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- Maurice Guest - 40/121 -


But otherwise she knew no more than Maurice; and she did not offer to detain him, when, a few minutes later, he alleged a pressing appointment. Madeleine was annoyed, and showed it; she had come in with the intention of being kind to him, of encouraging him, and discussing the matter sympathetically, and it now turned out that not only had he known it all the time, but had also kept it a secret from her. She did not like underhand ways, especially in people whom she believed she knew inside out.

Now that the pledge of secrecy had been removed from him, Maurice felt that he wanted facts; and, without thinking more about it than if he had been there the day before, he climbed the stairs that led to Krafft's lodging.

He found him at supper; Avery was present, too, and on the table sat Wotan, who was being regaled with strips of skin off the sausage. Krafft greeted Maurice with a touch of his former effusiveness; for he was in a talkative mood, and needed an audience. At his order, Avery put an extra plate on the table, and Maurice had to share their meal. It was not hard for him to lead Krafft round to the desired subject. It seemed that one of the masters in the Conservatorium had expressed a very unequivocal opinion of Schilsky's talents as a composer, and Krafft was now sarcastic, now merry, at this critic's expense. Maurice laid down his knife, and, in the first break, asked abruptly: "When does he go?"

"Go?--who?" said Krafft indifferently, tickling Wotan's nose with a piece of skin which he held out of reach.

"Who?--why, Schilsky, of course."

It sounded as if another than he had said the words: they were so short and harsh. The plate Avery was holding fell to the floor. Krafft sat back in his chair, and stared at Maurice, with a face that was all eyes.

"You knew he was going away?--or didn't you?" asked Maurice in a rough voice. "Every one knows. The whole place knows."

Krafft laughed. "The whole place knows: every one knows," he repeated. "Every one, yes--every one but me. Every one but me, who had most right to know. Yes, I alone had the right; for no one has loved him as I have."

He rose from the table, knocking over his chair. "Or else it is not true?"

"Yes, it is true. Then you didn't know?" said Maurice, bewildered by the outburst he had evoked.

"No, we didn't know." It was Avery who spoke. She was on her knees, picking up the pieces of the plate with slow, methodical fingers.

Krafft stood hesitating. Then he went to the piano, opened it, adjusted the seat, and made all preparations for playing. But with his fingers ready on the keys, he changed his mind and, instead, laid his arms on the folded rack and his head on his arms. He did not stir again, and a long silence followed. The only sound that was to be heard came from Wotan, who, sitting on his haunches on a corner of the table, washed the white fur of his belly with an audible swish.

XIV.

Whistling to him to stop, Furst ran the length of a street-block after Maurice, as the latter left the Conservatorium.

"I say, Guest," he said breathlessly, on catching up with him. "Look here, I just wanted to tell you, you must be sure and join us to-night. We are going to give Schilsky a jolly send-off."

They stood at the corner of the WACHTERSTRASSE; it was a blowy day. Maurice replied evasively, with his eyes on the unbound volume of Beethoven that Furst was carrying; its tattered edges moved in the wind.

"When does he go?" he asked, without any show of concern.

Furst looked warily round him, and dropped his voice. "Well, look here, Guest, I don't mind telling you," he said; he was perspiring from his run, and dried his neck and face. "I don't mind telling you; you won't pass it on; for he has his reasons--family or domestic reasons, if one may say so, tra-la-la!"--he winked, and nudged Maurice with his elbow--"for not wanting it to get about. It's deuced hard on him that it should have leaked out at all. I don't know how it happened; for I was mum, 'pon my honour, I was."

"Yes. And when does he go?" repeated his hearer with the same want of interest.

"To-morrow morning early, by the first train."

Now to be rid of him! But it was never easy to get away from Furst, and since Maurice had declared his intention of continuing to take lessons from him, as good as impossible. Furst was overpowering in his friendliness, and on this particular occasion, there was no escape for Maurice before he had promised to make one of the party that was to meet that night, at a restaurant in the town. Then he bluffly alleged an errand in the PLAGWITZERSTRASSE, and went off in an opposite direction to that which his companion had to take.

As soon as Furst was out of sight, he turned into the path that led to the woods. Overhead, the sky was a monotonous grey expanse, and a soft, moist wind drove in gusts, before which, on the open meadow-land, he bent his head. It was a wind that seemed heavy with unfallen rain; a melancholy wind, as the day itself was melancholy, in its faded colours, and cloying mildness. With his music under his arm, Maurice walked to the shelter of the trees. Now that he had learnt the worst, a kind of numbness came over him; he had felt so intensely in the course of the past week that, now the crisis was there, he seemed destitute of feeling.

His feet bore him mechanically to his favourite seat, and here he remained, with his head in his hands, his eyes fixed on the trodden gravel of the path. He had to learn, once and for all, that, by tomorrow, everything would be over; for, notwithstanding the wretchedness of the past days, he was as far off as ever from understanding. But he was loath to begin; he sat in a kind of torpor, conscious only of the objects his eyes rested on: some children had built a make-believe house of pebbles, with a path leading up to the doorway, and at this he gazed, estimating the crude architectural ideas that had occurred to the childish builders. He felt the wind in his hair, and listened to the soothing noise it made, high above his head. But gradually overcoming this physical dullness, his mind began to work again. With a sudden vividness, he saw himself as he had walked these very woods, seven months before; he remembered the brilliant colouring of the April day, and the abundance of energy that had possessed him. Then, on looking into the future, all his thoughts had been of strenuous endeavour and success. Now, success was a word like any other, and left him cold.

For a long time, in place of passing on to his real preoccupation, he considered this, brooding over the change that had come about in him. Was it, he asked himself, because he had so little whole-hearted endurance, that when once a thing was within his grasp, that grasp slackened? Was it that he was able to make the effort required for a leap, then, the leap over, could not right himself again? He believed that the slackening interest, the inability to fix his attention, which he had had to fight against of late, must have some such deeper significance; for his whole nature--the inherited common sense of generations--rebelled against tracing it back to the day on which he had seen a certain face for the first time. It was too absurd to be credible that because a slender, dark-eyed girl had suddenly come within his range of vision, his life should thus lose form and purpose--incredible and unnatural as well--and, in his present mood, he would have laughed at the suggestion that this was love. To his mind, love was something frank and beautiful, made for daylight and the sun; whereas his condition was a source of mortification to him. To love, without any possible hope of return; to love, knowing that the person you loved regarded you with less than indifference, and, what was worse, that this person was passionately attached to another man--no, there was something indelicate about it, at which his blood revolted. It was the kind of thing that it suited poets to make tragedies of, but it did not--should not--happen in sober, daily life. And if, as it seemed in this case, it was beyond mortal's power to prevent it, then the only fitting thing to do was promptly to make an end. And because, over the approach of this end, he suffered, he now called himself hard names. What had he expected? Had he really believed that matters could always dally on, in this pleasant, torturous way? Would he always have been content to be third party, and miserable outsider? No; the best that could happen to him was now happening; let the coming day once be past, let a very few weeks have run their course, and the parting would have lost its sting; he would be able to look back, regretfully no doubt, but as on something done with, irrecoverable. Then he would apply himself to his work with all his heart; and it would be possible to think of her, and remember her, calmly. If once an end were put to these daily chances of seeing her, which perpetually fanned his unrest, all would go well.

And yet . . . did he close his eyes and let her face rise up before him--her sweet, white face, with the unfathomable eyes, and pale, sensuous mouth--he was shaken by an emotion that knocked his resolutions as flat as a breath knocks a house of cards. It was not love, nor anything to do with love, this he could have sworn to: it was merely the strange physical effect her presence, or the remembrance of her presence, had had upon him, from the first day on: a tightening of all centres, a heightening of all faculties, an intense hope, and as intense a despair. And in this moment, he confessed to himself that he would have been over-happy to live on just as he had been doing, if only sometimes he might see her. He needed her, as he had never felt the need of anyone before; his nature clamoured for her, imperiously, as it clamoured for light and air. He had no concern with anyone but her--her only--and he could not let her go. It was not love; it was a bodily weakness, a pitiable infirmity: he even felt it degrading that another person should be able to exercise such an influence over him, that there should be a part of himself over which he had no control. Not to see her, not to be able to gather fresh strength from each chance meeting, meant that the grip life had of him would relax--he grew sick even at the thought of how, in some unknown place, in the midst of strangers, she would go on living, and giving her hand and her smile to other people, while he would never see her again. And he said her name aloud to himself, as if he were in bodily pain, or as if the sound of it might somehow bring him aid: he inwardly implored whatever fate was above him to give him the one small chance he asked--the chance of fair play.

The morning passed, without his knowing it. When, considerably after


Maurice Guest - 40/121

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