Part 5 out of 5
portentous, burdened with the tragedy of vain longing, lost felicity.
The dead past rose again like a colored mist over the sordid reality of
the present; it drifted desirable and near across the hill; it soothed
and mocked the heart--and dissolved.
The silence that followed the song was sharply broken by a thin
querulous question; a tenuous bent figure stumbled across the open.
"Who's singing?" he demanded.
"That's French Janin," Peebles told Harry Baggs; "he's blind."
"I am," the latter responded--"Harry Baggs."
The man came closer, and Baggs saw that he was old and incredibly worn;
his skin clung in dry yellow patches to his skull, the temples were
bony caverns, and the pits of his eyes blank shadows. He felt forward
with a siccated hand, on which veins were twisted like blue worsted
over fleshless tendons, gripped Harry Baggs' shoulder, and lowered
himself to the ground.
"Another song," he insisted; "like the last. Don't try any cheap show."
The boy responded immediately; his serious voice rolled out again in a
"'Hard times,'" Harry Baggs sang; "'hard times, come again no more.'"
The old man said: "You think you have a great voice, eh? All you have
to do to take the great roles is open your mouth!"
"I hadn't thought of any of that," Baggs responded. "I sing because--
well, it's just natural; no one has said much about it."
"You have had no teaching, that's plain. Your power leaks like an old
rain barrel. What are you doing here?"
Harry Baggs looked about, suddenly aware of the dark pit of being into
which he had fallen. The fires died sullenly, deserted except for an
occasional recumbent figure. Peebles had disappeared; Dake lay in his
rags on the ground; Runnel rocked slowly, like a pendulum, in his
"Tramping to the devil!" he added.
"What started you?" French Janin asked.
"Jail," Harry Baggs answered.
"Of course you didn't take it," the blind man commented satirically;
"or else you went in to cover some one else."
"I took it, all right--eighteen dollars." He was silent for a moment;
then: "There was something I had to have and I didn't see any other way
of getting it. I had to have it. My stepfather had money that he put
away--didn't need. I wanted an accordion; I dreamed about it till I got
ratty, lifted the money, and he put me in jail for a year.
"I had the accordion hid. I didn't tell them where, and when I got out
I went right to it. I played some sounds, and--after all I'd done--they
weren't any good. I broke it up--and left."
"You were right," Janin told him; "the accordion is an impossible
instrument, a thing entirely vulgar. I know, for I am a musician, and
played the violin at the Opera Comique. You think I am lying; but you
are young and life is strange. I can tell you this: I, Janin, once led
the finale of Hamlet. I saw that the director was pale; I leaned
forward and he gave me the baton. I knew music. There were five staves
to conduct--at the Opera Comique."
He turned his sightless face toward Harry Baggs.
"That means little to you," he spoke sharply; "you know nothing. You
have never seen a gala audience on its feet; the roses--"
He broke off. His wasted palms rested on knees that resembled bones
draped with maculate clothing; his sere head fell forward. Runnel paced
away from the embers and returned. Harry Baggs looked, with doubt and
wonderment, at the, ruined old man.
The mere word musician called up in him an inchoate longing, a desire
for something far and undefined. He thought of great audiences, roses,
the accompaniment of violins. Subconsciously he began to sing in a
whisper that yet reached beyond the huts. He forgot his surroundings,
the past without light, the future seemingly shorn of all prospect.
French Janin moved; he fumbled in precarious pockets and at last
produced a small bottle; he removed the cork and tapped out on his palm
a measure of white crystalline powder, which he gulped down. Then he
struggled to his feet and wavered away through the night toward a
Harry Baggs imagined himself singing heroic measures; he finished,
there was a tense pause, and then a thunderous acclamation. His spirit
mounted up and up in a transport of emotional splendor; broken visions
thronged his mind of sacrifice, renouncement, death. The fire expired
and the night grew cold. His ecstasy sank; he became once more aware of
the human wreckage about him, the detritus of which he was now a part.
He spent the next day moving crated plants to delivery trucks, where
his broad shoulders were most serviceable, and in the evening returned
to the camp, streaked with fine rich loam. French Janin was waiting for
him and consumed part of Harry Baggs' unskilfully cooked supper. The
old man was silent, though he seemed continually at the point of
bursting into eager speech. However, he remained uncommunicative and
followed the boy's movements with a blank speculative countenance.
Finally he said abruptly:
"Sing that song over--about the 'damn ol' nigger.'"
Harry Baggs responded; and, at the end, Janin nodded.
"What I should have expected," he pronounced. "When I first heard you I
thought: 'Here, perhaps, is a great voice, a voice for Paris;' but I
was mistaken. You have some bigness--yes, good enough for street
ballads, sentimental popularities; that is all."
An overwhelming depression settled upon Harry Baggs, a sense of
irremediable loss. He had considered his voice a lever that might one
day raise him out of his misfortunes; he instinctively valued it to an
extraordinary degree; it had resembled a precious bud, the possible
opening of which would flood his being with its fragrant flowering. He
gazed with a new dread at the temporary shelters and men about him, the
huts and men that resembled each other so closely in their patched
Until now, except in brief moments of depression, he had thought of
himself as only a temporary part of this broken existence. But it was
probable that he, too, was done--like Runnel, and Dake, who lived on
the fear of women. He recalled with an oath his reception in the
village of his birth on his return from jail: the veiled or open
distrust of the adults; the sneering of the young; his barren search
for employment. He had suffered inordinately in his narrow cell--fully
paid, it had seemed, the price of his fault. But apparently he was
wrong; the thing was to follow him through life--and he would live a
long while--; condemning him, an outcast, to the company of his
His shoulders drooped, his face took on the relaxed sullenness of those
about him; curiously, in an instant he seemed more bedraggled, more
French Janin continued:
"Your voice is good enough for the people who know nothing. Perhaps it
will bring you money, singing at fairs in the street. I have a violin,
a cheap thing without soul; but I can get a thin jingle out of it.
Suppose we go out together, try our chance where there is a little
crowd; it will be better than piggin' in the earth."
It would, Baggs thought, be easier than carrying heavy crates; subtly
the idea of lessened labor appealed to him. He signified his assent and
rolled over on his side, staring into nothingness.
French Janin went into the town the following day--he walked with a
surprising facility and speed--to discover where they might find a
gathering for their purpose. Harry Baggs loafed about the camp until
the other returned with the failing of light.
"The sales about the country are all that get the people together now,"
he reported; "the parks are empty till July. There's to be one tomorrow
about eight miles away; we'll try it."
He went to the shelter, where he secured a scarred violin, with roughly
shaped pegs and lacking a string. He motioned Harry Baggs to follow him
and proceeded to the brow of the field, where he settled down against a
fence, picking disconsolately at the burring strings and attempting to
tighten an ancient bow. Baggs dropped beside him. Below them night
flooded the winding road and deepened under the hedges; a window showed
palely alight; the stillness was intense.
"Now!" French Janin said.
The violin went home beneath his chin and he improvised a thin but
adequate opening for Harry Baggs' song. The boy, for the first time in
his existence, sang indifferently; his voice, merely big, lacked
resonance; the song was robbed of all power to move or suggest.
Janin muttered unintelligibly; he was, Harry Baggs surmised, speaking
his native language, obscurely complaining, accusing. They tried a
second song: "Hard times, hard times, come again no more." There was
not an accent of longing nor regret.
"That'll do," French Janin told him; "good enough for cows and
He rose and descended to the camp, a bowed unsubstantial figure in the
They started early to the sale. Janin, as always, walked swiftly, his
violin wrapped in a cloth beneath his arm. Harry Baggs lounged sullenly
at his side. The day was filled with a warm silvery mist, through which
the sun mounted rayless, crisp and round. Along the road plum trees
were in vivid pink bloom; the apple buds were opening, distilling
palpable clouds of fragrance.
Baggs met the morning with a sullen lowered countenance, his gaze on
the monotonous road. He made no reply to the blind man's infrequent
remarks, and the latter, except for an occasional murmur, fell silent.
At last Harry Baggs saw a group of men about the fence that divided a
small lawn and neatly painted frame house from the public road. A porch
was filled with a confusion of furniture, china was stacked on the
grass, and a bed displayed at the side.
The sale had not yet begun; A youth, with a pencil and paper, was
moving distractedly about, noting items; a prosperous-appearing
individual, with a derby resting on the back of his neck, was arranging
an open space about a small table. Beyond, a number of horses attached
to dusty vehicles were hitched to the fence where they were constantly
augmented by fresh arrivals.
"Here we are!" Baggs informed his companion. He directed Janin forward,
where the latter unwrapped his violin. A visible curiosity held the
prospective buyers; they turned and faced the two dilapidated men on
the road. A joke ran from laughing mouth to mouth. Janin drew his bow
across the frayed strings; Harry Baggs cleared the mist from his
throat. As he sang, aware of an audience, a degree of feeling returned
to his tones; the song swept with a throb to its climax:
"'_You damn ol' nigger, come and bring
Dat boat an' row me home_!'"
There was scattered applause.
"Take your hat round," Janin whispered; and the boy opened the gate and
moved, with his battered hat extended, from man to man.
Few gave; a careless quarter was added to a small number of pennies and
nickels. Janin counted the sum with an unfamiliar oath.
"That other," he directed, and drew a second preliminary bar from his
"Here, you!" a strident voice called. "Shut your noise; the sale's
going to commence."
French Janin lowered the violin.
"We must wait," he observed philosophically. "These things go on and
on; people come and go."
He found a bank, where he sat, after stumbling through a gutter of
stagnant water. Harry Baggs followed and filled a cheap ornate pipe.
The voice of the auctioneer rose, tiresome and persistent, punctuated
by bids, haggling over minute sums for the absurd flotsam of a small
house keeping square of worn oilcloth, a miscellany of empty jars. A
surprisingly passionate argument arose between bidders; personalities
and threats emerged. Janin said:
"Listen! That is the world into which musicians are born; it is against
such uproar we must oppose our delicate chords--on such hearts." His
speech rambled into French and a melancholy silence.
"It's stopped for a little," Baggs reminded him.
Janin rose stiffly and the other guided him to their former place. The
voice and violin rose, dominated a brief period, and the boy went among
the throng, seeking newcomers. The mist thickened, drops of water shone
on his ragged sleeves, and then a fine rain descended. The crowd filled
the porch and lower floor, bulged apparently from door and windows.
Harry Baggs made a motion to follow with his companion, but no one
moved; there was no visible footing under cover. They stayed out
stolidly in the wet, by an inadequate tree; and whenever chance offered
Harry Baggs repeated his limited songs. A string of the violin broke;
the others grew soggy, limp; the pegs would tighten no more and Janin
was forced to give up his accompanying.
The activities shifted to a shed and barn, where a horse and three sorry
cows and farming implements were sold. Janin and Harry Baggs followed,
but there was no opportunity for further melody; larger sums were here
involved; the concentration of the buyers grew painful. The boy's
throat burned; it was strained, and his voice grew hoarse. Finally he
declared shortly that he was going back to the shelter by the Nursery.
As they tramped over the rutted and muddy road, through a steadily
increasing downpour, Harry Baggs counted the sum they had collected. It
was two dollars and some odd pennies. Janin was closely attentive as
the money passed through the other's fingers. He took it from Baggs'
hand, re-counted it with an unfailing touch, and gave back a half.
The return, even to the younger's tireless being, seemed interminable.
Harry Baggs tramped doggedly, making no effort to avoid the deepening
pools. French Janin struggled at his heels, shifting the violin from
place to place and muttering incoherently.
It was dark when they arrived at the huts; the fires were sodden mats
of black ash; no one was visible. They stumbled from shelter to
shelter, but found them full. One at last was discovered unoccupied;
but they had no sooner entered than the reason was sharply borne upon
them--the roof leaked to such an extent that the floor was an uneasy
sheet of mud. However, there was literally nowhere else for them to go.
Janin found a broken chair on which he balanced his bowed and shrunken
form; Harry Baggs sat against the wall.
He dozed uneasily, and, wakened by the old man's babbling, cursed him
bitterly. At last he fell asleep; but, brought suddenly back to
consciousness by a hand gripping his shoulder, he started up in a blaze
He shook off the hand and heard French Janin slip and fall against an
insecure wall. The interior was absolutely black; Harry Baggs could see
no more than his blind companion. The latter fumbled, at last regained
a footing, and his voice fluctuated out of an apparent nothingness.
"There is something important for you to know," Janin proceeded.
"I lied to you about your voice--I, once a musician of the orchestra at
the Opera Comique. I meant to be cunning and take you round to the
fairs, where we would make money; have you sing truck for people who
know nothing. I let you sing to-day, in the rain, for a dollar--while
I, Janin, fiddled.
"I am a _voyou_; there is nothing in English low enough. The
thought of it has been eating at me like a rat." The disembodied words
stopped, the old man strangled and coughed; then continued gasping:
"Attention! You have a supreme barytone, a miracle! I heard all the
great voices for twenty years, and know.
"At times there is a voice with perfect pitch, a true art and range;
not many--they are cold. At times there is a singer with great heart,
sympathy ... mostly too sweet.
"But once, maybe, in fifty, sixty years, both are together. You are
that--I make you amends."
The rain pounded fantastically on the roof a few inches above Harry
Baggs' head and the water seeped coldly through his battered shoes;
but, in the violent rebirth of the vague glow he had lost a short while
before, he gave no heed to his bodily discomfort. "A supreme barytone!"
The walls of the hut, the hollow, dissolved before the sudden light of
hope that enveloped him; all the dim dreams, the unformulated
aspirations on which subconsciously his spirit had subsisted, returned.
"Can you be sure?" he demanded uncertainly.
"Absolutely! You are an artist, and life has wrung you out like a
cloth--jail, hungry, outcast; yes, and nights with stars, and water
shining; men like old Janin, dead men, begging on the roads--they are
all in your voice, jumbled--serious barytone----" The high thin recital
stopped, from exhaustion.
Harry Baggs was warm to the ends of his fingers. He wiped his wet brow
with a wetter hand.
"That's fine," he said impotently; "fine!"
He could hear French Janin breathing stertorously; and, suddenly aware
of the other's age, the misery of their situation, he asked:
"Don't you feel good?"
"I've been worse and better," he replied. "This is bad for your throat,
after singing all day in the rain. _Voyou_!" he repeated of
Silence enveloped them, broken by the creaking of the blind man's chair
and the decreasing patter of the rain. Soon it stopped and Harry Baggs
went outside; stars glimmered at the edges of shifting clouds, a sweet
odor rose from the earth, a trailing scent of blossoming trees
He sang in a vibrant undertone a stave without words. An uneasy form
joined him; it was Runnel.
"I b'lieve my head'll burst!" he complained.
"Leave that soda-caffeine be."
He would never forget Runnel with his everlasting pain; or Dake, who
lived by scaring women.... Great audiences and roses, and the roar of
applause. He heard it now.
Harry Baggs returned to the Nursery, where, with his visions, his sense
of justification, he was happy among the fields of plants. There he was
given work of a more permanent kind; he was put under a watchful eye in
a group transplanting berry bushes, definitely reassigned to that labor
to-morrow. He returned to the camp with a roll of tar paper and, after
supper, covered the leaking roof of the shelter. French Janin sat with
his blank face following the other's movements. Janin's countenance
resembled a walnut, brown and worn in innumerable furrows; his neck was
like a dry inadequate stem. As he glanced at him the old man produced a
familiar bottle and shook out what little powder, like finely ground
glass, it contained. He greedily absorbed what there was and,
petulantly exploring the empty container, flung it into the bushes. A
nodding drowsiness overtook him, his head rolled forward, he sank
slowly into a bowed amorphous heap. Harry Baggs roused him with
"You don't want to sit like this," he said; "come up by the field,
where it's fresher."
He lifted Janin to his feet, half carried him to the place under the
fence. Harry Baggs was consumed by a desire to talk about the future--
the future of his voice; he wanted to hear of the triumphs of other
voices, of the great stages that they finally dominated. He wanted to
know the most direct path there; he was willing that it should not be
easy. "I'm as strong as an ox," he thought.
But he was unable to move French Janin from his stupor; in reply to his
questions the blind man only muttered, begged to be let alone. Life was
at such a low ebb in him that his breathing was imperceptible. Harry
Baggs was afraid that he would die without a sound--leave him. He gave
up his questioning and sang. He was swept to his feet by a great wave
of feeling; with his head back, he sent the resonant volume of his
tones toward the stars. Baggs stopped suddenly; stillness once more
flooded the plowed hill and he raised imploring arms to the sky in a
gust of longing.
"I want to sing!" he cried. "That's all--to sing."
Janin was brighter in the morning.
"You must have some exercises," he told the boy. "I'll get new strings
for the violin; it'll do to give you the pitch."
At the day's end they went again to the hilltop. French Janin tightened
and tuned his instrument.
"Now!" he measured, with poised bow. "Ah!" Both his voice and violin
were tremulous, shrill; but they indicated the pitch of the desired
note. "Ah!" the old man quavered, higher.
"Ah!" Harry Baggs boomed in his tremendous round tone.
They repeated the exercises until a slip of a new moon, like a wistful
girl, sank and darkness hid the countryside. A palpitating chorus of
frogs rose from the invisible streams. Somnolence again overtook Janin;
the violin slipped into the fragrant grass by the fence, but his
fingers still clutched the bow.
Pity for the other stirred Baggs' heart. He wondered what had ruined
him, brought him--a man who had played in an opera house--here. A bony
elbow showed bare through a torn sleeve--the blind man had no shirt;
the soles of his shoes gaped, smelling evilly. Yet once he had played
in an orchestra; he was undoubtedly a musician. Life suddenly appeared
grim, a sleepless menace awaiting the first opportune weakness by which
to enter and destroy.
It occurred to Harry Baggs for the first time that against such a
hidden unsuspected blight his sheer strength would avail him little. He
had stolen money; that in itself held danger to his future, his voice.
He had paid for it; that score was clear, but he must guard against
such stupidities in the years to come. He had now a conscious single
purpose--to sing. A new sense of security took the place of his doubts.
He stirred Janin from his collapsed sleep, directed him toward their
He returned eagerly in the evening to the vocal exercises. French Janin
struggled to perform his part, but mostly Harry Baggs boomed out his
Ahs! undirected. The other had been without his white powder for three
days; his shredlike muscles twitched continually and at times he was
unable to hold the violin. Finally:
"Can you go in to the post-office and ask for a package for me at
general delivery?" he asked Harry Baggs. "I'm expecting medicine."
"That medicine of yours is bad as Runnel's dope. I've a mind to let it
The other rose, stood swaying with pinching fingers, tremulous lips.
"I'm afraid I can't make it," he whimpered.
"Sit down," Harry Baggs told him abruptly; "I'll go. Too late now to
try pulling you up. Whatever it is, it's got you."
It was warm, almost hot. He walked slowly down the road toward the
town. On the left was a smooth lawn, with great stately trees, a long
gray stone house beyond. A privet hedge, broken by a drive, closed in
the withdrawn orderly habitation. A young moon bathed the scene in a
diffused silver light; low cultivated voices sounded from a porch.
Harry Baggs stopped; he had never before seen such a concretely
desirable place; it filled him with a longing, sharp like pain. Beyond
the hedge lay a different world from this; he could not even guess its
wide possession of ease, of knowledge, of facility for song. A voice
laughed, gay and untroubled as a bird's note. He wanted to stay, seated
obscurely on the bank, saturate himself with the still beauty; but the
thought of French Janin waiting for the relief of his drug drove him
The maple trees that lined the quiet streets of the town were in full
early leaf. Groups paced tranquilly over the brick ways; the houses
stood in secure rows. A longing for safety, recognition, choked at
Harry Baggs' throat. He wanted to stop at the corner, talk, move home
to a shadowy cool porch. He hurried in his ragged clothes past the
pools of light at the street crossings into the kinder gloom. At that
moment he would have surrendered his voice for a place in the communal
peace about him.
He reached the post-office and asked for a package addressed to Janin.
The clerk delayed, regarded him with suspicion, but in the end
surrendered a small precisely wrapped box. As he returned his mood
changed; all he asked, he muttered bitterly, was a fair trial for his
voice. He recognized obscurely that a singer's existence must be
different from the constricted life of a country town; here were no
stage, no audience, for the great harmonies he had imagined himself
producing. He had that in his heart which would make mere security,
content, forever impossible.
In the dilapidated camp French Janin eagerly clutched the box. He
almost filled his palm with the crystalline powder and gulped it
hastily. Its effect was produced slowly.... Janin waited rigidly for
the release of the drug.
The evening following, under the fence on the hill, the blind man dozed
while Harry Baggs exercised his voice.
"Good!" the former pronounced unexpectedly. "I know; heard all the
great voices for twenty years; a violin in the Opera Comique. Once I
led the finale of Hamlet. I saw the Director stop.... He handed me the
baton. He died soon after, and that was the beginning of my bad luck. I
should have been Director; but I was ignored, and came to America--
Buenos Aires; then Washington, and--and morphia."
There was a long silence and then he spoke again with a new energy:
"I'm done, but you haven't started. You're bigger than ever I was;
you'll go on and on. I, Janin, will train you; when you sing the great
roles I'll sit in a box, wear diamond studs. Afterward, as we roll in a
carriage down the Grandes Boulevards, the people in front of the cafes
will applaud; the voice is appreciated in Paris."
"I have a lot to learn first," Baggs put in practically.
The old man recovered his violin. "Ah!" He drew the note tenuous but
correct from the uncertain strings. "Ah!" Harry Baggs vociferated to
the inattentive frogs, busy with their own chorus.
The practice proceeded with renewed vigor through the evenings that
followed; then French Janin sank back into a torpor, varied by acute
"I haven't got the life in me to teach you," he admitted to Harry
Baggs. "I'll be dead before you get your chance; besides, you ought to
be practising all day, and not digging round plants and singing a
little in the evening. You've got the voice, but that's not enough;
you've got to work at exercises all your life."
"I'm strong," Harry Baggs told him; "I can work more than most men."
"No, that won't do alone; you've got to go at it right, from the start;
the method's got to be good. I'll be dead in some hospital or field
when you'll be hardly starting. But remember it was Janin who found
you, who dug you out of a set of tramps, gave you your first lessons."
He changed. "Stay along with me, Harry," he begged; "take me with you.
You're strong and'll never notice an old man. You will be making
thousands some day. I will stop the morphia; perhaps I've got a good
bit in me yet. Attention!" He raised the bow.
"No!" he cried, interrupting. "Breathe deep, below the chest. Control!
Control! Hold the note steady, in the middle; don't force it into your
His determination scion expired. Tears crept from under his sunken
lids. He reached furtively into his pocket, took morphia. The
conviction seized Harry Baggs that nothing could be accomplished here.
The other's dejection was communicated to him. Where could he find the
money, the time for the necessary laborious years of preparation? He
was without credentials, without clothes; there was no one to whom he
could go but the old spent man beside him. They were adrift together
outside life, as the huts they inhabited were outside the orderly town
beyond the hill.
He rose, left Janin, and walked slowly along the fence to the road. The
moon had increased in size and brilliancy; the apple trees had bloomed
and their fallen petals glimmered on the ground. He thought of the
house on the smooth sward, with its hedge and old trees; a sudden
longing seized him to linger at its edge, absorb again the profound
peaceful ease; and he quickened his pace until he was opposite the low
He sat on the soft steep bank, turned on his elbow, gazing within. The
same voices drifted from the porch, voices gay or placid, and contained
laughter. A chair scraped. It was all very close to Harry Baggs--and in
another world. There was a movement within the house; a window leaped
into lighted existence and then went out against the wall. Immediately
after, a faint pure harmony of strings drifted out to the hedge. It was
so unexpected, so lovely, that Harry Baggs sat with suspended breath.
The strings made a pattern of simple harmony; and then, without
warning, a man's voice, almost like his own, began singing. The tones
rose fluid and perfect, and changed with feeling. It seemed at first to
be a man; and then, because of a diminuendo of the voice, a sense of
distance not accounted for by his presence near the hedge, he knew that
he heard a record of the actual singing.
The voice, except for its resemblance to his own, did not absorb his
attention; it was the song itself that thrilled and held him. He had
never before heard music at once so clear and capable of such depths.
He realized instinctively, with a tightening of his heart, that he was
listening to one of the great songs of which Janin had spoken. It hung
for a minute or more in his hearing, thrilling every nerve, and then
died away. It stopped actually, but its harmony rang in Harry Baggs'
brain. Instantly it had become an essential, a permanent part of his
being. It filled him with a violent sense of triumph, a richness of
possession that gave birth to a new unconquerable pride.
He rose, waited for a short space; but nothing more followed. He was
glad of that; he had no wish to blur the impressions of the first.
Harry Baggs hurried up the road and crossed the field to where he had
left French Janin. The latter was still sleeping, crumpled against the
vegetation. Baggs grasped the thin shoulder, shook him into
"I have just heard something," he said. "Listen! What is it?"
He sang without further preliminary, substituting a blank phrasing for
uncomprehended words; but the melody swept without faltering to its
conclusion. Janin answered irritably, disturbed by his rude awakening:
"The Serenade from Don Giovanni--Mozart. Well, what about it?"
"It's wonderful!" Harry Baggs declared. "Are there any more as great?"
"It is good," Janin agreed, his interest stirred; "but there are
better--the Dio Possente, the Brindisi from Hamlet. Once I led the
finale of Hamlet. I saw the Director----"
"I'll get every one," the boy interrupted.
"There are others now, newer--finer still, I'm told; but I don't know."
Janin rose and steadied himself against the fence. "Give me a start.
I've been getting confused lately; I don't seem to keep a direction
like I could. From Don Giovanni: _'Deh vieni alla finestra_'--
'Come to the window' 's about it. I'm glad you're not a tenor; they're
delicate and mean. But you are a fine boy, Harry; you'll take the old
man up along with you!"
He talked in a rapid faint voice, like his breathing. Harry Baggs
grasped his arm and led him down to their shanty. French Janin entered
first, and immediately the other heard a thin complaint from within:
"Somebody's got that nice bed you made me."
Harry Baggs went into the hut and, stooping, shook a recumbent shape.
"Get out of the old man's place!" he commanded.
A string of muffled oaths responded.
"There's no reserved rooms here."
"Get out!" Baggs insisted.
The shape heaved up obscurely and the boy sent him reeling through the
door. French Janin sank with weary relief on the straw and bagging. He
grasped the thick young arm above him.
"We won't be long in this," he declared; "diamond studs!"
He fell asleep instantly, with his fingers caught in Harry Baggs'
sleeve. The latter, with the supreme egotism of youth, of a single
ambition, loosened the hand and moved out of the narrow confinement of
the shanty. He wanted space, the sky, into which to sing his imaginary
The next day moved toward its end without arresting incident. Janin and
Harry Baggs had walked to the public road, where they stood leaning
against the rail fence. The smoke from Baggs' pipe uprose in unbroken
spheres; the evening was definitely hot. French Janin said:
"In the town to-day I asked about that house here at the bend. It seems
he's got money; comes for a couple of months in the spring--just like
us--and then goes to Europe like as not. Perhaps he knows a voice."
The blind man fell silent, contemplative.
"Trouble is," he broke out fretfully, "we've got nothing to sing. That
about the 'damn old nigger' won't do. You ought to know something like
"Well," he added after a moment, "why not? I could teach you the words
--it's Italian; you've nearly got the air. It's all wrong and backward;
but this isn't the Conservatoire. You can forget it when you have
started; sing exercises again."
"When can we begin?" Harry Baggs asked.
"We'll brush our clothes up best we can," Janin proceeded, absorbed in
his planning, "and go up to the porch of an evening. 'Mr. Brinton'--
that's his name--I'll say, 'I'm M. Janin, once of the orchestra at the
Opera Comique, and I'd like you to listen to a pupil of mine. I've
heard them all and this boy is better----'" He stopped; took morphia.
"Can't you stop that for a day?" Harry Baggs demanded desperately.
He watched with bitter rebellion the inevitable slackening of the
other's being, the obfuscation of his mind. Janin hung over the fence,
with hardly more semblance of life than an incredibly tattered and
"Come on, you old fool!" Baggs exclaimed, burning with impatience,
balked desire; he half carried him brusquely to his bed.
Yet, under the old man's fluctuating tuition, he actually began the
Serenade within twenty-four hours. "_Deh vieni alla finestra_,"
French Janin pronounced. "_Deh vieni_----" Harry Baggs struggled
after him. His brow grew wet with the intensity of his effort; his
tongue, it seemed to him, would never accomplish the desired syllables.
Janin made a determined effort to live without his drug; the abstinence
emphasized his fragility and he was cold, even in the heart of the long
sunny day; but the effort stayed him with a flickering vitality, bred
visions, renewed hopes of the future. He repeated the names of places,
opera houses--the San Carlo, in Naples; the Scala--unknown to Harry
Baggs, but which came to him with a strange vividness. The learning of
the Serenade progressed slowly; French Janin forgot whole phrases, some
of which returned to memory; one entire line he was forced to supply
At last the boy could sing it with a degree of intelligence; Janin
translated and reconstructed the scene, the characters.
"You ought to have some good clothes," he told Harry Baggs; he spoke
again of the necessity of a diamond stud.
"Well, I haven't," the other stated shortly. "They'll have to listen to
me without looking."
He borrowed a rusted razor and subjected himself to the pain of an
awkward shaving; then inadequately washed his sole shirt and looped the
frayed collar with a nondescript tie.
The night was immaculate; the moon, past the full, cast long segments
of light and shadow across the countryside. Harry Baggs drew a deep
"We might as well go."
French Janin objected; he wasn't ready; he wasn't quite sure of what he
was going to say. Then:
"I haven't anything to show. Perhaps they will laugh at me--at Janin,
of the Opera Comique. I couldn't allow that."
"I'm going to sing," the boy reminded him; "if it's any good they won't
laugh. If what you say's right they'll have to believe you."
"I feel bad to-night, too, in my legs."
"Get your violin."
A fresh difficulty arose: French Janin positively refused to play on
his present instrument before a critical audience.
"It's as thin as a cat," he protested. "Do you want me to make a show
"All right; I'll sing alone. Come on!"
Janin's legs were uncertain; he stumbled over the path to the road and
stopped at the fence. He expressed fresh doubts, the hesitation of old
age; but Harry Baggs silenced him, forced him on. A cold fear possessed
the boy, which he resolutely suppressed: if Janin were wrong, his voice
worthless, if they laughed, he was done. Opportunity, he felt, would
never return. With his voice scorned, no impetus remained; he had no
other interest in life, no other power that could subdue the slight
He saw this in a vivid flash of self-knowledge.... If he couldn't sing
he would go down, lower than Janin; perhaps sink to the level of Dake.
"Come on!" he repeated grimly, assisting his companion over the
luminous white road.
Janin got actually feebler as he progressed. He stopped, gasping, his
sightless face congested.
"I'll have to take a little," he whispered, "just a taste. That puts
life in me; it needs a good deal now to send me off."
He produced the familiar bottle and absorbed some powder. Its effect
was unexpected--he straightened, walked with more ease; but it acted
upon his mind with surprising force.
"I want to stop just a little," he proclaimed with such an air of
decision that Harry Baggs followed him without protest to the fragrant
bank. "You're a good fellow," Janin went on, seated; "and you're going
to be a great artist. It'll take you among the best. But you will have
a hard time for a while; you won't want anybody hanging on you. I'd
only hurt your chances--a dirty old man, a drugtaker. I would go back
to it, Harry; it's got me, like you said. People wouldn't have me
round. I doubt if I'd be comfortable with them. They'd ask me why I
"Come on," Baggs repeated for the third time; "it's getting late."
He lifted French Janin to his feet and forced him on. "You don't know
life," the other continued. "You would get sick of me; you might get
influenced to put me in a Home. I couldn't get my breath right there."
Harry Baggs forced him over the road, half conscious of the protesting
words. The fear within him increased. Perhaps they wouldn't even listen
to him; they might not be there.
His grip tightened on French Janin; he knew that at the first
opportunity the old man would sink back into the oblivion of morphia.
"I've done all I could for you, Harry"--the other whimpered. "I've been
some--good. Janin was the first to encourage you; don't expect too
"If I get anywhere, you did it," Harry Baggs told him.
"I'd like to see it all," French Janin said. "I know it so well. Who'd
have thought"--a dull amazement crept into his voice--"that old Janin,
the sot, did it?... And you'll remember."
They stopped opposite the entrance to the place they sought. Harry
Baggs saw people on the porch; he recognized a man's voice that he had
heard there before. On the right of the drive a thick maple tree cast a
deep shadow, but beyond it a pool of clear moonlight extended to the
house. He started forward, but Janin dragged him into the gloom of the
"Sing here," he whispered in the boy's ear; "see, the window--_Deh
vieni alla finestra_."
Harry Baggs stood at the edge of the shadow; his throat seemed to
thicken, his voice expire.
"No," he protested weakly; "you must speak first."
He felt the old man shaking under his hand and a sudden desperate calm
He moved forward a little and sang the first phrase of the Serenade.
A murmur of attention, of surprised amusement, arose from the porch;
then, as his voice gained in bigness, flowed rich and thrilling and
without effort from his deep powerful lungs, the murmur died away. The
song rose toward its end; Harry Baggs saw nothing but the window above
him; he put all the accumulated feeling, the longing, of the past
miserable years into his ending.
A silence followed, in which Harry Baggs stood with drooping head. Then
an unrestrained patter of applause followed; figures advanced. French
Janin gave the boy a sharp unexpected shove into the radiance beyond
"Go on and on," he breathed; "and never come back any more!"
He turned and shambled rapidly away into the shadows, the obscurity,
that lined the road.