Thursday, November 8, 2007

 

THE STREET OF SEVEN STARS by MARY ROBERTS RINEHART

THE STREET OF SEVEN STARS
BY
MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
CHAPTER I
The old stucco house sat back in a garden, or what must once have
been a garden, when that part of the Austrian city had been a
royal game preserve. Tradition had it that the Empress Maria
Theresa had used the building as a hunting-lodge, and undoubtedly
there was something royal in the proportions of the salon. With
all the candles lighted in the great glass chandelier, and no
sidelights, so that the broken paneling was mercifully obscured
by gloom, it was easy to believe that the great empress herself
had sat in one of the tall old chairs and listened to anecdotes
of questionable character; even, if tradition may be believed,
related not a few herself.
The chandelier was not lighted on this rainy November night.
Outside in the garden the trees creaked and bent before the wind,
and the heavy barred gate, left open by the last comer, a piano
student named Scatchett and dubbed "Scatch"--the gate slammed to
and fro monotonously, giving now and then just enough pause for a
hope that it had latched itself, a hope that was always destroyed
by the next gust.
One candle burned in the salon. Originally lighted for the
purpose of enabling Miss Scatchett to locate the score of a
Tschaikowsky concerto, it had been moved to the small center
table, and had served to give light if not festivity to the
afternoon coffee and cakes. It still burned, a gnarled and stubby
fragment, in its china holder; round it the disorder of the
recent refreshment, three empty cups, a half of a small cake, a
crumpled napkin or two,--there were never enough to go
round,--and on the floor the score of the concerto, clearly
abandoned for the things of the flesh.
The room was cold. The long casement windows creaked in time with
the slamming of the gate and the candle flickered in response to
a draft under the doors. The concerto flapped and slid along the
uneven old floor. At the sound a girl in a black dress, who had
been huddled near the tile stove, rose impatiently and picked it
up. There was no impatience, however, in the way she handled the
loose sheets. She put them together carefully, almost tenderly,
and placed them on the top of the grand piano, anchoring them
against the draft with a china dog from the stand.
The room was very bare--a long mirror between two of the windows,
half a dozen chairs, a stand or two, and in a corner the grand
piano. There were no rugs--the bare floor stretched bleakly into
dim corners and was lost. The crystal pendants of the great
chandelier looked like stalactites in a cave. The girl touched
the piano keys; they were ice under her fingers.
In a sort of desperation she drew a chair underneath the
chandelier, and armed with a handful of matches proceeded to the
unheard-of extravagance of lighting it, not here and there, but
throughout as high as she could reach, standing perilously on her
tiptoes on the chair.
The resulting illumination revealed a number of things: It showed
that the girl was young and comely and that she had been crying;
it revealed the fact that the coal-pail was empty and the stove
almost so; it let the initiated into the secret that the blackish
fluid in the cups had been made with coffee extract that had been
made of Heaven knows what; and it revealed in the cavernous
corner near the door a number of trunks. The girl, having lighted
all the candles, stood on the chair and looked at the trunks. She
was very young, very tragic, very feminine. A door slammed down
the hall and she stopped crying instantly. Diving into one of
those receptacles that are a part of the mystery of the sex, she
rubbed a chamois skin over her nose and her reddened eyelids.
The situation was a difficult one, but hardly, except to Harmony
Wells, a tragedy. Few of us are so constructed that the Suite
"Arlesienne" will serve as a luncheon, or a faulty fingering of
the Waldweben from "Siegfried" will keep us awake at night.
Harmony had lain awake more than once over some crime against her
namesake, had paid penances of early rising and two hours of
scales before breakfast, working with stiffened fingers in her
cold little room where there was no room for a stove, and sitting
on the edge of the bed in a faded kimono where once pink
butterflies sported in a once blue-silk garden. Then coffee,
rolls, and honey, and back again to work, with little Scatchett
at the piano in the salon beyond the partition, wearing a sweater
and fingerless gloves and holding a hot-water bottle on her
knees. Three rooms beyond, down the stone hall, the Big Soprano,
doing Madama Butterfly in bad German, helped to make an
encircling wall of sound in the center of which one might
practice peacefully.
Only the Portier objected. Morning after morning, crawling out at
dawn from under his featherbed in the lodge below, he opened his
door and listened to Harmony doing penance above; and morning
after morning he shook his fist up the stone staircase.
"Gott im Himmel!" he would say to his wife, fumbling with the
knot of his mustache bandage, "what a people, these Americans! So
much noise and no music!"
"And mad!" grumbled his wife. "All the day coal, coal to heat;
and at night the windows open! Karl the milkboy has seen it."
And now the little colony was breaking up. The Big Soprano was
going back to her church, grand opera having found no place for
her. Scatch was returning to be married, her heart full, indeed,
of music, but her head much occupied with the trousseau in her
trunks. The Harmar sisters had gone two weeks before, their funds
having given out. Indeed, funds were very low with all of them.
The "Bitte zum speisen" of the little German maid often called
them to nothing more opulent than a stew of beef and carrots.
Not that all had been sordid. The butter had gone for opera
tickets, and never was butter better spent. And there had been
gala days--a fruitcake from Harmony's mother, a venison steak at
Christmas, and once or twice on birthdays real American ice cream
at a fabulous price and worth it. Harmony had bought a suit, too,
a marvel of tailoring and cheapness, and a willow plume that
would have cost treble its price in New York. Oh, yes, gala days,
indeed, to offset the butter and the rainy winter and the
faltering technic and the anxiety about money. For that they all
had always, the old tragedy of the American music student
abroad--the expensive lessons, the delays in getting to the
Master himself, the contention against German greed or Austrian
whim. And always back in one's mind the home people, to whom one
dares not confess that after nine months of waiting, or a year,
one has seen the Master once or not at all.
Or--and one of the Harmar girls had carried back this sear in her
soul--to go back rejected, as one of the unfit, on whom even the
undermasters refuse to waste time. That has been, and often.
Harmony stood on her chair and looked at the trunks. The Big
Soprano was calling down the hall.
"Scatch," she was shouting briskly, "where is my hairbrush?"
A wail from Scatch from behind a closed door.
"I packed it, Heaven knows where! Do you need it really? Haven't
you got a comb?"
"As soon as I get something on I'm coming to shake you. Half the
teeth are out of my comb. I don't believe you packed it. Look
under the bed."
Silence for a moment, while Scatch obeyed for the next moment.
"Here it is," she called joyously. "And here are Harmony's
bedroom slippers. Oh, Harry, I found your slippers!" The girl
got down off the chair and went to the door.
"Thanks, dear," she said. "I'm coming in a minute."
She went to the mirror, which had reflected the Empress Maria
Theresa, and looked at her eyes. They were still red. Perhaps if
she opened the window the air would brighten them.
Armed with the brush, little Scatchett hurried to the Big
Soprano's room. She flung the brush on the bed and closed the
door. She held her shabby wrapper about her and listened just
inside the door. There were no footsteps, only the banging of the
gate in the wind. She turned to the Big Soprano, heating a
curling iron in the flame of a candle, and held out her hand.
"Look!" she said. "Under my bed! Ten kronen!"
Without a word the Big Soprano put down her curling-iron, and
ponderously getting down on her knees, candle in hand, inspected
the dusty floor beneath her bed. It revealed nothing but a
cigarette, on which she pounced. Still squatting, she lighted the
cigarette in the candle flame and sat solemnly puffing it.
"The first for a week," she said. "Pull out the wardrobe, Scatch;
there may be another relic of my prosperous days."
But little Scatchett was not interested in Austrian cigarettes
with a government monopoly and gilt tips. She was looking at the
ten-kronen piece.
"Where is the other?" she asked in a whisper.
"In my powder-box."
Little Scatchett lifted the china lid and dropped the tiny
gold-piece.
"Every little bit," she said flippantly, but still in a whisper,
"added to what she's got, makes just a little bit more."
"Have you thought of a place to leave it for her? If Rosa finds
it, it's good-bye. Heaven knows it was hard enough to get
together, without losing it now. I'll have to jump overboard and
swim ashore at New York--I haven't even a dollar for tips."
"New York!" said little Scatchett with her eyes glowing. "If
Henry meets me I know he will--"
"Tut!" The Big Soprano got up cumbrously and stood looking down.
"You and your Henry! Scatchy, child, has it occurred to your
maudlin young mind that money isn't the only thing Harmony is
going to need? She's going to be alone--and this is a bad town to
be alone in. And she is not like us. You have your Henry. I'm a
beefy person who has a stomach, and I'm thankful for it. But she
is different--she's got the thing that you are as well without,
the thing that my lack of is sending me back to fight in a church
choir instead of grand opera."
Little Scatchett was rather puzzled.
"Temperament?" she asked. It had always been accepted in the
little colony that Harmony was a real musician, a star in their
lesser firmament.
The Big Soprano sniffed.
"If you like," she said. "Soul is a better word. Only the rich
ought to have souls, Scatchy, dear."
This was over the younger girl's head, and anyhow Harmony was
coming down the hall.
"I thought, under her pillow," she whispered. "She'll find it--"
Harmony came in, to find the Big Soprano heating a curler in the
flame of a candle.
CHAPTER II
Harmony found the little hoard under her pillow that night when,
having seen Scatch and the Big Soprano off at the station, she
had come back alone to the apartment on the Siebensternstrasse.
The trunks were gone now. Only the concerto score still lay on
the piano, where little Scatchett, mentally on the dock at New
York with Henry's arms about her, had forgotten it. The candles
in the great chandelier had died in tears of paraffin that
spattered the floor beneath. One or two of the sockets were still
smoking, and the sharp odor of burning wickends filled the room.
Harmony had come through the garden quickly. She had had an
uneasy sense of being followed, and the garden, with its moaning
trees and slamming gate and the great dark house in the
background, was a forbidding place at best. She had rung the bell
and had stood, her back against the door, eyes and ears strained
in the darkness. She had fancied that a figure had stopped
outside the gate and stood looking in, but the next moment the
gate had swung to and the Portier was fumbling at the lock behind
her.
The Portier had put on his trousers over his night garments, and
his mustache bandage gave him a sinister expression, rather
augmented when he smiled at her. The Portier liked Harmony in
spite of the early morning practicing; she looked like a singer
at the opera for whom he cherished a hidden attachment. The
singer had never seen him, but it was for her he wore the
mustache bandage. Perhaps some day--hopefully! One must be ready!
The Portier gave Harmony a tiny candle and Harmony held out his
tip, the five Hellers of custom. But the Portier was keen, and
Rosa was a niece of his wife and talked more than she should. He
refused the tip with a gesture.
"Bitte, Fraulein!" he said through the bandage. "It is for me a
pleasure to admit you. And perhaps if the Fraulein is cold, a
basin of soup."
The Portier was not pleasant to the eye. His nightshirt was open
over his hairy chest and his feet were bare to the stone floor.
But to Harmony that lonely night he was beautiful. She tried to
speak and could not but she held out her hand in impulsive
gratitude, and the Portier in his best manner bent over and
kissed it. As she reached the curve of the stone staircase,
carrying her tiny candle, the Portier was following her with his
eyes. She was very like the girl of the opera.
The clang of the door below and the rattle of the chain were
comforting to Harmony's ears. From the safety of the darkened
salon she peered out into the garden again, but no skulking
figure detached itself from the shadows, and the gate remained,
for a marvel, closed.
It was when--having picked up her violin in a very passion of
loneliness, only to put it down when she found that the familiar
sounds echoed and reechoed sadly through the silent rooms--it was
when she was ready for bed that she found the money under her
pillow, and a scrawl from Scatchy, a breathless, apologetic
scrawl, little Scatchett having adored her from afar, as the
plain adore the beautiful, the mediocre the gifted:--
DEAREST HARRY [here a large blot, Scatchy being addicted to
blots]: I am honestly frightened when I think what we are doing.
But, oh, my dear, if you could know how pleased we are with
ourselves you'd not deny us this pleasure. Harry, you have
it--the real thing, you know, whatever it is--and I haven't. None
of the rest of us had. And you must stay. To go now, just when
lessons would mean everything--well, you must not think of it. We
have scads to take us home, more than we need, both of us, or at
least--well, I'm lying, and you know it. But we have enough, by
being careful, and we want you to have this. It isn't much, but
it may help. Ten Kronen of it I found to-night under my bed, and
it may be yours anyhow.
"Sadie [Sadie was the Big Soprano] keeps saying awful things
about our leaving you here, and she has rather terrified me. You
are so beautiful, Harry,--although you never let us tell you so.
And Sadie says you have a soul and I haven't, and that souls are
deadly things to have. I feel to-night that in urging you to stay
I am taking the burden of your soul on me! Do be careful, Harry.
If any one you do not know speaks to you call a policeman. And be
sure you get into a respectable pension. There are queer ones.
"Sadie and I think that if you can get along on what you get from
home--you said your mother would get insurance, didn't you?--and
will keep this as a sort of fund to take you home if anything
should go wrong--. But perhaps we are needlessly worried. In any
case, of course it's a loan, and you can preserve that
magnificent independence of yours by sending it back when you get
to work to make your fortune. And if you are doubtful at all,
just remember that hopeful little mother of yours who sent you
over to get what she had never been able to have for herself, and
who planned this for you from the time you were a kiddy and she
named you Harmony.
"I'm not saying good-bye. I can't.
SCATCH."
That night, while the Portier and his wife slept under their
crimson feather beds and the crystals of the chandelier in the
salon shook in the draft as if the old Austrian court still
danced beneath, Harmony fought her battle. And a battle it was.
Scatchy and the Big Soprano had not known everything. There had
been no insurance on her father's life; the little mother was
penniless. A married sister would care for her, but what then?
Harmony had enough remaining of her letter-of credit to take her
home, and she had--the hoard under the pillow. To go back and
teach the violin; or to stay and finish under the master, be
presented, as he had promised her, at a special concert in
Vienna, with all the prestige at home that that would mean, and
its resulting possibility of fame and fortune--which?
She decided to stay. There might be a concert or so, and she
could teach English. The Viennese were crazy about English. Some
of the stores advertised "English Spoken." That would be
something to fall back on, a clerkship during the day.
Toward dawn she discovered that she was very cold, and she went
into the Big Soprano's deserted and disordered room. The tile
stove was warm and comfortable, but on the toilet table there lay
a disreputable comb with most of the teeth gone. Harmony kissed
this unromantic object! Which reveals the fact that, genius or
not, she was only a young and rather frightened girl, and that
every atom of her ached with loneliness.
She did not sleep at all, but sat curled up on the bed with her
feet under her and thought things out. At dawn the Portier,
crawling out into the cold from under his feathers, opened the
door into the hall and listened. She was playing, not practicing,
and the music was the barcarolle from the "Tales" of Hoffmann.
Standing in the doorway in his night attire, his chest open to
the frigid morning air, his face upraised to the floor above, he
hummed the melody in a throaty tenor.
When the music had died away he went in and closed the door
sheepishly. His wife stood over the stove, a stick of firewood in
her hand. She eyed him.
"So! It is the American Fraulein now!"
"I did but hum a little. She drags out my heart with her music."
He fumbled with hismustache bandage, which was knotted behind,
keeping one eye on his wife, whose morning pleasure it was to
untie it for him.
"She leaves to-day," she announced, ignoring the knot.
"Why? She is alone. Rosa says--"
"She leaves to-day!"
The knot was hopeless now, double-tied and pulled to smooth
compactness. The Portier jerked at it.
"No Fraulein stays here alone. It is not respectable. And what
saw I last night, after she entered and you stood moon-gazing up
the stair after her! A man in the gateway!"
The Portier was angry. He snarled something through the bandage,
which had slipped down over his mouth, and picked up a great
knife.
"She will stay if she so desire," he muttered furiously, and,
raising the knife, he cut the knotted string. His mustache,
faintly gray and sweetly up-curled, stood revealed.
"She will stay!" he repeated. "And when you see men at the gate,
let me know. She is an angel!"
"And she looks like the angel at the opera, hein?"
This was a crushing blow. The Portier wilted. Such things come
from telling one's cousin, who keeps a brushshop, what is in
one's heart. Yesterday his wife had needed a brush, and
to-day--Himmel, the girl must go!
Harmony knew also that she must go. The apartment was large and
expensive; Rosa ate much and wasted more. She must find somewhere
a tiny room with board, a humble little room but with a stove. It
is folly to practice with stiffened fingers. A room where her
playing would not annoy people, that was important.
She paid Rosa off that morning out of money left for that
purpose. Rosa wept. She said she would stay with the Fraulein for
her keep, because it was not the custom for young ladies to be
alone in the city--young girls of the people, of course; but
beautiful young ladies, no!
Harmony gave her an extra krone or two out of sheer gratitude,
but she could not keep her. And at noon, having packed her trunk,
she went down to interview the Portier and his wife, who were
agents under the owner for the old house.
The Portier, entirely subdued, was sweeping out the hallway. He
looked past the girl, not at her, and observed impassively that
the lease was up and it was her privilege to go. In the daylight
she was not so like the angel, and after all she could only play
the violin. The angel had a voice, such a voice! And besides,
there was an eye at the crack of the door.
The bit of cheer of the night before was gone; it was with a
heavy heart that Harmony started on her quest for cheaper
quarters.
Winter, which had threatened for a month, had come at last. The
cobblestones glittered with ice and the small puddles in the
gutters were frozen. Across the street a spotted deer, shot in
the mountains the day before and hanging from a hook before a
wild-game shop, was frozen quite stiff. It was a pretty creature.
The girl turned her eyes away. A young man, buying cheese and
tinned fish in the shop, watched after her.
"That's an American girl, isn't it?" he asked in American-German.
The shopkeeper was voluble. Also Rosa had bought much from him,
and Rosa talked. When the American left the shop he knew
everything of Harmony that Rosa knew except her name. Rosa called
her "The Beautiful One." Also he was short one krone four beliers
in his change, which is readily done when a customer is plainly
thinking of a "beautiful one."
Harmony searched all day for the little room with board and a
stove and no objection to practicing. There were plenty--but the
rates! The willow plume looked prosperous, and she had a way of
making the plainest garments appear costly. Landladies looked at
the plume and the suit and heard the soft swish of silk beneath,
which marks only self-respect in the American woman but is
extravagance in Europe, and added to their regular terms until
poor Harmony's heart almost stood still. And then at last toward
evening she happened on a gloomy little pension near the corner
of the Alserstrasse, and it being dark and the plume not showing,
and the landlady missing the rustle owing to cotton in her ears
for earache, Harmony found terms that she could meet for a time.
A mean little room enough, but with a stove. The bed sagged in
the center, and the toilet table had a mirror that made one eye
appear higher than the other and twisted one's nose. But there
was an odor of stewing cabbage in the air. Also, alas, there was
the odor of many previous stewed cabbages, and of dusty carpets
and stale tobacco. Harmony had had no lunch; she turned rather
faint.
She arranged to come at once, and got out into the comparative
purity of the staircase atmosphere and felt her way down. She
reeled once or twice. At the bottom of the dark stairs she stood
for a moment with her eyes closed, to the dismay of a young man
who had just come in with a cheese and some tinned fish under his
arm.
He put down his packages on the stone floor and caught her arm.
"Not ill, are you?" he asked in English, and then remembering.
"Bist du krank?" He colored violently at that, recalling too late
the familiarity of the "du."
Harmony smiled faintly.
"Only tired," she said in English. "And the odor of cabbage--".
Her color had come back and she freed herself from his supporting
hand. He whistled softly. He had recognized her.
"Cabbage, of course!" he said. "The pension upstairs is full of
it. I live there, and I've eaten so much of it I could be served
up with pork."
"I am going to live there. Is it as bad as that?"
He waved a hand toward the parcels on the floor.
"So bad," he observed, "that I keep body and soul together by
buying strong and odorous food at the delicatessens--odorous,
because only rugged flavors rise above the atmosphere up there.
Cheese is the only thing that really knocks out the cabbage, and
once or twice even cheese has retired defeated."
"But I don't like cheese." In sheer relief from the loneliness of
the day her spirits were rising.
"Then coffee! But not there. Coffee at the coffee-house on the
corner. I say--" He hesitated.
"Yes?"
"Would you--don't you think a cup of coffee would set you up a
bit?"
"It sounds attractive,"--uncertainly.
"Coffee with whipped cream and some little cakes?"
Harmony hesitated. In the gloom of the hall she could hardly see
this brisk young American--young, she knew by his voice, tall by
his silhouette, strong by the way he had caught her. She could
not see his face, but she liked his voice.
"Do you mean--with you?"
"I'm a doctor. I am going to fill my own prescription."
That sounded reassuring. Doctors were not as other men; they were
legitimate friends in need.
"I am sure it is not proper, but--"
"Proper! Of course it is. I shall send you a bill for
professional services. Besides, won't we be formally introduced
to-night by the landlady? Come now--to the coffee-house and the
Paris edition of the 'Herald'!" But the next moment he paused and
ran his hand over his chin. "I'm pretty disreputable," he
explained. "I have been in a clinic all day, and, hang it all,
I'm not shaved."
"What difference does that make?"
"My dear young lady," he explained gravely, picking up the cheese
and the tinned fish, "it makes a difference in me that I wish you
to realize before you see me in a strong light."
He rapped at the Portier's door, with the intention of leaving
his parcels there, but receiving no reply tucked them under his
arm. A moment later Harmony was in the open air, rather dazed, a
bit excited, and lovely with the color the adventure brought into
her face. Her companion walked beside her, tall, slightly
stooped. She essayed a fugitive little sideglance up at him, and
meeting his eyes hastily averted hers.
They passed a policeman, and suddenly there flashed into the
girl's mind little Scatchett's letter.
"Do be careful, Harry. If any one you do not know speaks to you,
call a policeman."
CHAPTER III
The coffee-house was warm and bright. Round its small tables were
gathered miscellaneous groups, here and there a woman, but mostly
men--uniformed officers, who made of the neighborhood
coffee-house a sort of club, where under their breath they
criticized the Government and retailed small regimental gossip;
professors from the university, still wearing under the beards of
middle life the fine horizontal scars of student days; elderly
doctors from the general hospital across the street; even a
Hofrath or two, drinking beer and reading the "Fliegende
Blaetter" and "Simplicissimus"; and in an alcove round a billiard
table a group of noisy Korps students. Over all a permeating odor
of coffee, strong black coffee, made with a fig or two to give it
color. It rose even above the blue tobacco haze and dominated the
atmosphere with its spicy and stimulating richness. A bustle of
waiters, a hum of conversation, the rattle of newspapers and the
click of billiard balls--this was the coffee-house.
Harmony had never been inside one before. The little music colony
had been a tight-closed corporation, retaining its American
integrity, in spite of the salon of Maria Theresa and three
expensive lessons a week in German. Harmony knew the art
galleries and the churches, which were free, and the opera,
thanks to no butter at supper. But of that backbone of Austrian
life, the coffee-house, she was profoundly ignorant.
Her companion found her a seat in a corner near a heater and
disappeared for an instant on the search for the Paris edition of
the "Herald." The girl followed him with her eyes. Seen under the
bright electric lights, he was not handsome, hardly good-looking.
His mouth was wide, his nose irregular, his hair a nondescript
brown,--but the mouth had humor, the nose character, and, thank
Heaven, there was plenty of hair. Not that Harmony saw all this
at once. As he tacked to and fro round the tables, with a nod
here and a word there, she got a sort of ensemble effect--a tall
man, possibly thirty, broadshouldered, somewhat stooped, as tall
men are apt to be. And shabby, undeniably shabby!
The shabbiness was a shock. A much-braided officer, trim from the
points of his mustache to the points of his shoes, rose to speak
to him. The shabbiness was accentuated by the contrast. Possibly
the revelation was an easement to the girl's nervousness. This
smiling and unpressed individual, blithely waving aloft the Paris
edition of the "Herald" and equally blithely ignoring the
maledictions of the student from whom he had taken it--even
Scatchy could not have called him a vulture or threatened him
with the police.
He placed the paper before her and sat down at her side, not to
interfere with her outlook over the room.
"Warmer?" he asked.
"Very much."
"Coffee is coming. And cinnamon cakes with plenty of sugar. They
know me here and they know where I live. They save the sugariest
cakes for me. Don't let me bother you; go on and read. See which
of the smart set is getting a divorce--or is it always the same
one? And who's President back home."
"I'd rather look round. It's curious, isn't it?"
"Curious? It's heavenly! It's the one thing I am going to take
back to America with me--one coffee-house, one dozen military men
for local color, one dozen students ditto, and one proprietor's
wife to sit in the cage and shortchange the unsuspecting. I'll
grow wealthy."
"But what about the medical practice?"
He leaned over toward her; his dark-gray eyes fulfilled the
humorous promise of his mouth.
"Why, it will work out perfectly," he said whimsically. "The
great American public will eat cinnamon cakes and drink coffee
until the feeble American nervous system will be shattered. I
shall have an office across the street!"
After that, having seen how tired she looked, he forbade
conversation until she had had her coffee. She ate the cakes,
too, and he watched her with comfortable satisfaction.
"Nod your head but don't speak," he said. "Remember, I am
prescribing, and there's to be no conversation until the coffee
is down. Shall I or shall I not open the cheese?"
But Harmony did not wish the cheese, and so signified. Something
inherently delicate in the unknown kept him from more than an
occasional swift glance at her. He read aloud, as she ate, bits
of news from the paper, pausing to sip his own coffee and to cast
an eye over the crowded room. Here and there an officer, gazing
with too open admiration on Harmony's lovely face, found himself
fixed by a pair of steel-gray eyes that were anything but
humorous at that instant, and thought best to shift his gaze.
The coffee finished, the girl began to gather up her wraps. But
the unknown protested.
"The function of a coffee-house," he explained gravely, "is
twofold. Coffee is only the first half. The second half is
conversation."
"I converse very badly."
"So do I. Suppose we talk about ourselves. We are sure to do that
well. Shall I commence?"
Harmony was in no mood to protest. Having swallowed coffee, why
choke over conversation? Besides, she was very comfortable. It
was warm there, with the heater at her back; better than the
little room with the sagging bed and the doors covered with wall
paper. Her feet had stopped aching, too, She could have sat there
for hours. And--why evade it?--she was interested. This whimsical
and respectful young man with his absurd talk and his shabby
clothes had roused her curiosity.
"Please," she assented.
"Then, first of all, my name. I'm getting that over early,
because it isn't much, as names go. Peter Byrne it is. Don't
shudder."
"Certainly I'm not shuddering."
"I have another name, put in by my Irish father to conciliate a
German uncle of my mother's. Augustus! It's rather a mess. What
shall I put on my professional brassplate? If I put P. Augustus
Byrne nobody's fooled. They know my wretched first name is
Peter."
"Or Patrick."
"I rather like Patrick--if I thought it might pass as Patrick!
Patrick has possibilities. The diminutive is Pat, and that's not
bad. But Peter!"
"Do you know," Harmony confessed half shyly, "I like Peter as a
name."
"Peter it shall be, then. I go down to posterity and fame as
Peter Byrne. The rest doesn't amount to much, but I want you to
know it, since you have been good enough to accept me on faith.
I'm here alone, from a little town in eastern Ohio; worked my way
through a coeducational college in the West and escaped
unmarried; did two years in a drygoods store until, by saving and
working in my vacations, I got through medical college and tried
general practice. Didn't like it--always wanted to do surgery. A
little legacy from the German uncle, trying to atone for the
'Augustus,' gave me enough money to come here. I've got a chance
with the Days--surgeons, you know--when I go back, if I can hang
on long enough. That's all. Here's a traveler's check with my
name on it, to vouch for the truth of this thrilling narrative.
Gaze on it with awe; there are only a few of them left!"
Harmony was as delicately strung, as vibratingly responsive as
the strings of her own violin, and under the even lightness of
his tone she felt many things that met a response in
her--loneliness and struggle, and the ever-present anxiety about
money, grim determination, hope and fear, and even occasional
despair. He was still young, but there were lines in his face and
a hint of gray in his hair. Even had he been less frank, she
would have known soon enough--the dingy little pension, the
shabby clothes--
She held out her hand.
"Thank you for telling me," she said simply. "I think I
understand very well because--it's music with me: violin. And my
friends have gone, so I am alone, too."
He leaned his elbows on the table and looked out over the crowd
without seeing it.
"It's curious, isn't it?" he said. "Here we are, you and I,
meeting in the center of Europe, both lonely as the mischief,
both working our heads off for an idea that may never pan out!
Why aren't you at home to-night, eating a civilized beefsteak and
running upstairs to get ready for a nice young man to bring you a
box of chocolates? Why am I not measuring out calico in Shipley &
West's? Instead, we are going to Frau Schwarz', to listen to cold
ham and scorched compote eaten in six different languages."
Harmony made no immediate reply. He seemed to expect none. She
was drawing on her gloves, her eyes, like his, roving over the
crowd.
Far back among the tables a young man rose and yawned. Then,
seeing Byrne, he waved a greeting to him. Byrne's eyes, from
being introspective, became watchful.
The young man was handsome in a florid, red-checked way, with
black hair and blue eyes. Unlike Byrne, he was foppishly neat. He
was not alone. A slim little Austrian girl, exceedingly chic,
rose when he did and threw away the end of a cigarette.
"Why do we go so soon?" she demanded fretfully in German. "It is
early still."
He replied in English. It was a curious way they had, and
eminently satisfactory, each understanding better than he spoke
the other's language.
"Because, my beloved," he said lightly, "you are smoking a great
many poisonous and highly expensive cigarettes. Also I wish to
speak to Peter."
The girl followed his eyes and stiffened jealously.
"Who is that with Peter?"
"We are going over to find out, little one. Old Peter with a
woman at last!"
The little Austrian walked delicately, swaying her slim body with
a slow and sensuous grace. She touched an officer as she passed
him, and paused to apologize, to the officer's delight and her
escort's irritation. And Peter Byrne watched and waited, a line
of annoyance between his brows. The girl was ahead; that
complicated things.
When she was within a dozen feet of the table he rose hastily,
with a word of apology, and met the couple. It was adroitly done.
He had taken the little Austrian's arm and led her by the table
while he was still greeting her. He held her in conversation in
his absurd German until they had reached the swinging doors,
while her companion followed helplessly. And he bowed her out,
protesting his undying admiration for her eyes, while the florid
youth alternately raged behind him and stared back at Harmony,
interested and unconscious behind her table.
The little Austrian was on the pavement when Byrne turned,
unsmiling, to the other man.
"That won't do, you know, Stewart," he said, grave but not
unfriendly.
"The Kid wouldn't bite her."
"We'll not argue about it."
After a second's awkward pause Stewart smiled.
"Certainly not," he agreed cheerfully. "That is up to you, of
course. I didn't know. We're looking for you to-night."
A sudden repulsion for the evening's engagement rose in Byrne,
but the situation following his ungraciousness was delicate.
"I'll be round," he said. "I have a lecture and I may be late,
but I'll come."
The "Kid" was not stupid. She moved off into the night, chin in
air, angrily flushed.
"You saw!" she choked, when Stewart had overtaken her and slipped
a hand through her arm. "He protects her from me! It is because
of you. Before I knew you--"
"Before you knew me, little one," he said cheerfully, "you were
exactly what you are now."
She paused on the curb and raised her voice.
"So! And what is that?"
"Beautiful as the stars, only--not so remote."
In their curious bi-lingual talk there was little room for
subtlety. The "beautiful" calmed her, but the second part of the
sentence roused her suspicion.
"Remote? What is that?"
"I was thinking of Worthington."
The name was a signal for war. Stewart repented, but too late.
In the cold evening air, to the amusement of a passing detail of
soldiers trundling a breadwagon by a rope, Stewart stood on the
pavement and dodged verbal brickbats of Viennese idioms and
German epithets. He drew his chin into the up-turned collar of
his overcoat and waited, an absurdly patient figure, until the
hail of consonants had subsided into a rain of tears. Then he
took the girl's elbow again and led her, childishly weeping, into
a narrow side street beyond the prying ears and eyes of the
Alserstrasse.
Byrne went back to Harmony. The incident of Stewart and the girl
was closed and he dismissed it instantly. That situation was not
his, or of his making. But here in the coffee-house, lovely,
alluring, rather puzzled at this moment, was also a situation.
For there was a situation. He had suspected it that morning,
listening to the delicatessen-seller's narrative of Rosa's
account of the disrupted colony across in the old lodge; he had
been certain of it that evening, finding Harmony in the dark
entrance to his own rather sordid pension. Now, in the bright
light of the coffee-house, surmising her poverty, seeing her
beauty, the emotional coming and going of her color, her frank
loneliness, and God save the mark!--her trust in him, he accepted
the situation and adopted it: his responsibility, if you please.
He straightened under it. He knew the old city fairly
well--enough to love it and to loathe it in one breath. He had
seen its tragedies and passed them by, or had, in his haphazard
way, thrown a greeting to them, or even a glass of native wine.
And he knew the musical temperament; the all or nothing of its
insistent demands; its heights that are higher than others, its
wretchednesses that are hell. Once in the Hofstadt Theater, where
he had bought standing room, he had seen a girl he had known in
Berlin, where he was taking clinics and where she was cooking her
own meals. She had been studying singing. In the Hofstadt Theater
she had worn a sable coat and had avoided his eyes.
Perhaps the old coffee-house had seen nothing more absurd, in its
years of coffee and billiards and Munchener beer, than Peter's
new resolution that night: this poverty adopting poverty, this
youth adopting youth, with the altruistic purpose of saving it
from itself.
And this, mind you, before Peter Byrne had heard Harmony's story
or knew her name, Rosa having called her "The Beautiful One" in
her narrative, and the delicatessen-seller being literal in his
repetition.
Back to "The Beautiful One" went Peter Byrne, and, true to his
new part of protector and guardian, squared his shoulders and
tried to look much older than he really was, and responsible. The
result was a grimness that alarmed Harmony back to the forgotten
proprieties.
"I think I must go," she said hurriedly, after a glance at his
determinedly altruistic profile. "I must finish packing my
things. The Portier has promised--"
"Go! Why, you haven't even told me your name!"
"Frau Schwarz will present you to-night," primly and rising.
Peter Byrne rose, too.
"I am going back with you. You should not go through that lonely
yard alone after dark."
"Yard! How do you know that?"
Byrne was picking up the cheese, which he had thoughtlessly set
on the heater, and which proved to be in an alarming state of
dissolution. It took a moment to rewrap, and incidentally
furnished an inspiration. He indicated it airily.
"Saw you this morning coming out--delicatessen shop across the
street," he said glibly. And then, in an outburst of honesty
which the girl's eyes seemed somehow to compel: "That's true, but
it's not all the truth. I was on the bus last night, and when you
got off alone I--I saw you were an American, and that's not a
good neighborhood. I took the liberty of following you to your
gate!"
He need not have been alarmed. Harmony was only grateful, and
said so. And in her gratitude she made no objection to his
suggestion that he see her safely to the old lodge and help her
carry her hand-luggage and her violin to the pension. He paid the
trifling score, and followed by many eyes in the room they went
out into the crisp night together.
At the lodge the doors stood wide, and a vigorous sound of
scrubbing showed that the Portier's wife was preparing for the
inspection of possible new tenants. She was cleaning down the
stairs by the light of a candle, and the steam of the hot water
on the cold marble invested her like an aura. She stood aside to
let them pass, and then went cumbrously down the stairs to where,
a fork in one hand and a pipe in the other, the Portier was
frying chops for the evening meal.
"What have I said?" she demanded from the doorway. "Your angel is
here."
"So!"
"She with whom you sing, old cracked voice! Whose money you
refuse, because she reminds you of your opera singer! She is
again here, and with a man!"
"It is the way of the young and beautiful--there is always a
man," said the Portier, turning a chop.
His wife wiped her steaming hands on her apron and turned away,
exasperated.
"It is the same man whom I last night saw at the gate," she threw
back over her shoulder. "I knew it from the first; but you, great
booby, can see nothing but red lips. Bah!"
Upstairs in the salon of Maria Theresa, lighted by one candle and
freezing cold, in a stiff chair under the great chandelier Peter
Byrne sat and waited and blew on his fingers. Down below, in the
Street of Seven Stars, the arc lights swung in the wind.
CHAPTER IV
The supper that evening was even unusually bad. Frau Schwarz,
much crimped and clad in frayed black satin, presided at the head
of the long table. There were few, almost no Americans, the
Americans flocking to good food at reckless prices in more
fashionable pensions; to the Frau Gallitzenstein's, for instance,
in the Kochgasse, where there was to be had real beefsteak, where
turkeys were served at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and where,
were one so minded, one might revel in whipped cream.
The Pension Schwarz, however, was not without adornment. In the
center of the table was a large bunch of red cotton roses with
wire stems and green paper leaves, and over the side-table, with
its luxury of compote in tall glass dishes and its wealth of
small hard cakes, there hung a framed motto which said, "Nicht
Rauchen," "No Smoking,"--and which looked suspiciously as if it
had once adorned a compartment of a railroad train.
Peter Byrne was early in the dining-room. He had made, for him, a
careful toilet, which consisted of a shave and clean linen. But
he had gone further: He had discovered, for the first time in the
three months of its defection, a button missing from his coat,
and had set about to replace it. He had cut a button from another
coat, by the easy method of amputating it with a surgical
bistoury, and had sewed it in its new position with a curved
surgical needle and a few inches of sterilized catgut. The
operation was slow and painful, and accomplished only with the
aid of two cigarettes and an artery clip. When it was over he
tied the ends in a surgeon's knot underneath and stood back to
consider the result. It seemed neat enough, but conspicuous.
After a moment or two of troubled thought he blacked the white
catgut with a dot of ink and went on his way rejoicing.
Peter Byrne was entirely untroubled as to the wisdom of the
course he had laid out for himself. He followed no consecutive
line of thought as he dressed. When he was not smoking he was
whistling, and when he was doing neither, and the needle proved
refractory in his cold fingers, he was swearing to himself. For
there was no fire in the room. The materials for a fire were
there, and a white tile stove, as cozy as an obelisk in a
cemetery, stood in the corner. But fires are expensive, and
hardly necessary when one sleeps with all one's windows open--one
window, to be exact, the room being very small--and spends most
of the day in a warm and comfortable shambles called a hospital.
To tell the truth he was not thinking of Harmony at all, except
subconsciously, as instance the button. He was going over, step
by step, the technic of an operation he had seen that afternoon,
weighing, considering, even criticizing. His conclusion, reached
as he brushed back his hair and put away his sewing implements,
was somewhat to the effect that he could have done a better piece
of work with his eyes shut and his hands tied behind his back;
and that if it were not for the wealth of material to work on
he'd pack up and go home. Which brought him back to Harmony and
his new responsibility. He took off the necktie he had absently
put on and hunted out a better one.
He was late at supper--an offense that brought a scowl from the
head of the table, a scowl that he met with a cheerful smile.
Harmony was already in her place. Seated between a little
Bulgarian and a Jewish student from Galicia, she was almost
immediately struggling in a sea of language, into which she
struck out now and then tentatively, only to be again submerged.
Byrne had bowed to her conventionally, even coldly, aware of the
sharp eyes and tongues round the table, but Harmony did not
understand. She had expected moral support from his presence, and
failing that she sank back into the loneliness and depression of
the day. Her bright color faded; her eyes looked tragic and
rather aloof. She ate almost nothing, and left the table before
the others had finished.
What curious little dramas of the table are played under unseeing
eyes! What small tragedies begin with the soup and end with
dessert! What heartaches with a salad! Small tragedies of averted
eyes, looking away from appealing ones; lips that tremble with
wretchedness nibbling daintily at a morsel; smiles that sear;
foolish bits of talk that mean nothing except to one, and to that
one everything! Harmony, freezing at Peter's formal bow and
gazing obstinately ahead during the rest of the meal, or no
nearer Peter than the red-paper roses, and Peter, showering the
little Bulgarian next to her with detestable German in the hope
of a glance. And over all the odor of cabbage salad, and the
"Nicht Rauchen" sign, and an acrimonious discussion on eugenics
between an American woman doctor named Gates and a German matron
who had had fifteen children, and who reduced every general
statement to a personal insult.
Peter followed Harmony as soon as he dared. Her door was closed,
and she was playing very softly, so as to disturb no one.
Defiantly, too, had he only known it, her small chin up and her
color high again; playing the "Humoresque," of all things, in the
hope, of course, that he would hear it and guess from her choice
the wild merriment of her mood. Peter rapped once or twice, but
obtained no answer, save that the "Humoresque" rose a bit higher;
and, Dr. Gates coming along the hall just then, he was forced to
light a cigarette to cover his pausing.
Dr. Gates, however, was not suspicious. She was a smallish woman
of forty or thereabout, with keen eyes behind glasses and a
masculine disregard of clothes, and she paused by Byrne to let
him help her into her ulster.
"New girl, eh?" she said, with a birdlike nod toward the door.
"Very gay, isn't she, to have just finished a supper like that!
Honestly, Peter, what are we going to do?"
"Growl and stay on, as we have for six months. There is better
food, but not for our terms."
Dr. Gates sighed, and picking a soft felt hat from the table put
it on with a single jerk down over her hair.
"Oh, darn money, anyhow!" she said. "Come and walk to the corner
with me. I have a lecture."
Peter promised to follow in a moment, and hurried back to his
room. There, on a page from one of his lecture notebooks, he
wrote--
"Are you ill? Or have I done anything?"
P. B."
This with great care he was pushing under Harmony's door when the
little Bulgarian came along and stopped, smiling. He said
nothing, nor did Peter, who rose and dusted his knees. The little
Bulgarian spoke no English and little German. Between them was
the wall of language. But higher than. this barrier was the
understanding of their common sex. He held out his hand, still
smiling, and Peter, grinning sheepishly, took it. Then he
followed the woman doctor down the stairs.
To say that Peter Byrne was already in love with Harmony would be
absurd. She attracted him, as any beautiful and helpless girl
attracts an unattracted man. He was much more concerned, now that
he feared he had offended her, than he would have been without
this fillip to his interest. But even his concern did not prevent
his taking copious and intelligent notes at his lecture that
night, or interfere with his enjoyment of the Stein of beer with
which, after it was over, he washed down its involved German.
The engagement at Stewart's irked him somewhat. He did not
approve of Stewart exactly, not from any dislike of the man, but
from a lack of fineness in the man himself--an intangible thing
that seems to be a matter of that unfashionable essence, the
soul, as against the clay; of the thing contained, by an inverse
metonymy, for the container.
Boyer, a nerve man from Texas, met him on the street, and they
walked to Stewart's apartment together. The frosty air and the
rapid exercise combined to drive away Byrne's irritation; that,
and the recollection that it was Saturday night and that
to-morrow there would be no clinics, no lectures, no operations;
that the great shambles would be closed down and that priests
would read mass to convalescents in the chapels. He was whistling
as he walked along.
Boyer, a much older man, whose wife had come over with him,
stopped under a street light to consult his watch.
"Almost ten!" he said. "I hope you don't mind, Byrne; but I told
Jennie I was going to your pension. She detests Stewart."
"Oh, that's all right. She knows you're playing poker?"
"Yes. She doesn't object to poker. It's the other. You can't make
a good woman understand that sort of thing."
"Thank God for that!"
After a moment of silence Byrne took up his whistling again. It
was the "Humoresque."
Stewart's apartment was on the third floor. Admission at that
hour was to be gained only by ringing, and Boyer touched the
bell. The lights were still on, however, in the hallways,
revealing not overclean stairs and, for a wonder, an electric
elevator. This, however, a card announced as out of order. Boyer
stopped and examined the card grimly.
"'Out of order'!" he observed. "Out of order since last spring,
judging by that card. Vorwarts!"
They climbed easily, deliberately. At home in God's country Boyer
played golf, as became the leading specialist of his county.
Byrne, with a driving-arm like the rod of a locomotive, had been
obliged to forswear the more expensive game for tennis, with a
resulting muscular development that his slight stoop belied. He
was as hard as nails, without an ounce of fat, and he climbed the
long steep flights with an elasticity that left even Boyer a step
or so behind.
Stewart opened the door himself, long German pipe in hand, his
coat replaced by a worn smoking-jacket. The little apartment was
thick with smoke, and from a room on the right came the click of
chips and the sound of beer mugs on wood.
Marie, restored to good humor, came out to greet them, and both
men bowed ceremoniously over her hand, clicking their heels
together and bowing from the waist. Byrne sniffed.
"What do I smell, Marie?" he demanded. "Surely not sausages!"
Marie dimpled. It was an old joke, to be greeted as one greets an
old friend. It was always sausages.
"Sausages, of a truth--fat ones.'
"But surely not with mustard?"
"Ach, ja--englisch mustard."
Stewart and Boyer had gone on ahead. Marie laid a detaining hand
on Byrne's arm.
"I was very angry with you to-day."
"With me?"
Like the others who occasionally gathered in Stewart's
unconventional menage, Byrne had adopted Stewart's custom of
addressing Marie in English, while she replied in her own tongue.
"Ja. I wished but to see nearer the American Fraulein's hat, and
you--She is rich, so?"
"I really don't know. I think not."
"And good?"
"Yes, of course."
Marie was small; she stood, her head back, her eyes narrowed,
looking up at Byrne. There was nothing evil in her face, it was
not even hard. Rather, there was a sort of weariness, as of age
and experience. She had put on a white dress, cut out at the
neck, and above her collarbones were small, cuplike hollows. She
was very thin.
"I was sad to-night," she said plaintively. "I wished to jump out
the window."
Byrne was startled, but the girl was smiling at the recollection.
"And I made you feel like that?"
"Not you--the other Fraulein. I was dirt to her. I--" She stopped
tragically, then sniffled.
"The sausages!" she cried, and gathering up her skirts ran toward
the kitchen. Byrne went on into the sitting-room.
Stewart was a single man spending two years in post-graduate work
in Germany and Austria, not so much because the Germans and
Austrians could teach what could not be taught at home, but
because of the wealth of clinical material. The great European
hospitals, filled to overflowing, offered unlimited choice of
cases. The contempt for human life of overpopulated cities,
coupled with the extreme poverty and helplessness of the masses,
combined to form that tragic part of the world which dies that
others may live.
Stewart, like Byrne, was doing surgery, and the very lack of
fineness which Byrne felt in the man promised something in his
work, a sort of ruthlessness, a singleness of purpose, good or
bad, an overwhelming egotism that in his profession might only be
a necessary self-reliance.
His singleness of purpose had, at the beginning of his residence
in Vienna, devoted itself to making him comfortable. With the
narrow means at his control he had the choice of two
alternatives: To live, as Byrne was living, in a third-class
pension, stewing in summer, freezing in winter, starving always;
or the alternative he had chosen.
The Stewart apartment had only three rooms, but it possessed that
luxury of luxuries, a bath. It was not a bath in the usual sense
of water on tap, and shining nickel plate, but a bath for all
that, where with premeditation and forethought one might bathe.
The room had once been a fuel and store room, but now boasted a
tin tub and a stove with a reservoir on top, where water might be
heated to the boiling point, at the same time bringing up the
atmosphere to a point where the tin tub sizzled if one touched
it.
Behind the bathroom a tiny kitchen with a brick stove; next, a
bedroom; the whole incredibly neat. Along one side of the wall a
clothespress, which the combined wardrobes of two did not fill.
And beyond that again, opening through an arch with a dingy
chenille curtain, the sitting-room, now in chaotic disorder.
Byrne went directly to the sitting-room. There were four men
already there: Stewart and Boyer, a pathology man named Wallace
Hunter, doing research work at the general hospital, and a young
piano student from Tennessee named MacLean. The cards had been
already dealt, and Byrne stood by waiting for the hand to be
played.
The game was a small one, as befitted the means of the majority.
It was a regular Saturday night affair, as much a custom as the
beer that sat in Steins on the floor beside each man, or as
Marie's boiled Wiener sausages.
The blue chips represented a Krone, the white ones five Hellers.
MacLean, who was hardly more than a boy, was winning, drawing in
chips with quick gestures of his long pianist's fingers.
Byrne sat down and picked up his cards. Stewart was staying out,
and so, after a glance, did he. The other three drew cards and
fell to betting. Stewart leaned back and filled his long pipe,
and after a second's hesitation Byrne turned to him.
"I don't know just what to say, Stewart," he began in an
undertone. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt Marie, but--"
"Oh, that's all right." Stewart drew at his pipe and bent forward
to watch the game with an air of ending the discussion.
"Not at all. I did hurt her and I want to explain. Marie has been
kind to me, and I like her. You know that."
"Don't be an ass!" Stewart turned on him sharply. "Marie is a
little fool, that's all. I didn't know it was an American girl."
Byrne played in bad luck. His mind was not on the cards. He
stayed out of the last hand, and with a cigarette wandered about
the room. He glanced into the tidy bedroom and beyond, to where
Marie hovered over the stove.
She turned and saw him.
"Come," she called. "Watch the supper for me while I go down for
more beer."
"But no," he replied, imitating her tone. "Watch the supper for
me while I go down for more beer."
"I love thee," she called merrily. "Tell the Herr Doktor I love
thee. And here is the pitcher."
When he returned the supper was already laid in the little
kitchen. The cards were put away, and young MacLean and Wallace
Hunter were replacing the cover and the lamp on the card-table.
Stewart was orating from a pinnacle of proprietorship.
"Exactly," he was saying, in reply to something gone before; "I
used to come here Saturday nights--used to come early and take a
bath. Worthington had rented it furnished for a song. Used to sit
in a corner and envy Worthington his bathtub, and that lamp
there, and decent food, and a bed that didn't suffer from
necrosis in the center. Then when he was called home I took it."
"Girl and all, wasn't it?"
"Girl and all. Old Worth said she was straight, and, by Jove, she
is. He came back last fall on his wedding trip--he married a
wealthy girl and came to see us. I was out, but Marie was here.
There was the deuce to pay."
He lowered his voice. The men had gathered about him in a group.
"Jealous, eh?" from Hunter.
"Jealous? No! He tried to kiss her and she hit him--said he
didn't respect her!"
"It's a curious code of honor," said Boyer thoughtfully. And
indeed to none but Stewart did it seem amusing. This little girl
of the streets, driven by God knows what necessity to make her
own code and, having made it, living up to it with every fiber of
her.
"Bitte zum speisen!" called Marie gayly from her brick stove, and
the men trooped out to the kitchen.
The supper was spread on the table, with the pitcher of beer in
the center. There were Swiss cheese and cold ham and rolls, and
above all sausages and mustard. Peter drank a great deal of beer,
as did the others, and sang German songs with a frightful accent
and much vigor and sentiment, as also did the others.
Then he went back to the cold room in the Pension Schwarz, and
told himself he was a fool to live alone when one could live like
a prince for the same sum properly laid out. He dropped into the
hollow center of his bed, where his big figure fitted as
comfortably as though it lay in a washtub, and before his eyes
there came a vision of Stewart's flat and the slippers by the
fire--which was eminently human.
However, a moment later he yawned, and said aloud, with
considerable vigor, that he 'd be damned if he would--which was
eminently Peter Byrne. Almost immediately, with the bed
coverings, augmented by his overcoat, drawn snug to his chin, and
the better necktie swinging from the gasjet in the air from the
opened window, Peter was asleep. For four hours he had entirely
forgotten Harmony.
CHAPTER V
The peace of a gray Sunday morning hung like a cloud over the
little Pension Schwarz. In the kitchen the elderly maid, with a
shawl over her shoulders and stiffened fingers, made the fire,
while in the dining-room the little chambermaid cut butter and
divided it sparingly among a dozen breakfast trays--on each tray
two hard rolls, a butter pat, a plate, a cup. On two trays Olga,
with a glance over her shoulder, placed two butter pats. The
mistress yet slept, but in the kitchen Katrina had a keen eye for
butter--and a hard heart.
Katrina came to the door.
"The hot water is ready," she announced. "And the coffee also.
Hast thou been to mass?"
"Ja."
"That is a lie." This quite on general principle, it being one of
the cook's small tyrannies to exact religious observance from her
underling, and one of Olga's Sunday morning's indulgences to
oversleep and avoid the mass. Olga took the accusation meekly and
without reply, being occupied at that moment in standing between
Katrina and the extra pats of butter.
"For the lie," said Katrina calmly, "thou shalt have no butter
this morning. There, the Herr Doktor rings for water. Get it,
wicked one!"
Katrina turned slowly in the doorway.
"The new Fraulein is American?"
"Ja."
Katrina shrugged her shoulders.
"Then I shall put more water to heat," she said resignedly. " The
Americans use much water. God knows it cannot be healthy!"
Olga filled her pitcher from the great copper kettle and stood
with it poised in her thin young arms.
"The new Fraulein is very beautiful," she continued aloud.
"Thinkest thou it is the hot water?"
"Is an egg more beautiful for being boiled?" demanded Katrina.
"Go, and be less foolish. See, it is not the Herr Doktor who
rings, but the new American."
Olga carried her pitcher to Harmony's door, and being bidden,
entered. The room was frigid and Harmony, at the window in her
nightgown, was closing the outer casement. The inner still swung
open. Olga, having put down her pitcher, shivered.
"Surely the Fraulein has not slept with open windows?"
"Always with open windows." Harmony having secured the inner
casement, was wrapping herself in the blue silk kimono with the
faded butterflies. Merely to look at it made Olga shiver afresh.
She shook her head.
"But the air of the night," she said, "it is full of mists and
illnesses! Will you have breakfast now?"
"In ten minutes, after I have bathed."
Olga having put a match to the stove went back to the kitchen,
shaking her head.
"They are strange, the Americans!" she said to latrine. "And if
to be lovely one must bathe daily, and sleep with open windows--"
Harmony had slept soundly after all. Her pique at Byrne had
passed with the reading of his note, and the sensation of his
protection and nearness had been almost physical. In the virginal
little apartment in the lodge of Maria Theresa the only masculine
presence had been that of the Portier, carrying up coals at
ninety Hellers a bucket, or of the accompanist who each alternate
day had played for the Big Soprano to practice. And they had felt
no deprivation, except for those occasional times when Scatchy
developed a reckless wish to see the interior of a dancing-hall
or one of the little theaters that opened after the opera.
But, as calmly as though she had never argued alone with a cabman
or disputed the bill at the delicatessen shop, Harmony had thrown
herself on the protection of this shabby big American whom she
had met but once, and, having done so, slept like a baby. Not, of
course, that she realized her dependence. She had felt very old
and experienced and exceedingly courageous as she put out her
light the night before and took a flying leap into the bed. She
was still old and experienced, if a trifle less courageous, that
Sunday morning.
Promptly in ten minutes Olga brought the breakfast, two rolls,
two pats of butter--shades of the sleeping mistress and Katrina
the thrifty--and a cup of coffee. On the tray was a bit of paper
torn from a notebook:--
"Part of the prescription is an occasional walk in good company.
Will you walk with me this afternoon? I would come in person to
ask you, but am spending the morning in my bathrobe, while my one
remaining American suit is being pressed.
"P. B."
Harmony got the ink and her pen from her trunk and wrote below:--
"You are very kind to me. Yes, indeed.
"H. W."
When frequent slamming of doors and steps along the passageway
told Harmony that the pension was fully awake, she got out her
violin. The idea of work obsessed her. To-morrow there would be
the hunt for something to do to supplement her resources, this
afternoon she had rashly promised to walk. The morning, then,
must be given up to work. But after all she did little.
For an hour, perhaps, she practiced. The little Bulgarian paused
outside her door and listened, rapt, his eyes closed. Peter
Byrne, listening while he sorted lecture memoranda at his little
table in bathrobe and slippers, absently filed the little note
with the others--where he came across it months later--next to a
lecture on McBurney's Point, and spent a sad hour or so over it.
Over all the sordid little pension, with its odors of food and
stale air, its spotted napery and dusty artificial flowers, the
music hovered, and made for the time all things lovely.
In her room across from Harmony's, Anna Gates was sewing, or
preparing to sew. Her hair in a knob, her sleeves rolled up, the
room in violent disorder, she was bending over the bed, cutting
savagely at a roll of pink flannel. Because she was working with
curved surgeon's scissors, borrowed from Peter, the cut edges
were strangely scalloped. Her method as well as her tools was
unique. Clearly she was intent on a body garment, for now and
then she picked up the flannel and held it to her. Having thus,
as one may say, got the line of the thing, she proceeded to cut
again, jaw tight set, small veins on her forehead swelling, a
small replica of Peter Byrne sewing a button on his coat.
After a time it became clear to her that her method was wrong.
She rolled up the flannel viciously and flung it into a corner,
and proceeded to her Sunday morning occupation of putting away
the garments she had worn during the week, a vast and motley
collection.
On the irritability of her mood Harmony's music had a late but
certain effect. She made a toilet, a trifle less casual than
usual, seeing that she put on her stays, and rather sheepishly
picked up the bundle from the corner. She hunted about for a
thimble, being certain she had brought one from home a year
before, but failed to find it. And finally, bundle under her arm
and smiling, she knocked at Harmony's door.
"Would you mind letting me sit with you?" she asked. "I'll not
stir. I want to sew, and my room is such a mess!"
Harmony threw the door wide. "You will make me very happy, if
only my practicing does not disturb you."
Dr. Gates came in and closed the door.
"I'll probably be the disturbing element," she said. "I'm a noisy
sewer."
Harmony's immaculate room and radiant person put her in good
humor immediately. She borrowed a thimble--not because she cared
whether she had one or not, but because she knew a thimble was a
part of the game--and settled herself in a corner, her ragged
pieces in her lap. For an hour she plodded along and Harmony
played. Then the girl put down her bow and turned to the corner.
The little doctor was jerking at a knot in her thread.
"It's in the most damnable knot!" she said, and Harmony was
suddenly aware that she was crying, and heartily ashamed of it.
"Please don't pay any attention to me," she implored. "I hate to
sew. That's the trouble. Or perhaps it's not all the trouble. I'm
a fool about music."
"Perhaps, if you hate to sew--"
"I hate a good many things, my dear, when you play like that. I
hate being over here in this place, and I hate fleas and German
cooking and clinics, and I hate being forty years old and as poor
as a church-mouse and as ugly as sin, and I hate never having had
any children!"
Harmony was very uncomfortable and just a little shocked. But the
next moment Dr. Gates had wiped her eyes with a scrap of the
flannel and was smiling up through her glasses.
"The plain truth really is that I have indigestion. I dare say
I'm really weeping in anticipation over the Sunday dinner! The
food's bad and I can't afford to live anywhere else. I'd take a
room and do my own cooking, but what time have I?" She spread out
the pieces of flannel on her knee. "Does this look like anything
to you?"
"A petticoat, isn't it?"
"I didn't intend it as a petticoat."
"I thought, on account of the scallops--"
"Scallops!" Dr. Gates gazed at the painfully cut pink edges and
from them to Harmony. Then she laughed, peal after peal of joyous
mirth.
"Scallops!" she gasped at last. "Oh, my dear, if you'd seen me
cutting 'em! And with Peter Byrne's scissors!"
Now here at last they were on common ground. Harmony, delicately
flushed, repeated the name, clung to it conversationally, using
little adroitnesses to bring the talk back to him. All roads of
talk led to Peter--Peter's future, Peter's poverty, Peter's
refusing to have his hair cut, Peter's encounter with a major of
the guards, and the duel Peter almost fought. It developed that
Peter, as the challenged, had had the choice of weapons, and had
chosen fists, and that the major had been carried away. Dr. Gates
grew rather weary of Peter at last and fell back on the pink
flannel. She confided to Harmony that the various pieces, united,
were to make a dressing-gown for a little American boy at the
hospital. "Although," she commented, "it looks more like a chair
cover."
Harmony offered to help her, and got out a sewing-box that was
lined with a piece of her mother's wedding dress. And as she
straightened the crooked edges she told the doctor about the
wedding dress, and about the mother who had called her Harmony
because of the hope in her heart. And soon, by dint of skillful
listening, which is always better than questioning, the faded
little woman doctor knew all the story.
She was rather aghast.
"But suppose you cannot find anything to do?"
"I must," simply.
"It's such a terrible city for a girl alone."
"I'm not really alone. I know you now."
"An impoverished spinster! Much help I shall be!"
"And there is Peter Byrne."
"Peter!" Dr. Gates sniffed. "Peter is poorer than I am, if there
is any comparison in destitution!"
Harmony stiffened a trifle.
"Of course I do not mean money," she said. "There are such things
as encouragement, and--and friendliness."
"One cannot eat encouragement," retorted Dr. Gates sagely. "And
friendliness between you and any man--bah! Even Peter is only
human, my dear."
"I am sure he is very good."
"So he is. He is very poor. But you are very attractive. There,
I'm a skeptic about men, but you can trust Peter. Only don't fall
in love with him. It will be years before he can marry. And don't
let him fall in love with you. He probably will."
Whereupon Dr. Gates taking herself and her pink flannel off to
prepare for lunch, Harmony sent a formal note to Peter Byrne,
regretting that a headache kept her from taking the afternoon
walk as she had promised. Also, to avoid meeting him, she did
without dinner, and spent the afternoon crying herself into a
headache that was real enough.
Anna Gates was no fool. While she made her few preparations for
dinner she repented bitterly what she had said to Harmony. It is
difficult for the sophistry of forty to remember and cherish the
innocence of twenty. For illusions it is apt to substitute facts,
the material for the spiritual, the body against the soul. Dr.
Gates, from her school of general practice, had come to view life
along physiological lines.
With her customary frankness she approached Peter after the meal.
"I've been making mischief, Peter. I been talking too much, as
usual."
"Certainly not about me, Doctor. Out of my blameless life--"
"About you, as a representative member of your sex. I'm a fool."
Peter looked serious. He had put on the newly pressed suit and
his best tie, and was looking distinguished and just now rather
stern.
"To whom?"
"To the young Wells person. Frankly, Peter, I dare say at this
moment she thinks you are everything you shouldn't be, because I
said you were only human. Why it should be evil to be human, or
human to be evil--"
"I cannot imagine," said Peter slowly, "the reason for any
conversation about me."
"Nor I, when I look back. We seemed to talk about other things,
but it always ended with you. Perhaps you were our one subject in
common. Then she irritated me by her calm confidence. The world
was good, everybody was good. She would find a safe occupation
and all would be well."
"So you warned her against me," said Peter grimly.
"I told her you were human and that she was attractive. Shall I
make 'way with myself?"
"Cui bono?" demanded Peter, smiling in spite of himself. "The
mischief is done."
Dr. Gates looked up at him.
"I'm in love with you myself, Peter!" she said gratefully.
"Perhaps it is the tie. Did you ever eat such a meal?"
CHAPTER VI
A very pale and dispirited Harmony it was who bathed her eyes in
cold water that evening and obeyed little Olga's "Bitte sum
speisen." The chairs round the diningtable were only half
occupied--a free concert had taken some, Sunday excursions
others. The little Bulgarian, secretly considered to be a
political spy, was never about on this one evening of the week.
Rumor had it that on these evenings, secreted in an attic room
far off in the sixteenth district, he wrote and sent off reports
of what he had learned during the week--his gleanings from
near-by tables in coffee-houses or from the indiscreet hours
after midnight in the cafe, where the Austrian military was wont
to gather and drink.
Into the empty chair beside Harmony Peter slid his long figure,
and met a tremulous bow and silence. From the head of the table
Frau Schwarz was talking volubly--as if, by mere sound, to
distract attention from the scantiness of the meal. Under cover
of the Babel Peter spoke to the girl. Having had his warning his
tone was friendly, without a hint of the intimacy of the day
before.
"Better?"
"Not entirely. Somewhat."
"I wish you had sent Olga to me for some tablets. No one needs to
suffer from headache, when five grains or so of powder will help
them."
"I am afraid of headache tablets."
"Not when your physician prescribes them, I hope!"
This was the right note. Harmony brightened a little. After all,
what had she to do with the man himself? He had constituted
himself her physician. That was all.
"The next time I shall send Olga."
"Good!" he responded heartily; and proceeded to make such a meal
as he might, talking little, and nursing, by a careful
indifference, her new-growing confidence.
It was when he had pushed his plate away and lighted a
cigarette--according to the custom of the pension, which accorded
the "Nicht Rauchen" sign the same attention that it did to the
portrait of the deceased Herr Schwarz--that he turned to her
again.
"I am sorry you are not able to walk. It promises a nice night."
Peter was clever. Harmony, expecting an invitation to walk, had
nerved herself to a cool refusal. This took her off guard.
"Then you do not prescribe air?"
"That's up to how you feel. If you care to go out and don't mind
my going along as a sort of Old Dog Tray I haven't anything else
to do."
Dr. Gates, eating stewed fruit across the table, gave Peter a
swift glance of admiration, which he caught and acknowledged. He
was rather exultant himself; certainly he had been adroit.
"I'd rather like a short walk. It will make me sleep," said
Harmony, who had missed the by-play. "And Old Dog Tray would be a
very nice companion, I'm sure."
It is doubtful, however, if Anna Gates would have applauded Peter
had she followed the two in their rambling walk that night.
Direction mattering little and companionship everything, they
wandered on, talking of immaterial things--of the rough
pavements, of the shop windows, of the gray medieval buildings.
They came to a full stop in front of the Votivkirche, and
discussed gravely the twin Gothic spires and the Benk sculptures
on the facade. And there in the open square, casting diplomacy to
the winds, Peter Byrne turned to Harmony and blurted out what was
in his heart.
"Look here," he said, "you don't care a rap about spires. I don't
believe you know anything about them. I don't. What did that
idiot of a woman doctor say to you to-day?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"You do very well. And I'm going to set you right. She starts out
with two premises: I'm a man, and you're young and attractive.
Then she draws some sort of fool deduction. You know what I
mean?"
"I don't see why we need discuss it," said poor Harmony. "Or how
you know--"
"I know because she told me. She knew she had been a fool, and
she came to me. I don't know whether it makes any difference to
you or not, but--we'd started out so well, and then to have it
spoiled! My dear girl, you are beautiful and I know it. That's
all the more reason why, if you'll stand for it, you need some
one to look after you--I'll not say like a brother, because all
the ones I ever knew were darned poor brothers to their sisters,
but some one who will keep an eye on you and who isn't going to
fall in love with you."
"I didn't think you were falling in love with me; nor did I wish
you to."
"Certainly not. Besides, I--" Here Peter Byrne had another
inspiration, not so good as the first--"Besides, there is
somebody at home, you understand? That makes it all right,
doesn't it?"
"A girl at home?"
"A girl," said Peter, lying manfully.
"How very nice!" said Harmony, and put out her hand. Peter,
feeling all sorts of a cheat, took it, and got his reward in a
complete restoral of their former comradely relations. From
abstractions of church towers and street paving they went, with
the directness of the young, to themselves. Thereafter, during
that memorable walk, they talked blissful personalities,
Harmony's future, Peter's career, money--or its lack--their
ambitions, their hopes, even--and here was intimacy,
indeed!--their disappointments, their failures of courage, their
occasional loss of faith in themselves.
The first real snow of the year was falling as they turned back
toward the Pension Schwarz, a damp snow that stuck fast and
melted with a chilly cold that had in it nothing but depression.
The upper spires of the Votivkirche were hidden in a gray mist;
the trees in the park took on, against the gloom of the city
hall, a snowy luminosity. Save for an occasional pedestrian,
making his way home under an umbrella, the streets were deserted.
Byrne and Harmony had no umbrella, but the girl rejected his
offer of a taxicab.
"We should be home too quickly," she observed naively. "And we
have so much to say about me. Now I thought that perhaps by
giving English lessons in the afternoon and working all morning
at my music--"
And so on and on, square after square, with Peter listening
gravely, his head bent. And square after square it was borne in
on him what a precarious future stretched before this girl beside
him, how very slender her resources, how more than dubious the
outcome.
Poverty, which had only stimulated Peter Byrne in the past, ate
deep into his soul that night.
Epochmaking as the walk had been, seeing that it had
reestablished a friendship and made a working basis for future
comradely relations, they were back at the corner of the
Alserstrasse before ten. As they turned in at the little street,
a man, lurching somewhat, almost collided with Harmony. He was a
short, heavy-set person with a carefully curled mustache, and he
was singing, not loudly, but with all his maudlin heart in his
voice, the barcarolle from the "Tales" of Hoffmann. He saw
Harmony, and still singing planted himself in her path. When
Byrne would have pushed him aside Harmony caught his arm.
"It is only the Portier from the lodge," she said.
The Portier, having come to rest on a throaty and rather wavering
note, stood before Harmony, bowing.
"The Fraulein has gone and I am very sad," he said thickly.
"There is no more music, and Rosa has run away with a soldier
from Salzburg who has only one lung."
"But think!" Harmony said in German. "No more practicing in the
early dawn, no young ladies bringing mud into your newscrubbed
hall! It is better, is it not? All day you may rest and smoke!"
Byrne led Harmony past the drunken Portier, who turned with
caution and bowed after them.
"Gute Nacht," he called. "Kuss die Hand, Fraulein. Four rooms and
the salon and a bath of the finest."
As they went up the Hirschengasse they could hear him pursuing
his unsteady way down the street and singing lustily. At the door
of the Pension Schwarz Harmony paused.
"Do you mind if I ask one question?"
"You honor me, madam."
"Then--what is the name of the girl back home?"
Peter Byrne was suddenly conscious of a complete void as to
feminine names. He offered, in a sort of panic, the first one he
recalled:--
"Emma."
"Emma! What a nice, old-fashioned name!" But there was a touch of
disappointment in her voice.
Harmony had a lesson the next day. She was a favorite pupil with
the master. Out of so much musical chaff he winnowed only now and
then a grain of real ability. And Harmony had that. Scatchy and
the Big Soprano had been right--she had the real thing.
The short half-hour lesson had a way with Harmony of lengthening
itself to an hour or more, much to the disgust of the lady
secretary in the anteroom. On that Monday Harmony had pleased the
old man to one of his rare enthusiasms.
"Six months," he said, "and you will go back to your America and
show them how over here we teach violin. I will a
letter--letters-- give you, and you shall put on the programme,
of your concerts that you are my pupil, is it not so?"
Harmony was drawing on her worn gloves; her hands trembled a
little with the praise and excitement.
"If I can stay so long," she answered unsteadily.
"You must stay. Have I so long labored, and now before it is
finished you talk of going! Gott im Himmel!"
"It is a matter of money. My father is dead. And unless I find
something to do I shall have to go back."
The master had heard many such statements. They never ceased to
rouse his ire against a world that had money for everything but
music. He spent five minutes in indignant protest, then:--
"But you are clever and young, child. You will find a way to
stay. Perhaps I can now and then find a concert for you." It was
a lure he had thrown out before, a hook without a bait. It needed
no bait, being always eagerly swallowed. And no more talk of
going away. I refuse to allow. You shall not go."
Harmony paid the lady secretary on her way out. The master was
interested. He liked Harmony and he believed in her. But fifty
Kronen is fifty Kronen, and South American beef is high of price.
He followed Harmony into the outer room and bowed her out of his
studio.
"The Fraulein has paid?" he demanded, turning sharply to the lady
secretary.
"Always."
"After the lesson?"
"Ja, Herr Professor."
"It is better," said the master, "that she pay hereafter before
the lesson."
"Ja, Herr Professor."
Whereupon the lady secretary put a red-ink cross before Harmony's
name. There were many such crosses on the ledger.
CHAPTER VII
For three days Byrne hardly saw Harmony. He was off early in the
morning, hurried back to the midday meal and was gone again the
moment it was over. He had lectures in the evenings, too, and
although he lingered for an hour or so after supper it was to
find Harmony taken possession of by the little Bulgarian, seized
with a sudden thirst for things American.
On the evening of the second day he had left Harmony, enmeshed
and helpless in a tangle of language, trying to explain to the
little Bulgarian the reason American women wished to vote. Byrne
flung down the stairs and out into the street, almost colliding
with Stewart.
They walked on together, Stewart with the comfortably rolling
gait of the man who has just dined well, Byrne with his heavy,
rather solid tread. The two men were not congenial, and the
frequent intervals without speech between them were rather for
lack of understanding than for that completeness of it which
often fathers long silences. Byrne was the first to speak after
their greeting.
"Marie all right?"
"Fine. Said if I saw you to ask you to supper some night this
week."
"Thanks. Does it matter which night?"
"Any but Thursday. We're hearing 'La Boheme.'"
"Say Friday, then."
Byrne's tone lacked enthusiasm, but Stewart in his after-dinner
mood failed to notice it.
"Have you thought any more about our conversation of the other
night?"
"What was that?"
Stewart poked him playfully in the ribs.
"Wake up, Byrne !" he said. "You remember well enough. Neither
the Days nor any one else is going to have the benefit of your
assistance if you go on living the way you have been. I was at
Schwarz's. It is the double drain there that tells on one--eating
little and being eaten much. Those old walls are full of vermin.
Why don't you take our apartment?"
"Yours?"
"Yes, for a couple of months. I'm through with Schleich and
Breidau can't take me for two months. It's Marie's off season and
we're going to Semmering for the winter sports. We're ahead
enough to take a holiday. And if you want the flat for the same
amount you are spending now, or less, you can have it, and--a
home, old man."
Byrne was irritated, the more so that he realized that the offer
tempted him. To his resentment was added a contempt of himself.
"Thanks," he said. "I think not."
"Oh, all right." Stewart was rather offended. "I can't do more
than give you a chance."
They separated shortly after and Byrne went on alone. The snow of
Sunday had turned to a fine rain which had lasted all of Monday
and Tuesday. The sidewalks were slimy; wagons slid in the ooze of
the streets; and the smoke from the little stoves in the
street-cars followed them in depressing horizontal clouds. Cabmen
sat and smoked in the interior of musty cabs. The women
hod-carriers on a new building steamed like horses as they
worked.
Byrne walked along, his head thrust down into his up-turned
collar; moisture gathered on his face like dew, condensed rather
than precipitated. And as he walked there came before him a
vision of the little flat on the Hochgasse, with the lamp on the
table, and the general air of warmth and cheer, and a figure
presiding over the brick stove in the kitchen. Byrne shook
himself like a great dog and turned in at the gate of the
hospital. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself.
That week was full of disappointments for Harmony. Wherever she
turned she faced a wall of indifference or, what was worse, an
interest that frightened her. Like a bird in a cage she beat
helplessly against barriers of language, of strange customs, of
stolidity that were not far from absolute cruelty.
She held to her determination, however, at first with hope, then,
as the pension in advance and the lessons at fifty Kronen--also
in advance,--went on, recklessly. She played marvelously those
days, crying out through her violin the despair she had sealed
her lips against. On Thursday, playing for the master, she turned
to find him flourishing his handkerchief, and went home in a sort
of daze, incredulous that she could have moved him to tears.
The little Bulgarian was frankly her slave now. He had given up
the coffee-houses that he might spend that hour near her, on the
chance of seeing her or, failing that, of hearing her play. At
night in the Cafe Hungaria he sat for hours at a time, his elbows
on the table, a bottle of native wine before him, and dreamed of
her. He was very fat, the little Georgiev, very swarthy, very
pathetic. The Balkan kettle was simmering in those days, and he
had been set to watch the fire. But instead he had kindled a
flame of his own, and was feeding it with stray words, odd
glances, a bit of music, the curve of a woman's hair behind her
ears. For reports he wrote verses in modern Greek, and through
one of those inadvertences which make tragedy, the Minister of
War down in troubled Bulgaria once received between the pages of
a report in cipher on the fortifications of the Danube a verse in
fervid hexameter that made even that grim official smile.
Harmony was quite unconscious. She went on her way methodically:
so many hours of work, so many lessons at fifty Kronen, so many
afternoons searching for something to do, making rounds of shops
where her English might be valuable.
And after a few weeks Peter Byrne found time to help. After one
experience, when Harmony left a shop with flaming face and tears
in her eyes, he had thought it best to go with her. The first
interview, under Peter's grim eyes, was a failure. The shopkeeper
was obviously suspicious of Peter. After that, whenever he could
escape from clinics, Peter went along, but stayed outside,
smoking his eternal cigarette, and keeping a watchful eye on
things inside the shop.
Only once was he needed. At that time, suspecting that all was
not well, from the girl's eyes and the leer on the shopkeeper's
face, he had opened the door in time to hear enough. He had
lifted the proprietor bodily and flung him with a crash into a
glass showcase of ornaments for the hair. Then, entirely cheerful
and happy, and unmolested by the frightened clerks, he led
Harmony outside and in a sort of atavistic triumph bought her a
bunch of valley lilies.
Nevertheless, in his sane moments, Peter knew that things were
very bad, indeed. He was still not in love with the girl. He
analyzed his own feeling very carefully, and that was his
conclusion. Nevertheless he did a quixotic thing--which was
Peter, of course, all over.
He took supper with Stewart and Marie on Friday, and the idea
came to him there. Hardly came to him, being Marie's originally.
The little flat was cozy and bright. Marie, having straightened
her kitchen, brought in a waist she was making and sat sewing
while the two men talked. Their conversation was technical, a new
extirpation of the thyroid gland, a recent nephrectomy.
In her curious way Marie liked Peter and respected him. She
struggled with the technicalities of their talk as she sewed,
finding here and there a comprehensive bit. At those times she
sat, needle poised, intelligent eyes on the speakers, until she
lost herself again in the mazes of their English.
At ten o'clock she rose and put away her sewing. Peter saw her
get the stone pitcher and knew she was on her way for the evening
beer. He took advantage of her absence to broach the matter of
Harmony.
"She's up against it, as a matter of fact," he finished. "It
ought to be easy enough for her to find something, but it isn't."
"I hardly saw her that day in the coffee-house; but she's rather
handsome, isn't she?"
"That's one of the difficulties. Yes."
Stewart smoked and reflected. "No friends here at all?"
"None. There were three girls at first. Two have gone home."
"Could she teach violin?"
"I should think so."
"Aren't there any kids in the American colony who want lessons?
There's usually some sort of infant prodigy ready to play at any
entertainments of the Doctors' Club."
"They don't want an American teacher, I fancy; but I suppose I
could put a card up in the club rooms. Damn it all!" cried Peter
with a burst of honest resentment, "why do I have to be poor?"
"If you were rolling in gold you could hardly offer her money,
could you?"
Peter had not thought of that before. It was the only comfort he
found in his poverty. Marie had brought in the beer and was
carefully filling the mugs. "Why do you not marry her?" she asked
unexpectedly. "Then you could take this flat. We are going to
Semmering for the winter sports. I would show her about the
stove."
"Marry her, of course!" said Peter gravely. "Just pick her up and
carry her to church! The trifling fact that she does not wish to
marry me need have nothing to do with it."
"Ah, but does she not wish it?" demanded Marie. "Are you so
certain, stupid big one? Do not women always love you?"
Ridiculous as the thought was, Peter pondered it as he went back
to the Pension Schwarz. About himself he was absurdly modest,
almost humble. It had never occurred to him that women might care
for him for himself. In his struggling life there had been little
time for women. But about himself as the solution of a
problem--that was different.
He argued the thing over. In the unlikely contingency of the
girl's being willing, was Stewart right--could two people live as
cheaply as one? Marie was an Austrian and knew how to
manage--that was different. And another thing troubled him. He
dreaded to disturb the delicate adjustment of their relationship;
the terra incognita of a young girl's mind daunted him. There was
another consideration which he put resolutely in the back of his
mind--his career. He had seen many a promising one killed by
early marriage, men driven to the hack work of the profession by
the scourge of financial necessity. But that was a matter of the
future; the necessity was immediate.
The night was very cold. Gusts of wind from the snow-covered
Schneeberg drove along the streets, making each corner a fortress
defended by the elements, a battlement to be seized, lost, seized
again. Peter Byrne battled valiantly but mechanically. And as he
fought he made his decision.
He acted with characteristic promptness. Possibly, too, he was
afraid of the strength of his own resolution. By morning sanity
might prevail, and in cold daylight he would see the absurdity of
his position. He almost ran up the winding staircase. At the top
his cold fingers fumbled the key and he swore under his breath.
He slammed the door behind him. Peter always slammed doors, and
had an apologetic way of opening the door again and closing it
gently, as if to show that he could. Harmony's room was dark,
but he had surprised her once into a confession that when she was
very downhearted she liked to sit in the dark and be very blue
indeed. So he stopped and knocked. There was no reply, but from
Dr. Gates's room across there came a hum of conversation. He knew
at once that Harmony was there.
Peter hardly hesitated. He took off his soft hat and ran a hand
over his hair, and he straightened his tie. These preliminaries
to a proposal of marriage being disposed of, he rapped at the
door.
Anna Gates opened it. She wore a hideous red-flannel wrapper, and
in deference to Harmony a thimble. Her flat breast was stuck with
pins, and pinkish threads revealed the fact that the bathrobe was
still under way.
"Peter!" she cried. "Come in and get warm."
Harmony, in the blue kimono, gave a little gasp, and flung round
her shoulders the mass of pink on which she had been working.
"Please go out!" she said. "I am not dressed."
"You are covered," returned Anna Gates. "That's all that any sort
of clothing can do. Don't mind her, Peter, and sit on the bed.
Look out for pins!"
Peter, however, did not sit down. He stood just inside the closed
door and stared at Harmony--Harmony in the red light from the
little open door of the stove; Harmony in blue and pink and a bit
of white petticoat; Harmony with her hair over her shoulders and
tied out of her eyes with an encircling band of rosy flannel.
"Do sit!" cried Anna Gates. "You fill the room so. Bless you,
Peter, what a collar!"
No man likes to know his collar is soiled, especially on the eve
of proposing marriage to a pink and blue and white vision. Peter,
seated now on the bed, writhed.
"I rapped at Miss Wells's door," he said. "You were not there."
This last, of course, to Harmony.
Anna Gates sniffed.
"Naturally!"
"I had something to say to you. I--I dare say it is hardly
pension etiquette for you to go over to your room and let me say
it there?"
Harmony smiled above the flannel.
"Could you call it through the door?"
"Hardly."
"Fiddlesticks!" said Dr. Gates, rising. "I'll go over, of course,
but not for long. There's no fire."
With her hand on the knob, however, Harmony interfered.
"Please!" she implored. "I am not dressed and I'd rather not."
She turned to Peter. "You can say it before her, can't you?
She--I have told her all about things."
Peter hesitated. He felt ridiculous for the second time that
night. Then:--
"It was merely an idea I had. I saw a little apartment
furnished--you could learn to use the stove, unless, of course,
you don't like housekeeping--and food is really awfully cheap.
Why, at these delicatessen places and bakeshops--"
Here he paused for breath and found Dr. Gates's quizzical glance
fixed on him, and Harmony's startled eyes.
"What I am trying to say," he exploded, "is that I believe if you
would marry me it would solve some of your troubles anyhow." He
was talking for time now, against Harmony's incredulous face.
"You'd be taking on others, of course. I'm not much and I'm as
poor--well, you know. It--it was the apartment that gave me the
idea--"
"And the stove!" said Harmony; and suddenly burst into joyous
laughter. After a rather shocked instant Dr. Gates joined her. It
was real mirth with Harmony, the first laugh of days, that
curious laughter of women that is not far from tears.
Peter sat on the bed uncomfortably. He grinned sheepishly and
made a last feeble attempt to stick to his guns.
"I mean it. You know I'm not in love with you or you with me, of
course. But we are such a pair of waifs, and I thought we might
get along. Lord knows I need some one to look after me!"
"And Emma?"
"There is no Emma. I made her up."
Harmony sobered at that.
"It is only"--she gasped a little for breath--"it is only
your--your transparency, Peter." It was the first time she had
called him Peter. "You know how things are with me and you want
to help me, and out of your generosity you are willing to take on
another burden. Oh, Peter!"
And here, Harmony being an emotional young person, the tears beat
the laughter to the surface and had to be wiped away under the
cover of mirth.
Anna Gates, having recovered herself, sat back and surveyed them
both sternly through her glasses.
"Once for all," she said brusquely, "let such foolishness end.
Peter, I am ashamed of you. Marriage is not for you--not yet, not
for a dozen years. Any man can saddle himself with a wife; not
every man can be what you may be if you keep your senses and stay
single. And the same is true for you, girl. To tide over a bad
six months you would sacrifice the very thing you are both
struggling for?"
"I'm sure we don't intend to do it," replied Harmony meekly.
"Not now. Some day you may be tempted. When that time comes,
remember what I say. Matrimonially speaking, each of you is fatal
to the other. Now go away and let me alone. I'm not accustomed to
proposals of marriage."
It was in some confusion of mind that Peter Byrne took himself
off to the bedroom with the cold tiled stove and the bed that was
as comfortable as a washtub. Undeniably he was relieved. Also
Harmony's problem was yet unsolved. Also she had called him
Peter.
Also he had said he was not in love with her. Was he so sure of
that?
At midnight, just as Peter, rolled in the bedclothing, had
managed to warm the cold concavity of his bed and had dozed off,
Anna Gates knocked at his door.
"Yes?" said Peter, still comfortably asleep.
"It is Dr. Gates."
"Sorry, Doctor--have to 'xcuse me," mumbled Peter from the
blanket.
"Peter!"
Peter roused to a chilled and indignant consciousness and sat up
in bed.
"Well?"
"Open the door just a crack."
Resignedly Peter crawled out of bed, carefully turning the
coverings up to retain as much heat as possible. An icy blast
from the open window blew round him, setting everything movable
in the little room to quivering. He fumbled in the dark for his
slippers, failed to find them, and yawning noisily went to the
door.
Anna Gates, with a candle, was outside. Her short, graying hair
was out of its hard knot, and hung in an equally uncompromising
six-inch plait down her back. She had no glasses, and over the
candle-frame she peered shortsightedly at Peter.
"It's about Jimmy," she said. "I don't know what's got into me,
but I've forgotten for three days. It's a good bit more than time
for a letter."
"Great Scott!"
"Both yesterday and to-day he asked for it and to-day he fretted
a little. The nurse found him crying."
"The poor little devil!" said Peter contritely. "Overdue, is it?
I'll fix it to-night."
"Leave it under the door where I can get it in the morning. I'm
off at seven."
"The envelope?"
"Here it is. And take my candle. I'm going to bed."
That was at midnight or shortly after. Half after one struck from
the twin clocks of the Votivkirche and echoed from the
Stephansplatz across the city. It found Peter with the window
closed, sitting up in bed, a candle balanced on one knee, a
writing-tablet on the other.
He was writing a spirited narrative of a chamois hunt in which he
had taken part that day, including a detailed description of the
quarry, which weighed, according to Peter, two hundred and fifty
pounds, Peter being strong on imagination and short on facts as
regards the Alpine chamois. Then, trying to read the letter from
a small boy's point of view and deciding that it lacked snap, he
added by way of postscript a harrowing incident of avalanche,
rope, guide, and ice axe. He ended in a sort of glow of
authorship, and after some thought took fifty pounds off the
chamois.
The letter finished, he put it in a much-used envelope addressed
to Jimmy Conroy--an envelope that stamped the whole episode as
authentic, bearing as it did an undecipherable date and the
postmark of a tiny village in the Austrian Tyrol.
It was almost two when Peter put out the candle and settled
himself to sleep.
It was just two o'clock when the night nurse, making rounds in
her ward in the general hospital, found a small boy very much
awake on his pillow,and taking off her felt slipper shook it at
him in pretended fury.
"Now, thou bad one!" she said. "Awake, when the Herr Doktor
orders sleep! Shall I use the slipper?"
The boy replied in German with a strong English accent.
"I cannot sleep. Yesterday the Fraulein Elisabet said that in the
mountains there are accidents, and that sometimes--"
"The Fraulein Elisabet is a great fool. Tomorrow comes thy letter
of a certainty. The post has been delayed with great snows. Thy
father has perhaps captured a great boar, or a--a chamois, and he
writes of it."
"Do chamois have horns?"
"Ja. Great horns--so."
"He will send them to me! And there are no accidents?"
"None. Now sleep, or--the slipper."
CHAPTER VIII
So far Harmony's small world in the old city had consisted of
Scatchy and the Big Soprano, Peter, and Anna Gates, with far off
in the firmament the master. Scatchy and the Big Soprano had
gone, weeping anxious postcards from every way station it is
true, but never theless gone. Peter and Anna Gates remained, and
the master as long as her funds held out. To them now she was
about to add Jimmy.
The bathrobe was finished. Out of the little doctor's chaos of
pink flannel Harmony had brought order. The result, masculine and
complete even to its tassels and cord of pink yarn, was ready to
be presented. It was with mingled emotions that Anna Gates
wrapped it up and gave it to Harmony the next morning.
"He hasn't been so well the last day or two," she said. "He
doesn't sleep much--that's the worst of those heart conditions.
Sometimes, while I've been working on this thing, I've
wondered--Well, we're making a fight anyhow. And better take the
letter, too, Harry. I might forget and make lecture notes on it,
and if I spoil that envelope--"
Harmony had arranged to carry the bathrobe to the hospital,
meeting the doctor there after her early clinic. She knew Jimmy's
little story quite well. Anna Gates had told it to her in detail.
"Just one of the tragedies of the world, my dear," she had
finished. "You think you have a tragedy, but you have youth and
hope; I think I have my own little tragedy, because I have to go
through the rest of life alone, when taken in time I'd have been
a good wife and mother. Still I have my work. But this little
chap, brought over here by a father who hoped to see him cured,
and spent all he had to bring him here, and then--died. It gets
me by the throat."
"And the boy does not know?" Harmony had asked, her eyes wide.
"No, thanks to Peter. He thinks his father is still in the
mountains. When we heard about it Peter went up and saw that he
was buried. It took about all the money there was. He wrote home
about it, too, to the place they came from. There has never been
any reply. Then ever since Peter has written these letters. Jimmy
lives for them."
Peter! It was always Peter. Peter did this. Peter said that.
Peter thought thus. A very large part of Harmony's life was Peter
in those days.
She was thinking of him as she waited at the gate of the hospital
for Anna Gates, thinking of his shabby gray suit and unkempt
hair, of his letter that she carried to Jimmy Conroy, of his
quixotic proposal of the night before. Of the proposal, most of
all--it was so eminently characteristic of Peter, from the
conception of the plan to its execution. Harmony's thought of
Peter was very tender that morning as she stood in the arched
gateway out of reach of the wind from the Schneeberg. The
tenderness and the bright color brought by the wind made her very
beautiful. Little Marie, waiting across the Alserstrasse for a
bus, and stamping from one foot to the other to keep warm,
recognized and admired her. After all, the American women were
chic, she decided, although some of the doctors had wives of a
dowdiness--Himmel! And she could copy the Fraulein's hat for two
Kronen and a bit of ribbon she possessed.
The presentation of the bathrobe was a success. Six nurses and a
Dozent with a red beard stood about and watched Jimmy put into
it, and the Dozent, who had been engaged for five years and could
not marry because the hospital board forbade it, made a speech
for Jimmy in awe-inspiring German, ending up with a poem that was
intended to be funny, but that made the nurses cry. From which it
will be seen that Jimmy was a great favorite.
During the ceremony, for such it was, the Germans loving a
ceremony, Jimmy kept his eyes on the letter in Anna Gates's hand
and waited. That the letter had come was enough. He lay back in
anticipatory joy, and let himself be talked over, and bathrobed,
and his hair parted Austrian fashion and turned up over a finger,
which is very Austrian indeed. He liked Harmony. The girl caught
his eyes on her more than once. He interrupted the speech once to
ask her just what part of the robe she had made, and whether she
had made the tassel. When she admitted the tassel, his admiration
became mixed with respect.
It was a bright day, for a marvel. Sunlight came through the
barred window behind Jimmy's bed, and brought into dazzling
radiance the pink bathrobe, and Harmony's eyes, and fat Nurse
Elisabet's white apron. It lay on the bedspread in great squares,
outlined by the shadows of the window bars. Now and then the
sentry, pacing outside, would advance as far as Jimmy's window,
and a warlike silhouette of military cap and the upper end of a
carbine would appear on the coverlet. These events, however, were
rare, the sentry preferring the shelter of the gateway and the
odor of boiling onions from the lodge just inside.
The Dozent retired to his room for the second breakfast; the
nurses went about the business of the ward; Dr. Anna Gates drew a
hairpin from her hair and made a great show of opening the many
times opened envelope.
"The letter at last!" she said. "Shall I read it or will you?"
"You read it. It takes me so long. I'll read it all day, after
you are gone. I always do."
Anna Gates read the letter. She read aloud poor Peter's first
halting lines, when he was struggling against sleep and cold.
They were mainly an apology for the delay. Then forgetting
discomfort in the joy of creation, he became more comfortable.
The account of the near-accident was wonderfully graphic; the
description of the chamois was fervid, if not accurate. But
consternation came with the end.
The letter apparently finished, there was yet another sheet. The
doctor read on.
"For Heaven's sake," said Peter's frantic postscript, "find out
how much a medium-sized chamois--"
Dr. Gates stopped "--ought to weigh," was the rest of it, "and
fix it right in the letter. The kid's too smart to be fooled and
I never saw a chamois outside of a drug store. They have horns,
haven't they?"
"That's funny!" said Jimmy Conway.
"That was one of my papers slipped in by mistake," remarked Dr.
Gates, with dignity, and flashing a wild appeal for help to
Harmony.
"How did one of your papers get in when it was sealed?"
"I think," observed Harmony, leaning forward, "that little boys
must not ask too many questions, especially when Christmas is
only six weeks off."
"I know! He wants to send me the horns the way he sent me the
boar's tusks."
For Peter, having in one letter unwisely recorded the slaughter
of a boar, had been obliged to ransack Vienna for a pair of
tusks. The tusks had not been so difficult. But horns!
Jimmy was contented with his solution and asked no more
questions. The morning's excitement had tired him, and he lay
back. Dr. Gates went to hold a whispered consultation vith the
nurse, and came back, looking grave.
The boy was asleep, holding the letter in his thin hands.
The visit to the hospital was a good thing for Harmony--to find
some one worse off than she was, to satisfy that eternal desire
of women to do something, however small, for some one else. Her
own troubles looked very small to her that day as she left the
hospital and stepped out into the bright sunshine.
She passed the impassive sentry, then turned and went back to
him.
"Do you wish to do a very kind thing?" she asked in German.
Now the conversation of an Austrian sentry consists of yea, yea,
and nay, nay, and not always that. But Harmony was lovely and the
sun was moderating the wind. The sentry looked round; no one was
near.
"What do you wish?"
"Inside that third window is a small boy and he is very ill. I do
not think--perhaps he will never be well again. Could you not,
now and then, pass the window? It pleases him."
"Pass the window! But why?"
"In America we see few of our soldiers. He likes to see you and
the gun."
"Ah, the gun!" He smiled and nodded in comprehension, then, as an
officer appeared in the door of a coffee-house across the street,
he stiffened into immobility and stared past Harmony into space.
But the girl knew he would do as she had desired.
That day brought good luck to Harmony. The wife of one of the
professors at the hospital desired English conversation at two
Kronen an hour.
Peter brought the news home at noon, and that afternoon Harmony
was engaged. It was little enough, but it was something. It did
much more than offer her two Kronen an hour; it gave her back her
self-confidence, although the immediate result was rather tragic.
The Frau Professor Bergmeister, infatuated with English and with
Harmony, engaged her, and took her first two Kronen worth that
afternoon. It was the day for a music-lesson. Harmony arrived
five minutes late, panting, hat awry, and so full of the Frau
Professor Bergmeister that she could think of nothing else.
Obedient to orders she had placed the envelope containing her
fifty Kronen before the secretary as she went in. The master was
out of humor. Should he, the teacher of the great Koert, be kept
waiting for a chit of a girl--only, of course, he said "das
Kindchen" or some other German equivalent for chit--and then have
her come into the sacred presence breathless, and salute him
between gasps as the Frau Professor Bergmeister?
Being excited and now confused by her error, and being also
rather tremulous with three flights of stairs at top speed,
Harmony dropped her bow. In point of heinousness this classes
with dropping one's infant child from an upper window, or sitting
on the wrong side of a carriage when with a lady.
The master, thus thrice outraged, rose slowly and glared at
Harmony. Then with a lordly gesture to her to follow he stalked
to the outer room, and picking up the envelope with the fifty
Kronen held it out to her without a word.
Harmony's world came crashing about her ears. She stared stupidly
at the envelope in her hand, at the master's retreating back.
Two girl students waiting their turn, envelopes in hand, giggled
together. Harmony saw them and flushed scarlet. But the lady
secretary touched her arm.
"It does not matter, Fraulein. He does so sometimes. Always he is
sorry. You will come for your next lesson, not so? and all will
be well. You are his well-beloved pupil. To-night he will not eat
for grief that he has hurt you."
The ring of sincerity in the shabby secretary's voice was
unmistakable. Her tense throat relaxed. She looked across at the
two students who had laughed. They were not laughing now.
Something of fellowship and understanding passed between them in
the glance. After all, it was in the day's work--would come to
one of them next, perhaps. And they had much in common--the
struggle, their faith, the everlasting loneliness, the little
white envelopes, each with its fifty Kronen.
Vaguely comforted, but with the light gone out of her day of
days, Harmony went down the three long flights and out into the
brightness of the winter day.
On the Ring she almost ran into Peter. He was striding toward
her, giving a definite impression of being bound for some
particular destination and of being behind time. That this was
not the case was shown by the celerity with which, when he saw
Harmony, he turned about and walked with her.
"I had an hour or two," he explained, "and I thought I'd walk.
But walking is a social habit, like drinking. I hate to walk
alone. How about the Frau Professor?"
"She has taken me on. I'm very happy. But, Dr. Byrne--"
"You called me Peter last night."
"That was different. You had just proposed to me."
"Oh, if that's all that's necessary--" He stopped in the center
of the busy Ring with every evident intention of proposing again.
"Please, Peter!"
"Aha! Victory! Well, what about the Frau Professor Bergmeister?"
"She asks so many questions about America; and I cannot answer
them."
"For instance?"
"Well, taxes now. She's very much interested in taxes."
"Never owned anything taxable except a dog--and that wasn't a tax
anyhow; it was a license. Can't you switch her on to medicine or
surgery, where I'd be of some use?"
"She says to-morrow we'll talk of the tariff and customs duties."
"Well, I've got something to say on that." He pulled from his
overcoat pocket a largish bundle--Peter always bulged with
packages--and held it out for her to see. "Tell the Frau
Professor Bergmeister with my compliments," he said, "that
because some idiot at home sent me five pounds of tobacco,
hearing from afar my groans over the tobacco here, I have passed
from mere financial stress to destitution. The Austrian customs
have taken from me to-day the equivalent of ten dollars in duty.
I offered them the tobacco on bended knee, but they scorned it."
"Really, Peter?"
"Really."
Under this lightness Harmony sensed the real anxiety. Ten dollars
was fifty Kronen, and fifty Kronen was a great deal of money. She
reached over and patted his arm.
"You'll make it up in some way. Can't you cut off some little
extravagance?"
"I might cut down on my tailor bills." He looked down at himself
whimsically. "Or on ties. I'm positively reckless about ties!"
They walked on in silence. A detachment of soldiery, busy with
that eternal military activity that seems to get nowhere, passed
on a dog-trot. Peter looked at them critically.
"Bosnians," he observed. "Raw, half-fed troops from Bosnia, nine
out of ten of them tubercular. It's a rotten game, this military
play of Europe. How's Jimmy?"
"We left him very happy with your letter."
Peter flushed. "I expect it was pretty poor stuff," he
apologized. "I've never seen the Alps except from a train window,
and as for a chamois--"
"He says his father will surely send him the horns."
Peter groaned.
"Of course!" he said. "Why, in Heaven's name, didn't I make it an
eagle? One can always buy a feather or two. But horns? He really
liked the letter?"
"He adored it. He went to sleep almost at once with it in his
hands."
Peter glowed. The small irritation of the custom-house forgotten,
he talked of Jimmy; of what had been done and might still be
done, if only there were money; and from Jimmy he talked boy. He
had had a boys' club at home during his short experience in
general practice. Boys were his hobby.
"Scum of the earth, most of them," he said, his plain face
glowing. "Dirty little beggars off the street. At first they
stole my tobacco; and one of them pawned a medical book or two!
Then they got to playing the game right. By Jove, Harmony, I wish
you could have seen them! Used to line 'em up and make 'em
spell, and the two best spellers were allowed to fight it out
with gloves--my own method, and it worked. Spell! They'd spell
their heads off to get a chance at the gloves. Gee, how I hated
to give them up!"
This was a new Peter, a boyish individual Harmony had never met
before. For the first time it struck her that Peter was young. He
had always seemed rather old, solid and dependable, the fault of
his elder brother attitude to her, no doubt. She was suddenly
rather shy, a bit aloof. Peter felt the change and thought she
was bored. He talked of other things.
A surprise was waiting for them in the cold lower hallway of the
Pension Schwarz. A trunk was there, locked and roped, and on the
trunk, in ulster and hat, sat Dr. Gates. Olga, looking rather
frightened, was coming down with a traveling-bag. She put down
the bag and scuttled up the staircase like a scared rabbit.
The little doctor was grim. She eyed Peter and Harmony with an
impersonal hostility, referable to her humor.
"I've been waiting for you two," she flung at them. "I've had a
terrific row upstairs and I'm going. That woman's a devil!"
It had been a bad day for Harmony, and this new development,
after everything else, assumed the proportions of a crisis. She
had clung, at first out of sheer loneliness and recently out of
affection, to the sharp little doctor with her mannish
affectations, her soft and womanly heart.
"Sit down, child." Anna Gates moved over on the trunk. " You are
fagged out. Peter, will you stop looking murderous and listen to
me? How much did it cost the three of us to live in this abode of
virtue?"
It was simple addition. The total was rather appalling.
"I thought so. Now this is my plan. It may not be conventional,
but it will be respectable enough to satisfy anybody. And it will
be cheaper, I'm sure of that: We are all going out to the
hunting-lodge of Maria Theresa, and Harmony shall keep house for
us!"
CHAPTER IX
It was the middle of November when Anna Gates, sitting on her
trunk in the cold entrance hall on the Hirschengasse, flung the
conversational bomb that left empty three rooms in the Pension
Schwarz.
Mid-December found Harmony back and fully established in the
lodge of Maria Theresa on the Street of Seven Stars--back, but
with a difference. True, the gate still swung back and forward on
rusty hinges, obedient to every whim of the December gales; but
the casement windows in the salon no longer creaked or admitted
drafts, thanks to Peter and a roll of rubber weather-casing. The
grand piano, which had been Scatchy's rented extravagance, had
gone never to return, and in its corner stood a battered but
still usable upright. Under the great chandelier sat a table with
an oil lamp, and evening and morning the white-tiled stove
gleamed warm with fire. On the table by the lamp were the
combined medical books of Peter and Anna Gates, and an ash-tray
which also they used in common.
Shabby still, of course, bare, almost denuded, the salon of Maria
Theresa. But at night, with the lamp lighted and the little door
of the stove open, and perhaps, when the dishes from supper had
been washed, with Harmony playing softly, it took resolution on
Peter's part to put on his overcoat and face a lecture on the
resection of a rib or a discussion of the function of the
pituitary body.
The new arrangement had proved itself in more ways than one not
only greater in comfort, but in economy. Food was amazingly
cheap. Coal, which had cost ninety Hellers a bucket at the
Pension Schwarz, they bought in quantity and could afford to use
lavishly. Oil for the lamp was a trifle. They dined on venison
now and then, when the shop across boasted a deer from the
mountains. They had other game occasionally, when Peter, carrying
home a mysterious package, would make them guess what it might
contain. Always on such occasions Harmony guessed rabbits. She
knew how to cook rabbits, and some of the other game worried her.
For Harmony was the cook. It had taken many arguments and much
coaxing to make Peter see it that way. In vain Harmony argued the
extravagance of Rosa, now married to the soldier from Salzburg
with one lung, or the tendency of the delicatessen seller to
weigh short if one did not watch him. Peter was firm.
It was Dr. Gates, after all, who found the solution.
"Don't be too obstinate, Peter," she admonished him. "The child
needs occupation; she can't practice all day. You and I can keep
up the financial end well enough, reduced as it is. Let her keep
house to her heart's content. That can be her contribution to the
general fund."
And that eventually was the way it settled itself, not without
demur from Harmony, who feared her part was too small, and who
irritated Anna almost to a frenzy by cleaning the apartment from
end to end to make certain of her usefulness.
A curious little household surely, one that made the wife of the
Portier shake her head, and speak much beneath her breath with
the wife of the brushmaker about the Americans having queer ways
and not as the Austrians.
The short month had seen a change in all of them. Peter showed it
least of all, perhaps. Men feel physical discomfort less keenly
than women, and Peter had been only subconsciously wretched. He
had gained a pound or two in flesh, perhaps, and he was
unmistakably tidier. Anna Gates was growing round and rosy, and
Harmony had trimmed her a hat. But the real change was in Harmony
herself.
The girl had become a woman. Who knows the curious psychology by
which such changes come--not in a month or a year; but in an
hour, a breath. One moment Harmony was a shy, tender young
creature, all emotion, quivering at a word, aloof at a glance,
prone to occasional introspection and mysterious daydreams; the
next she was a young woman, tender but not shyly so, incredibly
poised, almost formidably dignified on occasion, but with little
girlish lapses into frolic and high spirits.
The transition moment with Harmony came about in this wise: They
had been settled for three weeks. The odor of stewing cabbages at
the Pension Schwarz had retired into the oblivion of lost scents,
to be recalled, along with its accompanying memory of discomfort,
with every odor of stewing cabbages for years to come. At the
hospital Jimmy had had a bad week again. It had been an anxious
time for all of them. In vain the sentry had stopped outside the
third window and smiled and nodded through it; in vain--when the
street was deserted and there was none to notice--he went through
a bit of the manual of arms on the pavement outside, ending by
setting his gun down with a martial and ringing clang.
In vain had Peter exhausted himself in literary efforts, climbing
unheard-of peaks, taking walking-tours through such a Switzerland
as never was, shooting animals of various sorts, but all
hornless, as he carefully emphasized.
And now Jimmy was better again. He was propped up in bed, and
with the aid of Nurse Elisabet he had cut out a paper sentry and
set it in the barred window. The real sentry had been very much
astonished; he had almost fallen over backward. On recovering he
went entirely through the manual of arms, and was almost seen by
an Oberst-lieutenant. It was all most exciting.
Harmony had been to see Jimmy on the day in question. She had
taken him some gelatin, not without apprehension, it being her
first essay in jelly and Jimmy being frank with the candor of
childhood. The jelly had been a great success.
It was when she was about to go that Jimmy broached a matter very
near his heart.
"The horns haven't come, have they?" he asked wistfully.
"No, not yet."
"Do you think he got my letter about them?"
"He answered it, didn't he?"
Jimmy drew a long breath. "It's very funny. He's mostly so quick.
If I had the horns, Sister Elisabet would tie them there at the
foot of the bed. And I could pretend I was hunting."
Harmony had a great piece of luck that day. As she went home she
saw hanging in front of the wild-game shop next to the
delicatessen store a fresh deer, and this time it was a stag.
Like the others it hung head down, and as it swayed on its hook
its great antlers tapped against the shop door as if mutely
begging admission.
She could not buy the antlers. In vain she pleaded, explained,
implored. Harmony enlisted the Portier, and took him across with
her. The wild-game seller was obdurate. He would sell the deer
entire, or he would mount head and antlers for his wife's cousin
in Galicia as a Christmas gift.
Harmony went back to the lodge and climbed the stairs. She was
profoundly depressed. Even the discovery that Peter had come home
early and was building a fire in the kitchen brought only a
fleeting smile. Anna was not yet home.
Peter built the fire. The winter dusk was falling and Harmony
made a movement to light the candles. Peter stopped her.
"Can't we have the firelight for a little while? You are always
beautiful, but--you are lovely in the firelight, Harmony."
"That is because you like me. We always think our friends are
beautiful."
"I am fond of Anna, but I have never thought her beautiful."
The kitchen was small. Harmony, rolling up her sleeves by the
table, and Peter before the stove were very close together. The
dusk was fast fading into darkness; to this tiny room at the back
of the old house few street sounds penetrated. Round them,
shutting them off together from the world of shops with lighted
windows, rumbling busses and hurrying humanity, lay the old lodge
with its dingy gardens, its whitewashed halls, its dark and
twisting staircases.
Peter had been very careful. He had cultivated a comradely manner
with the girl that had kept her entirely at her ease with him.
But it had been growing increasingly hard. He was only human
after all. And he was very comfortable. Love, healthy human love,
thrives on physical ease. Indigestion is a greater foe to it than
poverty. Great love songs are written, not by poets starving in
hall bedrooms, with insistent hunger gnawing and undermining all
that is of the spirit, but by full-fed gentlemen who sing out of
an overflowing of content and wide fellowship, and who write, no
doubt, just after dinner. Love, being a hunger, does not thrive
on hunger.
Thus Peter. He had never found women essential, being occupied in
the struggle for other essentials. Women had had little part in
his busy life. Once or twice he had seen visions, dreamed dreams,
to waken himself savagely to the fact that not for many years
could he afford the luxury of tender eyes looking up into his, of
soft arms about his neck. So he had kept away from women with
almost ferocious determination. And now!
He drew a chair before the stove and sat down. Standing or
sitting, he was much too large for the kitchen. He sat in the
chair, with his hands hanging, fingers interlaced between his
knees.
The firelight glowed over his strong, rather irregular features.
Harmony, knife poised over the evening's potatoes, looked at him.
"I think you are sad to-night, Peter."
"Depressed a bit. That's all."
"It isn't money again?"
It was generally money with any of the three, and only the week
before Peter had found an error in his bank balance which meant
that he was a hundred Kronen or so poorer than he had thought.
This discovery had been very upsetting.
"Not more than usual. Don't mind me. I'll probably end in a
roaring bad temper and smash something. My moody spells often
break up that way!"
Harmony put down the paring-knife, and going over to where he sat
rested a hand on his shoulder. Peter drew away from it.
"I have hurt you in some way?"
"Of course not."
"Could--could you talk about whatever it is? That helps
sometimes."
"You wouldn't understand."
"You haven't quarreled with Anna?" Harmony asked, real concern in
her voice.
"No. Good Lord, Harmony, don't ask me what's wrong! I don't know
myself."
He got up almost violently and set the little chair back against
the wall. Hurt and astonished, Harmony went back to the table.
The kitchen was entirely dark, save for the firelight, which
gleamed on the bare floor and the red legs of the table. She was
fumbling with a match and the candle when she realized that Peter
was just behind her, very close.
"Dearest," he said huskily. The next moment he had caught her to
him, was kissing her lips, her hair.
Harmony's heart beat wildly. There was no use struggling against
him. The gates of his self-control were down: all his loneliness,
his starved senses rushed forth in tardy assertion.
After a moment Peter kissed her eyelids very gently and let her
go. Harmony was trembling, but with shock and alarm only. The
storm that had torn him root and branch from his firm ground of
self-restraint left her only shaken. He was still very close to
her; she could hear him breathing. He did not attempt to speak.
With every atom of strength that was left in him he was fighting
a mad desire to take her in his arms again and keep her there.
That was the moment when Harmony became a woman.
She lighted the candle with the match she still held. Then she
turned and faced him.
"That sort of thing is not for you and me, Peter," she said
quietly.
"Why not?"
"There isn't any question about it."
He was still reckless, even argumentative; the crying need of her
still obsessed him. "Why not? Why should I not take you in my
arms? If there is a moment of happiness to be had in this grind
of work and loneliness--"
"It has not made me happy."
Perhaps nothing else she could have said would have been so
effectual. Love demands reciprocation; he could read no passion
in her voice. He knew then that he had left her unstirred. He
dropped his outstretched arms.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it."
"I would rather not talk about it, please."
The banging of a door far off told them that Anna Gates had
arrived and was taking off her galoshes in the entry. Peter drew
a long breath, and, after his habit, shook himself.
"Very well, we'll not talk of it. But, for Heaven's sake,
Harmony, don't avoid me. I'm not a cad. I'll let you alone."
There was only time for a glance of understanding between them,
of promise from Peter, of acceptance from the girl. When Anna
Gates entered the kitchen she found Harmony peeling potatoes and
Peter filling up an already overfed stove.
That night, during that darkest hour before the dawn when the
thrifty city fathers of the old town had shut off the street
lights because two hours later the sun would rise and furnish
light that cost the taxpayers nothing, the Portier's wife
awakened.
The room was very silent, too silent. On those rare occasions
when the Portier's wife awakened in the night and heard the twin
clocks of the Votivkirche strike three, and listened, perhaps,
while the delicatessen seller ambled home from the Schubert
Society, singing beerily as he ambled, she was wont to hear from
the bed beside hers the rhythmic respiration that told her how
safe from Schubert Societies and such like evils was her lord.
There was no sound at all.
The Portier's wife raised herself on her elbow and reached over.
Owing to the width of the table that stood between the beds and
to a sweeping that day which had left the beds far apart she met
nothing but empty air. Words had small effect on the Portier, who
slept fathoms deep in unconsciousness. Also she did not wish to
get up--the floor was cold and a wind blowing. Could she not hear
it and the creaking of the deer across the street, as it swung on
its hook?
The wife of the Portier was a person of resource. She took the
iron candlestick from the table and flung it into the darkness at
the Portier's pillow. No startled yell followed.
Suspicion thus confirmed, the Portier's wife forgot the cold
floor and the wind, and barefoot felt her way into the hall.
Suspicion was doubly confirmed. The chain was off the door; it
even stood open an inch or two.
Armed with a second candlestick she stationed herself inside the
door and waited. The stone floor was icy, but the fury of a woman
scorned kept her warm. The Votivkirche struck one, two, three
quarters of an hour. The candlestick in her hand changed from
iron to ice, from ice to red-hot fire. Still the Portier had not
come back and the door chain swung in the wind.
At four o'clock she retired to the bedroom again. Indignation had
changed to fear, coupled with sneezing. Surely even the Schubert
Society--What was that?
From the Portier's bed was coming a rhythmic respiration!
She roused him, standing over him with the iron candlestick, now
lighted, and gazing at him with eyes in which alarm struggled
with suspicion.
"Thou hast been out of thy bed!"
"But no!"
"An hour since the bed was empty."
"Thou dreamest."
"The chain is off the door."
"Let it remain so and sleep. What have we to steal or the
Americans above? Sleep and keep peace."
He yawned and was instantly asleep again. The Portier's wife
crawled into her bed and warmed her aching feet under the crimson
feather comfort. But her soul was shaken.
The Devil had been known to come at night and take innocent ones
out to do his evil. The innocent ones knew it not, but it might
be told by the soles of the feet, which were always soiled.
At dawn the Portier's wife cautiously uncovered the soles of her
sleeping lord's feet, and fell back gasping. They were quite
black, as of one who had tramped in garden mould.
Early the next morning Harmony, after a restless night, opened
the door from the salon of Maria Theresa into the hall and set
out a pitcher for the milk.
On the floor, just outside, lay the antlers from the deer across
the street. Tied to them was a bit of paper, and on it was
written the one word, "Still!"
CHAPTER X
In looking back after a catastrophe it is easy to trace the steps
by which the inevitable advanced. Destiny marches, not by great
leaps but with a thousand small and painful steps, and here and
there it leaves its mark, a footprint on a naked soul. We trace a
life by its scars, as a tree by its rings.
Anna Gates was not the best possible companion for Harmony, and
this with every allowance for her real kindliness, her genuine
affection for the girl. Life had destroyed her illusions, and it
was of illusions that Harmony's veil had been woven. To Anna
Gates, worn with a thousand sleepless nights, a thousand
thankless days, withered before her time with the struggling
routine of medical practice, sapped with endless calls for
sympathy and aid, existence ceased to be spiritual and became
physiological.
Life and birth and death had lost their mysteries. The veil was
rent.
To fit this existence of hers she had built herself a curious
creed, a philosophy of individualism, from behind which she flung
strange bombshells of theories, shafts of distorted moralities,
personal liberties, irresponsibilities, a supreme scorn for
modern law and the prophets. Nature, she claimed, was her law and
her prophet.
In her hard-working, virginal life her theories had wrought no
mischief. Temptation had been lacking to exploit them, and even
in the event of the opportunity it was doubtful whether she would
have had the strength of her convictions. Men love theories, but
seldom have the courage of them, and Anna Gates was largely
masculine. Women, being literal, are apt to absorb dangerous
doctrine and put it to the test. When it is false doctrine they
discover it too late.
Harmony was now a woman.
Anna would have cut off her hand sooner than have brought the
girl to harm; but she loved to generalize. It amused her to see
Harmony's eyes widen with horror at one of her radical beliefs.
Nothing pleased her more than to pit her individualism against
the girl's rigid and conventional morality, and down her by some
apparently unanswerable argument.
On the day after the incident in the kitchen such an argument
took place--hardly an argument, for Harmony knew nothing of
mental fencing. Anna had taken a heavy cold, and remained at
home. Harmony had been practicing, and at the end she played a
little winter song by some modern composer. It breathed all the
purity of a white winter's day; it was as chaste as ice and as
cold; and yet throughout was the thought of green things hiding
beneath the snow and the hope of spring.
Harmony, having finished, voiced some such feeling. She was
rather ashamed of her thought.
"It seems that way to me," she finished apologetically. "It
sounds rather silly. I always think I can tell the sort of person
who composes certain things."
"And this gentleman who writes of winter?"
"I think he is very reserved. And that he has never loved any
one."
"Indeed!"
"When there is any love in music, any heart, one always feels it,
exactly as in books--the difference between a love story
and--and--"
"--a dictionary !"
"You always laugh," Harmony complained
"That's better than weeping. When I think of the rotten way
things go in this world I want to weep always."
"I don't find it a bad world. Of course there are bad people, but
there are good ones."
"Where? Peter and you and I, I suppose."
"There are plenty of good men."
"What do you call a good man?"
Harmony hesitated, then went on bravely:--
"Honorable men."
Anna smiled. "My dear child," she said, "you substitute the code
of a gentleman for the Mosaic Law. Of course your good man is a
monogamist?"
Harmony nodded, puzzled eyes on Anna.
"Then there are no 'good' people in the polygamous countries, I
suppose! When there were twelve women to every man, a man took a
dozen wives. To-day in our part of the globe there is one
woman--and a fifth over--for every man. Each man gets one woman,
and for every five couples there is a derelict like myself,
mateless."
Anna's amazing frankness about herself often confused Harmony.
Her resentment at her single condition, because it left her
childless, brought forth theories that shocked and alarmed the
girl. In the atmosphere in which Harmony had been reared single
women were always presumed to be thus by choice and to regard
with certain tolerance those weaker sisters who had married.
Anna, on the contrary, was frankly a derelict, frankly regretted
her maiden condition and railed with bitterness against her
enforced childlessness. The near approach of Christmas had for
years found her morose and resentful. There are, here and there,
such women, essentially mothers but not necessarily wives, their
sole passion that of maternity.
Anna, argumentative and reckless, talked on. She tore away, in
her resentment, every theory of existence the girl had ever
known, and offered her instead an incredible liberty in the name
of the freedom of the individual. Harmony found all her
foundations of living shaken, and though refusing to accept
Anna's theories, found her faith in her own weakened. She sat
back, pale and silent, listening, while Anna built up out of her
discontent a new heaven and a new earth, with liberty written
high in its firmament.
When her reckless mood had passed Anna was regretful enough at
the girl's stricken face.
"I'm a fool!" she said contritely. "If Peter had been here he'd
have throttled me. I deserve it. I'm a theorist, pure and simple,
and theorists are the anarchists of society. There's only one
comfort about us--we never live up to our convictions. Now forget
all this rot I've been talking."
Peter brought up the mail that afternoon, a Christmas card or two
for Anna, depressingly early, and a letter from the Big Soprano
for Harmony from New York. The Big Soprano was very glad to be
back and spent two pages over her chances for concert work.
". . . I could have done as well had I stayed at home. If I had
had the money they wanted, to go to Geneva and sing 'Brunnhilde,'
it would have helped a lot. I could have said I'd sung in opera
in Europe and at least have had a hearing at the Met. But I
didn't, and I'm back at the church again and glad to get my old
salary. If it's at all possible, stay until the master has
presented you in a concert. He's quite right, you haven't a
chance unless he does. And now I'll quit grumbling.
"Scatchy met her Henry at the dock and looked quite lovely,
flushed with excitement and having been up since dawn curling her
hair. He was rather a disappointment--small and blond, with light
blue eyes, and almost dapper. But oh, my dear, I wouldn't care
how pale a man's eyes were if he looked at me the way Henry
looked at her.
"They asked me to luncheon with them, but I knew they wanted to
be alone together, and so I ate a bite or two, all I could
swallow for the lump in my throat, by myself. I was homesick
enough in old Wien, but I am just as homesick now that I am here,
for we are really homesick only for people, not places. And no
one really cared whether I came back or not."
Peter had been miserable all day, not with regret for the day
before, but with fear. What if Harmony should decide that the
situation was unpleasant and decide to leave? What if a reckless
impulse, recklessly carried out, were to break up an arrangement
that had made a green oasis of happiness and content for all of
them in the desert of their common despair?
If he had only let her go and apologized! But no, he had had to
argue, to justify himself, to make an idiot of himself generally.
He almost groaned aloud as he opened the gate end crossed the
wintry garden.
He need not have feared. Harmony had taken him entirely at his
word. "I am not a beast. I'll let you alone," he had said. She
had had a bad night, as nights go. She had gone through the
painful introspection which, in a thoroughly good girl, always
follows such an outburst as Peter's. Had she said or done
anything to make him think--Surely she had not! Had she been
wrong about Peter after all? Surely not again.
While the Portier's wife, waked, as may happen, by an
unaccustomed silence, was standing guard in the hall below, iron
candlestick in hand, Harmony, having read the Litany through in
the not particularly religious hope of getting to sleep, was
dreaming placidly. It was Peter who tossed and turned almost all
night. Truly there had been little sleep that night in the old
hunting-lodge of Maria Theresa.
Peter, still not quite at ease, that evening kept out of the
kitchen while supper was preparing. Anna, radical theories
forgotten and wearing a knitted shawl against drafts, was making
a salad, and Harmony, all anxiety and flushed with heat, was
broiling a steak.
Steak was an extravagance, to be cooked with clear hot coals and
prayer.
"Peter," she called, "you may set the table. And try to lay the
cloth straight."
Peter, exiled in the salon, came joyously. Obviously the wretched
business of yesterday was forgiven. He came to the door, pipe in
mouth.
"Suppose I refuse?" he questioned. "You--you haven't been very
friendly with me to-day, Harry."
"I?"
"Don't quarrel, you children," cried Anna, beating eggs
vigorously. "Harmony is always friendly, too friendly. The
Portier loves her."
"I'm sure I said good-evening to you."
"You usually say, 'Good-evening, Peter.' "
"And I did not?"
"You did not."
"Then--Good-evening, Peter."
"Thank you."
His steady eyes met hers. In them there was a renewal of his
yesterday's promise, abasement, regret. Harmony met him with
forgiveness and restoration.
"Sometimes," said Peter humbly, "when I am in very great favor,
you say, 'Good-evening, Peter, dear.' "
"Good-evening, Peter, dear," said Harmony.
CHAPTER XI
The affairs of young Stewart and Marie Jedlicka were not moving
smoothly. Having rented their apartment to the Boyers, and
through Marie's frugality and the extra month's wages at
Christmas, which was Marie's annual perquisite, being temporarily
in funds the sky seemed clear enough, and Walter Stewart started
on his holiday with a comfortable sense of financial security.
Mrs. Boyer, shown over the flat by Stewart during Marie's
temporary exile in the apartment across the hall, was captivated
by the comfort of the little suite and by its order. Her
housewifely mind, restless with long inactivity in a pension,
seized on the bright pans of Marie's kitchen and the promise of
the brick-and-sheetiron stove. She disapproved of Stewart, having
heard strange stories of him, but there was nothing bacchanal or
suspicious about this orderly establishment. Mrs. Boyer was a
placid, motherly looking woman, torn from her church and her card
club, her grown children, her household gods of thirty years'
accumulation, that "Frank" might catch up with his profession.
She had explained it rather tremulously at home.
"Father wants to go," she said. "You children are big enough now
to be left. He's always wanted to do it, but we couldn't go while
you were little."
"But, mother!" expostulated the oldest girl. "When you are so
afraid of the ocean! And a year!"
"What is to be will be," she had replied. "If I'm going to be
drowned I'll be drowned, whether it's in the sea or in a bathtub.
And I'll not let father go alone."
Fatalism being their mother's last argument and always final, the
children gave up. They let her go. More, they prepared for her so
elaborate a wardrobe that the poor soul had had no excuse to
purchase anything abroad. She had gone through Paris looking
straight ahead lest her eyes lead her into the temptation of the
shops. In Vienna she wore her home-town outfit with
determination, vaguely conscious that the women about her had
more style, were different. She priced unsuitable garments
wistfully, and went home to her trunks full of best materials
that would never wear out. The children, knowing her, had bought
the best.
To this couple, then, Stewart had rented his apartment. It is
hard to say by what psychology he found their respectability so
satisfactory. It was as though his own status gained by it. He
had much the same feeling about the order and decency with which
Marie managed the apartment, as if irregularity were thus
regularized.
Marie had met him once for a walk along the Graben. She had worn
an experimental touch of rouge under a veil, and fine lines were
drawn under her blue eyes, darkening them. She had looked very
pretty, rather frightened. Stewart had sent her home and had
sulked for an entire evening.
So curious a thing is the mind masculine, such an order of
disorder, so conventional its defiance of convention. Stewart
breaking the law and trying to keep the letter!
On the day they left for Semmering Marie was up at dawn. There
was much to do. The house must be left clean and shining. There
must be no feminine gewgaws to reveal to the Frau Doktor that it
was not a purely masculine establishment. At the last moment, so
late that it sent her heart into her mouth, she happened on the
box of rouge hidden from Stewart's watchful eyes. She gave it to
the milk girl.
Finally she folded her meager wardrobe and placed it in the Herr
Doktor's American trunk: a marvel, that trunk, so firm, so heavy,
bound with iron. And with her own clothing she packed Stewart's,
the dress-suit he had worn once to the Embassy, a hat that
folded, strange American shoes, and books--always books. The Herr
Doktor would study at Semmering. When all was in readiness and
Stewart was taking a final survey, Marie ran downstairs and
summoned a cab. It did not occur to her to ask him to do it.
Marie's small life was one of service, and besides there was an
element in their relationship that no one but Marie suspected,
and that she hid even from herself. She was very much in love
with this indifferent American, this captious temporary god of
her domestic altar. Such a contingency had never occurred to
Stewart; but Peter, smoking gravely in the little apartment, had
more than once caught a look in Marie's eyes as she turned them
on the other man, and had surmised it. It made him uncomfortable.
When the train was well under way, however, and he found no
disturbing element among the three others in the compartment,
Stewart relaxed. Semmering was a favorite resort with the
American colony, but not until later in the winter. In December
there were rains in the mountains, and low-lying clouds that
invested some of the chalets in constant fog. It was not until
the middle of January that the little mountain train became
crowded with tourists, knickerbockered men with knapsacks, and
jaunty feathers in their soft hats, boys carrying ski, women with
Alpine cloaks and iron-pointed sticks.
Marie was childishly happy. It was the first real vacation of her
life, and more than that she was going to Semmering, in the very
shadow of the Raxalpe, the beloved mountain of the Viennese.
Marie had seen the Rax all her life, as it towered thirty miles
or so away above the plain. On peaceful Sundays, having climbed
the cog railroad, she had seen its white head turn rosy in the
setting sun, and once when a German tourist from Munich had
handed her his fieldglass she had even made out some of the
crosses that showed where travelers had met their deaths. Now she
would be very close. If the weather were good, she might even say
a prayer in the chapel on its crest for the souls of those who
had died. It was of a marvel, truly; so far may one go when one
has money and leisure.
The small single-trucked railway carriages bumped and rattled up
the mountain sides, always rising, always winding. There were
moments when the track held to the cliffs only by gigantic
fingers of steel, while far below were peaceful valleys and
pink-and-blue houses and churches with gilded spires. There were
vistas of snow-peak and avalanche shed, and always there were
tunnels. Marie, so wise in some things, was a child in others;
she slid close to Stewart in the darkness and touched him for
comfort.
"It is so dark," she apologized, "and it frightens me, the
mountain heart. In your America, have you so great mountains?"
Stewart patted her hand, a patronizing touch that sent her blood
racing.
"Much larger," he said magnificently. "I haven't seen a hill in
Europe I'd exchange for the Rockies. And when we cross the
mountains there we use railway coaches. These toy railroads are a
joke. At home we'd use 'em as street-cars."
"Really! I should like to see America."
"So should I."
The conversation was taking a dangerous trend. Mention of America
was apt to put the Herr Doktor in a bad humor or to depress him,
which was even worse. Marie, her hand still on his arm and not
repulsed, became silent.
At a small way station the three Germans in the compartment left
the train. Stewart, lowering a window, bought from a boy on the
platform beer and sausages and a bag of pretzels. As the train
resumed its clanking progress they ate luncheon, drinking the
beer from the bottles and slicing the sausage with a penknife. It
was a joyous trip, a red-letter day in the girl's rather sordid
if not uneventful life. The Herr Doktor was pleased with her. He
liked her hat, and when she flushed with pleasure demanded proof
that she was not rouged. Proof was forthcoming. She rubbed her
cheeks vigorously with a handkerchief and produced in triumph its
unreddened purity.
"Thou suspicious one!" she pouted. "I must take off the skin to
assure thee! When the Herr Doktor says no rouge, I use none."
"You're a good child." He stooped over and kissed one scarlet
cheek and then being very comfortable and the beer having made
him drowsy, he put his head in her lap and slept.
When he awakened they were still higher. The snow-peak towered
above and the valleys were dizzying! Semmering was getting near.
They were frequently in darkness; and between the tunnels were
long lines of granite avalanche sheds. The little passage of the
car was full of tourists looking down.
"We are very close, I am sure," an American girl was saying just
outside the doorway. "See, isn't that the Kurhaus? There, it is
lost again."
The tourists in the passage were Americans and the girl who had
spoken was young and attractive. Stewart noticed them for the
first time and moved to a more decorous distance from Marie.
Marie Jedlicka took her cue and lapsed into silence, but her
thoughts were busy. Perhaps this girl was going to Semmering also
and the Herr Doktor would meet her. But that was foolish! There
were other resorts besides Semmering, and in the little villa to
which they went there would be no Americans. It was childish to
worry about a girl whose back and profile only she had seen. Also
profiles were deceptive; there was the matter of the ears.
Marie's ears were small and set close to her head. If the
American Fraulein's ears stuck out or her face were only short
and wide! But no. The American Fraulein turned and glanced once
swiftly into the compartment. She was quite lovely.
Stewart thought so, too. He got up with a great show of
stretching and yawning and lounged into the passage. He did not
speak to the girl; Marie noted that with some comfort. But
shortly after she saw him conversing easily with a male member of
the party. Her heart sank again. Life was moving very fast for
Marie Jedlicka that afternoon on the train.
Stewart was duly presented to the party of Americans and offered
his own cards, bowing from the waist and clicking his heels
together, a German custom he had picked up. The girl was
impressed; Marie saw that. When they drew into the station at
Semmering Stewart helped the American party off first and then
came back for Marie. Less keen eyes than the little Austrian's
would have seen his nervous anxiety to escape attention, once
they were out of the train and moving toward the gate of the
station. He stopped to light a cigarette, he put down the
hand-luggage and picked it up again, as though it weighed
heavily, whereas it was both small and light. He loitered through
the gate and paused to exchange a word with the gateman.
The result was, of course, that the Americans were in a sleigh
and well up the mountainside before Stewart and Marie were seated
side by side in a straw-lined sledge, their luggage about them, a
robe over their knees, and a noisy driver high above them on the
driving-seat. Stewart spoke to her then, the first time for half
an hour.
Marie found some comfort. The villas at Semmering were scattered
wide over the mountain breast, set in dense clumps of evergreens,
hidden from the roads and from each other by trees and shrubbery
separated by valleys. One might live in one part of Semmering for
a month and never suspect the existence of other parts, or wander
over steep roads and paths for days and never pass twice over the
same one. The Herr Doktor might not see the American girl
again--and if he did! Did he not see American girls wherever he
went?
The sleigh climbed on. It seemed they would never stop climbing.
Below in the valley twilight already reigned, a twilight of blue
shadows, of cows with bells wandering home over frosty fields, of
houses with dark faces that opened an eye of lamplight as one
looked.
Across the valley and far above--Marie pointed without words. Her
small heart was very full. Greater than she had ever dreamed it,
steeper, more beautiful, more deadly, and crowned with its sunset
hue of rose was the Rax. Even Stewart lost his look of irritation
as he gazed with her. He reached over and covered both her hands
with his large one under the robe.
The sleigh climbed steadily. Marie Jedlicka, in a sort of
ecstasy, leaned back and watched the mountain; its crown faded
from rose to gold, from gold to purple with a thread of black.
There was a shadow on the side that looked like a cross. Marie
stopped the sleigh at a wayside shrine, and getting out knelt to
say a prayer for the travelers who had died on the Rax. They had
taken a room at a small villa where board was cheap, and where
the guests were usually Germans of the thriftier sort from
Bavaria. Both the season and the modest character of the
establishment promised them quiet and seclusion.
To Marie the house seemed the epitome of elegance, even luxury.
It clung to a steep hillside. Their room, on the third floor,
looked out from the back of the building over the valley, which
fell away almost sheer from beneath their windows. A tiny balcony
outside, with access to it by a door from the bedroom, looked far
down on the tops of tall pines. It made Marie dizzy.
She was cheerful again and busy. The American trunk was to be
unpacked and the Herr Doktor's things put away, his shoes in
rows, as he liked them, and his shaving materials laid out on the
washstand. Then there was a new dress to put on, that she might
do him credit at supper.
Stewart's bad humor had returned. He complained of the room and
the draft under the balcony door; the light was wrong for
shaving. But the truth came out at last and found Marie not
unprepared.
"The fact is," he said, "I'm not going to eat with you to-night,
dear. I'm going to the hotel."
"With the Americans?"
"Yes. I know a chap who went to college with the brother--with
the young man you saw."
Marie glanced down at her gala toilet. Then she began slowly to
take off the dress, reaching behind her for a hook he had just
fastened and fighting back tears as she struggled with it.
"Now, remember, Marie, I will have no sulking."
"I am not sulking."
"Why should you change your clothes?"
"Because the dress was for you. If you are not here I do not wish
to wear it."
Stewart went out in a bad humor, which left him before he had
walked for five minutes in the clear mountain air. At the hotel
he found the party waiting for him, the women in evening gowns.
The girl, whose name was Anita, was bewitching in pale green.
That was a memorable night for Walter Stewart, with his own kind
once more--a perfect dinner, brisk and clever conversation,
enlivened by a bit of sweet champagne, an hour or two on the
terrace afterward with the women in furs, and stars making a
jeweled crown for the Rax.
He entirely forgot Marie until he returned to the villa and
opening the door of the room found her missing.
She had not gone far. At the sound of his steps she moved on the
balcony and came in slowly. She was pale and pinched with cold,
but she was wise with the wisdom of her kind. She smiled.
"Didst thou have a fine evening?"
"Wonderful!"
"I am sorry if I was unpleasant. I was tired, now I am rested."
"Good, little Marie!"
CHAPTER XII
The card in the American Doctors' Club brought a response
finally. It was just in time. Harmony's funds were low, and the
Frau Professor Bergmeister had gone to St. Moritz for the winter.
She regretted the English lessons, but there were always English
at St. Moritz and it cost nothing to talk with them. Before she
left she made Harmony a present. "For Christmas," she explained.
It was a glass pin-tray, decorated beneath with labels from the
Herr Professor's cigars and in the center a picture of the
Emperor.
The response came in this wise. Harmony struggling home against
an east wind and holding the pin-tray and her violin case, opened
the old garden gate by the simple expedient of leaning against
it. It flew back violently, almost overthrowing a stout woman in
process of egress down the walk. The stout woman was Mrs. Boyer,
clad as usual in the best broadcloth and wearing her old sable
cape, made over according to her oldest daughter's ideas into a
staid stole and muff. The muff lay on the path now and Mrs. Boyer
was gasping for breath.
"I'm so sorry!" Harmony exclaimed. "It was stupid of me; but the
wind--Is this your muff?"
Mrs. Boyer took the muff coldly. From its depths she proceeded to
extract a handkerchief and with the handkerchief she brushed down
the broadcloth. Harmony stood apologetically by. It is
explanatory of Mrs. Boyer's face, attitude, and costume that the
girl addressed her in English.
"I backed in," she explained. "So few people come, and no
Americans."
Mrs. Boyer, having finished her brushing and responded to this
humble apology in her own tongue, condescended to look at
Harmony.
"It really is no matter," she said, still coolly but with
indications of thawing. "I am only glad it did not strike my
nose. I dare say it would have, but I was looking up to see if it
were going to snow." Here she saw the violin case and became
almost affable.
"There was a card in the Doctors' Club, and I called--" She
hesitated.
"I am Miss Wells. The card is mine."
"One of the women here has a small boy who wishes to take violin
lessons and I offered to come. The mother is very busy."
"I see. Will you come in? I can make you a cup of tea and we can
talk about it."
Mrs. Boyer was very willing, although she had doubts about the
tea. She had had no good tea since she had left England, and was
inclined to suspect all of it.
They went in together, Harmony chatting gayly as she ran ahead,
explaining this bit of the old staircase, that walled-up door,
here an ancient bit of furniture not considered worthy of
salvage, there a closed and locked room, home of ghosts and
legends. To Harmony this elderly woman, climbing slowly behind
her, was a bit of home. There had been many such in her life;
women no longer young, friends of her mother's who were friends
of hers; women to whom she had been wont to pay the courtesy of a
potted hyacinth at Easter or a wreath at Christmas or a bit of
custard during an illness. She had missed them all cruelly, as
she had missed many things--her mother, her church, her small
gayeties. She had thought at first that Frau Professor
Bergmeister might allay her longing for these comfortable,
middle-aged, placid-eyed friends of hers. But the Frau Professor
Bergmeister had proved to be a frivolous and garrulous old woman,
who substituted ease for comfort, and who burned a candle on the
name-day of her first husband while her second was safely out of
the house.
So it was with something of excitement that Harmony led the way
up the stairs and into the salon of Maria Theresa.
Peter was there. He was sitting with his back to the door, busily
engaged in polishing the horns of the deer. Whatever scruples
Harmony had had about the horns, Peter had none whatever, save to
get them safely out of the place and to the hospital. So Peter
was polishing the horns. Harmony had not expected to find him
home, and paused, rather startled.
"Oh, I didn't know you were home."
Peter spoke without turning.
"Try to bear up under it," he said. "I'm home and hungry,
sweetheart!"
"Peter, please!"
Peter turned at that and rose instantly. It was rather dark in
the salon and he did not immediately recognize Mrs. Boyer. But
that keen-eyed lady had known him before he turned, had taken in
the domesticity of the scene and Peter's part in it, and had
drawn the swift conclusion of the pure of heart.
"I'll come again," she said hurriedly. "I--I must really get
home. Dr. Boyer will be there, and wondering--"
"Mrs. Boyer!" Peter knew her.
"Oh, Dr. Byrne, isn't it? How unexpected to find you here!"
"I live here."
"So I surmised."
"Three of us," said Peter. "You know Anna Gates, don't you?"
"I'm afraid not. Really I--"
Peter was determined to explain. His very eagerness was almost
damning.
"She and Miss Wells are keeping house here and have kindly taken
me in as a boarder. Please sit down."
Harmony found nothing strange in the situation and was frankly
puzzled at Peter. The fact that there was anything unusual in two
single women and one unmarried man, unrelated and comparative
strangers, setting up housekeeping together had never occurred to
her. Many a single woman whom she knew at home took a gentleman
into the house as a roomer, and thereafter referred to him as
"he" and spent hours airing the curtains of smoke and even, as
"he" became a member of the family, in sewing on his buttons.
There was nothing indecorous about such an arrangement; merely a
concession to economic pressure.
She made tea, taking off her jacket and gloves to do it, but
bustling about cheerfully, with her hat rather awry and her
cheeks flushed with excitement and hope. Just now, when the Frau
Professor had gone, the prospect of a music pupil meant
everything. An American child, too! Fond as Harmony was of
children, the sedate and dignified youngsters who walked the
parks daily with a governess, or sat with folded hands and fixed
eyes through hours of heavy music at the opera, rather daunted
her. They were never alone, those Austrian children--always under
surveillance, always restrained, always prepared to kiss the
hand of whatever relative might be near and to take themselves of
to anywhere so it were somewhere else.
"I am so glad you are going to talk to me about an American
child," said Harmony, bringing in the tea.
But Mrs. Boyer was not so sure she was going to talk about the
American child. She was not sure of anything, except that the
household looked most irregular, and that Peter Byrne was trying
to cover a difficult situation with much conversation. He was
almost glib, was Peter. The tea was good; that was one thing.
She sat back with her muff on her knee, having refused the
concession of putting it on a chair as savoring too much of
acceptance if not approval, and sipped her tea out of a spoon as
becomes a tea-lover. Peter, who loathed tea, lounged about the
room, clearly in the way, but fearful to leave Harmony alone with
her. She was quite likely, at the first opportunity, to read her
a lesson on the conventions, if nothing worse; to upset the
delicate balance of the little household he was guarding. So he
stayed, praying for Anna to come and bear out his story, while
Harmony toyed with her spoon and waited for some mention of the
lessons. None came. Mrs. Boyer, having finished her tea, rose and
put down her cup.
"That was very refreshing," she said. "Where shall I find the
street-car? I walked out, but it is late."
"I'll take you to the car." Peter picked up his old hat.
"Thank you. I am always lost in this wretched town. I give the
conductors double tips to put me down where I want to go; but how
can they when it is the wrong car?" She bowed to Harmony without
shaking hands. "Thank you for the tea. It was really good. Where
do you get it?"
"There is a tea-shop a door or two from the Grand Hotel."
"I must remember that. Thank you again. Good-bye."
Not a word about the lessons or the American child!
"You said something about my card in the Doctors' Club--"
Something wistful in the girl's eyes caught and held Mrs. Boyer.
After all she was the mother of daughters. She held out her hand
and her voice was not so hard.
"That will have to wait until another time. I have made a social
visit and we'll not spoil it with business."
"But--"
"I really think the boy's mother must attend to that herself. But
I shall tell her where to find you, and"--here she glanced at
Peter--"all about it."
"Thank you," said Harmony gratefully.
Peter had no finesse. He escorted Mrs. Boyer across the yard and
through the gate with hardly a word. With the gate closed behind
them he turned and faced her:--
"You are going away with a wrong impression, Mrs. Boyer."
Mrs. Boyer had been thinking hard as she crossed the yard. The
result was a resolution to give Peter a piece of her mind. She
drew her ample proportions into a dignity that was almost
majesty.
"Yes?"
"I--I can understand why you think as you do. It is quite without
foundation."
"I am glad of that." There was no conviction in her voice.
"Of course," went on Peter, humbling himself for Harmony's sake,
"I suppose it has been rather unconventional, but Dr. Gates is
not a young woman by any means, and she takes very good care of
Miss Wells. There were reasons why this seemed the best thing to
do. Miss Wells was alone and--"
"There is a Dr. Gates?"
"Of course. If you will come back and wait she'll be along very
soon."
Mrs. Boyer was convinced and defrauded in one breath; convinced
that there might be a Dr. Gates, but equally convinced that the
situation was anomalous and certainly suspicious; defrauded in
that she had lost the anticipated pleasure of giving Peter a
piece of her mind. She walked along beside him without speaking
until they reached the street-car line. Then she turned.
"You called her--you spoke to her very affectionately, young
man," she accused him.
Peter smiled. The car was close. Some imp of recklessness, some
perversion of humor seized him.
"My dear Mrs. Boyer," he said, "that was in jest purely. Besides,
I did not know that you were there!"
Mrs. Boyer was a literal person without humor. It was outraged
American womanhood incarnate that got into the street-car and
settled its broadcloth of the best quality indignantly on the
cane seat. It was outraged American womanhood that flung open the
door of Marie Jedlicka's flat, and stalking into Marie Jedlicka's
sitting room confronted her husband as he read a month-old
newspaper from home.
"Did you ever hear of a woman doctor named Gates?" she demanded.
Boyer was not unaccustomed to such verbal attacks. He had learned
to meet domestic broadsides with a shield of impenetrable good
humor, or at the most with a return fire of mild sarcasm.
"I never hear of a woman doctor if it can be avoided."
"Dr. Gates--Anna Gates?"
"There are a number here. I meet them in the hospital, but I
don't know their names."
"Where does Peter Byrne live?"
"In a pension, I believe, my dear. Are we going to have anything
to eat or do we sup of Peter Byrne?"
Mrs. Boyer made no immediate reply. She repaired to the bedroom
of Marie Jedlicka, and placed her hat, coat and furs on one of
the beds with the crocheted coverlets. It is a curious thing
about rooms. There was no change in the bedroom apparent to the
eye, save that for Marie's tiny slippers at the foot of the
wardrobe there were Mrs. Boyer's substantial house shoes. But in
some indefinable way the room had changed. About it hung an
atmosphere of solid respectability, of impeccable purity that
soothed Mrs. Boyer's ruffled virtue into peace. Is it any wonder
that there is a theory to the effect that things take on the
essential qualities of people who use them, and that we are
haunted by things, not people? That when grandfather's wraith is
seen in his old armchair it is the chair that produces it, while
grandfather himself serenely haunts the shades of some vast
wilderness of departed spirits?
Not that Mrs. Boyer troubled herself about such things. She was
exceedingly orthodox, even in the matter of a hereafter, where
the most orthodox are apt to stretch a point, finding no
attraction whatever in the thing they are asked to believe. Mrs.
Boyer, who would have regarded it as heterodox to substitute any
other instrument for the harp of her expectation, tied on her
gingham apron before Marie Jedlicka's mirror, and thought of
Harmony and of the girls at home.
She told her husband over the supper-table and found him less
shocked than she had expected.
"It's not your affair or mine," he said. "It's Byrne's business."
"Think of the girl!"
"Even if you are right it's rather late, isn't it?"
"You could tell him what you think of him."
Dr. Boyer sighed over a cup of very excellent coffee. Much living
with a representative male had never taught his wife the reserves
among members of the sex masculine.
"I might, but I don't intend to," he said. "And if you listen to
me you'll keep the thing to yourself."
"I'll take precious good care that the girl gets no pupils,"
snapped Mrs. Boyer. And she did with great thoroughness.
We trace a life by its scars. Destiny, marching on by a thousand
painful steps, had left its usual mark, a footprint on a naked
soul. The soul was Harmony's; the foot--was it not encased at
that moment in Mrs. Boyer's comfortable house shoes?
Anna was very late that night. Peter, having put Mrs. Boyer on
her car, went back quickly. He had come out without his overcoat,
and with the sunset a bitter wind had risen, but he was too
indignant to be cold. He ran up the staircase, hearing on all
sides the creaking and banging with which the old house resented
a gale, and burst into the salon of Maria Theresa.
Harmony was sitting sidewise in a chair by the tea-table with her
face hidden against its worn red velvet. She did not look up when
he entered. Peter went over and put a hand on her shoulder. She
quivered under it and he took it away.
"Crying?"
"A little," very smothered. "Just dis-disappointment. Don't mind
me, Peter."
"You mean about the pupil?"
Harmony sat up and looked at him. She still wore her hat, now
more than ever askew, and some of the dye from the velvet had
stained her cheek. She looked rather hectic, very lovely.
"Why did she change so when she saw you?"
Peter hesitated. Afterward he thought of a dozen things he might
have said, safe things. Not one came to him.
"She--she is an evil-thinking old woman, Harry," he said gravely.
"She did not approve of the way we are living here, is that it?"
"Yes."
"But Anna?"
"She did not believe there was an Anna. Not that it matters," he
added hastily. "I'll make Anna go to her and explain. It's her
infernal jumping to a conclusion that makes me crazy."
"She will talk, Peter. I am frightened."
"I'll take Anna to-night and we'll go to Boyer's. I'll make that
woman get down on her knees to you. I'll--"
"You'll make bad very much worse," said Harmony dejectedly. "When
a thing has to be explained it does no good to explain it."
The salon was growing dark. Peter was very close to her again. As
in the dusky kitchen only a few days before, he felt the
compelling influence of her nearness. He wanted, as he had never
wanted anything in his life before, to take her in his arms, to
hold her close and bid defiance to evil tongues. He was afraid of
himself. To gain a moment he put a chair between them and stood,
strong hands gripping its back, looking down at her.
"There is one thing we could do."
"What, Peter?"
"We could marry. If you cared for me even a little it--it might
not be so bad for you."
"But I am not in love with you. I care for you, of course,
but--not that way, Peter. And I do not wish to marry."
"Not even if I wish it very much?"
"No."
"If you are thinking of my future--"
"I'm thinking for both of us. And although just now you think you
care a little for me, you do not care enough, Peter. You are
lonely and I am the only person you see much, so you think you
want to marry me. You don't really. You want to help me."
Few motives are unmixed. Poor Peter, thus accused, could not deny
his altruism.
And in the face of his poverty and the little he could offer,
compared with what she must lose, he did not urge what was the
compelling motive after all, his need of her.
"It would be a rotten match for you," he agreed. "I only thought,
perhaps--You are right, of course; you ought not to marry."
"And what about you?"
"I ought not, of course."
Harmony rose, smiling a little.
"Then that's settled. And for goodness' sake, Peter, stop
proposing to me every time things go wrong." Her voice changed,
grew grave and older, much older than Peter's. "We must not
marry, either of us, Peter. Anna is right. There might be an
excuse if we were very much in love: but we are not. And
loneliness is not a reason."
"I am very lonely," said Peter wistfully.
CHAPTER XIII
Peter took the polished horns to the hospital the next morning
and approached Jimmy with his hands behind him and an atmosphere
of mystery that enshrouded him like a cloak. Jimmy, having had a
good night and having taken the morning's medicine without
argument, had been allowed up in a roller chair. It struck Peter
with a pang that the boy looked more frail day by day, more
transparent.
"I have brought you," said Peter gravely, "the cod-liver oil."
"I've had it!"
"Then guess."
"Dad's letter?"
"You've just had one. Don't be a piggy."
"Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
"Vegetable," said Peter shamelessly.
"Soft or hard!"
"Soft."
This was plainly a disappointment. A pair of horns might be
vegetable; they could hardly be soft.
"A kitten?"
"A kitten is not vegetable, James."
"I know. A bowl of gelatin from Harry!" For by this time Harmony
was his very good friend, admitted to the Jimmy club, which
consisted of Nurse Elisabet, the Dozent with the red beard, Anna
and Peter, and of course the sentry, who did not know that he
belonged.
"Gelatin, to be sure," replied Peter, and produced the horns.
It was a joyous moment in the long low ward, with its triple row
of beds, its barred windows, its clean, uneven old floor. As if
to add a touch of completeness the sentry outside, peering in,
saw the wheeled chair with its occupant, and celebrated this
advance along the road to recovery by placing on the window-ledge
a wooden replica of himself, bayonet and all, carved from a bit
of cigar box.
"Everybody is very nice to me," said Jimmy contentedly. "When my
father comes back I shall tell him. He is very fond of people who
are kind to me. There was a woman on the ship--What is bulging
your pocket, Peter?"
"My handkerchief."
"That is not where you mostly carry your handkerchief."
Peter was injured. He scowled ferociously at being doubted and
stood up before the wheeled chair to be searched. The ward
watched joyously, while from pocket after pocket of Peter's old
gray suit came Jimmy's salvage--two nuts, a packet of figs, a
postcard that represented a stout colonel of hussars on his back
on a frozen lake, with a private soldier waiting to go through
the various salutations due his rank before assisting him. A gala
day, indeed, if one could forget the grave in the little mountain
town with only a name on the cross at its head, and if one did
not notice that the boy was thinner than ever, that his hands
soon tired of playing and lay in his lap, that Nurse Elisabet,
who was much inured to death and lived her days with tragedy,
caught him to her almost fiercely as she lifted him back from the
chair into the smooth white bed.
He fell asleep with Peter's arm under his head and the horns of
the deer beside him. On the bedside stand stood the wooden
sentry, keeping guard. As Peter drew his arm away he became aware
of the Nurse Elisabet beckoning to him from a door at the end of
the ward Peter left the sentinel on guard and tiptoed down the
room. Just outside, round a corner, was the Dozent's laboratory,
and beyond the tiny closet where he slept, where on a stand was
the photograph of the lady he would marry when he had become a
professor and required no one's consent.
The Dozent was waiting for Peter. In the amiable conspiracy which
kept the boy happy he was arch-plotter. His familiarity with
Austrian intrigue had made him invaluable. He it was who had
originated the idea of making Jimmy responsible for the order of
the ward, so that a burly Trager quarreling over his daily
tobacco with the nurse in charge, or brawling over his soup with
another patient, was likely to be hailed in a thin soprano, and
to stand, grinning sheepishly, while Jimmy, in mixed English and
German, restored the decorum of the ward. They were a quarrelsome
lot, the convalescents. Jimmy was so busy some days settling
disputes and awarding decisions that he slept almost all night.
This was as it should be.
The Dozent waited for Peter. His red beard twitched and his white
coat, stained from the laboratory table, looked quite villainous.
He held out a letter.
"This has come for the child," he said in quite good English. He
was obliged to speak English. Day by day he taught in the clinics
Americans who scorned his native tongue, and who brought him the
money with which some day he would marry. He liked the English
language; he liked Americans because they learned quickly. He
held out an envelope with a black border and Peter took it.
"From Paris!" he said. "Who in the world--I suppose I'd better
open it."
"So I thought. It appears a letter of--how you say it? Ah, yes,
condolence."
Peter opened the letter and read it. Then without a word he gave
it open to the Dozent. There was silence in the laboratory while
the Dozent read it, silence except for his canary, which was
chipping at a lump of sugar. Peter's face was very sober.
"So. A mother! You knew nothing of a mother?"
"Something from the papers I found. She left when the boy was a
baby--went on the stage, I think. He has no recollection of her,
which is a good thing. She seems to have been a bad lot."
"She comes to take him away. That is impossible."
"Of course it is impossible," said Peter savagely. "She's not
going to see the child if I can help it. She left because--she's
the boy's mother, but that's the best you can say of her. This
letter--Well, you've read it."
"She is as a stranger to him?"
"Absolutely. She will come in mourning--look at that black
border--and tell him his father is dead, and kill him. I know the
type."
The canary chipped at his sugar; the red beard of the Dozent
twitched, as does the beard of one who plots. Peter re-read the
gushing letter in his hand and thought fiercely.
"She is on her way here," said the Dozent. "That is bad. Paris to
Wien is two days and a night. She may hourly arrive."
"We might send him away--to another hospital."
The Dozent shrugged his shoulders.
"Had I a home--" he said, and glanced through the door to the
portrait on the stand. "It would be possible to hide the boy, at
least for a time. In the interval the mother might be watched,
and if she proved a fit person the boy could be given to her. It
is, of course, an affair of police."
This gave Peter pause. He had no money for fines, no time for
imprisonment, and he shared the common horror of the great jail.
He read the letter again, and tried to read into the lines
Jimmy's mother, and failed. He glanced into the ward. Still Jimmy
slept. A burly convalescent, with a saber cut from temple to ear
and the general appearance of an assassin, had stopped beside the
bed and was drawing up the blanket round the small shoulders.
"I can give orders that the woman be not admitted to-day," said
the Dozent. "That gives us a few hours. She will go to the
police, and to-morrow she will be admitted. In the mean time--"
"In the mean time," Peter replied, "I'll try to think of
something. If I thought she could be warned and would leave him
here--"
"She will not. She will buy him garments and she will travel with
him through the Riviera and to Nice. She says Nice. She wishes to
be there for carnival, and the boy will die."
Peter took the letter and went home. He rode, that he might read
it again in the bus. But no scrap of comfort could he get from
it. It spoke of the dead father coldly, and the father had been
the boy's idol. No good woman could have been so heartless. It
offered the boy a seat in one of the least reputable of the Paris
theaters to hear his mother sing. And in the envelope, overlooked
before, Peter found a cutting from a French newspaper, a picture
of the music-hall type that made him groan. It was indorsed
"Mamma."
Harmony had had a busy morning. First she had put her house in
order, working deftly, her pretty hair pinned up in a towel--all
in order but Peter's room. That was to have a special cleaning
later. Next, still with her hair tied up, she had spent two hours
with her violin, standing very close to the stove to save fuel
and keep her fingers warm. She played well that morning: even her
own critical ears were satisfied, and the Portier, repairing a
window lock in an empty room below, was entranced. He sat on the
window sill in the biting cold and listened. Many music students
had lived in the apartment with the great salon; there had been
much music of one sort and another, but none like this.
"She tears my heart from my bosom," muttered the Portier,
sighing, and almost swallowed a screw that he held in his teeth.
After the practicing Harmony cleaned Peter's room. She felt very
tender toward Peter that day. The hurt left by Mrs. Boyer's visit
had died away, but there remained a clear vision of Peter
standing behind the chair and offering himself humbly in
marriage, so that a bad situation might be made better. And as
with a man tenderness expresses itself in the giving of gifts, so
with a woman it means giving of service. Harmony cleaned Peter's
room.
It was really rather tidy. Peter's few belongings did not spread
to any extent and years of bachelorhood had taught him the
rudiments of order. Harmony took the covers from washstand and
dressing table and washed and ironed them. She cleaned Peter's
worn brushes and brought a pincushion of her own for his one
extra scarfpin. Finally she brought her own steamer rug and
folded it across the foot of the bed. There was no stove in the
room; it had been Harmony's room once, and she knew to the full
how cold it could be.
Having made all comfortable for the outer man she prepared for
the inner. She was in the kitchen, still with her hair tied up,
when Anna came home.
Anna was preoccupied. Instead of her cheery greeting she came
somberly back to the kitchen, a letter in her hand. History was
making fast that day.
"Hello, Harry," she said. "I'm going to take a bite and hurry
off. Don't bother, I'll attend to myself." She stuffed the letter
in her belt and got a plate from a shelf. "How pretty you look
with your head tied up! If stupid Peter saw you now he would fall
in love with you."
"Then I shall take it off. Peter must be saved!"
Anna sat down at the tiny table and drank her tea. She felt
rather better after the tea. Harmony, having taken the towel off,
was busy over the brick stove. There was nothing said for a
moment. Then:--
"I am out of patience with Peter," said Anna.
"Why?"
"Because he hasn't fallen in love with you. Where are his eyes?"
"Please, Anna!"
"It's better as it is, no doubt, for both of you. But it's
superhuman of Peter. I wonder--"
"Yes?"
"I think I'll not tell you what I wonder."
And Harmony, rather afraid of Anna's frank speech, did not
insist.
As she drank her tea and made a pretense at eating, Anna's
thoughts wandered from Peter to Harmony to the letter in her belt
and back again to Peter and Harmony. For some time she had been
suspicious of Peter. From her dozen years of advantage in age and
experience she looked down on Peter's thirty years of youth, and
thought she knew something that Peter himself did not suspect.
Peter being unintrospective, Anna did his heart-searching for
him. She believed he was madly in love with Harmony and did not
himself suspect it. As she watched the girl over her teacup,
revealing herself in a thousand unposed gestures of youth and
grace, a thousand lovelinesses, something of the responsibility
she and Peter had assumed came over her. She sighed and felt for
her letter.
"I've had rather bad news," she said at last.
"From home?"
"Yes. My father--did you know I have a father?"
"You hadn't spoken of him."
"I never do. As a father he hasn't amounted to much. But he's
very ill, and--I 've a conscience."
Harmony turned a startled face to her.
"You are not going back to America?"
"Oh, no, not now, anyhow. If I become hag ridden with remorse and
do go I'll find some one to take my place. Don't worry."
The lunch was a silent meal. Anna was hurrying off as Peter came
in, and there was no time to discuss Peter's new complication
with her. Harmony and Peter ate together, Harmony rather silent.
Anna's unfortunate comment about Peter had made her constrained.
After the meal Peter, pipe in mouth, carried the dishes to the
kitchen, and there it was that he gave her the letter. What
Peter's slower mind had been a perceptible time in grasping
Harmony comprehended at onceĆ’and not only the situation, but its
solution.
"Don't let her have him!" she said, putting down the letter.
"Bring him here. Oh, Peter, how good we must be to him!"
And that after all was how the thing was settled. So simple, so
obvious was it that these three expatriates, these waifs and
estrays, banded together against a common poverty, a common
loneliness, should share without question whatever was theirs to
divide. Peter and Anna gave cheerfully of their substance,
Harmony of her labor, that a small boy should be saved a tragic
knowledge until he was well enough to bear it, or until, if God
so willed, he might learn it himself without pain.
The friendly sentry on duty again that night proved singularly
blind. Thus it happened that, although the night was clear when
the twin dials of the Votivkirche showed nine o'clock, he did not
notice a cab that halted across the street from the hospital.
Still more strange that, although Peter passed within a dozen
feet of him, carrying a wriggling and excited figure wrapped in a
blanket and insisting on uncovering its feet, the sentry was able
the next day to say that he had observed such a person carrying a
bundle, but that it was a short stocky person, quite lame, and
that the bundle was undoubtedly clothing going to the laundry.
Perhaps--it is just possible--the sentry had his suspicions. It
is undeniable that as Jimmy in the cab on Peter's knee, with
Peter's arm close about him, looked back at the hospital, the
sentry was going through the manual of arms very solemnly under
the stars and facing toward the carriage.
CHAPTER XIV
For two days at Semmering it rained. The Raxalpe and the
Schneeberg sulked behind walls of mist. From the little balcony
of the Pension Waldheim one looked out over a sea of cloud,
pierced here and there by islands that were crags or by the tops
of sunken masts that were evergreen trees. The roads were masses
of slippery mud, up which the horses steamed and sweated. The
gray cloud fog hung over everything; the barking of a dog loomed
out of it near at hand where no dog was to be seen. Children
cried and wild birds squawked; one saw them not.
During the second night a landslide occurred on the side of the
mountain with a rumble like the noise of fifty trains. In the
morning, the rain clouds lifting for a moment, Marie saw the
narrow yellow line of the slip.
Everything was saturated with moisture. It did no good to close
the heavy wooden shutters at night: in the morning the air of the
room was sticky and clothing was moist to the touch. Stewart,
confined to the house, grew irritable.
Marie watched him anxiously. She knew quite well by what slender
tenure she held her man. They had nothing in common, neither
speech nor thought. And the little Marie's love for Stewart,
grown to be a part of her, was largely maternal. She held him by
mothering him, by keeping him comfortable, not by a great
reciprocal passion that might in time have brought him to her in
chains.
And now he was uncomfortable. He chafed against the confinement;
he resented the food, the weather. Even Marie's content at her
unusual leisure irked him. He accused her of purring like a cat
by the fire, and stamped out more than once, only to be driven in
by the curious thunderstorms of early Alpine winter.
On the night of the second day the weather changed. Marie,
awakening early, stepped out on to the balcony and closed the
door carefully behind her. A new world lay beneath her, a marvel
of glittering branches, of white plain far below; the snowy mane
of the Raxalpe was become a garment. And from behind the villa
came the cheerful sound of sleigh-bells, of horses' feet on crisp
snow, of runners sliding easily along frozen roads. Even the
barking of the dog in the next yard had ceased rumbling and
become sharp staccato.
The balcony extended round the corner of the house. Marie,
eagerly discovering her new world, peered about, and seeing no
one near ventured so far. The road was in view, and a small girl
on ski was struggling to prevent a collision between two plump
feet. Even as Marie saw her the inevitable happened and she went
headlong into a drift. A governess who had been kneeling before a
shrine by the road hastily crossed herself and ran to the rescue.
It was a marvelous morning, a day of days. The governess and the
child went on out of vision. Marie stood still, looking at the
shrine. A drift had piled about its foot, where the governess had
placed a bunch of Alpine flowers. Down on her knees on the
balcony went the little Marie, regardless of the snow, and prayed
to the shrine of the Virgin below--for what? For forgiveness? For
a better life? Not at all. She prayed that the heels of the
American girl would keep her in out of the snow.
The prayer of the wicked availeth nothing; even the godly at
times must suffer disappointment. And when one prays of heels,
who can know of the yearning back of the praying? Marie, rising
and dusting her chilled knees, saw the party of Americans on the
road, clad in stout boots and swinging along gayly. Marie
shrugged her shoulders resignedly. She should have gone to the
shrine itself; a balcony was not a holy place. But one thing she
determined--the Americans went toward the Sonnwendstein. She
would advise against the Sonnwendstein for that day.
Marie's day of days had begun wrong after all. For Stewart rose
with the Sonnwendstein in his mind, and no suggestion of Marie's
that in another day a path would be broken had any effect on him.
He was eager to be off, committed the extravagance of ordering an
egg apiece for breakfast, and finally proclaimed that if Marie
feared the climb he would go alone.
Marie made many delays: she dressed slowly, and must run back to
see if the balcony door was securely closed. At a little shop
where they stopped to buy mountain sticks she must purchase
postcards and send them at once. Stewart was fairly patient: air
and exercise were having their effect.
It was eleven o'clock when, having crossed the valley, they
commenced to mount the slope of the Sonnwendstein. The climb was
easy; the road wound back and forward on itself so that one
ascended with hardly an effort. Stewart gave Marie a hand here
and there, and even paused to let her sit on a boulder and rest.
The snow was not heavy; he showed her the footprints of a party
that had gone ahead, and to amuse her tried to count the number
of people. When he found it was five he grew thoughtful. There
were five in Anita's party. Thanks to Marie's delays they met the
Americans coming down. The meeting was a short one: the party
went on down, gayly talking. Marie and Stewart climbed silently.
Marie's day was spoiled; Stewart had promised to dine at the
hotel.
Even the view at the tourist house did not restore Marie's fallen
spirits. What were the Vienna plain and the Styrian Alps to her,
with this impatient and frowning man beside her consulting his
watch and computing the time until he might see the American
again? What was prayer, if this were its answer?
They descended rapidly, Stewart always in the lead and setting a
pace that Marie struggled in vain to meet. To her tentative and
breathless remarks he made brief answer, and only once in all
that time did he volunteer a remark. They had reached the Hotel
Erzherzog in the valley. The hotel was still closed, and Marie,
panting, sat down on an edge of the terrace.
"We have been very foolish," he said.
"Why?"
"Being seen together like that."
"But why? Could you not walk with any woman?"
"It's not that," said Stewart hastily. "I suppose once does not
matter. But we can't be seen together all the time."
Marie turned white. The time had gone by when an incident of the
sort could have been met with scorn or with threats; things had
changed for Marie Jedlicka since the day Peter had refused to
introduce her to Harmony. Then it had been vanity; now it was
life itself.
"What you mean," she said with pale lips, "is that we must not be
seen together at all. Must I--do you wish me to remain a prisoner
while you--" she choked.
"For Heaven's sake," he broke out brutally, "don't make a scene.
There are men cutting ice over there. Of course you are not a
prisoner. You may go where you like."
Marie rose and picked up her muff.
Marie's sordid little tragedy played itself out in Semmering.
Stewart neglected her almost completely; he took fewer and fewer
meals at the villa. In two weeks he spent one evening with the
girl, and was so irritable that she went to bed crying. The
little mountain resort was filling up; there were more and more
Americans. Christmas was drawing near and a dozen or so American
doctors came up, bringing their families for the holidays. It was
difficult to enter a shop without encountering some of them. To
add to the difficulty, the party at the hotel, finding it crowded
there, decided to go into a pension and suggested moving to the
Waldheim.
Stewart himself was wretchedly uncomfortable. Marie's tragedy was
his predicament. He disliked himself very cordially, loathing
himself and his situation with the new-born humility of the
lover. For Stewart was in love for the first time in his life.
Marie knew it. She had not lived with him for months without
knowing his every thought, every mood. She grew bitter and hard
those days, sitting alone by the green stove in the Pension
Waldheim, or leaning, elbows on the rail, looking from the
balcony over the valley far below. Bitter and hard, that is,
during his absences; he had but to enter the room and her rage
died, to be replaced with yearning and little, shy, tentative
advances that he only tolerated. Wild thoughts came to Marie,
especially at night, when the stars made a crown over the Rax,
and in the hotel an orchestra played, while people dined and
laughed and loved.
She grew obstinate, too. When in his desperation Stewart
suggested that they go back to Vienna she openly scoffed.
"Why?" she demanded. "That you may come back here to her, leaving
me there?"
"My dear girl," he flung back exasperated, "this affair was not a
permanent one. You knew that at the start."
"You have taken me away from my work. I have two months'
vacation. It is but one month."
"Go back and let me pay--"
"No!"
In pursuance of the plan to leave the hotel the American party
came to see the Waldheim, and catastrophe almost ensued. Luckily
Marie was on the balcony when the landlady flung open the door,
and announced it as Stewart's apartment. But Stewart had a bad
five minutes and took it out, manlike, on the girl.
Stewart had another reason for not wishing to leave Semmering.
Anita was beautiful, a bit of a coquette, too; as are most pretty
women. And Stewart was not alone in his devotion. A member of the
party, a New Yorker named Adam, was much in love with the girl
and indifferent who knew it. Stewart detested him.
In his despair Stewart wrote to Peter Byrne. It was
characteristic of Peter that, however indifferent people might be
in prosperity,they always turned to him in trouble. Stewart's
letter concluded:--
"I have made out a poor case for myself; but I'm in a hole, as
you can see. I would like to chuck everything here and sail for
home with these people who go in January. But, confound it,
Byrne, what am I to do with Marie? And that brings me to what I
've been wanting to say all along, and haven't had the courage
to. Marie likes you and you rather liked her, didn't you? You
could talk her into reason if anybody could. Now that you know
how things are, can't you come up over Sunday? It's asking a lot,
and I know it; but things are pretty bad."
Peter received the letter on the morning of the day before
Christmas. He read it several times and, recalling the look he
had seen more than once in Marie Jedlicka's eyes, he knew that
things were very bad, indeed.
But Peter was a man of family in those days, and Christmas is a
family festival not to be lightly ignored. He wired to Stewart
that he would come up as soon as possible after Christmas. Then,
because of the look in Marie's eyes and because he feared for her
a sad Christmas, full of heartaches and God knows what
loneliness, he bought her a most hideous brooch, which he thought
admirable in every way and highly ornamental and which he could
not afford at all. This he mailed, with a cheery greeting, and
feeling happier and much poorer made his way homeward.
CHAPTER XV
Christmas-Eve in the saloon of Maria Theresa! Christmas-Eve, with
the great chandelier recklessly ablaze and a pig's head with
cranberry eyes for supper! Christmas-Eve, with a two-foot tree
gleaming with candles on the stand, and beside the stand, in a
huge chair, Jimmy!
It had been a busy day for Harmony. In the morning there had been
shopping and marketing, and such a temptation to be reckless,
with the shops full of ecstasies and the old flower women fairly
overburdened. There had been anxieties, too, such as the pig's
head, which must be done a certain way, and Jimmy, who must be
left with the Portier's wife as nurse while all of them went to
the hospital. The house revolved around Jimmy now, Jimmy, who
seemed the better for the moving, and whose mother as yet had
failed to materialize.
In the afternoon Harmony played at the hospital. Peter took her
as the early twilight was falling in through the gate where the
sentry kept guard and so to the great courtyard. In this grim
playground men wandered about, smoking their daily allowance of
tobacco and moving to keep warm, offscourings of the barracks,
derelicts of the slums, with here and there an honest citizen
lamenting a Christmas away from home. The hospital was always
pathetic to Harmony; on this Christmas-Eve she found it
harrowing. Its very size shocked her, that there should be so
much suffering, so much that was appalling, frightful,
insupportable. Peter felt her quiver under his hand. A hospital
in festivity is very affecting. It smiles through its tears. And
in every assemblage there are sharply defined lines of
difference. There are those who are going home soon, God willing;
there are those who will go home some time after long days and
longer nights. And there are those who will never go home and who
know it. And because of this the ones who are never going home
are most festively clad, as if, by way of compensation, the
nurses mean to give them all future Christmasses in one. They
receive an extra orange, or a pair of gloves, perhaps,--and they
are not the less grateful because they understand. And when
everything is over they lay away in the bedside stand the gloves
they will never wear, and divide the extra orange with a less
fortunate one who is almost recovered. Their last Christmas is
past.
"How beautiful the tree was!" they say. Or, "Did you hear how the
children sang? So little, to sing like that! It made me think--of
angels."
Peter led Harmony across the courtyard, through many twisting
corridors, and up and down more twisting staircases to the room
where she was to play. There were many Christmas trees in the
hospital that afternoon; no one hall could have held the
thousands of patients, the doctors, the nurses. Sometimes a
single ward had its own tree, its own entertainment. Occasionally
two or three joined forces, preempted a lecture-room, and wheeled
or hobbled or carried in their convalescents. In such case an
imposing audience was the result.
Into such a room Peter led Harmony. It was an amphitheater, the
seats rising in tiers, half circle above half circle, to the dusk
of the roof. In the pit stood the tree, candle-lighted. There was
no other illumination in the room. The semi-darkness, the blazing
tree, the rows of hopeful, hoping, hopeless, rising above, white
faces over white gowns, the soft rustle of expectancy, the
silence when the Dozent with the red beard stepped out and began
to read an address--all caught Harmony by the throat. Peter,
keenly alive to everything she did, felt rather than heard her
soft sob.
Peter saw the hospital anew that dark afternoon, saw it through
Harmony's eyes. Layer after layer his professional callus fell
away, leaving him quick again. He had lived so long close to the
heart of humanity that he had reduced its throbbing to beats that
might be counted. Now, once more, Peter was back in the early
days, when a heart was not a pump, but a thing that ached or
thrilled or struggled, that loved or hated or yearned.
The orchestra, insisting on sadly sentimental music, was fast
turning festivity into gloom. It played Handel's "Largo"; it
threw its whole soul into the assurance that the world, after
all, was only a poor place, that Heaven was a better. It preached
resignation with every deep vibration of the cello. Harmony
fidgeted.
"How terrible!" she whispered. "To turn their Christmas-Eve into
mourning! Stop them!"
"Stop a German orchestra?"
"They are crying, some of them. Oh, Peter!"
The music came to an end at last. Tears were dried. Followed
recitations, gifts, a speech of thanks from Nurse Elisabet for
the patients. Then--Harmony.
Harmony never remembered afterward what she had played. It was
joyous, she knew, for the whole atmosphere changed. Laughter
came; even the candles burned more cheerfully. When she had
finished, a student in a white coat asked her to play a German
Volkspiel, and roared it out to her accompaniment with much vigor
and humor. The audience joined in, at first timidly, then
lustily.
Harmony stood alone by the tree, violin poised, smiling at the
applause. Her eyes, running along the dim amphitheater, sought
Peter's, and finding them dwelt there a moment. Then she began to
play softly and as softly the others sang.
"Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,"--they sang, with upturned eyes.
"Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht..."
Visions came to Peter that afternoon in the darkness, visions in
which his poverty was forgotten or mattered not at all. Visions
of a Christmas-Eve in a home that he had earned, of a tree, of a
girl-woman, of a still and holy night, of a child.
"Nur das traute, hoch heilige Paar Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf' in himmlischer Ruh', Schlaf' in himmlischer Ruh'," they
sang.
There was real festivity at the old lodge of Maria Theresa that
night.
Jimmy had taken his full place in the household. The best room,
which had been Anna's, had been given up to him. Here, carefully
tended, with a fire all day in the stove, Jimmy reigned from the
bed. To him Harmony brought her small puzzles and together they
solved them.
"Shall it be a steak to-night?" thus Harmony humbly. "Or chops?"
"With tomato sauce?"
"If Peter allows, yes."
Much thinking on Jimmy's part, and then:--
"Fish," he would decide. "Fish with egg dressing."
They would argue for a time, and compromise on fish.
The boy was better. Peter shook his head over any permanent
improvement, but Anna fiercely seized each crumb of hope. Many
and bitter were the battles she and Peter fought at night over
his treatment, frightful the litter of authorities Harmony put
straight every morning.
The extra expense was not much, but it told. Peter's carefully
calculated expenditures felt the strain. He gave up a course in
X-ray on which he had set his heart and cut off his hour in the
coffee-house as a luxury. There was no hardship about the latter
renunciation. Life for Peter was spelling itself very much in
terms of Harmony and Jimmy those days. He resented anything that
took him from them.
There were anxieties of a different sort also. Anna's father was
failing. He had written her a feeble, half-senile appeal to let
bygones be bygones and come back to see him before he died. Anna
was Peter's great prop. What would he do should she decide to go
home? He had built his house on the sand, indeed.
So far the threatened danger of a mother to Jimmy had not
materialized. Peter was puzzled, but satisfied. He still wrote
letters of marvelous adventure; Jimmy still watched for them,
listened breathless, treasured them under his pillow. But he
spoke less of his father. The open page of his childish mind was
being written over with new impressions. "Dad" was already a
memory; Peter and Harmony and Anna were realities. Sometimes he
called Peter "Dad." At those times Peter caught the boy to him in
an agony of tenderness.
And as the little apartment revolved round Jimmy, so was this
Christmas-Eve given up to him. All day he had stayed in bed for
the privilege of an extra hour propped up among pillows in the
salon. All day he had strung little red berries that looked like
cranberries for the tree, or fastened threads to the tiny cakes
that were for trimming only, and sternly forbidden to eat.
A marvelous day that for Jimmy. Late in the afternoon the
Portier, with a collar on, had mounted the stairs and sheepishly
presented him with a pair of white mice in a wooden cage. Jimmy
was thrilled. The cage was on his knees all evening, and one of
the mice was clearly ill of a cake with pink icing. The Portier's
gift was a stealthy one, while his wife was having coffee with
her cousin, the brushmaker. But the spirit Of Christmas does
strange things. That very evening, while the Portier was
roistering in a beer hall preparatory to the midnight mass, came
the Portier's wife, puffing from the stairs, and brought a puzzle
book that only the initiated could open, and when one succeeded
at last there was a picture of the Christ-Child within.
Young McLean came to call that evening--came to call and remained
to worship. It was the first time since Mrs. Boyer that a visitor
had come. McLean, interested with everything and palpably not
shocked, was a comforting caller. He seemed to Harmony, who had
had bad moments since the day of Mrs. Boyer's visit, to put the
hallmark of respectability on the household, to restore it to
something it had lost or had never had.
She was quite unconscious of McLean's admiration. She and Anna
put Jimmy to bed. The tree candles were burned out; Peter was
extinguishing the dying remnants when Harmony came back. McLean
was at the piano, thrumming softly. Peter, turning round
suddenly, surprised an expression on the younger man's face that
startled him.
For that one night Harmony had laid aside her mourning, and wore
white, soft white, tucked in at the neck, short-sleeved,
trailing. Peter had never seen her in white before.
It was Peter's way to sit back and listen: his steady eyes were
always alert, good-humored, but he talked very little. That night
he was unusually silent. He sat in the shadow away from the lamp
and watched the two at the piano: McLean playing a bit of this or
that, the girl bending over a string of her violin. Anna came in
and sat down near him.
"The boy is quite fascinated," she whispered. "Watch his eyes!"
"He is a nice boy." This from Peter, as if he argued with
himself.
"As men go!" This was a challenge Peter was usually quick to
accept. That night he only smiled. "It would be a good thing for
her: his people are wealthy."
Money, always money! Peter ground his teeth over his pipestem.
Eminently it would be a good thing for Harmony, this nice boy in
his well-made evening clothes, who spoke Harmony's own language
of music, who was almost speechless over her playing, and who
looked up at her with eyes in which admiration was not unmixed
with adoration.
Peter was restless. As the music went on he tiptoed out of the
room and took to pacing up and down the little corridor. Each
time as he passed the door he tried not to glance in; each time
he paused involuntarily. Jealousy had her will of him that night,
jealousy, when he had never acknowledged even to himself how much
the girl was to him.
Jimmy was restless. Usually Harmony's music put him to sleep; but
that night he lay awake, even after Peter had closed all the
doors. Peter came in and sat with him in the dark, going over now
and then to cover him, or to give him a drink, or to pick up the
cage of mice which Jimmy insisted on having beside him and which
constantly slipped off on to the floor. After a time Peter
lighted the night-light, a bit of wick on a cork floating in a
saucer of lard oil, and set it on the bedside table. Then round
it he arranged Jimmy's treasures, the deer antlers, the cage of
mice, the box, the wooden sentry. The boy fell asleep. Peter sat
in the room, his dead pipe in his teeth, and thought of many
things.
It was very late when young McLean left. The two had played until
they stopped for very weariness. Anna had yawned herself off to
bed. From Jimmy's room Peter could hear the soft hum of their
voices.
"You have been awfully good to me," McLean said as he finally
rose to go. "I--I want you to know that I'll never forget this
evening, never."
"It has been splendid, hasn't it? Since little Scatchy left there
has been no one for the piano. I have been lonely sometimes for
some one to talk music to."
Lonely! Poor Peter!
"Then you will let me come back?"
"Will I, indeed! I--I'll be grateful."
"How soon would be proper? I dare say to-morrow you'll be
busy--Christmas and all that."
"Do you mean you would like to come to-morrow?"
"If old Peter wouldn't be fussed. He might think--"
"Peter always wants every one to be happy. So if you really
care--"
"And I'll not bore you?"
"Rather not!"
"How--about what time?"
"In the afternoon would be pleasant, I think. And then Jimmy can
listen. He loves music."
McLean, having found his fur-lined coat, got into it as slowly as
possible. Then he missed a glove, and it must be searched for in
all the dark corners of the salon until found in his pocket. Even
then he hesitated, lingered, loath to break up this little world
of two.
"You play wonderfully," he said.
"So do you."
"If only something comes of it! It's curious, isn't it, when you
think of it? You and I meeting here in the center of Europe and
both of us working our heads off for something that may never pan
out."
There was something reminiscent about that to Harmony. It was not
until after young McLean had gone that she recalled. It was
almost word for word what Peter had said to her in the
coffee-house the night they met. She thought it very curious, the
coincidence, and pondered it, being ignorant of the fact that it
is always a matter for wonder when the man meets the woman, no
matter where. Nothing is less curious, more inevitable, more
amazing. "You and I," forsooth, said Peter!
"You and I," cried young McLean!
CHAPTER XVI
Quite suddenly Peter's house, built on the sand, collapsed. The
shock came on Christmas-Day, after young McLean, now frankly
infatuated, had been driven home by Peter.
Peter did it after his own fashion. Harmony, with unflagging
enthusiasm, was looking tired. Suggestions to this effect rolled
off McLean's back like rain off a roof. Finally Peter gathered up
the fur-lined coat, the velours hat, gloves, and stick, and
placed them on the piano in front of the younger man.
"I'm sorry you must go," said Peter calmly, "but, as you say,
Miss Wells is tired and there is supper to be eaten. Don't let me
hurry you."
The Portier was at the door as McLean, laughing and protesting,
went out. He brought a cablegram for Anna. Peter took it to her
door and waited uneasily while she read it.
It was an urgent summons home; the old father was very low. He
was calling for her, and a few days or week' would see the end.
There were things that must be looked after. The need of her was
imperative. With the death the old man's pension would cease and
Anna was the bread-winner.
Anna held the paper out to Peter and sat down. Her nervous
strength seemed to have deserted her. All at once she was a
stricken, elderly woman, with hope wiped out of her face and
something nearer resentment than grief in its place.
"It has come, Peter," she said dully. "I always knew it couldn't
last. They've always hung about my neck, and now--"
"Do you think you must go? Isn't there some way? If things are so
bad you could hardly get there in time, and--you must think of
yourself a little, Anna."
"I am not thinking of anything else. Peter, I'm an uncommonly
selfish woman, but I--"
Quite without warning she burst out crying, unlovely, audible
weeping that shook her narrow shoulders. Harmony heard the sound
and joined them. After a look at Anna she sat down beside her and
put a white arm over her shoulders. She did not try to speak.
Anna's noisy grief subsided as suddenly as it came. She patted
Harmony's hand in mute acknowledgment and dried her eyes.
"I'm not grieving, child," she said; "I'm only realizing what a
selfish old maid I am. I'm crying because I'm a disappointment to
myself. Harry, I'm going back to America."
And that, after hours of discussion, was where they ended. Anna
must go at once. Peter must keep the apartment, having Jimmy to
look after and to hide. What was a frightful dilemma to him and
to Harmony Anna took rather lightly.
"You'll find some one else to take my place," she said. "If I had
a day I could find a dozen."
"And in the interval?" Harmony asked, without looking at Peter.
"The interval! Tut! Peter is your brother, to all intents and
purposes. And if you are thinking of scandal-mongers, who will
know?"
Having determined to go, no arguments moved Anna, nor could
either of the two think of anything to urge beyond a situation
she refused to see, or rather a situation she refused to
acknowledge. She was not as comfortable as she pretended. During
all that long night, while snow sifted down into the ugly yard
and made it beautiful, while Jimmy slept and the white mice
played, while Harmony tossed and tried to sleep and Peter sat in
his cold room and smoked his pipe, Anna packed her untidy
belongings and added a name now and then to a list that was meant
for Peter, a list of possible substitutes for herself in the
little household.
She left early the next morning, a grim little person who bent
over the sleeping boy hungrily, and insisted on carrying her own
bag down the stairs. Harmony did not go to the station, but
stayed at home, pale and silent, hovering around against Jimmy's
awakening and struggling against a feeling of panic. Not that she
feared Peter or herself. But she was conventional; shielded girls
are accustomed to lean for a certain support on the proprieties,
as bridgeplayers depend on rules.
Peter came back to breakfast, but ate little. Harmony did not
even sit down, but drank her cup of coffee standing, looking down
at the snow below. Jimmy still slept.
"Won't you sit down?" said Peter.
"I'm not hungry, thank you."
"You can sit down without eating."
Peter was nervous. To cover his uneasiness he was distinctly
gruff. He pulled a chair out for her and she sat down. Now that
they were face to face the tension was lessened. Peter laid
Anna's list on the table between them and bent over it toward
her.
"You are hurting me very much, Harry," he said. "Do you know
why?"
"I? I am only sorry about Anna. I miss her. I--I was fond of
her."
"So was I. But that isn't it, Harry. It's something else."
"I'm uncomfortable, Peter."
"So am I. I'm sorry you don't trust me. For that's it."
"Not at all. But, Peter, what will people say?'
"A great deal, if they know. Who is to know? How many people know
about us? A handful, at the most, McLean and Mrs. Boyer and one
or two others. Of course I can go away until we get some one to
take Anna's place, but you'd be here alone at night, and if the
youngster had an attack--"
"Oh, no, don't leave him!"
"It's holiday time. There are no clinics until next week. If
you'll put up with me--"
"Put up with you, when it is your apartment I use, your food I
eat!" She almost choked. "Peter, I must talk about money."
"I'm coming to that. Don't you suppose you more than earn
everything? Doesn't it humiliate me hourly to see you working
here?"
"Peter! Would you rob me of my last vestige of self-respect?"
This being unanswerable, Peter fell back on his major premise.
"If you'll put up with me for a day or so I'll take this list of
Anna's and hunt up some body. Just describe the person you desire
and I'll find her." He assumed a certainty he was far from
feeling, but it reassured the girl. "A woman, of course?"
"Of course. And not young."
"'Not young,'" wrote Peter. "Fat?"
Harmony recalled Mrs. Boyer's ample figure and shook her head.
"Not too stout. And agreeable. That's most important."
"'Agreeable,'" wrote Peter. "Although Anna was hardly agreeable,
in the strict sense of the word, was she?"
"She was interesting, and--and human."
"'Human!'" wrote Peter. "Wanted, a woman, not young, not too
stout, agreeable and human. Shall I advertise?"
The strain was quite gone by that time. Harmony was smiling.
Jimmy, waking, called for food, and the morning of the first day
was under way.
Peter was well content that morning, in spite of an undercurrent
of uneasiness. Before this Anna had shared his proprietorship
with him. Now the little household was his. His vicarious
domesticity pleased him. He strutted about, taking a new view of
his domain; he tightened a doorknob and fastened a noisy window.
He inspected the coal-supply and grumbled over its quality. He
filled the copper kettle on the stove, carried in the water for
Jimmy's morning bath, cleaned the mouse cage. He even insisted on
peeling the little German potatoes, until Harmony cried aloud at
his wastefulness and took the knife from him.
And afterward, while Harmony in the sickroom read aloud and Jimmy
put the wooden sentry into the cage to keep order, he got out his
books and tried to study. But he did little work. His book lay on
his knee, his pipe died beside him. The strangeness of the
situation came over him, sitting there, and left him rather
frightened. He tried to see it from the viewpoint of an outsider,
and found himself incredulous and doubting. McLean would resent
the situation. Even the Portier was a person to reckon with. The
skepticism of the American colony was a thing to fear and avoid.
And over all hung the incessant worry about money; he could just
manage alone. He could not, by any method he knew of, stretch his
resources to cover a separate arrangement for himself. But he had
undertaken to shield a girl-woman and a child, and shield them he
would and could.
Brave thoughts were Peter's that snowy morning in the great salon
of Maria Theresa, with the cat of the Portier purring before the
fire; brave thoughts, cool reason, with Harmony practicing scales
very softly while Jimmy slept, and with Anna speeding through a
white world, to the accompaniment of bitter meditation.
Peter had meant to go to Semmering that day, but even the urgency
of Marie's need faded before his own situation. He wired Stewart
that he would come as soon as he could, and immediately after
lunch departed for the club, Anna's list in his pocket, Harmony's
requirements in mind. He paused at Jimmy's door on his way out.
"What shall it be to-day?" he inquired. "A postcard or a crayon?"
"I wish I could have a dog."
"We'll have a dog when you are better and can take him walking.
Wait until spring, son."
"Some more mice?"
"You will have them--but not to-day."
"What holiday comes next?"
"New Year's Day. Suppose I bring you a New Year's card."
"That's right," agreed Jimmy. "One I can send to Dad. Do you
think he will come back this year?" wistfully.
Peter dropped on his baggy knees beside the bed and drew the
little wasted figure to him.
"I think you'll surely see him this year, old man," he said
huskily.
Peter walked to the Doctors' Club. On the way he happened on
little Georgiev, the Bulgarian, and they went on together. Peter
managed to make out that Georgiev was studying English, and that
he desired to know the state of health and the abode of the
Fraulein Wells. Peter evaded the latter by the simple expedient
of pretending not to understand. The little Bulgarian watched him
earnestly, his smouldering eyes not without suspicion. There had
been much talk in the Pension Schwarz about the departure
together of the three Americans. The Jew from Galicia still raved
over Harmony's beauty.
Georgiev rather hoped, by staying by Peter, to be led toward his
star. But Peter left him at the Doctors' Club, still amiable, but
absolutely obtuse to the question nearest the little spy's heart.
The club was almost deserted. The holidays had taken many of the
members out of town. Other men were taking advantage of the
vacation to see the city, or to make acquaintance again with
families they had hardly seen during the busy weeks before
Christmas. The room at the top of the stairs where the wives of
the members were apt to meet for chocolate and to exchange the
addresses of dressmakers was empty; in the reading room he found
McLean. Although not a member, McLean was a sort of honorary
habitue, being allowed the privilege of the club in exchange for
a dependable willingness to play at entertainments of all sorts.
It was in Peter's mind to enlist McLean's assistance in his
difficulties. McLean knew a good many people. He was popular,
goodlooking, and in a colony where, unlike London and Paris, the
great majority were people of moderate means, he was
conspicuously well off. But he was also much younger than Peter
and intolerant with the insolence of youth. Peter was thinking
hard as he took off his overcoat and ordered beer.
The boy was in love with Harmony already; Peter had seen that, as
he saw many things. How far his love might carry him, Peter had
no idea. It seemed to him, as he sat across the reading-table and
studied him over his magazine, that McLean would resent bitterly
the girl's position, and that when he learned it a crisis might
be precipitated.
One of three things might happen: He might bend all his energies
to second Peter's effort to fill Anna's place, to find the right
person; he might suggest taking Anna's place himself, and insist
that his presence in the apartment would be as justifiable as
Peter's; or he might do at once the thing Peter felt he would do
eventually, cut the knot of the difficulty by asking Harmony to
marry him. Peter, greeting him pleasantly, decided not to tell
him anything, to keep him away if possible until the thing was
straightened out, and to wait for an hour at the club in the hope
that a solution might stroll in for chocolate and gossip.
In any event explanation to McLean would have required
justification. Peter disliked the idea. He could humble himself,
if necessary, to a woman; he could admit his asininity in
assuming the responsibility of Jimmy, for instance, and any woman
worthy of the name, or worthy of living in the house with
Harmony, would understand. But McLean was young, intolerant. He
was more than that, though Peter, concealing from himself just
what Harmony meant to him, would not have admitted a rival for
what he had never claimed. But a rival the boy was. Peter, calmly
reading a magazine and drinking his Munich beer, was in the grip
of the fiercest jealousy. He turned pages automatically, to
recall nothing of what he had read.
McLean, sitting across from him, watched him surreptitiously. Big
Peter, aggressively masculine, heavy of shoulder, direct of
speech and eye, was to him the embodiment of all that a woman
should desire in a man. He, too, was jealous, but humbly so.
Unlike Peter he knew his situation, was young enough to glory in
it. Shameless love is always young; with years comes discretion,
perhaps loss of confidence. The Crusaders were youths, pursuing
an idea to the ends of the earth and flaunting a lady's guerdon
from spear or saddle-bow. The older men among them tucked the
handkerchief or bit of a gauntleted glove under jerkin and armor
near the heart, and flung to the air the guerdon of some light o'
love. McLean would have shouted Harmony's name from the
housetops. Peter did not acknowledge even to himself that he was
in love with her.
It occurred to McLean after a time that Peter being in the club,
and Harmony being in all probability at home, it might be
possible to see her alone for a few minutes. He had not intended
to go back to the house in the Siebensternstrasse so soon after
being peremptorily put out; he had come to the club with the
intention of clinching his resolution with a game of cribbage.
But fate was playing into his hands. There was no cribbage player
round, and Peter himself sat across deeply immersed in a
magazine. McLean rose, not stealthily, but without unnecessary
noise.
So far so good. Peter turned a page and went on reading. McLean
sauntered to a window, hands in pockets. He even whistled a
trifle, under his breath, to prove how very casual were his
intentions. Still whistling, he moved toward the door. Peter
turned another page, which was curiously soon to have read two
columns of small type without illustrations.
Once out in the hall McLean's movements gained aim and precision.
He got his coat, hat and stick, flung the first over his arm and
the second on his head, and--
"Going out?" asked Peter calmly.
"Yes, nothing to do here. I've read all the infernal old
magazines until I 'm sick of them." Indignant, too, from his
tone.
"Walking?"
"Yes."
"Mind if I go with you?"
"Not at all."
Peter, taking down his old overcoat from its hook, turned and
caught the boy's eye. It was a swift exchange of glances, but
illuminating--Peter's whimsical, but with a sort of grim
determination; McLean's sheepish, but equally determined.
"Rotten afternoon," said McLean as they started for the stairs.
"Half rain, half snow. Streets are ankle-deep."
"I'm not particularly keen about walking, but--I don't care for
this tomb alone."
Nothing was further from McLean's mind than a walk with Peter
that afternoon. He hesitated halfway down the upper flight.
"You don't care for cribbage, do you?"
"Don't know anything about it. How about pinochle?"
They had both stopped, equally determined, equally hesitating.
"Pinochle it is," acquiesced McLean. "I was only going because
there was nothing to do."
Things went very well for Peter that afternoon--up to a certain
point. He beat McLean unmercifully, playing with cold
deliberation. McLean wearied, fidgeted, railed at his luck. Peter
played on grimly.
The club filled up toward the coffee-hour. Two or three women,
wives of members, a young girl to whom McLean had been rather
attentive before he met Harmony and who bridled at the abstracted
bow he gave her. And, finally, when hope in Peter was dead, one
of the women on Anna's list.
Peter, laying down pairs and marking up score, went over
Harmony's requirements. Dr. Jennings seemed to fit them all, a
woman, not young, not too stout, agreeable and human. She was a
large, almost bovinely placid person, not at all reminiscent of
Anna. She was neat where Anna had been disorderly, well dressed
and breezy against Anna's dowdiness and sharpness. Peter, having
totaled the score, rose and looked down at McLean.
"You're a nice lad," he said, smiling. "Sometime I shall teach
you the game."
"How about a lesson to-night in Seven-Star Street?"
"To-night? Why, I'm sorry. We have an engagement for to-night."
The "we" was deliberate and cruel. McLean writhed. Also the
statement was false, but the boy was spared that knowledge for
the moment.
Things went well. Dr. Jennings was badly off for quarters. She
would make a change if she could better herself. Peter drew her
off to a corner and stated his case. She listened attentively,
albeit not without disapproval.
She frankly discredited the altruism of Peter's motives when he
told her about Harmony. But as the recital went on she found
herself rather touched. The story of Jimmy appealed to her. She
scolded and lauded Peter in one breath, and what was more to the
point, she promised to visit the house in the Siebensternstrasse
the next day.
"So Anna Gates has gone home!" she reflected. "When?"
"This morning."
"Then the girl is there alone?"
"Yes. She is very young and inexperienced, and the boy--it's
myocarditis. She's afraid to be left with him."
"Is she quite alone?"
"Absolutely, and without funds, except enough for her lessons.
Our arrangement was that she should keep the house going; that
was her share."
Dr. Jennings was impressed. It was impossible to talk to Peter
and not believe him. Women trusted Peter always.
"You've been very foolish, Dr. Byrne," she said as she rose; "but
you've been disinterested enough to offset that and to put some
of us to shame. To-morrow at three, if it suits you. You said the
Siebensternstrasse?"
Peter went home exultant.
CHAPTER XVII
Christmas-Day had had a softening effect on Mrs. Boyer. It had
opened badly. It was the first Christmas she had spent away from
her children, and there had been little of the holiday spirit in
her attitude as she prepared the Christmas breakfast. After that,
however, things happened.
In the first place, under her plate she had found a frivolous
chain and pendant which she had admired. And when her eyes filled
up, as they did whenever she was emotionally moved, the doctor
had come round the table and put both his arms about her.
"Too young for you? Not a bit!" he said heartily. "You're
better-looking then you ever were, Jennie; and if you weren't
you're the only woman for me, anyhow. Don't you think I realize
what this exile means to you and that you're doing it for me?"
"I--I don't mind it."
"Yes, you do. To-night we'll go out and make a night of it, shall
we? Supper at the Grand, the theater, and then the Tabarin, eh?"
She loosened herself from his arms.
"What shall I wear? Those horrible things the children bought
me--"
"Throw 'em away."
"They're not worn at all."
"Throw them out. Get rid of the things the children got you. Go
out to-morrow and buy something you like--not that I don't like
you in anything or without--"
"Frank!"
"Be happy, that's the thing. It's the first Christmas without the
family, and I miss them too. But we're together, dear. That's the
big thing. Merry Christmas."
An auspicious opening, that, to Christmas-Day. And they had
carried out the program as outlined. Mrs. Boyer had enjoyed it,
albeit a bit horrified at the Christmas gayety at the Tabarin.
The next morning, however, she awakened with a keen reaction. Her
head ached. She had a sense of taint over her. She was virtue
rampant again, as on the day she had first visited the old lodge
in the Siebensternstrasse.
It is hardly astonishing that by association of ideas Harmony
came into her mind again, a brand that might even yet be snatched
from the burning. She had been a bit hasty before, she admitted
to herself. There was a woman doctor named Gates, although her
address at the club was given as Pension Schwarz. She determined
to do her shopping early and then to visit the house in the
Siebensternstrasse. She was not a hard woman, for all her
inflexible morality, and more than once she had had an uneasy
memory of Harmony's bewildered, almost stricken face the
afternoon of her visit. She had been a watchful mother over a not
particularly handsome family of daughters. This lovely young girl
needed mothering and she had refused it. She would go back, and
if she found she had been wrong and the girl was deserving and
honest, she would see what could be done.
The day was wretched. The snow had turned to rain. Mrs. Boyer,
shopping, dragged wet skirts and damp feet from store to store.
She found nothing that she cared for after all. The garments that
looked chic in the windows or on manikins in the shops, were
absurd on her. Her insistent bosom bulged, straight lines became
curves or tortuous zigzags, plackets gaped, collars choked her or
shocked her by their absence. In the mirror of Marie Jedlicka,
clad in familiar garments that had accommodated themselves to the
idiosyncrasies of her figure, Mrs. Boyer was a plump, rather
comely matron. Here before the plate glass of the modiste, under
the glare of a hundred lights, side by side with a slim Austrian
girl who looked like a willow wand, Mrs. Boyer was grotesque,
ridiculous, monstrous. She shuddered. She almost wept.
It was bad preparation for a visit to the Siebensternstrasse.
Mrs. Boyer, finding her vanity gone, convinced that she was an
absurdity physically, fell back for comfort on her soul. She had
been a good wife and mother; she was chaste, righteous. God had
been cruel to her in the flesh, but He had given her the spirit.
"Madame wishes not the gown? It is beautiful--see the embroidery!
And the neck may be filled with chiffon."
"Young woman," she said grimly, "I see the embroidery; and the
neck may be filled with chiffon, but not for me! And when you
have had five children, you will not buy clothes like that
either."
All the kindliness was gone from the visit to the
Siebensternstrasse; only the determination remained. Wounded to
the heart of her self-esteem, her pride in tatters, she took her
way to the old lodge and climbed the stairs.
She found a condition of mild excitement. Jimmy had slept long
after his bath. Harmony practiced, cut up a chicken for broth,
aired blankets for the chair into which Peter on his return was
to lift the boy.
She was called to inspect the mouse-cage, which, according to
Jimmy, had strawberries in it.
"Far back," he explained. "There in the cotton, Harry."
But it was not strawberries. Harmony opened the cage and very
tenderly took out the cotton nest. Eight tiny pink baby mice,
clean washed by the mother, lay curled in a heap.
It was a stupendous moment. The joy of vicarious parentage was
Jimmy's. He named them all immediately and demanded food for
them. On Harmony's delicate explanation that this was
unnecessary, life took on a new meaning for Jimmy. He watched the
mother lest she slight one. His responsibility weighed on him.
Also his inquiring mind was very busy.
"But how did they get there?" he demanded.
"God sent them, just as he sends babies of all sorts."
"Did he send me?"
"Of course."
"That's a good one on you, Harry. My father found me in a hollow
tree."
"But don't you think God had something to do with it?"
Jimmy pondered this.
"I suppose," he reflected, "God sent Daddy to find me so that I
would be his little boy. You never happened to see any babies
when you were out walking, did you, Harry?"
"Not in stumps--but I probably wasn't looking."
Jimmy eyed her with sympathy.
"You may some day. Would you like to have one?"
"Very much," said Harmony, and flushed delightfully.
Jimmy was disposed to press the matter, to urge immediate
maternity on her.
"You could lay it here on the bed," he offered, "and I'd watch
it. When they yell you let 'em suck your finger. I knew a woman
once that had a baby and she did that. And it could watch
Isabella." Isabella was the mother mouse. "And when I'm better I
could take it walking."
"That," said Harmony gravely, "is mighty fine of you, Jimmy boy.
I--I'll think about it." She never denied Jimmy anything, so now
she temporized.
"I'll ask Peter."
Harmony had a half-hysterical moment; then:
"Wouldn't it be better," she asked, "to keep anything of that
sort a secret? And to surprise Peter?"
The boy loved a secret. He played with it in lieu of other
occupation. His uncertain future was sown thick with secrets that
would never flower into reality. Thus Peter had shamelessly
promised him a visit to the circus when he was able to go,
Harmony not to be told until the tickets were bought. Anna had
similarly promised to send him from America a pitcher's glove and
a baseball bat. To this list of futurities he now added Harmony's
baby.
Harmony brought in her violin and played softly to him, not to
disturb the sleeping mice. She sang, too, a verse that the Big
Soprano had been fond of and that Jimmy loved. Not much of a
voice was Harmony's, but sweet and low and very true, as became
her violinist's ear.
"Ah, well! For us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes,"
she sang, her clear eyes luminous.
"And in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!"
Mrs. Boyer mounted the stairs. She was in a very bad humor. She
had snagged her skirt on a nail in the old gate, and although
that very morning she had detested the suit, her round of
shopping had again endeared it to her. She told the Portier in
English what she thought of him, and climbed ponderously, pausing
at each landing to examine the damage.
Harmony, having sung Jimmy to sleep, was in the throes of an
experiment. She was trying to smoke.
A very human young person was Harmony, apt to be exceedingly
wretched if her hat were of last year's fashion, anxious to be
inconspicuous by doing what every one else was doing,
conventional as are the very young, fearful of being an
exception.
And nearly every one was smoking. Many of the young women whom
she met at the master's house had yellowed fingers and smoked in
the anteroom; the Big Soprano had smoked; Anna and Scatchy had
smoked; in the coffee-houses milliners' apprentices produced
little silver mouth-pieces to prevent soiling their pretty lips
and smoked endlessly. Even Peter had admitted that it was not a
vice, but only a comfortable bad habit. And Anna had left a
handful of cigarettes.
Harmony was not smoking; she was experimenting. Peter and Anna
had smoked together and it had looked comradely. Perhaps, without
reasoning it out, Harmony was experimenting toward the end of
establishing her relations with Peter still further on friendly
and comradely grounds. Two men might smoke together; a man and a
woman might smoke together as friends. According to Harmony's
ideas, a girl paring potatoes might inspire sentiment, but
smoking a cigarette--never!
She did not like it. She thought, standing before her little
mirror, that she looked fast, after all. She tried pursing her
lips together, as she had seen Anna do, and blowing out the smoke
in a thin line. She smoked very hard, so that she stood in the
center of a gray nimbus. She hated it, but she persisted. Perhaps
it grew on one; perhaps, also, if she walked about it would choke
her less. She practiced holding the thing between her first and
second fingers, and found that easier than smoking. Then she went
to the salon where there was more air, and tried exhaling through
her nose. It made her sneeze.
On the sneeze came Mrs. Boyer's ring. Harmony thought very fast.
It might be the bread or the milk, but again--She flung the
cigarette into the stove, shut the door, and answered the bell.
Mrs. Boyer's greeting was colder than she had intended. It put
Harmony on the defensive at once, made her uncomfortable. Like
all the innocent falsely accused she looked guiltier than the
guiltiest. Under Mrs. Boyer's searching eyes the enormity of her
situation overwhelmed her. And over all, through salon and
passage, hung the damning odor of the cigarette. Harmany, leading
the way in, was a sheep before her shearer.
"I'm calling on all of you," said Mrs. Boyer, sniping. "I meant
to bring Dr. Boyer's cards for every one, including Dr. Byrne."
"I'm sorry. Dr. Byrne is out."
"And Dr. Gates?"
"She--she is away."
Mrs. Boyer raised her eyebrows and ostentatiously changed the
subject, requesting a needle and thread to draw the rent
together. It had been in Harmony's mind to explain the situation,
to show Jimmy to Mrs. Boyer, to throw herself on the older
woman's sympathy, to ask advice. But the visitor's attitude made
this difficult. To add to her discomfort, through the grating in
the stove door was coming a thin thread of smoke.
It was, after all, Mrs. Boyer who broached the subject again. She
had had a cup of tea, and Harmony, sitting on a stool, had mended
the rent so that it could hardly be seen. Mrs. Boyer, softened by
the tea and by the proximity of Harmony's lovely head bent over
her task, grew slightly more expansive.
"I ought to tell you something, Miss Wells," she said. "You
remember my other visit?"
"Perfectly." Harmony bent still lower.
"I did you an injustice at that time. I've been sorry ever since.
I thought that there was no Dr. Gates. I'm sorry, but I'm not
going to deny it. People do things in this wicked city that they
wouldn't do at home. I confess I misjudged Peter Byrne. You can
give him my apologies, since he won't see me."
"But he isn't here or of course he'd see you."
"Then," demanded Mrs. Boyer grimly, "if Peter Byrne is not here,
who has been smoking cigarettes in this room? There is one still
burning in that stove!"
Harmony's hand was forced. She was white as she cut the
brown-silk thread and rose to her feet.
"I think," she said, "that I'd better go back a few weeks, Mrs.
Boyer, and tell you a story, if you have time to listen."
"If it is disagreeable--"
"Not at all. It is about Peter Byrne and myself, and--some
others. It is really about Peter. Mrs. Boyer, will you come very
quietly across the hall?"
Mrs. Boyer, expecting Heaven knows what, rose with celerity.
Harmony led the way to Jimmy's door and opened it. He was still
asleep, a wasted small figure on the narrow bed. Beside him the
mice frolicked in their cage, the sentry kept guard over Peter's
shameless letters from the Tyrol, the strawberry babies wriggled
in their cotton.
"We are not going to have him very long," said Harmony softly.
"Peter is making him happy for a little while."
Back in the salon of Maria Theresa she told the whole story. Mrs.
Boyer found it very affecting. Harmony sat beside her on a stool
and she kept her hand on the girl's shoulder. When the narrative
reached Anna's going away, however, she took it away. From that
point on she sat uncompromisingly rigid and listened.
"Then you mean to say," she exploded when Harmony had finished,
"that you intend to stay on here, just the two of you?"
"And Jimmy."
"Bah! What has the child to do with it?"
"We will find some one to take Anna's place."
"I doubt it. And until you do?"
"There is nothing wicked in what we are doing. Don't you see,
Mrs. Boyer, I can't leave the boy."
"Since Peter is so altruistic, let him hire a nurse."
Bad as things were, Harmony smiled.
"A nurse!" she said. "Why, do you realize that he is keeping
three people now on what is starvation for one?"
"Then he's a fool!" Mrs. Boyer rose in majesty. "I'm not going to
leave you here."
"I'm sorry. You must see--"
"I see nothing but a girl deliberately putting herself in a
compromising portion and worse."
"Mrs. Boyer!"
"Get your things on. I guess Dr. Boyer and I can look after you
until we can send you home."
"I am not going home--yet," said poor Harmony, biting her lip to
steady it.
Back and forth waged the battle, Mrs. Boyer assailing, Harmony
offering little defense but standing firm on her refusal to go as
long as Peter would let her remain.
"It means so much to me," she ventured, goaded. "And I earn my
lodging and board. I work hard and--I make him comfortable. It
costs him very little and I give him something in exchange. All
men are not alike. If the sort you have known are--are
different--"
This was unfortunate. Mrs. Boyer stiffened. She ceased offensive
tactics, and retired grimly into the dignity of her high calling
of virtuous wife and mother. She washed her hands of Harmony and
Peter. She tied on her veil with shaking hands, and prepared to
leave Harmony to her fate.
"Give me your mother's address," she demanded.
"Certainly not."
"You absolutely refuse to save yourself?"
"From what? From Peter? There are many worse people than Peter to
save myself from, Mrs. Boyer--uncharitable people, and--and cruel
people."
Mrs. Boyer shrugged her plump shoulders.
"Meaning me!" she retorted. "My dear child, people are always
cruel who try to save us from ourselves."
Unluckily for Harmony, one of Anna's specious arguments must pop
into her head at that instant and demand expression.
"People are living their own lives these days, Mrs. Boyer; old
standards have gone. It is what one's conscience condemns that is
wrong, isn't it? Not merely breaking laws that were made to fit
the average, not the exception."
Anna! Anna!
Mrs. Boyer flung up her hands.
"You are impossible!" she snapped. "After all, I believe it is
Peter who needs protection! I shall speak to him."
She started down the staircase, but turned for a parting volley.
"And just a word of advice: Perhaps the old standards have gone.
But if you really expect to find a respectable woman to chaperon
YOU, keep your views to yourself."
Harmony, a bruised and wounded thing, crept into Jimmy's room and
sank on her knees beside the bed. One small hand lay on the
coverlet; she dared not touch it for fear of waking him--but she
laid her cheek close to it for comfort. When Peter came in, much
later, he found the boy wide awake and Harmony asleep, a crumpled
heap beside the bed.
"I think she's been crying," Jimmy whispered. "She's been sobbing
in her sleep. And strike a match, Peter; there may be more mice."
CHAPTER XVIII
Mrs. Boyer, bursting with indignation, went to the Doctors' Club.
It was typical of the way things were going with Peter that Dr.
Boyer was not there, and that the only woman in the clubrooms
should be Dr. Jennings. Young McLean was in the reading room,
eating his heart out with jealousy of Peter, vacillating between
the desire to see Harmony that night and fear lest Peter forbid
him the house permanently if he made the attempt. He had found a
picture of the Fraulein Engel, from the opera, in a magazine, and
was sitting with it open before him. Very deeply and really in
love was McLean that afternoon, and the Fraulein Engel and
Harmony were not unlike. The double doors between the reading
room and the reception room adjoining were open. McLean, lost in
a rosy future in which he and Harmony sat together for indefinite
periods, with no Peter to scowl over his books at them, a future
in which life was one long piano-violin duo, with the candles in
the chandelier going out one by one, leaving them at last alone
in scented darkness together--McLean heard nothing until the
mention of the Siebensternstrasse roused him.
After that he listened. He heard that Dr. Jennings was
contemplating taking Anna's place at the lodge, and he
comprehended after a moment that Anna was already gone. Even then
the significance of the situation was a little time in dawning on
him. When it did, however, he rose with a stifled oath.
Mrs. Boyer was speaking.
"It is exactly as I tell you," she was saying. "If Peter Byrne is
trying to protect her reputation he is late doing it. Personally
I have been there twice. I never saw Anna Gates. And she is
registered here at the club as living in the Pension Schwarz.
Whatever the facts may be, one thing remains, she is not there
now."
McLean waited to hear no more. He was beside himself with rage.
He found a "comfortable" at the curb. The driver was asleep
inside the carriage. McLean dragged him out by the shoulder and
shouted an address to him. The cab bumped along over the rough
streets to an accompaniment of protests from its frantic
passenger.
The boy was white-lipped with wrath and fear. Peter's silence
that afternoon as to the state of affairs loomed large and
significant. He had thought once or twice that Peter was in love
with Harmony; he knew it now in the clearer vision of the moment.
He recalled things that maddened him: the dozen intimacies of the
little menage, the caress in Peter's voice when he spoke to the
girl, Peter's steady eyes in the semi-gloom of the salon while
Harmony played.
At a corner they must pause for the inevitable regiment. McLean
cursed, bending out to see how long the delay would be. Peter had
been gone for half an hour, perhaps, but Peter would walk. If he
could only see the girl first, talk to her, tell her what she
would be doing by remaining--
He was there at last, flinging across the courtyard like a
madman. Peter was already there; his footprints were fresh in the
slush of the path. The house door was closed but not locked.
McLean ran up the stairs. It was barely twilight outside, but the
staircase well was dark. At the upper landing he was compelled to
fumble for the bell.
Peter admitted him. The corridor was unlighted, but from the
salon came a glow of lamplight. McLean, out of breath and
furious, faced Peter.
"I want to see Harmony," he said without preface.
Peter eyed him. He knew what had happened, had expected it when
the bell rang, had anticipated it when Harmony told him of Mrs.
Boyer's visit. In the second between the peal of the bell and his
opening the door he had decided what to do.
"Come in."
McLean stepped inside. He was smaller than Peter, not so much
shorter as slenderer. Even Peter winced before the look in his
eyes.
"Where is she?"
"In the kitchen, I think. Come into the salon."
McLean flung off his coat. Peter closed the door behind him and
stood just inside. He had his pipe as usual. "I came to see her,
not you, Byrne."
"So I gather. I'll let you see her, of course, but don't you want
to see me first?"
"I want to take her away from here."
"Why? Are you better able to care for her than I am?"
McLean stood rigid. He had thrust his clenched hands into his
pockets.
"You're a scoundrel, Byrne," he said steadily. "Why didn't you
tell me this this afternoon?"
"Because I knew if I did you'd do just what you are doing."
"Are you going to keep her here?"
Peter changed color at the thrust, but he kept himself in hand.
"I'm not keeping her here," he said patiently. "I'm doing the
best I can under the circumstances."
"Then your best is pretty bad."
"Perhaps. If you would try to remember the circumstances,
McLean,--that the girl has no place else to go, practically no
money, and that I--"
"I remember one circumstance, that you are living here alone with
her and that you're crazy in love with her."
"That has nothing to do with you. As long as I treat her--"
"Bah!"
"Will you be good enough to let me finish what I am trying to
say? She's safe with me. When I say that I mean it. She will not
go away from here with you or with any one else if I can prevent
it. And if you care enough about her to try to keep her happy
you'll not let her know you have been here. I've got a woman
coming to take Anna's place. That ought to satisfy you."
"Dr. Jennings?"
"Yes."
"She'll not come. Mrs. Boyer has been talking to her. Inside of
an hour the whole club will have it--every American in Vienna
will know about it in a day or so. I tell you, Byrne, you're
doing an awful thing."
Peter drew a long breath. He had had his bad half-hour before
McLean came; had had to stand by, wordless, and see Harmony
trying to smile, see her dragging about, languid and white, see
her tragic attempts to greet him on the old familiar footing.
Through it all he had been sustained by the thought that a day or
two days would see the old footing reestablished, another woman
in the house, life again worth the living and Harmony smiling up
frankly into his eyes. Now this hope had departed.
"You can't keep me from seeing her, you know," McLean persisted.
"I've got to put this thing to her. She's got to choose."
"What alternative have you to suggest?"
"I'd marry her if she'd have me."
After all Peter had expected that. And, if she cared for the boy
wouldn't that be best for her? What had he to offer against that?
He couldn't marry. He could only offer her shelter, against
everything else. Even then he did not dislike McLean. He was a
man, every slender inch of him, this boy musician. Peter's heart
sank, but he put down his pipe and turned to the door.
"I'll call her," he said. "But, since this concerns me very
vitally, I should like to be here while you put the thing to her.
After that if you like--"
He called Harmony. She had given Jimmy his supper and was
carrying out a tray that seemed hardly touched.
"He won't eat to-night," she said miserably. "Peter, if he stops
eating, what can we do? He is so weak!"
Peter, took the tray from her gently.
"Harry dear," he said, "I want you to come into the salon. Some
one wishes to speak to you."
"To me?"
"Yes. Harry, do you remember that evening in the kitchen when--Do
you recall what I promised?"
"Yes, Peter."
"You are sure you know what I mean?"
"Yes."
"That's all right, then. McLean wants to see you."
She hesitated, looking up at him.
"McLean? You look so grave, Peter. What is it?"
"He will tell you. Nothing alarming."
Peter gave McLean a minute alone after all, while he carried the
tray to the kitchen. He had no desire to play watchdog over the
girl, he told himself savagely; only to keep himself straight
with her and to save her from McLean's impetuosity. He even
waited in the kitchen to fill and light his pipe.
McLean had worked himself into a very fair passion. He was
intense, almost theatrical, as he stood with folded arms waiting
for Harmony. So entirely did the girl fill his existence that he
forgot, or did not care to remember, how short a time he had
known her. As Harmony she dominated his life and his thoughts; as
Harmony he addressed her when, rather startled, she entered the
salon and stood just inside the closed door.
"Peter said you wanted to speak to me."
McLean groaned. "Peter!" he said. "It is always Peter. Look here,
Harmony, you cannot stay here."
"It is only for a few hours. To-morrow some one is coming. And,
anyhow, Peter is going to Semmering. We know it is unusual, but
what can we do?"
"Unusual! It's--it's damnable. It's the appearance of the thing,
don't you see that?"
"I think it is rather silly to talk of appearance when there is
no one to care. And how can I leave? Jimmy needs me all the
time--"
"That's another idiocy of Peter's. What does he mean by putting
you in this position?"
"I am one of Peter's idiocies."
Peter entered on that. He took in the situation with a glance,
and Harmony turned to him; but if she had expected Peter to
support her, she was disappointed. Whatever decision she was to
make must be her own, in Peter's troubled mind. He crossed the
room and stood at one of the windows, looking out, a passive
participant in the scene.
The day had been a trying one for Harmony. What she chose to
consider Peter's defection was a fresh stab. She glanced from
McLean, flushed and excited, to Peter's impassive back. Then she
sat down, rather limp, and threw out her hands helplessly.
"What am I to do?" she demanded. "Every one comes with cruel
things to say, but no one tells me what to do."
Peter turned away from the window.
"You can leave here," ventured McLean. "That's the first thing.
After that--"
"Yes, and after that, what?"
McLean glanced at Peter. Then he took a step toward the girl.
"You could marry me, Harmony," he said unsteadily. "I hadn't
expected to tell you so soon, or before a third person." He
faltered before Harmony's eyes, full of bewilderment. "I'd be
very happy if you--if you could see it that way. I care a great
deal, you see."
It seemed hours to Peter before she made any reply, and that her
voice came from miles away.
"Is it really as bad as that?" she asked. "Have I made such a
mess of things that some one, either you or Peter, must marry me
to straighten things out? I don't want to marry any one. Do I
have to?"
"Certainly you don't have to," said Peter. There was relief in
his voice, relief and also something of exultation. "McLean, you
mean well, but marriage isn't the solution. We were getting along
all right until our friends stepped in. Let Mrs. Boyer howl all
over the colony; there will be one sensible woman somewhere to
come and be comfortable here with us. In the interval we'll
manage, unless Harmony is afraid. In that case--"
"Afraid of what?"
The two men exchanged glances, McLean helpless, Peter triumphant.
"I do not care what Mrs. Boyer says, at least not much. And I am
not afraid of anything else at all."
McLean picked up his overcoat.
"At least," he appealed to Peter, "you'll come over to my place?"
"No!" said Peter.
McLean made a final appeal to Harmony.
"If this gets out," he said, "you are going to regret it all your
life."
"I shall have nothing to regret," she retorted proudly.
Had Peter not been there McLean would have made a better case,
would have pleaded with her, would have made less of a situation
that roused her resentment and more of his love for her. He was
very hard hit, very young. He was almost hysterical with rage and
helplessness; he wanted to slap her, to take her in his arms. He
writhed under the restraint of Peter's steady eyes.
He got to the door and turned, furious.
"Then it's up to you," he flung at Peter. "You're old enough to
know better; she isn't. And don't look so damned superior. You're
human, like the rest of us. And if any harm comes to her--"
Here unexpectedly Peter held out his hand, and after a sheepish
moment McLean took it.
"Good-night, old man," said Peter. "And--don't be an ass."
As was Peter's way, the words meant little, the tone much. McLean
knew what in his heart he had known all along--that the girl was
safe enough; that all that was to fear was the gossip of
scandal-lovers. He took Peter's hand, and then going to Harmony
stood before her very erect.
"I suppose I've said too much; I always do," he said contritely.
"But you know the reason. Don't forget the reason, will you?"
"I am only sorry."
He bent over and kissed her hand lingeringly. It was a tragic
moment for him, poor lad! He turned and went blindly out the door
and down the dark stone staircase. It was rather anticlimax,
after all that, to have Peter discover he had gone without his
hat and toss it down to him a flight below.
All the frankness had gone out of the relationship between
Harmony and Peter. They made painful efforts at ease, talked
during the meal of careful abstractions, such as Jimmy, and
Peter's proposed trip to Semmering, avoided each other's eyes,
ate little or nothing. Once when Harmony passed Peter his
coffee-cup their fingers touched, and between them they dropped
the cup. Harmony was flushed and pallid by turns, Peter wretched
and silent.
Out of the darkness came one ray of light. Stewart had wired from
Semmering, urging Peter to come. He would be away for two days.
In two days much might happen; Dr. Jennings might come or some
one else. In two days some of the restraint would have worn off.
Things would never be the same, but they would be forty-eight
hours better.
Peter spent the early part of the evening with Jimmy, reading
aloud to him. After the child had dropped to sleep he packed a
valise for the next day's journey and counted out into an
envelope half of the money he had with him. This he labeled
"Household Expenses" and set it up on his table, leaning against
his collar-box. There was no sign of Harmony about. The salon was
dark except for the study lamp turned down.
Peter was restless. He put on his shabby dressing-gown and worn
slippers and wandered about. The Portier had brought coal to the
landing; Peter carried it in. He inspected the medicine bottles
on Jimmy's stand and wrote full directions for every emergency he
could imagine. Then, finding it still only nine o'clock, he
turned up the lamp in the salon and wrote an exciting letter from
Jimmy's father, in which a lost lamb, wandering on the
mountain-side, had been picked up by an avalanche and carried
down into the fold and the arms of the shepherd. And because he
stood so in loco parentis, and because it seemed so inevitable
that before long Jimmy would be in the arms of the Shepherd, and,
of course, because it had been a trying day all through, Peter's
lips were none too steady as he folded up the letter.
The fire was dead in the stove; Peter put out the salon lamp and
closed the shutters. In the warm darkness he put out his hand to
feel his way through the room. It touched a little sweater coat
of Harmony's, hanging over the back of a chair. Peter picked it
up in a very passion of tenderness and held it to him.
"Little girl!" he choked. "My little girl! God help me!"
He was rather ashamed, considerably startled. It alarmed him to
find that the mere unexpected touch of a familiar garment could
rouse such a storm in him. It made him pause. He put down the
coat and pulled himself up sharply. McLean was right; he was only
human stuff, very poor human stuff. He put the little coat down
hastily, only to lift it again gently to his lips.
"Good-night, dear," he whispered. "Goodnight, Harmony."
Frau Schwarz had had two visitors between the hours of coffee and
supper that day. The reason of their call proved to be neither
rooms nor pension. They came to make inquiries.
The Frau Schwarz made this out at last, and sat down on the edge
of the bed in the room that had once been Peter's and that still
lacked an occupant.
Mrs. Boyer had no German; Dr. Jennings very little and that
chiefly medical. There is, however, a sort of code that answers
instead of language frequently, when two or three women of later
middle life are gathered together, a code born of mutual
understanding, mutual disillusion, mutual distrust, a language of
outspread hands, raised eyebrows, portentous shakings of the
head. Frau Schwarz, on the edge of Peter's tub-shaped bed, needed
no English to convey the fact that Peter was a bad lot. Not that
she resorted only to the sign language.
"The women were also wicked," she said. "Of a man what does one
expect? But of a woman! And the younger one looked--Herr Gott!
She had the eyes of a saint! The little Georgiev was mad for her.
When the three of them left, disgraced, as one may say, he came
to me, he threatened me. The Herr Schwarz, God rest his soul, was
a violent man, but never spoke he so to me!"
"She says," interpreted Dr. Jennings, "that they were a bad
lot--that the younger one made eyes at the Herr Schwarz!"
Mrs. Boyer drew her ancient sables about her and put a tremulous
hand on the other woman's arm.
"What an escape for you!" she said. "If you had gone there to
live and then found the establishment--queer!"
From the kitchen of the pension, Olga was listening, an ear to
the door. Behind her, also listening, but less advantageously,
was Katrina.
"American ladies!" said Olga. "Two, old and fat."
"More hot water!" growled Katrina. "Why do not the Americans stay
in their own country, where the water, I have learned, comes hot
from the earth."
Olga, bending forward, opened the door a crack wider.
"Sh! They do not come for rooms. They inquire for the Herr Doktor
Byrne and the others!"
"No!"
"Of a certainty."
"Then let me to the door!"
"A moment. She tells them everything and more. She says--how she
is wicked, Katrina! She says the Fraulein Harmony was not good,
that she sent them all away. Here, take the door!"
Thus it happened that Dr. Jennings and Mrs. Boyer, having shaken
off the dust of a pension that had once harbored three
malefactors, and having retired Peter and Anna and Harmony into
the limbo of things best forgotten or ignored, found themselves,
at the corner, confronted by a slovenly girl in heelless slippers
and wearing a knitted shawl over her head. "The Frau Schwarz is
wrong," cried Olga passionately in Vienna dialect. "They were
good, all of them!"
"What in the world--"
"And, please, tell me where lives the Fraulein Harmony. The Herr
Georgiev eats not nor sleeps that he cannot find her."
Dr. Jennings was puzzled.
"She wishes to know where the girl lives," she interpreted to
Mrs. Boyer. "A man wishes to know."
"Naturally!" said Mrs. Boyer. "Well, don't tell her."
Olga gathered from the tone rather than the words that she was
not to be told. She burst into a despairing appeal in which the
Herr Georgiev, Peter, a necktie Peter had forgotten, open
windows, and hot water were inextricably confused. Dr. Jennings
listened, then waved her back with a gesture.
"She says," she interpreted as they walked on, "that Dr.
Peter--by which I suppose she means Dr. Byrne--has left a
necktie, and that she'll be in hot water if she does not return
it."
Mrs. Boyer sniffed.
"In love with him, probably, like the others!" she said.
CHAPTER XIX
Peter went to Semmering the next morning, tiptoeing out very
early and without breakfast. He went in to cover Jimmy, lying
diagonally across his small bed amid a riot of tossed blankets.
The communicating door into Harmony's room was open. Peter kept
his eyes carefully from it, but his ears were less under control.
He could hear her soft breathing. There were days coming when
Peter would stand where he stood then and listen, and find only
silence.
He tore himself away at last, closing the outer door carefully
behind him and lighting a match to find his way down the
staircase. The Portier was not awake. Peter had to rouse him, and
to stand by while he donned the trousers which he deemed
necessary to the dignity of his position before he opened the
street door.
Reluctant as he had been to go, the change was good for Peter.
The dawn grew rosy, promised sunshine, fulfilled its promise. The
hurrying crowds at the depot interested him: he enjoyed his
coffee, taken from a bare table in the station. The horizontal
morning sunlight, shining in through marvelously clean windows,
warmed the marble of the floor, made black shadows beside the
heaps of hand luggage everywhere, turned into gold the hair of a
toddling baby venturing on a tour of discovery. The same morning
light, alas! revealed to Peter a break across the toe of one of
his shoes. Peter sighed, then smiled. The baby was catching at
the bits of dust that floated in the sunshine.
Suddenly a great wave of happiness overwhelmed Peter. It was a
passing thing, born of nothing, but for the instant that it
lasted Peter was a king. Everything was well. The world was his
oyster. Life was his, to make it what he would--youth and hope
and joy. Under the beatific influence he expanded, grew, almost
shone. Youth and hope and joy--that cometh in the morning.
The ecstasy passed away, but without reaction. Peter no longer
shone; he still glowed. He picked up the golden-haired baby and
hugged it. He hunted out a beggar he had passed and gave him five
Hellers. He helped a suspicious old lady with an oilcloth-covered
bundle; he called the guard on the train "son" and forced a grin
out of that dignitary.
Peter traveled third-class, which was quite comfortable, and no
bother about "Nicht Rauchen" signs. His unreasonable cheerfulness
persisted as far as Gloggnitz. There, with the increasing
ruggedness of the scenery and his first view of the Raxalpe, came
recollection of the urgency of Stewart's last message, of Marie
Jedlicka, of the sordid little tragedy that awaited him at the
end of his journey.
Peter sobered. Life was rather a mess, after all, he reflected.
Love was a blessing, but it was also a curse. After that he sat
back in his corner and let the mountain scenery take care of
itself, while he recalled the look he had surprised once or twice
in Marie's eyes when she looked at Stewart. It was sad, pitiful.
Marie was a clever little thing. If only she'd had a chance!--
Why wasn't he rich enough to help the ones who needed help. Marie
could start again in America, with no one the wiser, and make her
way.
"Smart as the devil, these Austrian girls!" Peter reflected.
"Poor little guttersnipe!"
The weather was beautiful. The sleet of the previous day in
Vienna had been a deep snowfall on the mountains. The Schwarza
was frozen, the castle of Liechtenstein was gray against a white
world. A little pilgrimage church far below seemed snowed in
against the faithful. The third-class compartment filled with
noisy skiing parties. The old woman opened her oilcloth bundle,
and taking a cat out of a box inside fed it a sausage.
Up and up, past the Weinzettelwand and the Station Breitenstein,
across the highest viaduct, the Kalte Rinne, and so at last to
Semmering.
The glow had died at last for Peter. He did not like his errand,
was very vague, indeed, as to just what that errand might be. He
was stiff and rather cold. Also he thought the cat might stifle
in the oilcloth, but the old woman too clearly distrusted him to
make it possible to interfere. Anyhow, he did not know the German
for either cat or oilcloth.
He had wired Stewart; but the latter was not at the station. This
made him vaguely uneasy, he hardly knew why. He did not know
Stewart well enough to know whether he was punctilious in such
matters or not: as a matter of fact he hardly knew him at all. It
was because he had appealed to him that Peter was there, it being
only necessary to Peter to be needed, and he was anywhere.
The Pension Waldheim was well up the mountains. He shouldered his
valise and started up--first long flights of steps through the
pines, then a steep road. Peter climbed easily. Here and there he
met groups coming down, men that he thought probably American,
pretty women in "tams" and sweaters. He watched for Marie, but
there was no sign of her.
He was half an hour, perhaps, in reaching the Waldheim. As he
turned in at the gate he noticed a sledge, with a dozen people
following it, coming toward him. It was a singularly silent
party. Peter, with his hand on the door-knocker, watched its
approach with some curiosity.
It stopped, and the men who had been following closed up round
it. Even then Peter did not understand. He did not understand
until he saw Stewart, limp and unconscious, lifted out of the
straw and carried toward him.
Suicide may be moral cowardice; but it requires physical bravery.
And Marie was not brave. The balcony had attracted her: it opened
possibilities of escape, of unceasing regret and repentance for
Stewart, of publicity that would mean an end to the situation.
But every inch of her soul was craven at the thought. She crept
out often and looked down, and as often drew back, shuddering. To
fall down, down on to the tree tops, to be dropped from branch to
branch, a broken thing, and perhaps even not yet dead--that was
the unthinkable thing, to live for a time and suffer!
Stewart was not ignorant of all that went on in her mind. She had
threatened him with the balcony, just as, earlier in the winter,
it had been a window-ledge with which she had frightened him. But
there was this difference, whereas before he had drawn her back
from the window and clapped her into sanity, now he let her
alone. At the end of one of their quarrels she had flung out on
to the balcony, and then had watched him through the opening in
the shutter. He had lighted a cigarette!
Stewart spent every daylight hour at the hotel, or walking over
the mountain roads, seldom alone with Anita, but always near her.
He left Marie sulking or sewing, as the case might be. He
returned in the evening to find her still sulking, still sewing.
But Marie did not sulk all day, or sew. She too was out, never
far from Stewart, always watching. Many times she escaped
discovery only by a miracle, as when she stooped behind an
oxcart, pretending to tie her shoe, or once when they all met
face to face, and although she lowered her veil Stewart must have
known her instantly had he not been so intent on helping Anita
over a slippery gutter.
She planned a dozen forms of revenge and found them impossible of
execution. Stewart himself was frightfully unhappy. For the first
time in his life he was really in love, with all the humility of
the condition. There were days when he would not touch Anita's
hand, when he hardly spoke, when the girl herself would have been
outraged at his conduct had she not now and then caught him
watching her, seen the wretchedness in his eyes.
The form of Marie's revenge was unpremeditated, after all. The
light mountain snow was augmented by a storm; roads were ploughed
through early in the morning, leaving great banks on either side.
Sleigh-bells were everywhere. Coasting parties made the steep
roads a menace to the pedestrian; every up-climbing sleigh
carried behind it a string of sleds, going back to the
starting-point.
Below the hotel was the Serpentine Coast, a long and dangerous
course, full of high-banked curves, of sudden descents, of long
straightaway dashes through the woodland. Two miles, perhaps
three, it wound its tortuous way down the mountain. Up by the
highroad to the crest again, only a mile or less. Thus it
happened that the track was always clear, except for speeding
sleds. No coasters, dragging sleds back up the slide, interfered.
The track was crowded. Every minute a sled set out, sped down the
straightaway, dipped, turned, disappeared. A dozen would be lined
up, waiting for the interval and the signal. And here, watching
from the porch of the church, in the very shadow of the saints,
Marie found her revenge.
Stewart had given her a little wrist watch. Stewart and Anita
were twelfth in line. By the watch, then, twelve minutes down the
mountain-side, straight down through the trees to a curve that
Marie knew well, a bad curve, only to be taken by running well up
on the snowbank. Beyond the snowbank there was a drop, fifteen
feet, perhaps more, into the yard of a Russian villa. Stewart and
Anita were twelfth; a man in a green stocking-cap was eleventh.
The hillside was steep. Marie negotiated it by running from tree
to tree, catching herself, steadying for a second, then down
again. Once she fell and rolled a little distance. There was no
time to think; perhaps had she thought she would have weakened.
She had no real courage, only desperation.
As she reached the track the man in the green stocking-cap was in
sight. A minute and a half she had then, not more. She looked
about her hastily. A stone might serve her purpose, almost
anything that would throw the sled out of its course. She saw a
tree branch just above the track and dragged at it frantically.
Some one was shouting at her from an upper window of the Russian
villa. She did not hear. Stewart and Anita had made the curve
above and were coming down at frantic speed. Marie stood, her
back to the oncoming rush of the sled, swaying slightly. When she
could hear the singing of the runners she stooped and slid the
tree branch out against the track.
She had acted almost by instinct, but with devilish skill. The
sled swung to one side up the snowbank, and launched itself into
the air. Marie heard the thud and the silence that followed it.
Then she turned and scuttled like a hunted thing up the mountain
side.
Peter put in a bad day. Marie was not about, could not be
located. Stewart, suffering from concussion, lay insensible all
day and all of the night. Peter could find no fracture, but felt
it wise to get another opinion. In the afternoon he sent for a
doctor from the Kurhaus and learned for the first time that Anita
had also been hurt--a broken arm. "Not serious," said the
Kurhaus man. "She is brave, very brave, the young woman. I
believe they are engaged?" Peter said he did not know and
thought very hard. Where was Marie? Not gone surely. Here about
him lay all her belongings, even her purse.
Toward evening Stewart showed some improvement. He was not
conscious, but he swallowed better and began to toss about.
Peter, who had had a long day and very little sleep the night
before, began to look jaded. He would have sent for a nurse from
the Kurhaus, but he doubted Stewart's ability to stand any extra
financial strain, and Peter could not help any.
The time for supper passed, and no Marie.
The landlady sent up a tray to Peter, stewed meat and potatoes, a
salad, coffee. Peter sat in a corner with his back to Stewart and
ate ravenously. He had had nothing since the morning's coffee.
After that he sat down again by the bed to watch. There was
little to do but watch.
The meal had made him drowsy. He thought of his pipe. Perhaps if
he got some fresh air and a smoke! He remembered the balcony.
It was there on the balcony that he found Marie, a cowering thing
that pushed his hands away when he would have caught her and
broke into passionate crying.
"I cannot! I cannot!"
"Cannot what?" demanded Peter gently, watching her. So near was
the balcony rail!
"Throw myself over. I've tried, Peter. I cannot!"
"I should think not!" said Peter sternly. "Just now when we need
you, too! Come in and don't be a foolish child."
But Marie would not go in. She held back, clinging tight to
Peter's big hand, moaning out in the dialect of the people that
always confused him her story of the day, of what she had done,
of watching Stewart brought back, of stealing into the house and
through an adjacent room to the balcony, of her desperation and
her cowardice.
She was numb with cold, exhaustion, and hunger, quite childish,
helpless. Peter stood out on the balcony with his arm round her,
while the night wind beat about them, and pondered what was best
to do. He thought she might come in and care for Stewart, at
least, until he was conscious. He could get her some supper.
"How can I?" she asked. "I was seen. They are searching for me
now. Oh, Peter! Peter!"
"Who is searching for you? Who saw you?"
"The people in the Russian villa."
"Did they see your face?"
"I wore a veil. I think not."
"Then come in and change your clothes. There is a train down at
midnight. You can take it."
"I have no money."
This raised a delicate question. Marie absolutely refused to take
Stewart's money. She had almost none of her own. And there were
other complications--where was she to go? The family of the
injured girl did not suspect her since they did not know of her
existence. She might get away without trouble. But after that,
what?
Peter pondered this on the balcony, while Marie in the bedroom
was changing her clothing, soaked with a day in the snow. He came
to the inevitable decision, the decision he knew at the beginning
that he was going to make.
"If I could only put it up to Harmony first!" he reflected. "But
she will understand when I tell her. She always understands."
Standing there on the little balcony, with tragedy the thickness
of a pine board beyond him, Peter experienced a bit of the glow
of the morning, as of one who stumbling along in a dark place
puts a hand on a friend.
He went into the room. Stewart was lying very still and breathing
easily. On her knees beside the bed knelt Marie. At Peter's step
she rose and faced him.
"I am leaving him, Peter, for always."
"Good!" said Peter heartily. "Better for you and better for him."
Marie drew a long breath. "The night train," she said listlessly,
"is an express. I had forgotten. It is double fare."
"What of that, little sister?" said Peter. "What is a double fare
when it means life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And
there will be happiness, little sister."
He put his hand in his pocket.
CHAPTER XX
The Portier was almost happy that morning. For one thing, he had
won honorable mention at the Schubert Society the night before;
for another, that night the Engel was to sing Mignon, and the
Portier had spent his Christmas tips for a ticket. All day long
he had been poring over the score.
"'Kennst du das Land wo die Citronen bluhen?'" he sang with
feeling while he polished the floors. He polished them with his
feet, wearing felt boots for the purpose, and executing in the
doing a sort of ungainly dance--a sprinkle of wax, right foot
forward and back, left foot forward and back, both feet forward
and back in a sort of double shuffle; more wax, more vigorous
polishing, more singing, with longer pauses for breath. "
'Knowest thou the land where the lemon trees bloom?' " he
bellowed--sprinkle of wax, right foot, left foot, any foot at
all. Now and then he took the score from his pocket and pored
over it, humming the air, raising his eyebrows over the high
notes, dropping his chin to the low ones. It was a wonderful
morning. Between greetings to neighbors he sang--a bit of talk, a
bit of song.
"'Kennst du das Land'--Good-morning, sir--the old Rax wears a
crown. It will snow soon. 'Kennst du das Land wo die
Citronen'--Ah, madam the milk Frau, and are the cows frozen up
to-day like the pump? No? Marvelous! Dost thou know that to-night
is Mignon at the Opera, and that the Engel sings? 'Kennst du das
Land'--"
At eleven came Rosa with her husband, the soldier from Salzburg
with one lung. He was having a holiday from his sentry duty at
the hospital, and the one lung seemed to be a libel, for while
the women had coffee together and a bit of mackerel he sang a
very fair bass to the Portier's tenor. Together they pored over
the score, and even on their way to the beer hall hummed together
such bits as they recalled.
On one point they differed. The score was old and soiled with
much thumbing. At one point, destroyed long since, the sentry
sang A sharp: the Portier insisted on A natural. They argued
together over three Steins of beer; the waiter, referred to,
decided for A flat. It was a serious matter to have one's teeth
set, as one may say, for a natural and then to be shocked with an
unexpected half-tone up or down! It destroyed the illusion; it
disappointed; it hurt.
The sentry stuck to the sharp--it was sung so at the Salzburg
opera. The Portier snapped his thumb at the Salzburg opera.
Things were looking serious; they walked back to the locale in
silence. The sentry coughed. Possibly there was something, after
all, in the one-lung rumor.
It was then that the Portier remembered Harmony. She would know;
perhaps she had the score.
Harmony was having a bad morning. She had slept little until
dawn, and Peter's stealthy closing of the outer door had wakened
her by its very caution. After that there had been no more sleep.
She had sat up in bed with her chin in her hands and thought.
In the pitiless dawn, with no Peter to restore her to
cheerfulness, things looked black, indeed. To what had she
fallen, that first one man and then another must propose marriage
to her to save her. To save her from what? From what people
thought, or--each from the other?
Were men so evil that they never trusted each other? McLean had
frankly distrusted Peter, had said so. Or could it be that there
was something about her, something light and frivolous? She had
been frivolous. She always laughed at Peter's foolishnesses.
Perhaps that was it. That was it. They were afraid for her. She
had thrown herself on Peter's hands--almost into his arms. She
had made this situation.
She must get away, of course. If only she had some one to care
for Jimmy until Peter returned! But there was no one. The
Portier's wife was fond of Jimmy, but not skillful. And suppose
he were to wake in the night and call for her and she would not
come. She cried a little over this. After a time she pattered
across the room in her bare feet and got from a bureau drawer the
money she had left. There was not half enough to take her home.
She could write; the little mother might get some for her, but at
infinite cost, infinite humiliation. That would have to be a
final, desperate resort.
She felt a little more cheerful when she had had a cup of coffee.
Jimmy wakened about that time, and she went through the details
of his morning toilet with all the brightness she could
assume--bath blankets, warm bath, toenails, finger-nails, fresh
nightgown, fresh sheets, and--final touch of all--a real barber's
part straight from crown to brow. After that ten minutes under
extra comforters while the room aired.
She hung over the boy that morning in an agony of tenderness--he
was so little, so frail, and she must leave him. Only one thing
sustained her. The boy loved her, but it was Peter he idolized.
When he had Peter he needed nothing else. In some curious process
of his childish mind Peter and Daddy mingled in inextricable
confusion. More than once he had recalled events in the roving
life he and his father had led.
"You remember that, don't you?" he would say.
"Certainly I remember," Peter would reply heartily.
"That evening on the steamer when I ate so many raisins."
"Of course. And were ill."
"Not ill--not that time. But you said I'd make a good pudding!
You remember that, don't you?"
And Peter would recall it all.
Peter would be left. That was the girl's comfort.
She made a beginning at gathering her things together that
morning, while the boy dozed and the white mice scurried about
the little cage. She could not take her trunk, or Peter would
trace it. She would have to carry her belongings, a few at a
time, to wherever she found a room. Then when Peter came back she
could slip away and he would never find her.
At noon came the Portier and the sentry, now no longer friends,
and rang the doorbell. Harmony was rather startled. McLean and
Mrs. Boyer had been her only callers, and she did not wish to see
either of them. But after a second ring she gathered her courage
in her hands and opened the door.
She turned pale when she saw the sentry in his belted blue-gray
tunic and high cap. She thought, of course, that Jimmy had been
traced and that now he would be taken away. If the sentry knew
her, however, he kept his face impassive and merely touched his
cap. The Portier stated their errand. Harmony's face cleared. She
even smiled as the Portier extended to her the thumbed score with
its missing corner. What, after all, does it matter which was
right --whether it was A sharp or A natural? What really matters
is that Harmony, having settled the dispute and clinched the
decision by running over the score for a page or two, turned to
find the Portier, ecstatic eyes upturned, hands folded on paunch,
enjoying a delirium of pleasure, and the sentry nowhere in sight.
He was discovered a moment later in the doorway of Jimmy's room,
where, taciturn as ever, severe, martial, he stood at attention,
shoulders back, arms at his sides, thumbs in. In this position he
was making, with amazing rapidity, a series of hideous grimaces
for the benefit of the little boy in the bed: marvelous faces
they were, in which nose, mouth, and eyes seemed interchangeable,
where features played leapfrog with one another. When all was
over--perhaps when his repertoire was exhausted--the sentry
returned his nose to the center of his face, replaced eyes and
mouth, and wiped the ensemble with a blue cotton handkerchief.
Then, still in silence, he saluted and withdrew, leaving the
youngster enraptured, staring at the doorway.
Harmony had decided the approximate location of her room. In the
higher part of the city, in the sixteenth district, there were
many unpretentious buildings. She had hunted board there and she
knew. It was far from the Stadt, far from the fashionable part of
town, a neighborhood of small shops, of frank indigence. There
surely she could find a room, and perhaps in one of the small
stores what she failed to secure in the larger, a position.
Rosa having taken her soldier away, Harmony secured the Portier's
wife to sit with Jimmy and spent two hours that afternoon looking
about for a room. She succeeded finally in finding one, a small
and wretchedly furnished bedroom, part of the suite of a cheap
dressmaker. The approach was forbidding enough. One entered a
cavelike, cobble-paved court under the building, filled with
wagons, feeding horses, quarrelsome and swearing teamsters. From
the side a stone staircase took off and led, twisting from one
landing cave to another, to the upper floor.
Here lived the dressmaker, amid the constant whirring of
sewing-machines, the Babel of workpeople. Harmony, seeking not a
home but a hiding-place, took the room at once. She was asked for
no reference. In a sort of agony lest this haven fail her she
paid for a week in advance. The wooden bed, the cracked mirror
over the table, even the pigeons outside on the windowsill were
hers for a week.
The dressmaker was friendly, almost garrulous.
"I will have it cleaned," she explained. "I have been so busy:
the masquerade season is on. The Fraulein is American, is she
not?"
"Yes."
"One knows the Americans. They are chic, not like the English. I
have some American customers."
Harmony started. The dressmaker was shrewd. Many people hid in
the sixteenth district. She hastened to reassure the girl.
"They will not disturb you. And just now I have but one, a
dancer. I shall have the room cleaned. Good-bye, Fraulein."
So far, good. She had a refuge now, one spot that the venom of
scandal could not poison, where she could study and work--work
hard, although there could be no more lessons--one spot where
Peter would not have to protect her, where Peter, indeed, would
never find her. This thought, which should have brought comfort,
brought only new misery. Peace seemed dearly bought all at once;
shabby, wholesome, hearty Peter, with his rough hair and quiet
voice, his bulging pockets and steady eyes--she was leaving Peter
forever, exchanging his companionship for that of a row of
pigeons on a window-sill. He would find some one, of course; but
who would know that he liked toast made hard and plenty of
butter, or to leave his bed-clothing loose at the foot, Peter
being very long and apt to lop over? The lopping over brought a
tear or two. A very teary and tragic young heroine, this Harmony,
prone to go about for the last day or two with a damp little
handkerchief tucked in her sleeve.
She felt her way down the staircase and into the cave below. Fate
hangs by a very slender thread sometimes. If a wagon had not
lumbered by as she reached the lowest step, so that she must wait
and thus had time to lower her veil, she would have been
recognized at once by the little Georgiev, waiting to ascend. But
the wagon was there, Harmony lowered her veil, the little
Georgiev, passing a veiled young woman in the gloom, went up the
staircase with even pulses and calm and judicial bearing, up to
the tiny room a floor or two below Harmony's, where he wrote
reports to the Minister of War and mixed them with sonnets--to
Harmony.
Harmony went back to the Siebensternstrasse, having accomplished
what she had set out to do and being very wretched in
consequence. Because she was leaving the boy so soon she strove
to atone for her coming defection by making it a gala evening.
The child was very happy. She tucked him up in the salon, lighted
all the candles, served him the daintiest of suppers there. She
brought in the mice and tied tiny bows on their necks; she played
checkers with him while the supper dishes waited, and went down
to defeat in three hilarious games; and last of all she played to
him, joyous music at first, then slower, drowsier airs, until his
heavy head dropped on his shoulder and she gathered him up in
tender arms and carried him to bed.
It was dawn when Marie arrived. Harmony was sleeping soundly
when the bell rang. Her first thought was that Peter had come
back--but Peter carried a key. The bell rang again, and she
slipped on the old kimono and went to the door.
"Is it Peter?" she called, hand on knob.
"I come from Peter. I have a letter," in German.
"Who is it?"
"You do not know me--Marie Jedlicka. Please let me come in."
Bewildered, Harmony opened the door, and like a gray ghost Marie
slipped by her and into the hall.
There was a gaslight burning very low; Harmony turned it up and
faced her visitor. She recognized her at once--the girl Dr.
Stewart had been with in the coffee-house.
"Something has happened to Peter!"
"No. He is well. He sent this to the Fraulein Wells."
"I am the Fraulein Wells."
Marie held out the letter and staggered. Harmony put her in a
chair; she was bewildered, almost frightened. Crisis of some sort
was written on Marie's face. Harmony felt very young, very
incapable. The other girl refused coffee, would not even go into
the salon until Peter's letter had been read. She was a fugitive,
a criminal; the Austrian law is severe to those that harbor
criminals. Let Harmony read:--
DEAR HARRY,--Will you forgive me for this and spread the wings of
your splendid charity over this poor child? Perhaps I am doing
wrong in sending her to you, but just now it is all I can think
of. If she wants to talk let her talk. It will probably help her.
Also feed her, will you? And if she cannot sleep, give her one of
the blue powders I fixed for Jimmy. I'll be back later to-day if
I can make it.
"PETER"
Harmony glanced up from the letter. Marie sat drooping in her
chair. Her eyes were sunken in her head. She had recognized her
at once, but any surprise she may have felt at finding Harmony in
Peter's apartment was sunk in a general apathy, a compound of
nervous reaction and fatigue. During the long hours in the
express she had worn herself out with fright and remorse: there
was nothing left now but exhaustion.
Harmony was bewildered, but obedient. She went back to the cold
kitchen and lighted a fire. She made Marie as comfortable as she
could in the salon, and then went into her room to dress. There
she read the letter again, and wondered if Peter had gone through
life like this, picking up waifs and strays and shouldering their
burdens for them. Decidedly, life with Peter was full of
surprises.
She remembered, as she hurried into her clothes; the boys' club
back in America and the spelling-matches. Decidedly, also, Peter
was an occupation, a state of mind, a career. No musician, hoping
for a career of her own, could possibly marry Peter.
That was a curious morning in the old lodge of Maria Theresa,
while Stewart in the Pension Waldheim struggled back to
consciousness, while Peter sat beside him and figured on an old
envelope the problem of dividing among four enough money to
support one, while McLean ate his heart out in wretchedness in
his hotel.
Marie told her story over the early breakfast, sitting with her
thin elbows on the table, her pointed chin in her palms.
"And now I am sorry," she finished. "It has done no good. If it
had only killed her but she was not much hurt. I saw her rise and
bend over him."
Harmony was silent. She had no stock of aphorisms for the
situation, no worldly knowledge, only pity.
"Did Peter say he would recover?"
"Yes. They will both recover and go to America. And he will marry
her."
Perhaps Harmony would have been less comfortable, Marie less
frank, had Marie realized that this establishment of Peter's was
not on the same basis as Stewart's had been, or had Harmony
divined her thought.
The presence of the boy was discovered by his waking. Marie was
taken in and presented. She looked stupefied. Certainly the
Americans were a marvelous people--to have taken into their house
and their hearts this strange child--if he were strange. Marie's
suspicious little slum mind was not certain.
In the safety and comfort of the little apartment the Viennese
expanded, cheered. She devoted herself to the boy, telling him
strange folk tales, singing snatches of songs for him. The
youngster took a liking to her at once. It seemed to Harmony,
going about her morning routine, that Marie was her solution and
Peter's.
During the afternoon she took a package to the branch post-office
and mailed it by parcel-post to the Wollbadgasse. On the way she
met Mrs. Boyer face to face. That lady looked severely ahead, and
Harmony passed her with her chin well up and the eyes of a
wounded animal.
McLean sent a great box of flowers that day. She put them, for
lack of a vase, in a pitcher beside Jimmy's bed.
At dusk a telegram came to say that Stewart was better and that
Peter was on his way down to Vienna. He would arrive at eight.
Time was very short now--seconds flashed by, minutes galloped.
Harmony stewed a chicken for supper, and creamed the breast for
Jimmy. She fixed the table, flowers in the center, the best
cloth, Peter's favorite cheese. Six o'clock, six-thirty, seven;
Marie was telling Jimmy a fairy tale and making the fairies out
of rosebuds. The studylamp was lighted, the stove glowing,
Peter's slippers were out, his old smoking-coat, his pipe.
A quarter past seven. Peter would be near Vienna now and hungry.
If he could only eat his supper before he learned--but that was
impossible. He would come in, as he always did, and slam the
outer door, and open it again to close it gently, as he always
did, and then he would look for her, going from room to room
until he found her--only to-night he would not find her.
She did not say good-bye to Jimmy. She stood in the doorway and
said a little prayer for him. Marie had made the flower fairies
on needles, and they stood about his head on the pillow--pink and
yellow and white elves with fluffy skirts. Then, very silently,
she put on her hat and jacket and closed the outer door behind
her. In the courtyard she turned and looked up. The great
chandelier in the salon was not lighted, but from the casement
windows shone out the comfortable glow of Peter's lamp.
CHAPTER XXI
Peter had had many things to think over during the ride down the
mountains. He had the third-class compartment to himself, and sat
in a corner, soft hat over his eyes. Life had never been
particularly simple to Peter--his own life, yes; a matter of
three meals a day--he had had fewer--a roof, clothing. But other
lives had always touched him closely, and at the contact points
Peter glowed, fused, amalgamated. Thus he had been many
people--good, indifferent, bad, but all needy. Thus, also, Peter
had committed vicarious crimes, suffered vicarious illnesses,
starved, died, loved--vicariously.
And now, after years of living for others, Peter was living at
last for himself--and suffering.
Not that he understood exactly what ailed him. He thought he was
tired, which was true enough, having had little sleep for two or
three nights. Also he explained to himself that he was smoking
too much, and resolutely--lighted another cigarette.
Two things had revealed Peter's condition to himself: McLean had
said: "You are crazy in love with her." McLean's statement,
lacking subtlety, had had a certain quality of directness. Even
then Peter, utterly miserable, had refused to capitulate, when to
capitulate would have meant the surrender of the house in the
Siebensternstrasse. And the absence from Harmony had shown him
just where he stood.
He was in love, crazy in love. Every fiber of his long body
glowed with it, ached with it. And every atom of his reason told
him what mad folly it was, this love. Even if Harmony cared--and
at the mere thought his heart pounded--what madness for her, what
idiocy for him! To ask her to accept the half of--nothing, to
give up a career to share his struggle for one, to ask her to
bury her splendid talent and her beauty under a bushel that he
might wave aloft his feeble light!
And there was no way out, no royal road to fortune by the route
he had chosen; nothing but grinding work, with a result
problematical and years ahead. There were even no legacies to
expect, he thought whimsically. Peter had known a chap once,
struggling along in gynecology, who had had a fortune left him by
a G. P., which being interpreted is Grateful Patient. Peter's
patients had a way of living, and when they did drop out, as
happened now and then, had also a way of leaving Peter an unpaid
bill in token of appreciation; Peter had even occasionally helped
to bury them, by way, he defended himself, of covering up his
mistakes.
Peter, sitting back in his corner, allowed the wonderful scenery
to slip by unnoticed. He put Harmony the Desirable out of his
mind, and took to calculating on a scrap of paper what could be
done for Harmony the Musician. He could hold out for three
months, he calculated, and still have enough to send Harmony home
and to get home himself on a slow boat. The Canadian lines were
cheap. If Jimmy lived perhaps he could take him along: if not--
He would have to put six months' work in the next three. That was
not so hard. He had got along before with less sleep, and thrived
on it. Also there must be no more idle evenings, with Jimmy in
the salon propped in a chair and Harmony playing, the room dark
save for the glow from the stove and for the one candle at
Harmony's elbow.
All roads lead to Rome. Peter's thoughts, having traveled in a
circle, were back again to Harmony the Desirable--Harmony playing
in the firelight, Harmony Hushed over the brick stove, Harmony
paring potatoes that night in the kitchen when he--Harmony!
Harmony!
Stewart knew all about the accident and its cause. Peter had
surmised as much when the injured man failed to ask for Marie.
He tested him finally by bringing Marie's name into the
conversation. Stewart ignored it, accepted her absence, refused
to be drawn.
That was at first. During the day, however, as he gained
strength, he grew restless and uneasy. As the time approached for
Peter to leave, he was clearly struggling with himself. The
landlady had agreed to care for him and was bustling about the
room. During one of her absences he turned to Peter.
"I suppose Marie hasn't been round?"
"She came back last night."
"Did she tell you?"
"Yes, poor child."
"She's a devil!" Stewart said, and lay silent. Then: "I saw her
shoot that thing out in front of us, but there was no time--Where
is she now?"
"Marie? I sent her to Vienna."
Stewart fell back, relieved, not even curious.
"Thank Heaven for that!" he said. "I don't want to see her again.
I'd do something I'd be sorry for. The kindest thing to say for
her is that she was not sane."
"No," said Peter gravely, "she was hardly sane."
Stewart caught his steady gaze and glanced away. For him Marie's
little tragedy had been written and erased. He would forget it
magnanimously. He had divided what he had with her, and she had
repaid him by attempting his life. And not only his life, but
Anita's. Peter followed his line of reasoning easily.
"It's quite a frequent complication, Stewart," he said, "but
every man to whom it happens regards himself more or less as a
victim. She fell in love with you, that's all. Her conduct is
contrary to the ethics of the game, but she's been playing poor
cards all along."
"Where is she?"
"That doesn't matter, does it?"
Stewart had lain back and closed his eyes. No, it didn't matter.
A sense of great relief overwhelmed him. Marie was gone,
frightened into hiding. It was as if a band that had been about
him was suddenly loosed: he breathed deep, he threw out his arms
and laughed from sheer reaction. Then, catching Peter's not
particularly approving eyes, he colored.
"Good Lord, Peter!" he said, "you don't know what I've gone
through with that little devil. And now she's gone!" He glanced
round the disordered room, where bandages and medicines crowded
toilet articles on the dressing-table, where one of Marie's small
slippers still lay where it had fallen under the foot of the bed,
where her rosary still hung over the corner of the table. "Ring
for the maid, Peter, will you! I've got to get this junk out of
here. Some of Anita's people may come."
During that afternoon ride, while the train clump-clumped down
the mountains, Peter thought of all this. Some of Marie's "junk"
was in his bag; her rosary lay in his breastpocket, along with
the pin he had sent her at Christmas. Peter happened on it, still
in its box, which looked as if it had been cried over. He had
brought it with him. He admired it very much, and it had cost
money he could ill afford to spend.
It was late when the train drew into the station. Peter,
encumbered with Marie's luggage and his own, lowered his window
and added his voice to the chorus of plaintive calls: "Portier!
Portier!" they shouted. "Portier!" bawled Peter.
He was obliged to resort to the extravagance of a taxicab.
Possibly a fiacre would have done as well, but it cost almost as
much and was slower. Moments counted now: a second was an hour,
an hour a decade. For he was on his way to Harmony. Extravagance
became recklessness. As soon die for a sheep as a lamb! He
stopped the taxicab and bought a bunch of violets, stopped again
and bought lilies of the valley to combine with the violets, went
out of his tray to the American grocery and bought a jar of
preserved fruit.
By that time he was laden. The jar of preserves hung in one
shabby pocket, Marie's rosary dangled from another; the violets
were buttoned under his overcoat against the cold.
At the very last he held the taxi an extra moment and darted into
the delicatessen shop across the Siebensternstrasse. From there,
standing inside the doorway, he could see the lights in the salon
across the way, the glow of his lamp, the flicker that was the
fire. Peter whistled, stamped his cold feet, quite neglected--in
spite of repeated warnings from Harmony--to watch the Herr
Schenkenkaufer weigh the cheese, accepted without a glance a
ten-Kronen piece with a hole in it.
"And how is the child to-day?" asked the Herr Schenkenkaufer,
covering the defective gold piece with conversation.
"I do not know; I have been away," said Peter. He almost sang it.
"All is well or I would have heard. Wilhelm the Portier was but
just now here."
"All well, of course," sang Peter, eyes on the comfortable Floor
of his lamp, the flicker that was the fire. "Auf wiedersehen,
Herr Schenkenkaufer."
"Auf wiedersehen, Herr Doktor."
Violets, lilies-of-the-valley, cheese, rosary, luggage--thus
Peter climbed the stairs. The Portier wished to assist him, but
Peter declined. The Portier was noisy. There was to be a moment
when Peter, having admitted himself with extreme caution, would
present himself without so much as a creak to betray him, would
stand in a doorway until some one, Harmony perhaps--ah,
Peter!--would turn and see him. She had a way of putting one
slender hand over her heart when she was startled.
Peter put down the jar of preserved peaches outside. It was to be
a second surprise. Also he put down the flowers; they were to be
brought in last of all. One surprise after another is a
cumulative happiness. Peter did not wish to swallow all his cake
in one bite.
For once he did not slam the outer door, although he very nearly
did, and only caught it at the cost of a bruised finger. Inside
he listened. There was no clatter of dishes, no scurrying back
and forth from table to stove in the final excitement of dishing
up. There was, however, a highly agreeable odor of stewing
chicken, a crisp smell of baking biscuit.
In the darkened hall Peter had to pause to steady himself. For he
had a sudden mad impulse to shout Harmony's name, to hold out his
arms, to call her to him there in the warm darkness, and when she
had come, to catch her to him, to tell his love in one long
embrace, his arms about her, his rough cheek against her soft
one. No wonder he grew somewhat dizzy and had to pull himself
together.
The silence rather surprised him, until he recalled that Harmony
was probably sewing in the salon, as she did sometimes when
dinner was ready to serve. The boy was asleep, no doubt. He stole
along on tiptoe, hardly breathing, to the first doorway, which
was Jimmy's.
Jimmy was asleep. Round him were the pink and yellow and white
flower fairies with violet heads. Peter saw them and smiled.
Then, his eyes growing accustomed to the light, he saw Marie,
face down on the floor, her head on her arms. Still as she was,
Peter knew she was not sleeping, only fighting her battle over
again and losing.
Some of the joyousness of his return fled from Peter, never to
come back. The two silent figures were too close to tragedy.
Peter, with a long breath, stole past the door and on to the
salon. No Harmony there, but the great room was warm and cheery.
The table was drawn near the stove and laid for Abendessen. The
white porcelain coffee-pot had boiled and extinguished itself,
according to its method, and now gently steamed.
On to the kitchen. Much odor of food here, two candles lighted
but burning low, a small platter with money on it, quite a little
money--almost all he had left Harmony when he went away.
Peter was dazed at first. Even when Marie, hastily summoned, had
discovered that Harmony's clothing was gone, when a search of the
rooms revealed the absence of her violin and her music, when at
last the fact stared them, incontestable, in the face, Peter
refused to accept it. He sat for a half-hour or even more by the
fire in the salon, obstinately refusing to believe she was gone,
keeping the supper warm against her return. He did not think or
reason, he sat and waited, saying nothing, hardly moving, save
when a gust of wind slammed the garden gate. Then he was all
alive, sat erect, ears straining for her hand on the knob of the
outer door.
The numbness of the shock passed at last, to be succeeded by
alarm. During all the time that followed, that condition
persisted, fright, almost terror. Harmony alone in the city,
helpless, dependent, poverty-stricken. Harmony seeking employment
under conditions Peter knew too well. But with his alarm came
rage.
Marie had never seen Peter angry. She shrank from this gaunt and
gray-faced man who raved up and down the salon, questioning the
frightened Portier, swearing fierce oaths, bringing accusation
after accusation against some unnamed woman to whom he applied
epithets that Marie's English luckily did not comprehend. Not a
particularly heroic figure was Peter that night: a frantic,
disheveled individual, before whom the Portier cowered, who
struggled back to sanity through a berserk haze and was liable to
swift relapses into fury again.
To this succeeded at last the mental condition that was to be
Peter's for many days, hopelessness and alarm and a grim
determination to keep on searching.
There were no clues. The Portier made inquiries of all the
cabstands in the neighborhood. Harmony had not taken a cab. The
delicatessen seller had seen her go out that afternoon with a
bundle and return without it. She had been gone only an hour or
so. That gave Peter a ray of hope that she might have found a
haven in the neighborhood--until he recalled the parcel-post.
One possibility he clung to: Mrs. Boyer had made the mischief,
but she had also offered the girl a home. She might be at the
Boyers'. Peter, flinging on a hat and without his overcoat, went
to the Boyers'. Time was valuable, and he had wasted an hour, two
hours, in useless rage. So he took a taxicab, and being by this
time utterly reckless of cost let it stand while he interviewed
the Boyers.
Boyer himself, partially undressed, opened the door to his ring.
Peter was past explanation or ceremonial.
"Is Harmony here?" he demanded.
"Harmony?"
"Harmony Wells. She's disappeared, missing."
"Come in," said Boyer, alive to the strain in Peter's voice. "I
don't know, I haven't heard anything. I'll ask Mrs. Boyer."
During the interval it took for a whispered colloquy in the
bedroom, and for Mrs. Boyer to don her flannel wrapper, Peter
suffered the tortures of the damned. Whatever Mrs. Boyer had
meant to say by way of protest at the intrusion on the sacred
privacy of eleven o'clock and bedtime died in her throat. Her
plump and terraced chin shook with agitation, perhaps with guilt.
Peter, however, had got himself in hand. He told a quiet story;
Boyer listened; Mrs. Boyer, clutching her wrapper about her
unstayed figure, listened.
"I thought," finished Peter, "that since you had offered her a
refuge--from me--she might have come here."
"I offered her a refuge--before I had been to the Pension
Schwarz."
"Ah!" said Peter slowly. "And what about the Pension Schwarz?"
"Need you ask? I learned that you were all put out there. I am
obliged to say, Dr. Byrne, that under the circumstances had the
girl come here I could hardly--Frank, I will speak!--I could
hardly have taken her in."
Peter went white and ducked as from a physical blow, stumbling
out into the hall again. There he thought of something to say in
reply, repudiation, thought better of it, started down the
stairs.
Boyer followed him helplessly. At the street door, however, he
put his hand on Peter's shoulder. "You know, old man, I don't
believe that. These women--"
"I know," said Peter simply. "Thank you. Good-night."
CHAPTER XXII
Harmony's only thought had been flight, from Peter, from McLean,
from Mrs. Boyer. She had devoted all her energies to losing
herself, to cutting the threads that bound her to the life in the
Siebensternstrasse. She had drawn all her money, as Peter
discovered later. The discovery caused him even more acute
anxiety. The city was full of thieves; poverty and its companion,
crime, lurked on every shadowy staircase of the barracklike
houses, or peered, red-eyed, from every alleyway.
And into this city of contrasts--of gray women of the night
hugging gratings for warmth and accosting passers-by with
loathsome gestures, of smug civilians hiding sensuous mouths
under great mustaches, of dapper soldiers to whom the young girl
unattended was potential prey, into this night city of terror,
this day city of frightful contrasts, ermine rubbing elbows with
frost-nipped flesh, destitution sauntering along the fashionable
Prater for lack of shelter, gilt wheels of royalty and yellow
wheels of courtesans--Harmony had ventured alone for the second
time.
And this time there was no Peter Byrne to accost her cheerily in
the twilight and win her by sheer friendliness. She was alone.
Her funds were lower, much lower. And something else had
gone--her faith. Mrs. Boyer had seen to that. In the autumn
Harmony had faced the city clear-eyed and unafraid; now she
feared it, met it with averted eyes, alas! understood it.
It was not the Harmony who had bade a brave farewell to Scatchy
and the Big Soprano in the station who fled to her refuge on the
upper floor of the house in the Wollbadgasse. This was a hunted
creature, alternately flushed and pale, who locked her door
behind her before she took off her hat, and who, having taken off
her hat and surveyed her hiding-place with tragic eyes, fell
suddenly to trembling, alone there in the gaslight.
She had had no plans beyond flight. She had meant, once alone, to
think the thing out. But the room was cold, she had had nothing
to eat, and the single slovenly maid was a Hungarian and spoke no
German. The dressmaker had gone to the Ronacher. Harmony did not
know where to find a restaurant, was afraid to trust herself to
the streets alone. She went to bed supperless, with a tiny
picture of Peter and Jimmy and the wooden sentry under her cheek.
The pigeons, cooing on the window-sill, wakened her early. She
was confused at first, got up to see if Jimmy had thrown off his
blankets, and wakened to full consciousness with the sickening
realization that Jimmy was not there.
The dressmaker, whose name was Monia Reiff, slept late after her
evening out. Harmony, collapsing with hunger and faintness,
waited as long as she could. Then she put on her things
desperately and ventured out. Surely at this hour Peter would not
be searching, and even if he were he would never think of the
sixteenth district. He would make inquiries, of course--the
Pension Schwarz, Boyers', the master's.
The breakfast brought back her strength and the morning air gave
her confidence. The district, too, was less formidable than the
neighborhood of the Karntnerstrasse and the Graben. The shops
were smaller. The windows exhibited cheaper goods. There was a
sort of family atmosphere about many of them; the head of the
establishment in the doorway, the wife at the cashier's desk,
daughters, cousins, nieces behind the wooden counters. The
shopkeepers were approachable, instead of familiar. Harmony met
no rebuffs, was respectfully greeted and cheerfully listened to.
In many cases the application ended in a general consultation,
shopkeeper, wife, daughters, nieces, slim clerks with tiny
mustaches. She got addresses, followed them up, more
consultations, more addresses, but no work. The reason dawned on
her after a day of tramping, during which she kept carefully away
from that part of the city where Peter might be searching for
her.
The fact was, of course, that her knowledge of English was her
sole asset as a clerk. And there were few English and no tourists
in the sixteenth district. She was marketing a commodity for
which there was no demand.
She lunched at a Konditorei, more to rest her tired body than
because she needed food. The afternoon was as the morning. At six
o'clock, long after the midwinter darkness had fallen, she
stumbled back to the Wollbadgasse and up the whitewashed
staircase.
She had a shock at the second landing. A man had stepped into the
angle to let her pass. A gasjet dared over his head, and she
recognized the short heavy figure and ardent eyes of Georgiev.
She had her veil down luckily, and he gave no sign of
recognition. She passed on, and she heard him a second later
descending. But there had been something reminiscent after all in
her figure and carriage. The little Georgiev paused, halfway
down, and thought a moment. It was impossible, of course. All
women reminded him of the American. Had he not, only the day
before, followed for two city blocks a woman old enough to be his
mother, merely because she carried a violin case? But there was
something about the girl he had just passed--Bah!
A bad week for Harmony followed, a week of weary days and
restless nights when she slept only to dream of Peter--of his
hurt and incredulous eyes when he found she had gone; of
Jimmy--that he needed her, was worse, was dying. More than once
she heard him sobbing and wakened to the cooing of the pigeons on
the window-sill. She grew thin and sunken-eyed; took to dividing
her small hoard, half of it with her, half under the carpet, so
that in case of accident all would not be gone.
This, as it happened, was serious. One day, the sixth, she came
back wet to the skin from an all-day rain, to find that the
carpet bank had been looted. There was no clue. The stolid
Hungarian, startled out of her lethargy, protested innocence; the
little dressmaker, who seemed honest and friendly, wept in sheer
sympathy. The fact remained--half the small hoard was gone.
Two days more, a Sunday and a Monday. On Sunday Harmony played,
and Georgiev in the room below, translating into cipher a recent
conference between the Austrian Minister of War and the German
Ambassador, put aside his work and listened. She played, as once
before she had played when life seemed sad and tragic, the
"Humoresque." Georgiev, hands behind his head and eyes upturned,
was back in the Pension Schwarz that night months ago when
Harmony played the "Humoresque" and Peter stooped outside her
door. The little Bulgarian sighed and dreamed.
Harmony, a little sadder, a little more forlorn each day, pursued
her hopeless quest. She ventured into the heart of the Stadt and
paid a part of her remaining money to an employment bureau, to
teach English or violin, whichever offered, or even both. After
she had paid they told her it would be difficult, almost
impossible without references. She had another narrow escape as
she was leaving. She almost collided with Olga, the chambermaid,
who, having clashed for the last time with Katrina, was seeking
new employment. On another occasion she saw Marie in the crowd
and was obsessed with a longing to call to her, to ask for Peter,
for Jimmy. That meeting took the heart out of the girl. Marie was
white and weary--perhaps the boy was worse. Perhaps Peter--Her
heart contracted. But that was absurd, of course, Peter was
always well and strong.
Two things occurred that week, one unexpected, the other
inevitable. The unexpected occurrence was that Monia Reiff,
finding Harmony being pressed for work, offered the girl a
situation. The wage was small, but she could live on it.
The inevitable was that she met Georgiev on the stairs without
her veil.
It was the first day in the workroom. The apprentices were
carrying home boxes for a ball that night. Thread was needed, and
quickly. Harmony, who did odds and ends of sewing, was most
easily spared. She slipped on her jacket and hat and ran down to
the shop near by.
It was on the return that she met Georgiev coming down. The
afternoon was dark and the staircase unlighted. In the gloom one
face was as another. Georgiev, listening intently, hearing
footsteps, drew back into the embrasure of a window and waited.
His swarthy face was tense, expectant. As the steps drew near,
were light feminine instead of stealthy, the little spy relaxed
somewhat. But still he waited, crouched.
It was a second before he recognized Harmany, another instant
before he realized his good fortune. She had almost passed. He
put out an unsteady hand.
"Fraulein!"
"Herr Georgiev!"
The little Bulgarian was profoundly stirred. His fervid eyes
gleamed. He struggled against the barrier of language, broke out
in passionate Bulgar, switched to German punctuated with an
English word here and there. Made intelligible, it was that he
had found her at last. Harmony held her spools of thread and
waited for the storm of languages to subside. Then:--
"But you are not to say you have seen me, Herr Georgiev."
"No?"
Harmony colored.
"I am--am hiding," she explained. "Something very uncomfortable
happened and I came here. Please don't say you have seen me."
Georgiev was puzzled at first. She had to explain very slowly,
with his ardent eyes on her. But he understood at last and agreed
of course. His incredulity was turning to certainty. Harmony had
actually been in the same building with him while he sought her
everywhere else.
"Then," he said at last, "it was you who played Sunday."
"I surely."
She made a move to pass him, but he held out an imploring hand.
"Fraulein, I may see you sometimes?"
"We shall meet again, of course."
"Fraulein,--with all respect,--sometime perhaps you will walk out
with me?"
"I am very busy all day."
"At night, then? For the exercise? I, with all respect,
Fraulein!"
Harmony was touched.
"Sometime," she consented. And then impulsively: "I am very
lonely, Herr Georgiev."
She held out her hand, and the little Bulgarian bent over it and
kissed it reverently. The Herr Georgiev's father was a nobleman
in his own country, and all the little spy's training had been to
make of a girl in Harmony's situation lawful prey. But in the
spy's glowing heart there was nothing for Harmony to fear. She
knew it. He stood, hat in hand, while she went up the staircase.
Then:--
"Fraulein!" anxiously.
"Yes?"
"Was there below at the entrance a tall man in a green velours
hat?"
"I saw no one there."
"I thank you, Fraulein."
He watched her slender figure ascend, lose itself in the shadows,
listened until she reached the upper floors. Then with a sigh he
clapped his hat on his head and made his cautious way down to the
street. There was no man in a green velours hat below, but the
little spy had an uneasy feeling that eyes watched him,
nevertheless. Life was growing complicated for the Herr Georgiev.
Life was pressing very close to Harmony also in those days, a
life she had never touched before. She discovered, after a day or
two in the work-room, that Monia Reiff's business lay almost
altogether among the demi-monde. The sewing-girls, of Marie's
type many of them, found in the customers endless topics of
conversation. Some things Harmony was spared, much of the talk
being in dialect. But a great deal of it she understood, and she
learned much that was not spoken. They talked freely of the
women, their clothes, and they talked a great deal about a
newcomer, an American dancer, for whom Monia was making an
elaborate outfit. The American's name was Lillian Le Grande. She
was dancing at one of the variety theaters.
Harmony was working on a costume for the Le Grande woman--a gold
brocade slashed to the knee at one side and with a fragment of
bodice made of gilt tissue. On the day after her encounter with
Georgiev she met her.
There was a dispute over the gown, something about the draping.
Monia, flushed with irritation, came to the workroom door and
glanced over the girls. She singled out Harmony finally and
called her.
"Come and put on the American's gown," she ordered. "She
wishes--Heaven knows what she wishes!"
Harmony went unwillingly. Nothing she had heard of the Fraulein
Le Grande had prepossessed her. Her uneasiness was increased when
she found herself obliged to shed her gown and to stand for one
terrible moment before the little dressmaker's amused eyes.
"Thou art very lovely, very chic," said Monia. The dress added to
rather than relieved Harmony's discomfiture. She donned it in one
of the fitting-rooms, made by the simple expedient of curtaining
off a corner of the large reception room. The slashed skirt
embarrassed her; the low cut made her shrink. Monia was frankly
entranced. Above the gold tissue of the bodice rose Harmony's
exquisite shoulders. Her hair was gold; even her eyes looked
golden. The dressmaker, who worshiped beauty, gave a pull here, a
pat there. If only all women were so beautiful in the things she
made!
She had an eye for the theatrical also. She posed Harmony behind
the curtain, arranged lights, drew down the chiffon so that a bit
more of the girl's rounded bosom was revealed. Then she drew the
curtain aside and stood smiling.
Le Grande paid the picture the tribute of a second's silence.
Then:--
"Exquisite!" she said in English. Then in halting German: "Do not
change a line. It is perfect."
Harmony must walk in the gown, turn, sit. Once she caught a
glimpse of herself and was startled. She had been wearing black
for so long, and now this radiant golden creature was herself.
She was enchanted and abashed. The slash in the skirt troubled
her: her slender leg had a way of revealing itself.
The ordeal was over at last. The dancer was pleased. She ordered
another gown. Harmony, behind the curtain, slipped out of the
dress and into her own shabby frock. On the other side of the
curtain the dancer was talking. Her voice was loud, but rather
agreeable. She smoked a cigarette. Scraps of chatter came to
Harmony, and once a laugh.
"That is too pink--something more delicate."
"Here is a shade; hold it to your cheek."
"I am a bad color. I did not sleep last night."
"Still no news, Fraulein?"
"None. He has disappeared utterly. That isn't so bad, is it? I
could use more rouge."
"It is being much worn. It is strange, is it not, that a child
could be stolen from the hospital and leave no sign!"
The dancer laughed a mirthless laugh. Her voice changed, became
nasal, full of venom.
"Oh, they know well enough," she snapped. "Those nurses know, and
there's a pig of a red-bearded doctor--I'd like to poison him.
Separating mother and child! I'm going to find him, if only to
show them they are not so smart after all."
In her anger she had lapsed into English. Harmony, behind her
curtain, had clutched at her heart. Jimmy's mother!
CHAPTER XXIII
Jimmy was not so well, although Harmony's flight had had nothing
to do with the relapse. He had found Marie a slavishly devoted
substitute, and besides Peter had indicated that Harmony's
absence was purely temporary. But the breaking-up was inevitable.
All day long the child lay in the white bed, apathetic but
sleepless. In vain Marie made flower fairies for his pillow, in
vain the little mice, now quite tame, played hide-and-seek over
the bed, in vain Peter paused long enough in his frantic search
for Harmony to buy colored postcards and bring them to him.
He was contented enough; he did not suffer at all; and he had no
apprehension of what was coming. He asked for nothing, tried
obediently to eat, liked to have Marie in the room. But he did
not beg to be taken into the salon, as he once had done. There
was a sort of mental confusion also. He liked Marie to read his
father's letters; but as he grew weaker the occasional confusing
of Peter with his dead father became a fixed idea. Peter was
Daddy.
Peter took care of him at night. He had moved into Harmony's
adjacent room and dressed there. But he had never slept in the
bed. At night he put on his shabby dressing-gown and worn
slippers and lay on a haircloth sofa at the foot of Jimmy's
bed--lay but hardly slept, so afraid was he that the slender
thread of life might snap when it was drawn out to its slenderest
during the darkest hours before the dawn. More than once in every
night Peter rose and stood, hardly breathing, with the tiny lamp
in his hand, watching for the rise and fall of the boy's thin
little chest. Peter grew old these days. He turned gray over the
ears and developed lines about his mouth that never left him
again. He felt gray and old, and sometimes bitter and hard also.
The boy's condition could not be helped: it was inevitable,
hopeless. But the thing that was eating his heart out had been
unnecessary and cruel.
Where was Harmony? When it stormed, as it did almost steadily, he
wondered how she was sheltered; when the occasional sun shone he
hoped it was bringing her a bit of cheer. Now and then, in the
night, when the lamp burned low and gusts of wind shook the old
house, fearful thoughts came to him--the canal, with its filthy
depths. Daylight brought reason, however. Harmony had been too
rational, too sane for such an end.
McLean was Peter's great support in those terrible days. He was
young and hopeful. Also he had money. Peter could not afford to
grease the machinery of the police service; McLean could and did.
In Berlin Harmony could not have remained hidden for two days. In
Vienna, however, it was different. Returns were made to the
department, but irregularly. An American music student was
missing. There were thousands of American music students in the
city: one fell over them in the coffee-houses. McLean offered a
reward and followed up innumerable music students.
The alternating hope and despair was most trying. Peter became
old and haggard; the boy grew thin and white. But there was this
difference, that with Peter the strain was cumulative, hour on
hour, day on day. With McLean each night found him worn and
exhausted, but each following morning he went to work with
renewed strength and energy. Perhaps, after all, the iron had not
struck so deep into his soul. With Peter it was a life-and-death
matter.
Clinics and lectures had begun again, but he had no heart for
work. The little household went on methodically. Marie remained;
there had seemed nothing else to do. She cooked Peter's
food--what little he would eat; she nursed Jimmy while Peter was
out on the long search; and she kept the apartment neat. She was
never intrusive, never talkative. Indeed, she seemed to have
lapsed into definite silence. She deferred absolutely to Peter,
adored him, indeed, from afar. She never ate with him, in spite
of his protests.
The little apartment was very quiet. Where formerly had been
music and Harmony's soft laughter, where Anna Gates had been wont
to argue with Peter in loud, incisive tones, where even the
prisms of the chandelier had once vibrated in response to
Harmony's violin, almost absolute silence now reigned. Even the
gate, having been repaired, no longer creaked, and the loud
altercations between the Portier and his wife had been silenced
out of deference to the sick child.
On the day that Harmony, in the gold dress, had discovered
Jimmy's mother in the American dancer Peter had had an unusually
bad day. McLean had sent him a note by messenger early in the
morning, to the effect that a young girl answering Harmony's
description had been seen in the park at Schonbrunn and traced to
an apartment near by.
Harmony had liked Schonbrunn, and it seemed possible. They had
gone out together, McLean optimistic, Peter afraid to hope. And
it had been as he feared--a pretty little violin student, indeed,
who had been washing her hair, and only opened the door an inch
or two.
McLean made a lame apology, Peter too sick with disappointment to
speak. Then back to the city again.
He had taken to making a daily round, to the master's, to the
Frau Professor Bergmeister's, along the Graben and the
Karntnerstrasse, ending up at the Doctors' Club in the faint hope
of a letter. Wrath still smouldered deep in Peter; he would not
enter a room at the club if Mrs. Boyer sat within. He had had a
long 1 hour with Dr. Jennings, and left that cheerful person
writhing in abasement. And he had held a stormy interview with
the Frau Schwarz, which left her humble for a week, and
exceedingly nervous, being of the impression from Peter's manner
that in the event of Harmony not turning up an American gunboat
would sail up the right arm of the Danube and bombard the Pension
Schwarz.
Schonbrunn having failed them, McLean and, Peter went back to the
city in the street-car, neither one saying much. Even McLean's
elasticity was deserting him. His eyes, from much peering into
crowds, had taken on a strained, concentrated look.
Peter was shabbier than ever beside the other man's
ultrafashionable dress. He sat, bent forward, his long arms
dangling between his knees, his head down. Their common trouble
had drawn the two together, or had drawn McLean close to Peter,
as if he recognized that there were degrees in grief and that
Peter had received almost a death-wound. His old rage at Peter
had died. Harmony's flight had proved the situation as no amount
of protestation would have done. The thing now was to find the
girl; then he and Peter would start even, and the battle to the
best man.
They had the car almost to themselves. Peter had not spoken since
he sat down. McLean was busy over a notebook, in which he jotted
down from day to day such details of their search as might be
worth keeping. Now and then he glanced at Peter as if he wished
to say something, hesitated, fell to work again over the
notebook. Finally he ventured.
"How's the boy?"
"Not so well to-day. I'm having a couple of men in to see him
to-night. He doesn't sleep."
"Do you sleep?"
"Not much. He's on my mind, of course."
That and other things, Peter.
"Don't you think--wouldn't it be better to have a nurse. You
can't go like this all day and be up all night, you know. And
Marie has him most of the day." McLean, of course, had known
Marie before. "The boy ought to have a nurse, I think."
"He doesn't move without my hearing him."
"That's an argument for me. Do you want to get sick?"
Peter turned a white face toward McLean, a face in which
exasperation struggled with fatigue.
"Good Lord, boy," he rasped, "don't you suppose I'd have a nurse
if I could afford it?"
"Would you let me help? I'd like to do something. I'm a useless
cub in a sick-room, but I could do that. Who's the woman he liked
in the hospital?"
"Nurse Elisabet. I don't know, Mac. There's no reason why I
shouldn't let you help, I suppose. It hurts, of course, but--if
he would be happier--"
"That's settled, then," said McLean. "Nurse Elisabet, if she can
come. And--look here, old man. I 've been trying to say this for
a week and haven't had the nerve. Let me help you out for a
while. You can send it back when you get it, any time, a year or
ten years. I'll not miss it."
But Peter refused. He tempered the refusal in his kindly way.
"I can't take anything now," he said. "But I'll remember it, and
if things get very bad I'll come to you. It isn't costing much to
live. Marie is a good manager, almost as good as--Harmony was."
This with difficulty. He found it always hard to speak of
Harmony. His throat seemed to close on the name.
That was the best McLean could do, but he made a mental
reservation to see Marie that night and slip her a little money.
Peter need never know, would never notice.
At a cross-street the car stopped, and the little Bulgarian,
Georgiev, got on. He inspected the car carefully before he came
in from the platform, and sat down unobtrusively in a corner.
Things were not going well with him either. His small black eyes
darted from face to face suspiciously, until they came to a rest
on Peter.
It was Georgiev's business to read men. Quickly he put together
the bits he had gathered from Harmony on the staircase, added to
them Peter's despondent attitude, his strained face, the
abstraction which required a touch on the arm from his companion
when they reached their destination, recalled Peter outside the
door of Harmony's room in the Pension Schwarz--and built him a
little story that was not far from the truth.
Peter left the car without seeing him. It was the hour of the
promenade, when the Ring and the larger business streets were
full of people, when Demel's was thronged with pretty women
eating American ices, with military men drinking tea and nibbling
Austrian pastry, the hour when the flower women along the
Stephansplatz did a rousing business in roses, when sterile women
burned candles before the Madonna in the Cathedral, when the
lottery did the record business of the day.
It was Peter's forlorn hope that somewhere among the crowd he
might happen on Harmony. For some reason he thought of her always
as in a crowd, with people close, touching her, men staring at
her, following her. He had spent a frightful night in the Opera,
scanning seat after seat, not so much because he hoped to find
her as because inaction was intolerable.
And so, on that afternoon, he made his slow progress along the
Karntnerstrasse, halting now and then to scrutinize the crowd. He
even peered through the doors of shops here and there, hoping
while he feared that the girl might be seeking employment within,
as she had before in the early days of the winter.
Because of his stature and powerful physique, and perhaps, too,
because of the wretchedness in his eyes, people noticed him.
There was one place where Peter lingered, where a new building
was being erected, and where because of the narrowness of the
passage the dense crowd was thinned as it passed. He stood by
choice outside a hairdresser's window, where a brilliant light
shone on each face that passed.
Inside the clerks had noticed him. Two of them standing together
by the desk spoke of him: "He is there again, the gray man!"
"Ah, so! But, yes, there is his back!"
"Poor one, it is the Fraulein Engel he waits to see, perhaps."
"More likely Le Grande, the American. He is American."
"He is Russian. Look at his size."
"But his shoes!" triumphantly. "They are American, little one."
The third girl had not spoken; she was wrapping in tissue a great
golden rose made for the hair. She placed it in a box carefully.
"I think he is of the police," she said, "or a spy. There is much
talk of war."
"Foolishness! Does a police officer sigh always? Or a spy have
such sadness in his face? And he grows thin and white."
"The rose, Fraulein."
The clerk who had wrapped up the flower held it out to the
customer. The customer, however, was not looking. She was gazing
with strange intentness at the back of a worn gray overcoat. Then
with a curious clutch at her heart she went white. Harmony, of
course, Harmony come to fetch the golden rose that was to
complete Le Grande's costume.
She recovered almost at once and made an excuse to leave by
another exit.
She took a final look at the gray sleeve that was all she could
see of Peter, who had shifted a bit, and stumbled out into the
crowd, walking along with her lip trembling under her veil, and
with the slow and steady ache at her heart that she had thought
she had stilled for good.
It had never occurred to Harmony that Peter loved her. He had
proposed to her twice, but that had been in each case to solve a
difficulty for her. And once he had taken her in his arms, but
that was different. Even then he had not said he loved her--had
not even known it, to be exact. Nor had Harmony realized what
Peter meant to her until she had put him out of her life.
The sight of the familiar gray coat, the scrap of conversation,
so enlightening as to poor Peter's quest, that Peter was growing
thin and white, made her almost reel. She had been too occupied
with her own position to realize Peter's. With the glimpse of him
came a great longing for the house on the Siebensternstrasse, for
Jimmy's arms about her neck, for the salon with the lamp lighted
and the sleet beating harmlessly against the casement windows,
for the little kitchen with the brick stove, for Peter.
Doubts of the wisdom of her course assailed her. But to go back
meant, at the best, adding to Peter's burden of Jimmy and Marie,
meant the old situation again, too, for Marie most certainly did
not add to the respectability of the establishment. And other
doubts assailed her. What if Jimmy were not so well, should die,
as was possible, and she had not let his mother see him!
Monia Reiff was very busy that day. Harmony did not leave the
workroom until eight o'clock. During all that time, while her
slim fingers worked over fragile laces and soft chiffons, she was
seeing Jimmy as she had seen him last, with the flower fairies on
his pillow, and Peter, keeping watch over the crowd in the
Karntnerstrasse, looking with his steady eyes for her.
No part of the city was safe for a young girl after night, she
knew; the sixteenth district was no better than the rest, rather
worse in places. But the longing to see the house on the
Siebensternstrasse grew on her, became from an ache a sharp and
insistent pain. She must go, must see once again the comfortable
glow of Peter's lamp, the flicker that was the fire.
She ate no supper. She was too tired to eat, and there was the
pain. She put on her wraps and crept down the whitewashed
staircase.
The paved courtyard below was to be crossed and it was poorly
lighted. She achieved the street, however, without molestation.
To the street-car was only a block, but during that block she was
accosted twice. She was white and frightened when she reached the
car.
The Siebensternstrasse at last. The street was always dark; the
delicatessen shop was closed, but in the wild-game store next a
light was burning low, and a flame flickered before the little
shrine over the money drawer. The gameseller was a religious man.
The old stucco house dominated the neighborhood. From the time
she left the car Harmony saw it, its long flat roof black against
the dark sky, its rows of unlighted windows, its long wall broken
in the center by the gate. Now from across the street its whole
facade lay before her. Peter's lamp was not lighted, but there
was a glow of soft firelight from the salon windows. The light
was not regular--it disappeared at regular intervals, was blotted
out. Harmony knew what that meant. Some one beyond range of where
she stood was pacing the floor, back and forward, back and
forward. When he was worried or anxious Peter always paced the
door.
She did not know how long she stood there. One of the soft rains
was falling, or more accurately, condensing. The saturated air
was hardly cold. She stood on the pavement unmolested, while the
glow died lower and lower, until at last it was impossible to
trace the pacing figure. No one came to any of the windows. The
little lamp before the shrine in the wild-game shop burned itself
out; the Portier across the way came to the door, glanced up at
the sky and went in. Harmony heard the rattle of the chain as it
was stretched across the door inside.
Not all the windows of the suite opened on the street. Jimmy's
windows--and Peter's--opened toward the back of the house, where
in a brick-paved courtyard the wife of the Portier hung her
washing, and where the Portier himself kept a hutch of rabbits. A
wild and reckless desire to see at least the light from the
child's room possessed Harmony. Even the light would be
something; to go like this, to carry with her only the memory of
a dark looming house without cheer was unthinkable. The gate was
never locked. If she but went into the garden and round by the
spruce tree to the back of the house, it would be something.
She knew the garden quite well. Even the darkness had no horror
for her. Little Scatchy had had a habit of leaving various
articles on her window-sill and of instigating searches for them
at untimely hours of night. Once they had found her hairbrush in
the rabbit hutch! So Harmony, ashamed but unalarmed, made her way
by the big spruce to the corner of the old lodge and thus to the
courtyard.
Ah, this was better! Lights all along the apartment floor and
moving shadows; on Jimmy's window-sill a jar of milk. And
voices--some one was singing.
Peter was singing, droning softly, as one who puts a drowsy child
to sleep. Slower and slower, softer and softer, over and over,
the little song Harmony had been wont to sing:--
"Ah well! For us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes.
And in the--hereafter--angels may
Roll--the--stone--from--its--grave--away."
Slower and slower, softer and softer, until it died away
altogether. Peter, in his old dressing-gown, came to the window
and turned down the gaslight beside it to a blue point. Harmony
did not breathe. For a minute, two minutes, he stood there
looking out. Far off the twin clocks of the Votivkirche struck
the hour. All about lay the lights of the old city, so very old,
so wise, so cunning, so cold.
Peter stood looking out, as he had each night since Harmony went
away. Each night he sang the boy to sleep, turned down the light
and stood by the window. And each night he whispered to the city
that sheltered Harmony somewhere, what he had whispered to the
little sweater coat the night before he went away:--
"Good-night, dear. Good-night, Harmony."
The rabbits stirred uneasily in the hutch; a passing gust shook
the great tree overhead and sent down a sharp shower on to the
bricks below. Peter struck a match and lit his pipe; the
flickering light illuminated his face, his rough hair, his steady
eyes.
"Good-night, Peter," whispered Harmony. "Good-night, dear."
CHAPTER XXIV
Walter Stewart had made an uncomplicated recovery, helped along
by relief at the turn events had taken. In a few days he was
going about again, weak naturally, rather handsomer than before
because a little less florid. But the week's confinement had
given him an opportunity to think over many things. Peter had set
him thinking, on the day when he had packed up the last of
Marie's small belongings and sent them down to Vienna.
Stewart, lying in bed, had watched him. "Just how much talk do
you suppose this has made, Byrne?" he asked.
"Haven't an idea. Some probably. The people in the Russian villa
saw it, you know."
Stewart's brows contracted.
"Damnation! Then the hotel has it, of course!"
"Probably."
Stewart groaned. Peter closed Marie's American trunk of which she
had been so proud, and coming over looked down at the injured
man.
"Don't you think you'd better tell the girl all about it?"
"No," doggedly.
"I know, of course, it wouldn't be easy, but--you can't get away
with it, Stewart. That's one way of looking at it. There's
another."
"What's that?"
"Starting with a clean slate. If she's the sort you want to
marry, and not a prude, she'll understand, not at first, but
after she gets used to it."
"She wouldn't understand in a thousand years."
"Then you'd better not marry her. You know, Stewart, I have an
idea that women imagine a good many pretty rotten things about
us, anyhow. A sensible girl would rather know the truth and be
done with it. What a man has done with his life before a
girl--the right girl--comes into it isn't a personal injury to
her, since she wasn't a part of his life then. You know what I
mean. But she has a right to know it before she chooses."
"How many would choose under those circumstances?" he jibed.
Peter smiled. "Quite a few," he said cheerfully. "It's a wrong
system, of course; but we can get a little truth out of it."
"You can't get away with it" stuck in Stewart's mind for several
days. It was the one thing Peter said that did stick. And before
Stewart had recovered enough to be up and about he had made up
his mind to tell Anita. In his mind he made quite a case for
himself; he argued the affair against his conscience and came out
victorious.
Anita's party had broken up. The winter sports did not compare,
they complained, with St. Moritz. They disliked German cooking.
Into the bargain the weather was not good; the night's snows
turned soft by midday; and the crowds that began to throng the
hotels were solid citizens, not the fashionables of the Riviera.
Anita's arm forbade her traveling. In the reassembling of the
party she went to the Kurhaus in the valley below the pension
with one of the women who wished to take the baths.
It was to the Kurhaus, then, that Stewart made his first
excursion after the accident. He went to dinner. Part of the
chaperon's treatment called for an early retiring hour, which was
highly as he had wished it and rather unnerving after all. A man
may decide that a dose of poison is the remedy for all his
troubles, but he does not approach his hour with any hilarity.
Stewart was a stupid dinner guest, ate very little, and looked
haggard beyond belief when the hour came for the older woman to
leave.
He did not lack courage however. It was his great asset, physical
and mental rather than moral, but courage nevertheless. The
evening was quiet, and they elected to sit on the balcony outside
Anita's sitting room, the girl swathed in white furs and leaning
back in her steamer chair.
Below lay the terrace of the Kurhaus, edged with evergreen trees.
Beyond and far below that was the mountain village, a few
scattered houses along a frozen stream. The townspeople retired
early; light after light was extinguished, until only one in the
priest's house remained. A train crept out of one tunnel and into
another, like a glowing worm crawling from burrow to burrow.
The girl felt a change in Stewart. During the weeks he had known
her there had been a curious restraint in his manner to her.
There were times when an avowal seemed to tremble on his lips,
when his eyes looked into hers with the look no women ever
mistakes; the next moment he would glance away, his face would
harden. They were miles apart. And perhaps the situation had
piqued the girl. Certainly it had lost nothing for her by its
unusualness.
To-night there was a difference in the man. His eyes met hers
squarely, without evasion, but with a new quality, a searching,
perhaps, for something in her to give him courage. The girl had
character, more than ordinary decision. It was what Stewart
admired in her most, and the thing, of course, that the little
Marie had lacked. Moreover, Anita, barely twenty, was a woman,
not a young girl. Her knowledge of the world, not so deep as
Marie's, was more comprehensive. Where Marie would have been
merciful, Anita would be just, unless she cared for him. In that
case she might be less than just, or more.
Anita in daylight was a pretty young woman, rather incisive of
speech, very intelligent, having a wit without malice, charming
to look at, keenly alive. Anita in the dusk of the balcony,
waiting to hear she knew not what, was a judicial white goddess,
formidably still, frightfully potential. Stewart, who had
embraced many women, did not dare a finger on her arm.
He had decided on a way to tell the girl the story--a preamble
about his upbringing, which had been indifferent, his struggle to
get to Vienna, his loneliness there, all leading with inevitable
steps to Marie. From that, if she did not utterly shrink from
him, to his love for her.
It was his big hour, that hour on the balcony. He was reaching,
through love, heights of honesty he had never scaled before. But
as a matter of fact he reversed utterly his order of procedure.
The situation got him, this first evening absolutely alone with
her. That and her nearness, and the pathos of her bandaged,
useless arm. Still he had not touched her.
The thing he was trying to do was more difficult for that.
General credulity to the contrary, men do not often make spoken
love first. How many men propose marriage to their women across
the drawing-room or from chair to chair? Absurd! The eyes speak
first, then the arms, the lips last. The woman is in his arms
before he tells his love. It is by her response that he gauges
his chances and speaks of marriage. Actually the thing is already
settled; tardy speech only follows on swift instinct. Stewart,
wooing as men woo, would have taken the girl's hand, gained an
encouragement from it, ventured to kiss it, perhaps, and finding
no rebuff would then and there have crushed her to him; What need
of words? They would follow in due time, not to make a situation
but to clarify it.
But he could not woo as men woo. The barrier of his own weakness
stood between them and must be painfully taken down.
"I'm afraid this is stupid for you," said Anita out of the
silence. "Would you like to go to the music-room?"
"God forbid. I was thinking."
"Of what?" Encouragement this, surely.
"I was thinking how you had come into my life, and stirred it
up."
"Really? I?"
"You know that."
"How did I stir it up?"
"That's hardly the way I meant to put it. You've changed
everything for me. I care for you--a very great deal."
He was still carefully in hand, his voice steady. And still he
did not touch her. Other men had made love to her, but never in
this fashion, or was he making love?
"I'm very glad you like me."
"Like you!" Almost out of hand that time. The thrill in his voice
was unmistakable. "It's much more than that, Anita, so much more
that I'm going to try to do a hideously hard thing. Will you help
a little?"
"Yes, if I can." She was stirred, too, and rather frightened.
Stewart drew his chair nearer to her and sat forward, his face
set and dogged.
"Have you any idea how you were hurt? Or why?"
"No. There's a certain proportion of accidents that occur at all
these places, isn't there?"
"This was not an accident."
"No?"
"The branch of a tree was thrown out in front of the sled to send
us over the bank. It was murder, if intention is crime."
After a brief silence--
"Somebody who wished to kill you, or me?"
"Both of us, I believe. It was done by a woman--a girl, Anita. A
girl I had been living with."
A brutal way to tell her, no doubt, but admirably courageous. For
he was quivering with dread when he said it--the courage of the
man who faces a cannon. And here, where a less-poised woman would
have broken into speech, Anita took the refuge of her kind and
was silent. Stewart watched her as best he could in the darkness,
trying to gather further courage to go on. He could not see her
face, but her fingers, touching the edge of the chair, quivered.
"May I tell you the rest?"
"I don't think I want to hear it."
"Are you going to condemn me unheard?"
"There isn't anything you can say against the fact?"
But there was much to say, and sitting there in the darkness he
made his plea. He made no attempt to put his case. He told what
had happened simply; he told of his loneliness and discomfort.
And he emphasized the lack of sentiment that prompted the
arrangement.
Anita spoke then for the first time: "And when you tried to
terminate it she attempted to kill you!"
"I was acting the beast. I brought her up here, and then
neglected her for you."
"Then it was hardly only a business arrangement for her."
"It was at first. I never dreamed of any thing else. I swear
that, Anita. But lately, in the last month or two, she--I suppose
I should have seen that she--"
"That she had fallen in love with you. How old is she?"
"Nineteen."
A sudden memory came to Anita, of a slim young girl, who had
watched her with wide, almost childish eyes.
"Then it was she who was in the compartment with you on the train
coming up?"
"Yes."
"Where is she now?"
"In Vienna. I have not heard from her. Byrne, the chap who came
up to see me after the--after the accident, sent her away. I
think he's looking after her. I haven't heard from him."
"Why did you tell me all this?"
"Because I love you, Anita. I want you to marry me."
"What! After that?"
"That, or something similar, is in many men's lives. They don't
tell it, that's the difference. I 'm not taking any credit for
telling you this. I'm ashamed to the bottom of my soul, and when
I look at your bandaged arm I'm suicidal. Peter Byrne urged me to
tell you. He said I couldn't get away with it; some time or other
it would come out. Then he said something else. He said you'd
probably understand, and that if you married me it was better to
start with a clean slate."
No love, no passion in the interview now. A clear statement of
fact, an offer--his past against hers, his future with hers. Her
hand was steady now. The light in the priest's house had been
extinguished. The chill of the mountain night penetrated Anita's
white furs; and set her--or was it the chill?--to shivering.
"If I had not told you, would you have married me?"
"I think so. I'll be honest, too. Yes."
"I am the same man you would have married. Only--more honest."
"I cannot argue about it. I am tired and cold."
Stewart glanced across the valley to where the cluster of villas
hugged the mountain-side There was a light in his room; outside
was the little balcony where Marie had leaned against the railing
and looked down, down. Some of the arrogance of his new virtue
left the man. He was suddenly humbled. For the first time he
realized a part of what Marie had endured in that small room
where the light burned.
"Poor little Marie!" he said softly.
The involuntary exclamation did more for him than any plea he
could have made. Anita rose and held out her hand.
"Go and see her," she said quietly. "You owe her that. We'll be
leaving here in a day or so and I'll not see you again. But
you've been honest, and I will be honest, too. I--I cared a great
deal, too."
"And this has killed it?"
"I hardly comprehend it yet. I shall have to have time to think."
"But if you are going away--I'm afraid to leave you. You'll think
this thing over, alone, and all the rules of life you've been
taught will come--"
"Please, I must think. I will write you, I promise."
He caught her hand and crushed it between both of his.
"I suppose you would rather I did not kiss you?" humbly.
"I do not want you to kiss me."
He released her hand and stood looking down at her in the
darkness. If he could only have crushed her to him, made her feel
the security of his love, of his sheltering arms! But the barrier
of his own building was between them. His voice was husky.
"I want you to try to remember, past what I have told you, to the
thing that concerns us both--I love you. I never loved the other
woman. I never pretended I loved her. And there will be nothing
more like that."
"I shall try to remember."
Anita left Semmering the next day, against the protests of the
doctor and the pleadings of the chaperon. She did not see Stewart
again. But before she left, with the luggage gone and the fiacre
at the door, she went out on the terrace, and looked across to
the Villa Waldheim, rising from among its clustering trees.
Although it was too far to be certain, she thought she saw the
figure of a man on the little balcony standing with folded arms,
gazing across the valley to the Kurhaus.
Having promised to see Marie, Stewart proceeded to carry out his
promise in his direct fashion. He left Semmering the evening of
the following day, for Vienna. The strain of the confession was
over, but he was a victim of sickening dread. To one thing only
he dared to pin his hopes. Anita had said she cared, cared a
great deal. And, after all, what else mattered? The story had
been a jolt, he told himself. Girls were full of queer ideas of
right and wrong, bless them! But she cared. She cared!
He arrived in Vienna at nine o'clock that night. The imminence of
his interview with Marie hung over him like a cloud. He ate a
hurried supper, and calling up the Doctors' Club by telephone
found Peter's address in the Siebensternstrasse. He had no idea,
of course, that Marie was there. He wanted to see Peter to learn
where Marie had taken refuge, and incidentally to get from Peter
a fresh supply of moral courage for the interview. For he needed
courage. In vain on the journey down had he clothed himself in
armor of wrath against the girl; the very compartment in the
train provoked softened memories of her. Here they had bought a
luncheon, there Marie had first seen the Rax. Again at this
station she had curled up and put her head on his shoulder for a
nap. Ah, but again, at this part of the journey he had first seen
Anita!
He took a car to the Siebensternstrasse. His idea of Peter's
manner of living those days was exceedingly vague. He had
respected Peter's reticence, after the manner of men with each
other. Peter had once mentioned a boy he was looking after, in
excuse for leaving so soon after the accident. That was all.
The house on the Siebensternstrasse loomed large and unlighted.
The street was dark, and it was only after a search that Stewart
found the gate. Even then he lost the path, and found himself
among a group of trees, to touch the lowest branches of any of
which resulted in a shower of raindrops. To add to his discomfort
some one was walking in the garden, coming toward him with light,
almost stealthy steps.
Stewart by his tree stood still, waiting. The steps approached,
were very close, were beside him. So intense was the darkness
that even then all he saw was a blacker shadow, and that was
visible only because it moved. Then a hand touched his arm,
stopped as if paralyzed, drew back slowly, fearfully.
"Good Heavens!" said poor Harmony faintly.
"Please don't be alarmed. I have lost the path." Stewart's voice
was almost equally nervous. "Is it to the right or the left?"
It was a moment before Harmony had breath to speak. Then:--
"To the right a dozen paces or so."
"Thank you. Perhaps I can help you to find it."
"I know it quite well. Please don't bother."
The whole situation was so unexpected that only then did it dawn
on Stewart that this blacker shadow was a countrywoman speaking
God's own language. Together, Harmony a foot or so in advance,
they made the path.
"The house is there. Ring hard, the bell is out of order."
"Are you not coming in?"
"No. I--I do not live here."
She must have gone just after that. Stewart, glancing at the dark
facade of the house, turned round to find her gone, and a moment
later heard the closing of the gate. He was bewildered. What sort
of curious place was this, a great looming house that concealed
in its garden a fugitive American girl who came and went like a
shadow, leaving only the memory of a sweet voice strained with
fright?
Stewart was full of his encounter as he took the candle the
Portier gave him and followed the gentleman's gruff directions up
the staircase. Peter admitted him, looking a trifle uneasy, as
well he might with Marie in the salon.
Stewart was too preoccupied to notice Peter's expression. He
shook the rain off his hat, smiling.
"How are you?" asked Peter dutifully.
"Pretty good, except for a headache when I'm tired. What sort of
a place have you got here anyhow, Byrne?"
"Old hunting-lodge of Maria Theresa," replied Peter, still
preoccupied with Marie and what was coming. "Rather interesting
old place."
"Rather," commented Stewart, "with goddesses in the garden and
all the usual stunts."
"Goddesses?"
"Ran into one just now among the trees. 'A woman I forswore, but
thou being a goddess I forswore not thee.' English-speaking
goddess, by George!"
Peter was staring at him incredulously; now he bent forward and
grasped his arm in fingers of steel.
"For Heaven's sake, Stewart, tell me what you mean! Who was in
the garden?"
Stewart was amused and interested. It was not for him to belittle
a situation of his own making, an incident of his own telling.
"I lost my way in your garden, wandered among the trees, broke
through a hedgerow or two, struck a match and consulted the
compass--"
Peter's fingers closed.
"Quick," he said.
Stewart's manner lost its jauntiness.
"There was a girl there," he said shortly. "Couldn't see her. She
spoke English. Said she didn't live here, and broke for the gate
the minute I got to the path."
"You didn't see her?"
"No. Nice voice, though. Young."
The next moment he was alone. Peter in his dressing-gown was
running down the staircase to the lower floor, was shouting to
the Portier to unlock the door, was a madman in everything but
purpose. The Portier let him out and returned to the bedroom.
"The boy above is worse," he said briefly. "A strange doctor has
just come, and but now the Herr Doktor Byrne runs to the drug
store."
The Portier's wife shrugged her shoulders even while tears filled
her eyes.
"What can one expect?" she demanded. "The good Herr Gott has
forbidden theft and Rosa says the boy was stolen. Also the
druggist has gone to visit his wife's mother."
"Perhaps I may be of service; I shall go up."
"And see for a moment that hussy of the streets! Remain here. I
shall go."
Slowly and ponderously she climbed the stairs.
Stewart, left alone, wandered along the dim corridor. He found
Peter's excitement rather amusing. So this was where Peter lived,
an old house, isolated in a garden where rambled young women with
soft voices. Hello, a youngster asleep! The boy, no doubt.
He wandered on toward the lighted door of the salon and Marie.
The place was warm and comfortable, but over it all hung the
indescribable odor of drugs that meant illness. He remembered
that the boy was frail.
Marie turned as he stopped in the salon doorway, and then rose,
white-faced. Across the wide spaces of the room they eyed each
other. Marie's crisis had come. Like all crises it was bigger
than speech. It was after a distinct pause that she spoke.
"Hast thou brought the police?"
Curiously human, curiously masculine at least was Stewart's
mental condition at that moment. He had never loved the girl; it
was with tremendous relief he had put her out of his life. And
yet--
"So it's old Peter now, is it?"
"No, no, not that, Walter. He has given me shelter, that is all.
I swear it. I look after the boy."
"Who else is here?"
"No one else; but--"
"Tell that rot to some one who does not know you."
"It is true. He never even looks at me. I am wicked, but I do not
lie." There was a catch of hope in her voice. Marie knew men
somewhat, but she still cherished the feminine belief that
jealousy is love, whereas it is only injured pride. She took a
step toward him. "Walter, I am sorry. Do you hate me?" She had
dropped the familiar "thou."
Stewart crossed the room until only Peter's table and lamp stood
between them.
"I didn't mean to be brutal," he said, rather largely, entirely
conscious of his own magnanimity. "It was pretty bad up there and
I know it. I don't hate you, of course. That's hardly possible
after--everything."
"You--would take me back?"
"No. It's over, Marie. I wanted to know where you were, that's
all; to see that you were comfortable and not frightened. You're
a silly child to think of the police."
Marie put a hand to her throat.
"It is the American, of course."
"Yes."
She staggered a trifle, recovered, threw up her head. "Then I
wish I had killed her!"
No man ever violently resents the passionate hate of one woman
for her rival in his affections. Stewart, finding the situation
in hand and Marie only feebly formidable, was rather amused and
flattered by the honest fury in her voice. The mouse was under
his paw; he would play a bit. "You'll get over feeling that way,
kid. You don't really love me."
"You were my God, that is all."
"Will you let me help you--money, I mean?"
"Keep it for her."
"Peter will be here in a minute." He bent over the table and eyed
her with his old, half-bullying, half-playful manner. "Come round
here and kiss me for old times."
"No!"
"Come."
She stood stubbornly still, and Stewart, still smiling, took a
step or two toward her. Then he stopped, ceased smiling, drew
himself up.
"You are quite right and I'm a rotter." Marie's English did not
comprehend "rotter," but she knew the tone. "Listen, Marie, I've
told the other girl, and there's a chance for me, anyhow. Some
day she may marry me. She asked me to see you."
"I do not wish her pity."
"You are wasting your life here. You cannot marry, you say,
without a dot. There is a chance in America for a clever girl.
You are clever, little Marie. The first money I can spare I'll
send you--if you'll take it. It's all I can do."
This was a new Stewart, a man she had never known. Marie recoiled
from him, eyed him nervously, sought in her childish mind for an
explanation. When at last she understood that he was sincere, she
broke down. Stewart, playing a new part and raw in it, found the
situation irritating. But Marie's tears were not entirely bitter.
Back of them her busy young mind was weaving a new warp of life,
with all of America for its loom. Hope that had died lived again.
Before her already lay that great country where women might labor
and live by the fruit of their labor, where her tawdry past would
be buried in the center of distant Europe. New life beckoned to
the little Marie that night in the old salon of Maria Theresa,
beckoned to her as it called to Stewart, opportunity to one, love
and work to the other. To America!
"I will go," she said at last simply. "And I will not trouble you
there."
"Good!" Stewart held out his hand and Marie took it. With a quick
gesture she held it to her cheek, dropped it.
Peter came back half an hour later, downcast but not hopeless. He
had not found Harmony, but life was not all gray. She was well,
still in Vienna, and--she had come back! She had cared then
enough to come back. To-morrow he would commence again, would
comb the city fine, and when he had found her he would bring her
back, the wanderer, to a marvelous welcome.
He found Stewart gone, and Marie feverishly overhauling her few
belongings by the salon lamp. She turned to him a face still
stained with tears but radiant with hope.
"Peter," she said gravely, "I must prepare my outfit. I go to
America."
"With Stewart?"
"Alone, Peter, to work, to be very good, to be something. I am
very happy, although--Peter, may I kiss you?"
"Certainly," said Peter, and took her caress gravely, patting her
thin shoulder. His thoughts were in the garden with Harmony, who
had cared enough to come back.
"Life," said Peter soberly, "life is just one damned thing after
another, isn't it?"
But Marie was anxiously examining the hem of a skirt.
The letter from Anita reached Stewart the following morning. She
said:--
"I have been thinking things over, Walter, and I am going to hurt
you very much--but not, believe me, without hurting myself.
Perhaps my uppermost thought just now is that I am disappointing
you, that I am not so big as you thought I would be. For now, in
this final letter, I can tell you how much I cared. Oh, my dear,
I did care!
"But I will not marry you. And when this reaches you I shall have
gone very quietly out of your life. I find that such philosophy
as I have does not support me to-night, that all my little rules
of life are inadequate. Individual liberty was one--but there is
no liberty of the individual. Life--other lives--press too
closely. You, living your life as seemed best and easiest, and
carrying down with you into shipwreck the little Marie
and--myself!
"For, face to face with the fact, I cannot accept it, Walter. It
is not only a question of my past against yours. It is of steady
revolt and loathing of the whole thing; not the flash of protest
before one succumbs to the inevitable, but a deep-seated hatred
that is a part of me and that would never forget.
"You say that you are the same man I would have married, only
more honest for concealing nothing. But--and forgive me this, it
insists on coming up in my mind--were you honest, really? You
told me, and it took courage, but wasn't it partly fear? What
motive is unmixed? Honesty--and fear, Walter. You were preparing
against a contingency, although you may not admit this to
yourself.
"I am not passing judgment on you. God forbid that I should! I am
only trying to show you what is in my mind, and that this break
is final. The revolt is in myself, against something sordid and
horrible which I will not take into my life. And for that reason
time will make no difference.
"I am not a child, and I am not unreasonable. But I ask a great
deal of this life of mine that stretches ahead, Walter--home and
children, the love of a good man, the fulfillment of my ideals.
And you ask me to start with a handicap. I cannot do it. I know
you are resentful, but--I know that you understand.
"ANITA."
CHAPTER XXV
The little Georgiev was in trouble those days. The Balkan engine
was threatening to explode, but continued to gather steam, with
Bulgaria sitting on the safety-valve. Austria was mobilizing
troops, and there were long conferences in the Burg between the
Emperor and various bearded gentlemen, while the military prayed
in the churches for war.
The little Georgiev hardly ate or slept. Much hammering went on
all day in the small room below Harmony's on the Wollbadgasse. At
night, when the man in the green velours hat took a little sleep,
mysterious packages were carried down the whitewashed staircase
and loaded into wagons waiting below. Once on her window-sill
Harmony found among the pigeons a carrier pigeon with a brass
tube fastened to its leg.
On the morning after Harmony's flight from the garden in the
Street of Seven Stars, she received a visit from Georgiev. She
had put in a sleepless night, full of heart-searching. She
charged herself with cowardice in running away from Peter and
Jimmy when they needed her, and in going back like a thief the
night before. The conviction that the boy was not so well brought
with it additional introspection--her sacrifice seemed useless,
almost childish. She had fled because two men thought it
necessary, in order to save her reputation, to marry her; and she
did not wish to marry. Marriage was fatal to the career she had
promised herself, had been promised. But this career, for which
she had given up everything else--would she find it in the
workroom of a dressmaker?
Ah, but there was more to it than that. Suppose--how her cheeks
burned when she thought of it!--suppose she had taken Peter at
his word and married him? What about Peter's career? Was there
any way by which Peter's poverty for one would be comfort for
two? Was there any reason why Peter, with his splendid ability,
should settle down to the hack-work of general practice, the very
slough out of which he had so painfully climbed?
Either of two things--go back to Peter, but not to marry him, or
stay where she was. How she longed to go back only Harmony knew.
There in the little room, with only the pigeons to see, she held
out her arms longingly. "Peter!" she said. "Peter, dear!"
She decided, of course, to stay where she was, a burden to no
one. The instinct of the young girl to preserve her good name at
any cost outweighed the vision of Peter at the window, haggard
and tired, looking out. It was Harmony's chance, perhaps, to do a
big thing; to prove herself bigger than her fears, stronger than
convention. But she was young, bewildered, afraid. And there was
this element, stronger than any of the others--Peter had never
told her he loved her. To go back, throwing herself again on his
mercy, was unthinkable. On his love--that was different. But what
if he did not love her? He had been good to her; but then Peter
was good to every one.
There was something else. If the boy was worse what about his
mother? Whatever she was or had been, she was his mother. Suppose
he were to die and his mother not see him? Harmony's sense of
fairness rebelled. In the small community at home mother was
sacred, her claims insistent.
It was very early, hardly more than dawn. The pigeons cooed on
the sill; over the ridge of the church roof, across, a luminous
strip foretold the sun. An oxcart, laden with vegetables for the
market, lumbered along the streets. Puzzled and unhappy, Harmony
rose and lighted her fire, drew on her slippers and the faded
silk kimono with the pink butterflies.
In the next room the dressmaker still slept, dreaming early
morning dreams of lazy apprentices, overdue bills, complaining
customers.
Harmony moved lightly not to disturb her. She set her room in
order, fed the pigeons,--it was then she saw the carrier with its
message,--made her morning coffee by setting the tiny pot inside
the stove. And all the time, moving quietly through her morning
routine, she was there in that upper room in body only.
In soul she was again in the courtyard back of the old lodge, in
the Street of Seven Stars, with the rabbits stirring in the
hutch, and Peter, with rapt eyes, gazing out over the city. Bed,
toilet-table, coffee-pot, Peter; pigeons, rolls, Peter; sunrise
over the church roof, and Peter again. Always Peter!
Monia Reiff was stirring in the next room. Harmony could hear
her, muttering and putting coal on the stove and calling to the
Hungarian maid for breakfast. Harmony dressed hastily. It was one
of her new duties to prepare the workroom for the day. The
luminous streak above the church was rose now, time for the day
to begin.
She was not certain at once that some one had knocked at the
door, so faint was the sound.
She hesitated, listened. The knob turned slightly. Harmony,
expecting Monia, called "Come in."
It was the little Georgiev, very apologetic, rather gray of face.
He stood in the doorway with his finger on his lips, one ear
toward the stairway. It was very silent. Monia was drinking her
coffee in bed, whither she had retired for warmth.
"Pardon!" said the Bulgarian in a whisper. "I listened until I
heard you moving about. Ah, Fraulein, that I must disturb you!"
"Something has happened!" exclaimed Harmony, thinking of Peter,
of course.
"Not yet. I fear it is about to happen. Fraulein, do me the honor
to open your window. My pigeon comes now to you to be fed, and I
fear--on the sill, Fraulein."
Harmony opened the window. The wild pigeons scattered at once,
but the carrier, flying out a foot or two, came back promptly and
set about its breakfast.
"Will he let me catch him?"
"Pardon, Fraulein, If I may enter--"
"Come in, of course."
Evidently the defection of the carrier had been serious. A
handful of grain on a wrong window-sill, and kingdoms overthrown!
Georgiev caught the pigeon and drew the message from the tube.
Even Harmony grasped the seriousness of the situation. The little
Bulgarian's face, from gray became livid; tiny beads of cold
sweat came out on his forehead.
"What have I done?" cried Harmony. "Oh, what have I done? If I
had known about the pigeon--"
Georgiev recovered himself.
"The Fraulein can do nothing wrong," he said. "It is a matter of
an hour's delay, that is all. It may not be too late."
Monia Reiff, from the next room, called loudly for more coffee.
The sulky Hungarian brought it without a glance in their
direction.
"Too late for what?"
"Fraulein, if I may trouble you--but glance from the window to
the street below. It is of an urgency, or I--Please, Fraulein!"
Harmony glanced down into the half-light of the street. Georgiev,
behind her, watched her, breathless, expectant. Harmony drew in
her head.
"Only a man in a green hat," she said. "And down the street a
group of soldiers."
"Ah!"
The situation dawned on the girl then, at least partially.
"They are coming for you?"
"It is possible. But there are many soldiers in Vienna."
"And I with the pigeon--Oh, it's too horrible! Herr Georgiev,
stay here in this room. Lock the door. Monia will say that it is
mine--"
"Ah no, Fraulein! It is quite hopeless. Nor is it a matter of the
pigeon. It is war, Fraulein. Do not distress yourself. It is but
a matter of--imprisonment."
"There must be something I can do," desperately. "I hear them
below. Is there no way to the roof, no escape?"
"None, Fraulein. It was an oversight. War is not my game; I am a
man of peace. You have been very kind to me, Fraulein. I thank
you."
"You are not going down!"
"Pardon, but it is better so. Soldiers they are of the provinces
mostly, and not for a lady to confront."
"They are coming up!"
He listened. The clank of scabbards against the stone stairs was
unmistakable. The little Georgiev straightened, threw out his
chest, turned to descend, faltered, came back a step or two.
His small black eyes were fixed on Harmony's face.
"Fraulein," he said huskily, "you are very lovely. I carry always
in my heart your image. Always so long as I live. Adieu."
He drew his heels together, gave a stiff little bow and was gone
down the staircase. Harmony was frightened, stricken. She
collapsed in a heap on the floor of her room, her fingers in her
ears. But she need not have feared. The little Georgiev made no
protest, submitted to the inevitable like a gentleman and a
soldier, went out of her life, indeed, as unobtrusively as he had
entered it.
The carrier pigeon preened itself comfortably on the edge of the
washstand. Harmony ceased her hysterical crying at last and
pondered what was best to do. Monia was still breakfasting so
incredibly brief are great moments. After a little thought
Harmony wrote a tiny message, English, German, and French, and
inclosed it in the brass tube.
"The Herr Georgiev has been arrested," she wrote. An hour later
the carrier rose lazily from the window-sill, flapped its way
over the church roof and disappeared, like Georgiev, out of her
life. Grim-visaged war had touched her and passed on.
The incident was not entirely closed, however. A search of the
building followed the capture of the little spy. Protesting
tenants were turned out, beds were dismantled, closets searched,
walls sounded for hidden hollows. In one room on Harmony's floor
was found stored a quantity of ammunition.
It was when the three men who had conducted the search had
finished, when the boxes of ammunition had been gathered in the
hall, and the chattering sewing-girls had gone back to work, that
Harmony, on her way to her dismantled room, passed through the
upper passage.
She glanced down the staircase where little Georgiev had so
manfully descended.
"I carry always in my heart your image. Always so long as I
live."
The clatter of soldiers on their way down to the street came to
her ears; the soft cooing of the pigeons, the whirr of
sewing-machines from the workroom. The incident was closed,
except for the heap of ammunition boxes on the landing, guarded
by an impassive soldier.
Harmony glanced at him. He was eying her steadily, thumbs in,
heels in, toes out, chest out. Harmony put her hand to her heart.
"You!" she said.
The conversation of a sentry, save on a holiday is, "Yea, yea,"
and "Nay, nay."
"Yes, Fraulein."
Harmony put her hands together, a little gesture of appeal,
infinitely touching.
"You will not say that you have found, have seen me?"
"No, Fraulein."
It was in Harmony's mind to ask all her hungry heart craved to
learn--of Peter, of Jimmy, of the Portier, of anything that
belonged to the old life in the Siebensternstrasse. But there was
no time. The sentry's impassive face became rigid; he looked
through her, not at her. Harmony turned.
The man in the green hat was coming up the staircase. There was
no further chance to question. The sentry was set to carrying the
boxes down the staircase.
Full morning now, with the winter sun shining on the beggars in
the market, on the crowds in the parks, on the flower sellers in
the Stephansplatz; shining on Harmony's golden head as she bent
over a bit of chiffon, on the old milkwoman carrying up the
whitewashed staircase her heavy cans of milk; on the carrier
pigeon winging its way to the south; beating in through bars to
the exalted face of Herr Georgiev; resting on Peter's drooping
shoulders, on the neglected mice and the wooden soldier, on the
closed eyes of a sick child--the worshiped sun, peering
forth--the golden window of the East.
CHAPTER XXVI
Jimmy was dying. Peter, fighting hard, was beaten at last. All
through the night he had felt it; during the hours before the
dawn there had been times when the small pulse wavered,
flickered, almost ceased. With the daylight there had been a
trifle of recovery, enough for a bit of hope, enough to make
harder Peter's acceptance of the inevitable.
The boy was very happy, quite content and comfortable. When he
opened his eyes he smiled at Peter, and Peter, gray of face,
smiled back. Peter died many deaths that night.
At daylight Jimmy fell into a sleep that was really stupor.
Marie, creeping to the door in the faint dawn, found the boy
apparently asleep and Peter on his knees beside the bed. He
raised his head at her footstep and the girl was startled at the
suffering in his face. He motioned her back.
"But you must have a little sleep, Peter."
"No. I'll stay until--Go back to bed. It is very early."
Peter had not been able after all to secure the Nurse Elisabet,
and now it was useless. At eight o'clock he let Marie take his
place, then he bathed and dressed and prepared to face another
day, perhaps another night. For the child's release came slowly.
He tried to eat breakfast, but managed only a cup of coffee.
Many things had come to Peter in the long night, and one was
insistent--the boy's mother was in Vienna and he was dying
without her. Peter might know in his heart that he had done the
best thing for the child, but like Harmony his early training was
rising now to accuse him. He had separated mother and child. Who
was he to have decided the mother's unfitness, to have played
destiny? How lightly he had taken the lives of others in his
hand, and to what end? Harmony, God knows where; the boy dying
without his mother. Whatever that mother might be, her place that
day was with her boy. What a wreck he had made of things! He was
humbled as well as stricken, poor Peter!
In the morning he sent a note to McLean, asking him to try to
trace the mother and inclosing the music-hall clipping and the
letter. The letter, signed only "Mamma," was not helpful. The
clipping might prove valuable.
"And for Heaven's sake be quick," wrote Peter. "This is a matter
of hours. I meant well, but I've done a terrible thing. Bring
her, Mac, no matter what she is or where you find her." The
Portier carried the note. When he came up to get it he brought in
his pocket a small rabbit and a lettuce leaf. Never before had
the combination failed to arouse and amuse the boy. He carried
the rabbit down again sorrowfully. "He saw it not," he reported
sadly to his wife. "Be off to the church while I deliver this
letter. And this rabbit we will not cook, but keep in
remembrance."
At eleven o'clock Marie called Peter, who was asleep on the
horsehair sofa.
"He asks for you."
Peter was instantly awake and on his feet. The boy's eyes were
open and fixed on him.
"Is it another day?" he asked.
"Yes, boy; another morning."
"I am cold, Peter."
They blanketed him, although the room was warm. From where he lay
he could see the mice. He watched them for a moment. Poor Peter,
very humble, found himself wondering in how many ways he had been
remiss. To see this small soul launched into eternity without a
foreword, without a bit of light for the journey! Peter's
religion had been one of life and living, not of creed.
Marie, bringing jugs of hot water, bent over Peter.
"He knows, poor little one!" she whispered.
And so, indeed, it would seem. The boy, revived by a spoonful or
two of broth, asked to have the two tame mice on the bed. Peter,
opening the cage, found one dead, very stiff and stark. The
catastrophe he kept from the boy.
"One is sick, Jimmy boy," he said, and placed the mate, forlorn
and shivering, on the pillow. After a minute:--
"If the sick one dies will it go to heaven?"
"Yes, honey, I think so."
The boy was silent for a time. Thinking was easier than speech.
His mind too worked slowly. It was after a pause, while he lay
there with closed eyes, that Peter saw two tears slip from under
his long lashes. Peter bent over and wiped them away, a great
ache in his heart.
"What is it, dear?"
"I'm afraid--it's going to die!"
"Would that be so terrible, Jimmy boy?" asked Peter gently. "To
go to heaven, where there is no more death or dying, where it is
always summer and the sun always shines?"
No reply for a moment. The little mouse sat up on the pillow and
rubbed its nose with a pinkish paw. The baby mice in the cage
nuzzled their dead mother.
"Is there grass?"
"Yes--soft green grass."
"Do--boys in heaven--go in their bare feet?" Ah, small mind and
heart, so terrified and yet so curious!
"Indeed, yes." And there on his knees beside the white bed Peter
painted such a heaven as no theologue has ever had the humanity
to paint--a heaven of babbling brooks and laughing, playing
children, a heaven of dear departed puppies and resurrected
birds, of friendly deer, of trees in fruit, of speckled fish in
bright rivers. Painted his heaven with smiling eyes and death in
his heart, a child's heaven of games and friendly Indians, of
sunlight and rain, sweet sleep and brisk awakening.
The boy listened. He was silent when Peter had finished. Speech
was increasingly an effort.
"I should--like--to go there," he whispered at last.
He did not speak again during all the long afternoon, but just at
dusk he roused again.
"I would like--to see--the sentry," he said with difficulty.
And so again, and for the last time, Rosa's soldier from Salzburg
with one lung.
Through all that long day, then, Harmony sat over her work,
unaccustomed muscles aching, the whirring machines in her ears.
Monia, upset over the morning's excitement, was irritable and
unreasonable. The gold-tissue costume had come back from Le
Grande with a complaint. Below in the courtyard all day curious
groups stood gaping up the staircase, where the morning had seen
such occurrences.
At the noon hour, while the girls heated soup and carried in
pails of salad from the corner restaurant, Harmony had fallen
into the way of playing for them. To the music-loving Viennese
girls this was the hour of the day. To sit back, soup bowl on
knee, the machines silent, Monia quarreling in the kitchen with
the Hungarian servant, and while the pigeons ate crusts on the
window-sills, to hear this American girl play such music as was
played at the opera, her slim figure swaying, her whole beautiful
face and body glowing with the melody she made, the girls found
the situation piquant, altogether delightful. Although she did
not suspect it, many rumors were rife about Harmony in the
workroom. She was not of the people, they said--the daughter of a
great American, of course, run away to escape a loveless
marriage. This was borne out by the report of one of them who had
glimpsed the silk petticoat. It was rumored also that she wore no
chemise, but instead an infinitely coquettish series of lace and
nainsook garments--of a fineness!
Harmony played for them that day, played, perhaps, as she had not
played since the day she had moved the master to tears, played to
Peter as she had seen him at the window, to Jimmy, to the little
Georgiev as he went down the staircase. And finally with a choke
in her throat to the little mother back home, so hopeful, so
ignorant.
In the evening, as was her custom, she took the one real meal of
the day at the corner restaurant, going early to avoid the crowd
and coming back quickly through the winter night. The staircase
was always a peril, to be encountered and conquered night after
night and even in the daytime not to be lightly regarded. On her
way up this night she heard steps ahead, heavy, measured steps
that climbed steadily without pauses. For an instant Harmony
thought it sounded like Peter's step and she went dizzy.
But it was not Peter. Standing in the upper hall, much as he had
stood that morning over the ammunition boxes, thumbs in, heels
in, toes out, chest out, was the sentry.
Harmony's first thought was of Georgiev and more searching of the
building. Then she saw that the sentry's impassive face wore
lines of trouble. He saluted. "Please, Fraulein."
"Yes?"
"I have not told the Herr Doktor."
"I thank you."
"But the child dies."
"Jimmy?"
"He dies all of last night and to-day. To-night, it is, perhaps,
but of moments."
Harmony clutched at the iron stair-rail for support. "You are
sure? You are not telling me so that I will go back?"
"He dies, Fraulein. The Herr Doktor has not slept for many hours.
My wife, Rosa, sits on the stair to see that none disturb, and
her cousin, the wife of the Portier, weeps over the stove.
Please, Fraulein, come with me."
"When did you leave the Siebensternstrasse?"
"But now."
"And he still lives?"
"Ja, Fraulein, and asks for you."
Now suddenly fell away from the girl all pride, all fear, all
that was personal and small and frightened, before the reality of
death. She rose, as women by divine gift do rise, to the crisis;
ceased trembling, got her hat and coat and her shabby gloves and
joined the sentry again. Another moment's delay--to secure the Le
Grande's address from Monia. Then out into the night, Harmony to
the Siebensternstrasse, the tall soldier to find the dancer at
her hotel, or failing that, at the Ronacher Music-Hall.
Harmony took a taxicab--nothing must be spared now--bribed the
chauffeur to greater speed, arrived at the house and ran across
the garden, still tearless, up the stairs, past Rosa on the upper
flight, and rang the bell.
Marie admitted her with only a little gasp of surprise. There was
nothing to warn Peter. One moment he sat by the bed, watch in
hand, alone, drear, tragic-eyed. The next he had glanced up, saw
Harmony and went white, holding to the back of his chair. Their
eyes met, agony and hope in them, love and death, rapture and
bitterness. In Harmony's, pleading, promise, something of doubt;
in Peter's, only yearning, as of empty arms. Then Harmony dared
to look at the bed and fell on her knees in a storm of grief
beside it. Peter bent over and gently stroked her hair.
Le Grande was singing; the boxes were full. In the body of the
immense theater waiters scurried back and forward among the
tables. Everywhere was the clatter of silver and steel on
porcelain, the clink of glasses. Smoke was everywhere--pipes,
cigars, cigarettes. Women smoked between bites at the tables,
using small paper or silver mouthpieces, even a gold one shone
here and there. Men walked up and down among the diners, spraying
the air with chemicals to clear it. At a table just below the
stage sat the red-bearded Dozent with the lady of the photograph.
They were drinking cheap native wines and were very happy.
From the height of his worldly wisdom he was explaining the
people to her.
"In the box--don't stare, Liebchen, he looks--is the princeling I
have told you of. Roses, of course. Last night it was orchids."
"Last night! Were you here?" He coughed.
"I have been told, Liebchen. Each night he sits there, and when
she finishes her song he rises in the box, kisses the flowers and
tosses them to her."
"Shameless! Is she so beautiful?"
"No. But you shall see. She comes."
Le Grande was very popular. She occupied the best place on the
program; and because she sang in American, which is not exactly
English and more difficult to understand, her songs were
considered exceedingly risque. As a matter of fact they were
merely ragtime melodies, with a lilt to them that caught the
Viennese fancy, accustomed to German sentinental ditties and the
artificial forms of grand opera. And there was another reason for
her success. She carried with her a chorus of a dozen
pickaninnies.
In Austria darkies were as rare as cats, and there were no cats!
So the little chorus had made good.
Each day she walked in the Prater, ermine from head to foot, and
behind her two by two trailed twelve little Southern darkies in
red-velvet coats and caps, grinning sociably. When she drove a
pair sat on the boot.
Her voice was strong, not sweet, spoiled by years of singing
against dishes and bottles in smoky music halls; spoiled by
cigarettes and absinthe and foreign cocktails that resembled
their American prototypes as the night resembles the day.
She wore the gold dress, decolletee, slashed to the knee over
rhinestone-spangled stockings. And back of her trailed the twelve
little darkies.
She sang "Dixie," of course, and the "Old Folks at Home"; then a
ragtime medley, with the chorus showing rows of white teeth and
clogging with all their short legs. Le Grande danced to that, a
whirling, nimble dance. The little rhinestones on her stockings
flashed; her opulent bosom quivered. The Dozent, eyes on the
dancer, squeezed his companion's hand.
"I love thee!" he whispered, rather flushed.
And then she sang "Doan ye cry, mah honey." Her voice, rather
coarse but melodious, lent itself to the negro rhythm, the swing
and lilt of the lullaby. The little darkies, eyes rolling,
preternaturally solemn, linked arms and swayed rhythmically,
right, left, right, left. The glasses ceased clinking; sturdy
citizens forgot their steak and beer for a moment and listened,
knife and fork poised. Under the table the Dozent's hand pressed
its captive affectionately, his eyes no longer on Le Grande, but
on the woman across, his sweetheart, she who would be mother of
his children. The words meant little to the audience; the rich,
rolling Southern lullaby held them rapt:--
"Doan ye Cry, mah honey--
Doan ye weep no mo',
Mammy's gwine to hold her baby,
All de udder black trash sleepin' on the flo',"
The little darkies swayed; the singer swayed, empty arms cradled.
She picked the tiniest darky up and held him, woolly head against
her breast, and crooned to him, rocking on her jeweled heels. The
crowd applauded; the man in the box kissed his flowers and flung
them. Glasses and dishes clinked again.
The Dozent bent across the table.
"Some day--" he said.
The girl blushed.
Le Grande made her way into the wings, surrounded by her little
troupe. A motherly colored woman took them, shooed them off,
rounded them up like a flock of chickens.
And there in the wings, grimly impassive, stood a private soldier
of the old Franz Josef, blocking the door to her dressing room.
For a moment gold dress and dark blue-gray uniform confronted
each other. Then the sentry touched his cap.
"Madam," he said, "the child is in the Riebensternstrasse and
to-night he dies."
"What child?" Her arms were full of flowers.
"The child from the hospital. Please to make haste."
Jimmy died an hour after midnight, quite peacefully, died with
one hand in Harmony's and one between Peter's two big ones.
Toward the last he called Peter "Daddy" and asked for a drink.
His eyes, moving slowly round the room, passed without notice the
grayfaced woman in a gold dress who stood staring down at him,
rested a moment on the cage of mice, came to a stop in the
doorway, where stood the sentry, white and weary, but refusing
rest.
It was Harmony who divined the child's unspoken wish.
"The manual?" she whispered.
The boy nodded. And so just inside the door of the bedroom across
from the old salon of Maria Theresa the sentry, with sad eyes but
no lack of vigor, went again through the Austrian manual of arms,
and because he had no carbine he used Peter's old walking-stick.
When it was finished the boy smiled faintly, tried to salute, lay
still.
CHAPTER XXVII
Peter was going back to America and still he had not told Harmony
he loved her. It was necessary that he go back. His money had
about given out, and there was no way to get more save by earning
it. The drain of Jimmy's illness, the inevitable expense of the
small grave and the tiny stone Peter had insisted on buying, had
made retreat his only course. True, Le Grande had wished to
defray all expenses, but Peter was inexorable. No money earned as
the dancer earned hers should purchase peaceful rest for the
loved little body. And after seeing Peter's eyes the dancer had
not insisted.
A week had seen many changes. Marie was gone. After a conference
between Stewart and Peter that had been decided on. Stewart
raised the money somehow, and Peter saw her off, palpitant and
eager, with the pin he had sent her to Semmering at her throat.
She kissed Peter on the cheek in the station, rather to his
embarrassment. From the lowered window, as the train pulled out,
she waved a moist handkerchief.
"I shall be very good," she promised him. The last words he heard
above the grinding of the train were her cheery: "To America!"
Peter was living alone in the Street of Seven Stars, getting food
where he might happen to be, buying a little now and then from
the delicatessen shop across the street. For Harmony had gone
back to the house in the Wollbadgasse. She had stayed until all
was over and until Marie's small preparations for departure were
over. Then, while Peter was at the station, she slipped away
again. But this time she left her address. She wrote:--
"You will come to visit me, dear Peter, because I was so lonely
before and that is unnecessary now. But you must know that I
cannot stay in the Siebensternstrasse. We have each our own fight
to make, and you have been trying to fight for us all, for Marie,
for dear little Jimmy, for me. You must get back to work now; you
have lost so much time. And I am managing well. The Frau
Professor is back and will take an evening lesson, and soon I
shall have more money from Fraulein Reiff. You can see how things
are looking up for me. In a few months I shall be able to renew
my music lessons. And then, Peter,--the career!
"HARMONY."
Her address was beneath.
Peter had suffered much. He was thinner, grayer, and as he stood
with the letter in his hand he felt that Harmony was right. He
could offer her nothing but his shabby self, his problematic
future. Perhaps, surely, everything would have been settled,
without reason, had he only once taken the girl in his arms, told
her she was the breath of life itself to him. But adversity,
while it had roused his fighting spirit in everything else, had
sapped his confidence.
He had found the letter on his dressing-table, and he found
himself confronting his image over it, a tall, stooping figure, a
tired, lined face, a coat that bore the impress of many days with
a sick child's head against its breast.
So it was over. She had come back and gone again, and this time
he must let her go. Who was he to detain her? She would carry
herself on to success, he felt; she had youth, hope, beauty and
ability. And she had proved the thing he had not dared to
believe, that she could take care of herself in the old city.
Only--to go away and leave her there!
McLean would remain. No doubt he already had Harmony's address in
the Wollbadgasse. Peter was not subtle, no psychologist, but he
had seen during the last few days how the boy watched Harmony's
every word, every gesture. And, perhaps, when loneliness and hard
work began to tell on her, McLean's devotion would win its
reward. McLean's devotion, with all that it meant, the lessons
again, community of taste, their common youth! Peter felt old,
very tired.
Nevertheless he went that night to the Wollbadgasse. He sent his
gray suit to the Portier's wife to be pressed, and getting out
his surgical case, as he had once before in the Pension Schwarz,
he sewed a button on his overcoat, using the curved needle and
the catgut and working with surgeon's precision. Then, still
working very carefully, he trimmed the edges of graying hair over
his ears, trimmed his cuffs, trimmed his best silk tie, now
almost hopeless. He blacked his shoes, and the suit not coming,
he donned his dressing-gown and went into Jimmy's room to feed
the mice. Peter stood a moment beside the smooth white bed with
his face working. The wooden sentry still stood on the bedside
table.
It was in Peter's mind to take the mice to Harmony, confess his
defeat and approaching retreat, and ask her to care for them.
Then he decided against this palpable appeal for sympathy,
elected to go empty-handed and discover merely how comfortable
she was or was not. When the time came he would slip out of her
life, sending her a letter and leaving McLean on guard.
Harmony was at home. Peter climbed the dark staircase--where
Harmony had met the little Georgiev, and where he had gone down
to his death--climbed steadily, but without his usual elasticity.
The place appalled him--its gloom, its dinginess, its somber
quiet. In the daylight, with the pigeons on the sills and the
morning sunlight printing the cross of the church steeple on the
whitewashed wall, it was peaceful, cloisterlike, with landings
that were crypts. But at night it was almost terrifying, that
staircase.
Harmony was playing. Peter heard her when he reached the upper
landing, playing a sad little strain that gripped his heart. He
waited outside before ringing, heard her begin something
determinedly cheerful, falter, cease altogether. Peter rang.
Harmony herself admitted him. Perhaps--oh, certainly she had
expected him! It would be Peter, of course, to come and see how
she was getting on, how she was housed. She held out her hand and
Peter took it. Still no words, only a half smile from her and no
smile at all from Peter, but his heart in his eyes.
"I hoped you would come, Peter. We may have the reception room."
"You knew I would come," said Peter. "The reception room?"
"Where customers wait." She still carried her violin, and slipped
back to her room to put it away. Peter had a glimpse of its
poverty and its meagerness. He drew a long breath.
Monia was at the opera, and the Hungarian sat in the kitchen
knitting a stocking. The reception room was warm from the day's
fire, and in order. All the pins and scraps of the day had been
swept up, and the portieres that made fitting-rooms of the
corners were pushed back. Peter saw only a big room with empty
corners, and that at a glance. His eyes were Harmony's.
He sat down awkwardly on a stiff chair, Harmony on a velvet
settee. They were suddenly two strangers meeting for the first
time. In the squalor of the Pension Schwarz, in the comfortable
intimacies of the Street of Seven Stars, they had been easy,
unconstrained. Now suddenly Peter was tongue-tied. Only one thing
in him clamored for utterance, and that he sternly silenced.
"I--I could not stay there, Peter. You understood?"
"No. Of course, I understood."
"You were not angry?"
"Why should I be angry? You came, like an angel of light, when I
needed you. Only, of course,--"
"Yes?"
"I'll not say that, I think."
"Please say it, Peter!"
Peter writhed; looked everywhere but at her.
"Please, Peter. You said I always came when you needed me,
only--"
"Only--I always need you!" Peter, Peter!
"Not always, I think. Of course, when one is in trouble one needs
a woman; but--"
"Well, of course--but--I'm generally in trouble, Harry dear."
Frightfully ashamed of himself by that time was Peter, ashamed of
his weakness. He sought to give a casual air to the speech by
stooping for a neglected pin on the carpet. By the time he had
stuck it in his lapel he had saved his mental forces from the
rout of Harmony's eyes.
His next speech he made to the center table, and missed a most
delectable look in the aforesaid eyes.
"I didn't come to be silly," he said to the table. "I hate people
who whine, and I've got into a damnable habit of being sorry for
myself! It's to laugh, isn't it, a great, hulking carcass like
me, to be--"
"Peter," said Harmony softly, "aren't you going to look at me?"
"I'm afraid."
"That's cowardice. And I've fixed my hair a new way. Do you like
it?"
"Splendid," said Peter to the center table.
"You didn't look!"
The rout of Harmony's eyes was supplemented by the rout of
Harmony's hair. Peter, goaded, got up and walked about. Harmony
was half exasperated; she would have boxed Peter's ears with a
tender hand had she dared.
His hands thrust savagely in his pockets, Peter turned and faced
her at last.
"First of all," he said, "I am going back to America, Harmony.
I've got all I can get here, all I came for--" He stopped, seeing
her face. "Well, of course, that's not true, I haven't. But I'm
going back, anyhow. You needn't look so stricken: I haven't lost
my chance. I'll come back sometime again and finish, when I've
earned enough to do it."
"You will never come back, Peter. You have spent all your money
on others, and now you are going back just where you were,
and--you are leaving me here alone!"
"You are alone, anyhow," said Peter, "making your own way and
getting along. And McLean will be here."
"Are you turning me over to him?"
No reply. Peter was pacing the floor.
"Peter!"
"Yes, dear?"
"Do you remember the night in Anna's room at the Schwartz when
you proposed to me?"
No reply. Peter found another pin.
"And that night in the old lodge when you proposed to me again?"
Peter turned and looked at her, at her slender, swaying young
figure, her luminous eyes, her parted, childish lips.
"Peter, I want you to--to ask me again."
"No!"
"Why?"
"Now, listen to me, Harmony. You're sorry for me, that's all; I
don't want to be pitied. You stay here and work. You'll do big
things. I had a talk with the master while I was searching for
you, and he says you can do anything. But he looked at me--and a
sight I was with worry and fright--and he warned me off, Harmony.
He says you must not marry."
"Old pig!" said Harmony. "I will marry if I please."
Nevertheless Peter's refusal and the master's speech had told
somewhat. She was colder, less vibrant. Peter came to her, stood
close, looking down at her.
"I've said a lot I didn't mean to," he said. "There's only one
thing I haven't said, I oughtn't to say it, dear. I'm not going
to marry you--I won't have such a thing on my conscience. But it
doesn't hurt a woman to know that a man loves her. I love you,
dear. You're my heaven and my earth--even my God, I'm afraid. But
I will not marry you."
"Not even if I ask you to?"
"Not even then, dear. To share my struggle--"
"I see," slowly. "It is to be a struggle?"
"A hard fight, Harmony. I'm a pauper practically."
"And what am I?"
"Two poverties don't make a wealth, even of happiness," said
Peter steadily. "In the time to come, when you would think of
what you might have been, it would be a thousand deaths to me,
dear."
"People have married, women have married and carried on their
work, too, Peter."
"Not your sort of women or your sort of work. And not my sort of
man, Harry. I'm jealous--jealous of every one about you. It would
have to be the music or me."
"And you make the choice!" said Harmony proudly. "Very well,
Peter, I shall do as you say. But I think it is a very curious
sort of love."
"I wonder," Peter cried, "if you realize what love it is that
loves you enough to give you up."
"You have not asked me if I care, Peter."
Peter looked at her. She was very near to tears, very sad, very
beautiful.
"I'm afraid to ask," said Peter, and picking up his hat he made
for the door. There he turned, looked back, was lost.
"My sweetest heart!" he cried, and took her in his hungry arms.
But even then, with her arms about his neck at last, with her
slender body held to him, her head on his shoulder, his lips to
her soft throat, Peter put her from him as a starving man might
put away food.
He held her off and looked at her.
"I'm a fool and a weakling," he said gravely. "I love you so much
that I would sacrifice you. You are very lovely, my girl, my
girl! As long as I live I shall carry your image in my heart."
Ah, what the little Georgiev had said on his way to the death
that waited down the staircase. Peter, not daring to look at her
again, put away her detaining hand, squared his shoulders, went
to the door.
"Good-bye, Harmony," he said steadily. "Always in my heart!"
Very near the end now: the little Marie on the way to America,
with the recording angel opening a new page in life's ledger for
her and a red-ink line erasing the other; with Jimmy and his
daddy wandering through the heaven of friendly adventure and
green fields, hand in hand; with the carrier resting after its
labors in the pigeon house by the rose-fields of Sofia; with the
sentry casting martial shadows through the barred windows of the
hospital; and the little Georgiev, about to die, dividing his
heart, as a heritage, between his country and a young girl.
Very near the end, with the morning light of the next day shining
into the salon of Maria Theresa and on to Peter's open trunk and
shabby wardrobe spread over chairs. An end of trunks and
departure, as was the beginning.
Early morning at the Gottesacker, or God's acre, whence little
Jimmy had started on his comfortable journey. Early morning on
the frost-covered grass, the frozen roads, the snap and sparkle
of the Donau. Harmony had taken her problem there, in the early
hour before Monia would summon her to labor--took her problem and
found her answer.
The great cemetery was still and deserted. Harmony, none too
warmly clad, walked briskly, a bunch of flowers in oiled paper
against the cold. Already the air carried a hint of spring; there
was a feeling of resurrection and promise. The dead earth felt
alive under-foot.
Harmony knelt by the grave and said the little prayer the child
had repeated at night and morning. And, because he had loved it,
with some vague feeling of giving him comfort, she recited the
little verse:--
"Ah well! For us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes:
And in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away."
When she looked up Le Grande was standing beside her.
There was no scene, hardly any tears. She had brought out a great
bunch of roses that bore only too clearly the stamp of whence
they came. One of the pickaninnies had carried the box and stood
impassively by, gazing at Harmony.
Le Grande placed her flowers on the grave. They almost covered
it, quite eclipsed Harmony's.
"I come here every morning," she said simply.
She had a cab waiting, and offered to drive Harmony back to the
city. Her quiet almost irritated Harmony, until she had looked
once into the woman's eyes. After that she knew. It was on the
drive back, with the little darky on the box beside the driver,
that Harmony got her answer.
Le Grande put a hand over Harmony's.
"I tried to tell you before how good I know you were to him."
"We loved him."
"And I resented it. But Dr. Byrne was right--I was not a fit
person to--to have him."
"It was not that--not only that--"
"Did he ever ask for me? But of course not."
"No, he had no remembrance."
Silence for a moment. The loose windows of the cab clattered.
"I loved him very much when he came," said Le Grande, "although I
did not want him. I had been told I could have a career on the
stage. Ah, my dear, I chose the career--and look at me! What have
I? A grave in the cemetery back there, and on it roses sent me by
a man I loathe! If I could live it over again!"
The answer was very close now:--
"Would you stay at home?"
"Who knows, I being I? And my husband did not love me. It was the
boy always. There is only one thing worth while--the love of a
good man. I have lived, lived hard. And I know."
"But supposing that one has real ability--I mean some achievement
already, and a promise--"
Le Grande turned and looked at Harmony shrewdly.
"I see. You are a musician, I believe?"
"Yes."
"And--it is Dr. Byrne?"
"Yes."
Le Grande bent forward earnestly.
"My child," she said, "if one man in all the world looked at me
as your doctor looks at you, I--I would be a better woman."
"And my music?"
"Play for your children, as you played for my little boy."
Peter was packing: wrapping medical books in old coats, putting
clean collars next to boots, folding pajamas and such-like
negligible garments with great care and putting in his dresscoat
in a roll. His pipes took time, and the wooden sentry he packed
with great care and a bit of healthy emotion. Once or twice he
came across trifles of Harmony's, and he put them carefully
aside--the sweater coat, a folded handkerchief, a bow she had
worn at her throat. The bow brought back the night before and
that reckless kiss on her white throat. Well for Peter to get
away if he is to keep his resolution, when the sight of a ribbon
bow can bring that look of suffering into his eyes.
The Portier below was polishing floors, right foot, left foot,
any foot at all. And as he polished he sang in a throaty tenor.
"Kennst du das Land wo die Citronen bluhen," he sang at the top
of his voice, and coughed, a bit of floor wax having got into the
air. The antlers of the deer from the wild-game shop hung now in
his bedroom. When the wildgame seller came over for coffee there
would be a discussion probably. But were not the antlers of all
deer similar?
The Portier's wife came to the doorway with a cooking fork in her
hand.
"A cab," she announced, "with a devil's imp on the box. Perhaps
it is that American dancer. Run and pretty thyself!"
It was too late for more than an upward twist of a mustache.
Harmony was at the door, but not the sad-eyed Harmony of a week
before or the undecided and troubled girl of before that. A
radiant Harmony, this, who stood in the doorway, who wished them
good-morning, and ran up the old staircase with glowing eyes and
a heart that leaped and throbbed. A woman now, this Harmony, one
who had looked on life and learned; one who had chosen her fate
and was running to meet it; one who feared only death, not life
or anything that life could offer.
The door was not locked. Perhaps Peter was not up--not dressed.
What did that matter? What did anything matter but Peter himself?
Peter, sorting out lectures on McBurney's Point, had come across
a bit of paper that did not belong there, and was sitting by his
open trunk, staring blindly at it:--
"You are very kind to me. Yes, indeed.
"H. W."
Quite the end now, with Harmony running across the room and
dropping down on her knees among a riot of garments--down on her
knees, with one arm round Peter's neck, drawing his tired head
lower until she could kiss him.
"Oh, Peter, Peter, dear!" she cried. "I'll love you all my life
if only you'll love me, and never, never let me go!"
Peter was dazed at first. He put his arms about her rather
unsteadily, because he had given her up and had expected to go
through the rest of life empty of arm and heart. And when one has
one's arms set, as one may say, for loneliness and relinquishment
it is rather difficult--Ah, but Peter got the way of it swiftly.
"Always," he said incoherently; "forever the two of us. Whatever
comes, Harmony?"
"Whatever comes."
"And you'll not be sorry?"
"Not if you love me."
Peter kissed her on the eyes very solemnly.
"God helping me, I'll be good to you always. And I'll always love
you."
He tried to hold her away from him for a moment after that, to
tell her what she was doing, what she was giving up. She would
not be reasoned with.
"I love you," was her answer to every line. And it was no divided
allegiance she promised him. "Career? I shall have a career.
Yours!"
"And your music?"
She colored, held him closer.
"Some day," she whispered, "I shall tell you about that."
Late winter morning in Vienna, with the school-children hurrying
home, the Alserstrasse alive with humanity--soldiers and
chimney-sweeps, housewives and beggars. Before the hospital the
crowd lines up along the curb; the head waiter from the
coffee-house across comes to the doorway and looks out. The
sentry in front of the hospital ceases pacing and stands at
attention.
In the street a small procession comes at the double quick--a
handful of troopers, a black van with tiny, high-barred windows,
more troopers.
Inside the van a Bulgarian spy going out to death--a swarthy
little man with black eyes and short, thick hands, going out like
a gentleman and a soldier to meet the God of patriots and lovers.
The sentry, who was only a soldier from Salzburg with one lung,
was also a gentleman and a patriot. He uncovered his head.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?