I folded her in my arms and began to give her all the kisses I had been hoarding up for her since the first day we met. But she put up her hand playfully, and pushed me back, and cried out:
“Stop! Stop! the play is over!’
“No! no!” I replied, “it is only beginning; and it will last as long as we two live.”
Her face grew serious in an instant, and she whispered:
“Yes, until death doth us part.”
MAX’S STORY-THE SONGSTRESS
When Max came home the next evening I observed that his face wore a very joyous expression—it was indeed radiant. He smiled without cause; he moved as if on air. At the supper table his mother noticed these significant appearances also, and remarked upon them, smiling. Max laughed and said:
“Yes, I am very happy; I will tell you something surprising after supper.”
When the evening meal was finished we adjourned to the library. Max closed the doors carefully, and we all sat. down in a group together, Max holding the withered hand of the gentle old lady in his own, and Estella and I being near together.
“Now,” said Max, “I am about to tell you a long story. It may not be as interesting to you as it is to me; but you are not to interrupt me. And, dear mother,” he said, turning to her with a loving look, “you must not feel hurt that I did not make you my confidante, long ere this, of the events I am about to detail; I did not really know myself how they were going to end—I never knew until to-day.
“You must understand,” he continued, “that, while I have been living under my own name elsewhere, but in disguise, as I have told you; and conscious that my actions were the subject of daily espionage, it was my habit to frequent all the resorts where men congregate in great numbers, from the highest even to the lowest. I did this upon principle: not only to throw my enemies off the track as to my real character, but also because it was necessary to me, in the great work I had undertaken, that I should sound the whole register of humanity, down to its bass notes.
“There is, in one of the poorer portions of the city, a great music hall, or ‘variety theater,’ as they call it, frequented by multitudes of the middle and lower orders. It is arranged, indeed, like a huge theater, but the audience are furnished with beer and pipes, and little tables, all for an insignificant charge; and there they sit, amid clouds of smoke, and enjoy the singing, dancing and acting upon the stage. There are many of these places in the city, and I am familiar with them all. They are the poor man’s club and opera. Of course, the performers are not of a high order of talent, and generally not of a high order of morals; but occasionally singers or actors of real merit and good character begin on these humble boards, and afterwards rise to great heights in their professions.