Tom frowned when Dick suggested to him—in a delicate way, so that he should not be frightened—that the beautiful Mrs. Abington was greatly interested in him and had been gracious enough to give Dick permission to present him to her. Tom frowned. It was not that he placed a fictitious value upon himself; it was only that he could not be brought to take an interest in anything outside his art. Talking to a woman, however beautiful she might be, he regarded as a waste of time, unless she talked to him of his art, or, better still, listened to him while he talked of it.

“I came hither only to hear Mr. Bach’s playing on the forte-piano,” he said. “I think he is over sanguine of the effects that new instrument can produce, though I allow that he can do more with it than would be possible with the harpsichord. Its tones are certainly richer.”

“Rich as they are, they are not to be compared to the tones of Mrs. Abington’s voice,” said Dick, taking him by the arm.

“Will she distract me, do you fancy? I do not like women who interfere with my enjoyment of the music,” said the musician. “Most women are a great distraction.”

“So it is rumoured,” said Dick. “But Mrs. Abington—— Oh, you confounded coxcomb! there is not a man in the Rooms who would not feel himself transported to the seventh heaven at the prospect of five minutes’ conversation with this lady. Come along, sir, and do not shame me and your own family by behaving like an insensible bear who will only dance to music.”

Tom suffered himself to be led to the lady.

She had watched with an amused smile the attitude of protest on the part of the good-looking young man. She was greatly amused; but in the course of her life she had had occasion to study the very young man, and she rather fancied that she had acquired some knowledge of him and his ways. He was an interesting study. She had found Dick Sheridan extremely interesting even during the previous half hour—though she had not begun her course of lessons with him. As a matter of fact, he had been in the nursery when she had begun to take her lessons.

She would have been greatly surprised if young Linley had acquiesced with any degree of eagerness in the suggestion made to him by Dick, and she did not feel in the least hurt to notice his frown and his general air of protest. She had once watched from the window of her cottage on the Edgeware Road the breaking-in of a spirited young colt. She had admired his protests; but before the day was done, the horse-breaker had put the bit in his mouth and was trotting him quietly round the field.

She had done something in the way of breaking in colts in her time, and they had all begun by protesting.

“I saw that you were a musician the instant you appeared, Mr. Linley,” she said. “I know that you are devoted to your art. Ah, sir, yours is an art worthy of the devotion of a lifetime. Is there any art besides music, Mr. Linley? I sometimes feel that there is none.”

The large eyes of the young man glowed.

“There is none, madam,” he said definitely.

His air of finality amused her greatly.

“I feel pleased that you agree with me,” she said. “I have no patience with such people as one meets at times—men who are ever ready to decry the art which they themselves practise. I have known painters complain bitterly that Heaven had not made them poets, and I have known poets cry out against the fate that had not created them wits. Here is our friend Mr. Sheridan, who is both a poet and a wit, and yet he is ready to complain that Heaven has not made him a successful lover as well.”

Young Mr. Sheridan cast upon the lady a reproachful glance, and went off with a bow.

Mrs. Abington made room for Tom on her sofa. She sent him an invitation from her eyes. It was a small sofa; but he was entirely free from self-consciousness, and therefore he did not know what it was to be shy. He seated himself by her side. A fold of her brocade flowed over his feet. This did not embarrass him in the least.

He waited for her to talk. It did not occur to him that he should make the attempt to be agreeable to her.

“’Twas a pretty conceit that of Mr. Sheridan’s,” said she musingly. “But I am convinced that ’tis true. He said that you had buried your heart into your violin, Mr. Linley. Yes, I am sure that that is the truth; for were it otherwise how could the people who have heard you play declare, as some have done to me, that when you play ’tis as if you were drawing your bow across your heart-strings?”

“You have heard people say that?” he cried, leaning forward in eagerness; he had allowed the sofa to support his shoulders up to this point. “You have met some who heard me play? But I have only returned from Italy a few days. I have only played once in Bath.”

“You can only be upheld when you play in public by the thought that in every audience there are some persons—few though they may be, still they are there—who are capable of appreciating your playing—who are capable of receiving the impressions which you seek to transfer to them.”

He looked at her with wide eyes, surprise, admiration, in his gaze.

“I never begin to play without such a thought,” he cried. “That, as you say, is the thought that upholds me, that uplifts me, that supports me. I had it first from my dear Maestro. He used to urge us daily, ‘Play your best at all times; even though you fancy you are alone in the room, be assured that the true musician can never be alone. Who can tell what an audience the spirit world gives to him? He must remember that his playing is not merely a distraction for the crowd in the concert-room, it is an act of devotion—an act of worship.’ That is what the Maestro said, and every day I recall his words.”

“They are words which no true artist should forget,” said she. “The sentiment which they convey should be the foundation of every art. We cannot all build cathedrals to the glory of God, but it is in the power of every true artist to raise a shrine—perhaps it is only a humble one of lath and plaster, but it is still a sacred place if one puts one’s heart into it. That reflection is a dear consolation to me, Mr. Linley, when I reflect sometimes that I am only an actress.”

The boy was delighted. His face glowed. His heart burned.

“Dear madam,” he cried, “do not depreciate your calling. Why, I have heard even great musicians say that the most one could do in a lifetime was to add a single note to the great symphony which Nature sings in adoration of the Creator.”

“Then I was unduly ambitious when I talked of a shrine,” said she. “And I am, I repeat, only an actress. Such as I can only utter a feeble pipe—the trill of a robin. ’Tis you musicians whose works sound in the ears of all ages. Time calls aloud to time through you, until the world is girt about with a circle of glorious melody, and men live rejoicing within its clasp. Ah, sir, what am I, to talk of shrine-building? What am I in the presence of a great musician? Shrines? Oh, I can only think of Handel as a builder of cathedrals. Every oratorio that he composed seems to me comparable only to a great cathedral—glorious within and without, massive in its structure, and here and there a spire tapering up to the heaven itself, and yet with countless columns made beautiful with the finest carving. Ah, Mr. Linley, if the music of Messiah were to be frozen before our eyes, would it not stand before us in the form of St. Paul’s?”

“I am overwhelmed by the grandeur of the thought,” said he; and indeed he spoke the truth. His eyes had grown larger and more lustrous than ever while she had been speaking, and he could scarcely articulate for emotion. So highly strung was his temperament that the force of a striking poetic image affected him as it did few men. He had, as it were, reduced all the possibilities of life to a musical scale, and his thoughts swept over him as a bow sweeps over the strings of an instrument until all are set quivering.

“A cathedral!” he murmured—“a cathedral!”

She could see that those eyes of his were looking at such a fabric as she had suggested. He was gazing in admiration from pillar to dome, and from the dome to the blue heaven above all. She had never before come in contact with so emotional a nature—with so sensitive a soul. She knew that what Dick Sheridan said was true: Tom Linley had hidden his heart in his violin, and every breeze that touched the strings caused his heart to vibrate in unison with the music they made. She had only spoken to him on the subject of music, and already his face was glowing—his heart was quivering.

Some minutes had gone by before he was able to ask her:

“When did you conceive that wonderful thought—the oratorio—the cathedral? Ah, Handel spent his life building cathedrals!”

“It was when I had heard your sister sing in the greatest of all the master’s works,” she replied. “Could any one hear Miss Linley sing ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ and remain unmoved? Ah, what a gift is hers! I am certain that she is as sensible as you are of the precious heritage that is hers.”

“Alas!” he cried, “she has flung it away from her. She has no thought of her responsibility. Nay, she is ready to sacrifice herself so that she may never be asked to sing again.”

“Is’t possible? Good heavens! you cannot mean that ’tis her intention to sing no more after she is married?”

“That is why she is marrying Mr. Long—to be saved from the necessity of singing in public; those were her words—‘to be saved.’ Just think of it! Oh, she can never have had any true love for music!”

“You think not? But perhaps she has given all her love to Mr. Long.”

“She confessed to me—at least, she as good as confessed to me—that she intended marrying Mr. Long only because he had promised that she should not be asked to sing in public any more.”

“She cannot care for this elderly lover of hers. Has she tried to make you believe that she does?”

“She professes to be grateful to him for releasing her from her bondage: those were her words also—‘released from her bondage.’ She has always thought of her singing in public as a cruel bondage.”

“Heavens! But why—why?”

“I protest I cannot understand her. She is nervous—I think that she must be strangely nervous. She spends all the day in tears when she is to sing in the evening, and she is like to faint when she walks on the platform. And my sister Polly, who shares her room, told me that on returning from singing, Betsy has wept half the night under the influence of the thought that there were some people who remained untouched by her singing.”

“Singular! Good heavens! where would we be if we all had the same share of sensibility? What, does she think that the plaudits of her audiences are not loud enough or long enough?”

“She is utterly indifferent to applause. Indeed, she acknowledged to me that she was better satisfied when she was coldly received than when she succeeded in arousing people to a frenzy of delight, because then ’twas her hope that the managers would not be so anxious to engage her again. Oh, Betsy is my despair.”

“I can quite believe it. But you talked to her—reasoned with her?”

“Oh yes; I tried to make her feel as I do—that nothing in the world is worth a moment’s thought save only music.”

“But even that argument did not prevail with her? Did she not confide in you that she thought something else worth living for? Young girls have their fancies, as you may have heard—oh yes, their fancies and their loves. Has she been so foolish as to give her heart to any one, do you think?”

“She is going to marry Mr. Long.”

“Oh yes, but I was not talking on the subject of marriage; on the contrary, I was speaking on the topic of love. She has had many suitors. Do you fancy that she may love one of them?”

He gave a shrug and smiled.

“She has had no lack of suitors, but I don’t think that she set her heart on marrying any of them.”

“Not even the poorest of them?”

He looked at her enquiringly.

“Do you know anything of her suitors?” he asked. “I have been in Italy for some years, and so came in contact with none of them.”

“You did not put any question to her on the subject on your return?”

Once again he lapsed into the habit of shrugging, which he had acquired abroad.

“My dear madam,” said he, “I was not sufficiently interested in the matter to put any question to her touching so indifferent a topic. But now that I come to think of it, I fancy she did say something to me about love being—being—being something that deserved—— Let me see, was it the word ‘attention’ that she employed? No, consideration; I believe that was the word. Yes, she said that she had considered the question of love.”

“And with what result, sir? I protest that you interest me greatly,” said Mrs. Abington. And indeed she had now become quite interested in this boy with the large eyes so full of varying expression.

“Alas! madam, this is the point at which my treacherous memory fails me,” said he, after a little pause.

“Ah, is not that a pity, seeing that the point was one that promised to be of interest?” said Mrs. Abington.

“I am afraid that I was not interested, madam,” said he. “If she had come to me with the result of her consideration of Mozart’s additional instrumental parts to Messiah I feel sure that I would remember every word; but—— I wonder what view you take of the instrumental parts introduced by Mozart, Mrs. Abington? I should like to have your opinion on this subject.”

“And I should like to have your opinion on the subject of love, Mr. Linley,” said she in a slow voice, and letting her languorous eyes rest for a second or two on his—for a second or two—no longer. She recollected the horse-breaker; he did not force the bit into the mouth of his colt all at once. He allowed the little animal to put his nose down to the steel gradually. He did not frighten him by flashing it in his face.

“I told Betsy what I thought about love,” said he. “I told her that, while I did not assert that the sentiment of love had been brought into existence solely to give a musician an opportunity for illustrating it, still it formed an excellent subject for a musician to illustrate.”

“Indeed, you think well of love, Mr. Linley. Your views interest me amazingly. I should like to hear further of them. Love lends itself readily to the art of the musician? Yes, I should like to have this point further explained to me. I wonder if you chance to have by you any musical pieces by which you could demonstrate your theory.”

“Oh, there is no lack of such works, I assure you.”

“And I take it for granted that the only instrument that adequately interprets them is the violin. The violin is surely the lover’s choice in an orchestra!”

“It is the only instrument that has a soul, madam. Other instruments may have a heart: only the violin has a soul.”

“That is what I have felt—all my life—all my life; but until now my feeling was never put into words. Oh, it would be so good of you if you would play at your next concert some of the music that illustrates your theory. I wish to learn from you—indeed I do.”

“I do not play in public for another week.”

She gave an exclamation of impatience and then one of regret.

“’Tis too tiresome! I shall be back in London within the next day or two, and we may never meet again.”

Her long lashes were resting on her cheeks as she looked down at the tip of one of her dainty shoes. He looked at her, and his artistic appreciation compelled him to acknowledge that he had never before seen such marvellously long lashes.

He followed the direction of her eyes, and his artistic feeling—he had begun to feel—assured him that he had never seen a daintier foot.

“Why should it be impossible for us ever to meet again?” he asked.

“Ah! why—why, indeed?” she cried. “It has just occurred to me that if you had half an hour to spare to-morrow, you might not grudge sharing it with an old woman whose interest you have aroused on a question of art. You shall bring your violin with you and demonstrate to me your theory that love is particularly susceptible of being illustrated through the medium of music. Oh, ’tis wholly a question of art—that is why I am so interested in its solution.”

“Why, madam, nothing could give me greater pleasure!” he cried. “I shall go to you after dinner, and I promise you that I shall convince you.”

“You may have a hard task, sir. I give you warning that on any question of art I am obstinate.”

“Then my victory will be all the greater. Should I bring with me also a sonata illustrating the approach of autumn—’tis by a German composer of some distinction?”

“The approach of autumn?” said she. “Ah, I think we would do well to defer the consideration of the chills as long as possible. We will content ourselves with the approach of love, for the time being.”

“Perhaps you are right,” he said.

“The second house from the street in the Grand Parade is where I am lodging,” said she. “You will not be later than four o’clock, unless you choose to come very much later and share my humble supper?” she added.

But the boy said he thought that it would be wiser for him to go while the daylight lasted.

And perhaps he was right.

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