Fred bent over her trunk and picked up something which proved to be a score, clumsily bound. "What's this? Did you ever try to sing this?" He opened it and on the engraved title-page read Wunsch's inscription, "EINST, O WUNDER!" He looked up sharply at Thea.
"Wunsch gave me that when he went away. I've told you about him, my old teacher in Moonstone. He loved that opera."
Fred went toward the fireplace, the book under his arm, singing softly:--
"EINST, O WUNDER, ENTBLUHT AUF MEINEM GRABE, EINE BLUME DER ASCHE MEINES HERZENS;"
"You have no idea at all where he is, Thea?" He leaned against the mantel and looked down at her.
"No, I wish I had. He may be dead by this time. That was five years ago, and he used himself hard. Mrs. Kohler was always afraid he would die off alone somewhere and be stuck under the prairie. When we last heard of him, he was in Kansas."
"If he were to be found, I'd like to do something for him. I seem to get a good deal of him from this." He opened the book again, where he kept the place with his finger, and scrutinized the purple ink. "How like a German! Had he ever sung the song for you?"
"No. I didn't know where the words were from until once, when Harsanyi sang it for me, I recognized them."
Fred closed the book. "Let me see, what was your noble brakeman's name?"
Thea looked up with surprise. "Ray, Ray Kennedy."
"Ray Kennedy!" he laughed. "It couldn't well have been better! Wunsch and Dr. Archie, and Ray, and I," --he told them off on his fingers,--"your whistling-posts! You haven't done so badly. We've backed you as we could, some in our weakness and some in our might. In your dark hours--and you'll have them--you may like to remember us." He smiled whimsically and dropped the score into the trunk. "You are taking that with you?"
"Surely I am. I haven't so many keepsakes that I can afford to leave that. I haven't got many that I value so highly."
"That you value so highly?" Fred echoed her gravity playfully. "You are delicious when you fall into your vernacular." He laughed half to himself.
"What's the matter with that? Isn't it perfectly good English?"
"Perfectly good Moonstone, my dear. Like the readymade clothes that hang in the windows, made to fit everybody and fit nobody, a phrase that can be used on all occasions. Oh,"--he started across the room again,--"that's one of the fine things about your going! You'll be with the right sort of people and you'll learn a good, live, warm German, that will be like yourself. You'll get a new speech full of shades and color like your voice; alive, like your mind. It will be almost like being born again, Thea."
She was not offended. Fred had said such things to her before, and she wanted to learn. In the natural course of things she would never have loved a man from whom she could not learn a great deal.
"Harsanyi said once," she remarked thoughtfully, "that if one became an artist one had to be born again, and that one owed nothing to anybody."
"Exactly. And when I see you again I shall not see you, but your daughter. May I?" He held up his cigarette case questioningly and then began to smoke, taking up again the song which ran in his head:--
"DEUTLICH SCHIMMERT AUF JEDEM, PURPURBLATTCHEN, ADELAIDE!"
"I have half an hour with you yet, and then, exit Fred." He walked about the room, smoking and singing the words under his breath. "You'll like the voyage," he said abruptly. "That first approach to a foreign shore, stealing up on it and finding it--there's nothing like it. It wakes up everything that's asleep in you. You won't mind my writing to some people in Berlin? They'll be nice to you."
"I wish you would." Thea gave a deep sigh. "I wish one could look ahead and see what is coming to one."
"Oh, no!" Fred was smoking nervously; "that would never do. It's the uncertainty that makes one try. You've never had any sort of chance, and now I fancy you'll make it up to yourself. You'll find the way to let yourself out in one long flight."
Thea put her hand on her heart. "And then drop like the rocks we used to throw--anywhere." She left the chair and went over to the sofa, hunting for something in the trunk trays. When she came back she found Fred sitting in her place. "Here are some handkerchiefs of yours. I've kept one or two. They're larger than mine and useful if one has a headache."
"Thank you. How nicely they smell of your things!" He looked at the white squares for a moment and then put them in his pocket. He kept the low chair, and as she stood beside him he took her hands and sat looking intently at them, as if he were examining them for some special purpose, tracing the long round fingers with the tips of his own. "Ordinarily, you know, there are reefs that a man catches to and keeps his nose above water. But this is a case by itself. There seems to be no limit as to how much I can be in love with you. I keep going." He did not lift his eyes from her fingers, which he continued to study with the same fervor. "Every kind of stringed instrument there is plays in your hands, Thea," he whispered, pressing them to his face.
She dropped beside him and slipped into his arms, shutting her eyes and lifting her cheek to his. "Tell me one thing," Fred whispered. "You said that night on the boat, when I first told you, that if you could you would crush it all up in your hands and throw it into the sea. Would you, all those weeks?"
She shook her head.
"Answer me, would you?"
"No, I was angry then. I'm not now. I'd never give them up. Don't make me pay too much." In that embrace they lived over again all the others. When Thea drew away from him, she dropped her face in her hands. "You are good to me," she breathed, "you are!"
Rising to his feet, he put his hands under her elbows and lifted her gently. He drew her toward the door with him. "Get all you can. Be generous with yourself. Don't stop short of splendid things. I want them for you more than I want anything else, more than I want one splendid thing for myself. I can't help feeling that you'll gain, somehow, by my losing so much. That you'll gain the very thing I lose. Take care of her, as Harsanyi said. She's wonderful!" He kissed her and went out of the door without looking back, just as if he were coming again to-morrow.
Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915 edition).