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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 45. Strange Result Of A Quarrel
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 45. Strange Result Of A Quarrel Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2734

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 45. Strange Result Of A Quarrel

CHAPTER XLV. STRANGE RESULT OF A QUARREL

The next afternoon Audrey sat nervous and expectant, but highly finished, in her drawing-room at the Hotel du Danube. Miss Ingate had gone out, pretending to be quite unaware that she had been sent out. The more detailed part of Audrey's toilette had been accomplished subsequent to Miss Ingate's departure, for Audrey had been at pains to inform Miss Ingate that she, Audrey, was even less interested than usual in her appearance that afternoon. They were close and mutually reliable friends; but every friendship has its reservations. Elise also was out; indeed, Miss Ingate had taken her.

Audrey had the weight of all the world on her, and so long as she was alone she permitted herself to look as though she had. She had to be wise, not only for Audrey Moze, but for others. She had to be wise for Musa, whose failure, though the newspapers all spoke (at about twenty francs a line) of his overwhelming success, was admittedly lamentable; and she hated Musa; she confessed that she had been terribly mistaken in Musa, both as an artist and as a man; still, he was on her mind. She had to be wise about her share in the new campaign of Rosamund, which, while not on her mind, was on her conscience. She had to be wise about the presumable loss of her fortune; she had telegraphed to Mr. Foulger early that morning for information, and an answer was now due. Finally she had to be wise for Mr. Gilman, whose happiness depended on a tone of her voice, on a single monosyllable breathed through those rich lips. She looked forward with interest to being wise for Mr. Gilman. She felt capable of that. The other necessary wisdoms troubled her brow. She seemed to be more full of responsibility and sagacity than any human being could have been expected to be. She was, however, very calm. Her calmness was prodigious.

Then the bell rang, and she could hear one of the hotel attendants open the outer door with his key. Instantly her calmness, of which she had been so proud, was dashed to pieces and she had scarcely begun in a hurry to pick the pieces up and put them together again when the attendant entered the drawing-room. She was afraid, but she thought she was happy.

Only it was not Mr. Gilman the attendant announced. The man said:

"Mademoiselle Nickall."

Audrey said to herself that she must get Nick very quickly away. She was in no humour to talk even to Nick, and, moreover, she did not want Nick to know that Mr. Gilman was calling upon her.

Miss Nickall was innocent and sweet. Good nature radiated from her soft, tired features, and was somehow also entangled in her fluffy grey hair. She kissed Audrey with affection.

"I've just come to say good-bye, you dear!" she said, sitting down and putting her check parasol across her knees. "How lovely you look!"

"Good-bye?" Audrey questioned. "Do I?"

"I have to cross for England to-night. I've had my orders. Rosamund came this morning. What about yours?"

"Oh!" said Audrey. "I don't take orders. But I expect I shall join in, one of these days, when I've had everything explained to me properly. You see, you and I haven't got the same tastes, Nick. You aren't happy without a martyrdom. I am."

Nick smiled gravely and uncertainly.

"It's very serious this time," said she. "Hasn't Rosamund spoken to you yet?"

"She's spoken to me. And I've spoken to her. It was deuce, I should say. Or perhaps my 'vantage. Anyhow, I'm not moving just yet."

"Well, then," said Nick, "if you're staying in Paris, I hope you'll keep an eye on Musa. He needs it. Tommy's going away. At least I fancy she is. We both went to see him this morning."

"Both of you!"

"Well, you see, we've always looked after him. He was in a terrible state about last night. That's really one reason why I called. Not that I'd have gone without kissing you----"

She stopped. There was another ring at the bell. The attendant came in with great rapidity.

"I'm lost!" thought Audrey, disgusted and perturbed. "Her being here will spoil everything."

But the attendant handed her a card, and the card bore the name of Musa. Audrey flushed. Almost instinctively, without thinking, she passed the card to Nick.

"My land!" exclaimed Nick. "If he sees me here he'll think I've come on purpose to talk about him and pity him, and he'll be just perfectly furious. Can I get out any other way?" She glanced interrogatively at the half-open door of the bedroom.

"But I don't want to see him, either!" Audrey protested.

"Oh! You must! He'll listen to sense from you, perhaps. Can I go this way?"

Impelled to act in spite of herself, Audrey took Nick into the bedroom, and as soon as Musa had been introduced into the drawing-room she embraced Nick in silence and escorted her on tiptoe through Miss Ingate's bedroom to the vestibule and waved an adieu. Then she retraced her steps and made a grand entry into the drawing-room from her own bedroom. She meant to dispose of Musa immediately. A meeting between him and Mr. Gilman on her hearthrug might involve the most horrible complications.

The young man and the young woman shook hands. But it was the handshaking of bruisers when they enter the ring, and before the blood starts to flow.

"Won't you please sit down?" said Audrey. He was obliged now to obey her, as she had been obliged to obey him on the previous afternoon in the Rue Cassette.

If Audrey looked as though the whole world was on her shoulders, Musa's face seemed to contradict hers and to say that the world, far from being on anybody's shoulders, had come to an end. All the expression of the violinist showed that in his honest conviction a great mundane calamity had occurred, the calamity of course being that his violin bow had not caused catgut to vibrate in such a way as to affect the ears of a particular set of people in a particular manner. But in addition to this sense of a calamity he was under the influence of another emotion--angry resentment. However, he sat down, holding firmly his hat, gloves, and stick.

"I saw my agent this morning," said he, in a grating voice, in French. He was pale.

"Yes?" said Audrey. She suddenly guessed what was coming, and she felt a certain alarm, which nevertheless was not entirely disagreeable.

"Why did you pay for that concert, and the future concerts, without telling me, Madame?"

"Paid for the concerts?" she repeated, rather weakly.

"Yes, Madame. To do so was to make me ridiculous--not to the world, but to myself. For I believed all the time that I had succeeded in gaining the genuine interest of an agent who was prepared to risk money upon the proper exploitation of my talent. I worked in that belief. In spite of your attitude to me I did work. Your antipathy was bad for me; but I conquered myself, and I worked. I had confidence in myself. If last night I did not have a triumph, it was not because I did not work, but because I had been upset--and again by you, Madame. Even after the misfortune of last night I still had confidence, for I knew that the reasons of my failure were accidental and temporary. But I now know that I was living in a fool's paradise, which you had kindly created for me. You have money. Apparently you have too much money. And with money you possess the arrogance of wealth. You knew that I had accepted assistance from good friends. And you thought in your arrogance that you might launch me without informing me of your intention. You thought it would amuse you to make a little fairy-tale in real life. It was a negligent gesture on the part of a rich and idle woman. It cost you nothing save a few bank-notes, of which you had so many that it bored you to count them. How amusing to make a reputation! How charitable to help a starving player! But you forgot one thing. You forgot my dignity and my honour. It was nothing to you that you exposed these to the danger of the most grave affront. It was nothing to you that I was received just as though I had been a child, and that for months I was made, without knowing it, to fulfil the role of a conceited jackanapes. When one is led to have confidence in oneself one is tempted to adopt a certain tone and to use certain phrases, which may or may not be justified. I yielded to the temptation. I was wrong, but I was also victimised. This morning, with a moment's torture under the impertinent tongue of a rascally impresario, I paid for all the spurious confidence which I have felt and for all the proud words I have uttered. I came to-day in order to lay at your feet my thanks for the unique humiliation which I owe to you."

His mien was undoubtedly splendid. It ought to have cowed and shamed Audrey. But it did not. She absolutely refused to acknowledge, even within her own heart, that she had committed any wrong. On the contrary, she remembered all the secret sympathy which she had lavished on Musa, all her very earnest and single-minded desires for his apotheosis at the hands of the Parisian public; and his ingratitude positively exasperated her. She was aroused. But she tried to hide the fact that she was roused, speaking in a guarded and sardonic voice.

"And did this agent of yours--I do not know his name--tell you that I was paying for the concert--I mean, the concerts?" she demanded with an air of impassivity. "He did not give your name."

"That's something," Audrey put in, her body trembling. "I am much obliged to him."

"But he clearly indicated that money had been paid--that he had not paid it himself--that the enterprise was not genuine. He permitted himself to sneer until I corrected him. He then withdrew what he had said and told me that I had misunderstood. But he was not convincing. It was too late. And I had not misunderstood. Far from that, I had understood. At once the truth traversed my mind like a flash of lightning. It was you who had paid."

"And how did you guess that?" She laughed carelessly, though she could not keep her foot from shaking on the carpet.

"I knew because I knew!" cried Musa. "It explained all your conduct, your ways of speaking to me, your attitude of a schoolmistress, everything. How ingenuous I have been not to perceive it before!"

"Well," said Audrey firmly. "You are wrong. It is absolutely untrue that I have ever paid a penny, or ever shall, to any agent on your behalf. Do you hear? Why should I, indeed! And now what have you to reply?"

She was aware of not the slightest remorse for this enormous and unqualified lie. Nay, she held it was not a lie, because Musa deserved to hear it. Strange logic, but her logic! And she was much uplifted and enfevered, and grandly careless of all consequences.

"You are a woman," said Musa curtly and obstinately.

"That, at any rate, is true."

"Therefore I cannot treat you as a man."

"Please do," she said, rising.

"No. If you were a man I should call you out." And Musa rose also. "And I should be right. As you are a woman I have told you the truth, and I can do no more. I shall not characterise your denial. I have no taste for recrimination. Besides, in such a game, no man can be the equal of a woman. But I maintain what I have said, and I affirm that I know it to be true, and that there is no excuse for your conduct. And so I respectfully take leave." He moved towards the door and then stopped. "There never had been any excuse for your conduct to me," he added. "It has always been the conduct of a rich and capricious woman who amused herself by patronising a poor artist."

"You may be interested to know," she said fiercely, "that I am no longer rich. Last night I heard that my fortune is gone. If I have amused myself, that may amuse you."

"It does amuse me," he retorted grimly and more loudly. "I wish that you had never possessed a son. For then I might have been spared many mournful hours. All would have been different. Yes! From three days ago when I saw you walking intimately in the Tuileries Gardens with the unspeakable Gilman--right back to last year when you first, from caprice, did your best to make me love you--did it deliberately, so that all the Quarter could see!"

In a furious temper Audrey rushed past Musa to the door, and stood with her back to it, palpitating. She vaguely recalled a similar movement of hers long ago, and the slightly comic figure of Mr. Foulger flitted through her memory.

"You shall apologise for that! You shall apologise before you leave this room!" she exploded. Her chin was aloft and her mouth remained open. "I say you shall apologise for that monstrous untruth!"

He approached her, uttering not a word. She was quite ready to kill him. She had no fear of anything whatever. Not once since his arrival had she given one thought to the imminent advent of Mr. Gilman.

She said to herself, watching Musa intently:

"Yes, he shall apologise. It is shameful, what he says. It's worse than horrid. I am as strong as he is."

Musa dropped his hat, stick and gloves. The hat, being English and hard, bounced on the carpet. Then he put his trembling arms around her waist, and his trembling lips came nearer and nearer to hers.

She thought, very puzzled:

"What is happening? This is all wrong. I am furious with him! I will never speak to him again! What is he doing? This is all wrong. I must stop it. I'm saying nothing to him about my career, and my independence, and how horrid it is to be the wife of a genius, and all that.... I must stop it."

But she had no volition to stop it.

She thought:

"Am I fainting?"

* * * * *

It was upon this scene that Mr. Gilman intruded. Mr. Gilman looked from one to the other. Perhaps the thought in his mind was that if they added their ages together they could not equal his age. Perhaps it was not. He continued to look from one to the other, and this needed some ocular effort, for they were as far apart as two persons in such a situation usually get when they are surprised. Then he caught sight of the hat, stick and gloves on the floor.

"I've been expecting you for a long time," said Audrey, with that miraculous bland tranquillity of which young girls alone have the secret when the conventions are imperilled. "I was just going to order tea."

Mr. Gilman hesitated and then replied:

"How kind of you! But please don't order tea for me. The--er--fact is, I have been unexpectedly called away, and I only called to explain that--er--I could not call." After all, he was a man of some experience.

She let him go. His demeanour to Musa, like Musa's to him, was a marvel of high courtesy.

"Musa," said Audrey, with an intimidated, defiant, proud smile, when the door had shut on Mr. Gilman, "I am still frightfully angry with you. If we stay here I shall suffocate. Let us go out for a walk. Besides, other people might call."

Simultaneously there was another ring. It was a cable. She read:

"Sold Zacatecas at an average of six and a quarter dollars three weeks ago. Wrote you at length to Wimereux. Writing again as to new investments.

"FOULGER."

"This comes of having no fixed address," she said, throwing the blue cablegram carelessly down in front of Musa. "I'm not quite ruined, after all. But I might have known--with Mr. Foulger." Then she explained.

"I wish----" he began.

"No, you don't," she stopped him. "So you needn't start on that line. You are brilliant at figures. At least I long since suspected you were. How much is one hundred and eighty thousand times six and a quarter?"

Notwithstanding his brilliance, it took two pencils, two heads, and one piece of paper to solve the problem. They were not quite certain, but the answer seemed to be L225,000 in English money.

"We cannot starve," said Audrey, and then paused.... "Musa, are we friends? We shall quarrel horribly. Do you know, I never knew that proposals of marriage were made like that!"

"I have not told you one thing," said Musa. "I am going to play in Germany, instead of further concerts in Paris. It is arranged."

"Not in Germany," she pleaded, thinking of Ziegler.

"Yes, in Germany," said Musa masterfully. "I have a reputation to make. It is the agent who has suggested it."

"But the concerts in London?"

"You are English. I wish not to wound you."

When Audrey stood up again, she had to look at the floor in order to make sure that it was there. Once she had tasted absinthe. She had had to take the same precaution then.

"Stop! I entreat thee!" said Musa suddenly, just as, all arrayed in her finery, she was opening the door for the walk.

"What is it?"

He kissed her, and with his lips almost on hers he murmured:

"Thou shalt not go out without avowing. And if thou art angry--well, I adore thy anger. The concerts were ... thy enterprise? I guessed well?"

"You see," she replied like a shot, "you weren't sure, although you pretended you were."

In the Rue de Rivoli, and in the resplendent Champs Elysees they passed column after column of entertainment posters. But the name of Musa had been mysteriously removed from all of them.

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