BENN'S ESSEX LIBRARY
Edited by Edward G. Hawke, M.A.
First published 1898
Reprinted (Essex Library) 1929
To Arthur Symons and W.B. Yeats Two contemporary writers with whom I am in sympathy
The thin winter day had died early, and at four o'clock it was dark night in the long room in which Mr. Innes gave his concerts of early music. An Elizabethan virginal had come to him to be repaired, and he had worked all the afternoon, and when overtaken by the dusk, he had impatiently sought a candle end, lit it, and placed it so that its light fell upon the jacks.... Only one more remained to be adjusted. He picked it up, touched the quill and dropped it into its place, rapidly tuned the instrument, and ran his fingers over the keys.
Iron-grey hair hung in thick locks over his forehead, and, shining through their shadows, his eyes drew attention from the rest of his face, so that none noticed at first the small and firmly cut nose, nor the scanty growth of beard twisted to a point by a movement habitual to the weak, white hand. His face was in his eyes: they reflected the flame of faith and of mission; they were the eyes of one whom fate had thrown on an obscure wayside of dreams, the face of a dreamer and propagandist of old-time music and its instruments. He sat at the virginal, like one who loved its old design and sweet tone, in such strict keeping with the music he was playing—a piece by W. Byrd, "John, come kiss me now"—and when it was finished, his fingers strayed into another, "Nancie," by Thomas Morley. His hands moved over the keyboard softly, as if they loved it, and his thoughts, though deep in the gentle music, entertained casual admiration of the sixteenth century organ, which had lately come into his possession, and which he could see at the end of the room on a slightly raised platform. Its beautiful shape, and the shape of the old instruments, vaguely perceived, lent an enchantment to the darkness. In the corner was a viola da gamba, and against the walls a harpsichord and a clavichord.
Above the virginal on which Mr. Innes was playing there hung a portrait of a woman, and, happening to look up, a sudden memory came upon him, and he began to play an aria out of Don Giovanni. But he stopped before many bars, and holding the candle end high, so that he could see the face, continued the melody with his right hand. To see her lips and to strike the notes was almost like hearing her sing it again. Her voice came to him through many years, from the first evening he had heard her sing at La Scala. Then he was a young man spending a holiday in Italy, and she had made his fortune for the time by singing one of his songs. They were married in Italy, and at the end of some months they had gone to Paris and to Brussels, where Mrs. Innes had engagements to fulfil. It was in Brussels that she had lost her voice. For a long while it was believed that she might recover it, but these hopes proved illusory, and, in trying to regain what she had lost irrevocably, the money she had earned dwindled to a last few hundred pounds. The Innes had returned to London, and, with a baby-daughter, settled in Dulwich. Mr. Innes accepted the post of organist at St. Joseph's, the parish church in Southwark, and Mrs. Innes had begun her singing classes.
Her reputation as a singer favoured her, and an aptitude for teaching enabled her to maintain, for many years, a distinguished position in the musical world. Mr. Innes's abilities contributed to their success, and he might have become a famous London organist if he had devoted himself to the instrument. But one day seeing in a book the words "viola d'amore," he fancied he would like to possess an instrument with such a name. The instrument demanded the music that had been written for it. Byrd's beautiful vocal Mass had led him to Palestrina and Vittoria, and these wakened in him dreams of a sufficient choir at St. Joseph's for a revival of their works.
So when Evelyn clambered on her father's knee, it was to learn the chants that he hummed from old manuscripts and missals, and it was the contrapuntal fancies of the Elizabethan composers that he gave her to play on the virginal, or the preludes of Bach on the clavichord. Her infantile graces at these instruments were the delight and amazement of her parents. She warbled this old-time music as other children do the vulgar songs of the hour; she seemed less anxious to learn the operatic music which she heard in her mother's class-rooms, and there was a shade of uneasiness in Mrs. Innes's admiration of the beauty of Evelyn's taste; but Mr. Innes said that it was better that her first love should be for the best, and he could not help hoping that it would not be with the airs of Lucia and Traviata that she would become famous. As if in answer, the child began to hum the celebrated waltz, a moment after a beautiful Ave Maria, composed by a Fleming at the end of the fifteenth century, a quick, sobbing rhythm, expressive of naive petulance at delay in the Virgin's intercession. Mr. Innes called it natural music—music which the modern Church abhorred and shamefully ostracised; and the conversation turned on the incurably bad taste and the musical misdeeds of a certain priest, Father Gordon, whom Mr. Innes judged to be responsible for all the bad music to be heard at St. Joseph's.
For Mr. Innes's ambition was to restore the liturgical chants of the early centuries, from John Ockeghem, the Flemish silver-smith of Louis XI., whose recreation it was to compose motets, to Thomas da Vittoria; and, after having made known the works of Palestrina and of those who gravitated around the great Roman composer, he hoped to disinter the masses of Orlando di Lasso, of Goudimel and Josquin des Pres, the motets of Nannini, of Felice Anerio, of Clemens non Papa.... He would go still further back. For before this music was the plain chant or Gregorian, bequeathed to us by the early Church, coming down to her, perhaps, from Egyptian civilisation, the mother of all art and all religion, an incomparable treasure which unworthy inheritors have mutilated for centuries. It was Mr. Innes's belief that the supple, free melody of the Gregorian was lost in the shouting of operatic tenors and organ accompaniments. The tradition of its true interpretation had been lost, and the text itself, but by long study of ancient missals, Mr. Innes had penetrated the secret of the ancient notation, vague as the eyeballs of the blind, and in the absence of a choir that could read this strange alphabet of sound, he cherished a plan for an edition of these old chants, re-written by him into the ordinary notation of our day. But impassable obstacles intervened: the apathy and indifference of the Jesuits, and their fear lest such radical innovations should prove unpopular and divert the congregation of St. Joseph's elsewhere. He had abandoned hope of converting them from their error, but he was confident that reaction was preparing against the jovialities of Rossini, whose Stabat Mater, he said, still desecrated Good Friday, and against the erotics of M. Gounod and his suite. And this inevitable reaction Mr. Innes strove to advance by his pupils. Many became disciples and helped to preach the new musical gospel. He induced them to learn the old instruments, and among them found material for his concerts. Though a weak man in practical conduct, he was steadfast in his ideas. His concerts had begun to attract a little attention; he was receiving support from some rich amateurs, and was able to continue his propaganda under the noses of the worthy fathers in whose church he was now serving, but where he knew that one day he would be master.
But, unfortunately, Mr. Innes could only give a small part of his time to these concerts. Notwithstanding his persuasiveness, there remained on his hands some intractable pupils who would not hear of viol or harpsichord, who insisted upon being taught to play modern masses on the organ, and these he could not afford to refuse. For of late years his wife's failing health had forced her to relinquish teaching, and the burden of earning their living had fallen entirely upon him. She hoped that a long rest might improve her in health, and that in some months—six, she imagined as a sufficient interval—she would be able to undertake in full earnestness her daughter's education. To do this had become her dearest wish; for there could now be little doubt that Evelyn had inherited her voice, the same beautiful quality and fluency in vocalisation; and thinking of it, Mrs. Innes held out her hands and looked at them, striving to read in them the progress of her illness. Evelyn wondered why, just at that moment, her father had turned from the bedside overcome by sudden tears. But whoever dies, life goes on the same, our interests and necessities brook little interference. Meal-times are always fixed times, and when father and daughter met in the parlour—it was just below the room in which Mrs. Innes was dying—Evelyn asked why her mother had looked at her hands so significantly.
He said that it was thus her mother foreshadowed Violetta's death, when Armand's visit is announced to her.
In the silence which followed this explanation their souls seemed to say what their lips could not. Sympathies and perceptions hitherto dormant were awakened; he recognised in her, and she, in herself, an unsuspected inheritance. Her voice she had received from her mother, but all else came from her father. She felt his life and character stirring in her, and moved as by a new instinct, she sat by his side, holding his hand. They sat waiting for the announcement of the death which could not be delayed much longer, and each thought of the difference the passing would make in their lives! It was her death that had brought them together, that had given them a new and mutual life. And in those hours their eyes had seemed to seal a compact of love and fealty.
This was three years ago; but since Mrs. Innes's death very little had been done with Evelyn's voice. The Jesuits had spent money in increasing their choir and orchestra, and Mr. Innes was constantly rehearsing the latest novelties in religious music. All his spare time was occupied with private teaching; and discovering in his daughter a real aptitude for the lute, he had taught her that instrument, likewise the viola da gamba, for which she soon displayed even more original talent. She played both instruments at his concerts, and as several pupils offered themselves, he encouraged her to give lessons—he had made of her an excellent musician, able to write fugue and counterpoint; only the production of the voice he had neglected. Now and again, in a fit of repentance, he had insisted on her singing some scales, but his heart was not in the lesson, and it fell through.
He was suspicious that she knew she could not learn singing from him; but an avowal of his inability to teach her would necessitate some departure from his own ideas, and, like all men with a mission, Mr. Innes was deficient in moral courage, and in spite of himself he evaded all that did not coincide with the purpose of his life. He loved his daughter above everything, except his music, and the thought that he was sacrificing her to his ambition afflicted him with cruel assaults of conscience. Often he asked himself if he were capable of redeeming his promise to his dead wife, or if he shirked the uncongenial labour it entailed? And it was this tormenting question that had impelled him to light the candle, and raise it so that he could better see his wife's face.
Though an indifferent painting, the picture was elaborately like the sitter. The pointed oval of the face had been faithfully drawn, and its straight nose and small brown eyes were set characteristically in the head. Remembering a photograph of his daughter, Mr. Innes fetched it from the other end of the room, and stood with it under the portrait, so that he could compare both faces, feature by feature. Evelyn's face was rounder, her eyes were not deep-set like her mother's; they lay nearly on the surface, pools of light illuminating a very white and flower-like complexion. The nose was short and high; the line of the chin deflected, giving an expression of wistfulness to the face in certain aspects. Her father was still bent in examination of the photograph when she entered. It was very like her, and at first sight Nature revealed only two more significant facts: her height—she was a tall girl—and a beautiful undulation in her walk, occasioned by the slight droop in her shoulders. She was dressed in dark green woollen, with a large hat to match.
"Well, darling! and how have you been getting on?"
The vague pathos of his grey face was met by the bright effusion of hers, and throwing her arms about him, she kissed him on the cheek.
"Pretty well, dear; pretty well."
"Only pretty well," she answered reproachfully. "No one has been here to interrupt you; you have had all the afternoon for finishing that virginal, and you've only been getting on 'pretty well.' But I see your necktie has come undone."
Then overlooking him from head to foot—
"Well, you have been making a day of it."
"Oh, these are my old clothes—that is glue; don't look at me—I had an accident with the glue-pot; and that's paint. Yes; I must get some new shirts, these won't hold a button any longer."
The conversation paused a few seconds, then running her finger down the keys, she said—
"But it goes admirably."
"Yes; I've finished it now; it is an exquisite instrument. I could not leave it till it was finished."
"Then what are you complaining of, darling? Has Father Gordon been here? Has he discovered any new Belgian composer, and does he want all his music to be given at St. Joseph's?"
"No; Father Gordon hasn't been here, and as for the Belgian composers, there are none left; he has discovered them all."
"Then you've been thinking about me, about my voice. That's it," she said, catching sight of her own photograph. "You've been frowning over that photograph, thinking"—her eyes went up to her mother's portrait—"all sorts of nonsense, making yourself miserable, reproaching yourself that you do not teach me to vocalise, a thing which you know nothing about, or lamenting that you are not rich enough to send me abroad, where I could be taught it." Then, with a pensive note in her voice which did not escape him, she said—
"As if there was any need to worry. I'm not twenty yet."
"No, you're not twenty yet, but you will be very soon. Time is going by."
"Well, let time go by, I don't care. I'm happy here with you, father. I wouldn't go away, even if you had the money to send me. I intend to help you make the concerts a success. Then, perhaps, I shall go abroad."
His heart went out to his daughter. He was proud of her, and her fine nature was a compensation for many disappointments. He took her in his arms and thankfully kissed her. She was touched by his emotion, and conscious that her eyes were threatening tears, she said—
"I can't stand this gloom. I must have some light. I'll go and get a lamp. Besides, it must be getting late. I wonder what kind of a dinner Margaret has got for us. I left it to her. A good one, I hope. I'm ravenous."
A few minutes after she appeared in the doorway, holding a lamp high, the light showing over her white skin and pale gold hair. "Margaret has excelled herself—boiled haddock, melted butter, a neck of mutton and a rice pudding. And I have brought back a bag of oranges. Now come, darling. You've done enough to that virginal. Run upstairs and wash your hands, and remember that the fish is getting cold."
She was waiting for him in the little back room—the lamp was on the table—and when they sat down to dinner she began the tale of her day's doings. But she hadn't got farther than the fact that they had asked her to stay to tea at Queen's Gate, when her tongue, which always went quite as fast as her thoughts, betrayed her, and before she was aware, she had said that her pupil's sister was in delicate health and that the family was going abroad for the winter. This was equivalent to saying she had lost a pupil. So she rattled on, hoping that her father would not perceive the inference.
"There doesn't seem to be much luck about at present," he said. "That's the third pupil you've lost this month."
"It is unfortunate ... and just as I was beginning to save a little money." A moment after her voice had recovered its habitual note of cheerfulness. "Then what do you think I did? An idea struck me; I took the omnibus and went straight to St. James's Hall."
"To St. James's Hall!"
"Yes, you old darling; don't you know that M. Desjardin, the French composer, has come over to give a series of concerts. I thought I should like him to try my voice."
"You didn't see him?"
"Yes I did. When I asked for him, the clerk said, pointing to a gentleman coming downstairs, that is Monsieur Desjardin. I went straight up to him, and told him who I was, and asked him if he had ever heard of mother. Just fancy, he never had; but he seemed interested when I told him that everyone said my voice was as good as mother's. We went into the hall, and I sang to him."
"What did you sing to him?"
"'Have you seen but a white lily grow?' and 'Que vous me coutez cher, mon coeur, pour vos plaisirs.'"
"Ah! that music must have surprised him. What did he say?"
"I don't think I sang very well, but he seemed pleased, and asked me if I knew any modern music. I said 'Very little.' He was surprised at that. But he said I had a very fine voice, and sang the old music beautifully, but that it would be impossible for me to sing modern music without ruining my voice, until I had been taught. I asked him if it would not be well to try to earn a little money by concert singing, so that I might go abroad later on. He said, 'I am glad that all my arrangements are made, otherwise I might be tempted to offer you an engagement. One engagement leads to another, and if you sing before your voice is properly placed'—'posee' was the word he used—'you will ruin it.'"
"Is that all?"
"Yes, that's all." Then, noticing the pained look that had come into her father's face, she added, "It was nice to hear that he thought well of my voice."
But she could tell what he was thinking of, and regretting her tongue's indiscretion, she tried to divert his thoughts from herself. His brooding look continued, and to remove it she had to fetch his pipe and tobacco. When he had filled it for the third time he said—
"There is the Bach and the Handel sonata waiting for us; we ought to be getting to work."
"I'm quite ready, father. I suppose I must not eat any more oranges," and she surveyed her plate full of skins.
Mr. Innes took up the lamp, Evelyn called to the servant to get another, and followed him into the music-room. The lamps were placed on the harpsichord. She lighted some candles, and in the moods and aspirations of great men they found a fairyland, and the lights disappeared from the windows opposite, leaving them still there.
The wings of the hours were light—weariness could not reach them—and at half-past eleven Mr. Innes was speaking of a beautiful motet, "O Magnum Mysterium," by Vittoria. His fingers lingered in the wailing chords, and he said—
"That is where Wagner went for his chorus of youths in the cupola. The critics haven't discovered it yet; they are still talking of Palestrina."
Jesuits from St. Joseph's were not infrequently seen at Mr. Innes's concerts. The worthy fathers, although they did not see their way to guaranteeing a yearly grant of money sufficient to ensure adequate performances of Palestrina's finest works, were glad to support, with occasional guineas, their organist's concerts. Painters and men of letters were attracted by them; musicians seldom. Nor did Mr. Innes encourage their presence. Musicians were of no use to him. They were, he said, divided into two classes—those who came to scoff, and those who came to steal. He did not want either sort.
The rare music interested but a handful, and the audience that had come from London shivered in remembrance of the east wind which had accompanied their journey. But this little martyrdom did not seem to be entirely without its satisfactions, and conscious of superiority, they settled themselves to listen to the few words of explanation with which Mr. Innes was accustomed to introduce the music that was going to be played. He was speaking, when he was interrupted by the servant-maid, who whispered and gave him a card: "Sir Owen Asher, Bart., 27 Berkeley Square." He left the room hurriedly, and his audience surmised from his manner that something important had happened.
Sir Owen, seemingly a tall man, certainly above the medium height, was waiting for him in the passage. His thin figure was wrapped tightly in an overcoat, most of his face was concealed in the collar, and the pale gold-coloured moustache showed in contrast to the dark brown fur. The face, wide across the forehead, acquired an accent in the pointed chin and strongly marked jaw. The straight nose was thin and well shaped in the nostrils. "An attractive man of forty" would be the criticism of a woman. Sir Owen's attractiveness concentrated in his sparkling eyes and his manner, which was at once courteous and manly. He told Mr. Innes that he had heard of his concerts that morning at the office of the Wagnerian Review, and Mr. Innes indulged in his habitual dream of a wealthy patron who would help him to realise his musical ambitions. Sir Owen had just bought the periodical, he intended to make it an organ of advanced musical culture, and would like to include a criticism of these concerts. Mr. Innes begged Sir Owen to come into the concert-room. But while taking off his coat, Sir Owen mentioned what he had heard regarding Mr. Innes's desire to revive the vocal masses of the sixteenth century at St. Joseph's, and the interest of this conversation delayed them a little in the passage.
The baronet's evening clothes were too well cut for those of a poet, a designer of wall paper, or a journalist, and his hands were too white and well cared for at the nails. His hair was pale brown, curling a little at the ends, and carefully brushed and looking as if it had been freshened by some faintest application of perfumed essence. Three pearl studs fastened his shirt front, and his necktie was tied in a butterfly bow. He displayed some of the nonchalant ease which wealth and position create, smiled a little on catching sight of the jersey worn by a lady who had neglected to fasten the back of her bodice, and strove to decipher the impression the faces conveyed to him. He grew aware of that flitting anxiety which is inseparable from the task of finding a daily living, and that pathos which tells of fidelity to idea and abstinence from gross pleasure. A young man, who stood apart, in a carefully studied attitude, a dark lock of hair falling over his forehead, amused him, and the young man in the chair next Sir Owen wore a threadbare coat and clumsy boots, and sat bolt upright. Sir Owen pitied him and imagined him working all day in some obscure employment, finding his life's pleasure once a week in a score by Bach. Catching sight of a priest's profile, a look of contempt appeared on his face.
He was of his class, he had lived its life and lived it still, in a measure, but from the beginning his ideas and tastes had been superior to those of a merely fashionable man. At five-and-twenty he had purchased a Gainsborough, and at thirty he had spent a large sum of money in exhuming some sonatas of Bach from the dust in which they were lying. At three-and-thirty he had wrecked the career of a fashionable soprano by inspiring her with the belief that she might become a great singer, a great artist; at five-and-thirty Bayreuth and its world of musical culture and ideas had interested him in spite of his unconquerable aversion to long hair and dirty hands. After some association with geniuses he withdrew from the art-world, confessing himself unable to bear the society of those who did not dress for dinner; but while repudiating, he continued to spy the art-world from a distance. An audience is, however, necessary to a 'cello player, and the Turf Club and the Royal Yacht Club contained not a dozen members, he said, who would recognise the Heroica Symphony if they happened to hear it, which was not likely. Lately he had declared openly that he was afraid of entering any of his clubs, lest he should be asked once more what he thought of the Spring Handicaps, and if he intended sailing the Medusa in the Solent this season. Nevertheless, his journey to Bayreuth could not but produce an effect. He had purchased the Wagnerian Review; it had led him to Mr. Innes's concerts, and he was already interested in the prospect of reviving the early music and its instruments. That this new movement should be begun in Dulwich, a suburb he would never have heard of if it had not been for its picture gallery, stimulated his curiosity.
It is the variation, not the ordinary specimen, that is most typical, for the variation contains the rule in essence, and the deviation elucidates the rule. So in his revolt against the habitual pleasures and ideas of his class, Sir Owen became more explanatory of that class than if he had acquiesced in the usual ignorance of L20,000 a year. To the ordinary eye he was merely the conventional standard of the English upper classes, but more intimate observation revealed the slight glaze of Bohemianism which natural inclination and many adventures in that land had left upon him. He listened without parade, his grey eyes following the music—they, not the head, seeming to nod to it; and when Mr. Innes approached to ask him his opinion, he sprang to his feet to tell him.
One of the pieces they had heard was a pavane for five viols and a harpsichord, composed by Ferrabosco, son of the Italian musician who had settled in Greenwich at the end of the sixteenth century. Sir Owen was extraordinarily pleased and interested, and declared the pavane to be as complete as a sonata by Bach or Beethoven; but his appreciation was suddenly interrupted by someone looking at him.
At a little distance, Evelyn stood looking at him. The moment she had seen him she had stopped, and her eyes were delighted as by a vision. Though he represented to her the completely unknown, she seemed to have known him always in her heart; she seemed to have been waiting for knowledge of this unknown, and the rumour of the future grew loud in her ears.
He raised his eyes and saw a tall, fair girl dressed in pale green. Mr. Innes introduced them.
"My daughter—Sir Owen Asher."
In the little while which he took to decide whether he would take tea or coffee, he thought that something could be said for her figure, and he liked her hair, but, on the whole, he did not think he cared for her. She seemed to him an unimportant variety of what he had met before. He said he would take tea, and then he changed his mind and said he would have coffee, but Evelyn came back with a cup of tea, and perceiving her mistake, she laughed abstractedly.
"You are going to sing two songs, Miss Innes. I'm glad; I hear your voice is wonderful."
The sound of his voice conveyed a penetrating sense of his presence. It was the same happiness which the very sight of him had awakened in her, and she felt herself yielding to it as to a current. She was borne far away into mists of dream, where she seemed to live a long while. Time seemed to have ceased and the outside world to have fallen behind her. The sensation was the most delicious she had ever experienced. She hardly heard the answers that she made to his questions, and when her father called her, it was like returning after a long absence.
She sang much more beautifully than he had expected, and during the preludes and fugues and the sonatas by Bach, which finished the programme, he thought of her voice, occasionally questioning himself regarding his taste for her. Even in this short while he had come to like her better. She had beautiful teeth and hair, and he liked her figure, notwithstanding the fact that her shoulders sloped a little—perhaps because they did slope a little. He noticed, whether her eyes wandered or remained fixed, that they returned to him, and that their glance was one of interrogation, as if all depended upon him. When the concert was over he was anxious to speak to her, so that he grew impatient with the people who stopped his way. The back room was filled with musical instruments—there were two harpsichords, a clavichord and an organ, and Mr. Innes insisted on explaining these instruments to him. He seemed to Owen to pay too slight a heed to his daughter's voice. That she played the viola da gamba very well was true enough, but what sense was there in a girl like that playing an instrument? Her voice was her instrument.
When he was able to get a few words with her, he told her about Madame Savelli. There was no one else, he said, who could teach singing. She must go to France at once, and he seemed to take it for granted that she might start at the end of the week, if she only made up her mind. She did not know what answer to make, and was painfully conscious how silly she must look standing before him unable to say a word. It was no longer the same; some of the dream had been swept aside, and reality had begun to look through it. Her intense consciousness of this tall, aristocratic man frightened her. She saw the embroidered waistcoat, the slight hips, the gold moustache, and the sparkling grey eyes asked her questions to which her whole nature violently responded, and, though her feelings were inexplicable to herself, she was overcome with physical shame. Father Railston was looking at her, and the thought crossed her mind that he would not approve of Sir Owen Asher. Feeling very uncomfortable, she seized an opportunity of saying good-bye to a friend, and escaped from Sir Owen, leaving him, as she knew, under the impression that she was a little fool not worth taking further trouble about. But his ideas were different from all that she had been taught, and it would be better if she never saw him again. She did not doubt, however, that she would see him again, and when, two days after, the servant announced him and he walked into the music room, she was less surprised than her father.
The review, he said, could not go to press without an article on the concert, but to do this article he must consult Mr. Innes, for in the first piece, "La my," the viols had seemed to him out of tune. Of course this was not so—perhaps one of the players had played a wrong note; that might be the explanation. But on referring to the music, Mr. Innes discovered a better one. "From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, writers," he said, "did not consider their music as moderns do. Now we watch the effect of a chord, a combination of notes heard at the same moment, the top note of which is the tune, but the older writers used their skill in divining musical phrases which could be followed simultaneously, each one going logically its own way, irrespective of some temporary clashing. They considered their music horizontally, as the parts went on; we consider it vertically, each chord producing its impression in turn. To them all the parts were of equal importance. Their music was a purely decorative interweaving of melodies. Now we have a tune with accompanying parts."
"What a wonderful knowledge of music your father has, Miss Innes!"
"Yes, father reads old MSS. that no one else can decipher."
"These discords happened," Mr. Innes said, as he went to the harpsichord, "when a composition was based upon some old plain song melody, the notes of which could not be altered. Then the musician did not scruple to write in one of the other parts the same note altered by a sharp or flat to suit the passing requirement of the musical phrase allotted to that part. You could thus have together, say an F natural in one part and an F sharp in another. This to modern ears, not trained to understanding the meaning of the two parts, is intolerable."
While he spoke of the relative fineness of the ancient and modern ear, maintaining that the reason ancient singers could sing without an accompaniment was that they were trained to sing from the monochord, Owen considered the figure of this tall, fair girl, and wondered if she would elect to remain with her father, playing the viola da gamba in Dulwich, or bolt with a manager—that was what generally happened. Her father was a most interesting old man, a genius in his way, but just such an one as might prove his daughter's ruin. He would keep her singing the old music, perhaps marry her to a clerk, and she would be a fat, prosaic mother of three in five years.
However this might be, he, Owen, was interested in her voice, and, if he had never met Georgina, he might have liked this girl. It would be better that he should take her away than that she should go away with a manager who would rob and beat her. But, if he were to take her away, he would be tied to her; it would be like marrying her. Far better stick to married women, and he remembered his epigram of last night. It was at Lady. Ascott's dinner-party, the conversation had turned on marriage, and its necessity had been questioned. "But, of course, marriage is necessary," he had answered. "You can't have husbands without marriage, and if there were no husbands, who would look after our mistresses?" A lot of hypocrites had chosen to look shocked; Georgina had said it was a horrid remark and had hardly spoken to him all the evening; and this afternoon she had said she should not come and see him any more—she was afraid her husband suspected, her children were growing up, etc. When women cease to care for one, how importunate their consciences are! A little terror took him, and he wondered if he were about to lose Georgina, or if she were only trying to make him jealous. Perhaps he could not do better than make her jealous. For that purpose this young girl was just the thing.
Moreover, he was interested in the revival of Palestrina at St. Joseph's, and he liked Ferrabosco's pavane. He would like to have a harpsichord; even if he did not play on it much, it would be a beautiful, characteristic piece of furniture.... And it would be a good idea to ask Mr. Innes to bring all his queer instruments to Berkeley Square, and give a concert to-morrow night after his dinner-party. His friends had bored him with Hungarian bands, and the improvisations the bands had been improvising for the last ten years, and he saw no reason why he should not bore them, just for a change, with Mr. Innes.
At this moment his reflections were interrupted by Mr. Innes, who wanted to know if he did not agree with him regarding the necessity for the re-introduction of the monochord, if the sixteenth century masses were ever to be sung again properly. All this was old story to Evelyn. In a sort of dream, through a sort of mist, she saw the embroidered waistcoat and the gold moustache, and when the small, grey, smiling eyes were raised from her father's face and looked at her, a delicious sensation penetrated through the very tissues of her flesh, and she experienced the tremor of a decisive moment; and then there came again a gentle sense of delicious bewilderment and illusion.
She did not know how it would all happen, but her life seemed for the first time to have come to a definite issue. The very moment he had spoken of Madame Savelli, the great singing mistress, it was as if a light had begun in her brain, and she saw a faint horizon line; she seemed to see Paris from afar; she knew she would go there to study, and that night she had fallen asleep listening to the applause of three thousand hands.
But she did not like to stand before him, offering him first the cup of tea, then the milk and sugar, then the cake, and bread and butter. Her repugnance had nothing to do with him; it was an obscure feeling, quite incomprehensible to herself. When he looked up she answered him with a smile which she felt to be mysterious, and he perceived its mystery, for he compared it to the hesitating smile of the Monna Lisa, a print of which hung on the wall. But the remark increased her foreboding and premonition. And she was sorry for her father, who was saying that he hoped to send her abroad in the spring; that he would have done so before, but she was studying harmony with him. And she could see that Owen was bored. He was only staying on in the hope of speaking to her, but she knew that her father was not going out, so there was no chance of their having a few words together. His invitation to Mr. Innes to bring the instruments to London, and give a concert to-morrow night at Berkeley Square, he had reserved till the moment he had got up to go. Mr. Innes was taken aback. He doubted if there would be time to get the instruments to London. But Owen said that all that was necessary was a Pickford van, and that if he would say "Yes," the van and a competent staff of packers would be at Dulwich in the morning, and would take all further trouble off his hands. The question was debated. Mr. Innes thought the instruments had better go by train, and Owen could not help smiling when he said that he would arrive with the big harpsichord and Evelyn about nine or half-past.
She had two evening gowns—a pale green silk and a white. The pale green looked very nice; it had cost her three pounds. The white had nearly ruined her, but it had seemed to suit her so well that she had not been able to resist, and had paid five pounds ten, a great deal for her to spend on a dress. Its great fault was that it soiled at the least touch. She had worn it three times, and could not wear it again till it had been cleaned. It was a pity, but there was no help for it. She would have to wear the green, and to console herself she thought of the compliments she had had for it at different parties. But these seemed insignificant when she thought of the party she was going to to-night.
She had never been to Berkeley Square, and expected to be surprised. But it lay in a hollow, a dignified, secluded square, exactly as she had imagined it. Nor did the great doorway, and the carpet that stretched across the pavement for her to walk upon, surprise her, nor the lines of footmen, nor the natural grace of the wide staircase. She seemed to have seen it all before, only she could not remember where. It came back to her like a dream. She seemed to recognise the pictures of the goddesses, the Holy Families and the gold mirrors; and lifting her eyes, she saw Owen at the head of the stairs, and he smiled so familiarly, that it seemed strange to think that this was only the third time she had seen him.
He introduced her father to a fashionable musician, whose pavanes and sonatas were composed with that lack of matter and excess of erudition which delight the amateur and irritate the artist, and he walked down the rooms looking for seats where they could talk undisturbed for a few minutes. He was nervous lest Georgina should find him sitting with this girl in an intimate corner, but he did not expect her for another half-hour, and could not resist the temptation. He was curious to know how far Evelyn acquiesced in the obscure lot which her father imposed upon her, to play the viola da gamba, and sing old music, instead of singing for her own fame upon the stage. But had she a great voice? If she had, he would like to help her. The discovery of a new prima donna would be a fine feather in his cap. Above all, he was also curious to find out if she were the innocent maiden she appeared to be, or if she had had flirtations with the clerks in the neighbourhood, and he found his opportunity to speak to her on this subject in the first line of a French song she was going to sing:—
"Que vous me coutez cher, mon coeur, pour vos plaisirs."
His appreciation of her changed every moment. Truly her eyes lit up with a beautiful light, and her remarks about the length of our payment for our pleasures revealed an apprehension which he had not credited her with. But he was alarmed at the quickness with which they had strayed to the very verge of things: From the other room they would seem very intimate, sitting on a sofa together, and he was expecting Georgina every minute. If she were to see them, it would lead to further discussion, and supply her with an excuse. But his curiosity was kindled, and while he considered how he could lead Evelyn into confidences, he saw her arm trembling through the gauze sleeve, for it seemed to her that all that was happening now had happened before. The walls covered with red pleated silk, the bracket-clocks, the brocade-covered chairs: where had she seen them? And Owen's grey eyes fixed upon her: where had she seen them? In a dream perhaps. She asked him if he had ever experienced the sensation of having already lived through a scene that was happening at the very moment. He did not seem to hear; he seemed expecting someone; and then the vision returned to her again, and she could not but think that she had known Sir Owen long ago, but how and where she could not tell. At that moment she noticed his absent-mindedness, and it was suddenly flashed upon her that he was in love with some woman and was waiting for her, and almost at the same moment she saw a tall, red-haired woman cross the further room. The woman paused in the doorway, as if looking for someone. She nodded to Owen and engaged in conversation with a group of men standing by the fireplace. Something told Evelyn that that smooth, cream-coloured neck was the woman Owen was in love with, and the sudden formality of his manner convinced her that she was right, that that was the woman he was in love with. He said that he must go and see after his other guests, and, as she expected, he went straight to the woman with the red hair. But she did not leave her friends. After shaking hands with Owen, she continued talking to them, and he was left out of the conversation.
The concert began with a sonata for the harpsichord and the viola da gamba, and then Evelyn sang her two songs. She sang for Owen, and it seemed to her that she was telling him that she was sorry that it had all happened as it had happened, and that he must go away and be happy with the woman he loved. She did not think that she sang particularly well, but Owen came and told her that she had sung charmingly, and in their eyes were strange questions and excuses, and an avowal of regret that things were not different. Slim women in delicious gowns glided up and praised her, but she did not think that they had been as much impressed by her singing as they said; distinguished men were introduced to her, and she felt she had nothing to say to them; and looking round the circle of men and women she saw Owen in the doorway, and noticed that his eyes were restless and constantly wandered in the direction of the tall woman with the red hair, who sat calmly talking to her friends, never noticing him. He seemed waiting for a look that never came; his glances were furtive and quickly withdrawn, as if he feared he was being watched. When she got up to leave, Owen came forward and spoke to her, but she barely replied, and left the room alone. Evelyn saw all this, and she was surprised when Owen came rapidly through the room and sat down by her. He was painfully absent-minded, and so nervous that he did not seem to know what he was saying: indeed, that was the only excuse she could make for his remarks. She hardly recognised this man as the man she had hitherto known. She hated all his sentiments and his ideas; she thought them horrid, and was glad when her father came to tell her it was time for her to go.
"You didn't sing well," he said, as they went home. "What was the matter with you?"
Owen and the red-haired lady seemed to fall behind this last misfortune. If she had lost her voice she was no longer herself, and as she went to her teaching she saw herself a music mistress to the end of her days.
But on Sunday morning she came down stairs singing, and Mr. Innes heard a future prima donna in her voice. Her face lit up, and she said, "Do you think so, dear. It was unlucky I sang so badly the other night. I seemed to have no voice at all."
He told her that there were times when her mother suddenly lost her voice.
"But, father, you are not fit to go out, and can't go out in that state."
"What is the matter?" and his hand went to his shirt collar.
"No, your necktie is all right. Ah! there you've untied it; I'll tie it for you. It's your coat that wants brushing."
The black frock coat which he wore on Sundays was too small for him. If he buttoned it, it wrinkled round the waist and across the chest; if he left it open, its meagre width and the shortness of the skirts (they were the fashion of more than ten years ago) made it seem ridiculous. At the elbows the cloth was shiny with long wear, and the cuffs were frayed. His hat was as antiquated as his coat. It was a mere pulp, greasy inside and brown outside; the brim was too small, it was too low in the crown, and after the severest brushing it remained rough like a blanket. Evelyn handed it back to him in despair. He thanked his daughter, put it on his head, and forgot its appearance. But in spite of shabby coat and shabbier hat, Mr. Innes remained free from suspicion of vulgarity—the sad dignity of his grey face and the dreams that haunted his eyes saved him from that.
"And whose mass are you going to play to-day?" she asked him.
"A mass by Hummel, in B; on Thursday, a mass by Dr. Gladstone; and next Sunday, Mozart's Twelfth, beloved of Father Gordon and village choirs. I wonder if he will allow the Reproaches to be sung in Holy Week? He will insist on the expense of the double choir."
"But, father, do you think that the congregation of St. Joseph's is one that would care for the refinement of Palestrina? Would you not require a cultivated West-end audience—the Oratory or Farm Street?"
"That is Sir Owen's opinion."
"I never heard him say so."
How had she come to repeat anything she had heard him say? Moreover, why had she said that she had not heard him say so? And Evelyn argued with herself until the train reached their station—it was one of those absurd little mental complications, the infinitesimal life that flourishes deep in the soul.
A little way down a side street, a few yards from the main thoroughfare, where the roads branched, the great gaunt facade of St. Joseph's pointed against a yellow sky. Its foundations had been laid and its walls built by a priest, who had collected large sums of money in America, and whose desire had been to have the largest church that could be built for the least money, in the shortest possible time. The result was the great, sprawling, grey stone building with a desolate spire, now fading into the darkness of the snow-storm. Money had run short. The church had not been completed when its founder died; then another energetic priest had raised another subscription. Doors and stained glass had been added, and, for a while, St. Joseph's had become a flourishing parish church, supported by various suburbs, and projects for the completion of its interior decoration had begun to be entertained; but while these projects were under consideration, the suburbs had acquired churches of their own, and the congregation of St. Joseph's had dwindled until it had lost all means of support, except the meagre assistance it received from the poor Irish and Italians of the neighbourhood. There had been talk of closing the church, and it would have had to be closed if the Jesuits had not accepted the mission. Another subscription had been started, but the greater part of this third subscription the Jesuits had spent upon their schools, so the fate of St. Joseph's seemed to be to remain, as someone had said, an unfinished ruin. Their resources were exhausted, and they surveyed the barren aisles, dreaming of the painting and mosaics they would put up when the promises of Father Gordon were realised. For it was understood that their fortunes should be retrieved by his musical abilities, and his competence to select the most attractive masses. Father Gordon was a type often found among amateur musicians—a man with a slight technical knowledge, a good ear, a nice voice, and absolutely no taste whatever. His natural ear was for obvious rhythm, his taste coincided with the popular taste, and as the necessity of attracting a congregation was paramount, it is easy to imagine how easily he conceded to his natural inclinations. And the arguments with which he rebutted those of his opponents were unanswerable, that whatever moved the heart to the love of God was right; that if the plain chant failed to help the soul to aspiration, we were justified in substituting Rossini's Stabat Mater, or whatever other musical idiom the neighbourhood craved for.
Religious rite, according to Father Gordon, should conform to the artistic taste of the congregation, and he urged, with some force, that the artistic taste of Southwark stood on quite as high a level as that of Mayfair. To get a Mayfair audience they had only to follow the taste of Southwark. And so, under his guidance, the Jesuits had increased their orchestra and employed the best tenors that could be hired. Nevertheless, their progress was slow. Father Gordon pleaded patience. The neighbourhood was unfashionable; it was difficult to persuade their friends to come so far. Mr. Innes answered that if they gave him a choir of forty-five voices—he could do nothing with less—the West-end would come at once to hear Palestrina. The distance, and the fact of the church being in a slum, he maintained, would not be in itself a drawback. Half the success of Bayreuth, he urged, is owing to its being so far off. And this plan, too, seemed to possess some elements of success, and so the Jesuits hesitated between very divergent methods by which the same result might be attained.
A few flakes of snow were falling, and Evelyn and her father put up their umbrellas as they crossed the road to the church. Three steps led to the pointed door above which was the figure of the patron saint.
The nakedness of the unfinished and undecorated church was hidden in the twilight of the approaching storm, and Evelyn trembled as she walked up the aisle, so menacing seemed the darkness that descended from the sky. The stained glass, blackened by the smoke of the factory chimneys, let in but little light, the aisles were plunged in darkness, and kneeling in her favourite place the ineffectual gaslight seemed to her like painted flames on a dark background. The side chapels which opened on to the aisles were shut off by no ornamental screens, indeed, the only piece of decoration seemed to be the fine modern ironwork which veiled the sanctuary.
She opened her prayer book, but in the shadow of the pillar where she was kneeling there was not sufficient light for her to read, so she bent her face upon her hands, intent upon losing herself in prayer. She abased herself before her Father in Heaven; attaining once more the wonderful human moment when the creature who crouches on this rim of earth implores pardon for her trespass from the beneficent Creator of things. But to-day her devotional mood was interrupted by sudden thought and sensation of Owen's presence; she was forced to look up, and convinced that he was very near her, she sought him amid the crowd of people who sat and knelt in front of her, blackening the dusk, a vague darkness in which she could at first distinguish nothing but an occasional white plume and a bald head. But her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and above the uninteresting backs of middle-aged men she recognised his thin sharp shoulders. She had been compelled to look up from her prayers, and she wondered if he had been thinking of her. If so, it was very wrong of him to interrupt her at her prayers. But a sensation of pleasure arose spontaneously in her. At that moment he had to remove his hat from the chair on which he had placed it, and she noticed the gold stud links in his large shirt cuffs, the rough material of which the coat was made, and how well it lay along the thin arm. She imagined the look of vexation on the grave interesting face, and laughed a little to herself. What was the poor woman to do? She had a right to her chair. But she did look so frightened, and was visibly perturbed by the presence of so fine a gentleman. Evelyn knew the woman by sight—a curious thin and crooked creature, who wore a strange bonnet and a little black mantle, and walked up the church, her hands crossed like a doll....
No doubt he had driven all the way from Berkeley Square. She could see him leaning back in his brougham, humming various music, or plaintively thinking about the lady with the red hair, who did not care for him. Her breath caught her in the throat. That was the reason why he had come to St. Joseph's. It was all over with the red-haired lady, and it was for her that he had come to St. Joseph's! But that could not be.... She saw him moving in rich and elegant society, where everyone had a title, and the narrowness of her life compared with his dismayed her. It was impossible that he could care for her. She was remaining in Dulwich, with nothing but a few music lessons to look forward to.... But when she reached the operatic stage her life would be like his, and the vision of her future passed before her eyes—diamonds in stars, baskets of wonderful flowers, applause, and the perfume of a love story, swinging like a censer over it all.
At that moment the priests entered; mass began. She opened her prayer book, but, however firmly she fixed her thoughts in prayer, they sprang back, without her knowing it, to Owen and the red-haired woman, with the smooth, cream-coloured shoulders. Without being aware of it, she was looking at him, and it was such a delight to think of him that she could not refrain. His chair was the last on the third line from the altar rail, and she noticed that he wore patent leather shoes; the hitching of the dark grey trousers displayed a silk sock; but he suddenly uncrossed his legs, and assumed a less negligent attitude. In a sudden little melancholy she remembered how he had watched the woman with the red hair, and the determined indifference of this woman's face as she left the room. Immediately after she was amused at the way in which his face expressed his opinion of the music, and she had to admit to herself that he listened as if he understood it.
It was not until her father began to play the offertory, one of Schubert's beautiful inspirations, that she noticed the look of real delight that held the florid profile till the last note, and for some seconds after. "He certainly does love music," she thought; and when the bell rang for the Elevation, she bowed her head and became aware of the Real Presence. When it rang a second time she felt life stifle in her. When it rang a third time she again became conscious of time and place. But the sensation of awe which the accomplishment of the mystery had inspired was dissipated in the tumult of a very hideous Agnus Dei, in the voice of a certain concert singer, who seemed determined to shout down the organ. Evelyn had some difficulty in keeping her countenance, so plain was the expression of amazement upon the profile in front of her.
Then the book was carried from the right to the left side of the altar, and when the priest had read the Gospel, she began once more to ask herself the reason that had brought Sir Owen to St. Joseph's. The manner in which he genuflected before the altar told her that he was a Catholic; perhaps he had come to St. Joseph's merely to hear mass.
"I have come to see your father."
"You will find him in the organ loft.... But he'll be down presently."
And at the end of the church, in a corner out of the way of the crowd, they waited for Mr. Innes, and she learnt almost at once, from his face and the remarks that he addressed to her, that it was not for her that he had come to St. Joseph's. His carriage was waiting, he told the coachman to follow; all three tramped through the snow together to the station. In this miserable walk she learnt that he had decided to go for a trip round the world in his yacht, and expected to be away for nearly a year. As he bade them good-bye he looked at her, and his eyes seemed to say he was sorry that it was so, that he wished it were otherwise. She felt that if she had been able to ask him to stay he would have stayed; but, of course, that was impossible, and the last she saw of him was as he turned, just before getting into his brougham, to tell her father that the best critic of the Review should attend the concerts, and that he hoped that what he would write would bring some people of taste to hear them.
The name was no indication. None remembered that Dowlands was the name of Henry the Eight's favourite lute player, and there was nothing in the snug masonry to suggest an aestheticism of any kind. The dulcimers, lutes and virginals surprised the visitor coming in from the street, and he stayed his steps as he might on the threshold of a fairy land.
The villas, of which Dowlands was one, were a builder's experiment. They had been built in the hopes of attracting wealthy business West-end shopkeepers; but Dulwich had failed to become a fashionable suburb. Many had remained empty, and when Mr. Innes had entered into negotiations with the house agents, they declared themselves willing to entertain all his proposals, and finally he had acquired a lease at a greatly reduced rental.
In accordance with his and Mrs. Innes's wishes, the house had been considerably altered. Partition walls had been taken away, and practically the whole ground floor converted into class-rooms, leaving free only one little room at the back where they had their meals. During his wife's lifetime the house suited their requirements. The train service from Victoria was frequent, and on the back of their notepaper was printed a little map, whereby pupils coming and going from the station could find their way. On the second floor was Mr. Innes's workshop, where he restored the old instruments or made new ones after the old models. There was Evelyn's bedroom—her mother had re-furnished it before she died—and she often sat there; it was, in truth, the most habitable room in the house. There was Evelyn's old nursery, now an unoccupied room; and there were two other empty rooms. She had tried to convert one into a little oratory. She had placed there a statue of the Virgin, and hung a crucifix on the wall, and bought a prie-Dieu and put it there. But the room was too lonely, and she found she could say her prayers more fervently by her bedside. Their one servant slept downstairs in a room behind the kitchen. So the house often had the appearance of a deserted house; and Evelyn, when she returned from London, where she went almost daily to give music lessons, often paused on the threshold, afraid to enter till her ear detected some slight sound of her servant at work. Then she cried, "Is that you, Margaret?" and she advanced cautiously, till Margaret answered, "Yes, miss."
The last summer and autumn had been the pleasantest in her life since her mother's death. Her pupils interested her—she had some six or seven. Her flow of bright talk, her eager manner, her beautiful playing of the viola da gamba, her singing of certain old songs, her mother's fame, and the hopes she entertained of one day achieving success on the stage made her a heroine among her little circle of friends. Her father was a remarkable man, but he seemed to her the most wonderful of men. It was exciting to go to London with him, to bid him good-bye at Victoria—she to her lessons, he to his—to meet him in the evenings, and in conjunction to arrange the programme of their next concert. These interests and ambitions had sufficed to fill her life, and to keep the greater ambition out of sight; and since her mother's death she had lived happily with her father, helping him in his work. But lately things had changed. Some of her pupils had gone abroad, others had married, and interest in the concerts declined. For a little while the old music had seemed as if it were going to attract sufficient attention, but already their friends had heard enough, and Mr. Innes had been compelled to postpone the next, which had been announced for the beginning of February. There would be no concert now till March, perhaps not even then; so there was nothing for her to look forward to, and the wet windy weather which swept the suburb contributed to her disheartenment. The only event of the day seemed to be her father's departure in the morning. Immediately after breakfast he tied up his music in a brown paper parcel and put his violin into its case; he spoke of missing his train, and, from the windows of the music-room, she saw him hastening down the road. She had asked him if there were any MSS. he wished copied in the British Museum; absent-mindedly he had answered "No;" and, drumming on the glass with her fingers, she wondered how the day would pass. There was nothing to do; there was nothing even to think about. She was tired of thinking that a pupil might come back—that a new pupil might at any moment knock at the door. She was tired of wondering if her father's concerts would ever pay—if the firm of music publishers with whom he was now in treaty would come to terms and enable him to give a concert in their hall, or if they would break off negotiations, as many had done before. And, more than of everything else, she was tired of thinking if her father would ever have money to send her abroad, or if she would remain in Dulwich always.
One morning, as she was returning from Dulwich, where she had gone to pay the weekly bills, she discovered that she was no longer happy. She stopped, and, with an empty heart, saw the low-lying fields with poultry pens, and the hobbled horse grazing by the broken hedge. The old village was her prison, and she longed as a bird longs. She had trundled her hoop there; she ought to love it, but she didn't, and, looking on its too familiar aspect, her aching heart asked if it would never pass from her. It seemed to her that she had not strength nor will to return home. A little further on she met the vicar. He bowed, and she wondered how he could have thought that she could care for him. Oh, to live in that Rectory with him! She pitied the young man who wore brown clothes, and whose employment in a bank prevented him from going abroad for his health. These people were well enough, but they were not for her. She seemed to see beyond London, beyond the seas, whither she could not say, and she could not quell the yearning which rose to her lips like a wave, and over them.
Formerly, when there was choir practice at St. Joseph's, she used to go there and meet her father, but lately, for some reason which she could not explain to herself, she had refrained. The thought of this church had become distasteful to her, and she returned home indifferent to everything, to music and religion alike. Her eyes turned from the pile of volumes—part of Bach's interminable works—and all the old furniture, and she stood at the window and watched the rain dripping into the patch of black garden in front of the house, surrounded by a low stone wall. The villas opposite suggested a desolation which found a parallel in her heart; the sloppy road and the pale brown sky frightened her, so menacing seemed their monotony. She knew all this suburb; it was all graven on her mind, and all that ornamental park where she must go, if it cleared a little, for her afternoon walk. She must tramp round that park once more. She strove to keep out of her mind its symmetrical walls, its stone basins, where the swans floated like white china ornaments, almost as lifeless. But worse even than these afternoons were the hours between six and eight. For very often her father was detained, and if he missed the half-past six train he had to come by the half-past seven, and in those hours of waiting the dusk grew oppressive and fearful in the music-room. Startled by a strange shadow, she crouched in her armchair, and when the feeling of dread passed she was weak from want of food. Why did her father keep her waiting? Hungry, faint and weary of life, she opened a volume of Bach; but there was no pleasure for her in the music, and if she opened a volume of songs she had neither strength nor will to persevere even through the first, and, rising from the instrument, she walked across the room, stretching her arms in a feverish despair. She had not eaten for many hours, and out of the vacuity of the stomach a dimness rose into her eyes. Pressing her eyes with her hand, she leaned against the door.
One evening she walked into the garden. The silence and damp of the earth revived her, and the sensation of the cold stone, against which she was leaning, was agreeable. Little stars speckled a mauve and misty sky, and out of the mysterious spring twilight there came a strange and ultimate yearning, a craving which nothing she had ever known could assuage. But those stars—could they tell her nothing? One, large almost as the moon itself, flamed up in the sky, and a voice within her whispered that that was her star, that it held the secret of her destiny. She gazed till her father called to her from the gate; and all that evening she could think of nothing else. The conviction flowed within her that the secret of her destiny was there; and as she lay in bed the star seemed to take a visible shape.
A face rose out of the gulf beneath her. She could not distinguish whether it was the face of man or woman; it was an idea rather than a face. The ears were turned to her for her to take the earrings, the throat was deeply curved, the lips were large and rose-red, the eyes were nearly closed, and the hair was curled close over a straight, low forehead. The face rose up to hers. She looked into the subtle eyes, and the thrill of the lips, just touching hers, awakened a sense of sin, and her eyes when they opened were frightened and weary. And as she sat up in her bed, trembling, striving vainly to separate the real from the unreal, she saw the star still shining. She hid her face in the pillow, and was only calmed by the thought that it was watching her.
She went into the garden every evening to see it rise, and a desire of worship grew up in her heart; and thinking of the daffodils, it occurred to her to lay these flowers on the wall as an offering. Even wilder thoughts passed through her brain; she could not keep them back, and more than once asked herself if she were giving way to an idolatrous intention. If so, she would have to tell the foolish story to her confessor. But she could hardly bring herself to tell him such nonsense.... If she didn't, the omission might make her confession a false one; and she was so much perplexed that it seemed to her as if the devil took the opportunity to insinuate that she might put off going to confession. This decided her. She resolved to combat the Evil One. To-day was Thursday. She would confess on Saturday, and go to Communion on Sunday.
Till quite lately her confessor had been Father Knight—a tall, spare, thin-lipped, aristocratic ecclesiastic, in whom Evelyn had expected to find a romantic personality. She had looked forward to thrilling confessions, but had been disappointed. The romance his appearance suggested was not borne out; he seemed unable to take that special interest in her which she desired; her confessions were barren of spiritual adventure, and after some hesitations her choice dropped upon Father Railston. In this selection the law of contrast played an important part. The men were very opposites. One walked erect and tall, with measured gait; the other walked according to the impulse of the moment, wearing his biretta either on one side of the head or the other. One was reserved; the other voluble in speech. One was of handsome and regular features; the other's face was plain but expressive. Evelyn had grown interested in Father Railston's dark, melancholy eyes; and his voice was a human voice vibrant with the terror and suffering of life. In listening to her sins he seemed to remember his own. She had accused herself of impatience at the circumstances which kept her at home, of even nourishing, she would not say projects, but thoughts, of escape.
"Then, my child, are you so anxious to change your present life for that of the stage?"
"You weary of the simplicity of your present life, and sigh for the brilliancy of the stage?"
"I'm afraid I do." It was thrilling to admit so much, especially as the life of an actress was not in itself sinful. "I feel that I should die very soon if I were to hear I should never leave Dulwich."
The priest did not speak for a long while, and raising her eyes she watched his expression. It seemed to her that her confession of her desire of the world had recalled memories, and she wondered what were they.
"I am more than forty—I'm nearly fifty—and my life has passed like a dream."
He seemed about to tell her the secret of life, and had stopped. But the phrase lingered through her whole life, and eventually became part of it. "My life has passed like a dream." She did not remember what he had said after, and she had gone away wondering if life seemed to everyone like a dream when they were forty, and if his life would have seemed more real to him if he had given it to the world instead of to God? Her subsequent confessions seemed trite and commonplace. Not that Father Railston failed to listen with kind interest to her; not that he failed to divine that she was passing through a physical and spiritual crisis. His admonitions were comforting in her weariness of mind and body; but notwithstanding her affection for him, she felt that beyond that one phrase he had no influence over her. She almost felt that he was too gentle and indulgent, and the thought she would have liked a confessor who was severe, who would have inflicted heavier penances, compelled her to fast and pray, who would have listened in deeper sternness to the sins of thought which she with averted face shamefully owned to having entertained. She was disappointed that he did not warn her with the loss of her soul, that he did not invent specious expedients for her use, whereby the Evil One might be successfully checked.
One Sunday morning the servant told Mr. Innes that Miss Evelyn has left a little earlier, as she was going to Communion. She remained in church for High Mass, and when chided for such long abstinence, she smiled sadly and said that she did not think that it would do her much harm. During the following week he noticed that she hardly touched breakfast, and the only reason she gave was that she thought she would like to fast. No, she had not obtained leave from her confessor; she had not even consulted him. She, of course, knew that she was not obliged to fast, not being of age; but she was not doing any work; she had no pupils; the concert had been postponed; she thought she would like to fast. Father and daughter looked at each other; they felt that they did not understand, that there was nothing to be done, and Mr. Innes put his fiddle into its case and went to London, deeply concerned about his daughter, and utterly unable to arrive at any conclusion.
She fasted, and she broke through her fast, and as Lent drew to a close she asked her father if she might make a week's retreat in a convent at Wimbledon where she had some friends. There was no need for her at home; it would be at least change of air and she pressed him to allow her to go. He feared the influence the convent might have upon her, and admitted that his selfishness was largely accountable for this religious reaction. No doubt she wanted change, she was looking very poorly. He spoke of the sea, but who was to take her to Brighton or Margate? The convent seemed the only solution of the difficulty, and he had to consent to her departure.
The retreat was to last four days, but Evelyn begged that she might stay on till Easter Tuesday. This would give her a clear week away from home, and the improvement that this little change wrought in her was surprising. The convent had made her cheeks fair as roses, and given her back all her sunny happiness and abundant conversation. She delighted in telling her father of her week's experience. For four days she had not spoken (perhaps that was the reason she was talking so much now), and during these four days they were nearly always in chapel; but somehow it hadn't seemed long, the services were so beautiful. The nuns wore grey serge robes and head-dresses, the novices white head-dresses; what had struck her most was the expression of happy content on their faces.
"I wish, father, you had seen them come into church—their long robes and beautiful white faces. I don't think there is anything as beautiful as a nun."
The mother prioress was a small woman, with an eager manner. She looked so unimportant that Evelyn had wondered why she had been chosen, but the moment she spoke you came under the spell of her keen, grey eyes and clear voice.... Mother Philippa, the mistress of the novices, was quite different—stout and middle-aged, and she wore spectacles. She was beautiful notwithstanding; her goodness was like a soft light upon her face. ...Evelyn paused. She could not find words to describe her; at last she said—
"When she comes into the room, I always feel happy."
She could not say which she liked the better, but branched off into a description of the Carmelite who had given the retreat—strong, eagle-faced man, with thin hair drawn back from his forehead, and intense eyes. He wore sandals, and his white frock was tied with a leather belt, and every word he spoke had entered into her heart. He gave the meditations, which were held in the darkened library. They could not see each other's faces; they could only see the white figure at the end of the room.
She had had her meals in the parlour with two other ladies who had come to the convent for the retreat. They were both elderly women, and Evelyn fancied that they belonged to the grandest society. She could tell that by their voices. The one she liked best had quite white hair, and her expression was almost that of a nun. She was tall, very stout, and walked with a stick. On Easter Sunday this old lady had asked her if she would care to come into the garden with her. It was such a beautiful morning, she said, that it would do both of them good. The old lady walked very slowly with her stick. But though Evelyn thought that she must be at least a countess, she did not think she was very rich—she had probably lost her money. The black dress she wore was thin and almost threadbare, and it was a little too long for her; she held it up in her left hand as she walked—a most beautiful hand for an old woman. Both these ladies had been very kind to her; she had often walked with them in the garden—a fine old garden. There were tall, shady trees; these were sprinkled with the first tiny leaves; and the currant and raspberry bushes were all out. And there was a fishpond swarming with gold fish, and they were so tame that they took bread from the novices' hands.
The conversation had begun about the convent, and after speaking of its good sisters, the old lady, whose hair was quite white, had asked Evelyn about herself. Had she ever thought of being a nun? Evelyn had answered that she had not. She had never considered the question whether she had a vocation.... She had been brought up to believe that she was going on the stage to sing grand opera.
"It is hardly for me to advise you. But I know how dangerous the life of an opera singer is. I shall pray God that He may watch over you. Promise me always to remember our holy religion. It is the only thing we have that is worth having; all the rest passes."
"Father, we were close by the edge of the fishpond, and all the greedy fish swarmed to the surface, thinking we had come to feed them. She said, 'I cannot walk further without resting; come, my dear, let me sit down on that bench, and do you sing me a little song, very low, so that no one shall hear you but I.' I sang her "John, come kiss me now," and she said, "My dear, you have a beautiful voice, I pray that you make good use of it."
But not in one day could all Evelyn's convent experiences be related, and it was not until the end of the week that Evelyn told how Mother Philippa, at the end of a long talk in which she had spoken to Evelyn about the impulses which had led her to embrace a religious life (she had been twenty years in this convent), had taken her upstairs to the infirmary to see Sister Bonaventure, an American girl, only twenty-one, who was dying of consumption. She lay on a couch in grey robes, her hands and face waxen white, and a smile of happy resignation on her lips and in her eyes.
"But," exclaimed Evelyn, "they told me she would die within the fortnight, so she may be dead now; if not to-day, to-morrow or after. I hadn't thought of that.... I shall never forget her, every few minutes she coughed—that horrible cough! I thought she was going to die before my eyes, but in the intervals she chattered and even laughed, and no word of complaint escaped her. She was only twenty-one ... had known nothing of life; all was unknown to her, except God, and she was going to Heaven. She seemed quite happy, yet to me it seemed the saddest sight in the world.... She'll be buried in a few days in the sunniest corner of the garden, away from the house—that is their graveyard. The mother Prioress, the founder of the convent, is buried there; a little dedicatory chapel has been built, and on the green turf, tall wooden crosses mark the graves of six nuns; next week there'll be one more cross."
The conversation paused, and Evelyn sat looking into the corner of the room, her large clear eyes wide open and fixed. Presently she said—
"Father," I've often thought I should like to be a nun."
"You a nun! And with that voice!"
She looked at him, smiling a little.
"What matter! Have you not thought—but I understand; you mean that your voice is wasted here, that we shall never have the means to go abroad.... But we shall."
"Father, dear, I wasn't thinking of that. I do believe that means will be found to send me abroad to study. But what then? Shall I be happy?"
"Fame, fortune, art!"
"Those nuns have none of those things, and they are happy. As that old lady said their happiness comes from within."
"And you'll be happy with those things, as happy as they are without them. You're in a melancholy mood; come, we'll think of the work before us. I've decided that we give our concert the week after next. That will give us ten clear days."
He entered into the reasons which had induced him to give this concert. But Evelyn had heard all about the firm of musical publishers, who possibly might ask him to bring up the old instruments to London, and give a concert in a fashionable West-end hall. Seeing that she was not listening, he broke off his narrative with the remark that he had received a letter that morning from Sir Owen.
"Is he coming home? I thought he was going round the world and would not be back for a year."
"He has changed his mind. This letter was posted at Malta—a most interesting letter it is;" and while Mr. Innes read Sir Owen's account of the discovery of the musical text of an ancient hymn which had been unearthed in his presence, Evelyn wondered if he had come home for her or—the thought entered her heart with a pang—if he had come home for the red-haired woman. Mr. Innes stopped suddenly in his reading, and asked her of what she was thinking.
"You don't seem to take any interest. The text is incomplete, and some notes have been conjecturally added by a French musician." But much more interesting to Evelyn was his account of the storm that had overtaken his yacht on the coast of Asia Minor. He had had to take his turn at the helm, all the sailors being engaged at the sails, and, with the waves breaking over him, he had kept her head to the wind for more than two hours.
"I can hardly fancy him braving the elements, can you, Evelyn?"
"I don't know, father," she said, startled by the question, for at that moment she had seen him in imagination as clearly as if he were present. She had seen him leaning against the door-post, a half-cynical, half-kindly smile floating through his gold moustache. "Do you think he will like the music you are going to give at the next concert? He is coming, I suppose?"
"It is just possible he may arrive in time; but I should hardly think so. I've written to invite him; he'll like the music; it is the most interesting programme we've had—an unpublished sonata by Bach—one of the most interesting, too. If that is not good enough for him—by the way, have you looked through that sonata?"
"No, father, but I will do so this afternoon."
And while practising the sonata, Evelyn felt as if life had begun again. The third movement of the sonata was an exquisite piece of musical colour, and, if she played it properly, he could not fail to come and congratulate her.... But he would not be here in time for the concert ... not unless he came straight through, and he would not do that after having nearly escaped shipwreck. She was sure he would not arrive in time, but the possibility that he might gave her additional interest in the sonata, and every day, all through the week, she discovered more and more surprising beauties in it.
She was alone in the music-room reading a piece of music, and her back was to the door when he entered. She hardly recognised him, tired and tossed as he was by long journeying, and his grey travelling suit was like a disguise.
"Is that you, Sir Owen?... You've come back?"
"Come back, yes, I have come back. I travelled straight through from Marseilles, a pretty stiff journey.... We were nearly shipwrecked off Marseilles."
"I thought it was off the coast of Asia Minor?"
"That was another storm. We have had rough weather lately."
The music dropped from her hand, and she stood looking at him, for he stood before her like an ancient seafarer. His grey tweed suit buttoned tightly about him set off every line of his spare figure. His light brown hair was tossed all over his head, and she could not reconcile this rough traveller with the elegant fribble whom she had hitherto known as Sir Owen. But she liked him in this grey suit, dusty after long travel. He was picturesque and remote as a legend. A smile was on his lips; it showed through the frizzled moustache, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of her.
"But why did you travel straight through? You might have slept at Marseilles or Paris."
"One of these days I will tell you about the gale. I wonder I am not at the bottom of that treacherous sea; it did blow my poor old yacht about—I thought it was her last cruise; and when we got to the hotel I was handed your father's letter. As I did not want to miss the concert, I came straight through."
"You must be very fond of music."
"Yes, I am.... Music can be heard anywhere, but your voice can only be heard at Dulwich."
"Was it to hear me sing that you came back?"
She had spoken unawares, and felt that the question was a foolish one, and was trembling lest he should be inwardly laughing at her. But the earnest expression into which his little grey eyes concentrated reassured her. She seemed to lose herself a little, to drift into a sort of dream in which even he seemed to recede, and so intense and personal was her sensation that she could not follow his tale of adventure. It was an effort to listen to it at that moment, and she said—
"But you must be tired, you've not had a proper night's sleep ... for a week."
"I'm not very tired, I slept in the train, but I'm hungry. I've not had anything since ten o'clock this morning. There was no time to get anything at Victoria. I was told that the next train for Dulwich started in five minutes. I left my valet to take my trunks home; he will bring my evening clothes on here for the concert. Can you let me have a room to dress in?"
"Of course; but you must have something to eat."
"I thought of going round to the inn and having a chop."
"We had a beefsteak pudding for dinner; I wonder if you could eat beefsteak pudding?"
"There's nothing better."
"Yes, warmed up."
"Then I may run and tell Margaret?"
"I shall be much obliged if you will."
She liked to wait upon him, and her pleasure quickened when she handed him bread or poured out ale, making it foam in the glass, for refreshment after his long journey; and when she sat opposite, her eyes fixed on him, and he told her his tale of adventure, her happy flushed face reminded him of that exquisite promise, the pink almond blossom showing through the wintry wood.
"So you didn't believe me when I said that it was to hear you sing that I came back?"
"That you renounced your trip round the world?"
"Yes, I renounced my trip round the world to hear you sing."
She did not answer, and he put the question again.
"I can understand that there might be sufficient reason for your giving up your trip round the world. I thought that perhaps—no, I cannot say—"
They had been thinking of each other, and had taken up their interest in each other at their last thoughts rather than at their last words. She was more conscious of the reason of their sudden intimacy than he was, but he too felt that they had advanced a long way in their knowledge of each other, and their intuition was so much in advance of facts that they sat looking at each other embarrassed, their words unable to keep pace with their perceptions.
Evelyn suddenly felt as if she were being borne forward, but at that moment her father entered.
"Father, Sir Owen was famishing when he arrived. He wanted to go to the inn and eat a chop, but I persuaded him to stop and have some beefsteak pudding."
"I am so glad ... you've arrived just in time, Sir Owen. The concert is to-night."
"He came straight through without stopping; he has not been home. So, father, you will never be able to say again that your concerts are not appreciated."
"Well, I don't think that you will be disappointed, Sir Owen. This is one of the most interesting programmes we have had. You remember Ferrabosco's pavane which you liked so much—"
Margaret announced the arrival of Sir Owen's valet, and while Mr. Innes begged of Sir Owen not to put himself to the trouble of dressing, Owen wondered at his own folly in yielding to a sudden caprice to see the girl. However, he did not regret; she was a prettier girl than he had thought, and her welcome was the pleasantest thing that had happened to him for many a day.
"My poor valet, I am afraid, is quite hors de combat. He was dreadfully ill while we were beating up against that gale, and the long train journey has about finished him. At Victoria he looked more dead than alive."
Evelyn went out to see this pale victim of sea sickness and expedition. She offered him dinner and then tea, but he said he had had all he could eat at the refreshment bars, and struggled upstairs with the portmanteau of his too exigent master.
A few of her guests had already arrived, and Evelyn was talking to Father Railston when Sir Owen came into the room.
"I shall not want you again to-night," he said, turning towards the door to speak to his valet. "Don't sit up for me, and don't call me to-morrow before ten."
She had not yet had time to speak to Owen of a dream which she had dreamed a few nights before, and in which she was much interested. She had seen him borne on the top of a huge wave, clinging to a piece of wreckage, alone in the solitary circle of the sea. But Owen, when he came downstairs dressed for the concert, looked no longer like a seafarer. He wore an embroidered waistcoat, his necktie was tied in a butterfly bow, and the three pearl studs, which she remembered, fastened the perfectly-fitting shirt. She was a little disappointed, and thought that she liked him better in the rough grey suit, with his hair tossed, just come out of his travelling cap. Now it was brushed about his ears, and it glistened as if from some application of brilliantine or other toilet essence. Now he was more prosaic, but he had been extraordinarily romantic when he ran in to see her, his grey travelling cap just snatched from his head. It was then she should have told him her dream. All this was a very faint impression, half humorous, half regretful, it passed, almost without her being aware of it, in the background of her mind. But she was keenly disappointed that he was not impressed by her dream, and was inclined to consider it in the light of a mere coincidence. In the first place, he hadn't been shipwrecked, and that she should dream of shipwreck was most natural since she knew that he had gone a-seafaring, and any gust of wind in the street was enough to excite the idea of a castaway in the unclosed cellular tissues of her brain. She did not answer, and he stood trying to force an answer from her, but she could not, nor did she wish to think that her dream was no more than a merely physiological phenomenon. But just at that moment Mr. Innes was waiting to speak to Sir Owen.