When Bardini, who led the Hungarian Band at the Savoy Restaurant, was promoted to play at the Casino at Trouville, his place was taken by the second violin. The second violin was a boy, and when he greeted his brother Tziganes and the habituates of the restaurant with an apologetic and deprecatory bow, he showed that he was fully conscious of the inadequacy of his years. The maitre d’hotel glided from table to table, busying himself in explanations.
“The boy’s name is Edouard; he comes from Budapest,” he said. “The season is too late to make it worth the while of the management to engage a new chef d’orchestre. So this boy will play. He plays very good, but he is not like Bardini.”
He was not in the least like Bardini. In appearance, Bardini suggested a Roumanian gypsy or a Portuguese sailor; his skin was deeply tanned, his hair was plastered on his low forehead in thick, oily curls, and his body, through much rich living on the scraps that fell from the tables of Girot’s and the Casino des Fleurs, was stout and gross. He was the typical leader of an orchestra condemned to entertain a noisy restaurant. His school of music was the school of Maxim’s.
To his skill with the violin he had added the arts of the head waiter, and he and the cook ran a race for popularity, he pampering to one taste, and the cook, with his sauces, pampering to another. When so commanded, his pride as an artist did not prevent him from breaking off in the middle of Schubert’s Serenade to play Daisy Bell, nor was he above breaking it off on his own accord to salute the American patron, as he entered with the Belle of New York, or any one of the Gaiety Girls, hurrying in late for supper, with the Soldiers in the Park. When he walked slowly through the restaurant, pausing at each table, his eyes, even while they ogled the women to whom he played, followed the brother Tzigane–who was passing the plate–and noted which of the patrons gave silver and which gave gold.
Edouard, the second violin, was all that Bardini was not, consequently he was entirely unsuited to lead an orchestra in a restaurant. Indeed, so little did he understand of what was required of him that on the only occasion when Bardini sent him to pass the plate he was so unsophisticated as not to hide the sixpences and shillings under the napkin, and so leave only the half-crowns and gold pieces exposed.
And, instead of smiling mockingly at those who gave the sixpences, and waiting for them to give more, he even looked grateful, and at the same time deeply ashamed. He differed from Bardini also in that he was very thin and tall, with the serious, smooth-shaven face of a priest. Except for his fantastic costume, there was nothing about him to recall the poses of the musician: his hair was neither long nor curly; it lay straight across his forehead and flat on either side, and when he played, his eyes neither sought out the admiring auditor nor invited his applause. On the contrary, they looked steadfastly ahead. It was as though they belonged to someone apart, who was listening intently to the music.
But in the waits between the numbers the boy’s eyes turned from table to table, observing the people in his audience. He knew nearly all of them by sight: the head waiters who brought him their “commands,” and his brother-musicians, had often discussed them in his hearing. They represented every city of the world, every part of the social edifice: there were those who came to look at the spectacle, and those who came to be looked at; those who gave a dinner for the sake of the diners, those who dined for the dinner alone. To some the restaurant was a club; others ventured in counting the cost, taking it seriously, even considering that it conferred upon them some social distinction.
There were pretty women in paint and spangles, with conscious, half-grown boys just up from Oxford; company- promoters dining and wining possible subscribers or “guinea-pigs” into an acquiescent state; Guardsmen giving a dinner of farewell to brother-officers departing for the Soudan or the Cape; wide-eyed Americans just off the steamer in high dresses, great ladies in low dresses and lofty tiaras, and ladies of the stage, utterly unconscious of the boon they were conferring on the people about them, who, an hour before, had paid ten shillings to look at them from the stalls.
Edouard, as he sat with his violin on his knee, his fingers fretting the silent strings, observed them all without envy and without interest. Had he been able to choose, it would not have been to such a well-dressed mob as this that he would have given his music. For at times a burst of laughter killed a phrase that was sacred to him, and sometimes the murmur of the voices and the clatter of the waiters would drown him out altogether.
But the artist in him forced him to play all things well, and for his own comfort he would assure himself that no doubt somewhere in the room someone was listening, someone who thought more of the strange, elusive melodies of the Hungarian folksongs than of the chefs entrees, and that for this unknown one he must be true to himself and true to his work. Covertly, he would seek out some face to which he could make the violin speak–not openly and impertinently, as did Bardini, but secretly and for sympathy, so that only one could understand.
It pleased young Edouard to see such a one raise her head as though she had heard her name spoken, and hold it poised to listen, and turn slowly in her chair, so completely engaged that she forgot the man at her elbow, and the food before her was taken away untouched. It delighted him to think that she knew that the music was speaking to her alone. But he would not have had her think that the musician spoke, too–it was the soul of the music, not his soul, that was reaching out to the pretty stranger. When his soul spoke through the music it would not be, so he assured himself, to such chatterers as gathered on the terrace of the Savoy Restaurant.
Mrs. Warriner and her daughter were on their way home, or to one of their homes; this one was up the Hills of Lenox. They had been in Egypt and up the Nile, and for the last two months had been slowly working their way north through Greece and Italy. They were in London, at the Savoy, waiting for their sailing-day, and on the night of their arrival young Corbin was giving them a dinner. For three months Mrs. Warriner and himself had alternated in giving each other dinners in every part of Southern Europe, and the gloom which hung over this one was not due to the fact that the diners had become wearied of one another’s society, but that the opportunities still left to them for this exchange of hospitality were almost at an end.
That night, for the hundredth time, young Corbin had decided it would have been much better for him if they had come to an end many weeks previous, for the part he played in the trio was a difficult one. It was that of the lover who will not take “no” for an answer. The lover who will take no, and goes on his way disconsolate, may live to love another day, and everyone is content; but the one who will not have no, who will not hear of it, nor consider it, has much to answer for in making life a burden to himself and all around him.
When Corbin joined the Warriners on their trip up the Nile it was considered by all of them, in their ignorance, a happy accident. Other mothers, more worldly than Mrs. Warriner, with daughters less attractive, gave her undeserved credit for having lured into her party one of the young men of Boston who was most to be desired as a son-in-law. But the mind of Mrs. Warriner, so far as Mr. Corbin was concerned, was quite free from any such consideration; so was the mind of the young bachelor; certainly Miss Warriner held no tender thoughts concerning him.
The families of the Warriners and the Corbins had been friends ever since the cowpath crossed the Common. Before Corbin entered Harvard Miss Warriner and he had belonged to the same dancing-class. Later she had danced with him at four class- days, and many times between. When he graduated, she had gone abroad with her mother, and he had joined the Somerset Club, and played polo at Pride’s Crossing, and talked vaguely of becoming a lawyer, and of re-entering Harvard by the door of the Law School, chiefly, it was supposed, that he might have another year of the football team. He was very young in spirit, very big and athletic, very rich, and without a care or serious thought.
Miss Warriner was to him, then, no more than a friend; to her he was a boy, one of many nice, cultivated Harvard boys, who occasionally called upon her and talked football. On the face of things, she was not the sort of girl he should have loved. But for some saving clause in him, he should have loved and married one of the many other girls who had belonged to the same dancing-class, who would have been known as “Mrs. Tom” Corbin, who would have been sought after as a chaperone, and who would have stood up in her cart when he played polo and shouted at him across the field to “ride him off.”
Miss Warriner, on the contrary, was much older than he in everything but years, and was conscious of the fact. She was a serious, self- centred young person, and satisfied with her own thoughts, unless her companion gave her better ones. She concerned herself with the character and ideas of her friends. If a young man lacked ideas, the fact that he possessed wealth and good manners could not save him. If these attributes had been pointed out to her as part of his assets she would have been surprised. She was not impressed with her own good looks and fortune–she took them for granted; so why should they count with her in other people?
Miss Warriner made an error of analysis in regard to Mr. Corbin in judging his brain by his topics of conversation. His conversation was limited to the A B C’s of life, with which, up to the time of his meeting her, his brain had been fed. When, however, she began to cram it full with all the other letters of the alphabet, it showed itself just as capable of digesting the economic conditions of Egypt as it had previously succeeded in mastering the chess-like problems of the game of football.
Young Corbin had not considered the Home Beautiful, nor Municipal Government, nor How the Other Half Lives as topics that were worth his while; but when Miss Warriner showed her interest in them, her doing so made them worth his while, and he fell upon them greedily. He even went much further than she had gone, and was not content merely to theorize and to discuss social questions from the safe distance of the deck of a dahabiyeh on the Nile, but proposed to at once put her theories into practice. To this end he offered her a house in the slums of Boston, rent free, where she could start her College Settlement. He made out lists of the men he thought would like to teach there, and he volunteered to pay the expenses of the experiment until it failed or succeeded.
When her interest changed to the Tombs of the Rameses, and the succession of the ancient dynasties, he spent hours studying his Baedeker that he might keep in step with her; and when she abandoned ancient for modern Egypt and became deeply charmed with the intricacies of the dual control and of the Mixed Courts, he interviewed subalterns, Pashas, and missionaries in a gallant effort to comprehend the social and political difficulties of the white men who had occupied the land of the Sphinx, who had funded her debt, irrigated her deserts, and “made a mummy fight.”
One night, as the dahabiyeh lay moored beneath a group of palms in the moonlight, Miss Warriner gave him praise for offering her the house in the slums for her experiment. He assured her that he was entirely selfish–that he did so because he believed her settlement would be a benefit to the neighborhood, in which he owned some property.
When she then accused him of giving sordid reasons for what was his genuine philanthropy he told her flatly that he neither cared for the higher education of the slums nor the increased value of his rents, but for her, and to please her, and that he loved her and would love her always. In answer to this, Miss Warriner told him gently but firmly that she could not love him, but that she liked him and admired him, even though she was disappointed to find that his sudden interest in matters more serious than polo had been assumed to please her.
She added that she would always be his friend. This, she thought, ended the matter; it was unfortunate that they should be shipbound on the Nile; but she trusted to his tact and good sense to save them both from embarrassment. She was not prepared, however, to see him come on deck very late the next morning, after, apparently, a long sleep, as keen, as cheerful, and as smiling as he had been before the blow had fallen. It piqued her a little, and partly because of that, and partly because she really was relieved to find him in such a humor, she congratulated him on his most evident happiness.
“Why not?” he asked, suddenly growing sober. “I love you. That is enough to make any man happy, isn’t it? You needn’t love me, but you can’t prevent my going on loving you.”
“Well, I am very sorry,” she sighed in much perplexity.
“You needn’t be,” he answered, reassuringly. “I’m more sorry for you than I am for myself. You are going to have a terrible time until you marry me.”
They were at Thebes, and he went off that afternoon to the Temple of Luxor with her mother, and made violent use of the sacred altars, the beauty of Cleopatra, the eternity of the scarabea, and the indestructibility of the Pyramids to suggest faintly to Mrs. Warriner how much he loved her daughter. He shook his hand at the crouching sphinxes and said:
“Mrs. Warriner, in forty centuries they have never looked down upon a man as proud as I am, and I am told they have seen Napoleon; but I need help; she won’t help me, so you must. It’s no use arguing against me. When this Nile dries up I shall have ceased loving your daughter!”
“Did you tell Helen what you have told me? Did you talk to her so?” asked Mrs. Warriner.
“No, not last night,” said Corbin; “but I will, in time, after she gets more used to the Idea.”
Unfortunately for the peace of Mr. Corbin and all concerned. Miss Warriner did not become reconciled to the idea. On the contrary, she resented it greatly. She had looked at the possibility of something to be carried out later–much later, perhaps not at all. It did not seem possible that before she had really begun to enjoy life it should be subjected to such a change. She saw that it was obviously the thing that should happen. If the match had been arranged by the entire city of Boston it could not have been more obvious. But she argued with him that marriage was a mutual self-sacrifice, and that until she felt ready to make her share of the sacrifice it was impossible for her to consent.
He combated her arguments, which he refused to consider as arguments, and demolished them one by one. But the objection which he destroyed before he went to sleep at night was replaced the next day by another, and his cause never advanced. Each day he found the citadel he was besieging girt in by new and intricate defenses.
The reason was simple enough: the girl was not in love with him. Her objections, her arguments, her reasons were as absurd as he proved them to be. But they were insurmountable because they were really various disguises of the fact that she did not care for him. They were disguises to herself as well as to him. He was so altogether a good fellow, so earnest, honest, and desperate a lover that the primary fact that she did not want his love did not present itself, and she kept casting about in her mind for excuses and reasons to explain her lack of feeling.
He wooed her in every obvious way that would present itself to a boy of deep feeling, of quick mind, and an unlimited letter of credit. He created wants in order to gratify them later. He suggested her need of things which he had already ordered, which, before she had been enticed into expressing a wish for them, were then speeding across the Continent toward her. Every hour brought her some fresh and ingenuous sign of his thought and of his devotion. He treated these tributes as a matter of course; if she failed to observe them and to see his handiwork in them he let them fall to the ground unnoticed.
His love itself was his argument-in-chief; it was its own excuse; it needed no allies; “I love you” was his first and last word. It puzzled her to find that she could not care. When she was alone she asked herself what there was in him of which she disapproved, and she could only answer that there was nothing. She asked herself what other men there were who pleased her more, and she could think of none. On the contrary, she found him entirely charming as a friend– but his love distressed her greatly. It was a foreign language; she could not comprehend it. When he allowed it to appear it completely disguised him in her eyes; it annoyed her so much that at times she considered herself a much ill-used young person.
It was in this way that the matter stood between them when their long journey was ended and they reached London. He was miserable, desperate, and hopeless; the girl was firm in that she would not marry him, and her mother, who respected both the depth of Corbin’s feelings and her daughter’s reticence, and who had watched the struggle with a troubled heart, was only thankful that they were to part, and that it was at an end. Corbin had no idea where he would go nor what he would do. He recognized that to cross the ocean with them would only subject his love to fresh distress and humiliation, and he had determined to put as much space between him and Miss Warriner as the surface of the globe permitted. The Philippines seemed to offer a picturesque retreat for a broken life. He decided he would go there and enlist and have himself shot.
He was uncertain whether he would follow in the steps of his Revolutionary ancestors and join the men who were struggling for their liberty and independence, or his fellow-Americans; but that he would get shot by one side or the other he was determined. And then in days to come she would think, perhaps, of the young man on the other side of the globe, buried in the wet rice-fields, with the palms fanning him through his eternal sleep, and she might be sorry then that she had not listened to his troubled heart. The picture gave him some small comfort, and that night when he ordered dinner for them at the Savoy his manner showed the inspired resolve of one who is soon to mount the scaffold unafraid, and with a rose between his lips.
Edouard, the first violin, saw Miss Warriner when she entered and took her place facing him at one of the tables in the centre of the room. He was sitting with his violin on his knees, touching the strings with his finger-tips. When he saw her he choked the neck of the violin with his hand, as though it had been the hand of a friend which he had grasped in a sudden ecstasy of delight. The effect her appearance had made upon him was so remarkable that he glanced quickly over his shoulder to see if he had betrayed himself by some sign or gesture. But the other musicians were concerned with their own gossip, and he felt free to turn again and from under his half- closed eyelids to observe her covertly.
There was nothing to explain why Miss Warriner, in particular, should have so disturbed him; the English women seated about her were as fair; she showed no great sorrow in her face; her beauty was not of the type which carried observers by assault. And yet not one of the many beautiful women who on one night or another passed before Edouard in the soft light of the red shades had ever stirred him so strangely, had ever depressed him with such a tender melancholy, and filled his soul–the soul of a Hungarian and a musician–with such loneliness and unrest. He knew that, so far as he was concerned, she was as distant as the Venus in the Louvre; she was, for him, a beautiful, unapproachable statue, placed, by some social convention, upon a pedestal.
As he looked at her he felt hotly the degradation of his silly uniform, of the striped sash around his waist, the tawdry braids, and the tasselled boots. He felt as he had often felt before, but now more keenly than ever, the prostitution of his art in this temple of the senses, this home of epicures, where people met to feast their eyes and charm their palates. He could not put his feelings into words, and he knew that if by some upheaval of the social world he should be thrown into her presence he would still be bound, he would not be able to speak or write what she inspired in him.
But–and at the thought he breathed quickly, and raised his shoulders with a touch of pride–he could tell her in his own way; after his own fashion he could express what he felt better even than those other men could tell what they feel–these men for whose amusement he performed nightly, to whom it was granted to sit at her side, who spoke the language of her class and of her own people. Edouard was not given to analyzing his emotions; like the music of his Tzigane ancestors, they came to him sweeping every chord in his nature, beating rapidly to the time of the Schardash, or with the fitfulness of the gypsy folksongs sinking his spirits into melancholy. So he did not stop to question why this one face so suddenly inspired him; he only knew that he felt grateful, that he was impatient to pay his tribute of admiration, that he was glad he was an artist who could give his feelings voice.
In the long programme of selected airs he remembered that there was one which would give him this chance to speak, in the playing of which he could put all his skill and all his soul, an air which carried with it infinite sadness and the touch of a caress. The other numbers on the programme had been chosen to please the patrons of a restaurant, this one, La Lettre d’Amour, was included in the list for his own satisfaction. He had put it there to please himself; to-night he would play it to please her–to this unknown girl who had so suddenly awakened and inspired him.
As he waited for this chance to come he watched her, noting her every movement, her troubled smile, her air of being apart and above her surroundings. He noticed, too, the set face of the young man at her side and, with the discernment of one whose own interest is captive, saw the half-concealed longing in his eyes. He felt a quick antipathy to this young man. His assured position at the girl’s side accentuated how far he himself was removed from her; he resented also the manner of the young man to the waiters, and he wondered hotly if, in the mind of this favored youth, the musician who played for his entertainment was regarded any more highly than the servant who received his orders. To this feeling of resentment was added one of contempt. For, as he read the tableau at the table below him, the young man was the devotee of the young girl at his side, and if one could judge from her averted eyes, from her silent assent to his questions, from the fact that she withdrew from the talk between him and the older woman, his devotion was not welcome.
This reading of the pantomime pleased Edouard greatly. Nothing could have so crowned the feeling which the beauty of the stranger stirred in him as the thought that another loved her as well as himself, and that the other, who started with all things in his favor, met with none from her.
Edouard assured himself that this was so because he had often heard his people boast that men not of their country could not feel as they could feel. If he had ever considered them at all it was as cold and conscious creatures who taught themselves to cover up what they felt, so that when their emotions strove to assert themselves they were found, through long disuse, to be dumb and inarticulate. Edouard rejoiced that to the men of his race it was given to feel and suffer much. He was sure that beneath the calmness of her beauty this woman before him could feel deeply; he read in her eyes the sympathy of a great soul; she made him think of a Madonna in the church of St. Sophia at Budapest.
He saw in her a woman who could love greatly. When he considered how impossible it was for the young man at her side ever to experience the great emotions which alone could reach her, his contempt for him rose almost to pity. His violin, with his power to feel, and with his knowledge of technic added, could send his message as far as sound could carry. He could afford to be generous, and when he rose to play La Lettre d’Amour it was with the elation of a knight entering the lists, with the ardor of a lover singing beneath his lady’s window. La Lettre d’Amour is a composition written to a slow measure, and filled with chords of exquisite pathos. It comes hesitatingly, like the confession of a lover who loves so deeply that he halts to find words with which to express his feelings.
It moves in broken phrases, each note rising in intensity and growing in beauty. It is not a burst of passionate appeal, but a plea, tender, beseeching, and throbbing with melancholy. As he played, Edouard stepped down from the dais on which the musicians sat, and advanced slowly between the tables. It was late, and the majority of those who had been dining had departed to the theaters. Those who remained were lingering over their coffee, and were smoking; their voices were lowered to a polite monotone; the rush of the waiters had ceased, and the previous chatter had sunk to a subdued murmur.
Into this, the quivering sigh of Edouard’s violin penetrated like a sunbeam feeling its way into a darkened room, and, at the sound, the voices, one by one, detached themselves from the general chorus, until, lacking support, it ceased altogether. Some were silent, that they might hear the better, others, who preferred their own talk, were silent out of regard for those who desired to listen, and a waiter who was so indiscreet as to clatter a tray of glasses was hushed on the instant. The tribute of attention lent to Edouard an added power; his head lifted on his shoulders with pride; his bow cut deeper and firmer, and with more delicate shading; the notes rose in thrilling, plaintive sadness, and flooded the hot air with melody.
Edouard made his way to within a short distance of the table at which Miss Warriner was seated, and halted there as though he had found his audience. He did not look at her, although she sat directly facing him, but it was evident to all that she was the one to whom his effort was directed, and Corbin, who was seated with his back to Edouard, recognized this and turned in his chair.
The body of the young musician was trembling with the feeling which found its outlet through the violin. He was in ecstasy over his power and its accomplishment. The strings of the violin pulsated to the beating of his heart, and he felt that surely by now the emotion which shook him must have reached the girl who had given it life– and, for one swift second, his eyes sought hers. What he saw was the same beautiful face which had inspired him, but unmoved, cold, and unresponsive. As his eyes followed hers she raised her head and looked, listlessly, around the room, and then turned and glanced up at him with a careless and critical scrutiny. If his music had been the music of an organ in the street, and he the man who raised his hat for coppers, she could not have been less moved.
The discovery struck Edouard like a cold blast from an open door. His fingers faltered on the neck of his violin, his bow wavered, drunkenly, across the strings, and he turned away his eyes to shut out the vision of his failure, seeking relief and sympathy. And, in their swift passage, they encountered those of Corbin looking up at him, his eyes aglow with wonder, feeling, and sorrow. They seemed to hold him to account; they begged, they demanded of him not to break the spell, and, in response, the hot blood in the veins of the musician surged back, his pride flared up again, his eyes turned on Corbin’s like those of a dog to his master’s. Under their spell the music soared, trembling, paused and soared again, thrilling those who heard it with its grief and tenderness.
Edouard’s heart leaped with triumph. “The man knows,” he whispered to the violin; “he understands us. He knows.”
The people, leaning with their elbows on the tables before them, the waiters listening with tolerant smiles, the musicians following Edouard with anxious pride, saw only a young man with his arm thrown heavily across the back of his chair, who was looking up at Edouard with a steady, searching gaze. But Edouard saw in him both a disciple and a master. He saw that this man was lifted up and carried with him, that he understood the message of the music. The notes of the violin sank lower and lower, until they melted into the silence of the room, and the people, freed of the spell the music had put upon them, applauded generously.
Edouard placed his violin under his arm, and with his eyes, which had never left Corbin’s face, still fastened upon his, bowed low to him, and Corbin raised his head and nodded gravely. It was as though they were the only people in the room. As Edouard retreated his face was shining with triumph, for he knew that the other had understood him, and that the other knew that he knew.
That night until he fell asleep, and all of the day following, the beautiful face of Miss Warriner troubled Edouard, and the thought of her alternately thrilled and depressed him. One moment he mocked at himself for presuming to think that his simple art could reach the depths of such a nature, and the next he stirred himself to hope that he should see her once again, and that he should succeed where he had failed.
The music had moved Corbin so deeply that when he awoke the day following the effect of it still hung upon him. It seemed to him as though all he had been trying to tell Miss Warriner of his love for her, and which he had failed to make her understand in the last three months, had been expressed in the one moment of this song. It was that in it which had so enchanted him.
It was as though he had listened to his own deepest and most sacred thoughts, uttered for the first time convincingly, and by a stranger. Why was it, he asked himself, that this unknown youth could translate another’s feelings into music, when he himself could not put them into words? He was walking in Piccadilly, deep in this thought, when a question came to him which caused him to turn rapidly into Green Park, where he could consider it undisturbed.
The doubt which had so suddenly presented itself was in some degree the same one which had stirred Edouard. Was it that he was really unable to express his feelings, or was it that Miss Warriner could not understand them? Was it really something lacking in him, or was it not something lacking in her? He flushed at the disloyalty of the thought and put it from him; but, as his memory reached back over the past three months, the question returned again and again with fresh force, and would not be denied. He called himself a fatuous, conceited fool.
Because he could not make a woman love him other men could do so. That was really the answer; he was not the man. But the answer did not seem final. What, after all, was the thing his love sought–a woman only, or a woman capable of deep and great feeling? Even if he could not inspire such emotions, even if another could, he would still be content and proud to love a woman capable of such deep feelings.
But if she were without them? At the thought, Corbin stared blankly before him as though he had stumbled against a stone wall. What sign had she ever given him that she could care greatly? Was not any form of emotion always distasteful to her? Was not her mind always occupied with abstract questions? Was she not always engaged in her own self-improvement–with schemes, it is true, for bettering the world; but did her heart ever ache once for the individual? What was it, then, he loved? Something he imagined this girl to be, or was he in love with the fact that his own nature had been so mightily stirred? Was it not the joy of caring greatly which had carried him along? And if this was so, was he now to continue to proffer this devotion to one who could not feel, to a statue, to an idol?
Were not the very things which rendered her beautiful the offerings which he himself had hung upon her altar? Did the qualities he really loved in her exist? Was he not on the brink of casting his love before one who could neither feel it for him nor for any other man? He stood up, trembling and frightened. Even though the girl had rejected him again and again, he felt a hateful sense of disloyalty. He was ashamed to confess it to himself, and he vowed, hotly, that he must be wrong, that he would not believe. He would still worship her, fight for her, and force her to care for him.
Mrs. Warriner and her daughter were to sail on the morrow, and that night they met Corbin at dinner for the last time. After many days– although self-accused–he felt deeply conscious of his recent lack of faith, and, in the few hours still left him, he determined to atone for the temporary halt in his allegiance. They had never found him more eager, tactful, and considerate than he was that evening.
The eyes of Mrs. Warriner softened as she watched him. As one day had succeeded another, her admiration and liking for him had increased, until now she felt as though his cause was hers–as though she was not parting from a friend, but from a son. But the calmness of her daughter was impenetrable; from her manner it was impossible to learn whether the approaching separation was a relief or a regret.
To Edouard the return of the beautiful girl to the restaurant appeared not as an accident, but as a marked favor vouchsafed to him by Fate. He had been given a second chance. He read it as a sign that he should take heart and hope. He felt that fortune was indeed kind. He determined that he would play to her again, and that this time he would not fail.
As the first notes of La Lettre d’Amour brought a pause of silence in the restaurant, Corbin, who was talking at the moment, interrupted himself abruptly, and turned in his chair.
All through the evening he had been conscious of the near presence of the young musician. He had not forgotten how, on the night before, his own feelings had been interpreted in La Lettre d’Amour, and for some time he had been debating in his mind as to whether he would request Edouard to play the air again, or let the evening pass without again submitting himself to so supreme an assault upon his feelings.
Now the question had been settled for him, and he found that it had been decided as he secretly desired. It was impossible to believe that Edouard was the same young man who had played the same air on the night previous, for Edouard no longer considered that he was present on sufferance–he invited and challenged the attention of the room; his music commanded it to silence. It dominated all who heard it.
As he again slowly approached the table where Miss Warriner was seated, the eyes of everyone were turned upon him; the pathos, the tenderness of his message seemed to speak to each; the fact that he dared to offer such a wealth of deep feeling to such an audience was in itself enough to engage the attention of all. A group of Guardsmen, their faces flushed with Burgundy and pulling heavily on black cigars, stared at him sleepily, and then sat up, erect and alert, watching him with intent, wide-open eyes; and at tables which had been marked by the laughter of those seated about them there fell a sudden silence.
Those who fully understood the value of the music withdrew into themselves, submitting, thankfully, to its spell; others, less susceptible, gathered from the bearing of those about them that something of moment was going forward; but it was recognized by each, from the most severe English matron present down to the youngest “omnibus-boy” among the waiters, that it was a love- story which was being told to them, and that in this public place the deepest, most sacred, and most beautiful of emotions were finding noble utterance.
The music filled Corbin with desperate longing and regret. It was so truly the translation of his own feelings that he was alternately touched with self-pity and inspired to fresh resolve. It seemed to assure him that love such as his could not endure without some return. It emboldened him to make still another and a final appeal. Mrs. Warriner, with all the other people in the room, was watching Edouard, and so, unobserved, and hidden by the flowers upon the table, Corbin leaned toward Miss Warriner and bent his head close to hers. His eyes were burning with feeling; his voice thrilled in unison to the plaint of the violin.
He gave a toss of his head in the direction from whence the music came.
“That is what I have been trying to tell you,” he whispered. His voice was hoarse and shaken. “That is how I care, but that man’s genius is telling you for me. At last, you must understand.” In his eagerness, his words followed each other brokenly and impetuously. “That is love,” he whispered. “That is the real voice of love in all its tenderness and might, and–it is love itself. Don’t you understand it now?” he demanded.
Miss Warriner raised her head and frowned. She stared at Edouard with a pained expression of perplexity and doubt.
“He shows no lack of feeling,” she said, critically, “but his technic is not equal to Ysaye’s.”
“Good God!” Corbin gasped. He sank away from Miss Warriner and stared at her with incredulous eyes.
“His technic,” he repeated, “is not equal to Ysaye’s?” He gave a laugh which might have been a sob, and sat up, suddenly, with his head erect and his shoulders squared. He had the shaken look of one who has recovered from a dangerous illness. But when he spoke again it was in the accents of every-day politeness.
At an early hour the following morning, Mrs. Warriner and her daughter left Waterloo Station on the steamer-train for Southampton, and Corbin attended them up to the moment of the train’s departure. He concerned himself for their comfort as conscientiously as he had always done throughout the last three months, when he had been their traveling-companion; nothing could have been more friendly, more sympathetic, than his manner. This effort, which Mrs. Warriner was sure cost him much, touched her deeply. But when he shook Miss Warriner’s hand and she said, “Good-by, and write to us before you go to the Philippines,” Corbin for the first time stammered in some embarrassment.
“Good-by,” he said; “I–I am not sure that I shall go.”
He dined at the Savoy again that night, in company with some Englishmen. They sat at a table in the corner where they could observe the whole extent of the room, and their talk was eager and their laughter constant and hearty. It was only when the boy who led the orchestra began to walk among the tables, playing an air of peculiar sadness, that Corbin’s manner lost its vivacity, and he sank into a sudden silence, with his eyes fixed on the table before him.
“That’s odd,” said one of his companions. “I say, Corbin, look at that chap! What’s he doing?”
Corbin raised his eyes. He saw Edouard standing at the same table at which for the last two nights Miss Warriner had been seated. “What is it?” he asked.
“Why, that violin chap,” said the Englishman. “Don’t you see? He’s been playing to the only vacant table in the room, and to an empty chair.”