First Violin, The


“Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter.”

It was the evening of the haupt-probe, a fine moonlight night in the middle of May—a month since I had come to Elberthal, and it seemed so much, so very much more.

To my astonishment—and far from agreeable astonishment—Anna Sartorius informed me of her intention to accompany me to the probe. I put objections in her way as well as I knew how, and said I did not think outsiders were admitted. She laughed, and said:

“That is too funny, that you should instruct me in such things. Why, I have a ticket for all the proben, as any one can have who chooses to pay two thalers at the sasse. I have a mind to hear this. They say the orchestra are going to rebel against von Francius. And I am going to the concert to-morrow, too. One can not hear too much of such fine music; and when one’s friend sings, too—”

“What friend of yours is going to sing?” I inquired, coldly.

“Why, you, you allerliebster kleiner Engel,” said she, in a tone of familiarity, to which I strongly objected.

I could say no more against her going, but certainly displayed no enthusiastic desire for her company.

The probe, we found, was to be in the great saal; it was half lighted, and there were perhaps some fifty people, holders of probe-tickets, seated in the parquet.

“You are going to sing well to-night,” said von Francius, as he handed me up the steps—“for my sake and your own, nicht wahr?”

“I will try,” said, I, looking round the great orchestra, and seeing how full it was—so many fresh faces, both in chorus and orchestra.

And as I looked, I saw Courvoisier come in by the little door at the top of the orchestra steps and descend to his place. His face was clouded—very clouded; I had never seen him look thus before. He had no smile for those who greeted him. As he took his place beside Helfen, and the latter asked him some question, he stared absently at him, then answered with a look of absence and weariness.

“Herr Courvoisier,” said von Francius—and I, being near, heard the whole dialogue—“you always allow yourself to be waited for.”

Courvoisier glanced up. I with a new, sudden interest, watched the behavior of the two men. In the face of von Francius I thought to discover dislike, contempt.

“I beg your pardon; I was detained,” answered Courvoisier, composedly.

“It is unfortunate that you should be so often detained at the time when your work should be beginning.”

Unmoved and unchanging, Courvoisier heard and submitted to the words, and to the tone in which they were spoken—sarcastic, sneering, and unbelieving.

“Now we will begin,” pursued von Francius, with a disagreeable smile, as he rapped with his baton upon the rail. I looked at Courvoisier—looked at his friend, Friedhelm Helfen. The former was sitting as quietly as possible, rather pale, and with the same clouded look, but not deeper than before; the latter was flushed, and eyed von Francius with no friendly glance.

There seemed a kind of slumbering storm in the air. There was none of the lively discussion usual at the proben. Courvoisier, first of the first violins, and from whom all the others seemed to take their tone, sat silent, grave and still. Von Francius, though quiet, was biting. I felt afraid of him. Something must have happened to put him into that evil mood.

My part did not come until late in the second part of the oratorio. I had almost forgotten that I was to sing at all, and was watching von Francius and listening to his sharp speeches. I remembered what Anna Sartorius had said in describing this haupt-probe to me. It was all just as she had said. He was severe; his speeches roused the phlegmatic blood, set the professional instrumentalists laughing at their amateur co-operators, but provoked no reply or resentment. It was extraordinary, the effect of this man’s will upon those he had to do with—upon women in particular.

There was one haughty-looking blonde—a Swede—tall, majestic, with long yellow curls, and a face full of pride and high temper, who gave herself decided airs, and trusted to her beauty and insolence to carry off certain radical defects of harshness of voice and want of ear. I never forgot how she stared me down from head to foot on the occasion of my first appearance alone, as if to say, “What do you want here?”

It was in vain that she looked haughty and handsome. Addressing her as Fräulein Hulstrom, von Francius gave her a sharp lecture, and imitated the effect of her voice in a particularly soft passage with ludicrous accuracy. The rest of the chorus was tittering audibly, the musicians, with the exception of Courvoisier and his friend, nudging each other and smiling. She bridled haughtily, flashed a furious glance at her mentor, grew crimson, received a sarcastic smile which baffled her, and subsided again.

So it was with them all. His blame was plentiful; his praise so rare as to be almost an unknown quantity. His chorus and orchestra were famed for the minute perfection and precision of their play and singing. Perhaps the performance lacked something else—passion, color. Von Francius, at that time at least, was no genius, though his talent, his power, and his method were undeniably great. He was, however, not popular—not the Harold, the “beloved leader” of his people.

It was to-night that I was first shown how all was not smooth for him; that in this art union there were splits—“little rifts within the lute,” which, should they extend, might literally in the end “make the music mute.” I heard whispers around me. “Herr von Francius is angry.”—“Nicht wahr?”—“Herr Courvoisier looks angry too.”—“Yes, he does.”—“There will be an open quarrel there soon.”—“I think so.”—“They are both clever; one should be less clever than the other.”—“They are so opposed.”—“Yes. They say Courvoisier has a party of his own, and that all the orchestra are on his side.”—“So!” in accents of curiosity and astonishment—“Ja wohl! And that if von Francius does not mind, he will see Herr Courvoisier in his place,” etc., etc., without end. All which excited me much, as the first glimpse into the affairs of those about whom we think much and know little (a form of life well known to women in general) always does interest us.

These things made me forget to be nervous or anxious. I saw myself now as part of the whole, a unit in the sum of a life which interested me. Von Francius gave me a sign of approval when I had finished, but it was a mechanical one. He was thinking of other things.

The probe was over. I walked slowly down the room looking for Anna Sartorius, more out of politeness than because I wished for her company. I was relieved to find that she had already gone, probably not finding all the entertainment she expected, and I was able, with a good conscience, to take my way home alone.

My way home! not yet. I was to live through something before I could take my way home.

I went out of the large saal through the long veranda into the street. A flood of moonlight silvered it. There was a laughing, chattering crowd about me—all the chorus; men and girls, going to their homes or their lodgings, in ones or twos, or in large cheerful groups. Almost opposite the Tonhalle was a tall house, one of a row, and of this house the lowest floor was used as a shop for antiquities, curiosities, and a thousand odds and ends useful or beautiful to artists, costumes, suits of armor, old china, anything and everything. The window was yet lighted. As I paused for a moment before taking my homeward way, I saw two men cross the moonlit street and go in at the open door of the shop. One was Courvoisier; in the other I thought to recognize Friedhelm Helfen, but was not quite sure about it. They did not go into the shop, as I saw by the bright large lamp that burned within, but along the passage and up the stairs. I followed them, resolutely beating down shyness, unwillingness, timidity. My reluctant steps took me to the window of the antiquity shop, and I stood looking in before I could make up my mind to enter. Bits of rococo ware stood in the window, majolica jugs, chased metal dishes and bowls, bits of Renaissance work, tapestry, carpet, a helm with the vizor up, gaping at me as if tired of being there. I slowly drew my purse from my pocket, put together three thalers and a ten groschen piece, and with lingering, unwilling steps, entered the shop. A pretty young woman in a quaint dress, which somehow harmonized with the place, came forward. She looked at me as if wondering what I could possibly want. My very agitation gave calmness to my voice as I inquired,

“Does Herr Courvoisier, a musiker, live here?”

Ja wohl!” answered the young woman, with a look of still greater surprise. “On the third étage, straight upstairs. The name is on the door.”

I turned away, and went slowly up the steep wooden uncarpeted staircase. On the first landing a door opened at the sound of my footsteps, and a head was popped out—a rough, fuzzy head, with a pale, eager-looking face under the bush of hair.

“Ugh!” said the owner of this amiable visage, and shut the door with a bang. I looked at the plate upon it; it bore the legend, “Hermann Duntze, Maler.” To the second étage. Another door—another plate: “Bernhardt Knoop, Maler.” The house seemed to be a resort of artists. There was a lamp burning on each landing; and now, at last, with breath and heart alike failing, I ascended the last flight of stairs, and found myself upon the highest étage before another door, on which was roughly painted up, “Eugen Courvoisier.” I looked at it with my heart beating suffocatingly. Some one had scribbled in red chalk beneath the Christian name, “Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter.” Had it been done in jest or earnest? I wondered, and then knocked. Such a knock!


I opened the door, and stepped into a large, long, low room. On the table, in the center, burned a lamp, and sitting there, with the light falling upon his earnest young face, was Helfen, the violinist, and near to him sat Courvoisier, with a child upon his knee, a little lad with immense dark eyes, tumbled black hair, and flushed, just awakened face. He was clad in his night-dress and a little red dressing-gown, and looked like a spot of almost feverish, quite tropic brightness in contrast with the grave, pale face which bent over him. Courvoisier held the two delicate little hands in one of his own, and was looking down with love unutterable upon the beautiful, dazzling child-face. Despite the different complexion and a different style of feature too, there was so great a likeness in the two faces, particularly in the broad, noble brow, as to leave no doubt of the relationship. My musician and the boy were father and son.

Courvoisier looked up as I came in. For one half moment there leaped into his eyes a look of surprise and of something more. If it had lasted a second longer I could have sworn it was welcome—then it was gone. He rose, turned the child over to Helfen, saying, “One moment, Friedel,” then turned to me as to some stranger who had come on an errand as yet unknown to him, and did not speak. The little one, from Helfen’s knee, stared at me with large, solemn eyes, and Helfen himself looked scarcely less impressed.

I have no doubt I looked frightened—I felt so—frightened out of my senses. I came tremulously forward, and offering my pieces of silver, said, in the smallest voice which I had ever used:

“I have come to pay my debt. I did not know where you lived, or I should have done it long before.”

He made no motion to take the money, but said—I almost started, so altered was the voice from that of my frank companion at Köln, to an icy coldness of ceremony:

Mein Fräulein, I do not understand.”

“You—you—the things you paid for. Do you not remember me?”

“Remember a lady who has intimated that she wishes me to forget her? No, I do not.”

What a horribly complicated revenge! thought I, as I said, ever lower and lower, more and more shamedfacedly, while the young violinist sat with the child on his knee, and his soft brown eyes staring at me in wonder:

“I think you must remember. You helped me at Köln, and you paid for my ticket to Elberthal, and for something that I had at the hotel. You told me that was what I owed you.”

I again tendered the money; again he made no effort to receive it, but said:

“I am sorry that I do not understand to what you refer. I only know it is impossible that I could ever have told you you owed me three thalers, or three anything, or that there could, under any circumstances, be any question of money between you and me. Suppose we consider the topic at an end.”

Such a voice of ice, and such a manner, to chill the boldest heart, I had never yet encountered. The cool, unspeakable disdain cut me to the quick.

“You have no right to refuse the money,” said I, desperately. “You have no right to insult me by—by—” An appropriate peroration refused itself.

Again the sweet, proud, courteous smile; not only courteous, but courtly; again the icy little bow of the head, which would have done credit to a prince in displeasure, and which yet had the deference due from a gentleman to a lady.

“You will excuse the semblance of rudeness which may appear if I say that if you unfortunately are not of a very decided disposition, I am. It is impossible that I should ever have the slightest intercourse with a lady who has once unequivocally refused my acquaintance. The lady may honor me by changing her mind; I am sorry that I can not respond. I do not change my mind.”

“You must let us part on equal terms,” I reiterated. “It is unjust—”

“Yourself closed all possibility of the faintest attempt at further acquaintance, mein Fräulein. The matter is at an end.”

“Herr Courvoisier, I—”

“At an end,” he repeated, calmly, gently, looking at me as he had often looked at me since the night of “Lohengrin,” with a glance that baffled and chilled me.

“I wish to apologize—”

“For what?” he inquired, with the faintest possible look of indifferent surprise.

“For my rudeness—my surprise—I—”

“You refer to one evening at the opera. You exercised your privilege, as a lady, of closing an acquaintance which you did not wish to renew. I now exercise mine, as a gentleman, of saying that I choose to abide by that decision, now and always.”

I was surprised. Despite my own apologetic frame of mind, I was surprised at his hardness; at the narrowness and ungenerosity which could so determinedly shut the door in the face of an humble penitent like me. He must see how I had repented the stupid slip I had made; he must see how I desired to atone for it. It was not a slip of the kind one would name irreparable, and yet he behaved to me as if I had committed a crime; froze me with looks and words. Was he so self-conscious and so vain that he could not get over that small slight to his self-consequence, committed in haste and confusion by an ignorant girl? Even then, even in that moment I asked myself these questions, my astonishment being almost as great as my pain, for it was the very reverse, the very opposite of what I had pictured to myself. Once let me see him and speak to him, I had said to myself, and it would be all right; every lineament of his face, every tone of his voice, bespoke a frank, generous nature—one that could forgive. Alas! and alas! this was the truth!

He had come to the door; he stood by it now, holding it open, looking at me so courteously, so deferentially, with a manner of one who had been a gentleman and lived with gentlemen all his life, but in a way which at the same time ordered me out as plainly as possible.

I went to the door. I could no longer stand under that chilling glance, nor endure the cool, polished contempt of the manner. I behaved by no means heroically; neither flung my head back, nor muttered any defiance, nor in any way proved myself a person of spirit. All I could do was to look appealingly into his face; to search the bright, steady eyes, without finding in them any hint of softening or relenting.

“Will you not take it, please?” I asked, in a quivering voice and with trembling lips.

“Impossible, mein Fräulein,” with the same chilly little bow as before.

Struggling to repress my tears, I said no more, but passed out, cut to the heart. The door was closed gently behind me. I felt as if it had closed upon a bright belief of my youth. I leaned for a moment against the passage wall and pressed my hand against my eyes. From within came the sound of a child’s voice, “Mein vater,” and the soft, deep murmur of Eugen’s answer; then I went down-stairs and into the open street.

That hated, hateful three thalers ten groschen were still clasped in my hand. What was I to do with it? Throw it into the Rhine, and wash it away forever? Give it to some one in need? Fling it into the gutter? Send it him by post? I dismissed that idea for what it was worth. No; I would obey his prohibition. I would keep it—those very coins, and when I felt inclined to be proud and conceited about anything on my own account, or disposed to put down superhuman charms to the account of others, I would go and look at them, and they would preach me eloquent sermons.

As I went into the house, up the stairs to my room, the front door opened again and Anna Sartorius overtook me.

“I thought you had left the probe?” said I, staring at her.

“So I had, Herzchen,” said she, with her usual ambiguous, mocking laugh; “but I was not compelled to come home, like a good little girl, the moment I came out of the Tonhalle. I have been visiting a friend. But where have you been, for the probe must have been over for some time? We heard the people go past; indeed, some of them were staying in the house where I was. Did you take a walk in the moonlight?”

“Good-night,” said I, too weary and too indifferent even to answer her.

“It must have been a tiring walk; you seem weary, quite ermüdet,” said she, mockingly, and I made no answer.

“A haupt-probe is a dismal thing after all,” she called out to me from the top of the stairs.

From my inmost heart I agreed with her.

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