This etext was prepared by Michael Delaney of Laurel, MD.
THE STREET OF SEVEN STARS by MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
The old stucco house sat back in a garden, or what must once have been a garden, when that part of the Austrian city had been a royal game preserve. Tradition had it that the Empress Maria Theresa had used the building as a hunting-lodge, and undoubtedly there was something royal in the proportions of the salon. With all the candles lighted in the great glass chandelier, and no sidelights, so that the broken paneling was mercifully obscured by gloom, it was easy to believe that the great empress herself had sat in one of the tall old chairs and listened to anecdotes of questionable character; even, if tradition may be believed, related not a few herself.
The chandelier was not lighted on this rainy November night. Outside in the garden the trees creaked and bent before the wind, and the heavy barred gate, left open by the last comer, a piano student named Scatchett and dubbed “Scatch”–the gate slammed to and fro monotonously, giving now and then just enough pause for a hope that it had latched itself, a hope that was always destroyed by the next gust.
One candle burned in the salon. Originally lighted for the purpose of enabling Miss Scatchett to locate the score of a Tschaikowsky concerto, it had been moved to the small center table, and had served to give light if not festivity to the afternoon coffee and cakes. It still burned, a gnarled and stubby fragment, in its china holder; round it the disorder of the recent refreshment, three empty cups, a half of a small cake, a crumpled napkin or two,–there were never enough to go round,–and on the floor the score of the concerto, clearly abandoned for the things of the flesh.
The room was cold. The long casement windows creaked in time with the slamming of the gate and the candle flickered in response to a draft under the doors. The concerto flapped and slid along the uneven old floor. At the sound a girl in a black dress, who had been huddled near the tile stove, rose impatiently and picked it up. There was no impatience, however, in the way she handled the loose sheets. She put them together carefully, almost tenderly, and placed them on the top of the grand piano, anchoring them against the draft with a china dog from the stand.
The room was very bare–a long mirror between two of the windows, half a dozen chairs, a stand or two, and in a corner the grand piano. There were no rugs–the bare floor stretched bleakly into dim corners and was lost. The crystal pendants of the great chandelier looked like stalactites in a cave. The girl touched the piano keys; they were ice under her fingers.
In a sort of desperation she drew a chair underneath the chandelier, and armed with a handful of matches proceeded to the unheard-of extravagance of lighting it, not here and there, but throughout as high as she could reach, standing perilously on her tiptoes on the chair.
The resulting illumination revealed a number of things: It showed that the girl was young and comely and that she had been crying; it revealed the fact that the coal-pail was empty and the stove almost so; it let the initiated into the secret that the blackish fluid in the cups had been made with coffee extract that had been made of Heaven knows what; and it revealed in the cavernous corner near the door a number of trunks. The girl, having lighted all the candles, stood on the chair and looked at the trunks. She was very young, very tragic, very feminine. A door slammed down the hall and she stopped crying instantly. Diving into one of those receptacles that are a part of the mystery of the sex, she rubbed a chamois skin over her nose and her reddened eyelids.
The situation was a difficult one, but hardly, except to Harmony Wells, a tragedy. Few of us are so constructed that the Suite “Arlesienne” will serve as a luncheon, or a faulty fingering of the Waldweben from “Siegfried” will keep us awake at night. Harmony had lain awake more than once over some crime against her namesake, had paid penances of early rising and two hours of scales before breakfast, working with stiffened fingers in her cold little room where there was no room for a stove, and sitting on the edge of the bed in a faded kimono where once pink butterflies sported in a once blue-silk garden. Then coffee, rolls, and honey, and back again to work, with little Scatchett at the piano in the salon beyond the partition, wearing a sweater and fingerless gloves and holding a hot-water bottle on her knees. Three rooms beyond, down the stone hall, the Big Soprano, doing Madama Butterfly in bad German, helped to make an encircling wall of sound in the center of which one might practice peacefully.
Only the Portier objected. Morning after morning, crawling out at dawn from under his featherbed in the lodge below, he opened his door and listened to Harmony doing penance above; and morning after morning he shook his fist up the stone staircase.
“Gott im Himmel!” he would say to his wife, fumbling with the knot of his mustache bandage, “what a people, these Americans! So much noise and no music!”
“And mad!” grumbled his wife. “All the day coal, coal to heat; and at night the windows open! Karl the milkboy has seen it.”
And now the little colony was breaking up. The Big Soprano was going back to her church, grand opera having found no place for her. Scatch was returning to be married, her heart full, indeed, of music, but her head much occupied with the trousseau in her trunks. The Harmar sisters had gone two weeks before, their funds having given out. Indeed, funds were very low with all of them. The “Bitte zum speisen” of the little German maid often called them to nothing more opulent than a stew of beef and carrots.
Not that all had been sordid. The butter had gone for opera tickets, and never was butter better spent. And there had been gala days–a fruitcake from Harmony’s mother, a venison steak at Christmas, and once or twice on birthdays real American ice cream at a fabulous price and worth it. Harmony had bought a suit, too, a marvel of tailoring and cheapness, and a willow plume that would have cost treble its price in New York. Oh, yes, gala days, indeed, to offset the butter and the rainy winter and the faltering technic and the anxiety about money. For that they all had always, the old tragedy of the American music student abroad–the expensive lessons, the delays in getting to the Master himself, the contention against German greed or Austrian whim. And always back in one’s mind the home people, to whom one dares not confess that after nine months of waiting, or a year, one has seen the Master once or not at all.
Or–and one of the Harmar girls had carried back this sear in her soul–to go back rejected, as one of the unfit, on whom even the undermasters refuse to waste time. That has been, and often. Harmony stood on her chair and looked at the trunks. The Big Soprano was calling down the hall.
“Scatch,” she was shouting briskly, “where is my hairbrush?”
A wail from Scatch from behind a closed door.
“I packed it, Heaven knows where! Do you need it really? Haven’t you got a comb?”
“As soon as I get something on I’m coming to shake you. Half the teeth are out of my comb. I don’t believe you packed it. Look under the bed.”
Silence for a moment, while Scatch obeyed for the next moment.
“Here it is,” she called joyously. “And here are Harmony’s bedroom slippers. Oh, Harry, I found your slippers!” The girl got down off the chair and went to the door.
“Thanks, dear,” she said. “I’m coming in a minute.”
She went to the mirror, which had reflected the Empress Maria Theresa, and looked at her eyes. They were still red. Perhaps if she opened the window the air would brighten them.
Armed with the brush, little Scatchett hurried to the Big Soprano’s room. She flung the brush on the bed and closed the door. She held her shabby wrapper about her and listened just inside the door. There were no footsteps, only the banging of the gate in the wind. She turned to the Big Soprano, heating a curling iron in the flame of a candle, and held out her hand.
“Look!” she said. “Under my bed! Ten kronen!”
Without a word the Big Soprano put down her curling-iron, and ponderously getting down on her knees, candle in hand, inspected the dusty floor beneath her bed. It revealed nothing but a cigarette, on which she pounced. Still squatting, she lighted the cigarette in the candle flame and sat solemnly puffing it.
“The first for a week,” she said. “Pull out the wardrobe, Scatch; there may be another relic of my prosperous days.”
But little Scatchett was not interested in Austrian cigarettes with a government monopoly and gilt tips. She was looking at the ten-kronen piece.
“Where is the other?” she asked in a whisper.
“In my powder-box.”
Little Scatchett lifted the china lid and dropped the tiny gold-piece.
“Every little bit,” she said flippantly, but still in a whisper, “added to what she’s got, makes just a little bit more.”
“Have you thought of a place to leave it for her? If Rosa finds it, it’s good-bye. Heaven knows it was hard enough to get together, without losing it now. I’ll have to jump overboard and swim ashore at New York–I haven’t even a dollar for tips.”
“New York!” said little Scatchett with her eyes glowing. “If Henry meets me I know he will–“
“Tut!” The Big Soprano got up cumbrously and stood looking down. “You and your Henry! Scatchy, child, has it occurred to your maudlin young mind that money isn’t the only thing Harmony is going to need? She’s going to be alone–and this is a bad town to be alone in. And she is not like us. You have your Henry. I’m a beefy person who has a stomach, and I’m thankful for it. But she is different–she’s got the thing that you are as well without, the thing that my lack of is sending me back to fight in a church choir instead of grand opera.”
Little Scatchett was rather puzzled.
“Temperament?” she asked. It had always been accepted in the little colony that Harmony was a real musician, a star in their lesser firmament.
The Big Soprano sniffed.
“If you like,” she said. “Soul is a better word. Only the rich ought to have souls, Scatchy, dear.”
This was over the younger girl’s head, and anyhow Harmony was coming down the hall.
“I thought, under her pillow,” she whispered. “She’ll find it–“
Harmony came in, to find the Big Soprano heating a curler in the flame of a candle.
Harmony found the little hoard under her pillow that night when, having seen Scatch and the Big Soprano off at the station, she had come back alone to the apartment on the Siebensternstrasse. The trunks were gone now. Only the concerto score still lay on the piano, where little Scatchett, mentally on the dock at New York with Henry’s arms about her, had forgotten it. The candles in the great chandelier had died in tears of paraffin that spattered the floor beneath. One or two of the sockets were still smoking, and the sharp odor of burning wickends filled the room.
Harmony had come through the garden quickly. She had had an uneasy sense of being followed, and the garden, with its moaning trees and slamming gate and the great dark house in the background, was a forbidding place at best. She had rung the bell and had stood, her back against the door, eyes and ears strained in the darkness. She had fancied that a figure had stopped outside the gate and stood looking in, but the next moment the gate had swung to and the Portier was fumbling at the lock behind her.
The Portier had put on his trousers over his night garments, and his mustache bandage gave him a sinister expression, rather augmented when he smiled at her. The Portier liked Harmony in spite of the early morning practicing; she looked like a singer at the opera for whom he cherished a hidden attachment. The singer had never seen him, but it was for her he wore the mustache bandage. Perhaps some day–hopefully! One must be ready!
The Portier gave Harmony a tiny candle and Harmony held out his tip, the five Hellers of custom. But the Portier was keen, and Rosa was a niece of his wife and talked more than she should. He refused the tip with a gesture.
“Bitte, Fraulein!” he said through the bandage. “It is for me a pleasure to admit you. And perhaps if the Fraulein is cold, a basin of soup.”
The Portier was not pleasant to the eye. His nightshirt was open over his hairy chest and his feet were bare to the stone floor. But to Harmony that lonely night he was beautiful. She tried to speak and could not but she held out her hand in impulsive gratitude, and the Portier in his best manner bent over and kissed it. As she reached the curve of the stone staircase, carrying her tiny candle, the Portier was following her with his eyes. She was very like the girl of the opera.
The clang of the door below and the rattle of the chain were comforting to Harmony’s ears. From the safety of the darkened salon she peered out into the garden again, but no skulking figure detached itself from the shadows, and the gate remained, for a marvel, closed.
It was when–having picked up her violin in a very passion of loneliness, only to put it down when she found that the familiar sounds echoed and reechoed sadly through the silent rooms–it was when she was ready for bed that she found the money under her pillow, and a scrawl from Scatchy, a breathless, apologetic scrawl, little Scatchett having adored her from afar, as the plain adore the beautiful, the mediocre the gifted:–
DEAREST HARRY [here a large blot, Scatchy being addicted to blots]: I am honestly frightened when I think what we are doing. But, oh, my dear, if you could know how pleased we are with ourselves you’d not deny us this pleasure. Harry, you have it–the real thing, you know, whatever it is–and I haven’t. None of the rest of us had. And you must stay. To go now, just when lessons would mean everything–well, you must not think of it. We have scads to take us home, more than we need, both of us, or at least–well, I’m lying, and you know it. But we have enough, by being careful, and we want you to have this. It isn’t much, but it may help. Ten Kronen of it I found to-night under my bed, and it may be yours anyhow.
“Sadie [Sadie was the Big Soprano] keeps saying awful things about our leaving you here, and she has rather terrified me. You are so beautiful, Harry,–although you never let us tell you so. And Sadie says you have a soul and I haven’t, and that souls are deadly things to have. I feel to-night that in urging you to stay I am taking the burden of your soul on me! Do be careful, Harry. If any one you do not know speaks to you call a policeman. And be sure you get into a respectable pension. There are queer ones.
“Sadie and I think that if you can get along on what you get from home–you said your mother would get insurance, didn’t you?–and will keep this as a sort of fund to take you home if anything should go wrong–. But perhaps we are needlessly worried. In any case, of course it’s a loan, and you can preserve that magnificent independence of yours by sending it back when you get to work to make your fortune. And if you are doubtful at all, just remember that hopeful little mother of yours who sent you over to get what she had never been able to have for herself, and who planned this for you from the time you were a kiddy and she named you Harmony.
“I’m not saying good-bye. I can’t.
That night, while the Portier and his wife slept under their crimson feather beds and the crystals of the chandelier in the salon shook in the draft as if the old Austrian court still danced beneath, Harmony fought her battle. And a battle it was. Scatchy and the Big Soprano had not known everything. There had been no insurance on her father’s life; the little mother was penniless. A married sister would care for her, but what then? Harmony had enough remaining of her letter-of credit to take her home, and she had–the hoard under the pillow. To go back and teach the violin; or to stay and finish under the master, be presented, as he had promised her, at a special concert in Vienna, with all the prestige at home that that would mean, and its resulting possibility of fame and fortune–which?
She decided to stay. There might be a concert or so, and she could teach English. The Viennese were crazy about English. Some of the stores advertised “English Spoken.” That would be something to fall back on, a clerkship during the day.
Toward dawn she discovered that she was very cold, and she went into the Big Soprano’s deserted and disordered room. The tile stove was warm and comfortable, but on the toilet table there lay a disreputable comb with most of the teeth gone. Harmony kissed this unromantic object! Which reveals the fact that, genius or not, she was only a young and rather frightened girl, and that every atom of her ached with loneliness.
She did not sleep at all, but sat curled up on the bed with her feet under her and thought things out. At dawn the Portier, crawling out into the cold from under his feathers, opened the door into the hall and listened. She was playing, not practicing, and the music was the barcarolle from the “Tales” of Hoffmann. Standing in the doorway in his night attire, his chest open to the frigid morning air, his face upraised to the floor above, he hummed the melody in a throaty tenor.
When the music had died away he went in and closed the door sheepishly. His wife stood over the stove, a stick of firewood in her hand. She eyed him.
“So! It is the American Fraulein now!”
“I did but hum a little. She drags out my heart with her music.” He fumbled with hismustache bandage, which was knotted behind, keeping one eye on his wife, whose morning pleasure it was to untie it for him.
“She leaves to-day,” she announced, ignoring the knot.
“Why? She is alone. Rosa says–“
“She leaves to-day!”
The knot was hopeless now, double-tied and pulled to smooth compactness. The Portier jerked at it.
“No Fraulein stays here alone. It is not respectable. And what saw I last night, after she entered and you stood moon-gazing up the stair after her! A man in the gateway!”
The Portier was angry. He snarled something through the bandage, which had slipped down over his mouth, and picked up a great knife.
“She will stay if she so desire,” he muttered furiously, and, raising the knife, he cut the knotted string. His mustache, faintly gray and sweetly up-curled, stood revealed.
“She will stay!” he repeated. “And when you see men at the gate, let me know. She is an angel!”
“And she looks like the angel at the opera, hein?”
This was a crushing blow. The Portier wilted. Such things come from telling one’s cousin, who keeps a brushshop, what is in one’s heart. Yesterday his wife had needed a brush, and to-day–Himmel, the girl must go!
Harmony knew also that she must go. The apartment was large and expensive; Rosa ate much and wasted more. She must find somewhere a tiny room with board, a humble little room but with a stove. It is folly to practice with stiffened fingers. A room where her playing would not annoy people, that was important.
She paid Rosa off that morning out of money left for that purpose. Rosa wept. She said she would stay with the Fraulein for her keep, because it was not the custom for young ladies to be alone in the city–young girls of the people, of course; but beautiful young ladies, no!
Harmony gave her an extra krone or two out of sheer gratitude, but she could not keep her. And at noon, having packed her trunk, she went down to interview the Portier and his wife, who were agents under the owner for the old house.
The Portier, entirely subdued, was sweeping out the hallway. He looked past the girl, not at her, and observed impassively that the lease was up and it was her privilege to go. In the daylight she was not so like the angel, and after all she could only play the violin. The angel had a voice, such a voice! And besides, there was an eye at the crack of the door.
The bit of cheer of the night before was gone; it was with a heavy heart that Harmony started on her quest for cheaper quarters.
Winter, which had threatened for a month, had come at last. The cobblestones glittered with ice and the small puddles in the gutters were frozen. Across the street a spotted deer, shot in the mountains the day before and hanging from a hook before a wild-game shop, was frozen quite stiff. It was a pretty creature. The girl turned her eyes away. A young man, buying cheese and tinned fish in the shop, watched after her.
“That’s an American girl, isn’t it?” he asked in American-German.
The shopkeeper was voluble. Also Rosa had bought much from him, and Rosa talked. When the American left the shop he knew everything of Harmony that Rosa knew except her name. Rosa called her “The Beautiful One.” Also he was short one krone four beliers in his change, which is readily done when a customer is plainly thinking of a “beautiful one.”
Harmony searched all day for the little room with board and a stove and no objection to practicing. There were plenty–but the rates! The willow plume looked prosperous, and she had a way of making the plainest garments appear costly. Landladies looked at the plume and the suit and heard the soft swish of silk beneath, which marks only self-respect in the American woman but is extravagance in Europe, and added to their regular terms until poor Harmony’s heart almost stood still. And then at last toward evening she happened on a gloomy little pension near the corner of the Alserstrasse, and it being dark and the plume not showing, and the landlady missing the rustle owing to cotton in her ears for earache, Harmony found terms that she could meet for a time.
A mean little room enough, but with a stove. The bed sagged in the center, and the toilet table had a mirror that made one eye appear higher than the other and twisted one’s nose. But there was an odor of stewing cabbage in the air. Also, alas, there was the odor of many previous stewed cabbages, and of dusty carpets and stale tobacco. Harmony had had no lunch; she turned rather faint.
She arranged to come at once, and got out into the comparative purity of the staircase atmosphere and felt her way down. She reeled once or twice. At the bottom of the dark stairs she stood for a moment with her eyes closed, to the dismay of a young man who had just come in with a cheese and some tinned fish under his arm.
He put down his packages on the stone floor and caught her arm.
“Not ill, are you?” he asked in English, and then remembering. “Bist du krank?” He colored violently at that, recalling too late the familiarity of the “du.”
Harmony smiled faintly.
“Only tired,” she said in English. “And the odor of cabbage–“.
Her color had come back and she freed herself from his supporting hand. He whistled softly. He had recognized her.
“Cabbage, of course!” he said. “The pension upstairs is full of it. I live there, and I’ve eaten so much of it I could be served up with pork.”
“I am going to live there. Is it as bad as that?”
He waved a hand toward the parcels on the floor.
“So bad,” he observed, “that I keep body and soul together by buying strong and odorous food at the delicatessens–odorous, because only rugged flavors rise above the atmosphere up there. Cheese is the only thing that really knocks out the cabbage, and once or twice even cheese has retired defeated.”
“But I don’t like cheese.” In sheer relief from the loneliness of the day her spirits were rising.
“Then coffee! But not there. Coffee at the coffee-house on the corner. I say–” He hesitated.
“Would you–don’t you think a cup of coffee would set you up a bit?”
“It sounds attractive,”–uncertainly.
“Coffee with whipped cream and some little cakes?”
Harmony hesitated. In the gloom of the hall she could hardly see this brisk young American–young, she knew by his voice, tall by his silhouette, strong by the way he had caught her. She could not see his face, but she liked his voice.
“Do you mean–with you?”
“I’m a doctor. I am going to fill my own prescription.”
That sounded reassuring. Doctors were not as other men; they were legitimate friends in need.
“I am sure it is not proper, but–“
“Proper! Of course it is. I shall send you a bill for professional services. Besides, won’t we be formally introduced to-night by the landlady? Come now–to the coffee-house and the Paris edition of the ‘Herald’!” But the next moment he paused and ran his hand over his chin. “I’m pretty disreputable,” he explained. “I have been in a clinic all day, and, hang it all, I’m not shaved.”
“What difference does that make?”
“My dear young lady,” he explained gravely, picking up the cheese and the tinned fish, “it makes a difference in me that I wish you to realize before you see me in a strong light.”
He rapped at the Portier’s door, with the intention of leaving his parcels there, but receiving no reply tucked them under his arm. A moment later Harmony was in the open air, rather dazed, a bit excited, and lovely with the color the adventure brought into her face. Her companion walked beside her, tall, slightly stooped. She essayed a fugitive little sideglance up at him, and meeting his eyes hastily averted hers.
They passed a policeman, and suddenly there flashed into the girl’s mind little Scatchett’s letter.
“Do be careful, Harry. If any one you do not know speaks to you, call a policeman.”
The coffee-house was warm and bright. Round its small tables were gathered miscellaneous groups, here and there a woman, but mostly men–uniformed officers, who made of the neighborhood coffee-house a sort of club, where under their breath they criticized the Government and retailed small regimental gossip; professors from the university, still wearing under the beards of middle life the fine horizontal scars of student days; elderly doctors from the general hospital across the street; even a Hofrath or two, drinking beer and reading the “Fliegende Blaetter” and “Simplicissimus”; and in an alcove round a billiard table a group of noisy Korps students. Over all a permeating odor of coffee, strong black coffee, made with a fig or two to give it color. It rose even above the blue tobacco haze and dominated the atmosphere with its spicy and stimulating richness. A bustle of waiters, a hum of conversation, the rattle of newspapers and the click of billiard balls–this was the coffee-house.
Harmony had never been inside one before. The little music colony had been a tight-closed corporation, retaining its American integrity, in spite of the salon of Maria Theresa and three expensive lessons a week in German. Harmony knew the art galleries and the churches, which were free, and the opera, thanks to no butter at supper. But of that backbone of Austrian life, the coffee-house, she was profoundly ignorant.
Her companion found her a seat in a corner near a heater and disappeared for an instant on the search for the Paris edition of the “Herald.” The girl followed him with her eyes. Seen under the bright electric lights, he was not handsome, hardly good-looking. His mouth was wide, his nose irregular, his hair a nondescript brown,–but the mouth had humor, the nose character, and, thank Heaven, there was plenty of hair. Not that Harmony saw all this at once. As he tacked to and fro round the tables, with a nod here and a word there, she got a sort of ensemble effect–a tall man, possibly thirty, broadshouldered, somewhat stooped, as tall men are apt to be. And shabby, undeniably shabby!
The shabbiness was a shock. A much-braided officer, trim from the points of his mustache to the points of his shoes, rose to speak to him. The shabbiness was accentuated by the contrast. Possibly the revelation was an easement to the girl’s nervousness. This smiling and unpressed individual, blithely waving aloft the Paris edition of the “Herald” and equally blithely ignoring the maledictions of the student from whom he had taken it–even Scatchy could not have called him a vulture or threatened him with the police.
He placed the paper before her and sat down at her side, not to interfere with her outlook over the room.
“Warmer?” he asked.
“Coffee is coming. And cinnamon cakes with plenty of sugar. They know me here and they know where I live. They save the sugariest cakes for me. Don’t let me bother you; go on and read. See which of the smart set is getting a divorce–or is it always the same one? And who’s President back home.”
“I’d rather look round. It’s curious, isn’t it?”
“Curious? It’s heavenly! It’s the one thing I am going to take back to America with me–one coffee-house, one dozen military men for local color, one dozen students ditto, and one proprietor’s wife to sit in the cage and shortchange the unsuspecting. I’ll grow wealthy.”
“But what about the medical practice?”
He leaned over toward her; his dark-gray eyes fulfilled the humorous promise of his mouth.
“Why, it will work out perfectly,” he said whimsically. “The great American public will eat cinnamon cakes and drink coffee until the feeble American nervous system will be shattered. I shall have an office across the street!”
After that, having seen how tired she looked, he forbade conversation until she had had her coffee. She ate the cakes, too, and he watched her with comfortable satisfaction.
“Nod your head but don’t speak,” he said. “Remember, I am prescribing, and there’s to be no conversation until the coffee is down. Shall I or shall I not open the cheese?”
But Harmony did not wish the cheese, and so signified. Something inherently delicate in the unknown kept him from more than an occasional swift glance at her. He read aloud, as she ate, bits of news from the paper, pausing to sip his own coffee and to cast an eye over the crowded room. Here and there an officer, gazing with too open admiration on Harmony’s lovely face, found himself fixed by a pair of steel-gray eyes that were anything but humorous at that instant, and thought best to shift his gaze.
The coffee finished, the girl began to gather up her wraps. But the unknown protested.
“The function of a coffee-house,” he explained gravely, “is twofold. Coffee is only the first half. The second half is conversation.”
“I converse very badly.”
“So do I. Suppose we talk about ourselves. We are sure to do that well. Shall I commence?”
Harmony was in no mood to protest. Having swallowed coffee, why choke over conversation? Besides, she was very comfortable. It was warm there, with the heater at her back; better than the little room with the sagging bed and the doors covered with wall paper. Her feet had stopped aching, too, She could have sat there for hours. And–why evade it?–she was interested. This whimsical and respectful young man with his absurd talk and his shabby clothes had roused her curiosity.
“Please,” she assented.
“Then, first of all, my name. I’m getting that over early, because it isn’t much, as names go. Peter Byrne it is. Don’t shudder.”
“Certainly I’m not shuddering.”
“I have another name, put in by my Irish father to conciliate a German uncle of my mother’s. Augustus! It’s rather a mess. What shall I put on my professional brassplate? If I put P. Augustus Byrne nobody’s fooled. They know my wretched first name is Peter.”
“I rather like Patrick–if I thought it might pass as Patrick! Patrick has possibilities. The diminutive is Pat, and that’s not bad. But Peter!”
“Do you know,” Harmony confessed half shyly, “I like Peter as a name.”
“Peter it shall be, then. I go down to posterity and fame as Peter Byrne. The rest doesn’t amount to much, but I want you to know it, since you have been good enough to accept me on faith. I’m here alone, from a little town in eastern Ohio; worked my way through a coeducational college in the West and escaped unmarried; did two years in a drygoods store until, by saving and working in my vacations, I got through medical college and tried general practice. Didn’t like it–always wanted to do surgery. A little legacy from the German uncle, trying to atone for the ‘Augustus,’ gave me enough money to come here. I’ve got a chance with the Days–surgeons, you know–when I go back, if I can hang on long enough. That’s all. Here’s a traveler’s check with my name on it, to vouch for the truth of this thrilling narrative. Gaze on it with awe; there are only a few of them left!”
Harmony was as delicately strung, as vibratingly responsive as the strings of her own violin, and under the even lightness of his tone she felt many things that met a response in her–loneliness and struggle, and the ever-present anxiety about money, grim determination, hope and fear, and even occasional despair. He was still young, but there were lines in his face and a hint of gray in his hair. Even had he been less frank, she would have known soon enough–the dingy little pension, the shabby clothes–
She held out her hand.
“Thank you for telling me,” she said simply. “I think I understand very well because–it’s music with me: violin. And my friends have gone, so I am alone, too.”
He leaned his elbows on the table and looked out over the crowd without seeing it.
“It’s curious, isn’t it?” he said. “Here we are, you and I, meeting in the center of Europe, both lonely as the mischief, both working our heads off for an idea that may never pan out! Why aren’t you at home to-night, eating a civilized beefsteak and running upstairs to get ready for a nice young man to bring you a box of chocolates? Why am I not measuring out calico in Shipley & West’s? Instead, we are going to Frau Schwarz’, to listen to cold ham and scorched compote eaten in six different languages.”
Harmony made no immediate reply. He seemed to expect none. She was drawing on her gloves, her eyes, like his, roving over the crowd.
Far back among the tables a young man rose and yawned. Then, seeing Byrne, he waved a greeting to him. Byrne’s eyes, from being introspective, became watchful.
The young man was handsome in a florid, red-checked way, with black hair and blue eyes. Unlike Byrne, he was foppishly neat. He was not alone. A slim little Austrian girl, exceedingly chic, rose when he did and threw away the end of a cigarette.
“Why do we go so soon?” she demanded fretfully in German. “It is early still.”
He replied in English. It was a curious way they had, and eminently satisfactory, each understanding better than he spoke the other’s language.
“Because, my beloved,” he said lightly, “you are smoking a great many poisonous and highly expensive cigarettes. Also I wish to speak to Peter.”
The girl followed his eyes and stiffened jealously.
“Who is that with Peter?”
“We are going over to find out, little one. Old Peter with a woman at last!”
The little Austrian walked delicately, swaying her slim body with a slow and sensuous grace. She touched an officer as she passed him, and paused to apologize, to the officer’s delight and her escort’s irritation. And Peter Byrne watched and waited, a line of annoyance between his brows. The girl was ahead; that complicated things.
When she was within a dozen feet of the table he rose hastily, with a word of apology, and met the couple. It was adroitly done. He had taken the little Austrian’s arm and led her by the table while he was still greeting her. He held her in conversation in his absurd German until they had reached the swinging doors, while her companion followed helplessly. And he bowed her out, protesting his undying admiration for her eyes, while the florid youth alternately raged behind him and stared back at Harmony, interested and unconscious behind her table.
The little Austrian was on the pavement when Byrne turned, unsmiling, to the other man.
“That won’t do, you know, Stewart,” he said, grave but not unfriendly.
“The Kid wouldn’t bite her.”
“We’ll not argue about it.”
After a second’s awkward pause Stewart smiled.
“Certainly not,” he agreed cheerfully. “That is up to you, of course. I didn’t know. We’re looking for you to-night.”
A sudden repulsion for the evening’s engagement rose in Byrne, but the situation following his ungraciousness was delicate.
“I’ll be round,” he said. “I have a lecture and I may be late, but I’ll come.”
The “Kid” was not stupid. She moved off into the night, chin in air, angrily flushed.
“You saw!” she choked, when Stewart had overtaken her and slipped a hand through her arm. “He protects her from me! It is because of you. Before I knew you–“
“Before you knew me, little one,” he said cheerfully, “you were exactly what you are now.”
She paused on the curb and raised her voice.
“So! And what is that?”
“Beautiful as the stars, only–not so remote.”
In their curious bi-lingual talk there was little room for subtlety. The “beautiful” calmed her, but the second part of the sentence roused her suspicion.
“Remote? What is that?”
“I was thinking of Worthington.”
The name was a signal for war. Stewart repented, but too late.
In the cold evening air, to the amusement of a passing detail of soldiers trundling a breadwagon by a rope, Stewart stood on the pavement and dodged verbal brickbats of Viennese idioms and German epithets. He drew his chin into the up-turned collar of his overcoat and waited, an absurdly patient figure, until the hail of consonants had subsided into a rain of tears. Then he took the girl’s elbow again and led her, childishly weeping, into a narrow side street beyond the prying ears and eyes of the Alserstrasse.
Byrne went back to Harmony. The incident of Stewart and the girl was closed and he dismissed it instantly. That situation was not his, or of his making. But here in the coffee-house, lovely, alluring, rather puzzled at this moment, was also a situation. For there was a situation. He had suspected it that morning, listening to the delicatessen-seller’s narrative of Rosa’s account of the disrupted colony across in the old lodge; he had been certain of it that evening, finding Harmony in the dark entrance to his own rather sordid pension. Now, in the bright light of the coffee-house, surmising her poverty, seeing her beauty, the emotional coming and going of her color, her frank loneliness, and God save the mark!–her trust in him, he accepted the situation and adopted it: his responsibility, if you please.
He straightened under it. He knew the old city fairly well–enough to love it and to loathe it in one breath. He had seen its tragedies and passed them by, or had, in his haphazard way, thrown a greeting to them, or even a glass of native wine. And he knew the musical temperament; the all or nothing of its insistent demands; its heights that are higher than others, its wretchednesses that are hell. Once in the Hofstadt Theater, where he had bought standing room, he had seen a girl he had known in Berlin, where he was taking clinics and where she was cooking her own meals. She had been studying singing. In the Hofstadt Theater she had worn a sable coat and had avoided his eyes.
Perhaps the old coffee-house had seen nothing more absurd, in its years of coffee and billiards and Munchener beer, than Peter’s new resolution that night: this poverty adopting poverty, this youth adopting youth, with the altruistic purpose of saving it from itself.
And this, mind you, before Peter Byrne had heard Harmony’s story or knew her name, Rosa having called her “The Beautiful One” in her narrative, and the delicatessen-seller being literal in his repetition.
Back to “The Beautiful One” went Peter Byrne, and, true to his new part of protector and guardian, squared his shoulders and tried to look much older than he really was, and responsible. The result was a grimness that alarmed Harmony back to the forgotten proprieties.
“I think I must go,” she said hurriedly, after a glance at his determinedly altruistic profile. “I must finish packing my things. The Portier has promised–“
“Go! Why, you haven’t even told me your name!”
“Frau Schwarz will present you to-night,” primly and rising.
Peter Byrne rose, too.
“I am going back with you. You should not go through that lonely yard alone after dark.”
“Yard! How do you know that?”
Byrne was picking up the cheese, which he had thoughtlessly set on the heater, and which proved to be in an alarming state of dissolution. It took a moment to rewrap, and incidentally furnished an inspiration. He indicated it airily.
“Saw you this morning coming out–delicatessen shop across the street,” he said glibly. And then, in an outburst of honesty which the girl’s eyes seemed somehow to compel: “That’s true, but it’s not all the truth. I was on the bus last night, and when you got off alone I–I saw you were an American, and that’s not a good neighborhood. I took the liberty of following you to your gate!”
He need not have been alarmed. Harmony was only grateful, and said so. And in her gratitude she made no objection to his suggestion that he see her safely to the old lodge and help her carry her hand-luggage and her violin to the pension. He paid the trifling score, and followed by many eyes in the room they went out into the crisp night together.
At the lodge the doors stood wide, and a vigorous sound of scrubbing showed that the Portier’s wife was preparing for the inspection of possible new tenants. She was cleaning down the stairs by the light of a candle, and the steam of the hot water on the cold marble invested her like an aura. She stood aside to let them pass, and then went cumbrously down the stairs to where, a fork in one hand and a pipe in the other, the Portier was frying chops for the evening meal.
“What have I said?” she demanded from the doorway. “Your angel is here.”
“She with whom you sing, old cracked voice! Whose money you refuse, because she reminds you of your opera singer! She is again here, and with a man!”
“It is the way of the young and beautiful–there is always a man,” said the Portier, turning a chop.
His wife wiped her steaming hands on her apron and turned away, exasperated.
“It is the same man whom I last night saw at the gate,” she threw back over her shoulder. “I knew it from the first; but you, great booby, can see nothing but red lips. Bah!”
Upstairs in the salon of Maria Theresa, lighted by one candle and freezing cold, in a stiff chair under the great chandelier Peter Byrne sat and waited and blew on his fingers. Down below, in the Street of Seven Stars, the arc lights swung in the wind.
The supper that evening was even unusually bad. Frau Schwarz, much crimped and clad in frayed black satin, presided at the head of the long table. There were few, almost no Americans, the Americans flocking to good food at reckless prices in more fashionable pensions; to the Frau Gallitzenstein’s, for instance, in the Kochgasse, where there was to be had real beefsteak, where turkeys were served at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and where, were one so minded, one might revel in whipped cream.
The Pension Schwarz, however, was not without adornment. In the center of the table was a large bunch of red cotton roses with wire stems and green paper leaves, and over the side-table, with its luxury of compote in tall glass dishes and its wealth of small hard cakes, there hung a framed motto which said, “Nicht Rauchen,” “No Smoking,”–and which looked suspiciously as if it had once adorned a compartment of a railroad train.
Peter Byrne was early in the dining-room. He had made, for him, a careful toilet, which consisted of a shave and clean linen. But he had gone further: He had discovered, for the first time in the three months of its defection, a button missing from his coat, and had set about to replace it. He had cut a button from another coat, by the easy method of amputating it with a surgical bistoury, and had sewed it in its new position with a curved surgical needle and a few inches of sterilized catgut. The operation was slow and painful, and accomplished only with the aid of two cigarettes and an artery clip. When it was over he tied the ends in a surgeon’s knot underneath and stood back to consider the result. It seemed neat enough, but conspicuous. After a moment or two of troubled thought he blacked the white catgut with a dot of ink and went on his way rejoicing.
Peter Byrne was entirely untroubled as to the wisdom of the course he had laid out for himself. He followed no consecutive line of thought as he dressed. When he was not smoking he was whistling, and when he was doing neither, and the needle proved refractory in his cold fingers, he was swearing to himself. For there was no fire in the room. The materials for a fire were there, and a white tile stove, as cozy as an obelisk in a cemetery, stood in the corner. But fires are expensive, and hardly necessary when one sleeps with all one’s windows open–one window, to be exact, the room being very small–and spends most of the day in a warm and comfortable shambles called a hospital.
To tell the truth he was not thinking of Harmony at all, except subconsciously, as instance the button. He was going over, step by step, the technic of an operation he had seen that afternoon, weighing, considering, even criticizing. His conclusion, reached as he brushed back his hair and put away his sewing implements, was somewhat to the effect that he could have done a better piece of work with his eyes shut and his hands tied behind his back; and that if it were not for the wealth of material to work on he’d pack up and go home. Which brought him back to Harmony and his new responsibility. He took off the necktie he had absently put on and hunted out a better one.
He was late at supper–an offense that brought a scowl from the head of the table, a scowl that he met with a cheerful smile. Harmony was already in her place. Seated between a little Bulgarian and a Jewish student from Galicia, she was almost immediately struggling in a sea of language, into which she struck out now and then tentatively, only to be again submerged. Byrne had bowed to her conventionally, even coldly, aware of the sharp eyes and tongues round the table, but Harmony did not understand. She had expected moral support from his presence, and failing that she sank back into the loneliness and depression of the day. Her bright color faded; her eyes looked tragic and rather aloof. She ate almost nothing, and left the table before the others had finished.
What curious little dramas of the table are played under unseeing eyes! What small tragedies begin with the soup and end with dessert! What heartaches with a salad! Small tragedies of averted eyes, looking away from appealing ones; lips that tremble with wretchedness nibbling daintily at a morsel; smiles that sear; foolish bits of talk that mean nothing except to one, and to that one everything! Harmony, freezing at Peter’s formal bow and gazing obstinately ahead during the rest of the meal, or no nearer Peter than the red-paper roses, and Peter, showering the little Bulgarian next to her with detestable German in the hope of a glance. And over all the odor of cabbage salad, and the “Nicht Rauchen” sign, and an acrimonious discussion on eugenics between an American woman doctor named Gates and a German matron who had had fifteen children, and who reduced every general statement to a personal insult.
Peter followed Harmony as soon as he dared. Her door was closed, and she was playing very softly, so as to disturb no one. Defiantly, too, had he only known it, her small chin up and her color high again; playing the “Humoresque,” of all things, in the hope, of course, that he would hear it and guess from her choice the wild merriment of her mood. Peter rapped once or twice, but obtained no answer, save that the “Humoresque” rose a bit higher; and, Dr. Gates coming along the hall just then, he was forced to light a cigarette to cover his pausing.
Dr. Gates, however, was not suspicious. She was a smallish woman of forty or thereabout, with keen eyes behind glasses and a masculine disregard of clothes, and she paused by Byrne to let him help her into her ulster.
“New girl, eh?” she said, with a birdlike nod toward the door. “Very gay, isn’t she, to have just finished a supper like that! Honestly, Peter, what are we going to do?”
“Growl and stay on, as we have for six months. There is better food, but not for our terms.”
Dr. Gates sighed, and picking a soft felt hat from the table put it on with a single jerk down over her hair.
“Oh, darn money, anyhow!” she said. “Come and walk to the corner with me. I have a lecture.”
Peter promised to follow in a moment, and hurried back to his room. There, on a page from one of his lecture notebooks, he wrote–
“Are you ill? Or have I done anything?”
This with great care he was pushing under Harmony’s door when the little Bulgarian came along and stopped, smiling. He said nothing, nor did Peter, who rose and dusted his knees. The little Bulgarian spoke no English and little German. Between them was the wall of language. But higher than. this barrier was the understanding of their common sex. He held out his hand, still smiling, and Peter, grinning sheepishly, took it. Then he followed the woman doctor down the stairs.
To say that Peter Byrne was already in love with Harmony would be absurd. She attracted him, as any beautiful and helpless girl attracts an unattracted man. He was much more concerned, now that he feared he had offended her, than he would have been without this fillip to his interest. But even his concern did not prevent his taking copious and intelligent notes at his lecture that night, or interfere with his enjoyment of the Stein of beer with which, after it was over, he washed down its involved German.
The engagement at Stewart’s irked him somewhat. He did not approve of Stewart exactly, not from any dislike of the man, but from a lack of fineness in the man himself–an intangible thing that seems to be a matter of that unfashionable essence, the soul, as against the clay; of the thing contained, by an inverse metonymy, for the container.
Boyer, a nerve man from Texas, met him on the street, and they walked to Stewart’s apartment together. The frosty air and the rapid exercise combined to drive away Byrne’s irritation; that, and the recollection that it was Saturday night and that to-morrow there would be no clinics, no lectures, no operations; that the great shambles would be closed down and that priests would read mass to convalescents in the chapels. He was whistling as he walked along.
Boyer, a much older man, whose wife had come over with him, stopped under a street light to consult his watch.
“Almost ten!” he said. “I hope you don’t mind, Byrne; but I told Jennie I was going to your pension. She detests Stewart.”
“Oh, that’s all right. She knows you’re playing poker?”
“Yes. She doesn’t object to poker. It’s the other. You can’t make a good woman understand that sort of thing.”
“Thank God for that!”
After a moment of silence Byrne took up his whistling again. It was the “Humoresque.”
Stewart’s apartment was on the third floor. Admission at that hour was to be gained only by ringing, and Boyer touched the bell. The lights were still on, however, in the hallways, revealing not overclean stairs and, for a wonder, an electric elevator. This, however, a card announced as out of order. Boyer stopped and examined the card grimly.
“‘Out of order’!” he observed. “Out of order since last spring, judging by that card. Vorwarts!”
They climbed easily, deliberately. At home in God’s country Boyer played golf, as became the leading specialist of his county. Byrne, with a driving-arm like the rod of a locomotive, had been obliged to forswear the more expensive game for tennis, with a resulting muscular development that his slight stoop belied. He was as hard as nails, without an ounce of fat, and he climbed the long steep flights with an elasticity that left even Boyer a step or so behind.
Stewart opened the door himself, long German pipe in hand, his coat replaced by a worn smoking-jacket. The little apartment was thick with smoke, and from a room on the right came the click of chips and the sound of beer mugs on wood.
Marie, restored to good humor, came out to greet them, and both men bowed ceremoniously over her hand, clicking their heels together and bowing from the waist. Byrne sniffed.
“What do I smell, Marie?” he demanded. “Surely not sausages!”
Marie dimpled. It was an old joke, to be greeted as one greets an old friend. It was always sausages.
“Sausages, of a truth–fat ones.’
“But surely not with mustard?”
“Ach, ja–englisch mustard.”
Stewart and Boyer had gone on ahead. Marie laid a detaining hand on Byrne’s arm.
“I was very angry with you to-day.”
Like the others who occasionally gathered in Stewart’s unconventional menage, Byrne had adopted Stewart’s custom of addressing Marie in English, while she replied in her own tongue.
“Ja. I wished but to see nearer the American Fraulein’s hat, and you–She is rich, so?”
“I really don’t know. I think not.”
“Yes, of course.”
Marie was small; she stood, her head back, her eyes narrowed, looking up at Byrne. There was nothing evil in her face, it was not even hard. Rather, there was a sort of weariness, as of age and experience. She had put on a white dress, cut out at the neck, and above her collarbones were small, cuplike hollows. She was very thin.
“I was sad to-night,” she said plaintively. “I wished to jump out the window.”
Byrne was startled, but the girl was smiling at the recollection.
“And I made you feel like that?”
“Not you–the other Fraulein. I was dirt to her. I–” She stopped tragically, then sniffled.
“The sausages!” she cried, and gathering up her skirts ran toward the kitchen. Byrne went on into the sitting-room.
Stewart was a single man spending two years in post-graduate work in Germany and Austria, not so much because the Germans and Austrians could teach what could not be taught at home, but because of the wealth of clinical material. The great European hospitals, filled to overflowing, offered unlimited choice of cases. The contempt for human life of overpopulated cities, coupled with the extreme poverty and helplessness of the masses, combined to form that tragic part of the world which dies that others may live.
Stewart, like Byrne, was doing surgery, and the very lack of fineness which Byrne felt in the man promised something in his work, a sort of ruthlessness, a singleness of purpose, good or bad, an overwhelming egotism that in his profession might only be a necessary self-reliance.
His singleness of purpose had, at the beginning of his residence in Vienna, devoted itself to making him comfortable. With the narrow means at his control he had the choice of two alternatives: To live, as Byrne was living, in a third-class pension, stewing in summer, freezing in winter, starving always; or the alternative he had chosen.
The Stewart apartment had only three rooms, but it possessed that luxury of luxuries, a bath. It was not a bath in the usual sense of water on tap, and shining nickel plate, but a bath for all that, where with premeditation and forethought one might bathe. The room had once been a fuel and store room, but now boasted a tin tub and a stove with a reservoir on top, where water might be heated to the boiling point, at the same time bringing up the atmosphere to a point where the tin tub sizzled if one touched it.
Behind the bathroom a tiny kitchen with a brick stove; next, a bedroom; the whole incredibly neat. Along one side of the wall a clothespress, which the combined wardrobes of two did not fill. And beyond that again, opening through an arch with a dingy chenille curtain, the sitting-room, now in chaotic disorder.
Byrne went directly to the sitting-room. There were four men already there: Stewart and Boyer, a pathology man named Wallace Hunter, doing research work at the general hospital, and a young piano student from Tennessee named MacLean. The cards had been already dealt, and Byrne stood by waiting for the hand to be played.
The game was a small one, as befitted the means of the majority. It was a regular Saturday night affair, as much a custom as the beer that sat in Steins on the floor beside each man, or as Marie’s boiled Wiener sausages.
The blue chips represented a Krone, the white ones five Hellers. MacLean, who was hardly more than a boy, was winning, drawing in chips with quick gestures of his long pianist’s fingers.
Byrne sat down and picked up his cards. Stewart was staying out, and so, after a glance, did he. The other three drew cards and fell to betting. Stewart leaned back and filled his long pipe, and after a second’s hesitation Byrne turned to him.
“I don’t know just what to say, Stewart,” he began in an undertone. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt Marie, but–“
“Oh, that’s all right.” Stewart drew at his pipe and bent forward to watch the game with an air of ending the discussion.
“Not at all. I did hurt her and I want to explain. Marie has been kind to me, and I like her. You know that.”
“Don’t be an ass!” Stewart turned on him sharply. “Marie is a little fool, that’s all. I didn’t know it was an American girl.”
Byrne played in bad luck. His mind was not on the cards. He stayed out of the last hand, and with a cigarette wandered about the room. He glanced into the tidy bedroom and beyond, to where Marie hovered over the stove.
She turned and saw him.
“Come,” she called. “Watch the supper for me while I go down for more beer.”
“But no,” he replied, imitating her tone. “Watch the supper for me while I go down for more beer.”
“I love thee,” she called merrily. “Tell the Herr Doktor I love thee. And here is the pitcher.”
When he returned the supper was already laid in the little kitchen. The cards were put away, and young MacLean and Wallace Hunter were replacing the cover and the lamp on the card-table. Stewart was orating from a pinnacle of proprietorship.
“Exactly,” he was saying, in reply to something gone before; “I used to come here Saturday nights–used to come early and take a bath. Worthington had rented it furnished for a song. Used to sit in a corner and envy Worthington his bathtub, and that lamp there, and decent food, and a bed that didn’t suffer from necrosis in the center. Then when he was called home I took it.”
“Girl and all, wasn’t it?”
“Girl and all. Old Worth said she was straight, and, by Jove, she is. He came back last fall on his wedding trip–he married a wealthy girl and came to see us. I was out, but Marie was here. There was the deuce to pay.”
He lowered his voice. The men had gathered about him in a group.
“Jealous, eh?” from Hunter.
“Jealous? No! He tried to kiss her and she hit him–said he didn’t respect her!”
“It’s a curious code of honor,” said Boyer thoughtfully. And indeed to none but Stewart did it seem amusing. This little girl of the streets, driven by God knows what necessity to make her own code and, having made it, living up to it with every fiber of her.
“Bitte zum speisen!” called Marie gayly from her brick stove, and the men trooped out to the kitchen.
The supper was spread on the table, with the pitcher of beer in the center. There were Swiss cheese and cold ham and rolls, and above all sausages and mustard. Peter drank a great deal of beer, as did the others, and sang German songs with a frightful accent and much vigor and sentiment, as also did the others.
Then he went back to the cold room in the Pension Schwarz, and told himself he was a fool to live alone when one could live like a prince for the same sum properly laid out. He dropped into the hollow center of his bed, where his big figure fitted as comfortably as though it lay in a washtub, and before his eyes there came a vision of Stewart’s flat and the slippers by the fire–which was eminently human.
However, a moment later he yawned, and said aloud, with considerable vigor, that he ‘d be damned if he would–which was eminently Peter Byrne. Almost immediately, with the bed coverings, augmented by his overcoat, drawn snug to his chin, and the better necktie swinging from the gasjet in the air from the opened window, Peter was asleep. For four hours he had entirely forgotten Harmony.
The peace of a gray Sunday morning hung like a cloud over the little Pension Schwarz. In the kitchen the elderly maid, with a shawl over her shoulders and stiffened fingers, made the fire, while in the dining-room the little chambermaid cut butter and divided it sparingly among a dozen breakfast trays–on each tray two hard rolls, a butter pat, a plate, a cup. On two trays Olga, with a glance over her shoulder, placed two butter pats. The mistress yet slept, but in the kitchen Katrina had a keen eye for butter–and a hard heart.
Katrina came to the door.
“The hot water is ready,” she announced. “And the coffee also. Hast thou been to mass?”
“That is a lie.” This quite on general principle, it being one of the cook’s small tyrannies to exact religious observance from her underling, and one of Olga’s Sunday morning’s indulgences to oversleep and avoid the mass. Olga took the accusation meekly and without reply, being occupied at that moment in standing between Katrina and the extra pats of butter.
“For the lie,” said Katrina calmly, “thou shalt have no butter this morning. There, the Herr Doktor rings for water. Get it, wicked one!”
Katrina turned slowly in the doorway.
“The new Fraulein is American?”
Katrina shrugged her shoulders.
“Then I shall put more water to heat,” she said resignedly. ” The Americans use much water. God knows it cannot be healthy!”
Olga filled her pitcher from the great copper kettle and stood with it poised in her thin young arms.
“The new Fraulein is very beautiful,” she continued aloud. “Thinkest thou it is the hot water?”
“Is an egg more beautiful for being boiled?” demanded Katrina. “Go, and be less foolish. See, it is not the Herr Doktor who rings, but the new American.”
Olga carried her pitcher to Harmony’s door, and being bidden, entered. The room was frigid and Harmony, at the window in her nightgown, was closing the outer casement. The inner still swung open. Olga, having put down her pitcher, shivered.
“Surely the Fraulein has not slept with open windows?”
“Always with open windows.” Harmony having secured the inner casement, was wrapping herself in the blue silk kimono with the faded butterflies. Merely to look at it made Olga shiver afresh. She shook her head.
“But the air of the night,” she said, “it is full of mists and illnesses! Will you have breakfast now?”
“In ten minutes, after I have bathed.”
Olga having put a match to the stove went back to the kitchen, shaking her head.
“They are strange, the Americans!” she said to latrine. “And if to be lovely one must bathe daily, and sleep with open windows–“
Harmony had slept soundly after all. Her pique at Byrne had passed with the reading of his note, and the sensation of his protection and nearness had been almost physical. In the virginal little apartment in the lodge of Maria Theresa the only masculine presence had been that of the Portier, carrying up coals at ninety Hellers a bucket, or of the accompanist who each alternate day had played for the Big Soprano to practice. And they had felt no deprivation, except for those occasional times when Scatchy developed a reckless wish to see the interior of a dancing-hall or one of the little theaters that opened after the opera.
But, as calmly as though she had never argued alone with a cabman or disputed the bill at the delicatessen shop, Harmony had thrown herself on the protection of this shabby big American whom she had met but once, and, having done so, slept like a baby. Not, of course, that she realized her dependence. She had felt very old and experienced and exceedingly courageous as she put out her light the night before and took a flying leap into the bed. She was still old and experienced, if a trifle less courageous, that Sunday morning.
Promptly in ten minutes Olga brought the breakfast, two rolls, two pats of butter–shades of the sleeping mistress and Katrina the thrifty–and a cup of coffee. On the tray was a bit of paper torn from a notebook:–
“Part of the prescription is an occasional walk in good company. Will you walk with me this afternoon? I would come in person to ask you, but am spending the morning in my bathrobe, while my one remaining American suit is being pressed.
Harmony got the ink and her pen from her trunk and wrote below:–
“You are very kind to me. Yes, indeed.
When frequent slamming of doors and steps along the passageway told Harmony that the pension was fully awake, she got out her violin. The idea of work obsessed her. To-morrow there would be the hunt for something to do to supplement her resources, this afternoon she had rashly promised to walk. The morning, then, must be given up to work. But after all she did little.
For an hour, perhaps, she practiced. The little Bulgarian paused outside her door and listened, rapt, his eyes closed. Peter Byrne, listening while he sorted lecture memoranda at his little table in bathrobe and slippers, absently filed the little note with the others–where he came across it months later–next to a lecture on McBurney’s Point, and spent a sad hour or so over it. Over all the sordid little pension, with its odors of food and stale air, its spotted napery and dusty artificial flowers, the music hovered, and made for the time all things lovely.
In her room across from Harmony’s, Anna Gates was sewing, or preparing to sew. Her hair in a knob, her sleeves rolled up, the room in violent disorder, she was bending over the bed, cutting savagely at a roll of pink flannel. Because she was working with curved surgeon’s scissors, borrowed from Peter, the cut edges were strangely scalloped. Her method as well as her tools was unique. Clearly she was intent on a body garment, for now and then she picked up the flannel and held it to her. Having thus, as one may say, got the line of the thing, she proceeded to cut again, jaw tight set, small veins on her forehead swelling, a small replica of Peter Byrne sewing a button on his coat.
After a time it became clear to her that her method was wrong. She rolled up the flannel viciously and flung it into a corner, and proceeded to her Sunday morning occupation of putting away the garments she had worn during the week, a vast and motley collection.
On the irritability of her mood Harmony’s music had a late but certain effect. She made a toilet, a trifle less casual than usual, seeing that she put on her stays, and rather sheepishly picked up the bundle from the corner. She hunted about for a thimble, being certain she had brought one from home a year before, but failed to find it. And finally, bundle under her arm and smiling, she knocked at Harmony’s door.
“Would you mind letting me sit with you?” she asked. “I’ll not stir. I want to sew, and my room is such a mess!”
Harmony threw the door wide. “You will make me very happy, if only my practicing does not disturb you.”
Dr. Gates came in and closed the door.
“I’ll probably be the disturbing element,” she said. “I’m a noisy sewer.”
Harmony’s immaculate room and radiant person put her in good humor immediately. She borrowed a thimble–not because she cared whether she had one or not, but because she knew a thimble was a part of the game–and settled herself in a corner, her ragged pieces in her lap. For an hour she plodded along and Harmony played. Then the girl put down her bow and turned to the corner. The little doctor was jerking at a knot in her thread.
“It’s in the most damnable knot!” she said, and Harmony was suddenly aware that she was crying, and heartily ashamed of it.
“Please don’t pay any attention to me,” she implored. “I hate to sew. That’s the trouble. Or perhaps it’s not all the trouble. I’m a fool about music.”
“Perhaps, if you hate to sew–“
“I hate a good many things, my dear, when you play like that. I hate being over here in this place, and I hate fleas and German cooking and clinics, and I hate being forty years old and as poor as a church-mouse and as ugly as sin, and I hate never having had any children!”
Harmony was very uncomfortable and just a little shocked. But the next moment Dr. Gates had wiped her eyes with a scrap of the flannel and was smiling up through her glasses.
“The plain truth really is that I have indigestion. I dare say I’m really weeping in anticipation over the Sunday dinner! The food’s bad and I can’t afford to live anywhere else. I’d take a room and do my own cooking, but what time have I?” She spread out the pieces of flannel on her knee. “Does this look like anything to you?”
“A petticoat, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t intend it as a petticoat.”
“I thought, on account of the scallops–“
“Scallops!” Dr. Gates gazed at the painfully cut pink edges and from them to Harmony. Then she laughed, peal after peal of joyous mirth.
“Scallops!” she gasped at last. “Oh, my dear, if you’d seen me cutting ’em! And with Peter Byrne’s scissors!”
Now here at last they were on common ground. Harmony, delicately flushed, repeated the name, clung to it conversationally, using little adroitnesses to bring the talk back to him. All roads of talk led to Peter–Peter’s future, Peter’s poverty, Peter’s refusing to have his hair cut, Peter’s encounter with a major of the guards, and the duel Peter almost fought. It developed that Peter, as the challenged, had had the choice of weapons, and had chosen fists, and that the major had been carried away. Dr. Gates grew rather weary of Peter at last and fell back on the pink flannel. She confided to Harmony that the various pieces, united, were to make a dressing-gown for a little American boy at the hospital. “Although,” she commented, “it looks more like a chair cover.”
Harmony offered to help her, and got out a sewing-box that was lined with a piece of her mother’s wedding dress. And as she straightened the crooked edges she told the doctor about the wedding dress, and about the mother who had called her Harmony because of the hope in her heart. And soon, by dint of skillful listening, which is always better than questioning, the faded little woman doctor knew all the story.
She was rather aghast.
“But suppose you cannot find anything to do?”
“I must,” simply.
“It’s such a terrible city for a girl alone.”
“I’m not really alone. I know you now.”
“An impoverished spinster! Much help I shall be!”
“And there is Peter Byrne.”
“Peter!” Dr. Gates sniffed. “Peter is poorer than I am, if there is any comparison in destitution!”
Harmony stiffened a trifle.
“Of course I do not mean money,” she said. “There are such things as encouragement, and–and friendliness.”
“One cannot eat encouragement,” retorted Dr. Gates sagely. “And friendliness between you and any man–bah! Even Peter is only human, my dear.”
“I am sure he is very good.”
“So he is. He is very poor. But you are very attractive. There, I’m a skeptic about men, but you can trust Peter. Only don’t fall in love with him. It will be years before he can marry. And don’t let him fall in love with you. He probably will.”
Whereupon Dr. Gates taking herself and her pink flannel off to prepare for lunch, Harmony sent a formal note to Peter Byrne, regretting that a headache kept her from taking the afternoon walk as she had promised. Also, to avoid meeting him, she did without dinner, and spent the afternoon crying herself into a headache that was real enough.
Anna Gates was no fool. While she made her few preparations for dinner she repented bitterly what she had said to Harmony. It is difficult for the sophistry of forty to remember and cherish the innocence of twenty. For illusions it is apt to substitute facts, the material for the spiritual, the body against the soul. Dr. Gates, from her school of general practice, had come to view life along physiological lines.
With her customary frankness she approached Peter after the meal.
“I’ve been making mischief, Peter. I been talking too much, as usual.”
“Certainly not about me, Doctor. Out of my blameless life–“
“About you, as a representative member of your sex. I’m a fool.”
Peter looked serious. He had put on the newly pressed suit and his best tie, and was looking distinguished and just now rather stern.
“To the young Wells person. Frankly, Peter, I dare say at this moment she thinks you are everything you shouldn’t be, because I said you were only human. Why it should be evil to be human, or human to be evil–“
“I cannot imagine,” said Peter slowly, “the reason for any conversation about me.”
“Nor I, when I look back. We seemed to talk about other things, but it always ended with you. Perhaps you were our one subject in common. Then she irritated me by her calm confidence. The world was good, everybody was good. She would find a safe occupation and all would be well.”
“So you warned her against me,” said Peter grimly.
“I told her you were human and that she was attractive. Shall I make ‘way with myself?”
“Cui bono?” demanded Peter, smiling in spite of himself. “The mischief is done.”
Dr. Gates looked up at him.
“I’m in love with you myself, Peter!” she said gratefully. “Perhaps it is the tie. Did you ever eat such a meal?”
A very pale and dispirited Harmony it was who bathed her eyes in cold water that evening and obeyed little Olga’s “Bitte sum speisen.” The chairs round the diningtable were only half occupied–a free concert had taken some, Sunday excursions others. The little Bulgarian, secretly considered to be a political spy, was never about on this one evening of the week. Rumor had it that on these evenings, secreted in an attic room far off in the sixteenth district, he wrote and sent off reports of what he had learned during the week–his gleanings from near-by tables in coffee-houses or from the indiscreet hours after midnight in the cafe, where the Austrian military was wont to gather and drink.
Into the empty chair beside Harmony Peter slid his long figure, and met a tremulous bow and silence. From the head of the table Frau Schwarz was talking volubly–as if, by mere sound, to distract attention from the scantiness of the meal. Under cover of the Babel Peter spoke to the girl. Having had his warning his tone was friendly, without a hint of the intimacy of the day before.
“Not entirely. Somewhat.”
“I wish you had sent Olga to me for some tablets. No one needs to suffer from headache, when five grains or so of powder will help them.”
“I am afraid of headache tablets.”
“Not when your physician prescribes them, I hope!”
This was the right note. Harmony brightened a little. After all, what had she to do with the man himself? He had constituted himself her physician. That was all.
“The next time I shall send Olga.”
“Good!” he responded heartily; and proceeded to make such a meal as he might, talking little, and nursing, by a careful indifference, her new-growing confidence.
It was when he had pushed his plate away and lighted a cigarette–according to the custom of the pension, which accorded the “Nicht Rauchen” sign the same attention that it did to the portrait of the deceased Herr Schwarz–that he turned to her again.
“I am sorry you are not able to walk. It promises a nice night.”
Peter was clever. Harmony, expecting an invitation to walk, had nerved herself to a cool refusal. This took her off guard.
“Then you do not prescribe air?”
“That’s up to how you feel. If you care to go out and don’t mind my going along as a sort of Old Dog Tray I haven’t anything else to do.”
Dr. Gates, eating stewed fruit across the table, gave Peter a swift glance of admiration, which he caught and acknowledged. He was rather exultant himself; certainly he had been adroit.
“I’d rather like a short walk. It will make me sleep,” said Harmony, who had missed the by-play. “And Old Dog Tray would be a very nice companion, I’m sure.”
It is doubtful, however, if Anna Gates would have applauded Peter had she followed the two in their rambling walk that night. Direction mattering little and companionship everything, they wandered on, talking of immaterial things–of the rough pavements, of the shop windows, of the gray medieval buildings. They came to a full stop in front of the Votivkirche, and discussed gravely the twin Gothic spires and the Benk sculptures on the facade. And there in the open square, casting diplomacy to the winds, Peter Byrne turned to Harmony and blurted out what was in his heart.
“Look here,” he said, “you don’t care a rap about spires. I don’t believe you know anything about them. I don’t. What did that idiot of a woman doctor say to you to-day?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do very well. And I’m going to set you right. She starts out with two premises: I’m a man, and you’re young and attractive. Then she draws some sort of fool deduction. You know what I mean?”
“I don’t see why we need discuss it,” said poor Harmony. “Or how you know–“
“I know because she told me. She knew she had been a fool, and she came to me. I don’t know whether it makes any difference to you or not, but–we’d started out so well, and then to have it spoiled! My dear girl, you are beautiful and I know it. That’s all the more reason why, if you’ll stand for it, you need some one to look after you–I’ll not say like a brother, because all the ones I ever knew were darned poor brothers to their sisters, but some one who will keep an eye on you and who isn’t going to fall in love with you.”
“I didn’t think you were falling in love with me; nor did I wish you to.”
“Certainly not. Besides, I–” Here Peter Byrne had another inspiration, not so good as the first–“Besides, there is somebody at home, you understand? That makes it all right, doesn’t it?”
“A girl at home?”
“A girl,” said Peter, lying manfully.
“How very nice!” said Harmony, and put out her hand. Peter, feeling all sorts of a cheat, took it, and got his reward in a complete restoral of their former comradely relations. From abstractions of church towers and street paving they went, with the directness of the young, to themselves. Thereafter, during that memorable walk, they talked blissful personalities, Harmony’s future, Peter’s career, money–or its lack–their ambitions, their hopes, even–and here was intimacy, indeed!–their disappointments, their failures of courage, their occasional loss of faith in themselves.
The first real snow of the year was falling as they turned back toward the Pension Schwarz, a damp snow that stuck fast and melted with a chilly cold that had in it nothing but depression. The upper spires of the Votivkirche were hidden in a gray mist; the trees in the park took on, against the gloom of the city hall, a snowy luminosity. Save for an occasional pedestrian, making his way home under an umbrella, the streets were deserted. Byrne and Harmony had no umbrella, but the girl rejected his offer of a taxicab.
“We should be home too quickly,” she observed naively. “And we have so much to say about me. Now I thought that perhaps by giving English lessons in the afternoon and working all morning at my music–“
And so on and on, square after square, with Peter listening gravely, his head bent. And square after square it was borne in on him what a precarious future stretched before this girl beside him, how very slender her resources, how more than dubious the outcome.
Poverty, which had only stimulated Peter Byrne in the past, ate deep into his soul that night.
Epochmaking as the walk had been, seeing that it had reestablished a friendship and made a working basis for future comradely relations, they were back at the corner of the Alserstrasse before ten. As they turned in at the little street, a man, lurching somewhat, almost collided with Harmony. He was a short, heavy-set person with a carefully curled mustache, and he was singing, not loudly, but with all his maudlin heart in his voice, the barcarolle from the “Tales” of Hoffmann. He saw Harmony, and still singing planted himself in her path. When Byrne would have pushed him aside Harmony caught his arm.
“It is only the Portier from the lodge,” she said.
The Portier, having come to rest on a throaty and rather wavering note, stood before Harmony, bowing.
“The Fraulein has gone and I am very sad,” he said thickly. “There is no more music, and Rosa has run away with a soldier from Salzburg who has only one lung.”
“But think!” Harmony said in German. “No more practicing in the early dawn, no young ladies bringing mud into your newscrubbed hall! It is better, is it not? All day you may rest and smoke!”
Byrne led Harmony past the drunken Portier, who turned with caution and bowed after them.
“Gute Nacht,” he called. “Kuss die Hand, Fraulein. Four rooms and the salon and a bath of the finest.”
As they went up the Hirschengasse they could hear him pursuing his unsteady way down the street and singing lustily. At the door of the Pension Schwarz Harmony paused.
“Do you mind if I ask one question?”
“You honor me, madam.”
“Then–what is the name of the girl back home?”
Peter Byrne was suddenly conscious of a complete void as to feminine names. He offered, in a sort of panic, the first one he recalled:–
“Emma! What a nice, old-fashioned name!” But there was a touch of disappointment in her voice.
Harmony had a lesson the next day. She was a favorite pupil with the master. Out of so much musical chaff he winnowed only now and then a grain of real ability. And Harmony had that. Scatchy and the Big Soprano had been right–she had the real thing.
The short half-hour lesson had a way with Harmony of lengthening itself to an hour or more, much to the disgust of the lady secretary in the anteroom. On that Monday Harmony had pleased the old man to one of his rare enthusiasms.
“Six months,” he said, “and you will go back to your America and show them how over here we teach violin. I will a letter–letters– give you, and you shall put on the programme, of your concerts that you are my pupil, is it not so?”
Harmony was drawing on her worn gloves; her hands trembled a little with the praise and excitement.
“If I can stay so long,” she answered unsteadily.
“You must stay. Have I so long labored, and now before it is finished you talk of going! Gott im Himmel!”
“It is a matter of money. My father is dead. And unless I find something to do I shall have to go back.”
The master had heard many such statements. They never ceased to rouse his ire against a world that had money for everything but music. He spent five minutes in indignant protest, then:–
“But you are clever and young, child. You will find a way to stay. Perhaps I can now and then find a concert for you.” It was a lure he had thrown out before, a hook without a bait. It needed no bait, being always eagerly swallowed. And no more talk of going away. I refuse to allow. You shall not go.”
Harmony paid the lady secretary on her way out. The master was interested. He liked Harmony and he believed in her. But fifty Kronen is fifty Kronen, and South American beef is high of price. He followed Harmony into the outer room and bowed her out of his studio.
“The Fraulein has paid?” he demanded, turning sharply to the lady secretary.
“After the lesson?”
“Ja, Herr Professor.”
“It is better,” said the master, “that she pay hereafter before the lesson.”
“Ja, Herr Professor.”
Whereupon the lady secretary put a red-ink cross before Harmony’s name. There were many such crosses on the ledger.
For three days Byrne hardly saw Harmony. He was off early in the morning, hurried back to the midday meal and was gone again the moment it was over. He had lectures in the evenings, too, and although he lingered for an hour or so after supper it was to find Harmony taken possession of by the little Bulgarian, seized with a sudden thirst for things American.
On the evening of the second day he had left Harmony, enmeshed and helpless in a tangle of language, trying to explain to the little Bulgarian the reason American women wished to vote. Byrne flung down the stairs and out into the street, almost colliding with Stewart.
They walked on together, Stewart with the comfortably rolling gait of the man who has just dined well, Byrne with his heavy, rather solid tread. The two men were not congenial, and the frequent intervals without speech between them were rather for lack of understanding than for that completeness of it which often fathers long silences. Byrne was the first to speak after their greeting.
“Marie all right?”
“Fine. Said if I saw you to ask you to supper some night this week.”
“Thanks. Does it matter which night?”