The commencement of the new term had just assembled the incoming students to sign their names in the venerable rollbook, when the report spread that Schilsky was willing to play his symphonic poem, ZARATHUSTRA, to those of his friends who cared to hear it. Curiosity swelled the number, and Furst lent his house for the occasion.
“You’ll come, of course,” said the latter to Maurice, as they left Schwarz’s room after their lesson; and Madeleine said the same thing while driving home from the railway-station, where Maurice had met her. She was no more a friend of Schilsky’s than he was, but she certainly intended to be present, to hear what kind of stuff he had turned out.
On the evening of the performance, Maurice and she walked together to the BRANDVORWERKSTRASSE. Madeleine had still much to say. She had returned from her holiday in the best of health and spirits, liberally rewarded for her trouble, and possessed of four new friends, who, no doubt, would all be of use to her when she settled in England again. This was to be her last winter in Leipzig, and she was drawing up detailed plans of work. From now on, she intended to take private lessons from Schwarz, in addition to those she received in the class.
“Even though they do cost ten marks each, it makes him ever so much better disposed towards you.”
She also told him that she had found a letter from Louise waiting for her, in which the latter announced her return for the following week. Louise wrote from England, and all her cry was to be back in Leipzig.
“Of course — now he is here,” commented Madeleine. “You know, I suppose, that he has been travelling with Zeppelin? He has the luck of I don’t know what.”
The Cayhills would be absent till the middle of the month; Maurice had received from Ephie one widely written note, loud in praise of a family of “perfectly sweet Americans,” whom they had learnt to know in Interlaken, but also expressing eagerness to be at home again in “dear old Leipzig.” Dove had arrived a couple of days ago — and here Madeleine laughed.
“He is absolutely shiny with resolution,” she declared. “Mind, Maurice, if he takes you into confidence — as he probably will — you are not on any account to dissuade him from proposing. A snub will do him worlds of good.”
They were not the first to climb the ill-lighted stair that wound up to the Fursts’ dwelling. The entry-door on the fourth storey stood open, and a hum of voices came from the sitting-room. The circular hat-stand in the passage was crowded with motley headgear.
As they passed the kitchen, the door of which was ajar, Frau Furst peeped through the slit, and seeing Maurice, called him in. The coffee-pot was still on the stove; he must sit down and drink a cup of coffee.
“There is plenty of time. Schilsky has not come yet, and I have only this moment sent Adolfchen for the beer.”
Maurice asked her if she were not coming in to hear the music. She laughed good-naturedly at the idea.
“Bless your heart, what should I do in there, among all you young people? No, no, I can hear just as well where I am. When my good husband had his evenings, it was always from the kitchen that I listened.”
Pausing, with a saucepan in one hand, a cloth in the other, she said: “You will hear something good to-night, Herr Guest. Oh, he has talent, great talent, has young Schilsky! This is not the usual work of a pupil. It has form, and it has ideas, and it is new and daring. I know one of the motives from hearing Franz play it,” and she hummed a theme as she replaced on the shelf, the scrupulously cleaned pot. “For such a young man, it is wonderful; but he will do better still, depend upon it, he will.”
Here she threw a hasty glance round the tiny kitchen, at three of the children sitting as still as mice in the corner, laid a finger on her lips, and, bursting with mystery, leaned over the table and asked Maurice if he could keep a secret.
“He is going away,” she whispered.
Maurice stared at her. “Going away? Who is? What do you mean?” he asked, and was so struck by her peculiar manner that he set his cup down untouched.
“Why Schilsky, of course.” She thought his astonishment was disbelief, and nodded confirmingly. “Yes, yes, he is going away. And soon, too.”
“How do you know?” cried Maurice. Sitting back in his chair, he stemmed his hands against the edge of the table, and looked challengingly at Frau Furst.
“Ssh — not so loud,” said the latter. “It’s a secret, a dead secret — though I’m sure I don’t know why. Franz ——”
At this very moment, Franz himself came into the kitchen. He looked distrustfully at his whispering mother.
“Now then, mother, haven’t you got that beer yet?” he demanded. His genial bonhomie disappeared, as if by magic, when he entered his home circle, and he was particularly gruff with this adoring woman.
“GLEICH, FRANZCHEN, GLEICH,” she answered soothingly, and whisked about her work again, with the air of one caught napping.
Maurice followed Furst’s invitation to join the rest of the party.
The folding-doors between the “best room” and the adjoining bedroom had been opened wide, and the guests were distributed over the two rooms. The former was brilliantly lighted by three lamps and two candles, and all the sitting-accommodation the house contained was ranged in a semicircle round the grand piano. Here, not a place was vacant; those who had come late were in the bedroom, making shift with whatever offered. Two girls and a young man, having pushed back the feather-bed, sat on the edge of the low wooden bedstead, with their arms interlaced to give them a better balance. Maurice found Madeleine on a rickety little sofa that stood at the foot of the bed. Dove sat on a chest of drawers next the sofa, his long legs dangling in the air. Beside Madeleine, with his head on her shoulder, was Krafft.
“Oh, there you are,” cried Madeleine. “Well, I did my best to keep the place for you; but it was of no use, as you see. Just sit down, however. Between us, we’ll squeeze him properly.”
Maurice was glad that the room, which was lighted only by one small lamp, was in semi-darkness; for, at the sound of his own voice, it suddenly became clear to him that the piece of gossip Frau Furst had volunteered, had been of the nature of a blow. Schilsky’s departure threatened, in a way he postponed for the present thinking out, to disturb his life; and, in an abrupt need of sympathy, he laid his hand on Krafft’s knee.
“Is it you, old man? What have you been doing with yourself?”
Krafft gave him one of those looks which, in the early days of their acquaintance, had proved so disconcerting — a look of struggling recollection.
“Oh, nothing in particular,” he replied, without hostility, but also without warmth. His mind was not with his words, and Maurice withdrew his hand.
Madeleine leaned forward, dislodging Krafft’s head from its resting-place.
“How long have you two been ‘DU’ to each other?” she asked, and at Maurice’s curt reply, she pushed Krafft from her. “Sit up and behave yourself. One would think you had an evil spirit in you to-night.”
Krafft was nervously excited: bright red spots burnt on his cheeks, his hands twitched, and he jerked forward in his seat and threw himself back again, incessantly.
“No, you are worse than a mosquito,” cried Madeleine, losing patience. “Anyone would think you were going to play yourself. And he will be as cool as an iceberg. The sofa won’t stand it, Heinz. If you can’t stop fidgeting, get up.”
He had gone, before she finished speaking; for a slight stir in the next room made them suppose for a moment that Schilsky was arriving. Afterwards, Krafft was to be seen straying about, with his hands in his pockets; and, on observing his rose-pink cheeks and tumbled curly hair, Madeleine could not refrain from remarking: “He ought to have been a girl.”
The air was already hot, by reason of the lamps, and the many breaths, and the firmly shut double-windows. The clamour for beer had become universal by the time Adolfchen arrived with his arms full of bottles. As there were not enough glasses to go round, every two or three persons shared one between them — a proceeding that was carried out with much noisy mirth. Above all other voices was to be heard that of Miss Jensen, who, in a speckled yellow dress, with a large feather fan in her hand, sat in the middle of the front row of seats. It was she who directed how the beer should be apportioned; she advised a few late-comers where they would still find room, and engaged Furst to place the lights on the piano to better advantage. Next her, a Mrs. Lautenschlager, a plump little American lady, with straight yellow hair which hung down on her shoulders, was relating to her neighbour on the other side, in a tone that could be clearly heard in both rooms, how she had “discovered” her voice.
“I come to Schwarz, last fall,” she said shaking back her hair, and making effective use of her babyish mouth; “and he thinks no end of me. But the other week I was sick, and as I lay in bed, I sung some — just for fun. And my landlady — she’s a regular singer herself — who was fixing up the room, she claps her hands together and says: ‘My goodness me! Why YOU have a voice!’ That’s what put it in my head, and I went to Sperling to hear what he’d got to say. He was just tickled to death, I guess he was, and he’s going to make something dandy of it, so I stop long enough. I don’t know what my husband’ll say though. When I wrote him I was sick, he says: ‘Come home and be sick at home’— that’s what he says.”
Miss Jensen could not let pass the opportunity of breaking a lance for her own master, the Swede, and of cutting up Sperling’s method, which she denounced as antiquated. She made quite a little speech, in the course of which she now and then interrupted herself to remind Furst — who, was as soft as a pudding before her — of something he had forgotten to do, such as snuffing the candles or closing the door.
“Just let me hear your scale, will you?” she said patronisingly to Mrs. Lautenschlager. The latter, nothing loath, stuck out her chin, opened her mouth, and, for a short time, all other noises were drowned in a fine, full volume of voice.
On their sofa, Madeleine and Maurlee sat in silence, pretending to listen to Dove, who was narrating his journey. Madeleine was out of humour; she tapped the floor, and had a crease in her forehead. As for Maurice, he was in such poor spirits that she could not but observe it.
“Why are you so quiet? Is anything the matter?”
He shook his head, without speaking. His vague sense of impending misfortune had crystallised into a definite thought; he knew now what it signified. If Schilsky went away from Leipzig, Louise would probably go, too, and that would be the end of everything.
“I represented to him,” he heard Dove saying, “that I had seen the luggage with my own eyes at Flushing. What do you think he answered? He looked me up and down, and said: ‘ICH WERDE TELEGRAPHIEREN UND ERKUNDIGUNGEN EINZIEHEN.’ Now, do you think if you said to an English station-master: ‘Sir, I saw the luggage with my own eyes,’ he would not believe you? No, in my opinion, the whole German railway-system needs revision. Would you believe it, we did not make fifty kilometers in the hour, and yet our engine broke down before Magdeburg?”
So this would be the end; the end of foolish dreams and weak hopes, which he had never put into words even to himself, which had never properly existed, and yet had been there, nevertheless, a mass of gloriously vague perhapses. The end was at hand — an end before there had been any beginning.
“ . . . the annoyance of the perpetual interruptions,” went on the voice on the other side. “A lady who was travelling in the same compartment — a very pleasant person, who was coming over to be a teacher in a school in Dresden — I have promised to show her our lions when she visits Leipzig: well, as I was saying, she was quite alarmed the first time he entered in that way, and it took me some time, I assure you, to make her believe that this was the German method of revising tickets.”
The break occasioned by the arrival of the beer had been of short duration, and the audience was growing impatient; at the back of the room, some one began to stamp his feet; others took it up. Furst perspired with anxiety, and made repeated journeys to the stair-head, to see if Schilsky were not coming. The latter was almost an hour late by now, and jests, bald and witty, were made at his expense. Some one offered to take a bet that he had fallen asleep and forgotten the appointment, and at this, one of the girls on the bed, a handsome creature with bold, prominent eyes, related an anecdote to her neighbours, concerning Schilsky’s powers of sleep. All three exploded with laughter. In a growing desire to be asked to play, Boehmer had for some time hung about the piano, and was now just about to drop, as if by accident, upon the stool, when the cry of: “No Bach!” was raised — Bach was Boehmer’s specialty — and re-echoed, and he retired red and discomfited to his Place in a corner of the room, where his companion, a statuesque little English widow, made biting observations on the company’s behaviour. The general rowdyism was at its height, when some one had the happy idea that Krafft should sing them his newest song. At this, there was a unanimous shriek of approval, and several hands dragged Krafft to the piano. But himself the wildest of them all, he needed no forcing. Flinging himself down on the seat, he preluded wildly in imitation of Rubinstein. His hearers sat with their mouths open, a fixed smile on their faces, laughter ready in their throats, and only Madeleine was coolly contemptuous.
“Tom-fool!” she said in a low voice.
Krafft was confidently expected to burst into one of those songs for which he was renowned. Few of his friends were able to sing them, and no one but himself could both sing and play them simultaneously: they were a monstrous, standing joke. Instead of this, however, he turned, winked at his audience, and began a slow, melancholy ditty, with a recurring refrain. He was not allowed to finish the first verse; a howl of disapproval went up; his hearers hooted, jeered and stamped.
“Damn your ‘WENIG SONNE!’”— this was the refrain.
“Put your head in a bag!”
“Pity he drinks!”
“Give us one of the rousers — the rou . . . sers!”
Krafft himself laughed unbridledly. “DAS ICH SPRICHT!”— he announced. “In C sharp major.”
There was a hush of anticipation, in which Dove, stopping his BRETZEL half-way to his mouth, was heard to say in his tone of measured surprise: “C sharp major! Why, that is ——”
The rest was drowned in the wild chromatic passages that Krafft sent up and down the piano with his right hand, while his left followed with full-bodied chords, each of which exceeded the octave. Before, however, there was time to laugh, this riot ceased, and became a mournful cadence, to the slowly passing harmonies of which, Krafft sang:
I am weary of everything that is, under the sun. I sicken at the long lines of rain, which are black against the sky; They drip, for a restless heart, with the drip of despair: For me, winds must rage, trees bend, and clouds sail stormily.
The whirlwind of the prelude commenced anew; the chords became still vaster; the player swayed from side to side, like a stripling-tree in a storm. Madeleine said, “Tch!” in disgust, but the rest of the company, who had only waited for this, burst into peals of laughter; some bent double in their seats, some leant back with their chins in the air. Even Dove smiled. Just, however, as those whose sense of humour was most highly developed, mopped their faces with gestures of exhaustion, and assured their neighbours that they “could not, really could not laugh any more,” Furst entered and flapped his hands.
“Here he comes!”
A sudden silence fell, broken only by a few hysterical giggles from the ladies, and by a frivolous American, who cried: “Now for ALSO SCHRIE ZENOPHOBIA!” Krafft stopped playing, but remained sitting at the piano, wiping down the keys with his handkerchief.
Schilsky came in, somewhat embarrassed by the lull which had succeeded the hubbub heard in the passage, but wholly unconcerned at the lateness of the hour: except in matters of practical advancement, time did not exist for him. As soon as he appeared, the two ladies in the front row began to clap their hands; the rest of the company followed their example, then, in spite of Furst’s efforts to prevent it, rose and crowded round him. Miss Jensen and her friend made themselves particularly conspicuous. Mrs Lauterischlager had an infatuation for the young man, of which she made no secret; she laid her hand caressingly on his coat-sleeve, and put her face as near his as propriety admitted.
“Disgusting, the way those women go on with him!” said Madeleine. “And what is worse, he likes it.”
Schilsky listened to the babble of compliments with that mixture of boyish deference and unequivocal superiority, which made him so attractive to women. He was too good-natured to interrupt them and free himself, and would have stood as long as they liked, if Furst had not come to the rescue and led him to the piano. Schilsky laid his hand affectionately on Krafft’s shoulder, and Krafft sprang up in exaggerated surprise. The audience took its seats again; the thick manuscript-score was set up on the music-rack, and the three young men at the piano had a brief disagreement with one another about turning the leaves: Krafft was bent on doing it, and Schilsky objected, for Krafft had a way of forgetting what he was at in the middle of a page. Krafft flushed, cast an angry look at his friend, and withdrew, in high dudgeon, to a corner.
Standing beside the piano, so turned to those about him that the two on the sofa in the next room only saw him sideways, and ill at that, Schilsky gave a short description of his work. He was nervous, which aggravated his lisp, and he spoke so rapidly and in such a low voice that no one but those immediately in front of him, could understand what he said. But it did not matter in the least; all present had come only to hear the music; they knew and cared nothing about Zarathustra and his spiritual development; and one and all waited impatiently for Schilsky to stop speaking. The listeners in the bedroom —— merely caught disjointed words — WERDEGANG, NOTSCHREI, TARANTELN— but not one was curious enough even to lean forward in his seat. Madeleine made sarcastic inward comments on the behaviour of the party.
“It’s perfectly clear to you, I suppose,” she could not refrain from observing as, at the finish, Dove sagely wagged his head in agreement.
It transpired that there was an ode to be sung before the last section of the composition, and a debate ensued who, should sing it. The two ladies in the front had quite a little quarrel — without knowing anything about the song — as to which of their voices would best suit it. Schilsky was silent for a moment, tapping his fingers, then said suddenly: “Come on, Heinz,” and looked at Krafft. But the latter, who was standing morose, with folded arms, did not move. He had a dozen reasons why he should not sing; he had a cold, was hoarse, was out of practice, could not read the music from sight.
“Good Heavens, what a fool Heinz is making of himself tonight!” said Madeleine.
But Schilsky thumped his fist on the lid, and said, if Krafft did not sing it, no one should; and that was the end of the matter. Krafft was pulled to the piano.
Schilsky took his seat, and, losing his nervousness as soon as he touched the keys, preluded firmly and easily, with his large, white hands. Now, every one leaned forward to see him better; especially the ladies threw themselves into positions from which they could watch hair and hands, and the slender, swaying figure.
“Isn’t he divine?” said the bold-eyed girl on the bed, in a loud whisper, and hung upon her companion’s neck in an ecstatic attitude.
After the diversity of noises which had hitherto interfered with his thinking connectedly, Maurice welcomed the continuous sound of the music, which went on without a break. He sat in a listening attitude, shading his eyes with his hand. Through his fingers, he surreptitiously watched the player. He had never before had an opportunity of observing Schilsky so closely, and, with a kind of blatant generosity, he now pointed out to himself each physical detail that he found prepossessing in the other, every feature that was likely to attract — in the next breath, only to struggle with his honest opinion that the composer was a slippery, loose-jointed, caddish fellow, who could never be proved to be worthy of Louise. But he was too down-hearted at what he had learnt in the course of the evening, to rise to any active feeling of dislike.
Intermittently he heard, in spite of himself, something of Schilsky’s music; but he was not in a frame of mind to understand or to retain any impression of it. He was more effectively jerked out of his preoccupation by single spoken words, which, from time to time, struck his ear: this was Furst, who, in the absence of a programme, announced from his seat beside Schilsky, the headings of the different sections of the work: WERDEGANG; SEILTANZER— here Maurice saw Dove conducting with head and hand — NOTSCHREI; SCHWERMUT; TARANTELN— and here again, but vaguely, as if at a distance, he heard suppressed laughter. But he was thoroughly roused when Krafft, picking up a sheet of music and coming round to the front of the piano, began to sing DAS TRUNKENE LIED. By way of introduction, the low F in the bass of F minor sounded persistently, at syncopated intervals; Schilsky inclined his head, and Krafft sang, in his sweet, flute-like voice:
Oh, Mensch! Gieb Acht! Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht? “Ich schlief, ich schlief, Aus tiefem Schlaf bin ich erwacht: Die Welt ist tief, Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.”
— the last phrase of which was repeated by the accompaniment, a semitone higher.
Tief ist ihr Weh, Lust — tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
As far as this, the voice had been supported by simple, full-sounding harmonies. Now, from out the depths, still of F minor, rose a hesitating theme, which seemed to grope its way: in imagination, one heard it given out by the bass strings; then the violas reiterated it, and dyed it purple; voice and violins sang it together; the high little flutes carried it up and beyond, out of reach, to a half close.
Weh spricht: vergeh!
Suddenly and unexpectedly, there entered a light yet mournful phrase in F major, which was almost a dance-rhythm, and seemed to be a small, frail pleading for something not rightly understood.
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit, Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit.
The innocent little theme passed away, and the words were sung again to a stern and fateful close in D flat major.
The concluding section of the work returned to these motives, developed them, gathered them together, grouped them and interchanged them, in complicated thermatic counterpoint. Schilsky was barely able to cope with the difficulties of the score; he exerted himself desperately, laboured with his head and his whole body, and surmounted sheerly unplayable parts with the genial slitheriness that is the privilege of composers.
When, at last, he crashed to a close and wiped his face in exhaustion, there was a deafening uproar of applause. Loud cries were uttered and exclamations of enthusiasm; people rose from their seats and crowded round the piano to congratulate the player. Mrs. Lautenschlager could not desist from kissing his hand. A tall, thin Russian girl in spectacles, who had assiduously taken notes throughout, asked in a loud voice, and her peculiar, hoppy German, for information about the orchestration. What use had he made of the cymbals? She trusted a purely Wagnerian one. Schilsky hastened to reopen the score, and sat himself to answer the question earnestly and at length.
“Come, Maurice, let us go,” said Madeleine, rising and shaking the creases from her skirt. “There will be congratulations enough. He won’t miss ours.”
Maurice had had an idea of lingering till everybody else had gone, on the chance of picking up fresh facts. But he was never good at excuses. So they slipped out into the passage, followed by Dove; but while the latter was looking for his hat, Madeleine pulled Maurice down the stairs.
“Quick, let us go!” she whispered; and, as they heard him coming after them, she drew her companion down still further, to the cellar flight, where they remained hidden until Dove had passed them, and his steps had died away in the street.
“We should have had nothing but his impressions and opinions all the way home,” she said, as they emerged. “He was bottled up from having to keep quiet so long — I saw it in his face. And I couldn’t stand it to-night. I’m in a bad temper, as you may have observed — or perhaps you haven’t.”
No, he had not noticed it.
“Well, you would have, if you hadn’t been so taken up with yourself. What on earth is the matter with you?”
He feigned. surprise: and they walked in silence down one street and into the next. Then she spoke again. “Do you know — but you’re sure not to know that either — you gave me a nasty turn to-night?”
“I?” His surprise was genuine this time.
“Yes, you — when I heard you say ‘DU’ to Heinz.”
He looked at her in astonishment; but she was not in a hurry to continue. They walked another street-length, and all she said was: “How refreshing the air is after those stuffy rooms!”
As they turned a corner however, she made a fresh start.
“I think it’s rather hard on me,” she said, and laughed as she spoke. “Here am I again, having to lecture you! The fact is, I suppose, one’s METIER clings to one, in spite of oneself. But there must be something about you, too, Maurice Guest, that makes one want to do it — want to look after you, so to speak — as if you couldn’t be trusted to take care of yourself. Well, it disturbed me to-night, to see how intimate you and Heinz have got.”
“Is that all? Why on earth should that trouble you? And anyhow,” he added, “the whole affair came about without any wish of mine.”
“How?” she demanded; and when he had told her: “And since then?”
He went into detail, coolly, without the resentment he had previously felt towards Krafft.
“And that’s all?”
“Isn’t it enough — for a fellow to go on in that way?”
“And you feel aggrieved?”
“No, not now. At first I was rather sore, though, for Heinz is an interesting fellow, and we were very thick for a time.”
“Yes, of course — until Schilsky comes back. As soon as he appears on the scene, Master Heinz gives you the cold shoulder. Or perhaps you didn’t know that Heinz is the attendant spirit of that heaven-born genius?”
Maurice did not reply, and when she spoke again, it was with renewed seriousness. “Believe me, Maurice, he is no friend for you. It’s not only that you ought to be above letting yourself be treated in this way, but Heinz’s friendship won’t do you any good. He belongs to a bad set here — and Schilsky, too. If you were long with Heinz, you would be bound to get drawn into it, and then it would be good-bye to anything you might have done — to work and success. No, take my advice — it’s sincerely meant — and steer clear of Heinz.”
Maurice smiled to himself at her womanly idea of Krafft leading him to perdition. “But you’re fond of him yourself, Madeleine,” he said. “You can’t help liking him either.”
“I daresay I can’t. But that is quite a different matter — quite;” and as if more than enough had now been said, she abruptly left the subject.
Before going home that night, Maurice made the old round by way of the BRUDERSTRASSE, and stood and looked up at the closed windows behind which Louise lived. The house was dark, and as still as was the deserted street. Only the Venetian blinds seemed to be faintly alive; the outer windows, removed for the summer, had not yet been replaced, and a mild wind flapped the blinds, just as it swayed the tops of the trees in the opposite garden. There was a breath of autumn in the air. He told himself aloud, in the nightly silence, that she was going away — as if by repeating the words, he might ultimately grow used to their meaning. The best that could be hoped for was that she would not go immediately, but would remain in Leipzig for a few weeks longer. Then a new fear beset him. What if she never came back again? — if she had left the place quietly, of set purpose? — if these windows were closed for good and all? A dryness invaded his throat at the possibility, and on the top of this evening of almost apathetic resignation to the inevitable, the knowledge surged up in him that all he asked was to be allowed to see her just once more. Afterwards, let come what might. Once again, he must stand face to face with her — must stamp a picture of her on his brain, to carry with him for ever.
For ever! — And through his feverish sleep ran, like a thread, the words he had heard Krafft sing, of an eternity that was deep and dreamless, a joy without beginning or end.
Madeleine had waved her umbrella at him. He crossed the road to where she was standing in rain-cloak and galoshes. She wished to tell him that the date of her playing in the ABENDUNTERHALTUNG had been definitely fixed. About to go, she said:
“Louise is back — did you know?”
Of course he knew, though he did not tell her so — knew almost the exact hour at which the blinds had been drawn up, the windows opened, and a flower-pot, in a gaudy pink paper, put out on the sill.
Not many days after this, he came upon Louise herself. She was standing talking, at a street-corner, to the shabby little Englishman, Eggis, with whom she had walked the FOYER of the theatre. Maurice was about to bow and pass by, but she smiled and held out her hand.
“You are back, too, then? To-day I am meeting all my friends.”
She had fur about her neck, although the weather was not really cold, and her face rose out of this setting like a flower from its cup.
This meeting, and the few cordial words she had spoken, helped him over the days that followed. Sometimes, while he waited for the blow to fall, his daily life grew very unimportant; things that had hitherto interested him, now went past like shadows; he himself was a mere automaton. But sometimes, too, and especially after he had seen Louise, and touched her living hand, he wondered whether he were not perhaps tormenting himself unnecessarily. Nothing more had come to light; no one had hinted by a word at Schilsky’s departure; it might yet prove to be all a mistake.
Then, however, he received a postcard from Madeleine, saying that she had something interesting to tell him. He went too early, and spent a quarter of an hour pacing her room. When she entered, she threw him a look, and, before she had finished taking off her wraps, said:
“Maurice, I have a piece of news for you. Schilsky is going away.”
He nodded; his throat was dry.
“Why, you don’t mean to say you knew?” she cried, and paused half-way out of her jacket.
Maurice went to the window, and stood with his back to her. In one of the houses opposite, at a window on the same level, a girl was practising the violin; his eyes followed the mechanical movements of the bow.
He cleared his throat. “Do you — Is it likely — I mean, do you think? ——”
Madeleine understood him. “Yes, I do. Louise won’t stay here a day longer than he does; I’m sure of that.”
But otherwise she knew no more than Maurice; and she did not offer to detain him, when, a few minutes later, he alleged a pressing appointment. Madeleine was annoyed, and showed it; she had come in with the intention of being kind to him, of encouraging him, and discussing the matter sympathetically, and it now turned out that not only had he known it all the time, but had also kept it a secret from her. She did not like underhand ways, especially in people whom she believed she knew inside out.
Now that the pledge of secrecy had been removed from him, Maurice felt that he wanted facts; and, without thinking more about it than if he had been there the day before, he climbed the stairs that led to Krafft’s lodging.
He found him at supper; Avery was present, too, and on the table sat Wotan, who was being regaled with strips of skin off the sausage. Krafft greeted Maurice with a touch of his former effusiveness; for he was in a talkative mood, and needed an audience. At his order, Avery put an extra plate on the table, and Maurice had to share their meal. It was not hard for him to lead Krafft round to the desired subject. It seemed that one of the masters in the Conservatorium had expressed a very unequivocal opinion of Schilsky’s talents as a composer, and Krafft was now sarcastic, now merry, at this critic’s expense. Maurice laid down his knife, and, in the first break, asked abruptly: “When does he go?”
“Go? — who?” said Krafft indifferently, tickling Wotan’s nose with a piece of skin which he held out of reach.
“Who? — why, Schilsky, of course.”
It sounded as if another than he had said the words: they were so short and harsh. The plate Avery was holding fell to the floor. Krafft sat back in his chair, and stared at Maurice, with a face that was all eyes.
“You knew he was going away? — or didn’t you?” asked Maurice in a rough voice. “Every one knows. The whole place knows.”
Krafft laughed. “The whole place knows: every one knows,” he repeated. “Every one, yes — every one but me. Every one but me, who had most right to know. Yes, I alone had the right; for no one has loved him as I have.”
He rose from the table, knocking over his chair. “Or else it is not true?”
“Yes, it is true. Then you didn’t know?” said Maurice, bewildered by the outburst he had evoked.
“No, we didn’t know.” It was Avery who spoke. She was on her knees, picking up the pieces of the plate with slow, methodical fingers.
Krafft stood hesitating. Then he went to the piano, opened it, adjusted the seat, and made all preparations for playing. But with his fingers ready on the keys, he changed his mind and, instead, laid his arms on the folded rack and his head on his arms. He did not stir again, and a long silence followed. The only sound that was to be heard came from Wotan, who, sitting on his haunches on a corner of the table, washed the white fur of his belly with an audible swish.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54