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Chapter XVIII

Fiorsen's bedroom was--as the maid would remark--"a proper pigsty"-- until he was out of it and it could be renovated each day. He had a talent for disorder, so that the room looked as if three men instead of one had gone to bed in it. Clothes and shoes, brushes, water, tumblers, breakfast-tray, newspapers, French novels, and cigarette-ends--none were ever where they should have been; and the stale fumes from the many cigarettes he smoked before getting up incommoded anyone whose duty it was to take him tea and shaving- water. When, on that first real summer day, the maid had brought Rosek up to him, he had been lying a long time on his back, dreamily watching the smoke from his cigarette and four flies waltzing in the sunlight that filtered through the green sun- blinds. This hour, before he rose, was his creative moment, when he could best see the form of music and feel inspiration for its rendering. Of late, he had been stale and wretched, all that side of him dull; but this morning he felt again the delicious stir of fancy, that vibrating, half-dreamy state when emotion seems so easily to find shape and the mind pierces through to new expression. Hearing the maid's knock, and her murmured: "Count Rosek to see you, sir," he thought: 'What the devil does he want?' A larger nature, drifting without control, in contact with a smaller one, who knows his own mind exactly, will instinctively be irritable, though he may fail to grasp what his friend is after.

And pushing the cigarette-box toward Rosek, he turned away his head. It would be money he had come about, or--that girl! That girl--he wished she was dead! Soft, clinging creature! A baby! God! What a fool he had been--ah, what a fool! Such absurdity! Unheard of! First Gyp--then her! He had tried to shake the girl off. As well try to shake off a burr! How she clung! He had been patient--oh, yes--patient and kind, but how go on when one was tired--tired of her--and wanting only Gyp, only his own wife? That was a funny thing! And now, when, for an hour or two, he had shaken free of worry, had been feeling happy--yes, happy--this fellow must come, and stand there with his face of a sphinx! And he said pettishly:

"Well, Paul! sit down. What troubles have you brought?"

Rosek lit a cigarette but did not sit down. He struck even Fiorsen by his unsmiling pallor.

"You had better look out for Mr. Wagge, Gustav; he came to me yesterday. He has no music in his soul."

Fiorsen sat up.

"Satan take Mr. Wagge! What can he do?"

"I am not a lawyer, but I imagine he can be unpleasant--the girl is young."

Fiorsen glared at him, and said:

"Why did you throw me that cursed girl?"

Rosek answered, a little too steadily:

"I did not, my friend."

"What! You did. What was your game? You never do anything without a game. You know you did. Come; what was your game?"

"You like pleasure, I believe."

Fiorsen said violently:

"Look here: I have done with your friendship--you are no friend to me. I have never really known you, and I should not wish to. It is finished. Leave me in peace."

Rosek smiled.

"My dear, that is all very well, but friendships are not finished like that. Moreover, you owe me a thousand pounds."

"Well, I will pay it." Rosek's eyebrows mounted. "I will. Gyp will lend it to me."

"Oh! Is Gyp so fond of you as that? I thought she only loved her music-lessons."

Crouching forward with his knees drawn up, Fiorsen hissed out:

"Don't talk of Gyp! Get out of this! I will pay you your thousand pounds."

Rosek, still smiling, answered:

"Gustav, don't be a fool! With a violin to your shoulder, you are a man. Without--you are a child. Lie quiet, my friend, and think of Mr. Wagge. But you had better come and talk it over with me. Good-bye for the moment. Calm yourself." And, flipping the ash off his cigarette on to the tray by Fiorsen's elbow, he nodded and went.

Fiorsen, who had leaped out of bed, put his hand to his head. The cursed fellow! Cursed be every one of them--the father and the girl, Rosek and all the other sharks! He went out on to the landing. The house was quite still below. Rosek had gone--good riddance! He called, "Gyp!" No answer. He went into her room. Its superlative daintiness struck his fancy. A scent of cyclamen! He looked out into the garden. There was the baby at the end, and that fat woman. No Gyp! Never in when she was wanted. Wagge! He shivered; and, going back into his bedroom, took a brandy-bottle from a locked cupboard and drank some. It steadied him; he locked up the cupboard again, and dressed.

Going out to the music-room, he stopped under the trees to make passes with his fingers at the baby. Sometimes he felt that it was an adorable little creature, with its big, dark eyes so like Gyp's. Sometimes it excited his disgust--a discoloured brat. This morning, while looking at it, he thought suddenly of the other that was coming--and grimaced. Catching Betty's stare of horrified amazement at the face he was making at her darling, he burst into a laugh and turned away into the music-room.

While he was keying up his violin, Gyp's conduct in never having come there for so long struck him as bitterly unjust. The girl-- who cared about the wretched girl? As if she made any real difference! It was all so much deeper than that. Gyp had never loved him, never given him what he wanted, never quenched his thirst of her! That was the heart of it. No other woman he had ever had to do with had been like that--kept his thirst unquenched. No; he had always tired of them before they tired of him. She gave him nothing really--nothing! Had she no heart or did she give it elsewhere? What was that Paul had said about her music-lessons? And suddenly it struck him that he knew nothing, absolutely nothing, of where she went or what she did. She never told him anything. Music-lessons? Every day, nearly, she went out, was away for hours. The thought that she might go to the arms of another man made him put down his violin with a feeling of actual sickness. Why not? That deep and fearful whipping of the sexual instinct which makes the ache of jealousy so truly terrible was at its full in such a nature as Fiorsen's. He drew a long breath and shuddered. The remembrance of her fastidious pride, her candour, above all her passivity cut in across his fear. No, not Gyp!

He went to a little table whereon stood a tantalus, tumblers, and a syphon, and pouring out some brandy, drank. It steadied him. And he began to practise. He took a passage from Brahms' violin concerto and began to play it over and over. Suddenly, he found he was repeating the same flaws each time; he was not attending. The fingering of that thing was ghastly! Music-lessons! Why did she take them? Waste of time and money--she would never be anything but an amateur! Ugh! Unconsciously, he had stopped playing. Had she gone there to-day? It was past lunch-time. Perhaps she had come in.

He put down his violin and went back to the house. No sign of her! The maid came to ask if he would lunch. No! Was the mistress to be in? She had not said. He went into the dining-room, ate a biscuit, and drank a brandy and soda. It steadied him. Lighting a cigarette, he came back to the drawing-room and sat down at Gyp's bureau. How tidy! On the little calendar, a pencil-cross was set against to-day--Wednesday, another against Friday. What for? Music-lessons! He reached to a pigeon-hole, and took out her address-book. "H--Harmost, 305A, Marylebone Road," and against it the words in pencil, "3 P.M."

Three o'clock. So that was her hour! His eyes rested idly on a little old coloured print of a Bacchante, with flowing green scarf, shaking a tambourine at a naked Cupid, who with a baby bow and arrow in his hands, was gazing up at her. He turned it over; on the back was written in a pointed, scriggly hand, "To my little friend.--E. H." Fiorsen drew smoke deep down into his lungs, expelled it slowly, and went to the piano. He opened it and began to play, staring vacantly before him, the cigarette burned nearly to his lips. He went on, scarcely knowing what he played. At last he stopped, and sat dejected. A great artist? Often, nowadays, he did not care if he never touched a violin again. Tired of standing up before a sea of dull faces, seeing the blockheads knock their silly hands one against the other! Sick of the sameness of it all! Besides--besides, were his powers beginning to fail? What was happening to him of late?

He got up, went into the dining-room, and drank some brandy. Gyp could not bear his drinking. Well, she shouldn't be out so much-- taking music-lessons. Music-lessons! Nearly three o'clock. If he went for once and saw what she really did-- Went, and offered her his escort home! An attention. It might please her. Better, anyway, than waiting here until she chose to come in with her face all closed up. He drank a little more brandy--ever so little--took his hat and went. Not far to walk, but the sun was hot, and he reached the house feeling rather dizzy. A maid-servant opened the door to him.

"I am Mr. Fiorsen. Mrs. Fiorsen here?"

"Yes, sir; will you wait?"

Why did she look at him like that? Ugly girl! How hateful ugly people were! When she was gone, he reopened the door of the waiting-room, and listened.

Chopin! The polonaise in A flat. Good! Could that be Gyp? Very good! He moved out, down the passage, drawn on by her playing, and softly turned the handle. The music stopped. He went in.

When Winton had left him, an hour and a half later that afternoon, Fiorsen continued to stand at the front door, swaying his body to and fro. The brandy-nurtured burst of jealousy which had made him insult his wife and old Monsieur Harmost had died suddenly when Gyp turned on him in the street and spoke in that icy voice; since then he had felt fear, increasing every minute. Would she forgive? To one who always acted on the impulse of the moment, so that he rarely knew afterward exactly what he had done, or whom hurt, Gyp's self-control had ever been mysterious and a little frightening. Where had she gone? Why did she not come in? Anxiety is like a ball that rolls down-hill, gathering momentum. Suppose she did not come back! But she must--there was the baby--their baby!

For the first time, the thought of it gave him unalloyed satisfaction. He left the door, and, after drinking a glass to steady him, flung himself down on the sofa in the drawing-room. And while he lay there, the brandy warm within him, he thought: 'I will turn over a new leaf; give up drink, give up everything, send the baby into the country, take Gyp to Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome-- anywhere out of this England, anywhere, away from that father of hers and all these stiff, dull folk! She will like that--she loves travelling!' Yes, they would be happy! Delicious nights-- delicious days--air that did not weigh you down and make you feel that you must drink--real inspiration--real music! The acrid wood- smoke scent of Paris streets, the glistening cleanness of the Thiergarten, a serenading song in a Florence back street, fireflies in the summer dusk at Sorrento--he had intoxicating memories of them all! Slowly the warmth of the brandy died away, and, despite the heat, he felt chill and shuddery. He shut his eyes, thinking to sleep till she came in. But very soon he opened them, because-- a thing usual with him of late--he saw such ugly things--faces, vivid, changing as he looked, growing ugly and uglier, becoming all holes--holes--horrible holes-- Corruption--matted, twisted, dark human-tree-roots of faces! Horrible! He opened his eyes, for when he did that, they always went. It was very silent. No sound from above. No sound of the dogs. He would go up and see the baby.

While he was crossing the hall, there came a ring. He opened the door himself. A telegram! He tore the envelope.

"Gyp and the baby are with me letter follows.--WINTON."

He gave a short laugh, shut the door in the boy's face, and ran up- stairs; why--heaven knew! There was nobody there now! Nobody! Did it mean that she had really left him--was not coming back? He stopped by the side of Gyp's bed, and flinging himself forward, lay across it, burying his face. And he sobbed, as men will, unmanned by drink. Had he lost her? Never to see her eyes closing and press his lips against them! Never to soak his senses in her loveliness! He leaped up, with the tears still wet on his face. Lost her? Absurd! That calm, prim, devilish Englishman, her father--he was to blame--he had worked it all--stealing the baby!

He went down-stairs and drank some brandy. It steadied him a little. What should he do? "Letter follows." Drink, and wait? Go to Bury Street? No. Drink! Enjoy himself!

He laughed, and, catching up his hat, went out, walking furiously at first, then slower and slower, for his head began to whirl, and, taking a cab, was driven to a restaurant in Soho. He had eaten nothing but a biscuit since his breakfast, always a small matter, and ordered soup and a flask of their best Chianti--solids he could not face. More than two hours he sat, white and silent, perspiration on his forehead, now and then grinning and flourishing his fingers, to the amusement and sometimes the alarm of those sitting near. But for being known there, he would have been regarded with suspicion. About half-past nine, there being no more wine, he got up, put a piece of gold on the table, and went out without waiting for his change.

In the streets, the lamps were lighted, but daylight was not quite gone. He walked unsteadily, toward Piccadilly. A girl of the town passed and looked up at him. Staring hard, he hooked his arm in hers without a word; it steadied him, and they walked on thus together. Suddenly he said:

"Well, girl, are you happy?" The girl stopped and tried to disengage her arm; a rather frightened look had come into her dark- eyed powdered face. Fiorsen laughed, and held it firm. "When the unhappy meet, they walk together. Come on! You are just a little like my wife. Will you have a drink?"

The girl shook her head, and, with a sudden movement, slipped her arm out of this madman's and dived away like a swallow through the pavement traffic. Fiorsen stood still and laughed with his head thrown back. The second time to-day. She had slipped from his grasp. Passers looked at him, amazed. The ugly devils! And with a grimace, he turned out of Piccadilly, past St. James's Church, making for Bury Street. They wouldn't let him in, of course--not they! But he would look at the windows; they had flower-boxes-- flower-boxes! And, suddenly, he groaned aloud--he had thought of Gyp's figure busy among the flowers at home. Missing the right turning, he came in at the bottom of the street. A fiddler in the gutter was scraping away on an old violin. Fiorsen stopped to listen. Poor devil! "Pagliacci!" Going up to the man--dark, lame, very shabby, he took out some silver, and put his other hand on the man's shoulder.

"Brother," he said, "lend me your fiddle. Here's money for you. Come; lend it to me. I am a great violinist."

"Vraiment, monsieur!"

"Ah! Vraiment! Voyons! Donnez--un instant--vous verrez."

The fiddler, doubting but hypnotized, handed him the fiddle; his dark face changed when he saw this stranger fling it up to his shoulder and the ways of his fingers with bow and strings. Fiorsen had begun to walk up the street, his eyes searching for the flower- boxes. He saw them, stopped, and began playing "Che faro?" He played it wonderfully on that poor fiddle; and the fiddler, who had followed at his elbow, stood watching him, uneasy, envious, but a little entranced. Sapristi! This tall, pale monsieur with the strange face and the eyes that looked drunk and the hollow chest, played like an angel! Ah, but it was not so easy as all that to make money in the streets of this sacred town! You might play like forty angels and not a copper! He had begun another tune--like little pluckings at your heart--tres joli--tout a fait ecoeurant! Ah, there it was--a monsieur as usual closing the window, drawing the curtains! Always same thing! The violin and the bow were thrust back into his hands; and the tall strange monsieur was off as if devils were after him--not badly drunk, that one! And not a sou thrown down! With an uneasy feeling that he had been involved in something that he did not understand, the lame, dark fiddler limped his way round the nearest corner, and for two streets at least did not stop. Then, counting the silver Fiorsen had put into his hand and carefully examining his fiddle, he used the word, "Bigre!" and started for home.

John Galsworthy