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Title: Cruel Barbara Allen - From Coals Of Fire And Other Stories, Volume II. (of III.)
Author: Murray, David Christie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CRUEL BARBARA ALLEN.


By David Christie Murray

From Coals Of Fire And Other Stories
By David Christie Murray
In Three Volumes Vol. II.

Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly 1882



CHAPTER I.

Christopher was a fiddler and a man of genius. Educated people do not
deny the possibility of such a combination; but it was Christopher’s
misfortune to live amongst a dull and bovine-seeming race, who had
little sympathy with art and no knowledge of an artist’s longings.
They contented themselves, for the most part, with the belief that
Christopher was queer. Perhaps he was. My experience of men of genius,
limited as it may be, points to the fact that oddity is a characteristic
of the race. This observation is especially true of such of them as are
yet unrecognised. They wear curious garments and their ways are strange.
The outward and visible signs of their inward and spiritual graces are
familiar to most observers of life, and the aesthetic soul recognises
the meaning of their adornments of the hair and their puttings on
of apparel. Genius may be said in these cases to be a sort of mental
measles exhibited in sartorial form, and it may be supposed that but
for their breaking out there would be some fear of their proving fatal.
There are reasons for all things, if we could but find them; yet where
is the social philosopher who will establish the nexus between a passion
for Beethoven and the love of a bad hat? Why should a man who has
perceptions of the beautiful fear the barber’s shears? There were no
social philosophers to speak of in the little country town in which
Christopher was born and bred, and nobody in his case strove to solve
these problems. Christopher was established as queer, and his townsfolk
were disposed to let him rest at that. His pale face was remarkable for
nothing except a pair of dreamy eyes which could at times give sign
of inward lightnings. His hair was lank; his figure was attenuated and
ungraceful; he wore his clothes awkwardly. He was commonly supposed
to be sulky, and some people thought his tone of voice bumptious and
insolent. He was far from being a favourite, but those who knew him
best liked him best, which is a good sign about a man. Everybody was
compelled to admit that he was a well-conducted young man enough, and on
Sundays he played the harmonium gratis at the little Independent
chapel in which that pious and simple pair, his father and mother,
had worshipped till their last illness. Over this instrument
Christopher--let me admit it--made wonderful eyes, sweeping the ceiling
with a glance of rapture, and glaring through the boarders at the
ladies’ school (who sat in the front of the gallery) with orbs which
seemed to see not. The young ladies were a little afraid of him, and
his pallor and loneliness, and the very reputation he had for oddity,
enlisted the sympathies of some of them.

Whatever tender flutterings might disturb the bosoms of the young ladies
in the galleries, Christopher cared not. His heart was fixed on Barbara.

Barbara, who surely deserves a paragraph to herself, was provokingly
pretty, to begin with, and she had a fascinating natural way which made
young men and young women alike unhappy. She bubbled over--pardon this
kitchen simile--with unaffected gaiety; she charmed, she bewitched, she
delighted, she made angry and bewitched again. The young ladies very
naturally saw nothing in her, but a certain pert forwardness of which
themselves would not be guilty, though it should bring a world of young
gentlemen sighing to their feet. Barbara was nineteen, and she had
a voice which for gaiety and sweetness was like that of a throstle.
Christopher had himself taught her to sing. His own voice was
cacophonous and funereal, and it was droll to hear him solemnly phrasing
‘I will enchant thine ear’ for the instruction of his enchantress.
But he was a good master, and Barbara prospered under him, and added a
professional finish and exactness to her natural graces. She lived alone
with an old uncle who had sold everything to buy an annuity, and she had
no expectations from anybody.

Christopher had no expectations either, except of a stiff struggle with
the world, but the two young people loved each other, and, having their
choice of proverbs, they discarded the one which relates to poverty and
a door and love and a window, and selected for their own guidance that
cheerful saying which sets forth the belief that what is enough for one
is enough for two. Christopher, therefore, bent himself like a man to
earn enough for one, and up to the time of the beginning of this history
had achieved a qualified failure. Barbara believed in his genius, but
so far nobody else did, and the look-out was not altogether cheerful.
Barbara’s surname was Allen, but her godfathers and godmothers at her
baptism had been actuated by no reminiscences of ballad poetry, and
she was called Barbara because her godmother was called Barbara and was
ready to present her with a silver caudle-cup on condition that the baby
bore her name. Christopher knew the sweet and quaint old ballad,
and introduced it to his love, who was charmed to discover herself
like-named with a heroine of fiction. She used to sing it to him in
private, and sometimes to her uncle, but it was exclusively a home song.
Christopher made a violin setting of it which Barbara used to accompany
on the pianoforte, a setting in which the poor old song was tortured
into wild cadenzas and dizzy cataracts of caterwauling after the
approved Italian manner.

The days went by, days that were halcyon under love’s own sunshine. What
matter if the mere skies were clouded, the mere material sun shut out,
the wind bitter? Love can build a shelter for his votaries, and has
a sun-shine of his own. Still let me sing thy praises, gracious Love,
though I am entering on the days of fogeydom, and my minstrelsy is
something rusty. I remember; I remember. Thou and I have heard the
chimes at midnight, melancholy sweet.

‘Barbara,’ said Christopher, one evening, bending his mournful brows
above her, ‘we must part.’

‘Nonsense!’ said Barbara smilingly.

‘There is no hope of doing anything here,’ continued Christopher. ‘I
must face the world, and if there is anything in me, I must force the
world to see it and to own it. I am going up to London.’

‘To London?’ asked Barbara, no longer smiling.

‘To London,’ said Christopher, quoting Mrs. Browning; ‘to the
gathering-place of souls.’

‘What shall you do there, Christopher?’ asked Barbara, by this time
tremulous.

‘I shall take my compositions with me,’ he answered,’ and offer them
to the publishers. I will find out the people who give concerts and get
leave to play. I will play at first for nothing: I can but try. If
I fail, I fail. But there is nothing here to work upon. There is no
knowledge of art and no love for it. I must have more elbow-room.’

Elbow-room is indispensable to a violinist, and Barbara was compelled
to agree to her lover’s programme. She was a brave little creature, and
though she was as sorry to part with her lover as even he could wish
her, she accepted the inevitable. Christopher finished his quarter’s
instructions where he had pupils, declined such few further engagements
as offered themselves, packed up his belongings in a tin box somewhat
too large for them, said farewell, and went his way to London. Barbara
went with him by coach into the great neighbouring town five miles away,
and saw him off by train. The times and the place where these two were
bred were alike primitive, and this farewell journey had no shadow of
impropriety in it even for the most censorious eyes. The coach did not
return till evening, and little Barbara had three or four hours on her
hands. She walked disconsolately from the station, with her veil down to
hide the few tears which forced themselves past her resolution. Scarcely
noticing whither her feet carried her, she had wandered into a retired
and dusty street which bore plainly upon its surface the unwritten but
readable announcement of genteel poverty, and there in a parlour window
was a largeish placard bearing this legend: ‘Mrs. Lochleven Cameron
prepares pupils for the Stage. Enquire Within.’ A sudden inspiration
entered Barbara’s heart. She had seen the inside of a theatre once or
twice, and she thought herself prettier and knew she could sing
better than the singing chambermaid whom everybody had so applauded.
Christopher had often defended the stage from the aspersions cast upon
it by the ignorant prejudices of country-bred folk, who looked on the
theatre as a device of the Arch-Enemy and an avenue to his halls of
darkness. In pious varyings from church she had heard the Eeverend Paul
Screed compare the theatrical pit with that other pit of which the Enemy
holds perpetual lease, but she respected Christopher’s opinion more
highly than that of the Eeverend Paul. There was yet a sense of
wickedness in the thought which assailed her, and her heart beat
violently as she ascended the steps which led to Mrs. Lochleven
Cameron’s door. She dried her eyes, summoned her resolution, and rang
the bell. A pale-faced lady of stately carriage opened the door.

‘I wish,’ said little Barbara, with a beating heart, ‘to see Mrs.
Cameron.’

‘Pray enter,’ returned the lady in tones so deep that she might have
been a gentleman in disguise.

Barbara entered, and the deep-voiced lady closed the door, and led
the way into a scantily furnished parlour, which held, amongst other
objects, a rickety-looking grand piano of ancient make.

‘Be seated,’ said the deep-voiced lady. ‘I am Mrs. Lochleven Cameron.
What are your wishes?’

There was just a suspicion of Dublin in Mrs. Cameron’s rich and rolling
tones.

‘You prepare pupils for the stage?’ said Barbara. Her own clear and
sweet voice sounded strange to her, as though it belonged to somebody
else, but she spoke with outward calm.

‘Do you wish to take lessons?’ asked the lady.

‘If I can afford to pay your terms,’ said little Barbara.

‘What can you do?’ asked Mrs. Cameron with stage solemnity. ‘Have you
had any practice? Can you sing?’

‘I do not know what I can do,’ said Barbara. ‘I can sing a little.’

‘Let me hear you,’ said the deep voice; and the lady, with a regal
gesture, threw open the grand piano.

Barbara drew off her thread gloves and lifted her veil, and then,
sitting down to the piano, sang the piteous ballad of the Four Marys.
Barbara knew nothing of the easy emotions of people of the stage, and
she was almost frightened when, looking up timidly at the conclusion of
the song, she saw that Mrs. Cameron was crying.

‘Wait here a time, my dear,’ said Mrs. Lochleven Cameron, regally
business-like in spite of her tears, but with the suggestion of Dublin a
trifle more developed in her voice.

She swept from the room, and closed the door behind her; and Barbara,
not yet rid of the feeling that she was somebody else, heard Mrs.
Cameron’s voice, somewhat subdued, calling ‘Joe.’

‘What is it?’ asked another deep voice, wherein the influences of Dublin
and the stage together struggled.

‘Come down,’ said Mrs. Cameron; and in answer to this summons a
solemn footstep was heard upon the stair. Barbara heard the sound of
a whispered conference outside, and then, the door being opened, Mrs.
Cameron ushered in a gentleman tall and lank and sombre, like Mrs.
Cameron, he was very pale, but in his case the pallor of his cheeks was
intensified by the blackness of his hair and the purple-black bloom
upon his chin and upper lip. He looked to Barbara like an undertaker who
mourned the stagnation of trade. To you or me he would have looked like
what he was, a second or third-rate tragedian.

‘I have not yet the pleasure of your name,’ said Mrs. Lochleven Cameron,
addressing Barbara.

‘My name is Barbara Allen,’ said Barbara, speaking it unconsciously as
though it were a line of an old ballad.

‘This, Miss Allen,’ said Mrs. Cameron with a sweep of the right hand
which might have served to introduce a landscape, ‘is Mr. Lochleven
Cameron.’

Barbara rose and curtsied, and Mr. Lochleven Cameron bowed. Barbara
concluded that this was _not_ the gentleman who had been called
downstairs as ‘Joe.’

‘Will you’ sing that little ballad over again, Miss Allen?’ asked Mrs.
Cameron, gravely seating herself.

Barbara sang the ballad over again, and sang it rather better than
before.

Mrs. Cameron cried again, and Mr. Cameron said ‘Bravo!’ at the finish.

‘Now,’ said Mrs. Cameron, ‘do you know anything sprightly?’ she
pronounced it ‘sproightly,’ but she was off her guard.

Barbara, by this time only enough excited to do her best, sang ‘Come
lasses and lads,’ and sang it like herself, with honest mirth and rural
roguishness. For without knowing it, this young lady was a born
actress, and did by nature and beautifully what others are taught to do
awkwardly.

‘You’ll have to broaden the style a little for the theatre,’ said the
tragédienne, ‘but for a small room nothing could be better.’

‘I venture to predict,’ said the tragedian, ‘that Miss Allen will become
an ornament to the profession.’

‘I am afraid,’ said Barbara, rising from the piano, ‘that after all I
may be only wasting your time. I have not asked your terms, and--I am--I
have not much money.’

‘Miss Allen,’ said the tragedian, ‘unless I am much mistaken, you will
not long have to mourn that unpleasant condition of affairs.’

‘Are your parents aware of your design, Miss Allen?’ This from the lady.

‘I have no parents,’ faltered Barbara. ‘I am living with my uncle.’

‘Does he know your wishes in this matter?’

‘No,’ said Barbara, and the feeling of guilt returned.

‘If he is willing to entrust you to my tuition,’ said Mrs. Lochleven
Cameron, ‘I should be willing to instruct you without charge on
condition that you bound yourself to pay to Mr. Cameron one-third of
your earnings for the first three years.’

This opened up a vista to Barbara, but she was certain that her uncle
would give his consent to no such arrangement.

‘You had better lay the matter before your uncle, Miss Allen,’ said the
tragedian. ‘Without his consent, Mrs. Lochleven Cameron could not see
her way to an arrangement. She is; aware--as I am--of the undeserved
stigma which has been cast upon the profession by bigotry and ignorance.
She has no respect for the prejudice--nor have I--but she will not
violate the feelings of those who are so unfortunate as to suffer under
it.’

‘Ye’re quite right, Joe,’ said Mrs. Cameron colloquially, and then,
with added grandeur, to Barbara, ‘Mr. Lochleven Cameron expresses me own
feelings admirably.’

Barbara made no reply. It would have been sweet to work for Christopher
even by so audacious a means as going on the stage. But the vision
crumbled when she thought of her uncle. She dropped her veil and drew on
her gloves slowly, and as she did so a rapid step ascended to the front
door, there came the click of a latch-key, the slam of the street
door as it closed, and then, with an imperative knock which awaited no
answer, a young man rushed into the room and shouted,

‘Done at last!’

There was triumph in this young man’s eyes, and the flush of triumph
on his cheek. He was a handsome young fellow of perhaps five-and-twenty,
with a light curling beard and a great blonde moustache. His clothes
were a little seedy, but he looked like a gentleman. He did not notice
Barbara, and the tragedian and his wife apparently forgot her presence.

‘You don’t mean------?’ began Mrs. Lochleven

Cameron.

‘But I do mean it,’ cried the new-comer.

‘Rackstraw has taken it. It is to be put in rehearsal on Monday, and
billed for Monday-week. How’s that for high, eh?’

‘Good, dear boy, good!’ said the tragedian, and the two shook hands.

‘But that’s not all,’ said the new-comer. ‘Milford was there.’

‘The London Milford?’ asked Mr. Cameron.

‘The London Milford,’ said the other. ‘Milford of the Garrick. He heard
me read it, prophesied a great run for it, has promised to come down
again and see it, and if it fulfils his hopes of it, means to take it up
to town. In fact, it’s as good as settled.’

‘I congratulate ye, me boy,’ said Mr. Cameron. ‘I knew ye’d hit ‘em one
of these fine days. I knew ut.’

Through all this, which she only half understood, Barbara was silent.
She took advantage of the lull which followed the tragedian’s expression
of friendly triumph to recall Mrs. Cameron to the knowledge of her
presence.

‘I will speak to my uncle,’ she said, ‘and I will write to you.’

The stranger looked round when she spoke, and snatched his hat off.
Barbara bent her head in general salutation and went her way. When she
left the street, she could scarcely believe that it had not all been a
dream. It was so unlike herself to do anything so bold-She felt more
and more guilty as she waited for the coach, more and more afraid of
confiding to her uncle such a scheme as that she had so hastily formed.
When she reached home she made one or two inward overtures towards the
attempt, but her courage failed her, and she kept silence. Yet she
used to think sometimes that if she had the power to shorten poor
Christopher’s struggles, it was almost a crime not to do it.



CHAPTER II.

We who live in London know well enough that its streets are not paved
with gold. If one had asked Christopher his opinion on that point, he
would no doubt have laughed at the childishness of the question, yet he
came up to London with all the confidence and certainty which the old
childish belief could have inspired. He was coming to make his fortune.
That went without saying. He was brim-full of belief in himself,
to begin with. ‘The world’s mine oyster,’ he thought, as the cheap
parliamentary train crawled from station to station. The world is _my_
oyster, for that matter, but the edible mollusc is hidden, and the
shell is uninviting. Christopher found the mollusc very shy, the shell
innutritive.

Publishers did not leap at the organ fugue in C as they ought to have
done. They skipped not in answer to the adagio movement in the May-day
Symphony. The oratorio conjured no money from their pockets--for the
most part, they declined to open the wrapper which surrounded it, or
to see it opened. Poor Christopher, in short, experienced all the
scorn which patient merit of the unworthy takes, and found his own
appreciation of himself of little help to him. His money melted--as
money has a knack of melting when one would least wish to see it melt.
Oxford Street became to him as stony-hearted a step-mother as it was to
De Quincey, and at melancholy last--while his letters to Barbara became
shorter and fewer--he found an enforced way to the pawnbroker’s, whither
went all which his Uncle’s capacious maw would receive; all, except
the beloved violin which had so often sung to Barbara, so often sounded
Love’s sweet lullaby in the quiet of his own chamber. _That_ he could
not part with, for he was a true enthusiast when all was told. So he
went about hungry for a day or two.

I have hurried a little in telling his story in order that I might get
the worst over at once.

Two months before he came to this sad pass he was standing one cold
night in front of the Euston Road entrance to the great terminal
station, when the sound of a violin struck upon his ears, played as
surely a violin was never played in the streets before. The performer,
whoever he might be, slashed away with a wonderful merry abandonment,
playing the jolliest tunes, until he had a great crowd about him, on
the outskirts of which girls with their arms embracing each other swung
round in time to the measured madness of the music. The close-pent crowd
beat time with hand and foot, and sometimes this rude accompaniment
almost drowned the music:--

An Orpheus! An Orpheus! He worked on the crowd; He swayed them with
melody merry and loud.

The people went half wild over this street Paganini. They laughed with
him and danced to his music until their rough acclamation almost made
the music dumb. Then suddenly he changed his theme, and the sparkle
went out of the air and left it dim and foggy as it was by nature, and
by-and-by added a deeper gloom to it. For he played a ghostly and weird
and awful theme, which stilled merriment and chilled jollity, and seemed
to fill the night with phantoms. It made a very singular impression
indeed upon Christopher’s! nerves. Christopher was not so well nourished
as he might have been, and when a man’s economy plays tricks with his
stomach, the stomach is likely to pass the trick on with interest. He
stood amazed--doubtful of his ears, of the street, of the people, of
his own identity. For that weird and awful theme was his own, and, which
made the thing more wonderful, he had never even written it down. And
here was somebody playing it note for note, a lengthy and intricate
composition which set all theory of coincidence utterly aside. Nobody
need wonder at Christopher’s amazement.

The street fiddler played the theme clean out, and then passed through
the crowd in search of coppers. It furnished a lesson worth his learning
that, while he abandoned himself to mirth, the coppers had showered
into the hat at his feet in tinkling accompaniment to his strains; and
that now the weird and mournful theme had sealed generosity’s fountain
as with sudden frost. The musician came at last, hat in hand, to
Christopher. He was a queer figure. His hair was long and matted, his
eyes were obscured by a pair of large spectacles of darkened glass,
and his coat collar was turned up to the tops of his ears. A
neglected-looking beard jutted out from the opening in the collar,
and not a feature but the man’s nose was visible. The crowd had gone;
looking round, one could scarcely have suspected that the crowd had been
there at all a minute before.

‘That was a curious theme you played last of all,’ said Christopher.
‘Was it your own?’

‘No,’ said the musician, chinking together the coppers in his felt hat
as a reminder of the more immediate business in hand.

‘Whose was it?’ asked Christopher, ignoring the hat.

‘Don’t know, I’m sure,’ the musician answered shortly, and turned away.

There was nobody left to appeal to, so, putting his fiddle and bow under
his arm, he emptied the coppers into his trousers’ pockets, and, putting
on his hat, made away in the direction of King’s Cross. Christopher
followed at a little distance, wonder-stricken still, and half disposed
to return to the charge again. The musician, reaching the corner of
Gray’s Inn Road, turned. This was Christopher’s homeward way, and he
followed. By-and-by the fiddler made a turn to the right. This was still
Christopher’s homeward way, and still he followed. By-and-by the man
stopped before a door and produced a latch-key. The house before which
he stood was that in which Christopher lodged. He laid a hand upon the
fiddler’s shoulder.

‘Do you live here?’ he said.

‘What has that to do with you?’ retorted the fiddler.

‘That was my theme you played,’ said Christopher; ‘and if you live here,
I know how you got hold of it. You have heard me play it.’

‘You live on the third floor?’ said the other in a changed tone.

‘Yes,’ said Christopher.

‘I’m in the attics, worse luck to me,’ said the street player. ‘Come
into my room, if you don’t mind.’

He opened the door and went upstairs in the darkness, with the assured
step of custom. Christopher, less used to the house, blundered slowly
upwards after him.

‘Wait a minute,’ said the occupant of the attic, ‘and I’ll get a light.’

There was a little pause, and then came the splutter of a match. The
pale glow of a single candle lit the room dimly. Christopher jumped
at the sight of a third man in the room. No! There were but two people
there. But where, then, was the man who had led him hither? Here before
him was a merry-looking youngster of perhaps two-and-twenty, with a
light brown moustache and eyes grey or blue, and close-cropped fair
hair. The hirsute and uncombed genius of the street had vanished.

‘Don’t stare like that, sir,’ said the transformed comically. ‘Here are
the props.’ He held up a ragged wig and beard.

‘The what?’ asked Christopher. ‘The props,’ returned the other. ‘Props
are properties. Properties are theatrical belongings. There’s nothing
diabolical or supernatural about it. Wait a minute, and I’ll light the
lamp and set the fire going.’

Christopher stood in silence whilst his new acquaintance bustled
about the room. The lamp cast a full and mellow light over the whole
apartment, and the fire began to crackle and leap merrily.

‘Sit down,’ said the host, and Christopher obeyed. ‘I always like to
take the bull by the horns,’ the host continued with a little blush. ‘I
didn’t want to be found out at this game, but you have found me out, and
so I make the best of it, and throw myself upon your confidence.’

He took up the wig and beard lightly between his finger and thumb and
dropped them again, laughing and blushing.

‘You may rely upon me,’ said Christopher in his own dogged and sulky
tones. ‘If I wanted to tell of it, I know nobody in London.’

‘That was your theme, was it?’ said the host, throwing one leg over the
other and nursing it with both hands.

‘Yes,’ said Christopher; ‘you played it very accurately, you must have
a very fine memory.’

‘I suppose I have,’ said the other, with a little laugh. ‘But it’s a
wonderful thing.’

‘Do you think so?’ asked Christopher, blushing with pleasure.

‘I do indeed,’ his new acquaintance answered. ‘Play something else of
yours.’

There was a bed in one corner of the room, and on this he had laid the
instrument and the bow when he came in. He arose now and proffered them
to Christopher. Christopher took them from his outstretched hand and
played. The other listened, nursing his leg again, and nodding at the
fire, in time to the music.

‘You write better than you play,’ he said at length, with more candour
than was altogether agreeable. ‘Not that your playing isn’t good, but
it misses--just misses--the real grip--the real royal thing. Only one
player in a million has it.’

‘Do you think you have it?’ asked Christopher, not sneeringly, though
the words might imply a sneer, but speaking because he was shy and felt
bound to say something.

‘I?’ said the other, with a merry laugh.

‘O Lord no! A man can’t bring out more than there is in him. There’s no
divine melody in _me_. Good spirits now and then, a bit of sentiment now
and then, a dash more or less of the devil now and then--that’s all I’m
equal to. If I could have written that gavotte you played a minute ago,
I could knock sparks out of people with it. Here! lend me the fiddle.’

He played it through with the grave-faced merriment proper to it, and
here and there with such a frolicking forth of sudden laughter and
innocent fun as gave gravity the lie and made the pretence of it dearly
droll.

‘That’s it,’ he said, looking up with naïve triumph when he had
finished.

Yes, that was it, Christopher confessed, as he took back the violin and
bow and laid them on the table.

‘What brings a man who plays as you do, playing in the streets?’ he
asked a little sulkily.

‘That eternal want of pence which vexes fiddlers,’ said the youngster ‘I
lost an engagement a month ago. First violin at the Garrick. Rowed with
the manager. Nothing else turned up. Must make money somehow.’

‘What have you made to-night?’ Christopher asked. ‘I beg your pardon,’
he said a second later; ‘that is no business of mine, of course.’

‘About seven or eight shillings,’ said the other, disregarding the
withdrawal of the question. ‘And I won’t ask you,’ he went on, ‘what
brings a man who writes like you living near the clouds in a street like
this?’

‘Are you an Englishman?’ asked Christopher.

‘No,’ said the other. ‘No fiddler ever was. I beg your pardon. I
oughtn’t to have said that, even though I think it. No. I am a Bohemian,
blood and bones, but I came to England when I was eight years old, and I
have lived in London ever since.’

They went on talking together, and laid the foundations of a friendship
which afterwards built itself up steadily. In two months’ time
Carl Rubach was restored to his old place at the Garrick, and poor
Christopher was beginning to find out in real earnest what it was to be
hungry. He was too proud to ask anybody for a loan, and Rubach was the
only man he really knew. ‘When things are at their worst,’ says
the cynical bard, ‘they sometimes mend.’ Things suddenly mended for
Christopher. The Bohemian turned up one afternoon with an Englishman in
his train, a handsome young fellow of perhaps five-and-twenty, with a
light curling beard and a blonde moustache.

‘Allow me to introduce to you Mr. John Holt,’ said the Bohemian. ‘This,
Mr. Holt, is Mr. Christopher Stretton, a musician of great genius.
This--Stretton--is Mr. John Holt, a dramatist of great power. Gentlemen,
know each other. Mr. Holt writes charming songs. Mr. Stretton writes
beautiful music.’

He flourished with mock gravity as he said these things, turning
first to one and then to the other. Mr. John Holt’s eyes were keen and
observant; and one swift glance took in the knowledge of the composer’s
hungry pallor, his threadbare dress, the bare and poverty-stricken
aspect of the room.

‘I have two songs for a new play of mine,’ he said; ‘I want them set to
music.’

Christopher’s hand, thinner and more transparent than a healthy man’s
hand should be, reached out for the offered manuscript.

‘When do you think you can let me have the music?’ asked the dramatist.

Christopher read the songs through, and looked up.

‘To-morrow?’ he said.

‘So soon!’ said the other. ‘At what time to-morrow?’

‘Will midday suit you?’

‘Can you bring them to that address?’ ‘I will be there,’ responded
Christopher.

His visitors left him and he sat down to think. He was weak, and the
pains of hunger gnawed him, but as he sat over one of the songs the
words built themselves into a tune almost without his knowledge or
effort. Then he turned to write, and found that he had no music-paper.
He laughed bitterly at this discovery, and looking round the bare
apartment sighted his violin-case, and rising, took the violin and bow
out of it, put on his hat, and, with the case under his arm, made for
the pawnbroker’s. There he realised half-a-crown, one halfpenny of which
was confiscated in payment for the pawn-ticket. He bought paper and pen
and ink, and having taken them home, went out again and ate cold sausage
at the bar of a public-house, and came back with a few pence still in
his pockets. There was a nausea upon him, and he could not recall the
air he wished to write. He had eaten nothing for three days and he felt
at once sick and drowsy.

He was fain to lie down, and he fell asleep, to awake in two hours’ time
a little strengthened and refreshed. The tune came back again, and he
set it down, and then attacked the second one with like success.

Morning came, and after a meagre breakfast which finished his resources,
he went weakly to the address the dramatist had given him. Mr. Holt had
left behind him apologies for unavoidable absence. Would Mr. Stretton
call again at three? He wandered desolately home, and; waited, and when
the time drew near set out again. This time the dramatist was ready to:
receive him.

‘The lady who will sing the songs is here,’ he said, ‘and with your
permission I will ask her to try them over now. Will you come with me?’

‘I would rather await you here,’ said Christopher. The tunes he had
written were running riot in his head, and he thought them puerile,
vulgar, shameful. He would have torn the papers on which they were
written if he had not already surrendered them. He had liked them an
hour ago, and now he thought them detestable.

‘As you please,’ said the dramatist, and added ‘poor beggar!’ inwardly
as he went upstairs.

The composer sat in a sick half-dream and faintly heard a piano sounding
in a distant room. It played the prelude of one of his songs. Now
and then the sound of a female voice just touched his ears. He was
so fatigued and weak that, in spite of his anxiety, he glided into a
troubled doze in which he dreamed of Barbara. The dramatist returned,
and Christopher came back to the daylight at the sound of the opening
door.

‘Mademoiselle Hélène and myself,’ said Mr. Holt, ‘are alike delighted
with your setting of the songs. I shall ask you, Mr. Stretton, to read
my comedy and to write the whole of the incidental music, if you will
accept the commission. We can talk over terms afterwards. In the mean
time, shall I offer you a cheque for ten guineas?’

‘Thank you,’ said Christopher. He took the cheque and walked to the
bank, which was near at hand in Pall Mall, received his money, and
plunged into an eating-house, whence he emerged intoxicated by the
absorption of a cup of coffee and a steak. If you doubt the physical
accuracy of that statement, pray reduce yourself to Christopher’s
condition and try the experiment. You are respectfully assured that you
will doubt no longer.



CHAPTER III.

Christopher wrote the incidental music for the new comedy and composed
an overture and entr’actes for it--work for which he was paid pretty
liberally. He wrote to Barbara of his better fortunes, and promised to
run down and see her so soon as the business strain was over. But the
business strain was over and he did not go. He finished his music,
rehearsed it once with the orchestra of the Garrick Theatre, and then
fell ill of a low fever through which Rubach most kindly nursed him. The
Bohemian himself was busy, rehearsing half the day and playing at the
theatre at night, but he gave all his spare time to his friend. I had
forgotten to tell you that, for convenience’ sake, they had quitted
their old lodgings, and had taken chambers off the Strand, within three
minutes’ easy walk of the house. It was here that Christopher fell ill.

When he grew a little better, the Bohemian rather began to aggravate
him. Rubach talked of the new piece and its heroine, and of nothing but
the new piece and its heroine. He was enraptured with her. He confessed
himself overhead in love. So charming, so dainty, so sweet, so piquante,
so lovable was Mademoiselle Hélène. Rubach, half in earnest, half in
jest, confessed himself hopeless. Mademoiselle was engaged to Mr. Holt
the dramatist.

‘And even if she were not,’ he said, ‘is it likely she would look at a
poor wretch of a fiddler? She is going to make her fortune. She is going
to be the rage. She has never played before, but she sings like a lark,
like a linnet, like a nightingale; and she walks the boards as naturally
as if she had been born upon them. She is English too, in spite of her
foreign name. Why on earth do professional English people take foreign
names?’

‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ said Christopher wearily. ‘I should like to go
to sleep.’

While the sick man slept or made believe to sleep, Rubach was quiet as a
mouse; but when he awoke the ecstatic praises began again, until, before
the public knew more of the new actress than her name, our poor invalid
was sick of her and of her praises to the very soul.

He tried, however, to take some interest in the piece, and as he became
stronger he began to grow a little anxious about his own share in its
success. When the eventful night came he was able to sit up for an hour
before the piece began, and Rubach had to leave him. It was midnight
before the faithful chum returned, and after looking in on the invalid,
who seemed to slumber calmly, sat down for a final pipe by his own
bedside. But Christopher was only ‘playing ‘possum,’ as our playful
American cousins put it, and, his anxiety over-riding his desire for
quiet, he called out,

‘Is that you, Carl?’

‘Yes,’ said the other, hastening into his room on tiptoe. ‘I thought you
were asleep.’

‘How did the music go?’

‘Capitally. Both the songs repeated. The overture and the second
entr’acte would have been redemanded at a concert, but of course the
play was the thing. Such a success, Stretton! Such a furore! She is a
little goddess, a queen. You should see her and hear her! Ah me!’--with
a comic ruefulness--‘Holt should be a happy man.’

Christopher, warned by his outbreak, which he knew by old experience to
be the merest exordium, ‘played ‘possum’ again, with such success that
Rubach left him and he went to sleep in earnest.

Holt came to see him next day, and brought the morning papers with
him. The musician and he began to talk about writing an English opera
together, and Christopher brightened at the scheme, which opened up the
road to all his old ambitions.

‘You are getting stronger now,’ said Holt. ‘We shall have you in to see
the piece by-and-by.’

‘I shall come in a day or two,’ said Christopher; and when his visitor
had gone, sat down to read over and over again the reviews of his own
work. How they would gladden Barbara, he thought. How proud she would be
of his success! how eager to hear the music! He laid-a romantic little
plot for her pleasure. He would run down when he got stronger, and
compel Barbara and her uncle on a visit to town. He would convey them to
the theatre and when Barbara was quite in love with the music he would
tell her that he himself had written it. How well the songs would
suit her voice, and how charmingly she would sing them to him! Pleasant
fancies, such as lovers have, floated through his mind. He took up his
violin for the first time for a month, and played through the old tune,
‘Cruel Barbara Allen.’ Rubach came in and found him thus employed.

‘You are getting on, my boy,’ said the good Bohemian. ‘Can you come and
see the piece to-night? Are you strong enough?’

‘Not to-night,’ Christopher returned. ‘In a day or two.’ And he went oh
playing ‘Cruel ‘Barbara Allen’ dreamily.

‘What is that?’ said Rubach with a wry grin. ‘Is not twice or thrice of
it enough?’

Christopher laid down the instrument with a smile. When Carl had left
him he took it up again and played over to himself the songs Barbara
used to sing. He was weak and could not play for any great length of
time together, but he played every now and then a melody, and in a while
he got back again to ‘Cruel Barbara Allen.’ Back came Carl as he played
it.

‘That tune again? what is it?’

‘An old ballad,’ answered Christopher. “Cruel Barbara Allen.”’

He found a pleasure in speaking her name aloud in this veiled way.

‘Let the girl alone,’ said Carl. ‘I am tired of her.’

‘I am not,’ said Christopher with a weak little chuckle, ‘and I have
known her since she was a child.’

He began to play the air again, and Carl took away the violin with
simulated theatric anger. But Carl’s treatment of the name of the ballad
as though it were the name of a girl still extant gave Christopher
a temptation, and he played the air once or twice again in Carl’s
presence.

‘You are passionately attached to Miss Allen,’ said Carl.

‘She is the only sweetheart I ever had, responded simple Christopher
with shy merriment.

Rubach sat down at the piano and sang this song:--

     Through all the green glad summer-time
     Love told his tale in dainty rhyme,
        And sighed his loves out one by one,
     There lives no echo of his laugh,
     I but record his epitaph,
        And sigh for love worn out and gone.

     For love endures for little time,
     But dies with every change of rhyme,
        And lives again with every one.
     And every new-born love doth laugh
     Above his brother’s epitaph,
        The last light love worn out and gone.

‘That is not your doctrine, mon ami,’ he said as he turned round on the
music-stool. ‘You are faithful to Miss Allen?’

‘I am faithful to Miss Allen, certainly,’ said Christopher, reaching out
his hand for the violin, and again chuckling weakly.

‘No,’ said Carl, rising and confiscating the fiddle. ‘You shall sing her
virtues to that tune no more. Write a new tune for her.’

Anybody who has been in love, and I do not care for any other sort
of reader, may fancy for himself the peculiar enjoyment which shy
Christopher extracted from this homely badinage.

Two or three days later he was almost reestablished, and had indeed
begun to write a little. He would not yet go to the theatre, however,
having some fear of the excitement. He sat alone in the sitting-room
which he and his chum occupied in common, dreaming of Barbara over a
book, and building cloud palaces. It was ten o’clock in the evening,
and Carl would not be home till midnight. Then ‘who was this dashing
tumultuously up the stone steps after Carl’s accustomed fashion? Carl
himself, it seemed, but unlike himself, pale and breathless, and with
an ugly scratch across his forehead which looked at first sight like a
severe wound.

‘What’s the matter?’ cried Christopher, rising hastily.

‘I have had a fall,’ said Carl. ‘There is nothing to be alarmed at,
but,’ holding out his left hand, ‘I have sprained my wrist and I cannot
play.’

‘How did it happen?’ asked Christopher, following him into the bedroom,
where Carl had already begun to twine a wet handkerchief round the
injured wrist.

‘I was crossing the stage between the acts,’ said Carl; ‘a plank had
been moved, and I set my foot in the hole and fell--voilà tout I want
to ask you to play for me. There is not a man in the band who can do
justice to “When Love has flown.” It will be no trouble to you. You will
simply have to stand in the flies and play the air whilst a man on the
stage appears to play it, sawing away with a soaped bow. Will you come?’

Christopher stood irresolute. ‘They can do without me in the orchestra,’
said Carl, ‘but I have been playing your song as it deserves to be
played. Mademoiselle Hélène looks forward to its being played so. It
gives her aid, I know. The people look to hear it well played, and if
you do not go it will be given to Jones--to Jones, Gott in Himmel! who
plays as a mason cuts stone. Do come. It will cost you no trouble.’

Christopher took up his violin-case, long since extracted from My
Uncle’s maw, and followed Carl from the chambers into the street.

‘You play only the first movement, very low and soft,’ said Carl as they
went along. ‘I will stand by you and tell you when to begin.’

They entered the theatre--a terra incognita to Christopher--and found
their way through a chaos of disused dusty scenery. A great burst of
applause sounded through the unseen house.

‘That is for Mademoiselle,’ said Carl, ‘We are just in time to get breath
comfortably. Stay here. I will be with you directly.’

He left Christopher standing in the flies, looking on the stage. There
were two or three people on the boards, but Christopher had not the key
to their talk, and had little interest in them. By-and-by all but
one left the stage. The light dwindled and faded. The sun-sets on the
English stage are as rapid as in any tropic region. The player played
his part. He was in love, and true as true could be, but the empress of
his soul had her doubts about him. How could she doubt him? That was
the burden of his speech as he sat at the table, and murmured the loved
one’s cruelty with a broken voice and his whole function suiting with
forms to his conceit. It was almost dark when the first rays of the
silver moon fell athwart the chamber. Christopher felt that the dead
silence of the house betokened the coming of the crisis in the play,
and he was strung to the expectation of something out of the common.
Watching from his own dark standing-place, he could see the actor draw
towards him a violin case, and he silently drew forth his own instrument
to be in readiness. Whilst he waited and watched, Carl’s stealthy
footstep sounded behind him.

‘You will see her in a minute or two,’ whispered Carl. ‘I will touch you
once, when you shall make ready, and once when you shall begin.’

For half a minute or nearly, everything was still on the stage and in
the house. Then the player’s voice, passionate and low, broke again upon
the silence, and in a second or two Carl touched Christopher upon
the shoulder. There was a curiously _crisp_ feeling in the-composer’s
nerves, and he was a little excited. He tucked his violin under his
chin, and stood prepared. Into the definite band of moonlight which
crossed the stage glided suddenly a white figure.

‘Now,’ whispered Carl, and touched the musician on the shoulder, and
straight from the violin soared a voice, not soft and low, but clear and
loud, and the air was ‘Cruel Barbara Allen.’ Carl fell back a step or
two in his amazement. The white figure on the stage turned round, and
for a moment peered into the darkness of the flies--then glided on
again. The air once played, the composer cast his violin upon the stage
beneath his feet and trampled it, hurled the bow from him, and with one
cry, eloquent of agony and rage, turned and dashed past his companion,
and, tumbling through the dark and unaccustomed ways, reached the
street. Carl followed him and caught him up.

‘What is it, Stretton? What is the matter?’ he cried, and seized his
friend by the arm. Christopher answered nothing, but hurried on like one
distracted. ‘He’s mad,’ said Carl within himself--‘quite mad.’

They came together to their chambers, and Christopher sank into
an arm-chair and moaned, unconscious of Carl’s presence, ‘Barbara!
Barbara!’

‘It is madness,’ said Carl, tossing his hands tempestuously towards
the ceiling, ‘mere midsummer madness. Poor fellow! Stretton! Stretton!
Listen to me! What is it? Don’t you know me?’

For Christopher glared at him like one who had no knowledge of him, and
then again hid his face within his hands.

‘What on earth made you play that tune?’ cried Carl.

‘She was there, man! She was there!’ groaned Christopher, rising and
pacing the room with unequal steps.

‘Who was there?’ said Carl, almost as wildly.

‘Barbara,’ groaned Christopher again, ‘Mademoiselle Hélène is Barbara
Allen.’

‘“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!”’ murmured the theatrical
Carl. ‘I must humour him. Never mind, old man. Suppose she is! what does
it matter?’

‘Oh, Carl! Carl!’ cried the other, turning upon him and gripping him by
both shoulders. ‘I never loved another woman, and I never can. I would
have built my hopes of Heaven upon her truth.’

Carl began to think there was something in it.

‘You mean that Mademoiselle Hélène is Miss Allen?’

‘Yes, I said so.’

‘And that you knew her?’

‘We were sweethearts when we were children. We were engaged to be
married two years ago. Would you believe it, Carl? would you believe it?
I had a letter from her only this morning dated from the old place in
the country. Think of the cunning perfidy of it!’

‘How long can she have known Holt?’ asked Carl, rather to himself than
Christopher.

‘Why, how can I tell?’ said the musician, groaning. ‘She has deceived me
all along.’

There was no present consolation possible, and Carl had the sense to
see it. He lit a pipe and watched his unhappy friend sympathetically.
Christopher went up and down the room exclaiming here and there against
the perfidy of woman. There came an imperious summons at the door.

‘Don’t let him in, whoever it is,’ said Christopher.

Somebody kicked the door and roared ‘Rubach!’

‘It’s Milford,’ said Carl; ‘the manager. There’s going to be a row. A
bit of a row will do you good, my poor fellow. I shall let him in.’

So said, so done. Enter Milford the lordly, in a towering rage, followed
by Holt, evidently disposed to appease his manager’s wrath.

‘I have called,’ said the manager, blowing hard and fixing a savage eye
on Carl, ‘to know what the devil you mean, sir, by turning the theatre
into a bear-garden?’

‘My good sir----’ said Carl with Continental affability.

‘Don’t “good sir” me, sir,’ cried the manager. ‘What the devil do you
mean, sir?’

‘This is a matter for commiseration, sir, not for anger,’ Carl began.

Then the great man began to swear, and did it well and fluently, with
gusto. When he had done, he collected himself and shook his fist at Carl
with a final admonition.

‘Don’t you come near my theatre again, you--you foreign rascal.’

‘It is I who am to blame,’ said Christopher, ‘and not he. It was I who
played for him, and who--in short, I am to blame.’

The manager glared speechlessly for a moment, and then gasped,

‘Explain, sir.’

‘Mr. Rubach,’ said Christopher, ‘had sprained his wrist by a fall this
evening. He came to me and requested me to play for him behind the
scenes in the last act. You know what happened. _That_ I cannot
explain.’

The situation was awkward for everybody. If Barbara’s perfidy had
sullied his own life and left him desolate, Christopher could still
speak no evil of her in the presence of the man for whom she had jilted
him. Carl’s tongue was tied by his regard for Holt’s feelings. The
manager naturally wanted to get at the bottom of the situation, and the
dramatist felt that a friend whom he was learning to value had somehow
imperilled his play. All four stood silent, and footsteps came leisurely
up the stone stairs, and were heard very distinctly in the stillness.
The door had been left open, but one of the new-comers stopped to tap at
it.

‘Come in,’ cried Carl, ready to welcome any diversion.

A red face and a grey head came round the door.

‘Does Mr. Stretton------? Oh! Chris, my boy, how are you?’

No other a person than Barbara’s uncle.

‘I’ve brought Barbara to see you. Come in, Barbara. Why, what’s the
matter?’

Christopher turned away from Barbara, as she approached him, veiled,
and walked to the window, through which he looked on the night, seeing
nothing.

‘Chris!’ said Barbara, in a pathetic, wounded voice. ‘Chris!’
Mechanically she raised her veil and looked round upon her uncle with a
pale scared face.

‘Stretton!’ roared Carl, leaping at him and laying forcible hands upon
him, forgetful of his own sprained wrist. ‘Is this Miss Allen?’

‘Yes,’ said Christopher, with a sob which would have way in spite of
him.

‘Then it isn’t Mademoiselle Hélène,’ said Carl.

Christopher turned with bewildered looks.

‘Tell me,’ he said to Barbara wildly, ‘are you playing at the Garrick
Theatre?’

‘You’ve been a-drinking, Christopher,’ said Barbara’s uncle plaintively.

‘No,’ said Barbara, frightened as she well might be at the presence of
strangers at this curious scene, and at the scene itself. ‘Uncle had
business in London, and he brought me with him this afternoon. We heard
that you had written the music to a play, and we went to hear it. We--we
thought you would be conducting, and that I should see you there.’

Little Barbara put up her hands and began to cry.

‘Sir,’ said Carl to the manager, ‘I ask you, as the first step towards
the understanding of this business, to admit that the likeness between
this young lady and Mademoiselle Hélène is very remarkable and close.’

‘Very remarkable!’ said the manager.

‘Wonderful!’ said Mr. Holt.

‘Me and my niece have been a-laughing at it and a-noticing of it all the
evening,’ said Barbara’s uncle.

Carl told the story.

‘I’ll have it in the papers,’ said Milford the manager. ‘Stunning good
advertisement; Eh? No names, of course. Oh dear, no; no names!’

Then the manager and the dramatist suddenly felt themselves de trop, and
Carl, catching the infection, went with them.

‘Can you forgive me for doubting you?’ said Christopher. ‘It was I who
suffered by it.’

‘Poor Chris!’ said Barbara, and quite regardless of her uncle she put
her arms round her lover’s neck and kissed him like the tenderhearted,
unsophisticated child she was. ‘Am I cruel Barbara now?’ she asked,
nestling to him, and looking up with a smile half audacious, half
appealing.

‘No,’ said Christopher a little sheepishly. But as she slipped away
from him he recovered himself and took her in his arms and kissed her
tenderly.

And so, shortly thereafter--to finish in the style of the best of all
story-tellers who entertained us in our childhood--they married, and
lived happily.





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