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- Maurice Guest - 98/121 -
spring up in her and overthrow her resolutions. Now, he must suffer, too--and rightly. For, after all, he had also been to blame. If only he had not importuned her so persistently, if only he had let her alone, nothing of this would have happened, and there would be no reason for her to lie and taunt herself. But, in his silent, obstinate way, he had given her no peace; and you could not--she could not!--go on living unmoved, at the side of a person who was crazy with love for you.
For two nights, she slept little. On the third, worn out, she fell, soon after midnight, into a deep sleep, from which, the following morning, she wakened refreshed.
When Maurice came, about half-past twelve, her eyes followed him with a new curiosity, as he drew up a chair and sat down at her bedside. She wondered what he would say when he knew, and what change would come over his face. But she made no beginning to enlightening him. In his presence, she was seized by an ungovernable desire to be distracted, to be taken out of herself. Also, it was not, she began to grasp, a case of stating a simple fact, in simple words; it meant all the circumstantiality of complicated explanation; it meant a still more murderous tearing up of emotion. And besides this, there was another factor to be reckoned with, and that was the peculiar mood he was in. For, as soon as he entered the room, she felt that he was different from what he had been the day before.
She heard the irritation in his voice, as he tried to persuade her to come out to dinner with him. In fancy she saw it all: saw them walking together to the restaurant, at a brisk pace, in order to waste none of his valuable time; saw dinner taken quickly, for the same reason; saw them parting again at the house-door; then herself in the room alone, straying from sofa to window and back again, through the long hours of the long afternoon. A kind of mental nausea seized her at the thought that the old round was to begin afresh. She brought no answer over her lips. And after waiting some time in vain for her to speak, Maurice rose, and, still under the influence of his illhumour, drew up the three blinds, and opened a window. A cold, dusty sunlight poured into the room.
Louise gave a cry, and put her hands to her eyes.
"The room is so close, and you're so pale," he said in selfexcuse. "Do you know you've been shut up in here for three days now?"
"My head aches."
"It will never be any better as long as you lie there. Dearest, what is it? WHAT'S the matter with you?"
"You're unhappy about something," he went on, a moment later. "What is it? Won't you tell me?"
"Nothing," she murmured. She lay and pressed her palms to her eyeballs, so firmly that when she removed them, the room was a blur. Maurice, standing at the window, beat a tattoo on the pane. Then, with his back to her, he began to speak. He blamed himself for what he called the folly of the past weeks. "I gave way when I should have been firm. And this is the result. You have got into a nervous, morbid state. But it's nonsense to think it can go on."
For the first time, she was conscious of a somewhat critical attitude on his part; he said "folly" and "nonsense." But she made no comment; she lay and let his words go over her. They had so little import now. All the words that had ever been said could not alter a jot of what she felt--of her intense inward experience.
Her protracted silence, her heavy indifference infected him; and for some time the only sound to be heard was that of his fingers drumming on the glass. When he spoke again, he seemed to be concluding an argument with himself; and indeed, on this particular day, Maurice found it hard to detach his thoughts from himself, for any length of time.
"It's no use, dear. Things can't go on like this any longer. I've got to buckle down to work again. I've . . . I. . .I haven't told you yet: Schwarz is letting me play the Mendelssohn."
She thought she would have to cry aloud; here it was again: the chilling atmosphere of commonplace, which her nerves were expected to live and be well in; the well-worn phrases, the "must this," and "must that," the confident expectation of interest in doings that did not interest her at all. She could not--it would kill her to begin it anew! And, in spite of her efforts at repression, an exclamation forced its way through her lips.
At this, Maurice went quickly back to her.
"Forgive me . . . talking about myself, when you are not well."
He knelt down beside the bed, and removed her hands from her face. She did not open her eyes, kept quite still. At this moment, she felt mainly curious: would the strange aversion to his touch return? He was kissing her palms, pressing them to his face. She drew a long, deep sigh: it did not come back. On the contrary, the touch of his hand was pleasant to her. He stroked her cheek, pushed back a loose piece of hair from her forehead; and, as he did this, she was aware of the old sense of well-being. Beneath his hand, irksome thoughts fell away. Backwards and forwards it travelled, as gently as though she were a sick person. And, little by little, so gradually that, at first, she herself was not conscious of them, other wishes came to life in her again. She began to desire more than mere peace. The craving came over her to forget her self-torturings, and to forget them in a dizzy whirl. Reaching up, she put her arms round his neck, and drew him down. He kissed her eyelids. At this she opened her eyes, enveloping him in a look he had learnt to know well. For a second he sustained it: his life was concentrated in the liquid fire of these eyes, in these eager parted lips. She pressed them to his, and he felt a smart, like a bee's sting.
With a jerk, he thrust her arms away, and rose to his feet; to keep his balance he was obliged to grasp the back of a chair. Taking out his handkerchief, he pressed it to his lip.
"It's late . . . I must go . . . I must work, I tell you." He stood staring at the drop of blood on his handkerchief.
He looked round him in a confused way; he was strangely angry, and hasty to no purpose. "Won't you . . . then you won't come out with me?"
"Maurice!" The word was a cry.
"Oh, it's foolish! You don't know what you're doing." He had found his coat, and was putting it on, with unsure hands. "Then, if . . . this evening, then! As usual. I'll come as usual."
The door shut behind him; a minute later, the street-door banged. At the sound Louise seemed to waken. Starting up in bed, she threw a wild look round the empty room; then, turned on her face, and bit a hole in the linen of the pillow.
Maurice worked that afternoon as though his future was conditioned by the number of hours he could practise before evening. Throughout these three days, indeed, his zeal had been unabating. He would never have yielded so calmly to the morbid fashion in which she had cooped herself up, had not the knowledge that his time was his own again, been something of a relief to him. Yes, at first, relief was the word for what he felt. For, after making one good resolution on top of another, he had, when the time came, again been a willing defaulter. He had allowed the chance to slip of making good, by redoubled diligence, his foolish mistake with regard to Schwarz. Now it was too late; though the master had let him have his way in the choice of piece for the coming PRUFUNG, it had mainly been owing to indifference. If only he did not prove unequal to the choice now it was made! For that he was out of the rut of steady work, was clear to him as soon as he put his hands to the piano.
But he had never been so forlornly energetic as on this particular afternoon. Yet there was something mechanical, too, about his playing; neither heart nor brain was in it. Mendelssohn's effective roulades ran thoughtlessly from his fingers: in the course of a single day, he had come to feel a deep contempt for the emptiness of these runs and flourishes. He pressed forward, however, hour after hour without a break, as though he were a machine wound up for the purpose. But with the entrance of dusk, his fictitious energy collapsed. He did not even trouble to light the lamp, but, throwing himself on the sofa, covered his eyes with his arm.
The twilight induced sensations like itself--vague, formless, intolerable. A sudden recognition of the uselessness of human striving grew up in him, with the rapidity of a fungus. Effort and work, ambition and success, alike led nowhere, were so many blind alleys: ambition ended in smoke; success was a fleeing phantom, which one sought in vain to grasp. To the great mass of mankind, it was more than immaterial whether one of its units toiled or no; not a single soul was benefited by it. Most certainly not the toiler himself. It was only given to a few to achieve anything; the rest might stand aside early in the day. Nothing of their labours would remain, except the scars they themselves bore.
He was unhappy; to-night he knew it with a painful clearness. The shock had been too rude. For him, change had to be prepared, to come gradually. Sooner or later, no doubt, he would right himself again; but in the meantime his plight was a sorry one. It was his duty to protect himself against another onslaught of the kind--to protect them both. For there was no blinking the fact: a few more weeks like the foregoing, and they would have been two of the wretchedest creatures on earth. They were miserable enough as it was, he in his, she in her own way. It must never happen again. She, too, had doubtless become sensible of this, in the course of the past three days. But had she? Could he say that? What had she thought?--what had she felt? And he told himself that was just what he would never know.
He saw her as she had lain that morning, her arms long and white on the coverlet. He recalled all he had said, and tried to piece things together; an inner meaning seemed to be eluding him. Again, in memory, he heard the half-stifled cry that had drawn him to her side, felt her hands in his, the springy resistance of her hair, the delicate skin of her eyelids. Then, he had not understood the sudden impulse that had made him spring to his feet. But now, as he lay in the dusk, and summed up these things, a new thought, or hardly a thought so much as an intuition, flashed through his mind, instantly to take entire possession of him--just as if it had all along been present, in waiting. Simultaneously, the colour mounted to his face: he refused to harbour such a thought, and put it from him, angry with himself. But it was not to be kept down; it rose again, in an inexplicable way--this suggestion, which was like a slur cast on her. Why, he demanded of himself, should it not have occurred to him before?--once, twenty, a hundred times? For the same thing had often happened: times without number, she had striven to keep him at her side. Was its presence to-day a result of his aimless irritation? Or was it because, after holding him at arm's length for three whole days, she had asked, on returning to him, neither affection nor comradeship, only the blind gratification of sense?
He did not know. But forgotten hints and trifles--words, acts, looks--
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