First Violin, The


“For though he lived aloof from ken,
The world’s unwitnessed denizen,
The love within him stirs
Abroad, and with the hearts of men
His own confers.”

The story of my life from day to day was dull enough, same enough for some time after I went to live at the Wehrhahn. I was studying hard, and my only variety was the letters I had from home; not very cheering, these. One, which I received from Adelaide, puzzled me somewhat. After speaking of her coming marriage in a way which made me sad and uncomfortable, she condescended to express her approval of what I was doing, and went on:

“I am catholic in my tastes. I suppose all our friends would faint at the idea of there being a ‘singer’ in the family. Now, I should rather like you to be a singer—only be a great one—not a little twopenny-halfpenny person who has to advertise for engagements.

“Now I am going to give you some advice. This Herr von Francius—your teacher or whatever he is. Be cautious what you are about with him. I don’t say more, but I say that again. Be cautious! Don’t burn your fingers. Now, I have not much time, and I hate writing letters, as you know. In a week I am to be married, and then—nous verrons. We go to Paris first, and then on to Rome, where we shall winter—to gratify my taste, I wonder, or Sir Peter’s for moldering ruins, ancient pictures, and the Coliseum by moonlight? I have no doubt that we shall do our duty by the respectable old structures. Remember what I said, and write to me now and then.


I frowned and puzzled a little over this letter. Be cautious? In what possible way could I be cautious? What need could there be for it when all that passed between me and von Francius was the daily singing lesson at which he was so strict and severe, sometimes so sharp and cutting with me. I saw him then; I saw him also at the constant proben to concerts whose season had already begun; proben to the “Passions-musik,” the “Messiah,” etc. At one or two of these concerts I was to sing. I did not like the idea, but I could not make von Francius see it as I did. He said I must sing—it was part of my studies, and I was fain to bend to his will.

Von Francius—I looked at Adelaide’s letter, and smiled again. Von Francius had kept his word; he had behaved to me as a kind elder brother. He seemed instinctively to understand the wish, which was very strong on my part, not to live entirely at Miss Hallam’s expense—to provide, partially at any rate, for myself, if possible. He helped me to do this. Now he brought me some music to be copied; now he told me of a young lady who wanted lessons in English—now of one little thing—now of another, which kept me, to my pride and joy, in such slender pocket-money as I needed. Truly, I used to think in those days, it does not need much money nor much room for a person like me to keep her place in the world. I wished to trouble no one—only to work as hard as I could, and do the work that was set for me as well as I knew how. I had my wish and so far was not unhappy.

But what did Adelaide mean? True, I had once described von Francius to her as young, that is youngish, clever and handsome. Did she, remembering my well-known susceptibility, fear that I might fall in love with him and compromise myself by some silly Schwärmerei? I laughed about all by myself at the very idea of such a thing. Fall in love with von Francius, and—my eyes fell upon the two windows over the way. No; my heart was pure of the faintest feeling for him, save that of respect, gratitude, and liking founded at that time more on esteem than spontaneous growth. And he—I smiled at that idea, too.

In all my long interviews with von Francius throughout our intercourse he maintained one unvaried tone, that of a kind, frank, protecting interest, with something of the patron on his part. He would converse with me about Schiller and Goethe, true; he would also caution me against such and such shop-keepers as extortioners, and tell me the place where they gave the largest discount on music paid for on the spot; would discuss the “Waldstein” or “Appassionata” with me, or the beauties of Rubinstein or the deep meanings of Schumann, also the relative cost of living en pension or providing for one’s self.

No. Adelaide was mistaken. I wished, parenthetically, that she could make the acquaintance of von Francius, and learn how mistaken—and again my eyes fell upon the opposite windows. Friedhelm Helfen leaned from one, holding fast Courvoisier’s boy. The rich Italian coloring of the lovely young face; the dusky hair; the glow upon the cheeks, the deep blue of his serge dress, made the effect of a warmly tinted southern flower; it was a flower-face too; delicate and rich at once.

Adelaide’s letter dropped unheeded to the floor. Those two could not see me, and I had a joy in watching them.

To say, however, that I actually watched my opposite neighbors would not be true. I studiously avoided watching them; never sat in the window; seldom showed myself at it, though in passing I sometimes allowed myself to linger, and so had glimpses of those within. They were three and I was one. They were the happier by two. Or if I knew that they were out, that a probe was going on, or an opera or concert, there was nothing I liked better than to sit for a time and look to the opposite windows. They were nearly always open, as were also mine, for the heat of the stove was oppressive to me, and I preferred to temper it with a little of the raw outside air. I used sometimes to hear from those opposite rooms the practicing or playing of passages on the violin and violoncello—scales, shakes, long complicated flourishes and phrases. Sometimes I heard the very strains that I had to sing to: airs, scraps of airs, snatches from operas, concerts and symphonies. They were always humming and singing things. They came home haunted with “The Last Rose,” from “Marta”—now some air from “Faust,” “Der Freischütz,” or “Tannhauser.”

But one air was particular to Eugen, who seemed to be perfectly possessed by it—that which I had heard him humming when I first met him—the March from “Lenore.” He whistled it and sung it; played it on violin, ’cello and piano; hummed it first thing in the morning and last thing at night; harped upon it until in despair his companion threw books and music at him, and he, dodging them, laughed, begged pardon, was silent for five minutes, and then the March da Capo set in a halting kind of measure to the ballad.

By way of a slight and wholesome variety there was the whole repertory of “Volkslieder,” from

“Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen;
Du, du, liegst mir im Sinn,”

up to

“Mädele, ruck, ruck, ruck
An meine gürne Seite.”

Sometimes they—one or both of them with the boy—might be seen at the window leaning out, whistling or talking. When doors banged and quick steps rushed up or down the stairs two steps at a time I knew it was Courvoisier. Friedhelm Helfen’s movements were slower and more sedate. I grew to know his face as well as Eugen’s, and to like it better the more I saw of it. A quite young, almost boyish face, with an inexpressibly pure, true, and good expression upon the mouth and in the dark-brown eyes. Reticent, as most good faces are, but a face which made you desire to know the owner of it, made you feel that you could trust him in any trial. His face reminded me in a distant manner of two others, also faces of musicians, but greater in their craft than he, they being creators and pioneers, while he was only a disciple, of Beethoven and of the living master, Rubinstein. A gentle, though far from weak face, and such a contrast in expression and everything else to that of my musician, as to make me wonder sometimes whether they had been drawn to each other from very oppositeness of disposition and character. That they were very great friends I could not doubt; that the leadership was on Courvoisier’s side was no less evident. Eugen’s affection for Helfen seemed to have something fatherly in it, while I could see that both joined in an absorbing worship of the boy, who was a very Crœsus in love if in nothing else. Sigmund had, too, an adorer in a third musician, a violoncellist, one of their comrades, who apparently spent much of his spare substance in purchasing presents of toys and books and other offerings, which he laid at the shrine of St. Sigmund, with what success I could not tell. Beyond this young fellow, Karl Linders, they had not many visitors. Young men used occasionally to appear with violin-cases in their hands, coming for lessons, probably.

All these things I saw without absolutely watching for them; they made that impression upon me which the most trifling facts connected with a person around whom cling all one’s deepest pleasures and deepest pains ever do and must make. I was glad to know them, but at the same time they impressed the loneliness and aloofness of my own life more decidedly upon me.

I remember one small incident which at the time it happened struck home to me. My windows were open; it was an October afternoon, mild and sunny. The yellow light shone with a peaceful warmth upon the afternoon quietness of the street. Suddenly that quietness was broken. The sound of music, the peculiar blatant noise of trumpets smote the air. It came nearer, and with it the measured tramp of feet. I rose and went to look out. A Hussar regiment was passing; before them was borne a soldier’s coffin; they carried a comrade to his grave. The music they played was the “Funeral March for the Death of a Hero,” from the “Sinfonia Eroica.” Muffled, slow, grand and mournful, it went wailing and throbbing by. The procession passed slowly on in the October sunshine, along the Schadowstrasse, turning off by the Hofgarten, and so on to the cemetery. I leaned out of the window and looked after it—forgetting all outside, till just as the last of the procession passed by my eyes fell upon Courvoisier going into his house, and who presently entered the room. He was unperceived by Friedhelm and Sigmund, who were looking after the procession. The child’s face was earnest, almost solemn—he had not seen his father come up. I saw Helfen’s lip caress Sigmund’s loose black hair that waved just beneath them.

Then I saw a figure—only a black shadow to my eyes which were dazzled by the sun—come behind them. One hand was laid upon Helfen’s shoulder, another turned the child’s chin. What a change! Friedhelm’s grave face smiled: Sigmund sprung aside, made a leap to his father, who stooped to him, and clasping his arms tight round his neck was raised up in his arms.

They were all satisfied—all smiling—all happy. I turned away. That was a home—that was a meeting of three affections. What more could they want? I shut the window—shut it all out, and myself with it into the cold, feeling my lips quiver. It was very fine, this life of independence and self-support, but it was dreadfully lonely.

The days went on. Adelaide was now Lady Le Marchant. She had written to me again, and warned me once more to be careful what I was about. She had said that she liked her life—at least she said so in her first two or three letters, and then there fell a sudden utter silence about herself, which seemed to me ominous.

Adelaide had always acted upon the assumption that Sir Peter was a far from strong-minded individual, with a certain hardness and cunning perhaps in relation to money matters, but nothing that a clever wife with a strong enough sense of her own privileges could not overcome.

She said nothing to me about herself. She told me about Rome; who was there; what they did and looked like; what she wore; what compliments were paid to her—that was all.

Stella told me my letters were dull—and I dare say they were—and that there was no use in her writing, because nothing ever happened in Skernford, which was also true. And for Eugen, we were on exactly the same terms—or rather no terms—as before. Opposite neighbors, and as far removed as if we had lived at the antipodes.

My life, as time went on, grew into a kind of fossilized dream, in which I rose up and lay down, practiced so many hours a day, ate and drank and took my lesson, and it seemed as if I had been living so for years, and should continue to live on so to the end of my days—until one morning my eyes would not open again, and for me the world would have come to an end.

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