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She had fallen across the doorway, a flat-iron still in her hand, the weapon with which she had fought the world, kept the wolf from that same door, all the strain gone out of her face, a little twisted to the left side, and oddly smiling. One child's pinafore was still unironed; the rest folded, finished.
They raised her between them, laid her upon her own bed. It was Jenny who washed her, wrapped her in clean linen; no one else should touch her. Ben sat by her, with hardly a break, until the day that she was buried, wiped out with self-reproach and grief, desolate as any child, sodden with tears.
He collected all his music into a pile the day of the funeral, gave it to Jenny to put under the copper, a burnt offering.
"If it had n't been for that, she might be here now. I don't want ever to see it again, ever to hear a note of it," he said.
Jenny went back to the house with him after the funeral; she was going to give him his tea, and then return to her own room. In a week they were to be married, and she would be with him for good, looking after him. That evening, before she left, she would set his breakfast, cut his lunch ready for the morrow. By Saturday week they would be settled down to their regular life together. She would not think about his music; she pushed it away at the back of her mind as over and done with; she would not even allow herself the disloyalty of being glad. And yet she was glad, deeply glad, relieved, despite her pride in it, in him, as though it were something unknown, alien, dangerous, like things forbidden.
Two men were waiting at the door of the narrow slip of a house, the tall,
thin one, with his overcoat still buttoned up to his chin, and another fat and shining, with a top-hat, black frock-coat, and white spats.
"About that concert-" said the first man.
"We were thinking that if we could persuade you to play-" put in the other.
"There was no one there," interrupted Ben, roughly. His shoulders were bent; his head was dropped forward on his chest, poking sidewise; his eyes were as sullen as a child's.
"I was there," put in the first man, "and, I must say, impressed-"
"Very deeply impressed," added the other. But once again Ben brushed him aside.
"You were there at my concert!" Jenny, standing a little back, for all three men were crowded upon the tiny doorstep, saw him glance up at the speaker with something luminous shining through the darkness of his face. "At my concert! And you liked it? You liked it?"
"'Like' is scarcely the word."
"We feel that if you could be persuaded to give another concert," put in the stout man, blandly, “and would allow—"
"I shall never play again-never, never," cried Ben, harshly; but this time the other went on imperturbably:
"Allow us to make all arrangements, take all responsibility, boom you, see to the advertising, and all that. We thought if we were to let virtually all the seats for the first concert go in complimentary tickets, get a few good names on the committee,-perhaps a princess or something of that sort as a patroness, a strong claque—”
"Of course, playing Beethoven, playing him as you played him the other
night-grand, magnificent!" put in the first man, realizing the weariness, the drop to blank indifference in the musician's face. "The 'Hammerclavier,' for instance"
It was magical. "Oh, yes, yesthat that!" Ben's eyes widened, his face glowed. He hummed a bar or so. "Was there ever anything like it? My God! was there ever anything like it!" Jenny, who had the key, squeezed past them at this, and ran through the kitchen to the scullery, where she filled the kettle and put it upon the gas-ring to boil; looked round her for a moment with quick, darting eyes, like a small wild animal at bay in a strange place; then drew a bucketful of water, turned up her sleeves, the skirt of her new black frock, tied on an old apron of Mrs. Cohen's, with a savage jerk of the strings, and, dropping upon her knees, started to scrub the rough stone floors. "Men! trapsin' in and out, muckin' up a place!"
She could hear the actual murmur of men's voices in the kitchen, and through it all was plain as plain, that "trapsin"" of other men struggling with a long coffin on the steep, narrow stairs.
On and on it went, the agonized remembrance of all that banging, trampling; the swish of her own scrubbingbrush; the voices round the table when old Mrs. Cohen had stood ironing for hours and hours upon end.
Then the door into the scullery was opened. For a moment or so she kept her head obstinately lowered, determined that she would not look up. Then, feeling her own unkindness, she raised it and smiled upon Ben, who stood there flushed, glowing, and yet too shame-faced to speak; smiled involuntarily, as one must smile at a child.
"Well?" Smiling, Jennie gazed at him.
"That-that-music stuff-I suppose it 's burnt?" he began, fidgeting from one foot to another, his head bent, ducking sidewise, his shoulder to his
Her glance enwrapped him, smiling, loving, bitter-sweet. Things were not going to be as she had thought: no going out regularly to work, coming home to tea like other men; none of that safe sameness of life. At the back of her calm was a fierce battle; then she rose to her feet, wiped her hands upon her apron, stooped to the cupboard, and drew out a pile of music.
"There you are, my dear. I did n't burn it, 'cause well, I suppose as I sorter knowed all the time as you d' be wanting it."
Children! Well, one knew where one was with children, real children; but men, that was a different pair of shoes altogether. Something you could never be sure of unless you remembered, always remembered, to treat them as though they were grown up, think of them as children.
"Now you taeke that an' get along back to yer friends an' yer playin', an' let me get on with my work. It'll be dark an' tea-time on us afore ever I 've time ter so much as turn round."
"That woman," said the fat, shining man as they moved away down the street, "-hang it all! where in the world are we to get a taxi?-Commonplace little thing, a bit of a drag on him, I should think."
"Don't you believe it, my friend. That's the sort to give 'em-some un who will sort of dry-nurse 'em, feed 'em, mind 'em. That's the wife for a genius. The only sort of wife, mark my word for it."