First Violin, The



Joachim, Raff. Op. 177.

“Make yourself quite easy, Herr Concertmeister. No child that was left to my charge was ever known to come to harm.”

Thus Frau Schmidt to Eugen, as she stood with dubious smile and folded arms in our parlor, and harangued him, while he and I stood, violin-cases in our hands, in a great hurry, and anxious to be off.

“You are very kind, Frau Schmidt, I hope he will not trouble you.”

“He is a well-behaved child, and not nearly so disagreeable and bad to do with as most. And at what time will you be back?”

“That is uncertain. It just depends upon the length of the probe.”

“Ha! It is all the same. I am going out for a little excursion this afternoon, to the Grafenberg, and I shall take the boy with me.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Eugen; “that will be very kind. He wants some fresh air, and I’ve had no time to take him out. You are very kind.”

“Trust to me, Herr Concertmeister—trust to me,” said she, with the usual imperial wave of her hand, as she at last moved aside from the door-way which she had blocked up and allowed us to pass out. A last wave of the hand from Eugen to Sigmund, and then we hurried away to the station. We were bound for Cologne, where that year the Lower Rhine Musikfest was to be held. It was then somewhat past the middle of April, and the fest came off at Whitsuntide, in the middle of May. We, among others, were engaged to strengthen the Cologne orchestra for the occasion, and we were bidden this morning to the first probe.

We just caught our train, seeing one or two faces of comrades we knew, and in an hour were in Köln.

“The Tower of Babel,” and Raff’s Fifth Symphonie, that called “Lenore,” were the subjects we had been summoned to practice. They, together with Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasia” and some solos were to come off on the third evening of the fest.

The probe lasted a long time; it was three o’clock when we left the concert-hall, after five hours’ hard work.

“Come along, Eugen,” cried I, “we have just time to catch the three-ten, but only just.”

“Don’t wait for me,” he answered, with an absent look. “I don’t think I shall come by it. Look after yourself, Friedel, and auf wiedersehen!”

I was scarcely surprised, for I had seen that the music had deeply moved him, and I can understand the wish of any man to be alone with the remembrance or continuance of such emotions. Accordingly I took my way to the station, and there met one or two of my Elberthal comrades, who had been on the same errand as myself, and, like me, were returning home.

Lively remarks upon the probable features of the coming fest, and the circulation of any amount of loose and hazy gossip respecting composers and soloists followed, and we all went to our usual restauration and dined together. There was an opera that night to which we had probe that afternoon, and I scarcely had time to rush home and give a look at Sigmund before it was time to go again to the theater.

Eugen’s place remained empty. For the first time since he had come into the orchestra he was absent from his post, and I wondered what could have kept him.

Taking my way home, very tired, with fragments of airs from “Czar und Zimmermann,” in which I had just been playing, the “March” from “Lenore,” and scraps of choruses and airs from the “Thurm zu Babel,” all ringing in my head in a confused jumble, I sprung up the stairs (up which I used to plod so wearily and so spiritlessly), and went into the sitting-room. Darkness! After I had stood still and gazed about for a time, my eyes grew accustomed to the obscurity. I perceived that a dim gray light still stole in at the open window, and that some one reposing in an easy-chair was faintly shadowed out against it.

“Is that you, Friedhelm?” asked Eugen’s voice.

Lieber Himmel! Are you there? What are you doing in the dark?”

“Light the lamp, my Friedel! Dreams belong to darkness, and facts to light. Sometimes I wish light and facts had never been invented.”

I found the lamp and lighted it, carried it up to him, and stood before him, contemplating him curiously. He lay back in our one easy-chair, his hands clasped behind his head, his legs outstretched. He had been idle for the first time, I think, since I had known him. He had been sitting in the dark, not even pretending to do anything.

“There are things new under the sun,” said I, in mingled amusement and amaze. “Absent from your post, to the alarm and surprise of all who know you, here I find you mooning in the darkness, and when I illuminate you, you smile up at me in a somewhat imbecile manner, and say nothing. What may it portend?”

He roused himself, sat up, and looked at me with an ambiguous half smile.

“Most punctual of men! most worthy, honest, fidgety old friend,” said he, with still the same suppressed smile, “how I honor you! How I wish I could emulate you! How I wish I were like you! and yet, Friedel, old boy, you have missed something this afternoon.”

“So! I should like to know what you have been doing. Give an account of yourself.”

“I have erred and gone astray, and have found it pleasant. I have done that which I ought not to have done, and am sorry, for the sake of morality and propriety, to have to say that it was delightful; far more delightful than to go on doing just what one ought to do. Say, good Mentor, does it matter? For this occasion only. Never again, as I am a living man.”

“I wish you would speak plainly,” said I, first putting the lamp and then myself upon the table. I swung my legs about and looked at him.

“And not go on telling you stories like that of Munchausen, in Arabesks, eh? I will be explicit; I will use the indicative mood, present tense. Now then. I like Cologne; I like the cathedral of that town; I like the Hotel du Nord; and, above all, I love the railway station.”

“Are you raving?”

“Did you ever examine the Cologne railway station?” he went on, lighting a cigar. “There is a great big waiting-room, which they lock up; there is a delightful place in which you may get lost, and find yourself suddenly alone in a deserted wing of the building, with an impertinent porter, who doesn’t understand one word of Eng—of your native tongue—”

“Are you mad?” was my varied comment.

“And while you are in the greatest distress, separated from your friends, who have gone on to Elberthal (like mine), and struggling to make this porter understand you, you may be encountered by a mooning individual—a native of the land—and you may address him. He drives the fumes of music from his brain, and looks at you, and finds you charming—more than charming. My dear Friedhelm, the look in your eyes is quite painful to see. By the exercise of a little diplomacy, which, as you are charmingly naïve, you do not see through, he manages to seal an alliance by which you and he agree to pass three or four hours in each other’s society, for mutual instruction and entertainment. The entertainment consists of cutlets, potatoes—the kind called kartoffeln frittes, which they give you very good at the Nord—and the wine known to us as Doctorberger. The instruction is varied, and is carried on chiefly in the aisle of the Kölner Dom, to the sound of music. And when he is quite spell-bound, in a magic circle, a kind of golden net or cloud, he pulls out an earthly watch, made of dust and dross (‘More fool he,’ your eye says, and you are quite right), and sees that time is advancing. A whole army of horned things with stings, called feelings of propriety, honor, correctness, the right thing, etc., come in thick battalions in sturmschritt upon him, and with a hasty word he hurries her—he gets off to the station. There is still an hour, for both are coming to Elberthal—an hour of unalloyed delight; then”—he snapped his fingers—“a drosky, an address, a crack of the whip, and ade!”

I sat and stared at him while he wound up this rhodomontade by singing:

“Ade, ade, ade!
Ja, Scheiden und Meiden thut Weh!”

“You are too young and fair,” he presently resumed, “too slight and sober for apoplexy; but a painful fear seizes me that your mental faculties are under some slight cloud. There is a vacant look in your usually radiant eyes; a want of intelligence in the curve of your rosy lips—”

“Eugen! Stop that string of fantastic rubbish! Where have you been, and what have you been doing?”

“I have not deserved that from you. Haven’t I been telling you all this time where I have been and what I have been doing? There is a brutality in your behavior which is to a refined mind most lamentable.”

“But where have you been, and what have you done?”

“Another time, mein lieber—another time!”

With this misty promise I had to content myself. I speculated upon the subject for that evening, and came to the conclusion that he had invented the whole story, to see whether I would believe it (for we had all a reprehensible habit of that kind), and very soon the whole circumstance dropped from my memory.

On the following morning I had occasion to go to the public eye hospital. Eugen and I had interested ourselves to procure a ticket for free, or almost free, treatment as an out-patient for a youth whom we knew—one of the second violins—whose sight was threatened, and who, poor boy, could not afford to pay for proper treatment. Eugen being busy, I went to receive the ticket.

It was the first time I had been in the place. I was shown into a room with the light somewhat obscured, and there had to wait some few minutes. Every one had something the matter with his or her eyes—at least so I thought, until my own fell upon a girl who leaned, looking a little tired and a little disappointed, against a tall desk at one side of the room.

She struck me on the instant as no feminine appearance had ever struck me before. She, like myself, seemed to be waiting for some one or something. She was tall and supple in figure, and her face was girlish and very innocent-looking; and yet, both in her attitude and countenance there was a little pride, some hauteur. It was evidently natural to her, and sat well upon her. A slight but exquisitely molded figure, different from those of our stalwart Elberthaler Mädchen—finer, more refined and distinguished, and a face to dream of. I thought it then, and I say it now. Masses, almost too thick and heavy, of dark auburn hair, with here and there a glint of warmer hue, framed that beautiful face—half woman’s, half child’s. Dark-gray eyes, with long dark lashes and brows; cheeks naturally very pale, but sensitive, like some delicate alabaster, showing the red at every wave of emotion; something racy, piquant, unique, enveloped the whole appearance of this young girl. I had never seen anything at all like her before.

She looked wearily round the room, and sighed a little. Then her eyes met mine; and seeing the earnestness with which I looked at her, she turned away, and a slight, very slight, flush appeared in her cheek.

I had time to notice (for everything about her interested me) that her dress was of the very plainest and simplest kind, so plain as to be almost poor, and in its fashion not of the newest, even in Elberthal.

Then my name was called out. I received my ticket, and went to the probe at the theater.

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