"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.
HOW WE WENT OUT OF THE GARDEN
The last word had hardly been uttered when the Youngster, who had been fidgeting, leaped to his feet.
"Hark!" he cried.
We all listened.
"Cannon," he yelled, and rushed out to the big gate, which he tore open, and dashed into the road.
There was no doubt of it. Off to the north we could all hear the dull far-off booming of artillery.
We followed into the garden.
The Youngster was in the middle of the road. As we joined him he bent toward the ground, as if, Indian-like, he could hear better. "Hush," he said in a whisper, as we all began to talk. "Hush! I hear horses."
There was a dead silence, and in it, we could hear the pounding of horses' hoofs in the valley.
"Better come in out of the rain," said the Doctor, and we obeyed. Once inside the gate the Doctor said, "Well, I reckon it is to-morrow at the latest for us. The truth of the matter is: I kept something from you this evening. The village was drummed out last night. As this road is being kept clear, no one passed here, and as we were ready to start at a moment's notice, I made up my mind to have one more evening. However, we've time enough. They can't advance to-night. Too wet. No moon. Come on into the house."
He closed and locked the big gate, but before we reached the house, there was a rush of horsemen in the road—then a halt—the Youngster opened the gate before it was called for. Two mounted men in Khaki rode in, stopped short at the sight of the group, saluted.
"Your house?" asked one, as he slid from his saddle and leaned against his horse.
"Mine," said the Doctor, stepping forward.
"You are not proposing to stay here?"
"No, we are leaving in the morning."
"Got any conveyances?"
"Two touring cars."
"Good. You don't mind my proposing that you go before daylight, do you?"
"Not a bit," replied the Doctor, "if it is necessary."
"That's for you to decide," said the other officer. "We are going to set up a battery in this garden. Awfully sorry, you know, but it can't be helped."
The Youngster, who had remained at the gate, came back, and whispered in my ear, "They are coming. It's the English still retreating. By Jove, it looks as if they would get to Paris!"
"How many are there of you?" asked the senior officer.
"Ten," replied the Doctor.
"Eleven," corrected the Divorcee. "I shall take Angele and the baby." And she started on a run for the garage.
"Perhaps," said the Doctor, looking through the open gate, where the weary soldiers were beginning to straggle by, "perhaps it will not be necessary for all of us to go." And he went close to the officers, and drew his papers from his pocket. There was a hurried whispered conversation, in which the Critic and the Journalist joined. When it was over, the Doctor said, "I understand," and returned to our group.
"Well, good friends," he said, "it really is farewell to the garden! The Critic and I are going to stay a bit. We are needed. The Youngster will drive one car, and the Lawyer the other. Get ready to start by three,—that will be just before daylight—and get into the house, all of you. You are in the way here!"
We had less than three hours to get together necessary articles and all the time there was the steady marching of feet in the road, where what servants we had were standing with water and such small help as could be offered a tired army, and bringing in for first aid such of the exhausted men as could be braced up.
Long before we were ready, we heard the rumble of the artillery and the low commands of the officers. In spite of ourselves, we looked out to see the gray things being driven into the gate, and down toward the hillside.
"Oh," groaned the Divorcee, "right over the flower beds!"
"Bother it all, don't look out," shouted the Youngster from his room. "That's just like a woman! Be a sport!" And he dashed down the hall. We had just time to see that he had "put that uniform on." He was going into the big game, and he was dressed for the part. In a certain sense, all the men were, when we at last, bags in hand, gathered in the dining room, so we were not surprised to find the Nurse in her hospital rig, with a white cap covering her hair, and the red cross on her arm. We knew at once that she was remaining behind with the Doctor and the Critic.
The cars were at the door. Angele, with her baby in her arms, was sitting in one.
"Come on," said the Doctor, "the quicker you are out of this the better."
And, almost without a word, like soldiers under orders, we were packed into the two cars. The Youngster, the Lawyer, and the two officers stood together with their heads bent over a map.
"Better take a side road," said the officer, "until you get near to Meaux, then take the route de Senlis. It will lead you right over the hill into the Meaux, then you will find the route nationale free. Cross the Marne there, and on into Paris by the forest of Vincennes."
"Let the Lawyer lead," said the Doctor, "and be prudent, Youngster. You know where a letter will reach me. See that the girls get off safely!" He shook hands all round. The cars shot out of the gate, tooted for a passage through the straggling line of tired men in Khaki, took the first turn to get out of the way, and shot down the hill to the river.
"Well," said the Youngster, who was driving our car, with the Violinist beside him, "I think we behaved fine, and, by Jove, how I hate to go just now! But I have to join day after to-morrow, and I suppose it will be a long time before I see anything as exciting as this. Bother it. Well, you were amazed at the calmness only yesterday!"
No one replied. We were all busy with our own thoughts, and with "playing the game." In silence we crossed the first bridge. Day was just breaking as we mounted the hill on the other side. Suddenly the Youngster put on the brake.
"Here," he said to the Violinist, "take the wheel a moment. I must look back."
Just as he spoke there was a tremendous explosion.
"Bomb," he cried, as he got out his glass, and, standing on the running board, looked back. "They've got it," he yelled. "Look!"
We all piled out of the car, and ran to the edge of the hill. From there we could look back and just see the dear old house standing on the opposite height in its walled garden.
There was another explosion, and a puff of smoke seemed to rise right out of the middle of the garden, where the old tree stood, under which we had dined so many evenings.
For a few minutes we stood in silence.
It was the gentle voice of the Violinist that called us back. "Better get on," he said. "We can do nothing now but obey orders," and quietly we crawled back and the car started on.
We did not speak again until we ran up to the gates of Paris, and stopped to have our papers examined for the last time. Then I said, with a laugh: "And only think! I did not tell my story at all!"
"That's so," said the Youngster. "What a shame. Never mind, dear, you can tell the whole story!"—And I have.