Trilby by George du Maurier
'La vie est vaine: Un peu d'amour. Un peu de haine... Et puis--bonjour! 'La vie est breve: Un peu d'espoir. Un peu de reve... Et puis--bonsoir.'
Svengali had died from heart disease. The cut he had received from Gecko had not apparently (as far as the verdict of a coroner's inquest could be trusted) had any effect in aggravating his malady or hastening his death.
But Gecko was sent for trial at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to hard labour for six months (a sentence which, if I remember aright, gave rise to much comment at the time). Taffy saw him again, but with no better result than before. He chose to preserve an obstinate silence on his relations with the Svengalis and their relations with each other.
When he was told how hopelessly ill and insane Madame Svengali was, he shed a few tears, and said: 'Ah, pauvrette, pauvrette--ah! monsieur-- je l'aimais tant, je l'aimais tant! il n'y en a pas beaucoup comme elle, Dieu de misere! C'est un ange du Paradis!'
And not another word was to be got out of him.
It took some time to settle Svengali's affairs after his death. No will was found. His old mother came over from Germany, and two of his sisters, but no wife. The comic wife and the three children, and the sweet-stuff shop in Elberfeld, had been humorous inventions of his own--a kind of Mrs. Harris!
He left three thousand pounds, every penny of which (and of far larger sums that he had spent) had been earned by 'La Svengali,' but nothing came to Trilby of this; nothing but the clothes and jewels he had given her, and in this respect he had been lavish enough; and there were countless costly gifts from emperors, kings, great people of all kinds. Trilby was under the impression that all these belonged to Marta. Marta behaved admirably; she seemed bound hand and foot to Trilby by a kind of slavish adoration, as that of a plain old mother for a brilliant and beautiful but dying child.
It soon became evident that, whatever her disease might be, Trilby had but a very short time to live.
She was soon too weak even to be taken out in a Bath chair, and remained all day in her large sitting-room with Marta; and there, to her great and only joy, she received her three old friends every afternoon, and gave them coffee, and made them smoke cigarettes of caporal as of old; and their hearts were daily harrowed as they watched her rapid decline.
Day by day she grew more beautiful in their eyes, in spite of her increasing pallor and emaciation--her skin was so pure and white and delicate, and the bones of her face so admirable!
Her eyes recovered all their old humorous brightness when les trots Anglishes were with her, and the expression of her face was so wistful and tender for all her playfulness, so full of eager clinging to existence and to them, that they felt the memory of it would haunt them for ever, and be the sweetest and saddest memory of their lives.
Her quick, though feeble gestures, full of reminiscences of the vigorous and lively girl they had known a few years back, sent waves of pity through them and pure brotherly love; and the incomparable tones and changes and modulations of her voice, as she chatted and laughed, bewitched them almost as much as when she had sung the 'Nussbaum' of Schumann in the Salle des Bashibazoucks.
Sometimes Lorrimer came, and Antony, and the Greek. It was like a genial little court of bohemia. And Lorrimer, Antony, the Laird, and Little Billee made those beautiful chalk and pencil studies of her head which are now so well known--all so singularly like her, and so singularly unlike each other! Trilby vue a tra-quatre temperaments!
These afternoons were probably the happiest poor Trilby had ever spent in her life--with these dear people round her, speaking the language she loved; talking of old times and jolly Paris days, she never thought of the morrow.
But later--at night, in the small hours--she would wake up with a start from some dream full of tender and blissful recollections, and suddenly realise her own mischance, and feel the icy hand of that which was to come before many morrows were over; and taste the bitterness of death so keenly that she longed to scream out loud, and get up, and walk up and down, and wring her hands at the dreadful thought of parting for ever!
But she lay motionless and mum as a poor little frightened mouse in a trap, for fear of waking up the good old tired Marta, who was snoring at her side.
And in an hour or two the bitterness would pass away, the creeps and the horrors; and the stoical spirit of resignation would steal over her--the balm, the blessed calm! and all her old bravery would come back.
And then she would sink into sleep again, and dream more blissfully than ever, till the good Marta woke her with a motherly kiss and a fragrant cup of coffee; and she would find, feeble as she was, and doomed as she felt herself to be, that joy cometh of a morning; and life was still sweet for her, with yet a whole day to look forward to.
One day she was deeply moved at receiving a visit from Mrs. Bagot, who, at Little Billee's earnest desire, had come all the way from Devonshire to see her.
As the graceful little lady came in, pale and trembling all over, Trilby rose from her chair to receive her, and rather timidly put out her hand, and smiled in a frightened manner. Neither could speak for a second. Mrs. Bagot stood stock-still by the door gazing (with all her heart in her eyes) at the so terribly altered Trilby--the girl she had once so dreaded.
Trilby, who seemed also bereft of motion, and whose face and lips were ashen, exclaimed, I'm afraid I haven't quite kept my promise to you, after all! but things have turned out so differently! anyhow, you needn't have any fear of me now.'
At the mere sound of that voice, Mrs. Bagot, who was as impulsive, emotional, and unregulated as her son, rushed forward, crying, 'Oh, my poor girl, my poor girl!' and caught her in her arms, and kissed and caressed her, and burst into a flood of tears, and forced her back into her chair, hugging her as if she were a long-lost child.
'I love you now as much as I always admired you--pray believe it!'
'Oh, how kind of you to say that!' said Trilby, her own eyes filling. I'm not at all the dangerous or designing person you thought. I knew quite well I wasn't a proper person to marry your son all the time; and told him so again and again. It was very stupid of me to say yes at last. I was miserable directly after, I assure you. Somehow I couldn't help myself--I was driven.'
'Oh, don't talk of that! don't talk of that! You've never been to blame in any way--I've long known it--I've been full of remorse! You've been in my thoughts always, night and day. Forgive a poor jealous mother. As if any man could help loving you--or any woman either. Forgive me!'
'Oh, Mrs. Bagot--forgive you! What a funny idea! But, anyhow, you have forgiven me, and that's all I care for now. I was very fond of your son--as fond as could be. I am now, but in quite a different sort of way, you know--the sort of way you must be, I fancy! There was never another like him that I ever met--anywhere! You must be so proud of him; who wouldn't? Nobody's good enough for him. I would have been only too glad to be his servant, his humble servant! I used to tell him so--but he wouldn't hear of it--he was much too kind! He always thought of others before himself. And, oh! how rich and famous he's become! I've heard all about it, and it did me good. It does me more good to think of than anything else; far more than if I were to be ever so rich and famous myself, I can tell you!'
This from La Svengali, whose overpowering fame, so utterly forgotten by herself, was still ringing all over Europe; whose lamentable illness and approaching death were being mourned and discussed and commented upon in every capital of the civilised world, as one distressing bulletin appeared after another. She might have been a royal personage!
Mrs. Bagot knew, of course, the strange form her insanity had taken, and made no allusion to the flood of thoughts that rushed through her own brain as she listened to this towering goddess of song, this poor mad queen of the nightingales, humbly gloating over her son's success...
Poor Mrs. Bagot had just come from Little Billee's, in Fitzroy Square, close by. There she had seen Taffy, in a corner of Little Billee's studio, laboriously answering endless letters and telegrams from all parts of Europe--for the good Taffy had constituted himself Trilby's secretary and homme d'affaires--unknown to her, of course. And this was no sinecure (though he liked it): putting aside the numerous people he had to see and be interviewed by, there were kind inquiries and messages of condolence and sympathy from nearly all the crowned heads of Europe, through their chamberlains; applications for help from unsuccessful musical stragglers all over the world to the pre- eminently successful one; beautiful letters from great and famous people, musical or otherwise; disinterested offers of service; interested proposals for engagements when the present trouble should be over; beggings for an interview from famous impresarios, to obtain which no distance would be thought too great, etc. etc. etc. It was endless, in English, French, German, Italian--in languages quite incomprehensible (many letters had to remain unanswered)--Taffy took an almost malicious pleasure in explaining all this to Mrs. Bagot.
Then there was a constant rolling of carriages up to the door, and a thundering of Little Billee's knocker: Lord and Lady Palmerston wish to know--the Lord Chief Justice wishes to know--the Dean of Westminster wishes to know--the Marchioness of Westminster wishes to know---everybody wishes to know if there is any better news of Madame Svengali!
These were small things, truly, but Mrs. Bagot was a small person from a small village in Devonshire, and one whose heart and eye had hitherto been filled by no larger image than that of Little Billee; and Little Billee's fame, as she now discovered for the first time, did not quite fill the entire universe.
And she mustn't be too much blamed if all these obvious signs of a world-wide colossal celebrity impressed and even awed her a little.
Madame Svengali! Why, this was the beautiful girl whom she remembered so well, whom she had so grandly discarded with a word, and who had accepted her conge so meekly in a minute; whom, indeed, she had been cursing in her heart for years, because--because what?
Poor Mrs. Bagot felt herself turn hot and red all over, and humbled herself to the very dust, and almost forgot that she had been in the right, after all, and that 'la grande Trilby' was certainly no fit match for her son!
So she went quite humbly to see Trilby, and found a poor pathetic mad creature still more humble than herself, who still apologised for--- for what?
A poor, pathetic, mad creature who had clean forgotten that she was the greatest singer in all the world--one of the greatest artists that had ever lived; but who remembered with shame and contrition that she had once taken the liberty of yielding (after endless pressure and repeated disinterested refusals of her own, and out of sheer irresistible affection) to the passionate pleadings of a little obscure art student, a mere boy--no better off than herself--just as penniless and insignificant a nobody; but--the son of Mrs. Bagot!
All due sense of proportion died out of the poor lady as she remembered and realised all this!
And then Trilby's pathetic beauty, so touching, so winning, in its rapid decay; the nameless charm of look and voice and manner that was her special appanage, and which her malady and singular madness had only increased; her childlike simplicity, her transparent forgetfulness of self--all these so fascinated and entranced Mrs. Bagot, whose quick susceptibility to such impressions was just as keen as her son's, that she very soon found herself all but worshipping this fast-fading lily---for so she called her in her own mind--quite forgetting (or affecting to forget) on what very questionable soil the lily had been reared, and through what strange vicissitudes of evil and corruption it had managed to grow so tall and white and fragrant!
Oh, strange compelling power of weakness and grace and prettiness combined, and sweet, sincere unconscious natural manners! not to speak of world-wide fame!
For Mrs. Bagot was just a shrewd little conventional British country matron of the good upper middle-class type, bristling all over with provincial proprieties and respectabilities, a philistine of the philistines,, in spite of her artistic instincts; one who for years had (rather unjustly) thought of Trilby as a wanton and perilous siren, an unchaste and unprincipled and most dangerous daughter of Heth, and the special enemy of her house.
And here she was--like all the rest of us monads and nomads and bohemians--just sitting at Trilby's feet.... 'A washerwoman! a figure model! and Heaven knows what besides!' and she had never even heard her sing!
It was truly comical to see and hear!
Mrs. Bagot did not go back to Devonshire. She remained in Fitzroy Square, at her son's, and spent most of her time with Trilby, doing and devising all kinds of things to distract and amuse her, and lead her thoughts gently to heaven, and soften for her the coming end of all.
Trilby had a way of saying, and especially of looking, 'Thank you' that made one wish to do as many things for her as one could, if only to make her say and look it again.
And she had retained much of her old, quaint, and amusing manner of telling things, and had much to tell still left of her wandering life, although there were so many strange lapses in her powers of memory--- gaps--which, if they could only have been filled up, would have been full of such surpassing interest!
Then she was never tired of talking and hearing of Little Billee; and that was a subject of which Mrs. Bagot could never tire either!
Then there were the recollections of her childhood. One day, in a drawer, Mrs. Bagot came upon a faded daguerreotype of a woman in a Tam o' Shanter, with a face so sweet and beautiful and saintlike that it almost took her breath away. It was Trilby's mother.
'Who and what was your mother, Trilby?'
'Ah, poor mamma!' said Trilby, and she looked at the portrait a long time. 'Ah, she was ever so much prettier than that! Mamma was once a demoiselle de comptoir--that's a barmaid you know--at the Montagnards Ecossais, in the Rue du Paradis Poissonniere--a place where men used to drink and smoke without sitting down. That was unfortunate, wasn't it?
'Papa loved her with all his heart, although, of course, she wasn't his equal. They were married at the Embassy, in the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore.
'Her parents weren't married at all. Her mother was the daughter of a boatman on Loch Ness, near a place called Drumnadro-chit; but her father was the Honourable Colonel Desmond. He was related to all sorts of great people in England and Ireland. He behaved very badly to my grandmother and to poor mamma--his own daughter! deserted them both! Not very honourable of him, was it? And that's all I know about him.'
And then she went on to tell of the home in Paris that might have been so happy but for her father's passion for drink; of her parents' deaths, and little Jeanhot, and so forth. And Mrs. Bagot was much moved and interested by these naive revelations, which accounted in a measure for so much that seemed unaccountable in this extraordinary woman; who thus turned out to be a kind of cousin (though on the wrong side of the blanket) to no less a person than the famous Duchess of Towers.
With what joy would that ever kind and gracious lady have taken poor Trilby to her bosom had she only known: She had once been all the way from Paris to Vienna merely to hear her sing. But, unfortunately, the Svengalis had just left for St. Petersburg, and she had her long journey for nothing!
Mrs. Bagot brought her many good books, and read them to her--Dr. Cummings on the approaching end of the world, and other works of a like comforting tendency for those who are just about to leave it; the Pilgrim's Progress, sweet little tracts, and what not.
Trilby was so grateful that she listened with much patient attention. Only now and then a faint gleam of amusement would steal over her face, and her lips would almost form themselves to ejaculate, 'Oh, maie, a'ie!'
Then Mrs. Bagot, as a reward for such winning docility, would read her David Copperfield, and that was heavenly indeed!
But the best of all was for Trilby to look over John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character, just out. She had never seen any drawings of Leech before, except now and then in an occasional Punch that turned up in the studio in Paris. And they never palled upon her, and taught her more of the aspect of English life (the life she loved) than any book she had ever read. She laughed and laughed; and it was almost as sweet to listen to as if she were vocalising the quick part in Chopin's Impromptu.
One day she said, her lips trembling: 'I can't make out why you're so wonderfully kind to me, Mrs. Bagot. I hope you have not forgotten who and what I am, and what my story is. I hope you haven't forgotten that I'm not a respectable woman?'
'Oh, my dear child--don't ask me. ... I only know that you are you! .. . and I am I! and that is enough for me . .. you're my poor, gentle, patient, suffering daughter, whatever else you are--more sinned against than sinning, I feel sure! But there...I've misjudged you so, and been so unjust, that I would give worlds to make you some amends...besides, I should be just as fond of you if you'd committed a murder, I really believe--you're so strange! you're irresistible! Did you ever, in all your life, meet anybody that wasn't fond of you?'
Trilby's eyes moistened with tender pleasure at such a pretty compliment. Then, after a few minutes' thought, she said, with engaging candour and quite simply: 'No, I can't say I ever did, that I can think of just now. But I've forgotten such lots of people!'
One day Mrs. Bagot told Trilby that her brother-in-law, Mr. Thomas Bagot, would much like to come and talk to her.
'Was that the gentleman who came with you to the studio in Paris?'
'Why, he's a clergyman, isn't he? What does he want to come and talk to me about?'
'Ah! my dear child ...' said Mrs. Bagot, her eyes filling.
Trilby was thoughtful for a while, and then said: I'm going to die, I suppose. Oh yes! oh yes! There's no mistake about that!'
'Dear Trilby, we are all in the hands of an Almighty Merciful God!' And the tears rolled down Mrs. Bagot's cheeks.
After a long pause, during which she gazed out of the window, Trilby said, in an abstracted kind of way, as though she were talking to herself: 'Apres tout, c'est pas deja si raide, de claquer! J'en ai tant vus, qui ont passe par la! Au bout du fosse la culbute, ma foil.'
'What are you saying to yourself in French, Trilby? Your French is so difficult to understand!'
'Oh, I beg your pardon! I was thinking it's not so difficult to die, after all! I've seen such lots of people do it. I've nursed them, you know--papa and mamma and Jeannot, and Angele Boisse's mother-in-law, and a poor casseur de pierres, Colin Maigret, who lived in the Impasse des Taupes St. Germain. He'd been run over by an omnibus in the Rue Vaugirard, and had to have both his legs cut off just above the knee. They none of them seemed to mind dying a bit. They weren't a bit afraid! I'm not!
'Poor people don't think much of death. Rich people shouldn't either. They should be taught when they're quite young to laugh at it and despise it, like the Chinese. The Chinese the of laughing just as their heads are being cut off, and cheat the executioner! It's all in the day's work, and we're all in the same boat--so who's afraid!'
'Dying is not all, my poor child! Are you prepared to meet your Maker face to face? Have you ever thought about God, and the possible wrath to come if you should the unrepentant?'
'Oh, but I shan't! I've been repenting all my life! Besides, there'll be no wrath for any of us--not even the worst! Il y aura amnistie generate! Papa told me so, and he'd been a clergyman, like Mr. Thomas Bagot. I often think about God. I'm very fond of Him. One must have something perfect to look up to and be fond of--even if it's only an idea! even if it's too good to be true!
'Though some people don't even believe He exists! Le pere Martin didn't--but, of course, he was only a chiffonnier, and doesn't count.
'One day, though, Durien, the sculptor, who's very clever, and a very good fellow indeed, said:
'"Vois-tu, Trilby--I'm very much afraid He doesn't really exist, le bon Dieu! most unfortunately for me, for I adore Him! I never do a piece of work without thinking how nice it would be if I could only please Him with it!"
'And I've often thought, myself, how heavenly it must be to be able to paint, or sculpt, or make music, or write beautiful poetry, for that very reason!
'Why, once on a very hot afternoon we were sitting, a lot of us, in the court-yard outside la mere Martin's shop, drinking coffee with an old Invalide called Bastide Lendormi, one of the Vieille Garde, who'd only got one leg and one arm and one eye, and everybody was very fond of him. Well, a model called Mimi la Salope came out of the Mont-de- piete opposite, and pere Martin called out to her to come and sit down, and gave her a cup of coffee, and asked her to sing.
'She sang a song of Beranger's, about Napoleon the Great, in which it says--
'"Parlez-nous de lui, grandmere!
Grandmere, parlez-nous de lui!"'
I suppose she sang it very well, for it made old Bastide Lendormi cry; and when pere Martin blague'd him about it, he said--
'"C'est egal, voyez-vous! to sing like that is to pray!"
'And then I thought how lovely it would be if I could only sing like Mimi la Salope, and I've thought so ever since just to pray!'
'What! Trilby? if you could only sing like--Oh, but never mind, I forgot! Tell me, Trilby--do you ever pray to Him, as other people pray?'
'Pray to Him? Well, no--not often--not in words and on my knees and with my hands together, you know! Thinking's praying, very often-- don't you think so? And so's being sorry and ashamed when one's done a mean thing, and glad when one's resisted a temptation, and grateful when it's a fine day and one's enjoying one's self without hurting any one else! What is it but praying when you try and bear up after losing all you cared to live for? And very good praying too! There can be prayers without words just as well as songs, I suppose; and Svengali used to say that songs without words are the best!
'And then it seems mean to be always asking for things. Besides, you don't get them any the faster that way, and that shows!
'La mere Martin used to be always praying. And pere Martin said always to laugh at her; yet he always seemed to get the things he wanted oftenest!
I prayed once, very hard indeed! I prayed for Jeannot not to die!'
'Well--but how do you repent, Trilby, if you do not humble four-self, and pray for forgiveness on your knees?'
'Oh, well--I don't exactly know! Look here, Airs. Bagot I'll tell you the lowest and meanest thing I ever did ...'
(Mrs. Bagot felt a little nervous.)
I'd promised to take Jeannot on Palm-Sunday to St. Philippe du Roule, to hear l'abbe Bergamot. But Durien (that's the sculptor, you know) asked me to go with him to St. Germain, where there was a fair, or something; and with Mathieu, who was a student in law; and a certain Victorine Letellier, who--who was Mathieu's mistress, in fact--a lace- mender in the Rue Ste. Maritorne la Pocharde. And so I went on Sunday morning to tell Jeannot that I couldn't take him.
'He cried so dreadfully that I thought I'd give up the others and take him to St. Philippe, as I'd promised. But then Durien and Mathieu and Victorine drove up and waited outside, and so I didn't take him, and went with them, and I didn't enjoy anything all day, and was miserable.
'They were in an open carriage with two horses; it was Mathieu's treat, and Jeannot might have ridden on the box by the coachman without being in anybody's way. But I was afraid they didn't want him, as they didn't say anything, and so I didn't dare ask--and Jeannot saw us drive away, and I couldn't look back! And the worst of it is that when we were half-way to St. Germain, Durien said, "What a pity you didn't bring Jeannot!" and they were all sorry I hadn't.
'It was six or seven years ago, and I really believe I've thought of it every day, and sometimes in the middle of the night!
'Ah! and when Jeannot was dying! and when he was dead--the remembrance of that Palm-Sunday!
'And if that's not repenting, I don't know what is!'
'Oh, Trilby, what nonsense! that's nothing; good heavens!--putting off a small child! I'm thinking of far worse things--when you were in the Quartier Latin, you know--sitting to painters and sculptors... Surely, so attractive as you are ..."
'Oh yes. ... I know what you mean--it was horrid, and I was frightfully ashamed of myself; and it wasn't amusing a bit; nothing was, till I met your son and Taffy and dear Sandy M'Allister! But then it wasn't deceiving or disappointing anybody, or hurting their feelings--it was only hurting myself!
'Besides, all that sort of thing, in women, is punished severely enough down here, God knows! unless one's a Russian empress like Catherine the Great, or a grande dame like lots of them, or a great genius like Madame Rachael or George Sand!
'Why, if it hadn't been for that, and sitting for the figure, I should have felt myself good enough to marry your son, although I was only a l'anchisseuse defin--you've said so yourself!
'And I should have made him a good wife--of that I feel sure. He wanted to live all his life at Barbizon, and paint, you know; and didn't care for society in the least. Anyhow, I should have been equal to such a life as that! Lots of their wives are blan-chisseuses over there, or people of that sort; and they get on very well indeed, and nobody troubles about it!
'So I think I've been pretty well punished--richly as I've deserved to!'
'Trilby, have you ever been confirmed?'
'I forget. I fancy not!'
'Oh dear, oh dear! And do you know about our blessed Saviour, and the Atonement and the Incarnation and the Resurrection...'
'Oh yes--I used to, at least. I used to have to learn the Catechism on Sundays--mamma made me. Whatever her faults and mistakes were, poor mamma was always very particular about that! It all seemed very complicated. But papa told me not to bother too much about it, but to be good. He said that God would make it all right for us somehow, in the end--all of us. And that seems sensible, doesn't it?
'He told me to be good, and not to mind what priests and clergymen tell us. He'd been a clergyman himself, and knew all about it, he said.
'I haven't been very good--there's not much doubt about that, I'm afraid! But God knows I've repented often enough and sore enough; I do now! But I'm rather glad to die, I think; and not a bit afraid--not a scrap! I believe in poor papa, though he was so unfortunate! He was the cleverest man I ever knew, and the best--except Taffy and the Laird and your dear son!
'There'll be no hell for any of us--he told me so--except what we make for ourselves and each other down here; and that's bad enough for anything. He told me that he was responsible for me--he often said so--and that mamma was too, and his parents for him, and his grandfathers and grandmothers for them, and so on up to Noah and ever so far beyond, and God for us all!
'He told me always to think of other people before myself; as Taffy does, and your son; and never to tell lies or be afraid, and keep away from drink, and I should be all right. But I've sometimes been all wrong, all the same; and it wasn't papa's fault, but Poor mamma's and mine; and I've known it, and been miserable at the time, and after! and I'm sure to be forgiven--perfectly certain--and so will everybody else, even the wickedest that ever lived! Why, just give them sense enough in the next world to understand all their wickedness in this, and that'll punish them enough for anything, I think! That's simple enough, isn't it? Besides, there may be no next world---that's on the cards too, you know!--and that will be simpler still!
'Not all the clergymen in all the world, not even the Pope of Rome, will ever make me doubt papa, or believe in any punishment after what we've all got to go through here. Ce serait trap bete!
'So that if you don't want me to very much, and he won't think it unkind, I'd rather not talk to Mr. Thomas Bagot about it. I'd rather talk to Taffy if I must. He's very clever, Taffy, though he doesn't often say such clever things as your son does, or paint nearly so well; and I'm sure he'll think papa was right.'
And as a matter of fact the good Taffy, in his opinion on this solemn subject, was found to be at one with the late Reverend Patrick Michael O'Ferrall--and so was the Laird--and so (to his mother's shocked and pained surprise) was Little Billee.
And so were Sir Oliver Calthorpe and Sir Jakes (then Mr.) Talboys and Doctor Thorne and Antony and Lorrimer and the Greek!
And so--in after-years, when grief had well pierced and torn and riddled her through and through, and time and age had healed the wounds, and nothing remained but the consciousness of great inward scars of recollection to remind her how deep and jagged and wide the wounds had once been--did Mrs. Bagot herself!
Late on one memorable Saturday afternoon, just as it was getting dusk in Charlotte Street, Trilby, in her pretty blue dressing-gown, lay on the sofa by the fire--her head well propped, her knees drawn up--- looking very placid and content.
She had spent the early part of the day dictating her will to the conscientious Taffy.
It was a simple document, although she was not without many valuable trinkets to leave; quite a fortune! Souvenirs from many men and women she had charmed by her singing, from royalties downward.
She had been looking them over with the faithful Marta, to whom she had always thought they belonged. It was explained to her that they were gifts of Svengali's; since she did not remember when and where and by whom they were presented to her, except a few that Svengali had given her himself, with many passionate expressions of his love, which seems to have been deep and constant and sincere; none the less so, perhaps, that she could never return it!
She had left the bulk of these to the faithful Marta.
But to each of the trois Angliches she had bequeathed a beautiful ring, which was to be worn by their brides if they ever married, and the brides didn't object.
To Mrs. Bagot she left a pearl necklace, to Miss Bagot her gold coronet of stars; and pretty (and most costly) gifts to each of the three doctors who had attended her and been so assiduous in their care; and who, as she was told, would make no charge for attending on Madame Svengali. And studs and scarf-pins to Antony, Lorrimer, the Greek, Dodor, and Zouzou; and to Carnegie a little German-silver vinaigrette which had once belonged to Lord Widow; and pretty souvenirs to the Vinards, Angele Boisse, Durien, and others.
And she left a magnificent gold watch and chain to Gecko, with a most affectionate letter and a hundred pounds--which was all she had in money of her own.
She had taken great interest in discussing with Taffy the particular kind of trinket which would best suit the idiosyncrasy of each particular legatee, and derived great comfort from the businesslike and sympathetic conscientiousness with which the good Taffy entered upon all these minutiae--he was so solemn and serious about it, and took such pains. She little guessed how his dumb but deeply feeling heart was harrowed!
This document had been duly signed and witnessed and entrusted to his care; and Trilby lay tranquil and happy, and with a sense that nothing remained for her but to enjoy the fleeting hour, and make the most of each precious moment as it went by.
She was quite without pain of either mind or body, and surrounded by the people she adored--Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee, and Mrs. Bagot, and Marta, who sat knitting in a corner with her black mittens on, and her brass spectacles.
She listened to the chat and joined in it, laughing as usual; 'love in her eyes sat playing' as she looked from one to another, for she loved them all beyond expression. 'Love on her lips was straying, and warbling in her breath,' whenever she spoke; and her weakened voice was still larger, fuller, softer than any other voice in the room, in the world--of another kind, from another sphere.
A cart drove up, there was a ring at the door, and presently a wooden packing-case was brought into the room.
At Trilby's request it was opened, and found to contain a large photograph, framed and glazed, of Svengali, in the military uniform of his own Hungarian band (which he had always worn until he came to Paris and London, where he conducted in ordinary evening dress), and looking straight out of the picture, straight at you. He was standing by his desk with his left hand turning over a leaf of music, and waving his baton with his right. It was a splendid photograph, by a Viennese photographer, and a most speaking likeness; and Svengali looked truly fine--all made up of importance and authority, and his big black eyes were full of stern command.
Marta trembled as she looked. It was handed to Trilby, who exclaimed in surprise. She had never seen it. She had no photograph of him, and had never possessed one.
No message of any kind, no letter of explanation, accompanied this unexpected present, which, from the postmarks on the case, seemed to have travelled all over Europe to London, out of some remote province in eastern Russia out of the mysterious East! The poisonous East--- birthplace and home of an ill wind that blows nobody good.
Trilby laid it against her legs as on a lectern, and lay gazing at it with close attention for a long time, making a casual remark now and then, as, 'He was very handsome, I think'; or, 'That uniform becomes him very well. Why has he got it on, I wonder?'
The others went on talking, and Mrs. Bagot made coffee.
Presently Mrs. Bagot took a cup of coffee to Trilby, and found her still staring intently at the portrait, but with her eyes dilated, and quite a strange light in them.
'Trilby, Trilby, your coffee! What is the matter, Trilby?'
Trilby was smiling, with fixed eyes, and made no answer.
The others got up and gathered round her in some alarm. Marta seemed terror-stricken, and wished to snatch the photo graph away, but was prevented from doing so; one didn't know what the consequences might be.
Taffy rang the bell, and sent a servant for Dr. Thorne, who lived close by, in Fitzroy Square.
Presently Trilby began to speak, quite softly, in French: 'Encore une fois? bon! je veux bien! avec la voix blanche alors, n'est-ce pas? et puis foncer au milieu. Et pas trop vite en commencant! Battez bien la mesure, Svengali--que je puisse bien voir--car il fait deja nuit! c'est ca! Allons, Gecko--donne-moi le ton!'
Then she smiled, and seemed to beat time softly by moving her head a little from side to side, her eyes intent on Svengali's in the portrait, and suddenly she began to sing Chopin's Impromptu in A flat.
She hardly seemed to breathe as the notes came pouring out, without words--mere vocalising. It was as if breath were unnecessary for so little voice as she was using, though there was enough of it to fill the room--to fill the house--to drown her small audience in holy, heavenly sweetness.
She was a consummate mistress of her art. How that could be seen! And also how splendid had been her training. It all seemed as easy to her as opening and shutting her eyes, and yet how utterly impossible to anybody else!
Between wonder, enchantment, and alarm they were frozen to statues--- all except Marta, who ran out of the room crying, 'Got im Himmel! wieder zuruck! wieder zuruck!'
She sang it just as she had sung it at the Salle des Bashibazoucks, only it sounded still more ineffably seductive, as she was using less voice--using the essence of her voice in fact--the pure spirit, the very cream of it.
There can be little doubt that these four watchers by that enchanted couch were listening to not only the most divinely beautiful, but also the most astounding feat of musical utterance ever heard out of a human throat.
The usual effect was produced. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of Mrs. Bagot and Little Billee. Tears were in the Laird's eyes, a tear on one of Taffy's whiskers--tears of sheer delight.
When she came back to the quick movement again, after the adagio, her voice grew louder and shriller, and sweet with a sweetness not of this earth; and went on increasing in volume as she quickened the time, nearing the end; and then came the dying away into all but nothing--a mere melodic breath; and then the little soft chromatic ascending rocket, up to E in alt, the last parting caress (which Svengali had introduced as a finale, for it does not exist in the piano score).
When it was over, she said: 'Ca y est-il, cette fois, Svengali? Ah! tant mieux, a la fin! c'est pas malheureux! Et maintenant, mon ami, je suis fatiguee--bon soir!'
Her head fell back on the pillow, and she lay fast asleep.
Mrs. Bagot took the portrait away gently. Little Billee knelt down and held Trilby's hand in his and felt for her pulse, and could not find it.
He said, 'Trilby! Trilby!' and put his ear to her mouth to hear her breathe. Her breath was inaudible.
But soon she folded her hands across her breast, and uttered a little short sigh, and in a weak voice said: 'Svengali...Svengali...Svengali...'
They remained in silence round her for several minutes, terror- stricken.
The doctor came, he put his hand to her heart, his ear to her lips. He turned up one of her eyelids and looked at her eye. And then, his voice quivering with strong emotion, he stood up and said, 'Madame Svengali's trials and sufferings are all over!'
'Oh, good God! is she dead?' cried Mrs. Bagot.
'Yes, Mrs. Bagot. She has been dead several minutes--perhaps a quarter of an hour.'
VINGT ANS APRES
Porthos-Athos, alias Taffy Wynne, is sitting to breakfast (opposite his wife) at a little table in the courtyard of that huge caravanserai on the Boulevard des Capucines, Paris, where he had sat more than twenty years ago with the Laird and Little Billee; where, in fact, he had pulled Svengali's nose.
Little is changed in the aspect of the place: the same cosmopolite company, with more of the American element, perhaps; the same arrivals and departures in railway omnibuses, cabs, hired carriages; and, airing his calves on the marble steps, stood just such another colossal and beautiful old man in black cloth coat and knee-breeches and silk stockings as of yore, with probably the very same pinchbeck chain. Where do they breed these magnificent old Frenchmen? In Germany, perhaps, 'where all the good big waiters come from!'
And also the same fine weather. It is always fine weather in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel. As the Laird would say, they manage these things better there!
Taffy wears a short beard, which is turning gray. His kind blue eye is no longer choleric, but mild and friendly--as frank as ever; and full of humorous patience. He has grown stouter; he is very big indeed, in all three dimensions, but the symmetry and the gainliness of the athlete belong to him still in movement and repose; and his clothes fit him beautifully, though they are not new, and show careful beating and brushing and ironing, and even a faint suspicion of all but imperceptible fine-drawing here and there.
What a magnificent old man he will make some day, should the Grand Hotel ever run short of them! He looks as if he could be trusted down to the ground--in all things, little or big; as if his word were as good as his bond, and even better; his wink as good as his word, his nod as good as his wink; and, in truth, as he looks, so he is.
The most cynical disbeliever in 'the grand old name of gentleman,' and its virtues as a noun of definition, would almost be justified in quite dogmatically asserting at sight, and without even being introduced, that, at all events, Taffy is a 'gentleman,' inside and out, up and down--from the crown of his head (which is getting rather bald) to the sole of his foot (by no means a small one, or a lightly shod--expede Herculem).
Indeed, this is always the first thing people say of Taffy--and the last. It means, perhaps, that he may be a trifle dull. Well, one can't be everything!
Porthos was a trifle dull--and so was Athos, I think; and likewise his son, the faithful Viscount of Bragelonne--ban Men chasse de race! And so was Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the disinherited; and Edgar, the Lord of Ravenswood! and so, for that matter, was Colonel Newcome, of immortal memory!
Yet who does not love them--who would not wish to be like them, for better, for worse!
Taffy's wife is unlike Taffy in many ways; but fortunately for both, very like him in some. She is a little woman, very well shaped, very dark, with black, wavy hair, and very small hands and feet; a very graceful, handsome, and vivacious person; by no means dull; full, indeed, of quick perceptions and intuitions; deeply interested in all that is going on about and around her, and with always lots to say about it, but not too much.
She distinctly belongs to the rare, and ever-blessed, and most precious race of charmers.
She had fallen in love with the stalwart Taffy more than a quarter of a century ago in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, where he and she and her mother had tended the sick couch of Little Billee--but she had never told her love. Tout vient a point, a qui sait attendre!
That is a capital proverb, and sometimes even a true one. Blanche Bagot had found it to be both!
One terrible night, never to be forgotten, Taffy lay fast asleep in bed, at his rooms in Jermyn Street, for he was very tired; grief tires more than anything, and brings a deeper slumber.
That day he had followed Trilby to her last home in Kensal Green, with Little Billee, Mrs. Bagot, the Laird, Antony, the Greek, and Durien (who had come over from Paris on purpose) as chief mourners; and very many other people, noble, famous, or otherwise, English and foreign; a splendid and most representative gathering, as was duly chronicled in all the newspapers here and abroad; a fitting ceremony to close the brief but splendid career of the greatest pleasure-giver of our time.
He was awakened by a tremendous ringing at the street-door bell, as if the house were on fire; and then there was a hurried scrambling up in the dark, a tumbling over stairs and kicking against banisters, and Little Billee had burst into his room, calling out: 'Oh! Taffy, Taffy! I'm g-going mad--I'm g-going m-mad! I'm d-d-done for...'
'All right, old fellow--just wait till I strike a light!'
'Oh, Taffy! I haven't slept for four nights--not a wink! She d-d-died with Sv--Sv--Sv...damn it, I can't get it out! that ruffian's name on her lips! ... it was just as if he were calling her from the t-t-tomb! She recovered her senses the very minute she saw his photograph--she was so f-fond of him she f-forgot everybody else! She's gone straight to him, after all--in some other life! ... to slave for him, and sing for him, and help him to make better music than ever! Oh, T--T--oh-- oh! Taffy--oh! oh! oh! catch hold! c-c-catch...' And Little Billee had all but fallen on the floor in a fit.
And all the old miserable business of five years before had begun over again!
There has been too much sickness in this story, so I will tell as little as possible of poor Little Billee's long illness, his slow and only partial recovery, the paralysis of his powers as a painter, his quick decline, his early death, his manly, calm, and most beautiful surrender--the wedding of the moth with the star, of the night with the morrow!
For all but blameless as his short life had been, and so full of splendid promise and performance, nothing ever became him better than the way he left it. It was as if he were starting on some distant holy quest, like some gallant knight of old--'A Bagot to the rescue!' in another life. It shook the infallibility of a certain vicar down to its very foundations, and made him think more deeply about things than he had ever thought yet. It gave him pause!...and so wrung his heart that when, at the last, he stooped to kiss his poor young dead friend's pure white forehead, he dropped a bigger tear on it than Little Billee (once so given to the dropping of big tears) had ever dropped in his life.
But it is all too sad to write about.
It was by Little Billee's bedside, in Devonshire, that Taffy had grown to love Blanche Bagot, and not very many weeks after it was all over that Taffy had asked her to be his wife; and in a year they were married, and a very happy marriage it turned out--the one thing that poor Mrs. Bagot still looks upon as a compensation for all the griefs and troubles of her life.
During the first year or two Blanche had perhaps been the most ardently loving of this well-assorted pair. That beautiful look of love surprised (which makes all women's eyes look the same) came into hers whenever she looked at Taffy, and filled his heart with tender compunction, and a queer sense of his own unworthiness.
Then a boy was born to them, and that look fell on the boy, and the good Taffy caught it as it passed him by, and he felt a helpless, absurd jealousy, that was none the less painful for being so ridiculous! and then that look fell on another boy, and yet another, so that it was through these boys that she looked at their father. Then his eyes caught the look, and kept it for their own use; and he grew never to look at his wife without it; and as no daughter came, she retained for life the monopoly of that most sweet and expressive regard.
They are not very rich. He is a far better sportsman than he will ever be a painter; and if he doesn't sell his pictures, it is not because they are too good for the public taste: indeed, he has no illusions on that score himself, even if his wife has! He is quite the least conceited art-duffer I ever met--and I have met many far worse duffers than Taffy.
Would only that I might kill off his cousin Sir Oscar, and Sir Oscar's five sons (the Wynnes are good at sons), and his seventeen grandsons, and the fourteen cousins (and their numerous male progeny), that stand between Taffy and the baronetcy, and whatever property goes with it; so that he might be Sir Taffy, and dear Blanche Bagot (that was) might be called 'my lady'! This Shakespearian holocaust would scarcely cost me a pang!
It is a great temptation, when you have duly slain your first hero, to enrich hero number two beyond the dreams of avarice, and provide him with a title and castle and park, as well as a handsome wife and a nice family! But truth is inexorable--and, besides, they are just as happy as they are.
They are well off enough, anyhow, to spend a week in Paris at last, and even to stop at the Grand Hotel! now that two of their sons are at Harrow (where their father was before them), and the third is safe at a preparatory school at Elstree, Herts.
It is their first outing since the honeymoon, and the Laird should have come with them.
But the good Laird of Cockpen (who is now a famous Royal Academician) is preparing for a honeymoon of his own. He has gone to Scotland to be married himself--to wed a fair and clever countrywoman of just a suitable age for he has known her ever since she was a bright little lassie in short frocks, and he a promising A.R.A. (the pride of his native Dundee)--a marriage of reason, and well-seasoned affection, and mutual esteem--and therefore sure to turn out a happy one! and in another fortnight or so the pair of them will very possibly be sitting to breakfast opposite each other at that very corner table in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel! and she will laugh at everything he says--and they will live happily ever after.
So much for hero number three--D'Artagnan? Here's to you, Sandy M'Allister, canniest, genialest, and most humorous of Scots? most delicate, and dainty, and fanciful of British painters? 'I trink your health, mit your family's--may you lif long--and brosper?'
So Taffy and his wife have come for their second honeymoon, their Indian-summer honeymoon, alone; and are well content that it should be so. Two's always company for such a pair--the amusing one and the amusable!--and they are making the most of it!
They have been all over the Quartier Latin, and revisited the well- remembered spots; and even been allowed to enter the old studio, through the kindness of the concierge (who is no longer Madame Vinard). It is tenanted by two American painters, who are coldly civil on being thus disturbed in the middle of their work.
The studio is very spick and span, and most respectable. Trilby's foot, and the poem, and the sheet of plate-glass have been improved away, and a bookshelf put in their place. The new concierge (who has only been there a year) knows nothing of Trilby; and of the Vinards, only that they are rich and prosperous, and live somewhere in the south of France, and that Monsieur Vinard is mayor of his commune. Que le ban Dieu les benisse! c'e'taient de bien braves gens.
Then Mr. and Mrs. Taffy have also been driven (in an open caleche with two horses) through the Bois de Boulogne to St. Cloud; and to Versailles, where they lunched at the Hotel des Reservoirs---parlez- moi de (a! and to St. Germain, and to Meudon (where they lunched at la loge du garde champetre--a new one); they have visited the Salon, the Louvre, the porcelain manufactory at Sevres, the Gobelins, the Hotel Cluny, the Invalides, with Napoleon's tomb; and seen half a dozen churches, including Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle; and dined with the Dodors at their charming villa near Asnieres, and with the Zouzous at the splendid Hotel de la Rochemartel, and with the Duriens in the Pare Monceau (Dodor's food was best and Zouzou's worst; and at Durien's the company and talk were so good that one forgot to notice the food--and that was a pity). And the young Dodors are all right-- and so are the young Duriens. As for the young Zouzous, there aren't any--and that's a weight off one's mind!
And they've been to the Varietes and seen Madame Chaumont, and to the Francais and seen Sarah Bernhardt and Coquelin and Delaunay, and to the Opera and heard Monsieur Lassalle.
And to-day being their last day, they are going to laze and flane about the boulevards, and buy things, and lunch anywhere, sur le pouce, and do the Bois once more and see tout Paris, and dine early at Durand's, or Bignon's (or else the Cafe des Ambassadeurs), and finish up the well-spent day at the 'Mouches d'Espagne'--the new theatre in the Boulevard Poissonniere--to see Madame Cantharidi in 'Petits Bonheurs de Contrebande,' which they are told is immensely droll and quite proper--funny without being vulgar! Dodor was their informant-- he had taken Madame Dodor to see it three or four times.
Madame Cantharidi, as everybody knows, is a very clever but extremely plain old woman with a cracked voice--of spotless reputation, and the irreproachable mother of a grown-up family whom she has brought up in perfection. They have never been allowed to see their mother (and grandmother) act--not even the sons. Their excellent father (who adores both them and her) has drawn the line at that!
In private life she is 'quite the lady,' but on the stage--well, go and see her, and you will understand how she comes to be the idol of the Parisian public. For she is the true and liberal dispenser to them of that modern esprit--gaulois which would make the good Rabelais turn uneasily in his grave and blush there like a Benedictine Sister.
And truly she deserves the reverential love and gratitude of her chers Parisiens! She amused them all through the Empire; during the annee terrible she was their only stay and comfort, and has been their chief delight ever since, and is now.
When they come back from La Revanche, may Madame Cantharidi be still at her post, 'Les mouches d'Espagne,' to welcome the returning heroes, and exult and crow with them in her funny cracked old voice; or, haply, even console them once more, as the case may be.
'Victors or vanquished, they will laugh the same!'
Mrs. Taffy is a poor French scholar. One must know French very well indeed (and many other things besides) to seize the subtle points of Madame Cantharidi's play (and by-play)!
But Madame Cantharidi has so droll a face and voice, and such very droll, odd movements, that Mrs. Taffy goes into fits of laughter as soon as the quaint little old lady comes on the stage. So heartily does she laugh that a good Parisian bourgeois turns round and remarks to his wife: 'Via une jolie petite Anglaise qui n'est pas begueule, au moins! Et le gros boeuf avec les yeux bleus en boules de loto--c'est son mari, sans doute! il n'a pas l'air trop content par exemple, celui-la!'
The fact is that the good Taffy (who knows French very well indeed) is quite scandalised, and very angry with Dodor for sending them there; and as soon as the first act is finished he means, without any fuss, to take his wife away.
As he sits patiently, too indignant to laugh at what is really funny in the piece (much of it is vulgar without being funny), he finds himself watching a little white-haired man in the orchestra, a fiddler, the shape of whose back seems somehow familiar, as he plays an obbligato accompaniment to a very broadly comic song of Madame Cantharidi's. He plays beautifully--like a master--and the loud applause is as much for him as for the vocalist.
Presently this fiddler turns his head so that his profile can be seen, and Taffy recognises him.
After five minutes' thought, Taffy takes a leaf out of his pocket-book and writes (in perfectly grammatical French):--
'DEAR GECKO--You have not forgotten Taffy Wynne, I hope; and Litrebili, and Litrebili's sister, who is now Mrs. Taffy Wynne. We leave Paris to-morrow, and would like very much to see you once more. Will you, after the play, come and sup with us at the Cafe Anglais? If so, look up and make "yes" with the head, and enchant--Your well- devoted
He gives this, folded, to an attendant--for 'le premier violon--celui qui a des cheveux blancs.'
Presently he sees Gecko receive the note and read it and ponder for a while.
Then Gecko looks round the theatre, and Taffy waves his handkerchief and catches the eye of the premier violon, who 'makes "yes" with the head.'
And then, the first act over, Mr. and Mrs. Wynne leave the theatre; Mr. explaining why, and Mrs. very ready to go, as she was beginning, to feel strangely uncomfortable without quite realising as yet what was amiss with the lively Madame Cantharidi.
They went to the Cafe Anglais and bespoke a nice little room on the entresol overlooking the boulevard, and ordered a nice little supper; salmi of something very good, mayonnaise of lobster, and one or two other dishes better still--and chambertin of the best. Taffy was particular about these things on a holiday, and regardless of expense. Porthos was very hospitable, and liked good food and plenty of it; and Athos dearly loved good wine!
And then they went and sat at a little round table outside the Cafe de la Paix on the boulevard, near the Grand Opera, where it is always very gay, and studied Paris life, and nursed their appetites till supper-time.
At half-past eleven Gecko made his appearance--very meek and humble. He looked old--ten years older than he really was--much bowed down, and as if he had roughed it all his life, and had found living a desperate long, hard grind.
He kissed Mrs. Taffy's hand, and seemed half inclined to kiss Taffy's too, and was almost tearful in his pleasure at meeting them again, and his gratitude at being asked to sup with them. He had soft, clinging, caressing manners, like a nice dog's, that made you his friend at once. He was obviously genuine and sincere, and quite pathetically simple, as he always had been.
At first he could scarcely eat for nervous excitement; but Taffy's fine example and Mrs. Taffy's genial, easy-going cordiality (and a couple of glasses of chambertin) soon put him at his ease and woke up his dormant appetite, which was a very large one, poor fellow!
He was told all about Little Billee's death, and deeply moved to hear the cause which had brought it about, and then they talked of Trilby.
He pulled her watch out of his waistcoat-pocket and reverently kissed it, exclaiming: 'Ah! c'etait un ange! un ange du Paradis! when I tell you I lived with them for five years! Oh! her kindness, Dio, Dio Maria! It was "Gecko this!" and "Gecko that!" and "Poor Gecko your toothache, how it worries me!" and "Gecko, how tired and pale you look--you distress me so, looking like that! Shall I mix you a maitrank?" And "Gecko, you love artichokes a la Barigoule; they remind you of Paris--I have heard you say so. Well, I have found out where to get artichokes, and I know how to do them a la Barigoule, and you shall have them for dinner to-day and to-morrow and all the week after!" and we did!
'Ach! dear kind one--what did I really care for artichokes a la Barigoule?...
'And it was always like that--always--and to Svengali and old Marta just the same! and she was never well--never! toujours souf-frante!
'And it was she who supported us all--in luxury and splendour sometimes!'
'And what an artist!' said Taffy.
'Ah, yes! but all that was Svengali, you know. Svengali was the greatest artist I ever met! Monsieur, Svengali was a demon, a magician! I used to think him a god! He found me playing in the streets for copper coins, and took me by the hand, and was my only friend, and taught me all I ever knew--and yet he could not play my instrument!
'And now he is dead, I have forgotten how to play it myself! That English jail! it demoralised me, ruined me for ever! ach! quel enfer, nom de Dieu (pardon, madame)! I am just good enough to play the obbligato at the Mouches d'Espagne, when the old Cantharidi sings.
'"Via mon mari qui r'garde!
Prends garde--ne m'chatouille plus!"'
'It does not want much of an obbligato, hein, a song so noble and so beautiful as that!
'And that song, monsieur, all Paris is singing it now. And that is the Paris that went mad when Trilby sang the "Nussbaum" of Schumann at the Salle des Bashibazoucks. You heard her? Well!'
And here poor Gecko tried to laugh a little sardonic laugh in falsetto, like Svengali's, full of scorn and bitterness--and very nearly succeeded.
'But what made you strike him with--with that knife, you know?'
'Ah, monsieur, it had been coming on for a long time. He used to work Trilby too hard; it was killing her--it killed her at last! And then at the end he was unkind to her and scolded her and called her names-- horrid names--and then one day in London he struck her. He struck her on the fingers with his baton, and she fell down on her knees and cried... .
'Monsieur, I would have defended Trilby against a locomotive going grande vitesse! against my own father--against the Emperor of Austria--against the Pope! and I am a good Catholic, monsieur! I would have gone to the scaffold for her, and to the devil after!'
And he piously crossed himself. 'But, Svengali--wasn't he very fond of her?' 'Oh yes, monsieur! quant a ga, passionately! But she did not love him as he wished to be loved. She loved Litrebili, monsieur! Litrebili, the brother of madame. And I suppose that Svengali grew angry and jealous at last. He changed as soon as he came to Paris. Perhaps Paris reminded him of Litrebili--and reminded Trilby, too!'
'But how on earth did Svengali ever manage to teach her how to sing like that? She had no ear for music whatever when we knew her!'
Gecko was silent for a while, and Taffy filled his glass, and gave him a cigar, and lit one himself.
'Monsieur, no--that is true. She had not much ear. But she had such a voice as had never been heard. Svengali knew that. He had found it out long ago. Litolff had found it out, too. One day Svengali heard Litolff tell Meyerbeer that the most beautiful female voice in Europe belonged to an English grisette who sat as a model to sculptors in the Quartier Latin, but that unfortunately she was quite tone-deaf, and couldn't sing one single note in tune. Imagine how Svengali chuckled! I see it from here!
'Well, we both taught her together--for three years--morning, noon, and night--six--eight hours a day. It used to split me the heart to see her worked like that! We took her voice note by note---there was no end to her notes, each more beautiful than the other--velvet and gold, beautiful flowers, pearls, diamonds, rubies--drops of dew and honey; peaches, oranges, and lemons! en veux-tu en voila!---all the perfumes and spices of the Garden of Eden! Svengali with his little flexible flageolet, I with my violin--that is how we taught her to make the sounds--and then how to use them. She was a phenomene, monsieur! She could keep on one note and make it go through all the colours in the rainbow--according to the way Svengali looked at her. It would make you laugh--it would make you cry--but, cry or laugh, it was the sweetest, the most touching, the most beautiful note you ever heard except all her others! and each had as many overtones as the bells in the Carillon de Notre Dame. She could run up and down the scales, chromatic scales, quicker and better and smoother than Svengali on the piano, and more in tune than any piano! and her shake--ach! twin stars, monsieur! She was the greatest contralto, the greatest soprano the world has ever known! the like of her has never been! the like of her will never be again! and yet she only sang in public for two years!
'Ach! those breaks and runs and sudden leaps from darkness into light and back again--from earth to heaven!...those slurs and swoops and slides a la Paganini from one note to another, like a swallow flying! .... or a gull? Do you remember them? how they drove you mad? Let any other singer in the world try to imitate them--they would make you sick! That was Svengali ... he was a magician!
'And how she looked, singing! do you remember? her hands behind her-- her dear, sweet, slender foot on a little stool--her thick hair lying down all along her back! And that good smile like the Madonna's, so soft and bright and kind! Ach! Bel ucel di Dio! it was to make you weep for love, merely to see her (c'etait a vow faire pleurer d'amour, rien que de la voir)! That was Trilby! Nightingale and bird of paradise in one!
'Enfin she could do anything--utter any sound she liked, when once Svengali had shown her how--and he was the greatest master that ever lived! and when once she knew a thing, she knew it. Et voila!'
'How strange,' said Taffy, 'that she should have suddenly gone out of her senses that night at Drury Lane, and so completely forgotten it all! I suppose she saw Svengali the in the box opposite, and that drove her mad!'
And then Taffy told the little fiddler about Trilby's death-song, like a swan's,, and Svengali's photograph. But Gecko had heard it all from Marta, who was now dead.
Gecko sat and smoked and pondered for a while, and looked from one to the other. Then he pulled himself together with an effort, so to speak, and said, 'Monsieur, she never went mad--not for one moment!'
'What? Do you mean to say she deceived us all?'
'Non, monsieur! She could never deceive anybody, and never would. She had forgotten--voila tout!'
'But hang it all, my friend, one doesn't forget such a--'
'Monsieur, listen! She is dead. And Svengali is dead--and Marta also. And I have a good little malady that will kill me soon, Gott set dank--and without much pain.
'I will tell you a secret.
'There were two Trilbys. There was the Trilby you knew, who could not sing one single note in tune. She was an angel of paradise. She is now! But she had no more idea of singing than I have of winning a steeplechase at the croix de Berny. She could no more sing than a fiddle can play itself. She could never tell one tune from another-- one note from the next. Do you remember how she tried to sing "Ben Bolt" that day when she first came to the studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts? It was droll, hein? a se boucher les oreilles! Well, that was Trilby, your Trilby! that was my Trilby too--and I loved her as one loves an only love, an only sister, an only child--a gentle martyr on earth, a blessed saint in heaven! And that Trilby was enough for me!
'And that was the Trilby that loved your brother, madame--oh! but with all the love that was in her! He did not know what he had lost, your brother! Her love, it was immense, like her voice, and just as full of celestial sweetness and sympathy! She told me every-thing! Ce pauvre Litrebili, ce qu'i la perdu!
'But all at once--pr-r-r-out! presto! augenblick!...with one wave of his hand over her--with one look of his eye--with a word--Svengali could turn her into the other Trilby, his Trilby--and make her do whatever he liked...you might have run a red-hot needle into her and she would not have felt it. ...
'He had but to say "Dors!" and she suddenly became an unconscious Trilby of marble, who could produce wonderful sounds--just the sounds he wanted, and nothing else--and think his thoughts and wish his wishes--and love him at his bidding with a strange, unreal, factitious love...just his own love for himself turned inside out---a I'envers-- and reflected back on him, as from a mirror ... un echo, un simulacre, quoi! pas autre chose! ... It was not worth having! I was not even jealous!
'Well, that was the Trilby he taught how to sing--and--and I helped him, God of heaven forgive me! That Trilby was just a singing- machine--an organ to play upon--an instrument of music--a Stradivarius--a flexible flageolet of flesh and blood--a voice, and nothing more--just the unconscious voice that Svengali sang with--for it takes two to sing like La Svengali, monsieur--the one who has got the voice, and the one who knows what to do with it. ... So that when you heard her sing the "Nussbaum," the "Impromptu," you heard Svengali singing with her voice, just as you hear Joachim play a chaconne of Bach with his fiddle!...Herr Joachim's fiddle...what does it know of Sebastian Bach? and as for chaconnes...il s'en moque pas mal, ce fameux violon!. . .
'And our Trilby . .. what did she know of Schumann, Chopin?--nothing at all! She mocked herself not badly of Nussbaums and Impromptus...they would make her yawn to demantibulate her jaws!...When Svengali's Trilby was being taught to sing...when Svengali's Trilby was singing or seemed to you as if she were singing---our Trilby had ceased to exist...our Trilby was fast asleep ... in fact, our Trilby was dead...
'Ah, monsieur...that Trilby of Svengali's! I have heard her sing to kings and queens in royal palaces! ... as no woman has ever sung before or since. ... I have seen emperors and grand-dukes kiss her hand, monsieur--and their wives and daughters kiss her lips, and weep....
'I have seen the horses taken out of her sledge and the pick of the nobility drag her home to the hotel...with torchlights and choruses and shoutings of glory and long life to her!...and serenades all night, under the window!...she never knew! she heard nothing--felt nothing--saw nothing! and she bowed to them, right and left, like a queen!
'I have played the fiddle for her while she sang in the streets, at fairs and festas and Kermessen...and seen the people go mad to hear her...and once, at Prague, Svengali fell down in a fit from sheer excitement! and then, suddenly, our Trilby woke up and wondered what it was all about...and we took him home and put him to bed and left him with Marta--and Trilby and I went together arm-in-arm all over the town to fetch a doctor and buy things for supper--and that was the happiest hour in all my life!
'Ack! what an existence! what travels! what triumphs! What adventures! Things to fill a book--a dozen books--Those five happy years--with those two Trilbys! what recollections! ... I think of nothing else, night or day...even as I play the fiddle for old Cantharidi. AM...To think how often I have played the fiddle for La Svengali ... to have done that is to have lived...and then to come home to Trilby...our Trilby ... the real Trilby!...Gott sei dank! Ich habe geliebt und gelebet! geliebt und aelebet! geliebt und gelebet! Cristo di Dio...Sweet sister in heaven O Dieu de Misere, ayez pitie de nous...'
His eyes were red, and his voice was high and shrill and tremulous and full of tears; these remembrances were too much for him; and perhaps also the chambertin! He put his elbows on the table and hid his face in his hands and wept, muttering to himself in his own language (whatever that might have been--Polish, probably) as if he were praying.
Taffy and his wife got up and leaned on the window-bar and looked out on the deserted boulevards, where an army of scavengers, noiseless and taciturn, was cleansing the asphalt roadway. The night above was dark, but 'star-dials hinted of morn,' and a fresh breeze had sprung up, making the leaves dance and rustle on the sycamore trees along the boulevard--a nice little breeze; just the sort of little breeze to do Paris good. A four-wheel cab came by at a foot pace, the driver humming a tune; Taffy hailed him; he said, 'Via, m'sieur!' and drew up.
Taffy rang the bell, and asked for the bill, and paid it. Gecko had apparently fallen asleep. Taffy gently woke him up and told him how late it was. The poor little man seemed dazed and rather tipsy, and looked older than ever; sixty, seventy--any age you like. Taffy helped him on with his great-coat, and taking him by the arm, led him downstairs, giving him his card, and telling him how glad he was to have seen him, and that he would write to him from England--a promise that was kept, one may be sure.
Gecko uncovered his fuzzy white head, and took Mrs. Taffy's hand and kissed it, and thanked her warmly for her 'si bon et sympathique accueil.'
Then Taffy all but lifted him into the cab, the jolly cabman saying--
'Ah! bon--connais bien, celui la; vous savez--c'est lui qui joue du violon aux Mouches d'Espagne! Il a soupe, l'bourgeois; n'est-ce pas, m'sieur? "Petits bonheurs de contrebande," hein?...ayez pas peur! on vous aura soin de lui! il joue joliment bien, m'sieur; n'est-ce pas?'
Taffy shook Gecko's hand and asked.
'Ou restez-vous, Gecko?'
'Quarante-huit Rue des Pousse-cailloux, au cinquieme.'
'How strange!' said Taffy to his wife--'how touching! why, that's where Trilby used to live--the very number! the very floor!'
'Oui, oui,' said Gecko, waking up; Cest l'ancienne mansarde a Trilby-- j'y suis depuis douze ans--j'y suis, j'y reste...'
And he laughed feebly at his mild little joke.
Taffy told the address to the cabman, and gave him five francs.
'Merci, m'sieur! C'est de Paut'cote de l'eau--pres de la Sorbonne, s'pas? On vous aura soin du bourgeois; soyez tranquille--ayez pas peur! quarante-huit; on y va. Bonsoir, monsieur et dame!' And he clacked his whip and rattled away, singing:--
'Via mon mari qui r'garde--
Ne m'chatouill plus!'
Mr. and Mrs. Wynne walked back to the hotel, which was not far. She hung on to his big arm and crept close to him, and shivered a little. It was quite chilly. Their footsteps were very audible in the stillness; 'pit-pat, floppety-clop,' otherwise they were both silent. They were tired, yawny, sleepy, and very sad; and each was thinking (and knew the other was thinking) that a week in Paris was just enough--and how nice it would be, in just a few hours more, to hear the rooks cawing round their own quiet little English country home-- where three jolly boys would soon be coming for the holidays.
And there we will leave them to their useful, humdrum, happy domestic existence--than which there is no better that I know of, at their time of life--and no better time of life than theirs!
'Ou peut-on etre mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?'
That blessed harbour of refuge well within our reach, and having really cut our wisdom teeth at last, and learned the ropes, and left off hankering after the moon--we can do with so little down here. ...
A little work, a little play
To keep us going--and so, good-day!
A little warmth, a little light
Of love's bestowing--and so, good-night!
A little fun, to match the sorrow
Of each day's growing--and so, good-morrow!
A little trust that when we die
We reap our sowing! And so--good-bye!