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   Chapter 14 THE SONATA

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 12428

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The room was full of people. It was the average sort of reception, where one always expects to meet men and women who have done something: men who write, paint, or compose; women who do the same, but not so well; women who play and sing; women who are ?sthetic, and show their appreciation of art by wearing hideous dresses; women who recite: men and women who advocate all kinds of things-mostly cranks and cracks. There are, besides, the people who know the people who do things: and these, who are a talkative and appreciative folk, carry on the conversation. Thirdly, there are the people who do nothing, and know nobody, who go away and talk casually of having met this or that great man last night.

'Armorel,' said Philippa, 'let me introduce Dr. Bovey-Tracy. Perhaps you already know his works.'

'Unfortunately-not yet,' Armorel replied.

The Doctor was quite a young man, not more than two- or three-and-twenty. His degree was German, and his appearance, with long light hair and spectacles, was studiously German. If he could have Germanised his name as well as his appearance he would certainly have done so. As a pianist, a teacher of music, and a composer, the young Doctor is already beginning to be known. When Armorel confessed her ignorance, he gently spread his hands and smiled pity. 'If you will really play, Armorel, Dr. Bovey-Tracy will kindly accompany you.'

Armorel took her violin out of the case and began to tune it.

'What will you play?' asked the musician: 'Something serious? So?'

Armorel turned over a pile of music and selected a piece. It was the Sonata by Schumann in D minor for violin and pianoforte. 'Shall we play this?'

Philippa looked a little surprised. The choice was daring. The Herr Doctor smiled graciously: 'This is, indeed, serious,' he said.

I suppose that to begin your musical training with the performance of heys and hornpipes and country dances is not the modern scientific method. But he who learns to fiddle for sailors to dance may acquire a mastery over the instrument which the modern scientific method teaches much more slowly. Armorel began her musical training with a fiddle as obedient to her as the Slave of the Lamp to his master. And for five years she had been under masters playing every day, until--

The pianist sat down, held his outstretched fingers professionally over the keys, and struck a chord. Armorel raised her bow, and the sonata began.

I am told that there is now quite a fair percentage of educated people who really do understand music, can tell good playing from bad, and fine playing from its counterfeit. In the same way, there is a percentage-but not nearly so large-of people who know a good picture when they see it, and can appreciate correct drawing if they cannot understand fine colour. Out of the sixty or seventy people who filled this room, there were certainly twenty-but then it was an exceptionally good collection-who understood that a violinist born and trained was playing to them, in a style not often found outside St. James's Hall. And they marvelled while the music delivered its message-which is different for every soul. They sat or stood in silence, spellbound. Of the remaining fifty, thirty understood that a piece of classical music was going on: it had no voice or message for them: they did not comprehend one single phrase-the sonata might have been a sermon in the Bulgarian tongue: but they knew how to behave in the presence of Music, and they governed themselves accordingly. The Remnant-twenty in number-containing all the young men and most of the girls, understood that here was a really beautiful girl playing the fiddle for them. The young men murmured their admiration, and the girls whispered envious things-not necessarily spiteful, but certainly envious. What girl could resist envy at sight of that dress, with its lace, and that command of the violin, and-which every girl concedes last of all, and grudgingly-that face and figure?

Philippa stood beside the piano, rather pale. She knew, now, why her old schoolfellow had been so anxious that Armorel should play. Kind and thoughtful Zoe!

The playing of the first movement surprised her. Here was one who had, indeed, mastered her instrument. At the playing of the second, which is a scherzo, bright and lively, she acknowledged her mistress-not her rival. At the playing of the third, which contains a lovely, simple, innocent, and happy tune, her heart melted-never, never, could she so pour into her playing the soul of that melody: never could she so rise to the spirit of the musician and put into the music what even he himself had not imagined. But Zoe was wrong. Her soul was not filled with envy. Philippa had a larger soul.

It was finished. The twenty who understood gasped. The thirty who listened murmured thanks, and resumed their talk about something else. The twenty who neither listened nor understood went on talking without any comment at all.

'You have had excellent masters,' said the Doctor. 'You play very well indeed-not like an amateur. It is a pity that you cannot play in public.'

'You have made good use of your opportunities,' said Philippa. 'I have never heard an amateur play better. I play a little myself; but--'

'I said you would be pleased,' Zoe murmured softly at her side. 'I knew you would be pleased when you heard Armorel play.'

'You will play yourself, presently?' said the Herr Doctor.

'No; not this evening,' Philippa replied. 'Impossible-after Armorel.'

'Not this evening!' echoed Zoe, sweetly.

Then there came walking tall and erect through the crowd, which respectfully parted right and left to let him pass, a young man of striking and even distinguished appearance.

'Philippa,' he said, 'will you introduce me to your cousin?'

'Armorel, this is another cousin of mine-unfortunately not of yours-Mr. Alec Feilding.'

'I am very unfortunate, Miss Rosevean. I came too late to hear more than the end of the sonata. Normann-Néruda herself could not interpret that music better.' Then he saw Zoe, and greeted her as an old friend. 'Mrs. Elstree and I,' he said, 'have known each other a long time.'

'Fifty years, at least,'

Zoe murmured. 'Is it not so long, Philippa?'

'Will you play something else?' he asked. 'The people are dying to hear you again.'

Armorel looked at Philippa. 'If you will,' she said kindly. 'If you are not tired. Play us, this time, something lighter. We cannot all appreciate Schumann.'

'Shall I give you a memory of Scilly?' she replied. 'That will be light enough.'

She played, in fact, that old ditty-one of those which she had been wont to play for the Ancient Lady-called 'Prince Rupert's March.' She played this with variations which that gallant Cavalier had never heard. It is a fine air, however, and lends itself to the phantasy of a musician. Then those who had understood the sonata laughed with condescension, as a philosopher laughs when he hears a simple story; and those who had pretended to understand pricked up their ears, thinking that this was another piece of classical music, and joyfully perceiving that they would understand it; and those who had made no pretence now listened with open mouths and ears as upright as those of any wild-ass of the desert. Music worth hearing, this. Armorel played for five or six minutes. Then she stopped and laid down her violin.

'I think I have played enough for one evening,' she said.

She left the piano and retired into the throng. A girl took her place. The Herr Doctor placed another piece of music before him, lifted his hands, held them suspended for a moment, and then struck a chord. This girl began to sing.

Mr. Alec Feilding followed Armorel and led her to a seat at the end of the room. Then he sat down beside her and, as soon as the song was finished, began to talk.

He began by talking about music, and the Masters in music. His talk was authoritative: he laid down opinions: he talked as if he was writing a book of instruction: and he talked as if the whole wide world was listening to him. But not quite so loudly as if that had been really the case.

He was a man of thirty or so, his features were perfectly regular, but his expression was rather wooden. His eyes were good, but rather too close together. His mouth was hidden by a huge moustache, curled and twisted and pointed forwards.

Armorel disliked his manner, and for some reason or other distrusted his face.

He left off laying down the law on music, and began to talk about things personal.

'I hope you like your new companion,' he said. 'She is an old friend of mine. I was in hopes of being able to advance her husband in his profession. But he died before I got the chance. Mr. Jagenal told me what was wanted, and I was happy in recommending Zoe-Mrs. Elstree.'

'Thank you,' said Armorel, coldly. 'I dare say we shall get to like each other in time.'

'If so, I shall rejoice in having been of some service to you as well as to her. What is her day at home?'

'I believe we are to be at home on Wednesdays.'

'As for me,' he said lightly, 'I am always at home in my studio. I am a triple slave-Miss Rosevean-as you may have heard. I am a slave of the brush, the pen, and the wastepaper-basket. If you will come with Mrs. Elstree to my studio I can show you one or two things that you might like to see.'

'Thank you,' she replied, without apparent interest in his studio. The young man was not accustomed to girls who showed no interest in him, and retired, chilled. Presently she heard his voice again. This time he was talking with Philippa. They were talking low in the doorway beside her, but she could not choose but hear.

'You recommended her-you?' said Philippa.

'Why not?'

'Do you know how-where-she has been living for the last seven years?'

'Certainly. She married an American. He died a year ago, leaving her rather badly off. Is there any reason, Philippa, why I should not recommend her? If there is I will speak to Mr. Jagenal.'

'No-no-no. There is no reason that I know of. Somebody told me she had gone on the stage. Who was it?'

'Gone on the stage? No-no: she was married to this American.'

'You have never spoken to me about her.'

'Reason enough, fair cousin. You do not like her.'

'And-you-do,' she replied slowly.

'I like all pretty women, Philippa. I respect one only.'

Then other people came and were introduced to Armorel. One does not leave in cold neglect a girl who is so beautiful and plays so wonderfully. None of them interested Armorel very much. At the beginning, when a girl first goes into society, she expects to be interested and excited at a general gathering. This expectation disappears, and the current coin of everybody's talk takes the place of interest.

Suddenly she caught a face which she knew. When a girl has been travelling about for five years she sees a great many faces. This was a face which she remembered perfectly well, yet could not at first place it in any scene or assign it to any date. Then she recollected. And she walked boldly across the room and stood before the owner of that face.

'You have forgotten me,' she said abruptly.

'I-I-can I ever have known you?' he asked.

'Will you shake hands, Mr. Stephenson? You were Dick Stephenson five years ago. Have you forgotten Armorel, of Samson Island in Scilly?'

No. He had not forgotten that young lady. But he would never have known her thus changed-thus dressed.

'Where is your friend Roland Lee?'

Dick Stephenson changed colour. 'I have not seen him for a long time. We are no longer-exactly-friends.'

'Why not?' she asked, with severity. 'Have you done anything bad? How have you offended him?'

'No, no; certainly not.' He coloured more deeply. 'I have done nothing bad at all,' he added with much indignation.

'Have you deserted him, then? I thought men never gave up their friends. Come to see me, Mr. Stephenson. You shall tell me where he is and what he is doing.'

In the press of the crowd, as they were going away, she heard Mr. Jagenal's voice.

'You are burning the candle at both ends, Alec,' he was saying. 'You cannot possibly go on painting, writing, editing your paper, riding in the Park, and going out every evening as you do now. No man's constitution can stand it, young gentleman. Curb your activity. Be wise in time.'

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