Part 9 out of 10
Luxuriant growth! In faith! I'll see her now--
See once again that proud and beauteous form,
That mouth which drew in breath and breathed out life,
And which, now silenced ever, evermore,
Accuses me of guarding her so ill.
ESTHER. Go not, O Sire! Now that the deed is done,
Let it be done. The mourning be for us!
Estrange thyself not from thy people, Sire.
KING. Think'st thou? The King I am--thou know'st full well.
She suffered outrage, but myself no less.
Justice, and punishment of ev'ry wrong
I swore upon my coronation day,
And I will keep my oath until the death.
To do this, I must make me strong and hard,
For to my anger they will sure oppose
All that the human breast holds high and dear--
Mem'ries from out my boyhood's early days,
My manhood's first sweet taste of woman's love,
Friendship and gratitude and mercy, too;
My whole life, roughly bundled into one,
Will stand, as 'twere against me, fully armed,
And challenge me to combat with myself.
I, therefore, from myself must first take leave.
Her image, as I see it here and there,
On every wall, in this and every corner
Shows her to me but in her early bloom,
With all her weaknesses, with all her charm.
I'll see her now, mistreated, wounded, torn;
Will lose myself in horror at the sight,
Compare each bloody mark upon her form
With this, her image, here upon my breast.
And learn to deal with monsters, like to like.
(_As ESTHER has risen._)
Speak not a word to me! I will! This torch
Shall, like myself, inflamed, illume the way;
Gleaming, because destructive and destroyed.
She is in yonder last and inmost room,
Where I so oft--
ESTHER. She was, and there remains.
KING (_has seized the torch_).
Methinks 'tis blood I see upon my way.
It is the way to blood. O fearful night!
[_He goes out at the side door to the left._]
ISAAC. We're in the dark.
ESTHER. Yes, dark is round about,
And round about the horror's horrid night.
But daylight comes apace. So let me try
If I can thither bear my weary limbs.
[_She goes to the window, and draws the curtain._]
The day already dawns, its pallid gleam
Shudders to see the terrors wrought this night--
The difference 'twixt yesterday and now.
(_Pointing to the scattered jewels on the floor._)
There, there it lies, our fortune's scattered ruin--
The tawdry baubles, for the sake of which
We, we--not he who takes the blame--but we
A sister sacrificed, thy foolish child!
Yea, all that comes is right. Whoe'er complains,
Accuses his own folly and himself.
ISAAC (_who has seated himself on the chair_).
Here will I sit. Now that the King is here
I fear them not, nor all that yet may come.
_The centre door opens. Enter MANRIQUE, and GARCERAN, behind them the
QUEEN, leading her child by the hand, and other nobles._
MANRIQUE. Come, enter here, arrange yourselves the while.
We have offended 'gainst his Majesty,
Seeking the good, but not within the law.
We will not try now to evade the law.
ESTHER (_on the other side, raising the overturned table with a quick
Order thyself, disorder! Lest they think
That we are terrified, or cowards prove.
QUEEN. Here are those others, here.
MANRIQUE. Nay, let them be!
What mayhap threatens us, struck them ere now.
I beg you, stand you here, in rank and file.
QUEEN. Let me come first, I am the guiltiest!
MANRIQUE. Not so. O Queen. Thou spak'st the word, 'tis true,
But when it came to action thou didst quake,
Oppose the deed, and mercy urge instead,
Although in vain; for need became our law.
Nor would I wish the King's first burst of rage
To strike the mighty heads we most revere
As being next to him, the Kingdom's hope.
I did the deed, not with this hand, forsooth--
With counsel, and with pity, deep and dread!
The first place, then, is mine. And thou, my son--
Hast thou the heart to answer like a man
For that which at the least thou hinder'dst not,
So that thy earnest wish to make amends
And thy return have tangled thee in guilt?
GARCERAN. Behold me ready! To your side I come!
And may the King's first fury fall on me!
ESTHER (_calling across_).
You there, although all murderers alike,
Deserving every punishment and death--
Enough of mischief is already done,
Nor would I wish the horrors yet increased!
Within, beside my sister, is the King;
Enraged before he went, the sight of her
Will but inflame his passionate ire anew.
I pity, too, that woman and her child,
Half innocent, half guilty--only half.
So go while yet there's time, and do not meet
Th' avenger still too hot to act as judge.
MANRIQUE. Woman, we're Christians!
ESTHER. You have shown you are.
Commend me to the Jewess, O my God!
MANRIQUE. Prepared as Christians, too, to expiate
In meek submission all of our misdeeds.
Lay off your swords. Here now is first my own!
To be in armor augurs of defense.
Our very number makes submission less.
Divide we up the guilt each bears entire.
[_All have laid their swords on the floor before _MANRIQUE.]
So let us wait. Or rather, let one go
To urge upon the King most speedily,
The country's need demands, this way or that,
That he compose himself; and though it were
Repenting a rash deed against ourselves!
Go thou, my son!
GARCERAN (_turning around after having taken several steps_).
Behold, the King himself!
[_The_ KING _rushes out of the apartment at the side. After taking a few
steps, he turns about and stares fixedly at the door._]
QUEEN. O God in Heaven!
MANRIQUE. Queen, I pray be calm!
[_The_ KING _goes toward the front. He stops, with arms folded, before
old_ ISAAC, _who lies back as if asleep, in the armchair. Then he goes
ESTHER (_to her father_).
Behold thy foes are trembling! Art thou glad?
Not I. For Rachel wakes not from the dead.
[_The_ KING, _in the front, gazes at his hands, and rubs them, as though
washing them, one over the other. Then the same motion over his body. At
last he feels his throat, moving his hands around it. In this last
position, with his hands at his throat, he remains motionless, staring
fixedly before him._]
MANRIQUE. Most noble Prince and King. Most gracious Sire!
KING (_starting violently_).
Ye here? 'Tis good ye come! I sought for you--
And all of you. Ye spare me further search.
[_He steps before them, measuring them with angry glances._]
MANRIQUE (_pointing to the weapons lying on the floor_).
We have disarmed ourselves, laid down our swords.
KING. I see the swords. Come ye to slay me, then?
I pray, complete your work. Here is my breast!
[_He opens his robe._]
QUEEN. He has't no more!
KING. How mean you, lady fair?
QUEEN. Gone is the evil picture from his neck.
KING. I'll fetch it, then.
[_He takes a few steps toward the door at the side, and then stands
QUEEN. O God, this madness still!
MANRIQUE. We know full well, how much we, Sire, have erred--
Most greatly, that we did not leave to thee
And thine own honor thy return to self!
But, Sire, the time more pressing was than we.
The country trembled, and at all frontiers
The foemen challenged us to ward our land.
KING. And foemen must be punished--is't not so?
Ye warn me rightly; I am in their midst.
GARCERAN. Thou meanest me, O Sire?
KING. Yea, I mean thee! Though me thou hast betrayed,
Thou wert my friend. Come to me then, I say,
And tell me what thou think'st of her within!
Her--whom thou help'dst to slay--of that anon.
What thoughtst thou of her while she still did live?
GARCERAN. O Sire, I thought her fair.
KING. What more was she?
GARCERAN. But wanton, too, and light, with evil wiles.
KING. And that thou hidst from me while still was time?
GARCERAN. I said it, Sire!
KING. And I believed it not?
How came that? Pray, say on!
GARCERAN. My Sire--the Queen,
She thinks 'twas magic.
KING. Superstition, bah!
Which fools itself with idle make-believe.
GARCERAN. In part, again, it was but natural.
KING. That only which is right is natural.
And was I not a king, both just and mild--
The people's idol and the nobles', too?
Not empty-minded, no, and, sure, not blind!
I say, she was not fair!
GARCERAN. How meanest, Sire?
KING. An evil line on cheek and chin and mouth.
A lurking something in that fiery glance
Envenom'd and disfigured all her charm.
But erst I've gazed upon it and compared.
When there I entered in to fire my rage,
Half fearsome of the mounting of my ire,
It happened otherwise than I had thought.
Instead of wanton pictures from the past,
Before my eyes came people, wife, and child.
With that her face seemed to distort itself,
The arms to rise, to grasp me, and to hold.
I cast her likeness from me in the tomb
And now am here, and shudder, as thou seest.
But go thou now! For, hast thou not betrayed me?
Almost I rue that I must punish you.
Go thither to thy father and those others--
Make no distinction, ye are guilty, all.
MANRIQUE (_with a strong voice_).
KING (_after a pause_).
The man is right; I'm guilty, too.
But what is my poor land, and what the world,
If none are pure, if malefactors all!
Nay, here's my son. Step thou within our midst!
Thou shalt be guardian spirit of this land;
Perhaps a higher judge may then forgive.
Come, Dona Clara, lead him by the hand!
Benignant fortune hath vouchsafed to thee
In native freedom to pursue thy course
Until this hour; thou, then, dost well deserve
To guide the steps of innocence to us.
But hold! Here is the mother. What she did,
She did it for her child. She is forgiv'n!
[_As the_ QUEEN _steps forward and bends her knee._]
Madonna, wouldst thou punish me? Wouldst show
The attitude most seeming me toward thee?
Castilians all, behold! Here is your King,
And here is she, the regent in his stead!
I am a mere lieutenant for my son.
For as the pilgrims, wearing, all, the cross
For penance journey to Jerusalem,
So will I, conscious of my grievous stain,
Lead you against these foes of other faith
Who at the bound'ry line, from Africa,
My people threaten and my peaceful land.
If I return, and victor, with God's grace,
Then shall ye say if I am worthy still
To guard the law offended by myself.
This punishment be _yours_ as well as mine,
For all of you shall follow me, and first,
Into the thickest squadrons of the foe.
And he who falls does penance for us all.
Thus do I punish you and me! My son
Here place upon a shield, like to a throne,
For he today is King of this our land.
So banded, then, let's go before the folk.
[_A shield has been brought._]
You women, each do give the child a hand.
Slipp'ry his first throne, and the second too!
Thou, Garceran, do thou stay at my side,
For equal wantonness we must atone--
So let us fight as though our strength were one.
And hast thou purged thyself of guilt, as I,
Perhaps that quiet, chaste, and modest maid
Will hold thee not unworthy of her hand!
Thou shalt improve him, Dona Clara, but
Let not thy virtue win his mere respect,
But lend it charm, as well. That shields from much.
[_Trumpets in the distance._]
Hear yet They call us. Those whom I did bid
To help against you, they are ready all
To help against the common enemy,
The dreaded Moor who threats our boundaries,
And whom I will send back with shame and wounds
Into the and desert he calls home,
So that our native land be free from ill,
Well-guarded from within and from without.
On, on! Away! God grant, to victory!
[_The procession has already formed. First, some vassals, then the
shield with the child, whom the women hold by both hands, then the rest
of the men. Lastly, the _KING,_ leaning in a trustful manner on
ESTHER (_turning to her father_).
Seest thou, they are already glad and gay;
Already plan for future marriages!
They are the great ones, for th' atonement feast
They've slain as sacrifice a little one,
And give each other now their bloody hands.
[_Stepping to the centre._]
But this I say to thee, thou haughty King,
Go, go, in all thy grand forgetfulness!
Thou deem'st thou'rt free now from my sister's power,
Because the prick of its impression's dulled,
And thou didst from thee cast what once enticed.
But in the battle, when thy wavering ranks
Are shaken by thy en'mies' greater might,
And but a pure, and strong, and guiltless heart
Is equal to the danger and its threat;
When thou dost gaze upon deaf heav'n above,
Then will the victim, sacrificed to thee,
Appear before thy quailing, trembling soul--
Not in luxuriant fairness that enticed,
But changed, distorted, as she pleased thee not--
Then, pentinent, perchance, thou'lt beat thy breast,
And think upon the Jewess of Toledo!
(_Seizing her father by the shoulder._)
Come, father, come! A task awaits us there.
[_Pointing to the side door._]
ISAAC (_as though waking from sleep_).
But first I'll seek my gold!
ESTHER. Think'st still of that
In sight of all this misery and woe!
Then I unsay the curse which I have spoke,
Then thou art guilty, too, and I--and she!
We stand like them within the sinners' row;
Pardon we, then, that God may pardon us!
[_With arms outstretched toward the side door._]
THE POOR MUSICIAN (1848) BY FRANZ GRILLPARZER
TRANSLATED BY ALFRED REMY, A.M.
Professor of Modern Languages, Brooklyn Commercial High School
In Vienna the Sunday after the full moon in the month of July of every
year is, together with the following day, a real festival of the people,
if ever a festival deserved the name. The people themselves attend and
arrange it; and if representatives of the upper classes appear on this
occasion, they may do so only in their capacity as members of the
populace. There is no possibility of class discrimination; at least
there was none some years ago.
On this day the Brigittenau, which with the Augarten, the
Leopoldstadt and the Prater, forms one uninterrupted popular
pleasure-ground, celebrates its kermis. The working people reckon their
good times from one St. Bridget's kermis to the next. Anticipated with
eager expectation, the Saturnalian festival at last arrives. Then there
is great excitement in the good-natured, quiet town. A surging crowd
fills the streets. There is the clatter of footsteps and the buzz of
conversation, above which rises now and then some loud exclamation. All
class distinctions have disappeared; civilian and soldier share in the
commotion. At the gates of the city the crowd increases. Gained, lost,
and regained, the exit is forced at last. But the bridge across the
Danube presents new difficulties. Victorious here also, two streams
finally roll along: the old river Danube and the swollen tide of people
crossing each other, one below, the other above, the former following
its old bed, the latter, freed from the narrow confines of the bridge,
resembling a wide, turbulent lake, overflowing and inundating
everything. A stranger might consider the symptoms alarming. But it is a
riot of joy, a revelry of pleasure.
Even in the space between the city and the bridge wicker-carriages are
lined up for the real celebrants of this festival, the children of
servitude and toil. Although overloaded, these carriages race at a
gallop through the mass of humanity, which in the nick of time opens a
passage for them and immediately closes in again behind them. No one is
alarmed, no one is injured, for in Vienna a silent agreement exists
between vehicles and people, the former promising not to run anybody
over, even when going at full speed; the latter resolving not to be run
over, even though neglecting all precaution.
Every second the distance between the carriages diminishes. Occasionally
more fashionable equipages mingle in the oft-interrupted procession. The
carriages no longer dash along. Finally, about five or six hours before
dark, the individual horses and carriages condense into a compact line,
which, arresting itself and arrested by new vehicles from every side
street, obviously belies the truth of the old proverb: "It is better to
ride in a poor carriage than to go on foot." Stared at, pitied, mocked,
the richly dressed ladies sit in their carriages, which are apparently
standing still. Unaccustomed to constant stopping, the black Holstein
steed rears, as if intending to jump straight up over the
wicker-carriage blocking its way, a thing the screaming women and
children in the plebeian vehicle evidently seem to fear. The cabby, so
accustomed to rapid driving and now balked for the first time, angrily
counts up the loss he suffers in being obliged to spend three hours
traversing a distance which under ordinary conditions he could cover in
five minutes. Quarreling and shouting are heard, insults pass back and
forth between the drivers, and now and then blows with the whip are
Finally, since in this world all standing still, however persistent, is
after all merely an imperceptible advancing, a ray of hope appears even
in this _status quo_. The first trees of the Augarten and the
Brigittenau come into view. The country! The country! All troubles are
forgotten. Those who have come in vehicles alight and mingle with the
pedestrians; strains of distant dance-music are wafted across the
intervening space and are answered by the joyous shouts of the new
arrivals. And thus it goes on and on, until at last the broad haven of
pleasure opens up and grove and meadow, music and dancing, drinking and
eating, magic lantern shows and tight-rope dancing, illumination and
fireworks, combine to produce a _pays de cocagne_, an El Dorado, a
veritable paradise, which fortunately or unfortunately--take it as you
will--lasts only this day and the next, to vanish like the dream of a
summer night, remaining only as a memory, or, possibly, as a hope.
I never miss this festival if I can help it. To me, as a passionate
lover of mankind, especially of the common people, and more especially
so when, united into a mass, the individuals forget for a time their own
private ends and consider themselves part of a whole, in which there is,
after all, the spirit of divinity, nay, God Himself--to me every popular
festival is a real soul-festival, a pilgrimage, an act of devotion. Even
in my capacity as dramatic poet, I always find the spontaneous outburst
of an overcrowded theatre ten times more interesting, even more
instructive, than the sophisticated judgment of some literary matador,
who is crippled in body and soul and swollen up, spider-like, with the
blood of authors whom he has sucked dry. As from a huge open volume of
Plutarch, which has escaped from the covers of the printed page, I read
the biographies of these obscure beings in their merry or secretly
troubled faces, in their elastic or weary step, in the attitude shown by
members of the same family toward one another, in detached, half
involuntary remarks. And, indeed, one can not understand famous men
unless one has sympathized with the obscure! From the quarrels of
drunken pushcart-men to the discords of the sons of the gods there runs
an invisible, yet unbroken, thread, just as the young servant-girl, who,
half against her will, follows her insistent lover away from the crowd
of dancers, may be an embryo Juliet, Dido, or Medea.
Two years ago, as usual, I had mingled as a pedestrian with the
pleasure-seeking visitors of the kermis. The chief difficulties of the
trip had been overcome, and I found myself at the end of the Augarten
with the longed-for Brigittenau lying directly before me. Only one more
difficulty remained to be overcome. A narrow causeway running between
impenetrable hedges forms the only connection between the two pleasure
resorts, the joint boundary of which is indicated by a wooden trellised
gate in the centre. On ordinary days and for ordinary pedestrians this
connecting passage affords more than ample space. But on kermis-day its
width, even if quadrupled, would still be too narrow for the endless
crowd which, in surging forward impetuously, is jostled by those bound
in the opposite direction and manages to get along only by reason of the
general good nature displayed by the merry-makers.
I was drifting with the current and found myself in the centre of the
causeway upon classical ground, although I was constantly obliged to
stand still, turn aside, and wait. Thus I had abundant time for
observing what was going on at the sides of the road. In order that the
pleasure-seeking multitude might not lack a foretaste of the happiness
in store for them, several musicians had taken up their positions on the
left-hand slope of the raised causeway. Probably fearing the intense
competition, these musicians intended to garner at the propylaea the
first fruits of the liberality which had here not yet spent itself.
There were a girl harpist with repulsive, staring eyes; an old invalid
with a wooden leg, who, on a dreadful, evidently home-made instrument,
half dulcimer, half barrel-organ, was endeavoring by means of analogy to
arouse the pity of the public for his painful injury; a lame, deformed
boy, forming with his violin one single, indistinguishable mass, was
playing endless waltzes with all the hectic violence of his misshapen
breast; and finally an old man, easily seventy years of age, in a
threadbare but clean woolen overcoat, who wore a smiling, self-satisfied
expression. This old man attracted my entire attention. He stood there
bareheaded and baldheaded, his hat as a collection-box before him on the
ground, after the manner of these people. He was belaboring an old,
much-cracked violin, beating time not only by raising and lowering his
foot, but also by a corresponding movement of his entire bent body. But
all his efforts to bring uniformity into his performance were fruitless,
for what he was playing seemed to be an incoherent succession of tones
without time or melody. Yet he was completely absorbed in his work; his
lips quivered, and his eyes were fixed upon the sheet of music before
him, for he actually had notes! While all the other musicians, whose
playing pleased the crowd infinitely better, were relying on their
memories, the old man had placed before him in the midst of the surging
crowd a small, easily portable music-stand, with dirty, tattered notes,
which probably contained in perfect order what he was playing so
incoherently. It was precisely the novelty of this equipment that had
attracted my attention to him, just as it excited the merriment of the
passing throng, who jeered him and left the hat of the old man empty,
while the rest of the orchestra pocketed whole copper mines. In order to
observe this odd character at my leisure, I had stepped, at some
distance from him, upon the slope at the side of the causeway. For a
while he continued playing. Finally he stopped, and, as if recovering
himself after a long spell of absent-mindedness, he gazed at the
firmament, which already began to show traces of approaching evening.
Then he looked down into his hat, found it empty, put it on with
undisturbed cheerfulness, and placed his bow between the strings. "_Sunt
certi denique fines_" (there is a limit to everything), he said, took
his music-stand, and, as though homeward bound, fought his way with
difficulty through the crowd streaming in the opposite direction toward
The whole personality of the old man was specially calculated to whet my
anthropological appetite to the utmost--his poorly clad, yet noble
figure, his unfailing cheerfulness, so much artistic zeal combined with
such awkwardness, the fact that he returned home just at the time when
for others of his ilk the real harvest was only beginning, and, finally,
the few Latin words, spoken, however, with the most correct accent and
with absolute fluency. The man had evidently received a good education
and had acquired some knowledge, and here he was--a street-musician! I
was burning with curiosity to learn his history.
But a compact wall of humanity already separated us. Small as he was,
and getting in everybody's way with the music-stand in his hand, he was
shoved from one to another and had passed through the exit-gate while I
was still struggling in the centre of the causeway against the opposing
crowd. Thus I lost track of him; and when at last I had reached the
quiet, open space, there was no musician to be seen far or near.
This fruitless adventure had spoiled all my enjoyment of the popular
festival. I wandered through the Augarten in all directions, and finally
decided to go home. As I neared the little gate that leads out of the
Augarten into Tabor Street, I suddenly heard the familiar sound of the
old violin. I accelerated my steps, and, behold! there stood the object
of my curiosity, playing with all his might, surrounded by several boys
who impatiently demanded a waltz from him. "Play a waltz," they cried;
"a waltz, don't you hear?" The old man kept on fiddling, apparently
paying no attention to them, until his small audience, reviling and
mocking him, left him and gathered around an organ-grinder who had taken
up his position near by.
"They don't want to dance," said the old man sadly, and gathered up his
musical outfit. I had stepped up quite close to him. "The children do
not know any dance but the waltz," I said.
"I was playing a waltz," he replied, indicating with his bow the notes
of the piece he had just been playing. "You have to play things like
that for the crowd. But the children have no ear for music," he said,
shaking his head mournfully.
"At least permit me to atone for their ingratitude," I said, taking a
silver coin out of my pocket and offering it to him.
"Please, don't," cried the old man, at the same time warding me off
anxiously with both hands--"into the hat, into the hat." I dropped the
coin into his hat, which was lying in front of him. The old man
immediately took it out and put it into his pocket, quite satisfied.
"That's what I call going home for once with a rich harvest," he said
"You just remind me of a circumstance," I said, "which excited my
curiosity before. It seems your earnings today have not been
particularly satisfactory, and yet you retire at the very moment when
the real harvest is beginning. The festival, as you no doubt know, lasts
the whole night, and you might easily earn more in this one night than
in an entire week ordinarily. How am I to account for this?"
"How are you to account for this?" replied the old man. "Pardon me, I do
not know who you are, but you must be a generous man and a lover of
music." With these words he took the silver coin out of his pocket once
more and pressed it between his hands, which he raised to his heart.
"I shall therefore tell you the reasons, although I have often been
ridiculed for them. In the first place, I have never been a
night-reveler, and I do not consider it right to incite others to such a
disgusting procedure by means of playing and singing. Secondly, a man
ought to establish for himself a certain order in all things, otherwise
he'll run wild and there's no stopping him. Thirdly, and finally, sir, I
play for the noisy throng all day long and scarcely earn a bare living.
But the evening belongs to me and to my poor art. In the evening I stay
at home, and"--at these words he lowered his voice, a blush overspread
his countenance and his eyes sought the ground--"then I play to myself
as fancy dictates, without notes. I believe the text-books on music call
We had both grown silent, he from confusion, because he had betrayed
the innermost secret of his heart, I from astonishment at hearing a man
speak of the highest spheres of art who was not capable of rendering
even the simplest waltz in intelligible fashion. Meanwhile he was
preparing to depart. "Where do you live?" I inquired. "I should like to
attend your solitary practising some day."
"Oh," he replied, almost imploringly, "you must know that prayers should
be said in private!"
"Then I'll visit you in the daytime," I said.
"In the daytime," he replied, "I earn my living among the people."
"Well, then, some morning early."
"It almost looks," the old man said smiling, "as though you, my dear
sir, were the recipient, and I, if I may be permitted to say so, the
benefactor; you are so kind, and I reject your advances so ungraciously.
Your distinguished visit will always confer honor on my dwelling. Only I
should like to ask you to be so very kind as to notify me beforehand of
the day of your coming, in order that you may not be unduly delayed nor
I be compelled to interrupt unceremoniously some business in which I may
be engaged at the time. For my mornings are also devoted to a definite
purpose. At any rate, I consider it my duty to my patrons and
benefactors to offer something not entirely unworthy in return for their
gifts. I have no desire to be a beggar, sir; I am very well aware of the
fact that the other street musicians are satisfied to reel off a few
street ditties, German waltzes, even melodies of indecent songs, all of
which they have memorized. These they repeat incessantly, so that the
public pays them either in order to get rid of them, or because their
playing revives the memory of former joys of dancing or of other
disorderly amusements. For this reason such musicians play from memory,
and sometimes, in fact quite frequently, strike the wrong note. But far
be it from me to deceive. Partly, therefore, because my memory is not of
the best, partly because it might be difficult for any one to retain in
his memory, note for note, complicated compositions of esteemed
composers, I have made a clear copy for myself in these note-books."
With these words he showed me the pages of his music-book. To my
amazement I saw in a careful, but awkward and stiff handwriting,
extremely difficult compositions by famous old masters, quite black with
passage-work and double-stopping. And these selections the old man
played with his clumsy fingers! "In playing these pieces," he continued,
"I show my veneration for these esteemed, long since departed masters
and composers, satisfy my own artistic instincts, and live in the
pleasant hope that, in return for the alms so generously bestowed upon
me, I may succeed in improving the taste and hearts of an audience
distracted and misled on many sides. But since music of this
character--to return to my subject"--and at these words a self-satisfied
smile lighted up his features--"since music of this kind requires
practice, my morning hours are devoted exclusively to this exercise. The
first three hours of the day for practice, the middle of the day for
earning my living, the evening for myself and God; that is not an unfair
division," he said, and at the same time something moist glistened in
his eyes; but he was smiling.
"Very well, then," I said, "I shall surprise you some morning. Where do
you live?" He mentioned Gardener's Lane.
"Number 34, one flight up."
"Well, well," I cried, "on the fashionable floor."
"The house," he said, "consists in reality only of a ground floor. But
upstairs, next to the garret, there is a small room which I occupy in
company with two journeymen."
"A single room for three people?"
"It is divided into two parts," he
answered, "and I have my own bed."
"It is getting late," I said, "and you must be anxious to get home. _Auf
At the same time I put my hand in my pocket with the intention of
doubling the trifling amount I had given him before. But he had already
taken up his music-stand with one hand and his violin with the other,
and cried hurriedly, "I humbly ask you to refrain. I have already
received ample remuneration for my playing, and I am not aware of having
earned any other reward." Saying this he made me a rather awkward bow
with an approach to elegant ease, and departed as quickly as his old
legs could carry him.
As I said before, I had lost for this day all desire of participating
further in the festival. Consequently I turned homeward, taking the road
leading to the Leopoldstadt. Tired out from the dust and heat, I entered
one of the many beer-gardens, which, while overcrowded on ordinary days,
had today given up all their customers to the Brigittenau. The stillness
of the place, in contradistinction to the noisy crowd, did me good. I
gave myself up to my thoughts, in which the old musician had a
considerable share. Night had come before I thought at last of going
home. I laid the amount of my bill upon the table and walked toward the
The old man had said that he lived in Gardener's Lane. "Is Gardener's
Lane near-by?" I asked a smell boy who was running across the road.
"Over there, sir," he replied, pointing to a side street that ran from
the mass of houses of the suburb out into the open fields. I followed
the direction indicated. The street consisted of some scattered houses,
which, separated by large vegetable gardens, plainly indicated the
occupation of the inhabitants and the origin of the name Gardener's
Lane. I was wondering in which of these miserable huts my odd friend
might live. I had completely forgotten the number; moreover it was
impossible to make out any signs in the darkness. At that moment a man
carrying a heavy load of vegetables passed me. "The old fellow is
scraping his fiddle again," he grumbled, "and disturbing decent people
in their night's rest." At the same time, as I went on, the soft,
sustained tone of a violin struck my ear. It seemed to come from the
open attic window of a hovel a short distance away, which, being low and
without an upper story like the rest of the houses, attracted attention
on account of this attic window in the gabled roof. I stood still. A
soft distinct note increased to loudness, diminished, died out, only to
rise again immediately to penetrating shrillness. It was always the same
tone repeated as if the player dwelt upon it with pleasure. At last an
interval followed; it was the chord of the fourth. While the player had
before reveled in the sound of the single note, now his voluptuous
enjoyment of this harmonic relation was very much more susceptible. His
fingers moved by fits and starts, as did his bow. Through the
intervening intervals he passed most unevenly, emphasizing and repeating
the third. Then he added the fifth, now with a trembling sound like
silent weeping, sustained, vanishing; now constantly repeated with dizzy
speed; always the same intervals, the same tones. And that was what the
old man called improvising. It _was_ improvising after all, but from the
viewpoint of the player, not from that of the listener.
I do not know how long this may have lasted and how frightful the
performance had become, when suddenly the door of the house was opened,
and a man, clad only in a shirt and partly buttoned trousers stepped
from the threshold into the middle of the street and called up to the
attic window--"Are you going to keep on all night again?" The tone of
his voice was impatient, but not harsh or insulting. The violin became
silent even before the speaker had finished. The man went back into the
house, the attic window was closed, and soon perfect and uninterrupted
silence reigned. I started for home, experiencing some difficulty in
finding my way through the unknown lanes, and, as I walked along, I
also improvised mentally, without, however, disturbing any one.
The morning hours have always been of peculiar value to me. It is as
though I felt the need of occupying myself with something ennobling,
something worth while, in the first hours of the day, thus consecrating
the remainder of it, as it were. It is, therefore, only with difficulty
that I can make up my mind to leave my room early in the morning, and if
ever I force myself to do so without sufficient cause, nothing remains
to me for the rest of the day but the choice between idle distraction
and morbid introspection. Thus it happened that I put off for several
days my visit to the old man, which I had agreed to pay in the morning.
At last I could not master my impatience any longer, and went. I had no
difficulty in finding Gardener's Lane, nor the house. This time also I
heard the tones of the violin, but owing to the closed window they were
muffled and scarcely recognizable. I entered the house. A gardener's
wife, half speechless with amazement, showed me the steps leading up to
the attic. I stood before a low, badly fitting door, knocked, received
no answer, finally raised the latch and entered. I found myself in a
quite large, but otherwise extremely wretched chamber, the wall of which
on all sides followed the outlines of the pointed roof. Close by the
door was a dirty bed in loathsome disorder, surrounded by all signs of
neglect; opposite me, close beside the narrow window, was a second bed,
shabby but clean and most carefully made and covered. Before the window
stood a small table with music-paper and writing material, on the
windowsill a few flower-pots. The middle of the room from wall to wall
was designated along the floor by a heavy chalk line, and it is almost
impossible to imagine a more violent contrast between dirt and
cleanliness than existed on the two sides of the line, the equator of
this little world. The old man had placed his music-stand close to the
boundary line and was standing before it practising, completely and
carefully dressed. I have already said so much that is jarring about the
discords of my favorite--and I almost fear he is mine alone--that I
shall spare the reader a description of this infernal concert. As the
practice consisted chiefly of passage-work, there was no possibility of
recognizing the pieces he was playing, but this might not have been an
easy matter even under ordinary circumstances. After listening a while,
I finally discovered the thread leading out of this labyrinth--the
method in his madness, as it were. The old man enjoyed the music while
he was playing. His conception, however, distinguished between only two
kinds of effect, euphony and cacophony. Of these the former delighted,
even enraptured him, while he avoided the latter, even when harmonically
justified, as much as possible. Instead of accenting a composition in
accordance with sense and rhythm, he exaggerated and prolonged the notes
and intervals that were pleasing to his ear; he did not even hesitate to
repeat them arbitrarily, when an expression of ecstasy frequently passed
over his face. Since he disposed of the dissonances as rapidly as
possible and played the passages that were too difficult for him in a
tempo that was too slow compared with the rest of the piece, his
conscientiousness not permitting him to omit even a single note, one may
easily form an idea of the resulting confusion. After some time, even I
couldn't endure it any longer. In order to recall him to the world of
reality, I purposely dropped my hat, after I had vainly tried several
other means of attracting his attention. The old man started, his knees
shook, and he was scarcely able to hold the violin he had lowered to the
ground. I stepped up to him. "Oh, it is you, sir," he said, as if coming
to himself; "I had not counted on the fulfilment of your kind promise."
He forced me to sit down, straightened things up, laid down his violin,
looked around the room a few times in embarrassment, then suddenly took
up a plate from a table that was standing near the door and went out. I
heard him speak with the gardener's wife outside. Soon he came back
again rather abashed, concealing the plate behind his back and returning
it to its place stealthily. Evidently he had asked for some fruit to
offer me, but had not been able to obtain it.
"You live quite comfortably here," I said, in order to put an end to his
embarrassment. "Untidiness is not permitted to dwell here. It will
retreat through the door, even though at the present moment it hasn't
quite passed the threshold."
"My abode reaches only to that line," said the old man, pointing to the
chalk-line in the middle of the room. "Beyond it the two journeymen
"And do these respect your boundary?"
"They don't, but I do," said he. "Only the door is common property."
"And are you not disturbed by your neighbors?"
"Hardly. They come home late at night, and even if they startle me a
little when I'm in bed, the pleasure of going to sleep again is all the
greater. But in the morning I awaken them, when I put my room in order.
Then they scold a little and go." I had been observing him in the mean
time. His clothes were scrupulously clean, his figure was good enough
for his years, only his legs were a little too short. His hands and feet
were remarkably delicate. "You are looking at me," he said, "and
"I confess that I have some curiosity concerning your past," I replied.
"My past?" he repeated. "I have no past. Today is like yesterday, and
tomorrow like today. But the day after tomorrow and beyond--who can know
about that? But God will look after me; He knows best."
"Your present mode of life is probably monotonous enough," I continued,
"but your past! How did it happen--"
"That I became a street-musician?" he asked, filling in the pause that I
had voluntarily made. I now told him how he had attracted my attention
the moment I caught sight of him; what an impression he had made upon me
by the Latin words he had uttered. "Latin!" he echoed. "Latin! I did
learn it once upon a time, or rather, I was to have learned it and might
have done so. _Loqueris latine?"_--he turned to me; "but I couldn't
continue; it is too long ago. So that is what you call my past? How it
all came about? Well then, all sorts of things have happened, nothing
special, but all sorts of things. I should like to hear the story myself
again. I wonder whether I haven't forgotten it all. It is still early in
the morning," he continued, putting his hand into his vest-pocket, in
which, however, there was no watch. I drew out mine; it was barely nine
o'clock. "We have time, and I almost feel like talking." Meanwhile he
had grown visibly more at ease. His figure became more erect. Without
further ceremony he took my hat out of my hand and laid it upon the bed.
Then he seated himself, crossed one leg over the other, and assumed the
attitude of one who is going to tell a story in comfort.
"No doubt," he began, "you have heard of Court Councilor X?" Here he
mentioned the name of a statesman who, in the middle of the last
century, had under the modest title of a Chief of Department exerted an
enormous influence, almost equal to that of a minister. I admitted that
I knew of him. "He was my father," he continued.--His father! The father
of the old musician, of the beggar. This influential, powerful man--his
father! The old man did not seem to notice my astonishment, but with
evident pleasure continued the thread of his narrative. "I was the
second of three brothers. Both the others rose to high positions in the
government service, but they are now dead. Only I am still alive," he
said, pulling at his threadbare trousers and picking off some little
feathers with downcast eyes. "My father was ambitious and a man of
violent temper. My brothers satisfied him. I was considered a slow
coach, and I _was_ slow. If I remember rightly," he continued, turning
aside as though looking far away, with his head resting upon his left
hand, "I might have been capable of learning various things, if only I
had been given time and a systematic training. My brothers leaped from
one subject to another with the agility of gazelles, but I could make
absolutely no headway, and whenever only a single word escaped me, I was
obliged to begin again from the very beginning. Thus I was constantly
driven. New material was to occupy the place which had not yet been
vacated by the old, and I began to grow obstinate. Thus they even drove
me into hating music, which is now the delight and at the same time the
support of my life. When I used to improvise on my violin at twilight in
order to enjoy myself in my own way, they would take the instrument away
from me, asserting that this ruined my fingering. They would also
complain of the torture inflicted upon their ears and made me wait for
the lesson, when the torture began for me. In all my life I have never
hated anything or any one so much as I hated the violin at that time.
"My father, who was extremely dissatisfied, scolded me frequently and
threatened to make a mechanic of me. I didn't dare say how happy that
would have made me. I should have liked nothing better than to become a
turner or a compositor. But my father was much too proud ever to have
permitted such a thing. Finally a public examination at school, which
they had persuaded him to attend in order to appease him, brought
matters to a climax. A dishonest teacher arranged in advance what he was
going to ask me, and so everything went swimmingly. But toward the end I
had to recite some verses of Horace from memory and I missed a word. My
teacher, who had been nodding his head in approval and smiling at my
father, came to my assistance when I broke down, and whispered the word
to me, but I was so engrossed trying to locate the word in my memory and
to establish its connection with the context, that I failed to hear him.
He repeated it several times--all in vain. Finally my father lost his
patience, _'cachinnum'_ (laughter)--that was the word--he roared at me
in a voice of thunder. That was the end. Although I now knew the missing
word, I had forgotten all the rest. All attempts to bring me back on the
right track were in vain. I was obliged to rise in disgrace and when I
went over as usual to kiss my father's hand, he pushed me back, rose,
bowed hastily to the audience, and went away. 'That shabby beggar,' he
called me; I wasn't one at the time, but I am now. Parents prophesy when
they speak. At the same time my father was a good man, only hot tempered
"From that day on he never spoke to me again. His orders were conveyed
to me by the servants. On the very next day I was informed that my
studies were at an end. I was quite dismayed, for I realized what a blow
it must have been to my father. All day long I did nothing but weep, and
between my crying spells I recited the Latin verses, in which I was now
letter-perfect, together with the preceding and following ones. I
promised to make up in diligence what I lacked in talent, if I were only
permitted to continue in school, but my father never revoked a decision.
"For some time I remained at home without an occupation. At last I was
placed in an accountant's office on probation; but arithmetic had never
been my forte. An offer to enter the military service I refused with
abhorrence. Even now I cannot see a uniform without an inward shudder.
That one should protect those near and dear, even at the risk's of one's
life, is quite proper, and I can understand it; but bloodshed and
mutilation as a vocation, as an occupation--never!" And with that he
felt his arms with his hands, as if experiencing pain from wounds
inflicted upon himself and others.
"Next I was employed in the chancery office as a copyist. There I was in
my element. I had always practised penmanship with enthusiasm; and even
now I know of no more agreeable pastime than joining stroke to stroke
with good ink on good paper to form words or merely letters. But musical
notes are beautiful above everything, only at that time I didn't think
"I was industrious, but too conscientious. An incorrect punctuation
mark, an illegible or missing word in a first draft, even if it could be
supplied from the context, would cause me many an unhappy hour. While
trying to make up my mind whether to follow the original closely or to
supply missing material, the time slipped by, and I gained a reputation
for being negligent, although I worked harder than any one else. In this
manner I spent several years, without receiving any salary. When my turn
for promotion came, my father voted for another candidate at the meeting
of the board, and the other members voted with him out of deference.
"About this time--well, well," he interrupted himself, "this is turning
out to be a story after all. I shall continue the story. About this time
two events occurred, the saddest and the happiest of my life, namely my
leaving home and my return to the gentle art of music, to my violin,
which has remained faithful to me to this day.
"In my father's house, where I was ignored by the other members of the
family, I occupied a rear room looking out upon our neighbor's yard. At
first I took my meals with the family, though no one spoke a word to me.
But when my brothers received appointments in other cities and my father
was invited out to dinner almost daily--my mother had been dead for many
years--it was found inconvenient to keep house for me. The servants were
given money for their meals. So was I; only I didn't receive mine in
cash: it was paid monthly to the restaurant. Consequently I spent little
time in my room, with the exception of the evening hours; for my father
insisted that I should be at home within half an hour after the closing
of the office, at the latest. Then I sat there in the darkness on
account of my eyes, which were weak even at that time. I used to think
of one thing and another, and was neither happy nor unhappy.
"When I sat thus I used to hear some one in the neighbor's yard singing
a song--really several songs, one of which, however, pleased me
particularly. It was so simple, so touching, and the musical expression
was so perfect, that it was not necessary to hear the words. Personally
I believe that words spoil the music anyway." Now he opened his lips and
uttered a few hoarse, rough tones. "I have no voice," he said, and took
up his violin. He played, and this time with proper expression, the
melody of a pleasing, but by no means remarkable song, his fingers
trembling on the strings and some tears finally rolling down his cheeks.
"That was the song," he said, laying down his violin. "I heard it with
ever-growing pleasure. However vivid it was in my memory, I never
succeeded in getting even two notes right with my voice, and I became
almost impatient from listening. Then my eyes fell upon my violin which,
like an old armor, had been hanging unused on the wall since my boyhood.
I took it down and found it in tune, the servant probably having used it
during my absence. As I drew the bow over the strings it seemed to me,
sir, as though God's finger had touched me. The tone penetrated into my
heart, and from my heart it found its way out again. The air about me
was pregnant with intoxicating madness. The song in the courtyard below
and the tones produced by my fingers had become sharers of my solitude.
I fell upon my knees and prayed aloud, and could not understand that I
had ever held this exquisite, divine instrument in small esteem, that I
had even hated it in my childhood, and I kissed the violin and pressed
it to my heart and played on and on.
"The song in the yard--it was a woman who was singing--continued in the
meantime uninterruptedly. But it was not so easy to play it after her,
for I didn't have a copy of the notes. I also noticed that I had pretty
nearly forgotten whatever I had once acquired of the art of playing the
violin; consequently I couldn't play anything in particular, but could
play only in a general way. With the exception of that song the musical
compositions themselves have always been a matter of indifference to me,
an attitude in which I have persisted to this day. The musicians play
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sebastian Bach, but not one plays God
Himself. No one can play the eternal comfort and blessing of tone and
sound, its magic correlation with the eager, straining ear; so that"--he
continued in a lower voice and blushing with confusion--"so that the
third tone forms a harmonic interval with the first, as does the fifth,
and the leading tone rises like a fulfilled hope, while the dissonance
is bowed down like conscious wickedness or arrogant pride.
"And then there are the mysteries of suspension and inversion, by means
of which even the second is received into favor in the bosom of harmony.
A musician once explained all these things to me, but that was later.
And then there are still other marvels which I do not understand, as the
fugue, counterpoint, the canon for two and three voices, and so on--an
entire heavenly structure, one part joined to the other without mortar
and all held together by God's own hand. With a few exceptions, nobody
wants to know anything about these things. They would rather disturb
this breathing of souls by the addition of words to be spoken to the
music, just as the children of God united with the daughters of the
Earth. And by means of this combination of word and music they imagine
they can affect and impress a calloused mind. Sir," he concluded at
last, half exhausted, "speech is as necessary to man as food, but we
should also preserve undefiled the nectar meted out by God."
I could scarcely believe it was the same man, so animated had he become.
He paused for a moment. "Where did I stop in my story?" he asked
finally. "Oh yes, at the song and my attempt to imitate it. But I didn't
succeed. I stepped to the open window in order to hear better. The
singer was just crossing the court. She had her back turned to me, yet
she seemed familiar to me. She was carrying a basket with what looked
like pieces of cake dough. She entered a little gate in the corner of
the court, where there probably was an oven, for while she continued her
song, I heard her rattling some wooden utensils, her voice sounding
sometimes muffled, sometimes clear, like the voice of one who bends down
and sings into a hollow space and then rises again and stands in an
upright position. After a while she came back, and only now I discovered
why she had seemed familiar to me before. I had actually known her for
some time, for I had seen her in the chancery office.
"My acquaintance with her was made like this: The office hours began
early and extended beyond noon. Several of the younger employees, who
either actually had an appetite or else wanted to kill a half hour, were
in the habit of taking a light lunch about eleven o'clock. The
tradespeople, who know how to turn everything to their advantage, saved
the gourmands a walk and brought their wares into the office building,
where they took up their position on the stairs and in the corridors. A
baker sold rolls, a costermonger vended cherries. Certain cakes,
however, which were baked by the daughter of a grocer in the vicinity
and sold while still hot, were especially popular.
"Her customers stepped out into the corridor to her; and only rarely,
when bidden, did she venture into the office itself, which she was asked
to leave the moment the rather peevish director caught sight of her--a
command that she obeyed only with reluctance and mumbling angry words.
"Among my colleagues the girl did not pass for a beauty. They considered
her too small, and were not able to determine the color of her hair.
Some there were who denied that she had cat's eyes, but all agreed that
she was pock-marked. Of her buxom figure all spoke with enthusiasm, but
they considered her rough, and one of them had a long story to tell
about a box on the ear, the effects of which he claimed to have felt for
a week afterwards.
"I was not one of her customers. In the first place I had no money; in
the second, I have always been obliged to look upon eating and drinking
as a necessity, sometimes too much so, so that it has never entered my
head to take pleasure and delight in it. And so we took no notice of
each other. Only once, in order to tease me, my colleagues made her
believe that I wanted some of her cakes. She stepped up to my desk and
held her basket out to me. 'I don't want anything, my dear young woman,'
I said. 'Well, why do you send for me then?' she cried angrily. I
excused myself, and as I saw at once that a practical joke had been
played, I explained the situation as best I could. 'Well then, at least
give me a sheet of paper to put my cakes on,' she said. I tried to make
her understand that it was chancery paper and didn't belong to me, but
that I had some paper at home which was mine and that I would bring her
some of it. 'I have enough myself at home,' she said mockingly, and
broke into a little laugh as she went away.
"That had happened only a few days before and I was thinking of turning
the acquaintance to immediate account for the fulfilment of my wish. The
next morning, therefore, I buttoned a whole ream of paper--of which
there was never a scarcity in our home--under my coat, and went to the
office. In order not to betray myself, I kept my armor with great
personal inconvenience upon my body until, toward noon, I knew from the
going and coming of my colleagues and from the sound of the munching
jaws that the cake-vender had arrived. I waited until I had reason to
believe that the rush of business was over, then I went out, pulled out
my paper, mustered up sufficient courage, and stepped up to the girl.
With her basket before her on the ground and her right foot resting on a
low stool, on which she usually sat, she stood there humming a soft
melody, beating time with her right foot. As I approached she measured
me from head to foot, which only added to my confusion. 'My dear young
woman,' I finally began, 'the other day you asked me for paper and I had
none that belonged to me. Now I have brought some from home, and'--with
that I held out the paper. 'I told you the other day,' she replied,
'that I have plenty of paper at home. However, I can make use of
everything.' Saying this, she accepted my present with a slight nod
and put it into her basket. 'Perhaps you'll take some cake?' she asked,
sorting her wares, 'although the best have been sold.' I declined, but
told her that I had another wish. 'And what may that be?' she asked,
putting her arm through the handle of her basket, drawing herself up to
her full height, and flashing her eyes angrily at me. I lost no time
telling her that I was a lover of music, although only a recent convert,
and that I had heard her singing such beautiful songs, especially one.
'You--heard me--singing?' she flared up. 'Where?' I then told her that I
lived near her, and that I had been listening to her while she was at
work in the courtyard; that one of her songs had pleased me
particularly, and that I had tried to play it after her on my violin.
'Can you be the man,' she exclaimed, 'who scrapes so on the fiddle?' As
I mentioned before, I was only a beginner at that time and not until
later, by dint of much hard work, did I acquire the necessary
dexterity;" the old man interrupted himself, while with the fingers of
his left hand he made movements in the air, as though he were playing
the violin. "I blushed violently," he continued the narrative, "and I
could see by the expression of her face that she repented her harsh
words. 'My dear young woman,' I said, 'the scraping arises from the fact
that I do not possess the music of the song, and for this reason I
should like to ask you most respectfully for a copy of it.' 'For a
copy?' she exclaimed. 'The song is printed and is sold at every
street-corner.' 'The song?' I replied. 'You probably mean only the
words!' 'Why, yes; the words, the song.' 'But the melody to which it is
sung--' 'Are such things written down?' she asked. 'Surely,' was my
reply, 'that is the most important part.' 'And how did you learn it, my
dear young woman?' 'I heard some one singing it, and then I sang it
after her.' I was astonished at this natural gift. And I may add in
passing that uneducated people often possess the greatest natural
talent. But, after all, this is not the proper thing, not real art. I
was again plunged into despair. 'But which song do you want?' she asked.
'I know so many.' 'All without the notes?' 'Why, of course. Now which
was it?' 'It is so very beautiful,' I explained. 'Right at the beginning
the melody rises, then it becomes fervent, and finally it ends very
softly. You sing it more frequently than the others.' 'Oh, I suppose
it's this one,' she said, setting down her basket, and placing her foot
on the stool. Then, keeping time by nodding her head, she sang the song
in a very low, yet clear voice, so beautifully and so charmingly that,
before she had quite finished, I tried to grasp her hand, which was
hanging at her side. 'What do you mean!' she cried, drawing back her
arm, for she probably thought I intended to take her hand immodestly. I
wanted to kiss it, although she was only a poor girl.--Well, after all,
I too am poor now!
"I ran my fingers through my hair in my eagerness to secure the song and
when she observed my anxiety, she consoled me and said that the organist
of St. Peter's visited her father's store frequently to buy nutmeg, that
she would ask him to write out the music of the song, and that I might
call for it in a few days. Thereupon she took up her basket and went,
while I accompanied her as far as the staircase. As I was making a final
bow on the top step, I was surprised by the director, who bade me go to
my work and railed against the girl, in whom, he asserted, there wasn't
a vestige of good. I was very angry at this and was about to retort that
I begged to differ with him, when I realized that he had returned to his
office. Therefore I calmed myself and also went back to my desk. But
from that time on he was firmly convinced that I was a careless employee
and a dissipated fellow.
"As a matter of fact, I was unable to do any decent work on that day or
on the following days, for the song kept running through my head. I
seemed to be in a trance. Several days passed and I was in doubt whether
to call for the music or not. The girl had said that the organist came
to her father's store to buy nutmeg; this he could use only for his
beer. Now the weather had been cold for some time, and therefore it was
probable that the good organist would rather drink wine and thus not be
in need of nutmeg so soon. A too hasty inquiry might seem impolite and
obtrusive, while, on the other hand, a delay might be interpreted as
indifference. I didn't dare address the girl in the corridor, since our
first meeting had been noised broad among my colleagues, and they were
thirsting for an opportunity to play a practical joke on me.
"In the meantime I had again taken up my violin eagerly and devoted
myself to a thorough study of the fundamental principles. Occasionally I
permitted myself to improvise, but always closed my window carefully in
advance, knowing that my playing had found disfavor. But even when I did
open the window, I never heard my song again. Either my neighbor did not
sing at all, or else she sang softly and behind closed doors, so that I
could not distinguish one note from another.
"At last, about three weeks having passed, I could wait no longer. Two
evenings in succession I had even stolen out upon the street, without a
hat, so that the servants might think I was looking for something in the
house, but whenever I came near the grocery store such a violent
trembling seized me that I was obliged to turn back whether I wanted to
or not. At last, however, as I said, I couldn't wait any longer. I took
courage, and one evening left my room, this time also without a hat,
went downstairs and walked with a firm step through the street to the
grocery store, in front of which I stopped for a moment, deliberating
what was to be done next. The store was lighted and I heard voices
within. After some hesitation I leaned forward and peered in from the
side. I saw the girl sitting close before the counter by the light,
picking over some peas or beans in a wooden bowl. Before her stood a
coarse, powerful man, who looked like a butcher; his jacket was thrown
over his shoulders and he held a sort of club in his hand. The two were
talking, evidently in good humor, for the girl laughed aloud several
times, but without interrupting her work or even looking up. Whether it
was my unnatural, strained position, or whatever else it may have been,
I began to tremble again, when I suddenly felt myself seized by a rough
hand from the back and dragged forward. In a twinkling I was in the
store, and when I was released and looked about me, I saw that it was
the proprietor himself, who, returning home, had caught me peering
through his window and seized me as a suspicious character. 'Confound
it!' he cried, 'now I understand what becomes of my prunes and the
handfuls of peas and barley which are taken from my baskets in the dark.
Damn it all!' With that he made for me, as though he meant to strike me.
"I felt utterly crushed, but the thought that my honesty was being
questioned soon brought me back to my senses. I therefore made a curt
bow and told the uncivil man that my visit was not intended for his
prunes or his barley, but for his daughter. At these words the butcher,
who was standing in the middle of the store, set up a loud laugh and
turned as if to go, having first whispered a few words to the girl, to
which she laughingly replied with a resounding slap of her flat hand
upon his back. The grocer accompanied him to the door. Meanwhile all my
courage had again deserted me, and I stood facing the girl, who was
indifferently picking her peas and beans as though the whole affair
didn't concern her in the least. 'Sir,' he said, 'what business have you
with my daughter?' I tried to explain the circumstance and the cause of
my visit. 'Song! I'll sing you a song!' he exclaimed, moving his right
arm up and down in rather threatening fashion. 'There it is,' said the
girl, tilting her chair sideways and pointing with her hand to the
counter without setting down the bowl. I rushed over and saw a sheet of
music lying there. It was the song. But the old man got there first, and
crumpled the beautiful paper in his hand. 'What does this mean?' he
said. 'Who is this fellow?' 'He is one of the gentlemen from the
chancery,' she replied, throwing a worm-eaten pea a little farther away
than the rest. 'A gentleman from the chancery,' he cried, 'in the dark,
without a hat?' I accounted for the absence of a hat by explaining that
I lived close by; at the same time I designated the house. 'I know the
house,' he cried. 'Nobody lives there but the Court Councilor'--here he
mentioned the name of my father--'and I know all the servants.' 'I am
the son of the Councilor,' I said in a low voice, as though I were
telling a lie. I have seen many changes during my life, but none so
sudden as that which came over the man at these words. His mouth, which
he had opened to heap abuse upon me, remained open, his eyes still
looked threatening, but about the lower part of his face a smile began
to play which spread more and more. The girl remained indifferent and
continued in her stooping posture. Without interrupting her work, she
pushed her loose hair back behind her ears. 'The son of the Court
Councilor!' finally exclaimed the old man, from whose face the clouds
had entirely disappeared. 'Won't you make yourself comfortable, sir?
Barbara, bring a chair!' The girl stirred reluctantly on hers. 'Never
mind, you sneak!' he said, taking a basket from a stool and wiping the
dust from the latter with his handkerchief. 'This is a great honor,' he
continued. 'Has His Honor, the Councilor--I mean His Honor's son, also
taken up music? Perhaps you sing like my daughter, or rather quite
differently, from notes and according to rule?' I told him that nature
had not gifted me with a voice. 'Oh, perhaps you play the piano, as
fashionable people do?' I told him I played the violin. 'I used to
scratch on the fiddle myself when I was a boy,' he said. At the word
'scratch' I involuntarily looked at the girl and saw a mocking smile on
her lips, which annoyed me greatly.
"'You ought to take an interest in the girl, that is, in her music,' he
continued. 'She has a good voice, and possesses other good qualities;
but refinement--good heavens, where should she get it?' So saying, he
repeatedly rubbed the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together. I
was quite confused at being undeservedly credited with such a
considerable knowledge of music, and was just on the point of explaining
the true state of affairs, when some one passing the store called in
'Good evening, all!' I started, for it was the voice of one of our
servants. The grocer had also recognized it. Putting out the tip of his
tongue and raising his shoulders, he whispered: 'It was one of the
servants of His Honor, your father, but he couldn't recognize you,
because you were standing with your back to the door.' This was so, to
be sure, but nevertheless the feeling of doing something on the sly,
something wrong, affected me painfully. I managed to mumble a few words
of parting, and went out. I should even have left the song behind had
not the old man run into the street after me and pressed it into my
"I reached my room and awaited developments. And I didn't have to wait
long. The servant had recognized me after all. A few days later my
father's private secretary looked me up in my room and announced that I
was to leave my home. All my remonstrances were in vain. A little room
had been rented for me in a distant suburb and thus I was completely
banished from my family. Nor did I see my singer again. She had been
forbidden to vend her cakes in the chancery, and I couldn't make up my
mind to visit her father's store, since I knew that this would displease
mine. Once, when accidentally I met the old grocer on the street, he
even turned away from me with an angry expression, and I was stunned.
And so I got out my violin and played and practised, being frequently
alone half the day.
"But even worse things were in store for me. The fortunes of our house
were declining. My youngest brother, a headstrong, impetuous fellow, was
an officer in a regiment of dragoons. As the result of a reckless wager,
he foolishly swam the Danube, mounted and in full armor, while heated
from the exertion of a ride. This escapade, which occurred while he was
far away in Hungary, cost him his life. My older brother, my father's
favorite, held an appointment as a member of provincial council. In
constant opposition to the governor of the province, he even went so
far as to promulgate untruthful statements in order to injure his
opponent, being secretly incited thereto, as rumor had it, by our
father. An investigation followed, and my brother took French leave of
the country. Our father's enemies, of whom there were many, utilized
this circumstance to bring about his downfall. Attacked on all sides,
and at the same time enraged at the waning of his influence, he
delivered daily the most bitter speeches at the meetings of the council,
and it was in the middle of a speech that he suffered a stroke of
apoplexy. They brought him home, bereft of the power of speech. I myself
heard nothing of all this. The next day in the chancery I noticed that
the men were whispering secretly and pointing at me with their fingers.
But I was accustomed to such treatment and paid no further attention to
it. On the following Friday--the sad event had occurred on a
Wednesday--a black suit of clothes with crepe was suddenly brought to my
room. I was naturally astonished, asked for the reason, and was informed
of what had taken place. Ordinarily my body is strong and capable of
resistance, but then I was completely overcome. I fell to the floor in a
swoon. They carried me to bed, where I lay in a fever and was delirious
throughout the day and the entire night. The next morning my strong
constitution had conquered, but my father was dead and buried.
"I had not been able to speak to him again, to ask his forgiveness for
all the sorrow I had brought upon him, or to thank him for all the
undeserved favors--yes, favors, for his intentions had been good; and
some time I hope to meet him again where we are judged by our intentions
and not by our acts.
"For several days I kept my room and scarcely touched any food. At last
I went out, but came home again immediately after dinner. Only in the
evening I wandered about the dark streets like Cain, the murderer of his
brother. My father's house appeared to me a dreadful phantom, and I
avoided it most carefully. But once, staring vacantly before me, I found
myself unexpectedly in the vicinity of the dreaded house. My knees
trembled so that I was obliged to seek support. Leaning against the wall
behind me, I recognized the door of the grocery store. Barbara was
sitting inside, a letter in her hand, the light upon the counter beside
her, and standing up straight close by was her father, who seemed to be
urging something upon her. I should have entered, even though my life
had been at stake. You have no idea how awful it is to have no one to
pour out one's heart to, no one to look to for sympathy. The old man, I
knew very well, was angry with me, but I thought the girl would say a
kind word to me. But it turned out just the other way. Barbara rose as I
entered, looked at me haughtily, and went into the adjoining room,
locking the door behind her. The old man, however, shook hands with me,
bade me sit down and consoled me, at the same time intimating that I was
now a rich man and my own master. He wanted to know how much I had
inherited. I couldn't tell him. He urged me to go to court about it,
which I promised to do. He was of the opinion that no fortune could be
made in a chancery. He then advised me to invest my inheritance in a
business, assured me that gallnuts and fruit would yield a good profit
and that a partner who understood this particular business could turn
dimes into dollars, and said that he himself had at one time done well
in that line.
"While he was telling me all this, he repeatedly called for the girl,
who gave no sign of life, however, although it seemed to me as though I
sometimes heard a rustling near the door. But since she did not put in
an appearance, and since the old man talked of nothing but money, I
finally took my leave, the grocer regretting that he could not accompany
me, as he was alone in the store. I was grievously disappointed that my
hopes had not been fulfilled, and yet I felt strangely consoled. As I
stopped in the street and looked over toward my father's house, I
suddenly heard a voice behind me saying in a subdued and indignant
tone: 'Don't be too ready to trust everybody; they're after your money.'
Although I turned quickly, I saw no one. Only the rattling of a window
on the ground floor of the grocer's house told me, even if I had not
recognized the voice, that the secret warning had come from Barbara. So
she had overheard what had been said in the store! Did she intend to
warn me against her father? Or had it come to her knowledge that
immediately after my father's death colleagues of the chancery as well
as utter strangers had approached me with requests for support and aid,
and that I had promised to help them as soon as I should be in
possession of the money? My promises I was obliged to keep, but I
resolved to be more careful in future. I applied for my inheritance. It
was less than had been expected, but still a considerable sum, nearly
eleven thousand gulden. The whole day my room was besieged by people
demanding financial assistance. I had almost become hardened, however,
and granted a request only when the distress was really great. Barbara's
father also came. He scolded me for not having been around for three
days, whereupon I truthfully replied that I feared I was unwelcome to
his daughter. But he told me with a malicious laugh that alarmed me, not
to worry on that score; that he had brought her to her senses. Thus
reminded of Barbara's warning, I concealed the amount of the inheritance
when the subject came up in the course of the conversation and also
skilfully evaded his business proposals.
"As a matter of fact, I was already turning other prospects over in my
mind. In the chancery, where I had been tolerated only on account of my
father, my place had already been filled by another, which troubled me
little, since no salary was attached to the position. But my father's
secretary, whom recent events had deprived of his livelihood, informed
me of a plan for the establishment of a bureau of information, copying,
and translation. For this undertaking I was to advance the initial cost
of equipment, he being prepared to undertake the management. At my
request the field of copying was extended so as to include music, and
now I was perfectly happy. I advanced the necessary sum, but, having
grown cautious, demanded a written receipt. The rather large bond for
the establishment, which I likewise furnished, caused me no worry, since
it had to be deposited with the court, where it was as safe as though it
were locked up in my strong-box.
"The affair was settled, and I felt relieved, exalted; for the first
time in my life I was independent--I was a man at last. I scarcely gave
my father another thought. I moved into a better apartment, procured
better clothes, and when it had become dark, I went through familiar
streets to the grocery store, with a swinging step and humming my song,
although not quite correctly. I never have been able to strike the B
flat in the second half. I arrived in the best of spirits, but an icy
look from Barbara immediately threw me back into my former state of
timidity. Her father received me most cordially; but she acted as if no
one were present, continued making paper bags, and took no part whatever
in our conversation. Only when we touched upon the subject of my
inheritance, she rose in her seat and exclaimed in an almost threatening
tone, 'Father!' Thereupon the old man immediately changed the subject.
Aside from that, she said nothing during the whole evening, didn't give
me a second look, and, when I finally took my leave, her 'good-night'
sounded almost like a 'thank heaven.'
"But I came again and again, and gradually she yielded--not that I ever
did anything that pleased her. She scolded me and found fault with me
incessantly. Everything I did she considered clumsy; God had given me
two left hands; my coat fitted so badly, it made me look like a
scarecrow; my walk was a cross between that of a duck and cock. What she
disliked especially was my politeness toward the customers. As I had
nothing to do until the opening of the copying bureau, where I should
have direct dealings with the public, I considered it a good preliminary
training to take an active part in the retail business of the grocery
store. This often kept me there half the day. I weighed spices, counted
out nuts and prunes for the children, and acted as cashier. In this
latter capacity I was frequently guilty of errors, in which event
Barbara would interfere by forcibly taking away whatever money I had in
my hand, and ridiculing and mocking me before the customers. If I bowed
to a customer or recommended myself to his kind consideration, she would
say brusquely, even before he had left the store, 'The goods carry their
own recommendation,' and turn her back upon me. At other times, however,
she was all kindness; she listened to me when I told her what was going
on in the city, or when I spoke of my early years, or of the business of
the chancery, where we had first met. But at such times she let me do
all the talking and expressed her approval or--as happened more
frequently--her disapproval only by casual words.
"We never spoke of music or singing. In the first place, she believed
one should either sing or keep quiet, that there was no sense in talking
about it. But it was not possible to do any singing--the store was not
the proper place for it, and the rear room, which she occupied with her
father, I was not allowed to enter. Once, however, when I entered
unnoticed, she was standing on tip-toe, her back turned toward me, with
her hands raised above her head, groping along one of the upper shelves
as if looking for something. At the same time she was singing softly to
herself--it was the song, my song! She was warbling like a hedge-sparrow
when it bathes its breast in the brook, tosses its head, ruffles its
feathers, and smoothes them again with its little beak. I seemed to be
walking in a green meadow. I crept nearer and nearer, and was so close
that the melody seemed no longer to come from without, but out of my own
breast--a song of souls. I was unable to contain myself any longer, and
as she stood there straining forward, her shoulders thrown slightly back
towards me, I threw both arms around her body. But then the storm broke.
She whirled around like a top. Her face livid with rage, she stood
before me; her hand twitched, and before I could utter a word of
apology, the blow came.
"As I have said before, my colleagues in the chancery used to tell a
story of a box on the ear, which Barbara, when she was still vending
cakes, had dealt out to an impertinent fellow. What they then said of
the strength of this rather small girl and of the power of her hand,
seemed greatly and humorously exaggerated. But it was a fact; her
strength was tremendous. I stood as though I had been struck by a
thunderbolt. The lights were dancing before my eyes, but they were the
lights of heaven. It seemed like sun, moon and stars, like angels
playing hide-and-seek and singing at the same time. I had visions; I was
entranced. She, however, scarcely less astonished than I, passed her
hand gently over the place she had struck. 'I'm afraid I struck more
violently than I intended,' she said, and, like a second thunderbolt, I
suddenly felt her warm breath and her lips upon my cheeks. She kissed
me--only gently, but it was a kiss, a kiss upon this very cheek." As he
said this, the old man put his hand to his cheek, and tears came to his
eyes. "What happened after that I do not know," he continued. "I only
remember that I rushed toward her and that she ran into the sitting room
and threw herself against the glass door, while I pushed against it from
the other side. As she pressed forward with all her might against the
glass panel, I took courage, dear sir, and returned her kiss with great
fervor--through the glass!
"'Well, this is a jolly party,' I heard some one call out behind me. It
was the grocer, just returning home. 'People who love each other are
fond of teasing each other,' he said. 'Come out, Barbara, don't be
foolish. There's naught amiss in an honest kiss.' But she didn't come
out. I took my leave after having stammered a few words of apology,
scarcely knowing what I was saying. In my confusion I took the grocer's
hat instead of my own, and he laughingly corrected the mistake. This
was, as I called it before, the happiest day of my life--I had almost
said, the only happy day. But that wouldn't be true, for man receives
many favors from God.
"I didn't know exactly what the girl's feelings toward me were. Was she
angry or had I conciliated her? The next visit cost me a great effort.
But I found her amiable. She sat over her work, humble and quiet, not
irritable as usual, and motioned with her head toward a stool standing
near, intimating that I should sit down and help her. Thus we sat and
worked. The old man prepared to go out. 'You needn't go, Father,' she
said, 'what you want to do has already been attended to.' He stamped his
foot on the floor and remained. Walking up and down he talked of
different things, but I didn't dare take part in the conversation.
Suddenly the girl uttered a low scream. She had cut her finger slightly
and, although she didn't usually pay any attention to such trifles, she
shook her hand back and forth. I wanted to examine the cut, but she
beckoned to me to continue my work. 'There is no end to your
tomfoolery,' the old man grumbled; and, stepping before the girl, he
said in a loud voice, 'What I was going to do hasn't been attended to at
all,' and with a heavy tread he went out of the door. Then I started to
make apologies for the day before, but she interrupted me and said, 'Let
us forget that, and talk of more sensible things.'
"She raised her head, looked at me from head to foot, and continued in a
calm tone of voice, 'I scarcely remember the beginning of our
acquaintance, but for some time you have been calling more and more
frequently, and we have become accustomed to you. Nobody will deny that
you have an honest heart, but you are weak and always interested in
matters of secondary importance, so that you are hardly capable of
managing your own affairs. It is therefore the duty of your friends and
acquaintances to look out for you, in order that people may not take
advantage of you. Frequently you sit here in the store half the day,
counting and weighing, measuring and bargaining, but what good does
that do you? How do you expect to make your living in future?' I
mentioned the inheritance from my father. 'I suppose it's quite large,'
she said. I named the amount. 'That's much and little,' she replied.
'Much to invest, little to live upon. My father made you a proposition,
but I dissuaded you. For, on the one hand, he has lost money himself in
similar ventures, and on the other hand,' she added with lowered voice,
'he is so accustomed to take advantage of strangers that it's quite
possible he wouldn't treat friends any better. You must have somebody at
your side who has your interests at heart.' I pointed to her. 'I am
honest,' she said, laying her hand upon her heart. Her eyes, which were
ordinarily of a greyish hue, shone bright blue, the blue of the sky.
'But I'm in a peculiar position. Our business yields little profit, and
so my father intends to set himself up as an innkeeper. Now that's no
place for me, and nothing remains for me, therefore, but needlework, for
I will not go out as a servant.' As she said this she looked like a
queen. 'As a matter of fact I've had another offer,' she continued,
drawing a letter from her apron and throwing it half reluctantly upon
the counter. 'But in that case I should be obliged to leave the city.'
'Would you have to go far away?' I asked. 'Why? What difference would
that make to you?' I told her I should move to the same place. 'You're a
child,' she said. 'That wouldn't do at all, and there are quite
different matters to be considered. But if you have confidence in me and
like to be near me, buy the millinery store next door, which is for
sale. I understand the business, and you can count on a reasonable
profit on your investment. Besides, keeping the books and attending to
the correspondence would supply you with a proper occupation. What might
develop later on, we'll not discuss at present. But you would have to
change, for I hate effeminate men.' I had jumped up and seized my hat.
'What's the matter? Where are you going?' she asked. 'To countermand
everything!' I said breathlessly. 'Countermand what?' I then told her of
my plan for the establishment of a copying and information bureau.
'There isn't much in that,' she suggested. 'Information anybody can get
for himself, and everybody has learned to write in school.' I remarked
that music was also to be copied, which was something that not everybody
could do. 'So you're back at your old nonsense?' she burst out. 'Let
your music go, and think of more important matters. Besides, you're not
able to manage a business yourself.' I explained that I had found a
partner. 'A partner?' she exclaimed. 'You'll surely be cheated. I hope
you haven't advanced any money?' I was trembling without knowing why.
'Did you advance any money?' she asked once more. I admitted that I had
advanced the three thousand gulden for the initial equipment. 'Three
thousand gulden!' she exclaimed; 'as much as that?' 'The rest,' I
continued, 'is deposited with the court, and that's safe at all events.'
'What, still more?' she screamed. I mentioned the amount of the bond.
'And did you pay it over to the court personally?' 'My partner paid it.'
'But you have a receipt for it.' 'I haven't.' 'And what is the name of
your fine partner?' she asked. It was a relief to be able to mention my
"'Good heavens!' she cried, starting up and wringing her hands. 'Father!
Father!' The old man entered. 'What was that you read in the papers
today?' 'About the secretary?' he asked. 'Yes, yes!' 'Oh, he absconded,
left nothing but debts, and swindled everybody. A warrant for his arrest
has been issued.' 'Father,' she cried, 'here's one of his victims. He
intrusted his money to him. He is ruined!'
"'Oh, you blockhead! The fools aren't all dead yet,' cried the old man.
'Didn't I tell her so? But she always found an excuse for him. At one
time she ridiculed him, at another time he was honesty itself. But I'll
take a hand in this business! I'll show you who's master in this house.
You, Barbara, go to your room, and quickly. And you, sir, get out, and
spare us your visits in future. We're not in the charity business
here.' 'Father,' said the girl, 'don't be harsh with him; he's unhappy
enough as it is!' 'That's the very reason I don't want to become unhappy
too,' cried the old man. 'There, sir,' he continued, pointing to the
letter Barbara had thrown upon the table a short time before, 'there's a
man for you! He's got brains in his head and money in his purse. He
doesn't swindle any one, but he takes good care at the same time not to
let any one swindle him. And that's the main thing in being honest!' I
stammered something about the loss of the bond not being certain. 'Ha,
ha,' he cried, 'that secretary was no fool, the sly rascal! And now
you'd better run after him, perhaps you can still catch him.' As he said
this, he laid the palm of his hand on my shoulder and pushed me toward
the door. I moved to one side and turned toward the girl, who was
standing with her hands resting on the counter and her eyes fixed on the
ground. She was breathing heavily. I wanted to approach her, but she
angrily stamped her foot upon the floor; and when I held out my hand,
hers twitched as though she were going to strike me again. Then I went,
and the old man locked the door behind me.
"I tottered through the streets out of the city gate into the open
fields. Sometimes despair gripped me, but then hope returned. I
recollected having accompanied the secretary to the commercial court to
deposit the bond. There I had waited in the gateway while he had gone
upstairs alone. When he came down he told me that everything was in
order and that the receipt would be sent to my residence. As a matter of
fact I had received none, but there was still a possibility. At daybreak
I returned to the city, and made straightway for the residence of the
secretary. But the people there laughed and asked whether I hadn't read
the papers? The commercial court was only a few doors away. I had the
clerks examine the records, but neither his name nor mine could be
found. There was no indication that the sum had ever been paid, and thus
the disaster was certain. But that wasn't all, for inasmuch as a
partnership contract had been drawn up, several of his creditors
insisted upon seizing my person, which the court, however, would not
permit. For this decision I was profoundly grateful, although it
wouldn't have made much difference in the end.
"I may as well confess that the grocer and his daughter had, in the
course of these disagreeable developments, quite receded into the
background. Now that things had calmed down and I was considering what
steps to take next, the remembrance of that last evening came vividly
back to my mind. The old man, selfish as he was, I could understand very
well; but the girl! Once in a while it occurred to me that if I had
taken care of my money and been able to offer her a comfortable
existence, she might have even--but she wouldn't have accepted me." With
that he surveyed his wretched figure with hands outstretched. "Besides,
she disliked my courteous behavior toward everybody."
"Thus I spent entire days thinking and planning. One evening at
twilight--it was the time I had usually spent in the store--I had
transported myself in spirit to the accustomed place. I could hear them
speaking, hear them abusing me; it even seemed as though they were
ridiculing me. Suddenly I heard a rustling at the door; it opened, and a
woman entered. It was Barbara. I sat riveted to my chair, as though I
beheld a ghost. She was pale, and carried a bundle under her arm. When
she had reached the middle of the room she remained standing, looked at
the bare walls and the wretched furniture, and heaved a deep sigh. Then
she went to the wardrobe which stood on one side against the wall,
opened her bundle containing some shirts and handkerchiefs--she had been
attending to my laundry during the past few weeks--and pulled out the
drawer. When she beheld the meagre contents she lifted her hands in
astonishment, but immediately began to arrange the linen and put away
the pieces she had brought, whereupon she stepped back from the bureau.
Then she looked straight at me and, pointing with her finger to the open
drawer, she said, 'Five shirts and three handkerchiefs. I'm bringing
back what I took away.' So saying she slowly closed the drawer, leaned
against the wardrobe, and began to cry aloud. It almost seemed as though
she were going to faint, for she sat down on a chair beside the wardrobe
and covered her face with her shawl. By her convulsive breathing I could
see that she was still weeping. I had approached her softly and took her
hand, which she willingly left in mine. But when, in order to make her
look up, I moved my hand up to the elbow of her limp arm, she rose
quickly, withdrew her hand, and said in a calm voice, 'Oh, what's the
use of it all? You've made yourself and us unhappy; but yourself most of
all, and you really don't deserve any pity'--here she became more
agitated--'since you're so weak that you can't manage your own affairs
and so credulous that you trust everybody, a rogue as soon as an honest
man--and yet I'm sorry for you! I've come to bid you farewell. You may
well look alarmed. And it's all your doing. I've got to go out among
common people, something that I've always dreaded; but there's no help
for it. I've shaken hands with you, so farewell, and forever!' I saw the
tears coming to her eyes again, but she shook her head impatiently and
went out. I felt rooted to the spot. When she had reached the door she
turned once more and said, 'Your laundry is now in order. Take good care
of it, for hard times are coming!' And then she raised her hand, crossed
herself, and cried, 'God be with you, James! Forever and ever, Amen!'
she added in a lower voice, and was gone.
"Not until then did I regain the use of my limbs. I hurried after her
and called to her from the landing, whereupon she stopped on the
stairway, but when I went down a step she called up, 'Stay where you
are,' descended the rest of the way, and passed out of the door.
"I've known hard days since then, but none to equal this one. The
following was scarcely less hard to bear, for I wasn't quite clear as to
how things stood with me. The next morning, therefore, I stole over to
the grocery store in the hope of possibly receiving some explanation. No
one seemed to be stirring, and so I walked past and looked into the
store. There I saw a strange woman weighing goods and counting out
change. I made bold to enter, and asked whether she had bought the
store. 'Not yet,' she said. 'And where are the owners?' 'They left this
morning for Langenlebarn.'  'The daughter, too?' I stammered. 'Why,
of course,' she said, 'she went there to be married.'
"In all probability the woman told me then what I learned subsequently
from others. The Langenlebarn butcher, the same one I had met in the
store on my first visit, had been pursuing the girl for some time with
offers of marriage, which she had always rejected until finally, a few
days before, pressed by her father and in utter despair, she had given
her consent. Father and daughter had departed that very morning, and
while we were talking, Barbara was already the butcher's wife.
"As I said, the woman no doubt told me all this, but I heard nothing and
stood motionless, till finally customers came, who pushed me aside. The
woman asked me gruffly whether there was anything else I wanted,
whereupon I took my departure.
"You'll believe me, my dear sir," he continued, "when I tell you that I
now considered myself the most wretched of mortals, but it wasn't for
long, for as I left the store and looked back at the small windows at
which Barbara no doubt had often stood and looked out, a blissful
sensation came over me. I felt that she was now free of all care,
mistress of her own home, that she did not have to bear the sorrow and
misery that would have been hers had she cast in her lot with a homeless
wanderer--and this thought acted like a soothing balm, and I blessed her
and her destiny.
"As my affairs went from bad to worse, I decided to earn my living by
means of music. As long as my money lasted, I practised and studied the
works of the great masters, especially the old ones, copying all of the
music. But when the last penny had been spent, I made ready to turn my
knowledge to account. I made a beginning in private circles, a gathering
at the house of my landlady furnishing the first opportunity. But as the
compositions I rendered didn't meet with approval, I visited the
courtyards of houses, believing that among so many tenants there must be
a few who value serious music. Finally, I even stood on public
promenades, where I really had the satisfaction of having persons stop
and listen, question me and pass on, not without a display of sympathy.
The fact that they left was the very object of my playing, and then I
saw that famous artists, whom I didn't flatter myself I equaled,
accepted money for their performances, sometimes very large sums. In
this way I have managed to make a scanty, but honest, living to this
"After many years another piece of good fortune was granted to me.
Barbara returned. Her husband had prospered and acquired a butcher shop
in one of the suburbs. She was the mother of two children, the elder
being called James, like myself. My profession and the remembrance of
old times didn't permit me to intrude; but at last they sent for me to
give the elder boy lessons on the violin. He hasn't much talent to be
sure, and can play only on Sundays, since his father needs him in his
business during the week. But Barbara's song, which I have taught him,
goes very well, and when we practise and play in this way, the mother
sometimes joins in with her voice. She has, to be sure, changed greatly
in these many years; she has grown stout, and no longer cares much for
music; but the melody still sounds as sweet as of old."
With these words the old man took up his violin and began to play the
song, and kept on playing and playing without paying any further
attention to me. At last I had enough. I rose, laid a few pieces of
silver upon the table near me, and departed, while the old man continued
Soon after this incident I set out on a journey, from which I did not
return until the beginning of winter. New impressions had crowded out
the old, and I had almost forgotten my musician. It wasn't until the
ice broke up in the following spring and the low-lying suburbs were
flooded in consequence, that I was again reminded of him. The vicinity
of Gardener's Lane had become a lake. There seemed to be no need of
entertaining fears for the old man's life, for he lived high up under
the roof, whereas death had claimed its numerous victims among the
residents of the ground floor. But cut off from all help, how great
might not his distress be! As long as the flood lasted, nothing could be
done. Moreover, the authorities had done what they could to send food
and aid in boats to those cut off by the water. But when the waters had
subsided and the streets had become passable, I decided to deliver at
the address that concerned me most my share of the fund that had been
started for the benefit of the sufferers and that had assumed incredible
The Leopoldstadt was in frightful condition. Wrecked boats and broken
tools were lying in the streets, while the cellars of some houses were
still filled with water covered with floating furniture. In order to
avoid the crowd I stepped aside toward a gate that stood ajar; as I
brushed by it yielded, and in the passageway I beheld a row of dead
bodies, which had evidently been picked up and laid out there for
official inspection. Here and there I could even see unfortunate victims
inside the rooms, still clinging to the iron window bars. For lack of
time and men it was absolutely impossible to take an official census of
so many fatalities.
Thus I went on and on. On all sides weeping and tolling of funeral
bells, anxious mothers searching for their children and children looking
for their parents. At last I reached Gardener's Lane. There also the
mourners of a funeral procession were drawn up, seemingly at some
distance, however, from the house I was bound for. But as I came nearer
I noticed by the preparations and the movements of the people that there
was some connection between the funeral procession and the gardener's
house. At the gate stood a respectable looking man, somewhat advanced in
years, but still vigorous. In his high top-boots, yellow leather
breeches, and long coat, he looked like a country butcher. He was giving
orders, but in the intervals conversed rather indifferently with the
bystanders. I passed him and entered the court. The old gardener's wife
came toward me, recognized me at once, and greeted me with tears in her
eyes. "Are you also honoring us?" she said, "Alas, our poor old man!
He's playing with the angels, who can't be much better than he was here
below. The good man was sitting up there safe in his room; but when the
water came and he heard the children scream, he jumped down and helped;
he dragged and carried them to safety, until his breathing sounded like
a blacksmith's bellows. And when toward the very last--you can't have
your eyes everywhere--it was found that my husband had forgotten his
tax-books and a few paper gulden in his wardrobe, the old man took an
axe, entered the water which by that time reached up to his chest, broke
open the wardrobe and fetched everything like the faithful creature he
was. In this way he caught a cold, and as we couldn't summon aid at
once, he became delirious and went from bad to worse, although we did
what we could and suffered more than he did himself. For he sang
incessantly, beating time and imagining that he was giving lessons. When
the water had subsided somewhat and we were able to call the doctor and
the priest, he suddenly raised himself in bed, turned his head to one
side as though he heard something very beautiful in the distance,
smiled, fell back, and was dead. Go right up stairs; he often spoke of
you. The lady is also up there. We wanted to have him buried at our
expense, but the butcher's wife would not allow it."
She urged me to go up the steep staircase to the attic-room. The door
stood open, and the room itself had been cleared of everything except
the coffin in the centre, which, already closed, was waiting for the
pall-bearers. At the head sat a rather stout woman no longer in the
prime of life, in a colored cotton dress, but with a black shawl and a
black ribbon in her bonnet. It seemed almost as though she could never
have been beautiful. Before her stood two almost grown-up children, a
boy and a girl, whom she was evidently instructing how to behave at the
funeral. Just as I entered she was pushing the boy's arm away from the
coffin, on which he had been leaning in rather awkward fashion; then she
carefully smoothed the projecting corners of the shroud. The gardener's
wife led me up to the coffin, but at that moment the trombones began to
play, and at the same time the butcher's voice was heard from the
street, "Barbara, it's time." The pall-bearers appeared and I withdrew
to make room for them. The coffin was lifted and carried down, and the
procession began to move. First came the school children with cross and
banner, then the priest and the sexton. Directly behind the coffin
marched the two children of the butcher, and behind them came the
parents. The man moved his lips incessantly, as if in devout prayer, yet
looked constantly about him in both directions. The woman was eagerly
reading in her prayer-book, but the two children caused her some
trouble. At one time she pushed them ahead, at another she held them
back; in fact the general order of the funeral procession seemed to
worry her considerably. But she always returned to her prayer-book. In
this way the procession arrived at the cemetery. The grave was open. The
children threw down the first handful of earth, being followed by their
father, who remained standing while their mother knelt, holding her book
close to her eyes. The grave-diggers completed their business, and the
procession, half disbanded, returned. At the door there was a slight
altercation, as the wife evidently considered some charge of the
undertaker too high. The mourners scattered in all directions. The old
musician was buried.
A few days later--it was a Sunday--I was impelled by psychological
curiosity and went to the house of the butcher, under the pretext that I
wished to secure the violin of the old man as a keepsake. I found the
family together, showing no token of recent distress. But the violin was
hanging beside the mirror and a crucifix on the opposite wall, the
objects being arranged symmetrically. When I explained the object of my
visit and offered a comparatively high price for the instrument, the man
didn't seem averse to concluding a profitable bargain. The woman,
however, jumped up from her chair and said, "Well, I should say not. The
violin belongs to James, and a few gulden more or less make no
difference to us." With that she took the instrument from the wall,
looked at it from all sides, blew off the dust, and laid it in the
drawer, which she thereupon closed violently, looking as though she
feared some one would steal it. Her face was turned away from me, so
that I couldn't see what emotions were passing over it. At this moment
the maid brought in the soup, and as the butcher, who didn't allow my
visit to disturb him, began in a loud voice to say grace, in which the
children joined with their shrill voices, I wished them a good appetite
and left the room. My last glance fell upon the wife. She had turned
around and the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
* * * * *
MY JOURNEY TO WEIMAR
TRANSLATED BY ALFRED REMY, A.M.
Professor of Modern Languages. Brooklyn Commercial High School.
A journey is an excellent remedy for a perplexed state of mind. This
time the goal of my journey was to be Germany. The German geniuses had,
indeed, almost all departed from this life, but there was still one
living, Goethe, and the idea of speaking with him or even of merely
seeing him made me happy in anticipation. I never was, as was the
fashion at that time, a blind worshipper of Goethe, any more than I was
of any other one poet. True poetry seemed to me to lie where they met on
common ground; their individual characteristics lent them, on the one
hand, the charm of individuality, while, on the other hand, they shared
the general propensity of mankind to err. Goethe, in particular, had,
since the death of Schiller, turned his attention from poetry to
science. By distributing his talents over too many fields, he
deteriorated in each; his latest poetic productions were tepid or cool,
and when, for the sake of pose, he turned to the classical, his poetry
became affected. The impassiveness which he imparted to that period
contributed perhaps more than anything else to the decadence of poetry,
inasmuch as it opened the door to the subsequent coarseness of Young
Germany, of popular poetry, and of the Middle-high German trash. The
public was only too glad to have once again something substantial to
feed upon. Nevertheless, Goethe is one of the greatest poets of all
time, and the father of our poetry. Klopstock gave the first impulse,
Lessing blazed the trail, Goethe followed it. Perhaps Schiller means
more to the German nation, for a people needs strong, sweeping
impressions; Goethe, however, appears to be the greater poet. He fills
an entire page in the development of the human mind, while Schiller
stands midway between Racine and Shakespeare. Little as I sympathized
with Goethe's most recent activity, and little as I could expect him to
consider the author of _The Ancestress_ and _The Golden Fleece_ worthy
of any consideration, in view of the dispassionate quietism which he
affected at the time, I nevertheless felt that the mere sight of him
would be sufficient to inspire me with new courage. _Dormit puer, non
mortuus est_. (The boy sleeps, he is not dead.)
* * * * *
At last I arrived in Weimar and took quarters in "The Elephant," a
hostelry at that time famous throughout Germany and the ante-room, as it
were, to the living Valhalla of Weimar. From there I dispatched the
waiter with my card to Goethe, inquiring whether he would receive me.
The waiter returned with the answer that His Excellency, the
Privy-councilor, was entertaining some guests and could not, therefore,
receive me at the moment. He would expect me in the evening for tea.
I dined at the hotel. My name had become known through my card and the
report of my presence spread through the town, so that I made many
Toward evening I called on Goethe. In the reception-room I found quite a
large assemblage waiting for His Excellency, the Privy-councilor, who
had not yet made his appearance. Among these there was a court
councilor, Jacob or Jacobs, with his daughter, whom Goethe had
entertained at dinner. The daughter, who later won a literary reputation
under the pseudonym of Talvj, was as young as she was beautiful, and as
beautiful as she was cultured, and so I soon lost my timidity and in my
conversation with the charming young lady almost forgot that I was in
Goethe's house. At last a side door opened, and he himself entered.
Dressed in black, the star on his breast, with erect, almost stiff
bearing, he stepped among us with the air of a monarch granting an
audience. He exchanged a few words with one and another of his guests,
and finally crossed the room and addressed me. He inquired whether
Italian literature was cultivated to any great extent in our country. I
told him, which was a fact, that the Italian language was, indeed,
widely known, since all officials were required to learn it; Italian
literature, on the other hand, was completely neglected; the fashion was
rather to turn to English literature, which, despite its excellence, had
an admixture of coarseness that seemed to me to be anything but
advantageous to the present state of German culture, especially of
poetry. Whether my opinion pleased him or not, I have no means of
knowing; I am almost inclined to believe it did not, inasmuch as he was
at that very time in correspondence with Lord Byron. He left me, talked
with others, returned, conversed I no longer remember on what subjects,
finally withdrew, and we were dismissed.
I confess that I returned to the hostelry in a most unpleasant frame of
mind. It was not that my vanity had been offended--on the contrary,
Goethe had treated me more kindly and more attentively than I had
anticipated--but to see the ideal of my youth, the author of _Faust_,
_Clavigo_, and _Egmont_, in the role of a formal minister presiding at
tea brought me down from my celestial heights. Had his manner been rude
or had he shown me the door, it would have pleased me better. I almost
repented having gone to Weimar.
Consequently I determined to devote the following day to sightseeing,
and ordered horses at the inn for the day following. On the morning of
the next day visitors of all sorts put in an appearance, among them the
amiable and respected Chancellor Mueller, and, above all, my
fellow-countryman Hummel, who for many years had been occupying the
position of musical director in Weimar. He had left Vienna before my
poetry had attracted attention, so that we had not become acquainted
with each other. It was almost touching to witness the joy with which
this ordinarily unsociable man greeted me and took possession of me. In
the first place I probably revived in him memories of his native city,
which he had left with reluctance; then, too, it probably gave him
satisfaction to find his literary countryman honored and respected in
Weimar, where he heard nothing but disparaging opinions regarding the
intellectual standing of Austria. And, finally, he had an opportunity of
conversing with a Viennese in his home dialect, which he had preserved