by James Huneker
Come, let us march against the powers of heaven,
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signify the slaughter of the Gods.
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
PRAYER IN B
A SON OF LISZT
A CHOPIN OF THE
THE PIPER OF
THE RIM OF FINER
AN IBSEN GIRL
THE QUEST OF THE
THE CORRIDOR OF
GIVE A MUSICALE
THE IRON VIRGIN
DUSK OF THE GODS
A SPINNER OF
THE LORD'S PRAYER IN B
At the close of the first day they brought Baruch into the great
Hall of the Oblates, sometime called the Hall of the Unexpected. The
young man walked with eyes downcast. Aloft in the vast spaces the
swinging domes of light made more reddish his curly beard, deepened the
hollows on either side of his sweetly pointed nose, and accented the
determined corners of his firmly modelled lips. He was dressed in a
simple tunic and wore no Talith; and as he slowly moved up the wide
aisle the Grand Inquisitor, visibly annoyed by the resemblance, said to
his famulus, The heretic dares to imitate the Master. He crossed
himself and shuddered.
Mendoza abated not his reserve as he drew near the long table before
the Throne. Like a quarry that is at last hemmed in, the Jew was
quickly surrounded by a half thousand black-robed monks. The
silencesick, profound, and awfulwas punctuated by the low, sullen
tapping of a drum. Its droning sound reminded the prisoner of
life-blood dripping from some single pore; the tone was B, and its
insistent, muffled, funereal blow at rhythmic intervals would in time
have worn away rock. Mendoza felt a prevision of his fate; being a
musician he knew of music's woes and warnings. And he lifted eyes for
the first time since his arrest in a gloomy, star-lit street of Lisbon.
He saw bleached, shaven faces in a half circle; they seemed like
skulls fastened on black dummiesso immobile their expression, so
deadly staring their eyes. The brilliant and festal appearance of the
scene oppressed him and his eyeballs ached. Symphonies of light were
massed over the great high walls; glistening and pendulous, they
illuminated remote ceilings. There was color and taunting gaiety in the
decoration; the lofty panels contained pictures from the classic poets
which seemed profane in so sacred an edifice, and just over the Throne
gleamed the golden tubes of a mighty organ. Then Baruch Mendoza's eyes,
half blinded by the strange glory of the place to which he had been
haled, encountered the joyful and ferocious gaze of the Grand
Inquisitor. Again echoed dolefully the tap of the drum in the key of B,
and the prisoner shuddered.
A voice was heard: Baruch Mendoza, thou art before the Throne, and
one of the humblest of God's creatures asks thee to renounce thy vile
heresies. Baruch made no answer. The voice again modulated high, its
menace sweetly hidden.
Baruch Mendoza, dost thou renounce? The drum counted two taps.
Baruch did not reply. For the third time the voice issued from the lips
of the Grand Inquisitor, as he drew the hood over his face.
Baruch Mendoza, dog of a Jew, dog of a heretic, believer in no
creed, wilt thou recant the evil words of thy unspeakable book,
prostrate thyself before the altar of the Only God, and ask His
forgiveness? Answer, Baruch Mendoza!
The man thus interrogated wondered why the Hall of the Oblates was
adorned with laughing Bacchantes, but he responded not. The drum tapped
thrice, and there was a burst of choral music from the death-like
monks; they chaunted the Dies Iræ, and the sonorous choir was
antiphonally answered with anxious rectitude from the gallery, while
the organ blazed out its frescoed tones. And Baruch knew that his
death-hymn was being sung.
To him, a despiser of the vesture of things, to him the man with the
spiritual inner eye, whose philosophy was hated and feared because of
its subtle denial of the God in high heaven, to Baruch Mendoza the
universe had seemed empty with an emptiness from which glared no divine
Judgehis own people's Jahvehno benignant sufferer appeared on the
cross. He saw no future life except in the commingling of his substance
with the elements; and for this contumacious belief, and his timidly
bold expression of it, he had been waylaid and apprehended in the
gloomy star-lit street of Lisbon.
The single tap of the drum warned him; the singing had ceased. And
this bitter idealist, this preacher of the hollowness of the real,
wondered where were the sable trappings of woe, the hideous
envisagement of them that are condemned with mortuary symbols in garbs
of painted flame to the stake, faggot, axe, and headsman. None of these
were visible, and the gentle spirit of the prisoner became ruffled,
alarmed. He expected violence but instead they offered churchly music.
Restless, his nerves fretted, he asked himself the reason. He did not
fear death, for he despised life; he had no earthly ties; his life's
philosophy had been fittingly enunciated; and he knew that even though
a terrible death overtook him his seed had fallen on ripe soil. As he
was a descendant from some older system that denied the will to live,
so would he in turn beget disciples who would be beaten, burned and
reviled by the great foe to libertythe foe that strangled it before
Egypt's theocracy, aye! before the day of sun-worshippers invoking
their round, burning god, riding naked in the blue. Baruch pondered
these things, and had almost lost his grasp on time and space when
something jarred his consciousness.
It was the tap of the drum, sombre, dull, hollow and threatening; he
shivered as he heard its percussive note, and with a start remembered
that the Dies Iræ had been chaunted in the same key. Once more
A light touch on the shoulder brought him realization. He stood
almost alone; the monks were gliding down the great Hall of the Oblates
and disappearing through a low arched door, the sole opening in the
huge apartment. One remained, a black friar, absolutely hooded.
Baruch followed him. The pair noiselessly traversed the wonderful
hall with its canopies of light, its airy arches, massive groinings and
bewildering blur of color and fragrance; the air was thick and grateful
with incense. Exactly in the middle of the hall there rested on the
floor a black shadow, a curiously shaped shadow. It was a life-sized
crucifix which Baruch had not seen before. To it he was led by the
black friar, who motioned him to the floor; then this unbelieving Jew
and atheist laid himself humbly down, and with outstretched arms
awaited his end.
In few rapid movements the prisoner was chained to the cross; and
with a penetratingly sweet smile the friar gave him a silent blessing,
while Baruch's eyes followed the dazzling tracery on the ceiling, and
caught a glimpse of the golden, gleaming organ tubes above the Throne
The stillness was so profound that he heard the soft sighs of the
candles, the forest of unnumbered candles; the room was windless. Again
the singular fancy overtook him that the key of B ruled the song of the
lights, and he stirred painfully because certain sounds irritated him,
recalling as a child his vague rage at the Kol Nidrei, which was sung
in the key of B at the synagogue.
He closed his eyes a moment and opened them with fright, for the
drum sounded near his head, though he could not turn to see it.
Suddenly he was encircled by ten monks and chaunting heard. Mendoza
noticed the admirable monotone, the absolute, pitch, and then, with a
leap of his heart, the key color B again; and the mode was major.
The hooded monks sang in Latin the Lord's Prayer. Our Father, they
solemnly intonedOur Father who art in Heaven; hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us
this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil. Amen.
Baruch tried to sleep. The rich voices lulled him into temporary
rest; he seemed to have slept hours. But he knew this was impossible,
for the monks were singing the Lord's Prayer when he awoke. He grew
exasperated; why need they pray over him? Why did they not take him to
his damp cell to rot or to be eaten by vermin? This blaze of light was
unendurable; it penetrated his closed eyelids, painted burning visions
on his brain, and the musicthe accursed musiccontinued. Again the
Lord's Prayer was solemnly intoned, and noticing the freshness of the
voices he opened his eyes, counted ten cowled monks around him; and the
key they sang was B, the mode major.
Another set, Baruch thought, as he remarked the stature of the
singers, and sought oblivion. All that night and all next day he chased
sleep, and the morning of the third day found him with half mad gaze,
sleepless and frantic. When from deadly exhaustion he would half faint
into stupor the hollow, sinister sound of the drum stunned his ears,
while rich, churchly voices of men would intone Pater noster, qui es
in coelis! and always in the agonizing key of B.
This tone became a monstrous serpent that plunged its fangs into
Baruch's brain and hissed one implacable tone, the tone B. The drum
roared the same tone; the voices twined about the crucified Jew and
beat back sleep, beat back death itself.
The evening of the fourth day Baruch Mendoza was more pallid than
his robe; his eyes looked like twin stars, they so glittered, and the
fire in them was hardly of this earth. His cheek-bones started through
the skin; beard and hair hung in damp masses about the ghastly face and
head; his lips were parted in a contemptuous grin, and there was a
strained, listening look on the countenance: he was listening for the
key that was slaying him, and he saw it now, saw it in the flesh, a
creeping, crawling, shapeless thing that slowly strangled his life. All
his soul had flown to his ears, all his senses were lodged in the one
sense of hearing, and as he heard again and again the Lord's Prayer in
the key of B the words that compose it separated themselves from the
tone and assumed an individual life. The awful power of the spoken word
assailed him, and Our Father who art in heaven became for Baruch a
divine gigantic cannibal, devouring the planets, the stars, the
firmament, the cosmos, as he created them. The heavens were copper, and
there gleamed and glared the glance of an eyeball burning like a sun,
and so threatening that the spirit of the atheist was consumed as a
scroll in the flame. He cried aloud, If there is a God, let Him come
from on high and save me! The drum sounded more fiercely, a monk
moistened with water the tortured man's lips, and Baruch groaned when
the cowled choir chaunted, Pater noster, qui es in coelis!
Give us this day our daily bread. He asked himself if he had ever
known hunger and thirst; then other letters of fire came into his
brain, but through the porches of his ears. And forgive us our
trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Could he, he
whispered to his soulcould he forgive these devils that sang like
angels? He almost shivered in his attempt to smile; and loathing life
heard with sardonic amusement: Lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil!
Amen, groaned Baruch Mendoza. Again the drum boomed dolorously,
and monkish voices intoned: Pater noster, qui es in coelis!
There was no dawn, no eve in this brassy hell of music. The dripping
monotone of voices, the dreary pelting of the drum never ceased; and
the soul of the unbeliever was worn slowly away. The evening of the
seventh day the Grand Inquisitor, standing at his side, noticed with
horror the resemblance to the Master, and piously crossed himself.
Seeing the end was nigh, for there was thin froth on the shrivelled
gums of the man, the mild-voiced Inquisitor made a sign to the black
friar, and in a moment the music that had never ceased for six days was
no longer heard, though the air continued to hum with the vibrations of
the diabolical tone. The black friar knelt beside the dying one, and
drawing an ivory crucifix from his habit held it to Mendoza's face.
Baruch, aroused by the cessation of the torturing tonality, opened his
eyes, which were as black as blood, saw the symbol of Christianity, and
with a final effort forced from his cracked lips:
Thou traitor! As he attempted to blaspheme the sacred image he
died, despairingly invoking Adonai.
Then rolled forth in rich, triumphant tones the music of Our Father
who art in heaven, while the drum sonorously sounded in the key of B,
and the mode was major.
A SON OF LISZT
It originated in the wicked vanity of Sir William Davenant
himself, who, disdaining his honest but mean descent from
the vintner, had the shameless impiety to deny his father
and reproach the memory of his mother by claiming
consanguinity with Shakespeare.
Little Holland was very dry.
Little Holland is a shapeless stretch of meadowland pierced by
irregular canals through which sluggishly flows the water at high tide.
Odd shaped houses are scattered about, one so near the river that its
garden overflows in the full of the moon. Dotted around stand conical
heaps of hay gleaned from this union of land and water. It is called
Little Holland, for small schooners sail by under the very nose of your
house, and the hired girl often forgets to serve the salad while
flirting with the skipper of some sloop. But this August night Little
Holland was very dry.
As we stood facing the river I curiously examined my host. His face
was deeply lined by life which had carved a quarter hundred little
wrinkles about his eyes and the corners of his mouth. His eyes were not
true. They shifted too much. His thick, brown hair was thrown off his
forehead in a most exuberantly artistic fashion. His nose jutted well
into the outer world, and I had to confess that his profile was of a
certainty striking. But his full face was disappointing. It was too
narrow; its expression was that of a meagre soul, and his eyes were
very close together. Yet I liked Piloti; he played the piano well, sang
with no little feeling, painted neat water sketches and was a capital
A sliced cantaloupe moon, full of yellow radiance, arose as we
listened to the melancholy fall of the water on the muddy flats, and I
said to Piloti, Come, let us go within; there you will play for me
some tiny questioning Chopin prelude, and forget this dolorous night.
... He had been staring hard at the moon when I aroused him. As you
will; let us go indoors by all means, for this moon gives me the
spleen. Then we moved slowly toward the house.
Piloti was a bachelor; an old woman kept house and he always
addressed her in the Hungarian tongue. His wants were simple, but his
pride was Lucifer's. By no means a virtuoso, he had the grand air, the
grand style, and when he sat down to play one involuntarily stopped
breathing. He had a habit of smiting the keyboard, and massive chords,
clangorous harmonies inevitably preluded his performances. I knew some
conservatory girls who easily could outstrip Piloti technically, but
there was something which differentiated his playing from that of other
pianists. Liszt he did very well.
When we came into the shabby drawing-room I noticed a picture of the
Abbé Liszt over the grand piano, and as Piloti took a seat he threw
back his head; and my eyes which had rested a moment on the portrait
involuntarily returned to it, so before I was aware of it I cried out,
I say, Piloti, do you know that you look like Liszt? He blushed
deeply, and gave me a most curious glance.
I have heard it said often, he replied, and he crashed into the
master's B minor Sonata, The Invitation to Hissing and Stamping, as
Gumprecht has christened it.
Piloti played the interesting work most vigorously. He hissed, he
stamped and shook back his locks in true Lisztian style. He rolled off
the chorale with redundant meaning, and with huge, flamboyant strokes
went through the brilliant octave finale in B major. As he closed, and
I sat still, a sigh near at hand caused me to turn, and then I saw the
old housekeeper, her arms folded, standing in a doorway. The moonlight
biliously smudged her face, and I noticed her staring eyes. Piloti's
attention was attracted by my silence, and when he saw the woman he
uttered a harsh, crackling word. She instantly retired. Turning to me,
with a nervous laugh, he explained:
The old fool always is affected by moonlight and music.
We strolled out-of-doors, cigarettes in hand, and the rhythmic
swish-swash of the river told that the tide was rising. The dried-up
gullies and canals became silver-streaked with the incoming spray, and
it needed only a windmill to make the scene as Dutch as a Van Der Neer.
Piloti was moody. Something worried him, but as I was not in a very
receptive condition, I forbore questioning him. We walked over the
closely cut grass until the water was reached. He stopped, tossed his
I am the unhappiest man alive! At once I became sympathetic.
He looked at me fiercely: Do you know who I am? Do you know the
stock I spring from? Will you believe me if I tell you? Can I even
trust you? I soothed the excited musician and begged him to confide in
me. I was his nearest friend and he must be aware of my feelings. He
became quieter at once; but never shall I forget the look on his face
as he reverently took off his hat.
I am the son of Franz Liszt, and I thank God for it!
Amen! I fervently responded.
Then he told me his story. His mother was a Hungarian lady, nobly
born. She had been an excellent pianist and studied with Liszt at
Weimar and Buda-Pesth. When Piloti became old enough he was taught the
piano, for which he had aptitude. With his mother he lived the years of
his youth and early manhood in London. She always wore black, and after
Liszt's death Piloti himself went into mourning. His mother sickened
and died, leaving him nothing but sad memories. It sounded very
wretched, and I hastened to console him as best I could. I reminded him
of the nobility of his birth, and that it was greater to be the son of
a genius than of a duke. Look at Sir William Davenant, I said; 'O
rare Sir William Davenant,' as his contemporaries called him. What an
honor to have been Shakespeare's natural son! But Piloti shook his
I care little for the legitimacy of my birth; what worries me,
oppresses me, makes me the most miserable man alive, is that I am not a
second Liszt. Why can I not play like my father?
I endeavored to explain that genius is seldom transmitted, and did
not forget to compliment him on his musical abilities. You know that
you play Liszt well. That very sonata in B minor, it pleased me much.
But do I play it like a Friedheim? he persisted. And I held my
Piloti was downcast and I proposed bed. He assented. It was late;
the foolish-looking young topaz moon had retired; the sky was cloudy,
and the water was rushing over Little Holland. We did not get indoors
without wetting our feet. After drinking a parting glass I shook his
hand heartily, bade him cheer up, and said that study would soon put
him in the parterre of pianists. He looked gloomy, and nodded
good-night. I went to my room. As the water was likely to invade the
cellar and even the ground floor, the bedrooms were all on the second
floor. I soon got to my bed, for I was tired, and the sadness of this
strange household, the moaning of the river, the queer isolated
feeling, as if I were alone far out at sea, all this depressed me, and
I actually pulled the covers over my head like a frightened child
during a thunderstorm.
I must have been sleeping some time when voices penetrated the
dream-recesses of my brain. As I gradually emerged from darkened
slumber I became conscious of Piloti's voice. It was pitched a trifle
above a whisper, but I heard every word. He was talking savagely to
some one, and the theme was the old one.
It has gone far enough. I'm sick of it, I tell you. I will kill
myself in another week. Don't, he said in louder tones and with an
imprecationdon't tell me not to. You've been doing that for years.
A long silence ensued; a woman's voice answered:
My son, my son, you break my heart with your sorrow! Study if you
would play like your father, study and be brave, be courageous! All
will come out right. Idle fretting will do no good.
It was the voice of the housekeeper, and she spoke in English.
Piloti's mother! What family secret was I upon the point of
discovering? I shivered as I lay in my bed, but could not have forborne
listening though I should die for it. The voices resumed. They came
from the room immediately back of mine:
I tell you, mother, I know the worst. I may be the son of a genius,
but I am nevertheless a mediocrity. It is killing me! it is killing
me! and the voice of this morose monomaniac broke into sobs.
The poor mother cried softly. If I only had not been Liszt's son,
Piloti muttered, then I would not be so wretched, so cursed with
ambitions. Alas! why was I ever told the truth?
Oh, my son, my son, forgive! I heard the noise of one dropping on
her knees. Oh, my boy, my pride, my hope, forgive meforgive the
innocent imposture I've practised on you! My son, I never saw Liszt;
With an oath Piloti started up and asked in heavy, thick speech:
What's this, what's this, woman? Seek not to deceive me. What do you
tell me? Never saw Liszt! Who, then, was my father? You must speak, if
I have to drag the words from between your teeth.
O God! O God! she moaned, I dare not tell youit is too
shamefulI never saw LisztI heard much of himI adored him, his
musicI was vain, foolish, doting! I thought, perhaps, you might be a
great pianist, and if you were told that Liszt was your fatheryour
real father. ...
My real fatherwho was he? Quick, woman, speak!
He was Liszt's favorite piano-tuner, she whispered.
Dull silence reigned, and then I heard some one slowly descending
the stairs. The outer door closed, and I rushed to the window. In the
misty dawn I could see nothing but water. The house was completely
hemmed in by a noiseless sheet of sullen dirty water. Not a soul was in
sight, and almost believing that I had been the victim of a nightmare,
I went back to my bed and fell asleep. I was awakened by loud halloas
and rude poundings at my window. A man was looking in at me: Hurry up,
stranger; you haven't long to wait. The water is up to the top of the
porch. Get your clothes on and come into my boat!
It did not take me hours to obey this hint, and I stepped from the
window to the deck of a schooner. The meadows had utterly disappeared.
Nothing but water glistened in the sunlight. When I reached the
mainland I looked back at the house. I could just descry the roof.
Little Holland was very wet.
A CHOPIN OF THE GUTTER
J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un théâtre banal
Qu'enflammait l'orchestre sonore
Une fée allumer dans un ciel infernal
Une miraculeuse aurore;
J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un théâtre banal
Un être qui n'était que lumière, or et gaze,
Terrasser l'énorme Satan;
Mais mon coeur que jamais ne visite l'extase,
Est un théâtre où l'on attend.
Toujours, toujours en vain l'être aux ailes gaze.
They watched him until he turned the corner of the Rue Puteaux and
was lost to them.
He moved slowly, painfully, one leg striking the pavement in
syncopation, for it was sadly crippled by disease. He twisted his thin
head only once as he went along the Batignolles. It seemed to them that
his half face was sneering in the mist. Then the band passed up to the
warmer lights of the Clichy Quarter, where they drank and argued art
far into the night They one and all hated Wagner, adoring Chopin's
Minkiewicz walked up the lower side of the little street called
Puteaux until he reached a stupid, overgrown building. It was numbered
5, and was a shabby sort of pension. The Pole painfully hobbled up the
evil-smelling stairway, more crooked than a youth's counterpoint, and
on the floor next to the top halted, breathing heavily. The weather was
oppressive and he had talked too much to the young men at the
Ah, good boys all, he murmured, trying the door; good lads, but
no talent, no originality. Ah! The door yielded and Minkiewicz was at
An upright piano, a bed, a shaky washstand and bureau, one feeble
chair, musicpounds of itfilled the chamber lighted by one candle.
The old man threw himself on the bed and sighed drearily. Then he went
to the piano, lifted the lid and ran his fingers over the keyboard. He
sighed again. He sat down on the chair and closed his eyes. He did not
sleep, for he arose in a few moments, took off his coat, and lighted a
cigarette in the flame of the candle. Minkiewicz again placed himself
before the instrument and played, but with silent fingers. He executed
the most intricate passages, yet the wind in the room was soundless. He
sat in his shirt-sleeves, his hat on his head, playing a Chopin
concerto in dumb profile, and the night wore on....
He was awakened in the morning by the entrance of a grimy garçon who
grinned and put on the floor an oblong basket. Minkiewicz stirred
The absintheyou have not forgotten it? he questioned in a weak
Ah, no, sir; never, sir, do I forget the green fairy for the great
musician, sir, was the answer, evidently a set one, its polite angles
worn away by daily usance.
The man grasped the proffered glass and swallowed, choking, the
absinthe. It did him good, for he sat up in bed, his greasy, torn
nightgown huddled about him, and with long, claw-like fingers he
uncovered the scanty breakfast. When he had finished it he wiped his
mouth and hands on the counterpane:
Charge it as usual.
The waiter packed up the dishes, bade a bon jour, and with a mocking
gesture left the room. Minkiewicz always had his breakfasts charged.
At noon he crawled out of bed and dressed at a grave tempo. He wore
always the same shirt, a woollen one, and his wardrobe knew no change.
It was faded, out of fashion by a full half-century, and his only
luxury a silk comforter which he knotted loosely about his neck. He had
never worn a collar since Chopin's death. It was two of the clock when
he stumbled downstairs. At the doorway he met Bernard the hunchback
No money to-day, M. Minkiewicz? Well, I suppose notterribly hard
timesno money. Will you have a little glass with me? The musician
went into the dusky dining-room and drank a pony of brandy with the
good-natured Alsatian; then he shambled down the Rue Puteaux into the
Boulevard des Batignolles, and slowly aired himself.
A great man, M. Minkiewicz; a poet, a pianist, a friend of M.
Chopinah! I admire him much, much, explained Bernard to a
It was very wet. But the slop and swish of the rain did not prevent
the brasserie of The Fallen Angels from being filled with noisy
drinkers. In one corner sat Minkiewicz. He was drinking absinthe. About
him clustered five or six good-looking young fellows. The chatter in
the room was terrific, but this group of disciples heard all the master
said. He scarcely spoke above a whisper, yet his voice cut the hot air
You ask me, Henri, how well I knew Frédéric. I could ask you in
turn how well did you know your mother? I was with him at Warsaw. I,
too, studied under Elsner. I accompanied him on his first journey to
Vienna. I was at his first concert. I trembled and cried as he played
our firsthis first concerto in F minor. I wrotewe wrote the one in
E minor later. I proposed for the hand of Constance Gladowska for
Frédéric, and he screamed when I brought back the answer. Ah! but I did
not tell him that Constance, Constantia, had said, 'Sir Friend, why not
let the little Chopin woo for himself?' and she threw back her head and
smiled into my eyes. I could have killed her for that subtle look. Yes;
I know she married an ordinary merchant. What cared I? I loved
Frédéric, Frédéric only. I never left his side. When it rained, rained
as it is raining to-night, he would tremble, and often beat me with his
spider-like hands, but I didn't mind it, for I was stronger then.
I went with him to Paris. It was I who secured for him from Prince
Radziwill the invitation to the Rothschild's ball where he won his
first triumph. I made him practise. I bore his horrible humors, his
mad, irritating, capricious temper. I wrote down his music for him.
Wrote it down, did I say? Why, I often composed it for him; yes, I, for
he would sit and moon away at the piano, insanely wasting his ideas,
while I would force him to repeat a phrase, repeat it, polish it, alter
it and so on until the fabric of the composition was complete. Then,
how I would toil, toil, prune and expand his feeble ideas! Mon Dieu!
Frédéric was no reformer by nature, no pathbreaker in art; he was a
sickly fellow, always coughing, always scolding, but he played
charmingly. He had such fingers! and he knew all our national dances.
The mazurek, the mazourk, the polonaise and the krakowiak. Ah! but then
he had no blood, no fire, no muscle, no vitality. He was not a
revolutionist. He did not discover new forms; all he cared for was to
mock the Jews with their majufes, and play sugar-water nocturnes.
I was the artistic mate to this little Pole who allowed that old
man-woman to deceive himGeorge Sand, of course. Ah! the old rascal,
how she hated me. She forbade me to enter their hotel in the Cour
d'Orléans, but I didChopin would have died without me, the delicate
little vampire! I was his nurse, his mother, his big brother. I fought
his fight with the publishers, with the creditors. I wrote his
polonaises, allall I tell youexcept those sickly things in the keys
of C sharp minor, F minor and B flat minor. Pouf! don't tell me
anything about Chopin. He write a polonaise? He write the scherzi, the
ballades, the études?you make me enraged. I, I made them all and he
will get the credit for all time, and I am glad of it, for I loved him
as a father.
The voice of Minkiewicz became strident as he repeated his old
story. Some of the clients of The Fallen Angels stopped talking for a
moment; it was only that crazy Pole again with his thrice-told tale.
Minkiewicz drank another absinthe.
And were you then a poet as well as a composer? timidly asked
I was the greatest poet Poland ever had. Ask of Chopin's friends,
or of his living pupils. Go ask Georges Mathias, the old professor of
the Conservatoire, if Minkiewicz did not inspire Chopin. Who gave him
the theme for his Revolutionary étudethe one in C minor? Minkiewicz
ran his left hand with velocity across the table. His disciples
followed those marvellously agile fingers with the eyes of the
I was with Frédéric at Stuttgart. I first heard the news of the
capture of Warsaw. Pale and with beating heart I ran to the hotel and
told him all. He had an attack of hysteria; then I rushed to the piano
and by chance struck out a phrase. It was in C sharp minor, and was
almost identical with the theme of the C minor study. At once Chopin
ceased his moaning and weeping and came over to the instrument. 'That's
very pretty,' he said, and began making a running bass accompaniment.
He was a born inventor of finger tricks; he took up the theme and
gradually we fashioned the study as it now stands. But it was first
written in C sharp minor. Frédéric suggested that it was too difficult
for wealthy amateurs in that key, and changed it to C minor. More
copies would be sold, he said. But he spoke no more of Warsaw after
that. Why? Ah! don't ask methe true artist, I suppose. Once that his
grief is objectified, once that his sorrow is translated into tone, the
first cause is quite forgotten,Art is so selfish, so beautiful, you
I never left Frédéric but once; the odious Sand woman, who smoked a
pipe and swore like a cab driver, smuggled the poor devil away to
Majorca. He came back a sick man; no wonder! You remember the de Musset
episode. The poet's mother even implored the old dragon to take Alfred
to Italy. He, too, was coughingall her friends coughed except Liszt,
who sneered at her blandishmentsand Italy was good for consumptives.
De Musset went away ailing; he returned a mere shadow. What happened?
Ah! I cannot say. Possibly his eyes were opened by the things he
sawyou remember the young Italian physicianI think his name was
Pagello? It was the same with Chopin. Without me he could not thrive.
Sand knew it and hated me. I was the sturdy oak, Frédéric the tender
ivy. I poured out my heart's blood for him, poured it into his music.
He was a mere girl, I tell youa sensitive, slender, shrinking,
peevish girl, a born prudish spinster, and would shiver if any one
looked at him. Liszt always frightened him and he hated Mendelssohn. He
called Beethoven a sour old Dutchman, and swore that he did not write
piano music. For the man who first brought his name before the public,
the big-hearted German, Robert Schumannhere's to his memoryChopin
had an intense dislike. He confessed to me that Schumann was no
composer, a talented improviser only. I think he was a bit jealous of
the man's genius. But Freddie loved Mozart, loved his music so madly
that it was my turn to become jealous.
And fastidious! Bon Dieu! I tell you that he could not drink, and
once Balzac told us a piquant story and Frédéric fainted. I remember
well how Balzac stared and said in that great voice of his: 'Guard well
thy little damsel, my good Minkiewicz, else he may yet be abducted by a
tom-cat,' and then he laughed until the window-panes rattled. What a
I gave my brain to Chopin. When he returned to me from that mad
trip to the Balearic Islands I had not the heart to scold. He was
pallid and even coughed in a whisper. He had no money; Sand was angry
with him and went off to Nohant alone. I had no means, but I took
twenty-four little piano preludes that I had made while Frédéric was
away and sold them for ready money. You know them, all the world knows
them. They say now that he wrote them whilst at Majorca, and tell
fables about the rain-drop prelude in D flat. A pack of lies! I wrote
them and at my old piano without strings, the same that I still have in
the Rue Puteaux. But I sha'n't complain. I love him yet. What was mine
was hisis his, even my music.
The group became uneasy. It was late. The rain had stopped, and
through the open doors of The Fallen Angels could be seen the
soft-starred sky, and melting in the distance were the lights of the
Gare Saint-Lazare. It was close by the Quarter of Europe, and the women
who walked the boulevard darted swift glances into the heated rooms of
Minkiewicz drank another absinthehis last. There was no more
money. The disciples had spent their all for the master whom they loved
as they hated the name of Wagner. His slanting eyesthe eyes of the
Calmuckwere bloodshot; his face was yellow-white. His long, white
hair hung on his shoulders and there were bubbles about his lips.
But I often despair. I loved Chopin's reputation too much ever to
write a line of music after his death. Besides who would have believed
me? Which one of you believes in his secret heart of hearts one word I
have spoken to-night? It is difficult to make the world acknowledge
that you are not an idiot; very difficult to shake its belief that
Chopin was not a god. Alas! there are no more gods. You say I am a
poet, yet how may a man be a poet if godless? I know that there is no
God, yet I am unhappy longing after Him. I awake at the dawn and cry
for God as children cry for their mother. Curse reason! curse the
knowledge that has made a mockery of my old faiths! Frédéric died, and
dying saw Christ. I look at the roaring river of azure overhead and see
the cruel skynothing more. I tell you, my children, it has killed the
poet in me, and it will kill the gods themselves when comes the crack
I dream often of that timethat time John, the poet of Patmos,
foretold in his Revelations: The time when the Sixth Seal was opened.
Alas! when the Son of Man cometh out of the clouds and round about the
throne are the four-winged beasts, what will he see?
Nothingnothing, I tell you.
Unbelief will have killed the very soul of creation itself. And
where once burned the eye of the Cosmos will be naught but a hideous
Hélas! mes enfants, I could drink one more absinthe; my soul
grieves for my lost faith, my lost music, my lost Frédéric, my lost
But they went away. It was past the hour of closing and the host was
not in a humor for parleying.
Ah! the old pig, the old blasphemer! he said, shaking his head as
he locked the doors.
They watched him until he turned the corner of the Rue Puteaux and
was lost to them.
He moved slowly, painfully, one leg striking the pavement in
syncopation, for it was sadly crippled by disease. He did not twist his
thin head as he went along the Batignolles. Then the band passed once
more up to the warmer lights of the Clichy Quarter and argued art far
into the night.
They one and all hated Wagner, adoring Chopin's magic music.
THE PIPER OF DREAMS
The desert of my soul is peopled with black gods,
Huge blocks of wood;
Brave with gilded horns and shining gems,
The black and silent gods
Tower in the naked desert of my soul.
With eyes of wolves they watch me in the night;
With eyes like moons.
My gods are they; in each the evil grows,
The grandiose evil darkens over each
And each black god, silent
Under the iron skies, dreams
Of his omnipotencethe taciturn black gods!
And my flesh and my brain are underneath their feet;
I am the victim, and I perish
Under the weight of these nocturnal gods
And in the iron winds of their unceasing wrath.
It was opera night, and the lights burned with an official
brilliancy that challenged the radiance of the Café Monferino across
the asphalt. There, all was decorous gaiety; and the doubles of Pilsner
never vanished from the little round metal tables that overflowed into
the juncture of the streets Gluck and Halévy. Among the brasseries in
Paris this the most desirable to lovers of the Bohemian brew. The
cooking, Neapolitan and Viennese, perhaps explained the presence, one
June evening in the year 1930, of tall, blond, blue-eyed Illowski, the
notorious Russian symphonist. With several admirers he sat sipping
bocks and watched the motley waves of the boulevard wash back strange
men and womenand again women.
Lenyard spoke first. Young and from New England he was studying
music in Paris.
Master, why don't you compose a music drama? Illowski, gazing into
the soft blur of light and mist over the Place de l'Opéra, did not
answer. Scheff burst into laughter. The one who had put the question
became angry. Confound it! What have I said, Mr. Dutchman, that seems
so funny to you? Illowski put out a long, thin hand,a veritable flag
of truce: Children, cease! I have written something better than a
music drama. I told Scheff about it before he left St. Petersburg last
spring. Don't be jealous, Lenyard. There is nothing in the work that
warrants publicityyet. It is merely a venture into an unfamiliar
region, nothing more. But how useless to write for a public that still
listens to Meyerbeer in the musical catacombs across the street!
Lenyard's lean, dark features relaxed. He gazed smilingly at the fat
and careless Scheff. Then Illowski arose. It was late, he said, and his
head ached. He had been scoring all daysufficient reason for early
retirement. The others demurred, though meekly. If their sun set so
early, how could they be expected to pass the night with any degree of
pleasure? The composer saw all this; but he was sensibly selfish, and
buttoning the long frock-coat which hung loosely on his attenuated
frame shook hands with his disciples, called a carriage and drove away.
Lenyard and Scheff stared after him and then faced the situation. There
were many tell-tale porcelain tallies on the table to be settled, and
neither had much money; so the manoeuvring was an agreeable sight for
the cynical waiter. Finally Lenyard, his national pride rising at the
spectacle of the Austrian's penuriousness, paid the entire bill with a
Scheff sank back in his chair and grinningly inquired, Say, my boy,
I wonder if Illowski has enough money for his coachman when he reaches
the mysterious, old dream-barn he calls home? Lenyard slowly emptied
his glass: I don't know, you don't know, and, strictly speaking, we
don't care. But I'd dearly like to see the score of his new work.
Scheff blinked with surprise. He, too, was thinking of the same
dread matter. What, in God's name, do you mean? Speak out. I've been
frightened long enough. This Illowski is a terrible man, Scheff. Do you
suspect the stories are true, after all? Then both men stood up,
shook hands and said: Neshevna will tell us. She knows. ...
Pavel Illowski was a man for whom the visible world had never
existed. Born a Malo-Russ, nursed on Little-Russian legends, a dreamer
of soft dreams until more than a lad, he was given a musical education
in Moscow, the White Cityitself a dream of old Alexander Nevsky's
days. Within sight of the Kremlin the slim and delicate youth fed upon
the fatalistic writers of the nineteenth century. He knew Schopenhauer
before he learned to pronounce German correctly; and the works of
Bakounin, Herzen, Kropotkin became part of his cerebral tissue.
Proudhon, Marx, and Ferdinand Lassalle taught him to hate wealth,
property, power; and then he came across an old volume of Nietzsche in
his uncle's library. The bent of the boy's genius was settled. He would
be a composerhad he not, as a bare-headed child, run sobbing after
Tschaïkowsky's coffin almost to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in
1893but a composer who would mould the destinies of his nation,
perhaps the destinies of all the world, a second Svarog. He early saw
the powerinsidious, subtle, dangerous powerthat lurked in great
art, saw that the art of the twentieth century, his century, was music.
Only thirteen when the greatest of all musical Russians died, he read
Nietzsche a year later; and these men were the two compelling forces of
his life until the destructive poetry of the mad, red-haired Australian
poet, Lingwood Evans, appeared. Illowski's philosophy of anarchy was
now complete, his belief in a social, æsthetic, ethical regeneration of
the world, fixed. Yet he was no militant reformer; he would bear no
polemical banners, wave no red flags. A composer of music, he
endeavored to impart to his work articulate, emotion-breeding and
formidably dangerous qualities.
Deserting the vague and fugitive experimentings of Berlioz, Wagner,
Liszt and Richard Strauss, Illowski modelled himself upon Tschaïkowsky.
He read everything musical and poetical in type, and his first attempt,
when nearly thirty, was a symphonic setting of a poem by a
half-forgotten English poet, Robert Browning, Childe Roland to the
Dark Tower Came, and the music aroused hostile German criticism. Here
is a young Russian, declared the critics, who ventures beyond
Tschaïkowsky and Strauss in his attempts to make music say something.
Was not the classic Richard Wagner a warning to all who endeavored to
wring from music a message it possessed not? When Wagner saw that
BeethovenAh, the sublime Beethoven!could not do without the aid of
the human voice in his Ninth Symphony, he fashioned his music drama
accordingly. With the co-operation of pantomime, costume, color,
lights, scenery, he invented a new artpatched and tinkered one, said
his enemies, who thought him old-fashionedand so Der Ring, Tristan
und Isolde, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal were born. True
classics in their devotion to form and freedom from the feverishness of
the later men headed by Richard Strausswhy should any one seek to
better them, to supplant them? Wagner had been the Mozart of his
century. Down with the musical Tartars of the East who spiritually
invaded Europe to rob her of peace, religion, aye, and morals!
Much censure of this kind was aimed at Illowski, who continued
calmly. Admiring Richard Strauss, he saw that the man did not dare
enough, that his effort to paint in tone the poetic heroes of the past
century, himself included, was laudable; but Don Juan, Macbeth, quaint
Till Eulenspiegel, fantastic Don Quixote were, after all, chiefly
concerned with a moribund æstheticism. Illowski best liked the Strauss
setting of Also Sprach Zarathustra because it approached his own
darling project, though it neither touched the stars nor reached the
earth. Besides, this music was too complicated. A new art must be
evolved, not a synthesis of the old arts dreamed by Wagner, but an art
consisting of music alone: an art for the twentieth century, a
democratic art in which poet and tramp alike could revel. To the
profoundest science must be united a clearness of exposition that only
Raphael has. Even a peasant enjoys Velasquez. The Greeks fathomed this
mystery: all Athens worshipped its marbles, and Phidias was crowned
King of Emotions. Music alone lagged in the race, music, part speech,
part painting, with a surging undertow of passion, music had been too
long in the laboratories of the wise men. To free it from its Egyptian
bondage, to make it the tongue of all life, the interpreter of the
world's desireIllowski dreamed the dreams of madmen.
Chopin, who divined this truth, went first to the people, later to
Paris, and thenceforward he became the victim of the artificial.
Beethoven was born too soon in a world grown gray under scholars'
shackles. The symphony, like the Old Man of the Sea, weighed upon his
mighty shoulders; music, he believed, must be formal to be understood.
Illowski, in his many wanderings, pondered these things: saw Berlioz on
the trail, in his efforts to formulate a science of instrumental
timbres; saw Wagner captivated by the glow of the footlights; saw
Liszt, audacious Liszt, led by Wagner, and tribute laid upon his genius
by the Bayreuth man; saw Tschaïkowsky struggling away from the
temptations of the music drama only to succumb to the symphonic poema
new and vicious version of that old pitfall, the symphony; saw César
Franck, the Belgian mystic, narrowly graze the truth in some of his
chamber music, and then fall victim to the fascinations of the word; as
if the word, spoken or sung, were other than a clog to the free wings
of imaginative music! Illowski noted the struggles of these dreamers,
noted Verdi swallowed by the maelstrom of the theatre; noted Richard
Strauss and his hesitation at the final leap.
To the few in whom he confided, he admitted that Strauss had been
his forerunner, having upset the notion that music must be beautiful to
be music and seeing the real significance of the characteristic, the
ugly. Had Strauss developed courage or gone to the far East when
youngIllowski would shrug his high shoulders, gnaw his cigarette and
exclaim, Who knows?
Tolstoy was right after all, this sage, who under cover of fiction
preached the deadliest doctrines; doctrines that aimed at nothing less
than the disequilibration of existing social conditions. Tolstoy had
inveighed bitterly against all forms of artificial art. If the Moujik
did not understand Beethoven, then all the worse for Beethoven; great
art should have in it Mozart's sunny simplicities, without Mozart's
elaborate technical methods. This Illowski believed. To unite the
intimate soul-searching qualities of Chopin and exclude his alembicated
art; to sweep with torrential puissance the feelings of the common
people, whether Chinese or German, Esquimaux or French; to tell them
things, things found neither in books nor in pictures nor in stone,
neither above the earth nor in the waters below; to liberate them from
the tyranny of laws and beliefs and commandments; to preach the new
dispensation of Lingwood Evansmagnificent, brutal, and
blood-lovingah! if Illowski could but discover this hidden
philosophers stone, this true Arcana of all wisdom, this emotional
lever of Archimedes, why then the whole world would be his: his power
would depose Pope and Emperor. And again he dreamed the dreams of
madmenhis mother had been nearly related to Dostoïewsky....
Of what avail the seed-bearing Bach and his fuguesemotional
mathematics, all of them! Of what avail the decorative efforts of tonal
fresco painters, breeders of an hour's pleasure, soon forgotten in the
grave's muddy disdain! Had not the stage lowered music to the position
of a lascivious handmaiden? To the sound of cymbals, it postured for
the weary debauchee. No; music must go back to its origins. The church
fettered it in its service, knowing full well its good and evil. Before
Christianity was, it had been a power in hieratic hands. Ancient
Egyptian priests hypnotized the multitudes with a single silvery sound;
and in the deepest Indian jungles inspired fakirs induced visions by
the clapping of shells. Who knows how the Grand Llama of Thibet decrees
the destinies of millions! Music again, music in some other garb than
we now sense it. Illowski groaned as he attacked this hermetic mystery.
He had all the technique of contemporary art at his beck; but not that
unique tone, the unique form, by which he might become master of the
universe and gain spiritual dominion over mankind. Yet the secret, so
fearfully guarded, had been transmitted through the ages. Certain
favored ones must have known it, men who ruled the rulers of earth.
Where could it be found? The jealous gods have buried somewhere proofs
of the origins of all things, but upon the shores of what ocean have
they rolled the stone that hides them, O Macareus? Thus echoed he the
fatidical query of the French poet....
Illowski left Europe. Some said he had gone to Asia, the mother of
all religions, of all corruptions. He had been seen in China, and later
stories were related of his attempts to enter the sacred city, Lhasa.
He disappeared and many composers and critics were not sorry; his was a
too commanding personality: he menaced modern art. Thus far church and
state had not considered his individual existence; he was but one of
the submerged units of Rurik's vast Slavic Empire which now almost
traversed the Eastern hemisphere. So he was forgotten and a minor god
arose in his placea man who wrote pretty ballets, who declared that
the end of music was to enthrall the senses; and his ballets were
danced over Europe, while Illowski's name faded away....
At the end of ten years he returned to St. Petersburg. Thinner, much
older, his long, spidery arms, almost colorless blond hair and eroded
features gave him the air of a cenobite who had escaped from some
Scandinavian wilderness into life. His Oriental reserve, and evident
dislike of all his former social habits, set the musical world wagging
its head, recalling the latter days of Dostoïewsky. But Illowski was
not mad: he simply awaited his opportunity. It came. The morning after
his first concert he was awakened by fame knocking at his gate, the
most horrible kind of fame. He was not called a madman by the critics,
for his music could never have been the product of a crazy brainhe
was pronounced an arch-enemy to mankind, because he told infamous
secrets in his music, secrets that had lain buried in the shale of a
vanished epoch. And, lest the world grow cold, he drove to its very
soul the most hideous truths. A hypnotist, he conducted his orchestra
through extraordinary and malevolent forests of tone. The audience went
into the night, some sobbing, some beating the air like possessed ones,
others frozen with terror. At the second concert the throngs were so
dense that the authorities interfered. What poison was being
disseminated in the air of a concert hall? What new device of the
revolutionists? What deadly secret did this meagre, dreamy,
harmless-looking Russian possess? The censors were alert. Critics were
instructed by the heads of their journals to drive forth this musical
anarchist; but criticism availed not. A week, and Illowski became the
talk of Russia, a month, and Europe filled with strange rumors about
him. Here was a magician who made the dead speak, the living dumbwhat
were the limits of his power? What his ultimate intention? Such a man
might be converted into a political force would he but range himself on
the right side of the throne. If notwhy, then there was still Siberia
and its weary stretches of snow!
When he reached Moscow rioting began in the streets. Leaving, he
went with his dark-skinned Eastern musicians to the provinces. And the
government trembled. Peasants threw aside spade, forgot vodka and
rushed to his free concerts, given in canvas-covered booths; and the
impetus communicated to this huge, weltering mass of slaving humanity,
broke wave-like upon the remotest borders of the empire. The church
became alarmed. Anti-Christ had been predicted for centuries, and
latterly by the Second Adventists. Was Illowski the one at whose nod
principalities and powers of earth should tremble and fall? Was he the
prince of darkness himself? Was the liberation of the seven seals at
handthat awful time foretold by the mystic of Patmos? The
Metropolitan of the Greek church did not long hesitate. A hierarchy
that became endangered because a fanatic wielded hypnotic powers, must
exert its prerogative. The aid of the secret police invoked, Illowski
was hurried into Austria; but with him were his men, and he grimly
laughed as he sat in a Viennese café and counted the victories of his
It has begun, he told his first violinist, a stolid fellow with
black blood in his veins.
It had begun. After a concert in Vienna, Illowski was politely
bidden to leave Austria. The unsettled political condition, the
disaffection of Czech and Hungarian, were a few of the reasons given
for this summary retirement. Yet Illowski's orchestra did not play the
Rakoczy march! The clergy heard of his impieties; a report obtained
credence that the Russian composer had written music for the black
mass, most blasphemous of missal travesties. When he was told of this
he smiled, for he did not aim at attacking mere sectarian beliefs; with
Bakounin, he swore that there must be total destruction of all existing
He went to Germany believing the countrymen of Nietzsche would
receive with joy this Overman from the East. There was no longer any
Bayreuththe first performance of Parsifal elsewhere had killed the
place and the work. In Munich, the authorities forewarned, Illowski was
arrested as a dangerous character and sent to Trieste. Thence he
shipped to Genoa; and once in Italy, free. On the peninsula his
progress was that of a trailing comet. The feminine madness first
manifested itself there and swept the countryside with epidemic fury.
Wherever he played the dancing mania set in, and the soldiery could not
put it down by force of arms. Nietzsche's dancing philosopher,
Zarathustra, was incarnated in Illowski's compositions. Like the
nervous obsessions of mediæval times, this music set howling, leaping
and writhing volatile Italians, until it began to assume the
proportions of a new evangel, an hysterical hallucination that bade
defiance to law, doctors, even the decencies of life. Terrible stories
reached the Vatican, and when it was related that one of his symphonic
pieces delineated Zarathustra's Cave with its sinister mockery of
prelate and king, the hated Quirinal was approached for assistance, and
Illowski vanished from Italy.
In the British Isles, the same wicked tales were told of him. He was
denounced by priest and publican as a subverter of morals. No poet, no
demagogue, had ever so interested the masses. Musicians of academic
training held aloof. What had they in common with this charlatan who
treated the abominable teachings of Walt Whitman symphonically? He
could not be a respectable man, even if he were a sane. And then the
unlettered tiller of the soil, drunken mechanic and gutter drab all
loved his music. What kind of music was it thus to be understood by the
The police thought otherwise. Illowski gathered crowdsthat was
sufficient to ban him, not as the church does, with bell, book and
candle, but with stout oaken clubs. Forth he fared, and things came to
such a pass that not a steamer dared convey him or his band to America.
By this time the scientific reviews had taken him up as a sort of
public Illusionist. Disciples of Charcot explained his scoresthough
not one had been publishedwhile the neo-moralists gladly denounced
him as a follower of the Master Immoralist, a sublimated emotional
expression of the ethical nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Others, more
fanciful, saw in his advent and in his art an attempt to overturn
nations, life itself, through the agency of corrupting beauty and by
the arousing of illimitable desires. Color and music, sweetness and
soft luxuries, declared these modern followers of Ambrose and
Chrysostom, were the agencies of Satan in the undermining of morals.
Pulpits thundered. The press sneered at the new Pied Piper of Hamelin,
and poets sang of him. One Celtic bard named him Master of the Still
Stars and of the Flaming Door.
For women his music was as the moth's desire. Wherever he went were
womenwomen and children. Old legends were revived about the ancient
gods. The great Pan was said to be abroad; rustling in the night air
set young folk blushing. An emotional renascence swept like a torrid
simoon over Europe. Those who had not heard, had not seen him, felt,
nevertheless, Illowski's subtle influences in their bosoms. The
fountains of democracy's great deeps were breaking up. Too long had
smug comfort and utilitarianism ruled a world grown weary of debasing
commerce. All things must have an end, even wealth; and to the
wretched, to those in damp mines, to the downcast in exile and in
prisons and to the muck of humanity his name became a beautiful,
illuminated symbol. The charges of impiety were answered: His music
makes us dream. Music now became ruler of the universe, and the earth
hummed tunes; yet Illowski's maddening music had been heard by few
Humble, poor, asking nothing, always giving, he soon became a
nightmare to the orthodox. He preached no heresies, promised no future
rewards, nor warred he against church or kingdom. He only made music
and things were not as before; some strange angel had passed that way
filling men's souls with joy, beauty and bitterness. Duties, vows,
beliefs fell away like snow in the sun; families, tribes, states grew
restless, troops were called and churches never closed. A wave of
belated paganism rolled over the world; thinkers and steersmen of great
political and religious organizations became genuinely alarmed. So had
come the downfall of the classical world: a simple apparition in a far
away Jewish province, and the Cæsars fell supinetheir empires cracked
like mirrors! To imprison Illowski meant danger; to kill him would
deify him, for in the blood of martyrs blossom the seeds of mighty
religions. Far better if he go to ParisParis, the cradle and the tomb
of illusions. There this restless demagogue might find his dreams
stilled in the scarlet negations and frivolous philosophies of the
town; thus the germ-plasm of a new religion, of a new race, perhaps of
a new world, be drowned in the drowsy green of a little glass.
Illowski, this Spirit that Denied, this new Mephisto of music, did
not balk his evil wishers.
Paris, why not? She refused to understand Berlioz, flouted Wagner,
and mocked Rodin's marble egotisms, the ferocious, white stillness of
his Balzac! Perhaps Paris will give me, if not a welcome, at least
repose. I am tired.
To Paris he went and excepting a few cynical paragraphs received no
attention. The Conservatoire, the Académie de Musique did not welcome
officially this gifted son of the Neva; the authorities blandly ignored
him, though the police were instructed that if he attempted to play in
front of churches, address mobs or build barricades, he must be
confined. Paris had no idea of Illowski's real meaning; Paris, even in
the twentieth century, always hears the news of the world last;
besides, she conceives no other conquest save one that has for its
object the several decayed thrones within her gates. Illowski was not
molested and his men, despite their strange garb and complexion, went
about freely. The Russian composer of ballets was just then the mode.
Some clever caricatures appeared of Illowski representing him as a
musical Napoleon, cocked hat, sleek white horse and all. Another gave
him the goat's beard of Brother Jonathan, with the baton of a Yankee
band-master; and then it was assured that the much advertised composer
was a joking American masquerading as a Slav, possibly the vender of
some new religious cure born in the fanatical bake-ovens of Western
America. Faust alternated with Les Huguenots at the Opéra, Pilsner
beer was on tap at the Café Monferinowhy worry over exotic stories
told of this visitor's abnormal musical powers? And little did anyone
surmise that he had just given a symphonic setting to Lingwood Evans's
insurrectionary poem with its ghastly refrain: I hear the grinding of
the swords, and He shall come Thus did Paris unwittingly harbor the
poet, philosopher, composer and pontiff of the new dispensationPavel
Illowski. And Lenyard with Scheff was hastening to Auteuil to see
Neshevna, whose other name was never known.
Lenyard disliked Neshevna before he saw her; when they met he made
no attempt to conceal his hatred. He again told himself this, as with
Scheff he pursued the gravel path leading to the porter's lodge of
Illowski's house. In Auteuil it overlooked the Seine which flowed a
snake of sunny silver between its green-ribbed banks. Together the pair
entered, mounted a low flight of steps and rang the private bell.
Neshevna opened the door. In the flood of a westering sun the accents
of her fluid Slavic face and her mannish head set upon narrow
shouldersall the disagreeable qualities of the womanwere
exaggerated by this bath of clear light. Her hard gaze softened when
she saw Scheff. She spoke to him, not noticing the other:
The master is not at home. Lenyard contradicted her: He is; the
concierge said so.
The concierge lies; but come in. I will see.
Following her they reached the music room, which was bare of
instruments, pictures, furniture, all save a tall desk upon which lay a
heap of music paper. Neshevna made a loping dart to the deskshe was
like a wolf in her movementsand threw a handkerchief over it. Lenyard
watched her curiously. Scheff gave one of his good-natured yawns and
Neshevna, we come to ask!
What? she gravely inquired. There was a lithe alertness in the
woman that puzzled Lenyard. Scheff lounged on the window-sill. Now,
Neshevna, be a good girl! Don't forget Moscow or your old adorer.
She answered him with sarcastic emphasis: You fat fool, you and
your clerical friend there, what do you both want spying upon Illowski
like police? Her voice became shrill as she rapidly uttered these
questions, her green eyes seemed shot with blood. If you think I'll
tell either of you anything concerning the new music
That's all we are here to learn.
All? Imbeciles! As if you or your American could understand
Illowski and his message!
What message? Lenyard's grave face was not in the least
discomposed by the Cossack passion of the woman. What message has
Illowski? I've heard queer stories, and cannot credit them. You are in
his confidence. Tell us, we ask in humility, what message can any man's
music have but the revelation of beauty?
Lenyard's diplomatic question did not fail of its mark. Neshevna
pushed back her flamboyant gray hair and walked about the room.
Mummies! she suddenly cried. As if beauty will content a new
generation fed on something besides the sweetmeats and pap of your
pretty, meaningless music! Why, man, can't you see that all the arts
are deadsave music? Don't you know that painting, literature,
creedsaye, and the kingdoms are dying for want of new blood, new
ideas? Music alone is a vital force, an instrument for rescuing the
world from its moral and spiritual decay. Nietzsche was a potent force
in the nineteenth century, but not understood. They condemned him to a
living death. Lingwood Evans, poet, prophet, is now too old to enforce
his messageit is Illowski, Illowski alone who shall be the
destructive Messiah of the new millennial. 'He cometh not to save; not
peace, but blood!'
The fire of fanaticism was in her eyes, in her speech. She grasped
Lenyard by the elbow: You, you should serve the master. Scheff is too
fond of pleasure to do anything great. He is to give the signalthat's
glory enough for him. But you, discontented American, have the stuff in
you to make a martyr. We need martyrs. You hate me? Good! But you must
worship Illowski. Art gives place to life, and in Illowski's music is
the new life. He will sweep the globe from pole to pole, for all men
understand his tones. Other gods have but prepared the way for him. No
more misery, no more promises unfulfilled by the rulers of body and
soulonly music, music like the air, the tides, the mountains, the
moon, sun, and stars! Your old-fashioned melody and learning, your
school-boy rules of counterpointall these Illowski ignores.
Lenyard eagerly interrupted her: You say that he does away with
melody, themes, harmonyhow does he replace them, and how does he
treat the human voice? Neshevna let his arm fall and went slowly to
the tall desk. She leaned against it, her hand upon her square chin.
Scheff still gazed out upon the lawn where splashed a small, movable
fountain. To Lenyard the air seemed as if charged with electric
questionings. His head throbbed.
You ask me something I dare not tell. Even Scheff, who knows some
things, dares not tell. If Illowski's discoverywhich is based on the
great natural laws of heat, light, gravitation, electricityif this
discovery were placed in the hands of fools, the world would perish.
Music has been so long the plaything of sensuality, the theatre for
idle men and women, that its real greatness is forgotten. In Illowski's
hands it is a moral force. He comes to destroy that he may rebuild. He
accomplishes it with the raw elements themselves. Remember'I hear the
grinding of the swords, and He shall come!' Neshevna made a nervous
gesture and disappeared through a door near the tall desk covered with
music-paperthe desk whereon Illowski plotted the ruin of
Now since you have seen the dread laboratory, don't hang around
that desk; there's nothing there you can understand. The music-paper is
covered with electrical and chemical formulæ, not notes. I've seen
them. Lenyard, let's go back to Paris and dine, like sensible
men,which we are not. Scheff dragged his friend out of the house,
for the other was in a stupor. Neshevna's words cleaved his very soul.
The American, the puritan in him, swiftly rose to her eloquent
exhortation. All life was corrupt, he had been taught; art was corrupt,
a snare, a delusion. Yetwas all its appalling power, its sensuous
grandeur to be wasted in the service of the world, the flesh, the
devil? Lenyard paused. Oh, come on, Len. Why do you bother your
excitable, sick heart with that lunatic's prophecies? Illowski is a big
man, a very big man; but he is mad, mad! His theories of the
decomposition of tonehe only imitates the old painter-impressionist
of long agoand his affected simplicitywhy, he is after the big
public, that's all. As to your question about what part the human voice
plays in his scheme, I may tell you now that he doesn't care a farthing
for it except as color. He uses the voice as he would use any
instrumental combination, and he mixes his colors so wonderfully that
he sometimes polarizes themthey no longer have any hue or scent. He
should have been a painter not a composer. He makes panoramas,
psychological panoramas, not music.
You heard them, saw them?
Yes, said Scheff, sourly. Some of the early ones, and I had brain
fever for months afterward.
Yet, challenged Lenyard, you deny his powers?
I don't know what he has written recently, was the sullen answer,
but if the newspapers are to be believed, he is crazy. Music all
color, no rhythm, no themes, and then his preaching of Nietzscheit's
all wrong, all wrong, my boy. Art was made for joy. When it is anything
else, it's a dangerous explosive. Chemically separate certain natural
elements and they rush together with a thunder-clap. That's what
Illowski has done. It isn't art. It's sciencethe science of dangerous
sounds. He discovered that sound-vibrations rule the universe, that
they may be turned into a musical Roentgen ray. He presents this in a
condensed art, an electric form
But the means, man, the methods, the instruments, the form?
Lenyard's voice was tense with excitement. The phlegmatic Scheff
noticed this and soothingly said:
The means? Why, dear boy, he just hypnotizes people, and promises
them bank accounts and angel-wings. That's how he does the trick.
Here's the tramcar. Jump in. I'm dying of thirst. To the Monferino!
* * * * *
Paris laughed when Illowski announced the performance of his new
orchestral drama named Nietzsche. The newspapers printed columns
about the composer and his strange career. A disused monster
music-hall, near the Moulin Rouge on Montmartre, was to be the scene of
the concert and the place was at once christened Théâtre du
Tarnhelmfor a story had leaked out about the ebon darkness in which
the Russian's music was played. This was surpassing the almost
forgotten Richard Wagner. Concerts in the dark must be indeed
spirituelle. The wits giggled over their jokes; and when the kiosks and
bare walls were covered by placards bearing the names of
Illowski'Nietzsche,' with a threatening sword beneath them, the
excitement became real. Satirical songs were sung in the cafés
chantants, and several fashionable clerics wove the name of Illowski
into their Sunday preachments. In a week he was popular, two a mystery,
three a necessity. The authorities maintained a dignified silenceand
watched. Politics, Bourbonism, Napoleonism, Boulangerism ere this had
crept in unawares sporting strange disguises. Perhaps Illowski was a
friend of the Vatican, of the Czar; perhaps a destructive,
bomb-throwing Nihilist, for the indomitable revolutionists still waged
war against the law. Might not this music be the signal for a dangerous
uprising of some sort?...
Lenyard was asked to sit in a box with Neshevna that last night.
Scheff refused to join them; he swore that he was tired of music and
would remain in town. The woman smiled as he said this, then she handed
him a letter, made a little motionthe signal.
It was on the esplanade that Neshevna and Lenyard stood. The young
man, weary with vigils, his face furrowed by curiosity, regarded the
city below them as it lay swimming in the waves of a sinking sun. He
saw the crosses of La Trinité as molten copper, then dusk and dwindle
in the shadows. The twilight seemed to prefigure the fading of the
human race. Neshevna walked with this dreamer to the rear of the
theatrethe theatre of the Tarnhelm, that was to darken all
civilization. He asked for Illowski, but she did not reply; she, too,
was steeped in dreams. And all the streets were thick with men and
women tumbling up to the top.
We sit in a second-tier box, she presently said. If you get
tired, orannoyed, you may go out on the balcony and look down upon
the lights of Paris, though I fear it will be a dark night. There is no
moon, she added, her voice dropping to a mumble....
They sat in a dark box that last night. The auditorium, vast and
silent with the breath-catching silence of thousands, lay below them;
but their eyes were glued upon a rosy light beginning to break over the
space where was the stage. It spread, deepened, until it fairly hummed
with scarlet tones. Gradually emerging from this cruel crimson the
image of a huge sword became visible. Neshevna touched Lenyard's hand.
The symbol of his power! she crooned.
Blending with the color of the light a musical tone made itself
seen, heard, felt. Lenyard shuddered. At last, the new dispensation was
about to be revealed, the new gospel preached. It was a single
vibratile tone, and was uttered by a trumpet. Was it a trumpet? It
pealed with the peal of bells shimmering high in heaven. No occidental
instrument had ever such a golden, conquering tone. It was the tone of
one who foretold the coming, and was full of invincible faith and
sweetness. Lenyard closed his eyes. That a single tone could so thrill
his nerves he would have denied. This, then, was the secret. For the
first time in the Christian world, the beauties of tonal timbres were
made audiblealmost visible; the quality appealed to the eye, the
inner eye. Was not the tinted music so cunningly merged as to impinge
first on the optic nerve? Had the East, the Hindus and the Chinese,
known of this purely material fact for ages, and guarded it in esoteric
silence? Here was music based on simple, natural sounds, the sounds of
birds and air, the subtle sounds of silk. For centuries Europe had been
on the wrong track with its melodic experimenting, its complex of
harmonies. Illowski was indeed the saviour of musicand Neshevna, her
great, green, luminous eyes upon him, held Lenyard's hand.
The sound grew in volume, grew less silken, and more threatening,
while the light faded into mute, misty music like the purring of cats.
A swelling roar assaulted their ears; nameless creeping things seemed
to fill the tone. Yet it was in one tonality; there was no harmony, no
melody. The man's quick ear detected many new, rich timbres, as if made
by strange instruments. He also recognized interior rhythms, the result
of color rather than articulate movement. Then came silence, a silence
that shouted cruelly across the gulfs of blackness, a silence so
profound as to be appalling. Sound, rhythm, silencethe material from
which is fashioned the creative stuff of the universe! Lenyard became
restless; but the grip on his fingers tightened. He felt the oppressive
dread that precedes the flight of a nightmare; the dread that mankind
knows when sunk in shallow, horrid sleep. A low, frightened wail
mounted out of the darkness wherein massed the people. Another tone
usurped the ear, pierced the eyes. It was a blinding beam of tone,
higher and more undulating. His heart harshly ticking like a clock, he
viewed, as in a vision, the march of the nations, the crash of falling
theocracies, of dying dynasties. On a stony platform, vast and crowded,
he knelt in sackcloth and ashes; the heavens thundered over the weeping
millions of Nineveh; and the Lord of Hosts would not be appeased.
Stretching to the clouds were black, basaltic battlements, and above
them reared white terraced palaces, as swans that strain their throats
to the sky. The day of wrath was come. And amid the granitic clashing
of the elements, Lenyard saw the mighty East resolving into dust.
Neshevna pressed his hand.
By the waters of Babylon he wandered, and found himself at the base
of a rude little hill. The shock of the quaking earth, the silent
passing of the sheeted dead, and the rush of affrighted multitudes told
him that another cosmic tragedy was at hand. In a flare of lightning he
saw silhouetted against an angry sky three crosses at the top of the
sad little hill. He reeled away, his heart almost bursting, when
Neshevna grasped him. You saw the death of the gods! she hoarsely
He could not answer, for the music showed him a thunder-blasted
shore fringing a bituminous sea. This sea stirred not, while the air
above it was frozen in salty silence. Faint, thin light came up through
the waters, and Lenyard caught a glimpse in the deeps below of
sparkling pinnacles and bulbous domes of gold; a dead sea rolled over
the dead cities of the bitter plain. He trembled as Neshevna said, with
a grinding sob, That was the death of life.
Lenyard's sombre soul modulated to another dreamthe last.
Suffocating and vague, the stillness waxed and ran over the troubled
edges of eternity. The Plain, gloomy and implacable, was illuminated on
its anonymous horizon by one rift of naked, leering light. Over its
illimitable surface surged and shivered women, white, dazzling,
numberless. As waves that, lap on lap, sweep fiercely across the
sky-line, as bisons that furiously charge upon grassy wastes, as the
rill that runs from Bulicamé to be portioned out among the sinful
women, these hordes of savage creatures rose and fell in their mad
flight across the Plain. No sudden little river, no harsh accent of
knoll or hill, broke the immeasurable whiteness of bared breast and
ivoried shoulder. It was a white whirl of women, a ferocious vortex of
terrified women. Lenyard saw the petrified fear upon the faces of them
that went into the Pit; and he descried the cruel and looming figure of
Illowski piping to them as they went into the Pit. The maelstrom of
faces turned to their dream-master; faces blanched by regret, sunned by
crime, beaming with sin; faces rusted by vain virtue; wan, weary faces,
and the triumphant regard of those who lovedall gazed at the Piper as
vertiginously they boiled by. The world of women passed at his feet
radiant, guilty, white, glittering and powerless. Lenyard felt the
inertia of sickness seize him when he saw the capital expression upon
these futile facesthe expression of insurgent souls that see for the
last time their conqueror. Not a sign made these mystic brides, not a
sound; and, as in the blazing music they dashed despairingly down the
gulf of time, Lenyard was left with eyes strained, pulses jangled,
lonely and hopeless. He shivered, and his heart halted....
This is the death of love, shouted Neshevna. But Lenyard heard her
not; nor did he hear the noise of the people beneaththe veritable
booming of primordial gorilla-men. And now a corrosive shaft of tone
rived the building as though its walls had been of gauze and went
hissing towards Paris, in shape a menacing sword. Like the clattering
of tumbrils in narrow, stony streets men and women trampled upon each
other, fleeing from the accursed altar of this arch-priest of
BeelzebubIllowski. They over-streamed the sides of Montmartre, as
ants washed away by water. And the howling of them was heard by the
watchers in the doomed city below.
Neshevna, her arm clutched by Lenyard's icy fingers, shook him
violently, and tried to release herself. Finding this impossible she
dragged her silent burden out upon the crumpling balcony.
Paris was draped in flaming cloudsthe blood-red smoke of mad
torches. Tongues of fire twined about the towers of Notre Dame; where
the Opéra once stood yawned a blackened hole. The air was shocked by
fulminate blaststhe signals of the careless Scheff.
And the woman, her mouth filled with exultant laughter, screamed,
Thou hast conquered, O Pavel Illowski!
AN EMOTIONAL ACROBAT
They were tears which he drummed.
Perhaps you think because I play upon an instrument of percussion I
admire that other percussive machine of wood and wire, the piano, or
consider the tympanum an inferior instrument?
You were never more mistaken, for I despise the piano as a shallow
compromise between the harp, tympani and those Eastern tinkling
instruments of crystal and glass, or dulcimers and cymbalum. It has no
character, no individuality of its own. It is deplorable in conjunction
with an orchestra, for its harsh, hard, unmalleable tone never blends
with other instruments. It is a selfish instrument and it makes selfish
artists of those who devote a lifetime to it.
Bah! I hate you and your pianos. Compare it to the tympani? Never,
never! It is false, insincere, and smirks and simpers if even a silly
school girl sits before it. It takes on the color of any composer's
ideas, and submits like a slave to the whims of any virtuoso. I am
disgusted. Here am I, an old kettle-drummeras you say in your
barbarous Englishpoor, unknown, forced to earn a beggarly living by
strumming dance tunes in a variety hall on a hated piano, and often
accompanying singers, acrobats, and all the riffraff of a vaudeville,
where a mist of vulgarity hangs like a dirty pearl cloud over all. I
don't look at my music any more. I know what is wanted. I have rhythmic
talent. I conduct myself, although there is a butter-faced leader
waving a silly stick at us while I sit in my den, half under the stage,
and thrum and think, and blink and thrum.
And what do you suppose I do with my morningsfor I have to
rehearse every afternoon with odious people who splash their draggled
lives with feeble, sick music? I stay in my attic room and play upon
my tympani, my beloved children. I have three of them, and I play all
sorts of scores, from the wonderful first measures of Beethoven's
Fifth, to Saint-Saëns' Arabian music. Ah! those men understand my
instrument. It is no instrument of percussion to them. It has a soul.
It is the heart of the orchestra. Its rhythmic throb is the pulse of
musical life. What are your strings, your scratching, rasping strings!
What signifies the blare of your brass, or the bilious bleating of your
wood-wind! I am the centre, the life giver. From me the circulation of
warm, musical blood emanates. I stand at the back of the orchestra as
high as the conductor. Ah! he knows it; he looks at me first. How about
the Fifth Symphony? You now sneer no longer. It is I who outline with
mystic taps the framework of the story. Wagner, great, glorious,
glowing Wagner!I kiss his memoryhe appreciated the tympani and
their noble mission in music....
Yes, I am an educated man, but music snared me away from a worldly
career. Music anda woman; but never mind that part of it. Do you know
Hunding's motif in Die Walküre? Ha! ha! I will give it to you.
Listen! Is it not beautiful? The stern, acrid warrior approaches. And
Wagner gave it to me, to the tympani. Am I crazy, am I arrogant, to
feel as I do about my darling dwarf children? Look at their beloved
bellies, so smooth, so elastic, so resonant! A tiny tap and I set
vibrating millions of delicate, ethereal sounds, the timbre of which to
my ears has color, form, substance, nuance, and thrills me even to my
old marrow. Is it not deliciousthat warm, velvety, dull percussion?
Is it not delicious, I say? How it shimmers and senses about me! You
have heard of drummed tears? I can make you weep, if I will, with a few
melancholy, muffled strokes. The drum is the epitome of life. Sound is
life. The cave-men bruised stones together and heard the first music.
I know your Herbert Spencer thinks differently, but bah! what does
he know about tympani? Chopin would have been a great tympanist if he
had not wasted his life foolishly at the piano. When he merely drummed
with his fingers on the table, Balzac said, he made music, so
exquisitely sensitive was his touch. Ah me! what a tympanist was lost
to the world. What shading, what delicacy, what sunlight and shadow he
would have made flit across my little darlings on their tripods! No
wonder I hate the piano; and yet, hideous mockery of fate! I play upon
an old grand to earn my bread and wine. I can't play with an
orchestrait is torture for me. They do not understand me; the big
noisy boors do not understand rhythm or nuance. They play so loud that
I cannot be heard, and I will never stoop to noisy banging. How I hate
these orchestral players! How they scratch and blow like pigs and
boasters! When I did play with them they made fun of my red hair and
delicate touch. The leader could not understand me, and kept on yelling
Forte, Forte. It was in the Fifth of Beethoven, and I became angry
and called out in my poor German (ah! I hate German, it hurts my
teeth): Nein, so klopft das Schicksal nicht an die Pforte. You
remember Beethoven's words!
Well, everybody laughed at me, and I got mad and covered up my
instruments and went home. Jackass! he wanted me to bang out that
wonderful intimation of fate as though it were the milkman knocking at
the door. I am a poet, and play upon the tympani; the conductor and the
orchestra are boors. But I do injustice to one of them. He was an
Alsatian, and spoke bad French. But he was an excellent bassoon player.
He often called on me and we played duets for bassoon and tympani, and
then read Amiel's journal aloud and wept. Oh! he had a sensitive soul,
that bassoon player. He died of the cholera, and now I am alone....
After my failure as an orchestral player I gave a concert in this
city, and played my concerto for seven drums and wood-wind orchestra.
The critics laughed me to distraction. Instead of listening to the
innumerable rhythms and marvellous variety of nuances I offered them,
they mocked my agile behavior and my curiously colored hair. Even my
confrères envied and reviled me. I have genius, so am hated and
despised. Oh, the pity of it all! They couldn't hear the tenderness,
the fairy-like sobbing made by my wrists, but listened with admiration
to the tinkling of a piano, with its hard, unchangeable tone. Oh, the
stupidity of it all!...
But time will have its revenge. I will not stir a finger either.
When I die the world of tone will realize that a great man has passed
away, after a wretched, neglected life. I have composed a symphony, and
for nothing but Tympani! Don't smile, because I have explored
the most fantastic regions of rhythm, hitherto undreamed. Tone, timbre,
intensity, rhythm, variety in color, all, all will be in it; and how
much more subtly expressed than by your modern orchestra, with its
blare, blow, bang and scratch. And what great thoughts I have
expressed! I have gone beyond Berlioz, Wagner and Richard Strauss. I
have discovered rhythms, Asiatic in origin, that will plunge you into
midnight woe; rhythms rescued from the Greeks of old, that will drive
you into panting dance; rhythms that will make drunkards of sober men,
warriors of cowards, harlots of angels. I can intoxicate, dazzle, burn,
madden you. Why? Because all music is rhythm. It is the skeleton, the
structure of life, love, the cosmos. God! how I will exult, even if my
skin crackles in hell-fire, when the children of the earth listen to my
Tympani Symphony, and go crazy with its tappings!...
I have led a shiftless, uneventful life, yet I envy no one, for I am
the genius of a new artbut stay a moment! An uneventful life, did I
say? Alas! my life has been one long, desperate effort to forget her,
to forget my love, my wife. My God! I can see her face now, when she
flashed across my sight at a provincial circus. It was in France. I was
a young man drum-mad, and went to the circus to beguile my time, for I
couldn't practise all day. Then I saw herMlle. Léontine, the Aërial
Virtuoso of the Century, the playbills called her. She was fair and
slim, and Heaven had smiled into her eyes.
I am a poet, you see. Her hair was the color of tender wheat and her
feet twinkled star-wise when she walked. She was my first, my only
love, my life, my wife. She loved me, she told me so soon after we
became acquainted, and I believed her; I believe her now, sometimes,
when I strike softly the skins of my dear little drum children. We soon
married. There were no impediments on my side; my parents were dead and
I had a little ready money. I gave it all to her. She took it and
They were so handy in case of hard luck, she said, and smiled. I
smiled, too, and kissed her.
I kissed her very often, and was so desperately in love with her
that I joined the circus and played the drums there; hush! don't tell
it to any oneand the side-drums at that. I would have even played the
piano for her, so frantically did I adore her. I was very proud of my
wife, my Léontine. She did a tremendous act on the trapeze. She swung
and made a flying leap across the tent and caught a bar, and every time
I gave a tap on the big drum just as she grasped the trapeze. Oh! it
would have made your blood shiver to see her slight figure hurtling
through space and landing safely with my rhythmic accompaniment. And
how people cheered, and what crowds flocked to view the spectacle! In
some towns the authorities made us use nets; then the crowds were not
nearly so large. People like risks. The human animal is happy if it
smells blood. Léontine noticed the decreased attendance when the safety
nets were used, and begged the manager to dispense with them.
He often did so, for he loved money as much as she loved fame. She
was perfectly fearless and laughed at my misgivings, so we usually did
the act without nets....
We had reached Rouen in our wanderings through the provinces, and I
mooned about the old town, sauntering through the cathedral, plunged in
a reverie, for I was happy, happy all the time. Léontine was so good,
so amiable, so true. She associated with none of the women of the
circus and with none of the men, except the manager and myself.
The manager reared her; she had been a foundling. She told me this
at the beginning of our intimacy. We often played games of picking out
the handsomest houses and châteaux we passed, pretending that her
parents lived in them. She was very jolly, was my little Léontine, and
remained with me nearly all the time, except when practising her
difficult feats; this she did in company with the manager, who attended
to the ropes and necessary tackling. He was a charming fellow, and very
One day I was sitting half-asleep in the spring sunshine, with my
back to one of the tents, awaiting Léontine's return. She was, as
usual, rehearsing, and I, composing and dreaming. Suddenly a laugh
aroused me, and I heard a woman's voice:
But the young idiot never will discover them; he is too blind and
too fond of drumming.
I tuned up my ears. Another woman answered in a regretful tone:
See what it is to be fascinating like Léontine; she gets all the
boy's money, and has the manager besides. She must earn a pretty
I sat perfectly cold and still for several moments, then managed to
wriggle away. I can give you no account of my feelings now, so many
years have passed; besides, I don't think I felt at all. Every day I
became more and more thoughtful, and Léontine and the manager rallied
me on my silence....
At last I made up my mind that it was time to act. We went to Lille
and gave there our usual display. I had not seen Léontine all day, and
when the evening came I sent a message telling her I was not hungry and
would not be home for supper. I could be a hypocrite no longer.
In the evening the regular performance began. I was in a gay humor,
and the men in the orchestra laughed at my wit, saying that I was more
like my old self. My wife's aërial act came last on the bill, being the
event of the show. What a brilliant house we had! I still can smell the
sawdust, the orange peel, see the myriad of faces and hear the crack of
the ring-masters' whips, the cries of the clowns and the crash of the
She comes, Léontine comes! shrilled a thousand throats.
Into the ring she dashed on a milk-white horse, and, throwing off
her drapery, stood bowing.
What a graceful figure she had, and how lovely she looked as she
clambered aloft to her giddy perch! Breathlessly every one saw her make
preparations for the flight through the air. The band became silent;
all necks were strained as she swung lightly to and fro in space,
increasing the speed to gain necessary momentum for the final launch.
Off she darted, like a thunderboltbang! went my druma moment too
soon. The false unaccustomed rhythm shook her nerves and she tumbled
with her face toward me.
There were no nets....
Later I sought the manager. He was in his room, his head thrust
beneath pillows. I tapped him on the shoulder; he shuddered when he saw
me. 'Tis you who should wear black, I said....
Kennst du der Mutter Künste nicht?
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE.
I'd rather see her in her grave than as Isolde! Mrs. Fridolin
tightly closed her large, soft eyes, adding intensity to a declaration
made for the enlightenment of her companion in a German railway
carriage. The young woman laughed disagreeably.
I mean what I say, Miss Bredd; and when you know as much about the
profession as I dowhen you are an older womanyou will see I am
right. MegI should say Margaretshall never sing Isolde with my
permission. Apart from the dreadfully immoral situation, just think of
the costume in the garden scene, that chiton of cheese-cloth! And these
Wagnerites pretend to turn up their nose at 'Faust'! I once told dear,
old M. Gounod, when Meg was in Paris with Parchesi, his music was
positively decent compared
The train, which had been travelling at a dangerous pace for
Germany, slackened speed, and the clatter in the compartment ahead
caused the two women to crane their heads out of the window.
Bayreuth! cried the younger theatrically, Bayreuth, the Mecca of
the true Wagnerite. Mrs. Fridolin gazed at her, at the neat American
belted serge suit, the straw sailor hat, the demure mouse colored hair,
the calm, insolent eyeseyes that bored like a gimlet. Oh, you love
Wagner? The girl hesitated, then answered in the broadest burr of the
Middle West, Well, you see, I haven't heard much of him, except when
the Thomas Orchestra came over to our place from Chicago. So I ain't
going to say whether I like him or not till I hear him. But I've
written lots about the 'Ring' Without hearing it? How very
American!And I'm a warm admirer of your daughter. Madame Fridolina
always seemed to me to be a great Wagner singer. Now she can
sing the Liebestod better than any of the German women
Thank you, my dear; one never goes to Bayreuth for the singing.
I know that; but as it's my first trip over here I mean to make the
most of it. I am a journalist, you know, and I'll write lots home about
Wagner and Fridolina.
Thanks again, my dear young lady. I'm sure you will tell the truth.
Margaret was refused the Brünnhilde at the last moment by Madame
Cosimathat's Mrs. Wagner, you knowand she had to content herself
with Fricka in 'Rheingold,' and Gutrune in 'Götterdämmerung,' two
odious parts. But what can she do? The Brünnhilde is Gulbranson. She is
a great favorite in Bayreuth, and has kept her figure, while poor
Megwait till you see her!
The train rounded the curve and, leaving behind the strange looking
theatre, surely a hieratic symbol of Wagner's power, entered the
station full of gabbling, curious peopleBayreuth at last.
The atelier was on the ground floor at the end of a German garden
full of angular desolations. It was a large, bare, dusty apartment, the
glare of the August sun tempered by green shades nearly obscuring the
big window facing the north. A young woman sat high on a revolving
platform. She was very fat. As the sculptor fixed her with his slow
glance he saw that her head, a pretty head, was too small for her
monstrous bulk; her profile, pure Greek, the eyes ox-like, the cups
full of feeling, with heavy accents beneath them. Her face, almost
slim, had planes eloquent with surface meanings upon the cheeks and
chin, while the mouth, sweet for a large woman, revealed amiability
quite in accord with the expression of the eyes. These were the glory
of her countenance, these and her resonant black hair. Isolate this
head from the shoulders, from all the gross connotations of the frame,
and the trick would be done. So thought the sculptor, as the problem
posed itself clearly; then he saw her figure and doubted.
I am hopeless, am I not, Herr Arthmann? Her voice was so
frankly appealing, so rich in comic intention, that he sat down and
laughed. She eagerly joined in: And yet my waist is not so large as
Mitwindt's. We always call her Bagpipes. She is absurd. And such a
chest! Why, I'm a mere child. Anyhow, all Germans like big singers,
and all the German Wagner singers are big women, are they not, Herr
Arthmann? There was Alboni and Parepa-RosaI know they were not Wagner
singers; but they were awful all the sameand just look at the
Schnorrs, Materna, Rosa Sucher, poor Klafsky and
My dear young friend, interrupted the sculptor as he took up a
pointer and approached a miniature head in clay which stood upon a
stand, my dearhe did not say friend the second timeI remarked
nothing about your figure being too large for the stage. I was trying
to get it into harmony with your magnificent shoulders and antique
head. That's all. His intonation was caressing, the speech of a
cultivated man, and his accent slightly Scandinavian; at times his
voice seemed to her as sweetly staccato as a mandolin. He gazed with
all his vibrating artistic soul into the girl's humid blue eyes; half
frightened she looked down at her pretty, dimpled handsthe hands of a
baby despite their gladiatorial size.
How you do flatter! All foreigners flatter American girls, don't
they? Now you know you don't think my shoulders magnificent, do you?
And my waistO! Herr Arthmann, what shall I do with my waist? As
Brünnhilde, I'm all right to move about in loose draperies, but as
Fricka, as GutruneGutrune who falls fainting beside Siegfried's bier!
How must I look on my back? Oh, dear! and I diet, never drink water at
meals, walk half the day and seldom touch a potato. And you know what
that means in Germany! There are times when to see a potato, merely
hearing the word mentioned, brings tears to my eyes. And yet I get no
thinnerjust look at me!
He did. Her figure was gigantic. She weighed much over two hundred
pounds, though the mighty trussing to which she subjected herself, and
a discreet manner of dressing made her seem smaller. Arthmann was
critical, and did not disguise the impossibility of the task. He had
determined on a head and bust, something heroic after the manner of a
sturdy Brünnhilde. The preparations were made, the skeleton, framework
of lead pipe for the clay, with crossbar for shoulders and wooden
butterflies in position. On the floor were water-buckets, wet cloths
and a vast amount of wet clayclay to catch the fleshly exterior, clay
to imprison the soulperhaps, of Fridolina. But nothing had been done
except a tiny wax model, a likeness full of spirit, slightly
encouraging to the perplexed artist. The girl was beautiful; eyes,
hair, teeth, coloringall enticed him as man. As sculptor the
shapeless, hopeless figure was a thing for sack-like garments, not for
candid clay or the illuminating commentary of marble. She drew a silk
shawl closer about her bare shoulders.
And Isoldewhat shall I do? Frau Cosima says that I may sing it
two summers from now; but then she promised me Brünnhilde two years ago
after I had successfully sung Elsa. I know every note of 'Tristan,' for
I've had over a thousand piano rehearsals, and Herr Siegfried and
Caspar Dennett both say that in time it will be my great rôle. Who
was it you mentioned besides the Prince Imperial?they always call
Siegfried Wagner the Prince Imperial or the Heir Apparent in
BayreuthMr. Dennett. He is the celebrated young American
conductorthe only American that ever conducted in Bayreuth. You saw
him the other night at Sammett's garden. Don't you remember the smooth
faced, very good-looking young man?you ought to model him. He was
with Siegfried when he spoke to me. And you say that he admires your
Isolde? persisted Arthmann, pulling at his short reddish beard. Why,
of course! Didn't he play the piano accompaniments? Was his wife
always with you? Now, Herr Arthmann, you are a regular gossipy
German. Certainly she wasn't. We in America don't need chaperons like
your Ibsen womenare you really Norwegian or Polish? Is your name,
Wenceslaus, Bohemian or Polish? Besides, here I am alone in your studio
in Bayreuth, the most scandal-mongering town I ever heard of. My mother
would object very much to this sort of thing, and I'm sure we are very
proper. Oh, very, replied the sculptor; when do you expect your
mother? To-morrow, is it not?
The girl nodded. Tired of talking, she watched with cool nervousness
the movements of the young man; watched his graceful figure, admirable
poses; his long, brown fingers smoothing and puttering in the clay; his
sharply etched profile, so melancholy, insincere. And this Dennett?
he resumed. She opened her little mouth. Please don't yawn,
Fridolina, he begged. I wasn't yawning, only trying to laugh. Dennett
is on your mind. He seems to worry you. Don't be jealousWenceslaus;
he is an awful flirt and once frightened me to death by chasing me
around the dressing-room at the opera till I was out of breath and
black and blue from pushing the chairs and tables in his way. And what
do you suppose he gave as an excuse? Why, he just said he was
exercising me to reduce my figure, and hadn't the remotest notion of
kissing me. Oh, no, he hadn't, had he? She pealed with laughter, her
companion regarding her with tense lips. No one but a Yankee girl
would have thought of telling such a story. Why, is it improper? She
was all anxiety. No, not improper, but heartless, simply heartless.
You have never loved, Margaret Fridolina, he said, harshly. Call me
Meg, Wenceslaus, but not when mamma is present, was her simple answer.
He threw down his wooden modelling spatula.
Oh, this is too much, he angrily exclaimed: you tell me of men
who chase youa man Wenceslaus, she corrected him earnestlyyou
tell me all this and you know I love you; without your love I shall
throw up sculpture and go to sea as a sailor. Meg, Meg, have you no
heart? Why, you little boy, what have I said to offend you? Why are
you so cynical when I know you to be so sentimental? Her voice was
arch, an intimate voice with liquid inflections. He began pacing the
chilly floor of the studio.
Let us be frank. I've only known you two months, since the day we
accidentally met, leaving Paris for Bayreuth. You have written your
mother nothing of our engagementwell, provisional engagement, if you
willand you insist on sticking to the operatic stage. I loathe it,
and I confess to you that I am sick with jealousy when I see you near
that lanky, ill-favored German tenor Burgmann. What, poor, big me!
she interjected, in teasing accents. Yes, you, Fridolina. I can quite
sympathize with what you tell me of your mother's dislike for the rôle
of Isolde. You are not temperamentally suited to it; it is horrible to
think of you in that second act. How horrible? My figure, you mean?
Yes, your figure, too, would be absurd. He was brutal now. And you
haven't the passion to make anything of the music. You've never loved,
never will, passionately But I'll sing Isolde all the same, she
cried. Not with my permission. Then without you and your
permission. She hastily arose and was about to step down from her
pedestal when the door opened.
Mother! Why, mamma, you said you weren't coming until Sunday. Mrs.
Fridolin could not see very well in the heavy shadows after the
blinding sunlight without. What are you doing here, Margaret, and of
all things alone up there on a throne! Is this a rehearsal for the
opera? I'm not alone, mother. This is WenceslausMr. Wenceslaus
Arthmann, the sculptor, mamma, and he is doing me in clay. Look at it;
isn't it sweet? Mr. Arthmann, this is my motherand who is the young
lady, mamma? Oh, I forgot. I was so confused and put out not finding
you at the station I drove at once to Villa Wahnfried Villa
Wahnfried! echoed two voices in dismayed unison. Yes, to Frau Cosima,
and she directed me here. She directed you here? Yes, why shouldn't
she? Is there anything wrong in that? asked the stately, high-nosed
lady with the gray pompadour, beginning to peer about suspiciously.
Oh, no, mamma, but how did Frau Cosima know that I was here? I don't
know, child, was the testy answer. Come, get down and let me
introduce you to my charming travelling friend, Miss Bredd. Miss Saïs
Bredd, put in the Western girl; I was named Saïs after my father
visited Egypt, but my friends call me Louie.And Miss Bredd, this is
Mister Arthmann, madame, said the sculptor. They all shook hands
after the singer had released her mother from a huge, cavernous hug.
But Meg, Meg, where is your chaperon? Fridolina looked at the young
man: Why, mamma, it was the Hausfrau who let you in, of
course. Miss Bredd smiled cynically.
Up the Via Dolorosa toiled a Sunday mob from many nations. The long,
nebulous avenue, framed on either side by dull trees, was dusty with
the heels of the faithful ones; and the murmur of voices in divers
tongues recalled the cluttering sea on a misty beach. Never swerving,
without haste or rest, went the intrepid band of melomaniacs speaking
of the singers, the weather and prices until the summit was reached.
There the first division broke ranks and charged upon the caravansary
which still stood the attacks of thirsty multitudes after two decades.
Lucky ones grasped Schoppen of beer and Rhine wine hemmed in by an army
of expectant throats, for the time was at hand when would sound
Donner's motive from the balcony: music made by brass instruments
warning the elect that Rheingold was about to unfold its lovely fable
of water, wood and wind.
Mrs. Fridolin went to the theatre and longed with mother's eyes for
the curtains to part and discover Fricka. She took her seat
unconcernedly; she was not an admirer of Wagner, educated as she had
been in the florid garden of Italian song. The darkness at first
oppressed her. When from mystic space welled those elemental sounds,
not mere music, but the sighing, droning, rhythmic swish of the waters,
this woman knew that something strange and terrible was about to enter
into her consciousness. The river Rhine calmly, majestically stole over
her senses; she forgot Bellini, Donizetti, even Gounod and soon she was
with the Rhine Daughters, with Alberich.... Her heart seemed to stop.
All sense of identity vanished at a wave of Wagner's wand, as is
absorbed the ego by the shining mirror of the hypnotist. This,
then, was the real Wagnera Wagner who attacked simultaneously the
senses, vanquished the strongest brain; a Wagner who wept, wooed, sang
and surged, ravished the soul until it was brought lacerated and
captive to the feet of the victorious master magician. The eye was
promise-crammed, the ears sealed with bliss, and she felt the wet of
the waters. She breathed hard as Alberich scaled the slimy steeps; and
the curves described by the three swimming mermaids filled her with the
joy of the dance, the free ecstatic movements of free things in the
waves. The filching of the Rheingold, the hoarse shout of laughter from
Alberich's love-foresworn lips, and the terrified cries of the luckless
watchers were as real as life. Walhall did not confuse her, for now she
caught clues to the meaning of the mighty epic. Wotan and Frickaah,
Meg did not look so stout, and how lovely her voice sounded!Loki,
mischief-making, diplomatic Loki; the giants, Fafner and Fasolt; Freia,
and foolish, maimed, malicious Mimethese were not mere papier-maché,
but fascinating deities. She saw the gnomes' underworld, saw the ring,
the snake and the tarnhelm; she heard the Nibelungs' anvil chorusso
different from Verdi'ssaw the giants quarrelling over their booty;
and the sonorous rainbow seemed to bridge the way to a fairer land. As
the Walhall march died in her ears she found herself outside on the
dusky, picturesque esplanade and forgot all about Meg, remembering her
only as Fricka. With the others she slowly trod the path that had been
pressed by the feet of art's martyrs. Mrs. Fridolin then gave tongue to
her whirring brain:
Oh! the magic of it all, she gasped.
I'm afraid I rather agree with Nordau, Mrs. Fridolinthe whole
affair reminds me of a tank-drama I once saw in Chicago. It was the
cool voice of Miss Bredd that sounded in the hot, humming lane
punctuated by vague, tall trees....
Mrs. Fridolin and her party went to Sammett's for dinner that
evening. This garden, once Angermann's and made famous by Wagner, is
still a magnet. The Americans listened calmly to furious disputes, in a
half-dozen tongues, over the performance to the crashing of dishes and
the huddling of glasses always full, always empty. Arthmann ordered the
entire menu, knowing well that it would reach them after much delay in
the inevitable guise of veal and potatoes. The women were in no hurry,
but the sculptor was. He drummed on the table, he made angry faces at
his neighborscontented looking Germans who whistled themes from
Rheingoldand when Herr Sammett saluted his guests with a crazy
trombone and crazier perversion of the Donner motive, Arthmann jumped
up and excused himself. The two hours and a half in the theatre had
made him nervous, restless, and he went away saying that he would be
back presently. Mrs. Fridolin was annoyed. It did not seem proper for
three ladies to remain unaccompanied in a public garden, even if that
garden was in Bayreuth. Suppose some of her New York friends should
happen by!... I wonder where he has gone? I don't admire your new
friend, Margaret. He seems very careless, she grumbled.
Wenceslaus!Mrs. Fridolin looked narrowly at her daughterMr.
Arthmann, then, will be back soon. Like all sculptors he hates to be
cooped up long. I guess he's gone to get a drink at the bar,
suggested the practical Miss Bredd. How did you like my Frickaoh,
here's Mr. DennettCaspar, Caspar come over here, here! The big girl
stood up in elephantine eagerness, and a jaunty, handsome young man,
with a shaven face and an important chin, slowly made his way through
the press of people to the Fridolin table. It was Caspar Dennett, the
conductor. After a formal presentation to the tall, thin Mrs. Fridolin,
the young American musician settled himself for a talk and began by
asking how they liked his conducting. He had been praised by the Prince
Imperial himselfpraise sufficient for any self-doubting soul! Thank
heaven, he had no doubt of his vocation! It was Miss Bredd who
I enjoyed your conducting immensely, Mr. Dennett, simply because I
couldn't see you work those long arms of yours.... I wrote lots about
you when you visited the West with your band. I never cared for your
Wagner readings. He stared at her reproachfully and she stared in
return. Then he murmured, I'm really very sorry I didn't please you,
Miss Bredd. I didn't know that you were a newspaper woman.
Journalist, if you please! I beg your pardon, journalist. I'm so
sorry that Mrs. Dennett is visiting relations in England. She would
have been delighted to call on you;Miss Bredd's expression became
disagreeableand now, Mrs. Fridolin, what do you think of your
daughter, your daughter Fricka Fridolina, as we call her? Won't she be
a superb Isolde some day? I hope not, Mr. Dennett, austerely replied
the mother. Margaret grasped his hands gratefully, crying aloud, You
dear! Isn't he a dear, mamma? Only think of your daughter as Isolde.
Ah! there comes the deserter. You thoughtless man!
The sculptor bowed stiffly when presented, and the two men sat on
either side of Miss Fridolin, far away from each other.
Mr. Arthmann, fluted the singershe was all dignity nowMr.
Dennett thinks I'm quite ready for Isolde. You said that to me this
afternoon, he answered in a rude manner. The conductor glanced at him
and then at Margaret. She was blushing. What I meant, said Dennett,
quickly turning the stream his way, What I meant was that Miss
Fridolina knows the score, and being temperamentally suited to the
rôle Temperamentally, sneered Arthmann. Yes, that's what I said,
snapped the other man, who had become surprisingly
pugnaciousFridolina was pressing his foot with heavy
approvaltemperamentally. You know Casparthe brows of the mother
and sculptor were thunderousyou know that Mr. Arthmann is a very
clever sculptor, and is a great reader of faces and character. Now he
says, that I have no dramatic talent, no temperament, and ought to
Get married, boomed in Arthmann with his most Norwegian accent. The
bomb exploded. I'd rather see herin her grave, Mrs.
FridolinOh, you wicked, sarcastic Louie Bredd. No, not in her
grave, but even as Isolde. Yes, I admit that I am converted to
Wagnerism. Wagner's music is better for some singers than marriage.
Prima donnas have no business to be married. If their husbands are not
wholly worthlessand there are few exceptionsthey are apt to be
ninnies and spongers on their wives' salaries. Then she related the
story of Wilski, who was a Miss Willies from Rochester. She married a
novelist, a young man with the brightest possible prospects imaginable.
What happened? He never wrote a story after his marriage in which he
didn't make his wife the heroine, so much so that all the magazine
editors and publishers refused his stuff, sending it back with the
polite comment, Too much Wilski!
That's nothing, interrupted Louie. She ought to have been happy
with such a worshipping husband. I know of a great singer, the greatest
singer aliveFruttothey all groanedthe greatest, I say.
Well, she married a lazy French count. Not once, but a hundred times
she has returned home after a concert only to find her husband playing
cards with her maid. She raised a row, but what was the use? She told
me that she'd rather have him at home with the servant playing poker
than at the opera where he was once seen to bet on the cards turned up
by Calvé in the third act of 'Carmen.' I've written the thing for my
paper and I mean to turn it into a short story some day. Every one had
tales to relate of the meanness, rapacity, dissipation and extravagance
of the prima donna's husband from Adelina Patti to Mitwindt, the German
singer who regularly committed her husband to jail at the beginning of
her season, only releasing him when September came, for then her money
was earned and banked.
But what has this to do with me? peevishly asked Fridolina, who
was tired and sleepy. If ever I marry it must be a man who will let me
sing Isolde. Most foreign husbands hide their wives away like a dog its
bone. She beamed on Wenceslaus. Then you will never marry a foreign
husband, returned the sculptor, irritably.
You must know, Mr. Arthmann, that my girl is a spoilt child, as
innocent as a baby, and has everything to learn about the ways of the
world. Remember, too, that I first posed her voice, taught her all she
knew of her art before she went to Parchesi. What you asktaking into
consideration that we, that I, hardly know youis rather
premature, is it not? They were walking in the cool morning down the
green alleys of the Hofgarten, where the sculptor had asked Mrs.
Fridolin for her daughter. He was mortified as he pushed his crisp
beard from side to side. He felt that he had been far from proposing
marriage to this large young woman's mother; something must have driven
him to such a crazy action. Was it Caspar Dennett and his classic
profile that had angered him into the confession? Nonsense! The
conductor was a married man with a family. Despite her easy, unaffected
manner, Margaret Fridolin was no fool; she ever observed the ultimate
proprieties, and being dangerously unromantic would be the last woman
in the world to throw herself away. But this foolish mania about
Isolde. What of that? It was absurd to consider such a thing.... Her
mother would never tolerate the attempt
Don't you think my judgment in this matter is just, Mr. Arthmann?
Mrs. Fridolin was blandly observing him. He asked her pardon for his
inattention; he had been dreaming of a possible happiness! She was very
amiable. And you know, of course, that Margaret has prospectshe did
not, and was all earsif she will only leave the operatic stage. Her
career will be a brilliant one despite her figure, Mr. Arthmann; but
there is a more brilliant social career awaiting her if she follows her
uncle's advice and marries. My brother is a rich man, and my daughter
may be his heiress. Never as a singerJob is prejudiced against the
stageand never if she marries a foreigner. But I shall become a
citizen of the United States, madame. Where were you born? Bergen;
my mother was from Warsaw, he moodily replied. It might as well be
Asia Minor. We are a stubborn family, sir, from the hills of New
Hampshire. We never give in. Come, let us go back to the Hotel Sonne,
and do you forget this foolish dream. Margaret may never leave the
stage, but I'm certain that she will never marry you. She
smiled at him, the thousand little wrinkles in her face making a sort
of reticulated map from which stared two large, blue eyesMargaret's
eyes, grown wiser and colder.... Now after that news I'll marry her if
I have to run away with her!resolved the sculptor when he reached
his bleak claustral atelier, and studied the model of her head. And how
to keep that man Dennett from spoiling the broth, he wondered....
In the afternoon Arthmann wrote Margaret a letter. Margaret, my
darling Margaret, what is the matter? Have I offended you by asking
your mother for you? Why did you not see me this morning? The atelier
is wintry without youthe cold clay, corpse-like, is waiting to revive
in your presence. Oh! how lovely is the garden, how sad my soul! I sit
and think of Verlaine's 'It rains in my heart as it rains in the town.'
Why won't you see me? You are mineyou swore it. My sweet girl, whose
heart is as fragrant as new-mown haythe artist pondered well this
comparison before he put it on paper; it evoked visions of hay bales.
Darling, you must see me to-morrow. To the studio you must come. You
know that we have planned to go to America in October. Only think,
sweetheart, what joy then! The sky is aflame with love. We walk slowly
under the few soft, autumn, prairie stars; your hand is in mine, we are
married! You see I am a poet for your sake. I beg for a reply hot from
your heart. Wenceslaus. ...
He despatched this declaration containing several minor
inaccuracies. It was late when he received a reply. All right,
Wenceslaus. But have I now the temperament to sing Isolde? It
was unsigned. Arthmann cursed in a tongue that sounded singularly like
That night, much against his desire, he dressed and went to a
reception at the Villa Wahnfried. As this worker in silent clay
disliked musical people, the buzz and fuss made him miserable. He did
not meet Fridolina, though he saw Miss Bredd arm-in-arm with Cosima,
Queen Regent of Bayreuth. The American girl was eloquently exposing her
theories of how Wagner should be sung and Arthmann, disgusted, moved
away. He only remembered Caspar Dennett when in the street. That
gentleman was not present either; and as the unhappy lover walked down
the moonlit Lisztstrasse he fancied he recognized the couple he sought.
Could it be! He rushed after the pair to be mocked by the slamming of a
gate, he knew not on what lonely street....
The next afternoon the duel began. Fridolina did not return for a
sitting as he had hoped; instead came an invitation for a drive to the
Hermitage. It was Mrs. Fridolin who sent it. Strange! Arthmann was
surprised at this renewal of friendly ties after his gentle dismissal
in the Hofgarten. But he dressed in his most effective clothes and,
shining with hope, reached the Hotel Sonne; two open carriages stood
before its arched doorway. Presently the others came downstairs and the
day became gray for the sculptor. Caspar Dennett, looking like a trim
Antinous with a fashionable tailor, smiled upon all, especially Miss
Bredd. Mrs. Fridolin alone did not seem at ease. She was very friendly
with Arthmann, but would not allow him in her carriage. No, she
protested, you two men must keep Margaret company. I'll ride with my
bright little Louie and listen to her anti-Wagner blasphemies. She
spoke as if she had fought under the Wagner banner from the beginning.
Margaret sat alone on the back seat. Although she grimaced at her
mother's suggestion, she was in high spirits, exploding over every
trivial incident of the journey. Arthmann, as he faced her, told
himself that he had never seen her so giggling and commonplace, so
unlike an artist, so bourgeois, so fat. He noticed, too, that her
lovely eyes expanded with the same expression, whether art or eating
was mentioned. He hardly uttered a word, for the others discussed
Tristan und Isolde until he hated Wagner's name. She was through with
her work at Bayreuth and Frau Cosima had promised her
Isoldepositively. She meant to undergo a severe Kur at
Marienbad and then return to the United States. Mr. Grau had also
promised her Isolde; while Jean de Reszkédear, wonderful Jean vowed
that he would sing Tristan to no other Isolde during his American
tournée! So it was settled. All she needed was her mother's
consentand that would not be a difficult matter to compass. Had she
not always wheedled the mater into her schemes, even when Uncle Job
opposed her? She would never marry, neveranyhow not until she had
sung Isoldeand then only a Wagner-loving husband.
And the temperament, the missing linkhow about that? asked
Arthmann sourly; he imagined that Dennett was exchanging secret signals
with her. She bubbled over with wrath. Temperament! I have temperament
enough despite my size. If I haven't any I know where to find it. There
is no sacrifice I'd not make to get it. Art for art is my theory. First
art and thenthe other things. She shrugged her massive shoulders in
high bad humor. Arthmann gloomily reflected that Dennett's phrases at
the Sammett Garden were being echoed. Mrs. Fridolin continually urged
her driver to keep his carriage abreast of the other. It made the party
more sociable, she declared, although to the sculptor it seemed as if
she wished to watch Margaret closely. She had never seemed so
suspicious. They reached the Hermitage.
Going home a fine rain set in; the hoods of the carriage were
raised, and the excursion ended flatly. At the hotel, Arthmann did not
attempt to go in. Mrs. Fridolin said she had a headache, Miss Bredd
must write articles about Villa Wahnfried, while Dennett disappeared
with Margaret. The drizzle turned into a downpour, and the artist,
savage with the world and himself, sought a neighboring café and drank
He called at the hotel the following afternoon. The ladies had gone
away. How gone away? The portier could not tell. Enraged as he saw his
rich dream vanishing, Arthmann moved about the streets with lagging,
desperate steps. He returned to the hotel several times during the
afternoonat no time was he very far from itbut the window-blinds
were always drawn in the Fridolin apartment and he began to despair. It
was near sunset when his Hausfrau, the disappearing chaperon,
ran to him red-faced. A letter for Herr Arthmann! It was from her:
I've gone in search of that temperament. Auf Wiedersehen.
Isolde. Nothing more. In puzzled fury he went back to the hotel. Yes,
Madame Fridolin and the young lady were now at home. He went to the
second landing and without knocking pushed open the door. It was a
house storm-riven. Trunks bulged, though only half-packed, their
contents straggling over the sides. The beds were not made, and a
strong odor of valerian and camphor flooded the air. On a couch lay
Mrs. Fridolin, her face covered with a handkerchief, while near hovered
Miss Bredd in her most brilliant and oracular attitude. She was
speaking too loudly as he entered: There is no use of worrying
yourself sick about Meg, Mrs. Fridolin. She's gone for a timethat's
all. When she finds out what an idiotically useless sacrifice she has
made for art and is a failure as Isoldeshe can no more sing the part
than a sick catshe will run home to her mammy quick enough.
Oh, this terrible artistic temperament! groaned the mother
apologetically. The girl made a cautious movement and waved Arthmann
out of the room. Into the hall she followed, soft-footed, but resolute.
He was gaunt with chagrin. Where is she?he began, but was sternly
If you had only flattered her more, and married her before her
mother arrived, this thing wouldn't have happened.
What thing? he thundered.
There! don't be an ox and make a stupid noise, she admonished.
Why, Megshe is so dead set on getting that artistic temperament,
that artistic thrill you raved about, that she has eloped.
Eloped! he feebly repeated, and sat down on a trunk in the
hallway. To her keen, unbiassed vision Arthmann seemed more shocked
than sorrowful. Then, returning to Isolde's mother, she was not
surprised to find her up and in capital humor, studying the railway
He believes the fibjust as Dennett did! Miss Bredd exclaimed,
triumphantly; and for the first time that day Mrs. Fridolin smiled.
THE RIM OF FINER ISSUES
There seemed to be a fitting dispensation in the marriage of Arthur
Vibert and Ellenora Bishop. She was a plain looking girl of
twenty-foureven her enemies admitted her plainnessbut she had
brains; and the absence of money was more than compensated by her love
for literature. It had been settled by her friends that she would do
wonderful things when she had her way. Therefore her union with Arthur
Vibert was voted singularly auspicious. He had just returned from
Germany after winning much notice by his talent for composition. What
could be more natural than the marriage of these two gifted persons?
Miss Bishop had published some thingsrhapsodic prose-poems, weak
in syntax but strong in the quality miscalled imagination. Her pen name
was George Bishop: following the example of the three Georges so dear
to the believer in sexless literatureGeorge Sand, George Eliot and
George Egerton. She greatly admired the latter.
Ellenora was a large young woman of more brawn than tissue; she had
style and decision, though little amiability. Ugly she was; yet, after
the bloom of her ugliness wore off, you admired perforce the full
iron-colored eyes alive with power, and wondered why nature in dowering
her with a big brain had not made for her a more refined mouth. The
upper part of her face was often illuminated; the lower narrowly
escaped coarseness; and a head of rusty red hair gave a total
impression of strenuous brilliancy, of keen abiding vitality. A
self-willed New York girl who had never undergone the chastening
influence of discipline or rigorously ordered studyshe averred that
it would attenuate the individuality of her style; avowedly despising
the classics, she was a modern of moderns in her tastes.
She had nerves rather than heart, but did not approve of revealing
her vagaries in diary form. Adoring Guy de Maupassant, she heartily
disliked Marie Bashkirtseff. The Frenchman's almost Greek-like fashion
of regarding life in profile, his etching of its silver-tipped angles,
made an irresistible appeal to her; and she vainly endeavored to catch
his crisp, restrained style, his masterly sense of form. In the secrecy
of her study she read Ouida and asked herself why this woman had not
gone farther, and won first honors in the race. Her favorite heroines
were Ibsen's Nora, Rebecca and Hedda. Then, bitten by the emancipation
craze, she was fast developing into one of the shrieking sisterhood
when Arthur Vibert came from Berlin.
A Frenchman has said that the moment a woman occupies her thoughts
with a man, art ceases for her. The night Ellenora Bishop met the young
pianist in my atelier, I saw that she was interested. Arthur came to me
with letters from several German critics. I liked the slender,
blue-eyed young fellow who was not a day over twenty-one. His was a
true American type tempered by Continental culture. Oval-faced,
fair-haired, of a rather dreamy disposition and with a certain
austerity of manner, he was the fastidious puritana puritan expanded
by artistic influences. Strangely enough he had temperament, and set to
music Heine and Verlaine. A genuine talent, I felt assured, and
congratulated myself on my new discovery; I was fond of finding lions,
and my Sunday evenings were seldom without some specimen that roared,
if somewhat gently, yet audibly enough, for my visitors. When Arthur
Vibert was introduced to Ellenora Bishop, I recognized the immediate
impact of the girl's brusque personality upon his sensitized nature.
She was a devoted admirer of Wagner, and that was bond enough to set
reverberating other chords of sympathy in the pair. I do not assert in
cold blood that the girl deliberately set herself to charm the
boyish-looking composer, but there was certainly a basking allurement
in her gaze when her eyes brushed his. With her complicated personality
he could not copethat was only too evident; and so I watched the
little comedy with considerable interest, and not without misgiving.
Arthur fell in love without hesitation, and though Ellenora felt
desperately superior to himyou saw thatshe could not escape the
bright, immediate response of his face. The implicated interest of her
bearingthough she never lost her headhis unconcealed adoration,
soon brought the affair to the altaror rather to a civil ceremony,
for the bride was an agnostic, priding herself on her abstention from
established religious forms.
Her clear, rather dry nature had always been a source of study to
me. What could she have in common with the romantic and decidedly shy
youth? She was older, more experiencedplain girls have experiences as
well as favored onesand she was not fond of matrimony with poverty as
an obbligato. Arthur had prospects of pupils, his compositions sold at
a respectable rate, but the couple had little money to spare;
nevertheless, people argued their marriage a capital ideafrom such a
union of rich talents surely something must result. Look at the
Brownings, the Shelleys, the Schumanns, not to mention George Eliot and
her man Lewes!
They were married. I was best man, and realized what a menstruum is
musicwhat curious trafficking it causes, what opposites it
intertwines. And the overture being finished the real curtain arose, as
it does on all who mate....
I did not see much of the Viberts that winter. I cared not at all
for society and they had moved to Harlem; so I lost two stars of my
studio receptions. But I occasionally heard they were getting on
famously. Arthur was composing a piano concerto, and Ellenora engaged
upon a novela novel, I was told, that would lay bare to its rotten
roots the social fabric; and knowing the girl's inherent fund of bitter
cleverness I awaited the new-born polemic with gentle impatience. I
hoped, however, like the foolish inexperienced old bachelor I am, that
her feminine asperity would be tempered by the suavities of married
One afternoon late in March Arthur Vibert dropped in as I was
putting the finishing touches on my portrait of Mrs. Beacon. He looked
weary and his eyes were heavily circled.
Hello, my boy! and how is your wife, and how is that wonderful
concerto we've all been hearing about?
He shrugged his shoulders and asked for a cigarette.
Shall I play you some bits of it? he queried in a gloomy way. I
was all eagerness, and presently he was absently preluding at my piano.
There was little vigor in his touch, and I recalled his rambling
wits by crying, The concerto, let's have it!
Arthur pulled himself together and began. He was very modern in
musical matters and I liked the dynamic power of his opening. The first
subject was more massive than musical and was built on the
architectonics of Liszt and Tschaïkowsky. There was blood in the idea,
plenty of nervous fibre, and I dropped my brushes and palette as the
unfolding of the work began with a logical severity and a sense of form
unusual in so young a mind.
This first movement interested me; I almost conjured up the rich
instrumentation and when it ended I was warm in my congratulations.
Arthur moodily wiped his brow and looked indifferent.
And now for the second movement. My boy, you always had a marked
gift for the lyrical. Give us your romanzathe romanza, I should say,
born of your good lady!
He answered me shortly: There is no romance, I've substituted for
it a scherzo. You know that's what Saint-Saëns and all the fellows are
doing nowadays, Scharwenka too.
I fancied that there was a shade of eager anxiety in his
explanation, but I said nothing and listened.
The scherzoor what is called the scherzo since Beethoven and
Schumannwas too heavy, inelastic in its tread, to dispel the
blue-devils. It was conspicuous for its absence of upspringing
delicacy, light, arch merriment. It was the sad, bitter joking of a man
upon whose soul life has graven pain and remorse, and before the trio
was reached I found myself watching the young composer's face. I knew
that, like all modern music students, he had absorbed in Germany some
of that scholastic pessimism we encounter in the Brahms music, but I
had hoped that a mere fashion of the day would not poison the springs
of this fresh personality.
Yet here I was confronted with a painful confession that life had
brought the lad more than its quantum of spiritual and physical
hardship; he was telling me all this in his music, for his was too
subjective a talent to ape the artificial, grand, objective manner.
Without waiting for comment he plunged into his last movement which
proved to be a series of ingenious variationsa prolonged
passacagliain which the grace and dexterity of his melodic invention,
contrapuntal skill and symmetrical sense were gratifyingly present.
I was in no flattering vein when I told him he had made a big jump
in his work.
But, Arthur, why so much in the Brahms manner? Has your wife turned
your love of Shelley to Browning worship? I jestingly concluded.
My wife, if she wishes, can turn Shelley into slush, he answered
bitterly. This shocked me. I felt like putting questions, but how could
I? Had I not been one of the many who advised the fellow to marry
Ellenora Bishop? Had we not all fancied that in her strength was his
security, his hope for future artistic triumphs?
He went on as his fingers snatched at fugitive harmonic
experimentings: It's not all right up town. I wish that you would run
up some night. You've not seen Ellenora for months, and perhaps you
could induce her to put the brake on. I was puzzled. Putting the brake
on a woman is always a risky experiment, especially if she happens to
be wedded. Besides, what did he mean?
I mean, he replied to my tentative look of inquiry, that Ellenora
is going down-hill with her artistic theories of literature, and I mean
that she has made our house a devilish unpleasant place to live in.
I hastily promised to call in a few days, and after seeing him to
the door, and bidding him cheer up, I returned to the portrait of Mrs.
Beacon, and felt savage at the noisiness of color and monotony of tonal
values in the picture.
Good Lord, why will artists marry? I irritably asked of my subject
in the frame. Her sleek Knickerbocker smile further angered me, and I
went to my club and drank coffee until long after midnight.
If, as her friends asserted, Ellenora Vibert's ugliness had softened
I did not notice it. She was one of those few women in the world that
marriage had not improved. Her eyes were colder, more secret; her jaw
crueller, her lips wider and harder at the edges. She welcomed me with
distinguished loftiness, and I soon felt the unpleasant key in which
the household tune was being played. It was amiable enough, this flat
near Mount Morris Park in Harlem. The Viberts had taste, and their
music-room was charming in its reticent scheme of decorationa
Steinway grand piano, a low crowded book-case with a Rodin cast, a
superb mezzotint of Leonardo's Mona Lisa after Calmatta, revealing the
admirable poise of sweetly folded handssurely the most wonderful
hands ever paintedwhile the polished floor, comforting couches and
open fireplace proclaimed this apartment as the composition of refined
I am alive to the harmonies of domestic interiors, and I sensed the
dissonance in the lives of these two.
Soon we three warmed the cold air of restraint and fell to
discussing life, art, literature, friends, and even ourselves. I could
not withhold my admiration for Ellenora's cleverness. She was
transposed to a coarser key, and there was a suggestion of the
overblown in her figure; but her tongue was sharp, and she wore the air
of a woman who was mistress of her mansion. Presently Arthur relapsed
into silence, lounged and smoked in the corner, while Mrs. Vibert
expounded her ideas of literary form, and finally confessed that she
had given up the notion of a novel.
You see, the novel is overdone to-day. The short story ended with
de Maupassant. The only hope we have, we few who take our art
seriously, is to compress the short story within a page and distil into
it the vivid impression of a moment, a lifetime, an eternity. She
looked intellectually triumphant. I interposed a mild objection.
This form, my dear lady, is it a fitting vehicle for so much weight
of expression? I admire, as do you, the sonnet, but I can never be
brought to believe that Milton could have compressed 'Paradise Lost'
within a sonnet.
Then all the worse for Milton, she tartly replied. Look at the
Chopin prelude. Will you contradict me if I say that in one prelude
this composer crowds the experience of a lifetime? When he expands his
idea into the sonata form how diffuse, how garrulous he becomes!
I ventured to remark that Chopin had no special talent for the
The sonata form is dead, the lady asserted. Am I not right,
Yes, my dear, came from Arthur. I fully understood his depression.
No, she continued, magnificently, it is this blind adherence to
older forms that crushes all originality to-day. There is Arthur with
his sonata formas if Wagner did not create his own form!
But I am no Wagner, interrupted her husband.
Indeed, you are not, said Mrs. Vibert rather viciously. If you
were we wouldn't be in Harlem. You men to-day lack the initiative. The
way must be shown you by woman; yes, by poor, crushed womanwoman who
has no originality according to your Schopenhauer; woman whose
sensations, not being of coarse enough fibre to be measured by the rude
emotion-weighing machine of Lombroso, are therefore adjudged of less
delicacy than man's. What fools your scientific men be!
Mrs. Vibert was a bit pedantic, but she could talk to the point when
You discredit the idea of compressing an epic into a sonnet, a
sonata into a prelude; well, I've attempted something of the sort, and
even if you laugh I'll stick to my argument. I've attempted to tell the
biological history of the cosmos in a single page.... I begin with the
unicellular protozoa and finally reach humanity; and to give it
dramatic interest I trace a germ-cell from eternity until the now, and
you shall hear its history this moment. She stopped for breath, and I
wondered if Mrs. Somerville or George Eliot had ever talked in this
astounding fashion. I was certain that she must have read Iamblichus
and Porphyry. Arthur on his couch groaned.
Mock if you please, Ellenora's strong face flushed, but women
will yet touch the rim of finer issues. Paul Goddard, who is a critic I
respect, told me I had struck the right note of modernity in my prose
poem. I winced at the note of modernity, and could not help seeing
the color mount to Arthur's brow when the man's name was mentioned.
And pray who is Mr. Paul Goddard? I asked while Mrs. Vibert was
absent in search of her manuscript. Arthur replied indifferently, Oh,
a rich young man who went to Bayreuth last summer and poses as a
Wagnerite ever since! He also plays the piano!
Arthur's tone was sarcastic; he did not like Paul Goddard and his
critical attentions to his wife. The poor lad looked so disheartened,
so crushed by the rigid intellectual atmosphere about him, that I put
no further question and was glad when Mrs. Vibert returned with her
She read it to us and it was called
O the misty plaint of the Unconceived! O crystal
incuriousness of the monad! The faint swarming toward the
light and the rending of the sphere of hope, frustrate,
inutile. I am the seed called Life; I am he, I am she. We
walk, swim, totter, and blend. Through the ages I lay in the
vast basin of Time; I am called by Fate into the Now. On
pulsing terraces, under a moon blood-red, I dreamed of the
mighty confluence. About me were my kinsfolk. Full of dumb
pain we pleasured our centuries with anticipation; we
watched as we gamed away the hours. From Asiatic plateaus we
swept to Nilotic slime. We roamed in primeval forests, vast
and arboreally sublime, or sported with the behemoth and
listened to the serpent's sinuous irony; we chattered with
the sacred apes and mouthed at the moon; and in the Long Ago
wore the carapace and danced forthright figures on
coprolitic sandssands stretching into the bosom of the
earth, sands woven of windy reaches hemming the sun.... We
lay with the grains of corn in Egyptian granaries, and saw
them fructify under the smile of the sphinx; we buzzed in
the ambient atmosphere, gaudy dragon-flies or whirling motes
in full cry chased by humming-birds. Then from some cold
crag we launched with wings of fire-breathing pestilence and
fell fathoms under sea to war with lizard-fish and narwhal.
For us the supreme surrender, the joy of the expected....
With cynical glance we saw the Buddha give way to other
gods. We watched protoplasmically the birth of planets and
the confusion of creation. We saw hornéd monsters become
gentle ruminants, and heard the scream of the pterodactyl on
the tree-tops dwindle to child's laughter. We heard, we saw,
we felt, we knew. Yet hoped we on; every monad has his
day.... One by one the billions disintegrated and floated
into formal life. And we watched and waited. Our evolution
had been the latest delayed; until heartsick with longing
many of my brethren wished for annihilation....
At last I was alone, save one. The time of my fruition was
not afar. O! for the moment when I should realize my
dreams.... I saw this last one swept away, swept down the
vistas toward life, the thunderous surge singing in her
ears. O! that my time would come. At last, after vague
alarms, I was summoned....
The hour had struck; eternity was left behind, eternity
loomed ahead, implacable, furrowed with Time's scars. I
hastened to the only one in the Cosmos. I tarried not as I
ran in the race. Moments were precious; a second meant æons;
and crashing into the lightAlas! I was too late.... Of
what avail my travail, my countless, cruel preparations? O
Chance! O Fate! I am one of the silent multitude of the
When she had finished reading this strange study in evolution she
awaited criticism, but with the air of an armed warrior.
Really, Mrs. Vibert, I am overwhelmed, I managed to stammer. Only
the most delicate symbolism may dare to express such a theme. I felt
that this was very vaguebut what could I say?
She regarded me sternly. Arthur, catching what I had uttered at
random, burst in:
There, Ellenora, I am sure he is right! You leave nothing to the
imagination. Now a subtile veiled idealism He was not allowed to
Veiled idealism indeed! she angrily cried. You composers dare to
say all manner of wickedness in your music, but it is idealized by
tone, isn't it? What else is music but a sort of sensuous algebra? Or a
vast shadow-picture of the emotions?... Why can't language have the
same privilege? Why must it be bridled because the world speaks it?
Just because of that reason, dear madame, I soothingly said;
because reticence is art's brightest crown; because Zola never gives
us a real human document and Flaubert does; and the difference is a
difference of method. Flaubert is magnificently naked, but his
nakedness implicates nothing that is
As usual you men enter the zone of silence when a woman's work is
mentioned. I did not attempt a monument in the frozen manner of your
Flaubert. Mr. Goddard believes There was a crash of music from the
piano as Arthur endeavored to change the conversation. His wife's fine
indifference was tantalizing, also instructive.
Mr. Goddard believes with Nietzsche that individualism is the only
salvation of the race. My husband, Mr. Vibert, believes in altruism,
self-sacrifice and all the old-fashioned flummery of outworn creeds.
I wonder if Mr. Vibert has heard of Nietzsche's 'Thou goest to
women? Remember thy whip'? I meekly questioned. Ellenora looked at her
husband and shrugged her shoulders; then picking up her manuscript she
left the room with the tread of a soldier, laughing all the while.
An exasperating girl! I mused, as Vibert, after some graceful
swallow-like flights on the keyboard, finally played that most
dolorously delicious of Chopin's nocturnes, the one in C sharp minor.
That night in my studio I did not rejoice over my bachelorhood, for
I felt genuinely sad at the absence of agreeable modulations in the
married life of my two friends.
I thought about the thing for the next month, with the conclusion
that people had to work out their own salvation, and resolved not to
visit the Viberts again. It was too painful an experience; and yet I
could see that Vibert cared for his wife in a weak sort of a way. But
she was too overpowering for him and her robust, intellectual nature
needed Nietzsche's whipa stronger, more passionate will than her own.
It was simply a case of mismating, and no good would result from the
Later I felt as if I had been selfish and priggish, and resolved to
visit the home in Harlem and try to arrange matters. I am not sure
whether it was curiosity rather than a laudable benevolence that
prompted this resolve. However, one hot afternoon in May, Arthur Vibert
entered my room and throwing himself in an easy-chair gave me the news.
She's left me, old man, she's gone off with Paul Goddard. ...
I came dangerously near swearing.
Oh, it's no use of your trying to say consoling things. She's gone
for good. I was never strong enough to hold her, and so it's come to
this disgraceful smash.
I looked eagerly at Arthur to discover over-mastering sorrow; there
was little. Indeed he looked relieved; his life for nearly a year must
have been a trial and yet I mentally confessed to some disappointment
at his want of deep feeling. I saw that he was chagrined, angry, but
not really heart-hurt. Lucky chap! he was only twenty-two and had all
his life before him. I asked for explanations.
Oh, Ellenora always said that I never understood her; that I never
could help her to reach the rim of finer issues. I suppose this fellow
Goddard will. At least she thinks so, else she wouldn't have left me.
She said no family could stand two prima-donnas at the same time: as if
I ever posed, or pretended to be as brilliant as she! No, she stifled
me, and I feel now as if I might compose that romanza for my concerto.
I consoled the young pianist; told him that this blow was intended
as a lesson in self-control; that he must not be downcast, but turn to
his music as a consolation; and a whole string of such platitudes. When
he left me I asked myself if Ellenora was not right, after all. Could
she have reached that visionary rim of finer issuesof which she
always pratedwith this man, talented though he was, yet a slender
reed shaken by the wind of her will? Besides, his chin was too small.
He could not master her nature. Would she be happy with Paul
Goddard, that bright-winged butterfly of æstheticism? I doubted it.
Perhaps the feminine, receptive composer was intended to be her saving
complement in life. Perhaps she unconsciously cared for Arthur Vibert;
and arguing the question as dispassionately as I could my eyes fell
upon Thus Spake Zarathustra, and opening the fat unwieldy volume I
Is it not better to fall into the hands of a murderer than into the
dreams of an ardent woman?
Pooh! I sneered. Nietzsche was a rank woman-hater; then I began
my work on Mrs. Beacon's portrait, the fashionable Mrs. Beacon, and
tried to forget all about the finer issues and the satisfied sterility
of its ideals.
AN IBSEN GIRL
As Ellenora Vibert quietly descended the stairs of the apartment
house in Harlem where she had lived with her husband until this hot
morning in May, she wondered at her courage. She was taking a
tremendous step, and one that she hoped would not be a backward one.
She was leaving Arthur Vibert after a brief year of marriage for
another man. Yet her pulse fluttered not, and before she reached the
open doorway a mocking humor possessed her.
Her active brain pictured herself in the person of Ibsen's Nora
Helmer. But Nora left children behind, and deserted them in hot blood;
no woman could be cold after such a night in the Doll's Housethe
champagne, the tarantella, the letter and the scene with Torvald! No,
she was not quite Nora Helmer; and Paul, her young husband, was hardly
a Scandinavian bureaucrat. When Ellenora faced the cutting sunshine and
saw Mount Morris Park, green and sweet, she stopped and pressed a hand
to her hip. It was a characteristic pose, and the first inspiration of
the soft air gave her peace and hardihood.
I've been penned behind the bars too long, she thought. Arthur's
selfish, artistic absorption in his musical work and needless
indifference to the development of her own gifts must count no longer.
She was free, and she meant to remain so as long as she lived.
Then she went to the elevated railroad and entered a down-town
train, left it at Cortlandt Street, reached the Pennsylvania depot
before midday, and in the waiting-room met Paul Goddard. A few minutes
later they were on the Philadelphia train. The second chapter of
Ellenora Vibert's life beganand most happily.
Paul Goddard, after he had returned from Bayreuth, gave his musical
friends much pain by his indifference to old tastes. His mother, Mrs.
Goddard of Madison Square, was not needlessly alarmed. She told her
friends that Paul always had been a butterfly, sipping at many pretty
arts. She included among these fine arts, girls. Paul's devotion to
golf and a certain rich young woman gave her fine maternal
satisfaction. He stays away from that odious Bohemian crowd, and as
long as he does that I am satisfied. Paul is too much of a gentleman to
make a good musician.
During the winter she saw little of her son. His bachelor dinners
were pronounced models, but the musical mob he let alone. Paul must be
going in for something stunning, they said at his club, and when he
took off his moustache there was a protest.
The young man was not pervious to ridicule. He had found something
new and as he was fond of experimenting and put his soul into all he
did, was generally rewarded for his earnestness. He met Mrs. Arthur
Vibert at the reception of a portrait-painter, and her type being new
to him, resolved to study it.
Presently he went to the art galleries with the lady, and to all the
piano recitals he could bid her. He called several times and admired
her husband greatly; but she snubbed this admiration and he consoled
himself by admiring instead the intellect of the wife.
I suppose, she confided to him one February afternoon at Sherry's,
I suppose you think I am not a proper wife because I don't sit home at
his feet and worship my young genius?
Paul looked at her strong, ugly face and deep iron-colored eyes, and
You don't go in for that sort of thing, I suppose. If you did love
him would you acknowledge it to any one, even to yourselfor to me?
Ellenora flushed slightly and put down her glass.
My dear man, when you know me better you won't ask such a question.
I always say what I mean.
And I don't. They fell to fugitive thinking.
What poet wrote 'the bright disorder of the stars is solved by
I never read modern verse.
Yes, but this is not as modern as that cornet-virtuoso Kipling, or
as ancient as Tennyson, if you must know.
What has it to do with you? You are all that I am interested inat
the present. Paul smiled.
Don't flatter me, Mr. Goddard. I hate it. It's a cheap trick of the
enemy. Flatter a woman, tell her that she is unlike her sex, repeat to
her your wonderment at her masculine intellect, and see how meekly she
lowers her standard and becomes your bondslave.
Hello! you have been through the mill, said Paul, brightly. If I
thought that it would do any good, be of any use, I would mentally
plump on my knees and say to you that Ellenora Vibert is unlike any
woman I ever met. Ellenora half rose from the table, looking
sarcastically at him.
My dear Mr. Goddard, don't make fun. You have hurt me more than I
dare tell you. I fancied that you were a friend, the true sort. She
was all steel and glitter now. Paul openly admired her.
Mrs. Vibert, I beg your pardon. Please forget what I said. I do
enjoy your companionship, and you know I am not a lady-killer. Tell me
that you forgive me, and we will talk about that lovely line you quoted
Coventry Patmore, a dead poet. He it was that spoke of Wagner as a
musical impostor, and of the grinning woman in every canvas of Leonardo
da Vinci. I enjoy his 'Angel in the House' so much, because it shows me
the sort of a woman I am not and the sort of a woman we modern women
are trying to outlive.... Yes, 'the bright disorder of the stars is
solved by music,' he sings; and I remember reading somewhere in Henry
James that music is a solvent. But it's falsefalse in my case. Mr.
Vibert is, as you know, a talented young man. Well, his music bores me.
He is said to have genius, yet his music never sounds as if it had any
fire in it; it is as cold as salt. Why should I be solved by his
Ellenora upset her glass and laughed. Paul joined in at a respectful
pace. The woman was beyond him. He gave her a long glance and she
returned it, but not ardently; only curiosity was in her insistent
Ah! Youth is an alley ambuscaded by stars, he proclaimed. The
phrase had cost him midnight labor.
Don't try to be epigrammatic, she retorted, it doesn't suit your
mental complexion. I'll be glad, then, when my youth has passed. It's a
time of turmoil during which one can't really think clearly. Give me
cool old age.
And the future?
I leave that to the licensed victuallers of eternity. Paul
experienced a thrill. The woman's audacity was boundless. Did she
believe in anything?...
I wonder why your husband does not give you the love he puts into
He has not suffered enough yet. You know what George Moore says
about the 'sadness of life being the joy of art!' ... Besides, Arthur
is only half a man if he can't give it to both. Where is your masculine
objectivity, then? she retorted.
Lord, what a woman! 'Masculine objectivity,' and I suppose
'feminine subjectivity' too. I never met such a blue-stocking. Do you
remember how John Ruskin abused those odious terms 'objective' and
'subjective'? Paul asked.
I can't read Ruskin. He is all landscape decoration; besides, he
believes in the biblical attitude of woman. Put a woman on the
mantelpiece and call her luscious, poetic names and then see how soon
she'll hop down when another man simply cries 'I love you.' If a man
wishes to spoil a woman successfully let him idealize her.
Poor Ruskin! There are some men in this world too fine for women.
Paul sighed, and slily watched Ellenora as she cracked almonds with her
strong white fingers.
Fine fiddlesticks! she ejaculated. Don't get sentimental, Mr.
Goddard, or else I'll think you have a heart. You are trying to flirt
with me. I know you are. Take me away from this place and let us walk,
walk! Heavens! I'd like to walk to the Battery and smell the sea!
Paul discreetly stopped, and the pair started up Fifth Avenue. The
day was a brave one; the sky was stuffed with plumy clouds and the rich
colors of a reverberating sunset. The two healthy beings sniffed the
crisp air, talked of themselves as only selfish young people can, and
at Fifty-ninth street, Ellenora becoming tired, waited for a cross-town
carshe expected some people at her house in the evening, and must be
home early. Paul was bidden, but declined; then without savor of
affection they said good-by.
The man went slowly down the avenue thinking: Of all the women I've
met, this is the most perverse, heartless, daring. He recalled his
Bayreuth experiences, and analyzed Ellenora. Her supple, robust figure
attracted his senses; her face was interesting; she had brains,
uncommon brains. What would she become? Not a poet, not a novelist.
Perhaps a literary critic, like Sainte-Beuve with shining Monday
morning reviews. Perhapsyes, perhaps a critic, a writer of bizarre
prose-poems; she has personal style, she is herself, and no one else.
That's it, said Paul, half aloud; she has style, and I admire
style above everything. He resolved on meeting Ellenora as often as he
The following month he saw much of Arthur Vibert's wife, and found
himself a fool in her strong grasp. The girl had such baffling
contrasts of character, such slippery moods, such abundant fantasy that
the young manvolatility itselflost his footing, his fine sense of
honor and made love to this sphinx of the ink-pot, was mocked and
flouted but never entirely driven from her presence. More than any
other woman, Ellenora enjoyed the conquest of man. She mastered Paul as
she had mastered Arthur, easily; but there was more of the man of the
world, more of the animal in the amateur, and the silkiness of her
husband, at first an amusement, finally angered her.
Vibert knew that his wife saw Paul much too often for his own
edification, but only protested once, and so feebly that she laughed at
Arthur, she said, taking him by his slender shoulders, why don't
you come home some night in a jealous rage and beat me? Perhaps then I
might love you. As it is, Mr. Goddard only amuses me; besides, I read
him my new stories, otherwise I don't care an iota for him.
He lifted his eyebrows, went to the piano and played the last
movement of his new concerto, played it with all the fire he could
master, his face white, muscles angry, a timid man transformed.
Why don't you beat me instead of the piano, dear? she cried out
mockingly; some women, they say, can be subdued in that fashion. He
rushed from the room....
April was closing when Vibert, summoned to Washington, gave a piano
recital there, and Ellenora went down-town to dinner with Goddard. She
was looking well, her spring hat and new gown were very becoming. As
they sat at Martin's eating strawberries, Paul approved of her
exceedingly. He had been drinking, and the burgundy and champagne at
dinner made him reckless.
See here, Ellenora Vibert, where is all this going to end? I'm not
a bad fellow, but I swear I'm only human, and if you are leading me on
to make a worse ass of myself than usual, why, then, I quit.
She regarded him coolly. It will end when I choose and where I
choose. It is my own affair, Paul, and if you feel cowardly qualms, go
home like a good boy to your mamma and tell her what a naughty woman I
He sobered at once and reaching across the narrow dining-table took
her wrist in both of his hands and forced her to listen.
You disdainful woman! I'll not be mastered by you any longer
That means, interrupted Ellenora coolly, do as you wish, and not
as I please.
Paul, his vanity wounded, asked the waiter for his reckoning. His
patience was worn away.
Paul, don't be silly, she cried, her eyes sparkling. Now order a
carriage and we'll take a ride in the park and talk the matter over.
I'm afraid the fool's fever is in your blood; the open air may do it
good. Oh! the eternal nonsense of youth. Call a carriage, Paul!April
Life in Philadelphia runs on oiled wheels. After the huge clatter of
New York, there is something mellow and human about the drowsy hum of
Chestnut Street, the genteel reaches of Walnut, and the neat frontage
of Spruce Street. Ellenora, so quick to notice her surroundings, was at
first bored, then amused, at last lulled by the intimate life of her
new home. She had never been abroad, but declared that London,
out-of-the-way London, must be something like this. The fine,
disdainful air of Locust Street, the curiously constrained attitude of
the brick houses on the side streetsas if deferentially listening to
the back-view remarks of their statelier neighbors, the brown-stone
frontsall these things she amused herself telling Paul, playfully
begging him not to confront her with the oft-quoted pathetic fallacy of
Ruskin. Hadn't Dickens, she asked, discerned human expression in
door-knockers, and on the faces of lean, lonely, twilight-haunted
She was gay for the first time in her restless dissatisfied life. By
some strange alchemy she and Paul were able to precipitate and blend
the sum total of their content, and the summer was passed in peace. At
first they went to a hotel, but fearing the publicity, rented under an
assumed name a suite in the second storey of a pretty little house near
South Rittenhouse Square. Here in the cheerful morning-room Ellenora
wrote, and Paul smoked or trifled at the keyboard. They were perfectly
self-possessed as to the situation. When tired of the bond it should be
severed. This young woman and this young man had no illusion about
lovethe word did not enter into their life scheme. Theirs was a pact
which depended for continuance entirely upon its agreeable quality. And
there was nothing cynical in all this; rather the ready acceptance of
the tie's fallibility mingled with a little curiosity how the affair
would turn out.
It was not yet November when Paul stopped in the middle of a Chopin
Ellenora, have you heard from Vibert?
She looked up from the writing-desk.
How could I? He doesn't know where we are.
And I fancy he doesn't care. Paul whistled a lively lilt. His
manner seemed offensive. She flushed and scowled. He moved about the
room still whistling and made much noise. Ellenora regarded him
Getting bored, Paul? Better go to New York and your club, she
If you don't care, and straightway he began making preparations
for the journey. In a quarter of an hour he was ready, and with joy
upon his handsome face kissed Ellenora fervently and went away to the
Broad Street station. Then she did something surprising. She threw
herself upon a couch and wept until she was hysterical.
I'm a nice sort of a fool, after all, she reflected, as she wiped
her face with a cool handkerchief and proceeded to let her hair down
for a good, comfortable brushing. I'm a fool, a fool, to cry about
this vain, selfish fellow. Paul has no heart. Poor little Arthur! If he
had been more of a man, less of a conceited boy. Yet conceit may fetch
him through, after all. Dear me, I wonder what the poor boy did when he
got the news.
Ellenora laughed riotously. The silliness of the situation burned
her sense of the incongruous. There she stood opposite the mirror with
her tears hardly dry, and yet she was thinking of the man she had
deserted! It was absurd after all, this hurly-burly of men and women.
Then she began to wonder when Paul would return. The day seemed very
long; in the evening she walked in Rittenhouse Square and watched
Trinity Church until its brown façade faded in the dusk. She expected
Paul back at midnight, and sat up reading. She didn't love him, she
told herself, but felt lonely and wished he would come. To be sure, she
recalled with her morbidly keen memory that Howells had said: There is
no happy life for womanthe advantage that the world offers her is her
choice in self-sacrifice. At two hours past the usual time, she went
to bed and slept uneasily until dawn, when she reached out her hand and
awoke with a start....
The next night he came back slightly the worse for a pleasant time.
He was too tired to answer questions. In the morning he told her that
Vibert announced a concert in Carnegie Hall, the programme made up of
his own compositions.
His own compositions? Ellenora indignantly queried. He has
nothing but the piano concerto, an overture he wrote in Germany, and
some songs. She was very much disturbed. Paul noticed it and teased
Oh, yes, he has; read this:
Mr. Arthur Vibert, a talented young composer, pupil of Saint-Saëns
and Brahms, will give an instrumental concert at Carnegie Hall,
November 10th, the programme of which will be devoted entirely to his
own compositions. Mr. Vibert, who is an excellent pianist, will play
his new piano concerto; a group of his charming songs will be heard; an
overture, one of his first works, and a new symphonic poem will
comprise this unusually interesting musical scheme. Mr. Vibert will
have the valuable assistance of Herr Anton Seidl and his famous
I will go to New York and hear that symphonic poem. She spoke in
her most aggressive manner.
Well, why not? replied Paul flippantly. Only you will see a lot
of people you know, and would that be pleasant?
You needn't go to the concert, you can meet me afterward, and we'll
go home together.
Paul yawned, and went out for his afternoon stroll.... Ellenora
passed the intervening days in a flame of expectancy. She conjectured
all sorts of reasons for the concert. Why should Arthur give it so
early in the season? Where did he get the money for the orchestra?
Perhaps that old, stupid, busybody, portrait-painting friend of his had
advanced it. But when did he compose the symphonic poem? He had said
absolutely nothing about it to her; and she was surprised, irritated, a
little proud that he had finished something of symphonic proportions.
She knew Arthur too well to suppose that he would offer a metropolitan
audience scamped workmanship. Anyhow, she would go over even if she had
to face an army of questioning friends.
Vibert! How singularly that name looked now. It was a prettier, more
compact name than Goddard. But of course she wasn't Mrs. Goddard, she
was Mrs. Vibert, and would be until her husband saw fit to divorce her.
Would he do that soon? Then she walked about furiously, drank tea, and
groanedshe was ennuied beyond description....
Paul had the habit of going to New York every other week, and she
raised no objection as his frivolous manner was very trying during
sultry days; when he was away she could abandon herself to her
day-dreams without fear of interruption. She thought hard, and her
strong head often was puzzled by the cloud of contradictory witnesses
her memory raised. But she cried no more at his absence....
It was quite gaily that she took her seat beside him in the
drawing-room car of the train and impatiently awaited the first sight
of the salt meadows before Jersey City is reached.
Ah! the sea, she cried enthusiastically, and Paul smiled
You are lyrical, after all, Ellenora, he remarked in his most
critical manner. Presently you will be calling aloud 'Thalatta,
Thalatta!' like some dithyrambic Greek of old.
Smell the ocean, Paul, urged Ellenora, who looked years younger
and almost handsome. Paul's comment was not original but it was sound:
You are a born New York girl and no mistake. He took her to luncheon
when they reached the city and in the afternoon she went to a few old
familiar shops, felt buoyant, and told herself that she would never
consent to live in Philadelphia, as inelastic as brass. Alone she had a
hasty dinner at the hotelPaul had gone to dine with his motherand
noted in the paper that there was no postponement of the Vibert
concert. The evening was cool and clear, and with a singular sensation
of lightness in her head she went up to the hall in a noisy Broadway
Her heart beat so violently that she feared she was about to be ill;
intense excitement warned her she must be calmer. All this fever and
tremor were new to her, their novelty alarmed and interested her.
Accustomed since childhood to time the very pulse-beats of her soul,
this analytical woman was astounded when she felt forces at work within
herforces that seemed beyond control of her strong will. She did not
dare to sit downstairs, so secured a seat in the top gallery, meeting
none of Arthur's musical acquaintances. She eagerly read the programme.
How odd Vibert seemed on it! She almost expected to see her own name
follow her husband's. Arthur Vibert and Ellenora, his wife, will play
his owntheir ownconcerto for piano and orchestra!
She laughed at her conceit, but her laugh sounded so thin and
miserable that she was frightened....
Again she looked at the programme. After the concerto overture
AdonaïsVibert loved Shelley and Keatscame the piano concerto, a
group of songsthe singer's name an unfamiliar oneand finally the
symphonic poem. The symphonic poem! What did she see, or were her eyes
Symphonic Poem 'The Zone of the Shadow'. For explanatory text see
the other side. Sick and trembling she turned the page and read The
Argument of this Symphonic Poem is by Ellenora Vibert.
THE ZONE OF THE SHADOW
To the harsh sacrificial tones of curious shells wrought
from conch let us worship our blazing parent planet! We
stripe our bodies with ochre and woad, lamenting the decline
of our god under the rim of the horizon. O! sweet lost days
when we danced in the sun and drank his sudden rays. O!
dread hour of the Shadow, the Shadow whose silent wings
drape the world in gray, the Shadow that sleeps. Our souls
slink behind our shields; our women and children hide in the
caves; the time is near, and night is our day. Softly, with
feet of moss, the Shadow stalks out of the South. The
brilliant eye of the Sun is blotted over, and with a
remorseless mantle of mist the silvery cusp of the new moon
is enfolded. Follow fast the stars, the little brethren of
the sky; and like a huge bolster of fog the Shadow scales
the ramparts of the dawn. We are lost in the blur of doom,
and the long sleep of the missing months is heavy upon our
eyelids. We rail not at the coward Sun-God who fled fearing
the Shadow, but creep noiselessly to the caves. Our shields
are cast aside, unloosed are our stone hatchets, and the
fire lags low on the hearth. Without, the Shadow has
swallowed the earth; the cry of our hounds stilled as by the
hand of snow. The Shadow rolls into our caves; our brain is
benumbed by its caresses; it closes the porches of the ear,
and gently strikes down our warring members. Supine, routed
we rest; and above all, above the universe, is the silence
of the Shadow.
Arthur has had his revenge, she murmured, and of a sudden went
sick; the house was black about her as she almost swooned.... The old
pride kept her up, and she looked about the thinly filled galleries;
the concert commenced; she listened indifferently to the overture. When
Vibert came on the stage and bowed, she noticed that he seemed rather
worn but he was active and played with more power and brilliancy than
she ever before recalled. He was very masterful, and that was a new
note in his music. And when the songs came, he led out a pretty, slim
girl, and with evident satisfaction accompanied her at the piano. The
three songs were charming. She remembered them. But who was this
soprano? Arthur was evidently interested in her; the orchestra watched
the pair sympathetically.
So the elopement had not killed him! Indeed he seemed to have
thriven artistically since her desertion! Ellenora sat in the black
gulf called despair, devoured by vain regrets. Was it the man or his
music she regretted? At last the Symphonic Poem! The strong Gothic head
of Anton Seidl was seen, and the music began....
The natural bent of Arthur for the mystic, the supernatural, was
understood by his wife. Here was frosty music, dazzling music, in which
the spangled North, with its iridescent auroras, its snow-driven
soundless seas and its arctic cold, were imagined by this woman. She
quickly discerned the Sun theme and the theme of the Shadow, and
alternately blushed and wept at the wonderfully sympathetic tonal
transposition of her idea. That this slight thing should have trapped
his fantasy surprised her. After she had written it, it had seemed
remote, all too white, a Symphonie en Blanc Majeuras Théophile
Gautier would have called itbesides devoid of human interest. But
Arthur had interwoven a human strand of melody, a scarlet skein of
emotion, primal withal, yet an attempt to catch the under emotions of
the ice-bound Esquimaux surprised in their zone of silence by the sleep
of the Shadow, the long night of their dreary winter. And the composer
had succeeded surprisingly well. What boreal epic had he read into
Ellenora's little prose poem, the only thing of hers that he had ever
pretended to admire! She was amazed, stunned. She wondered how all this
emotional richness could have been tapped. Had she left him too soon,
or had her departure developed some richer artistic vein? She tortured
her brain and heart. After a big tonal climax followed by the
lugubrious monologue of a bassoon the work closed.
There was much applause, and she saw her husband come out again and
again bowing. Finally he appeared with the young singer. Ellenora left
the hall and feebly felt her way to the street. As she expected, Paul
was not in sight, so she called a carriage, and getting into it she saw
Arthur drive by with his pretty soprano.
How she reached the train and Philadelphia she hardly remembered.
She was miserably sick at soul, miserably mortified. Her foolish
air-castles vanished, and in their stead she saw the brutal reality.
She had deserted a young genius for a fashionable dilettante. In time
she might have learned to care for Arthurbut how was she to know
this? He was so backward, such a colorless companion!... She almost
disliked the man who had taken her away from him; yet six months ago
Ellenora would have resented the notion that a mere man could have led
her. Besides there was another woman in the muddle now!... In her
disgust she longed for her own zone of silence. In her heart she called
Ibsen and Nora Helmer delusive guides; her chief intellectual staff had
failed her and she began to see Torvald Helmer's troubles in a
different light. Perhaps when Nora reached the street that terrible
night, she thought of her childrenperhaps Helmer was watching her
from the Doll's House windowperhapsperhaps Arthurthen she
remembered the young singer and bitterness filled her mouth....
When Paul came back, twenty-four hours later, she turned a
disagreeable regard upon him.
Why didn't you stay away longer? she demanded inconsistently.
My dear girl, I searched for you at Carnegie Hall that night, but I
suppose I must have come too late; so yesterday I went yachting and had
a jolly time.
Ellenora fell to reproaching Paul violently for his cruel neglect.
Didn't he know that she was ailing and needed him? He answered
maliciously: I fancied that your trip might upset your nerves. I am
really beginning to believe you care more for your young composer than
you do for me. Ellenora Vibert, sentimentalist!what a joke.
He smiled at his wit....
Leave me, leave me, and don't come here again!... I have a right to
care for any man I please.
Ah! Ibsen encore, said Paul, tauntingly.
No, not Ibsen, she replied in a weak voice, only a free
womanfree even to admire the man whose name I bear, she added, her
temper sinking to a sheer monotone.
Free? he sarcastically echoed. The shock of their voices filled
the room. Paul angrily stared out of the window at the thin trees in
dusty Rittenhouse Square, wondering when the woman would stop her
tiresome reproaches. Ellenora's violent agitation affected her; and the
man, his selfish sensibilities aroused by the most unheroic sight in
the world, slowly descended the staircase, grumbling as he put on his
* * * * *
Too cerebral to endure the philandering Paul, Ellenora Vibert is
still in Philadelphia. She has little hope that her husband will ever
make any sign.... After a time her restless mind and need of money
drove her into journalism. To-day she successfully edits the Woman's
Page of a Sunday newspaper, and her reading of an essay on Ibsen's
Heroines before the Twenty-first Century Club was declared a positive
achievement. Ellenora, who dislikes Nietzsche more than ever, calls
herself Mrs. Bishop. Her pen name is now Nora Helmer.
And you say they met him this afternoon? ... Yes, met him in
broad daylight coming from the house of that odious woman. Well, I
never would have believed it! That accounts for his mysterious
absence from the clubs and drawing-rooms. Henry Tannhäuser is not the
style of man to miss London in the season, unless there is a big
attraction elsewhere. ... The air was heavy with flowers, and in the
windows opening on the balcony were thronged smartly dressed folk; it
was May and the weather warm. The Landgrave's musicale had been
anticipated eagerly by all music-lovers in town; Wartburg, the large
house on the hill, hardly could hold the invited....
The evening was young when Mrs. Minne, charming and a widow, stood
with her pretty nun-like face inclined to the tall, black Mr. Biterolf,
the basso of the opera. She had been sonnetted until her perfectly
arched eyebrows were famous. Her air of well-bred and conventual calm
never had been known to desert her; and her high, light, colorless
soprano had something in it of the sexless timbre of the boy chorister.
With her blond hair pressed meekly to her shapely head she was the
delight and despair of poets, painters and musicians, for she turned an
impassable cheek to their pleadings. Mrs. Minne would never remarry;
and it was her large income that made water the mouth of the
impecunious artistic tribe....
Just now she seemed interested in Karl Biterolf, but even his vanity
did not lead him to hope. They resumed their conversation, while about
them the crush became greater, and the lights burned more brilliantly.
In the whirl of chatter and conventional compliment stood Elizabeth
Landgrave, the niece of the host, receiving her uncle's guests. Mrs.
Minne regarded her, a sweet, unpleasant smile playing about her thinly
Yet the men rave over her, Mr. Biterolf. Is it not so? What chance
has a passée woman with such a pure, delicate slip of a girl? And she
sings so well. I wonder if she intends going on the stage? Her
companion leaned over and whispered something.
No, no, I'll never believe it. What? Henry Tannhäuser in love with
that girl! Jamais, jamais!
But I tell you it's so, and her refusal sent him afterwell, that
other one. Biterolf looked wise.
You mean to tell me that he could forget her for an old woman?
Stop, I know you are going to say that the Holda is as fascinating as
Diana of Poitiers and has a trick of making boys, young enough to be
her grandsons, fall madly in love with her. I know all that is said in
her favor. No one knows who she is, where she came from, or her age.
She's fifty if she's a day, and she makes up in the morning. Mrs.
Minne paused for breath. Both women moved in the inner musical set of
fashionable London and both captained rival camps. Mrs. Minne was voted
a saint and Mrs. Holda a sinnera fascinating one.... There was a
little feeling in the widow's usually placid voice when she again
I always fancied that Eschenbach, that man with the baritone voice,
son of the rich breweryou know him of course?I always fancied that
he was making up to our pretty young innocent over yonder.
Biterolf gazed in amusement at his companion. Her veiled, sarcastic
tone was not lost on him; he felt that he had to measure his words with
this lily-like creature.
Oh, yes; Wolfram Eschenbach? Certainly, I know him. He sings very
well for an amateur. I believe he is to sing this evening. Let us go
out on the balcony; it's very warm. I intend remaining here, for I
shall not miss a trick in the game to-night and if, as you say, that
silly Tannhäuser was seen leaving the Holda's house this afternoon
Yes, with young Walter Vogelweide, and they were quarrelling
Drinking, I suppose? No; Henry was very much depressed, and when
Eschenbach asked him where he had been so long What a fool question
for a man in love with Elizabeth Landgrave, interposed Mrs. Minne,
tartly. Henry answered that he didn't know, and he wished he were in
the Thames. And a good place for him, say I. The lady put up her
lorgnon and bowed amiably to Miss Landgrave, who was talking eagerly to
The elder Landgrave was as fond of hunting as of music, and
sedulously fostered the cultivation of his niece's voice. As she stood
beside him, her slender figure was almost as tall as his. Her eyes were
large in the cup and they went violet in the sunlight; at night they
seemed lustrously black. She was in virginal white this evening, and
her delicately modelled head was turned toward the door. Her uncle
spoke slowly to her.
He promised to come. Elizabeth flushed. Whether he does or not, I
shall sing; besides, his rudeness is unbearable. Uncle, dear, what can
I say to a man who goes away for a month without vouchsafing me a word
Her uncle coughed insinuatingly in his beard. He was a widower.
Hadn't we better begin, uncle? Go out on the balcony and stop that
noisy gypsy band. I hate Hungarian music. ... She carried herself with
dignity, and Mr. Landgrave admired the pretty curves of her face and
wondered what would happen when her careless lover arrived. Soon the
crowd drifted in from the balcony and the great music-room, its solemn
oak walls and ceilings blazing with light, was jammed. Near the
concert-grand gathered a group of music makers, in which Wolfram
Eschenbach's golden beard and melancholy eyes were at once singled out
by sentimental damsels. He had long been the by-word of match-making
mammas because of his devotion to a hopeless cause. Elizabeth Landgrave
admired his good qualities, but her heart was held by that rake,
vaurien and man about town, dashing Harry Tannhäuser; and as
Wolfram bent over Miss Landgrave her uncle could not help regretting
that girls were so obstinate.
A crashing of chords announced that the hour had arrived. After the
Tannhäuser overture, Elizabeth Landgrave arose to sing. Instantly
there was a stillness. She looked very fair in her clinging gown, and
as her powerful, well modulated soprano uttered the invocation to the
Wartburg Dich, teure Halle, grüss ich wieder, the thrill of
excitement was intensified by the appearance of Henry Tannhäuser in the
doorway at the lower end of the room. If Elizabeth saw him her voice
did not reveal emotion, and she gave, with rhetorical emphasis, Froh
grüss ich dich, geliebter Raum.
He looks pretty well knocked out, doesn't he? whispered Biterolf
to Mrs. Minne. She curled her lip. She had long set her heart on
Tannhäuser, but since he preferred to sing the praises of Mrs. Holda,
she slaked her feelings by cutting up his character in slices and
serving them to her friends with a saintly smile.
Poor old Harry, went on Biterolf in his clumsy fashion. Your poor
old Harry had better keep away from his Venus, snapped the other; he
looks as if he'd been going the pace too fast. Every one looked
curiously at the popular tenor. He stood the inspection very well,
though his clean-shaven face was slightly haggard, his eyes sunken and
bloodshot. But he was such good style, as the women remarked, and his
bearing, as ever, gallant.
Elizabeth ended with Sei mir gegrüsst, and there was a volley of
handclapping. Tannhäuser made his way to the piano. His attitude was
anything but penitent; the girl did not stir a muscle. He shook hands.
Then he complimented her singing. She bowed her head stiffly.
Tannhäuser smiled ironically.
I suppose I ought to do the conventional operatic thing, he
murmuredcry aloud, 'Let me kneel forever here.' She regarded him
coldly. You might find it rather embarrassing before this crowd. Do
you ever sing any more? He was slightly confused. Let us sing the duo
in the second act; you know it, she curtly said, and stop the mob's
gaping. Mrs. Minne over there is straining her eyes out. She cannot
say that I ever sang her praises, laughed Tannhäuser, and as he faced
the audience with Elizabeth there was a hum which modulated clamorously
into noisy applause.
The pair began Gepriesen sei die Stunde, gepriesen sei die Macht,
and Mr. Landgrave looked on gloomily as the voices melted in lyric
ecstasy. Henry's voice was heroic, like himself, and his friend Wolfram
felt a glow when its thrilling top tones rang out so pure, so clear.
What a voice, what a man! If he would only take care of himself, he
thought and looked at Elizabeth's spiritual face wondering if she
knewif she knew of the other woman who was making Henry forget his
The duo ceased and congratulations were heaped upon the singers....
How do you manage to keep it up, old man? asked Biterolf while
Mrs. Minne engaged Elizabeth.
Tannhäuser smiled. You old grim wolf, Biterolf, you cling to the
notion that a singer must lead the life of an anchorite to preserve his
voice. I enjoy life. I am not a monk, but a tenor Yes, but not a
professional one! No; therefore I'm happy. If I had to sing to order,
I'd jump into the river. That's what you said this afternoon,
replied Biterolf, knowingly.
Henry's face grew dark. You've said nothing, have you? That's a
good fellow. I assure you, Karl, I'm in the very devil of a fix. I've
got rid of Holda, but no one can tell how long. She's a terror. Why
don't you travel? I have, I swear I have, but she has a trick of
finding where my luggage goes and then turns up at Pau or Paris as if I
expected her. She's a witch! That's what she is.
She is Venus, said Biterolf moodily. Aha! you've been hard hit,
too? I believe she does come from the Hollow Hill. Her cavern must be
full of dead men's bones, trophies of her conquests. I think I've
escaped this time. Tannhäuser's face grew radiant. Don't be too sure,
she may turn up here to-night. Good Lord, man, she's not invited, I
hope. I don't know why notshe goes with the best people. Take a tip
from me, Harry. Don't waste any more time with her for Eschenbach may
cut you out. He's very fond of Elizabeth, and you'd better cut short
that duet over there now; Mrs. Minne is not fond of you. Nonsense!
said Tannhäuser, but he lounged over toward the two women and his big
frame was noted by all the girls in the room.
Tannhäuser had a very taking way with him. His eyes were sky-blue
and his hair old gold. He was a terrific sportsman and when not making
love was singing. From his Teutonic ancestry he had inherited a taste
for music which desultory study in a German university town, combined
with a musical ear, had improved. He had been told by managers that if
he would work hard he could make a sensation, but Henry was lazy and
Henry was rich, so he sang, shot big game and flirted his years away.
Then he met Mrs. Holda, of Berg Street, Piccadilly.
The women were not looking at each other with loving eyes when he
drew near. Elizabeth turned to him, her face aglow: Let us walk a bit
before Mr. Eschenbach sings. Her manner was almost seductive. Mrs.
Minne sneered slightly and waved her fan condescendingly at the two as
they moved slowly up the room. There go the biggest pair of fools in
all Christendom, she remarked to Biterolf; why, she will believe
everything he tells her. She wouldn't listen to my advice. Biterolf
shook his head. When Tannhäuser and Elizabeth returned both looked
That woman has actually been abusing you, Harry. He pressed her
arm reassuringly. Wolfram Eschenbach began to sing Blick' ich umher in
diesem edlen Kreise, and once more silence fell upon the bored crowd.
Sympathy was in his tones and he sang tenderly, lovingly. Elizabeth
listened unmoved. She now had eyes for Tannhäuser only, and she laughed
aloud when he proposed to follow Wolfram with a solo.
Do, she said enthusiastically, it will stir them all up.
Although this number was not down on the program, Tannhäuser was
welcomed as he went to the piano. Wolfram seemed uneasy and once looked
fixedly at Elizabeth. Then he walked out on the balcony as if seeking
some one, and Mrs. Minne nudged her stolid neighbor. Mark my words,
there's trouble brewing, she declared.
By this time Tannhäuser was in his best form. He seemed to have
regained all his usual elasticity, for Berg Street, with its depressing
memories, had completely vanished. He expanded his chest and sang, his
victorious blue eyes fastened on Elizabeth. He sang the song of Venus,
Dir, Göttin der Liebe, and all the old passion came into his voice;
when he uttered Zieht in den Berg der Venus ein he was transported,
his surroundings melted and once more he was gazing at the glorious
woman, his Venus, his Holda. The audience was completely shaken out of
its fashionable immobility, and superb, bravo, magnificent,
encore, bis, were heard on all sides. Elizabeth alone remained
mute. Her skin was the pallor of ivory, and into her glance came the
look of a lovely fawn run down by the hounds.
He'd better pack his traps and make a pilgrimage to Rome, remarked
Mrs. Minne with malice in her secular eyes as Tannhäuser strode to the
balcony. Wolfram, looking anxious, went to Elizabeth and led her to her
uncle; then the supper signal sounded and the buzz and struggle became
Mrs. Minne disappeared. Ten minutes later she was at Miss
Landgrave's side, and presently the pair left the table, slowly forced
a passage through the mob of hungry and thirsty humans and reached the
The night was rich with May odors, but the place seemed deserted.
Plucking at the girl's sleeve, her companion pointed to a couple that
stood looking into the garden, the arm of the man passed about the
waist of the woman. Even in the starlight Elizabeth recognized the
exquisite head and turned to leave; the woman with her was bent on
seeing the game. In sharp staccato she said, What a relief after that
hot supper-room! and the others turned. Elizabeth did not pause a
moment. She went to Tannhäuser's companion and said:
My dear Mrs. Holda, where have you been hiding to-night? I fear you
missed the music and I fear now you will miss the supper; do let us go
Five minutes later Mrs. Holda left with Tannhäuser in her brougham,
telling the coachman to drive to Berg Street.
The drawing-room was delicious that May afternoonthe next after
the musicale at Landgrave's. Henry was indolently disposed, and on a
broad divan, heaped with Persian pillows, he stretched his big limbs
like a guardsman in a Ouida novel. The dark woman near watched him
closely, and as he seemed inclined to silence she did not force the
Shall we drive, Venus? he nonchalantly asked. Just as you please.
We may meet your saint with the insipid eyes in the park. Good
heavens! he testily answered, why do you forever drag in that girl's
name? She's nothing to me. Mrs. Holda went to the window and he lazily
noticed her perfect figure, her raven hair and black eyes. She was a
stunner after all, and didn't look a day over twenty-eight. How did she
manage to preserve the illusion of youth? She turned to him, and he saw
the contour of a face Oriental, with eyes that allured and a mouth that
invited. A desirable but dangerous woman, and he fell to thinking of
the other, of her air of girlhood, her innocence of poise, her calm of
breeding that nothing disturbed. Like a good pose in the saddle,
nothing could ever unseat the equanimity of Elizabeth. Mrs. Holda grew
distasteful for the moment and her voice sounded metallic.
When you cease your perverse mooning, Harry Tannhäuser, when you
make up your mind once and for all which woman you intend to choose,
when you decide between Elizabeth Landgrave and Venus Holda, I shall be
most happy. As it is now I amJust then two cards were handed her by
a footman, and after looking at them she laughed a mellow laugh.
Tannhäuser sat up and asked her the news.
I laugh because the situation is so funny, she said; here are
your two friends come to visit you and perhaps attempt your rescue from
the Venusberg. Oh! for a Wagner now! What appropriate music he could
set to this situation. She gave him the cards, and to his
consternation he read the names of Elizabeth Landgrave and Wolfram
Eschenbach. He started up in savage humor and was for going to the
reception room. Quite calmly Mrs. Holda bade him stay where he was.
They did not ask for you, Harry, dear; stay here and be a good boy,
and I'll tell you all about it when they've gone. Her laughter was
resilient as she descended the staircase, but to the young man it
seemed sinister. He felt that hope had abandoned him when he entered
the Berg Street house, and now Elizabeth's presence, instead of
relieving his dull remorse, increased it. She was under the same roof
with him, yet he could not go to her....
Tannhäuser paced the parquetry almost hidden by Bokhara rugs, trying
to forget the girl. Stopping before an elaborate ebony and gold
lectern, he found a volume in vellum, opened and in it he read: Livre
des grandes Merveilles d'amour, escript en Latin et en françoys par
Maistre Antoine Gaget 1530. Has love its marvels? pondered the
disquieted young man. Turning over the title-page he came upon these
words in sweet old English:
Then lamented he weeping: Alas, most unhappy and accursed sinner
that I am, in that I shall never see the clemency and mercy of my God.
Now will I go forth and hide myself within Mount Horsel, imploring my
sweet lady Venus for favor and loving mercy, for willingly would I be
forever condemned to hell for her love. Here endeth all my deeds of
arms and my sweet singing. Alas, that my lady's face and her eyes were
too beautiful, and that in an unfortunate moment I saw them. Then went
he forth sighing and returned to her, and dwelt sadly in the presence
of his lady, filled with a surpassing love. And afterwards it came to
pass that one day the pope saw many red and white flowers and leaf-buds
spring forth from his bastions, and all without bloomed anew. So that
he feared greatly, and being much moved thereby was filled with great
pity for the chevalier who had gone forth hopeless like unto a man
forever damned and miserable. And straightway sent he numberless
messengers to him to bring him back, saying that he should receive
grace and absolution from God, for this his great sin of love. But
never more was he seen; for the poor chevalier dwelt forever near unto
Venus, that most high and mighty Goddess, in the bosom of the amorous
Mrs. Holda was delightful as she welcomed her visitors. The
drawing-room was not empty, she said; a friend, an old friend, a bit
of a bore, you know; and they must just stay downstairs, it was more
cozy, more intimate. Elizabeth, whose face was quite rosy from walking,
studied the woman with the Egyptian profile and glorious hair, and
wondered if she ever told the truth. Wolfram alone seemed uneasy. He
could not get into the swing of conversation; he was in his watchful
mood. He looked at the portières as if every moment he expected some
one to appear. The musicale was discussed and Miss Landgrave's singing
praised. Wolfram rather awkwardly attempted to introduce Tannhäuser's
name, but was snubbed by Elizabeth.
Now, my dear Mrs. Holda, I've come to tell you some news; promise
me, I beg of you, promise me not to divulge it. We are engaged, Wolfram
and I, and you being such an old friend I came to you first. The
girl's pure face was the picture of nubile candor, and her eyes met
fairly the shock of the other's quick glance.
How lovely, how perfectly lovely it all is, and how I appreciate
your confidence, sang Mrs. Holda, in purring accents. How glad Henry
Tannhäuser will be to hear that his two best friends are to be married.
I must telltell him this afternoon.
Oh! cried Elizabeth, lightly, but your promise, have you
forgotten it? The other laughed in her face.
We go to Rome, to make what dear Mrs. Minne calls the pilgrimage,
declared the girl unflinchingly.
Then I hope the Wagner miracle will take place again, mockingly
answered Mrs. Holda, and after a few more sentences the visitors went
away. Venus burst into her drawing-room holding her sides, almost
choking. Harry, Harry, Harry Tannhäuser, I shall die. They're engaged
to be married. They came to tell me, to tell me, knowing that you were
upstairs. Oh, that deceitful virgin with her sly airs! I understood
her. She fancied that she would put me out of countenance. She and that
sheep of a brewer's son, Eschenbach. They're engaged, I tell you, and
going to Rome on their wedding triptheir pilgrimage she called it.
Oh, these affected Wagnerites! You had better go, too, Mr. Tannhäuser;
perhaps the miracle might be renewed and your staff of faith grow green
with the leaves of repentance. Oh, Harry, what a lark it all is!
He sat on the couch and stared at her as she rolled about on a
divan, gripped by malicious laughter.... Engaged! Elizabeth Landgrave
engaged to be married! And a few hours ago she told him she loved him,
could never love anotherand now! What had happened in such a brief
time to make her change her mind? Engaged to Wolfram Eschenbach, dear,
old stupid Wolfram, who had loved her with a dog's love for years, even
when she flouted him. Wolfram, his best friend, slow Wolfram, with his
poetizing, his fondness for German singing societies, his songs to
evening stars; Eschenbach, the brewer's son, to cut him out, cut out
brilliant Harry Tannhäuser! It was incredible, it was monstrous!... He
slowly went to the window. The street was empty, and only his desperate
thoughts made noise as they clattered through his hollow head. Her
voice roused him. You can take the pitcher too often to the well,
Harry dear, and you drove once too often to Berg Street. Elizabeth,
sensible girl, instead of dying, takes the best man she could possibly
find; a better man than you, Harry, and she couldn't resist letting me
know it. So, silly old boy, better give up your Wartburg ambitions,
your pilgrimage to Rome, and stay here in the Venusberg. I know I'm
old, but, after all, am I not your Venus? In the soft light of an
early evening in May the face of Mrs. Holda seemed impossibly
THE RED-HEADED PIANO PLAYER
The two young men left the trolley car that carried them from Bath
Beach to the West End of Coney Island, and walked slowly up the Broad
Avenue of Confusing Noises, smoked and gazed about them with the
independent air that notes among a million the man from New York. And
as they walked they talked in crisp sentences, laughing at the seller
of opulent Frankfurter sausages and nodding pleasantly to the lovely
ladies in short, spangled skirts, who, with beckoning glances, sought
their eyes. The air reverberated with an August evening's heat and
seemed sweating. Its odor modulated from sea-brine to Barren Island,
and the wind hummed. The clatter was striking; ardent whistling of
peanut steam-roasters, vicious brass bands, hideous harps, wheezing
organs, hoarse shoutings and the patient, monotonous cry of the fakirs
and photographers were all blended in a dense, huge symphony; while the
mouse-colored dust churned by the wheels of blackguard beach-wagons
blurred a hard, blue sky from which pricked a soft, hanging star. An
operatic sun had just set with all the majestic tranquillity of a fiery
hen; and the two friends felt laconically gay. Let's eat here,
suggested the red-haired one.
Not on your life, answered the other, a stout, cynical blond; you
get nothing but sauerkraut that isn't sour and dog-meat sausage. I'm
for a good square meal at Manhattan or Sheepshead Bay.
Yes, but Billy, there's more fun here, and heavens knows I'm dead
tired. The young fellow's accents were those of an irritable, hungry
human animal, and his big chum gave in....
They searched the sandy street for a comfortable beer place, and
after passing dime-museums, unearthly looking dives, amateur breweries,
low gin mills and ambitious establishments, the pair paused opposite a
green, shy park of grass and dwarf trees, and listened.
Piano playing, and not bad, cried Billy. They both hung over the
rustic palings and heard bits of Chopin's Military Polonaise,
interrupted by laughter and the rattling of crockery.
I'm for going in, Billy, and they read the sign which announced a
good dinner, with music, for fifty cents. They followed the artificial
lane to a large summer cottage, about which were bunched drooping
willows and, finding all the tables occupied, went inside.
A long room furnished for dining, gaudy pictures on the walls, and
at one end upon a raised platform a grand piano. The place was full;
and the tobacco-smoke, chatter and calls of the waiters disconcerted
the two boys. Just then the piano sounded. Chopin again, and curious to
know who possessed such a touch at Coney Island, the friends found a
table to the right of the keyboard and sat down. As they did, they
looked at the pianist and both exclaimed:
Paderewski or his ghost! The fellow wore a shock of lemon-tinted
hair after the manner of the Polish virtuoso, but his face was shaven
Harry, he looks like a lost soul, said Billy, who was rather plain
spoken in his judgments.
Let's give him a drink, whispered Harry, and he called a waiter.
Whiskey, said the waiter after a question had been put, and presently
the piano player was bowing to them as he threw the liquor into his
large mouth. Then the Chopin study in C minor was recommenced and
half-finished and the two music lovers forgot their dinner. A waiter
spoke to them twice; the manager, seeing that music was hurting trade,
went to the piano and coughed. The pianist instantly stopped, and a
dinner was ordered by Harry. Billy looked around him with a trained
eye. He noticed that the women were all sunburned and wore much
glittering jewelry; the men looked like countrymen and were timid in
the use of the fork. When the music began they stopped eating and their
companions ordered fresh drinks. Billy could have sworn that he saw one
woman crying. But as soon as the music ceased conversation began, and
the rattle of dishes was deafening.
I say, Harry, this is a queer go. There's something funny about
this place and this piano. It upsets all my theories of piano music.
When the piano begins here the audience forgets to eat, and its passion
mounts to its ears. Not like the West End at all, is it? Harry was
busy with his soup. He was sentimental, and the sight of kindred
hairthe hue beloved of Paderewskiroused his sympathies.
By George, Billy, that fellow's an artist. Just look at his
expression. There's a story in him, and I'm going to get it. It may be
They chatted, and asked the pianist to join them in another drink.
Whiskey was sent up to the platform, and the musician drank it at a
gulp, his right hand purling over the figuration of Auf dem Wasser zu
Singen. But he took no water. Then making them a little bobbing,
startled bow, he began playing. Again it was something of Chopin. On
his lean features there was a look of detachment; and the watchers were
struck with the interesting forehead, the cheeks etched with seams of
suffering, and the finely compressed lips.
I'll bet it's some German who has boozed too much at home, and his
folks have thrown him out, hinted Billy.
German? That's no German, I swear. It's Hungarian, Bohemian or
Pole. Besides, he drinks whiskey.
Yes, drinks too much, but it hasn't hurt his playingyet: just
listen to the beggar play that prelude.
The B flat minor Prelude, with its dark, rich, rushing cascade of
scales, its grim iteration and ceaseless questioning, spun through the
room, and again came the curious silence. Even the Oberkellner
listened, his mouth ajar. The waiters paused midway in their desperate
gaming with victuals, and for a moment the place was wholly given over
to music. The mounting unison passage and the smashing chords at the
close awakened the diners from the trance into which they had been
thrown by the magnetic fluid at the tips of the pianist's fingers; the
bustle began, Harry and Billy ordered more beer and drew deep breaths.
He's a wonder, that's all I know, and I'm going to grab him. What
technique, what tone, what a touch! cried Harry, who had been
assistant music critic on an afternoon paper.
A card, with a pencilled invitation, was sent to the pianist, and
the place being quite dark the electric lights began hoarsely whistling
in a canary colored haze. The musician came over to the table and,
bowing very low, took a seat.
You will excuse me, he said, if I do not eat. I have trouble with
my heart, and I drink whiskey. Yes, I will be happy to join you in
another glass of very bad whiskey. No, I am not a Pole; I am English,
and not a nobleman. I look like Paderewski, but can't play nearly as
well. Here is my card. The name was commonplace, Wilkins, but was
prefixed by the more unusual Feodor.
You've some Russian in you after all? questioned Billy.
Perhaps. Feodor is certainly Russian. I often play Tschaïkowsky. I
know that you wonder why I am in such a place. I will tell you. I like
human nature, and where can you get such an opportunity to come into
contact with it in the raw as this place?
Billy winked at Harry and ordered more drinks. The pale Feodor
Wilkins drank with the same precipitate gesture, as if eager with
thirst. He spoke in a refined manner, and was evidently an educated
I have no story, my friends. I'm not a genius in disguise, neither
am I a drunkardone may safely drink at the seasideand if, perhaps,
like Robert Louis Stevenson, I play at being an amateur emigrant, I
certainly do not intend writing a book of my experiences.
The newspaper boys were disappointed. There was, then, no lovely
mystery to be unravelled, no subterrene story excavated, no romance at
all, nothing but a spiritual looking Englishman with an odd first name
and a gift of piano playing.
Mr. Wilkins gave a little laugh, for he read the faces of his
companions. As if to add another accent to their disappointment he
ordered a Swiss cheese sandwich, and spoke harshly to the waiter for
not bringing mustard with it. Then he turned to Harry:
You love music?
Crazy for it, but see here, Mr.Mr. Wilkins, why don't you play in
public? I don't mean this kind of a public, but before a Philharmonic
audience! This sort of cattle must make you sick, and for heaven's
sake, man, what do they pay you? Harry's face was big with suppressed
questions. The pianist paused in his munching of bread and cheese. His
fine luminous eyes twinkled: My dear boy, I have a storya short
oneand I fancy that it will explain the mystery. I am twenty-seven
years old. Yes, that's all, but I've lived andloved.
Ah, a petticoat! exclaimed Harry, triumphantly; I was sure of
No, not a petticoat, but a piano was the cause of my undoing.
Vaulting ambition and all that sort of thing. My parents were easy in
circumstances and I was brought up to be a pianist. Deliberately
planned to be a virtuoso. I was sent to Leschetizky, to Von Bülow, to
Rubinstein, to Liszt. I studied scales in Paris with Planté, trills in
Bologna with Martucci, octaves with Rosenthal; in Vienna I met Joseffy,
and with him I studied double notes. Wait until later and I shall play
for you the Chopin Study in G sharp minor! I mastered twenty-two
concertos and even knew the parts for the triangle. Then at the age of
twenty-five, after the best teachers in Europe had taught me their
particular craft I returned to England, to London, and gave a concert.
It was an elaborate affair. The best orchestra, with Hans Richter, was
secured by my happy father, and after the third rehearsal he embraced
me, saying that he could go to his grave a satisfied man, for his son
was a piano artist. There must have been a strain of Slavic in the old
man, he loved Chopin and Tschaïkowsky so. My mother was less
demonstrative, but she was as truly delighted as my father. Picture to
yourself the transports of these two devoted old people! And when I
left them the night before the concert I really trembled.
In my bedroom I faced the mirror and saw my secret peering out at
me. I knew that if I failed it would kill my parents, who,
gambler-like, were staking their very existence on my success. As the
night wore white I grew more nervous, and at dawn, not being able to
endure the strain a moment more, I crept out of doors and went to a
public house and began drinking to settle my nerves.
I told you it was whiskey, blurted out Billy.
No, brandy, said Mr. Wilkins, looking into his empty glass, now
it's whiskey. Yes; thank you very much. Well, to proceed.
I drank all day, but being young I did not feel it particularly. I
went home, ran my fingers over the piano, got into a bath and dressed
for the concert. At eight o'clock the carriage came, and at eight
forty-five, with one more drink in me, I walked out on the platform as
bold as you please, and despite the size of the audience, the glare of
the lights and the air, charged with human electricity, I felt rather
at ease. The orchestra went sailing into the long tutti of the F
minor Concerto of Chopin, and Richter, I could feel, was in good
spirits. My cue came; I took it, struck out and came down the piano in
the introductory unisonsa divine beginning, isn't it?and my tone
seemed rich and virile. I played the first theme, and all went well
until the next interlude for the orchestra; I looked about me
confidently, feeling quite like a virtuoso, and soon spied my parents,
when suddenly my knees began to tremble, trembled so that the damper
pedal vibrated. Then my eyes blurred and I missed my cue and felt
Richter's great spectacles burning into the side of my head like two
fierce suns. I scrambled, got my place, lost it, rambled and was roused
to my position by the short rapping of the conductor's stick on his
desk. The band stopped, and Herr Richter spoke gruffly to me:
In a sick, dazed way I put my fingers on the keys, but they were
drunk; the cursed brandy had just begun to work, and a minute later, my
head reeling, I staggered through the orchestra, lurched against a
contrabassist, fell down and was shoved out of sight.
I lay in the artists' room perfectly content, and even enjoyed the
pinched chalky face of my father as he stooped over me.
'My God, the boy's drunk,' he cried, and big Richter nodded his
head quite philosophically, 'Ja, er ist ganz besoffen,' and left us to
go to the audience. I fell asleep.... The next evening I found, on
awakening, a horrible headache and a letter from my father. I was
turned out of doors, disowned, and bade to go about my business. So
here I am, gentlemen, as you see, at your service, and always thirsty.
The friends were about to put a hundred questions, when a thin, acid
female voice broke in: Benny, don't you think you've wasted enough of
the gentlemen's time? You'd better get to work. The people are nearly
all gone. Feodor Wilkins started to his feet and blushed as an old,
fat woman, wearing a Mother Hubbard of gross pattern, waddled toward
the table. The sad pianist with the flaming hair turned to the boys:
My wife, Mrs. Wilkins, gentlemen! The lady took a seat at Billy's
invitation and also a small drink of peppermint and whiskey. She told
them that she was tired out; business had been good, and if Benny would
only quit drinking and play more popular music, why, she wouldn't
complain! Then she drank to their health, and Billy thought he saw the
husband make a convulsive movement in his throat. It may have been
caused by hysterical mortificationthe woman was undeniably
vulgarbut to the practical-minded Billy it was more like an envious
involuntary swallowing at the sight of another's drinking. Then the
pianist mounted his wooden throne, where, amid the dust and tramplings
of low conquests and in the murky air, he began to toll out the bells
of the Chopin Funeral March.
Funny how they all quit eatin' and drinkin' when he speels, isn't
it? remarked the wife with a gratified smile. Why, if he was half a
man he'd play all day as well as night and then folks out yonder would
forgit their vittles altogether. I suppose he give you the same old
Harry bristled: What old story, madame? Mr. Feodor Wilkins told us
of his studies abroad and his unsuccessful début in London. It's a
beautiful story. He's a great artist, and you ought to be proud of
The woman burst into laughter. Why, the old fraud has been
stringing you. Fedderr, he calls himself! His name is Benny, just plain
Benny Wilkins, and he never saw London. He's from Boston way, took
lessons at some big observatory up there, and he run up such a big
slate with me that he married me to sponge it out. Schwamm d'rüber! you
know. My first husband left a nice little tavern, and them music
stoodents just flocked out after lessons was over to drink beer. Oh,
dear me, Benny was a nice boy, but he always did drink too much. Then
we moved to Harlem and I rented this place for the summer. I expect to
make a tidy sum before I leave, if Benny only stays straight.
There was something pathetic in this last cadence, and the two boys
leaned back and listened to the presto of the Chopin B flat minor
Sonata, which Wilkins took at a tremendous pace.
Sounds as if he were the wind weaving over his own grave, said
Harry, mournfully. The boys had drunk too much, and the close
atmosphere and music were beginning to tell on their nerves.
He's a tramp of genius, that's what he is, growled Billy crossly.
But we've got a story, interjected the other.
Yes, and were taken in finely. Hanged if I didn't believe the
fellow while he was yarning.
You gentlemen won't mind me leaving you, will you? It's near
closing-up time, and I've got to be the boss. Benny, he sticks close to
the pianner as it gits late. I reckon he feels his licker. Ain't he a
dandy with them skinny fingers o' his?
She moved away, giving her husband a warning not to leave his perch,
and went barwards to overhaul her receipts....
The lights were nearly all out and the drumming of the breakers on
the beach clearly could be felt. The young men paid their bill and
shook hands with the pianist. He leaned over the edge of the platform
and spoke to them in a low voice.
Come again, gentlemen, come again. Don't mind what she tells you.
I'm not her husband, no matter what she said just now. She owns me body
and soul for this year. I swear to God it's not the drink. I need the
experience in public. I must play all the time before that awful
nervous terror wears off. This is the place to get in touch with common
folk; if I can hold them with Chopin what won't I be able to do with an
appreciative audience! Believe me, gentlemen, I pray of you; give me a
year, only one year, and I'll get out of this nervousness and this
nightmare, and the world of music will hear of me. Only give me
time. Feodor Wilkins placed his hand desperately on the pit of his
stomach; his wife screamed:
Benny, come right over here and count the cash.
The boys got into the open air and scented the surf with delight, a
moon enlaced with delicate cloud streamers made magic in the sky; then
Say, Bill, do you believe that story? ...
She had infinitely sad, wide eyes. The sweet pangs of maternity and
art had not been denied this woman with the vibrant voice and
temperament of fire. Singing only in the Wagner music dramas critics
awarded her the praise that pains. She did not sing as Patti, but oh!
the sonorous heart....
Götterdämmerung was being declaimed in a fervent and eminently
Teutonic fashion. The house was fairly filled though it could hardly be
called a brilliant gathering; the conductor dragged the tempi, the
waits were interminable. A young girl sat and wonderingly watched. Her
mother was the Brynhild....
This daughter was a strange girl. Her only education was the
continual smatter which comes from many cities superficially glided.
She spoke French with the accent of Vienna, and her German had in it
some of the lingering lees of the Dutch. Wherever they pitched their
tent the girl went abroad in the city, absorbing it. Thus she knew many
things denied women; and when her mother was summoned to Bayreuth, she
soon forgot all in the mists, weavings and golden noise of Wagner. Then
followed five happy years. The singer prospered at Bayreuth and
engagements trod upon the heels of engagements. Her girl was petted,
grew tall, shy, and one day they said, She is a young woman. The
heart of the child beat tranquilly in her bosom, and her thoughts took
on little color of the life about her.
Once, after Tristan und Isolde she asked:
Why do you never speak of my father?
Her mother, sitting on the bed, was coiling her glorious hair; the
open dress revealed the massive throat and great white shoulders.
Your father died years ago, child. Why do you ask now?
The girl looked directly at her.
I thought to-night how lovely if he had only been Tristan instead
of Herr Albert.
The other's face was draped by hair. She did not speak for a moment.
Yes. But he never sang: your father was not a music lover. ...
Presently they embraced affectionately and went to bed; the singer
did not sleep at once. Her thoughts troubled her....
Madame Stock was a great but unequal artist. She had never concerned
herself with the little things of the vocal art. Nature had given her
much; voice, person, musical temperament, dramatic aptitude. She erred
artistically on the side of over-emphasis, and occasionally tore
passion to pieces. But she had the true fire, and with time would
compass repose and symmetry. Toward conquering herself she seldom gave
a thought. Her unhappy marriage had left its marks; she was cynical and
often reckless; but with the growth of her daughter came reflection....
Hilda was not to be treated as other girls. Her Scotch ancestry showed
itself early. The girl did not, and could not, see the curious life
about her; it was simply a myopia that her mother fostered. Thus,
through all the welter and confusion of an opera-singer's life, Hilda
walked serenely. She knew there were disagreeable things in the world
but refused herself even the thought of them. It was not the barrier of
innocence but rather a selection of certain aspects of life that she
fancied, and an absolute impassibility in the presence of evil. Then
her mother grew more careful.
Hilda loved Wagner. She knew every work of the Master from Die
Feen to Parsifal. She studied music, arduously playing
accompaniments for her mother. In this way she learned the skeleton of
the mighty music dramas, and grew up absorbing the torrid music as
though it were Mozartean. She repeated the stories of the dramas as a
child its astronomy lessons, without feeling. She saw Siegmund and
Sieglinde entwined in that wondrous Song of Spring, and would have
laughed in your face if you hinted that all this was anything but
many-colored arabesque. It was her daily bread and butter, and like one
of those pudic creatures of the Eleusinian mysteries she lived in the
very tropics of passion, yet without one pulse-throb of its
feverishness. It was the ritual of Wagner she worshipped; the nerves of
his score had never been laid bare to her. She took her mother's tumult
in good faith, and ridiculed singers of more frigid temperaments. When
she writhed in Tristan's arms this vestal sat in front, a piano score
on her lap, carefully listening, and later, at home, she would say:
Dearest, you skipped two bars in the scene with Brangaene, and the
singer could not contradict the stern young critic....
Herr Albert sang with them longer than most tenors. They met him in
Bayreuth and then in Munich. When they went to Berlin Albert was with
them, and also in London. Her mother said that his style and acting
suited her better than any artist with whom she had ever sung. He was a
young man, much younger than Madame Stock, and a Hungarian. Tall and
very dark, he looked unlike the ideal Wagner tenor. Hilda teased him
and called him the hero of a melodrama. She grew fond of the young man,
who was always doing her some favor. To her mother he was extremely
polite; indeed he treated her as a queen.
One afternoon Hilda went back to the dressing-room. In the darkness
of the corridor she ran against some onea man. As she turned to
apologize she was caught up in a pair of strong arms and kissed. It was
all over in the tick of the clock, and then she ranran into the room,
frightened, indignant, her face burning.
Her mother's back was toward her, she was preparing for the last act
of Walküre. She knew Hilda's footsteps. The girl threw herself on a
couch and covered her hot face with the cushions. The woman hummed Ho,
jo to-ho! and continued dressing. And then came her call.
Hilda sat and thought. She must tellshe would tell her. But the
man, what of him? She knew who it was, knew it by intuition. She did
not see his face, but she knew the man. Oh, why did he do it? Why? She
blushed and with her handkerchief she rubbed her lips until they stung.
Wipe away the kiss she must, or she could never look him in the face
It seemed a long time before Brynhild returned. Footsteps and
laughter told of her approach. The maid came in first carrying a shawl,
and at the door the singer paused. Hilda half rose in fearnot knowing
who was talking. Of course it was Albert. The door was partly opened,
and Hilda, looking at her mother on the top steps of the little
staircase, saw her lower her head to the level of the tenor's face and
kiss him.... Fainting, the girl leaned back and covered her face with
her hands. The other entered in whirlwind fashion.
My Hilda. My God! child, have you been mooning here ever since I
went on? What is the matter? You look flushed. Let us go home and have
a quiet cup of tea. Albert is coming for us to go to some nice place
for dinner. Come, come, rouse yourself! Marie-chento the
maiddon't be stupid. Dépêchez-vous, dépêchez-vous!
And Madame Stock bustled about and half tore off her cuirass,
pitched her helmet in the corner and looked very much alive and young.
Oh, what a Wotan, Mein Gott! what a man. Do you know what he was
doing when I sang 'War es so schmählich?' He had his back to the house
and chewed gum. I swear it. When I grabbed his legs in anguish the
beast chewed gum, his whole body trembled from the exertion; he says
that it is good for a dry throat.
Hilda hardly listened. Her mother had kissed Albert, and she shook
as one with the ague....
She pleaded a headache, and did not go to dinner. The next day they
left Hamburg, and Albert did not accompany them. Madame Stock declared
that she needed a rest, and the pair went to Carlsbad. There they
stayed two weeks. The nervous, excitable soprano could not long bide in
one place. She was tired of singing, but she grew restless for the
Yes, yes, she cried to Hilda, in the train which bore them toward
Berlin. Yes, the opera is crowded every night when I sing. You know
that I get flowers, enjoy triumphs enough to satisfy me. Well, I'm sick
of it all. I believe that I shall end by going mad. It may become a
monomania. I often say, Why all this feverishness, this art jargon? Why
should I burn myself up with Isolde and weep my heart out with
Sieglinde? Why go on repeating words that I do not believe in? Art! oh,
I hate the word. ...
Hilda, her eyes half closed, watched the neat German landscape
Her mother grumbled until she fell asleep.
Her face was worn and drawn in the twilight, and Hilda noticed the
heavy markings about the mouth and under the eyes and the few gray
She caught herself analyzing, and stopped with a guilty feeling.
Yes, Dearest was beginning to look old. The stress and strain of Wagner
was showing. In a few years, when her voiceHilda closed her eyes
determinedly and tried to shut out a picture. But then she was not
sure, not sure of herself.
She began thinking of Albert. His swarthy face forced itself upon
her, and her mother's image grew faint. Why did he kiss her, why?
Surely it must have been some mistakeit was dark; perhaps he mistook
her. Here her heart began beating so that it tolled like a bell in her
brainmistook her, oh, God, for her mother! No! no! That could never
be. Had she not caught him watching her very often? But then why should
her mother have kissed himperhaps merely a motherly interest.
Hilda sat upright and tried to discern some expression on her
mother's face. But it was too dark. The train rattled on toward
The next day at the Hôtel Bellevue there was much running to and
fro. Musical managers went upstairs smiling and came down raging;
musical managers rushed in raging and fled roaring. Madame Stock drove
a hard bargain, and, during the chaffering and gabble about dates and
terms, Hilda went out for a long walk. Unter den Linden is hardly a
promenade for privacy, but this girl was quite alone as she trod the
familiar walk, alone as if she were the last human on the pave. She did
not notice that she was being followed; when she turned homeward she
faced Herr Albert, the famous Wagnerian tenor.
She felt a little shocked, but her placidity was too deep-rooted to
be altogether destroyed. And so Albert found himself looking into two
large eyes the persistency of whose gaze disconcerted him.
Ach, Fräulein Hilda, I'm so glad. How are you, and when did you
She had a central grip on herself, and regarded him quite steadily.
He noticed it and became abashedhe, the hero of a hundred
footlights. He could not face her pure, threatening eyes.
Herr Albert, we got back last night. Herr Albert, why did you kiss
me in the theatre?
He looked startled and reddened.
Because I love you, Hilda. Yes, I did it because I love you, he
replied, and his accents were embarrassed.
You love me, Herr Albert, pursued the terrible Hilda. Yet you
were kissed by mamma an hour later. Do you love her too?
The tenor trembled and said nothing....
The girl insisted:
Do you love mamma too? You must, for she kissed you and you did not
Albert was plainly nervous.
Yes, I love your mamma, too, but in a different way. Oh, dearest
Hilda, you don't understand. I am the artistic associate of your
mother. But I loveI love you.
Hilda felt the ground grow billowy; the day seemed supernaturally
bright. She took Albert's arm and they walked slowly, without a word.
When the hotel was reached she motioned him not to come in, and she
flew to her mother's room. The singer was alone. She sat at the window
and in her lap was a photograph. She looked old and soul-weary.
Hilda rushed toward her, but stopped in the middle of the room,
overcome by some subtle fear that seized her throat and limb.
Madame Stock looked at her wonderingly.
Hilda, Hilda, have you gone mad?
Hilda went over to her and put her arms about her and whispered:
Oh, mamma, mamma, he loves me; he has just told me so.
Her mother started:
He! Who loves you, Hilda? What do you mean?
Hilda's eyes drooped, and then she saw the photograph in the
It was Albert's....
I love himyou have his picturehe gave it to you for me? Oh! he
has spoken, Dearest, he has spoken.
The picture dropped to the floor....
Mamma, mamma, what is the matter? Are you angry at me? Do you
dislike Albert? No, surely no; I saw you kiss him at the theatre. He
says that he loves you, but it is a different love. It must be a
Siegmund and Sieglinde love, Dearest, is it not? But he loves me. Don't
be cross to him for loving me. He can't help it. And he says we must
all live together, if ...
The singer closed her eyes and the corners of her mouth became
tense. Then she looked at her daughter almost fiercely. Hilda was
Tell me, Hilda, swear to me, and think of what you are saying: Do
you love Albert?
With my heart, answered the girl in all her white simplicities.
Her mother laughed and arose.
Then you silly little goose, you shall marry him and be nice and
unhappy. Hilda cried with joy: I don't care if I am unhappy with
Idiot! replied the other.
That night Götterdämmerung was given. The conductor dragged the
tempi; the waits were interminable, and a young slip of a girl
wonderingly watched. Her mother was the Brynhild. The performance was
redeemed by the magnificent singing of the Immolation scene....
Later Brynhild faced her mirror and asked no favor of it. As she
uncoiled the heavy ropes of hair her eyes grew harsh, and for a moment
her image seemed blurred and bitter in the oval glass with the
burnished frame that stood upon the dressing-table. But at last she
would achieve the unique Brynhild!...
Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren.
THE QUEST OF THE ELUSIVE
To Miss Bella Seymour
BALAK, November 5.
DEAR DARLING OLD BELLA,How I wish you were with me. I miss you
almost as much as mamma and the girls. I've had such a homesickness
that even the elegant concerts, the gay city and the novelty of this
out of the way foreign place do not compensate, for Why, oh why,
doesn't Herr Klug live in Berlin or Paris, or even Vienna? Think, after
you leave Vienna you must travel six hours by boat and three by rail
before you reach Balak, but what a city, what curious houses, and what
an opera house!
Let me first tell you of my experiences with Herr Klug. I met the
Ransoms; you remember those queer Michigan avenue people. They are here
with their mothersnuffy Mother Ransom we used to call herand are
both studying with Herr Klug. I met them on the Ringstrassethe
principal avenue hereand they looked so dissatisfied when they saw
me. Ada, the short, thin one, you knowwell, she lowered her
parasolsay, the weather is awful hotand, honest, I believed she
wasn't going to speak to me. But Lizzie is the nice one, and she fairly
ate me up. They raved about Herr Klug. He is so nice, so gentle, and
plays so wonderfully! Mrs. Ransom was a trifle coolshe and ma never
did get along, you remember that fight about free lager for indigent
Germans in sultry weather?well, she and ma quarrelled over the
meaning of the word indigent, and Mrs. R. said that she was indigent
at ma's ignorance; then ma burst into a fit of laughter. I heard
herit was a real mean laugh, Bella, andbut I must tell you about
this place. Dear, I'm quite out of breath!
Well, the Ransoms took me off to lunch and it was real nice at their
boarding house; they call it the Hôtel Serbe, or some such name, and I
almost regretted that I went to the miserable rooms I'm in, but I have
to be economical, and as I intend practising all day and sleeping all
night it doesn't matter much where I am. I forgot to tell you what we
had for lunch, funny dishes, sour and full of red pepper. I'll tell you
all about it in my next letter. I'm so full of Herr Klug that I can't
sit still. He is a grand man, Bella, only very old, and very small, and
very nervous, and very cross. He didn't say much to me and I held my
tongue, for they say he is so nervous that he is almost crazy, besides,
he hates American pupils. When I went into the big lesson room it was
empty, and I had a good chance to look at all the pictures on the wall.
There were Bach, Beethoven and Herr Klug at every age. There must have
been at least thirty portraits. He was homely in every one, and wore
his hair long, and has such a high, noble forehead. You know Chicago
men have such low foreheads. I love high foreheads. They are so
destingué (is that spelt right?) and it means such a lot of
brains. He was photographed with Liszt and with Chopin. I think it was
Chopin, andjust then he came in. He walked very slowly and his
shoulders were stooped. Oh, Bella, he has such a venerable look, so
saintly! Well, he stood in the doorway and his eyeglasses fairly stared
into me, he has such piercing gaze. I was scared out of my seven senses
and stood stock still.
Nu was! he cried out; where do you come from? His English
was maddening, Bella, just maddening, but I understood him, and with my
heart in my boots I said:
Chicago, Herr Klug. He snorted.
Chicago. I hate Chicago, I hate Americans! There's only one city in
Americathat is San Francisco. I was never there, but I like it
because I never had a pupil from that city; that's why I like it,
hein! He laughed, Bella, and coughed himself into a strangling fit
over his jokehe thought it was a jokeand then he sharply cried out:
You may kiss me, and play for me. I was too frightened to reply,
so I went up to him and didn't like him. He smelt of cigarettes and
liquor, but I kissed him on the forehead, and he gave me a queer look
and pushed me to the piano. Well, I was flabbergasted.
Play, he said, as harsh as could be, and I dashed off the Military
Polonaise of Chopin. He walked about the whole time humming out loud,
and never paid any attention to me any more than if I hadn't been
playing. When I got to the trio I stuck, and he burst out laughing, so
I stopped short.
Aha! you girls and your teachers, how you, all swindle yourselves.
You have no talent, no touch, nothing, nothing!his voice was like a
screaming whistleand yet you cheat yourselves and run to Europe to
be artists in a year, aha! Shall I go on? I asked. I was getting
mad. No, I've heard enough. Come to the class every Monday and
Thursday morning at tenmind you, ten sharpand in the meantime study
this piece of mine, 'The Five Blackbirds,' for the black keys, and take
the first book of my 'Indispensable Studies for Stupid American
Girls.' He laughed again.
You pay now for the music. I make no discount, for I print it
myself. Your lessons you pay for one by one. Please put the
moneytwenty markson the mantelpiece when you are through playing,
but don't tell me. I'm too nervous. And now good-day; practise ten
hours every day. You may kiss me good-by. No? Well, next time. I hate
American girls when they play; but I like to kiss them, for they are
very pretty. Wait: I will introduce you to my wife. He rang a bell and
barked something at a servant, and she returned followed by a
nice-looking German lady, quite young. I was surprised. My wife. We
bowed and then I left.
Funny people, these foreigners. I take my lesson day after to-morrow
and I must hurry home to my Blackbirds. Good-by, dear Bella, and tell
the girls to write. You answer this soon and I'll write after lesson on
Monday. Good-by, Bella. Don't show my ma this letter, and, Bellasay
nothing to nobody about the kisses. I didn't likenow if it had
beenyou knowoh, dear. I hate the piano. Good-by at last, Bella, and
oh, Bella, will you send me the address of Schaefer, Schloss &
Cantwell's? I want to order some writing paper. Good-by.
Your devoted IRENE.
P.S.Any kind of Irish linen paper will do without any
To Mrs. William Murray
BALAK, January 31.
MY DEAR MAMMA,Certainly I got your last letter. I have not
forgotten you at all, and the draft came all right. Bella Seymour
exaggerates so. Herr Klug kisses all his pupils in the class, but just
as Grandpa Murray would. He's old enough to be our grandfather;
besides, as Mrs. Ransom says, it is not for our beauty, but when we
play well, that he rewards us. I'm sure I don't like it, and if Mrs.
Klug, or his six or seven cousins who live with him, caught him they
would make a lively time. I never saw such a jealous set of relatives
in my life. How am I improving? Oh, splendid; just splendid. I do wish
you wouldn't coax and worm out of Bella Seymour all I write. You know
girls exaggerate so. Good-by, darling mamma. Give my love to pa and
Harry. I'll write soon. Yes, I need one new morning frock. I owe for
one at a store here where the Ransoms go. Lizzie Ransom is the nicest,
but I play better than she does.
Your affectionate daughter,
To Miss Bella Seymour
BALAK, March 2.
YOU MEAN OLD THING,I got your letter, Bella, but I don't
understand yet how you came to tell mamma the nonsense I wrote. Such a
lot of things have happened since I wrote last fall. I haven't improved
a bit. I have no talent, old man Kluggy sayshe's such a soft old
fool. He can't play a bit, but he's always talking about his method,
his virtuosity, his wonderful memory and his marvellous touch. He must
have played well when he was painted with Beethoven in the same
picture. Yes, he knew Beethoven. He's as old as old what's-his-name who
ate grass and died of a colic, in the Bible. Golly, wouldn't I like to
get out of this hole, but I promised pa I'd stick it out until spring.
I play nothing but Klug compositions, his valses, mazurkasmind his
nerve, he says he gave Chopin points on mazurkas; and Bella, Bella,
what do you think, I've found out all about his cousins! I wrote ma
that all the old hens in his house were his cousins, and I spoke of his
wife. Bella, he has no wife, he has no cousins. What do
you think? I'll tell you how I found it out. The Ransom girls know, but
they don't let on to their mother. The first lesson I took, KlugI
hate that manmotioned me to wait until the other girls had gone. He
pretended to fool and fuss over some autographs of Bach and a lot of
other old idiotsI hate Bach, too, nasty dry stuffand I knew what he
was up to. He glared at me through his spectacles for a while and then
You may kiss me before you go. Not much, I thought, and told him
so. He rang a bell. The servant came. Send my wife down. Schnell, du.
She hesitated and he yelled out, Dummkopf and then turned to me and
smiled. The old monkey had forgotten that he had introduced me to Frau
Klug two days before. In a minute I heard the swish of a silk dress and
a fine-looking old lady entered. I was introduced towhat do you
think? Frau Klug, please. I nearly fell over, for I remembered well the
frightened-looking German girla pretty girl, too, only dressed
rotten. Well, I got out the best I couldI couldn't talk German or
Balakiana hideous language, full of coughing and barking soundsso I
bowed and got out. Now comes the funny part of it, Bella. Every time
the old fool tries to kiss me I ask him to introduce me to his wife,
and he invariably answers: What, you have not met my wife? and rings
for the ugly servant who stands grinning until I really expect her to
say Which one? but she never does. I've counted seventeen so far, all
sizes, ages and complexions.
The class says they are old pupils who couldn't pay their bills, so
Kluggy got a mortgage on them, and they have to stay with him until
they work the mortgage off by sewing, washing, cooking and teaching
beginners. I've not seen them all yet, and Anne Sypher, from Cleveland,
swears that there is a dungeon in the house full of girls from the
eighteenth century who hadn't money enough to pay for their lessons.
I'm sure ugly Babette, the servant, is an old pupil, for one day I
sneaked into the dining-room and heard her playing the Bella
Capricciosa, by Hummel, on an upright piano that was almost falling
apart. Heavens! how she started when she saw me! The old lady he
introduced me to the second time was a pupil of Steibelt's, and she
played the Storm for us in class when the professor was sick. She
must have been good-looking. Her fingers were quite lively. Honest, it
is the joke of Balak, and we girls have grown so sensitive on the
subject that we never walk out in a crowd, for the young men at the
corners call out, Hello, there goes the new crop for 1902. It is very
Bella, I want to tell you something. Swear that you will never tell
my father or mother. I don't give a rap for music; I hate it, but I
like the young men here in Balak, no, not the citizens. They are slow,
but the soldiers, the regiment attached to the Royal Household. I've
met a Lieutenant Fusticsoh, he's lovely, belongs to the oldest family
in Serbia, is young, handsome and so fine in his uniform. He is crazy
over music and America, and says he will never bear to be separated
from me. Of course he's in love and of course he's foolish, for I'm too
young to marryfancy, not eighteen yet, or, is it nineteen?this
place makes me forget my namebesides, pa wouldn't hear of such a
thing. Herr Lieutenant Fustics asked my father's business, and told me
all Americans were millionaires, and I just laughed in his face. I play
for him in the salonoh, no, not in my roomthat would be a crime in
this tight-laced old town. Now, Bella, don't tell mamma this
time. Why don't you write oftener? Love to all.
Your devoted IRENE.
P.S.Bella, he's lovely.
To William Murray, Esq.
BALAK, May 12.
DEAR PA,Yes, I need $500, and Herr Klug says if I stay a year more
I can play in public when I go back. Five hundred dollars will be
Your loving daughter, IRENE.
To Miss Bella Seymour
BALAK, May 25.
DEAR, SWEET BELLA,I'm gone; Hector, that's his name, proposed to
meand proposed a secret marriagehe says that I can study quietly,
inspired by his love, for a year, for his regiment will stay in Balak
for another year. Oh, Bella, I'm so happy. How I wish you could see
him. I simply don't go near the piano. Old Klug is cross with me and
I'm sure the Ransoms are jealous. Good-by, Bella, don't tell mamma.
Remember I trust you.
Your crazy IRENE.
P. S.I'm wild to get married!
To Frau Wilhelm Murray
BALAK, June 25.
HIGH RESPECTED AND HONORABLE MADAME,I've not seen your daughter,
the Fräulein Irene Murray, since April, although she has been in Balak.
I fear she has more talent for a military career than as a pianist. She
does owe me for two lessons. Please send me the amount40 marks. Send
it care of Frau KlugFrau Emma Klug. With good weather,
To William Murray, Esq.
DEAR WILLIAM,I've found hermy heart bleeds when I think of her
face, poor childmiles from Balak. Of course she followed the regiment
when the wretch left, and of course he is a married man. Oh! William,
the disgrace, and all for some miserable music lessons. Send the draft
to Balakto the Oriental Bank. I went as far as Belgrade. Poor, tired,
daring Irene, how she cried for Chicago and for her papa! Yes, it will
be all right. The girls in that old mummy's class gossiped a little,
but I fixed up a story about going to Berlin and lessons there. Only
the hateful Ransoms smile, and ask every day particularly for Irene.
I'd like to strangle them. Have patience, William; will be back in the
springearly in the spring. My sweet, deceived child, our child
William! Oh, I would kill that Fizz-sticks, or whatever his name is.
His regiment is off in the mountains somewhere, and I'm afraid of the
publicity or I'd get our consul to introduce me to the Queen. She is a
lady, and would listen to my complaint. But Irene begs me with
frightened eyes not to say a word to any one. So I'll go on to Vienna
and thence to Paris. For gracious sake, tell that Seymour girlBella
Seymournot to bother you about Irene; tell her anything you please.
Tell her Irene is too busy practising to answer her silly letters. And
William, not a word to Grandpa Murraynot a word, William!
Your loving wife,
MARTHA KILBY MURRAY.
P. S.I don't know, William.
* * * * *
Extract from the Daily Eagle, November 5, 1903
The most interesting feature of the concert was the début as a
pianist of Miss Irene Murray, the daughter of William Murray, Esq., of
the Drovers' National Bank. Miss Murray, who was a slip of a girl
before she went abroad two years ago to study with the celebrated Herr
Armin Klug, of Balak, returns a superb, self-possessed young woman of
regal appearance and queenly manners. She played a sweet bit, a
fantasia by her teacher, Herr Klug, entitled The Five Blackbirds, and
displayed a wonderful command of the resources of the keyboard. For
encore she dashed off a brilliant morceau by Herr Klug, entitled
Echoes de Seraglio. This was very difficult, but for the fair
débutante it was child's play. She got five recalls, and after the
concert held an impromptu reception in her dressing-room, her happy
parents being warmly congratulated by their fellow townsmen. We predict
a great career for Irene Murray. Among those present we noticed, etc.,
AN INVOLUNTARY INSURGENT
Whereas it is far away from bloodshed, battle-cry and
sword-thrust that the lives of most of us flow on, and the
men's tears are silent to-day, and invisible, and almost
Racah hated music. Even his father quoted with approval Théophile
Gautier's witticism about it being the most costly of noises. Racah, as
a boy, shouted under the windows of neighbors in whose rooms
string-music was heard of hot summer evenings. On every occasion his
nature testified to its lively abhorrence of tone, and once he was
violently thrust forth from a church by an excited sexton. Racah had
whistled derisively at the feebly executed voluntary of the organist.
An old friend of the family declared that the boy should be trained as
a music critiche hated music so intensely. Racah's father would arch
his meagre eyebrows and crisply say, My son shall become a priest.
But even a priest must chaunt the mass; eh, what?
The boy's sister had a piano and tried to play despite his violent
mockery. One afternoon, when the sun drove the town to its siesta, he
wandered into the room where stood the instrument. Moved by an
automatic impulse, the lad placed one finger on a treble key. He
shuddered as it tinkled under the pressure; then he struck the major
third and held both keys down, trembling, while drops of water formed
under his eyes. He hated the sound he made, but could not resist
listening to it. Waves of disgust rolled hotly over his heart, and he
almost choked from the large, bitter-tasting ball that rose in his
throat. He then struck the triad of C major in a clumsy waya quarter
of an hour later his family found him in a syncope at the foot of the
piano, and sent for a doctor. Racah's eyes were open, but only the
whites showed. The pulse was strangely intermittent, the heart muffled,
and the doctor set it down to nervous prostration brought on by
strenuous attendance at church. It was Holy Week and Racah a pious boy.
He soon recovered, avoided the instrument, and kept his peace....
About this time he began going out immediately after supper, remaining
away until midnight. This, coupled with a relaxation of religious zeal,
drove his pious father into a frenzy of disappointment. But being wise
in old age, he did not pester his son, especially as the pale,
melancholy lad bore on his face no signs of dissipation. These
disappearances lasted for over a year. Racah was chided by his mother,
a large, chicken-minded woman, who liked gossip and chocolate. He never
answered her, and on Sundays locked himself in his room. Once his
sister listened at the door and told her father that she heard her
brother counting aloud and clicking on the table with some soft,
dull-edged tool, a tiny mallet, perhaps.
The father's curiosity mounted to an unhealthy pitch. He hated to
break into his nightly custom of playing cards at the Inn of The
Quarrelling Yellow Cats, but his duty lay as plain before him as the
moles on his wrist; so he waited until Racah went out, and seizing a
stout stick and clapping his hat on his head, followed his son in
lagging and deceitful pursuit. The boy walked slowly, his head thrown
back in reverie. Several times he halted as if the burden of his
thoughts clogged his very motion. Anxiously eying him, his father
sneaked after. The eccentric movements of his son filled him with a
certain anguish. He was a god-fearing man; erratic behavior meant to
him the obsession of the devil.
His son, his Racah, was tempted by the evil one! What could he do to
save him from the fiery pit? Urged by these burdensome notions, he
cried aloud, Racah, my son, return to thy home! But he spoke to
space. No one was within hearing. The street was dark; then the sound
of music fell upon his ears, and again he looked about him. Racah had
disappeared. The only light came from a window hard by. With the music
it oozed out between two half-closed shutters, and toward it the
depressed one went. He peeped in and saw his son playing at a piano,
and by his side sat a queer old man beating time. His name was Spinoza;
he was a Portuguese pianist, and wore a tall, battered silk hat which
he never removed, even in bedso the town said.
Racah's father played no dominoes that night. When he returned to
his house his wife thought that he was drunk. He told his story in
agitated accents, and went to bed a mystified man. He understood
nothing, and while his wife calmly slept he tortured himself with
questions. How came Racah the priest to be metamorphosed into Racah the
pianist? Then the father plucked at the counterpane like a dying
The boy showed no embarrassment when interrogated by his parents the
next day. He said he did not desire to be a priest, that a pianist
could make more money, and though he hated music, there were harder
ways of earning one's bread. The callousness which he displayed in
saying all this deeply pained his pious father. His son's secret nature
was an enigma to him. In vain he endeavored to pierce the meaning of
the youth's eyes, but their gaze was enigmatic and veiled. Racah had
ever exhibited a certain aloofness of character, and as he grew older
this trait became intensified; the riddle of his life had forced itself
upon him, and he vainly wrestled with it. Music drew him as iron
filings to the magnet, or as the tentacles of an octopus carry to its
parrot-shaped beak its victim. It was monstrous, he abhorred it, but
could no more resist it than the hasheesh eater his drug.
So in the fury of despair, and with a certain self-contempt, he
strove desperately to master the technical problems of his art. He
found an abettor in the person of the Portuguese pianist, to whom he
laid bare his soul. He studied every night, and since he need no longer
conceal his secret, he began practising at home....
Racah made his début when he was twenty-one years old. The friend of
the family nearly burst a blood-vessel at the concert, so enthusiastic
was he over the son of his old crony. Racah's father stayed home and
refused comfort. His son was a pianist and not a priest. He has
disgraced himself and God will not reply to his call for aid, and he
placed his hands over his thin eyebrows and wept. Racah's mother spoke:
Take on courage; the boy plays badlythere is yet hope.
The good man, elated by the idea, went forth to play dominoes with
his old crony at the inn where the two yellow cats quarrel on the dingy
sign over the door....
Racah sat at his piano. His usually smooth, high forehead, with its
mop of heavy black curls, was corrugated with little puckering lines.
His mouth was drawn at the corners, and from time to time he sighed;
great groans, too, burst forth from him. But he played, played
furiously, and he smote the keyboard as if he hated it. He was playing
the B minor Sonata of Chopin, with its melting second movementso
moving that it could melt the heart of the right sort of a stone. Yet
this lovely cantilena extorted anger from the young pianist. It was
true that he played badly, but not so badly as his mother imagined. His
very hatred of music reverberated in his playing and produced an odd,
inverted, temperamental spark. The transposition of an emotion into a
lower or higher key may change its external expression; its intensity
is not thereby altered. Racah hated the piano, hated Chopin, hated
music; yet potentially Racah was a great pianist....
The years fugued by. Racah gradually became known as an artist of
strange power. He had studied with Liszt, although he was not a
favorite of the master nor in his cenacle of worshipping pupils. Racah
was too grim, too much in earnest for the worldly frivolous crew that
flitted over the black keys at Weimar. Occasionally aroused by the
power and intensity of the young man's playing, Liszt would smile
satirically and say: Thou art well named 'Raca,' and then all the
Jews in the class would laugh at the word-play. But it gave Racah
little concern whether they admired or loathed him. He was terribly set
upon playing the piano and little guessed the secret of his inner
strugglethe secret of the sad spirit that travailed against itself.
Oddly enough his progress was rapid. He soon outpointed in brilliancy
and deftness the most talented of the group of Liszt's young people,
and once, after playing the Mephisto Walzer with abounding devilry,
Liszt cried, Bravo, child, and then muttered, And how he hates it
Hypnotized as if by another's will, Racah studied so earnestly that
he became a public pianist. He had success, but not with the great
public. The critics called him cold, objective, a pianist made, not
born. But musicians and those with cultured musical palates discerned a
certain acid quality in his playing. His gloomy visage, the reflex of a
disordered soul, caused Baudelaire to declare that he had added one
more shiver to his extensive psychical collection. In Paris the
Countess X.charming, titled soubrettesaid, Have you heard Racah
play the piano? He is a damned soul out for a holiday.
In twenty-four hours this mot spread the length of the Boulevard,
and all Paris went to see the new pianist....
Success did not brighten the glance of Racah. He became gloomier as
he grew older, and a prominent alienist in Paris warned him to travel
or elseand he pointed to his forehead, shrugging his very Gallic
shoulders. Racah immediately went to the far East....
After a year's wandering up and down strange and curious countries,
he came to the chief city of a barbarous province ruled by a man famous
for his ferocities and charming culture. A careful education in Paris,
grafted upon a nature cruel to the core, produced the most delicately
depraved disposition imaginable. This Rajah was given to the
paradoxical. He adored Chopin and loved to roast alive tiny birds on
dainty golden grills. He would weep after reading de Musset, and a
moment later watch with infinite satisfaction the spectacle of two
wretched women dancing on heated copper plates. When he heard of
Racah's presence in his kingdom he summoned the pianist.
Racah obeyed the Rajah's order. To his surprise he found him a man
of pleasing mien and address. He was dressed in clothes of English cut,
and possessed a concert piano. Racah bowed to him on entering the great
Hall of the Statues.
Do you play Chopin?
No, was the curt reply. The potentate glanced at the pianist, and
then dropped his heavy eyelids. Racah had the air of a man bored to
I entreat youthe Rajah had winning accentsplay me something
of Chopin. I adore Chopin.
Your Highness, I abominate Chopin; I abominate music. I have taken
a vow never to play again anything of that vile Polish composer. But I
may play for you instead a Brahms sonata. The great one in F minor
Stop a moment! You distinctly refuse to play me a Chopin valse or
O Villainy! Racah was thoroughly aroused; I swear by the beard of
your silly prophet that I will not play Chopin, nor touch your piano!
The Rajah listened with a sweet forbearing smile. Then he clapped
his hands twicethrice. A slave entered. To him the Rajah spoke
quietly, with an amused expression, and the man bowed his head.
Touching the pianist on the shoulder he said:
Come with me. Racah followed. The Rajah burst into loud laughter,
and going to the piano played the D flat Valse of Chopin in a facile
Footsteps were heard; the Rajah stopped and looked up. There was
bright frank expectancy in his gaze as he listened.
Then a curtain was thrust aside. Racah staggered in, supported by
the attendant. He was white, helpless, fainting, and in his eyes were
the shadows of infinite regret.
Do play some Chopin, exclaimed the Rajah, gaily, as he ran his
fingers over the keyboard.
The pianist groaned as the slave plucked at his arms and held them
aloft. The Rajah critically viewed the hands from which the fingertips
were missing, and then, noting the remorseful anguish in the gaze of
the other, he cried:
Do you know, I really believe you love music despite yourself!
Calcraft was very noisy in his morning humors, and the banging of
windows caused his wife to raise a curious voice.
From the breakfast-room she called, What is the matter with you
this morning, Cal? Didn't Wagner agree with you last night? Or was it
Yes, it was that, replied a surly voice.
Have you hung your wrists out of the window and given them a good
I have. Calcraft laughed rudely.
Then for goodness' sake hurry in to breakfast, if you are cooled
off; the eggs are. Mrs. Calcraft sighed. It was their usual
conversation; thus the day began.... Her husband entered the room. Of a
thick-set, almost burly figure, Calcraft was an enormously muscular
man. His broad shoulders, powerful brow, black, deep-set eyes, inky
black hair and beardthe beard worn in Hunding fashionmade up a
personality slightly forbidding. The suppleness of his gait, the ready
laughter and bright expression of the eye, soon corrected this
aversion; the critic was liked, and admired,after the critical
fashion. Good temper and wit in the evening ever are. The recurring
matrimonial duel over the morning teacups awoke him for the day's
labors; he actually profited from the verbal exercising of Tekla's
After what you promised! she inquired in her most reproachful
manner. Calcraft smiled. And your story in the Watchman. Now,
Cal, aren't you a bit ashamed? We have heard much worse Siegmunds.
Not much, he grunted, swallowing a huge cup of tea at a draught.
Yet you roasted the poor boy as you would never dare roast a singer
with any sort of reputation. Hinweg's Siegmund was
Like himself, too thin, said her husband; fancy a thin Siegmund!
Besides, the fellow doesn't know how to sing, and he can't act.
But his voice; it has all the freshness of youth. ... She left the
table, and lounging to the window regarded the streets and sky with a
contemptuous expression. Tekla was very tall, rather heavy, though well
built, with hair and skin of royal blond. She looked as Scandinavian as
My dear Tek, you are always discovering genius. You remember that
young pianist with a touch like old gold? Or was it smothered onions?
I've forgotten which. He grinned as he spilled part of an egg on his
She faced him. If the critics don't encourage youthful talent, who
will? But they never do. Her voice took on flat tones: I wonder, Cal,
that you are not easier as you grow older, for you certainly do not
improve with age, yourself. Do you know what time you got in this
No, and I don't want to know. The man's demeanor was harsh; there
were deep circles under his large eyes; his cheeks were slightly
puffed, and, as he opened his newspaper, he looked like one who had not
Tekla sighed again and stirred uneasily about the room. For
heaven's sake, girl, sit down and reador, something!
I don't wonder your nerves are bad this morning, she sweetly
responded; the only wonder is that you can keep up such a wearing pace
and do your work so well.
This isn't such a roast, said Calcraft irrelevantly. He had heard
these same remarks every morning for more than ten years. Last night,
he proceeded, the new tenor
Oh! Cal, please don't read your criticism aloud. I saw it hours
ago, she implored,her slightly protuberant, blue eyes were fixed
steadily upon him.
Why, what time is it?
Long past twelve.
Phew! And I promised to be at the office at midday! Where's my
coat, my overshoes! Magda! Magda! Hang that girl, she's always gadding
with the elevator boy when I need her. Calcraft bustled about the
room, rushed to his bedchamber, to the hall, and reappeared dressed for
his trip down-town.
Cal, I forgot to say that Hinweg called this morning and left his
card. Foreigners are so polite in these matters. He left cards for both
He did, did he? answered Calcraft grimly. Well, that won't make
him sing Wagner any better in the Watchman. And as a matter of
politenessif you will quote the polite ways of foreignershe should
have left cards here before he sang. What name is on his pasteboard?
I've heard that his real one is something like Whizzina. He's a Croat,
She indifferently took some cards from a bronze salver and read
aloud: Adalbert Viznina, Tenor, Royal Opera, Prague.
So-ho! a Bohemian. Well, it's all the same. Croatia is Czech. Your
Mr. Viznina can't sing a little bit. That vile, throaty German
tone-production of hisbut why in thunder does he call himself Hinweg?
Viznina is a far prettier name. Perhaps Viznina is Hinweg in German!
Tekla shrugged her strong shoulders and gazed outdoors. What a
wretched day, and I have so much to do. Now, Cal, do come home early.
We dine at seven. No opera to-night, you know. And come back soon. We
never spend a night home alone together. What if this young man should
Don't stop him, her husband answered in good-humored accents as he
bade her good-by. He was prepared to meet the world now, and in a jolly
mood. Tell your Hinweg or Whizzerina, or whatever his name is, to sing
Tristan better to-morrow night than he did Siegmund, or there will be
more trouble. He skipped off. She called after him:
Cal, remember your promise!
Not a drop, and the double slamming of the street doors set Tekla
humming Hunding's motif in Die Walküre.
Her morning-room was hung with Japanese umbrellas and, despite the
warning of friends, peacock-feathers hid from view the walls; this
comfortable little boudoir, with its rugs, cozy Turkish corner, and
dull sweet odors was originally a hall-bedroom; Tekla's ingenuity and
desperate desire for the unconventional had converted the apartment
into the prettiest of the Calcraft flat. Here, and here alone, was the
imperious critic forbidden pipe or cigar. Cigarettes he abhorred,
therefore Tekla allowed her favorites to use them. She became sick if
she merely lighted one; so her pet attitude was to loll on a crimson
divan and hold a freshly rolled Russian cigarette in her big fingers
covered with opals. Her male friends said that she reminded them of a
Frankish slave in a harem; she needed nothing more but
Turkish-trousers, hoop ear-rings, and the sad, resigned smile of the
It was half-past five in the dark, stormy afternoon when the
electric buzzer warned Tekla of visitors. A man was ushered into the
drawing-room and Magda, in correct cap and apron, fetched his card to
Show him in here, Magda, and Magdathere were languid intonations
in the voice of this vigorous womanlight that lamp with the green
In the fast disappearing daylight Tekla peeped at herself in a
rhomboid crystal mirror, saw her house frock, voluminously becoming,
and her golden hair set well over her brow: she believed in the eternal
charm of fluffiness. After the lamp was ready the visitor came in. He
was a very tall, rather emaciated looking, blond young man, whose
springy step and clear eyes belied any hint of ill-health. As he
entered, the gaze of the two met in the veiled light of the
green-globed lamp, and the fire flickered high on the gas-log hearth.
He hesitated with engaging modesty; then Tekla, holding out a hand,
moved in a large curved way, to meet him.
Delighted, I am sure, my dear Herr Viznina, to know you! How good
of you to call on such a day, to see a bored woman. He bowed, smiled,
showing strong white teeth under his boyish moustache, and sat down on
the low seat near her divan.
Madame, he answered in Slavic-accented English, I am happy to
make your acquaintance and hope to meet your husband, M. Calcraft. She
turned her head impatiently. I only hope that his notice will not
discourage you for Tristan to-morrow night. But Mr. Calcraft is really
a kind man, even if he seems severe in print. I tell him that he always
hangs his fiddle outside the door, as the Irish say, which means, my
dear Herr Viznina, that he is kinder abroad than at home. Seeing the
slightly bewildered look of her companion she added, And so you didn't
mind his being cross this morning, did you? The tenor hesitated.
But he was not cross at all, Madame; I thought him very kind; for
my throat was roughyou know what I mean! sick, sore; yes, it was a
real sore throat that I had last night. It was her turn to look
Not cross? Mr. Calcraft not severe? Dear me, what do you call it,
He said I was a great artist, rejoined the other.
Tekla burst into laughter and apologized. You have read the wrong
paper, Herr Viznina, and I am glad you have. And now you must promise
to stay and dine with us to-night. No, you sha'n't refuse! We are quite
alone and you must know that, as old married folks, we are always
delighted to have some one with us. I told Mr. Calcraft only this
morning that we should go out to dinner if he came home alone. Don't
ask for which paper he writes until you meet him. Nothing in the world
could make me tell you. She was all frankness and animation, and her
guest told himself that she was of a great charm. They fell into
professional talk. She spoke of her husband's talents; how he had
played the viola in quartet parties; of his successful lecture, The
Inutility of Wagner, and his preferences in music.
But if he does not care for Wagner he must be a Brahmsianer. The
last word came out with true Viennese unction.
He now despises Brahms, and thinks that he had nothing to say.
Wagner is, for him, a decadent, like Liszt and the rest.
But the classics, Madame, what does M. Calcraft write of the
classics? demanded the singer.
That they are all used-up romantics; that every musical dog has his
day, and the latest composer is always the best; he voices his
generation. We liked Brahms yesterday; to-day we are all for Richard
Strauss and the symphonic poem.
We? A quizzical inflection was in the young man's voice.
She stared at him.
I get into the habit of using the editorial 'we.' I do it for fun;
I by no means always agree with my husband. Besides, I often write
criticism for Mr. Calcraft when he is awayor lecturing. She paused.
Then, he exclaimed, and he gazed at her tenderly, if you like my
Tristan you may, perhaps, write a nice little notice. Oh, how lovely
that would be!
The artist in him stirred the strings of her maternal lyre. Yes, it
would be lovely, but Mr. Calcraft is not lecturing to-morrow night, and
I hope that
The two street doors banged out a half bar of the Hunding rhythm.
Calcraft was heard in the hall. A minute later he stood in the door of
his wife's retreat; there was a frown upon his brow when he saw her
companion, but it vanished as the two men shook hands. Viznina asked
him if he spoke German; Magda beckoned to Mrs. Calcraft from the middle
of the drawing-room. When Tekla returned, after giving final
instructions for dinner, she found critic and tenor in heated argument
over Jean de Reszké's interpretation of the elder Siegfried....
The dining-room was a small salon, oak-panelled, and with low
ceilings. A few prints of religious subjects, after the early Italian
masters, hung on the walls. The buffet was pure renaissance.
Comfortable was the room, while the oval table and soft leather chairs
were provocative of appetite and conversation.
Very un-American, remarked the singer, as he ate his crab bisque.
How many American houses have you been in? irritably asked
Calcraft. Viznina admitted that he was enjoying his début.
I thought so. Calcraft was now as bland as a May morning, and his
eyes sparkled. His wife watched Magda serve the fish and fowl, and her
husband insisted upon champagne as the sole wine. The tenor looked
surprised, and then amused.
Americans love champagne, do they not? I never touch it.
Would you rather have claret or beer? hastily inquired the host.
Neither; I must sing Tristan to-morrow.
You singers are saints on the stage. The critic laughed. I am
old-fashioned enough to believe that good wine or beer will never hurt
the throat. Now there was Karl Formes, and Niemann the great tenor
Tekla interrupted. My dear Cal, pray don't get on one of your
interminable liquid talks. Herr Viznina does not care to drink, whether
he is singing or not. I told him, too, that we always liked a guest at
dinner, for we are such old married people.
Calcraft watched the pair facing one another. He was in a
disagreeable humor because of his wife's allusion to visitors; he liked
to bear the major burden of conversation, even when they were alone. If
Tekla began he had to sit still and drinkthere was no other
alternative. She asked Viznina where he was born, where he had studied,
and why he had changed his name. The answers were those of a man in
love with his art. Hinweg, he explained, was his mother's name, and
assumed because of the anti-Slav prejudice existing in Vienna.
Calcraft broke in. You say you are Bohemian, Herr Viznina? You are
really as Swedish looking as Mrs. Calcraft.
What a Sieglinde she would make, with her beautiful blond
complexion and grand figure, returned the tenor with enthusiasm.
Tekla sighed for the third time that day. She burned to become a
Wagner singer. Had she not been a successful elocutionist in Minnesota?
How this talented young artist appreciated her gift, intuitively
understood her ambition! Calcraft noted that they looked enough alike
to be brother and sister; tall, fair and blue-eyed as they were. He
laughed at the conceit.
You are both of the Wölfing tribe, he roared and ordered beer of
Magda. I always drink dark beer after champagne, it settles the
effervesence, he argued.
You can always drink beer, before and after anything, Cal, said
his wife in her sarcastic, vibrant voice.
The guest was hopelessly bored, but, being a man of will, he
concentrated his attention upon himself and grew more resigned. He did
not pretend to understand this rough-spoken critic, with his hatred of
Wagner and his contradictory Teutonic tastes. Tekla with eyes full of
beaming implications spoke:
I should tell you, Cal, that Herr Viznina does not know, or else
has forgotten, which paper you write for, and I let him guess. He
thinks you praised his Siegmund.
Saturday morning after the Tristan performance he will know for
sure, answered the critic sardonically, drinking a stein of
You rude man! of course he will know, and he will love you
afterwards. If Calcraft had been near enough she would have tapped him
playfully on the arm.
Ah! Madame, what would we poor artists do if it were not for the
ladies, the kind, sweet American ladies?
That's just it, cried Calcraft.
What an idea, Warrington Calcraft! Tekla was thoroughly indignant.
Never since I've known you have I attempted to influence you.
You couldn't, said he.
No, not even for poor Florence Deliba, who entered into a suicidal
marriage after she read your brutal notice of her début.
And a good thing it was for the operatic stage, chuckled the man.
If I write the notices of a few minor concerts I always try to
follow your notions. She was out of breath and Viznina admired her
Calcraft was becoming slow of utterance. You women are wonders when
it comes to criticism. The air darkened. Viznina looked unhappy and
Mrs. Calcraft rose: Come, let us drink our coffee in my den, Herr
Viznina, I hate shop talk. She swept out of the room and the tenor,
after a dismissal from the drowsy critic, joined her.
My headstrong husband doesn't care for coffee, she confessed,
apologetically. Sit down where you were before. The soft light is so
becoming to you. Do you know that you have an ideal face for Tristan,
and this green recalls the forest scene. Now just fancy that I am
Isolde and tell me what your thoughts and feelings are in the second
Sitting beside her on the couch and watching her long fingers
milky-green with opals, Viznina spoke only of himself, with all the
meticulous delicacy of a Wagnerian tenor, and was thoroughly happy
playing the part of a tame Tristan.
Tristan and Isolde were in the middle of their passionate symphony
of flesh and spirit, when Tekla was ushered to the regular Calcraft
seats in the opera house. Her husband, who had been in the city all
day, returned to the house late for dinner, through which meal he
dozed. He then fell asleep on a couch. After dressing and waiting
wearily until nearly nine o'clock she had a carriage called and went to
the opera alone; not forgetting, however, to bid Magda leave a case of
imported beer where Mr. Calcraft could find it when he awoke....
Rather flustered, she watched the stage with anxious eyes.
Brangaenean ugly, large person in a terra-cotta cheese-cloth
peplumhad already warned the desperate pair beneath the trees that
dawn and danger were at hand. But the lovers sang of death and love,
and love and death; and their sweet, despairing imagery floated on the
oily waves of orchestral passion. The eloquence became burning; Tekla
had forgotten her tribulations, Calcraft and time and space, when King
Marke entered accompanied by the blustering busybody Melot.
Oh, these tiresome husbands! she thought, and not listening to the
noble music of the deceived man, she presently slipped into the lobby.
The place was deserted, and as she paced up and down, she recollected
with pleasure the boyish-looking Tristan. How handsome he was! and how
his voice, husky in Die Walküre, now rang out thrillingly!
There!she heard it again, muffled indeed by the thick doors, but
pure, free, full of youthful fire. What a Tristan! And he had looked at
her the night before with the same ardor! A pity it was, that she,
Tekla Calcraft, born Tekla Björnsen, had not studied for the opera; had
not sung Sieglinde to his Siegmund; was not singing at this moment with
such a Tristan in the place of that fat Malska, old enough to be his
mother! and instead of being the wife of an indifferent man who...
The act was over, the applause noisy. People began to press out
through the swinging doors, and Tekla, not caring to be caught alone,
walked around to the stage entrance. She met the Director, who made
much of her and took her through the archway presided over by a
In his dressing-room Tristan welcomed her with outstretched hands.
You are so good, and then quickly pointed to his throat.
And you were superb, she responded unaffectedly.
Your husband, is he here? he asked, forgetting his throat.
He is not here yet; he is detained down-town.
But he will write the critique? inquired Viznina with startled
eyes. Tekla did not at first answer him.
I don't know, she replied thickly. He seized her hands.
Oh, you will like my third act! I am there at my best, he declared
with all the muted vanity of a modest man. She was slightly
I like everything you do, she slowly admitted. Viznina kissed her
wrists. She regarded him with maternal eyes.
As Tekla mounted the stairs her mind was made up. Fatigued as she
was by the exciting events of the past twenty-four hours, she reached
the press-room in a buoyant mood. It was smoky with the cigars and
cigarettes of a half dozen men who invented ideas, pleasant and
otherwise, about the opera, for the morning papers. Mrs. Calcraft was
greeted with warmth; like her husband she was a favorite, though an old
man grumbled out something about women abusing their privilege. Jetsam,
one of her devoted body-guard, gave her a seat, pen and paper, and told
her to go ahead; there were plenty of messenger boys in waiting. It was
not the first time Tekla had been in the press-room, the room of the
dreaded critical chain-gang, as Cal had named it. All asked after
He has gone to the Symphony Concert, replied Tekla unblushingly,
and young Jetsam winked his thin eyes at the rest. Feeling encouraged
at this he persisted:
I thought Gardner was 'doing' the concert for Cal?
Oh! you know Cal! she put a pen in her mouth, he hates Wagner;
perhaps he thinks Mr. Gardner needs company once in a while.
Perhaps he does, gravely soliloquized Jetsam.
How many performances of Tristan does this make, Mr. Jetsam?
I'm sure I don't knowI am never much on statistics.
When she was told the correct number the scratching of pens went on
and the smoke grew denser. Messenger after messenger was dismissed with
precious critical freightage, and soon Tekla had finished, envious eyes
watching her all the while. Every man there wished that his wife were
as clever and helpful as Mrs. Calcraft.
Driving home she forgot all about the shabby cab having memories
only for the garden scene, its musical enchantments. The spell of them
lay thick upon her as she was undressed by Magda. When the lights were
out, she asked Magda if Mr. Calcraft still slept.
No, ma'am; after drinking the beer he went out.
Oh! he went out after all, did he? responded Tekla in a sleepy
voice and immediately passed into happy dreams....
It was sullen afternoon when she stood in her room regarding with
instant joy a large bunch of roses. Calcraft came in without slamming
the doors as usual. She turned a shining face to him. He looked
factitiously fresh, with a Turkish bath freshness, his linen was
spotless, and in his hand he held a newspaper.
That was a fine, dark potion you brewed for me last night,
Sieglinde! he mournfully began. No wonder your Tristan sang so well
in the Watchman this morning! The youthful candors of her
Swedish blue eyes with their tinted lashes evoked his sulky admiration.
I knew, Cal, that you would do the young man justice for his
magnificent performance, she replied, her cheeks beginning to echo the
hues of the roses she held; her fingers had just closed over an angular
bit of paper buried in the heart of the flowers....
For answer, Calcraft ironically hummed the Pity motif from Die
Walküre and went out of the house, the doors closing gently after him
to the familiar rhythm of that sadly duped warrior, Hunding.
THE CORRIDOR OF TIME
Ah! to see behind me no longer on the Lake of Eternity the
implacable Wake of Time.EPHRAÏM MIKAËL.
When Cintras was twenty he planned an appeal to eternity. He knew
Émaux et Camées as pious folk their Bible; he felt that naught
endured but art. So he became a pagan, and sought for firmness and
delicacy in the texture, while aiming to fill his verse with the fire
of Swinburne, the subtlety of Rossetti and the great, clear day-flame
of Gautier. A well-nigh impossible ideal; yet he cherished it for twice
ten years, and at forty had forsworn poetry for prose....
Then he read the masters of that other harmony of prose until he
dreamed of long, sweeping phrases, drumming with melody, cadences like
the humming of slow, uplifting walls of water tumbling on sullen
strands. He knew Sir Thomas Browne, and repeated with unction: Now
since these dead bones have already outlasted the living ones of
Methusaleh, and in a yard under ground, and thin walls of clay, outworn
all the strong and spacious buildings above it; and quietly rested
under the drums and tramplings of three conquests; what prince can
promise such diuturnity unto his relicks. ... He wondered if Milton,
De Quincey, Walter Pater or even Jeremy Taylor had made such sustained
music. He marvelled at the lofty structures of old seventeenth century
prose-men, and compared them with the chippy staccato of the modern
perky style, its smug smartness, its eternal chattering gallop. He
absorbed the quiet prose of Addison and Steele and swore it tasted like
dry sherry. Swift, he found brilliantly hard, often mannered; and he
loved Dr. Goldsmith, so bland, loquacious, welcoming. In Fielding's
sentences he heard the clatter of oaths; and when bored by the pulpy
magnificence of Pater's harmonies went back to Bunyan with his stern,
straightforward way. For Macaulay and his multitudinous prose, Cintras
conceived a special abhorrence, but could quote for you with unfailing
diction Sir William Temple's Use of Poetry and Music, and its sweet
coda: When all is done, human life is at the greatest and the best,
but like a froward child that must be played with and humored to keep
it quiet till it falls asleep, and then the care is over.
Cintras had become enamoured with the English language, and emptied
it into his eyes from Chaucer to Stevenson. He most affected Charles
Lamb and Laurence Sterne; he also loved the Bible for its canorous
prose, and on hot afternoons as the boys lolled about his room, he
thundered forth bits of Job and the Psalms. Cintras was greatly beloved
by the gang, though it was generally conceded that he had as yet done
nothing. This is the way Berkeley put it, down at Chérierre's, where
they often met to say obvious things in American-French....
You see boys, if Cintras had the stuff in him he would have turned
out something by this time. He's a bad poetwhat, haven't you ever
read any of his verse?and now he's gone daft on artistic prose.
Artistic rubbish! Who the devil cares for chiselled prose nowadays? In
the days when link-boys and sedan chairs helped home a jag they had the
time to speak good English. But now! Good Lord! With typewriters
cutting your phrases into angular fragments, with the very soil at your
heels saturated with slang, what hope in an age of hurry has a fellow
to think of the cadence? I honestly believe Stevenson was having fun
when he wrote that essay of his on the technical elements of style.
It's a puzzle picture and no more to be deciphered than a Bach fugue.
When Bill Berkeley gets the flow on, he's worse than Cintras with
his variable vowels. Say, Bill, I think you're jealous of old Pop
Cintras. It was Sammy Hodson, a newspaper man, who spoke, and as he
wrote on space he was usually the cashier of the crowd....
Chérierre's is on University Place, and the spot where the artistic
setBerkeley, Hodson, Pauch, the sculptor, and Cintrashappened to be
hanging about just then. The musician of the circle was a tall thin
young man named Merville. It was said that he had written a symphony;
and one night they all got drunk when the last movement was finished,
though not a soul had heard a note. Every one believed Merville would
do big things some day.
Cintras entered. He was hopelessly uninteresting looking and wore a
beard. Berkeley swore that if he shaved he would be sent to prison; but
Cintras pleaded economy, a delicate throat, also the fact that his nose
was stubby. But set him to talking about the beauties of English prose,
and his eyes blazed with a green fire. The conversation turned on good
things to drink; wine at twenty-five cents a litre was ordered, and the
It seems to me, Berkeley, Cintras spoke, that you modern fellows
are too much devoted to the color scheme. I remember when I was a boy,
Gautier set us crazy in Paris with his color sense. His pages glowed
with all the pigments of the palette; he vied with the jeweller in
introducing precious stones of the most ravishing brilliancy within the
walls of his paragraph; I sickened of all this splendor, this Ruskin
word-painting, and went in for cool grays, took up Baudelaire and
finally reached Verlaine, whose music is the echo of music heard in
misty mediæval parks while the peacock dragging by with its twilight
tail, utters shrill commentary on such moonshine. After that I reached
Chopin and found him too dangerous, too treacherous, too condensed, the
art too filled out; and so I finally landed in the arms of Wagner, and
I've been there ever since.
Look here, Cintras, you're prose-mad and you've landed nowhere.
Berkeley lighted one of Hodson's cigarettes. When a new, big fellow
comes along you follow him until you find out how he does the trick and
then you get bored. Don't you remember the day you rushed into my
studio and yelled, 'Newman is the only man who wrote prose in the
nineteenth century,' and then persisted in spouting long sentences from
the 'Apologia'? First it was Arnold, then it was Edmund Burke. It
will always be Burke, interrupted Cintras. Then it was Maurice de
Guérin, and I suppose it will be Flaubert forever and ever. They all
Yes, Billy, it will always be Gustave Flaubert, and I worship him
more and more every day. It took him forty years to write four books
and three stories, and, as Henry James says, he deliberately planned
Hodson broke in: You literary men make me tired. Why, if I turned
out copy at the rate of Slobsbertwhat's his name?I'd starve. What's
all the fuss about, anyhow? Write natural English and any one will
understand youAh, natural English, that's what one man writes in a
generation, sighed Cintras. And when you want something great,
continued the young man, why, read a good 'thriller' about the great
Cemetery Syndicate, and how it robbed the dead for gold fillings in
teeth. The author just slings it outand such words!
Yes, with a whitewash brush. Berkeley scowled.
Why, pursued Hodson, unmoved, why don't you get married, Cintras,
and work for your living? Then you'll have to write syndicate stuff and
that will knock the nonsense out of you. Or, fall in love and be
miserable like me. Hodson paused to drink.
O triste, triste était mon âme,
À cause, à cause d'une femme.
That's Verlaine; Hoddy, my boy, when you grow up, quit newspapering
and become cultured, you may appreciate its meaning and beauty.
When I am cultured I'll be a night city editor; that's my ideal,
said the youth, stoutly.
Let's go over to Merville's room and make him play Chopin,
suggested Pauch, the sculptor, who seldom spoke, but could eat more
than four men.... They drank their coffee and went across into Twelfth
street, and at the top of the house they found the musician's room. It
was large, but poorly fitted out. An old square-piano, a stove, a bed,
three chairs, a big lounge and a washstand completed the catalogue.
Merville made them comfortable and sat down to the piano. Its tone, as
his fingers crept over the keys, was of faded richness and there were
reverberations of lost splendors in the bass. Merville started with a
Chopin nocturne, but Hodson hurt the cat as it brushed against him, and
the noise displeased the pianist. He stopped.
I don't feel like Chopin, it's too early in the day. Chopin should
be heard only in the early evening or after midnight. I'll give you
some Brahms instead. Brahms suits the afternoon, this gray, dull day.
All were too lazy to reply and the pianist began, with hesitating
touch, an Intermezzo in A minor. It sounded like music heard in a
dream, a dream anterior to this existence. It seemed as if life, tired
of the external blaze of the sun, sought for the secret of hidden
spaces; searched for the message in the sinuous murmuring shell. It was
an art of an art, the penumbra of an art. Its faint outlines melted
into one's soul and refused to be turned away. The recollection of
other music seemed gross after this curiously introspective, this
almost whorl-like, music. It was the return to the invertebrate, the
shadow of a shadow, and the hearts of Merville's guests were downcast
When he had finished, Cintras asked: If that is Brahms, why then he
has solved the secret of the age's end. He has written the song of
humanity absorbed in the slime of a dying planet.
Very morbid, very perverse in rhythms, I should say, broke in
Berkeley; they all shivered. Merville arose, his face glum and drawn,
and brought whiskey and glasses.
Cintras was the first to speak:
Hodson, you are a very young fellow and I wish to give you good
advice. Yours to me was better than you supposed. Now don't you ever
bother with art, music or artistic prose. Just marry a nice girl who
goes to comic operas. You stick to her and avoid Balzac. He is too
strong meat for you Yes, but he's great; I read him! And no more
understand him than you do Chopin. Because he is great he is readable,
but his secret is the secret of the sphinx; it may only be unravelled
by a few strong souls. So go your road and be happy in your plush way,
read your historical hog-wash, and believe me when I swear that the
most miserable men are those who have caught a glimpse of the eternal
beauty of art, who pursue her ideal face, who have the vision but not
the voice. I once wrote a little prose poem about this desire of
beauty; I will see if I can remember it for you.
Go ahead, old man; I'll stand anything to-day, sang out Hodson.
Here it is: and Cintras recited his legend of
THE RECURRING STAIRCASE
I first saw her on the Recurring Staircase. I had turned
sharply the angle of the hall and placed my foot upon the
bottom step and then I saw her. She was motionless; her back
I saw, and O! the grace of her neck and the glory of her
arrested attitude. I feared to move, but some portent,
silent, inflexibly eloquent, haled me to the staircase. That
was years ago. I called to her, strange calls, beautiful
sounding names; I besought her to bend her head, to make
some sign to my signals of urgency; but her glance was
aloft, where, illumined by the scarlet music of a setting
sun, I saw in a rich, heavy mullioned embrazure,
multi-colored glass shot through with drunken despairing
daylight. Again I prayed my Lady of the Recurring Staircase
to give me hope by a single dropped glance. At last I
conjured her in Love's fatal name, and she moved
languorously up the steep slope of stairs. As if the spell
had been thwarted, I followed the melodious adagio of her
footsteps. That was many years ago. She never mounted to the
heavy mullioned embrazure with the multi-colored glass shot
through with drunken, despairing daylight. I never touched
the hand of the Lady of the Recurring Staircase; for the
stairs were endless and I stood ever upon the bottom step;
and the others below slipped into eternity; and all this was
many years ago. I never have seen the glorious glance of My
Lady on the Recurring Staircase.
They all applauded, Hodson violently. I say, old chap, what would
you have gained by overtaking the lady? Cintras sniffed; Berkeley
laughingly remarked that the staircase reminded him of the sort you see
at a harvest with a horse on the treadmill.
Don't, fellows! begged Merville. Cintras is giving one ideas
to-day for a symphonic poem. Go on, Cintras, with more, but in a
different vein. Something in the classical style.
I can't do that, responded Cintras, trying not to look flattered,
but I will show you my soul when overtaken by doubt. Cintras, your
soul, like Huysmans's, is a cork one. They were aghast, for Hodson the
uncultured one had spoken.
And where, Hoddy, my brave lad, did you ever in the world hear of
Huysmans? he was asked. I read that; I thought it fitted Cintras. His
soul is like a cork ball that is always rebounding from one idea to
another. Bravo! you will be the literary, not the night city editor,
before you die, Hoddy. ... Then Cintras read another prose-poem which
he had named
THE MIRROR OF UNFAITH
I looked into my mirror the next morning. With scared cry I
again looked into my mirror. With brutish, trembling fingers
I tried to cleanse the mist from my eyes, and once more I
looked into my mirror, scraped its surface tenderly, but it
availed not. There was no reflection of my features in its
polished depths; naught but vacancy, steely and profound.
There is no God, I had proclaimed; no God in high heaven, no
God with the world, no spirit ever moved upon the vasty
waters, no spirit ever travailed in the womb of time and
conceived the cosmos. There is no God and man is not made in
his image; eternity is an eyeless socketa socket that
never beheld the burning splendors of the Deity. There is no
God, O my God! And my cries are futile, for have I not gazed
into my mirror, gazed with clear ironic frantic gaze and
missed my own image! There is no God; yet has my denial been
heard in blackest Eblis, and has it not reverberated unto
the very edges of Time? There is no God, and from that
moment my face was blotted out. I may never see it in the
moving waters, in mirrors, in the burnished hearts of
things, or in the liquid eyes of woman. I denied God. I
mocked His omnipotence. I dared him to mortal combat, and my
mirror tells me there is no Me, no image of the man called
by my name. I denied God and God denies me!
If I were in such a mental condition, Hodson eagerly commented,
I'd call a doctor or join the Salvation Army. Why haven't you
written more short stories? inquired Merville. Because I've never had
the time, Cintras sadly answered. Once I tried to condense what
novelists usually spread over hundreds of pages, and say it in a couple
of paragraphs. Every word must illuminate the past, in every sentence
may be found the sequel.
Cintras, I vow your case is hopeless. You are a regular
cherry-stone carver. Here you've shown us the skeletons of two stories
and yet given none of them flesh enough to live upon. Berkeley you
belong to a past full of novelistic monsters. You are the three volume
man with the happy ending tacked on willy-nilly. It is the tact of
omission Hang your art-for-art theories. I'll make more money than
Cintras ever did when I publish my Art of Anonymous Letter Writing!
cut in Hodson. Cintras calmly continued, Here is my title and see if
you can follow me.
The light waned as with tense fingers he turned the round,
bevelled-edge screw of the lamp. Darkness, immitigable,
profound, and soft, must soon succeed yellow radiance. To
face this gloom, to live in it and breathe of it, set his
heart harshly beating. Yet he slowly turned with tense
fingers the bevelled-edge screw of the lamp. He would
presently be forced to a criticism of the day, that day,
which must brilliantly flame when night closed upon him. As
in the vivid agony endured between two bell-strokes of a
clock, he strove to answer the oppressing shape threatening
him. And his fingers lingeringly revolved the lamp-screw
with its brass and bevelled-edge. If only some gust of
resolution would arise like the sudden scud of the squall
that whitens far-away level summer seas, and drive forth
pampered procrastinations! Then might his fingers become
flexile, his mind untied. Poor, drab seconds that fooled
with eternity and supped on vain courage as they went
trooping by. Could not one keen point of consciousness
abide? Why must all go humming into oblivion like untuned
values? He grasped at a single strand of recollection; he
saw her parted lips, the passionate reproach of her eyes and
felt her strenuous tacit acquiescence; he sensed the
richness of her love. So he stood, unstable, vacillating and
a treacherous groper amidst cruel shards of an ineluctable
memory, powerless to stay the fair phantom and fearful of
looking night squarely in the front. And he remained a
dweller in the shadows, as he faintly fingered the
bevelled-edge screw of the lamp....
If Maeterlinck would feed on Henry James and write a dream fugue on
your affected title, this might be the result, muttered Berkeley.
Hush! whispered Merville; can't you see that it is his own life he
is unconsciously relating in this sequence of short stories; the tale
of his own pampered procrastinations? If he had only made up his mind
perhaps he could have kept her by his side and been happy butBut
instead, said Berkeley sourly he wrote queer impossible things about
bevelled-edge lamp screws and she couldn't stand it. I don't blame her.
I say, nature before art every time. ... Then Hodson shouted,
dispelling dangerous reveries:
Cintras, why don't you finish that book of yours? Ten years ago you
told me that you had finished it nearly one-half. Yes, and in ten
years more he will finish the other, remarked Berkeley.
If you knew how I worked you would not ask why I work slowly.
Flaubert again! interjected Berkeley.
The title cost me much pain, and the first two lines infinite
travail. I really write with great facility. I once wrote a novel in
three weeks for a sensation monger of a publisher; but because of this
ease I suspect every sentence, every word, aye, every letter that drops
from my pen.
Hire a typewriter and you'll suspect nobody, suggested Hodson....
The party began to break up; Cintras pressed hands and went first.
There was some desultory conversation, during which Berkeley endeavored
to persuade Hodson to buy him his dinner. Then they left Merville and
Pauch alone. The musician looked at the sculptor.
And these makers of words think they have the secret of art; as if
form, as if music, is not infinitely greater and nearer the core of
life. Pauch grunted.
There's a man, that Brahms, you played, Merville; his is great art
which will girdle the centuries. The man built solidly for the future.
He reminds me of Rodin's Calais group: harsh but eternal; secret and
sweetly harsh. Brahms is the Bonze of his art; his music has often the
immobility of the OrientI think the 'Vibrationists' would describe it
as 'kinetic stability.' ... Cintras is done. He never did anything; he
never will. He theorizes too much. If you talk too often of the
beautiful things you are going to execute they will go sailing into the
air for some other fellow to catch. Mark my words! No man may play tag
with his soul and win the game. He is a study in temperament, or,
rather the need of one, is Cintras. He must have received a black eye
some time. Was he ever in love?
Yes, but she went off with another fellow.
That explains all. Pauch stolidly asked for beer, and getting none
Cintras died. Among his effects was found a bulky mass of
manuscript; almost trembling with joy and expectation Berkeley carried
the treasure to Merville's room. On the title-page was read: The
Corridor of Time: A Novel. By George Cintras.
Frantic with curiosity the friends found on the next page the
And the insistent clamor of her name at my heart is like the
sonorous roll of the sea on a savage shore.
The other pages were virginal of ink....
Somewhere; in desolate wind-swept space,
In Twilight-landin No-man's land
Two hurrying shapes met face to face
And bade each other stand.
And who are you? cried one agape
Shuddering in the gloaming light;
I know not, said the second shape,
I only died last night!
Mychowski was considered by grave critical authorities, the best
living interpreter of Chopin. He was a Poleany one could tell that by
the way he spelt his nameand a perfect foil to Paderewski, being
short, thick-set and with hair as black as a kitchen beetle. His fat
amiable face, flat and corpulent fingers, his swarthy skin and upturned
nose, were called comical by the women who thronged his recitals; but
Mychowski at the keyboard was a different man from the Mychowski who
sat all night at a table eating macaroni and drinking Apollinaris
water. Then the funny profile vanished and the fat fingers literally
dripped melody. His readings of the Polish master's music were
distinguished by grace, dexterity, finesse, pathos and subtilty. The
only pupils of Chopin alivethere were only six nowhobbled to
Mychowski's concerts and declared that at last their dead idol was
reincarnated, at last the miracle had taken place: a genuine
interpreter of Chopin had appearedthen severe coughing, superinduced
by emotion, and the rest of the sentence would finish in tears....
The Chopin pupils also wrote to the papers letters always beginning,
Honored Sir,Your numerous and intelligent readers would perhaps like
to know in what manner Chopin's performance of the F minor Ballade
resembled Mychowski's. It was in the year 1842 that A sextuple flood
of recollections was then let loose, and Mychowski the gainer thereby.
Still he obstinately refused to be lionized, cut his hair perilously
near the prizefighter's line, and never went into society, except for
money. He was a model business man; the impresarios worshipped him.
Such business ability, such frugality, such absence of eccentricity,
such temperance, were voted extraordinary.
Why, the man never gambles, said a manager, drinks only at his
mealswhich are many, interrupted some oneand always sends his
money home to his wife and family in Poland. Yet he plays like a god.
It is unheard of. ...
The Polish servant Mychowski brought with him from home sickened in
Paris and died. Although the pianist was playing the Erard, he went
often to the Pleyel piano warerooms and there told a friend that he was
without a valet.
We have some one here who will suit you. His father was Chopin's
body-servant, who, as you must have read, was an Irish-Frenchman named
Daniel Dubois. We call the son Daniel Chopin; he looks so much like
some of the pictures of your great countryman. Best of all, he doesn't
know one note of music from another.
Just the man, cried Mychowski; my last valet always insisted on
waking me in the morning with a Bach Invention. It was awful.
Wait, then; I'll send upstairs for him, said the amiable
representative of the Maison Pleyel, and soon there appeared, dressed
after the fashion fifty years ago, a man of about thirty, whose face
and expression caused Mychowski to bound out of his seat and exclaim in
his native tongue:
Slawa Bohu! but he looks like Frédéric.
The man started a little, then became impassive. My father was
Daniel Dubois, in whose arms the great master died. May he keep company
with the angels! When my mother bore me she wore a medallion containing
a portrait of the great master, and my father, who was his pupil,
played the nocturnes for her.
The speaker's voice was slightly muffled in timbre, its accent was
languid, yet it was indubitably the voice of a cultivated man.
Mychowski regarded him curiously. A slim frame of middle height;
fragile but wonderfully flexible limbs; delicately formed hands; very
small feet; an oval, softly-outlined head; a pale, transparent
complexion; long silken hair of a light chestnut color parted on one
side; tender brown eyes, intelligent rather than dreamy; a
finely-curved aquiline nose, a sweet, subtle smile; graceful and varied
gesturessuch was the outward presence of Daniel Dubois.
He looks just like the description given by Niecks, murmured the
pianist. Even the eyes are piwne, as we say in Poland, couleur
Yet you do not play the piano? he continued. The man smiled and
shook his head. Terms were arranged, and the valet sent to Mychowski's
And the mother, who was she? Mychowski asked later.
Pst! enjoined his friend discreetly. Mychowski smiled, sighed,
shook his head, settled himself before a new piano and plunged into the
preludes, playing the entire twenty-five without pause, while business
was suspended in the ancient and honorable Maison Pleyel, so
captivating, so miraculous, was the poetic performance of this
commonplace and kind-hearted virtuoso....
Mychowski discovered in Daniel an agreeable servant. He was
noiseless, ubiquitous. He could make an omelette or sew on a button
with woman's skill. His small, well-kept hands knew no fatigue, and his
master often watched them, almost transparent, fragile and
aristocratic, as they shaved his rotund oily face. Daniel was admirable
in his management of the musical library, seeming to know where the
music of every composer had to be placed. Mychowski wondered how he
contrived to find time to learn so much and yet keep his hands from the
keyboard. After the first month Mychowski began to envy his servant the
possession of such a poetic personality.
Now if I had such a face and figure how much better an effect I
should produce. I see the women laugh when I sit down to play, and if
it wasn't for my fat fingers where would I be? Mychowski sighed. He
had conquered the musical world, but not his reflection in the mirror.
He had made some charming conquests, but his better guides had
whispered to him that it was his music, not his face, that had won the
women. He was vain, sensitive and without the courage of his nose,
unlike Cyrano de Bergerac. Nothing was lacking; talent, wealth, health,
a capital digestion and success! Had they not poured in upon him? From
his twentieth year he enjoyed the sunshine of popular favor and after
ten years was enamoured of it as ever. He almost felt bitter when he
saw Daniel's high-bred and delicate figure. He questioned him a hundred
times, but could find out nothing. Where had he been raised? Who was
his mother, and why did he select a servant's life? Daniel replied with
repose and managed to parry or evade all inquiries. He confessed,
however, to one weaknessinsatiable love for musicand begged his
master to be allowed the privilege of sitting in the room during the
practising hours. When a concert was given Daniel went to the hall and
arranged all that was necessary for the pianist's comfort. Mychowski
caught him at a recital one night with a score of the F minor Ballade
of Chopin, and warm and irritable as he was, for he had just played the
work, he could not refrain from asking his servant how it had pleased
him. Daniel shook his head gently. Mychowski stared at him curiously,
with chagrin. Then a lot of women rushed in to congratulate the artist,
but stopped to stare aghast at Daniel.
Ah, M. Mychowski!it was the beautiful Countess d'AngersWe
know now why you play Chopin so wonderfully, for have you not his ghost
here to tell you everything? Naughty magician, why have you not come to
me on my evenings? You surely received cards! Mychowski looked so
annoyed at the jest that Daniel slipped out of the room and did not
appear until the carriage was ready....
At the café where Mychowski invariably went for his macaroni Daniel
usually had a place at the table. The pianist was easy in his manners,
and not finding his man presumptuous he made him a companion. They had
both eaten in silence, Mychowski gluttonously. Looking at Daniel and
drinking a glass of chianti, he said in his most jocular manner:
Eh bien, mon brave! now tell me why you didn't like my F minor
Ballade. Daniel lifted his eyes slowly to the other's face and smiled
faint protestation. Mychowski would take no refusal. He swore in Polish
and called out in lusty tones, Come now, Daniel Chopin, what didn't
you like, the tempo, the conception, the coda, or my touch?
Your playing, cher maître, was yourself. No one can do what you
can, answered Daniel evasively.
Hoity-toity! What have we here, a critic in disguise? said
Mychowski good humoredly, yet at heart greatly troubled. Do you know
what the pupils of Chopin say of my interpretation? Daniel again shook
They know nothing about Chopin or his music, he calmly replied. A
thunderbolt had fallen at Mychowski's feet and he was affrighted. Know
nothing of Chopin or his music? Here was a pretty presumption. Pray,
Daniel, he managed to gasp out, pray how does your lordship happen to
know so much about Chopin and his music? Mychowski was becoming angry.
In a stifled voice Daniel replied:
Dear master, only what my father told me. But do let me go home and
get your bed ready. I feel faint and I ask pardon for my impertinence.
I am indeed no critic, nor shall I ever presume again. You may go,
said his master in gruff accents, and regretted his rudeness as soon as
Daniel was out of sight. If any one of the managers who so ardently
praised Mychowski's temperate habits had seen him guzzling wine, beer
and brandy that night, they might have been shocked. He seldom went to
excess, but was out of sorts and nettled at criticism from such a
quarter. Yethad he played as well as usual? Was not overpraise
undermining his artistic constitution? He thought hard and vainly
endeavored to recapture the mood in which he had interpreted the
Ballade, and then he fell to laughing at his spleen. A great artist to
be annoyed by the first adverse feather that happened to tickle him in
an awkward way. What folly! What vanity! Mychowski laughed and ordered
a big glass of brandy to steady his nerves.
All fat men, he thought, are nervous and sensitive. I must really go
to Marienbad and drink the waters and I think I'll leave Daniel Chopin
behind in Paris. ChopinChopin, I wonder how much Chopin is in him?
Pooh! what nonsense. Chopin only loved Sand and before that Constantia
Gladowska. He never stooped to commonplace intrigue. But the
resemblance, the extraordinary resemblance! After all, nature plays
queer pranks. A thunderstorm may alarm a Mozart into existence, and why
not a second Chopin? Ah, if I had that fellow's face and figure or he
had my fingers what couldn't we do? If he were not too old to
studyno, I won't give him lessons, I'll be damned if I will! He might
walk away with me, piano and all. Chopin face, Chopin fingers.
Mychowski was rapidly becoming helpless and at two o'clock the
patron of the café sent a message to Daniel, who was hard by, that he
had better fetch his master away. The pianist was lifted into a
carriage, though he lived just around the corner, and with the aid of
the concierge, a cynical man of years, was helped into his apartment
and put to bed. It was a trying night for Daniel, whose nature revolted
at any suggestion of the grosser vices....
From dull, muddy unconsciousness the soul of Mychowski struggled up
into thin light. He fought with bands of villainous appearing men
holding tuning forks; he was rolled down terrific gulfs a-top of
pianos; while accompanying him in his vertiginous flight were other
pianos, square, upright and grand; pianos of sinister and menacing
expression; pianos with cruel grinning teeth; pianos of obsolete and
anonymous shapes; pianos that leered at him, sneered at him with
screaming dissonances. The din was infernal, the clangor terrific; and
as the pianist, hemmed in and riding this whirlwind of splintered
sounding-boards, jangling wires and crunching lyres, closed his eyes
expecting the last awful plunge into the ghastly abyss, a sudden,
piercing tone penetrated the thick of the storm; as if by sorcery, the
turmoil faded away, and, looking about him, Mychowski's disordered
senses took note of an exquisite valley in which rapidly flowed a tiny
silvery stream. Carpeted with green and fragrant with flowers, the
landscape was magical, and most melancholy was the music made by the
running waters. Never had the artist heard such music, and in the
luminous haze of his mind it seemed familiar. Three tones, three Gs in
the treble and in octaves, sounded clear to him; and again and once
more they were heard in doubled rhythm. A rippling prelude rained upon
the meadows and Mychowski lay perfectly entranced. He knew what was
coming and knew not the music. Then a melody fell from the trees as
they whispered over the banks of the brook and it was in the key of F
minor. A nocturne; yet the day was young. Its mournful reiterations
darkened the sky; but about all, enchantment lay. In G flat, so the
sensitive ear of the pianist warned him, was his life being borne; but
only for a time. Back came the first persistent theme, bringing with it
overpowering richness of hue and scent, and then it melted away in
What is all this melodic madness? asked Mychowski. He knew the
music made by the little river and trees, yet he groped as if in the
toils of a nightmare to name it. That solemn narrative in six-eight
time in B flat, where had he heard it? The glowing, glittering
arabesques, the trilling as if from the throats of a thousand larks,
the cunning imitations as if leaf mocked leaf in the sunshine! Again
the first theme in F minor, but amplified and enlarged with a spray of
basses and under a clouded sky. Without knowing why, the unhappy man
felt the impending catastrophe and hastened to escape it. But in vain.
His feet were as lead, and suddenly the heavens opened, fiercely
lightened, the savage thunder leaping upon him in chromatic
dissonances; then a great stillness in C major, and with solemn, silent
steps he descended in modulated chords until he reached an awful
crevasse. With a howl the tempest again unloosed, and in screeching
accents the end came, came in F minor. For many octaves Mychowski fell
as a stone from a star, and as he crashed into the very cellarage of
hell he heard four snapping chords and found himself on the floor of
The F minor Ballade, of course, he cried; and a nice ass I made
of myself last night. Oh, what a head! But I wonder how I came to dream
of the Ballade? Oh, yes, talking about it with Daniel, of course. What
a vivid dream! I heard every note, and thought the trees and the brook
were enjoying a duo, andBon Dieu! what's that?
Mychowski, his face swollen and hair in disorder, slowly lifted
himself and sat on the edge of the bed as he listened.
Who the devil is playing at this hour? But what's this? Am I
dreaming again? There goes that damnable Ballade. Mychowski rushed out
of his room, down the short hall and pushed open the door of the
music-room. The music stopped. Daniel was dusting some music at the end
of the piano as he came in.
Ah! dear master, I hope you are not sick, said the faithful
fellow, dropping his feather-duster and running to Mychowski, who stood
still and only stared.
Who was playing the piano? he demanded. The piano? quoth Daniel.
Yes, the piano. Was any one here?
No one has called this morning, answered Daniel, except M.
Dufour, the patron of the café, who came to inquire after your health.
It's none of his business, snapped Mychowski, whose nerves were on
edge. I heard piano playing and I wasn't dreaming. Come, no nonsense,
Daniel, who was it?
Just then his eyes fell on the desk; he strode to it and snatched
the music. There, he hoarsely said, there is damning proof that you
have lied to me; there is the Ballade in F minor by Chopin, and who, in
the name of Beelzebub, was playing it? Not you?
Daniel turned white, then pink, and trembled like a cat. Mychowski,
his own face white, with cold shivers playing zither-wise up and down
his back, looked at the servant and, in a feeble voice, asked him, Who
are you, man? Daniel recovered himself and said in soothing tones,
Cher maître, you were up too late last night and you are nervous,
agitated. I ask your pardon, but I never did tell you that I drum a
little on the piano, and thinking you fast asleep I ventured on the
Drum a little! You call that drumming? said Mychowski slowly. The
two men looked into each other's eyes and Daniel's drooped. Don't do
it again; that's all. You woke me up, said Mychowski roughly, and he
went out of the room without hearing Daniel reply:
No, Monsieur Mychowski, I will not do it again. ...
From that time on Mychowski was obsessed. He weighed the evidence
and questioned again and again the validity of his dream, in the margin
between sleep and waking. During the daytime he was inclined to think
that it had been an odd trance, music and all; but when he had drunk
brandy he grew superstitious and swore to himself that he really had
heard Daniel play; and he became so nervous that he never took his man
about with him. He drank too much, and kept such late hours that Daniel
gently scolded him; finally he played badly in public and then the
critical press fairly pounced upon him. Too long had he been King
Pianist, and his place was coveted by the pounding throng below. He
drank more, and presently there was talk of a decadence in the
marvellous art of M. Mychowski, the celebrated interpreter of Chopin.
All this time Mychowski watched Daniel, watched him in the day,
watched him in the night. He would prowl about his apartment after
midnight, listening for the tone of a piano, and, after telling Daniel
that he would be gone for the day, he would sneak back anxious and
expectant. But he never heard any music, and this, instead of calming
his nerves, made him sicker. Why, he would ask himself, if the
fellow can play as he does, why in the name of Chopin does he remain my
servant? Is it because his servant blood rules, orHis servant blood?
Why, he may have Polish blood in his veins, and such Polish! Mychowski
grew white at the idea. He could not sleep at night for he felt lonely,
and drank so much that his manager declined to do business with him.
Daniel prayed, expostulated and even threatened to leave; but Mychowski
kept on the broad, downward path that leads to the mirage called
One afternoon Mychowski sat at his accustomed table in the café. He
was sick and sullen after a hard night of drinking, and as he saw
himself in the mirror he bitterly thought, He has the face, he has the
figure, and, by God, he plays like Chopin. A voice interrupted him.
Bon jour, Monsieur Mychowski; but how can you duplicate yourself,
for just a minute ago I passed your apartment and heard such delicious
The devil! cried Mychowski, jumping up, and meeting the gaze of
one of the six original Chopin pupils. No, not the devil, said the
other; but Chopin. Surely you could not have been playing the F minor
Ballade so marvellously and so early in the day? Now, Chopin always
asserted that the F minor Ballade was for the dusk
No, interrupted Mychowski, it was not I; it was only Daniel, my
valet, and my pupil. The lazy scamp! If I catch him at the piano
instead of at his work I'll break every bone in his body. Mychowski's
eyes were evil.
But I assure you, cher monsieur, this was no servant, no pupil;
this sounded as if the master had come back. You once said that of
me, returned the pianist moodily, and as he got up, his face ugly with
passion, he reiterated:
I tell you it was Daniel Chopin. But I'll answer for his silence
after I've finished with him.
Mychowski hurried home....
THE WEGSTAFFES GIVE A MUSICALE
I had promised Mrs. Wegstaffe and so there was no escape; not that
my word was as good as my bondin the matter of invitations it was
notbut I liked Edith Wegstaffe, who was pretty, even if she did
murder Bach. Hence the secret of my acceptance of Mrs. Wegstaffe's
rather frigid inquiry as to whether I was engaged for the fourteenth. I
am a bachelor, and next to cats, hate music heartily. Almost any other
form of art appeals to my æstheticism, which must feed upon form,
color, substance, but not upon impalpabilities. Silly sound waves, that
are said to possess color, form, rhythmin fact, all attributes of the
plastic arts. Pooh! What nonsense, I cried on the evening of the
fourteenth, as I cursed a wretched collar that would not be coerced....
When I reached the Wegstaffe mansion I found my progress retarded by
half a hundred guests, who fought, but politely, mind you, for
precedence. At last, rumpled and red, I reached the men's dressing
room, and the first person I encountered was Tompkins, Percy Tompkins,
a man I hated for his cocksure manner of speech and know-it-all style
on the subject of music. Often had he crushed my callow musical
knowledge by an apt phrase, and thinking well of myselfat least Miss
Edith says I doI disliked Tompkins heartily. Hello! with a
perceptible raising of his eyebrows, what are you doing here? The
same as yourself, I tartly answered, for he was not l'ami de la maison
any more than I, and I didn't purpose being sat upon, that night at
least. My good fellow, I'm here to listen andto be bored, he
replied in his wittiest way.
Indeed! well I'm in the same boat about the music, but I hope I
sha'n't be bored.
But good heavens, man, it's an amateur affairmusicale, as the
Wegstaffes call it in true barbarous American jargonand I fear Edith
Wegstaffe will play Chopin!
This angered me; I had long suspected Tompkins of entertaining a
sneaking admiration for Edith, and resolved to tell her of this slur at
the first opportunity. I didn't have a chance to answer him; a dozen
men rushed into the room, threw their hats and coats on the bed and
rushed out again.
They're in a hurry for a drink before the music begins, said
Going slowly down the long staircase we found a little room on the
second floor crowded with men puffing cigarettes and drinking brandy
and soda. Old Wegstaffe was a generous host, and knew what men liked
best at a musicale. On the top floor four or five half-grown boys were
playing billiards, and the ground floor fairly surged with women of all
ages, degrees and ugliness. To me there was only one pretty girl in the
house, Edith Wegstaffe; but of course I was prejudiced.
It was nine o'clock before Mrs. Wegstaffe gave the signal to begin.
The three long drawing-rooms were jammed with smart looking people, a
fair sprinkling of Bohemians, and a few professionals, whose hair,
hands and glasses betrayed them. The latter stood in groups, eying each
other suspiciously, while regarding the rest of the world with that
indulgent air they assume at musicales. Everything to my unpractised
eye seemed in hopeless disorder; a frightful buzz filled the air, and a
blond girl at the big piano was trying to disentangle a lot of music.
Near her stood a long-haired young man who perspired incessantly. Ah!
I gloated. Nervous! serves him right; he should have stayed at home!
Just then Mrs. Wegstaffe saw me. You're just the man I'm looking
for, said she hurriedly. Now be a good fellow; do go and tell all
those people in the other room to stop talking. It's nine o'clock, and
we're a half hour behind time. Before I could expostulate she had
gone, leaving me in the same condition as the long-haired young man I
had just derided.
How tell them to stop talking? I madly asked myself. Should I go
to each group and politely say: Please stop, for the music is about to
begin, or should I stand in a doorway and shout:
Say, quit gabbling, will you? the parties in the other room are
going to spiel. My embarrassment was so hideous that the latter course
would probably have been adopted, but Miss Edith touched me on the arm
and I followed her to the hall.
Oh, Mr. Trybill! she gasped; I'm so nervous that I shall surely
faint when it comes my turn. Won't you please turn the music for me? I
shall really feel better if some one is near me.
I looked at the sweet girl. There was not a particle of coquetry in
her request. Dark shadows were under her eyes, two pink spots burnt in
her pretty cheeks and her hands shook like a cigarette-smoker's.
But think, think of your technique, your mamma, your guests, I
blurted out desperately. She shook her head sadly and I shuddered. Are
all amateur musicales such torturing things?...
The house was packed. A strong odor of flowers, perfumes and cooking
mingled in the air; one stout woman fought her way to a window and put
her head out gasping. It was Madame Bujoli, the famous vocal teacher,
three of whose crack pupils were on the programme. Not far from her sat
Frau Makart, the great instructor in the art of German Lieder
interpretation, a hard-featured woman who sneered at Italians, Italian
methods and Italian music. Two of her pupils were to appear, and I saw
trouble ahead in the superheated atmosphere.
Crash! went the piano. They're off! hoarsely chuckled a sporting
man next to me, with a wilted collar, and Moszkowski's Nations welled
up from the vicinity of the piano, two young women exploiting their
fingers in its delivery. The talking in the back drawing-rooms went on
furiously, and I saw the hostess coming toward me. I escape her by
edging into the back hall, despite the smothered complaints of my
I got into the doorway, or rather into the angle of a door leading
into the back room. The piano had stopped; while wondering what to do
next my attention was suddenly attracted by a conversation to which I
had to listen; it was impossible to move away. So she is going to
sing, is she? Well, we will see if this great and only true Italian
method will put brains into a fool's head or voice into her chest.
This was said in a guttural voice, the accent being quite Teutonic. A
soprano voice was heard, and I listened as critically as I could. The
voice sang the Jewel Song from Faust, and it seemed to me that its
owner knew something about singing. I understood the words. She sang in
English, and what more do you want in singing?
But the buzz at my left went on fiercely. So the Bujoli calls
that voice-production, does she? Humph! In Germany we wouldn't call
the cows home with such singing. It was surely Frau Makart who spoke.
There was a huge clapping of hands, fans waved, and I heard whispers,
Yes, rather pretty; but dresses in bad taste; good eyes; walks
stiffly. Who is she? What was it she sang?
More chatter. I wriggled away to my first position near the piano,
but not without much personal discomfort. I was allowed to pass
because, for some reason or other, I was supposed to be running the
function. Upon reaching the piano Edith beckoned to me rapidly, and I
slid across the polished floor, where she was talking to that hated
Tompkins, and asked what I could do for her.
Hold my music until I play; that's a good fellow. I hate to be
considered a good fellow, but what could I do? Edith, who seemed to
have recovered her aplomb, continued her conversation with Percy
You know, Mr. Tompkins, Chopin is for me the only composer. You
know, his nocturnes fill me with a sense of nothingnessthe divine
néant, nirvana, you call it. Now, Grünfeld
Tompkins interrupted rudely: Grünfeld can't play Chopin. Give me
the 'Chopinzee.' He plays Chopin. As Schumann says: 'The Chopin
polonaises are cannon buried in flowers,' Now, Grünfeld is a
No poet! said I, indignantly, for I never could admire the chubby
Viennese pianist. Tompkins turned and looked at me, but never noticed
Oh, Miss Wegstaffe, he continued vivaciouslyhow I hated that
vivacitydid you hear that new story about a wit and the young man
who asked him to define George Meredith's position in literature?
'Meredith,' said the other, pompously, 'Meredith is a prose Browning,'
and the young man thanked the great man for this side light thrown on
English letters, when the poet added with a twinkle in his eye,
'Browning himself was a prose Browning.' Now, isn't that delicious,
Miss Wegstaffe; isn't that
A volley of hists-hists and hushes came over the room
as I vainly tried to see the point of Tompkins' story. Every one
laughed at his jokes, but to me they seemed superficial and flippant.
The piano by this time was being manipulated by a practical hand.
Herr Wunderheim, a Bulgarian pianist, was playing what the programme
called a sonata in X dur, by Tschaïkowsky, op. 47, A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
I listened: I didn't understand it all, but I was sitting next to Edith
and would have endured the remainder of the alphabet rather than let
Tompkins gain one point.
The piano thundered and roared; lightning flew over the keys, and we
were of course electrified. Herr Wunderheim jammed the notes in an
astounding manner, and when he reached the letter G the sporting man
said to me in a pious whisper, Thank God! we didn't go to
Haltogether, but near it, my boy, near it! I shrugged my shoulders
and longed for my club.
Mighty was the applause. Herr Wunderheim looked delighted. Mrs.
Wegstaffe, sailing up to the distinguished Bulgarian pianist, said
Dear Herr Wunderheim, charmed, I assure you! We are all charmed;
dear Tschaïkowsky, charming man, charming composer. Dear Walter
Damrosch assured me that he was quite the gentleman; charming music
The pianist grew red in the face. Then, straightening himself quite
suddenly, he said in tones that sounded like a dog barking:
Dot vasn't Schykufski I blayed, lieber madame; dot vas a koprice by
Even the second drawing-room people stopped talking for a minute....
The musicale merrily proceeded. We heard the amateur tenor with the
cravat voice. We heard the society pianist, who had a graceful bow and
an amiable technic; then two of Frau Makart's pupils sang. I couldn't
get near the Italian contingent, but they chattered loudly. One of the
girls sang Dvo[vr]ák's Gute Nacht, and her German made me shiver. The
other tried a Brahms song and everybody talked. I turned to ask Edith
the girl's name but she had goneso had Tompkins.
This angered me but I couldn't get up then. Opposite me was a Yankee
college professoran expert on golfing poetrywho had become famous
by an essay in which he proved that Poe should not have written Poe;
next to me sat a fat lady who said to her daughter as she fanned
herself vigorously, Horrid music, that Brahms. He wrote 'The Rustic
Cavalier,' didn't he? And some nasty critics said it was written by
No, mamma. He wrote more buzzing and I fled upstairs.
The men's room was crowded to suffocation. Everybody was drinking
hard, and old Wegstaffe was telling a story to a group of young men
among whom I recognized the fat author of that affected book How to
play Chopin though Happy. He was pretty far gone.
Shee here, bhoys; thish bloody musicthish classhic musicmakesh
me shickI mean tired. I played Bluebottle for plashe to-day50 to 1
Another bottle was opened.
In a corner they were telling the story of Herr Schwillmun, the
famous pianist who was found crazy with wine in a Fourth Avenue
undertaker's shop trying to play the Dvo[vr]ák Concerto on the lid of a
highly polished coffin. The Finnish virtuoso thought he was in a piano
wareroom. Another lie, I knew, for Schwillmun was most poetic in
appearance and surely not an intemperate man!
Wherever I went I heard nothing but malicious remarks, slurring
accusations and tittle-tattle. Finally I joined a crowd in the upper
hall attracted by the appearance of a white-haired man of intelligent
aspect, who, with kindly smile and abundant gesture was making much
merriment about him. I got close enough to hear what he was saying.
Music in New York! There is none. You fellows ought to work for
your grub, as I do, on a daily, and write up the bosh concerts that
advertise. Humbug, boys; rank humbug! Modern music is gone to the
devil. Brahms was a fraud who patched up a compound of Beethoven and
Schumann, put in a lot of mystifying harmonic progressions, and thought
he was new. Verdi, the later Verdi was helped out by Boito: Just
compare 'Otello' and 'Falstaff' with 'Mefistofele'! Dvo[vr]ák, old
'Borax' as they call him, went in for 'nigger' music and says there's
no future for American music unless it is founded on plantation tunes.
Hence the 'coon' song and its long reign. Tschaïkowsky! Well, that
tartar with his tom-tom orchestra makes me tired; he should have been
locked up in the 'Ha-Ha House.' Rubinstein never could do ten bars of
decent counterpoint. Saint-Saëns, with his symphonic poems, his
Omphalic Roués, is a Gallic echo of Bach and Liszta Bach of the
Boulevards. The English have no composers; the Americans never will
have, and, begad, sir, we're all going to the dogs. Musicrot!
I was shocked. Here was a great critic abusing the gods of modern
music and not a dissenting voice was raised. I determined to do my
duty. I would ask this cynical old man why he belittled his profession.
Sir! said I, raising my voice, but got no further, for a household
servant, whose breath reeked, caught me by the arm and in a whisper
Oh, Mr. Trybill, Miss Edith is a-lookin' for you everywheres and
sent me to tell you as how you're wanted in the music-room. It's her
My heart sank below my boots but I waded downstairs, spoiling many a
tête-à-tête by my haste, for which I was duly and audibly execrated.
Why do people at musicales flirt on the stairs?
Upon reaching the front drawing-room I found Edith taking her seat
at the demon piano. Tompkins was nowhere visible, and I felt relieved.
The guests looked worn out, and knots of men were hanging suspiciously
about the closed doors of the supper room.
The musical part of the entertainment was about over, Edith's solo
being the very last. Suddenly all became still; every one had to listen
to the daughter of the hostess.
She looked positively radiant. Her eyes sparkled, and of her early
nervousness not a trace remained.
Do turn over the leaves nicely, that's a good fellow, Mr.
Trybillagain that odious phraseI feel so happy I'm sure I'll play
well. Naturally, I was flattered at the inference. I was near herthe
darling of my wildest dreams. Of course she would play well, and of
course I would turn over the music nobly.
She began. The piece was Liszt's Polonaise in E. My brave girl, how
proud I felt of her as she began. How she rushed on! I could scarcely
turn the leaves fast enough for my little girl, my wife that was to be.
How sweet her face seemed. I was ravished. I must tell her all
to-night, and she will put her plump little hand in mine and say,
Yes; the sweet little
Bang! Smash, crash-bang! Stupid fellow, I hate you! I awoke as
from a dream. Edith was standing up and in tears. Alas! Fatal dreamer
that I am, I had turned over two pages at once, and trouble ensued, for
Edith never memorized....
As I stood in horrid silence Mrs. Wegstaffe swooped down on Edith
and took her away, saying in a harsh voice, The young man knows
nothing of the divine art! Then the supper signal was sounded, and a
cyclone's fury was not comparable to the rush and crush.
Old Wegstaffe, in a very shaky condition, led a gallant band of
unsteady men in a gallop to the supper room, crying, Bluebottle's the
horsh for me. I lost heart. All my brilliant visions fled. As I stood
alone in the hall Mrs. Wegstaffe triumphantly passed me on the arm of
Herr Wunderheim. She looked at me a moment, then, seeming to pity my
loneliness, leaned toward me, saying in acidulously sweet accents:
Ah, no partner yet, Mr. Trybill? Your first partner is engaged, and
to Mr. Tompkins. Do go in and congratulate him, that's a good fellow.
She swam away in the bedlam of shrieks and clattering of dishes and
knives. I walked firmly upstairs, found my coat and hat, and left the
house forever. It was my first and last experience at that occidental
version of the Hara-Kiri, called a musicale.
THE IRON VIRGIN
For there is order in the streets, but in the
The carriage stood awaiting them in the Place Boïeldieu. Chardon
told the coachman to drive rapidly; then closed the door upon Madame
Patel and himself. Cautiously traversing the crowded boulevards they
reached the Madeleine; a sharp turn to the left, down the Rue Royale,
they were soon crossing the vast windy spaces of the Place de la
Concorde and there he spoke to his companion.
It was a glorious victory! The Opéra Comique looked like a
battlefield after the conflict. Chardon's voice trembled as if with
timidity. Madame Patel turned from the half-opened window.
Yes, a glorious triumph. And he is not here to enjoy it, to
exult over his detractors. Her tone was bitter as winter.
My poor friend, the other answered as he laid his hand gently on
her arm. She shuddered. Are you cold? Shall I close the window?
Thanks, no; it is too warm. How long this ride seems! Yet he always
delighted in it after conducting. Chardon was silently polite. They
were riding now at high speed along the Avenue Montaigne which the
carriage had entered after leaving the Champs Élysées. From the Quai de
Billy to the Quai de Passy their horses galloped over naked
well-lighted avenues. The cool of the river penetrated them and the
woman drew herself back into the corner absorbed in depressing
memories. Along Mirabeau and Molitor, after passing the Avenue de
Versailles; and when the street called Boileau appeared the carriage,
its lanterns shooting tiny shafts of light on the road, headed for the
Hameau, named after the old poet of Auteuil. There it stopped.
Madame Patel and Chardon, a moment later, were walking slowly down the
broad avenue of trees through which drawled the bourdon of the breeze
this night in early May.
It was one o'clock when they entered the pretty little house,
formerly the summer retreat of the dead composer Patel. A winner of the
Prix de Rome he had produced many operas and oratorios until his
death, just a year previous to the première of The Iron
Virgin. Of its immense success widow and librettist were in no doubt.
Had they not witnessed it an hour earlier! Such furore did not often
occur at the Comique. All recollection of Patel's mediocre work was
wiped away in the swelter and glow of this passionate music, more
modern than Wagner, more brutal than Richard Strauss. Who would have
believed that the old dried-up mummy had such a volcano in his
brain?this the bereaved woman had overheard as she descended the
marble stairway of the theatre, and Chardon hurried her to the carriage
fearing that the emotions of the eveningthe souvenirs of the dead,
the shouting of the audience and the blaring of the band as it had
saluted her trembling, bowing figure in the boxfinally would prove
too strong for her. He, too, had come in for some of the applause, a
sort of inverted glory which like a frosty nimbus envelopes the head of
the librettist. Now he recalled all this and rejoiced that his charge
was safely within doors.
Madame Patel retained only one servant in her dignified, miniature
household, for she was not rich; but the lamps were burning brightly,
and on the table stood cold food, wine and fruit. The music-room was
familiar to her late husband's associate. Patel's portrait hung over
the fireplace. It represented in hard, shallow tones the face of a
white-haired, white-bearded man whose thin lips, narrow nose and high
forehead proclaimed him an ascetic of art. The deep-set eyes alone told
of talenttheir gaze inscrutable and calculating; a disappointed life
could be read in every seam of the brow.
Near the piano, where Chardon turned as he waited Madame Patel's
return from her dressing-room, there swung a picture whose violence was
not dissipated by the gloom of the half-hidden corner. He approached it
with a lamp. Staring eyes saluted him, eyes saturated with the
immitigable horror of life; eyes set in grotesque faces and smothered
in a sinister Northern landscape. It was one of Edvard Munch's
ferocious and ironic travesties of existence. And on the white margin
of the lithograph the artist had pencilled: I stopped and leaned
against the balustrade almost dead with fatigue. Over the blue-black
fjord hung clouds red as bloodas tongues of flame. My friends passed
on, and alone, trembling with anguish, I listened to the great infinite
cry of Nature.
She tapped him on the shoulder. Come, she said gravely, leave
that awful picture and eat. You must be deadyou poor man! Chardon
blushed happily until he saw her cold eyes. I was trying to catch the
color of that painter's mindthat Norwegian, Munch. Disordered,
farouche as is his style its spiritual note enchains me. The title of
the picture means nothing, yet everything'Les Curieux,' is it not?
Yes, you know it well enough by this time. What M. Patel could see in
it I can't say. As she sat down to the tablenot at the head: that
was significantly emptyhe admired her figure, maidenly still despite
her majestic bearing; admired the terse contour of her head and
noticed, not without a sigh, her small selfish ear. Madame Patel was
nearing forty and her November hair had begun to whiten, but in her
long gray eyes was invincible youth, poised, self-centred youth. She
was deliberate in her movements and her complexion a clear brown.
Chardon followed her example, eating and drinking, for they were
exhausted by the ordeal of hearing under the most painful conditions, a
The great, infinite cry of Nature,he returned to the picture.
How difficult that is to get into one's art. Yes, mon ami;
but our dead one succeeded, did he not? She was plainly obsessed by
the theme. His enemiesah! the fools, fools. What a joy to see their
astonished faces! Did you notice the critics, did you notice Millé in
particular? He was in despair; for years that man pursued with his
rancorous pen every opera by M. Patel. She paused. But now he is
conquered at last. Ah! Chardon, ah! Robert, Patel loved you, trusted
youand you helped him so much with your experience, your superior
dramatic knowledge, your poetic gifts. You have been a noble friend
indeed. She pressed his hand while he sat beside her in a stupor. The
great, infinite cry of Nature, he muttered. And think of his kindness
to me, a poor singer, so many years younger than himself! No father
could have treated a daughter with such delicacy! ...
Chardon looked up. Yes, he assented, he was very, very oldtoo
old for such a beautiful young wife. She started. Not too old, M.
Chardon, she said, slightly raising her contralto voice: What if he
was thirty years my senior! He married me to spare me the peril and
fatigue of a singer's life; few women can stand themI least of all.
He loved me with a pure, narrow affection. I was his daughter, his
staff. You, he often called 'Son.' She grazed the hem of tears.
Chardon was touched; he seized her large, shapely hand, firm and cold
as iron, and spoke rapidly.
Listen, Madame Patel, listen Olivieyou were like a daughter to
him, I know it, he told me. I was his adopted son. I tried to repay him
for his interest in a young, unknown poet and composerwell, I compose
a bit, you knowand I feel that I pleased him in my libretto of 'The
Iron Virgin.' You remember the summer I spent at Nuremberg digging up
the old legend, and the numberless times I visited the torture chamber
where stands the real Iron Virgin, her interior studded with horrid
spikes that cruelly stabbed the wretches consigned to her diabolical
embraces? You recall all this? he went on, his vivacity increasing.
Now on the night of the successful termination of our artistic
enterprise, the night when all Paris is ringing with the name of Patel,
with 'The Iron Virgin'he did not dare to add his own namelet me
tell you what you know already: I love you, Olivie. I have always loved
you and I offer you my love, knowing that our dear one She dragged
her hand from his too exultant grasp and sat down breathless on a low
couch. Her eye never left his and he wavered at the thought of
So this is the true reason for your friendship! she protested in
sorrowful accents. For this you cultivated the good graces of an
unsuspecting old man. Olivie! he exclaimed. For this, she sternly
pursued, you sought my company after his death. Oh, Chardon! Robert!
How could you be so soon unfaithful to the memory of a man who loved
you? He loved you, Robert, he made you! Without him what would you be?
What am I? She did not reply for she was gazing at the portrait over
the fireplace. A neglected genius, she mused. He was forced to
conduct operas to support his lifeand mine. Yet he composed a
masterpiece. He composed 'The Iron Virgin.' Could he have done it
without me? Madame Patel turned upon him: You ask such a question,
you? Chardon paced between table and piano. He stopped to look at
the Munch picture and bit his lips: The great, infinite cry of Nature!
Much Patel knew of music, of nature and her infinite cries. His
excitement increased with every step.
Olivie Patel, we must come to an understanding. You wonder at that
picture, wonder what dread thing is happening. Perhaps the eyes are
looking into this room, peering into our souls, into my soul which is
black with sin and music. Like some timid men aroused he had begun to
shout. The woman half rose in alarm but he waved her back. His
forehead, full of power, an obstinate forehead, wrinkled with pain; his
handsthe true index of the soulwere clasped, the fingers
interlocked, wiry fingers agile with pen and piano. Hear me out,
Olivie, he commanded. I've been too good a friend to dismiss because
I've offended your sense of proprietyshe made an indignant
gesturewell, your idea of fidelity. But there is the other side of
the slate: I've been a faithful slave, I've worked long years for my
reward; and disciple of Nietzsche as I am, I have never attempted to
assert my claims. Your claims! she uttered scornfully. Yes, my
claims, the claims of a man who sees his love sacrificed to miserable
deception. Sit still! You must hear all now. I loved poetry but I loved
you better. It was for that I endured everything. I spoke of my black
soulit is black, I've poisoned it with music, slowly poisoned it
until now it must be deadened. Like the opium eater I began with small
doses of innocent music: I absorbed Haydn, Mozart. When Mozart became
too mild I turned to Beethoven; from Beethoven to the mad stuff of
Schubert, Schumann, Chopinsick souls all of them. They sustained me
until even they failed to intoxicate. My nerves needed music that would
biteI found it in Liszt, Wagner and Tschaïkowsky; and like
absinthe-drinkers I was wretched without my daily draughts. You drink
absinthe also, do you not? she asked in her coldest manner. He did not
notice her. My soul gradually took on the color of the evil I sucked
from all this music. Why? I can't say; perhaps because a poet has
nothing in common with musicit usually kills the poetry in him. That
is why I wonder what music Edvard Munch hears when he paints such
pictures. It must be dire! Then Richard Strauss swept the torrid earth
and my thirsty soul slaked itself in his tumultuous seas. At last I
felt sure I had met my match. Your husband was like a child in my
hands. She listened eagerly. I did with him what I wishedbut to
please you I wrote 'The Iron Virgin.' ...
The book, she calmly corrected. As I wrote 'The Iron Virgin' I
thought of you: You were my iron virgin, you, the wife of Patel. Will
you hear the truth at last, the truth about a soul damned by music?
Patel knew it. He promised me on his death-bed Olivie pushed by him
and stood in the doorway. He only stared at her. You are an Oread, he
mumbled, you still pine for your lost Narcissus till nothing is left
of you but a voicea voice which echoes him, echoes Ambroise Patel.
She watched him until his color began to return. Robert, she said
almost kindly, Robert, the excitement of to-night has upset your
nerves. Drink some brandy, and sit down. He eyed her piteously, then
covered his face with nervous hands, his hair falling over them. She
felt surer of him. You called me an echo a moment ago, Robert, she
resumed, her voice deepening. I can never forget Patel. And it was
because of this and because of my last promise to him that your offer
shocked me; I ask your pardon for my rudeness. You have been so like a
brother for the past years that marriage seems sacrilegious. Come, let
us be friendswe have been trusty comrades. 'The Iron Virgin' is a
successYes, he whispered, the iron virgin is always a success.
and why should our friendship merely be an echo of the past? Come,
let us be more united than ever, Patel, you and I. Her smooth voice
became vibrant as she pointed triumphantly at the portrait. He followed
her with dull eyes from which all fire had fled.
The echo, he said, drinking a tumbler of brandy. The echo! I have
it now: they see the echo in that picture back of me. Munch is
the first man who painted tone; put on canvas that ape of music, of our
souls, the ape which mocks us, leaps out after our voice, is always
ready to follow us and show its leering shape when we pass under dark,
vaulted bridges or stand in the secret shadow of churches. The echo!
What is the echo, Olivie, you discoursed of so sweetly? It is the sound
of our souls escaping from some fissure of the brain. It has color, is
a living thing, the thin wraith that pursues man ever to his grave.
Patel was an echo. When his soul leans naked against the chill bar of
heaven and bears false witness, then his echo will tell the truth about
his musicthis damnable reverberating Doppelgänger which sneaks
into corners and lies in wait for our guilty gliding footsteps. She
began to retreat again; she feared him, feared the hypnotism of his sad
voice. Robert, I firmly believe that picture has bewitched youyou, a
believer in the brave philosophy of Nietzsche! He moved toward her.
Madame Patel, it is you who are the cruel follower of Nietzsche. So
was the original iron virgin; so is the new 'Iron Virgin' which I had
the honor to surround with You mean instrumentation, she faltered.
Ah! you acknowledge so much?
Patel told me.
He did not tell you enough.
Chardon laughed, shook her hand, put on his top-coat and descended
the steps that led into the garden.
Where are you going? she asked affrightedly, regret stirring
within her. To Nuremberg to see the real iron virgin, he answered
without sarcasm. They looked hard into each other's eyeshis were
glowing like restless red coalsand then he plunged down the path
leaving her strained and shaken to the very centre of her virginal
soul. Had he spoken the truth! Ambroise Patel, upon whose grave would
be strown flowers that belonged to the living! It was vile, the idea.
Robert! she cried.
A smoky, yellow morning mist hung over Auteuil. A long, slow rain
fell softly. Chardon pulled the chord at the gate of the Hameau
roughly summoning the concierge. He soon found himself under the
viaduct on the Boulevard Exelmans, where he walked until he reached
Point-du-Jour. There a few workingmen about to take the circular
railway to Batignolles regarded him cynically. He seemed like a man in
the depths of a crazy debauch. He blundered on toward the Seine. The
echo! god of thunders, the echo! he moaned as he heard his steps
resound in the hollow arches. Near the water's edge he found a café and
sat before a damp tin table. He pounded it with his walking stick. The
iron virgin, he roared; and laughed at the joke until the tears rolled
over his tremulous chin. Lifting his inflamed eyes to the dirty little
waiter he again brought his cane heavily upon the table. Garçon, he
clamored the iron virgin! The waiter brought absinthe; Chardon drank
five. Doggedly he began his long journey.
DUSK OF THE GODS
A MASQUE OF MUSIC
Stannum invited the pianist to his apartment several times, but
concert engagements intervened, and when Herr Bech actually appeared
his host did not attempt to conceal his pleasure. He admired the
playing of the distinguished virtuoso, and said so privately and in
print. Bech was a rare specimen of that rapidly disappearing orderthe
artist who knows all composers equally well. Not poetic, nor yet a
pedantic classicist, he played Bach and Brahms with intellectual
clearness and romantic fervor. All these things Stannum noted, and the
heart of him grew elate as Bech sat down to the big concert piano that
stood in the middle of his studio. It was a room of few lights and
lofty, soft shadows; and the air was as free from sound as a diving
bell. Stannum leaned back on his wicker couch smoking a cigar, while
the pianist made broad preludes in many keys....
The music, from misty weavings, tentative gropings in remote
tonalities, soon resolved itself into the fluid affirmations of Bach's
Chromatic Fantasia. Stannum noticed the burnished, argent surface of an
old-fashioned Egyptian mirror of solid tin hanging in front of him, and
saw in leaden shadows his features, dim and distorted. Being a man of
astrological lore he mused, and presently mumbled, Tin is the sign of
Jupiter in alchemy and stands for the god of Juno and Thunders, and
immediately begged Bech's pardon for having interrupted him. The
pianist made no sign, having reached the fugue following the prelude.
Stannum again speculated, his head supported by his hands. He stared
into the tinny surface, and it seemed to take on new echoes of light
and shade, following the chromatic changes of the music.... Presently
rose many-colored smoke, as if exhaled from the enchantments of some
oriental mage, and Stannum's eyes strove to penetrate the vaporous
thickness. He plunged his gaze into its tinted steamy volutes, and
struggled with it until it parted and fell away from him like the sound
of falling waters. He could not see the source of the great
roaringthe roaring of some cosmical cataract. He pushed boldly
through the dense thunder-world into the shadow land, still knew that
he lived. A few feet away was his chamber wherein Bech played Bach.
Faintly the air cleared, yet never stopped the terrifying hum that
attracted his attention. And now Stannum stood on the Cliff of the
World, saw and heard the travailing and groaning of light and sound in
the epochal and reverberating Void. A pedal bass, a diapasonic tone,
that came from the bowels of the firmament struck fear to his heart;
the tone was of such magnitude as might be overheard by the gods. No
mortal ear could have held it without cracking and dying. This gigantic
flood, this overwhelming and cataclysmic roar, filled every pore of
Stannum's body. It blew him as a blade of grass is blown in a boreal
blast; yet he sensed the pitch. Unorganized nature, the unrestrained
cry of the rocks and their buried secrets; crushed aspirations, and the
hidden worlds of plant, mineral, animal, and human, became vocal. It
was the voice of the monstrous abortions of nature, the groan of the
incomplete, experimental types, born for a day and shattered forever.
All God's mud made moan for recognition; and Stannum was sorrowful....
Light, its vibrations screeching into thin and acid flame-music,
transposed his soul. He saw the battle of the molecules, the
partitioning asunder of the elements; saw sound falling far behind its
lighter-winged, fleeter-footed brother; saw the inequality of this
race, swifter than the weaver's shuttle, and felt that he was present
at the very beginnings of Time and Space. Like unto some majestic comet
that in passing had blazed out Be not light; be sound! the fire-god
mounted to the blue basin of Heaven and left time behind, but not
space; for in space sound abides not and cycles may be cancelled in a
tone. Thus sound was born, and of it rhythm, the planets portioning it;
and from rhythm came music, primordial, mad, yet music, and Stannum
heard it as a single tone that never ceased, a tone that jarred the sun
with mighty concussions, ruled the moon, and made rise etheric waves
upon the rim of the interstellar milky way. Then quired the morning
stars, and at their concordance Stannum was affrighted....
His ear was become a monstrous labyrinth, a cortical lute of three
thousand strings, and upon it impacted the early music at the dawn of
things. In the planetary slime he heard the screaming struggles of
fishy beasts; in the tanglewood of hot, aspiring forests were muffled
roarings of gigantic mastodons, of tapirs that humped at the sky,
beetles big as camels, and crocodiles with wings. Wicked creatures
snarled crepitantly, and their crackling noises were echoed by lizard
and dragon, ululating snouted birds and hissing leagues of snaky
lengths. Stannum fled from these disturbing dreams seeking safety in
the mountains. The tone pursued him, but he felt that it had a less
bestial quality. Casting his eyes upon the vague plateau below he
witnessed two-legged creatures pursuing game with stone hatchets; while
in the tropical-colored tree-tops nudging apes eyed the contest with
malicious regard. The cry of the pursuers had a suggestive sound;
occasionally as one fell the shriek that reached Stannum plucked at his
heart, for it was a cry of human distress. He went down the mountain,
but lost his way, his only clue in the obscurity of the woods being the
And now he heard a strange noise, a noise of harsh stones bruised
together and punctuated with shouts and sobbings. There was rhythmic
rise and fall in the savage music, and soon he came upon a sudden
secret glade of burial. Male and female slowly postured before a fire,
scraping flints as they solemnly circled their dead one. Stannum,
fascinated at this revelation of primeval music, watched until the tone
penetrated his being and haled him to it, as is haled the ship to the
whirlpool. It was night. The strong fair sky of the south was sown with
dartings of silver and starry dust. He walked under the great wind-bowl
with its few balancing clouds and listened to the whirrings of the
infinite. A dreamer ever, he knew that he was near the core of
existence; and while light was more vibratile than sound, sound touched
Earth, embraced it and was content with its eld and homely face. Light,
a mischievous Loge: Sound, the All-Mother Erda. He walked on. His way
Reaching a mighty and fabulous plain, half buried in sand he came
upon a great Sphinx, looming in the starlight. He watched her face and
knew that the tone enveloped him no longer. Why it had ceased set him
to wondering not unmixed with fear. The dawn filtered over the head of
the Sphinx, and there were stirrings in the sky. From afar a fluttering
of thin tones sounded; as the sun shone rosy on the vast stone the tone
came back like a clear-colored wind from the sea. And in the
music-filled air he fell down and worshipped the Sphinx; for music is a
window that looks upon eternity....
Then followed a strange musical rout of the nations. Stannum saw
defile before him Silence, eldest of all things; Brahma's consort
Saraswati fingered her Vina; and following, Siva and his hideous mate
Devi, who is sometimes called Durga; and the brazen heavens turned to a
typhoon that showered appalling evils upon mankind. All the gods of
Egypt and Assyria, dog-faced, moon-breasted and menacing, passed,
playing upon dreams, making choric music black and fuliginous. The
sacred Ibis stalked to the silvery steps of the Houris; the Graces held
hands. Phoebus Apollo appeared; his face was as a silver shield, so
shining was it. He improvised upon a many-stringed lyre made of
tortoise shell, and his music was shimmering and symphonious. Hermes
and his Syrinx wooed the shy Euterpe; the maidens went in woven paces:
a medley of masques flamed by; and the great god Pan breathed into his
pipes. Stannum saw Bacchus pursued by the ravening Mænads; saw Lamia
and her ophidian flute; and sorrowfully sped Orpheus searching for his
Eurydice. Neptune blew his wreathéd horn, the Tritons gambolled in the
waves, Cybele clanged her cymbals; and with his music Amphion summoned
rocks to Thebes. Jephtha's daughter danced to her death before the Ark
of the Covenant, praising the Lord God of Israel. Behind her leered
unabashed the rhythmic Herodias; while were heard the praiseful songs
of Deborah and Barak, as Cæcilia smote her keys. Miriam with her
timbrel sang songs of triumph. Abyssinian girls swayed alluringly
before the Persian Satrap in his purple litter; the air was filled with
the crisp tinklings of tiny bells at wrist and anklet as the Kabaros
drummed; and hard by, in the brake, brown nymphs, their little breasts
pointing to the zenith, moved in languorous rhythms, droning hoarse
sacrificial chaunts. The colossus Memnon hymned; priests of Baal
screamed as they lacerated themselves with knives; Druid priestesses
crooned sybillic incantations. And over this pageant of woman and music
the proud sun of old Egypt scattered splendid burning rays....
From distant strands and hillsides came the noise of strange and
unholy instruments with sweet-sounding and clashing names. Nofres from
the Nile, Ravanastrons of Ceylon, Javanese gongs, Pavilions from China,
Tambourahs, Sackbuts, Shawms, Psalteríes, Dulcimers, Salpinxes, Keras,
Timbrels, Sistras, Crotalas, double flutes, twenty-two stringed harps,
Kerrenas, the Indian flute called Yo and the quaint Yamato-Koto. Then
followed the Biwa, the Gekkin and its cousin the Genkwan; the Ku, named
after the hideous god; the Shunga and its cluttering strings; the
Samasien, the Kokyu, the Yamato Fuyewhich breathed moon-eyed
melodiesthe Hichi-Riki and the Shaku-Hachi. The Sho was mouthed by
slant-haired yellow boys; while the sharp roll of drums covered with
goat-skins never ceased. From this bedlam there occasionally emerged a
splinter of tune, like a plank thrown up by the sea. Stannum could
discern no melody, though he grasped its beginnings; double flutes gave
him the modes, Dorian, Phrygian, Æolian, Lydian and Ionian; after
Sappho and her Mixolydian mode, he longed for a modern accord....
The choir went whirling by with Citharas, Rebecs, Citoles, Domras,
Goules, Serpents, Crwths, Pentachords, Rebabs, Pantalons, Conches,
Flageolets made of Pelicon bones, Tam-Tams, Carillons, Xylophones,
Crescents of beating bells, Mandoras, Whistling Vases of Clay,
Zampognas, Zithers, Bugles, Octochords, Naccaras or Turkish castanets
and Quinternas. He heard blare the two hundred thousand curved trumpets
which Solomon had made for his temple, and the forty thousand which
accompanied the Psalms of David. Jubal played his Magrepha; Pythagoras
came with his Monochord; Plato listened to the music of the spheres;
the priests of Joshua blew seven times upon their Shofars or
Rams-Horns. And the walls of Jericho fell.
To this came a challenging blast from the terrible horn of
Rolandhe of Roncesvalles. The air had the resonance of hell, as the
Guatemalan Indians worshipped their black Christ upon the plaza; and
naked Istar, Daughter of Sin, stood shivering before the Seventh Gate.
Then a great silence fell upon Stannum. He saw a green star drop over
Judea, and thought music itself slain. The pilgrims with their
Jews-harps dispersed into sorrowful groups; blackness usurped the
sonorous sun: there was no music upon all the earth and this tonal
eclipse lasted long. Stannum heard in his magic mirror the submerged
music of Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin Deprès and Orlando di Lasso, Goudimel
and Luther; the cathedral tones of Palestrina; the frozen sweetness of
Arezzo, Frescobaldi, Monteverde, Carissimi, Tartini, Corelli,
Scarlatti, Jomelli, Pergolas, Lulli, Rameau, Couperin, Buxtehude,
Sweelinck, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell, Bach: with their Lutes, Monochords,
Virginals, Harpsichords, Clavicytheriums, Clavichords, Cembalos,
Spinets, Theorbos, Organs and Pianofortes and accompanying them was an
army, vast and formidable, of all the immemorial virtuosi, singers,
castrati, the night moths and midgets of music. Like wraiths they waved
desperate ineffectual hands and made sad mimickings of their dead and
dusty triumphs.... Stannum again heard the Bach Chromatic Fantasia
which seemed old yet very new. In its weaving sonant patterns were the
detonations of the primeval world he had left; and something strangely
disquieting and feminine. But the man in Bach predominates, subtle,
magnetic and nervous as he is.
A mincing, courtly old woman bows low. It is Haydn, and there is
sprightly malice in his music. The glorious periwigged giant of Halle
conducts a chorus of millions; Handel's hailstones rattle upon the pate
of the Sphinx. A man! cries Stannum, as the heavens storm out their
cadenced hallelujahs. The divine youth approaches. His mien is
excellent and his voice of rare sweetness. His band discourses
ravishing music. The tone is there, feminized and graceful; troupes of
stage players in paint and furbelows give startling pictures of rakes
and fantastics. An orchestra mimes as Mozart disappears....
Behold, the great one approaches and the earth trembles at his
treadBeethoven, the sublime, the conqueror, the demi-god! All that
has gone before, all that is to be, is globed in his symphonies, is
divined by the seer: a man, the first since Handel. And the eagles
triumphantly jostle the scarred face of the Sphinx.... Then appear Von
Weber and Meyerbeer, player folk; Schubert, a pan-pipe through which
the wind discourses exquisite melodies; Gluck, whose lyre is stringed
Greek fashion, but bedecked with Paris gauds and ribbons; Mendelssohn,
a charming girlish echo, Hebraic of profile; Schumann and Chopin,
romantic wrestlers with muted dreams, strugglers against ineffable
madness and stricken sore at the end; Berlioz, a primitive Roc, half
monster, half human, a Minotaur who dragged to his Crete all the music
of the masters; and then comes the Turk of the keyboard, Franz Liszt,
with cymbalom, [vc]zardas and crazy Kalamaïkas. But now Stannum notices
a shriller accent, the accent of a sun that has lost its sex and is
stricken with soft moon-sickness. A Hybrid appears, followed by a vast
cohort of players. The orchestra begins playing, and straightway the
Stannum saw what man had never seen beforethe tone-color of each
instrument. Some malign enchanter had seduced and diverted from its
natural uses the noble instrumental army. He saw strings of rainbow
hues, red trumpets, blue flutes, green oboes, garnet clarinets, golden
yellow horns, dark-brown bassoons, scarlet trombones, carmilion
ophecleides while the drums punctured space with ebon holes. That the
triangle had always been silver he never questioned; but this new
chromatic blaze, this new tinting of toneswhat did it portend? Was it
a symbol of the further degradation and effeminization of music? Was
art a woman's sigh? A new, selfish goddess was about to be placed upon
high and worshippedsoon the rustling of silk would betray her sex.
Released from the wise bonds imposed upon her by Mother Church, music
is a novel parasite of the emotions, a modern Circe whose feet take
hold on hell, whose wand transforms men into listening swine. Gigantic
as antediluvian ferns, as evil-smelling and as dangerous, music in the
hands of this magician is dowered with ambiguous attitudes, with
anonymous gestures, is color become sound, sensuality in the mask of
Beauty. This Klingsor tears down, evirates, effeminates and
disintegrates. He is the great denier of all things natural, and his
revengeful, theatric music is in the guise of a woman. The art nears
its end; its spiritual suicide is at hand. Stannum lifted his gaze.
Surely he recognized that little dominating figure directing the
orchestra. Was it the tragic-comedian Richard Wagner? Were those his
ardent, mocking eyes fading in the mist? A fat cowled monk marches
stealthily after Wagner. He shades his eyes from the fierce rays of the
noonday sun; more grateful to him are moon-rays and the reflected light
of lonely pools. He is the Arch-Hypocrite of Tone who speaks in divers
tongues. It is Johannes Brahms, and he wears the mask of a musical
masker.... Then swirled near a band of gypsies and moors, with guitars,
tambourines, mandolins and castanets, led by Bizet; Africa seemed
familiar land. Gounod and his simpering Faust went on tiptoe; a horde
of Calmucks and Cossacks stampeded them, Tschaïkowsky and
Rimski-Korsakoff at their head. These yelled and played upon resounding
Svirelis, Balalaïkas, and Kobzas dancing the Ziganka all the while; and
as a still more horrible uproar fell upon Stannum's ears, he was aware
of a change in the face of the Sphinx: streaked with gray, it seemed to
be crumbling. As the clatter increased Stannum diverted his regard from
the great stone and beheld an orgiastic mob of men and women howling
and playing upon instruments of fulgurating colors and vile shapes.
Their skins were of white, their hair yellow, and their eyes of
victorious blue. Nietzsche's Great Blond Barbarians, the Apes of
Wagner! exclaimed Stannum, and he felt the earth falling away from
him. The naked music, pulsatile and drowsy, turned hysterical as
Zarathustra-Strauss waved on his Übermensch with an iron hammer and in
frenzied, philosophic motions. Music was become vertiginous; a mad
vortex, wherein whirled mad atoms, madly embracing. Dancing, the
dissonant corybantes of the Dionysian evangel flitted by, scarce
touching earth in their efforts to outvie the Bacchantes. With peals of
thunderous and ironical laughter the Sphinx sank into the murmuring
sand, yawning, Music is Woman. ...
And then the tone grew higher and ultra-violet; the air darkened
with vapors; the shrillness was so exceeding that it modulated into
Hertzian waves and merged into light; this vibratile, argent light
pierced Stannum's eyes. He found himself staring into the Egyptian
mirror while about him beat the torrential harmonies of Richard
Strauss.... Herr Bech had just finished his playing, and, as he struck
the last chord of Death and Transfiguration, acidly remarked:
Tin must be a great hypnotizer, lieber Stannum!
In alchemy, my dear Bech, tin is the sign of Jove, and Jove, you
know, hath power to evoke apocalyptic visions!
Both you and your Jove are fakirs! The pianist then went away in a
rage because Stannum had slept while he played.
But, as you will! we'll sit contentedly,
And eat our pot of honey on the grave.
It was finally arranged that the two women should not be present
together at the funeral. The strain might prove too great; and as
Marsoc wiped his forehead he congratulated himself that for the present
at least a horrid scandal might be averted. He had pleaded in a most
forceful manner with Selene, his sister, and it seemed to him that his
arguments had taken root. Ever since Brazier's death there had been
much talking, much visitingand now he felt it soon would end. Oh, for
the relief of a quiet house; for the relief that must follow when the
newspaper men would stop haunting the neighborhood. The past two days
had well-nigh worn him out, and yet he hated leaving Selene to face her
troubles alone. Marsoc believed in blood and all its entailed
The pitiless comment of the press he had hidden from his sister, but
the visit of the other woman was simply unavoidable. There were certain
rights not to be ignored, and the perfidy of the dead man placed beyond
Marsoc's power all hopes of reprisal. Brazier had acted badly, but
then, too, he had been forced by a fatal temperament into a false
positiona position from which only sudden death could rout him; and
death had not turned a deaf ear to his appeal. It came with implacable
swiftness and with one easy blow created two mourning women, a world of
surmise and much genuine indignation.
Selene sent for her brother. He went to her chamber in rather a
doubting mood. If there was to be any more backing and filling, any new
programme, then he must be counted out. He had accepted his share of
the trouble that had thrust itself into their life, and could endure no
more. On this point he solemnly assured himself as he knocked at
Selene's door. To his quick gaze she did not appear to be downcast as
on the night before.
I sent for you, my dear Val, she said in rather acid tones,
because I wanted to reassure you about to-morrow morning. I have
considered the matter a hundred times and have made up my mind that I
shall not allow Bellona Brydges to sit alone at the head of his
But you said interrupted her brother.
I know I said lots of things, but please remember that Sig Brazier
was my husband, quite as much, if not more than Belle's, that he
committedthat he died under our roof, and simply because the divorce
laws of this country are idiotic is no reason why I should abdicate my
rights as a wifeat least his last wife. If Belle attempts her grand
airs or begins to lord it over me I'll make a scene
Marsoc groaned. He knew that his sister was capable of making, not
one, but half a dozen scenes with a well defined tragic crescendo at
the close of each. The situation was fast becoming unbearable. With a
gesture of despair he turned to leave the room but Selene detained him.
You poor fellow, how you do worry! But it is all your fault. You
introduced Sig here
How the deuce did I know that he had a wife up in the hills
somewhere? cried Marsoc.
Very true; but you knew of his habits, his sister rejoined gently.
You knew what a boastful, vain, hard-drinking, immoral man he was, and
at least you might have warned me.
What good would that have done? asked her brother, in heated
accents.... He was tall, very blond and his eyes were hopelessly blue.
Brother and sister they werethat a dog might have discoveredbut
there was more reserve, chilliness of manner, coldness in the woman.
She could never give herself to any one or anything with the same vigor
as Val. She lacked enthusiasms and had a doubtful temper. Even now, as
they faced each other, she forced him to drop his eyes; then the
If it's Belle, send her up at once. Run, Val, and see. Selene
almost pushed her brother down the short flight that led to the landing
on the second floor. The house was old-fashioned, the drawing-room
upstairs. Val went down grumbling and wondering what sort of a girl was
his sister. He almost ran into a woman dressed in deep mourning.
Why, Bellewhy, Mrs. Brazier, is that you? he exclaimed, and then
felt like biting his tongue.
Bellona Brydges was as big as Brünnhilde and dark as Carmen. Her
tread was majestic and her black eyes, aquiline nose and firm,
large-lipped mouth, gave an expression of power to her countenance. Her
bearing was one of command, her voice as rich as an English horn, and
her manner forthright.
Never mind the Brazier part of it, Val, she replied, in an
off-hand, unembarrassed tone. I want to see Selene and have this
dreadful business over before the funeral. Where is she?
Val motioned upstairs and the clear voice of his sister was heard:
Is that you, Belle? Come up right away....
Both women were dry-eyed as they embraced. Belle showed signs of
fatigue, so Selene made her comfortable on the divan.
Shall I ring for tea, Belle? The other nodded. Then she burst
forth: And to think, Selene, to think that we should be the unlucky
victims. To think that my dearest friend should be the wife of my
husband. She began to laugh. Selene would not smile. The tea was
brought by a man-servant, who did not lift his eyes, but the corners of
his mouth twitched when he turned his back. Belle sipping the hot,
comforting drink looked about her curiously. The apartment reflected
unity of taste. It was rather low, and long, the ceiling panelled and
covered with dull gilt arabesques. The walls were hung with soft
material upon which were embroidered fugitive figures heavily powdered
with gold dust. One wide window with a low sill covered the end of this
room, and over the fireplace was swung a single painting, The Rape of
the Rhinegold, by a German master. The grand piano loaded with music
occupied the lower part of the room and there were plenty of books in
the cases. Belle reflected that Sig's taste was artistic and sighed at
the recollection of herof theirbig, bare, uncanny house on the
hill. Selene began:
Belle, dear, I'm glad to see you, sorry to see you. The odious
newspapers were the cause of your discovering the crimedon't stop
methe crime of that wretch downstairs Belle started. I sha'n't
mince words with you. Sig was a scamp, a gifted rascal; his singing and
artistic love-making the cause of many a woman's downfall.
Oh, then there are some more? asked Belle, in a most interested
Yes, there are many more; but my dear girl, we mustn't become
morbid and discuss the matter. I'm afraid what we are doing now is in
rather bad taste, but I'm too fond of you, too fond of the girl I went
to school with to quarrel because a bad man deceived us. I've been
laying down the law to Val, Belle; we must not be present at the
funeral. We've got to bury our headstrong husband and we both can see
the last of him from the closed windows, but neither of us must be
present. Now, don't shake your head! In this matter I'm determined;
besides what would the newspapers say? One miserable sheet actually
compared us to Brünnhilde and Gutrune becauseoh, you know why!
When Sig left the opera-house, continued Belle, in a calm voice,
he always took a special train home and I suppose the railroad men
gave the story to the reporters.
Not always; excuse me, Belle, contradicted Selene, in her coldest
manner; the last time Sig sang 'Götterdämmerung' he returned here.
Belle stood up and waved her teaspoon.
Now, don't be ridiculous, Selene; this was not as much his home as
ours in the mountains, and
There is no necessity of becoming excited, Belle; he told me of his
affair with you. Selene's blue eyes were opened very wide. The other
woman began to blaze.
Affair? Why, foolish child, I am his first wife Common-law
wife, interjected Selene. His first, his legal wife, and I mean to
test it in the courts. His property You mean his debts, Belle,
interrupted Selene, contemptuously. Sig owes even for his Siegfried
helmet. He gambled his money away. He played poker-dice when he wasn't
singing Wagner, and flirted when he wasn't drunk.
Belle sat down and laughed again, and this time Selene joined in.
Tell me, dear, how and when he persuaded you, inquired Belle.
Selene grew snappish. Oh, you read the papers. We were married last
month with Val as witness; then some fool got hold of the story; it was
printed. Sig came home after the opera and told me that he was ruined
because he had expected a fortune from Mrs. Madisonyou know the old
bleached blonde who sits in the first tier box at the operaand, of
course, I smelt another affair. I scolded him and sent for Val. Well,
Val was a perfect fool on the subject of Sig, and when he heard of the
gambling debts he said a lawyer might straighten the affair out. That
night Sig began drinking absinthe and brandy, and in the morning James,
the butler, found him dead. If the papers hadn't got hold of your
story, the thing could have been nicely settled. As it is we are simply
ridiculous, and the worst of all is that the management and the
stockholders insist on a public funeral and speeches; Sig was such a
favorite. Think! he was the first great American Wagner singer; and so
here are we, a pair of fools in love with the same manExcuse me,
Selene, I never loved him. He forced me to marry him. And my own
brother, Belle, with his nonsensical Wagner worship, drove me to marry
a man I had only met twice. Selene sighed.
We were fools, they said in chorus, as Val entered, his eyes red
from weeping. You silly, silly boy, Sig never cared a rap for any one
on earth but himself. Look at us and follow our example in grieving,
and the widows laughed almost hysterically....
As early as seven o'clock there was a small crowd in front of the
Marsoc residence, from which was to be buried the famous tenor,
Siegfried Brazier. His death, his many romances, his marriages, his
debts and his stalwart personality canalized public curiosity, and
after the doors had been thrown open a constantly growing stream of
men, women, children, and again women, women, women, flowed into the
house through the hall, into the big reception-room, past the modest
coffin with its twin bouquets of violets, out of the side door and into
the street again. The fact that at midday there were to be imposing
public obsequies, did not check the desire of the morbid-minded to view
the corpse in a more intimate fashion. No members of the family were
downstairs; but over the broad balustrade hung two veiled women, their
eyes burning with curiosity. As the tide of humanity swept by Belle
felt her arm pinched:
There, there! the old woman in a crape veil. That's mother Madison.
She'll have to alter her will now. Perhaps she's done it already. She
was in love with Sig. Yes, that old thing. Selene gave a husky titter.
And she's sneaking in to see the poor boy and thinks no one will
recognize her. I'd like to call out her name. Belle clapped her hand
over Selene's mouth.
Look, now, said the latter, releasing herself; look at those
chorus girls. What cheek! All with violets, because it was his
favorite flower. What a man; what a man! ...
Belle's companion leaned heavily on her, and Val came up and
persuaded his sister to go to the front room. His eyes were hollow and
his voice broke as he whispered to Belle that they might be seen.
Besides, it was nearly timehe went downstairs....
From the latticed window the two women watched. First, the police
cleared the way; the ragamuffins were driven into the street. Then the
fat undertaker appeared with Val and stood on the curb as the coffin,
an oak affair with silver handles and plate, was carried to the hearse.
Val and the undertaker got into a solitary carriage, and amidst much
gabbling and wondering gossip were driven off. It was a plain, very
plain, funeral, every one said, and without a note of music. As the
crowd dribbled away, Selene recognized two of the prima donnas and the
first contralto of the opera, and she nudged Belle in a sardonic
More of them, Belle, more of them. We ought to feel flattered,
then both women burst into hysterical sobbing and embraced desperately.
They read in each other's eyes a mutual desire.
Shall we risk it? whispered Belle. Selene was already putting on
her heavy mourning veil. Belle at once began to dress, and James was
despatched for a carriage. The street was clear when the widows went
forth, and in half an hour they reached the opera-house. Here they were
delayed. A mounted policeman tried to turn their hansom away.
Selene beckoned to him and explained:
I am Mrs. Brazier, and the officer bowed. They were driven to a
side entrance, and the assistant-manager took the pair to his box.
There they sat and trembled behind their long crape veils....
Some one on the stage was speaking of music, the Heavenly Maid,
and the women dissolved in tears at the glowing eulogies upon their
husband. The huge auditorium was draped entirely in black. In it was
thronged a sombre-coated mass of men and the women known in the
fashionable and artistic world. The stage was filled with musicians,
and in its centre, banked by violets, violets only, was the catafalque.
The numerous candles and flowers made the air dull and perfumed; the
large chandeliers burned dimly, and when the Pilgrims' Chorus began,
Belle felt that she was ready to swoon.
The stage-setting was the last scene of Götterdämmerung", and the
chorus was in costume. A celebrated orator had finished; the chorus
welled up solemnly, and Selene said again and again:
Oh, Sig! Sig! what a funeral, what a funeral for such a man! It's
just the kind he would have liked, remonstrated Belle, in a barely
audible voice, and Selene shivered. When the music ceased a soprano
sang the Immolation music and there was weeping heard in the body of
the house. The ushers with difficulty kept the aisles clear, and the
lobbies were packed with perspiring persons. Wherever Selene peeped she
saw faces, and they all wore an expression of grief. Nearly all the
women carried handkerchiefs to their eyes, and many of the men seemed
shamefaced at the tears they could not keep back. In one of the front
stalls a solitary figure knelt, face buried in hands.
There's Val, Belle. There, near the stage, to the left. I do
believe he's praying. And for what? For a man who had no brains, no
heart; a reckless, handsome man, who was simply a voice, a sweet, lying
For shame, Selene, for shame! He was yourhe was our husband.
Belle's lips were white and trembling as she murmured, May God rest
his poor soul. He was a sweet boy, poor Sig, may God rest his soul. Oh,
how I wish he were alive! Selene looked disdainful, and her eyes grew
I don't, she said, so loudly that a man in the next box leaned
over, and then as Siegfried's Trauermarsch sounded, the coffin was
carried in pompous procession from the building. There was a brief
conflict between the ushers and a lot of women over the flowers on the
stage, and every one, babbling and relieved, went out into the
daylight.... The widows waited until the police had emptied the house,
then sent for their carriage. They lunched at home and later, after
many exchanges of affection, Belle drove away to catch the evening
train. Selene watched her from the window.
I do believe she loved him after all! I wish she'd set her cap now
for Val. Pooh! what a soft fool she is. Sig was my legal
husband, and I alone can bear his name, for she has no certificate.
What an interesting name, Mrs. Siegfried Brazier, widow of the famous
Wagnerian tenor. Is that you, Val? Val came in, dusty and exhausted.
Did you go to the cemetery? Yes. Was any one there? Only one
old woman. Mrs. Madison! cried Selene, in rasping, triumphant tones.
No, wearily answered the man, lying....
In his hand Frank Etharedge held a cablegram. The emotion of the
moment was one of triumph mixed with curiosity; his sensitive face a
keyboard over which his feelings swept the octave. He was alone in his
office, and from the windows on the top floor of this giant building he
saw the harbor, saw the river maculated with craft; saw the bay, the
big Statuebest of all saw steamships. This caught his fancies into
one chord and the keynote sounded: Yes, life was a good thing
sometimes. A few months more, in the spring, he would be sailing on
just such an iron carrier of joy, sailing to Paris, to Edna. He looked
at the pink message again. It announced in disconnected words that Mrs.
Etharedge had been bidden to the Paris Grand Opéra. The cable was ten
days old, and on each of these days the lawyer had gone to his private
consulting room immediately after luncheon, and, facing seaward, read
the precious revelation: Engaged by Gailhard for Opéra. Will write.
Edna. That was allbut it was the top of the hill for both after
three years of separation and work. He was not an expansive man and
said little to his associates of this good fortune, though there were
times when he felt as if he would like to throw open the windows and
shout the glorious news across the chimneys of the world.
Etharedge was a slim, nervous man with dark eyes and pointed beard.
He believed in his wife. Europe, artistic Europe, had for him the
fascination which sends fanatics across hot sands to Mecca shrines. He
had never seen Paris but knew its people, palaces, galleries. His whole
life was a preparation for deliberate assault upon the City by the
Seine. He spoke American-French, ate at French-American table d'hôtes,
and had been married four years to a girl of Gallic descent whose
singing held such promise of future brilliancy that finally their
household was disrupted by music and its fluent deceptions. The advice
of friends, the unfortunate praise of a few professional critics, and
Edna Etharedge accompanied by her cousin, a widow, sailed for Paris.
Each summer he made up his mind to join her; once the death of his
mother had stopped him, and a second time money matters held him in a
vise of steel, but the third seasonhe did not care to dwell upon that
last summer: his conscience was ill at ease. And Edna worked like the
galley slave into which operatic routine transforms the most buoyant
spirit. For the first two years her letters were as regular as the mail
serviceand hopeful. She was getting on famously. Her cousin
corroborated the accounts of plain living and high singing. There were
no vacations in the simple pension on the Boulevard de Clichy. She had
the best master in Paris, the best répétiteur; and the instructor who
came to coach her in stage business declared that madame held the
future in the hollow of her pretty palm. But the third year letters
began to miss. Edna wrote irregularly in pessimistic phrases. Art was
so long and life so gray that she felt, thus she assured her husband,
as if she must give up everything and return to him. Did he miss her?
Why was he coolabove all, patient? Didn't he long for wings to fly
across the Atlantic? Then a silence of three weeks. Etharedge grew
frantic. He neglected business, spent much money in telegraph tolls,
and was at last relieved by a letter from Emmeline relating Edna's
severe illness, her close sailing to the perilous gate, and her slow
recovery. He was told not to come over as they were on the point of
starting for Switzerland where the invalid had been ordered. Frank felt
happy for the first time since his wife had gone away. After that,
letters began againold currents ran smooth and the climax came with
the wonderful news.
He would go to Parisgo in a few months, go without writing. Then,
gaining the beautiful city, he would read the announcements of Edna's
singing. With what selfish, subtle joy would he buy a box and listen to
the voice of his beautiful wife, watch the lithe figure, hear the
applause after her aria! He had sworn this was to reward his long
months of loneliness, of syncopated hopes, of tiresome labor; his
profession had become unleavened drudgery. Perhaps Edna would make him
her business man, her constant companion. Ah! what enchantment to stand
in the coulisses and hold her wraps while she floated near the
footlights on the pinions of song. He would give up his distasteful
practice and devote the remainder of his life to the service of a great
artist, hear all the music he longed for, see the Paris of his dreams.
The door opened. Plunged in reverie he felt that this was but an
extension of his vision. Edna! he cried and flung wide his arms.
Frank, you dear old boy, how thin you've grown! Heavens! You're not
sick? Wait, wait until I raise the window. She pushed up the sash
noisily and Frank felt the brisk air on his temples. He smiled though
his heart nipped sadly. It was Edna, Edna his wife in the flesh; and
the excitement of holding her in his willing arms drove from his brain
the vapors of idle hope. She was looking down at him a strong, handsome
girl with eyes too bright and hair too golden. Edna, he cried, your
hair, what have you done to your lovely black hair? There's a salute
from a loving husband. No surprise, though I've dropped from the
clouds. But my hair is quizzed. Now, what do you mean, Frank
Etharedge? Both were agitated, both endeavored to dissemble. Then his
eyes fell on the cablegram. He started.
In the name of God, Edna, is anything the matter? This cable! Why
are you here? Are you in trouble? The dark shadows under her eyes
lightened at the commonplace questions. She had time to tune her
Frank, don't ask too much at once. I'm here because I am. We have
just landed. I left Emmeline on the pier with the custom officers and
came to you immediately. Say you're glad to see memy old Frank!
But, but he stammered.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. I was engaged for the Paris
Opéra Was? he blankly ejaculatedand I couldn't stand it.
Locatéli Who? Locatéli. You remember him, Frank, my old teacher?
He got me into the Opéra and he got me out of it. Do you mean that
low-lived scamp who gave you lessons here, the man I kicked out of
doors? She flushed. Etharedge stared at her. He was near despair. His
dream of an artistic life on the Continent was as a bubble burst in the
midday sunlight. He loved his wife, but the shock of her unheralded
arrival, the hasty ill-news, proved too much for this patient man's
nerves. So he transposed his wrath to Locatéli.
Well, I'm damned! he blurted, kicking aside the chair and walking
the floor like a caged cat. And to think that scoundrel of an
Italian Frenchman, Frank, she interposedthat foreigner, who
ought to have been shot for insulting you, that Locatéli, followed you
to Paris and mixed up in your affairs! And you say he had you pushed
out of the Opéra? The intriguing villain! How did you come to see him?
He gave me lessons in Paris. Locatéli gave youLord! The man
was speechless. He put his hand to his forehead several times, and then
gazed at his wife's hair. She fell to sobbing. Frank, she wailed,
Frank! I've come back to you because I couldn't stand it any
longerit was killing me. Can't you see it? Can't you believe me? No
woman, no American girl can go through that life and come out of
ithappy. It made me sick, Frank, but I did not like to tell you. And
now, after I've thrown up a career simply because I can't be your wife
and a great artist at the same time, your suspicions are driving me
mad. Her tone was poignant. He looked out on the harbor as another
steamer passed the Statue bound for Europe.
Ask Emmeline! She, too, followed the vessel with hopeless
expression and clasped his shoulder. Oh! Sweetheart, aren't you glad
to have me back again? It's Edna, your wife! I've been through lots for
the sake of music. Now I want my husbandI'm not happy away from him.
He suddenly embraced her. Forgotten the disappointment, forgotten the
fast vanishing hope of a luxurious life, of seeing his dreamParis;
forgotten all in the fierce joy of having Edna with him forever. Again
he experienced a thrill that must be happiness: as if his being were
dissolving into a magnetic slumber. He searched her eyes. She bore it
Are you my same little Edna? Oh, my husband! There was a knock
at the door; an office boy entered and gave Etharedge a letter which
bore a foreign stamp. She put out her hand greedily. It will keep
until after dinner, Edna. We'll go to some café, drink a bottle of
champagne and celebrate. You must tell me your storyperhaps we may be
able to go to Paris, after all. To Paris! Edna shivered and
importuned for the letter until he showed it. Why, it's mine! she
exclaimed. It's the letter I wrote you before we sailed. You said
nothing about it when you came in? He put it in his pocket and looked
for his hat. She was the color of clay. It is my letter. Let me have
it, she begged. Why, dear, what's the matter? I'll give it to you
after I have read it. Why this excitement? Besides, the address is not
in your handwriting. He trembled. Emmeline wrote it for me; I was too
busyor sickor Hang the letter, my dear girl. I hear the
elevator. Let's run and catch it. This is the happiest hour of my life.
An 'intermezzo' you musicians call it, don't you? Yes, she
desperately whispered following him into the hall, an intermezzo of
Suddenly with a grin the man turned and handed her the letter:
Here! I'd better not juggle with the future. You can tell me all about
And now for the first time Edna hated him.
A SPINNER OF SILENCE
She was only a woman famish'd for loving.
Mad with devotion and such slight things.
And he was a very great musician
And used to finger his fiddle strings.
Her heart's sweet gamut is cracking and breaking
For a look, for a touchfor such slight things
But he's such a very great musician
Grimacing and fing'ring his fiddle strings.
In his study Belus sat before a piano, his slender troubled fingers
seeking to follow the quick drift of his mind. He played Liszt's
Waldesrauschen, but murmured, She is the first to doubt me. He
laughed, and shifted by an almost unconscious cut to the F minor
Nocturne of Chopin. With the upward curve of his thoughts the music
grew more joyous; then came bits of a Schubert impromptu, boiling
scales and flashes of clear sky. The window he faced looked out upon
the park. Beyond the copper gleam from the great, erect synagogue was
the placid toy lake with its rim of moving children; the trees swept
smoothly in a huge semi-circle, and at their verge was the driveway.
The glow of the afternoon, the purity of the air, and the glancing
metal on the rolling carriages made a gay picture for the artist. But
he was not long at ease, though his eyes rested gratefully upon the
green foliage. The interrogative note in the music betrayed inquietude,
even mental turbulence.
A certain firmness of features, long, narrow eyes set under a square
forehead, heavily accented cheek-bones, almost Calmuck in width, a
straight feminine nose, beckoning black hairthese, and a distinction
of bearing made Belus the eighth wonder of his day. That is what the
hypnotized ones averred. Master of a complex art, his nature complex,
the synthesis was irresistible. His expression was complicated; he had
not a frank gaze, nor did he meet his friends without a nameless
reticence. This veiled manner made him difficult to decipher. Upon the
stage Belus was like a desert cat, a gliding movement almost
incorporeal, a glance of feline intensity, and thenthe puissant
attack upon the keyboard. As in sullen dreams one struggles to throw
off the spell of hypnotic suggestion, so there were many who mutely
fought his power, questioning with rebellious soul his right to
conquer. But conquer he didso all the conservatory pupils said. A
steady stream of victorious tone came from under his supple fingers,
and his instrument of shallow thunders and tinkling wires sang as if an
archangel had smote it, celestially sang. Belus was the Raphael of the
piano, and master of the emotional world. His planetary music gathered
about him women, the ailing, the sorrowful, the mad, and there were
days when these Mænads could have slain him in their excess of nervous
fury, as was slain Bacchus of old. Thus wrote some enthusiastic critics
of the impressionist school.
Zora came in. She was brune and broad, her eyes of changeful color,
and her temper wifely. Belus flashed his fingers in the air, and she
bowed her head. His own language was Hungarian, that tongue of tender
and royal assonances, but Zora had never heard it. She was quite deaf;
and so, barred from the splendors of this magician's inner court, she
ever watched his face with a curiosity that honeycombed her very life.
The man's love of paradox had piqued him to select this deaf woman;
he confessed to his intimate friends that the ideal companion for a
musician was one who could never hear him practise his piano. She
rapidly made a request in her little voice, the faded voice of the
deaf: Can't I go to the concert with you? Oh, do not put me off. I am
crazy to see you play, to see the public. He drew back at once. If
you go you will make me nervousand the recital is sold out, he
signalled. She regarded him steadily. Your art usually ends in the
box-office. They drank their coffee sadly. Leaving her with a pad upon
which he had scribbled Patience, Fatima, wife of Bluebeard! Belus
went to his concert, she to her hushed dreams....
Zora drowsed on the balcony. The park was a great, shapeless, soft
flowing river of trees over which the tall stars hung, while the
creeping plumes of rhythmic steam, and the earthly echoes of light from
the flat-faced hotels on the west side set her wondering if any one
really stayed at home when Belus played Chopin. No one but herself, she
bitterly thought. Her mood turned jealous. His magnetism, her husband's
magnetism, that vast reservoir upon which floated the souls of many,
like tiny lamps set adrift upon the bosom of the Ganges by pious
Mohammedan widows, must it ever be free to all but herself? Must she,
who worshipped at his secret shrine, share her adoration, her idol,
with the first sentimental school girl? It was revolting. She would
bear with it no longer. The ride through the park cooled her blood and
eased her headache. Just to be nearer to him; that might set her
throbbing nerves at rest. As if she had been cut off from the big
central current of life, so this woman suffered during the absence of
her husband. In trance-like condition she stepped out of the carriage,
and slowly walked down Seventh avenue. When Fifty-sixth Street was
reached, she turned eastward and went up the few steps that led into
the artists' room.
A man half staggered by her at the dimly lighted door, but steadied
himself when he saw her.
I am Madame Belus, she said in her pretty English streaked with
soft Magyar cadences. He stared at her, and she thought him crazy. All
right, ma'am, he said after a pause. His speech was thick, yet he was
not drunk; it was more the behavior of a drug eater.
Don't go back there, lady! he begged, don't go back to the
professor. He is doing wonderful things with the piano, but somehow I
couldn't stand it, it made me dizzy. I had no business there anyhow....
You know his orders. Every door locked in the building when he plays.
If the public knew it, what a row! The man gasped in the spring air.
Zora was terrified. What secret was being withheld from her? Who could
be with him? Perhaps he was deceiving her, Belus, her husband! She
tried to pass the man, who stared at her vacantly.
Don't go in, ma'am, don't go in. Every door is locked, all except
the two little doors looking out on the stage. My God, don't go there!
I saw a mango treeI know the mango, for I've been in IndiaI saw the
tree bloom out over the keys, and its fruit fell on the stage. I saw
it. And I swear to the ladder, the rope ladder, which he threw up with
his left hand while he kept on playing with the other. If you had only
seen what came tumbling down that rope as he played the cradle-song!
Baby faces, withered faces, girls and mothers, the sweetest and the
most fearful you ever saw. They all came rolling down and the people in
front sat still, the old ones crying softly. And there were wings and
devilish things. I couldn't stand the air, it was alive; and your man's
face, white and drawn, with the eyes all gone like those jugglers I
knew when I was a boy in Indiaout there in India.
She trembled like the strings of a violin. Then after a sharp
struggle with her beating heart, and bravely pushing the man aside, she
went on rapid feet up the circular stairway, her head buzzing with the
clamor of her nerves. India! Belus had once confessed that his youth
had been spent in Eastern lands. What did it mean? As she mounted to
the little doors she listened in vain for the sound of music. She heard
nothing, not even the occasional singing of the electric lights. Not a
break in the air told her of the vast assembly on the other side of the
wall. Belus, where was he? Possibly in his room above. But why had she
met none of the usual officials? What devilry was loosed in the large
spaces of this hall? Again her heart roared threateningly and she was
forced to sit on a chair to catch her breath. A humming like the wind
plucking at the wires of a thousand Æolian harps set her soul shivering
in fresh dismay. The two little arched doors were in front of her, but
they seemed leagues away. To go to one and boldly open it she must; yet
her tissues were dissolving, her eyes dim. That door!if she could see
him, see Belus, then all would be well. Across the stair she wavered, a
wraith blown across the gulf of time. She grasped at the cold knob of
the doorgripped but could not turn it, for it was locked. Zora fell
to her knees, her heart weeping like the eyes of sorrow. Oh! for one
firm, clangorous chord struck by Belus; it would be as wine to the
wounded. Zora crawled to the other door, perhaps! It was not locked,
and slowly she opened it and peered out upon the stage, the auditorium.
The humming of the harps ceased and the chaplet of iron that bound
her brow relaxed. The house was full of faces, pink human faces, the
faces of women, and as these faces rose tier after tier, terrifying
terraces of heads, Zora recalled the first council of the Angel of
Light; Lucifer's council sung of by Milton and mezzo-tinted by John
Martin. The faces were drained of expression, but in the rows near by
she saw staring eyes. Beluswhat was he doing?
He sat at the piano and over its keyboard his long, ghost-like
fingers moved with febrile velocity. But no music reached her ears.
Instead she saw suspended above him the soul of Belus. It was like a
coat of many colors. It glistened with the subtle hues of a flying
fish; and it swam in the air with passionate flashes of fire. This soul
that wriggled and leapt, this burning coal that blistered the hearts of
his audience, was it truly the soul of her husband? As the multitude
rose in cadenced waves of emotion, the soul seemed to shrink, to become
more remote. Then leaf by leaf it dropped its petals until only an
incandescent core was left. And this, too, paled and died into numb
nothingness. Where was the soul of Belus? What was the soul of Belus? A
bit of carbon lighted by the world's applause? A trick-nest of boxes
each smaller than the other, with black emptiness at the end? A musical
mirage of the world?
Belus was bowing. Then she saw the faces ravished with delight, the
swaying of crazy people. They had heardbut she alone knew the
Belus shook Zora's shoulders when he returned from the concert.
Why, your hair is wet; you must have been asleep on the balcony in the
rain, he irritably fingered in the deaf code. Still possessed by the
melodious terror of her dream, the rare audible dream of one born to
silence, she arose from her chair and waved him a gentle good-night. He
stared moodily after her and rang for the servant....
The hearts of some women are as a vast cathedral. Its gorgeous high
altars, its sounding gloom, its lofty arches are there; and perhaps a
tiny taper burns before an obscure votive shrine. Many pass through
life with this taper unlighted, despite the pomps and pleasures of the
conjugal comedy. But others carry in the little chapel of their hearts
a solitary glimmering lamp of love which only flames out with death.
Zora knows this glimmering light is not love, but renunciation. Is not
she the wife of a great artist?
THE DISENCHANTED SYMPHONY
The Earth hath bubbles
Pobloff began to whistle the second theme of his symphony. He was a
short, round-bellied man with a high head upon which stood quill-like
hair; when he smiled, his little lunar eyes closed completely, and his
vast mouth openeda trap filled with white blocks of polished bone;
when he laughed, it sounded like a snorting tuba.... Nature had
hesitated whether to endow him with the profile of Punch or Napoleon.
He was dark, not in the least dangerous, and a native of Russia, though
long a resident of Balak. Pobloff's wife dusted the music on the top of
his old piano. In God's name, Luga, let my manuscript in peace, he
adjured her. She snapped at him, but he continued whistling. More
original music? She was ironically inquisitive as she danced about the
white porcelain stove, tumbled over scores that littered the apartment
as grass grown wild in a deserted alley; pushed violin cases that
rattled; upset an empty bird-cage and finally threw wide back the
metal-slatted shutters, admitting an inundation of sunshine.... It was
early May, but in Balak, with its southeastern Europe climate, the
weather was warm as a July day in Paris. Hurrah! Pobloff suddenly
bellowed, I have it, I have it! Luga glanced at him sourly. I
suppose you'll set the world on fire this time for sure, my man; and
then little Richard Strauss will be asking for advice! What are you
going to call the new symphonic poem, Pobloff? Oh, name it after me!
She shrieked down the passage way at a slouching maid, and ran out,
leaving Pobloff jolly and unruffled.
Ouf! he ejaculated, as her sarcasm finally penetrated his
consciousness, I'll call it 'The Fourth Dimension'that's what I
will. Luga! Where's that idle cat? Luga, some tea, tea, I'm thirsty.
And he again whistled the second theme of his new symphony.
Pobloff loved mathematics more than musicand he adored music. He
was fond of comparing the two, and often quoted Leibnitz: Music is an
occult exercise of the mind unconsciously performing arithmetical
calculations. For him, so he assured his friends, music was a species
of sensual mathematics. Before he left St. Petersburg to settle in
Balak as its Kapellmeister he had studied at the University under the
famous Lobatchewsky, and absorbed from him not a few of the radical
theories containing the problematic fourth dimension. He read with avid
interest of J. K. F. Zöllner's experiments which drove that unfortunate
Leipzig physicist into incurable melancholia. Ah, what madmen these!
Perpetual motion, squaring the circle, the fourth spatial
dimensionall new variants of the old alchemical mystery, the vain
pursuit of the philosophers' stone, the transmutation of the baser
metals, the cabalistic Abracadabra, the quest of the absolute! Yet
sincere and certainly quite sane men of scientific training had
considered seriously this mathematic hypothesis. Cayley, Pobloff had
read, and Abbot's Flatland; while the ingenious speculations of W. K.
Clifford and the American, Simon Newcomb, fascinated him immeasurably.
He cared littlebeing idealist and musicianfor the grosser
demonstrations of hyper-normal phenomena, though for a time he had
wavered before the mysterious cross-roads of demoniac possession,
subliminal divinations, and the strange rappings that emanate from
souls smothered in hypnotic slumber. The testimony of such a man as
Professor Crookes who had witnessed feats of human levitation greatly
stirred him; but in the end he drifted back to his early
passionsmusic and mathematics.
Zöllner had proved to his own satisfaction the existence of a fourth
dimension, when he turned an India-rubber ball inside out without
tearing it; but Pobloff, a man of tone, was more absorbed in the
demonstration that Time could be shown in two dimensions. He often
quoted Hugh Craig, who compared Time to a river always flowing, yet a
permanent river: If one emerged from this stream at a certain moment
and entered it an hour later, would it not signify that Time had two
dimensions? And musicwhere did music stand in the eternal scheme of
things? Was not harmony with its vertical structure and melody's
horizontal flow, proof that music itself was but another dimension in
Time? In the vast and complicated scores of Richard Strauss, the
listener has set in motion two orders of auditions: he hears the music
both horizontally and vertically. This combination of the upright and
the transverse amused Pobloff immensely. He declared, with his
inscrutable giggle, that all other arts were childish in their demands
upon the intellect when compared to music. You can see pictures,
poems, sculpture, and architecturebut music you must hear, see, feel,
smell, taste, to apprehend it rightfully: and all at the same time!
Pobloff shook his heavy head and tried to look solemn. Think of it!
With every sense and several more besides, going in different
directions, brilliantly sputtering like wet fireworks, roaring like
mighty cataracts! Ah, it was a noble, crazy art, and the only art,
except poetry, that moved. All the rest are beautiful gestures
Pobloff ate five meals a day, and sometimes expanding his chest to
its utmost and extending his arms to the zenith, yawned prodigiously.
Born a true pessimist, often was bored to the extreme by existence. In
addition to the fortnightly symphony concerts and their necessary
rehearsals, he did nothing but compose and dream of new spaces to
conquer. He was a Czar over his orchestra, and though a fat,
good-humored man, had a singularly nasty temper.
Convinced that in music lay the solution of this particular
mathematical problem, he had been working for over a year on a
symphonic poem which he jocularly christened The Abysm. Untouched by
his wife's daily tauntingsshe was an excellent musician and harpist
in his bandhe could not help admitting to his interior self, that she
was right in her aspersions on his originality: Richard Strauss had
shown him the way. Pobloff decided to leave map and compass behind, and
march out with his music into some new country or otherhe did not
much care where. Could but the fourth dimension be traced to tone, to
his tones, then would his name resound throughout the ages; for what
was the feat of Columbus compared with this exploration of a vaster
spiritual America! Pobloff trembled. He was so transported by the idea,
that his capacious frame and large head became enveloped in a sort of
magnetic halo. He diffused enthusiasm as a swan sheds water; and his
men did not grumble at the numerous extra rehearsals, for they realized
that their chief might make an important discovery.
The composer was a stern believer in absolute music. For him the
charms of scenery, lights, odor, costume, singers, and the subtle voice
of the prompter seemed factitious, mere excrescences on the fair
surface of art. But he was a born colorist, and sought to arouse the
imagination by stupendous orchestral effects, frescoes of tone wherein
might be discerned terrifying perspectives, sinister avenues of
drooping trees melting into iron dusks. If Pobloff was a mathematician,
he was also a painter-poet. He did not credit the theory of the
alienists, that the confusion of tone and coloraudition colorée
betrayed the existence of a slight mental lesion; and he laughed
consumedly at the notion of confounding musicians with madmen.
Then my butcher and baker are just as mad, he asserted; and swore
that a man could both pray and think of eating at the same time. Why
should the highly organized brain of a musician be considered abnormal
because it could see tone, hear color, and out of a mixture of sound
and silence, fashion images of awe and sweetness for a wondering,
unbelieving world? If Man is a being afloat in an ocean of vibrations,
as Maurice de Fleury wrote, then any or all vibrations are possible.
Why not a synthesis? Why not a transposition of the neurons
according to Ramon y Cajal being little erectile bodies in the cells
of the cortex, stirred to reflex motor impulse when a message is sent
them from the sensory nerves? The crossing of filaments occurs oftener
than imagined, and Pobloff, knowing these things, had boundless faith
in his enterprise. So when he cried aloud, I have it! he really
believed that at last he saw the way clear; and his symphonic poem was
to be the key which would unlock the great mystery of existence.
Rehearsal had been called at eight o'clock, a late hour for Balak,
which rises early only to get ready the sooner for the luxury of a long
afternoon siesta. The conductor of the Royal Filharmonie Orchestra had
sent out brief enough notice to his men; but they were in the opera
house before he arrived. Pobloff believed in discipline; when he
reached the stage, he cast a few quick glances about him: fifty-two men
in all sat in their accustomed places; his concertmaster, Sven, was
nodding at the leader. Then Pobloff surveyed the auditorium, its depths
dimly lighted by the few clusters of lights on the platform; white
linen coverings made more ghastly the background. He thought he saw
some one moving near the main door. Who's that? He rapped sharply for
an answer but none came. Sven said that the women who cleaned the opera
house had not yet arrived. Lock the doors and keep them out, was the
response, and one of the double-bass players ran down the steps to
attend to the order. The men smiled; and some whispered that they were
evidently in for a hard morningall signs were ominous. Again the
conductor's stick commanded silence.
In a few words he told them he would rehearse his new symphonic
poem, The Abysm: I call it by that title as an experiment. In fact
the music is experimentalin the development-section I endeavor to
represent the depths of starry space; one of those black abysms that
are the despair of astronomer and telescope. Ahem! Pobloff looked so
conscious as he wiped his perspiring mop of a forehead that the tenor
trombone coughed in his instrument. The strange cackle caused the
composer to start: How's that, what's that? The man apologized. Yes,
yes, of course you didn't do it on purpose. But how did you do it? Try
it again. The trombone blatted and the orchestra roared with laughter.
Gentlemen, gentlemen, this will never do. I needed just such a crazy
tone effect and always imagined the trombone too low for it. Try the
oboe, Herr Kapellmeister, suggested Sven, and this was received with
noisy signs of joy. Yes, the crazy oboe, that's the fellow for the
crazy effects!they all shouted. Luga, at her harp, arpeggiated in
What's the matter with you men this morning? sternly inquired
Pobloff. Did you miss your breakfasts? Stillness ensued and the
rehearsal proceeded. It was very trying. Seven times the first violins,
divided, essayed one passage, and after its chromaticism had been
conquered it would not go at all when played with the wood-wind. It was
nearly eleven o'clock. The heat increased and also the thirst of the
men. As the doors were locked there was no relief. Grumbling started.
Pobloff, very pale, his eyes staring out of his head, yelled, swore,
stamped his feet, waved his arms and twice barely escaped tumbling
over. The work continued and a glaze seemed to obscure his eyes; he was
well-nigh speechless but beat time with an intensity that carried his
men along like chips in a high surf. The free-fantasia of the poem was
reached, and, roaring, the music neared its climacteric point. Now,
whispered Pobloff, stooping, when the pianissimo begins I shall watch
for the Abysm. As the wind sweepingly rushes to a howling apex so came
the propulsive crash of the climax. The tone rapidly subsided and
receded; for the composer had so cunningly scored it that groups of
instruments were withdrawn without losing the thread of the musical
tale. The tone, spun to a needle fineness, rushed up the fingerboard of
the fiddles accompanied by the harp in a billowing glissando andthen
on ragged rims of wide thunder a gust of air seemed to melt lights,
men, instruments into a darkness that froze the eyeballs. With a
scorching whiff of sulphur and violets, a thin, spiral scream, the
music tapered into the sepulchral clang of a tam-tam. And Pobloff, his
broad face awash with fear saw by a solitary wavering gas-jet that he
was alone and upon his knees. Not a musician was to be seen. Not a
sound save dull noises from the street without. He stared about him
like a man suffering from some hideous ataxia, and the horror of the
affair plucking at his soul, he beat his breast, groaning in an agony
Oh, it is the Fourth Dimension they have foundmy black abysm! Oh,
why did I not fall into it with the ignorant dogs! He was crying this
over and over when the doors were smashed and Pobloff taken, half
delirious, to his home....
The houses of Balak are seldom over two storeys high; an occasional
earthquake is the reason for this architectural economy. Pobloff's
sleeping apartment opened out upon a broad balcony just above the
principal entrance. As he lay upon his couch his thoughts revolved like
a coruscating wheel of fire. What! How! Where! And Luga, was she lost
to him in that no-man's land of a fourth dimension? He closed his weary
wet eyes. Then pricked by a sudden thought he sat up in jealous rage.
No-man's land? Yes, but the entire orchestra of fifty-two men were with
herand he hated the horn-player, for had he not intercepted poisonous
glances between Luga and that impertinent jackanapes? In his torture
Pobloff groaned aloud and wondered how he had reached his home: he
could remember nothing after the ebon music had devoured his band. How
did it come about? Why was he not drawn within the fatal whirlpool of
sound? Or was he outside the fringe of the vortex? As these questions
thronged the chambers of his brain the consciousness of what he had
discovered, accomplished, flashed over him in a superior hot wave of
exultation. I am greater than Pythagoras, Kepler, Newton! he raved,
only stopping for breath. Too well had he calculated his trap for the
detection of a third dimension in Time, a fourth one in Space, only to
catch the wrong game; for he had counted upon studying, if but for a
few rapt moments, the vision of a land west of the sun, east of the
moona novel territory, perhaps a vast playground for souls
emancipated from the gyves of existence. But this!he shuddered at the
catastrophe: a very Pompeian calamity depriving him at a stroke of his
wife, his orchestraall, all had been engulfed. Forgetting his newly
won crown, forgetting the tremendous import of his discovery to
mankind, Pobloff began howling, Luga, Luga, Akh! Wife of my
bosom, my tender little violet of a harpist!
His voice floated into the street, and it seemed to him to be echoed
by a shrill chorus. Soprano voices reached him and he heard his name
mentioned in a foreboding way.
Where is the pig? Pobloff! Pobloff! Why don't you show your ugly
face? Be a man! Where are our husbands? He recognized a voiceit was
the wife of the horn-player who thus insulted him. She was a tall, ugly
woman and, as gossip averred, she beat her man if he did not return
home sober with all his wages. Pobloff rushed out upon the balcony; it
was not many feet above the level of the street. In the rays of a
sinking sun he was received with jeers, groans, and imprecations.
Balakian women have warm blood in their veins and are not given to
measuring their words over-nicely. He stared about him in sheer
wonderment. A mob of women gazed up at him and its one expression was
unconcealed wrath. Children and men hung about the circle of vengeful
amazons laughing, shouting and urging violence. Pobloff, in his
dressing-gown, was a fair target. Where are our husbands? Brute,
beast, in what prison have you locked them up? Where is your good
woman, Luga? Have you hidden her, you old tyrant? No! shrieked the
horn-player's wife, he's jealous of her. And she's run away with
your man, snapped the wife of the crazy oboist. The two women
struggled to get at each other, their fingers curved for hairplucking,
but others interferedit would not be right to promote a street fight,
when the cause of the trouble was almost in their clutches. A
disappointed yell arose. Pobloff had sneaked away, overjoyed at the
chance, and, as his front door succumbed to angry feminine pressure, he
was safely hidden in the opera house which he reached by running along
back alleys in the twilight. There he learned from one of the stage
hands that the real secret was his and his alone.
Alarmed by the absence of their husbands, the musicians' wives hung
around the building pestering the officials. Pobloff has been found,
they were informed, in a solitary fit, on the floor of the auditorium.
The stage was in the greatest confusionchairs and music stands being
piled about as if a tornado had visited the place. Not a musician was
there, and with the missing was Luga, the harp-player. A thousand wild
rumors prevailed. The men, tired of tyrannical treatment, brutal
rehearsals and continual abuse, had risen in a body and thrashed their
leader; then fearing arrest, fled to the suburbs carrying off Luga with
them as dangerous witness. But the summer-garden, where they usually
foregathered, had not seen them since the Sunday previousLuga not for
weeks. This had been ascertained by interested scouts. The fact that
Luga was with the rebels gave rise to disconcerting gossip. Possibly
her husband had discovered a certain flirtationheads shook knowingly.
At five o'clock the news spread that Pobloff had by means of a trap in
the stage, dropped the entire orchestra into the cellar, where they lay
entombed in a half-dying condition. No one could trace this tale to its
source, thought it was believed to have emanated from the oboe-player's
wife. Half a hundred women rushed to the opera house and fell upon
their hands and knees, scratching at the iron cellar gratings, and
calling loudly through the little windows whose thick panes of glass
were grimed with age. Finding nothing, hearing nothing, the
dissatisfied crew only needed an angry explosion of bitterness from the
lips of the horn-player's spouse to hatch hatred in their bosoms and to
set them upon Pobloff at his home.
Now knowing that he was safe for the moment behind the thick walls
of the opera house, he consoled himself with some bread and wine which
his servant fetched him. And then he fell to thinking hard.
No, not a soul suspected the real reason for the disappearance of
the bandthat secret was his forever. By the light of a lamp in the
property room he danced with joy at his escape from danger; and the
tension being relaxed, he burst out sobbing: Luga! Luga! Oh, where are
you, my little harpist! I have not forgotten you, my violet. Let me go
to you! Pobloff rolled over the carpetless floor in an ecstasy of
grief, the lamp barely casting enough light to cover his burly figure,
his cheeks trilling with tears.
A thin rift of sunshine fell across Pobloff's nose and awoke him. He
sat up. It took fully five minutes for self-orientation, and the fixed
idea bored vainly at his forehead. He groaned as he realized the
hopelessness of the situation. Sometime the truth would have to be
told. The kingwhat would His Majesty not say! Pobloff's life was in
danger; he had no doubt on that head. At the best, if he escaped the
infuriated women he would be cast into prison, or else wander an exile,
all his hopes of glory gone. The prospect was chilling. If he had only
kept the scorethe score, where was it? In a moment he was on his
feet, rummaging the stage for the missing music. It had vanished.
Pobloff jumped from the platform to the spot where he had fallen; his
sharp eye saw something white beneath the overturned music-stand. It
did not take long to reveal the missing partitur. All was there,
not a leaf missing, though some rumpled and soiled. When Pobloff had
tumbled into the aisle, miraculously escaping a dislocated neck, the
music and the rack had kept him company. Curiously he fingered the
manuscript. Yes, there was the fatal spot! He gazed at the strange
combination of instruments on the page in his own nervous handwriting.
How came the cataclysm? Vainly the composer scanned the various clefs,
vainly he strove to endow with significance the sparse bunches of notes
scattered over the white ruled paper. He saw the violins in the
highest, most screeching position; saw them disappear like a battalion
of tiny balloons in a cloud. No, it was not by the violins the dread
enigma was solved. But there were few other instruments on the leaf
except the harp. Pooh! The harp was innocent enough with its fantastic
spray of arpeggios; it was used only as gilding to warm the bitter,
wiry tone of the fiddles. No, it was not the harp, Pobloff decided. The
tam-tam, a pulsatile instrument! Perhaps its mordant sound coupled to
the hissing of the fiddles, the cheeping of the wood-wind, and the roll
of the harp; perhapsand then he was gripped by a thrilling thought.
He paced the length of the empty hall talking aloud. What an idea!
Why not put it into execution at once? But how? Pobloff moaned as he
realized its futility. He could secure no other musicians because every
one that once resided in Balak had disappeared; there was no hope for
their recrudescence. He tramped the parquet like a savage hyena. To
play the symphonic poem again, to rescue from eternity his lost Luga,
his lost comrades, to hear their extraordinary stories!... Trembling
seized him. If the work could by any possibility be played again would
not the same awful fate overtake the new men and perhaps himself?
Decidedly that way would be courting disaster.
As he strode desperately toward the stage, staring at its polished
boards as if to extort their secret, he discerned the shining pipes of
the monster mechanical organ that Balakian municipal pride had imported
and installed there. Pobloff was a man of fertile invention: the organ
might serve his purpose. But then came the discouraging knowledge that
he could not play it well enough. No matter; he would make the attempt.
He clambered over the stage, reached the instrument, threw open the
case and inspected the manuals. By pulling out various stops he soon
had a fair reproduction of the instrumental effects of his score.
Trembling, he placed the music upon the rack, tremblingly he touched
the button that set in movement the automatic motor. Forgetting the
danger of detection, he set pealing in all its diapasonic majesty this
Synthesis of Instruments. He reached the enchanted passage, he played
it, his knees knocking like an undertaker's hammer, his fingers glued
to the keys by moisty fear. The abysm was easily traversed; nothing
occurred. Despair crowned the head of Pobloff, pressing spikes of
remorse into his sweating brow. What could be the reason? Ah, there was
no tam-tam! He rushed into the music-room and soon returned with an
old, rusty Chinese gong. Again the page was played, the tam-tam's thin
edge set shivering with mournful resonance. And again there was no
result. Pobloff cursed the organ, cursed the gong, cursed his life,
cursed the universe.
The door opened and the stage carpenter peeped in. Say, Mr.
Pobloff, do come and have your coffee! The coast's clear. All the women
have gone away to the country on a wild goose chase. His voice was
kind though his expression was one of suspicion. Pobloff did seem a
trifle mad. He went into the property room. As he drank his coffee the
other watched him. Suddenly Pobloff let out a huge cry of satisfaction.
Fool! Dolt! Idiot that I am! Of course the passage will have to be
played backward to get them to return, to disenchant the symphony! He
leaped with joy. Yes, governor, but you've upset your coffee, said
the carpenter warningly. Pobloff heard nothing. The problem now was to
play that vile passage backward. The organthere stood the organ but,
musician as he was, he could not play his score in reverse fashion. The
thing was a manifest impossibility. Then a light beat in upon his
tortured brain. The carpenter trembled for the conductor's reason.
Look here, my boy, Pobloff blurted, will you do me a favor? Just
take this musicthese two pages to the organ factory. You know the
address. Tell the superintendent it is a matter of life or death to me.
Promise him money, opera tickets for the season, for two seasons, if he
will have this music reproduced, cut out, perforated, whatever it
ison a roll that I can use in this organ. I must have it within an
houror soon as he can. Hurry him, stand over him, threaten him, curse
him, beat him, give him anything he asksanything, do you hear?
Thrusting the astonished fellow out of the room into the entry, into
the street, Pobloff barred the door and standing on one leg he hopped
along the hall like a gay frog, lustily trolling all the while a
melancholy Russian folk-song. Then throwing himself prostrate on the
floor he spread out his arms cruciform fashion and with a Slavic apathy
that was fatalistic awaited the return of the messenger.
* * * * *
The deadly solemnity of the affair had robbed it for him of its
strangeness, its abnormality; even his sense of its ludicrousness had
fled. He was consumed by a desire to see Luga once more. She had been a
burden: she was waspish of tongue and given to seeking the admiration
of others, notably that of the damnable horn-playerPobloff clenched
his fistsbut she was his wife, Luga, and could tell him what he
wished most to know....
He seemed to have spent a week, his face pressed to the boards, his
eyes concentrated on the uneven progress of a file of ants in a crack.
The cautious tap at the stage door had not ceased before he was there
seizing in a clutch of iron the carpenter. The rolls! Have you got
them with you? he gasped. A cylinder was shoved into his eager hand
and with it he fled to the auditorium, not even shutting the doors
behind him. What did he care now? He was sure of victory. Placing the
roll in reverse order in the cylinder he started the mechanism of the
organ. Slowly, as if the grave were unwilling to give up its prey the
music began to whimper, wheeze and squeak. It was sounding backward and
it sounded three times before the unhappy man saw failure once more
blinking at him mockingly. But he was not to be denied. He re-read the
score, set it going on the organ, then picked up the tam-tam. These
old Chinese ghosts caused the trouble once and they can cause it
again, he muttered; and striking the instrument softly, the music for
the fourth time went on its way quivering, its rear entering the world
* * * * *
The terrified carpenter, in relating the affair later swore that the
darkness was black as the wings of Satan. A lightning flash had ended
the music; then he heard feet pausing in the gloom, and from his
position in the doorway he saw the stage crowded with men, the
musicians of the Balakian orchestra, all scraping, blaring and pounding
away at the symphony, Pobloff, stick in hand, beating time, his eyes
closed in bliss, his back arched like a cat's.
When they had finished playing, Pobloff wiped his forehead and said,
Thank you, gentlemen. That will do for to-day. They immediately began
to gabble, hastily putting away their instruments; while from without
entered a crazy stream of women weeping, laughing, and scolding. In
five minutes the hall was emptied of them all. Pobloff turned to Luga.
She eyed him demurely, as she covered with historic green baize her
Well, she said, joining him, well! Give an account of yourself,
sir! Pobloff watched her, completely stupefied. Only his discipline,
his routine had carried him through this tremendous resurrection: he
had beaten time from a sense of dutywhy he found himself at the head
of his band he understood not. He only knew that the experiment of
playing the enchanted symphony backward was a success: that it had
become disenchanted; that Luga, his violet, his harpist, his wife was
restored to him to bring him the wonderful tidings. He put his arms
around her. She drew back in her primmest attitude.
No, not yet, Pobloff. Not until you tell me where you have been all
day. He sat down and wept, wept as if his heart would strain and
crack; and then the situation poking him in the risible rib he laughed
until Luga herself relaxed.
It may be very funny to you, husband, and no doubt you've had a
jolly time, but you've not told where or with whom. Pobloff seized her
by the wrists.
Where were you? What have you been doing, woman? What was it
like, that strange country which you visited, and from which you are so
marvellously returned to me like a stone upcast by a crater? She
lifted her eyebrows in astonishment.
You know, Pobloff, I have warned you about your tendency to
apoplexy. You bother your brain, such as it is, too much with figures.
Stick to your last, Mr. Shoemaker, and don't eat so much. When you fell
off the stage this morning I was sure you were killed, and we were all
very much alarmed. But after the hornist told us you would be all right
in a few hours, we Whom do you mean by we, Luga? The men,
of course. And you saw me faint? Certainly, Pobloff.
Where did you go, wife? Go? Nowhere. We remained here. Besides,
the doors were locked, and the men couldn't get away. And you saw
nothing strange, did not notice that you were out of my sight, out of
the town's sight, for over thirty hours? Pobloff, she vixenishly
declared, you've been at the vodka.
And so there is no true perception of time in the fourth dimension
of space, he sadly reflected. His brows became dark with jealousy:
What did you do all the time? That accursed horn-player in her
company for over a day!
Do? Yes, he repeated, do? Were there no wonderful sights?
Didn't you catch a glimpse, as through an open door, of rare planetary
vistas, of a remoter plane of existence? Were there no grandiose and
untrodden stars? O Luga, tell me!you are a woman of imaginationwhat
did you see, hear, feel in that many-colored land, out of time, out of
See? she echoed irritably, for she was annoyed by her husband's
poetic foolery, what could I see in this hall? When the men weren't
grumbling at having nothing to drink, they were playing pinochle.
They played cards in the fourth dimension of space! Pobloff boomed
out reproachfully, sorrowfully. Then he went meekly to his home with
Luga, the harpist.
MUSIC THE CONQUEROR
The hot hush of noon was stirred into uneasy billows by the
shuffling of sandals over marble porches; all Rome sped to the
spectacle in the circus. A brave day, the wind perfumed, a hard blue
sky, the dark shadows cool and caressing and in the breeze a
thousand-colored canopies fainted and fluttered. The hearts of the
people on the benches were gay, for Diocletian, their master, had
baited the trap with Christians; living, palpitating human flesh was to
be sacrificed and the gossips spoke in clear, crisp sentences as they
enumerated the deadly list, dwelling upon certain names with
significant emphasis. This multitude followed with languid interest the
gladiatorial displays, the chariot races; even a fierce duel between
two yellow-haired barbarians evoked not a single cry. Rome was in a
killing mood: thumbs were not often upturned. The imperial one gloomed
as he sat high in his gold and ivory tribune. His eyes were sullen with
satiety, his heart flinty.
As the afternoon waned the murmurs modulated clamorously and a voice
shrilled forth, Give us the Christians! The cry was taken up by a
thundrous chorus which chaunted alternately the antiphonies of hate and
desire until the earth trembled. And Diocletian smiled.
The low doors of the iron cages adjoining the animals opened, and a
dreary group of men, women, children were pushed to the centre of the
arena; a half million of eyes, burning with anticipation, watched them.
Shouts of disappointment, yells of disgust arose. To the experts the
Christians did not present promise of a lasting fight with the lions.
The sorry crew huddled with downcast looks and lips moving in silent
prayer as they awaited the animals. In the onslaught nothing could be
heard but the snarls and growls of the beasts. A whirlwind of dust and
blood, a brief savage attack of keepers armed with metal bars heated
white, and the lions went to their cages, jaws dripping and bellies
gorged. The sand was dug, the bored spectators listlessly viewing the
burial of the martyrs' mangled bones; it was all over within the hour.
Rome was not yet satisfied and Diocletian made no sign. Woefully had
the massacre of the saints failed to please the palate of the populace.
So often had it been glutted with butcheries that it longed for more
delicate devilries, new depths of death. Then a slim figure clad in
clinging garments of pure white was led to the imperial tribune and
those near the Emperor saw him start as if from a wan dream. Her
bronze-hued hair fell about her shoulders, her eyes recalled the odor
of violets; and they beheld the vision of the Crucified One. She was a
fair child, her brow a tablet untouched by the stylus of sin.
The populace hungered. Fresh incense was thrown on the brazier of
coals glowing before the garlanded statue of Venus as flutes intoned a
languorous measure. A man of impassive priestly countenance addressed
her thrice, yet her eyes never wandered, neither did she speak. She
thus refused to worship Venus, and angered at the insult offered to the
beautiful foe of chastity, Rome screamed and hooted, demanding that she
be given over to the torture. Diocletian watched.
A blare of trumpets like a brazen imprecation and the public pulse
furiously pounded, for a young man was dragged near the Venus. About
his loins a strip of linen, and he was goodly to seeslender,
olive-skinned, with curls clustering over a stubborn brow; but his eyes
were blood-streaked and his mouth made a blue mark across his face. He
stared threateningly at Diocletian, at the multitude cynically
anticipating the punishment of the contumacious Christians.
Sturdy brutes seized the pair, but they stood unabashed, for they
saw open wide the gates of Paradise. And Diocletian's eyes were a deep
black. Urged by rude hands maid and youth were bound truss-wise with
cords. Then the subtile cruelty caught the mob's fancy. This couple,
once betrothed, had been separated by their love for the Son of
Galilee. She looked into his eyes and saw there the image of Jesus
Christ and Him crucified. He moistened his parched lips. The sun
blistered their naked skins and seemed to laugh at their God, while the
Venus in her cool grot sent them wreathéd smiles, bidding them worship
her and forget their pale faith. And the two flutes made dreamy music
that sent into the porches of the ear a silvery, feverish mist.
Breathless the lovers gazed at the shimmering goddess. The vast, silent
throng questioned them with its glance. Suddenly they were seen to
shudder, and Diocletian rose to his feet rending his garments. In the
purple shadows of the amphitheatre a harsh, prolonged shout went up.
That night at his palace the Master of the World would not be
comforted. And the Venus was carried about Rome; great was the homage
accorded her. In their homes the two flute players, who were
Christians, wept unceasingly; well they knew music and its conquering
power for evil.