by James Huneker
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.