Following Arkwright, I joined Adelaide and von Francius at the foot of the orchestra. She had sent word that she was tired. Looking at her, I thought indeed she must be very tired, so white, so sad she looked.
“Adelaide,” I expostulated, “why did you remain so long?”
“Oh, I did not know it was so late. Come!”
We made our way out of the hall through the veranda to the entrance. Lady Le Merchant’s carriage, it seemed, was ready and waiting. It was a pouring night. The thaw had begun. The steady downpour promised a cheerful ending to the carnival doings of the Monday and Tuesday; all but a few homeless or persevering wretches had been driven away. We drove away too. I noticed that the “good-night” between Adelaide and von Francius was of the most laconical character. They barely spoke, did not shake hands, and he turned and went to seek his cab before we had all got into the carriage.
Adelaide uttered not a word during our drive home, and I, leaning back, shut my eyes and lived the evening over again. Eugen’s friend had laughed the insidious whisper to scorn. I could not deal so summarily with it; nor could I drive the words of it out of my head. They set themselves to the tune of the waltz, and rang in my ears:
“He is not honest; he is not honorable. It is from shame and disgrace that he is hiding. Ask him if he remembers the 20th of April five years ago.”
The carriage stopped. A sleepy servant let us in. Adelaide, as we went upstairs, drew me into her dressing-room.
“A moment, May. Have you enjoyed yourself?”
“H’m—well—yes and no. And you, Adelaide?”
“I never enjoy myself now,” she replied, very gently. “I am getting used to that, I think.”
She clasped her jeweled hands and stood by the lamp, whose calm light lighted her calm face, showing it wasted and unutterably sad.
Something—a terror, a shrinking as from a strong menacing hand—shook me.
“Are you ill, Adelaide?” I cried.
“No. Good-night, dear May. Schlaf’ wohl, as they say here.”
To my unbounded astonishment, she leaned forward and gave me a gentle kiss; then, still holding my hand, asked: “Do you still say your prayers, May?”
“What do you say?”
“Oh! the same that I always used to say; they are better than any I can invent.”
“Yes. I never do say mine now. I rather think I am afraid to begin again.”
“Good-night, Adelaide,” I said, inaudibly; and she loosed my hand.
At the door I turned. She was still standing by the lamp; still her face wore the same strange, subdued look. With a heart oppressed by new uneasiness, I left her.
It must have been not till toward dawn that I fell into a sleep, heavy, but not quiet—filled with fantastic dreams, most of which vanished as soon as they had passed my mind. But one remained. To this day it is as vivid before me, as if I had actually lived through it.
Meseemed again to be at the Grafenbergerdahl, again to be skating, again rescued—and by Eugen Courvoisier. But suddenly the scene changed; from a smooth sheet of ice, across which the wind blew nippingly, and above which the stars twinkled frostily, there was a huge waste of water which raged, while a tempest howled around—the clear moon was veiled, all was darkness and chaos. He saved me, not by skating with me to the shore, but by clinging with me to some floating wood until we drove upon a bank and landed. But scarcely had we set foot upon the ground, than all was changed again. I was alone, seated upon a bench in the Hofgarten, on a spring afternoon. It was May; the chestnuts and acacias were in full bloom, and the latter made the air heavy with their fragrance. The nightingales sung richly, and I sat looking, from beneath the shade of a great tree, upon the fleeting Rhine, which glided by almost past my feet. It seemed to me that I had been sad—so sad as never before. A deep weight appeared to have been just removed from my heart, and yet so heavy had it been that I could not at once recover from its pressure; and even then, in the sunshine, and feeling that I had no single cause for care or grief, I was unhappy, with a reflex mournfulness.
And as I sat thus, it seemed that some one came and sat beside me without speaking, and I did not turn to look at him; but ever as I sat there and felt that he was beside me, the sadness lifted from my heart, until it grew so full of joy that tears rose to my eyes. Then he who was beside me placed his hand upon mine, and I looked at him. It was Eugen Courvoisier. His face and his eyes were full of sadness; but I knew that he loved me, though he said but one word, “Forgive!” to which I answered, “Can you forgive?” But I knew that I alluded to something much deeper than that silly little episode of having cut him at the theater. He bowed his head; and then I thought I began to weep, covering my face with my hands; but they were tears of exquisite joy, and the peace at my heart was the most entire I had ever felt. And he loosened my hands, and drew me to him and kissed me, saying “My love!” And as I felt—yes, actually felt—the pressure of his lips upon mine, and felt the spring shining upon me, and heard the very echo of the twitter of the birds, saw the light fall upon the water, and smelled the scent of the acacias, and saw the Lotus-blume as she—
I awoke, and confronted a gray February morning, felt a raw chilliness in the air, heard a cold, pitiless rain driven against the window; knew that my head ached, my heart harmonized therewith; that I was awake, not in a dream; that there had been no spring morning, no acacias, no nightingales; above all, no love—remembered last night, and roused to the consciousness of another day, the necessity of waking up and living on.
Nor could I rest or sleep. I rose and contemplated through the window the driving rain and the soaking street, the sorrowful naked trees, the plain of the parade ground, which looked a mere waste of mud and half-melted ice; the long plain line of the Caserne itself—a cheering prospect truly!
When I went down-stairs I found Sir Peter, in heavy traveling overcoat, standing in the hall; a carriage stood at the door; his servant was putting in his master’s luggage and rugs. I paused in astonishment. Sir Peter looked at me and smiled with the dubious benevolence which he was in the habit of extending to me.
“I am very sorry to be obliged to quit your charming society, Miss Wedderburn, but business calls me imperatively to England; and, at least, I am sure that my wife can not be unhappy with such a companion as her sister.”
“You are going to England?”
“I am going to England. I have been called so hastily that I can make no arrangements for Adelaide to accompany me, and indeed it would not be at all pleasant for her, as I am only going on business; but I hope to return for her and bring her home in a few weeks. I am leaving Arkwright with you. He will see that you have all you want.”
Sir Peter was smiling, ever smiling, with the smile which was my horror.
“A brilliant ball, last night, was it not?” he added, extending his hand to me, in farewell, and looking at me intently with eyes that fascinated and repelled me at once.
“Very, but—but—you were not there?”
“Was I not? I have a strong impression that I was. Ask my lady if she thinks I was there. And now good-bye, and au revoir!”
He loosened my hand, descended the steps, entered the carriage, and was driven away. His departure ought to have raised a great weight from my mind, but it did not; it impressed me with a sense of coming disaster.
Adelaide breakfasted in her room. When I had finished I went to her. Her behavior puzzled me. She seemed elated, excited, at the absence of Sir Peter, and yet, suddenly turning to me, she exclaimed, eagerly:
“Oh, May! I wish I had been going to England, too! I wish I could leave this place, and never see it again.”
“Was Sir Peter at the ball, Adelaide?” I asked.
She turned suddenly pale; her lip trembled; her eye wavered, as she said in a low, uneasy voice:
“I believe he was—yes; in domino.”
“What a sneaking thing to do!” I remarked, candidly. “He had told us particularly that he was not coming.”
“That very statement should have put us on our guard,” she remarked.
“On our guard? Against what?” I asked, unsuspectingly.
“Oh, nothing—nothing! I wonder when he will return! I would give a world to be in England!” she said, with a heartsick sigh; and I, feeling very much bewildered, left her.
In the afternoon, despite wind and weather, I sallied forth, and took my way to my old lodgings in the Wehrhahn. Crossing a square leading to the street I was going to, I met Anna Sartorius. She bowed, looking at me mockingly. I returned her salutation, and remembered last night again with painful distinctness. The air seemed full of mysteries and uncertainties; they clung about my mind like cobwebs, and I could not get rid of their soft, stifling influence.
Having arrived at my lodgings, I mounted the stairs. Frau Lutzler met me.
“Na, na, Fräulein! You do not patronize me much now. My rooms are becoming too small for you, I reckon.”
“Indeed, Frau Lutzler, I wish I had never been in any larger ones,” I answered her, earnestly.
“So! Well, ’tis true you look thin and worn—not as well as you used to. And were you—but I heard you were, so where’s the use of telling lies about it—at the Maskenball last night? And how did you like it?”
“Oh, it was all very new to me. I never was at one before.”
“Nicht? Then you must have been astonished. They say there was a Mephisto so good he would have deceived the devil himself. And you, Fräulein—I heard that you looked very beautiful.”
“So! It must have been a mistake.”
“Doch nicht! I have always maintained that at certain times you were far from bad-looking, and dressed and got up for the stage, would be absolutely handsome. Nearly any one can be that—if you are not too near the foot-lights, that is, and don’t go behind the scenes.”
With which neat slaying of a particular compliment by a general one, she released me, and let me go on my way upstairs.
Here I had some books and some music. But the room was cold; the books failed to interest me, and the music did not go—the piano was like me—out of tune. And yet I felt the need of some musical expression of the mood that was upon me. I bethought myself of the Tonhalle, next door, almost, and that in the rittersaal it would be quiet and undisturbed, as the ball that night was not to be held there, but in one of the large rooms of the Caserne.
Without pausing to think a second time of the plan, I left the house and went to the Tonhalle, only a few steps away. In consequence of the rain and bad weather almost every trace of the carnival had disappeared. I found the Tonhalle deserted save by a bar-maid at the restauration. I asked her if the rittersaal were open, and she said yes. I passed on. As I drew near the door I heard music; the piano was already being played. Could it be von Francius who was there? I did not think so. The touch was not his—neither so practiced, so brilliant, nor so sure.
Satisfied, after listening a moment, that it was not he, I resolved to go in and pass through the room. If it were any one whom I could send away I would do so, if not, I could go away again myself.
I entered. The room was somewhat dark, but I went in and had almost come to the piano before I recognized the player—Courvoisier. Overcome with vexation and confusion at the contretemps, I paused a moment, undecided whether to turn back and go out again. In any case I resolved not to remain in the room. He was seated with his back to me, and still continued to play. Some music was on the desk of the piano before him.
I might turn back without being observed. I would do so. Hardly, though—a mirror hung directly before the piano, and I now saw that while he continued to play, he was quietly looking at me, and that his keen eyes—that hawk’s glance which I knew so well—must have recognized me. That decided me. I would not turn back. It would be a silly, senseless proceeding, and would look much more invidious than my remaining. I walked up to the piano, and he turned, still playing.
“Guten Tag, mein Fräulein.”
I merely bowed, and began to search through a pile of songs and music upon the piano. I would at any rate take some away with me to give some color to my proceedings. Meanwhile he played on.
I selected a song, not in the least knowing what it was, and rolling it up, was turning away.
“Are you busy, Miss Wedderburn?”
“Would it be asking too much of you to play the pianoforte accompaniment?”
“I will try,” said I, speaking briefly, and slowly drawing off my gloves.
“If it is disagreeable to you, don’t do it,” said he, pausing.
“Not in the very least,” said I, avoiding looking at him.
He opened the music. It was one of Jensen’s “Wanderbilder” for piano and violin—the “Kreuz am Wege.”
“I have only tried it once before,” I remarked, “and I am a dreadful bungler.”
“Bitte sehr!” said he, smiling, arranging his own music on one of the stands and adding, “Now I am ready.”
I found my hands trembling so much that I could scarcely follow the music. Truly this man, with his changes from silence to talkativeness, from ironical hardness to cordiality, was a puzzle and a trial to me.
“Das Kreuz am Wege” turned out rather lame. I said so when it was over.
“Suppose we try it again,” he suggested, and we did so. I found my fingers lingering and forgetting their part as I listened to the piercing beauty of his notes.
“That is dismal,” said he.
“It is a dismal subject, is it not?”
“Suggestive, at least. ‘The Cross by the Wayside.’ Well, I have a mind for something more cheerful. Did you leave the ball early last night?”
“No; not very early.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“It was all new to me—very interesting—but I don’t think I quite enjoyed it.”
“Ah, you should see the balls at Florence, or Venice, or Vienna!”
He smiled as he leaned back, as if thinking over past scenes.
“Yes,” said I, dubiously, “I don’t think I care much for such things, though it is interesting to watch the little drama going on around.”
“And to act in it,” I also thought, remembering Anna Sartorius and her whisper, and I looked at him. “Not honest, not honorable. Hiding from shame and disgrace.”
I looked at him and did not believe it. For the moment the torturing idea left me. I was free from it and at peace.
“Were you going to practice?” he asked. “I fear I disturb you.”
“Oh, no! It does not matter in the least. I shall not practice now.”
“I want to try some other things,” said he, “and Friedhelm’s and my piano was not loud enough for me, nor was there sufficient space between our walls for the sounds of a symphony. Do you not know the mood?”
“But I am afraid to ask you to accompany me.”
“You seem unwilling.”
“I am not: but I should have supposed that my unwillingness—if I had been unwilling—would have been an inducement to you to ask me.”
“Since you took a vow to be disagreeable to me, and to make me hate you.”
A slight flush passed rapidly over his face, as he paused for a moment and bit his lips.
“Mein Fräulein—that night I was in bitterness of spirit—I hardly knew what I was saying—”
“I will accompany you,” I interrupted him, my heart beating. “Only how can I begin unless you play, or tell me what you want to play?”
“True,” said he, laughing, and yet not moving from his place beside the piano, upon which he had leaned his elbow, and across which he now looked at me with the self-same kindly, genial glance as that he had cast upon me across the little table at the Köln restaurant. And yet not the self-same glance, but another, which I would not have exchanged for that first one.
If he would but begin to play I felt that I should not mind so much; but when he sat there and looked at me and half smiled, without beginning anything practical, I felt the situation at least trying.
He raised his eyes as the door opened at the other end of the saal.
“Ah, there is Friedhelm,” said he, “now he will take seconds.”
“Then I will not disturb you any longer.”
“On the contrary,” said he, laying his hand upon my wrist. (My dream of the morning flashed into my mind.) “It would be better if you remained, then we could have a trio. Friedel, come here! You are just in time. Fräulein Wedderburn will be good enough to accompany us, and we can try the Fourth Symphony.”
“What you call ‘Spring’?” inquired Helfen, coming up smilingly. “With all my heart. Where is the score?”
“What you call Spring?” Was it possible that in winter—on a cold and unfriendly day—we were going to have spring, leafy bloom, the desert filled with leaping springs, and blossoming like a rose? Full of wonder, surprise, and a certain excitement at the idea, I sat still and thought of my dream, and the rain beat against the windows, and a draughty wind fluttered the tinselly decorations of last night. The floor was strewed with fragments of garments torn in the crush—paper and silken flowers, here a rosette, there a buckle, a satin bow, a tinsel spangle. Benches and tables were piled about the room, which was half dark; only to westward, through one window, was visible a paler gleam, which might by comparison be called light.
The two young men turned over the music, laughing at something, and chaffing each other. I never in my life saw two such entire friends as these; they seemed to harmonize most perfectly in the midst of their unlikeness to each other.
“Excuse that we kept you waiting, mein Fräulein,” said Courvoisier, placing some music before me. “This fellow is so slow, and will put everything into order as he uses it.”
“Well for you that I am, mein lieber,” said Helfen, composedly. “If any one had the enterprise to offer a prize to the most extravagant, untidy fellow in Europe, the palm would be yours—by a long way too.”
“Friedel binds his music and numbers it,” observed Courvoisier. “It is one of the most beautiful and affecting of sights to behold him with scissors, paste-pot, brush and binding. It occurs periodically about four times a year, I think, and moves me almost to tears when I see it.”
“Der edle Ritter leaves his music unbound, and borrows mine on every possible occasion when his own property is scattered to the four winds of heaven.”
“Aber! aber!” cried Eugen. “That is too much! I call Frau Schmidt to witness that all my music is put in one place.”
“I never said it wasn’t. But you never can find it when you want it, and the confusion is delightfully increased by your constantly rushing off to buy a new partitur when you can’t find the old one; so you have three or four of each.”
“This is all to show off what he considers his own good qualities; a certain slow, methodical plodding and a good memory, which are natural gifts, but which he boasts of as if they were acquired virtues. He binds his music because he is a pedant and a prig, and can’t help it; a bad fellow to get on with. Now, mein bester, for the ‘Fruhling.’”
“But the Fräulein ought to have it explained,” expostulated Helfen, laughing. “Every one has not the misfortune to be so well acquainted with you as I am. He has rather insane fancies sometimes,” he added, turning to me, “without rhyme or reason that I am aware, and he chooses to assert that Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, or the chief motive of it, occurred to him on a spring day, when the master was, for a time, quite charmed from his bitter humor, and had, perhaps, some one by his side who put his heart in tune with the spring songs of the birds, the green of the grass, the scent of the flowers. So he calls it the ‘Fruhling Symphonie,’ and will persist in playing it as such. I call the idea rather far-fetched, but then that is nothing unusual with him.”
“Having said your remarkably stupid say, which Miss Wedderburn has far too much sense to heed in the least, suppose you allow us to begin,” said Courvoisier, giving the other a push toward his violin.
But we were destined to have yet another coadjutor in the shape of Karl Linders, who at that moment strolled in, and was hailed by his friends with jubilation.
“Come and help! Your ’cello will give just the mellowness that is wanted,” said Eugen.
“I must go and get it then,” said Karl, looking at me.
Eugen, with an indescribable expression as he intercepted the glance, introduced us to one another. Karl and Friedhelm Helfen went off to another part of the Tonhalle to fetch Karl’s violoncello, and we were left alone again.
“Perhaps I ought not to have introduced him. I forgot ‘Lohengrin,’” said Eugen.
“You know that you did not,” said I, in a low voice.
“No,” he answered, almost in the same tone. “It was thinking of that which led me to introduce poor old Karl to you. I thought, perhaps, that you would accept it as a sign—will you?”
“A sign of what?”
“That I feel myself to have been in the wrong throughout—and forgive.”
As I sat, amazed and a little awed at this almost literal fulfillment of my dream, the others returned.
Karl contributed the tones of his mellowest of instruments, which he played with a certain pleasant breadth and brightness of coloring, and my dream came ever truer and truer. The symphony was as spring-like as possible. We tried it nearly all through; the hymn-like and yet fairy-like first movement; the second, that song of universal love, joy, and thanksgiving, with Beethoven’s masculine hand evident throughout. To the notes there seemed to fall a sunshine into the room, and we could see the fields casting their covering of snow, and withered trees bursting into bloom; brooks swollen with warm rain, birds busy at nest-making; clumps of primroses on velvet leaves, and the subtle scent of violets; youths and maidens with love in their eyes; and even a hint of later warmth, when hedges should be white with hawthorn, and the woodland slopes look, with their sheets of hyacinths, as if some of heaven’s blue had been spilled upon earth’s grass.
As the last strong, melodious modulations ceased, Courvoisier pointed to one of the windows.
“Friedhelm, you wretched unbeliever, behold the refutation of your theories. The symphony has brought the sun out.”
“For the first time,” said Friedhelm, as he turned his earnest young face with its fringe of loose brown hair toward the sneaking sun-ray, which was certainly looking shyly in. “As a rule the very heavens weep at the performance. Don’t you remember the last time we tried it, it began to rain instantly?”
“Miss Wedderburn’s co-operation must have secured its success then on this occasion,” said Eugen, gravely, glancing at me for a moment.
“Hear! hear!” murmured Karl, screwing up his violoncello and smiling furtively.
“Oh, I am afraid I hindered rather than helped,” said I, “but it is very beautiful.”
“But not like spring, is it?” asked Friedhelm.
“Well, I think it is.”
“There! I knew she would declare for me,” said Courvoisier, calmly, at which Karl Linders looked up in some astonishment.
“Shall we try this ‘Traumerei,’ Miss Wedderburn, if you are not too tired?”
I turned willingly to the piano, and we played Schumann’s little “Dreams.”
“Ah,” said Eugen, with a deep sigh (and his face had grown sad), “isn’t that the essence of sweetness and poetry? Here’s another which is lovely. ‘Noch ein Paar,’ nicht wahr?”
“And it will be ‘noch ein Paar’ until our fingers drop off,” scolded Friedhelm, who seemed, however, very willing to await that consummation. We went through many of the Kinderscenen and some of the Kreissleriana, and just as we finished a sweet little “Bittendes Kind,” the twilight grew almost into darkness, and Courvoisier laid his violin down.
“Miss Wedderburn, thank you a thousand times!”
“Oh, bitte sehr!” was all I could say. I wanted to say so much more; to say that I had been made happy; my sadness dispelled, a dream half fulfilled, but the words stuck, and had they come ever so flowingly I could not have uttered them with Friedhelm Helfen, who knew so much, looking at us, and Karl Linders on his best behavior in what he considered superior company.
I do not know how it was that Karl and Friedhelm, as we all came from the Tonhalle, walked off to the house, and Eugen and I were left to walk alone through the soaking streets, emptied of all their revelers, and along the dripping Königsallée, with its leafless chestnuts, to Sir Peter’s house. It was cold, it was wet—cheerless, dark, and dismal, and I was very happy—very insanely so. I gave a glance once or twice at my companion. The brightness had left his face; it was stern and worn again, and his lips set as if with the repression of some pain.
“Herr Courvoisier, have you heard from your little boy?”
“I do not expect to hear from him, mein Fräulein. When he left me we parted altogether.”
“Oh, how dreadful!”
No answer. And we spoke no more until he said “Good-evening” to me at the door of No. 3. As I went in I reflected that I might never meet him thus face to face again. Was it an opportunity missed, or was it a brief glimpse of unexpected joy?