Siegmund, a musician at the local opera house, has fallen in love with a former pupil, Helena. She persuades him to go with her to the Isle of Wight for a few days, but happiness eludes them. Helena, dreaming of a great union of minds, rejects the physical intensity of Siegmund's love.
'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.