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ther he took his rest—which gave him incalculably the start of his fellow-creatures. What he lacked in power he more than made up in time.
As a youth-a youth of low degree-his golden dreams had always been of rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, whose doings he read chronicled in the newspapers, and with the stage heroes and heroines whom he beheld from the top gallery of a theatre. As a man, if ever man could say, 'Je ne suis pas la rose, mais j'ai récu avec elle,' that man was Cuscus; only for 'la rose' read rather 'le laurier,' the rustling of whose leaves was dearer to him than all the rosebuds in the rosebud garden of girls.' Even his ambition was chiefly of the head. The emotional part was steady, not impetuous; warning, not consuming; and the desire of his life had come in for slow, but complete gratification. At fourteen he had swept out a Jew broker's shop at Frankfort; at forty he was on easy terms with all the big stars in the musical and dramatic firmament, and could boast of personal acquaintance with most of the crowned heads in Europe. But his own head was that of a philosopher, and not to be turned by greatness. A dauntless effrontery, utter freedom from pride, a fair aptitude for business, an expert's faculty for judging of emotional art, secured him in his present position-that of as successful a speculator in talent as ever started.
In person the great manager was insignificance itself-short, with foxy-red hair and beard; a common type enough. His uncommon acuteness betrayed itself in two points only, the quick precision of his movements, and the almost uncomfortable alertness of his eye.
Emanuel Cuscus sat awaiting the gathering together of his 'staff' for rehearsal in the salotto of his Milanese villa. He had several villas, though very little leisure to spend in them. There was one at Florence, where he had a wife and children, but he hardly ever found time to get there.
Opposite him was Mdlle. Linda Visconti, who had wasted the last half-hour in trying to finesse out of him higher terms for her services. For Cuscus, like all great men, could be bold in seasonrisk large sums, lose them now and then, without flinching. None could drive harder bargains; none, when bent on securing an artist's coöperation, be more lavish. Now Linda had come armed with a rival offer from a Moscow theatre director, and talked in grand general terms of its liberality. You may blind a lynx by throwing dust in its eyes, but never Emanuel Cuscus. As a friend, disinterestedly, he advised her to accept that engagement and throw him over, deploring his inability to outbid the Muscovite. As if he did not know he had done so already! In his pocket-book he had a note of the exact termslower than his own-offered by Russia to Mdlle. Visconti, and that for playing third to two singers greater than herself; whereas in his concert-troupe, Regina,' as she was playfully called by her friends in the profession, would have no vocal rival to dread.
Surmising how the land lay, Linda now began to hint at a fear lest the Russian climate might affect her voice unfavourably. She must take medical advice about it, she said. Cuscus politely begged her not to hurry. He had learnt the parasite's first lesson how to win a victory without showing it. Confident that he would hear from her to
morrow morning that the doctors had forbidden her to go to Moscow, and that she closed with his terms, he dropped the subject forthwith, and amused her by a comic account of the misadventures he had met with in forming his present company. An American Barnum had treacherously bribed away the crack German pianist, who was to have been the leading instrumental attraction. The Yankee will be bankrupt, and the German won't get paid,' prophesied Cuscus calmly; but this won't help me. For that I must rely upon Mdlle. Therval, whom I providentially found disengaged at the eleventh hour. I've always had the greatest confidence in Providence. Last, but not least'-(quickly dropping this subject also, for Cuscus had too much tact to go on singing the praises of one lady to another)
'I have been disappointed. of my basso, Grundstein,-you know him, a man on whom I had relied as on myself! Only those who knew Cuscus could feel the full force of the illustration. Grundstein was one of those 'useful' people whose artistic vocation is to replace their 'indisposed' betters, and thus to be for ever meekly reminding the public that half a loaf is better than no bread. Singers that never have sorethroats, or mysterious disappearances, or sulky fits. But even such are human, and what must this Grundstein do but go and get laid up with malaria fever! Some weeks must now elapse before he could join. 'I got the news yesterday,' concluded Cuscus, and he's announced to sing to-night. But Providence again! a timely substitute chanced to be at hand, volunteered his services, and, apropos, here he comes. Mdlle. Visconti, let me present to you my friend Herr Tristan.'
A second-rate baritone's deputy, name unknown to fame, neither young nor good-looking, extremely short-sighted, and shy and awkward in proportion, was not, in Miss Linda's opinion, worth squandering courtesy and graces upon. She gave him a cool nod, and turned away to chat affably with the accompanyist, who had just walked in,-her old friend Erlanger, ex-professor of singing at Bleiburg, unchanged in every point, these ten years-the same blending of vulgar human good looks with curious resemblance to the higher apes that had won him from his intimates the nickname of the Missing Link.'
Other members of the concertparty came dropping in. The room was soon a Babel of French, German, English, and Italian. Artists are Jacks-of-all-tongues if masters of none. In the midst of the din, Cuscus suddenly slipped away. From the window he had seen Mdlle. Therval arrive, and she was met on the doorstep by the impresario, who detained her for a few instants in the verandah in private conversation.
However, almost before he was missed by his flock he reappeared among them, escorting the new member.
'You all know each other, I think,' he said carelessly, 'except,' looking sharply around for his deputy-baritone-Tristan, let me present you to Mdlle. Therval.'
The melancholy basso bowed a melancholy bow. Laurence coloured faintly, visibly embarrassed. But Cuscus drew off the attention of the rest by giving the signal for business to com
come to rehearse with the accompanyist, and there was a general curiosity to hear her as she raised her bow. It was a critical moment for Herr Cuscus. Once, once only, and that long ago, had he been a witness of her performance, and chiefly on the strength of that twoyears-old impression he had already staked a very large sum! A bold stroke, even for him, and that nothing could justify but success. Trader that he was, from scalp to sole, no wonder he listened acutely. Would it be strong enough, and broad enough, to take the million, as the million can only be taken, by storm? And would it, withal, be finished and faultless enough to win over the suffrages of connoisseurs? Cuscus was not demonstrative, and when by and by he found himself involuntarily tapping his hands together, he noted it was a hopeful sign; though some qualifying phrases hovered on his lips. 'Highly nervous temperament. Too thin-skinned.' But pachyderms cannot play the violin; or if they did, would soon cease to be pachyderms, and find their susceptibilities alarmingly developed. 'Provided she doesn't break down, I've made a good bargain,' was his ultimatum. But, to do him justice, he was not thinking entirely of his purse. Already he felt rising a sort of patriotic professional interest in the young player, and would have sacrificed some pecuniary advantage for the honour and glory of being the first to introduce her to various of his 'publics.'
So far Herr Cuscus. Linda, meantime, was twisting about on the sofa impatiently; the risings of jealousy made Regina feel distantly uncomfortable. No one was paying any attention to her. All were listening intently, from the director down to the foundling
'Cuscus, my dear,' said Linda, as she arranged her shawl before the mirror, assisted by the Missing Link, where, in the name of all that's frightful, did you fish up that strange personage?"
'I did not fish for him, Regina. He dropped from heaven, as I told you, just when I wanted him,' replied the director.
'If he was dropped from heaven, it was because the angels found him de trop,' said Erlanger, who set up for a wit. 'That sort are in the way everywhere. Such an awkward figure, with a face like a long sermon, and a determination of red to the nose. May one ask your object in taking him on ?'
'To be a foil to our Missing Link,' returned Cuscus; and Erlanger laughed. Erlanger was always laughing, just as other people wink. He had the whitest of teeth. Not to mention yourself, Regina, Beauty and the Beast look well on the platform together. It gives dramatic interest to the duet.'
'His hands seemed so painfully in his way,' observed Linda, still parroting before the glass. One longed to give him something to do with them-tea or coffee to hand round. Do you think he has been a waiter?'
'I can tell you all about him,' said Erlanger facetiously. He was a Jew dealer-by name Be
noni-son of sorrow-otherwise Tristan. Having failed in business he has adopted the musical profession for pleasure, and is going to fail there.'
'He is an enthusiast,' said Cuscus scientifically, 'who only wants a touch of talent to do really well.'
'His voice, too, is a thread,' affirmed the tenor of the troupe, a short stout gentleman, with a powerful organ. 'No, my dear Cuscus. Your acumen is at fault for once. I cannot compliment you on this acquisition.'
'Pooh! it is only for the first few weeks,' returned Cuscus; 'he will get through, tant bien que mal, and then he may go and make a fiasco somewhere else.'
There was a chorus of discontent.
'I observe that Mdlle. Therval is silent,' said Erlanger. be possible that the bass of the sorrowful countenance-'
'Has made a conquest already,' chimed in Linda. I shouldn't wonder.'
'Nor I, if he makes one more before his engagement is up,' returned Cuscus significantly. ""Rira bien qui rira le dernier," and there are some people-'
'Emanuel, now you are going to be impertinent.'
'Nay, Regina, the impertinence is in your own ears,' returned the imperturbable director. Au revoir, amici; at the Sala filarmonica, you know, um acht Uhr, précises.'
Not many hours afterwards, Cuscus's carriage, with Cuscus in it, called to take Mdlle. Therval to the concert-hall. The director was full of attentions to the young stranger, his latest protégée, and made himself as agreeable as the
limitations imposed by his Creator allowed. It was his way to attach himself to rising greatness, as the cheapest and surest mode of getting betimes into the good books of the great, and of her future eminence he felt rarely sanguine. It was more than Laurence herself did at that moment. Could Cuscus have seen into her mind, his own would have been seriously disturbed. A sudden new danger threatened her tonight. Nervelessness-the artist's ghostly enemy-it chilled and paralysed her mortally. Something-call it mettle, pluck, what you will-had deserted her. She missed it, and felt as if every one else must miss it in her too, and in equal measure. She was overwhelmed by a presentiment of disaster, a forecast of failure or deserving to fail, at the very point when to fail would be most fatal to her and hers. Great Heaven, how little we reck of the torments that artists, great and small, u , undergo, that we may pass a pleasant evening!
A buzz of careless voices came from the artists' room, where they found the others already assembled. Linda, enthroned in the best armchair, was a brilliant arrangement in rose-colour,-a misfortune for the contralto, who was in rose-colour likewise, an inferior arrangement. She was a young ingénue, of whose girlish freshness Linda was secretly afraid, and having ascertained beforehand the tint of her costume, Regina had hit on this feminine refinement of annihilation. Disconsolately the poor child surveyed her finery, or what seemed so to her when she put it
How shabby, threadbare, and ineffective beside the cunning silken folds, the delicate flowery embroideries of her rival's array!
Linda was bewailing herself to
the sympathetic ears of Erlanger, the fat tenor, and a knot of miscellaneous employés. Regina had a cold; the mistral had affected her throat. She had not a note in her voice to-night, she declared. In driving to the hall the horse had stumbled, the carriage been nearly upset, herself quite-everything had conspired to put her out. The gentlemen were concerned and consolatory, feeding her with compliments, which Cuscus declared to be the best voice-lozenges, especially if administered just before going up on the platform.
The first course is nearly over,' announced the director presently, as the pianist, to whose lot it fell to play the audience into their seats, grew louder and wilder, indicating that his Dramatic Fantasia' was approaching its fifth-act agonies. Are you ready, gentlemen?' to the tenor and bass, whose duet followed next,-mere padding in the programme, alas, save to themselves; for the audience were all impatient to see the ladies in general, the soprano singer in particular.
Linda's entrée was punctually signalised by loud hosannas from a claque, in which the audience, dazzled by the rose colour, sweet smiles, and exquisite curtsy, soon joined.
A moment's dumb-show dialogue with Erlanger, just to whet the impatience of the spectators, and Regina set to work. Bravely she attacked a grand operatic scena, taking it by assault and demolishing it. Dash and assurance carried her through, and carried her hearers away. Cuscus's impassible features relaxed into a smile at last, as she was duly recalled and encored. the greenroom her admirers were silent; her friends exchanged head-shakings and half-whispered
'She never will be again. Four years ago I heard her. She was steadily ruining it then. Now the mischief is done. Listen how she shuffles at the slightest difficulty; alters passages right and left.'
'And she had the loveliest voice in the world.'
'Yes,' he returned mournfully. 'Heaven sends gifts to those who can best abuse them.'
Tristan, as Cuscus had explained, and as was apparent, belonged to that luckless but numerous class of persons, musical fanatics, but indifferently equipped for the service. A half share of Linda's natural advantages would (so he fancied) have made him a happy In sailed Regina, smiling, but only half content. No one in the greenroom complimented her on her singing, only on her
As the moment drew nigh for Mdlle. Therval to delight the Milanese, Cuscus was horrified by her changing colour. What's wrong? thought the general, agonised.
Only that she felt her forces scattered, memory deserting, her spirit damped-quenched; and, last and worst, a dead insensibility to anything that might befall. What a mockery and make-believe was the sentiment of a profession like hers! That roomful of idlers had come, not to hear music, but to retail gossip and scandal, and furnish matter for more. And she-bound over to sell cheap what is most dear,' to supply pas