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Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson

Part 13 out of 13

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or of having cast a plan of action, he knew at once what was to be done;
and, as before, his feet bore him, without bidding, where he had to go.

He retraced his steps, and half-way down the KLOSTERGASSE, entered a
gunsmith's shop. The owner, an elderly man in a velvet cap and
gold-rimmed spectacles, looked at him over the tops of these, then said
curtly, he could not oblige him. What was more, he came out after him,
and, standing in the shop-door, watched him go down the street. At his
refusal, Maurice had hurriedly withdrawn: now, as he went, he wa's
troubled by the fact that the man's face was vaguely familiar to him. For
the length of a street-block, he endeavoured to recollect where he had
seen the face before. And suddenly he knew: it was this very shop he had
once been in to inquire after Krafft, and this was the same man who had
then been so uncivil to him. But as soon as he remembered, the knowledge
ceased to interest him.

Rendered cautious by his first experience, he went to another
neighbourhood, and having sought for some time, found a smaller shop, in a
side street. He had ready this time the fiction of a friend and a
commission. But a woman regretted wordily that her husband had just
stepped out; he would no doubt be back again immediately; if the Herr
would take a chair and wait a little?--,But the thought of waiting made him
turn on his heel. Finally, at his third attempt, a young lad gave him what
he desired, without demur; and, after he had known a quick fear lest he
should not have sufficient money for the purchase, the matter was
satisfactorily settled.

On returning to his room, he found a letter lying on the table. He pounced
upon it with a desperate hope. But it was only the monthly bill for the
hire of the piano.

In entering, he had made some noise, and Frau Krause was in the room
before he knew it. She was primed for an angry scene. But he made short
work of her complaints and accusations.

"To-morrow! I'll have time for all that to-morrow."

He turned the key in the door, and sitting down before the writing-table,
commenced to go through drawers and pigeonholes. It had not been a habit
of his to keep letters; but nevertheless a certain number had accumulated,
and these he was averse to let fall into the hands of strangers. He
performed his work coolly, with a pedantic thoroughness. He had no
sympathy with those people, who, doing what he was about to do, left
ragged ends behind them. His mind had always inclined to law and order.
And so, having written a note authorising Frau Krause to keep his books
and clothes, in place of the outstanding rent, he put a match to the fire
which was laid in the stove, and, on his knees before it, burnt all such
personal trifles as had value for himself alone. He postponed, to
the last, even handling the small packet made up of the letters he had had
from Louise. Then their turn came, too. Kneeling before the stovedoor, he
dropped them, one by one, into the flames. The last to burn was the first
he had received--a mere hastily scrawled line, a twisted note, which opened
he watched it shrivel, he had a vivid recollection of that long past day.
He remembered how he had tried to shave, and how he had dressed himself in
his best, only to fling back again into his working-clothes, annoyed with
himself for even harbouring the thought. Yes; but that had always been his
way: he had expended consideration and delicacy where none was necessary;
he had seen her only as he wished to see her.--After this, the photographs.
They were harder to burn; he was forced to tear them across, in two, three
pieces. Even then, the flames licked slowly; he watched them creep up--over
her dress, her hands, her face.

Afternoon had turned to evening. When, at length, everything was in order,
he lay down on the sofa to wait for it to grow quite dark. But almost at
once, as if his back had been eased of a load, he fell asleep. When he
opened his eyes again, the lamp had burned low, and filled the room with a
poisonous vapour. It was two o'clock. This was the time to go. But a
boisterous wind had risen, and was blustering round the house. He said to
himself that he would wait still a little longer, to see if it did not
subside. In waiting, he slept again, heavily, as he had not done for many
a night, and when he wakened next, a clock was striking four. He rose at
once, and with his boots in his hand, crept out of the house.

Day was breaking; as he walked, a thin streak of grey in the east widened
with extreme rapidity, and became a bank of pale grey light. He met an
army of street-sweepers, indistinguishably male and female, returning from
their work, their long brooms over their shoulders. It had rained a
little, and the pavements were damp and shining. The wind had dropped to a
mere morning breeze, which met him at street-corners. Before his mind's
eye rose a vision of the coming day. He saw one of those early spring days
of illimitable blue highness and white, woofy clouds, which stand
stationary where the earth meets the sky; the brightness of the sun makes
the roads seem whiter and the grass greener, bringing out new tints and
colours in everything it touches. Over it all would run this light,
swift wind, bending the buds, and even, towards afternoon,
throwing up a fine white dust.--And it was to the thought of the dust that
his mind clung most tenaciously, as to some homely and familiar thing
which he would never see again.

He had made straight for the well-known seat with the bosky background.
Arrived at it, he went a few steps aside, into an open space among the
undergrowth, which was now generously sprinkled with buds. The leaves that
had fallen during the previous autumn made a carpet under his feet.
Somewhere, in the distance, a band was playing: a body of soldiers was
being marched out to exercise. He opened the case he was carrying, and
laid it on the seat. He was not conscious of feeling afraid; if he had a
fear, it was only lest, in his inexperience, he should do what he had to
do, clumsily. In loosening the clothes at his neck, however, he perceived
that his hand was shaking, and this made him aware that his heart also was
beating unevenly. He stood and fumbled with his collar-stud, which he
could not unfasten at once, and, while he was busied thus, the mists that
blinded him fell away. He ceased, abruptly, to be the mere automaton that
had moved and acted, without will of its own, for the past four-and-twenty
hours. Standing there, with his fingers at his neck, he was pierced by a
sudden lucid perception of what had happened. An intolerable spasm of
remembrance gripped him. With a rush of bitterness, which was undiluted
agony, all the shame and suffering of the past months swept over him once
more, concentrated in a last supreme moment. And, as though this were not
enough, while he still wrenched at his neck, tearing his shirt-collar in
his desperation, her face rose before him--but not the face he had known
and loved. He saw it as he had seen it for the last time, disfigured by
hatred of him, horribly vindictive, as it had been when she spat on the
ground at his feet. This vision gave him an unlooked-for jerk of courage.
Without allowing himself another second in which to reason or reflect, he
caught up the revolver from the seat, and pressed the cold little nozzle
to his chest. Simultaneously he received a sharp blow, and heard the crack
of a report--but far away . . . in the distance. He was on his back,
without knowing how he had got there; straight overhead waved the bare
branches of a tree; behind them, a grey morning cloud was sailing. For
still the fraction of a second, he heard the familiar melody, to which the
soldiers marched; and the branch swayed . . . swayed . . .

Then, as suddenly as the flame of a candle is puffed out by the
wind, his life went from him. His right hand twitched, made as if to open,
closed again, and stiffened round the iron of the handle. His jaw fell,
and, like an inner lid, a glazed film rose over his eyes, which for hours
afterwards continued to stare, with an expression of horror and amaze, at
the naked branches of the tree.

* * * * *

One midday, a couple of years later, a number of those who had formed the
audience at one of the last rehearsals of the season, were gathered round
the back entrance to the Gewandhaus. It was a fresh spring day, gusty and
sunny by turns: sometimes, there came a puff of wind that drove every
one's hand to his hat; at others, the broad square basked in an almost
motionless sunshine. The small crowd lingered in order to see, at close
quarters, the violinist who had played there that morning. Only a few of
those present had known Schilsky personally; but one and all were curious
to catch a glimpse of the quondam Leipzig student, who, it was whispered,
would soon return to the town to take up a leading position in the
orchestra. Schilsky was now KONZERTMEISTER in a large South German town;
but it was rather as a composer that his name had begun to burn on
people's tongues. His new symphonic poem, UBER DIE LETZTEN DINGE, had
drawn down on his head that mixture of extravagant laudation and abusive
derision which constitutes fame.

"Take a look at his wife, if she's there," said one American to another,
who was standing beside him. "She studied here same time he did, and is
said to have been very handsome. An English chap shot himself on her

"You don't say!" drawled his companion. "It's a queer thing, how common
suicide's getting to be. You can't pick up a noospaper, nowadays, without
finding some fool or other has blown his brains out."

"Look out!--here they come."

Behind the thick glass doors, Schilsky became visible. He was talking
volubly to a Jewish-looking stranger in a fur-lined coat. His hat was
pushed far back on his forehead; his face was flushed with elation; and,
consciously unconscious of the waiting crowd, he gesticulated as he
walked, throwing out the palms of his loosely dangling hands, and
emphasising his words with restless movements of the head. He was
respectfully greeted by those who had known him. A minute or two later
came Louise. At her side was a pianist with whom Schilsky had
given a concert earlier in the week--a shabbily dressed young man, with a
world of enthusiasm in his candid blue eyes. He, too, was talking with
animation. But Louise had no attention for anyone but her husband.

"Well, not my taste . . . I must confess," laughed the man who had been
severe on suicide. "Fine eyes, if you like--but give me something fresher."

She was wearing a long cloak. The door, in swinging to, caught an end of
this, and hindered her progress. Both she and her companion stooped to
free it; their hands met; and the bystanders saw the young man colour
darkly over face and neck.

The others had got into one of the droschkes that waited in line beside
the building. The dark stranger put an impatient head out of the window.
The two behind quickened their steps; the young man helped Louise in,
mounted himself, and slammed the door.

The driver gathered up the reins, cracked his whip, and the big-bodied
droschke went swerving round the corner, clattering gutturally on the
cobbled stone pavement.

The group of loiterers at the door dispersed.

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