Whistling to him to stop, Furst ran the length of a street-block after Maurice, as the latter left the Conservatorium.
“I say, Guest,” he said breathlessly, on catching up with him. “Look here, I just wanted to tell you, you must be sure and join us to-night. We are going to give Schilsky a jolly send-off.”
They stood at the corner of the Wachterstrasse; it was a blowy day. Maurice replied evasively, with his eyes on the unbound volume of Beethoven that Furst was carrying; its tattered edges moved in the wind.
“When does he go?” he asked, without any show of concern.
Furst looked warily round him, and dropped his voice. “Well, look here, Guest, I don’t mind telling you,” he said; he was perspiring from his run, and dried his neck and face. “I don’t mind telling you; you won’t pass it on; for he has his reasons—family or domestic reasons, if one may say so, tra-la-la!”— he winked, and nudged Maurice with his elbow —“for not wanting it to get about. It’s deuced hard on him that it should have leaked out at all. I don’t know how it happened; for I was mum, ‘pon my honour, I was.”
“Yes. And when does he go?” repeated his hearer with the same want of interest.
“To-morrow morning early, by the first train.”
Now to be rid of him! But it was never easy to get away from Furst, and since Maurice had declared his intention of continuing to take lessons from him, as good as impossible. Furst was overpowering in his friendliness, and on this particular occasion, there was no escape for Maurice before he had promised to make one of the party that was to meet that night, at a restaurant in the town. Then he bluffly alleged an errand in the Plagwitzerstrasse, and went off in an opposite direction to that which his companion had to take.
As soon as Furst was out of sight, he turned into the path that led to the woods. Overhead, the sky was a monotonous grey expanse, and a soft, moist wind drove in gusts, before which, on the open meadow-land, he bent his head. It was a wind that seemed heavy with unfallen rain; a melancholy wind, as the day itself was melancholy, in its faded colours, and cloying mildness. With his music under his arm, Maurice walked to the shelter of the trees. Now that he had learnt the worst, a kind of numbness came over him; he had felt so intensely in the course of the past week that, now the crisis was there, he seemed destitute of feeling.
His feet bore him mechanically to his favourite seat, and here he remained, with his head in his hands, his eyes fixed on the trodden gravel of the path. He had to learn, once and for all, that, by tomorrow, everything would be over; for, notwithstanding the wretchedness of the past days, he was as far off as ever from understanding. But he was loath to begin; he sat in a kind of torpor, conscious only of the objects his eyes rested on: some children had built a make-believe house of pebbles, with a path leading up to the doorway, and at this he gazed, estimating the crude architectural ideas that had occurred to the childish builders. He felt the wind in his hair, and listened to the soothing noise it made, high above his head. But gradually overcoming this physical dullness, his mind began to work again. With a sudden vividness, he saw himself as he had walked these very woods, seven months before; he remembered the brilliant colouring of the April day, and the abundance of energy that had possessed him. Then, on looking into the future, all his thoughts had been of strenuous endeavour and success. Now, success was a word like any other, and left him cold.
For a long time, in place of passing on to his real preoccupation, he considered this, brooding over the change that had come about in him. Was it, he asked himself, because he had so little whole-hearted endurance, that when once a thing was within his grasp, that grasp slackened? Was it that he was able to make the effort required for a leap, then, the leap over, could not right himself again? He believed that the slackening interest, the inability to fix his attention, which he had had to fight against of late, must have some such deeper significance; for his whole nature—the inherited common sense of generations — rebelled against tracing it back to the day on which he had seen a certain face for the first time. It was too absurd to be credible that because a slender, dark-eyed girl had suddenly come within his range of vision, his life should thus lose form and purpose—incredible and unnatural as well—and, in his present mood, he would have laughed at the suggestion that this was love. To his mind, love was something frank and beautiful, made for daylight and the sun; whereas his condition was a source of mortification to him. To love, without any possible hope of return; to love, knowing that the person you loved regarded you with less than indifference, and, what was worse, that this person was passionately attached to another man—no, there was something indelicate about it, at which his blood revolted. It was the kind of thing that it suited poets to make tragedies of, but it did not—should not—happen in sober, daily life. And if, as it seemed in this case, it was beyond mortal’s power to prevent it, then the only fitting thing to do was promptly to make an end. And because, over the approach of this end, he suffered, he now called himself hard names. What had he expected? Had he really believed that matters could always dally on, in this pleasant, torturous way? Would he always have been content to be third party, and miserable outsider? No; the best that could happen to him was now happening; let the coming day once be past, let a very few weeks have run their course, and the parting would have lost its sting; he would be able to look back, regretfully no doubt, but as on something done with, irrecoverable. Then he would apply himself to his work with all his heart; and it would be possible to think of her, and remember her, calmly. If once an end were put to these daily chances of seeing her, which perpetually fanned his unrest, all would go well.
And yet . . . did he close his eyes and let her face rise up before him—her sweet, white face, with the unfathomable eyes, and pale, sensuous mouth—he was shaken by an emotion that knocked his resolutions as flat as a breath knocks a house of cards. It was not love, nor anything to do with love, this he could have sworn to: it was merely the strange physical effect her presence, or the remembrance of her presence, had had upon him, from the first day on: a tightening of all centres, a heightening of all faculties, an intense hope, and as intense a despair. And in this moment, he confessed to himself that he would have been over-happy to live on just as he had been doing, if only sometimes he might see her. He needed her, as he had never felt the need of anyone before; his nature clamoured for her, imperiously, as it clamoured for light and air. He had no concern with anyone but her—her only — and he could not let her go. It was not love; it was a bodily weakness, a pitiable infirmity: he even felt it degrading that another person should be able to exercise such an influence over him, that there should be a part of himself over which he had no control. Not to see her, not to be able to gather fresh strength from each chance meeting, meant that the grip life had of him would relax — he grew sick even at the thought of how, in some unknown place, in the midst of strangers, she would go on living, and giving her hand and her smile to other people, while he would never see her again. And he said her name aloud to himself, as if he were in bodily pain, or as if the sound of it might somehow bring him aid: he inwardly implored whatever fate was above him to give him the one small chance he asked—the chance of fair play.
The morning passed, without his knowing it. When, considerably after his usual dinner-hour, he was back in his room, he looked at familiar objects with unseeing eyes. He was not conscious of hunger, but going into the kitchen begged for a cup of the coffee that could be smelt brewing on Frau Krause’s stove. When he had drunk this, a veil seemed to lift from his brain; he opened and read a letter from home, and was pricked by compunction at the thought that, except for a few scales run hastily that morning, he had done no work. But while he still stood, with his arm on the lid of the piano, an exclamation rose to his lips; and taking up his hat, he went down the stairs again, and out into the street. What was he thinking of? If he wished to see Louise once more, his place was under her windows, or in those streets she would be likely to pass through.
He walked up and down before the house in the Bruderstrasse, sometimes including a side street, in order to avoid making himself conspicuous; putting on a hurried air, if anyone looked curiously at him; lingering for a quarter of an hour on end, in the shadow of a neighbouring doorway. Gradually, yet too quickly, the grey afternoon wore to a close. He had paced to and fro for an hour now, but not a trace of her had he seen; nor did even a light burn in her room when darkness fell. A fear lest she should have already gone away, beset him again, and got the upper hand of him; and wild schemes flitted through his mind. He would mount the stairs, and ring the door-bell, on some pretext or other, to learn whether she was still there; and his foot was on the lowest stair, when his courage failed him, and he turned back. But the idea had taken root; he could not bear much longer the uncertainty he was in; and so, towards seven o’clock, when he had hung about for three hours, and there was still no sign of life in her room, he went boldly up the broad, winding stair and rang the bell. When the door was opened, he would find something to say.
The bell, which he had pulled hard, pealed through the house, jangled on, and, in a series of after-tinkles, died away. There was no immediate answering sound; the silence persisted, and having waited for some time, he rang again. Then, in the distance, he heard a door creak; soft, cautious footsteps crept along the passage; a light moved; the glass window in the upper half of the door was opened, and a little old woman peered out, holding a candle above her head. On seeing the pale face close before her, she drew back, and made as if to shut the window; for, as a result of poring over newspapers, she lived in continual expectation of robbery and murder.
“She is not at home,” she said with tremulous bravado, in answer to the young man’s question, and again was about to close the window. But Maurice thrust in his hand, and she could not shut without crushing it.
“Then she is still here? Has she gone out? When will she be back?” he queried.
“How should I know? And look here, young man, if you don’t take away your hand and leave the house at once, I shall call from the window for a policeman.”
He went slowly down the stairs and across the street, and took up anew his position in the dark doorway—a proceeding which did not reassure Fraulein Grunhut, who, regarding his inquiries as a feint, was watching his movements from between the slats of a window-blind. But Maurice had not stood again for more than a quarter of an hour, when a feeling of nausea seized him, and this reminded him that he had practically eaten nothing since the morning. If he meant to hold out, he must snatch a bite of food somewhere; afterwards, he would return and wait, if he had to wait all night.
In front of the Panorama on the Rossplatz, he ran into the arms of Furst, and the latter, when he heard where Maurice was going, had nothing better to do than to accompany him, and drink a Schnitt. Furst, who was in capital spirits at the prospect of the evening, laughed heartily, told witty anecdotes, and slapped his fat thigh, the type of rubicund good-humour; and as he was not of an observant turn of mind, he did not notice his companion’s abstraction. Hardly troubling to dissemble, Maurice paid scant attention to Furst’s talk; he ate avidly, and as soon as he had finished, pushed back his chair and called to the waiter for his bill.
“I must go,” he said, and rose. “I have something important to do this evening, and can’t join you.”
Furst, cut short in the middle of a sentence, let his double chin fall on his collar, and gazed open-mouthed at his companion.
“But I say, Guest, look here! . . . ” Maurice heard him expostulate as the outer door slammed behind him.
He made haste to retrace his steps. The wind had dropped; a fine rain was beginning to fall; it promised to be a wet night, of empty streets and glistening pavements. There was no visible change in the windows of the Bruderstrasse; they were as blankly dark as before. Turning up his coat-collar, Maurice resumed his patrollings, but more languidly; he was drowsy from having eaten, and the air was chill. A weakness overcame him at the thought of the night-watch he had set himself; it seemed impossible to endure the crawling past of still more hours. He was tired to exhaustion, and a sudden, strong desire arose in him, somehow, anyhow, to be taken out of himself, to have his thoughts diverted into other channels. And this feeling grew upon him with such force, the idea of remaining where he was, for another hour, became so intolerable, that he forgot everything else, and turned and ran back towards the Panorama, only afraid lest Furst should have gone without him.
The latter was, in fact, just coming out of the door. He stared in astonishment at Maurice.
“I’ve changed my mind,” said Maurice, without apology. “Shall we go? Where’s the place?”
Furst mumbled something inaudible; he was grumpy at the other’s behaviour. Scanning him furtively, and noting his odd, excited manner, he concluded that Maurice had been drinking.
They walked without speaking; Furst hummed to himself. In the thick-sown, business thoroughfare, the Bruhl, they entered a dingy cafe and while Furst chattered with the landlord and Buffetdame, with both of whom he was on very friendly terms, Maurice went into the side-room, where the Kneipe was to be held, and sat down before a long, narrow table, spread with a soiled red and blue-checked tablecloth. He felt cold and sick again, and when the wan Piccolo set a beer-mat before him, he sent the lad to the devil for a cognac. The waiter came with the liqueur-bottle; Maurice drank the contents of one and then another of the tiny glasses. A genial warmth ran through him and his nausea ceased. He leaned his head on his hands, closed his eyes, and, soothed by the heat of the room, had a few moments’ pleasant lapse of consciousness.
He was roused by the entrance of a noisy party of three. These were strangers to him, and when they had mentioned their names and learned his, they sat down at the other end of the table and talked among themselves. They were followed by a couple of men known to Maurice by sight. One, an Italian, a stout, animated man, with prominent jet-black eyes and huge white teeth, was a fellow-pupil of Schilsky’s, and a violinist of repute, notwithstanding the size and fleshiness of his hands, which were out of all proportion to the delicate build of his instrument. The other was a slender youth of fantastic appearance. He wore a long, old-fashioned overcoat, which reached to his heels, and was moulded to a shapely waist; on his fingers were numerous rings; his bushy hair was scented and thickly curled, his face painted and pencilled like a woman’s. He did not sit down, but, returning to the public room, leaned over the counter and talked to the Buffetdame, in a tone which had nothing in common with Furst’s hearty familiarity.
Next came a couple of Americans, loud, self-assertive, careless of dress and convention; close behind them still another group, and at its heels, Dove. The latter entered the room with an apologetic air, and on sitting down at the head of the table, next Maurice, mentioned at once that, at heart, he was not partial to this kind of thing, and was only there because he believed the present to be an exceptional occasion: who knew but what, in after years, he might not be proud to claim having, made one of the party on this particular evening?—the plain truth being that Schilsky was little popular with his own sex, and, in consequence of the difficulty of beating up a round dozen of men, Furst had been forced to be very pressing in his invitations, to have recourse to bribes and promises, or, as in the case of Dove, to stimulating the imagination. The majority of the guests present were not particular who paid for their drink, provided they got it.
At Krafft’s entry, a stifled laugh went round. To judge from his appearance, he had not been in bed the previous night: sleep seemed to hang on his red and sunken eyelids; his hands and face were dirty, and when he took off his coat, which he had worn turned up at the neck, it was seen that he had either lost or forgotten his collar. Shirt and waistcoat were insufficiently buttoned. His walk was steady, but his eyes had a glassy stare, and did not seem to see what they rested on. A strong odour of brandy went out from him; but he had not been many minutes in the room before a stronger and more penetrating smell made itself felt. The rest of the company began to sniff and ejaculate, and Furst, having tracked it to the corner where the overcoats hung, drew out of one of Krafft’s pockets a greasy newspaper parcel, evidently some days old, containing bones, scraps of decaying meat, and rancid fish. The Piccolo, summoned by a general shout, was bade to dispose of the garbage instantly, and to hang the coat in a draughty place to air. Various epithets were hurled at Krafft, who, however, sat picking his teeth with unconcern, as if what went on around him had nothing to do with him.
They were now all collected but Schilsky, and much beer had been drunk. Furst was in his usual state of agitation lest his friend should forget to keep the appointment; and the spirits of those—there were several such present — who suffered almost physical pain from seeing another than themselves the centre of interest, went up by leaps and bounds. But at this juncture, Schilsky’s voice was heard in the next room. It was raised and angry; it snarled at a waiter. Significant glances flew round the table: for the young man’s outbursts of temper were well known to all. He entered, making no response to the greetings that were offered him, displaying his anger with genial indifference to what others thought of him. To the Piccolo he tossed coat and hat, and swore at the boy for not catching them. Then he let his loose-limbed body down on the vacant chair, and drank off the glass of Pilsener that was set before him.
There was a pause of embarrassment. The next moment, however, several men spoke at once: Furst continued a story he was telling, some one else capped it, and the mirth these anecdotes provoked was more than ordinarily uproarious. Schilsky sat silent, letting his sullen mouth hang, and tapping the table with his fingers. Meanwhile, he emptied one glass of beer after another. The Piccolo could hardly cope with the demands that were made on him, and staggered about, top-heavy, with his load of glasses.
But it was impossible to let the evening pass as flatly as this; besides, as the general hilarity increased, it made those present less sensitive to the mood of the guest of honour. Furst was a born speaker, and his heart was full. So, presently, he rose to his feet, struck his glass, and, in spite of Schilsky’s deepening scowl, held a flowery speech about his departing friend. The only answer Schilsky gave was a muttered request to cease making an idiot of himself.
This was going rather too far; but no one protested, except Ford, the pianist, who said in English: “Speesch? Call that a speesch?”
Furst, inclined in the first moment of rebuff to be touchy, allowed his natural goodness of heart to prevail. He leaned forward, and said, not without pathos: “Old man, we are all your friends here. Something’s the matter. Tell us what it is.”
Before Schilsky could reply, Krafft awakened from his apparent stupor to say with extreme distinctness: “I’ll tell you. There’s been the devil to pay.”
“Now, chuck it, Krafft!” cried one or two, not without alarm at the turn things might take.
But Schilsky, whose anger had begun to subside under the influence of the two litres he had drunk, said slowly and thickly: “Let him be. What he says is the truth—gospel truth.”
“Oh, say, that’s to’ bad!” cried one of the Americans — a lean man, with the mouth and chin of a Methodist.
All kept silence now, in the hope that Schilsky would continue. As he did not, but sat brooding, Furst, in his role of peacemaker, clapped him on the back. “Well, forget it for to-night, old man! What does it matter? To-morrow you’ll be miles away.”
This struck a reminiscence in Ford, who forthwith tried to sing:
I’m off by the morning train, Across the raging main ——
“That’s easily said!” Schilsky threw a dark look round the table. “By those who haven’t been through it. I have. And I’d rather have lost a hand.”
Krafft laughed—that is to say, a cackle of laughter issued from his mouth, while his glazed eyes stared idiotically. “He shall tell us about it. Waiter, a round of Schnaps!”
“Shut up, Krafft!” said Furst uneasily.
“Damn you, Heinz!” cried Schilsky, striking the table. He swallowed his brandy at a gulp, and held out the glass to be refilled. His anger fell still more; he began to commiserate himself. “By Hell, I wish a plague would sweep every woman off the earth!”
“The deuce, why don’t you keep clear of them?”
Schilsky laughed, without raising his heavy eyes. “If they’d only give one the chance. Damn them all!—old and young —— I say. If it weren’t for them, a man could lead a quiet life.”
“It’ll all come out in the wash,” consoled the American.
Maurice heard everything that passed, distinctly; but the words seemed to be bandied at an immeasurable distance from him. He remained quite undisturbed, and would have felt like a god looking on at the doings of an infinitesimal world, had it not been for a wheel which revolved in his head, and hindered him from thinking connectedly. So far, drinking had brought him no pleasure; and he had sense enough to find the proximity of Ford disagreeable; for the latter spilt half the liquor he tried to swallow over himself, and half over his neighbour.
A fresh imprecation of Schilsky’s called forth more laughter. On its subsidence, Krafft awoke to his surroundings again. “What has the old woman given you?” he asked, with his strange precision of speech and his drunken eyes.
Schilsky struck the table with his fist. “Look at him! — shamming drunk, the bitch!” he cried.
“Never mind him; he don’t count. How much did she give you?”
“Oh, gee, go on!”
But Schilsky, turned sullen again, refused to answer.
“Out with it then, Krafft!—you know, you scoundrel, you!”
Krafft put his hand to the side of his mouth. “She gave him three thousand marks.”
On all sides the exclamations flew.
“Golly for her!”
“Drei tausend mark!—Alle ehre!”
Again Krafft leaned forward with a maudlin laugh.
“Jawohl— but on what condition?”
“Heinz, you ferret out things like a pig’s snout,” said Furst with an exaggerated, tipsy disgust.
“What, the old louse made conditions, did she?”
“Is she jealous?”
There was another roar at this. Schilsky looked as black as thunder.
Again Furst strove to intercede. “Jealous?—in seven devils’ name, why jealous? The old scarecrow! She hasn’t an ounce of flesh to her bones.”
Schilsky laughed. “Much you know about it, you fool! Flesh or no flesh, she’s as troublesome as the plumpest. I wouldn’t go through the last month again for all you could offer me. Month?—no, nor the last six months either! It’s been a hell of a life. Three of ’em, whole damned three, at my heels, and each ready to tear the others’ eyes out.”
“Three? Bah!—what’s three?” sneered the painted youth.
Schilsky turned on him. “What’s three? Go and try it, if you want to know, you pap-sodden suckling! Three, I said, and they’ve ended by making the place too hot to hold me. But I’m done now. No more for me!—if my name’s what it is.”
Having once broken through his reserve, he talked on, with heated fluency; and the longer he spoke, the more he was carried away by his grievances. For, all he had asked for, he assured his hearers, had been peace and quiet—the peace necessary to important work. “Jesus and Mary! Are a fellow’s chief obligations not his obligations to himself?” At the same time, it was not his intention to put any of the blame on Lulu’s shoulders: she couldn’t help herself. “Lulu is Lulu. I’m damned fond of Lulu, boys, and I’ve always done my best by her—is there anyone here who wants to say I haven’t?”
There was none; a chorus of sympathetic ayes went up from the party that was drinking at his expense.
Mollified, he proceeded, asserting vehemently that he would have gone miles out of his. way to avoid causing Lulu pain. “I’m a soft-hearted fool—I admit it!—where a woman is concerned.” But he had yielded to her often enough — too often—as it was; the time had come for him to make a stand. Let those present remember what he had sacrificed only that summer for Lulu’s sake. Would anyone else have done as much for his girl? He made bold to doubt it. For a man like Zeppelin to come to him, and to declare, with tears in his eyes, that he could teach him no more—could he afford to treat a matter like that with indifference? Had he really been free to make a choice?
Again he looked round the table with emphasis, and those who had their muscles sufficiently under control, hastened to lay their faces in seemly folds.
Then, however, Schilsky’s mood changed; he struck the table so that the glasses danced. “And shall I tell you what my reward has been for not going? Do you want to know how Lulu has treated me for staying on here? ‘You are a quarter of an hour late: where have you been? You’ve only written two bars since I saw you this morning: what have you been doing? A letter has come in a strange writing: who is it from? You’ve put on another tie: who have you been to see?’ Himmelsakrament!” He drained his glass. “I’ve had the life of a dog, I tell you—of a dog! There’s not been a moment in the day when she hasn’t spied on me, and followed me, and made me ridiculous. Over every trifle she has got up a fresh scene. She’s even gone so far as to come to my room and search my pockets, when she knew I wasn’t at home.”
“Yes, yes,” sneered Krafft. “Exactly! And so, gentlemen he was now for slinking off without a word to her.”
“Oh, Pfui!” spat the American.
“Call him a liar!” said a voice.
“Liar?” repeated Schilsky dramatically. “Why liar? I don’t deny it. I would have done it gladly if I could — isn’t that just what I’ve been saying? Lulu would have got over it all the quicker alone. And then, why shouldn’t I confess it? You’re all my friends here.” He dropped his voice. “I’m afraid of Lulu, boys. I was afraid she’d get round me, and then my chance was gone. She might have shot me, but she wouldn’t have let me go. You never know how a woman of that type’ll break out—never!”
“But she didn’t!” said Krafft. “You live.”
Schilsky understood him.
“Some brute,” he cried savagely, “some dirty brute had nothing better to do than to tell her.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the painted boy.
Furst blew his nose. “It wasn’t me. I was mum. ‘Pon my honour, I was.”
“My God!” said Schilsky, and fell to remembering it. “What a time I’ve been through with her this afternoon!” He threatened to be overcome by the recollection, and supported his head on his hands. “A woman has no gratitude,” he murmured, and drew his handkerchief from his pocket. “It is a weak, childish sex—with no inkling of higher things.” Here, however, he suddenly drew himself up. “Life is very hard!” he cried, in a loud voice. “The perpetual struggle between duty and inclination for a man of genius . . .!”
He grew franker, and gave gratuitous details of the scene that had taken place in his room that afternoon. Most of those present were in ecstasies at this divulging of his private life, which went forward to the accompaniment of snores from Ford, and the voice of Dove, who, with portentous gravity, sang over and over again, the first strophe of The last rose of summer.
“A fury!” said Schilsky. “A . . . a what do you call it?—a . . . Meg . . . a Meg —” He gave it up and went on: “By God, but Lulu knows how! Keep clear of her nails, boys—I’d advise you!” At this point, he pulled back his collar, and exhibited a long, dark scratch on the side of his neck. “A little remembrance she gave me to take away with me!” While he displayed it, he seemed to be rather proud of it; but immediately afterwards, his mood veered round again to one of bitter resentment. To illustrate the injustice she had been guilty of, and his own long-suffering, he related, at length, the story of his flirtation with Ephie, and the infinite pains he had been at to keep Louise in ignorance of what was happening. He grew very tender with himself as he told it. For, according to him, the whole affair had come about without any assistance of his. “What the deuce was I to do? Chucked herself full at my head, did the little one. No invitation necessary—a ripe plum, boys! Touch the plum — and off it tumbles! As pretty a little thing, too, as ever was made! Had everything arranged by the second meeting. Papa to set us up; house in New York; money In hulle und fulle!”
At the mention of New York, the lean American looked grave. “Look here, you, don’t think you’re the whole shoot because you’ve got a wave in your hair!” he murmured in English.
But Schilsky did not hear him; his voice droned on, giving the full particulars of this particular case. He grew momentarily opener.
“One no sooner out of the door than the other was in,” he asserted, and laughed long to himself.
For some time past, Maurice had been possessed by the idea that what was happening concerned him very nearly, and that he ought to interfere and put his foot down. His hands had grown cold, and he sat vainly trying to speak: nothing, however, came, but little drunken gulps and hiccups. But the first mention of Ephie’s name seemed to put new strength into him; he made a violent effort, and rose to his feet, holding on to the table with both hands. He could not, however, manage to attract attention; no one took any notice of him; and besides this, he had himself no notion what it was that he really wanted to say.
“And drowns his sorrows in the convivial glass!” he suddenly shouted in English, at the top of his voice, which he had found. He had a vague belief that he was quoting a well-known line of poetry, and, though he did not in the least understand how it applied to the situation, he continued to repeat it, with varying shades of fervour, till some one called out: “Oh, stop your blasted rot!”
He laughed hoarsely at this, could not check himself, and was so exhausted when he had finished that it took him some time to remember why he was on his feet. Schilsky was still relating: his face was darkly red, his voice husky, and he flapped his arms with meaningless gestures. A passionate rebellion, a kind of primitive hatred, gripped Maurice, and when Schilsky paused for breath, he could contain himself no longer. He felt the burning need of contradicting the speaker, even though he could not catch the drift of what was said.
“It’s a lie!” he cried fiercely, with such emphasis that every face was turned to him. “A damned lie!”
“A lie? What the devil do you mean?” responded not one but many voices—the whole table seemed to be asking him, with the exception of Dove, who sang on in an ever decreasing tempo.
“Get out!—Let him alone; he’s drunk. He doesn’t know what he’s saying—He’s got rats in his head!” he heard voices asserting. Forthwith he began a lengthy defence of himself, broken only by gaps in which his brain refused to work. Conscious that no one was listening to him, he bawled more and more loudly.
“Oh, quit it, you double-barrelled ass!” said the American.
Schilsky, persuaded by those next him to let the incident pass unnoticed, contented himself with a: “Verfluchte Schweinerei!” spat, after Furst’s gurgled account of Maurice’s previous insobriety, across the floor behind him, to express his contempt, and proceeded as dominatingly as before with the narration of his love-affairs.
The blood rushed to Maurice’s head at the sound of this voice which he could neither curb nor understand. Rage mastered him—a vehement desire to be quits. He kicked back his chair, and rocked to and fro.
“It’s a lie—a dirty lie!” he cried. “You make her unhappy—God, how unhappy you make her! You illtreat her. You’ve never given her a day’s happiness. S . . . said so . . . herself. I heard her . . . I swear . . . I——”
His voice turned to a whine; his words came thick and incoherent.
Schilsky sprang to his feet and aimed the contents of a half-emptied glass at Maurice’s face. “Take that, you blasted spy!—you Englishman!” he spluttered. “I’ll teach you to mix your dirty self in my affairs!”
Every one jumped up; there was noise and confusion; simultaneously two waiters entered the room, as if they had not been unprepared for something of this kind. Furst and another man restrained Schilsky by the arms, reasoning with him with more force than coherence. Maurice, the beer dripping from chin, collar and shirt-front, struggled furiously with some one who held him back.
“Let me get at him—let me get at him!” he cried. “I’ll teach him to treat a woman as he does. The sneak—the cur — the filthy cad! He’s not fit to touch her hand—her beautiful hand—her beau . . . ti . . . ful ——” Here, overpowered by his feelings, as much as by superior strength, he sank on a chair and wept.
“I’ll break his bones!” raved Schilsky. “What the hell does he mean by it?—the Infame schuft, the Aas, the dirty Englander! Thinks he’ll sneak after her himself, does he?—What in Jesus’ name is it to him how I treat her? I’ll take a stick to her if I like—it’s none of his blasted business! Look here, do you see that?” He freed one hand, fumbled in his pocket, and, almost inarticulate with rage and liquor, brandished a key across the table. “Do you see that? That’s a key, isn’t it, you drunken hog? Well, with that key, I can let myself into Lulu’s room at any hour I want to; I can go there now, this very minute, if I like—do you think she’ll turn me out, you infernal spy? Turn me out?—she’d go down on her knees here before you all to get me back to her!”
Unwilling to be involved in the brawl, the more sober of the party had begun to seek out their hats and to slink away. A little group round Schilsky blarneyed and expostulated. Why should the whole sport of the evening be spoilt in this fashion? What did it matter what the damned cranky Englishman said? Let him be left to his swilling. They would clear out, and wind up the night at the Bauer; and at four, when that shut, they would go on to the Bayrische bahnhof, where they could not only get coffee, but could also see Schilsky off by a train soon after five. These persuasions prevailed, and, still swearing, and threatening, and promising, by all that was holy, to bring Lulu there, by the hair of her head if necessary, to show whether or no he had the power over her he boasted of, Schilsky finally allowed himself to be dragged off, and those who were left lurched out in his wake.
With their exit an abrupt silence fell, and Maurice sank into a heavy sleep, in which he saw flowery meadows and heard a gently trickling brook . . . .
“Now then, up with you!—get along!” some one was shouting in his ear, and, bit by bit, a pasty-faced waiter entered his field of view. “It’s past time, anyhow,” and yawning loudly, the waiter turned out all the gas-jets but one. “Don’t yer hear? Up with you! You’ll have to look after the other—now, damn me, if there isn’t another of you as well!” and, from under the table, he drew out a recumbent body.
Maurice then saw that he was still in the company of Dove, who sat staring into space—like a dead man. Krafft, propped on a chair, hung his head far back, and the collarless shirt exposed the whole of his white throat.
The waiter hustled them about. Maurice was comparatively steady on his legs; and it was found that Dove could walk. But over Krafft, the man scratched his head and called a comrade. At the mention of a droschke, however, Maurice all but wept anew with ire and emotion: this was his dearest friend, the friend of his bosom; he was ready at any time to stake his life for him, and now he was not to be allowed even to see him home.
A difficulty arose about Maurice’s hat: he was convinced that the one the waiter jammed so rudely on his head did not belong to him; and it seemed as if nothing in the world had ever mattered so much to him as now getting back his own hat. But he had not sufficient fluency to explain all he meant; before he had finished, the man lost patience; and suddenly, without any transition, the three of them were in the street. The raw night air gave them a shock; they gasped and choked a little. Then the wall of a house rose appositely and met them. They leaned against it, and Maurice threw the hat from him and trampled on it, chuckling at the idea that he was revenging himself on the waiter.
It was a journey of difficulties; not only was he unclear what locality they were in, but innumerable lifeless things confronted them and formed obstacles to their progress; they had to charge an advertisement-column two or three times before they could get round it. Maurice grew excessively angry, especially with Dove. For while Heinz let himself be lugged this way and that, Dove, grown loud and wilful, had ideas of his own, and, in addition to this, sang the whole time with drunken gravity:
Sez the ragman, to the bagman, I’ll do yees no harm.
“Stop it, you oaf!” cried Maurice, goaded to desperation. “You beastly, blathering, drunken idiot!”
Then, for a street-length, he himself lapsed into semi-consciousness, and when he wakened, Dove was gone. He chuckled anew at the thought that somehow or other they had managed to outwit him.
His intention had been to make for home, but the door before which they ultimately found themselves was Krafft’s. Maurice propped his companion against the wall, and searched his own pockets for a key. When he had found one, he could not find the door, and when this was secured, the key would not fit. The perspiration stood out on his forehead; he tried again and again, thought the keyhole was dodging him, and asserted the fact so violently that a window in the first storey was opened and a head thrust out.
“What in the name of Heaven are you doing down there?” it cried. “You drunken Schwein, can’t you see the door’s open?”
In the sitting-room, both fell heavily over a chair; after that, with infinite labour, he got Heinz on the sofa. He did not attempt to make a light; enough came in from a street-lamp for him to see what he was doing.
Lying on his face, Krafft groaned a little, and Maurice suddenly grasped that he was taken ill. Heinz was ill, Heinz, his best friend, and he was doing nothing to help him! Shedding tears, he poured out a glass of water. He believed he was putting the carafe safely back on the table, but it dropped with a crash to the floor. He was afraid Frau Schulz would come in, and said in a loud voice: “It’s that fellow there, he’s dead drunk, beastly drunk!” Krafft would not drink the water, and in the attempt to force him, it was spilled over him. He stirred uneasily, put up his arms and dragged Maurice down, so that the latter fell on his knees beside the sofa. He made a few ineffectual efforts to free himself; but one arm held him like a vice; and in this uncomfortable position, he went to sleep.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12