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- Maurice Guest - 10/121 -
brought home to him anew that he was nothing to her; and once, when he had gazed too boldly, instead of turning away his eyes, as she went close by him to Schwarz's room, and she had resented the look with cold surprise, he felt as culpable as if he had insulted her. He atoned for his behaviour, the next time they met, by assuming his very humblest air; once, too, he deliberately threw himself in her way, for the mere pleasure of standing aside with the emphatic deference of a slave. Throughout this period, and particularly after an occasion such as the last, his self-consciousness was so peculiarly intensified that his surroundings ceased to exist for him--they two were the gigantic figures on a shadow background--and what he sometimes could not believe was, that such feelings as these should be seething in him, and she remain ignorant of them. He lost touch with reality, and dreamed dreams of imperceptible threads, finer than any gossamer, which could be spun from soul to soul, without the need of speech.
He heaped on her all the spiritual perfections that answered to her appearance. And he did not, for a time, observe anything to make him waver in his faith that she was whiter, stiller, and more unapproachable--of a different clay, in short, from other women. Then, however, this illusion was shattered. Late one afternoon, she came down the stairs of the house she lived in, and, pausing at the door, looked up and down the hot, empty street, shading her eyes with her hand. No one was in sight, and she was about to turn away, when, from where he was watching in a neighbouring doorway, Maurice saw the red-haired violinist come swiftly round the corner. She saw him, too, took a few, quick steps towards him, and, believing herself unseen, looked up in is face as they met; and the passionate tenderness of the look, the sudden lighting of lip and eye, racked the poor, unwilling spy for days. To suit this abrupt descent from the pedestal, he was obliged to carve a new attribute to his idol, and laboriously adapt it.
Schilsky, this insolent boy, was the thorn in his side. It was Schilsky she was oftenest to be met with; he was her companion at the most unexpected hours; and, with reluctance, Maurice had to admit to himself that she had apparently no thought to spare for anyone else. But it did not make any difference. The curious way in which he felt towards her, the strange, overwhelming effect her face had on him, took no account of outside things. Though he might never hope for a word from her; though he should learn in the coming moment that she was the other's promised wife; he could not for that reason banish her from his mind. His feelings were not to be put on and off, like clothes; he had no power over them. It was simply a case of accepting things as they were, and this he sought to do.
But his imagination made it hard for him, by throwing up pictures in which Schilsky was all-prominent. He saw him the confidant of her joys and troubles; HE knew their origin, knew what key her day was set in. If her head ached, if she were tired or spiritless, his hand was on her brow. The smallest events in her life were an open book to him; and it was these worthless details that Maurice Guest envied him most. He kept a tight hold on his fancy, but if, as sometimes happened, it slipped control, and painted further looks of the kind he had seen exchanged between them, a kiss or an embrace, he was as wretched as if he had in reality been present.
At other times, this jealous unrest was not the bitterest drop in his cup; it was bitterer to know that she was squandering her love on one who was unworthy of it. At first, from a feeling of exaggerated delicacy, he had gone out of his way to escape hearing Schilsky's name; but this mood passed, and gave place to an undignified hankering to learn everything he could, concerning the young man. What he heard amounted to this: a talented rascal, the best violinist the Conservatorium had turned out for years, one to whom all gates would open; but--this "but" always followed, with a meaning smile and a wink of the eye: and then came the anecdotes. They had nothing heaven-scaling in them--these soiled love-stories; this perpetual impecuniosity; this inability to refuse money, no matter whose the hand that offered it; this fine art in the disregarding of established canons--and, to Maurice Guest, bred to sterner standards, they seemed unspeakably low and mean. Hours came when he strove in vain to understand her. Ignorant of these things she could not be; was it within the limits of the possible that she could overlook them?--and he shivered lest he should be forced to think less highly of her. Ultimately, sending his mind back over what he had read and heard, drawing on his own slight experience, he came to a compromise with himself. He said that most often the best and fairest women loved men who were unworthy of them. Was it not a weakness and a strength of her sex to see good where no good was?--a kind of divine frailty, a wilful blindness, a sweet inability to discern.
At times, again, he felt almost content that Schilsky was what he was. If the day should ever come when, all barriers down, he, Maurice Guest, might be intimately associated with her life; if he should ever have the chance of proving to her what real love was, what a holy mystic thing, how far removed from a blind passing fancy; if he might serve her, be her slave, lay his hands under her feet, lead her up and on, all suffused in a sunset of tenderness: then, she would see that what she had believed to be love had been nothing but a FATA MORGANA, a mirage of the skies. And he heard himself whispering words of incredible fondness to her, saw her listening with wonder in her eyes.
At still other moments, he was ready to renounce every hope, if, by doing so, he could add jot or tittle to her happiness.
The further he spun himself into his dreams, however, and the better he learnt to know her in imagination, the harder it grew to take the first step towards realising his wishes. In those few, brief days, when he hugged her name to him as a talisman, he waited cheerfully for something to happen, something unusual, that would bring him to her notice--a dropped handkerchief, a seat vacated for her at a concert, even a timely accident. But as day after day went by, in eventless monotony, he began to cast about him for human aid. From Dove, his daily companion, Dove of the outstretched paws of continual help, he now shrank away. Miss Martin was not to be spoken to except in Dove's company. There was only one person who could assist him, if she would, and that was Madeleine Wade. He called to mind the hearty invitation she had given him, and reproached himself for not having taken advantage of it.
One afternoon, towards six o'clock, he rang the bell of her lodgings in the MOZARTSTRASSE. This was a new street, the first blocks of which gave directly on the Gewandhaus square; but, at the further end, where she lived, a phalanx of redbrick and stucco fronts looked primly across at a similar line. In the third storey of one of these houses, Madeleine Wade had a single, large room, the furniture of which was so skilfully contrived, that, by day, all traces of the room's double calling were obliterated.
As he entered, on this first occasion, she was practising at a grand piano which stood before one of the windows. She rose at once, and, having greeted him warmly, made him sit down among the comfortable cushions that lined the sofa. Then she took cups and saucers from a cupboard in the wall, and prepared tea over a spirit-lamp. He soon felt quite at home with her, and enjoyed himself so well that many such informal visits followed.
But the fact was not to be denied: it was her surroundings that attracted him, rather than she herself. True, he found her frankness delightfully "refreshing," and when he spoke of her, it was as of an "awfully good sort," "a first-class girl"; for Madeleine was invariably lively, kind and helpful. At the same time, she was without doubt a trifle too composed, too sure of herself; she had too keen an eye for human foibles; she came towards you with a perfectly natural openness, and she came all the way--there was nothing left for you to explore. And when not actually with her, it was easy to forget her; there was never a look or a smile, never a barbed word, never a sudden spontaneous gesture--the vivid translation of a thought--to stamp itself on your memory.
But it was only at the outset that he thought things like these. Madeleine Wade had been through experiences of the same kind before; and hardly a fortnight later they were calling each other by their Christian names.
When he came to her, towards evening, tired and inclined to be lonely, she seated him in a corner of the sofa, and did not ask him to say much until she had made the tea. Then, when the cups were steaming in front of them, she discussed sympathetically with him the progress of his work. She questioned him, too, about
When he came to her, tired and inclined to be lonely, she seated him in a corner of the sofa, and did not ask him to say much until she made tea. Then, when the cups were steaming in front of them, she discussed sympathetically with him the progress of his work. She questioned him, too, about his home and family, and he read her parts of his mother's letters, which arrived without fail every Tuesday morning. She also drew from him a more detailed account of his previous life; and, in this connection, they had several animated discussions about teaching, a calling to which Madeleine looked composedly forward to returning, while Maurice, in strong superlative, declared he had rather force a flock of sheep to walk in line. She told him, too, some of the gossip the musical quarter of the town was rife with, about those in high places; and, in particular, of the bitter rivalry that had grown up with the years between Schwarz and Bendel, the chief masters of the piano. If these two met in the street, they passed each other with a stony stare; if, at an ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, a pupil of one was to play, the other rose ostentatiously and left the hall. She also hinted that in order to obtain all you wanted at the Conservatorium, to be favoured above your fellows, it was only necessary flagrantly to bribe one of the clerks, Kleefeld by name, who was open to receive anything, being wretchedly impecunious and the father of a large family.
Finding, too, that Maurice was bent on learning German, she, who spoke the language fluently, proposed that they should read it together; and soon it became their custom to work through a few pages of QUINTUS FIXLEIN, a scene or two of Schiller, some lyrics of Heine. They also began to play duets, symphonies old and new, and Madeleine took care constantly to have something fresh and interesting at hand. To all this the young man brought an unbounded zeal, and, if he had had his way, they would have gone on playing or reading far into the evening.
She smiled at his eagerness. "You absorb like a sponge."
When it grew too dark to see, he confided to her that his dearest wish was to be a conductor. He was not yet clear how it could be managed, but he was sure that this was the branch of his art for which he had most aptitude.
Here she interrupted him. "Do you never write verses?"
Her question seemed to him so meaningless that he only laughed, and went on with what he was saying. For the event of his plan proving impracticable--at home they had no idea of it--he was training as a concert-player; but he intended to miss no chance that offered, of learning how to handle an orchestra.
Throughout these hours of stimulating companionship, however, he did
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