First Violin, The


Nein, länger kann ich diesen Kampf nicht kämpfen,
Den Riesenkampf der Pflicht.
Kannst du des Herzens Flammentrieb nicht dämpfen,
So fordre, Tugend, dieses Opfer nicht.

Geschworen hab’ ich ’s, ja, ich hab’s geschworen,
Mich selbst zu bändigen.
Hier ist dein Kranz, er sei auf ewig mir verloren;
Nimm ihn zurück und lass mich sündigen.


If I had never had a trouble before I had one now—large, stalwart, robust. For what seemed to me a long time there was present to my mind’s eye little but the vision of a large, lighted room—a great undefined crowd surging around and below, a small knot of persons and faces in sharp distinctness immediately around me; low-spoken words with a question; no answer—vehement imploring for an answer—still no reply; yet another sentence conjuring denial, and then the answer itself—the silence that succeeded it; the face which had become part of my thoughts all changed and downcast—the man whom I had looked up to, feared, honored, as chivalrous far beyond his station and circumstances slowly walking away from the company of his fellows, disgraced, fallen, having himself owned to the disgrace being merited, pointed at as a cheat—bowing to the accusation.

It drove me almost mad to think of it. I suffered the more keenly because I could speak to no one of what had happened. What sympathy should I get from any living soul by explaining my sick looks and absent demeanor with the words, “I love that man who is disgraced?” I smiled dryly in the midst of my anguish, and locked it the deeper in my own breast.

I had believed in him so devotedly, so intensely, had loved him so entirely, and with such a humility, such a consciousness of my own shortcomings and of his superiority. The recoil at first was such as one might experience who embraces a veiled figure, presses his lips to where its lips should be, and finds that he kisses a corpse.

Such, I say, was the recoil at first. But a recoil, from its very nature, is short and vehement. There are some natures, I believe, which after a shock turn and flee from the shocking agent. Not so I. After figuratively springing back and pressing my hands over my eyes, I removed them again, and still saw his face—and it tortured me to have to own it, but I had to do so—still loved that face beyond all earthly things.

It grew by degrees familiar to me again. I caught myself thinking of the past and smiling at the remembrance of the jokes between Eugen and Helfen on Carnival Monday, then pulled myself up with a feeling of horror, and the conviction that I had no business to be thinking of him at all. But I did think of him day by day and hour by hour, and tortured myself with thinking of him, and wished, yet dreaded, to see him, and wondered how I possibly could see him, and could only live on in a hope which was not fulfilled. For I had no right to seek him out. His condition might be much—very much to me. My sympathy or pity or thought—as I felt all too keenly—could be nothing to him.

Meanwhile, as is usual in such cases, circumstance composedly took my affairs into her hands and settled them for me without my being able to move a finger in the matter.

The time was approaching for the departure of von Francius. Adelaide and I did not exchange a syllable upon the subject. Of what use? I knew to a certain extent what was passing within her. I knew that this child of the world—were we not all children of the world, and not of light?—had braced her moral forces to meet the worst, and was awaiting it calmly.

Adelaide, like me, based her actions not upon religion. Religion was for both of us an utter abstraction; it touched us not. That which gave Adelaide force to withstand temptation, and to remain stoically in the drear sphere in which she already found herself, was not religion; it was pride on the one hand, and on the other love for Max von Francius.

Pride forbade her to forfeit her reputation, which was dear to her, though her position had lost the charms with which distance had once gilded it for her. Love for von Francius made her struggle with all the force of her nature to remain where she was, renounce him blamelessly rather than yield at the price which women must pay who do such things as leave their husbands.

It was wonderful to me to see how love had developed in her every higher emotion. I remembered how cynical she had always been as to the merits of her own sex. Women, according to her, were an inferior race, who gained their poor ends by poor means. She had never been hard upon female trickery and subterfuge. Bah! she said, how else are they to get what they want? But now with the exalted opinion of a man, had come exalted ideas as to the woman fit for his wife.

Since to go to him she must be stained and marked forever, she would remain away from him. Never should any circumstance connected with him be made small or contemptible by any act of hers. I read the motive, and, reading it, read her.

Von Francius was, equally with herself, distinctly and emphatically a child of the world—as she honored him he honored her. He proved his strength and the innate nobility of his nature by his stoic abstinence from evasion of or rebellion against the decree which had gone out against their love. He was a better man, a greater artist, a more sympathetic nature now than before. His passage through the furnace had cleansed him. He was a standing example to me that despite what our preachers and our poets, our philosophers and our novelists are incessantly dinning into our ears, there are yet men who can renounce—men to whom honor and purity are still the highest goddesses.

I saw him, naturally, and often during these days—so dark for all of us. He spoke to me of his prospects in his new post. He asked me if I would write to him occasionally, even if it should be only three or four times in the year.

“Indeed I will, if you care to hear from me,” said I, much moved.

This was at our last music lesson, in my dark little room at the Wehrhahn. Von Francius had made it indeed a lesson, more than a lesson, a remembrance to carry with me forever, for he had been playing Beethoven and Schubert to me.

“Fräulein May, everything concerning you and yours will ever be of the very deepest interest to me,” he said, looking earnestly at me. “Take a few words of advice and information from one who has never felt anything for you since he first met you but the truest friendship. You have in you the materials of a great artist; whether you have the Spartan courage and perseverance requisite to attain the position, I can hardly tell. If you choose to become an artist, eine vollkommene Künstlerin, you must give everything else up—love and marriage and all that interferes with your art, for, liebes Fräulein, you can not pursue two things at once.”

“Then I have every chance of becoming as great an artist as possible,” said I; “for none of those things will ever interfere with my pursuit of art.”

“Wait till the time of probation comes; you are but eighteen yet,” said he, kindly, but skeptically.

“Herr von Francius”—the words started to my lips as the truth into my mind, and fell from them in the strong desire to speak to some one of the matter that then filled my whole soul—“I can tell you the truth—you will understand—the time of probation has been—it is over—past. I am free for the future.”

“So!” said he, in a very low voice, and his eyes were filled, less with pity than with a fellow-feeling which made them “wondrous kind.” “You too have suffered, and given up. There are then four people—you and I, and one whose name I will not speak, and—may I guess once, Fräulein May?”

I bowed.

“My first violinist, nicht wahr?

Again I assented silently. He went on:

“Fate is perverse about these things. And now, my fair pupil, you understand somewhat more that no true artist is possible without sorrow and suffering and renunciation. And you will think sometimes of your old, fault-finding, grumbling master—ja?”

“Oh, Herr von Francius!” cried I, laying my hand upon the key-board of the piano, and sobbing aloud. “The kindest, best, most patient, gentle—”

I could say no more.

“That is mere nonsense, my dear May,” he said, passing his hand over my prostrate head; and I felt that it—the strong hand—trembled. “I want a promise from you. Will you sing for me next season?”

“If I am alive, and you send for me, I will.”

“Thanks. And—one other word. Some one very dear to us both is very sad; she will become sadder. You, my child, have the power of allaying sadness, and soothing grief and bitterness in a remarkable degree. Will you expend some of that power upon her when her burden grows very hard, and think that with each word of kindness to her you bind my heart more fast to yourself?”

“I will—indeed I will!”

“We will not say good-bye, but only auf wiedersehen!” said he. “You and I shall meet again. I am sure of that. Meine liebe, gute Schülerin, adieu!”

Choked with tears, I passively let him raise my hand to his lips. I hid my face in my handkerchief to repress my fast-flowing tears. I would not, because I dared not, look at him. The sight of his kind and trusted face would give me too much pain.

He loosed my hand. I heard steps; a door opened and closed. He was gone! My last lesson was over. My trusty friend had departed. He was to leave Elberthal on the following day.

The next night there was an entertainment—half concert, half theatricals, wholly dilettante—at the Malkasten, the Artists’ Club. We, as is the duty of a decorous English family, buried all our private griefs, and appeared at the entertainment, to which, indeed, Adelaide had received a special invitation. I was going to remain with Adelaide until Sir Peter’s return, which, we understood, was to be in the course of a few weeks, and then I was going to ——, by the advice of von Francius, there to finish my studies.

Dearly though I loved music, divine as she ever has been, and will be, to me, yet the idea of leaving von Francius for other masters had at first almost shaken my resolution to persevere. But, as I said, all this was taken out of my hands by an irresistible concourse of circumstances, over which I had simply no control whatever.

Adelaide, Harry, and I went to the Malkasten. The gardens were gayly illuminated; there was a torch-light procession round the little artificial lake, and chorus singing—merry choruses, such as “Wenn Zwei sich gut sind, sie finden den Weg”—which were cheered and laughed at. The fantastically dressed artists and their friends were flitting, torch in hand, about the dark alleys under the twisted acacias and elms, the former of which made the air voluptuous with their scent. Then we adjourned to the saal for the concert, and heard on all sides regrets about the absence of von Francius.

We sat out the first part of the festivities, which were to conclude with theatricals. During the pause we went into the garden. The May evening was balmy and beautiful; no moonlight, but many stars and the twinkling lights in the garden.

Adelaide and I had seated ourselves on a circular bench surrounding a big tree, which had the mighty word Goethe cut deeply into its rugged bark. When the others began to return to the Malkasten, Adelaide, turning to Arkwright, said:

“Harry, will you go in and leave my sister and me here, that’s a good boy? You can call for us when the play is over.”

“All right, my lady,” assented he, amiably, and left us.

Presently Adelaide and I moved to another seat, near to a small table under a thick shade of trees. The pleasant, cool evening air fanned our faces; all was still and peaceful. Not a soul but ourselves had remained out-of-doors. The still drama of the marching stars was less attractive than the amateur murdering of “Die Piccolomin” within. The tree-tops rustled softly over our heads. The lighted pond gleamed through the low-hanging boughs at the other end of the garden. A peal of laughter and a round of applause came wafted now and then from within. Ere long Adelaide’s hand stole into mine, which closed over it, and we sat silent.

Then there came a voice. Some one—a complaisant dilettantin—was singing Thekla’s song. We heard the refrain—distance lent enchantment; it sounded what it really was, deep as eternity:

“Ich habe gelebt und geliebet.”

Adelaide moved uneasily; her hand started nervously, and a sigh broke from her lips.

“Schiller wrote from his heart,” said she, in a low voice.

“Indeed, yes, Adelaide.”

“Did you say good-bye to von Francius, May, yesterday?”

“Yes—at least, we said au revoir. He wants me to sing for him next winter.”

“Was he very down?”

“Yes—very. He—”

A footstep close at hand. A figure passed in the uncertain light, dimly discerned us, paused, and glanced at us.

“Max!” exclaimed Adelaide, in a low voice, full of surprise and emotion, and she half started up.

“It is you! That is too wonderful!” said he, pausing.

“You are not yet gone?”

“I have been detained to-day. I leave early to-morrow. I thought I would take at least one turn in the Malkasten garden, which I may perhaps never see or enter again. I did not know you were here.”

“We—May and I—thought it so pleasant that we would not go in again to listen to the play.”

Von Francius had come under the trees and was now leaning against a massive trunk; his slight, tall figure almost lost against it; his arms folded, and an imposing calm upon his pale face, which was just caught by the gleam of a lamp outside the trees.

“Since this accidental meeting has taken place, I may have the privilege of saying adieu to your ladyship.”

“Yes—” said Adelaide, in a strange, low, much-moved tone.

I felt uneasy, I was sorry this meeting had taken place. The shock and revulsion of feeling for Adelaide, after she had been securely calculating that von Francius was a hundred miles on his way to ——, was too severe. I could tell from the very timbre of her voice and its faint vibration how agitated she was, and as she seated herself again beside me, I felt that she trembled like a reed.

“It is more happiness than I expected,” went on von Francius, and his voice too was agitated. Oh, if he would only say “Farewell,” and go!

“Happiness!” echoed Adelaide, in a tone whose wretchedness was too deep for tears.

“Ah! You correct me. Still it is a happiness; there are some kinds of joy which one can not distinguish from griefs, my lady, until one comes to think that one might have been without them, and then one knows their real nature.”

She clasped her hands. I saw her bosom rise and fall with long, stormy breaths.

I trembled for both; for Adelaide, whose emotion and anguish were, I saw, mastering her; for von Francius, because if Adelaide failed he must find it almost impossible to repulse her.

“Herr von Francius,” said I, in a quick, low voice, making one step toward him, and laying my hand upon his arm, “leave us! If you do love us,” I added, in a whisper, “leave us! Adelaide, say good-bye to him—let him go!”

“You are right,” said von Francius to me, before Adelaide had time to speak; “you are quite right.”

A pause. He stepped up to Adelaide. I dared not interfere. Their eyes met, and his will not to yield produced the same in her, in the shape of a passive, voiceless acquiescence in his proceedings. He took her hands, saying:

“My lady, adieu! Heaven send you peace, or death, which brings it, or—whatever is best.”

Loosing her hands he turned to me, saying distinctly:

“As you are a woman, and her sister, do not forsake her now.”

Then he was gone. She raised her arms and half fell against the trunk of the giant acacia beneath which we had been sitting, face forward, as if drunk with misery.

Von Francius, strong and generous, whose very submission seemed to brace one to meet trouble with a calmer, firmer front, was gone. I raised my eyes, and did not even feel startled, only darkly certain that Adelaide’s evil star was high in the heaven of her fate, when I saw, calmly regarding us, Sir Peter Le Marchant.

In another moment he stood beside his wife, smiling, and touched her shoulder; with a low cry she raised her face, shrinking away from him. She did not seem surprised either, and I do not think people often are surprised at the presence, however sudden and unexpected, of their evil genius. It is good luck which surprises the average human being.

“You give me a cold welcome, my lady,” he remarked. “You are so overjoyed to see me, I suppose. Your carriage is waiting outside. I came in it, and Arkwright told me I should find you here. Suppose you come home. We shall be less disturbed there than in these public gardens.”

Tone and words all convinced me that he had heard most of what had passed, and would oppress her with it hereafter.

The late scene had apparently stunned her. After the first recoil she said, scarcely audibly, “I am ready,” and moved. He offered her his arm; she took it, turning to me and saying, “Come, May!”

“Excuse me,” observed Sir Peter, “you are better alone. I am sorry I can not second your invitation to my charming sister-in-law. I do not think you fit for any society—even hers.”

“I can not leave my sister, Sir Peter; she is not fit to be left,” I found voice to say.

“She is not ‘left,’ as you say, my dear. She has her husband. She has me,” said he.

Some few further words passed. I do not chronicle them. Sir Peter was as firm as a rock—that I was helpless before him is a matter of course. I saw my sister handed into her carriage; I saw Sir Peter follow her—the carriage drive away. I was left alone, half mad with terror at the idea of her state, to go home to my lodgings.

Sir Peter had heard the words of von Francius to me; “do not forsake her now,” and had given himself the satisfaction of setting them aside as if they had been so much waste paper. Von Francius was, as I well knew, trying to derive comfort in this very moment from the fact that I at least was with her; I who loved them both, and would have laid down my life for them. Well, let him have the comfort! In the midst of my sorrow I rejoiced that he did not know the worst, and would not be likely to imagine for himself a terror grimmer than any feeling I had yet known.

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