The Trespasser (Chapter 1, page 1 of 6)


 
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Chapter 1

'Take off that mute, do!' cried Louisa, snatching her fingers from the
piano keys, and turning abruptly to the violinist.

Helena looked slowly from her music.

'My dear Louisa,' she replied, 'it would be simply unendurable.' She
stood tapping her white skirt with her bow in a kind of a pathetic
forbearance.

'But I can't understand it,' cried Louisa, bouncing on her chair with
the exaggeration of one who is indignant with a beloved. 'It is only
lately you would even submit to muting your violin. At one time you
would have refused flatly, and no doubt about it.' 'I have only lately submitted to many things,' replied Helena, who
seemed weary and stupefied, but still sententious. Louisa drooped from
her bristling defiance.

'At any rate,' she said, scolding in tones too naked with love, I don't
like it.' '_Go on from Allegro_,' said Helena, pointing with her bow to the place
on Louisa's score of the Mozart sonata. Louisa obediently took the
chords, and the music continued.

A young man, reclining in one of the wicker arm-chairs by the fire,
turned luxuriously from the girls to watch the flames poise and dance
with the music. He was evidently at his ease, yet he seemed a stranger
in the room.

It was the sitting-room of a mean house standing in line with hundreds
of others of the same kind, along a wide road in South London. Now and
again the trams hummed by, but the room was foreign to the trams and to
the sound of the London traffic. It was Helena's room, for which she was
responsible. The walls were of the dead-green colour of August foliage;
the green carpet, with its border of polished floor, lay like a square
of grass in a setting of black loam. Ceiling and frieze and fireplace
were smooth white. There was no other colouring.

The furniture, excepting the piano, had a transitory look; two light
wicker arm-chairs by the fire, the two frail stands of dark, polished
wood, the couple of flimsy chairs, and the case of books in the
recess--all seemed uneasy, as if they might be tossed out to leave the
room clear, with its green floor and walls, and its white rim of
skirting-board, serene.

On the mantlepiece were white lustres, and a small soapstone Buddha from
China, grey, impassive, locked in his renunciation. Besides these, two
tablets of translucent stone beautifully clouded with rose and blood,
and carved with Chinese symbols; then a litter of mementoes,
rock-crystals, and shells and scraps of seaweed.

A stranger, entering, felt at a loss. He looked at the bare wall-spaces
of dark green, at the scanty furniture, and was assured of his
unwelcome. The only objects of sympathy in the room were the white lamp
that glowed on a stand near the wall, and the large, beautiful fern,
with narrow fronds, which ruffled its cloud of green within the gloom of
the window-bay. These only, with the fire, seemed friendly.

 
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