F-as in Love
Music, laughter, tenderness, pathos —you’ll find them all in this story of how "luf" came to Karl and Lolly
MARGARET LEE RUNBECK
HE WANTED to be a North American, and he wanted to be a musician. So he began by being a baker. Then, when he had travelled less than a year toward these wants, suddenly everything converged into one bigger want. A bigger want that had to do with a very little girl. Because, suddenly, more than he wanted to be anything else, he wanted to marry Lolly. He wanted, in all his six feet of aliveness, to stand between I^olly and all the stupidity and carelessness and shock of this delightful but heartbreaking world.
And with everything he wanted to do for her and everything he wanted to give her, here it was the morning of her birthday and he had bought no gift. He just couldn’t think of anything, he said miserably to himself. What he meant was, he couldn’t think of anything else. Everything he saw, from the silver bubble moon in the sky to the towering white bridal cakes he himself fashioned, he considered as a possible present for Lolly. But everything was unworthy.
Since he had no right—because he was a baker at the moment, because he wasn’t yet a citizen of the new world,
because he couldn’t say “love” without making it “luf,” and who wouldn’t burst out laughing at that?— he couldn’t wrap up his heart in gift tissue and tag it with a birthday card saying “For little Lolly, to keep for ever.”
That gift had already been given though still unreceived, and everything else seemed caricature. Giving is a necessity to some people; others get along quite well, week after week, without giving anybody anything. But genial, simple, friendly ones like young Karl Latzel know only one gesture of expression. They must give, always. They celebrate, they mourn, they hope; and all their feelings come out as gifts, sublime or grotesque. They give as other people speak, in syllables or paragraphs. When they become financiers they give endowments, and parks to the poor, and music to the ill, and chance to the striving. While they’re still handsome young bakers slaving at the Conservatory five nights a week, they give sugar cookies or apple Kuchen, flowers bought at the comer, tops for the landlady’s little boy, dolls for her daughter.
If they love very much, as Karl loved Lolly, they are
tortured with inarticulateness. They want to give everything; that not being possible, they stutter into small, silly gifts. When their need is unbearable, a divine collaboration occurs, as on this unexpected birthday night, when, by some mysterious recipe, Karl stirred up love and drama and a whisk of romance into a sort of heavenly angel cake, and cut huge slices of it for ten who were starving.
'“PHIS WAS the morning of Lolly’s birthday, and the bookstore where she so gravely recommended the right books to the wrong people, wasn’t even open yet. Karl gazed through the locked door, and there, inside, was Lolly herself, looking more like a small housewife than a book lady, whiffing dust with a large feather duster and laughing to someone in the back of the store.
Probably it was that devilish smart person, Mr. Martingale, who was going to write for magazines some day. Karl could never understand exactly what the man was talking about, buried as was the sense under so many syllables, but he knew what Martingale meant. And that was that Karl was a baker and therefore something amusing. Something to be treated partly like a child and partly like an idiot. Karl’s fists curled a little when he thought of him, here all day with Lolly, slinging his syllables around magnificently . . . Well, the thing to do was hurry and amount to something, so he could ask her to marry him and get her away from people like this. Smart people who laughed at other people.
He looked at her now, and all his anger melted like peach mousse in the sunshine. You couldn’t look at Lolly and stay angry at anything. She was all spun sugar and peach mousse herself. Her dark eyes were like sixteenth notes, lavishly winged with lashes; her laughter was a sweet arpeggio. Knowing only music and food, Karl made his similes of savors and songs.
He had loved her the minute he saw her, nearly a year ago, when he came into the bookstore to buy a map of the city. He had pantomimed this difficult thought by laying out books into streets and walking his fingers down them. She had looked up solemnly at him, thinking he was an aviator, surely, with those brave eyes, blue and narrowed from scanning far horizons. Such broad shoulders, such swift, long legs, and that trusting, little-boy smile ! (It was hard to think that he was nothing braver than a baker.)
She had tried to find out what it was he wanted, but she was disconcerted by his eloquent smile, and the old-world way he kept bowing after each futile explanation with his expressive hands. Mr. Martingale, from the rear of the store, called out ironically: "Maybe he wants a book on chess, Lolly.”
“Lolly?” Karl had said experimentally, “Lollipop?” This, at that time, was his only English word, learned from a baby on the boat. It seemed to him a thrilling omen that his only word of English should be her name, the most important word in the language to him, and mastered by his nimble Dutch tongue first.
Beginning that very day, he had pushed doggedly through night school ; he had worked every hour, while he baked, while he ate. He had chewed his way gutturally through the weights and measures, and the “tellthe-banker’s - nephew - he - has - forgotten - his - umbrella” sentences. He galloped grimly through the chapters on taxes, because some day he would need to know about them because of Lolly’s house he should buy for her in the country, framed by an acre of tulips. Government he learned, so he could explain things to Lolly later on. Everyday law he skimmed scornfully; law was for trouble, and they wouldn’t need that, trouble and divorce—his haughty nose sniffed. Everything he read, everything he learned had Lolly behind it. All new words were scanned for her pink little ears. After all, what on earth was English for, except as a valentine for Lolly? He was dissatisfied with much that he learned.
It left so much unsaid.
“Please,” he wanted to say to his teachers, “is there no department of love? I must learn how to say about love, please.” But of course he couldn’t ask.
He spoke fluently now, except for the v’s and f’s, which still had dual personalities in his speech, so that love became “luf” and hence must be avoided. Always he was a little angry when he thought of that. An orchestra of peanut whistles and mouth organs to play his pulsing symphony of love ! He sought for beautiful words to carry this beautiful meaning, but he could not find them. Perhaps in the new world people spoke of love only in music? Only in kisses?
“Happy birthday, Lolly,” he said now, when she opened the door and stood smiling up at him. She looked utterly dear, with her hair parted demurely above her forehead, breaking over her ears in little curls, like the well-behaved children in fairy-tale pictures. She had on a rose-sprigged smock, such as a little bride might wear in her kitchen.
“Who told you?” she asked, and he knew that she had been dreading today, for birthdays remind people that they have no families near by.
“A little bird,” he said, proud of his vernacular, though, matter of fact, he had not seen a bird since he came to this city.
“We’ll have a party tonight,” he said. “We’ll have dinner some place grand. No school for me tonight. I’ll bring you a birthday cake this big, in my pocket.” This was all he knew how to say, but what he was thinking was: “Lolly, my beautiful, I’ll bake you a birthday kiss with candles on it. A birthday kiss with frosting of stardust. We’ll eat it together, and give slices of it to all the starving beggars, the wealthy starving beggars I so often see in this city.”
She tipped back her smooth, spun-sugar curls to read his eyes; Lolly knew a great deal about reading, but sometimes those sky-colored eyes couldn’t be translated.
His words said sensible prose; his eyes were mad poetry.
“Just us?” she asked, for no reason. After all, who else?
“Maybe some friends, too,” he said valiantly, because he felt that friends should be included. But he knew no suitable friends—here. At home, yes. Gay, witty men and girls to twist up pretty compliments for a little Lolly, to sing and laugh and be happy. But here he knew only Otto Zanditton, a glib bellboy who worked in the same hotel as Karl. True, Otto came from Rotterdam, too, but they would never have been friends at home. The only way Otto knew of celebrating was to go to some dance place and gargle gin, and then get noisy. Birthdays should be celebrated with laughter, yes, but different laughter. And with music. Music.
“A surprise,” he said softly. “You’ll see, Lollipop.” And he made up his mind that he would devise a surprise for her, something beautiful and unforgettable.
ALL MORNING it worried him as he worked down in the vitals of the big hotel where fifty-one artists created masterpieces of food. In battalions across the half-acre of glittering kitchen, each maestro conducted his private orchestra of pots and pans, with a great gas stove like a sort of grand piano in the centre of a small, pennedin stage.
Today, Karl had been summoned from the baking department to make something special. Chef himself, that haughty potentate of pots, had come from his own elaborately business-like office to give the orders. Karl’s shoulders had a military stiffness, as though they balanced epaulets; his waist, elegantly slim, was wrapped twice around in the crisp white linen of his profession. Some day he would be a good musician; until then he would be a good baker; that was his code. But he had no passionate pride in his baking, as the others had.
He should have been pleased that Chef singled him out to make this special dish; but it didn’t matter to him really.
“Some movie actress,” he said gloomily to himself, as he lifted the chicken livers and laid them tenderly in a golden bath of sizzling butter. Like wakened infants, they began chuckling in the pan. His big cooking tray, held by his meek-mouthed apprentice, was laid out as carefully as an artist’s palette, with chopped anchovies, red ribbons of pimiento, punctuations of parsley, and the little pepper mill. Though all the other cooks busily trotted on white silent feet between their stoves and tables, each was aware of the vast honor bestowed on Karl. And each was a little jealous.
Antoine, the cook whom he had displaced to make this dish for Chef, sat on the railing, glaring angrily. Antoine was a little man who hated all tall handsome people on
principle. Karl he hated especially, because the girl Antoine shoved around dance floors, was always trying to persuade him to invite Karl to join these parties. And now to be lifted ignominiously out of his own kitchen, while this big Dutch so-and-so showed off ! Antoine was too Latin to disguise his rage, but Karl didn’t appear to notice.
“Some movie actress probably,” Karl said to himself, “that Chef has for a crush.” He knew exactly of what New World royalty consists. Down the fenced aisle came Chef himself, with his scuttling coterie of assistants. It was like the triumphal march of a surgeon through the wards or a general through the ranks, for professional pompousness is the same, whether the foe is death, or defeat, or merely jaded hunger.
Chef stopped, and raised his nose like a small, clever baton. Karl held his breath, trying with all his proud importance not to look boastful. An assistant handed Chef a spoon. ,In a dreadful silence, he dipped it daintily in the sauce and tested its silken fabric against the silver. No tasting, of course; only laymen need to taste.
“That will do very well,” he decreed generously, and Karl clicked his heels and bowed with his tall, old-world courtliness not yet lost by this notion of being as good as anybody else and a whole lot better.
“For someone very important?” he dared to ask, as the retinue swept on, to see about artichokes and hollandaise.
“Some Eyetalian musician,” an assistant whispered, trotting his fingers up and down an imaginary keyboard.
“Not Marione?” Karl gasped, and his face suddenly paled. “My soul!” he thought wildly, “I have made chicken liver Marguery that will become the fingers, the eyes, the brain of the great Marione !
“Listen,” he cried feverishly to the sixth assistant, clutching him by the lapel, “is Marione in the house?”
“Sure,” the sixth assistant said. “And what of it?’’ “What of it?” Karl repeated blankly to himself. “We may breathe the very air of genius in this house, and this lout says ‘What of it?’ ” He began unwinding his sleek starched apron. “I am through for the day,” he said wildly to Antoine. “I am ill. I am burying my grandmother. I belong to the Union or something. Anyway, I am leaving for the day.” Then he added, “Besides, this is a birthday.”
Antoine blinked after him, “When a cook gets to be a prima donna, pouf!” he said disgustedly. Then he promised his bruised ego: “Maybe I poosh a little, myself.”
Recklessly Karl charged down the aisle, past the entrée cooks, past the salad makers, with their crazy quilts of hors d’oeuvres—eggs looking like daisies, fish like silver arrows, olives like holly wreaths, everything looking like something else. Blindly he hurried through the vanilla-
perfumed pastry room, where a girl was icing fifty cakes at once and chewing gum besides. Through the fanning doors, at last he was in the dark, vast locker room, banging open his locker and shouldering into his blue coat that made him look like a keen young executive, or, only slightly less brave, an aviator on earth for the day. He had a plan to make this. Lolly’s birthday, something to tell their grandchildren about.
He knew that Otto would be going off duty about now; he’d be in the bleak washroom smoking his cigarette and telephoning to arrange his shabby dates. A waitress here, a movie usher thereOtto’s life was a gay and romantic business. Wildly Karl sketched in his plan. Otto hesitated, but a two dollar bill was unanswerable persuasion.
“Gosh, what a egg you are!" said Otto, who spoke impeccable English. “Sure you can have the coat. But you’re crazy, Karl. Wantin’ to see some old musician! If it was a swell actress, now—”
“I know,” Karl cut him short comprehensively, buttoning himself rigidly into Otto’s brass-buttoned coat.
“If you do anything goofy that gets me in wrong," Otto stipulated, “you’ll have to say you took the coat without me knowing. Okay?”
Karl nodded impatiently. He would do nothing wrrong. He would only be near, and watch reverently, as the valet watched over Verdi, as the servant of Caruso had followed his master. He would not even speak, probably.
Three steps at a time, he ran up the service stairs. His sleeves were short, and the coat barely buttoned over his broad chest, but he looked, approximately, like a bellboy. Gladly he would have looked like a clown, like a fur rug, like anything to be near this great one for a few minutes.
On the seventh floor, the suite of Marione was easily located, for a knot of denim-clad jxirters were wrestling outside the door with a great mahogany box. An earnest fat man directed their endeavors importantly.
“Easy on that, boys,” he said, perspiring. “Just roll her in without chipping her.” Nobody noticed Karl as he joined the group and tugged bewilderedly.
“What is this tiling? Some kind of a radio?” one of the porters asked. The fat man explained that it was a complimentary offering of a new phonograph, equipped with all the records Marione had ever made. He set up the delicate mechanism that played the discs, one after another, uninterruptedly.
“All we want is a photograph of him listening to hisself,” he said. “Advertising, you know.” He looked around disparagingly at the modest studio suite to be occupied by the master. “Nothing very much, is it? Well, maybe the photographer can fake it up a little.”
“They put him in the rear,” the captain of the porters explained, “so he wouldn’t bother anybody when he played.” He opened the ventilator designed to divert sound down the service stairs. “Fierce for the help, all that noise, when those guys play.”
Karl’s heart laughed hysterically, thinking of the people scattered over this city who would give a little piece of their souls to hear Marione play. People who would stand in the slush outside the theatre and then not be able to afford a ticket; others who would deny themselves food to hear tomorrow’s concert. And Manone tucked in the rear, so he wouldn’t “annoy” the guests when he played !
“What’s he play for?” someone asked.
“Two thousand bucks.” They laughed half-heartedly at this, not seeing how it could be true, but liking the wisecrack, nevertheless. The fat man patted his instrument lovingly.
“With this Musikon you can hear two thousand dollars worth of music in your own home,” he said in the dreamy tone of one who thinks he has a good idea for an advertisement. “If Marione died today, the Musikon could take his place.” He grew pink in sudden romantic appreciation of this stupendous thought. Karl looked at him with wordless pity.
AT LAST they were gone, and Karl was alone in the room with the luggage of the Master. He looked at the shiny big instrument which could play all Marione’s music. He stood in the centre of the studio and gazed at the piano brought in especially for Marione’s practice, at the pathetic, shabby trunk, and a pair of gloves that bore still the imprint of those divine hands. Worn gloves, simple and shabby, like an artist’s everyday existence.
Suddenly he heard a key turning in the lock, and he was drenched with timidity. He became a little boy again, afraid to speak in the presence of adults, who knew all the answers to all the questions. For this man was one of the world’s few adults, an artist!
Before he realized his own intention, Karl stepped into the clothes closet and shut the door. He heard the Marione coat brush past. His heart stood still Marione would open the door to hang up that coat; the management would be called; they would recognize him masquerading in the bellboy’s uniform and he would be discharged. They d think he had hidden here to rob a guest . . .
The telephone rang, and Karl heard Marione move away from the door. He listened helplessly to the conversation which seemed to be with Marione’s manager.
Continued on page 60
F—as in Love
Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7
“I have not slept,” Marione said impatiently. “I cannot rehearse now. Yes, I know. We must go over it before tomorrow. Well, listen—come at nine tonight—no, nine-fifteen. I will go through the whole programme.”
After a moment he added : “Be on time, Clements, but not a minute early, please. Nine fifteen.” He hung up listlessly. Then, through the closed door, Karl sensed the atmosphere subtly altered. Marione was speaking again into the telephone, but now it was a different voice, giving a number. Silence, while the number was connected.
“Carita,” he said, and that one word was a story in itself.
No need to tell the woman behind that name who was calling. She must have known in Hades if she had heard her name spoken in that ineffable way. The room vibrated with the emotion of the silence. “I know you won’t see me,” Marione said. “But please see me, Carita.” Karl could hear him breathing as he waited for her answer.
“I know ... I know . , .’’he said. “You were right, my darling. But I am different now. I want to tell you ... I am different, Carita.”
The silence in the room said that she was answering.
“It is so hard to talk to you, Carita,” the Master said. His voice was spangled with feeling, as a face is sometimes spangled with tears it does not even know are there. “I have written a little song to tell you. Let me come and play it tonight.” Karl knew from the weight of the stillness that she was refusing. How could a woman refuse, no matter what he had done ! “Let me come and play to you. You need not even see me; just let me tell you, darling.” Still she was saying no, and Karl’s young throat ached with anger against her, and with pity for this big, humble man whose music could transform the world for thousands. And while he performed this miracle, his own world was denied the light of some strange woman’s eyes.
“Well, listen, then. Tonight at nine I will ring your telephone. You need not even speak to me. Just listen and I will play my song for you. Do that, Carita; do that much ...”
A moment, then the click of the telephone was a little door slamming. Marione put his head on his arms, and the air ached with the dreadful sound of a man sobbing.
A needle of perspiration stitched along Karl’s spine. He could bear this no longer. Swiftly he opened the closet door and strode out, without looking at the man huddled beside the telephone. He ran down the service stairs, then stopped suddenly and listened with rapt stillness, for a fragment of wild, longing music came splashing from the ventilator.
PAIN, PAIN, locked in big hearts and small. Things to be said that could never be said. His unspeakable love for Lolly; Marione’s repentance, too abject to be trusted in words. This was the fugue of life, perhaps. That was what made artists; that unbearable necessity to say something that never could be compressed into words.
Karl hung Otto’s coat in his own locker, got his hat, and walked aimlessly into the street. He went through shops, looking hopelessly for things to buy for Lolly’s birthday. But the essential gift was not there. He bought perfume, and a box of French soap, beautiful writing paper Lolly would never use, a scarf almost as spunsugar-looking as her hair. But these were only evasions of the gift he did not know I how to give her.
I He wanted to give her the rest of his
life; all mornings on sunny beaches, winter afternoons flying with silver feet over the frozen rivers, twilights coming home together to some little house, letters from his mother in Holland, timeless moments in some symphony, all his passion and music—and this he was bunglingly expressing in perfume and soap and silk !
He was in a mood far from festive when his watch said it was time to go over to the bookstore and meet Lolly. She, too, was trying to look happy, and not succeeding very well.
“When I was nine, I had a birthday party,” she said wistfully.
“I can imagine just how you looked,” Karl told her. “Not very different from now.” And to himself he said that all his little girls, those naughty darlings for whom he’d bake gingerbread men, whose little knuckles he’d have to spank when they didn’t want to “practise,” must look exactly like Lolly.
They found an expensive restaurant and pretended to enjoy themselves. Lolly opened her gifts, one by one, and said how beautiful they were but that Karl shouldn’t have bought them.
“They’re nothing,” he said gruffly. “I couldn’t find the real present.”
“What was it, Karl?”
“Something they don’t have in shops,” he said, and his blue eyes were ardent under his flippancy. “I’ll give it to you—■ later.” He was confused a little now; he had said too much. But Lolly didn’t look uncomfortable, for she had no idea that he was saying, “It is myself, Liebschen, and all my days and nights, and my soul itself if you will have it. It is every thought I’ll ever think, made beautiful for your sake. It is my plans, built of bricks and work, built of dreams and loneliness and my great tender love for you, Lolly.”
Lolly said, archly, surely not guessing what he was thinking: “Will I like it, Karl —your other gift?”
“You’ll luf it,” he said, and leaned across the table earnestly; so earnestly that he did not even hear that humiliating “f” that made a comic valentine of his love. That clown of a word, that came stumbling in, making cruel jokes.
“Luf!” She imitated him, because she was suddenly shy. “How funnily you say it, Karl.”
He flushed to his bright hair. “It is because I am not used to saying it,” he said sternly. “It isn’t a word—easily said.”
“Because of the consonants?” she asked gently, not daring to look at him.
“Because of them—and for other reasons,” he said with unexpected dignity. But he was quite miserable. Otto could say, “Gee, baby, you’re swell,” and girls knew just what he meant. But he was not like that. Otto had no wordless struggles with his feelings; his ready-made feelings always fitted his ready-made words.
But Marione, too, couldn’t find word3 for the unbearable things in his heart. Marione . . . Suddenly he felt happier again, and sublimely excited and drunk.
“Listen, darling,” he said suddenly, “this is the night you’ll have a big birthday present. Tonight at nine.” He trembled with happiness now. Surely Marione could lend him a little of his love song? He could lend some of it, and none be lost from his own Carita.
A party!” Lolly said hopefully. “A surprise party, Karl. People all happy because today is my birthday.” She knew it couldn’t be that, but the very pretending that it could be made her eyes shine with gaiety.
“Yes,” he said. “Why not? We’ll find our friends and invite them.”
“What friends?” she asked doubtfully, suddenly remembering how very much alone they both were in this city. Young and alone, so that birthdays hurt them.
“Well,” Karl was saying, undaunted, “friends are people who like what you like. Not? We’ll find them tonight and give them a party.” Why not? Didn’t he know where there would be two thousand dollars worth of music tonight, to be had for the listening?
“Don’t ask me questions,” he said happily. “Hurry. We’ll go and invite them right away.”
'"PHEY TAXIED to the theatre, where a
great illumined billboard said that tomorrow Marione would play. Crowds hurried past, and some turned to read and to study the face of Marione, extravagantly handsome on the board. Karl was surprised to see him so handsome looking, being too naive to know the beneficence of photography. They stood in the darkness beside the lighted board, and Lolly was conscious that he held her fingers very tight in his big hand, and that his blue eyes skipped like a child’s eyes at a parade.
“We’ll invite them,” he said in a whisper. “Our very good friends.”
“But it says tomorrow, Karl.”
“Hush, darling. Listen ...”
A man and a girl, with their unfurred collars turned up against the wind, were looking up longingly at the pictured face. The girl’s eyes were full of wanting, but she shook her head, as though she was saying, “But, dearest, we’ve simply got to pay the milk bill; we just can’t afford this.”
Karl dropped Lolly’s hand and went up to them, taking off his hat and holding it against his chest, in the continental manner. “You want to hear Marione?” he asked. The man looked at him suspiciously mistaking him for a ticket scalper bom and bred in the shadows of theatres.
“Will you both be my guests tonight?” he said, smiling reassuringly, “Marione is playing, and if you do not mind sitting on backstairs ...” Two other people, overhearing what he said, drew into the conversation and spoke to him, apologetically and eagerly.
Excitedly he took out cards, and wrote directions on the back.
“Come at nine-fifteen; not before, please,” he said. “I will be at the back door to let you in. You’ll know the door,” he added earnestly. “It smells like soup.” They took the cards and went away, not certain whether or not he was crazy, but hoping he wasn’t.
Other “friends” came along; Karl could recognize them by the way they looked up at the billboard and by their not expensive clothes. When he made mistakes he bowed courteously and withdrew to the shadows. When they had invited ten people, they left. There was a Jewish woman with her little boy, an old man who might have been a teacher once, a tall, dark-eyed woman, two pretty girl students who had gone without lunches for a week to afford rush seats tomorrow.
“You’ll lose your job, Karl,” Lolly said, but she squeezed his hand to show him that it didn’t matter even if he did.
“No; I’m too good a baker,” he said shrewdly. “Besides,” and he told her about the honor that had been done him that morning, when Chef substituted him for Antoine, who usually made the special dishes.
“It will be a lovely party,” he said happily, holding her hand still, and feeling his blood bubbling like champagne through his veins. “But first you shall have your own present, Liebschen,” he said ardently.
Even if Lolly only liked him, this love song would be a gift she would never forget. They alone would hear Marione’s song written to his beloved, and it would tell the same message to little Lolly and to the unknown Carita. It would pour out love, but whether or not that love was heard would depend on the separate hearts of the two listening women.
“What is it, my special present? Please tell me, Karl.”
‘Things I cannot tell,” he said solemnly. “It is a song without consonants. It is about that word I cannot say, Lolly.”
“You can say it,” she said compas-
sionately, “when the time comes, Karl.”
“"When the time comes,” he repeated bitterly. “And how will I recognize that time? It has been that time always, Lolly, in my heart. It is my heart’s only season, darling.”
“Why, Karl,” she said in surprise, looking suddenly up at this strange man as though they never before had spoken to each other. Surely this wasn’t the handsome baker that Mr. Martingale laughed at? She felt his hand trembling against her arm, but she could not really believe that this all meant anything. He was always so gay, so full of his quaint play; someone she had once been a little sorry for, and whom she had helped with his English. She wanted to cry, a little wildly, with a woman’s pity for humbleness and a woman’s respect for strength.
“Nefer mind, Lolly,” he said soothingly, because he knew intuitively that a gust of unrecognized emotion was sweeping through his little Lolly and frightening her. “Nefer mind, Liebschen . . . We go in here.”
And there, along the back street, they had arrived at the door that smelled like soup. Down a narrow tunnel, then steep above them rose the corkscrew of steel which was the service stairway, skewering the great hotel to the earth.
“No carpets here,” Karl whispered, to take her mind off that momentary nakedness of feeling that had startled her. “No room here for anything but people, serving other people.”
THEY CLIMBED and climbed until they reached the seventh floor, and now it was ten minutes before nine. He made a little nest of his overcoat and sat her in it, a trifle bewildered but happy again with all this absurd mystery. They waited ; Karl ’s heart was a noisy metronome marking off the rhythm of his blood. Nine o’clock came, but no sound from the room beyond the open ventilator. Five minutes past nine. Still no music.
“My present?” Lolly asked in a whisper. “Something had gone terribly wrong.” Karl’s face was white with disappointment and chagrin. “I’ll tell it to you myself,” he said. After all, a man must make his own love, no matter how badly he does it.
“I’ll tell it to you myself, when I learn to say my Vs.”
“But Karl, you silly,” she said, and her face was pink and troubled. Some fastidious sense of fitness made him unwilling even to touch her shoulder on these back stairs. Men kissed girls on back stairs, but not girls like Lolly.
“Our friends,” he said, with a great deal of bustle. “I must go down and let them in. I’ll stop at my locker and get Otto’s coat. You wait here, Lollipop.”
Their friends were at the door, laughing and eager, but sceptical. They were very glad to see him, as people should greet their host.
“Ah, you are here,’’Karl said hospitably. “We will be quiet, please, going up the steps—a lot of steps, I am sorry to tell you.” Saner people might have thought him a little mad, but these people, being for ever on that not-sane quest for beauty, were accustomed to mad miracles.
“We will be bellboys and chambermaids for tonight,” he said. “But it will be worth it. Not?”
An old man said suddenly, “When I was a lad, my father became a carpenter and moved to Weimar so we could sometimes see the great Liszt.” Karl threw his arm around the old fellow’s shoulders, for they were friends. They were people who knew that shimmering secret about life; that it does not matter what people do; only what they feel matters.
In the glare of the naked electric bulbs, they were even shabbier looking, but it was not the shamed shabbiness of people who care about trivialities. It was that audacious disregard of hardships known to people who serve one mistress. Marione’s battered gloves which Karl had seen this morning would have fitted these people, for he, too, was one of those who wear their luxuries in their hearts and in their heads.
They reached the seventh floor where Lolly waited, looking demure and like a hostess. “The steps are rather hard ” she said graciously. “I hope you don’t mind."
They laughed in whispers and explained that they were accustomed to standingroom usually. They settled themselves companionably along the stairs and plunged into acquaintance. They talked all at once, as such people do when they meet. The old man remembered things about Brahms, his too-short trouser legs, and the time he gave the beggar his new suit.
Tl IEY TALKED reverently of Marione, of the way he played the Brandenburg concerto and the new meanings he could bring out of this phrase and that.
But the music didn’t begin, and every once in a while Karl would rouse himself from his delight in these comrades to wonder wildly what could be the matter. Lolly and the tall, dark-eyed woman sat together on the bottom step and talked softly about Marione the man. Being very feminine, they could not separate the man from his music as the others did.
“Have you ever seen him?” the woman asked.
Lolly shook her head, wondering why people think young girls are as beautiful as full-grown women. This woman, now. with her long, dark eyes, sad yet witty . . .
“He is not handsome, but his face is so sweet,” she was saying. “He was a gardener when he was young, and sometimes his eyes look as if they were seeing little flowers. He was so poor and so hungry and so scorned,” she said pitiably, and Lolly felt again those strange tears behind her eyes. She caught at the repeated moment, but it eluded her like the shift of dreams. It was the same feeling, but then it had been the pity of being a baker, not a gardener. Suddenly her heart opened in her breast like a bud, and she understood in new wordless wisdom that world that is for ever above all earthly measuring.
The dark-eyed woman was talking on, almost to herself: “I have heard people say he is spoiled. But only very dear persons get spoiled. He should be spoiled a little, don’t you think?”
It was nearly ten, and still no music. The others did not seem restless, but Karl was frantic by now. Marione must have changed his mind about the rehearsal. What would his guests think?
“Isn’t it time?” the Jewess said. “Reuben, dolling, lean on momma.”
Karl slipped through the service door and into the contrastingly elegant corridor. He took the pass-key Otto had given him and gently opened the studio door. Darkness within, and the big silhouette of the piano. He listened, to know if Marione might be sleeping, but there was no breathing in the room.
“What will I do?” he thought. “All these people looking forward to this. He has changed his plans. I had better go out and apologize. I’ll invite them somewhere to supper. We’ll have some sort of a party, after all.”
But suddenly his eye fell on the detested Musikon. that smug mechanism that could take Marione’s place so perfectly. Resolutely he pressed the little button, and noiselessly the machine came to life. Marione’s own notes, flawlessly crystal, floated like melodic bubbles into the room. Karl stood in the darkness, rapturously listening. When Chopin’s Polonaise was finished, there was a few moments silence; then, so quietly you could scarcely be aware of it, the Musikon shifted records and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Spanish Caprice tumbled forth.
In a few moments he went out and joined his guests on the stairs. Through the ventilator, the music poured lavishly. This impromptu audience was lost to everything but this magnificence of sound. They had forgotten each other and the ugly surroundings. Each had the passport to his private paradise. The woman next
to Lolly had leaned back her head and closed her eyes to listen better. Her face was beautiful and naked, full of suffering and love. Karl slipped down at Lolly’s feet and put his head on her knees. She slipped her warm little hand under his hard-muscled cheek.
Minutes swooned together. Between numbers, the crowd stirred and murmured ecstatically, like people in a dream. “Marione. There is nobody like him ...”
Then suddenly there was the brisk scuffling of footsteps on the slate stairs and two heads api>eared above the steep railings. One was the maliciously delighted head of Antoine, looking righteously avenged for this morning’s insult to his prestige as a special cook. The other was the stern face of the manager himself.
"What is the meaning of this?” he asked, above the music. “WTiat are you people doing here?”
Karl rose to his feet, suddenly remembering that he was committing the forgery of wearing Otto’s bellboy coat. “I am Latzel, of the baking staff, sir,” he said with great dignity. “We merely wanted to hear Marione rehearse.”
HE WAS AWARE of the consternation on the faces of his guests. A sad transformation had taken place. From their pinnacles of beauty, each had slipped ignominiously down to being a petty misfit in the everyday world. A moment before they were free, proud citizens of a better world; now they suddenly remembered the unsympathetic practical world of reality which had so little patience with them.
A shabby-looking man had risen on the top step and was staring down at the irate manager and the tall young baker. Karl wondered irrelevantly why he hadn’t noticed this man before; he couldn’t remember having spoken to him at the theatre; when had he joined the group?
“Well, you can all get out of here,” the manager said indignantly. “And you. whatever your name is, what are you doing in that coat? Don’t you know it’s against the rules to bring anyone up these steps? You’ll lose your job for this.”
Karl bowed impassively, and Lolly scrambled to her feet and slid her hand into his, the most mature gesture she had ever made. Her coming of age, surely.
“I beg your pardon,” the man on the top step said in a large resonant voice, “these are my guests. This is an outrage. What do you mean by breaking in like this on my party?”
All the twelve shamed heads turned quickly and looked up at the white-faced stranger in the shabby overcoat. A terrible, ingratiating meekness shattered the manager’s anger and he began sputtering with excitement.
“Oh, I beg your pardon; I didn’t see you, Mr. Marione,” he stammered, and began nervously backing down the stairs, treading on the unfortunate toes of Antoine, who had so righteously brought all this meeting about. “Go right ahead, sir. I’m sure we wouldn’t want to disturb you.” “These are my friends,” Marione said, and looked around at them with childlike simplicity on his dark face. “My only friends. I think. And I find them so seldom.”
They drew away from him uneasily. Those who had talked with him before the music started, wilted with embarrassment. That look of impersonal homage so hated by the great, was freezing in their eyes. A few minutes before he had been one of them; now he was Marione.
“Please, let me be the way we were before,” he said earnestly, looking fromface to face. “I am just a lonely peasant,” he said vaguely.
It was Lolly, that sweet-hearted little person, who knew the thing to do. She ran up the steps and said: “It’s my
twenty-first birthday. And we wanted a party. Would you—would you come to it, too?”
He looked at her a moment, then laughed. “In my country, we kiss people when they have birthdays,” he said, and kissed both her cheeks.
“And now we will have a party,” he cried jovially, and flung his head over the convolute railings to shout down to the manager who was still pedalling downward. “Say, down there. We’re having a real party. Send up waiters, and food— the best you can find-some of those chicken liver things I had today for lunch. About a peck of those, please.”
“There are no more of those,” Karl said boastfully. “I made those.”
Everybody laughed, and the noise was hearty and human, above the forgotten Musikon which was going on patiently, trying to take Marione’s place.
The dark-eyed woman stood a little apart, and her face was even paler than before. Suddenly Marione saw her, and all the childlike gaiety died in his face. Died, then came to life again as sheer, indescribable adoration. Slowly he came down the steps to her, as though they two were the only people on earth.
“Carita,” he said in the whisper Karl had heard once before, today. “Carita, you came here?”
“I was invited,” she said unsteadily. “I was looking at your picture on the billboard and these dear children invited me."
“Oh, my darling ...” His eyes were eloquent with that wordless love which Karl knew so well.
“Y'es, and yes, and yes,” the tall woman said, not bothering whether or not the others heard. “Whatever you want, my dearest, the answer will be always yes.” “Come in, and let me play you my new song,” Marione said, and glanced bewilderedly at the others, hoping they would understand that they were to wait a moment before coming in.
Karl nodded to him sympathetically. Waiters, appearing mysteriously and unctuously from below, were deferentially passing around menus.
But nobody bothered with them, for Marione’s love song was coming through the door, unbearably beautiful.
“That’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you always, Liebschen,” Karl said to his Lolly, when the last note had ceased. “But I cannot say that word.”
“There are other words, precious." Lolly said. “Words with T belonging in them.”
“Such as what?"
“Well. There is ‘for ever’,” she whispered, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him. Then they all went in to their party.