Puslapio vaizdai
[merged small][merged small][graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]

one after another, the lights went out in the windows of the neighboring attics, until one after another the lights faded from the windows of the big hotel rising like a rock beyond the stretch of low roofs. And in the blue moonlit night, in the midst of the blue moon-drenched houses, their lamp burned steadily-a clear flame for the vigil in love's sanctuary while a loveless world was sleeping.

I knew he was an illustrator by the number of his drawings-he seldom painted-and by the frequent changes of her pose. I guessed his illustrations were


the furniture may consist of an easel, two chairs, a mirror, and a little table drawn out from somewhere when the time comes to lay the cloth, though the walls may be without decoration and the window without curtains-will not keep clean of itself. Nor will daily manna pour down into it from heaven. No servant waited upon Les Amoureux, no charwoman crossed their threshold; what cleaning and cooking had to be done, they had to do.

Love lightened this labor as well, but with no pretense of equality in their manner of sharing it. His eagerness to shield

her from drudgery would have outraged the women who make a new-fashioned wrong of their old-fashioned right to be shielded from anything. Hers were the lesser duties; the heaviest he reserved for himself, though many were of a kind that disillusioned husbands believe to be essentially the wife's business. In his pajamas, with sleeves rolled up and loose white gloves to his elbows, he swept and scrubbed while she, in white jersey and white handkerchief tied over her hair, followed with a dainty duster. She darned his stockings while he washed and polished the window. Sometimes at dawn before anybody else was about, sometimes at night when everybody else was in bed, sometimes in broad daylight when everybody else's house was in order, a fever of cleanliness seized him, and he mixed basins of paint and touched up the woodwork, whitewashed the walls, overhauled the few bits of furniture, rubbed the floor, baled out the gutter beneath the window. But still she followed with her duster or, as the one concession, was permitted to help him shake their tiny strip of carpet. Only on washing day did her turn come, and even then within limits. He must somehow have scraped together enough pennies and shillings to send the rougher part of the work to a laundry, for never more than a pair or two of stockings, a few handkerchiefs, and odds and ends of lace dangled in the window where she hung out the clothes to dry. But of the little left for her to do she made so much that I am sure she knew how pretty she was in her blue cotton gown, with the flowing sleeves pinned back to give free play to her white armsshe was always in his before she had done.

If when their kettle was to boil they had to keep it boiling, this, at any rate, was no serious hardship, for they lived mostly on the bread and cheese and kisses upon which lovers thrive in legend. Neither did it force them into regular hours. His small respect for time would have satisfied those people who insist first that there is such a thing as an "artistic temperament" and then make any sign of irresponsibility in any artist a proof of it. Some days Les Amoureux were at breakfast when I got up, on others they were not ready until I was at lunch; one night they might be finishing supper as I sat down to

dinner, the next they would be just beginning as I went to bed. I am afraid they never dined. There were always cups on the table, suggesting a succession of teas; often there was nothing else. If, after he had brought the table from out the shadows, he disappeared into them, leaving her to lay the cloth, I knew they were in luck and had something to cook on the stove they kept carefully out of my sight, for then he always reappeared with a dish in his hand. If he did not disappear into the shadows, he cut the bread-and-butter and made the tea, in this department also denying her equal rights. But whether they called the meal they sat down to breakfast, dinner, or tea, it was always a feast, for Love presided, and I used to see their lips meet and hands clasp above the tea


All this may sound like something in the "Vie de Bohème," but nothing could really have been more unlike. To Murger, Les Amoureux would have seemed no better than bons bourgeois, as out of place in the Quartier Latin as Rodolphe and Mimi in Chelsea or St. John's Wood. It is impossible to love and be wise, the philosopher says, but the special kind of folly the French student believes in was a stranger in the garret of Les Amoureux. There were no francs amis to interrupt them with joyous knock at the door; l'amour des chansons never distracted them from their tasks. Blague was unknown to them, holidays unheard of. They were always alone, they seldom went out. If I met them in the near streets, they were on their way to fetch the day's milk and bread, or the oil for the midnight lamp. Their pleasure was to run their errands together, their rare amusement to sit hand-in-hand at the window through the long summer evening.

And yet I half suspected that separation was a sweet sorrow they would have been willing to endure more often. They could not part, if only for ten minutes, without heartrending farewells and hesitations, endless last words and kisses. But the agony of parting over, I gathered that solitude had its compensations. If it was L'Amoureuse who was compelled to go, L'Amoureux would lean far out of the window to watch her to the end of the short street, but no sooner was she round the corner than he was in front of the mir

[graphic][merged small][merged small]


ror. The study of himself was an occupation that never palled,-an occupation that never has palled with young lovers since the world began. I have seen him stand there parting his hair at a dozen different angles and considering the effect of each as if his life depended on it. I have seen him button and unbutton his coat, thrust his hands into his pockets, cross them behind his back, all the while turning slowly round like a tailor's dummy and staring into the mirror like a new Narcissus. And once I saw him for twenty minutes by the clock tie and untie a white stock, probably designed to dazzle her, and I knew he only stopped then because he heard her step on the stair, for he had just thrown the stock away and put on his old cravat again when the door opened and she was in his arms.

It was the same when she was alone. The minute he was out of sight, she was at the mirror, in her turn studying, first, her face-going over it minutely inch by inch, rubbing, washing, greasing, powdering it and then her hair, examin

ing its growth upon the temples, the line of its parting, its length, its abundance. And she would shake it out strand by strand, clip it, brush it, massage it, arrange it in a dozen different fashions, though always, when he got back, it was hanging in the thick pigtail, so that I knew this was the way he liked it best. If there was time the set of a skirt was tried, or she decked herself out with ribbons, or trimmed and retrimmed a hat. She might have spared herself the trouble, for he was far more minute than she in examining her face, far more ingenious in arranging her hair, while his skill in draping a skirt, knotting a ribbon, and twining a garland about her hat, comforted me with the assurance that, should illustration fail, the practice of another and more profitable art would open alluringly before him.

Poverty had come in at the door with Les Amoureux, but love was in no haste to fly out of the window. Through the weeks and the months it kept its bloom in the garret, though with every new day I trembled as I looked from my window into

theirs, knowing that summer's lease hath all too short a date and dreading its falling in for them; knowing too how horrid a gap would be left in the roofs below my window when Time came to take their love away. Indeed, we all of us in my small family had grown absorbed in the pretty comedy they were playing, following it scene by scene, fearful lest some unsuspected villain should stalk across the stage and spoil it, dreading the fall of the curtain. "And Les Amoureux?" we would ask each other anxiously in the morning, and always before we went to bed we would look to see if their lamp still burned. Even our friends—that is, those of whose sympathy I was so sure that I had shown them the garret-when they called would rush to the window before they spoke to us, and when we met them in the street would want to know how Les Amoureux were before they bothered as to how we ourselves were.

Winter shut the garret window and mine, and hung a veil of fog and mist between. But I could see Les Amoureux, if dimly, coming and going about their daily work. I could see the easel by day, and the lamp at night: signs that the cold and the darkness had not sent love flying. Nor had it flown when the veil lifted and once again the leaves were growing green in the near garden and windows were open to the sunshine.

There was one change however, a small one, but it is the little rift that in the end shall make the music mute, and my heart sank. They had taken in as companion a small cat, black-and-white, young and gay, whose soft paws pursued the pencil of L'Amoureux when he was at work, and who perched on the back of L'Amoureuse when she leaned out of the window. With the cat itself I had no fault to find. It was a charming creature to whom I gladly should have given shelter, so that I could not exactly blame them for doing what I should have done myself. But a year ago would they have had eyes for a cat, would they have had a caress to squander upon it?

Then, one morning I caught them nodding and signaling to the little boy who lives in the flat under mine. A week later, on one of the hot June afternoons when London pretends that it is really going to be summer and all my neighbors, with the

[merged small][ocr errors]

And I knew the rift was widening by the time she now spent hanging out of the window, not merely to say good-by to him, but to wait for the things that never happened in their quiet street. And I knew it too by his readiness to be distracted. every passing hurdy-gurdy, every chance airship flying over London, sent him scrambling on the roof-and every morning he found leisure before dressing for a turn with the dumb-bells. True, she shared in the exercise as in the labor, and had her turn too. But-a year ago, were they in need of exercise, a year ago would they have heard the hurdy-gurdy in the street or seen the airship in the heavens? And many a night love's sanctuary was dark, many a day there were knocks at the garret door. Ladies in flowered hats sat round the tea-table. Men dropped in to smoke a friendly pipe. Visitors in frockcoats and top hats called to look at the drawings-editors and publishers I was sure, so evidently were things prospering in the garret. Two or three rugs lay on the floor instead of the one tiny strip of carpet, a high screen was put up behind the easel and, at its side, a capacious stand for brushes and paints. An arm-chair was added to the furniture, and a new lamp double in size and brilliancy.

But worst of all was the notice they began to take of us. One year ago-one short year-they had been sublimely unaware that anybody lived in the top floor of our London sky-scraper-sublimely unaware, indeed, that there was a London sky-scraper so near for anybody to live in.

Now they had discovered that we could look down into their garret and they did nothing but look up to see if we were, watching us more intently than we had watched them. Never any more did they fall into each other's arms before our sympathetic eyes. The easel was drawn back and the pose hidden by the screen.

And the morning they hung a curtain at their window, I knew the end had come.

They can save themselves the trouble of looking up now. We seldom look down. The garret has grown dull with the withering of love, and Les Amoureux are no longer like the pigeons who do not mind. being watched, they are no longer simply Les Amoureux-the lovers-Daphnis and Chloe, Aucassin and Nicolette, Romeo and Juliet, strayed into a London attic. They have returned from the Lovers' Paradise to the every-day world where our neighbors' business is none of ours. But can we complain? Can they? The

poet's love is sweet only for a season, theirs was sweet for a year. And the affection that survives love is more comfortable to live with and shares some leisure for thoughts of fame and fortune. But whatever greatness may be in store for Les Amoureux under a name by which I may never recognize them, one thing I know: for their "little moment" of perfection-the moment love alone can give

they will have to look back down the vista of the years to the days when they were Les Amoureux and the world for them was bounded by the sloping walls of a shabby little old London garret.

The Grd




OTHERING fane of the great English dead

M Who lie immortal in thy transept tomb,

Where falls upon their fame the gloried gloom Of windows that rain radiance overhead,

I would there were no missing presences
To grieve me in thy mighty organ's peal-
No poets exiled by the tyrant heel
Of cursed Custom's blind obduracies.

For all too great for littleness thou art,
And they who shut from thee a rightful son
Shut also out a portion of God's heart,

A portion of that Spirit which is one
With aspiration and the world's intent
To prize all beauty as divinely sent.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »