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4: The “Melody in F”

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Author Topic: 4: The “Melody in F”  (Read 34 times)
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« on: April 10, 2023, 11:40:31 am »

GILBERT STANDERTON was dressing slowly before his glass when Leslie was announced. That individual was radiant and beautiful to behold as became the best man at the wedding of an old friend.

Leslie Frankfort was one of those fortunate individuals who combine congenial work with the enjoyment of a private income. He was the junior partner of a firm of big stockbrokers in the City, a firm which dealt only with the gilt-edged markets of finance. He enjoyed in common with Gilbert a taste for classical music, and this was the bond which had first drawn the two men together.

He came into the room, deposited his silk hat carefully upon a chair, and sat on the edge of the bed, offering critical suggestions to the prospective bridegroom.

“By the way,” he said suddenly, “I saw that old man of yours yesterday.”

Gilbert looked round.

“You mean Springs, the musician?”

The other nodded.

“He was playing for the amusement of a theatre queue---a fine old chap.”

“Very,” said Gilbert absently.

He paused in his dressing, took up a letter from the table, and handed it to the other.

“Am I to read it?” asked Leslie.

Gilbert nodded.

“There’s nothing to read, as a matter of fact,” he said; “it’s my uncle’s wedding present.”

The young man opened the envelope and extracted the pink slip. He looked at the amount and whistled.

“One hundred pounds,” he said. “Good Lord! That won’t pay the upkeep of your car for a quarter. I suppose you told Mrs. Cathcart?”

Gilbert shook his head.

“No,” he said shortly, “I intended telling her but I haven’t. I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind, Leslie, that we are doing her an injustice. She has been so emphatic about money. And after all, I’m not a pauper,” he said with a smile.

“You’re worse than a pauper,” said Leslie earnestly; “a man with six hundred a year is the worst kind of pauper I know.”

“Why?”

“You’ll never bring your tastes below a couple of thousand, you’ll never raise your income above six hundred---plus your Foreign Office job, that’s only another six hundred.”

“Work,” said the other.

“Work!” said the other scornfully, “you don’t earn money by work. You earn money by scheming, by getting the better of the other fellow. You’re too soft-hearted to make money, my son.”

“You seem to make money,” said Gilbert with a little smile.

Leslie shook his head vigorously.

“I’ve never made a penny in my life,” he confessed with some enjoyment. “No, I have got some very stout, unimaginative senior partners who do all the money-making. I merely take dividends at various periods of the year. But then I was in luck. What is your money, by the way?”

Gilbert was in the act of tying his cravat. He looked up with a little frown.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean, is it in securities---does it continue after your death?”

The little frown still knit the brows of the other.

“No,” he said shortly, “after my death there is scarcely enough to bring in a hundred and fifty a year. I am only enjoying a life interest on this particular property.”

Leslie whistled.

“Well, I hope, old son, that you’re well insured.”

The other man made no attempt to interrupt as Leslie, arguing with great fluency and skill on the duties and responsibilities of heads of families, delivered himself of his views on insurance and upon the uninsured.

“Some Johnnies are so improvident,” he said. “I knew a man----”

He stopped suddenly. He had caught a reflection of Gilbert’s face in the glass. It was haggard and drawn, it seemed the face of a man in mortal agony. Leslie sprang up.

“What on earth is the matter, my dear chap?” he cried. He came to the other’s side and laid his hand on his shoulder.

“Oh, it’s nothing---nothing, Leslie,” said Gilbert.

He passed his hand before his eyes as though to wipe away some ugly vision.

“I’m afraid I’ve been rather a careless devil. You see, I depended too much upon uncle’s money. I ought to be insured.”

“That isn’t worrying you surely?” asked the other in astonishment.

“It worries me a bit,” said Gilbert moodily. “One never knows, you know----”

He stood looking thoughtfully at the other, his hands thrust into his pockets.

“I wish to heaven this wedding had been postponed!”

Leslie laughed.

“It’s about time you were married,” he said. “What a jumpy ass you are.”

He looked at his watch.

“You’d better hurry up, or you’ll be losing this bride of yours. After all, this isn’t a day for gloom; it’s the day of days, my friend.”

He saw the soft look that came into Gilbert’s eyes, and felt satisfied with his work.

“Yes, there is that,” said Gilbert Standerton softly. “I forgot all my blessings. God bless her!” he said under his breath.

As they were leaving the house, Gilbert asked----

“I suppose you have a list of the guests who are to be present?”

“Yes,” said the other, “Mrs. Cathcart was most duteous.”

“Will Dr. Barclay-Seymour be there?” asked the other carelessly.

“Barclay-Seymour---no, he won’t be there,” replied Leslie, “he’s the Leeds Johnnie, isn’t he? He went up from London last night. What’s this talk of your having run away the other night?”

“It was an important engagement,” said Gilbert hurriedly, “I had a man to see; I couldn’t very well put him off----”

Leslie realised that he had asked an embarrassing question and changed the subject.

“By the way,” he said, “I shouldn’t mention this matter of the money to Mrs. Cathcart till after you’ve both settled down.”

“I won’t,” said Gilbert grimly.

On the way to the church he reviewed all the troubles that were besetting him and faced them squarely. Perhaps it would not be as bad as he thought. He was ever prone to take an exaggerated and a worrying view of troubles. He had anticipated dangers, and time and time again his fears had been groundless. He had lived too long alone. A man ought to be married before he was thirty-two. That was his age. He had become cranky. He found consolation in uncomplimentary analysis till the church was reached.

It was a dream, that ceremony: the crowded pews, the organ, the white-robed choir, the rector and his assistants; the coming of Edith, so beautiful, so ethereal in her bridal robes; the responses, the kneeling and the rising---it was all unreal.

He had thought that the music would have made a lasting impression on him; he had been at some pains to choose it, and had had several consultations with the organist. But at the end of the service when he began to walk, still in his dream, towards the vestry, he could not recall one single bar. He had a dim recollection of the fact that above the altar was a stained glass window, one tiny pane of which had been removed, evidently on account of a breakage.

He was back in the house, sitting at the be-flowered table, listening in some confusion to the speeches and the bursts of laughter which assailed each speaker as he made his point: now he was on his feet, talking easily, without effort, but what words he used, or why people applauded, or why they smiled he could not say.

Once in its course he had looked down at the delicate face by his side, and had met those solemn eyes of hers, less fearful to-day, it seemed, than ever he had seen them. He had felt for her hand and had held it, cold and unresponsive, in his . . . .

“An excellent speech,” said Leslie.

They were in the drawing-room after the breakfast.

“You’re quite an orator.”

“Am I?” said Gilbert.

He was beginning to wake again. The drawing-room was real, these people were real, the jokes, the badinage, and the wit which flew from tongue to tongue---all these things were of a life he knew.

“Whew!” He wiped his forehead and breathed a deep sigh. He felt like a man who had regained consciousness after an anæsthetic that did not quite take effect. A painless and a beautiful experience, but of another world, and it was not he, so he told himself, who had knelt at the altar rail.

---

Officially the honeymoon was to be spent at Harrogate, actually it was to be spent in London. They preserved the pretence of catching a train, and drove to King’s Cross.

No word was spoken throughout that journey. Gilbert felt the restriction, and did not challenge it or seek to overcome it. The girl was naturally silent. She had so much to say in the proper place and at the proper time. He saw the old fear come back to her eyes, was hurt by the unconscious and involuntary shrinking when his hand touched hers.

The carriage was dismissed at King’s Cross. A taxi-cab was engaged, and they drove to the house in St. John’s Wood. It was empty, the servants had been sent away on a holiday, but it was a perfectly fitted little mansion. There were electric cookers, and every labour-saving appliance the mind of man could devise, or a young man with great expectations and no particular idea of the value of money could acquire.

This was to be one of the joys of the honeymoon, so Gilbert had told himself. She had willingly dispensed with her maid; he was ready to be man-of-all-work, to cook and to serve, leaving the rough work for the two new day servants he had employed to come in in the morning.

Yet it was with no sense of joyfulness that he led her from room to room, showed her the treasures of his household. A sense of apprehension of some coming trouble laid its hand upon his tongue, damped his spirit, and held him in temporary bondage.

The girl was self-possessed. She admired, criticised kindly, and rallied him gently upon his domesticity. But the strain was there all the time; there was a shadow which lay between them.

She went to her room to change. They had arranged to go out to dinner, and this programme they followed. Leslie Frankfort saw them in the dining hall of Princes, and pretended he didn’t know them. It was ten o’clock when they went back to their little house.

Gilbert went to his study; his wife had gone up to her room and had promised to come down for coffee. He went to work with all the skill which a pupil of Rahbat might be expected to display, and brewed two tiny little cups of Mocha. This he served on the table near the settee where she would sit . . . Then she came in.

He had been fast awakening from the dream of the morning. He was alive now. The dazement of that momentous ceremony had worn away. He rose and went a little way towards her. He would have taken her in his arms then and there, but this time the arm’s length was a reality. Her hand touched his breast, and the arm stiffened. He felt the rebuff in the act, and it seemed to him that his heart went cold, and that all the vague terrors of the previous days crystallised into one concrete and terrible truth. He knew all that she had to say before she spoke.

It was some time before she found the words she wanted, the opening was so difficult.

“Gilbert,” she said at last, “I am going to do a cowardly thing. It is only cowardly because I have not told you before.”

He motioned her to the settee.

He had woven a little romance for this moment, a dream scene which was never to be enacted. Here was the shattering.

“I won’t sit down,” she said, “I want all my strength to tell you what I have to tell you. If I hadn’t been an arrant coward I should have told you last night. I meant to tell you,” she said, “but you did not come.”

He nodded.

“I know,” he said, almost impatiently. “I could not come. I did not wish---I could not come,” he repeated.

“You know what I have to tell you?” Her eyes were steadily fixed on his. “Gilbert, I do not love you.”

He nodded again.

“I know now,” he said.

“I never have loved you,” she said in tones of despair; “there never was any time when I regarded you as more than a dear friend. But----”

She wanted to tell him why, but a sense of loyalty to her mother kept her silent. She would take all the blame, for was she not blameworthy? For she, at least, was mistress of her own soul: had she wished, she could have taken a line of greater resistance than that which she had followed.

“I married you,” she went on slowly, “because---because you are---rich---because you will be rich.”

Her voice dropped at the last word until it was husky. There was a hard fight going on within her. She wanted to tell the truth, and yet she did not want him to think so badly of her as that.

“For my money!” he repeated wonderingly.

“Yes, I---I wanted to marry a man with money. We have had---a very hard time.”

The confession came in little gasps; she had to frame every sentence before she spoke.

“You mustn’t blame mother, I was equally guilty; and I ought to have told you---I wanted to tell you.”

“I see,” he said calmly.

It is wonderful what reserves of strength come at a man’s bidding. In this terrible crisis, in this moment when the whole of his life’s happiness was shattered, when the fabric of his dream was crumbling like a house of paper, he could be judicial, almost phlegmatic.

He saw her sway, and springing to her side caught her.

“Sit down,” he said quietly.

She obeyed without protest. He settled her in the corner of the settee, pushed a cushion almost viciously behind her, and walked back to the fireplace.

“So you married me for my money,” he said, and laughed.

It was not without its amusing side, this situation.

“By Heaven, what a comedy---what a comedy!” He laughed again. “My poor child,” he said, with unaccustomed irony, “I am sorry for you, for you have secured neither husband nor money!”

She looked up at him quickly.

“Nor money,” she repeated.

There was only interest that he saw in her eyes. There was no hint of disappointment. He knew the truth, more than she had told him: it was not she who desired a fortune, it was this mother of hers, this domineering, worldly woman.

“No husband and no money,” he repeated savagely, in spite of the almost yearning desire which was in him to spare her.

“And worse than that”---with two rapid strides he was at the desk which separated them, and bent across it, leaning heavily---“not only have you no husband, and not only is there no money, but----”

He stopped as if he had been shot.

The girl, looking at him, saw his face go drawn and grey, saw the eyes staring wildly past her, the mouth open in tragic dismay. She got up quickly.

“What is it? What is it?” she whispered in alarm.

“My God!”

His voice was cracked; it was the voice of a man in terror. She half bent her head, listening. From somewhere beneath the window arose the soft, melancholy strains of a violin. The music rose and fell, sobbing and pulsating with passion beneath the magic of the player’s fingers. She stepped to a window and looked out. On the edge of the pavement a girl was playing, a girl whose poverty of dress did not hide her singular beauty.

The light from the street lamp fell upon her pale face, her eyes were fixed on the window where Gilbert was standing.

Edith looked at her husband. He was shaking like a man with fever.

“The ‘Melody in F,’ ” he whispered. “My God! The ‘Melody in F’---and on my wedding day!”

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