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First Violin, The


CHAPTER XI.

“Will you sing?”

The theater season closed with that evening on which “Lohengrin” was performed. I ran no risk of meeting Courvoisier face to face again in that alarming, sudden manner. But the subject had assumed diseased proportions in my mind. I found myself confronted with him yet, and week after week. My business in Elberthal was music—to learn as much music and hear as much music as I could: wherever there was music there was also Eugen Courvoisier—naturally. There was only one städtische Kapelle in Elberthal. Once a week at least—each Saturday—I saw him, and he saw me at the unfailing instrumental concert to which every one in the house went, and to absent myself from which would instantly set every one wondering what could be my motive for it. My usual companions were Clara Steinmann, Vincent, the Englishman, and often Frau Steinmann herself. Anna Sartorius and some other girl students of art usually brought sketch-books, and were far too much occupied in making studies or caricatures of the audience to pay much attention to the music. The audience were, however, hardened; they were used to it. Anna and her friends were not alone in the practice. There were a dozen or more artists or soi-disant artists busily engaged with their sketch-books. The concert-room offered a rich field to them. One could at least be sure of one thing—that they were not taking off the persons at whom they looked most intently. There must be quite a gallery hidden away in some old sketch-books—of portraits or wicked caricatures of the audience that frequented the concerts of the Instrumental Musik Verein. I wonder where they all are? Who has them? What has become of the light-hearted sketchers? I often recall those homely Saturday evening concerts; the long, shabby saal with its faded out-of-date decorations; its rows of small tables with the well-known groups around them; the mixed and motley audience. How easy, after a little while, to pick out the English, by their look of complacent pleasure at the delightful ease and unceremoniousness of the whole affair; their gladness at finding a public entertainment where one’s clothes were not obliged to be selected with a view to outshining those of every one else in the room; the students shrouded in a mystery, secret and impenetrable, of tobacco smoke. The spruce-looking school-boys from the Gymnasium and Realschule, the old captains and generals, the Fräulein their daughters, the gnädigen Frauen their wives; dressed in the disastrous plaids, checks, and stripes, which somehow none but German women ever got hold of. Shades of Le Follet! What costumes there were on young and old for an observing eye! What bonnets, what boots, what stupendously daring accumulation of colors and styles and periods of dress crammed and piled on the person of one substantial Frau Generalin, or Doctorin or Professorin! The low orchestra—the tall, slight, yet commanding figure of von Francius on the estrade; his dark face with its indescribable mixture of pride, impenetrability and insouciance; the musicians behind him—every face of them well known to the audience as those of the audience to them: it was not a mere “concert,” which in England is another word for so much expense and so much vanity—it was a gathering of friends. We knew the music in which the Kapelle was most at home; we knew their strong points and their weak ones; the passage in the Pastoral Symphony where the second violins were a little weak; that overture where the blaseninstrumente came out so well—the symphonies one heard—the divine wealth of undying art and beauty! Those days are past: despite what I suffered in them they had their joys for me. Yes; I suffered at those concerts. I must ever see the one face which for me blotted out all others in the room, and endure the silent contempt which I believed I saw upon it. Probably it was my own feeling of inward self-contempt which made me believe I saw that expression there. His face had for me a miserable, basilisk-like attraction. When I was there he was there, I must look at him and endure the silent, smiling disdain which I at least believed he bestowed upon me. How did he contrive to do it? How often our eyes met, and every time it happened he looked me full in the face, and never would give me the faintest gleam of recognition! It was as though I looked at two diamonds, which returned my stare unwinkingly and unseeingly. I managed to make myself thoroughly miserable—pale and thin with anxiety and self-reproach I let this man, and the speculation concerning him, take up my whole thoughts, and I kept silence, because I dreaded so intensely lest any question should bring out the truth. I smiled drearily when I thought that there certainly was no danger of any one but Miss Hallam ever knowing it, for the only person who could have betrayed me chose now, of deliberate purpose, to cut me as completely as I had once cut him.

As if to show very decidedly that he did intend to cut me, I met him one day, not in the street, but in the house, on the stairs. He sprung up the steps, two at a time, came to a momentary pause on the landing, and looked at me. No look of surprise, none of recognition. He raised his hat; that was nothing; in ordinary politeness he would have done it had he never seen me in his life before. The same cold, bright, hard glance fell upon me, keen as an eagle’s, and as devoid of every gentle influence as the same.

I silently held out my hand.

He looked at it for a moment, then with a grave coolness which chilled me to the soul, murmured something about “not having the honor,” bowed slightly, and stepping forward, walked into Vincent’s room.

I was going to the room in which my piano stood, where I had my music lessons, for they had told me that Herr von Francius was waiting. I looked at him as I went into the room. How different he was from that other man; darker, more secret, more scornful-looking, with not less power, but so much less benevolence.

I was distrait, and sung exceedingly ill. We had been going through the solo soprano parts of the “Paradise Lost.” I believe I sung vilely that morning. I was not thinking of Eva’s sin and the serpent, but of other things, which, despite the story related in the Book of Genesis, touched me more nearly. Several times already had he made me sing through Eva’s stammering answer to her God’s question:

“Ah, Lord!... The Serpent!
The beautiful, glittering Serpent,
With his beautiful, glittering words,
He, Lord, did lead astray
The weak Woman!”

“Bah!” exclaimed von Francius, when I had sung it some three or four times, each time worse, each time more distractedly. He flung the music upon the floor, and his eyes flashed, startling me from my uneasy thoughts back to the present. He was looking at me with a dark cloud upon his face. I stared, stooped meekly, and picked up the music.

“Fräulein, what are you dreaming about?” he asked, impatiently. “You are not singing Eva’s shame and dawning terror as she feels herself undone. You are singing—and badly, too—a mere sentimental song, such as any school-girl might stumble through. I am ashamed of you.”

“I—I,” stammered I, crimsoning, and ashamed for myself too.

“You were thinking of something else,” he said, his brow clearing a little. “Na! it comes so sometimes. Something has happened to distract your attention. The amiable Miss Hallam has been a little more amiable than usual.”

“No.”

“Well, well. ’S ist mir egal. But now, as you have wasted half an hour in vanity and vexation, will you be good enough to let your thoughts return here to me and to your duty? or else—I must go, and leave the lesson till you are in the right voice again.”

“I am all right—try me,” said I, my pride rising in arms as I thought of Courvoisier’s behavior a short time ago.

“Very well. Now. You are Eva, please remember, the first woman, and you have gone wrong. Think of who is questioning you, and—”

“Oh, yes, yes, I know. Please begin.”

He began the accompaniment, and I sung for the fifth time Eva’s scattered notes of shame and excuse.

“Brava!” said he, when I had finished, and I was the more startled as he had never before given me the faintest sign of approval, but had found such constant fault with me that I usually had a fit of weeping after my lesson; weeping with rage and disappointment at my own shortcomings.

“At last you know what it means,” said he. “I always told you your forte was dramatic singing.”

“Dramatic! But this is an oratorio.”

“It may be called an oratorio, but it is a drama all the same. What more dramatic, for instance, than what you have just sung, and all that goes before? Now suppose we go on. I will take Adam.”

Having given myself up to the music, I sung my best with earnestness. When we had finished von Francius closed the book, looked at me, and said:

“Will you sing the ‘Eva’ music at the concert?”

“I?”

He bowed silently, and still kept his eyes fixed upon my face, as if to say, “Refuse if you dare.”

“I—I’m afraid I should make such a mess of it,” I murmured at last.

“Why any more than to-day?”

“Oh! but all the people!” said I, expostulating; “it is so different.”

He gave a little laugh of some amusement.

“How odd! and yet how like you!” said he. “Do you suppose that the people who will be at the concert will be half as much alive to your defects as I am? If you can sing before me, surely you can sing before so many rows of—”

“Cabbages? I wish I could think they were.”

“Nonsense! What would be the use, where the pleasure, in singing to cabbages? I mean simply inhabitants of Elberthal. What can there be so formidable about them?”

I murmured something.

“Well, will you do it?”

“I am sure I should break down,” said I, trying to find some sign of relenting in his eyes. I discovered none. He was not waiting to hear whether I said “yes” or “no,” he was waiting until I said “yes.”

“If you did,” he replied, with a friendly smile, “I should never teach you another note.”

“Why not?”

“Because you would be a coward, and not worth teaching.”

“But Miss Hallam?”

“Leave her to me.”

I still hesitated.

“It is the premier pas qui coûte,” said he, keeping a friendly but determined gaze upon my undecided face.

“I want to accustom you to appearing in public,” he added. “By degrees, you know. There is nothing unusual in Germany for one in your position to sing in such a concert.”

“I was not thinking of that; but that it is impossible that I can sing well enough—”

“You sing well enough for my purpose. You will be amazed to find what an impetus to your studies, and what a filip to your industry will be given by once singing before a number of other people. And then, on the stage—”

“But I am not going on the stage.”

“I think you are. At least, if you do otherwise you will do wrong. You have gifts which are in themselves a responsibility.”

“I—gifts—what gifts?” I asked, incredulously. “I am as stupid as a donkey. My sisters always said so, and sisters are sure to know; you may trust them for that.”

“Then you will take the soprano solos?”

“Do you think I can?”

“I don’t think you can; I say you must. I will call upon Miss Hallam this afternoon. And the gage—fee—what you call it?—is fifty thalers.”

“What!” I cried, my whole attitude changing to one of greedy expectation. “Shall I be paid?”

“Why, natürlich,” said he, turning over sheets of music, and averting his face to hide a smile.

“Oh! then I will sing.”

“Good! Only please to remember that it is my concert, and I am responsible for the soloists; and pray think rather more about the beautiful glittering serpent than about the beautiful glittering thalers.”

“I can think about both,” was my unholy, time-serving reply.

Fifty thalers. Untold gold!


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