THE OBTRUSIVE GARGOYLE - The Story of a Musician, Edit
by Frances Irvin Edit
Written for Short Stories 1903
"It is long since I have indulged in such frivolity," objected Marot; “my age and my professional standing demand a certain dignity of conduct — "
"Nonsense!" said Léry, his old pupil, slipping an arm through his. "An artist like yourself may do as he pleases, and let lesser musicians howl as they will. This is not a waste of time — you are diverted, you are giving me pleasure, and then there are voices worth hearing within this ' cage of screech owls,' as you call it; and dancing — Ciel"
With a protesting laugh and a shrug Marot, composer, musician, master of vocal training, and erstwhile opera singer, allowed himself to be gently guided through the doorway of the Café Chantant, in which Léry found places at a small table well in the rear.
“You are as unmanageable as ever, and as full of whims," Marot remarked, and leaned back to view the dance just ending, with an indulgent smile.
He talked without cessation through the next chanson populaire, with one hand on the shoulder of Léry, who listened and gazed at him affectionately. They forgot time and place in their reminiscences, in their interested eager exchange of opinions which had diverged widely since their last meeting; until a sudden hush in the room, and a few piano notes from a voice of melting sweetness startled them to silence. It was a simple and touching ballad sung by a woman whom Léry could not have pronounced either plain or beautiful, so simple was her dress, so modest her lowered eyes, so quiet yet full of tremulous strength the easy legato of her style.
“A voice! " exclaimed Marot, leaning forward with his hand on the other man's knee. ** A rare voice! it has great qualities!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm as the ballad ended. **I must speak to the director — I must find her out — "
But he stopped again, as the singer trilled forth into a gay, popular song. The quaint simple maiden vanished; coming to the front of the stage, she let her hearers know the full charm of her long-lashed and laughing gray eyes. She took dancing steps and pirouetted with her head thrown back — all gay witchery and diablerie, while Marot and Léry looked at each other with wondering smiles.
“Deceived again! I thought her an angel!" said Léry.
Marot waited for her encore, then as she laughed and ran out for the second time, the gray-haired apostle of music rose. "Wait for me here, my dear Léry. I must see the singer — I must know that voice!"
That voice — to him an individuality, a wondrous creation of unlimited possibilities. Already his trained ear had marked its depths, its weaknesses, its rare characteristics, and the jealous mastership that was in him claimed a newfound treasure. The perfecting and developing of it lay in his power and presented itself as a duty.
In the bare room adjoining the stage, to which his card won him admission, Marot found her, the object of the attentions of a tall, greasy-haired boulevardier, to whom she showed scant favor.
"My child," he said, touching her arm gently, "perhaps you have heard of me — I am Marot, known for many years in opera, and I now train singers for the stage. I wish to talk to you — "
The obnoxious flatterer fell back, and the two were soon in earnest conversation.
"To leave this engagement? but the money is what keeps me alive — I have no other way of earning anything, and I am not yet reduced — " she glanced contemptuously around on the groups of men and women in the room.
"Have you been singing here long?"
"My father was violinist here, and the director heard my voice one day when he came by chance to our lodging. He begged me to come, but Jean always refused. Now — he is dead — ^and I had no choice. I have been here a few months; the director is kind, and has taught me many things. But, last week, he tried to force me to sing a favorite air of poor Jean's! — I could have killed him! He will not ask again."
"But you are being wasted — ^thrown away here. Besides, you are too young — it is not a fit place for you."
"It is not so bad as they picture it," she said, flushing a little angrily. "I have some good friends, and as for the rest, if one is not a fool … "
"I have found her just in time," thought Marot. "Another half year and she would have clung to this life."
Two Frenchmen, tall and well-dressed, came in and stood as if waiting to speak to the singer, greeting her with excessive gallantry as she came toward them. She chatted gaily for a while, and returned to Marot at last with a little air of triumph, as if she had given him proof of her last assertion.
"My song comes in a few minutes and then I am leaving," she began. "You are very kind, monsieur, but … "
" It will take me only a few minutes to say what I wish. I propose that you give up this engagement, and put yourself under my instruction which I give gladly in the interest of Art. I have absolute faith in yotir voice, it has a great scope, and very unusual qualities. You have not misused it much as yet; if you stay here you are in a fair way to do so, and in two years it will be rough and incapable of development. I have noted your faults of method. On the other hand, three years — I name a safe figure — of proper instruction will transform you into a dramatic singer welcome on any stage."
She stood before him in her demure plain gray gown that suggested the simplicity of her first ballad, a white kerchief crossed over her breast and leaving her throat bare; her thick black hair parted and drawn over her ears into a low knot at the back; her figure slight and yet rounded, and ftdl of the quick grace of the Frenchwoman.
"I can't believe you,” she said. "I have not much faith in generosity. You offer a great deal, and of course I might disappoint you."
"The future offers you a great deal. Nature has already given you much, and you do not value it. Such a voice as yours will be one day is rare on the operatic stage." She continued to look at him incredulously.
“My child, I am old enough to be your father. I know this world with its good and evil — I know the world of . Are you, with your glorious gift, going to throw yourself before these good-for-naughts, who are as eager as vultures for every new victim? Let me show you another and larger world, a world worth conquering — let me show you how to conquer it with your voice. Then choose, when the best of ever3rthing lies before you."
She looked at his kind, earnest face, the eyes so full of true interest and friendliness, the gray hair bristling erect on his head in the fashion her father too had affected. For some reason tears sprang to her eyes.
“I would have no means of support — " she faltered.
"That could be all arranged. I am not a poor man, nor helpless yet, if I aw getting old." He took both her hands and held them with a sort of benign tenderness. "You have it in you — the courage and the artistic feeling," he whispered, not to be overheard by the two waiting flagons. "I will see the director, and to-morrow will come to see you where you are living. By then you will have had time to think it all over. You can return with me to my studio so that I can try your voice, and then — “we will come to a conclusion."
They parted as the "demoiselle grise" was called for her final song, and by the time Marot returned to bis place sbe had vanished again.
"What success?" said Léry, who was applauding enthusiastically.
"She is reluctant to think of serious study. Perhaps at some future day she will come to me. She is — a little disappointing when one talks to her — " he halted. He could not tell what instinct made him hide the truth from Léry. Marot was diplomatic, but not too good at prevarication.
"You are deceiving me," laughed the other. "You don't want me to see the girl. I vow she is charming, and I am going to have a word with her." Marot shrugged his shoulders and let him go, knowing that by this time "La Grise" was well on her way up the bright boulevard. Léry came back annoyed and declaring to the imperturbable Marot that he would certainly find her on the following evening.
"You have deteriorated," said Marot, "since you became a sculptor. Had you remained under my influence you would have been a hard worker, a prudent liver — ^more serious, and with more conscience — "
"And with a horrible voice," added Léry. "My dear old master, I love and revere you more than any man living; I will not tease you any more, for I remember that you were always headstrong where your protégées were concerned."
Marot did not reply. They went out, on the whole, a little cold, and not quite sure of each other.
Léry could not carry out his plan for the next evening, and when he returned to the café ten days later "la demoiselle grise" had almost been forgotten in the charms of a stout contralto who wore poppies and gave embellished imitations of "Carmen." .
"You are a fool, as usual," said Marot *s wife, when he confided his project. "You will be imposed upon: the girl, of course, is tricky and not at all as grateful as she appears. She will use you in some way."
"One cannot be 'imposed upon' by a voice. It is there — it declares itself — it cries to me to liberate it. As to the girl's character, I can find nothing evil in it. The director — who demands less for her release thaa I expected, the people she had been lodging with — spoke well of her. Ciel! what a miserable lodging! This may be the saving of her — at any rate I willingly take the risk. She cannot make off with any of my theories for at least two years, and if she gets tired and leaves me, Art and the Public will be the chief losers."
"You are a good man, but you are crazed by your profession. I wash my hands of your doings. Come, where is that music you wanted copied?" So the two lived, arguing, and adoring each other.
A knot of foreigners, all pupils of Marot, were wintering in , and he found it to his advantage to spend two days there out of every week. A happy idea had come to him. An old servant of his was settled there, and he made arrangements with her for a lodging for “La Grise." He was triumphant at getting the girl out of . He broached the topic gingerly, fearing after all that she might rebel, and pine of loneliness in a small town, devoid of the sparkle and life she knew. But when he spoke of old Marthe and the comfortable lodgings he had provided for her, of kind people he knew in it , of the inducements to study, and of his regular visits, the girl began to weep.
“My dear — my dear — friend — " she faltered, “how can I thank you? I am really so tired of all this here, and it is often hideous to be alone. Poor Jean's death — if something had not happened soon, I think I should have jumped into the ." Her tragic air was not affected, and he had never before seen her so moved.
In the train, during their journey of a few hours, she put her hand timidly over his arm, and said in a low tone:
"I shall work! Oh, how I shall work!"
“My judgment is not always so faulty," thought Marot, “but I will be cautious, and I will not expect too much."
Marot, with his kind, understanding eye« that gazed long at her, and grew tearful at her clinging to him, had gone at last, leaving her in the quaint, four-roomed lodging with the good\>ld peasant woman. Overcome suddenly with her old grieves and loneliness, as well as by the wonderful kindness that had been showered upon her, Gabrielle threw herself on the bed and cried herself to sleep. When she woke it was late afternoon. She pushed open the shutter and disclosed to view a tiny dark street, the houses crowding against the protecting mass of the great cathedral. Quite a distance to the left one flying buttress seemed to have alighted between two ancient houses that leaned and toppled on it lovingly. One boasted a tiny comer tower with a pointed cap of gray slates. The windows of this house had gently subsided from the severity of their original angles, and were moreover placed at irregular heights and spaces, as if the builder had been preoccupied and knocked one here and there as the thought occurred to him. The entrance door boasted an archway whose fretted stonework had grown soft and warm and indistinct of pattern, like used and ancient lace. Over all this ravishment of age the cathedral threw its vast impenetrable shadow.
A little farther on where a wrought-iron lamp thrust itself out from the comer house, a flight of roughly paved steps descended by turns and angles to the lower town, whose roofs were just visible through a narrow opening among the houses. The street, which encircled the cathedral, was only visited at rare intervals by strangers, who forgot all else in the glories of the interior. It opened out on a quiet square behind the apse, warm and sun-flooded, delighting the eager Gabrielle's eyes. The comer house was the most noticeable on the square. It had a sculptured doorway and two broad windows above, with plain stone arches, divided by stone bars in the center. These windows were nearly always open, and thin scarlet curtains blew in and out. Such was the angle of the square that this house commanded a view down the Rue des Clôitres, and formed a gay focus for the eyes of its inhabitants, dwelling in the cathedral's shade.
The gargoyles on the cathedral roof were not far above the level of Gabrielle's window, and kept there an eternal watch, with the' moss grown green in their grooves where the rain had left small pools. The great sloping roof soared away above them — the double rows of buttresses thrust outward like the serried ranks of oars in an old-time galley. One gargoyle had the head of a frog, another that of a strange griffon, which clung with all four feet to the stone as he surveyed the street below. The third, nearest the window, pulled his right eat forward with one paw, and with the other dutched his wide-open mouth, while his eyes bulged with expectation.
"What is he listening for?" thought Gabrielle. "Why, waiting to hear me sing, of course!— and he has been waiting who knows how many years ? "
She was delighted with the humor of the idea, and felt a sense of companionship with these strange creatures. For very joy she trilled forth a few notes, sending them up to break and shiver and soar to silence over the vast roof. '* You shall soon know what I can do, gargouille!'' she said gaily.
Once more she leaned out and looked, first to the left with its glimpse of the square and the gay-curtained window, its vista of roofs where the paved steps descended; then to the right where the light was less and the houses followed a tortuous line around the buttresses, and where along the rough cobble stones came good old Marthe with her basket of vegetables and frugal provisions for the evening meal.
The sunlight as it touched the gargoyles fell for a short time each day in at Gabrielle's room. She welcomed it and reckoned the hour by it. The days were crowded so full that she had little time to mope or dream. She was thrilling still at the sudden change in her fortunes, absorbed in Marot's instructions and tasks. She must read — she must memorize verses for him — become familiar with the wonderful stories of the operas she would study later. She must follow all his rules strictly — sing for so long, no longer, each day. Sometimes she walked out with Marthe; every day, often more than once, she went into the cathedral and said her prayers in a quiet comer. At these hours poor Jean was uppermost in her thoughts.
Then came the weekly visits of Marot, and her walk to his studio, where she spent the morning and often the entire day, listening to his pupils from a hidden comer, and profiting by the criticism that Marot flung at them mercilessly. She begged him not to present her to any of these students — many were foreigners, all were well-dressed, gay, intimate with one another. Prom the window-seat she watched them as though they were before her on a stage, and thought how their bravado and airs would vanish before a critical Paris audience — above all such audiences as those to which she had ,sung — who demanded the best thing of its kind, though the "kind" differed in standard from the fashionable theaters.
" I can hide you for a time," said Marot, '* but not for long, especially if anyone chances to hear your voice. No one must hear it for a long time yet — that is my express wish."
The evenings with Marot she liked best of all, and exited in the thought that none of his other pupils saw him as she did — communicative, reminiscent and almost childish in his readiness for any small diversion. They went to the theater, or listened to the music in the square, or sat in Marot's studio, she on a low bench listening to his tales of opera days and triumphs. Marot was astonished to witness the quickening of her intelligence, and the hold his ideas seemed to have over her. He had never molded so pliable a nature — ^he attributed her impressionability to her recent grief, and to the intense and reverent gratitude she felt to him.
"Are you lonely? — do you miss ?" he said one night.
She colored faintly. " Sometimes. "
" It is natural. You shall return there with me for a few days whenever you like. Madame Marot will receive you gladly, or, if you wish, you can return to your old lodging." He awaited her answer ciuiously.
"Oh, no — oh, no! I am glad, now, that you brought me away from . Here all is fresh and new, there is nothing dreadful to remember; but there I think of how poor Jean died — gasping for breath. And then, I am not 'La Grise' anymore. I am really different, chère Marthe!"
What he had aroused was ambition, and the love for her work. His wife ceased to deplore his infatuation, as he gave her occasional accounts of the girl's progress. Old Marthe had grown fondly attached to her.
But there came a week when Marot was detained by illness in . The days seemed endless, and Gabrielle realized for the first time how all her week had merged to his visits, and how truly lonely was her life otherwise. She stood near her window and sang the studies that suddenly seemed so difficult, and the gargoyle leaned mockingly above to listen, dragging his ear forward with one grotesque paw. The after was dark, and threatening rain. She felt overwhelmed with a sudden horrible sadness. Her voice broke, and she hid her face in her arms. It was Marot, her kind old master, alone, who gave her courage. How many years of work and loneliness like this would realize his aim for her? And meanwhile, who cared whether she laughed or wept? Even Marot himself was more disturbed at the roughness of her voice than for its cause when she had spent hours of the night in tears over sad memories. Would she go back to , to the gayety and excitement of the old life? In her heart she knew that "la demoiselle grise” had almost forgotten how to trill and pirouette as of old before an enthusiastic audience — even though the "new voice" that Marot was slowly liberating should send the poor director into paroxysms of envy.
Work — patience — new words, and hard to learn; and they could not fill one's life! She leaned out of the window and looked mechanically toward the square for the fluttering crimson curtains that always made such a gay, delicious spot of color on dull days. But the windows with their arches and dividing stone bars were shut — and the gargoyle grinned derisively.
"Bête! Horreur!" cried Gabrielle to him — and shut her window with a crash.
She flung on a wrap and went out to say her prayers at the cathedral, as a relief to loneliness rather than in any spirit of devotion.
The place was almost deserted. The verger was cleaning the great pillars with a bunch of leaves set on a long pole; the dust of ages came drifting down. He paused in his work and waited for Gabrielle 's daily greeting.
"How dark and dismal it is!” said the girl. "Everything is so cold and gloomy that I am almost afraid to go over to that chapel to say my prayers.”
"There are flowers there, and the lamps are lit,*' said the verger. He was hurt. The old cathedral in its dingiest and darkest moods was his love and his life.
They stood looking toward one of the great rose windows in the transept. "You are all sotmd asleep," he went on, "when the light is finest. It is here — '* bringing his feet together on a well-worn stone, "that you shotdd stand early in the morning if you want to see the true beauty of those windows."
A strange voice answered.
" May I come to-morrow morning, then, my good Clement? You know I am greedy enough to gloat over the place in its every possible aspect."
Gabrielle had not noticed a man standing near in the shadowy aisle, and she went slowly away as he approached.
"I shall not open the doors so early to-morrow; it is better to come in the afternoon, as usual," grumbled the old man, not yet mollified. There were spots of flame on the stone arches, and a broad blue bar slanted down into the chapel of St. Francis. The afternoon sun blazed on the delicate tracery of the great rose window, and on the twelve narrow arched openings below where glowed the gorgeous red of apostles' robes, popes with croziers and aureoled saints, and kings, in scarlet and ermine.
The architect was always here at the same hour, seated in the aisle that encircled the choir, while he sketched the effect of the vaulting at various points, the decoration of the arch over the sacristy door, or the design of a capital. Behind the choir were the stained-glass windows of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in deepest reds and blues, with their small medallion panes picturing the lives of the saints. Among them a more modem window asserted itself — ^vainly trying to rival their coloring — ^bearing an image of the Archangel Michael, warring and triumphant: the deep blue of his mantle was thrown, as the stm began to decline, straight across the face of the artist. It grew to be a signal for him to stop work, for by the time the sun had gone there would be no light left for sketching; but he was impatient of the garish half hour, and bore the archangel a grudge.
She was there, as he had seen her many an afternoon, in a seat in front of a huge pillar, from where she could see the full width of the transept and its two rosaces, and more than half the choir with its wine-red glow and the warm brilliance of the triforium. As the blue glare again dazzled him, the architect looked savagely at the archangel and began to put away his sketching materials. Suddenly a dark shadow obscured the blue. The girl was standing not far off, looking at him curiously.
"If she would stand there just an instant," he thought, "I could finish putting in that figure." He seized his crayon and made rapid strokes.
“Pardon me — I am in your light," she said, apologetically.
"Pray, don't move!" he cried; "you are in the archangel's light — it is of the greatest service to me." She stood watching him, with a flicker of the old smile of " la demoiselle grise."
"Thank you so much!" he said in an instant. "You are very good. Now I can get my drawing off to the École tonight."
"That sculpture over the door is very beautiful."
"You come here every day — " he said, tentatively.
"You have noticed? — yet I have not seen you."
**You were in the chapel, or else sitting entranced with the color in this glorious old place."
**I should like very much to see your drawings."
**I should find great pleasure in hearing you sing."
''You know?— how is that?"
“I have ears — not eyes alone — and I live near the cathedral."
“I am not allowed to sing for anyone yet. I must close my window. I did not think anyone heard but the gargoyles!"
“Please do not shut us all out! It is very faint and sweet; I could not tell for a long time where it came from. You should sing on Christmas day in the cathedral."
Gabrielle was trembling. It was all so unexpected, and she could not half see this man now the sun had dropped down. *' Please do not speak to anyone of my voice — ^yet. It would displease my master."
''Then I beg that you will soon give me the pleasure of hearing it. I am haunted by its beauty already. Mademoiselle, if you do not, we shall all pray to be turned into gargoyles!"
Gabrielle laughed. "Is there anyone but you?"
"A friend who arrives to-morrow. Will you do me the great honor some day to sing in my studio?"
"I will ask my master —there is time enough yet," she said. The thought of her kind Marot restrained her as no influence had ever done. She surveyed the tall, muscular stranger critically as she left him. His suggestion offered a break, a variety in her monotonous life, but she walked away with a deliberation new to her. " I will tell Marot, mon cher maître," she thought, singing softly as she went up the stairs to her room, and opened the shutters to let in the last rays of daylight. "I kiss my hand to you, gargouilles. You look kinder than last night, and there is yet some joy in living."
Mechanically she turned to her glimpse of the square. The architect stood in the window, between the crimson curtains, which he had pushed aside against the stone framework. He gave an exquisite military salute. Gabrielle sank back in a chair and laughed with sheer childish delight.
Old Marthe came panting up the stairs with a basket of fresh flowers. "A servant has just brought them — and you will find some writing here." Gabrielle roused excitedly out of sleep.
" 'Where others are enjoined to silence, the language of the flowers may convey a fitting tribute to a beautiful voice.'"
Monsieur Tarchitect was abroad and astir early! His windows were open, and her eyes wandered to them as they had ever done, as if drawn by a magnet. That day a letter came from Marot. saying that he was ill and might not come by for a fortnight. So that, two days later, when a servant brought a formal and courteous note begging mademoiselle to give the great pleasure of her singing to the Comte de Vilars and his friend, she hesitated no longer, but escorted by old Marthe, who gabbled and rebelled, but yielded as ever, crossed the square to the alluring doorway of mellow, fretted stonework.
Gabrielle stood by the window, fingering the elusive, delicious draperies of crimson silk. The Comte, who was grave, muscular, serious, absorbed in his art, directed a servant in arranging a little table of refreshments. He was a new type to the interested eyes of Gabrielle. She was quite at her ease, standing in her old gray gown with a wide black hat that shaded her eyes. Suddenly he stopped before her with a smile and gesture that might have delighted a queen. " I am selfish enough to wish to hear the first song myself — my friend will soon arrive. Will mademoiselle begin?"
When she had stepped forward, he threw .himself into a huge carved chair and waited with his eyes fixed upon her in a dreamy, indolent expression.
She sang with a vigor and gradation of tone that would have delighted Marot. As she lingered over the close, the door opened and another man entered.
He bowed to the singer with the manner of a
exquisite. “I was in time to hear the last few notes of divine sweetness, — Vilars, this is too bad! I would not for the world have missed any of this pleasure."
''Mademoiselle will be generous, and give you an' equal chance to judge of her great talent. I have never heard a more beautiful voice," said the Comte.
Gabrielle looked from one to the other, knew them both appreciative -and enraptured with her singing, and into the new beauty of her voice there crept the old verve and fascination that had held audiences in .
The sculptor and the architect came toward her exclaiming in their enthusiasm. The former bent to kiss her hand, while the Comte placed a chair and offered her a glass of wine. M. Leroux's eyes, it seemed to her, did not leave her face.
'* If I am not to sing any more? — " said Gabrielle, raising her hand to the glass.
"If mademoiselle will I — I did not dare to ask, thinking she might be fatigued."
“I could sing on and on when an audience listens as you do, messieurs!" She was laughing and elated, and her old audacity rushed over her beneath the admiring glances of Leroux.
"Here is a song that I have learned — without the aid of my master!" She was suddenly "La Grise" again, flinging bewitching glances at her listeners. The men applauded frantically, and she sank down, breathless and radiant, on a wide carved bench, while' Leroux brought her cakes and wine.
"And yet, mademoiselle, that last is not worthy of you. You are destined for such great things," said the Comte " I know, I know! but there is life, there is joy, just in that reckless and foolish thing."
"Mademoiselle could make the poorest melody worthy if she gave it the charm of her voice. I am indeed fortunate to have left , where there are now no singers." Gabrielle met the sculptor's eyes thoughtfully.
“Monsieur will be some time in T ?"
" The Comte kindly asks me to stay, and I shall have the use of his studio. I hope that you will come again, nor once but many times."
The Comte on some pretext left the room, and the two continued talking alone.
"You have enchanted me, mademoiselle, not only with the charm of your voice, but with your eyes, your face — Ciel! if I could have it in marble! The fact is this — I have promised a head for the Exhibition, and I have begun to despair of ever finding a model. It would be the greatest favor — and what exquisite lines — ^the forehead, the eyes — Pardon! but I am given to raving. Would you consent to sitting, at least a few times?"
"I think — there is nothing to prevent," said Gabrielle. "My master, Marot, is ill and away, and I cannot sing and study all day."
"Marot! I know him well — ^the best of men! Do not let him know until it is finished, and we will give the marble, later, to him — ^that is, if I can bear to part with it. Marot ! he is the kindest of men."
"He is, indeed; no one has ever been so kind to me."
"But you have shut yourself away — ^why do you bar everyone out — ^why do you spend your whole youth — "
"Nothing must interfere with my work, and my promise to Marot — I owe'him everything," said the girl, rising proudly.
" Nothing shall interfere, mademoiselle, but surely to spend an hour in these charming surroundings, to talk with such a man as the Comte, an artist and litterateur — "
"You efface yourself nobly!" she laughed. "I will come, then, to have my profile modeled by a sculptor and to talk — to the Comte."
As it happened, the Comte was seldom in the studio, or passed in and out on some slight errand. The modeling took longer than was expected, and Marot remained so ill that before his return the head was finished, and Leroux had departed carrying his precious work with him to . Gabrielle was hopelessly, overwhelmingly in love. The grave Comte had become her friend, but the sculptor with his daring, insistent eyes, his enthusiasm, his reckless lovemaking, filled all her thoughts. She worked mechanically, but faithfully, according to her promise to Marot, and gazed up at the grinning stone faces above her window that seemed to mock at the hopeless promise binding her.
“I am in love I" she said to the darkening night.
'' Listen! she is in love! " grinned the monster, as the darkness veiled him.
For the first time she became utterly discouraged with her progress — dreaded the thought of a "career"; looked backward and forward at the months of drudgery past and to come, as if a limitless desert surrounded her, standing desperate and solitary. At intervals, when she had attained some self-command, Leroux's letters came to dispel all her calmness of soul.
She would throw her arms out on the dusty pile of opera scores and remain thus for a long time, with her face hidden. She longed for Marot to return and break the horrible spell.
The Comte de Vilars appeared to understand. She talked to him a little as he sat sketching an altar piece in a side chapel. He too was soon returning to , having taken the studio for a few months in order to make special studies in T for the course he was about completing. He was less grave when Leroux was away, and treated her as a child who needed to pour out her troubles.
One evening as he walked home with her in the dusk Gabrielle began hesitatingly, "You are so good to listen — and I begin to be ashamed. I shall not talk of this any more. ' '
The architect pressed her hand. "I am fond of Leroux, but you do talk a little too much about him to suit my taste! I have something to say to you — to-morrow — "
She had a glimpse of his face as Marthe opened the door, and ran upstairs in a tumult of new thoughts.
"I am better, quite recovered," said Marot. "I leave to-morrow for T . I came in to see how all went with you and to take a look at your work, which I have never seen."
"You are more than welcome," said his old pupil.
"You sculptors say that the form is within the stone, that it takes but the sure and patient hand to liberate it. In the same way I set free a voice, by slowly breaking away its coverings."
"You would have discovered a horror to the world in liberating mine," said Léry, who loved thus to ridicule his master.
"This, too, is a thing of horror which you have freed," said Marot, pausing in his walk before a figure whose faulty proportions struck the most untrained observer.
"That is — a mistake," said Léry, flinging a cloth over it somewhat angrily, "to which we are all sometimes prone."
"Show me your new reliefs," said Marot, desiring peace. " I hear they are very fine."
Léry walked to a comer and pulled the damp cloth from several pieces in process of modeling. As he explained them he did not notice that a covering had fallen also from the nearly completed marble of a woman's head, before which Marot stood riveted.
"Mais — c'est La Grise — c'est Gabrielle — how in the name of the saints have you done this?"
There was no loophole for excuse.
“You were not expected to see it — it is not quite finished," said Léry, hesitating and trying to laugh. Old Marot turned on him.
“Explain, sir," he demanded, "how you have tricked me. How have you seen the girl? You knew it was my express wish to keep her by herself — ^that I had staked a great deal on her operatic success. How did you find her out?"
"If you had not hidden her away so carefully, I should not have found her! I should never have found her in . But when Gaston de Vilars wrote me of the exquisite voice he heard while he sat in his studio, and described the girl he saw in the cathedral, I felt sure it was La Grise — I went down and found her."
"So it took a pair of you to trick me?"
"Vilars knew nothing of you or of our acquaintance."
"Ah, I see! You feared he would not be party to any such manoeuver?" Marot 's voice quavered bitterly.
"I was crazy over the girl, and I wanted a model of her head — this is almost promised for the Exhibition. What calamity is there? My good Marot, nothing worse has befallen!"
"I don't trust you — no, my God! I do not! Who knows but that you have bewitched her, turned her head with flattery — made her miserable?"
"She knows the world as well as I do."
"Come, an end of this — are you going back to her?"
"That is my affair."
"Ah, you have wrought some mischief, I'll be bound. You shall hear from me later," Marot thtmdered, as he went down the rickety steps of the atelier.
He could not go for consolation to Madame Marot, whose dark prophecies had been fulfilled.
The next night found him with Gabrielle in his studio at T ; she speechless, spent with weeping, leaning against the heaped-up table where dust had accumulated during his weeks of absence. Everything spoke neglect, forgetfulness, ingratitude, to the overwrought feelings of Marot.
"Give up your singing? as well throw yourself into the sea — ^make way with your life I "
"I cannot sing — it chokes me. I cannot work, unless I have some other end than the future you promise me. I love Léry — ^you say I must give him up, give up all thought of loving any man for years — years.'*
"He is a bad man."
"I am bad, too — yes, that must be the trouble. I love him."
" He will not love you. He will tire of you as he has tired of everything, and ridiculed all that he has once loved."
"You do not know him — you do not know all that he has said to me."
'* I know more than enough, I know that you have both tricked and duped me — that I have been made a fool of once more. Go now child: I am not calm enough to talk further."
" I never meant to dupe you. I know I broke my promise, but you were away — I was so discouraged and so lonely — mon Dieu! — after all, what is a woman made of? In , I had lovers, it was sometimes gay, and yet I worked — "
“Rubbish! falsehood! You knew what I demanded — after this I demand far more — and I have given what ? Time, strength, energy, money — for this!*' — snapping his finger. "Horrible! I kept you purposely from Léry, because I never trusted him."
"He never told me — ^till the very last day — that he had seen me in the concert-hall in . Oh, my good master, believe me, I am not such an ungrateful creature! Perhaps I can still sing and work — I will! I will! — give me one more trial!"
Marot sat unmoved. Gabrielle's face burned. She leaned for a moment against his chair, and he knew that she was weeping, but did not look up. Then she went out, down to the street, and straight to the house of the Comte de Vilars.
Though it was late, there was a glow of light in his studio windows. The Comte was shocked at the wretchedness in her face as she recounted all to him.
"I am unwittingly a party to all this, it appears," he said with a shrug. " t , in fact, was sole means of bringing you here. I did not believe it of Léry. I have a letter from him here that I have not yet opened."
"Whichever way I turn," murmured Gabrielle, "I seem to make myself and others wretchedly unhappy."
The Comte looked up from the letter pale and cold as she had never seen him. "It becomes my miserable duty," he said, averting his eyes, "to convey to you the news that Léry is tired of the whole affair, sorry for his part in it, and anxious to withdraw. He has not been fair to Marot — mademoiselle, I would rather cut my hand off than tell you this."
"It will take me a little time to believe it," said La Grise, who grew suddenly as white as the marble statue behind her. " But I was too sure — I judged wrongly — why should I have expected — What can be done?" she murmured. "I can't think; everything has come in such a whirl."
" I will see Marot in the morning — anything else that I can do for you, always remember that I am ready — "
The poor girl could not even find words to thank him as they separated.
It was a night of hideous dreams. She stood on a dark, cold platform confronting a moving sea of stone faces, grotesque and horrible. Her voice, grown raucous and strange to hear, was quite out of her control; but at each fresh turst of her weird music the listeners bulged their eyes again, dragged their ears forward expectantly, and sent forth peals of sardonic laughter. Léry was there, too, turned griffon, mocking more horribly than them all. In the dark she called out for Marot — ^for M. le Comte —
It was morning, and there was his voice below, talking to old Marthe. **Tell mademoiselle to keep up courage — I have seen le maître, he has promised to receive me in an hour, and there will soon be good news."
M. le Directeur leaned back wearily, wondered if his carriage was waiting outside, fumed because his assistant was not present to-day of all others, to spare him the thankless task of sifting bad from worse in the great influx of singers that the season had brought to .
“I might be saved this — ^there is nothing good here to-day," he muttered.
A few of the footlights were lit in the great opera house, and a handful of people m the front fauteuils were criticising •a soprano's rendering of the Jewel Song.
" Heavy — high notes poor — ^bah! it is sacrilege to listen! " By an angry movement he conveyed to the chef d'orchestre that the soprano was not pleasing to him The music ceased, and the disappointed singer retired from view.
“Whom have we now?" asked the director of a person of official bearing who approached him consulting a written paper.
"Mile. D. — She writes a charming letter; she has studied five years — ^her mother is waiting here across the aisle. She has spent all she had in her studies, and the assistant director encouraged her last spring and promised her this hearing."
"Then it is his place to be here."
The young applicant sang a difficult air of Mozart that must have cost her months of study. Dtiring its intricacies the director made a wry face. "What was Mabillard thinking of? Tell her to go back and practise a year on that trill."
"She may be nervous."
"All the worse. No, I have no patience with her." The official returned with the message, and the singer descended to the elder woman in rusty black. They went slowly out arm in arm, the mother in tears.
“My time is up; I am due at the Place de l’Etoile. Finish the rehearsal, I am just leaving, "he said to the chef d'orchestre, and made his way out. Two people were entering by the same side door.
"My good Marot! I am about departing! What brings you here?"
"What do I bring here? — an exquisite voice. This is Mile. Gabrielle Tr^mars, a contralto."
" Better a soprano, we are in need of them. My contralto parts are filled."
" I wrote to you some time ago."
"Yes, but I at one time understood that the lady had forsaken her art."
"On the contrary," said Gabrielle, "I have more ambition, I am more confident of success than ever."
"That is well said, but — you will excuse me to-day, Marot. I am already late, and as I said, no contraltos are needed at this time."
"At least hear her for five minutes, my good director, for the sake of old times."
"No, no — you must excuse me, my nerves are unstrung. My singers are all engaged; the cast is full. I have told them to refuse all other applicants. I am on the verge of distraction with so much bad singing."
Marot looked as if about to despair. It was true he had come unheralded, venturing on the knowledge that the director himself was to hold a hearing to-day. He had seized the first opportunity in many months to have a free afternoon with Gabrielle in . Fate had been against him — appointments made with the assistant director had been canceled for various trivial reasons. Now the season was late, but he had felt assured of success in the matter of the voice that three years of his instruction had rounded and perfected. As the director replaced his hat and pushed past them down the corridor muttering some apology, the good Marot's face fell.
Not so with Gabrielle. The loss of this chance would mean months, perhaps a whole year, of delay. Some singers had waited for years on this man's pleasure. She drew her arm out of Marot's.
The footsteps of the director were far away down the deserted corridor. If he reached the door at the end Laughing, with the old audacity in her eyes, she sped after him. Marot heard one of her marvelous trills bubbling like the spring notes of a bird; then the whole great rich beauty of her voice poured forth, echoing in the marble corridor, thrilling her old master as no tones of hers had ever done.
Far away, around the curve of the passage, the director paused. The singer too stood still, but her music flooded on. She saw a swing door open, and Mabillard join the other man with a questioning glance.
“What is this — this great organ voice?" cried the director, as she paused for breath. With their hats in their hands the two men came toward her.
"Mademoiselle, you have conquered. Return with us, if you please, to the stage. I am overwhelmed — M. Marot, this great voice — we must have it. I have heard nothing like it."
A year later, in the foyer, two men were walking.
"I shall be quite content," said the Comte de Vilars, “to be the husband of a great opera singer, even though the world shall credit me with little individuality of my own. Gabrielle, perhaps, is not deeply in love with me — "
“If that is so — which I doubt — all the better for her Art. Yes, I am still merciless!" laughed Marot.