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brisk way of taking things, a surer tap of heels on the stone floor as she turned toward a swing-door to her left. She pushed it open, and was hit in the face by what seemed like a thick, black curtain.
A dim, white-gloved hand was thrust through it and took her ticket.
"Mind you don't fall. No good wasting the lights until they come if ever they does come," exhorted and explained a voice out of the darkness. For, after all, it was not a curtain, but just darkness.
At first Jenny could see nothing; then little by little it seemed as though different objects crept forward one by one, like wild animals from their lair.
Those white patches, the hands of two white-gloved men, holding sheaves of programs, she realized one between her own fingers,-whispering together.
There was the platform, the great piano sprawling over it; and, in front of this, rows and rows and rows of empty seats.
She looked behind her. They had argued long over the question of places for herself and his mother. "The very best," was what Ben had said; but they fought against this, fought and conquered, for the best seats meant
"What's a seat more or less, I'd like to know?"
"Money, all money." Old Mrs. Cohen had been firm upon this point.
Still, there were a great many seats yet farther back, and all empty, a little raised, seeming to push themselves forward with the staring vacuity of an idiot: more seats overhead in a curving balcony, rising above one another as though proud of their emptiness. It would have been impossible to believe that mere vacant places could wear so
sinister, as well as foolish, an aspect. An idiot, but a cruel idiot, too; the whole thing one cruel idiot, of the sort that likes to pull legs from flies.
There was a clock there, also. For a long while Jenny would not allow herself to look at it. But something drew her, until it became an unbearable effort to keep her eyes away from it, to look anywhere else; and at last she turned her head, stared, sharply, defiantly, as though daring it.
It was five and twenty minutes to nine. Five and twenty minutes to nine, and the concert was to have begun at eight! Five and twenty minutes to nine, and there was no one there no one whatever!
The clock's hands dragged themselves on for another five minutes; then one of the men disappeared behind the scene, came back, speaking excitedly, gesticulating with white hands:
"We 're to turn on the light. 'E swears as 'e won't give it up; 'e 's goin' ter play."
"Goin' ter play? Well, I'll be blowed! Goin' ter play, an' with nothing 'ere but that!"
Jenny saw how he jerked his head in her direction. So she was "that," she, Jenny Bligh, and so far gone that she did not even care.
As the lights went up, the hall seemed to swim in a sort of mist: the terra-cotta walls, the heavy curtain at each side of the platform, those awful empty seats!
Jenny spread her skirt wide, catching at the chair at each side of her, stretching out her arms along the backs of them. She had a wild feeling as though it were up to her to spread herself sufficiently to cover them all. She half rose. Perhaps she could hide more of that emptiness if she moved
nearer to the front: that was her goose-flesh ran down the back of her thought. arms, then he began to play.
But, no; she must n't do that. This was the place Ben had chosen for her; she must stay where she was. He might look there, miss her, and imagine that there was nobody at all, that even she had failed him.
If only she could spread herself indefinitely, multiply herself, anything to cover those beastly chairs, sticking out there, grinning, shaming her man!
Then she had a sudden idea of running into the street, entreating the people to come in; was upon her feet for the second time when Ben walked out on the platform.
For once he was not ducking or moving sidewise. He came straight forward, bowed to the front of him, right, and left; drew off his gloves and bowed again. Mingling with her agony of pity, a thrill ran through Jenny Bligh at this. He remembered her teaching; he was hers, hers, hers; after all, hers, more than ever hers.
The borrowed coat, far too big for him, rose in a sort of hood at the back of his neck. As he bowed, something happened to the center stud of his shirt, and it disappeared into an aperture shaped like a dark gourd in the whiteness.
But, for all that, Jenny felt herself overawed by his dignity, as any one would have been. There was something in the man so much greater than his clothes, greater than his conscious, half-childish self.
Jenny's hands were raised to clap, but they dropped into her lap, lay there, as, with a face set like marble, Ben turned and seated himself at the piano. There was a moment's pause, while he stared straight in front of him, such a pause that a feeling of
Jenny had not even glanced at her program,-she would have understood nothing of it if she had,—but it gave the Sonata, Op. III as the opening piece.
Ben, however, took no notice of this, but, for some reason he could not have explained, flung himself straight away into the third item, the tremendous "Hammerclavier."
The sounds flooded the hall, swept through it as if it were not there, obliterating time and space. It was as though the heavenly host had descended upon the earth, sweet, wonderful, and yet terrible, with a sweep of pinions, deep-drawn breath-Tubal Cain and his kind, deified and yet human in their immense masculinity and strength.
Jenny Bligh was neither imaginative nor susceptible to sound, but it drew her out of herself. It was like bathing in a sea whose waves overpower one, so that, try as one may to cling to the earth, it slips from beneath one's feet, shamed, beaten. She had a feeling that if it did not stop soon she would die, and would yet die when it did stop. Her heart beat thickly and heavily, her eyes were dim; she was bewildered, lost, and yet exhilarated. It was worse than a raid, she thought, more exciting, more wonderful.
The end left her almost as much exhausted as Ben himself. The sweat was running down his face as he rose from his seat, came forward to the front of the platform, and bowed right and left. Jenny had not clapped,she would as soon have thought of clapping God with His last trump,—but Ben bowed as though a whole multitude had applauded him.
By some chance, the only direction in which he did not turn his eyes was the gallery: even then he might not have seen a single figure seated a little to one side a man with a dark overcoat buttoned up to his chin, who clapped his two thumbs noiselessly together, drawing in his breath with a sort of whistle.
After a moment's pause, Ben turned again to the piano. This time he played the Sonata Pathetique, in C Minor (Op. 13): then the Sonata Waldstein in C Major. Between each he got up, moved forward to the edge of the platform, and bowed.
At the end of the Sonata Op. 3-by rights the first on the program-and the short interval which followed it, he straightened his shoulders with a sort of swagger, utterly unlike himself, swung round to the piano again, and slammed out "God Save the King!"
He played it through to the very end, then rose, bowed from where he stood, stared round at the empty hall, a dreadful, strained, defiant smile stiffening upon his face, and sinking back upon his stool, laid his arms across the key-board, with a crash of notes, burying his head upon them.
In a moment Jenny was out of her seat. There were chairs in her way, but she kicked them aside, and scrambled up to the platform; then, catching a sidewise glimpse of the empty seats, bent forward, and shook her fist at them.
"Beasts! Pigs! A-a-a-ah-you!" The attendants had disappeared, the stranger was lost in the shadows. There was nobody there but themselves; it would not have mattered if there had been. All the lords and
ladies, all the swells in the world, would not have mattered. The great empty hall, suddenly friendly, closed, curving, around them.
Jenny dropped upon her knees at Ben's side, and flung her arms about him with little moans of love and pity; slid one hand beneath his cheek, with a muffled roll of notes, raised his head, and pressed it against her heart.
"There, my dear! There, my love! There there there!"
She laid her lips to his thick, dark hair in a passion of adoration, loving every lock of it; and then, womanlike, picked a white thread from his black coat; clasped him afresh, with joy and sorrow like runnels of living water pouring through and through her.
"There! there! there! there!"
He was too much of a child to fight against her; all his pride was gone.
"O Jenny! Jenny! Jenny!" he cried; then, in an extremity of innocent anguish, amazement, added: "They did n't come! They don't care, they don't want it! Jenny, they don't want it!"
"Don't you worry about them there blighters, my darling. Selfish pigs! They ain't worth a thought. Don't you worry about them."
"Don't you worry about Beethoven neifer. Ain't no better nor he oughter be, taeke my word fur it. Lettin' you in like this 'ere! There there there! my dear!"
They clung together, weeping, rocking to and fro.
"Well," said the man in the gallery, "I'm jiggered!" and crept out softly, stumbling a little because of the damp air, which seemed to get into his eyes and make them smart.
As the lovers came out into the little
vestibule, clinging to each other, they did not so much as see the stranger, who stood talking to the man in the box-office, but went straight on out into the rain, with their umbrellas unopened in their hands.
"A good thing as the 'All people insists upon payment in advance," remarked the man in the box-office, with a titter.
the back of her own mind was a feeling
and she had an idea that it would be at the back of old Mrs. Cohen's also— of immense relief, of some load gone, almost as though her child had been through a bad attack of scarlet fever, or something which one does not take twice.
With all this there was the thought of what she would step out and buy
The other gave him a curious, half- for their supper if the fried-fish shop contemptuous glance.
"I'd like to hear you say that in a year's time." "Why?"
"Because that chap will be able to buy and sell a place like this a hundred times over by then: Queen's Hall, Albert Hall. I know. It's my business to know. There's something about his playing. That something different they 're all out for."
It took a long time to get back to Canning Town. Even Jenny had lost her certainty, her grasp of the ways of buses and such things. She felt oddly clear and empty, like a room swept and garnished, with the sense of a ghost in some dim corner of it; physically sapped out.
Ben clung to her. He said very little, but he clung to her with an odd, lost air-the look of a child who has been slapped in the face and cannot understand why.
She was so much smaller, like a diminutive, sturdy steam-tug; and yet if she could have carried him, she would have done so.
As it was, she threw her whole heart and soul into guiding, comforting, thinking of a hundred things at once, her soft mouth folded tight with anxiety: how to prevent him from feeling shamed before his mother, how to keep the trouble away from her, though at
was still open; all she would do and say to cheer them.
As for Ben, the "Hammerclavier" was surging through his brain, carrying the empty hall with it, those rows upon rows of empty seats, swinging them to and fro, so that he felt physically sick, as though he were at sea.
Quite suddenly, as they got out of the last tram, the rain ceased. At the worst it had been a mild night of velvety darkness and soft airs, the reflection from the lamps swimming in a haze of gold across the wet pavement; but now, just as they reached the end of his own street, the black sky opened upon a wide sea of pinkish-amber, and a full moon sailed into sight. At the same moment Ben's sense of anguished bewilderment cleared away, leaving in its place a feeling of incalculable weari
To be back in his own home again was all he asked.
"You'll stay the night at our place, Jenny?"
"Yes; I promised your mother." Her brow knitted, and then cleared again. Ah, well, that was all over: Ben would go back to his regular job again; they would get married; then there would be her money, too. No need for old Mrs. Cohen to do another hand's turn. Plenty of time for her to rest now.
"Your mother-" As she spoke, Ben remembered for the first time, actively remembered, for of course it was his mother that he meant when he thought of home.
"That was what I was thinking all the time to make a fortune so that you'd both have everything you wanted, a big house, servants, motors, silk dresses! And all the time letting you
"She was n't there, Jenny! She both work yourselves to death! But was n't there!"
"She was very busy, 'ad n't finished 'er work." Something beyond Jenny's will stiffened within her. So he had only just realized it! She tried not to remember, but she could not help it: the flushed face, the glassy eyes, the whole look of a woman beaten, with her back against a wall, condemning Ben by her very silence and desperate courage.
"Yes, work." Jenny snapped it out, hating herself for it, drawing him closer, and yet unable to help it.
"Why" began Ben, and then stopped, horrified. At last he realized it. Perhaps it ran to him through Jenny's arm, perhaps it was just that he was down on earth again, humble, ductile, seeing other people's lives as they were, not as he meant to make them.
"All night; one the saeme as another."
"But why-" he began again, stopped dead, loosed his own arm, and caught hers. "All this while working like that! She works too hard. Jenny, look here; she works too hard. And I this damned music! Look Look here, Jenny, it 's got to stop! I'll never play a note again; she shall never do a hand's stroke of work again, never, never, not so long as I'm here to work for her. All my life washing and ironing, ever since I can remember, like like the very devil!"
He pulled the girl along with him.
this is the end; no more of that. To be happy-that 's all that matterssort of every-day happiness. No more of that beastly washing, ironing. It's the end of that, anyhow. When I'm back at the timber-yard
He was like a child again, planning; they almost ran down the street.
True! How true! The street door opened straight into the little kitchen. She was not in bed, for the light was still burning; they could see it at each side of the blind, shrunk crooked with steam. There was one step down into the kitchen, but, for all that, the door would not open when they raised the latch and pushed it; it stuck.
"Some of those beastly old clothes!" Ben shoved it, hailing his mother. "Mother! "Mother! Mother, you 've got something stuck against the door." Odd that she did not come to his help, quick as she always was.
After all, it gave way too suddenly for him altogether to realize the oddness; and he stumbled forward right across the kitchen, seeing nothing until he turned and faced Jenny still standing upon the step, staring downward, with an ashy-white face, wide eyes fixed upon old Mrs. Cohen, who lay there at her feet, resting, incomprehensibly resting.
They need not have been so emphatic about it all. "No more beastly washing, no more work," for the whole thing was out of their hands once and for all.