Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

VIII.

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.”

“To-night?”

“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.”

And with this, she was forced to be content.

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