It was April, and a day such as April will sometimes bring: one of those days when the air is full of a new, mysterious fragrance, when the sunshine lies like a flood upon the earth, and high clouds hang motionless in the far-distant blue—a day at the very heels of which it would seem that summer was lurking. Maurice Guest stood at his window, both sides of which were flung open, drinking in the warm air, and gazing absently up at the stretch of sky, against which the dark roof-lines of the houses opposite stood out abruptly. His hands were in his pockets, and, to a light beat of the foot, he hummed softly to himself, but what, he could not have told: whether some fragment of melody that had lingered in a niche of his brain and now came to his lips, or whether a mere audible expression of his mood. The strong, unreal sun of the afternoon was just beginning to reach the house; it slanted in, golden, by the side of the window, and threw on the wall above the piano, a single long bar of light.
He leaned over and looked down into the street far below — still no one there! But it was only half-past four. He stretched himself long and luxuriously, as if, by doing so, he would get rid of a restlessness which arose from repressed physical energy, and also from an impatience to be more keenly conscious of life, to feel it, as it were, quicken in him, not un-akin to that passionate impulse towards perfection, which, out-of-doors, was urging on the sap and loosening firm green buds: he had a day’s imprisonment behind him, and all spring’s magic was at work to ferment his blood. How small and close the room was! He leaned out on the sill, as far out as he could, in the sun. It was shining full down the street now, gilding the canal-like river at the foot, and throwing over the tall, dingy houses on the opposite side, a tawdry brightness, which, unlike that of the morning with its suggestion of dewy shade, only served to bring out the shabbiness of broken plaster and paintless window; a shamefaced yet aggressive shabbiness, where high-arched doorways and wide entries spoke to better days, and also to a subsequent decay, now openly admitted in the little placards which dotted them here and there, bearing the bold-typed words Garcon Logis, and dangling bravely yellow from the windows of the cheap lodgings they proclaimed vacant. It was very still; the hoarse voice of a fruit-seller crying his wares in the adjoining streets, was to be heard at intervals, but each time less distinctly, and from the distance came the faint tones of a single piano. How different it was in the morning! Then, if, pausing a moment from his work, he opened the window and leaned out for a brief refreshment, what a delightful confusion of sounds met his ear! Pianos rolled noisily up and down, ploughing one through the other, beating one against the other, key to key, rhythm to rhythm, each in a clamorous despair at being unable to raise its voice above the rest, at having to form part of this jumble of discord: some so near at hand or so directly opposite that, none the less, it was occasionally possible to follow them through the persistent reiterations of a fugue, or through some brilliant glancing etude, the notes of which flew off like sparks; others, further away, of which were audible only the convulsive treble outbursts and the toneless rumblings of the bass, now and then cut shrilly through by the piercing sharpness of a violin, now and then, at quieter moments, borne up and accompanied by the deep, guttural tones of a neighbouring violoncello. This was always discovered at work upon scales, uncertain, hesitating scales on the lower strings, and, heard suddenly, after the other instruments’ genial hubbub, it sounded like some inarticulate animal making uncouth attempts at expression. At rare intervals there came a lull, and then, before all burst forth again together, or fell in, one by one, a single piano or the violin would, like a solo voice in a symphony, bear the whole burden; or if the wind were in the west, it would sometimes carry over with it, from the woods on the left, the mournful notes of a French horn, which some unskilful player had gone out to practise.
This was that new world of which he was now a part — into which he had been so auspiciously received.
Yes, the beginning and the thousand petty disquiets that go with beginnings, were behind him; he had made a start, and he believed a good one—thanks to Dove. He was really grateful to Dove. A chance acquaintance, formed on one of those early days when he loitered, timid and unsure, about the Bureau of the Conservatorium, Dove had taken him up with what struck even the grateful new-comer as extraordinary good-nature, going deliberately out of his way to be of service to him, meeting him at every turn with assistance and advice. It was Dove who had helped him over the embarrassments of the examination; it was through Dove’s influence that he had obtained a private interview with Schwarz, and, in Dove’s opinion, Schwarz was the only master in Leipzig under whom it was worth while to study; the only one who could be relied on to give the exhaustive technique that was indispensable, without, in the process, destroying what was of infinitely more account, the individuality, the temperament of the student. This and more, Dove set forth at some length in their conversations; then, warming to his work, he would go further: would go on to speak of phrasings and interpretations; of an artistic use of the pedals, and the legitimate participation of the emotions; of the confines of absolute music as touched in the Ninth Symphony: would refer incidentally to Schopenhauer and make Wagner his authority, using terms that were new to his hearer, and, now and then, by way of emphasis, bringing his palm down flat and noiselessly upon the table.—It had not taken them long to become friends; fellow-countrymen, of the same age, with similar aims and interests, they had soon slipped into one of the easy-going friendships of youth.
A quarter to five! As the strokes from the neighbouring church—clock died away, the melody of Siegfried’s horn was whistled up from the street, and looking over, Maurice saw his friend. He seized his music and went hastily down the four flights of stairs.
They crossed the river and came to newer streets. It was delightful out-of-doors. A light breeze met them as they turned, and a few ragged, fleecy clouds that it was driving up, only made the sky seem bluer, The two young men walked leisurely, laughing and talking rather loudly. Maurice Guest had already, in dress and bearing, taken on a touch of musicianly disorder, but Dove’s lengthier residence had left no trace upon him; he might have stepped that day from the streets of the provincial English town to which he belonged. His well brushed clothes sat with an easy inelegance, his tie was small, his linen clean, and the only concession he made to his surroundings, the broad-brimmed, soft felt hat, looked oddly out of place on his close-cut hair. He carried himself erectly, swinging a little on his hips.
As they went, he passed in review the important items of the day: so-and-so had strained a muscle, so-and-so had spoilt a second piano. But his particular interest centred upon that evening’s Abendunterhaltung. A man named Schilsky, whom it was no exaggeration to call their finest, very finest violinist was to play Vieuxtemps’ Concerto in D. Dove all but smacked his lips as he spoke of it. In reply to a query from Maurice, he declared with vehemence that this Schilsky was a genius. Although so great a violinist, he could play almost every other instrument with case; his memory had become a by-word; his compositions were already famous. At the present moment, he was said to be at work upon a symphonic poem, having for its base a new and extraordinary book, half poetry, half philosophy, a book which he, Dove, could confidently assert, would effect a revolution in human thought, but of which, just at the minute, he was unable to remember the name. Infected by his friend’s enthusiasm, Maurice here recalled having, only the day before, met some one who answered to Dove’s description: the genial Pole had been storming up the steps of the Conservatorium, two at a time, with wild, affrighted eyes, and a halo of dishevelled auburn hair.—Dove made no doubt that he had been seized with a sudden inspiration.
Gewandhaus and Conservatorium lay close together, in a new quarter of the town. The Conservatorium, a handsome, stone-faced building, three lofty storeys high, was just now all the more imposing in appearance as it stood alone in an unfinished street-block, and as, opposite, hoardings still shut in all that had yet been raised of the great library, which would eventually overshadow it. The severe plainness of its long front, with the unbroken lines of windows, did not fail to impress the unused beholder, who had not for very long gone daily out and in; it suggested to him the earnest, unswerving efforts, imperative on his pursuit of the ideal; an ideal which, to many, was as it were personified by the concert-house in the adjoining square: it was hither, towards this clear-limned goal, that bore him, like a magic carpet, the young enthusiast’s most ambitious dream.—But in the life that swarmed about the Conservatorium, there was nothing of a tedious austerity. It was one of the briskest times of day, and the short street and the steps of the building were alive with young people of both sexes. Young men sauntered to and from the cafe at the corner, or stood gesticulating in animated groups. All alike were conspicuous for a rather wilful slovenliness, for smooth faces and bushy hair, while the numerous girls, with whom they paused to laugh and trifle, were, for the most part, showy in dress and loudly vivacious in manner. On the kerbstone, a knot of the latter, tittering among themselves, shot furtive glances at Dove and Maurice as they passed. Here, a pretty, laughing face was the centre of a little circle; there, a bevy of girls clustered about a young man, who, his hands in his pockets, leaned carelessly against the door-arch; and again, another, plump and much befeathered, with a string of large pearl beads round her fat, white neck, had isolated herself from the rest, to take up, on the steps, a more favourable stand. A master who went by, a small, jovial man in a big hat, had a word for all the girls, even a chuck of the chin for one unusually saucy face. Inside, classes were filing out of the various rooms, other classes were going in; there was a noisy flocking up and down the broad, central staircase, crowding about the notice-board, a going and coming in the long, stone corridors. The concert-hall was being lighted.
Maurice slowly made his way through the midst of all these people, while Dove loitered, or stepped out of hearing, with one friend after another. In a side corridor, off which, cell like, opened a line of rooms, they pushed a pair of double doors, and went in to take their lesson.
The room they entered was light and high, and contained, besides a couple of grand pianos, a small table and a row of wooden chairs. Schwarz stood with his back to the window, biting his nails. He was a short, thickset man, with keen eyes, and a hard, prominent mouth, which was rather emphasised than concealed, by the fair, scanty tuft of hair that hung from his chin. Upon the two new-comers, he bent a cold, deliberate gaze, which, for some instants, he allowed to rest chillingly on them, then as deliberately withdrew, having—so at least it seemed to those who were its object—having, without the tremor of an eyelid, scanned them like an open page: it was the look, impenetrable, all-seeing, of the physician for his patient. At the piano, a young man was playing the Waldstein Sonata. So intent was he on what he was doing, that his head all but touched the music standing open before him, while his body, bent thus double, swayed vigorously from side to side. His face was crimson, and on his forehead stood out beads of perspiration. He had no cuffs on, and his sleeves were a little turned back. The movement at an end, he paused, and drawing a soiled handkerchief from his pocket, passed it rapidly over neck and brow. In the adagio which followed, he displayed an extreme delicacy of touch—not, however, but what this also cost him some exertion, for, previous to the striking of each faint, soft note, his hand described a curve in the air, the finger he was about to use, lowered, the others slightly raised, and there was always a second of something like suspense, before it finally sank upon the expectant note. But suddenly, without warning, just as the last, lingering tones were dying to the close they sought, the adagio slipped over into the limpid gaiety of the rondo, and then, there was no time more for premeditation: then his hands twinkled up and down, joining, crossing, flying asunder, alert with little sprightly quirks and turns, going ever more nimbly, until the brook was a river, the allegretto a prestissimo, which flew wildly to its end amid a shower of dazzling trills.
Schwarz stood grave and apparently impassive; from time to time, however, when unobserved, he swept the three listeners with a rapid glance. Maurice Guest was quite carried away; he had never heard playing like this, and he leaned forward in his seat, and gazed full at the player, in open admiration. But his neighbour, a pale, thin man, with one of those engaging and not uncommon faces which, in mould of feature, in mildness of expression, and still more in the cut of hair and beard, bear so marked a likeness to the conventional Christ-portrait: this neighbour looked on with only a languid interest, which seemed unable to get the upper hand of melancholy thoughts. Maurice, who believed his feelings shared by all about him, was chilled by such indifference: he only learned later, after they had become friends, that nothing roused in Boehmer a real or lasting interest, save what he, Boehmer, did himself. Dove sat absorbed, as reverent as if at prayer; but there were also moments when, with his head a little on one side, he wore an anxious air, as if not fully at one with the player’s rendering; others again, after a passage of peculiar brilliancy, when he threw at Schwarz a humbly grateful look. While Schwarz, the sonata over, was busy with his pencil on the margin of the music, Dove leaned over to Maurice and whispered behind his hand: “Furst—our best pianist.”
Now came the turn of the others, and the master’s attention wandered; he stretched himself, yawned, and sighed aloud, then, in the search for something he could not find, turned out on the lid of the second piano the contents of sundry pockets. While Dove played, he wrote as if for life in a bulky notebook.
Maurice remarked this without being properly conscious of it, so impressed had he been by the sonata. The exultant beauty of the great final theme had permeated his every fibre, inciting him, emboldening him, and, still under the sway of this little elation when his own turn to play came, he was the richer by it, and acquitted himself with unusual verve.
As the class was about to leave the room, Schwarz signed to Maurice to remain behind. For several moments, he paced the floor in silence; then he stopped suddenly short in front of the young man, and, with legs apart, one hand at his back, he said in a tone which wavered between being brutal and confidential, emphasising his words with a series of smart pencil-raps on his hearer’s shoulder:
“Let me tell you something: if I were not of the opinion that you had ability, I should not detain you this evening. It is no habit of mine, mark this, to interfere with my pupils. Outside this room, most of them do not exist for me. In your case, I am making an exception, because . . . ”— Maurice was here so obviously gratified that the speaker made haste to substitute: “because I should much like to know how it is that you come to me in the state you do.” And without waiting for a reply: “For you know nothing, or, let us say, worse than nothing, since what you do know, you must make it your first concern to forget.” He paused, and the young man’s face fell so much that he prolonged the pause, to enjoy the discomfiture he had produced. “But give me time,” he continued, “adequate time, and I will undertake to make something of you.” He lowered his voice, and the taps became more confidential. “There is good stuff here; you have talent, great talent, and, as I have observed to-day, you are not wanting in intelligence. But,” and again his voice grew harsher, his eye more piercing, “understand me, if you please, no trifling with other studies; let us have no fiddling, no composing. Who works with me, works for me alone. And a lifetime, I repeat it, a lifetime, is not long enough to master such an instrument as this!”
He brought his hand down heavily on the lid of the piano, and glared at Maurice as if he expected the latter to contradict him. Then, noisily clearing his throat, he began anew to pace the room.
As Maurice stood waiting for his dismissal, with very varied feelings, of which, however, a faint pride was uppermost; as he stood waiting, the door opened, and a girl looked in. She hesitated a moment, then entered, and going up to Schwarz, asked him something in a low voice. He nodded an assent, nodded two or three times, and with quite another face; its hitherto unmoved severity had given way to an indulgent friendliness. She laid her hat and jacket on the table, and went to the piano.
Schwarz motioned Maurice to a chair. He sat down almost opposite her.
And now came for him one of those moments in life, which, unlooked-for, undivined, send before them no promise of being different, in any way, from the commonplace moments that make up the balance of our days. No gently graduated steps lead up to them: they are upon us with the violent abruptness of a streak of lightning, and like this, they, too, may leave behind them a scarry trace. What such a moment holds within it, is something which has never existed for us before, something it has never entered our minds to go out and seek—the corner of earth, happened on by chance, which comes most near the Wineland of our dreams; the page, idly perhaps begun, which brings us a new god; the face of the woman who is to be our fate—but, whatever it may be, let it once exist for us, and the soul responds forthwith, catching in blind haste at the dimly missed ideal.
For one instant Maurice Guest had looked at the girl before him with unconcern, but the next it was with an intentness that soon became intensity, and feverishly grew, until he could not tear his eyes away. The beauty, whose spell thus bound him, was of that subtle kind which leaves many a one cold, but, as if just for this reason, is almost always fateful for those who feel its charm: at them is lanced its accumulated force. The face was far from faultless; there was no regularity of feature, no perfection of line, nor was there more than a touch of the sweet girlish freshness that gladdens like a morning in May. The features, save for a peremptory turn of mouth and chin, were unremarkable, and the expression was distant, unchanging . . . but what was that to him? This deep white skin, the purity of which was only broken by the pale red of the lips; this dull black hair, which lay back from the low brow in such wonderful curves, and seemed, of itself, to fall into the loose knot on the neck—there was something romantic, exotic about her, which was unlike anything he had ever seen: she made him think of a rare, hothouse flower; some scentless, tropical flower, with stiff, waxen petals. And then her eyes! So profound was their darkness that, when they threw off their covering of heavy lid, it seemed to his excited fancy as if they must scorch what they rested on; they looked out from the depths of their setting like those of a wild beast crouched within a cavern; they lit up about them like stars, and when they fell, they went out like stars, and her face took on the pallor of early dawn.
She was playing from memory. She gazed straight before her with far-away eyes, which only sometimes looked down at her hands, to aid them in a difficult passage. At her belt, she wore a costly yellow rose, and as she once leaned towards the treble, where both hands were at work close together, it fell to the floor. Maurice started forward, and picking it up, laid it on the piano; beneath the gaslight, it sank a shadowy gold image in the mirror-like surface. As yet she had paid no heed to him, but, at this, she turned her head, and, still continuing to play, let her eyes rest absently on him.
They sank their eyes in each other’s. A thrill ran through Maurice, a quick, sharp thrill, which no sensation of his later life outdid in keenness and which, on looking back, he could always feel afresh. The colour rose to his face and his heart beat audibly, but he did not lower his eyes, and for not doing so, seemed to himself infinitely bold. A host of confused feelings bore down upon him, well-nigh blotting out the light; but, in a twinkling, all were swallowed up in an overpowering sense of gratitude, in a large, vague, happy thankfulness, which touched him almost to the point of tears. As it swelled through him and possessed him, he yearned to pour it forth, to make an offering of this gratefulness—fine tangle of her beauty and his own glad mood—and, by sustaining her look, he seemed to lay the offering at her feet. Nor would any tongue have persuaded him that she did not understand. The few seconds were eternities: when she turned away it was as if untold hours had passed over him in a body, like a flight of birds; as if a sudden gulf had gaped between where he now was and where he had previously stood.
Dismissed curtly, with a word, he hung about the corridor in the hope of seeing her again; but the piano went on and on, unceasingly. Here, after some time, he was found by Dove, who carried him off with loud expressions of surprise.
The concert was more than half over. The main part of the hall was brightly lit and full of people: from behind, one looked across a sea of heads. On the platform at the other end, a girl in red was playing a sonata; a master sat by her side, and leant forward, at regular intervals, to turn the leaves of the music. Dove and Maurice remained standing at the back, under the gallery, among a portion of the audience which shifted continuously: those about them wandered in and out of the hall at pleasure, now inside, head in hand, critically intent, now out in the vestibule, stretching their legs, lounging in easy chat. In the pause that followed the sonata, Dove went towards the front, to join some ladies who beckoned him, and, while some one sang a noisy aria, Maurice gave himself up to his own thoughts. They all led to the same point: how he should contrive to see her again, how he should learn her name, and, beside them, everything else seemed remote, unreal; he saw the people next him as if from a distance. But in a wait that was longer than usual, he was awakened to his surroundings: a stir ran over the audience, like a gust of wind over still water; the heads in the seats before him inclined one to another, wagged and nodded; there was a gentle buzz of voices. Behind him, the doors opened and shut, letting in all who were outside: they pressed forward expectantly. On his left, a row of girls tried to start a round of applause and tittered nervously at their failure. Schilsky had come down the platform and commenced tuning. He bent his long, thin body as he pressed his violin to his knee, and his reddish hair fell over his face. The accompanist, his hands on the keys, waited for the signal to begin.
Maurice drew a deep breath of anticipation. But the first shrill, sweet notes had hardly cut the silence, when, the door opening once more, some one entered and pushed through the standing crowd. He looked round, uneasy at the disturbance, and found that it was she: what is more, she came up to his very side. He turned away so hastily that he touched her arm, causing it to yield a little, and some moments went by before he ventured to look again. When he did, in some tremor, he saw that, without fear of discovery, he might look as long or as often as he chose. She was listening to the player with the raptness of a painted saint: her whole face listened, the tightened lips, the open nostrils, the wide, vigilant eyes. Maurice, lost in her presence, grew dizzy with the scent of her hair — that indefinable odour, which has something of the raciness in it of new-turned earth—and foolish wishes arose and jostled one another in his mind: he would have liked to plunge both hands into the dark, luxuriant mass; still better, cautiously to draw his palm down this whitest skin, which, seen so near, had a faint, satin-like sheen. The mere imagining of it set him throbbing, and the excitement in his blood was heightened by the sensuous melancholy of the violin, which, just beyond the pale of his consciousness, throbbed and languished with him under the masterful bow.
Shortly before the end of the concerto, she turned and made her way out. Maurice let a few seconds elapse, then followed. But the long white corridors stretched empty before him; there was no trace of her to he seen. As he was peering about, in places that were strange to him, a tumult of applause shook the hall, the doors flew open and the audience poured out.
Dove had joined other friends, and a number of them left the building together; everyone spoke loudly and at once. But soon Maurice and Dove outstepped their companions, for these came to words over the means used by Schilsky to mount, with bravour, a certain gaudy scale of octaves, and, at every second pace, they stopped, and wheeled round with eloquent gesture. In their presence Dove had said little; now he gave rein to his feelings: his honest face glowed with enthusiasm, the names of renowned players ran off his lips like beads off a string, and, in predicting Schilsky a career still more brilliant, his voice grew husky with emotion.
Maurice listened unmoved to his friend’s outpouring, and the first time Dove stopped for breath, went straight for the matter which, in his eyes, had dwarfed all others. So eager was he to learn something of her, that he even made shift to describe her; his attempt fell out lamely, and a second later he could have bitten off his tongue.
Dove had only half an ear for him.
“Eh? What? What do you say?” he asked as Maurice paused; but his thoughts were plainly elsewhere. This fact is, just at this moment, he was intent on watching some ladies: were they going to notice him or not? The bow made and returned, he brought his mind back to Maurice with a great show of interest.
Here, however, they all turned in to Seyffert’s Cafe and, seating themselves at a long, narrow table, waited for Schilsky, whom they intended to fete. But minutes passed, a quarter, then half of an hour, and still he did not come. To while the time, his playing of the concerto was roundly commented and discussed. There was none of the ten or twelve young men but had the complete jargon of the craft at his finger-tips; not one, too, but was rancorous and admiring in a breath, now detecting flaws as many as motes in a beam, now heaping praise. The spirited talk, flying thus helter-skelter through the gamut of opinion, went forward chiefly in German, which the foreigners of the party spoke with various accents, but glibly enough; only now and then did one of them spring over to his mother-tongue, to fetch a racy idiom or point a joke.
Not having heard a note of Schilsky’s playing, Maurice did not trust himself to say much, and so was free to observe his right-hand neighbour, a young man who had entered late, and taken a vacant chair beside him. To the others present, the new-comer paid no heed, to Maurice he murmured an absent greeting, and then, having called for beer and emptied his glass at a draught, he appeared mentally to return whence he had come, or to engage without delay in some urgent train of thought. His movements were noiseless, but startlingly abrupt. Thus, after sitting quiet for a time, his head in his hands, he flung back in his seat with a sort of wildness, and began to stare fixedly at the ceiling. His face was one of those, which, as by a mystery, preserve the innocent beauty of their childhood, long after childhood is a thing of the past: delicate as the rosy lining of a great sea-shell was the colour that spread from below the forked blue veins of the temples, and it paled and came again as readily as a girl’s. Girlish, too, were the limpid eyes, which, but for a trick of dropping unexpectedly, seemed always to be gazing, in thoughtful surprise, at something that was visible to them alone. As to the small, frail body, it existed only for sake of the hands: narrow hands, with long, fleshless fingers, nervous hands, that were never still.
All at once, in a momentary lull, he leant towards Maurice, and, without even looking up, asked the latter if he could recall the opening bars of the prelude to Tristan und isolde. If so, there was a certain point he would like to lay before him.
“You see, it’s this way, old fellow,” he said confidentially. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if, at the end of the third bar, Wagner had ——”
“Throw him out, throw him out!” cried an American who was sitting opposite them. “You might as well try to stop a nigger in heat as Krafft on Wagner.”
“That’s so,” said another American named Ford, who, on arriving, had not been quite sober, and now, after a few glasses of beer, was exceedingly tipsy. “That’s so. As I’ve always said, it’s a disgrace to the township, a disgrace, sir. Ought to be put down. Why don’t he write them himself?”
From the depths of his brown study, Krafft looked vaguely at the speakers, and checked, but not discomposed, drew out a notebook and jotted down an idea.
Meanwhile, at the far end of the table, Boehmer and a Russian violinist still harped upon the original string. And, having worked out Schilsky, they passed on to Zeppelin, his master, and the Russian, who was not Zeppelin’s pupil, set to showing with vehemence that his “method” was a worthless one. He was barely started when a wiry American, in a high, grating voice, called Schilsky a wretched fool: why had he not gone to Berlin at Easter, as he had planned, instead of dawdling on here where he had no more to gain? At this, several of the young men laughed and looked significant. Furst—he had proved to be a jolly little man, who, with unbuttoned vest, absorbed large quantities of beer and perspired freely—Furst alone was of the opinion, which he expressed forcibly, in his hearty Saxon dialect, that had Schilsky left Leipzig at this particular time, he would have been a fool indeed.
“Look here, boys,” he cried, pounding the table to get attention. “That’s all very well, but he must have an eye to the practical side of things, too ——”
“Der biedere sachse hoch!” threw in Boehmer, who was Prussian, and of a more ideal cast of mind.
“— and a chance such as this, he will certainly never have again. A hundred thousand marks, if a pfennig, and a face to turn after in the street! No, he is a confounded deal wiser to stay here and make sure of her, for that sort is as slippery as an eel.”
“Krafft can tell us; he let her go; is she?—is it true?” shouted half a dozen.
Krafft looked up and winked. His reply was so gross and so witty that there was a very howl of mirth.
“Krafft hoch, hoch krafft!” they cried, and roared again, until the proprietor, a mild, round-faced man, who was loath to meddle with his best customers, advanced to the middle of the floor, where he stood smiling uneasily and rubbing his hands.
But it was growing late.
“Why the devil doesn’t he come?” yawned Boehmer.
Perhaps,” said Dove, mouthing deliberately as if he had a good thing on his tongue; perhaps, by now, he is safe in the arms of ——”
“Jesus or Morpheus?” asked a cockney ‘cellist.
“Safe in the arms of Jesus!” sang the tipsy pianist; but he was outsung by Krafft, who, rising from his seat, gave with dramatic gesture:
O sink’ hernieder, Nacht der Liebe, gieb Vergessen, dass ich lebe . . .
After this, with much laughter and ado, they broke up to seek another cafe in the heart of the town, where the absinthe was good and the billiard-table better, two of his friends supporting Ford, who was testily debating with himself why a composer should compose his own works. At the first corner, Maurice whispered a word to Dove, and, unnoticed by the rest, slipped away. For some time, he heard the sound of their voices down the quiet street. A member of the group, in defiance of the night, began to sing; and then, just as one bird is provoked by another, rose a clear, sweet voice he recognised as Krafft’s, in a song the refrain of which was sung by all:
Give me the Rose of Sharon,
And a bottle of Cyprus wine!
What followed was confused, indistinct, but over and over again he heard:
. . . the Rose of Sharon, . . . a bottle of Cyprus wine!
until that, too, was lost in the distance.
When he reached his room, he did not light the lamp, but crossed to the window and stood looking out into the darkness. The day’s impressions, motley as the changes of a kaleidoscope, seethed in his brain, clamoured to be recalled and set in order; but he kept them back; he could not face the task. He felt averse to any mental effort, in need of a repose as absolute as the very essence of silence itself. The sky was overcast; a wayward breeze blew coolly in upon him and refreshed him; a few single raindrops fell. In the air a gentle melancholy was abroad, and, as he stood there, wax for any passing mood, it descended on him and enveloped him. He gave himself up to it, unresistingly, allowed himself to toy with it, to sink beneath it. Just, however, as he was sinking, sinking, he was roused, suddenly, as from sleep, by the vivid presentiment that something was about to happen to him: it seemed as if an important event were looming in the near distance, ready to burst in upon his life, and not only instantly, but with a monstrous crash of sound. His pulses beat more quickly, his nerves stretched, like bows. But it was very still; everything around him slept, and the streets were deserted.
A keen sense of desolation came over him; never, in his life, had he felt so utterly alone. In all this great city that spread, ocean-like, around him, not a heart was the lighter for his being there. Oh, to have some one beside him!—some one who would talk soothingly to him, of shadowy, far-off things, or, still better, be merely a sympathetic presence. He passed rapidly in review people he had known, saw their faces and heard their voices, but not one of them would do. No, he wanted a friend, the friend he had often dreamed of, whose thoughts would be his thoughts, with whom there would be no need of speech. Then his longing swelled, grew fiercer and more undefined, and a sudden burst of energy convulsed him and struggled to find vent. His breath came hard, and he stretched his arms out into the night, uncertainly, as if to grasp something he did not see; but they fell to his side again. He would have liked to sweep through the air, to feel the wind rushing dizzily through him; or to be set down before some feat that demanded the strength of a Titan—anything, no matter what, to be rid of the fever in his veins. But it beset him, again and again, only by slow degrees weakening and dying away.
A bitter moisture sprang to his eyes. Leaning his head on his arms, he endeavoured to call up her face. But it was of no use, though he strained every nerve; for some time he could see only the rose that had lain beside her on the piano, and in the troubled image that at last crowned his patience, her eyes looked out, like jewels, from a setting of golden petals.
Lying wakeful in the darkness, he saw them more clearly. Now, though, they had a bluish light, were like moons, moons that burnt. If he lit the lamp and tried to read, they got between him and the book, and danced up and down the pages, with jerky, clockwork movements, like stage fireflies. He put the light out, and lay staring vacantly at the pale square of the window. And then, just when he was least expecting it, he saw the whole face, so close to him and so distinctly, that he started up on his elbow; and in the second or two it remained—a Medusa-face, opaquely white, with deep, unfathomable eyes—he recognised, with a shock, that his peace of mind was gone; that the sudden experience of a few hours back had given his life new meaning; that something had happened to him which could not be undone; in other words—with an incredulous gasp at his own folly—that he was head over ears in love.
Through the uneasy sleep into which he ultimately fell, she, and the yellow rose, and the Rose of Sharon—a giant flower, with monstrous crimson petals—passed and repassed, in one of those glorious tangles, which no dreamer has ever unravelled.
When he wakened, it was broad daylight, and things wore a different aspect. Not that his impression of the night had faded, but it was forced to retire behind the hard, clear affairs of the morning. He got up, full of vigour, impatient to be at work, and having breakfasted, sat down at the piano, where he remained until his hands dropped from the keys with fatigue. Throughout these hours, his mind ran chiefly on the words Schwarz had said to him, the previous evening. They rose before him in their full significance, and he leisurely chewed the honeyed cud of praise. “I will undertake to make something of you, undertake to make something of you”— his brain tore the phrase to tatters. “Something” was properly vague, as praise should be, and allowed the imagination free scope. Under the stimulus, everything came easy; he mastered a passage of bound sixths that had baffled him for days. And in this elated frame of mind, there was something almost pleasurable in the pang with which he would become conscious of a shadow in the background, a spot on his sun to make him unhappy.
Unhappy?—no: it gave a zest to his goings—out and comings-in. Through long hours of work he was borne up by an ardent hope: afterwards, he might see her. It made the streets exciting places of possible surprises. Might she not, at any moment, turn the corner and be before him? Might she not, this very instant, be going in the same direction as he, in the next street? But a very little of this pleasant dallying with chance was enough. One morning, when the houses opposite were ablaze with sunshine, and he had settled down to practice with a keen relish for the obstacles to be overcome; on this morning, within half an hour, his mood swung round to the other extreme, and, from now on, his desire to see her again was a burning unrest, which roused him from sleep, and drove him out, at odd hours, no matter what he was doing. Moodily he scoured the streets round the Conservatorium, disconcerted by his own folly, and pricked incessantly by the consciousness of time wasted. A companion at his side might have dispelled the cobwebs; but Dove, his only friend, he avoided, for the reason that Dove’s unfailing good spirits needed to be met with a similar mood. And as for speaking of the matter, the mere thought of the detailed explanation that would now be necessary, did he open his lips, filled him with dismay. When four or five days had gone by in this manner, without result, he took to hanging about, with other idlers, on the steps of the Conservatorium, always hoping that she would suddenly emerge from the doors behind him, or come towards him, a roll of music in her hand.
But she never came.
One afternoon, however, as he loitered there, he encountered his acquaintance of the very first day. He recognised her while she was still some distance off, by her peculiar springy gait; at each step, she rose slightly on the front part of her foot, as if her heels were on springs. As before, she was indifferently dressed; a small, close hat came down over her face and hid her forehead; her skirt seemed shrunken, and hung limp about her ankles, accentuating the straightness of her figure. But below the brim of the hat her eyes were as bright as ever, and took note of all that happened. On seeing Maurice, she professed to remember him “perfectly,” beginning to speak before she had quite come up to him.
The following day they met once more at the same place. This time, she raised her eyebrows.
“You here again?” she said.
She disappeared inside the building; but a few minutes later returned, and said she was going for a walk: would he come, too?
He assented, with grateful surprise, and they set off together in the direction of the woods, as briskly as though they were on an errand. But when they had crossed the suspension-bridge and reached the quieter paths that ran through the Nonne, they simultaneously slackened their pace. The luxuriant undergrowth of shrub, which filled in, like lacework, the spaces between the tree-trunks, was sprinkled with its first dots and pricks of green, and the afternoon was pleasant for walking — sunless and still, and just a little fragrantly damp from all the rife budding and sprouting. It was a day to further a friendship more effectually than half a dozen brighter ones; a day on which to speak out thoughts which a June sky, the indiscreet playing of full sunlight, even the rustling of the breeze in the leaves might scare, like fish, from the surface.
When they had laughingly introduced themselves to each other Maurice Guest’s companion talked about herself, with a frankness that left nothing to be desired, and impressed the young man at her side very agreeably. Before they had gone far, he knew all about her. Her name was Madeleine Wade; she came from a small town in Leicestershire, and, except for a step-brother, stood alone in the world. For several years, she had been a teacher in a large school near London, and the position was open for her to return to, when she had completed this, the final year of her course. Then, however, she would devote herself exclusively to the teaching of music, and, with this in view, she had here taken up as many branches of study as she had time for. Besides piano, which was her chief subject, she learned singing, organ, counterpoint, and the elements of the violin.
“So much is demanded nowadays,” she said in her dear soprano. “And if you want to get on, it doesn’t do to be behindhand. Of course, it means hard work, but that is nothing to me—I am used to work and love it. Since I was seventeen—I am twenty-six now—I can fairly say I have never got up in the morning, without having my whole day mapped and planned before me.—So you see idlers can have no place on my list of saints.”
She spoke lightly, yet with a certain under-meaning. As, however, Maurice Guest, on whom her words made a sympathetic impression, as of something strong and self-reliant—as he did not respond to it, she fell back on directness, and asked him what he had been doing when she met him, both on this day and the one before.
“I tell you candidly, I was astonished to find you there again,” she said. “As a rule, new-comers are desperately earnest brooms.”
His laugh was a trifle uneasy; and he answered evasively, not meaning to say much. But he had reckoned without the week of silence that lay behind him; it had been more of a strain than he knew, and his pent-up speech once set a-going could not be brought to a stop. An almost physical need of communication made itself felt in him; he spoke with a volubility that was foreign to him, began his sentences with a confidential “You see,” and said things at which he himself was amazed. He related impressions, not facts, and impressions which, until now, he had not been conscious of receiving; he told unguardedly of his plans and ambitions, and even went back and touched on his home-life, dwelling with considerable bitterness on the scant sympathy he had received.
His companion looked at him curiously. She had expected a casual answer to her casual words, a surface frankness, such as she herself had shown, and, at first, she felt sceptical towards this unbidden confidence: she did not care for people who gave themselves away at a word; either they were naive to foolishness or inordinately vain. But having listened for some time to his outpourings, she began to feel reassured; and soon she understood that he was talking thus at random, merely because he was lonely and bottled-up. Before he had finished, she was even a little gratified by his openness, and on his confiding to her what Schwarz had said to him, she smiled indulgently.
“Perhaps I took it to mean more than it actually did,” said Maurice apologetically. “But anyhow it was cheering to hear it. You see, I must prove to the people at home that I was right and they were wrong. Failure was preached at me on every side. I was the only soul to believe in myself.”
“And you really disliked teaching so?”
“Hated it with all my heart.”
She frankly examined him. He had a pale, longish face, with thin lips, which might indicate either narrow prejudice or a fanatic tenacity. When he grew animated, he had a habit of opening his eyes very wide, and of staring straight before him. At such moments, too, he tossed back his head, with the impatient movements of a young horse. His hands and feet were good, his clothes of a provincial cut. Her fingers itched to retie the bow of his cravat for him, to pull him here and there into shape. Altogether, he made the impression upon her of being a very young man: when he coloured, or otherwise grew embarrassed, under her steady gaze, she mentally put him down for less than twenty. But he had good manners; he allowed her to pass before him, where the way grew narrow; walked on the outside of the path; made haste to draw back an obstreperous branch; and not one of these trifling conventionalities was lost on Madeleine Wade.
They had turned their steps homewards, and were drawing near the edge of the wood, when, through the tree-trunks, which here were bare and far apart, they saw two people walking arm in arm; and on turning a corner found the couple coming straight towards them, on the same path as themselves. In the full flush of his talk, Maurice Guest did not at first grasp what was about to happen. He had ended the sentence he was at, and begun another, before the truth broke on him. Then he stuttered, lost the thread of his thought, was abruptly silent; and what he had been going to say, and what, a moment before, had seemed of the utmost importance, was never said. His companion did not seem to notice his preoccupation; she gave an exclamation of what sounded like surprise, and herself looked steadily at the approaching pair. Thus they went forward to a meeting which the young man had imagined to himself in many ways, but not in this. The moment he had waited for had come; and now he wished himself miles away. Meanwhile, they walked on, in a brutal, matter-of-fact fashion, and at a fairish pace, though each step he took was an event, and his feet were as heavy and awkward as if they did not belong to him.
The other two sauntered towards them, without haste. The man she was with had his arm through hers, her hand in his left hand, while in his right he twirled a cane. They were not speaking; she looked before her, rather listlessly, with dark, indifferent eyes. To see this, to see also that she was taller and broader than he had believed, and in full daylight somewhat sallow, Maurice had first to conquer an aversion to look at all, on account of the open familiarity of their attitude. It was not like this that he had dreamt of finding her. And so it happened that when, without a word to him, his companion crossed the path and confronted the other two, he only lingered for an instant, in an agony of indecision, and then, by an impulse over which he had no control, walked on and stood out of earshot.
He drew a deep breath, like one who has escaped a danger; but almost simultaneously he bit his lip with mortification: could any power on earth make it clear to him why he had acted in this way? All his thoughts had been directed towards this moment for so long, only to take this miserable end. A string of contemptuous epithets for himself rose to his lips. But when he looked back at the group, the reason of his folly was apparent to him; at the sight of this other beside her, a sharp twinge of jealousy had run through him and disturbed his balance. He gazed ardently at her in the hope that she would look round, but it was only the man—he was caressing his slight moustache and hitting at loose stones while the girls talked—who turned, as if drawn by Maurice’s stare, and looked full at him, with studied insolence. In him, Maurice recognised the violinist of the concert, but he, too, was taller than he had believed, and much younger. A mere boy, said Maurice to himself; a mere boy, with a disagreeable dissipated face.
Madeleine Wade came hurrying to rejoin him, apologising for the delay; the meeting had, however, been fortunate, as she had had a message from Schwarz to deliver. Maurice let a few seconds elapse, then asked without preamble: “Who is that?”
His companion looked quickly at him, struck both by his tone and by his unconscious use of the singular. The air of indifference with which he was looking out across the meadowland, told its own tale.
“Schilsky? Don’t you know Schilsky? Our Joachim in spe?” she asked, to tease him.
Maurice Guest coloured. “Yes, I heard him play the other night,” he answered in good faith. “But I didn’t mean him. I meant the—the lady he was with.”
The girl at his side laughed, not very heartily.
“Et tu, brute!” she said. “I might have known it. It really is remarkable that though so many people don’t think Louise good looking—I have often heard her called plain—yet I never knew a man go past her without turning his head.—You want to know who and what she is? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Schwarz would tell you she was one of his most gifted pupils—but no: he always says that of his pretty girls, and some do find her pretty, you know.”
“She is, indeed, very,” said Maurice with warmth. “Though I think pretty is not just the word.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is,” said Madeleine, and this time there was a note of mockery in her laugh. But Maurice did not let himself be deterred. As it seemed likely that she was going to let the subject rest here, he persisted: “But suppose I asked you—what would you say?”
She gave him a shrewd side-glance. “I think I won’t tell you,” she said, more gravely. “If a man has once thought a girl pretty, and all the rest of it, he’s never grateful for the truth. If I said Louise was a baggage, or a minx, or some other horrid thing, you would always bear me a grudge for it, so please note, I don’t say it—for we are going to be friends, I hope?”
“I hope so, too,” said the young man.
They walked some distance along the unfinished end of the Mozartstrasse, where only a few villas stood, in newly made gardens.
“At least, I should like to know her name her whole name. You said Louise, I think?”
She laughed outright at this. “Her name is Dufrayer, Louise Dufrayer, and she has been here studying with Schwarz for about a year and a half now. She has some talent, but is indolent to the last degree, and only works when she can’t help it. Also she always has an admirer of some kind in tow. This, to-day, is her last particular friend.—Is that biographical matter enough?”
He was afraid he had made himself ridiculous in her eyes, and did not answer. They walked the rest of the way in silence. At her house-door, they paused to take leave of each other.
“Good-bye. Come and see me sometimes when you have time. We were once colleagues, you know, and are now fellow-pupils. I should be glad to help you if you ever need help.”
He thanked her and promised to remember; then walked home without, knowing how he did it. He had room in brain for one thought only; he knew her name, he knew her name. He said it again and again to himself, walked in time with it, and found it as heady as wine; the mere sound of the spoken syllables seemed to bring her nearer to him, to establish a mysterious connection between them. Moreover, in itself it pleased him extraordinarily; and he was vaguely grateful to something outside himself, that it was a name he could honestly admire.
In a kind of defiant challenge to unseen powers, he doubled his arm and felt the muscles in it. Then he sat down at his piano, and, to the dismay of his landlady—for it was now late evening—practised for a couple of hours without stopping. And the scales he sent flying up and down in the darkness had a ring of exultation in them, were like cries of triumph.
He had discovered the “Open Sesame” to his treasure. And there was time and to spare. He left everything to the future, in blind trust that it would bring him good fortune. It was enough that they were here together, inhabitants of the same town. Besides, he had formed a friendship with some one who knew her; a way would surely open up, in which he might make her aware of his presence. In the meantime, it was something to live for. Each day that dawned might be the day.
But little by little, like a fountain run dry, his elation subsided, and, as he lay sleepless, he had a sudden fit of jealous despair. He remembered, with a horrid distinctness, how he had seen her. Again she came towards them, at the other’s side, hand in hand with him, inattentive to all but him. Now he could almost have wept at the recollection. Those clasped hands!—he could have forgiven everything else, but the thought of these remained with him and stung him. Here he lay, thinking wild and foolish things, building castles that had no earthly foundation, and all the time it was another who had the right to be with her, to walk at her side, and share her thoughts. Again he was the outsider; behind these two was a life full of detail and circumstance, of which he knew nothing. His excited brain called up pictures, imagined fiercely at words and looks, until the darkness and stillness of the room became unendurable; and he sprang up, threw on his clothing, and went out. Retracing his steps, he found the very spot where they had met. Guiltily, with a stealthy look round him, though wood and night were black as ink, he knelt down and kissed the gravel where he thought she had stood.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12