When Christopher Kain told me his story, sitting late in his dressing-room at the Philharmonic I felt that I ought to say something, but nothing in the world seemed adequate. It was one of those times when words have no weight: mine sounded like a fly buzzing in the tomb of kings. And after all, he did not hear me; I could tell that by the look on his face as he sat there staring into the light, the lank, dark hair framing his waxen brow, his shoulders hanging forward, his lean, strong, sentient fingers wrapped around the brown neck of “Ugo,” the ’cello, tightly.
Agnes Kain was a lady, as a lady was before the light of that poor worn word went out. Quiet, reserved, gracious, continent, bearing in face and form the fragile beauty of a rose-petal come to its fading on a windless ledge, she moved down the years with the stedfast sweetness of the gentlewoman—gentle, and a woman.
They knew little about her in the city, where she had come with her son. They did not need to. Looking into her eyes, into the transparent soul behind them they could ask no other credential for the name she bore and the lavender she wore for the husband of whom she never spoke.
She spoke of him, indeed, but that was in privacy, and to her son. As Christopher grew through boyhood, she watched him; in her enveloping eagerness she forestalled the hour when he would have asked, and told him about his father, Daniel Kain.
It gave them the added bond of secret-sharers. The tale grew as the boy grew. Each night when Christopher crept into his mother’s bed for the quiet hour of her voice, it was as if he crept in to another world, the wind-blown, sky-encompassed kingdom of the Kains, Daniel, his father, and Maynard, his father, another Maynard before him, and all the Kains—and the Hill and the House, the Willow Wood, the Moor Under the Cloud, the Beach where the gray seas pounded, the boundless Marsh, the Lilac hedge standing against the stars.
He knew he would have to be a man of men to measure up to that heritage, a man strong, grave, thoughtful, kind with the kindness that never falters, brave with the courage of that dark and massive folk whose blood ran in his veins. Coming as it did, a world of legend growing up side by side with the matter-of-fact world of Concord Street, it never occurred to him to question. He, the boy, was not massive, strong, or brave; he saw things in the dark that frightened him, his thin shoulders were bound to droop, the hours of practise on his violin left him with no blood in his legs and a queer pallor on his brow.
Nor was he always grave, thoughtful, kind. He did not often lose his temper, the river of his young life ran too smooth and deep. But there were times when he did. Brief passions swept him, blinded him, twisted his fingers, left him sobbing, retching, and weak as death itself. He never seemed to wonder at the discrepancy in things, however, any more than he wondered at the look in his mother’s eyes, as she hung over him, waiting, in those moments of nausea after rage. She had not the look of the gentlewoman then; she had more the look, a thousand times, of the prisoner led through the last gray corridor in the dawn.