First Violin, The


“And surely, when all this is past
They shall not want their rest at last.”

On the 23d of December—I will not say how few or how many years after those doings and that violent agitation which my friend Gräfin May has striven to make coherent in the last chapter—I, with my great-coat on my arm, stood waiting for the train which was to bear me ten miles away from the sleepy old musical ducal Hauptstadt, in which I am Herzoglicher Kapellmeister, to Rothenfels, where I was bidden to spend Christmas. I had not long to wait. Having ascertained that my bag was safe, in which reposed divers humble proofs of my affection for the friends of the past, I looked leisurely out as the train came in for a second-class carriage, and very soon found what I wanted. I shook hands with an acquaintance, and leaned out of the window, talking to him till the train started. Then for the first time I began to look at my fellow-traveler; a lady, and most distinctly not one of my own countrywomen, who, whatever else they may excel in, emphatically do not know how to clothe themselves for traveling. Her veil was down, but her face was turned toward me, and I thought I knew something of the grand sweep of the splendid shoulders and majestic bearing of the stately form. She soon raised her veil, and looking at me, said, with a grave bow:

“Herr Helfen, how do you do?”

“Ah, pardon me, gnädige Frau; for the moment I did not recognize you. I hope you are well.”

“Quite well, thank you,” said she, with grave courtesy; but I saw that her beautiful face was thin and worn, her pallor greater than ever.

She had never been a person much given to mirthfulness; but now she looked as if all smiles had passed forever from her lips—a certain secret sat upon them, and closed them in an outline, sweet, but utterly impenetrable.

“You are going to Rothenfels, I presume?” she said.

“Yes. And you also?”

“I also—somewhat against my will; but I did not want to hurt my sister’s feelings. It is the first time I have left home since my husband’s death.”

I bowed. Her face did not alter. Calm, sad, and staid—whatever storms had once shaken that proud heart, they were lulled forever now.

Two years ago Adelaide von Francius had buried keen grief and sharp anguish, together with vivid hope or great joy, with her noble husband, whom we had mourned bitterly then, whom we yet mourn in our hearts, and whom we shall continue to mourn as long as we live.

May’s passionate conviction that he and she should meet again had been fulfilled. They had met, and each had found the other unchanged; and Adelaide had begun to yield to the conviction that her sister’s love was love, pure and simple, and not pity. Since his death she had continued to live in the town in which their married life had been passed—a life which for her was just beginning to be happy—that is to say, she was just learning to allow herself to be happy, in the firm assurance of his unalterable love and devotion, when the summons came; a sharp attack, a short illness, all over—eyes closed, lips, too—silent before her for evermore.

It has often been my fate to hear criticisms both on von Francius and his wife, and upon their conduct. This I know, that she never forgave herself the step she had taken in her despair. Her pride never recovered from the burden laid upon it—that she had taken the initiative, had followed the man who had said farewell to her. Bad her lot was to be, sad, and joyless, whether in its gilded cage, or linked with the man whom she loved, but to be with whom she had had to pay so terrible a price. I have never heard her complain of life and the world; yet she can find neither very sweet, for she is an extremely proud woman, who has made two terrible failures in her affairs.

Von Francius, before he died, had made a mark not to be erased in the hearts of his musical compatriots. Had he lived—but that is vain! Still, one feels—one can now but feel—that, as his widow said to me, with matter-of-fact composure:

“He was much more hardly to be spared than such a person as I, Herr Helfen. If I might have died and left him to enrich and gladden the world, I should have felt that I had not made such a mess of everything after all.”

Yet she never referred to him as “my poor husband,” or by any of those softening terms by which some people approach the name of a dead dear one; all the same we knew quite well that with him life had died for her.

Since his death, she and I had been in frequent communication; she was editing a new edition of his works, for which, after his death, there had been an instant call. It had lately been completed; and the music of our former friend shall, if I mistake not, become, in the best and highest sense of the word, popular music—the people’s music. I had been her eager and, she was pleased to say, able assistant in the work.

We journeyed on together through the winter country, and I glanced at her now and then—at the still, pale face which rose above her English-fashioned sealskin, and wondered how it was that some faces, though never so young and beautiful, have written upon them in unmistakable characters, “The End,” as one saw upon her face. Still, we talked about all kinds of matters—musical, private, and public. I asked if she went out at all.

“Only to concerts with the von ——s, who have been friends of mine ever since I went to ——,” she replied; and then the train rolled into the station of Lahnburg.

There was a group of faces I knew waiting to meet us.

“Ah! there is my sister Stella,” said Adelaide, in a low voice. “How she is altered! And that is May’s husband, I suppose. I remember his face now that I see it.”

We had been caught sight of. Four people came crowding round us. Eugen—my eyes fell upon him first—we grasped hands silently. His wife, looking lovelier than ever in her winter furs and feathers. A tall boy in a sealskin cap—my Sigmund—who had been hanging on his father’s arm, and whose eyes welcomed me more volubly than his tongue, which was never given to excessive wagging.

May and Frau von Francius went home in a carriage which Sigmund, under the direction of an awful-looking Kutscher, drove.

Stella, Eugen, and I walked to Rothenfels, and they quarreled, as they always did, while I listened and gave an encouraging word to each in turn. Stella Wedderburn was very beautiful; and after spending Christmas at Rothenfels, she was going home to be married. Eugen, May, and Sigmund were going too, for the first time since May’s marriage.

Graf Bruno that year had temporarily abdicated his throne, and Eugen had been constituted host for the season. The guests were his and his wife’s; the arrangements were his, and the entertainment fell to his share.

Gräfin Hildegarde looked a little amazed at such of her guests, for instance, as Karl Linders. She had got over the first shock of seeing me a regular visitor in the house, and was pleased to draw me aside on this occasion, and inform me that really that young man, Herr Linders, was presentable—quite presentable—and never forgot himself; he had handed her into her carriage yesterday really quite creditably. No doubt it was long friendship with Eugen which had given him that extra polish.

“Indeed, Frau Gräfin, he was always like that. It is natural.”

“He is very presentable, really—very. But as a friend of Eugen’s,” and she smiled condescendingly upon me, “he would naturally be so.”

In truth, Karl was Karl. “Time had not thinned his flowing locks;” he was as handsome, as impulsive, and as true as ever; had added two babies to his responsibilities, who, with his beloved Frau Gemahlin, had likewise been bidden to this festivity, but had declined to quit the stove and private Christmas-tree of home life. He wore no more short jackets now; his sister Gretchen was engaged to a young doctor, and Karl’s head was growing higher—as it deserved—for it had no mean or shady deeds to bow it.

The company then consisted in toto of Graf and Gräfin von Rothenfels, who, I must record it, both looked full ten years younger and better since their prodigal was returned to them, of Stella Wedderburn, Frau von Francius, Karl Linders, and Friedhelm Helfen. May, as I said, looked lovelier than ever. It was easy to see that she was the darling of the elder brother and his wife. She was a radiant, bright creature, yet her deepest affections were given to sad people—to her husband, to her sister Adelaide, to Countess Hildegarde.

She and Eugen are well mated. It is true he is not a very cheerful man—his face is melancholy. In his eyes is a shadow which never wholly disappears—lines upon his broad and tranquil brow which are indelible. He has honor and titles, and a name clean and high before men, but it was not always so. That terrible bringing to reason—that six years’ grinding lesson of suffering, self-suppression—ay, self-effacement—have left their marks, a “shadow plain to see,” and will never leave him. He is a different man from the outcast who stepped forth into the night with a weird upon him, nor ever looked back till it was dreed out in darkness to its utmost term.

He has tasted of the sorrows—the self-brought sorrows which make merry men into sober ones, the sorrows which test a man and prove his character to be of gold or of dross, and therefore he is grave. Grave too is the son who is more worshiped by both him and his wife than any of their other children. Sigmund von Rothenfels is what outsiders call “a strange, incomprehensible child;” seldom smiles, and has no child friends. His friends are his father and “Mother May”—Mütterchen he calls her; and it is quaint sometimes to see how on an equality the three meet and associate. His notions of what is fit for a man to be and do he takes from his father; his ideal woman—I am sure he has one—would, I believe, turn out to be a subtle and impossible compound of May and his aunt Hildegarde.

We sometimes speculate as to what he will turn out. Perhaps the musical genius which his father will not bring before the world in himself may one day astonish that world in Sigmund. It is certain that his very life seems bound up in the art, and in that house and that circle it must be a very Caliban, or something yet lower, which could resist the influence.

One day May, Eugen, Karl, and I, repaired to the music-room and played together the Fourth Symphonie and some of Schumann’s “Kinderscenen,” but May began to cry before it was over, and the rest of us had thoughts that did lie too deep for tears—thoughts of that far-back afternoon of Carnival Monday, and how we “made a sunshine in a shady place”—of all that came before—and after.

Between me and Eugen there has never come a cloud, nor the faintest shadow of one. Built upon days passed together in storm and sunshine, weal and woe, good report and evil report, our union stands upon a firm foundation of that nether rock of friendship, perfect trust, perfect faith, love stronger than death, which makes a peace in our hearts, a mighty influence in our lives which very truly “passeth understanding.”



In the spring of ’48, I was called to Jackson to attend court, having been engaged to defend a young man who had been accused of robbing the mail. I had a long conference with my client, and he acknowledged to me that on the night when the mail was robbed he had been with a party of dissipated companions over to Topham, and that on returning, they met the mail-carrier on horseback coming from Jackson. Some of his companions were very drunk, and they proposed to stop the carrier and overhaul his bag. The roads were very muddy at the time, and the coach could not run. My client assured me that he not only had no hand in robbing the mail, but that he tried to dissuade his companions from doing so. But they would not listen to him. One of them slipped up behind the carrier, and knocked him from his horse. Then they bound and blindfolded him, and having tied him to a tree, they took his mail-bag, and made off into a neighboring field, where they overhauled it, finding some five hundred dollars in money in the various letters. He went with them, but in no way did he have any hand in the crime. Those who did do it had fled, and, as the carrier had recognized him as in the party, he had been arrested.

The mail-bag had been found, as well as the letters. Those letters from which money had been taken, were kept, by order of the officers, and duplicates sent to the various persons, to whom they were directed, announcing the particulars. These letters had been given me for examination, and I had then returned them to the prosecuting attorney.

I got through with my private preliminaries about noon, and as the case would not come up before the next day, I went into the court in the afternoon, to see what was going on. The first case which came up was one of theft, and the prisoner was a young girl, not more than seventeen years of age, named Elizabeth Madworth. She was very pretty, and bore that mild, innocent look, which we seldom find in a culprit.

The complaint against her set forth that she had stolen one hundred dollars from a Mrs. Naseby; and as the case went on, I found that this Mrs. Naseby was her mistress, she (Mrs. N.) being a wealthy widow, living in the town. The poor girl declared her innocence in the wildest terms, and called on God to witness that she would rather die than steal. But circumstances were hard against her. A hundred dollars, in bank notes had been stolen from her mistress’s room, and she was the only one who had access there.

At this juncture, while the mistress was upon the witness stand, a young man came and caught me by the arm.

“They tell me you are a good lawyer?” he whispered.

“I am a lawyer,” I answered.

“Then—oh!—save her! You can certainly do it, for she is innocent.”

“Has she no counsel?” I asked.

“None that’s good for anything—nobody that’ll do anything for her. Oh, save her, and I’ll pay you all I’ve got. I can’t pay you much, but I can raise something.”

I reflected for a moment. I cast my eyes toward the prisoner, and she was at that moment looking at me. She caught my eye, and the volume of humble, prayerful entreaty I read in those large, tearful orbs, resolved me in a moment. I arose and went to the girl, and asked her if she wished me to defend her. She said yes. Then I informed the court that I was ready to enter into the case, and I was admitted at once.

I asked for a moment’s cessation, that I might speak with my client. I went and sat down by her side, and asked her to state candidly the whole case. She told me she had lived with Mrs. Naseby nearly two years, and that during all that time she had never had any trouble before. About two weeks ago, she said, her mistress lost a hundred dollars.

“She missed it from her drawer,” the girl told me, “and she asked me about it, but I knew nothing of it. The next thing I knew, Nancy Luther told Mrs. Naseby that she saw me take the money from her drawer—that she watched me through the keyhole. Then they went to my trunk, and they found twenty-five dollars of the missing money there. But, oh, sir, I never took it—and somebody else put that money there!”

I then asked her if she suspected any one.

“I don’t know,” she said, “who could have done it but Nancy. She has never liked me, because she thought I was treated better than she was. She is the cook, and I was the chamber-maid.”

She pointed Nancy Luther out to me. She was a stout, bold-faced girl, somewhere about five-and-twenty years old, with a low forehead, small gray eyes, a pug nose and thick lips.

“Oh, sir, can you help me?” my client asked, in a fearful whisper.

“Nancy Luther, did you say that girl’s name was?” I asked, for a new light had broken in upon me.

“Yes, sir.”

“Is there any other girl of that name about here?”

“No, sir.”

“Then rest easy. I’ll try hard to save you.”

I left the courtroom, and went to the prosecuting attorney and asked him for the letters I had handed him—the ones that had been stolen from the mail-bag. He gave them to me, and, having selected one, I returned the rest, and told him I would see that he had the one I kept before night. I then returned to the courtroom, and the case went on.

Mrs. Naseby resumed her testimony. She said she entrusted her room to the prisoner’s care, and that no one else had access there save herself. Then she described about missing the money, and closed by telling how she found twenty-five dollars of it in the prisoner’s trunk. She could swear it was the identical money she had lost, it being in two tens and one five-dollar bill.

“Mrs. Naseby,” said I, “when you first missed your money, had you any reason to believe that the prisoner had it?”

“No, sir,” she answered.

“Had you ever before detected her in any dishonesty?”

“No, sir.”

“Should you have thought of searching her trunk, had not Nancy Luther advised you and informed you?”

“No, sir.”

Mrs. Naseby then left the stand, and Nancy Luther took her place. She came up with a bold look, and upon me she cast a defiant glance, as much as to say “Trap me, if you can.” She gave her evidence as follows:

She said that on the night when the money was stolen she saw the prisoner going upstairs, and from the sly manner in which she went up, she suspected all was not right. So she followed her up. “Elizabeth went into Mrs. Naseby’s room, and shut the door after her. I stooped down and looked through the keyhole, and saw her at the mistress’s drawer. I saw her take out the money and put it in her pocket. Then she stooped down and picked up the lamp, and as I saw that she was coming out, I hurried away.” Then she went on and told how she had informed her mistress of this, and how she proposed to search the girl’s trunk.

I called Mrs. Naseby back to the stand.

“You say that no one save yourself and the prisoner had access to your room,” I said. “Now, could Nancy Luther have entered that room, if she wished?”

“Certainly, sir. I meant no one else had any right there.”

I saw that Mrs. N., though naturally a hard woman, was somewhat moved by poor Elizabeth’s misery.

“Could your cook have known, by any means in your knowledge, where your money was?”

“Yes, sir; for she has often come up to my room when I was there, and I have given her money with which to buy provisions of marketmen who happened along with their wagons.”

“One more question: Have you known of the prisoner’s having used any money since this was stolen?”

“No, sir.”

I now called Nancy Luther back, and she began to tremble a little, though her look was as bold and defiant.

“Miss Luther,” I said, “why did you not inform your mistress at once of what you had seen without waiting for her to ask you about the lost money?”

“Because I could not make up my mind at once to expose the poor young girl,” she answered, promptly.

“You say you looked through the keyhole and saw her take the money?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where did she place the lamp, while she did so?”

“On the bureau.”

“In your testimony, you said she stooped down when she picked it up. What did you mean by that?”

The girl hesitated, and finally said she didn’t mean anything, only that she picked up the lamp.

“Very well,” said I. “How long have you been with Mrs. Naseby?”

“Not quite a year, sir.”

“How much does she pay you a week?”

“A dollar and three-quarters.”

“Have you taken up any of your pay since you have been there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“How should I? I’ve taken it at different times, just as I wanted it, and have kept no account.”

“Now, if you had had any wish to harm the prisoner, couldn’t you have raised twenty-five dollars to put in her trunk?”

“No, sir,” she replied, with virtuous indignation.

“Then you have not laid up any money since you have been there?”

“No, sir—only what Mrs. Naseby may owe me.”

“Then you didn’t have twenty-five dollars when you came there?”

“No, sir; and what’s more, the money found in the girl’s trunk was the very money that Mrs. Naseby lost. You might have known that, if you’d only remember what you hear.”

“Will you tell me if you belong to this State?” I asked next.

“I do, sir.”

“In what town?”

She hesitated, and for an instant the bold look forsook her. But she finally answered:

“I belong in Somers, Montgomery County.”

I next turned to Mrs. Naseby.

“Do you ever take a receipt from your girls when you pay them?” I asked.

“Always,” she answered.

“Can you send and get one of them for me?”

She said she would willingly go, if the court said so. The court did say so, and she went. Her dwelling was not far off, and she soon returned, and handed me four receipts, which I took and examined. They were all signed in a strange, straggling hand, by the witness.

“Now, Nancy Luther,” said I, turning to the witness, “please tell the court, and the jury, and tell me, too, where you got the seventy-five dollars you sent in a letter to your sister in Somers?”

The witness started as though a volcano had burst at her feet. She turned pale as death, and every limb shook violently. I waited until the people could have an opportunity to see her emotion, and then I repeated the question.

“I—never—sent—any,” she fairly gasped.

“You did!” I thundered, for I was excited now.

“I—I—didn’t,” she faintly uttered, grasping the rail by her side for support.

“May it please your honor, and gentlemen of the jury,” I said, as soon as I had looked the witness out of countenance, “I came here to defend a youth who had been arrested for helping to rob the mail, and in the course of my preliminary examinations, I had access to the letters which had been torn open and rifled of money. When I entered upon this case, and I heard the name of this witness pronounced, I went out and got the letter which I now hold, for I remembered to have seen one bearing the signature of Nancy Luther. This letter was taken from the mail-bag, and it contained seventy-five dollars, and by looking at the post-mark, you will observe that it was mailed on the very next day after the hundred dollars were taken from Mrs. Naseby’s drawer. I will read it to you, if you please.”

The court nodded assent, and I read the following, which was without date, save that made by the post-master upon the outside. I give it here verbatim:

Sister Dorcas: I cend yu heer sevente fiv dolers, which i want yu to kepe for me till i cum hum. I can’t kepe it heer coz ime afrade it will git stole. don’t speke wun word tu a livin sole bout this coz I don’t want nobodi tu kno i hav got enny mony. yu wont now wil yu. i am first rate heer, only that gude fur nuthin snipe of liz madwurth is heer yit—but i hop tu git red ov her now. yu no i rote yu bout her. give my luv to awl inquiren friends. this is from your sister til deth. Nancy Luther.”

“Now, your honor,” I said, as I handed him the letter, and also the receipts, “you will see that the letter is directed to ‘Dorcas Luther, Somers, Montgomery County.’ And you will also observe that one hand wrote that letter and signed those receipts. The jury will also observe. And now I will only add: It is plain to see how the hundred dollars were disposed of. Seventy-five were put into that letter and sent off for safe-keeping, while the remaining twenty-five were placed in the prisoner’s trunk for the purpose of covering the real criminal.”

The case was given to the jury immediately following their examination of the letter. Without leaving their seats, they returned a verdict of—“Not Guilty.”

The youth, who had first asked me to defend the prisoner, caught me by the hand, but he could not speak plainly. He simply looked at me through his tears for a moment, and then rushed to the fair prisoner. He seemed to forget where he was, for he flung his arms about her, and as she laid her head upon his bosom, she wept aloud.

I will not attempt to describe the scene that followed; but if Nancy Luther had not been immediately arrested for theft, she would have been obliged to seek the protection of the officers, or the excited people would surely have maimed her, if they had done no more. On the next morning, I received a note, very handsomely written, in which I was told that “the within” was but a slight token of the gratitude due me for my effort in behalf of a poor, defenseless, but much loved, maiden. It was signed “Several Citizens,” and contained one hundred dollars. Shortly afterward, the youth came to pay me all the money he could raise. I simply showed him the note I had received, and asked him if he would keep his hard earnings for his wife, when he got one. He owned that he intended to make Lizzie Madworth his wife very soon.

I will only add that on the following day I succeeded in clearing my next client from conviction of robbing the mail; and I will not deny that I made a considerable handle of the fortunate discovery of the letter which had saved an innocent girl, on the day before, in my appeal to the jury; and if I made them feel that the finger of Omnipotence was in the work, I did it because I sincerely believe my client was innocent of all crime; and I am sure they thought so too.

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