The second half of July scattered the little circle in all directions. Maurice spent a couple of days at the different railway-stations, seeing his friends off. One after another they passed into that anticipatory mood, which makes an egoist of the prospective traveller: his thoughts start, as it were, in advance; he has none left for the people who are remaining behind, and receives their care and attention as his due.
Dove was packed and strapped, ready to set out an hour after he had had his last lesson; and while he printed labels for his luggage, and took a circumstantial leave of his landlady and her family, with whom he was a prime favourite by reason of his decent and orderly habits, Maurice fetched for him from the lending library, the pieces of music set by Schwarz as a holiday task. Dove was on tenterhooks to be off. Of late, things had gone superlatively well with him: he had performed with applause in an Abendunterhaltung, and been highly commended by Schwarz; while, as for Ephie, she had been so sweet and winning, so modestly encouraging of his suit, that he had every reason to hope for success in this quarter also. Too dutiful a son, however, to take, unauthorised, such an important step as that of proposing marriage, he was now travelling home to sound two elderly people, resident in a side street in Peterborough, on the advisability of an American daughter-in-law.
The Cayhills had been among the first to leave, and would be absent till the middle of September. One afternoon, Maurice started them from the Thuringer bahnhof, on their journey to Switzerland. Having seen Mrs. Cayhill comfortably settled with her bags, books and cushions, in the corner of a first-class carriage, and given Johanna assistance with the tickets, he stood till the train went, talking to Ephie; and he long retained a picture of her, standing with one foot on the step, in a becoming travelling-dress, a hat with a veil flying from it, and a small hand-bag slung across her shoulder, laughing and dimpling, and well aware of the admiring glances that were cast at her. It was a relief to Maurice that she was going away for a time; his feeling of responsibility with regard to her had not flagged, and he had made a point of seeing her more often, and of knowing more of her movements than before. As, however, he had not observed anything further to disturb him, his suspicions were on the verge of subsiding—as suspicions have a way of doing when we wish them to—and in the last day or two, he had begun to feel much less sure, and to wonder if, after all, he had not been mistaken.
“I shall miss you, Morry. I almost wish I were not going,” said Ephie, and this was not untrue, in spite of the pretty new dresses her trunks contained. “Say, I don’t believe I shall enjoy myself one bit. You will write, Morry, won’t you, and tell me what goes on? All the news you hear and who you see and everything.”——
“Be sure you write,” said Madeleine, too, when he saw her off early in the morning to Berlin, where she was to meet her English charges. “Christiania, Poste restante, till the first, and then Bergen. ‘Froken wade,’ don’t forget.”
The train started; her handkerchief fluttered from the window until the carriage was out of sight.
Maurice was alone; every one he knew disappeared, even Furst, who had obtained a holiday engagement in a villa near Dresden. An odd stillness reigned in the Braustrasse and its neighbourhood; from houses which had hitherto been clangrous with musical noises, not a sound issued. Familiar rooms and lodgings were either closely shuttered, or, in process of scouring, hung out their curtains to flutter on the sill.
The days passed, unmarked, eventless, like the uniform pages of a dull book. When the solitude grew unbearable, Maurice went to visit Frau Furst, and had his supper with the family. He was a welcome guest, for he not only paid for all the beer that was drunk, but also brought such a generous portion of sausage for his own supper, that it supplied one or other of the little girls as well. Afterwards, they sat round the kitchen-table, listening, the children with the old-fashioned solemnity that characterised them, to Frau Furst’s reminiscences. Otherwise, he hardly exchanged a word with anyone, but sat at his piano the livelong day. Of late, Schwarz had been somewhat cool and off-hand in manner with him; the master had also not displayed the same detailed interest in his plans for the summer, as in those of the rest of the class. This was one reason why he had not gone away like every one else; the other, that he had been unwilling to write home for an increase of allowance. Sometimes, when the day was hot, he envied his friends refreshing themselves by wood, mountain or sea; but, in the main, he worked briskly at Czerny’s Fingerfertigkeit, and with such perseverance that ultimately his fingers stumbled from fatigue.
With the beginning of August, the heat grew oppressive; all day long, the sun beat, fierce and unremittent, on this city of the plains, and the baked pavements were warm to the feet. Business slackened, and the midday rest in shops and offices was extended beyond its usual limit. Conservatorium and Gewandhaus, at first given over to relays of charwomen, their brooms and buckets, soon lay dead and deserted, too; and if, in the evening, Maurice passed the former building, he would see the janitor sitting at leisure in the middle of the pavement, smoking his long black cigar. The old trees in the Promenade, and the young striplings that followed the river in the Lampestrasse, drooped their brown leaves thick with dust; the familiar smell of roasting coffee, which haunted most house—and stair-ways, was intensified; and out of drains and rivers rose nauseous and penetrating odours, from which there was no escape. Every three or four days, when the atmosphere of the town had reached a pitch of unsavouriness which it seemed impossible to surpass, sudden storms swept up, tropical in their violence: blasts of thunder cracked like splitting beams; lightning darted along the narrow streets; rain fell in white, sizzling sheets. But the morning after, it was as hot as ever.
Maurice grew so accustomed to meet no one he knew, that one afternoon towards the middle of August, he was pulled up by a jerk of surprise in front of the Pleissenburg, on stumbling across Heinrich Krafft. He had stopped and impulsively greeted the young man, before he recalled his previous antipathy to him.
Krafft was sauntering along with his hands in his pockets, and, on being accosted, he looked vaguely and somewhat moodily at Maurice. The next moment, however, he laid a hand on the lappel of Maurice’s coat, and, without preamble, burst into a witty and obscene anecdote, which had evidently been in his mind when they met. This story, and the fact that, by the North Sea, he had stood before breakers twenty feet high, were the only particulars Maurice bore away from their interview. His previous impatience with such eccentricity returned, but none the less, he looked grudgingly after the other’s vanishing form.
A day or two later, towards evening, he saw Krafft again. As he was going through an outlying street, he came upon a group of children, who were amusing themselves by teasing a cat; the animal had been hit in the eye by a stone, and cowered, terrified and blinded, against the wall of a house. The children formed a half circle round it, and two of the biggest boys held a young and lively dog by the collar, inciting it and restraining it, and revelling in the cat’s convulsive starts at each capering bark.
While Maurice was considering how to expostulate with them, Krafft came swiftly up behind, jerked two of the children apart, and, with a deft and perfectly noiseless movement, caught up the cat and hid its head under his coat. Then, cuffing the biggest boy, he kicked the dog, and ordered the rest to disperse. The children did so lingeringly; and once out of his reach, stood and mocked him.
He begged Maurice to accompany him to his lodgings, and there Maurice held the animal, a large, half-starved street-cat, while Krafft, on his knees before it, examined the wound. As he did this, he crooned in a wordless language, and the cat was quiet, in spite of the pain he caused it. But directly he took his hands off it, it jumped from the table, and fled under the furthest corner of the sofa.
Krafft next fetched milk and a saucer, from a cupboard in the wall, and went down on his knees again: while Maurice sat and watched and wondered at his tireless endeavours to induce the animal to advance. He explained his proceedings in a whisper.
“If I put the saucer down and leave it,” he said, “it won’t help at all. A cat’s confidence must be won straight away.”
He was still in this position, making persuasive little noises, when the door opened, and Avery Hill, his companion of a previous occasion, entered. At the sight of Krafft crouching on the floor, she paused with her hand on the door, and looked from him to Maurice.
“Heinz?” she said interrogatively. Then she saw the saucer of milk, and understood. “Heinz!” she said again; and this time the word was a reprimand.
“Ssh!—be quiet,” said Krafft peevishly, without looking up.
The girl took no notice of Maurice’s attempt to greet her. Letting fall on the grand piano, some volumes of music she was carrying, she continued sternly: “Another cat! — oh, it is abominable of you! This is the third he has picked up this year,” she said explanatorily, yet not more to Maurice than to herself. “And the last was so dirty and destructive that Frau Schulz threatened to turn him out, if he did not get rid of it. He knows as well as I do that he cannot keep a cat here.”
Her placidly tragic face had grown hard; and altogether, the anger she displayed seemed out of proportion to the trival offence.
Krafft remained undisturbed. “It’s not the least use scolding. Go and make it right with the old crow.—Come, puss, come.”
The girl checked the words that rose to her lips, gave a slight shrug, and went out of the room. They heard her, in the passage, disputing with the landlady, who was justly indignant.
“If it weren’t for you, Fraulein, I wouldn’t keep him another day,” she declared.
Meanwhile the cat, which, in the girl’s presence, had shrunk still further into its hiding-place, began to make advances. It crept a step forward, retreated again, stretched out its nose to sniff at the milk, and, all of a sudden, emerged and drank greedily.
Krafft touched its head, and the animal paused in its hungry gulping to rub its back against the caressing hand. When the last drop of milk was finished, it withdrew to its corner, but less suspiciously.
Krafft rose to his feet and stretched himself, and when Avery returned, he smiled at her.
“Now then, is it all right?”
She did not reply, but went to the piano, to search for something among the scattered music. Krafft clasped his hands behind his head, and leaning against the table, watched her with an ironical curl of the lip.
“O lene! Lene! O magdalene!” he sang under his breath; and, for the second time, Maurice received the impression that a by-play was being carried on between these two.
“Look at this,” said Krafft after a pause. “Here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those rare persons who have a jot of talent in them, and off she goes—I don’t mean at this moment, but tomorrow, the day after, every day—to waste it in teaching children finger-exercises. If you ask her why she does it, she will tell you it is necessary to live. Necessary to live!—who has ever proved that it is?”
For an instant, it seemed as if the girl were going to flash out a bitter retort that might have betrayed her. Then she showed the same self-control as before, and went, without a word, into the next room. She was absent for a few minutes, and when she reappeared, carried what was unmistakably a bundle of soiled linen, going away with this on one arm, the volumes of music she had picked out on the other. She did not wish the young men good-night, but, in passing Maurice, she said in an unfriendly tone: “Do you know what time it is?” and to Krafft: “It is late, Heiriz, you are not to play.”
The door had barely closed behind her, when Krafft broke into the loud, repellent laugh that had so jarred on Maurice at their former meeting. He had risen at once, and now said he must go. But Krafft would not hear of it; he pressed him into his seat again, with an effusive warmth of manner.
“Don’t mind her. Stay, like a good fellow. Of course, I am going to play to you.”
He flicked the keys of the piano with his handkerchief, adjusted the distance of his seat, threw back his head, and half closing his eyes, began to play. Except for the unsteady flickerings cast on the wall by a street-lamp, the room was soon in darkness.
Maurice resumed his seat reluctantly. He had been dragged upstairs against his will; and throughout the foregoing scene, had sat an uncomfortable spectator. He had as little desire for the girl to return and find him there, as for Krafft to play to him. But no excuse for leaving offered itself, and each moment made it harder to interrupt the player, who had promptly forgotten the fact of his presence.
After he had listened for a time, however, Maurice ceased to think of escaping. Madeleine had once alluded to Krafft’s skill as an interpreter of Chopin, but, all the same, he had not expected anything like what he now heard, and at first he could not make anything of it. He had hitherto only known Chopin’s music as played in the sentimental fashion of the English drawing-room. Here, now, came some one who made it clear that, no matter how pessimistic it appeared on the surface, this music was, at its core an essentially masculine music; it kicked desperately against the pricks of existence; what failed it was only the last philosophic calm. He could not, of course, know that various small things had combined to throw the player into one of his most prodigal moods: the rescue and taming of the cat, the passage-at-arms with Avery, her stimulating forbiddal, and, last and best, the one silent listener in the dark—this stranger, picked up at random in the streets, who had never yet heard him play, and to whom he might reveal himself with an indecency that friendship precluded.
When at length, Frau Schulz entered, in her bed-jacket, to say that it was long past ten o’clock, Krafft wakened as if out of a trance, and hid his eyes from the light. Frau Schulz, a robust person, disregarded his protests, and herself locked the piano and took the key.
“She makes me promise to,” she whispered to Maurice, pointing over her shoulder at an imaginary person. “If I didn’t, he’d go on all night. He’s no more fit to look after himself than a baby—and he gets it again with his boots in the morning.—Yes, yes, call me names if it pleases you. Names don’t kill. And if I am a hag, you’re a rascal, that’s what you are! The way you treat that poor, good creature makes one’s blood boil.”
Krafft waved her away, and opening the window, leaned out on the sill: a wave of warm air filled the room. Maurice rose with renewed decision, and sought his hat. But Krafft also took his down from a peg. “Yes, let us go out.”
It was a breathless August night, laden with intensified scents and smells, and the moonlight lay thick and white on the ground: a night to provoke to extravagant follies. In the utter stillness of the woods, the young men passed from places of inky blackness into bluish white patches, dropped through the trees like monstrous silver thalers. The town lay behind them in a glorifying haze; the river stretched silver-scaled in the moonlight, like a gigantic fish-back.
Krafft walked in front of his companion, in preoccupied silence. His slender hands, dangling loosely, still twitched from their recent exertions, and from time to time, he turned the palms outward, with an impatient gesture. Maurice wished himself alone. He was not at ease under this new companionship that had thrust itself upon him; indeed, a strong mental antagonism was still uppermost in him, towards the moody creature at whose heels he followed; and if, at this moment, he had been asked to give voice to his feelings, the term “crazy idiot” would have been the first to rise to his lips.
Suddenly, without turning, or slackening his pace, Krafft commenced to speak: at first in a low voice, as if he were thinking aloud. But one word gave another, his thoughts came rapidly, he began to gesticulate, and finally, wrought on by the beauty of the night, by this choice moment for speech, still excited by his own playing, and in an infinite need of expression, he swept the silence before him with the force of a flood set free. If he thought Maurice were about to interrupt him, he made an imploring gesture, and left what he was saying unfinished, to spring over to the next theme ready in his brain. Names jostled one another on his tongue: he passed from Beethoven and Chopin to Berlioz and Wagner, to Liszt and Richard Strauss—and his words were to Maurice like the unrolling of a great scroll. In the same breath, he was with Nietzsche, and Apollonic and Dionysian; and from here he went on to Richard Dehmel, to Anatol, and the gentle “Loris” of the early verses; to Max Klinger, and the propriety of coloured sculpture; to Papa hamlet and the future of the Lied. Maurice, listening intently, had fleeting glimpses into a land of which he knew nothing. He kept as still as a mouse, in order not to betray his ignorance; for Krafft was not didactic, and talked as if the subjects he touched on were as familiar to Maurice as to himself. On the other hand, Maurice believed it was a matter of indifference to him whether he was understood or not; he spoke for the pure joy of talking, out of the motley profusion of his knowledge.
Meanwhile, he had grown personal. And while he was still speaking with fervour of Vienna—which was his home—of gay, melancholy Wien, he flung round and put a question to his companion.
“Do you ever think of death?”
Maurice had been the listener for so long that he started.
“Death?” he echoed, and was as much embarrassed as though asked whether he believed in God. “I don’t know. No, I don’t think I do. Why should one think of death when one is alive and well?”
Krafft laughed at this, with a pitying irony. “Happy you!” he said. “Happy you!” His voice sank, and he continued almost fearfully: “I have the vision of it before me, always wherever I go. Listen; I will tell you; it is like this.” He laid his hand on Maurice’s arm, and drew him nearer. “I know—no matter how strong and sound I may be at this moment; no matter how I laugh, or weep, or play the fool; no matter how little thought I give it, or whether I think about it all day long—I know the hour will come, at last, when I shall gasp, choke, grow black in the face, in the vain struggle for another single mouthful of that air which has always been mine at will. And no one will be able to help me; there is no escape from that hour; no power on earth can keep it from me. And it is all a matter of chance when it happens—a great lottery: one draws to-day, one to-morrow; but my turn will surely come, and each day that passes brings me twenty-four hours nearer the end.” He drew still closer to Maurice. “Tell me, have you never stood before a doorway—the doorway of some strange house that you have perhaps never consciously gone past before—and waited, with the atrocious curiosity that death and its hideous paraphernalia waken in one, for a coffin to be carried out?—the coffin of an utter stranger, who is of interest to you now, for the first and the last time. And have you not thought to yourself, with a shudder, that some day, in this selfsame way, under the same indifferent sky, among a group of loiterers as idly curious as these, you yourself will be carried out, feet foremost, like a bale of goods, like useless lumber, all will and dignity gone from you, never to enter there again?—there, where all the little human things you have loved, and used, and lived amongst, are lying just as you left them—the book you laid down, the coat you wore—now all of a greater worth than you. You are mere dead flesh, and behind the horrid lid lie stark and cold, with rigid fingers and half-closed eyes, and the chief desire of every one, even of those you have loved most, is to be rid of you, to be out of reach of sight and smell of you. And so, after being carted, and jolted, and unloaded, you will be thrown into a hole, and your body, ice-cold, and as yielding as meat to the touch — oh, that awful icy softness!—your flesh will begin to rot, to be such that not your nearest friend would touch you. God, it is unbearable!”
He wiped his forehead, and Maurice was silent, not knowing what to say; he felt that such rational arguments as he might be able to offer, would have little value in the face of this intensely personal view, which was stammered forth with the bitterness of an accusation. But as they crossed the suspensionbridge, Krafft stopped, and stood looking at the water, which glistened in the moonlight like a living thing.
“No, it is impossible for me to put death out of my mind,” he went on. “And yet, a spring into this silver fire down here would end all that, and satisfy one’s curiosity as well. Why is one not readier to make the spring?—and what would one’s sensations be? The mad rush through the air—the crash—the sinking in the awful blackness . . .”
“Those of fear and cold. You would wish yourself out again,” answered Maurice; and as Krafft nodded, without seeming to resent his tone, he ventured to put forward a few points for the other side of the question. He suggested that always to be brooding over death unfitted you for life. Every one had to die when his time came; it was foolish to look upon your own death as an exception to the rule. Besides, when sensation had left you—the soul, the spirit, whatever you liked to call it—what did it matter what afterwards became of your body? It was, then, in reality, nothing but lumber, fresh nourishment for the soil; and it was morbid to care so much how it was treated, just because it had once been your tenement, when it was now as worthless as the crab’s empty shell.
He stuttered this out piece-wise, in his halting German; then paused, not sure how his companion would take the didactic tone he had fallen into. But Krafft had turned, and was gazing at him, considering him attentively for the first time. When Maurice ceased to speak, he nodded a hasty assent: “Yes, yes, it is quite true. Go on.” And as the former, having nothing more to say, was mute, he added: “You are like some one I once knew. He was a great musician. I saw him die; he died by inches; it lasted for months; he could neither die nor live.”
“Why do you brood over these things, if you find them so awful? Are you not afraid your nerves will go through with you, and make you do something foolish?” asked Maurice, and was himself astonished at his boldness.
“Of course I am. My life is a perpetual struggle against suicide,” answered Krafft.
In the distance, a church-clock struck a quarter to twelve, and it was on Maurice’s tongue to suggest that they should move homewards, when, with one of his unexpected transitions, Krafft turned to him and said in a low voice: “What do you say? Shall you and I be friends?”
Maurice hesitated, in some embarrassment. “Why yes, I should be very glad.”
“And you will let me say ‘DU’ to you?”
“Certainly. If you are sure you won’t regret it in the morning.”
Krafft stretched out his hand. As Maurice held in his the fine, slim fingers, which seemed mere skin and muscle, a hitherto unknown feeling of kindliness came over him for the young man at his side. At this moment, he had the lively sensation that he was the stronger and wiser of the two, and that it was even a little beneath him to take the other too seriously.
“You think so poorly of me then? You think no good thing can come out of me?” asked Krafft, and there was an appealing note in his voice, which, but a short time back, had been so overbearing.
Had Maurice known him better, he would have promptly retorted: “Don’t be a fool.” As it was, he laughed. “Who am I to sit in judgment? The only thing I do know is, that if I had your talent—no, a quarter of it—I should pull myself together and astonish the world.”
“It sounds so easy; but I have too many doubts of myself,” said Krafft, and laid his hand on Maurice’s shoulder. “And I have never had anyone to keep me up to the mark—till now. I have always needed some one like you. You are strong and sympathetic; and one has the feeling that you understand.”
Maurice was far from certain that he did. However, he answered in a frank way, doing his best to keep down the sentimental tone that had invaded the conversation. At heart he was little moved by this new friendship, which hail begun with the word itself; he told himself that it was only a whim of Krafft’s, which would be forgotten in the morning. But, as they stood thus on the bridge, shoulder to shoulder, he did not understand how he could ever have taken anything this frail creature did, amiss. At the moment, there was a clinging helplessness about Krafft, which instinctively roused his manlier feelings. He said to himself that he had done wrong in lightly condemning his companion; and, impelled by this sudden burst of protectiveness, he seized the moment, and spoke earnestly to Krafft of earnest things, of duty, not only to one’s fellows, but to oneself and one’s abilities, of the inspiring gain of unremitted endeavour.
Afterwards, they sauntered home—first to Maurice’s lodging, then to Krafft’s, and once again to Maurice’s. At this stage, Krafft was frankness itself; Maurice learnt to his surprise that the slim, boyish lad at his side was over twenty-seven years of age; that, for several semesters, Krafft had studied medicine in Vienna, then had thrown up this “disgusting occupation,” to become a clerk in a wealthy uncle’s counting-house. From this, he had drifted into journalism, and finally, at the instigation of Hans von Bullow, to music; he had been for two and a half years with Bullow, on travel, and in Hamburg, and was at present in Leipzig solely to have his “fingers put in order.” His plans for the future were many, and widely divergent. At one time, a musical career tempted him irresistibly; every one but Schwarz—this finger-machine, this generator of living metronomes—believed that he could make a name for himself as a player of Chopin. At other times, and more often, he contemplated retiring from the world and entering a monastery. He spoke with a morbid horror—yet as if the idea of it fascinated him—of the publicity of the concert-platform, and painted in glowing colours a monastery he knew of, standing on a wooded hill, not far from Vienna. He had once spent several weeks there, recovering from an illness, and the gardens, the trimly bedded flowers, the glancing sunlight in the utter silence of the corridors, were things he could not forget. He had lain day for day on a garden-bench, reading Novalis, and it still seemed to him that the wishless happiness of those days was the greatest he had known.
Beside this, Maurice’s account of himself sounded tame and unimportant; he felt, too, that the circumstances of English life were too far removed from his companion’s sphere, for the latter to be able to understand them.
On waking next morning, Maurice recalled the incidents of the evening with a smile; felt a touch of warmth at the remembrance of the moment when he had held Krafft’s hand in his; then classed the whole episode as strained, and dismissed it from his mind. He had just shut the piano, after a busy forenoon, when Krafft burst in, his cheeks pink with haste and excitement. He had discovered a room to let, in the house he lived in, and nothing would satisfy him but that Maurice should come instantly to see it. Laughing at his eagerness, Maurice put forward his reasons for preferring to remain where he was. But Krafft would take no denial, and not wishing to hurt his feelings, Maurice gave way, and agreed at least to look at the room.
It was larger and more cheerful than his own, and had also, a convenient alcove for the bedstead; and after inspecting it, Maurice felt willing to expend the extra marks it cost. They withdrew to Krafft’s room to come to a decision. There, however, they found Avery Hill, who, as soon as she heard what they contemplated, put a veto on it. Growing pale, as she always did where others would have flushed, she said: “It is an absurd idea—sheer nonsense! I won’t have it, understand that! Pray, excuse me,” she continued to Maurice, speaking in a more friendly tone than she had yet used to him, “but you must not listen to him. It is just one of his whims—nothing more. In less than a week, you would wish yourself away again. You have no idea how changeable he is—how impossible to live with.”
Maurice hastened to reassure her. Krafft did not speak; he stood at the window, with his back to them, his forehead pressed against the glass.
So Maurice continued to live in the Braustrasse, under the despotic rule of Frau Krause, who took every advantage of his good-nature. But after this, not a day passed without his seeing Krafft; the latter sought him out on trivial pretexts. Maurice hardly recognised him: he was gentle, amiable, and amenable to reason; he subordinated himself entirely to Maurice, and laid an ever-increasing weight on his opinion. Maurice became able to wind him round his finger; and the hint of a reproof from him served to throw Krafft into a state of nervous depression. Without difficulty, Maurice found himself to rights in his role of mentor, and began to flatter himself that he would ultimately make of Krafft a decent member of society. As it was, he soon induced his friend to study in a more methodical way; they practised for the same number of hours in the forenoon, and met in the afternoon; and Krafft only sometimes broke through this arrangement, by appearing in the Braustrasse early in the morning, and, despite remonstrance, throwing himself on the sofa, and remaining there, while Maurice practised. The latter ended by growing accustomed to this whim as to several other things that had jarred on him—such as Krafft’s love for a dirty jest—and overlooked or forgave them. At first embarrassed by the mushroom growth of a friendship he had not invited, he soon grew genuinely attached to Krafft, and missed him when he was absent from him.
Avery Hill could hardly be termed third in the alliance; Maurice’s advent had thrust her into the background, where she kept watch over their doings with her cold, disdainful eye. Maurice was not clear how she regarded his intrusion. Sometimes, particularly when she saw the improvement in Heinrich’s way of life, she seemed to tolerate his presence gladly; at others again, her jealous aversion to him was too open to be overlooked. The jealousy was natural; he was an interloper, and Heinz neglected her shamefully for him; but there was something else behind it, another feeling, which Maurice could not make out. He by no means understood the relationship that existed between his friend and this girl of the stone-grey eyes and stern, red lips. The two lived almost door by door, went in and out of each other’s rooms at all hours, and yet, he had never heard them exchange an affectionate word, or seen a mark of endearment pass between them. Avery’s attachment—if such it could be called—was noticeable only in the many small ways in which she cared for Krafft’s comfort; her manner with him was invariably severe and distant, with the exception of those occasions when a seeming trifle raised in her a burst of the dull, passionate anger, beneath which Krafft shrank. Maurice believed that his friend would be happier away from her; in spite of her fresh colouring, he, Maurice, found her wanting in attraction, nothing that a woman ought to be. But her name was rarely mentioned between them; Krafft was, as a rule, reticent concerning her, and when he did speak of her, it was in a tone of such contempt that Maurice was glad to shirk the subject.
“It’s all she wants,” Krafft had replied, when his companion ventured to take her part. “She wouldn’t thank you to be treated differently. Believe me, women are all alike; they are made to be trodden on. Ill-usage brings out their good points—just as kneading makes dough light. Let them alone, or pamper them, and they spread like a weed, and choke you”— and he quoted a saying about going to women and not forgetting the whip, at which Maurice stood aghast.
“But why, if you despise a person like that—why have her always about you?” he cried, at the end of a flaming plea for woman’s dignity and worth.
Krafft shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose the truth is we are dependent on them—yes, dependent, from the moment we are laid in the cradle. It’s a woman who puts on our first clothes and a woman who puts on our last. But why talk about these things?”— he slipped his arm through Maurice’s. “Tell me about yourself; and when you are tired of talking, I will play.”
It usually ended in his playing. They ranged through the highways and byways of music.
One afternoon—it was a warm, wet, grey day towards the end of August—Maurice found Krafft in a strangely apathetic mood. The weather, this moist warmth, had got on his nerves, he said; he had been unable to settle to anything; was weighed down by a lassitude heavier than iron. When Maurice entered, he was stretched on the sofa, with closed eyes; on his chest slept Wotan, the one-eyed cat, now growing sleek and fat. While Maurice was trying to rally him, Krafft sprang up. With a precipitance that was the extreme opposite of his previous sloth, he lowered both window-blinds, and, lighting two candles, set them on the piano, where they dispersed the immediate darkness, but no more.
“I am going to play Tristan to you.”
Maurice had learnt by this time that it was useless to try to thwart Krafft. He laughed and nodded, and having nothing in particular to do, lay down in the latter’s place on the sofa.
Krafft shook his hair back, and began the prelude to the opera in a rapt, ecstatic way, finding in the music an outlet for all his nervousness. At first, he played from memory; when this gave out, he set the piano-score up before him, then forgot it again, and went on playing by heart. Sometimes he sang the different parts, in a light, sweet tenor; sometimes recited them, with dramatic fervour. Only he never ceased to play, never gave his hearer a moment in which to recover himself.
Frau Schulz’s entry with the lamp, and her grumblings at the “Unverschamte spektakel” passed unheeded. A strength that was more than human seemed to take possession of the frail youth at the piano. Evening crept on afternoon, night on evening, and still he continued, drunk with the most emotional music conceived by a human brain.
Even when hands and fingers could do no more, the frenzy that was in him would not let him rest: he paced the room, and talked—talked for hours, his eyes ablaze. A church-clock struck ten, then half-past, then eleven, and not for a moment was he still; his speech seemed, indeed, to gather impetus as it advanced like a mountain torrent.
Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of a vehement defence of anti-Semitism, to which he had been led by the misdeeds of those “arch-charlatans,” Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, he stopped short, like a run-down clock, and, falling into a chair before the table, buried his face in his arms. There was silence, the more intense for all that had preceded it. Wotan wakened from sleep, and was heard to stretch his limbs, with a yawn and a sigh. The spell was broken; Maurice, his head in a whirl, rose stiff and cramped from his uncomfortable position on the sofa.
“You rascal, you make one lose all sense of time. And I am starving. I must snatch something at Canitz’s as I go by.”
Krafft started, and raised a haggard face with twitching lips. “You are not going to leave me?—like this?”
Maurice was both hungry and tired—worn out, in fact.
“We will go somewhere in the town,” said Krafft. “And then for a walk. The rain has stopped—look!”
He drew up one of the blinds, and they saw that the stars were shining.
“Yes, but what about to-morrow?—and to-morrow’s work?”
“To-morrow may never come. And to-night is.”
“Those are only words. Do you know the time?”
Krafft turned quickly from the window. “And if I make it a test of the friendship you have professed for me, that you stay here with me to-night?—You can sleep on the sofa.”
“Why on earth get personal?” said Maurice; he could not find his hat, which had fallen in a dark corner. “Heinz, dear boy, be reasonable. Come, give me the house-key—like a good fellow.”
“It’s the first—the only thing, I have asked of you.”
“Nonsense. You have asked dozens.”
Krafft took a few steps towards him, and threw the key on the floor at his feet. Wotan, who was at the door, mewing to be let out, sprang back, in affright.
“Go, go, go!” Krafft cried. “I never want to see you again.”
Earlier than usual the next morning, Maurice returned to set things right, and to laugh with Heinz at their extravagance the night before. But Krafft was not to be seen. From Frau Schulz, who flounced past him in the passage, first with hot water, then with black coffee, Maurice learned that Krafft had been brought home early that morning, in a disgraceful state of intoxication. Frau Schulz still boiled at the remembrance.
“SO ‘N schwein, so ‘N schwein!” she cried. “But this time he goes. I have said it before and, fool that I am, have always let them persuade me. But this is the end. Not a day after the fifteenth will I have him in the house.”
Maurice slipped away.
Two days passed before he saw his friend again. He found him pale and dejected, with reddish, heavy eyes and a sneering smile. He was wholly changed; his words were tainted with the perverse irony, which, at the beginning of their acquaintance, had made his manner so repellent. But now, Maurice was not, at once, frightened away by it; he could not believe Heinrich’s pique was serious, and gave himself trouble to win his friend back. He chid, laughed, rallied, was earnest and apologetic, and all this without being conscious of having done wrong.
“I think you had better leave him alone,” said Avery, after watching his fruitless efforts. “He doesn’t want you.”
It was true; now Krafft had no thought for anyone but Avery. It was Avery here, and Avery there. He called her by a pet name, was anxious for her comfort, and hung affectionately on her arm.—The worst of it was, that he did not seem in the least ashamed of his fickleness.
Maurice made one further attempt to move him, then, hurt and angry, intruded no more. At first, he was chiefly angry. But, gradually, the hurt deepened, and became a sense of injury, which made him avoid the street Krafft lived in, and shun him when they met. He missed him, after the close companionship of the past weeks, and felt as if he had been suddenly deprived of a part of himself. And he would no doubt have missed him more keenly still, if, just at this juncture, his attention had not been engrossed by another and more important matter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59