They parted at the end of the summer--the boy and the girl--after having been very happy together for two months and very miserable for two days. The trouble was that she would not marry him.
This was not altogether strange, for Richard Shafer was only twenty and had just finished his second year in college. To Carola Brune, who was a year younger, he seemed perfect as a playmate, but she simply could not imagine him as a husband. He was too vague, unformed, boyish in his moods and caprices. She was a strong girl, with quick and powerful impulses in her nature, and she felt that she would need a strong man to hold her. What Richard was, what he would be, she could not clearly see. She loved to make music with him--she at the piano, he with his violin. She loved to roam the woods with him, and to go out in a canoe with him on the moonlit river. But she could not and she would not say that she loved _him_--at least, not enough to promise to marry him now.
He took her "no" very hard. He argued the case persistently. There were no real obstacles, that he could see, to their marriage. She was the daughter of a musician, a Bohemian, who would make no objections to an unworldly match. He was an orphan with a little patrimony of four or five thousand dollars, enough to live on until the world recognised his genius as a poet and his mastery as a violinist.
At this, unfortunately, being a little nervous and overstrained by the long pleading, she laughed. "Oh, Dick!" she cried. "Swinburne and Sarasate--two single gentlemen rolled into one!"
Now there is nothing that a boy--or for that matter, a man--dislikes so much as laughter when he is making a declaration of love. His sense of humour at that time is in eclipse, and even the gentlest turn of wit shocks him deeply.
"Very well," he answered, rising from their favourite seat among the roots of an old hemlock tree overhanging the stream, "let us go back to the hotel. I have been a silly ass, I suppose, and now it's all over."
"But why?"--she was tempted to ask him as they walked through the woods. Why was it all over? Why shouldn't they go on being good friends and comrades? Couldn't he see that she had only tried to make a little joke to ease the strain? Didn't he know that she really had a wonderful admiration for his talents and a large hope for his future?
But something held her back from speaking. She was embarrassed and slightly ashamed. He was in a strange mood, evidently offended, absurdly polite and distant, making talk about the concert that was to come off that evening. She could not bring herself to explain to him now. She would do it in the morning when the air was clearer and cooler.
As they entered the hotel, she turned into the music room, saying that she had to practise for her part in the concert. He held out his hand with a little formal gesture. "I wish you a big success," said he; "my part doesn't need any practice." Then he went upstairs to pack his trunk for the six o'clock train.
An hour later, as he passed out of the door, he heard her still at the piano. She was playing for her own pleasure now--just to relieve the tension of her feelings by letting them flow out on the rhythmic current of music. It was her favourite piece, that magical _humoreske_ by Dvorak, which is like an April day, full of smiles and tears, pleading and laughter. The clear notes came out under her exquisite touch with a penetrating charm of airy, graceful fantasy. To the angry boy at the door it seemed as if they were full of delicate indifference and mockery. They expressed to him the spirit of a girl--light, capricious, elusive, yet with a will that can resist all appeal and evade all attack--an invincible butterfly, a thistle-down of steel--the thing that a man wants most in all the world and yet can not have unless she chooses. She stood for his first defeat, his great disappointment, his discovery that life can refuse; and now she was playing this quaint, careless, mocking music!
"She does not care," he said to himself, as he climbed into the stage, "and I will not care. She is only a flirt. All girls are like that." With this profound generalisation in what he called his mind, but what was really his temper, he rode sullenly away.
He did not hear how she lingered caressingly over the last phrases of the _humoreske_, playing them very softly, with her blond head bent over the piano, as if she were trying to recall something. He did not know that she put on the frock that he liked best, with the mauve ribbons, for the concert that night. He did not see her lips quiver and the look of pained surprise flash into her brown eyes when she heard that he had gone without even saying good-bye.
Naturally she, thinking him a proud and foolish boy, waited for him to come back or to write. Naturally he, having classified her as a cold and heartless flirt, expected her to send him a letter asking him to return. Naturally neither of these things happened. The little bank-dividing stream of circumstance flowed between them, ever broadening, until it seemed like an impassable river.
Each of them said, "It was only an episode." Each of them was sure that there was nothing in it which could mean a lasting pain, nothing which time would not obliterate. Each of them repeated a wise phrase or two about "passing fancies" and "puppy love," and so they went their ways lightly enough, reasonably resolving not to think of each other any more.
But it was strange how clearly and brightly the scenes of the summer itself lived in their memories. To both of them there was a peculiar and deepening vividness in those pictures of certain places.
The hardwood ridges in the forest, where there was no undergrowth and they could walk straight ahead, side by side, through the interminable colonnade of beeches and birches which upheld the green, gold-flecked roof,--the dark tangled spruce thicket, where one must stoop under the interlacing lower branches, dead and brittle, and creep over the soft brown carpet of fallen needles, dry and slippery, in order to reach a little open glade, moist with springs, where the red wood-lily and the purple-fringed orchid grew,--the high steep rock that jutted out from the woods about half-way up the slope of the Dome, as if to make a narrow view-point of surprise where two people could stand close together and look down upon the broad valley and the blue hills beyond,--the old hemlock, with its big, bent knees covered with moss, ready to hold them comfortably in its lap, while they read poetry or stories of adventure, and the little river sung its sleepy song at their feet,--the long stillwater where the canoe floated quietly among the mirrored stars,--the merry rapids where the moon path spread before them broad and silvery, luring them to follow it down to danger,--the twilight hour in the music room, where the piano answered to the violin, and through the open door and windows the aromatic breath of the pine-trees and the spicy smell of wild grapes drifted faintly in,--a certain afternoon when the cool rain-drops beat in their faces as they tramped home, after a long walk over the hills, wet and joyous, swinging their clasped hands and chanting some foolish, endless song of the road,--a certain evening when the murmuring hemlock above them grew silent, and the whispering water below them seemed to hush, and a single big star across the river was softly throbbing in the mauve dusk, and their lips met for a moment as purely and silently as the twilight meets the night;--these were pictures that would not fade and dissolve. There was something unforgettable about them.
Was it the spirit of place that possessed them with a unique loveliness; or was it that they were illuminated by the charm of a companionship in which two hearts had tasted together the sweetest cup in the world, the royal chalice of the pure, uncalculating, inexplicable joy of living?
Be that as it may, the fact remains that while the boy and the girl went away from each other, and grew separately to manhood and womanhood, and had other experiences and joys and troubles, that summer stayed with them both as something rare and unequalled, set apart in its delectable perfection, a standard by which, unconsciously, they measured all happiness and all beauty.
The effect of such an inward standard is peculiar. It is apt to give a certain detachment, a touch of isolation, to the person who possesses it. And whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends upon the tone which is given to it by an unknown quantity, the way in which the secret will of the spirit chooses to take and use it.
To Carola Brune it was like the possession of something very precious, which she had found and which she felt she could never lose. She followed the path which was marked out for her as a student of music with tranquil enthusiasm and cheerful industry; she made friends everywhere by her serene and wholesome loveliness; and she did her work at the piano so well that when she went to Paris, at the end of the second year, to continue her studies, she found no difficulty in being received as a pupil by the great Alberti.
"You have a very happy touch, mademoiselle," said the little gray man one day at the end of a lesson. He gave his moustache that fierce upward turn with which he accompanied his rare compliments, and frowned at her benignly while he went on. "I suppose you know that you really play better than you know how to play. What right have you to do that?"
She smiled as she turned around to him, for she had learned to understand his abrupt ways. "No right, dear master," she said, "only perhaps it is because I happen to know a little of the meaning of happiness."
"But you play the sad music too," he continued, "and you let it all come out."
"That is because I am not afraid of sadness," she answered, with her clear brown eyes looking quietly up at him.
His voice grew gentle and he laid his hand on her shoulder. "You have the secret, my child--to know the meaning of happiness, and not to be afraid of sadness, but to pour it all into the music. That is the secret, and it will make you a musician,--it will carry you far, I think,--provided you don't neglect your practising," he added brusquely.
She shook her head and laughed. "I wouldn't dare do that with such a tyrant as you, dear master."
"Next week," he went on, giving a new upward twist to his moustache, "I shall expect you to be letter-perfect with that G major concerto of Beethoven--no more drum-beats, remember. And mind, you are not to think of playing in public, at a concert, until I tell you. It may be a long time,--a year, perhaps,--but I am not going to let them spoil my sweetest rose by forcing her into bloom too soon."
"Despot," she laughed back as he patted her hand at the door, "if you only had a kind heart I should love you--a little!"
On the way home to her tiny apartment in the Rue de Grenelle, where she lived with her aunt and her younger sister, who was a student of drawing, she walked through the Garden of the Luxembourg, thinking about a concert. Not one of those which the master had forbidden to her, but a very simple and foolish and far-away little concert in the old hotel beside the Delaware. And the deep beauty of the forest came back to her, and the long-shining reaches of the river, and the hours of good comradeship with a boy who perfectly shared her joy of living, and the breath of the pine-trees and the sweetness of the wild grape! Did she really smell them now? No, it was only the faint fragrance of the formal beds of hyacinths and tulips and jonquils on the terraces behind the old palace. In the broad walks, children were running and playing. Old men were smoking on the benches in a drowsy peace. In the shady paths under the tall trees, evidently amatory couples were strolling or sitting close together. Carola enjoyed it all--but there was a look in her face, half sad, half smiling, as if she remembered something better.
When she reached home, she laid aside her hat and scarf, and went into the little _salon_. She sat down at the piano and let her fingers run idly over the keys, wandering from fragment to fragment of soft music. Then with a firmer touch she began to play the _humoreske_ of Dvorak, but with a new phrasing, a new expression. It was full of an infinite tenderness, a great longing, a sweetness of distant and remembered joy. It seemed to be singing over again the favourite song of some one who had died--singing very clearly and distinctly so as not to lose a single note, a single movement, of the unforgotten melody of happiness.
The delicate dusk of a May evening gathered slowly in the room. The windows were wide open. In the narrow, curving street below, already half-deserted, a young man who was passing with long aimless steps, as if he felt that he must be going somewhere but did not know exactly where, stopped suddenly when he heard the music above him, and stood listening until its last note trembled into silence. Then he strode away, but in the opposite direction, as if he had changed his mind.
The path that had led Richard Shafer into the Rue de Grenelle and under the windows of Carola Brune without knowing it, was long and roundabout, and in places rather rough. It was one of the by-ways of the unknown quantity.
To him, from the first, the thought of the perfect summer had been like something that he had lost and would never find again. It made him dissatisfied, fickle, and resentful. He went back to his college work with a temper which handicapped him in everything. His lessons seemed like the dullest drudgery to one who felt sure that he had in him the making of a poet or a musician, he did not quite know which--perhaps it was both. The fellowship of the other boys, with its rude and hearty democracy, streaked with funny little social prejudices and ambitions, was a thing of which he could not or would not learn the secret.
He tried running with the literary set. But Shorty Burke, who was the acknowledged college genius, said of him, "Shafer seems to think that he's the only man since Keats, and all the rest of us are duffers."
He tried running with the fast set. But Duke Jones, who could carry more strong liquors than any man in the crowd, said of him, "Dick is no good; when he goes to town with us he's a thousand miles away, and every glass makes him more stuck-up and quarrelsome."
He tried running with the purely social set, the arbiters of college elegance. But it bored him immensely, and he took no pains to conceal it, so they silently cast him out.
The consequence of all this was that he failed to get into any of the upper-class societies, and consoled himself with the belief that he was terribly in love with a girl three years older than himself.
She was part of a liberal education, and she was very kind to him because she liked his really beautiful violin playing. When she told him, at the beginning of his senior year, that she was going to marry one of the assistant professors, he added another illustration to his theory that "all girls are like that," and plunged into a violent course of study for honours and a fellowship. But it was too late. He graduated with a fourth group and a firm conviction that college is a failure.
Then he went to New York, with his violin and with a dozen poems and half-a-dozen short stories in his trunk, resolved to storm the magazines or to get a place in one of the great orchestras--he was not quite sure which of the two short paths to fame it would be.
It was neither. He sold two sonnets and a story which brought him in $47.50. For a few months he saw life in the Great White Way and other paths, and found them very dusty. It would not be true to say that there was no amusement in it. There were times when it was excessively merry. And for the little _Caffe Fiammella_, where the fat, bald-headed proprietor used to introduce him as "_l'illustrissimo violinista Signore Ricardo Sciafero_," and where the mixed audience welcomed his music with delight, he had a sincere affection, in spite of the ineradicable smell of garlic. There was a girl there who was the living image of Raphael's _Fornarina_, until she began to talk.
But in all the life that he thus confusedly saw, there was not a single hour to which he could have said with Faust, "Oh, stay, thou art so fair!" For behind it all, there was that inward, unconscious standard of beauty and happiness--the summer which he could not have forgotten if he would, and would not have forgotten if he could. It did not console or comfort him at all. It only kept him from being contented--which, after all, would have been the worst thing in the world for him at the present stage of his education.
So when the remnant of his patrimony had shrunk to a couple of hundred dollars, he burned his poems and stories, for which he had conceived a strong disgust, and took passage on a small French steam-ship for Bordeaux, to make the "grand tour" of Europe. His violin made him the most popular person on the ship. He had a facile talent and a good memory, which enabled him to play almost any kind of music; and when he could not remember he could improvise. The second officer, a short, stout man, with a pointed black beard, and a secret passion for the fine arts, conceived a great fancy for the young American. When they reached Bordeaux he took Richard to his favourite theatre and introduced him to the leader of the orchestra, a person with a crinkly yellow face and a soft heart, whose name was Camembert, for which reason his intimates called him "the Cheese."
The theatre was about to close for the summer, but four of the musicians had made a plan for a concert tour in various small cities and watering-places. When M. Camembert had heard Richard play after a joyous supper in the famous restaurant of the _Chapon Fin_, he embraced him with effusion and invited him to join the company.
Nothing could have suited the young man's humour better. They wandered from one city-in-etching to another,--Angouleme, Poitiers, Tours, Rennes, Caen,--grey and crumbly towns, white and trim towns. They visited the rocky resorts of Brittany and the sandy resorts of Normandy. They played in a little theatre, or in a casino, or in the ballroom of a hotel. Their fortunes varied, but in the main they were prosperous. The announcements of "The Renowned Camembert Quintette, with a celebrated American Soloist" attracted an amused curiosity. And the music was good, for the old man was a real master, and the practice was strenuous and persistent. It was hard work, but it was also good fun, and the great thing for Richard was that he learned more of the human side of music and of the philosophy of life than he could have done in ten years of insulated study.
A vein of luck which they struck in Rouen and Dieppe emboldened them to turn eastward, with comfortably full pockets, and try the Dauphine and High Savoy. At Grenoble they had a frost and a heavy loss, but at the sleepy Baths of Uriage they made a week of good harvest with afternoon recitals. Chambrey did well for them, and Annecy even better, so that, in spite of the indifference of Aix, they reached Geneva in funds. Then they played their way around the Lake of Geneva, and up into the Rhone Valley, and so over to the Italian lakes with the autumn.
Here, at Pallanza, in a garden overhanging the Lago Maggiore where the Borromean Isles sleep in their swan-like beauty on the blue-green waves, they faced the question of turning homeward or going on to the south for a winter tour. As they sat around the little iron table, which held a savoury Spanish omelette and a corpulent straw-covered flask of Chianti, their spirit was cheerful and their courage high.
"Why not?" asked the valiant Camembert. "Is it that the Italians are more difficult to conquer than the French? Napoleon did it--my faith, yes. Forward to the conquest of Italy!"
Richard was immensely amused. He did not really care which way they went, as long as they went somewhere. His heart was full of a vague hunger for home,--deep, wild, sheltering woods, friendly hills, companionable and never-failing little rivers,--he longed to be there. But he knew that was impossible. So why not Italy? It would certainly be an adventure.
And so it was. But the conquest was largely a matter of imagination. They saw the flowing green streets of Venice, the ruddy towers of Bologna, the grey walls and dark dome of Florence. They saw the fountains flash in Rome and the red fire run down the long slope of Vesuvius at Naples. They crossed over to Sicily and saw ivory Palermo in her golden shell and Taormina sitting high upon the benches of her amphitheatre. In that sense they conquered and possessed Italy, as any one who has eyes and a heart may do.
But Italy did not pay much tribute to their music. They had to travel third-class and sleep in the poorest inns, cultivating a taste for macaroni and dark bread with pallid butter. Still, they were merry enough until they reached Genoa, and perceived that there was no reasonable prospect of their being able to make anything at all in the over-civilised and over-entertained towns of the Riviera.
"We must retreat, my children," said the Cheese, crinkling his face over the sour wine in a musty _trattoria_, "but let us retreat in good order and while we have the means to do so. How much money in bank?"
They counted their resources and found them hardly enough to pay the railway fare to Bordeaux. Richard insisted upon putting the remnant of his private fortune into the common fund, but the others would not have it.
"No," they said, "you shall not give us money. But you may settle all the restaurant bills between here and Bordeaux."
"But I am not going to Bordeaux," said he; "I am going to Paris."
At this there was voluble protest and discussion. Richard had no arguments, but his determination was as fixed as it was unreasonable. Finally he forced them to take fifty francs as a loan. At Lyons the quintette dissolved with emotional embraces, the four going westward, and he northward in the night train.
When he walked out into the stony desert in front of the _Gare de Lyon_ in the grey chill of a March morning, he had just two hundred and twenty francs in his pocket, and he felt that he was really adrift in the world. There was nothing for him to hold fast to, no one who had need of him.
He found a garret room in the _Rue Cherche Midi_, and looked up two friends of his who were studying at the _Beaux Arts_. They introduced him to a newspaper correspondent who threw a bit of work in his way--a fortnightly letter to an Arkansas paper on French fashions and society, at five dollars _per_ letter. This did not go very far, but it retarded the melting away of his estate while he finished two articles,--one on "The Cradle of the French Revolution," the Chateau of Vezille, which he had visited during his week at the Baths of Uriage,--the other on "An Eruption of Vesuvius," which had opportunely occurred while he was in Naples. For the first time in his life he wrote directly, simply, and naturally, describing what he had really seen, and expressing what he had really felt and imagined. He sent the articles to two American magazines and relapsed into a state of doubt and despair.
He took what Paris has to give a young man in the way of cheap diversion, but he found it as dusty as New York. The long rambles through the older parts of the city, the solitary excursions into the forests of the environs, really satisfied and refreshed him more. Meantime the feeling that he was adrift grew upon him and his reserve of capital disappeared. The wolf scratched at the door of his garret and short rations were necessary. In the second week of May a remittance arrived from the Arkansas paper for his last two letters, with the statement that they were not "snappy" enough to suit the taste of the community, and that the correspondence had better be discontinued.
So it was that he strode through the Rue de Grenelle in the May twilight, with fifty francs in his pocket, resolved to spend it all that night--and then? Well, it was not very clear in his mind, but certainly he was not going back to his miserable lodging,--and surely there must be some way of making an end of it all for a man who felt that he was adrift and very tired,--there was no one to care much if he dropped out, and he could see no attractive reason for going on.
It was then that he heard the notes of the _humoreske_ coming down into the deserted street and stood still to listen. The memories of the perfect summer floated around him again. Something in the music seemed to call to him, to plead with him, to try to console and cheer him with a wonderful, playful tenderness like the pure wordless sympathy of a child.
"If she had only known how to play it like that," he said to himself; "if she had only cared enough--she would have called me back. But here is a woman who does know--and perhaps even for me--well, I will fight a little longer."
So he turned back to his lonely lodging, guided and impelled by something that he could not quite understand, and did not even try to explain. Surely it would be absurd to think that the chance hearing of a bit of music could have an influence on a man's life.
That turn in the Rue de Grenelle seemed like the turn in the tide of his fortunes. The morning mail brought an order for five hundred francs, with a letter from the editor of the _Epoch Magazine_, saying that he liked the article on "The Cradle of the Revolution" very much, and that he wished the author would do three papers for him on the "Old Prisons of Paris," A week later came a letter from the editor of _The World's Wonders_, saying that if the author of the excellent article on Vesuvius would procure photographic illustrations of it at their expense, they would be glad to pay a hundred dollars for it, and asking if he felt like doing two or three articles on "The Little Chateaux of France" during the summer.
Richard felt, not so much that he was "himself again," but that he was a new man. The touch of praise for his work refreshed him more than wine. His friends, the _Beaux Arts_ men and the newspaper correspondent, noticed the change in him, and accused him of being in love.
"Not much," he laughed, "but I am at work--two articles accepted and commissions for five more."
They joyfully gave him all the hints and helps they could, and told him where to find the books that he needed. He settled down to his reading bravely and made copious notes for his articles. On Sundays he went with his three friends to spend the day at some resort in the suburbs. He played the violin only on these country excursions and at night in his room when his eyes were tired. The rest of the time he toiled terribly. His boyish dream that the world lay at his feet was ended, but instead he felt that he had the power to do something fairly good, if he worked hard enough. And then, perhaps some day he might have the good luck to meet that girl whose music he had heard the evening when the tide turned.
He wondered what she looked like. He had passed the house often, hoping that he might see her or hear her play again. But nothing of that kind happened. The windows on the second floor were always closed. A discreet inquiry at the glass door of the _concierge_ drew out only the information that Madame Farr, the American lady, had gone away with her two nieces for their vacation. The name conveyed nothing to him. It would have been absurd to try to follow such a cobweb clue, and give up his work to chase after an unknown American lady and her invisible nieces.
Yet more and more the remembrance of that strain of music lingered with him, strangely penetrating and significant. He played it often on the violin. It came to be the symbol of that summer, not as it had ended in disappointment and deception, but as it had flowed for so many perfect weeks in pure joy and gaiety of heart. He thought of the unseen player very kindly. He tried unconsciously to make a picture of her in his mind--the colour of her hair, her eyes, the shape of her face. He saw her running through the woods, or sitting between the knees of the old hemlock beside the river. And always her hair was blond and soft and loosely curling, her eyes of a brown so bright and clear that it seemed to glow with hidden gold, and her face a full oval, tinted like the petal of a great magnolia blossom.
"I am a poor fool," he would say to himself after these reveries; "why should she have been in the least like Carola? More probably she had freckles and red hair--but she was a girl who understood."
When August came, Richard's friends went off for a holiday, but he stuck to his work. The heat of Paris was faint and smothering. On the first Sunday he went out to St. Germain, loveliest of all the Parisian suburbs, and wandered all day in the green and mossy forest. He was lonely and depressed. Not even the cool verdure of the woods, nor the splendour of the view from the terrace looking out over the curves of the Seine, and the green rolling hills, and the lines of light that led to the city beginning to glow with a pale yellow radiance in the dusk, could console him. The merry, companionable stir of life around him made him feel more solitary. He turned away from the gay verandah of the _Pavillion Henry IV_, which was full of dining-parties, and went back into the town to seek the quieter garden of the _Pavillion Louis XIV_. There was a big linden-tree there and a certain table at one side of it where he had dined before. He would go there now for his solitary repast.
But the garden also was well-patronized that night. The white-aproned waiters were running to and fro; the stout landlady in black silk and a lace cap was moving among her guests with beaming face; a soft babble of talk and laughter rose from every walk and corner. When Richard came to his chosen table he found it occupied by three ladies. Disappointed, he was turning to look for another place, when the voice of Carola Brune called him.
When a thing like that happens, a man does not know exactly where he is, or how he feels. The largeness and the smallness of the world amaze him; the mystery of life bewilders him; he is confused in the presence of the unknown quantity. How he behaves, what he says or does, depends entirely upon instincts beyond his control.
Richard would have been puzzled to give an account of his introduction to Mrs. Farr, and of his recognition of the little sister, now grown to young womanhood. The conversation at the table where he dined with the family party was very vague in his mind. He knew that he was telling them about his adventures, as if they were scenes in a comedy, and that he said a little about the turn of good luck that had come to him just in time. He knew that Carola was talking of her music-lessons, and of her dear master and of his sudden promise that she should have a concert in the early winter. It was all very jolly and friendly, but it did not seem quite real to him until he asked her a question.
"Where did you live in Paris last May?"
"In the Rue de Grenelle," she answered; "of course you know that old street."
He nodded and fell into silence, letting his cigarette go out, as he sipped his coffee.
"Well," he said, "this has been delightful--it was great luck to meet you. But I suppose I should be going. The best of friends must part."
"But no," said Carola, flushing faintly, "what reason is there for that stupid proverb now? My aunt and sister always take a little walk on the terrace after dinner to see the lights. But you must let me show you what pretty rooms we have found here for our vacation. I have to be near the master and to keep up my practising, you know. I have a heavenly piano. Don't you want to hear whether I have improved in my playing?"
"I do," he answered, "indeed that is just what I want."
When they came into the little sitting-room above the garden, the windows were wide and the room was cool and dim and fragrant. Carola moved about in the shadow, lighting the candles on the mantle-piece and the tall lamp beside the piano.
"Now," she said, "let us talk a little."
He hesitated a moment, and answered: "I would rather hear you play."
"You are as decided and dictatorial as ever," she laughed; "but this time you shall have your way. What will you have--a bit of Chopin or Grieg? Here is plenty of music to choose from."
"No," he said, "something that you know by heart. The piece that you played in the Rue de Grenelle in the twilight on May the seventh."
She looked at him with startled, wondering eyes, as if about to ask the explanation of such a curious request. Then her eyes dropped, and her colour rose, and she sat down at the piano.
The _humoreske_ came from her lightly moving hands as it had come on that spring evening,--quaint, tender, consoling, caressing,--but now with a new accent of joy in it, a quicker, almost exulting movement in the dancing passages. Richard listened, standing close behind her, watching the play of her firm, rounded fingers, breathing the fragrance that rose from her hair and her white neck.
When she turned on the stool he was kneeling beside her, and his hands were stretched out to take hers.
"Let me tell you," he exclaimed, "let me tell you what a fool I have been."
So she sat very still while he told her of his failure at college, and how he had gone wild afterward, and how bitter he had been, and how lonely. The adventure with the travelling musicians had led to nothing, and his assurance of winning fame with his violin or with his pen had come to nothing. He was at the edge of the big darkness on that May evening, when she had brought the turn of the tide without knowing it. And even now things were not much better, but still he had a fighting chance to make himself amount to something. He could write, and he would work at it as a man must work at his calling. He could play the violin, and he would make it his avocation and refreshment. She was going on, he knew, to win a great success. He would rejoice in it--he loved her with all his heart--she must know that--but he had nothing to offer her. He was too poor to ask her for anything now.
Her hands trembled as he bent to kiss them. In her shining eyes there was a strange, sweet, deep smile. She leaned over him, and he felt the warmth of her breath on his forehead as she whispered: "Richard, couldn't you even ask me for the _humoreske_?"