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- Maurice Guest - 95/121 -
Madeleine did not look up till she had finished her letter and addressed the envelope. Maurice had shut his eyes.
"Are you asleep?" she roused him. "Or only tired?"
"I've a headache."
"I'll make you some tea."
He watched her preparing it, and, by the time she handed him his cup, he was in the right mood for making her his confidant.
"Look here, Madeleine," he said; "I came up to-night--The fact is, I've done a foolish thing. And I want to talk to some one about it."
Her eyes grew more alert.
"Let me see if I can help you."
He shook his head. "I'm afraid you can't. But first of all, tell me frankly, how you thought I got on last night."
"How you got on?" echoed Madeleine, unclear what this was to lead to. "Why, all right, of course.--Oh, well, if you insist on the truth!--The fact is, Maurice, you did no better and no worse than the majority of those who fill the ABEND programmes. What you didn't do, was to reach the standard your friends had set up for you."
"Thanks. Now listen," and he related to her in detail his misadventure of the afternoon.
Madeleine followed with close attention. But more distinctly than what he said, she heard what he did not say. His account of the two last days, with the unintentional sidelight it threw on just those parts he wished to keep in darkness, made her aware how complicated and involved his life had become. But before he finished speaking, she brought all her practical intelligence to bear on what he said.
"Maurice!" she exclaimed, with a consternation that was three parts genuine. "I should like to shake you. How COULD you!--what induced you to do such a foolish thing?" And, as he did not speak: "If only you had come to me before, instead of after! I should have said: hold what ridiculous opinions you like yourself, but for goodness' sake keep clear of Schwarz with them. Yes, ridiculous, and offensive, too. Anyone would have taken your talk about being dissatisfied just as he did. And after the way he has been treated of late, he's of course doubly touchy."
"I knew that, when it was too late. But I meant merely to speak straight out to him, Madeleine--one man to another. You surely don't want to say he's incapable of allowing one to have an independent opinion? If that's the case, then he's nothing but the wretched little tyrant Heinz declares him to be."
"Wait till you have taught as long as he has," said Madeleine, and, at his muttered: "God forbid!" she continued with more warmth: "You'll know then, too, that it doesn't matter whether your pupils have opinions or not. He has seen this kind of thing scores of times before, and knows it must be kept down."
She paused, and looked at him. "To get on in life, one must have a certain amount of tact. You are too naive, Maurice, too unsuspecting--one of those people who would like to carry on social intercourse on a basis of absolute truth, and then be surprised that it came to an end. You are altogether a very difficult person to deal with. You are either too candid, or too reserved. There's no middle way in you. I haven't the least doubt that Schwarz finds you both perplexing and irritating; he takes the candour for impertinence, and the reserve for distrust."
Maurice smiled faintly. "Go on--don't spare me. No one ever troubled before to tell me my failings."
"Oh, I'm quite in earnest. As I look at it, it's entirely your own fault that you don't stand better with Schwarz. You have never condescended to humour him, as you ought to have done. You thought it was enough to be truthful and honest, and to leave the rest to him. Well, it wasn't. I won't hear a word against Schwarz; he's goodness itself to those who deserve it. A little bluff and rude at times; but he's too busy to go about in kid gloves for fear of hurting sensitive people's feelings."
"Why did you never take private lessons from him?" was her next question. "I told you months ago, you remember, that you ought to.--Oh, yes, you said they were too expensive, I know, but you could have scraped a few marks together somehow. You managed to buy books, and books were quite unnecessary. One lesson a fortnight would have brought you' more into touch with Schwarz than all you have had in the class. As it is, you don't know him any better than he knows you. "And as she refilled his tea-cup, she added: "You quoted Heinz to me just now. But you and I can't afford to measure people by the same standards as Heinz. We are everyday mortals, remember.--Besides, in all that counts, he is not worth Schwarz's little finger."
"You're a warm advocate, Madeleine."
"Yes, and I've reason to be. No one here has been as kind to me as Schwarz. I came, a complete stranger, and with not more than ordinary talent. But I went to him, and told him frankly what I wanted to do, how long I could stay, and how much money I had to spend. He helped me and advised me. He has let me study what will be of most use to me afterwards, and he takes as much interest in my future as I do myself. How can I speak anything but well of him?--What I certainly didn't do, was to go to him and talk ambiguously about feeling dissatisfied with him . . ."
"With myself, Madeleine. Haven't I made that clear?"
But Madeleine only sniffed.
"Well, it's over and done with now," she said after a pause. "And talking about it won't mend it.--Tell me, rather, what you intend to do. What are your plans?"
"Plans? I don't know. I haven't any. Sufficient unto the day, etc."
But of this she disapproved with open scorn. "Rubbish! When your time here is all but up! And no plans!--One thing, I can tell you anyhow, is, after to-day you needn't rely on Schwarz for assistance. You've spoilt your chances with him. The only way of repairing the mischief would be the lesson I spoke of--one a week as long as you re here."
"I couldn't afford it."
"No, I suppose not," she said sarcastically, and tore a piece of paper that came under her fingers into narrow strips. "Tell me," she added a moment later, in a changed tone: "where do you intend to settle when you return to England? And have you begun to think of advertising yourself yet?"
He waved his hand before his face as if he were chasing away a fly. "For God's sake, Madeleine! . . . these alluring prospects!"
"Pray, what else do you expect to do?"
"Well, the truth is, I . . . I'm not going back to England at all. I mean to settle here."
Madeleine repressed the exclamation that rose to her lips, and stooped to brush something off the skirt of her dress. Her face was red when she raised it. She needed no further telling; she understood what his words implied as clearly as though it were printed black on white before her. But she spoke in a casual tone.
"However are you going to make that possible?"
He endeavoured to explain.
"I don't envy you," she said drily, when he had finished. "You hardly realise what lies before you, I think. There are people here who are glad to get fifty pfennigs an hour, for piano lessons. Think of plodding up and down stairs, all day long, for fifty pfennigs an hour!"
He was silent.
"While in England, with a little tact and patience, you would soon have more pupils than you could take at five shillings."
"Tact and patience mean push and a thick skin. But don't worry! I shall get on all right. And if I don't--life's short, you know."
"But you are just at: the beginning of it--and ridiculously young at that! Good Heavens, Maurice!" she burst out, unable to contain herself. "Can't you see that after you've been at home again for a little while, things that have seemed so important here will have. shrunk into their right places? You'll be glad to have done with them then, when you are in orderly circumstances again."
"I'm afraid not," answered the young man. "I'm not a good forgetter."
"A good forgetter!" repeated Madeleine, and laughed sarcastically. She was going on to say more, but, just at this moment, a clock outside struck ten, and Maurice sprang to his feet.
"So late already? I'd no idea. I must be off."
She stood by, and watched him look for his hat.
"Here it is." She picked it up, and handed it to him, with an emphasised want of haste.
"Good night, Madeleine. Thanks for the truth. I knew I could depend on you."
"It was well meant. And the truth is always beneficial, you know. Good night.--Come again, soon."
He heard her last words half-way down the stairs, which he took two at a time.
The hour he had now to face was a painful ending to an unpleasant day. It was not merely the fact that he had kept Louise waiting, in aching suspense, for several hours. It now came out that, after their disagreement of the previous night, she had confidently expected him to return to her early in the day, had expected contrition and atonement. That he had not even suspected this made her doubly bitter against him. In vain he tried to excuse himself, to offer explanations. She would not listen to him, nor would she let him touch her. She tore her dress from between his fingers, brushed his hand off her arm; and, retreating into a corner of the room, where she stood like an animal at bay, she poured out over him her accumulated resentment. All she had ever suffered at his
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