"He is so, and the best of men besides," said Elvira; "but he cannot act."
"At least he is not a sheer humbug like mine; he can at least sing."
"You mistake Leon," returned his wife warmly. "He does not even pretend to sing; he has too fine a taste; he does so for a living.
And, believe me, neither of the men are humbugs. They are people with a mission - which they cannot carry out."
"Humbug or not," replied the other, "you came very near pa.s.sing the night in the fields; and, for my part, I live in terror of starvation. I should think it was a man's mission to think twice about his wife. But it appears not. Nothing is their mission but to play the fool. Oh!" she broke out, "is it not something dreary to think of that man of mine? If he could only do it, who would care? But no - not he - no more than I can!"
"Have you any children?" asked Elvira.
"No; but then I may."
"Children change so much," said Elvira, with a sigh.
And just then from the room below there flew up a sudden snapping chord on the guitar; one followed after another; then the voice of Leon joined in; and there was an air being played and sung that stopped the speech of the two women. The wife of the painter stood like a person transfixed; Elvira, looking into her eyes, could see all manner of beautiful memories and kind thoughts that were pa.s.sing in and out of her soul with every note; it was a piece of her youth that went before her; a green French plain, the smell of apple-flowers, the far and shining ringlets of a river, and the words and presence of love.
"Leon has. .h.i.t the nail," thought Elvira to herself. "I wonder how."
The how was plain enough. Leon had asked the painter if there were no air connected with courtship and pleasant times; and having learnt what he wished, and allowed an interval to pa.s.s, he had soared forth into
"O mon amante, O mon desir, Sachons cueillir L'heure charmante!"
"Pardon me, Madame," said the painter's wife, "your husband sings admirably well."
"He sings that with some feeling," replied Elvira, critically, although she was a little moved herself, for the song cut both ways in the upper chamber; "but it is as an actor and not as a musician."
"Life is very sad," said the other; "it so wastes away under one's fingers."
"I have not found it so," replied Elvira. "I think the good parts of it last and grow greater every day."
"Frankly, how would you advise me?"
"Frankly, I would let my husband do what he wished. He is obviously a very loving painter; you have not yet tried him as a clerk. And you know - if it were only as the possible father of your children - it is as well to keep him at his best."
"He is an excellent fellow," said the wife.
They kept it up till sunrise with music and all manner of good fellowship; and at sunrise, while the sky was still temperate and clear, they separated on the threshold with a thousand excellent wishes for each other's welfare. Castel-le-Gachis was beginning to send up its smoke against the golden East; and the church bell was ringing six.
"My guitar is a familiar spirit," said Leon, as he and Elvira took the nearest way towards the inn, "it resuscitated a Commissary, created an English tourist, and reconciled a man and wife."
Stubbs, on his part, went off into the morning with reflections of his own.
"They are all mad," thought he, "all mad - but wonderfully decent."
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