First Violin, The


“Allein, allein! und so soll ich genesen?
Allein, allein! und das des Schicksals Segen!
Allein, allein! O Gott, ein einzig Wesen,
Um dieses Haupt an seine Brust zu legen!”

I had a sharp, if not a long attack of illness, which left me weak, shaken, passive, so that I felt neither ability nor wish to resist those who took me into their hands. I remember being surprised at the goodness of every one toward me; astonished at Frau Lutzler’s gentle kindness, amazed at the unfailing goodness of Dr. Mittendorf and his wife, at that of the medical man who attended me in my illness. Yes, the world seemed full of kindness, full of kind people who were anxious to keep me in it, and who managed, in spite of my effort to leave it, to retain me.

Dr. Mittendorf, the oculist, had been my guardian angel. It was he who wrote to my friends and told them of my illness; it was he who went to meet Stella and Miss Hallam’s Merrick, who came over to nurse me—and take me home. The fiat had gone forth. I was to go home. I made no resistance, but my very heart shrunk away in fear and terror from the parting, till one day something happened which reconciled me to going home, or rather made me evenly and equally indifferent whether I went home, or stayed abroad, or lived, or died, or, in short, what became of me.

I sat one afternoon for the first time in an arm-chair opposite the window. It was June, and the sun streamed warmly and richly in. The room was scented with a bunch of wall-flowers and another of mignonette, which Stella had brought in that morning from the market. Stella was very kind to me, but in a superior, patronizing way. I had always felt deferentially backward before the superior abilities of both my sisters, but Stella quite over-awed me by her decided opinions and calm way of setting me right upon all possible matters.

This afternoon she had gone out with Merrick to enjoy a little fresh air. I was left quite alone, with my hands in my lap, feeling very weak, and looking wistfully toward the well-remembered windows on the other side of the street.

They were wide open; I could see inside the room. No one was there—Friedhelm and Eugen had gone out, no doubt.

The door of my room opened, and Frau Lutzler came in. She looked cautiously around, and then, having ascertained that I was not asleep, asked in a nerve-disturbing whisper if I had everything that I wanted.

“Everything, thank you, Frau Lutzler,” said I. “But come in! I want to speak to you. I am afraid I have given you no end of trouble.”

Ach, ich bitte sie, Fräulein! Don’t mention the trouble. We have managed to keep you alive.”

How they all did rejoice in having won a victory over that gray-winged angel, Death! I thought to myself, with a curious sensation of wonder.

“You are very kind,” I said, “and I want you to tell me something, Frau Lutzler: how long have I been ill?”

“Fourteen days, Fräulein; little as you may think it.”

“Indeed! I have heard nothing about any one in that time. Who has been made musik-direktor in place of Herr von Francius?”

Frau Lutzler folded her arms and composed herself to tell me a history.

Ja, Fräulein, the post would have been offered to Herr Courvoisier, only, you see, he has turned out a good-for-nothing. But perhaps you heard about that?”

“Oh, yes! I know all about it,” said I, hastily, as I passed my handkerchief over my mouth to hide the spasm of pain which contracted it.

“Of course, considering all that, the Direktion could not offer it to him, so they proposed it to Herr Helfen—you know Herr Helfen, Fräulein, nicht?”

I nodded.

“A good young man! a worthy young man, and so popular with his companions! Aber denken sie nur! The authorities might have been offering him an insult instead of a good post. He refused it then and there; would not stop to consider about it—in fact, he was quite angry about it. The gentleman who was chosen at last was a stranger, from Hanover.”

“Herr Helfen refused it—why, do you know?”

“They say, because he was so fond of Herr Courvoisier, and would not be set above him. It may be so. I know for a certainty that, so far from taking part against Herr Courvoisier, he would not even believe the story against him, though he could not deny it, and did not try to deny it. Aber, Fräulein—what hearts men must have! To have lived three years, and let the world think him an honest man, when all the time he had that on his conscience! Schrecklich!

Adelaide and Courvoisier, it seemed, might almost be pelted with the same stones.

“His wife, they say, died of grief at the disgrace—”

“Yes,” said I, wincing. I could not bear this any longer, nor to discuss Courvoisier with Frau Lutzler, and the words “his wife,” uttered in that speculatively gossiping tone, repelled me. She turned the subject to Helfen again.

“Herr Helfen must indeed have loved his friend, for when Herr Courvoisier went away he went with him.”

“Herr Courvoisier is gone?” I inquired, in a voice so like my usual one that I was surprised.

“Yes, certainly he is gone. I don’t know where, I am sure.”

“Perhaps they will return?”

Frau Lutzler shook her head, and smiled slightly.

Nee, Fräulein! Their places were filled immediately. They are gone—ganz und gar.”

I tried to listen to her, tried to answer her as she went on giving her opinions upon men and things, but the effort collapsed suddenly. I had at last to turn my head away and close my eyes, and in that weary, weary moment I prayed to God that He would let me die, and wondered again, and was almost angry with those who had nursed me, for having done their work so well. “We have managed to save you,” Frau Lutzler had said. Save me from what, and for what?

I knew the truth, as I sat there; it was quite too strong and too clear to be laid aside, or looked upon with doubtful eyes. I was fronted by a fact, humiliating or not—a fact which I could not deny.

It was bad enough to have fallen in love with a man who had never showed me by word or sign that he cared for me, but exactly and pointedly the reverse; but now it seemed the man himself was bad too. Surely a well-regulated mind would have turned away from him—uninfluenced.

If so, then mine was an ill-regulated mind. I had loved him from the bottom of my heart; the world without him felt cold, empty and bare—desolate to live in, and shorn of its sweetest pleasures. He had influenced me, he influenced me yet—I still felt the words true:

“The greater soul that draweth thee
Hath left his shadow plain to see
On thy fair face, Persephone!”

He had bewitched me; I did feel capable of “making a fool of myself” for his sake. I did feel that life by the side of any other man would be miserable, though never so richly set; and that life by his side would be full and complete though never so poor and sparing in its circumstances. I make no excuses, no apologies for this state of things. It simply was so.

Gone! And Friedhelm with him! I should probably never see either of them again. “I have made a mess of my life,” Adelaide had said, and I felt that I might chant the same dirge. A fine ending to my boasted artistic career! I thought of how I had sat and chattered so aimlessly to Courvoisier in the cathedral at Köln, and had little known how large and how deep a shadow his influence was to cast over my life.

I still retained a habit of occasionally kneeling by my bedside and saying my prayers, and this night I felt the impulse to do so. I tried to thank God for my recovery. I said the Lord’s Prayer; it is a universal petition and thanksgiving; it did not too nearly touch my woes; it allowed itself to be said, but when I came to something nearer, tried to say a thanksgiving for blessings and friends who yet remained, my heart refused, my tongue cleaved to my mouth. Alas! I was not regenerate. I could not thank God for what had happened. I found myself thinking of “the pity on’t,” and crying most bitterly till tears streamed through my folded fingers, and whispering, “Oh, if I could only have died while I was so ill! no one would have missed me, and it would have been so much better for me!”

In the beginning of July, Stella, Merrick, and I returned to England, to Skernford, home. I parted in silent tears from my trusted friends, the Mittendorfs, who begged me to come and stay with them at some future day. The anguish of leaving Elberthal did not make itself fully felt at first—that remained to torment me at a future day. And soon after our return came printed in large type in all the newspapers, “Declaration of War between France and Germany.” Mine was among the hearts which panted and beat with sickening terror in England while the dogs of war were fastened in deadly grip abroad.

My time at home was spent more with Miss Hallam than in my own home. I found her looking much older, much feebler, and much more subdued than when she had been in Germany. She seemed to find some comfort from my society, and I was glad to devote myself to her. But for her I should never have known all those pains and pleasures which, bitter though their remembrance might be, were, and ever would be to me, the dearest thing of my life.

Miss Hallam seemed to know this; she once asked me: “Would I return to Germany if I could?”

“Yes,” said I, “I would.”

To say that I found life dull, even in Skernford, at that time would be untrue. Miss Hallam was a furious partisan of the French, and I dared not mention the war to her, but I took in the “Daily News” from my private funds, and read it in my bedroom every night with dimmed eyes, fast-coming breath, and beating heart. I knew—knew well, that Eugen must be fighting—unless he were dead. And I knew, too, by some intuition founded, I suppose, on many small negative evidences unheeded at the time, that he would fight, not like the other men who were battling for the sake of hearth and home, and sheer love and pride for the Fatherland, but as one who has no home and no Fatherland, as one who seeks a grave, not as one who combats a wrong.

Stella saw the pile of newspapers in my room, and asked me how I could read those dreary accounts of battles and bombardments. Beyond these poor newspapers I had, during the sixteen months that I was at home, but scant tidings from without. I had implored Clara Steinmann to write me now and then, and tell me the news of Elberthal, but her penmanship was of the most modest and retiring description, and she was, too, so desperately excited about Karl as to be able to think scarce of anything else. Karl belonged to a Landwehr regiment which had not yet been called out, but to which that frightful contingency might happen any day; and what should she, Clara, do in that case? She told me no news; she lamented over the possibility of Karl’s being summoned upon active service. It was, she said, grausam, schrecklich! It made her almost faint to write about it, and yet she did compose four whole pages in that condition. The barrack, she informed me, was turned into a hospital, and she and “Tante” both worked hard. There was much work—dreadful work to do—such poor groaning fellows to nurse! “Herrgott!” cried poor little Clara, “I did not know that the world was such a dreadful place!” Everything was so dear, so frightfully dear, and Karl—that was the burden of her song—might have to go into battle any day.

Also through the public papers I learned that Adelaide and Sir Peter Le Marchant were divided forever. As to what happened afterward I was for some time in uncertainty, longing most intensely to know, not daring to speak of it. Adelaide’s name was the signal for a cold stare from Stella, and angry, indignant expostulation from Miss Hallam. To me it was a sorrowful spell which I carried in my heart of hearts.

One day I saw in a German musical periodical which I took in, this announcement: “Herr Musik-direktor Max von Francius in —— has lately published a new symphony in B minor. The productions of this gifted composer are slowly but most surely making the mark which they deserve to leave in the musical history of our nation; he has, we believe, left —— for —— for a few weeks to join his lady (seine Gemahlin), who is one of the most active and valuable hospitable nurses of that town, now, alas! little else than a hospital.”

This paragraph set my heart beating wildly. Adelaide was then the wife of von Francius. My heart yearned from my solitude toward them both. Why did not they write? They knew how I loved them. Adelaide could not suppose that I looked upon her deed with the eyes of the world at large—with the eyes of Stella or Miss Hallam. Had I not grieved with her? Had I not seen the dreadful struggle? Had I not proved the nobility of von Francius? On an impulse I seized pen and paper, and wrote to Adelaide, addressing my letter under cover to her husband at the town in which he was musik-direktor; to him I also wrote—only a few words—“Is your pupil forgotten by her master? he has never been forgotten by her.”

At last the answer came. On the part of Adelaide it was short:

Dear May,—I have had no time till now to answer your letter. I can not reply to all your questions. You ask whether I repent what I have done. I repent my whole life. If I am happy—how can I be happy? I am busy now, and have many calls upon my time. My husband is very good: he never interposes between me and my work. Shall I ever come to England again?—never.”

“A. von F.”

No request to write again! No inquiry after friends or relations! This letter showed me that whatever I might feel to her—however my heart might beat and long, how warm soever the love I bore her, yet that Adelaide was now apart from me—divided in every thought. It was a cruel letter, but in my pain I could not see that it had not been cruelly intended. Her nature had changed. But behind this pain lay comfort. On the back of the same sheet as that on which Adelaide’s curt epistle was written, were some lines in the hand I knew well.

Liebe Mai”—they said—“Forgive your master, who can never forget you, nor ever cease to love you. You suffer. I know it; I read it in those short, constrained lines, so unlike your spontaneous words and frank smile. My dear child, remember the storms that are beating on every side—over our country, in on our hearts. Once I asked you to sing for me some time: you promised. When the war is over I shall remind you of your promise. At present, believe me, silence is best.

“Your old music-master,
M. v. F.

Gall and honey, roses and thistles, a dagger at the heart and a caress upon the lips; such seemed to me the characters of the two letters on the same sheet which I held in my hand. Adelaide made my heart ache; von Francius made tears stream from my eyes. I reproached myself for having doubted him, but oh, I treasured the proof that he was true! It was the one tangible link between me, reality, and hard facts, and the misty yet beloved life I had quitted. My heart was full to overflowing; I must tell some one—I must speak to some one.

Once again I tried to talk to Stella about Adelaide, but she gazed at me in that straight, strange way, and said coldly that she preferred not to speak of “that.” I could not speak to Miss Hallam about it. Alone in the broad meadows, beside the noiseless river, I sometimes whispered to myself that I was not forgotten, and tried to console myself with the feeling that what von Francius promised he did—I should touch his hand, hear his voice again—and Adelaide’s. For the rest, I had to lock the whole affair—my grief and my love, my longing and my anxiety, fast within my own breast, and did so.

It was a long lesson—a hard one; it was conned with bitter tears, wept long and alone in the darkness; it was a sorrow which lay down and rose up with me. It taught (or rather practiced me until I became expert in them) certain things in which I had been deficient; reticence, self-reliance, a quicker ability to decide in emergencies. It certainly made me feel old and sad, and Miss Hallam often said that Stella and I were “as quiet as nuns.”

Stella had the power which I so ardently coveted: she was a first-rate instrumentalist. The only topic she and I had in common was the music I had heard and taken part in. To anything concerning that she would listen for hours.

Meanwhile the war rolled on, and Paris capitulated, and peace was declared. The spring passed and Germany laughed in glee, and bleeding France roused herself to look with a haggard eye around her; what she saw, we all know—desolation, and mourning, and woe. And summer glided by, and autumn came, and I did not write either to Adelaide or von Francius. I had a firm faith in him—and absolute trust. I felt I was not forgotten.

In less than a year after my return to England, Miss Hallam died. The day before her death she called me to her, and said words which moved me very much.

“May, I am an eccentric old woman, and lest you should be in any doubt upon the subject of my feelings toward you, I wish to tell you that my life has been more satisfactory to me ever since I knew you.”

“That is much more praise than I deserve, Miss Hallam.”

“No, it isn’t. I like both you and Stella. Three months ago I made a codicil to my will by which I endeavored to express that liking. It is nothing very brilliant, but I fancy it will suit the views of both of you.”

Utterly astounded, I stammered out some incoherent words.

“There, don’t thank me,” said she. “If I were not sure that I shall die to-morrow—or thereabouts, I should put my plan into execution at once, but I shall not be alive at the end of the week.”

Her words proved true. Grim, sardonic, and cynical to the last, she died quietly, gladly closing her eyes which had so long been sightless. She was sixty-five years old, and had lived alone since she was five-and-twenty.

The codicil to her will, which she had spoken of with so much composure, left three hundred pounds to Stella and me. She wished a portion of it to be devoted to our instruction in music, vocal and instrumental, at any German conservatorium we might select. She preferred that of L——. Until we were of age, our parents or guardians saw to the dispensing of the money, after that it was our own—half belonging to each of us; we might either unite our funds or use them separately as we choose.

It need scarcely be said that we both chose that course which she indicated. Stella’s joy was deep and intense—mine had an unavoidable sorrow mingled with it. At the end of September, 18—, we departed for Germany, and before going to L—— it was agreed that we should pay a visit at Elberthal, to my friend Dr. Mittendorf.

It was a gusty September night, with wind dashing angrily about and showers of rain flying before the gale, on which I once again set foot in Elberthal—the place I had thought never more to see.

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