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- Maurice Guest - 120/121 -
temporary, and charitable, death. The delicious sensation of sipping the brandy was his chief remembrance of these hours; but, also, like far-off, incorporate happenings, he was conscious, as the night deepened, of women's shrill and lively voices. and of the pressure of a woman's arms.
He wakened, the next morning, to strange surroundings. Half opening his eyes, he saw a strip of drab wall-paper, besprinkled with crude pink roses, and the black and gilt frame of an oblong mirror. He shut them again immediately, preferring to believe that he was still dreaming. Somewhere in the back of his head, a machine was working, with slow, steady throbs, which made his body vibrate as a screw does a steamer. He lay enduring it, and trying to sleep again, to its accompaniment. But just as he was on the point of dozing off, a noise in the room startled him, and made him wide awake. He was not alone. Something had fallen to the floor, and a voice exclaimed impatiently. Peering through his lids, he looked out beyond the will which had first chained his attention. His eyes fell on the back of a woman, who was sitting in front of one of the windows, doing her hair. In her hand she held a pair of curlingtongs, and, before her, on the foot-end of the sofa, a hand-glass was propped up. Her hair was thick and blond. She wore a black silk chemise, which had slipped low on her plump shoulders; a shabby striped petticoat was bound round her waist, and her naked feet were thrust into down-trodden, felt shoes. Maurice lay still, in order that she should not suspect his being awake. For a few minutes, there was silence; then he was forced to sneeze, and at the sound the woman muttered something, and came to the side of the bed. A curl was imprisoned between the blades of the tongs, which she continued to hold aloft, in front of her forehead.
"NA, KLEINER! . . . had your sleep out?" she asked in a raucous voice. As Maurice did not reply, but closed his eyes again, blinded by the sunshine that poured into the room, she laughed, and made a sound like that with which one urges on a horse. "Don't feel up to much this morning . . . eh? HERRJE, KLEINER, but you were tight!" and, at some remembrance of the preceding night, she chuckled to herself. "And now, I bet you, you feel as if you'd never be able to lift your head again. Just wait a jiffy! I'll get you something that'll revive you."
She waddled to the door and he heard her call: "JOHANN, EINEN SCHNAPS!"
Feet shuffled in the passage; she handed Maurice a glass of brandy.
"There you are!--that'll pull you together. Swallow it down," she said, as he hesitated. "You'll feel another man after it.--And now I'll do what I wouldn't do for every one--make you a coffee to wash down the nasty physic."
She laughed loudly at her own joke, and laid the curlingtongs aside. He watched her move about the room in search of spirit-lamp and coffee-mill. Beneath the drooping black chemise, her loose breasts swayed.
"Not that I've much time," she went on, as she ground the coffee. "It's gone a quarter to twelve already, and I like fresh air. I don't miss a minute of it.--So up you get! Here, dowse your head in this water."
Leaning against the table, Maurice drank the cup of black coffee, and considered his companion. No longer young, she was as coarsely haggard as are the generality of women of her class, scanned by cruel daylight. And while she could never have been numbered among the handsome ones of her profession, there was yet a certain kindliness in the smallish blue eyes, and in her jocose manner of treating him.
She, too, eyed him as he drank.
"SAG''MAL KLEINER--will you come again?" she broke the silence.
"What's your name?" he asked evasively, and put the cup down on the table.
"Oh . . . just ask for Luise," she said. On her tongue, the name had three long-drawn syllables, and there was a v before the i.
She was nettled by his laugh.
"What's wrong with it?" she asked. "GEH', KLEINER, SEI NETT!--won't you come again?"
"Well, ask for Luise, if you do. That's enough."
He turned to put on his coat. As he did so, a disagreeable thought crossed his mind; he coloured, and ran his hand through his pockets.
"I've no money."
"What?--rooked, are you? Well, it wasn't here, then. I'm an honest girl, I am!"
She came over to him, not exactly suspicious, still with a slight diminution of friendliness in eyes and tone; and, as, if there were room for a mistake on his part, herself went through the likely pockets in turn.
"Not a heller!"
Her sharp little eyes travelled over him.
She laid her hand on his scarf-pin. He took it out and gave it to her. She stood on tip-toe, for she was dumpy, put her arms round his neck, and gave him a hearty kiss.
"DU GEFALLST MIR!" she said. "I like you. Kiss me, too, can't you?"
He looked down on the plump, ungainly figure, and, without feeling either satisfaction or repugnance, stooped and kissed the befringed forehead.
"ADIEU, KLEINER! Come again."
He was eyed--he felt it--from various rooms, the doors of which stood ajar. The front door was wide open, and he left it so. He descended the stairs with a sagging step. Half-way down, he stopped short. He had spoken the truth when he said that he was without money; every pfennig he possessed, had been in his pocket the night before. Under these circumstances, he could undertake nothing. But, even while he thought it, his hand sought his watch, which he carried chainless in a pocket of his vest. It was there, and as his fingers closed on it, he proceeded on his way.
The day had again set in brilliantly; the shadows on roads and pavements had real depth, and the outlines of the houses were hard against a cloudless sky. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground; for the crudeness of the light made them ache.
His feet bore him along the road they knew better than any other. And until he had been in the BRUDERSTRASSE, he could not decide what was to come next. He dragged along, with bowed head, and the distance seemed unending. Even when he had turned the corner and was in the street itself, he kept his head down, and only when he was opposite the house, did he throw a quick glance upwards. His heart gave a terrifying leap, then ceased to beat: when it began again, it was at a mad gallop, which prevented him drawing breath. All three windows stood wide open; the white window-curtains hung out over the sills, and flapped languidly in the breeze.
He crossed the road with small steps, like a convalescent. He pushed back the heavy house-door, and entered the vestibule, which was cold and shadowy. Step by step, he climbed to the first landing. The door of the flat was shut, but the little door in the wall stood ajar, and he could see right into the room.
He leaned against the banisters, where the shadow was deepest. Inside the room that had been his world, two charwomen rubbed and scoured, talking as they worked in strident tones. The heavy furniture had been pulled into the middle of the floor, and shrouded in white coverings; chairs were laid on the bed, with their legs in the air. There was no trace of anything that had belonged to Louise; all familiar objects had vanished. It was a strange, unnatural scene: he felt as one might feel who, by means of some mysterious agency, found it possible to be present at his own burial, while he was still alive.
One of the women began to beat the sofa; under cover of the blows, which reverberated through the house, he slunk away. But he did not get far: when he was recalled to himself by a new noise in one of the upper storeys, he found that he was standing on the bottom step of the stairs, holding fast to the round gilt ball that surmounted the last post of the banisters. He moved from there to the warmth of the house-door, and, for some time before going out, stood sunning himself, a forlorn figure, with eyes that blinked at the light. He felt very cold, and weak to the point of faintness. This sensation reminded him that he had had no solid food since noon the day before. His first business was obviously to eat a meal. Fighting a growing dizziness, he trudged into the town, and, having pawned his watch, went to a restaurant, and forced himself to swallow the meal that was set before him--though there were moments when it seemed incredible that it was actually he who plied knife and fork. He would have been glad to linger for a time, after eating, but the restaurant was crowded, and the waiter openly impatient for him to be gone. As he rose, he saw the man flicking the crumbs off the cloth, and setting the table anew; some one was waiting to take his place.
When he emerged again into the thronged and slightly dusty streets, his previous strong impression of the unreality of things was upon him again. Now, however, it seemed as though some submerged consciousness were at work in him. For, though he was not aware of having reviewed his position, or of having cast a plan of action, he knew at once what was to be done; and, as before, his feet bore him, without bidding, where he had to go.
He retraced his steps, and half-way down the KLOSTERGASSE, entered a gunsmith's shop. The owner, an elderly man in a velvet cap and gold-rimmed spectacles, looked at him over the tops of these, then said curtly, he could not oblige him. What was more, he came out after him, and, standing in the shop-door, watched him go down the street. At his refusal, Maurice had hurriedly withdrawn: now, as he went, he wa's troubled by the fact that the man's face was vaguely familiar to him. For the length of a street-block, he endeavoured to recollect where he had seen the face before. And suddenly he knew: it was this very shop he had once been in to inquire after Krafft, and this was the same man who had then been so uncivil to him. But as soon as he remembered, the knowledge ceased to interest him.
Rendered cautious by his first experience, he went to another
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