In descending one evening the broad stair of the Gewandhaus, and forced, by reason of the crowd, to pause on every step, Madeleine overheard the talk of two men behind her, one of whom, it seemed, had all the gossip of the place at his fingertips. From what she caught up greedily, as soon as Maurice’s name was mentioned, she learnt a surprising piece of news. “A cat and dog life,” was the phrase used by the speaker. As she afterwards picked her way through snow and slush, Madeleine confessed to herself that it was impossible to feel regret at what she had heard. Perhaps, after all, things would come right of themselves. In order to recover from his infatuation, to learn what Louise really was, it had only been necessary for Maurice to be constantly at her side.—Was it not Goethe who said that the way to cure a bad habit was to indulge it?
But a few days afterwards, her satisfaction was damped. Late one afternoon she had entered Seyffert’s Cafe, to drink a cup of chocolate. At a table parallel with the one she chose, two fellow-students were playing draughts. Madeleine had only been there for a few minutes, when their talk, which went on unrestrainedly between the moves of the game, leapt, with a witticism, to the unlucky pair in whom she was interested. To her astonishment, she now heard Louise’s name, coupled with that of another man.
“Well, I never!” said the second of the two behind her. “I say it’s your move.—That’s rough on Guest, isn’t it?”
Madeleine turned in her chair and faced the man who had spoken.
“Excuse me, who is Herries?” she asked without ceremony.
In her own room that evening, she pondered long. It was one thing for the two to drift naturally apart; another for Maurice to see himself superseded. If this were true, jealousy, and nothing else, would be at the root of their disunion. Madeleine felt very unwilling to mix herself up in the affair: it would be like plunging two clean hands into dirty water. But then, you never could tell how a man would act in a case like this: the odds were ten to one he did something foolish.
And so she wrote to Maurice, making her summons imperative. This failing, she tried to waylay him going to or from his classes; but the only satisfaction she gained, was the knowledge of his irregularity: during the week she waited she did not once come face to face with him. Next, she looked round her for some common friend, and found that he had not an intimate left in all Leipzig. She wrote again, still more plainly, and again he ignored her letter.
One Saturday afternoon, she was walking along the crowded streets of the inner town. She had been to the Motette, in the Thomaskirche, and was now on her way home, carrying music from the library. The snow had melted to mud, and sleet was falling. Madeleine had no umbrella; the collar of her cloak was turned up round her ears, and her small felt hat covered her head like an extinguisher.
On entering the Peterstrasse, she was jostled together with Dove. It was impossible to beat a retreat.
Dove seldom hurried. On this day, as on any other, he walked with a somewhat pompous emphasis through slush and stinging rain, holding his umbrella straight aloft over him, as he might have carried a banner. He was shocked to find Madeleine without one, at once took her under his, and loaded himself with her music—all with that air of matter-of-course-ness, which invariably made her keen to decline his aid. Dove was radiant; he prospered as do only the happy few; and his satisfaction with himself, and with the world in general, was somehow expressed even through the medium of his long neck and gently sloping shoulders. He greeted Madeleine with an exaggerated pleasure, accompanying his words by the slow smile which sometimes set her wondering if he were not, perhaps, being inwardly satirical at the expense of other people, fooling them by means of his own foolishness. But, however this might be, the cynical feelings that took her in his presence, mounted once more; she knew his symptoms, and an excess of content was just as distasteful to her as gluttony, or wine-bibbing, or any other self-indulgence.
However, she checked the desire to snub him—to snub until she had succeeded in raising that impossible ire, which, she believed, Must lurk somewhere in Dove — for, as she plodded along at his side, sheltered from the brunt of the weather, it occurred to her that here was some one whom she might tap on the subject of Maurice. She opened fire by congratulating her companion on his recent performance in an Abendunterhaltung; at the time, even she had been forced to admit it a creditable piece of work. Dove, who privately considered it epochmaking, was outwardly very modest. He could not refrain from letting fall that the old director had afterwards thanked him in person; but, in the next breath, he pointed out a slip he had made in a particular passage of the sonata. It had not, it was true, been observed, he believed, by anyone except Schwarz and himself; still it had caused him considerable annoyance; and he now related how, as far as he could judge, it had come about.
The current inquiries concerning the Prufungen then passed between them.
“Poor old Schwarz!” said Madeleine. “We shall be few enough, this year. Tell me, what of Heinz? I haven’t seen him for an age.”
“I regret to say that Krafft is making an uncommon donkey of himself,” said Dove. “He had another shocking row with Schwarz last week.”
“Tch, tch, tch!” said Madeleine. “Heinz is a freak. — And Maurice Guest, what about him?”
“I haven’t seen him lately.”
“Indeed? How is that?”
“I’m not in the same class with him now. His hour has been changed.”
“Has it indeed?” said Madeleine thoughtfully. This accounted for her having been unable to meet Maurice. “What’s he playing, do you know?”
“The G major Mendelssohn, I understand;” and Dove looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
“How’s he getting on with it?” she queried afresh, in the same indifferent tone.
“I really couldn’t say. As I mentioned, he’s in another class.”
“Oh, but you must have heard!” said Madeleine. “It’s no use putting me off,” she added, with determination. “I want to find out about Maurice.”
“And I fear I can’t assist you. All I have chanced to hear—mere rumour, of course—is that . . . well, if Guest doesn’t pull himself together, he won’t play at all.—By the way, what did you think of James the other night, in the Lisztverein?”
“Oh, that his octaves were marvellous, of course!” said Madeleine tartly. “But I warn you,” she continued, “it’s of no use changing the subject, or pretending you don’t know. I intend to speak of Maurice.”
“Then it must be to some one else, Miss Madeleine, not to me.”— Dove could never be induced to call her Madeleine, as her other friends did.
“And why, pray, are you to be the exception?”
“Because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t see any more of Guest. He mixes in a different set now.—And as for me, well, my thoughts are occupied with, I trust, more profitable things.”
“What? You have thoughts, too?”
“I hope you don’t claim a monopoly of them?” said Dove, and smiled in his imperturbable way. As, however, Madeleine persisted, he grew grave. “It’s not a pleasant subject. I should really rather not discuss it, Miss Madeleine.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t let us play the prudish or sentimental!” cried Madeleine, in a burst of impatience. “Of course, it isn’t pleasant. Do you think I should “—“bother with you,” was on her tongue. She checked herself, and subtituted —“trouble you about it, if it were? But Maurice was once a friend of ours—you don’t deny it, I hope?” she threw in challengingly; for Dove muttered something to himself. “And I want to get at the truth about him. I’m sorrier than I can say, to hear, on all sides, what a fool he’s making of himself.”
Dove was suavely silent.
“Of course,” continued Madeleine with a sarcastic inflection —“of course, I can’t expect you to see it as I do. Men look at these things differently, I know. Possibly if I were a man, I, too, should stand by, with my hands in my pockets, and watch a friend butt his head against a stone wall—thinking it, indeed, rather good fun.”
She had touched Dove on a tender spot. “I can assure you, Miss Madeleine,” he said impressively, as they picked their steps across a dirty road —“I can assure you, you are mistaken. I think just as strictly in matters of this kind as you yourself.—But as to interfering in Guest’s . . . in his private affairs, well, frankly, I shouldn’t care to try it. He was always a curiously reserved fellow.”
“Reserved—obstinate-pig-headed!—call it what you like,” said Madeleine. “But don’t imagine I’m asking you to interfere. I only want you to tell me, briefly and simply, what you know about him. And to make it easier for you, I’ll begin by telling you what I know.—It’s an old story, isn’t it, that Maurice once supplanted some one else in a certain young woman’s favour? Well, now I hear that he, in turn, is to be laid on the shelf.—Is that true, or isn’t it?”
“Really, Miss Madeleine!—that’s a very blunt way of putting it,” said Dove uncomfortably.
“Oh, when a friend’s at stake, I can’t hum and haw,” said Madeleine, who could never keep her temper with Dove for long.” I call a spade a spade, and rejoice to do it. What I ask you to tell me is, whether I’ve been correctly informed or not. Have you, too, heard Louise Dufrayer’s name coupled with that of a man called Herries?”
But Dove was stubborn. “As far as I’m concerned, Miss Madeleine, the truth is, I’ve hardly exchanged a word with Guest since spring. Into his . . . friendship with Miss Dufrayer, I have never felt it my business to inquire. I believe—from hearsay—that he is much changed. And I feel convinced his Prufung will be poor. Indeed, I’m not sure that he should not be warned off it altogether.”
“Could that not be laid before him?”
“I should not care to undertake it.”
There was nothing to be done with Dove; Madeleine felt that she was wasting her breath; and they walked across the broad centre of the Rossplatz in silence.
“Do you never think,” she said, after a time, “how it would simplify life, if we were able to get above it for a bit, and see things without prejudice?—Here’s a case now, where a little real fellowship and sympathy might work wonders. But no!—no interference!—that’s the chief and only consideration!”
It had stopped raining. Dove let down his umbrella, and carried it stiffly, at some distance from him, by reason of its dampness. “Believe me, Miss Madeleine,” he said, as he emerged from beneath it. “Believe me, I make all allowance for your feelings, which do you credit. A woman’s way of looking at these things is, thank God, humaner than ours. But it’s a man’s duty not to let his feelings run away with him. I agree with you, that it’s a shocking affair. But Guest went into it with his eyes open. And that he could do so—but there was always something a little . . . a little peculiar about Guest.”
“I suppose there was. One can only be thankful, I suppose, that he’s more or less of an exception—among his own countrymen, I mean, of course. Englishmen are not, as a rule, given to that kind of thing.”
“Thank God they’re not!” said Dove with emotion.
“We’ll, our ways part here,” said Madeleine, and halted. As she took her music from him, she asked: “By the way, when shall we be at liberty to congratulate you?”
It was not at all “by the way” to Dove. However, he only smiled; for he had grown wiser, and no longer wore his heart on his coat-sleeve. “You shall be one of the first to hear, Miss Madeleine, when the news is made public.”
“Thanks greatly. Good-bye.—Oh, no, stop a moment!” cried Madeleine. It was more than she could bear to see him turn away thus, beaming with self-content. “Stop a moment. You won’t mind my telling you, I’m sure, that I’ve been disappointed with you this afternoon. For I’ve always thought of you as a saviour in the hour of need, don’t you know? One does indulge in these fancy pictures of one’s friends—a strong man, helping with tact and example. And here you go, toppling my picture over, without the least remorse.—Well, you know your own business best, I suppose, but it’s unkind of you, all the same, to destroy an illusion. One has few enough of them in this world. — Ta-ta!”
She laughed satirically, and turned on her heel, regardless of the effect of her words.
But Dove was not offended; on the contrary, he felt rather flattered. He did not, of course, care in the least about what Madeleine called her illusions; but the mental portrait she had drawn of him corresponded exactly to that attitude in which he was fondest of contemplating himself. For it could honestly be said that, hitherto, no one had ever applied to him for aid in vain: he was always ready, both with his time and with good advice. And the idea that, in the present instance, he was being untrue to himself, in other words, that he was letting an opportunity slip, ended by upsetting him altogether.
Until now, he had not regarded Maurice and Maurice’s doings from this point of view. By nature, Dove was opposed to excess of any kind; his was a clean, strong mind, which caused him instinctively to draw back from everything, in morals as in art, that passed a certain limit. Nothing on earth would have persuaded him to discuss his quondam friend’s backsliding with Madeleine Wade; he was impregnated with the belief that such matters were unfit for virtuous women’s ears, and he applied his conviction indiscriminately. Now, however, the notion of Maurice as a Poor erring sheep, waiting, as it were, to be saved—this idea was of undeniable attractiveness to Dove, and the more he revolved it, the more convinced he grew of its truth.
But he had reasons for hesitating. Having valiantly overcome his own disappointments, first in the case of Ephie, then of pretty Susie, he now, in his third suit, was on the brink of success. The object of his present attachment was a Scotch lady, no longer in her first youth, and several years older than himself but of striking appearance, vivacious manners, and, if report spoke true, considerable fortune. Her appearance in Leipzig was due to the sudden burst of energy which often inspires a woman of the Scotch nation when she feels her youth escaping her. Miss MacCallum, who was abroad nominally to acquire the language, was accompanied by her aged father and mother; and it was with these two old people that it behoved Dove to ingratiate himself; for, according to the patriarchal habits of their race, the former still guided and determined their daughter’s mode of life, as though she were thirteen instead of thirty. Dove was obliged to be of the utmost circumspection in his behaviour; for the old couple, uprooted violently from their native soil, lived in a mild but constant horror at the iniquity of foreign ways. They held the profession of music to be an unworthy one, and threw up their hands in dismay at the number of young people here complacently devoting themselves to such a frivolous object. It was necessary for Dove to prove to them that a student of music might yet be a man of untarnished principles and blame less honour. And he did not find the task a hard one; the whole bent of his mind was towards sobriety. He frequented the American church with his new friends on Sunday after noon; gave up skating on that day; went with the old gentleman to Motets and Passions; and eschewed the opera.
But now, his ambition had been insidiously roused, and day by day it grew stronger. If only the affair with Maurice had not been of so unsavoury a nature! Did he, Dove, become seriously involved, it might be difficult to prove to judges so severe as his future parents-in-law, that he had acted out of pure goodness of heart. For, that he would be embroiled, in other words, that he would have success in his mission, there was no manner of doubt in his mind—a conviction he shared with the generality of mankind: that it is only necessary for an offender’s eyes to be opened to the enormity of his wrongdoing, for him to be reasonable and to renounce it.
While Dove hesitated thus, torn between his reputation on the one hand, his missionary zeal on the other; while he hesitated, an incident occurred, which acted as a kind of moral fingerpost. In the piano-class, one day, just as Dove was about to leave the room, Schwarz asked him if he were not a friend of Herr Guest’s. The latter had been absent now from two lessons in succession. Was he ill? Did no one know what had happened to him? Dove made light of the friendship, but volunteered his services, and was bidden to make inquiries.
He went that afternoon.
Frau Krause looked a little gruffer than of old; and left him to find his own way to Maurice’s room. In accordance with the new state of things, Dove knocked ceremoniously at the door. While his knuckles still touched the wood, it was flung open, and he stood face to face with Maurice. For a moment the latter did not seem to recognise his visitor; he had evidently been expecting some one else.
Then he repaired his tardiness, ceased to hold the door, and Dove entered, apologising for his intrusion.
“Just a moment. I won’t detain you. As you were absent from the class all last week, Schwarz asked to-day if you were ill, and I said I would step round and see.”
“Very good of you, I’m sure. Sit down,” said Maurice. His face changed as he spoke; a look of relief and, at the same time, of disappointment flitted across it.
“Thanks. If I am not disturbing you,” answered Dove. As he said these words, he threw a glance, the significance of which might have been grasped by a babe, at the piano. It had plainly not been opened that day.
Maurice understood. “No, I was not practising,” he said. “But I have to go out shortly,” and he looked at his watch.
“Quite so. Very good. I won’t detain you,” repeated Dove, and sat down on the proffered chair. “But not practising? My dear fellow, how is that? Are you so far forward already that it isn’t necessary? Or is it a fact that you are not feeling up to the mark?”
“Oh, I’m all right. I get my work over in the morning.”
Now he, too, sat down, at the opposite side of the table. Clearing his throat, Dove gazed at the sinner before him. He began to see that his errand was not going to be an easy one; where no hint was taken, it was difficult to insert even the thinnest edge of the wedge. He resolved to use finesse; and, for several of the precious moments at his disposal, he talked, as if at random, of other things.
Maurice tapped the table. He kept his eyes fixed on Dove’s face, as though he were drinking in his companion’s solemn utterances. In reality, whole minutes passed without his knowing what was said. At Dove’s knock, he had been certain that a message had come from Louise—at last. This was the night of the ball; and still she had given him no promise that she would not go. They had parted, the evening before, after a bitter quarrel; and he had left her, vowing that he would not return till she sent for him. He had waited the whole day, in vain, for a sign. What was Dove with his pompous twaddle to him? Every slight sound on the stairs or in the passage meant more. He was listening, listening, without cessation.
When he came back to himself, he heard Dove droning on, like a machine that has been wound up and cannot stop.
“Now, I hope you won’t mind my saying so,” were the next words that pierced his brain. “You must not be offended at my telling you; but you are hardly fulfilling the expectations we, your friends, you know, had formed of you. My dear fellow, you really must pull yourself together, or February will find you still unprepared.”
Maurice went a shade paler; he was clear, now, as to the object of Dove’s visit. But he answered in an off-hand way. “Oh, there’s time enough yet.”
“No. That’s a mistaken point of view, if I may say so,” replied Dove in his blandest manner. “Time requires to be taken by the forelock, you know.”
“Does it?” Maurice allowed the smile that was expected of him to cross his face.
“Most emphatically—And we fellow-students of yours are not the only people who have noticed a certain—what shall I say?—a certain abatement of energy on your part. Schwarz sees it, too—or I am much mistaken.”
“What?—he, too?” said Maurice, and pretended a mild surprise. For some seconds now he had been mentally debating with himself whether he should not, there and then, show Dove the door. He decided against it. A “Damn your interference!” meant plain-speaking, on both sides; it meant a bandying of words; and more expenditure of strength than he had to spare for Dove. Once more he drew out and consulted his watch.
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Dove, ignoring the hint. “I assume it, from something he let drop this afternoon. Now, you know, your Mendelssohn ought to have been a brilliant piece of work—yes, the expression is not too strong. And it still must be. My dear Guest, what I came to say to you to-day—one, at any rate, of the reasons that brought me — was, that you must not allow your interest in what you are doing to flag at the eleventh hour.”
Maurice laughed. “Oh, certainly not! Most awfully good of you to trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” Dove assured him. He flicked some dust from his trouser-knee before he spoke again. “I . . . er . . . that is, I had some talk the other day with Miss Wade.”
“Indeed!” replied Maurice, and was now able accurately to gauge the motor origin of Dove’s appearance. “How is she? How is Madeleine?”
“She was speaking of you, Guest. She would, I think, like to see you.”
“Yes. I’ve rather neglected her lately, I’m afraid. — But when there’s so much to do, you know . . . ”
“It’s a pity,” said Dove, passing over the last words, and nodding his head sagaciously. “She’s a staunch friend of yours, is Miss Madeleine. I think it wouldn’t be too much to say, she was feeling a little hurt at your neglect of her.”
“Really? I had no idea so many people took an interest in me.”
“That is just where you are mistaken,” said Dove warmly. “We all do. And for that very reason, I said to myself, I will be spokesman for the rest: I’ll go to him and tell him he must pull through, and do himself credit—and Schwarz, too. We are so few this year, you know.”
“Yes, poor old man! He has got badly left.”
“Yes. That was one reason. And then . . . but you assure me, don’t you, that you will not take what I am going to say amiss?”
“Not in the least. It’s awfully decent of you. But I’m sorry to say my time’s up. And every minute is precious just now—as you know yourself.”
He rose, and, for the third time, referred to his watch. After an ineffectual attempt to continue, Dove was also forced to rise, with the best part of his message unuttered. And Maurice hurried him, glum and crestfallen, to the door, for fear of the still worse tactlessness of which he might make himself guilty.
They groped in silence along the dark lobby. For the sake of parting with a friendly and neutral word, Maurice said, as he opened the door: “By the way, I hear we shall soon have to offer congratulations and good wishes.”
To his surprise, Dove, who had already crossed the threshold, looked blank, and drew himself up.
“Indeed?” he said, and the tone was, for him, quite short. “I . . . the fact is . . . I’ve no idea of what you are referring to.”
On re-entering his room, Maurice went back to the window, and taking up his former attitude, began to beat anew that tattoo on the panes, which had been his chief employment during the day. His eyes were sore with straining at the corner of the street, tired of looking at his watch to see how the time passed. He had steadfastly believed that Louise would yield in this matter, and, at the last, recall him in a burst of impulsive regret. But, as the day crawled by without a word from her, his confident conviction weakened; and, at the same time, his resolve not to go back till she sent for him, failed. He repeated, in memory, some of the bitter things they had said to each other, to see if he had not left himself a loophole of escape; but only with one half of his brain: the other was persistently occupied with the emptiness of the street below. When a clock struck half-past seven, he could bear the suspense no longer: he put on his hat and coat, and went out. He felt tired and unslept, and dragged along as if his body were a weight to him. A fine snow was falling, which froze into icicles on the beards of the passers-by, and on the glistening pavements. The distance had never seemed so long to him; it had also never seemed so short.
A faint and foolish hope still refused to be extinguished. But it went out directly he had unlocked the door; and he learned what he had come to learn, without the exchange of a word. The truth met him, that he should have been here hours ago, commanding, imploring; instead of which he had sat at home, nursing a futile and paltry pride.
The room was warm, and bright with extra candles. It was also in that state of confusion which accompanied an elaborate toilet on the part of Louise. Fully dressed, she stood before the console-glass, and arranged something in her hair. She did not turn at his entrance, but she raised her eyes and met his in the mirror, without pausing in what she was doing.
He looked over her shoulder at her reflected face. The cold steadiness, the open hostility of her look, took his strength away. He sat down on the foot-end of the bed, and put his head in his hands. Minutes passed, and still he remained in this position. For what was the use of his speaking? Her mind was made up; nothing would move her now.
Then came the noise of wheels in the street below. Uncovering his eyes, Maurice looked at her again; and, as he did so, his feelings which, until now, had had something of the nature of a personal wound, gave place to others with the rush of a storm. She wore the same sparkling, low-cut dress as on the previous occasion; arms and shoulders were as ruthlessly bared to view. He remembered what he had heard said of her that night, and felt that his powers of endurance were at an end. With a stifled exclamation, he got up from the bed, and going past her, into the half of the room beyond the screen, caught up the first object that came to hand, and threw it to the floor. It was a Dresden-china figure, and broke to pieces.
Louise gave a cry, and came running out to see what he had done. “Are you mad? How dare you! . . . break my things.”
She held a candle above her head, and by its light, he saw, in the skin of neck and shoulder, all the lines and folds that were formed by the raising of her arm. He now saw, too, that her hair was dressed in a different way, that her dark eyebrows had been made still darker, and that she was powdered. This discovery had a peculiar effect on him: it rendered it easier for him to say hard things to her; at the same time, it strengthened his determination not to let her go out of the house. Moving aimlessly about the room, he stumbled against a chair, and kicked it from him.
“A month ago, if some one had sworn to me that you would treat me as you are doitng to-night, I should have laughed in his face,” he said at last.
Louise had put the candle down, and was standing with her back to him. Taking up a pair of long, black gloves, she began to draw one over her hand. She did not look up at his words, but went on stroking the kid of the glove.
“You’re only doing it to revenge yourself—I know that! But what have I done, that you should take less thought for my feelings than if I were a dog?”
Still she did not speak.
“You won’t really go, Louise?—you won’t have the heart to.—I say you shall not go! It will be the end—the end of everything!—if you leave the house to-night.”
She pulled her dress from his hand. “You’re out of your senses, I think. The end of everything! Because, for once, I choose to have some pleasure on my own account! Any other man would be glad to see the woman he professes to care for, enjoy herself. But you begrudge it to me. You say my pleasures shall only come through you—who have taken to making life a burden to me! Can’t you understand that I’m glad to get away from you, and your ill-humours and mean, abominable jealousy. You’re not my master. I’m not your slave.” She tugged at a recalcitrant glove. “It is absurd,” she went on a moment later. “All because I wish to go out alone for once.—But did I even want to? Why, if it means so much to you, couldn’t you have bought a ticket and come too? But no! you wouldn’t go yourself, and so I was not to go either. It’s on a level with all your other behaviour.”
“I go!” he cried. “To watch you the whole evening in that man’s arms!—No, thank you! It’s not good enough. — You, with your indecent style of dancing!”
She wheeled round, as if the insult had struck her; and for a moment faced him, with open lips. Then she thought better of it: she laughed derisively, with a wanton undertone, in order to hurt him.
“You would at least have had me under your own eyes.”
As she spoke, she nodded to the old woman who opened the door to say that the droschke waited below. A lace scarf was lying on the table; Louise twisted it mechanically round her head, and began to struggle with an evening cloak. Just as she had succeeded in getting it over her shoulders, Maurice took her by the arms and bent her backwards, so that the cloak fell to the floor.
“You shall not go!”
She stemmed her hands against him, and determinedly, yet. with caution, pushed herself free.
“My dress—my hair! How dare you!”
“What do I care for your dress or your hair? You make me mad!”
“And what do I care whether you’re mad or not? Take your hands away!”
“Louise! . . . for God’s sake! . . . not with that man. At least, not with him. He has said infamous things of you. I never told you—yes, I heard him say—heard him compare you with . . . soiled goods he called you.—Louise! Louise!”
“Have you any more insults for me?”
“No, no more!” He leaned his back against the door. “Only this: if you leave this room to-night, it’s the end.”
She had picked up her cloak again. “The end!” she repeated, and looked contemptuously at him. “I should welcome it, if it were.—But you’re wrong. The end, the real end, came long ago. The beginning was the end!—Open that door, and let me out!”
He heard her go along the hall, heard the front door shut behind her, and, after a pause, heard the deeper tone of the house door. The droschke drove away. After that, he stood at the window, looking out into the pitch-dark night. Behind him, the landlady set the room in order, and extinguished the additional candles.
When she had finished, and shut the door, Maurice faced the empty room. His eyes ranged slowly over it; and he made a vague gesture that signified nothing. A few steps took him to the writing-table, on which her muff was lying. He lifted it up, and a bunch of violets fell into his hand. They brought her before him as nothing else could have done. Beside the bed, he went down on his knees, and drawing her pillow to him, pressed it round his head.
The end, the end!—the beginning the end: there was truth in what she had said. Their love had had no stamina in it, no vital power. He was losing her, steadily and surely losing her, powerless to help it—rather it seemed as if some malignant spirit urged him to hasten on the crisis. Their thoughts seemed hopelessly at war.—And yet, how he loved her! He made himself no illusions about her now; he understood just what she was, and what she would always be; the many conflicting impulses of her nature lay bare to him. But he loved her, loved her: all the dead weight of his physical craving for her was on him again, confounding, overmastering. None the less, she had left him; she had no need for him; and the hours would come, oftener and oftener, when she could do without him, when, as now, she voluntarily sought the company of other men. The thought suffocated him; he rose to his feet, and hastened out of the house.
A little before one o’clock, he was stationed opposite the sideentrance to the Hotel de prusse. He had a long time to wait. As two o’clock approached, small batches of people emerged, at first at intervals, then more and more frequently. Among the last were Herries and Louise. Maurice remained standing in the shadow of some houses, until they had parted from their companions. He heard her voice above all the rest; it rang out clear and resonant, just as on that former occasion when she had drunk freely of champagne.
With many final words and false partings, she and Herries separated from the group, and turned to walk down the street. As they did so, Maurice sprang out from his hiding-place, and was suddenly in front of them, blocking their progress.
At his unexpected apparition, both started; and when he roughly took hold of her arm, Louise gave a short cry. Herries put out his hand, and smacked Maurice’s down.
“What are you doing there? Take your hands off this lady, damn you!” he cried in broken German, not recognising Maurice, and believing that he had to deal with an ordinary Nachtschwarmer.
The savageness with which he was turned on, enlightened him. “Damn you!” retorted Maurice in English. “Take your hands off her yourself I She belongs to me—to me, do you hear?—and I intend to keep her.”
“You drunken cur!” said Herries. He had instinctively allowed Louise to withdraw her arm; now he stood irresolute, uncertain how she would wish him to act. She had gone very pale; he believed she was afraid. “Isn’t there a droschke anywhere?” he said, and looked angrily round. “I really can’t see you exposed to this . . . this sort of thing, you know.”
Louise answered hurriedly. “No, no. And please go! I shall be all right. I’m sorry.—I had enjoyed it so much. I will tell you another time, how much. Good night, and thank you. No . . . Please! . . . yes, a delightful evening.” Her words were almost inaudible.
“Delightful indeed!” said Herries with warmth. Then he stood aside, raised his hat, and let them pass.
Maurice had his hand on her wrist, and he dragged her after him, over the frozen pavements, far more quickly than she could in comfort go, hampered as she was by snow-boots and by her heavy cloak. But she followed him, allowed herself to be drawn, without protest. She felt strangely will-less. Only sometimes, when the thought of the indignity he had laid upon her came over her anew. did she whisper: “How dare you! . . . oh, how dare you!”
He did not look at her, or answer her, and all might have gone well, so oddly did this treatment affect her, had he only persisted in it. But the mere contact of her hand softened him towards her; her nearness worked on him as it never failed to do. He was exhausted, too, mentally and physically, and at the thought that, for this night at least, his sufferings were over, he could have shed tears of relief. Slackening his pace, he began to speak, began to excuse and exculpate himself before ever she had blamed him, endeavouring to make her understand something of what he had gone through. In advance, and before she had expressed it, he sought to break down her spirit of animosity.
The longer he spoke, the harder she felt herself grow. He was at it again, back at his eternal self-justification. Oh, why, for this one evening at least, could he not have enforced his will, and have made her do what he wished, without explanation! But the one plain, simple way was the only way he never thought of taking. “I hate you and despise you! I shall never forgive you for your behaviour to-night!—never!” And now it was she who pressed forward, to get away from him.
He turned the key in the house-door. But before he could open the door, Louise, pushing in front of him, threw it back, entered the house, and, the next moment, the door banged in his face. He had just time to withdraw his hand. He heard her steps on the stair, mounting, growing fainter; he heard the door above open and shut.
For a second or two, he stood listening to these sounds. But when it dawned on him that she had shut him out, he pressed both hands against the wood of the heavy door, and tr to shake it open. He even beat his fist against it, and only desisted from this when his knuckles began to smart.
Then, on looking down, he saw that the key was still in the lock. He stared at it, stupidly, without understanding. But, yes—it was his own key; he himself had put it in. He took it out again, and holding it in his hand, looked at it, after the fashion of a drunken man, who does not recognise the object he holds. And even while he did this, he burst into a peal of laughter, which made him lean for support against the wall of the house. The noise he made sounded idiotic, sounded mad, in the quiet street; but he was unable to contain himself. She had left him the key — had left the key! Oh, what a fool he was!
His laughter died away. He opened the door, noiselessly, as he had learned by practice to do, and as noiselessly entered the vestibule and went up the stairs.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12