The Wheel of Time, Collaboration, Owen Wingrave/Collaboration
I don't know how much people care for my work, but they like my studio (of which, indeed, I am exceedingly fond myself), as they show by their inclination to congregate there at dusky hours on winter afternoons, or on long, dim evenings, when the place looks well with its rich combinations and low-burning lamps, and the bad pictures (my own) are not particularly visible. I won't go into the question of how many of these are purchased, but I rejoice in the distinction that my invitations are never declined. Some of my visitors have been good enough to say that on Sunday evenings in particular there is no pleasanter place in Paris—where so many places are pleasant—none friendlier to easy talk and repeated cigarettes, to the exchange of points of view and the comparison of accents. The air is as international as only Parisian air can be; women, I surmise, think they look well in it; they come, also, because they fancy they are doing something Bohemian, just as many of the men come because they suppose they are doing something correct. The old heraldic cushions on the divans, embossed with rusty gold, are favorable both to expansion and to contraction—that, of course, of contracting parties—and the Italian brocade on the walls appeals to one's highest feelings. Music makes its home there, though I confess I am not quite the master of that house; and when it is going on in a truly receptive hush, I enjoy the way my company leans back and gazes through the thin smoke of cigarettes up at the distant Tiepolo in the almost palatial ceiling. I make sure the piano, the tobacco, and the tea are all of the best.
For the conversation, I leave that mostly to take care of itself. There are discussions, of course, and differences—sometimes even a violent circulation of sense and sound; but I have a consciousness that beauty flourishes and that harmonies prevail in the end. I have occasionally known a visitor to be rude to me because he disliked another visitor's opinions—I had seen an old habitué slip away without bidding me good-night on the arrival of some confident specimen of les jeunes; but as a general thing we have it out together on the spot—the place is really a chamber of justice, a temple of reconciliation: we understand each other, if we only sit up late enough. Art protects her children, in the long run—she only asks them to trust her. She is like the Catholic Church—she guarantees paradise to the faithful. Music, moreover, is a universal solvent; though I've not an infallible ear, I've a sufficient sense of the matter for that. Ah, the wounds I've known it to heal—the bridges I've known it to build—the ghosts I've known it to lay! Though I've seen people stalk out, I've never observed them not to steal back. My studio, in short, is the theatre of a cosmopolite drama, a comedy essentially "of character."
One of the liveliest scenes of the performance was the evening, last winter, on which I became aware that one of my compatriots —an American, my good friend Alfred Bonus—was engaged in a controversy somewhat acrimonious, on a literary subject, with Herman Heidenmauer, the young composer who had been playing to us divinely a short time before, and whom I thought of neither as a disputant nor as an Englishman. I perceived in a moment that something had happened to present him in this combined character to poor Bonus, who was so ardent a patriot that he lived in Paris rather than in London, who had met his interlocutor for the first time on this occasion, and who apparently had been misled by the perfection with which Heidenmauer spoke English—he spoke it really better than Alfred Bonus. The young musician, a born Bavarian, had spent a few years in England, where he had a commercial step-brother planted and more or less prosperous—a helpful man who had watched over his difficult first steps, given him a temporary home, found him publishers and pupils, smoothed the way to a stupefied hearing for his first productions. He knew his London and might at a first glance have been taken for one of its products; but he had, in addition to a genius of the sort that London fosters but doesn't beget, a very German soul. He brought me a note from an old friend on the other side of the Channel, and I liked him as soon as I looked at him; so much, indeed, that I could forgive him for making me feel thin and empirical, conscious that he was one of the higher kind whom the future has looked in the face. He had met through his gold spectacles her deep eyes, and some mutual communication had occurred. This had given him a confidence which passed for conceit only with those who didn't know the reason.
I guessed the reason early, and, as may be imagined, he didn't grudge me the knowledge. He was happy and various—as little as possible the mere long-haired musicmonger. His hair was short; it was only his legs and his laughter that were long. He was fair and rosy, and his gold spectacles glittered as if in response to the example set them by his beautiful young golden beard. You would have been sure he was an artist without going so far as to decide upon his particular passion; for you would have been conscious that whatever this passion might be, it was acquainted with many of the others and mixed with them to its profit. Yet these discoveries had not been fully made by Alfred Bonus, whose occupation was to write letters to the American journals about the way the "boys" were coming on in Paris; for in such a case he probably would not have expected such nebulous greatness to condense at a moment's notice. Bonus is clever and critical, and a sort of self-appointed emissary or agent of the great republic. He has it at heart to prove that the Americans in Europe do get on—taking for granted on the part of the Americans at home an interest in this subject greater, as I often assure him, than any really felt. "Come, now, do I get on?" I often ask him; and I sometimes push the inquiry so far as to stammer, "And you, my dear Bonus, do you get on?" He is apt to look a little injured on such occasions, as if he would like to say, in reply: "Don't you call it success to have Sunday evenings at which I'm a regular attendant? And can you question for a moment the figure I make at them?" It has even occurred to me that he suspects me of painting badly on purpose to spite him—that is, to interfere with his favorite dogma. Therefore, to spite me in return, he's in the heroic predicament of refusing to admit that I'm a failure. He takes a great interest in the plastic arts, but his intensest sympathy is for literature. This sentiment is somewhat starved, as in that school the boys languish, as yet, on a back seat. To show what they are doing, Bonus has to retreat upon the studios, but there is nothing he enjoys so much as having, when the rare chance offers, a good literary talk. He follows the French movement closely and explains it profusely to our compatriots, whom he mystifies, but who guess he's rather loose.
I forget how his conversation with Heidenmauer began; it was, I think, some difference of opinion about one of the English poets that set them afloat. Heidenmauer knows the English poets, and the French, and the Italian, and the Spanish, and the Russian; he is a wonderful representative of that Germanism which consists in the negation of intellectual frontiers. It is the English poets that, if I'm not mistaken, he loves best, and probably the harm was done by his having happened to say so. At any rate, Alfred Bonus let him have it, without due notice, perhaps, which is rather Alfred's way, on the question (a favorite one with my compatriot) of the backward state of literature in England, for which, after all, Heidenmauer was not responsible. Bonus believes in responsibility—the responsibility of others—an attitude which tends to make some of his friends extremely secretive, though perhaps it would have been justified—as to this I'm not sure—had Heidenmauer been, under the circumstances, technically British. Before he had had time to explain that he was not, the other persons present had become aware that a kind of challenge had passed—that nation, in a sudden, startled flurry, somehow found itself pitted against nation. There was much vagueness at first as to which of the nations were engaged, and as to what their quarrel was about; the question coming presently to appear less simple than the spectacle (so easily conceivable) of a German's finding it hot for him in a French house—a house French enough, at any rate, to give countenance to the idea of his quick defeat.
How could the right cause fail of protection in any house of which Madame de Brindes and her charming daughter were so good as to be assiduous frequenters? I recollect perfectly the pale gleam of joy in the mother's handsome face when she gathered that what had happened was that a detested German was on his defence. She wears her eternal mourning (I admit it's immensely becoming) for a triple woe, for multiplied griefs and wrongs, all springing from the crash of the Empire, from the battlefields of 1870. Her husband fell at Sedan, her father and her brother on still darker days; both her own family and that of M. de Brindes, their general situation in life, were, as may be said, creations of the Empire, so that from one hour to the other she found herself sinking with the wreck. You won't recognize her under the name I give her, but you may none the less have admired, between their pretty lemon-colored covers, the touching tales of Claude Lorrain. She plies an ingenious, pathetic pen, and has reconciled herself to effort and privation for the sake of her daughter. I say privation, because these distinguished women are poor, receive with great modesty, and have broken with a hundred of those social sanctities that are dearer to French souls than to any others. They have gone down into the market-place, and Paule de Brindes, who is three-and-twenty to-day, and has a happy turn for keeping a water-color liquid, earns a hundred francs here and there. She is not so handsome as her mother, but she has magnificent hair, and what the French call a look of race, and is, or at least was till the other day, a frank and charming young woman. There is some thing exquisite in the way these ladies are earnestly, conscientiously modern. From the moment they accept necessities they accept them all, and poor Madame de Brindes flatters herself that she has made her dowerless daughter one of us others. The girl goes out alone, talks with young men and, although she only paints landscape, takes a free view of the convenances. Nothing can please either of them more than to tell them they have thrown over their superstitions. They haven't, thank Heaven; and when I want to be reminded of some of the prettiest in the world—of a thousand fine scruples and pleasant forms, and of what grace can do for the sake of grace—I know where to go for it.
It was a part of this pious heresy—much more august in the way they presented it than some of the aspects of the old faith—that Paule should have become "engaged," quite like a jeune mees, to my brilliant friend Félix Vendemer. He is such a votary of the modern that he was inevitably interested in the girl of the future and had matched one reform with another, being ready to marry without a penny, as the clearest way of expressing his appreciation, this favorable specimen of the type. He simply fell in love with Mademoiselle de Brindes and behaved, on his side, equally like one of us others, except that he begged me to ask her mother for her hand. I was inspired to do so with eloquence, and my friends were not insensible of such an opportunity to show that they now lived in the world of realities. Vendemer's sole fortune is his genius, and he and Paule, who confessed to an answering flame, plighted their troth like a pair of young rustics or (what comes for French people to the same thing) young Anglo-Saxons. Madame de Brindes thinks such doings at bottom very vulgar; but vulgar is what she tries hard to be, she is so convinced it is the only way to make a living. Vendemer had had at that time only the first of his successes, which was not, as you will remember—and unfortunately for Madame de Brindes—of this remunerative kind. Only a few people recognized the perfection of his little volume of verse; my acquaintance with him originated in my having been one of the few. A volume of verse was a scanty provision to marry on, so that, still like a pair of us others, the luckless lovers had to bide their time. Presently, however, came the success (again a success only with those who care for quality, not with the rough-and-ready public) of his comedy in verse at the Français. This charming work had just been taken off (it had been found not to make money), when the various parties to my little drama met Heidenmauer at my studio.
Vendemer, who has, as indeed the others have, a passion for music, was tremendously affected by hearing him play two or three of his compositions, and I immediately saw that the immitigable German quality was a morsel much less bitter for him than for the two uncompromising ladies. He went so far as to speak to Heidenmauer frankly, to thank him with effusion, an effort of which neither of the quivering women would have been capable. Vendemer was in the room the night Alfred Bonus raised his little breeze; I saw him lean on the piano and listen with a queer face, looking however rather wonderingly at Heidenmauer. Before this I had noticed the instant paleness (her face was admirably expressive) with which Madame de Brindes saw her prospective son-in-law make up, as it were, to the original Teuton, whose national character was intensified to her aching mind, as it would have been to that of most Frenchwomen in her place, by his wash of English color. A German was bad enough—but a German with English aggravations! Her senses were too fine to give her the excuse of not feeling that his compositions were interesting, and she was capable, magnanimously, of listening to them with dropped eyes; but (much as it ever cost her not to be perfectly courteous) she couldn't have made even the most superficial speech to him about them. Marie de Brindes could never have spoken to Herman Heidenmauer. It was a narrowness, if you will, but a narrowness that to my vision was enveloped in a dense atmosphere—a kind of sunset bloom—of enriching and fortifying things. Herman Heidenmauer himself, like the man of imagination and the lover of life that he was, would have entered into it delightedly, been charmed with it as a fine case of bigotry. This was conspicuous in Marie de Brindes; her loyalty to the national idea was that of a dévote to a form of worship. She never spoke of France, but she always made me think of it, and with an authority which the women of her race seem to me to have in the question much more than the men. I dare say I'm rather in love with her, though, being considerably younger, I've never told her so—as if she would in the least mind that! I have indeed been a little checked by a spirit of allegiance to Vendemer; suspecting always (excuse my sophistication) that in the last analysis it is the mother's charm that he feels—or originally felt—in the daughter's. He spoke of the elder lady to me in those days with the insistence with which only a Frenchman can speak of the objects of his affection. At any rate, there was always something symbolic and slightly ceremonial to me in her delicate cameo face and her general black-robed presence: she made me think of a priestess or a mourner, of revolutions and sieges, detested treaties and ugly public things. I pitied her, too, for the strife of the elements in her—for the way she must have felt a noble enjoyment mutilated. She was too good for that, and yet she was too rigid for anything else; and the sight of such dismal perversions made me hate more than ever the stupid terms on which nations have organized their intercourse.
When she gathered that one of my guests was simply cramming it down the throat of another that the English literary mind was not even literary, she turned away with a vague shrug and a pitiful look at her daughter for the taste of people who took their pleasure so poorly; the truth in question would be so obvious that it was not worth making a scene about. Madame de Brindes evidently looked at any scene between the English and the Americans as a quarrel proceeding vaguely from below-stairs—a squabble sordidly domestic. Her almost immediate departure with her daughter operated as a very lucky interruption, and I caught for the first time in the straight, spare girl, as she followed her mother, a little of the air that Vendemer had told me he found in her, the still exaltation, the brown uplifted head that we attribute, or that at any rate he made it visible to me that he attributed, to the dedicated Maid. He considered that his intended bore a striking resemblance to Jeanne'd'Arc, and he marched after her on this occasion like a square-shouldered armour-bearer. He reappeared, however, after he had put the ladies into a cab, and half an hour later, the rest of my friends, with the sole exception of Bonus, having dispersed, he was sitting up with me in the empty studio for another bout de causerie. At first perhaps I was too occupied with reprimanding my compatriot to give much attention to what Vendemer might have to say; I remember at any rate that I had asked Bonus what had induced him to make so grave a blunder. He was not even yet, it appeared, aware of his blunder, so that I had to inquire by what odd chance he had taken Heidenmauer for a bigoted Briton.
"If I spoke to him as one, he answered as one; that's bigoted enough," said Alfred Bonus.
"He was confused and amused at your onslaught: he wondered what fly had stung you."
"The fly of patriotism," Vendemer suggested.
"Do you like him—a beast of a German?" Bonus demanded.
"If he's an Englishman he isn't a German—il faut opter. We can hang him for the one or for the other; we can't hang him for both. I was immensely struck with those things he played."
"They had no charm for me, or doubtless I, too, should have been demoralized," Alfred said. "He seemed to know nothing about Miss Brownrigg. Now Miss Brownrigg's great."
"I like the things and even the people you quarrel about, you big babies of the same breast. C'est à se tordre!" Vendemer declared.
"I may be very abject, but I do take an interest in the American novel," Alfred rejoined.
"I hate such expressions; there's no such thing as the American novel."
"Is there by chance any such thing as the French?"
"Pas d'avantage—for the artist himself; how can you ask? I don't know what is meant by French art and English art and American art; those seem to me mere cataloguers' and reviewers' and tradesmen's names, representing preoccupations utterly foreign to the artist. Art is art in every country, and the novel (since Bonus mentions that) is the novel in every tongue, and hard enough work they have to live up to that privilege, without our adding another muddle to the problem. The reader, the consumer, may call things as he likes, but we leave him to his little amusements." I suggested that we were all readers and consumers; which only made Vendemer continue: "Yes, and only a small handful of us have the ghost of a palate. But you and I and Bonus are of the handful."
"What do you mean by the handful?" Bonus inquired.
Vendemer hesitated a moment. "I mean the few intelligent people, and even the few people who are not—" He paused again an instant, long enough for me to request him not to say what they were "not," and then went on: "People, in a word, who have the honor to live in the only country worth living in."
"And pray what country is that?"
"The land of dreams—the country of art."
"Oh, the land of dreams! I live in the land of realities!" Bonus exclaimed. "What do you all mean then by chattering so about le roman russe?"
"It's a convenience—to identify the work of three or four, là-bas, because we're so far from it. But do you see them writing 'le roman russe?'"
"I happen to know that that's exactly what they want to do, some of them," said Bonus.
"Some of the idiots, then! There are plenty of those everywhere. Anything born under that silly star is sure not to count."
"Thank God I'm not an artist!" said Bonus.
"Dear Alfred's a critic," I explained.
"And I'm not ashamed of my country," he subjoined.
"Even a critic perhaps may be an artist," Vendemer mused.
"Then, as the great American critic, Bonus may be the great American artist," I went on.
"Is that what you're supposed to give us—'American' criticism?" Vendemer asked, with dismay in his expressive, ironic face. "Take care, take care, or it will be more American than critical, and then where will you be? However," he continued, laughing and with a change of tone, "I may see the matter in too lurid a light, for I've just been favored with a judgment conceived in the purest spirit of our own national genius." He looked at me a moment and then he remarked, "That dear Madame de Brindes doesn't approve of my attitude."
"Towards your German friend. She let me know it when I went down-stairs with her—told me I was much too cordial, that I must observe myself."
"And what did you reply to that?"
"I answered that the things he had played were extraordinarily beautiful."
"And how did she meet that?"
"By saying that he's an enemy of our country."
"She had you there," I rejoined.
"Yes, I could only reply, 'Chère madame, voyons!'"
"That was meagre."
"Evidently, for it did no more for me than to give her a chance to declare that he can't possibly be here for any good, and that he belongs to a race it's my sacred duty to loathe."
"I see what she means."
"I don't, then—where artists are concerned. I said to her, 'Ah, madame, vous savez que pour moi il n'y a que l'art!'"
"It's very exciting!" I laughed. "How could she parry that?"
"'I know it, my dear child—but for him?' That's the way she parried it. 'Very well, for him?' I asked. 'For him there's the insolence of the victor and a secret scorn for our incurable illusions!'"
"Heidenmauer has no insolence and no secret scorn."
Vendemer was silent a moment. "Are you very sure of that?"
"Oh, I like him! He's out of all that, and far above it. But what did Mademoiselle Paule say?" I inquired.
"She said nothing—she only looked at me."
"Not a bit. She looked at me with strange eyes, in which I could read, 'Go straight, my friend—go straight!' Oh, les femmes, les femmes!"
"What's the matter with them now?"
"They've a mortal hatred of art!"
"It's a true, deep instinct," said Alfred Bonus.
"But what passed further with Madame de Brindes?" I went on.
"She only got into her cab, pushing her daughter first; on which I slammed the door rather hard and came up here. Cela m'a porté sur les nerfs."
"I'm afraid I haven't soothed them," Bonus said, looking for his hat. When he had found it he added: "When the English have beaten us and pocketed our milliards I'll forgive them; but not till then!" And with this he went off, made a little uncomfortable, I think, by Vendemer's sharper alternatives, while the young Frenchman called after him, "My dear fellow, at night all cats are gray!"
Vendemer, when we were left alone together, mooned about the empty studio a while and asked me three or four questions about Heidenmauer. I satisfied his curiosity as well as I could, but I demanded the reason of it. The reason he gave was that one of the young German's compositions had already begun to haunt his memory; but that was a reason which, to my sense, still left something unexplained. I didn't, however, challenge him, before he quitted me, further than to warn him against being deliberately perverse.
"What do you mean by being deliberately perverse?" He fixed me so with his intensely living French eye that I became almost blushingly conscious of a certain insincerity and, instead of telling him what I meant, tried to get off with the deplorable remark that the prejudices of Mesdames de Brindes were, after all, respectable. "That's exactly what makes them so odious!" cried Vendemer.
A few days after this, late in the afternoon, Herman Heidenmauer came in to see me and found the young Frenchman seated at my piano trying to win back from the keys some echo of a passage in the Abendlied we had listened to on the Sunday evening. They met, naturally, as good friends, and Heidenmauer sat down with instant readiness and gave him again the page he was trying to recover. He asked him for his address, that he might send him the composition, and at Vendemer's request, as we sat in the firelight, played half a dozen other things. Vendemer listened in silence, but to my surprise took leave of me before the lamp was brought in. I asked him to stay to dinner (I had already appealed to Heidenmauer to stay), but he explained that he was engaged to dine with Madame de Brindes—à la maison, as he always called it. When he had gone Heidenmauer, with whom on departing he had shaken hands without a word, put to me the same questions about him that Vendemer had asked on the Sunday evening about the young German, and I replied that my visitor would find in a small volume of remarkable verse published by Lemerre, which I placed in his hands, much of the information he desired. This volume, which had just appeared, contained, besides a reprint of Vendemer's earlier productions, many of them admirable lyrics, the drama that had lately been played at the Français, and Heidenmauer took it with him when he left me. But he left me late, and before this occurred, all the evening, we had much talk about the French nation. In the foreign colony of Paris the exchange of opinions on this subject is one of the most inevitable and by no means the least interesting of distractions; it furnishes occupation to people rather conscious of the burden of leisure. Heidenmauer had been little in Paris, but he was all the more open to impressions; they evidently poured in upon him and he gave them a generous hospitality. In the diffused white light of his fine German intelligence old colors took on new tints to me, and while we spun fancies about the wonderful race around us I added to my little stock of notions about his own. I saw that his admiration for our neighbors was a very high tide, and I was struck with some thing bland and unconscious (noble and serene in its absence of precautions) in the way he let his doors stand open to it. It would have been exasperating to many Frenchmen; he looked at them through his clear spectacles with such an absence of suspicion that they might have anything to forgive him, such a thin metaphysical view of instincts and passions. He had the air of not allowing for recollections and nerves, and would doubtless give them occasion to make afresh some of their reflections on the tact of ces gens-là.
A couple of days after I had given him Vendemer's book he came back to tell me that he found great beauty in it. "It speaks to me—it speaks to me," he said, with his air of happy proof. "I liked the songs—I liked the songs. Besides," he added, "I like the little romantic play—it has given me wonderful ideas; more ideas than any thing has done for a long time. Yes—yes."
"What kind of ideas?"
"Well, this kind." And he sat down to the piano and struck the keys. I listened without more questions, and after a while I began to understand. Suddenly he said, "Do you know the words of that?" and before I could answer he was rolling out one of the lyrics of the little volume. The poem was strange and obscure, yet irresistibly beautiful, and he had translated it into music still more tantalizing than itself. He sounded the words with his German accent, barely perceptible in English, but strongly marked in French. He dropped them and took them up again; he was playing with them, feeling his way. "This is my idea!" he broke out; he had caught it, in one of its mystic mazes, and he rendered it with a kind of solemn freshness. There was a phrase he repeated, trying it again and again, and while he did so he chanted the words of the song as if they were an illuminating flame, an inspiration. I was rather glad on the whole that Vendemer didn't hear what his pronunciation made of them, but as I was in the very act of rejoicing I became aware that the author of the verses had opened the door. He had pushed it gently, hearing the music; then hearing also his own poetry he had paused and stood looking at Heidenmauer. The young German nodded and laughed and, ineffectively, spontaneously, greeted him with a friendly "Was sagen Sie dazu?" I saw Vendemer change color; he blushed red, and, for an instant, as he stood wavering, I thought he was going to retreat. But I beckoned him in, and on the divan beside me patted a place for him to sit.
He came in, but didn't take this place; he went and stood before the fire to warm his feet, turning his back to us. Heidenmauer played and played, and after a little Vendemer turned round; he looked about him for a seat, dropped into it, and sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Presently Heidenmauer called out, in French, above the music, "I like your songs—I like them immensely!" but the young Frenchman neither spoke nor moved. When, however, five minutes later Heidenmauer stopped, he sprang up with an entreaty to him to go on, to go on, for the love of God. "Foilà—foilà!" cried the musician, and with hands for an instant suspended he wandered off into mysterious worlds. He played Wagner, and then Wagner again—a great deal of Wagner; in the midst of which, abruptly, he addressed himself again to Vendemer, who had gone still farther from the piano, launching to me, however, from his corner a "Dieu, que c'est beau!" which I saw that Heidenmauer caught. "I've a conception for an opera, you know—I'd give anything if you'd do the libretto!" Our German friend laughed out, after this, with clear good-nature, and the rich appeal brought Vendemer slowly to his feet again, staring at the musician across the room and turning this time perceptibly pale.
I felt there was a drama in the air, and it made me a little nervous; to conceal which I said to Heidenmauer: "What's your conception? What's your subject?"
"My conception would be realized in the subject of M. Vendemer's play—if he'll do that for me in a great lyric manner!" And with this the young German, who had stopped playing to answer me, quitted the piano, and Vendemer got up to meet him. "The subject is splendid—it has taken possession of me. Will you do it with me? Will you work with me? We shall make something great!"
"Ah, you don't know what you ask!" Vendemer answered, with his pale smile.
"I do—I do; I've thought of it. It will be bad for me in my country; I shall suffer for it. They won't like it—they'll abuse me for it—they'll say of me pis que pendre." Heidenmauer pronounced it bis que bendre.
"They'll hate my libretto so?" Vendemer asked.
"Yes, your libretto—they'll say it's immoral and horrible. And they'll say I'm immoral and horrible for having worked with you," the young composer went on, with his pleasant, healthy lucidity. "You'll injure my career. Oh yes, I shall suffer!" he joyously, exultingly cried.
"Et moi donc!" Vendemer exclaimed.
"Public opinion, yes. I shall also make you suffer—I shall nip your prosperity in the bud. All that's des bêtises—tes pêtisses," said poor Heidenmauer. "In art there are no countries."
"Yes, art is terrible, art is monstrous," Vendemer replied, looking at the fire.
"I love your songs—they have extraordinary beauty."
"And Vendemer has an equal taste for your compositions," I said to Heidenmauer.
"Tempter!" Vendemer murmured to me, with a strange look.
"C'est juste! I must'nt meddle—which will be all the easier as I'm dining out and must go and dress. You two make yourselves at home and fight it out here."
"Do you leave me?" asked Vendemer, still with his strange look.
"My dear fellow, I've only just time."
"We will dine together—he and I—at one of those characteristic places, and we will look at the matter in its different relations," said Heidenmauer. "Then we will come back here to finish—your studio is so good for music."
"There are some things it isn't good for," Vendemer remarked, looking at our companion.
"It's good for poetry—it's good for truth," smiled the composer.
"You'll stay here and dine together," I said; "my servant can manage that."
"No, no—we'll go out and we'll walk together. We'll talk a great deal," Heidenmauer went on. "The subject is so comprehensive," he said to Vendemer, as he lighted another cigar.
"Of your drama. It's so universal."
"Ah, the universe—il n'y a que ça!" I laughed, to Vendemer, partly with a really amused sense of the exaggerated woe that looked out of his poetic eyes and that seemed an appeal to me not to forsake him, to throw myself into the scale of the associations he would have to stifle, and partly to encourage him, to express my conviction that two such fine minds couldn't in the long run be the worse for coming to an agreement. I might have been a more mocking Mephistopheles handing over his pure spirit to my literally German Faust.
When I came home at eleven o'clock I found him alone in my studio, where, evidently, for some time, he had been moving up and down in agitated thought. The air was thick with Bavarian fumes, with the reverberation of mighty music and great ideas, with the echoes of that "universe" to which I had so mercilessly consigned him. But I judged in a moment that Vendemer was in a very different phase of his evolution from the one in which I had left him. I had never seen his handsome, sensitive face so intensely illumined.
"Ça y est—Ça y est!" he exclaimed, standing there with his hands in his pockets and looking at me.
"You've really agreed to do something together?"
"We've sworn a tremendous oath—we've taken a sacred engagement."
"My dear fellow, you're a hero."
"Wait and see! C'est un très-grand esprit."
"So much the better!"
"C'est un bien beau génie. Ah, we've risen—we soar; nous sommes dans les grandes espaces!" my friend continued, with his dilated eyes.
"It's very interesting—because it will cost you something."
"It will cost me everything!" said Felix Vendemer, in a tone I seem to hear at this hour. "That's just the beauty of it. It's the chance of chances to testify for art—to affirm an indispensable truth."
"An indispensable truth?" I repeated, feeling myself soar, too, but into the splendid vague.
"Do you know the greatest crime that can be perpetrated against it?"
"Against it?" I asked, still soaring.
"Against the religion of art, against the love for beauty, against the search for the Holy Grail?" The transfigured look with which he named these things, the way his warm voice filled the rich room, was a revelation of the wonderful talk that had taken place.
"Do you know—for one of us—the really damnable, the only unpardonable, sin?"
"Tell me, so that I may keep clear of it!"
"To profane our golden air with the hideous invention of patriotism."
"It was a clever invention in its time!" I laughed.
"I'm not talking about its time—I'm talking about its place. It was never anything but a fifth-rate impertinence here. In art there are no countries—no idiotic nationalities, no frontiers, nor douanes, nor still more idiotic fortresses and bayonets. It has the unspeakable beauty of being the region in which those abominations cease, the medium in which such vulgarities simply can't live. What, therefore, are we to say of the brutes who wish to drag them all in—to crush to death with them all the flowers of such a garden, to shut out all the light of such a sky?" I was far from desiring to defend the "brutes" in question, though there rose before me even at that moment a sufficiently vivid picture of the way, later on, poor Vendemer would have to face them. I quickly perceived, indeed, that the picture was, to his own eyes, a still more crowded canvas. Felix Vendemer, in the centre of it, was an admirable, a really sublime figure. If there had been wonderful talk after I quitted the two poets, the wonder was not over yet—it went on far into the night for my benefit. We looked at the prospect in many lights, turned the subject about almost every way it would go; but I am bound to say there was one relation in which we tacitly agreed to forbear to consider it. We neither of us uttered the name of Paule de Brindes—the outlook in that direction would be too serious. And yet if Félix Vendemer, exquisite and incorruptible artist that he was, had fallen in love with the idea of "testifying," it was from that direction that the finest part of his opportunity to do so would proceed.
I was only too conscious of this when, within the week, I received a hurried note from Madame de Brindes, begging me, as a particular favor, to come and see her without delay. I had not seen Vendemer again, but I had had a characteristic call from Heidenmauer, who, though I could imagine him perfectly in a Prussian helmet, with a needle-gun, perfectly, on definite occasion, a sturdy, formidable soldier, gave me a renewed impression of inhabiting, in the expansion of his genius and the exercise of his intelligence, no land of red tape, no province smaller nor more pedantically administered than the totality of things. I was reminded afresh too that he foresaw no striking salon-picture, no chic of execution nor romance of martyrdom, or at any rate devoted very little time to the consideration of such objects. He doubtless did scant justice to poor Vendemer's attitude, though he said to me of him, by-the-way, with his rosy deliberation: "He has good ideas—he has good ideas. The French mind has, for me, the taste of a very delightful bon-bon!" He only measured the angle of convergence, as he called it, of their two projections. He was, in short, not preoccupied with the personal gallantry of their experiment; he was preoccupied with its "æsthetic and harmonic basis."
It was without her daughter that Madame de Brindes received me, when I obeyed her summons, in her scrap of a quatrième in the Rue de Miromesnil.
"Ah, cher monsieur, how could you have permitted such a horror—how could you have given it the countenance of your roof, of your influence?" There were tears in her eyes, and I don't think that for the moment I have ever been more touched by a reproach. But I pulled myself together sufficiently to affirm my faith as well as to disengage my responsibility. I explained that there was no horror to me in the matter, that if I was not a German neither was I a Frenchman, and that all I had before me was two young men inflamed by a great idea and nobly determined to work together to give it a great form.
"A great idea—to go over to ces gens-là?"
"To go over to them?"
"To put yourself on their side—to throw yourself into the arms of those who hate us—to fall into their abominable trap!"
"What do you call their abominable trap?"
"Their false bonhomie, the very impudence of their intrigues, their profound, scientific deceit, and their determination to get the advantage of us by exploiting our generosity."
"You attribute to such a man as Heidenmauer too many motives and too many calculations. He's quite ideally superior!"
"Oh, German idealism—we know what that means! We've no use for their superiority; let them carry it elsewhere—let them leave us alone. Why do they thrust themselves in upon us and set old wounds throbbing by their detested presence? We don't go near them, or ever wish to hear their ugly names or behold their visages de bois; therefore the most rudimentary good taste, the tact one would expect even from naked savages, might suggest to them to seek their amusements elsewhere. But their taste, their tact—I can scarcely trust myself to speak!"
Madame de Brindes did speak, however, at considerable further length and with a sincerity of passion which left one quite without arguments. There was no argument to meet the fact that Vendemer's attitude wounded her, wounded her daughter, jusqu' au fond de l'âme, that it represented for them abysses of shame and suffering, and that for himself it meant a whole future compromised, a whole public alienated. It was vain, doubtless, to talk of such things; if people didn't feel them, if they hadn't the fibre of loyalty, the high imagination of honor, all explanations, all supplications were but a waste of noble emotion. M. Vendemer's perversity was monstrous—she had had a sickening discussion with him. What she desired of me was to make one last appeal to him, to put the solemn truth before him, to try to bring him back to sanity. It was as if he had temporarily lost his reason. It was to be made clear to him, par exemple, that unless he should recover it Mademoiselle de Brindes would unhesitatingly withdraw from her engagement.
"Does she really feel as you do?" I asked.
"Do you think I put words into her mouth? She feels as a fille de France is obliged to feel!"
"Doesn't she love him then?"
"She adores him. But she won't take him without his honor."
"I don't understand such refinements!" I said.
"Oh, vous autres!" cried Madame de Brindes. Then with eyes glowing through her tears she demanded: "Don't you know she knows how her father died?" I was on the point of saying, "What has that to do with it?" but I withheld the question, for, after all, I could conceive that it might have something. There was no disputing about tastes, and I could only express my sincere conviction that Vendemer was profoundly attached to Mademoiselle Paule. "Then let him prove it by making her a sacrifice!" my strenuous hostess replied; to which I rejoined that I would repeat our conversation to him and put the matter before him as strongly as I could. I delayed a little to take leave, wondering if the girl would not come in—I should have been so much more content to receive her strange recantation from her own lips. I couldn't say this to Madame de Brindes; but she guessed I meant it, and before we separated we exchanged a look in which our mutual mistrust was written—the suspicion on her side that I should not be a very passionate intercessor and the conjecture on mine that she might be misrepresenting her daughter. This slight tension, I must add, was only momentary, for I have had a chance of observing Paule de Brindes since then, and the two ladies were soon satisfied that I pitied them enough to have been eloquent.
My eloquence has been of no avail, and I have learned (it has been one of the most interesting lessons of my life) of what transcendent stuff the artist may sometimes be made. Herman Heidenmauer and Felix Vendemer are, at the hour I write, immersed in their monstrous collaboration. There were postponements and difficulties at first, and there will be more serious ones in the future, when it is a question of giving the finished work to the world. The world of Paris will stop its ears in horror, the German Empire will turn its mighty back, and the authors of what I foresee (oh, I've been treated to specimens!) as a perhaps really epoch-making, musical revelation (is Heidenmauer's style rubbing off on me?) will perhaps have to beg for a hearing in communities fatally unintelligent. It may very well be that they will not obtain any hearing at all for years. I like, at any rate, to think that time works for them. At present they work for themselves and for each other, amid drawbacks of several kinds. Separating after the episode in Paris, they have met again on alien soil, at a little place on the Genoese Riviera, where sunshine is cheap and tobacco bad, and they live (the two together) for five francs a day, which is all they can muster between them. It appears that when Heidenmauer's London step-brother was informed of the young composer's unnatural alliance he instantly withdrew his subsidy. The return of it is contingent on the rupture of the unholy union and the destruction by flame of all the manuscript. The pair are very poor, and the whole thing depends on their staying power. They are so preoccupied with their opera that they have no time for pot-boilers. Vendemer is in a feverish hurry, lest perhaps he should find himself chilled. There are still other details which contribute to the interest of the episode, and which, for me, help to render it a most refreshing, a really great little case. It rests me, it delights me, there is something in it that makes for civilization. In their way they are working for human happiness. The strange course taken by Vendemer (I mean his renunciation of his engagement) must, moreover, be judged in the light of the fact that he was really in love. Something had to be sacrificed, and what he clung to most (he's extraordinary, I admit) was the truth he had the opportunity of proclaiming. Men give up their love for advantages every day, but they rarely give it up for such discomforts.
Paule de Brindes was the less in love of the two; I see her often enough to have made up my mind about that. But she's mysterious, she's odd; there was, at any rate, a sufficient wrench in her life to make her often absent-minded. Does her imagination hover about Félix Vendemer? A month ago, going into their rooms one day when her mother was not at home (the bonne had admitted me under a wrong impression) I found her at the piano, playing one of Heidenmauer's compositions—playing it without notes and with infinite expression. How had she got hold of it? How had she learned it? This was her secret—she blushed so that I didn't pry into it. But what is she doing, under the singular circumstances, with a composition of Herman Heidenmauer's? She never met him, she never heard him play, but that once. It will be a pretty complication if it shall appear that the young German genius made on that occasion more than one intense impression. This needn't appear, however, inasmuch as, being naturally in terror of the discovery by her mother of such an anomaly, she may count on me absolutely not to betray her. I hadn't fully perceived how deeply susceptible she is to music. She must have a strange confusion of feelings—a dim, haunting trouble, with a kind of ache of impatience for the wonderful opera somewhere in the depths of it. Don't we live fast, after all, and doesn't the old order change? Don't say art isn't mighty! I shall give you some more illustrations of it yet.