She did not explain, and the child would not have understood, that she vouched for a special donation for the case as a sort of commemorative gift. The sum was large—it was a quixotic sort of salve to a sick conscience which told her that she ought to go herself.
The child, still sobbing, turned away, and drearily started up the hill. She did not go far, however. Miss Moreland had her misgivings on that point. And, just as she was about to draw a breath of relief, convinced that, after all, she would go, the girl stopped deliberately in the shadow of a tree, and sat down on the snow-covered curbstone.
No need to ask what the trouble was. The poor are born with a horror of organized charity. It obliges them to be looked over in all their misery; it presumes a worthiness, or its pretence, which they resent almost as much as they do the intrusion of the visiting committee. This disinclination is as old as poverty, and is the rock ahead of all organized charity. Its exemplification was very trying to Miss Moreland at that moment, and the crouching figure was exasperating.
She pursued the child. She pulled her rather roughly to her feet. It was so provoking to have her sit down in the cold, and to so personify all that she wanted so ardently,—it was purely selfish, she knew that,—to put out of her mind. There seemed but one thing to do: go with the child.
She knew that if she did not, she would not sleep that night, nor smile the next day—and that seemed so unfair to others. Besides, it was not yet so very late.
Bidding the child hurry, she followed her up the hill, and down the other side to a part of the city with which she was not familiar.
The child cried quietly all the way.
Miss Moreland was too vaguely uncomfortable to talk to her, as they hurried along.
It was in front of a dark house that they finally stopped, and went up the stone steps into a hall so dark that she was obliged to take the child's dirty cold hands in hers to be sure of the way.
Perhaps it was a foolish distaste for the contact, combined with her frame of mind, which prevented her from noticing facts far from trifles, which came back to her afterward.
She groped her way up the uncarpeted stairs, and followed her still whimpering guide along what seemed an upper corridor, stumbled on what she immediately knew was the sill of a door, lurched forward as the child let go of her hand, and, before she recovered her balance, the door closed behind her.
She called to the child. No answer.
She felt for the door, found it—it was locked.
She was in perfect darkness.
A terrible wave of sickness passed over her and left her trembling and weak.
All she had ever heard and found it difficult to believe, coursed through her mind.
The folly of it all was worse. Fifteen minutes before all had been well with her—and now—!
Through all her terror one idea was strong within her. She must keep her head, she must be calm, she must be alertly ready for whatever happened.
The whole thing had seemed so simple. The crying child had been so plausible! Yet—to enter a strange dark house, in an unknown part of the city! How absurd it was of her! And that—after noticing—as she had—that, cold as the halls were and uncarpeted, there was neither smell of dirt nor humanity in the air!
While all these thoughts pursued one another through her mind she stood erect just inside the door.
She really dared not move.
Suddenly a fear came to her that she might not be alone. For a moment that fear dominated all other sensations. She held her breath, in a wild attempt to hear she knew not what.
It was deathly still!
She backed to the door, and began cautiously feeling her way along the wall. Inch by inch, she crept round the room, startled almost to fainting at each obstacle she encountered.
It was a large room with an alcove—a bedroom. There was but little furniture, one door only, two windows covered with heavy drapery, the windows bolted down, and evidently shuttered on the outside.
When she returned to the door, one thing was certain, she was alone. The only danger she need apprehend must come through that one door.
Yet she pushed a chair against the wall before she sat down to wait—for what? Ah, that was the horror of it! Was it robbery? There was her engagement ring, a few ornaments like her watch, and very little money! Yet, as she had seen misery, even that might be worth while. But was this a burglar's method? A ransom? That was too mediaeval for an American city. If neither, then what?
She had but one enemy in the world, her Jack's best friend, or at least, he was his best friend until the days of her engagement. But he was a gentleman, and these were the days when men did not revenge themselves on women who frankly rejected the attentions they had never encouraged. It was weak, she knew it, to even remember the words he had said to her when she had refused to hear the man she was to marry slandered by his chum—still she wished now that she had told Jack, all the same.
If she could only have a light! There was gas, but no matches. To sit in the dark, waiting, she knew not what, was maddening.
Then a new terror came over her. Suppose she should fall asleep from fatigue and exhaustion, and the effect of the dark?
It seemed days that she sat there.
She knew afterward that it was only five hours and a half, but that five hours and a half were an eternity—three hundred and thirty minutes, each one of which dragged her down, like a weight, into the black abyss of the unknown; three hundred and thirty minutes of listening to the labored beating of her own heart—it was an age, after all!
Only once did she lose control of herself. She imagined she heard voices in the hall—that some one laughed—was there still laughter in the world? In spite of herself, she rushed to the door, and pounded on it. This was so useless that she began to cry hysterically. Yet she knew how foolish that was, and she stumbled back to her chair, sank into it, and calmed herself. She would not do that again.
What was her mother thinking? Poor mama! What would Jack say, when, at eleven o'clock, he ran in from his bachelor's dinner—his last—which he was giving to a few friends? What would her father say? He had always prophesied some disaster for her excursions into the slums.
Her imagination could easily picture the mad search that would be made—but who could find a trace of her?
The blackness, the fear, the dread, were doing their work! She was numb! She began to feel as if she were suspended in space, as if everything had dropped away from her, as if in another instant she would fall—and fall—and fall—.
Suddenly she heard a laugh in the hall again—this time there was no mistake about it, for it was followed by several voices. Some one approached the door.
A key was inserted and turned in the lock.
She started to her feet, and steadied herself!
The door swung open quickly—some one entered. By the dim light in the hall behind, she saw that it was a man—a gentleman in evening clothes, with a hat on the back of his head, and a coat over his arm.
But while her alert senses took that in, the door closed again—the man had remained inside.
The thought of making a dash for the door came to her, but it was too late.
She heard the scratching of a match—a muttered oath at the darkness in a thick voice—then a sudden flood of light blinded her.
She drew her hands quickly across her eyes, and was conscious that the man had flung his hat and coat on the bed before he turned to face her.
In a moment all her fear was gone.
She stumbled weakly as she ran toward him, crying hysterically, "Jack, dear Jack, how did you find me? I should have gone mad if you had been much later! Take me home! Take me home—"
Had Miss Moreland fainted, as a well-conducted girl of her class ought to have done, this would have been a very different kind of a story.
Unluckily, or luckily, according as one views life—in the relief of his presence, all danger of that fled. Unluckily for him, also, the appearance of his bride-elect in such an unexpected place was so appalling to him that his nerve failed him entirely. Instead of clasping her in his arms as he should have done, he had the decency to recoil, and cover his face instinctively from her eyes.
Miss Moreland stopped as if turned to stone.
She was conscious at first of but one thing—he had not expected to find her there. He had not come to seek her. Then, for what?
A sudden flash illumined her ignorance, and behind it she grasped at the vague accusation her other suitor had tried to make to her unwilling ears.
Her outstretched hands fell to her sides.
He still leaned against the wall, where the shock had flung him. The exciting fumes of the wine he had drunk too recklessly evaporated, and only a dim recollection remained in his absolutely sobered brain of the idiotic wager, the ugly jest, the still more contemptible bravado that had sent him into this hell.
He did not attempt to speak.
When her strained voice said: "Take me home, please," he started and the fear that had been on her face was now on his. A hundred dangers, of which she did not dream, stood between that room and a safe exit in which she should not be seen, and that much of this wretched business—which he understood now only too well—miscarry.
He started for the door. "Stay here," he said. "You are perfectly safe," and he went out, and closed and locked the door behind him.
For the man who plotted without, and the woman who sat like a stone within that room, the next half hour were equally horrible. But time was no longer measured by her!
She never remembered much more of that evening. She had a vague recollection that he came back. She had a remembrance that he had helped her stand—given her a glass of water—and led her down the uncarpeted stairs out into the street. Then she was conscious that she walked a little way. Then that she had been helped into a carriage, and then she had jolted and jolted and jolted over the pavings, always with his pale face opposite, and she knew that his eyes were full of pity. Then everything seemed to stop, but it was only the carriage that had come to a standstill. She was in front of her own door.
A voice said in her ear, "Can you stand?" And she knew she was on the steps. She heard the bell ring, but before her mother could catch her in her arms as she fell, she heard the carriage door bang, and he was gone forever.
All that night she lay and tossed and wept and raved, and longed in her fever to die.
And all night, he walked the streets marvelling at himself, at Nature, and at Civilization, between which he had so disastrously fallen, and wondering to how many men the irremediable had ever happened before.
And the next morning, early, messengers were flying about with notices of the bride's illness.—Miss Moreland's wedding was deferred by brain fever.
When she recovered, her hair was white, and she had lost all taste for matrimony, but she had found instead that desire for anything rather than personal existence, which made her the ardent, self-abnegating worker for the welfare of the downtrodden that the world knew her.
* * * * *
There was a moment of surprised silence.
Some one coughed. No one laughed. Then the Journalist, always ready to leap into a breach, gasped: "Horrible!"
"Getting to be a pet word of yours," said the Lawyer.
The Violinist tried to save the situation by saying gently: "Well, I don't know. It is the commonest of all situations in a melodrama. So why fuss?"
The Trained Nurse shrugged her shoulders. "I know that story," she said.
"You do not," snapped the Lawyer. "You may know a story, but you never heard that one."
"All right," she admitted. "I am not going to add footnotes, don't be alarmed."
"You don't mean to say that is a true story?" ejaculated the Divorcee.
"As for me," said the Critic, "I don't believe it."
"No one asked you to," replied the Lawyer. "It is only another case of the Doctor's pet theory—that whatever the mind of mortal mind can conceive, can come to pass."
"I suppose also that it is a proof of another of his pet theories. Scratch civilized man, and you find the beast."
The Doctor was lying back in his chair. He never said a word. Somehow the story seemed a less suggestive topic of conversation than usual.
"The weather is going to change," said the Doctor. "There's rain in the air."
"Well, anyway," said the Journalist, as we gathered up our belongings and prepared to shut up for the night, "the Youngster's ghost story was a good night cap compared to that."
"Not a bit of it," said the Critic. "There's the foundation of a bully melodrama in that story, and I'm not sure that it isn't the best one yet—so full of reserves."
"No imagination, all the same," answered the Critic. "As realistic in subject, if not in treatment, as Zola."
"Now give us some shop jargon," laughed the Lawyer. "You've not really treated us to a true touch of your methods yet."
"I only do that," laughed the Critic, "when I'm getting paid for it. After all, as the Violinist remarked, the situation is a favorite one in melodrama, from the money-coining 'Two Orphans' down. The only trouble is, the Lawyer poured his villain and hero into one mould. The other man ought to have trapped her, and the hero rescued her. But that is only the difference between reality and art. Life is inartistic. Art is only choosing the best way. Life never does that."
"Pig's wrist," said the Doctor, and that settled the question.
THE JOURNALIST'S STORY
IN A RAILWAY STATION
THE TALE OF A DANCER
On Friday night, just as we were finishing dinner—we had eaten inside—the Divorcee said: "It may not be in order to make the remark, but I cannot help saying that it is so strange to think that we are sitting here so quietly in a country at war, suffering for nothing, very little inconvenienced, even by the departure of all the men. The field work seems to be going on just the same. Every one seems calm. It is all most unexpected and strange to me."
"I don't see it that way at all," said the Journalist. "I feel as if I were sitting on a volcano, knowing it was going to erupt, but not knowing at what moment."
"That I understand," said the Divorcee, "but that is not exactly what I mean. I meant that, in spite of that feeling which every one between here and Paris must have, I see no outward signs of it."
"They are all about us just the same," remarked the Doctor, "whether you see them or not. Did it ever happen to you to be walking in some quiet city street, near midnight, when all the houses were closed, and only here and there a street lamp gleamed, and here and there a ray of light filtered through the shuttered window of some silent house, and to suddenly remember that inside all these dark walls the tragedies of life were going on, and that, if a sudden wave of a magician's wand were to wipe away the walls, how horrified, or how amused one would be?"
"Well," said the Lawyer, "I have had that idea many times, but it has come to me more often in some hotel in the mountains of Switzerland. I remember one night sitting on the terrace at Murren, with the Jungfrau rising in bridal whiteness above the black sides of the Schwarze-Monch, and the moon shining so brightly over the slopes, that I could count any number of isolated little chalets perched on the ledges, and I never had the feeling so strongly of life going on with all its joys and griefs and crimes, invisible, but oppressive."
"I am afraid," said the Doctor, "that there is enough of it going on right here—if we only knew it. I had an example this afternoon. I was walking through the village, when an old woman called to me, and asked if I were the doctor from the old Grange. I said I was, and she begged me to come in and see her daughter-in-law. She was very ill, and the local doctor is gone. I found a young, very pretty girl, with a tiny baby, in as bad a state of hysteria as I ever saw. But that is not the story. That I heard by degrees. It seems the father-in-law, a veteran of 1870, now old, and nearly helpless, is of good family, but married, in his middle age, a woman of the country. They had one son who was sent away to school, and became a civil engineer. He married, about two years ago, this pretty girl whom I saw. She is Spanish. He met her somewhere in Southern Spain, and it was a desperate love match. The first child was born about six weeks before the war broke out. Of course the young husband was in the first class mobilized. The young wife is not French. She doesn't care at all who governs France, so that her man were left her in peace. I imagine that the old father suspected this. He had never been happy that his one son married a foreigner. The instant the young wife realized that her man was expected to put love of France before love of her, she began to make every effort to induce him to go out of the country. To make a long story short, the son went to his mother, whom he adored, made a clean breast of the situation, and proposed that, to satisfy his wife, he should start with her for the Spanish frontier, finding means to have her brother meet them there and take her home to her own people. He promised to make no effort to cross the frontier himself, and gave his word of honor to be with his regiment in time. He knew it would not be easy to do, and, in case of accident, he wished his mother to be able to explain to the old veteran. But the lad had counted without the spirit that is dominant in every French woman to-day. The mother listened. She controlled herself. She did not protest. But that night, when the young couple were about to leave the house, carrying the sleeping baby, they found the old man, pistol in hand, with his back against the door. The words were few. The veteran stated that his son could only pass over his dead body—that if he insisted, he would shoot him before he would allow him to pass: that neither wife nor child should leave France. It was in vain that the wife, on her knees, pleaded that she was not French—that the war did not concern her—that her husband was dearer to her than honor—and so forth. The old man declared that in marrying his son she became French, though she was a disgrace to the name, that her son was a born Frenchman; that she might go, and welcome, but that she would go without the child, and, of course, that ended the argument. The next morning the baby was christened, but the tale had leaked out. I suppose the Spanish wife had not kept her ideas absolutely to herself—and the son joined his regiment. The Spanish wife is still here, but, needless to say, she is not at all loved by her husband's family, who watch her like lynxes for fear she will abduct the child, and she has developed as neat a case of hysterical mania of persecution as I ever encountered. So you see that even in this quiet place there are tragedies behind the walls. But I seem to be telling a story out of my turn!"
"And a forbidden war story, at that," said the Youngster. "So to change the air—whose turn is it?"
The Journalist puffed out his chest. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, as he rose to his feet, and struck, the traditional attitude of a monologist, "I regret to inform you that you will be obliged to have a taste of my histrionic powers. I've got to act out part of this story—couldn't seem to tell it in any other form."
* * * * *
A slender young woman turned at the word, so sharply spoken over her shoulder, and visibly paled.
She was strikingly attractive, in her modish tailor frock, and her short tight jacket of Persian lamb, with its high, collar of grey fur turned up to her ears.
Her singularly fair skin, her red hair, her brown eyes, with dark lashes, and narrowly pencilled eyebrows that were almost black, gave her a remarkable look, and at first sight suggested that Nature had not done it all. But a closer observation convinced one that the strange combination of such hair and such eyebrows was only one of those freaks by which Nature now and then warns the knowing to beware even of marvellous beauty. In this case it stamped a woman as one who—by several signs—might be identified by the initiated as one of those, who, without reason or logic, spring now and again from most unpromising soil!
She had walked the entire length of the station from the wide doors on the street side to the swing doors at the opposite end which gave entrance to the tracks.
As she passed, no man had failed to turn and look after her, as, with her well hung skirts just clearing the wet pavement, she stepped daintily over the flagging, and so lightly that neither boots nor skirt were the worse for it. One sees women in Paris who know that art, but it is rare in an American.
She must have been long accustomed to attracting masculine eyes, and no wonder, for when she stepped into the place she seemed to give a color to the atmosphere, and everything and everybody went grey and commonplace beside her.
It was a terrible night in November.
The snow was falling rapidly outside, and the wind blew as it can blow only on the New England coast.
It was the sort of night that makes one forced to be out look forward lovingly to home, and think pityingly of the unfortunate, while those within doors involuntarily thank God for comfort, and hug at whatever remnant of happiness living has left them.
The railway station was crowded.
The storm had come up suddenly at the close of a fair day. It was the hour, too, at which tradespeople, clerks, and laborers were returning home to the suburbs, and at which the steamboat express for New York was being made up—although it was not an encouraging night for the latter trip.
The pretty young woman with the red hair had looked through the door near the tracks, and glanced to the right, where the New York express should be. The gate was still closed. She was much too early! For a second she hesitated. She glanced about quickly, and the look was not without apprehension. It was evident that she did not see the man who was following her, and who seemed to have been waiting for her near the outer door. He did not speak, nor attract her attention in any way. The crowd served him in that!
After a moment's hesitation, she turned toward the ladies' waiting room, and just as she was about to enter, the man behind addressed her—and the word was said so low that no one near heard it—though, by the start she gave, it might have been a pistol shot.
She stood perfectly still. The color died out of her face; but only for an instant. She looked alarmed, then perplexed, and then she smiled. She was evidently a young woman of resources.
The man was a stalwart handsome fellow of his class—though it was almost impossible to guess what that was save that it was not that which the world labels by exterior signs "gentleman." He might easily have been some sort of a mechanic. He was certainly neither a clerk nor the follower of any of the unskilled professions. He was surely countrybred, for there was a largeness in his expression as well as his bearing that spoke distinctly of broad vistas and exercise. He was tall and broad-shouldered. He stood well on his feet, hampered as little by his six feet of height and fourteen stone weight as he was by the size of his hands. One would have easily backed him to ride well and shoot straight, though he probably never saw the inside of what is called a "drawing-room."
There was the fire of a mighty emotion in his deep-set eyes. There were signs of a tremendous animal force in his square chin and thick neck, but it was balanced well by his broad brow and wide-set eyes. He seemed at this moment to hold himself in check with a rigid stubbornness that answered for his New England origin, and Puritan ancestry! Indeed, at the moment he addressed the woman, but for his eyes, he might have seemed as indifferent as any of the stone figures that upheld the iron girders of the roof above him!
Still smiling archly she moved forward into the waiting room and, passing through the dense crowd that hung about the door, crossed the room to an open space.
Without a word the man followed.
The room was dimly lighted. The crowd that surged about them, coming and going, and sometimes pressing close on every side, seemed not to note them. And, if they had, they would have seen nothing more remarkable than an extremely pretty young woman conversing quietly with a big fellow in a reefer and long boots—a rig he carried well.
"Dora!" he said again, and then had to pause to steady his voice.
Dora wet her red lips with the pointed tip of her tiny tongue; swallowed nervously once or twice, before she spoke. She was now facing him, and still smiling.
He kept his eyes fixed on her face. He did not respond to the smile. His eyes were tragic. He seemed to be seeking something in her face as if he feared her mere words would not help him.
"Why, Zeke," she said at last, when she realized that he could not get beyond her name, "I thought you had gone home an hour ago! Why didn't you take the 5.15 train?"
"I changed my mind! To tell you the truth, I heard that you were in town this afternoon. I have been watching for you—for some time."
"Well, all I can say is—you are foolish. Where's the good for you fretting yourself so? I can take care of myself."
"I can't get used to you being about in the city streets alone."
"I have been absurd a great many times of late—in your eyes. Our ideas don't seem to agree any more."
"No, Zeke, they don't!"
"Why speak to me in that tone, Dora? Don't do it!"
He looked over her head, as if to be sure of his hold on himself. He was ghastly white about his smooth-shaven, thick lips. Both hands were thrust deep into his reefer pockets.
"What's come to you, Zeke?" she asked nervously. His was not exactly the face one would see unmoved!
He answered her without looking at her. It was evident he did not dare just yet. "Nothing much, I reckon. I've been a bit down all day. I really don't know why, myself. I've had a queer presentiment, as if something were going to happen. As if something terrible were coming to me."
"Well, I'm sorry. You've no occasion to feel like that, I'm sure."
"All right, if you say so. What train shall we take?"
He stretched out one hand to take the small bag she carried.
She shrank back instinctively, and withdrew the bag. He must have felt rather than seen the movement, it was so slight.
His hand fell to his side.
Still, he persisted.
"I'm dead done up, Dora. I need my dinner, come on!"
"Then you'd better take the 6.00 train. You've just time," she said hurriedly.
"All right. Come on!"
He laid his hand on her shoulder with a gesture that was entreating. It was the first time he had touched her. A frightened look came into her eyes. He did not see it, for he was still avoiding her face. It was as if he were afraid of reading something there he did not wish to know.
Her red lips had taken on a petulant expression—that of one who hated to be "stirred up." In a childish voice—which only thinly veiled an obstinate determination—she pouted: "I'm not going—yet."
The words were said almost under her breath, as if she were fearful of their effect on him, yet was determined to carry her point.
But the man only sighed deeply as he replied: "I thought your dancing lessons were over. I hoped I was no longer to spend my evenings alone. Alone! Looking round at the things that are yours, and among which I feel so out of place, except when you are there to make me forget. God! What damnable evenings I've spent there—feeling as if you were slipping further and further out of my life—as if you were gone, and I had only the clothes you had worn, an odor about me somewhere to convince me that I had not dreamed you! Sometimes that faint, indistinct, evasive scent of you in the room has almost driven me out of my head. I wonder I haven't killed you before now—to be sure of you! I'm afraid of Hell, I suppose, or I should have."
The woman did not look at all alarmed. Indeed there was a light in her amber eyes that spoke of a kind of gratification in stirring this young giant like that—this huge fellow that could so easily crush her—but did not! She knew better why than he did—but she said nothing.
With his eyes still fixed on space—after a pause—he went on: "I was fool enough to believe that that was all over, at last, that you had danced to your heart's content, and that we were to begin the old life—the life before that nonsense—over again. You were like my old Dora all day yesterday! The Dora I loved and courted and married back there in the woods. But I might have known it wasn't finished by the ache I had here," and he struck himself a blow over the heart with his clenched fist, "when I waked this morning, and by the weight I've carried here all day." And he drew a deep breath like one in pain.
The woman looked about as if apprehensive that even his passionate undertone might have attracted attention, but only a man by the radiator seemed to have noticed, and he had the air of being not quite sober enough to understand.
There was a long pause.
The woman glanced nervously at the clock.
The man was again staring over her head.
It was quarter to six. Her precious minutes were flying. She must be rid of him!
"See here, Zeke, dear," she said, in desperation, speaking very rapidly under her breath—no fear but he would hear—"the truth is, that I'm not a bit better satisfied with our sordid kind of life than I was a year ago, when we first discussed it. I'm awfully sorry! You know that. But I can't change—and there is the whole truth! It's not your fault in one way—and yet in one way it is. God knows you have done everything you could, and more some ways than you ought. But, unluckily for you, gratifying me was not the way to mend the situation for yourself. It is cruel—but it is the truth! If a man wants to keep a woman of my disposition attached to him, he'd do far better to beat her than over-educate her, and teach her all the beauties of freedom. He should keep her ignorant, rather than cultivate her imagination, and open up the wonders of the world to her. It's rough on chaps like you, that with all your cleverness you've no instinct to set you right on a point like this—but it is lucky for women like me—at times! You were determined to force all this out of me, so you may as well hear the whole brutal truth. I'm sick of our stupid ways of life—I have been sick of it for a long time. I've passed all power to pretend any longer. I have learned that there is a great and beautiful world within the reach of women who are clever enough and brave enough to grasp at an opportunity, without looking forward or back. I want to walk boldly to this. I'm not afraid of the stepping-stones! This is really all your fault. When you married me, five years ago, I was only sixteen, and very much in love with you. Now, why didn't you make me do the housework and drudge as all the other women on the farms about yours did? I'd have done it then, and willingly, even to the washing and scrubbing. I had been working in a cotton mill. I didn't know anything better than to drudge. I thought that was a woman's lot. It didn't even seem terrible to me. But no—you set yourself to amuse me. You brought me way up to town on a wedding journey. For the first time in my life I saw there idle women in the world, who wore soft clothes and were always dressed up. You bought me finery. I was clever and imitative. I pined for all the excitement and beauty of city life when we were back on the farm, in the life you loved. I cried for it, as a child cries for the moon. I never dreamed of getting it. And you surprised me by selling the farm, and coming nearer the town to live. Just because I had an ear for music, and could pick out tunes on the old melodeon, I must have a piano and take lessons. Just because my music teacher happened to be French and I showed an aptitude for studying, that must be gratified. Can you really blame me if I want to see more of the wide world that opened up to me? Did you really think French novels and music were likely to make a woman of my lively imagination content with her lot as wife of a mechanic—however clever?"
The man looked down at her as if stunned. Arguments of that sort were a bit above the reasoning of the simple masculine animal, who seemed to belong to that race which comprehends little of the complex emotions, and looks on love as the one inevitable passion of life, and on marriage as its logical result and everlasting conclusion.
It was probable at this moment that he completed his alphabet in the great lesson of life—and spelled out painfully the awful truth, that not all the royal service of worship and love in a man's heart can hold a woman.
There was something akin to a sob in his throat as he replied: "You were so young—so pretty! I could not bear to think that you should soil your hands for me! I wanted to make up to you for all the hardships and sorrows of your childhood. I dreamed of being mother and father as well as husband to you. I thought it would make you happy to owe everything to me—as happy as it made me to give. I would willingly have carried you every step of your life, rather than you should have tired your feet. Is that a sin in a woman's eyes?"
A whimsical smile broke over the woman's face. It quivered on her red lips for just a breath, as if conscious how ill-timed it was. "I really like to tire my feet," she murmured, and she pointed the toe of her tiny boot, as if poised to dance, and looked down on it with evident admiration.
The man caught his breath sharply.
"It's that damned dancing that has upset you, Dora!"
"Sh! Don't swear! I do like dancing! I have always told you so. It was you who first admired it. It was you who let me learn."
"You were my wife! I thought that meant everything to you that it meant to me. I loved your beauty because it was yours; your pleasures because they gave you pleasure. All my ideas of right and wrong in marriage which I learned in my father's honest house bent to your desires and happiness."
She looked nervously at the clock. Ten minutes to six.
"Dora—for God's sake look at me! Dora—you're not leaving me?"
It was an almost inarticulate cry, as of a man who had foreseen his doom, and only protested from some unconquerable instinct to struggle!
She patted his clenched hand gently.
It was plainly evident that she hated the sight of suffering, and hated more not having her own way, and was possessed by a refined kind of cowardice.
"Don't make a row, there's a dear boy! It is like this: I am going over to New York, just for a few weeks. I would have told you yesterday, only I hated spoiling a nice day. It was a nice day?—with a scene. You'll find a nice long letter at home—it's a sweet one, too—telling you all about it. Don't take it too hard! I am going to earn fifty dollars a week—just fancy that—and don't blame me too much!"
He didn't seem to hear! He hung his head—the veins in his forehead swelled—there were actually tears in his eyes—and the mighty effort he made to restrain a sob was terrible—and six feet of American manhood, as fine a specimen of the animal as the soil can show, animated by a spirit which represented well the dignity of toil and self-respect, stood bowed down with ungovernable grief and shame before a merely ornamental bit of femininity.
Fate had simply perpetrated another of her ghastly pleasantries!
The woman was perplexed—naturally! But it was evidently the sight of her work, and not the work, itself, that pained her.
"Don't cut up so rough, Zeke, please don't," she went on. "I'm very fond of you—you know that—but I detest the odor of the shop, and it is so easy for us both to escape it."
He shrank as if she had struck him.
Instinctively he must have remembered the cotton mill from which he took her. A man rarely understands a woman's faculty for forgetting—that is to say, no man of his class does.
"Doesn't it seem a bit selfish of you," she went on, "to object to my earning nearly three times what you can—and so easily—and prettily?"
"I wanted you to be happy with what I could give you."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not. No use to fib about it! It is too late. Your notions are so queer."
"I suppose it is queer to love one woman—and to love her so that laboring for her is happiness! I suppose you do find me a queer chap, because I am not willing that my wife—flesh of my flesh—should flaunt herself, half dressed, to excite the admiration of other men—all for fifty dollars a week!"
"See here, Zeke, you are making too much of this! If it is the separation you can't stand—why come, too! I'll soon enough be getting my hundred a week, and more. That is enough for both of us. You can be with me, if that is what you mind!"
"If that is what I mind? You know better than that! Am I such a cur that you think, if there were no other reason, I'd pose before the world as the husband of a woman who owes nothing to him—as if I were—"
She interrupted him sharply.
"What odds does it make—tell me that—which of us earns the money? To have it is the only important thing!"
The man straightened up—and squared his broad shoulders. A strange change came over him.
He laid his heavy hand on her shoulder, and, for the first time, he spoke with a disregard for self-control, although he did not raise his voice.
"Look at me, Dora, and be sure I mean what I say. Leave me to-day, and don't you ever come back to me. It may kill me to live without you. Well, better that than—than the other! I married you to live with you—not merely to have you! I've been a faithful husband to you! I shall remain that while I live. I never denied you anything I could get for you! But this I will not put up with! I thought you loved me—even if you were sometimes vain, and now and then cruel. If you're ill—if you disappoint yourself, I'll be ready to take care of you—as I promised. But don't never dare to come back to me otherwise! Unless you're in want and homeless, unless you can't live, but by the labor of my hands, I'll never sleep under the same roof with you again. Never!"
"What nonsense, Zeke! Of course I'll come back! You won't turn me away! I only want to see a little of the world, to get a few of the things you can't give me—no blame to you, either!"
He did not seem to hear her.
Almost as if speaking to himself, he went on: "I've feared for some time you didn't love me. I didn't want to believe it. I was a coward. I shut my eyes. I took what you gave me—I daren't think of this—which has come to me! I dared not! God punishes idolatry! He has punished mine. Be sure you're not making a mistake, Dora! There may be other men will admire you, my girl—will any of them love you as I do? There's never a minute I'm not conscious of you, sleeping or waking. Think again, Dora, before you leave me!"
"I can't, Zeke. I've signed a contract. I couldn't reconsider if I wanted to. It's just seven minutes to train time. Kiss me—there's a dear lad—and don't row me any more!"
She raised herself on tip toes and approached her red lips to his face—lips of an intense color to go with the marked pallor of the rest of the face, and which surely were never offered to him in vain before—but he was beyond their seduction at last.
"You've decided?" he said.
"All right! Good-bye, then! You promised to cleave to me through thick and thin 'till death did us part.' I'll have no halfway business," and he turned on his heel, and without looking back he pushed his way through the crowd, which chatted and fussed and never even noted the passing of a broken heart.
The pretty creature watched him out of sight.
There was a humorous pout on her lips. But she seemed so sure of her man! He would come back, of course—when she called him—if she ever did! Probably she liked him better at that moment than she had liked him in two years. He had opposed her. He had defied her power over him. He had once more become a man to conquer—if she ever had time!
But just now there was something more important. That train! It was three minutes to the schedule time.
As he disappeared into the crowd she drew a breath of relief, and hurried out of the waiting room and pushed her way to the platform, along which she hurried to the parlor car, where she seated herself comfortably, as if no man with a broken life had been set down that day against her record.
To be sure, she could not quite rid herself of thoughts of his face, but the recollection rather flattered her, and did not in the least prevent her noticing the looks of admiration with which two men on the opposite side of the car were regarding her.
Once or twice she glanced out of the window, apparently alternately expecting and dreading to see her stalwart husband come sprinting down the platform for the kiss he had refused.
He didn't come!
She was relieved as the train started—yet she hated to feel he could really let her go like that!
She never guessed at the depth of suffering she had brought him. How could she appreciate what she could never feel? She never dreamed that as the train pulled out into the storm he stood at the end of the station, and watched it slowly round the curve under the bridge and pass out of sight. No one was near to see him turn aside, and rest his arms against the brick wall, to bury his face in them, and sob like a child, utterly oblivious of the storm that beat upon him.
* * * * *
And he sat down.
"Come on," yelled the Youngster, "where's the claque?" And he began to applaud furiously.
"Oh, if there is a claque, the rest of us don't need to exert ourselves," said the Lawyer, indolently.
"But I say," asked the Youngster, after the Journalist had made his best bow. "I AM disappointed. Was that all?"
"My goodness," commented the Doctor, as he lighted a fresh cigar. "Isn't that enough?"
"Not for me," replied the Youngster. "I want to know about her debut. Was she a success?"
"Of course," answered the Journalist. "That sort always is."
"And I want to know," insisted the Youngster, "what became of him?"
"Why," ejaculated the Sculptor, "of course he cut his big brown throat!"
"Not a bit of it," said the Critic. "He probably went up to New York, and hung round the stage door."
"Until she called in the police, and had him arrested as a common nuisance," added the Lawyer.
"I'll bet my microscope he didn't," laughed the Doctor.
"And you won't lose your lens," replied the Journalist. "He never did a blooming thing—that is, he didn't if he existed."
"Oh, my eyes," said the Youngster. "I am disappointed again. I thought that was a simon-pure newspaper yarn—one of your reporter's dodges—real journalese!"
"She is true enough," answered the Journalist, "and her feet are true, and so is her red hair, and, unless she is a liar, and most actresses are, so is he and her origin, but as for the way she cut him out—well, I had to make that up. It is better than any of the six tales she told as many interviewers, in strict secrecy, in the days when she was collecting hearts and jewels and midnight suppers in New York."
"Is she still there?" asked the Youngster, "because if she is, I'll go back and take a look at Dora myself—after the war!"
"Well, Youngster," laughed the Journalist, "it will have to be 'after the war,' as you will probably have to go to Berlin to find her."
"That's all right!" retorted the Youngster. "I am going—with the Allied armies."
We all jumped up.
"No!" cried the Divorcee. "No!!"
"But I am. Where's the good of keeping it secret? I enlisted the day I went to Paris the first time—so did the Doctor, so did the Critic, and so did he, the innocent looking old blackguard," and he seized the Journalist by both shoulders and shook him well. "He thought we wouldn't find it out."
"Oh, well," said the Journalist, "when one has seen three wars, one may as well see one more.—This will surely be my last."
"Anyway," cried the Youngster, "we'll see it all round—the Doctor in the Field Ambulance, me in the air, the Critic is going to lug litters, and as for the Journalist—well, I'll bet it's secret service for him! Oh, I know you are not going to tell, but I saw you coming out of the English Embassy, and I'll bet my machine you've a ticket for London, and a letter to the Chief in your pocket."
"Bet away," said the Critic.
"What'd I tell you—what'd I tell you? He speaks every God-blessed language going, and if it wasn't that, he'd tell fast enough."
"Never mind," said the Trained Nurse, "so that he goes somewhere—with the rest of us."
"You—YOU?" exclaimed the Divorcee.
"Why not? I was trained for this sort of thing. This is my chance."
"And the rest of us?"
The Doctor intervened. "See here, this is forty-eight hours or more earlier than I meant this matter to come up. I might have known the Youngster could not hold his tongue."
"I've been bursting for three days."
"Well, you've burst now, and I hope you are content. There is nothing to worry about, yet. We fellows are leaving September 1st. The roads are all clear, and it was my idea that we should all start for Paris together early next Tuesday morning. I don't know what the rest of you want to do, but I advise you," turning to the Divorcee, "to go back to the States. You would not be a bit of good here. You may be there."
"You are quite right," she replied sadly. "I'd be worse than no good. I'd need 'first aid,' at the first shot."
"I'm going with her," said the Sculptor. "I'd be more useless than she would." And he turned a questioning look at the Lawyer.
"I must go back. I've business to attend to. Anyway, I'd be an encumbrance here. I may be useful there. Who knows?"
As for me, every one knew what I proposed to do, and that left every one accounted for except the Violinist. He had been in his favorite attitude by the tree, just as he had been on that evening when it had been proposed to "tell stories," gazing first at one and then at another, as the hurried conversation went on.
"Well," he said, finding all eyes turned on him, "I am going to London with the Journalist—if he is really going."
"All right, I am," was the reply.
"And from London I shall get to St. Petersburg. I have a dream that out of all this something may happen to Poland. If it does, I propose to be there. I'll be no good at holding a gun—I could never fire one. But if, by some miracle, there comes out of this any chance for the 'Fair Land of Poland' to crawl out, or be dragged out, from under the feet of the invader—well, I'll go home—and—and—"
"And grow up with the country," shouted the Youngster. "Bully for you."
"I may only go back to fiddle over the ruins. But who knows? At all events, I'll go back and carry with me all that your country had done for three generations of my family. They'll need it."
"Well," said the Doctor, "that is all settled. Enough for to-night. We'll still have one or two, and it may be three days left together. Let us make the most of them. They will never come again."
"And to think what a lovely summer we had planned," sighed the Divorcee.
"Tush!" ejaculated the Doctor. "We had a lovely time all last year. As for this summer, I imagine that it has been far finer than what we planned. Anyway, let us be thankful that it was this summer that we all found one another again."
"Better go to bed," cried the Critic; "the Doctor is getting sentimental—a bad sign in an army surgeon."
"I don't know," remarked the Trained Nurse; "I've seen those that were more sentimental than the Journalist, and none the worse for it."
THE VIOLINIST'S STORY
THE SOUL OF THE SONG
THE TALE OF A FIANCEE
On Saturday most of the men made a run into Paris.
It had finally been decided as best that, if all went well, we should leave for Paris some time the next day. There were steamer tickets to attend to. There were certain valuables to be taken up to the Bank. The Divorcee had a trunk or two that she thought she ought to send in order that we might start with as little luggage as possible, so both chauffeurs were sent up to town with baggage, and orders to wait there. The rest of us had been busy doing a little in the way of dismantling the house. The unexpected end of our summer had come. It was sad, but I imagine none of us were sorry, under the circumstances, to move on.
It was nearly dinner time when the cars came back, almost together, and we were surprised to see the Doctor going out to the servants' quarters instead of joining us as he usually did. In fact, we did not see him until we went into the dining room for dinner.
As he came to the head of the table, he said: "My good people, we will serve ourselves as best we can with the cook's aid. We have no waitress to-night. But it is our last dinner. A camp under marching orders cannot fuss over trifles."
"Where is Angele?" asked the Divorcee. "Is she ill?" And she turned to the door.
"Come back!" said the Doctor, sharply. "You can't help her now. Better leave her alone!"
As if by instinct, we all knew what had happened.
"Who brought the news?" some one asked.
"They gave it to me at the Mairie as I passed," replied the Doctor, "and the garde champetre told me what the envelope contained. He fell at Charleroi."
"Poor Angele," exclaimed the Trained Nurse. "Are you sure I could not help her?"
"Sure," said the Doctor. "She took it as a Frenchwoman should. She snatched the baby from its cradle, and held it a moment close to her face. Then she lifted it above her head in both hands, and said, almost without a choke in her throat, 'Vive la France, quand meme!'—and dropped. I put them on the bed together, she and the boy. She was crying like a good one when I left her. She's all right."
"Poor child—and that tiny baby!" exclaimed the Divorcee, wiping her eyes.
"Fudge," said the Doctor. "She is the widow of a hero, and the mother of the hero's son. Considering what life is, that is to be one of the elect of Fate. She'll go through life with a halo round her head, and, like most of the French women I have seen, she'll wear it like a crown. It becomes us, in the same spirit, to partake of the food before us. This life is a wonderful spectacle. If you saw an episode like that in a drama, at the theatre, you would all cheer like mad."
We knew he was right.
But the Youngster could not help adding, "That's twice—two days running, that the Doctor has told a story out of his turn, and both times he outraged the consign, for both times it was a war story."
That seemed to break the ice. We talked more or less war during dinner, but this time there were no disputes. Still I think we were glad when the cook trotted in with the trays, and with our elbows on the table, we turned toward the Violinist, who leaned against the high back of his chair, and with his long white hands resting on the carved arms, and his eyes on the ceiling—an attitude that he did not change during the narrative, began:
* * * * *
It was in the early eighties that I returned from Germany to my native land, and settled myself and my violin in the city of my birth.
I was not rich as my countrymen judge wealth, but, in my own estimation, I was well to do. I had enough to live without labor, and was, therefore, able to devote myself to my art without considering too closely the recompense.
In addition to that, I was still young.
I had more love for my chosen mistress—Music—than the Goddess had for me, for, while she accepted my worship with indulgence, she wasted fewer gifts on me than fell to the lot of many a less faithful follower.
Still, I was happy and content in my love for her, and only needed her to keep me so until, a year after my return, I met one woman, loved her, and begged her to share with my music, my heart, and its adoration.
That satisfied her, since, in her own love for the same art, she used to assure me that she possessed, by proxy, that other half of myself which I still dedicated to the Muse.
Perhaps it was the vibrant spirit of this woman which seemed musical to me, and which I so ardently loved, for she appeared to have a veritable violin soul. Her face was often the medium through which I saw the spirit of the music I was playing, as it sang in gladness, sobbed in sadness, thrilled in passion along the strings of my Amati.
I knew that I never played so well as when her face was before me. I felt that if ever I approached my dreams in achievement, it would be her soul that inspired me. So like was she, in my fancy, to a musical instrument, that I used to tell her, when the wind swept across her burnished hair, that the air was full of melody. And when she looked especially ethereal—as she did at times—I would catch her in my arms, and bid her tell me, on peril of her life, what song was hidden in her heart, that I might teach it to my violin, and die great. Yet, remarkable as it seems to me still, the Spirit of Music that surely dwelt within her, dwelt there a dumb prisoner. It had no audible voice, though I was not alone in feeling its presence in her eyes, on her lips, in her spiritual charm.
She had a voice that was melody itself, yet she never sang. I always fancied her hands were a musician's hands, yet she never played. This was the more singular as her mother had been a great singer, and her father, while he had never risen above the desk of chef d'orchestre in a local playhouse, was no mean musician.
Often, when the charm of her spirit was on me, I would pretend to weave a spell about her, and conjure the spirit that was imprisoned in the heart that was mine, to come forth from the shrine he was so impudently usurping.
Ah, those were the days of my youth!
We had been betrothed but a brief time when Rodriguez, for some seasons a European celebrity, made his first appearance in our city.
I had heard most of the great violinists of that time, had known some of them well, had played with many of them, as I did later with Rodriguez, but I had never chanced to see or hear him.
His fame had, however, preceded him. The newspapers were full of him. Faster even than the tales of his genius had travelled the tales of his follies—tales that out-Don-Juaned the famous rake of tradition.
However little credence one gives to such reports—mad stories of a scandalous nature—these repeated episodes of excesses, only tolerated in the conspicuous, do color one's expectations. I suppose that, being young, I expected to see a man whose face would bear the brand of his errors as well as the stamp of his genius.
That was not Rodriguez's fate. Whatever the temperamental struggle had been, he was "take him for all in all," the least disappointing famous man that my experience had ever shown me. He was more virile than handsome, and no more aesthetic to look at than he was ascetic. At that time he was on the sunny side of forty, and not yet at the zenith of his great career. His face was fine, manly, and sympathetic. His brow was broad, his eyes deep-set and widely spaced, but very heavy lidded. The mouth and chin were, I must own, too delicate and sensitive for the rest of the face. His dark hair, young as he was, had streaks of grey. In bearing he was so erect, so sufficient, that he seemed taller than he was. If he had the vanity which so often goes with his kind of temperament, it was most cleverly concealed. Safe in the dignified consciousness of his unquestioned gifts, secure in his achievements, he had a winning gentleness, and an engaging manner difficult to resist.
But for a singular magnetic light in his eyes, which belied the calm of his bearing, when he chanced to raise the heavy lids full on one—they usually drooped a little—but for a sensitive quiver along the too full lips, as if they still trembled from the caress of genius—the royal accolade of greatness—he might have looked to me, as he did to many, more the diplomat than the artist.
It would be useless for me to analyse his command of his instrument. I could not. It would be superfluous for me to recount his triumphs. They are too recent to have been forgotten. Both tasks have, moreover, been done better than I could do either.
This I can do, however, bear witness to the glowing wings of hope, of longing, of aspiration which his singing violin lent to hearts oppressed by commonplace every-day cares, to the moments of courage, of re-awakened endeavor which he inspired in his fellowmen, to the marvellous magnetism of his playing which seemed for the moment to restore to a soul-weary world its illusions, and to strike off the fetters of despondency which bind mortality to earth.
It was not alone the musically intelligent who felt this, for his playing had a universal appeal. Thorough musicians marvelled at and envied him his mastery of the details of his art, but it seemed to me that those who knew least of its technique were equally open to his influence.
I don't presume to explain this. I merely record it. There were those who analysed the fact, and explained it on the ground of animal magnetism. For myself, I only know that, as the magic music which Hunold Singref played in the streets of Hamelin, whispered in the ears of little children words of promise, of happiness, of comfort that none others could hear, so, to the emotional heart, Rodriguez's violin spoke a special message.
The man who sets the faces of the throng upward, and lights their eyes with the magic fire of hope, has surely not lived in vain, whatever personal offerings he may have made on the altar of his genius to keep alive the eternal spark. It cannot be denied that Art has fulfilled some part of its mission on earth, if, but for one hour, thousands, marshalled by its music, as the children of Israel by the pillar of flame, have looked above the dull atmosphere where pain and loss and sorrow are, to feel in themselves that divine longing which is ecstasy, that soaring of the spirit which, in casting off fear and rising above doubt, can cry out in joy, "Oh, blessed spark of Hope—this soul which can so rise above sorrow, so mount above the body, must be immortal. This which can so cast off care cannot die!"
All the great acts of life, and all the great arts, are purely emotional. I know that modern cults deny this, and work to see everything gauged by reason. But thus far musicians and painters, preachers and orators all approach their goal by the road to the emotions—if they hope to win the big world. Patriotism, fidelity—love of country, like love of woman—are emotions, and it would puzzle logicians, I am afraid, to be sure that these emotions, at times sublime, might not be as sensual as some of Rodriguez's critics found his music.
* * * * *
The series of concerts he gave was very exhausting to me, owing to the novelty of some of his programs, and the constant rehearsals. The final concert found me quite worn out.
During the latter part of the evening I had been too weary to even raise my eyes to the balcony in front of me, where, from my position among the first violins, I could see the fair face of my beloved.
The evening had been a great triumph, and when it was all over the audience was quite mad with enthusiasm. It was one of Rodriguez's inviolable rules to play a program exactly as announced, and never to add to it. In the month he had been in town, the public had learned how impossible it was to tempt him away from his rule. But Americans are persistent!
Again and again he had mounted the steps to the platform, and calmly bowed his thanks, while long drawn cheers surged through the noise of hand-clapping, as strains on the brass buoy up the melody. I lost count of the number of times he had ascended and descended the little flight of steps which led, behind a screen, from the artist's room to the stage, when, having turned in my seat to watch him, as he came up and bowed, and walked off again, I saw him, as he stood behind the screen, gazing directly over our heads, suddenly raise his violin to his ear and slowly draw the bow across the strings.
Almost before we could realize what had happened, he crossed the stage, stepped to his stand, and drew his bow downward.
The applause died sharply on the crest of a crescendo, and left the air trembling. There was a sudden hush. A few sank back in their seats, but most of them remained standing where they were, just as we behind him were suddenly fixed in our positions.
I have since heard a deal of argument as to the use and power of music as the voice of thought. I was not then—and I am not now—of that school which holds music to be a medium to transmit anything but musical ideas. So, of the effect of Rodriguez's music on my mind, or the possibility that, for some occult reason, I was for the moment en rapport with him, as after events forced me to believe, I shall enter into no discussion. I am merely going to record, to the best of my ability, my thoughts, as I remember them. I no more presume to explain why they came to me, than I do to analyse my trust in immortality.
As he drew his bow downward, as the first chord filled my ears, everything else faded away.
There was the merest prelude, and then the theme, which appeared, disappeared and re-appeared again and again to be woven about every emotion, at once developed and dominated me.
I seemed at first to hear its melody in the fresh morning air, where it soared upward above the gentle breezes, mingling in harmony with the matins of the birds and the softly rustling trees. Hopeful as youth, careless as the wind, it sang in gladness and in trust. Then I heard the same melody throb under the noonday glow of summer. Its tone was broadened and sweetened, but still brave and pure, when all else in Nature, save its clear voice, seemed sensuous. I saw gardens in a riot of color; felt love at its passionate consummation, ere the light seemed to fade slowly toward the sunset hour. The world was still pulsing with color, but the grey of twilight was slowly enwrapping it. Then the simple melody soared above the day's peacefullest hour, firm in promise on the hushed air. In the mystery of night which followed, when black clouds snuffed out the torches of heaven, when the silence had something of terror even for the brave, that same steadfast loving hopeful theme moved on, consoling as trust in immortality. Through youth to maturity, and on to age, it sang with the same reiterant, subduing, infallible loyalty—the crystallized melody of all that is spiritual in love, in adoration, in passion.
As it died away into the distance, as if its spirit, barely audible, were translated to the far off heavenly host, I strained my hearing to catch that "last fine sound" that passed so gently one "could not be quite sure where it and silence met," and for the first and last time in my life I had known all that a violin can do.
For a moment the hush was wonderful.
Rodriguez stood like a statue. His bow still touched the strings. Yet there was no sound that one could hear, though his own fine head was still bent, as though he, too, listened.
He gently dropped his bow—he smiled—we all came back to earth together.
Then such a scene followed as beggars description.
But he passed hurriedly out of sight, and no amount of tumult could induce him to even show himself again.
Slowly, reluctantly, the audience dispersed, still murmuring. The musicians picked up their traps, and wildly or soberly according to their temperaments, began to dispute. It was everywhere the same topic—the unknown work that Rodriguez had so marvellously played.
As for me—as he played, I seemed to be in the very heart of the melody, singing it too, as his violin sang it. As the song soared upward, my heart was filled with longing, with pain, with joy, with regret. As it gradually died into silence a mist seemed to pass from before my eyes, and I became suddenly conscious of the sweet face of my beloved, growing more and more distinct, until, as the last note died away, I was fully conscious that the music had passed between us, like a cloud, to obscure my sight utterly, and to recede as slowly, leaving her face before me.
I knew afterward, that, to all appearances, I had been gazing directly into her face all the time.
Through it all I had a vague sense that what he played was not new to me. It seemed like something I had long known and tried to say, but could not.
In a daze, I left the stage. Silently I put my violin in its case, pulled on my great coat, and turned up the collar about my face. I was sure I was haggard, and I did not wish her to remark it. I knew that I should find her waiting in the corridor with her father.
Just as I passed out of the artists' room, I was surprised to see Rodriguez standing there in conversation with her, and her father. He was, however, just leaving them, and did not see me.
I knew that her father had known him in Vienna, when the now great violinist was a mere lad, and I had heard that he forgot no one, so the sight gave me a merely momentary surprise.
As I joined her, and we stepped out into the night together, I could not help wondering if Rodriguez had noticed her sensitive violin face, as I tried to get a look into her eyes. I remembered afterward that, so wrapped was I in my own emotions, and so sure was I of her sympathy, that I neither noted nor asked how the music had affected her.
It was bitterly cold. We walked briskly, and parted at the door.
As I look back, I realize how much an egoist an emotional man can be, and in good faith be unconscious of it.
The day after the concert was Saturday—a day on which I rarely saw her, as it was my habit to spend all Sunday with her. I was always somewhat an epicure in my moral nature. I liked to pet my inclinations, as I have seen good livers whet their appetites, by self-denial.
All day I was restless and depressed.
At the piano, with my violin in my hand, it was still that same haunting melody that bewitched my fingers. Whatever I essayed led me, unconsciously, back to the same theme; and whenever that motif fell from my fingers her face appeared before my eyes so distinctly that I would have to dash my hand across them to wipe away the impression that it was the real face that was before me. Afterward, when I was calmer, I knew that this was nothing singular since, whether I had ever reflected on the fact or not, she was rarely from my mind.
As I played that melody over and over again, it puzzled me more and more. I could find nowhere within my memory anything that even reminded me of it. Yet I was vaguely familiar with it.
When evening came on I was more restless than ever. By nine o'clock I found it impossible to bear longer with my own company, and I started out. I had no destination. Something impelled me toward the Opera House, though I cared little for opera as a rule, that is, opera as we have it in America—fashionable and Philistine.
I entered the auditorium—the opera was "Faust"—just in season to hear the last half of the third act.
As the sensuous passionate music swelled in the sultry air of the dark garden at Nuremburg, I listened, moved by it as I always am—when I cannot see the over-dressed, lady-like Marguerite that goes a-starring in America. My eyes wandered restlessly over the audience. Suddenly there was a rushing, like the surging of waters, in my ears, which drowned the music, and I saw Rodriguez sitting carelessly in the front of a stage box. His eyes were fixed on me, and I thought there was an expression of relief in them.
Shocked that the unexpected sight of the man should have such an effect on me, I pulled myself together with an effort. The sound of the waters receded, the music rushed back, leaving me amazed at a condition in myself which should have rendered me so susceptible, in some subconscious way, to the undoubted magnetism of the man whose violin had so affected me the night before, and so haunted me all day, and in regard to whose composition I had an ill-defined, but insistent, theory which would intrude into my mind.
In vain I turned my eyes to the stage. I could not forget his presence. Every few minutes my glance, as if drawn by a magnet, would turn in his direction, and as often as that happened, whether he were leaning back to speak to some one hidden by the curtain, or watching the house, or listening intently to the music, I never failed to find that his eyes met mine.
I sat through the next act in this condition. Then I could stand it no longer. I felt that I might end by making myself objectionable, and that, after all, it was far wiser to be safe at home, than sitting in the theatre where I occupied myself in staring at but one person.
I made my way slowly up the aisle and into the foyer, and had nearly reached the outer lobby, when I suddenly felt sure that he was near.
I looked up!
Yes, there he was, and he was looking me directly in the face again. An odd smile came into his eyes. He nodded to me as he approached, and, with a quaint shake of the head, said: "I just made a wager with myself. I bet that if I encountered you in the lobby, without actually seeking you, and you saw me, I'd speak to you—and ask a favor of you. I am going to win that wager."
He did not seem to expect me to answer him. He simply turned beside me, thrust his arm carelessly through mine, and moved with me toward the exit.
"Let us step outside a moment," he said. It was easy to understand why. The hero of the night before could not hope to pass unnoted.
He stepped into the street.
It was a moonlit night. I remember that distinctly.
He lighted his cigarette, and held his case toward me. I shook my head. I had no desire to smoke.
We walked a few steps together in silence before he said: "I am trying to frame a most unusual request so that it may not seem too fantastic to you. It is more difficult than writing a fugue. The truth is—I have gotten myself into a bit of a fix—and I want to guard against its turning into something worse than that. I need some man's assistance to extricate myself."
I probably looked alarmed. Those forebears of mine will intrude when I am taken by surprise. He saw it, and said, quickly: "It is nothing that a man, willing to be of service to me, need balk at; nothing, in fact, that a chivalrous man would not be glad to do. You may not think very well of me afterward, but be sure you will never regret the act. I was in sore need of a friend. There was none at hand—if such as I ever have friends. Suddenly I saw you. I remembered your violin as I heard it behind me last night—an Amati, I fancy?"
I nodded assent.
"A beautiful instrument. I may some day ask you to let me try it—you and I can never be quite strangers after to-night."
He paused, pounded the side-walk with his stick, impatiently, as if the long preamble made him as nervous as it did me. Then, looking me in the face, he said rapidly: "This is it. When I leave the box, after the next act, do you follow me. Stay by me, no matter what happens. Stick to me, even though I ask you to leave me, so long as there is any one with me. Do more—stay by me, until, in your room or mine, you and I sit down together, and—well, I will explain what must, until then, seem either mad or ridiculous. Is that clear?"
I assured him that it was.
"Agreed then," he said.
By this time we were back at the door. The whole thing had not taken five minutes. We re-entered the theatre, and walked hurriedly through the lobby to the foyer. As we were about to separate, he laid a hand on either of my shoulders, and with a whimsical smile, said: "I'll dare swear I shall try to give you the slip."—The smile died on his lips. It never reached his eyes. "Don't let me do it. After the next act, then," and, with a wave of his hand, he disappeared.
I thought I was ridiculous enough when he had gone, and I realized that I had promised to follow this man, I did not know where, I did not know with whom, I did not know why.
It was useless for me to go back into the auditorium. I could not listen to the music. In spite of myself, I kept approaching the entrance opposite the box, and peering through the glass, like a detective. I knew I was afraid that he would keep his word and try to give me the slip. I never asked myself what difference it would make to me if he did. I simply took up the strange unexplained task he had given me as if to me it were a matter of life or death.
Even before the curtain fell, I had hurried round the house and placed myself with my back to the door, so that I could not miss him as he passed, and yet had no appearance of watching him. It was well that I did, for in an instant the door opened. He came out and passed me quickly, followed by a tall slender woman in a straight wrap that fell from her head to the ground, and the domino-like hood which completely concealed her face.
As he drew her hand through his arm, he looked back at me, over his shoulder. His eyes met mine. They seemed to say, "Is it you, old True-penny?" But he merely bent his head courteously and with his lips said, "Come!" I felt sure that he shrugged his shoulders resignedly, as he saw that I kept my word, and followed.
At the door he found his carriage. He assisted his companion in. Then in the gentlest manner he said in my ear, as he stood aside for me to enter, "In with you. My honor is saved, but repentance dogs its heels."
To the lady he said, "This is the friend whom you were kind enough to permit me to ask for supper."
She made no reply.
I uncovered my head to salute her, murmuring some vague phrase of thanks, which was, I am sure, inaudible. Then Rodriguez followed, and took his place beside me on the front seat.
As the door banged I could have sworn that the lady, whose face was concealed behind the falling lace of her hood, as if by a mask, spoke.
He thought so, too, for he leaned forward as if to catch the words. Evidently we were mistaken, for he received no response. He murmured an oath against the pavements and the noise, and turned a smiling face to me—and I? Why, I smiled back!
As we rattled over the pavings, through the lighted streets, no one spoke. The lady leaned back in her corner. Opposite her Rodriguez hummed "Salve! dimora" and I beside him, sat strangely confused and inert, still as if in a dream.
I had not even noted the direction we were taking, until I found that we had stopped in front of a French restaurant, one of the few Bohemian resorts the town boasted.
Rodriguez leaped out, assisted the lady, and I followed.
Just as we reached the top of the stairs, as I was about to follow them into one of the small supper rooms, like a flash, as if I were suddenly waking from a dream into conscious, with exactly the same sensation I have experienced many and many a morning when struggling back to life from sleep, I realized that the slender figure before me was as familiar as my own hand.
As the door closed behind us, I called her by name—and my voice startled even myself.
She threw back the hood of her cape and faced me.
Rodriguez had heard, too. He wheeled quickly toward us, as nearly broken from his self-control as a man so sure of himself could be.
Under the flash of our eyes the color surged up painfully in her pale face. There was much the same expression in our eyes, I fancy,—Rodriguez's and mine—but I felt that it was at his face she gazed.
I have never known how far it is given to woman to penetrate the mysteries of human nature, for she is gifted, it seems to me, with a dissimulation in which she wraps herself, as with an impenetrable veil of outward innocence, and ignorance, from our less acute perception and ruder knowledge.
There were speeches enough that it would have become a man in my position to make. I knew them all. But—I said nothing. Some instinct saved me; some vague fore-knowledge made me feel—I knew not why—that there was really nothing for me to say at that moment.
For fully a minute none of us moved.
Rodriguez recovered himself first. I cannot describe the peculiar expression of his eyes as he slowly turned them from her face to mine. So bound up was he in himself that I was confident that he did not yet suspect more than that she and I had met before. What was in her mind I dared not guess.
He composedly crossed to her. He gently unfastened her heavy wrap, carefully lifted it from her shoulders. He pushed a high backed chair toward her, and, with a smile, forced her to sit—she did look dangerously white. She sank into it, and wearily leaned her pretty head back, as if for support, and I noticed that her slender hands, as they grasped either arm of the chair, trembled, in spite of the grip she took to steady herself. I felt her whole body vibrate, as a violin vibrates for a moment after the bow leaves the strings.
"It is a strange chance that you two should know each other," he said, "and very well, too, if I may judge from your manner of addressing her?"
I moved to a place behind her chair, and laid my hand on it. "This lady is my affianced wife," I replied.
He did not change color. For an instant not a muscle moved. He did not stir a step from his place before the fire, where he stood, with his gaze fixed on her face. For one instant he turned his widely opened eyes on me—brief as the glance was, I felt it was critical. Then his lids quivered and drooped completely over his eyes, absolutely veiling the whole man, and, to my amazement, he laughed aloud.
But even as he did so, he spread his hands quickly toward us as if to apologize, and ghastly as the comment was, grotesque even, as it all seemed, I think we both understood. He hardly needed to say, "Pardon me," as he quickly recovered his strong hold on himself.
The next instant he was again standing erect before the fire, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and his voice was absolutely calm as he turned toward me and said, with a smile under his half lowered heavy lids, "I promised you, when I asked you to accompany me, that before we slept to-night I would explain my singular request. I hardly thought that I should have to do it, whether I would or not, under these circumstances. Indeed, it appears that you have the right to demand of me the explanation I so flippantly offered you an hour ago. I am bound to own that, had I dreamed that you knew this lady—that a relation so intimate existed between you—I should surely never have done of my own will this which Fate has presumed to do for me. What can I say to you two that will help or mend this—to you, my fellow musician, who were willing to stand my friend in need, without question; and to the woman you love, and to whom I owe an eternal debt—that we may have no doubts of one another in the future? I cannot make excuses well, even if I have the right to. I only hope we are all three so constituted that we may be able to feel that for a little we have been outside common causes and common results, and that you may listen to an explanation which may seem strange, pardon me, and part from me without resentment, being sure that I shall suffer, and yet be glad."
The face against the high-backed chair was very pale. She closed her eyes. His gaze was on her. He marked the change, I was sure. He thrust his hands still deeper into his pockets, as if to brace himself, and went on. "Last night her pure eyes looked into mine. I had seen her face before me night after night, never dreaming who she was. I had always played to her, and it had seemed to me at times as if the music I made was in her face. I could see nothing else. I seemed to be looking through her amber eyes, down, down into her deep beautiful soul, and my soul reached out toward her, with a sudden knowledge of what manhood might have been had all womanhood been pure; of what life might have been with one who could know no sin.
"It was only her face that I saw, as I stood waiting the end of the applause. I seemed to be gazing between her glorious eyes, as to tell the truth, I had more than once gazed in my dreams in the past month. I had already written the song that seeing her face had sung in my heart. It was with an irresistible longing, an impulse stronger than my will, to say to her just what her face had said to me,—though she might never know it was said to her—that I went back to the stage. Almost before I realized it, I was there. I felt the vibrant soul of my violin as I laid my cheek against it, and I saw the same spirit tremble behind the eyes of the fair face above me, as one sees a reflection tremble under the wind rippled water. The first chord throbbed on the air in response to it. Then I played what she had unconsciously inspired in me. It was in her eyes, where never swerving, immortal loyalty shone, that I read the deathless theme. Out of her nature came the inspiration. To her belongs the honor. I know—no one better, that as I played last night, I shall never play again; just as I realize that what I played last night my own nature could never of itself have created. It was she who spoke, it was not I. Let him who dares, try to explain that miracle."
She rose from her chair and moved toward him, and as she moved, she swayed pitifully.
He did not stir.
It was I who caught her as she stumbled, and I held her close in my arms. After a moment, she relaxed a little, and her head drooped wearily on my shoulder. He lowered his lids, and I felt that every nerve in his well controlled body quivered with resentment.
He motioned to entreat her to sit down again. She shook her head, and, when he went on, again, he for the first time addressed himself directly to her. "It was chance that set you across my path last night—you and your father. I recognized him at once. I knew your mother well. I can remember the day on which you were born, I was a lad then. Your mother was one of my idols. Why, child, I fiddled for you in your cradle. At the moment I realized who you were, you were so much a part of my music that you only appealed to me through that. But when I left you, I carried a consciousness of you with me that was more tangible. I had held your hand in mine. I feel it there still.