The following morning, having drunk his coffee, Maurice pushed back the metal tray on which the delf-ware stood, and remained sitting idle with his hands before him. It was nine o’clock, and the houses across the road were beginning to catch stray sunbeams. By this time, his daily work was as a rule in full swing; but to-day he was in no hurry to commence. He was even more certain now than he had been on the night before, of his lack of success; and the idea of starting anew on the dull round filled him with distaste. He had been so confident that his playing would, in some way or other, mark a turning-point in his musical career; and lo! it had gone off with as little fizz and effect as a damp rocket. Lighting a cigarette, he indulged in ironical reflections. But, none the less, he heard the minutes ticking past, and as he was not only a creature of habit, but had also a troublesome northern conscience, he rose before the cigarette had formed its second spike of ash, and went to the piano: no matter how rebellious he felt, this was the only occupation open to him; and so he set staunchly out on the unlovely mechanical exercising, which no pianist can escape. Meanwhile, he recapitulated the scene in the concert hall, from the few anticipatory moments, when the ‘cellist related amatory adventures, to the abrupt leave he had taken of Dove at the door of the building. And in the course of doing this, he was invaded by a mild and agreeable doubt. On such shadowy impressions as these had he built up his assumption of failure! Was it possible to be so positive? The unreal state of mind in which he had played, hindered him from acting as his own judge. The fact that Schwarz had not been effusive, and that none of his friends had sought him out, admitted of more than one interpretation. The only real proof he had was Dove’s manner to him; and was not Dove always too full of his own affairs, or, at least, the affairs of those who were not present at the moment, to have any at tention to spare for the person he was actually with? At the idea that he was perhaps mistaken, Maurice grew so unsettled that he rose from the piano. But, by the time he took his seat again, he had wavered; say what he would, he could not get rid of the belief that if he had achieved anything out of the common, Madeleine would not have made it her business to avoid him. After this, however, his fluctuating hopes rallied, then sank once more, until it ended in his leaving the piano. For it was of no use trying to concentrate his thoughts until he knew.
Even as he said this to himself, his resolution was taken. There was only one person to whom he could apply, and that was Schwarz. The proceeding might be unusual, but then the circumstances in which he was placed were unusual, too. Besides, he asked neither praise nor flattery, merely a candid opinion.
If, however, he faced Schwarz on this point, there were others on which he might as well get certainty at the same time. The matter of the PRUFUNG, for instance, had still to be decided. So much depended on the choice of piece. His fingers itched towards Chopin or Mendelssohn, for the sole reason that the technique of these composers was in his blood. Whereas Beethoven! — he knew from experience how difficult it was to get a satisfactory effect out of the stern barenesses of Beethoven. They demanded a skill he could never hope to possess.
Between five and six that afternoon, he made his way to the SEBASTIAN BACH-STRASSE, where Schwarz lived. It was hot in the new, shadeless streets through which he passed, and also in crossing the JOHANNAPARK; hardly a hint of September was in the air. He walked at a slow pace, in order not to arrive too early, and, for some reason unclear to himself, avoided stepping on the joins of the paving-stones.
On hearing that he had not come for a lesson, the dirty maidservant, who opened the third-floor door to him, showed him as a visitor into the best sitting-room. Maurice remained standing, in prescribed fashion. But he had no sooner crossed the threshold than he was aware of loud voices in the adjoining room, separated from the one he was in by large foldingdoors.
“If you think,” said a woman’s voice, and broke on “think”—“if you think I’m going to endure a repetition of what happened two years ago, you’re mistaken. Never again shall she enter this house! Oh, you pig, you wretch! Klara has told me; she saw you through the keyhole — with your arm round her waist. And I know myself, scarcely a note was struck in the hour. You have her here on any pretext; you keep her in the class after all the others have gone. But this time I’m not going to sit still till the scandal comes out, and she has to leave the place. A man of your age! — the father of four children! — and this ugly little hussy of seventeen! Was there ever such a miserable woman as I am! No, she shall never enter this house again.”
“And I say she shall!” came from Schwarz so fiercely that the listener started. “Aren’t you ashamed, woman, at your age, to set a servant spying at keyholes? — or, what is more likely, spying yourself? Keep to your kitchen and your pots, and don’t dictate to me. I am the master of the house.”
“Not in a case like this. It concerns me. It concerns the children. I say she shall never enter the door again.”
“And I say she shall. Go out of the room!”
A chair grated roughly on a bare floor; a door banged with such violence that every other door in the house vibrated.
In the silence that ensued, Maurice endeavoured to make his presence known by walking about. But no one came. His eyes ranged round the room. It was, with a few slight differences, the ordinary best room of the ordinary German house. The windows were heavily curtained, and, in front of them, to the further exclusion of light and air, stood respectively a flower-table, laden with unlovely green plants, and a room-aquarium. The plush furniture was stiffly grouped round an oblong table and dotted with crochet-covers; under a glass shade was a massy bunch of wax flowers; a vertikow, decorated with shells and grasses, stood cornerwise beside the sofa; and, at the door, rose white and gaunt a monumental Berlin stove. But, in addition to this, which was DE RIGUEUR, there were personal touches: on the walls, besides the usual group of family photographs, in oval frames, hung the copy of a Madonna by Gabriel Max, two etchings after Defregger, several large group-photographs of Schwarz’s classes in different years, a framed concert programme, yellow with age, and a silhouette of Schumann. Over one of the doors hung a withered laurelwreath of imposing dimensions, and with faded silken ends, on which the inscription was still legible: DEM GROSSEN KUNSTLER, JOHANNES SCHWARZ! — Open on a chair, with an embroidered book-marker between its pages, lay ATTA TROLL; and by the stove, a battered wooden doll sat against the wall, in a relaxed attitude, with a set leer on its painted face.
Maurice waited, in growing embarrassment. He had unconsciously fixed his eyes on the doll; and, in the dead silence of the house, the senseless face of the creature ruffled his nerves; crossing the room, he knocked it over with his foot, so that its head fell with a bump on the parquet floor, where it lay in a still more tipsy position. There was no doubt that he had arrived at a most inopportune moment; it seemed, too, as if the servant had forgotten even to announce him.
On cautiously opening the door, with the idea of slipping away, he heard a child screaming in a distant room, and the mother’s voice sharp in rebuke. The servant was clattering pots and pans in the kitchen, but she heard Maurice, and put her head out of the door. Her face was red and swollen with crying.
“What! — you still here?” she said rudely. “I’d forgotten all about you.”
“It doesn’t matter — another time,” murmured Maurice.
But the girl had spoken in a loud voice to make herself heard above the screaming, which was increasing in volume, and, at her words, a door at the end of the passage, and facing down it, was opened by about an inch, and Frau Schwarz peered through the slit.
“Who is it?”
The servant tossed her head, and made no reply. She went back into her kitchen, and, after a brief absence, during which Frau Schwarz continued surreptitiously to scrutinise Maurice, came out carrying a large plateful of BERLINER PFANNKUCHEN. With these she crossed to an opposite room, and, as she there planked the plate down on the table, she announced the visitor. A surly voice muttered something in reply. As, however, the girl insisted in her sulky way, on the length of time the young man had waited, Schwarz called out stridently: “Well, then, in God’s name, let him come in! And Klara, you tell my wife, if that noise isn’t stopped, I’ll throw either her or you downstairs.”
Klara appeared again, scarlet with anger, jerked her arm at Maurice, to signify that he might do the rest for himself, and, retreating into her kitchen, slammed the door. Left thus, with no alternative, Maurice drew his heels together, gave the customary rap, and went into the room.
Schwarz was sitting at the table with his head on his hand, tracing the pattern of the cloth with the blade of his knife. A coffee-service stood on a tray before him; he had just refilled his cup, and helped himself from the dish of PFANNKUCHEN, which, freshly baked, sent an inviting odour through the room. He hardly looked up on Maurice’s entrance, and cut short the young man’s apologetic beginnings.
“Well, what is it? What brings you here?”
As Maurice hesitated before the difficulty of plunging offhand into the object of his visit, Schwarz pointed with his knife at a chair: he could not speak, for he had just put the best part of a PFANNKUCHEN in his mouth, and was chewing hard. Maurice sat down, and holding his hat by the brim, proceeded to explain that he had called on a small personal matter, which would not occupy more than a minute of the master’s time.
“It’s in connection with last night that I wished to speak to you, Herr Professor,” he said: the title, which was not Schwarz’s by right, he knew to be a sop. “I should be much obliged to you if you would give me your candid opinion of my playing. It’s not easy to judge oneself — although I must say, both at the time, and afterwards, I was not too well pleased with what I had done — that is to say . . .”
“WIE? WAS?” cried Schwarz, and threw a hasty glance at his pupil, while he helped himself anew from the dish.
Maurice uncrossed his legs, and crossed them again, the same one up.
“My time here comes to an end at Easter, Herr Professor. And it’s important for me to learn what you think of the progress I have made since being with you. I don’t know why,” he added less surely, “but of late I haven’t felt satisfied with myself. I seem to have got a certain length and to have stuck there. I should like to know if you have noticed it, too. If so, does the fault lie with my want of talent, or —”
“Or with ME, perhaps?” broke in Schwarz, who had with difficulty thus far restrained himself. He laughed offensively. “With ME— eh?” He struck himself on the chest, several times in succession, with the butt-end of his knife, that there might be no doubt to whom he referred. “Upon my soul, what next I wonder! — what next!” He ceased to laugh, and grew ungovernably angry. “What the devil do you mean by it? Do you think I’ve nothing better to do, at the end of a hard day’s work, than to sit here and give candid opinions, and discuss the progress made by each strummer who comes to me twice a week for a lesson? Oho, if you are of that opinion, you may disabuse your mind of it! I’m at your service on Tuesday and Friday afternoon, when I am paid to be; otherwise, my time is my own.”
He laid two of the cakes on top of each other, sliced them through, and put one of the pieces thus obtained in his mouth. Maurice had risen, and stood waiting for the breathing-space into which he could thrust words of apology.
“I beg your pardon, Herr Professor,” he now began. “You misunderstand me. Nothing was further from my mind than ——”
But Schwarz had not finished speaking; he rapped the table with his knife-handle, and, working himself up to a white heat, continued: “But plain and plump, I’ll tell you this, Herr Guest”— he pronounced it “Gvest.” “If you are not satisfied with me, and my teaching, you’re at liberty to try some one else. If this is a preliminary to inscribing yourself under that miserable humbug, that wretched charlatan, who pretends to teach the piano, do it, and have done with it! No one will hinder you — certainly not I. You’re under no necessity to come here beforehand, and apologise, and give your reasons — none of the others did. Slink off like them, without a word! it’s the more decent way in the long run. They at least knew they were behaving like blackguards.”
“You have completely misunderstood me, Herr Schwarz. If you will give me a moment to explain ——”
But Schwarz was in no mood for explanations; he went on again, paying no heed to Maurice’s interruption.
“Who wouldn’t rather break stones by the roadside than be a teacher?” he asked, and sliced and ate, sliced and ate. “Look at the years of labour I have behind me — twenty and more! — in which I’ve toiled to the best of my ability, eight and nine hours, day after day, and eternally for ends that weren’t my own! — And what return do I get for it? A new-comer only needs to wave a red flag before them, and all alike rush blindly to him. A pupil of Liszt? — bah! Who was Liszt? A barrel-organ of execution; a perverter of taste; a worthy ally of that upstart who ruined melody, harmony, and form. Don’t talk to me of Liszt!”
He spoke in spurts, blusteringly, but indistinctly, owing to the fullness of his mouth.
“But I’m not to be imposed on. I know their tricks. Haven’t I myself had pupils turn to me from Bulow and Rubinstein? Is that not proof enough? Would they have come if they hadn’t known what my method was worth? And I took them, and spared no pains to make something of them. Haven’t I a right to expect some gratitude from them in return? — Gratitude? Such a thing doesn’t exist; it’s a word without meaning, a puffing of the air. Look at him for whom I did more than for all the rest. Did I take a pfennig from him in payment? — when I saw that he had talent? Not I! And I did it all. When he came to me, he couldn’t play a scale. I gave him extra lessons without charge, I put pupils in his way, I got him scholarships, I enabled him to support his family — they would have been beggars in the street, but for me. And now soon will be! Yes, I have had his mother here, weeping at my feet, imploring me to reason with him and bring him back to his senses. SHE sees where his infamy will land them. But I? I snap my fingers in his face. He has sown, and he shall reap his sowing. — But the day will come, I know it, when he will return to me, and all the rest will follow him, like the sheep they are. Let them come! They’ll see then whether I have need of them or not. They’ll see then what they were worth to me. For I can produce others others, I say! — who will put him and his fellows out of the running. Do they think I’m done for, because of this? I’ll show them the contrary. I’ll show them! Why, I set no more store by the lot of you than I do by this plate of cakes!”
Again he ate voraciously, and for a few moments, the noise his jaws made in working was the only sound in the room. Maurice stood in the same attitude, with his hat in his hand.
“I regret more than I can express, having been the cause of annoying you, Herr Professor,” he said at length with stiff formality. “But I should like to repeat, once more, that my only object in coming here was to speak to you about last night. I felt dissatisfied with myself and . . .”
“Dissatisfied?” echoed Schwarz, bringing his jaws together with a snap. “And what business of yours is it to feel dissatisfied, I’d like to know? Leave that to me! You’ll hear soon enough, I warrant you, when I have reason to be dissatisfied. Until then, do me the pleasure of minding your own business.”
“Excuse me,” said Maurice with warmth, “if this isn’t my own business! . . . As I see it, it’s nobody’s but mine. And it seemed to me natural to appeal to you, as the only person who could decide for me whether I should have anything further to do with art, or whether I should throw it up altogether.”
Schwarz, who was sometimes not averse to a spirited opposition, caught at the one unlucky word on which he could hang his scorn.
“ART!” he repeated with jocose emphasis — he had finished the plate of cakes, risen from the table, and was picking teeth at the window. “Art! — pooh, pooh! — what’s art got to do with it? In your place, I should avoid taking such highflown words on my tongue. Call it something else. Do you think it makes a jot of difference whether you call it art or . . . pludderdump? Not so much”— and he snapped his fingers —“will be changed, though you never call it anything! Vanity! — it’s nothing but vanity! A set of raw youths inflate themselves like frogs, and have opinions on art, as on what they have eaten for their dinner. — Do your work and hold your tongue! A scale well played is worth all the words that were ever said — and that, the majority of you can’t do.”
He closed his tootpick with a snap, spat dexterously at a spittoon which stood in a corner of the room, and the interview was over.
As Maurice descended the spiral stair, he said to himself that, no matter how long he remained in Leipzig, he would never trouble Schwarz with his presence again. The man was a loose-mouthed bully. But in future he might seek out others to be the butt of his clumsy wit. He, Maurice, was too good for that. — And squaring his shoulders, he walked erectly down the street, and across the JOHANNAPARK.
But none the less, he did not go straight home. For, below the comedy of intolerance at which he was playing, lurked, as he well knew, the consciousness that his true impression of the past hour had still to be faced. He might postpone doing this; he could not shirk it. It was all very well: he might repeat to himself that he had happened on Schwarz at an inopportune moment. That did not count. For him, Maurice, the opportune moment simply did not exist; he was one of those people who are always inopportune, come and go as they will. He might have waited for days; he would never have caught Schwarz in the right mood, or in the nick of time. How he envied those fortunate mortals who always arrived at the right moment, and instinctively said the right thing! That talent had never been his. With him it was blunder.
One thing, though, that still perplexed him, was that not once, since he had been in Leipzig, had he caught a glimpse of that native goodness of heart, for which he had heard Schwarz lauded. The master had done his duty by him — nothing more. Neither had had any personal feeling for the other; and the words Schwarz had used this afternoon had only been the outcome of a long period of reserve, even of distrust. At this moment, when he was inclined to take the onus of the misunderstanding on his own shoulders, Maurice admitted, besides his constant preoccupation — or possibly just because of it — an innate lack of sympathy in himself, an inability, either of heart or of imagination, to project himself into the lives and feelings of people he did not greatly care for. Otherwise, he would not have gone to Schwarz on such an errand as today’s; he would have remembered that the master was likely to be sore and suspicious. And, from now on, things would be worse instead of better. Schwarz had no doubt been left under the impression that Maurice had wished to complain of his teaching; and impressions of this nature were difficult to erase.
There was nothing to be done, however, but to plod along in the familiar rut. He must stomach aspersions and injuries, behave as if nothing had happened. His first hot intention of turning his back on Schwarz soon yielded to more worldly-wise thoughts. Every practical consideration was against it. He might avenge himself, if he liked, by running to the rival teacher like a crossed child; Schrievers would undoubtedly receive him with open arms, and promise him all he asked. But what could he hope to accomplish, under a complete change of method, in the few months that were left? He would also have to forfeit his fees for the coming term, which were already paid. Schrievers’ lessons were expensive, and out of the small sum that remained to him to live on, it would be impossible to take more than half a dozen. Another than he might have appealed to Schrievers’ satisfaction in securing a fresh convert; but Maurice had learnt too thoroughly by now, that he was not one of those happy exceptions — exceptions by reason of their talent or their temperament — to whom a master was willing to devote his time free of charge.
Over these reflections night had fallen; and rising, he walked speedily back by the dark wood-paths. But before he reached the meadows, from which he could see lights blinking in the scattered villas, his steps had lagged again. His discouragement had nothing chimerical in it at this moment; it was part and parcel of himself. — The night was both chilly and misty, and it was late. But a painful impression of the previous evening lingered in his mind. Louise would be annoyed with him for keeping her waiting; and he shrank, in advance, from the thought of another disagreeable scene. He was not in the mood to-night, to soothe and console.
As he entered the MOZARTSTRASSE, he saw that there was a light in Madeleine’s window. She was at home, then. He imagined her sitting quiet and busy in her pleasant room, which, except for the ring of lamplight, was sunk in peaceful shadow. This was what he needed: an hour’s rest, dim light, and Madeleine’s sympathetic tact.
Without giving himself time for thought, he mounted the stair and pressed the bell-knob on the third floor.
On seeing who her visitor was, Madeleine rose with alacrity from the writing-table.
“Maurice! Is it really you?”
“I was passing. I thought I would run up . . . you’re surprised to see me?”
“Oh, well — you’re a stranger now, you know.”
She was vexed with herself for showing astonishment. Moving some books, she made room for him to sit down on the sofa, and, as he was moody, and seemed in no hurry to state why he had come, she asked if she might finish the letter she was writing.
“Make yourself comfortable. Here’s a cushion for your head.”
Through half-closed eyes, he watched her hand travelling across the sheet of note-paper, and returning at regular intervals, with a sure swoop, to begin a fresh line. There was no sound except the gentle scratching of her pen.
Madeleine did not look up till she had finished her letter and addressed the envelope. Maurice had shut his eyes.
“Are you asleep?” she roused him. “Or only tired?”
“I’ve a headache.”
“I’ll make you some tea.”
He watched her preparing it, and, by the time she handed him his cup, he was in the right mood for making her his confidant.
“Look here, Madeleine,” he said; “I came up to-night — The fact is, I’ve done a foolish thing. And I want to talk to some one about it.”
Her eyes grew more alert.
“Let me see if I can help you.”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid you can’t. But first of all, tell me frankly, how you thought I got on last night.”
“How you got on?” echoed Madeleine, unclear what this was to lead to. “Why, all right, of course. — Oh, well, if you insist on the truth! — The fact is, Maurice, you did no better and no worse than the majority of those who fill the ABEND programmes. What you didn’t do, was to reach the standard your friends had set up for you.”
“Thanks. Now listen,” and he related to her in detail his misadventure of the afternoon.
Madeleine followed with close attention. But more distinctly than what he said, she heard what he did not say. His account of the two last days, with the unintentional sidelight it threw on just those parts he wished to keep in darkness, made her aware how complicated and involved his life had become. But before he finished speaking, she brought all her practical intelligence to bear on what he said.
“Maurice!” she exclaimed, with a consternation that was three parts genuine. “I should like to shake you. How COULD you! — what induced you to do such a foolish thing?” And, as he did not speak: “If only you had come to me before, instead of after! I should have said: hold what ridiculous opinions you like yourself, but for goodness’ sake keep clear of Schwarz with them. Yes, ridiculous, and offensive, too. Anyone would have taken your talk about being dissatisfied just as he did. And after the way he has been treated of late, he’s of course doubly touchy.”
“I knew that, when it was too late. But I meant merely to speak straight out to him, Madeleine — one man to another. You surely don’t want to say he’s incapable of allowing one to have an independent opinion? If that’s the case, then he’s nothing but the wretched little tyrant Heinz declares him to be.”
“Wait till you have taught as long as he has,” said Madeleine, and, at his muttered: “God forbid!” she continued with more warmth: “You’ll know then, too, that it doesn’t matter whether your pupils have opinions or not. He has seen this kind of thing scores of times before, and knows it must be kept down.”
She paused, and looked at him. “To get on in life, one must have a certain amount of tact. You are too naive, Maurice, too unsuspecting — one of those people who would like to carry on social intercourse on a basis of absolute truth, and then be surprised that it came to an end. You are altogether a very difficult person to deal with. You are either too candid, or too reserved. There’s no middle way in you. I haven’t the least doubt that Schwarz finds you both perplexing and irritating; he takes the candour for impertinence, and the reserve for distrust.”
Maurice smiled faintly. “Go on — don’t spare me. No one ever troubled before to tell me my failings.”
“Oh, I’m quite in earnest. As I look at it, it’s entirely your own fault that you don’t stand better with Schwarz. You have never condescended to humour him, as you ought to have done. You thought it was enough to be truthful and honest, and to leave the rest to him. Well, it wasn’t. I won’t hear a word against Schwarz; he’s goodness itself to those who deserve it. A little bluff and rude at times; but he’s too busy to go about in kid gloves for fear of hurting sensitive people’s feelings.”
“Why did you never take private lessons from him?” was her next question. “I told you months ago, you remember, that you ought to. — Oh, yes, you said they were too expensive, I know, but you could have scraped a few marks together somehow. You managed to buy books, and books were quite unnecessary. One lesson a fortnight would have brought you’ more into touch with Schwarz than all you have had in the class. As it is, you don’t know him any better than he knows you. “And as she refilled his tea-cup, she added: “You quoted Heinz to me just now. But you and I can’t afford to measure people by the same standards as Heinz. We are everyday mortals, remember. — Besides, in all that counts, he is not worth Schwarz’s little finger.”
“You’re a warm advocate, Madeleine.”
“Yes, and I’ve reason to be. No one here has been as kind to me as Schwarz. I came, a complete stranger, and with not more than ordinary talent. But I went to him, and told him frankly what I wanted to do, how long I could stay, and how much money I had to spend. He helped me and advised me. He has let me study what will be of most use to me afterwards, and he takes as much interest in my future as I do myself. How can I speak anything but well of him? — What I certainly didn’t do, was to go to him and talk ambiguously about feeling dissatisfied with him . . .”
“With myself, Madeleine. Haven’t I made that clear?”
But Madeleine only sniffed.
“Well, it’s over and done with now,” she said after a pause. “And talking about it won’t mend it. — Tell me, rather, what you intend to do. What are your plans?”
“Plans? I don’t know. I haven’t any. Sufficient unto the day, etc.”
But of this she disapproved with open scorn. “Rubbish! When your time here is all but up! And no plans! — One thing, I can tell you anyhow, is, after to-day you needn’t rely on Schwarz for assistance. You’ve spoilt your chances with him. The only way of repairing the mischief would be the lesson I spoke of — one a week as long as you re here.”
“I couldn’t afford it.”
“No, I suppose not,” she said sarcastically, and tore a piece of paper that came under her fingers into narrow strips. “Tell me,” she added a moment later, in a changed tone: “where do you intend to settle when you return to England? And have you begun to think of advertising yourself yet?”
He waved his hand before his face as if he were chasing away a fly. “For God’s sake, Madeleine! . . . these alluring prospects!”
“Pray, what else do you expect to do?”
“Well, the truth is, I . . . I’m not going back to England at all. I mean to settle here.”
Madeleine repressed the exclamation that rose to her lips, and stooped to brush something off the skirt of her dress. Her face was red when she raised it. She needed no further telling; she understood what his words implied as clearly as though it were printed black on white before her. But she spoke in a casual tone.
“However are you going to make that possible?”
He endeavoured to explain.
“I don’t envy you,” she said drily, when he had finished. “You hardly realise what lies before you, I think. There are people here who are glad to get fifty pfennigs an hour, for piano lessons. Think of plodding up and down stairs, all day long, for fifty pfennigs an hour!”
He was silent.
“While in England, with a little tact and patience, you would soon have more pupils than you could take at five shillings.”
“Tact and patience mean push and a thick skin. But don’t worry! I shall get on all right. And if I don’t — life’s short, you know.”
“But you are just at: the beginning of it — and ridiculously young at that! Good Heavens, Maurice!” she burst out, unable to contain herself. “Can’t you see that after you’ve been at home again for a little while, things that have seemed so important here will have. shrunk into their right places? You’ll be glad to have done with them then, when you are in orderly circumstances again.”
“I’m afraid not,” answered the young man. “I’m not a good forgetter.”
“A good forgetter!” repeated Madeleine, and laughed sarcastically. She was going on to say more, but, just at this moment, a clock outside struck ten, and Maurice sprang to his feet.
“So late already? I’d no idea. I must be off.”
She stood by, and watched him look for his hat.
“Here it is.” She picked it up, and handed it to him, with an emphasised want of haste.
“Good night, Madeleine. Thanks for the truth. I knew I could depend on you.”
“It was well meant. And the truth is always beneficial, you know. Good night. — Come again, soon.”
He heard her last words half-way down the stairs, which he took two at a time.
The hour he had now to face was a painful ending to an unpleasant day. It was not merely the fact that he had kept Louise waiting, in aching suspense, for several hours. It now came out that, after their disagreement of the previous night, she had confidently expected him to return to her early in the day, had expected contrition and atonement. That he had not even suspected this made her doubly bitter against him. In vain he tried to excuse himself, to offer explanations. She would not listen to him, nor would she let him touch her. She tore her dress from between his fingers, brushed his hand off her arm; and, retreating into a corner of the room, where she stood like an animal at bay, she poured out over him her accumulated resentment. All she had ever suffered at his hands, all the infinitesimal differences there had been between them, from the beginning, the fine points in which he had failed — things of which he had no knowledge — all these were raked up and cast at him till, numb with pain, he lost even the wish to comfort her. Sitting down at the table, he laid his head on his folded arms.
At his feet were the fragments of the little clock, which, in her anger at his desertion of her, she had trodden to pieces.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54