These words were like the sting of hail; they seemed to drop from the sky, so out of key were they with the speaker’s ragged clothes and the outlandish garb of his daughter. Purcell! Brahms! Strauss! What could these three composers mean to such outcasts? Believing that he was the victim of a mystification, Ferval waited, his pulses beating as if he had been running too hard. The girl slowly moved her glorious eyes in his direction; light as they were in hue, their heavy, dark lashes gave them a fantastic expression—bright flame seen through the shadow of smoke. He felt his own dilating as she opened her throat and poured out a broad, sonorous stream of sound that resolved into Von ewiger Liebe by Brahms. He had always loved deep-voiced women. Had he not read in the Talmud that Lilith, Adam’s first wife, was low of voice? And this beggar-maid? Maybe a masquerading singer with a crazy father! What else could mean such art wasted on the roads, thrown in the faces of a rabble! Ferval kindled with emotion. Here was romance. Brahms and his dark song under the bowl of the troubled blue sky strongly affected him. He took the lean, brown hand of the singer and kissed it fervently. She drew back nervously, but her father struck her on the shoulder chidingly.
“A trifle too dreary,” he rumbled in his heavy bass. “Now, Purcell for the gentleman, and may he open his heart and his purse for the poor.”
“Father,” she cried warningly, “we are not beggars, now!” She turned supplicatingly to the young man and made a gesture of dismissal. He gently shook his head and pretended that he was about to leave, though he felt that his feet were rooted in the earth, his power of willing gone.
“Ay, ay, my girl!” continued the musician, “you can sing as well as the best of them, only you love your sinful old father so much that you have laid aside your ambitions, to follow him in his pilgrimage of expiation about this wicked globe. Ah, sir, if you but knew—I will speak, Debora, for he is a gentleman and a lover of music! If you but knew our history, you would not be surprised at us. Have ye ever been in Wales?”
Ferval stumbled in his answer. It was overlooked; the old man continued: “If ye have, ye must have heard of the sin-eaters. I am one of them, I am an eater of sin—”
Again the girl exclaimed, this time piteously, “Oh, father, remember your vow!”
“Poor lass! Yes, I was a doer of evil, and I became an eater of sin. Some day my sins will be forgiven—this is my penance.” He pointed to his instruments. Ferval kept silence. He feared a word would blow away the cobweb foundations of the narrative. The girl had turned and was watching a young tilted moon which with a single star made silvery dents low in the western horizon.