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- Maurice Guest - 105/121 -
words, that he would have success in his mission, there was no manner of doubt in his mind--a conviction he shared with the generality of mankind: that it is only necessary for an offender's eyes to be opened to the enormity of his wrongdoing, for him to be reasonable and to renounce it.
While Dove hesitated thus, torn between his reputation on the one hand, his missionary zeal on the other; while he hesitated, an incident occurred, which acted as a kind of moral fingerpost. In the piano-class, one day, just as Dove was about to leave the room, Schwarz asked him if he were not a friend of Herr Guest's. The latter had been absent now from two lessons in succession. Was he ill? Did no one know what had happened to him? Dove made light of the friendship, but volunteered his services, and was bidden to make inquiries.
He went that afternoon.
Frau Krause looked a little gruffer than of old; and left him to find his own way to Maurice's room. In accordance with the new state of things, Dove knocked ceremoniously at the door. While his knuckles still touched the wood, it was flung open, and he stood face to face with Maurice. For a moment the latter did not seem to recognise his visitor; he had evidently been expecting some one else.
Then he repaired his tardiness, ceased to hold the door, and Dove entered, apologising for his intrusion.
"Just a moment. I won't detain you. As you were absent from the class all last week, Schwarz asked to-day if you were ill, and I said I would step round and see."
"Very good of you, I'm sure. Sit down," said Maurice. His face changed as he spoke; a look of relief and, at the same time, of disappointment flitted across it.
"Thanks. If I am not disturbing you," answered Dove. As he said these words, he threw a glance, the significance of which might have been grasped by a babe, at the piano. It had plainly not been opened that day.
Maurice understood. "No, I was not practising," he said. "But I have to go out shortly," and he looked at his watch.
"Quite so. Very good. I won't detain you," repeated Dove, and sat down on the proffered chair. "But not practising? My dear fellow, how is that? Are you so far forward already that it isn't necessary? Or is it a fact that you are not feeling up to the mark?"
"Oh, I'm all right. I get my work over in the morning."
Now he, too, sat down, at the opposite side of the table. Clearing his throat, Dove gazed at the sinner before him. He began to see that his errand was not going to be an easy one; where no hint was taken, it was difficult to insert even the thinnest edge of the wedge. He resolved to use finesse; and, for several of the precious moments at his disposal, he talked, as if at random, of other things.
Maurice tapped the table. He kept his eyes fixed on Dove's face, as though he were drinking in his companion's solemn utterances. In reality, whole minutes passed without his knowing what was said. At Dove's knock, he had been certain that a message had come from Louise--at last. This was the night of the ball; and still she had given him no promise that she would not go. They had parted, the evening before, after a bitter quarrel; and he had left her, vowing that he would not return till she sent for him. He had waited the whole day, in vain, for a sign. What was Dove with his pompous twaddle to him? Every slight sound on the stairs or in the passage meant more. He was listening, listening, without cessation.
When he came back to himself, he heard Dove droning on, like a machine that has been wound up and cannot stop.
"Now, I hope you won't mind my saying so," were the next words that pierced his brain. "You must not be offended at my telling you; but you are hardly fulfilling the expectations we, your friends, you know, had formed of you. My dear fellow, you really must pull yourself together, or February will find you still unprepared."
Maurice went a shade paler; he was clear, now, as to the object of Dove's visit. But he answered in an off-hand way. "Oh, there's time enough yet."
"No. That's a mistaken point of view, if I may say so," replied Dove in his blandest manner. "Time requires to be taken by the forelock, you know."
"Does it?" Maurice allowed the smile that was expected of him to cross his face.
"Most emphatically--And we fellow-students of yours are not the only people who have noticed a certain--what shall I say?--a certain abatement of energy on your part. Schwarz sees it, too--or I am much mistaken."
"What?--he, too?" said Maurice, and pretended a mild surprise. For some seconds now he had been mentally debating with himself whether he should not, there and then, show Dove the door. He decided against it. A "Damn your interference!" meant plain-speaking, on both sides; it meant a bandying of words; and more expenditure of strength than he had to spare for Dove. Once more he drew out and consulted his watch.
"Unfortunately, yes," said Dove, ignoring the hint. "I assume it, from something he let drop this afternoon. Now, you know, your Mendelssohn ought to have been a brilliant piece of work--yes, the expression is not too strong. And it still must be. My dear Guest, what I came to say to you to-day--one, at any rate, of the reasons that brought me--was, that you must not allow your interest in what you are doing to flag at the eleventh hour."
Maurice laughed. "Oh, certainly not! Most awfully good of you to trouble."
"No trouble at all," Dove assured him. He flicked some dust from his trouser-knee before he spoke again. "I . . . er . . . that is, I had some talk the other day with Miss Wade."
"Indeed!" replied Maurice, and was now able accurately to gauge the motor origin of Dove's appearance. "How is she? How is Madeleine?"
"She was speaking of you, Guest. She would, I think, like to see you."
"Yes. I've rather neglected her lately, I'm afraid.--But when there's so much to do, you know . . ."
"It's a pity," said Dove, passing over the last words, and nodding his head sagaciously. "She's a staunch friend of yours, is Miss Madeleine. I think it wouldn't be too much to say, she was feeling a little hurt at your neglect of her."
"Really? I had no idea so many people took an interest in me."
"That is just where you are mistaken," said Dove warmly. "We all do. And for that very reason, I said to myself, I will be spokesman for the rest: I'll go to him and tell him he must pull through, and do himself credit--and Schwarz, too. We are so few this year, you know."
"Yes, poor old man! He has got badly left."
"Yes. That was one reason. And then . . . but you assure me, don't you, that you will not take what I am going to say amiss?"
"Not in the least. It's awfully decent of you. But I'm sorry to say my time's up. And every minute is precious just now--as you know yourself."
He rose, and, for the third time, referred to his watch. After an ineffectual attempt to continue, Dove was also forced to rise, with the best part of his message unuttered. And Maurice hurried him, glum and crestfallen, to the door, for fear of the still worse tactlessness of which he might make himself guilty.
They groped in silence along the dark lobby. For the sake of parting with a friendly and neutral word, Maurice said, as he opened the door: "By the way, I hear we shall soon have to offer congratulations and good wishes."
To his surprise, Dove, who had already crossed the threshold, looked blank, and drew himself up.
"Indeed?" he said, and the tone was, for him, quite short. "I. . the fact is . . . I've no idea of what you are referring to."
On re-entering his room, Maurice went back to the window, and taking up his former attitude, began to beat anew that tattoo on the panes, which had been his chief employment during the day. His eyes were sore with straining at the corner of the street, tired of looking at his watch to see how the time passed. He had steadfastly believed that Louise would yield in this. matter, and, at the last, recall him in a burst of impulsive regret. But, as the day crawled by without a word from her, his confident conviction weakened; and, at the same time, his resolve not to go back till she sent for him, failed. He repeated, in memory, some of the bitter things they had said to each other, to see if he had not left himself a loophole of escape; but only with one half of his brain: the other was persistently occupied with the emptiness of the street below. When a clock struck half-past seven, he could bear the suspense no longer: he put on his hat and coat, and went out. He felt tired and unslept, and dragged along as if his body were a weight to him. A fine snow was falling, which froze into icicles on the beards of the passers-by, and on the glistening pavements. The distance had never seemed so long to him; it had also never seemed so short.
A faint and foolish hope still refused to be extinguished. But it went out directly he had unlocked the door; and he learned what he had come to learn, without the exchange of a word. The truth met him, that he should have been here hours ago, commanding, imploring; instead of which he had sat at home, nursing a futile and paltry pride.
The room was warm, and bright with extra candles. It was also in that state of confusion which accompanied an elaborate toilet on the part of Louise. Fully dressed, she stood before the console-glass, and arranged something in her hair. She did not turn at his entrance, but she raised her eyes and met his in the mirror, without pausing in what she was doing.
He looked over her shoulder at her reflected face. The cold steadiness, the open hostility of her look, took his strength away. He sat down on the foot-end of the bed, and put his head in his hands. Minutes passed, and still he remained in this position. For what was the use of his speaking? Her mind was made up; nothing would move her now.
Then came the noise of wheels in the street below. Uncovering his eyes, Maurice looked at her again; and, as he did so, his feelings which, until now, had had something of the nature of a personal wound, gave place to others with the rush of a storm. She wore the same sparkling, low-cut dress as on the previous occasion; arms and shoulders were as ruthlessly bared to view. He remembered what he had heard said of her that night, and felt that his powers of endurance were at an end. With a stifled
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