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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Journey In The World - Chapter 7
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A Little Journey In The World - Chapter 7 Post by :swatsweb Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2150

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A Little Journey In The World - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

In youth, as at the opera, everything seems possible. Surely it is not necessary to choose between love and riches. One may have both, and the one all the more easily for having attained the other. It must be a fiction of the moralists who construct the dramas that the god of love and the god of money each claims an undivided allegiance. It was in some wholly legendary, perhaps spiritual, world that it was necessary to renounce love to gain the Rhine gold. The boxes at the Metropolitan did not believe this. The spectators of the boxes could believe it still less. For was not beauty there seen shining in jewels that have a market value, and did not love visibly preside over the union, and make it known that his sweetest favors go with a prosperous world? And yet, is the charm of life somewhat depending upon a sense of its fleetingness, of its phantasmagorial character, a note of coming disaster, maybe, in the midst of its most seductive pageantry, in the whirl and glitter and hurry of it? Is there some subtle sense of exquisite satisfaction in snatching the sweet moments of life out of the very delirium of it, that must soon end in an awakening to bankruptcy of the affections, and the dreadful loss of illusions? Else why do we take pleasure--a pleasure so deep that it touches the heart like melancholy--in the common drama of the opera? How gay and joyous is the beginning! Mirth, hilarity, entrancing sound, brilliant color, the note of a trumpet calling to heroism, the beseeching of the concordant strings, and the soft flute inviting to pleasure; scenes placid, pastoral, innocent; light-hearted love, the dance on the green, the stately pageant in the sunlit streets, the court, the ball, the mad splendor of life. And then love becomes passion, and passion thwarted hurries on to sin, and sin lifts to the heights of the immortal, sweetly smiling gods, and plunges to the depths of despair. In vain the orchestra, the inevitable accompaniment of life, warns and pleads and admonishes; calm has gone, and gayety has gone; there is no sweetness now but in the wildness of surrender and of sacrifice. How sad are the remembered strains that aforetime were incentives to love and promises of happiness! Gloom settles upon the scene; Mephisto, the only radiant one, flits across it, and mocks the poor broken-hearted girl clinging to the church door. There is a dungeon, the chanting of the procession of tonsured priests, the passing-bell. Seldom appears the golden bridge over which the baffled and tired pass into Valhalla.

Do we like this because it is life, or because there is a certain satisfaction in seeing the tragedy which impends over all, pervades the atmosphere, as it were, and adds something of zest to the mildest enjoyment? Should we go away from the mimic stage any, better and stronger if the drama began in the dungeon and ended on the greensward, with innocent love and resplendent beauty in possession of the Rhine gold?

How simple, after all, was the created world on the stage to the real world in the auditorium, with its thousand complexities and dramatic situations, and if the little knot of players of parts for an hour could have had leisure to be spectators of the audience, what a deeper revelation of life would they not have seen! For the world has never assembled such an epitome of itself, in its passion for pleasure and its passion for display, as in the modern opera, with its ranks and tiers of votaries from the pit to the dome. I fancy that even Margaret, whose love for music was genuine, was almost as much fascinated by the greater spectacle as by the less.

It was a crowded night, for the opera was one that appealed to the senses and stimulated them to activity, and left the mind free to pursue its own schemes; in a word, orchestra and the scenes formed a sort of accompaniment and interpreter to the private dramas in the boxes. The opera was made for society, and not society for the opera. We occupied a box in the second tier--the Morgans, Margaret, and my wife. Morgan said that the glasses were raised to us from the parquet and leveled at us from the loges because we were a country party, but he well enough knew whose fresh beauty and enthusiastic young face it was that drew the fire when the curtain fell on the first act, and there was for a moment a little lull in the hum of conversation.

"I had heard," Morgan was saying, "that the opera was not acclimated in New York; but it is nearly so. The audience do not jabber so loud nor so incessantly as at San Carlo, and they do not hum the airs with the singers--"

"Perhaps," said my wife, "that is because they do not know the airs."

"But they are getting on in cultivation, and learning how to assert the social side of the opera, which is not to be seriously interfered with by the music on the stage."

"But the music, the scenery, were never before so good," I replied to these cynical observations.

"That is true. And the social side has risen with it. Do you know what an impudent thing the managers did the other night in protesting against the raising of the lights by which the house was made brilliant and the cheap illusions of the stage were destroyed? They wanted to make the house positively gloomy for the sake of a little artificial moonlight on the painted towers and the canvas lakes."

As the world goes, the scene was brilliant, of course with republican simplicity. The imagination was helped by no titled names any more than the eye was by the insignia of rank, but there was a certain glow of feeling, as the glass swept the circle, to know that there were ten millions in this box, and twenty in the next, and fifty in the next, attested well enough by the flash of jewels and the splendor of attire, and one might indulge a genuine pride in the prosperity of the republic. As for beauty, the world, surely, in this later time, had flowered here--flowered with something of Aspasia's grace and something of the haughty coldness of Agrippina. And yet it was American. Here and there in the boxes was a thoroughbred portrait by Copley--the long shapely neck, the sloping shoulders, the drooping eyelids, even to the gown in which the great-grandmother danced with the French officers.

"Who is that lovely creature?" asked Margaret, indicating a box opposite.

I did not know. There were two ladies, and behind them I had no difficulty in making out Henderson and--Margaret evidently had not seen him Mr. Lyon. Almost at the same moment Henderson recognized me, and signaled for me to come to his box. As I rose to do so, Mrs. Morgan exclaimed: "Why, there is Mr. Lyon! Do tell him we are here." I saw Margaret's color rise, but she did not speak.

I was presented to Mrs. Eschelle and her daughter; in the latter I recognized the beauty who had flashed by us in the Park. The elder lady inclined to stoutness, and her too youthful apparel could not mislead one as to the length of her pilgrimage in this world, nor soften the hard lines of her worldly face-lines acquired, one could see, by a social struggle, and not drawn there by an innate patrician insolence.

"We are glad to see a friend of Mr. Henderson's," she said, "and of Mr. Lyon's also. Mr. Lyon has told us much of your charming country home. Who is that pretty girl in your box, Mr. Fairchild?"

Miss Eschelle had her glass pointed at Margaret as I gave the desired information.

"How innocent!" she murmured. "And she's quite in the style--isn't she, Mr. Lyon?" she asked, turning about, her sweet mobile face quite the picture of what she was describing. "We are all innocent in these days."

"It is a very good style," I said.

"Isn't it becoming?" asked the girl, making her dark eyes at once merry and demure.

Mr. Lyon was looking intently at the opposite box, and a slight shade came over his fine face. "Ah, I see!"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Eschelle," he said, after a second, "I hardly know which to admire most, the beauty, or the wit, or the innocence of the American women."

"There is nothing so confusing, though, as the country innocence," the girl said, with the most natural air; "it never knows where to stop."

"You are too absurd, Carmen," her mother interposed; "as if the town girl did!"

"Well, mamma, there is authority for saying that there is a time for everything, only one must be in the fashion, you know."

Mr. Lyon looked a little dubious at this turn of the talk; Mr. Henderson was as evidently amused at the girl's acting. I said I was glad to see that goodness was in fashion.

"Oh, it often is. You know we were promised a knowledge of good as well as evil. It depends upon the point of view. I fancy, now, that Mr. Henderson tolerates the good--that is the reason we get on so well together; and Mr. Lyon tolerates the evil--that's the reason he likes New York. I have almost promised him that I will have a mission school."

The girl looked quite capable of it, or of any other form of devotion. Notwithstanding her persistent banter, she had a most inviting innocence of manner, almost an ingenuousness, that well became her exquisite beauty. And but for a tentative daring in her talk, as if the gentle creature were experimenting as to how far one could safely go, her innocence might have seemed that of ignorance.

It came out in the talk that Mr. Lyon had been in Washington for a week, and would return there later on.

"We had a claim on him," said Mrs. Eschelle, "for his kindness to us in London, and we are trying to convince him that New York is the real capital."

"Unfortunately," added Miss Eschelle, looking up in Mr. Lyon's face, "he visited Brandon first, and you seem to have bewitched him with your simple country ways. I can get him to talk of nothing else."

"You mean to say," Mr. Lyon replied, with the air of retorting, "that you have asked me about nothing else."

"Oh, you know we felt a little responsible for you; and there is no place so dangerous as the country. Now here you are protected--we put all the wickedness on the stage, and learn to recognize and shun it."

"It may be wicked," said her mother, "but it is dull. Don't you find it so, Mr. Henderson? I am passionately fond of Wagner, but it is too noisy for anything tonight."

"I notice, dear," the dutiful daughter replied for all of us, "that you have to raise your voice. But there is the ballet. Let us all listen now."

Mr. Lyon excused himself from going with me, saying that he would call at our hotel, and I took Henderson. "I shall count the minutes you are going to lose," the girl said as we went out-to our box. The lobbies in the interact were thronged with men--for the most part the young speculators of the Chamber turned into loungers in the foyer--knowing, alert, attitudinizing in the extreme of the mode, unable even in this hour to give beauty the preference to business, well knowing, perhaps, that beauty itself in these days has a fine eye for business.

I liked Henderson better in our box than in his own. Was it because the atmosphere was more natural and genuine? Or was it Margaret's transparent nature, her sincere enjoyment of the scene, her evident pleasure in the music, the color, the gayety of the house, that made him drop the slight cynical air of the world which had fitted him so admirably a moment before? He already knew my wife and the Morgans, and, after the greetings were made, he took a seat by Margaret, quite content while the act was going on to watch its progress in the play of her responsive features. How quickly she felt, how the frown followed the smile, how, she seemed to weigh and try to apprehend the meaning of what went on--how her every sense enjoyed life!

"It is absurd," she said, turning her bright face to him when the curtain dropped, "to be so interested in fictitious trouble."

"I'm not so sure that it is," he replied, in her own tone; "the opera is a sort of pulpit, and not seldom preaches an awful sermon--more plainly than the preacher dares to make it."

"But not in nomine Dei."

"No. But who can say what is most effective? I often wonder, as I watch the congregations coming from the churches on the Avenue, if they are any more solemnized than the audiences that pour out of this house. I confess that I cannot shake off 'Lohengrin' in a good while after I hear it."

"And so you think the theatres have a moral influence?"

"Honestly"--and I heard his good-natured laugh--"I couldn't swear to that. But then we don't know what New York might be without them."

"I don't know," said Margaret, reflectively, "that my own good impulses, such as I have, are excited by anything I see on the stage; perhaps I am more tolerant, and maybe toleration is not good. I wonder if I should grow worldly, seeing more of it?"

"Perhaps it is not the stage so much as the house," Henderson replied, beginning to read the girl's mind.

"Yes, it would be different if one came alone and saw the play, unconscious of the house, as if it were a picture. I think it is the house that disturbs one, makes one restless and discontented."

"I never analyzed my emotions," said Henderson, "but when I was a boy and came to the theatre I well remember that it made me ambitious; every sort of thing seemed possible of attainment in the excitement of the crowded house, the music, the lights, the easy successes on the stage; nothing else is more stimulating to a lad; nothing else makes the world more attractive."

"And does it continue to have the same effect, Mr. Henderson?"

"Hardly," and he smiled; "the illusion goes, and the stage is about as real as the house--usually less interesting. It can hardly compete with the comedy in the boxes."

"Perhaps it is lack of experience, but I like the play for itself."

"Oh yes; desire for the dramatic is natural. People will have it somehow. In the country village where there are no theatres the people make dramas out of each other's lives; the most trivial incidents are magnified and talked about--dramatized, in short."

"You mean gossiped about?"

"Well, you may call it gossip--nothing can be concealed; everybody knows about everybody else; there is no privacy; everything is used to create that illusory spectacle which the stage tries to give. I think that in the country village a good theatre would be a wholesome influence, satisfy a natural appetite indicated by the inquisition into the affairs of neighbors, and by the petty scandal."

"We are on the way to it," said Mr. Morgan, who sat behind them; "we have theatricals in the church parlors, which may grow into a nineteenth century substitute for the miracle-plays. You mustn't, Margaret, let Mr. Henderson prejudice you against the country."

"No," said the latter, quickly; "I was only trying to defend the city. We country people always do that. We must base our theatrical life on something in nature."

"What is the difference, Mr. Henderson," asked Margaret, "between the gossip in the boxes and the country gossip you spoke of?"

"In toleration mainly, and lack of exact knowledge. It is here rather cynical persiflage, not concentrated public opinion."

"I don't follow you," said Morgan. "It seems to me that in the city you've got gossip plus the stage."

"That is to say, we have the world."

"I don't like to believe that," said Margaret, seriously--"your definition of the world."

"You make me see that it was a poor jest," he said, rising to go. "By-the-way, we have a friend of yours in our box tonight--a young Englishman."

"Oh, Mr. Lyon. We were all delighted with him. Such a transparent, genuine nature!"

"Tell him," said my wife, "that we should be happy to see him at our hotel."

When Henderson came back to his box Carmen did not look up, but she said, indifferently: "What, so soon? But your absence has made one person thoroughly miserable. Mr. Lyon has not taken his eyes off you. I never saw such an international attachment."

"What more could I do for Miss Eschelle than to leave her in such company?"

"I beg your pardon," said Lyon. "Miss Eschelle must believe that I thoroughly appreciate Mr. Henderson's self-sacrifice. If I occasionally looked over where he was, I assure you it was in pity."

"You are both altogether too self-sacrificing," the beauty replied, turning to Henderson a look that was sweetly forgiving. "They who sin much shall be forgiven much, you know."

"That leaves me," Mr. Lyon answered, with a laugh, "as you say over here, out in the cold, for I have passed a too happy evening to feel like a transgressor."

"The sins of omission are the worst sort," she retorted.

"You see what you must do to be forgiven," Henderson said to Lyon, with that good-natured smile that was so potent to smooth away sharpness.

"I fear I can never do enough to qualify myself." And he also laughed.

"You never will," Carmen answered, but she accompanied the doubt with a witching smile that denied it.

"What is all this about forgiveness?" asked Mrs. Eschelle, turning to them from regarding the stage.

"Oh, we were having an experience meeting behind your back, mamma, only Mr. Henderson won't tell his experience."

"Miss Eschelle is in such a forgiving humor tonight that she absolves before any one has a chance to confess," he replied.

"Don't you think I am always so, Mr. Lyon?"

Mr. Lyon bowed. "I think that an opera-box with Miss Eschelle is the easiest confessional in the world."

"That's something like a compliment. You see" (to Henderson) "how much you Americans have to learn."

"Will you be my teacher?"

"Or your pupil," the girl said, in a low voice, standing near him as she rose.

The play was over. In the robing and descending through the corridors there were the usual chatter, meaning looks, confidential asides. It is always at the last moment, in the hurry, as in a postscript, that woman says what she means, or what for the moment she wishes to be thought to mean. In the crowd on the main stairway the two parties saw each other at a distance, but without speaking.

"Is it true that Lyon is 'epris' there?" Carmen whispered to Henderson when she had scanned and thoroughly inventoried Margaret.

"You know as much as I do."

"Well, you did stay a long time," she said, in a lower tone.

As Margaret's party waited for their carriage she saw Mrs. Eschelle and her daughter enter a shining coach, with footman and coachman in livery. Henderson stood raising his hat. A little white hand was shaken to him from the window, and a sweet, innocent face leaned forward--a face with dark, eyes and golden hair, lit up with a radiant smile. That face for the moment was New York to Margaret, and New York seemed a vain show.

Carmen threw herself back in her seat as if weary. Mrs. Eschelle sat bolt-upright.

"What in the world, child, made you go on so tonight?"

"I don't know."

"What made you snub Mr. Lyon so often?"

"Did I? He won't mind much. Didn't you see, mother, that he was distrait the moment he espied that girl? I'm not going to waste my time. I know the signs. No fisheries imbroglio for me, thank you."

"Fish? Who said anything about fish?"

"Oh, the international business. Ask Mr. Henderson to explain it. The English want to fish in our waters, I believe. I think Mr. Lyon has had a nibble from a fresh-water fish. Perhaps it's the other way, and he's hooked. There be fishers of men, you know, mother."

"You are a strange child, Carmen. I hope you will be civil to both of them." And they rode on in silence.

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