The Diamond Mine
by Willa Sibert Cather
I FIRST became aware that Cressida Garnet was on board when I saw
young men with cameras going up to the boat deck. In that exposed spot
she was good-naturedly posing for them amid fluttering lavender
scarfs wearing a most unseaworthy hat, her broad, vigorous face
wreathed in smiles. She was too much an American not to believe in
publicity. All advertising was good. If it was good for breakfast
foods, it was good for prime donne, especially for a prima donna who
would never be any younger and who had just announced her intention of
marrying a fourth time.
Only a few days before, when I was lunching with some friends at
Sherry's, I had seen Jerome Brown come in with several younger men,
looking so pleased and prosperous that I exclaimed upon it.
"His affairs," some one explained, "are looking up. He's going to
marry Cressida Garnet. Nobody believed it at first, but since she
confirms it he's getting all sorts of credit. That woman's a diamond
If there was ever a man who needed a diamond mine at hand,
immediately convenient, it was Jerome Brown. But as an old friend of
Cressida Garnet, I was sorry to hear that mining operations were to be
I had been away from New York and had not seen Cressida for a year;
now I paused on the gangplank to note how very like herself she still
was, and with what undiminished zeal she went about even the most
trifling things that pertained to her profession. From that distance I
could recognize her "carrying" smile, and even what, in Columbus, we
used to call "the Garnet look."
At the foot of the stairway leading up to the boat deck stood two
of the factors in Cressida's destiny. One of them was her sister, Miss
Julia; a woman of fifty with a relaxed, mournful face, an ageing skin
that browned slowly, like meerschaum, and the unmistakable "look" by
which one knew a Garnet. Beside her, pointedly ignoring her, smoking a
cigarette while he ran over the passenger list with supercilious almond
eyes, stood a youth in a pink shirt and a green plush hat, holding a
French bull-dog on the leash. This was "Horace," Cressida's only son.
He, at any rate, had not the Garnet look. He was rich and ruddy,
indolent and insolent, with soft oval cheeks and the blooming
complexion of twenty-two. There was the beginning of a silky shadow on
his upper lip. He seemed like a ripe fruit grown out of a rich soil;
"oriental," his mother called his peculiar lusciousness. His aunt's
restless and aggrieved glance kept flecking him from the side, but the
two were as motionless as the bouledogue , standing there on his bench
legs and surveying his travelling basket with loathing. They were
waiting, in constrained immobility, for Cressida to descend and
reanimate them, will them to do or to be something. Forward, by the
rail, I saw the stooped, eager back for which I was unconsciously
looking: Miletus Poppas, the Greek Jew, Cressida's accompanist and
shadow. We were all there, I thought with a smile, except Jerome Brown.
The first member of Cressida's party with whom I had speech was Mr.
Poppas. When we were two hours out I came upon him in the act of
dropping overboard a steamer cushion made of American flags. Cressida
never sailed, I think, that one of these vivid comforts of travel did
not reach her at the dock. Poppas recognized me just as the striped
object left his hand. He was standing with his arm still extended over
the rail, his fingers contemptuously sprung back. "Lest we forget!" he
said with a shrug. "Does Madame Cressida know we are to have the
pleasure of your company for this voyage?" He spoke deliberate,
grammatical English he despised the American rendering of the
language but there was an indescribably foreign quality in his
voice, a something muted; and though he aspirated his "th's" with
such conscientious thoroughness, there was always the thud of a "d" in
them. Poppas stood before me in a short, tightly buttoned grey coat and
cap, exactly the colour of his greyish skin and hair and waxed
moustache; a monocle on a very wide black ribbon dangled over his
chest. As to his age, I could not offer a conjecture. In the twelve
years I had known his thin lupine face behind Cressida's shoulder, it
had not changed. I was used to his cold, supercilious manner, to his
alarming, deep-set eyes, very close together, in colour a yellowish
green, and always gleaming with something like defeated fury, as if he
were actually on the point of having it out with you, or with the
world, at last.
I asked him if Cressida had engagements in London.
"Quite so; the Manchester Festival, some concerts at Queen's Hall,
and the Opera at Covent Garden; a rather special production of the
operas of Mozart. That she can still do quite well, which is not at
all, of course, what we might have expected, and only goes to show that
our Madame Cressida is now, as always, a charming exception to rules."
Poppas' tone about his client was consistently patronizing, and he was
always trying to draw one into a conspiracy of two, based on a mutual
understanding of her shortcomings.
I approached him on the one subject I could think of which was more
personal than his usefulness to Cressida, and asked him whether he
still suffered from facial neuralgia as much as he had done in former
years, and whether he was therefore dreading London, where the climate
used to be so bad for him.
"And is still," he caught me up, "And is still! For me to go to
London is martyrdom, chere Madame. In New York it is bad enough, but in
London it is the auto da fe , nothing less. My nervous system is exotic
in any country washed by the Atlantic ocean, and it shivers like a
little hairless dog from Mexico. It never relaxes. I think I have told
you about my favourite city in the middle of Asia, la sainte Asie,
where the rainfall is absolutely nil, and you are protected on every
side by hundreds of metres of warm, dry sand. I was there when I was a
child once, and it is still my intention to retire there when I have
finished with all this. I would be there now, n-ow-ow," his voice rose
querulously, "if Madame Cressida did not imagine that she needs me,
and her fancies, you know," he flourished his hands, "one gives in to
them. In humouring her caprices you and I have already played some
We were approaching Cressida's deck chairs, ranged under the open
windows of her stateroom. She was already recumbent, swathed in
lavender scarfs and wearing purple orchids doubtless from Jerome
Brown. At her left, Horace had settled down to a French novel, and
Julia Garnet, at her right, was complainingly regarding the grey
horizon. On seeing me, Cressida struggled under her fur-lined robes and
got to her feet, which was more than Horace or Miss Julia managed to
do. Miss Julia, as I could have foretold, was not pleased. All the
Garnets had an awkward manner with me. Whether it was that I reminded
them of things they wished to forget, or whether they thought I
esteemed Cressida too highly and the rest of them too lightly, I do not
know; but my appearance upon their scene always put them greatly on
their dignity. After Horace had offered me his chair and Miss Julia had
said doubtfully that she thought I was looking rather better than when
she last saw me, Cressida took my arm and walked me off toward the
"Do you know, Carrie, I half wondered whether I shouldn't find you
here, or in London, because you always turn up at critical moments in
my life." She pressed my arm confidentially, and I felt that she was
once more wrought up to a new purpose. I told her that I had heard some
rumour of her engagement.
"It's quite true, and it's all that it should be," she reassured
me. "I'll tell you about it later, and you'll see that it's a real
solution. They are against me, of course, all except Horace. He has
been such a comfort."
Horace's support, such as it was, could always be had in exchange
for his mother's signature, I suspected. The pale May day had turned
bleak and chilly, and we sat down by an open hatchway which emitted
warm air from somewhere below. At this close range I studied Cressida's
face, and felt reassured of her unabated vitality; the old force of
will was still there, and with it her characteristic optimism, the old
hope of a "solution."
"You have been in Columbus lately?" she was saying. "No, you
needn't tell me about it," with a sigh. "Why is it, Caroline, that
there is so little of my life I would be willing to live over again? So
little that I can even think of without depression. Yet I've really not
such a bad conscience. It may mean that I still belong to the future
more than to the past, do you think?"
My assent was not warm enough to fix her attention, and she went on
thoughtfully: "Of course, it was a bleak country and a bleak period.
But I've sometimes wondered whether the bleakness may not have been in
me, too; for it has certainly followed me. There, that is no way to
talk!" she drew herself up from a momentary attitude of dejection. "Sea
air always lets me down at first. That's why it's so good for me in the
"I think Julia always lets you down, too," I said bluntly. "But
perhaps that depression works out in the same way."
Cressida laughed. "Julia is rather more depressing than Georgie,
isn't she? But it was Julia's turn. I can't come alone, and they've
grown to expect it. They haven't, either of them, much else to expect."
At this point the deck steward approached us with a blue envelope.
"A wireless for you, Madame Garnet."
Cressida put out her hand with impatience, thanked him graciously,
and with every indication of pleasure tore open the blue envelope.
"It's from Jerome Brown," she said with some confusion, as she folded
the paper small and tucked it between the buttons of her close-fitting
gown, "Something he forgot to tell me. How long shall you be in London?
Good; I want you to meet him. We shall probably be married there as
soon as my engagements are over." She rose. "Now I must write some
letters. Keep two places at your table, so that I can slip away from my
party and dine with you sometimes." I walked with her toward her
chair, in which Mr. Poppas was now reclining. He indicated his
readiness to rise, but she shook her head and entered the door of her
deck suite. As she passed him, his eye went over her with assurance
until it rested upon the folded bit of blue paper in her corsage. He
must have seen the original rectangle in the steward's hand; having
found it again, he dropped back between Horace and Miss Julia, whom I
think he disliked no more than he did the rest of the world. He liked
Julia quite as well as he liked me, and he liked me quite as well as he
liked any of the women to whom he would be fitfully agreeable upon the
voyage. Once or twice, during each crossing, he did his best and made
himself very charming indeed, to keep his hand in, for the same
reason that he kept a dummy keyboard in his stateroom, somewhere down
in the bowels of the boat. He practised all the small economies; paid
the minimum rate, and never took a deck chair, because, as Horace was
usually in the cardroom, he could sit in Horace's.
The three of them lay staring at the swell which was steadily
growing heavier. Both men had covered themselves with rugs, after
dutifully bundling up Miss Julia. As I walked back and forth on the
deck, I was struck by their various degrees of in-expressiveness.
Opaque brown eyes, almond-shaped and only half open; wolfish green
eyes, close-set and always doing something, with a crooked gleam boring
in this direction or in that; watery grey eyes, like the thick edges of
broken skylight glass: I would have given a great deal to know what was
going on behind each pair of them.
These three were sitting there in a row because they were all woven
into the pattern of one large and rather splendid life. Each had a
bond, and each had a grievance. If they could have their will, what
would they do with the generous, credulous creature who nourished them,
I wondered? How deep a humiliation would each egotism exact? They would
scarcely have harmed her in fortune or in person (though I think Miss
Julia looked forward to the day when Cressida would "break" and could
be mourned over), but the fire at which she warmed herself, the
little secret hope, the illusion, ridiculous or sublime, which kept
her going, that they would have stamped out on the instant, with the
whole Garnet pack behind them to make extinction sure. All, except,
perhaps, Miletus Poppas. He was a vulture of the vulture race, and he
had the beak of one. But I always felt that if ever he had her thus at
his mercy, if ever he came upon the softness that was hidden under
so much hardness, the warm credulity under a life so dated and
scheduled and "reported" and generally exposed, he would hold his
hand and spare.
The weather grew steadily rougher. Miss Julia at last plucked
Poppas by the sleeve and indicated that she wished to be released from
her wrappings. When she disappeared, there seemed to be every reason to
hope that she might be off the scene for awhile. As Cressida said, if
she had not brought Julia, she would have had to bring Georgie, or some
other Garnet. Cressida's family was like that of the unpopular Prince
of Wales, of whom, when he died, some wag wrote:
If it had been his brother,
Better him than another.
If it had been his sister,
No one would have missed her.
Miss Julia was dampening enough, but Miss Georgie was aggressive
and intrusive. She was out to prove to the world, and more especially
to Ohio, that all the Garnets were as like Cressida as two peas. Both
sisters were club-women, social service workers, and directors in
musical societies, and they were continually travelling up and down the
Middle West to preside at meetings or to deliver addresses. They
reminded one of two sombre, bumping electrics, rolling about with no
visible means of locomotion, always running out of power and lying
beached in some inconvenient spot until they received a check or a
suggestion from Cressy. I was only too well acquainted with the
strained, anxious expression that the sight of their handwriting
brought to Cressida's face when she ran over her morning mail at
breakfast. She usually put their letters by to read "when she was
feeling up to it" and hastened to open others which might possibly
contain something gracious or pleasant. Sometimes these family
unburdenings lay about unread for several days. Any other letters would
have got themselves lost, but these bulky epistles, never properly
fitted to their envelopes, seemed immune to mischance and unfailingly
disgorged to Cressida long explanations as to why her sisters had to do
and to have certain things precisely upon her account and because she
was so much a public personage.
The truth was that all the Garnets, and particularly her two
sisters, were consumed by an habitual, bilious, unenterprising envy of
Cressy. They never forgot that, no matter what she did for them or how
far she dragged them about the world with her, she would never take one
of them to live with her in her Tenth Street house in New York. They
thought that was the thing they most wanted. But what they wanted, in
the last analysis, was to be Cressida. For twenty years she had been
plunged in struggle; fighting for her life at first, then for a
beginning, for growth, and at last for eminence and perfection;
fighting in the dark, and afterward in the light, which, with her
bad preparation, and with her uninspired youth already behind her, took
even more courage. During those twenty years the Garnets had been
comfortable and indolent and vastly self-satisfied; and now they
expected Cressida to make them equal sharers in the finer rewards of
her struggle. When her brother Buchanan told me he thought Cressida
ought "to make herself one of them," he stated the converse of what he
meant. They coveted the qualities which had made her success, as well
as the benefits which came from it. More than her furs or her fame or
her fortune, they wanted her personal effectiveness, her brighter glow
and stronger will to live.
"Sometimes," I have heard Cressida say, looking up from a bunch of
those sloppily written letters, "sometimes I get discouraged."
For several days the rough weather kept Miss Julia cloistered in
Cressida's deck suite with the maid, Luisa, who confided to me that the
Signorina Garnet was "dificile." After dinner I usually found Cressida
unincumbered, as Horace was always in the cardroom and Mr. Poppas
either nursed his neuralgia or went through the exercise of making
himself interesting to some one of the young women on board. One
evening, the third night out, when the sea was comparatively quiet and
the sky was full of broken black clouds, silvered by the moon at their
ragged edges, Cressida talked to me about Jerome Brown.
I had known each of her former husbands. The first one, Charley
Wilton, Horace's father, was my cousin. He was organist in a church in
Columbus, and Cressida married him when she was nineteen. He died of
tuberculosis two years after Horace was born. Cressida nursed him
through a long illness and made the living besides. Her courage during
the three years of her first marriage was fine enough to foreshadow her
future to any discerning eye, and it had made me feel that she deserved
any number of chances at marital happiness. There had, of course, been
a particular reason for each subsequent experiment, and a sufficiently
alluring promise of success. Her motives, in the case of Jerome Brown,
seemed to me more vague and less convincing than those which she had
explained to me on former occasions.
"It's nothing hasty," she assured me. "It's been coming on for
several years. He has never pushed me, but he was always there some
one to count on. Even when I used to meet him at the Whitings, while I
was still singing at the Metropolitan, I always felt that he was
different from the others; that if I were in straits of any kind, I
could call on him. You can't know what that feeling means to me,
Carrie. If you look back, you'll see that it's something I've never
I admitted that, in so far as I knew, she had never been much
addicted to leaning on people.
"I've never had any one to lean on," she said with a short laugh.
Then she went on, quite seriously: "Somehow, my relations with people
always become business relations in the end. I suppose it's because,
except for a sort of professional personality, which I've had to get,
just as I've had to get so many other things, I've not very much
that's personal to give people. I've had to give too much else. I've
had to try too hard for people who wouldn't try at all."
"Which," I put in firmly, "has done them no good, and has robbed
the people who really cared about you."
"By making me grubby, you mean?"
"By making you anxious and distracted so much of the time; empty."
She nodded mournfully. "Yes, I know. You used to warn me. Well,
there's not one of my brothers and sisters who does not feel that I
carried off the family success, just as I might have carried off the
family silver, if there'd been any! They take the view that there
were just so many prizes in the bag; I reached in and took them, so
there were none left for the others. At my age, that's a dismal truth
to waken up to." Cressida reached for my hand and held it a moment, as
if she needed courage to face the facts in her case. "When one
remembers one's first success; how one hoped to go home like a
Christmas tree full of presents How much one learns in a life-time!
That year when Horace was a baby and Charley was dying, and I was
touring the West with the Williams band, it was my feeling about my own
people that made me go at all. Why I didn't drop myself into one of
those muddy rivers, or turn on the gas in one of those dirty hotel
rooms, I don't know to this day. At twenty-two you must hope for
something more than to be able to bury your husband decently, and what
I hoped for was to make my family happy. It was the same afterward in
Germany. A young woman must live for human people. Horace wasn't
enough. I might have had lovers, of course. I suppose you will say it
would have been better if I had."
Though there seemed no need for me to say anything, I murmured that
I thought there were more likely to be limits to the rapacity of a
lover than to that of a discontented and envious family.
"Well," Cressida gathered herself up, "once I got out from under it
all, didn't I? And perhaps, in a milder way, such a release can come
again. You were the first person I told when I ran away with Charley,
and for a long while you were the only one who knew about Blasius
Bouchalka. That time, at least, I shook the Garnets. I wasn't
distracted or empty. That time I was all there!"
"Yes," I echoed her, "that time you were all there. It's the
greatest possible satisfaction to remember it."
"But even that," she sighed, "was nothing but lawyers and accounts
in the end and a hurt. A hurt that has lasted. I wonder what is the
matter with me?"
The matter with Cressida was, that more than any woman I have ever
known, she appealed to the acquisitive instinct in men; but this was
not easily said, even in the brutal frankness of a long friendship.
We would probably have gone further into the Bouchalka chapter of
her life, had not Horace appeared and nervously asked us if we did not
wish to take a turn before we went inside. I pleaded indolence, but
Cressida rose and disappeared with him. Later I came upon them,
standing at the stern above the huddled steerage deck, which was by
this time bathed in moonlight, under an almost clear sky. Down there on
the silvery floor, little hillocks were scattered about under quilts
and shawls; family units, presumably, male, female, and young. Here
and there a black shawl sat alone, nodding. They crouched submissively
under the moonlight as if it were a spell. In one of those hillocks a
baby was crying, but the sound was faint and thin, a slender protest
which aroused no response. Everything was so still that I could hear
snatches of the low talk between my friends. Cressida's voice was deep
and entreating. She was remonstrating with Horace about his losses at
bridge, begging him to keep away from the cardroom.
"But what else is there to do on a trip like this, my Lady?" he
expostulated, tossing his spark of a cigarette-end overboard. "What is
there, now, to do?"
"Oh, Horace!" she murmured, "how can you be so? If I were
twenty-two, and a boy, with some one to back me "
Horace drew his shoulders together and buttoned his top-coat. "Oh,
I've not your energy, Mother dear. We make no secret of that. I am as I
am. I didn't ask to be born into this charming world."
To this gallant speech Cressida made no answer. She stood with her
hand on the rail and her head bent forward, as if she had lost herself
in thought. The ends of her scarf, lifted by the breeze, fluttered
upward, almost transparent in the argent light. Presently she turned
away, as if she had been alone and were leaving only the night sea
behind her, and walked slowly forward; a strong, solitary figure on
the white deck, the smoke-like scarf twisting and climbing and falling
back upon itself in the light over her head. She reached the door of
her stateroom and disappeared. Yes, she was a Garnet, but she was also
Cressida; and she had done what she had done.
My first recollections of Cressida Garnet have to do with the
Columbus Public Schools; a little girl with sunny brown hair and eager
bright eyes, looking anxiously at the teacher and reciting the names
and dates of the Presidents: "James Buchanan, 1857-1861; Abraham
Lincoln, 1861-1865"; etc. Her family came from North Carolina, and they
had that to feel superior about before they had Cressy. The Garnet
"look," indeed, though based upon a strong family resemblance, was
nothing more than the restless, preoccupied expression of an inflamed
sense of importance. The father was a Democrat, in the sense that other
men were doctors or lawyers. He scratched up some sort of poor living
for his family behind office windows inscribed with the words "Real
Estate. Insurance. Investments." But it was his political faith that,
in a Republican community, gave him his feeling of eminence and
originality. The Garnet children were all in school then, scattered
along from the first grade to the ninth. In almost any room of our
school building you might chance to enter, you saw the self-conscious
little face of one or another of them. They were restrained,
uncomfortable children, not frankly boastful, but insinuating, and
somehow forever demanding special consideration and holding grudges
against teachers and classmates who did not show it them; all but
Cressida, who was naturally as sunny and open as a May morning.
It was no wonder that Cressy ran away with young Charley Wilton,
who hadn't a shabby thing about him except his health. He was her first
music teacher, the choir-master of the church in which she sang.
Charley was very handsome; the "romantic" son of an old, impoverished
family. He had refused to go into a good business with his uncles and
had gone abroad to study music when that was an extravagant and
picturesque thing for an Ohio boy to do. His letters home were handed
round among the members of his own family and of other families equally
conservative. Indeed, Charley and what his mother called "his music"
were the romantic expression of a considerable group of people; young
cousins and old aunts and quiet-dwelling neighbours, allied by the
amity of several generations. Nobody was properly married in our part
of Columbus unless Charley Wilton, and no other, played the wedding
march. The old ladies of the First Church used to say that he "hovered
over the keys like a spirit." At nineteen Cressida was beautiful enough
to turn a much harder head than the pale, ethereal one Charley Wilton
bent above the organ.
That the chapter which began so gracefully ran on into such a
stretch of grim, hard prose, was simply Cressida's relentless bad luck.
In her undertakings, in whatever she could lay hold of with her two
hands, she was successful; but whatever happened to her was almost sure
to be bad. Her family, her husbands, her son, would have crushed any
other woman I have ever known. Cressida lived, more than most of us,
"for others"; and what she seemed to promote among her beneficiaries
was indolence and envy and discord even dishonesty and turpitude.
Her sisters were fond of saying at club luncheons that
Cressida had remained "untouched by the breath of scandal," which was
not strictly true. There were captious people who objected to her long
and close association with Miletus Poppas. Her second husband, Ransome
McChord, the foreign representative of the great McChord Harvester
Company, whom she married in Germany, had so persistently objected to
Poppas that she was eventually forced to choose between them. Any one
who knew her well could easily understand why she chose Poppas.
While her actual self was the least changed, the least modified by
experience that it would be possible to imagine, there had been,
professionally, two Cressida Garnets; the big handsome girl, already a
"popular favourite" of the concert stage, who took with her to Germany
the raw material of a great voice; and the accomplished artist who
came back. The singer that returned was largely the work of Miletus
Poppas. Cressida had at least known what she needed, hunted for it,
found it, and held fast to it. After experimenting with a score of
teachers and accompanists, she settled down to work her problems out
with Poppas. Other coaches came and went she was always trying new
ones but Poppas survived them all. Cressida was not musically
intelligent; she never became so. Who does not remember the countless
rehearsals which were necessary before she first sang Isolde in Berlin;
the disgust of the conductor, the sullenness of the tenor, the rages of
the blonde teufelin, boiling with the impatience of youth and genius,
who sang her Brangaena? Everything but her driving power Cressida had
to get from the outside.
Poppas was, in his way, quite as incomplete as his pupil. He
possessed a great many valuable things for which there is no market;
intuitions, discrimination, imagination, a whole twilight world of
intentions and shadowy beginnings which were dark to Cressida. I
remember that when "Trilby" was published she fell into a fright and
said such books ought to be prohibited by law; which gave me an
intimation of what their relationship had actually become.
Poppas was indispensable to her. He was like a book in which she
had written down more about herself than she could possibly remember
and it was information that she might need at any moment. He was the
one person who knew her absolutely and who saw into the bottom of her
grief. An artist's saddest secrets are those that have to do with his
artistry. Poppas knew all the simple things that were so desperately
hard for Cressida, all the difficult things in which she could count on
herself; her stupidities and inconsistencies, the chiaroscuro of the
voice itself and what could be expected from the mind somewhat
mis-mated with it. He knew where she was sound and where she was
mended. With him she could share the depressing knowledge of what a
wretchedly faulty thing any productive faculty is.
But if Poppas was necessary to her career, she was his career. By
the time Cressida left the Metropolitan Opera Company, Poppas was a
rich man. He had always received a retaining fee and a percentage of
her salary, and he was a man of simple habits. Her liberality with
Poppas was one of the weapons that Horace and the Garnets used against
Cressida, and it was a point in the argument by which they justified to
themselves their rapacity. Whatever they didn't get, they told
themselves, Poppas would. What they got, therefore, they were only
saving from Poppas. The Greek ached a good deal at the general pillage,
and Cressida's conciliatory methods with her family made him sarcastic
and spiteful. But he had to make terms, somehow, with the Garnets and
Horace, and with the husband, if there happened to be one. He sometimes
reminded them, when they fell to wrangling, that they must not, after
all, overturn the boat under them, and that it would be better to stop
just before they drove her wild than just after. As he was the only one
among them who understood the sources of her fortune, and they knew
it, he was able, when it came to a general set-to, to proclaim
sanctuary for the goose that laid the golden eggs.
That Poppas had caused the break between Cressida and McChord was
another stick her sisters held over her. They pretended to understand
perfectly, and were always explaining what they termed her
"separation"; but they let Cressida know that it cast a shadow over her
family and took a good deal of living down.
A beautiful soundness of body, a seemingly exhaustless vitality,
and a certain "squareness" of character as well as of mind, gave
Cressida Garnet earning powers that were exceptional even in her
lavishly rewarded profession. Managers chose her over the heads of
singers much more gifted, because she was so sane, so conscientious,
and above all, because she was so sure. Her efficiency was like a
beacon to lightly anchored men, and in the intervals between her
marriages she had as many suitors as Penelope. Whatever else they saw
in her at first, her competency so impressed and delighted them that
they gradually lost sight of everything else. Her sterling character
was the subject of her story. Once, as she said, she very nearly
escaped her destiny. With Blasius Bouchalka she became almost another
woman, but not quite. Her "principles," or his lack of them, drove
those two apart in the end. It was of Bouchalka that we talked upon
that last voyage I ever made with Cressida Garnet, and not of Jerome
Brown. She remembered the Bohemian kindly, and since it was the passage
in her life to which she most often reverted, it is the one I shall
Late one afternoon in the winter of 189-, Cressida and I were
walking in Central Park after the first heavy storm of the year. The
snow had been falling thickly all the night before, and all day, until
about four o'clock. Then the air grew much warmer and the sky cleared.
Overhead it was a soft, rainy blue, and to the west a smoky gold. All
around the horizon everything became misty and silvery; even the big,
brutal buildings looked like pale violet water-colours on a silver
ground. Under the elm trees along the Mall the air was purple as
wisterias. The sheep-field, toward Broadway, was smooth and white, with
a thin gold wash over it. At five o'clock the carriage came for us, but
Cressida sent the driver home to the Tenth Street house with the
message that she would dine uptown, and that Horace and Mr. Poppas were
not to wait for her. As the horses trotted away we turned up the Mall.
"I won't go indoors this evening for any one," Cressida declared.
"Not while the sky is like that. Now we will go back to the laurel
wood. They are so black, over the snow, that I could cry for joy. I
don't know when I've felt so care-free as I feel tonight. Country
winter, country stars they always make me think of Charley Wilton."
She was singing twice a week, sometimes oftener, at the
Metropolitan that season, quite at the flood-tide of her powers, and so
enmeshed in operatic routine that to be walking in the park at an
unaccustomed hour, unattended by one of the men of her entourage,
seemed adventurous. As we strolled along the little paths among the
snow banks and the bronze laurel bushes, she kept going back to my poor
young cousin, dead so long. "Things happen out of season. That's the
worst of living. It was untimely for both of us, and yet," she sighed
softly, "since he had to die, I'm not sorry. There was one beautifully
happy year, though we were so poor, and it gave him some thing! It
would have been too hard if he'd had to miss everything." (I remember
her simplicity, which never changed any more than winter or Ohio
change.) "Yes," she went on, "I always feel very tenderly about
Charley. I believe I'd do the same thing right over again, even knowing
all that had to come after. If I were nineteen tonight, I'd rather go
sleigh-riding with Charley Wilton than anything else I've ever done."
We walked until the procession of carriages on the driveway,
getting people home to dinner, grew thin, and then we went slowly
toward the Seventh Avenue gate, still talking of Charley Wilton. We
decided to dine at a place not far away, where the only access from the
street was a narrow door, like a hole in the wall, between a
tobacconist's and a flower shop. Cressida deluded herself into
believing that her incognito was more successful in such non-descript
places. She was wearing a long sable coat, and a deep fur hat, hung
with red cherries, which she had brought from Russia. Her walk had
given her a fine colour, and she looked so much a personage that no
disguise could have been wholly effective.
The dining-rooms, frescoed with conventional Italian scenes, were
built round a court. The orchestra was playing as we entered and
selected our table. It was not a bad orchestra, and we were no sooner
seated than the first violin began to speak, to assert itself, as if it
were suddenly done with mediocrity.
"We have been recognized," Cressida said complacently. "What a good
tone he has, quite unusual. What does he look like?" She sat with her
back to the musicians.
The violinist was standing, directing his men with his head and
with the beak of his violin. He was a tall, gaunt young man, big-boned
and rugged, in skin-tight clothes. His high forehead had a kind of
luminous pallour, and his hair was jet black and somewhat stringy. His
manner was excited and dramatic. At the end of the number he
acknowledged the applause, and Cressida looked at him graciously over
her shoulder. He swept her with a brilliant glance and bowed again.
Then I noticed his red lips and thick black eyebrows.
"He looks as if he were poor or in trouble," Cressida said. "See
how short his sleeves are, and how he mops his face as if the least
thing upset him. This is a hard winter for musicians."
The violinist rummaged among some music piled on a chair, turning
over the sheets with flurried rapidity, as if he were searching for a
lost article of which he was in desperate need. Presently he placed
some sheets upon the piano and began vehemently to explain something to
the pianist. The pianist stared at the music doubtfully he was a
plump old man with a rosy, bald crown, and his shiny linen and neat tie
made him look as if he were on his way to a party. The violinist bent
over him, suggesting rhythms with his shoulders and running his bony
finger up and down the pages. When he stepped back to his place, I
noticed that the other players sat at ease, without raising their
"He is going to try something unusual," I commented. "It looks as
if it might be manuscript."
It was something, at all events, that neither of us had heard
before, though it was very much in the manner of the later Russian
composers who were just beginning to be heard in New York. The young
man made a brilliant dash of it, despite a lagging, scrambling
accompaniment by the conservative pianist. This time we both applauded
him vigorously and again, as he bowed, he swept us with his eye.
The usual repertory of restaurant music followed, varied by a
charming bit from Massenet's "Manon," then little known in this
country. After we paid our check, Cressida took out one of her visiting
cards and wrote across the top of it: "We thank you for the unusual
music and the pleasure your playing has given us." She folded the card
in the middle, and asked the waiter to give it to the director of the
orchestra. Pausing at the door, while the porter dashed out to call a
cab, we saw, in the wall mirror, a pair of wild black eyes following us
quite despairingly from behind the palms at the other end of the room.
Cressida observed as we went out that the young man was probably having
a hard struggle. "He never got those clothes here, surely. They were
probably made by a country tailor in some little town in Austria. He
seemed wild enough to grab at anything, and was trying to make himself
heard above the dishes, poor fellow. There are so many like him. I wish
I could help them all! I didn't quite have the courage to send him
money. His smile, when he bowed to us, was not that of one who would
take it, do you think?"
"No," I admitted, "it wasn't. He seemed to be pleading for
recognition. I don't think it was money he wanted."
A week later I came upon some curious-looking manuscript songs on
the piano in Cressida's music room. The text was in some Slavic tongue
with a French translation written underneath. Both the handwriting and
the musical script were done in a manner experienced, even
distinguished. I was looking at them when Cressida came in.
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed. "I meant to ask you to try them over.
Poppas thinks they are very interesting. They are from that young
violinist, you remember, the one we noticed in the restaurant that
evening. He sent them with such a nice letter. His name is Blasius
Bouchalka (Bou'-kal-ka), a Bohemian."
I sat down at the piano and busied myself with the manuscript,
while Cressida dashed off necessary notes and wrote checks in a large
square checkbook, six to a page. I supposed her immersed in sumptuary
preoccupations when she suddenly looked over her shoulder and said,
"Yes, that legend, Sarka, is the most interesting. Run it through a few
times and I'll try it over with you."
There was another, "Dans les ombres des f™rets tristes," which I
thought quite as beautiful. They were fine songs; very individual, and
each had that spontaneity which makes a song seem inevitable and, once
for all, "done." The accompaniments were difficult, but not
unnecessarily so; they were free from fatuous ingenuity and fine
"I wish he'd indicated his tempi a little more clearly," I remarked
as I finished Sarka for the third time. "It matters, because he really
has something to say. An orchestral accompaniment would be better, I
"Yes, he sent the orchestral arrangement. Poppas has it. It works
out beautifully, so much colour in the instrumentation. The English
horn comes in so effectively there," she rose and indicated the
passage, "just right with the voice. I've asked him to come next
Sunday, so please be here if you can. I want to know what you think of
Cressida was always at home to her friends on Sunday afternoon
unless she was billed for the evening concert at the Opera House, in
which case we were sufficiently advised by the daily press. Bouchalka
must have been told to come early, for when I arrived on Sunday, at
four, he and Cressida had the music-room quite to themselves and were
standing by the piano in earnest conversation. In a few moments they
were separated by other early comers, and I led Bouchalka across the
hall to the drawing-room. The guests, as they came in, glanced at him
curiously. He wore a dark blue suit, soft and rather baggy, with a
short coat, and a high double-breasted vest with two rows of buttons
coming up to the loops of his black tie. This costume was even more
foreign-looking than his skin-tight dress clothes, but it was more
becoming. He spoke hurried, elliptical English, and very good French.
All his sympathies were French rather than German the Czecks lean to
the one culture or to the other. I found him a fierce, a transfixing
talker. His brilliant eyes, his gaunt hands, his white, deeply-lined
forehead, all entered into his speech.
I asked him whether he had not recognized Madame Garnet at once
when we entered the restaurant that evening more than a week ago.
"Mais, certainement! I hear her twice when she sings in the
afternoon, and sometimes at night for the last act. I have a friend who
buys a ticket for the first part, and he comes out and gives to me his
pass-back check, and I return for the last act. That is convenient if I
am broke." He explained the trick with amusement but without
embarrassment, as if it were a shift that we might any of us be put to.
I told him that I admired his skill with the violin, but his songs
He threw out his red under-lip and frowned. "Oh, I have no
instrument! The violin I play from necessity; the flute, the piano, as
it happens. For three years now I write all the time, and it spoils the
hand for violin."
When the maid brought him his tea, he took both muffins and cakes
and told me that he was very hungry. He had to lunch and dine at the
place where he played, and he got very tired of the food. "But since,"
his black eyebrows nearly met in an acute angle, "but since, before, I
eat at a bakery, with the slender brown roach on the pie, I guess I
better let alone well enough." He paused to drink his tea; as he tasted
one of the cakes his face lit with sudden animation and he gazed across
the hall after the maid with the tray she was now holding it before
the aged and ossified 'cellist of the Hempfstangle Quartette. "Des
g‰teaux," he murmured feelingly, "ou est-ce qu'elle peut trouver de
tels g‰teaux ici ˆ New York?"
I explained to him that Madame Garnet had an accomplished cook who
made them, an Austrian, I thought.
He shook his head. "Austrichienne? Je ne pense pas."
Cressida was approaching with the new Spanish soprano, Mme.
Bartolas, who was all black velvet and long black feathers, with a lace
veil over her rich pallour and even a little black patch on her chin. I
beckoned them. "Tell me, Cressida, isn't Ruzenka an Austrian?"
She looked surprised. "No, a Bohemian, though I got her in Vienna."
Bouchalka's expression, and the remnant of a cake in his long fingers,
gave her the connection. She laughed. "You like them? Of course, they
are of your own country. You shall have more of them." She nodded and
went away to greet a guest who had just come in.
A few moments later, Horace, then a beautiful lad in Eton clothes,
brought another cup of tea and a plate of cakes for Bouchalka. We sat
down in a corner, and talked about his songs. He was neither boastful
nor deprecatory. He knew exactly in what respects they were excellent.
I decided as I watched his face, that he must be under thirty. The deep
lines in his forehead probably came there from his habit of frowning
densely when he struggled to express himself, and suddenly elevating
his coal-black eyebrows when his ideas cleared. His teeth were white,
very irregular and interesting. The corrective methods of modern
dentistry would have taken away half his good looks. His mouth would
have been much less attractive for any re-arranging of those long,
narrow, over-crowded teeth. Along with his frown and his way of
thrusting out his lip, they contributed, somehow, to the engaging
impetuousness of his conversation. As we talked about his songs, his
manner changed. Before that he had seemed responsive and easily
pleased. Now he grew abstracted, as if I had taken away his pleasant
afternoon and wakened him to his miseries. He moved restlessly in his
clothes. When I mentioned Puccini, he held his head in his hands. "Why
is it they like that always and always? A little, oh yes, very nice.
But so much, always the same thing! Why?" He pierced me with the
despairing glance which had followed us out of the restaurant.
I asked him whether he had sent any of his songs to the publishers
and named one whom I knew to be discriminating. He shrugged his
shoulders. "They not want Bohemian songs. They not want my music. Even
the street cars will not stop for me here, like for other people. Every
time, I wait on the corner until somebody else make a signal to the
car, and then it stop, but not for me."
Most people cannot become utterly poor; whatever happens, they can
right themselves a little. But one felt that Bouchalka was the sort of
person who might actually starve or blow his brains out. Something very
important had been left out either of his make-up or of his education;
something that we are not accustomed to miss in people.
Gradually the parlour was filled with little groups of friends, and
I took Bouchalka back to the music-room where Cressida was surrounded
by her guests; feathered women, with large sleeves and hats, young men
of no importance, in frock coats, with shining hair, and the smile
which is intended to say so many flattering things but which really
expresses little more than a desire to get on. The older men were
standing about waiting for a word ˆ deux with the hostess. To these
people Bouchalka had nothing to say. He stood stiffly at the outer edge
of the circle, watching Cressida with intent, impatient eyes, until,
under the pretext of showing him a score, she drew him into the alcove
at the back end of the long room, where she kept her musical library.
The bookcases ran from the floor to the ceiling. There was a table and
a reading-lamp, and a window seat looking upon the little walled
garden. Two persons could be quite withdrawn there, and yet be a part
of the general friendly scene. Cressida took a score from the shelf,
and sat down with Bouchalka upon the window seat, the book open between
them, though neither of them looked at it again. They fell to talking
with great earnestness. At last the Bohemian pulled out a large,
yellowing silver watch, held it up before him, and stared at it a
moment as if it were an object of horror. He sprang up, bent over
Cressida's hand and murmured something, dashed into the hall and out of
the front door without waiting for the maid to open it. He had worn no
overcoat, apparently. It was then seven o'clock; he would surely be
late at his post in the up-town restaurant. I hoped he would have wit
enough to take the elevated. After supper Cressida told me his story.
His parents, both poor musicians, the mother a singer died while
he was yet a baby, and he was left to the care of an arbitrary uncle
who resolved to make a priest of him. He was put into a monastery
school and kept there. The organist and choir-director, fortunately for
Blasius, was an excellent musician, a man who had begun his career
brilliantly, but who had met with crushing sorrows and disappointments
in the world. He devoted himself to his talented pupil, and was the
only teacher the young man ever had. At twenty-one, when he was ready
for the novitiate, Blasius felt that the call of life was too strong
for him, and he ran away out into a world of which he knew nothing. He
tramped southward to Vienna, begging and playing his fiddle from town
to town. In Vienna he fell in with a gipsy band which was being
recruited for a Paris restaurant and went with them to Paris. He played
in cafes and in cheap theatres, did transcribing for a music publisher,
tried to get pupils. For four years he was the mouse, and hunger was
the cat. She kept him on the jump. When he got work he did not
understand why; when he lost a job he did not understand why. During
the time when most of us acquire a practical sense, get a
half-unconscious knowledge of hard facts and market values, he had been
shut away from the world, fed like the pigeons in the bell-tower of his
monastery. Bouchalka had now been in New York a year, and for all he
knew about it, Cressida said, he might have landed the day before
Several weeks went by, and as Bouchalka did not reappear on Tenth
Street, Cressida and I went once more to the place where he had played,
only to find another violinist leading the orchestra. We summoned the
proprietor, a Swiss-Italian, polite and solicitous. He told us the
gentleman was not playing there any more, was playing somewhere
else, but he had forgotten where. We insisted upon talking to the old
pianist, who at last reluctantly admitted that the Bohemian had been
dismissed. He had arrived very late one Sunday night three weeks ago,
and had hot words with the proprietor. He had been late before, and had
been warned. He was a very talented fellow, but wild and not to be
depended upon. The old man gave us the address of a French
boarding-house on Seventh Avenue where Bouchalka used to room. We drove
there at once, but the woman who kept the place said that he had gone
away two weeks before, leaving no address, as he never got letters.
Another Bohemian, who did engraving on glass, had a room with her, and
when he came home perhaps he could tell where Bouchalka was, for they
were friends. It took us several days to run Bouchalka down, but when
we did find him Cressida promptly busied herself in his behalf. She
sang his "Sarka" with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra at a Sunday
night concert, she got him a position with the Symphony Orchestra, and
persuaded the conservative Hempfstangle Quartette to play one of his
chamber compositions from manuscript. She aroused the interest of a
publisher in his work, and introduced him to people who were helpful to
By the new year Bouchalka was fairly on his feet. He had proper
clothes now, and Cressida's friends found him attractive. He was
usually at her house on Sunday afternoons; so usually, indeed, that
Poppas began pointedly to absent himself. When other guests arrived,
the Bohemian and his patroness were always found at the critical point
of discussion, at the piano, by the fire, in the alcove at the end
of the room both of them interested and animated. He was invariably
respectful and admiring, deferring to her in every tone and gesture,
and she was perceptibly pleased and flattered, as if all this were
new to her and she were tasting the sweetness of a first success.
One wild day in March Cressida burst tempestuously into my
apartment and threw herself down, declaring that she had just come from
the most trying rehearsal she had ever lived through. When I tried to
question her about it, she replied absently and continued to shiver and
crouch by the fire. Suddenly she rose, walked to the window, and stood
looking out over the Square, glittering with ice and rain and strewn
with the wrecks of umbrellas. When she turned again, she approached me
"I shall have to ask you to go with me," she said firmly. "That
crazy Bouchalka has gone and got a pleurisy or something. It may be
pneumonia; there is an epidemic of it just now. I've sent Dr. Brooks to
him, but I can never tell anything from what a doctor says. I've got to
see Bouchalka and his nurse, and what sort of place he's in. I've been
rehearsing all day and I'm singing tomorrow night; I can't have so much
on my mind. Can you come with me? It will save time in the end."
I put on my furs, and we went down to Cressida's carriage, waiting
below. She gave the driver a number on Seventh Avenue, and then began
feeling her throat with the alarmed expression which meant that she was
not going to talk. We drove in silence to the address, and by this time
it was growing dark. The French landlady was a cordial, comfortable
person who took Cressida in at a glance and seemed much impressed.
Cressida's incognito was never successful. Her black gown was
inconspicuous enough, but over it she wore a dark purple velvet
carriage coat, lined with fur and furred at the cuffs and collar. The
Frenchwoman's eye ran over it delightedly and scrutinized the veil
which only half-concealed the well-known face behind it. She insisted
upon conducting us up to the fourth floor herself, running ahead of us
and turning up the gas jets in the dark, musty-smelling halls. I
suspect that she tarried outside the door after we sent the nurse for
We found the sick man in a great walnut bed, a relic of the better
days which this lodging house must have seen. The grimy red plush
carpet, the red velvet chairs with broken springs, the double
gilt-framed mirror above the mantel, had all been respectable,
substantial contributions to comfort in their time. The fireplace was
now empty and grateless, and an ill-smelling gas stove burned in its
sooty recess under the cracked marble. The huge arched windows were
hung with heavy red curtains, pinned together and lightly stirred by
the wind which rattled the loose frames.
I was examining these things while Cressida bent over Bouchalka.
Her carriage cloak she threw over the foot of his bed, either from a
protective impulse, or because there was no place else to put it. After
she had greeted him and seated herself, the sick man reached down and
drew the cloak up over him, looking at it with weak, childish pleasure
and stroking the velvet with his long fingers. "Couleur de gloire,
couleur des reines!" I heard him murmur. He thrust the sleeve under his
chin and closed his eyes. His loud, rapid breathing was the only sound
in the room. If Cressida brushed back his hair or touched his hand, he
looked up long enough to give her a smile of utter adoration, naive and
uninquiring, as if he were smiling at a dream or a miracle.
The nurse was gone for an hour, and we sat quietly, Cressida with
her eyes fixed on Bouchalka, and I absorbed in the strange atmosphere
of the house, which seemed to seep in under the door and through the
walls. Occasionally we heard a call for "de l'eau chaude!" and the
heavy trot of a serving woman on the stairs. On the floor below
somebody was struggling with Schubert's Marche Militaire on a
coarse-toned upright piano. Sometimes, when a door was opened, one
could hear a parrot screaming, "Voilˆ, voilˆ, tonnerre!" The house was
built before 1870, as one could tell from windows and mouldings, and
the walls were thick. The sounds were not disturbing and Bouchalka was
probably used to them.
When the nurse returned and we rose to go, Bouchalka still lay with
his cheek on her cloak, and Cressida left it. "It seems to please him,"
she murmured as we went down the stairs. "I can go home without a wrap.
It's not far." I had, of course, to give her my furs, as I was not
singing Donna Anna tomorrow evening and she was.
After this I was not surprised by any devout attitude in which I
happened to find the Bohemian when I entered Cressida's music-room
unannounced, or by any radiance on her face when she rose from the
window-seat in the alcove and came down the room to greet me.
Bouchalka was, of course, very often at the Opera now. On almost
any night when Cressida sang, one could see his narrow black head
high above the temples and rather constrained behind the ears
peering from some part of the house. I used to wonder what he thought
of Cressida as an artist, but probably he did not think seriously at
all. A great voice, a handsome woman, a great prestige, all added
together made a "great artist," the common synonym for success. Her
success, and the material evidences of it, quite blinded him. I could
never draw from him anything adequate about Anna Straka, Cressida's
Slavic rival, and this perhaps meant that he considered comparison
disloyal. All the while that Cressida was singing reliably, and
satisfying the management, Straka was singing uncertainly and making
history. Her voice was primarily defective, and her immediate vocal
method was bad. Cressida was always living up to her contract,
delivering the whole order in good condition; while the Slav was
sometimes almost voiceless, sometimes inspired. She put you off with a
hope, a promise, time after time. But she was quite as likely to put
you off with a revelation, with an interpretation that was
Bouchalka was not a reflective person. He had his own idea of what
a great prima donna should be like, and he took it for granted that
Mme. Garnet corresponded to his conception. The curious thing was that
he managed to impress his idea upon Cressida herself. She began to see
herself as he saw her, to try to be like the notion of her that he
carried somewhere in that pointed head of his. She was exalted quite
beyond herself. Things that had been chilled under the grind came to
life in her that winter, with the breath of Bouchalka's adoration.
Then, if ever in her life, she heard the bird sing on the branch
outside her window; and she wished she were younger, lovelier, freer.
She wished there were no Poppas, no Horace, no Garnets. She longed to
be only the bewitching creature Bouchalka imagined her.
One April day when we were driving in the Park, Cressida, superb in
a green-and-primrose costume hurried over from Paris, turned to me
smiling and said: "Do you know, this is the first spring I haven't
dreaded. It's the first one I've ever really had. Perhaps people never
have more than one, whether it comes early or late." She told me that
she was overwhelmingly in love.
Our visit to Bouchalka when he was ill had, of course, been
reported, and the men about the Opera House had made of it the only
story they have the wit to invent. They could no more change the
pattern of that story than the spider could change the design of its
web. But being, as she said, "in love" suggested to Cressida only one
plan of action; to have the Tenth Street house done over, to put more
money into her brothers' business, send Horace to school, raise Poppas'
percentage, and then with a clear conscience be married in the Church
of the Ascension. She went through this program with her usual
thoroughness. She was married in June and sailed immediately with her
husband. Poppas was to join them in Vienna in August, when she would
begin to work again. From her letters I gathered that all was going
well, even beyond her hopes.
When they returned in October, both Cressida and Blasius seemed
changed for the better. She was perceptibly freshened and renewed. She
attacked her work at once with more vigour and more ease; did not drive
herself so relentlessly. A little carelessness became her wonderfully.
Bouchalka was less gaunt, and much less flighty and perverse. His frank
pleasure in the comfort and order of his wife's establishment was
ingratiating, even if it was a little amusing. Cressida had the
sewing-room at the top of the house made over into a study for him.
When I went up there to see him, I usually found him sitting before the
fire or walking about with his hands in his coat pockets, admiring his
new possessions. He explained the ingenious arrangement of his study to
me a dozen times.
With Cressida's friends and guests, Bouchalka assumed nothing for
himself. His deportment amounted to a quiet, unobtrusive appreciation
of her and of his good fortune. He was proud to owe his wife so much.
Cressida's Sunday afternoons were more popular than ever, since she
herself had so much more heart for them. Bouchalka's picturesque
presence stimulated her graciousness and charm. One still found them
conversing together as eagerly as in the days when they saw each other
but seldom. Consequently their guests were never bored. We felt as if
the Tenth Street house had a pleasant climate quite its own. In the
spring, when the Metropolitan company went on tour, Cressida's husband
accompanied her, and afterward they again sailed for Genoa.
During the second winter people began to say that Bouchalka was
becoming too thoroughly domesticated, and that since he was growing
heavier in body he was less attractive. I noticed his increasing
reluctance to stir abroad. Nobody could say that he was "wild" now. He
seemed to dread leaving the house, even for an evening. Why should he
go out, he said, when he had everything he wanted at home? He published
very little. One was given to understand that he was writing an opera.
He lived in the Tenth Street house like a tropical plant under glass.
Nowhere in New York could he get such cookery as Ruzenka's. Ruzenka
("little Rose") had, like her mistress, bloomed afresh, now that she
had a man and a compatriot to cook for. Her invention was tireless, and
she took things with a high hand in the kitchen, confident of a perfect
appreciation. She was a plump, fair, blue-eyed girl, giggly and easily
flattered, with teeth like cream. She was passionately domestic, and
her mind was full of homely stories and proverbs and superstitions
which she somehow worked into her cookery. She and Bouchalka had
between them a whole literature of traditions about sauces and fish and
pastry. The cellar was full of the wines he liked, and Ruzenka always
knew what wines to serve with the dinner. Blasius' monastery had been
famous for good living.
That winter was a very cold one, and I think the even temperature
of the house enslaved Bouchalka. "Imagine it," he once said to me when
I dropped in during a blinding snowstorm and found him reading before
the fire. "To be warm all the time, every day! It is like Aladdin. In
Paris I have had weeks together when I was not warm once, when I did
not have a bath once, like the cats in the street. The nights were a
misery. People have terrible dreams when they are so cold. Here I waken
up in the night so warm I do not know what it means. Her door is open,
and I turn on my light. I cannot believe in myself until I see that she
I began to think that Bouchalka's wildness had been the desperation
which the tamest animals exhibit when they are tortured or terrorized.
Naturally luxurious, he had suffered more than most men under the pinch
of penury. Those first beautiful compositions, full of the folk-music
of his own country, had been wrung out of him by home-sickness and
heart-ache. I wondered whether he could compose only under the spur of
hunger and loneliness, and whether his talent might not subside with
his despair. Some such apprehension must have troubled Cressida, though
his gratitude would have been propitiatory to a more exacting
task-master. She had always liked to make people happy, and he was the
first one who had accepted her bounty without sourness. When he did not
accompany her upon her spring tour, Cressida said it was because
travelling interfered with composition; but I felt that she was deeply
disappointed. Blasius, or Blazej, as his wife had with difficulty
learned to call him, was not showy or extravagant. He hated hotels,
even the best of them. Cressida had always fought for the hearthstone
and the fireside, and the humour of Destiny is sometimes to give us too
much of what we desire. I believe she would have preferred even
enthusiasm about other women to his utter oisivete . It was his old
fire, not his docility, that had won her.
During the third season after her marriage Cressida had only
twenty-five performances at the Metropolitan, and she was singing out
of town a great deal. Her husband did not bestir himself to accompany
her, but he attended, very faithfully, to her correspondence, and to
her business at home. He had no ambitious schemes to increase her
fortune, and he carried out her directions exactly. Nevertheless,
Cressida faced her concert tours somewhat grimly, and she seldom talked
now about their plans for the future.
The crisis in this growing estrangement came about by accident,
one of those chance occurrences that affect our lives more than years
of ordered effort, and it came in an inverted form of a situation
old to comedy. Cressida had been on the road for several weeks; singing
in Minneapolis, Cleveland, St. Paul, then up into Canada and back to
Boston. From Boston she was to go directly to Chicago, coming down on
the five o'clock train and taking the eleven, over the Lake Shore, for
the West. By her schedule she would have time to change cars
comfortably at the Grand Central station.
On the journey down from Boston she was seized with a great desire
to see Blasius. She decided, against her custom, one might say against
her principles, to risk a performance with the Chicago orchestra
without rehearsal, to stay the night in New York and go west by the
afternoon train the next day. She telegraphed Chicago, but she did not
telegraph Blasius, because she wished the old fallacy of affection!
to "surprise" him. She could take it for granted that, at eleven on
a cold winter night, he would be in the Tenth Street house and nowhere
else in New York. She sent Poppas paler than usual with accusing
scorn and her trunks on to Chicago, and with only her travelling bag
and a sense of being very audacious in her behaviour and still very
much in love, she took a cab for Tenth Street.
Since it was her intention to disturb Blasius as little as possible
and to delight him as much as possible, she let herself in with her
latch-key and went directly to his room. She did not find him there.
Indeed, she found him where he should not have been at all. There must
have been a trying scene.
Ruzenka was sent away in the morning, and the other two maids as
well. By eight o'clock Cressida and Bouchalka had the house to
themselves. Nobody had any breakfast. Cressida took the afternoon train
to keep her engagement with Theodore Thomas, and to think over the
situation. Blasius was left in the Tenth Street house with only the
furnace man's wife to look after him. His explanation of his conduct
was that he had been drinking too much. His digression, he swore, was
casual. It had never occurred before, and he could only appeal to his
wife's magnanimity. But it was, on the whole, easier for Cressida to be
firm than to be yielding, and she knew herself too well to attempt a
readjustment. She had never made shabby compromises, and it was too
late for her to begin. When she returned to New York she went to a
hotel, and she never saw Bouchalka alone again. Since he admitted her
charge, the legal formalities were conducted so quietly that the
granting of her divorce was announced in the morning papers before her
friends knew that there was the least likelihood of one. Cressida's
concert tours had interrupted the hospitalities of the house.
While the lawyers were arranging matters, Bouchalka came to see me.
He was remorseful and miserable enough, and I think his perplexity was
quite sincere. If there had been an intrigue with a woman of her own
class, an infatuation, an affair, he said, he could understand. But
anything so venial and accidental He shook his head slowly back and
forth. He assured me that he was not at all himself on that fateful
evening, and that when he recovered himself he would have sent Ruzenka
away, making proper provision for her, of course. It was an ugly thing,
but ugly things sometimes happened in one's life, and one had to put
them away and forget them. He could have overlooked any accident that
might have occurred when his wife was on the road, with Poppas, for
example. I cut him short, and he bent his head to my reproof.
"I know," he said, "such things are different with her. But when
have I said that I am noble as she is? Never. But I have appreciated
and I have adored. About me, say what you like. But if you say that in
this there was any meprise to my wife, that is not true. I have lost
all my place here. I came in from the streets; but I understand her,
and all the fine things in her, better than any of you here. If that
accident had not been, she would have lived happy with me for years. As
for me, I have never believed in this happiness. I was not born under a
good star. How did it come? By accident. It goes by accident. She tried
to give good fortune to an unfortunate man, un miserable ; that was her
mistake. It cannot be done in this world. The lucky should marry the
lucky." Bouchalka stopped and lit a cigarette. He sat sunk in my chair
as if he never meant to get up again. His large hands, now so much
plumper than when I first knew him, hung limp. When he had consumed his
cigarette he turned to me again.
"I, too, have tried. Have I so much as written one note to a lady
since she first put out her hand to help me? Some of the artists who
sing my compositions have been quite willing to plague my wife a little
if I make the least sign. With the Espa-ola, for instance, I have had
to be very stern, farouche ; she is so very playful. I have never given
my wife the slightest annoyance of this kind. Since I married her, I
have not kissed the cheek of one lady! Then one night I am bored and
drink too much champagne and I become a fool. What does it matter? Did
my wife marry the fool of me? No, she married me, with my mind and my
feelings all here, as I am today. But she is getting a divorce from the
fool of me, which she would never see anyhow! The stupidity which
excuse me is the thing she will not overlook. Even in her memory of me
she will be harsh."
His view of his conduct and its consequences was fatalistic: he was
meant to have just so much misery every day of his life; for three
years it had been withheld, had been piling up somewhere, underground,
overhead; now the accumulation burst over him. He had come to pay his
respects to me, he said, to declare his undying gratitude to Madame
Garnet, and to bid me farewell. He took up his hat and cane and kissed
my hand. I have never seen him since. Cressida made a settlement upon
him, but even Poppas, tortured by envy and curiosity, never discovered
how much it was. It was very little, she told me. "Pour des g‰teaux,"
she added with a smile that was not unforgiving. She could not bear to
think of his being in want when so little could make him comfortable.
He went back to his own village in Bohemia. He wrote her that the
old monk, his teacher, was still alive, and that from the windows of
his room in the town he could see the pigeons flying forth from and
back to the monastery bell-tower all day long. He sent her a song, with
his own words, about those pigeons, quite a lovely thing. He was the
bell tower, and les colombes were his memories of her.
Jerome Brown proved, on the whole, the worst of Cressida's
husbands, and, with the possible exception of her eldest brother,
Buchanan Garnet, he was the most rapacious of the men with whom she had
had to do. It was one thing to gratify every wish of a cake-loving
fellow like Bouchalka, but quite another to stand behind a financier.
And Brown would be a financier or nothing. After her marriage with him,
Cressida grew rapidly older. For the first time in her life she wanted
to go abroad and live to get Jerome Brown away from the scene of his
unsuccessful but un-discouraged activities. But Brown was not a man who
could be amused and kept out of mischief in Continental hotels. He had
to be a figure, if only a "mark," in Wall street. Nothing else would
gratify his peculiar vanity. The deeper he went in, the more
affectionately he told Cressida that now all her cares and anxieties
were over. To try to get related facts out of his optimism was like
trying to find framework in a feather bed. All Cressida knew was that
she was perpetually "investing" to save investments. When she told me
she had put a mortgage on the Tenth Street house, her eyes filled with
tears. "Why is it? I have never cared about money, except to make
people happy with it, and it has been the curse of my life. It has
spoiled all my relations with people. Fortunately," she added
irrelevantly, drying her eyes, "Jerome and Poppas get along well."
Jerome could have got along with anybody; that is a promoter's
business. His warm hand, his flushed face, his bright eye, and his
newest funny story, Poppas had no weapons that could do execution
with a man like that.
Though Brown's ventures never came home, there was nothing openly
disastrous until the outbreak of the revolution in Mexico jeopardized
his interests there. Then Cressida went to England where she could
always raise money from a faithful public for a winter concert tour.
When she sailed, her friends knew that her husband's affairs were in a
bad way; but we did not know how bad until after Cressida's death.
Cressida Garnet, as all the world knows, was lost on the Titanic .
Poppas and Horace, who had been travelling with her, were sent on a
week earlier and came as safely to port as if they had never stepped
out of their London hotel. But Cressida had waited for the first trip
of the sea monster she still believed that all advertising was good
and she went down on the road between the old world and the new. She
had been ill, and when the collision occurred she was in her stateroom,
a modest one somewhere down in the boat, for she was travelling
economically. Apparently she never left her cabin. She was not seen on
the decks, and none of the survivors brought any word of her. On
Monday, when the wireless messages were coming from the Carpathia with
the names of the passengers who had been saved, I went, with so many
hundred others, down to the White Star offices. There I saw Cressida's
motor, her redoubtable initials on the door, with four men sitting in
the limousine. Jerome Brown, stripped of the promoter's joviality and
looking flabby and old, sat behind with Buchanan Garnet, who had come
on from Ohio. I had not seen him for years. He was now an old man, but
he was still conscious of being in the public eye, and sat turning a
cigar about in his face with that foolish look of importance which
Cressida's achievement had stamped upon all the Garnets. Poppas was in
front, with Horace. He was gnawing the finger of his chamois glove as
it rested on the top of his cane. His head was sunk, his shoulders
drawn together; he looked as old as Jewry. I watched them, wondering
whether Cressida would come back to them if she could. After the last
names were posted, the four men settled back into the powerful car
one of the best made and the chauffeur backed off. I saw him dash
away the tears from his face with the back of his driving glove. He was
an Irish boy, and had been devoted to Cressida.
When the will was read, Henry Gilbert, the lawyer, an old friend of
her early youth, and I, were named executors. A nice job we had of it.
Most of her large fortune had been converted into stocks that were
almost worthless. The marketable property realized only a hundred and
fifty thousand dollars. To defeat the bequest of fifty thousand dollars
to Poppas, Jerome Brown and her family contested the will. They brought
Cressida's letters into court to prove that the will did not represent
her intentions, often expressed in writing through many years, to
"provide well" for them.
Such letters they were! The writing of a tired, overdriven woman;
promising money, sending money herewith, asking for an acknowledgment
of the draft sent last month, etc. In the letters to Jerome Brown she
begged for information about his affairs and entreated him to go with
her to some foreign city where they could live quietly and where she
could rest; if they were careful, there would "be enough for all."
Neither Brown nor her brothers and sisters had any sense of shame about
these letters. It seemed never to occur to them that this golden
stream, whether it rushed or whether it trickled, came out of the
industry, out of the mortal body of a woman. They regarded her as a
natural source of wealth; a copper vein, a diamond mine.
Henry Gilbert is a good lawyer himself, and he employed an able man
to defend the will. We determined that in this crisis we would stand by
Poppas, believing it would be Cressida's wish. Out of the lot of them,
he was the only one who had helped her to make one penny of the money
that had brought her so much misery. He was at least more deserving
than the others. We saw to it that Poppas got his fifty thousand, and
he actually departed, at last, for his city in la sainte Asie, where it
never rains and where he will never again have to hold a hot water
bottle to his face.
The rest of the property was fought for to a finish. Poppas out of
the way, Horace and Brown and the Garnets quarrelled over her personal
effects. They went from floor to floor of the Tenth Street house. The
will provided that Cressida's jewels and furs and gowns were to go to
her sisters. Georgie and Julia wrangled over them down to the last
moleskin. They were deeply disappointed that some of the muffs and
stoles which they remembered as very large, proved, when exhumed from
storage and exhibited beside furs of a modern cut, to be ridiculously
scant. A year ago the sisters were still reasoning with each other
about pearls and opals and emeralds.
I wrote Poppas some account of these horrors, as during the court
proceedings we had become rather better friends than of old. His reply
arrived only a few days ago; a photograph of himself upon a camel,
under which is written:
Traulich und Treu
ist's nur in der Tiefe:
falsch und feig
ist was dort oben sich freut!
His reply, and the memories it awakens memories which have
followed Poppas into the middle of Asia, seemingly, prompted this