The Quest of the
Elusive by James Huneker
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.,