Maurice Guest/Part I/Chapter X
After parting from the rest, Dove and the two Cayhills continued their way in silence: they were in the shadow thrown by the steep vaulting of the THOMASKIRCHE, before a word was exchanged between them. Johanna had several times glanced inquiringly at her sister, but Ephie had turned away her head, so that only the outline of her cheek was visible, and as Dove had done exactly the same, Johanna could only conclude that the two had fallen out. It was something novel for her to be obliged to talk when Ephie was present, but it was impossible for them to walk the whole way home as mum as this, especially as Dove had already heaved more than one deep sigh.
So, as they turned into the PROMENADE, Johanna said with a jerk, and with an aggressiveness that she could not subdue: “Well, that is the first and the last time anyone shall persuade me to go to a so-called opera by Wagner.”
“Is not that just a little rash?” asked Dove. He smiled, unruffled, with a suggestion of patronage; but there was also a preoccupation in his manner, which showed that he was thinking of other things.
“You call that music,” said Johanna, although he had done nothing of the kind. “I call it noise. I am not musical myself, thank goodness, but at least I know a tune when I hear one.”
“If my opinion had been asked, I should certainly have suggested something lighter—LOHENGRIN OR TANNHAUSER, for instance,” said Dove.
“You would have done us a favour if you had,” replied Johanna; and she meant what she said, in more ways than one. She had been at a loss to account for Ephie’s sudden longing to hear DIE WALKURE, and had gone to the theatre against her will, simply because she never thwarted Ephie if she could avoid it. Now, after she had heard the opera, she felt aggrieved with Dove as well; as far as she had been able to gather from his vague explanations, from the bawling of the singers, and from subsequent events, the first act treated of relations so infamous that, by common consent, they are considered non-existent; and Johanna was of the opinion that, instead of being so ready to take tickets for them, Dove might have let drop a hint of the nature of the piece Ephie wished to see.
After this last remark of Johanna’s there was another lengthy pause. Then Dove, looking fondly at what he could see of Ephie’s cheek, said: “I am afraid Miss Ephie has not enjoyed it either; she is so quiet—so unlike herself.”
Ephie, who had been staring into the darkness, bit her lip: he was at it again. After the unfriendly way in which Maurice Guest had deserted her, and forced her into Dove’s company, Dove had worried her right down the GRIMMAISCHESTRASSE, to know what the matter was, and how he had offended her. She felt exasperated with every one, and if he began his worryings again, would have to vent her irritation somehow.
“Ephie has only herself to blame if she didn’t enjoy it; she was bent on going,” said Johanna, in the mildly didactic manner she invariably used towards her sister. “But I think she is only tired—or a little cross.”
“Oh, that is not likely,” Dove hastened to interpose.
“I am not cross, Joan,” said Ephie angrily. “And if it was my fault you had to come—I’ve enjoyed myself very much, and I shall go again, as often as I like. But I won’t be teased—I won’t indeed!”
This was the sharpest answer Johanna had ever received from Ephie. She looked at her in dismay, but made no response, for of nothing was Johanna more afraid than of losing the goodwill Ephie bore her. Mentally she put her sister’s pettishness down to the noise and heat of the theatre, and it was an additional reason for bearing Wagner and his music a grudge. Dove also made no further effort to converse connectedly, but his silence was of a conciliatory kind, and, as they advanced along the PROMENADE, he could not deny himself the pleasure of drawing the pretty, perverse child’s attention to the crossings, the ruts in the road, the best bits of pavement, with a: “Walk you here, Miss Ephie,” “Take care,” “Allow me,” himself meanwhile dancing from one side of the footpath to the other, until the young girl was almost distracted.
“I can see for myself, thank you. I have eyes in my head as well as anyone else,” she exclaimed at length; and to Johanna’s amazed: “Ephie!” she retorted: “Yes, Joan, you think no one has a right to be rude but yourself.”
Johanna was more hurt by these words than she would have confessed. She had hitherto believed that Ephie—affectionate, lazy little Ephie—accepted her individual peculiarities as an integral part of her nature: it had not occurred to her that Ephie might be standing aloof and considering her objectively—let alone mentally using such an unkind word as rudeness of her. But Ephie’s fit of ill-temper, for such it undoubtedly was, made Johanna see things differently; it hinted at unsuspected, cold scrutinies in the past, and implied a somewhat laming care of one’s words in the days to come, which would render it difficult ever again to be one’s perfectly natural self.
Had Johanna not been so occupied with her own feelings, she would have heard the near tears in Ephie’s voice; it was with the utmost difficulty that the girl kept them back, and at the house-door, she had vanished up the stairs long before Dove had finished saying good-night. In the corridor, she hesitated whether or no, according to custom, she should go to her mother’s room. Then she put a brave face on it, and opened the door.
“Here we are, mummy. Good night. I hope the evening wasn’t too long.”
Long?—on the contrary the hours had flown. Mrs. Cayhill, left to herself, had all the comfortable sensations of a tippler in the company of his bottle. She could forge ahead, undeterred by any sense of duty; she had not to interrupt herself to laugh at Ephie’s wit, nor was she troubled by Johanna’s cold eye—that eye which told more plainly than words, how her elder daughter regarded her self-indulgence. Propped up in bed on two pillows, she now laid down her book, and put out her hand to draw Ephie to her.
“Did you enjoy it, darling? Were you amused? But you will tell me all about it in the morning.”
“Yes, mother, in the morning. I am a little tired—but it was very sweet,” said Ephie bravely. “Good night.”
Mrs. Cayhill kissed her, and nodded in perfect contentment at the pretty little figure before her. Ephie was free to go. And at last she was in her own room—at last!
She hastily locked both doors, one leading to the passage and one to her sister’s room. A moment later, Johanna was at the latter, trying to open it.
“Ephie! What is the matter? Why have you locked the door? Open it at once, I insist upon it,” she cried anxiously, and as loudly as she dared, for fear of disturbing the other inmates of the house.
But Ephie begged hard not to be bothered; she had a bad headache, and only wanted to be quiet.
“Let me give you a powder,” urged her sister. “You are so excited—I am sure you are not well;” and when this, too, was refused: “You had nothing but some tea, child—you must be hungry. And they have left our supper on the table.”
No, she was not hungry, didn’t want any supper, and was very sleepy.
“Well, at least unlock your door,” begged Johanna, with visions of the dark practices which Ephie, the soul of candour, might be contemplating on the other side. “I will not come in, I promise you,” she added.
“Oh, all right,” said Ephie crossly. But as soon as she heard that Johanna had gone, she returned to the middle of the room without touching the door; and after standing undecided for a moment, as if not quite sure what was coming next, she sat down on a chair at the foot of the bed, and suddenly began to cry. The tears had been in waiting for so long that they flowed without effort, abundantly, rolling one over another down her cheeks; but she was careful not to make a sound; for, even when sobbing bitterly, she did not forget that at any moment Johanna might enter the adjoining room and overhear her. And then, what a fuss there would be! For Ephie was one of those fortunate people who always get what they want, and but rarely have occasion to cry. All her desires had moved low, near earth, and been easily fulfilled. Did she break her prettiest doll, a still prettier was forthcoming; did anything happen to cross wish or scheme of hers, half a dozen brains were at work to think out a compensation.
But now she wept in earnest, behind closed doors, for she had received an injury which no one could make good. And the more she thought of it, the more copiously her tears flowed. The evening had been one long tragedy of disappointment: her fevered anticipation beforehand, her early throbs of excitement in the theatre, her growing consternation as the evening advanced, her mortification at being slighted—a sensation which she experienced for the first time. Again and again she asked herself what she had done to be treated in this way. What had happened to change him?
She was sitting upright on her chair, letting the tears stream unchecked; her two hands lay upturned on her knee; in one of them was a diminutive lace handkerchief, rolled to a ball, with which now and then she dabbed away the hottest tears. The windows of the room were still open, the blinds undrawn, and the street-lamps threw a flickering mesh of light on the wall. In the glass that hung over the washstand, she saw her dim reflection: following an impulse, she dried her eyes, and, with trembling fingers, lighted two candles, one on each side of the mirror. By this uncertain light, she leant forward with both hands on the stand, and peered at herself with a new curiosity.
She was still just as she had come out of the theatre: a many-coloured silk scarf was twisted round her head, and the brilliant, dangling fringes, and the stray tendrils of hair that escaped, made a frame for the rounded oval of her face. And then her skin was so fine, her eyes were so bright, the straight lashes so black and so long!—she put her head back, looked at herself through half-closed lids, turned her face this way and that, even smiling, wet though her cheeks were, in order that she might see the even line of teeth, with their slightly notched edges. The smile was still on her lips when the tears welled up again, ran over, trickled down and dropped with a splash, she watching them, until a big, unexpected sob rose in her throat, and almost choked her. Yes, she was pretty—oh, very, very pretty! But it made what had happened all the harder to understand. How had he had the heart to treat her so cruelly?
She knelt down by the open window, and laid her head on the sill. The moon, a mere sharp line of silver, hung fine and slender, like a polished scimitar, above the dark mass of houses opposite. Turning her hot face up to it, she saw that it was new, and instantly felt a throb of relief that she had not caught her first glimpse of it through glass. She bowed her head to it, quickly, nine times running, and sent up a prayer to the deity of fortune that had its home there. Good luck!—the fulfilment of one’s wish! She wished in haste, with tight-closed eyes—and who knew but what, the very next day, her wish might come true! Tired with crying, above all, tired of the grief itself, she began more and more to let her thoughts stray to the morrow. And having once yielded to the allurements of hope, she even endeavoured to make the best of the past evening, telling herself that she had not been alone for a single instant; he had really had no chance of speaking to her. In the next breath, of course, she reminded herself that he might easily have made a chance, had he wished; and a healthier feeling of resentment stole over her. Rising from her cramped position, she shut the window. She resolved to show him that she was not a person who could be treated in this off-hand fashion; he should see that she was not to be trifled with.
But she played with her unhappiness a little longer, and even had an idea of throwing herself on the bed without undressing. She was very sleepy, though, and the desire to be between the cool, soft sheets was too strong to be withstood. She slipped out of her clothes, leaving them just where they fell on the floor, like round pools; and before she had finished plaiting her hair, she was stifling a hearty yawn. But in bed, when the light was out, she lay and stared before her.
“I am very, very unhappy. I shall not sleep a wink,” she said to herself, and sighed at the prospect of the night-watch.
But before five minutes had passed her closed hand relaxed, and lay open and innocent on the coverlet; her breath came regularly—she was fast asleep. The moon was visible for a time in the setting of the unshuttered window; and when she wakened next day, toward nine o’clock, the full morning sun was playing on the bed.
For several months prior to this, Ephie had worshipped Schilsky at a distance. The very first time she saw him play, he had made a profound impression on her: he looked so earnest and melancholy, so supremely indifferent to every one about him, as he stood with his head bent to his violin. Then, too, he had beautiful hands; and she did not know which she admired more, his auburn hair with the big hat set so jauntily on it, or the thrillingly impertinent way he had of staring at you—through half-closed eyes, with his head well back—in a manner at once daring and irresistible.
Having come through a period of low spirits, caused by an acute consciousness of her own littleness and inferiority, Ephie so far recovered her self-confidence that she was able to look at her divinity when she met him; and soon after this, she made the intoxicating discovery that not only did he return her look, but that he also took notice of her, and deliberately singled her out with his gaze. And the belief was pardonable on Ephie’s part, for Schilsky made it a point of honour to stare any pretty girl into confusion; besides which, he had a habit of falling into sheep-like reveries, in which he saw no more of what or whom he looked at, than do the glassy eyes of the blind. More than once, Ephie had blushed and writhed in blissful torture under these stonily staring eyes.
From this to persuading herself that her feelings were returned was only a step. Events and details, lighter than puff-balls, were to her links of iron, which formed a wonderful chain of evidence. She went about nursing the idea that Schilsky desired an introduction as much as she did; that he was suffering from a romantic and melancholy attachment, which forbade him attempting to approach her.
At this date, she became an adept at inventing excuses to go to the Conservatorium when she thought he was likely to be there; and, suddenly grown rebellious, she shook off Johanna’s protectorship, which until now had weighed lightly on her. She grew fastidious about her dress, studied before the glass which colours suited her best, and the effect of a particular bow or ribbon; while on the days she had her violin-lessons, she developed a coquetry which made nothing seem good enough to wear, and was the despair of Johanna. When Schilsky played at an ABENDUNTERHALTUNG, she sat in the front row of seats, and made her hands ache with applauding. Afterwards she lay wakeful, with hot cheeks, and dreamt extravagant dreams of sending him great baskets and bouquets of flowers, with coloured streamers to them, such as the singers in the opera received on a gala night. And though no name was given, he would know from whom they came. But on the only occasion she tried to carry out the scheme, and ventured inside a florist’s shop, her scant command of German, and the excessive circumstantiality of the matter, made her feel so uncomfortable that she had fled precipitately, leaving the shopman staring after her in surprise.
Things were at this pass when, one day late in May, Ephie went as usual to take her lesson. It was two o’clock on a cloudless afternoon, and so warm that the budding lilac in squares and gardens began to give out fragrance. In the whitewashed, many-windowed corridors of the Conservatorium, the light was harsh and shadowless; it jarred on one, wounded the nerves. So at least thought Schilsky, who was hanging about the top storey of the building, in extreme ill-humour. He had been forced to make an appointment with a man to whom he owed money; the latter had not yet appeared, and Schilsky lounged and swore, with his two hands deep in his pockets, and his sulkiest expression. But gradually, he found himself listening to the discordant tones of a violin—at first unconsciously, as we listen when our thoughts are elsewhere engaged, then more and more intently. In one of the junior masters’ rooms, some one had begun to play scales in the third position, uncertainly, with shrill feebleness, seeking out each note, only to produce it falsely. As this scraping worked on him, Schilsky could not refrain from rubbing his teeth together, and screwing up his face as though he had toothache; now that the miserable little tones had successfully penetrated his ear, they hit him like so many blows.
“Damn him for a fool!” he said savagely to himself, and found an outlet for his irritation in repeating these words aloud. Then, however, as an ETUDE was commenced, with an impotence that struck him as purely vicious, he could endure the torment no longer. He had seen in the BUREAU the particular master, and knew that the latter had not yet come upstairs. Going to the room from which the sounds issued, he stealthily opened the door.
A girl was standing with her back to him, and was so engrossed in playing that she did not hear him enter. On seeing this, he proposed to himself the schoolboy pleasure of creeping up behind her and giving her a well-deserved fright. He did so, with such effect that, had he not caught it, her violin would have fallen to the floor.
He took both her wrists in his, held them firm, and, from his superior height—he was head and shoulders taller than Ephie —looked down on the miscreant. He recognised her now as a pretty little American whom he had noticed from time to time about the building; but—but . . . well, that she was as astoundingly pretty as this, he had had no notion. His eyes strayed over her face, picking out all its beauties, and he felt himself growing as soft as butter. Besides, she had crimsoned down to her bare, dimpled neck; her head drooped; her long lashes covered her eyes, and a tremulous smile touched the corners of her mouth, which seemed uncertain whether to laugh or to cry—the short, upper-lip trembled. He felt from her wrists, and saw from the uneasy movement of her breast, how wildly her heart was beating—it was as if one held a bird in one’s hand. His ferocity died away; none of the hard words he had had ready crossed his lips; all he said, and in his gentlest voice, was: “Have I frightened you?” He was desperately curious to know the colour of her eyes, and, as she neither answered him nor looked up, but only grew more and more confused, he let one of her hands fall, and taking her by the chin, turned her face up to his. She was forced to look at him for a moment. Upon which, he stooped and kissed her on the mouth, three times, with a pause between each kiss. Then, at a noise in the corridor, he swung hastily from the room, and was just in time to avoid the master, against whom he brushed up in going out of the door.
Herr Becker looked suspiciously at his favourite pupil’s tell-tale face and air of extreme confusion; and, throughout the lesson, his manner to her was so cold and short that Ephie played worse than ever before. After sticking fast in the middle of a passage, she stopped altogether, and begged to be allowed to go home. When she had gone, and some one else was playing, Herr Becker stood at the window and shook his head: round this innocent baby face he had woven several pretty fancies.
Meanwhile Ephie flew rather than walked home, and having reached her room unseen, flung herself on the bed, and buried her burning cheeks in the white coolness of the pillows. Johanna, finding her thus, a short time after, was alarmed, put questions of various kinds, felt sure the sun had been too hot for her, and finally stood over the bed, holding her unfailing remedy, a soothing powder for the nerves.
“Oh, do for goodness’ sake, leave me alone, Joan,” said Ephie. “I don’t want your powders. I am all right. Just let me be.”
She drank the mixture, however, and catching sight of Johanna’s anxious face, and aware that she had been cross, she threw her arms round her sister, hugged her, and called her a “dear old darling Joan.” But there was something in the stormy tenderness of the embrace, in the flushed cheeks and glittering eyes that made Johanna even more uneasy. She insisted upon Ephie lying still and trying to sleep; and, after taking off her shoes for her, and noiselessly drawing down the blinds, she went on tiptoe out of the room.
Ephie burrowed more deeply in her pillow, and putting both hands to her cars, to shut out the world, went over the details of what had happened. It was like a fairy-story. She walked lazily down the sunny corridor, entered the class-room, and took off her hat, which Herr Becker hung up for her, after having playfully examined it. She had just taken her violin from its case, when he remembered something he had to do in the BUREAU, and went out of the room, bidding her practise her scales during his absence; she heard again and smiled at the funny accent with which he said: “Just a moment.” She saw the bare walls of the room, the dust that lay white on the lid on the piano, was conscious of the difficulties of C sharp minor. She even knew the very note at which HE had been beside her—without a word of warning, as suddenly as though he had sprung from the earth. She heard the cry she had given, and felt his hands—the hands she had so often admired—clasp her wrists. He was so close to her that she felt his breath, and knew the exact shape of the diamond ring he wore on his little finger. She felt, too, rather than saw the audacious admiration of his eyes; and his voice was not the less caressing because a little thick. And then—then—she burrowed more firmly, held her ears more tightly to, laughed a happy, gurgling laugh that almost choked her: never, as long as she lived, would she forget the feel of his moustache as it scratched her lips!
When she rose and looked at herself in the glass, it seemed extraordinary that there should be no outward difference in her; and for several days she did not lose this sensation of being mysteriously changed. She was quieter than usual, and her movements were a little languid, but a kind of subdued radiance peeped through and shone in her eyes. She waited confidently for something to happen: she did not herself know what it would be, but, after the miracle that had occurred, it was beyond belief that things could jog on in their old familiar course; and so she waited and expected—at every letter the postman brought, each time the door-bell rang, whenever she went into the street.
But after a week had dragged itself to an end, and she had not even seen Schilsky again, she grew restless and unsure; and sometimes at night, when Johanna thought she was asleep, she would stand at her window, and, with a very different face from that which she wore by day, put countless questions to herself, all of which began with why and how. And Johanna was again beset by the fear that Ephie was sickening for an illness, for the child would pass from bursts of rather forced gaiety to fits of real fretfulness, or sink into brown studies, from which she wakened with a start. But if, on some such occasion, Johanna said to her: “Where ARE your thoughts, Ephie?” she would only laugh, and answer, with a hug: “Wool-gathering, you dear old bumble-bee!”
From the lesson following the eventful one, Ephie played truant, on the ground of headache, partly because her fancy pictured him lying in wait like an ogre to eat her up, and partly from a poor little foolish fear lest he should think her too easily won. Now, however, she blamed herself for not having given him an opportunity to speak to her, and began to frequent the Conservatorium assiduously. When, after ten long days, she saw him again, an unfailing instinct guided her aright.
It was in the vestibule, as she was leaving the building, and they met face to face. Directly she espied him, though her heart thumped alarmingly, Ephie tossed her head, gazed fixedly at some distant object, and was altogether as haughty as her parted lips would allow of. And she played her part so well that Schilsky’s attention was arrested; he remembered who she was, and stared hard at her as she passed. Not only this, but pleased, he could not have told why, he turned and followed her out, and standing on the steps, looked after her. She went down the street with her head in the air, holding her dress very high to display a lace-befrilled petticoat, and clattering gracefully on two high-heeled, pointed shoes. He screwed up his eyes against the sun, in order to see her better—he was short-sighted, too, but vanity forbade him to wear glasses—and when, at the corner of the street, Ephie rather spoilt the effect of her behaviour by throwing a hasty glance back, he laughed and clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
“VERDAMMT!” he said with expression.
And both on that day and the next, when he admired a well-turned ankle or a pretty petticoat, he was reminded of the provoking little American, with the tossed head and baby mouth.
A few days later, in the street that ran alongside the Gewandhaus, he saw her again.
Ephie, who, in the interval, had upbraided herself incessantly, was none the less, now the moment had come, about to pass as before—even more frigidly. But this time Schilsky raised his hat, with a tentative smile, and, in order not to appear childish, she bowed ever so slightly. When he was safely past, she could not resist giving a furtive look behind her, and at precisely the same moment, he turned, too. In spite of her trouble, Ephic found the coincidence droll; she tittered, and he saw it, although she immediately laid the back of her hand on her lips. It was not in him to let this pass unnoticed. With a few quick steps, he was at her side.
He took off his hat again, and looked at her not quite sure how to begin.
“I am happy to see you have not forgotten me,” he said in excellent English.
Ephie had impulsively stopped on hearing him come up with her, and now, colouring deeply, tried to dig a hole in the pavement with the toe of her shoe. She, too, could not think what to say; and this, together with the effect produced on her by his peculiar lisp, made her feel very uncomfortable. She was painfully conscious of his insistent eyes on her face, as he waited for her to speak; but there was a distressing pause before he added: “And sorry to see you are still angry with me.”
At this, she found her tongue. Looking, not at him, but at a passer-by on the opposite side of the street, she said: “Why, I guess I have a right to be.”
She tried to speak severely, but her voice quavered, and once more the young man was not sure whether the trembling of her lip signified tears or laughter.
“Are you always so cruel?” he asked, with an intentness that made her eyes seek the ground again. “Such a little crime! Is there no hope for me?”
She attempted to be dignified. “Little! I am really not accustomed——”
“Then I’m not to be forgiven?”
His tone was so humble that suddenly she had to laugh. Shooting a quick glance at him, she said:
“That depends on how you behave in future. If you promise never to——”
Before the words were well out of her mouth, she was aware of her stupidity; her laugh ended, and she grew redder than before. Schilsky had laughed, too, quite frankly, and he continued to smile at the confusion she had fallen into. It seemed a long time before he said with emphasis: “That is the last thing in the world you should ask of me.”
Ephie drooped her head, and dug with her shoe again; she had never been so tongue-tied as to-day, just when she felt she ought to say something very cold and decisive. But not an idea presented itself, and meanwhile he went on: “The punishment would be too hard. The temptation was so great.”
As she was still obstinately silent, he stooped and peeped under the overhanging brim of her hat. “Such pretty lips!” he said, and then, as on the former occasion, he took her by the chin and turned her face up to his.
But she drew back angrily. “Mr. Schilskyl . . . how dare you! Take your hand away at once.”
“There!—I have sinned again,” he said, and folded his hands in mock supplication. “Now I am afraid you will never forgive me.—But listen, you have the advantage of me; you know my name. Will you not tell me yours?”
Having retreated a full yard from him, Ephie regained some of her native self-composure. For the first time, she found herself able to look straight at him. “No,” she said, with a touch of her usual lightness. “I shall leave you to find it out for yourself; it will give you something to do.”
They both laughed. “At least give me your hand,” he said; and when he held it in his, he would not let her go, until, after much seeming reluctance on her part, she had detailed to him the days and hours of her lessons at the Conservatorium, and where he would be likely to meet her. As before, he stood and watched her go down the street, hoping that she would turn at the corner. But, on this day, Ephie whisked along in a great hurry.
On after occasions, he waylaid her as she came and went, and either stood talking to her, or walked the length of the street beside her. At the early hour of the afternoon when Ephie had her lessons, he did not need to fear being seen by acquaintances; the sunshine was undisturbed in the quiet street. The second time they met, he told her that he had found out what her name was; and his efforts to pronounce it afforded Ephie much amusement. Their conversation was always of the same nature, half banter, half earnest. Ephie, who had rapidly recovered her assurance, invariably began in her archest manner, and it became his special pleasure to reduce her, little by little, to a crimson silence.
But one day, about a fortnight later, she came upon him at a different hour, when he was not expecting to see her. He was strolling up and down in front of the Conservatorium, waiting for Louise, who might appear at any moment. Ephie had been restless all the morning, and had finally made an excuse to go out: her steps naturally carried her to the Conservatorium, where she proposed to study the notice-board, on the chance of seeing Schilsky. When she caught sight of him, her eyes brightened; she greeted him with an inviting smile, and a saucy remark. But Schilsky did not take up her tone; he cut her words short.
“What are you doing here to-day?” he asked with a frown of displeasure, meanwhile keeping a watchful eye on the inner staircase—visible through the glass doors—down which Louise would come. “I haven’t a moment to spare.”
Mortally offended by his manner, Ephie drew back her extended hand, and giving him a look of surprise and resentment, was about to pass him by without a further word. But this was more than Schilsky could bear; he put out his hand to stop her, always, though, with one eye on the door.
“Now, don’t be cross, little girl,” he begged impatiently. “It’s not my fault—upon my word it isn’t. I wasn’t expecting to see you to-day—you know that. Look here, tell me—this sort of thing is so unsatisfactory—is there no other place I could see you? What do you do with yourself all day? Come, answer me, don’t be angry.”
Ephie melted. “Come and visit us on Sunday afternoon,” she said. “We are always at home then.”
He laughed rudely, and took no notice of her words. “Come, think of something—quick!” he said.
He was on tenterhooks to be gone, and showed it. Ephie grew flustered, and though she racked her brains, could make no further suggestion.
“Oh well, if you can’t, you know,” he said crossly, and loosened his hold of her arm.
Then, at the last moment, she had a flash of inspiration; she remembered how, on the previous Sunday, Dove had talked enthusiastically of an opera-performance, which, if she were not mistaken, was to take place the following night. Dove had declared that all musical Leipzig would probably be present in the theatre. Surely she might risk mentioning this, without fear of another snub.
“I am going to the opera to-morrow night,” she said in a small, meek voice, and was on the verge of tears. Schilsky hardly heard her; Louise had appeared at the head of the stairs. “The very thing,” he said. “I shall look out for you there, little girl. Good-bye. AUF WIEDERSEHEN!”
He went down the steps, without even raising his hat, and when Louise came out, he was sauntering towards the building again, as if he had come from the other end of the street.
Ephie went home in a state of anger and humiliation which was new to her. For the first few hours, she was resolved never to speak to Schilsky again. When this mood passed, she made up her mind that he should atone for his behaviour to the last iota: he should grovel before her; she would scarcely deign to look at him. But the nearer the time came for their meeting, the more were her resentful feelings swallowed up by the wish to see him. She counted off the hours till the opera commenced; she concocted a scheme to escape Johanna’s surveillance; she had a story ready, if it should be necessary, of how she had once been introduced to Schilsky. Her fingers trembled with impatience as she fastened on a pretty new dress, which had just been sent home: a light, flowered stuff, with narrow bands of black velvet artfully applied so as to throw the fairness of her hair and skin into relief.
The consciousness of looking her best gave her manner a light sureness that was very charming. But from the moment they entered the FOYER, Ephie’s heart began to sink: the crowd was great; she could not see Schilsky; and in his place came Dove, who was not to be shaken off. Even Maurice was bad enough—what concern of his was it how she enjoyed herself? When, finally, she did discover the person she sought, he was with some one else, and did not see her; and when she had succeeded in making him look, he frowned, shook his head, and made angry signs that she was not to speak to him, afterwards going downstairs with the sallow girl in white. What did it mean? All through the tedious second act, Ephie wound her handkerchief round and round, and in and out of her fingers. Would it never end? How long would the fat, ugly Brunnhilde stand talking to Siegmund and the woman who lay so ungracefully between his knees? As if it mattered a straw what these sham people did or felt! Would he speak to her in the next interval, or would he not?
The side curtains had hardly swept down before she was up from her seat, hurrying Johanna away. This time she chose to stand against the wall, at the end of the FOYER. After a short time, he came in sight, but he had no more attention to spare for her than before; he did not even look in her direction. Her one consolation was that obviously he was not enjoying himself; he wore a surly face, was not speaking, and, to a remark the girl in white made, he answered by an angry flap of the hand. When they had twice gone past in this way, and she had each time vainly put herself forward, Ephie began to take an interest in what Dove was saying, to smile at him and coquet with him, and the more openly, the nearer Schilsky drew. Other people grew attentive, and Dove went into a seventh heaven, which made it hard for him placidly to accept the fit of pettish silence, she subsequently fell into.
The crowning touch was put to this disastrous evening by the fact that Schilsky’s companion of the FOYER walked the greater part of the way home with them; and, what was worse, that she took not the slightest notice of Ephie.