Part 3 out of 4
which separated the outer worshippers from the chapel or gallery which was
set apart for the nuns. His lips moved from time to time spasmodically,
in prayer or ejaculation: then as the jubilant organ burst out, and the
officiating priest in his dalmatic of cloth of gold passed from the
sacristy and genuflected at the altar, he seemed to be listening in a very
passion of attention. But as the incense began to fill the air, and the
Litany of Loreto smote on my ear to some sorrowful, undulating Gregorian, I
lost thought of the wretched man beside me; I forgot the miserable mistake
that he had perpetuated, and I was once more back in the past--with
Delphine--kneeling by her side. Strophe by strophe that perfect litany rose
and was lost in a cloud of incense, in the mazy arches of the roof.
Salus infirmorum, Ora pro nobis!'
In strophe and antistrophe: the melancholy, nasal intonation of the priest
died away, and the exquisite women's voices in the gallery took it up with
exultation, and yet with something like a sob--a sob of limitation.
Auxilium Christianorum, Ora pro nobis!'
And so on through all the exquisite changes of the hymn, until the time of
the music changed, and the priest intoned the closing line.
'Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix!'
and the voices in the gallery answered:
'Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.'
There was one voice which rose above all the others, a voice of marvellous
sweetness and power, which from the first moment had caused me a curious
thrill. And presently Lorimer bent down and whispered to me: 'So near,' he
murmured, 'and yet so far away--so near, and yet never quite close!'
But before he had spoken I had read in his rigid face, in his eyes fixed
with such a passion of regret on the screen, why we were there--whose voice
it was we had listened to.
I rose and went out of the church quietly and hastily; I felt that to stay
there one moment longer would be suffocation.... Poor woman! so this is how
she sought consolation, in religion! Well, there are different ways for
different persons--and for me--what is there left for me? Oh, many things,
no doubt, many things. Still, for once and for the last time, let me set
myself down as a dreary fraud. I never forgot her, not for one hour or day,
not even when it seemed to me that I had forgotten her most, not even when
I married. No woman ever represented to me the same idea as Madame de
Savaresse. No woman's voice was ever sweet to me after hers, the touch of
no woman's hand ever made my heart beat one moment quicker for pleasure or
for pain, since I pressed hers for the last time on that fateful evening
twenty years ago. Even so--!...
When the service was over and the people had streamed out and dispersed, I
went back for the last time into the quiet church. A white robed server
was extinguishing the last candle on the altar; only the one red light
perpetually vigilant before the sanctuary, made more visible the deep
Lorimer was still kneeling with bowed head in his place. Presently he rose
and came towards me. 'She was there--Delphine--you heard her. Ah, Dion, she
loves you, she always loves you, you are avenged.'
I gather that for years he has spent hours daily in this church, to be near
her, and hear her voice, the magnificent voice rising above all the other
voices in the chants of her religion. But he will never see her, for is she
not of the Dames Rouges! And I remember now all the stories of the Order,
of its strictness, its austerity, its perfect isolation. And chiefly, I
remember how they say that only twice after one of these nuns has taken her
vows is she seen of any one except those of her community; once, when she
enters the Order, the door of the convent is thrown back and she is seen
for a single moment in the scarlet habit of the Order, by the world, by all
who care to gaze; and once more, at the last, when clad in the same coarse
red garb, they bear her out quietly, in her coffin, into the church.
And of this last meeting, Lorimer, I gather, is always restlessly
expectant, his whole life concentrated, as it were, in a very passion of
waiting for a moment which will surely come. His theory, I confess, escapes
me, nor can I guess how far a certain feverish remorse, an intention of
expiation may be set as a guiding spring in his unhinged mind, and account,
at least in part, for the fantastic attitude which he must have adopted for
many years. If I cannot forgive him, at least I bear him no malice, and
for the rest, our paths will hardly cross again. One takes up one's life
and expiates its errors, each after one's several fashion--and my way is
not Lorimer's. And now that it is all so clear, there is nothing to keep
me here any longer, nothing to bring me back again. For it seemed to me
to-day, strangely enough, as though a certain candle of hope, of promise,
of pleasant possibilities, which had flickered with more or less light for
so many years, had suddenly gone out and left me alone in utter darkness,
as the knowledge was borne in upon me that henceforth Madame de Savaresse
had passed altogether and finally out of my life.
And so to-morrow--Brussels!
A CASE OF CONSCIENCE
It was in Brittany, and the apples were already acquiring a ruddier,
autumnal tint, amid their greens and yellows, though Autumn was not yet;
and the country lay very still and fair in the sunset which had befallen,
softly and suddenly as is the fashion there. A man and a girl stood looking
down in silence at the village, Ploumariel, from their post of vantage,
half way up the hill: at its lichened church spire, dotted with little
gables, like dove-cotes; at the slated roof of its market; at its quiet
white houses. The man's eyes rested on it complacently, with the enjoyment
of the painter, finding it charming: the girl's, a little absently, as
one who had seen it very often before. She was pretty and very young, but
her gray serious eyes, the poise of her head, with its rebellious brown
hair braided plainly, gave her a little air of dignity, of reserve which
sat piquantly upon her youth. In one ungloved hand, that was brown from
the sun, but very beautiful, she held an old parasol, the other played
occasionally with a bit of purple heather. Presently she began to speak,
using English just coloured by a foreign accent, that made her speech
'You make me afraid,' she said, turning her large, troubled eyes on her
companion, 'you make me afraid, of myself chiefly, but a little of you. You
suggest so much to me that is new, strange, terrible. When you speak, I am
troubled; all my old landmarks appear to vanish; I even hardly know right
from wrong. I love you, my God, how I love you! but I want to go away from
you and pray in the little quiet church, where I made my first Communion.
I will come to the world's end with you; but oh, Sebastian, do not ask me,
let me go. You will forget me, I am a little girl to you, Sebastian. You
cannot care very much for me.'
The man looked down at her, smiling masterfully, but very kindly. He took
the mutinous hand, with its little sprig of heather, and held it between
his own. He seemed to find her insistence adorable; mentally, he was
contrasting her with all other women whom he had known, frowning at the
memory of so many years in which she had no part. He was a man of more
than forty, built large to an uniform English pattern; there was a touch
of military erectness in his carriage which often deceived people as to
his vocation. Actually, he had never been anything but artist, though he
came of a family of soldiers, and had once been war correspondent of an
illustrated paper. A certain distinction had always adhered to him, never
more than now when he was no longer young, was growing bald, had streaks
of gray in his moustache. His face, without being handsome, possessed a
certain charm; it was worn and rather pale, the lines about the firm mouth
were full of lassitude, the eyes rather tired. He had the air of having
tasted widely, curiously, of life in his day, prosperous as he seemed
now, that had left its mark upon him. His voice, which usually took an
intonation that his friends found supercilious, grew very tender in
addressing this little French girl, with her quaint air of childish
'Marie-Yvonne, foolish child, I will not hear one word more. You are a
little heretic; and I am sorely tempted to seal your lips from uttering
heresy. You tell me that you love me, and you ask me to let you go, in
one breath. The impossible conjuncture! Marie-Yvonne,' he added, more
seriously, 'trust yourself to me, my child! You know, I will never give you
up. You know that these months that I have been at Ploumariel, are worth
all the rest of my life to me. It has been a difficult life, hitherto,
little one: change it for me; make it worth while. You would let morbid
fancies come between us. You have lived overmuch in that little church,
with its worm-eaten benches, and its mildewed odour of dead people, and
dead ideas. Take care, Marie-Yvonne: it had made you serious-eyed, before
you have learnt to laugh; by and by, it will steal away your youth, before
you have ever been young. I come to claim you, Marie-Yvonne, in the name of
Life.' His words were half-jesting; his eyes were profoundly in earnest. He
drew her to him gently; and when he bent down and kissed her forehead,
and then her shy lips, she made no resistance: only, a little tremor ran
through her. Presently, with equal gentleness, he put her away from him.
'You have already given me your answer, Marie-Yvonne. Believe me, you will
never regret it. Let us go down.'
They took their way in silence towards the village; presently a bend of the
road hid them from it, and he drew closer to her, helping her with his arm
over the rough stones. Emerging, they had gone thirty yards so, before the
scent of English tobacco drew their attention to a figure seated by the
road-side, under a hedge; they recognised it, and started apart, a little
'It is M. Tregellan,' said the young girl, flushing: 'and he must have seen
Her companion, frowning, hardly suppressed a little quick objurgation.
'It makes no matter,' he observed, after a moment: 'I shall see your uncle
to-morrow and we know, good man, how he wishes this; and, in any case, I
would have told Tregellan.'
The figure rose, as they drew near: he shook the ashes out of his briar,
and removed it to his pocket. He was a slight man, with an ugly, clever
face; his voice as he greeted them, was very low and pleasant.
'You must have had a charming walk, Mademoiselle. I have seldom seen
Ploumariel look better.'
'Yes,' she said, gravely, 'it has been very pleasant. But I must not linger
now,' she added breaking a little silence in which none of them seemed
quite at ease. 'My uncle will be expecting me to supper.' She held out her
hand, in the English fashion, to Tregellan, and then to Sebastian Murch,
who gave the little fingers a private pressure.
They had come into the market-place round which most of the houses in
Ploumariel were grouped. They watched the young girl cross it briskly; saw
her blue gown pass out of sight down a bye street: then they turned to
their own hotel. It was a low, white house, belted half way down the front
with black stone; a pictorial object, as most Breton hostels. The ground
floor was a _cafe_; and, outside it, a bench and long stained table
enticed them to rest. They sat down, and ordered _absinthes_, as the hour
suggested: these were brought to them presently by an old servant of the
house; an admirable figure, with the white sleeves and apron relieving her
linsey dress: with her good Breton face, and its effective wrinkles. For
some time they sat in silence, drinking and smoking. The artist appeared to
be absorbed in contemplation of his drink; considering its clouded green in
various lights. After a while the other looked up, and remarked, abruptly.
'I may as well tell you that I happened to overlook you, just now,
Sebastian Murch held up his glass, with absent eyes.
'Don't mention it, my dear fellow,' he remarked, at last, urbanely.
'I beg your pardon; but I am afraid I must.'
He spoke with an extreme deliberation which suggested nervousness; with
the air of a person reciting a little set speech, learnt imperfectly: and
he looked very straight in front of him, out into the street, at two dogs
quarrelling over some offal.
'I daresay you will be angry: I can't avoid that; at least, I have known
you long enough to hazard it. I have had it on my mind to say something. If
I have been silent, it hasn't been because I have been blind, or approved.
I have seen how it was all along. I gathered it from your letters when I
was in England. Only until this afternoon I did not know how far it had
gone, and now I am sorry I did not speak before.'
He stopped short, as though he expected his friend's subtilty to come to
his assistance; with admissions or recriminations. But the other was still
silent, absent: his face wore a look of annoyed indifference. After a
while, as Tregellan still halted, he observed quietly:
'You must be a little more explicit. I confess I miss your meaning.'
'Ah, don't be paltry,' cried the other, quickly. 'You know my meaning. To
be very plain, Sebastian, are you quite justified in playing with that
charming girl, in compromising her?'
The artist looked up at last, smiling; his expressive mouth was set, not
angrily, but with singular determination.
'With Mademoiselle Mitouard?'
'Exactly; with the niece of a man whose guest you have recently been.'
'My dear fellow!' he stopped a little, considering his words: 'You
are hasty and uncharitable for such a very moral person! you jump at
conclusions, Tregellan. I don't, you know, admit your right to question me:
still, as you have introduced the subject, I may as well satisfy you.
I have asked Mademoiselle Mitouard to marry me, and she has consented,
subject to her uncle's approval. And that her uncle, who happens to prefer
the English method of courtship, is not likely to refuse.'
The other held his cigar between two fingers, a little away; his curiously
anxious face suggested that the question had become to him one of increased
'I am sorry,' he said, after a moment; 'this is worse than I imagined; it's
'It is you that are impossible, Tregellan,' said Sebastian Murch. He looked
at him now, quite frankly, absolutely: his eyes had a defiant light in
them, as though he hoped to be criticised; wished nothing better than to
stand on his defence, to argue the thing out. And Tregellan sat for a long
time without speaking, appreciating his purpose. It seemed more monstrous
the closer he considered it: natural enough withal, and so, harder to
defeat; and yet, he was sure, that defeated it must be. He reflected how
accidental it had all been: their presence there, in Ploumariel, and the
rest! Touring in Brittany, as they had often done before, in their habit of
old friends, they had fallen upon it by chance, a place unknown of Murray;
and the merest chance had held them there. They had slept at the _Lion
d'Or_, voted it magnificently picturesque, and would have gone away and
forgotten it; but the chance of travel had for once defeated them. Hard by
they heard of the little votive chapel of Saint Bernard; at the suggestion
of their hostess they set off to visit it. It was built steeply on an edge
of rock, amongst odorous pines overhanging a ravine, at the bottom of
which they could discern a brown torrent purling tumidly along. For the
convenience of devotees, iron rings, at short intervals, were driven into
the wall; holding desperately to these, the pious pilgrim, at some peril,
might compass the circuit; saying an oraison to Saint Bernard, and some ten
_Aves_. Sebastian, who was charmed with the wild beauty of the scene, in a
country ordinarily so placid, had been seized with a fit of emulation: not
in any mood of devotion, but for the sake of a wider prospect. Tregellan
had protested: and the Saint, resenting the purely aesthetic motive of the
feat, had seemed to intervene. For, half-way round, growing giddy may be,
the artist had made a false step, lost his hold. Tregellan, with a little
cry of horror, saw him disappear amidst crumbling mortar and uprooted
ferns. It was with a sensible relief, for the fall had the illusion of
great depth, that, making his way rapidly down a winding path, he found him
lying on a grass terrace, amidst _debris_ twenty feet lower, cursing his
folly, and holding a lamentably sprained ankle, but for the rest uninjured!
Tregellan had made off in haste to Ploumariel in search of assistance; and
within the hour he had returned with two stalwart Bretons and M. le Docteur
Their tour had been, naturally, drawing to its close. Tregellan indeed had
an imperative need to be in London within the week. It seemed, therefore, a
clear dispensation of Providence, that the amiable doctor should prove an
hospitable person, and one inspiring confidence no less. Caring greatly for
things foreign, and with an especial passion for England, a country whence
his brother had brought back a wife; M. le Docteur Mitouard insisted that
the invalid could be cared for properly at his house alone. And there, in
spite of protestations, earnest from Sebastian, from Tregellan halfhearted,
he was installed. And there, two days later, Tregellan left him with an
easy mind; bearing away with him, half enviously, the recollection of the
young, charming face of a girl, the Doctor's niece, as he had seen her
standing by his friend's sofa when he paid his _adieux_; in the beginnings
of an intimacy, in which, as he foresaw, the petulance of the invalid, his
impatience at an enforced detention, might be considerably forgot. And all
that had been two months ago.
'I am sorry you don't see it,' continued Tregellan, after a pause, 'to me
it seems impossible; considering your history it takes me by surprise.'
The other frowned slightly; finding this persistence perhaps a trifle
crude, he remarked good-humouredly enough:
'Will you be good enough to explain your opposition? Do you object to the
girl? You have been back a week now, during which you have seen almost as
much of her as I.'
'She is a child, to begin with; there is five-and-twenty years' disparity
between you. But it's the relation I object to, not the girl. Do you intend
to live in Ploumariel?'
Sebastian smiled, with a suggestion of irony.
'Not precisely; I think it would interfere a little with my career; why do
'I imagined not; you will go back to London with your little Breton wife,
who is as charming here as the apple-blossom in her own garden. You will
introduce her to your circle, who will receive her with open arms; all the
clever bores, who write, and talk, and paint, and are talked about between
Bloomsbury and Kensington. Everybody who is emancipated will know her, and
everybody who has a "fad"; and they will come in a body and emancipate her,
and teach her their "fads."'
'That is a caricature of my circle, as you call it, Tregellan! though I may
remind you it is also yours. I think she is being starved in this corner,
spiritually. She has a beautiful soul, and it has had no chance. I propose
to give it one, and I am not afraid of the result.'
Tregellan threw away the stump of his cigar into the darkling street, with
a little gesture of discouragement, of lassitude.
'She has had the chance to become what she is, a perfect thing.'
'My dear fellow,' exclaimed his friend, 'I could not have said more
The other continued, ignoring his interruption.
'She has had great luck. She has been brought up by an old eccentric, on
the English system of growing up as she liked. And no harm has come of it,
at least until it gave you the occasion of making love to her.'
'You are candid, Tregellan!'
'Let her go, Sebastian, let her go,' he continued, with increasing gravity.
'Consider what a transplantation; from this world of Ploumariel where
everything is fixed for her by that venerable old _Cure_, where life is
so easy, so ordered, to yours, ours; a world without definitions, where
everything is an open question.'
'Exactly,' said the artist, 'why should she be so limited? I would give her
scope, ideas. I can't see that I am wrong.'
'She will not accept them, your ideas. They will trouble her, terrify her;
in the end, divide you. It is not an elastic nature. I have watched it.'
'At least, allow me to know her,' put in the artist, a little grimly.
Tregellan shook his head.
'The Breton blood; her English mother: passionate Catholicism! a touch of
Puritan! Have you quite made up your mind, Sebastian?'
'I made it up long ago, Tregellan!'
The other looked at him, curiously, compassionately; with a touch of
resentment at what he found his lack of subtilty. Then he said at last:
'I called it impossible; you force me to be very explicit, even cruel. I
must remind you, that you are, of all my friends, the one I value most,
could least afford to lose.'
'You must be going to say something extremely disagreeable! something
horrible,' said the artist, slowly.
'I am,' said Tregellan, 'but I must say it. Have you explained to
Mademoiselle, or her uncle, your--your peculiar position?'
Sebastian was silent for a moment, frowning: the lines about his mouth grew
a little sterner; at last he said coldly:
'If I were to answer, Yes?'
'Then I should understand that there was no further question of your
Presently the other commenced in a hard, leaden voice.
'No, I have not told Marie-Yvonne that. I shall not tell her. I have
suffered enough for a youthful folly; an act of mad generosity. I refuse
to allow an infamous woman to wreck my future life as she has disgraced my
past. Legally, she has passed out of it; morally, legally, she is not my
wife. For all I know she may be actually dead.'
The other was watching his face, very gray and old now, with an anxious
'You know she is not dead, Sebastian,' he said simply. Then he added very
quietly as one breaks supreme bad tidings, 'I must tell you something
which I fear you have not realised. The Catholic Church does not recognise
divorce. If she marry you and find out, rightly or wrongly, she will
believe that she has been living in sin; some day she will find it out.
No damnable secret like that keeps itself for ever: an old newspaper, a
chance remark from one of your dear friends, and the deluge. Do you see the
tragedy, the misery of it? By God, Sebastian, to save you both somebody
shall tell her; and if it be not you, it must be I.'
There was extremest peace in the quiet square; the houses seemed sleepy
at last, after a day of exhausting tranquillity, and the chestnuts, under
which a few children, with tangled hair and fair dirty faces, still played.
The last glow of the sun fell on the gray roofs opposite; dying hard
it seemed over the street in which the Mitouards lived; and they heard
suddenly the tinkle of an _Angelus_ bell. Very placid! the place and the
few peasants in their pictorial hats and caps who lingered. Only the two
Englishmen sitting, their glasses empty, and their smoking over, looking
out on it all with their anxious faces, brought in a contrasting note of
modern life; of the complex aching life of cities, with its troubles and
'Is that your final word, Tregellan?' asked the artist at last, a little
'It must be, Sebastian! Believe me, I am infinitely sorry.'
'Yes, of course,' he answered quickly, acidly; 'well, I will sleep on it.'
They made their first breakfast in an almost total silence; both wore the
bruised harassed air which tells of a night passed without benefit of
sleep. Immediately afterwards Murch went out alone: Tregellan could guess
the direction of his visit, but not its object; he wondered if the artist
was making his difficult confession. Presently they brought him in a
pencilled note; he recognised, with some surprise, his friend's tortuous
'I have considered our conversation, and your unjustifiable interference.
I am entirely in your hands: at the mercy of your extraordinary notions of
duty. Tell her what you will, if you must; and pave the way to your own
success. I shall say nothing; but I swear you love the girl yourself; and
are no right arbiter here. Sebastian Murch.'
He read the note through twice before he grasped its purport; then sat
holding it in lax fingers, his face grown singularly gray.
'It's not true, it's not true,' he cried aloud, but a moment later knew
himself for a self-deceiver all along. Never had self-consciousness been
more sudden, unexpected, or complete. There was no more to do or say; this
knowledge tied his hands. _Ite! missa est!_...
He spent an hour painfully invoking casuistry, tossed to and fro
irresolutely, but never for a moment disputing that plain fact which
Sebastian had so brutally illuminated. Yes! he loved her, had loved her all
along. Marie-Yvonne! how the name expressed her! at once sweet and serious,
arch and sad as her nature. The little Breton wild flower! how cruel it
seemed to gather her! And he could do no more; Sebastian had tied his
hands. Things must be! He was a man nicely conscientious, and now all the
elaborate devices of his honour, which had persuaded him to a disagreeable
interference, were contraposed against him. This suspicion of an ulterior
motive had altered it, and so at last he was left to decide with a sigh,
that because he loved these two so well, he must let them go their own way
Coming in later in the day, Sebastian Murch found his friend packing.
'I have come to get your answer,' he said; 'I have been walking about the
hills like a madman for hours. I have not been near her; I am afraid. Tell
me what you mean to do?'
Tregellan rose, shrugged his shoulders, pointed to his valise.
'God help you both! I would have saved you if you had let me. The Quimperle
_Courrier_ passes in half-an-hour. I am going by it. I shall catch a night
train to Paris.'
As Sebastian said nothing; continued to regard him with the same dull,
anxious gaze, he went on after a moment:
'You did me a grave injustice; you should have known me better than that.
God knows I meant nothing shameful, only the best; the least misery for you
'It was true then?' said Sebastian, curiously. His voice was very cold;
Tregellan found him altered. He regarded the thing as it had been very
remote, and outside them both.
'I did not know it then,' said Tregellan, shortly.
He knelt down again and resumed his packing. Sebastian, leaning against
the bed, watched him with absent intensity, which was yet alive to trivial
things, and he handed him from time to time a book, a brush, which the
other packed mechanically with elaborate care. There was no more to say,
and presently, when the chambermaid entered for his luggage, they went down
and out into the splendid sunshine, silently. They had to cross the Square
to reach the carriage, a dusty ancient vehicle, hooded, with places for
four, which waited outside the postoffice. A man in a blue blouse preceded
them, carrying Tregellan's things. From the corner they could look down
the road to Quimperle, and their eyes both sought the white house of
Doctor Mitouard, standing back a little in its trim garden, with its one
incongruous apple tree; but there was no one visible.
Presently, Sebastian asked, suddenly:
'Is it true, that you said last night: divorce to a Catholic--?'
Tregellan interrupted him.
'It is absolutely true, my poor friend.'
He had climbed into his place at the back, settled himself on the shiny
leather cushion: he appeared to be the only passenger. Sebastian stood
looking drearily in at the window, the glass of which had long perished.
'I wish I had never known, Tregellan! How could I ever tell her!'
Inside, Tregellan shrugged his shoulders: not impatiently, or angrily, but
in sheer impotence; as one who gave it up.
'I can't help you,' he said, 'you must arrange it with your own
'Ah, it's too difficult!' cried the other: 'I can't find my way.'
The driver cracked his whip, suggestively; Sebastian drew back a little
further from the off wheel.
'Well,' said the other, 'if you find it, write and tell me. I am very
'Good-bye,' he replied. 'Yes! I will write.'
The carriage lumbered off, with a lurch to the right, as it turned the
corner; it rattled down the hill, raising a cloud of white dust. As it
passed the Mitouards' house, a young girl, in a large straw hat, came down
the garden, too late to discover whom it contained. She watched it out of
sight, indifferently, leaning on the little iron gate; then she turned, to
recognize the long stooping figure of Sebastian Murch, who advanced to meet
AN ORCHESTRAL VIOLIN
At my dining-place in old Soho--I call it mine because there was a time
when I became somewhat inveterate there, keeping my napkin (changed once a
week) in a ring recognisable by myself and the waiter, my bottle of Beaune
(replenished more frequently), and my accustomed seat--at this restaurant
of mine, with its confusion of tongues, its various, foreign _clientele_,
amid all the coming and going, the nightly change of faces, there were some
which remained the same, persons with whom, though one might never have
spoken, one had nevertheless from the mere continuity of juxtaposition a
certain sense of intimacy.
There was one old gentleman in particular, as inveterate as myself, who
especially aroused my interest. A courteous, punctual, mild old man with an
air which deprecated notice; who conversed each evening for a minute or two
with the proprietor, as he rolled, always at the same hour, a valedictory
cigarette, in a language that arrested my ear by its strangeness; and which
proved to be his own, Hungarian; who addressed a brief remark to me at
times, half apologetically, in the precisest of English. We sat next each
other at the same table, came and went at much the same hour; and for a
long while our intercourse was restricted to formal courtesies; mutual
inquiries after each other's health, a few urbane strictures on the
climate. The little old gentleman in spite of his aspect of shabby
gentility,--for his coat was sadly inefficient, and the nap of his
carefully brushed hat did not indicate prosperity--perhaps even because of
this suggestion of fallen fortunes, bore himself with pathetic erectness,
almost haughtily. He did not seem amenable to advances. It was a long time
before I knew him well enough to value rightly this appearance, the timid
defences, behind which a very shy and delicate nature took refuge from the
world's coarse curiosity. I can smile now, with a certain sadness, when I
remind myself that at one time I was somewhat in awe of M. Maurice Cristich
and his little air of proud humility. Now that his place in that dim,
foreign eating-house knows him no more, and his yellow napkin-ring, with
its distinguishing number, has been passed on to some other customer; I
have it in my mind to set down my impressions of him, the short history
of our acquaintance. It began with an exchange of cards; a form to which
he evidently attached a ceremonial value, for after that piece of ritual
his manner underwent a sensible softening, and he showed by many subtile
indefinable shades in his courteous address, that he did me the honour of
including me in his friendship. I have his card before me now; a large,
oblong piece of pasteboard, with _M. Maurice Cristich, Theatre Royal_,
inscribed upon it, amid many florid flourishes. It enabled me to form my
first definite notion of his calling, upon which I had previously wasted
much conjecture; though I had all along, and rightly as it appeared,
associated him in some manner with music.
In time he was good enough to inform me further. He was a musician, a
violinist; and formerly, and in his own country, he had been a composer.
But whether for some lack in him of original talent, or of patience,
whether for some grossness in the public taste, on which the nervous
delicacy and refinement of his execution was lost, he had not continued. He
had been driven by poverty to London, had given lessons, and then for many
years had played a second violin in the orchestra of the Opera.
'It is not much, Monsieur!' he observed, deprecatingly, smoothing his
hat with the cuff of his frayed coat-sleeve. 'But it is sufficient; and
I prefer it to teaching. In effect, they are very charming, the seraphic
young girls of your country! But they seem to care little for music; and I
am a difficult master, and have not enough patience. Once, you see, a long
time ago, I had a perfect pupil, and perhaps that spoilt me. Yes! I prefer
the theatre, though it is less profitable. It is not as it once was,' he
added, with a half sigh; 'I am no longer ambitious. Yes, Monsieur, when I
was young, I was ambitious. I wrote a symphony and several concertos. I
even brought out at Vienna an opera, which I thought would make me famous;
but the good folk of Vienna did not appreciate me, and they would have none
of my music. They said it was antiquated, my opera, and absurd; and yet, it
seemed to me good. I think that Gluck, that great genius, would have liked
it; and that is what I should have wished. Ah! how long ago it seems, that
time when I was ambitious! But you must excuse me, Monsieur! your good
company makes me garrulous. I must be at the theatre. If I am not in my
place at the half-hour, they fine me two shillings and sixpence, and that I
can ill afford, you know, Monsieur!'
In spite of his defeats, his long and ineffectual struggle with adversity,
M. Cristich, I discovered, as our acquaintance ripened, had none of the
spleen and little of the vanity of the unsuccessful artist. He seemed
in his forlorn old age to have accepted his discomfiture with touching
resignation, having acquired neither cynicism nor indifference. He was
simply an innocent old man, in love with his violin and with his art, who
had acquiesced in disappointment; and it was impossible to decide, whether
he even believed in his talent, or had not silently accredited the verdict
of musical Vienna, which had condemned his opera in those days when he was
ambitious. The precariousness of the London Opera was the one fact which
I ever knew to excite him to expressions of personal resentment. When
its doors were closed, his hard poverty (it was the only occasion when
he protested against it), drove him, with his dear instrument and his
accomplished fingers, into the orchestras of lighter houses, where he was
compelled to play music which he despised. He grew silent and rueful during
these periods of irksome servitude, rolled innumerable cigarettes, which
he smoked with fierceness and great rapidity. When dinner was done, he was
often volubly indignant, in Hungarian, to the proprietor. But with the
beginning of the season his mood lightened. He bore himself more sprucely,
and would leave me, to assist at a representation of _Don Giovanni_, or
_Tannhauser_, with a face which was almost radiant. I had known him a year
before it struck me that I should like to see him in his professional
capacity. I told him of my desire a little diffidently, not knowing how
my purpose might strike him. He responded graciously, but with an air of
intrigue, laying a gentle hand upon my coat sleeve and bidding me wait. A
day or two later, as we sat over our coffee, M. Cristich with an hesitating
urbanity offered me an order.
'If you would do me the honour to accept it, Monsieur! It is a stall, and a
good one! I have never asked for one before, all these years, so they gave
it to me easily. You see, I have few friends. It is for to-morrow, as you
observe, I demanded it especially; it is an occasion of great interest to
me,--ah! an occasion! You will come?'
'You are too good, M. Cristich!' I said with genuine gratitude, for indeed
the gift came in season, the opera being at that time a luxury I could
seldom command. 'Need I say that I shall be delighted? And to hear Madame
Romanoff, a chance one has so seldom!'
The old gentleman's mild, dull eyes glistened. 'Madame Romanoff!' he
repeated, 'the marvellous Leonora! yes, yes! She has sung only once before
in London. Ah, when I remember--' He broke off suddenly. As he rose, and
prepared for departure, he held my hand a little longer than usual, giving
it a more intimate pressure.
'My dear young friend, will you think me a presumptuous old man, if I ask
you to come and see me to-morrow in my apartment, when it is over? I will
give you a glass of whisky, and we will smoke pipes, and you shall tell
me your impressions--and then I will tell you why to-morrow I shall be so
proud, why I show this emotion.'
The Opera was _Fidelio_, that stately, splendid work, whose melody, if one
may make a pictorial comparison, has something of that rich and sun-warm
colour which, certainly, on the canvasses of Rubens, affects one as an
almost musical quality. It offered brilliant opportunities, and the
incomparable singer had wasted none of them. So that when, at last, I
pushed my way out of the crowded house and joined M. Cristich at the
stage door, where he waited with eyes full of expectancy, the music still
lingered about me, like the faint, past fragrance of incense, and I had no
need to speak my thanks. He rested a light hand on my arm, and we walked
towards his lodging silently; the musician carrying his instrument in its
sombre case, and shivering from time to time, a tribute to the keen spring
night. He stooped as he walked, his eyes trailing the ground; and a certain
listlessness in his manner struck me a little strangely, as though he came
fresh from some solemn or hieratic experience, of which the reaction had
already begun to set in tediously, leaving him at the last unstrung and
jaded, a little weary, of himself and the too strenuous occasion. It was
not until we had crossed the threshold of a dingy, high house in a byway of
Bloomsbury, and he had ushered me, with apologies, into his shabby room,
near the sky, that the sense of his hospitable duties seemed to renovate
him. He produced tumblers from an obscure recess behind his bed; set a
kettle on the fire, a lodging-house fire, which scarcely smouldered with
flickers of depressing, sulphurous flame, talking of indifferent subjects,
as he watched for it to boil.
Only when we had settled ourselves, in uneasy chairs, opposite each other,
and he had composed me, what he termed 'a grog': himself preferring the
more innocent mixture known as _eau sucree_, did he allude to _Fidelio_.
I praised heartily the discipline of the orchestra, the prima donna,
whom report made his country-woman, with her strong, sweet voice and her
extraordinary beauty, the magnificence of the music, the fine impression of
M. Cristich, his glass in hand, nodded approval. He looked intently into
the fire, which cast mocking shadows over his quaint, incongruous figure,
his antiquated dress coat, which seemed to skimp him, his frost-bitten
countenance, his cropped grey hair. 'Yes,' he said, 'Yes! So it pleased
you, and you thought her beautiful? I am glad.'
He turned round to me abruptly, and laid a thin hand impressively on my
'You know I invented her, the Romanoff, discovered her, taught her all
she learnt. Yes, Monsieur, I was proud to-night, very proud, to be there,
playing for her, though she did not know. Ah! the beautiful creature!...
and how badly I played! execrably! You could not notice that, Monsieur,
but they did, my confreres, and could not understand. How should they? How
should they dream, that I, Maurice Cristich, second violin in the orchestra
of the opera, had to do with the Leonora; even I! Her voice thrilled them;
ah, but it was I who taught her her notes! They praised her diamonds; yes,
but once I gave her that she wanted more than diamonds, bread, and lodging
and love. Beautiful they called her; she was beautiful too, when I carried
her in my arms through Vienna. I am an old man now, and good for very
little; and there have been days, God forgive me! when I have been angry
with her; but it was not to-night. To see her there, so beautiful and so
great; and to feel that after all I had a hand in it, that I invented her.
Yes, yes! I had my victory to-night too; though it was so private; a secret
between you and me, Monsieur? Is it not?'
I assured him of my discretion, but he hardly seemed to hear. His sad eyes
had wandered away to the live coals, and he considered them pensively, as
though he found them full of charming memories. I sat back, respecting
his remoteness; but my silence was replete with surprised conjecture, and
indeed the quaint figure of the old musician, every line of his garments
redolent of ill success, had become to me, of a sudden, strangely romantic.
Destiny, so amorous of surprises, of pathetic or cynical contrasts, had in
this instance excelled herself. My obscure acquaintance, Maurice Cristich!
The renowned Romanoff! Her name and acknowledged genius had been often
in men's mouths of late, a certain luminous, scarcely sacred, glamour
attaching to it, in an hundred idle stories, due perhaps as much to the
wonder of her sorrowful beauty, as to any justification in knowledge,
of her boundless extravagance, her magnificent fantasies, her various
perversity, rumour pointing specially at those priceless diamonds, the
favours not altogether gratuitous it was said of exalted personages. And
with all deductions made, for malice, for the ingenuity of the curious,
the impression of her perversity was left; she remained enigmatical and
notorious, a somewhat scandalous heroine! And Cristich had known her; he
had, as he declared, and his accent was not that of bragadoccio, invented
her. The conjuncture puzzled and fascinated me. It did not make Cristich
less interesting, nor the prima-donna more perspicuous.
By-and-by the violinist looked up at me; he smiled with a little dazed air,
as though his thoughts had been a far journey.
'Pardon me, Monsieur! I beg you to fill your glass. I seem a poor host; but
to tell you the truth, I was dreaming; I was quite away, quite away.'
He threw out his hands, with a vague expansive gesture.
'Dear child!' he said to the flames, in French; 'good little one! I do not
forget thee.' And he began to tell me.
'It was when I was at Vienna, ah! a long while ago. I was not rich, but
neither was I very poor; I still had my little patrimony, and I lived in
the ---- Strasse, very economically; it is a quarter which many artists
frequent. I husbanded my resources, that I might be able to work away at my
art without the tedium of making it a means of livelihood. I refused many
offers to play in public, that I might have more leisure. I should not do
that now; but then, I was very confident; I had great faith in me. And
I worked very hard at my symphony, and I was full of desire to write an
opera. It was a tall dark house, where I lived; there were many other
lodgers, but I knew scarcely any of them. I went about with my head full
of music and I had my violin; I had no time to seek acquaintance. Only
my neighbour, at the other side of my passage, I knew slightly and bowed
to him when we met on the stairs. He was a dark, lean man, of a very
distinguished air; he must have lived very hard, he had death in his
face. He was not an artist, like the rest of us: I suspect he was a great
profligate, and a gambler; but he had the manners of a gentleman. And when
I came to talk to him, he displayed the greatest knowledge of music that
I have ever known. And it was the same with all; he talked divinely, of
everything in the world, but very wildly and bitterly. He seemed to have
been everywhere, and done everything; and at last to be tired of it all;
and of himself the most. From the people of the house I heard that he was a
Pole; noble, and very poor; and, what surprised me, that he had a daughter
with him, a little girl. I used to pity this child, who must have lived
quite alone. For the Count was always out, and the child never appeared
with him; and, for the rest, with his black spleen and tempers, he must
have been but sorry company for a little girl. I wished much to see her,
for you see, Monsieur! I am fond of children, almost as much as of music;
and one day it came about. I was at home with my violin; I had been playing
all the evening some songs I had made; and once or twice I had seemed to be
interrupted by little, tedious sounds. At last I stopped, and opened the
door; and there, crouching down, I found the most beautiful little creature
I had ever seen in my life. It was the child of my neighbour. Yes,
Monsieur! you divine, you divine! That was the Leonora!'
'And she is not your compatriot,' I asked.
'A Hungarian? ah, no! yet every piece of her pure Slav. But I weary you,
Monsieur; I make a long story.'
I protested my interest; and after a little side glance of dubious
scrutiny, he continued in a constrained monotone, as one who told over to
himself some rosary of sad enchanting memories.
'Ah, yes! she was beautiful; that mysterious, sad Slavonic beauty! a thing
quite special and apart. And, as a child, it was more tragical and strange;
that dusky hair! those profound and luminous eyes! seeming to mourn over
tragedies they have never known. A strange, wild, silent child! She might
have been eight or nine, then; but her little soul was hungry for music. It
was a veritable passion; and when she became at last my good friend, she
told me how often she had lain for long hours outside my door, listening to
my violin. I gave her a kind of scolding, such as one could to so beautiful
a little creature, for the passage was draughty and cold, and sent her away
with some _bon-bons_. She shook back her long, dark hair: 'You are not
angry, and I am not naughty,' she said: 'and I shall come back. I thank you
for your _bon-bons_; but I like your music better than _bon-bons_, or fairy
tales, or anything in the world.'
'But she never came back to the passage again, Monsieur! The next time I
came across the Count, I sent her an invitation, a little diffidently, for
he had never spoken to me of her, and he was a strange and difficult man.
Now, he simply shrugged his shoulders, with a smile, in which, for once,
there seemed more entertainment than malice. The child could visit me when
she chose; if it amused either of us, so much the better. And we were
content, and she came to me often; after a while, indeed, she was with
me almost always. Child as she was, she had already the promise of her
magnificent voice; and I taught her to use it, to sing, and to play on the
piano and on the violin, to which she took the most readily. She was like a
singing bird in the room, such pure, clear notes! And she grew very fond of
me; she would fall asleep at last in my arms, and so stay until the Count
would take her with him when he entered, long after midnight. He came to
me naturally for her soon; and they never seemed long those hours that I
watched over her sleep. I never knew him harsh or unkind to the child; he
seemed simply indifferent to her as to everything else. He had exhausted
life and he hated it; and he knew that death was on him, and he hated
that even more. And yet he was careful of her after a fashion, buying her
_bon-bons_ and little costumes, when he was in the vein, pitching his voice
softly when he would stay and talk to me, as though he relished her sleep.
One night he did not come to fetch her at all, I had wrapped a blanket
round the child where she lay on my bed, and had sat down to watch by her
and presently I too fell asleep. I do not know how long I slept but when I
woke there was a gray light in the room, I was very cold and stiff, but I
could hear close by, the soft, regular breathing of the child. There was a
great uneasiness on me, and after a while I stole out across the passage
and knocked at the Count's door, there was no answer but it gave when I
tried it, and so I went in. The lamp had smouldered out, there was a sick
odour of _petrol_ everywhere, and the shutters were closed: but through the
chinks the merciless gray dawn streamed in and showed me the Count sitting
very still by the table. His face wore a most curious smile, and had not
his great cavernous eyes been open, I should have believed him asleep:
suddenly it came to me that he was dead. He was not a good man, monsieur,
nor an amiable, but a true _virtuoso_ and full of information, and I
grieved. I have had Masses said for the repose of his soul.'
He paid a tribute of silence to the dead man's memory, and then he went on.
'It seemed quite natural that I should take his child. There was no one to
care, no one to object; it happened quite easily. We went, the little one
and I, to another part of the city. We made quite a new life. Oh! my God!
it is a very long time ago.'
Quite suddenly his voice went tremulous; but after a pause, hardly
perceptible, he recovered himself and continued with an accent of apology.
'I am a foolish old man, and very garrulous. It is not good to think of
that, nor to talk of it; I do not know why I do. But what would you have?
She loved me then, and she had the voice and the disposition of an angel.
I have never been very happy. I think sometimes, monsieur, that we others,
who care much for art, are not permitted that. But certainly those few,
rapid days, when she was a child, were good; and yet they were the days
of my defeat. I found myself out then. I was never to be a great artist,
a _maestro_: a second-rate man, a good music-teacher for young ladies,
a capable performer in an orchestra, what you will, but a great artist,
never! Yet in those days, even when my opera failed, I had consolation,
I could say, I have a child! I would have kept her with me always but it
could not be, from the very first she would be a singer. I knew always
that a day would come when she would not need me, she was meant to be the
world's delight, and I had no right to keep her, even if I could. I held my
beautiful, strange bird in her cage, until she beat her wings against the
bars, then I opened the door. At the last, I think, that is all we can do
for our children, our best beloved, our very heart-strings, stand free of
them, let them go. The world is very weary, but we must all find that out
for ourselves, perhaps when they are tired they will come home, perhaps
not, perhaps not. It was to the Conservatoire, at Milan, that I sent her
finally, and it was at La Scala that she afterwards appeared, and at La
Scala too, poor child, she met her evil genius, the man named Romanoff, a
baritone in her company, own son of the devil, whom she married. Ah, if I
could have prevented it, if I could have prevented it!'
He lapsed into a long silence; a great weariness seemed to have come over
him, and in the gray light which filtered in through the dingy window
blinds, his face was pinched and wasted, unutterably old and forlorn.
'But I did not prevent it,' he said at last, 'for all my good will,
perhaps merely hastened it by unseasonable interference. And so we went
in different ways, with anger I fear, and at least with sore hearts and
He spoke with an accent of finality, and so sadly that in a sudden rush of
pity I was moved to protest.
'But, surely you meet sometimes; surely this woman, who was as your own
He stopped me with a solemn, appealing gesture.
'You are young, and you do not altogether understand. You must not judge
her; you must not believe, that she forgets, that she does not care. Only,
it is better like this, because it could never be as before. I could not
help her. I want nothing that she can give me, no not anything; I have my
memories! I hear of her, from time to time; I hear what the world says of
her, the imbecile world, and I smile. Do I not know best? I, who carried
her in my arms, when she was that high!'
And in effect the old violinist smiled, it was as though he had surprised
my secret of dissatisfaction, and found it, like the malice of the world,
too ignorant to resent. The edge of his old, passionate adoration had
remained bright and keen through the years; and it imparted a strange
brilliancy to his eyes, which half convinced me, as presently, with a
resumption of his usual air of diffident courtesy, he ushered me out into
the vague, spring dawn. And yet, when I had parted from him and was making
my way somewhat wearily to my own quarters, my first dubious impression
remained. My imagination was busy with the story I had heard, striving
quite vainly to supply omissions, to fill in meagre outlines. Yes! quite
vainly! the figure of the Romanoff was left, ambiguous and unexplained;
hardly acquitted in my mind of a certain callousness, an ingratitude almost
vulgar as it started out from time to time, in contraposition against that
forlorn old age.
I saw him once more at the little restaurant in Soho, before a sudden
change of fortune, calling me abroad for an absence, as it happened, of
years, closed the habit of our society. He gave me the god-speed of a
brother artist, though mine was not the way of music, with many prophesies
of my success; and the pressure of his hand, as he took leave of me, was
'I am an old man, monsieur, and we may not meet again, in this world. I
wish you all the chances you deserve in Paris; but I--I shall greatly miss
you. If you come back in time, you will find me in the old places; and if
not--there are things of mine, which I should wish you to have, that shall
be sent you.'
And indeed it proved to be our last meeting. I went to Paris; a fitful
correspondence intervened, grew infrequent, ceased; then a little later,
came to me the notification, very brief and official, of his death in the
French Hospital of pneumonia. It was followed by a few remembrances of him,
sent at his request, I learnt, by the priest who had administered to him
the last offices: some books that he had greatly cherished, works of Glueck,
for the most part; an antique ivory crucifix of very curious workmanship;
and his violin, a beautiful instrument dated 1670 and made at Nuremberg,
yet with a tone which seemed to me, at least, as fine as that of the
Cremonas. It had an intrinsic value to me, apart from its associations;
for I too was something of an amateur, and since this seasoned melodious
wood had come into my possession, I was inspired to take my facility more
seriously. To play in public, indeed, I had neither leisure nor desire:
but in certain _salons_ of my acquaintance, where music was much in vogue,
I made from time to time a desultory appearance. I set down these facts,
because as it happened, this ineffectual talent of mine, which poor
Cristich's legacy had recalled to life, was to procure me an interesting
encounter. I remember the occasion well, it was too appropriate to be
forgotten--as though my old friend's lifeless fiddle, which had yet
survived so many _maestri_, was to be a direct instrument of the completion
of his story, the resurrection of those dormant and unsatisfied curiosities
which still now and again concerned me. I had played at an house where
I was a stranger; brought there by a friend, to whose insistence I had
yielded somewhat reluctantly; although he had assured me, and, I believe,
with reason, that it was a house where the indirect, or Attic invitation
greatly prevailed, in brief, a place where one met very queer people. The
hostess was American, a charming woman, of unimpeachable antecedents; but
her passion for society, which, while it should always be interesting, was
not always equally reputable, had exposed her evenings to the suspicion of
her compatriots. And when I had discharged my part in the programme and
had leisure to look around me, I saw at a glance that their suspicion was
justified; very queer people indeed were there. The large hot rooms were
cosmopolitan: infidels and Jews, everybody and nobody; a scandalously
promiscuous assemblage! And there, with a half start, which was not at
first recognition, my eyes stopped before a face which brought to me a
confused rush of memories. It was that of a woman who sat on an ottoman
in the smallest room which was almost empty. Her companion was a small,
vivacious man with a gray imperial, and the red ribbon in his buttonhole,
to whose continuous stream of talk, eked out with meridional gestures,
she had the air of being listlessly resigned. Her dress, a marvel of
discretion, its colour the yellow of old ivory, was of some very rich
and stiff stuff cut square to her neck; that, and her great black hair,
clustered to a crimson rose at the top of her head, made the pallor of her
face a thing to marvel at. Her beauty was at once sombre and illuminating,
and youthful no less. The woman of thirty: but her complexion, and her
arms, which were bare, were soft in texture as a young girl's.
I made my way as well as I could for the crowd, to my hostess, listened,
with what patience I might, to some polite praise of my playing, and made
'Mrs. Destrier, I have an immense favour to ask; introduce me to Madame
She gave me a quick, shrewd smile; then I remembered stories of her
'My dear young man! I have no objection. Only I warn you, she is not
conversational; you will make no good of it, and you will be disappointed;
perhaps that will be best. Please remember, I am responsible for nobody.'
'Is she so dangerous?' I asked. 'But never mind; I believe that I have
something to say which may interest her.'
'Oh, for that!' she smiled elliptically; 'yes, she is most dangerous. But I
will introduce you; you shall tell me how you succeed.'
I bowed and smiled; she laid a light hand on my arm; and I piloted her
to the desired corner. It seemed that the chance was with me. The little
fluent Provencal had just vacated his seat; and when the prima-donna had
acknowledged the hasty mention of my name, with a bare inclination of
her head, I was emboldened to succeed to it. And then I was silent. In
the perfection of that dolorous face, I could not but be reminded of the
tradition which has always ascribed something fatal and inevitable to the
possession of great gifts: of genius or uncommon fortune, or singular
personal beauty; and the common-place of conversation failed me.
After a while she looked askance at me, with a sudden flash of resentment.
'You speak no French, Monsieur! And yet you write it well enough; I have
read your stories.'
I acknowledged Madame's irony, permitted myself to hope that my efforts had
met with Madame's approval.
'_A la bonne heure!_ I perceive you also speak it. Is that why you wished
to be presented, to hear my criticisms?'
'Let me answer that question when you have answered mine.'
She glanced curiously over her feathered fan, then with the slightest
upward inclination of her statuesque shoulders--'I admire your books; but
are your women quite just? I prefer your playing.'
'That is better, Madame! It was to talk of that I came.'
'You want me to look at it? It is a Cremona?'
'It is not a Cremona; but if you like, I will give it you.'
Her dark eyes shone out in amazed amusement.
'You are eccentric, Monsieur! but your nation has a privilege of
eccentricity. At least, you amuse me; and I have wearied myself enough this
long evening. Show me your violin; I am something of a _virtuosa_.'
I took the instrument from its case, handed it to her in silence, watching
her gravely. She received it with the dexterous hands of a musician, looked
at the splendid stains on the back, then bent over towards the light in a
curious scrutiny of the little, faded signature of its maker, the _fecit_
of an obscure Bavarian of the seventeenth century; and it was a long time
before she raised her eyes.
When she spoke, her rich voice had a note of imperious entreaty in it.
'Your violin interests me, Monsieur! Oh, I know that wood! It came to
'A legacy from an esteemed friend.'
She shot back. 'His name?' with the flash which I waited for.
'Maurice Cristich, Madame!'
We were deserted in our corner. The company had strayed in, one by one, to
the large _salon_ with the great piano, where a young Russian musician,
a pupil of Chopin, sat down to play, with no conventional essay of
preliminary chords, an expected morsel. The strains of it wailed in just
then, through the heavy, screening curtains; a mad _valse_ of his own, that
no human feet could dance to, a pitiful, passionate thing that thrilled the
nerves painfully, ringing the changes between voluptuous sorrow and the
merriment of devils, and burdened always with the weariness of 'all the
Russias,' the proper _Welt-schmerz_ of a young, disconsolate people. It
seemed to charge the air, like electricity, with passionate undertones; it
gave intimate facilities, and a tense personal note to our interview.
'A legacy! so he is gone.' She swayed to me with a wail in her voice, in
a sort of childish abandonment: 'and _you_ tell me! Ah!' she drew back,
chilling suddenly with a touch of visible suspicion. 'You hurt me,
Monsieur! Is it a stroke at random? You spoke of a gift; you say you knew,
esteemed him. You were with him? Perhaps, a message ...?'
'He died alone, Madame! I have no message. If there were none, it might be,
perhaps, that he believed you had not cared for it. If that were wrong, I
could tell you that you were not forgotten. Oh! he loved you! I had his
word for it, and the story. The violin is yours--do not mistake me; it is
not for your sake but his. He died alone; value it, as I should, Madame!'
They were insolent words, perhaps cruel, provoked from me by the mixed
nature of my attraction to her; the need of turning a reasonable and cool
front to that pathetic beauty, that artful music, which whipped jaded
nerves to mutiny. The arrow in them struck so true, that I was shocked at
my work. It transfixed the child in her, latent in most women, which moaned
at my feet; so that for sheer shame as though it were actually a child I
had hurt, I could have fallen and kissed her hands.
'Oh, you judge me hard, you believe the worst of me and why not? I am
against the world! At least he might have taught you to be generous, that
kind old man! Have I forgotten do you think! Am I so happy then? Oh it is a
just question, the world busies itself with me, and you are in the lap of
its tongues. Has it ever accused me of that, of happiness? Cruel, cruel!
I have paid my penalties, and a woman is not free to do as she will, but
would not I have gone to him, for a word, a sign? Yes, for the sake of my
childhood. And to-night when you showed me that,' her white hand swept over
the violin with something of a caress, 'I thought it had come, yes, from
the grave, and you make it more bitter by readings of your own. You strike
I bent forward in real humility, her voice had tears in it, though her
splendid eyes were hard.
'Forgive me, Madame! a vulgar stroke at random. I had no right to make it,
he told me only good of you. Forgive me, and for proof of your pardon--I am
serious now--take his violin.'
Her smile, as she refused me, was full of sad dignity.
'You have made it impossible, Monsieur! It would remind me only now of how
ill you think of me. I beg you to keep it.'
The music had died away suddenly, and its ceasing had been followed by
a loud murmur of applause. The prima-donna rose, and stood for a moment
observing me, irresolutely.
'I leave you and your violin, Monsieur! I have to sing presently, with such
voice as our talk has left me. I bid you both adieu!'
'Ah, Madame!' I deprecated, 'you will think again of this, I will send it
you in the morning. I have no right....'
She shook her head, then with a sudden flash of amusement, or fantasy--'I
agree, Monsieur! on a condition. To prove your penitence, you shall bring
it to me yourself.'
I professed that her favour overpowered me. She named an hour when she
would be at home: an address in the Avenue des Champs Elysees, which I
noted on my tablets.
'Not adieu then, Monsieur! but _au revoir_.'
I bowed perplexedly, holding the curtain aside to let her sweep through;
and once more she turned back, gathering up her voluminous train, to repeat
with a glance and accent, which I found mystifying: 'Remember, Monsieur! It
is only _au revoir_.'
That last glimpse of her, with the strange mockery and an almost elfish
malice in her fine eyes, went home with me later to cause vague disquiet
and fresh suspicion of her truth. The spell of her extraordinary, personal
charm removed, doubt would assert itself. Was she quite sincere? Was
her fascination not a questionable one? Might not that almost childish
outburst of a grief so touching, and at the time convincing, be after all
factitious; the movement of a born actress and enchantress of men, quick
to seize as by a nice professional instinct the opportunity of an effect?
Had her whole attitude been a deliberate pose, a sort of trick? The
sudden changes in her subtile voice, the under current of mockery in an
invitation which seemed inconsequent, put me on my guard, reinforced all
my deep-seated prejudices against the candor of the feminine soul. It left
me with a vision of her, fantastically vivid, raccounting to an intimate
circle, to an accompaniment of some discreet laughter and the popping of
champagne corks, the success of her imposition, the sentimental concessions
which she had extorted from a notorious student of cynical moods.
A dangerous woman! cried Mrs. Destrier with the world, which might
conceivably be right; at least I was fain to add, a woman whose laughter
would be merciless. Certainly, I had no temper for adventures; and a
visit to Madame Romanoff on so sentimental an errand seemed to me, the
more I pondered it, to partake of this quality to be rich in distasteful
possibilities. Must I write myself pusillanimous, if I confess that I never
made it, that I committed my old friend's violin into the hands of the
woman who had been his pupil by the vulgar aid of a _commissionaire_?
Pusillanimous or simply prudent; or perhaps cruelly unjust, to a person who
had paid penalties and greatly needed kindness? It is a point I have never
been able to decide, though I have tried to raise theories on the ground
of her acquiescence. It seemed to me on the cards, that my fiddle bestowed
so cavalierly, should be refused. And yet even the fact of her retaining
it is open to two interpretations, and Cristich testified for her. Maurice
Cristich! Madame Romanoff! the renowned Romanoff, Maurice Cristich! Have I
been pusillanimous, prudent or merely cruel? For the life of me I cannot
SOUVENIRS OF AN EGOIST
Eheu fugaces! How that air carries me back, that air ground away so
unmercifully, _sans_ tune, _sans_ time on a hopelessly discordant
barrel-organ, right underneath my window. It is being bitterly execrated, I
know, by the literary gentleman who lives in chambers above me, and by the
convivial gentleman who has a dinner party underneath. It has certainly
made it impossible for me to continue the passage in my new Fugue in A
minor, which was being transferred so flowingly from my own brain on to the
score when it interrupted me. But for all that, I have a shrewd suspicion
that I shall bear its unmusical torture as long as it lasts, and eventually
send away the frowsy foreigner, who no doubt is playing it, happy with a
fairly large coin.
Yes: for the sake of old times, for the old emotion's sake--for Ninette's
sake, I put up with it, not altogether sorry for the recollections it has
How vividly it brings it all back! Though I am a rich man now, and so
comfortably domiciled; though the fashionable world are so eager to lionise
me, and the musical world look upon me almost as a god, and to-morrow
hundreds of people will be turned away, for want of space, from the Hall
where I am to play, just I alone, my last Fantaisie, it was not so very
many years ago that I trudged along, fiddling for half-pence in the
streets. Ninette and I--Ninette with her barrel-organ, and I fiddling. Poor
little Ninette--that air was one of the four her organ played. I wonder
what has become of her? Dead, I should hope, poor child. Now that I am
successful and famous, a Baron of the French Empire, it is not altogether
unpleasant to think of the old, penniless, vagrant days, by a blazing fire
in a thick carpeted room, with the November night shut outside. I am rather
an epicure of my emotions, and my work is none the worse for it.
'Little egoist,' I remember Lady Greville once said of me, 'he has the true
artistic susceptibility. All his sensations are so much grist for his art.'
But it is of Ninette, not Lady Greville, that I think to-night, Ninette's
childish face that the dreary grinding organ brings up before me, not Lady
Greville's aquiline nose and delicate artificial complexion.
Although I am such a great man now, I should find it very awkward to be
obliged to answer questions as to my parentage and infancy.
Even my nationality I could not state precisely, though I know I am as much
Italian as English, perhaps rather more. From Italy I have inherited my
genius and enthusiasm for art, from England I think I must have got my
common-sense, and the capacity of keeping the money which I make; also a
certain natural coldness of disposition, which those who only know me as a
public character do not dream of. All my earliest memories are very vague
and indistinct. I remember tramping over France and Italy with a man and
woman--they were Italian, I believe--who beat me, and a fiddle, which I
loved passionately, and which I cannot remember having ever been without.
They are very shadowy presences now, and the name of the man I have
forgotten. The woman, I think, was called Maddalena. I am ignorant whether
they were related to me in any way: I know that I hated them bitterly, and
eventually, after a worse beating than usual, ran away from them. I never
cared for any one except my fiddle, until I knew Ninette.
I was very hungry and miserable indeed when that rencontre came about. I
wonder sometimes what would have happened if Ninette had not come to the
rescue, just at that particular juncture. Would some other salvation have
appeared, or would--well, well, if one once begins wondering what would
have happened if certain accidents in one's life had not befallen one when
they did, where will one come to a stop? Anyhow, when I had escaped from
my taskmasters, a wretched, puny child of ten, undersized and shivering,
clasping a cheap fiddle in my arms, lost in the huge labyrinth of Paris,
without a _sou_ in my rags to save me from starvation, I _did_ meet
Ninette, and that, after all, is the main point.
It was at the close of my first day of independence, a wretched November
evening, very much like this one. I had wandered about all day, but my
efforts had not been rewarded by a single coin. My fiddle was old and
warped, and injured by the rain; its whining was even more repugnant to my
own sensitive ear, than to that of the casual passer-by. I was in despair.
How I hated all the few well-dressed, well-to-do people who were but on the
Boulevards, on that inclement night. I wandered up and down hoping against
hope, until I was too tired to stand, and then I crawled under the shelter
of a covered passage, and flung myself down on the ground, to die, as I
hoped, crying bitterly.
The alley was dark and narrow, and I did not see at first that it had
another occupant. Presently a hand was put out and touched me on the
I started up in terror, though the touch was soft and need not have alarmed
me. I found it came from a little girl, for she was really about my own
age, though then she seemed to me very big and protecting. But she was tall
and strong for her age, and I, as I have said, was weak and undersized.
'Chut! little boy,' said Ninette; 'what are you crying for?'
And I told her my story, as clearly as I could, through my sobs; and soon a
pair of small arms were thrown round my neck, and a smooth little face laid
against my wet one caressingly. I felt as if half my troubles were over.
'Don't cry, little boy,' said Ninette, grandly; 'I will take care of you.
If you like, you shall live with me. We will make a _menage_ together. What
is your profession?'
I showed her my fiddle, and the sight of its condition caused fresh tears
'Ah!' she said, with a smile of approval, 'a violinist--good! I too am an
artiste. You ask my instrument? There it is!'
And she pointed to an object on the ground beside her, which I had, at
first, taken to be a big box, and dimly hoped might contain eatables. My
respect for my new friend suffered a little diminution. Already I felt
instinctively that to play the fiddle, even though it is an old, a poor
one, is to be something above a mere organ-grinder.
But I did not express this feeling--was not this little girl going to take
me home with her? would not she, doubtless, give me something to eat?
My first impulse was an artistic one; that was of Italy. The concealment of
it was due to the English side of me--the practical side.
I crept close to the little girl; she drew me to her protectingly.
'What is thy name, _p'tit_?' she said.
'Anton,' I answered, for that was what the woman Maddalena had called me.
Her husband, if he was her husband, never gave me any title, except when he
was abusing me, and then my names were many and unmentionable. Nowadays I
am the Baron Antonio Antonelli, of the Legion of Honour, but that is merely
an extension of the old concise Anton, so far as I know, the only name I
'Anton?' repeated the little girl, that is a nice name to say. Mine is
We sat in silence in our sheltered nook, waiting until the rain should
stop, and very soon I began to whimper again.
'I am so hungry, Ninette,' I said; 'I have eaten nothing to-day.'
In the literal sense this was a lie; I had eaten some stale crusts in the
early morning, before I gave my taskmasters the slip, but the hunger was
Ninette began to reproach herself for not thinking of this before. After
much fumbling in her pocket, she produced a bit of _brioche_, an apple, and
some cold chestnuts.
'_V'la_, Anton,' she said, 'pop those in your mouth. When we get home we
will have supper together. I have bread and milk at home. And we will buy
two hot potatoes from the man on the _quai_.'
I ate the unsatisfying morsels ravenously, Ninette watching me with an
approving nod the while. When they were finished, the weather was a little
better, and Ninette said we might move. She slung the organ over her
shoulder--it was a small organ, though heavy for a child; but she was used
to it, and trudged along under its weight like a woman. With her free hand
she caught hold of me and led me along the wet streets, proudly home.
Ninette's home! Poor little Ninette! It was colder and barer than these
rooms of mine now; it had no grand piano, and no thick carpets; and in the
place of pictures and _bibelots_, its walls were only wreathed in cobwebs.
Still it was drier than the streets of Paris, and if it had been a palace
it could not have been more welcome to me than it was that night.
The _menage_ of Ninette was a strange one! There was a tumbledown deserted
house in the Montparnasse district. It stood apart, in an overgrown weedy
garden, and has long ago been pulled down. It was uninhabited; no one but a
Parisian _gamine_ could have lived in it, and Ninette had long occupied it,
unmolested, save by the rats. Through the broken palings in the garden she
had no difficulty in passing, and as its back door had fallen to pieces,
there was nothing to bar her further entry. In one of the few rooms which
had its window intact, right at the top of the house, a mere attic, Ninette
had installed herself and her scanty goods, and henceforward this became my
It has struck me since as strange that the child's presence should not have
been resented by the owner. But I fancy the house had some story connected
with it. It was, I believe, the property of an old and infirm miser, who
in his reluctance to part with any of his money in repairs had overreached
himself, and let his property become valueless. He could not let it,
and he would not pull it down. It remained therefore an eyesore to
the neighbourhood, until his death put it in the possession of a less
avaricious successor. The proprietor never came near the place, and
with the neighbours it had a bad repute, and they avoided it as much as
possible. It stood, as I have said, alone, and in its own garden, and
Ninette's occupation of it may have passed unnoticed, while even if any
one of the poor people living around had known of her, it was, after all,
nobody's business to interfere.
When I was last in Paris I went to look for the house, but all traces of it
had vanished, and over the site, so far as I could fix it, a narrow street
of poor houses flourished.
Ninette introduced me to her domain with a proud air of ownership. She had
a little store of charcoal, with which she proceeded to light a fire in
the grate, and by its fitful light prepared our common supper--bread and
radishes, washed down by a pennyworth of milk, of which, I have no doubt, I
received the lion's share. As a dessert we munched, with much relish, the
steaming potatoes that Ninette had bought from a stall in the street, and
had kept warm in the pocket of her apron.
And so, as Ninette said, we made a _menage_ together. How that old organ
brings it all back. My fiddle was useless after the hard usage it received
that day. Ninette and I went out on our rounds together, but for the
present I was a sleeping partner in the firm, and all I could do was to
grind occasionally when Ninette's arm ached, or pick up the sous that were
thrown us. Ninette was, as a rule, fairly successful. Since her mother had
died, a year before, leaving her the organ as her sole legacy, she had
lived mainly by that instrument; although she often increased her income
in the evenings, when organ-grinding was more than ever at a discount, by
selling bunches of violets and other flowers as button-holes.
With her organ she had a regular beat, and a distinct _clientele_. Children
playing with their _bonnes_ in the gardens of the Tuileries and the
Luxembourg were her most productive patrons. Of course we had bad days as
well as good, and in winter it was especially bad; but as a rule we managed
fairly to make both ends meet. Sometimes we carried home as much as five
francs as the result of the day's campaign, but this, of course, was
Ninette was not precisely a pretty child, but she had a very bright face,
and wonderful gray eyes. When she smiled, which was often, her face was
very attractive, and a good many people were induced to throw a sou for the
smile which they would have assuredly grudged to the music.
Though we were about the same age, the position which it might have been
expected we should occupy was reversed. It was Ninette who petted and
protected me--I who clung to her.
I was very fond of Ninette, certainly. I should have died in those days if
it had not been for her, and sometimes I am surprised at the tenacity of my
tenderness for her. As much as I ever cared for anything except my art,
I cared for Ninette. But still she was never the first with me, as I must
have been with her. I was often fretful and discontented, sometimes, I
fear, ready to reproach her for not taking more pains to alleviate our
misery, but all the time of our partnership Ninette never gave me a cross
word. There was something maternal about her affection, which withstood all
ungratefulness. She was always ready to console me when I was miserable,
and throw her arms round me and kiss me when I was cold; and many a time, I
am sure, when the day's earnings had been scanty, the little girl must have
gone to sleep hungry, that I might not be stinted in my supper.
One of my grievances, and that the sorest of all, was the loss of my
beloved fiddle. This, for all her goodwill, Ninette was powerless to allay.
'Dear Anton,' she said, 'do not mind about it. I earn enough for both with
my organ, and some day we shall save enough to buy thee a new fiddle. When
we are together, and have got food and charcoal, what does it matter about
an old fiddle? Come, eat thy supper, Anton, and I will light the fire.
Never mind, dear Anton.' And she laid her soft little cheek against mine
with a pleading look.
'Don't,' I cried, pushing her away, 'you can't understand, Ninette; you
can only grind an organ--just four tunes, always the same. But I loved my
fiddle, loved it! loved it!' I cried passionately. 'It could talk to me,
Ninette, and tell me beautiful, new things, always beautiful, and always
new. Oh, Ninette, I shall die if I cannot play!'
It was always the same cry, and Ninette, if she could not understand, and
was secretly a little jealous, was as distressed as I was; but what could
Eventually, I got my violin, and it was Ninette who gave it me. The manner
of its acquirement was in this wise.
Ninette would sometimes invest some of her savings in violets, which she
divided with me, and made into nosegays for us to sell in the streets at
Theatre doors and frequented placed on the Boulevards were our favorite
One night we had taken up our station outside the Opera, when a gentleman
stopped on his way in, and asked Ninette for a button-hole. He was in
evening dress and in a great hurry.
'How much?' he asked shortly.
'Ten _sous_, M'sieu,' said exorbitant little Ninette, expecting to get two
at the most.
The gentleman drew out some coins hastily and selected a bunch from the
'Here is a franc,' he said, 'I cannot wait for change,' and putting a coin
into Ninette's hand he turned into the theatre.
Ninette ran towards me with her eyes gleaming; she held up the piece of
'Tiens, Anton!' she cried, and I saw that it was not a franc, as we had
though at first, but a gold Napoleon.
I believe the good little boy and girl in the story-books would have
immediately sought out the unfortunate gentleman and bid him rectify his
mistake, generally receiving, so the legend runs, a far larger bonus
as a reward of their integrity. I have never been a particularly good
little boy, however, and I don't think it ever struck either Ninette or
myself--perhaps we were not sufficiently speculative--that any other course
was open to us than to profit by the mistake. Ninette began to consider how
we were to spend it.
'Think of it, Anton, a whole gold _louis_. A _louis_,' said Ninette,
counting laboriously, 'is twenty francs, a franc is twenty sous, Anton; how
many sous are there in a louis? More than an hundred?'
But this piece of arithmetic was beyond me; I shook my head dubiously.
'What shall we buy first, Anton?' said Ninette, with sparkling eyes. 'You
shall have new things, Anton, a pair of new shoes and an hat; and I--'
But I had other things than clothes in my mind's eye; I interrupted her.
'Ninette, dear little Ninette,' I said coaxingly, 'remember the fiddle.'
Ninette's face fell, but she was a tender little thing, and she showed no
'Certainly, Anton,' she said, but with less enthusiasm, 'we will get it
to-morrow--one of the fiddles you showed me in M. Boudinot's shop on the
Quai. Do you think the ten-franc one will do, or the light one for fifteen
'Oh, the light one, dear Ninette,' I said; 'it is worth more than the extra
money. Besides, we shall soon earn it back now. Why if you could earn
such a lot as you have with your old organ, when you only have to turn
an handle, think what a lot I shall make, fiddling. For you have to be
something to play the fiddle, Ninette.'
'Yes,' said the little girl, wincing; 'you are right, dear Anton. Perhaps
you will get rich and go away and leave me?'
'No, Ninette,' I declared grandly, 'I will always take care of you. I have
no doubt I shall get rich, because I am going to be a great musician, but
I shall not leave you. I will have a big house on the Champs Elysees, and
then you shall come and live with me, and be my housekeeper. And in the
evenings, I will play to you and make you open your eyes, Ninette. You will
like me to play, you know; we are often dull in the evenings.'
'Yes,' said Ninette meekly, 'we will buy your fiddle to-morrow, dear Anton.
Let us go home now.'
Poor vanished Ninette! I must often have made the little heart sore with
some of the careless things I said. Yet looking back at it now, I know that
I never cared for any living person so much as I did for Ninette.
I have very few illusions left now; a childhood, such as mine, does not
tend to preserve them, and time and success have not made me less cynical.
Still I have never let my scepticism touch that childish presence. Lady
Greville once said to me, in the presence of her nephew Felix Leominster,
a musician too, like myself, that we three were curiously suited, for that
we were, without exception, the three most cynical persons in the universe,
Perhaps in a way she was right. Yet for all her cynicism Lady Greville I
know has a bundle of old and faded letters, tied up in black ribbon in some
hidden drawer, that perhaps she never reads now, but that she cannot forget
or destroy. They are in a bold handwriting, that is, not, I think, that of
the miserable, old debauchee, her husband, from whom she has been separated
since the first year of her marriage, and their envelopes bear Indian
And Felix, who told me the history of those letters with a smile of pity
on his thin, ironical lips--Felix, whose principles are adapted to his
conscience and whose conscience is bounded by the law, and in whom I
believe as little as he does in me, I found out by accident not so very
long ago. It was on the day of All Souls, the melancholy festival of
souvenirs, celebrated once a year, under the November fogs, that I strayed
into the Montparnasse Cemetery, to seek inspiration for my art. And though
he did not see me, I saw Felix, the prince of railers, who believes in
nothing and cares for nothing except himself, for music is not with him a
passion but an _agrement_. Felix bareheaded, and without his usual smile,
putting fresh flowers on the grave of a little Parisian grisette, who had
been his mistress and died five years ago. I thought of Balzac's 'Messe de
l'Athee' and ranked Felix's inconsistency with it, feeling at the same time
how natural such a paradox is. And myself, the last of the trio, at the
mercy of a street organ, I cannot forget Ninette.
Though it was not until many years had passed that I heard that little
criticism, the purchase of my fiddle was destined very shortly to bring
my life in contact with its author. Those were the days when a certain
restraint grew up between Ninette and myself. Ninette, it must be
confessed, was jealous of the fiddle. Perhaps she knew instinctively that
music was with me a single and absorbing passion, from which she was
excluded. She was no genius, little Ninette, and her organ was nothing more
to her than the means of making a livelihood; she felt not the smallest
_tendresse_ for it, and could not understand why a dead and inanimate
fiddle, made of mere wood and catgut, should be any more to me than that.
How could she know that to me it was never a dead thing, that even when it
hung hopelessly out of my reach, in the window of M. Boudinot, before ever
it had given out wild, impassioned music beneath my hands, it was always a
live thing to me, alive and with a human, throbbing heart, vibrating with
hope and passion.
So Ninette was jealous of the fiddle, and being proud in her way, she
became more and more quiet and reticent, and drew herself aloof from me,
although, wrapped up as I was in the double egoism of art and boyhood,
I failed to notice this. I have been sorry since that any shadow of
misunderstanding should have clouded the closing days of our partnership.
It is late to regret now, however. When my fiddle was added to our
belongings, we took to going out separately. It was more profitable, and,
besides, Ninette, I think, saw that I was growing a little ashamed of
her organ. On one of these occasions, as I played before a house in the
Faubourg St. Germain, the turning point of my life befell me. The house,
outside which I had taken my station was a large, white one, with a balcony
on the first floor. This balcony was unoccupied, but the window looking to
it was open, and through the lace curtains I could distinguish the sound
of voices. I began to play; at first, one of the airs that Maddalena had
taught me; but before it was finished, I had glided off, as usual, into an
When I was playing like that, I threw all my soul into my fingers, and I
had neither ears nor eyes for anything round me. I did not therefore notice
until I had finished playing that a lady and a young man had come out into
the balcony, and were beckoning to me.
'Bravo!' cried the lady enthusiastically, but she did not throw me the
reward I had expected. She turned and said something to her companion, who
smiled and disappeared. I waited expectantly, thinking perhaps she had sent
him for her purse. Presently the door opened, and the young man issued from
it. He came to me and touched me on the shoulder.
'You are to come with me,' he said, authoritatively, speaking in French,
but with an English accent. I followed him, my heart beating with
excitement, through the big door, into a large, handsome hall and up a
broad staircase, thinking that in all my life I had never seen such a
He led me into a large and luxurious _salon_, which seemed to my astonished
eyes like a wonderful museum. The walls were crowded with pictures, a
charming composition by Gustave Moreau was lying on the grand piano,
waiting until a nook could be found for it to hang. Renaissance bronzes
and the work of eighteenth century silversmiths jostled one another on
brackets, and on a table lay a handsome violin-case. The pale blinds were
drawn down, and there was a delicious smell of flowers diffused everywhere.
A lady was lying on a sofa near the window, a handsome woman of about
thirty, whose dress was a miracle of lace and flimsiness.
The young man led me towards her, and she placed two delicate, jewelled
hands on my shoulders, looking me steadily in the face.
'Where did you learn to play like that, my boy?' she asked.
'I cannot remember when I could not fiddle, Madame,' I answered, and that
'The boy is a born musician, Felix,' said Lady Greville. 'Look at his
And she held up mine to the young man's notice; he glanced at them
'Yes, Miladi,' said the young man, 'they are real violin hands. What were
you playing just now, my lad?'
'I don't know, sir,' I said. 'I play just what comes into my head.'
Lady Greville looked at her nephew with a glance of triumph.
'What did I tell you?' she cried. 'The boy is a genius, Felix. I shall have
'All your geese are swans, Auntie,' said the young man in English.
Lady Greville, however, ignored this thrust.
'Will you play for me now, my dear,' she said, 'as you did before--just
what comes into your head?'
I nodded, and was getting my fiddle to my chin, when she stopped me.
'Not that thing,' bestowing a glance of contempt at my instrument. 'Felix,
The young man went to the other side of the room, and returned with the
case which I had noticed. He put it in my hand, with the injunction to
handle it gently. I had never heard of Cremona violins, nor of my namesake
Stradivarius; but at the sight of the dark seasoned wood, reposing on its
blue velvet, I could not restrain a cry of admiration.
I have that same instrument in my room now, and I would not trust it in the
hands of another for a million.
I lifted the violin tenderly from its case, and ran my bow up the gamut.
I felt almost intoxicated at the mellow sounds it uttered. I could have
kissed the dark wood, that looked to me stained through and through with
I began to play. My improvisation was a song of triumph and delight; the
music, at first rapid and joyous, became slower and more solemn, as the
inspiration seized on me, until at last, in spite of myself, it grew into
a wild and indescribable dirge, fading away in a long wail of unutterable
sadness and regret. When it was over I felt exhausted and unstrung, as
though virtue had gone out from me. I had played as I had never played
before. The young man had turned away, and was looking out of the window.
The lady on the sofa was transfigured. The languor had altogether left her,
and the tears were streaming down her face, to the great detriment of the
powder and enamel which composed her complexion.
She pulled me towards her, and kissed me.
'It is beautiful, terrible!' she said; 'I have never heard such strange
music in my life. You must stay with me now and have masters. If you can
play like that now, without culture and education, in time, when you have
been taught, you will be the greatest violinist that ever lived.'
I will say of Lady Greville that, in spite of her frivolity and
affectations, she does love music at the bottom of her soul, with the
absorbing passion that in my eyes would absolve a person for committing all
the sins in the Decalogue. If her heart could be taken out and examined
I can fancy it as a shield, divided into equal fields. Perhaps, as her
friends declare, one of these might bear the device 'Modes et Confections';
but I am sure that you would see on the other, even more deeply graven, the
divine word 'Music.'
She is one of the few persons whose praise of any of my compositions gives
me real satisfaction; and almost alone, when everybody is running, in true
goose fashion, to hear my piano recitals, she knows and tells me to stick
to my true vocation--the violin.
'My dear Baron,' she said, 'why waste your time playing on an instrument
which is not suited to you, when you have Stradivarius waiting at home for
the magic touch?'
She was right, though it is the fashion to speak of me now as a second
Rubenstein. There are two or three finer pianists than I, even here
in England. But I am quite sure, yes, and you are sure, too, oh my
Stradivarius, that in the whole world there is nobody who can make such
music out of you as I can, no one to whom you tell such stories as you tell
to me. Any one, who knows, could see by merely looking at my hands that
they are violin and not piano hands.
'Will you come and live with me, Anton?' said Lady Greville, more calmly.
'I am rich, and childless; you shall live just as if you were my child. The
best masters in Europe shall teach you. Tell me where to find your parents,
Anton, and I will see them to-night.'
'I have no parents,' I said, 'only Ninette. I cannot leave Ninette.'
'Shade of Musset, who is Ninette?' asked Felix, turning round from the
I told him.
'What is to be done?' cried Lady Greville in perplexity. 'I cannot have the
girl here as well, and I will not let my Phoenix go.'
'Send her to the Soeurs de la Misericorde,' said the young man carelessly;
'you have a nomination.'
'Have I?' said Lady Greville, with a laugh. 'I am sure I did not know it.
It is an excellent idea; but do you think he will come without the other? I
suppose they were like brother and sister?'
'Look at him now,' said Felix, pointing to where I stood caressing the
precious wood; 'he would sell his soul for that fiddle.'
Lady Greville took the hint. 'Here, Anton,' said she, 'I cannot have
Ninette here--you understand, once and for all. But I will see that she
is sent to a kind home, where she will want for nothing and be trained up
as a servant. You need not bother about her. You will live with me and be
taught, and some day, if you are good and behave, you shall go and see
I was irresolute, but I only said doggedly, feeling what would be the end,
'I do not want to come, if Ninette may not.'
Then Lady Greville played her trump card.
'Look, Anton,' she said, 'you see that violin. I have no need, I see, to
tell you its value. If you will come with me and make no scene, you shall
have it for your very own. Ninette will be perfectly happy. Do you agree?'
I looked at my old fiddle, lying on the floor. How yellow and trashy it
looked beside the grand old Cremona, bedded in its blue velvet.
'I will do what you like, Madame,' I said.
'Human nature is pretty much the same in geniuses and dullards,' said
Felix. 'I congratulate you, Auntie.'
And so the bargain was struck, and the new life entered upon that very
day. Lady Greville sought out Ninette at once, though I was not allowed to
I never saw Ninette again. She made no opposition to Lady Greville's
scheme. She let herself be taken to the Orphanage, and she never asked, so
they said, to see me again.
'She's a stupid little thing,' said Lady Greville to her nephew, on her
return, 'and as plain as possible; but I suppose she was kind to the boy.
They will forget each other now I hope. It is not as if they were related.'
'In that case they would already be hating each other. However, I am quite
sure your protege will forget soon enough; and, after all, you have nothing
to do with the girl.'
I suppose I did not think very much of Ninette then; but what would you
have? It was such a change from the old vagrant days, that there is a good
deal to excuse me. I was absorbed too in the new and wonderful symmetry
which music began to assume, as taught me by the master Lady Greville
procured for me. When the news was broken to me, with great gentleness,
that my little companion had run away from the sisters with whom she had
been placed--run away, and left no traces behind her, I hardly realised
how completely she would have passed away from me. I thought of her for a
little while with some regret; then I remembered Stradivarius, and I could
not be sorry long. So by degrees I ceased to think of her.
I lived on in Lady Greville's house, going with her, wherever she
stayed--London, Paris, and Nice--until I was thirteen. Then she sent me
away to study music at a small German capital, in the house of one of the
few surviving pupils of Weber. We parted as we had lived together, without
Personally Lady Greville did not like me; if anything, she felt an actual
repugnance towards me. All the care she lavished on me was for the
sake of my talent, not for myself. She took a great deal of trouble in
superintending, not only my musical education, but my general culture. She
designed little mediaeval costumes for me, and was indefatigable in her
endeavours to impart to my manners that finish which a gutter education had
There is a charming portrait of me, by a well-known English artist, that
hangs now in her ladyship's drawing-room. A pale boy of twelve, clad in an
old-fashioned suit of ruby velvet; a boy with huge, black eyes, and long
curls of the same colour, is standing by an oak music-stand, holding before
him a Cremona violin, whose rich colouring is relieved admirably by the
beautiful old point lace with which the boy's doublet is slashed. It is a
charming picture. The famous artist who painted it considers it his best
portrait, and Lady Greville is proud of it.
But her pride is of the same quality as that which made her value my
presence. I was in her eyes merely the complement of her famous fiddle.
I heard her one day express a certain feeling of relief at my approaching
'You regret having taken him up?' asked her nephew curiously.
'No,' she said, 'that would be folly. He repays all one's trouble, as soon
as he touches his fiddle--but I don't like him.'
'He can play like the great Pan,' says Felix.
'Yes, and like Pan he is half a beast.'
'You may make a musician out of him,' answered the young man, examining
his pink nails with a certain admiration, 'but you will never make him a
'Perhaps not,' said Lady Greville carelessly. 'Still, Felix, he is very
_Dame!_ I think he would own himself mistaken now. Mr. Felix Leominster
himself is not a greater social success than the Baron Antonio Antonelli,
of the Legion of Honour. I am as sensitive as any one to the smallest spot
on my linen, and Duchesses rave about my charming manners.
For the rest my souvenirs are not very numerous. I lived in Germany until I
made my _debut_, and I never heard anything more of Ninette.
The history of my life is very much the history of my art: and that you
know. I have always been an art-concentrated man--self-concentrated, my
friend Felix Leominster tells me frankly--and since I was a boy nothing has
ever troubled the serene repose of my egoism.
It is strange considering the way people rant about the 'passionate
sympathy' of my playing, the 'enormous potentiality of suffering' revealed
in my music, how singularly free from passion and disturbance my life has
I have never let myself be troubled by what is commonly called 'love.'
To be frank with you, I do not much believe in it. Of the two principal
elements of which it is composed, vanity and egoism, I have too little
of the former, too much of the latter, too much coldness withal in my
character to suffer from it. My life has been notoriously irreproachable.
I figure in polemical literature as an instance of a man who has lived in
contact with the demoralising influence of the stage, and will yet go to
Heaven. _A la bonne heure!_
I am coming to the end of my souvenirs and of my cigar at the same time. I
must convey a coin somehow to that dreary person outside, who is grinding
now half-way down the street.
On consideration, I decide emphatically against opening the window and
presenting it that way. If the fog once gets in, it will utterly spoil me
for any work this evening. I feel myself in travail also of two charming
little _Lieder_ that all this thinking about Ninette has suggested. How
would 'Chansons de Gamine' do for a title? I think it best, on second
thoughts, to ring for Giacomo, my man, and send him out with the half-crown
I propose to sacrifice on the altar of sentiment. Doubtless the musician is
a country-woman of his, and if he pockets the coin, that is his look out.
Now if I was writing a romance, what a chance I have got. I should tell you
how my organ-grinder turned out to be no other than Ninette. Of course she
would not be spoilt or changed by the years--just the same Ninette. Then
what scope for a pathetic scene of reconciliation and forgiveness--the
whole to conclude with a peal of marriage bells, two people living together
'happy ever after.' But I am not writing a romance, and I am a musician,
not a poet.
Sometimes, however, it strikes me that I should like to see Ninette again,
and I find myself seeking traces of her in childish faces in the street.
The absurdity of such an expectation strikes me very forcibly afterwards,
when I look at my reflection in the glass, and tell myself that I must be
careful in the disposition of my parting.
Ninette, too, was my contemporary. Still I cannot conceive of her as a
woman. To me she is always a child. Ninette grown up, with a draggled dress
and squalling babies, is an incongruous thing that shocks my sense of
artistic fitness. My fiddle is my only mistress, and while I can summon its
consolation at command, I may not be troubled by the pettiness of a merely
human love. But once when I was down with Roman fever, and tossed on a
hotel bed, all the long, hot night, while Giacomo drowsed in a corner over
'Il Diavolo Rosa,' I seemed to miss Ninette.
Remembering that time, I sometimes fancy that when the inevitable hour
strikes, and this hand is too weak to raise the soul of melody out of
Stradivarius--when, my brief dream of life and music over, I go down into
the dark land, where there is no more music, and no Ninette, into the sleep
from which there comes no awaking, I should like to see her again, not the
woman but the child. I should like to look into the wonderful eyes of the
old Ninette, to feel the soft cheek laid against mine, to hold the little
brown hands, as in the old _gamin_ days.
It is a foolish thought, because I am not forty yet, and with the moderate
life I lead I may live to play Stradivarius for another thirty years.
There is always the hope, too, that it, when it comes, may seize me
suddenly. To see it coming, that is the horrible part. I should like to be
struck by lightning, with you in my arms, Stradivarius, oh, my beloved--to
The literary gentleman over my head is stamping viciously about his
room. What would his language be if he knew how I have rewarded his
tormentress--he whose principles are so strict that he would bear the
agony for hours, sooner than give a barrel-organ sixpence to go to another
street. He would be capable of giving Giacomo a sovereign to pocket my
coin, if he only knew. Yet I owe that unmusical old organ a charming
evening, tinged with the faint _soupcon_ of melancholy which is necessary
to and enhances the highest pleasure. Over the memories it has excited I
have smoked a pleasant cigar--peace to its ashes!
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
During five years of an almost daily association with Michael Garth, in a
solitude of Chili, which threw us, men of common speech, though scarcely of
common interests, largely on each other's tolerance, I had grown, if not
into an intimacy with him, at least into a certain familiarity, through
which the salient feature of his history, his character reached me. It
was a singular character, and an history rich in instruction. So much I
gathered from hints, which he let drop long before I had heard the end
of it. Unsympathetic as the man was to me, it was impossible not to be
interested by it. As our acquaintance advanced, it took (his character I
mean) more and more the aspect of a difficult problem in psychology, that
I was passionately interested in solving: to study it was my recreation,
after watching the fluctuating course of nitrates. So that when I had
achieved fortune, and might have started home immediately, my interest
induced me to wait more than three months, and return in the same ship with
him. It was through this delay that I am enabled to transcribe the issue of
my impressions: I found them edifying, if only for their singular irony.
From his own mouth indeed I gleaned but little; although during our
voyage home, in those long nights when we paced the deck together under
the Southern Cross, his reticence occasionally gave way, and I obtained
glimpses of a more intimate knowledge of him than the whole of our
juxtaposition on the station had ever afforded me. I guessed more, however,
than he told me; and what was lacking I pieced together later, from the
talk of the girl to whom I broke the news of his death. He named her to
me, for the first time, a day or two before that happened: a piece of
confidence so unprecedented, that I must have been blind, indeed, not
to have foreseen what it prefaced. I had seen her face the first time I
entered his house, where her photograph hung on a conspicuous wall: the
charming, oval face of a young girl, little more than a child, with great
eyes, that one guessed, one knew not why, to be the colour of violets,
looking out with singular wistfulness from a waving cloud of dark hair.
Afterwards, he told me that it was the picture of his _fiancee_: but,
before that, signs had not been wanting by which I had read a woman in his