Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
I first became aware that Cressida Garnet was on board when I saw young
men with cameras going up to the boat deck. In that exposed spot she was
good-naturedly posing for them--amid fluttering lavender scarfs--wearing
a most unseaworthy hat, her broad, vigorous face wreathed in smiles. She
was too much an American not to believe in publicity. All advertising
was good. If it was good for breakfast foods, it was good for prime
donna,--especially for a prima donna who would never be any younger and
who had just announced her intention of marrying a fourth time.
Only a few days before, when I was lunching with some friends at
Sherry's, I had seen Jerome Brown come in with several younger men,
looking so pleased and prosperous that I exclaimed upon it.
"His affairs," some one explained, "are looking up. He's going to marry
Cressida Garnet. Nobody believed it at first, but since she confirms it
he's getting all sorts of credit. That woman's a diamond mine."
If there was ever a man who needed a diamond mine at hand, immediately
convenient, it was Jerome Brown. But as an old friend of Cressida Garnet,
I was sorry to hear that mining operations were to be begun again.
I had been away from New York and had not seen Cressida for a year; now I
paused on the gangplank to note how very like herself she still was, and
with what undiminished zeal she went about even the most trifling things
that pertained to her profession. From that distance I could recognize
her "carrying" smile, and even what, in Columbus, we used to call "the
At the foot of the stairway leading up to the boat deck stood two of the
factors in Cressida's destiny. One of them was her sister, Miss Julia; a
woman of fifty with a relaxed, mournful face, an ageing skin that browned
slowly, like meerchaum, and the unmistakable "look" by which one knew a
Garnet. Beside her, pointedly ignoring her, smoking a cigarette while he
ran over the passenger list with supercilious almond eyes, stood a youth
in a pink shirt and a green plush hat, holding a French bull-dog on the
leash. This was "Horace," Cressida's only son. He, at any rate, had not
the Garnet look. He was rich and ruddy, indolent and insolent, with soft
oval cheeks and the blooming complexion of twenty-two. There was the
beginning of a silky shadow on his upper lip. He seemed like a ripe fruit
grown out of a rich soil; "oriental," his mother called his peculiar
lusciousness. His aunt's restless and aggrieved glance kept flecking him
from the side, but the two were as motionless as the _bouledogue_,
standing there on his bench legs and surveying his travelling basket with
loathing. They were waiting, in constrained immobility, for Cressida to
descend and reanimate them,--will them to do or to be something. Forward,
by the rail, I saw the stooped, eager back for which I was unconsciously
looking: Miletus Poppas, the Greek Jew, Cressida's accompanist and
shadow. We were all there, I thought with a smile, except Jerome Brown.
The first member of Cressida's party with whom I had speech was Mr.
Poppas. When we were two hours out I came upon him in the act of dropping
overboard a steamer cushion made of American flags. Cressida never
sailed, I think, that one of these vivid comforts of travel did not reach
her at the dock. Poppas recognized me just as the striped object left his
hand. He was standing with his arm still extended over the rail, his
fingers contemptuously sprung back. "Lest we forget!" he said with a
shrug. "Does Madame Cressida know we are to have the pleasure of your
company for this voyage?" He spoke deliberate, grammatical English--he
despised the American rendering of the language--but there was an
indescribably foreign quality in his voice,--a something muted; and
though he aspirated his "th's" with such conscientious thoroughness,
there was always the thud of a "d" in them. Poppas stood before me in a
short, tightly buttoned grey coat and cap, exactly the colour of his
greyish skin and hair and waxed moustache; a monocle on a very wide black
ribbon dangled over his chest. As to his age, I could not offer a
conjecture. In the twelve years I had known his thin lupine face behind
Cressida's shoulder, it had not changed. I was used to his cold,
supercilious manner, to his alarming, deep-set eyes,--very close
together, in colour a yellowish green, and always gleaming with something
like defeated fury, as if he were actually on the point of having it out
with you, or with the world, at last.
I asked him if Cressida had engagements in London.
"Quite so; the Manchester Festival, some concerts at Queen's Hall, and
the Opera at Covent Garden; a rather special production of the operas
of Mozart. That she can still do quite well,--which is not at all, of
course, what we might have expected, and only goes to show that our
Madame Cressida is now, as always, a charming exception to rules."
Poppas' tone about his client was consistently patronizing, and he was
always trying to draw one into a conspiracy of two, based on a mutual
understanding of her shortcomings.
I approached him on the one subject I could think of which was more
personal than his usefulness to Cressida, and asked him whether he still
suffered from facial neuralgia as much as he had done in former years,
and whether he was therefore dreading London, where the climate used to
be so bad for him.
"And is still," he caught me up, "And is still! For me to go to London is
martyrdom, _chère Madame_. In New York it is bad enough, but in London it
is the _auto da fé_, nothing less. My nervous system is exotic in any
country washed by the Atlantic ocean, and it shivers like a little
hairless dog from Mexico. It never relaxes. I think I have told you about
my favourite city in the middle of Asia, _la sainte Asie_, where the
rainfall is absolutely nil, and you are protected on every side by
hundreds of metres of warm, dry sand. I was there when I was a child
once, and it is still my intention to retire there when I have finished
with all this. I would be there now, n-ow-ow," his voice rose
querulously, "if Madame Cressida did not imagine that she needs me,--and
her fancies, you know," he flourished his hands, "one gives in to them.
In humouring her caprices you and I have already played some together."
We were approaching Cressida's deck chairs, ranged under the open windows
of her stateroom. She was already recumbent, swathed in lavender scarfs
and wearing purple orchids--doubtless from Jerome Brown. At her left,
Horace had settled down to a French novel, and Julia Garnet, at her
right, was complainingly regarding the grey horizon. On seeing me,
Cressida struggled under her fur-lined robes and got to her feet,--which
was more than Horace or Miss Julia managed to do. Miss Julia, as I could
have foretold, was not pleased. All the Garnets had an awkward manner
with me. Whether it was that I reminded them of things they wished to
forget, or whether they thought I esteemed Cressida too highly and the
rest of them too lightly, I do not know; but my appearance upon their
scene always put them greatly on their dignity. After Horace had offered
me his chair and Miss Julia had said doubtfully that she thought I was
looking rather better than when she last saw me, Cressida took my arm and
walked me off toward the stern.
"Do you know, Carrie, I half wondered whether I shouldn't find you here,
or in London, because you always turn up at critical moments in my life."
She pressed my arm confidentially, and I felt that she was once more
wrought up to a new purpose. I told her that I had heard some rumour of
"It's quite true, and it's all that it should be," she reassured me.
"I'll tell you about it later, and you'll see that it's a real solution.
They are against me, of course,--all except Horace. He has been such a
Horace's support, such as it was, could always be had in exchange for his
mother's signature, I suspected. The pale May day had turned bleak and
chilly, and we sat down by an open hatchway which emitted warm air from
somewhere below. At this close range I studied Cressida's face, and felt
reassured of her unabated vitality; the old force of will was still
there, and with it her characteristic optimism, the old hope of a
"You have been in Columbus lately?" she was saying. "No, you needn't tell
me about it," with a sigh. "Why is it, Caroline, that there is so little
of my life I would be willing to live over again? So little that I can
even think of without depression. Yet I've really not such a bad
conscience. It may mean that I still belong to the future more than to
the past, do you think?"
My assent was not warm enough to fix her attention, and she went on
thoughtfully: "Of course, it was a bleak country and a bleak period. But
I've sometimes wondered whether the bleakness may not have been in me,
too; for it has certainly followed me. There, that is no way to talk!"
she drew herself up from a momentary attitude of dejection. "Sea air
always lets me down at first. That's why it's so good for me in the end."
"I think Julia always lets you down, too," I said bluntly. "But perhaps
that depression works out in the same way."
Cressida laughed. "Julia is rather more depressing than Georgie, isn't
she? But it was Julia's turn. I can't come alone, and they've grown to
expect it. They haven't, either of them, much else to expect."
At this point the deck steward approached us with a blue envelope. "A
wireless for you, Madame Garnet."
Cressida put out her hand with impatience, thanked him graciously, and
with every indication of pleasure tore open the blue envelope. "It's
from Jerome Brown," she said with some confusion, as she folded the paper
small and tucked it between the buttons of her close-fitting gown,
"Something he forgot to tell me. How long shall you be in London? Good; I
want you to meet him. We shall probably be married there as soon as my
engagements are over." She rose. "Now I must write some letters. Keep two
places at your table, so that I can slip away from my party and dine with
I walked with her toward her chair, in which Mr. Poppas was now
reclining. He indicated his readiness to rise, but she shook her head and
entered the door of her deck suite. As she passed him, his eye went over
her with assurance until it rested upon the folded bit of blue paper in
her corsage. He must have seen the original rectangle in the steward's
hand; having found it again, he dropped back between Horace and Miss
Julia, whom I think he disliked no more than he did the rest of the
world. He liked Julia quite as well as he liked me, and he liked me quite
as well as he liked any of the women to whom he would be fitfully
agreeable upon the voyage. Once or twice, during each crossing, he did
his best and made himself very charming indeed, to keep his hand in,--for
the same reason that he kept a dummy keyboard in his stateroom, somewhere
down in the bowels of the boat. He practised all the small economies;
paid the minimum rate, and never took a deck chair, because, as Horace
was usually in the cardroom, he could sit in Horace's.
The three of them lay staring at the swell which was steadily growing
heavier. Both men had covered themselves with rugs, after dutifully
bundling up Miss Julia. As I walked back and forth on the deck, I was
struck by their various degrees of in-expressiveness. Opaque brown eyes,
almond-shaped and only half open; wolfish green eyes, close-set and
always doing something, with a crooked gleam boring in this direction or
in that; watery grey eyes, like the thick edges of broken skylight glass:
I would have given a great deal to know what was going on behind each
pair of them.
These three were sitting there in a row because they were all woven into
the pattern of one large and rather splendid life. Each had a bond, and
each had a grievance. If they could have their will, what would they do
with the generous, credulous creature who nourished them, I wondered? How
deep a humiliation would each egotism exact? They would scarcely have
harmed her in fortune or in person (though I think Miss Julia looked
forward to the day when Cressida would "break" and could be mourned
over),--but the fire at which she warmed herself, the little secret
hope,--the illusion, ridiculous or sublime, which kept her going,--that
they would have stamped out on the instant, with the whole Garnet pack
behind them to make extinction sure. All, except, perhaps, Miletus
Poppas. He was a vulture of the vulture race, and he had the beak of one.
But I always felt that if ever he had her thus at his mercy,--if ever he
came upon the softness that was hidden under so much hardness, the warm
credulity under a life so dated and scheduled and "reported" and
generally exposed,--he would hold his hand and spare.
The weather grew steadily rougher. Miss Julia at last plucked Poppas by
the sleeve and indicated that she wished to be released from her
wrappings. When she disappeared, there seemed to be every reason to hope
that she might be off the scene for awhile. As Cressida said, if she had
not brought Julia, she would have had to bring Georgie, or some other
Garnet. Cressida's family was like that of the unpopular Prince of
Wales, of whom, when he died, some wag wrote:
_If it had been his brother,
Better him than another.
If it had been his sister,
No one would have missed her._
Miss Julia was dampening enough, but Miss Georgie was aggressive and
intrusive. She was out to prove to the world, and more especially to
Ohio, that all the Garnets were as like Cressida as two peas. Both
sisters were club-women, social service workers, and directors in musical
societies, and they were continually travelling up and down the Middle
West to preside at meetings or to deliver addresses. They reminded one of
two sombre, bumping electrics, rolling about with no visible means of
locomotion, always running out of power and lying beached in some
inconvenient spot until they received a check or a suggestion from
Cressy. I was only too well acquainted with the strained, anxious
expression that the sight of their handwriting brought to Cressida's face
when she ran over her morning mail at breakfast. She usually put their
letters by to read "when she was feeling up to it" and hastened to open
others which might possibly contain something gracious or pleasant.
Sometimes these family unburdenings lay about unread for several days.
Any other letters would have got themselves lost, but these bulky
epistles, never properly fitted to their envelopes, seemed immune to
mischance and unfailingly disgorged to Cressida long explanations as to
why her sisters had to do and to have certain things precisely upon her
account and because she was so much a public personage.
The truth was that all the Garnets, and particularly her two sisters,
were consumed by an habitual, bilious, unenterprising envy of Cressy.
They never forgot that, no matter what she did for them or how far she
dragged them about the world with her, she would never take one of them
to live with her in her Tenth Street house in New York. They thought that
was the thing they most wanted. But what they wanted, in the last
analysis, was to _be_ Cressida. For twenty years she had been plunged in
struggle; fighting for her life at first, then for a beginning, for
growth, and at last for eminence and perfection; fighting in the dark,
and afterward in the light,--which, with her bad preparation, and with
her uninspired youth already behind her, took even more courage. During
those twenty years the Garnets had been comfortable and indolent and
vastly self-satisfied; and now they expected Cressida to make them equal
sharers in the finer rewards of her struggle. When her brother Buchanan
told me he thought Cressida ought "to make herself one of them," he
stated the converse of what he meant. They coveted the qualities which
had made her success, as well as the benefits which came from it. More
than her furs or her fame or her fortune, they wanted her personal
effectiveness, her brighter glow and stronger will to live.
"Sometimes," I have heard Cressida say, looking up from a bunch of those
sloppily written letters, "sometimes I get discouraged."
For several days the rough weather kept Miss Julia cloistered in
Cressida's deck suite with the maid, Luisa, who confided to me that the
Signorina Garnet was "_dificile_." After dinner I usually found Cressida
unincumbered, as Horace was always in the cardroom and Mr. Poppas either
nursed his neuralgia or went through the exercise of making himself
interesting to some one of the young women on board. One evening, the
third night out, when the sea was comparatively quiet and the sky was
full of broken black clouds, silvered by the moon at their ragged edges,
Cressida talked to me about Jerome Brown.
I had known each of her former husbands. The first one, Charley Wilton,
Horace's father, was my cousin. He was organist in a church in Columbus,
and Cressida married him when she was nineteen. He died of tuberculosis
two years after Horace was born. Cressida nursed him through a long
illness and made the living besides. Her courage during the three years
of her first marriage was fine enough to foreshadow her future to any
discerning eye, and it had made me feel that she deserved any number of
chances at marital happiness. There had, of course, been a particular
reason for each subsequent experiment, and a sufficiently alluring
promise of success. Her motives, in the case of Jerome Brown, seemed to
me more vague and less convincing than those which she had explained to
me on former occasions.
"It's nothing hasty," she assured me. "It's been coming on for several
years. He has never pushed me, but he was always there--some one to count
on. Even when I used to meet him at the Whitings, while I was still
singing at the Metropolitan, I always felt that he was different from the
others; that if I were in straits of any kind, I could call on him. You
can't know what that feeling means to me, Carrie. If you look back,
you'll see it's something I've never had."
I admitted that, in so far as I knew, she had never been much addicted to
leaning on people.
"I've never had any one to lean on," she said with a short laugh. Then
she went on, quite seriously: "Somehow, my relations with people always
become business relations in the end. I suppose it's because,--except for
a sort of professional personality, which I've had to get, just as I've
had to get so many other things,--I've not very much that's personal to
give people. I've had to give too much else. I've had to try too hard for
people who wouldn't try at all."
"Which," I put in firmly, "has done them no good, and has robbed the
people who really cared about you."
"By making me grubby, you mean?"
"By making you anxious and distracted so much of the time; empty."
She nodded mournfully. "Yes, I know. You used to warn me. Well,
there's not one of my brothers and sisters who does not feel that I
carried off the family success, just as I might have carried off the
family silver,--if there'd been any! They take the view that there were
just so many prizes in the bag; I reached in and took them, so there were
none left for the others. At my age, that's a dismal truth to waken up
Cressida reached for my hand and held it a moment, as if she needed
courage to face the facts in her case. "When one remembers one's first
success; how one hoped to go home like a Christmas tree full of
presents--How much one learns in a life-time! That year when Horace was a
baby and Charley was dying, and I was touring the West with the Williams
band, it was my feeling about my own people that made me go at all. Why I
didn't drop myself into one of those muddy rivers, or turn on the gas in
one of those dirty hotel rooms, I don't know to this day. At twenty-two
you must hope for something more than to be able to bury your husband
decently, and what I hoped for was to make my family happy. It was the
same afterward in Germany. A young woman must live for human people.
Horace wasn't enough. I might have had lovers, of course. I suppose you
will say it would have been better if I had."
Though there seemed no need for me to say anything, I murmured that I
thought there were more likely to be limits to the rapacity of a lover
than to that of a discontented and envious family.
"Well," Cressida gathered herself up, "once I got out from under it all,
didn't I? And perhaps, in a milder way, such a release can come again.
You were the first person I told when I ran away with Charley, and for a
long while you were the only one who knew about Blasius Bouchalka. That
time, at least, I shook the Garnets. I wasn't distracted or empty. That
time I was all there!"
"Yes," I echoed her, "that time you were all there. It's the greatest
possible satisfaction to remember it."
"But even that," she sighed, "was nothing but lawyers and accounts in the
end--and a hurt. A hurt that has lasted. I wonder what is the matter with
The matter with Cressida was, that more than any woman I have ever known,
she appealed to the acquisitive instinct in men; but this was not easily
said, even in the brutal frankness of a long friendship.
We would probably have gone further into the Bouchalka chapter of her
life, had not Horace appeared and nervously asked us if we did not wish
to take a turn before we went inside. I pleaded indolence, but Cressida
rose and disappeared with him. Later I came upon them, standing at the
stern above the huddled steerage deck, which was by this time bathed in
moonlight, under an almost clear sky. Down there on the silvery floor,
little hillocks were scattered about under quilts and shawls; family
units, presumably,--male, female, and young. Here and there a black shawl
sat alone, nodding. They crouched submissively under the moonlight as if
it were a spell. In one of those hillocks a baby was crying, but the
sound was faint and thin, a slender protest which aroused no response.
Everything was so still that I could hear snatches of the low talk
between my friends. Cressida's voice was deep and entreating. She was
remonstrating with Horace about his losses at bridge, begging him to keep
away from the cardroom.
"But what else is there to do on a trip like this, my Lady?" he
expostulated, tossing his spark of a cigarette-end overboard. "What is
there, now, to do?"
"Oh, Horace!" she murmured, "how can you be so? If I were twenty-two, and
a boy, with some one to back me--"
Horace drew his shoulders together and buttoned his top-coat. "Oh, I've
not your energy, Mother dear. We make no secret of that. I am as I am. I
didn't ask to be born into this charming world."
To this gallant speech Cressida made no answer. She stood with her hand
on the rail and her head bent forward, as if she had lost herself in
thought. The ends of her scarf, lifted by the breeze, fluttered upward,
almost transparent in the argent light. Presently she turned away,--as
if she had been alone and were leaving only the night sea behind
her,--and walked slowly forward; a strong, solitary figure on the white
deck, the smoke-like scarf twisting and climbing and falling back upon
itself in the light over her head. She reached the door of her stateroom
and disappeared. Yes, she was a Garnet, but she was also Cressida; and
she had done what she had done.
My first recollections of Cressida Garnet have to do with the Columbus
Public Schools; a little girl with sunny brown hair and eager bright
eyes, looking anxiously at the teacher and reciting the names and
dates of the Presidents: "James Buchanan, 1857-1861; Abraham Lincoln,
1861-1865"; etc. Her family came from North Carolina, and they had that
to feel superior about before they had Cressy. The Garnet "look," indeed,
though based upon a strong family resemblance, was nothing more than the
restless, preoccupied expression of an inflamed sense of importance. The
father was a Democrat, in the sense that other men were doctors or
lawyers. He scratched up some sort of poor living for his family behind
office windows inscribed with the words "Real Estate. Insurance.
Investments." But it was his political faith that, in a Republican
community, gave him his feeling of eminence and originality. The Garnet
children were all in school then, scattered along from the first grade
to the ninth. In almost any room of our school building you might chance
to enter, you saw the self-conscious little face of one or another of
them. They were restrained, uncomfortable children, not frankly boastful,
but insinuating, and somehow forever demanding special consideration and
holding grudges against teachers and classmates who did not show it them;
all but Cressida, who was naturally as sunny and open as a May morning.
It was no wonder that Cressy ran away with young Charley Wilton, who
hadn't a shabby thing about him except his health. He was her first
music teacher, the choir-master of the church in which she sang. Charley
was very handsome; the "romantic" son of an old, impoverished family. He
had refused to go into a good business with his uncles and had gone
abroad to study music when that was an extravagant and picturesque thing
for an Ohio boy to do. His letters home were handed round among the
members of his own family and of other families equally conservative.
Indeed, Charley and what his mother called "his music" were the romantic
expression of a considerable group of people; young cousins and old aunts
and quiet-dwelling neighbours, allied by the amity of several
generations. Nobody was properly married in our part of Columbus unless
Charley Wilton, and no other, played the wedding march. The old ladies of
the First Church used to say that he "hovered over the keys like a
spirit." At nineteen Cressida was beautiful enough to turn a much harder
head than the pale, ethereal one Charley Wilton bent above the organ.
That the chapter which began so gracefully ran on into such a stretch of
grim, hard prose, was simply Cressida's relentless bad luck. In her
undertakings, in whatever she could lay hold of with her two hands, she
was successful; but whatever happened to her was almost sure to be bad.
Her family, her husbands, her son, would have crushed any other woman I
have ever known. Cressida lived, more than most of us, "for others"; and
what she seemed to promote among her beneficiaries was indolence and envy
and discord--even dishonesty and turpitude.
Her sisters were fond of saying--at club luncheons--that Cressida had
remained "untouched by the breath of scandal," which was not strictly
true. There were captious people who objected to her long and close
association with Miletus Poppas. Her second husband, Ransome McChord, the
foreign representative of the great McChord Harvester Company, whom she
married in Germany, had so persistently objected to Poppas that she was
eventually forced to choose between them. Any one who knew her well could
easily understand why she chose Poppas.
While her actual self was the least changed, the least modified by
experience that it would be possible to imagine, there had been,
professionally, two Cressida Garnets; the big handsome girl, already
a "popular favourite" of the concert stage, who took with her to Germany
the raw material of a great voice;--and the accomplished artist who came
back. The singer that returned was largely the work of Miletus Poppas.
Cressida had at least known what she needed, hunted for it, found it, and
held fast to it. After experimenting with a score of teachers and
accompanists, she settled down to work her problem out with Poppas. Other
coaches came and went--she was always trying new ones--but Poppas
survived them all. Cressida was not musically intelligent; she never
became so. Who does not remember the countless rehearsals which were
necessary before she first sang _Isolde_ in Berlin; the disgust of the
conductor, the sullenness of the tenor, the rages of the blonde
_teufelin_, boiling with the impatience of youth and genius, who sang her
_Brangaena_? Everything but her driving power Cressida had to get from
Poppas was, in his way, quite as incomplete as his pupil. He possessed a
great many valuable things for which there is no market; intuitions,
discrimination, imagination, a whole twilight world of intentions and
shadowy beginnings which were dark to Cressida. I remember that when
"Trilby" was published she fell into a fright and said such books ought
to be prohibited by law; which gave me an intimation of what their
relationship had actually become.
Poppas was indispensable to her. He was like a book in which she had
written down more about herself than she could possibly remember--and
it was information that she might need at any moment. He was the one
person who knew her absolutely and who saw into the bottom of her grief.
An artist's saddest secrets are those that have to do with his artistry.
Poppas knew all the simple things that were so desperately hard for
Cressida, all the difficult things in which she could count on herself;
her stupidities and inconsistencies, the chiaroscuro of the voice itself
and what could be expected from the mind somewhat mismated with it. He
knew where she was sound and where she was mended. With him she could
share the depressing knowledge of what a wretchedly faulty thing any
productive faculty is.
But if Poppas was necessary to her career, she was his career. By the
time Cressida left the Metropolitan Opera Company, Poppas was a rich
man. He had always received a retaining fee and a percentage of her
salary,--and he was a man of simple habits. Her liberality with Poppas
was one of the weapons that Horace and the Garnets used against Cressida,
and it was a point in the argument by which they justified to themselves
their rapacity. Whatever they didn't get, they told themselves, Poppas
would. What they got, therefore, they were only saving from Poppas. The
Greek ached a good deal at the general pillage, and Cressida's
conciliatory methods with her family made him sarcastic and spiteful. But
he had to make terms, somehow, with the Garnets and Horace, and with the
husband, if there happened to be one. He sometimes reminded them, when
they fell to wrangling, that they must not, after all, overturn the boat
under them, and that it would be better to stop just before they drove
her wild than just after. As he was the only one among them who
understood the sources of her fortune,--and they knew it,--he was able,
when it came to a general set-to, to proclaim sanctuary for the goose
that laid the golden eggs.
That Poppas had caused the break between Cressida and McChord was another
stick her sisters held over her. They pretended to understand perfectly,
and were always explaining what they termed her "separation"; but they
let Cressida know that it cast a shadow over her family and took a good
deal of living down.
A beautiful soundness of body, a seemingly exhaustless vitality, and a
certain "squareness" of character as well as of mind, gave Cressida
Garnet earning powers that were exceptional even in her lavishly rewarded
profession. Managers chose her over the heads of singers much more
gifted, because she was so sane, so conscientious, and above all, because
she was so sure. Her efficiency was like a beacon to lightly anchored
men, and in the intervals between her marriages she had as many suitors
as Penelope. Whatever else they saw in her at first, her competency so
impressed and delighted them that they gradually lost sight of everything
else. Her sterling character was the subject of her story. Once, as she
said, she very nearly escaped her destiny. With Blasius Bouchalka she
became almost another woman, but not quite. Her "principles," or his lack
of them, drove those two apart in the end. It was of Bouchalka that we
talked upon that last voyage I ever made with Cressida Garnet, and not of
Jerome Brown. She remembered the Bohemian kindly, and since it was the
passage in her life to which she most often reverted, it is the one I
shall relate here.
Late one afternoon in the winter of 189-, Cressida and I were walking in
Central Park after the first heavy storm of the year. The snow had been
falling thickly all the night before, and all day, until about four
o'clock. Then the air grew much warmer and the sky cleared. Overhead it
was a soft, rainy blue, and to the west a smoky gold. All around the
horizon everything became misty and silvery; even the big, brutal
buildings looked like pale violet water-colours on a silver ground. Under
the elm trees along the Mall the air was purple as wisterias. The
sheep-field, toward Broadway, was smooth and white, with a thin gold wash
over it. At five o'clock the carriage came for us, but Cressida sent the
driver home to the Tenth Street house with the message that she would
dine uptown, and that Horace and Mr. Poppas were not to wait for her.
As the horses trotted away we turned up the Mall.
"I won't go indoors this evening for any one," Cressida declared. "Not
while the sky is like that. Now we will go back to the laurel wood.
They are so black, over the snow, that I could cry for joy. I don't know
when I've felt so care-free as I feel tonight. Country winter, country
stars--they always make me think of Charley Wilton."
She was singing twice a week, sometimes oftener, at the Metropolitan that
season, quite at the flood-tide of her powers, and so enmeshed in
operatic routine that to be walking in the park at an unaccustomed hour,
unattended by one of the men of her entourage, seemed adventurous. As we
strolled along the little paths among the snow banks and the bronze
laurel bushes, she kept going back to my poor young cousin, dead so long.
"Things happen out of season. That's the worst of living. It was untimely
for both of us, and yet," she sighed softly, "since he had to die, I'm
not sorry. There was one beautifully happy year, though we were so poor,
and it gave him--something! It would have been too hard if he'd had to
miss everything." (I remember her simplicity, which never changed any
more than winter or Ohio change.) "Yes," she went on, "I always feel very
tenderly about Charley. I believe I'd do the same thing right over again,
even knowing all that had to come after. If I were nineteen tonight, I'd
rather go sleigh-riding with Charley Wilton than anything else I've ever
We walked until the procession of carriages on the driveway, getting
people home to dinner, grew thin, and then we went slowly toward the
Seventh Avenue gate, still talking of Charley Wilton. We decided to dine
at a place not far away, where the only access from the street was a
narrow door, like a hole in the wall, between a tobacconist's and a
flower shop. Cressida deluded herself into believing that her incognito
was more successful in such non-descript places. She was wearing a long
sable coat, and a deep fur hat, hung with red cherries, which she had
brought from Russia. Her walk had given her a fine colour, and she
looked so much a personage that no disguise could have been wholly
The dining-rooms, frescoed with conventional Italian scenes, were built
round a court. The orchestra was playing as we entered and selected
our table. It was not a bad orchestra, and we were no sooner seated than
the first violin began to speak, to assert itself, as if it were suddenly
done with mediocrity.
"We have been recognized," Cressida said complacently. "What a good tone
he has, quite unusual. What does he look like?" She sat with her back to
The violinist was standing, directing his men with his head and with the
beak of his violin. He was a tall, gaunt young man, big-boned and rugged,
in skin-tight clothes. His high forehead had a kind of luminous pallour,
and his hair was jet black and somewhat stringy. His manner was excited
and dramatic. At the end of the number he acknowledged the applause, and
Cressida looked at him graciously over her shoulder. He swept her with a
brilliant glance and bowed again. Then I noticed his red lips and thick
"He looks as if he were poor or in trouble," Cressida said. "See how
short his sleeves are, and how he mops his face as if the least thing
upset him. This is a hard winter for musicians."
The violinist rummaged among some music piled on a chair, turning over
the sheets with flurried rapidity, as if he were searching for a lost
article of which he was in desperate need. Presently he placed some
sheets upon the piano and began vehemently to explain something to the
pianist. The pianist stared at the music doubtfully--he was a plump old
man with a rosy, bald crown, and his shiny linen and neat tie made him
look as if he were on his way to a party. The violinist bent over him,
suggesting rhythms with his shoulders and running his bony finger up and
down the pages. When he stepped back to his place, I noticed that the
other players sat at ease, without raising their instruments.
"He is going to try something unusual," I commented. "It looks as if it
might be manuscript."
It was something, at all events, that neither of us had heard before,
though it was very much in the manner of the later Russian composers who
were just beginning to be heard in New York. The young man made a
brilliant dash of it, despite a lagging, scrambling accompaniment by the
conservative pianist. This time we both applauded him vigorously and
again, as he bowed, he swept us with his eye.
The usual repertory of restaurant music followed, varied by a charming
bit from Massenet's "Manon," then little known in this country. After we
paid our check, Cressida took out one of her visiting cards and wrote
across the top of it: _"We thank you for the unusual music and the
pleasure your playing has given us."_ She folded the card in the middle,
and asked the waiter to give it to the director of the orchestra. Pausing
at the door, while the porter dashed out to call a cab, we saw, in the
wall mirror, a pair of wild black eyes following us quite despairingly
from behind the palms at the other end of the room. Cressida observed as
we went out that the young man was probably having a hard struggle. "He
never got those clothes here, surely. They were probably made by a
country tailor in some little town in Austria. He seemed wild enough to
grab at anything, and was trying to make himself heard above the dishes,
poor fellow. There are so many like him. I wish I could help them all! I
didn't quite have the courage to send him money. His smile, when he bowed
to us, was not that of one who would take it, do you think?"
"No," I admitted, "it wasn't. He seemed to be pleading for recognition. I
don't think it was money he wanted."
A week later I came upon some curious-looking manuscript songs on the
piano in Cressida's music room. The text was in some Slavic tongue with
a French translation written underneath. Both the handwriting and the
musical script were done in a manner experienced, even distinguished. I
was looking at them when Cressida came in.
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed. "I meant to ask you to try them over. Poppas
thinks they are very interesting. They are from that young violinist,
you remember,--the one we noticed in the restaurant that evening. He sent
them with such a nice letter. His name is Blasius Bouchalka (Boú-kal-ka),
I sat down at the piano and busied myself with the manuscript, while
Cressida dashed off necessary notes and wrote checks in a large square
checkbook, six to a page. I supposed her immersed in sumptuary
preoccupations when she suddenly looked over her shoulder and said,
"Yes, that legend, _Sarka_, is the most interesting. Run it through a few
times and I'll try it over with you."
There was another, "_Dans les ombres des fôrets tristes_", which I
thought quite as beautiful. They were fine songs; very individual, and
each had that spontaneity which makes a song seem inevitable and, once
for all, "done." The accompaniments were difficult, but not unnecessarily
so; they were free from fatuous ingenuity and fine writing.
"I wish he'd indicated his tempi a little more clearly," I remarked as I
finished Sarka for the third time. "It matters, because he really has
something to say. An orchestral accompaniment would be better, I should
"Yes, he sent the orchestral arrangement. Poppas has it. It works out
beautifully,--so much colour in the instrumentation. The English horn
comes in so effectively there," she rose and indicated the passage, "just
right with the voice. I've asked him to come next Sunday, so please be
here if you can. I want to know what you think of him."
Cressida was always at home to her friends on Sunday afternoon unless she
was billed for the evening concert at the Opera House, in which case we
were sufficiently advised by the daily press. Bouchalka must have been
told to come early, for when I arrived on Sunday, at four, he and
Cressida had the music-room quite to themselves and were standing by the
piano in earnest conversation. In a few moments they were separated by
other early comers, and I led Bouchalka across the hall to the
drawing-room. The guests, as they came in, glanced at him curiously. He
wore a dark blue suit, soft and rather baggy, with a short coat, and a
high double-breasted vest with two rows of buttons coming up to the loops
of his black tie. This costume was even more foreign-looking than his
skin-tight dress clothes, but it was more becoming. He spoke hurried,
elliptical English, and very good French. All his sympathies were French
rather than German--the Czecks lean to the one culture or to the other. I
found him a fierce, a transfixing talker. His brilliant eyes, his gaunt
hands, his white, deeply-lined forehead, all entered into his speech.
I asked him whether he had not recognized Madame Garnet at once when we
entered the restaurant that evening more than a week ago.
"_Mais, certainement!_ I hear her twice when she sings in the afternoon,
and sometimes at night for the last act. I have a friend who buys a
ticket for the first part, and he comes out and gives to me his pass-back
check, and I return for the last act. That is convenient if I am broke."
He explained the trick with amusement but without embarrassment, as if it
were a shift that we might any of us be put to.
I told him that I admired his skill with the violin, but his songs much
He threw out his red under-lip and frowned. "Oh, I have no instrument!
The violin I play from necessity; the flute, the piano, as it happens.
For three years now I write all the time, and it spoils the hand for
When the maid brought him his tea, he took both muffins and cakes and
told me that he was very hungry. He had to lunch and dine at the place
where he played, and he got very tired of the food. "But since," his
black eyebrows nearly met in an acute angle, "but since, before, I eat
at a bakery, with the slender brown roach on the pie, I guess I better
let alone well enough." He paused to drink his tea; as he tasted one of
the cakes his face lit with sudden animation and he gazed across the hall
after the maid with the tray--she was now holding it before the aged and
ossified 'cellist of the Hempfstangle Quartette. "_Des gâteaux_" he
murmured feelingly, "_ou est-ce qu'elle peut trouver de tels gâteaux ici
â_ New York?"
I explained to him that Madame Garnet had an accomplished cook who made
them,--an Austrian, I thought.
He shook his head. "_Austrichienne? Je ne pense pas._"
Cressida was approaching with the new Spanish soprano, Mme. Bartolas, who
was all black velvet and long black feathers, with a lace veil over her
rich pallour and even a little black patch on her chin. I beckoned them.
"Tell me, Cressida, isn't Ruzenka an Austrian?"
She looked surprised. "No, a Bohemian, though I got her in Vienna."
Bouchalka's expression, and the remnant of a cake in his long fingers,
gave her the connection. She laughed. "You like them? Of course, they are
of your own country. You shall have more of them." She nodded and went
away to greet a guest who had just come in.
A few moments later, Horace, then a beautiful lad in Eton clothes,
brought another cup of tea and a plate of cakes for Bouchalka. We sat
down in a corner, and talked about his songs. He was neither boastful nor
deprecatory. He knew exactly in what respects they were excellent. I
decided as I watched his face, that he must be under thirty. The deep
lines in his forehead probably came there from his habit of frowning
densely when he struggled to express himself, and suddenly elevating his
coal-black eyebrows when his ideas cleared. His teeth were white, very
irregular and interesting. The corrective methods of modern dentistry
would have taken away half his good looks. His mouth would have been
much less attractive for any re-arranging of those long, narrow,
over-crowded teeth. Along with his frown and his way of thrusting out his
lip, they contributed, somehow, to the engaging impetuousness of his
conversation. As we talked about his songs, his manner changed. Before
that he had seemed responsive and easily pleased. Now he grew abstracted,
as if I had taken away his pleasant afternoon and wakened him to his
miseries. He moved restlessly in his clothes. When I mentioned Puccini,
he held his head in his hands.
"Why is it they like that always and always? A little, oh yes, very nice.
But so much, always the same thing! Why?" He pierced me with the
despairing glance which had followed us out of the restaurant.
I asked him whether he had sent any of his songs to the publishers and
named one whom I knew to be discriminating. He shrugged his shoulders.
"They not want Bohemian songs. They not want my music. Even the street
cars will not stop for me here, like for other people. Every time, I wait
on the corner until somebody else make a signal to the car, and then it
stop,--but not for me."
Most people cannot become utterly poor; whatever happens, they can right
themselves a little. But one felt that Bouchalka was the sort of person
who might actually starve or blow his brains out. Something very
important had been left out either of his make-up or of his education;
something that we are not accustomed to miss in people.
Gradually the parlour was filled with little groups of friends, and I
took Bouchalka back to the music-room where Cressida was surrounded by
her guests; feathered women, with large sleeves and hats, young men of no
importance, in frock coats, with shining hair, and the smile which is
intended to say so many flattering things but which really expresses
little more than a desire to get on. The older men were standing about
waiting for a word _à deux_ with the hostess. To these people Bouchalka
had nothing to say. He stood stiffly at the outer edge of the circle,
watching Cressida with intent, impatient eyes, until, under the pretext
of showing him a score, she drew him into the alcove at the back end of
the long room, where she kept her musical library. The bookcases ran from
the floor to the ceiling. There was a table and a reading-lamp, and a
window seat looking upon the little walled garden. Two persons could be
quite withdrawn there, and yet be a part of the general friendly scene.
Cressida took a score from the shelf, and sat down with Bouchalka upon
the window seat, the book open between them, though neither of them
looked at it again. They fell to talking with great earnestness. At last
the Bohemian pulled out a large, yellowing silver watch, held it up
before him, and stared at it a moment as if it were an object of horror.
He sprang up, bent over Cressida's hand and murmured something, dashed
into the hall and out of the front door without waiting for the maid to
open it. He had worn no overcoat, apparently. It was then seven o'clock;
he would surely be late at his post in the up-town restaurant. I hoped he
would have wit enough to take the elevated.
After supper Cressida told me his story. His parents, both poor
musicians,--the mother a singer--died while he was yet a baby, and he
was left to the care of an arbitrary uncle who resolved to make a priest
of him. He was put into a monastery school and kept there. The organist
and choir-director, fortunately for Blasius, was an excellent musician, a
man who had begun his career brilliantly, but who had met with crushing
sorrows and disappointments in the world. He devoted himself to his
talented pupil, and was the only teacher the young man ever had. At
twenty-one, when he was ready for the novitiate, Blasius felt that the
call of life was too strong for him, and he ran away out into a world
of which he knew nothing. He tramped southward to Vienna, begging and
playing his fiddle from town to town. In Vienna he fell in with a gipsy
band which was being recruited for a Paris restaurant and went with them
to Paris. He played in cafés and in cheap theatres, did transcribing for
a music publisher, tried to get pupils. For four years he was the mouse,
and hunger was the cat. She kept him on the jump. When he got work he
did not understand why; when he lost a job he did not understand why.
During the time when most of us acquire a practical sense, get a
half-unconscious knowledge of hard facts and market values, he had been
shut away from the world, fed like the pigeons in the bell-tower of his
monastery. Bouchalka had now been in New York a year, and for all he knew
about it, Cressida said, he might have landed the day before yesterday.
Several weeks went by, and as Bouchalka did not reappear on Tenth Street,
Cressida and I went once more to the place where he had played, only to
find another violinist leading the orchestra. We summoned the proprietor,
a Swiss-Italian, polite and solicitous. He told us the gentleman was not
playing there any more,--was playing somewhere else, but he had forgotten
where. We insisted upon talking to the old pianist, who at last
reluctantly admitted that the Bohemian had been dismissed. He had arrived
very late one Sunday night three weeks ago, and had hot words with the
proprietor. He had been late before, and had been warned. He was a very
talented fellow, but wild and not to be depended upon. The old man gave
us the address of a French boarding-house on Seventh Avenue where
Bouchalka used to room. We drove there at once, but the woman who kept
the place said that he had gone away two weeks before, leaving no
address, as he never got letters. Another Bohemian, who did engraving
on glass, had a room with her, and when he came home perhaps he could
tell where Bouchalka was, for they were friends.
It took us several days to run Bouchalka down, but when we did find him
Cressida promptly busied herself in his behalf. She sang his _"Sarka"_
with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra at a Sunday night concert, she got
him a position with the Symphony Orchestra, and persuaded the
conservative Hempfstangle Quartette to play one of his chamber
compositions from manuscript. She aroused the interest of a publisher in
his work, and introduced him to people who were helpful to him.
By the new year Bouchalka was fairly on his feet. He had proper clothes
now, and Cressida's friends found him attractive. He was usually at her
house on Sunday afternoons; so usually, indeed, that Poppas began
pointedly to absent himself. When other guests arrived, the Bohemian and
his patroness were always found at the critical point of discussion,--at
the piano, by the fire, in the alcove at the end of the room--both of
them interested and animated. He was invariably respectful and admiring,
deferring to her in every tone and gesture, and she was perceptibly
pleased and flattered,--as if all this were new to her and she were
tasting the sweetness of a first success.
One wild day in March Cressida burst tempestuously into my apartment and
threw herself down, declaring that she had just come from the most trying
rehearsal she had ever lived through. When I tried to question her about
it, she replied absently and continued to shiver and crouch by the fire.
Suddenly she rose, walked to the window, and stood looking out over the
Square, glittering with ice and rain and strewn with the wrecks of
umbrellas. When she turned again, she approached me with determination.
"I shall have to ask you to go with me," she said firmly. "That crazy
Bouchalka has gone and got a pleurisy or something. It may be pneumonia;
there is an epidemic of it just now. I've sent Dr. Brooks to him, but I
can never tell anything from what a doctor says. I've got to see
Bouchalka and his nurse, and what sort of place he's in. I've been
rehearsing all day and I'm singing tomorrow night; I can't have so much
on my mind. Can you come with me? It will save time in the end."
I put on my furs, and we went down to Cressida's carriage, waiting below.
She gave the driver a number on Seventh Avenue, and then began feeling
her throat with the alarmed expression which meant that she was not going
to talk. We drove in silence to the address, and by this time it was
growing dark. The French landlady was a cordial, comfortable person who
took Cressida in at a glance and seemed much impressed. Cressida's
incognito was never successful. Her black gown was inconspicuous enough,
but over it she wore a dark purple velvet carriage coat, lined with fur
and furred at the cuffs and collar. The Frenchwoman's eye ran over it
delightedly and scrutinized the veil which only half-concealed the
well-known face behind it. She insisted upon conducting us up to the
fourth floor herself, running ahead of us and turning up the gas jets in
the dark, musty-smelling halls. I suspect that she tarried outside the
door after we sent the nurse for her walk.
We found the sick man in a great walnut bed, a relic of the better days
which this lodging house must have seen. The grimy red plush carpet, the
red velvet chairs with broken springs, the double gilt-framed mirror
above the mantel, had all been respectable, substantial contributions to
comfort in their time. The fireplace was now empty and grateless, and an
ill-smelling gas stove burned in its sooty recess under the cracked
marble. The huge arched windows were hung with heavy red curtains, pinned
together and lightly stirred by the wind which rattled the loose frames.
I was examining these things while Cressida bent over Bouchalka. Her
carriage cloak she threw over the foot of his bed, either from a
protective impulse, or because there was no place else to put it. After
she had greeted him and seated herself, the sick man reached down and
drew the cloak up over him, looking at it with weak, childish pleasure
and stroking the velvet with his long fingers. "_Couleur de gloire,
couleur des reines!_" I heard him murmur. He thrust the sleeve under his
chin and closed his eyes. His loud, rapid breathing was the only sound in
the room. If Cressida brushed back his hair or touched his hand, he
looked up long enough to give her a smile of utter adoration, naive and
uninquiring, as if he were smiling at a dream or a miracle.
The nurse was gone for an hour, and we sat quietly, Cressida with her
eyes fixed on Bouchalka, and I absorbed in the strange atmosphere of the
house, which seemed to seep in under the door and through the walls.
Occasionally we heard a call for "_de l'eau chaude_!" and the heavy trot
of a serving woman on the stairs. On the floor below somebody was
struggling with Schubert's Marche Militaire on a coarse-toned upright
piano. Sometimes, when a door was opened, one could hear a parrot
screaming, "_Voilà, voilà, tonnerre!_" The house was built before 1870,
as one could tell from windows and mouldings, and the walls were thick.
The sounds were not disturbing and Bouchalka was probably used to them.
When the nurse returned and we rose to go, Bouchalka still lay with his
cheek on her cloak, and Cressida left it. "It seems to please him," she
murmured as we went down the stairs. "I can go home without a wrap. It's
not far." I had, of course, to give her my furs, as I was not singing
_Donna Anna_ tomorrow evening and she was.
After this I was not surprised by any devout attitude in which I happened
to find the Bohemian when I entered Cressida's music-room unannounced,
or by any radiance on her face when she rose from the window-seat in the
alcove and came down the room to greet me.
Bouchalka was, of course, very often at the Opera now. On almost any
night when Cressida sang, one could see his narrow black head--high
above the temples and rather constrained behind the ears--peering from
some part of the house. I used to wonder what he thought of Cressida as
an artist, but probably he did not think seriously at all. A great voice,
a handsome woman, a great prestige, all added together made a "great
artist," the common synonym for success. Her success, and the material
evidences of it, quite blinded him. I could never draw from him anything
adequate about Anna Straka, Cressida's Slavic rival, and this perhaps
meant that he considered comparison disloyal. All the while that Cressida
was singing reliably, and satisfying the management, Straka was singing
uncertainly and making history. Her voice was primarily defective, and
her immediate vocal method was bad. Cressida was always living up to her
contract, delivering the whole order in good condition; while the Slav
was sometimes almost voiceless, sometimes inspired. She put you off with
a hope, a promise, time after time. But she was quite as likely to put
you off with a revelation,--with an interpretation that was inimitable,
Bouchalka was not a reflective person. He had his own idea of what a
great prima donna should be like, and he took it for granted that Mme.
Garnet corresponded to his conception. The curious thing was that he
managed to impress his idea upon Cressida herself. She began to see
herself as he saw her, to try to be like the notion of her that he
carried somewhere in that pointed head of his. She was exalted quite
beyond herself. Things that had been chilled under the grind came to life
in her that winter, with the breath of Bouchalka's adoration. Then, if
ever in her life, she heard the bird sing on the branch outside her
window; and she wished she were younger, lovelier, freer. She wished
there were no Poppas, no Horace, no Garnets. She longed to be only the
bewitching creature Bouchalka imagined her.
One April day when we were driving in the Park, Cressida, superb in a
green-and-primrose costume hurried over from Paris, turned to me smiling
and said: "Do you know, this is the first spring I haven't dreaded. It's
the first one I've ever really had. Perhaps people never have more than
one, whether it comes early or late." She told me that she was
overwhelmingly in love.
Our visit to Bouchalka when he was ill had, of course, been reported, and
the men about the Opera House had made of it the only story they have the
wit to invent. They could no more change the pattern of that story than
the spider could change the design of its web. But being, as she said,
"in love" suggested to Cressida only one plan of action; to have the
Tenth Street house done over, to put more money into her brothers'
business, send Horace to school, raise Poppas' percentage, and then with
a clear conscience be married in the Church of the Ascension. She went
through this program with her usual thoroughness. She was married in June
and sailed immediately with her husband. Poppas was to join them in
Vienna in August, when she would begin to work again. From her letters I
gathered that all was going well, even beyond her hopes.
When they returned in October, both Cressida and Blasius seemed changed
for the better. She was perceptibly freshened and renewed. She attacked
her work at once with more vigour and more ease; did not drive herself so
relentlessly. A little carelessness became her wonderfully. Bouchalka was
less gaunt, and much less flighty and perverse. His frank pleasure in the
comfort and order of his wife's establishment was ingratiating, even if
it was a little amusing. Cressida had the sewing-room at the top of the
house made over into a study for him. When I went up there to see him, I
usually found him sitting before the fire or walking about with his hands
in his coat pockets, admiring his new possessions. He explained the
ingenious arrangement of his study to me a dozen times.
With Cressida's friends and guests, Bouchalka assumed nothing for
himself. His deportment amounted to a quiet, unobtrusive appreciation of
her and of his good fortune. He was proud to owe his wife so much.
Cressida's Sunday afternoons were more popular than ever, since she
herself had so much more heart for them. Bouchalka's picturesque presence
stimulated her graciousness and charm. One still found them conversing
together as eagerly as in the days when they saw each other but seldom.
Consequently their guests were never bored. We felt as if the Tenth
Street house had a pleasant climate quite its own. In the spring, when
the Metropolitan company went on tour, Cressida's husband accompanied
her, and afterward they again sailed for Genoa.
During the second winter people began to say that Bouchalka was becoming
too thoroughly domesticated, and that since he was growing heavier in
body he was less attractive. I noticed his increasing reluctance to stir
abroad. Nobody could say that he was "wild" now. He seemed to dread
leaving the house, even for an evening. Why should he go out, he said,
when he had everything he wanted at home? He published very little. One
was given to understand that he was writing an opera. He lived in the
Tenth Street house like a tropical plant under glass. Nowhere in New York
could he get such cookery as Ruzenka's. Ruzenka ("little Rose") had,
like her mistress, bloomed afresh, now that she had a man and a
compatriot to cook for. Her invention was tireless, and she took things
with a high hand in the kitchen, confident of a perfect appreciation. She
was a plump, fair, blue-eyed girl, giggly and easily flattered, with
teeth like cream. She was passionately domestic, and her mind was full of
homely stories and proverbs and superstitions which she somehow worked
into her cookery. She and Bouchalka had between them a whole literature
of traditions about sauces and fish and pastry. The cellar was full of
the wines he liked, and Ruzenka always knew what wines to serve with the
dinner. Blasius' monastery had been famous for good living.
That winter was a very cold one, and I think the even temperature of the
house enslaved Bouchalka. "Imagine it," he once said to me when I dropped
in during a blinding snowstorm and found him reading before the fire. "To
be warm all the time, every day! It is like Aladdin. In Paris I have had
weeks together when I was not warm once, when I did not have a bath once,
like the cats in the street. The nights were a misery. People have
terrible dreams when they are so cold. Here I waken up in the night so
warm I do not know what it means. Her door is open, and I turn on my
light. I cannot believe in myself until I see that she is there."
I began to think that Bouchalka's wildness had been the desperation which
the tamest animals exhibit when they are tortured or terrorized.
Naturally luxurious, he had suffered more than most men under the pinch
of penury. Those first beautiful compositions, full of the folk-music of
his own country, had been wrung out of him by home-sickness and
heart-ache. I wondered whether he could compose only under the spur of
hunger and loneliness, and whether his talent might not subside with his
despair. Some such apprehension must have troubled Cressida, though his
gratitude would have been propitiatory to a more exacting task-master.
She had always liked to make people happy, and he was the first one who
had accepted her bounty without sourness. When he did not accompany her
upon her spring tour, Cressida said it was because travelling interfered
with composition; but I felt that she was deeply disappointed. Blasius,
or Bla[vz]ej, as his wife had with difficulty learned to call him, was
not showy or extravagant. He hated hotels, even the best of them.
Cressida had always fought for the hearthstone and the fireside, and the
humour of Destiny is sometimes to give us too much of what we desire. I
believe she would have preferred even enthusiasm about other women to his
utter _oisiveté_. It was his old fire, not his docility, that had won
During the third season after her marriage Cressida had only twenty-five
performances at the Metropolitan, and she was singing out of town a great
deal. Her husband did not bestir himself to accompany her, but he
attended, very faithfully, to her correspondence and to her business at
home. He had no ambitious schemes to increase her fortune, and he carried
out her directions exactly. Nevertheless, Cressida faced her concert
tours somewhat grimly, and she seldom talked now about their plans for
The crisis in this growing estrangement came about by accident,--one of
those chance occurrences that affect our lives more than years of ordered
effort,--and it came in an inverted form of a situation old to comedy.
Cressida had been on the road for several weeks; singing in Minneapolis,
Cleveland, St. Paul, then up into Canada and back to Boston. From Boston
she was to go directly to Chicago, coming down on the five o'clock train
and taking the eleven, over the Lake Shore, for the West. By her schedule
she would have time to change cars comfortably at the Grand Central
On the journey down from Boston she was seized with a great desire to see
Blasius. She decided, against her custom, one might say against her
principles, to risk a performance with the Chicago orchestra without
rehearsal, to stay the night in New York and go west by the afternoon
train the next day. She telegraphed Chicago, but she did not telegraph
Blasius, because she wished--the old fallacy of affection!--to "surprise"
him. She could take it for granted that, at eleven on a cold winter
night, he would be in the Tenth Street house and nowhere else in New
York. She sent Poppas--paler than usual with accusing scorn--and her
trunks on to Chicago, and with only her travelling bag and a sense of
being very audacious in her behaviour and still very much in love, she
took a cab for Tenth Street.
Since it was her intention to disturb Blasius as little as possible and
to delight him as much as possible, she let herself in with her latch-key
and went directly to his room. She did not find him there. Indeed, she
found him where he should not have been at all. There must have been a
Ruzenka was sent away in the morning, and the other two maids as well. By
eight o'clock Cressida and Bouchalka had the house to themselves. Nobody
had any breakfast. Cressida took the afternoon train to keep her
engagement with Theodore Thomas, and to think over the situation. Blasius
was left in the Tenth Street house with only the furnace man's wife to
look after him. His explanation of his conduct was that he had been
drinking too much. His digression, he swore, was casual. It had never
occurred before, and he could only appeal to his wife's magnanimity. But
it was, on the whole, easier for Cressida to be firm than to be yielding,
and she knew herself too well to attempt a readjustment. She had never
made shabby compromises, and it was too late for her to begin. When she
returned to New York she went to a hotel, and she never saw Bouchalka
alone again. Since he admitted her charge, the legal formalities were
conducted so quietly that the granting of her divorce was announced in
the morning papers before her friends knew that there was the least
likelihood of one. Cressida's concert tours had interrupted the
hospitalities of the house.
While the lawyers were arranging matters, Bouchalka came to see me. He
was remorseful and miserable enough, and I think his perplexity was quite
sincere. If there had been an intrigue with a woman of her own class, an
infatuation, an affair, he said, he could understand. But anything so
venial and accidental--He shook his head slowly back and forth. He
assured me that he was not at all himself on that fateful evening, and
that when he recovered himself he would have sent Ruzenka away, making
proper provision for her, of course. It was an ugly thing, but ugly
things sometimes happened in one's life, and one had to put them away and
forget them. He could have overlooked any accident that might have
occurred when his wife was on the road, with Poppas, for example. I cut
him short, and he bent his head to my reproof.
"I know," he said, "such things are different with her. But when have I
said that I am noble as she is? Never. But I have appreciated and I have
adored. About me, say what you like. But if you say that in this there
was any _méprise_ to my wife, that is not true. I have lost all my place
here. I came in from the streets; but I understand her, and all the fine
things in her, better than any of you here. If that accident had not
been, she would have lived happy with me for years. As for me, I have
never believed in this happiness. I was not born under a good star.
How did it come? By accident. It goes by accident. She tried to give good
fortune to an unfortunate man, _un miserable_; that was her mistake. It
cannot be done in this world. The lucky should marry the lucky."
Bouchalka stopped and lit a cigarette. He sat sunk in my chair as if he
never meant to get up again. His large hands, now so much plumper than
when I first knew him, hung limp. When he had consumed his cigarette he
turned to me again.
"I, too, have tried. Have I so much as written one note to a lady since
she first put out her hand to help me? Some of the artists who sing my
compositions have been quite willing to plague my wife a little if I make
the least sign. With the Española, for instance, I have had to be very
stern, _farouche_; she is so very playful. I have never given my wife the
slightest annoyance of this kind. Since I married her, I have not kissed
the cheek of one lady! Then one night I am bored and drink too much
champagne and I become a fool. What does it matter? Did my wife marry the
fool of me? No, she married me, with my mind and my feelings all here, as
I am today. But she is getting a divorce from the fool of me, which she
would never see _anyhow_! The stupidity which excuse me is the thing she
will not overlook. Even in her memory of me she will be harsh."
His view of his conduct and its consequences was fatalistic: he was meant
to have just so much misery every day of his life; for three years it had
been withheld, had been piling up somewhere, underground, overhead; now
the accumulation burst over him. He had come to pay his respects to me,
he said, to declare his undying gratitude to Madame Garnet, and to bid
me farewell. He took up his hat and cane and kissed my hand. I have never
seen him since. Cressida made a settlement upon him, but even Poppas,
tortured by envy and curiosity, never discovered how much it was. It was
very little, she told me. "_Pour des gâteaux,_" she added with a smile
that was not unforgiving. She could not bear to think of his being in
want when so little could make him comfortable.
He went back to his own village in Bohemia. He wrote her that the old
monk, his teacher, was still alive, and that from the windows of his room
in the town he could see the pigeons flying forth from and back to the
monastery bell-tower all day long. He sent her a song, with his own
words, about those pigeons,--quite a lovely thing. He was the bell tower,
and _les colombes_ were his memories of her.
Jerome Brown proved, on the whole, the worst of Cressida's husbands, and,
with the possible exception of her eldest brother, Buchanan Garnet, he
was the most rapacious of the men with whom she had had to do. It was one
thing to gratify every wish of a cake-loving fellow like Bouchalka, but
quite another to stand behind a financier. And Brown would be a financier
or nothing. After her marriage with him, Cressida grew rapidly older. For
the first time in her life she wanted to go abroad and live--to get
Jerome Brown away from the scene of his unsuccessful but undiscouraged
activities. But Brown was not a man who could be amused and kept out of
mischief in Continental hotels. He had to be a figure, if only a "mark,"
in Wall street. Nothing else would gratify his peculiar vanity. The
deeper he went in, the more affectionately he told Cressida that now all
her cares and anxieties were over. To try to get related facts out of his
optimism was like trying to find framework in a feather bed. All Cressida
knew was that she was perpetually "investing" to save investments. When
she told me she had put a mortgage on the Tenth Street house, her eyes
filled with tears. "Why is it? I have never cared about money, except to
make people happy with it, and it has been the curse of my life. It has
spoiled all my relations with people. Fortunately," she added
irrelevantly, drying her eyes, "Jerome and Poppas get along well." Jerome
could have got along with anybody; that is a promoter's business. His
warm hand, his flushed face, his bright eye, and his newest funny
story,--Poppas had no weapons that could do execution with a man like
Though Brown's ventures never came home, there was nothing openly
disastrous until the outbreak of the revolution in Mexico jeopardized
his interests there. Then Cressida went to England--where she could
always raise money from a faithful public--for a winter concert tour.
When she sailed, her friends knew that her husband's affairs were in a
bad way; but we did not know how bad until after Cressida's death.
Cressida Garnet, as all the world knows, was lost on the _Titanic_.
Poppas and Horace, who had been travelling with her, were sent on a week
earlier and came as safely to port as if they had never stepped out of
their London hotel. But Cressida had waited for the first trip of the sea
monster--she still believed that all advertising was good--and she went
down on the road between the old world and the new. She had been ill, and
when the collision occurred she was in her stateroom, a modest one
somewhere down in the boat, for she was travelling economically.
Apparently she never left her cabin. She was not seen on the decks, and
none of the survivors brought any word of her.
On Monday, when the wireless messages were coming from the _Carpathia_
with the names of the passengers who had been saved, I went, with so
many hundred others, down to the White Star offices. There I saw
Cressida's motor, her redoubtable initials on the door, with four men
sitting in the limousine. Jerome Brown, stripped of the promoter's
joviality and looking flabby and old, sat behind with Buchanan Garnet,
who had come on from Ohio. I had not seen him for years. He was now an
old man, but he was still conscious of being in the public eye, and sat
turning a cigar about in his face with that foolish look of importance
which Cressida's achievement had stamped upon all the Garnets. Poppas was
in front, with Horace. He was gnawing the finger of his chamois glove as
it rested on the top of his cane. His head was sunk, his shoulders drawn
together; he looked as old as Jewry. I watched them, wondering whether
Cressida would come back to them if she could. After the last names were
posted, the four men settled back into the powerful car--one of the best
made--and the chauffeur backed off. I saw him dash away the tears from
his face with the back of his driving glove. He was an Irish boy, and had
been devoted to Cressida.
When the will was read, Henry Gilbert, the lawyer, an old friend of her
early youth, and I, were named executors. A nice job we had of it. Most
of her large fortune had been converted into stocks that were almost
worthless. The marketable property realized only a hundred and fifty
thousand dollars. To defeat the bequest of fifty thousand dollars to
Poppas, Jerome Brown and her family contested the will. They brought
Cressida's letters into court to prove that the will did not represent
her intentions, often expressed in writing through many years, to
"provide well" for them.
Such letters they were! The writing of a tired, overdriven woman;
promising money, sending money herewith, asking for an acknowledgment
of the draft sent last month, etc. In the letters to Jerome Brown she
begged for information about his affairs and entreated him to go with her
to some foreign city where they could live quietly and where she could
rest; if they were careful, there would "be enough for all." Neither
Brown nor her brothers and sisters had any sense of shame about these
letters. It seemed never to occur to them that this golden stream,
whether it rushed or whether it trickled, came out of the industry, out
of the mortal body of a woman. They regarded her as a natural source
of wealth; a copper vein, a diamond mine.
Henry Gilbert is a good lawyer himself, and he employed an able man to
defend the will. We determined that in this crisis we would stand by
Poppas, believing it would be Cressida's wish. Out of the lot of them, he
was the only one who had helped her to make one penny of the money that
had brought her so much misery. He was at least more deserving than the
others. We saw to it that Poppas got his fifty thousand, and he actually
departed, at last, for his city in la sainte Asie, where it never rains
and where he will never again have to hold a hot water bottle to his
The rest of the property was fought for to a finish. Poppas out of the
way, Horace and Brown and the Garnets quarrelled over her personal
effects. They went from floor to floor of the Tenth Street house. The
will provided that Cressida's jewels and furs and gowns were to go to her
sisters. Georgie and Julia wrangled over them down to the last moleskin.
They were deeply disappointed that some of the muffs and stoles which
they remembered as very large, proved, when exhumed from storage and
exhibited beside furs of a modern cut, to be ridiculously scant. A year
ago the sisters were still reasoning with each other about pearls and
opals and emeralds.
I wrote Poppas some account of these horrors, as during the court
proceedings we had become rather better friends than of old. His reply
arrived only a few days ago; a photograph of himself upon a camel, under
which is written:
Traulich und Treu
ist's nur in der Tiefe:
falsch und feig
ist was dort oben sich freut!
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.