The First Violin - A Novel
by Jessie Fothergill
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Do you like Elberthal? What is your Christian name? How old are you? Have you been or are you engaged to be married? They break off engagements in England for a mere trifle, don't they? Schrecklich! Did you get your dress in Elberthal? What did it cost the elle? Young English ladies wear silk much more than young German ladies. You never go to the theater on Sunday in England—you are all pietistisch. How beautifully you speak our language! Really no foreign accent!" (This repeatedly and unblushingly, in spite of my most flagrant mistakes, and in the face of my most feeble, halting, and stammering efforts to make myself understood.) "Do you learn music? singing? From whom? Herr von Francius? Ach, so!" (Pause, while they all look impressively at me. The very name of von Francius calls up emotions of no common order.) "I believe I have seen you at the proben to the 'Paradise Lost.' Perhaps you are the lady who is to take the solos? Yes! Du lieber Himmel! What do you think of Herr von Francius? Is he not nice?" (Nett, though, signifies something feminine and finikin.) "No? How odd! There is no accounting for the tastes of English women. Do you know many people in Elberthal? No? Schade! No officers? not Hauptmann Sachse?" (with voice growing gradually shriller), "nor Lieutenant Pieper? Not know Lieutenant Pieper! Um Gotteswillen! What do you mean? He is so handsome! such eyes! such a mustache! Herrgott! And you do not know him? I will tell you something. When he went off to the autumn maneuvers at Frankfort (I have it on good authority), twenty young ladies went to see him off."

"Disgusting!" I exclaimed, unable to control my feelings any longer. I saw Anna Sartorius malignantly smiling as she rocked herself in an American rocking-chair.

"How! disgusting? You are joking. He had dozens of bouquets. All the girls are in love with him. They compelled the photographer to sell them his photograph, and they all believe he is in love with them. I believe Luise Breidenstein will die if he doesn't propose to her."

"They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

"But he is so handsome, so delightful. He dances divinely, and knows such good riddles, and acts—ach, himmlisch!"

"But how absurd to make such a fuss of him!" I cried, hot and indignant. "The idea of going on so about a man!"

A chorus, a shriek, a Babel of expostulations.

"Listen, Thekla! Fraeulein Wedderburn does not know Lieutenant Pieper, and does not think it right to schwaerm for him."

"The darling! No one can help it who knows him!" said another.

"Let her wait till she does know him," said Thekla, a sentimental young woman, pretty in a certain sentimental way, and graceful too—also sentimentally—with the sentiment that lingers about young ladies' albums with leaves of smooth, various-hued note-paper, and about the sonnets which nestle within the same. There was a sudden shriek:

"There he goes! There is the Herr Lieutenant riding by. Just come here, mein Fraeulein! See him! Judge for yourself!"

A strong hand dragged me, whether I would or not, to the window, and pointed out to me the Herr Lieutenant riding by. An adorable creature in a Hussar uniform; he had pink cheeks and a straight nose, and the loveliest little model of a mustache ever seen; tightly curling black hair, and the dearest little feet and hands imaginable.

"Oh, the dear, handsome, delightful follow!" cried one enthusiastic young creature, who had scrambled upon a chair in the background and was gazing after him while another, behind me, murmured in tones of emotion:

"Look how he salutes—divine, isn't it?"

I turned away, smiling an irrepressible smile. My musician, with his ample traits and clear, bold eyes, would have looked a wild, rough, untamable creature by the side of that wax-doll beauty—that pretty little being who had just ridden by. I thought I saw them side by side—Herr Lieutenant Pieper and Eugen Courvoisier. The latter would have been as much more imposing than the former as an oak is more imposing than a spruce fir—as Gluck than Lortzing. And could these enthusiastic young ladies have viewed the two they would have been true to their lieutenant; so much was certain. They would have said that the other was a wild man, who did not cut his hair often enough, who had large hands, whose collar was perhaps chosen more with a view to ease and the free movement of the throat than to the smallest number of inches within which it was possible to confine that throat; who did not wear polished kid boots, and was not seen off from the station by twenty devoted admirers of the opposite sex, was not deluged with bouquets. With a feeling as of something singing at my heart I went back to my place, smiling still.

"See! she is quite charmed with the Herr Lieutenant! Is he not delightful?"

"Oh, very; so is a Dresden china shepherd, but if you let him fall he breaks."

"Wie komisch! how odd!" was the universal comment upon my eccentricity. The conversation had wandered off to other military stars, all of whom were reizend, huebsch, or nett. So it went on until I got heartily tired of it, and then the ladies discussed their female neighbors, but I leave that branch of the subject to the intelligent reader. It was the old tune with the old variations, which were rattled over in the accustomed manner. I listened, half curious, half appalled, and thought of various speeches made by Anna Sartorius. Whether she were amiable or not, she had certainly a keen insight into the hearts and motives of her fellow-creatures. Perhaps the gift had soured her.

Anna and I walked home alone. Frau Steinmann was, with other elderly ladies of the company, to spend the evening there. As we walked down the Koenigsallee—how well to this day do I remember it! the chestnuts were beginning to fade, the road was dusty, the sun setting gloriously, the people thronging in crowds—she said suddenly, quietly, and in a tone of the utmost composure:

"So you don't admire Lieutenant Pieper so much as Herr Courvoisier?"

"What do you mean?" I cried, astonished, alarmed, and wondering what unlucky chance led her to talk to me of Eugen.

"I mean what I say; and for my part I agree with you—partly. Courvoisier, bad though he may be, is a man; the other a mixture of doll and puppy."

She spoke in a friendly tone; discursive, as if inviting confidence and comment on my part. I was not inclined to give either. I shrunk with morbid nervousness from owning to any knowledge of Eugen. My pride, nay, my very self-esteem, bled whenever I thought of him or heard him mentioned. Above all, I shrunk from the idea of discussing him, or anything pertaining to him, with Anna Sartorius.

"It will be time for you to agree with me when I give you anything to agree about," said I, coldly. "I know nothing of either of the gentlemen, and wish to know nothing."

There was a pause. Looking up, I found Anna's eyes fixed upon my face, amazed, reproachful. I felt myself blushing fierily. My tongue had led me astray; I had lied to her: I knew it.

"Do not say you know nothing of either of the gentlemen. Herr Courvoisier was your first acquaintance in Elberthal."

"What?" I cried, with a great leap of the heart, for I felt as if a veil had suddenly been rent away from before my eyes and I shown a precipice.

"I saw you arrive with Herr Courvoisier," said Anna, calmly; "at least, I saw you come from the platform with him, and he put you into a drosky. And I saw you cut him at the opera; and I saw you go into his house after the general probe. Will you tell me again that you know nothing of him? I should have thought you too proud to tell lies."

"I wish you would mind your own business," said I, heartily wishing that Anna Sartorius were at the antipodes.

"Listen!" said she, very earnestly, and, I remember it now, though I did not heed it then, with wistful kindness. "I do not bear malice—you are so young and inexperienced. I wish you were more friendly, but I care for you too much to be rebuffed by a trifle. I will tell you about Courvoisier."

"Thank you," said I, hastily, "I beg you will do no such thing."

"I know his story. I can tell you the truth about him."

"I decline to discuss the subject," said I, thinking of Eugen, and passionately refusing the idea of discussing him, gossiping about him, with any one.

Anna looked surprised; then a look of anger crossed her face.

"You can not be in earnest," said she.

"I assure you I am. I wish you would leave me alone," I said, exasperated beyond endurance.

"You don't wish to know what I can tell you about him?"

"No, I don't. What is more, if you begin talking to me about him, I will put my fingers in my ears, and leave you."

"Then you may learn it for yourself," said she, suddenly, in a voice little more than a whisper. "You shall rue your treatment of me. And when you know the lesson by heart, then you will be sorry."

"You are officious and impertinent," said I, white with ire. "I don't wish for your society, and I will say good-evening to you."

With that I turned down a side street leading into the Alleestrasse, and left her.


"So! Another chapter read; with doubtful hand I turn the page, with doubtful eye I scan The heading of the next."

From that evening Anna let me alone, as I thought, and I was glad of it, nor did I attempt any reconciliation, for the very good reason that I wished for none.

Soon after our dispute I found upon my plate at breakfast, one morning, a letter directed in a bold though unformed hand, which I recognized as Stella's:

"DEAR MAY,—I dare say Adelaide will be writing to you, but I will take time by the forelock, so to speak, and give you my views on the subject first.

"There is news, strange to say that there is some news to tell you. I shall give it without making any remarks. I shall not say whether I think it good, bad, or indifferent. Adelaide is engaged to Sir Peter Le Marchant. It was only made known two days ago. Adelaide thinks he is in love with her. What a strange mistake for her to make! She thinks she can do anything with him. Also a monstrous misapprehension on her part. Seriously, May, I am rather uncomfortable about it, or should be, if it were any one else but Adelaide. But she knows so remarkably well what she is about, that perhaps, after all, my fears are needless. And yet—but it is no use speculating about it—I said I wouldn't.

"She is a queer girl. I don't know how she can marry Sir Peter, I must say. I suppose he is awfully rich, and Adelaide has always said that poverty was the most horrible thing in the world. I don't know, I'm sure. I should be inclined to say that Sir Peter was the most horrible thing in the world. Write soon, and tell me what you think about it.

"Thine, speculatively, "STELLA WEDDERBURN."

I did not feel surprise at this letter. Foreboding, grief, shame, I did experience at finding that Adelaide was bent upon her own misery. But then, I reflected, she can not be very sensible to misery, or she would not be able to go through with such a purpose. I went upstairs to communicate this news to Miss Hallam. Soon the rapid movement of events in my own affairs completely drove thoughts of Adelaide for a time, at least, out of my mind.

Miss Hallam received the information quietly and with a certain contemptuous indifference. I knew she did not like Adelaide, and I spoke of her as seldom as possible.

I took up some work, glancing at the clock, for I expected von Francius soon to give me my lesson, and Miss Hallam sat still. I had offered to read to her, and she had declined. I glanced at her now and then. I had grown accustomed to that sarcastic, wrinkled, bitter face, and did not dislike it. Indeed, Miss Hallam had given me abundant proofs that, eccentric though she might be, pessimist in theory, merciless upon human nature, which she spoke of in a manner which sometimes absolutely appalled me, yet in fact, in deed, she was a warm-hearted, generous woman. She had dealt bountifully by me, and I knew she loved me, though she never said so.

"May," she presently remarked, "yesterday, when you were out, I saw Doctor Mittendorf."

"Did you, Miss Hallam?"

"Yes. He says it is useless my remaining here any longer. I shall never see, and an operation might cost me my life!"

Half-stunned, and not yet quite taking in the whole case, I held my work suspended, and looked at her. She went on:

"I knew it would be so when I came. I don't intend to try any more experiments. I shall go home next week."

Now I grasped the truth.

"Go home, Miss Hallam!" I repeated, faintly.

"Yes, of course. There is no reason why I should stay, is there?"

"N—no, I suppose not," I admitted; and contrived to stammer out, "and I am very sorry that Doctor Mittendorf thinks you will not be better."

Then I left the room quickly—I could not stay, I was overwhelmed. It was scarcely ten minutes since I had come upstairs to her. I could have thought it was a week.

Outside the room, I stood on the landing with my hand pressed to my forehead, for I felt somewhat bewildered. Stella's letter was still in my hand. As I stood there Anna Sartorius came past.

"Guten Tag, Fraeulein," said she, with a mocking kind of good-nature when she had observed me for a few minutes. "What is the matter? Are you ill? Have you had bad news?"

"Good-morning, Fraeulein," I answered, quietly enough, dropping my hand from my brow.

I went to my room. A maid was there, and the furniture might have stood as a type of chaos. I turned away, and went to the empty room, in which my piano stood, and where I had my music lessons. I sat down upon a stool in the middle of the room, folded my hands in my lap, and endeavored to realize what had happened—what was going to happen. There rang in my head nothing but the words, "I am going home next week."

Home again! What a blank yawned before me at the idea! Leave Elberthal—leave this new life which had just begun to grow real to me! Leave it—go away; be whirled rapidly away back to Skernford—away from this vivid life, away from—Eugen. I drew a long breath, as the wretched, ignominious idea intruded itself, and I knew now what it was that gave terror to the prospect before me. My heart quailed and fainted at the bare idea of such a thing. Not even Hobson's choice was open to me. There was no alternative—I must go. I sat still, and felt myself growing gradually stiller and graver and colder as I looked mentally to every side of my horizon, and found it so bounded—myself shut in so fast.

There was nothing for it but to return home, and spend the rest of my life at Skernford. I was in a mood in which I could smile. I smiled at the idea of myself growing older and older, and this six weeks that I had spent fading back and back into the distance, and the people into whose lives I had a cursory glance going on their way, and soon forgetting my existence. Truly, Anna! if you were anxious for me to be miserable, this moment, could you know it, should be sweet to you!

My hands clasped themselves more closely upon my lap, and I sat staring at nothing, vaguely, until a shadow before me caused me to look up. Without knowing it, von Francius had come in, and was standing by, looking at me.

"Good-morning!" said I, with a vast effort, partially collecting my scattered thoughts.

"Are you ready for your lesson, mein Fraeulein?"

"N—no. I think, Herr Direktor, I will not take any lesson to-day, if you will excuse it."

"But why? Are you ill?"

"No," said I. "At least—perhaps I want to accustom myself to do without music lessons."


"Yes, and without many other pleasant things," said I, wryly and decidedly.

"I do not understand," said he, putting his hat down, and leaning one elbow upon the piano, while his deep eyes fixed themselves upon my face, and, as usual, began to compel my secrets from me.

"I am going home," said I.

A quick look of feeling—whether astonishment, regret, or dismay, I should not like to have said—flashed across his face.

"Have you had bad news?"

"Yes, very. Miss Hallam returns to England next week."

"But why do you go? Why not remain here?"

"Gladly, if I had any money," I said, with a dry smile. "But I have none, and can not get any."

"You will return to England now? Do you know what you are giving up?"

"Obligation has no choice," said I, gracefully. "I would give anything if I could stay here, and not go home again." And with that I burst into tears. I covered my face with my hands, and all the pent-up grief and pain of the coming parting streamed from my eyes. I wept uncontrollably.

He did not interrupt my tears for some time. When he did speak, it was in a very gentle voice.

"Miss Wedderburn, will you try to compose yourself, and listen to something I have to say?"

I looked up. I saw his eyes fixed seriously and kindly upon me with an expression quite apart from their usual indifferent coolness—with the look of one friend to another—with such a look as I had seen and have since seen exchanged between Courvoisier and his friend Helfen.

"See," said he, "I take an interest in you, Fraeulein May. Why should I hesitate to say so? You are young—you do not know the extent of your own strength, or of your own weakness. I do. I will not flatter—it is not my way—as I think you know."

I smiled. I remembered the plentiful blame and the scant praise which it had often fallen to my lot to receive from him.

"I am a strict, sarcastic, disagreeable old pedagogue, as you and so many of my other fair pupils consider," he went on, and I looked up in amaze. I knew that so many of his "fair pupils" considered him exactly the reverse.

"It is my business to know whether a voice is good for anything or not. Now yours, with training, will be good for a great deal. Have you the means, or the chance, or the possibility of getting that training in England?"


"I should like to help you, partly from the regard I have for you, partly for my own sake, because I think you would do me credit."

He paused. I was looking at him with all my senses concentrated upon what he had said. He had been talking round the subject until he saw that he had fairly fixed my attention; then he said, sharply and rapidly:

"Fraeulein, it lies with you to choose. Will you go home and stagnate there, or will you remain here, fight down your difficulties, and become a worthy artist?"

"Can there be any question as to which I should like to do?" said I, distracted at the idea of having to give up the prospect he held out. "But it is impossible. Miss Hallam alone can decide."

"But if Miss Hallam consented, you would remain?"

"Oh! Herr von Francius! You should soon see whether I would remain!"

"Also! Miss Hallam shall consent. Now to our singing!"

I stood up. A singular apathy had come over me; I felt no longer my old self. I had a kind of confidence in von Francius, and yet—Despite my recent trouble, I felt now a lightness and freedom, and a perfect ability to cast aside all anxieties, and turn to the business of the moment—my singing. I had never sung better. Von Francius condescended to say that I had done well. Then he rose.

"Now I am going to have a private interview with Miss Hallam," said he, smiling. "I am always having private interviews with her, nicht wahr? Nay, Fraeulein May, do not let your eyes fill with tears. Have confidence in yourself and your destiny, as I have."

With that he was gone, leaving me to practice. How very kind von Francius was to me! I thought—not in the least the kind of man people called him. I had great confidence in him—in his will. I almost believed that he would know the right thing to say to Miss Hallam to get her to let me stay; but then, suppose she were willing, I had no possible means of support. Tired of conjecturing upon a subject upon which I was so utterly in the dark, I soon ceased that foolish pursuit. An hour had passed, when I heard von Francius' step, which I knew quite well, come down the stairs. My heart beat, but I could not move.

Would he pass, or would he come and speak to me? He paused. His hand was on the lock. That was he standing before me, with a slight smile. He did not look like a man defeated—but then, could he look like a man defeated? My idea of him was that he held his own way calmly, and that circumstances respectfully bowed to him.

"The day is gained," said he, and paused; but before I could speak he went on: "Go to Miss Hallam; be kind to her. It is hard for her to part from you, and she has behaved like a Spartan. I felt quite sorry to have to give her so much pain."

Much wondering what could have passed between them, I left von Francius silently and sought Miss Hallam.

"Are you there, May?" said she. "What have you been doing all the morning?"

"Practicing—and having my lesson."

"Practicing—and having your lesson—exactly what I have been doing. Practicing giving up my own wishes, and taking a lesson in the act of persuasion, by being myself persuaded. Your singing-master is a wonderful man. He has made me act against my principles."

"Miss Hallam—"

"You were in great trouble this morning when you heard you were to leave Elberthal. I knew it instantly. However, you shall not go unless you choose. You shall stay."

Wondering, I held my tongue.

"Herr von Francius has showed me my duty."

"Miss Hallam," said I, suddenly, "I will do whatever you wish. After your kindness to me, you have the right to dispose of my doings. I shall be glad to do as you wish."

"Well," said she, composedly, "I wish you to write a letter to your parents, which I will dictate; of course they must be consulted. Then, if they consent, I intend to provide you with the means of carrying on your studies in Elberthal under Herr von Francius."

I almost gasped. Miss Hallam, who had been a by-word in Skernford, and in our own family, for eccentricity and stinginess, was indeed heaping coals of fire upon my head. I tried, weakly and ineffectually, to express my gratitude to her, and at last said:

"You may trust me never to abuse your kindness, Miss Hallam."

"I have trusted you ever since you refused Sir Peter Le Marchant, and were ready to leave your home to get rid of him," said she, with grim humor.

She then told me that she had settled everything with von Francius, even that I was to remove to different lodgings, more suited for a solitary student than Frau Steinmann's busy house.

"And," she added, "I shall ask Doctor Mittendorf to have an eye to you now and then, and to write to me of how you go on."

I could not find many words in which to thank her. The feeling that I was not going, did not need to leave it all, filled my heart with a happiness as deep as it was unfounded and unreasonable.

At my next lesson von Francius spoke to me of the future.

"I want you to be a real student—no play one," said he, "or you will never succeed. And for that reason I told Miss Hallam that you had better leave this house. There are too many distractions. I am going to put you in a very different place."

"Where? In which part of the town?"

"Wehrhahn, 39, is the address," said he.

I was not quite sure where that was, but did not ask further, for I was occupied in helping Miss Hallam, and wished to be with her as much as I could before she left.

The day of parting came, as come it must. Miss Hallam was gone. I had cried, and she had maintained the grim silence which was her only way of expressing emotion.

She was going back home to Skernford, to blindness, now known to be inevitable, to her saddened, joyless life. I was going to remain in Elberthal—for what? When I look back I ask myself—was I not as blind as she, in truth? In the afternoon of the day of Miss Hallam's departure, I left Frau Steinmann's house. Clara promised to come and see me sometimes. Frau Steinmann kissed me, and called me liebes Kind. I got into the cab and directed the driver to go to Wehrhahn, 39. He drove me along one or two streets into the one known as the Schadowstrasse, a long, wide street, in which stood the Tonhalle. A little past that building, round a corner, and he stopped, on the same side of the road.

"Not here!" said I, putting my head out of the window when I saw the window of the curiosity shop exactly opposite. "Not here!"

"Wehrhahn, 39, Fraeulein?"


"This is it."

I stared around. Yes—on the wall stood in plainly to be read white letters, "Wehrhahn," and on the door of the house, 39. Yielding to a conviction that it was to be, I murmured "Kismet," and descended from my chariot. The woman of the house received me civilly. "The young lady for whom the Herr Direktor had taken lodgings? Schon! Please to come this way, Fraeulein. The room was on the third etage." I followed her upstairs—steep, dark, narrow stairs, like those of the opposite house. The room was a bare-looking, tolerably large one. There was a little closet of a bedroom opening from it—a scrap of carpet upon the floor, and open windows letting in the air. The woman chatted good-naturedly enough.

"So! I hope the room will suit, Fraeulein. It is truly not to be called richly furnished, but one doesn't need that when one is a Sing-student. I have had many in my time—ladies and gentlemen too—pupils of Herr von Francius often. Na! what if they did make a great noise? I have no children—thank the good God! and one gets used to the screaming just as one gets used to everything else." Here she called me to the window.

"You might have worse prospects than this, Fraeulein, and worse neighbors than those over the way. See! there is the old furniture shop where so many of the Herren Maler go, and then there there is Herr Duntze, the landscape painter, and Herr Knoop who paints Genrebilder and does not make much by it—so a picture of a child with a raveled skein of wool, or a little girl making ear-rings for herself with bunches of cherries—for my part I don't see much in them, and wonder that there are people who will lay down good hard thalers for them. Then there is Herr Courvoisier, the musiker—but perhaps you know who he is."

"Yes," I assented.

"And his little son!" Here she threw up her hands. "Ach! the poor man! There are people who speak against him, and every one knows he and the Herr Direktor are not the best friends, but sehn Sie wohl, Fraeulein, the Herr Direktor is well off, settled, provided for; Herr Courvoisier has his way to make yet, and the world before him; and what sort of a story it may be with the child, I don't know, but this I will say, let those dare to doubt it or question it who will, he is a good father—I know it. And the other young man with Herr Courvoisier—his friend, I suppose—he is a musiker too. I hear them practicing a good deal sometimes—things without any air or tune to them; for my part I wonder how they can go on with it. Give me a good song with a tune in it—'Drunten im Unterland,' or 'In Berlin, sagt er,' or something one knows. Na! I suppose the fiddling all lies in the way of business, and perhaps they can fall asleep over it sometimes, as I do now and then over my knitting, when I'm weary. The young man, Herr Courvoisier's friend, looked ill when they first came; even now he is not to call a robust-looking person—but formerly he looked as if he would go out of the fugue altogether. Entschuldigen, Fraeulein, if I use a few professional proverbs. My husband, the sainted man! was a piano-tuner by calling, and I have picked up some of his musical expressions and use them, more for his sake than any other reason—for I have heard too much music to believe in it so much as ignorant people do. Nun! I will send Fraeulein her box up, and then I hope she will feel comfortable and at home, and send for whatever she wants."

In a few moments my luggage had come upstairs, and when they who brought it had finally disappeared, I went to the window again and looked out. Opposite, on the same etage, were two windows, corresponding to my two, wide open, letting me see into an empty room, in which there seemed to be books and many sheets of white paper, a music-desk and a vase of flowers. I also saw a piano in the clare-obscure, and another door, half open, leading into the inner room. All the inhabitants of the rooms were out. No tone came across to me—no movement of life. But the influence of the absent ones was there. Strange concourse of circumstances which had placed me as the opposite neighbor, in the same profession too, of Eugen Courvoisier! Pure chance it certainly was, for von Francius had certainly had no motive in bringing me hither.

"Kismet!" I murmured once again, and wondered what the future would bring.


"He looks his angel in the face Without a blush: nor heeds disgrace, Whom naught disgraceful done Disgraces. Who knows nothing base Fears nothing known."

It was noon. The probe to "Tannhauser" was over, and we, the members of the kapelle, turned out, and stood in a knot around the orchestra entrance to the Elberthal Theater.

It was a raw October noontide. The last traces of the by-gone summer were being swept away by equinoctial gales, which whirled the remaining yellowing leaves from the trees, and strewed with them the walks of the deserted Hofgarten; a stormy gray sky promised rain at the earliest opportunity; our Rhine went gliding by like a stream of ruffled lead.

"Proper theater weather," observed one of my fellow-musicians; "but it doesn't seem to suit you, Friedhelm. What makes you look so down?"

I shrugged my shoulders. Existence was not at that time very pleasant to me; my life's hues were somewhat of the color of the autumn skies and of the dull river. I scarcely knew why I stood with the others now; it was more a mechanical pause before I took my spiritless way home, than because I felt any interest in what was going on.

"I should say he will be younger by a long way than old Kohler," observed Karl Linders, one of the violoncellists, a young man with an unfailing flow of good nature, good spirits, and eagerness to enjoy every pleasure which came in his way, which qualities were the objects of my deep wonder and mild envy. "And they say," he continued, "that he's coming to-night; so Friedhelm, my boy, you may look out. Your master's on the way."

"So!" said I, lending but an indifferent attention; "what is his name?"

"That's his way of gently intimating that he hasn't got no master," said Karl, jocosely, but the general answer to my question was, "I don't know."

"But they say," said a tall man who wore spectacles and sat behind me in the first violins—"they say that von Francius doesn't like the appointment. He wanted some one else, but Die Direktion managed to beat him. He dislikes the new fellow beforehand, whatever he may be."

"So! Then he will have a roughish time of it!" agreed one or two others.

The "he" of whom they spoke was the coming man who should take the place of the leader of the first violins—it followed that he would be at least an excellent performer—possibly a clever man in many other ways, for the post was in many ways a good one. Our kapelle was no mean one—in our own estimation at any rate. Our late first violinist, who had recently died, had been on visiting terms with persons of the highest respectability, had given lessons to the very best families, and might have been seen bowing to young ladies and important dowagers almost any day. No wonder his successor was speculated about with some curiosity.

"Alle Wetter!" cried Karl Linders, impatiently—that young man was much given to impatience—"what does von Francius want? He can't have everything. I suppose this new fellow plays a little too well for his taste. He will have to give him a solo now and then instead of keeping them all for himself."

"Weiss 's nit," said another, shrugging his shoulders, "I've only heard that von Francius had a row with the Direction, and was outvoted."

"What a sweet temper he will be in at the probe to-morrow!" laughed Karl. "Won't he give it to the Maedchen right and left!"

"What time is he coming?" proceeded one of the oboists.

"Don't know; know nothing about it; perhaps he'll appear in 'Tannhauser' to-night. Look out, Friedhelm."

"Here comes little Luischen," said Karl, with a winning smile, a straightening of his collar, and a general arming-for-conquest expression, as some of the "ladies of the chorus and ballet," appeared from the side door. "Isn't she pretty?" he went on, in an audible aside to me. "I've a crow to pluck with her too. Tag, Fraeulein!" he added, advancing to the young lady who had so struck him.

He was "struck" on an average once a week, every time with the most beautiful and charming of her sex. The others, with one or two exceptions, also turned. I said good-morning to Linders, who wished, with a noble generosity, to make me a partaker in his cheerful conversation with Fraeulein Luise of the first soprans, slipped from his grasp and took my way homeward. Fraeulein Luischen was no doubt very pretty, and in her way a companionable person. Unfortunately I never could appreciate that way. With every wish to accommodate myself to the only society with which fortune supplied me, it was but ill that I succeeded.

I, Friedhelm Helfen, was at that time a lonely, soured misanthrope of two-and-twenty. Let the announcement sound as absurd as it may, it is simply and absolutely true, I was literally alone in the world. My last relative had died and left me entirely without any one who could have even a theoretical reason for taking any interest in me. Gradually, during the last few months, I had fallen into evil places of thought and imagination. There had been a time before, as there has been a time since—as it is with me now—when I worshiped my art with all my strength as the most beautiful thing on earth; the art of arts—the most beautiful and perfect development of beauty which mankind has yet succeeded in attaining to, and when the very fact of its being so and of my being gifted with some poor power of expressing and interpreting that beauty was enough for me—gave me a place in the world with which I was satisfied, and made life understandable to me. At that time this belief—my natural and normal state—was clouded over; between me and the goddess of my idolatry had fallen a veil; I wasted my brain tissue in trying to philosophize—cracked my head, and almost my reason over the endless, unanswerable question, Cui bono? that question which may so easily become the destruction of the fool who once allows himself to be drawn into dallying with it. Cui bono? is a mental Delilah who will shear the locks of the most arrogant Samson. And into the arms and to the tender mercies of this Delilah I had given myself. I was in a fair way of being lost forever in her snares, which she sets for the feet of men. To what use all this toil? To what use—music? After by dint of hard twisting my thoughts and coping desperately with problems that I did not understand, having managed to extract a conviction that there was use in music—a use to beautify, gladden, and elevate—I began to ask myself further, "What is it to me whether mankind is elevated or not? made better or worse? higher or lower?"

Only one who has asked himself that question, as I did, in bitter earnest, and fairly faced the answer, can know the horror, the blackness, the emptiness of the abyss into which it gives one a glimpse. Blackness of darkness—no standpoint, no vantage-ground—it is a horror of horrors; it haunted me then day and night, and constituted itself not only my companion but my tyrant.

I was in bad health too. At night, when the joyless day was over, the work done, the play played out, the smell of the foot-lights and gas and the dust of the stage dispersed, a deadly weariness used to overcome me; an utter, tired, miserable apathy; and alone, surrounded by loneliness, I let my morbid thoughts carry me whither they would. It had gone so far that I had even begun to say to myself lately:

"Friedhelm Helfen, you are not wanted. On the other side this life is a nothingness so large that you will be as nothing in it. Launch yourself into it. The story that suicide is wrong and immoral is, like other things, to be taken with reservation. There is no absolute right and wrong. Suicide is sometimes the highest form of right and reason."

This mood was strong upon me on that particular day, and as I paced along the Schadowstrasse toward the Wehrhahn, where my lodging was, the very stones seemed to cry out, "The world is weary, and you are not wanted in it."

A heavy, cold, beating rain began to fall. I entered the room which served me as living- and sleeping-room. From habit I ate and drank at the same restauration as that frequented by my confreres of the orchestra. I leaned my elbows upon the table, and listened drearily to the beat of the rain upon the pane. Scattered sheets of music containing, some great, others little thoughts, lay around me. Lately it seemed as if the flavor was gone from them. The other night Beethoven himself had failed to move me, and I accepted it as a sign that all was over with me. In an hour it would be time to go out and seek dinner, if I made up my mind to have any dinner. Then there would be the afternoon—the dreary, wet afternoon, the tramp through the soaking streets, with the lamp-light shining into the pools of water, to the theater; the lights, the people, the weary round of painted ballet-girls, and accustomed voices and faces of audience and performers. The same number of bars to play, the same to leave unplayed; the whole dreary story, gone through so often before, to be gone through so often again.

The restauration did not see me that day; I remained in the house. There was to be a great concert in the course of a week or two; the "Tower of Babel" was to be given at it. I had the music. I practiced my part, and I remember being a little touched with the exquisite loveliness of one of the choruses, that sung by the "Children of Japhet" as they wander sadly away with their punishment upon them into the Waldeinsamkeit (that lovely and untranslatable word) one of the purest and most pathetic melodies ever composed.

It was dark that afternoon. I had not stirred from my hole since coming in from the probe—had neither eaten nor drunk, and was in full possession of the uninterrupted solitude coveted by busy men. Once I thought that it would have been pleasant if some one had known and cared for me well enough to run up the stairs, put his head into the room, and talk to me about his affairs.

To the sound of gustily blowing wind and rain beating on the pane, the afternoon hours dragged slowly by, and the world went on outside and around me until about five o'clock. Then there came a knock at my door, an occurrence so unprecedented that I sat and stared at the said door instead of speaking, as if Edgar Poe's raven had put in a sudden appearance and begun to croak its "never-more" at me.

The door was opened. A dreadful, dirty-looking young woman, a servant of the house, stood in the door-way.

"What do you want?" I inquired.

A gentleman wished to speak to me.

"Bring him in then," said I, somewhat testily.

She turned and requested some one to come forward. There entered a tall and stately man, with one of those rare faces, beautiful in feature, bright in expression, which one meets sometimes, and, having once seen, never forgets. He carried what I took at first for a bundle done up in a dark-green plaid, but as I stood up and looked at him I perceived that the plaid was wrapped round a child. Lost in astonishment, I gazed at him in silence.

"I beg you will excuse my intruding upon you thus," said he, bowing, and I involuntarily returned his bow, wondering more and more what he could be. His accent was none of the Elberthal one; it was fine, refined, polished.

"How can I serve you?" I asked, impressed by his voice, manner, and appearance; agreeably impressed. A little masterful he looked—a little imperious, but not unapproachable, with nothing ungenial in his pride.

"You could serve me very much by giving me one or two pieces of information. In the first place let me introduce myself; you, I think, are Herr Helfen?" I bowed. "My name is Eugen Courvoisier. I am the new member of your staedtisches Orchester."

"O, was!" said I, within myself. "That our new first violin!"

"And this is my son," he added, looking down at the plaid bundle, which he held very carefully and tenderly. "If you will tell me at what time the opera begins, what it is to-night, and finally, if there is a room to be had, perhaps in this house, even for one night. I must find a nest for this Voegelein as soon as I possibly can."

"I believe the opera begins at seven," said I, still gazing at him in astonishment, with open mouth and incredulous eyes. Our orchestra contained among its sufficiently varied specimens of nationality and appearance nothing in the very least like this man, beside whom I felt myself blundering, clumsy, and unpolished. It was not mere natural grace of manner. He had that, but it had been cultivated somewhere, and cultivated highly.

"Yes?" he said.

"At seven—yes. It is 'Tannhauser' to-night. And the rooms—I believe they have rooms in the house."

"Ah, then I will inquire about it," said he, with an exceedingly open and delightful smile. "I thank you for telling me. Adieu, mein Herr."

"Is he asleep?" I asked, abruptly, and pointing to the bundle.

"Yes; armes Kerlchen! just now he is," said the young man.

He was quite young, I saw. In that half light I supposed him even younger than he really was. He looked down at the bundle again and smiled.

"I should like to see him," said I, politely and gracefully, seized by an impulse of which I felt ashamed, but which I yet could not resist.

With that I stepped forward and came to examine the bundle. He moved the plaid a little aside and showed me a child—a very young, small, helpless child, with closed eyes, immensely long, black, curving lashes, and fine, delicate black brows. The small face was flushed, but even in sleep this child looked melancholy. Yet he was a lovely child—most beautiful and most pathetic to see.

I looked at the small face in silence, and a great desire came upon me to look at it oftener—to see it again, then up at that of the father. How unlike the two faces! Now that I fairly looked at the man I found he was different from what I had thought; older, sparer, with more sharply cut features. I could not tell what the child's eyes might be—those of the father were piercing as an eagle's; clear, open, strange. There was sorrow in the face, I saw, as I looked so earnestly into it; and it was worn as if with a keen inner life. This glance was one of those which penetrate deep, not the glance of a moment, but a revelation for life.

"He is very beautiful," said I.

"Nicht wahr?" said the other, softly.

"Look here," I added, going to a sofa which was strewn with papers, books, and other paraphernalia; "couldn't we put him here, and then go and see about the rooms? Such a young, tender child must not be carried about the passages, and the house is full of draughts."

I do not know what had so suddenly supplied me with this wisdom as to what was good for a "young, tender child," nor can I account for the sudden deep interest which possessed me. I dashed the things off the sofa, beat the dust from it, desired him to wait one moment while I rushed to my bed to ravish it of its pillow. Then with the sight of the bed (I was buying my experience) I knew that that, and not the sofa, was the place for the child, and said so.

"Put him here, do put him here!" I besought, earnestly. "He will sleep for a time here, won't he?"

"You are very good," said my visitor, hesitating a moment.

"Put him there!" said I, flushed with excitement, and with the hitherto unknown joy of being able to offer hospitality.

Courvoisier looked meditatively at me for a short time then laid the child upon the bed, and arranged the plaid around it as skillfully and as quickly as a woman would have done it.

"How clever he must be," I thought, looking at him with awe, and with little less awe contemplating the motionless child.

"Wouldn't you like something to put over him?" I asked, looking excitedly about. "I have an overcoat. I'll lend it you." And I was rushing off to fetch it, but he laughingly laid his hand upon my arm.

"Let him alone," said he; "he's all right."

"He won't fall off, will he?" I asked, anxiously.

"No; don't be alarmed. Now, if you will be so good, we will see about the rooms."

"Dare you leave him?" I asked, still with anxiety, and looking back as we went toward the door.

"I dare because I must," replied he.

He closed the door, and we went down-stairs to seek the persons in authority. Courvoisier related his business and condition, and asked to see rooms. The woman hesitated when she heard there was a child.

"The child will never trouble you, madame," said he, quietly, but rather as if the patience of his look were forced.

"No, never!" I added, fervently. "I will answer for that, Frau Schmidt."

A quick glance, half gratitude, half amusement, shot from his eyes as the woman went on to say that she only took gentlemen lodgers, and could not do with ladies, children, and nurse-maids. They wanted so much attending to, and she did not profess to open her house to them.

"You will not be troubled with either lady or nurse-maid," said he. "I take charge of the child myself. You will not know that he is in the house."

"But your wife—" she began.

"There will be no one but myself and my little boy," he replied, ever politely, but ever, as it seemed, to me, with repressed pain or irritation.

"So!" said the woman, treating him to a long, curious, unsparing look of wonder and inquiry, which made me feel hot all over. He returned the glance quietly and unsmilingly. After a pause she said:

"Well, I suppose I must see about it, but it will be the first child I ever took into the house, in that way, and only as a favor to Herr Helfen."

I was greatly astonished, not having known before that I stood in such high esteem. Courvoisier threw me a smiling glance as we followed the woman up the stairs, up to the top of the house, where I lived. Throwing open a door, she said there were two rooms which must go together. Courvoisier shook his head.

"I do not want two rooms," said he, "or rather, I don't think I can afford them. What do you charge?"

She told him.

"If it were so much," said he, naming a smaller sum, "I could do it."

"Nie!" said the woman, curtly, "for that I can't do it. Um Gotteswillen! One must live."

She paused, reflecting, and I watched anxiously. She was going to refuse. My heart sunk. Rapidly reviewing my own circumstances and finances, and making a hasty calculation in my mind, I said:

"Why can't we arrange it? Here is a big room and a little room. Make the little room into a bedroom, and use the big room for a sitting-room. I will join at it, and so it will come within the price you wish to pay."

The woman's face cleared a little. She had listened with a clouded expression and her head on one side. Now she straightened herself, drew herself up, smoothed down her apron, and said:

"Yes, that lets itself be heard. If Herr Helfen agreed to that, she would like it."

"Oh, but I can't think of putting you to the extra expense," said Courvoisier.

"I should like it," said I. "I have often wished I had a little more room, but, like you, I couldn't afford the whole expense. We can have a piano, and the child can play there. Don't you see?" I added, with great earnestness and touching his arm. "It is a large airy room; he can run about there, and make as much noise as he likes."

He still seemed to hesitate.

"I can afford it," said I. "I've no one but myself, unluckily. If you don't object to my company, let us try it. We shall be neighbors in the orchestra."


"Why not at home too? I think it an excellent plan. Let us decide it so."

I was very urgent about it. An hour ago I could not have conceived anything which could make me so urgent and set my heart beating so.

"If I did not think it would inconvenience you," he began.

"Then it is settled?" said I. "Now let us go and see what kind of furniture there is in that big room."

Without allowing him to utter any further objection, I dragged him to the large room, and we surveyed it. The woman, who for some unaccountable reason appeared to have recovered her good-temper in a marvelous manner, said quite cheerfully that she would send the maid to make the smaller room ready as a bedroom for two. "One of us won't take much room," said Courvoisier with a laugh, to which she assented with a smile, and then left us. The big room was long, low, and rather dark. Beams were across the ceiling, and two not very large windows looked upon the street below, across to two similar windows of another lodging-house, a little to the left of which was the Tonhalle. The floor was carpetless, but clean; there was a big square table, and some chairs.

"There," said I, drawing Courvoisier to the window, and pointing across: "there is one scene of your future exertions, the Staedtische Tonhalle."

"So!" said he, turning away again from the window—it was as dark as ever outside—and looking round the room again. "This is a dull-looking place," he added, gazing around it.

"We'll soon make it different," said I, rubbing my hands and gazing round the room with avidity. "I have long wished to be able to inhabit this room. We must make it more cheerful, though, before the child comes to it. We'll have the stove lighted, and we'll knock up some shelves and we'll have a piano in, and the sofa from my room, nicht wahr? Oh, we'll make a place of it, I can tell you."

He looked at me as if struck with my enthusiasm, and I bustled about. We set to work to make the room habitable. He was out for a short time at the station and returned with the luggage which he had left there. While he was away I stole into my room and took a good look at my new treasure; he still slept peacefully and calmly on. We were deep in impromptu carpentering and contrivances for use and comfort, when it occurred to me to look at my watch.

"Five minutes to seven!" I almost yelled, dashing wildly into my room to wash my hands and get my violin. Courvoisier followed me. The child was awake. I felt a horrible sense of guilt as I saw it looking at me with great, soft, solemn, brown eyes, not in the least those of its father, but it did not move. I said apologetically that I feared I had awakened it.

"Oh, no! He's been awake for some time," said Courvoisier. The child saw him, and stretched out its arms toward him.

"Na! junger Taugenichts!" he said, taking it up and kissing it. "Thou must stay here till I come back. Wilt be happy till I come?"

The answer made by the mournful-looking child was a singular one. It put both tiny arms around the big man's neck, laid its face for a moment against his, and loosed him again. Neither word nor sound did it emit during the process. A feeling altogether new and astonishing overcame me. I turned hastily away, and as I picked up my violin-case, was amazed to find my eyes dim. My visitors were something unprecedented to me.

"You are not compelled to go to the theater to-night, you know, unless you like," I suggested, as we went down-stairs.

"Thanks, it is as well to begin at once."

On the lowest landing we met Frau Schmidt.

"Where are you going, mein Herren?" she demanded.

"To work, madame," he replied, lifting his cap with a courtesy which seemed to disarm her.

"But the child?" she demanded.

"Do not trouble yourself about him."

"Is he asleep?"

"Not just now. He is all right, though."

She gave us a look which meant volumes. I pulled Courvoisier out.

"Come along, do!" cried I. "She will keep you there for half an hour, and it is time now."

We rushed along the streets too rapidly to have time or breath to speak, and it was five minutes after the time when we scrambled into the orchestra, and found that the overture was already begun.

Though there is certainly not much time for observing one's fellows when one is helping in the overture to "Tannhauser," yet I saw the many curious and astonished glances which were cast toward our new member, glances of which he took no notice, simply because he apparently did not see them. He had the finest absence of self-consciousness that I ever saw.

The first act of the opera was over, and it fell to my share to make Courvoisier known to his fellow-musicians. I introduced him to the director, who was not von Francius, nor any friend of his. Then we retired to one of the small rooms on one side of the orchestra.

"Hundewetter!" said one of the men, shivering. "Have you traveled far to-day?" he inquired of Courvoisier, by way of opening the conversation.

"From Koeln only."

"Live there?"


The man continued his catechism, but in another direction.

"Are you a friend of Helfen's?"

"I rather think Helfen has been a friend to me," said Courvoisier, smiling.

"Have you found lodgings already?"


"So!" said his interlocutor, rather puzzled with the new arrival. I remember the scene well. Half a dozen of the men were standing in one corner of the room, smoking, drinking beer, and laughing over some not very brilliant joke; we three were a little apart. Courvoisier, stately and imposing-looking, and with that fine manner of his, politely answering his interrogator, a small, sharp-featured man, who looked up to him and rattled complacently away, while I sat upon the table among the fiddle-cases and beer-glasses, my foot on a chair, my chin in my hand, feeling my cheeks glow, and a strange sense of dizziness and weakness all over me, a lightness in my head which I could not understand. It had quite escaped me that I had neither eaten nor drunk since my breakfast at eight o'clock, on a cup of coffee and dry Broedchen, and it was now twelve hours later.

The pause was not a long one, and we returned to our places. But "Tannhauser" is not a short opera. As time went on my sensations of illness and faintness increased. During the second pause I remained in my place. Courvoisier presently came and sat beside me.

"I'm afraid you feel ill," said he.

I denied it. But though I struggled on to the end, yet at last a deadly faintness overcame me. As the curtain went down amid the applause, everything reeled around me. I heard the bustle of the others—of the audience going away. I myself could not move.

"Was ist denn mit ihm?" I heard Courvoisier say as he stooped over me.

"Is that Friedhelm Helfen?" asked Karl Linders, surveying me. "Potz blitz! he looks like a corpse! he's been at his old tricks again, starving himself. I expect he has touched nothing the whole day."

"Let's get him out and give him some brandy," said Courvoisier. "Lend him an arm, and I'll give him one on this side."

Together they hauled me down to the retiring-room.

"Ei! he wants a schnapps, or something of the kind," said Karl, who seemed to think the whole affair an excellent joke. "Look here, alter Narr!" he added; "you've been going without anything to eat, nicht?"

"I believe I have," I assented, feebly. "But I'm all right; I'll go home."

Rejecting Karl's pressing entreaties to join him at supper at his favorite Wirthschaft, we went home, purchasing our supper on the way. Courvoisier's first step was toward the place where he had left the child. He was gone.

"Verschwunden!" cried he, striding off to the sleeping-room, whither I followed him. The little lad had been undressed and put to bed in a small crib, and was sleeping serenely.

"That's Frau Schmidt, who can't do with children and nurse-maids," said I, laughing.

"It's very kind of her," said he, as he touched the child's cheek slightly with his little finger, and then, without another word, returned to the other room, and we sat down to our long-delayed supper.

"What on earth made you spend more than twelve hours without food?" he asked me, laying down his knife and fork, and looking at me.

"I'll tell you some time perhaps, not now," said I, for there had begun to dawn upon my mind, like a sun-ray, the idea that life held an interest for me—two interests—a friend and a child. To a miserable, lonely wretch like me, the idea was divine.


Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. We will grieve not—rather find Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which having been, must ever be. In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering! In the faith that looks through death— In years, that bring the philosophic mind. WORDSWORTH.

From that October afternoon I was a man saved from myself. Courvoisier had said, in answer to my earnest entreaties about joining housekeeping: "We will try—you may not like it, and if so, remember you are at liberty to withdraw when you will." The answer contented me, because I knew that I should not try to withdraw.

Our friendship progressed by such quiet, imperceptible degrees, each one knotting the past more closely and inextricably with the present, that I could by no means relate them if I wished it. But I do not wish it. I only know, and am content with it, that it has fallen to my lot to be blessed with that most precious of all earthly possessions, the "friend" that "sticketh closer than a brother." Our union has grown and remained not merely "fest und treu," but immovable, unshakable.

There was first the child. He was two years old; a strange, weird, silent child, very beautiful—as the son of his father could scarcely fail to be—but with a different kind of beauty. How still he was, and how patient! Not a fretful child, not given to crying or complaint; fond of resting in one place, with solemn, thoughtful eyes fixed, when his father was there, upon him; when his father was not there, upon the strip of sky which was to be seen, through the window above the house-tops.

The child's name was Sigmund; he displayed a friendly disposition toward me, indeed, he was passively friendly and—if one may say such a thing of a baby—courteous to all he came in contact with. He had inherited his father's polished manner; one saw that when he grew up he would be a "gentleman," in the finest outer sense of the word. His inner life he kept concealed from us. I believe he had some method of communicating his ideas to Eugen, even if he never spoke. Eugen never could conceal his own mood from the child; it knew—let him feign otherwise never so cunningly—exactly what he felt, glad or sad, or between the two, and no acting could deceive him. It was a strange, intensely interesting study to me; one to which I daily returned with fresh avidity. He would let me take him in my arms and talk to him; would sometimes, after looking at me long and earnestly, break into a smile—a strange, grave, sweet smile. Then I could do no otherwise than set him hastily down and look away, for so unearthly a smile I had never seen. He was, though fragile, not an unhealthy child; though so delicately formed, and intensely sensitive to nervous shocks, had nothing of the coward in him, as was proved to us in a thousand ways; shivered through and through his little frame at the sight of a certain picture to which he had taken a great antipathy, a picture which hung in the public gallery at the Tonhalle; he hated it, because of a certain evil-looking man portrayed in it; but when his father, taking his hand, said to him, "Go, Sigmund, and look at that man; I wish thee to look at him," went without turn or waver, and gazed long and earnestly at the low type, bestial visage portrayed to him. Eugen had trodden noiselessly behind him; I watched, and he watched, how his two little fists clinched themselves at his sides, while his gaze never wavered, never wandered, till at last Eugen, with a strange expression, caught him in his arms and half killed him with kisses.

"Mein liebling!" he murmured, as if utterly satisfied with him.

Courvoisier himself? There were a great many strong and positive qualities about this man, which in themselves would have set him somewhat apart from other men. Thus he had crotchety ideas about truth and honor, such as one might expect from so knightly looking a personage. It was Karl Linders, who, at a later period of our acquaintance, amused himself by chalking up, "Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter," beneath his name. His musical talent—or rather genius, it was more than talent—was at that time not one fifth part known to me, yet even what I saw excited my wonder. But these, and a long list of other active characteristics, all faded into insignificance before the towering passion of his existence—his love for his child. It was strange, it was touching, to see the bond between father and son. The child's thoughts and words, as told in his eyes and from his lips, formed the man's philosophy. I believe Eugen confided everything to his boy. His first thought in the morning, his last at night, was for der Kleine. His leisure was—I can not say "given up" to the boy—but it was always passed with him.

Courvoisier soon gained a reputation among our comrades for being a sham and a delusion. They said that to look at him one would suppose that no more genial, jovial fellow could exist—there was kindliness in his glance, bon camaraderie in his voice, a genial, open, human sympathetic kind of influence in his nature, and in all he did. "And yet," said Karl Linders to me, with gesticulation, "one never can get him to go anywhere. One may invite him, one may try to be friends with him, but, no! off he goes home! What does the fellow want at home? He behaves like a young miss of fifteen, whose governess won't let her mix with vulgar companions."

I laughed, despite myself, at this tirade of Karl. So that was how Eugen's behavior struck outsiders!

"And you are every bit as bad as he is, and as soft—he has made you so," went on Linders, vehemently. "It isn't right. You two ought to be leaders outside as well as in, but you walk yourselves away, and stay at home! At home, indeed! Let green goslings and grandfathers stay at home."

Indeed, Herr Linders was not a person who troubled home much; spending his time between morning and night between the theater and concert-room, restauration and verein.

"What do you do at home?" he asked, irately.

"That's our concern, mein lieber," said I, composedly, thinking of young Sigmund, whose existence was unknown except to our two selves, and laughing.

"Are you composing a symphony? or an opera buffa? You might tell a fellow."

I laughed again, and said we led a peaceable life, as honest citizens should; and added, laying my hand upon his shoulder, for I had more of a leaning toward Karl, scamp though he was, than to any of the others, "You might do worse than follow our example, old fellow."

"Bah!" said he, with unutterable contempt. "I'm a man; not a milksop. Besides, how do I know what your example is? You say you behave yourselves; but how am I to know it? I'll drop upon you unawares and catch you, some time. See if I don't."

The next evening, by a rare chance with us, was a free one—there was no opera and no concert; we had had probe that morning, and were at liberty to follow the devices and desires of our own hearts that evening.

These devices and desires led us straight home, followed by a sneering laugh from Herr Linders, which vastly amused me. The year was drawing to a close. Christmas was nigh; the weather was cold and unfriendly. Our stove was lighted; our lamp burned pleasantly on the table; our big room looked homely and charming by these evening lights. Master Sigmund was wide awake in honor of the occasion, and sat upon my knee while his father played the fiddle. I have not spoken of his playing before—it was, in its way, unique. It was not a violin that he played—it was a spirit that he invoked—and a strange answer it sometimes gave forth to his summons. To-night he had taken it up suddenly, and sat playing, without book, a strange melody which wrung my heart—full of minor cadences, with an infinite wail and weariness in it. I closed my eyes and listened. It was sad, but it was absorbing. When I opened my eyes again and looked down, I found that tears were running from Sigmund's eyes. He was sobbing quietly, his head against my breast.

"I say, Eugen! Look here!"

"Is he crying? Poor little chap! He'll have a good deal to go through before he has learned all his lessons," said Eugen, laying down his violin.

"What was that? I never heard it before."

"I have, often," said he, resting his chin upon his hand, "in the sound of streams—in the rush of a crowd—upon a mountain—yes, even alone with the woman I—" He broke off abruptly.

"But never on a violin before?" said I, significantly.

"No, never."

"Why don't you print some of those impromptus that you are always making?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. Ere I could pursue the question some one knocked at the door, and in answer to our herein! appeared a handsome, laughing face, and a head of wavy hair, which, with a tall, shapely figure, I recognized as those of Karl Linders.

"I told you fellows I'd hunt you up, and I always keep my word," said he, composedly. "You can't very well turn me out for calling upon you."

He advanced. Courvoisier rose, and with a courteous cordiality offered his hand and drew a chair up. Karl came forward, looking round, smiling and chuckling at the success of his experiment, and as he came opposite to me his eyes fell upon those of the child, who had raised his head and was staring gravely at him.

Never shall I forget the start—the look of amaze, almost of fear, which shot across the face of Herr Linders. Amazement would be a weak word in which to describe it. He stopped, stood stock-still in the middle of the room; his jaw fell—he gazed from one to the other of us in feeble astonishment, then said, in a whisper:

"Donnerwetter! A child!"

"Don't use bad language before the little innocent," said I, enjoying his confusion.

"Which of you does it belong to? Is it he or she?" he inquired in an awe-struck and alarmed manner.

"His name is Sigmund Courvoisier," said I, with difficulty preserving my gravity.

"Oh, indeed! I—I wasn't aware—" began Karl, looking at Eugen in such a peculiar manner—half respectful, half timid, half ashamed—that I could no longer contain my feelings, but burst into such a shout of laughter as I had not enjoyed for years. After a moment, Eugen joined in; we laughed peal after peal of laughter, while poor Karl stood feebly looking from one to the other of the company—speechless—crestfallen.

"I beg your pardon." he said, at last, "I won't intrude any longer. Good—"

He was making for the door, but Eugen made a dash after him, turned him round, and pushed him into a chair.

"Sit down, man," said he, stifling his laughter. "Sit down, man; do you think the poor little chap will hurt you?"

Karl cast a distrustful glance sideways at my nursling and spoke not.

"I'm glad to see you," pursued Eugen. "Why didn't you come before?"

At that Karl's lips began to twitch with a humorous smile; presently he too began to laugh, and seemed not to know how or when to stop.

"It beats all I ever saw or heard or dreamed of," said he, at last. "That's what brought you home in such a hurry every night. Let me congratulate you, Friedel! You make a first-rate nurse; when everything else fails I will give you a character as Kindermaedchen; clean, sober, industrious, and not given to running after young men." With which he roared again, and Sigmund surveyed him with a somewhat severe, though scarcely a disapproving, expression. Karl seated himself near him, and, though not yet venturing to address him, cast various glances of blandishment and persuasion upon him.

Half an hour passed thus, and a second knock was followed by the entrance of Frau Schmidt.

"Good evening, gentlemen," she remarked, in a tone which said unutterable things—scorn, contempt, pity—all finely blended into a withering sneer, as she cast her eyes around, and a slight but awful smile played about her lips. "Half past eight, and that blessed baby not in bed yet. I knew how it would be. And you all smoking, too—natuerlich! You ought to know better, Herr Courvoisier—you ought, at any rate," she added, scorn dropping into heart-piercing reproach. "Give him to me," she added, taking him from me, and apostrophizing him. "You poor, blessed lamb! Well for you that I'm here to look after you, that have had children of my own, and know a little about the sort of way that you ought to be brought up in."

Evident signs of uneasiness on Karl's part, as Frau Schmidt, with the same extraordinary contortion of the mouth—half smile, half sneer—brought Sigmund to his father, to say good-night. That process over, he was brought to me, and then, as if it were a matter which "understood itself," to Karl. Eugen and I, like family men, as we were, had gone through the ceremony with willing grace. Karl backed his chair a little, looked much alarmed, shot a queer glance at us, at the child, and then appealingly up into the woman's face. We, through our smoke, watched him.

"He looks so very—very—" he began.

"Come, come, mein Herr, what does that mean? Kiss the little angel, and be thankful you may. The innocent! You ought to be delighted," said she, standing with grenadier-like stiffness beside him.

"He won't bite you, Karl," I said, reassuringly. "He's quite harmless."

Thus encouraged, Herr Linders stooped forward and touched the cheek of the child with his lips; then, as if surprised, stroked it with his finger.

"Lieber Himmel! how soft! Like satin, or rose leaves!" he murmured, as the woman carried the child away, shut the door and disappeared.

"Does she tackle you in that way every night?" he inquired next.

"Every evening," said Eugen. "And I little dare open my lips before her. You would notice how quiet I kept. It's because I am afraid of her."

Frau Schmidt, who had at first objected so strongly to the advent of the child, was now devoted to it, and would have resented exceedingly the idea of allowing any one but herself to put it to bed, dress or undress it, or look after it in general. This state of things had crept on very gradually; she had never said how fond she was of the child, but put her kindness upon the ground that as a Christian woman she could not stand by and see it mishandled by a couple of men, and oh! the unutterable contempt upon the word "men." Under this disguise she attempted to cover the fact that she delighted to have it with her, to kiss it, fondle it, admire it, and "do for it." We knew now that no sooner had we left the house than the child would be brought down, and would never leave the care of Frau Schmidt until our return, or until he was in bed and asleep. She said he was a quiet child, and "did not give so much trouble." Indeed, the little fellow won a friend in whoever saw him. He had made another conquest to-night. Karl Linders, after puffing away for some time, inquired, with an affectation of indifference:

"How old is he—der kleine Bengel?"

"Two—a little more."

"Handsome little fellow!"

"Glad you think so."

"Sure of it. But I didn't know, Courvoisier—so sure as I live, I knew nothing about it!"

"I dare say not. Did I ever say you did?"

I saw that Karl wished to ask another question; one which had trembled upon my own lips many a time, but which I had never asked—which I knew that I never should ask. "The mother of that child—is she alive or dead? Why may we never hear one word of her? Why this silence, as of the grave? Was she your wife? Did you love her? Did she love you?"

Questions which could not fail to come to me, and about which my thoughts would hang for hours. I could imagine a woman being very deeply in love with Courvoisier. Whether he would love very deeply himself, whether love would form a mainspring of his life and actions, or whether it took only a secondary place—I speak of the love of woman—I could not guess. I could decide upon many points of his character. He was a good friend, a high-minded and a pure-minded man; his every-day life, the turn of his thoughts and conversation, showed me that as plainly as any great adventure could have done. That he was an ardent musician, an artist in the truest and deepest sense, of a quixotically generous and unselfish nature—all this I had already proved. That he loved his child with a love not short of passion was patent to me every day. But upon the past, silence so utter as I never before met with. Not a hint; not an allusion; not one syllable.

Little Sigmund was not yet two and a half. The story upon which his father maintained so deep a silence was not, could not, be a very old one. His behavior gave me no clew as to whether it had been a joyful or a sorrowful one. Mere silence could tell me nothing. Some men are silent about their griefs; some about their joys. I knew not in which direction his disposition lay.

I saw Karl look at him that evening once or twice, and I trembled lest the blundering, good-natured fellow should make the mistake of asking some question. But he did not; I need not have feared. People were not in the habit of putting obtrusive questions to Eugen Courvoisier. The danger was somehow quietly tided over, the delicate ground avoided.

The conversation wandered quietly off to commonplace topics—the state of the orchestra; tales of its doings; the tempers of our different conductors—Malperg of the opera; Woelff of the ordinary concerts, which took place two or three times a week, when we fiddled and the public ate, drank, and listened; lastly, von Francius, koeniglicher Musik-direktor.

Karl Linders gave his opinion freely upon the men in authority. He had nothing to do with them, nothing to hope or fear from them; he filled a quiet place among the violoncellists, and had attained his twenty-eighth year without displaying any violent talent or tendency to distinguish himself, otherwise than by getting as much mirth out of life as possible and living in a perpetual state of "carlesse contente."

He desired to know what Courvoisier thought of von Francius; for curiosity—the fault of those idle persons who afterward develop into busybodies—was already beginning to leave its traces on Herr Linders. It was less known than guessed that the state of things between Courvoisier and von Francius was less peace than armed neutrality. The intense politeness of von Francius to his first violinist, and the punctilious ceremoniousness of the latter toward his chief, were topics of speculation and amusement to the whole orchestra.

"I think von Francius would be a fiend if he could," said Karl, comfortably. "I wouldn't stand it if he spoke to me as he speaks to some people."

"Oh, they like it!" said Courvoisier; and Karl stared. "Girls don't object to a little bullying; anything rather than be left quite alone," Courvoisier went on, tranquilly.

"Girls!" ejaculated Karl.

"You mean the young ladies in the chorus, don't you?" asked Courvoisier, unmovedly. "He does bully them, I don't deny; but they come back again."

"Oh, I see!" said Karl, accepting the rebuff.

He had not referred to the young ladies of the chorus.

"Have you heard von Francius play?" he began next.


"What do you think of it?"

"I think it is superb!" said Courvoisier.

Baffled again, Karl was silent.

"The power and the daring of it are grand," went on Eugen, heartily. "I could listen to him for hours. To see him seat himself before the piano, as if he were sitting down to read a newspaper, and do what he does, without moving a muscle, is simply superb—there's no other word. Other men may play the piano; he takes the key-board and plays with it, and it says what he likes."

I looked at him, and was satisfied. He found the same want in von Francius' "superb" manipulation that I did—the glitter of a diamond, not the glow of a fire.

Karl had not the subtlety to retort, "Ay, but does it say what we like?" He subsided again, merely giving a meek assent to the proposition, and saying, suggestively:

"He's not liked, though he is such a popular fellow."

"The public is often a great fool."

"Well, but you can't expect it to kiss the hand that slaps it in the face, as von Francius does," said Karl, driven to metaphor, probably for the first time in his life, and seeming astonished at having discovered a hitherto unknown mental property pertaining to himself.

Courvoisier laughed.

"I'm certain of one thing: von Francius will go on slapping the public's face. I won't say how it will end; but it would not surprise me in the least to see the public at his feet, as it is now at those of—"

"Humph!" said Karl, reflectively.

He did not stay much longer, but having finished his cigar, rose. He seemed to feel very apologetic, and out of the fullness of his heart his mouth spake.

"I really wouldn't have intruded if I had known—"

"Known what?" inquired Eugen, with well-assumed surprise.

"I thought you were just by yourselves, you know, and—"

"So we are; but we can do with other society. Friedel here gets very tedious sometimes—in fact, langweilig. Come again, nicht wahr?"

"If I sha'n't be in your way," said Karl, looking round the room with somewhat wistful eyes.

We assured him to the contrary, and he promised, with unnecessary emphasis, to come again.

"He will return; I know he will!" said Eugen, after he had gone.

The next time that Herr Linders arrived, which was ere many days had passed, he looked excited and important; and after the first greetings were over, he undid a great number of papers which wrapped and infolded a parcel of considerable dimensions, and displayed to our enraptured view of a white woolly animal of stupendous dimensions, fastened upon a green stand, which stand, when pressed, caused the creature to give forth a howl like unto no lowing of oxen nor bleating of sheep ever heard on earth. This inviting-looking creature he held forth toward Sigmund, who stared at it.

"Perhaps he's got one already?" said Karl, seeing that the child did not display any violent enthusiasm about the treasure.

"Oh, no!" said Eugen, promptly.

"Perhaps he doesn't know what it is," I suggested, rather unkindly, scarcely able to keep my countenance at the idea of that baby playing with such a toy.

"Perhaps not," said Karl, more cheerfully, kneeling down by my side—Sigmund sat on my knee—and squeezing the stand, so that the woolly animal howled. "Sieh! Sigmund! Look at the pretty lamb!"

"Oh, come, Karl! Are you a lamb? Call it an eagle at once," said I, skeptically.

"It is a lamb, ain't it?" said he, turning it over. "They called it a lamb at the shop."

"A very queer lamb; not a German breed, anyhow."

"Now I think of it, my little sister has one, but she calls it a rabbit, I believe."

"Very likely. You might call that anything, and no one could contradict you."

"Well, der Kleine doesn't know the difference; it's a toy," said Karl, desperately.

"Not a toy that seems to take his fancy much," said I, as Sigmund, with evident signs of displeasure, turned away from the animal on the green stand, and refused to look at it. Karl looked despondent.

"He doesn't like the look of it," said he, plaintively.

"I thought I was sure to be right in this. My little sister" (Karl's little sister had certainly never been so often quoted by her brother before) "plays for hours with that thing that she calls a rabbit."

Eugen had come to the rescue, and grasped the woolly animal which Karl had contemptuously thrown aside. After convincing himself by near examination as to which was intended for head and which for tail, he presented it to his son, remarking that it was "a pretty toy."

"I'll pray for you after that, Eugen—often and earnestly," said I.

Sigmund looked appealingly at him, but seeing that his father appeared able to endure the presence of the beast, and seemed to wish him to do the same, from some dark and inscrutable reason not to be grasped by so young a mind—for he was modest as to his own intelligence—he put out his small arm, received the creature into it, and embracing it round the body, held it to his side, and looked at Eugen with a pathetic expression.

"Pretty plaything, nicht wahr?" said Eugen, encouragingly.

Sigmund nodded silently. The animal emitted a howl; the child winced, but looked resigned. Eugen rose and stood at some little distance, looking on. Sigmund continued to embrace the animal with the same resigned expression, until Karl, stooping, took it away.

"You mustn't make him, just because I brought it," said he. "Better luck next time. I see he's not a common child. I must try to think of something else."

We commanded our countenances with difficulty, but preserved them. Sigmund's feelings had been severely wounded. For many days he eyed Karl with a strange, cold glance, which the latter used every art in his power to change, and at last succeeded. Woolly lambs became a forbidden subject. Nothing annoyed Karl more than for us to suggest, if Sigmund happened to be a little cross or mournful, "Suppose you just go home, Karl, and fetch the 'lamb-rabbit-lion.' I'm sure he would like it." From that time the child had another worshiper, and we a constant visitor in Karl Linders.

We sat together one evening—Eugen and I, after Sigmund had been in bed a long time, after the opera was over—chatting, as we often did, or as often remained silent. He had been reading, and the book from which he read was a volume of English poetry. At last, laying the book aside, he said:

"The first night we met, you fainted away from exhaustion and long fasting. You said you would tell me why you had allowed yourself to do so, but you have never kept your word."

"I didn't care to eat. People eat to live—except those who live to eat, and I was not very anxious to live, I didn't care for my life, in fact, I wished I was dead."

"Why? An unlucky love?"

"I, bewahre! I never knew what it was to be in love in my life," said I, with perfect truth.

"Is that true, Friedel?" he asked, apparently surprised.

"As true as possible. I think a timely love affair, however unlucky, would have roused me and brought me to my senses again."

"General melancholy?"

"Oh, I was alone in the world. I had been reading, reading, reading; my brain was one dark and misty muddle of Kant, Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, and a few others. I read them one after another, as quickly as possible; the mixture had the same effect upon my mind as the indiscriminate contents of taffy-shop would have upon Sigmund's stomach—it made it sick. In my crude, ungainly, unfinished fashion I turned over my information, laying down big generalizations upon a foundation of experience of the smallest possible dimensions, and all upon one side."

He nodded. "Ei! I know it."

"And after considering the state of the human race—that is to say the half dozen people I knew, and the miseries of the human lot as set forth in the books I had read, and having proved to myself, all up in that little room, you know"—I pointed to my bedroom—"that there neither was nor could be heaven or hell or any future state, and having decided, also from that room, that there was no place for me in the world, and that I was very likely actually filling the place of some other man, poorer than I was, and able to think life a good thing" (Eugen was smiling to himself in great amusement), "I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do was to leave the world."

"Were you going to starve yourself to death? That is rather a tedious process, nicht wahr?"

"Oh, no! I had not decided upon any means of effacing myself; and it was really your arrival which brought on that fainting fit, for if you hadn't turned up when you did I should probably have thought of my interior some time before seven o'clock. But you came. Eugen, I wonder what sent you up to my room just at that very time, on that very day!"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse