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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 41. Financial News
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 41. Financial News Post by :autonet Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2244

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 41. Financial News

CHAPTER XLI. FINANCIAL NEWS

The Salle Xavier, or Xavier Hall, had been built, with other people's money, by Xavier in order to force the general public to do something which the general public does not want to do and never would do of its own accord. Namely, to listen to high-class music. It had not been built, and it was not run, strange to say, to advertise a certain brand of piano. Xavier was an old Jew, of surpassing ugliness, from Cracow or some such place. He looked a rascal, and he was one--admittedly; he himself would imply it, if not crudely admit it. He had no personal interest in music, either high-class or low-class. But he possessed a gift for languages and he had mixed a great deal with musicians in an informal manner. Wagner, at Venice, had once threatened Xavier with a stick, and also Xavier had twice run away with great exponents of the role of Isolde. His competence as a connoisseur of Wagner's music, and of the proper methods of rendering Wagner's music, could therefore not be questioned, and it was not questioned.

He had a habit of initiating grandiose schemes for opera or concerts and of obtaining money therefor from wealthy amateurs. After a few months he would return the money less ten per cent. for preliminary expenses and plus his regrets that the schemes had unhappily fallen through owing to unforeseen difficulties. And wealthy amateurs were so astonished to get ninety per cent. of their money back from a rascal that they thought him almost an honest man, asked him to dinner, and listened sympathetically to details of his next grandiose scheme. The Xavier Hall was one of the few schemes--and the only real estate scheme--that had ever gone through. With the hall for a centre, Xavier laid daily his plans and conspiracies for persuading the public against its will. To this end he employed in large numbers clerks, printers, bill posters, ticket agents, doorkeepers, programme writers, programme sellers, charwomen, and even artists. He always had some new dodge or hope. The hall was let several times a week for concerts or other entertainments, and many of them were private speculations of Xavier. They were nearly all failures. And the hall, thoroughly accustomed to seeing itself half empty, did not pay interest on its capital. How could it? Upon occasions there had actually been more persons in the orchestra than in the audience. Seated in the foyer, with one eye upon a shabby programme girl and another upon the street outside, Xavier would sometimes refer to these facts in conversation with a titled patron, and would describe the public realistically and without pretence of illusion. Nevertheless, Xavier had grown to be a rich man, for percentages were his hourly food; he received them even from programme sellers. At nine o'clock the hall was rather less than half full, and this was rightly regarded as very promising, for the management, like the management of every place of distraction in Paris, held it a point of honour to start from twenty to thirty minutes late--as though all Parisians had many ages ago decided that in Paris one could not be punctual, and that, long since tired of waiting for each other, they had entered into a competition to make each other wait, the individual who arrived last being universally regarded as the winner. The members of the orchestra were filing negligently in from the back of the vast terraced platform, yawning, and ravaged by the fearful ennui of eternal high-class music. They entered in dozens and scores, and they kept on entering, and as they gazed inimically at each other, fingering their instruments, their pale faces seemed to be asking: "Why should it be necessary to collect so many of us in order to prove that just one single human being can play the violin? We can all play the violin, or something else just as good. And we have all been geniuses in our time."

In strong contrast to their fatigued and disastrous indifference was the demeanour of a considerable group of demonstrators in the gallery. This body had crossed the Seine from the sacred Quarter, and, not owning a wardrobe sufficiently impressive to entitle it to ask for free seats, it had paid for its seats. Hence naturally its seats were the worst in the hall. But the group did not care. It was capable of exciting itself about high-class music. Moreover it had, for that night, an article of religious faith, to wit, that Musa was the greatest violinist that had ever lived or ever could live, and it was determined to prove this article of faith by sheer force of hands and feet. Therefore it was very happy, and just a little noisy.

In the main part of the hall the audience could be divided into two species, one less numerous than the other. First, the devotees of music, who went to nearly every concert, extremely knowing, extremely blase, extremely disdainful and fastidious, with precise views about every musical composition, every conductor, and every performer; weary of melodious nights at which the same melodies were ever heard, but addicted to them, as some people are addicted to vices equally deleterious. These devotees would have had trouble with their conscience or their instincts had they not, by coming to the concert, put themselves in a position to affirm exactly and positively what manner of a performer Musa was. They had no hope of being pleased by him. Indeed they knew beforehand that he was yet another false star, but they had to ascertain the truth for themselves, because--you see--there was a slight chance that he might be a genuine star, in which case their careers would have been ruined had they not been able to say to succeeding generations: "I was at his first concert. It was a memorable," etc. etc. They were an emaciated tribe, and in fact had the air of mummies temporarily revived and escaped out of museums. They were shabby, but not with the gallery shabbiness; they were shabby because shabbiness was part of their unworldly refinement; and it did not matter--they would have got their free seats even if they had come in sacks and cerements.

The second main division of the audience--and the larger--consisted of the jolly pleasure seekers, who had dined well, who respected Beethoven no more than Oscar Straus, and who demanded only one boon--not to be bored. They had full dimpled cheeks, and they were adequately attired, and they dropped cigarettes with reluctance in the foyer, and they entered adventurously with marked courage, well aware that they had come to something queer and dangerous, something that was neither a revue nor a musical comedy, and, while hoping optimistically for the best, determined to march boldly out again in the event of the worst. They had seven mortal evenings a week to dispose of somehow, and occasionally they were obliged to take risks. Their expressions for the most part had that condescension which is characteristic of those who take a risk without being paid for it.

All around the hall ran a horseshoe of private boxes, between the balcony and the gallery. These boxes gradually filled. At a quarter-past nine over half of them were occupied; which fact, combined with the stylishness of the hats in them, proved that Xavier had immense skill in certain directions, and that on that night, for some reason or other, he had been doing his very best.

At twenty minutes past nine the audience had coalesced and become an entity, and the group from the Quarter was stamping an imitation of the first bars of the C minor Symphony, to indicate that further delay might involve complications.

Audrey sat with Miss Ingate modestly and inconspicuously in the fifth row of the stalls. Miss Ingate, prodigious in crimson, was in a state of beatitude, because she never went to concerts and imagined that she had inadvertently slipped into heaven. The mere size of the orchestra so overwhelmed her that she was convinced that it was an orchestra specially enlarged to meet the unique importance of Musa's genius. "They _must think highly of him!" she said. She employed the time in looking about her. She had already found, besides many other Anglo-Saxon acquaintances, Rosamund, in black, Tommy with Nick, and Mr. Cowl, who was one seat to Audrey's left in the sixth row of the stalls. Also Mr. Gilman and Madame Piriac and Monsieur Piriac in a double box. Audrey and herself ought to have been in that box, and had the afternoon developed otherwise they probably would have been in that box. Fortunately at the luncheon, Audrey, who had bought various lots of seats, had with the strange cautiousness of a young girl left herself free to utilise or not to utilise the offered hospitality of Mr. Gilman's double box, and Mr. Gilman had not pressed her for a decision. Was it not important that the hall should seem as full as possible? When Miss Ingate, pushing her investigations farther, had discovered not merely Monsieur Dauphin, but Mr. Ziegler, late of Frinton and now resident in Paris, her cup was full.

"It's vehy wonderful, _vehy wonderful!" said she.

But it was Audrey who most deeply had the sense of the wonderfulness of the thing. For it was Audrey who had created it. Having months ago comprehended that a formal and splendid debut was necessary for Musa if he was to succeed within a reasonable space of time, she had willed the debut within her own brain. She alone had thought of it. And now the realisation seemed to her to be absolutely a miracle. Had she read of such an affair a year earlier in a newspaper--with the words "Paris," "_tout Paris_," "young genius," and so on--she would have pictured it as gloriously, thrillingly romantic, and it indeed was gloriously and thrillingly romantic. She thought: "None of these people sitting around me know that I have brought it about, and that it is all mine." The thought was sweet. She felt like an invisible African genie out of the Thousand and One Nights.

And yet what had she done to bring it about? Nothing, simply nothing, except to command it! She had not even signed cheques. Mr. Foulger had signed the cheques! Mr. Foulger, who set down the whole enterprise as incomprehensible lunacy! Mr. Foulger, who had never been to aught but a smoking-concert in his life, and who could not pronounce the name of Beethoven without hesitations! The great deed had cost money, and it would cost more money; it would probably cost four hundred pounds ere it was finished with. An extravagant sum, but Xavier had motor-cars and toys even more expensive than motor-cars to keep up! Audrey, however, considered it a small sum, compared to the terrific spectacular effect obtained. And she was right. The attributes of money seemed entirely magical to her. And she was right again. She respected money with a new respect. And she respected herself for using money with such large grandeur.

And withal she was most horribly nervous, just as nervous as though it was she who was doomed to face the indifferent and exacting audience with nothing but a violin bow for weapon. She was so nervous that she could not listen, could not even follow Miss Ingate's simple remarks; she heard them as from a long distance, and grasped them after a long interval. Still, she was uplifted, doughty, and proud. The humiliation of the afternoon had vanished like a mist. Nay, she felt glad that Musa had behaved to her just as he did behave. His mien pleased her; his wounding words, each of which she clearly remembered, were a source of delight. She had never admired him so much. She had now no resentment against him. He had proved that her hopes of him were, after all, well justified. He would succeed. Only some silly and improbable accident could stop him from succeeding. She was not nervous about his success. She was nervous for him. She became him. She tuned his fiddle, gathered herself together and walked on to the platform, bowed to the dim multitudinous heads in front of him, looked at the conductor, waited for the opening bars, drew his bow across his strings at precisely the correct second, and heard the resulting sound under her ear. And all that before the conductor had appeared! Such were the manifestations of her purely personal desire for the achievement of a neat, clean job.

"See!" said Miss Ingate. "Mr. Gilman is bowing to us. He does look splendid, and isn't Madame Piriac lovely? I must say I don't care so much for these French husbands."

Audrey had to turn and join Miss Ingate in acknowledging the elaborate bow. At any rate, then, Mr. Gilman had not been utterly estranged by her capricious abandonment of him. And why should he be? He was a man of sense; he would understand perfectly when she explained to-morrow. Further, he was her slave. She was sure of him. She would apologise to him. She would richly recompense him by smiles and honey and charming persuasive simplicity. And he would see that with all her innocent and modest ingenuousness she was capable of acting seriously and effectively in a sudden crisis. She would rise higher in his esteem. As for the foreseen proposal, well----

A sporadic clapping wakened her out of those reflections. The conductor was approaching his desk. The orchestra applauded him. He tapped the desk and raised his stick. And there was a loud noise, the thumping of her heart. The concert had begun. Musa was still invisible--what was he doing at that instant, somewhere behind?--but the concert had begun. Stars do not take part in the first item of an orchestral concert. There is a convention that they shall be preluded; and Musa was preluded by the overture to _Die Meistersinger_. In the soft second section of the overture, a most noticeable babble came from a stage-box. "Oh! It's the Foas," muttered Miss Ingate. "What a lot of people are fussing around them!" "Hsh!" frowned Audrey, outraged by the interruption. Madame Foa took about fifty bars in which to settle herself, and Monsieur Foa chattered to people behind him as freely as if he had been in a cafe Nobody seemed to mind.

The overture was applauded, but Madame Foa, instead of applauding, leaned gracefully back, smiling, and waved somebody to the seat beside her.

Violent demonstrations from the gallery!... He was there, tripping down the stepped pathway between the drums. The demonstrations grew general. The orchestra applauded after its own fashion. He reached the conductor, smiled at the conductor and bowed very admirably. He seemed to be absolutely at his ease. Then there was a delay. The conductor's scores had got themselves mixed up. It was dreadful. It was enough to make a woman shriek.

"I say!" said a voice in Audrey's ear. She turned as if shot. Mr. Cowl's round face was close to hers. "I suppose you saw the _New York Herald this morning."

"No," answered Audrey impatiently.

The orchestra started the Beethoven violin Concerto. But Mr. Cowl kept his course.

"Didn't you?" he said. "About the Zacatecas Oil Corporation? It's under a receivership. It's gone smash. I've had an idea for some time it would. All due to these Mexican revolutions. I thought you might like to know."

Musa's bow hung firmly over the strings.

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