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The Best British Short Stories of 1922

"Genius"
By ELINOR MORDAUNT
(From Hutchinson's Magazine and The Century Magazine)
1921, 1922
I have written before of Ben Cohen, with his eternal poring and humming over the scores
of great masters; of the timber-yard at Canning Town, for ever changing and for ever the
same, devouring forests with the eternal wind-like rush of saws, slide of gigantic planes;
practical and chill; wrapped in river-fogs, and yet exotic with the dust of cedar, camphor,
paregoric.
In those days Ben Cohen was wont to read music as other boys read their penny-
dreadfuls, avidly, with the imagined sounds like great waves for ever a-rush through his
soul.
In the very beginning it was any music, just music. Then for a while Wagner held him.
Any Wagnerian concert, any mixed entertainment which included Wagner--it seemed as
though he sniffed them upon the breeze--and he would tramp for miles, wait for hours;
biting cold, sleet, snow, mud, rain, all alike disregarded by that persistence which the
very poor must bring to the pursuit of pleasure, the capture of cheap seats.
Once ensconced, regardless of hard, narrow seats, heights, crowds, his passion of
adoration and excitement took him, shook him, tore him so that it was wonder his frail
body did not split in two, render up the soul coming forth as Lazarus from the sepulchre.
It was indeed, if you knew little Ben Cohen, him, himself, difficult to realise that his body
had anything more to do with him than the yellow-drab water-proof which is a sort of
uniform--a species of charity, covering a multitude of sins of poverty, shabbiness, thread-
bareness--had to do with the real Jenny Bligh.
And yet, Ben Cohen's body was more completely his than one might have imagined.
Jenny could, and indeed did, slough off her disguise on Sundays or rare summer days; but
Ben and that self which was apart from music--that wildly-beating heart, pulsing blood,
flooding warmth, grateful as the watchman's fire in the fog-sodden yard, that little fire
over which he used to hang, warming his stiffened hands--were, after all, amazingly one.
The thing surprised him even more than it surprised any one else; above all, when it
refused to be separated from his holy of holies, crept, danced, smiled its way through the
most portentous scores--a thrilling sense of Jenny Bligh, all crotchets and quavers, smiles
and thrills, quaint homeliness, sudden dignity.
By the time he first met Jenny he was clear of Wagner, had glanced a little patronisingly
at Beethoven, turned aside and enwrapped himself in the sombre splendour of Bach, right
away from the world; then, harking back, with a fresh vision, a sudden sense of the
inevitable, had anchored himself in the solemn, wide-stretching harbourage of
Beethoven.
 
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