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The Piper of Dreams by James Huneker

 

    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 omnipotence—the 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.

    —LINGWOOD EVANS.

I

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 women—and 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 publicity—yet. 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 day—sufficient 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 ten-franc piece.

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.” ...

II

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 City—itself 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 composer—had he not, as a bare-headed child, run sobbing after Tschaïkowsky's coffin almost to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in 1893—but a composer who would mould the destinies of his nation, perhaps the destinies of all the world, a second Svarog. He early saw the power—insidious, subtle, dangerous power—that 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 Beethoven—Ah, 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 art—patched and tinkered one, said his enemies, who thought him old-fashioned—and 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 Strauss—why 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 desire—Illowski 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 poem—a 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 young—Illowski 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 Evans—magnificent, brutal, and blood-loving—ah! 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 madmen—his mother had been nearly related to Dostoïewsky....

Of what avail the seed-bearing Bach and his fugues—emotional 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 place—a 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 brain—he 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 dumb—what 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 not—why, 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 hand—that 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 first campaign.

“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 institutions, or—nothing!

He went to Germany believing the countrymen of Nietzsche would receive with joy this Overman from the East. There was no longer any Bayreuth—the 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 ignorant?

The police thought otherwise. Illowski gathered crowds—that 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 scores—though not one had been published—while 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 women—women 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 nations.

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 supine—their 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 Paris—Paris, 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 Monferino—why 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 dispensation—Pavel Illowski. And Lenyard with Scheff was hastening to Auteuil to see Neshevna, whose other name was never known.

III

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 shoulders—all the disagreeable qualities of the woman—were 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 desk—she was like a wolf in her movements—and threw a handkerchief over it. Lenyard watched her curiously. Scheff gave one of his good-natured yawns and then laughed:

“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 dead—save music? Don't you know that painting, literature, creeds—aye, 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 message—it 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 signal—that'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 soul—only 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 counterpoint—all these Illowski ignores.”

Lenyard eagerly interrupted her: “You say that he does away with melody, themes, harmony—how 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 discovery—which is based on the great natural laws of heat, light, gravitation, electricity—if 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-paper—the desk whereon Illowski plotted the ruin of civilization.

“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. Yet—was 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 tone—he only imitates the old painter-impressionist of long ago—and his affected simplicity—why, 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 them—they 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 Nietzsche—it'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 science—the 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 Tarnhelm”—for 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 silence—and 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 motion—“the 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 theatre—the 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, or—annoyed, 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 audible—almost 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 music—and 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, silence—the 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 whispered.

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 dream—the 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 loved—all 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 faces—the 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 beneath—the 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 Beelzebub—Illowski. 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 clouds—the 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 blasts—the signals of the careless Scheff.

And the woman, her mouth filled with exultant laughter, screamed, “Thou hast conquered, O Pavel Illowski!”

 
 
 

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