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FAR-AWAY STORIES ***




Produced by Al Haines








FAR-AWAY STORIES

BY

WILLIAM J. LOCKE

AUTHOR OF "THE ROUGH ROAD," "THE RED PLANET,"
"THE WONDERFUL YEAR," "THE BELOVED VAGABOND," ETC.



NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY
LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
TORONTO: S. B. GUNDY
MCMXIX




COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY
JOHN LANE COMPANY



THE PLIMPTON PRESS
NORWOOD, MASS. U.S.A.





_TO THE READER_

_DEAR SIR OR MADAM: - _

_Good wine needs no bush, but a collection of mixed vintages does. And
this book is just such a collection. Some of the stories I do not want
to remain buried for ever in the museum files of dead
magazine-numbers - an author's not unpardonable vanity; others I have
resuscitated from the same vaults in the hope that they still may
please you._

_The title of a volume of short stories is always a difficult matter.
It ought to indicate frankly the nature of the book so that the unwary
purchaser shall have no grievance (except on the score of merit, which
is a different affair altogether) against either author or publisher.
In my title I have tried to solve the problem. But why "Far-away?"
Well, the stories cover a long stretch of years, and all, save one,
were written in calm days far-away from the present convulsion of the
world._

_Anyhow, no one will buy the book under the impression that it is a
novel, and, finding that it isn't, revile me as a cheat. And so I have
the pleasure of offering it for your perusal with a clear conscience._

_You, Dear Sir or Madam, have given me, this many a year, an indulgence
beyond my deserts. Till now, I have had no opportunity of thanking
you. I do now with a grateful heart, and to you I dedicate the two
stories that I love the best, hoping that they may excuse those for
which you may not so much care, and that they may win continuance of
that which is to me, both as a writer and as a human being, my most
cherished possession, namely, your favourable regard for_

_Your most humble and obedient Servant to command,_

_W. J. LOCKE_
_June_, 1919




CONTENTS

THE SONG OF LIFE

LADIES IN LAVENDER

STUDIES IN BLINDNESS
I. AN OLD-WORLD EPISODE
II. THE CONQUEROR
III. A LOVER'S DILEMMA
IV. A WOMAN OF THE WAR

THE PRINCESS'S KINGDOM

THE HEART AT TWENTY

THE SCOURGE

MY SHADOW FRIENDS




THE SONG OF LIFE

_Non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum_. It is not everybody's
good fortune to go to Corinth. It is also not everybody's good fortune
to go to Peckham - still less to live there. But if you were one of the
favoured few, and were wont to haunt the Peckham Road and High Street,
the bent figure of Angelo Fardetti would have been as familiar to you
as the vast frontage of the great Emporium which, in the drapery world,
makes Peckham illustrious among London suburbs. You would have seen
him humbly threading his way through the female swarms that clustered
at the plate-glass windows - the mere drones of the hive were fooling
their frivolous lives away over ledgers in the City - the inquiry of a
lost dog in his patient eyes, and an unconscious challenge to Philistia
in the wiry bush of white hair that protruded beneath his perky soft
felt hat. If he had been short, he might have passed unregarded; but
he was very tall - in his heyday he had been six foot two - and very
thin. You smile as you recall to mind the black frock-coat, somewhat
white at the seams, which, tightly buttoned, had the fit of a garment
of corrugated iron. Although he was so tall one never noticed the
inconsiderable stretch of trouser below the long skirt. He always
appeared to be wearing a truncated cassock. You were inclined to laugh
at this queer exotic of the Peckham Road until you looked more keenly
at the man himself. Then you saw an old, old face, very swarthy, very
lined, very beautiful still in its regularity of feature, maintaining
in a little white moustache with waxed ends a pathetic braggadocio of
youth; a face in which the sorrows of the world seemed to have their
dwelling, but sorrows that on their way thither had passed through the
crucible of a simple soul.

Twice a day it was his habit to walk there; shops and faces a
meaningless confusion to his eyes, but his ears alert to the many
harmonies of the orchestra of the great thoroughfare. For Angelo
Fardetti was a musician. Such had he been born; such had he lived.
Those aspects of life which could not be interpreted in terms of music
were to him unintelligible. During his seventy years empires had
crumbled, mighty kingdoms had arisen, bloody wars had been fought,
magic conquests been made by man over nature. But none of these
convulsive facts had ever stirred Angelo Fardetti's imagination. Even
his country he had well-nigh forgotten; it was so many years since he
had left it, so much music had passed since then through his being.
Yet he had never learned to speak English correctly; and, not having an
adequate language (save music) in which to clothe his thoughts, he
spoke very little. When addressed he smiled at you sweetly like a
pleasant, inarticulate old child.

Though his figure was so familiar to the inhabitants of Peckham, few
knew how and where he lived. As a matter of fact, he lived a few
hundred yards away from the busy High Street, in Formosa Terrace, at
the house of one Anton Kirilov, a musician. He had lodged with the
Kirilovs for over twenty years - but not always in the roomy splendour
of Formosa Terrace. Once Angelo was first violin in an important
orchestra, a man of mark, while Anton fiddled away in the obscurity of
a fifth-rate music-hall. Then the famous violinist rented the
drawing-room floor of the Kirilovs' little house in Clapham, while the
Kirilovs, humble folk, got on as best they could. Now things had
changed. Anton Kirilov was musical director of a London theatre, but
Angelo, through age and rheumatism and other infirmities, could fiddle
in public no more; and so it came to pass that Anton Kirilov and Olga,
his wife, and Sonia, their daughter (to whom Angelo had stood godfather
twenty years ago), rioted in spaciousness, while the old man lodged in
tiny rooms at the top of the house, paying an infinitesimal rent and
otherwise living on his scanty savings and such few shillings as he
could earn by copying out parts and giving lessons to here and there a
snub-nosed little girl in a tradesman's back parlour. Often he might
have gone without sufficient nourishment had not Mrs. Kirilov seen to
it; and whenever an extra good dish, succulent and strong, appeared at
her table, either Sonia or the servant carried a plateful upstairs with
homely compliments.

"You are making of me a spoiled child, Olga," he would say sometimes,
"and I ought not to eat of the food for which Anton works so hard."

And she would reply with a laugh:

"If we did not keep you alive, Signor Fardetti, how should we have our
quatuors on Sunday afternoons?"

You see, Mrs. Kirilov, like the good Anton, had lived all her life in
music too - she was a pianist; and Sonia also was a musician - she played
the 'cello in a ladies' orchestra. So they had famous Sunday quatuors
at Formosa Terrace, in which Fardetti was well content to play second
fiddle to Anton's first.

You see, also, that but for these honest souls to whom a musician like
Fardetti was a sort of blood-brother, the evening of the old man's days
might have been one of tragic sadness. But even their affection and
his glad pride in the brilliant success of his old pupil, Geoffrey
Chase, could not mitigate the one great sorrow of his life. The
violin, yes; he had played it well; he had not aimed at a great
soloist's fame, for want of early training, and he had never dreamed
such unrealisable dreams; but other dreams had he dreamed with
passionate intensity. He had dreamed of being a great composer, and he
had beaten his heart out against the bars that shut him from the great
mystery. A waltz or two, a few songs, a catchy march, had been
published and performed, and had brought him unprized money and a
little hateful repute; but the compositions into which he had poured
his soul remained in dusty manuscript, despised and rejected of musical
men.

For many years the artist's imperious craving to create and hope and
will kept him serene. Then, in the prime of his days, a tremendous
inspiration shook him. He had a divine message to proclaim to the
world, a song of life itself, a revelation. It was life,
indestructible, eternal. It was the seed that grew into the tree; the
tree that flourished lustily, and then grew bare and stark and
perished; the seed, again, of the tree that rose unconquerable into the
laughing leaf of spring. It was the kiss of lovers that, when they
were dead and gone, lived immortal on the lips of grandchildren. It
was the endless roll of the seasons, the majestic, triumphant rhythm of
existence. It was a cosmic chant, telling of things as only music
could tell of them, and as no musician had ever told of them before.

He attempted the impossible, you will say. He did. That was the pity
of it. He spent the last drop of his heart's blood over his sonata.
He wrote it and rewrote it, wasting years, but never could he imprison
within those remorseless ruled lines the elusive sounds that shook his
being. An approximation to his dream reached the stage of a completed
score. But he knew that it was thin and lifeless. The themes that
were to be developed into magic harmonies tinkled into commonplace.
The shell of this vast conception was there, but the shell alone. The
thing could not live without the unseizable, and that he had not
seized. Angelo Fardetti, broken down by toil and misery, fell very
sick. Doctors recommended Brighton. Docile as a child, he went to
Brighton, and there a pretty lady who admired his playing at the Monday
Popular Concerts at St. James's Hall, got hold of him and married him.
When she ran away, a year later, with a dashing young stockbroker, he
took the score of the sonata that was to be the whole interpretation of
life from its half-forgotten hiding-place, played it through on the
piano, burst into a passion of tears, in the uncontrollable Italian
way, sold up his house, and went to lodge with Anton Kirilov. To no
son or daughter of man did he ever show a note or play a bar of the
sonata. And never again did he write a line of music. Bravely and
humbly he faced life, though the tragedy of failure made him
prematurely old. And all through the years the sublime message
reverberated in his soul and haunted his dreams; and his was the bitter
sorrow of knowing that never should that message be delivered for the
comforting of the world.

The loss of his position as first violin forced him, at sixty, to take
more obscure engagements. That was when he followed the Kirilovs to
Peckham. And then he met the joy of his old age - his one pupil of
genius, Geoffrey Chase, an untrained lad of fourteen, the son of a
well-to-do seed merchant in the High Street.

"His father thinks it waste of time," said Mrs. Chase, a gentle,
mild-eyed woman, when she brought the boy to him, "but Geoffrey is so
set on it - and so I've persuaded his father to let him have lessons."

"Do you, too, love music?" he asked.

Her eyes grew moist, and she nodded.

"Poor lady! He should not let you starve. Never mind," he said,
patting her shoulder. "Take comfort. I will teach your boy to play
for you."

And he did. He taught him for three years. He taught him passionately
all he knew, for Geoffrey, with music in his blood, had the great gift
of the composer. He poured upon the boy all the love of his lonely old
heart, and dreamed glorious dreams of his future. The Kirilovs, too,
regarded Geoffrey as a prodigy, and welcomed him into their circle, and
made much of him. And little Sonia fell in love with him, and he, in
his boyish way, fell in love with the dark-haired maiden who played on
a 'cello so much bigger than herself. At last the time came when
Angelo said:

"My son, I can teach you no more. You must go to Milan."

"My father will never consent," said Geoffrey.

"We will try to arrange that," said Angelo.

So, in their simple ways, Angelo and Mrs. Chase intrigued together
until they prevailed upon Mr. Chase to attend one of the Kirilovs'
Sunday concerts. He came in church-going clothes, and sat with
irreconcilable stiffness on a straight-backed chair. His wife sat
close by, much agitated. The others played a concerto arranged as a
quintette; Geoffrey first violin, Angelo second, Sonia 'cello, Anton
bass, and Mrs. Kirilov at the piano. It was a piece of exquisite
tenderness and beauty.

"Very pretty," said Mr. Chase.

"It's beautiful," cried his wife, with tears in her eyes.

"I said so," remarked Mr. Chase.

"And what do you think of my pupil?" Angelo asked excitedly.

"I think he plays very nicely," Mr. Chase admitted.

"But, dear heavens!" cried Angelo. "It is not his playing! One could
pick up fifty better violinists in the street. It is the concerto - the
composition."

Mr. Chase rose slowly to his feet. "Do you mean to tell me that
Geoffrey made up all that himself?"

"Of course. Didn't you know?"

"Will you play it again?"

Gladly they assented. When it was over he took Angelo out into the
passage.

"I'm not one of those narrow-minded people who don't believe in art,
Mr. Fardetti," said he. "And Geoff has already shown me that he can't
sell seeds for toffee. But if he takes up music, will he be able to
earn his living at it?"

"Beyond doubt," replied Angelo, with a wide gesture.

"But a good living? You'll forgive me being personal, Mr. Fardetti,
but you yourself - - "

"I," said the old man humbly, "am only a poor fiddler - but your son is
a great musical genius."

"I'll think over it," said Mr. Chase.

Mr. Chase thought over it, and Geoffrey went to Milan, and Angelo
Fardetti was once more left desolate. On the day of the lad's
departure he and Sonia wept a little in each other's arms, and late
that night he once more unearthed the completed score of his sonata,
and scanned it through in vain hope of comfort. But as the months
passed comfort came. His beloved swan was not a goose, but a wonder
among swans. He was a wonder at the Milan Conservatoire, and won prize
after prize and medal after medal, and every time he came home he bore
his blushing honours thicker upon him. And he remained the same frank,
simple youth, always filled with gratitude and reverence for his old
master, and though on familiar student terms with all conditions of
cosmopolitan damsels, never faithless to the little Anglo-Russian
maiden whom he had left at home.

In the course of time his studies were over, and he returned to
England. A professorship at the Royal School of Music very soon
rendered him financially independent. He began to create. Here and
there a piece of his was played at concerts. He wrote incidental music
for solemn productions at great London theatres. Critics discovered
him, and wrote much about him in the newspapers. Mr. Chase, the seed
merchant, though professing to his wife a man-of-the-world's
indifference to notoriety, used surreptitiously to cut out the notices
and carry them about in his fat pocket-book, and whenever he had a new
one he would lie in wait for the lean figure of Angelo Fardetti, and
hale him into the shop and make him drink Geoffrey's health in sloe
gin, which Angelo abhorred, but gulped down in honour of the prodigy.

One fine October morning Angelo Fardetti missed his walk. He sat
instead by his window, and looked unseeingly at the prim row of houses
on the opposite side of Formosa Terrace. He had not the heart to go
out - and, indeed, he had not the money; for these walks, twice daily,
along the High Street and the Peckham Road, took him to and from a
queer little Italian restaurant which, with him apparently as its only
client, had eked out for years a mysterious and precarious existence.
He felt very old - he was seventy-two, very useless, very poor. He had
lost his last pupil, a fat, unintelligent girl of thirteen, the
daughter of a local chemist, and no one had sent him any copying work
for a week. He had nothing to do. He could not even walk to his usual
sparrow's meal. It is sad when you are so old that you cannot earn the
right to live in a world which wants you no longer.

Looking at unseen bricks through a small window-pane was little
consolation. Mechanically he rose and went to a grand piano, his one
possession of price, which, with an old horsehair sofa, an oval table
covered with a maroon cloth, and a chair or two, congested the tiny
room, and, sitting down, began to play one of Stephen Heller's _Nuits
Blanches_. You see, Angelo Fardetti was an old-fashioned musician.
Suddenly a phrase arrested him. He stopped dead, and remained staring
out over the polished plane of the piano. For a few moments he was
lost in the chain of associated musical ideas. Then suddenly his
swarthy, lined face lit up, and he twirled his little white moustache
and began to improvise, striking great majestic chords. Presently he
rose, and from a pile of loose music in a corner drew a sheet of ruled
paper. He returned to the piano, and began feverishly to pencil down
his inspiration. His pulses throbbed. At last he had got the great
andante movement of his sonata. For an hour he worked intensely; then
came the inevitable check. Nothing more would come. He rose and
walked about the room, his head swimming. After a quarter of an hour
he played over what he had written, and then, with a groan of despair,
fell forward, his arms on the keys, his bushy white head on his arms.

The door opened, and Sonia, comely and shapely, entered the room,
carrying a tray with food and drink set out on a white cloth. Seeing
him bowed over the piano, she put the tray on the table and advanced.

"Dear godfather," she said gently, her hand on his shoulder.

He raised his head and smiled.

"I did not hear you, my little Sonia."

"You have been composing?"

He sat upright, and tore the pencilled sheets into fragments, which he
dropped in a handful on the floor.

"Once, long ago, I had a dream. I lost it. To-day I thought that I
had found it. But do you know what I did really find?"

"No, godfather," replied Sonia, stooping, with housewifely tidiness, to
pick up the litter.

"That I am a poor old fool," said he.

Sonia threw the paper into the grate and again came up behind him.

"It is better to have lost a dream than never to have had one at all.
What was your dream?"

"I thought I could write the Song of Life as I heard it - as I hear it
still." He smote his forehead lightly. "But no! God has not
considered me worthy to sing it. I bow my head to His - to His" - he
sought for the word with thin fingers - "to His decree."

She said, with the indulgent wisdom of youth speaking to age:

"He has given you the power to love and to win love."

The old man swung round on the music-stool and put his arm round her
waist and smiled into her young face.

"Geoffrey is a very fortunate fellow."

"Because he's a successful composer?"

He looked at her and shook his head, and Sonia, knowing what he meant,
blushed very prettily. Then she laughed and broke away.

"Mother has had seventeen partridges sent her as presents this week,
and she wants you to help her eat them, and father's offered a bargain
in some good Beaujolais, and won't decide until you tell him what you
think of it."

Deftly she set out the meal, and drew a chair to the table. Angelo
Fardetti rose.

"That I should love you all," said he simply, "is only human, but that
you should so much love me is more than I can understand."

You see, he knew that watchful ears had missed his usual outgoing
footsteps, and that watchful hearts had divined the reason. To refuse,
to hesitate, would be to reject love. So there was no more to be said.
He sat down meekly, and Sonia ministered to his wants. As soon as she
saw that he was making headway with the partridge and the burgundy, she
too sat by the table.

"Godfather," she said, "I've had splendid news this morning."

"Geoffrey?"

"Of course. What other news could be splendid? His Symphony in E flat
is going to be given at the Queen's Hall."

"That is indeed beautiful news," said the old man, laying down knife
and fork, "but I did not know that he had written a Symphony in E flat."

"That was why he went and buried himself for months in Cornwall - to
finish it," she explained.

"I knew nothing about it. Aie! aie!" he sighed. "It is to you, and
no longer to me, that he tells things."

"You silly, jealous old dear!" she laughed. "He _had_ to account for
deserting me all the summer. But as to what it's all about, I'm as
ignorant as you are. I've not heard a note of it. Sometimes Geoff is
like that, you know. If he's dead certain sure of himself, he won't
have any criticism or opinions while the work's in progress. It's only
when he's doubtful that he brings one in. And the doubtful things are
never anything like the certain ones. You must have noticed it."

"That is true," said Angelo Fardetti, taking up knife and fork again.
"He was like that since he was a boy."

"It is going to be given on Saturday fortnight. He'll conduct himself.
They've got a splendid programme to send him off. Lembrich's going to
play, and Carli's going to sing - just for his sake. Isn't it gorgeous?"

"It is grand. But what does Geoffrey say about it? Come, come, after
all he is not the sphinx." He drummed his fingers impatiently on the
table.

"Would you really like to know?"

"I am waiting."

"He says it's going to knock 'em!" she laughed.

"Knock 'em?"

"Those were his words."

"But - - "

She interpreted into purer English. Geoffrey was confident that his
symphony would achieve a sensational success.

"In the meanwhile," said she, "if you don't finish your partridge
you'll break mother's heart."

She poured out a glass of burgundy, which the old man drank; but he
refused the food.

"No, no," he said, "I cannot eat more. I have a lump there - in my
throat. I am too excited. I feel that he is marching to his great
triumph. My little Geoffrey." He rose, knocking his chair over, and
strode about the confined space. "_Sacramento_! But I am a wicked old
man. I was sorrowful because I was so dull, so stupid that I could not
write a sonata. I blamed the good God. _Mea maxima culpa_. And at
once he sends me a partridge in a halo of love, and the news of my dear
son's glory - - "

Sonia stopped him, her plump hands on the front of his old corrugated
frock-coat.

"And your glory, too, dear godfather. If it hadn't been for you, where
would Geoffrey be? And who realises it more than Geoffrey? Would you
like to see a bit of his letter? Only a little bit - for there's a lot
of rubbish in it that I would be ashamed of anybody who thinks well of
him to read - but just a little bit."

Her hand was at the broad belt joining blouse and skirt. Angelo,
towering above her, smiled with an old man's tenderness at the laughing
love in her dark eyes, and at the happiness in her young, comely face.
Her features were generous, and her mouth frankly large, but her lips
were fresh and her teeth white and even, and to the old fellow she
looked all that man could dream of the virginal mother-to-be of great
sons. She fished the letter from her belt, scanned and folded it
carefully.

"There! Read."

And Angelo Fardetti read:

"I've learned my theory and technique, and God knows what - things that
only they could teach me - from professors with world-famous names. But
for real inspiration, for the fount of music itself, I come back all
the time to our dear old _maestro_, Angelo Fardetti. I can't for the
life of me define what it is, but he opened for me a secret chamber
behind whose concealed door all these illustrious chaps have walked
unsuspectingly. It seems silly to say it because, beyond a few odds
and ends, the dear old man has composed nothing, but I am convinced
that I owe the essentials of everything I do in music to his teaching
and influence."

Angelo gave her back the folded letter without a word, and turned and
stood again by the window, staring unseeingly at the prim,
semi-detached villas opposite. Sonia, having re-hidden her treasure,
stole up to him. Feeling her near, he stretched out a hand and laid it
on her head.

"God is very wonderful," said he - "very mysterious. Oh, and so good!"


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