E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE MUSIC MASTER
Novelized from the Play as Produced by David Belasco
Illustrated with Scenes from the Photoplay A William Fox Production
[Frontispiece: "MY LITTLE GIRL HAD JUST SUCH A DOLL—IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU—?"]
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Copyright, 1909 By Dodd, Mead & Company All rights reserved
Published, March, 1909
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
David Warfield, Artist
BY THE AUTHOR
List of Illustrations
"My little girl had just such a doll—is it possible that you—?" . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
The "music master" can no longer pay rent for the piano.
Anton Von Barwig is compelled to pawn his favourite violin.
Beverly brings Helene a wedding gift.
Anton learns that his newly found daughter is to be married.
Helene prepares her trousseau.
"I want you to come with us?"
Helene and Beverly find love's haven.
Anton Von Barwig rapped on the conductor's desk for silence and laid down his baton. The hundred men constituting the Leipsic Philharmonic Orchestra stopped playing as if by magic, and those who looked up from their music saw in their leader's face, for the first time in their three years' experience under his direction, a pained expression of helplessness.
"Either I can't hear you this morning, or the first violins are late in attacking and the wood wind drags—drags—drags."
"What's the matter? We've played this a hundred times," growled Karlschmidt, the bass clarionet player, to Poons, the Dutch horn soloist, who sat at the desk next to him.
Karlschmidt was a socialist, a student of Karl Marx, and took more interest in communism than in his allotted share of the score of Isolde's Liebestodt. Indeed, nearly all the men were interested in something other than the occupation which afforded them a living. For them the pleasure of music had died in the business of attaining accuracy.
"What did he say?" asked Poons, losing Von Barwig's next remark in trying to hear what Karlschmidt was mumbling.
"He said it's his own fault," whispered the second flute.
"He's quite right," assented Karlschmidt.
"Hush, hush!" came from one or two others. Von Barwig was addressing the men again, and they wanted to hear.
"Let's play; cut the speeches out," growled Karlschmidt. "For God's sake, what's he saying now?"
"Damn it! How can we hear when you won't keep quiet?" blurted a Germanised Englishman who had an engagement at the old Rathaus and wanted to get away.
"We're dismissed," said Poons, who couldn't hear. But the men at the violin desks down front were rising and putting away their instruments, and the others were slowly following their example.
Karlschmidt's face expanded into a smile; the prospect of avoiding the unpleasant grind of rehearsal had restored him to good humour. The lines of men were now breaking up into knots; bows were being loosened, violins put into cases and brass instruments into bags, while laughing and chatting became general. Poons looked at Von Barwig, who still stood on the small dais, staring out into space, and he saw that something was the matter. He loved Von Barwig; for years before, when hard times had sent him over the border from Amsterdam toward the German music centres, Von Barwig had extended him a helping hand, indeed had almost kept him from starving until he got an engagement in one of the minor Dresden theatres; Poons was grateful; and gratitude is a form of love that lies deeper than mere sympathy.
"Can I do something for you, Anton?" he asked a few moments later, as he stood at the conductor's desk. Von Barwig did not answer; and with his round face, and smiling eyes glancing appealingly at his conductor, Poons stood waiting like a little dog that patiently wags his tall in hope of his master's recognition. Presently he shook his head gravely and sighed. Surely something was wrong, for Anton was not himself. Never before had he stopped rehearsal and dismissed his men on the morning preceding a concert night, and, moreover, the night of the first performance of a new symphony—Von Barwig's own work.
The men were rapidly disappearing, and the Gewandhaus concert platform was almost empty. Von Barwig seemed deeply interested in watching his men carry off their instruments, and yet, when Poons looked closely into his face, he knew that the leader did not see that which he was apparently watching so closely.
"Shall I wait for you, Anton?" ventured Poons finally. As if to remind Von Barwig of his presence, he touched him gently on the arm. Von Barwig started. A look of recognition came into his eye, and with it a smile that metamorphosed his homely, almost ugly face into something beyond mere beauty; a smile that transformed a somewhat commonplace personality into an appealing and compelling individuality. There is no need to describe the delicate, sensitive, rugged countenance, which, when he smiled, radiated love and sympathy for his fellow-beings and made him what is ordinarily described as magnetic.
Poons caught this smile, and his own broad grin deepened as he recognised his old friend again.
"Come, let's go," Von Barwig said briefly; and without another word they walked out of the Gewandhaus. They passed the statue of Mendelssohn erected in front of the building, walking down the August Platz as far as the University. Poons noticed that unusual things were happening that morning. First, his friend was walking rapidly, so rapidly that he himself almost had to trot to keep up with him; second, he was muttering to himself, a most unusual thing for Von Barwig to do; third, every now and then a look of intense hatred beclouded his face; and last, he was not talking over the events of the morning with his friend. Furthermore, so engrossed was Von Barwig in his own thoughts that he passed Schumann's monument without lifting his hat, and Bismarck's monument without shaking his fist; and these two things Von Barwig had done, day in and day out, ever since Poons had known him. Finally, when at the Thomas Kirche Poons ventured to ask, "Where are we going?" Von Barwig stopped short in the middle of the street he was crossing.
"That's it, that's it!" he said excitedly; "where am I going? Where am I going?" and he looked at Poons as if he expected that his frightened friend would answer his question.
Poons took his friend's arm and pushed him out of the road on to the pavement just in time to save him from being grazed by a cab which rapidly whisked by them. Then he stopped and laid his hand on Von Barwig's shoulder.
"What's the matter, Anton?" he said soothingly. "Can't you tell me? In God's name, what has happened?"
Anton looked at Poons. The unexpected had happened; his devoted follower had dared to question him. The shock almost awoke him to a sense of his surroundings, and the ghost of his old smile stole over his face as he shook his head slowly.
"That's it!" he gasped. "I don't know! I don't know! It's the uncertainty that is killing me. By God, August, I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" And then Poons understood.
They walked on in silence, whither neither of them knew. It was now Poons's turn to walk faster than his companion and to mutter to himself. His face had lost its grin, and he was no longer conscious of his immediate surroundings. After they had passed Auerbach's cellar he could contain himself no longer, and an explosion took place. He stopped Von Barwig in the middle of the pavement, grabbing him by the arm, and in a hoarse, gutteral voice, choked with emotion, shouted, "Anton! Anton!"
Von Barwig looked at his friend in mute surprise. Poons, oblivious of the bystanders—who were looking to see why a man should shout so unnecessarily—went on:
"By God, Anton, I kill him, too!"
This appealed to Von Barwig's sense of humour, and he burst Into laughter, a laughter perilously near to tears. It never occurred to him to ask Poons what he knew or what he had heard. The fact that what was preying on his mind, his carefully guarded secret, was common property did not strike him at that moment. He merely thought that his friend was agreeing with him in the sentiment of killing "some one" as he agreed with him in all matters of music, philosophy and art. In Anton Von Barwig's condition of mind at that moment, had it occurred to him that Poons knew the awful fact that was confronting him, he would have taken him by the throat and then and there compelled him to confess what he knew or thought he knew; but he walked on in silence, followed by his devoted friend.
They turned up a small side street of the August Platz and stopped in front of the house where Anton Von Barwig lived. It was the centre of a row of large modern apartment houses where lived for the most part the art world of Leipsic, and this world included beside the rich, professional element, the wealthy publishers, of whom in this important centre of Germany there were a large number. As Von Barwig stood waiting for Poons to enter with him, he noticed Poons's outstretched hand.
"Aren't you coming in?" he asked. Poons shook his head.
"I'd better not," he said simply.
"Why not?" asked Von Barwig.
"Because," Poons faltered. He did not want to tell his friend that at such times as these it is better for a man to be alone with his thoughts.
"Why not?" cried Von Barwig; but Poons did not speak. He stood like some dumb animal awaiting his master's lash; and then Von Barwig knew that Poons knew.
"Come!" said Von Barwig in a low, hard voice, with such firmness and determination that Poons, in spite of himself, was compelled to go forward. Silently they walked up three flights, neither of them noticing the salute of the porter as they passed him. Anton took out his keys and opened a door which led into a magnificently furnished musical studio, the largest apartment in Koenigs Strasse. It was here that he and Madam Elene Von Barwig, his wife, held their musical receptions and entertained the great German and foreign artists that came to Leipsic. These receptions were famous affairs, and invitations were eagerly sought, not only by musical celebrities, but by such of the nobility as happened to be in town. Members of the royal family had been known to grace more than one of these affairs; for though a conductor of the Leipsic Philharmonic is not necessarily a rich man, his social position is unquestioned.
Perhaps some such fleeting thoughts as these—glimpses into the past like those of a drowning man—came into Anton Von Barwig's consciousness as he stepped quietly to the door leading from the reception-room and studio and passed into the corridor toward the living apartments. He listened intently; but hearing nothing, closed the door quietly, and somewhat to Poons's alarm turned the key in the lock.
"Now tell me," he demanded, in a voice that was as strange as it was determined; "what do you know? Sit down." This last was a direct command.
Poons felt that nothing was to be gained by silence. He had, so to speak, put his foot in it by allowing himself, through sympathy in his friend's affairs, to betray the fact that he knew what was troubling him. He felt, therefore, that by making a clean breast of it, he might not only mitigate Von Barwig's sufferings but enable him to see what the world, or at least the world of Leipsic, had seen for some time.
Poons was not a rapid thinker, but these thoughts flashed through his mind in less time than it took him to obey Von Barwig. He sat down in the chair indicated by his friend and tried to collect his thoughts.
"What do you know?" repeated Von Barwig. Poons moistened his lips with his tongue, as if to enable him to speak; but words would not come. He loved Anton; he knew that what he had to say would make him suffer; and that he could not bear to see. He tried to speak, faltered "I cannot, I cannot!" and burst into tears. Von Barwig walked up to the window and gazed steadily into the street.
"It's more serious than I thought," he said after a few moments' pause, giving Poons time to recover in some slight degree from his emotion. "It is serious, eh?"
"Yes," assented Poons, relieved that Anton's question required only a monosyllable for an answer.
"Very serious, eh?" asked Von Barwig, steeling himself for the answer he expected.
"Yes, I think so," nodded Poons, gulping down a sob.
"The worst, eh?"
"God, you know what scandal-mongers are; what people say—when they do say—how they talk! They have no mercy, no brains, no sense! What is a woman's reputation to them? They repeat, they—they—the wretches—the murderers—" Poons seemed to be trying to shift the blame on a number of people; it was easier for him to generalise at this moment than to answer his questioner straightforwardly.
"Do they say that my wife—that Madam Von Barwig neglects her home?"
"And her child?"
"No, no!" eagerly interrupted Poons, quite joyous at being able to deny something at last.
"Do they say that she—neglects me, that she doesn't care for me, that—" Von Barwig spoke now with an effort; "that she no longer loves me?"
Poons nodded affirmatively. He was summoning up all his courage for the question that he knew was coming; and it came.
"Do they say, do they mention—his name?"
Poons again nodded affirmatively.
Von Barwig held his breath for a moment; then literally heaved a sigh. What he most feared had indeed come upon him. The world knew; his heart was on his sleeve for daws to peck at.
"How long have you known this?"
Poons hung his head, he could not answer. He was longing to throw his arms around his friend's neck and cry on his shoulder; and he could think of nothing to say but "Poor Anton! Poor Anton!"
"Don't pity me, damn you! don't pity me!" burst out Von Barwig. "And don't sit there bleating like a lost sheep of Israel! I'm not a woman—tears are no panacea for suffering like mine. Put the world back five years, restore for me the past few months; then I could live life over again, then I could see and know and act differently. Don't sit there like a wailing widow, moaning and moping over other people's miseries! That isn't sympathy, that's weakness! If you want to help me, tell me to be a man, to face my troubles like a man; don't cry like a baby!"
"That's right," assented Poons, "go on; it does you good. Give it to me, I deserve it!"
"Poor old Poons, you do your best! Ah, your love does me good, old friend; but there's hell to face! She threatens to leave me, to leave me because I refused to allow him to come here. I've warned him! And if he shows his face in Leipsic again, I'll kill him! Look!" Von Barwig felt in his inner pocket. "Now you can understand why I couldn't hold the men together at rehearsal this morning. My mind was with her, with him. Ha! the mother of my little girl, my little Helene! That's the pity of it, Poons, that's the pity of it!" and now it was Von Barwig's turn to show weakness. "That's what I can't understand. A woman's love for a man, yes, it can go here, there, anywhere; but the mother instinct, how can that change?"
"Doesn't she love her little girl any more?" asked Poons in simple astonishment.
"She loves him," said Anton. "Can there be room for the mother love with such love as he inspires?"
He looked at the letter in his hand and passed it to Poons. "This morning, just as I was leaving for rehearsal, the servant handed me this. My little girl is all I have left now." His voice choked with emotion as he turned once more toward the window.
At the sight of his friend's suffering Poons could no longer contain himself, and he fairly blubbered as he read the following:
"DEAR ANTON: Henry Ahlmann is in Leipsic and I have seen him. I cannot live a lie, so I am going away with him. Believe me, it is better so; I feel that you can never forgive me and that we can never again be happy together. Kiss my darling Helene for me, and oh, Anton, don't tell the little one her unhappy mother's miserable history until she is old enough to understand!
"ELENE VON BARWIG."
"Well, that's conclusive, isn't it?" asked Von Barwig grimly as soon as Poons finished reading.
Poons's voice failed him. Hot, scalding tears were fairly raining down his cheeks as the letter fell out of his trembling hands and fluttered to the floor.
"Well, what's to be done; what's to be done?"
"Then she has gone?"
Von Barwig nodded. "I suppose so! I don't know, I can't tell," he said helplessly. "I didn't try to stop her," he went on after a pause. "What's the use, to what end? Oh, I don't want the entire blame to rest on her shoulders! A beautiful woman, twenty-five years of age, a pampered, petted, spoiled child, craving constant excitement; and he, a handsome, young American, rich and romantic. I, as you know, am a mature man of forty, devoted to an art in which she takes little interest. I introduced them. Ha! that's the irony of it! I brought them together, I left them together, I—it's my fault, Poons—my fault! I neglected her for my work. With me, all was music: the compositions, the rehearsal, the concert, the pupil, the conservatory, the opera, the singer, the player. He used to take her to my concerts; and I,—fool, fool—encouraged him, for it gave me more time to devote to my art. An artist is a selfish dog! He must be, or there is no art. What could I expect? I am fifteen years older than she; ugly——"
"No, no!" blurted out Poons.
"My friend can lie, but my looking-glass doesn't. I know, I know! God, how will it all end? How will it all end?"
At this point the door shook a little as though some one were trying to get in.
"She's come back!" almost gasped Anton, and walking firmly to the door, he unlocked and opened it. As he did so, a little fairy creature between three and four years of age, with golden, flaxen curls and blue eyes, bounded into the room, calling out, "Papa! Papa! Where is oo? Where is oo?"
Von Barwig was on his knees in a moment, and the child threw her left arm around his neck and hugged him so tightly that the little doll she held in her right hand was almost crushed between them.
"Helene, Helene! my poor, motherless little baby!" And then for the first time Von Barwig gave way to tears.
"We are alone, alone, alone! Oh, God! Oh, God!" he sobbed as he rocked from side to side in his agony. Poons crept softly out of the room and closed the door gently after him.
It was past seven o'clock that evening when Poons returned to Von Barwig's apartment on his way to the Gewandhaus concert. His old overcoat buttoned tightly over his well-worn dress suit covered a palpitating heart; for Poons was afraid. A few minutes before, when he had kissed his motherly wife good-bye and told her to take good, extra good care of their little son August, she had noticed that his hand was trembling. And when he tried to account for his nervous condition by reminding her that Anton Von Barwig's new symphony was to be played that night and that a member of the Royal family was to be present on the occasion, she had shaken her head gravely, accusing him of being a foolish, timid old boy. It needed all the courage he could muster up to enable him to ring the door-bell of Von Barwig's dwelling. There was such a death-like stillness that Poons thought for a moment no one was there; he dreaded he knew not what. As he stood listening to the silence, he thought he heard a child's laughter, and he sighed in relief. The servant came to the door, a sleepy-eyed German maedchen as strong as an ox and nearly as stupid. "Oh, it's Herr Poons," she said. "Come in. I tell Herr Von Barwig——"
"Is he—is he? How is he?" faltered Poons, much relieved that the girl showed no evidence of acquaintance with the real condition of her master's mind.
"I tell him," repeated the girl stolidly, without answering his question.
Closing the hall door, she ushered him into the studio and left him standing there. Poons looked at his watch; it was a quarter past seven. He still had fifteen minutes to spare before the concert engagement, which began at eight o'clock, called him to the Gewandhaus.
While he was wondering what he could say to his friend, the servant opened the door leading to the living apartments of the family and intimated that he should come in. Poons passed through a magnificently furnished drawing-room and library, and thence into the dining-room.
"This way," said the girl, opening the dining-room door, beyond which was a passage leading to the kitchen and bedrooms. Poons looked surprised, and the girl hastened to say:
"Herr Von Barwig is in the nursery."
"Ah, of course," nodded Poons, as he followed her.
Not very observant usually, Poons noticed that the dinner table was set for two persons. Both places were undisturbed and the food was untouched.
"He has not eaten," thought Poons. "Of course she is not here! Oh, God! that is the tragedy of it! The empty chair, always the empty chair—it is like death!"
As the nursery door opened Poons heard the sound of voices and laughter and, to his utter astonishment, saw his friend Von Barwig on the floor playing with little Helene's dolls' house. Helene was shrieking with childish laughter because Von Barwig pretended to be angry with one of her dolls which would not eat the cake he tried to make it swallow.
As Von Barwig saw his friend, a look of intense pain crossed his face, but he forced himself to smile and say:
"Come in, Herr Doctor Poons, and mend this little girl's eye. See, I've given her cake to eat, but it won't do her eye any good!"
Helene laughed gleefully at the idea of cake being good for a broken eye.
"Good gracious, how did the eye fall out?" said Dr. Poons, shaking his head gravely.
"She fell down and I kicked it," lisped the little one. "I kicked it," she laughed, unconscious that she had committed an unprovoked assault on her plaything. "Mend it; oh, please mend it!"
Poons shook his head gravely. The child mistook this for a confession of his inability to do what she wished.
"Mamma 'll fix it when she comes home. She won't be long, will she?" said the child, somewhat tearfully. She had asked the question many times, and her father seemed unable to answer her.
"I am trying to make her forget," said Anton savagely to Poons, in answer to his look of painful inquiry. "She must forget soon; I've been with her ever since you left me this morning." His arm stole around the child's neck, and drawing her to him gently, he kissed her again and again with such sad, lingering tenderness that the ever-ready tears welled up into Poons's eyes, and he turned his head to conceal them. The child struggled to free herself.
"Papa so rough, eh? Well, he won't be, or Herr Poons will beat him, eh?"
"Surely," assented Poons.
"Papa will be so gentle and so kind," went on Von Barwig tenderly. "He'll love his little girl as no little girl in this wide, wide world was ever loved before, eh?"
Little Helene did not understand, and as she had nothing at this precise moment to occupy her attention, she answered him by asking the one question that absorbed her mind, "Where's mamma?"
Von Barwig and Poons looked at each other helplessly. Apart from the tragedy of two men trying to comfort a little child that had lost its parent, there remained in Von Barwig's mind a sense of the utter inability of the masculine individuality to fill the place of mother in the child's heart. In after years, Von Barwig always remembered the sinking sensation he felt when this fact came home to him in full force.
"Well, one thing," said Anton, as he swallowed something that came in his throat and threatened to choke him, "one thing, she was kind to the little one; the was a kind mother, eh?"
"Kind? kind?" began Poons fiercely. "Is it kind to——"
Von Barwig silenced him with a look.
"Yes, she was a good mother," he admitted conciliatingly. "But, by God, if we don't go we shall be late! Phew!" he whistled as he looked at his watch, "half past seven." Von Barwig sat still for a moment.
"Half past seven? Yes." Then, as if it were slowly dawning upon him that he had duties, he arose, dusting his knees mechanically.
"Half past seven, yes. It begins at eight, eh? and I must dress. Yes, I suppose I must dress!"
The little girl was now putting her dolls back into the dolls' house; the doorway was blocked up and she was pushing one through a broken window in the little house as Von Barwig caught her in his arms and caressed her.
"How can I leave her? Good God, how can I leave her?" he groaned. He stroked her face, her hair, and kissed her again and again.
"She's all I have, all; she's all I want. I won't go to-night, I won't leave her, do you hear? Let Ruhlmeyer conduct to-night. I can't go, I can't leave her alone! Suppose something were to happen to her?"
"But you must go!" said Poons firmly; desperation had given him courage. "You must go!"
Von Barwig looked at him in surprise; Poons's tone sobered him a little.
"For her sake you must work," went on Poons, gaining courage as he saw that his words had an effect on his friend.
"Yes, I must work," assented Von Barwig, feeling the force of Poons's words. "Shall I go, little Helene, my little darling? Shall I go?"
"Yes, go and tell mamma to come," was the little one's reply.
"Come, hurry, Anton! You must dress, you have barely five minutes: five to dress, ten to get to the Gewandhaus."
"Ha! they can wait!" said Von Barwig grimly. "Prince Mecklenburg Strelitz, the Kaiser, all Germany can wait, while I mend the strings of my heart!"
The nurse-maid came in and suggested that it was time to put little Fraeulein to bed. Poons looked at her closely; her eyelids were red, for she had been crying.
"Take good care of the little Fraeulein," said Von Barwig as he handed her over to the maid. It was long past her bedtime, and the little child had almost fallen asleep in her father's arms.
"Let me kiss her just once more; I won't wake her up!"
The girl burst into tears as Von Barwig bent over the child, kissing her tenderly; then she hurried into the next room with her precious charge.
"She knows?" inquired Poons.
"Yes," nodded Von Barwig; and then, with a sigh, "She knows."
Five minutes later, Von Barwig, accompanied by Poons, left the house and hurriedly took a cab to the concert hall.
It was noticed by more than one member of the Leipsic Philharmonic Orchestra that Herr Director Von Barwig was in unusually high spirits that evening. Many attributed it to the fact that he was nervous because of the first production of his new symphony. Karlschmidt hinted to his deskmate that Von Barwig was nervous and was trying to conceal it by pretending to be delighted with everything and everybody. This was probably true in a measure; at all events, when he came into the artists' room at the Gewandhaus at about five minutes to eight, he shook hands with everybody, joked with his men, and talked almost incessantly, as if he wanted to keep at high pressure. Poons watched him closely. Von Barwig was unusually pale, and as he slapped his concert meister on the back Poons noticed that, though his face wore a smile, his lips quivered.
"For heaven's sake," he heard him say to the leader of the second violins, "don't play the pizzicato in the third movement as if you were picking up eggs!" Poons rejoiced that his friend could forget so easily.
It was, however, when Von Barwig walked out on the platform to the dais, bowed to the immense audience, and turned to his men, that the deadly pallor of his face was most apparent. Some of the audience noticed it as he acknowledged the applause he received. There was not a tremor of hand or muscle, not an undecided movement; merely a deadly pallor of countenance as if he no longer had blood in his veins, but ice. The men felt the absence of the compelling force that always emanated from him, that seemed to ooze from his baton; that psychic something that compelled the player to feel as his director felt—the force we call magnetism. The firmness of mouth showed that the determination to dominate was still there, but the absence of that mental power left only the automatic rhythm and swing, sans heart, sans soul, sans feeling. The beat was the beat of the finely trained academic conductor, but the genius of it was gone. The ghost of a departed Von Barwig was beating time for the Von Barwig that had lived and died that night.
Perhaps the audience did not feel this as much as the men did, for they applauded heartily at the end of the opening number. They did notice that Von Barwig did not acknowledge their applause and seemed to be oblivious of their presence. The fact that an ultra-fashionable audience was present, including a prince and princess of the Royal Family, and the elite of Leipsic, to say nothing of the American Ambassador, Mr. Cruger, apparently did not affect Von Barwig in the least. This appealed very much to the democratic instinct of Mr. Cruger, and at the end of the first part he asked his friend, Prince Holberg-Meckstein, to present him to the conductor.
"I will present him to you," said his highness, carefully readjusting the pronouns; and he sent for Von Barwig.
"A curious personality!" remarked Mr. Cruger to the prince as Von Barwig bowed himself out of the box a few minutes later.
"Yes, and a fine musician," said the prince. "But he's not at his best to-night."
As Von Barwig passed through the artists' room, Poons approached him. Anton motioned him away as if to say, "Don't speak to me," and Poons walked sadly away.
The second part of the programme was to begin with Von Barwig's latest work.
"Quick, put the score of the symphony on my desk," he said to the librarian, who happened to be passing at the moment. "I intended to conduct it from memory; but I have forgotten."
As the librarian placed the score on the conductor's desk, he thought it strange that a man who had been rehearsing from memory for weeks should so suddenly forget.
Von Barwig opened the score a few moments later, raised his baton, and the wood wind began the new work. He conducted as mechanically as before, for his dead heart could pump no enthusiasm into his work, and the audience suddenly felt a sense of disappointment. But after the first few passages had been played the leader lost his self-consciousness and forgot his surroundings. He began to feel the music, to compose it again, and the mechanism of the conductor was lost in the inspiration of the composer. It was a beautiful movement marked andante sostenuto—pathos itself, and Von Barwig drew from his men their very souls, forcing them in turn to draw out of their strings all the suffering he had been going through for the past few days. Then a curious psychic phenomenon took place. Von Barwig completely forgot himself, his audience, his orchestra; he was living in his music, and the music took him back to the precise moment of inspiration. Once more he was in his studio, seated at his work table, looking up from his score into the face of his beloved Elene. She was smiling at him, encouraging him to go on with his work, the work that she had prophesied would make him famous and her the happiest of women. This dream had almost the appearance of reality to Von Barwig. Indeed it was real, as real as reality itself, until the wild applause of an enthusiastic audience awoke him alike to the consciousness of the success of his work and the hopeless misery of his present position; his success in his music only accentuating the failure his life had become.
The playing of this movement made such an impression that Von Barwig was compelled again and again to acknowledge the plaudits of the audience. Indeed, they wanted him to repeat it, but this he steadfastly refused to do. There was a slight intermission between the playing of the first and the second parts of the symphony, and during this pause the librarian handed a note to Von Barwig, whispering to him, "You must read it. The woman is outside in hysterics."
"What woman?" demanded Von Barwig, his thoughts reverting to his wife.
Trembling and fearful of he knew not what the leader read the following hastily scrawled note:
"Come at once. The Fraeulein is gone. She has been stolen away. Please come. GRETCHEN."
Von Barwig crushed the note in his hand and looked about helplessly, almost lurching forward in his bewilderment.
"Helene stolen? What did it mean?" He could not understand.
He knew instinctively it was time to go on with the next movement, and that he must make an effort for the sake of others. Already there were signs of impatience in the great audience. Slowly he stepped upon the dais, steadying himself by means of the music-stand. He raised his baton, his men played the opening bars, and as they did so the full meaning of the awful news he had just read flashed upon him. He realised suddenly that his men were no longer with him; the first violin looked up at him panic stricken. He sawed the air wildly as he felt the great audience surging around him and his orchestra swaying to and fro. Then he reeled, stumbled, clutching at the music-stand for support; and fell face forward upon the floor.
* * * * * *
Some six weeks later loving friends had gently nursed him back to life and reason. It was slow work, but Von Barwig weathered the point of death and sailed slowly into the harbour of life. As he grew stronger, he realised by degrees all that had happened. One day he called for his beloved Poons, but they did not dare to tell him that his faithful friend was dead; the shock of that night had brought on a stroke from which Poons never recovered. When they did tell him long afterward, he only smiled, shook his head sadly, and said, "Why not? All is gone! Why should my old friend remain to me?"
When Von Barwig was strong enough he took the train to Berlin and consulted with the police authorities in reference to the whereabouts of his lost wife and child; but they had left no trace behind them except an indication that they had passed through Paris on their way to some unknown destination. He called on Mr. Cruger, the American Ambassador, who could throw no light on the subject. A search of the steamship lists failed to reveal their whereabouts; and at last, though Anton Von Barwig felt that they were hopelessly lost to him, he returned to Leipsic, more than ever determined to find them. It was the only idea he had: to find them—to find them—to find them. His other thoughts were without stimulating power—irresolute, vague, uncertain. This one idea grew and grew until it became an obsession. He could no longer bear the sound of music; so it was no sacrifice to him to give up his profession. He hated the very streets he walked in, for had Elene not walked in them? He must find her; he must find his child. He could hear the little girl calling for him, he kept telling himself. It was his only duty, his only object and mission in life; so it became an ideal, a religion. But where to go, where to go? Finally, he made up his mind to leave Leipsic for Paris and start from there. One day, after living in Paris for some months, the idea occurred to him to go to America, the place of the man's birth. A week later he packed up all his effects and took passage on a steamer sailing for the port of New York.
It was a hot August afternoon in New York, especially hot in the downtown districts, where it was damp and muggy, for it had been drizzling all the morning. The sun blazing behind the thin vapour-like clouds had converted the rain into steam, and the almost complete absence of a breeze had added to the personal discomfort of those who were compelled to be out of doors. Altogether it was a most uncomfortable afternoon; and the task of running up and down stairs and answering the front door-bell increased the misery of the maid of all work in Miss Husted's furnished-room establishment on Houston Street, near Second Avenue.
"Phew, ain't it a scorcher?" muttered the young woman as she mounted the kitchen stairs in answer to some visitor's second tug at the bell. She walked across the hall that led to the front door.
"Don't the dratted bell keep goin'," she went on as she tugged open the door, which the damp weather had caused to swell and stick to the door-jamb.
"Forgot your key?" she said as she recognised Signor Tagliafico, better known as Fico, the third-floor, hall-bedroom "guest," as Miss Husted insisted on calling her lodgers.
"Forgot your key?" repeated the girl, as the gentleman from Italy shrugged his shoulders and otherwise disported himself in an endeavour to convey to her the news that he had lost his key and felt extremely sorry to trouble her.
"Keys is made to open doors, not to forget," continued the girl, banging the door shut.
The noise brought Miss Husted out into the hall in less time than it takes to state the fact.
"What is it, Thurza?" she asked, showing evidence of being startled out of a doze by the noise.
"Third floor front forgot his key, Miss Houston," said the girl sulkily, as Fico trudged upstairs to his room.
"I wouldn't mind if he wasn't behind three weeks," said Miss Husted, who usually answered to the name of Miss Houston, chiefly because she lived in Houston Street.
"Well, I mind it," muttered the girl to herself, "whether he's behind or whether he isn't. It makes work for me, and there ain't enough time for regular, let alone extras," she went on, as she turned to go down stairs to the kitchen.
"Quite right," said Miss Husted, as she closed the door and returned to her room. Experience had taught her that it was useless to argue with Thurza. The girl was open to impression, but not to explanation; once an idea found lodgment in her brain it stayed there, despite all argument to the contrary. It was most mortifying to Miss Husted that Thurza had such deep-rooted prejudices against every guest that found his way into her establishment. Lodgers made work; the more lodgers the more work; ergo, lodgers were enemies, is the way Thurza reasoned it out; and she resumed her occupation of cleaning silver (save the mark) almost as cheerfully as she had left it to answer the door-bell.
"Dear me," sighed Miss Husted, "how hard it is to get help and how much harder it is to keep them! Back again already? Why, Jenny, you must have flown!" this last to a rather pretty little girl who had just entered the door.
"Yes, aunt," replied the girl, "I knew Thurza must be busy—so—I—I hurried."
"I can see that," her aunt said reprovingly, "you are dripping wet; you shouldn't walk so fast in this hot weather."
Jenny was a thoughtful child. She had lived rather an unhappy existence with her parents, for her father had deserted her mother when she was three years old and after her mother's death she had come to her aunt "for a few days" until a home could be found for her. The few days were over some years before, for Miss Husted loved the child far too well to let her go, and gladly made a home for her. Jenny loved her aunt and stayed on. Curiously enough, not a word had ever been spoken between them on the subject, and the little girl just fitted in, adapting herself to Aunt Sarah's ways. Now this process of adjustment was by no means an easy accomplishment, for Aunt Sarah had no sense of time. She thought and felt herself to be just as young as she was years and years ago.
Her looking-glass must have given her several hard jolts, but she either believed a looking-glass to be an illusion or ignored its evidence altogether; for though it showed her the face of a woman near the danger line of fifty, she insisted on considering herself as in the neighbourhood of thirty. She carried herself with the dignity of a duchess; that is, a conventional duchess, and talked habitually with the hauteur and elegance of a stage queen. Her kingdom was the Houston Street establishment, her guests were her subjects, her aristocracy were the foreign gentlemen who occupied rooms in the various parts of her house, mostly hall bedrooms. She doted on fashion, refinement, pungent perfumery and expensive flowers; anything that to her mind suggested social grandeur appealed intensely to her. Even the old house, now situated in an exceedingly unfashionable quarter, held a place in her affections because years before it had been a part of fashionable New York, and she felt quite proud because she was known as Miss Houston of Houston Street. The name suggested a title, and a title of all things was dear to her heart. Perhaps her love for Jenny was stronger because her father was supposed—by his unfortunate wife at least—to have been the scion of a proud and aristocratic family, who had not been too proud, however, to leave her to starve. Altogether, Miss Husted was an exceedingly romantic, high-strung, middle-aged spinster, miles and miles above her station in life, whose heart and purse were open to any foreigner who had discernment enough to see her weakness and tact enough to pander to it by hinting at his noble lineage. This love of things and beings aristocratic was more than a weakness. It was a disease, for it kept poor a good soul, who otherwise might have been, if not well-to-do, at least fairly prosperous.
Jenny, young as she was, knew all this. She knew that Fico, or Signor Tagliafico, was a struggling musician and not an artist in any sense of the word. She knew he was an ordinary Italian fiddler who preferred to fiddle for food rather than to work manually for it. And yet her aunt had confided to her that she was sure he was a count, because one day Miss Husted had asked him the question, and the man, not quite understanding, had smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Still, he had not denied it, so thenceforth was known as Count Fico.
And Pinac, the gentleman who occupied the other back room next to that of Fico? Miss Husted was sure that he was a descendant of the noble refugees from France, who emigrated during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. The romance of this appealed highly to her. Monsieur Pinac was always silent when questioned on this point, but Miss Husted was much interested. His silence surely meant something, and besides, he looked every inch a nobleman with his fashionably cut Van Dyck beard. There was a picture of the Duc de Guise in one of the bedrooms—Heavens only knows where Miss Husted got it, but there it was—and pointing to it with great pride, she defied Monsieur Pinac to deny his relationship to the defunct duke. Pinac did not take the trouble to deny it! As a matter of fact, he was simply an ordinary musician who continued to follow his profession because it paid him better than any other business he could embark in. Music is often the line of easiest resistance, and many there be that slide down its graceful curves. In more senses than one, it is easier to play than to work. But when Miss Husted conferred a patent of nobility on a foreign gentleman, were he an Italian organ-grinder or a French waiter, that title stood, his own protest to the contrary notwithstanding. In this particular view-point Miss Husted was completely opposite to her maid of all work.
Thurza's mental attitude was the socialistic slant that made for the destruction of aristocracy; Miss Husted's system created one of her own. To Thurza foreigners were either "dagoes" or "Dutch"; to Miss Husted they were either "gentlemen" or "noblemen" or both. In this way, perhaps, the balance of harmony was restored in Houston Mansion, as Miss Husted dearly loved to call her home. There was some foundation for believing that the name Houston Mansion was painted on the glass over the front door, but it was so worn that no one could decipher it.
A violent ring at the door-bell interrupted the conversation between Miss Husted and her niece.
"They'll break the bell if they're not careful," remarked the elder lady, arranging her ringlets in the event that it might be some one to see her.
"It's a lady," whispered Jenny to her aunt a few moments later. "She wants a room."
Miss Husted sniffed. "I don't like ladies; they're twice the trouble that gentlemen are, and—I don't know—I don't like 'em. Ladies looking for furnished rooms always have a history—and a past; I don't like 'em."
Jenny nodded without in the least understanding her aunt. She had heard this before, but she knew it was a peculiarity of Miss Husted always to say the same thing under the same circumstances, whether the occasion called for it or not.
"Shall I ask her in, or will you come out into the hall?" went on the child.
"Ask her kindly to step into the reception-room," said her aunt, kicking a feather duster under the sofa and generally tidying up a bit.
A large, stout person of uncertain age stood in the doorway.
"Is this the reception-room?" asked the lady, fixing her glasses and looking about her as if quite prepared to disbelieve any statement Miss Husted was about to make. That lady, much offended, drew herself up stiffly.
"Yes, this is the reception-room," she said, in a tone intended to be frigidly polite. "May I inquire to what am I indebted for the honour of this visit?"
The fat lady sniffed contemptuously and sat down.
"I think it's the sign 'Furnished Rooms' that can claim the honour," she said simply.
"Sit down, Jenny, and stop fidgeting," Miss Husted snapped out, ignoring the fat lady's attempt at smartness.
"I want a room if you have one vacant. My name is Mangenborn."
"Top floor?" inquired Miss Husted.
"I suppose you think a lady of my avoirdupois ought to live on the top floor so as to have plenty of exercise, eh?" inquired Mrs. Mangenborn with an attempt at humour. Then, without waiting for a reply, she went on:
"Well, you've just guessed right! What kind of people do you have in this house?"
"My guests are artists and gentlemen."
"Which?" inquired the stout lady, and laughed; she saw the joke if Miss Husted didn't and was good natured enough to laugh even if it were her own. "Well, I'm an artist," she said after a pause.
"Indeed?" said Miss Husted, and there was a slight inflection of sarcasm in that lady's voice.
Mrs. Mangenborn was either deaf or did not notice it, for she went on unconsciously:
"Yes, I am an artist—a second-sight artist."
"Yes; I tell fortunes, read the future——"
"Oh?" said Miss Husted, and that one word was enough to have driven an ordinary person out of the front door, convinced of being insulted, but Mrs. Mangenborn was not sensitive.
"I should like a cup of tea," she said simply. "It's a very hot day."
The magnificent coolness of this request fairly caught Miss Husted. This woman spoke like one accustomed to command; and much to Jenny's astonishment (she had been listening attentively) her aunt sent her to order tea for two.
Given a person who can tell fortunes, and another person on the lookout for one, a person who has infinite hope in the future, whose whole life indeed is in the future, and it doesn't take long to establish an entente cordiale. When Jenny came back a few minutes later, to her utter astonishment she saw the mysterious fat lady dealing cards to her aunt and talking of events past, present, and future; and her aunt chatting as pleasantly as if she had known the woman all her life.
"However can you tell that?" asked Miss Husted as she sipped her tea and cut the cards for the ninetieth time.
"Don't you see the king? That means a visitor!"
"Yes; but how did you know that my best first-floor rooms were to let?"
Mrs. Mangenborn shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"That I cannot tell you; I can't even tell myself; it just comes to me."
She did not remind Miss Husted that the best rooms in most boarding establishments in that locality were usually to let, because the people who could afford to pay the price seldom wanted to live in that neighbourhood; but she did tell her several things that must have pleased her immensely, for in a short while, after Mrs. Mangenborn had disposed of a second cup of tea, that lady was fairly ensconced in a seven-dollar front room on the first floor for a price that did not exceed three dollars. However, if half her predictions came true, it would have been a fine bargain for Miss Husted or any other landlady to have her as a guest.
As Jenny confided to Thurza in the kitchen a few hours later:
"You'll see. If the ground-floor parlor and bedroom aren't let next week, the new lady in the first floor front will get notice to leave because she's told a fortune that won't come true, and aunt will be angry. She keeps her word and she always expects people to keep theirs."
"My fortune never came true," grunted Thurza as she lifted a tub of washing off the table.
"Jenny, Mrs. Mangenborn wants you to go on an errand for her," called her aunt downstairs.
"Thought she wasn't never goin' to take females in her home again," said Thurza, as Jenny went upstairs to obey her aunt's order.
As Jenny closed the front door gently on her way to the stores, she mused sadly on the fact that her aunt, and not Mrs. Mangenborn, had given her the money with which to make the purchases. She hoped with childish optimism that the second-sight lady would pay her back; the other guests never did. Jenny sighed as she thought how much easier it would be on rent-days if auntie didn't advance money.
The front-door bell rang so often that day that Thurza declared it rang when it didn't ring, and was equally positive that the dratted bell didn't ring when it did ring. At all events, when the bell had been nearly jerked out of its socket for the third time, Miss Husted poked her head out of Mrs. Mangenborn's room and shouted for Thurza to hurry up and answer it. As she received no answer, she went down a flight to the head of the kitchen stairs, and gave vent to a most unusual display of temper. This was brought on by the fact that Mrs. Mangenborn had just declared that never in all her born days (to say nothing of her unborn moments) had she seen such a wonderful display of good fortune as that which lay in the cards spread on the table before them; there was a marriage just as sure as death. Mrs. Mangenborn was proceeding to describe the masculine element in the marriage proposition, and Miss Husted was trying to think who it could be, when the bell rang for the third time just as Thurza's head made its appearance above the kitchen stairs. Miss Husted decided to forget her dignity and go to the door herself.
Outside stood a hack piled up with baggage, and on the doorstep, waiting patiently, stood a gentleman who bowed when the door was opened and asked gently with a foreign accent, if Miss Husted had a room for a studio and a bedroom. There was much bustle and excitement, a great deal of noise, and a still greater deal of confusion, but when it had subsided and the hackman had been paid three times as much as he was legally entitled to, the baggage was carried, or rather tumbled, into the rooms engaged by the gentleman with the foreign accent. Miss Husted rushed into Mrs. Mangenborn's room and breathlessly gasped that her fortune had come true, for the front parlor and bedroom were let at their full prices.
"Just think of it, Mrs. Mangborn," as Miss Husted insisted on calling her "guest," "just think of it, full price in summer!"
Mrs. Mangenborn rose to the occasion.
"Why not?" demanded she, as if offended by Miss Husted's enthusiasm, "why not? The cards never lie! How much do you say he is to pay?" she went on, as if Miss Husted had told her and she had forgotten the precise amount.
"Fourteen," replied Miss Husted, "and it's a good price."
"Not bad! But wait, you'll see that's only the beginning," and Mrs. Mangenborn mixed up the cards lying on the table oblivious of the fact that she had just shuffled Miss Husted's marital prospects out of existence.
"Oh, that's nothing," she hastened to say as she saw the expression of alarm on Miss Husted's face. "It'll come out again. It's in the cards and it must come out." Then she asked, "Who is he? What is he?"
"He's an artist of some sort, a fine, noble-looking old gentleman. German! oh such fine, elegant manners; to the manner born I am sure! A musician, I think; he had a violin with him."
Mrs. Mangenborn's nose elevated itself a little.
"No money in music! What's his name?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Miss Husted. "He gave me his card, but I was so flustered I didn't look at it."
She opened the reticule she always carried at her side, containing keys, recipes, receipts, almost everything that could be crowded into it, and after quite a little sifting and sorting she took out a card on which was inscribed:
"Herr Anton Von Barwig."
There was a decided air of mystery about the new occupant of the parlor-floor suite, or at least so it appeared to Miss Husted of Houston Street. As a matter of fact, Herr Von Barwig minded his own business and evidently expected every one else to do likewise, for he kept his door and his ears closed to all polite advances during the first few days after his arrival at Houston Mansion. Despite Miss Husted's oft-repeated inquiries after the professor's health (the title had been conferred on him by virtue of his possessing a violin and on the arrival of a piano for his room), despite her endeavours to direct conversation into a channel which might lead to a discussion of his personal affairs, Herr Von Barwig remained tacit; hence a mystery attached itself to the personality of the professor. It is a curious fact that the one gentleman of genuine title that found his way into the Houston Street establishment was ruthlessly shorn of his right to distinction and dubbed professor, which sobriquet clung to him for many, many years. However, this did not annoy Herr Von Barwig, for he had not yet realised that in America every concertina and rag-time piano-player, as well as barber, corn-doctor, and teacher of the manly art of boxing, is entitled to the distinction of being called professor.
"The professor has beautiful manners—oh, such beautiful manners," confided Miss Husted to her new friend, Mrs. Mangenborn, about two weeks after his arrival. "Every time I speak he bows, and there's oh, such dignity, such grace in the bending of his head. How polite he is, too; he always says, 'No, madam, thank you;' or 'yes, if madam will be so kind,' and then he bows again and waits for me to go."
"Is that all he says?" inquired Mrs. Mangenborn. "I guess he knows how to keep his mouth shut, then! If you want a man to talk never ask him questions; men are a suspicious lot."
"Ah, but he is different," said Miss Husted. "He has such a sad, far-away, wistful look in his noble, dark eyes."
"That may be, but far-away looks don't pay any rent for you! You can't attach any importance to things like that. My first husband had a far-away look, and I haven't seen him for ten years. That Steinway grand the professor's got, did he hire it or buy it? A man's got to have money to support one of those instruments," went on Mrs. Mangenborn.
"I don't know," replied Miss Husted, who could not help thinking that her friend had a somewhat mercenary mind. "No one's been to see him, so he hasn't got it for his friends; his violin has a beautiful sound. Mr. Pinac tells me that it must be a rare old instrument."
The door-bell was heard ringing, but no one seemed to pay any attention to it until they heard the whistle that followed; then everybody bustled about. The postman always created a little excitement in Houston Street, and his arrival was the one occasion on which even Thurza hurried to the door. It was also the one occasion on which she need not have done so, for she invariably found Miss Rusted or one of the guests ahead of her.
"Registered letter for Herr Von Barwig."
"I'll take it to him," said Miss Husted sweetly.
"He's got to come and sign it himself," said the letter-carrier, shaking his head.
"Where's it from?" asked Mrs. Mangenborn, her head appearing over the bannisters.
Miss Husted looked at the letter-carrier inquiringly, but that official appeared not to have heard the question. At all events, he made no reply, and Miss Husted knocked on the professor's door.
Miss Husted opened the door.
"Ah, madam, what can I do for you?" said Von Barwig, rising from the table at which he was writing.
Miss Husted smiled sweetly. She noticed that he was writing music, so he must be a composer as well as a professor.
"Will you please come and sign for a registered letter?" she said.
"Ah, yes! I come at once."
He arose, held the door open for Miss Husted to pass out, bowing to her as she did so, and then coming into the hallway, fulfilled the postal requirements, totally unconscious that several pairs of eyes were watching the operation. The letter-carrier handed him two letters; one bearing the postmark Leipsic, the other that of New York.
Von Barwig returned to his room and read the following from a firm of stock brokers:
"Herr Anton Von Barwig.
"DEAR SIR: Pursuant to your instructions, we have sold the balance of the securities you left with us, but they have so depreciated in value during your seven years' absence from Leipsic, that we hesitated to sell them at their present market price. However, your instructions in regard to these securities were definite and we have obeyed them. Hoping this will meet with your satisfaction, we remain,
"BERNSTEIN & DEUTSCH."
A draft on Drexel, Morgan's bank, for $1,000 dropped from Von Barwig's hand; he picked it up mechanically and looked at it.
"The last, the very last, barely one-tenth the price I paid for them," he thought; and sighing, put the draft into a pocketbook and deposited it in an inner pocket.
The other letter was from a detective agency in Eighth Street, and read as follows:
"DEAR SIR: Call on us at your earliest convenience. We have news.
"HATCH & BUCKLEY."
That was all, but it was enough to cause Von Barwig to change hastily from his slippers and dressing-gown to his shoes and hat; and to be out in the street in less than one minute after reading the letter.
"News, news, news! Good God, is it possible? No, no! I mustn't believe it; I dare not. Helene, Helene, my little girl! No, no, I won't; I won't!" and he read the letter again. "After all," he mused, "it may be news of a thousand little girls and yet not of mine. I beg your pardon, madam!" In turning from Houston Street into the Bowery, still reading the letter, he had bumped suddenly into a middle-aged lady, who retaliated by deliberately pushing him back, at the same time asking him a somewhat unnecessary question as to where he was going. Then she had gone on her way without waiting to hear his apology.
Hatch & Buckley's private detective agency, situated just off Broadway and Eighth Street, had a large office divided into several small offices. For some occult reason only one person could get in or out at a time, and this made confidential conversation a necessity rather than a matter of choice. The senior member of the firm was in when Von Barwig called. Be it understood at the beginning that this large, stout personage, who invariably spoke in a whisper, and referred so often to his partner, had no partner but a number of detectives on his staff, to whom he was wont to speak or whisper of as partner when discussing what they had ferreted out or left undiscovered. This man, fat, florid, and fifty, had been a central office detective for many years. After a time, being exceedingly useful in a political sense, he had been admitted to the inner circle at Tammany Hall and was at present one of the leading geniuses in that hallowed body of faithful public servitors.
"Come in, come in," said this gentleman urbanely as Von Barwig stood waiting as patiently as he could for the news he was so anxious to hear.
"Well, I think we've got something," he added.
Von Barwig said nothing; he waited to hear more.
"First of all, business before pleasure," said Mr. Hatch, and suited the action to the word by handing Von Barwig a bill for $556.84, for "services rendered."
"Yes, yes; but tell me the news!" faltered Von Barwig, without looking at the bill. "Have you found her? Tell me!" The pleading look in Von Barwig's face would have melted the heart of any ordinary scoundrel; but Mr. Hatch was no ordinary scoundrel.
"It's customary, Mr. Barwig," he said drily, "to settle one account before opening another."
Von Barwig looked at the bill that had been handed to him, saw the amount, shook his head pathetically, and smiled. "There must be some mistake," he said.
"My partner went to California on this clue and followed it clean to British Columbia; railroad fares alone amount to two fifty; there's hotel bills, carfare; there's salaries, office expenses, stamps; and then—there's me." If Mr. Hatch had put himself first there would have been little need to refer to the other items.
"There's the vouchers," he went on, pushing a lot of papers toward Von Barwig. "Everything O.K.'d; everything on the level, open and above board." He leaned back in his chair as if determined not to say another word until the matter was settled.
"Then you refuse to tell me any more until this is paid?"
"Not at all, not at all! I'd just as leave tell you right now; but it wouldn't be business, it wouldn't be business." He repeated this as if to impress his listener with the importance of the business aspect of the situation being well preserved.
"You are right; it is not business! It is life and death; it's my heart, my soul, my very existence! My little girl, my little Helene is not business."
"I suppose not," assented the fat man, "not to you; but our end of it rests on a commercial basis. We've laid out the money and we're entitled to be paid for it."
"But I have paid you already so much! I cannot afford more. For years I have hunted high and low for my wife and child through city after city for thousands upon thousands of miles. At last I came to you, and there have been months and months of weary waiting, hunting false clues; disappointments upon disappointments."
"I know, I know," nodded the senior partner. "That's part of the game."
"I have spent with you nearly all the money I have, and nothing has come of it. Every now and then you raise my hopes by saying you have found her. Then, when the news comes, you ask for more money and when I have given it, it is again a false clue."
"That ain't our fault!" observed the stout gentleman. "My partner follows a clue, and you can't blame him if it don't turn out exactly the right one. This fellow Ahlmann is an eel; that's what he is, an eel! But I think we've got him now, I'm almost sure!"
"You think?" eagerly inquired Von Barwig.
"Well, of course there's nothing absolutely sure, but this is the last report he's sent in. Seems to me to pretty well cover the case, but it's been a hard job. This fellow Ahlmann has completely covered his tracks."
"The child? She—she lives?"
"Oh, yes; yes!"
"And the mother?"
"I think he's located them all. I can't tell you for sure till I read the report again."
Von Barwig, his hands trembling with excitement, wrote a cheque for the amount required, and with breathless impatience awaited the information as to the whereabouts of his lost wife and child.
"They're in Chicago," said Hatch, taking up the cheque and scanning it.
"Both of them?" asked Von Barwig in a hoarse whisper.
"Both of them," repeated Hatch, conveniently remembering the detail without reading the report. "George, bring me Mr. Bailey's telegram in the Barwig case," and when George, a smart young office boy, brought the required documents, he was quietly instructed by his employer to cash Von Barwig's cheque immediately.
"When will you go?" asked Mr. Hatch.
"As soon as possible."
"Here's the address," and Mr. Hatch handed him a card. "You'll meet my partner there, 1120 State Avenue; he'll take you to the parties. Shall I get your railroad tickets?"
"No. I—I get them."
"It's twenty-six hours to Chicago; you'll need a Pullman ticket."
"Thank you; I get them."
"Well, just as you say. Good luck to you, Mr. Barwig."
"Thank you," said Von Barwig simply. He did not tell Mr. Hatch that he had nearly come to the end of his resources and that he would ride in the day car. Not that he felt ashamed of not being able to afford luxuries, but he instinctively resented making a confidant of a man like the senior partner of the firm of Hatch & Buckley.
As he walked rapidly toward Houston Street he found himself thinking for the first time since his arrival in America of the question of his future, but this question did not occupy his mind long. Like all his ideas on any subject other than that of his lost wife and child, it was forced into the background. As he neared his rooms in Houston Street his hopes began to rise; and the prospect of going to Chicago, the possibility of seeing his wife and child, began to work in his mind. His heart began to beat tumultuously. This time his dream would come true, and in his mind's eye he clasped his little girl tightly to himself and rained kisses on her little upturned face. He even found it in his heart to forgive the mother; after all, she was the mother of his little one, that he could never forget.
As for Ahlmann, he could not picture him; his mind refused to conjure up a thought of the man. It seemed as if he were dead, and that Von Barwig was on his way to rescue the wife and child from some danger that threatened them. This work of rescue was the fulfilment of an ideal. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of it! The senior partner of Hatch & Buckley had been quick to note this condition of mind and to reap the profits that came therefrom. Monomania means money, was a business axiom in that gentleman's office, but he had pumped the stream dry and Von Barwig was now at the end of his resources. By some strange process of thought, Von Barwig recognised this fact, but it seemed to him to mean that because his money had come to an end his search had also come to an end. The result of his trip to Chicago could not but be favourable, because he dared not think of its failure. So great is the influence of hope upon imagination that by the time Von Barwig reached his rooms he was already contemplating the possibility of keeping his wife and child there, at least until he could obtain better quarters for them. So, when he opened the door of his room, and found Jenny there polishing the brass andirons, he took more notice than usual of the little girl, and to her intense joy promised to bring her a box of candy from out West, where he told her he was going as he busied himself packing his handbag.
In a few hours Anton Von Barwig, his heart beating high in expectation, was seated in one of the day coaches of a fast Pennsylvania Railroad train on his way to Chicago.
Von Barwig had left New York with a light heart. Hope had ripened into expectation, and for the first time since his arrival in America, seven years since, he had felt something like a positive assurance that this time his mission was going to result favourably. Hatch had assured him that his partner had positively found the missing wife and child; and Von Barwig had gradually allowed himself to think it possible, then probable, and finally he became almost certain of the successful result of his journey to Chicago.
As Jenny watched him pack his valise on the afternoon he left for Chicago, she had noticed that now and then his face beamed with happiness, the happiness of expected joy. And when he jokingly asked her how she would like to be his little girl, it made her, so happy that she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and cry on his shoulder. She felt that he was just the kind of father she would like to have, but the conversation didn't get very far, for Von Barwig had a train to catch and was too busy to hear the little girl's response to his question.
Jenny thought he was not quite in earnest, certainly not so deeply in earnest as she was. Her aunt did not quite understand her, and she needed some one to whom she could open her heart. She felt that Mr. Von Barwig would listen to her little confidences and sympathise with her; perhaps even tell her his troubles. Young as the girl was, she felt that the man had suffered. She couldn't tell why, but her little heart had gone out to him in sympathy almost from the moment she saw him. How it was she could not have explained, but she loved him. Jenny thought these things over long after Mr. Von Barwig had departed on his journey. It made her glad to think how happy he was when he left the house with his valise and umbrella, hurrying to catch the little bobtail car that wended its way across town to the Pennsylvania ferry.
So it came about that when Jenny, looking out of the window some few days later, saw him coming up the street slowly, disconsolately, almost dragging himself along, the little girl experienced a great shock. The man seemed to have changed altogether. It was the same dear Mr. Von Barwig, yes, but the eyes of love cannot be deceived; he looked older, and oh, so careworn and tired! She rushed to the door at once, to save him the trouble of finding his night key, and greeted him with affectionate inquiry. To her intense disappointment, he nodded absentmindedly to signify his appreciation of her act. The faint, ghost of a smile came over his face, but he did not look at her. Silently he opened the door to his room and passed into it without speaking, closing the door firmly behind him. Jenny's heart sank; she felt rather than knew that her friend was in trouble, for he did not pat her on the head or pinch her cheek as he had always done before when she opened the door for him.
Her inability to be of any service to him only added to the child's sorrow; tears came into her eyes as she stood looking at the closed door, for she felt completely shut out of his life. At supper that night, when her aunt asked her "what ailed her," and invited Mrs. Mangenborn to look at "Jenny's long face," the child tried to laugh, failed completely, and burst into a flood of tears. Jenny could not have explained to herself the whys and wherefores of her tearful outburst, but the child could not forget poor Von Barwig's drawn, haggard face and its weary, hopeless expression.
"She's a queer child," commented Mrs. Mangenborn, when Jenny had gone to bed that night.
"Her father had blue blood," replied Miss Husted impressively, "and you always find hysterical natures in high-born families."
"I shouldn't wonder," agreed her friend; "something is wrong with the child, that's plain."
"What do you suppose it is," said Miss Husted, rather anxiously. "Perhaps she's working up for an illness! Oh, dear," she went on, almost in tears, for shallow as she was herself, she loved the child deeply, "shall I send for a doctor? I think I'd better; I always feel safer with a doctor in the house."
"Wait till the morning," suggested Mrs. Mangenborn; "if anything's going to develop, you'll know what it is by then."
"Do you think anything will develop?" inquired Miss Husted, clutching Mrs. Mangenborn by the arm.
"I don't know for certain," replied her friend, "but it can't be much anyway, or I'd have seen it there," pointing to a pack of cards on the mantelpiece. "Wait a moment," she said suddenly, and then she knit her brows as if thinking very hard; "didn't the six of spades come out true? Yes, it did!" and she shook her head thoughtfully.
"I shan't feel comfortable till I go and see her," said Miss Husted, now thoroughly alarmed; and taking a lamp from a side table, the good lady went upstairs to look at her niece.
"That six of spades surely came out for something," muttered Mrs. Mangenborn to herself. "Six is tragedy! Well, we must take what comes," she continued philosophically as she helped herself liberally to some chocolate caramels that Miss Husted had thoughtfully, or thoughtlessly, left on the table.
In the meantime, another tragedy of a very different sort was being enacted in the room on the parlor floor—the tragedy of the death of hope. For when Anton Von Barwig closed the door of his room on the evening of his return from Chicago, he closed it finally and forever upon hope, and gave himself up completely to dull, grim, sodden despair. Not only this, but he cursed himself for ever having hoped. He never suspected for a moment that the eminent firm of Hatch & Buckley had wilfully deceived him, for Mr. Hatch's partner almost cried with vexation and disappointment when he found that the woman and child he pointed out were not the "parties" they were looking for. Indeed, Mr. Buckley's grief was so poignant that Von Barwig almost felt sorry for the man, who declared that his professional honour as a detective was ruined from that moment. It was, in this case, for Von Barwig made up his mind at once never to employ him again.
The summer twilight was fast deepening into night as Von Barwig sat staring out of his window, looking at the passers-by and seeing them not. He rebelled against fate, conditions, life; and for the first time in his career he railed at his Creator. He had asked for light, and no light came in answer to his prayer; only more darkness, more disappointment, more loneliness. He sat with bowed head, wondering what was the meaning of it all. Who could solve the problem; who could straighten out his tangled life; who could explain it? Was the devil really and truly greater than God—the God who is Love?
Von Barwig had read Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Haeckel, all the school of pessimistic philosophers that exercised such a tremendous influence upon the thought of his day; but he had always instinctively rebelled against the nihilism of their creed, the creed of materialism. Yet, at this moment he was perilously near to believing that the force for evil was greater than the force for good. There was no love in his life; and for him love was life itself. As he sat there with eyes fixed and staring, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, he thought over the events that had come to him since his sojourn in America. For the past seven years he had devoted every thought, every energy, and nearly every penny he had to the search for his loved ones. And he had failed, failed, failed.
When the first shock of his loss came upon him in Leipsic he had asked himself the meaning of it, and the answer had come to him that Art had been his mistress, and that she had stepped in between him and the ones he loved. He had been selfish, he had loved his Art as much, more perhaps, than his own flesh and blood—and this was his punishment. Yet he had given up his mistress, Art; he no longer lived for her; he would live for his wife and child, if he could only find them, if, if, if! He felt that there was indeed nothing to live for! Then why live, he asked himself? Better be dead; far better be dead! Who would care if he were no more? At this moment Von Barwig caught himself up, and realising his own danger refused to allow himself to drift along that line of thought. Life meant nothing to him now, but live he must, live he would; that he was determined on. Complex as the problem was, he would go on with it. He was not a coward, and for this he thanked his Creator.
In thanking Him he gained a little courage, and he asked for a sign, something to indicate that he was not the sport of fate, the creature of circumstance; something, anything, to indicate that God had not completely forgotten him. With bowed head Von Barwig prayed that he might be saved from himself; that thoughts of self-destruction might never again come into his mind; for he felt that he might not always have the power to reject them. He asked that the desire to live might again come upon him; for it dawned upon him that perhaps his duty lay in the direction of serving others. Desire is prayer, and Von Barwig's prayer was answered, for when he looked into the street he saw life once more. Opening his window he heard the voices of the children at play. He saw their joy, and rejoicing with them, he thanked God that he could rejoice. As he arose from his chair he sighed, a deep, deep sigh, and the darkest moment in his life had passed.
"Was that a knock?" Anton asked himself as he turned toward his door. "Surely not a visitor?"
Lighting his lamp, he looked at the cuckoo clock upon the wall. It said a quarter past nine o'clock; he had not heard the cuckoo strike seven, eight, or nine!
"Phew!" he whistled, "I had no idea it was so late." Again the timid little knock.
"Surely I can't be mistaken again," thought Von Barwig, and walking to the door he threw it wide open.
To his utter astonishment, a little girl in a white night-gown stood there, silently sobbing as if her heart would break.
"Why, Jenny, Jenny!" and Von Barwig, taking the trembling child in his arms, placed her gently in his armchair. "Jenny, my dear child."
"I—I—couldn't go to sleep until I'd said good-night; I tried to but I couldn't," sobbed Jenny as soon as she could speak coherently.
"Why, what has happened?" asked Von Barwig, as he covered her with a travelling rug.
"You asked me to be your little girl, and then, when I said 'Yes,' you didn't answer; and I—thought—you—were—angry—with—me—because—because! When—you—came—in, I felt so sorry for you, and you looked so unhappy that I had to come down and ask you to forgive me. I—I just couldn't help—it. You're not angry, are you?"
"My dear, dear little girl. I, angry?" Von Barwig shook his head. "How could I be angry with you? Why should I? Why, it's—it's impossible!" and Von Barwig laughed at the very idea. Jenny sighed deeply and remained silent; she seemed contented simply to be with him.
After a few moments' silence Von Barwig looked at her.
"Is this my answer; is this—my—answer?" he thought, and then he said slowly, "I am glad, more glad than I can ever tell you, that you have come to me at this moment."
He looked at the girl thoughtfully; she was not his little Helene, but he would try to love her as if she were. Von Barwig took her hand in his and tenderly stroked her cheek.
"You shall be my little girl, my little one, eh, eh? You shall!"
"Yes," nodded Jenny, smiling happily, "I'll be your little girl, if you'll have me." And from that moment Von Barwig never again felt quite alone in the world.
At this instant a loud scream was heard, followed by another, and still another.
Von Barwig rushed into the hallway, followed by Jenny.
"She's gone, gone! jumped out of the window!" screamed Miss Husted, from the top floor. "Look! the window's open, and she's gone; jumped out—gone."
"Who, who?" shouted Thurza, rushing upstairs.
"Jenny, Jenny!" wailed Miss Husted—so excited that she was almost beside herself.
Jenny and Von Barwig looked at one another in astonishment and the little girl hurried after Thurza, arriving upstairs just in time to prevent her aunt from going into hysterics.
"Here I am, auntie," she said, and Miss Husted was so delighted to see her niece again, that she forgot to scold her. As she came downstairs after satisfying herself that Jenny was not only safe and sound, but in her usual health—she found Herr Von Barwig at the foot of the stairs waiting for her.
"She is all right, eh, madam?"
"Oh, yes," responded that lady, pleased that Herr Von Barwig should be interested in the welfare of any member of her family.
"She is a good child; I like her very much, very much."
"Yes, Jenny is a very good girl; her father was a member of one of the oldest New York families, quite the aristocrat let me tell you!"
"Ah, yes. Her father is dead?" repeated Von Barwig, "and her mother also?" he asked.
"I am her only living relative," sighed Miss Husted.
"Ah, I am glad of that," said Von Barwig simply, "Yes—I—Jenny and I have come to an understanding. I am her—what you call—not father-in-law—her—her——"
Von Barwig fumbled a little with the English language until he made Miss Husted understand that he had taken her niece under his wing, so to speak; and hoped that she would have no objection. On the contrary, Miss Husted was highly pleased, for one of her lodgers had told her that Von Barwig had been a great man in Germany.
"I shall go out to dinner. Is there a restaurant near here that you can recommend?" asked Von Barwig. "Dinner? Why it's nearly ten o'clock!" replied Miss Hasted, "let me get you a cup of tea."
"No, thank you, madam. I must go into the street, into the cafe, where there is life, and people; I must get away from myself. Here I think too much my own thoughts. Where did you say?"
"Galazatti's across the street is a nice little cafe," she replied, "and he serves a nice table d'hote."
"Ah, I shall go there, then. Thank you, madame. Good-night!" and Von Barwig bowing to Miss Husted, closed the front door quietly and went into the street.
When Anton arose the next morning after a refreshing night's rest, he became conscious that he was looking at the world through different coloured spectacles; and that there was no longer a dull feeling of despair gnawing at his heart. For the first time in many years his plans for the day did not include a search in this or that direction for his lost ones. It was not that he had forgotten, but he thought of them now as dead and gone; and this certainty, this lack of suspense, lightened his heart to such an extent that his manner was almost buoyant. Realising the fact that he had spent nearly all of the large sum of money he brought with him from Germany, he thought of his future, his welfare. To do for others, he must first do for himself; he must think of his music again; in short, he must earn a living. So, after a light breakfast at Galazatti's, he took an inventory of his available assets. They included some old music; some compositions which he would now try to sell; a genuine Amati violin worth at least three thousand dollars; a grand piano; one or two paintings; some silverware, presents, and jewelry; and about eight hundred dollars in cash.
Von Barwig was completely bewildered; he had purposely avoided meeting musicians in New York and scarcely any one knew him; those who had known him by reputation had now completely forgotten his existence. He had not felt sufficient interest in affairs going on around him to realise the state of musical art in America, so he scarcely knew how to begin. It seemed like the commencement of a new life. The period was that between Jenny Lind and Adelina Patti, and he soon realised that musical art was at its lowest ebb. There were one or two ambitious orchestra conductors in America; one in Chicago trying to introduce the Wagnerian polyphonic school, and perhaps one or two in New York; but the public clamoured after divas, prima donnas and tenors with temperaments and vocal pyrotechnic skill. For orchestral music there was little demand. Wagner was as yet unknown to the public—certainly he was unheard except on the rarest occasions and the majority of musicians did not like him because he was difficult to play.
So it happened that Von Barwig's compositions, which were of the modern German school and rather heavy, did not find a ready market, in fact they did not find a market at all. Day after day he would visit the music stores with his music roll tucked under his arm. After a few months the music publishers used to smile when they saw him coming into their places of business, and shake their heads before he had a chance even to show them his manuscripts. As time went on he came to be a byword among them.
"Here comes poor old Von Barwig," they would say, and then they would smile at his earnest face with its sad, longing expression and sympathise with him for his beautiful smile of resignation as he folded up his package of compositions and went sadly away. They admired his technical skill, but thought him very foolish to waste his time on such "stuff" as they called it. They advised him to write for the hour, and not for posterity.
"You must give the public what they want," said Schumein.
"How can you tell what they want if you don't try?" pleaded Von Barwig. "If you give them only what you acknowledge is bad, how will they ever know what is better?"
"It's no use," was Schumein's reply, "music like yours has no market value. We're not in business for our health; once strike a popular tune and you'll be famous!"
Von Barwig had never mentioned his Leipsic reputation, and if he had, in all probability, it would have been useless. Seven years is a long time for even a genius to remain in obscurity.
"Bring in a good waltz," said one.
"What we want is a catchy melody; something that everybody whistles," said another.
Finally they were too busy to see Von Barwig at all; and after waiting hours and hours in vain efforts to obtain an interview, he would walk home slowly, thinking over the events of the day, or trying to create a tune that might make an appeal to the music-loving, or rather music-buying public.
"Alas!" he would say to himself, after giving up the effort. "I do not understand these people. The American people do not like my work." It did not occur to him that the Americans were not a music-loving nation, at least not at that period. And so Anton Von Barwig gradually came out of the world of dreams into the world of life. He had been reborn, of necessity, for he was nearly down to his last penny. He used to talk over the condition of the music market with Tagliafico, our old friend, Fico, of the hall bedroom on the top floor of Miss Husted's establishment, and Pinac, Fico's friend, who occupied the room adjoining. The meeting of these three men, which subsequently resulted in a friendship lasting many years, came about as follows:
While eating dinner at Galazatti's one night, Von Barwig found himself at the same table as Fico. Fico bowed to him and he graciously acknowledged his salute, not knowing who the man was, but vaguely remembering his features. Fico then introduced Pinac, his fellow-lodger. Fico had recognised Von Barwig as the occupant of the first floor and took this opportunity of making the acquaintance of the musician whose music he had so often heard on the piano—for Von Barwig frequently played his own compositions and the strains were wafted through the open window. Pinac was most enthusiastic, for he knew Von Barwig slightly by reputation. He had been in Dresden and he had heard of Anton Von Barwig, the musical conductor. It seemed scarcely possible that the gentleman before him was that great man.
Von Barwig was silent, smiling a little at Pinac's enthusiasm, but as he did not deny his identity Pinac felt sure that he was right. The three men soon became quite friendly and often met in the little cafe to talk things over. Galazatti's was frequented chiefly by foreigners and the din of loud voices added to the rattle and clatter of knives and forks made conversation difficult. But its patrons soon became used to this and the table d'hote was cheap and good at the price, twenty-five cents. It was a combination of East Side Tivoli and French Brasserie and Hungarian Goulash Rendezvous—a tiny cosmopolis in itself—and it did a rushing business.
So the months dragged along in unending monotony. Poor Von Barwig tried hard to do work that would please the gentlemen who controlled the music trades, but failed. One day, while looking over his manuscripts to discover if possible the cause of his failure, he was struck by the similarity of one of his compositions to another. They all seemed to contain the same melody, in one form or another, and he saw plainly at last that he was subconsciously haunted by the leading motif of the first movement of his last symphony, the symphony that was played on that dreadful night for the first and last time. The inference was plain enough. This melody haunted him, he could not forget it; it showed itself in all his work and he realised that his career as a composer had come to an end.
After that Von Barwig tore up all his compositions and turned his attention to teaching, an occupation he had always hated ever since he had given up the professorship of counterpoint and harmony in the Leipsic Conservatory. Teaching—the very thought had made him shudder. He looked about him and found that New York was fast moving uptown, and that Houston Street was not a good locality for a musical conservatory. People who could afford to study music did not live in that neighbourhood; but he could not summon up sufficient energy or courage to leave the place. He had come to like the old house; it had become a home to him now. He liked Miss Husted, too, though she made him the repository for all her troubles, and then there were Fico, and Pinac and Jenny—he really loved Jenny. His little world was all in Houston Street and he made up his mind not to leave it, even if the location made the getting of pupils harder. Besides he felt that he was not a fashionable teacher; he could teach only those who learned music because they loved it and not because they wanted to be accomplished.