- Transcriber's Note: This e-book contains a number of unusual accents. The caron diacritic, which looks like a little v, used over r and c, is represented as ř and č. -
Come, let us march against the powers of heaven, And set black streamers in the firmament, To signify the slaughter of the Gods.
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1902
Copyright, 1902, by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
All rights reserved
PUBLISHED, FEBRUARY, 1902
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
THE LORD'S PRAYER IN B 1
A SON OF LISZT 11
A CHOPIN OF THE GUTTER 19
THE PIPER OF DREAMS 31
AN EMOTIONAL ACROBAT 63
ISOLDE'S MOTHER 73
THE RIM OF FINER ISSUES 99
AN IBSEN GIRL 118
TANNHAeUSER'S CHOICE 141
THE RED-HEADED PIANO PLAYER 158
BRYNHILD'S IMMOLATION 172
THE QUEST OF THE ELUSIVE 183
AN INVOLUNTARY INSURGENT 196
HUNDING'S WIFE 206
THE CORRIDOR OF TIME 224
THE WEGSTAFFES GIVE A MUSICALE 255
THE IRON VIRGIN 268
DUSK OF THE GODS 280
SIEGFRIED'S DEATH 294
A SPINNER OF SILENCE 315
THE DISENCHANTED SYMPHONY 324
MUSIC THE CONQUEROR 347
THE LORD'S PRAYER IN B
At the close of the first day they brought Baruch into the great Hall of the Oblates, sometime called the Hall of the Unexpected. The young man walked with eyes downcast. Aloft in the vast spaces the swinging domes of light made more reddish his curly beard, deepened the hollows on either side of his sweetly pointed nose, and accented the determined corners of his firmly modelled lips. He was dressed in a simple tunic and wore no Talith; and as he slowly moved up the wide aisle the Grand Inquisitor, visibly annoyed by the resemblance, said to his famulus, "The heretic dares to imitate the Master." He crossed himself and shuddered.
Mendoza abated not his reserve as he drew near the long table before the Throne. Like a quarry that is at last hemmed in, the Jew was quickly surrounded by a half thousand black-robed monks. The silence—sick, profound, and awful—was punctuated by the low, sullen tapping of a drum. Its droning sound reminded the prisoner of life-blood dripping from some single pore; the tone was B, and its insistent, muffled, funereal blow at rhythmic intervals would in time have worn away rock. Mendoza felt a prevision of his fate; being a musician he knew of music's woes and warnings. And he lifted eyes for the first time since his arrest in a gloomy, star-lit street of Lisbon.
He saw bleached, shaven faces in a half circle; they seemed like skulls fastened on black dummies—so immobile their expression, so deadly staring their eyes. The brilliant and festal appearance of the scene oppressed him and his eyeballs ached. Symphonies of light were massed over the great high walls; glistening and pendulous, they illuminated remote ceilings. There was color and taunting gaiety in the decoration; the lofty panels contained pictures from the classic poets which seemed profane in so sacred an edifice, and just over the Throne gleamed the golden tubes of a mighty organ. Then Baruch Mendoza's eyes, half blinded by the strange glory of the place to which he had been haled, encountered the joyful and ferocious gaze of the Grand Inquisitor. Again echoed dolefully the tap of the drum in the key of B, and the prisoner shuddered.
A voice was heard: "Baruch Mendoza, thou art before the Throne, and one of the humblest of God's creatures asks thee to renounce thy vile heresies." Baruch made no answer. The voice again modulated high, its menace sweetly hidden.
"Baruch Mendoza, dost thou renounce?" The drum counted two taps. Baruch did not reply. For the third time the voice issued from the lips of the Grand Inquisitor, as he drew the hood over his face.
"Baruch Mendoza, dog of a Jew, dog of a heretic, believer in no creed, wilt thou recant the evil words of thy unspeakable book, prostrate thyself before the altar of the Only God, and ask His forgiveness? Answer, Baruch Mendoza!"
The man thus interrogated wondered why the Hall of the Oblates was adorned with laughing Bacchantes, but he responded not. The drum tapped thrice, and there was a burst of choral music from the death-like monks; they chaunted the Dies Irae, and the sonorous choir was antiphonally answered with anxious rectitude from the gallery, while the organ blazed out its frescoed tones. And Baruch knew that his death-hymn was being sung.
To him, a despiser of the vesture of things, to him the man with the spiritual inner eye, whose philosophy was hated and feared because of its subtle denial of the God in high heaven, to Baruch Mendoza the universe had seemed empty with an emptiness from which glared no divine Judge—his own people's Jahveh—no benignant sufferer appeared on the cross. He saw no future life except in the commingling of his substance with the elements; and for this contumacious belief, and his timidly bold expression of it, he had been waylaid and apprehended in the gloomy star-lit street of Lisbon.
The single tap of the drum warned him; the singing had ceased. And this bitter idealist, this preacher of the hollowness of the real, wondered where were the sable trappings of woe, the hideous envisagement of them that are condemned with mortuary symbols in garbs of painted flame to the stake, faggot, axe, and headsman. None of these were visible, and the gentle spirit of the prisoner became ruffled, alarmed. He expected violence but instead they offered churchly music. Restless, his nerves fretted, he asked himself the reason. He did not fear death, for he despised life; he had no earthly ties; his life's philosophy had been fittingly enunciated; and he knew that even though a terrible death overtook him his seed had fallen on ripe soil. As he was a descendant from some older system that denied the will to live, so would he in turn beget disciples who would be beaten, burned and reviled by the great foe to liberty—the foe that strangled it before Egypt's theocracy, aye! before the day of sun-worshippers invoking their round, burning god, riding naked in the blue. Baruch pondered these things, and had almost lost his grasp on time and space when something jarred his consciousness.
It was the tap of the drum, sombre, dull, hollow and threatening; he shivered as he heard its percussive note, and with a start remembered that the Dies Irae had been chaunted in the same key. Once more he wondered.
A light touch on the shoulder brought him realization. He stood almost alone; the monks were gliding down the great Hall of the Oblates and disappearing through a low arched door, the sole opening in the huge apartment. One remained, a black friar, absolutely hooded.
Baruch followed him. The pair noiselessly traversed the wonderful hall with its canopies of light, its airy arches, massive groinings and bewildering blur of color and fragrance; the air was thick and grateful with incense. Exactly in the middle of the hall there rested on the floor a black shadow, a curiously shaped shadow. It was a life-sized crucifix which Baruch had not seen before. To it he was led by the black friar, who motioned him to the floor; then this unbelieving Jew and atheist laid himself humbly down, and with outstretched arms awaited his end.
In few rapid movements the prisoner was chained to the cross; and with a penetratingly sweet smile the friar gave him a silent blessing, while Baruch's eyes followed the dazzling tracery on the ceiling, and caught a glimpse of the golden, gleaming organ tubes above the Throne of Judgment.
The stillness was so profound that he heard the soft sighs of the candles, the forest of unnumbered candles; the room was windless. Again the singular fancy overtook him that the key of B ruled the song of the lights, and he stirred painfully because certain sounds irritated him, recalling as a child his vague rage at the Kol Nidrei, which was sung in the key of B at the synagogue.
He closed his eyes a moment and opened them with fright, for the drum sounded near his head, though he could not turn to see it. Suddenly he was encircled by ten monks and chaunting heard. Mendoza noticed the admirable monotone, the absolute, pitch, and then, with a leap of his heart, the key color B again; and the mode was major.
The hooded monks sang in Latin the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father," they solemnly intoned—"Our Father who art in Heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen."
Baruch tried to sleep. The rich voices lulled him into temporary rest; he seemed to have slept hours. But he knew this was impossible, for the monks were singing the Lord's Prayer when he awoke. He grew exasperated; why need they pray over him? Why did they not take him to his damp cell to rot or to be eaten by vermin? This blaze of light was unendurable; it penetrated his closed eyelids, painted burning visions on his brain, and the music—the accursed music—continued. Again the Lord's Prayer was solemnly intoned, and noticing the freshness of the voices he opened his eyes, counted ten cowled monks around him; and the key they sang was B, the mode major.
Another set, Baruch thought, as he remarked the stature of the singers, and sought oblivion. All that night and all next day he chased sleep, and the morning of the third day found him with half mad gaze, sleepless and frantic. When from deadly exhaustion he would half faint into stupor the hollow, sinister sound of the drum stunned his ears, while rich, churchly voices of men would intone "Pater noster, qui es in coelis!" and always in the agonizing key of B.
This tone became a monstrous serpent that plunged its fangs into Baruch's brain and hissed one implacable tone, the tone B. The drum roared the same tone; the voices twined about the crucified Jew and beat back sleep, beat back death itself.
The evening of the fourth day Baruch Mendoza was more pallid than his robe; his eyes looked like twin stars, they so glittered, and the fire in them was hardly of this earth. His cheek-bones started through the skin; beard and hair hung in damp masses about the ghastly face and head; his lips were parted in a contemptuous grin, and there was a strained, listening look on the countenance: he was listening for the key that was slaying him, and he saw it now, saw it in the flesh, a creeping, crawling, shapeless thing that slowly strangled his life. All his soul had flown to his ears, all his senses were lodged in the one sense of hearing, and as he heard again and again the Lord's Prayer in the key of B the words that compose it separated themselves from the tone and assumed an individual life. The awful power of the spoken word assailed him, and "Our Father who art in heaven" became for Baruch a divine gigantic cannibal, devouring the planets, the stars, the firmament, the cosmos, as he created them. The heavens were copper, and there gleamed and glared the glance of an eyeball burning like a sun, and so threatening that the spirit of the atheist was consumed as a scroll in the flame. He cried aloud, "If there is a God, let Him come from on high and save me!" The drum sounded more fiercely, a monk moistened with water the tortured man's lips, and Baruch groaned when the cowled choir chaunted, "Pater noster, qui es in coelis!"
"Give us this day our daily bread." He asked himself if he had ever known hunger and thirst; then other letters of fire came into his brain, but through the porches of his ears. "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Could he, he whispered to his soul—could he forgive these devils that sang like angels? He almost shivered in his attempt to smile; and loathing life heard with sardonic amusement: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!"
"Amen," groaned Baruch Mendoza. Again the drum boomed dolorously, and monkish voices intoned: "Pater noster, qui es in coelis!"
There was no dawn, no eve in this brassy hell of music. The dripping monotone of voices, the dreary pelting of the drum never ceased; and the soul of the unbeliever was worn slowly away. The evening of the seventh day the Grand Inquisitor, standing at his side, noticed with horror the resemblance to the Master, and piously crossed himself.
Seeing the end was nigh, for there was thin froth on the shrivelled gums of the man, the mild-voiced Inquisitor made a sign to the black friar, and in a moment the music that had never ceased for six days was no longer heard, though the air continued to hum with the vibrations of the diabolical tone. The black friar knelt beside the dying one, and drawing an ivory crucifix from his habit held it to Mendoza's face. Baruch, aroused by the cessation of the torturing tonality, opened his eyes, which were as black as blood, saw the symbol of Christianity, and with a final effort forced from his cracked lips:
"Thou traitor!" As he attempted to blaspheme the sacred image he died, despairingly invoking Adonai.
Then rolled forth in rich, triumphant tones the music of "Our Father who art in heaven," while the drum sonorously sounded in the key of B, and the mode was major.
A SON OF LISZT
It originated in the wicked vanity of Sir William Davenant himself, who, disdaining his honest but mean descent from the vintner, had the shameless impiety to deny his father and reproach the memory of his mother by claiming consanguinity with Shakespeare.
Little Holland was very dry.
Little Holland is a shapeless stretch of meadowland pierced by irregular canals through which sluggishly flows the water at high tide. Odd shaped houses are scattered about, one so near the river that its garden overflows in the full of the moon. Dotted around stand conical heaps of hay gleaned from this union of land and water. It is called Little Holland, for small schooners sail by under the very nose of your house, and the hired girl often forgets to serve the salad while flirting with the skipper of some sloop. But this August night Little Holland was very dry.
As we stood facing the river I curiously examined my host. His face was deeply lined by life which had carved a quarter hundred little wrinkles about his eyes and the corners of his mouth. His eyes were not true. They shifted too much. His thick, brown hair was thrown off his forehead in a most exuberantly artistic fashion. His nose jutted well into the outer world, and I had to confess that his profile was of a certainty striking. But his full face was disappointing. It was too narrow; its expression was that of a meagre soul, and his eyes were very close together. Yet I liked Piloti; he played the piano well, sang with no little feeling, painted neat water sketches and was a capital host.
A sliced cantaloupe moon, full of yellow radiance, arose as we listened to the melancholy fall of the water on the muddy flats, and I said to Piloti, "Come, let us go within; there you will play for me some tiny questioning Chopin prelude, and forget this dolorous night." ... He had been staring hard at the moon when I aroused him. "As you will; let us go indoors by all means, for this moon gives me the spleen." Then we moved slowly toward the house.
Piloti was a bachelor; an old woman kept house and he always addressed her in the Hungarian tongue. His wants were simple, but his pride was Lucifer's. By no means a virtuoso, he had the grand air, the grand style, and when he sat down to play one involuntarily stopped breathing. He had a habit of smiting the keyboard, and massive chords, clangorous harmonies inevitably preluded his performances. I knew some conservatory girls who easily could outstrip Piloti technically, but there was something which differentiated his playing from that of other pianists. Liszt he did very well.
When we came into the shabby drawing-room I noticed a picture of the Abbe Liszt over the grand piano, and as Piloti took a seat he threw back his head; and my eyes which had rested a moment on the portrait involuntarily returned to it, so before I was aware of it I cried out, "I say, Piloti, do you know that you look like Liszt?" He blushed deeply, and gave me a most curious glance.
"I have heard it said often," he replied, and he crashed into the master's B minor Sonata, "The Invitation to Hissing and Stamping," as Gumprecht has christened it.
Piloti played the interesting work most vigorously. He hissed, he stamped and shook back his locks in true Lisztian style. He rolled off the chorale with redundant meaning, and with huge, flamboyant strokes went through the brilliant octave finale in B major. As he closed, and I sat still, a sigh near at hand caused me to turn, and then I saw the old housekeeper, her arms folded, standing in a doorway. The moonlight biliously smudged her face, and I noticed her staring eyes. Piloti's attention was attracted by my silence, and when he saw the woman he uttered a harsh, crackling word. She instantly retired. Turning to me, with a nervous laugh, he explained:
"The old fool always is affected by moonlight and music."
We strolled out-of-doors, cigarettes in hand, and the rhythmic swish-swash of the river told that the tide was rising. The dried-up gullies and canals became silver-streaked with the incoming spray, and it needed only a windmill to make the scene as Dutch as a Van Der Neer. Piloti was moody. Something worried him, but as I was not in a very receptive condition, I forbore questioning him. We walked over the closely cut grass until the water was reached. He stopped, tossed his cigarette away:
"I am the unhappiest man alive!" At once I became sympathetic.
He looked at me fiercely: "Do you know who I am? Do you know the stock I spring from? Will you believe me if I tell you? Can I even trust you?" I soothed the excited musician and begged him to confide in me. I was his nearest friend and he must be aware of my feelings. He became quieter at once; but never shall I forget the look on his face as he reverently took off his hat.
"I am the son of Franz Liszt, and I thank God for it!"
"Amen!" I fervently responded.
Then he told me his story. His mother was a Hungarian lady, nobly born. She had been an excellent pianist and studied with Liszt at Weimar and Buda-Pesth. When Piloti became old enough he was taught the piano, for which he had aptitude. With his mother he lived the years of his youth and early manhood in London. She always wore black, and after Liszt's death Piloti himself went into mourning. His mother sickened and died, leaving him nothing but sad memories. It sounded very wretched, and I hastened to console him as best I could. I reminded him of the nobility of his birth, and that it was greater to be the son of a genius than of a duke. "Look at Sir William Davenant," I said; "'O rare Sir William Davenant,' as his contemporaries called him. What an honor to have been Shakespeare's natural son!" But Piloti shook his head.
"I care little for the legitimacy of my birth; what worries me, oppresses me, makes me the most miserable man alive, is that I am not a second Liszt. Why can I not play like my father?"
I endeavored to explain that genius is seldom transmitted, and did not forget to compliment him on his musical abilities. "You know that you play Liszt well. That very sonata in B minor, it pleased me much." "But do I play it like a Friedheim?" he persisted. And I held my peace....
Piloti was downcast and I proposed bed. He assented. It was late; the foolish-looking young topaz moon had retired; the sky was cloudy, and the water was rushing over Little Holland. We did not get indoors without wetting our feet. After drinking a parting glass I shook his hand heartily, bade him cheer up, and said that study would soon put him in the parterre of pianists. He looked gloomy, and nodded good-night. I went to my room. As the water was likely to invade the cellar and even the ground floor, the bedrooms were all on the second floor. I soon got to my bed, for I was tired, and the sadness of this strange household, the moaning of the river, the queer isolated feeling, as if I were alone far out at sea, all this depressed me, and I actually pulled the covers over my head like a frightened child during a thunderstorm.
I must have been sleeping some time when voices penetrated the dream-recesses of my brain. As I gradually emerged from darkened slumber I became conscious of Piloti's voice. It was pitched a trifle above a whisper, but I heard every word. He was talking savagely to some one, and the theme was the old one.
"It has gone far enough. I'm sick of it, I tell you. I will kill myself in another week. Don't," he said in louder tones and with an imprecation—"don't tell me not to. You've been doing that for years."
A long silence ensued; a woman's voice answered:
"My son, my son, you break my heart with your sorrow! Study if you would play like your father, study and be brave, be courageous! All will come out right. Idle fretting will do no good."
It was the voice of the housekeeper, and she spoke in English. Piloti's mother! What family secret was I upon the point of discovering? I shivered as I lay in my bed, but could not have forborne listening though I should die for it. The voices resumed. They came from the room immediately back of mine:
"I tell you, mother, I know the worst. I may be the son of a genius, but I am nevertheless a mediocrity. It is killing me! it is killing me!" and the voice of this morose monomaniac broke into sobs.
The poor mother cried softly. "If I only had not been Liszt's son," Piloti muttered, "then I would not be so wretched, so cursed with ambitions. Alas! why was I ever told the truth?"
"Oh, my son, my son, forgive!" I heard the noise of one dropping on her knees. "Oh, my boy, my pride, my hope, forgive me—forgive the innocent imposture I've practised on you! My son, I never saw Liszt; you are—"
With an oath Piloti started up and asked in heavy, thick speech: "What's this, what's this, woman? Seek not to deceive me. What do you tell me? Never saw Liszt! Who, then, was my father? You must speak, if I have to drag the words from between your teeth."
"O God! O God!" she moaned, "I dare not tell you—it is too shameful—I never saw Liszt—I heard much of him—I adored him, his music—I was vain, foolish, doting! I thought, perhaps, you might be a great pianist, and if you were told that Liszt was your father—your real father." ...
"My real father—who was he? Quick, woman, speak!"
"He was Liszt's favorite piano-tuner," she whispered.
Dull silence reigned, and then I heard some one slowly descending the stairs. The outer door closed, and I rushed to the window. In the misty dawn I could see nothing but water. The house was completely hemmed in by a noiseless sheet of sullen dirty water. Not a soul was in sight, and almost believing that I had been the victim of a nightmare, I went back to my bed and fell asleep. I was awakened by loud halloas and rude poundings at my window. A man was looking in at me: "Hurry up, stranger; you haven't long to wait. The water is up to the top of the porch. Get your clothes on and come into my boat!"
It did not take me hours to obey this hint, and I stepped from the window to the deck of a schooner. The meadows had utterly disappeared. Nothing but water glistened in the sunlight. When I reached the mainland I looked back at the house. I could just descry the roof.
Little Holland was very wet.
A CHOPIN OF THE GUTTER
J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un theatre banal Qu'enflammait l'orchestre sonore Une fee allumer dans un ciel infernal Une miraculeuse aurore;
J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un theatre banal Un etre qui n'etait que lumiere, or et gaze, Terrasser l'enorme Satan; Mais mon coeur que jamais ne visite l'extase,
Est un theatre ou l'on attend. Toujours, toujours en vain l'etre aux ailes gaze.
They watched him until he turned the corner of the Rue Puteaux and was lost to them.
He moved slowly, painfully, one leg striking the pavement in syncopation, for it was sadly crippled by disease. He twisted his thin head only once as he went along the Batignolles. It seemed to them that his half face was sneering in the mist. Then the band passed up to the warmer lights of the Clichy Quarter, where they drank and argued art far into the night They one and all hated Wagner, adoring Chopin's morbid music.
Minkiewicz walked up the lower side of the little street called Puteaux until he reached a stupid, overgrown building. It was numbered 5, and was a shabby sort of pension. The Pole painfully hobbled up the evil-smelling stairway, more crooked than a youth's counterpoint, and on the floor next to the top halted, breathing heavily. The weather was oppressive and he had talked too much to the young men at the brasserie.
"Ah, good boys all," he murmured, trying the door; "good lads, but no talent, no originality. Ah!" The door yielded and Minkiewicz was at home.
An upright piano, a bed, a shaky washstand and bureau, one feeble chair, music—pounds of it—filled the chamber lighted by one candle. The old man threw himself on the bed and sighed drearily. Then he went to the piano, lifted the lid and ran his fingers over the keyboard. He sighed again. He sat down on the chair and closed his eyes. He did not sleep, for he arose in a few moments, took off his coat, and lighted a cigarette in the flame of the candle. Minkiewicz again placed himself before the instrument and played, but with silent fingers. He executed the most intricate passages, yet the wind in the room was soundless. He sat in his shirt-sleeves, his hat on his head, playing a Chopin concerto in dumb profile, and the night wore on....
He was awakened in the morning by the entrance of a grimy garcon who grinned and put on the floor an oblong basket. Minkiewicz stirred restlessly.
"The absinthe—you have not forgotten it?" he questioned in a weak voice.
"Ah, no, sir; never, sir, do I forget the green fairy for the great musician, sir," was the answer, evidently a set one, its polite angles worn away by daily usance.
The man grasped the proffered glass and swallowed, choking, the absinthe. It did him good, for he sat up in bed, his greasy, torn nightgown huddled about him, and with long, claw-like fingers he uncovered the scanty breakfast. When he had finished it he wiped his mouth and hands on the counterpane:
"Charge it as usual."
The waiter packed up the dishes, bade a bon jour, and with a mocking gesture left the room. Minkiewicz always had his breakfasts charged.
At noon he crawled out of bed and dressed at a grave tempo. He wore always the same shirt, a woollen one, and his wardrobe knew no change. It was faded, out of fashion by a full half-century, and his only luxury a silk comforter which he knotted loosely about his neck. He had never worn a collar since Chopin's death. It was two of the clock when he stumbled downstairs. At the doorway he met Bernard the hunchback landlord.
"No money to-day, M. Minkiewicz? Well, I suppose not—terribly hard times—no money. Will you have a little glass with me?" The musician went into the dusky dining-room and drank a pony of brandy with the good-natured Alsatian; then he shambled down the Rue Puteaux into the Boulevard des Batignolles, and slowly aired himself.
"A great man, M. Minkiewicz; a poet, a pianist, a friend of M. Chopin—ah! I admire him much, much," explained Bernard to a neighbor....
It was very wet. But the slop and swish of the rain did not prevent the brasserie of The Fallen Angels from being filled with noisy drinkers. In one corner sat Minkiewicz. He was drinking absinthe. About him clustered five or six good-looking young fellows. The chatter in the room was terrific, but this group of disciples heard all the master said. He scarcely spoke above a whisper, yet his voice cut the hot air sharply.
"You ask me, Henri, how well I knew Frederic. I could ask you in turn how well did you know your mother? I was with him at Warsaw. I, too, studied under Elsner. I accompanied him on his first journey to Vienna. I was at his first concert. I trembled and cried as he played our first—his first concerto in F minor. I wrote—we wrote the one in E minor later. I proposed for the hand of Constance Gladowska for Frederic, and he screamed when I brought back the answer. Ah! but I did not tell him that Constance, Constantia, had said, 'Sir Friend, why not let the little Chopin woo for himself?' and she threw back her head and smiled into my eyes. I could have killed her for that subtle look. Yes; I know she married an ordinary merchant. What cared I? I loved Frederic, Frederic only. I never left his side. When it rained, rained as it is raining to-night, he would tremble, and often beat me with his spider-like hands, but I didn't mind it, for I was stronger then.
"I went with him to Paris. It was I who secured for him from Prince Radziwill the invitation to the Rothschild's ball where he won his first triumph. I made him practise. I bore his horrible humors, his mad, irritating, capricious temper. I wrote down his music for him. Wrote it down, did I say? Why, I often composed it for him; yes, I, for he would sit and moon away at the piano, insanely wasting his ideas, while I would force him to repeat a phrase, repeat it, polish it, alter it and so on until the fabric of the composition was complete. Then, how I would toil, toil, prune and expand his feeble ideas! Mon Dieu! Frederic was no reformer by nature, no pathbreaker in art; he was a sickly fellow, always coughing, always scolding, but he played charmingly. He had such fingers! and he knew all our national dances. The mazurek, the mazourk, the polonaise and the krakowiak. Ah! but then he had no blood, no fire, no muscle, no vitality. He was not a revolutionist. He did not discover new forms; all he cared for was to mock the Jews with their majufes, and play sugar-water nocturnes.
"I was the artistic mate to this little Pole who allowed that old man-woman to deceive him—George Sand, of course. Ah! the old rascal, how she hated me. She forbade me to enter their hotel in the Cour d'Orleans, but I did—Chopin would have died without me, the delicate little vampire! I was his nurse, his mother, his big brother. I fought his fight with the publishers, with the creditors. I wrote his polonaises, all—all I tell you—except those sickly things in the keys of C sharp minor, F minor and B flat minor. Pouf! don't tell me anything about Chopin. He write a polonaise? He write the scherzi, the ballades, the etudes?—you make me enraged. I, I made them all and he will get the credit for all time, and I am glad of it, for I loved him as a father."
The voice of Minkiewicz became strident as he repeated his old story. Some of the clients of The Fallen Angels stopped talking for a moment; it was only that crazy Pole again with his thrice-told tale.
Minkiewicz drank another absinthe.
"And were you then a poet as well as a composer?" timidly asked young Louis.
"I was the greatest poet Poland ever had. Ask of Chopin's friends, or of his living pupils. Go ask Georges Mathias, the old professor of the Conservatoire, if Minkiewicz did not inspire Chopin. Who gave him the theme for his Revolutionary etude—the one in C minor?" Minkiewicz ran his left hand with velocity across the table. His disciples followed those marvellously agile fingers with the eyes of the hypnotic....
"I was with Frederic at Stuttgart. I first heard the news of the capture of Warsaw. Pale and with beating heart I ran to the hotel and told him all. He had an attack of hysteria; then I rushed to the piano and by chance struck out a phrase. It was in C sharp minor, and was almost identical with the theme of the C minor study. At once Chopin ceased his moaning and weeping and came over to the instrument. 'That's very pretty,' he said, and began making a running bass accompaniment. He was a born inventor of finger tricks; he took up the theme and gradually we fashioned the study as it now stands. But it was first written in C sharp minor. Frederic suggested that it was too difficult for wealthy amateurs in that key, and changed it to C minor. More copies would be sold, he said. But he spoke no more of Warsaw after that. Why? Ah! don't ask me—the true artist, I suppose. Once that his grief is objectified, once that his sorrow is translated into tone, the first cause is quite forgotten,—Art is so selfish, so beautiful, you know!
"I never left Frederic but once; the odious Sand woman, who smoked a pipe and swore like a cab driver, smuggled the poor devil away to Majorca. He came back a sick man; no wonder! You remember the de Musset episode. The poet's mother even implored the old dragon to take Alfred to Italy. He, too, was coughing—all her friends coughed except Liszt, who sneered at her blandishments—and Italy was good for consumptives. De Musset went away ailing; he returned a mere shadow. What happened? Ah! I cannot say. Possibly his eyes were opened by the things he saw—you remember the young Italian physician—I think his name was Pagello? It was the same with Chopin. Without me he could not thrive. Sand knew it and hated me. I was the sturdy oak, Frederic the tender ivy. I poured out my heart's blood for him, poured it into his music. He was a mere girl, I tell you—a sensitive, slender, shrinking, peevish girl, a born prudish spinster, and would shiver if any one looked at him. Liszt always frightened him and he hated Mendelssohn. He called Beethoven a sour old Dutchman, and swore that he did not write piano music. For the man who first brought his name before the public, the big-hearted German, Robert Schumann—here's to his memory—Chopin had an intense dislike. He confessed to me that Schumann was no composer, a talented improviser only. I think he was a bit jealous of the man's genius. But Freddie loved Mozart, loved his music so madly that it was my turn to become jealous.
"And fastidious! Bon Dieu! I tell you that he could not drink, and once Balzac told us a piquant story and Frederic fainted. I remember well how Balzac stared and said in that great voice of his: 'Guard well thy little damsel, my good Minkiewicz, else he may yet be abducted by a tom-cat,' and then he laughed until the window-panes rattled. What a brute!...
"I gave my brain to Chopin. When he returned to me from that mad trip to the Balearic Islands I had not the heart to scold. He was pallid and even coughed in a whisper. He had no money; Sand was angry with him and went off to Nohant alone. I had no means, but I took twenty-four little piano preludes that I had made while Frederic was away and sold them for ready money. You know them, all the world knows them. They say now that he wrote them whilst at Majorca, and tell fables about the rain-drop prelude in D flat. A pack of lies! I wrote them and at my old piano without strings, the same that I still have in the Rue Puteaux. But I sha'n't complain. I love him yet. What was mine was his—is his, even my music."
The group became uneasy. It was late. The rain had stopped, and through the open doors of The Fallen Angels could be seen the soft-starred sky, and melting in the distance were the lights of the Gare Saint-Lazare. It was close by the Quarter of Europe, and the women who walked the boulevard darted swift glances into the heated rooms of the brasserie.
Minkiewicz drank another absinthe—his last. There was no more money. The disciples had spent their all for the master whom they loved as they hated the name of Wagner. His slanting eyes—the eyes of the Calmuck—were bloodshot; his face was yellow-white. His long, white hair hung on his shoulders and there were bubbles about his lips.
"But I often despair. I loved Chopin's reputation too much ever to write a line of music after his death. Besides who would have believed me? Which one of you believes in his secret heart of hearts one word I have spoken to-night? It is difficult to make the world acknowledge that you are not an idiot; very difficult to shake its belief that Chopin was not a god. Alas! there are no more gods. You say I am a poet, yet how may a man be a poet if godless? I know that there is no God, yet I am unhappy longing after Him. I awake at the dawn and cry for God as children cry for their mother. Curse reason! curse the knowledge that has made a mockery of my old faiths! Frederic died, and dying saw Christ. I look at the roaring river of azure overhead and see the cruel sky—nothing more. I tell you, my children, it has killed the poet in me, and it will kill the gods themselves when comes the crack of doom.
"I dream often of that time—that time John, the poet of Patmos, foretold in his Revelations: The time when the Sixth Seal was opened. Alas! when the Son of Man cometh out of the clouds and round about the throne are the four-winged beasts, what will he see?
"Nothing—nothing, I tell you.
"Unbelief will have killed the very soul of creation itself. And where once burned the eye of the Cosmos will be naught but a hideous emptiness.
"Helas! mes enfants, I could drink one more absinthe; my soul grieves for my lost faith, my lost music, my lost Frederic, my lost life." ...
But they went away. It was past the hour of closing and the host was not in a humor for parleying.
"Ah! the old pig, the old blasphemer!" he said, shaking his head as he locked the doors.
They watched him until he turned the corner of the Rue Puteaux and was lost to them.
He moved slowly, painfully, one leg striking the pavement in syncopation, for it was sadly crippled by disease. He did not twist his thin head as he went along the Batignolles. Then the band passed once more up to the warmer lights of the Clichy Quarter and argued art far into the night.
They one and all hated Wagner, adoring Chopin's magic music.
THE PIPER OF DREAMS
The desert of my soul is peopled with black gods, Huge blocks of wood; Brave with gilded horns and shining gems, The black and silent gods Tower in the naked desert of my soul.
With eyes of wolves they watch me in the night; With eyes like moons. My gods are they; in each the evil grows, The grandiose evil darkens over each And each black god, silent Under the iron skies, dreams Of his omnipotence—the taciturn black gods!
And my flesh and my brain are underneath their feet; I am the victim, and I perish Under the weight of these nocturnal gods And in the iron winds of their unceasing wrath.
It was opera night, and the lights burned with an official brilliancy that challenged the radiance of the Cafe Monferino across the asphalt. There, all was decorous gaiety; and the doubles of Pilsner never vanished from the little round metal tables that overflowed into the juncture of the streets Gluck and Halevy. Among the brasseries in Paris this the most desirable to lovers of the Bohemian brew. The cooking, Neapolitan and Viennese, perhaps explained the presence, one June evening in the year 1930, of tall, blond, blue-eyed Illowski, the notorious Russian symphonist. With several admirers he sat sipping bocks and watched the motley waves of the boulevard wash back strange men and women—and again women.
Lenyard spoke first. Young and from New England he was studying music in Paris.
"Master, why don't you compose a music drama?" Illowski, gazing into the soft blur of light and mist over the Place de l'Opera, did not answer. Scheff burst into laughter. The one who had put the question became angry. "Confound it! What have I said, Mr. Dutchman, that seems so funny to you?" Illowski put out a long, thin hand,—a veritable flag of truce: "Children, cease! I have written something better than a music drama. I told Scheff about it before he left St. Petersburg last spring. Don't be jealous, Lenyard. There is nothing in the work that warrants publicity—yet. It is merely a venture into an unfamiliar region, nothing more. But how useless to write for a public that still listens to Meyerbeer in the musical catacombs across the street!"
Lenyard's lean, dark features relaxed. He gazed smilingly at the fat and careless Scheff. Then Illowski arose. It was late, he said, and his head ached. He had been scoring all day—sufficient reason for early retirement. The others demurred, though meekly. If their sun set so early, how could they be expected to pass the night with any degree of pleasure? The composer saw all this; but he was sensibly selfish, and buttoning the long frock-coat which hung loosely on his attenuated frame shook hands with his disciples, called a carriage and drove away. Lenyard and Scheff stared after him and then faced the situation. There were many tell-tale porcelain tallies on the table to be settled, and neither had much money; so the manoeuvring was an agreeable sight for the cynical waiter. Finally Lenyard, his national pride rising at the spectacle of the Austrian's penuriousness, paid the entire bill with a ten-franc piece.
Scheff sank back in his chair and grinningly inquired, "Say, my boy, I wonder if Illowski has enough money for his coachman when he reaches the mysterious, old dream-barn he calls home?" Lenyard slowly emptied his glass: "I don't know, you don't know, and, strictly speaking, we don't care. But I'd dearly like to see the score of his new work."
Scheff blinked with surprise. He, too, was thinking of the same dread matter. "What, in God's name, do you mean? Speak out. I've been frightened long enough. This Illowski is a terrible man, Scheff. Do you suspect the stories are true, after all—?" Then both men stood up, shook hands and said: "Neshevna will tell us. She knows." ...
Pavel Illowski was a man for whom the visible world had never existed. Born a Malo-Russ, nursed on Little-Russian legends, a dreamer of soft dreams until more than a lad, he was given a musical education in Moscow, the White City—itself a dream of old Alexander Nevsky's days. Within sight of the Kremlin the slim and delicate youth fed upon the fatalistic writers of the nineteenth century. He knew Schopenhauer before he learned to pronounce German correctly; and the works of Bakounin, Herzen, Kropotkin became part of his cerebral tissue. Proudhon, Marx, and Ferdinand Lassalle taught him to hate wealth, property, power; and then he came across an old volume of Nietzsche in his uncle's library. The bent of the boy's genius was settled. He would be a composer—had he not, as a bare-headed child, run sobbing after Tschaikowsky's coffin almost to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in 1893—but a composer who would mould the destinies of his nation, perhaps the destinies of all the world, a second Svarog. He early saw the power—insidious, subtle, dangerous power—that lurked in great art, saw that the art of the twentieth century, his century, was music. Only thirteen when the greatest of all musical Russians died, he read Nietzsche a year later; and these men were the two compelling forces of his life until the destructive poetry of the mad, red-haired Australian poet, Lingwood Evans, appeared. Illowski's philosophy of anarchy was now complete, his belief in a social, aesthetic, ethical regeneration of the world, fixed. Yet he was no militant reformer; he would bear no polemical banners, wave no red flags. A composer of music, he endeavored to impart to his work articulate, emotion-breeding and formidably dangerous qualities.
Deserting the vague and fugitive experimentings of Berlioz, Wagner, Liszt and Richard Strauss, Illowski modelled himself upon Tschaikowsky. He read everything musical and poetical in type, and his first attempt, when nearly thirty, was a symphonic setting of a poem by a half-forgotten English poet, Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," and the music aroused hostile German criticism. Here is a young Russian, declared the critics, who ventures beyond Tschaikowsky and Strauss in his attempts to make music say something. Was not the classic Richard Wagner a warning to all who endeavored to wring from music a message it possessed not? When Wagner saw that Beethoven—Ah, the sublime Beethoven!—could not do without the aid of the human voice in his Ninth Symphony, he fashioned his music drama accordingly. With the co-operation of pantomime, costume, color, lights, scenery, he invented a new art—patched and tinkered one, said his enemies, who thought him old-fashioned—and so "Der Ring," "Tristan und Isolde," "Die Meistersinger" and "Parsifal" were born. True classics in their devotion to form and freedom from the feverishness of the later men headed by Richard Strauss—why should any one seek to better them, to supplant them? Wagner had been the Mozart of his century. Down with the musical Tartars of the East who spiritually invaded Europe to rob her of peace, religion, aye, and morals!
Much censure of this kind was aimed at Illowski, who continued calmly. Admiring Richard Strauss, he saw that the man did not dare enough, that his effort to paint in tone the poetic heroes of the past century, himself included, was laudable; but Don Juan, Macbeth, quaint Till Eulenspiegel, fantastic Don Quixote were, after all, chiefly concerned with a moribund aestheticism. Illowski best liked the Strauss setting of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" because it approached his own darling project, though it neither touched the stars nor reached the earth. Besides, this music was too complicated. A new art must be evolved, not a synthesis of the old arts dreamed by Wagner, but an art consisting of music alone: an art for the twentieth century, a democratic art in which poet and tramp alike could revel. To the profoundest science must be united a clearness of exposition that only Raphael has. Even a peasant enjoys Velasquez. The Greeks fathomed this mystery: all Athens worshipped its marbles, and Phidias was crowned King of Emotions. Music alone lagged in the race, music, part speech, part painting, with a surging undertow of passion, music had been too long in the laboratories of the wise men. To free it from its Egyptian bondage, to make it the tongue of all life, the interpreter of the world's desire—Illowski dreamed the dreams of madmen.
Chopin, who divined this truth, went first to the people, later to Paris, and thenceforward he became the victim of the artificial. Beethoven was born too soon in a world grown gray under scholars' shackles. The symphony, like the Old Man of the Sea, weighed upon his mighty shoulders; music, he believed, must be formal to be understood. Illowski, in his many wanderings, pondered these things: saw Berlioz on the trail, in his efforts to formulate a science of instrumental timbres; saw Wagner captivated by the glow of the footlights; saw Liszt, audacious Liszt, led by Wagner, and tribute laid upon his genius by the Bayreuth man; saw Tschaikowsky struggling away from the temptations of the music drama only to succumb to the symphonic poem—a new and vicious version of that old pitfall, the symphony; saw Cesar Franck, the Belgian mystic, narrowly graze the truth in some of his chamber music, and then fall victim to the fascinations of the word; as if the word, spoken or sung, were other than a clog to the free wings of imaginative music! Illowski noted the struggles of these dreamers, noted Verdi swallowed by the maelstrom of the theatre; noted Richard Strauss and his hesitation at the final leap.
To the few in whom he confided, he admitted that Strauss had been his forerunner, having upset the notion that music must be beautiful to be music and seeing the real significance of the characteristic, the ugly. Had Strauss developed courage or gone to the far East when young—Illowski would shrug his high shoulders, gnaw his cigarette and exclaim, "Who knows?"
Tolstoy was right after all, this sage, who under cover of fiction preached the deadliest doctrines; doctrines that aimed at nothing less than the disequilibration of existing social conditions. Tolstoy had inveighed bitterly against all forms of artificial art. If the Moujik did not understand Beethoven, then all the worse for Beethoven; great art should have in it Mozart's sunny simplicities, without Mozart's elaborate technical methods. This Illowski believed. To unite the intimate soul-searching qualities of Chopin and exclude his alembicated art; to sweep with torrential puissance the feelings of the common people, whether Chinese or German, Esquimaux or French; to tell them things, things found neither in books nor in pictures nor in stone, neither above the earth nor in the waters below; to liberate them from the tyranny of laws and beliefs and commandments; to preach the new dispensation of Lingwood Evans—magnificent, brutal, and blood-loving—ah! if Illowski could but discover this hidden philosophers stone, this true Arcana of all wisdom, this emotional lever of Archimedes, why then the whole world would be his: his power would depose Pope and Emperor. And again he dreamed the dreams of madmen—his mother had been nearly related to Dostoiewsky....
Of what avail the seed-bearing Bach and his fugues—emotional mathematics, all of them! Of what avail the decorative efforts of tonal fresco painters, breeders of an hour's pleasure, soon forgotten in the grave's muddy disdain! Had not the stage lowered music to the position of a lascivious handmaiden? To the sound of cymbals, it postured for the weary debauchee. No; music must go back to its origins. The church fettered it in its service, knowing full well its good and evil. Before Christianity was, it had been a power in hieratic hands. Ancient Egyptian priests hypnotized the multitudes with a single silvery sound; and in the deepest Indian jungles inspired fakirs induced visions by the clapping of shells. Who knows how the Grand Llama of Thibet decrees the destinies of millions! Music again, music in some other garb than we now sense it. Illowski groaned as he attacked this hermetic mystery. He had all the technique of contemporary art at his beck; but not that unique tone, the unique form, by which he might become master of the universe and gain spiritual dominion over mankind. Yet the secret, so fearfully guarded, had been transmitted through the ages. Certain favored ones must have known it, men who ruled the rulers of earth. Where could it be found? "The jealous gods have buried somewhere proofs of the origins of all things, but upon the shores of what ocean have they rolled the stone that hides them, O Macareus?" Thus echoed he the fatidical query of the French poet....
Illowski left Europe. Some said he had gone to Asia, the mother of all religions, of all corruptions. He had been seen in China, and later stories were related of his attempts to enter the sacred city, Lhasa. He disappeared and many composers and critics were not sorry; his was a too commanding personality: he menaced modern art. Thus far church and state had not considered his individual existence; he was but one of the submerged units of Rurik's vast Slavic Empire which now almost traversed the Eastern hemisphere. So he was forgotten and a minor god arose in his place—a man who wrote pretty ballets, who declared that the end of music was to enthrall the senses; and his ballets were danced over Europe, while Illowski's name faded away....
At the end of ten years he returned to St. Petersburg. Thinner, much older, his long, spidery arms, almost colorless blond hair and eroded features gave him the air of a cenobite who had escaped from some Scandinavian wilderness into life. His Oriental reserve, and evident dislike of all his former social habits, set the musical world wagging its head, recalling the latter days of Dostoiewsky. But Illowski was not mad: he simply awaited his opportunity. It came. The morning after his first concert he was awakened by fame knocking at his gate, the most horrible kind of fame. He was not called a madman by the critics, for his music could never have been the product of a crazy brain—he was pronounced an arch-enemy to mankind, because he told infamous secrets in his music, secrets that had lain buried in the shale of a vanished epoch. And, lest the world grow cold, he drove to its very soul the most hideous truths. A hypnotist, he conducted his orchestra through extraordinary and malevolent forests of tone. The audience went into the night, some sobbing, some beating the air like possessed ones, others frozen with terror. At the second concert the throngs were so dense that the authorities interfered. What poison was being disseminated in the air of a concert hall? What new device of the revolutionists? What deadly secret did this meagre, dreamy, harmless-looking Russian possess? The censors were alert. Critics were instructed by the heads of their journals to drive forth this musical anarchist; but criticism availed not. A week, and Illowski became the talk of Russia, a month, and Europe filled with strange rumors about him. Here was a magician who made the dead speak, the living dumb—what were the limits of his power? What his ultimate intention? Such a man might be converted into a political force would he but range himself on the right side of the throne. If not—why, then there was still Siberia and its weary stretches of snow!
When he reached Moscow rioting began in the streets. Leaving, he went with his dark-skinned Eastern musicians to the provinces. And the government trembled. Peasants threw aside spade, forgot vodka and rushed to his free concerts, given in canvas-covered booths; and the impetus communicated to this huge, weltering mass of slaving humanity, broke wave-like upon the remotest borders of the empire. The church became alarmed. Anti-Christ had been predicted for centuries, and latterly by the Second Adventists. Was Illowski the one at whose nod principalities and powers of earth should tremble and fall? Was he the prince of darkness himself? Was the liberation of the seven seals at hand—that awful time foretold by the mystic of Patmos? The Metropolitan of the Greek church did not long hesitate. A hierarchy that became endangered because a fanatic wielded hypnotic powers, must exert its prerogative. The aid of the secret police invoked, Illowski was hurried into Austria; but with him were his men, and he grimly laughed as he sat in a Viennese cafe and counted the victories of his first campaign.
"It has begun," he told his first violinist, a stolid fellow with black blood in his veins.
It had begun. After a concert in Vienna, Illowski was politely bidden to leave Austria. The unsettled political condition, the disaffection of Czech and Hungarian, were a few of the reasons given for this summary retirement. Yet Illowski's orchestra did not play the Rakoczy march! The clergy heard of his impieties; a report obtained credence that the Russian composer had written music for the black mass, most blasphemous of missal travesties. When he was told of this he smiled, for he did not aim at attacking mere sectarian beliefs; with Bakounin, he swore that there must be total destruction of all existing institutions, or—nothing!
He went to Germany believing the countrymen of Nietzsche would receive with joy this Overman from the East. There was no longer any Bayreuth—the first performance of "Parsifal" elsewhere had killed the place and the work. In Munich, the authorities forewarned, Illowski was arrested as a dangerous character and sent to Trieste. Thence he shipped to Genoa; and once in Italy, free. On the peninsula his progress was that of a trailing comet. The feminine madness first manifested itself there and swept the countryside with epidemic fury. Wherever he played the dancing mania set in, and the soldiery could not put it down by force of arms. Nietzsche's dancing philosopher, Zarathustra, was incarnated in Illowski's compositions. Like the nervous obsessions of mediaeval times, this music set howling, leaping and writhing volatile Italians, until it began to assume the proportions of a new evangel, an hysterical hallucination that bade defiance to law, doctors, even the decencies of life. Terrible stories reached the Vatican, and when it was related that one of his symphonic pieces delineated Zarathustra's Cave with its sinister mockery of prelate and king, the hated Quirinal was approached for assistance, and Illowski vanished from Italy.
In the British Isles, the same wicked tales were told of him. He was denounced by priest and publican as a subverter of morals. No poet, no demagogue, had ever so interested the masses. Musicians of academic training held aloof. What had they in common with this charlatan who treated the abominable teachings of Walt Whitman symphonically? He could not be a respectable man, even if he were a sane. And then the unlettered tiller of the soil, drunken mechanic and gutter drab all loved his music. What kind of music was it thus to be understood by the ignorant?
The police thought otherwise. Illowski gathered crowds—that was sufficient to ban him, not as the church does, with bell, book and candle, but with stout oaken clubs. Forth he fared, and things came to such a pass that not a steamer dared convey him or his band to America. By this time the scientific reviews had taken him up as a sort of public Illusionist. Disciples of Charcot explained his scores—though not one had been published—while the neo-moralists gladly denounced him as a follower of the Master Immoralist, a sublimated emotional expression of the ethical nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Others, more fanciful, saw in his advent and in his art an attempt to overturn nations, life itself, through the agency of corrupting beauty and by the arousing of illimitable desires. Color and music, sweetness and soft luxuries, declared these modern followers of Ambrose and Chrysostom, were the agencies of Satan in the undermining of morals. Pulpits thundered. The press sneered at the new Pied Piper of Hamelin, and poets sang of him. One Celtic bard named him "Master of the Still Stars and of the Flaming Door."
For women his music was as the moth's desire. Wherever he went were women—women and children. Old legends were revived about the ancient gods. The great Pan was said to be abroad; rustling in the night air set young folk blushing. An emotional renascence swept like a torrid simoon over Europe. Those who had not heard, had not seen him, felt, nevertheless, Illowski's subtle influences in their bosoms. The fountains of democracy's great deeps were breaking up. Too long had smug comfort and utilitarianism ruled a world grown weary of debasing commerce. All things must have an end, even wealth; and to the wretched, to those in damp mines, to the downcast in exile and in prisons and to the muck of humanity his name became a beautiful, illuminated symbol. The charges of impiety were answered: "His music makes us dream." Music now became ruler of the universe, and the earth hummed tunes; yet Illowski's maddening music had been heard by few nations.
Humble, poor, asking nothing, always giving, he soon became a nightmare to the orthodox. He preached no heresies, promised no future rewards, nor warred he against church or kingdom. He only made music and things were not as before; some strange angel had passed that way filling men's souls with joy, beauty and bitterness. Duties, vows, beliefs fell away like snow in the sun; families, tribes, states grew restless, troops were called and churches never closed. A wave of belated paganism rolled over the world; thinkers and steersmen of great political and religious organizations became genuinely alarmed. So had come the downfall of the classical world: a simple apparition in a far away Jewish province, and the Caesars fell supine—their empires cracked like mirrors! To imprison Illowski meant danger; to kill him would deify him, for in the blood of martyrs blossom the seeds of mighty religions. Far better if he go to Paris—Paris, the cradle and the tomb of illusions. There this restless demagogue might find his dreams stilled in the scarlet negations and frivolous philosophies of the town; thus the germ-plasm of a new religion, of a new race, perhaps of a new world, be drowned in the drowsy green of a little glass.
Illowski, this Spirit that Denied, this new Mephisto of music, did not balk his evil wishers.
"Paris, why not? She refused to understand Berlioz, flouted Wagner, and mocked Rodin's marble egotisms, the ferocious, white stillness of his Balzac! Perhaps Paris will give me, if not a welcome, at least repose. I am tired."
To Paris he went and excepting a few cynical paragraphs received no attention. The Conservatoire, the Academie de Musique did not welcome officially this gifted son of the Neva; the authorities blandly ignored him, though the police were instructed that if he attempted to play in front of churches, address mobs or build barricades, he must be confined. Paris had no idea of Illowski's real meaning; Paris, even in the twentieth century, always hears the news of the world last; besides, she conceives no other conquest save one that has for its object the several decayed thrones within her gates. Illowski was not molested and his men, despite their strange garb and complexion, went about freely. The Russian composer of ballets was just then the mode.
Some clever caricatures appeared of Illowski representing him as a musical Napoleon, cocked hat, sleek white horse and all. Another gave him the goat's beard of Brother Jonathan, with the baton of a Yankee band-master; and then it was assured that the much advertised composer was a joking American masquerading as a Slav, possibly the vender of some new religious cure born in the fanatical bake-ovens of Western America. "Faust" alternated with "Les Huguenots" at the Opera, Pilsner beer was on tap at the Cafe Monferino—why worry over exotic stories told of this visitor's abnormal musical powers? And little did anyone surmise that he had just given a symphonic setting to Lingwood Evans's insurrectionary poem with its ghastly refrain: "I hear the grinding of the swords, and He shall come—" Thus did Paris unwittingly harbor the poet, philosopher, composer and pontiff of the new dispensation—Pavel Illowski. And Lenyard with Scheff was hastening to Auteuil to see Neshevna, whose other name was never known.
Lenyard disliked Neshevna before he saw her; when they met he made no attempt to conceal his hatred. He again told himself this, as with Scheff he pursued the gravel path leading to the porter's lodge of Illowski's house. In Auteuil it overlooked the Seine which flowed a snake of sunny silver between its green-ribbed banks. Together the pair entered, mounted a low flight of steps and rang the private bell. Neshevna opened the door. In the flood of a westering sun the accents of her fluid Slavic face and her mannish head set upon narrow shoulders—all the disagreeable qualities of the woman—were exaggerated by this bath of clear light. Her hard gaze softened when she saw Scheff. She spoke to him, not noticing the other:
"The master is not at home." Lenyard contradicted her: "He is; the concierge said so."
"The concierge lies; but come in. I will see."
Following her they reached the music room, which was bare of instruments, pictures, furniture, all save a tall desk upon which lay a heap of music paper. Neshevna made a loping dart to the desk—she was like a wolf in her movements—and threw a handkerchief over it. Lenyard watched her curiously. Scheff gave one of his good-natured yawns and then laughed:
"Neshevna, we come to ask!"
"What?" she gravely inquired. There was a lithe alertness in the woman that puzzled Lenyard. Scheff lounged on the window-sill. "Now, Neshevna, be a good girl! Don't forget Moscow or your old adorer."
She answered him with sarcastic emphasis: "You fat fool, you and your clerical friend there, what do you both want spying upon Illowski like police?" Her voice became shrill as she rapidly uttered these questions, her green eyes seemed shot with blood. "If you think I'll tell either of you anything concerning the new music—"
"That's all we are here to learn."
"All? Imbeciles! As if you or your American could understand Illowski and his message!"
"What message?" Lenyard's grave face was not in the least discomposed by the Cossack passion of the woman. "What message has Illowski? I've heard queer stories, and cannot credit them. You are in his confidence. Tell us, we ask in humility, what message can any man's music have but the revelation of beauty?"
Lenyard's diplomatic question did not fail of its mark. Neshevna pushed back her flamboyant gray hair and walked about the room.
"Mummies!" she suddenly cried. "As if beauty will content a new generation fed on something besides the sweetmeats and pap of your pretty, meaningless music! Why, man, can't you see that all the arts are dead—save music? Don't you know that painting, literature, creeds—aye, and the kingdoms are dying for want of new blood, new ideas? Music alone is a vital force, an instrument for rescuing the world from its moral and spiritual decay. Nietzsche was a potent force in the nineteenth century, but not understood. They condemned him to a living death. Lingwood Evans, poet, prophet, is now too old to enforce his message—it is Illowski, Illowski alone who shall be the destructive Messiah of the new millennial. 'He cometh not to save; not peace, but blood!'"
The fire of fanaticism was in her eyes, in her speech. She grasped Lenyard by the elbow: "You, you should serve the master. Scheff is too fond of pleasure to do anything great. He is to give the signal—that's glory enough for him. But you, discontented American, have the stuff in you to make a martyr. We need martyrs. You hate me? Good! But you must worship Illowski. Art gives place to life, and in Illowski's music is the new life. He will sweep the globe from pole to pole, for all men understand his tones. Other gods have but prepared the way for him. No more misery, no more promises unfulfilled by the rulers of body and soul—only music, music like the air, the tides, the mountains, the moon, sun, and stars! Your old-fashioned melody and learning, your school-boy rules of counterpoint—all these Illowski ignores."
Lenyard eagerly interrupted her: "You say that he does away with melody, themes, harmony—how does he replace them, and how does he treat the human voice?" Neshevna let his arm fall and went slowly to the tall desk. She leaned against it, her hand upon her square chin. Scheff still gazed out upon the lawn where splashed a small, movable fountain. To Lenyard the air seemed as if charged with electric questionings. His head throbbed.
"You ask me something I dare not tell. Even Scheff, who knows some things, dares not tell. If Illowski's discovery—which is based on the great natural laws of heat, light, gravitation, electricity—if this discovery were placed in the hands of fools, the world would perish. Music has been so long the plaything of sensuality, the theatre for idle men and women, that its real greatness is forgotten. In Illowski's hands it is a moral force. He comes to destroy that he may rebuild. He accomplishes it with the raw elements themselves. Remember—'I hear the grinding of the swords, and He shall come—!'" Neshevna made a nervous gesture and disappeared through a door near the tall desk covered with music-paper—the desk whereon Illowski plotted the ruin of civilization.
"Now since you have seen the dread laboratory, don't hang around that desk; there's nothing there you can understand. The music-paper is covered with electrical and chemical formulae, not notes. I've seen them. Lenyard, let's go back to Paris and dine, like sensible men,—which we are not." Scheff dragged his friend out of the house, for the other was in a stupor. Neshevna's words cleaved his very soul. The American, the puritan in him, swiftly rose to her eloquent exhortation. All life was corrupt, he had been taught; art was corrupt, a snare, a delusion. Yet—was all its appalling power, its sensuous grandeur to be wasted in the service of the world, the flesh, the devil? Lenyard paused. "Oh, come on, Len. Why do you bother your excitable, sick heart with that lunatic's prophecies? Illowski is a big man, a very big man; but he is mad, mad! His theories of the decomposition of tone—he only imitates the old painter-impressionist of long ago—and his affected simplicity—why, he is after the big public, that's all. As to your question about what part the human voice plays in his scheme, I may tell you now that he doesn't care a farthing for it except as color. He uses the voice as he would use any instrumental combination, and he mixes his colors so wonderfully that he sometimes polarizes them—they no longer have any hue or scent. He should have been a painter not a composer. He makes panoramas, psychological panoramas, not music."
"You heard them, saw them?"
"Yes," said Scheff, sourly. "Some of the early ones, and I had brain fever for months afterward."
"Yet," challenged Lenyard, "you deny his powers?"
"I don't know what he has written recently," was the sullen answer, "but if the newspapers are to be believed, he is crazy. Music all color, no rhythm, no themes, and then his preaching of Nietzsche—it's all wrong, all wrong, my boy. Art was made for joy. When it is anything else, it's a dangerous explosive. Chemically separate certain natural elements and they rush together with a thunder-clap. That's what Illowski has done. It isn't art. It's science—the science of dangerous sounds. He discovered that sound-vibrations rule the universe, that they may be turned into a musical Roentgen ray. He presents this in a condensed art, an electric form—"
"But the means, man, the methods, the instruments, the form?" Lenyard's voice was tense with excitement. The phlegmatic Scheff noticed this and soothingly said:
"The means? Why, dear boy, he just hypnotizes people, and promises them bank accounts and angel-wings. That's how he does the trick. Here's the tramcar. Jump in. I'm dying of thirst. To the Monferino!" ...
* * * * *
Paris laughed when Illowski announced the performance of his new orchestral drama named "Nietzsche." The newspapers printed columns about the composer and his strange career. A disused monster music-hall, near the Moulin Rouge on Montmartre, was to be the scene of the concert and the place was at once christened "Theatre du Tarnhelm"—for a story had leaked out about the ebon darkness in which the Russian's music was played. This was surpassing the almost forgotten Richard Wagner. Concerts in the dark must be indeed spirituelle. The wits giggled over their jokes; and when the kiosks and bare walls were covered by placards bearing the names of "Illowski—'Nietzsche,'" with a threatening sword beneath them, the excitement became real. Satirical songs were sung in the cafes chantants, and several fashionable clerics wove the name of Illowski into their Sunday preachments. In a week he was popular, two a mystery, three a necessity. The authorities maintained a dignified silence—and watched. Politics, Bourbonism, Napoleonism, Boulangerism ere this had crept in unawares sporting strange disguises. Perhaps Illowski was a friend of the Vatican, of the Czar; perhaps a destructive, bomb-throwing Nihilist, for the indomitable revolutionists still waged war against the law. Might not this music be the signal for a dangerous uprising of some sort?...
Lenyard was asked to sit in a box with Neshevna that last night. Scheff refused to join them; he swore that he was tired of music and would remain in town. The woman smiled as he said this, then she handed him a letter, made a little motion—"the signal."
It was on the esplanade that Neshevna and Lenyard stood. The young man, weary with vigils, his face furrowed by curiosity, regarded the city below them as it lay swimming in the waves of a sinking sun. He saw the crosses of La Trinite as molten copper, then dusk and dwindle in the shadows. The twilight seemed to prefigure the fading of the human race. Neshevna walked with this dreamer to the rear of the theatre—the theatre of the Tarnhelm, that was to darken all civilization. He asked for Illowski, but she did not reply; she, too, was steeped in dreams. And all the streets were thick with men and women tumbling up to the top.
"We sit in a second-tier box," she presently said. "If you get tired, or—annoyed, you may go out on the balcony and look down upon the lights of Paris, though I fear it will be a dark night. There is no moon," she added, her voice dropping to a mumble....
They sat in a dark box that last night. The auditorium, vast and silent with the breath-catching silence of thousands, lay below them; but their eyes were glued upon a rosy light beginning to break over the space where was the stage. It spread, deepened, until it fairly hummed with scarlet tones. Gradually emerging from this cruel crimson the image of a huge sword became visible. Neshevna touched Lenyard's hand.
"The symbol of his power!" she crooned.
Blending with the color of the light a musical tone made itself seen, heard, felt. Lenyard shuddered. At last, the new dispensation was about to be revealed, the new gospel preached. It was a single vibratile tone, and was uttered by a trumpet. Was it a trumpet? It pealed with the peal of bells shimmering high in heaven. No occidental instrument had ever such a golden, conquering tone. It was the tone of one who foretold the coming, and was full of invincible faith and sweetness. Lenyard closed his eyes. That a single tone could so thrill his nerves he would have denied. This, then, was the secret. For the first time in the Christian world, the beauties of tonal timbres were made audible—almost visible; the quality appealed to the eye, the inner eye. Was not the tinted music so cunningly merged as to impinge first on the optic nerve? Had the East, the Hindus and the Chinese, known of this purely material fact for ages, and guarded it in esoteric silence? Here was music based on simple, natural sounds, the sounds of birds and air, the subtle sounds of silk. For centuries Europe had been on the wrong track with its melodic experimenting, its complex of harmonies. Illowski was indeed the saviour of music—and Neshevna, her great, green, luminous eyes upon him, held Lenyard's hand.
The sound grew in volume, grew less silken, and more threatening, while the light faded into mute, misty music like the purring of cats. A swelling roar assaulted their ears; nameless creeping things seemed to fill the tone. Yet it was in one tonality; there was no harmony, no melody. The man's quick ear detected many new, rich timbres, as if made by strange instruments. He also recognized interior rhythms, the result of color rather than articulate movement. Then came silence, a silence that shouted cruelly across the gulfs of blackness, a silence so profound as to be appalling. Sound, rhythm, silence—the material from which is fashioned the creative stuff of the universe! Lenyard became restless; but the grip on his fingers tightened. He felt the oppressive dread that precedes the flight of a nightmare; the dread that mankind knows when sunk in shallow, horrid sleep. A low, frightened wail mounted out of the darkness wherein massed the people. Another tone usurped the ear, pierced the eyes. It was a blinding beam of tone, higher and more undulating. His heart harshly ticking like a clock, he viewed, as in a vision, the march of the nations, the crash of falling theocracies, of dying dynasties. On a stony platform, vast and crowded, he knelt in sackcloth and ashes; the heavens thundered over the weeping millions of Nineveh; and the Lord of Hosts would not be appeased. Stretching to the clouds were black, basaltic battlements, and above them reared white terraced palaces, as swans that strain their throats to the sky. The day of wrath was come. And amid the granitic clashing of the elements, Lenyard saw the mighty East resolving into dust. Neshevna pressed his hand.
By the waters of Babylon he wandered, and found himself at the base of a rude little hill. The shock of the quaking earth, the silent passing of the sheeted dead, and the rush of affrighted multitudes told him that another cosmic tragedy was at hand. In a flare of lightning he saw silhouetted against an angry sky three crosses at the top of the sad little hill. He reeled away, his heart almost bursting, when Neshevna grasped him. "You saw the death of the gods!" she hoarsely whispered.
He could not answer, for the music showed him a thunder-blasted shore fringing a bituminous sea. This sea stirred not, while the air above it was frozen in salty silence. Faint, thin light came up through the waters, and Lenyard caught a glimpse in the deeps below of sparkling pinnacles and bulbous domes of gold; a dead sea rolled over the dead cities of the bitter plain. He trembled as Neshevna said, with a grinding sob, "That was the death of life."
Lenyard's sombre soul modulated to another dream—the last. Suffocating and vague, the stillness waxed and ran over the troubled edges of eternity. The Plain, gloomy and implacable, was illuminated on its anonymous horizon by one rift of naked, leering light. Over its illimitable surface surged and shivered women, white, dazzling, numberless. As waves that, lap on lap, sweep fiercely across the sky-line, as bisons that furiously charge upon grassy wastes, "as the rill that runs from Bulicame to be portioned out among the sinful women," these hordes of savage creatures rose and fell in their mad flight across the Plain. No sudden little river, no harsh accent of knoll or hill, broke the immeasurable whiteness of bared breast and ivoried shoulder. It was a white whirl of women, a ferocious vortex of terrified women. Lenyard saw the petrified fear upon the faces of them that went into the Pit; and he descried the cruel and looming figure of Illowski piping to them as they went into the Pit. The maelstrom of faces turned to their dream-master; faces blanched by regret, sunned by crime, beaming with sin; faces rusted by vain virtue; wan, weary faces, and the triumphant regard of those who loved—all gazed at the Piper as vertiginously they boiled by. The world of women passed at his feet radiant, guilty, white, glittering and powerless. Lenyard felt the inertia of sickness seize him when he saw the capital expression upon these futile faces—the expression of insurgent souls that see for the last time their conqueror. Not a sign made these mystic brides, not a sound; and, as in the blazing music they dashed despairingly down the gulf of time, Lenyard was left with eyes strained, pulses jangled, lonely and hopeless. He shivered, and his heart halted....
"This is the death of love," shouted Neshevna. But Lenyard heard her not; nor did he hear the noise of the people beneath—the veritable booming of primordial gorilla-men. And now a corrosive shaft of tone rived the building as though its walls had been of gauze and went hissing towards Paris, in shape a menacing sword. Like the clattering of tumbrils in narrow, stony streets men and women trampled upon each other, fleeing from the accursed altar of this arch-priest of Beelzebub—Illowski. They over-streamed the sides of Montmartre, as ants washed away by water. And the howling of them was heard by the watchers in the doomed city below.
Neshevna, her arm clutched by Lenyard's icy fingers, shook him violently, and tried to release herself. Finding this impossible she dragged her silent burden out upon the crumpling balcony.
Paris was draped in flaming clouds—the blood-red smoke of mad torches. Tongues of fire twined about the towers of Notre Dame; where the Opera once stood yawned a blackened hole. The air was shocked by fulminate blasts—the signals of the careless Scheff.
And the woman, her mouth filled with exultant laughter, screamed, "Thou hast conquered, O Pavel Illowski!"
AN EMOTIONAL ACROBAT
They were tears which he drummed.
Perhaps you think because I play upon an instrument of percussion I admire that other percussive machine of wood and wire, the piano, or consider the tympanum an inferior instrument?
You were never more mistaken, for I despise the piano as a shallow compromise between the harp, tympani and those Eastern tinkling instruments of crystal and glass, or dulcimers and cymbalum. It has no character, no individuality of its own. It is deplorable in conjunction with an orchestra, for its harsh, hard, unmalleable tone never blends with other instruments. It is a selfish instrument and it makes selfish artists of those who devote a lifetime to it.
Bah! I hate you and your pianos. Compare it to the tympani? Never, never! It is false, insincere, and smirks and simpers if even a silly school girl sits before it. It takes on the color of any composer's ideas, and submits like a slave to the whims of any virtuoso. I am disgusted. Here am I, an old kettle-drummer—as you say in your barbarous English—poor, unknown, forced to earn a beggarly living by strumming dance tunes in a variety hall on a hated piano, and often accompanying singers, acrobats, and all the riffraff of a vaudeville, where a mist of vulgarity hangs like a dirty pearl cloud over all. I don't look at my music any more. I know what is wanted. I have rhythmic talent. I conduct myself, although there is a butter-faced leader waving a silly stick at us while I sit in my den, half under the stage, and thrum and think, and blink and thrum.
And what do you suppose I do with my mornings—for I have to rehearse every afternoon with odious people who splash their draggled lives with feeble, sick music—? I stay in my attic room and play upon my tympani, my beloved children. I have three of them, and I play all sorts of scores, from the wonderful first measures of Beethoven's Fifth, to Saint-Saens' Arabian music. Ah! those men understand my instrument. It is no instrument of percussion to them. It has a soul. It is the heart of the orchestra. Its rhythmic throb is the pulse of musical life. What are your strings, your scratching, rasping strings! What signifies the blare of your brass, or the bilious bleating of your wood-wind! I am the centre, the life giver. From me the circulation of warm, musical blood emanates. I stand at the back of the orchestra as high as the conductor. Ah! he knows it; he looks at me first. How about the Fifth Symphony? You now sneer no longer. It is I who outline with mystic taps the framework of the story. Wagner, great, glorious, glowing Wagner!—I kiss his memory—he appreciated the tympani and their noble mission in music....
Yes, I am an educated man, but music snared me away from a worldly career. Music and—a woman; but never mind that part of it. Do you know Hunding's motif in "Die Walkuere"? Ha! ha! I will give it to you. Listen! Is it not beautiful? The stern, acrid warrior approaches. And Wagner gave it to me, to the tympani. Am I crazy, am I arrogant, to feel as I do about my darling dwarf children? Look at their beloved bellies, so smooth, so elastic, so resonant! A tiny tap and I set vibrating millions of delicate, ethereal sounds, the timbre of which to my ears has color, form, substance, nuance, and thrills me even to my old marrow. Is it not delicious—that warm, velvety, dull percussion? Is it not delicious, I say? How it shimmers and senses about me! You have heard of drummed tears? I can make you weep, if I will, with a few melancholy, muffled strokes. The drum is the epitome of life. Sound is life. The cave-men bruised stones together and heard the first music.
I know your Herbert Spencer thinks differently, but bah! what does he know about tympani? Chopin would have been a great tympanist if he had not wasted his life foolishly at the piano. When he merely drummed with his fingers on the table, Balzac said, he made music, so exquisitely sensitive was his touch. Ah me! what a tympanist was lost to the world. What shading, what delicacy, what sunlight and shadow he would have made flit across my little darlings on their tripods! No wonder I hate the piano; and yet, hideous mockery of fate! I play upon an old grand to earn my bread and wine. I can't play with an orchestra—it is torture for me. They do not understand me; the big noisy boors do not understand rhythm or nuance. They play so loud that I cannot be heard, and I will never stoop to noisy banging. How I hate these orchestral players! How they scratch and blow like pigs and boasters! When I did play with them they made fun of my red hair and delicate touch. The leader could not understand me, and kept on yelling "Forte, Forte." It was in the Fifth of Beethoven, and I became angry and called out in my poor German (ah! I hate German, it hurts my teeth): "Nein, so klopft das Schicksal nicht an die Pforte." You remember Beethoven's words!
Well, everybody laughed at me, and I got mad and covered up my instruments and went home. Jackass! he wanted me to bang out that wonderful intimation of fate as though it were the milkman knocking at the door. I am a poet, and play upon the tympani; the conductor and the orchestra are boors. But I do injustice to one of them. He was an Alsatian, and spoke bad French. But he was an excellent bassoon player. He often called on me and we played duets for bassoon and tympani, and then read Amiel's journal aloud and wept. Oh! he had a sensitive soul, that bassoon player. He died of the cholera, and now I am alone....
After my failure as an orchestral player I gave a concert in this city, and played my concerto for seven drums and wood-wind orchestra. The critics laughed me to distraction. Instead of listening to the innumerable rhythms and marvellous variety of nuances I offered them, they mocked my agile behavior and my curiously colored hair. Even my confreres envied and reviled me. I have genius, so am hated and despised. Oh, the pity of it all! They couldn't hear the tenderness, the fairy-like sobbing made by my wrists, but listened with admiration to the tinkling of a piano, with its hard, unchangeable tone. Oh, the stupidity of it all!...
But time will have its revenge. I will not stir a finger either. When I die the world of tone will realize that a great man has passed away, after a wretched, neglected life. I have composed a symphony, and for nothing but Tympani! Don't smile, because I have explored the most fantastic regions of rhythm, hitherto undreamed. Tone, timbre, intensity, rhythm, variety in color, all, all will be in it; and how much more subtly expressed than by your modern orchestra, with its blare, blow, bang and scratch. And what great thoughts I have expressed! I have gone beyond Berlioz, Wagner and Richard Strauss. I have discovered rhythms, Asiatic in origin, that will plunge you into midnight woe; rhythms rescued from the Greeks of old, that will drive you into panting dance; rhythms that will make drunkards of sober men, warriors of cowards, harlots of angels. I can intoxicate, dazzle, burn, madden you. Why? Because all music is rhythm. It is the skeleton, the structure of life, love, the cosmos. God! how I will exult, even if my skin crackles in hell-fire, when the children of the earth listen to my Tympani Symphony, and go crazy with its tappings!...
I have led a shiftless, uneventful life, yet I envy no one, for I am the genius of a new art—but stay a moment! An uneventful life, did I say? Alas! my life has been one long, desperate effort to forget her, to forget my love, my wife. My God! I can see her face now, when she flashed across my sight at a provincial circus. It was in France. I was a young man drum-mad, and went to the circus to beguile my time, for I couldn't practise all day. Then I saw her—"Mlle. Leontine, the Aerial Virtuoso of the Century," the playbills called her. She was fair and slim, and Heaven had smiled into her eyes.
I am a poet, you see. Her hair was the color of tender wheat and her feet twinkled star-wise when she walked. She was my first, my only love, my life, my wife. She loved me, she told me so soon after we became acquainted, and I believed her; I believe her now, sometimes, when I strike softly the skins of my dear little drum children. We soon married. There were no impediments on my side; my parents were dead and I had a little ready money. I gave it all to her. She took it and bought diamonds.
"They were so handy in case of hard luck," she said, and smiled. I smiled, too, and kissed her.
I kissed her very often, and was so desperately in love with her that I joined the circus and played the drums there; hush! don't tell it to any one—and the side-drums at that. I would have even played the piano for her, so frantically did I adore her. I was very proud of my wife, my Leontine. She did a tremendous act on the trapeze. She swung and made a flying leap across the tent and caught a bar, and every time I gave a tap on the big drum just as she grasped the trapeze. Oh! it would have made your blood shiver to see her slight figure hurtling through space and landing safely with my rhythmic accompaniment. And how people cheered, and what crowds flocked to view the spectacle! In some towns the authorities made us use nets; then the crowds were not nearly so large. People like risks. The human animal is happy if it smells blood. Leontine noticed the decreased attendance when the safety nets were used, and begged the manager to dispense with them.
He often did so, for he loved money as much as she loved fame. She was perfectly fearless and laughed at my misgivings, so we usually did the act without nets....
We had reached Rouen in our wanderings through the provinces, and I mooned about the old town, sauntering through the cathedral, plunged in a reverie, for I was happy, happy all the time. Leontine was so good, so amiable, so true. She associated with none of the women of the circus and with none of the men, except the manager and myself.
The manager reared her; she had been a foundling. She told me this at the beginning of our intimacy. We often played games of picking out the handsomest houses and chateaux we passed, pretending that her parents lived in them. She was very jolly, was my little Leontine, and remained with me nearly all the time, except when practising her difficult feats; this she did in company with the manager, who attended to the ropes and necessary tackling. He was a charming fellow, and very obliging.
One day I was sitting half-asleep in the spring sunshine, with my back to one of the tents, awaiting Leontine's return. She was, as usual, rehearsing, and I, composing and dreaming. Suddenly a laugh aroused me, and I heard a woman's voice:
"But the young idiot never will discover them; he is too blind and too fond of drumming."
I tuned up my ears. Another woman answered in a regretful tone:
"See what it is to be fascinating like Leontine; she gets all the boy's money, and has the manager besides. She must earn a pretty penny." ...
I sat perfectly cold and still for several moments, then managed to wriggle away. I can give you no account of my feelings now, so many years have passed; besides, I don't think I felt at all. Every day I became more and more thoughtful, and Leontine and the manager rallied me on my silence....
At last I made up my mind that it was time to act. We went to Lille and gave there our usual display. I had not seen Leontine all day, and when the evening came I sent a message telling her I was not hungry and would not be home for supper. I could be a hypocrite no longer.
In the evening the regular performance began. I was in a gay humor, and the men in the orchestra laughed at my wit, saying that I was more like my old self. My wife's aerial act came last on the bill, being the event of the show. What a brilliant house we had! I still can smell the sawdust, the orange peel, see the myriad of faces and hear the crack of the ring-masters' whips, the cries of the clowns and the crash of the music....
"She comes, Leontine comes!" shrilled a thousand throats.
Into the ring she dashed on a milk-white horse, and, throwing off her drapery, stood bowing.
What a graceful figure she had, and how lovely she looked as she clambered aloft to her giddy perch! Breathlessly every one saw her make preparations for the flight through the air. The band became silent; all necks were strained as she swung lightly to and fro in space, increasing the speed to gain necessary momentum for the final launch.
Off she darted, like a thunderbolt—bang! went my drum—a moment too soon. The false unaccustomed rhythm shook her nerves and she tumbled with her face toward me.
There were no nets....
Later I sought the manager. He was in his room, his head thrust beneath pillows. I tapped him on the shoulder; he shuddered when he saw me. "'Tis you who should wear black," I said....
Kennst du der Mutter Kuenste nicht?
—TRISTAN UND ISOLDE.
"I'd rather see her in her grave than as Isolde!" Mrs. Fridolin tightly closed her large, soft eyes, adding intensity to a declaration made for the enlightenment of her companion in a German railway carriage. The young woman laughed disagreeably.
"I mean what I say, Miss Bredd; and when you know as much about the profession as I do—when you are an older woman—you will see I am right. Meg—I should say Margaret—shall never sing Isolde with my permission. Apart from the dreadfully immoral situation, just think of the costume in the garden scene, that chiton of cheese-cloth! And these Wagnerites pretend to turn up their nose at 'Faust'! I once told dear, old M. Gounod, when Meg was in Paris with Parchesi, his music was positively decent compared—"