Chapter LI

MRS. FARNINGHAM'S prediction was, unfortunately, not verified. Stella's strength slowly returned, but her mental condition remained much the same. As the weeks went on she became, if anything, more silent, more apathetic. The first event that roused her had also the effect of bringing on a feverish attack. It was a great concert given in the Philharmonic Hall in Bernburger Strasse. The conductor and violin soloist were the first of Germany, supported by the full strength of the Philharmonic orchestra. But what made this concert especially interesting was that a ‘Sinfonische Dichtung,’ the composition of an Italian musician, was to be rendered for the first time—the music being, in fact, still unpublished.

The theme is taken from the ‘Divine Comedy.’ It is the love-tragedy of Francesca Polenta, named da Rimini,

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and of Paolo Malatesta. It begins in the second circle of hell, guarded by Minos, who, at the entrance, weighs each transgression, and fixes the grade to which the ill-fated spirit shall be thrust. Deep, slow, mysterious waves of music thrilled the mind with a sudden apprehension of the gloom unpenetrated by the faintest ray of light. Then very slowly there rose, as if in the far distance, the howling of that terrible storm of hell—growing fierce and wild and discordant, as if the sea were riven into mountains and abysmal depths by two opposing tempests, and high above all the cries of lost souls.

After the storm of the elements and of tortured souls falls shudderingly into silence, the compassionate voice of the poet arises as he asks the two who clung together even in hell itself, ‘O anime affannate, venite a noi parlar, s'altri vol niega’—‘O ye tired souls, come speak to us, if no one doth forbid it.’ Then came the low, anguished, wailing sound of a woman's voice telling her sinful love-story in eternal torment. No sound in life or Nature can surely ever reproduce the piercing pathos of a human voice in hopeless misery like the violin under the touch of a great master.

‘There is no deeper sorrow than to recall in misery a happy time.’ There were many eyes dimmed among the audience when the heart-broken confession was translated into passionate, shuddering music. The symphony from beginning to end made a strange impression upon Stella. And as in the leading theme the musician had cunningly woven the story of Lancelot, whose love, too skilfully told by the old romancer, had been such dangerous reading, so, through all the storm of darkness and despair, through the inexorable remembrance of an hour when overmastering passion trampled duty under foot, Stella was conscious of piercing recollections rising in her brain, which since her illness had no more power to move her than if they were idle spiders’ strings. But now they were aflame with vivid terrible life. That woman's voice, pleading, broken, despairing, arose in fitful tones, making the blood start vehemently in her veins—making her shrink and tremble like a creature upon whom suddenly a great burden has been laid.

‘It has been too much for you,’ whispered Mrs. Farningham. ‘Let me take you home now. …’

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‘Yes, I really want to leave before anything else drives away the memory of this.’

That night Stella woke, weeping bitterly. In her dreams by night she had been listening over again to the hopeless wailing story told by Francesca to Dante. For days afterwards the fever burned in her veins; and when this passed away she began to avoid people—to shrink from meeting them. She began to walk out a little; but she preferred to go alone to the Thiergarten, with only Dustiefoot as a companion. Even Maisie's presence seemed a trouble to her. When she was with others she had the air of one trying unsuccessfully to understand what was going on around her. She sometimes fell asleep in the daytime, and seemed to wander for years in a strange dark land beset with vague shapes of dread, and then woke up with a start to find her momentary slumbers had not been noticed. She began to confound events with visions of the night. Things that had been said or done in the morning would seem at night-fall to be separated from her by vast tracts of time. She began to have a dread that she could not grasp what people said to her.

One forenoon, as she was alone in the Thiergarten, near the great monument of the nation's victory over France, she suddenly met Professor and Mrs. Kellwitz. She looked so timid and startled—almost so confused—on seeing them, that Mrs. Kellwitz's motherly heart was wrung with a sudden dread. She knew that Farningham, her son-in-law, and Ritchie had gone to Homburg together for a week. Yet no one who knew the position of affairs could charge Ted with neglect. He was simply like one who looked on helpless and perplexed. He was always ready at Stella's command; but she had none to give. He was anxious to take her anywhere and everywhere; but she had no wishes except to be left alone. Even a man more gifted with insight and with resources in himself than Ted had ever been, might be excused for taking refuge in the companionship and recreations that were open to him. He was in a foreign land with no occupation beyond amusing himself. And though this is a position that tests the calibre of minds more strongly fortified against the baser temptations of life, yet to one who observed Ritchie closely at this time it would become apparent that the excesses into which he had

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earlier fallen were due less to inherent weakness than to that Nemesis power which nature often puts forth when but a small part of man's faculties are touched by his daily life.

At this time, also, Mrs. Farningham was much engaged among the poor. She had endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to lead Stella to resume her interest in those she had befriended. But though she gave money lavishly, herself she would not give. She had become conscious of some imminent danger that threatened to engulf her. She avoided contact with all that might arouse her. The chief aim that swayed her at this time was to spare herself morally— to shirk those stormy depths in her nature which threatened ever and anon to surge up and bear her she knew not whither. But on this day Mrs. Kellwitz, struck with a sudden fear, would listen to no excuses. ‘You must come home with me,’ she said decisively. And then, when they reached the house, she sent a messenger for Maisie, and to tell the Baroness that Mrs. Ritchie was to be her guest for a few days to come.

During the day she talked to Stella of many things—of books and pictures and music. Once only the girl showed a dawning interest, a little tremor of emotion, and that was when the Italian composer's ‘Sinfonische Dichtung’ was named. Towards evening Mrs. Kellwitz made her lie down to rest in her own cosy sitting-room. After a little she fell fast asleep, and the wide dark circles round the eyes, the noble sweep of the brow, the thin outlines of the cheeks, and the lines round the mouth, all bore the stamp of mental languor, of pain temporarily at bay, but not vanquished. Mrs. Kellwitz softly closed the door behind her, and a few minutes afterwards her son Anselm came home.

He, also, was much changed. His face had, in the last few months, grown grave and sad—almost stern in repose. Through his stepfather's intimacy with Dr. Seemann, Anselm knew the various phases of Stella's dangerous illness. He knew that latterly the physician was puzzled at the mental rigidity which had fallen on her. He had often seen her at a little distance when she walked in the Thiergarten, and had kept aloof for fear of causing her pain while she was still weak, and also because of the cruel perplexity

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which entangled their further meeting. Once, indeed, Dustiefoot nearly betrayed him as he sat at a little distance from the bench on which Stella rested—a book in her hand, but not reading. The dog recognised Anselm, and rushed up to him with signs of delight which he would never have bestowed on a stranger. He even rushed backwards and forwards between the two in a joyous way, as if anxious to tell his mistress that an old Lullaboolagana friend was near. But she did not heed Dustiefoot's movements. She sat pale and motionless, with downcast eyes, oblivious to all around her. The sight was more than Langdale could bear. He would have laid down his life to serve her, and yet he dared not speak to her, being in fear lest his face and the sound of his voice would do her harm, and not good. He suffered horribly. Yet he knew that hers was the more intolerable burden. For through all he had work to do, and he was in constant intercourse with people whose knowledge in some one direction exceeded his own—circumstances which serve to make life coherent to the lover of knowledge, even when it has lost its best savour.

To-day, when he came in, his mother observed with concern that the fagged, strained look with which she had been struck on first seeing him when she returned with her daughter from Dresden had deepened rather than become less.

‘You are working too hard, Anselm,’ she said, looking at him keenly. ‘You are as greedy as ever after knowledge. Those lectures of Virchow at the University, and the honorary work at the hospital, and your writing, and all the rest of it, do not make much of a holiday.’

‘You forget, mother, that I had a long one——’

‘Oh, in Australia! I hope you don't think of going back there. I think there must be something insidious in the climate—something that undermines the constitution. There is that young lady the Professor met there and found so charming. You met her here, did you not?—Mrs. Ritchie, you know——’

‘Yes—what of her?’

‘Well, I should very much like to have your opinion of her. I have made her come here for a few days. She is sleeping just now. I am exceedingly afraid that there is something very much amiss.’

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Langdale felt a terror of what fresh catastrophe might be in store. The fixed look in Stella's face the last time he saw her at a little distance had haunted him night and day.

There is always a shock in hearing our worst fears put into bald, uncompromising words. This Langdale experienced when his mother went on:

‘It is not her body now, it is her mind. I am sure of that. Perhaps she would have more confidence in an English doctor. If you would see her here in an informal way—she and your stepfather were so friendly, and Amalie, too, is very fond of her. I hardly know what to think of her husband. Amalie says he is devoted to her—but, if that is the case, she cannot be devoted to him. There must be something very much amiss when two young people drift so far apart at a time like this.’

Poor Langdale! Few situations could have been more ironical in a quiet, unaggressive way than to sit listening to his mother while she calmly discussed the situation which was the very core of the keenest sorrows and interests in his life. So far nothing could have been gained by taking his mother or sister into his confidence as to the relations which had at one time existed between himself and Stella, and the treachery that had come between them. But he was prepared at any moment to tell them all, and to seek their help in somehow averting that darkest of all misfortunes which seemed stealthily creeping nearer. In the meantime he kept silence. He absented himself from home that evening. Next morning he saw Stella alone in the library which had witnessed their first strange meeting in the Old World.