Another chapter read; with doubtful hand
I turn the page, with doubtful eye I scan
The heading of the next.”
From that evening Anna let me alone, as I thought, and I was glad of it, nor did I attempt any reconciliation, for the very good reason that I wished for none.
Soon after our dispute I found upon my plate at breakfast, one morning, a letter directed in a bold though unformed hand, which I recognized as Stella’s:
“Dear May,—I dare say Adelaide will be writing to you, but I will take time by the forelock, so to speak, and give you my views on the subject first.
“There is news, strange to say that there is some news to tell you. I shall give it without making any remarks. I shall not say whether I think it good, bad, or indifferent. Adelaide is engaged to Sir Peter Le Marchant. It was only made known two days ago. Adelaide thinks he is in love with her. What a strange mistake for her to make! She thinks she can do anything with him. Also a monstrous misapprehension on her part. Seriously, May, I am rather uncomfortable about it, or should be, if it were any one else but Adelaide. But she knows so remarkably well what she is about, that perhaps, after all, my fears are needless. And yet—but it is no use speculating about it—I said I wouldn’t.
“She is a queer girl. I don’t know how she can marry Sir Peter, I must say. I suppose he is awfully rich, and Adelaide has always said that poverty was the most horrible thing in the world. I don’t know, I’m sure. I should be inclined to say that Sir Peter was the most horrible thing in the world. Write soon, and tell me what you think about it.
I did not feel surprise at this letter. Foreboding, grief, shame, I did experience at finding that Adelaide was bent upon her own misery. But then, I reflected, she can not be very sensible to misery, or she would not be able to go through with such a purpose. I went upstairs to communicate this news to Miss Hallam. Soon the rapid movement of events in my own affairs completely drove thoughts of Adelaide for a time, at least, out of my mind.
Miss Hallam received the information quietly and with a certain contemptuous indifference. I knew she did not like Adelaide, and I spoke of her as seldom as possible.
I took up some work, glancing at the clock, for I expected von Francius soon to give me my lesson, and Miss Hallam sat still. I had offered to read to her, and she had declined. I glanced at her now and then. I had grown accustomed to that sarcastic, wrinkled, bitter face, and did not dislike it. Indeed, Miss Hallam had given me abundant proofs that, eccentric though she might be, pessimist in theory, merciless upon human nature, which she spoke of in a manner which sometimes absolutely appalled me, yet in fact, in deed, she was a warm-hearted, generous woman. She had dealt bountifully by me, and I knew she loved me, though she never said so.
“May,” she presently remarked, “yesterday, when you were out, I saw Doctor Mittendorf.”
“Did you, Miss Hallam?”
“Yes. He says it is useless my remaining here any longer. I shall never see, and an operation might cost me my life!”
Half-stunned, and not yet quite taking in the whole case, I held my work suspended, and looked at her. She went on:
“I knew it would be so when I came. I don’t intend to try any more experiments. I shall go home next week.”
Now I grasped the truth.
“Go home, Miss Hallam!” I repeated, faintly.
“Yes, of course. There is no reason why I should stay, is there?”
“N—no, I suppose not,” I admitted; and contrived to stammer out, “and I am very sorry that Doctor Mittendorf thinks you will not be better.”
Then I left the room quickly—I could not stay, I was overwhelmed. It was scarcely ten minutes since I had come upstairs to her. I could have thought it was a week.
Outside the room, I stood on the landing with my hand pressed to my forehead, for I felt somewhat bewildered. Stella’s letter was still in my hand. As I stood there Anna Sartorius came past.
“Guten Tag, Fräulein,” said she, with a mocking kind of good-nature when she had observed me for a few minutes. “What is the matter? Are you ill? Have you had bad news?”
“Good-morning, Fräulein,” I answered, quietly enough, dropping my hand from my brow.
I went to my room. A maid was there, and the furniture might have stood as a type of chaos. I turned away, and went to the empty room, in which my piano stood, and where I had my music lessons. I sat down upon a stool in the middle of the room, folded my hands in my lap, and endeavored to realize what had happened—what was going to happen. There rang in my head nothing but the words, “I am going home next week.”
Home again! What a blank yawned before me at the idea! Leave Elberthal—leave this new life which had just begun to grow real to me! Leave it—go away; be whirled rapidly away back to Skernford—away from this vivid life, away from—Eugen. I drew a long breath, as the wretched, ignominious idea intruded itself, and I knew now what it was that gave terror to the prospect before me. My heart quailed and fainted at the bare idea of such a thing. Not even Hobson’s choice was open to me. There was no alternative—I must go. I sat still, and felt myself growing gradually stiller and graver and colder as I looked mentally to every side of my horizon, and found it so bounded—myself shut in so fast.
There was nothing for it but to return home, and spend the rest of my life at Skernford. I was in a mood in which I could smile. I smiled at the idea of myself growing older and older, and this six weeks that I had spent fading back and back into the distance, and the people into whose lives I had a cursory glance going on their way, and soon forgetting my existence. Truly, Anna! if you were anxious for me to be miserable, this moment, could you know it, should be sweet to you!
My hands clasped themselves more closely upon my lap, and I sat staring at nothing, vaguely, until a shadow before me caused me to look up. Without knowing it, von Francius had come in, and was standing by, looking at me.
“Good-morning!” said I, with a vast effort, partially collecting my scattered thoughts.
“Are you ready for your lesson, mein Fräulein?”
“N—no. I think, Herr Direktor, I will not take any lesson to-day, if you will excuse it.”
“But why? Are you ill?”
“No,” said I. “At least—perhaps I want to accustom myself to do without music lessons.”
“Yes, and without many other pleasant things,” said I, wryly and decidedly.
“I do not understand,” said he, putting his hat down, and leaning one elbow upon the piano, while his deep eyes fixed themselves upon my face, and, as usual, began to compel my secrets from me.
“I am going home,” said I.
A quick look of feeling—whether astonishment, regret, or dismay, I should not like to have said—flashed across his face.
“Have you had bad news?”
“Yes, very. Miss Hallam returns to England next week.”
“But why do you go? Why not remain here?”
“Gladly, if I had any money,” I said, with a dry smile. “But I have none, and can not get any.”
“You will return to England now? Do you know what you are giving up?”
“Obligation has no choice,” said I, gracefully. “I would give anything if I could stay here, and not go home again.” And with that I burst into tears. I covered my face with my hands, and all the pent-up grief and pain of the coming parting streamed from my eyes. I wept uncontrollably.
He did not interrupt my tears for some time. When he did speak, it was in a very gentle voice.
“Miss Wedderburn, will you try to compose yourself, and listen to something I have to say?”
I looked up. I saw his eyes fixed seriously and kindly upon me with an expression quite apart from their usual indifferent coolness—with the look of one friend to another—with such a look as I had seen and have since seen exchanged between Courvoisier and his friend Helfen.
“See,” said he, “I take an interest in you, Fräulein May. Why should I hesitate to say so? You are young—you do not know the extent of your own strength, or of your own weakness. I do. I will not flatter—it is not my way—as I think you know.”
I smiled. I remembered the plentiful blame and the scant praise which it had often fallen to my lot to receive from him.
“I am a strict, sarcastic, disagreeable old pedagogue, as you and so many of my other fair pupils consider,” he went on, and I looked up in amaze. I knew that so many of his “fair pupils” considered him exactly the reverse.
“It is my business to know whether a voice is good for anything or not. Now yours, with training, will be good for a great deal. Have you the means, or the chance, or the possibility of getting that training in England?”
“I should like to help you, partly from the regard I have for you, partly for my own sake, because I think you would do me credit.”
He paused. I was looking at him with all my senses concentrated upon what he had said. He had been talking round the subject until he saw that he had fairly fixed my attention; then he said, sharply and rapidly:
“Fräulein, it lies with you to choose. Will you go home and stagnate there, or will you remain here, fight down your difficulties, and become a worthy artist?”
“Can there be any question as to which I should like to do?” said I, distracted at the idea of having to give up the prospect he held out. “But it is impossible. Miss Hallam alone can decide.”
“But if Miss Hallam consented, you would remain?”
“Oh! Herr von Francius! You should soon see whether I would remain!”
“Also! Miss Hallam shall consent. Now to our singing!”
I stood up. A singular apathy had come over me; I felt no longer my old self. I had a kind of confidence in von Francius, and yet—Despite my recent trouble, I felt now a lightness and freedom, and a perfect ability to cast aside all anxieties, and turn to the business of the moment—my singing. I had never sung better. Von Francius condescended to say that I had done well. Then he rose.
“Now I am going to have a private interview with Miss Hallam,” said he, smiling. “I am always having private interviews with her, nicht wahr? Nay, Fräulein May, do not let your eyes fill with tears. Have confidence in yourself and your destiny, as I have.”
With that he was gone, leaving me to practice. How very kind von Francius was to me! I thought—not in the least the kind of man people called him. I had great confidence in him—in his will. I almost believed that he would know the right thing to say to Miss Hallam to get her to let me stay; but then, suppose she were willing, I had no possible means of support. Tired of conjecturing upon a subject upon which I was so utterly in the dark, I soon ceased that foolish pursuit. An hour had passed, when I heard von Francius’ step, which I knew quite well, come down the stairs. My heart beat, but I could not move.
Would he pass, or would he come and speak to me? He paused. His hand was on the lock. That was he standing before me, with a slight smile. He did not look like a man defeated—but then, could he look like a man defeated? My idea of him was that he held his own way calmly, and that circumstances respectfully bowed to him.
“The day is gained,” said he, and paused; but before I could speak he went on: “Go to Miss Hallam; be kind to her. It is hard for her to part from you, and she has behaved like a Spartan. I felt quite sorry to have to give her so much pain.”
Much wondering what could have passed between them, I left von Francius silently and sought Miss Hallam.
“Are you there, May?” said she. “What have you been doing all the morning?”
“Practicing—and having my lesson.”
“Practicing—and having your lesson—exactly what I have been doing. Practicing giving up my own wishes, and taking a lesson in the act of persuasion, by being myself persuaded. Your singing-master is a wonderful man. He has made me act against my principles.”
“You were in great trouble this morning when you heard you were to leave Elberthal. I knew it instantly. However, you shall not go unless you choose. You shall stay.”
Wondering, I held my tongue.
“Herr von Francius has showed me my duty.”
“Miss Hallam,” said I, suddenly, “I will do whatever you wish. After your kindness to me, you have the right to dispose of my doings. I shall be glad to do as you wish.”
“Well,” said she, composedly, “I wish you to write a letter to your parents, which I will dictate; of course they must be consulted. Then, if they consent, I intend to provide you with the means of carrying on your studies in Elberthal under Herr von Francius.”
I almost gasped. Miss Hallam, who had been a by-word in Skernford, and in our own family, for eccentricity and stinginess, was indeed heaping coals of fire upon my head. I tried, weakly and ineffectually, to express my gratitude to her, and at last said:
“You may trust me never to abuse your kindness, Miss Hallam.”
“I have trusted you ever since you refused Sir Peter Le Marchant, and were ready to leave your home to get rid of him,” said she, with grim humor.
She then told me that she had settled everything with von Francius, even that I was to remove to different lodgings, more suited for a solitary student than Frau Steinmann’s busy house.
“And,” she added, “I shall ask Doctor Mittendorf to have an eye to you now and then, and to write to me of how you go on.”
I could not find many words in which to thank her. The feeling that I was not going, did not need to leave it all, filled my heart with a happiness as deep as it was unfounded and unreasonable.
At my next lesson von Francius spoke to me of the future.
“I want you to be a real student—no play one,” said he, “or you will never succeed. And for that reason I told Miss Hallam that you had better leave this house. There are too many distractions. I am going to put you in a very different place.”
“Where? In which part of the town?”
“Wehrhahn, 39, is the address,” said he.
I was not quite sure where that was, but did not ask further, for I was occupied in helping Miss Hallam, and wished to be with her as much as I could before she left.
The day of parting came, as come it must. Miss Hallam was gone. I had cried, and she had maintained the grim silence which was her only way of expressing emotion.
She was going back home to Skernford, to blindness, now known to be inevitable, to her saddened, joyless life. I was going to remain in Elberthal—for what? When I look back I ask myself—was I not as blind as she, in truth? In the afternoon of the day of Miss Hallam’s departure, I left Frau Steinmann’s house. Clara promised to come and see me sometimes. Frau Steinmann kissed me, and called me liebes Kind. I got into the cab and directed the driver to go to Wehrhahn, 39. He drove me along one or two streets into the one known as the Schadowstrasse, a long, wide street, in which stood the Tonhalle. A little past that building, round a corner, and he stopped, on the same side of the road.
“Not here!” said I, putting my head out of the window when I saw the window of the curiosity shop exactly opposite. “Not here!”
“Wehrhahn, 39, Fräulein?”
“This is it.”
I stared around. Yes—on the wall stood in plainly to be read white letters, “Wehrhahn,” and on the door of the house, 39. Yielding to a conviction that it was to be, I murmured “Kismet,” and descended from my chariot. The woman of the house received me civilly. “The young lady for whom the Herr Direktor had taken lodgings? Schon! Please to come this way, Fräulein. The room was on the third étage.” I followed her upstairs—steep, dark, narrow stairs, like those of the opposite house. The room was a bare-looking, tolerably large one. There was a little closet of a bedroom opening from it—a scrap of carpet upon the floor, and open windows letting in the air. The woman chatted good-naturedly enough.
“So! I hope the room will suit, Fräulein. It is truly not to be called richly furnished, but one doesn’t need that when one is a Sing-student. I have had many in my time—ladies and gentlemen too—pupils of Herr von Francius often. Na! what if they did make a great noise? I have no children—thank the good God! and one gets used to the screaming just as one gets used to everything else.” Here she called me to the window.
“You might have worse prospects than this, Fräulein, and worse neighbors than those over the way. See! there is the old furniture shop where so many of the Herren Maler go, and then there there is Herr Duntze, the landscape painter, and Herr Knoop who paints Genrebilder and does not make much by it—so a picture of a child with a raveled skein of wool, or a little girl making ear-rings for herself with bunches of cherries—for my part I don’t see much in them, and wonder that there are people who will lay down good hard thalers for them. Then there is Herr Courvoisier, the musiker—but perhaps you know who he is.”
“Yes,” I assented.
“And his little son!” Here she threw up her hands. “Ach! the poor man! There are people who speak against him, and every one knows he and the Herr Direktor are not the best friends, but sehn Sie wohl, Fräulein, the Herr Direktor is well off, settled, provided for; Herr Courvoisier has his way to make yet, and the world before him; and what sort of a story it may be with the child, I don’t know, but this I will say, let those dare to doubt it or question it who will, he is a good father—I know it. And the other young man with Herr Courvoisier—his friend, I suppose—he is a musiker too. I hear them practicing a good deal sometimes—things without any air or tune to them; for my part I wonder how they can go on with it. Give me a good song with a tune in it—‘Drunten im Unterland,’ or ‘In Berlin, sagt er,’ or something one knows. Na! I suppose the fiddling all lies in the way of business, and perhaps they can fall asleep over it sometimes, as I do now and then over my knitting, when I’m weary. The young man, Herr Courvoisier’s friend, looked ill when they first came; even now he is not to call a robust-looking person—but formerly he looked as if he would go out of the fugue altogether. Entschuldigen, Fräulein, if I use a few professional proverbs. My husband, the sainted man! was a piano-tuner by calling, and I have picked up some of his musical expressions and use them, more for his sake than any other reason—for I have heard too much music to believe in it so much as ignorant people do. Nun! I will send Fräulein her box up, and then I hope she will feel comfortable and at home, and send for whatever she wants.”
In a few moments my luggage had come upstairs, and when they who brought it had finally disappeared, I went to the window again and looked out. Opposite, on the same étage, were two windows, corresponding to my two, wide open, letting me see into an empty room, in which there seemed to be books and many sheets of white paper, a music-desk and a vase of flowers. I also saw a piano in the clare-obscure, and another door, half open, leading into the inner room. All the inhabitants of the rooms were out. No tone came across to me—no movement of life. But the influence of the absent ones was there. Strange concourse of circumstances which had placed me as the opposite neighbor, in the same profession too, of Eugen Courvoisier! Pure chance it certainly was, for von Francius had certainly had no motive in bringing me hither.
“Kismet!” I murmured once again, and wondered what the future would bring.