Trilby by George du Maurier
'Vraiment, la reine aupres d'elle etait laide Quand, vers le soir. Elle passait sur le'pont de Tolede Un corset noir! Un chapelet du temps de Charlemagne Ornait son cou... Le vent qui vient a trovers la montagne Me rendrafou! Dansez, chantez, villageois! la nuit tombe. . Sabine, un jour. A tout donne--sa beaute de colombe. Et son amour-- Pour un anneau du Comte de Saldagne. Pour un bijou... Le vent qui vient it trovers la montagne M'a rendufou!'
Behold our three musketeers of the brush once more reunited in Paris, famous, after long years.
In emulation of the good Dumas, we will call it 'cinq ans apres.' It was a little more.
Taffy stands for Porthos and Athos rolled into one since he is big and good-natured, and strong enough to 'assommer un homme d'un coup de poing,' and also stately and solemn, of aristocratic and romantic appearance, and not too fat--not too much ongbongpwang, as the Laird called it--and also he does not dislike a bottle of wine, or even two, and looks as if he had a history.
The Laird, of course, is D'Artagnan, since he sells his pictures well, and by the time we are writing of has already become an Associate of the Royal Academy; like Quentin Durward, this D'Artagnan was a Scotsman:
'Ah, wasna he a Roguey, this piper of Dundee!'
And Little Billee, the dainty friend of duchesses, must stand for Aramis, I fear! It will not do to push the simile too far; besides, unlike the good Dumas, one has a conscience. One does not play ducks and drakes with historical facts, or tamper with historical personages. And if Athos, Porthos, and Co. are not historical by this time, I should like to know who are!
Well, so are Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee--tout ce qu'ily a de plus historique!
Our three friends, well groomed, frock-coated, shirt-collared within an inch of their lives, duly scarfed and scarf-pinned, chimney-pot- hatted, and most beautifully trousered, and balmorally booted, or neatly spatted (or whatever was most correct at the time), are breakfasting together on coffee, rolls, and butter at a little round table in the huge courtyard of an immense caravanserai, paved with asphalt, and covered in at the top with a glazed roof that admits the sun and keeps out the rain--and the air.
A magnificent old man as big as Taffy, in black cloth coat and breeches and black silk stockings, and a large metal chain round his neck and chest, looks down like Jove from a broad flight of marble steps--as though to welcome the coming guests, who arrive in cabs and railway omnibuses through a huge archway on the boulevard; or to speed those who part through a lesser archway opening on to a side street.
'Bon voyage, messieurs et dames!'
At countless other little tables other voyagers are breakfasting or ordering breakfast; or, having breakfasted, are smoking and chatting and looking about. It is a babel of tongues--the cheer-fullest, busiest, merriest scene in the world, apparently the costly place of rendezvous for all wealthy Europe and America; an atmosphere of banknotes and gold.
Already Taffy has recognised (and been recognised by) half a dozen old fellow-Crimeans, of unmistakable military aspect like himself; and three canny Scotsmen have discreetly greeted the Laird; and as for Little Billee, he is constantly jumping up from his breakfast and running to this table or that, drawn by some irresistible British smile of surprised and delighted female recognition: 'What, you here? How nice! Come over to hear La Svengali, I suppose?'
At the top of the marble steps in a long terrace, with seats and people sitting, from which tall glazed doors, elaborately carved and gilded, give access to luxurious drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, reading- rooms, lavatories, postal and telegraph offices; and all round and about are huge square green boxes, out of which grow tropical and exotic evergreens all the year round--with beautiful names that I have forgotten. And leaning against these boxes are placards announcing what theatrical or musical entertainments will take place in Paris that day or night; and the biggest of these placards (and the most fantastically decorated) informs the cosmopolite world that Madame Svengali intends to make her first appearance in Paris that very evening, at nine punctually, in the Cirque des Bashibazoucks, Rue St. Honore!
Our friends had only arrived the previous night, but they had managed to secure stalls a week beforehand. No places were any longer to be got for love or money. Many people had come to Paris on purpose to hear La Svengali--many famous musicians from England and everywhere else--but they would have to wait many days.
The fame of her was like a rolling snow-ball that had been rolling all over Europe for the last two years--wherever there was snow to be picked up in the shape of golden ducats.
Their breakfast over, Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee, cigar in mouth, arm-in-arm, the huge Taffy in the middle (comme autre-fois), crossed the sunshiny boulevard into the shade, and went down the Rue de la Paix, through the Place Vendome and the Rue Castiglione to the Rue de Rivoli--quite leisurely, and with a tender midriff-warming sensation of freedom and delight at almost every step.
Arrived at the corner pastrycook's, they finished the stumps of their cigars as they looked at the well-remembered show in the window; then they went in and had, Taffy a Madeleine, the Laird a Baba, and Little Billee a Savarin--and each, I regret to say, a liqueur-glass of rhum de l'ajamaique.
After this they sauntered through the Tuileries Gardens, and by the quay to their favourite Pont des Arts, and looked up and down the river--comme autrefois!
It is an enchanting prospect at any time and under any circumstances; but on a beautiful morning in mid-October, when you haven't seen it for five years, and are still young! and almost every stock and stone that meets your eye, every sound, every scent, has some sweet and subtle reminder for you--
Let the reader have no fear. I will not attempt to describe it. I shouldn't know where to begin (nor when to leave off!).
Not but what many changes had been wrought; many old landmarks were missing. And among them, as they found out a few minutes later, and much to their chagrin, the good old Morgue!
They inquired of a gardien de la paix, who told them that a new Morgue--'une bien jolie Morgue, ma foi!'--and much more commodious and comfortable than the old one, had been built beyond Notre Dame, a little to the right.
'Messieurs devraient voir ga--on y est tres bien!'
But Notre Dame herself was still there, and La Sainte Chapelle and Le Pont Neuf, and the equestrian statue of Henri IV. C'est toujours ca!
And as they gazed and gazed, each framed unto himself, mentally, a little picture of the Thames they had just left--and thought of Waterloo Bridge, and St. Paul's, and London--but felt no home-sickness whatever, no desire to go back in a hurry!
And looking down the river westward there was but little change.
On the left-hand side the terraces and garden of the Hotel de la Rochemartel (the sculptured entrance of which was in the Rue de Lille) still overtopped the neighbouring houses and shaded the quay with tall trees, whose lightly-falling leaves yellowed the pavement for at least a hundred yards of frontage--or backage, rather; for this was but the rear of that stately palace.
'I wonder if l'Zouzou has come into his dukedom yet?' said Taffy.
And Taffy the realist, Taffy the modern of moderns, also said many beautiful things about old historical French dukedoms; which, in spite of their plentifulness, were so much more picturesque than English ones, and constituted a far more poetical and romantic link with the past; partly on account of their beautiful, high-sounding names.
'Amaury de Brissac de Roncesvaulx de la Rochemartel-Bois-segur! what a generous mouthful! Why, the very sound of it is redolent of the twelfth century! Not even Howard of Norfolk can beat that!'
For Taffy was getting sick of 'this ghastly thin-faced time of ours,' as he sadly called it (quoting from a strange and very beautiful poem called 'Faustine,' which had just appeared in the Spectator---and which our three enthusiasts already knew by heart), and beginning to love all things that were old and regal and rotten and forgotten and of bad repute, and to long to paint them just as they really were.
'Ah! they managed these things better in France, especially in the twelfth century, and even the thirteenth!' said the Laird. 'Still, Howard of Norfolk isn't bad at a pinch--fote de myoof he continued, winking at Little Billee. And they promised themselves that they would leave cards on Zouzou, and if he wasn't a duke, invite him to dinner; and also Dodor, if they could manage to find him.
Then along the quay and up the Rue de Seine, and by well-remembered little mystic ways to the old studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts.
Here they found many changes. A row of new houses on the north side, by Baron Haussmann--the well-named--a boulevard was being constructed right through the place. But the old house had been respected; and looking up, they saw the big north window of their good old abode blindless and blank and black, but for a white placard in the middle of it with the words: 'A louer. Un atelier, et une chambre a coucher.'
They entered the courtyard through the little door in the porte cochere, and beheld Madame Vinard standing on the step of her loge, her arms akimbo, giving orders to her husband--who was sawing logs for firewood, as usual at that time of the year--and telling him he was the most helpless log of the lot.
She gave them one look, threw up her arms, and rushed at them, saying, 'Ah, mon Dieu! les trois Angliches!'
And they could not have complained of any lack of warmth in her greeting, or in Monsieur Vinard's.
'Ah! mais quel bonheur de vous revoir! Et comme vous avez bonne mine, tous! Et Monsieur Litrebili, done! il a grandi!' etc., etc., 'Mais vous allez boire la goutte avant tout--vite, Vinard! Le ratafia de cassis que Monsieur Durien nous a envoye la semaine derniere!'
And they were taken into the loge and made free of it--welcomed like prodigal sons; a fresh bottle of blackcurrant brandy was tapped, and did duty for the fatted calf. It was an ovation, and made quite a stir in the Quartier.
Le Retour des trois Angliches--cinq ans apres!
She told them all the news: about Bouchardy; Papelard; Jules Guinot, who was now in the Ministere de la Guerre; Barizel, who had given up the arts and gone into his father's business (umbrellas); Durien, who had married six months ago, and had a superb atelier in the Rue Taitbout, and was coining money; about her own family--Aglae, who was going to be married to the son of the charbonnier at the corner of the Rue de la Canicule--'un bon manage; bien solide!' Niniche, who was studying the piano at the Conservatoire, and had won the silver medal; Isidore, who, alas! had gone to the bad--'perdu par les femmes! un si joli garcon, vous concevez! ca ne lui a pas porte bonheur, par exemple!' And yet she was proud! and said his father would never have had the pluck!
'A dix-huit ans, pensez done!'
'And that good Monsieur Carrel; he is dead, you know! Ah messieurs savaient ga? Yes, he died at Dieppe, his natal town, during the winter, from the consequences of an Indigestion--que voulez-vous! He always had the stomach so feeble!...Ah, the beautiful interment, messieurs! Five thousand people, in spite of the rain! Car il pleuvait averse! And M. le Maire and his adjunct walking behind the hearse, and the gendarmerie and the douaniers, and a battalion of the douzieme chasseurs-a-pied, with their music, and all the sapper-pumpers, en grande tenue with their beautiful brass helmets! All the town was there, following: so there was nobody left to see the procession go by! q'c'etait beau! Mon Dieu, q'c'etait beau! c'que j'ai pleure, d'voir ca! n'est-ce-pas, Vinard?'
'Dame, oui, ma biche! j'crois bien! It might have been Monsieur le Maire himself that one was interring in person!'
'Ah, ca! voyons, Vinard; thou'rt not going to compare the Maire of Dieppe to a painter like Monsieur Carrel?'
'Certainly not, ma biche! But still, M. Carrel was a great man all the same, in his way. Besides, I wasn't there--nor thou either, as to that!'
'Mon Dieu! comme il est idiot, ce Vinard--of a stupidity to cut with a knife! Why, thou might'st almost be a Mayor thyself, sacred imbecile that thou art!'
And an animated discussion arose between husband and wife as to the respective merits of a country mayor on one side and a famous painter and a member of the Institute on the other, during which les trois Angliches were left out in the cold. When Madame Vinard had sufficiently routed her husband, which did not take very long, she turned to them again, and told them that she had started a magasin de bric-a-brac, Vous verrez ga!'
Yes, the studio had been to let for three months. Would they like to see it? Here were the keys. They would, of course, prefer to see it by themselves, alone; 'je comprends ca! et vous verrez ce que vous verrez!' Then they must come and drink once more again the drop, and inspect her magasin de bric-a-brac.
So they went up, all three, and let themselves into the old place where they had been so happy--and one of them for a while so miserable!
It was changed indeed.
Bare of all furniture, for one thing; shabby and unswept, with a pathetic air of dilapidation, spoliation, desecration, and a musty, shut-up smell; the window so dirty you could hardly see the new houses opposite; the floor a disgrace!
All over the walls were caricatures in charcoal and white chalk, with more or less incomprehensible legends; very vulgar and trivial and coarse, some of them, and pointless for trois Angliches.
But among these (touching to relate) they found, under a square of plate-glass that had been fixed on the wall by means of an oak frame, Little Billee's old black-and-white-and-red chalk sketch of Trilby's left foot, as fresh as if it had been done only yesterday! Over it was written: 'Souvenir de la Grande Trilby, par W. B. (Litrebili).' And beneath, carefully engrossed on imperishable parchment, and pasted on the glass, the following stanzas:--
'Pauvre Trilby--la belle et bonne et chere!
Je suis son pied. Devine qui voudra
Quel tendre ami, la cherissant naguere.
Encadra d'elle (et d'un amour sincere)
Ce souvenir charmant qu'un caprice inspira--
Qu'un souffle emportera!
'J'etais jumeau: qu'est devenu mon frere?
Helas! Helas! L'Amournous egara.
L'Eternite nous unira, j'espere;
Et nous ferons comme autrefois la paire
Au fond d'un lit bien chaste oil mil ne troublera
'O tendre ami, sans nous qu'allez-vous faire?
La porte est close ou Trilby demeura.
Le Paradis est loin...et sur la terre
(Qui nous fut douce et lui sera legere)
Pour trouver nos pareils, si bien qu'on cherchera--
Beau chercher Ton aura!'
Taffy drew a long breath into his manly bosom, and kept it there as he read this characteristic French doggerel (for so he chose to call this touching little symphony in ere and ra). His huge frame thrilled with tenderness and pity and fond remembrance, and he--said to himself (letting out his breath):
'Dear, dear Trilby! Ah! if you had only cared for me, I wouldn't have let you give me up--not for any one on earth. You were the mate for me!'
And that, as the reader has guessed long ago, was big Taffy's 'history.'
The Laird was also deeply touched, and could not speak. Had he been in love with Trilby, too? Had he ever been in love with any one?
He couldn't say. But he thought of Trilby's sweetness and unselfishness, her gaiety, her innocent kissings and caressings, her drollery and frolicsome grace, her way of filling whatever place she was in with her presence, the charming sight and the genial sound of her; and felt that no girl, no woman, no lady he had ever seen yet was a match for this poor waif and stray, this long-legged, cancan- dancing, Quartier Latin grisette, blanchisseuse de fin, 'and Heaven knows what besides!'
'Hang it all!' he mentally ejaculated, 'I wish to goodness I'd married her myself!'
Little Billee said nothing either. He felt unhappier than he had ever once felt for five long years--to think that he could gaze on such a memento as this, a thing so strongly personal to himself, with dry eyes and a quiet pulse! and he unemotionally, dispassionately, wished himself dead and buried for at least the thousand-and-first time!
All three possessed casts of Trilby's hands and feet, and photographs of herself. But nothing so charmingly suggestive of Trilby as this little masterpiece of a true artist, this happy fluke of a happy moment. It was Trilbyness itself, as the Laird thought, and should not be suffered to perish.
They took the keys back to Madame Vinard in silence. She said: 'Vous avez vu--n'est-ce pas, messieurs?--le pied de Trilby! c'est bien gentil! C'est Monsieur Durien qui a fait mettre le verre, quand vous etes partis; et Monsieur Guinot qui a compose I'epitaphe. Pauvre Trilby! qu'est-ce qu'elle est devenue! comme elle etait bonne fille, hein? et si belle! et cornme elle etait vive elle etait vive elle etait vive! Et comme elle vous aimait tous bien--et surtout Monsieur Litrebili--n'est-ce pas?'
Then she insisted on giving them each another liqueur-glass of Durien's ratafia de cassis, and took them to see her collection of bric-a-brac across the yard, a gorgeous show, and explained everything about it--how she had begun in quite a small way, but was making it a big business.
'Voyez cette pendule! It is of the time of Louis Onze, who gave it with his own hands to Madame de Pompadour. I bought it at a sale in--- '
'Combiang?' said the Laird.
'C'est cent-cinquante francs, monsieur--c'est bien bon marche--une veritable occasion, et--'
'Je prong!' said the Laird, meaning 'I take it!'
Then she showed them a beautiful brocade gown 'which she had picked up a bargain at--'
'Combiang?' said the Laird.
'Ah, ca, c'est trois cents francs, monsieur. Mais--'
'Je prong!' said the Laird.
'Et voici les souliers qui vont avec, et que--'
But here Taffy took the Laird by the arm and dragged him force out of this too seductive siren's cave.
The Laird told her where to send his purchases, and with many expressions of love and good-will on both sides, they tore themselves away from Monsieur et Madame Vinard.
The Laird, however, rushed back for a minute, and hurriedly whispered to Madame Vinard: 'Oh--er--le piay de Trilby--sur le mure, vous savvy--avec le verre et toot le reste--coopy le mure-- comprenny?...Combiang?'
'Ah, monsieur!' said Madame Vinard--'c'est un peu difficile, vous savez--couper un mur comme ca! On parlera au proprietaire si vous voulez, et ca pourrait peutetre s'arranger, si c'est en bois! seulement il fau--'
'Je prong!' said the Laird, and waved his hand in farewell.
They went up the Rue Vieille des Trois Mauvais Ladres, and found that about twenty yards of a high wall had been pulled down--just at the bend where the Laird had seen the last of Trilby, as she turned round and kissed her hand to him--and they beheld, within, a quaint and ancient long-neglected garden; a gray old garden, with tall, warty, black-boled trees, and damp, green, mossy paths that lost themselves under the brown and yellow leaves and mould and muck which had drifted into heaps here and there, the accumulation of years--a queer old faded pleasance, with wasted bowers and dilapidated carved stone benches and weather-beaten discoloured marble statues--noseless, armless, earless fauns and hama-dryads! And at the end of it, in a tumbledown state of utter ruin, a still inhabited little house, with shabby blinds and window-curtains, and broken window-panes mended with brown paper--a Pavilion de Flore, that must have been quite beautiful a hundred years ago--the once mysterious love-resort of long-buried abbes with light hearts, and well-forgotten lords and ladies gay--- red-heeled, patched, powdered, frivolous, and shameless, but, oh! how charming to the imagination of the nineteenth century! And right through the ragged lawn (where lay, upset in the long dewy grass, a broken doll's perambulator by a tattered Polichinelle) went a desecrating track made by cart-wheels and horses' hoofs; and this, no doubt, was to be a new street--perhaps, as Taffy suggested, 'La Rue Neuve des Trois Mauvais Ladres!' (The new street of the three bad lepers!).
'Ah, Taffy!' sententiously opined the Laird, with his usual wink at Little Billee--'I've no doubt the old lepers were the best, bad as they were!'
'I'm quite sure of it!' said Taffy, with sad and sober conviction and a long-drawn sigh. 'I only wish I had a chance of painting one--just as he really was!'
How often they had speculated on what lay hidden behind that lofty old brick wall! and now this melancholy little peep into the once festive past, the touching sight of this odd old poverty-stricken abode of Heaven knows what present grief and desolation, which a few strikes of the pickaxe had laid bare, seemed to chime in with their own gray mood that had been so bright and sunny an hour ago; and they went on their way quite dejectedly, for a stroll through the Luxembourg Gallery and Gardens.
The same people seemed to be still copying the same pictures in the long, quiet, genial room, so pleasantly smelling of oil-paint--Rosa Bonheur's 'Labourage Nivernais,' Hebert's 'Malaria,' Couture's 'Decadent Romans.'
And in the formal dusty gardens were the same pioupious and zouzous still walking with the same nounous, or sitting by their sides on benches by formal ponds with gold and silver fish in them--and just the same old couples petting the same toutous and loulous!
Then they thought they would go and lunch at le pere Trin's--die Restaurant de la Couronne, in the Rue du Luxembourg--for the sake of auld lang syne! But when they got there, the well-remembered fumes of that humble refectory, which had once seemed not unappetising, turned their stomachs. So they contented themselves with warmly greeting le pere Trin, who was quite overjoyed to see diem again, and anxious to turn the whole establishment topsy-turvy that he might entertain such guests as they deserved.
Then the Laird suggested an omelet at the Cafe de l'Odeon. But Taffy said, in his masterful way, 'Damn the Cafe de l'Odeon!' And hailing a little open fly, they drove to Ledoyen's, or some such place, in the Champs Elysees, where they feasted as became three prosperous Britons out for a holiday in Paris--three irresponsible musketeers, lords of themselves and Lutetia, beati possi-dentes!--and afterwards had themselves driven in an open carriage and pair through the Bois de Boulogne to the fete de St. Cloud (or what still remained of it, for it lasts six weeks), the scene of so many of Dodor's and Zouzou's exploits in past years, and found it more amusing than the Luxembourg Gardens; the lively and irrepressible spirit of Dodor seemed to pervade it still.
But it doesn't want the presence of a Dodor to make the blue-bloused sons of the Gallic people (and its neatly-shod, white-capped daughters) delightful to watch as they take their pleasure. And the Laird (thinking perhaps of Hampstead Heath on an Easter Monday) must not be blamed for once more quoting his favourite phrase--the pretty little phrase with which the most humorous and least exemplary of British parsons began his famous journey to France.
When they came back to the hotel to dress and dine, the Laird found he wanted a pair of white gloves for the concert--'Oon pair de gong blong,' as he called it--and they walked along the boulevards till they came to a haberdasher's shop of very good and prosperous appearance, and, going in, were received graciously by the 'patron,' a portly little bourgeois, who waved them to a tall and aristocratic and very well-dressed young commis behind the counter, saying, 'Une pake de gants blancs pour monsieur.'
And what was the surprise of our three friends in recognising Dodor!
The gay Dodor, Dodor l'irresistible, quite unembarrassed by his position, was exuberant in his delight at seeing them again, and introduced them to the patron and his wife and daughter, Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle Passefil. And it soon became pretty evident that, in spite of his humble employment in that house, he was a great favourite in that family, and especially with mademoiselle.
Indeed, Monsieur Passefil invited our three heroes to stay and dine then and there; but they compromised matters by asking Dodor to come and dine with them at the hotel, and he accepted with alacrity.
Thanks to Dodor, the dinner was a very lively one, and they soon forgot the regretful impressions of the day.
They learned that he hadn't got a penny in the world, and had left the army, and had for two years kept the books at le pere Passefil's and served his customers, and won his good opinion and his wife's, and especially his daughter's; and that soon he was to be not only his employer's partner, but his son-in-law; and that in spite of his impecuniosity, he had managed to impress them with the fact that in marrying a Rigolot de Lafarce she was making a very splendid match indeed!
His brother-in-law, the Honourable Jack Reeve, had long cut him for a bad lot. But his sister, after a while, had made up her mind that to marry Mile. Passefil wasn't the worst he could do; at all events, it would keep him out of England, and that was a comfort! And, passing through Paris, she had actually called on the Passefil family, and they had fallen prostrate before such splendour; and no wonder, for Mrs. Jack Reeve was one of the most beautiful, elegant, and fashionable women in London, the smartest of the smart.
'And how about l'Zouzou?' asked Little Billee. 'Ah, old Gontran! I don't see much of him. We no longer quite move in the same circles, you know; not that he's proud, or me either! but he's a sub-lieutenant in the Guides--an officer! Besides, his brother's dead, and he's the Due de la Rochemartel, and a special pet of the Empress; he makes her laugh more than anybody! He's looking out for the biggest heiress he can find, and he's pretty safe to catch her, with such a name as that! In fact, they say he's caught her already--Miss Lavinia Hunks, of Chicago. Twenty million dollars!--at least, so the Figaro says!'
Then he gave them news of other old friends; and they did not part till it was time for them to go to the Cirque des Bashibazoucks, and after they had arranged to dine with his future family on the following day.
In the Rue St. Honore was a long double file of cabs and carriages slowly moving along to the portals of that huge hall, Le Cirque des Bashibazoucks. Is it there still, I wonder? I don't mind betting not! Just at this period of the Second Empire there was a mania for demolition and remolition (if there is such a word), and I have no doubt my Parisian readers would search the Rue St. Honore for the Salle des Bashibazoucks in vain!
Our friends were shown to their stalls, and looked round in surprise. This was before the days of the Albert Hall, and they had never been in such a big place of the kind before, or one so regal in aspect, so gorgeously imperial with white and gold and crimson velvet, so dazzling with light, so crammed with people from floor to roof, and cramming itself still.
A platform carpeted with crimson cloth had been erected in front of the gates where the horses had once used to come in, and their fair riders, and the two jolly English clowns; and the beautiful nobleman with the long frock-coat and brass buttons, and soft high boots, and four-in-hand whip--la chambriere.
In front of this was a lower stand for the orchestra. The circus itself was filled with stalls--stalks d'orchestre. A pair of crimson curtains hid the entrance to the platform at the back, and by each of these stood a small page, ready to draw it aside and admit the diva.
The entrance to the orchestra was by a small door under the platform, and some thirty or forty chairs and music-stands, grouped around the conductor's estrade, were waiting for the band.
Little Billee looked round, and recognised many countrymen and countrywomen of his own--many great musical celebrities especially, whom he had often met in London. Tiers upon tiers of people rose up all round in a widening circle, and lost themselves in a dazy mist of light at the top--it was like a picture by Martin! In the imperial box were the English ambassador and his family, with an august British personage sitting in the middle, in front, his broad blue ribbon across his breast and his opera-glass to his royal eyes.
Little Billee had never felt so excited, so exhilarated by such a show before, nor so full of eager anticipation. He looked at his programme, and saw that the Hungarian band (the first that had yet appeared in Western Europe, I believe) would play an overture of gypsy dances. Then Madame Svengali would sing 'un air connu, sans accompagnement' and afterwards other airs, including the 'Nussbaum' of Schumann (for the first time in Paris, it seemed). Then a rest of ten minutes; then more csardas; then the diva would sing 'Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre,' of all things in the world! and finish up with 'un impromptu de Chopin, sans paroles.'
Truly a somewhat incongruous bill of fare.
Close on the stroke of nine the musicians came in and took their seats. They were dressed in the foreign hussar uniform that has now become so familiar. The first violin had scarcely sat down before our friends recognised in him their old friend Gecko.
Just as the clock struck, Svengali, in irreproachable evening dress, tall and stout and quite splendid in appearance, notwithstanding his long black mane (which had been curled), took his place at his desk. Our friends would have known him at a glance, in spite of the wonderful alteration time and prosperity had wrought in his outward man.
He bowed right and left to the thunderous applause that greeted him, gave his three little baton-taps, and the lovely music began at once. We have grown accustomed to strains of this kind during the last twenty years, but they were new then, and their strange seduction was a surprise as well as an enchantment.
Besides, no such band as Svengali's had ever been heard; and in listening to this overture the immense crowd almost forgot that was a mere preparation for a great musical event, and tried to encore it. But Svengali merely turned round and bowed--there were to be no encores that night.
Then a moment of silence and breathless suspense--curiosity on tiptoe!
Then the two little page-boys each drew a silken rope, and the curtains parted and looped themselves up on each side symmetrically; and a tall female figure appeared, clad in what seemed like a classical dress of cloth of gold, embroidered with garnets and beetles' wings; her snowy arms and shoulders bare, a gold coronet of stars on her head, her thick light brown hair tied behind and flowing all down her back to nearly her knees, like those ladies in hairdressers' shops who sit with their backs to the plate-glass window to advertise the merits of some particular hair-wash.
She walked slowly down to the front, her hands hanging at her sides in quite a simple fashion, and made a slight inclination of her head and body towards the imperial box, and then to right and left. Her lips and cheeks were rouged; her dark level eyebrows nearly met at the bridge of her short high nose. Through her parted lips you could see her large glistening white teeth; her gray eyes looked straight at Svengali.
Her face was thin, and had a rather haggard expression, in spite of its artificial freshness; but its contour was divine, and its character so tender, so humble, so touchingly simple and sweet, that one melted at the sight of her. No such magnificent or seductive apparition has ever been seen before or since on any stage or platform--not even Miss Ellen Terry as the priestess of Artemis in the late laureate's play, The Cup.
The house rose at her as she came down to the front; and she bowed again to right and left, and put her hand to her heart quite simply and with a most winning natural gesture, an adorable gaucherie---like a graceful and unconscious school-girl, quite innocent of stage deportment. It was Trilby!
Trilby the tone-deaf, who couldn't sing one single note in tune! Trilby, who couldn't tell a C from an F!!
What was going to happen?
Our three friends were almost turned to stone in the immensity of their surprise.
Yet the big Taffy was trembling all over; the Laird's jaw had all but fallen on to his chest; Little Billee was staring, staring his eyes almost out of his head. There was something, to them, so strange and uncanny about it all; so oppressive, so anxious, so momentous!
The applause had at last subsided. Trilby stood with her hands behind her, one foot (the left one) on a little stool that had been left there on purpose, her lips parted, her eyes on Svengali's, ready to begin.
He gave his three beats, and the band struck a chord. Then, at another beat from him, but in her direction, she began, without the slightest appearance of effort, without any accompaniment whatever, he still beating time--conducting her, in fact, just as if she had been an orchestra herself:
'Au clair de la lune.
Mon ami Pierrot!
Prete-moi ta plume
Pour ecrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte ...
Je n'ai plus de feu!
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l'amour de Dieu!'
This was the absurd old nursery rhyme with which La Svengali chose to make her debut before the most critical audience in the world! She sang it three times over--the same verse. There is but one.
The first time she sang it without any expression whatever--not the slightest. Just the words, and the tune; in the middle of her voice, and not loud at all; just as a child sings who is thinking of something else; or just as a young French mother sings who is darning socks by a cradle, and rocking her baby to sleep with her foot.
But her voice was so immense in its softness, richness, freshness, that it seemed to be pouring itself out from all round; its intonation absolutely, mathematically pure; one felt it to be not only faultless, but infallible; and the seduction, the novelty of it, the strangely sympathetic quality! How can one describe the quality of a peach or a nectarine to those who have only known apples?
Until La Svengali appeared, the world had only known apples-- Catalanis, Jenny Linds, Crisis, Albonis, Pattis! The best apples that can be, for sure--but still only apples!
If she had spread a pair of large white wings and gracefully fluttered up to the roof and perched upon the chandelier, she could not have produced a greater sensation. The like of that voice has never been heard, nor ever will be again. A woman archangel might sing like that, or some enchanted princess out of a fairy tale.
Little Billee had already dropped his face into his hands and hid his eyes in his pocket-handkerchief; a big tear had fallen on to Taffy's left whisker; the Laird was trying hard to keep his tears back.
She sang the verse a second time, with but little added expression and no louder; but with a sort of breathy widening of her voice that made it like a broad heavenly smile of universal motherhood turned into sound. One felt all the genial gaiety and grace of impishness of Pierrot and Columbine idealised into frolicsome beauty and holy innocence, as though they were performing for the saints in Paradise---a baby Columbine, with a cherub for clown! The dream of it all came over you for a second or two--a revelation of some impossible golden age--priceless--never to be forgotten! How oil earth did she do it?
Little Billee had lost all control over himself, and was shaking with his suppressed sobs--Little Billee, who hadn't shed a single tear for five long years! Half the people in the house were in tears, but tears of sheer delight, of delicate inner laughter.
Then she came back to earth, and saddened and veiled and darkened her voice as she sang the verse for the third time; and it was a great and sombre tragedy, too deep for any more tears; and somehow or other poor Columbine, forlorn and betrayed and dying, out in the cold at midnight--sinking down to hell, perhaps--was making her last frantic appeal! It was no longer Pierrot and Columbine--it was Marguerite--it was Faust! It was the most terrible and pathetic of all possible human tragedies, but expressed with no--dramatic or histrionic exaggeration of any sort; by mere tone, slight, subtle changes in the quality of the sound--too quick and elusive to be taken count of, but to be felt with, oh, what poignant sympathy!
When the song was over, the applause did not come immediately, and she waited with her kind wide smile, as if she were well accustomed to wait like this; and then the storm began, and grew and spread and rattled and echoed--voice, hands, feet, sticks, umbrellas!--and down came the bouquets, which the little pageboys picked up; and Trilby bowed to front and right and left in her simple debonnaire fashion. It was her usual triumph. It had never failed, whatever the audience, whatever the country, whatever the song.
Little Billee didn't applaud. He sat with his head in his 'hands, his shoulders still heaving. He believed himself to be fast asleep and in a dream, and was trying his utmost not to wake; for a great happiness was his. It was one of those nights to be marked with a white stone!
As the first bars of the song came pouring out of her parted lips (whose shape he so well remembered), and her dove-like eyes looked straight over Svengali's head, straight in his own direction--nay, at him--something melted in his brain, and all his long-lost power of loving came back with a rush.
It was like the sudden curing of a deafness that has been lasting for years. The doctor blows through your nose into your Eustachian tube with a little india-rubber machine; some obstacle gives way, there is a snap in your head, and straightway you hear better than you had ever heard in all your life, almost too well; and all your life is once more changed for you!
At length he sat up again, in the middle of La Svengali's singing of the 'Nussbaum,' and saw her; and saw the Laird sitting by him, and Taffy, their eyes riveted on Trilby, and knew for certain that it was no dream this time, and his joy was almost a pain!
She sang the 'Nussbaum' (to its heavenly accompaniment) as simply as she had sung the previous song. Every separate note was a highly- finished gem of sound, linked to the next by a magic bond. You did not require to be a lover of music to fall beneath the spell of such a voice as that; the mere melodic phrase had all but ceased to matter. Her phrasing, consummate as it was, was as simple as a child's.
It was as if she said: 'See! what does the composer count for? Here is about as beautiful a song as was ever written, with beautiful words to match, and the words have been made French for you by one of your smartest poets! But what do the words signify, any more than the tune, or even the language? The "Nussbaum" is neither better nor worse than "Mon ami Pierrot" when I am the singer; for I am Svengali; and you shall hear nothing, see nothing, think of nothing, but Svengali, Svengali, Svengali!'
It was the apotheosis of voice and virtuosity! It was 'il bel canto' come back to earth after a hundred years--the bel canto of Vivarelli, let us say, who sang the same song every night to the same King of Spain for a quarter of a century, and was rewarded with a dukedom, and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.
And, indeed, here was this immense audience, made up of the most cynically critical people in the world, and the most anti-German, assisting with rapt ears and streaming eyes at the imagined spectacle of a simple German damsel, a Madchen, a Fraulein, just verlobte---a future Hausfrau--sitting under a walnut-tree in some suburban garden-- a Berlin!--and around her, her family and her friends, probably drinking beer and smoking long porcelain pipes, and talking politics or business, and cracking innocent elaborate old German jokes; with bated breath, lest they should disturb her maiden dream of love! And all as though it were a scene in Elysium, and the Fraulein a nymph of many fountained Ida, and her people Olympian gods and goddesses.
And such, indeed, they were when Trilby sang of them!
After this, when the long, frantic applause had subsided, she made a gracious bow to the royal British opera-glass (which had never left her face), and sang 'Ben Bolt' in English!
And then Little Billee remembered there was such a person as Svengali in the world, and recalled his little flexible flageolet!
'That is how I teach Gecko; that is how I teach la bedite Honorine; that is how I teach il bel canto. ... It was lost, il bel canto--and I found it in a dream--I, Svengali!'
And his old cosmic vision of the beauty and sadness of things, the very heart of them, and their pathetic evanescence, came back with a tenfold clearness--that heavenly glimpse beyond the veil! And with it a crushing sense of his own infinitesimal significance by the side of this glorious pair of artists, one of whom had been his friend and the other his love--a love who had offered to be his humble mistress and slave, not feeling herself good enough to be his wife!
It made him sick and faint to remember, and filled him with hot shame, and then and there his love for Trilby became as that of a dog for its master!
She sang once more--'Chanson de Printemps,' by Gounod (who was present, and seemed very hysterical), and the first part of the concert was over, and people had time to draw breath and talk over this new wonder, this revelation of what the human voice could achieve, and an immense hum filled the hall--astonishment, enthusiasm, ecstatic delight!
But our three friends found little to say--for what they felt there were as yet no words!
Taffy and the Laird looked at Little Billee, who seemed to be looking inward at some transcendent dream of his own; with red eyes, and his face all pale and drawn, and his nose very pink, and rather thicker than usual; and the dream appeared to be out of the common blissful though his eyes were swimming still, for his smile was almost idiotic in its rapture!
The second part of the concert was still shorter than the first, and created, if possible, a wilder enthusiasm.
Trilby only sang twice.
Her first song was 'Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre.'
She began it quite lightly and merrily, like a jolly march; in the middle of her voice, which had not as yet revealed any exceptional compass or range. People laughed quite frankly at the first verse:--
'Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre--
Mironton, mironton, Mirontaine!
Malbrouck s'en va-t'en guerre. ...
Ne sais quand reviendra!
Ne sais quand reviendra!
Ne sais quand reviendra!'
The mironton, mirontaine was the very essence of high martial resolve and heroic self-confidence; one would have led a forlorn hope after hearing it once!
'II reviendra-z a Paques---
Mironton, mironton, Mirontaine!
Il reviendra-z a Paques...
Ou ... a la Trinite!'
People still laughed, though the mironton, mirontaine, betrayed an uncomfortable sense of the dawning of doubts and fears--vague forebodings!
'La Trinite se passe---
Mironton, mironton, Mirontaine!
La Trinite se passe. .. .
Malbrouck ne revient pas!'
And here, especially in the mironton, mirontaine, a note of anxiety revealed itself--so poignant, so acutely natural and human, that it became a personal anxiety of one's own, causing the heart to beat, and one's breath was short.
'Madame a sa tour monte--
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Madame a sa tour monte.
Si haut qu'elle peut monter!'
Oh! How one's heart went with her! Anne! Sister Anne! Do you see anything?
'Elle voit de loin son page---
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Elle voit de loin son page.
Tout de noir habille!'
One is almost sick with the sense of impending calamity--it is all but unbearable!
'Mon page--mon beau page!--
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Mon page--mon beau page!
Quelle nouvelles apportez?'
And here Little Billee begins to weep again, and so does everybody else! The mironton, mirontaine, is an agonised wail of suspense--poor bereaved duchess!--poor Sarah Jennings! Did it all announce itself to you just like that?
All this while the accompaniment had been quite simple just a few obvious ordinary chords.
But now, quite suddenly, without a single modulation or note of warning, down goes the tune a full major third from E to C--into the graver depths of Trilby's great contralto--so solemn and ominous that there is no more weeping, but the flesh creeps; the accompaniment slows and elaborates itself; the march becomes a funeral march, with muted strings, and quite slowly:
'Aux nouvelles que j'apporte--
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Aux nouvelles que j'apporte.
Vos beaux yeux vont pleurer!'
Richer and richer grows the accompaniment. The mironton, mirontaine, becomes a dirge!
'Quittez vos habits roses--
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Quittez vos habits roses.
Et vos satins broches!'
Here the ding-donging of a big bell seems to mingle with the score;...and very slowly, and so impressively that the news will ring for ever in the ears and hearts of those who hear it from La Svengali's lips:
'Le Sieur Malbrouck est mort--
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!
Est mort--et enterre!'
And thus it ends quite abruptly!
And this heartrending tragedy, this great historical epic in two dozen lines, at which some five or six thousand gay French people are sniffling and mopping their eyes like so many Niobes, is just a common old French comic song--a mere nursery ditty, like 'Little Bo-peep'--- to the tune.
'We won't go home till morning.
Till daylight doth appear.'
And after a second or two of silence (oppressive and impressive as that which occurs at a burial when the handful of earth is being dropped on the coffin lid) the audience bursts once more into madness; and La Svengali, who accepts no encores, has to bow for nearly five minutes, standing amid a sea of flowers....
Then comes her great and final performance. The orchestra swiftly plays the first four bars of the bass in Chopin's Impromptu (A flat); and suddenly, without words, as a light nymph catching the whirl of a double skipping-rope, La Svengali breaks in, and vocalises that astounding piece of music that so few pianists can even play: but no pianist has ever played it like this; no piano has ever given out such notes as these!
Every single phrase is a string of perfect gems, of purest ray serene, strung together on a loose golden thread! The higher and shriller she sings, the sweeter it is; higher and shriller than any woman had ever sung before.
Waves of sweet and tender laughter, the very heart and essence of innocent, high-spirited girlhood, alive to all that is simple and joyous and elementary in nature--the freshness of the morning, the ripple of the stream, the click of the mill, the lisp of the wind in the trees, the song of the lark in the cloudless sky--the sun and the dew, the scent of early flowers and summer woods and meadows--the sight of birds and bees and butterflies and frolicsome young animals at play--all the sights and scents and sounds that are the birthright of happy children, happy savages in favoured climes--things within the remembrance and the reach of most of us! All this, the memory and the feel of it, are in Trilby's voice as she warbles that long, smooth, lilting, dancing laugh, that shower of linked sweetness, that wondrous song without words; and those who hear feel it all, and remember it with her. It is irresistible; it forces itself on you; no words, no pictures, could ever do the like! So that the tears that are shed out of all these many French eyes are tears of pure, unmixed delight in happy reminiscence! (Chopin, it is true, may have meant something quite different--a hot-house, perhaps, with orchids and arum lilies and tuberoses and hydrangeas--but all this is neither here nor there, as the Laird would say in French.)
Then comes the slow movement, the sudden adagio, with its capricious ornaments--the waking of the virgin heart, the stirring of the sap, the dawn of love; its doubts and fears and questionings; and the mellow, powerful, deep chest notes are like the pealing of great golden bells, with a light little pearl shower tinkling round--drops from the upper fringe of her grand voice as she shakes it.
Then back again the quick part, childhood once more, da capo, only quicker! hurry, hurry! but distinct as ever. Loud and shrill and sweet beyond compare--drowning the orchestra; of a piercing quality quite ineffable; a joy there is no telling; a clear, purling, crystal stream that gurgles and foams and bubbles along over sunlit stones; a wonder, a world's delight!
And there is not a sign of effort, of difficulty overcome. All through, Trilby smiles her broad, angelic smile; her lips well parted, her big white teeth glistening as she gently jerks her head from side to side in time to Svengali's baton, as if to shake the willing notes out quicker and higher and shriller....
And in a minute or two it is all over, like the lovely bouquet of fireworks at the end of the show, and she lets what remains of it the out and away like the afterglow of fading Bengal fires--her voice receding into the distance--coming back to you like an echo from all round, from anywhere you please--quite soft--hardly more than a breath; but such a breath! Then one last chromatically ascending rocket, pianissimo, up to E in alt, and then darkness and silence!
And after a little pause the many-headed rises as one and waves its hats and sticks and handkerchiefs, and stamps and shouts...'Vive La Svengali! Vive La Svengali!'
Svengali steps on to the platform by his wife's side and kisses her hand; and they both bow themselves backward through the curtains, which fall, to rise again and again and again on this astounding pair!
Such was La Svengali's debut in Paris.
It had lasted little over an hour, one quarter of which at least, had been spent in plaudits and courtesies!
The writer is no musician, alas! (as, no doubt, his musical readers have found out by this) save in his thraldom to music of not too severe a kind, and laments the clumsiness and inadequacy of this wild (though somewhat ambitious) attempt to recall an impression received more than thirty years ago; to revive the ever-blessed memory of that unforgettable first night at the Cirque des Bashibazoucks.
Would that I could transcribe here Berlioz's famous series of twelve articles, entitled 'La Svengali,' which were republished from La Lyre Eolienne, and are now out of print!
Or Theophile Gautier's elaborate rhapsody, 'Madame Svengali---Ange ou Femme?' in which he proves that one need not have a musical ear (he hadn't) to be enslaved by such a voice as hers, any more than the eye for beauty (this he had) to fall the victim of 'her celestial form and face.' It is enough, he says, to be simply human!
I forget in which journal this eloquent tribute appeared; it is not to be found in his collected works.
Or the intemperate thatribe by Herr Blagner (as I will christen him) on the tyranny of the prima donna called 'Svengalismus'; in which he attempts to show that mere virtuosity carried to such a pitch is mere viciosity--base acrobatismus of the vocal chords, a hysteric appeal to morbid Gallic 'sentimentalismus'; and that this monstrous development of a phenomenal larynx, this degrading cultivation and practice of the abnormalismus of a mere physical peculiarity, are death and destruction to all true music; since they place Mozart and Beethoven, and even himself, on a level with Bellini, Donizetti, Offenbach--any Italian tune-tinkler, any ballad-monger of the hated Paris pavement! and can make the highest music of all (even his own) go down with the common French herd at the very first hearing, just as if it were some idiotic refrain of the cafe chantant!
So much for Blagnerismus v. Svengalismus.
But I fear there is no space within the limits of this humble tale for these masterpieces of technical musical criticism.
Besides, there are other reasons.
Our three heroes walked back to the boulevards, the only silent ones amid the throng that poured through the Rue St. Honore, as the Cirque des Bashibazoucks emptied itself of its over-excited audience.
They went arm-in-arm, as usual; but this time Little Billee was in the middle. He wished to feel on each side of him the warm and genial contact of his two beloved old friends. It seemed as if they had suddenly been restored to him, after five long years of separation; his heart was overflowing with affection for them, too full to speak just yet! Overflowing, indeed, with the love of love, the love of life, the love of death--the love of all that is, and ever was, and ever will be! just as in his old way.
He could have hugged them both in the open street, before the whole world; and the delight of it was that this was no dream; about that there was no mistake. He was himself again at last, after five years, and wide awake; and he owed it all to Trilby!
And what did he feel for Trilby? He couldn't tell yet. It was too vast as yet to be measured; and, alas! it was weighted with such a burden of sorrow and regret that he might well put off the thought of it a little while longer, and gather in what bliss he might: like the man whose hearing has been restored after long years, he would revel in the mere physical delight of hearing for a space, and not go out of his way as yet to listen for the bad news that was already in the air, and would come to roost quite soon enough.
Taffy and the Laird were silent also; Trilby's voice was still in their ears and hearts, her image in their eyes, and utter bewilderment still oppressed them and kept them dumb.
It was a warm and balmy night, almost like midsummer; and they stopped at the first cafe they met on the Boulevard de la Madeleine (comme autrefois), and ordered bocks of beer, and sat at a little table on the pavement, the only one unoccupied; for the cafe was already crowded, the hum of lively talk was great, and 'La Svengali' was in every mouth.
The Laird was the first to speak. He emptied his bock at a draught, and called for another, and lit a cigar, and said, 'I don't believe it was Trilby, after all!' It was the first time her name had been mentioned between them that evening--and for five years!
'Good heavens!' said Taffy. 'Can you doubt it?'
'Oh yes! that was Trilby,' said Little Billee.
Then the Laird proceeded to explain that, putting aside the impossibility of Trilby's ever being taught to sing in tune, and her well-remembered loathing for Svengali, he had narrowly scanned her face through his opera-glass, and found that in spite of a likeness quite marvellous there were well-marked differences. Her-face was narrower and longer, her eyes larger, and their expression not the same; then she seemed taller and stouter, and her shoulders broader and more drooping, and so forth.
But the others wouldn't hear of it, and voted him cracked, and declared they even recognised the peculiar twang of her old speaking voice in the voice she now sang with, especially when she sang low down. And they all three fell to discussing the wonders of her performance like everybody else all round; Little Billee leading, with an eloquence and a seeming of technical musical knowledge that quite impressed them, and made them feel happy and at ease; for they were anxious for his sake about the effect this sudden and so unexpected sight of her would have upon him after all that had passed.
He seemed transcendently happy and elate--incomprehensibly so, in fact--and looked at them both with quite a new light in his eyes, as if all the music he had heard had trebled not only his joy in being alive, but his pleasure at being with them. Evidently he had quite outgrown his old passion for her, and that was a comfort indeed!
But Little Billee knew better.
He knew that his old passion for her had all come back, and was so overwhelming and immense that he could not feel it just yet, nor yet the hideous pangs of a jealousy so consuming that it would burn up his life. He gave himself another twenty-four hours.
But he had not to wait so long. He woke up after a short, uneasy sleep that very night, to find that the flood was over him; and he realised how hopelessly, desperately, wickedly, insanely he loved this woman, who might have been his, but was now the wife of another man; a greater than he, and one to whom she owed it that she was more glorious than any other woman on earth--a queen among queens'--a goddess! for what was any earthly throne compared to that she established in the hearts and souls of all who came within the sight and hearing of her; beautiful as she was besides--beautiful, beautiful! And what must be her love for the man who had taught her and trained her, and revealed her towering genius to herself and to the world--a man resplendent also, handsome and tall and commanding--a great artist from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot!
And the remembrance of them--hand in hand, master and pupil, husband and wife--smiling and bowing in the face of all that splendid tumult they had called forth and could quell, stung and tortured and maddened him so that he could not lie still, but got up and raged and rampaged up and down his hot, narrow, stuffy bedroom, and longed for his old familiar brain-disease to come back and narcotise his trouble, and be his friend, and stay with him till he died!
Where was he to fly for relief from such new memories as these, which would never cease; and the old memories, and all the glamour and grace of them that had been so suddenly called out of the grave? And how could he escape, now that he felt the sight of her face and the sound of her voice would be a craving--a daily want--like that of some poor starving outcast for warmth and meat and drink?
And little innocent, pathetic, ineffable, well-remembered sweetness of her changing face kept painting themselves on his retina; and incomparable tones of this new thing, her voice, her Infinite voice, went ringing in his head till he all but shrieked aloud in his agony.
And then the poisoned and delirious sweetness of those mad kisses.
'by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others'!
And then the grewsome physical jealousy, that miserable inheritance of all artistic sons of Adam, that plague and torment of the dramatic, plastic imagination, which can, idealise so well, and yet realise, alas! so keenly. After three or four hours spent like this, he could stand it no longer; madness was lying his way. So he hurried on a garment, and went and knocked at Taffy's door.
'Good God! what's the matter with you?' exclaimed the good Taffy, as Little Billee tumbled into his room, calling out:
'Oh, Taffy, Taffy, I've g-g-gone mad, I think!' And then, shivering all over, and stammering incoherently, he tried to tell his friend what was the matter with him, with great simplicity.
Taffy, in much alarm, slipped on his trousers and made Little Billee get into his bed, and sat by his side holding his hand. He was greatly perplexed, fearing the recurrence of another attack like that of five years back. He didn't dare leave him for an instant to wake the Laird and send for a doctor.
Suddenly Little Billee buried his face in the pillow and began to sob, and some instinct told Taffy this was the best thing that could happen. The boy had always been a highly-strung, emotional, over- excitable, over-sensitive, and quite uncontrolled mammy's-darling, a cry-baby sort of chap, who had never been to school. It was all a part of his genius, and also a part of his charm. It would do him good once more to have a good blub after five years! After a while Little Billee grew quieter, and then suddenly he said: 'What a miserable ass you must think me, what an unmanly duffer!'
'Why, my friend?'
'Why, for going on in this idiotic way. I really couldn't help it. I went mad, I tell you. I've been walking up and down my room all night, till everything seemed to go round.'
'So have I.'
'You? What for?'
'The very same reason.'
'I was just as fond of Trilby as you were. Only she happened prefer you.'
'What!' cried Little Billee again. 'You were fond of Trilby?'
'I believe you, my boy!'
'In love with her?'
'I believe you, my boy!'
'She never knew it, then!'
'Oh yes, she did.'
'She never told me, then!'
'Didn't she? That's like her. I told her, at all events. I asked her to marry me.'
'Well--I am damned! When?'
'That day we took her to Meudon, with Jeannot, and dined at the garde champetre's, and she danced the cancan with Sandy.'
'Well--I am.--And she refused you?'
'Well, I--Why on earth did she refuse you?'
'Oh, I suppose she'd already begun to fancy you, my friend. Il y en a toujours un autre!'
'Fancy me--prefer me--to you?'
'Well, yes. It does seem odd--eh, old fellow? But there's no accounting for tastes, you know. She's built on such an ample scale herself, I suppose, that she likes little 'uns--contrast, you see. She's very maternal, I think. Besides, you're a smart little chap; and you ain't half bad; and you've got brains and talent, and lots of cheek, and all that. I'm rather a ponderous kind of party.'
'Well--I am damned!'
'C'est comme ca!
I took it lying down you see.'
'Does the Laird know?'
'No; and I don't want him to--nor anybody else.'
'Taffy, what a regular downright old trump you are!'
'Glad you think so; anyhow, we're both in the same boat, and we've got to make the best of it. She's another man's wife, and probably she's very fond of him. I'm sure she ought to be, cad as he is, after all he's done for her. So there's an end of it.'
'Ah! there'll never be an end of it for me--never--never--oh, never, my God! She would have married me but for my mother's meddling, and that stupid old ass, my uncle. What a wife! Think of all she must have in her heart and brain, only to sing like that! And, O Lord! how beautiful she is--a goddess! Oh, the brow and cheek and chin, and the way her head's put on! did you ever see anything like it? Oh, if only I hadn't written and told my mother I was going to marry her! why, we should have been man and wife for five years by this time--living at Barbizon--painting away like mad! Oh, what a heavenly life! Oh, curse all officious meddling with other people's affairs! Oh! oh! ... .'
'There you go again! What's the good? And where do I come in, my friend? I should have been no better off, old fellow--worse than ever, I think.'
Then there was a long silence.
At length Little Billee said:
'Taffy, I can't tell you what a trump you are. All I've ever thought of you--and God knows that's enough--will be nothing to what I shall always think of you after this .'
'All right, old chap!'
'And now I think I'm all right again, for a time--and I shall cut back to bed. Good night! Thanks more than I can ever express!' And Little Billee, restored to his balance, cut back to his own bed just as the day was breaking.