Part 2 out of 6
I was on your side; and there we were at lunch, with your father
apparently unable to see either you or me, and unconscious of our
presence. Fancy pretending not to see me! You can't help seeing
me, a large, bright object like me! And what will happen next?
That's what tickles me to death, as they say on my side of the
Atlantic. Will he gradually begin to perceive us again, like
objects looming through a fog, or shall we come into view suddenly,
as if going round a corner? And you are just as funny, my dear,
with your long face, and air of depressed determination. Why be
heavy, Michael? So many people are heavy, and none of them can
tell you why."
It was impossible not to feel the unfreezing effect of this.
Michael thawed to it, as he would have thawed to Francis.
"Perhaps they can't help it, Aunt Barbara," he said. "At least, I
know I can't. I really wish I could learn how to. I--I don't see
the funny side of things till it is pointed out. I thought lunch a
sort of hell, you know. Of course, it was funny, his appearing not
to see either of us. But it stands for more than that; it stands
for his complete misunderstanding of me."
Aunt Barbara had the sense to see that the real Michael was
speaking. When people were being unreal, when they were pompous or
adopting attitudes, she could attend to nothing but their
absurdity, which engrossed her altogether. But she never laughed
at real things; real things were not funny, but were facts.
"He quite misunderstands," went on Michael, with the eagerness with
which the shy welcome comprehension. "He thinks I can make my mind
like his if I choose; and if I don't choose, or rather can't
choose, he thinks that his wishes, his authority, should be
sufficient to make me act as if it was. Well, I won't do that. He
may go on,"--and that pleasant smile lit up Michael's plain face--
"he may go on being unaware of my presence as long as he pleases.
I am very sorry it should be so, but I can't help it. And the
worst of it is, that opposition of that sort--his sort--makes me
more determined than ever."
Aunt Barbara nodded.
"And your friends?" she asked. "What will they think?"
Michael looked at her quite simply and directly.
"Friends?" he said. "I haven't got any."
"Ah, my dear, that's nonsense!" she said.
"I wish it was. Oh, Francis is a friend, I know. He thinks me an
odd old thing, but he likes me. Other people don't. And I can't
see why they should. I'm sure it's my fault. It's because I'm
heavy. You said I was, yourself."
"Then I was a great ass," remarked Aunt Barbara. "You wouldn't be
heavy with people who understood you. You aren't heavy with me,
for instance; but, my dear, lead isn't in it when you are with your
"But what am I to do, if I'm like that?" asked the boy.
She held up her large, fat hand, and marked the points off on her
"Three things," she said. "Firstly, get away from people who don't
understand you, and whom, incidentally, you don't understand.
Secondly, try to see how ridiculous you and everybody else always
are; and, thirdly, which is much the most important, don't think
about yourself. If I thought about myself I should consider how
old and fat and ugly I am. I'm not ugly, really; you needn't be
foolish and tell me so. I should spoil my life by trying to be
young, and only eating devilled codfish and drinking hot plum-
juice, or whatever is the accepted remedy for what we call obesity.
We're all odd old things, as you say. We can only get away from
that depressing fact by doing something, and not thinking about
ourselves. We can all try not to be egoists. Egoism is the really
heavy quality in the world."
She paused a moment in this inspired discourse and whistled to Og,
who had stretched his weary limbs across a bed of particularly fine
"There!" she said, pointing, "if your dog had done that, you would
be submerged in depression at the thought of how vexed your father
would be. That would be because you are thinking of the effect on
yourself. As it's my dog that has done it--dear me, they do look
squashed now he has got up--you don't really mind about your
father's vexation, because you won't have to think about yourself.
That is wise of you; if you were a little wiser still, you would
picture to yourself how ridiculous I shall look apologising for Og.
Kindly kick him, Michael; he will understand. Naughty! And as for
your not having any friends, that would be exceedingly sad, if you
had gone the right way to get them and failed. But you haven't.
You haven't even gone among the people who could be your friends.
Your friends, broadly speaking, must like the same sort of things
as you. There must be a common basis. You can't even argue with
somebody, or disagree with somebody unless you have a common ground
to start from. If I say that black is white, and you think it is
blue, we can't get on. It leads nowhere. And, finally--"
She turned round and faced him directly.
"Finally, don't be so cross, my dear," she said.
"But am I?" asked he.
"Yes. You don't know it, or else probably, since you are a very
decent fellow, you wouldn't be. You expect not to be liked, and
that is cross of you. A good-humoured person expects to be liked,
and almost always is. You expect not to be understood, and that's
dreadfully cross. You think your father doesn't understand you; no
more he does, but don't go on thinking about it. You think it is a
great bore to be your father's only son, and wish Francis was
instead. That's cross; you may think it's fine, but it isn't, and
it is also ungrateful. You can have great fun if you will only be
"How did you know that--about Francis, I mean?" asked Michael.
"Does it happen to be true? Of course it does. Every cross young
man wishes he was somebody else."
"No, not quite that," began Michael.
"Don't interrupt. It is sufficiently accurate. And you think
about your appearance, my dear. It will do quite well. You might
have had two noses, or only one eye, whereas you have two rather
jolly ones. And do try to see the joke in other people, Michael.
You didn't see the joke in your interview last night with your
father. It must have been excruciatingly funny. I don't say it
wasn't sad and serious as well. But it was funny too; there were
Michael shook his head.
"I didn't see them," he said.
"But I should have, and I should have been right. All dignity is
funny, simply because it is sham. When dignity is real, you don't
know it's dignity. But your father knew he was being dignified,
and you knew you were being dignified. My dear, what a pair of
"But is nothing serious, then?" he asked. "Surely it was serious
enough last night. There was I in rank rebellion to my father, and
it vexed him horribly; it did more, it grieved him."
She laid her hand on Michael's knee.
"As if I didn't know that!" she said. "We're all sorry for that,
though I should have been much sorrier if you had given in and
ceased to vex him. But there it is! Accept that, and then, my
dear, swiftly apply yourself to perceive the humour of it. And
now, about your plans!"
"I shall go to Baireuth on Wednesday, and then on to Munich," began
"That, of course. Perhaps you may find the humour of a Channel
crossing. I look for it in vain. Yet I don't know. . . . The man
who puts on a yachting-cap, and asks if there's a bit of a sea on.
It proves to be the case, and he is excessively unwell. I must
look out for him next time I cross. And then?"
"Then I shall settle in town and study. Oh, here's my father
Lord Ashbridge approached down the terrace. He stopped for a
moment at the desecrated geranium bed, saw the two sitting
together, and turned at right angles and went into the house.
Almost immediately a footman came out with a long dog-lead and
advanced hesitatingly to Og. Og was convinced that he had come to
play with him, and crouched and growled and retreated and advanced
with engaging affability. Out of the windows of the library looked
Lord Ashbridge's baleful face. . . . Aunt Barbara swayed out of
her chair, and laid a trembling hand on Michael's shoulder.
"I shall go and apologise for Og," she said. "I shall do it quite
sincerely, my dear. But there are points."
Michael practised a certain mature and rather elderly precision in
the ordinary affairs of daily life. His habits were almost unduly
tidy and punctual; he answered letters by return of post, he never
mislaid things nor tore up documents which he particularly desired
should be preserved; he kept his gold in a purse and his change in
a trousers-pocket, and in matters of travelling he always arrived
at stations with plenty of time to spare, and had such creature
comforts as he desired for his journey in a neat Gladstone bag
above his head. He never travelled first-class, for the very
simple and adequate reason that, though very well off, he preferred
to spend his money in ways that were more productive of usefulness
or pleasure; and thus, when he took his place in the corner of a
second-class compartment of the Dover-Ostend express on the
Wednesday morning following, he was the only occupant of it.
Probably he had never felt so fully at liberty, nor enjoyed a
keener zest for life and the future. For the first time he had
asserted his own indisputable right to stand on his own feet, and
though he was genuinely sorry for his father's chagrin at not being
able to tuck him up in the family coach, his own sense of
independence could not but wave its banners. There had been a
second interview, no less fruitless than the first, and Lord
Ashbridge had told him that when next his presence was desired at
home, he would be informed of the fact. His mother had cried in a
mild, trickling fashion, but it was quite obvious that in her heart
of hearts she was more concerned with a bilious attack of peculiar
intensity that had assailed Petsy. She wished Michael would not be
so disobedient and vex his father, but she was quite sure that
before long some formula, in diplomatic phrase, would be found on
which reconciliation could be based; whereas it was highly
uncertain whether any formula could be found that would produce the
desired effect on Petsy, whose illness she attributed to the shock
of Og's sudden and disconcerting appearance on Saturday, when all
Petsy's nervous force was required to digest the copious cream.
Consequently, though she threw reproachful glances at Michael,
those directed at Barbara, who was the cause of the acuter tragedy,
were pointed with more penetrating blame. Indeed, it is
questionable whether Lady Ashbridge would have cried at all over
Michael's affairs had not Petsy's also been in so lamentable and
critical a state.
Just as the train began to move out of the station a young man
rushed across the platform, eluded the embrace of the guard who
attempted to stop him with amazing agility, and jumped into
Michael's compartment. He slammed the door after him, and leaned
out, apparently looking for someone, whom he soon saw.
"Just caught it, Sylvia," he shouted. "Send on my luggage, will
you? It's in the taxi still, I think, and I haven't paid the man.
He waved to her till the curving line took the platform out of
sight, and then sat down with a laugh, and eyes of friendly
interest for Michael.
"Narrow squeak, wasn't it?" he said gleefully. "I thought the
guard had collared me. And I should have missed Parsifal."
Michael had recognised him at once as he rushed across the
platform; his shouting to Sylvia had but confirmed the recognition;
and here on the day of his entering into his new kingdom of liberty
was one of its citizens almost thrown into his arms. But for the
moment his old invincible habit of shyness and sensitiveness
forbade any responsive lightness of welcome, and he was merely
formal, merely courteous.
"And all your luggage left behind," he said. "Won't you be
"Uncomfortable? Why?" asked Falbe. "I shall buy a handkerchief
and a collar every day, and a shirt and a pair of socks every other
day till it arrives."
Michael felt a sudden, daring impulse. He remembered Aunt
Barbara's salutary remarks about crossness being the equivalent of
thinking about oneself. And the effort that it cost him may be
taken as the measure of his solitary disposition.
"But you needn't do that," he said, "if--if you will be good enough
to borrow of me till your things come."
He blurted it out awkwardly, almost brusquely, and Falbe looked
slightly amused at this wholly surprising offer of hospitality.
"But that's awfully good of you," he said, laughing and saying
nothing direct about his acceptance. "It implies, too, that you
are going to Baireuth. We travel together, then, I hope, for it is
dismal work travelling alone, isn't it? My sister tells me that
half my friends were picked up in railway carriages. Been there
Michael felt himself lured from the ordinary aloofness of attitude
and demeanour, which had been somewhat accustomed to view all
strangers with suspicion. And yet, though till this moment he had
never spoken to him, he could hardly regard Falbe as a stranger,
for he had heard him say on the piano what his sister understood by
the songs of Brahms and Schubert. He could not help glancing at
Falbe's hands, as they busied themselves with the filling and
lighting of a pipe, and felt that he knew something of those long,
broad-tipped fingers, smooth and white and strong. The man himself
he found to be quite different to what he had expected; he had seen
him before, eager and intent and anxious-faced, absorbed in the
task of following another mind; now he looked much younger, much
"No, it's my first visit to Baireuth," he said, "and I can't tell
you how excited I am about it. I've been looking forward to it so
much that I almost expect to be disappointed."
Falbe blew out a cloud of smoke and laughter.
"Oh, you're safe enough," he said. "Baireuth never disappoints.
It's one of the facts--a reliable fact. And Munich? Do you go to
"Yes. I hope so."
Falbe clicked with his tongue
"Lucky fellow," he said. "How I wish I was. But I've got to get
back again after my week. You'll spend the mornings in the
galleries, and the afternoons and evenings at the opera. O Lord,
He came across from the other side of the carriage and sat next
Michael, putting his feet up on the seat opposite.
"Talk of Munich," he said. "I was born in Munich, and I happen to
know that it's the heavenly Jerusalem, neither more nor less."
"Well, the heavenly Jerusalem is practically next door to
Baireuth," said Michael.
"I know; but it can't be managed. However, there's a week of
unalloyed bliss between me now and the desolation of London in
August. What is so maddening is to think of all the people who
could go to Munich and don't."
Michael held debate within himself. He felt that he ought to tell
his new acquaintance that he knew who he was, that, however trivial
their conversation might be, it somehow resembled eavesdropping to
talk to a chance fellow-passenger as if he were a complete
stranger. But it required again a certain effort to make the
"I think I had better tell you," he said at length, "that I know
you, that I've listened to you at least, at your sister's recital a
few days ago."
Falbe turned to him with the friendliest pleasure.
"Ah! were you there?" he asked. "I hope you listened to her, then,
not to me. She sang well, didn't she?"
"But divinely. At the same time I did listen to you, especially in
the French songs. There was less song, you know."
"And more accompaniment!" he said. "Perhaps you play?"
Michael was seized with a fit of shyness at the idea of talking to
Falbe about himself.
"Oh, I just strum," he said.
Throughout the journey their acquaintanceship ripened; and
casually, in dropped remarks, the two began to learn something
about each other. Falbe's command of English, as well as his
sister's, which was so complete that it was impossible to believe
that a foreigner was speaking, was explained, for it came out that
his mother was English, and that from infancy they had spoken
German and English indiscriminately. His father, who had died some
dozen years before, had been a singer of some note in his native
land, but was distinguished more for his teaching than his
practice, and it was he who had taught his daughter. Hermann Falbe
himself had always intended to be a pianist, but the poverty in
which they were left at his father's death had obliged him to give
lessons rather than devote himself to his own career; but now at
the age of thirty he found himself within sight of the competence
that would allow him to cut down his pupils, and begin to be a
pupil again himself.
His sister, moreover, for whom he had slaved for years in order
that she might continue her own singing education unchecked, was
now more than able, especially after these last three months in
London, where she had suddenly leaped into eminence, to support
herself and contributed to the expenses of their common home. But
there was still, so Michael gathered, no great superabundance of
money, and he guessed that Falbe's inability to go to Munich was
due to the question of expense.
All this came out by inference and allusion rather than by direct
information, while Michael, naturally reticent and feeling that his
own uneventful affairs could have no interest for anybody, was less
communicative. And, indeed, while shunning the appearance of
inquisitiveness, he was far too eager to get hold of his new
acquaintance to think of volunteering much himself. Here to him
was this citizen of the new country who all his life had lived in
the palace of art, and that in no dilettante fashion, but with set
aim and serious purpose. And Falbe abounded in such topics; he
knew the singers and the musicians of the world, and, which was
much more than that, he was himself of them; humble, no doubt, in
circumstances and achievement as yet, but clearly to Michael of the
blood royal of artistry. That was the essential thing about him as
regards his relations with his fellow-traveller, though, when next
morning the spires of Cologne and the swift river of his Fatherland
came into sight, he burst out into a sort of rhapsody of patriotism
that mockingly covered a great sincerity.
"Ah! beloved land!" he cried. "Soil of heaven and of divine
harmony! Hail to thee! Hail to thee! Rhine, Rhine deep and true
and steadfast. . . ." And he waved his hat and sang the greeting
of Brunnhilde. Then he turned laughingly to Michael.
"I am sufficiently English to know how ridiculous that must seem to
you," he said, "for I love England also, and the passengers on the
boat would merely think me mad if I apostrophised the cliffs of
Dover and the mud of the English roads. But here I am a German
again, and I would willingly kiss the soil. You English--we
English, I may say, for I am as much English as German--I believe
have got the same feeling somewhere in our hearts, but we lock it
up and hide it away. Pray God I shall never have to choose to
which nation I belong, though for that matter there in no choice in
it at all, for I am certainly a German subject. Guten Tag, Koln;
let us instantly have our coffee. There is no coffee like German
coffee, though the French coffee is undeniably pleasanter to the
mere superficial palate. But it doesn't touch the heart, as
everything German touches my heart when I come back to the
He chattered on in tremendous high spirits.
"And to think that to-night we shall sleep in true German beds," he
said. "I allow that the duvet is not so convenient as blankets,
and that there is a watershed always up the middle of your bed, so
that during the night your person descends to one side while the
duvet rolls down the other; but it is German, which makes up for
any trifling inconvenience. Baireuth, too; perhaps it will strike
you as a dull and stinking little town, and so I dare say it is.
But after lunch we shall go up the hillside to where the theatre
stands, at the edge of the pine-woods, and from the porch the
trumpets will give out the motif of the Grail, and we shall pass
out of the heat into the cool darkness of the theatre. Aren't you
thrilled, Comber? Doesn't a holy awe pervade you! Are you worthy,
do you think?"
All this youthful, unrestrained enthusiasm was a revelation to
Michael. Intentionally absurd as Falbe's rhapsody on the
Fatherland had been, Michael knew that it sprang from a solid
sincerity which was not ashamed of expressing itself. Living, as
he had always done, in the rather formal and reticent atmosphere of
his class and environment, he would have thought this fervour of
patriotism in an English mouth ridiculous, or, if persevered in,
merely bad form. Yet when Falbe hailed the Rhine and the spires of
Cologne, it was clear that there was no bad form about it at all.
He felt like that; and, indeed, as Michael was beginning to
perceive, he felt with a similar intensity on all subjects about
which he felt at all. There was something of the same vivid
quality about Aunt Barbara, but Aunt Barbara's vividness was
chiefly devoted to the hunt of the absurdities of her friends, and
it was always the concretely ridiculous that she pursued. But this
handsome, vital young man, with his eagerness and his welcome for
the world, who had fallen with so delightful a cordiality into
Michael's company, had already an attraction for him of a sort he
had never felt before.
Dimly, as the days went by, he began to conjecture that he who had
never had a friend was being hailed and halloed to, was being
ordered, if not by precept, at any rate by example, to come out of
the shell of his reserve, and let himself feel and let himself
express. He could see how utterly different was Falbe's general
conception and practice of life from his own; to Michael it had
always been a congregation of strangers--Francis excepted--who
moved about, busy with each other and with affairs that had no
allure for him, and were, though not uncivil, wholly alien to him.
He was willing to grant that this alienation, this absence of
comradeship which he had missed all his life, was of his own
making, in so far as his shyness and sensitiveness were the cause
of it; but in effect he had never yet had a friend, because he had
never yet taken his shutters down, so to speak, or thrown his front
door open. He had peeped out through chinks, and felt how lonely
he was, but he had not given anyone a chance to get in.
Falbe, on the other hand, lived at his window, ready to hail the
passer-by, even as he had hailed Michael, with cheerful words.
There he lounged in his shirt-sleeves, you might say, with elbows
on the window-sill; and not from politeness, but from good
fellowship, from the fact that he liked people, was at home to
everybody. He liked people; there was the key to it. And Michael,
however much he might be capable of liking people, had up till now
given them no sign of it. It really was not their fault if they
had not guessed it.
Two days passed, on the first of which Parsifal was given, and on
the second Meistersinger. On the third there was no performance,
and the two young men had agreed to meet in the morning and drive
out of the town to a neighbouring village among the hills, and
spend the day there in the woods. Michael had looked forward to
this day with extraordinary pleasure, but there was mingled with it
a sort of agony of apprehension that Falbe would find him a very
boring companion. But the precepts of Aunt Barbara came to his
mind, and he reflected that the certain and sure way of proving a
bore was to be taken up with the idea that he might be. And
anyhow, Falbe had proposed the plan himself.
They lunched in a little restaurant near a forest-enclosed lake,
and since the day was very hot, did no more than stroll up the hill
for a hundred yards, where they would get some hint of breeze, and
disposed themselves at length on the carpet of pine-needles.
Through the thick boughs overhead the sunlight reached them only in
specks and flakes, the wind was but as a distant sea in the
branches, and Falbe rolled over on to his face, and sniffed at the
aromatic leaves with the gusto with which he enjoyed all that was
to him enjoyable.
"Ah; that's good, that's good!" he said. "How I love smells--
clean, sharp smells like this. But they've got to be wild; you
can't tame a smell and put it on your handkerchief; it takes the
life out of it. Do you like smells, Comber?"
"I--I really never thought about it," said Michael.
"Think now, then, and tell me," said Falbe. "If you consider, you
know such a lot about me, and, as a matter of fact, I know nothing
whatever about you. I know you like music--I know you like blue
trout, because you ate so many of them at lunch to-day. But what
else do I know about you ? I don't even know what you thought of
Parsifal. No, perhaps I'm wrong there, because the fact that
you've never mentioned it probably shows that you couldn't. The
symptom of not understanding anything about Parsifal is to talk
about it, and say what a tremendous impression it has made on you."
"Ah! you've guessed right there," said Michael. "I couldn't talk
about it; there's nothing to say about it, except that it is
"That's true. It becomes part of you, and you can't talk of it any
more than you can talk about your elbows and your knees. It's one
of the things that makes you. . . ."
He turned over on to his back, and laid his hands palm uppermost
over his eyes.
"That's part of the glory of it all," he said; "that art and its
emotions become part of you like the food you eat and the wine you
drink. Art is always making us; it enters into our character and
destiny. As long as you go on growing you assimilate, and thank
God one's mind or soul, or whatever you like to call it, goes on
growing for a long time. I suppose the moment comes to most people
when they cease to grow, when they become fixed and hard; and that
is what we mean by being old. But till then you weave your
destiny, or, rather, people and beauty weave it for you, as you'll
see the Norns weaving, and yet you never know what you are making.
You make what you are, and you never are because you are always
becoming. You must excuse me; but Germans are always
metaphysicians, and they can't help it."
"Go on; be German," said Michael.
"Lieber Gott! As if I could be anything else," said Falbe,
laughing. "We are the only nation which makes a science of
experimentalism; we try everything, just as a puppy tries
everything. It tries mutton bones, and match-boxes, and soap and
boots; it tries to find out what its tail is for, and bites it till
it hurts, on which it draws the conclusion that it is not meant to
eat. Like all metaphysicians, too, and dealers in the abstract, we
are intensely practical. Our passion for experimentalism is
dictated by the firm object of using the knowledge we acquire. We
are tremendously thorough; we waste nothing, not even time, whereas
the English have an absolute genius for wasting time. Look at all
your games, your sports, your athletics--I am being quite German
now, and forgetting my mother, bless her!--they are merely devices
for getting rid of the hours, and so not having to think. You hate
thought as a nation, and we live for it. Music is thought; all art
is thought; commercial prosperity is thought; soldiering is
"And we are a nation of idiots?" asked Michael.
"No; I didn't say that. I should say you are a nation of
sensualists. You value sensation above everything; you pursue the
enjoyable. You are a nation of children who are always having a
perpetual holiday. You go straying all over the world for fun, and
annex it generally, so that you can have tiger-shooting in India,
and lots of gold to pay for your tiger-shooting in Africa, and fur
from Canada for your coats. But it's all a game; not one man in a
thousand in England has any idea of Empire."
"Oh, I think you are wrong there," said Michael. "You believe that
only because we don't talk about it. It's--it's like what we
agreed about Parsifal. We don't talk about it because it is so
much part of us."
Falbe sat up.
"I deny it; I deny it flatly," he said. "I know where I get my
power of foolish, unthinking enjoyment from, and it's from my
English blood. I rejoice in my English blood, because you are the
happiest people on the face of the earth. But you are happy
because you don't think, whereas the joy of being German is that
you do think. England is lying in the shade, like us, with a
cigarette and a drink--I wish I had one--and a golf ball or the
world with which she has been playing her game. But Germany is
sitting up all night thinking, and every morning she gives an order
Michael supplied the cigarette.
"Do you mean she is thinking about England's golf ball?" asked
"Why, of course she is! What else is there to think about?"
"Oh, it's impossible that there should be a European war," said
Michael, "for that is what it will mean!"
"And why is a European war impossible?" demanded Falbe, lighting
"It's simply unthinkable!"
"Because you don't think," he interrupted. "I can tell you that
the thought of war is never absent for a single day from the
average German mind. We are all soldiers, you see. We start with
that. You start by being golfers and cricketers. But 'der Tag' is
never quite absent from the German mind. I don't say that all you
golfers and cricketers wouldn't make good soldiers, but you've got
to be made. You can't be a golfer one day and a soldier the next."
"As for that," he said, "I made an uncommonly bad soldier. But I
am an even worse golfer. As for cricket--"
Falbe again interrupted.
"Ah, then at last I know two things about you," he said. "You were
a soldier and you can't play golf. I have never known so little
about anybody after three--four days. However, what is our
proverb? 'Live and learn.' But it takes longer to learn than to
live. Eh, what nonsense I talk."
He spoke with a sudden irritation, and the laugh at the end of his
speech was not one of amusement, but rather of mockery. To Michael
this mood was quite inexplicable, but, characteristically, he
looked about in himself for the possible explanation of it.
"But what's the matter?" he asked. "Have I annoyed you somehow?
I'm awfully sorry."
Falbe did not reply for a moment.
"No, you've not annoyed me," he said. "I've annoyed myself. But
that's the worst of living on one's nerves, which is the penalty of
Baireuth. There is no charge, so to speak, except for your ticket,
but a collection is made, as happens at meetings, and you pay with
your nerves. You must cancel my annoyance, please. If I showed it
I did not mean to."
Michael pondered over this.
"But I can't leave it like that," he said at length. "Was it about
the possibility of war, which I said was unthinkable?"
Falbe laughed and turned on his elbow towards Michael.
"No, my dear chap," he said. "You may believe it to be
unthinkable, and I may believe it to be inevitable; but what does
it matter what either of us believes? Che sara sara. It was quite
another thing that caused me to annoy myself. It does not matter."
Michael lay back on the soft slope.
"Yet I insist on knowing," he said. "That is, I mean, if it is not
Falbe lay quietly with his long fingers in the sediment of pine-
"Well, then, as it is not private, and as you insist," he said, "I
will certainly tell you. Does it not strike you that you are
behaving like an absolute stranger to me? We have talked of me and
my home and my plans all the time since we met at Victoria Station,
and you have kept complete silence about yourself. I know nothing
of you, not who you are, or what you are, or what your flag is.
You fly no flag, you proclaim no identity. You may be a crossing-
sweeper, or a grocer, or a marquis for all I know. Of course, that
matters very little; but what does matter is that never for a
moment have you shown me not what you happen to be, but what you
are. I've got the impression that you are something, that there's
a real 'you' in your inside. But you don't let me see it. You
send a polite servant to the door when I knock. Probably this
sounds very weird and un-English to you. But to my mind it is much
more weird to behave as you are behaving. Come out, can't you.
Let's look at you."
It was exactly that--that brusque, unsentimental appeal--that
Michael needed. He saw himself at that moment, as Falbe saw him, a
shelled and muffled figure, intangible and withdrawn, but
observing, as it were, through eye-holes, and giving nothing in
exchange for what he saw.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's quite true what you tell me. I'm like
that. But it really has never struck me that anybody cared to
Falbe ceased digging his excavation in the pine-needles and looked
up on Michael.
"Good Lord, man!" he said; "people care if you'll only allow them
to. The indifference of other people is a false term for the
secretiveness of oneself. How can they care, unless you let them
know what there is to care for?"
"But I'm completely uninteresting," said Michael.
"Yes; I'll judge of that," said Falbe.
Slowly, and with diffident pauses, Michael began to speak of
himself, feeling at first as if he was undressing in public. But
as he went on he became conscious of the welcome that his story
received, though that welcome only expressed itself in perfectly
unemotional monosyllables. He might be undressing, but he was
undressing in front of a fire. He knew that he uncovered himself
to no icy blast or contemptuous rain, as he had felt when, so few
days before, he had spoken of himself and what he was to his
father. There was here the common land of music to build upon,
whereas to Lord Ashbridge that same soil had been, so to speak, the
territory of the enemy. And even more than that, there was the
instinct, the certain conviction that he was telling his tale to
sympathetic ears, to which the mere fact that he was speaking of
himself presupposed a friendly hearing. Falbe, he felt, wanted to
know about him, regardless of the nature of his confessions. Had
he said that he was an undetected kleptomaniac, Falbe would have
liked to know, have been pleased at any tidings, provided only they
were authentic. This seemed to reveal itself to him even as he
spoke; it had been there waiting for him to claim it, lying there
as in a poste restante, only ready for its owner.
At the end Falbe gave a long sigh.
"And why the devil didn't you give me any hint of it before?" he
"I didn't think it mattered," said Michael.
"Well, then, you are amazingly wrong. Good Lord, it's about the
most interesting thing I've ever heard. I didn't know anybody
could escape from that awful sort of prison-house in which our--I'm
English now--in which our upper class immures itself. Yet you've
done it. I take it that the thing is done now?"
"I'm not going back into the prison-house again, if you mean that,"
"And will your father cut you off?" asked he.
"Oh, I haven't the least idea," said Michael.
"Aren't you going to inquire?"
"No, I'm sure I'm not," he said. "I can't do that. It's his
business. I couldn't ask about what he had done, or meant to do.
It's a sort of pride, I suppose. He will do as he thinks proper,
and when he has thought, perhaps he will tell me what he intends."
"But, then, how will you live?" asked Falbe.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you that. I've got some money, quite a lot,
I mean, from my grandmother. In some ways I rather wish I hadn't.
It would have been a proof of sincerity to have become poor. That
wouldn't have made the smallest difference to my resolution."
"And so you are rich, and yet go second-class," he said. "If I
were rich I would make myself exceedingly comfortable. I like
things that are good to eat and soft to touch. But I'm bound to
say that I get on quite excellently without them. Being poor does
not make the smallest difference to one's happiness, but only to
the number of one's pleasures."
Michael paused a moment, and then found courage to say what for the
last two days he had been longing to give utterance to.
"I know; but pleasures are very nice things," he said. "And
doesn't it seem obvious now that you are coming to Munich with me?
It's a purely selfish suggestion on my part. After being with you
it will be very stupid to be alone there. But it would be so
delightful if you would come."
Falbe looked at him a moment without speaking, but Michael saw the
light in his eyes.
"And what if I have my pride too?" he said. "Then I shall
apologise for having made the proposal," said Michael simply.
For just a second more Falbe hesitated. Then he held out his hand.
"I thank you most awfully," he said. "I accept with the greatest
Michael drew a long breath of relief.
"I am glad," he said. "So that's settled. It's really nice of
The heat of the day was passing off, and over the sun-bleached
plain the coolness of evening was beginning to steal. Overhead the
wind stirred more resonantly in the pines, and in the bushes birds
called to each other. Presently after, they rose from where they
had lain all the afternoon and strolled along the needled slope to
where, through a vista in the trees, they looked down on the lake
and the hamlet that clustered near it. Down the road that wound
through the trees towards it passed labourers going homeward from
their work, with cheerful guttural cries to each other and a herd
of cows sauntered by with bells melodiously chiming, taking
leisurely mouthfuls from the herbage of the wayside. In the
village, lying low in the clear dusk, scattered lights began to
appear, the smoke of evening fires to ascend, and the aromatic
odour of the burning wood strayed towards them up the wind.
Falbe, whose hand lay in the crook of Michael's arm, pointed
downwards to the village that lay there sequestered and rural.
"That's Germany," he said; "it's that which lies at the back of
every German heart. There lie the springs of the Rhine. It's out
of that originally that there came all that Germany stands for, its
music, its poetry, its philosophy, its kultur. All flowed from
these quiet uplands. It was here that the nation began to think
and to dream. To dreamt! It's out of dreams that all has sprung."
"And then next week when we go to Munich, you will find me saying
that this, this Athens of a town, with its museums and its
galleries and its music, is Germany. I shall be right, too. Out
of much dreaming comes the need to make. It is when the artist's
head and heart are full of his dreams that his hands itch for the
palette or the piano. Nuremberg! Cannot we stop a few hours, at
least, in Nuremberg, and see the meadow by the Pegnitz where the
Meistersingers held their contest of song and the wooden, gabled
house where Albrecht Durer lived? That will teach you Germany,
too. The bud of their dream was opening then; and what flower,
even in the magnificence of its full-blowing, is so lovely?
Albrecht Durer, with his deep, patient eyes, and his patient hands
with their unerring stroke; or Bach, with the fugue flowing from
his brain through his quick fingers, making stars--stars fixed
forever in the heaven of harmony! Don't tell me that there is
anything in the world more wonderful! We may have invented a few
more instruments, we may have experimented with a few more
combinations of notes, but in the B minor Mass, or in the music of
the Passion, all is said. And all that came from the woods and the
country and the quiet life in little towns, when the artist did his
work because he loved it, and cared not one jot about what anybody
else thought about it. We are a nation of thinkers and dreamers."
Michael hesitated a moment.
"But you said not long ago that you were also the most practical
nation," he said. "You are a nation of soldiers, also."
"And who would not willingly give himself for such a Fatherland?"
said Falbe. "If need be, we will lay our lives down for that, and
die more willingly than we have lived. God grant that the need
comes not. But should it come we are ready. We are bound to be
ready; it would be a crime not to be ready--a crime against the
Fatherland. We love peace, but the peace-lovers are just those who
in war are most terrible. For who are the backbone of war when war
comes? The women of the country, my friend, not the ministers, not
the generals and the admirals. I don't say they make war, but when
war is made they are the spirit of it, because, more than men, they
love their homes. There is not a woman in Germany who will not
send forth brother and husband and father and child, should the day
come. But it will not come from our seeking."
He turned to Michael, his face illuminated by the red glow of the
"Germany will rise as one man if she's told to," he said, "for that
is what her unity and her discipline mean. She is patient and
peaceful, but she is obedient."
He pointed northwards.
"It is from there, from Prussia, from Berlin," he said, "that the
word will come, if they who rule and govern us, and in whose hands
are all organisation and equipment, tell us that our national
existence compels us to fight. They rule. The Prussians rule;
there is no doubt of that. From Germany have come the arts, the
sciences, the philosophies of the world, and not from there. But
they guard our national life. It is they who watch by the Rhine
for us, patient and awake. Should they beckon us one night, on
some peaceful August night like this, when all seems so tranquil,
so secure, we shall go. The silent beckoning finger will be obeyed
from one end of the land to the other, from Poland on the east to
France on the west."
He turned away quickly.
"It does not bear thinking of," he said; "and yet there are many,
oh, so many, who night and day concern themselves with nothing
else. Let us be English again, and not think of anything serious
or unpleasant. Already, as you know, I am half English; there is
something to build upon. Ah, and this is the sentimental hour,
just when the sun begins to touch the horizon line of the stale,
weary old earth and turns it into rosy gold and heals its troubles
and its weariness. Schon, Schon!"
He stood for a moment bareheaded to the breeze, and made a great
florid salutation to the sun, now only half-disk above the horizon.
"There! I have said my evensong," he remarked, "like a good
German, who always and always is ridiculous to the whole world,
except those who are German also. Oh, I can see how we look to the
rest of the world so well. Beer mug in one hand, and mouth full of
sausage and song, and with the other hand, perhaps, fingering a
revolver. How unreal it must seem to you, how affected, and yet
how, in truth, you miss it all. Scratch a Russian, they say, and
you find a Tartar; but scratch a German and you find two things--a
sentimentalist and a soldier. Lieber Gott! No, I will say, Good
God! I am English again, and if you scratch me you will find a
He took Michael's arm again.
"Well, we've spent one day together," he said, "and now we know
something of who we are. I put this day in the bank; it's mine or
yours or both of ours. I won't tell you how I've enjoyed it, or
you will say that I have enjoyed it because I have talked almost
all the time. But since it's the sentimental hour I will tell you
that you mistake. I have enjoyed it because I believe I have found
Hermann Falbe had just gone back to his lodgings at the end of the
Richard Wagner Strasse late on the night of their last day at
Baireuth, and Michael, who had leaned out of his window to remind
him of the hour of their train's departure the next morning, turned
back into the room to begin his packing. That was not an affair
that would take much time, but since, on this sweltering August
night, it would certainly be a process that involved the production
of much heat, he made ready for bed first, and went about his
preparations in pyjamas. The work of dropping things into a bag
was soon over, and finding it impossible to entertain the idea of
sleep, he drew one of the stiff, plush-covered arm-chairs to the
window and slipped the rein from his thoughts, letting them gallop
where they pleased.
In all his life he had never experienced so much sheer emotion as
the last week had held for him. He had enjoyed his first taste of
liberty; he had stripped himself naked to music; he had found a
friend. Any one of these would have been sufficient to saturate
him, and they had all, in the decrees of Fate, come together. His
life hitherto had been like some dry sponge, dusty and crackling;
now it was plunged in the waters of three seas, all incomparably
He had gained his liberty, and in that process he had forgotten
about himself, the self which up till now had been so intolerable a
burden. At school, and even before, when first the age of self-
consciousness dawned upon him, he had seen himself as he believed
others saw him--a queer, awkward, ill-made boy, slow at his work,
shy with his fellows, incapable at games. Walled up in this
fortress of himself, this gloomy and forbidding fastness, he had
altogether failed to find the means of access to others, both to
the normal English boys among whom his path lay, and also to his
teachers, who, not unnaturally, found him sullen and unresponsive.
There was no key among the rather limited bunches at their command
which unlocked him, nor at home had anything been found which could
fit his wards. It had been the business of school to turn out boys
of certain received types. There was the clever boy, the athletic
boy, the merely pleasant boy; these and the combinations arrived at
from these types were the output. There was no use for others.
Then had succeeded those three nightmare years in the Guards,
where, with his more mature power of observation, he had become
more actively conscious of his inability to take his place on any
of the recognised platforms. And all the time, like an owl on his
solitary perch, he had gazed out lonelily, while the other birds of
day, too polite to mock him, had merely passed him by. One such,
it is true--his cousin--had sat by him, and the poor owl's heart
had gone out to him. But even Francis, so he saw now, had not
understood. He had but accepted the fact of him without
repugnance, had been fond of him as a queer sort of kind elder
Then there was Aunt Barbara. Aunt Barbara, Michael allowed, had
understood a good deal; she had pointed out with her unerringly
humourous finger the obstacles he had made for himself.
But could Aunt Barbara understand the rapture of living which this
one week of liberty had given him? That Michael doubted. She had
only pointed out the disabilities he made for himself. She did not
know what he was capable of in the way of happiness. But he
thought, though without self-consciousness, how delightful it would
be to show himself, the new, unshelled self, to Aunt Barbara again.
A laughing couple went tapping down the street below his window,
boy and girl, with arms and waists interlaced. They were laughing
at nothing at all, except that they were boy and girl together and
it was all glorious fun. But the sight of them gave Michael a
sudden spasm of envy. With all this enlightenment that had come to
him during this last week, there had come no gleam of what that
simplest and commonest aspect of human nature meant. He had never
felt towards a girl what that round-faced German boy felt. He was
not sure, but he thought he disliked girls; they meant nothing to
him, anyhow, and the mere thought of his arm round a girl's waist
only suggested a very embarrassing attitude. He had nothing to say
to them, and the knowledge of his inability filled him with an
uncomfortable sense of his want of normality, just as did the
consciousness of his long arms and stumpy legs.
There was a night he remembered when Francis had insisted that he
should go with him to a discreet little supper party after an
evening at the music-hall. There were just four of them--he,
Francis, and two companions--and he played the role of sour
gooseberry to his cousin, who, with the utmost gaiety, had proved
himself completely equal to the inauspicious occasion, and had
drank indiscriminately out of both the girls' glasses, and lit
cigarettes for them; and, after seeing them both home, had looked
in on Michael, and gone into fits of laughter at his general
The steps and conversation passed round the corner, and Michael,
stretching his bare toes on to the cool balcony, resumed his
researches--those joyful, unegoistic researches into himself. His
liberty was bound up with his music; the first gave the key to the
second. Often as he had rested, so to speak, in oases of music in
London, they were but a pause from the desert of his uncongenial
life into the desert again. But now the desert was vanished, and
the oasis stretched illimitable to the horizon in front of him.
That was where, for the future, his life was to be passed, not
idly, sitting under trees, but in the eager pursuit of its
unnumbered paths. It was that aspect of it which, as he knew so
well, his father, for instance, would never be able to understand.
To Lord Ashbridge's mind, music was vaguely connected with white
waistcoats and opera glasses and large pink carnations; he was
congenitally incapable of viewing it in any other light than a
diversion, something that took place between nine and eleven
o'clock in the evening, and in smaller quantities at church on
Sunday morning. He would undoubtedly have said that Handel's
Messiah was the noblest example of music in the world, because of
its subject; music did not exist for him as a separate, definite
and infinite factor of life; and since it did not so exist for
himself, he could not imagine it existing for anybody else. That
Michael correctly knew to be his father's general demeanour towards
life; he wanted everybody in their respective spheres to be like
what he was in his. They must take their part, as he undoubtedly
did, in the Creation-scheme when the British aristocracy came into
A fresh factor had come into Michael's conception of music during
these last seven days. He had become aware that Germany was music.
He had naturally known before that the vast proportion of music
came from Germany, that almost all of that which meant "music" to
him was of German origin; but that was a very different affair from
the conviction now borne in on his mind that there was not only no
music apart from Germany, but that there was no Germany apart from
But every moment he spent in this wayside puddle of a town (for so
Baireuth seemed to an unbiased view), he became more and more aware
that music beat in the German blood even as sport beat in the blood
of his own people. During this festival week Baireuth existed only
because of that; at other times Baireuth was probably as non-
existent as any dull and minor town in the English Midlands. But,
owing to the fact of music being for these weeks resident in
Baireuth, the sordid little townlet became the capital of the huge,
patient Empire. It existed just now simply for that reason; to-
night, with the curtain of the last act of Parsifal, it had ceased
to exist again. It was not that a patriotic desire to honour one
of the national heroes in the home where he had been established by
the mad genius of a Bavarian king that moved them; it was because
for the moment that Baireuth to Germans meant Germany. From
Berlin, from Dresden, from Frankfurt, from Luxemburg, from a
hundred towns those who were most typically German, whether high or
low, rich or poor, made their joyous pilgrimage. Joy and
solemnity, exultation and the yearning that could never be
satisfied drew them here. And even as music was in Michael's
heart, so Germany was there also. They were the people who
understood; they did not go to the opera as a be-diamonded
interlude between a dinner and a dance; they came to this dreadful
little town, the discomforts of which, the utter provinciality of
which was transformed into the air of the heavenly Jerusalem, as
Hermann Falbe had said, because their souls were fed here with wine
and manna. He would find the same thing at Munich, so Falbe had
told him, the next week.
The loves and the tragedies of the great titanic forces that saw
the making of the world; the dreams and the deeds of the masters of
Nuremberg; above all, sacrifice and enlightenment and redemption of
the soul; how, except by music, could these be made manifest? It
was the first and only and final alchemy that could by its magic
transformation give an answer to the tremendous riddles of
consciousness; that could lift you, though tearing and making
mincemeat of you, to the serenity of the Pisgah-top, whence was
seen the promised land. It, in itself, was reality; and the door-
keeper who admitted you into that enchanted realm was the spirit of
Germany. Not France, with its little, morbid shiverings, and its
meat-market called love; not Italy, with its melodious declamations
and tawdry tunes; not Russia even, with the wind of its
impenetrable winters, its sense of joys snatched from its eternal
frosts gave admittance there; but Germany, "deep, patient Germany,"
that sprang from upland hamlets, and flowed down with ever-
broadening stream into the illimitable ocean.
Here, then, were two of the initiations that had come, with the
swiftness of the spate in Alpine valleys at the melting of the
snow, upon Michael; his own liberty, namely, and this new sense of
music. He had groped, he felt now, like a blind man in that
direction, guided only by his instinct, and on a sudden the scales
had fallen from his eyes, and he knew that his instinct had guided
him right. But not less epoch-making had been the dawn of
friendship. Throughout the week his intimacy with Hermann Falbe
had developed, shooting up like an aloe flower, and rising into
sunlight above the mists of his own self-occupied shyness, which
had so darkly beset him all life long. He had given the best that
he knew of himself to his cousin, but all the time there had never
quite been absent from his mind his sense of inferiority, a sort of
aching wonder why he could not be more like Francis, more careless,
more capable of enjoyment, more of a normal type. But with Falbe
he was able for the first time to forget himself altogether; he had
met a man who did not recall him to himself, but took him clean out
of that tedious dwelling which he knew so well and, indeed,
disliked so much. He was rid for the first time of his morbid
self-consciousness; his anchor had been taken up from its dragging
in the sand, and he rode free, buoyed on waters and taken by tides.
It did not occur to him to wonder whether Falbe thought him uncouth
and awkward; it did not occur to him to try to be pleasant, a job
over which poor Michael had so often found himself dishearteningly
incapable; he let himself be himself in the consciousness that this
They had spent the morning together before this second performance
of Parsifal that closed their series, in the woods above the
theatre, and Michael, no longer blurting out his speeches, but
speaking in the quiet, orderly manner in which he thought,
discussed his plans.
"I shall come back to London with you after Munich," he said, "and
settle down to study. I do know a certain amount about harmony
already; I have been mugging it up for the last three years. But I
must do something as well as learn something, and, as I told you,
I'm going to take up the piano seriously."
Falbe was not attending particularly.
"A fine instrument, the piano," he remarked. "There is certainly
something to be done with a piano, if you know how to do it. I can
strum a bit myself. Some keys are harder than others--the black
"Yes; what of the black notes?" asked Michael.
"Oh! they're black. The rest are white. I beg your pardon!"
"When you have finished drivelling," he said, "you might let me
"I have finished drivelling, Michael. I was thinking about
"Then it was impolite of you, but you haven't any manners. I was
talking about my career. I want to do something, and these large
hands are really rather nimble. But I must be taught. The
question is whether you will teach me."
"I can't tell you," he said, "till I have heard you play. It's
like this: I can't teach you to play unless you know how, and I
can't tell if you know how until I have heard you. If you have got
that particular sort of temperament that can put itself into the
notes out of the ends of your fingers, I can teach you, and I will.
But if you haven't, I shall feel bound to advise you to try the
Jew's harp, and see if you can get it out of your teeth. I'm not
mocking you; I fancy you know that. But some people, however
keenly and rightly they feel, cannot bring their feelings out
through their fingers. Others can; it is a special gift. If you
haven't got it, I can't teach you anything, and there is no use in
wasting your time and mine. You can teach yourself to be
frightfully nimble with your fingers, and all the people who don't
know will say: 'How divinely Lord Comber plays! That sweet thing;
is it Brahms or Mendelssohn?' But I can't really help you towards
that; you can do that for yourself. But if you've got the other, I
can and will teach you all that you really know already."
"Go on!" said Michael.
"That's just the devil with the piano," said Falbe. "It's the
easiest instrument of all to make a show on, and it is the rarest
sort of person who can play on it. That's why, all those years, I
have hated giving lessons. If one has to, as I have had to, one
must take any awful miss with a pigtail, and make a sham pianist of
her. One can always do that. But it would be waste of time for
you and me; you wouldn't want to be made a sham pianist, and simply
I wouldn't make you one."
Michael turned round.
"Good Lord!" he said, "the suspense is worse than I can bear.
Isn't there a piano in your room? Can't we go down there, and have
"Yes, if you wish. I can tell at once if you are capable of
playing--at least, whether I think you are capable of playing--
whether I can teach you."
"But I haven't touched a piano for a week," said Michael.
"It doesn't matter whether you've touched a piano for a year."
Michael had not been prevented by the economy that made him travel
second-class from engaging a carriage by the day at Baireuth, since
that clearly was worth while, and they found it waiting for them by
the theatre. There was still time to drive to Falbe's lodging and
get through this crucial ordeal before the opera, and they went
straight there. A very venerable instrument, which Falbe had not
yet opened, stood against the wall, and he struck a few notes on
"Completely out of tune," he said; "but that doesn't matter. Now
"But what am I to play?" asked Michael.
"Anything you like."
He sat down at the far end of the room, put his long legs up on to
another chair and waited. Michael sent a despairing glance at that
gay face, suddenly grown grim, and took his seat. He felt a
paralysing conviction that Falbe's judgment, whatever that might
turn out to be, would be right, and the knowledge turned his
fingers stiff. From the few notes that Falbe had struck he guessed
on what sort of instrument his ordeal was to take place, and yet he
knew that Falbe himself would have been able to convey to him the
sense that he could play, though the piano was all out of tune, and
there might be dumb, disconcerting notes in it. There was justice
in Falbe's dictum about the temperament that lay behind the player,
which would assert itself through any faultiness of instrument, and
through, so he suspected, any faultiness of execution.
He struck a chord, and heard it jangle dissonantly.
"Oh, it's not fair," he said.
"Get on!" said Falbe.
In spite of Germany there occurred to Michael a Chopin prelude, at
which he had worked a little during the last two months in London.
The notes he knew perfectly; he had believed also that he had found
a certain conception of it as a whole, so that he could make
something coherent out of it, not merely adding bar to correct bar.
And he began the soft repetition of chord-quavers with which it
Then after stumbling wretchedly through two lines of it, he
suddenly forgot himself and Falbe, and the squealing unresponsive
notes. He heard them no more, absorbed in the knowledge of what he
meant by them, of the mood which they produced in him. His great,
ungainly hands had all the gentleness and self-control that
strength gives, and the finger-filling chords were as light and as
fine as the settling of some poised bird on a bough. In the last
few lines of the prelude a deep bass note had to be struck at the
beginning of each bar; this Michael found was completely dumb, but
so clear and vivid was the effect of it in his mind that he
scarcely noticed that it returned no answer to his finger. . . .
At the end he sat without moving, his hands dropped on to his
Falbe got up and, coming over to the piano, struck the bass note
"Yes, I knew it was dumb," he said, "but you made me think it
wasn't. . . . You got quite a good tone out of it."
He paused a moment, again striking the dumb note, as if to make
sure that it was soundless.
"Yes; I'll teach you," he said. "All the technique you have got,
you know, is wrong from beginning to end, and you mustn't mind
unlearning all that. But you've got the thing that matters."
All this stewed and seethed in Michael's mind as he sat that night
by the window looking out on to the silent and empty street. His
thoughts flowed without check or guide from his will, wandering
wherever their course happened to take them, now lingering, like
the water of a river in some deep, still pool, when he thought of
the friendship that had come into his life, now excitedly plunging
down the foam of swift-flowing rapids in the exhilaration of his
newly-found liberty, now proceeding with steady current at the
thought of the weeks of unremitting industry at a beloved task that
lay in front of him. He could form no definite image out of these
which should represent his ordinary day; it was all lost in a
bright haze through which its shape was but faintly discernible;
but life lay in front of him with promise, a thing to be embraced
and greeted with welcome and eager hands, instead of being a mere
marsh through which he had to plod with labouring steps, a business
to be gone about without joy and without conviction in its being
He wondered for a moment, as he rose to go to bed, what his
feelings would have been if, at the end of his performance on the
sore-throated and voiceless piano, Falbe had said: "I'm sorry, but
I can't do anything with you." As he knew, Falbe intended for the
future only to take a few pupils, and chiefly devote himself to his
own practice with a view to emerging as a concert-giver the next
winter; and as Michael had sat down, he remembered telling himself
that there was really not the slightest chance of his friend
accepting him as a pupil. He did not intend that this rejection
should make the smallest difference to his aim, but he knew that he
would start his work under the tremendous handicap of Falbe not
believing that he had it in him to play, and under the
disappointment of not enjoying the added intimacy which work with
and for Falbe would give him. Then he had engaged in this tussle
with refractory notes till he quite lost himself in what he was
playing, and thought no more either of Falbe or the piano, but only
of what the melody meant to him. But at the end, when he came to
himself again, and sat with dropped hands waiting for Falbe's
verdict, he remembered how his heart seemed to hang poised until it
came. He had rehearsed again to himself his fixed determination
that he would play and could play, whatever his friend might think
about it; but there was no doubt that he waited with a greater
suspense than he had ever known in his life before for that verdict
to be made known to him.
Next day came their journey to Munich, and the installation in the
best hotel in Europe. Here Michael was host, and the economy which
he practised when he had only himself to provide for, and which
made him go second-class when travelling, was, as usual, completely
abandoned now that the pleasure of hospitality was his. He engaged
at once the best double suite of rooms that the hotel contained,
two bedrooms with bathrooms, and an admirable sitting-room, looking
spaciously out on to the square, and with brusque decision silenced
Falbe's attempted remonstrance. "Don't interfere with my show,
please," he had said, and proceeded to inquire about a piano to be
sent in for the week. Then he turned to his friend again. "Oh, we
are going to enjoy ourselves," he said, with an irresistible
Tristan und Isolde was given on the third day of their stay there,
and Falbe, reading the morning German paper, found news.
"The Kaiser has arrived," he said. "There's a truce in the army
manoeuvres for a couple of days, and he has come to be present at
Tristan this evening. He's travelled three hundred miles to get
here, and will go back to-morrow. The Reise-Kaiser, you know."
Michael looked up with some slight anxiety.
"Ought I to write my name or anything?" he asked. "He has stayed
several times with my father."
"Has he? But I don't suppose it matters. The visit is a widely-
advertised incognito. That's his way. God be with the All-
highest," he added.
"Well, I shan't" said Michael. "But it would shock my father
dreadfully if he knew. The Kaiser looks on him as the type and
model of the English nobleman."
Michael crunched one of the inimitable breakfast rusks in his
"Lord, what a day we had when he was at Ashbridge last year," he
said. "We began at eight with a review of the Suffolk Yeomanry;
then we had a pheasant shoot from eleven till three; then the
Emperor had out a steam launch and careered up and down the river
till six, asking a thousand questions about the tides and the
currents and the navigable channels. Then he lectured us on the
family portraits till dinner; after dinner there was a concert, at
which he conducted the 'Song to Aegir,' and then there was a torch-
light fandango by the tenants on the lawn. He was on his holiday,
you must remember."
"I heard the 'Song to Aegir' once," remarked Falbe, with a
perfectly level intonation.
"I was--er--luckier," said Michael politely, "because on that
occasion I heard it twice. It was encored."
"And what did it sound like the second time?" asked Falbe.
"Much as before," said Michael.
The advent of the Emperor had put the whole town in a ferment.
Though the visit was quite incognito, an enormous military staff
which had been poured into the town might have led the thoughtful
to suspect the Kaiser's presence, even if it had not been announced
in the largest type in the papers, and marchings and counter-
marchings of troops and sudden bursts of national airs proclaimed
the august presence. He held an informal review of certain
Bavarian troops not out for manoeuvres in the morning, visited the
sculpture gallery and pinacothek in the afternoon, and when Hermann
and Michael went up to the theatre they found rows of soldiers
drawn up, and inside unusual decorations over a section of stalls
which had been removed and was converted into an enormous box.
This was in the centre of the first tier, nearly at right angles to
where they sat, in the front row of the same tier; and when, with
military punctuality, the procession of uniforms, headed by the
Emperor, filed in, the whole of the crowded house stood up and
broke into a roar of recognition and loyalty.
For a minute, or perhaps more, the Emperor stood facing the house
with his hand raised in salute, a figure the uprightness of which
made him look tall. His brilliant uniform was ablaze with
decorations; he seemed every inch a soldier and a leader of men.
For that minute he stood looking neither to the right nor left,
stern and almost frowning, with no shadow of a smile playing on the
tightly-drawn lips, above which his moustache was brushed upwards
in two stiff protuberances towards his eyes. He was there just
then not to see, but to be seen, his incognito was momentarily in
abeyance, and he stood forth the supreme head of his people, the
All-highest War Lord, who had come that day from the field, to
which he would return across half Germany tomorrow. It was an
impressive and dignified moment, and Michael heard Falbe say to
himself: "Kaiserlich! Kaiserlich!"
Then it was over. The Emperor sat down, beckoned to two of his
officers, who had stood in a group far at the back of the box, to
join him, and with one on each side he looked about the house and
chatted to them. He had taken out his opera-glass, which he
adjusted, using his right hand only, and looked this way and that,
as if, incognito again, he was looking for friends in the house.
Once Michael thought that he looked rather long and fixedly in his
direction, and then, putting down his glass, he said something to
one of the officers, this time clearly pointing towards Michael.
Then he gave some signal, just raising his hand towards the
orchestra, and immediately the lights were put down, the whole
house plunged in darkness, except where the lamps in the sunk
orchestra faintly illuminated the base of the curtain, and the
first longing, unsatisfied notes of the prelude began.
The next hour passed for Michael in one unbroken mood of
absorption. The supreme moment of knowing the music intimately and
of never having seen the opera before was his, and all that he had
dreamed of or imagined as to the possibilities of music was flooded
and drowned in the thing itself. You could not say that it was
more gigantic than The Ring, more human than the Meistersingers,
more emotional than Parsifal, but it was utterly and wholly
different to anything else he had ever seen or conjectured. Falbe,
he himself, the thronged and silent theatre, the Emperor, Munich,
Germany, were all blotted out of his consciousness. He just
watched, as if discarnate, the unrolling of the decrees of Fate
which were to bring so simple and overpowering a tragedy on the two
who drained the love-potion together. And at the end he fell back
in his seat, feeling thrilled and tired, exhilarated and exhausted.
"Oh, Hermann," he said, "what years I've wasted!"
"You've wasted more than you know yet," he said. "Hallo!"
A very resplendent officer had come clanking down the gangway next
them. He put his heels together and bowed.
"Lord Comber, I think?" he said in excellent English.
Michael roused himself.
"Yes?" he said.
"His Imperial Majesty has done me the honour to desire you to come
and speak to him," he said.
"Now?" said Michael.
"If you will be so good," and he stood aside for Michael to pass up
the stairs in front of him.
In the wide corridor behind he joined him again.
"Allow me to introduce myself as Count von Bergmann," he said, "and
one of His Majesty's aides-de-camp. The Kaiser always speaks with
great pleasure of the visits he has paid to your father, and he saw
you immediately he came into the theatre. If you will permit me, I
would advise you to bow, but not very low, respecting His Majesty's
incognito, to seat yourself as soon as he desires it, and to remain
till he gives you some speech of dismissal. Forgive me for going
in front of you here. I have to introduce you to His Majesty's
Michael followed him down the steps to the front of the box.
"Lord Comber, All-highest," he said, and instantly stood back.
The Emperor rose and held out his hand, and Michael, bowing over it
as he took it, felt himself seized in the famous grip of steel, of
which its owner as well as its recipient was so conscious.
"I am much pleased to see you, Lord Comber," said he. "I could not
resist the pleasure of a little chat with you about our beloved
England. And your excellent father, how is he?"
He indicated a chair to Michael, who, as advised, instantly took
it, though the Emperor remained a moment longer standing.
"I left him in very good health, Your Majesty," said Michael.
"Ah! I am glad to hear it. I desire you to convey to him my
friendliest greetings, and to your mother also. I well remember my
last visit to his house above the tidal estuary at Ashbridge, and I
hope it may not be very long before I have the opportunity to be in
He spoke in a voice that seemed rather hoarse and tired, but his
manner expressed the most courteous cordiality. His face, which
had been as still as a statue's when he showed himself to the
house, was now never in repose for a moment. He kept turning his
head, which he carried very upright, this way and that as he spoke;
now he would catch sight of someone in the audience to whom he
directed his glance, now he would peer over the edge of the low
balustrade, now look at the group of officers who stood apart at
the back of the box.
His whole demeanour suggested a nervous, highly-strung condition;
the restlessness of it was that of a man overstrained, who had lost
the capability of being tranquil. Now he frowned, now he smiled,
but never for a moment was he quiet. Then he launched a perfect
hailstorm of questions at Michael, to the answers to which (there
was scarcely time for more than a monosyllable in reply) he
listened with an eager and a suspicious attention. They were
concerned at first with all sorts of subjects: inquired if Michael
had been at Baireuth, what he was going to do after the Munich
festival was over, if he had English friends here. He inquired
Falbe's name, looked at him for a moment through his glasses, and
desired to know more about him. Then, learning he was a teacher of
the piano in England, and had a sister who sang, he expressed great
"I like to see my subjects, when there is no need for their
services at home," he said, "learning about other lands, and
bringing also to other lands the culture of the Fatherland, even as
it always gives me pleasure to see the English here, strengthening
by the study of the arts the bonds that bind our two great nations
together. You English must learn to understand us and our great
mission, just as we must learn to understand you."
Then the questions became more specialised, and concerned the state
of things in England. He laughed over the disturbances created by
the Suffragettes, was eager to hear what politicians thought about
the state of things in Ireland, made specific inquiries about the
Territorial Force, asked about the Navy, the state of the drama in
London, the coal strike which was threatened in Yorkshire. Then
suddenly he put a series of personal questions.
"And you, you are in the Guards, I think?" he said.
"No, sir; I have just resigned my commission," said Michael.
"Why? Why is that? Have many of your officers been resigning?"
"I am studying music, Your Majesty," said Michael.
"I am glad to see you came to Germany to do it. Berlin? You ought
to spend a couple of months in Berlin. Perhaps you are thinking of
He turned round quickly to one of his staff who had approached him.
"Well, what is it?" he said.
Count von Bergmann bowed low.
"The Herr-Director," he said, "humbly craves to know whether it is
Your Majesty's pleasure that the opera shall proceed."
The Kaiser laughed.
"There, Lord Comber," he said, "you see how I am ordered about.
They wish to cut short my conversation with you. Yes, Bergmann, we
will go on. You will remain with me, Lord Comber, for this act."
Immediately after the lights were lowered again, the curtain rose,
and a most distracting hour began for Michael. His neighbour was
never still for a single moment. Now he would shift in his chair,
now with his hand he would beat time on the red velvet balustrade
in front of him, and a stream of whispered appreciation and
criticism flowed from him.
"They are taking the opening scene a little too slow," he said. "I
shall call the director's attention to that. But that crescendo is
well done; yes, that is most effective. The shawl--observe the
beautiful lines into which the shawl falls as she waves it. That
is wonderful--a very impressive entry. Ah, but they should not
cross the stage yet; it is more effective if they remain longer
there. Brangane sings finely; she warns them that the doom is
He gave a little giggle, which reminded Michael of his father.
"Brangane is playing gooseberry, as you say in England," he said.
"A big gooseberry, is she not? Ah, bravo! bravo! Wunderschon!
Yes, enter King Mark from his hunting. Very fine. Say I was
particularly pleased with the entry of King Mark, Bergmann. A
wonderful act! Wagner never touched greater heights."
At the end the Emperor rose and again held out his hand.
"I am pleased to have seen you, Lord Comber," he said. "Do not
forget my message to your father; and take my advice and come to
Berlin in the winter. We are always pleased to see the English in
As Michael left the box he ran into the Herr-Director, who had been
summoned to get a few hints.
He went back to join Falbe in a state of republican irritation,
which the honour that had been done him did not at all assuage.
There was an hour's interval before the third act, and the two
drove back to their hotel to dine there. But Michael found his
friend wholly unsympathetic with his chagrin. To him, it was quite
clear, the disappointment of not having been able to attend very
closely to the second act of Tristan was negligible compared to the
cause that had occasioned it. It was possible for the ordinary
mortal to see Tristan over and over again, but to converse with the
Kaiser was a thing outside the range of the average man. And again
in this interval, as during the act itself, Michael was bombarded
with questions. What did the Kaiser say? Did he remember
Ashbridge? Did Michael twice receive the iron grip? Did the All-
highest say anything about the manoeuvres? Did he look tired, or
was it only the light above his head that made him appear so
haggard? Even his opinion about the opera was of interest. Did he
This was too much for Michael.
"My dear Hermann," he said, "we alluded very cautiously to the
'Song to Aegir' this morning, and delicately remarked that you had
heard it once and I twice. How can you care what his opinion of
this opera is?"
Falbe shook his handsome head, and gesticulated with his fine
"You don't understand," he said. "You have just been talking to
him himself. I long to hear his every word and intonation. There
is the personality, which to us means so much, in which is summed
up all Germany. It is as if I had spoken to Rule Britannia
herself. Would you not be interested? There is no one in the
world who is to his country what the Kaiser is to us. When you
told me he had stayed at Ashbridge I was thrilled, but I was
ashamed lest you should think me snobbish, which indeed I am not.
But now I am past being ashamed."
He poured out a glass of wine and drank it with a "Hoch!"
"In his hand lies peace and war," he said. "It is as he pleases.
The Emperor and his Chancellor can make Germany do exactly what
they choose, and if the Chancellor does not agree with the Emperor,
the Emperor can appoint one who does. That is what it comes to;
that is why he is as vast as Germany itself. The Reichstag but
advises where he is concerned. Have you no imagination, Michael?
Europe lies in the hand that shook yours."
"I suppose I must have no imagination," he said. "I don't picture
it even now when you point it out."
Falbe pointed an impressive forefinger.
"But for him," he said, "England and Germany would have been at
each other's throats over the business at Agadir. He held the
warhounds in leash--he, their master, who made them."
"Oh, he made them, anyhow," said Michael.
"Naturally. It is his business to be ready for any attack on the
part of those who are jealous at our power. The whole Fatherland
is a sword in his hand, which he sheathes. It would long ago have
leaped from the scabbard but for him."
"Against whom?" asked Michael. "Who is the enemy?"
"There is no enemy at present," he said, "but the enemy potentially
is any who tries to thwart our peaceful expansion."
Suddenly the whole subject tasted bitter to Michael. He recalled,
instinctively, the Emperor's great curiosity to be informed on
English topics by the ordinary Englishman with whom he had
"Oh, let's drop it," he said. "I really didn't come to Munich to
talk politics, of which I know nothing whatever."
"That is what I have said to you before," he remarked. "You are
the most happy-go-lucky of the nations. Did he speak of England?"
"Yes, of his beloved England," said Michael. "He was extremely
cordial about our relations."
"Good. I like that," said Falbe briskly.
"And he recommended me to spend two months in Berlin in the
winter," added Michael, sliding off on to other topics.
"I like that less," he said, "since that will mean you will not be
"But I didn't commit myself," said Michael, smiling back; "though I
can say 'beloved Germany' with equal sincerity."
Falbe got up.
"I would wish that--that you were Kaiser of England," he said.
"God forbid!" said Michael. "I should not have time to play the
During the next day or two Michael often found himself chipping at
the bed-rock, so to speak, of this conversation, and Falbe's
revealed attitude towards his country and, in particular, towards
its supreme head. It seemed to him a wonderful and an enviable
thing that anyone could be so thoroughly English as Falbe certainly
was in his ordinary, everyday life, and that yet, at the back of
this there should lie so profound a patriotism towards another
country, and so profound a reverence to its ruler. In his general
outlook on life, his friend appeared to be entirely of one blood
with himself, yet now on two or three occasions a chance spark had
lit up this Teutonic beacon. To Michael this mixture of
nationalities seemed to be a wonderful gift; it implied a widening
of one's sympathies and outlook, a larger comprehension of life
than was possible to any of undiluted blood.
For himself, like most young Englishmen of his day, he was not
conscious of any tremendous sense of patriotism like this.
Somewhere, deep down in him, he supposed there might be a source, a
well of English waters, which some explosion in his nature might
cause to flood him entirely, but such an idea was purely
hypothetical; he did not, in fact, look forward to such a
bouleversement as being a possible contingency. But with Falbe it
was different; quite a small cause, like the sight of the Rhine at
Cologne, or a Bavarian village at sunset, or the fact of a friend
having talked with the Emperor, was sufficient to make his innate
patriotism find outlet in impassioned speech. He wondered vaguely
whether Falbe's explanation of this--namely, that nationally the
English were prosperous, comfortable and insouciant--was perhaps
sound. It seemed that the notion was not wholly foundationless.
Michael had been practising all the morning of a dark November day,
had eaten a couple of sandwiches standing in front of his fire, and
observed with some secret satisfaction that the fog which had
lifted for an hour had come down on the town again in earnest, and
that it was only reasonable to dismiss the possibility of going
out, and spend the afternoon as he had spent the morning. But he
permitted himself a few minutes' relaxation as he smoked his
cigarette, and sat down by the window, looking out, in Lucretian
mood, on to the very dispiriting conditions that prevailed in the
Though it was still only between one and two in the afternoon, the
densest gloom prevailed, so that it was impossible to see the
outlines even of the houses across the street, and the only
evidence that he was not in some desert spot lay in the fact of a
few twinkling lights, looking incredibly remote, from the windows
opposite and the gas-lamps below. Traffic seemed to be at a
standstill; the accustomed roar from Piccadilly was dumb, and he
looked out on to a silent and vapour-swathed world. This isolation
from all his fellows and from the chances of being disturbed, it
may be added, gave him a sense of extreme satisfaction. He wanted
his piano, but no intrusive presence. He liked the sensation of
being shut up in his own industrious citadel, secure from
During the last two months and a half since his return from Munich
he had experienced greater happiness, had burned with a stronger
zest for life than during the whole of his previous existence. Not
only had he been working at that which he believed he was fitted
for, and which gave him the stimulus which, one way or another, is
essential to all good work, but he had been thrown among people who
were similarly employed, with whom he had this great common ground
of kinship in ambition and aim. No more were the days too long
from being but half-filled with work with which he had no sympathy,
and diversions that gave him no pleasure; none held sufficient
hours for all that he wanted to put into it. And in this busy
atmosphere, where his own studies took so much of his time and
energy, and where everybody else was in some way similarly
employed, that dismal self-consciousness which so drearily looked
on himself shuffling along through fruitless, uncongenial days was
cracking off him as the chestnut husk cracks when the kernel within
swells and ripens.
Apart from his work, the centre of his life was certainly the
household of the Falbes, where the brother and sister lived with
their mother. She turned out to be in a rather remote manner "one
of us," and had about her, very faint and dim, like an antique
lavender bag, the odour of Ashbridge. She lived like the lilies of
the field, without toiling or spinning, either literally or with
the more figurative work of the mind; indeed, she can scarcely be
said to have had any mind at all, for, as with drugs, she had
sapped it away by a practically unremitting perusal of all the
fiction that makes the average reader wonder why it was written.
In fact, she supplied the answer to that perplexing question, since
it was clearly written for her. She was not in the least excited
by these tales, any more than the human race are excited by the
oxygen in the air, but she could not live without them. She
subscribed to three lending libraries, which, by this time had
probably learned her tastes, for if she ever by ill-chance embarked
on a volume which ever so faintly adumbrated the realities of life,
she instantly returned it, as she found it painful; and, naturally,
she did not wish to be pained. This did not, however, prevent her
reading those that dealt with amiable young men who fell in love
with amiable young women, and were for the moment sundered by red-
haired adventuresses or black-haired moneylenders, for those she
found not painful but powerful, and could often remember where she
had got to in them, which otherwise was not usually the case. She
wore a good deal of lace, spoke in a tired voice, and must
certainly have been of the type called "sweetly pretty" some
quarter of a century ago. She drank hot water with her meals, and
continually reminded Michael of his own mother.
Sylvia and Hermann certainly did all that could be done for her; in
other words, they invariably saw that her water was hot, and her
stock of novels replenished. But when that was accomplished, there
really appeared to be little more that could be done for her. Her
presence in a room counted for about as much as a rather powerful
shadow on the wall, unexplained by any solid object which could
have made it appear there. But most of the day she spent in her
own room, which was furnished exactly in accordance with her
twilight existence. There was a writing-table there, which she
never used, several low arm-chairs (one of which she was always
using), by each of which was a small table, on to which she could
put the book that she was at the moment engaged on. Lace hangings,
of the sort that prevent anybody either seeing in or out, obscured
the windows; and for decoration there were china figures on the
chimney-piece, plush-rimmed plates on the walls, and a couple of
easels, draped with chiffon, on which stood enlarged photographs of
her husband and her children.
There was, it may be added, nothing in the least pathetic about
her, for, as far as could be ascertained, she had everything she
wanted. In fact, from the standpoint of commonsense, hers was the
most successful existence; for, knowing what she liked, she passed
her entire life in its accomplishment. The only thing that caused
her emotion was the energy and vitality of her two children, and
even then that emotion was but a mild surprise when she recollected
how tremendous a worker and boisterous a gourmand of life was her
late husband, on the anniversary of whose death she always sat all
day without reading any novels at all, but devoted what was left of
her mind to the contemplation of nothing at all. She had married
him because, for some inscrutable reason, he insisted on it; and
she had been resigned to his death, as to everything else that had
ever happened to her.
All her life, in fact, she had been of that unchangeable, drab
quality in emotional affairs which is characteristic of advanced
middle-age, when there are no great joys or sorrows to look back
on, and no expectation for the future. She had always had
something of the indestructible quality of frail things like
thistledown or cottonwool; violence and explosion that would blow
strong and distinct organisms to atoms only puffed her a yard or
two away where she alighted again without shock, instead of
injuring or annihilating her. . . . Yet, in the inexplicable ways
of love, Sylvia and her brother not only did what could be done for
her, but regarded her with the tenderest affection. What that love
lived on, what was its daily food would be hard to guess, were it
not that love lives on itself.
The rest of the house, apart from the vacuum of Mrs. Falbe's rooms,
conducted itself, so it seemed to Michael, at the highest possible
pressure. Sylvia and her brother were both far too busy to be
restless, and if, on the one hand, Mrs. Falbe's remote,
impenetrable life was inexplicable, not less inexplicable was the
rage for living that possessed the other two. From morning till
night, and on Sundays from night till morning, life proceeded at
As regards household arrangements, which were all in Sylvia's
hands, there were three fixed points in the day. That is to say,
that there was lunch for Mrs. Falbe and anybody else who happened
to be there at half-past one; tea in Mrs. Falbe's well-liked
sitting-room at five, and dinner at eight. These meals--Mrs. Falbe
always breakfasted in her bedroom--were served with quiet decorum.
Apart from them, anybody who required anything consulted the cook
personally. Hermann, for instance, would have spent the morning at
his piano in the vast studio at the back of their house in
Maidstone Crescent, and not arrived at the fact that it was lunch
time till perhaps three in the afternoon. Unless then he settled
to do without lunch altogether, he must forage for himself; or
Sylvia, having to sing at a concert at eight, would return famished
and exultant about ten; she would then proceed to provide herself,
unless she supped elsewhere, with a plate of eggs and bacon, or
anything else that was easily accessible. It was not from
preference that these haphazard methods were adopted; but since
they only kept two servants, it was clear that a couple of women,
however willing, could not possibly cope with so irregular a
commissariat in addition to the series of fixed hours and the rest
of the household work. As it was, two splendidly efficient
persons, one German, the other English, had filled the posts of
parlourmaid and cook for the last eight years, and regarded
themselves, and were regarded, as members of the family. Lucas,
the parlourmaid, indeed, from the intense interest she took in the
conversation at table, could not always resist joining in it, and
was apt to correct Hermann or his sister if she detected an
inaccuracy in their statements. "No, Miss Sylvia," she would say,
"it was on Thursday, not Wednesday," and then recollecting herself,
would add, "Beg your pardon, miss."
In this milieu, as new to Michael as some suddenly discovered
country, he found himself at once plunged and treated with instant
friendly intimacy. Hermann, so he supposed, must have given him a
good character, for he was made welcome before he could have had
time to make any impression for himself, as Hermann's friend. On
the first occasion of his visiting the house, for the purpose of
his music lesson, he had stopped to lunch afterwards, where he met
Sylvia, and was in the presence of (you could hardly call it more
than that) their mother.
Mrs. Falbe had faded away in some mist-like fashion soon after, but
it was evident that he was intended to do no such thing, and they
had gone into the studio, already comrades, and Michael had chiefly
listened while the other two had violent and friendly discussions
on every subject under the sun. Then Hermann happened to sit down
at the piano, and played a Chopin etude pianissimo prestissimo with
finger-tips that just made the notes to sound and no more, and
Sylvia told him that he was getting it better; and then Sylvia sang
"Who is Sylvia?" and Hermann told her that she shouldn't have eaten
so much lunch, or shouldn't have sung; and then, by transitions
that Michael could not recollect, they played the Hailstone Chorus
out of Israel in Egypt (or, at any rate, reproduced the spirit of
it), and both sang at the top of their voices. Then, as usually
happened in the afternoon, two or three friends dropped in, and
though these were all intimate with their hosts, Michael had no
impression of being out in the cold or among strangers. And when
he left he felt as if he had been stretching out chilly hands to
the fire, and that the fire was always burning there, ready for him
to heat himself at, with its welcoming flames and core of sincere
warmth, whenever he felt so disposed.
At first he had let himself do this much less often than he would
have liked, for the shyness of years, his over-sensitive modesty at
his own want of charm and lightness, was a self-erected barrier in
his way. He was, in spite of his intimacy with Hermann,
desperately afraid of being tiresome, of checking by his presence,
as he had so often felt himself do before, the ease and high
spirits of others. But by degrees this broke down; he realised
that he was now among those with whom he had that kinship of the
mind and of tastes which makes the foundation on which friendship,
and whatever friendship may ripen into, is securely built. Never
did the simplicity and sincerity of their welcome fail; the
cordiality which greeted him was always his; he felt that it was
intended that he should be at home there just as much as he cared
The six working days of the week, however, were as a rule too full
both for the Falbes and for Michael to do more than have, apart
from the music lessons, flying glimpses of each other; for the day
was taken up with work, concerts and opera occurred often in the
evening, and the shuttles of London took their threads in divergent
directions. But on Sunday the house at Maidstone Crescent ceased,
as Hermann said, to be a junction, and became a temporary terminus.
"We burst from our chrysalis, in fact," he said. "If you find it
clearer to understand this way, we burst from our chrysalis and
become a caterpillar. Do chrysalides become caterpillars! We do,
anyhow. If you come about eight you will find food; if you come
later you will also find food of a sketchier kind. People have a
habit of dropping in on Sunday evening. There's music if anyone
feels inclined to make any, and if they don't they are made to.
Some people come early, others late, and they stop to breakfast if
they wish. It's a gaudeamus, you know, a jolly, a jamboree. One
has to relax sometimes."
Michael felt all his old unfitness for dreadful crowds return to
"Oh, I'm so bad at that sort of thing," he said. "I am a frightful
Hermann sat down on the treble part of his piano.
"That's the most conceited thing I've heard you say yet," he
remarked. "Nobody will pay any attention to you; you won't kill
anybody's joy. Also it's rather rude of you."
"I didn't mean to be rude," said Michael.
"Then we must suppose you were rude by accident. That is the worst
sort of rudeness."
"I'm sorry; I'll come," said Michael.
"That's right. You might even find yourself enjoying it by
accident, you know. If you don't, you can go away. There's music;
Sylvia sings quite seriously sometimes, and other people sing or
bring violins, and those who don't like it, talk--and then we get