THE silence that ensued was broken by the voice of the musical young lady, who had seated herself near us, and was conversing with one of the newly-arrived guests. `Well!' she said in a tone of scornful surprise. `We are to have something new in the way of music, it appears!'
I looked round for an explanation, and was nearly as much astonished as the speaker herself: it was Sylvie whom Lady Muriel was leading to the piano!
`Do try it, my darling!' she was saying. `I'm sure you can play very nicely!'
Sylvie looked round at me, with tears in her eyes. I tried to give her an encouraging smile, but it was evidently a great strain on the nerves of a child so wholly unused to be made an exhibition of, and she was frightened and unhappy. Yet here came out the perfect sweetness of her disposition: I could see that she was resolved to forget herself, and do her best to give pleasure to Lady Muriel and her friends. She seated herself at the instrument, and began instantly. Time and expression, so far as one could judge, were perfect: but her touch was one of such extraordinary lightness that it was at first scarcely possible, through the hum of conversation which still continued, to catch a note of what she was playing.
But in a minute the hum had died away into absolute silence, and we all sat, entranced and breathless, to listen to such heavenly music as none then present could ever forget.
Hardly touching the notes at first, she played a sort of introduction in a minor key--like an embodied twilight; one felt as though the lights were growing dim, and a mist were creeping through the room. Then there flashed through the gathering gloom the first few notes of a melody so lovely, so delicate, that one held one's breath, fearful to lose a single note of it. Ever and again the music dropped into the pathetic minor key with which it had begun, and, each time that the melody forced its way, so to speak, through the enshrouding gloom into the light of day, it was more entrancing, more magically sweet. Under the airy touch of the child, the instrument actually seemed to warble, like a bird. `Rise up, my love, my fair one,' it seemed to sing, `and come away! For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers, appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come!' One could fancy one heard the tinkle of the last few drops, shaken from the trees by a passing gust--that one saw the first glittering rays of the sun, breaking through the clouds.
The Count hurried across the room in great excitement. `I cannot remember myself,' he exclaimed, `of the name of this so charming an air! It is of an opera, most surely. Yet not even will the opera remind his name to me! What you call him, dear child?'
Sylvie looked round at him with a rapt expression of face. She had ceased playing, but her fingers still wandered fitfully over the keys. All fear and shyness had quite passed away now, and nothing remained but the pure joy of the music that had thrilled our hearts.
`The title of it!' the Count repeated impatiently. `How call you the opera?'
`I don't know what an opera is,' Sylvie half-whispered.
`How, then, call you the air?'
`I don't know any name for it,' Sylvie replied, as she rose from the instrument.
`But this is marvellous!' exclaimed the Count, following the child, and addressing himself to me, as if I were the proprietor of this musical prodigy, and so must know the origin of her music. `You have heard her play this, sooner--I would say "before this occasion"? How call you the air?'
I shook my head; but was saved from more questions by Lady Muriel, who came up to petition the Count for a song.
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