it impossible for you — the woman I love — to love me wholly in return. — Of course, you can’t — you WON’T understand. You’re only aghast at what you think my littleness. Of all I’ve gone through, you know nothing, and don’t want to know. But with him, it was different; you had no difficulty in understanding him. He had the power over you. Look! — at this very moment, you are siding, not with me, but with him. All my struggling and striving counts for nothing. — Oh, if I could only understand you!” He moved to and fro in his agitation. “Why is a woman so impossible? Does nothing matter to her but tangible success? Do care and consideration carry no weight? Even matched against the blackguardly egoism of what you call genius? — Or will you tell me that he considered you? Didn’t he treat you from beginning to end like the scoundrel he was?”

She raised hostile eyes. “You have no right to say that,” she said in a small, icy voice, which seemed to put him at an infinite distance from her. “You are not able to judge him. You didn’t know him as . . . as I did.”

With the last words a deeper note came into her voice, and this was all Maurice heard. A frenzied fear seized him.

“Louise!” he cried violently. “You care for him still!”

She started, and raised her arms, as if to ward off a blow. “I don’t . . . I don’t . . . God knows I don’t! I hate him — you know I do!” She had clapped both hands to her face, and held them there. When she looked up again, she was able to speak as quietly as before. “But do you want to make me hate you, too? Do you think it gives me a higher opinion of you, to hear you talk like that about some one I once cared for? How can I find it anything but ungenerous? — Yes, you are right, he WAS different — in every way. He didn’t know what it meant to be envious of anyone. He was as different from you as day from night.”

Maurice was hurt to the quick. “Now I know your real opinion of me! Till now you have been considerate enough to hide it. But to-night I have heard it from your own lips. You despise me!”

“Well, you drove me to say it,” she burst out, wounded in her turn. “I should never have said it of my own accord — never! Oh, how ungenerous you are! It’s not the first time you’ve goaded me into saying something, and then turned round on me for it. You seem to enjoy finding out things you can feel hurt by. — But have I ever complained? Did I not take you just as you were, and love you — yes, love you! I knew you couldn’t be different — that it wasn’t your fault if you were faint-hearted and . . . and — But you? — what do you do? You talk as if you worship the ground I walk on: but you can’t let me alone. You are always trying to change me — to make me what you think I ought to be.”

Her words came in haste, stumbling one over the other, as it became plain to her how deeply this grievance, expressed now for the first time, had eaten into her soul. “You’ve never said to yourself, she’s what she is because it’s her nature to be. You want to remake my nature and correct it. You are always believing something is wrong. You knew very well, long ago, that the best part of me had belonged to some one else. You swore it didn’t matter. But to-night, because there’s absolutely nothing else you can cavil at, you drag it up again — in spite of your promises. I have always been frank with you. Do you thank me for it? No, it’s been my old fault of giving everything, when it would have been wiser to keep something back, or at least to pretend to. I might have taken a lesson from you, in parsimonious reserve. For there’s a part of you, you couldn’t give away — not if you lived with a person for a hundred years.”

Of all she said, the last words stung him most.

“Yes, and why?” he cried. “Ask yourself why I You are unjust, as only a woman can be. You say there’s a part of me you don’t know. If that’s true, what does it mean? It means you don’t want to know it. You don’t want it even to exist. You want everything to belong to you. You don’t care for me well enough to be interested in that side of my life which has nothing to do with you. Your love isn’t strong enough for that.”

“Love! — need we talk about love?” Her face was so unhappy that it seerned to have grown years older. “Love is something quite different. It takes everything just as it is. You have never reaily loved me.”.

“I have never really loved you?”

He repeated the words after her, as if he did not understand them, and with his right hand grasped the table; the ground seemed to be slipping from under his feet. But Louise did not offer to retract what she had said, and Maurice had a moment of bewilderment: there, not three yards from him, sat the woman who was the centre of his life; Louise sat there, and with all appearance of believing it, could cast doubts on his love for her. At the thought of it, he was exasperated.

“I not love you!”

His voice was rough, had escaped control. “You have only to lift your finger, and I’ll throw myself from that window on to the pavement.”

Louise sat as if turned to stone.

“Don’t you hear?” he cried more loudly. “Look up! . . . tell me to do it!”

Still she did not move.

“Louise, Louise!” he implored, throwing himself down before her. “Speak to me! Don’t you hear me? — Louise!”

“Oh, yes, I hear,” she said at last. “I hear how ready you are with promises you know you will not be asked to keep. But the small, everyday things — those are what you won’t do for me.”

“Tell me . . . tell me what I shall do!”

“All I ask of you is to be happy. And to let me be happy, too.”

He stammered promises and entreaties. Never, never again! — if only this once she would forgive him; if only she would smile at him, and let the light come back to her eyes. He had not been responsible for his actions this evening.

“It was more of a strain than I knew. And after it was over, I had to vent my disappointment somehow; and it was you, poor darling, who suffered. Forgive me, Louise! — But try, dear, a little to understand why it was. Can’t you see that I was only like that through fear — yes, fear! — that somehow you might slip from me. I can’t help feeling, one day you will have had enough of me, and will see me for what I really am.”

He tried to put his arms round her, but she held back: she had no desire to be reconciled. The sole response she made to his beseeching words was: “I want to be happy.”

“But you shall. — Do you think I live for anything else? Only forgive me! Remember the happiest hours we have spent together. Come back to me; be mine again! Tell me I am forgiven.”

He was in despair; he could not get at her, under her coating of insensibility. And since his words had no power to move her, he took to kissing her hands. She left them limply in his; she did not resist him. From this, he drew courage: he began to treat her more inconsiderately, compelling her to bend down to him, making her feel his strength; and he did not cease his efforts till her head had sunk forward, heavy and submissive, on his shoulder.

They were at peace again: and the joys of reconciliation seemed almost worth the price they had paid for them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/richardson/henry_handel/r52mg/chapter31.html

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