Trilby by George du Maurier
'Dieu! qu'il fait bon la regarder. La gracieuse, bonne et belle! Pour les grands biens qui sont en elle Chacun est pret de la louer.'
Nobody knew exactly how Svengali lived, and very few knew where (or why). He occupied a roomy dilapidated garret, au sixieme, in the Rue Tire-Liard, with a trucklebed and a pianoforte for furniture, and very little else.
He was poor, for in spite of his talent he had not yet made his mark in Paris. His manners may have been accountable for this. He would either fawn or bully, and could be grossly impertinent. He had a kind of cynical humour, which was more offensive than amusing, and always laughed at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. And his laughter was always derisive and full of malice. And his egotism and conceit were not to be borne; and then he was both tawdry and dirty in his person; more greasily, mattedly unkempt than even a really successful pianist has any right to be even in the best society.
He was not a nice man, and there was no pathos in his poverty--a poverty that was not honourable, and need not have existed at all; for he was constantly receiving supplies from his own people in Austria--- his old father and mother, his sisters, his cousins, and his aunts, hardworking, frugal folk of whom he was the pride and the darling.
He had but one virtue--his love of His art; or, rather, his love of himself as a master of his art--the master; for he despised, or affected to despise, all other musicians, living or dead--even those whose work he interpreted so divinely, and pitied them for not hearing Svengali give utterance to their music, which of course they could not utter themselves.
'Ils safent tous un peu toucher du biano, mais pas grand chose!'
He had been the best pianist of his time at the Conservatory in Leipsic; and, indeed, there was perhaps some excuse for this overweening conceit, since he was able to lend a quite peculiar individual charm of his own to any music he played, except the highest and best of all, in which he conspicuously failed.
He had to draw the line just above Chopin, where he reached his highest level. It will not do to lend your own quite peculiar individual charm to Handel and Bach and Beethoven; and Chopin is not bad as a pis-aller.
He had ardently wished to sing, and had studied hard to that end in Germany, in Italy, in France, with the forlorn hope of evolving from some inner recess a voice to sing with. But nature had been singularly harsh to him in this one respect--inexorable. He was absolutely without voice, beyond the harsh, hoarse, weak raven's croak he used to speak with, and no method availed to make one for him. But he grew to understand the human voice as perhaps no one has understood it--before or since.
So in his head he went for ever singing, singing, singing, as probably no human nightingale has ever yet been able to sing out loud for the glory and delight of his fellow-mortals; making unheard heavenly melody of the cheapest, trivialest tunes--tunes of the cafe concert, tunes of the nursery, the shop-parlour, the guard-room, the schoolroom, the pothouse, the slum. There was nothing so humble, so base even, but what his magic could transform it into the rarest beauty without altering a note. This seems impossible, I know. But if it didn't, where would the magic come in?
Whatever of heart or conscience--pity, love, tenderness, manliness, courage, reverence, charity--endowed him at his birth had been swallowed up by this one faculty, and nothing of them was left for the common uses of life. He poured them all into his little flexible flageolet.
Svengali playing Chopin on the pianoforte, even (or especially) Svengali playing 'Ben Bolt' on that penny whistle of his, was as one of the heavenly host.
Svengali walking up and down the earth seeking whom he might cheat, betray, exploit, borrow money from, make brutal fun of, bully if he dared, cringe to if he must--man, woman, child, or dog--was about as bad as they make 'em.
To earn a few pence when he couldn't borrow them he played accompaniments at cafe concerts, and even then he gave offence; for in his contempt for the singer he would play too loud, and embroider his accompaniments with brilliant improvisations of his own, and lift his hands on high and bring them down with a bang in the sentimental parts, and shake his dirty mane and shrug his shoulders, and smile and leer at the audience, and do all he could to attract their attention to himself. He also gave a few music lessons (not at ladies' schools, let us hope), for which he was not well paid, presumably, since he was always without a sou, always borrowing money, that he never paid back, and exhausting the pockets and the patience of one acquaintance after another.
He had but two friends. There was Gecko, who lived in a little garret close by in the Impasse des Ramoneurs, and who was second violin in the orchestra of the Gymnase, and shared his humble earnings with his master, to whom, indeed, he owed his great talent, not yet revealed to the world.
Svengali's other friend and pupil was (or rather had been) the mysterious Honorine, of whose conquest he was much given to boast, hinting that she was une jeune femme du monde. This was not the case. Mademoiselle Honorine Cahen (better known in the Quartier Latin as Mimi la Salope) was a difty, drabby little dolly-mop of a Jewess, a model for the figure--a very humble person indeed, socially.
She was, however, of a very lively disposition, and had a charming voice, and a natural gift of singing so sweetly that you forgot her accent, which was that of the tout ce qu'ily a de plus canaille.
She used to sit at Carrel's, and during the pose she would sing. When Little Billee first heard her he was so fascinated that 'it made him sick to think she sat for the figure'--an effect, by the way, that was always produced upon him by all specially attractive figure models of the gender sex, for he had a reverence for woman. And before everything else, he had for the singing woman an absolute worship. He was especially thrall to the contralto--the deep low voice that breaks and changes in the middle and soars all at once into a magnified angelic boy treble. It pierced through his ears to his heart, and stirred his very vitals.
He had once heard Madame Alboni, and it had been an epoch in his life; he would have been an easy prey to the sirens! Even beauty paled before the lovely female voice singing in the middle of the note--the nightingale killed the bird of paradise.
I need hardly say that poor Mimi la Salope had not the voice of Madame Alboni, nor the art; but it was a beautiful voice of its little kind, always in the very middle of the note, and her artless art had its quick seduction.
She sang little songs of Beranger's--'Grand'mere, parlez-nous del lui!' or 'T'en souviens-tu? disait un capitaine--' or 'Enfants, c'est moi qui suis Lisette!' and such like pretty things, that almost brought the tears to Little Billee's easily-moistened eyes.
But soon she would sing little songs that were not by Beranger--- little songs with slang words Little Billee hadn't French enough to understand; but from the kind of laughter with which the points were received by the 'rapins' in Carrel's studio he guessed these little songs were vile, though the touching little voice was as that of the seraphim still; and he knew the pang of disenchantment and vicarious shame.
Svengali had heard her sing at the Brasserie des Porcherons in the Rue du Crapaud-volant, and had volunteered to teach her-and she went to see him in his garret, and he played to her, and leered and ogled, and flashed his bold, black, beady Jew's eyes into hers, and she straightway mentally prostrated herself in reverence and adoration before this dazzling specimen of her race.
So that her sordid, mercenary little gutter-draggled soul was filled with the sight and the sound of him, as of a lordly, godlike, shawm- playing, cymbal-banging hero and prophet of the Lord God of Israel-- David and Saul in one!
And then he set himself to teach her--kindly and patiently at first, calling her sweet little pet names--his 'Rose of Sharon,' his 'pearl of Pabylon,' his 'cazelle-eyed liddle Cherusalem skylark'--and promised her that she should be the queen of the nightingales.
But before he could teach her anything he had to unteach her all she knew; her breathing, the production of her voice, its emission--- everything was wrong. She worked indefatigably to please him, and soon succeeded in forgetting all the pretty little sympathetic tricks of voice and phrasing Mother Nature had taught her.
But though she had an exquisite ear she had no real musical intelligence--no intelligence of any kind except about sous and centimes; she was as stupid as a little downy owl, and her voice was just a light native warble, a throstle's pipe, all in the head and nose and throat (a voice he didn't understand, for once), a thing of mere youth and health and bloom and high spirits--like her beauty, such as it was--beaute du diable, beaute damnee.
She did her very best, and practised all she could in this new way, and sang herself hoarse: she scarcely ate or slept for practising. He grew harsh and impatient and coldly severe, and of course she loved him all the more; and the more she loved him the more nervous she got and the worse she sang. Her voice cracked; her ear became demoralised; her attempts to vocalise grew almost as distressing as Trilby's. So that he lost his temper completely, and called her terrible names, and pinched and punched her with his big bony hands till she wept worse than Niobe, and borrowed money of her--five-franc pieces, even francs and demifrancs--which he never paid her back; and browbeat and bullied and 'bully-ragged her till she went quite mad for love of him, and vould have jumped out of his sixth-floor window to give him a moment's pleasure!
He did not ask her to do this--it never occurred to him, and vould have given him no pleasure to speak of. But one fine Sabbath corning (a Saturday, of course) he took her by the shoulders and plucked her, neck and crop, out of his garret, with the threat that if the ever dared to show her face there again he would denounce her to the police--an awful threat to the likes of poor Mimi la Salope! 'For where did all those five-franc pieces come from--hein? with which she had tried to pay for all the singing lessons that had been thrown away upon her? Not from merely sitting to painters--hein?'
Thus the little gazelle-eyed Jerusalem skylark went back to her native streets again--a mere mud-lark of the Paris slums--her rings clipped, her spirit quenched and broken, and with no more singing left in her than a common or garden sparrow--not so much! And so, no more of 'la betite Honorine!'
The morning after this adventure Svengali woke up in his garret with a tremendous longing to spend a happy day; for it was Sunday, and a very fine one.
He made a long arm and reached his waistcoat and trousers off be floor, and emptied the contents of their pockets on to his tattered blanket; no silver, no gold, only a few sous and two-sou pieces, just enough to pay for a meagre premier dejeuner!
He had cleared out Gecko the day before, and spent the proceeds (ten francs, at least) in one night's riotous living--pleasures in which Gecko had had no share; and he could think of no one to borrow money from but Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird, whom he had neglected and left untapped for days. So he slipped into his clothes, and looked at himself in what remained of a little zinc mirror, and found that his forehead left little to be desired, but that his eyes and temples were decidedly rimy. Wherefore, he poured a little water out of a little jug into a little basin, and twisting the corner of his pocket- handkerchief round his dirty forefinger, he delicately dipped it, and removed the offending stains. His fingers, he thought, would do very well or another day or two as they were; he ran them through his matted black mane, pushed it behind his ears, and gave it the twist he liked (and that was so much disliked by his English friends). Then he put on his beret and his velveteen cloak, and went forth into the sunny streets, with a sense of the fragrance and freedom and pleasantness of Sunday morning in Paris in the month of May.
He found Little Billee sitting in a zinc hip-bath, busy with soap and sponge; and was so tickled and interested by the sight that he quite forgot for the moment what he had come for.
'Himmel! Why the devil are you doing that?' he asked, in his German- Hebrew-French.
'Doing what?' asked Little Billee, in his French of Stratford-atte- Bowe.
'Sitting in water and playing with a cake of soap and a sponge!'
'Why, to try and get myself clean, I suppose!'
'Ach! And how the devil did you get yourself dirty, then?'
To this Little Billee found no immediate answer, and went on with his ablutions after the hissing, splashing, energetic fashion of Englishmen; and Svengali laughed loud and long at the spectacle of a little Englishman trying to get himself clean--tachant de se nettoyer!
When such cleanliness had been attained as was possible under the circumstances, Svengali begged for the loan of two hundred francs, and Little Billee gave him a five-franc piece.
Content with this, faute de mieux, the German asked him when he would be trying to get himself clean again, as he would much like to come and see him do it.
'Demang mattang, a votre sairveece!' said Little Billee, with a courteous bow.
'What!! Monday too!! Gott in Himmel! you try to get yourself clean every day?'
And he laughed himself out of the room, out of the house, out of the Place de l'Odeon--all the way to the Rue de Seine, where dwelt the 'Man of Blood,' whom he meant to propitiate with the story of that original, Little Billee, trying to get himself clean--that he might borrow another five-franc piece, or perhaps two.
As the reader will no doubt anticipate, he found Taffy in his bath also, and fell to laughing with such convulsive laughter, such twistings, screwings, and doublings of himself up, such pointings of his dirty forefinger at the huge naked Briton, that Taffy was offended, and all but lost his temper.
'What the devil are you cackling at, sacred head of pig that you are? Do you want to be pitched out of that window into the Rue de Seine? You filthy black Hebrew sweep! Just you wait a bit; I'll wash your head for you!'
And Taffy jumped out of his bath, such a towering figure of righteous Herculean wrath that Svengali was appalled, and fled.
'Donnerwetter!' he exclaimed as he tumbled down the narrow staircase of the Hotel de Seine; 'what for a thick head! what for a pigdog! what for a rotten, brutal, verflucbter kerl of an Englander!'
Then he paused for thought.
'Now will I go to that Scottish Englander, in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, for that other five-franc piece. But first will I wait a little while till he has perhaps finished trying to get himself clean.'
So he breakfasted at the cremerie Souchet, in the Rue Clopin-Clopant, and, feeling quite safe again, he laughed and laughed till his very sides were sore.
Two Englanders in one day--as naked as your hand!--a big one and a little one, trying to get themselves clean!
He rather flattered himself he had scored off those two Englanders.
After all, he was right perhaps, from his point of view; you can get as dirty in a week as in a lifetime, so what's the use of taking such a lot of trouble? Besides, so long as you are clean enough to suit your kind, to be any cleaner would be priggish and pedantic, and get you disliked.
Just as Svengali was about to knock at the Laird's door, Trilby came downstairs from Durien's, very unlike herself. Her eyes were red with weeping, and there were great black rings round them; she was pale under her freckles.
'Fous afez du chacrin, matemoiselle?' asked he.
She told him that she had neuralgia in her eyes, a thing she was subject to; that the pain was maddening, and generally lasted twenty- four hours.
'Perhaps I can cure you; come in here with me.'
The Laird's ablutions (if he had indulged in any that morning) were evidently over for the day. He was breakfasting on a roll and butter, and coffee of his own brewing. He was deeply distressed at the sight of poor Trilby's sufferings, and offered whisky and coffee and gingernuts, which she would not touch.
Svengali told her to sit down on the divan, and sat opposite to her, and bade her look him well in the white of the eyes.
'Recartez-moi pien tans le plane tes yeux.'
Then he made little passes and counterpasses on her forehead and temples and down her cheek and neck. Soon her eyes closed and her face grew placid. After a while, a quarter of an hour perhaps, he asked her if she suffered still.
'Oh! presque plus du tout, monsieur--c'est le ciel.'
In a few minutes more he asked the Laird if he knew German.
'Just enough to understand,' said the Laird (who had spent a year in Dusseldorf), and Svengali said to him in German: 'See, she sleeps not, but she shall not open her eyes. Ask her.'
'Are you asleep, Miss Trilby?' asked the Laird.
'Then open your eyes and look at me.'
She strained to open her eyes, but could not, and said so.
Then Svengali said, again in German, 'She shall not open her mouth. Ask her.'
'Why couldn't you open your eyes, Miss Trilby?'
She strained to open her mouth and speak, but in vain.
'She shall not rise from the divan. Ask her.'
But Trilby was spellbound, and could not move.
'I will now set her free,' said Svengali.
And, lo! she got up and waved her arms, and cried, 'Vive la Prusse! Vive la guerie!' and in her gratitude she kissed Svengali's hand; and he leered, and showed his big brown teeth and the yellow whites at the top of his big black eyes, and drew his breath with a hiss.
'Now I'll go to Durien's and sit. How can I thank you, monsieur? You have taken all my pain away.'
'Yes, matemoiselle. I have got it myself; it is in my elbows. But I love it, because it comes from you. Every time you have pain you shall come to me, 12 Rue Tire-Liard, au sixieme au-dessus de Pentresol, and I will cure you and take your pain myself--'
'Oh, you are too good!' and in her high spirits she turned round on her heel and uttered her portentous warcry, 'Milk below!' The very rafters rang with it, and the piano gave out a solemn response.
'What is that you say, matemoiselle?'
'Oh, it's what the milkmen say in England.'
'It is a wonderful cry, matemoiselle--ivunderscbon! It comes straight through the heart; it has its roots in the stomach, and blossoms into music on the lips like the voice of Madame Alboru--voce sulle labbre! It is good production--c'est un cri du coeur!'
Trilby blushed with pride and pleasure.
'Yes, matemoiselle! I know only one person in the whole world who can produce the voice so well as you! I give you my word of honour.'
'Who is it, monsieur--yourself?'
'Ach, no, matemoiselle; I have not that privilege. I have unfortunately no voice to produce. ... It is a waiter at the Cafe de la Rotonde, in the Palais Royal; when you call for coffee, he says "Bourn!" in basso profondo. Tiefstimme--F moll below the line--it is phenomenal! It is like a cannon--a cannon also has very good production, matemoiselle. They pay him for it a thousand francs a year, because he brings many customers to the Cafe de la Rotonde, where the coffee isn't very good, although it costs three sous a cup dearer than at the Cafe Larsouille in the Rue Flamberge-au-Vent. When he dies they will search all France for another, and then all Germany, where the good big waiters come from--and the cannons--but they will not find him, and the Cafe de la Rotonde will be bankrupt--unless you will consent to take his place. Will you permit that I shall look into your mouth, matemoiselle?'
She opened her mouth wide, and he looked into it.
'Himmel! the roof of your mouth is like the dome of the Pantheon; there is room in it for "toutes les gloires de la France," and a little to spare! The entrance to your throat is like the middle porch of St. Sulpice when the doors are open for the faithful on All Saints' Day; and not one tooth is missing--thirty-two British teeth as white as milk and as big as knuckle-bones! and your little tongue is scooped out like the leaf of a pink peony, and the bridge of your nose is like the belly of a Stradivarius--what a sounding-board! and inside your beautiful big chest the lungs are made of leather! and your breath, it embalms--like the breath of a beautiful white heifer fed on the buttercups and daisies of the Vater-land! and you have a quick, soft, susceptible heart, a heart of gold, matemoiselle--all that sees itself in your face!
'"Votre coeur est un luth suspendu!
Aussitot qu'on le touche, il resonne..."'
What a pity you have not also the musical organisation!' 'Oh, but I have, monsieur; you heard me sing "Ben Bolt" didn't you? What makes you say that?'
Svengali was confused for a moment. Then he said: 'When I play the "Rosemonde" of Schubert, matemoiselle, you look the other way and smoke a cigarette... You look at the big Taffy, at the Little Billee, at the pictures on the walls, or out of window, at the sky, the chimney-pots of Notre Dame de Paris; you do not look at Svengali!--- Svengali, who looks at you with all his eyes, and plays you the "Rosemonde" of Schubert!'
'Oh, mai'e ai'e!' exclaimed Trilby; 'you do use lovely language!'
'But never mind, matemoiselle; when your pain arrives, then shall you come once more to Svengali, and he shall take it away from you, and keep it himself for a soufenir of you when you are gone. And when you have it no more, he shall play you the "Rosemonde" of Schubert, all alone for you; and then "Messieurs les etutiants, montez a la chaumiere!"...because it is gayer! And you shall see nothing, hear nothing, think of nothing but Svengali, Svengali, Svengali!'
Here he felt his peroration to be so happy and effective that he thought it well to go at once and make a good exit. So he bent over Trilby's shapely freckled hand and kissed it, and bowed himself out of the room, without even borrowing his five-franc piece.
'He's a rum 'un, ain't he?' said Trilby. 'He reminds me of a big hungry spider, and makes me feel like a fly! But he's cured my pain! he's cured my pain! Ah! you don't know what my pain is when it comes!'
'I wouldn't have much to do with him, all the same!' said the Laird. 'I'd sooner have any pain than have it cured in that unnatural way, and by such a man as that! He's a bad fellow, Svengali--I'm sure of it! He mesmerised you; that's what it is--mesmerism! I've often heard of it, but never seen it done before. They get you into their power, and just make you do any blessed thing they please--lie, murder, steal---anything! and kill yourself into the bargain when they've done with you! It's just too terrible to think of!'
So spake the Laird, earnestly, solemnly, surprised out of his usual self, and most painfully impressed--and his own impressive-ness grew upon him and impressed him still more. He loomed quite prophetic.
Cold shivers went down Trilby's back as she listened. She had a singularly impressionable nature, as was shown by her quick and ready susceptibility to Svengali's hypnotic influence. And all that day, as She posed for Durien (to whom she did not mention her adventure), she was haunted by the memory of Svengali's big eyes and the touch of his soft, dirty finger-tips on her face; and her fear and her repulsion grew together.
And 'Svengali, Svengali, Svengali!' went ringing in her head and ears till it became an obsession, a dirge, a knell, an unendurable burden, almost as hard to bear as the pain in her eyes.
'Svengali, Svengali, Svengali!'
At last she asked Dorien if he knew him.
'Parbleu! Si je connais Svengali!'
'Qu'est-ce que t'en penses?'
'Quand il sera mort, ca fera une fameuse crapule de moins!'
Carrel's atelier (or painting-school) was in the Rue Notre Dame des Potirons St. Michel, at the end of a large courtyard, where there were many large dirty windows facing north, and each window let the light of heaven into a large dirty studio.
The largest of these studios, and the dirtiest, was Carrel's, where some thirty or forty art students drew and painted from the nude model every day but Sunday from eight till twelve, and for two hours in the afternoon, except on Saturdays, when the afternoon was devoted to much-needed Augean sweepings and cleanings.
One week the model was male, the next female, and so on, alternating through the year.
A stove, a model-throne, stools, boxes, some fifty strongly-built low chairs with backs, a couple of score easels and many drawing-boards, completed the mobilier.
The bare walls were adorned with endless caricatures--des charges--in charcoal and white chalk; and also the scrapings of many palettes--a polychromous decoration not unpleasing.
For the freedom of the studio and the use of the model each student paid ten francs a month to the mossier, or senior student, the responsible bell-wether of the flock; besides this, it was expected of you, on your entrance or initiation, that you should pay for your footing--your bienvenue--some thirty, forty, or fifty francs, to be spent on cakes and rum punch all round.
Every Friday Monsieur Carrel, a great artist, and also a stately, well-dressed, and most courteous gentleman (duly decorated with the red rosette of the Legion of Honour), came for two or three hours and went the round, spending a few minutes at each drawing-board or easel--ten or even twelve when the pupil was an industrious and promising one.
He did this for love, not money, and deserved all the reverence with which he inspired this somewhat irreverent and most unruly company, which was made up of all sorts.
Graybeards who had been drawing and painting there for thirty years and more, and remembered other masters than Carrel, and who could draw and paint a torso almost as well as Titian or Velasquez--almost, but not quite--and who could never do anything else, and were fixtures at Carrel's for life.
Younger men who in a year or two, or three or five, or ten or twenty, were bound to make their mark, and perhaps follow in the footsteps of the master; others as conspicuously singled out for failure and future mischance--for the hospital, the garret, the river, the Morgue, or, worse, the traveller's bag, the road, or even the paternal counter.
Irresponsible boys, mere rapins, all laugh and chaff and mischief-- blague et bagout Parisien; little lords of misrule---wits, butts, bullies; the idle and industrious apprentice, the good and the bad, the clean and the dirty (especially the latter)--all more or less animated by a certain esprit de corps, and working very happily and genially together, on the whole, and always willing to help each other with sincere artistic counsel if it was asked for seriously, though it was not always couched in terms very flattering to one's self-love.
Before Little Billee became one of this band of brothers he had been working for three or four years in a London art school, drawing and painting from the life; he had also worked from the antique in the British Museum--so that he was no novice.
As he made his debut at Carrel's one Monday morning he felt somewhat shy and ill at ease. He had studied French most earnestly at home in England and could read it pretty well, and even write it and speak it after a fashion; but he spoke it with much difficulty, and found studio French a different language altogether from the formal and polite language he had been at such pains to acquire. Ollendorff does not cater for the Quartier Latin. Acting on Taffy's advice--for Taffy had worked under Carrel--Little Billee handed sixty francs to the massier for his bienvenue--a lordly sum--and this liberality made a most favourable impression, and went far to destroy any little prejudice that might have been caused by the daintiness of his dress, the cleanliness of his person, and the politeness of his manners. A place was assigned to him, and an easel and a board; for he elected to stand at his work and begin with a chalk drawing. The model (a male) was posed, and work began In silence. Monday morning is always rather sulky everywhere (except perhaps in Judee). During the ten minutes' rest three or four students came and looked at Little Billee's beginnings, and saw at a glance that he thoroughly; well knew what he was about, and respected him for it.
Nature had given him a singularly light hand--or rather two, for he was ambidextrous, and could use both with equal skill; and a few months' practice at a London life school had quite cured him of that purposeless Indecision of touch which often characterises the prentice hand for years of apprenticeship, and remains with the amateur for life. The lightest and most careless of his pencil strokes had a precision that was inimitable, and a charm that specially belonged to him, and was easy to recognise at a glance. His touch on either canvas or paper was like Svengali's on the keyboard--unique.
As the morning ripened little attempts at conversation were made--- little breakings of the ice of silence. It was Lambert, a youth with a singularly facetious face, who first woke the stillness with the following uncalled-for remarks in English very badly pronounced:
'Av you seen my fahzere's ole shoes?'
'I av not seen your fahzere's ole shoes.'
Then, after a pause:
'Av you seen my fahzere's ole 'at?'
'I av not seen your fahzere's ole 'at!'
Presently another said, 'Je trouve qu'il a une jolie tete, l'Anglais.'
But I will put it all into English:
'I find that he has a pretty head--the Englishman! What say you, Barizel?'
'Yes; but why has he got eyes like brandy-balls, two a penny?' 'Because he's an Englishman!'
'Yes; but why has he got a mouth like a guinea-pig, with two big teeth in front like the double blank at dominoes?' 'Because he's an Englishman!'
'Yes; but why has he got a back without any bend in it, as if he'd swallowed the Colonne Vendome as far up as the battle of Austerlitz?'
'Because he's an Englishman!'
And so on, till all the supposed characteristics of Little Billee's outer man were exhausted. Then: 'Papelard!'
'I should like to know if the Englishman says his prayers before going to bed.'
'Ask him yourself.'
'I should like to know if the Englishman has sisters; and if so, how old and how many and what sex.'
'Ask him yourself!'
'I should like to know the detailed and circumstantial history of the Englishman's first love, and how he lost his innocence!'
'Ask him,' etc. etc. etc.
Little Billee, conscious that he was the subject of conversation, grew somewhat nervous. Soon he was addressed directly.
'Dites done, l'Anglais?'
'Kwaw?' said Little Billee.
'Avez-vous une soeur?'
'Est-ce qu'elle vous ressemble?'
'C'est bien dommage! Est-ce qu'elle dit ses prieres, le soir, en se couchant?'
A fierce look came into Little Billee's eyes and a redness to his cheeks, and this particular form of overture to friendship was abandoned.
Presently Lambert said, 'Si nous mettions l'Anglais a l'echelle?'
Little Billee, who had been warned, knew what this ordeal meant.
They tied you to a ladder, and carried you in procession up and down the courtyard, and if you were nasty about it they put you under the pump.
During the next rest it was explained to him that he must submit to this indignity, and the ladder (which was used for reaching the high shelves round the studio) was got ready.
Little Billee smiled a singularly winning smile, and suffered himself to be bound with such good-humour that they voted it wasn't amusing, and unbound him, and he escaped the ordeal by ladder.
Taffy had also escaped, but in another way. When they tried to seize him he took up the first rapin that came to hand,' and using him as a kind of club, he swung him about so freely and knocked down so many students and easels and drawing-boards with him, and made such a terrific rumpus, that the whole studio had to cry for 'pax!' Then he performed feats of strength of such a surprising kind that the memory of him remained in Carrel's studio for years, and he became a legend, a tradition, a myth! It is now said (in what still remains of the Quartier Latin) that he was seven feet high, and used to juggle with the massier and model as with a pair of billiard balls, using only his left hand!
To return to Little Billee. When it struck twelve, the cakes and rum punch arrived--a very goodly sight that put every one in a good temper.
The cakes were of three kinds--Babas, Madeleines, and Savarins---three sous apiece, fourpence-halfpenny the set of three. No nicer cakes are made in France, and they are as good in the Quartier Latin as anywhere else; no nicer cakes are made in the whole world, that I know of. You must begin with the Madeleine, which is rich and rather heavy; then the Baba; and finish up with the Savarin, which is shaped like a ring, very light, and flavoured with rum. And then you must really leave off.
The rum punch was tepid, very sweet, and not a bit too strong.
They dragged the model-throne into the middle, and a chair was put on for Little Billee, who dispensed his hospitality in a very polite and attractive manner, helping the massier first, and then the other graybeards in the order of their grayness, and so on down to the model.
Presently, just as he was about to help himself, he was asked to sing them an English song. After a little pressing he sung them a song about a gay cavalier who went to serenade his mistress (and a ladder of ropes, and a pair of masculine gloves that didn't belong to the gay cavalier, but which he found in his lady's bower)--a poor sort of song, but it was the nearest approach to a comic song he knew. There are four verses to it, and each verse is rather long. It does not sound at all funny to a French audience, and even with an English one Little Billee was not good at comic songs.
He was, however, much applauded at the end of each verse. When he had finished, he was asked if he were quite sure there wasn't any more of it, and they expressed a deep regret; and then each student, straddling on his little thick-set chair as on a horse, and clasping the back of it in both hands, galloped round Little Billee's throne quite seriously--the strangest procession he had ever seen. It made him laugh till he cried, so that he could not eat or drink.
Then he served more punch and cake all round; and just as he was going to begin himself, Papelard said:
'Say, you others, I find that the Englishman has something of truly distinguished in the voice, something of sympathetic, of touching--- something of je ne sais quoi!'
Bouchardy: 'Yes, yes--something of je ne sais quoi! That's the very phrase--n'est-ce pas, vous autres?--that is a good phrase that Papelard has just invented to describe the voice of the Englishman. He is very intelligent--Papelard.'
Chorus: 'Perfect, perfect; he has the genius of characterisation-- Papelard. Dites done, l'Anglais! once more that beautiful song---hein? Nous vous en prions tous.'
Little Billee willingly sang it again, with even greater applause, and again they galloped, but the other way round and faster, so that Little Billee became quite hysterical, and laughed till his sides ached.
Then Dubose: 'I find there is something of very capitous and exciting in English music--of very stimulating. And you, Bouchardy?'
Bouchardy: 'Oh me! It is above all the words that I admire; they have something of passionate, of romantic--"ze-ese gla-aves, zese gla-aves, zey do not belong to me." I don't know what that means, but I love that sort of--of--of--of--je ne sais quoi, in short! Just once more, l'Anglais; only once, the bar couplets.'
So he sang it a third time, all four verses, while they leisurely ate and drank and smoked and looked at each other, nodding solemn commendation of certain phrases in the song: 'Tres bien!' 'Tres bien!' 'Ah! voila qui est bien reussi!' 'Epatant, ca'.' 'Tres fin!' etc. etc. For, stimulated by success, and rising to the occasion, he did his very utmost to surpass himself in emphasis of gesture and accent and histrionic drollery--heedless of the fact that not one of his listeners had the slightest notion what his song was about.
It was a sorry performance.
And it was not till he had sung it four times that he discovered the whole thing was an elaborate impromptu farce, of which he was the butt, and that of all his royal spread not a crumb or a drop was left for himself.
It was the old fable of the fox and the crow! And to do him justice, he laughed as heartily as any one, as if he thoroughly enjoyed the joke--and when you take jokes in that way people soon leave off poking fun at you. It is almost as good as being very big, like Taffy, and having a choleric blue eye!
Such was Little Billee's first experience of Carrel's studio, where he spent many happy mornings and made many good friends.
No more popular student had ever worked there within the memory of the grayest graybeards; none more amiable, more genial, more cheerful, self-respecting, considerate, and polite, and certainly none with greater gifts for art.
Carrel would devote at least fifteen minutes to him, and invited him often to his own private studio. And often, on the fourth or fifth day of the week, a group of admiring students would be gathered by his easel watching him as he worked.
'C'est un rude lapin, l'Anglais! au moins il sait son orthographe en peinture, ce coco-la!'
Such was the verdict on Little Billee at Carrel's studio; and I can conceive no much loftier praise.
Young as she was (seventeen or eighteen, or thereabouts), and also tender (like Little Billee), Trilby had singularly clear and quick perceptions in all matters that concerned her tastes, fancies, or affections, and thoroughly knew her own mind, and never lost much time in making it up.
On the occasion of her first visit to the studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, it took her just five minutes to decide that it was quite the nicest, homeliest, genialest, jolliest studio in the whole Quartier Latin, or out of it, and its three inhabitants, individually and collectively, were more to her taste than any one else she had ever met.
In the first place, they were English, and she loved to hear her mother-tongue and speak it. It awoke all manner of tender recollections, sweet reminiscences of her childhood, her parents, her old home--such a home as it was--or, rather, such homes; for there had been many flirtings from one poor nest to another. The O'Ferralls had been as birds on the bough.
She had loved her parents very dearly; and, indeed, with all their faults, they had many endearing qualities--the qualities that so often go with those particular faults--charm, geniality, kindness, warmth of heart, the constant wish to please, the generosity that comes before justice, and lends its last sixpence and forgets to pay its debts!
She knew other English and American artists, and had sat to them frequently for the head and hands; but none of these, for general agreeableness of aspect or manner, could compare in her mind with the stalwart and magnificent Taffy, the jolly fat Laird of Cockpen, the refined, sympathetic, and elegant Little Billee; and she resolved that she would see as much of them as she could, that she would make herself at home in that particular studio, and necessary to its locataires; and without being the least bit vain or self-conscious, she had no doubts whatever of her power to please--to make herself both useful and ornamental if it suited her purpose to do so.
Her first step in this direction was to borrow pere Martin's basket and lantern and pick (he had more than one set of these trade properties) for the use of Taffy, whom she feared she might have offended by the freedom of her comments on his picture.
Then, as often as she felt it to be discreet, she sounded her war-cry at the studio door and went in and made kind inquiries, and, sitting cross-legged on the model-throne, ate her bread and cheese and smoked her cigarette and 'passed the time of day,' as she chose to call it; telling them all such news of the Quartier as had come within her own immediate ken. She was always full of little stories of other studios, which, to do her justice, were always good-natured, and probably true--quite so, as far as she was concerned; she was the most literal person alive; and she told all these ragots, cancans, et potins d'atelier in a quaint and amusing manner. The slightest look of gravity or boredom on one of those three faces, and she made herself scarce at once.
She soon found opportunities for usefulness also. If a costume were wanted, for instance, she knew where to borrow it, or hire it or buy it cheaper than any one anywhere else. She procured stuffs for them at cost-price, as it seemed, and made them into draperies and female garments of any kind that was wanted, and sat in them for the toreador's sweetheart (she made the mantilla herself), for Taffy's starving dressmaker about to throw herself into the Seine, for Little Billee's studies of the beautiful French peasant girl in his picture, now so famous, called 'The Pitcher Goes to the Well.'
Then she darned their socks and mended their clothes, and got all their washing done properly and cheaply at her friend Madame Boisse's, in the Rue des Cloitres Ste. Petronille.
And then again, when they were hard up and wanted a good round sum of money for some little pleasure excursion, such as a trip to Fontainebleau or Barbizon for two or three days, it was she who took their watches and scarf-pins and things to the Mount of Piety in the Street of the Well of Love (where dwelt ma tante, which is French for 'my uncle' in this connection), in order to raise the necessary funds.
She was, of course, most liberally paid for all these little services, rendered with such pleasure and goodwill--far too liberally, she thought. She would have been really happier doing them for love. Thus in a very short time she became a persona gratissima--a my and ever- welcome vision of health and grace and liveliness id unalterable good- humour, always ready to take any trouble to please her beloved 'Angliches,' as they were called by Madame Vinard, the handsome shrill-voiced concierge, who was almost jealous; for she was devoted to the Angliches too--and so was Monsieur Vinard--and so were the little Vinards.
She knew when to talk and when to laugh and when to hold her tongue; and the sight of her sitting cross-legged on the model-irone darning the Laird's socks or sewing buttons on his shirts or repairing the smoke-holes in his trousers was so pleasant that it was painted by all three. One of these sketches (in water-colour Little Billee) sold the other day at Christie's for a sum so large that I hardly dare to mention it. It was done in an afternoon.
Sometimes on a rainy day, when it was decided they should line at home, she would fetch the food and cook it, and lay the cloth, and even make the salad. She was a better saladist than Taffy, a better cook than the Laird, a better caterer than Little Billee. And she would be invited to take her share in the banquet, id on these occasions her tremulous happiness was so immense that it would be quite pathetic to see--almost painful; and their three British hearts were touched by thoughts of all the loneliness id homelessness, the expatriation, the half-conscious loss of taste, that all this eager childish clinging revealed. And that is why (no doubt) that with all this familiar intimacy there was never any hint of gallantry or flirtation in any shape or form whatever--bonne camaraderie voila tout. Had she been Little Billee's sister she could not have been treated with more real respect. And her deep gratitude for this unwonted compliment transcended any passion she had ever felt. As the good Lafontaine so prettily says--
'Ces animaux vivaient entre eux comme cousins;
Cette union si douce, et presque fraternelle.
Edifiait tous les voisins!'
And then their talk! It was to her as the talk of the gods in Olympus, save that it was easier to understand, and she could always understand it. For she was a very intelligent person, in spite of her woefully neglected education, and most ambitious to learn--a new ambition for her.
So they lent her books--English books: Dickens, Thackeray, Walter Scott--which she devoured in the silence of the night, the solitude of her little attic in the Rue des Pousse-Cailloux, and new worlds were revealed to her. She grew more English every day; and that was a good thing.
Trilby speaking English and Trilby speaking French were two different beings. Trilby's English was more or less that of her father, a highly-educated man; her mother, who was a Scotchwoman, although an uneducated one, had none of the ungainliness that mars the speech of so many Englishwomen in that humble rank--no droppings of the h, no broadening of the o's and a's.
Trilby's French was that of the Quartier Latin--droll, slangy, piquant, quaint, picturesque--quite the reverse of ungainly, but in which there was scarcely a turn of phrase that would not stamp the speaker as being hopelessly, emphatically 'no lady!' Though it was funny without being vulgar, it was perhaps a little too funny!
And she handled her knife and fork in the dainty English way, as no doubt her father had done--and his; and, indeed, when alone with them she was so absolutely 'like a lady' that it seemed quite odd (though very seductive) to see her in a grisette's cap and dress and apron. So much for her English training.
But enter a Frenchman or two, and a transformation effected itself immediately--a new incarnation of Trilbyness--so droll and amusing that it was difficult to decide which of her two incarnations was the more attractive.
It must be admitted that she had her faults--like Little Billee. For instance, she would be miserably jealous of any other woman who came to the studio, to sit or scrub or sweep or do anything else, even of the dirty tipsy old hag who sat for Taffy's 'Found drowned'--'as if she couldn't have sat for it herself!'
And then she would be cross and sulky, but not for long--an injured martyr, soon ready to forgive and be forgiven.
She would give up any sitting to come and sit to her three English friends. Even Durien had serious cause for complaint.
Then her affection was exacting: she always wanted to be told one was fond of her, and she dearly loved her own way, even in the sewing on of buttons and the darning of socks, which was innocent enough. But when it came to the cutting and fashioning of garments for a toreador's bride, it was a nuisance not to be borne!
'What could she know of toreadors' brides and their wedding-dresses?' the Laird would indignantly ask--as if he were a toreador himself; and this was the aggravating side of her irrepressible Trilbyness.
In the caressing, demonstrative tenderness of her friendship she 'made the soft eyes' at all three indiscriminately. But sometimes Little Billee would look up from his work as she was sitting to Taffy or the Laird, and find her gray eyes fixed on him with an all-enfolding gaze, so piercingly, penetratingly, unutterably sweet and kind and tender, such a brooding, dovelike look of soft and warm solicitude, that he would feel a flutter at his heart, and his hand would shake so that he could not paint; and in a waking dream he would remember that his mother had often looked at him like that when he was a small boy, and she a beautiful young woman untouched by care or sorrow; and the tear that always lay in readiness so close to the corner of Little Billee's eye would find it very difficult to keep itself in its proper place-- unshed.
And at such moments the thought that Trilby sat for the figure would go through him like a knife.
She did not sit promiscuously to anybody who asked, it is true. But she still sat to Durien; to the great Gerome; to M. Carrel, who scarcely used any other model.
It was poor Trilby's sad distinction that she surpassed all other models as Calypso surpassed her nymphs; and whether by long habit, or through some obtuseness in her nature, or lack of imagination, she was equally unconscious of self with her clothes on or without! Truly, she could be naked and unashamed--in this respect an absolute savage.
She would have ridden through Coventry, like Lady Godiva--but without giving it a thought beyond wondering why the streets were empty and the shops closed and the blinds pulled down--would even have looked up to Peeping Tom's shutter with a friendly nod, had she known he was behind it.
In fact, she was absolutely without that kind of shame, as she was without any kind of fear. But she was destined soon to know both fear and shame.
And here it would not be amiss for me to state a fact well known to all painters and sculptors who have used the nude model (except a few shady pretenders, whose purity, not being of the right sort, has gone rank from too much watching), namely, that nothing is so chaste as nudity. Venus herself, as she drops her garments and steps on to the model-throne, leaves behind her on the floor every weapon in her armoury by which she can pierce to the grosser passions of man. The more perfect her unveiled beauty, the more keenly it appeals to his higher instincts. And where her beauty fails (as it almost always does somewhere in the Venuses who sit for hire), the failure is so lamentably conspicuous in the studio light--the fierce light that beats on this particular throne--that Don Juan himself, who has not got to paint, were fain to hide his eyes in sorrow and disenchantment, and fly to other climes.
All beauty is sexless in the eyes of the artist at his work--the beauty of man, the beauty of woman, the heavenly beauty of the child, which is the sweetest and best of all.
Indeed it is woman, lovely woman, whose beauty falls the shortest, for sheer lack of proper physical training.
As for Trilby, G--, to whom she sat for his Phryne, once told me that the sight of her thus was a thing to melt Sir Galahad, yet sober Silenus, and chasten Jove himself--a thing to Quixotise a modern French masher! I can well believe him. For myself, I only speak of Trilby as I have seen her--clothed and in her right mind. She never sat to me for any Phryne, never bared herself to me, nor did I ever dream of asking her. I would as soon have asked the Queen of Spain to let me paint her legs! But I have worked from many female models in many countries, some of them the best of their kind. I have also, like Svengali, seen Taffy 'trying to get himself clean,' either at home or in the swimming-baths of the Seine; and never a sitting woman among them all who could match for grace or finish or splendour of outward form that mighty Yorkshireman sitting in his tub, or sunning himself, like Ilyssus, at the Bains Henri Quatre, or taking his running header a la hussarde, off the springboard at the Bains Deligny, with a group of wondering Frenchmen gathered round.
Up he shot himself into mid-air with a sounding double downward kick, parabolically; then, turning a splendid semi-demi-som-ersault against the sky, down he came headlong, his body straight and stiff as an arrow, and made his clean hole in the water without splash or sound, to reappear a hundred yards farther on! 'Sac a papier! quel gaillard que cet Anglais, hein?'
'A-t-on jamais vu un torse pareil!' 'Et les bras, done!' 'Et les jambes, nom d'un tonnerre!'
'Matin! J'aimerais mieux etre en colere centre lui qu'il ne sort en colere contre moi!' etc. etc. etc. Omne ignotum pro magnifico!
If our climate were such that we could go about without any clothes on, we probably should; in which case, although we should still murder and lie and steal and bear false witness against our neighbour, and break the Sabbath Day, and take the Lord's name in vain, much deplorable wickedness of another kind would cease to exist for sheer lack of mystery; and Christianity would be relieved of its hardest task in this sinful world, and Venus Aphrodite (alias Aselgeia) would have to go a-begging along with the tailors and dressmakers and bootmakers, and perhaps our bodies and limbs would be as those of the Theseus and Venus of Milo; who was no Venus, except in good looks!
At all events, there would be no cunning, cruel deceptions, no artful taking in of artless inexperience, no unduly hurried waking up from Love's young dream, no handing down to posterity of hidden uglinesses and weaknesses, and worse!
And also many a flower, now born to blush unseen, would be reclaimed from its desert, and suffered to hold its own, and flaunt away with the best in the inner garden of roses! And poor Miss Gale, the figure- model, would be permitted to eke out her slender earnings by teaching calisthenics and deportment to the daughters of the British upper middle-class at Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, The Mall, Chiswick.
And here let me humbly apologise to the casual reader for the length and possible irrelevancy of this digression, and for its subject. To those who may find matter for sincere disapprobation or even grave offence in a thing that has always seemed to me so simple, so commonplace, as to be hardly worth talking or writing about, I can only plead sincerity equal to theirs, and as deep a love and reverence for the gracious, goodly shape that God is said to have made after His own image for inscrutable purposes of His own.
Nor, indeed, am I pleading for such a subversive and revolutionary measure as the wholesale abolition of clothes, being the chilliest of mortals, and quite unlike Mr. Theseus or Mr. Ilyssus either.
Sometimes Trilby would bring her little brother to the studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, in his beaux habits de Palques, his hair well curled and pomatumed, his hands and face well washed.
He was a very engaging little mortal. The Laird would fill his pockets full of Scotch goodies, and paint him as a little Spaniard, in 'Le Fils du Toreador,' a sweet little Spaniard with blue eyes, and curly locks as light as tow, and a complexion of milk and roses, in singular and piquant contrast to his swarthy progenitors.
Taffy would use him as an Indian club or a dumb-bell, to the child's infinite delight, and swing him on the trapeze, and teach him la boxe.
And the sweetness and fun of his shrill, happy, infantile laughter (which was like an echo of Trilby's, only an octave higher) so moved and touched and tickled one that Taffy had to look quite fierce, so he might hide the strange delight of tenderness that somehow filled his manly bosom at the mere sound of it (lest Little Billee and the Laird should think him goody-goody); and the fiercer Taffy looked, the less this small mite was afraid of him.
Little Billee made a beautiful water-colour sketch of him, just as he was, and gave it to Trilby, who gave it to le pere Martin, who gave it to his wife with strict injunctions not to sell it as an old master. Alas! it is an old master now, and Heaven only knows who has got it!
Those were happy days for Trilby's little brother, happy days for Trilby, who was immensely fond of him, and very proud. And the happiest day of all was when the trois Angliches took Trilby and Jeannot (for so the mite was called)--to spend the Sunday in the woods at Meudon, and breakfast and dine at the garde cham-petre's. Swings, peep-shows, donkey-rides; shooting at a mark with crossbows and little pellets of clay, and smashing little plaster figures and winning macaroons; losing one's self in the beautiful forest; catching newts and tadpoles and young frogs; making music on mirlitons. Trilby singing 'Ben Bolt' into a mirliton was a thing to be remembered, whether one would or no!
Trilby on this occasion came out in a new character, en demoiselle, with a little black bonnet, and a gray jacket of her own making.
To look at (but for her loose, square-toed, heel-less silk boots laced up the inner side), she might have been the daughter of an English dean--until she undertook to teach the Laird some favourite cancan steps. And then the Laird himself, it must be admitted, no longer looked like the son of a worthy, God-fearing, Sabbath-keeping Scotch solicitor.
This was after dinner, in the garden, at la loge du garde champetre. Taffy and Jeannot and Little Billee made the necessary music on their mirlitons, and the dancing soon became general, with plenty also to look on, for the garde had many customers who dined there on summer Sundays.
It is no exaggeration to say that Trilby was far and away the belle of that particular ball, and there have been worse balls in much finer company, and far plainer women!
Trilby lightly dancing the cancan (there are cancans and cancans) was a singularly gainly and seductive person--et vera incessu patuit d'ea! Here, again, she was funny without being vulgar. And for mere grace (even in the cancan), she was the forerunner of Miss Kate Vaughan; and for sheer fun, the precursor of Miss Nelly Farren!
And the Laird, trying to dance after her ('dongsong le konkong,' as he called it), was too funny for words; and if genuine popular success is a true test of humour, no greater humorist ever danced a pas seul.
What Englishmen could do in France during the fifties, and yet manage to preserve their self-respect, and even the respect of their respectable French friends!
'Voila l'espayce de horn ker jer swee!' said the Laird, every time he bowed in acknowledgment of the applause that greeted his performance of various solo steps of his own--Scotch reels and sword-dances that came in admirably....
Then, one fine day (as a judgment on him, no doubt), the Laird fell ill, and the doctor had to be sent for, and he ordered a nurse. But Trilby would hear of no nurses, not even a Sister of Charity! She did all the nursing herself, and never slept a wink for three successive days and nights.
On the third day the Laird was out of all danger, the delirium was past, and the doctor found poor Trilby fast asleep by the bedside.
Madame Vinard, at the bedroom door, put her finger to her lips, and whispered: 'Quel bonheur! il est sauve, M. le Docteur; ecoutez! il dit ses prieres en Anglais, ce brave garcon!'
The good old doctor, who didn't understand a word of English, listened, and heard the Laird's voice, weak and low, but quite clear, and full of heartfelt fervour, intoning, solemnly:
'"Green herbs, red peppers mussels, saffron.
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace--
All these you eat at Terre's Tavern
In that one dish of bouillabaisse!"'
'Ah! mais c'est tres bien de sa part, ce brave jeune homme! rendre graces au ciel comme cela, quand le danger est passe! tres bien, tres bien!'
Sceptic and Voltairian as he was, and not the friend of prayer, the good doctor was touched, for he was old, and therefore kind and tolerant, and made allowances.
And afterwards he said such sweet things to Trilby about it all, and about her admirable care of his patient, that she positively wept with delight--like sweet Alice with hair so brown, whenever Ben Bolt gave her a smile.
All this sounds very goody-goody, but it's true. So it will be easily understood how the trois Angliches came in time to feel for Trilby quite a peculiar regard, and looked forward with sorrowful forebodings to the day when this singular and pleasant little quartet would have to be broken up, each of them to spread his wings and fly away on his own account, and poor Trilby to be left behind all by herself. They would even frame little plans whereby she might better herself in life, and avoid the many snares and pitfalls that would beset her lonely path in the Quartier Latin when they were gone.
Trilby never thought of such things as these; she took short views of life, and troubled herself about no morrows.
There was, however, one jarring figure in her little fool's paradise, a baleful and most ominous figure that constantly crossed her path, and came between her and the sun, and threw its shadow over her, and that was Svengali.
He also was a frequent visitor at the studio in the Place St. Anatole, where much was forgiven him for the sake of his music, especially when he came with Gecko and they made music together. But it soon became apparent that they did not come there to play to the three Angliches; it was to see Trilby, whom they both had taken it into their heads to adore, each in a different fashion:
Gecko, with a humble, doglike worship that expressed itself in mute, pathetic deference and looks of lowly self-depreciation, of apology for his own unworthy existence, as though the only requital he would ever dare to dream of were a word of decent politeness, a glance of tolerance or good-will--a mere bone to a dog.
Svengali was a bolder wooer. When he cringed, it was with a mock humility full of sardonic threats; when he was playful, it was with a terrible playfulness, like that of a cat with a mouse--a weird, ungainly cat, and most unclean; a sticky, haunting, long, lean, uncanny, black spider-cat, if there is such an animal outside a bad dream.
It was a great grievance to him that she had suffered from no more pains in her eyes. She had; but preferred to endure them rather than seek relief from him.
So he would playfully try to mesmerise her with his glance, and sidle up nearer and nearer to her, making passes and counter-passes, with stern command in his eyes, till she would shake and shiver and almost sicken with fear, and all but feel the spell come over her, as in a nightmare, and rouse herself with a great effort and escape.
If Taffy were there he would interfere with a friendly 'Now then, old fellow, none of that!' and a jolly slap on the back, which would make Svengali cough for an hour, and paralyse his mesmeric powers for a week.
Svengali had a stroke of good-fortune. He played at three grand concerts with Gecko, and had a well-deserved success. He even gave a concert of his own, which made a furore, and blossomed out into beautiful and costly clothes of quite original colour and shape and pattern, so that people would turn round and stare at him in the street--a thing he loved. He felt his fortune was secure, and ran into debt with tailors, hatters, shoemakers, jewellers, but paid none of his old debts to his friends. His pockets were always full of printed slips---things that had been written about him in the papers--and he would read them aloud to everybody he knew, especially to Trilby, as she sat darning socks on the model-throne while the fencing and boxing were in train. And he would lay his fame and his fortune at her feet, on condition that she should share her life with him.
'Ach, himmel, Drilpy!' he would say, 'you don't know what it is to be a great pianist like me--bein? What is your Little Billee, with his stinking oil-bladders, sitting mum in his corner, his mahlstick and his palette in one hand, and his twiddling little footle pig's-hair brush in the other! What noise does he make? When his little fool of a picture is finished he will send it to London, and they will hang it on a wall with a lot of others, all in a line, like recruits called out for inspection, and the yawning public will walk by in procession and inspect, and say "damn!" Svengali will go to London himself. Ha! ha! He will be all alone on a platform, and play as nobody else can play; and hundreds of beautiful Englanderinnen will see and hear and go mad with love for him--Prinzessen, Comtessen, Serene English Altessen. They will soon lose their Serenity and their Highness when they hear Svengali! They will invite him to their palaces, and pay him a thousand francs to play for them; and after, he will loll in the best armchair, and they will sit all round him on footstools, and bring him tea and gin and kitchen and marrvns glace's, and lean over him and fan him--for he is tired after playing them for a thousand francs of Chopin! Ha, ha! I know all about it--hein?
'And he will not look at them, even! He will look inward, at his own dream--and his dream will be about Drilpy--to lay his talent, his glory, his thousand francs at her beautiful white feet!
'Their stupid, big, fat, tow-headed, putty-nosed husbands will be mad with jealousy, and long to box him, but they will be afraid. Ach! those beautiful Anclaises! they will think it an honour to mend his shirts, to sew buttons on his pantaloons; to darn his socks, as you are doing now for that sacred imbecile of a Scotchman who is always trying to paint toreadors, or that sweating, pigheaded bullock of an Englander who is always trying to get himself dirty and then to get himself clean again!--e da capo! 'Himmel! what big socks are those! what potato-sacks! 'Look at your Taffy! what is he good for but to bang great musicians on the back with his big bear's paw! He finds that droll, the bullock!
'Look at your Frenchmen there--your damned conceited ver-fluchte pig- dogs of Frenchmen--Durien, Barizel, Bouchardy! What can a Frenchman talk of, hein? Only himself, and run down everybody else! His vanity makes me sick! He always thinks the world is talking about him, the fool! He forgets that there is a fellow called Svengali for the world to talk about! I tell you, Drilpy, it is about me the world is talking--me and nobody else---me, me, me!
'Listen what they say in the Figaro (reads it).
'What do you think of that, hein? What would your Durien say if people wrote of him, like that?
'But you are not listening, sapperment! great big she-fool that you are--sheep's-head! Dummkopf! Donnerwetter! you are looking at the chimney-pots when Svengali talks! Look a little lower down between the houses, on the other side of the river! There is a little ugly gray building there, and inside are eight slanting slabs of brass, all of a row, like beds in a school dormitory, and one fine day you shall lie asleep on one of those slabs--you, Drilpy, who would not listen to Svengali, and therefore lost him!...And over the middle of you will be a little leather apron, and over your head a little brass tap, and all day long and all night the cold water shall trickle, trickle, trickle all the way down your beautiful white body to your beautiful white feet till they turn green, and your poor, damp, draggled, muddy rags will hang above you from the ceiling for your friends to know you by; drip, drip, drip! But you will have no friends. . ..
'And people of all sorts, strangers, will stare at you through the big plate-glass window--Englanders, chiffonniers, painters and sculptors, workmen, piou-pious, old hags of washerwomen--and say, "Ah! what a beautiful woman was that! Look at her! She ought to be rolling in her carriage and pair!" And just then who should come by, rolling in his carriage and pair, smothered in furs, and smoking a big cigar of the Havana, but Svengali, who will jump out, and push the canaille aside, and say, "Ha! ha! that is la grande Drilpy, who would not listen to Svengali, but looked at the chimney-pots when he told her of his manly love, and--"'
'Hi! damn it, Svengali, what the devil are you talking to Trilby about? You're making her sick; can't you see? Leave off, and go to the piano, man, or I'll come and slap you on the back again!'
Thus would that sweating, pig-headed bullock of an Englander stop Svengali's love-making and release Trilby from bad quarters of an hour.
Then Svengali, who had a wholesome dread of the pig-headed bullock, would go to the piano and make impossible discords, and say: 'Dear Drilpy, come and sing "Pen Poll!" I am thirsting for those so beautiful chest notes! Come!'
Poor Trilby needed little pressing when she was asked to sing, and would go through her lamentable performance, to the great discomfort of Little Billee. It lost nothing of its grotesqueness from Svengali's accompaniment, which was a triumph of cacophony, and he would encourage her--Trespien, trespten, cay est!
When it was over, Svengali would test her ear, as he called it, and strike the C in the middle and then the F just above, and ask which was the highest; and she would declare they were both exactly the same. It was only when he struck a note in the bass and another in the treble that she could perceive any difference, and said that the first sounded like pere Martin blowing up his wife, and the second like her little godson trying to make the peace between them.
She was quite tone-deaf, and didn't know it; and he would pay her extravagant compliments on her musical talent, till Taffy would say: 'Look here, Svengali, let's hear you sing a song!'
And he would tickle him so masterfully under the ribs that the creature howled and became quite hysterical.
Then Svengali would vent his love of teasing on Little Billee, and pin his arms behind his back and swing him round, saying: 'Himmel! what's this for an arm? It's like a girl's!' 'It's strong enough to paint!' said Little Billee. 'And what's this for a leg? It's like a mahlstick!' 'It's strong enough to kick, if you don't leave off!!' And Little Billee, the young and tender, would let out his little heel and kick the German's shins; and just as the German was going to retaliate, big Taffy would pin his arms and make him sing another song, more discordant than Trilby's--for he didn't dream of kicking Taffy: of that you may be sure!
Such was Svengali--only to be endured for the sake of his 'music--- always ready to vex, frighten, bully, or torment anybody or anything smaller and weaker than himself--from a woman or a child to a mouse or a fly.