MoboReader > Literature > Told in a French Garden / August, 1914


Told in a French Garden / August, 1914 By Mildred Aldrich Characters: 40667

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Tale of a Fiancée

On Saturday most of the men made a run into Paris.

It had finally been decided as best that, if all went well, we should leave for Paris some time the next day. There were steamer tickets to attend to. There were certain valuables to be taken up to the Bank. The Divorcée had a trunk or two that she thought she ought to send in order that we might start with as little luggage as possible, so both chauffeurs were sent up to town with baggage, and orders to wait there. The rest of us had been busy doing a little in the way of dismantling the house. The unexpected end of our summer had come. It was sad, but I imagine none of us were sorry, under the circumstances, to move on.

It was nearly dinner time when the cars came back, almost together, and we were surprised to see the Doctor going out to the servants' quarters instead of joining us as he usually did. In fact, we did not see him until we went into the dining room for dinner.

As he came to the head of the table, he said: "My good people, we will serve ourselves as best we can with the cook's aid. We have no waitress to-night. But it is our last dinner. A camp under marching orders cannot fuss over trifles."

"Where is Angéle?" asked the Divorcée. "Is she ill?" And she turned to the door.

"Come back!" said the Doctor, sharply. "You can't help her now. Better leave her alone!"

As if by instinct, we all knew what had happened.

"Who brought the news?" some one asked.

"They gave it to me at the Mairie as I passed," replied the Doctor, "and the garde champêtre told me what the envelope contained. He fell at Charleroi."

"Poor Angéle," exclaimed the Trained Nurse. "Are you sure I could not help her?"

"Sure," said the Doctor. "She took it as a Frenchwoman should. She snatched the baby from its cradle, and held it a moment close to her face. Then she lifted it above her head in both hands, and said, almost without a choke in her throat, 'Vive la France, quand même!'-and dropped. I put them on the bed together, she and the boy. She was crying like a good one when I left her. She's all right."

"Poor child-and that tiny baby!" exclaimed the Divorcée, wiping her eyes.

"Fudge," said the Doctor. "She is the widow of a hero, and the mother of the hero's son. Considering what life is, that is to be one of the elect of Fate. She'll go through life with a halo round her head, and, like most of the French women I have seen, she'll wear it like a crown. It becomes us, in the same spirit, to partake of the food before us. This life is a wonderful spectacle. If you saw an episode like that in a drama, at the theatre, you would all cheer like mad."

We knew he was right.

But the Youngster could not help adding, "That's twice-two days running, that the Doctor has told a story out of his turn, and both times he outraged the consign, for both times it was a war story."

That seemed to break the ice. We talked more or less war during dinner, but this time there were no disputes. Still I think we were glad when the cook trotted in with the trays, and with our elbows on the table, we turned toward the Violinist, who leaned against the high back of his chair, and with his long white hands resting on the carved arms, and his eyes on the ceiling-an attitude that he did not change during the narrative, began:

* * *

It was in the early eighties that I returned from Germany to my native land, and settled myself and my violin in the city of my birth.

I was not rich as my countrymen judge wealth, but, in my own estimation, I was well to do. I had enough to live without labor, and was, therefore, able to devote myself to my art without considering too closely the recompense.

In addition to that, I was still young.

I had more love for my chosen mistress-Music-than the Goddess had for me, for, while she accepted my worship with indulgence, she wasted fewer gifts on me than fell to the lot of many a less faithful follower.

Still, I was happy and content in my love for her, and only needed her to keep me so until, a year after my return, I met one woman, loved her, and begged her to share with my music, my heart, and its adoration.

That satisfied her, since, in her own love for the same art, she used to assure me that she possessed, by proxy, that other half of myself which I still dedicated to the Muse.

Perhaps it was the vibrant spirit of this woman which seemed musical to me, and which I so ardently loved, for she appeared to have a veritable violin soul. Her face was often the medium through which I saw the spirit of the music I was playing, as it sang in gladness, sobbed in sadness, thrilled in passion along the strings of my Amati.

I knew that I never played so well as when her face was before me. I felt that if ever I approached my dreams in achievement, it would be her soul that inspired me. So like was she, in my fancy, to a musical instrument, that I used to tell her, when the wind swept across her burnished hair, that the air was full of melody. And when she looked especially ethereal-as she did at times-I would catch her in my arms, and bid her tell me, on peril of her life, what song was hidden in her heart, that I might teach it to my violin, and die great. Yet, remarkable as it seems to me still, the Spirit of Music that surely dwelt within her, dwelt there a dumb prisoner. It had no audible voice, though I was not alone in feeling its presence in her eyes, on her lips, in her spiritual charm.

She had a voice that was melody itself, yet she never sang. I always fancied her hands were a musician's hands, yet she never played. This was the more singular as her mother had been a great singer, and her father, while he had never risen above the desk of chef d'orchestre in a local playhouse, was no mean musician.

Often, when the charm of her spirit was on me, I would pretend to weave a spell about her, and conjure the spirit that was imprisoned in the heart that was mine, to come forth from the shrine he was so impudently usurping.

Ah, those were the days of my youth!

We had been betrothed but a brief time when Rodriguez, for some seasons a European celebrity, made his first appearance in our city.

I had heard most of the great violinists of that time, had known some of them well, had played with many of them, as I did later with Rodriguez, but I had never chanced to see or hear him.

His fame had, however, preceded him. The newspapers were full of him. Faster even than the tales of his genius had travelled the tales of his follies-tales that out-Don-Juaned the famous rake of tradition.

However little credence one gives to such reports-mad stories of a scandalous nature-these repeated episodes of excesses, only tolerated in the conspicuous, do color one's expectations. I suppose that, being young, I expected to see a man whose face would bear the brand of his errors as well as the stamp of his genius.

That was not Rodriguez's fate. Whatever the temperamental struggle had been, he was "take him for all in all," the least disappointing famous man that my experience had ever shown me. He was more virile than handsome, and no more ?sthetic to look at than he was ascetic. At that time he was on the sunny side of forty, and not yet at the zenith of his great career. His face was fine, manly, and sympathetic. His brow was broad, his eyes deep-set and widely spaced, but very heavy lidded. The mouth and chin were, I must own, too delicate and sensitive for the rest of the face. His dark hair, young as he was, had streaks of grey. In bearing he was so erect, so sufficient, that he seemed taller than he was. If he had the vanity which so often goes with his kind of temperament, it was most cleverly concealed. Safe in the dignified consciousness of his unquestioned gifts, secure in his achievements, he had a winning gentleness, and an engaging manner difficult to resist.

But for a singular magnetic light in his eyes, which belied the calm of his bearing, when he chanced to raise the heavy lids full on one-they usually drooped a little-but for a sensitive quiver along the too full lips, as if they still trembled from the caress of genius-the royal accolade of greatness-he might have looked to me, as he did to many, more the diplomat than the artist.

It would be useless for me to analyse his command of his instrument. I could not. It would be superfluous for me to recount his triumphs. They are too recent to have been forgotten. Both tasks have, moreover, been done better than I could do either.

This I can do, however, bear witness to the glowing wings of hope, of longing, of aspiration which his singing violin lent to hearts oppressed by commonplace every-day cares, to the moments of courage, of re-awakened endeavor which he inspired in his fellowmen, to the marvellous magnetism of his playing which seemed for the moment to restore to a soul-weary world its illusions, and to strike off the fetters of despondency which bind mortality to earth.

It was not alone the musically intelligent who felt this, for his playing had a universal appeal. Thorough musicians marvelled at and envied him his mastery of the details of his art, but it seemed to me that those who knew least of its technique were equally open to his influence.

I don't presume to explain this. I merely record it. There were those who analysed the fact, and explained it on the ground of animal magnetism. For myself, I only know that, as the magic music which Hunold Singref played in the streets of Hamelin, whispered in the ears of little children words of promise, of happiness, of comfort that none others could hear, so, to the emotional heart, Rodriguez's violin spoke a special message.

The man who sets the faces of the throng upward, and lights their eyes with the magic fire of hope, has surely not lived in vain, whatever personal offerings he may have made on the altar of his genius to keep alive the eternal spark. It cannot be denied that Art has fulfilled some part of its mission on earth, if, but for one hour, thousands, marshalled by its music, as the children of Israel by the pillar of flame, have looked above the dull atmosphere where pain and loss and sorrow are, to feel in themselves that divine longing which is ecstasy, that soaring of the spirit which, in casting off fear and rising above doubt, can cry out in joy, "Oh, blessed spark of Hope-this soul which can so rise above sorrow, so mount above the body, must be immortal. This which can so cast off care cannot die!"

All the great acts of life, and all the great arts, are purely emotional. I know that modern cults deny this, and work to see everything gauged by reason. But thus far musicians and painters, preachers and orators all approach their goal by the road to the emotions-if they hope to win the big world. Patriotism, fidelity-love of country, like love of woman-are emotions, and it would puzzle logicians, I am afraid, to be sure that these emotions, at times sublime, might not be as sensual as some of Rodriguez's critics found his music.

* * *

The series of concerts he gave was very exhausting to me, owing to the novelty of some of his programs, and the constant rehearsals. The final concert found me quite worn out.

During the latter part of the evening I had been too weary to even raise my eyes to the balcony in front of me, where, from my position among the first violins, I could see the fair face of my beloved.

The evening had been a great triumph, and when it was all over the audience was quite mad with enthusiasm. It was one of Rodriguez's inviolable rules to play a program exactly as announced, and never to add to it. In the month he had been in town, the public had learned how impossible it was to tempt him away from his rule. But Americans are persistent!

Again and again he had mounted the steps to the platform, and calmly bowed his thanks, while long drawn cheers surged through the noise of hand-clapping, as strains on the brass buoy up the melody. I lost count of the number of times he had ascended and descended the little flight of steps which led, behind a screen, from the artist's room to the stage, when, having turned in my seat to watch him, as he came up and bowed, and walked off again, I saw him, as he stood behind the screen, gazing directly over our heads, suddenly raise his violin to his ear and slowly draw the bow across the strings.

Almost before we could realize what had happened, he crossed the stage, stepped to his stand, and drew his bow downward.

The applause died sharply on the crest of a crescendo, and left the air trembling. There was a sudden hush. A few sank back in their seats, but most of them remained standing where they were, just as we behind him were suddenly fixed in our positions.

I have since heard a deal of argument as to the use and power of music as the voice of thought. I was not then-and I am not now-of that school which holds music to be a medium to transmit anything but musical ideas. So, of the effect of Rodriguez's music on my mind, or the possibility that, for some occult reason, I was for the moment en rapport with him, as after events forced me to believe, I shall enter into no discussion. I am merely going to record, to the best of my ability, my thoughts, as I remember them. I no more presume to explain why they came to me, than I do to analyse my trust in immortality.

As he drew his bow downward, as the first chord filled my ears, everything else faded away.

There was the merest prelude, and then the theme, which appeared, disappeared and re-appeared again and again to be woven about every emotion, at once developed and dominated me.

I seemed at first to hear its melody in the fresh morning air, where it soared upward above the gentle breezes, mingling in harmony with the matins of the birds and the softly rustling trees. Hopeful as youth, careless as the wind, it sang in gladness and in trust. Then I heard the same melody throb under the noonday glow of summer. Its tone was broadened and sweetened, but still brave and pure, when all else in Nature, save its clear voice, seemed sensuous. I saw gardens in a riot of color; felt love at its passionate consummation, ere the light seemed to fade slowly toward the sunset hour. The world was still pulsing with color, but the grey of twilight was slowly enwrapping it. Then the simple melody soared above the day's peacefullest hour, firm in promise on the hushed air. In the mystery of night which followed, when black clouds snuffed out the torches of heaven, when the silence had something of terror even for the brave, that same steadfast loving hopeful theme moved on, consoling as trust in immortality. Through youth to maturity, and on to age, it sang with the same reiterant, subduing, infallible loyalty-the crystallized melody of all that is spiritual in love, in adoration, in passion.

As it died away into the distance, as if its spirit, barely audible, were translated to the far off heavenly host, I strained my hearing to catch that "last fine sound" that passed so gently one "could not be quite sure where it and silence met," and for the first and last time in my life I had known all that a violin can do.

For a moment the hush was wonderful.

Rodriguez stood like a statue. His bow still touched the strings. Yet there was no sound that one could hear, though his own fine head was still bent, as though he, too, listened.

He gently dropped his bow-he smiled-we all came back to earth together.

Then such a scene followed as beggars description.

But he passed hurriedly out of sight, and no amount of tumult could induce him to even show himself again.

Slowly, reluctantly, the audience dispersed, still murmuring. The musicians picked up their traps, and wildly or soberly according to their temperaments, began to dispute. It was everywhere the same topic-the unknown work that Rodriguez had so marvellously played.

As for me-as he played, I seemed to be in the very heart of the melody, singing it too, as his violin sang it. As the song soared upward, my heart was filled with longing, with pain, with joy, with regret. As it gradually died into silence a mist seemed to pass from before my eyes, and I became suddenly conscious of the sweet face of my beloved, growing more and more distinct, until, as the last note died away, I was fully conscious that the music had passed between us, like a cloud, to obscure my sight utterly, and to recede as slowly, leaving her face before me.

I knew afterward, that, to all appearances, I had been gazing directly into her face all the time.

Through it all I had a vague sense that what he played was not new to me. It seemed like something I had long known and tried to say, but could not.

In a daze, I left the stage. Silently I put my violin in its case, pulled on my great coat, and turned up the collar about my face. I was sure I was haggard, and I did not wish her to remark it. I knew that I should find her waiting in the corridor with her father.

Just as I passed out of the artists' room, I was surprised to see Rodriguez standing there in conversation with her, and her father. He was, however, just leaving them, and did not see me.

I knew that her father had known him in Vienna, when the now great violinist was a mere lad, and I had heard that he forgot no one, so the sight gave me a merely momentary surprise.

As I joined her, and we stepped out into the night together, I could not help wondering if Rodriguez had noticed her sensitive violin face, as I tried to get a look into her eyes. I remembered afterward that, so wrapped was I in my own emotions, and so sure was I of her sympathy, that I neither noted nor asked how the music had affected her.

It was bitterly cold. We walked briskly, and parted at the door.

As I look back, I realize how much an egoist an emotional man can be, and in good faith be unconscious of it.

The day after the concert was Saturday-a day on which I rarely saw her, as it was my habit to spend all Sunday with her. I was always somewhat an epicure in my moral nature. I liked to pet my inclinations, as I have seen good livers whet their appetites, by self-denial.

All day I was restless and depressed.

At the piano, with my violin in my hand, it was still that same haunting melody that bewitched my fingers. Whatever I essayed led me, unconsciously, back to the same theme; and whenever that motif fell from my fingers her face appeared before my eyes so distinctly that I would have to dash my hand across them to wipe away the impression that it was the real face that was before me. Afterward, when I was calmer, I knew that this was nothing singular since, whether I had ever reflected on the fact or not, she was rarely from my mind.

As I played that melody over and over again, it puzzled me more and more. I could find nowhere within my memory anything that even reminded me of it. Yet I was vaguely familiar with it.

When evening came on I was more restless than ever. By nine o'clock I found it impossible to bear longer with my own company, and I started out. I had no destination. Something impelled me toward the Opera House, though I cared little for opera as a rule, that is, opera as we have it in America-fashionable and Philistine.

I entered the auditorium-the opera was "Faust"-just in season to hear the last half of the third act.

As the sensuous passionate music swelled in the sultry air of the dark garden at Nuremburg, I listened, moved by it as I always am-when I cannot see the over-dressed, lady-like Marguerite that goes a-starring in America. My eyes wandered restlessly over the audience. Suddenly there was a rushing, like the surging of waters, in my ears, which drowned the music, and I saw Rodriguez sitting carelessly in the front of a stage box. His eyes were fixed on me, and I thought there was an expression of relief in them.

Shocked that the unexpected sight of the man should have such an effect on me, I pulled myself together with an effort. The sound of the waters receded, the music rushed back, leaving me amazed at a condition in myself which should have rendered me so susceptible, in some sub

conscious way, to the undoubted magnetism of the man whose violin had so affected me the night before, and so haunted me all day, and in regard to whose composition I had an ill-defined, but insistent, theory which would intrude into my mind.

In vain I turned my eyes to the stage. I could not forget his presence. Every few minutes my glance, as if drawn by a magnet, would turn in his direction, and as often as that happened, whether he were leaning back to speak to some one hidden by the curtain, or watching the house, or listening intently to the music, I never failed to find that his eyes met mine.

I sat through the next act in this condition. Then I could stand it no longer. I felt that I might end by making myself objectionable, and that, after all, it was far wiser to be safe at home, than sitting in the theatre where I occupied myself in staring at but one person.

I made my way slowly up the aisle and into the foyer, and had nearly reached the outer lobby, when I suddenly felt sure that he was near.

I looked up!

Yes, there he was, and he was looking me directly in the face again. An odd smile came into his eyes. He nodded to me as he approached, and, with a quaint shake of the head, said: "I just made a wager with myself. I bet that if I encountered you in the lobby, without actually seeking you, and you saw me, I'd speak to you-and ask a favor of you. I am going to win that wager."

He did not seem to expect me to answer him. He simply turned beside me, thrust his arm carelessly through mine, and moved with me toward the exit.

"Let us step outside a moment," he said. It was easy to understand why. The hero of the night before could not hope to pass unnoted.

He stepped into the street.

It was a moonlit night. I remember that distinctly.

He lighted his cigarette, and held his case toward me. I shook my head. I had no desire to smoke.

We walked a few steps together in silence before he said: "I am trying to frame a most unusual request so that it may not seem too fantastic to you. It is more difficult than writing a fugue. The truth is-I have gotten myself into a bit of a fix-and I want to guard against its turning into something worse than that. I need some man's assistance to extricate myself."

I probably looked alarmed. Those forebears of mine will intrude when I am taken by surprise. He saw it, and said, quickly: "It is nothing that a man, willing to be of service to me, need balk at; nothing, in fact, that a chivalrous man would not be glad to do. You may not think very well of me afterward, but be sure you will never regret the act. I was in sore need of a friend. There was none at hand-if such as I ever have friends. Suddenly I saw you. I remembered your violin as I heard it behind me last night-an Amati, I fancy?"

I nodded assent.

"A beautiful instrument. I may some day ask you to let me try it-you and I can never be quite strangers after to-night."

He paused, pounded the side-walk with his stick, impatiently, as if the long preamble made him as nervous as it did me. Then, looking me in the face, he said rapidly: "This is it. When I leave the box, after the next act, do you follow me. Stay by me, no matter what happens. Stick to me, even though I ask you to leave me, so long as there is any one with me. Do more-stay by me, until, in your room or mine, you and I sit down together, and-well, I will explain what must, until then, seem either mad or ridiculous. Is that clear?"

I assured him that it was.

"Agreed then," he said.

By this time we were back at the door. The whole thing had not taken five minutes. We re-entered the theatre, and walked hurriedly through the lobby to the foyer. As we were about to separate, he laid a hand on either of my shoulders, and with a whimsical smile, said: "I'll dare swear I shall try to give you the slip."-The smile died on his lips. It never reached his eyes. "Don't let me do it. After the next act, then," and, with a wave of his hand, he disappeared.

I thought I was ridiculous enough when he had gone, and I realized that I had promised to follow this man, I did not know where, I did not know with whom, I did not know why.

It was useless for me to go back into the auditorium. I could not listen to the music. In spite of myself, I kept approaching the entrance opposite the box, and peering through the glass, like a detective. I knew I was afraid that he would keep his word and try to give me the slip. I never asked myself what difference it would make to me if he did. I simply took up the strange unexplained task he had given me as if to me it were a matter of life or death.

Even before the curtain fell, I had hurried round the house and placed myself with my back to the door, so that I could not miss him as he passed, and yet had no appearance of watching him. It was well that I did, for in an instant the door opened. He came out and passed me quickly, followed by a tall slender woman in a straight wrap that fell from her head to the ground, and the domino-like hood which completely concealed her face.

As he drew her hand through his arm, he looked back at me, over his shoulder. His eyes met mine. They seemed to say, "Is it you, old True-penny?" But he merely bent his head courteously and with his lips said, "Come!" I felt sure that he shrugged his shoulders resignedly, as he saw that I kept my word, and followed.

At the door he found his carriage. He assisted his companion in. Then in the gentlest manner he said in my ear, as he stood aside for me to enter, "In with you. My honor is saved, but repentance dogs its heels."

To the lady he said, "This is the friend whom you were kind enough to permit me to ask for supper."

She made no reply.

I uncovered my head to salute her, murmuring some vague phrase of thanks, which was, I am sure, inaudible. Then Rodriguez followed, and took his place beside me on the front seat.

As the door banged I could have sworn that the lady, whose face was concealed behind the falling lace of her hood, as if by a mask, spoke.

He thought so, too, for he leaned forward as if to catch the words. Evidently we were mistaken, for he received no response. He murmured an oath against the pavements and the noise, and turned a smiling face to me-and I? Why, I smiled back!

As we rattled over the pavings, through the lighted streets, no one spoke. The lady leaned back in her corner. Opposite her Rodriguez hummed "Salve! dimora" and I beside him, sat strangely confused and inert, still as if in a dream.

I had not even noted the direction we were taking, until I found that we had stopped in front of a French restaurant, one of the few Bohemian resorts the town boasted.

Rodriguez leaped out, assisted the lady, and I followed.

Just as we reached the top of the stairs, as I was about to follow them into one of the small supper rooms, like a flash, as if I were suddenly waking from a dream into conscious, with exactly the same sensation I have experienced many and many a morning when struggling back to life from sleep, I realized that the slender figure before me was as familiar as my own hand.

As the door closed behind us, I called her by name-and my voice startled even myself.

She threw back the hood of her cape and faced me.

Rodriguez had heard, too. He wheeled quickly toward us, as nearly broken from his self-control as a man so sure of himself could be.

Under the flash of our eyes the color surged up painfully in her pale face. There was much the same expression in our eyes, I fancy,-Rodriguez's and mine-but I felt that it was at his face she gazed.

I have never known how far it is given to woman to penetrate the mysteries of human nature, for she is gifted, it seems to me, with a dissimulation in which she wraps herself, as with an impenetrable veil of outward innocence, and ignorance, from our less acute perception and ruder knowledge.

There were speeches enough that it would have become a man in my position to make. I knew them all. But-I said nothing. Some instinct saved me; some vague fore-knowledge made me feel-I knew not why-that there was really nothing for me to say at that moment.

For fully a minute none of us moved.

Rodriguez recovered himself first. I cannot describe the peculiar expression of his eyes as he slowly turned them from her face to mine. So bound up was he in himself that I was confident that he did not yet suspect more than that she and I had met before. What was in her mind I dared not guess.

He composedly crossed to her. He gently unfastened her heavy wrap, carefully lifted it from her shoulders. He pushed a high backed chair toward her, and, with a smile, forced her to sit-she did look dangerously white. She sank into it, and wearily leaned her pretty head back, as if for support, and I noticed that her slender hands, as they grasped either arm of the chair, trembled, in spite of the grip she took to steady herself. I felt her whole body vibrate, as a violin vibrates for a moment after the bow leaves the strings.

"It is a strange chance that you two should know each other," he said, "and very well, too, if I may judge from your manner of addressing her?"

I moved to a place behind her chair, and laid my hand on it. "This lady is my affianced wife," I replied.

He did not change color. For an instant not a muscle moved. He did not stir a step from his place before the fire, where he stood, with his gaze fixed on her face. For one instant he turned his widely opened eyes on me-brief as the glance was, I felt it was critical. Then his lids quivered and drooped completely over his eyes, absolutely veiling the whole man, and, to my amazement, he laughed aloud.

But even as he did so, he spread his hands quickly toward us as if to apologize, and ghastly as the comment was, grotesque even, as it all seemed, I think we both understood. He hardly needed to say, "Pardon me," as he quickly recovered his strong hold on himself.

The next instant he was again standing erect before the fire, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and his voice was absolutely calm as he turned toward me and said, with a smile under his half lowered heavy lids, "I promised you, when I asked you to accompany me, that before we slept to-night I would explain my singular request. I hardly thought that I should have to do it, whether I would or not, under these circumstances. Indeed, it appears that you have the right to demand of me the explanation I so flippantly offered you an hour ago. I am bound to own that, had I dreamed that you knew this lady-that a relation so intimate existed between you-I should surely never have done of my own will this which Fate has presumed to do for me. What can I say to you two that will help or mend this-to you, my fellow musician, who were willing to stand my friend in need, without question; and to the woman you love, and to whom I owe an eternal debt-that we may have no doubts of one another in the future? I cannot make excuses well, even if I have the right to. I only hope we are all three so constituted that we may be able to feel that for a little we have been outside common causes and common results, and that you may listen to an explanation which may seem strange, pardon me, and part from me without resentment, being sure that I shall suffer, and yet be glad."

The face against the high-backed chair was very pale. She closed her eyes. His gaze was on her. He marked the change, I was sure. He thrust his hands still deeper into his pockets, as if to brace himself, and went on. "Last night her pure eyes looked into mine. I had seen her face before me night after night, never dreaming who she was. I had always played to her, and it had seemed to me at times as if the music I made was in her face. I could see nothing else. I seemed to be looking through her amber eyes, down, down into her deep beautiful soul, and my soul reached out toward her, with a sudden knowledge of what manhood might have been had all womanhood been pure; of what life might have been with one who could know no sin.

"It was only her face that I saw, as I stood waiting the end of the applause. I seemed to be gazing between her glorious eyes, as to tell the truth, I had more than once gazed in my dreams in the past month. I had already written the song that seeing her face had sung in my heart. It was with an irresistible longing, an impulse stronger than my will, to say to her just what her face had said to me,-though she might never know it was said to her-that I went back to the stage. Almost before I realized it, I was there. I felt the vibrant soul of my violin as I laid my cheek against it, and I saw the same spirit tremble behind the eyes of the fair face above me, as one sees a reflection tremble under the wind rippled water. The first chord throbbed on the air in response to it. Then I played what she had unconsciously inspired in me. It was in her eyes, where never swerving, immortal loyalty shone, that I read the deathless theme. Out of her nature came the inspiration. To her belongs the honor. I know-no one better, that as I played last night, I shall never play again; just as I realize that what I played last night my own nature could never of itself have created. It was she who spoke, it was not I. Let him who dares, try to explain that miracle."

She rose from her chair and moved toward him, and as she moved, she swayed pitifully.

He did not stir.

It was I who caught her as she stumbled, and I held her close in my arms. After a moment, she relaxed a little, and her head drooped wearily on my shoulder. He lowered his lids, and I felt that every nerve in his well controlled body quivered with resentment.

He motioned to entreat her to sit down again. She shook her head, and, when he went on, again, he for the first time addressed himself directly to her. "It was chance that set you across my path last night-you and your father. I recognized him at once. I knew your mother well. I can remember the day on which you were born, I was a lad then. Your mother was one of my idols. Why, child, I fiddled for you in your cradle. At the moment I realized who you were, you were so much a part of my music that you only appealed to me through that. But when I left you, I carried a consciousness of you with me that was more tangible. I had held your hand in mine. I feel it there still.

"I went directly to my room, alone. I sat down immediately to transcribe as much of what I had played as possible while it was fresh in my mind. As I wrote I was alone with you. But as the spirit of the music was imprisoned, I knew that you were becoming more and more a material presence to me. When I slept, it was to dream of you again-but, oh, the difference!

"I should have been grateful to you for the inspiration that you had been to me-and I was! But it had served its purpose. They tell me I never played like that before. I feel I never shall again. But the end of an emotion is never in the spirit with me.

"I started out this afternoon to find you, oblivious of the fact that I should have left town. I had the audacity to tell myself that I should be a cad if I departed without thanking the sweet daughter of your mother for her share in making me great. I had the presumption to believe in myself. It seemed natural enough to your good father that 'a whimsical genius,' as he called me, should be allowed the caprice of even tardily looking up his boyhood's acquaintance. He received me nobly, was proud that you should see I remembered him-and simply made no secret of it.

"Though I knew what you had seemed to me, I little realized that the child of true, fine musical spirits had a nature strung like my Strad-fine, clear, true, matchless, as well as inspiring. I spent a beautiful afternoon with you. I cannot better explain than by saying that to me it was like such a day as I have sometimes had with my violin. I call them my holy-days, and God knows I try to keep them holy,-though after too many of them follow a St. Michael and the Dragon tussle-and I mean no discredit to the Archangel, either.

"The honest old father, proud to trust his daughter to me,-in his kind heart he always considered me a most maligned man,-went off to the play and his Saturday night club. He told me that.

"We were alone together. It was then that I began to think that I could probably play on her nature as I did on my violin, and then, with a player's frenzy, to realize that I had been doing it from the first; that we had vibrated in harmony like two ends of a chord. Then I saw no more the spirit behind her eyes. I saw only the beautiful face in which the color came and went, the burnished hair so full of golden lights, on which I longed to lay my hand-the sensitive red lips-and the angel and the demon rose up within me, and looked one another in the face, and I heard the one fling the truth at the other, which even the devil no longer cared to deny-Ah, forgive me!-"

In his egoism of self-analysis and open confession, I am sure he did not realize how far he was going, until she buried her face in her hands.

Then he stepped across the room and stood before me as she rested her face in her hands against my breast.

"It was not especially clever-the last struggle against myself. I had never known such a woman before. I suppose if I had, I should have tortured her to death to strike new chords out of her nature,-and wept at my work! I had not the courage to tear myself abruptly away. I suggested an hour of the opera-I gave her the public as a protector-and they sang 'Faust.' It was then that, knowing myself so well, I looked out into the auditorium and saw you! It was Providence that put you in my way. I thought it was accident. I am sure I need say no more?"

I shook my head.

He leaned over her a moment. He gently took her hands from her face. Her eyelids trembled. For one brief moment she opened her eyes to his.

"You have given me one sweet day," he murmured. "Some part of your soul has called its music out of mine. That offspring of a miraculous sympathy will live immortal when all else of our two lives is forgotten. Remember to-day as a dream-and me as a shadow there-" he stopped abruptly. I felt her head fall forward. She had swooned.

Together we looked into the beautiful colorless face.

I loved music as I loved light. I was an artist myself. A great musician-and this man was one-was to me the greatest achievement of Art and Living.

I did not refuse the hand he held out. I buried mine in it.

I did not smile nor mistrust, nor misunderstand the tears in his eyes, nor despise him because I knew they would soon enough be dry. I did not doubt his sincerity when he said, "I have never done so bitter a thing as say 'good-bye' to this-though I know but too well such are not for me."

He bent over her, as if he would take her in his arms.

She was unconscious. I felt tempted to put her there. I knew I loved her as he could never love-yet I pitied him the more for that.

"Tell her," he whispered, "tell her, when she shall have forgotten this-as I hope she will-that for this hour at least I loved her; that losing her I am liable to love her long,-so we shall never meet again. I shall never cease to be grateful to the Providence that threw you in my way-after to-night. To-night I could curse it and my conscience with a right good will." With an effort he straightened himself. "You can afford to forgive me," he said, "for I-I envy you with all my heart."-And he was gone.

I heard his voice as he spoke to the waiter outside. I listened to his step as he descended the stairs. He had passed out of our life forever.

That was years ago.

She has long been dead.

He was not to blame if the sunshine that danced in music out of the eyes of the woman I loved never quite came back again. We were, all the same, happy together in our way.

He was not to blame if it was written in the big book of Fate that it should be his heart, and not mine, that should read the song she bore in her soul.

Something must be sacrificed for Art. We sacrificed our first illusions-and the Song he read will sing on when even Rodriguez is but a tradition.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top