First Violin, The


“So runs the world away.”

Königsallée, No. 3, could scarcely be called a happy establishment. I saw much of its inner life, and what I saw made me feel mortally sad—envy, hatred, and malice; no hour of satisfaction; my sister’s bitter laughs and sneers and jibes at men and things; Sir Peter’s calm consciousness of his power, and his no less calm, crushing, unvarying manner of wielding it—of silently and horribly making it felt. Adelaide’s very nature appeared to have changed. From a lofty indifference to most things, to sorrow and joy, to the hopes, fears, and feelings of others, she had become eager, earnest, passionate, resenting ill-usage, strenuously desiring her own way, deeply angry when she could not get it. To say that Sir Peter’s influence upon her was merely productive of a negative dislike would be ridiculous. It was productive of an intense, active hatred, a hatred which would gladly, if it could, have vented itself in deeds. That being impossible, it showed itself in a haughty, unbroken indifference of demeanor which it seemed to be Sir Peter’s present aim in some way to break down, for not only did she hate him—he hated her.

She used to the utmost what liberty she had. She was not a woman to talk of regret for what she had done, or to own that she had miscalculated her game. Her life was a great failure, and that failure had been brought home to her mind in a mercilessly short space of time; but of what use to bewail it? She was not yet conquered. The bitterness of spirit which she carried about with her took the form of a scoffing pessimism. A hard laugh at the things which made other people shake their heads and uplift their hands; a ready scoff at all tenderness; a sneer at anything which could by any stretch of imagination be called good; a determined running up of what was hard, sordid, and worldly, and a persistent and utter skepticism as to the existence of the reverse of those things; such was now the yea, yea, and nay, nay, of her communication.

To a certain extent she had what she had sold herself for; outside pomp and show in plenty—carriages, horses, servants, jewels, and clothes. Sir Peter liked, to use his own expression, “to see my lady blaze away”—only she must blaze away in his fashion, not hers. He declared he did not know how long he might remain in Elberthal; spoke vaguely of “business at home,” about which he was waiting to hear, and said that until he heard the news he wanted, he could not move from the place he was in. He was in excellent spirits at seeing his wife chafing under the confinement to a place she detested, and appeared to find life sweet.

Meanwhile she, using her liberty, as I said, to the utmost extent, had soon plunged into the midst of the fastest set in Elberthal.

There was a fast set there as there was a musical set, an artistic set, a religious set, a free-thinking set; for though it was not so large or so rich as many dull, wealthy towns in England, it presented from its mixed inhabitants various phases of society.

This set into which Adelaide had thrown herself was the fast one; a coterie of officers, artists, the richer merchants and bankers, medical men, literati, and the young (and sometimes old) wives, sisters and daughters of the same; many of them priding themselves upon not being natives of Elberthal, but coming from larger and gayer towns—Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and others.

They led a gay enough life among themselves—a life of theater, concert, and opera-going, of dances, private at home, public at the Malkasten or Artists’ Club, flirtations, marriages, engagements, disappointments, the usual dreary and monotonous round. They considered themselves the only society worthy the name in Elberthal, and whoever was not of their set was niemand.

I was partly dragged, partly I went to a certain extent of my own will, into this vortex. I felt myself to have earned a larger experience now of life and life’s realities. I questioned when I should once have discreetly inclined the head and held my peace. I had a mind to examine this clique and the characters of some of its units, and see in what it was superior to some other acquaintances (in an humbler sphere) with whom my lot had been cast. As time went on I found the points of superiority to decrease—those of inferiority rapidly to increase.

I troubled myself little about them and their opinions. My joys and griefs, hopes and fears, lay so entirely outside their circle that I scarce noticed whether they noticed me or not. I felt and behaved coldly toward them! to the women because their voices never had the ring of genuine liking in speaking to me; to the men because I found them as a rule shallow, ignorant, and pretentious; repellent to me, as I dare say I, with my inability to understand them, was to them. I saw most men and things through a distorting glass; that of contrast, conscious or unconscious, with Courvoisier.

My musician, I reasoned, wrongly or rightly, had three times their wit, three times their good looks, manners and information, and many times three times their common sense, as well as a juster appreciation of his own merits; besides which, my musician was not a person whose acquaintance and esteem were to be had for the asking—or even for a great deal more than the asking, while it seemed that these young gentleman gave their society to any one who could live in a certain style and talk a certain argot, and their esteem to every one who could give them often enough the savory meat that their souls loved, and the wine of a certain quality which made glad their hearts, and rendered them of a cheerful countenance.

But my chief reason for mixing with people who were certainly as a rule utterly distasteful and repugnant to me, was because I could not bear to leave Adelaide alone. I pitied her in her lonely and alienated misery; and I knew that it was some small solace to her to have me with her.

The tale of one day will give an approximate idea of most of the days I spent with her. I was at the time staying with her. Our hours were late. Breakfast was not over till ten, that is by Adelaide and myself. Sir Peter was an exceedingly active person, both in mind and body, who saw after the management of his affairs in England in the minutest manner that absence would allow. Toward half past eleven he strolled into the room in which we were sitting, and asked what we were doing.

“Looking over costumes,” said I, as Adelaide made no answer, and I raised my eyes from some colored illustrations.

“Costumes—what kind of costumes?”

“Costumes for the maskenball,” I answered, taking refuge in brevity of reply.

“Oh!” He paused. Then, turning suddenly to Adelaide:

“And what is this entertainment, my lady?”

“The Carnival Ball,” said she, almost inaudibly, between her closed lips, as she shut the book of illustrations, pushed it away from her, and leaned back in her chair.

“And you think you would like to go to the Carnival Ball, hey?”

“No, I do not,” said she, as she stroked her lap-dog with a long, white hand on which glittered many rings, and steadily avoided looking at him. She did wish to go to the ball, but she knew that it was as likely as not that if she displayed any such desire he would prevent it. Despite her curt reply she foresaw impending the occurrence which she most of anything disliked—a conversation with Sir Peter. He placed himself in our midst, and requested to look at the pictures. In silence I handed him the book. I never could force myself to smile when he was there, nor overcome a certain restraint of demeanor which rather pleased and flattered him than otherwise. He glanced sharply round in the silence which followed his joining our company, and turning over the illustrations, said:

“I thought I heard some noise when I came in. Don’t let me interrupt the conversation.”

But the conversation was more than interrupted; it was dead—the life frozen out of it by his very appearance.

“When is the carnival, and when does this piece of tomfoolery come off?” he inquired, with winning grace of diction.

“The carnival begins this year on the 26th of February. The ball is on the 27th,” said I, confining myself to facts and figures.

“And how do you get there? By paying?”

“Well, you have to pay—yes. But you must get your tickets from some member of the Malkasten Club. It is the artists’ ball, and they arrange it all.”

“H’m! Ha! And as what do you think of going, Adelaide?” he inquired, turning with suddenness toward her.

“I tell you I had not thought of going—nor thought anything about it. Herr von Francius sent us the pictures, and we were looking over them. That is all.”

Sir Peter turned over the pages and looked at the commonplace costumes therein suggested—Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Picardy Peasant, Maria Stuart, a Snow Queen, and all the rest of them.

“Well, I don’t see anything here that I would wear if I were a woman,” he said, as he closed the book. “February, did you say?”

“Yes,” said I, as no one else spoke.

“Well, it is the middle of January now. You had better be looking out for something; but don’t let it be anything in those books. Let the beggarly daubers see how English women do these things.”

“Do you intend me to understand that you wish us to go to the ball?” inquired Adelaide, in an icy kind of voice.

“Yes, I do,” almost shouted Sir Peter. Adelaide could, despite the whip and rein with which he held her, exasperate and irritate him—by no means more thoroughly than by pretending that she did not understand his grandiloquent allusions, and the vague grandness of the commands which he sometimes gave. “I mean you to go, and your little sister here, and Arkwright too. I don’t know about myself. Now, I am going to ride. Good-morning.”

As Sir Peter went out, von Francius came in. Sir Peter greeted him with a grin and exaggerated expressions of affability at which von Francius looked silently scornful. Sir Peter added:

“Those two ladies are puzzled to know what they shall wear at the Carnival Ball. Perhaps you can give them your assistance.”

Then he went away. It was as if a half-muzzled wolf had left the room.

Von Francius had come to give me my lesson, which was now generally taken at my sister’s house and in her presence, and after which von Francius usually remained some half hour or so in conversation with one or both of us. He had become an intime of the house. I was glad of this, and that without him nothing seemed complete, no party rounded, scarcely an evening finished.

When he was not with us in the evening, we were somewhere where he was; either at a concert or a probe, or at the theater or opera, or one of the fashionable lectures which were then in season.

It could hardly be said that von Francius was a more frequent visitor than some other men at the house, but from the first his attitude with regard to Adelaide had been different. Some of those other men were, or professed to be, desperately in love with the beautiful English woman; there was always a half gallantry in their behavior, a homage which might not be very earnest, but which was homage all the same, to a beautiful woman. With von Francius it had never been thus, but there had been a gravity and depth about their intercourse which pleased me. I had never had the least apprehension with regard to those other people; she might amuse herself with them; it would only be amusement, and some contempt.

But von Francius was a man of another mettle. It had struck me almost from the first that there might be some danger, and I was unfeignedly thankful to see that as time went on and his visits grew more and more frequent and the intimacy deeper, not a look, not a sign occurred to hint that it ever was or would be more than acquaintance, liking, appreciation, friendship, in successive stages. Von Francius had never from the first treated her as an ordinary person, but with a kind of tacit understanding that something not to be spoken of lay behind all she did and said, with the consciousness that the skeleton in Adelaide’s cupboard was more ghastly to look upon than most people’s secret specters, and that it persisted, with an intrusiveness and want of breeding peculiar to guests of that caliber, in thrusting its society upon her at all kinds of inconvenient times.

I enjoyed these music lessons, I must confess. Von Francius had begun to teach me music now, as well as singing. By this time I had resigned myself to the conviction that such talent as I might have lay in my voice, not my fingers, and accepted it as part of the conditions which ordain that in every human life shall be something manqué, something incomplete.

The most memorable moments with me have been those in which pain and pleasure, yearning and satisfaction, knowledge and seeking, have been so exquisitely and so intangibly blended, in listening to some deep sonata, some stately and pathetic old ciacconna or gavotte, some concerto or symphony; the thing nearest heaven is to sit apart with closed eyes while the orchestra or the individual performer interprets for one the mystic poetry, or the dramatic fire, or the subtle cobweb refinements of some instrumental poem.

I would rather have composed a certain little “Traumerei” of Schumann’s or a “Barcarole” of Rubinstein’s, or a sonata of Schubert’s than have won all the laurels of Grisi, all the glory of Malibran and Jenny Lind.

But it was not to be. I told myself so, and yet I tried so hard in my halting, bungling way to worship the goddess of my idolatry, that my master had to restrain me.

“Stop!” said he this morning, when I had been weakly endeavoring to render a ciacconna from a suite of Lachner’s, which had moved me to thoughts too deep for tears at the last symphonie concert. “Stop, Fräulein May! Duty first; your voice before your fingers.”

“Let me try once again!” I implored.

He shut up the music and took it from the desk.

Entbehren sollst du; sollst entbehren!” said he, dryly.

I took my lesson and then practiced shakes for an hour, while he talked to Adelaide; and then, she being summoned to visitors, he went away.

Later I found Adelaide in the midst of a lot of visitors—Herr Hauptmann This, Herr Lieutenant That, Herr Maler The Other, Herr Concertmeister So-and-So—for von Francius was not the only musician who followed in her train. But there I am wrong. He did not follow in her train; he might stand aside and watch the others who did; but following was not in his line.

There were ladies there too—gay young women, who rallied round Lady Le Marchant as around a master spirit in the art of Zeitvertreib.

This levée lasted till the bell rang for lunch, when we went into the dining-room, and found Sir Peter and his secretary, young Arkwright, already seated. He—Arkwright—was a good-natured, tender-hearted lad, devoted to Adelaide. I do not think he was very happy or very well satisfied with his place, but from his salary he half supported a mother and sister, and so was fain to “grin and bear it.”

Sir Peter was always exceedingly affectionate to me. I hated to be in the same room with him, and while I detested him, was also conscious of an unheroic fear of him. For Adelaide’s sake I was as attentive to him as I could make myself, in order to free her a little from his surveillance, for poor Adelaide Wedderburn, with her few pounds of annual pocket-money, and her proud, restless, ambitious spirit, had been a free, contented woman in comparison with Lady Le Marchant.

On the day in question he was particularly amiable, called me “my dear” every time he spoke to me, and complimented me upon my good looks, telling me I was growing monstrous handsome—ay, devilish handsome, by Gad! far outstripping my lady, who had gone off dreadfully in her good looks, hadn’t she, Arkwright?

Poor Arkwright, tingling with a scorching blush, and ready to sink through the floor with confusion, stammered out that he had never thought of venturing to remark upon my Lady Le Marchant’s looks.

“What a lie, Arkwright! You know you watch her as if she was the apple of your eye,” chuckled Sir Peter, smiling round upon the company with his cold, glittering eyes. “What are you blushing so for, my pretty May? Isn’t there a song something about my pretty May, my dearest May, eh?”

“My pretty Jane, I suppose you mean,” said I, nobly taking his attention upon myself, while Adelaide sat motionless and white as marble, and Arkwright cooled down somewhat from his state of shame and anguish at being called upon to decide which of us eclipsed the other in good looks.

“Pretty Jane! Whoever heard of a pretty Jane?” said Sir Peter. “If it isn’t May, it ought to be. At any rate, there was a Charming May.”

“The month—not a person.”

“Pretty Jane, indeed! You must sing me that after lunch, and then we can see whether the song was pretty or not, my dear, eh?”

“Certainly, Sir Peter, if you like.”

“Yes, I do like. My lady here seems to have lost her voice lately. I can’t imagine the reason. I am sure she has everything to make her sing for joy; have you not, my dear?”

“Everything, and more than everything,” replies my lady, laconically.

“And she has a strong sense of duty, too; loves those whom she ought to love, and despises those whom she ought to despise. She always has done, from her infancy up to the time when she loved me and despised public opinion for my sake.”

The last remark was uttered in tones of deeper malignity, while the eyes began to glare, and the under lip to droop, and the sharp eye-teeth, which lent such a very emphatic point to all Sir Peter’s smiles, sneers, and facial movements in general, gleamed.

Adelaide’s lip quivered for a second; her color momentarily faded.

In this kind of light and agreeable badinage the meal passed over, and we were followed into the drawing-room by Sir Peter, loudly demanding “‘My Pretty Jane’—or May, or whatever it was.”

“We are going out,” said my lady. “You can have it another time. May can not sing the moment she has finished lunch.”

“Hold your tongue, my dear,” said Sir Peter; and inspired by an agreeable and playful humor, he patted his wife’s shoulder and pinched her ear.

The color fled from her very lips and she stood pale and rigid with a look in her eyes which I interpreted to mean a shuddering recoil, stopped by sheer force of will.

Sir Peter turned with an engaging laugh to me:

“Miss May—bonny May—made me a promise, and she must keep it; or if she doesn’t I shall take the usual forfeit. We know what that is. Upon my word, I almost wish she would break her promise.”

“I have no wish to break my promise,” said I, hastening to the piano, and then and there singing “My Pretty Jane,” and one or two others, after which he released us, chuckling at having contrived to keep my lady so long waiting for her drive.

The afternoon’s programme was, I confess, not without attraction to me; for I knew that I was pretty, and I had not one of the strong and powerful minds which remained unelated by admiration and undepressed by the absence of it.

We drove to the picture exhibitions, and at both of them had a little crowd attending us. That crowd consisted chiefly of admirers, or professed admirers, of my sister, with von Francius in addition, who dropped in at the first exhibition.

Von Francius did not attend my sister; it was by my side that he remained and it was to me that he talked. He looked on at the men who were around her, but scarcely addressed her himself.

There was a clique of young artists who chose to consider the wealth of Sir Peter Le Marchant as fabulous, and who paid court to his wife from mixed motives; the prevailing one being a hope that she would be smitten by some picture of theirs at a fancy price, and order it to be sent home—as if she ever saw with anything beyond the most superficial outward eye those pictures, and as if it lay in her power to order any one, even the smallest and meanest of them. These ingenuous artists had yet to learn that Sir Peter’s picture purchases were formed from his own judgment, through the medium of himself or his secretary, armed with strict injunctions as to price, and upon the most purely practical and business-like principles—not in the least at the caprice of his wife.

We went to the larger gallery last. As we entered it I turned aside with von Francius to look at a picture in a small back room, and when we turned to follow the others, they had all gone forward into the large room; but standing at the door by which we had entered, and looking calmly after us, was Courvoisier.

A shock thrilled me. It was some time since I had seen him; for I had scarcely been at my lodgings for a fortnight, and we had had no haupt-proben lately. I had heard some rumor that important things—or, as Frau Lutzler gracefully expressed it, was wichtiges—had taken place between von Francius and the kapelle, and that Courvoisier had taken a leading part in the affair. To-day the greeting between the two men was a cordial if a brief one.

Eugen’s eyes scarcely fell upon me; he included me in his bow—that was all. All my little day-dream of growing self-complacency was shattered, scattered; the old feeling of soreness, smallness, wounded pride, and bruised self-esteem came back again. I felt a wild, angry desire to compel some other glance from those eyes than that exasperating one of quiet indifference. I felt it like a lash every time I encountered it. Its very coolness and absence of emotion stung me and made me quiver.

We and Courvoisier entered the large room at the same time. While Adelaide was languidly making its circuit, von Francius and I sat upon the ottoman in the middle of the room. I watched Eugen, even if he took no notice of me—watched him till every feeling of rest, every hard-won conviction of indifference to him and feeling of regard conquered came tumbling down in ignominious ruins. I knew he had had a fiery trial. His child, for whom I used to watch his adoration with a dull kind of envy, had left him. There was some mystery about it, and much pain. Frau Lutzler had begun to tell me a long story culled from one told her by Frau Schmidt, and I had stopped her, but knew that “Herr Courvoisier was not like the same man any more.”

That trouble was visible in firmly marked lines, even now; he looked subdued, older, and his face was thin and worn. Yet never had I noticed so plainly before the bright light of intellect in his eye; the noble stamp of mind upon his brow. There was more than the grace of a kindly nature in the pleasant curve of the lips—there was thought, power, intellectual strength. I compared him with the young men who were at this moment dangling round my sister. Not one among them could approach him—not merely in stature and breadth and the natural grace and dignity of carriage, but in far better things—in the mind that dominates sense; the will that holds back passion with a hand as strong and firm as that of a master over the dog whom he chooses to obey him. This man—I write from knowledge—had the capacity to appreciate and enjoy life—to taste its pleasures—never to excess, but with no ascetic’s lips. But the natural prompting—the moral “eat, drink, and be merry,” was held back with a ruthless hand, with chain of iron, and biting thong to chastise pitilessly each restive movement. He dreed out his weird most thoroughly, and drank the cup presented to him to the last dregs.

When the weird is very long and hard—when the flavor of the cup is exceeding bitter, this process leaves its effects in the form of sobered mien, gathering wrinkles, and a permanent shadow on the brow, and in the eyes. So it was with him.

He went round the room, looking at a picture here and there with the eye of a connoisseur—then pausing before the one which von Francius had brought me to look at on Christmas-day, Courvoisier, folding his arms, stood before it and surveyed it, straightly, and without moving a muscle; coolly, criticisingly and very fastidiously. The blasé-looking individual in the foreground received, I saw, a share of his attention—the artist, too, in the background; the model, with the white dress, oriental fan, bare arms, and half-bored, half-cynic look. He looked at them all long—attentively—then turned away; the only token of approval or disapproval which he vouchsafed being a slight smile and a slight shrug, both so very slight as to be almost imperceptible. Then he passed on—glanced at some other pictures—at my sister, on whom his eyes dwelt for a moment as if he thought that she at least made a very beautiful picture; then out of the room.

“Do you know him?” said von Francius, quite softly, to me.

I started violently. I had utterly forgotten that he was at my side, and I know not what tales my face had been telling. I turned to find the dark and impenetrable eyes of von Francius fixed on me.

“A little,” I said.

“Then you know a generous, high-minded man—a man who has made me feel ashamed of myself—and a man to whom I made an apology the other day with pleasure.”

My heart warmed. This praise of Eugen by a man whom I admired so devotedly as I did Max von Francius seemed to put me right with myself and the world.

Soon afterward we left the exhibition, and while the others went away it appeared somehow by the merest casualty that von Francius was asked to drive back with us and have afternoon tea, englischerweise—which he did, after a moment’s hesitation.

After tea he left for an orchestra probe to the next Saturday’s concert; but with an auf wiedersehen, for the probe will not last long, and we shall meet again at the opera and later at the Malkasten Ball.

I enjoyed going to the theater. I knew my dress was pretty. I knew that I looked nice, and that people would look at me, and that I, too, should have my share of admiration and compliments as a schöne Engländerin.

We were twenty minutes late—naturally. All the people in the place stare at us and whisper about us, partly because we have a conspicuous place—the proscenium loge to the right of the stage, partly because we are in full toilet—an almost unprecedented circumstance in that homely theater—partly, I suppose, because Adelaide is supremely beautiful.

Mr. Arkwright was already with us. Von Francius joined us after the first act, and remained until the end. Almost the only words he exchanged with Adelaide were:

“Have you seen this opera before, Lady Le Marchant?”

“No; never.”

It was Auber’s merry little opera, “Des Teufels Antheil.” The play was played. Von Francius was beside me. Whenever I looked down I saw Eugen, with the same calm, placid indifference upon his face; and again I felt the old sensation of soreness, shame, and humiliation. I feel wrought up to a great pitch of nervous excitement when we leave the theater and drive to the Malkasten, where there is more music—dance music, and where the ball is at its height. And in a few moments I find myself whirling down the room in the arms of von Francius, to the music of “Mein schönster Tag in Baden,” and wishing very earnestly that the heart-sickness I feel would make me ill or faint, or anything that would send me home to quietness and—him. But it does not have the desired effect. I am in a fever; I am all too vividly conscious, and people tell me how well I am looking, and that rosy cheeks become me better than pale ones.

They are merry parties, these dances at the Malkasten, in the quaintly decorated saal of the artists’ club-house. There is a certain license in the dress. Velvet coats, and coats, too, in many colors, green and prune and claret, vying with black, are not tabooed. There are various uniforms of hussars, infantry, and uhlans, and some of the women, too, are dressed in a certain fantastically picturesque style to please their artist brothers or fiancés.

The dancing gets faster, and the festivities are kept up late. Songs are sung which perhaps would not be heard in a quiet drawing-room; a little acting is done with them. Music is played, and von Francius, in a vagrant mood, sits down and improvises a fitful, stormy kind of fantasia, which in itself and in his playing puts me much in mind of the weird performances of the Abbate Liszt.

I at least hear another note than of yore, another touch. The soul that it wanted seems gradually creeping into it. He tells a strange story upon the quivering keys—it is becoming tragic, sad, pathetic. He says hastily to me and in an under-tone: “Fräulein May, this is a thought of one of your own poets:

“‘How sad, and mad, and bad it was,
And yet how it was sweet.’”

I am almost in tears, and every face is affording illustrations for “The Expressions of the Emotions in Men and Women,” when it suddenly breaks off with a loud, Ha! ha! ha! which sounds as if it came from a human voice, and jars upon me, and then he breaks into a waltz, pushing the astonished musicians aside, and telling the company to dance while he pipes.

A mad dance to a mad tune. He plays and plays on, ever faster, and ever a wilder measure, with strange eerie clanging chords in it which are not like dance notes, until Adelaide prepares to go, and then he suddenly ceases, springs up, and comes with us to our carriage. Adelaide looks white and worn.

Again at the carriage door, “a pair of words” passes between them.

“Milady is tired?” from him, in a courteous tone, as his dark eyes dwell upon her face.

“Thanks, Herr Direktor, I am generally tired,” from her, with a slight smile, as she folds her shawl across her breast with one hand, and extends the other to him.

“Milady, adieu.”

“Adieu, Herr von Francius.”

The ball is over, and I think we have all had enough of it.

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