Trilby by George du Maurier
'The moon made thy lips pale, beloved. The wind made thy bosom chill; The night did shed On thy dear head Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie Where the bitter breath of the naked sky Might visit thee at will.'
Next morning our three friends lay late abed, and breakfasted in their rooms.
They had all three passed 'white nights'--even the Laird, who had tossed about and pressed a sleepless pillow till dawn, so excited had he been by the wonder of Trilby's reincarnation, so perplexed by his own doubts as to whether it was really Trilby or not.
And certain haunting tones of her voice, that voice so cruelly sweet (which clove the stillness with a clang so utterly new, so strangely heart-piercing and seductive that the desire to hear it once more became nostalgic--almost an ache!), certain bits and bars and phrases of the music she had sung, unspeakable felicities and facilities of execution; sudden exotic warmths, fragrances, tendernesses, graces, depths, and breadths; quick changes from grave to gay, from rough to smooth, from great metallic brazen clangours to soft golden suavities; all the varied modes of sound we try so vainly to borrow from vocal nature by means of wind and reed and string--all this new 'Trilbyness' kept echoing in his brain all night (for he was of a nature deeply musical), and sleep had been impossible to him.
'As when we dwell upon a word we know.
Repeating, till the word we know so well
Becomes a wonder, and we know not why,'
so dwelt the Laird upon the poor old tune 'Ben Bolt,' which kept singing itself over and over again in his tired consciousness, and maddened him with novel, strange, unhackneyed, unsuspected beauties such as he had never dreamed of in any earthly music.
It had become a wonder, and he knew not why!
They spent what was left of the morning at the Louvre, and tried to interest themselves in the 'Marriage of Cana,' and the 'Woman at the Well,' and Vandyck's man with the glove, and the little Princess of Velasquez, and Lisa Gioconda's smile: it was of no use trying. There was no sight worth looking at in all Paris but Trilby in her golden raiment; no other princess in the world; no smile but hers, when through her parted lips came bubbling Chopin's Impromptu. They had not long to stay in Paris, and they must drink of that bubbling fountain once more--coute que route! They went to the Salle des Bashibazoucks, and found that all seats allover the house had been taken for days and weeks; and the 'queue' at the door had already begun! and they had to give up all hopes of slaking this particular thirst.
Then they went and lunched perfunctorily, and talked desultorily over lunch, and read criticisms of La Svengali's debut in the morning papers--a chorus of journalistic acclamation gone mad, a frenzied eulogy in every key--but nothing was good enough for them! Brand-new words were wanted--another language!
Then they wanted a long walk, and could think of nowhere to go in all Paris--that immense Paris, where they had promised themselves to see so much that the week they were to spend there had seemed too short!
Looking in a paper, they saw it announced that the band of the Imperial Guides would play that afternoon in the Pre Catelan, Bois de Boulogne, and thought they might as well walk there as anywhere else, and walk back again in time to dine with the Passe-fils--a prandial function which did not promise to be very amusing; but still it was something to kill the evening with, since they couldn't go and hear Trilby again.
Outside the Pre Catelan they found a crowd of cabs and carriages, saddle-horses and grooms. One might have thought one's self in the height of the Paris season. They went in, and strolled about here and there, and listened to the band, which was famous (it has performed in London at the Crystal Palace), and they looked about and studied life, or tried to.
Suddenly they saw, sitting with three ladies (one of whom, the eldest, was in black), a very smart young officer, a Guide, all red and green and gold, and recognised their old friend Zouzou. They bowed, and he knew them at once, and jumped up and came to them and greeted them warmly, especially his old friend Taffy, whom he took to his mother--- the lady in black--and introduced to the other ladies, the younger of whom (strangely unlike the rest of her countrywomen) was so lamentably, so pathetically plain that it would be brutal to attempt the cheap and easy task of describing her. It was Miss Lavinia Hunks, the famous American millionairess, and her mother. Then the good Zouzou came back and talked to the Laird and Little Billee.
Zouzou, in some subtle and indescribable way, had become very ducal indeed.
He looked extremely distinguished, for one thing, in his beautiful Guides' uniform, and was most gracefully and winningly polite. He inquired warmly after Mrs. and Miss Bagot, and begged Little Billee would recall him to their amiable remembrance when he saw them again. He expressed most sympathetically his delight to see Little Billee looking so strong and so well (Little Billee looked like a pallid little washed-out ghost, after his white night).
They talked of Dodor. He said how attached he was to Dodor, and always should be; but Dodor, it seemed, had made a great mistake in leaving the army and going into a retail business (petit commerce). He had done for himself--degringole! He should have stuck to the dragons-- with a little patience and good conduct he would have 'won his epaulet'--and then one might have arranged for him a good little marriage--un parti convenable--for he was 'tres joli gargon, Dodor! bonne tournure--et tres gentiment ne! C'est tres ancien, les Rigolot-- dans le Poitou, je crois--Lafarce, et tout ca; tout a fait bien!'
It was difficult to realise that this polished and discreet and somewhat patronising young man of the world was the jolly dog who had gone after Little Billee's hat on all fours in the Rue Vieille des Trois Mauvais Ladres and brought it back in his mouth--the Caryhatide!
Little Billee little knew that Monsieur le Due de la Rochemar-tel- Boissegur had quite recently delighted a very small and select and most august imperial supper-party at Compiegne with this very story, not blinking a single detail of his own share in it--and had given a most touching and sympathetic description of 'le joli petit peintre anglais qui s'appelait Litrebili, et ne pouvait pas se tenir sur ses jambes--et qui pleurait d'amour fraternel dans les bras de mon copain Dodor!'
'Ah! Monsieur Gontran, ce que je donnerais pour avoir vu?--' had said the greatest lady in France; 'un de mes zouaves--a quatre pattes--dans la rue--un chapeau dans la bouche--oh--c'est impayable!'
Zouzou kept these blackguard bohemian reminiscences for the imperial circle alone--to which it was suspected that he was secretly rallying himself. Among all outsiders--especially within the narrow precincts of the cream of the noble Faubourg (which remained aloof from the Tuileries)--he was a very proper and gentlemanlike person indeed, as his brother had been--and, in his mother's fond belief, 'tres bien pensant, tres bien vu, a Frohsdorf et a Rome.'
On lui aurait donne le ban Dieu sans confession--
as Madame Vinard had said of Little Billee--they would have shriven him at sight, and admitted him to the holy communion on trust!
He did not present Little Billee and the Laird to his mother, nor to Mrs. and Miss Hunks; that honour was reserved for 'the Man of Blood' alone; nor did he ask where they were staying, nor invite them to call on him. But in parting he expressed the immense pleasure it had given him to meet them again, and the hope he had of some day shaking their hands in London.
As the friends walked back to Paris together, it transpired that 'the Man of Blood' had been invited by Madame Duchesse Mere (Maman Duchesse, as Zouzou called her) to dine with her next day, and meet the Hunkses at a furnished apartment she had taken in the Place Vendome; for they had let (to the Hunkses) the Hotel de la Rochemartel in the Rue de Lille; they had also been obliged to let their place in the country, le chateau de Bois-segur (to Monsieur Despoires, or 'des Poires,' as he chose to spell himself on his visiting cards--the famous soap manufacturer--'Un tres brave homme, a ce qu'on dit!' and whose only son, by the way, soon after married Mademoiselle Jeanne- Adelaide d'Amaury-Brissac de Roncesvaulx de Boissegur de la Rochemartel).
'Il ne fait pas gras chez nous a present--je vous assure!'
Madame Duchesse Mere had pathetically said to Taffy--but had given him to understand that things would be very much better for her son in the event of his marriage with Miss Hunks.
'Good heavens?' said Little Billee, on hearing this; 'that grotesque little bogy in blue? Why, she's deformed--she squints--she's a dwarf, and looks like an idiot! Millions or no millions, the man who marries her is a felon! As long as there are stones to break and a road to break them on, the able-bodied man who marries a woman like that for anything but pity and kindness--and even then--dishonours himself, insults his ancestry, and inflicts on his descendants a wrong that nothing will ever redeem--he nips them in the bud--he blasts them for ever! He ought to be cut by his fellow-men--sent to Coventry--to jail--to penal servitude for life! He ought to have a separate hell to himself when he dies--he ought to--'
'Shut up you little blaspheming ruffian!' said the Laird. 'Where do you expect to go to, yourself, with such frightful sentiments? And what would become of your beautiful old twelfth-century dukedoms, with a hundred yards of back frontage opposite the Louvre, on a beautiful historic river, and a dozen beautiful historic names, and no money--if you had your way?' and the Laird wunk his historic wink.
'Twelfth-century dukedoms be damned!' said Taffy, au grand serieux, as usual. 'Little Billee's quite right, and Zouzou makes me sick! Besides, what does she marry him for--not for his beauty either, I guess! She's his fellow-criminal, his deliberate accomplice, particeps delicti, accessory before, the act and after! She has no right to marry at all! tar and feathers and a rail for both of them--and for Maman Duchesse too--and I suppose that's why I refused her invitation to dinner! and now let's go and dine with Dodor--... anyhow Dodor's young woman doesn't marry him for a dukedom--or even his "de"--mais bien pour ses beaux yeux! and if the Rigolots of the future turn out less nice to look at than their sire, and not quite so amusing, they will probably be a great improvement on him in many other ways. There's room enough--and to spare!'
'Ear! 'ear!' said Little Billee (who always grew flippant when Taffy got on his high horse). 'Your 'ealth and song, sir--them's my sentiments to a T! What shall we 'ave the pleasure of drinkin', after that wery nice 'armony?'
After which they walked on in silence, each, no doubt, musing on the general contrariness of things, and imagining what splendid little Wynnes, or Bagots, or M'Allisters might have been ushered into a decadent world for its regeneration if fate had so willed it that a certain magnificent and singularly gifted grisette, etc. etc. etc. ...
Mrs. and Miss Hunks passed them as they walked along, in a beautiful blue barouche with C-springs--un 'buit-ressorts'; Maman Duchesse passed them in a hired fly; Zouzou passed them on horseback; 'tout Paris' passed them; but they were none the wiser, and agreed that the show was not a patch on that in Hyde Park during the London season.
When they reached the Place de la Concorde it was that lovely hour of a fine autumn day in beautiful bright cities when all the lamps are lit in the shops and streets and under the trees, and it is still daylight--a quickly fleeting joy; and as a special treat on this particular occasion the sun set, and up rose the yellow moon over eastern Paris, and floated above the chimney-pots of the Tuileries.
They stopped to gaze at the homeward procession of cabs and carriages, as they used to do in the old times. Tout Paris was still passing; tout Paris is very long.
They stood among a little crowd of sightseers like themselves, Little Billee right in front--in the road.
Presently a magnificent open carriage came by--more magnificent than even the Hunkses', with liveries and harness quite vulgarly resplendent--almost Napoleonic.
Lolling back in it lay Monsieur et Madame Svengali--he with his broad- brimmed felt sombrero over his long black curls, wrapped in costly furs, smoking his big cigar of the Havana.
By his side La Svengali--also in sables--with a large black velvet hat on, her light brown hair done up in a huge knot on the nape of her neck. She was rouged and pearl-powdered, and her eyes were blackened beneath, and thus made to look twice their size; but in spite of all such disfigurements she was a most splendid vision, and caused quite a little sensation in the crowd as she came slowly by.
Little Billee's heart was in his mouth. He caught Svengali's eye, and saw him speak to her. She turned her head and looked at him standing there--they both did. Little Billee bowed. She stared at him with a cold stare of disdain, and cut him dead--so did Svengali. And as they passed he heard them both snigger--she with a little high-pitched flippant snigger worthy of a London barmaid.
Little Billee was utterly crushed, and everything seemed turning round.
The Laird and Taffy had seen it all without losing a detail. The Svengalis had not even looked their way. The Laird said:
'It's not Trilby--I swear! She could never have done that--it's not in her! and it's another face altogether--I'm sure of it!'
Taffy was also staggered and in doubt. They caught hold of Little Billee, each by an arm, and walked him off to the boulevards. He was quite demoralised, and wanted not to dine at Passe-fil's. He wanted to go straight home at once. He longed for his mother as he used to long for her when he was in trouble as a small boy and she was away from home--longed for her desperately--to hug her and hold her and fondle her, and be fondled, for his own sake and hers; all his old love for her had come back in full--with what arrears! all his old love for his sister, for his old home.
When they went back to the hotel to dress (for Dodor had begged them to put on their best evening war-paint, so as to impress his future mother-in-law), Little Billee became fractious and intractable. And it was only on Taffy's promising that he would go all the way to Devonshire with him on the morrow, and stay with him there, that he could be got to dress and dine.
The huge Taffy lived entirely by his affections, and he hadn't many to live by--the Laird, Trilby, and Little Billee.
Trilby was unattainable, the Laird was quite strong and independent enough to get on by himself, and Taffy had concentrated all his faculties of protection and affection on Little Billee, and was equal to any burden or responsibility all this instinctive young fathering might involve.
In the first place, Little Billee had always been able to do quite easily, and better than any one else in the world, the very things Taffy most longed to do himself and couldn't, and this inspired the good Taffy with a chronic reverence and wonder he could not have expressed in words.
Then Little Billee was physically small and weak, and incapable of self-control. Then he was generous, amiable, affectionate, transparent as crystal, without an atom of either egotism or conceit: and had a gift of amusing you and interesting you by his talk (and its complete sincerity) that never palled; and even his silence was charming--one felt so sure of him--so there was hardly any sacrifice, little or big, that big Taffy was not ready and glad to make for Little Billee. On the other hand, there lay deep down under Taffy's surface irascibility and earnestness about trifles (and beneath his harmless vanity of the strong man), a long-suffering patience, a real humility, a robustness of judgment, a sincerity and all-roundness, a completeness of sympathy, that made him very good to trust and safe to lean upon. Then his powerful, impressive aspect, his great stature, the gladiator-like poise of his small round head on his big neck and shoulders, his huge deltoids and deep chest and slender loins, his clean-cut ankles and wrists, all the long and bold and highly-finished athletic shapes of him, that easy grace of strength that made all his movements a pleasure to watch, and any garment look well when he wore it--all this was a perpetual feast to the quick, prehensile, aesthetic eye. And then he had such a solemn, earnest, lovable way of bending pokers round his neck, and breaking them on his arm, and jumping his own height (or near it), and lifting up arm-chairs by one leg with one hand, and what not else!
So that there was hardly any sacrifice, little or big, that Little Billee would not accept from big Taffy as a mere matter of course--a fitting and proper tribute rendered by bodily strength to genius.
Par nobile fratrum--well met and well mated for fast and long-enduring friendship.
The family banquet at Monsieur Passefil's would have been dull but for the irrepressible Dodor, and still more for the Laird of Cockpen, who rose to the occasion, and surpassed himself in geniality, drollery, and eccentricity of French grammar and accent. Monsieur Passefil was also a droll in his way, and had the quickly familiar, jocose facetiousness that seems to belong to the successful middle-aged bourgeois all over the world, when he's not pompous instead (he can even be both sometimes).
Madame Passefil was not jocose. She was much impressed by the aristocratic splendour of Taffy, the romantic melancholy and refinement of Little Billee, and their quiet and dignified politeness. She always spoke of Dodor as Monsieur de Lafarce, though the rest of the family (and one or two friends who had been invited) always called him Monsieur Theodore, and he was officially known as Monsieur Rigolot.
Whenever Madame Passefil addressed him or spoke of him in this aristocratic manner (which happened very often), Dodor would wink at his friends, with his tongue in his cheek. It seemed to amuse him beyond measure.
Mademoiselle Ernestine was evidently too much in love to say anything, and seldom took her eyes off Monsieur Theodore, whom she had never seen in evening dress before. It must be owned that he looked very nice--more ducal than even Zouzou--and to be Madame de Lafarce en perspective, and the future owner of such a brilliant husband as Dodor, was enough to turn a stronger little bourgeois head than Mademoiselle Ernestine's.
She was not beautiful, but healthy, well grown, well brought up, and presumably of a sweet, kind, and amiable disposition--an ingenue fresh from her convent--innocent as a child, no doubt; and it was felt that Dodor had done better for himself (and for his race) than Monsieur le Due. Little Dodors need have no fear.
After dinner the ladies and gentlemen left the dining-room together, and sat in a pretty salon overlooking the boulevard, where cigarettes were allowed, and there was music. Mademoiselle Ernestine laboriously played 'Les Cloches du Monastere' (by Monsieur Lefebure-Wely, if I'm not mistaken). It's the most bourgeois piece of music I know.
Then Dodor, with his sweet high voice, so strangely pathetic and true, sang goody-goody little French songs of innocence (of which he seemed to have an endless repertoire) to his future wife's conscientious accompaniment--to the immense delight, also, of all his future family, who were almost in tears--and to the great amusement of the Laird, at whom he winked in the most pathetic parts, putting his forefinger to the side of his nose, like Noah Claypole in Oliver Twist.
The wonder of the hour, La Svengali, was discussed, of course; it was unavoidable. But our friends did not think it necessary to reveal that she was 'la grande Trilby.' That would soon transpire by itself.
And, indeed, before the month was a week older the papers were full of nothing else.
Madame Svengali--'la grande Trilby,'--was the only daughter of the honourable and reverend Sir Lord O'Ferrall.
She had run away from the primeval forests and lonely marshes of le Dublin, to lead a free-and-easy life among the artists of the Quartier Latin of Paris--une vie de boheme!
She was the Venus Anadyomene from top to toe. She was blanche comme neige, avec un volcan dans le cceur. Casts of her alabaster feet could be had at Brucciani's, in the Rue de la Souriciere St. Denis. (He made a fortune.)
Monsieur Ingres had painted her left foot on the wall of a studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts; and an eccentric Scotch milord (le Comte de Pencock) had bought the house containing the flat containing the studio containing the wall on which it was painted, had had the house pulled down, and the wall framed and glazed and sent to his castle of Edimbourg.
(This, unfortunately, was in excess of the truth. It was found impossible to execute the Laird's wish, on account of the material the wall was made of. So the Lord Count of Pencock--such was Madame Vinard's version of Sandy's nickname--had to forgo his purchase.)
Next morning our friends were in readiness to leave Paris; even the Laird had had enough of it, and longed to get back to his work again---a 'Hari-Kari in Yokohama.' (He had never been to Japan; but no more had any one else in those early days.)
They had just finished breakfast, and were sitting in the courtyard of the hotel, which was crowded, as usual.
Little Billee went into the hotel post-office to despatch a note to his mother. Sitting sideways there at a small table and reading letters was Svengali--of all people in the world. But for these two and a couple of clerks the room was empty.
Svengali looked up; they were quite close together. Little Billee, in his nervousness, began to shake, and half put out his hand, and drew it back again, seeing the look of hate on Svengali's face.
Svengali jumped up, put his letters together, and passing by Little Billee on his way to the door, called him 'verfluchter Schweinhund,' and deliberately spat in his face.
Little Billee was paralysed for a second or two; then he ran after Svengali, and caught him just at the top of the marble stairs, and kicked him, and knocked off his hat, and made him drop all his letters. Svengali turned round and struck him over the mouth and made it bleed, and Little Billee hit out like a fury, but with no effect: he couldn't reach high enough, for Svengali was well over six feet.
There was a crowd round them in a minute, including the beautiful old man in the court suit and gold chain, who called out: 'Vite! vite! un commissaire de police!'--a cry that was echoed all over the place.
Taffy saw the row, and shouted, 'Bravo, little 'un!' and jumping up from his table, jostled his way through the crowd; and Little Billee, bleeding and gasping and perspiring and stammering said:
'He spat in my face, Taffy--damn him! I'd never even spoken to him-- not a word, I swear!'
Svengali had not reckoned on Taffy's being there; he recognised him at once, and turned white.
Taffy, who had dogskin gloves on, put out his right hand, and deftly seized Svengali's nose between his fore and middle fingers and nearly pulled it off, and swung his head two or three times backward and forward by it, and then from side to side, Svengali holding on to his wrist and then, letting him go, gave him a sounding open-handed smack on his right cheek--and a smack on the face from Taffy (even in play) was no joke, I'm told; it made one smell brimstone, and see and hear things that didn't exist.
Svengali gasped worse than Little Billee, and couldn't speak for a while. Then he said:
'Lache--grand lache! che fous enferrai mes temoins!'
'At your orders!' said Taffy, in beautiful French, and drew out his card-case, and gave him his card in quite the orthodox French manner, adding: 'I shall be here till to-morrow at twelve--but that is my London address, in case I don't hear from you before I leave. I'm sorry, but you really mustn't spit, you know--it's not done. I will come to you whenever you send for me--even if I have to come from the end of the world.'
'Tres bien! tres bien!' said a military-looking old gentleman close by, who gave Taffy his card, in case he might be of any service--and who seemed quite delighted at the row--and indeed it was really pleasant to note with what a smooth, flowing, rhythmical spontaneity the good Taffy could always improvise these swift little acts of summary retributive justice: no hurry or scurry or flurry whatever--- not an inharmonious gesture, not an infelicitous line--the very poetry of violence, and almost its only excuse!
Whatever it was worth, this was Taffy's special gift and it never failed him at a pinch.
When the commissaire de police arrived, all was over. Svengali had gone away in a cab, and Taffy put himself at the disposition of the commissaire.
They went into the post-office and discussed it all with the old military gentleman, and the majordome in velvet, and the two clerks who had seen the original insult. And all that was required of Taffy and his friends for the present was 'their names, pre-names, titles, qualities, age, address, nationality, occupation,' etc.
'C'est une affaire qui s'arrangera autrement, et autre part!' had said the military gentleman--monsieur le general Comte de la Tour-aux- Loups.
So it blew over quite simply, and all that day a fierce unholy joy burned in Taffy's choleric blue eye.
Not, indeed, that he had any wish to injure Trilby's husband, or meant to do him any grievous bodily harm, whatever happened. But he was glad to have given Svengali a lesson in manners.
That Svengali should Injure him never entered into his calculations for a moment. Besides, he didn't believe Svengali would show fight; and in this he was not mistaken.
But he had, for hours, the feel of that long, thick, shapely Hebrew nose being kneaded between his gloved knuckles, and a pleasing sense of the effectiveness of the tweak he had given it. So he went about chewing the cud of that heavenly remembrance all day, till reflection brought remorse, and he felt sorry; for he was really the mildest- mannered man that ever broke a head!
Only the sight of Little Billee's blood (which had been made to flow by such an unequal antagonist) had roused the old Adam.
No message came from Svengali to ask for the names and addresses of Taffy's seconds; so Dodor and Zouzou (not to mention Mister the general Count of the Tooraloorals, as the Laird called him) were left undisturbed; and our three musketeers went back to London clean of blood, whole of limb, and heartily sick of Paris.
Little Billee stayed with his mother and sister in Devonshire till Christmas, Taffy staying at the village inn.
It was Taffy who told Mrs. Bagot about La Svengali's all but certain identity with Trilby, after Little Billee had gone to bed, tired and worn out, the night of their arrival.
'Good heavens!' said poor Mrs. Bagot. 'Why, that's the new singing woman who's coming over here! There's an article about her in to-day's Times. It says she's a wonder, and that there's no one like her! Surely, that can't be the Miss O'Ferrall I saw in Paris!'
'It seems impossible--but I'm almost certain it is--and Willy has no doubts in the matter. On the other hand, M'Allister declares it isn't.'
'Oh, what trouble! So that's why poor Willy looks so ill and miserable! It's all come back again. Could she sing at all then, when you knew her in Paris?'
'Not a note--her attempts at singing were quite grotesque.'
'Is she still very beautiful?'
'Oh yes; there's no doubt about that; more than ever!'
'And her singing--is that so very wonderful? I remember that she had a beautiful voice in speaking.'
'Wonderful? Ah, yes; I never heard or dreamed the like of it. Grisi, Alboni, Patti--not one of them to be mentioned in the same breath!'
'Good heavens! Why, she must be simply irresistible! I wonder you're not in love with her yourself. How dreadful these sirens are, wrecking the peace of families!'
'You mustn't forget that she gave way at once at a word from you, Mrs. Bagot; and she was very fond of Willy. She wasn't a siren then.'
'Oh yes--oh yes! that's true--she behaved very well--she did her duty--I can't deny that! You must try and forgive me, Mr. Wynne--- although I can't forgive her!--that dreadful illness of poor Willy's-- that bitter time in Paris--'
And Mrs. Bagot began to cry, and Taffy forgave. 'Oh. Mr. Wynne, let us still hope that there's some mistake--that it's only somebody like her! Why, she's coming to sing in London after Christmas! My poor boy's infatuation will only increase. What shall I do?
'Well--she's another man's wife, you see. So Willy's infatuation is bound to burn itself out as soon as he fully recognises that important fact. Besides, she cut him dead in the Champs Elysees--and her husband and Willy had a row next day at the hotel, and cuffed and kicked each other--that's rather a bar to any future intimacy, I think.'
'Oh, Mr. Wynne! my son cuffing and kicking a man whose wife he's in love with! Good heavens!'
'Oh, it was all right--the man had grossly insulted him; and Willy behaved like a brick, and got the best of it in the end, and nothing came of it. I saw it all.'
'Oh, Mr. Wynne--and you didn't interfere?' 'Oh yes, I interfered--- everybody interfered! It was all right, I assure you. No bones were broken on either side, and there was no nonsense about calling out, or swords or pistols, and all that.' 'Thank Heaven!'
In a week or two Little Billee grew more like himself again, and painted endless studies of rocks and cliffs and sea--and Taffy painted with him, and was very content. The vicar and Little Billee patched up their feud. The vicar also took an immense fancy to Taffy, whose cousin, Sir Oscar Wynne, he had known at college, and lost no opportunity of being hospitable and civil to him. And his daughter was away in Algiers.
And all 'the nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood, including 'the poor dear marquis' (one of whose sons was in Taffy's old regiment), were civil and hospitable also to the two painters--and Taffy got as much sport as he wanted, and became immensely popular. And they had, on the whole, a very good time till Christmas, and a very pleasant Christmas, if not an exuberantly merry one.
After Christmas Little Billee insisted on going back to London--to paint a picture for the Royal Academy; and Taffy went with him; and there was dulness in the house of Bagot--and many misgivings in the maternal heart of its mistress.
And people of all kinds, high and low, from the family at the Court to the fishermen on the little pier and their wives and children, missed the two genial painters, who were the friends of everybody, and made such beautiful sketches of their beautiful coast.
La Svengali has arrived in London. Her name is in every mouth. Her photograph is in the shop-windows. She is to sing at J--'s monster concerts next week. She was to have sung sooner, but it seems some hitch has occurred--a quarrel between Monsieur Svengali and his first violin, who is a very important person.
A crowd of people as usual, only bigger, is assembled in front of the windows of the Stereoscopic Company in Regent Street, gazing at presentments of Madame Svengali in all sizes and costumes. She is very beautiful--there is no doubt of that; and the expression of her face is sweet and kind and sad, and of such a distinction that one feels an imperial crown would become her even better than her modest little coronet of golden stars. One of the photographs represents her in classical dress, with her left foot on a little stool, in something of the attitude of the Venus of Milo, except that her hands are clasped behind her back; and the foot is bare but for a Greek sandal, and so smooth and delicate and charming, and with so rhythmical a set and curl of the five slender toes (the big one slightly tip-tilted and well apart from its longer and slighter and more aquiline neighbour), that this presentment of her sells quicker than all the rest.
And a little man who, with two bigger men, has just forced his way in front says to one of his friends: 'Look, Sandy, look--the foot! Now have you got any doubts?'
'Oh yes--those are Trilby's toes, sure enough!' says Sandy. And they all go in and purchase largely.
As far as I have been able to discover, the row between Svengali and his first violin had occurred at a rehearsal in Drury Lane Theatre.
Svengali, it seems, had never been quite the same since the 15th of October previous, and that was the day he had got his face slapped and his nose tweaked by Taffy in Paris. He had become short-tempered and irritable especially with his wife (if she was his wife). Svengali, it seems, had reasons for passionately hating Little Billee.
He had not seen him for five years--not since the Christmas festivity in the Place St. Anatole, when they had sparred together after supper, and Svengali's nose had got in the way on this occasion, and had been made to bleed; but that was not why he hated Little Billee.
When he caught sight of him standing on the curb in the Place de la Concorde and watching the procession of 'tout Paris,' he knew him directly, and all his hate flared up; he cut him dead, and made his wife do the same.
Next morning he saw him again in the hotel post-office, looking small and weak and flurried, and apparently alone; and being an Oriental Israelite Hebrew Jew, he had not been able to resist the temptation of spitting in his face, since he must not throttle him to death.
The minute he had done this he had regretted the folly of it. Little Billee had run after him, and kicked and struck him, and he had returned the blow and drawn blood; and then, suddenly and quite unexpected, had come upon the scene that apparition so loathed and dreaded of old--the pig-headed Yorkshireman--the huge British philistine, the irresponsible bull, the junker, the ex-Crimean, Front- de-Breuf, who had always reminded him of the brutal and contemptuous sword-clanking, spur-jingling aristocrats of his own country--ruffians that treated Jews like dogs. Callous as he was to the woes of others, the self-indulgent and highly-strung musician was extra sensitive about himself--a very bundle of nerves--and especially sensitive to pain and rough usage, and by no means physically brave. The stern, choleric, invincible blue eye of the hated northern Gentile had cowed him at once. And that violent tweaking of his nose, that heavy open- handed blow on his face, had so shaken and demoralised him that he had never recovered from it.
He was thinking about it always--night and day--and constantly dreaming at night that he was being tweaked and slapped over again by a colossal nightmare Taffy, and waking up In agonies of terror, rage, and shame. All healthy sleep had forsaken him.
Moreover, he was much older than he looked--nearly fifty--and far from sound. His life had been a long, hard struggle.
He had for his wife, slave, and pupil a fierce, jealous kind of affection that was a source of endless torment to him for indelibly graven in her heart, which he wished to occupy alone, was the never- fading image of the little English painter, and of this she made no secret.
Gecko no longer cared for the master. All Gecko's doglike devotion was concentrated on the slave and pupil, whom he worshipped with a fierce but pure and unselfish passion. The only living soul that Svengali could trust was the old Jewess who lived with them--his relative--but even she had come to love the pupil as much as the master.
On the occasion of this rehearsal at Drury Lane he (Svengali) was conducting and Madame Svengali was singing. He interrupted her several times, angrily and most unjustly, and told her she was singing out of tune 'like a verfluchter tomcat,' which was quite untrue. She was singing beautifully, 'Home, Sweet Home.'
Finally he struck her two or three smart blows on her knuckles with his little baton, and she fell on her knees weeping and crying out:
'Oh! oh! Svengali! ne me battez pas, mon ami--je fais tout ce que je peux!'
On which little Gecko had suddenly jumped up and struck Svengali on the neck near the collar-bone, and then it was seen that he had a little bloody knife in his hand, and blood flowed from Svengali's neck, and at the sight of it Svengali had fainted; and Madame Svengali had taken his head on her lap, looking dazed and stupefied, as in a waking dream.
Gecko had been disarmed, but as Svengali recovered from his faint and was taken home, the police had not been sent for, and the affair was hushed up, and a public scandal avoided. But La Svengali's first appearance, to Monsieur J--'s despair, had to be put off for a week. For Svengali would not allow her to sing without him; nor indeed, would he be parted from her for a minute, or trust her out of his sight.
The wound was a slight one. The doctor who attended Svengali described the wife as being quite imbecile, no doubt from grief and anxiety. But she never left her husband's bedside for a moment, and had the obedience and devotion of a dog.
When the night came round for the postponed debut, Svengali was allowed by the doctor to go to the theatre, but he was absolutely forbidden to conduct. His grief and anxiety at this were uncontrollable; he raved like a madman; and Monsieur J--was almost as bad.
Monsieur J--had been conducting the Svengali band at rehearsals during the week, in the absence of its master--an easy task. It had been so thoroughly drilled and knew its business so well that it could almost conduct itself, and it had played all the music it had to play (much of which consisted of accompaniments to La Svengali's songs) many times before. Her repertoire was immense, and Svengali had written these orchestral scores with great care and felicity.
On the famous night it was arranged that Svengali should sit in a box alone, exactly opposite his wife's place on the platform, where she could see him well; and a code of simple signals was arranged between him and Monsieur J--and the band, so that virtually he might conduct, himself, from his box, should any hesitation or hitch occur. This arrangement was rehearsed the day before (a Sunday) and had turned out quite successfully, and La Svengali had sung in perfection in the empty theatre.
When Monday evening arrived everything seemed to be going smoothly; the house was soon crammed to suffocation, all but the middle box on the grand tier. It was not a promenade concert, and the pit was turned into guinea stalls (the promenade concerts were to begin a week later).
Right in the middle of these stalls sat the Laird and Taffy and Little Billee.
The band came in by degrees and tuned their instruments.
Eyes were constantly being turned to the empty box, and people wondered what royal personages would appear.
Monsieur J--took his place amid immense applause, and bowed in his inimitable way, looking often at the empty box.
Then he tapped and waved his baton, and the band played its Hungarian dance music with immense success; when this was over there was a pause, and soon some signs of impatience from the gallery. Monsieur J--had disappeared.
Taffy stood up, his back to the orchestra, looking round.
Some one came into the empty box, and stood for a moment in front, gazing at the house. A tall man, deathly pale, with long black hair and a beard.
It was Svengali.
He caught sight of Taffy and met his eyes, and Taffy said: 'Good God! Look! look!'
Then Little Billee and the Laird got up and looked.
And Svengali for a moment glared at them. And the expression of his face was so terrible with wonder, rage, and fear that they were quite appalled--and then he sat down, still glaring at Taffy, the whites of his eyes showing at the top, and his teeth bared in a spasmodic grin of hate.
Then thunders of applause filled the house, and turning round and seating themselves, Taffy and Little Billee and the Laird saw Trilby being led by J--down the platform, between the players, to the front, her face smiling rather vacantly, her eyes anxiously intent on Svengali in his box.
She made her bows to right and left just as she had done in Paris.
The band struck up the opening bars of 'Ben Bolt,' with which she was announced to make her debut.
She still stared--but she didn't sing--and they played the little symphony three times.
One could hear Monsieur J--in a hoarse, anxious whisper saying.
'Mais chantez done, madame--pour l'amour de Dieu, commencez done--- commencez!'
She turned round with an extraordinary expression of face, and said.
'Chanter? pourquoi done voulez-vous que je chante, moi? chanter quoi, alors?'
'Mais "Ben Bolt," parbleu--chantez!'
'Ah--"Ben Bolt!" oui--je connais ca!'
Then the band began again.
And she tried, but failed to begin herself. She turned round and said.
'Comment diable voulez-vous que je chante avec tout ce train qu'ils font, ces diables de musiciens?'
'Mais, mon Dieu, madame--qu'est-ce que vous avez done?' cried Monsieur J---.
'J'ai que j'aime mieux chanter sans toute cette satanee musique, parbleu! J'aime mieux chanter toute seule!'
'Sans musique, alors--mais chantez--chantez!'
The band was stopped--the house was in a state of indescribable wonder and suspense.
She looked all round, and down at herself, and fingered her dress. Then she looked up to the chandelier with a tender, sentimental smile and began--
'Oh don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice with hair so brown.
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile--'
She had not got further than this when the whole house was in an uproar--shouts from the gallery--shouts of laughter, hoots, hisses, cat-calls, cock-crows.
She stopped and glared like a brave lioness, and called out--
'Qu'est-ce que vous avez done, tous! tas de vieilles pommes cuites que vous etes! Est-ce qu'on a peur de vous?' and then, suddenly--
'Why, you're all English, aren't you?--what's all the row about?--- what have you brought me here for?--what have I done, I should like to know?'
And in asking these questions the depth and splendour of her voice were so extraordinary--its tone so pathetically feminine, yet so full of hurt and indignant command, that the tumult was stilled for a moment.
It was the voice of some being from another world--some insulted daughter of a race more puissant and nobler than ours; a voice that seemed as if it could never utter a false note.
Then came a voice from the gods in answer--
'Oh, ye're Henglish, har yer? Why don't yer sing as yer bought to sing--yer've got voice enough, any'ow! why don't yer sing in tune?'
'Sing in tune' cried Trilby. 'I didn't want to sing at all---I only sang because I was asked to sing--that gentleman asked me--that French gentleman with the white waistcoat! I won't sing another note!'
'Oh, yer won't, won't yer! then let us 'ave our money back, or we'll know what for!'
And again the din broke out, and the uproar was frightful.
Monsieur J--screamed out across the theatre: 'Svengali! Svengali! qu'est-ce qu'elle a done, votre femme? ... Elle est devenue folle!'
Indeed she had tried to sing 'Ben Bolt,' but had sung it in her old way--as she used to sing it in the Quartier Latin--the most lamentably grotesque performance ever heard out of a human throat!
'Svengali! Svengali!' shrieked poor Monsieur J--gesticulating towards the box where Svengali was sitting, quite impassible, gazing at Monsieur J--, and smiling a ghastly, sardonic smile, a rictus of hate and triumphant revenge--as if he were saying--
'I've got the laugh of you all, this time!'
Taffy, the Laird, Little Billee, the whole house, were now staring at Svengali, and his wife was forgotten.
She stood vacantly looking at everybody and everything--the chandelier, Monsieur J--, Svengali in his box, the people in the stalls, in the gallery--and smiling as if the noisy scene amused and excited her.
'Svengali! Svengali! Svengali!'
The whole house took up the cry, derisively. Monsieur J--led Madame Svengali away; she seemed quite passive. That terrible figure of Svengali still sat, immovable, watching his wife's retreat--still smiling his ghastly smile. All eyes were now turned on him once more.
Monsieur J--was then seen to enter his box with a policeman and two or three other men, one of them in evening dress. He quickly drew the curtains to; then, a minute or two after, he reappeared on the platform, bowing and scraping to the audience, as pale as death, and called for silence, the gentleman in evening dress by his side; and this person explained that a very dreadful thing had happened--that Monsieur Svengali had suddenly died in that box--of apoplexy or heart disease; that his wife had seen it from her place on the stage, and had apparently gone out of her senses, which accounted for her extraordinary behaviour.
He added that the money would be returned at the doors, and begged the audience to disperse quietly.
Taffy, with his two friends behind him, forced his way to a stage door he knew. The Laird had no longer any doubts on the score of Trilby's identity--this Trilby, at all events.
Taffy knocked and thumped till the door was opened, and gave his card to the man who opened it, stating that he and his friends were old friends of Madame Svengali, and must see her at once.
The man tried to slam the door in his face, but Taffy pushed through, and shut it on the crowd outside, and insisted on being taken to Monsieur J--immediately; and was so authoritative and big, and looked such a swell, that the man was cowed, and led him.
They passed an open door, through which they had a glimpse of a prostrate form on a table--a man partially undressed, and some men bending over him, doctors probably.
That was the last they saw of Svengali.
Then they were taken to another door, and Monsieur J--came out, and Taffy explained who they were, and they were admitted.
La Svengali was there, sitting in an armchair by the fire, while several of the band stood round gesticulating, and talking German or Polish or Yiddish. Gecko, on his knees, was alternately chafing her hands and feet. She seemed quite dazed.
But at the sight of Taffy she jumped up and rushed at him, saying: 'Oh, Taffy dear--oh, Taffy! what's it all about? Where on earth am I? What an age since we met!'
Then she caught sight of the Laird, and kissed him; and then she recognised Little Billee.
She looked at him for a long while in great surprise, and then shook hands with him.
'How pale you are! and so changed--you've got a moustache! What's the matter? Why are you all dressed in black, with white cravats, as if you were going to a funeral? Where's Svengali? I should like to go home!'
'Where--what do you call--home, I mean--where is it?' asked Taffy.
'C'est a l'Hotel de Normandie, dans le Haymarket. On va vous y conduire, madame!' said Monsieur J--.
'Oui--c'est ca!' said Trilby--'Hotel de Normandie--mais Svengali--ou est-ce qu'il est?'
'Helas! madame--il est tres malade!'
'Malade? Qu'est-ce qu'il a? How funny you look, with your moustache, Little Billee! dear, dear Little Billee! so pale, so very pale! Are you ill too? Oh, I hope not! How glad I am to see you again--you can't tell! though I promised your mother I wouldn't--never, never! Where are we now, dear Little Billee?'
Monsieur J--seemed to have lost his head. He was constantly running in and out of the room, distracted. The bandsmen began to talk and try to explain, in incomprehensible French, to Taffy. Gecko seemed to have disappeared. It was a bewildering business--noises from outside, the tramp and bustle and shouts of the departing crowd, people running in and out and asking for Monsieur J--, policemen, firemen, and what not!
Then Little Billee, who had been exerting the most heroic self- control, suggested that Trilby should come to his house in Fitzroy Square, first of all, and be taken out of all this--and the idea struck Taffy as a happy one--and it was proposed to Monsieur J--, who saw that our three friends were old friends of Madame Svengali's, and people to be trusted; and he was only too glad to be relieved of her, and gave his consent.
Little Billee and Taffy drove to Fitzroy Square to prepare Little Billee's landlady, who was much put out at first at having such a novel and unexpected charge imposed on her. It was all explained to her that it must be so. That Madame Svengali, the greatest singer in Europe and an old friend of her tenant's, had suddenly gone out of her mind from grief at the tragic death of her husband, and that for this night at least the unhappy lady must sleep under that roof--indeed, in Little Billee's own bed, and that he would sleep at a hotel; and that a nurse would be provided at once--it might be only for that one night; and that the lady was as quiet as a lamb, and would probably recover her faculties after a night's rest. A doctor was sent for from close by, and soon Trilby appeared, with the Laird, and her appearance and her magnificent sables impressed Mrs. Godwin, the landlady-- brought her figuratively on her knees. Then Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee departed again and dispersed--to procure a nurse for the night, to find Gecko, to fetch some of Trilby's belongings from the Hotel de Normandie, and her maid.
The maid (the old German Jewess and Svengali's relative), distracted by the news of her master's death, had gone to the theatre. Gecko was in the hands of the police. Things had got to a terrible pass. But our three friends did their best, and were up most of the night.
So much for La Svengali's debut in London.
The present scribe was not present on that memorable occasion, and has written this inadequate and most Incomplete description partly from hearsay and private information, partly from the reports in the contemporary newspapers.
Should any surviving eye-witness of that lamentable fiasco read these pages, and see any gross inaccuracy in this bald account of it, the P. S. will feel deeply obliged to the same for any corrections or additions, and these will be duly acted upon and gratefully acknowledged in all subsequent editions; which will be numerous, no doubt, on account of the great interest still felt in 'La Svengali,' even by those who never saw or heard her (and they are many), and also because the present scribe is better qualified (by his opportunities) for the compiling of this brief biographical sketch than any person now living, with the exception, of course, of 'Taffy' and 'the Laird,' to whose kindness, even more than to his own personal recollections, he owes whatever it may contain of serious historical value.
Next morning they all three went to Fitzroy Square. Little Billee had slept at Taffy's rooms in Jermyn Street.
Trilby seemed quite pathetically glad to see them again. She was dressed simply and plainly--in black; her trunks had been sent from the hotel.
The hospital nurse was with her; the doctor had just left. He had said that she was suffering from some great nervous shock--a pretty safe diagnosis!
Her wits had apparently not come back, and she seemed in no way to realise her position.
'Ah! what it is to see you again, all three! It makes one feel glad to be alive! I've thought of many things, but never of this--never! Three nice clean Englishmen, all speaking English--and such dear old friends! Ah! j'aime tant ca--c'est le del! I wonder I've got a word of English left!'
Her voice was so soft and sweet and low that these ingenuous remarks sounded like a beautiful song. And she 'made the soft eyes' at them all three, one after another, in her old way; and the soft eyes quickly filled with tears.
She seemed ill and weak and worn out, and insisted on keeping the Laird's hand in hers.
'What's the matter with Svengali? He must be dead!'
They all three looked at each other, perplexed.
'Ah! he's dead! I can see it in your faces. He'd got heart disease. I'm sorry! oh, very sorry indeed! He was always very kind, poor Svengali!'
'Yes. He's dead,' said Taffy.
'And Gecko--dear little Gecko--is he dead too? I saw him last night-- he warmed my hands and feet: where were we?'
'No. Gecko's not dead. But he's had to be locked up for a little while. He struck Svengali, you know. You saw it all.'
'I? No! I never saw it. But I dreamt something like it! Gecko with a knife, and people holding him, and Svengali bleeding on the ground. That was just before Svengali's illness. He'd cut himself in the neck, you know--with a rusty nail, he told me. I wonder how?...But it was wrong of Gecko to strike him. They were such friends. Why did he?'
'Well--it was because Svengali struck you with his conductor's wand when you were rehearsing. Struck you on the fingers and made you cry! don't you remember?'
'Struck me! rehearsing?--made me cry! what are you talking about, dear Taffy? Svengali never struck me! He was kindness itself--always! and what should I rehearse?'
'Well, the songs you were to sing at the theatre in the evening.'
'Sing at the theatre! I never sang at any theatre--except last night, if that big place was a theatre! and they didn't seem to like it! I'll take precious good care never to sing in a theatre again! How they howled! and there was Svengali in the box opposite, laughing at me. Why was I taken there? and why did that funny little Frenchman in the white waistcoat ask me to sing? I know very well I can't sing well enough to sing in a place like that! What a fool I was! It all seems like a bad dream! What was it all about? Was it a dream, I wonder!'
'Well--but don't you remember singing at Paris, in the Salle des Bashibazoucks--and at Vienna--St. Petersburg--lots of places?'
'What nonsense, dear--you're thinking of some one else! I never sang anywhere! I've been to Vienna and St. Petersburg--but I never sang there--good heavens!'
Then there was a pause, and our three friends looked at her helplessly.
Little Billee said: 'Tell me, Trilby--what made you cut me dead when I bowed to you in the Place de la Concorde, and you were riding with Svengali in that swell carriage?'
'I never rode in a swell carriage with Svengali! Omnibuses were more in our line! You're dreaming, dear Little Billee--you're taking me for somebody else; and as for my cutting you--why, I'd sooner cut myself---into little pieces!'
'Where were you staying with Svengali in Paris?'
'I really forget. Were we in Paris? Oh yes, of course. Hotel Bertrand, Place Notre Dame des Victoires.'
'How long have you been going about with Svengali?'
'Oh, months, years--I forget. I was very ill. He cured me.'
'Ill! What was the matter?'
'Oh! I was mad with grief, and pain in my eyes, and wanted to kill myself, when I lost my dear little Jeannot, at Vibraye. I fancied I hadn't been careful enough with him. I was crazed! Don't you remember writing to me there, Taffy--through Angele Boisse? Such a sweet letter you wrote! I know it by heart! And you too, Sandy'; and she kissed him. 'I wonder where they are, your letters? I've got nothing of my own in the world--not even your dear letters--nor Little Billee's-- such lots of them!
'Well, Svengali used to write to me too--and then he got my address from Angele. .. .
'When Jeannot died, I felt I must kill myself or get away from Vibraye--get away from the people there; so when he was buried I cut my hair short and got a workman's cap and blouse and trousers and walked all the way to Paris without saying anything to anybody. I didn't want anybody to know; I wanted to escape from Svengali, who wrote that he was coming there to fetch me. I wanted to hide in Paris. When I got there at last it was two o'clock in the morning, and I was in dreadful pain--and I'd lost all my money--thirty francs--through a hole in my trousers' pocket. Besides, I had a row with a carter in the Halle. He thought I was a man, and hit me and gave me a black eye, just because I patted his horse and fed it with a carrot I'd been trying to eat myself. He was tipsy, I think. Well, I looked over the bridge at the river--just by the Morgue--and wanted to jump in. But the Morgue sickened me, so I hadn't the pluck. Svengali used to be always talking about the Morgue, and my going there some day. He used to say he'd come and look at me there, and the idea made me so sick I couldn't. I got bewildered and quite stupid.
'Then I went to Angele's, in the Rue des Cloitres Ste. Petron-ille, and waited about; but I hadn't the courage to ring, so I went to the Place St. Anatole des Arts, and looked up at the old studio window, and thought how comfortable it was in there, with the big settee near the stove, and all that, and felt inclined to ring up Madame Vinard; and then I remembered Little Billee was ill there, and his mother and sister were with him. Angele had written me, you know. Poor Little Billee! There he was, very ill!
'So I walked about the place, and up and down the Rue des Trois Mauvais Ladres. Then I went down the Rue de Seine to the river again, and again I hadn't the pluck to jump in. Besides, there was a sergent- de-ville who followed and watched me. And the fun of it was that I knew him quite well, and he didn't know me a bit. It was Celestin Beaumollet, who got so tipsy on Christmas night. Don't you remember? The tall one, who was pitted with the small-pox.
'Then I walked about till near daylight. Then I could stand it no longer, and went to Svengali's, in the Rue Tireliard, but he'd moved to the Rue des Saints Peres; and I went there and found him. I didn't want to a bit, but I couldn't help myself. It was fate, I suppose! He was very kind, and cured me almost directly, and got me coffee and bread and butter--the best I ever tasted--and a warm bath from Bidet Freres, in the Rue Savonarole. It was heavenly! And I slept for two days and two nights! And then he told me how fond he was of me, and how he would always cure me, and take care of me, and marry me, if I would go away with him. He said he would devote his whole life to me, and took a small room for me, next to his.
'I stayed with him there a week, never going out or seeing any one, mostly asleep. I'd caught a chill.
'He played in two concerts and made a lot of money; and then we went away to Germany together; and no one was a bit the wiser.'
'And did he marry you?'
'Well--no. He couldn't, poor fellow! He'd already got a wife living, and three children, which he declared were not his. They live in Elberfeld in Prussia; she keeps a small sweet-stuff shop there. He behaved very badly to them. But it was not through me! He'd deserted them long before; but he used to send them plenty of money when he'd got any; I made him, for I was very sorry for her. He was always talking about her, and what she said and what she did, and imitating her saying her prayers and eating pickled cucumber with one hand and drinking schnapps with the other, so as not to lose any time; till he made me the of laughing. He could be very funny, Svengali, though he was German, poor dear! And then Gecko joined us, and Marta.'
'His aunt. She cooked for us, and all that. She's coming here presently; she sent word from the hotel; she's very fond of him. Poor Marta! Poor Gecko! What will they ever do without Svengali?'
'Then what did he do to live?'
'Oh! he played at concerts, I suppose--and all that.'
'Did you ever hear him?'
'Yes. Sometimes Marta took me; at the beginning, you know. He was always very much applauded. He plays beautifully. Everybody said so.'
'Did he never try and teach you to sing?'
'Oh, mai'e a'ie! not he! Why, he always laughed when I tried to sing; and so did Marta; and so did Gecko! It made them roar! I used to sing "Ben Bolt." They used to make me, just for fun--and go into fits. I didn't mind a scrap. I'd had no training, you know!'
'Was there anybody else he knew--any other woman?'
'Not that I know of! He always made out he was so fond of me that he couldn't even look at another woman. Poor Svengali!' (Here her eyes filled with tears again.) 'He was always very kind! But I never could be fond of him in the way he wished--never! It made me sick even to think of! Once I used to hate him--in Paris--in the studio; don't you remember?
'He hardly ever left me; and then Marta looked after me--for I've always been weak and ill, and often so languid that I could hardly walk across the room. It was that three days' walk from Vibraye to Paris. I never got over it.
'I used to try and do all I could--be a daughter to him, as I couldn't be anything else--mend his things, and all that, and cook him little French dishes. I fancy he was very poor at one time; we were always moving from place to place. But I always had the best of everything. He insisted on that--even if he had to go without himself. It made him quite unhappy when I wouldn't eat, so I used to force myself.
'Then, as soon as I felt uneasy about things, or had any pain, he would say, "Dors, ma mignonne!" and I would sleep at once--for hours, I think--and wake up oh, so tired! and find him kneeling by me, always so anxious and kind--and Marta and Gecko! and sometimes we had the doctor, and I was ill in bed.
'Gecko used to dine and breakfast with us--you've no idea what an angel he is, poor little Gecko! But what a dreadful thing to strike Svengali! Why did he? Svengali taught him all he knows!' 'And you knew no one else--no other woman?' 'No one that I can remember--except Marta--not a soul!' 'And that beautiful dress you had on last night?' 'It isn't mine. It's on the bed upstairs, and so's the fur cloak. They belong to Marta. She's got lots of them, lovely things--silk, satin, velvet--and lots of beautiful jewels. Marta deals in them, and makes lots of money.
'I've often tried them on; I'm very easy to fit,' she said, 'being so tall and thin. And poor Svengali would kneel down and cry, and kiss my hands and feet, and tell me I was his goddess and empress, and all that, which I hate. And Marta used to cry, too. And then he would say--
'"Et maintenant dors, ma mignonne!"
'And when I woke up I was so tired that I went to sleep again on my own account.
'But he was very patient. Oh, dear me! I've always been a poor, helpless, useless log and burden to him!
'Once I actually walked in my sleep--and woke up in the market-place at Prague--and found an immense crowd, and poor Svengali bleeding from the forehead, in a faint on the ground. He'd been knocked down by a horse and cart, he told me. He'd got his guitar with him. I suppose he and Gecko had been playing somewhere, for Gecko had his fiddle. If Gecko hadn't been there, I don't know what we should have done. You never saw such queer people as they were--such crowds---you'd think they'd never seen an Englishwoman before. The noise they made, and the things they gave me...some of them went down on their knees, and kissed my hands and the skirts of my gown.
'He was ill in bed for a week after that, and I nursed him, and he was very grateful. Poor Svengali! God knows I felt grateful to him for many things! Tell me how he died! I hope he hadn't much pain.'
They told her it was quite sudden, from heart disease.
'Ah! I knew he had that; he wasn't a healthy man; he used to smoke too much. Marta used always to be very anxious.'
Just then Marta came in.
Marta was a fat elderly Jewess of rather a grotesque and ignoble type. She seemed overcome with grief--all but prostrate.
Trilby hugged and kissed her, and took off her bonnet and shawl, and made her sit down in a big arm-chair, and got her a foot-stool.
She couldn't speak a word of anything but Polish and a little German. Trilby had also picked up a little German, and with this and by means of signs, and no doubt through a long intimacy with each other's ways, they understood each other very well. She seemed a very good old creature, and very fond of Trilby, but in mortal terror of the three Englishmen.
Lunch was brought up for the two women and the nurse, and our friends left them, promising to come again that day.
They were utterly bewildered; and the Laird would have it that there was another Madame Svengali somewhere, the real one, and that Trilby was a fraud--self-deceived and self-deceiving--quite unconsciously so, of course.
Truth looked out of her eyes, as it always had done--truth was in every line of her face.
The truth only--nothing but the truth could ever be told in that Voice of velvet,' which rang as true when she spoke as that of any thrush or nightingale, however rebellious it might be now (and for ever perhaps) to artificial melodic laws and limitations and restraints. The long training it had been subjected to had made it 'a wonder, a world's delight,' and though she might never sing another note, her mere speech would always be more golden than any silence, whatever she might say.
Except on the one particular point of her singing, she had seemed absolutely sane--so, at least, thought Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee. And each thought to himself, besides, that this last incarnation of Trilbyness was quite the sweetest, most touching, most endearing of all.
They had not failed to note how rapidly she had aged, now that they had seen her without her rouge and pearl powder; she looked thirty at least--she was only twenty-three.
Her hands were almost transparent in their waxen whiteness; delicate little frosty wrinkles had gathered round her eyes; there were gray streaks in her hair; all strength and straightness and elasticity seemed to have gone out of her with the memory of her endless triumphs (if she really was La Svengali), and of her many wanderings from city to city all over Europe.
It was evident enough that the sudden stroke which had destroyed her power of singing had left her physically a wreck.
But she was one of those rarely-gifted beings who cannot look or speak or even stir without waking up (and satisfying) some vague longing that lies dormant in the hearts of most of us, men and women alike; grace, charm, magnetism--whatever the nameless seduction should be called that she possessed to such an unusual degree--she had lost none of it when she lost her high spirits, her buoyant health and energy, her wits!
Tuneless and insane, she was more of a siren than ever--a quite unconscious siren--without any guile, who appealed to the heart all the more directly and irresistibly that she could no longer stir the passions.
All this was keenly felt by all three--each in his different way--by Taffy and Little Billee especially.
All her past life was forgiven--her sins of omission and commission! And whatever might be her fate--recovery, madness, disease, or death-- the care of her till she died or recovered should be the principal business of their lives.
Both had loved her. All three, perhaps. One had been loved by her as passionately, as purely, as unselfishly, as any man could wish to be loved, and in some extraordinary manner had recovered, after many years, at the mere sudden sight and sound of her, his lost share in our common inheritance--the power to love, and all its joy and sorrow; without which he had found life not worth living, though he had possessed every other gift and blessing in such abundance.
'Oh, Circe, poor Circe, dear Circe, divine enchantress that you were!' he said to himself, in his excitable way. 'A mere look from your eyes, a mere note of your heavenly voice, has turned a poor, miserable, callous brute back into a man again! and I will never forget it--- never! And now that a still worse trouble than mine has befallen you, you shall always be first in my thoughts till the end!'
And Taffy felt pretty much the same, though he was not by way of talking to himself so eloquently about things as Little Billee.
As they lunched, they read the accounts of the previous evening's events in different papers, three or four of which (including the Times) had already got leaders about the famous but unhappy singer who had been so suddenly widowed and struck down in the midst of her glory. All these accounts were more or less correct. In one paper it was mentioned that Madame Svengali was under the roof and care of Mr. William Bagot, the painter, in Fitzroy Square.
The inquest on Svengali was to take place that afternoon, and also Gecko's examination at the Bow Street Police Court, for his assault.
Taffy was allowed to see Gecko, who was remanded till the result of the post-mortem, should be made public. But beyond inquiring most anxiously and minutely after Trilby, and betraying the most passionate concern for her, he would say nothing, and seemed indifferent as to his own fate.
When they went to Fitzroy Square, late in the afternoon, they found that many people, musical, literary, fashionable, and otherwise (and many foreigners), had called to inquire after Madame Svengali, but no one had been admitted to see her. Mrs. Godwin was much elated by the importance of her new lodger.
Trilby had been writing to Angele Boisse, at her old address in the Rue des Cloitres Ste. Petronille, in the hope that this letter would find her still there. She was anxious to go back and be a blanchisseuse de fin with her friend. It was a kind of nostalgia for Paris, the Quartier Latin, her clean old trade.
This project our three heroes did not think it necessary to discuss with her just yet; she seemed quite unfit for work of any kind.
The doctor, who had seen her again, had been puzzled by her strange physical weakness, and wished for a consultation with some special authority; Little Billee, who was intimate with most of the great physicians, wrote about her to Sir Oliver Calthorpe.
She seemed to find a deep happiness in being with her three old friends, and talked and listened with all her old eagerness and geniality, and much of her old gaiety, in spite of her strange and sorrowful position. But for this it was impossible to realise that her brain was affected in the slightest degree, except when some reference was made to her singing, and this seemed to annoy and irritate her, as though she were being made fun of. The whole of her marvellous musical career, and everything connected with it, had been clean wiped out of her recollection.
She was very anxious to get into other quarters, that Little Billee should suffer no inconvenience, and they promised to take rooms for her and Marta on the morrow.
They told her cautiously all about Svengali and Gecko; she was deeply concerned, but betrayed no such poignant anguish as might have been expected. The thought of Gecko troubled her most, and she showed much anxiety as to what might befall him.
Next day she moved with Marta to some lodgings in Charlotte Street, where everything was made as comfortable for them as possible.
Sir Oliver saw her with Dr. Thorne (the doctor who was attending her) and Dr. Jakes Talboys.
Sir Oliver took the greatest interest in her case, both for her sake and his friend Little Billee's. Also his own, for he was charmed with her. He saw her three times in the course of the week, but could not say for certain what was the matter with her, beyond taking the very gravest view of her condition. For all he could advise or prescribe, her weakness and physical prostration increased rapidly, through no cause he could discover. Her insanity was not enough to account for it. She lost weight daily; she seemed to be wasting and fading away from sheer general atrophy.
Two or three times he took her and Marta for a drive.
On one of these occasions, as they went down Charlotte Street, she saw a shop with transparent French blinds in the window, and through them some Frenchwomen, with neat white caps, ironing. It was a French blanchisserie de fin, and the sight of it interested and excited her so much that she must needs insist on being put down and on going into it.
'Je voudrais bien parler a la patronne, si ca ne la derange pas,' she said.
The patronne, a genial Parisian, was much astonished to hear a great French lady, in costly garments, evidently a person of fashion and importance, applying to her rather humbly for employment in the business, and showing a thorough knowledge of the work (and of the Parisian work-woman's colloquial dialect). Marta managed to catch the patronne's eye, and tapped her own forehead significantly, and Sir Oliver nodded. So the good woman humoured the great lady's fancy, and promised her abundance of employment whenever she should want it.
Employment! Poor Trilby was hardly strong enough to walk back to the carriage; and this was her last outing.
But this little adventure had filled her with hope and good spirits-- for she had as yet received no answer from Angele Boisse (who was in Marseilles), and had begun to realise how dreary the Quartier Latin would be without Jeannot, without Angele, without the trots Angliches in the Place St. Anatole des Arts.
She was not allowed to see any of the strangers who came and made kind inquiries. This her doctors had strictly forbidden. Any reference to music or singing irritated her beyond measure. She would say to Marta, in bad German--
'Tell them, Marta--what nonsense it is! They are taking me for another--they are mad. They are trying to make a fool of me!'
And Marta would betray great uneasiness--almost terror--when she was appealed to in this way.