Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

IX.

When, shortly after five o’clock, Madeleine and Maurice arrived at the New Theatre, they took their places at the end of a queue which extended to the corner of the main building; and before they had stood very long, so many fresh people had been added to the line, that it had lengthened out until it all but reached the arch of the theatre-cafe. Dove was well to the fore, and would be one of the first to gain the box-office. A quarter of an hour had still to elapse before the doors opened; and Maurice borrowed his companion’s textbook, and read studiously, to acquaint himself with the plot of the opera. Madeleine took out Wolzogen’s FUHRER, with the intention of brushing up her knowledge of the motives; but, before she had finished a page, she had grown so interested in what two people behind her were saying that she turned and took part in the conversation.

The broad expanse of the AUGUSTUSPLATZ facing the theatre was bare and sunny. A policeman arrived, and ordered the queue in a straighter line; then he strolled up and down, stroking and smoothing his white gloves. More people came hurrying over the square to the theatre, and ranged themselves at the end of the tail. As the hands of the big clock on the post-office neared the quarter past five, a kind of tremor ran through the waiting line; it gathered itself more compactly together. One clock after another boomed the single stroke; sounds came from within the building; the burly policeman placed himself at the head of the line. There was a noise of drawn bolts and grating locks, and after a moment’s suspense, light shone out and the big door was flung open.

“Gent — ly!” shouted the policeman, but the leaders of the queue charged with a will, and about a dozen people had dashed forward, before he could throw down a stemming arm, on which those thus hindered leaned as on a bar of iron. Madeleine and Maurice were to the front of the second batch. And the arm down, in they flew also, Madeleine leading through the swing-doors at the side of the corridor, up the steep, wooden stairs, one flight after another, higher and higher, round and round, past one, two, three, tiers — a mad race, which ended almost in the arms of the gate-keeper at the topmost gallery.

Dove was waiting with the tickets, and they easily secured the desired places; not in the middle of the gallery, where, as Madeleine explained while she tucked her hat and jacket under the seat, the monstrous chandelier hid the greater part of the stage, but at the right-hand side, next the lattice that separated the seats at seventy-five from those at fifty pfennigs.

“This is first-rate for seeing,” said Maurice.

Madeleine laughed. “You see too much — that’s the trouble. Wait till you’ve watched the men running about the bottom of the Rhine, working the cages the Rhine-daughters swim in.”

As yet, with the exception of the gallery, the great building was empty. Now the iron fire-curtain rose; but the sunken well of the orchestra was in darkness, and the expanse of seats on the ground floor far below, was still encased in white wrappings — her and there an attendant began to peel them off. Maurice, poring over his book, had to strain his eyes to read, and this, added to the difficulty of the German, and his own sense of pleasurable excitement, made him soon give up the attempt, and attend wholly to what Madeleine was saying.

It was hot already, and the air of the crowded gallery was permeated with various, pungent odours: some people behind them were eating a strong-smelling sausage, and the man on the other side of the lattice reeked of cheap tobacco. When they had been in their seats for about a quarter of an hour, the lights throughout the theatre went up, and, directly afterwards, the lower tiers and the ground floor were sprinkled with figures. One by, one, the members of the orchestra dropped in,, turned up the lamps attached to their stands, and taking their instruments, commenced to tune and flourish; and soon stray motives and scraps of motives came mounting up, like lost birds, from wind and strings; the man of the drums beat a soft rattatoo, and applied his ear to the skins of his instruments. Now the players were in their seats, waiting for the conductor; late-comers in the audience entered with an air of guilty haste. The chief curtain had risen, and the stage was hidden only by stuff curtains, bordered with a runic scroll. A delightful sense of expectation pervaded the theatre.

Maurice had more than once looked furtively at his watch; and, at every fresh noise behind him, he turned his head — turned so often that the people in the back seats grew suspicious, and whispered to one another. Madeleine had drawn his attention to everything worth noticing; and now, with her opera-glass at her eyes, she pointed out to him people whom he ought to know. Dove, having eaten a ham-roll at the buffet on the stair, had ever since sat with his opera-glass glued to his face, and only at this moment did he remove it with a sigh of relief.

“There they are,” said Madeleine, and showed Maurice the place in the PARQUET, where Ephie and Johanna Cayhill were sitting. But the young man only glanced cursorily in the direction she indicated; he was wondering why Louise did not come — the time had all but gone. He could not bring himself to ask, partly from fear of being disappointed, partly because, now that he knew her, it was harder than before to bring her name over his lips. But the conductor had entered by the orchestra-door; he stood speaking to the first violinist, and the next moment would climb into his seat. The players held their instruments in readiness — and a question trembled on Maurice’s tongue. But at this very moment, a peremptory fanfare rang out behind the scene, and Madeleine said: “The sword motive, Maurice,” to add in the same breath: “There’s Louise.”

He looked behind him. “Where?”

She nudged him. “Not here, you silly,” she said in a loud whisper. “Surely you haven’t been expecting her to come up here? PARQUET, fourth row from the front, between two women in plaid dresses — oh, now the lights have gone.”

“Ssh!” said at least half a dozen people about them: her voice was audible above the growling of the thunder.

Maurice took her opera-glass, and, notwithstanding the darkness into which the theatre had been plunged, travelled his eyes up and down the row she named — naturally without success. When the curtains parted and disclosed the stage, it was a little lighter, but not light enough for him; he could not find the plaids; or rather there were only plaids in the row; and there was also more than one head that resembled hers. To know that she was there was enough to distract him; and he was conscious of the music and action of the opera merely as something that was going on outside him, until he received another sharp nudge from Madeleine on his righthand side.

“You’re not attending. And this is the only act you’ll be able to make anything of.”

He gave a guilty start, and turned to the stage, where Hunding had just entered to a pompous measure. In his endeavours to understand what followed, he was aided by his companions, who prompted him alternately. But Siegmund’s narration seemed endless, and his thoughts wandered in spite of himself.

“Listen to this,” said Dove of a sudden. “It’s one of the few songs Wagner has written.” He swayed his head from side to side, to the opening bars of the love-song; and Maurice found the rhythm so inviting that he began keeping time with his foot, to the indignation of a music-loving policeman behind them, who gave an angry: “Pst!”

“One of the finest love-scenes that was ever written,” whispered Madeleine in her decisive way. And Maurice believed her. From this point on, the music took him up and carried him with it; and when the great doors burst open, and let in the spring night, he applauded vigorously with the rest, keeping it up so long that Dove disappeared, and Madeleine grew impatient.

“Let us go. The interval is none too long.”

They went downstairs to the first floor of the building, and entered a long, broad, brilliantly lighted corridor. Here the majority of the audience was walking round and round, in a procession of twos and threes; groups of people also stood at both ends and looked on; others went in and out of the doors that opened on the great loggia. Madeleine and Maurice joined the perambulating throng, Madeleine bowing and smiling to her acquaintances, Maurice eagerly scanning the faces that came towards him on the opposite side.

Suddenly, a stout gentleman, in gold spectacles, kid gloves tight to bursting, and a brown frock coat, over the amplitude of which was slung an opera-glass, started up from a corner, and, seizing both Madeleine’s hands, worked them up and down. At the same time, he made a ceremonious little speech about the length of time that had elapsed since their last meeting, and paid her a specious compliment on the taste she displayed in being present at so serious an opera. Madeleine laughed, and said a few words in her hard, facile German: the best was yet to come; “DIE MORAN” was divine as Brunnhilde. Having bowed and said: “Lohse” to Maurice, the stranger took no further notice of him, but, drawing Madeleine’s hand through his arm, in a manner half gallant, half paternal, invited her to take ices with him, at the adjoining buffet.

Maurice remained standing in a corner, scrutinising those who passed him. He exchanged a few words with one of his companions of the dinner-table — a small-bodied, big-headed chemical student called Dickensey, who had a reputation for his cynicism. He had just asked Maurice whether Siegmund reminded him more of a pork-butcher or a prizefighter, and had offered to lay a bet that he would never attend a performance in this theatre when the doors of Hunding’s house flew open, or the sword lit up, at exactly the right moment — when Maurice caught sight of Dove and the Cayhills. He excused himself, and went to join them.

Not one of the three looked happy. Johanna was unspeakably bored and did not conceal it; she gazed with contempt on the noisy, excited crowd. Dove was not only burning to devote himself to Ephie; he had also got himself into a dilemma, and was at this moment doing his best to explain the first act of the opera to Johanna, without touching on the relationship of the lovers. His face was red with the effort, and he hailed Maurice’s appearance as a welcome diversion. But Ephie, too, greeted him with pleasure, and touching his arm, drew him back, so that they dropped behind the others. She was coquettishly dressed this evening, and looked so charming that people drew one another’s attention to DIE REIZENDE KLEINE ENGLADNDERIN. But Maurice soon discovered that she was out of spirits, and disposed to be cross. For fear lest he was the offender, he asked if she had quite forgiven him, and if they were good friends again. “Oh, I had forgotten all about it!” But, a moment after, she was grave and quiet — altogether unlike herself.

“Are you not enjoying yourself, Ephie?”

“No, I’m not. I think it’s stupid. And they’re all so fat.”

This referred to the singers, and was indisputable; Maurice could only agree with her, and try to rally her. Meanwhile, he continued surreptitiously to scour the hall, with an evergrowing sense of disappointment.

Then, suddenly, among those who were passing in the opposite direction, he saw Louise. In a flash he understood why he had not been able to find her in the row of seats: he had looked for her in a black dress, and she was all in white, with heavy white lace at her neck. Her companion was an Englishman called Eggis, of whom it was rumoured that he had found it advisable abruptly to leave his native land: here, he made a precarious living by journalism, and by doing odd jobs for the consulate. In spite of his shabby clothes, this man, prematurely bald, with dissipated features, had polished manners and an air of refinement; and, thoroughly enjoying his position, he was talking to his companion with vivacity. It was plain that Louise was only half listening to him; with a faint, absent smile on her lips, she, too, restlessly scanned the crowd.

They all caught sight of Schilsky at the same moment, and Maurice, on whom nothing was lost, saw as well the quick look that passed between Louise and him, and its immediate effect: Louise flashed into a smile, and was full of gracious attentiveness to the little man at her side.

Schilsky leant against the wall, with his hands in his pockets, his conspicuous head well back. On entering the FOYER, he had been pounced on by Miss Jensen. The latter, showily dressed in a large-striped stuff, had in tow a fellow-singer about half her own size, whom she was rarely to be seen without; but, on this occasion, the wan little American stood disconsolately apart, for Miss Jensen was paying no attention to him. In common with the rest of her sex, she had a weakness for Schilsky; and besides, on this evening, she needed specially receptive ears, for she had been studying the role of Sieglinde, and was full of criticisms and objections. As Ephie and Maurice passed them, she nodded to the latter and said: “Good evening, neighbour!” while Schilsky, seizing the chance, broke away, without troubling to excuse himself. Thus deserted, Miss Jensen detained Maurice, and so he lost the couple he wanted to keep in sight. But at the first pause in the conversation, Ephie plucked at his sleeve.

“Let us go out on the balcony.”

They went outside on the loggia, where groups of people stood refreshing themselves in the mild evening air, which was pleasant with the scent of lilac. Ephie led the way, and Maurice followed her to the edge of the parapet, where they leaned against one of the pillars. Here, he found himself again in the neighbourhood of the other two. Louise, leaning both hands on the stone-work, was looking out over the square; but Schilsky, lounging as before, with his legs crossed, his hands in his pockets, had his back to it, and was letting his eyes range indifferently over the faces before him. As Maurice and Ephie came up, he yawned long and heartily, and, in so doing, showed all his defective teeth. Furtively watching them, Maurice saw him lean towards his companion and say something to her; at the same time, he touched with his fingertips the lace she wore at the front of her dress. The familiarity of the action grated on Maurice, and he turned away his head. When he looked again, a moment or two later, he was disturbed anew. Louise was leaning forward, still in the same position, but Schilsky was plainly conversing by means of signs with some one else. He frowned, half closed his eyes, shook his head, and, as if by chance, laid a finger on his lips.

“Who’s he doing that to?” Maurice asked himself, and followed the direction of the other’s eyes, which were fixed on the corner where he and Ephie stood. He turned, and looked from side to side; and, as he did this, he caught a glimpse of Ephie’s face, which made him observe her more nearly: it was flushed, and she was gazing hard at Schilsky. With a rush of enlightenment, Maurice looked back at the young man, but this time Schilsky saw that he was being watched; stooping, he said a nonchalant word to his companion, and thereupon they went indoors again. All this passed like a flash, but it left, none the less, a disagreeable impression, and before Maurice had recovered from it, Ephie said: “Let us go in.”

They pressed towards the door.

“I’m poor company to-night, Ephie,” he said, feeling already the need of apologising to her for his ridiculous suspicion. “But you are quiet, too.” He glanced down at her as he spoke, and again was startled; her expression was set and defiant, but her baby lips trembled. “What’s the matter? I believe you are angry with me for being so silent.”

“I guess it doesn’t make any difference to me whether you talk or not,” she replied pettishly. “But I think it’s just as dull and stupid as it can be. I wish I hadn’t come.”

“Would you like to go home?”

“Of course I wouldn’t. I’ll stop now I’m here — oh, can’t we go quicker? How slow you are! Do make haste.”

He thought he heard tears in her voice, and looked at her in perplexity. While he contemplated getting her into a quiet corner and making her tell him truthfully what the matter was, they came upon Madeleine, who had been searching everywhere for Maurice. Madeleine had more colour in her cheeks than usual, and, in the pleasing consciousness that she was having a successful evening, she brought her good spirits to bear on Ephie, who stood fidgeting beside them.

“You look nice, child,” she remarked in her patronising way. “Your dress is very pretty. But why is your face so red? One would think you had been crying.”

Ephie, growing still redder, tossed her head. “It’s no wonder, I’m sure. The theatre is as hot as an oven. But at least my nose isn’t red as well.”

Madeleine was on the point of retorting, but at this moment, the interval came to an end, and the electric bells rang shrilly. The people who were nearest the doors went out at once, upstairs and down. Among the first were Louise and Schilsky, the latter’s head as usual visible above every one else’s.

“I will go, too,” said Ephie hurriedly. “No, don’t bother to come with me. I’ll find my way all right. I guess the others are in front.”

“There’s something wrong with that child to-night,” said Madeleine as she and Maurice climbed to the gallery. “Pert little thing! But I suppose even such sparrow-brains have their troubles.”

“I suppose they have,” said Maurice. He had just realised that the longed-for interval was over, and with it more of the hopes he had nursed.

Dove was already in his seat, eating another roll. He moved along to make room for them, but not a word was to be got out of him, and as soon as he had finished eating, he raised the opera-glass to his eyes again. Behind his back, Madeleine whispered a mischievous remark to Maurice, but the latter smiled wintrily in return. He had searched swiftly and thoroughly up and down the fourth row of the PARQUET, only to find that Louise was not in it. This time there could be no doubt whatever; not a single white dress was in the row, and towards the middle a seat was vacant. They had gone home then; he would not see her again — and once more the provoking darkness enveloped the theatre.

This second act had no meaning for him, and he found the various scenes intolerably long. Dove volunteered no further aid, and Madeleine’s explanations were insufficient; he was perplexed and bored, and when the curtains fell, joined in the applause merely to save appearances. The others rose, but he said he would not go downstairs; and when they had drawn back to let Dove push by and hurry away, Madeleine said she, too, would stay. However they would at least go into the corridor, where the air was better. After they had promenaded several times up and down, they descended to a lower floor and there, through a little half-moon window that gave on the FOYER below, they watched the living stream which, underneath, was going round as before. Madeleine talked without a pause.

“Look at Dove!” She pointed him out as he went by with the two sisters. “Did you ever see such a gloomy air? He might sit for Werther to-night. And oh, look, there’s Boehmer with his widow — see, the pretty fattish little woman. She’s over forty and has buried two husbands, but is crazy about Boehmer. They say she’s going to marry him, though he’s more than twenty years younger than she is.”

At this juncture, to his astonishment, Maurice saw Schilsky and Louise. He uttered an involuntary exclamation, and Madeleine understood it. She stopped her gossip to say: “You thought she had gone, didn’t you? Probably she has only changed her seat. They do that sometimes — he hates PARQUET.” And, after a pause: “How cross she looks! She’s evidently in a temper about something. I never saw people hide their feelings as badly as they do. It’s positively indecent.”

Her strictures were justifiable; as long as the two below were in sight, and as often as they came round, they did not exchange word or look with each other. Schilsky frowned sulkily, and his loose-knitted body seemed to hang together more loosely than usual, while as for Louise — Maurice staring hard from his point of vantage could not have believed it possible for her face to change in this way. She looked suddenly older, and very tired; and her mobile mouth was hard.

When, an hour later, after a tedious colloquy between Brunnhilde and Wotan, this long and disappointing evening came to an end, to the more human strains of the FEUERZAUBER, and they, the last of the gallery-audience to leave, had tramped down the wooden stairs, Maurice’s heart leapt to his throat to discover, as they turned the last bend, not only the two Cayhills waiting for them, but also, a little distance further off, Louise. She stood there, in her white dress, with a thin scarf over her head.

Madeleine was surprised too. “Louise! Is it you? And alone?”

The girl did not respond. “I want to borrow some money from you, Madeleine — about five or six marks,” she said, without smiling, in one of those colourless voices that preclude further questioning.

Madeleine was not sure if she had more than a couple of marks in her purse, and confirmed this on looking through it under a lamp; but both young men put their hands in their pockets, and the required sum was made up. As they walked across the square, Louise explained. Dressed, and ready to start for the theatre, she had not been able to find her purse.

“I looked everywhere. And yet I had it only this morning. At the last moment, I came down here to Markwald’s. He knows me; and he let me have the seats on trust. I said I would go in afterwards.”

They waited outside the tobacconist’s, while she settled her debt. Before she came out again, Madeleine cast her eyes over the group, and, having made a rapid surmise, said good-naturedly to Johanna: “Well, I suppose we shall walk together as far as we can. Shall you and I lead off?”

Maurice had a sudden vision of bliss; but no sooner had Louise appeared again, with the shopman bowing behind her, then Ephie came round to his side, with a naive, matter-of-course air that admitted of no rebuff, and asked him to carry her opera-glass. Dove and Louise brought up the rear.

But Dove had only one thought: to be in Maurice’s place. Ephie had behaved so strangely in the theatre; he had certainly done something to offend her, and, although he had more than once gone over his conduct of the past week, without finding any want of correctness on his part, whatever it was, he must make it good without delay.

“You know my friend Guest, I think,” he said at last, having racked his brains to no better result — not for the world would he have had his companion suspect his anxiety to leave her. “He’s a clever fellow, a very clever fellow. Schwarz thinks a great deal of him. I wonder what his impressions of the opera were. This was his first experience of Wagner; it would be interesting to hear what he has to say.”

Louise was moody and preoccupied, but Dove’s words made her smile.

“Let us ask him,” she said.

They quickened their steps and overtook the others. And when Dove, without further ado, had marched round to Ephie’s side, Louise, left slightly to herself, called Maurice back to her.

“Mr. Guest, we want your opinion of the WALKURE.”

Confused to find her suddenly beside him, Maurice was still more disconcerted at the marked way in which she slackened her pace to let the other two get in front. Believing, too, that he heard a note of mockery in her voice, he coloured and hesitated. Only a moment ago he had had several things worth saying on his tongue; now they would not out. He stammered a few words, and broke down in them half-way. She said nothing, and after one of the most embarrassing pauses he had ever experienced, he avowed in a burst of forlorn courage: “To tell the truth, I did not hear much of the music.”

But Louise, who had merely exchanged one chance companion for another, did not ask the reason, or display any interest in his confession, and they went on in silence. Maurice looked stealthily at her: her white scarf had slipped back and her wavy head was bare. She had not heard what he said, he told himself; her thoughts had nothing to do with him. But as he stole glances at her thus, unreproved, he wakened to a sudden consciousness of what was happening to him: here and now, after long weeks of waiting, he was walking at her side; he knew her, was alone with her, in the summer darkness, and, though a cold hand gripped his throat at the thought, he took the resolve not to let this moment pass him by, empty-handed. He must say something that would rouse her to the fact of his existence; something that would linger in her mind, and make her remember him when he was not there. But they were half way down the GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE; at the end, where the PETERSTRASSE crossed it, Dove and the Cayhills would branch off, and Madeleine return to them. He had no time to choose his phrases.

“When I was introduced to you this afternoon, Miss Dufrayer, you did not know who I was,” he said bluntly. “But I knew you very well — by sight, I mean, of course. I have seen you often — very often.”

He had done what he had hoped to do, had arrested her attention. She turned and considered him, struck by the tone in which he spoke.

“The first time I saw you,” continued Maurice, with the same show of boldness —“you, of course, will not remember it. It was one evening in Schwarz’s room — in April — months ago. And since then, I . . . well . . . I——”

She was gazing at him now, in surprise. She remembered at this minute, how once before, that day, his manner of saying some simple thing had affected her disagreeably. Then, she had eluded the matter with an indifferent word; now, she was not in a mood to do this, or in a mood to show leniency. She was dispirited, at war with herself, and she welcomed the excuse to vent her own bitterness on another.

“And since then — well?”

“Since then . . . “He hesitated, and gave a nervous laugh at his own daring. “Since then . . . well, I have thought about you more than — than is good for my peace of mind.”

For a moment amazement kept her silent; then she, too, laughed, and the walls of the dark houses they were passing seemed to the young man to re-echo the sound.

“Your peace of mind!”

She repeated the words after him, with such an ironical emphasis that his unreflected courage curled and shrivelled. He wished the ground had swallowed him up before he had said them. For, as they fell from her lips, the audacity he had been guilty of, and the absurdity that was latent in the words themselves, struck him in the face like pellets of hail.

“Your peace of mind! What has your peace of mind to do with me?” she cried, growing extravagantly angry. “I never saw you in my life till to-day; I may never see you again, and it is all the same to me whether I do or not. — Oh, my own peace of mind, as you call it, is quite hard enough to take care of, without having a stranger’s thrown at me! What do you mean by making me responsible for it! I have never done anything to you.”

All the foolish castles Maurice had built came tumbling about his cars. He grew pale and did not venture to look at her.

“Make you responsible! Oh, how can you misunderstand me so cruelly!”

His consternation was so palpable that it touched her in spite of herself. Her face had been as naively miserable as a child’s, now it softened, and she spoke more kindly.

“Don’t mind what I say. To-night I am tired . . . have a headache . . . anything you like.”

A wave of compassion drowned his petty feelings of injury, and his sympathy found vent in a few inadequate words.

“Help me? — you?” She laughed, in an unhappy way. “To help, one must understand, and you couldn’t understand though you tried. All you others lead such quiet lives; you know nothing of what goes on in a life like mine. Every day I ask myself why I have not thrown myself out of the window, or over one of the bridges into the river, and put an end to it.”

Wrapped up though she was in herself, she could not help smiling at his frank gesture of dismay.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said, and the smile lingered on her lips. “I shall never do it. I’m too fond of life, and too afraid of death. But at least,” she caught herself up again, “you will see how ridiculous it is for you to talk to me of your peace of mind. Peace of mind! I have never even been passably content. Something is always wanting. To-night, for instance, I feel so much energy in me, and I can make nothing of it — nothing! If I were a man, I should walk for hours, bareheaded, through the woods. But to be a woman . . . to be cooped up inside four walls . . . when the night itself is not large enough to hold it all! ——”

She threw out her hands to emphasise her helplessness, then let them drop to her sides again. There was a silence, for Maurice could not think of anything to say; her fluency made him tongue-tied. He struggled with his embarrassment until they were all but within earshot of the rest, at the bottom of the street.

“If I . . . if you would let me . . . There is nothing in the world I wouldn’t do to help you,” he ended fervently.

She did not reply; they had reached the corner where the others waited. There was a general leave-taking. Through a kind of mist, Maurice saw that Ephie’s face still wore a hostile look; and she hardly moved her lips when she bade him good-night.

Madeleine drew her own conclusions as she walked the rest of the way home between two pale and silent people. She had seen, on coming out of the theatre, that Louise was in one of her bad moods — a fact easily to be accounted for by Schilsky’s absence. Maurice had evidently been made to suffer under it, too, for not a syllable was to be drawn from him, and, after several unavailing attempts she let him alone.

As they crossed the ROSSPLATZ, which lay wide and deserted in the starlight, Louise said abruptly: “Suppose, instead of going home, we walk to Connewitz?”

At this proposal, and at Maurice’s seconding of it, Madeleine laughed with healthy derision.

“That is just like one of your crazy notions,” she said “What a creature you are! For my part, I decline with thanks. I have to get a Moscheles ETUDE ready by to-morrow afternoon, and need all my wits. But don’t let me hinder you. Walk to Grimma if you want to.”

“What do you say? Shall you and I go on?” Louise turned to Maurice; and the young man did not know whether she spoke in jest or in earnest.

Madeleine knew her better. “Louise!” she said warningly. “Maurice has work to do to-morrow, too.”

“You thought I meant it,” said the girl, and laughed so ungovernably that Madeleine was again driven to remonstrance.

“For goodness’ sake, be quiet! We shall have a policeman after us, if you laugh like that.”

Nothing more was said until they stood before the housedoor in the BRUDERSTRASSE. There Louise, who had lapsed once more into her former indifference, asked Madeleine to come upstairs with her.

“I will look for the purse again; and then I can give you what I owe you. Or else I am sure to forget. Oh, it’s still early; and the night is so long. No one can think of sleep yet.”

Madeleine was not a night-bird, but she was also not averse to having a debt paid. Louise looked from her to Maurice. “Will you come, too, Mr. Guest? It will only take a few minutes,” she said, and, seeing his unhappy face, and remembering what had passed between them, she spoke more gently than she had yet done.

Maurice felt that he ought to refuse; it was late. But Madeleine answered for him. “Of course. Come along, Maurice,” and he crossed the threshold behind them.

After lighting a taper, they entered a paved vestibule, and mounted a flight of broad and very shallow stairs; half-way up, there was a deep recess for pot-plants, and a wooden seat was attached to the wall. The house had been a fine one in its day; it was solidly built, had massive doors with heavy brass fittings, and thick mahogany banisters. On the first floor were two doors, a large and a small one, side by side. Louise unlocked the larger, and they stepped into a commodious lobby, off which several rooms opened. She led the way to the furthest of these, and entered in front of her companions.

Maurice, hesitating just inside the door, found himself close to a grand piano, which stood free on all sides, was open, and disorderly with music. It was a large room, with three windows; and one end of it was shut off by a high screen, which stretched almost from wall to wall. A deep sofa stood in an oriel-window; a writing-table was covered with bric-a-brac, and three tall flower-vases were filled with purple lilac. But there was a general air of untidiness about the room; for strewn over the chairs and tables were numerous small articles of dress and the toilet-hairpins, a veil, a hat and a skirt — all traces of her intimate presence.

As she lifted the lamp from the writing-table to place it on the square table before the sofa, Madeleine called her attention to a folded paper that had lain beneath it.

“It seems to be a letter for you.”

She caught at it with a kind of avidity, tore it open, and heedless of their presence, devoured it, not only with her eyes: but with her parted lips and eager hands. When she looked up again, her cheeks had a tinge of colour in them; her eyes shone like faceted jewels; her smile was radiant and infectious. With no regard for appearances, she buttoned the note in the bosom of her dress.

“Now we will look for the purse,” she said. “But come in, Mr. Guest — you are still standing at the door. I shall think you are offended with me. Oh, how hot the room is! — and the lilac is stifling. First the windows open! And then this scarf off, and some more light. You will help me to look, will you not?”

It was to Maurice she spoke, with a childlike upturning of her face to his — an irresistibly confiding gesture. She disappeared behind the screen, and came out bareheaded, nestling with both hands at the coil of hair on her neck. Then she lit two candles that stood on the piano in brass candlesticks, and Maurice lighted her round the room, while she searched in likely and unlikely places — inside the piano, in empty vases, in the folds of the curtains — laughing at herself as she did so, until Madeleine said that this was only nonsense, and came after them herself. When Maurice held the candle above the writing-table, he lighted three large photographs of Schilsky, one more dandified than the other; and he was obliged to raise his other hand to steady the candlestick.

At last, following a hint from Madeleine, they discovered the purse between the back of the sofa and the seat; and now Louise remembered that it had been in the pocket of her dressing-gown that afternoon.

“How stupid of me! I might have known,” she said contritely. “So many things have gone down there in their day. Once a silver hair-brush that I was fond of; and I sometimes look there when bangles or hat-pins are missing,” and letting her eyes dance at Maurice, she threw back her head and laughed.

Here, however, another difficulty arose; except for a few nickel coins, the purse was found to contain only gold, and the required change could not be made up.

“Never mind; take one of the twenty-mark pieces,” she urged. “Yes, Madeleine, I would rather you did;” and when Madeleine hinted that Maurice might not find it too troublesome to come back with the change the following day, she turned to the young man, and saying: “Yes, if Mr. Guest would be so kind,” smiled at him with such a gracious warmth that it was all he could do to reply with a decent unconcern.

But the hands of the clock on the writing-table were nearing half-past eleven, and now it was she who referred to the lateness of the hour.

“Thank you very much,” she said to Maurice on parting. “And you must forget the nonsense I talked this evening. I didn’t mean it — not a word of it.” She laughed and held out her hand. “I wouldn’t shake hands with you this afternoon, but now — if you will? For to-night I am not superstitious. Nothing bad will happen; I’m sure of that. And I am very much obliged to you — for everything. Good night.”

Only a few minutes back, he had been steeped in pity for her; now it seemed as if no one had less need of pity or sympathy than she. He was bewildered, and went home to pass alternately from a mood of rapture to one of jealous despair. And the latter was torturous, for, as they walked, Madeleine had let fall such a vile suspicion that he had parted from her in anger, calling as he went that if he believed what she said to be true, he would never put faith in a human being again.

In the light of the morning, of course, he knew that it was incredible, a mere phantasm born of the dark; and towards four o’clock that afternoon, he called at the BRUDERSTRASSE with the change. But Louise was not at home, and as he did not find her in on three successive days, he did not venture to return. He wrote his name on a card, and left this, together with the money, in an envelope.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/richardson/henry_handel/r52mg/chapter9.html

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