Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

IV.

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.”

“It’s enough.”

“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.

“Madeleine!”

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.”

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