Alixe Van Kuyp sat in the first-tier box presented to her husband with the accustomed heavy courtesy of the Societe Harmonique. She went early to the hall that she might hear the entire music-making of the evening—Van Kuyp’s tone-poem, Sordello, was on the programme between a Weber overture and a Beethoven symphony, an unusual honour for a young American composer. If she had gone late, it would have seemed an affectation, she reasoned. Her husband kept within doors; she could tell him all. And then, was there not Elvard Rentgen?
She regretted that she had invited the Parisian critic to her box. It happened at a soiree, where he showed his savage profile among admiring musical lambs. But he was never punctual at musical affairs. This consoled Alixe.
Perhaps he would forget her impulsive, foolish speech,—“without him the music would fall upon unheeding ears,—he, who interpreted art for the multitude, the holder of the critical key that unlocked masterpieces.” She had felt the banality of her compliment as she uttered it, and she knew the man who listened, his glance incredulous, his mouth smiling, could not be deceived. Rentgen had been too many years in the candy shop to care for sweets. She recalled her mean little blush as he twisted his pointed, piebald beard with long, fat fingers and leisurely traversed—his were the measuring eyes of an architect—her face, her hair, her neck, and finally, stared at her ears until they burned like a child’s cheek in frost time.
Alixe Van Kuyp was a large woman, with a conscientious head and gray eyes. As she waited, she realized that it was one of her timid nights, when colour came easily and temper ran at its lowest ebb. She had begged Van Kuyp to cancel the habit of not listening to his own music except at rehearsal, and, annoyed by his stubbornness, neglected to tell him of the other invitation. The house was quite full when the music began. Uneasiness overtook her as the Oberon slowly stole upon her consciousness. She forgot Rentgen; a more disquieting problem presented itself. Richard’s music—how would it sound in the company of the old masters, those masters who were newer than Wagner, newer than Strauss and the “moderns”! She envisaged her husband—small, slim, with his bushy red hair, big student’s head—familiarly locking arms with Weber and Beethoven in the hall of fame. No, the picture did not convince her. She was his severest censor. Not one of the professional critics could put their fingers on Van Kuyp’s weak spots—“his sore music,” as he jestingly called it—so surely as his wife. She had studied; she had even played the violin in public; but she gave up her virtuosa ambitions for the man she had married during their student years in Germany. Now the old doubts came to life as the chivalric tones of Weber rose to her sharpened senses. Why couldn’t Richard—