When Rentgen called at the Van Kuyps’ it was near the close of a warm afternoon. The composer would not stir, despite the invitation of the critic or the pleading of his wife. He knew that the angel wings of inspiration had been brushing his brow all the morning, and such visits were too rare to be flouted. He sat at his piano and in a composer’s raucous varied voice, imitated the imaginary timbres of orchestral instruments. Sent forth, Mrs. Van Kuyp and Rentgen slowly walked into the little Parc of Auteuil, once the joy of the Goncourts.
“Musicians are as selfish as the sea,” he asserted, as they sat upon a bench of tepid iron. She did not demur. The weather had exhausted her patience; she was young and fond of the open air—the woods made an irresistible picture this day. The critic watched her changing, dissatisfied face.
“Shall we ride?” he suddenly asked. Before she could shake a negative head, he quickly uttered the words that had been hovering in her mind for hours.
“Or, shall we go to the Bois?” She started. “What an idea! Go to the Bois without Richard, without my husband?”
“Why not?” he inquired, “it’s not far away. Send him a wire asking him to join us; it will do him good after his labours. Come, Madame Van Kuyp, come Alixe, my child.” He paused. Her eyes expanded. “I’ll go,” she quietly announced—“that is, if you grant me a favour.”
“A hundred!” he triumphantly cried.
To soothe her conscience, which began to ring faint alarm-bells at sundown, Alixe sent several despatches to her husband, and then tried a telephone; but she was not successful. Her mood shifted chilly, and they bored each other immeasurably on the long promenade vibrating with gypsy music and frivolous folk.
It was after seven o’clock as the sun slowly swam down the sky-line. Decidedly their little flight from the prison of stone was not offering rich recompense to Alixe Van Kuyp and her elderly companion.
“And now for the favour!” he demanded, his eyes contentedly resting upon the graceful expanse of his guest’s figure.
She moved restlessly: “My dear Rentgen, I am about to ask you a question, only a plain question. That is the favour.” He bowed incredulously.
“I must know the truth about Richard. It is a serious matter, this composing of his. He neglects his pupils—most of them Americans who come to Paris to study with him. Yet with the reputation he has attained, due to you entirely”—she waved away an interruption—“he refuses to write songs or piano music that will sell. He is an incorrigible idealist and I confess I am discouraged. What can be our future?” She drew the deep breath of one in peril; this plain talk devoid of all sham mortified her exceedingly.
She was thankful that he did not attempt to play the role of fatherly adviser. His eyes were quite sincere when he answered her:—