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- Maurice Guest - 60/121 -
had now loosened the strap altogether. She sat down on a heap of snow, and Dickensey's shade vanished good-naturedly round a corner.
"Well, YOU seem to be enjoying yourself," she said as Maurice drew off his gloves and knelt down.
"Why, yes, aren't you?" he replied so frankly that she did not continue the subject.
"I've been trying all the evening to get a word with you. I told you yesterday, you remember, that I wanted to speak to you. Sit down here, for a moment, so that we can talk in peace," and she spread part of her skirt over the snow-heap.
Maurice complied, and she could not discover any trace of reluctance in his manner.
"I want your advice," she continued. "I was taken quite by surprise myself. Schwarz sent for me, you know, after counterpoint. It was about my PRUFUNG at Easter. If I play then, it's a case of the C minor Beethoven. Well, now he says it's a thousand pities for me to break off just at the stage I'm at, and he wants me to stay for another year. If I do, he'll give me the G major--that's a temptation, isn't it? On the other hand, I shall have been here my full time--three years--at Easter. That's a year longer than I originally intended, and I feel I'm getting too old to be a pupil. But this talk with Schwarz has upset my plans. I'm naturally flattered at his interesting himself in me. He wouldn't do it for every one. And I do feel I could gain an immense deal in another year.--Now, what do you think?"
"Why, stay, of course, Madeleine. If you can afford it, that is. I can't imagine anyone wanting to leave."
"Oh, my capital will last so long, and it's a good enough investment."
"But wasn't a place being kept open for you in a school?"
"Yes; but I don't think a year more or less will make much difference to them. I must sound them, of course, though," said Madeleine, and did not mention that she had written and posted the letter the night before. "Then you advise me to stay?"
"Why, of course," he repeated, and was mildly astonished at her. "If everything is as smooth as you say."
"You would miss me, if I left?"
"Why, of course I should," he said again, and wondered what in the world she was driving at.
"Well, all the better," replied Madeleine. "For when one has really got to like a person, one would rather it made a difference than not."
She was silent after this, and sat looking down the stretch of ice they had travelled: the moon was behind a cloud, and the woods on either side were masses of dense black shadow. Not a soul was in sight; the river was like a deserted highway. Madeleine stared down it, and did not feel exactly satisfied with the result of her investigation. She had not expected anything extraordinary--Heaven forbid!--but she had been uncomfortably conscious of Maurice's surprise. To her last remark, he had made no answer: be was occupied with the screw of one of his skates.
She drew his attention to the fact that, if she remained in Leipzig for another twelvemonth, they would finish at the same time; and thereupon she sketched out a plan of them going somewhere together, and starting a music-school of their own. Maurice, who thought she was jesting, laughingly assented. But Madeleine was in earnest: "Other people have done it--why shouldn't we? We could take a 'cellist with us, and go to America, or Australia, or Canada--there are hundreds of places. And there's a great deal of money in it, I'm sure. A little capital would be needed to begin with, but not much, and I could supply that. You've always said you dreaded going back to the English provinces to decay--here's your chance!"
She saw the whole scheme cut and dried before her. As they, skated after the rest, she continued to enlarge upon it, in a detailed way that astonished Maurice. He confessed that, with a head like hers to conduct it, such a plan stood a fair chance of success; and thus encouraged, Madeleine undertook to make a kind of beginning at once, by sounding some of the numerous friends she had, scattered through America. Her idea was that they should go over together, and travel to various places, giving concerts, and acquainting themselves, as they did so, with the musical conditions of the towns they visited.
"And the 'cellist shall be an American--that will draw."
According to the pace at which they were skating, the others should have remained well out of reach. But on turning a corner, they came upon the whole party dancing a FRANCAISE--which two members whistled--on a patch of ice that was smoother than the rest.
"Here, Guest, come along, we want you," was the cry as soon as Maurice appeared; and, to Madeleine's deep displeasure, she was thrown on Dove, whose skill had not sufficed. When the dancing was over, Maurice once more found himself with Miss Martin, whom, for some distance, he pushed before him, she standing steady on her skates, and talking to him over her shoulder.
"That wasn't a bit pretty of you, Mr. Guest," she asserted, with her long, slow, twanged speech. "It was fixed up yesterday, I recollect, that you were to dance the FRANCAISE with me. Yes, indeed. An' then I had to take up with Mr. Dove. Now Mr. Dove is just a lovely gentleman, but he don't skate elegantly, an' he nearly tumbled me twice. Yes, indeed. But I presume when Miss Wade says come, then you're most obliged to go."
"How is it one don't ever see you now?" she queried a moment later. "It isn't anyhow so pleasurable at dinner as it used to be. But I hear you're working most hard--it's to' bad."
"It's what one comes to here."
"I guess it is. But I do like to see my friends once in a while. Say, now, Mr. Guest, won't you drink coffee with me one afternoon? I'll make you some real American coffee if you do, sir. What they call coffee here don't count."
She turned, offered him her hand, and they began to skate in long, outward curving lines.
"I think one has just a fine time here, don't you?" she continued. "Momma, she came right with me, an' stopped a bit, till I was fixed up in a boarding-house. But she didn't find it agreeable, no sir. She missed America, an' presumed I would, too. When she was leaving, she said to me: 'EI'nor Martin, if you find you can't endure it among these Dutch, just you cable, and poppa he'll come along an' fetch you right home,' But I'm sure I haven't desired to quit, no, not once. I think it's just fine. But then I've gotten me so many friends I don't ever need to feel lonesome. Why, my friend Susie Fay, she says: 'Why, EI'nor, I guess you're acquainted with most every one in the place.' An' I reckon she's not far out. Anyways there ain't more than two Americans in the city I don't know. An' I see most all strangers that come. Say, are you acquainted with Miss Moses? She's from Chicago, an' resides in a boarding-house way down by the COLONNADEN. I got acquainted with her yesterday. She's a lovely lady, an', why, she's just as smart as she can be. Say, if you like, I'll invite her along, so you can get acquainted with her too."
Maurice expressed pleasure at the prospect; and Miss Martin continued to rattle on, with easy frankness, of herself, her family, and her friends. He listened vaguely, with half an ear, since it was only required of him to throw in an occasional word of assent. But suddenly his attention was arrested, and brought headlong back to what she was saying: in the string of names that fell from her tongue, he believed he had caught one he knew.
"Miss Dufrayer?" he queried.
"That's it," replied his companion. "Louise Dufrayer. Well, sir, as I was going on to remark, when first I was acquainted with her, she was just as sweet as she could be; yes, indeed; why, she was just dandy. But she hasn't behaved a bit pretty--I presume you heard tell of what took place here this fall?"
"Then you know Miss Dufrayer?"
"Yes, indeed. But I don't see her any more, an' I guess I don't want to. Not but what I've heard she feels pretty mean about it now--beg pardon?--how I know? Why, indeed, the other day, Schwarz come in an' told us how she's moping what she can--moping herself to death--if I recollect, those were his very words. Yes, indeed. She don't take lessons no more, I presume. I think she should go right away from this city. It ain't possible to be acquainted with her any more, for all she's so lonesome, an' one feels sort of bad about it, yes, indeed. But momma, the last thing she said to me was: 'Now EI'nor Martin, just keep your eyes open, an' don't get acquainted with people you might feel bad about afterwards.' An' I presume momma was right. I don't-- Oh, say, do look at her, isn't she a peach?"--this, as her pretty friend, with Dove in tow, came gliding up to them. "Say, Susie Fay, are you acquainted with Mr. Guest?"
"MR. Guest. Pleased to know you," said Susie cordially; and Miss Martin was good-natured enough to skate off with Dove, leaving Maurice to her friend.
But afterwards, at the bench, as he was undoing Madeleine's skates, he overheard pretty Susie remark, without much care to moderate her voice: "Say, EI'nor Martin, that's the quietest sort of young man I've ever shown round a district. Why, seems to me, he couldn't say 'shoh.' Guess you shouldn't have left us, EI'nor."
And Miss Martin guessed so, too.
When he had seen Madeleine home, Maurice returned to his room, and not feeling inclined to sleep, sat down to read. But his thoughts strayed; he forgot to turn the page; and sat staring over the book at the pattern of the tablecloth. Incidents of the evening flashed before him: Miss Jensen, in James's hat, with her skirts pinned up; Madeleine earnest and decisive on the bank of snow; the maze and laughter of the FRANCAISE; Miss Martin's slim, straight figure as he pushed her before him. He did not try to control these details, nor was he conscious of
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