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- Maurice Guest - 1/121 -


MAURICE GUEST

Part I

S'amor non e che dunque e quel ch'io sento? Ma s'egli e amor, per Dio, che cosa e quale?

PETRARCH

I.

One noon in 189-, a young man stood in front of the new Gewandhaus in Leipzig, and watched the neat, grass-laid square, until then white and silent in the sunshine, grow dark with many figures.

The public rehearsal of the weekly concert was just over, and, from the half light of the warm-coloured hall, which for more than two hours had held them secluded, some hundreds of people hastened, with renewed anticipation, towards sunlight and street sounds. There was a medley of tongues, for many nationalities were represented in the crowd that surged through the ground-floor and out of the glass doors, and much noisy ado, for the majority was made up of young people, at an age that enjoys the sound of its own voice. In black, diverging lines they poured through the heavy swinging doors, which flapped ceaselessly to and fro, never quite closing, always opening afresh, and on descending the shallow steps, they told off into groups, where all talked at once, with lively gesticulation. A few faces had the strained look that indicates the conscientious listener; but most of these young musicians were under the influence of a stimulant more potent than wine, which manifested itself in a nervous garrulity and a nervous mirth.

They hummed like bees before a hive. Maurice Guest, who had come out among the first, lingered to watch a scene that was new to him, of which he was as yet an onlooker only. Here and there came a member of the orchestra; with violin-case or black-swathed wind-instrument in hand, he deftly threaded his way through the throng, bestowing, as he went, a hasty nod of greeting upon a colleague, a sweep of the hat on an obsequious pupil. The crowd began to disperse and to overflow in the surrounding streets. Some of the stragglers loitered to swell the group that was forming round the back entrance to the building; here the lank-haired Belgian violinist would appear, the wonders of whose technique had sent thrills of enthusiasm through his hearers, and whose close proximity would presently affect them in precisely the same way. Others again made off, not for the town, with its prosaic suggestion of work and confinement, but for the freedom of the woods that lay beyond.

Maurice Guest followed them.

It was a blowy day in early spring. Round white masses of cloud moved lightly across a deep blue sky, and the trees, still thin and naked, bent their heads and shook their branches, as if to elude the gambols of a boisterous playfellow. The sun shone vividly, with restored power, and though the clouds sometimes passed over his very face, the shadows only lasted for a moment, and each returning radiance seemed brighter than the one before. In the pure breath of the wind, as it gustily swept the earth, was a promise of things vernal, of the tender beauties of a coming spring; but there was still a keen, delightful freshness in the air, a vague reminder of frosty starlights and serene white snow--the untrodden snow of deserted, moon-lit streets--that quickened the blood, and sent a craving for movement through the veins. The people who trod the broad, clean roads and the paths of the wood walked with a spring in their steps; voices were light and high, and each breath that was drawn increased the sense of buoyancy, of undiluted satisfaction. With these bursts of golden sunshine, so other than the pallid gleamings of the winter, came a fresh impulse to life; and the most insensible was dimly conscious how much had to be made up for, how much lived into such a day.

Maurice Guest walked among the mossgreen tree-trunks, each of which vied with the other in the brilliancy of its coating. He was under the sway of a twofold intoxication: great music and a day rich in promise. From the flood of melody that had broken over him, the frenzied storms of applause, he had come out, not into a lamplit darkness that would have crushed his elation back upon him and hemmed it in, but into the spacious lightness of a fair blue day, where all that he felt could expand, as a flower does in the sun.

His walk brought him to a broad stream, which flashed through the wood like a line of light. He paused on a suspension bridge, and leaning over the railing, gazed up the river into the distance, at the horizon and its trees, delicate and feathery in their nakedness against the sky. Swollen with recent rains and snows, the water came hurrying towards him--the storm-bed of the little river, which, meandering in from the country, through pleasant woods, in ever narrowing curves, ran through the town as a small stream, to be swelled again on the outskirts by the waters of two other rivers, which joined it at right angles. The bridge trembled at first, when other people crossed it, on their way to the woods that lay on the further side, but soon the last stragglers vanished, and he was alone.

As he looked about, eager to discover beauty in the strip of landscape that stretched before him--the line of water, its banks of leafless trees--he was instinctively filled with a desire for something grander, for a feature in the scene that would answer to his mood. There, where the water appeared to end in a clump of trees, there, should be mountains, a gently undulating line, blue with the unapproachable blue of distance, and high enough to form a background to the view; in sumer, heavy with haze, melting into the sky; in winter, lined and edged with snow. From this, his thoughts sprang back to the music he had heard that morning. All the vague yet eager hopes that had run riot in his brain, for months past, seemed to have been summed up and made clear to him, in one supreme phrase of it, a great phrase in C major, in the concluding movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. First sounded by the shrill sweet winds, it had suddenly been given out by the strings, in magnificient unison, and had mounted up and on, to the jubilant trilling of the little flutes. There was such a courageous sincerity in this theme, such undauntable resolve; it expressed more plainly than words what he intended his life of the next few years to be; for he was full to the brim of ambitious intentions, which he had never yet had a chance of putting into practice. He felt so ready for work, so fresh and unworn; the fervour of a deep enthusiasm was rampant in him. What a single-minded devotion to art, he promised himself his should be! No other fancy or interest should share his heart with it, he vowed that to himself this day, when he stood for the first time on historic ground, where the famous musicians of the past had found inspiration for their immortal works. And his thoughts spread their wings and circled above his head; he saw himself already of these masters' craft, their art his, he wrenching ever new secrets from them, penetrating the recesses of their genius, becoming one of themselves. In a vision as vivid as those that cross the brain in a sleepless night, he saw a dark, compact multitude wait, with breath suspended, to catch the notes that fell like raindrops from his fingers; saw himself the all-conspicuous figure, as, with masterful gestures, he compelled the soul that lay dormant in brass and strings, to give voice to, to interpret to the many, his subtlest emotions. And he was overcome by a tremulous compassion with himself at the idea of wielding such power over an unknown multitude, at the latent nobility of mind and aim this power implied.

Even when swinging back to the town, he had not shaken himself free of dreams. The quiet of a foreign midday lay upon the streets, and there were few discordant sounds, few passers-by, to break the chain of his thought. He had movememt, silence, space. And as is usual with active-brained dreamers, he had little or no eye for the real life about him; he was not struck by the air of comfortable prosperity, of thriving content, which marked the great commercial centre, and he let pass, unnoticed, the unfamiliar details of a foreign street, the trifling yet significant incidents of foreign life. Such impressions as he received, bore the stamp of his own mood. He was sensible, for instance, in face of the picturesque houses that clustered together in the centre of the town, of the spiritual GEMUTLICHKEIT, the absence of any pomp or pride in their romantic past, which characterises the old buildings of a German town. These quaint and stately houses, wedged one into the other, with their many storeys, their steeply sloping roofs and eye-like roof-windows, were still in sympathetic touch with the trivial life of the day which swarmed in and about them. He wandered leisurely along the narrow streets that ran at all angles off the Market Place, one side of which was formed by the gabled RATHAUS, with its ground-floor row of busy little shops; and, in fancy, he peopled these streets with the renowned figures that had once walked them. He looked up at the dark old houses in which great musicians had lived, died and been born, and he saw faces that he recognised lean out of the projecting windows, to watch the life and bustle below, to catch the last sunbeam that filtered in; he saw them take their daily walk along these very streets, in the antiquated garments of their time. They passed him by, shadelike and misanthropic, and seemed to steal down the opposite side, to avoid his too pertinent gaze. Bluff, preoccupied, his keen eyes lowered, the burly Cantor passed, as he had once done day after day, with the disciplined regularity of high genius, of the honest citizen, to his appointed work in the shadows of the organ-loft; behind him, one who had pointed to the giant with a new burst of ardour, the genial little improviser, whose triumphs had been those of this town, whose fascinating gifts and still more fascinating personality, had made him the lion of his age. And it was only another step in this train of half-conscious thought, that, before a large lettered poster, which stood out black and white against the reds and yellows of the circular advertisement-column, and bore the word "Siegfried," Maurice Guest should not merely be filled with the anticipation of a world of beauty still unexplored, but that the world should stand to him for a symbol, as it were, of the easeful and luxurious side of a life dedicated to art--of a world-wide fame; the society of princes, kings; the gloss of velvet; the dull glow of gold.--And again, tapering vistas opened up, through which he could peer into the future, happy in the knowledge, that he stood firm in a present which made all things possible to a holy zeal, to an unhesitating grasp.

But it was growing late, and he slowly retraced his steps. In the restaurant into which he turned for dinner, he was the only customer. The principal business of the day was at an end; two waiters sat dozing in corners, and a man behind the counter, who was washing metal-topped beer-glasses, had almost the whole pile polished bright before him. Maurice Guest sat down at a table by the window; and, when he had finished his dinner and lighted a cigarette, he watched the passers-by, who crossed the pane of glass like the figures in a moving photograph.

Suddenly the door opened with an energetic click, and a lady came in,


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