Part 10 out of 13
gather them for a whole day, without stopping. But, like all my wishes
then, this had to be postponed, too, till that wonderful future, which was
to bring me all I wanted. There were only a few bushes where I lived; it
was too dry for them. But the smell of them takes me back--always. I have
only to shut my eyes, and I am full of the old extravagant longings--the
childish impatience with time, which seemed to crawl so slowly . . . even
to stand still."
"Tell me all about it," he murmured, without raising his head.
She smiled and humoured him.
"I like flowers best for their scents," she went on. "No matter what
beautiful colours they have. A camelia is a foolish flower; like a blind
man's face--the chief thing is wanting. But then, of course, the smell
must remind one of pleasant things. It's strange, isn't it, how much
association has to do with pleasure?--or pain. Some things affect me so
strongly that they make me wretched. There's music I can't listen to; I
have to put my hands to my ears, and run away from it; and all because it
takes me back to an unhappy hour, or to a time of my life that I hated.
There are streets I never walk through, even words I dread to hear anyone
say, because they are connected with some one I disliked, or a day
I would rather not have lived. And it is just the same with smells. Wood
smouldering outside!--and all the country round is smoky with bush fires.
Mimosa in the room--and I can feel the sun beating down on deserted shafts
and the stillness of the bush. Rotting leaves and the smell of moist
earth, and I am a little girl again, in short dresses, standing by a
grave--my father's to which I was driven in a high buggy, between two men
in black coats. I can't remember crying at all, or even feeling sorry; I
only smelt the earth--it was in the rainy season and there was water in
the grave.--But flowers give me my pleasantest memories. Passion-flowers
and periwinkles--you will say they have no smell, but it's not true. Flat,
open passionflowers--red or white--with purplish-fringed centres, have a
honey-smell, and make me think of long, hot, cloudless days, which seemed
to have neither beginning nor end. And little periwinkles have a cool
green smell; for they grew along an old paling fence, which was shady and
sometimes even damp. And violets? I never really cared for violets; not
till . . . I mean . . . I never . . ."
She had entangled herself, and broke off so abruptly that he moved. He was
afraid this soothing flow of words was going to cease.
"Yes, yes, go on, tell me some more--about violets."
She hastened to recover herself. "They are silly little flowers. Made to
wither in one's dress . . . or to be crushed. Unless one could have them
in such masses that they filled the room. But lilac, Maurice, great sprays
and bunches of lilac-white and purple--you know, don't you, who will
always be associated with lilac for me? Do you remember some of those
evenings at the theatre, on the balcony between the acts? The gallery was
so hot, and out there it seemed as if the whole town were steeped in
lilac. Or walking home--those glorious nights--when some one was so
silent . . . so moody--do you remember?"
At the peculiar veiled tone that had come into her voice; at this reminder
of a past day of alternate rapture and despair, so different from the
secured happiness of the present; at the thought of this common memory
that had built itself up for them round a flower's scent, a rush of
grateful content overcame Maurice, and, for the first time since entering
the room, he looked up at her with a lover's eyes.
Safe, with her arms round him, he was strong enough to face the
worst. "How good you are to me, dearest! And I don't deserve it. To-night,
you might just have sent me away again, when I came. For I was in a
disagreeable mood--and still am. But you won't give me up just yet for all
that, will you? However despondent I get about myself? For you are all I
have, Louise--in the whole world. Yes, I may as well confess it to you,
to-night was a failure--not a noisy, open one but all the same, it's no
use calling it anything else."
He had laid his head on her lap again, so did not see her face. While he
spoke, Louise looked at him, in a kind of unwilling surprise.
Instinctively, she ceased to pass her hands over his hair.
"Oh, no, Maurice," she then protested, but weakly, without conviction.
"Yes--failure," he repeated, and put more emphasis than before on the
word. "It's no good beating about the bush.--And do you realise what
it--what failure means for us, Louise?"
"Oh, no," she said again, vaguely trying to ward off what she foresaw was
coming. "And why talk about it to-night? You are tired. Things will seem
different in the morning. Shut your eyes again, and lie quite still."
But, the ice once broken, he felt the need of speaking--of speaking out
relentlessly all that was in him. And, as he talked. he found it
impossible to keep still; he paced the room. He was very pale and very
voluble, and made a clean breast of everything that troubled him; not so
much, however, with the idea of confessing it to her, as of easing his own
mind. And now, again, he let her see into his real self, and, unlike the
previous occasion, it was here more than a glimpse that she caught. He was
distressingly frank with her. She heard now, for the first time, of the
foolish ambitions with which he had begun his studies in Leipzig; heard of
their gradual subsidence, and his humble acceptance of his inferiority, as
well as of his present fear that, when his time came to an end, he would
have nothing to show for it--and under the influence of what had just
happened, this fear grew more vivid. It was one thing, he made clear to
her, and unpleasant enough at best, to have to find yourself to rights as
a mediocrity, when you had hoped with all your heart that you were
something more. But what if, having staked everything on it, you should
discover that you had mistaken your calling altogether?
"To-night, you see, I think I should have been a better chimney-sweep. The
real something that makes the musician--even the genuinely musical
outsider--is wanting in me. I've learnt to see that, by degrees, though I
don't know in the least what it is.--But even suppose I were mistaken--who
could tell me that I was? One's friends are only too glad to avoid giving
a downright opinion, and then, too, which of them would one care to trust?
I believe in the end I shall go straight to Schwarz, and get him to tell
me what he thinks of me--whether I'm making a fool of myself or not."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that," Louise said quickly.
It was the first time she had interrupted him. She had sat and followed
his restless movements with a look of apprehension. A certain board in the
floor creaked when he trod on it, and she found herself listening, each
time, for the creaking of this board. She was sorry for him, but she could
not attach the importance he did to his assumed want of success, nor was
she able to subdue the feeling of distaste with which his doubtings
inspired her. It was so necessary, too, this outpouring; she had never
felt curious about the side of his nature which was not the lover's side.
Tonight, it became clear to her that she would have preferred to remain in
ignorance of it. And besides, what he said was so palpable, so undeniable,
that she could not understand his dragging the matter to the surface: she
had never thought of him but as one of the many honest workers, who swell
the majority, and are not destined to rise above the crowd. She had not
dreamed of his considering himself in another light, and it was painful to
her now, to find that he had done so. To put an end to such embarrassing
confidences, she went over to him, and, with her hands on his shoulders,
her face upturned, said all the consoling words she could think of, to
make him forget. They had never yet failed in their effect. But to-night
too much was at work in Maurice, for him to be influenced by them. He
kissed her, and touched her cheek with his hand, then began anew; and she
moved away, with a slight impatience, which she did not try to conceal.
"You brood too much, Maurice . . . and you exaggerate things, too. What if
every one took himself so seriously?--and talked of failure because on a
single occasion he didn't do himself justice?"
"It's more than that with me, dear.--But it's a bad habit, I know--not
that I really mean to take myself too seriously; but all my life I have
been forced to worry about things, and to turn them over."
"It's unhealthy always to be looking into yourself. Let things go
more, and they'll carry you with them."
He took her hands. "What wise-sounding words! And I'm in the wrong, I
know, as usual. But, in this case, it's impossible not to worry. What
happened this evening seems a trifle to you, and no doubt would to every
one else, too. But I had made a kind of touchstone of it; it was to help
to decide the future--that hideously uncertain future of ours! I believe
now, as far as I'm concerned, I don't care whether I ever come to anything
or not. Of course, I should rather have been a success--we all would!--but
caring for you has swallowed up the ridiculous notions I once had. For
your sake--it's you I torment myself about. WHAT is to become of us?"
"If that's all, Maurice! Something will turn up, I'm sure it will. Have a
little patience, and faith in luck . . . or fate . . . or whatever you
like to call it."
"That's a woman's way of looking at things."
He was conscious of speaking somewhat unkindly; but he was hurt by her
lack of sympathy. Instead, however, of smoothing things over, he was
impelled, by an unconquerable impulse, to disclose himself still further.
"Besides, that's not all," he said, and avoided her eyes. "There's
something else, and I may just as well make a clean breast of it. It's not
only that the future is every bit as shadowy to-night as it has always
been: I haven't advanced it by an inch. But I feel to-night that if I
could have been what I once hoped to be--no, how shall I put it? You know,
dear, from the very beginning there has been something wrong, a kind of
barrier between ushasn't there? How often I've tried to find out what it
is! Well, to-night I seem to know. If I were not such an out-and-out
mediocrity, if I had really been able to achieve something, you would care
for me--yes, that's it!--as you can't possibly care now. You would have
to; you wouldn't be able to help yourself."
Her first impulsive denial died on her lips; as he continued to speak, she
seemed to feel in his words an intention to wound her, or, at least, to
accuse her of want of love. When she spoke, it was in a cool voice, as
though she were on her guard against being touched too deeply.
"That has nothing whatever to do with it," she said. "It's you yourself,
Maurice, I care for--not what you can or can't do."
But these words added fuel to his despondency. "Yes, that's just
it," he answered. "For you, I'm in two parts, and one of them means
nothing to you. I've felt it, often enough, though I've never spoken of it
till to-night. Only one side of me really matters to you. But if I'd been
able to accomplish what I once intended--to make a name for myself, or
something of that sort--then it would all have been different. I could
have forced you to be interested in every single thing I did--not only in
the me that loves you, but in every jot of my outside life as well."
Louise did not reply: she had a moment of genuine despondency. The staunch
tenderness she had been resolved to feel for him this evening, collapsed
and shrivelled up; for the morbid self-probing in which he was indulging
made her see him with other eyes. What he said belonged to that category
of things which are too true to be put into words: why could not he, like
every one else, let them rest, and act as if they did not exist? It was as
clear as day: if he were different, the whole story of their relations
would be different, too. But as he could not change his nature, what was
the use of talking about it, and of turning out to her gaze, traits of
mind with which she could not possibly sympathise? Standing, a long white
figure, beside the piano, she let her arms hang weakly at her sides. She
did not try to reason with him again, or even to comfort him; she let him
go on and on, always in the same strain, till her nerves suddenly rebelled
at the needless irritation.
"Oh, WHY must you be like this to-night?" she broke in on him. "Why try to
destroy such happiness as we have? Can you never be content?"
From the way in which he seized upon these words, it seemed as if he had
only been waiting for her to say them. "Such happiness as we have!" he
repeated. "There!--listen!--you yourself admit it. Admit all I've been
saying.--And do you think I can realise that, and be happy? No, I've
suffered under it from the first day. Oh, why, loving you as I do, could I
not have been different?--more worthy of you. Why couldn't I, too, be one
of those favoured mortals . . .? Listen to me," he said lowering his
voice, and speaking rapidly. "Let me make another confession. Do you know
why to-night is doubly hard to bear? It's because--yes, because I know you
must be forced--and not to-night only, but often--to compare me what I am
and what I can do--with . . . with . . . you know who I mean. It's
inevitable--the comparison must be thrust on you every day of your
life. But does that, do you think, make it any the easier for me?"
As the gist of what he was trying to say was borne in upon her, Louise
winced. Her face lost its tired expression, and grew hard. "You are
breaking your word," she said, in a tone she had never before used to him.
"You promised me once, the past should never be mentioned between us."
"I'm not blind, Louise," he went on, as though she had not spoken. "Nor am
I in a mood to-night to make myself any illusions. The remembrance of what
he was--he was never doubtful of himself, was he?--must always--HAS always
stood between us, while I have racked my brains to discover what it was.
To-night it came over me like a flash that it was he--that he . . . he
spoiled you utterly for anyone else; made it impossible for you to care
for anyone who wasn't made of the same stuff as he was. It would never
have occurred to him, would it, to torment you and make you suffer for his
own failure? For the very good reason that he never was a failure. Oh, I
haven't the least doubt what a sorry figure I must cut beside him!"
The unhappy words came out slowly, and seemed to linger in the air. Louise
did not break the pause that followed, and by her silence, assented to
what he said. She still stood motionless beside the piano.
"Or tell me," Maurice cried abruptly, with a ray of hope; "tell me the
truth about it all, for once. Was it mere exaggeration, or was he really
worth so much more than all the rest of us? Of course he could play--I
know that--but so can many a fool. But all the other part of it--his
incredible talent, or luck in everything he touched--was it just report,
or was it really something else?--Tell me."
"He was a genius," she answered, very coldly and distinctly; and her voice
warned him once more that he was trespassing on ground to which he had no
right. But he was too excited to take the warning.
"A genius!" he echoed. "He was a genius! Yes, what did I tell you? Your
very words imply a comparison as you say them. For I?--what am I? A
miserable bungler, a wretched dilettant--or have you another word for it?
Oh, never mind--don't be afraid to say it!--I'm not sensitive tonight. I
can bear to hear your real opinion of me; for it could not possibly be
lower than my own. Let us get at the truth for once, by all means!--But
what I want to know," he cried a moment later, "is, why one should
be given so much and the other so little. To one all the talents and all
your love; and the other unhappy wretch remains an outsider his whole life
long. When you speak in that tone about him, I could wish with all my
heart that he had been no better than I am. It would give me pleasure to
know that he, too, had only been a dabbling amateur--the victim of a
pitiable wish to be what he hadn't the talent for."
He could not face her amazement; he stared at the yellow globe of the lamp
till his eyes smarted.
"It no doubt seems despicable to you," he went on, "but I can't help it. I
hate him for the way he was able to absorb you. He's my worst enemy, for
he has made it impossible for you--the woman I love--to love me wholly in
return.--Of course, you can't--you WON'T understand. You're only aghast at
what you think my littleness. Of all I've gone through, you know nothing,
and don't want to know. But with him, it was different; you had no
difficulty in understanding him. He had the power over you. Look!--at this
very moment, you are siding, not with me, but with him. All my struggling
and striving counts for nothing.--Oh, if I could only understand you!" He
moved to and fro in his agitation. "Why is a woman so impossible? Does
nothing matter to her but tangible success? Do care and consideration
carry no weight? Even matched against the blackguardly egoism of what you
call genius?--Or will you tell me that he considered you? Didn't he treat
you from beginning to end like the scoundrel he was?"
She raised hostile eyes. "You have no right to say that," she said in a
small, icy voice, which seemed to put him at an infinite distance from
her. "You are not able to judge him. You didn't know him as . . . as I
With the last words a deeper note came into her voice, and this was all
Maurice heard. A frenzied fear seized him.
"Louise!" he cried violently. "You care for him still!"
She started, and raised her arms, as if to ward off a blow. "I don't . . .
I don't . . . God knows I don't! I hate him--you know I do!" She had
clapped both hands to her face, and held them there. When she looked up
again, she was able to speak as quietly as before. "But do you want to
make me hate you, too? Do you think it gives me a higher opinion of you,
to hear you talk like that about some one I once cared for? How can I find
it anything but ungenerous?--Yes, you are right, he WAS different--in
every way. He didn't know what it meant to be envious of anyone. He was
as different from you as day from night."
Maurice was hurt to the quick. "Now I know your real opinion of me! Till
now you have been considerate enough to hide it. But to-night I have heard
it from your own lips. You despise me!"
"Well, you drove me to say it," she burst out, wounded in her turn. "I
should never have said it of my own accord--never! Oh, how ungenerous you
are! It's not the first time you've goaded me into saying something, and
then turned round on me for it. You seem to enjoy finding out things you
can feel hurt by.--But have I ever complained? Did I not take you just as
you were, and love you--yes, love you! I knew you couldn't be
different--that it wasn't your fault if you were faint-hearted and . . .
and--But you?--what do you do? You talk as if you worship the ground I
walk on: but you can't let me alone. You are always trying to change
me--to make me what you think I ought to be."
Her words came in haste, stumbling one over the other, as it became plain
to her how deeply this grievance, expressed now for the first time, had
eaten into her soul. "You've never said to yourself, she's what she is
because it's her nature to be. You want to remake my nature and correct
it. You are always believing something is wrong. You knew very well, long
ago, that the best part of me had belonged to some one else. You swore it
didn't matter. But to-night, because there's absolutely nothing else you
can cavil at, you drag it up again--in spite of your promises. I have
always been frank with you. Do you thank me for it? No, it's been my old
fault of giving everything, when it would have been wiser to keep
something back, or at least to pretend to. I might have taken a lesson
from you, in parsimonious reserve. For there's a part of you, you couldn't
give away--not if you lived with a person for a hundred years."
Of all she said, the last words stung him most.
"Yes, and why?" he cried. "Ask yourself why I You are unjust, as only a
woman can be. You say there's a part of me you don't know. If that's true,
what does it mean? It means you don't want to know it. You don't want it
even to exist. You want everything to belong to you. You don't care for me
well enough to be interested in that side of my life which has nothing to
do with you. Your love isn't strong enough for that."
"Love!--need we talk about love?" Her face was so unhappy that it
seerned to have grown years older. "Love is something quite different. It
takes everything just as it is. You have never reaily loved me.".
"I have never really loved you?"
He repeated the words after her, as if he did not understand them, and
with his right hand grasped the table; the ground seemed to be slipping
from under his feet. But Louise did not offer to retract what she had
said, and Maurice had a moment of bewilderment: there, not three yards
from him, sat the woman who was the centre of his life; Louise sat there,
and with all appearance of believing it, could cast doubts on his love for
her. At the thought of it, he was exasperated.
"I not love you!"
His voice was rough, had escaped control. "You have only to lift your
finger, and I'll throw myself from that window on to the pavement."
Louise sat as if turned to stone.
"Don't you hear?" he cried more loudly. "Look up! . . . tell me to do it!"
Still she did not move.
"Louise, Louise!" he implored, throwing himself down before her. "Speak to
me! Don't you hear me?--Louise!"
"Oh, yes, I hear," she said at last. "I hear how ready you are with
promises you know you will not be asked to keep. But the small, everyday
things--those are what you won't do for me."
"Tell me . . . tell me what I shall do!"
"All I ask of you is to be happy. And to let me be happy, too."
He stammered promises and entreaties. Never, never again!--if only this
once she would forgive him; if only she would smile at him, and let the
light come back to her eyes. He had not been responsible for his actions
"It was more of a strain than I knew. And after it was over, I had to vent
my disappointment somehow; and it was you, poor darling, who suffered.
Forgive me, Louise!--But try, dear, a little to understand why it was.
Can't you see that I was only like that through fear--yes, fear!--that
somehow you might slip from me. I can't help feeling, one day you will
have had enough of me, and will see me for what I really am."
He tried to put his arms round her, but she held back: she had no
desire to be reconciled. The sole response she made to his beseeching
words was: "I want to be happy."
"But you shall.--Do you think I live for anything else? Only forgive me!
Remember the happiest hours we have spent together. Come back to me; be
mine again! Tell me I am forgiven."
He was in despair; he could not get at her, under her coating of
insensibility. And since his words had no power to move her, he took to
kissing her hands. She left them limply in his; she did not resist him.
From this, he drew courage: he began to treat her more inconsiderately,
compelling her to bend down to him, making her feel his strength; and he
did not cease his efforts till her head had sunk forward, heavy and
submissive, on his shoulder.
They were at peace again: and the joys of reconciliation seemed almost
worth the price they had paid for them.
The following morning, having drunk his coffee, Maurice pushed back the
metal tray on which the delf-ware stood, and remained sitting idle with
his hands before him. It was nine o'clock, and the houses across the road
were beginning to catch stray sunbeams. By this time, his daily work was
as a rule in full swing; but to-day he was in no hurry to commence. He was
even more certain now than he had been on the night before, of his lack of
success; and the idea of starting anew on the dull round filled him with
distaste. He had been so confident that his playing would, in some way or
other, mark a turning-point in his musical career; and lo! it had gone off
with as little fizz and effect as a damp rocket. Lighting a cigarette, he
indulged in ironical reflections. But, none the less, he heard the minutes
ticking past, and as he was not only a creature of habit, but had also a
troublesome northern conscience, he rose before the cigarette had formed
its second spike of ash, and went to the piano: no matter how rebellious
he felt, this was the only occupation open to him; and so he set staunchly
out on the unlovely mechanical exercising, which no pianist can escape.
Meanwhile, he recapitulated the scene in the concert hall, from the few
anticipatory moments, when the 'cellist related amatory adventures, to the
abrupt leave he had taken of Dove at the door of the building. And in the
course of doing this, he was invaded by a mild and agreeable doubt. On
such shadowy impressions as these had he built up his assumption of
failure! Was it possible to be so positive? The unreal state of mind in
which he had played, hindered him from acting as his own judge. The fact
that Schwarz had not been effusive, and that none of his friends had
sought him out, admitted of more than one interpretation. The only real
proof he had was Dove's manner to him; and was not Dove always too full of
his own affairs, or, at least, the affairs of those who were not present
at the moment, to have any at tention to spare for the person he was
actually with? At the idea that he was perhaps mistaken, Maurice grew so
unsettled that he rose from the piano. But, by the time he took his seat
again, he had wavered; say what he would, he could not get rid of
the belief that if he had achieved anything out of the common, Madeleine
would not have made it her business to avoid him. After this, however, his
fluctuating hopes rallied, then sank once more, until it ended in his
leaving the piano. For it was of no use trying to concentrate his thoughts
until he knew.
Even as he said this to himself, his resolution was taken. There was only
one person to whom he could apply, and that was Schwarz. The proceeding
might be unusual, but then the circumstances in which he was placed were
unusual, too. Besides, he asked neither praise nor flattery, merely a
If, however, he faced Schwarz on this point, there were others on which he
might as well get certainty at the same time. The matter of the PRUFUNG,
for instance, had still to be decided. So much depended on the choice of
piece. His fingers itched towards Chopin or Mendelssohn, for the sole
reason that the technique of these composers was in his blood. Whereas
Beethoven!--he knew from experience how difficult it was to get a
satisfactory effect out of the stern barenesses of Beethoven. They
demanded a skill he could never hope to possess.
Between five and six that afternoon, he made his way to the SEBASTIAN
BACH-STRASSE, where Schwarz lived. It was hot in the new, shadeless
streets through which he passed, and also in crossing the JOHANNAPARK;
hardly a hint of September was in the air. He walked at a slow pace, in
order not to arrive too early, and, for some reason unclear to himself,
avoided stepping on the joins of the paving-stones.
On hearing that he had not come for a lesson, the dirty maidservant, who
opened the third-floor door to him, showed him as a visitor into the best
sitting-room. Maurice remained standing, in prescribed fashion. But he had
no sooner crossed the threshold than he was aware of loud voices in the
adjoining room, separated from the one he was in by large foldingdoors.
"If you think," said a woman's voice, and broke on "think"--"if you think
I'm going to endure a repetition of what happened two years ago, you're
mistaken. Never again shall she enter this house! Oh, you pig, you wretch!
Klara has told me; she saw you through the keyhole--with your arm round
her waist. And I know myself, scarcely a note was struck in the hour. You
have her here on any pretext; you keep her in the class after all the
others have gone. But this time I'm not going to sit still till the
scandal comes out, and she has to leave the place. A man of your
age!--the father of four children!--and this ugly little hussy of
seventeen! Was there ever such a miserable woman as I am! No, she shall
never enter this house again."
"And I say she shall!" came from Schwarz so fiercely that the listener
started. "Aren't you ashamed, woman, at your age, to set a servant spying
at keyholes?--or, what is more likely, spying yourself? Keep to your
kitchen and your pots, and don't dictate to me. I am the master of the
"Not in a case like this. It concerns me. It concerns the children. I say
she shall never enter the door again."
"And I say she shall. Go out of the room!"
A chair grated roughly on a bare floor; a door banged with such violence
that every other door in the house vibrated.
In the silence that ensued, Maurice endeavoured to make his presence known
by walking about. But no one came. His eyes ranged round the room. It was,
with a few slight differences, the ordinary best room of the ordinary
German house. The windows were heavily curtained, and, in front of them,
to the further exclusion of light and air, stood respectively a
flower-table, laden with unlovely green plants, and a room-aquarium. The
plush furniture was stiffly grouped round an oblong table and dotted with
crochet-covers; under a glass shade was a massy bunch of wax flowers; a
vertikow, decorated with shells and grasses, stood cornerwise beside the
sofa; and, at the door, rose white and gaunt a monumental Berlin stove.
But, in addition to this, which was DE RIGUEUR, there were personal
touches: on the walls, besides the usual group of family photographs, in
oval frames, hung the copy of a Madonna by Gabriel Max, two etchings after
Defregger, several large group-photographs of Schwarz's classes in
different years, a framed concert programme, yellow with age, and a
silhouette of Schumann. Over one of the doors hung a withered laurelwreath
of imposing dimensions, and with faded silken ends, on which the
inscription was still legible: DEM GROSSEN KUNSTLER, JOHANNES
SCHWARZ!--Open on a chair, with an embroidered book-marker between its
pages, lay ATTA TROLL; and by the stove, a battered wooden doll sat
against the wall, in a relaxed attitude, with a set leer on its painted
Maurice waited, in growing embarrassment. He had unconsciously fixed his
eyes on the doll; and, in the dead silence of the house, the senseless
face of the creature ruffled his nerves; crossing the room, he knocked it
over with his foot, so that its head fell with a bump on the
parquet floor, where it lay in a still more tipsy position. There was no
doubt that he had arrived at a most inopportune moment; it seemed, too, as
if the servant had forgotten even to announce him.
On cautiously opening the door, with the idea of slipping away, he heard a
child screaming in a distant room, and the mother's voice sharp in rebuke.
The servant was clattering pots and pans in the kitchen, but she heard
Maurice, and put her head out of the door. Her face was red and swollen
"What!--you still here?" she said rudely. "I'd forgotten all about you."
"It doesn't matter--another time," murmured Maurice.
But the girl had spoken in a loud voice to make herself heard above the
screaming, which was increasing in volume, and, at her words, a door at
the end of the passage, and facing down it, was opened by about an inch,
and Frau Schwarz peered through the slit.
"Who is it?"
The servant tossed her head, and made no reply. She went back into her
kitchen, and, after a brief absence, during which Frau Schwarz continued
surreptitiously to scrutinise Maurice, came out carrying a large plateful
of BERLINER PFANNKUCHEN. With these she crossed to an opposite room, and,
as she there planked the plate down on the table, she announced the
visitor. A surly voice muttered something in reply. As, however, the girl
insisted in her sulky way, on the length of time the young man had waited,
Schwarz called out stridently: "Well, then, in God's name, let him come
in! And Klara, you tell my wife, if that noise isn't stopped, I'll throw
either her or you downstairs."
Klara appeared again, scarlet with anger, jerked her arm at Maurice, to
signify that he might do the rest for himself, and, retreating into her
kitchen, slammed the door. Left thus, with no alternative, Maurice drew
his heels together, gave the customary rap, and went into the room.
Schwarz was sitting at the table with his head on his hand, tracing the
pattern of the cloth with the blade of his knife. A coffee-service stood
on a tray before him; he had just refilled his cup, and helped himself
from the dish of PFANNKUCHEN, which, freshly baked, sent an inviting odour
through the room. He hardly looked up on Maurice's entrance, and cut short
the young man's apologetic beginnings.
"Well, what is it? What brings you here?"
As Maurice hesitated before the difficulty of plunging offhand into the
object of his visit, Schwarz pointed with his knife at a chair: he could
not speak, for he had just put the best part of a PFANNKUCHEN in his
mouth, and was chewing hard. Maurice sat down, and holding his hat by the
brim, proceeded to explain that he had called on a small personal matter,
which would not occupy more than a minute of the master's time.
"It's in connection with last night that I wished to speak to you, Herr
Professor," he said: the title, which was not Schwarz's by right, he knew
to be a sop. "I should be much obliged to you if you would give me your
candid opinion of my playing. It's not easy to judge oneself--although I
must say, both at the time, and afterwards, I was not too well pleased
with what I had done--that is to say . . ."
"WIE? WAS?" cried Schwarz, and threw a hasty glance at his pupil, while he
helped himself anew from the dish.
Maurice uncrossed his legs, and crossed them again, the same one up.
"My time here comes to an end at Easter, Herr Professor. And it's
important for me to learn what you think of the progress I have made since
being with you. I don't know why," he added less surely, "but of late I
haven't felt satisfied with myself. I seem to have got a certain length
and to have stuck there. I should like to know if you have noticed it,
too. If so, does the fault lie with my want of talent, or--"
"Or with ME, perhaps?" broke in Schwarz, who had with difficulty thus far
restrained himself. He laughed offensively. "With ME--eh?" He struck
himself on the chest, several times in succession, with the butt-end of
his knife, that there might be no doubt to whom he referred. "Upon my
soul, what next I wonder!--what next!" He ceased to laugh, and grew
ungovernably angry. "What the devil do you mean by it? Do you think I've
nothing better to do, at the end of a hard day's work, than to sit here
and give candid opinions, and discuss the progress made by each strummer
who comes to me twice a week for a lesson? Oho, if you are of that
opinion, you may disabuse your mind of it! I'm at your service on Tuesday
and Friday afternoon, when I am paid to be; otherwise, my time is my own."
He laid two of the cakes on top of each other, sliced them through, and
put one of the pieces thus obtained in his mouth. Maurice had
risen, and stood waiting for the breathing-space into which he could
thrust words of apology.
"I beg your pardon, Herr Professor," he now began. "You misunderstand me.
Nothing was further from my mind than----"
But Schwarz had not finished speaking; he rapped the table with his
knife-handle, and, working himself up to a white heat, continued: "But
plain and plump, I'll tell you this, Herr Guest"--he pronounced it
"Gvest." "If you are not satisfied with me, and my teaching, you're at
liberty to try some one else. If this is a preliminary to inscribing
yourself under that miserable humbug, that wretched charlatan, who
pretends to teach the piano, do it, and have done with it! No one will
hinder you--certainly not I. You're under no necessity to come here
beforehand, and apologise, and give your reasons--none of the others did.
Slink off like them, without a word! it's the more decent way in the long
run. They at least knew they were behaving like blackguards."
"You have completely misunderstood me, Herr Schwarz. If you will give me a
moment to explain----"
But Schwarz was in no mood for explanations; he went on again, paying no
heed to Maurice's interruption.
"Who wouldn't rather break stones by the roadside than be a teacher?" he
asked, and sliced and ate, sliced and ate. "Look at the years of labour I
have behind me--twenty and more!--in which I've toiled to the best of my
ability, eight and nine hours, day after day, and eternally for ends that
weren't my own!--And what return do I get for it? A new-comer only needs
to wave a red flag before them, and all alike rush blindly to him. A pupil
of Liszt?--bah! Who was Liszt? A barrel-organ of execution; a perverter of
taste; a worthy ally of that upstart who ruined melody, harmony, and form.
Don't talk to me of Liszt!"
He spoke in spurts, blusteringly, but indistinctly, owing to the fullness
of his mouth.
"But I'm not to be imposed on. I know their tricks. Haven't I myself had
pupils turn to me from Bulow and Rubinstein? Is that not proof enough?
Would they have come if they hadn't known what my method was worth? And I
took them, and spared no pains to make something of them. Haven't I a
right to expect some gratitude from them in return?--Gratitude? Such a
thing doesn't exist; it's a word without meaning, a puffing of the air.
Look at him for whom I did more than for all the rest. Did I take
a pfennig from him in payment?--when I saw that he had talent? Not I! And
I did it all. When he came to me, he couldn't play a scale. I gave him
extra lessons without charge, I put pupils in his way, I got him
scholarships, I enabled him to support his family--they would have been
beggars in the street, but for me. And now soon will be! Yes, I have had
his mother here, weeping at my feet, imploring me to reason with him and
bring him back to his senses. SHE sees where his infamy will land them.
But I? I snap my fingers in his face. He has sown, and he shall reap his
sowing.--But the day will come, I know it, when he will return to me, and
all the rest will follow him, like the sheep they are. Let them come!
They'll see then whether I have need of them or not. They'll see then what
they were worth to me. For I can produce others others, I say!--who will
put him and his fellows out of the running. Do they think I'm done for,
because of this? I'll show them the contrary. I'll show them! Why, I set
no more store by the lot of you than I do by this plate of cakes!"
Again he ate voraciously, and for a few moments, the noise his jaws made
in working was the only sound in the room. Maurice stood in the same
attitude, with his hat in his hand.
"I regret more than I can express, having been the cause of annoying you,
Herr Professor," he said at length with stiff formality. "But I should
like to repeat, once more, that my only object in coming here was to speak
to you about last night. I felt dissatisfied with myself and . . ."
"Dissatisfied?" echoed Schwarz, bringing his jaws together with a snap.
"And what business of yours is it to feel dissatisfied, I'd like to know?
Leave that to me! You'll hear soon enough, I warrant you, when I have
reason to be dissatisfied. Until then, do me the pleasure of minding your
"Excuse me," said Maurice with warmth, "if this isn't my own
business! . . . As I see it, it's nobody's but mine. And it seemed to me
natural to appeal to you, as the only person who could decide for me
whether I should have anything further to do with art, or whether I should
throw it up altogether."
Schwarz, who was sometimes not averse to a spirited opposition, caught at
the one unlucky word on which he could hang his scorn.
"ART!" he repeated with jocose emphasis--he had finished the plate of
cakes, risen from the table, and was picking teeth at the window.
"Art!--pooh, pooh!--what's art got to do with it? In your place, I should
avoid taking such highflown words on my tongue. Call it something else. Do
you think it makes a jot of difference whether you call it art or . . .
pludderdump? Not so much"--and he snapped his fingers--"will be changed,
though you never call it anything! Vanity!--it's nothing but vanity! A set
of raw youths inflate themselves like frogs, and have opinions on art, as
on what they have eaten for their dinner.--Do your work and hold your
tongue! A scale well played is worth all the words that were ever
said--and that, the majority of you can't do."
He closed his tootpick with a snap, spat dexterously at a spittoon which
stood in a corner of the room, and the interview was over.
As Maurice descended the spiral stair, he said to himself that, no matter
how long he remained in Leipzig, he would never trouble Schwarz with his
presence again. The man was a loose-mouthed bully. But in future he might
seek out others to be the butt of his clumsy wit. He, Maurice, was too
good for that.--And squaring his shoulders, he walked erectly down the
street, and across the JOHANNAPARK.
But none the less, he did not go straight home. For, below the comedy of
intolerance at which he was playing, lurked, as he well knew, the
consciousness that his true impression of the past hour had still to be
faced. He might postpone doing this; he could not shirk it. It was all
very well: he might repeat to himself that he had happened on Schwarz at
an inopportune moment. That did not count. For him, Maurice, the opportune
moment simply did not exist; he was one of those people who are always
inopportune, come and go as they will. He might have waited for days; he
would never have caught Schwarz in the right mood, or in the nick of time.
How he envied those fortunate mortals who always arrived at the right
moment, and instinctively said the right thing! That talent had never been
his. With him it was blunder.
One thing, though, that still perplexed him, was that not once, since he
had been in Leipzig, had he caught a glimpse of that native goodness of
heart, for which he had heard Schwarz lauded. The master had done his duty
by him--nothing more. Neither had had any personal feeling for the other;
and the words Schwarz had used this afternoon had only been the outcome of
a long period of reserve, even of distrust. At this moment, when
he was inclined to take the onus of the misunderstanding on his own
shoulders, Maurice admitted, besides his constant preoccupation--or
possibly just because of it--an innate lack of sympathy in himself, an
inability, either of heart or of imagination, to project himself into the
lives and feelings of people he did not greatly care for. Otherwise, he
would not have gone to Schwarz on such an errand as today's; he would have
remembered that the master was likely to be sore and suspicious. And, from
now on, things would be worse instead of better. Schwarz had no doubt been
left under the impression that Maurice had wished to complain of his
teaching; and impressions of this nature were difficult to erase.
There was nothing to be done, however, but to plod along in the familiar
rut. He must stomach aspersions and injuries, behave as if nothing had
happened. His first hot intention of turning his back on Schwarz soon
yielded to more worldly-wise thoughts. Every practical consideration was
against it. He might avenge himself, if he liked, by running to the rival
teacher like a crossed child; Schrievers would undoubtedly receive him
with open arms, and promise him all he asked. But what could he hope to
accomplish, under a complete change of method, in the few months that were
left? He would also have to forfeit his fees for the coming term, which
were already paid. Schrievers' lessons were expensive, and out of the
small sum that remained to him to live on, it would be impossible to take
more than half a dozen. Another than he might have appealed to Schrievers'
satisfaction in securing a fresh convert; but Maurice had learnt too
thoroughly by now, that he was not one of those happy
exceptions--exceptions by reason of their talent or their temperament--to
whom a master was willing to devote his time free of charge.
Over these reflections night had fallen; and rising, he walked speedily
back by the dark wood-paths. But before he reached the meadows, from which
he could see lights blinking in the scattered villas, his steps had lagged
again. His discouragement had nothing chimerical in it at this moment; it
was part and parcel of himself.--The night was both chilly and misty, and
it was late. But a painful impression of the previous evening lingered in
his mind. Louise would be annoyed with him for keeping her waiting; and he
shrank, in advance, from the thought of another disagreeable scene. He was
not in the mood to-night, to soothe and console.
As he entered the MOZARTSTRASSE, he saw that there was a light in
Madeleine's window. She was at home, then. He imagined her sitting quiet
and busy in her pleasant room, which, except for the ring of lamplight,
was sunk in peaceful shadow. This was what he needed: an hour's rest, dim
light, and Madeleine's sympathetic tact.
Without giving himself time for thought, he mounted the stair and pressed
the bell-knob on the third floor.
On seeing who her visitor was, Madeleine rose with alacrity from the
"Maurice! Is it really you?"
"I was passing. I thought I would run up . . . you're surprised to see
"Oh, well--you're a stranger now, you know."
She was vexed with herself for showing astonishment. Moving some books,
she made room for him to sit down on the sofa, and, as he was moody, and
seemed in no hurry to state why he had come, she asked if she might finish
the letter she was writing.
"Make yourself comfortable. Here's a cushion for your head."
Through half-closed eyes, he watched her hand travelling across the sheet
of note-paper, and returning at regular intervals, with a sure swoop, to
begin a fresh line. There was no sound except the gentle scratching of her
Madeleine did not look up till she had finished her letter and addressed
the envelope. Maurice had shut his eyes.
"Are you asleep?" she roused him. "Or only tired?"
"I've a headache."
"I'll make you some tea."
He watched her preparing it, and, by the time she handed him his cup, he
was in the right mood for making her his confidant.
"Look here, Madeleine," he said; "I came up to-night--The fact is, I've
done a foolish thing. And I want to talk to some one about it."
Her eyes grew more alert.
"Let me see if I can help you."
He shook his head. "I'm afraid you can't. But first of all, tell me
frankly, how you thought I got on last night."
"How you got on?" echoed Madeleine, unclear what this was to lead to.
"Why, all right, of course.--Oh, well, if you insist on the truth!--The
fact is, Maurice, you did no better and no worse than the majority of
those who fill the ABEND programmes. What you didn't do, was to reach the
standard your friends had set up for you."
"Thanks. Now listen," and he related to her in detail his misadventure of
Madeleine followed with close attention. But more distinctly than what he
said, she heard what he did not say. His account of the two last days,
with the unintentional sidelight it threw on just those parts he wished to
keep in darkness, made her aware how complicated and involved his life had
become. But before he finished speaking, she brought all her practical
intelligence to bear on what he said.
"Maurice!" she exclaimed, with a consternation that was three parts
genuine. "I should like to shake you. How COULD you!--what induced you to
do such a foolish thing?" And, as he did not speak: "If only you had come
to me before, instead of after! I should have said: hold what ridiculous
opinions you like yourself, but for goodness' sake keep clear of Schwarz
with them. Yes, ridiculous, and offensive, too. Anyone would have taken
your talk about being dissatisfied just as he did. And after the way he
has been treated of late, he's of course doubly touchy."
"I knew that, when it was too late. But I meant merely to speak straight
out to him, Madeleine--one man to another. You surely don't want to say
he's incapable of allowing one to have an independent opinion? If that's
the case, then he's nothing but the wretched little tyrant Heinz declares
him to be."
"Wait till you have taught as long as he has," said Madeleine, and, at his
muttered: "God forbid!" she continued with more warmth: "You'll know then,
too, that it doesn't matter whether your pupils have opinions or not. He
has seen this kind of thing scores of times before, and knows it must be
She paused, and looked at him. "To get on in life, one must have a certain
amount of tact. You are too naive, Maurice, too unsuspecting--one of those
people who would like to carry on social intercourse on a basis of
absolute truth, and then be surprised that it came to an end. You are
altogether a very difficult person to deal with. You are either too
candid, or too reserved. There's no middle way in you. I haven't the least
doubt that Schwarz finds you both perplexing and irritating; he takes the
candour for impertinence, and the reserve for distrust."
Maurice smiled faintly. "Go on--don't spare me. No one ever
troubled before to tell me my failings."
"Oh, I'm quite in earnest. As I look at it, it's entirely your own fault
that you don't stand better with Schwarz. You have never condescended to
humour him, as you ought to have done. You thought it was enough to be
truthful and honest, and to leave the rest to him. Well, it wasn't. I
won't hear a word against Schwarz; he's goodness itself to those who
deserve it. A little bluff and rude at times; but he's too busy to go
about in kid gloves for fear of hurting sensitive people's feelings."
"Why did you never take private lessons from him?" was her next question.
"I told you months ago, you remember, that you ought to.--Oh, yes, you
said they were too expensive, I know, but you could have scraped a few
marks together somehow. You managed to buy books, and books were quite
unnecessary. One lesson a fortnight would have brought you' more into
touch with Schwarz than all you have had in the class. As it is, you don't
know him any better than he knows you. "And as she refilled his tea-cup,
she added: "You quoted Heinz to me just now. But you and I can't afford to
measure people by the same standards as Heinz. We are everyday mortals,
remember.--Besides, in all that counts, he is not worth Schwarz's little
"You're a warm advocate, Madeleine."
"Yes, and I've reason to be. No one here has been as kind to me as
Schwarz. I came, a complete stranger, and with not more than ordinary
talent. But I went to him, and told him frankly what I wanted to do, how
long I could stay, and how much money I had to spend. He helped me and
advised me. He has let me study what will be of most use to me afterwards,
and he takes as much interest in my future as I do myself. How can I speak
anything but well of him?--What I certainly didn't do, was to go to him
and talk ambiguously about feeling dissatisfied with him . . ."
"With myself, Madeleine. Haven't I made that clear?"
But Madeleine only sniffed.
"Well, it's over and done with now," she said after a pause. "And talking
about it won't mend it.--Tell me, rather, what you intend to do. What are
"Plans? I don't know. I haven't any. Sufficient unto the day, etc."
But of this she disapproved with open scorn. "Rubbish! When your
time here is all but up! And no plans!--One thing, I can tell you anyhow,
is, after to-day you needn't rely on Schwarz for assistance. You've spoilt
your chances with him. The only way of repairing the mischief would be the
lesson I spoke of--one a week as long as you re here."
"I couldn't afford it."
"No, I suppose not," she said sarcastically, and tore a piece of paper
that came under her fingers into narrow strips. "Tell me," she added a
moment later, in a changed tone: "where do you intend to settle when you
return to England? And have you begun to think of advertising yourself
He waved his hand before his face as if he were chasing away a fly. "For
God's sake, Madeleine! . . . these alluring prospects!"
"Pray, what else do you expect to do?"
"Well, the truth is, I . . . I'm not going back to England at all. I mean
to settle here."
Madeleine repressed the exclamation that rose to her lips, and stooped to
brush something off the skirt of her dress. Her face was red when she
raised it. She needed no further telling; she understood what his words
implied as clearly as though it were printed black on white before her.
But she spoke in a casual tone.
"However are you going to make that possible?"
He endeavoured to explain.
"I don't envy you," she said drily, when he had finished. "You hardly
realise what lies before you, I think. There are people here who are glad
to get fifty pfennigs an hour, for piano lessons. Think of plodding up and
down stairs, all day long, for fifty pfennigs an hour!"
He was silent.
"While in England, with a little tact and patience, you would soon have
more pupils than you could take at five shillings."
"Tact and patience mean push and a thick skin. But don't worry! I shall
get on all right. And if I don't--life's short, you know."
"But you are just at: the beginning of it--and ridiculously young at that!
Good Heavens, Maurice!" she burst out, unable to contain herself. "Can't
you see that after you've been at home again for a little while, things
that have seemed so important here will have. shrunk into their right
places? You'll be glad to have done with them then, when you are in
orderly circumstances again."
"I'm afraid not," answered the young man. "I'm not a good
"A good forgetter!" repeated Madeleine, and laughed sarcastically. She was
going on to say more, but, just at this moment, a clock outside struck
ten, and Maurice sprang to his feet.
"So late already? I'd no idea. I must be off."
She stood by, and watched him look for his hat.
"Here it is." She picked it up, and handed it to him, with an emphasised
want of haste.
"Good night, Madeleine. Thanks for the truth. I knew I could depend on
"It was well meant. And the truth is always beneficial, you know. Good
night.--Come again, soon."
He heard her last words half-way down the stairs, which he took two at a
The hour he had now to face was a painful ending to an unpleasant day. It
was not merely the fact that he had kept Louise waiting, in aching
suspense, for several hours. It now came out that, after their
disagreement of the previous night, she had confidently expected him to
return to her early in the day, had expected contrition and atonement.
That he had not even suspected this made her doubly bitter against him. In
vain he tried to excuse himself, to offer explanations. She would not
listen to him, nor would she let him touch her. She tore her dress from
between his fingers, brushed his hand off her arm; and, retreating into a
corner of the room, where she stood like an animal at bay, she poured out
over him her accumulated resentment. All she had ever suffered at his
hands, all the infinitesimal differences there had been between them, from
the beginning, the fine points in which he had failed--things of which he
had no knowledge--all these were raked up and cast at him till, numb with
pain, he lost even the wish to comfort her. Sitting down at the table, he
laid his head on his folded arms.
At his feet were the fragments of the little clock, which, in her anger at
his desertion of her, she had trodden to pieces.
Their first business the next morning was to buy another clock. By
daylight, Louise was full of remorse at what she had done, and in passing
the writing-table, averted her eyes. They went out early to a shop in the
GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE; and Maurice stood by and watched her make her choice.
She loved to buy, and entered into the purchase with leisurely enjoyment.
The shopman and his assistant spared themselves no trouble in fetching and
setting out their wares. Louise handled each clock as it was put before
her, discussed the merits of different styles, and a faint colour mounted
to her cheeks over the difficulty of deciding between two which she liked
equally well. She had pushed up her veil; it swathed her forehead like an
Eastern woman's. Her eagerness, which was expressed in a slight
unsteadiness of nostril and lip, would have had something childish in it,
had it not been for her eyes. They remained heavy and unsmiling; and the
disquieting half-rings below them were more bluely brown than ever.
Leaning sideways. against the counter, Maurice looked away from them to
her hands; her fingers were entirely without ornament, and he would have
liked to load them with rings. As it was, he could not even pay for the
clock she chose; it cost more than he had to spend in a month.
In the street again, she said she was hungry, and, glad to be able to add
his mite to her pleasure, he took her by the arm and steered her to the
CAFE FRANCAIS, where they had coffee and ices. The church-steeples were
booming eleven when they emerged; it did not seem worth while going home
and settling down to work. Instead, they went to the ROSENTAL.
It was a brilliant autumn day, rich in light and shade, and there was only
a breath abroad of the racy freshness that meant subsequent decay. The
leaves were turning red and orange, but had not begun to fall; the sky was
deeply blue; outlines were sharp and precise. They were both in a mood
this morning to be susceptible to their surroundings; they were even eager
to be affected by them, and made happy. The disagreements of the two
preceding nights were like bad dreams, which they were anxious to
forget, or at least to avoid thinking of. Her painful, unreasonable
treatment of him, the evening before, had not been touched on between
them; after his incoherent attempts to justify himself, after his bitter
self-reproaches, when she lay sobbing in his arms, they had both, with
one accord, been silent. Neither of them felt any desire for open-hearted
explanations; they were careful not to stir up the depths anew. Louise was
very quiet; had it not been for her eyes, he might have believed her
happy. But here, just as an hour before in the watchmaker's shop, they
brooded, unable to forget. And yet there was a pliancy about her this
morning, a readiness to meet his wishes, which, as he walked at her side,
made him almost content. The old, foolish dreams awoke in him again, and
vistas opened, of a gentle comradeship, which might still come true, when
the strenuous side of her love for him had worn itself out. If only an
hour like the present could have lasted indefinitely!
It was a happy morning. They ended it with an improvised lunch at the
KAISERPARK; and it remained imprinted on their minds as an unexpected
patch of colour, in an unending row of grey days, given up to duty.
The next one, and the next again, Louise continued in the same yielding
mood, which was wholly different from the emotional expansiveness of the
past weeks. Maurice took a glad advantage of her willingness to please
him, and they had several pleasant walks together: to Napoleon's
battlefields; along the GRUNE GASSE and the POETENWEG to Schiller's house
at Gohlis; and into the heart of the ROSENTAL--DAS WILDE ROSENTAL--where
it was very solitary, and where the great trees seemed to stagger under
their load of stained leaves.
A burst of almost July radiance occurred at this time; and one day, Louise
expressed a wish to go to the country, in order that, by once more being
together for a whole day on end, they might relive in fancy the happy
weeks they had spent on the Rochlitzer Berg. It was never her way to urge
over-much, which made it hard to refuse her; so it was arranged that they
should set off betimes the following Saturday.
Maurice had his reward in the cry of pleasure she gave when he wakened her
to tell her that it was a fine day.
"Get up, dear! It's less than an hour till the train goes."
For the first time for weeks, Louise was her impetuous self again. She
threw things topsy-turvy in the room. It was he who drew her attention to
an unfastened hook, and an unbound ribbon. She only pressed forward.
"Make haste!--oh, make haste! We shall be late."
An overpowering smell of newly-baked rolls issued from the bakers' shops,
and the errand-boys were starting out with their baskets. Women and
house-porters were coming out to wash pavements and entrances: the
collective life of the town was waking up to another uneventful day; but
they two were hastening off to long hours of sunlight and fresh air,
unhampered by the passing of time, or by fallacious ideas of duty; were
setting out for a new bit of world, to strange meals taken in strange
places, reached by white roads, or sequestered wood-paths. In the train,
they were crushed between the baskets of the marketwomen, who were
journeying from one village to another. These sat with their wizened hands
clasped on their high stomachs, or on the handles of their baskets, and
stared, like stupid, placid animals, at the strange young foreign couple
before them. Partly for the frolic of astonishing them, and also because
he was happy at seeing Louise so happy, Maurice kissed her hand; but it
was she who astonished them most. When she gave a cry, or used her hands
with a sudden, vivid effect, or flashed her white teeth in a smile, every
head in the carriage was turned towards her; and when, in addition, she
was overtaken by a fit of loquacity, she was well-nigh devoured by eyes.
They did not travel as far as they had intended. From the carriage window,
she saw a wayside place that took her fancy.
"Here, Maurice; let us get out here."
Having breakfasted, and left their bags at an inn, they strayed at random
along an inviting road lined with apple-trees. When Louise grew tired,
they rested in the arbour of a primitive GASTHAUS, and ate their midday
meal. Afterwards, in a wood, he spread a rug for her, and she lay in a
nest of sun-spots. Only their own voices broke the silence. Then she fell
asleep, and, until she opened her eyes again, and called to him in
surprise, no sound was to be heard but the sudden, crisp rustling of some
bird or insect. When evening fell, they returned to their lodging, ate
their supper in the smoky public room--for, outside, mists had risen--and
then before them stretched, undisturbed, the long evening and the longer
night, to be spent in a strange room, of which they had hitherto not
suspected the existence, but which, from now on, would be indissolubly
bound up with their other memories.
The first day passed in such a manner was as flawless as any they had
known in the height of summer--with all the added attractions of closer
intimacy. In its course, the shadows lifted from her eyes; and
Maurice ceased to remember that he had made a mess of his affairs. But the
very next one failed--as far as Louise was concerned--to reach the same
level: it was like a flower ever so slightly overblown. The lyric charms
that had so pleased her--the dewy freshness of the morning, the solitude,
the unbroken sunshine--were frail things, and, snatched with too eager a
hand, crumbled beneath the touch. They were not made to stand the wear and
tear of repetition. It was also impossible, she found, to live through
again days such as they had spent at Rochlitz; time past was past
irrevocably, with all that belonged to it. And it was further, a mistake
to believe that a more intimate acquaintance meant a keener pleasure; it
was just the stimulus of strangeness, the piquancy of feeling one's way,
that had made up half the fascination of the summer.
With sure instinct, Louise recognised this, even while she exclaimed with
delight. And her heart sank: not until this moment had she known how high
her hopes had been, how firmly she had pinned her faith upon the revival
of passion which these days were to bring to pass. The knowledge that this
had been a delusion, was hard to bear. In thought, she was merciless to
herself, when, on waking, the second morning, she looked with unexpectant
eyes over the day that lay before her. Could nothing satisfy her, she
asked herself? Could she not be content for twenty-four hours on end? Was
it eternally her lot to come to the end of things, before they had
properly begun? It seemed, always, as if she alone must be pressing
forward, without rest. Here, on the second of these days of love and
sunshine, she saw, with absolute clearness, that neither this nor any
other day had anything extraordinary to give her; and sitting silent at
dinner, under an arbour of highly-coloured creeper, she was overcome by
such a laming discouragement, that she laid her knife and fork down, and
could eat no more.
Maurice, watching her across the table, believed that she was over-tired,
and filled up her glass with wine.
But she did not yield without a struggle. And it was not merely rebellion
against the defects of her own nature, which prompted her. The prospect of
the coming months filled her with dismay. When this last brief spell of
pleasure was over, there was nothing left, to which she could look
forward. The approaching winter stretched before her like a starless
night; she was afraid to let her mind dwell on it. What was she to
do?--what was to become of her, when the short dark days came down
again, and shut her in? The thought of it almost drove her mad. Desperate
with fear, she shut her eyes and went blindly forward, determined to
extract every particle of pleasure, or, at least, of oblivion, that the
Under these circumstances, the poor human element in their relations
became once again, and more than ever before, the pivot on which their
lives turned. Louise aimed deliberately at bringing this about. Further,
she did what she had never yet done: she brought to bear on their
intercourse all her own hardwon knowledge, and all her arts. She drew from
her store of experience those trifling, yet weighty details, which, once
she has learned them, a woman never forgets. And, in addition to this, she
took advantage of the circumstances in which they found themselves,
utilising to the full the stimulus of strange times and places: she fired
the excitement that lurked in surreptitious embrace and surrender, under
all the dangers of a possible surprise. She was perverse and capricious;
she would turn away from him till she reduced him to despair; then to
yield suddenly, with a completeness that threatened to undo them both. Her
devices were never-ending. Not that they were necessary: for he was
helpless in her hands when she assumed the mastery. But she could not
afford to omit one of the means to her end, for she had herself to lash as
well as him. And so, once more, as at the very beginning, hand grew to be
a weight in hand, something alive, electric; and any chance contact might
rouse a blast in them. She neither asked nor Showed mercy. Drop by drop,
they drained each other of vitality, two sufferers, yet each thirsty for
the other's life-blood; for, with this new attitude on her part, an
element of cruelty had entered into their love. When, with her hands on
his shoulders, her insatiable lips apart, Louise put back her head and
looked at him, Maurice was acutely aware of the hostile feeling in her.
But he, too, knew what it was; for, when he tried to urge prudence on her,
she only laughed at him; and this low, reckless laugh, her savage eyes,
and morbid pallor, invariably took from him every jot of concern.
They returned to Leipzig towards the middle of the first week, in order
not to make their absence too conspicuous. But they had arranged to go
away again, on the following Saturday, and, in the present state of
things, the few intervening days seemed endless. Louise shut herself up,
and would see little of him.
The next week, and the next again, were spent in the same fashion.
A fine and mild October ran its course. For the fourth journey, towards
the end of the month, they had planned to return to Rochlitz. At the last
moment, however, Maurice opposed the scheme, and they left the train at
Grimma. It was Friday, and a superb autumn day. They put up, not in the
town itself, but at an inn about a mile and a half distant from it. This
stood on the edge of a wood, was a favourite summer resort, and had lately
been enlarged by an additional wing. Now, it was empty of guests save
themselves. They occupied a large room in the new part of the building, at
the end of a long corridor, which was shut off by a door from the rest of
the house. They were utterly alone; there was no need for them even to
moderate their voices. In the early morning hours, and on the journey
there, Maurice had thought he noticed something unusual about Louise, and,
more than once, he had asked her if her head ached. But soon he forgot his
Next morning, he felt an irresistible inclination to go out: opening the
window, he leaned on the sill. A fresh, pleasant breeze was blowing; it
bent the tops of the pines, and drove the white clouds smoothly over the
sky. He suggested that they should walk to the ruined cloister of
Nimbschen; but Louise responded very languidly, and he had to coax and
persuade. By the time she was ready to leave the untidy room, the morning
was more than half over, and the shifting clouds had balled themselves
into masses. Before the two emerged from the wood, an even network of
cloud had been drawn over the whole sky; it looked like rain.
They walked as usual in silence, little or nothing being left to say, that
seemed worth the exertion of speech. Each step cost Louise a visible
effort; her arms hung slack at her sides; her very hands felt heavy. The
pallor of her face had a greyish tinge in it. Maurice began to regret
having hurried her out against her will.
They were on a narrow path skirting a wood, when she suddenly expressed a
wish for some tall bulrushes that grew beside a stream, some distance
below. Maurice went down to the edge of the water and began to cut the
rushes. But the ground was marshy, and the finest were beyond his reach.
On the path at the top of the bank, Louise stood and followed his
movements. She watched his ineffectual efforts to seize the further reeds,
saw how they slipped back from between his hands; she watched him
take out his knife and open it, endeavour once more to reach those he
wanted, and, still unsuccessful, choose a dry spot to sit down on; saw him
take off his boots and stockings, then rise and go cautiously out on the
soft ground. Ages seemed to pass while she watched him do these trivial
things; she felt as if she were gradually turning to stone as she stood.
How long he was about it! How deliberately he moved! And she had the odd
sensation, too, that she knew beforehand everything he would and would not
do, just as if she had experienced it already. His movements were of an
impossible circumstantiality, out of all proportion to the trifling
service she had asked of him; for, at heart, she cared as little about the
rushes as about anything else. But it was an unfortunate habit of his, and
one she noticed more and more as time went on, to make much of paltry
details, which, properly, should have been dismissed without a second
thought. It implied a certain tactlessness, to underline the obvious in
this fashion. The very way, for instance, he stretched out his arm,
unclasped his knife, leant forward, and then stooped back to lay the cut
reeds on the bank. Oh, she was tired!--tired to exasperation!--of his ways
and actions--as tired as she was of his words, and of the thousand and one
occurrences, daily repeated, that made up their lives. She would have
liked to creep away, to hide herself in an utter seclusion; while,
instead, it was her lot to assist, hour after hour, at making much of
what, in the depths of her soul, did not concern her at all. Nothing, she
felt, would ever really concern her again. She gazed fixedly before her,
at him, too, but without seeing him, till her sight was blurred; trees and
sky, stream and rushes, swam together in a formless maze. And all of a
sudden, while she was still blind, there ran through her such an intense
feeling of aversion, such a complete satedness with all she had of late
felt and known, that she involuntarily took a step backwards, and pressed
her palms together, in order to hinder herself from screaming aloud. She
could bear it no longer. In a flash, she grasped that she was unable,
utterly unable, to face the day that was before her. She knew in advance
every word, every look and embrace that it held for her: rather than
undergo them afresh, she would throw herself into the water at her feet.
Anywhere, anywhere!--only to get away, to be alone, to cover her face and
see no more! Her hand went to her throat; her breath refused to come; she
shivered so violently that she was afraid she would fall to the ground.
Maurice, all unsuspecting, sat with his back to her, and laced his
But he was startled into an exclamation, when he climbed the bank and saw
the state she was in.
"Louise! Good Heavens, what's the matter? Are you ill?"
He took her by the arm, and shook her a little, to arrest her attention.
"Maurice! . . . no!" Her voice was hoarse. "Oh, let me go home!"
He repeated the words in amazed alarm. "But what is it, darling? Are you
ill? Are you cold?--that you're trembling like this?"
"No . . . yes. Oh, I want to go home !--back to Leipzig."
"Why, of course, if you want to. At once."
The rushes lay forgotten on the ground. Without further words, they
hastened to the inn. There, Maurice helped her to throw her things into
the bag she had not wholly unpacked, and, having paid the bill, led her,
with the same feverish haste, through the woods and town to the
railway-station. He was full of distressed concern for her, but hardly
dared to show it. for, to all his questions, she only shook her head.
Walking at his side, she dug her nails into her palms till she felt the
blood come, in her effort to conceal and stifle the waves of almost
physical repugnance that passed through her, making it impossible for her
to bear even the touch of his hand. In the train, she leaned back in the
corner, and, shutting her eyes, pretended to be asleep.
They took a droschke home; the driver whipped up his horse; the landlady
was called in to make the first fire of the season. Louise went to bed at
once. She wanted nothing, she said, but to lie still in the darkened room.
He should go away; she preferred to be alone. No, she was not ill, only
tired, but so tired that she could not keep her eyes open. She needed
rest: tomorrow she would be all right again. He should please, please,
leave her, and go away. And, turning her face to the wall, she drew the
bedclothes over her head.
At his wits' end to know what it all meant, Maurice complied. But at home
in his room, he could settle to nothing; he trembled at every footstep on
the stair. No message came, however, and when he had seen her again that
evening, he felt more reassured.
"It's nothing--really nothing. I'm only tired . . . yes, it was too
much. just let me be, Maurice--till to-morrow." And she shut her eyes
again, and kept them shut, till she heard the door close behind him.
He was reassured, but still, for the greater part of the night, he lay
sleepless. He was always agitated anew by the abrupt way in which Louise
passed from mood to mood; but this was something different; he could not
understand it. In the morning, however, he saw things in a less tragic
light; and, on sitting down to the piano, he experienced almost a sense of
satisfaction at the prospect of an undisturbed day's work.
Meanwhile Louise shrank, even in memory, from the feverish weeks just
past, as she had shrunk that day from his touch. And she struggled to keep
her thoughts from dwelling on them. But it was the first time in her life
that she felt a like shame and regret; and she could not rid her mind of
the haunting images. She knew the reason, too; darkness brought the
knowledge. She had believed, had wished to believe, that the failure was
her fault, a result of her unstable nature; whereas the whole undertaking
had been merely a futile attempt to bolster up the impossible, to stave
off the inevitable, to postpone the end. And it had all been in vain. The
end! It would come, as surely as day followed night--had perhaps indeed
already come; for how else could the nervous aversion be explained, which
had seized her that day? What, during the foregoing weeks, she had tried
not to hear; what had sounded in her ears like the tone of a sunken bell,
was there at last, horrible and deafening. She had ceased to care for him,
and ceased, surfeited with abundance, with the same vehement abruptness as
she had once begun. The swiftness with which things had swept to a
conclusion, had, confessedly, been accelerated by her unhappy temperament;
but, however gentle the gradient, the point for which they made would have
remained the same. What she was now forced to recognise was, that the
whole affair had been no more than an episode; and the fact of its having
begun less brutally than others, had not made it a whit better able than
these to withstand decay.
A bitter sense of humiliation came over her. What was she? Not a week
ago--she could count the days on her fingers--the mere touch of his hand
on her hair had made her thrill; and now the sole feeling she was
conscious of was one of dislike. She looked back over the course of her
relations with him, and many things, unclear before, became plain to her.
She had gone into the intimacy deliberately, with open eyes, knowing that
she cared for him only in a friendly way. She had believed, then, that
the gift of herself would mean little to her, while it would secure her a
friend and companion. And then, too--she might as well be quite honest
with herself--she had nourished a romantic hope that a love which
commenced as did this shy, adoring tenderness, would give her something
finer and more enduring than she had hitherto known. Wrong, all wrong,
from beginning to end! It had been no better than those loves which made
no secret of their aim and did not strut about draped in false sentiment.
The end of all was one and the same. But besides this, it had come to mean
more to her than she had ever dreamt of allowing. You could not play with
fire, it seemed, and not be burned. Or, at least, she could not. She was
branded with wounds. The fierce demands in her, over which she had no
control, had once more reared their heads and got the mastery of her, and
of him, too. There had been no chance, beneath their scorching breath, for
a pallid delicacy of feeling.
It did not cross her mind that she would conceal what she felt from him.
Secrecy implied a mental ingenuity, a tiresome care of word and deed. His
eyes must be opened; he, too, must learn to say the horrid word "end." How
infinitely thankful she had now reason to be that she had not yielded to
his persuasions, and married him! No, she had never seriously considered
the idea, even at the height of her folly. But then, she was never quite
sure of herself; there was always a chance that some blind impulse would
spring up in her and overthrow her resolutions. Now, he must suffer,
too--and rightly. For, after all, he had also been to blame. If only he
had not importuned her so persistently, if only he had let her alone,
nothing of this would have happened, and there would be no reason for her
to lie and taunt herself. But, in his silent, obstinate way, he had given
her no peace; and you could not--she could not!--go on living unmoved,
at the side of a person who was crazy with love for you.
For two nights, she slept little. On the third, worn out, she fell, soon
after midnight, into a deep sleep, from which, the following morning, she
When Maurice came, about half-past twelve, her eyes followed him with a
new curiosity, as he drew up a chair and sat down at her bedside. She
wondered what he would say when he knew, and what change would come over
his face. But she made no beginning to enlightening him. In his presence,
she was seized by an ungovernable desire to be distracted, to be
taken out of herself. Also, it was not, she began to grasp, a case of
stating a simple fact, in simple words; it meant all the circumstantiality
of complicated explanation; it meant a still more murderous tearing up of
emotion. And besides this, there was another factor to be reckoned with,
and that was the peculiar mood he was in. For, as soon as he entered the
room, she felt that he was different from what he had been the day before.
She heard the irritation in his voice, as he tried to persuade her to come
out to dinner with him. In fancy she saw it all: saw them walking together
to the restaurant, at a brisk pace, in order to waste none of his valuable
time; saw dinner taken quickly, for the same reason; saw them parting
again at the house-door; then herself in the room alone, straying from
sofa to window and back again, through the long hours of the long
afternoon. A kind of mental nausea seized her at the thought that the old
round was to begin afresh. She brought no answer over her lips. And after
waiting some time in vain for her to speak, Maurice rose, and, still under
the influence of his illhumour, drew up the three blinds, and opened a
window. A cold, dusty sunlight poured into the room.
Louise gave a cry, and put her hands to her eyes.
"The room is so close, and you're so pale," he said in selfexcuse. "Do you
know you've been shut up in here for three days now?"
"My head aches."
"It will never be any better as long as you lie there. Dearest, what is
it? WHAT'S the matter with you?"
"You're unhappy about something," he went on, a moment later. "What is it?
Won't you tell me?"
"Nothing," she murmured. She lay and pressed her palms to her eyeballs, so
firmly that when she removed them, the room was a blur. Maurice, standing
at the window, beat a tattoo on the pane. Then, with his back to her, he
began to speak. He blamed himself for what he called the folly of the past
weeks. "I gave way when I should have been firm. And this is the result.
You have got into a nervous, morbid state. But it's nonsense to think it
can go on."
For the first time, she was conscious of a somewhat critical attitude on
his part; he said "folly" and "nonsense." But she made no comment; she lay
and let his words go over her. They had so little import now. All the
words that had ever been said could not alter a jot of what she
felt--of her intense inward experience.
Her protracted silence, her heavy indifference infected him; and for some
time the only sound to be heard was that of his fingers drumming on the
glass. When he spoke again, he seemed to be concluding an argument with
himself; and indeed, on this particular day, Maurice found it hard to
detach his thoughts from himself, for any length of time.
"It's no use, dear. Things can't go on like this any longer. I've got to
buckle down to work again. I've . . . I. . .I haven't told you yet:
Schwarz is letting me play the Mendelssohn."
She thought she would have to cry aloud; here it was again: the chilling
atmosphere of commonplace, which her nerves were expected to live and be
well in; the well-worn phrases, the "must this," and "must that," the
confident expectation of interest in doings that did not interest her at
all. She could not--it would kill her to begin it anew! And, in spite of
her efforts at repression, an exclamation forced its way through her lips.
At this, Maurice went quickly back to her.
"Forgive me . . . talking about myself, when you are not well."
He knelt down beside the bed, and removed her hands from her face. She did
not open her eyes, kept quite still. At this moment, she felt mainly
curious: would the strange aversion to his touch return? He was kissing
her palms, pressing them to his face. She drew a long, deep sigh: it did
not come back. On the contrary, the touch of his hand was pleasant to her.
He stroked her cheek, pushed back a loose piece of hair from her forehead;
and, as he did this, she was aware of the old sense of well-being. Beneath
his hand, irksome thoughts fell away. Backwards and forwards it travelled,
as gently as though she were a sick person. And, little by little, so
gradually that, at first, she herself was not conscious of them, other
wishes came to life in her again. She began to desire more than mere
peace. The craving came over her to forget her self-torturings, and to
forget them in a dizzy whirl. Reaching up, she put her arms round his
neck, and drew him down. He kissed her eyelids. At this she opened her
eyes, enveloping him in a look he had learnt to know well. For a second he
sustained it: his life was concentrated in the liquid fire of these eyes,
in these eager parted lips. She pressed them to his, and he felt a
smart, like a bee's sting.
With a jerk, he thrust her arms away, and rose to his feet; to keep his
balance he was obliged to grasp the back of a chair. Taking out his
handkerchief, he pressed it to his lip.
"It's late . . . I must go . . . I must work, I tell you." He stood
staring at the drop of blood on his handkerchief.
He looked round him in a confused way; he was strangely angry, and hasty
to no purpose. "Won't you . . . then you won't come out with me?"
"Maurice!" The word was a cry.
"Oh, it's foolish! You don't know what you're doing." He had found his
coat, and was putting it on, with unsure hands. "Then, if . . . this
evening, then! As usual. I'll come as usual."
The door shut behind him; a minute later, the street-door banged. At the
sound Louise seemed to waken. Starting up in bed, she threw a wild look
round the empty room; then, turned on her face, and bit a hole in the
linen of the pillow.
Maurice worked that afternoon as though his future was conditioned by the
number of hours he could practise before evening. Throughout these three
days, indeed, his zeal had been unabating. He would never have yielded so
calmly to the morbid fashion in which she had cooped herself up, had not
the knowledge that his time was his own again, been something of a relief
to him. Yes, at first, relief was the word for what he felt. For, after
making one good resolution on top of another, he had, when the time came,
again been a willing defaulter. He had allowed the chance to slip of
making good, by redoubled diligence, his foolish mistake with regard to
Schwarz. Now it was too late; though the master had let him have his way
in the choice of piece for the coming PRUFUNG, it had mainly been owing to
indifference. If only he did not prove unequal to the choice now it was
made! For that he was out of the rut of steady work, was clear to him as
soon as he put his hands to the piano.
But he had never been so forlornly energetic as on this particular
afternoon. Yet there was something mechanical, too, about his playing;
neither heart nor brain was in it. Mendelssohn's effective roulades ran
thoughtlessly from his fingers: in the course of a single day, he
had come to feel a deep contempt for the emptiness of these runs and
flourishes. He pressed forward, however, hour after hour without a break,
as though he were a machine wound up for the purpose. But with the
entrance of dusk, his fictitious energy collapsed. He did not even trouble
to light the lamp, but, throwing himself on the sofa, covered his eyes
with his arm.
The twilight induced sensations like itself--vague, formless, intolerable.
A sudden recognition of the uselessness of human striving grew up in him,
with the rapidity of a fungus. Effort and work, ambition and success,
alike led nowhere, were so many blind alleys: ambition ended in smoke;
success was a fleeing phantom, which one sought in vain to grasp. To the
great mass of mankind, it was more than immaterial whether one of its
units toiled or no; not a single soul was benefited by it. Most certainly
not the toiler himself. It was only given to a few to achieve anything;
the rest might stand aside early in the day. Nothing of their labours
would remain, except the scars they themselves bore.
He was unhappy; to-night he knew it with a painful clearness. The shock
had been too rude. For him, change had to be prepared, to come gradually.
Sooner or later, no doubt, he would right himself again; but in the
meantime his plight was a sorry one. It was his duty to protect himself
against another onslaught of the kind--to protect them both. For there was
no blinking the fact: a few more weeks like the foregoing, and they would
have been two of the wretchedest creatures on earth. They were miserable
enough as it was, he in his, she in her own way. It must never happen
again. She, too, had doubtless become sensible of this, in the course of
the past three days. But had she? Could he say that? What had she
thought?--what had she felt? And he told himself that was just what he
would never know.
He saw her as she had lain that morning, her arms long and white on the
coverlet. He recalled all he had said, and tried to piece things together;
an inner meaning seemed to be eluding him. Again, in memory, he heard the
half-stifled cry that had drawn him to her side, felt her hands in his,
the springy resistance of her hair, the delicate skin of her eyelids.
Then, he had not understood the sudden impulse that had made him spring to
his feet. But now, as he lay in the dusk, and summed up these things, a
new thought, or hardly a thought so much as an intuition, flashed through
his mind, instantly to take entire possession of him--just as if it
had all along been present, in waiting. Simultaneously, the colour mounted
to his face: he refused to harbour such a thought, and put it from him,
angry with himself. But it was not to be kept down; it rose again, in an
inexplicable way--this suggestion, which was like a slur cast on her. Why,
he demanded of himself, should it not have occurred to him before?--once,
twenty, a hundred times? For the same thing had often happened: times
without number, she had striven to keep him at her side. Was its presence
to-day a result of his aimless irritation? Or was it because, after
holding him at arm's length for three whole days, she had asked, on
returning to him, neither affection nor comradeship, only the blind
gratification of sense?
He did not know. But forgotten hints and trifles--words, acts, looks--
which he had never before considered consciously, now recurred to him as
damning evidence. With his arm still across his eyes, he lay and let it
work in him; let doubts and frightful uncertainties grow up in his brain;
suffered the most horrible suffering of all--doubt of the one beloved. He
seemed to be looking at things from a new point, seeing them in different
proportions--all his own poor hopes and beliefs as well and, while the
spasm of distrust lasted, he felt inclined to doubt whether she had ever
really cared for him. He even questioned his own feeling for her, seeking
to discover whether it, too, had not been based on a mere sensual fancy.
He saw them satisfying an instinct, without reason and without nobility.
And, by this light, he read a reason for the past months, which made him
He rose and paced the room. If what he was thinking of her were true, then
it would be better for both their sakes if he never saw her again. But,
even while he said this, he knew that he would have to see her, and
without loss of time. What he needed was to stand face to face with her,
to look into her eyes, which, whatever they might do, had never learned to
hide the truth, and there gain the certainty that his imaginings were
monstrous--the phantoms of a melancholy October twilight.
It was nearly nine o'clock, but there was no light in her room. He
pictured her lying in the dark, and was filled with remorse. But he said
her name in vain; the room was empty. Lighting the lamp, he saw that the
bedclothes had been thrown back over the foot-end of the unmade bed, as
though she had only just left it. The landlady said that she had gone out,
two hours previously, without leaving any message. All he could do
was to sit down and wait; and in the long half-hour that now went by, the
black thoughts that had driven him there were forgotten. His only wish was
to have her safe beside him again.
Towards ten o'clock he heard approaching sounds. A moment later Louise
came in. She blinked at the light, and began to unfasten her veil before
she was over the threshold.
He gave a sigh of relief. "At last! Thank goodness! Where have you been?"
"Did you think I was lost? Have you been here long?"
"For hours. Where else should I be? But you--where have you been?"
Standing before the table, she fumbled with the veil, which she had pulled
into a knot. He did not offer to help her; he stood looking at her, and
both voice and look were a little stern.
"Why did you go out?"
She did not look at him. "Oh, just for a breath of air. I felt I . . . I
HAD to do something."
From the moment of her entrance, even before she had spoken, Maurice was
aware of that peculiar aloofness in her, which invariably made itself felt
when she was engrossed by something in which he had no part.
"That's hardly a reason," he said nervously.
With the veil stretched between her two hands, she turned her head. "Do
you want another? Well, after you left me to-day, I lay and thought and
thought . . . till I felt I should go mad, if I lay there any longer."
"Yes, but all of a sudden, like this! After being in bed for three
days . . . to go out and . . ."
"But I have not been ill!"
"Go out and wander about the streets, at night."
"I didn't mean to be so late," she said, and folded the veil with an
exaggerated care. "But I was hindered; I had a little adventure."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing much. A man followed me--and I couldn't get rid of him."
"Go on, please!" He was astonished at the severity of his own voice.
"Oh, don't be so serious, Maurice!" She had folded the veil to a neat
square, stuck three hatpins in it, and thrown it with her hat and jacket
on the sofa. "No one has tried to murder me," she said, and raised both
her hands to her hair. "I was standing before Haase's window--the big
jeweller's in the PETERSTRASSE, you know. I've always loved
jewellers' windows--especially at night, when they're lighted up. As a
child, I thought heaven must be like the glitter of diamonds on blue
velvet--the Jasper Sea, you know, and the pearly floor."
"Never mind that now!"
"Well, I was standing there, looking in, longer perhaps than I knew. I
felt that some one was beside me, but I didn't see who it was, till I
heard a man's voice say: 'SCHONE SACHEN, FRAULEIN, WAS?' Of course, I took
no notice; but I didn't run away, as if I were afraid of him. I went on
looking into the window, till he said: 'DARF ICH IHNEN ETWASS KAUFEN?'and
more nonsense of the same kind. Then I thought it was time to go. He
followed me down the PETERSTRASSE, and when I came to the ROSSPLATZ, he
was still behind me. So I determined to lead him a dance. I've been
walking about, with him at my heels, for over an hour. In a quiet street
where there was no one in sight, he spoke to me again, and refused to go
away until I told him where I lived. I pretended to agree, and, on the
condition that he didn't follow me any further, I gave him a number in the
QUERSTRASSE; and in case he broke his. word, I came home that way. I hope
he'll spend a pleasant evening looking for me."
She laughed--her fitful, somewhat unreal laugh, which was always
displeasing to him. To-night, taken in conjunction with her story, and her
unconcerned way of telling it, it jarred on him as never before.
"Let me catch him here, and I'll make it impossible for him to insult a
woman again!" he cried. "For it is an insult though you don't see it in
that light. You laugh as you tell it, as if something amusing had happened
to you. You are so strange sometimes.--Tell me, dearest, WHY did you go
out? When I asked you, you wouldn't come."
"No. Then I wasn't in the mood." Her smile faded.
"No. But after dark--and quite alone--then the mood takes you."
"But I've done it hundreds of times before. I can take care of myself."
"You are never to do it again--do you hear?--Why didn't you give the
fellow in charge?" he asked a moment later, in a burst of distrust.
Again Louise laughed. "Oh, a German policeman would find that rather funny
than otherwise. It's the rule, you know, not the exception. And the same
thing has happened to me before. So often that it's literally not
worth mentioning. I shouldn't have spoken of it to-night if you hadn't
been so persistent. Besides," she added as an afterthought--and, in the
face of his grave displeasure, she found herself wilfully exaggerating the
levity of her tone--"besides, this wasn't the kind of man one gives in
charge. Not the usual commercial-traveller type. A Graf, or Baron, at
He was as nettled as she had intended him to be. "You talk just as if you
had had experience in the class of man.--Do you really think it makes
things any better? To my mind, it's a great deal worse.--But the thing
is--you don't know how . . . You're not to go out alone again at night. I
forbid it. This is the first time for weeks; and see what happens! And
it's notyou may well say it has happened to you before. I don't know what
it is, but--The very cab-drivers look at you as they've no business to--as
they don't look at other women!"
"Well, can I help that?--how men look at me?" she asked indignantly. "Do
you wish to say it's my fault? That I do anything to make them?"
"No. Though it might be better if you did," he answered gloomily. "The
unpleasant thing is, though you do nothing . . . that it's there all the
same . . . something . . . I don't know what."
"No, I don't think you do, and neither do I. But I do know that you are
being very rude to me." As he made no reply, she went on: "You will,
however, at least give me credit for knowing how to keep men at a
distance, though I can't hinder them from looking at me.--And, for your
own comfort, remember in future that I'm not an inexperienced child.
There's nothing I don't know."
"You needn't throw that up at me."
"--I at YOU?" she laughed hotly. "That's surely reversing the order of
things, isn't it? It ought to be the other way about."
"Unfortunately it isn't." The look he gave her was made up of mingled
anger and entreaty; but as she took no notice of it, he turned away, and
going to the window, leaned his forehead against the glass. What affected
him so disagreeably was not the incident of the man following her, but her
light way of regarding it. And as the knowledge of this came home to him,
he was impelled to go on speaking. "It's a trifle to make a fuss about, I
know," he said. "And I shouldn't give it a second thought, if I could ONLY
feel, Louise, that you looked at it as I do . . . and felt about
it as I do. You seem so indifferent to what it really means--it's almost
as if you enjoyed it. Other women are different. They resent such a thing
instinctively. While you don't even take offence. And men feel that in
you, somehow. That's what makes them look at you and follow you about.
That's what attracts them and always has done--far too easily."
"You among the rest!"
"For God's sake, hold your tongue! You don't know what you're saying."
"Oh, I know well enough." She put her hair back from her forehead, and
passed her handkerchief over her lips. "Instead of lecturing me in this
way, you might be grateful, I think, that I didn't accept the man's offer
and go somewhere to supper with him. It's dull enough here. You don't make
things very gay for me. To-day, altogether, you are treating me as if I
were a criminal."
He did not answer; the words "You among the rest!" went on sounding in his
ears. Yes, there was truth in them, a horrible truth. Who was he to sit in
judgment?--either on her, or on those others who yielded to the attraction
that went out from her. Had not he himself been in love with her before he
even knew her name. Had he then accused her?--laid the blame at her door?
She caught a moth that was fluttering round the lamp, and carried it to
the window. When, a moment later, he turned and gave her another unhappy
look, she felt a kind of pity for him, forced as he was, by his nature, to
work himself into unhappiness over such a trivial matter.
"Don't let us say unkind things to each other," she said slowly. "I'm
sorry. If I had known it would worry you so much, I shouldn't have said a
word about it. That would have been easy."
He felt her touch on his arm. As it grew warm and close, he, too, was
filled with the wish to be at one with her again--to be lulled into
security. He pressed her hand.
"Forgive me! To-day I've been bothered--pestered with black thoughts. Or
else I shouldn't go on like this."
Now she was silent; both stared out into the night. And then a strange
thing happened. He began to speak again, and words rose to his lips, of
which, a moment before, he had had no idea, but which he now knew for
absolute truth. He said: "I don't want to excuse myself; I'm jealous, I
admit it. And yet there IS an excuse for me, Louise. For saying
such things to you, I mean. To-night I--Have you ever thought, dear, what
a difference it would make to us, if you had . . . I mean if I knew . . .
that you had never cared for anyone . . . if you had never belonged to
anyone but me? That's what I wish now more than anything else in the
world. If I could just say to myself: no one but me has ever held her in
his arms; and no one ever will. Do you think then, darling, I could speak
as I have to-night?"
A moment back, he had had no thought of such a thing; now, here it was,
expressed, over his lips--another of those strange, inlying truths, which
were existent in him, and only waited for a certain moment to come to
light. Strangest of all, perhaps, was the manner in which it impressed
itself on him. In it seemed to be summed up his trouble of the afternoon,
his suspense and irritation of the later hours. It was as if he had
suddenly found a formula for them, and, as he stated it, he was
dumbfounded by its far-reaching significance.
A church-clock pealed a single stroke.
"Oh, yes, perhaps," said Louise, in a low voice. She could not rouse
herself to a very keen interest in his feelings.
"No, not perhaps. Yes--a thousand times yes! Everything would be changed
by it. Then I couldn't torment you. And our love would have a certainty
such as it can now never have."
"But you knew, Maurice! I told you--everything! You said it didn't
"And it doesn't, and never shall. But to make it undone, I would
cheerfully give years of my life. You're a woman--you can't understand
these things--or know what we miss. You mine only--life wouldn't be the
For a moment she did not answer. Then the same toneless voice came out of
the darkness at his side. "But I AM yours only--now. And it's a foolish
thing to wish for the impossible."
It was, indeed, a preposterous thought to have at this date: no one knew
that better than himself. And as long as he was with Louise, he kept it at
bay; it was a fatuous thing even to allow himself to think, considering
the past, and considering all he knew.
But next morning, as he sat with busy fingers, and a vacant mind, it
returned. He thrust it angrily away, endeavouring to concentrate his
attention on his music open before him. For a time, he believed he had
succeeded. Then, the idea was unexpectedly present to him again, and this
time more forcibly than before; it came like a sharp, swift stab of
remembrance, and forced an exclamation over his lips. Discouraged, he let
his hands drop from the keys of the piano; for now he knew that he would
probably never be rid of it again. This was always the way with unpleasant
thoughts and impressions: if they returned, after he had resolved to have
done with them, they were henceforth part and parcel of himself, fixed
ideas, against which his will was powerless.
In the hope of growing used to the haunting reflection, and to the
unhappiness it implied, he thought it through to the end--this strange,
unsought knowledge, which had lain unsuspected in him, and now became
articulate. Once considered, however, it made many things clear. He could
even account to himself now, for the blasphemous suggestions that had
plagued him not twenty-four hours ago. If he had then not, all
unconsciously, had the feeling that Louise had known too long and too well
what love was, to be willing to live without it, such thoughts as those
would never have risen in him.
In vain he asked himself, why he should only now understand these things.
He could find no answer. Throughout the time he had known Louise, he had
been better acquainted with her mode of life than anyone else: her past
had lain open to him; she had concealed nothing, had been what she called
"brutally frank" with him. And he had protested, and honestly believed,
that what had preceded their intimacy did not matter to him. Who could
foresee that, on a certain day, an idea of this kind would break out in
him--like a canker? But this query took him a step further. Was it
not deluding himself to say break out? Had not this shadow lurked in their
love from the very beginning? Had it not formed an invisible barrier
between them? It was possible no, it was true; though he only recognised
its truth at the present time. It had existed from the first: something
which each of them, in turn, had felt, and vaguely tried to express. It
had little or nothing to do with the fact that they had defied convention.
That, regrettable though it might be, was beside the mark. The confounding
truth was, that, in an emotional crisis of an intensity of the one they
had come through, it was imperative to be able to say: our love is
unparalleled, unique; or, at least: I am the only possible one; I am
yours, you are mine, only. That had not been the case. What he had been
forced to tell himself was, that he was not the first. And now he knew
that, for some time past, he had been aware that he would always occupy
the second place; she was forced to compare him with another, to his
disadvantage. And he knew more. For the first time, he allowed his
thoughts to rove, unchecked, over her previous life, and he was no longer
astonished at the imperfections of the present. To him, the gradual
unfolding of their love had been a wonderful revelation; to her, a
repetition, and a paler and fainter one, of a tale she already knew by
heart. And the knowledge of this awakened a fresh distrust in him. If she
had loved that first time, as she had asserted, as he had seen with his
own eyes that she did, desperately, abandonedly, how had it been possible
for her to change front so quickly, to turn to him and love anew? Was such
a thing credible? Was a woman's nature capable of it? And had it not been
this constant fear, lest he should never be able to efface the image of
his predecessor, which, yesterday, had boldly stalked out as a dread that
what had drawn her to him, had not been love at all?
But this mood passed. He himself cared too well to doubt, for long, that
in her own way she really loved him. What, however, he was obliged to
admit was, that what she felt could in no way be counted the equal of his
love for her: that had possessed a kind of primeval freshness, which no
repetition, however passionately fond, could achieve. And yet, in his
mind, there was still room for doubt--eager, willing doubt. It was due to
his ignorance. He became aware of this, and, while brooding over these
things, he was overmanned by the desire to learn, from her own lips, more
about her past, to hear exactly what it had meant to her, in order
that he might compare it with her present life, and with her feelings for
him. Who could say if, by doing this, he might not drive away what was
perhaps a phantom of his own uneasy brain?
He resolved to make the endeavour. But he was careful not to let her
suspect his intention. First of all, he was full of compunction for his
bad temper of the night before; he was also slightly ashamed of what he
was going to do; and then, too, he knew that she would resent his prying.
What he did must be done with tact. He had no wish to make her unhappy
over it. And so, when he saw her again, he did his best to make her forget
how disagreeable he had been.
But the desire to know remained, became a morbid curiosity. If this were
satisfied, he believed it would make things easier for both of them. But
he was infinitely cautious. Sometimes, without a word, he took her face
between his hands and looked into her eyes, as if to read in them an
answer to the questions he was afraid to put--looked right into the depth
of her eyes, where the pupils swam in an oval of bluish white, overhung by
lids which were finely creased in their folds, and netted with tiny veins.
But he said not a word, and the eyes remained unfathomable, as they had
Meanwhile, he did what he could to set his life on a solid basis again.
But he was unable to arouse in himself a very vital interest in his work;
some prompter-nerve in him seemed to have been injured. And often, he was
overcome by the feeling that this perpetual preoccupation with music was
only a trifling with existence, an excuse for not facing the facts of
life. He would sometimes rather have been a labourer, worn out with
physical toil. He was much alone, too; when he was not with Louise, he was
given over to his own thoughts, and, day by day, fostered by the long,
empty hours of practice, these moved more and more steadily in the one
direction. The craving for a knowledge of the facts, for certainty in any
form--this became a reason for, a plea in extenuation of, what he felt
Louise did not help him; she assented to what he did without comment, half
sorry for him in what seemed to her his wilful blindness, half disdainful.
But she, too, made a discovery in these tame, flat days, and this was,
that it was one thing to say to herself: it is over and done with, and
another to make the assertion a fact. Energy for the effort was lacking in
her; for the short, sharp stroke, which with her meant action, was
invariably born of intense happiness or unhappiness. Now, as the days went
by, she asked herself why she should do it. It was so much easier to let
things slide, until something happened of itself, either to make the
break, or to fill up the still greater emptiness in her life which a break
would cause. And if he were content with what she could give him, well and
good; she made no attempt to deceive him. And it seemed to her that he was
content, though in a somewhat preoccupied way. But a little later, she
acknowledged to herself that this was not the whole truth. There was habit
to fight against--habit which could still give her hours of
self-forgetfulness--and one could not forgo, all at once, and under no
pressing necessity to do so, this means of escape from the cheerlessness
But not for long did matters remain at this negative stage. Whereas, until