Audioletture a cura di Valerio Di Stefano
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Molti anni fassi qual felice, in una
brevissima ora si lamenta e dole;
o per famosa o per antica prole
altri s’inlustra, e ‘n un momento imbruna.
Cosa mobil non è che sotto el sole
non vinca morte e cangi la fortuna.
Era capitato a casa di Glisomiro Ariperto, un gentiluomo francese, il quale avendo consumato i piú begli anni della sua vita nel servigio di Cesare e d’altri principi della Germania, desiderava di consacrare quei pochi giorni che gli restavano alla difesa della religione cattolica militando contro i Turchi nell’armata della Repubblica di Venezia che con tanta sua gloria, e con tanta consolazione del Cristianesimo, conta, ha già tanti anni, piú vittorie che campagne sul mare. Veniva allora Ariperto da Padova, e teneva seco di camerata Guglielmo, un gentiluomo tedesco; che stato lungamente scolare in quella Università, s’era incamminato di ritorno alla patria conducendo seco per reliquia de’ suoi studi una giovanetta di buon garbo e di bello aspetto appellata Giustina servita da Cate una vecchia veneziana, che stata nel fior degli anni cortigiana di qualche grido in diversi luoghi d’Italia, divenuta locandiera in Padova, e fallita per amor d’uno scolare suo ospite, era stata raccolta da Guglielmo, come benemerita de’ suoi amori, al servigio della giovanetta; e la povera vecchia non avendo piú carne da vendere ne’ bordelli d’Italia aveva acconsentito di portar le sue ossa a fabbricar de’ zuffoli nelle stufe della Germania. Non è però che se ben fosse vecchia di quasi settant’anni non tenesse ancora umore di giovanetta, e se avesse incontrato qualche Zerbino, che non si fosse accomodata all’umor di Gabrina, perché la volpe muta bene il pelo, ma non cangia vezzo; ed è proprietà ingenita delle meretrici d’esalare prima lo spirito, che ammortire il fomento della libidine. Teneva allora Glisomiro nella sua casa Astolfo un giovine romano, che avendo per qualche tempo servito il segretario d’un principe, per sottrarsi alla sua eroica splendidezza, che non gli dava pur tanto pane, che gli bastasse a trarsi tre oncie di fame al giorno, era fuggito pur dianzi dallo Stato ecclesiastico per cercare sua ventura a Venezia con la servitú della penna, o della mestola, possedendo con qualche tintura di lettere, e buon carattere cancellaresco, e buona intelligenza di cucina, forse per avverare in se medesimo il concetto del buon Caporali, che a’ tempi moderni,
Il Segretario può far’ anche il cuoco
come comoda bestia da piú selle.
Mozart was a seasoned though not yet distinguished opera composer with one such work behind him when, at age 12, he was asked to write a pleasant singspiel to be performed in the tidy Rococo garden theater of Dr. Anton Mesmer, the pioneer hypnotist who would lend his name to the term “mesmerism.” The story can be traced back, through some detours, to a work whose text and music were written by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Le Devin du village (The Village Soothsayer). This was a folk-ish tale of a shepherd and shepherdess interacting with a village sage and supposed magician. The story went through several hands, including those of a hack named Harny, who in 1753 dumbed down Rousseau’s arcadian idyll into a coarser (and frankly more realistic) tale of country bumpkins. Harny’s text was translated into German by Friedrich Wilhelm Weiskern, and this libretto, revised by a Salzburg court trumpeter named Andreas Schachtner, is what came into young Mozart’s possession.
“Who is he?” I said. “And why does he sit always alone, with his back to us, too?”
“Ah!” whispered the Frau Oberregierungsrat, “he is a BARON.”
She looked at me very solemnly, and yet with the slightest possible contempt—a “fancy-not-recognising-that-at-the-first-glance” expression.
“But, poor soul, he cannot help it,” I said. “Surely that unfortunate fact ought not to debar him from the pleasures of intellectual intercourse.”
If it had not been for her fork I think she would have crossed herself.
“Surely you cannot understand. He is one of the First Barons.”
More than a little unnerved, she turned and spoke to the Frau Doktor on her left.
“My omelette is empty—EMPTY,” she protested, “and this is the third I have tried!”
I looked at the First of the Barons. He was eating salad—taking a whole lettuce leaf on his fork and absorbing it slowly, rabbit-wise—a fascinating process to watch.
Small and slight, with scanty black hair and beard and yellow-toned complexion, he invariably wore black serge clothes, a rough linen shirt, black sandals, and the largest black-rimmed spectacles that I had ever seen.
The Herr Oberlehrer, who sat opposite me, smiled benignantly.
“It must be very interesting for you, gnadige Frau, to be able to watch…. of course this is a VERY FINE HOUSE. There was a lady from the Spanish Court here in the summer; she had a liver. We often spoke together.”
I looked gratified and humble.
“Now, in England, in your ‘boarding ‘ouse’, one does not find the First Class, as in Germany.”
“No, indeed,” I replied, still hypnotised by the Baron, who looked like a little yellow silkworm.
“The Baron comes every year,” went on the Herr Oberlehrer, “for his nerves. He has never spoken to any of the guests—YET!” A smile crossed his face. I seemed to see his visions of some splendid upheaval of that silence—a dazzling exchange of courtesies in a dim future, a splendid sacrifice of a newspaper to this Exalted One, a “danke schon” to be handed down to future generations.
At that moment the postman, looking like a German army officer, came in with the mail. He threw my letters into my milk pudding, and then turned to a waitress and whispered. She retired hastily. The manager of the pension came in with a little tray. A picture post card was deposited on it, and reverently bowing his head, the manager of the pension carried it to the Baron.
Myself, I felt disappointed that there was not a salute of twenty-five guns.
At the end of the meal we were served with coffee. I noticed the Baron took three lumps of sugar, putting two in his cup and wrapping up the third in a corner of his pocket-handkerchief. He was always the first to enter the dining-room and the last to leave; and in a vacant chair beside him he placed a little black leather bag.
In the afternoon, leaning from my window, I saw him pass down the street, walking tremulously and carrying the bag. Each time he passed a lamp-post he shrank a little, as though expecting it to strike him, or maybe the sense of plebeian contamination…
I wondered where he was going, and why he carried the bag. Never had I seen him at the Casino or the Bath Establishment. He looked forlorn, his feet slipped in his sandals. I found myself pitying the Baron.
That evening a party of us were gathered in the salon discussing the day’s “kur” with feverish animation. The Frau Oberregierungsrat sat by me knitting a shawl for her youngest of nine daughters, who was in that very interesting, frail condition… “But it is bound to be quite satisfactory,” she said to me. “The dear married a banker—the desire of her life.”
There must have been eight or ten of us gathered together, we who were married exchanging confidences as to the underclothing and peculiar characteristics of our husbands, the unmarried discussing the over-clothing and peculiar fascinations of Possible Ones.
“I knit them myself,” I heard the Frau Lehrer cry, “of thick grey wool. He wears one a month, with two soft collars.”
“And then,” whispered Fraulein Lisa, “he said to me, ‘Indeed you please me. I shall, perhaps, write to your mother.’”
Small wonder that we were a little violently excited, a little expostulatory.
Suddenly the door opened and admitted the Baron.
Followed a complete and deathlike silence.
He came in slowly, hesitated, took up a toothpick from a dish on the top of the piano, and went out again.
When the door was closed we raised a triumphant cry! It was the first time he had ever been known to enter the salon. Who could tell what the Future held?
Days lengthened into weeks. Still we were together, and still the solitary little figure, head bowed as though under the weight of the spectacles, haunted me. He entered with the black bag, he retired with the black bag—and that was all.
At last the manager of the pension told us the Baron was leaving the next day.
“Oh,” I thought, “surely he cannot drift into obscurity—be lost without one word! Surely he will honour the Frau Oberregierungsrat of the Frau Feldleutnantswitwe ONCE before he goes.”
In the evening of that day it rained heavily. I went to the post office, and as I stood on the steps, umbrellaless, hesitating before plunging into the slushy road, a little, hesitating voice seemed to come from under my elbow.
I looked down. It was the First of the Barons with the black bag and an umbrella. Was I mad? Was I sane? He was asking me to share the latter. But I was exceedingly nice, a trifle diffident, appropriately reverential. Together we walked through the mud and slush.
Now, there is something peculiarly intimate in sharing an umbrella.
It is apt to put one on the same footing as brushing a man’s coat for him—a little daring, naive.
I longed to know why he sat alone, why he carried the bag, what he did all day. But he himself volunteered some information.
“I fear,” he said, “that my luggage will be damp. I invariably carry it with me in this bag—one requires so little—for servants are untrustworthy.”
“A wise idea,” I answered. And then: “Why have you denied us the pleasure—”
“I sit alone that I may eat more,” said the Baron, peering into the dusk; “my stomach requires a great deal of food. I order double portions, and eat them in peace.”
Which sounded finely Baronial.
“And what do you do all day?”
“I imbibe nourishment in my room,” he replied, in a voice that closed the conversation and almost repented of the umbrella.
When we arrived at the pension there was very nearly an open riot.
I ran half way up the stairs, and thanked the Baron audibly from the landing.
He distinctly replied: “Not at all!”
It was very friendly of the Herr Oberlehrer to have sent me a bouquet that evening, and the Frau Oberregierungsrat asked me for my pattern of a baby’s bonnet!
Next day the Baron was gone.
Sic transit gloria German mundi.
Bread soup was placed upon the table. “Ah,” said the Herr Rat, leaning upon the table as he peered into the tureen, “that is what I need. My ‘magen’ has not been in order for several days. Bread soup, and just the right consistency. I am a good cook myself”—he turned to me.
“How interesting,” I said, attempting to infuse just the right amount of enthusiasm into my voice.
“Oh yes—when one is not married it is necessary. As for me, I have had all I wanted from women without marriage.” He tucked his napkin into his collar and blew upon his soup as he spoke. “Now at nine o’clock I make myself an English breakfast, but not much. Four slices of bread, two eggs, two slices of cold ham, one plate of soup, two cups of tea—that is nothing to you.”
He asserted the fact so vehemently that I had not the courage to refute it.
All eyes were suddenly turned upon me. I felt I was bearing the burden of the nation’s preposterous breakfast—I who drank a cup of coffee while buttoning my blouse in the morning.
“Nothing at all,” cried Herr Hoffmann from Berlin. “Ach, when I was in England in the morning I used to eat.”
He turned up his eyes and his moustache, wiping the soup drippings from his coat and waistcoat.
“Do they really eat so much?” asked Fraulein Stiegelauer. “Soup and baker’s bread and pig’s flesh, and tea and coffee and stewed fruit, and honey and eggs, and cold fish and kidneys, and hot fish and liver? All the ladies eat, too, especially the ladies.”
“Certainly. I myself have noticed it, when I was living in a hotel in Leicester Square,” cried the Herr Rat. “It was a good hotel, but they could not make tea—now—”
“Ah, that’s one thing I CAN do,” said I, laughing brightly. “I can make very good tea. The great secret is to warm the teapot.”
“Warm the teapot,” interrupted the Herr Rat, pushing away his soup plate. “What do you warm the teapot for? Ha! ha! that’s very good! One does not eat the teapot, I suppose?”
He fixed his cold blue eyes upon me with an expression which suggested a thousand premeditated invasions.
“So that is the great secret of your English tea? All you do is to warm the teapot.”
I wanted to say that was only the preliminary canter, but could not translate it, and so was silent.
The servant brought in veal, with sauerkraut and potatoes.
“I eat sauerkraut with great pleasure,” said the Traveller from North Germany, “but now I have eaten so much of it that I cannot retain it. I am immediately forced to—”
“A beautiful day,” I cried, turning to Fraulein Stiegelauer. “Did you get up early?”
“At five o’clock I walked for ten minutes in the wet grass. Again in bed. At half-past five I fell asleep, and woke at seven, when I made an ‘overbody’ washing! Again in bed. At eight o’clock I had a cold-water poultice, and at half past eight I drank a cup of mint tea. At nine I drank some malt coffee, and began my ‘cure.’ Pass me the sauerkraut, please. You do not eat it?”
“No, thank you. I still find it a little strong.”
“Is it true,” asked the Widow, picking her teeth with a hairpin as she spoke, “that you are a vegetarian?”
“Why, yes; I have not eaten meat for three years.”
“Im—possible! Have you any family?”
“There now, you see, that’s what you’re coming to! Who ever heard of having children upon vegetables? It is not possible. But you never have large families in England now; I suppose you are too busy with your suffragetting. Now I have had nine children, and they are all alive, thank God. Fine, healthy babies—though after the first one was born I had to—”
“How WONDERFUL!” I cried.
“Wonderful,” said the Widow contemptuously, replacing the hairpin in the knob which was balanced on the top of her head. “Not at all! A friend of mine had four at the same time. Her husband was so pleased he gave a supper-party and had them placed on the table. Of course she was very proud.”
“Germany,” boomed the Traveller, biting round a potato which he had speared with his knife, “is the home of the Family.”
Followed an appreciative silence.
The dishes were changed for beef, red currants and spinach. They wiped their forks upon black bread and started again.
“How long are you remaining here?” asked the Herr Rat.
“I do not know exactly. I must be back in London in September.”
“Of course you will visit Munchen?”
“I am afraid I shall not have time. You see, it is important not to break into my ‘cure.’”
“But you MUST go to Munchen. You have not seen Germany if you have not been to Munchen. All the Exhibitions, all the Art and Soul life of Germany are in Munchen. There is the Wagner Festival in August, and Mozart and a Japanese collection of pictures—and there is the beer! You do not know what good beer is until you have been to Munchen. Why, I see fine ladies every afternoon, but fine ladies, I tell you, drinking glasses so high.” He measured a good washstand pitcher in height, and I smiled.
“If I drink a great deal of Munchen beer I sweat so,” said Herr Hoffmann. “When I am here, in the fields or before my baths, I sweat, but I enjoy it; but in the town it is not at all the same thing.”
Prompted by the thought, he wiped his neck and face with his dinner napkin and carefully cleaned his ears.
A glass dish of stewed apricots was placed upon the table.
“Ah, fruit!” said Fraulein Stiegelauer, “that is so necessary to health. The doctor told me this morning that the more fruit I could eat the better.”
She very obviously followed the advice.
Said the Traveller: “I suppose you are frightened of an invasion, too, eh? Oh, that’s good. I’ve been reading all about your English play in a newspaper. Did you see it?”
“Yes.” I sat upright. “I assure you we are not afraid.”
“Well, then, you ought to be,” said the Herr Rat. “You have got no army at all—a few little boys with their veins full of nicotine poisoning.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Herr Hoffmann said. “We don’t want England. If we did we would have had her long ago. We really do not want you.”
He waved his spoon airily, looking across at me as though I were a little child whom he would keep or dismiss as he pleased.
“We certainly do not want Germany,” I said.
“This morning I took a half bath. Then this afternoon I must take a knee bath and an arm bath,” volunteered the Herr Rat; “then I do my exercises for an hour, and my work is over. A glass of wine and a couple of rolls with some sardines—”
They were handed cherry cake with whipped cream.
“What is your husband’s favourite meat?” asked the Widow.
“I really do not know,” I answered.
“You really do not know? How long have you been married?”
“But you cannot be in earnest! You would not have kept house as his wife for a week without knowing that fact.”
“I really never asked him; he is not at all particular about his food.”
A pause. They all looked at me, shaking their heads, their mouths full of cherry stones.
“No wonder there is a repetition in England of that dreadful state of things in Paris,” said the Widow, folding her dinner napkin. “How can a woman expect to keep her husband if she does not know his favourite food after three years?”
I closed the door after me.
It was written in Zhitovo, while staying with his friend, the minor composer Nikolai Lodyzhensky. 1881, the year of its composition, also saw the composition of the symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia; the quartet premiered in that year or the next. (The external links give a more complete tale but conflict on the date.)
This quartet is in the form and general style of the Classical period. Its origins are also very much of the time, being written in a group of four on commission for a high-born patron, in this case the cello-playing King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, and also published as a group. However, Boccherini was already showing some aspects of the coming Romantic Era in music. The melodies and feelings of the quartet are more personal and introverted, the passions more pronounced. The slow movement of this f minor quartet is a prime example, and the first movement anticipates Beethoven in being marked “Allegretto appassionato.” The work is in the standard four movements, with a minuet as second movement. A feature reflecting the quartet’s origin is the prominence given to the cello part, the other strings often deferring to the King’s instrument with courtly manners.
Humoresques (Czech: Humoresky), Op. 101 (B. 187) is a piano cycle by Antonín Dvořák, written during the summer of 1894.
In 1894, Dvořák spent the summer in Bohemia. During this stay, Dvořák began to use collected material and to compose a new cycle of short piano pieces. The cycle was entitled Humoresques shortly before Dvořák sent the score to his German publisher F. Simrock. The composition was published in Autumn 1894.
The publisher took advantage of the great popularity of the seventh Humoresque to produce arrangements for many instruments and ensembles. The piece was later also published as a song with various lyrics. It has also been arranged for choir.
In the United States, Dvořák’s Humoresque Number 7 became the setting for a series of mildly scatological humorous verses, regarding passenger train toilets.
MRS. MOONEY was a butcher’s daughter. She was a woman who was quite able to keep things to herself: a determined woman. She had married her father’s foreman and opened a butcher’s shop near Spring Gardens. But as soon as his father-in-law was dead Mr. Mooney began to go to the devil. He drank, plundered the till, ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge: he was sure to break out again a few days after. By fighting his wife in the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his business. One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she had to sleep in a neighbour’s house.
After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a separation from him with care of the children. She would give him neither money nor food nor house-room; and so he was obliged to enlist himself as a sheriff’s man. He was a shabby stooped little drunkard with a white face and a white moustache and white eyebrows, pencilled above his little eyes, which were pink-veined and raw; and all day long he sat in the bailiff’s room, waiting to be put on a job. Mrs. Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money out of the butcher business and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, was a big imposing woman. Her house had a floating population made up of tourists from Liverpool and the Isle of Man and, occasionally, artistes from the music halls. Its resident population was made up of clerks from the city. She governed her house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things pass. All the resident young men spoke of her as The Madam.
Mrs. Mooney’s young men paid fifteen shillings a week for board and lodgings (beer or stout at dinner excluded). They shared in common tastes and occupations and for this reason they were very chummy with one another. They discussed with one another the chances of favourites and outsiders. Jack Mooney, the Madam’s son, who was clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street, had the reputation of being a hard case. He was fond of using soldiers’ obscenities: usually he came home in the small hours. When he met his friends he had always a good one to tell them and he was always sure to be on to a good thing—that is to say, a likely horse or a likely artiste. He was also handy with the mits and sang comic songs. On Sunday nights there would often be a reunion in Mrs. Mooney’s front drawing-room. The music-hall artistes would oblige; and Sheridan played waltzes and polkas and vamped accompaniments. Polly Mooney, the Madam’s daughter, would also sing. She sang:
I'm a... naughty girl. You needn't sham: You know I am.
Polly was a slim girl of nineteen; she had light soft hair and a small full mouth. Her eyes, which were grey with a shade of green through them, had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone, which made her look like a little perverse madonna. Mrs. Mooney had first sent her daughter to be a typist in a corn-factor’s office but, as a disreputable sheriff’s man used to come every other day to the office, asking to be allowed to say a word to his daughter, she had taken her daughter home again and set her to do housework. As Polly was very lively the intention was to give her the run of the young men. Besides, young men like to feel that there is a young woman not very far away. Polly, of course, flirted with the young men but Mrs. Mooney, who was a shrewd judge, knew that the young men were only passing the time away: none of them meant business. Things went on so for a long time and Mrs. Mooney began to think of sending Polly back to typewriting when she noticed that something was going on between Polly and one of the young men. She watched the pair and kept her own counsel.
Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother’s persistent silence could not be misunderstood. There had been no open complicity between mother and daughter, no open understanding but, though people in the house began to talk of the affair, still Mrs. Mooney did not intervene. Polly began to grow a little strange in her manner and the young man was evidently perturbed. At last, when she judged it to be the right moment, Mrs. Mooney intervened. She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind.
It was a bright Sunday morning of early summer, promising heat, but with a fresh breeze blowing. All the windows of the boarding house were open and the lace curtains ballooned gently towards the street beneath the raised sashes. The belfry of George’s Church sent out constant peals and worshippers, singly or in groups, traversed the little circus before the church, revealing their purpose by their self-contained demeanour no less than by the little volumes in their gloved hands. Breakfast was over in the boarding house and the table of the breakfast-room was covered with plates on which lay yellow streaks of eggs with morsels of bacon-fat and bacon-rind. Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread-pudding. When the table was cleared, the broken bread collected, the sugar and butter safe under lock and key, she began to reconstruct the interview which she had had the night before with Polly. Things were as she had suspected: she had been frank in her questions and Polly had been frank in her answers. Both had been somewhat awkward, of course. She had been made awkward by her not wishing to receive the news in too cavalier a fashion or to seem to have connived and Polly had been made awkward not merely because allusions of that kind always made her awkward but also because she did not wish it to be thought that in her wise innocence she had divined the intention behind her mother’s tolerance.
Mrs. Mooney glanced instinctively at the little gilt clock on the mantelpiece as soon as she had become aware through her revery that the bells of George’s Church had stopped ringing. It was seventeen minutes past eleven: she would have lots of time to have the matter out with Mr. Doran and then catch short twelve at Marlborough Street. She was sure she would win. To begin with she had all the weight of social opinion on her side: she was an outraged mother. She had allowed him to live beneath her roof, assuming that he was a man of honour, and he had simply abused her hospitality. He was thirty-four or thirty-five years of age, so that youth could not be pleaded as his excuse; nor could ignorance be his excuse since he was a man who had seen something of the world. He had simply taken advantage of Polly’s youth and inexperience: that was evident. The question was: What reparation would he make?
There must be reparation made in such cases. It is all very well for the man: he can go his ways as if nothing had happened, having had his moment of pleasure, but the girl has to bear the brunt. Some mothers would be content to patch up such an affair for a sum of money; she had known cases of it. But she would not do so. For her only one reparation could make up for the loss of her daughter’s honour: marriage.
She counted all her cards again before sending Mary up to Mr. Doran’s room to say that she wished to speak with him. She felt sure she would win. He was a serious young man, not rakish or loud-voiced like the others. If it had been Mr. Sheridan or Mr. Meade or Bantam Lyons her task would have been much harder. She did not think he would face publicity. All the lodgers in the house knew something of the affair; details had been invented by some. Besides, he had been employed for thirteen years in a great Catholic wine-merchant’s office and publicity would mean for him, perhaps, the loss of his job. Whereas if he agreed all might be well. She knew he had a good screw for one thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by.
Nearly the half-hour! She stood up and surveyed herself in the pier-glass. The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied her and she thought of some mothers she knew who could not get their daughters off their hands.
Mr. Doran was very anxious indeed this Sunday morning. He had made two attempts to shave but his hand had been so unsteady that he had been obliged to desist. Three days’ reddish beard fringed his jaws and every two or three minutes a mist gathered on his glasses so that he had to take them off and polish them with his pocket-handkerchief. The recollection of his confession of the night before was a cause of acute pain to him; the priest had drawn out every ridiculous detail of the affair and in the end had so magnified his sin that he was almost thankful at being afforded a loophole of reparation. The harm was done. What could he do now but marry her or run away? He could not brazen it out. The affair would be sure to be talked of and his employer would be certain to hear of it. Dublin is such a small city: everyone knows everyone else’s business. He felt his heart leap warmly in his throat as he heard in his excited imagination old Mr. Leonard calling out in his rasping voice: “Send Mr. Doran here, please.”
All his long years of service gone for nothing! All his industry and diligence thrown away! As a young man he had sown his wild oats, of course; he had boasted of his free-thinking and denied the existence of God to his companions in public-houses. But that was all passed and done with… nearly. He still bought a copy of Reynolds’s Newspaper every week but he attended to his religious duties and for nine-tenths of the year lived a regular life. He had money enough to settle down on; it was not that. But the family would look down on her. First of all there was her disreputable father and then her mother’s boarding house was beginning to get a certain fame. He had a notion that he was being had. He could imagine his friends talking of the affair and laughing. She was a little vulgar; some times she said “I seen” and “If I had’ve known.” But what would grammar matter if he really loved her? He could not make up his mind whether to like her or despise her for what she had done. Of course he had done it too. His instinct urged him to remain free, not to marry. Once you are married you are done for, it said.
While he was sitting helplessly on the side of the bed in shirt and trousers she tapped lightly at his door and entered. She told him all, that she had made a clean breast of it to her mother and that her mother would speak with him that morning. She cried and threw her arms round his neck, saying:
“O Bob! Bob! What am I to do? What am I to do at all?”
She would put an end to herself, she said.
He comforted her feebly, telling her not to cry, that it would be all right, never fear. He felt against his shirt the agitation of her bosom.
It was not altogether his fault that it had happened. He remembered well, with the curious patient memory of the celibate, the first casual caresses her dress, her breath, her fingers had given him. Then late one night as he was undressing for bed she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers had been blown out by a gust. It was her bath night. She wore a loose open combing-jacket of printed flannel. Her white instep shone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behind her perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied her candle a faint perfume arose.
On nights when he came in very late it was she who warmed up his dinner. He scarcely knew what he was eating, feeling her beside him alone, at night, in the sleeping house. And her thoughtfulness! If the night was anyway cold or wet or windy there was sure to be a little tumbler of punch ready for him. Perhaps they could be happy together….
They used to go upstairs together on tiptoe, each with a candle, and on the third landing exchange reluctant good-nights. They used to kiss. He remembered well her eyes, the touch of her hand and his delirium….
But delirium passes. He echoed her phrase, applying it to himself: “What am I to do?” The instinct of the celibate warned him to hold back. But the sin was there; even his sense of honour told him that reparation must be made for such a sin.
While he was sitting with her on the side of the bed Mary came to the door and said that the missus wanted to see him in the parlour. He stood up to put on his coat and waistcoat, more helpless than ever. When he was dressed he went over to her to comfort her. It would be all right, never fear. He left her crying on the bed and moaning softly: “O my God!”
Going down the stairs his glasses became so dimmed with moisture that he had to take them off and polish them. He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble, and yet a force pushed him downstairs step by step. The implacable faces of his employer and of the Madam stared upon his discomfiture. On the last flight of stairs he passed Jack Mooney who was coming up from the pantry nursing two bottles of Bass. They saluted coldly; and the lover’s eyes rested for a second or two on a thick bulldog face and a pair of thick short arms. When he reached the foot of the staircase he glanced up and saw Jack regarding him from the door of the return-room.
Suddenly he remembered the night when one of the music-hall artistes, a little blond Londoner, had made a rather free allusion to Polly. The reunion had been almost broken up on account of Jack’s violence. Everyone tried to quiet him. The music-hall artiste, a little paler than usual, kept smiling and saying that there was no harm meant: but Jack kept shouting at him that if any fellow tried that sort of a game on with his sister he’d bloody well put his teeth down his throat, so he would.
Polly sat for a little time on the side of the bed, crying. Then she dried her eyes and went over to the looking-glass. She dipped the end of the towel in the water-jug and refreshed her eyes with the cool water. She looked at herself in profile and readjusted a hairpin above her ear. Then she went back to the bed again and sat at the foot. She regarded the pillows for a long time and the sight of them awakened in her mind secret, amiable memories. She rested the nape of her neck against the cool iron bed-rail and fell into a reverie. There was no longer any perturbation visible on her face.
She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm, her memories gradually giving place to hopes and visions of the future. Her hopes and visions were so intricate that she no longer saw the white pillows on which her gaze was fixed or remembered that she was waiting for anything.
At last she heard her mother calling. She started to her feet and ran to the banisters.
“Come down, dear. Mr. Doran wants to speak to you.”
Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.