Still Ivan's visit had not been wholly fruitless. He had elicited what he had chiefly wished to learn. Unconsciously, because the subject was the present burden of her nights and days, Caroline had betrayed the fact of her daughter's unhappiness. Yet she would have maintained, and truly, that she had not permitted three sentences to pass her lips on the subject of the Princess Feodoreff. But the acuteness of the mondaine pales before that of the lover. Caroline knew nothing of what Ivan took away with him; nor dreamed that, from this hour, Nathalie's load became the secret burden of another. But perhaps in that brief hour, when her bitter tongue had so belied the crushed emotion of her heart, Madame Dravikine regretted, not for the first time, her cruel rejection of the young man who, it was plain to see, had retained his fidelity to her unhappy child through all his years of separation from her and ignorance concerning her married life.
* * * * *
Despite the plans of Nicholas Rubinstein, his departure for Moscow, and, by consequence, that of the under-teacher, was delayed for some weeks; and it was only on the evening of October 2d that Ivan, with all his earthly belongings in the two valises beside him, and his whole fortune—forty roubles—in his pocket, stood by his companion in front of the Petersburg station in Moscow, waiting for a droschky and looking once more upon the lights and many-colored domes of his native city.
Three hours later, in a comfortable little room on the third floor of a dingy house of the Brionsovskaia, three men, who had been lingering over a hearty supper, rose to their feet, glasses in hand, to repeat the toast just suggested by the youngest of the trio:
"To the Conservatoire of Moscow—and her director: the friend and benefactor of all Russian musicians,—Nicholas Rubinstein!"
The first six words rang out from three voices; but before the rest the oldest man put down his glass, laughing as he said:
"You prevent my drinking, Ivan Mikhailovitch. No. Let the rest of the toast be: 'to the friendship of the three who inhabit this apartment: thou Boris, and thou Ivan,—star of the future, and finally my old, plain self!'"
Boris Shradik, the young violinist who formed the third inmate of the Rubinstein apartment, quickly seized the speaker by the right hand, while Ivan grasped his left; and then the younger men, setting down their glasses, clasped hands across the small table.
There was an instant's silence. Then the glasses were drained, and Ivan, to whom the evening had brought many a throb of sentiment, walked away to the window for a moment, while even Rubinstein loudly cleared his throat.—They are an emotional people, these musicians; and, despite the pettiness which success seems to raise in them, they are, in private life, genial and generous, and intensely loyal to their kind.
It was not wonderful that the youngest professor of the Conservatoire speedily made himself at home in his new abode. Moscow might hold many sad memories for him; but it was the place which must always be his home, after all. For where the first years of childhood are spent, there, however humble the place, are rooted deep some of the soul's loveliest plants: there rest associations of love and of joy far more powerful, more unforgettable, than any that can be made in after life: and these make a consecration recognized by the most careless, the most unsentimental of us all. Ivan, indeed, rejoiced daily that he had not to begin life again in a strange city. But he soon perceived that he had formed an astonishingly mistaken notion of what that life was to be. He had believed it would bear a strong resemblance to the existence he had been leading for the past years: so many afternoon hours among students—this time as teacher, instead of pupil; so many for rest, meals, exercise; the rest of the time spent in quiet solitude, at his own beloved work.
Two thirds of this programme he did, indeed, carry out; though not without constant difficulties in escaping those friendly spirits who would have kept him for hours at a time over a meal, out of sheer conviviality. And it was three weeks or more before the absent-minded dreamer became convinced of the hopelessness of attempting his own work in that particular atmosphere. For Ivan was of a type, fortunately rare, which demands a large amount of daily solitude. Loneliness he might dread—and bear. But isolation during his working hours he must have, at whatever price. And to expect isolation in Nicholas Rubinstein's apartment, was, truly, to cry for the moon. Regularly, all day, the little living-room overflowed with visitors; nor did any of these hesitate to comply with any requested musical exhibition, despite the fact that, during eight hours of the working day, the apartment resounded with violin exercises emitted from the bedroom of young Shradik. Even this was not all; for the house was in the heart of the musicians' quarter. And all day, from apartments below, from rooms above, came an endless banging, shrieking and caterwauling from embryonic tenori and virtuosi, such as, within a month, would have cured all but the most persistent music-lovers of any further desire for the expression of that abstract art.
Ivan was of the most persistent. Therefore, towards the middle of November, his nerves raw and quivering under baffled attempts to compose against the Devil's Chorus rising to heaven from every side, he sought, and finally found, salvation from incipient madness, in the refuge afforded by a neighboring traktir, much frequented, o' nights, by university students, but as deserted through the morning hours as had been Ivan's yearned-for attic.
Hither, to a small parlor, he removed, by permission, his piano and his writing-table. And tolerated, nay, encouraged, by a musical and friendly landlord, Ivan began to forget his recent care-infested, nervous days in the labor of his love. Provided, on his arrival, with a glass of vodka, and ending by eating there his noon-day meal, the young composer, assured by his hosts that any obligations he might be under were, by these purchases, quite repaid, would seat himself at instrument or desk, and, in that curious compound of mathematical accuracy and free flights of imagination that goes to make up music, forget himself and his surroundings completely. Nor was he ever at a loss for material. At this period, indeed, his brain was beset with far more ideas than could ever properly be developed. For many weeks, indeed, he confined himself to but two things: the overture, as a conscientious necessity; and a tone-poem, in which, as an unconventional form, he might embody the best of his vagrant fancies, and the rich, unlawful harmonizations wherein already, fresh though he was from classical remonstrance, he delighted. But when he found that the "day-dream" could not be made to contain half his delighted ideas, he began to jot them down separately, and throw them into the growing sheaf of manuscript which, by-and-by, was to be worked into the shape of (oh whisper it reverently!) his first opera, "The Boyar."
At the hour in which the young composer (sometime between half-past twelve and one o'clock) habitually turned his steps away from the kindly "Cucumber," his mood, likewise, automatically changed. From the fanciful creator he became the pedagogue, the serious doctor of music, whose mind was occupied chiefly by elementary exercises that should tend to draw the incipient conceits of youth away from the alluring empty fifth (a form in which his other self delighted), and the equally insidious octave parallel. At times he advanced to laws of even greater moment, and corresponding intricacy. For he took a genuine interest in his pupils; and, in that first year of his teaching, carried his class to surprising lengths, nor let them betray any evidences of unthoroughness when they went trembling up to the examinations provided by the great Anton himself, in the mid-year term.
Ivan's estimate of his pedagogic labors was very humble. But Nicholas Rubinstein, who himself taught for nine hours daily, soon came to appreciate the conscientious work of his subordinate, clearly perceptible in the excellently trained classes who came up to him for their monthly competition. And this satisfaction was soon substantially expressed. Upon the formal opening of the new building of the Conservatoire in December, Ivan found his salary increased by twenty-five roubles monthly. Nor did he suspect what Nicholas went through to obtain this favor; though he was not slow to notice the change of manner which Anton of the jealous soul had already begun to betray towards him.
The month succeeding the opening of the great, white building, was replete with change. First of all, young Shradik departed for a concert-tour, through Austria and Germany; and, though he and Gregoriev parted most cordially, it was with a feeling of new freedom that Ivan looked about him, when the persistent practiser of trills and runs was gone to show the great world the results of meritorious study. Two weeks later, came the welcome if astonishing news that Ivan, whose classes had grown rapidly, was to have an assistant, in the person of young Laroche:—his nearest friend in the Petersburg student days. And when this young fellow replaced the violinist in the Rubinstein household, Ivan felt the cup of his contentment full.
In many ways, indeed, this period was one of the happiest of Gregoriev's career. It was at this time that he formed those several friendships which stood him, in his after years, in such rich stead. Of the many professional men who frequented Nicholas' society, one of the foremost was Monsieur Kashkine:—he who afterwards did so much to make Ivan known to his world. From the first these two young men took to each other with the utmost congeniality. Next to the writer, Ivan's fancy locked itself with that of bullet-headed, homely, great-hearted Balakirev: a man who has been the inspiration of a dozen greater than he; who, for thirty years a pillar of Russian music, has let his greatest ideas go to feed the brains of those who have learned to stand towards him, as the public towards themselves. Finally, there was young Ostrovsky, later one of the great playwrights and librettists of the country; who, even at this time, had come into popularity in Moscow through some of his lighter comedies, and a farce or two, produced at the Little Theatre.—Of these three men, not one who did not early appreciate the quality of Ivan's few productions; and agree enthusiastically—behind Ivan's back—with a prophecy made by Nicholas Rubinstein, which, had its subject heard it, would have caused him to retire, stuttering with indignation. Never, in truth, was young workman more modest than the Gregoriev of that day. But he had the grace to appreciate his friendships, and to cling to them as if he understood, even then, from what blackest depths of depression and melancholy they were, by-and-by, to rescue him!
Looking back upon the early days of his musical life, it was, as a matter of fact, to the occasion of the formal opening of the Conservatoire that Ivan pointed, as marking the real beginning of his prolific career. Yet, for years after that night, he could not recall it without a twinge of bitterness. For, at the time, he was in the throes of the first of his long series of disappointments:—the cutting rejection of his symphony by the temporary director of the Petersburg orchestra. The manuscript had been returned to him with a communication which had caused stout Nicholas a penance for profanity; though even he failed to surmise the part that two men had played in this insult to a piece of work which, if crude in spots, was still far too magnificently broad, too thoroughly original, to deserve half the criticism incited by Ivan's former masters, Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein; to whom the manuscript had been sent.
When these men came down to Moscow for the celebration of the opening of their Conservatoire, neither one of them, probably, escaped some slight twinge of conscience at the frank, deferential greeting given them by their whilom pupil, whose slight pallor and weariness of expression alone betrayed his sickening disappointment. But the two were relieved, also, that no hint of their complicity in unjustice had leaked out; and they played cheerful parts at the exercises and banquet which were to mark the completion of their earnest labors for the scheme in hand.
At the dinner, which began at seven o'clock on the night of December 3d, were the directors and one or two of the largest stockholders of the enterprise; together with all the professors, and some dozen of Russia's celebrated musicians and writers. The meal over, Anton Rubinstein, originator of the plan, and Zaremba, his able co-adjutor, made brief speeches. There were one or two impromptu replies; a little discreet cheering; the customary toasts to the Czar and the persons and the subject in hand; and then Ivan, carried out of his usual shyness, proposed the health of the sister Conservatoire of St. Petersburg, which was loyally drank. Afterwards, the same young professor, who had unconsciously been the cause of the abandonment of the proposed concert after the banquet—owing to Nicholas' unreasonable anger at the rejection of his symphony—himself triumphantly saved the situation and snatched the evening from the bonds of awkwardness already tightening upon the guests, who knew that music in some form there must be, but had no idea of how to compass it.
The present musical idol of the hour was Glinka; and Ivan, whose piano practice had always been kept up, went quietly to the big Erard which stood lonesomely upon the platform at the end of the hall, opened it, seated himself, and dashed into the brilliant overture to "Russlan and Ludmilla": playing with such verve and spirit that, ere he finished, every man in the room had gone to augment the group around the instrument, and Ivan had his audience worked up to any pitch of appreciation.
Refusing every demand for an encore, Ivan rose, in the midst of a little babel of "Bis!" and, taking the virtuoso of the world by the arm, led him to the piano. Well repaid, it seemed, in that moment, for the disappointment he had lately had to endure. For every face about him was alive with friendliness and admiration for him and his tact.
Rubinstein played well, that night; for it was one of those rare occasions when he let himself go for his friends; and such technique and feeling as he could display will scarcely be known in the world again. When this was over, and nine-tenths of the company had gone, a chosen few made their way to Nicholas' apartment, where they sat down to a convivial little supper, at which, before them all—Kashkine, Balakirev, Laroche, Serov, Siloti, Darjomizky, and, lastly, Monsieur Gounod, who had not been present at the earlier festivities, Anton Rubinstein lifted his glass on high and proposed the health of his young friend Gregoriev, in terms before which Ivan would gladly have fled, had it not been for the shouts of approbation and affection that held him immovable, red-faced, choking, quite unable to reply.
* * * * *
Christmas, and the festivities of the new year, approached, proving to Ivan a time drearier than usual, in the face of his dying hope of an answer to the letter written, so long before, to his father, in the old house in the Serpoukhovskaia. One, faint, unfounded expectation, ridiculous though he felt it, Ivan had retained. As week succeeded week, he came to connect Christmas Day with a message, a note, a word, of some sort, from Prince Michael. Afterwards, looking back to his absolute faith in an event which he had no sort of reason to expect, it seemed as if some lost presentiment had found a mistaken home with him; for he actually spoke to Rubinstein of his visit to his father on that day, as a fact assured. Therefore, when, on Christmas morning, his fellow-lodgers, together with a gay little party of intimates, set off for the Slaviansky Bazaar, where they would literally spend the day at table, Ivan answered the friendly urging to join them by a resolute refusal. It was only when they had left the house, that Nicholas explained his protege's reason for remaining behind; nor so much as hinted at his secret doubts, or the fact that he had left a cold luncheon spread on the kitchen-table, in case the mysterious Prince should not, after all, send for his son.
When he was left alone, Ivan installed himself at a window of the living-room, whence he could miss no one who should approach the house, either on foot or driving. He had, for company, the last of Gogol's semi-tragic satires; and the first hour or two of his wait passed pleasantly; the unwonted silence in the rooms being a positive relief. After a time, however, his own thoughts began to intrude themselves violently upon the endless argument between Vassily Vassilyitch and the Staroste. So, turning reluctantly from the window, he set himself to work out some problems in his favorite card game, "yerolash": a Russian form of whist; which, despite constant practice, he continued to play very badly. For some time mathematical feats absorbed him. When, at last, he finished his third puzzle, Ivan Veliki was booming out the third quarter after twelve. Rather drearily, he lounged across to the piano. But to-day there was no music in the heart which, on the contrary, was growing, minute by minute, more heavy and more sad. Finally, thinking unhappily of the innumerable joyous feasts now beginning throughout the city—for late mass would be ended everywhere by now—he sat down alone to the cheerless meal which, poor though it was, but for Rubinstein he would not have had at all.
It was nine o'clock that night before the revellers, weary with overmuch cheer, returned. But the extra twinkle in Rubinstein's gay eyes, and the joyous grin on the flushed face of Laroche, disappeared when, lighting a candle to guide them through the darkened antechamber, they entered the living-room to find Ivan supine on the divan, sunk into a heavy slumber, the mottled white and red of his stained cheeks betraying a secret never afterwards referred to by his kindly discoverers. For Ivan's persistent faith had come to naught. Michael Gregoriev still denied his son.
The following week of holiday was long enough, and Ivan passed his days in complete, brooding idleness. But when, at last, on the noon of January 3, 1867, he returned to his classes at the Conservatoire, the young professor set to work with the air of one determined to kill every thought, every memory, of everything save the task of the hour; nor, henceforth, to give place to the slightest suggestion of regret or expectancy.
His fury of work lasted long. Day by day Nicholas Rubinstein watched for some sign of abatement: some lessening of the hours of labor: some little indulgence in the way of ordinary recreation. In vain. Ivan took barely time enough to satisfy his hunger: slept six or seven hours a night; and was at the piano alike when his companions appeared in the morning, and when they bade him good-night in the late evening. Not only did his hours for his own work increase, but he voluntarily added to his work at the Conservatoire, where he now remained from one until six, instead of till half-past four, as stipulated in his contract. And well did Nicholas understand that this was not done for extra money. Indeed Ivan had at first begged to relieve his chief of some of his younger pupils without remuneration of any kind: a suggestion which Nicholas was far too generous to permit. Instead, he remonstrated, earnestly, at Ivan's taking upon himself this extra amount of work; for, while teaching was his own forte, Ivan's nature, as he well knew, was capable of higher things. But by March such discussions had long since been dropped: and Rubinstein's whole anxiety now was to note in the youth the first signs of inevitable breakdown, that his illness might be taken in time.
Only Ivan himself, of all their little group, was satisfied with his own condition. But none of the others knew how deep and how lasting had been the disappointment of his father's silence; or that this misfortune, coming on the heels of the rejection of his symphony, had thrown him into one of those protracted fits of depression, new now even to him, but which were to become familiar to and dreaded by all who cared for him. He kept himself in a constant state of exhaustion, mental and bodily, in order that sleep should be possible to his idle hours. At the same time, he was frequently under the Creator's exaltation: the deep delight of one who knows the quality of that which he is doing, and is, for the moment, satisfied therewith. And the climax of this ecstasy—than which there is nothing finer known to man—came when, on the evening of March 29th, he carried to his room, from the little parlor of the "Cucumber," one more finished manuscript—that of his tone-poem, "Day Dreams," which had been written, rewritten, added to, cut, polished and rounded off till its author knew that not a note, not a rest, not a mark of expression could be altered now by him. He knew also, in his secret soul, that this was good work—far the best, in fact, that he had ever done. For, for weeks and months, the theme had held possession of him, and he had put the best of himself into his subject. Indeed, hurt by the accusation, made in the rejection of his symphony, of hasty and careless writing, he had worked over his new piece as he was never to work upon anything again. Indeed its great fault in the eyes of its admirers to-day, the single one agreed upon by every critic that has ever understood and loved Gregoriev's work, is that this alone, of all his creations, is over-polished: faultily faultless.
That night, for many hours, Ivan sat at the desk in his room, poring over his beautifully written manuscript, gloating over it, glorying in the mere texture of the paper sheets; knowing well that they represented the best and the highest that lay within him; and that the expression was almost worthy of the conception. Next morning, still acting secretly, dreading, in his peculiar modesty, possible over-praise from those who might be prejudiced in his favor, he despatched his precious bundle to Petersburg, addressed to his old critics and masters, Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein. With it went a brief note requesting, humbly, that they examine it and send him their opinion of its worth. Then, with a long sigh, half of relief, half of sorrow that he had lost the companion of so many months, he settled down to put certain lazy, finishing touches to his overture, (already accepted by the Moscow orchestra); to sleep as he would; and dream, delightfully, as only the true artist can, of his forthcoming task: his opera, "The Boyar." And yet, despite the joys of resting his tired body and yet more tired mind, his contentment was not complete. For each succeeding day increased the restless impatience with which he awaited his letter from Petersburg.
* * * * *
At eight o'clock on the evening of April 7th Anton Rubinstein, in the living-room of his luxurious Petersburg suite, was sitting at his piano, where, spread out before him, were some sixty sheets of finely-written manuscript music:—a piano score. The master was playing from it, contemplatively, a swinging, swaying minor melody, interwoven with an intricate and rich accompaniment. He had reached a pause, betokening some change of tempo or key, when the portieres were pushed noiselessly aside, and a servitor in livery appeared, announcing:
"The Herr Direktor!"
At once Zaremba, tall, angular, round-shouldered, his fluffy reddish hair and side whiskers looking thinner and fluffier than ever, entered, throwing the garments which he had refused the footman down upon one end of a long, Turkish divan.
Then the new-comer advanced, deliberately, to the piano, halted in the side angle of the instrument, and returned the long, white-faced stare with which Rubinstein greeted him. Finally the head of the Conservatoire uttered a dry:
The virtuoso shook the long hair back from his face, cleared his throat, and murmured, hesitating, peculiarly, after each word: "The thing—has—several—good points."
"Points!" Zaremba croaked, scornfully. "Points!—It's a masterpiece!"
Anton Rubinstein sprang to his feet, oversetting the piano-chair in which he had been sitting. "Well—what if it is?"—pacing rapidly up and down.—"What if, by accident, it happens to be—remarkable? The fellow's a boy—a mere child—in his trustfulness!—And he's never done anything like this—before.—It'll turn his head, completely—if he learns the—this opinion, of yours. Besides, he'll believe exactly what we tell him. And—and—"
"And he might suddenly turn virtuoso; in which case Monsieur Rubinstein—the gr-r-reat Monsieur Rubinstein—would, at all points, be rivalled!" finished Zaremba, with a dry, malicious grin.
Rubinstein stopped perfectly still, and maintained a quivering silence till the speech was concluded. But his two hands were clinched, so that the nails turned suddenly blue. Zaremba, seeing this, was about to make an explanation in a very different key, when Anton, in the harsh raucousness that serves one who is restraining violent profanity, almost whispered: "You will have the goodness, then, Monsieur Zaremba, either to send me, in the morning, reparation to the amount of—or stay! shall we, after all, publish those little letters from your friend the Lady of the Dyna—"
"Good God! Anton! Surely, surely I'm too useful to you!—Surely you understood my little joke, did you not?—Bah! This whiffet of a Gregoriev! Why, if his stuff contains anything of any value whatever, he has stolen it all from what he has seen of your unpublished works!—I—I—"
Rubinstein burst into a peal of laughter; and yet, well as he understood all that this bald flattery stood for, it pleased him:—pleased him, coming from a man whom, years before, in a fit of unwonted generosity, he had saved from usury and blackmail: from one of those Jews who, then as now, infested Petersburg and terrorized men of standing from the very imperial family down. Anton had bought Zaremba's wretched debt, and the half-dozen innocent love-letters from a young girl who afterwards became an active Nihilist. And yet Anton Rubinstein, genius, jovial winer and diner, victim of the devils of envy and jealousy, had actually stooped, more than once, to threaten blackmail to the man whom he knew, in his heart, to have been guilty of nothing more than a week's unfortunate gambling, and an early attachment to a girl who had not returned his affection in kind!
Once more, as usual, the pianist won his point; but it took two hours before he would allow Zaremba, his remnant of a conscience once more deadened by the combined forces of Rubinstein's magnetism, covert threats, and golden wine, to leave.
The result of their talk bore immediate fruit. Late in the afternoon of the 11th, Ivan Gregoriev sat once more at his bedroom table, and very slowly, with white face and hands that shook, drew from his coat-pocket the letter which he had received at the post-office half an hour before, but had been unable to open on the way. Now, after a moment's fumbling, he cut the envelope, took out the effeminate sheet of note-paper, and began to read. Second by second his face changed. The letter was not long; yet before he reached the signature his face had twice flushed scarlet, and twice gone deadly pale.
It was a half-hour before his door was opened, after a dozen unanswered knocks, and the room invaded by Nicholas Rubinstein. He beheld his favorite thrown forward across a table, from which an overturned inkstand dripped its contents, unnoticed, to the floor. The new-comer never paused for this; for his eyes had fallen on the letter, crushed in one of Ivan's out-stretched hands; and then he gazed upon the body which he perceived to quiver, from time to time, with half-conscious, reminiscent sobs.
THE GODS ARRIVE
At this unprecedented spectacle Nicholas halted, abruptly, uttering some unintelligible exclamation. And Ivan, deep as he was buried beneath his weight of despair, heard the sound, and reluctantly raised himself, at the same time grasping the letter anew, till the intruder's attention was reattracted by the rustle.
"Aha!" said he, softly; laying a gentle hand on the young man's shoulder. "It is thy father that is gone?"
"Gone? My father? Where?" muttered Ivan, stupidly.
"You are in grief. Is it the death of some one near?"
Then, perceiving at last the drift of his friend's sympathy, Ivan burst into a harsh, unpleasant laugh. "Oh yes: it is a death. It is the death of a very ancient vanity of mine: a silly idea that I—that I—had a talent!"
Rubinstein's friendly face took on an expression of slow bewilderment, which began presently to soften into a concern whereat, once more, his companion uttered his mirthless laugh.
"Oh, I'm not mad, Nicholas Nikolaitch!—You remember my old symphony, and Litoritch's criticism when I sent it up to him?—Well, I was fool enough then not to understand: to go on believing that I—could write music!"
"Precisely as you can," returned the other, roughly.
Ivan's face quivered—and softened. "No. I will tell thee, my friend! Ten days ago I finished a symphonic poem:—a thing I've been working on for months.—I didn't dare play it to you. I wanted an opinion absolutely unbiassed; so I sent the manuscript to—to Zaremba and—your brother. Well, they gave me what I asked for.—Here's the letter!" and Ivan, stretching his white lips into a smile, tossed the crumpled paper to Rubinstein.
That burly man seated himself nearer the light, and began to read. As his eyes rapidly followed the familiar writing, his face grew crimson with slow, unwonted anger. His thick neck swelled. His lips were compressed, as if he feared to allow the words behind them to escape. But when he had reached the signature, he leaped to his feet and broke into one of those torrents of profanity which, rare as they were, unfailingly betokened some vigorous action to follow.
By the time Rubinstein's immediate rage was spent, Ivan had regained his own self-possession, save for the gnawing pain that was to lie at his heart throughout many a long week and month. Nicholas' mood, however, was far from calm. He knew, better than any one save his own brother, the extent of their protege's magnificent talent. He had heard many a fragment of the tone-poem, during its long progress towards completion; and, unconsciously, he had judged it enough to understand the injustice of that petty and malicious letter; doubtful though he still was as to its immediate motive. True, Nicholas had too often suffered from his brother's tormenting jealousy to be by any means blind to Anton's fault. Yet it seemed a preposterous thing that a man with a reputation world-wide, built on the double foundation of creation and interpretation, should descend to the meanness of persecuting a mere boy: one whose foot was not yet firmly fixed on the second round of the great ladder upon which he himself towered so securely and so high!—And yet—had not this same belittling blemish been the bugbear of his own, generous existence? Was anything impossible in one whom he had known again and again to stoop to the pettiest forms of personal malice and vindictiveness.
The big-hearted brother could afford indulgence where only he himself was concerned. But this idea that his close comrades must be abused,—this was too much, indeed! The rejection of the symphony—anything but an amateurish piece of work—still rankled in him, almost as bitterly as in Ivan. And now this outrage—when any one could see that the boy was fairly starving for a word of the encouragement he had more than earned—ah! it was intolerable, at last!
In the following hour there passed much further conversation between the two; but Rubinstein, while professing every sympathy, never hinted at the idea that was taking shape in his mind. When he left the bedroom at last, Ivan felt that, in spite of himself, he should get some sleep; for Nicholas had assured him solemnly that, when "The Boyar" should be finished, and the libretto, to be provided by Ostrovsky, properly polished, he would himself arrange for its production during the ensuing winter season. And while Ivan stood, dazed and silent, wondering if such a thing could really be, this great-hearted friend of Russia and Russian art, had seized him by the hand, left a vigorous pound of encouragement on his shoulder, and was gone—shouting, anxiously, as he perceived the relative positions of the hands of his watch.
Next morning, before Ivan had risen from his protracted sleep, Rubinstein's pupils at the Conservatoire were undergoing three hours of remarkable instruction. Their burly master cursed them roundly when they failed to point out to him a given number of chords of the ninth and seventh, augmented or diminished, in a selected fugue of that mad iconoclast Bach; or to mark two dozen examples of canon and counterpoint in the first act of the latest opera by the staid pillar of classicism, Richard Wagner! After which betrayal of his mental state, the master leaped to his feet, jammed his ancient hat over his eyes, called out that his classes for the next three days were to take their instruction from Balakirev, Gregoriev or Laroche; and then, informing them only that he should return within the week, he rushed out of the building. A convenient droschky carried him to his apartment, where he gathered together a bagful of clothes, scribbled Ivan a fictitious explanation of his journey, and was soon on his way to the station, where, by a miracle, he caught the Petersburg express.
* * * * *
Two nights later, at half-past one o'clock, Anton the world-famed returned to his rooms from a supper which had followed one of his rare Petersburg recitals. He was in excellent humor; for his success, throughout both sections of the evening, had been precisely to his taste. Seven times had he been forced to encore, before the enraptured audience would leave the concert-hall; and at Count Lichtenstein's—the house of the German ambassador, he had been lionized till even he was satisfied. Wherefore was he in excellent humor before, entering his living-room, his eyes fell upon the unexpected figure of his brother, who stood silently awaiting him. Nor was Anton long in reading the significance of his visitor's expression, before which his own changed utterly. His eyes were dull, his mouth grimly straight as he asked, harshly:
"Well, what is it now?"
"You should gather from your conscience the reason for my highly uncomfortable journey," returned Nicholas, in the drawl which never failed to rouse his brother to fury. "It's your miserably selfish treatment of young Gregoriev and his work that's brought me up here so inconveniently."
Anton turned on his brother, his eyes blazing with swift rage. But Nicholas, with a single glance from his calm, mocking, but deeply penetrating eyes, once more arrested him. "This boy trusts you so, Anton, believes so utterly in your good faith, the impartial judgment of you and your worm, Zaremba, that even you, whose very blood is green, would be moved if you could hear him.—However—where's the manuscript of the boy's tone-poem?"
"'Tone-poem!'—Eureka!—Do you imagine that it actually is music?—as he believes it, no doubt, to be?—Still, the rot is safe enough—where you'll not soon lay your hands on—"
The voice of the Jew was silenced—perforce; for the reason that hands were laid upon him: hands heavy and powerful, full of the righteous anger of a strong man driven beyond himself. And when the hero of the recent supper-party finally lay back in his own chair, panting and wriggling with pain, his mood had changed, perceptibly.
"Have you dared," demanded Nicholas, in a voice low and trembling, "to burn the first masterpiece of a genius?"
"I told you it was safe."
"Do you imagine I believe—Ah well! I take it back to Moscow with me, to-morrow."
At these words, the smouldering fire in the other's wretched heart leaped up again, and he cried, furiously: "You lie! It is not a masterpiece!—Even Zaremba said that every idea in it had been stolen from me!—The thing shall never be played until I choose!"
"Anton, are you mad?—Can you actually heed anything said to you by the jackal who endures your blackmail?—Has your infernal jealousy reached the point where you don't hesitate at crime?—My God!—My bro—"
"Good Heavens, Nicholas! Since when have you gone into melodrama?" The voice was pettish, but the listener was not slow to catch a tremor of discomfort under its attempted loftiness. "As if I cared!—or need to fear such stuff as Gregoriev's!—Go to Zaremba, if you like, and tell him I sent you for the manuscript.—Much good may it do you!—Oh, yes, take the thing! Have it played! Hear the fools howl over it and praise it! The day of real greatness is over. Beethoven, and Bach and Mozart, and Rubinstein are to be superseded by the wonderful Wagner—who hasn't a notion of music in his head! and Serov, the imitator; and now Gregoriev, infant prodigy, picked out of the gutter by me, from whom he now proceeds to steal the only ideas he has about composing!—And here I, a genius, have slaved all my life away to please a public who desert me in an hour for this—this—"
Wine and emotion, acting together, were making the man almost maudlin. Nicholas knew well what climax ten minutes would bring. So, with a word or two of friendly thanks and farewell, he left the house, and sought a familiar hotel, where he was too well known to be refused even at this ungodly hour.
* * * * *
In five days from the time of his departure Nicholas was back in Moscow, arriving there in the early evening, and proceeding at once to his rooms, where he found Ivan alone—Laroche being at the theatre, at the last performance for the season of Ostrovsky's latest farce.
As he entered the room, Nicholas read the wistful question in Ivan's eyes, and answered it by tossing him the roll of recovered manuscript, which, with a quivering cry of joy, Ivan caught to his breast and then retired, precipitately, to his room, whence he did not emerge again that night.
But, in spite of its successful recovery, and the high opinion afterwards expressed concerning it by Ivan's own circle, it was many years before "Day Dreams" had its initial performance: at a time when Russia was alive with the name of Gregoriev. Moreover, at that first performance the composer was not present. The work, result of so many hours of devoted labor, had been hateful to him from the evening on which he realized the enmity of his hitherto revered and beloved mentor. Though no word on the subject of Nicholas' visit to Petersburg ever passed between Ivan and his benefactor; though for years the semblance of friendship was retained by the young composer and the great virtuoso; three men knew well that Anton's influence over the younger man was gone, forever. And Anton himself was bitterly aware of the expression of half-puzzled, half-regretful disdain that he encountered so often in Ivan's eyes. Indeed both felt, in their secret souls, that no tone-poem ever written could be worth the price paid for this unhappy work:—which had, nevertheless, through Anton's very jealousy given Ivan the knowledge that he stood already more than one round above his fellows on the great ladder of attainment.
In one way, indeed, the young man had hardly needed this active proof of his ability; for, for some time now, there had been growing in him a quality much needed by his kind: a stern, dogged, ineradicable belief in himself and his eventual recognition. Rooted, as, to the shame of mankind, has been the lot of so many of the world's true great, in the deep bitterness of non-recognition; growing, sturdily, in the midst of beating storms and freezing snows of jealousy, malice, criticism incredibly stupid, misfortunes persistent and discouraging; such natures as these are bound at last to blossom, gloriously, in the sunlight of success; and live, nourished by the quiet dews of appreciation; unless, indeed, as in certain cases, the growth has been too delicate, too exquisite, too sensitive to outlive the probation years, and fades before it has come into maturity, while the bloom of full achievement is yet in the bud. But Ivan was not of these last. His stubbornness was great; and he labored on, doggedly, sore as was his heart, till June brought release from his labors at the Conservatoire. Then he betook himself and his few belongings joyously back to Vevey, where surroundings of natural beauty, rest, isolation, the absence of unwelcome tasks, gave him back his strength, and restored both his hope and his ambition.
During this period his great task was always "The Boyar." But, in the intervals between his stretches of regular work, he undertook certain lighter things, based on themes jotted down in his note-book at odd moments. It was, indeed, during this summer,—though Kashkine has erroneously attributed them to a later year, that he produced the celebrated "Songs of the Steppes," those "Chansons sans Paroles," which the world hums still, even after a vogue which would, in six months, have killed anything less original, less intangibly charming and uncommon. These finished—and the sheets of manuscript were printed, eighteen months later, almost without change—he caught a sudden fever of entomology: hunted daily for specimens, but preserved, eventually, only six of his captures: a moth, silver and green; a butterfly of steely, iridescent blue; a solemn, black-coated cricket; a bee bound round with the five golden rings of Italy; a tiny, rainbow-hued humming-bird, found dead in a fast-shut moon-flower; and, finally, a slender, bright-winged dragon-fly. These, humanely chloroformed and pasted upon cards, Ivan studied, wondering at his own interest; nor understood its reason till, by the dark and tortuous ways of unconscious cerebration, there sprang from his brain, Minerva-like, the six dances which are incorporated in the most charming ballet of his time the famous "Reve d'Ete." When, a year later, immediately before its first production, Monsieur Venara, maitre de ballet of the Royal Opera, asked the composer for a special pas for his favorite premiere danseuse, Ivan meditated, and returned in spirit to the fields of Vevey, hunting for one more sprite of field or wood. In vain. He could think of nothing but an old familiar hedge of eglantine. And to that, finally, was written the "Rose Waltz" to which Mademoiselle Pakrovsky, Venara's "discovery," later danced her way through La Scala to Paris, that end and aim of the dancer's dreams.
In September, the musical journal of Moscow announced the return of young Monsieur Gregoriev, a distant relative of the Prince Procureur-General of that name, who was winning no small reputation as a composer of light music, and who would resume his professorial duties at the Conservatoire. It was, moreover, rumored that the summer of Monsieur Gregoriev had been no idle one; but that, he having turned for the first time to a serious subject, Moscow would that winter have the opportunity of gauging the young man's talent at the Grand Theatre, when, in November, Signor Merelli's Italian troupe should begin their season of winter opera.
For once in a way, that the rule might be proved, the greater part of this bumptious paragraph was true. Furthermore, as had not been said, Ivan's name was to appear twice on the programme of the first orchestral concert of the season, over which the two Rubinsteins were now working busily. It had been by main force that Nicholas kept two spaces blank till the return of Ivan from his holiday. But Anton, who was in a dejected mood, made no great objection when Ivan, filled with a strange, new sensation of pride, wrote down the titles of two compositions under his name, on the manuscript programme handed to him, one evening, in his new abode.
For, this fall, Ivan had taken a long stride towards independence. In August Shradik had returned to Moscow, to remain throughout the winter. But young Laroche, whose family had lately lost a large fortune, was now in no position to leave the Rubinstein apartment, where his expenses were very light. Moreover, Wieniawski the pianist had rented the rooms on the fourth floor; and both he nor Shradik could be counted on to maintain a duet scales and exercises during the entire day. Wherefore poor Laroche began to seek the sympathetic stillness of the "Cucumber"; and Ivan, after two days in a temporary closet of six feet by eight, set out in search of an abode to fit his income.
This proved a matter less difficult than he had feared. In fact, within a week he was joyously settled, in a suite of two rooms, with an antechamber and a cubby for his servant, who was, indeed, none other than old Sosha, a Gregoriev serf, who, on the day of the proclamation of freedom, more than five years before, had hurried forth from Konnaia Square as from the bottomless pit. For years he had led a wandering life, missing his former companions and comparatively easy existence, but too stubborn to return to a certain beating, and the plentiful curses of the Prince. When, then, he one day encountered Ivan issuing from a second contemplation of his new quarters, the old man rushed to him as towards a preserver Heaven-sent; and Ivan was but too glad to accept the charge.
Sosha, always, like his generation, a slave at heart, would gladly have served his young master without wages and to the death. But Ivan, recently amazed by the announcement of a further increase in his salary, which now amounted to the princely sum of eighteen hundred roubles a year, offered his whilom servant wages so good that the fellow thenceforth actually refrained from any commission on the marketing and those other household purchases which Ivan was glad to leave to him.
Thus it came about that Monsieur Gregoriev was installed in a home of his own, in which to maintain his longed-for gods. Their ghosts appeared, in the company of Nicholas Rubinstein, on the night when this stanch friend came to tell Ivan that, instead of the brief passacaglia which he had modestly offered as his first piece on the concert programme, it had been decided—on a hearing entirely arranged by Nicholas, to make Monsieur Gregoriev the chief figure of the evening, by playing his first symphony—"Youth," as the piece de resistance of the first half! Furthermore, he should still be represented in the second by the little "Sea Picture" already arranged for. Lastly,—and here, at last, Nicholas spoke with some faint hesitation, it was Anton's express wish to resign the conductor's baton, during the interpretation of the symphony, to the composer himself!
"But—but—good Heaven!" stammered Ivan, in a flutter of excitement and incredulity, "it is impossible! Conduct!—I cannot do it! It—it is impossible!"
The trouble in Rubinstein's mind now stepped forth to his face. "Could you not try, Ivan?—I want so much to see you and Anton quite reconciled. And he has suggested this, I think, to prove his friendship."
(Simple-hearted brother! Why could he not remember that Anton was as fully aware as himself of Ivan's inexperience in the art, seemingly so simple, really inordinately difficult, of leading an orchestra?)
Poor Ivan was as innocent in the matter as Nicholas himself, however: yes, more so. For, never having attempted it, he failed to realize the firmness, the decision, the executive ability required by him who would hold a large body of musicians in intelligent control. At this distance, the matter of conducting his symphony—the orchestration of which he knew by heart—seemed to hold out few difficulties. He considered, a little, in silence; and then proceeded to discuss the prospect with his visitor.
There were still four weeks before the concert. Work could be begun immediately. Certainly, during that time, working every day with the men who were to play his work, he could gain enough confidence, enough familiarity with the difficult points of this one, familiar composition, to carry him through the final event. So, at least, it seemed to the two who, in their eagerness, were leaving out of their calculation the most important factor in the case: Ivan's unconquerable shyness: his excessive modesty: the nervous self-consciousness never yet tried in so keen a way. But to-night Ivan was wrapped in a dream. A golden mist of hope gratified, ideals realized, ambition met, hid from him every ugly reality. Consent to Anton's wretched scheme was easily given; and then the conversation turned to a theme even more delightful: the forthcoming production of "The Boyar," to which, the concert over, all the energies of the composer must be turned.
Later that night Ivan, left alone, dazed and tremulous at the fortune now hovering within his grasp, laid upon the altar of his gods his first fruits of success.—Long, long after, when the chimera had become a form radiantly real, Ivan looked back upon this night as perhaps the happiest of his life. That it should be spent in solitude, seemed to him most natural. It would have been abnormal to him to seek companionship in an hour of exaltation: desecration to drown the pure delights of the intellect in the artificial ecstasy of alcohol. No. He sat quietly in his leathern chair, or paced rapidly about the room, occasionally seating himself at the piano and rippling off portions of the work that was to be judged at last by the dread tribunal, whose final verdict was not to be reversed: the supreme court of the general public.
To an on-looker, Ivan's behavior would have seemed commonplace enough. But he was moving through shadowy heavens, star-lit vaults, to which he had just attained, wherein he floated, the equal of those whom he had hitherto worshipped: an inhabitant of the kingdom of the gods, from whose height he could listen to the echo of his name, cried below by the earth-millions, repeated all around him, in tones of brotherhood, from the pale spirits of the surrounding great. And there Ivan knew that his songs were not of a day, not of a century, but for all time; but should stand as the perfect musical expression of the soul of the great, white, desolate country of his birth. Such his achievement, which, in this hour, he knew to be good. And so, as dawn dimmed the golden light of his lamps, Ivan, overcome with weariness, his exaltation fallen, the wine of his delight gone flat and stale, crept away to bed, passing into the transitional sleep whence he must wake to the noon-day light of the stolid, patient, working world.
Nicholas, having won Ivan's consent to his brother's plan, and sending his protege the first summons to rehearse his numbers with the orchestra, put the affair into Anton's hands. But Ivan, ridiculously dreading criticism, and the exposure of his awkwardness in handling the unaccustomed baton, possessed also of the senseless idea that, on the final day, the thing must go of itself, "somehow,"—daily put off the matter of rehearsal. His excuses were endless and feeble; but they were all of them readily accepted by Anton, who was now conducting his rehearsals alone. It was actually within seven days of the concert before Nicholas, learning the real state of affairs, rushed off, in a frenzy, to his brother, to seek an explanation and voice a protest. But Anton's manner was baffling. He was gentle, courteous, and wonderfully sympathetic with Ivan for the occupations that had prevented him from appearing at rehearsal. He showed his brother a dozen of Ivan's hasty notes of excuse, as he said, soothingly:
"Come, Nikolai, come! What does it signify? Ivan Mikhailovitch is working very hard; and rehearsals are bothersome things. I shall smooth away the difficulties and have the orchestra perfectly familiar with his symphony—which, by-the-way, goes very well. And he will have his back to the audience, and may do what he likes. The orchestra will get through; for the concertmeister—Gruening, you know, can manage alone, perfectly.—Don't bother the young man. All will go well!"
Nicholas heard him out standing quite still, gnawing at his mustache ends, and staring, absent-mindedly, into a vague distance, that saw nothing of the expression of gentle inquiry that covered the nervousness in Anton. Yet Nicholas' sudden apprehension seemed, on reflection, to be unwarranted. Certainly, thought he, Anton's attitude towards Ivan had completely changed. Was he, at last, ashamed, and trying to obliterate the memory of his jealousy? Certainly so it would seem. And thus, when Nicholas presently left his brother, it was with the sincerest expressions of gratitude; though, more than once, during his return walk, there came to him an unsolicited doubt as to—to—what? The absolute openness of Anton's actions?—Scarcely that; and yet so much like that that no other explanation could be found to fit the quickly suppressed pang.
Pity, truly, that Nicholas could not have watched his brother for the fifteen minutes after his departure! During five of these, the great pianist stood where he had been left, staring down at the floor, an expression in his eyes compounded of many emotions. But presently his thoughts resolved themselves. For, throwing back his head, he gave a laugh: a laugh long, rather loud, but replete with anything in the world save mirth: suggesting strongly, indeed, the savageness of the frown which presently replaced it, when, drumming a scale upon the edge of the table in front of him, he muttered: "Conduct a symphony played by a full concert orchestra without a single rehearsal!—Good Heavens! Nicholas is turning into a fool!"
All things considered, there was certainly a grain of truth in Anton Rubinstein's assertion. Still, foolish as Nicholas may have shown himself over the matter, what was his unwisdom compared to that of Ivan, the proposed hero of the forthcoming inevitable fiasco? How to explain such behavior on the part of one who was, from the crown of his head to his toes, thoroughly a musician, a lover of all things musical, even Kashkine, intimate and blind adorer of Gregoriev as his biography of Ivan shows him to be, never discovered. Whether his native shyness simply put off an evil hour as long as possible: whether, full of the excitement of giving the final touches to his new work—a business which always, throughout his life, made Ivan oblivious of everything else,—rendered him really indifferent to the success of his symphony, or whether he really believed conducting to be merely a matter of waving a baton at each body of instruments as they entered or left the ensemble, the principal actor of this little drama never explained. Certainly, at the time, it did not occur to him to divine any purpose in the Herr Direktor's easy acceptance of the flimsy excuses that he sent to rehearsal after rehearsal. Suffice it to state that Ivan's first appearance in the greenroom of the Grand Theatre—scene of the much-discussed concert—was made at half-past seven o'clock on the evening of October 16th: forty-five minutes before the overture was announced to begin. Even now, he found himself the last to arrive of the little group who were either to take part, or had some professional interest in, the evening's performance. These greeted him jovially; but, after he had drunk the glass of sherry pressed upon him, he was drawn one side by two friends, Laroche and Nicholas Rubinstein, whose faces had sobered into undisguised anxiety. Rubinstein spoke first:
"Are you too nervous to glance through the first page or two of the score, here?" he demanded, his eyes taking quick review of Ivan's immaculate costume and rather pallid face.
Ivan's answering laugh caught Anton's ear. "Nervous!" he echoed. "I hadn't thought about it.—I know the thing by heart; still—where is the score?"
Laroche answered silently by holding out to him the thick, leather-bound sheets of the "Youth" symphony; at the same time pointing out to Ivan that, instead of third, he was to come second on the programme: Mademoiselle Pavario having demanded that she give her aria just before the intermission, for the sake of the probable encore.
Somehow, as Laroche quietly explained this fact, and Ivan, opening his familiar book, discovered for the first time certain blue-pencillings, made therein by Rubinstein during the rehearsals, to indicate those passages where some body of instruments were weak, or needed special watching, his heart began to throb, unsteadily. Second by second his desperate unfamiliarity with the whole thing, his utter ignorance of the tone and temper of the men he was to conduct—their respective abilities and faults—were revealing themselves to him. And, presently, he made for Anton, with a hoarse request that a few of the marks in the first movement, at least, be explained to him. Rubinstein was all courtesy, all geniality, all encouragement. But he overdid his part just enough to allow the first quick stab of doubt—or of understanding—to pierce the poor boy's rapidly crumbling barrier of confidence. When, at last, the director was called to his waiting audience, Ivan sat on, like a stone, his eyes riveted on the first page of the score,—which might have contained pictures of butterflies upon it for all he knew. His heart was palpitating like a woman's. His head was in a sick whirl. Then, in the horrid silence in which he sat, a voice from out of the far away addressed him:
"Herr Gregoriev, they are ready for you!"
Without a word, his face set, his eyes brilliant, he rose, mechanically, gave his score into the hands of the librarian, who, for ten minutes, had been nervously awaiting it, and then walked woodenly up the passage to the wings. Here somebody grasped his arm and held him for an instant, whispering something unintelligible into his ears. Some seconds, or minutes, or hours, after this, there struck into his eyes the white glare of the footlights. Then a thin sprinkling of applause rose to meet his slight, mechanical bow; and, at the same instant, he perceived, sitting in the right-hand stage-box in the first tier, the form of his father: his white face barred by the black line of his mustache; the frame of hair above, all iron gray streaked with white. Beyond this figure rose a dead wall of black and colored patch-work emphasized by featureless white splashes; the whole punctuated, here and there, with gleams of light betokening jewels.
The hand-clapping died away. Ivan turned, mounted his desk, and lifted the black baton. He rapped, once, and beheld sixty pairs of gleaming eyes raised to him: rapped twice, and saw thirty bows lifted in air. Then he glanced at the first, open page of his score.—It was simply a horrible, gray blur, from which not a note, not a mark, would detach itself.—And he wondered, frantically, how in the world his symphony began:—loudly or softly? with violins or with trumpets? The seconds that followed were the longest of his life. Then the concertmeister, sitting below, gave an audible murmur; and, together, the violins and the woodwinds began the first, long-drawn-out notes of the introduction.
Heavens! It had begun! He was in for it—hopelessly. Somehow or other these terrible men must be kept playing.—How? By whom? Again he looked at his score, and slowly turned a page. The sound of clarinets smote his ear. They were actually getting on, then.—Good! Out of the mists of his terror, there came, at last, an idea: the wild notion that here, now, came a quick crescendo and climax. With a wide sweep of his baton he suddenly broke in upon the orchestra and demanded the tutti. Gruening, violently tremoloing, swore, helplessly. The men stared. Wildly, once more, Ivan indicated full orchestra. So there came one, furious, discordant crash, as all the instruments, obeying, in their customary, hypnotic manner, the motion of their leader, came in, each with his first notes, no matter how far ahead of the present measure they might be. The noise was, truly, something hideous! The men themselves grew panic-stricken; and each group strove madly to bring their particular theme out of the general chaos; thereby increasing, tenfold, the frightful charivari.
From behind, from the vast audience which, till now, had maintained an amazed stillness, there began to sound little bursts of laughter—followed by a spluttering streak of hisses which were drowned in increasing shouts of amusement. The thing was really too absurd for legitimate disapproval.
Ivan's heart stopped beating. In all his mind there remained but one thought: that Michael Gregoriev, his father, was a witness of this scene! Yet he felt the touch upon his arm: he was sensible of the kindly whisper in his ear. Docilely he followed Nicholas off the stage—away from this climactic fiasco of all his wretched series of failures. And Anton, watching the outcome of the scene he had planned with so much gusto, felt a sudden pang of intense pity, of remorse, of generosity, shoot through his shrivelled heart.
Two minutes later, the Herr Direktor was on the stage, apologizing earnestly for the sudden illness of young Monsieur Gregoriev, who had turned faint as the result of overwork. And then, turning to the demoralized orchestra, he restored them, by a word and a look, to their usual order, whence, three seconds later, rose again the first long, sweet strains of the first movement of the symphony, which, this time, was received by the audience with frigid politeness, and many inaudible comments on the shocking management that had admitted a drunken man to the stage before them—the cream of Moscow's society!
Moscow society, indeed; but also representatives from other walks of life. For, as his son retreated from the scene of his disgrace, the solitary occupant of the right-hand stage loge, wrapping himself, face and body, in a concealing cloak, walked rapidly towards the street, and had soon left far behind the Grand Theatre, and his last dream of reconciliation with his son.
* * * * *
Late in the afternoon of the following day, the directors of the Moscow Conservatoire of Music held a spontaneous meeting, which the presence of four men over a quorum rendered formal. It was for the purpose of deciding the question of obtaining a new junior-class professor of harmony. The matter was hotly debated: several speakers maintaining that, after the affair of the night before, it would be impossible for Monsieur Gregoriev to retain either the interest or the respect of his pupils. It was remarkable, however, that only one man—a person who had never met the person under discussion, referred to the prevalent rumor of intemperance.
The door to the directors' room remained shut for two, ominous hours. But when the inmates appeared again in the light of day, their general expression was cheerful; and the list of Conservatoire professors remained unchanged. Ivan was to be spared this final humiliation. For not only Nicholas, but Anton Rubinstein himself, fought gallantly for his retention. And it was undoubtedly the influence of the great virtuoso which turned the scale in his favor.—Moreover, it may be surmised, and by no means without justification, that, even had Ivan temporarily lost his position, the following winter would have seen it once more offered to him; though his acceptance might have proved a more doubtful matter. As it was, his gratitude towards the various members of the committee was as deep as it was silent.
Certainly, without this possible, additional unhappiness, Ivan's cup of misery was, for the moment, full. During the morning after the fateful concert many people—all of them cruel, many wantonly malicious, knocked at Ivan's door. Two only were admitted—neither of whom could come under the general category. One of these was Nicholas Rubinstein; the other Laroche. Probably, of all the world, only these two understood Ivan at this time. But their understanding and their love stood them in poor stead now. He whom they sought to comfort lay deep in a hell of his own, from the very threshold of which they were barred away. Later, through the hours of the meeting—which Ivan silently divined—Laroche remained alone with him. And Nicholas' return, with news of victory, in some measure lessened his agony of shame. But it was weeks before he was known to show his face outside of his own rooms or the Conservatoire; for he gave way, unresisting, to the morbidness always lying in wait for him. And all Rubinstein's upbraidings, all the eloquent logic of Laroche, could move him to nothing but the reiterated statement that, years before, at his court-martial, he had been conscious of no fault for which to lower his head; whereas this time—alas!—he had been guilty of many more than one: of laziness; of preposterous vanity; finally, worst of all, of that unpardonable cowardice and self-consciousness whereby he had lost his final hope of scraping through the ordeal—by means of his native wit and the experience and influence of the concertmeister Gruening.
In the end, Nicholas,—always, forever, this good Rubinstein, set to work to manufacture a bomb which should, in one instant, blow to fragments the walls of Ivan's self-constructed hermitage, and bring him forth again into the free light of heaven—and work. And this difficult task he did, as a matter of fact, accomplish. For it was on an evening in the latter half of November that he and Laroche entered Ivan's rooms at the customary hour, but with new light in their eyes. Waiting only till the fire was replenished and pipes drawing well, Nicholas observed, between puffs:
"Well, I've had my final talk with Merelli; and I have brought with me, for signing, the contracts covering the production, to be made on New Year's night, of your opera, 'The Boyar.'"
Ivan stiffened for an instant; then sank dully back, saying, without a whit of expression in his voice: "Don't tease me any further about old visions, Nikolai.—Even from you that comes hard."
Nicholas' reply was to draw from his pocket a thin roll of paper, which, separating into duplicate, printed sheets, each bearing at its end the spluttering signature of the impresario, he spread out on Ivan's knee.
As the young man, with changing, wondering, finally uplifted, expression, ran slowly through the document, Nicholas prevented any possible expression of obligation by a running fire of comment and explanation.
"Won your spurs, you see, Ivan!—Royalties not great; but there'll certainly be a thousand or two for you.—Give you a great push, now that you've done what we all have to go through before we get there.—I did it, you know, years ago, in Hamburg!—Simply stopped at the second movement of the Italian symphony and walked off the stage.—Knees shaking so I couldn't stand up.—Even Anton lost himself in the Leipsic Toenhalle, once, in the middle of his own cadenza to a Beethoven sonata:—had played it a hundred times, I suppose; tried it twice, and then fairly ran out of the room.—Laroche there, can't expect any real luck till he's done it too.—What form'll you take it in, Grigory?—Hey?—Finished, Ivan?—Well, I'm convinced that it is as well as we can do for you the first time. So you'd better sign it now—using us for witnesses—and I'll carry 'em back to Merelli myself, to-morrow."
So Ivan, lips twitching, hands trembling very much, put a shaky signature in each space indicated below Merelli's sprawling Italian dashes, while Nicholas and little Laroche looked on with shining eyes.
Thereupon began the era of a new and difficult experience. Healthy as was the occupation, Ivan wished a hundred times in those ensuing weeks that he had been seized with an apoplexy before ever he had put his name to the contract that gave him into Merelli's hands.—As a matter of fact, the ordeal was one trying enough for nerveless men. But to Ivan it was simply a process of refined torture, in the course of which every one of his petted peculiarities of style, the most cherished of his situations, the choicest of his originalities, were ruthlessly cut, altered, or swept calmly away:—a perfectly correct and artistic proceeding, and agreeable to every one except the author.
No cutting of rehearsals now! In fact, for his reputation and the life of his suffering opera, Ivan dared not be away from the opera-house during a single hour of that hurried preparation. For, in those days, no composers had so little right in Russia as Russians: no music was so neglected, so criticised, so under-estimated in the land of snows as that produced by the great pioneers of the highest of the arts. And yet, in that same Russia, any nonsense whatever that came out of Italy, got immediate hearing and sickening praise. The opera-houses of every city were given over, during the season, to Italian troupes. And if these did occasionally consent to perform some native work, it was always on an "off" night, with third-rate members of the company, in cast-off, inappropriate costumes, surrounded by worn-out scenery, and accompanied by the "ballet" orchestra—which contained about half the regulation instruments.
Most of these humiliations, it soon appeared, were to fall to the lot of the unfortunate "Boyar."—Still, New Year's night usually promised a good-sized audience; and the chorus was actually to be put into newly designed costumes. But the singers had considered, long ago, that plans for the winter were finished. Therefore this was a preposterous time to begin rehearsals for a work entirely new. The prima-donna and the first tenor simply scouted the idea of applying themselves to learn new roles—and in a Russian opera! Merelli must be out of his head to set about such a thing!—Ivan, it is true, might have been encouraged had he heard the opinion of his work expressed by Merelli to his refractory singers.—It was a masterpiece; the finest opera, be it Italian, French or Russian, of the decade! etc, etc.—And indeed, had the impresario not actually believed something of this sort, no pleadings of Rubinstein would ever have got it accepted at this time of year. But the parts as they were finally cast might well have discouraged a man more tranquil and more experienced than Ivan: who, moreover, would have regarded as insane the person telling him that, in his secret heart, more than one member of the troupe beside Merelli thought the opera under preparation far ahead of the usual run of saccharine Italian concoctions habitually raved over by the sentimental world of the time.
But alas! What wretchedness it was to listen, day by day, from his empty box, to the throaty warblings of Finocchi—whose pronunciation of Russian was as near Chinese or Hebrew as the Slavic tongue: to argue vainly with La Menschikov, the soprano, who, to Ivan's unbounded disgust, used every vocal trick invented by the melodramatic Italians, from a revolting tremolo, and a barefaced falsetto to an incorrigible persistence in the appoggiatura, an affectation peculiarly unadapted to Ivan's rich, strong style. Many a concerted passage, moreover, did he, in silent despair, alter to suit the stubborn inabilities of the singers, who insisted that the composer knew nothing of the possibilities of the human voice:—a criticism, indeed, passed more than once on Ivan's later works, and by those who knew whereof they spoke. The climax came on a late December afternoon, when, after a three hours' struggle with a single passage, the contralto went into hysterics, the soprano flew into a rage that promised to keep her off the boards for a week, and Finocchi retired to his dressing-room vowing to resign his part. The cause of this united rebellion was the rhythm of a quartet in the third act—by far the best concerted piece in the opera—in which the two high voices sang four eighth notes against triplets in the base.
This passage had, up till now, been held in abeyance by Merelli, who had foreseen difficulty. And, now that it was reached, it proved a reef indeed. For, of the four singers, only the basso had any conception of time. Thus when Merelli, in despair, came apologetically to Ivan to suggest an alteration of the rhythm—which made the whole beauty of the song—Ivan rose from his place swearing, savagely, that not one other note in the score should be altered; but that Merelli and his whole troupe might go to perdition when and how they chose; after which he left the theatre, sought out Nicholas, flung his contract in that good man's face, and requested that he go at once to Merelli with word that the score be returned, with all its parts, and the entire transaction declared off.
Next morning, at ten o'clock, Ivan heard his quartet sung with a strictness of tempo, rhythm, and expression, far surpassing anything yet accomplished by any of the principals of the company.
* * * * *
By Christmas week, all Moscow knew that a Gregoriev opera, The Boyar—"written by the man who had been too drunk to conduct his symphony in the previous October, you know"—(as good an advertisement as any, and costing nothing)—was to be produced at the Grand Theatre, at eight o'clock on the evening of January 1, 1868; the evening's ballet, "Reve d'Ete" being by the same composer. Ivan's friends were in a state of high excitement at a prospective success of which Merelli seemed very sure. But they suddenly discovered that the composer himself had not the slightest intention of being present to hear his work. For three days they besieged Ivan with expostulation, incredulity, persuasion. All in vain. When, twenty minutes after the hour on the night named, the curtain rose, disclosing to the chorus a house packed to the doors, the composer's box—reserved for him—contained only the two Rubinsteins, Balakirev, Kashkine, and Laroche. Ostrovsky, the librettist, was behind the scenes, still on his knees before the Menschikov, in a mad endeavor to obtain her promise to abstain from the French habit of adding an e to the end of every word.
Ivan, deserted even by Sosha, who had a seat in the topmost gallery of the opera-house, sat before his dying fire, enduring the last throes of that long struggle for recognition which, he believed in the depths of his soul, was finally to end, to-night. It is seldom, indeed, that there does not linger, however unwelcomed, one little shred of hope for the success of one's own work. But with Ivan there now remained not even this. The struggle of the past weeks, the glaring imperfections that had crowded yesterday's dress rehearsal, had brought him despair unutterable. Up to yesterday afternoon, all had been hopelessly wrong. And the last thing he had heard, on the previous day, as he fled the theatre, had been the loud echoes of the latest quarrel between Mesdames Menschikov and Castello, in which the former sat alternately reviling her companion and wailing that her voice, on the morrow, would be a mere hoarse shred. This Ivan did not doubt:—and the first important solo of the first act, whereby he had planned to capture and hold the interest of the audience, depended wholly upon her!—Moreover, Finocchi's costumes, finished barely in time for the dress-rehearsal, had been discovered to be hopeless anachronisms, which the ridiculous little man had violently refused to have altered in the least.—And the result of Merelli's last, special appeal, Ivan had not cared to learn.
These incidents, and many earlier ones of his long season of trial, whirled in a numbing chaos through Ivan's tired brain, wreathing themselves in malevolent phantasies about the undimmed picture of his bald failure at the concert, in the presence of his father. Indeed, unsuspected though it remained by any of his friends, it was really this fact of Prince Michael's witness of his misfortune—his second disgrace—which, through all these months, had been eating, like some poisonous acid, into the very vitals of Ivan's manhood, Ivan's courage. It was evident to him that his father, having somewhere beheld a programme of the concert, finding his son's name in famous company, had determined to give him one more chance of favor. He had come to hear the symphony: to find out whether, after all, the last Gregoriev were worth something. And—he had found out, indeed!
Thus, for the thousandth time, the unhappy man reviewed the history of the past three months. Minutes dragged themselves away. His thoughts grew less keen. The intense nervousness that had possessed him earlier, diminished. Little by little his pulses quieted, his temples ceased to throb. He sat wondering, vaguely, what new labor his hands must turn to, now that he had proved himself a fool in the profession he loved. His education might, possibly, be found of some account. There were such things as army coaches, he believed:—poor, broken-down creatures, living upon broken possibilities and the sale of their commissions. Then there recurred the memory of his old tutor, Ludmillo. He had not always been unhappy. His life had been dull enough, certainly; but there was nothing of this hideous notoriety in it. He—perhaps—
The great Kremlin clock sent twelve, slow strokes booming through the frosty air. Ivan started, suddenly.—By now, at least, the performance must be at an end! And—nobody had come to him!—They had all dreaded the breaking of the news. Even Sosha:—Then it had failed!—Failed.—Ah, that spark of hope! Good Heavens! Had it actually existed, after all? Why else this terrible pain? this sickness? This conscious pallor?—Nonsense! Had he dreamed of anything else for one moment? He tried, desperately, for a shred of philosophy; and then found himself pacing the floor, knees trembling, heart in throat, that sense of nauseated faintness boding little good to a man seeking tranquillity.—Truly, it was in the ten ensuing minutes that the climax of his long, desperate struggle was reached, at last.
Hark! What hear we afar off? This paean of trumpets? this rolling of chariot-wheels? No ghosts, to-night. Surely, this time, these are the gods themselves, that wait without this humble door!
At least the sound that smote Ivan's ears was real enough. A burly fist was pounding on the knocker. An instant's pause. Then—ah, then he flew, shakily, to open;—to be greeted by a volley of wreaths, of ribbons, more precious yet, of flowers—just single, spontaneous flowers, perfumed and wilted from their recent warm contact with human flesh, a spangle or a shred of lace still hanging to more than one audacious thorn!
Ivan, surrounded, heaped, by these tributes, deathly white and visibly shaking now, received the rush of a dozen men, and,—wonder of wonders, one woman! For presently, out of the melee of shaking hands and emotional bear-hugs, he found himself gazing into the velvet eyes of—Irina Petrovna, from whom, hopelessly dazed, he turned to the damp and shining face of Nicholas Rubinstein; (Anton, be it observed, not having come!)
"What are you doing?—What is it all?" he asked, wearily.
"What is it?—Oh, wonderful truly it is, that you've come at last to your own, Ivan! that Russia holds out her arms to you: that all Moscow is yours: that The Boyar is the opera of the century; and you are the man of—"
He stopped, perforce. Ivan's arms had risen, trembling. His lips had uttered one, slight cry. And then, without warning, he pitched forward, over the tumbled wreaths, into the waiting bosom of his gods.
[Footnote 1: This incident is not fictitious; but was an actual occurrence in the life of one of the most distinguished of Russian composers.]
Morning, with its usual mood of depressed calm, brought with it, for Ivan, a pessimistic disbelief in the reality of the recent midnight scene. Nevertheless he had curiosity enough remaining to cause him to hurry through his dressing and then run out to buy all the papers of the day. The result was that by the time Sosha appeared with the early samovar, Ivan was in the clouds again. Buoyancy had set every nerve to tingling; and the elation of the knowledge that success had actually come, quivered from him like a rosy aura.
Beyond doubt, "The Boyar" had at last opened to Ivan the long-locked door of recognition. No Russian opera, it seemed, "Russlan and Ludmilla" possibly excepted, had gone home to the hearts of the Russian people as had this piece of youthful work, which, though its merit was perfectly genuine, was by no means free from faults. At the opera-house itself, every one, from the Menschikov to Merelli and the chorus, was in a state of beaming delight. Already Madame Pervana and the august Limpadello himself had gone quietly to the Signor Impresario with the suggestion that possibly, after all, the parts of Marie Vassilievna and the Boyar were suited to their respective talents; and that it was a pity to allow Russian musical progress to be intrusted to such well-meaning but incompetent persons as the second soprano and tenor.
To the indignation of the prima-donna, however, the Menschikov, who, in the end, had risen to no small heights in her interpretation of the hapless Marie, was allowed to retain the role. But Ivan had the relief of seeing Finocchi of the hopeless ear replaced by Limpadello, through whom the quartet was now firmly united and became the sensation of the whole, sensational piece.
In the eight weeks of January and February, the opera was given eleven times. During the latter month the St. Petersburg company began to rehearse it; and at the end of March, on the Monday after Easter—one of the great nights of the year—Ivan and Ostrovsky sat together in a stage-box, watching the delight of one of the most magnificent audiences ever assembled in the Grand Theatre. The performance was as faultless as a performance can be made; and, as a final compliment to the composer, his own "nature ballet" was performed, with Mademoiselle Ellsler, who had come from Vienna for the purpose, in her already famous pas seul of the Butterfly. Before the last curtain descended, Ivan had been forced upon the stage beside his companion, to respond to the frantic plaudits of the men and women who, a few years before, had turned from Ivan Gregoriev as from one accursed.
After the opera there was still a long and hilarious supper, given by Merelli, to be endured; and when, an hour or two before dawn, Ivan finally reached his rooms, he found upon his table a sealed envelope, unaddressed. Opening it, there fell to the floor a packet of notes for two thousand roubles, together with a little slip of paper containing, in his father's writing, the words: