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- Maurice Guest - 20/121 -
mouth--and some people, hopeless devotees of a pink and white fairness, had been known to call her plain. At this moment, she was looking her worst; the heavy, blue-black lines beneath her eyes were deepened by crying; her rough hair had been hastily coiled, unbrushed; and she was wearing a shabby red blouse that was pinned across in front, where a button was missing. There was nothing young or fresh about her; she looked her twenty-eight years, every day of them--and more.
And yet, Madeleine knew that those who admired Louise would find her as desirable at this moment as at any other. Hers was a nameless charm; it was present in each gesture of the slim hands, in each turn of the head, in every movement of, the broad, slender body. Strangers felt it instantly; her very walk seemed provocative of notice; there was something in the way her skirts clung, and moved with her, that was different from the motion of other women's. And those whose type she embodied went crazy about her. Madeleine remembered as though it were yesterday, the afternoon on which Heinz had burst in to rave to her of his discovery; and how he would have dragged her out hatless to see this miracle. She remembered, too, after--days, when she had had him there, pacing the floor, and pouring out his feelings to her, infatuated, mad. An he was not the only one; they bowled over like ninepins; an it would be the same for years to come--was there any reason to wonder at Maurice Guest?
Meanwhile, as Madeleine sat thinking these and similar things, Maurice was tramping through the ROSENTAL. The May afternoon, of lucent sunshine and heaped, fleecy clouds, had tempted a host of people into the great park, but he soon left them all behind him, for he walked as though he were pursued. These people, placid, and content of face, and the brightness of the day, jarred on him; he was out of patience with himself, with Madeleine, with the World at large. Especially with Madeleine, he bore her a grudge for her hints and innuendoes, for being behind the scenes, as it were, and also for being so ready to enlighten him; but, most of all, for a certain malicious gratification, which was to be felt in ever word she said about Louise.
He went steadily on, against the level bars of the afternoon sun and, by the time he had tired himself bodily, he had worked off his inward vexation as well. As he walked back towards the town, he was almost ready to smile at his previous heat. What did all these others matter to him? They could not hinder him from carrying through what he had set his mind on. To-morrow was a day, and the next was another, and the next again; and life, considered thus in days and opportunities, was infinitely long.
He now felt not only an aversion to dwelling on his thoughts of an hour back, but also the need of forgetting them altogether. And, in nearing the LESSINGSTRASSE, he followed an impulse to go to Ephie and to let her merry laugh wipe out the last traces of his ill-humour.
Mrs. Cayhill and Johanna were both reading in the sitting room, and though Johanna agreeably laid aside her book, conversation languished. Ephie was sent for, but did not come, and Maurice was beginning to wish he had thought twice before calling, when her voice was heard in the passage, and, a moment later, she burst into the room, with her arms full of lilac, branches of lilac, which she explained had been bought early that morning at the flower-market, by one of their fellow-boarders. She hardly greeted Maurice, but going over to him held up her scented burden, and was not content till he had buried his face in it.
"Isn't it just sweet?" she cried holding it high for all to see. "And the very first that is to be had. Again, Maurice again, put your face right down into the middle of it--like that."
Mrs. Cayhill laughed, as Maurice obediently bowed his head, but Johanna reproved her sister.
"Don't be silly, Ephie. You behave as if you had never seen lilac before."
"Well, neither I have--not such lilac as this, and Maurice hasn't either," answered Ephie. "You shall smell it too, old Joan!"--and in spite of Johanna's protests, she forced her sister also to sink her face in the fragrant white and purple blossoms. But then she left them lying on the table, and it was Johanna who put them in water.
Mrs. Cayhill withdrew to her bedroom to be undisturbed, and Johanna went out on an errand. Maurice and Ephie sat side by side on the sofa, and he helped her to distinguish chords of the seventh, and watched her make, in her music-book, the big, tailless notes, at which she herself was always hugely tickled, they`reminded her so of eggs. But on this particular evening, she was not in a studious mood, and bock, pencil and india-rubber slid to the floor. Both windows were wide open; the air that entered was full of pleasant scents, while that of the room was heavy with lilac. Ephie had taken a spray from one of the vases, and was playing with it; and when Maurice chid her for thoughtlessly destroying it, she stuck the pieces in her hair. Not content with this, she also put bits behind Maurice's ears, and tried to twist one in the piece of hair that fell on his forehead. Having thus bedizened them, she leaned back, and, with her hands clasped behind her head, began to tease the young man. A little bird, it seemed, had whispered her any number of interesting things about Madeleine and Maurice, and she had stored them all up. Now, she repeated them, with a charming impertinence, and was so provoking that, in laughing exasperation, Maurice took her fluffy, flower-bedecked head between his hands, and stopped her lips with two sound kisses.
He acted impulsively, without reflecting, but, as soon as it was done, he felt a curious sense of satisfaction, which had nothing to do with Ephie, and was like a kind of unconscious revenge taken on some one else. He was not, however, prepared for the effect of his hasty deed. Ephie turned scarlet, and jumping up from the sofa, so that all the blossoms fell from her hair at once, stamped her foot.
"Maurice Guest! How dare you!" she cried angrily, and, to his surprise, the young man saw that she had tears in her eyes.
He had never known Ephie to be even annoyed, and was consequently dumfounded; he could not believe, after the direct provocation she had given him, that his crime had been so great
"But Ephie dear!" he protested. "I had no idea, upon my word I hadn't, that you would take it like this. What's the matter? It was nothing. Don't cry. I'm a brute."
"Yes, you are, a horrid brute! I shall never forgive you--never!" said Ephie, and then she began to cry in earnest.
He put his arm round her, and coaxing her to sit down, wiped away her tears with his own handkerchief. In vain did he beg her to tell him why she was so vexed. To all he said, she only shook her head, and answered: "You had no right to do it."
He vowed solemnly that it should never happen again, but at least a quarter of an hour elapsed before he succeeded in comforting her, and even then, she remained more subdued than usual. But when Maurice had gone, and she had dropped the scattered sprays of lilac out of the window on his head, she clasped her hands at the back of her neck, and dropped a curtsy to herself in the locking-glass.
"Him, too!" she said aloud.
She nodded at her reflected self, but her face was grave; for between these two, small, blue-robed figures was a deep and unsuspected secret.
And Maurice, as he walked away, wondered to himself for still a little why she should have been so disproportionately angry; but not for long; for, when he was not actually with Ephie, he was not given to thinking much about her. Besides, from there, he went straight to the latter half of an ABENDANTERKALTUNG, to hear Furst play Brahms' VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY HANDEL
That night he had a vivid dream. He dreamt that he was in a garden, where nothing but lilac grew--grew with a luxuriance he could not have believed possible, and on fantastic bushes: there were bushes like steeples and bushes smaller than himself, big and little, broad and slender, but all were of lilac, and in flower--an extravagant profusion of white and purple blossoms. He gazed round him in delight, and took an eager step forward; but, before he could reach the nearest bush, he saw that it had been an illusion: the bush was stripped and bare, and the rest were bare as well. "You're too late. It has all been gathered," he heard a voice say, and at this moment, he saw Ephie at the end of a long alley of bushes, coming towards him, her arms full of lilac. She smiled and nodded to him over it, and he heard her laugh, but when she was half-way down the path, he discovered his mistake: it was not Ephie but Louise. She came slowly forward, her laden arms outstretched, and he would have given his life to be able to advance and to take what she offered him; but he could not stir, could not lift hand or foot, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. Her steps grew more hesitating, she seemed hardly to move; and then, just as she reached the spot where he stood, he found that it was not she after all, but Madeleine, who laughed at his disappointment and said: "I'm not offended, remember!"--The revulsion of feeling was too great; he turned away, without taking the flowers she held out to him--and awoke.
This dream was present to him all the morning, like a melody that haunts and recalls. But he worked more laboriously than usual; for he was aggrieved with himself for having idled away the previous afternoon, and then, too, Furst's playing had made a profound impression on him. In vigorous imitation, he sat down to the piano again, after a hasty dinner snatched in the neighbourhood; but as he was only playing scales, he propped open before him a little volume of Goethe's poems, which Johanna had lent him, and suiting his scales to the metre of the lines, read through one after another of the poems he liked best. At a particular favourite, he stopped playing and held the book in both hands.
He had hardly begun anew when the door of his room was unceremoniously opened, and Dove entered, in the jocose way he adopted when in a rosy mood. Maurice made a movement to conceal his book, merely in order to avoid the explanation he new must follow; but was too late; Dove had espied it. He did not belie himself on this occasion; he was extremely astonished to find Maurice "still at it," but much more so to see a book open before him; and he vented his surprise loudly and wordily.
"Liszt used to read the newspaper," said Maurice, for the sake of saying something. He had swung round in the piano-chair, and he yawned as he spoke, without attempting to disguise it.
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