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- Maurice Guest - 6/121 -


"Let me tell you something: if I were not of the opinion that you had ability, I should not detain you this evening. It is no habit of mine, mark this, to interfere with my pupils. Outside this room, most of them do not exist for me. In your case, I am making an exception, because . . ."--Maurice was here so obviously gratified that the speaker made haste to substitute: "because I should much like to know how it is that you come to me in the state you do." And without waiting for a reply: "For you know nothing, or, let us say, worse than nothing, since what you do know, you must make it your first concern to forget." He paused, and the young man's face fell so much that he prolonged the pause, to enjoy the discomfiture he had produced. "But give me time," he continued, "adequate time, and I will undertake to make something of you." He lowered his voice, and the taps became more confidential. "There is good stuff here; you have talent, great talent, and, as I have observed to-day, you are not wanting in intelligence. But," and again his voice grew harsher, his eye more piercing, "understand me, if you please, no trifling with other studies; let us have no fiddling, no composing. Who works with me, works for me alone. And a lifetime, I repeat it, a lifetime, is not long enough to master such an instrument as this!"

He brought his hand down heavily on the lid of the piano, and glared at Maurice as if he expected the latter to contradict him. Then, noisily clearing his throat, he began anew to pace the room.

As Maurice stood waiting for his dismissal, with very varied feelings, of which, however, a faint pride was uppermost; as he stood waiting, the door opened, and a girl looked in. She hesitated a moment, then entered, and going up to Schwarz, asked him something in a low voice. He nodded an assent, nodded two or three times, and with quite another face; its hitherto unmoved severity had given way to an indulgent friendliness. She laid her hat and jacket on the table, and went to the piano.

Schwarz motioned Maurice to a chair. He sat down almost opposite her.

And now came for him one of those moments in life, which, unlooked-for, undivined, send before them no promise of being different, in any way, from the commonplace moments that make up the balance of our days. No gently graduated steps lead up to them: they are upon us with the violent abruptness of a streak of lightning, and like this, they, too, may leave behind them a scarry trace. What such a moment holds within it, is something which has never existed for us before, something it has never entered our minds to go out and seek--the corner of earth, happened on by chance, which comes most near the Wineland of our dreams; the page, idly perhaps begun, which brings us a new god; the face of the woman who is to be our fate--but, whatever it may be, let it once exist for us, and the soul responds forthwith, catching in blind haste at the dimly missed ideal.

For one instant Maurice Guest had looked at the girl before him with unconcern, but the next it was with an intentness that soon became intensity, and feverishly grew, until he could not tear his eyes away. The beauty, whose spell thus bound him, was of that subtle kind which leaves many a one cold, but, as if just for this reason, is almost always fateful for those who feel its charm: at them is lanced its accumulated force. The face was far from faultless; there was no regularity of feature, no perfection of line, nor was there more than a touch of the sweet girlish freshness that gladdens like a morning in May. The features, save for a peremptory turn of mouth and chin, were unremarkable, and the expression was distant, unchanging . . . but what was that to him? This deep white skin, the purity of which was only broken by the pale red of the lips; this dull black hair, which lay back from the low brow in such wonderful curves, and seemed, of itself, to fall into the loose knot on the neck--there was something romantic, exotic about her, which was unlike anything he had ever seen: she made him think of a rare, hothouse flower; some scentless, tropical flower, with stiff, waxen petals. And then her eyes! So profound was their darkness that, when they threw off their covering of heavy lid, it seemed to his excited fancy as if they must scorch what they rested on; they looked out from the depths of their setting like those of a wild beast crouched within a cavern; they lit up about them like stars, and when they fell, they went out like stars, and her face took on the pallor of early dawn.

She was playing from memory. She gazed straight before her with far-away eyes, which only sometimes looked down at her hands, to aid them in a difficult passage. At her belt, she wore a costly yellow rose, and as she once leaned towards the treble, where both hands were at work close together, it fell to the floor. Maurice started forward, and picking it up, laid it on the piano; beneath the gaslight, it sank a shadowy gold image in the mirror-like surface. As yet she had paid no heed to him, but, at this, she turned her head, and, still continuing to play, let her eyes rest absently on him.

They sank their eyes in each other's. A thrill ran through Maurice, a quick, sharp thrill, which no sensation of his later life outdid in keenness and which, on looking back, he could always feel afresh. The colour rose to his face and his heart beat audibly, but he did not lower his eyes, and for not doing so, seemed to himself infinitely bold. A host of confused feelings bore down upon him, well-nigh blotting out the light; but, in a twinkling, all were swallowed up in an overpowering sense of gratitude, in a large, vague, happy thankfulness, which touched him almost to the point of tears. As it swelled through him and possessed him, he yearned to pour it forth, to make an offering of this gratefulness--fine tangle of her beauty and his own glad mood--and, by sustaining her look, he seemed to lay the offering at her feet. Nor would any tongue have persuaded him that she did not understand. The few seconds were eternities: when she turned away it was as if untold hours had passed over him in a body, like a flight of birds; as if a sudden gulf had gaped between where he now was and where he had previously stood.

Dismissed curtly, with a word, he hung about the corridor in the hope of seeing her again; but the piano went on and on, unceasingly. Here, after some time, he was found by Dove, who carried him off with loud expressions of surprise.

The concert was more than half over. The main part of the hall was brightly lit and full of people: from behind, one looked across a sea of heads. On the platform at the other end, a girl in red was playing a sonata; a master sat by her side, and leant forward, at regular intervals, to turn the leaves of the music. Dove and Maurice remained standing at the back, under the gallery, among a portion of the audience which shifted continuously: those about them wandered in and out of the hall at pleasure, now inside, head in hand, critically intent, now out in the vestibule, stretching their legs, lounging in easy chat. In the pause that followed the sonata, Dove went towards the front, to join some ladies who beckoned him, and, while some one sang a noisy aria, Maurice gave himself up to his own thoughts. They all led to the same point: how he should contrive to see her again, how he should learn her name, and, beside them, everything else seemed remote, unreal; he saw the people next him as if from a distance. But in a wait that was longer than usual, he was awakened to his surroundings: a stir ran over the audience, like a gust of wind over still water; the heads in the seats before him inclined one to another, wagged and nodded; there was a gentle buzz of voices. Behind him, the doors opened and shut, letting in all who were outside: they pressed forward expectantly. On his left, a row of girls tried to start a round of applause and tittered nervously at their failure. Schilsky had come down the platform and commenced tuning. He bent his long, thin body as he pressed his violin to his knee, and his reddish hair fell over his face. The accompanist, his hands on the keys, waited for the signal to begin.

Maurice drew a deep breath of anticipation. But the first shrill, sweet notes had hardly cut the silence, when, the door opening once more, some one entered and pushed through the standing crowd. He looked round, uneasy at the disturbance, and found that it was she: what is more, she came up to his very side. He turned away so hastily that he touched her arm, causing it to yield a little, and some moments went by before he ventured to look again. When he did, in some tremor, he saw that, without fear of discovery, he might look as long or as often as he chose. She was listening to the player with the raptness of a painted saint: her whole face listened, the tightened lips, the open nostrils, the wide, vigilant eyes. Maurice, lost in her presence, grew dizzy with the scent of her hair--that indefinable odour, which has something of the raciness in it of new-turned earth--and foolish wishes arose and jostled one another in his mind: he would have liked to plunge both hands into the dark, luxuriant mass; still better, cautiously to draw his palm down this whitest skin, which, seen so near, had a faint, satin-like sheen. The mere imagining of it set him throbbing, and the excitement in his blood was heightened by the sensuous melancholy of the violin, which, just beyond the pale of his consciousness, throbbed and languished with him under the masterful bow.

Shortly before the end of the concerto, she turned and made her way out. Maurice let a few seconds elapse, then followed. But the long white corridors stretched empty before him; there was no trace of her to he seen. As he was peering about, in places that were strange to him, a tumult of applause shook the hall, the doors flew open and the audience poured out.

Dove had joined other friends, and a number of them left the building together; everyone spoke loudly and at once. But soon Maurice and Dove outstepped their companions, for these came to words over the means used by Schilsky to mount, with bravour, a certain gaudy scale of octaves, and, at every second pace, they stopped, and wheeled round with eloquent gesture. In their presence Dove had said little; now he gave rein to his feelings: his honest face glowed with enthusiasm, the names of renowned players ran off his lips like beads off a string, and, in predicting Schilsky a career still more brilliant, his voice grew husky with emotion.

Maurice listened unmoved to his friend's outpouring, and the first time Dove stopped for breath, went straight for the matter which, in his eyes, had dwarfed all others. So eager was he to learn something of her, that he even made shift to describe her; his attempt fell out lamely, and a second later he could have bitten off his tongue.

Dove had only half an ear for him.

"Eh? What? What do you say?" he asked as Maurice paused; but his thoughts were plainly elsewhere. This fact is, just at this moment, he was intent on watching some ladies: were they going to notice him or not? The bow made and returned, he brought his mind back to Maurice with a great show of interest.

Here, however, they all turned in to Seyffert's Cafe and, seating themselves at a long, narrow table, waited for Schilsky, whom they intended to fete. But minutes passed, a quarter, then half of an hour, and still he did not come. To while the time, his playing of the concerto was roundly commented and discussed. There was none of the ten or twelve young men but had the complete jargon of the craft at his finger-tips; not one, too, but was rancorous and admiring in a breath, now detecting flaws as many as motes in a beam, now heaping praise. The spirited talk, flying thus helter-skelter through the gamut of opinion, went forward chiefly in German, which the


Maurice Guest - 6/121

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