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- Stella Fregelius - 30/56 -


"Yes," she answered, looking pleased; "certainly you may say of my friendship. It is owing to the man who saved my life, is it not,--with a great deal more that I can never pay?"

"Don't speak of it," he said. "That midnight sail was my one happy inspiration, my one piece of real good luck."

"Perhaps," and she sighed, "that is, for me, though who can tell? I have often wondered what made you do it, there was so little to go on."

"I have told you, inspiration, pure inspiration."

"And what sent the inspiration, Mr. Monk?"

"Fate, I suppose."

"Yes, I think it must be what we call fate--if it troubles itself about so small a thing as the life of one woman."

Then, to change the subject, she began to talk of the Northumberland moors and mountains, and of their years of rather dreary existence among them, till at length it was time to leave the table. This they did together, for even then Morris drank very little wine.

"May I get you the violin, and will you sing?" he asked eagerly, when they reached the library.

"If you wish it I will try."

"Then come to the chapel; there is a good fire, and it is put away there."

Presently they were in the ancient place, where Morris produced the violin from the cupboard, and having set a new string began to tune it.

"That is a very good instrument," said Stella, her eyes shining, "you don't know what you have brought upon yourself. Playing the violin is my pet insanity, and once or twice since I have been here, when I wanted it, I have cried over the loss of mine, especially as I can't afford to buy another. Oh! what a lovely night it is; look at the full moon shining on the sea and snow. I never remember her so bright; and the stars, too; they glitter like great diamonds."

"It is the frost," answered Morris. "Yes, everything is beautiful to-night."

Stella took the violin, played a note or two, then screwed up the strings to her liking.

"Do you really wish me to sing, Mr. Monk?" she asked.

"Of course; more than I can tell you."

"Then, will you think me very odd if I ask you to turn out the electric lamps? I can sing best so. You stand by the fire, so that I can see my audience; the moon through this window will give me all the light I want."

He obeyed, and now she was but an ethereal figure, with a patch of red at her heart, and a line of glimmering white from the silver girdle beneath her breast, on whose pale face the moonbeams poured sweetly. For a while she stood thus, and the silence was heavy in that beautiful, dismantled place of prayer. Then she lifted the violin, and from the first touch of the bow Morris knew that he was in the presence of a mistress of one of the most entrancing of the arts. Slow and sweet came the plaintive, penetrating sounds, that seemed to pass into his heart and thrill his every nerve. Now they swelled louder, now they almost died away; and now, only touching the strings from time to time, she began to sing in her rich, contralto voice. He could not understand the words, but their burden was clear enough; they were a lament, the lament of some sorrowing woman, the sweet embodiment of an ancient and forgotten grief thus embalmed in heavenly music.

It was done; the echoes of the following notes of the violin fainted and died among the carven angels of the roof. It was done, and Morris sighed aloud.

"How can I thank you?" he said. "I knew that you were a musician, but not that you had such genius. To listen to you makes a man feel very humble."

She laughed. "The voice is a mere gift, for which no one deserves credit, although, of course, it can be improved."

"If so, what of the accompaniment?"

"That is different; that comes from the heart and hard work. Do you know that when I was under my old master out in Denmark, who in his time was one of the finest of violinists in the north of Europe, I often played for five and sang for two hours a day? Also, I have never let the thing drop; it has been the consolation and amusement of a somewhat lonely life. So, by this time, I ought to understand my art, although there remains much to be learnt."

"Understand it! Why, you could make a fortune on the stage."

"A living, perhaps, if my voice will bear the continual strain. I daresay that some time I shall drift there--for the living--not because I like the trade or have any wish for popular success. It is a fact that I had far rather sing alone to you here to-night, and know that you are pleased, than be cheered by a whole opera house full of strange people."

"And I--oh, I cannot explain! Sing on, sing all you can, for to-morrow I must go away."

"Go away!" she faltered.

"Yes; I will explain to you afterwards. But please sing while I am here to listen."

The words struck heavy on her heart, numbing it--why, she knew not. For a moment she felt helpless, as though she could neither sing nor play. She did not wish him to go; she did not wish him to go. Her intellect came to her aid. Why should he go? Heaven had given her power, and this man could feel its weight. Would it not suffice to keep him from going? She would try; she would play and sing as she had never done before; sing till his heart was soft, play till his feet had no strength to wander beyond the sound of the sweet notes her art could summon from this instrument of strings and wood.

So again she began, and played on, and on, and on, from time to time letting the bow fall, to sing in a flood of heavenly melody that seemed by nature to fall from her lips, note after note, as dew or honey fall drop by drop from the calyx of some perfect flower. Now long did she play and sing those sad, mysterious siren songs? They never knew. The moon travelled on its appointed course, and as its beams passed away gradually that divine musician grew dimmer to his sight. Now only the stars threw their faint light about her, but still she played on, and on, and on. The music swelled, it told of dead and ancient wars, "where all day long the noise of battle rolled"; it rose shrill and high, and in it rang the scream of the Valkyries preparing the feast of Odin. It was low, and sad, and tender, the voice of women mourning for their dead. It changed; it grew unearthly, spiritualised, such music as those might use who welcome souls to their long home. Lastly, it became rich and soft and far as the echo of a dream, and through it could be heard sighs and the broken words of love, that slowly fell away and melted as into the nothingness of some happy sleep.

The singer was weary; her fingers could no longer guide the bow; her voice grew faint. For a moment, she stood still, looking in the flicker of the fire and the pale beams of the stars like some searcher returned from heaven to earth. Then, half fainting, down she sank upon a chair.

Morris turned on the lamps, and looked at this fair being, this chosen home of Music, who lay before him like a broken lily. Then back into his heart with a chilling shock came the thought that this woman, to him at least the most beautiful and gifted his eyes had seen, had promised herself in marriage to Stephen Layard; that she, her body, her mind, her music--all that made her the Stella Fregelius whom he knew--were the actual property of Stephen Layard. Could it be true? Was it not possible that he had made some mistake? that he had misunderstood? A burning desire came upon him to know, to know before he went, and upon the forceful impulse of that moment he did what at any other time would have filled him with horror. He asked her; the words broke from his lips; he could not help them.

"Is it true," he said, with something like a groan, "can it be true that you--/you/ are really going to marry that man?"

Stella sat up and looked at him. So she had guessed aright. She made no pretence of fencing with him, or of pretending that she did not know to whom he referred.

"Are you mad to ask me such a thing?" she asked, with a strange break in her voice.

"I am sorry," he began.

She stamped her foot upon the ground.

"Oh!" she said, "it hurts me, it hurts--from my father I understood, but that you should think it possible that I would sell myself--I tell you that it hurts," and as she spoke two large tears began to roll from her lovely pleading eyes.

"Then you mean that you refused him?"

"What else?"

"Thank you. Of course, I have no right to interfere, but forgive me if I say that I cannot help feeling glad. Even if it is taken on the ground of wealth you can easily make as much money as you want without him," and he glanced at the violin which lay beside her.

She made no reply, the subject seemed to have passed from her mind. But presently she lifted her head again, and in her turn asked a question.

"Did you not say that you are going away to-morrow?"

Then something happened to the heart and brain and tongue of Morris Monk so that he could not speak the thing he wished. He meant to answer a monosyllable "Yes," but in its place he replied with a whole

Stella Fregelius - 30/56

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