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Title: As It Was Written - A Jewish Musician's Story
Author: Harland, Henry, Luska, AKA Sidney
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AS IT WAS WRITTEN

A Jewish Musician’s Story

By Henry Harland (AKA Sidney Luska)

Cassell & Company, Limited 739 & 741 Broadway, New York.

1885



CONTENTS

AS IT WAS WRITTEN.

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

VII.

VIII.

IX.

X.

XI.

XII.

XIII.

XIV.



AS IT WAS WRITTEN.



I.

VERONIKA PATHZUOL was my betrothed. I must give some account of the
circumstances under which she and I first met each other, so that my
tale may be clear and complete from the beginning.

For a long while, without knowing why, I had been restless—hungry,
without knowing for what I hungered. Teaching music to support myself,
I employed all of the day that was not thus occupied in practicing on my
own behalf. My life consequently was a solitary one, numbering but few
acquaintances and not any friends. In my short intervals of leisure
I was generally too tired to seek out society; I was too obscure and
unimportant to be sought out in turn. Yet, young and of an ardent
temperament, doubtless it was natural that I should have been dimly
conscious of something wanting; and, not prone to selfanalysis,
doubtless it was also natural that I should have had no distinct
conception of what the wanting something was. Besides, it would soon be
summer. The soft air and bright sunshine of spring awoke a myriad vague
desires in my heart. I strove in vain to understand them. They were all
the more poignant because they had no definite object. Twenty times a
day I would catch myself heaving a mighty sigh; but asking, “What are
you sighing for?” I had to answer, “Who can tell?” My thoughts got
into the habit of wandering away would fly off to cloud-land at the
most inopportune moments. While my pupils were blundering through
their exercises their master would fall to thinking of other
things—afterward impossible to remember what. From morning to night
I went about with a feeling of expectancy—an event was
impending—presently a change would come over the tenor of my life. I
waited anxiously, on the alert for its first premonitory symptom.

I had taken to strolling through the streets at evening. One delicious
night in May, I found myself leaning over the terrace at the eastern
extremity of Fifty-first street. The moon had just risen, a huge red
disk, out of the mist and smoke across the river, and was turning the
waves to burnished copper. Through the open windows of the neighborhood
escaped the sounds of quiet talk, of laughter, of piano playing. Now and
then a low dark shape, with a single bright light gleaming like a jewel
at its side, and spars and masts sharply outlined against the sky,
slipped silently past upon the water. The atmosphere was quick with the
warmth and the scent of spring. I stood there motionless, penetrated by
the unspeakable beauty of the scene. The moon climbed higher and higher,
and gradually exchanged its ruddy tint for its ordinary metallic blue.
By and by somebody with a sweet soprano voice, in one of the nearest
houses, began to sing the Ave Maria of Gounod. The impassioned music
seemed made for the time and place. It caught the soul of the moment and
gave it voice. I could feel my heart swelling with the crescendo: and
then how it leaped and thrilled when the singer reached that glorious
climax of the song, “Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae!” At that
instant, as if released from a spell, I drew a long breath and looked
around. Then for the first time I saw Veronika Pathzuol. Her eyes and
mine met for the first time.

“A lady, young, tall, beautiful, strange, and sad”—and pale. Her
face was pale, like an angel’s. The wealth of black hair above it
and the dark eyes that gazed sadly out of it rendered the pallor more
intense. But it was not the pallor of ill-health; it was the pallor of
a luminous white soul. As I beheld her standing there in the moonlight
scarcely a yard away from me, I knew all at once what it was my heart
had craved for so long a while. I knew at once, by the sudden pain that
pierced it, that my heart had been waiting for this lady all its life. I
did not stop to reflect and determine. Had I done so, most likely—nay,
most certain-ly—I should never have had to tell this story. The words
flew to my tongue and were spoken as soon as thought.—“Oh, how
beautiful, how beautiful!” I exclaimed, meaning her.

“Very beautiful,” I heard her voice, clear and soft, respond. “It
is almost a pain, the feeling such intense beauty gives,”—meaning
the scene before us.

“And yet this is every-day, hum-drum, commercial New York,” added
another voice, one that jarred upon my hearing like the scraping of a
contre-bass after a cadenza by the flute. She was leaning on the arm of
a man. I was at the verge of being straightway jealous, when I observed
that his hair and beard were snowy and that his face was wrinkled.

We got into conversation without ceremony. Nature had introduced us.
Our common appreciation of the loveliness round about broke the ice
and provided a topic for speech. After her first impulsive utterance,
Veronika said little. But the old man was voluble, evidently glad of the
opportunity to express his ideas to a new person. And I was more than
glad to listen, because while doing so I could gaze upon her face to my
heart’s content.

Something that I had said, in reply to a remark of his upon the singing
of the Ave, caused him to ask, “Ah, you understand music? You are a
musician—yes?”

“I play the violin,” I answered.

“Do you hear, Veronika?” he cried. “Our friend plays the violin!
My dear sir, you must do us the favor of playing for us before we part.
Do not be surprised—pay no heed to the formalities. Is not music a
free-masonry? Come, you shall try your skill upon an Amati. Such an
evening as this must have an appropriate ending. Come.”

Without allowing me time to protest, had I been disposed to do so, he
grasped my arm and started off. He kept on talking as we marched along.
I had no attention for what he said. My mind was divided between delight
at my good-fortune, and query as to what its upshot would be. We had not
far to go. A few doors to the west of First avenue he turned up a stoop.
It was a modest apartment-house. We climbed to the topmost story and
stood still in the dark while he fumbled for a match. Then he lighted
the gas and said, “Sit down.” The room was bare and cheerless. A
chromo or two sufficed to decorate the walls. The furniture—a few
chairs and a center-table—was stiff and shabby. The carpet was
threadbare.

But a piano occupied a corner; and the floor, the table, and the chairs
were littered thick with music. So I felt at home. As I look back at
that meager little parlor now, it is transformed into a sanctuary. There
the deepest moments of two lives were spent. Yet to-day strangers
dwell in it; come and go, laugh and chatter, eat, drink, and make merry
between its walls, all unconcernedly, never pausing to bestow a thought
upon the sad, sweet lady whose presence once hallowed the place, whose
tears more than once watered the floor over which they tread with
indifferent footsteps.

The old man lighted the gas and said, “Sit down,” making obedience
possible by clearing a chair of the music it held. Then scrutinizing
my face: “You are a Jew, are you not?” he inquired, in his quick,
nervous way.

“Yes,” I said, “by birth.”

“And by faith?”

“Well, I am not orthodox, not a zealot.”

“Your name?”

“Neuman—Ernest Neuman.”

“And mine, Tikulski—Baruch. You see we are of one race—the
race—the chosen race! Neither am I orthodox. I keep Yom Kippur, to
be sure, but I have no conscientious scruples against shell-fish, and
indeed the ‘succulent oyster’ is especially congenial to my palate.
This,” with a wave of the hand toward Veronika, “this is my niece,
Miss Pathzuol—P-a-t-h-z-u-o-1—pronounced Patchuol—Hungarian name.
Her mother was my sister.”

Veronika dropped a courtesy. Her eyes seemed to plead, “Do not laugh
at my uncle. He is eccentric; but be charitable.”

“Now, Veronika, show Mr. Neuman your music and find something that you
can play together. I will go fetch the violin.”

The old man left the room.

“What will you play?” asked Veronika. Her voice quavered. She was
timid, as indeed it was natural she should be.

“I don’t know,” I said, my own voice not as firm as I could have
wished. “What have you got?”

We commenced at the top of a big pile of music and had settled upon the
prize song from the Meistersinger—not then as hackneyed as it is
at present, not then the victim of every passable amateur—when Mr.
Tikulski came back. It was in truth an Amati that he brought. The
discolored, half obliterated label within said so—but the label might
have lied. The strong, tense, ringing tone that it emitted in response
to the A which Veronika gave me said so also—and that did not lie. I
played as best I could. Rather, the music played itself. With a violin
under my chin, I lapse into semi-consciousness, lose my identity.
Another spirit impels my arm, pouring itself out through the voice of my
instrument. Not until silence is restored do I realize that I have
been the performer. While the music is going on my personality is
annihilated. With the final note I seem to “come, to,” as one does
from a trance.

When I came to this time it was to be embraced by my host with an
effusiveness that overwhelmed me. “Ah, you are a true musician,”
he cried, releasing me from his arms. “You have the inspiration.
Veronika, speak, tell him how nobly he has played.”

“I can’t speak, I can’t tell him,” answered Veronika, “it has
taken away all power of speech.” But she gave me a glance, allowed her
eyes to stay with mine for a long moment. A fire had been smoldering in
my breast from the first; at these words, at this glance, it burst into
flame. A great light inundated my soul. I felt the arteries tingling to
my very finger tips. I started tuning up, to hide my emotion. Then we
played the march from Raff’s Lenore.

I am afraid my agitation marred the effect of Raffs diamatic
composition. At any rate, the plaudits were faint when I had done. After
a breathing spell Mr. Tikulski told Veronika to sing. She played her own
accompaniment while I stood by to turn.

It would be useless for me to try to qualify her singing. Whatever
critical faculty I had was stricken dumb. I can only say that she sang a
song in French (an old, old romance, till then unfamiliar to me; so old
that the composer’s name has been forgotten) in a splendid contralto
voice, and that it seemed as if she was playing upon the inmost tissue
of my life, so keenly I felt each note. I quite forgot to turn the page
at the proper place, and Veronika had to prompt me. It was a little
thing, and yet I remember as vividly as if from yesterday the nod of the
head and the inflection with which she said, “Turn, please.”

“‘Le temps fait passer l’amour,’.rdquo; repeated Mr. Tikulski:
it was the last line of the song. “Veronika, bring some wine. Le vin
fait passer le temps,” and he chuckled at his joke. Another small
thing that I remember vividly is how Tikulski, as she left the room,
posed his forefinger upon his Adam’s-apple and said, “She carries a
‘cello here.”

He went on to this effect:—Veronika, as I already knew, was his niece.
He also was a violinist: more than that, he was a composer, though as
yet unpublished. With the self-conceit too characteristic of musical
people, he told me how he was engaged upon “an epoch-making
symphony”—had been engaged upon it for the last dozen years, would
be engaged upon it for the dozen years to come. Then the world should
have it, and he, not having lived in vain, would die content. Veronika
was now one-and-twenty. During her childhood he had played in an
orchestra and arranged dance-music and done other hackwork to earn money
for her maintenance and education. She had received the best musical
training, instrumental and vocal, that could be had in New York. Now he
had turned the tables. Now he did nothing but compose—reserved all
his time and strength for his masterpiece. Veronika had become the
breadwinner. She taught on an average seven hours a day. She sang
regularly in church and synagogue, and at concerts and musicals whenever
she got a chance.—Veronika reentered the room bearing cakes and wine.
She sat down near to us, and I forgot every thing in the contemplation
of her beautiful, sad, strange face. Her eyes were bottomless. Far, far
in their liquid depths the spirit shone like a star. All the history of
Israel was in her glance.

Every touch of constraint had vanished from her bearing. She spoke with
me as with one whom she knew well. I could scarcely believe that only an
hour ago we had been ignorant of each other’s existence. We discussed
music and found that our tastes were in accord. We compared notes on
teaching and exchanged anecdotes about our respective pupils. She said
among other things that more than half the money she earned her uncle
sent to Germany for the relief of his widowed sister and her offspring,
who were extremely poor! Her every syllable clove my heart like an
arrow. I grew hot with indignation to think of this frail, delicate
maiden slaving her life away in order that her relations might fatten in
idleness and her fanatic of an uncle work at his impossible symphony.
My fists clenched convulsively as I fancied her exposed to the ups and
downs, the hardships, the humiliations, of a music-teacher’s career. I
took no pains to regulate my manner: and, if she had possessed the least
trace of sophistication, she would have guessed that I loved her from
every modulation of my voice. Love her I did. I had already loved her
for an eternity—from the moment my eyes had first encountered hers in
the moonlight by the terrace.—But it was getting late. It would not do
for me to wear my welcome out.

“Nay, stay,” interposed Mr. Tikulski, “you have not heard me play
yet.”

“Oh, yes, you must hear my uncle play,” said Veronika. “The Adagio
of Handel? she asked of him.

“No, child,” he answered, with a tinge of impatience, “the
minuet—from my own symphony,” aiming the last words at me.

Veronika returned to the piano. They began.

Indeed, the old man played superbly. His selection was a marvelous
finger-exercise—but of true music it contained none save that which
he informed it with by the fervor of his performance. He was a perfect
executant. His tone was equal to Wilhelm’s. It was a pity, a great
pity, that he should fritter himself away in the endeavor to compose.
Veronika and I said as much as this to each other with our eyes when
finally his bow had reached a standstill.

“Well, if you will insist on going,” he said, “you must at least
agree to come as soon as possible again. This is Wednesday. We are
always at home on Wednesday evening. The other nights of the week
Veronika is engaged: Monday and Tuesday, lessons; Thursday, Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday, rehearsals and services at church and synagogue.
The church is in Hoboken: she doesn’t get home till eleven o’clock.
So on Wednesday we will see you without fail—yes?”

As I looked forward, Wednesday seemed a million years away. “What an
old brute you are to make that child track over to Hoboken two nights
a week!” I thought; and said, “Thank you. You are very kind.
Good-by.”

Veronika gave me her hand. The long slim fingers clasped mine cordially
and sent an electric thrill into my heart.



II.

I SUPPOSE it is needless to say that I passed a sleepless night, haunted
till morning by Veronika’s face and voice; that I tossed endlessly
from pillow to pillow, going over in memory every circumstance from our
meeting to our parting; that I built a hundred wondrous castles in the
air and that Veronika presided as chatelaine in each. I thought I should
boil over with rage when I dwelt upon the enforced drudgery of her life.
I could hardly contain myself for sheer joy when I made bold to say,
“Why, it is not impossible that some day she may love you—not
impossible that some day she may consent to become your wife.” One
doubt, the inevitable one, harassed me: Had I a clear field? Was there
perchance another suitor there before me? Perhaps her affections were
already spoken. Still, on the whole, probably not. For, where had he
kept himself during the evening? Surely, if he had existed at all, he
would have been at her side. Yet on the other hand she was so beautiful,
it could scarcely be believed that she had attained the age of
one-and-twenty without taking some heart captive. And that sad,
mysterious expression in her eyes—how had it come about except through
love?—Thus between despair and hope I swung, pendulum-like, all night.

Dawn filtered through the window. “Thursday!” I muttered. “Seven
days still to be dragged through—but then!”—Imagination
faltered at the prospect. I went about my usual business in a sort of
intoxication. My footstep had acquired an unwonted briskness. Every five
minutes my heart jumped into my throat and lost a beat. But my pupils
suffered.

I was more inclined to absent-mindedness than ever. At dusk I revisited
the terrace despite the rain that fell in torrents, and walked by her
house and lived through the whole happy episode again.

Be assured I was punctual when at last Wednesday came. I remember, as I
mounted the staircase that led to their abode, an absurd fear beset me.
What if they had moved away?

What if I should not find her after this interminable week of waiting?
My hand shook as I pulled the bell-knob. I was nerving myself for the
worst in the interval that elapsed before the door was opened.—The
door was opened by Veronika herself!

“Ah, good-evening. We were expecting you,” she said.

I stammered a response. My temples were throbbing madly.

Veronika led me into the dining-room. They were still at table. I began
to apologize. Tikulski stopped me.

“You have come just at the proper moment,” he cried. “You shall
now have occasion to confess that my niece is as good a cook as she is a
player.”

“But I have dined,” I protested.

“But you can make room for one morsel more—for a mere taste of
pudding.”

Veronika, with infinite grace, was moving about the room, getting a
plate and napkin. Then with her own hands she helped me to the pudding.

“Doesn’t that flavor do her credit?” cried Tikulski. “It is a
melody materialized, is it not?”

We all laughed; and I ate my pudding at perfect ease.

“I hope Mr. Neuman has brought his violin,” said Veronika, “for
then we can have a first and second.”

“Yes, I took that liberty,” I answered.

And afterward, adjourning to the parlor, I played second to the old
man’s first for an hour or more—reading at sight from his own
manuscript music, which was not the lightest of tasks. Then Veronika
sang to us. And then, as it was extremely hot, Mr. Tikulski proposed
that we betake ourselves to a concert garden in the neighborhood and
spend the rest of the evening in the open air. We sat at a round
table under an ailanthus tree, and watched the people come and go, and
listened to light tunes discoursed by a tolerable band, and by and by
had a delicious little supper; and while Mr. Tikulski puffed a huge
cigar, Veronika and I enjoyed a long, delightful confidential talk in
which our minds got wonderfully close together, and during which one
scrap of information dropped from her lips that afforded me infinite
relief. Speaking of her nocturnal pilgrimages to Hoboken, she said, “I
go over by myself in the summer because it is still light; but coming
home, the organist takes me to the ferry, where uncle meets me.”

“So,” I concluded, “there is no one ahead of me; for if there
were, of course he would be her escort.” And I lost no time about
putting in a word for myself. “I am very anxious to hear you sing in
church,” I said. “Your voice can not attain its full effect between
the narrow walls of a parlor.”

And it was agreed that I should call upon them Sunday afternoon and
that we should all three take a walk in Central Park, Veronika and
I afterward going to Hoboken together. Music had, indeed, proved a
freemasonry, so far as we were concerned. This was only our second
interview; and already we treated each other like old and intimate
friends.

A thunder shower broke above our heads on the way back to Fifty-first
street, and in default of an umbrella, I lent Veronika my handkerchief
to protect her hat. She returned it to me at the door of her house, and
lo! it was freighted with a faint, sweet perfume that it had caught from
contact with her. I stowed the handkerchief religiously in my pocket,
and for a week afterward it still retained a trace of the same dainty
odor. It was a touchstone, by means of which I could call her up bodily
before me whenever I desired.

As I sat alone in my bed-chamber that night, I acknowledged that I was
more deeply in love than ever. The reader would not wonder at this if
he could form a true conception of Veronika’s presence. I wish I could
describe her—that is, render in words the impression wrought upon me
by her face, and her voice, and her manner, and the things she said.
I am not accustomed to expressing such matters in words, but with
my violin I should have no sort of difficulty. If I wanted to give
utterance to my idea of Veronika, all I should have to do would be to
take my violin and play this heavenly melody from Chopin’s Impromptu
in C-sharp minor:—Sotto voce.



0030

It seems almost as though Chopin must have had Veronika in mind when
he composed it. Its color, its passion, its vague dreamy sadness, and
withal its transparent simplicity, make it for me a perfect musical
portrait. Those were the traits which most constantly and conspicuously
abode in my thought of her. Her simplicity, her child-like simplicity,
and her naturalness, and the serene purity of her soul, made her as
different from other women that I had seen—though, to be sure, I had
seen but few women except as I passed them in the street or rode with
them in the horse-car—made her as different from those I had seen, at
any rate, as a lily plucked on the hillside is different from a hothouse
flower, as daylight is different from gaslight, as Schubert’s music is
different from Liszt’s. In every thing and from every point of view,
she was simple and natural and serene. Her great pale face, and the dark
eyes, and the smile that came and went like a melody across her lips,
and the way she wore her hair, and the way she dressed, and the way
she played, sang, spoke, and her gestures, and the low, sad, musical
laughter that I heard only once or twice from the beginning to the
end—all were simple, and natural, and serene. And yet there was a
mystery attaching to each of them, a something beyond my comprehension,
a something that tinged my love for her with awe. A mystery that would
neither be defined nor penetrated nor ignored, brooded over her, as the
perfume broods over a rose. I doubt whether an American woman can be
like this unless she is older and has had certain experiences of her
own. Veronika had not had sufficient experience of her own to account
for what I have described: but she was a Jewess, and all the experience
of the Jewish race, all the martyrdom of the scattered hosts, were hers
by inheritance.

No matter how I was occupied, whether teaching, or practicing, or
reading, or writing, or walking, or talking to other people, I was
always conscious of the love of Veronika astir in my heart. Just as
through all the vicissitudes of a fugue the subject melody will survive
in one form or another and be at no minute altogether silenced, so
through all the changes of my busy day the thought of Veronika lingered
in my mind. I can not tell how completely the whole aspect of the
world had been altered since the night I first saw her standing in
the moonlight. It was as if my life up to that moment had been passed
beneath gray skies, and suddenly the clouds had dispersed and the
sunshine flooded the earth. A myriad things became plain and clear
that had been invisible until now, and old things acquired a
new significance. My heart welled with tenderness for all living
creatures—the overflow of the tenderness it had for her. All my
senses, all my capacities for pain and pleasure, were more acute than
before. Suddenly music, which had been my art, became my religion: she
had glorified it by her devotion. I looked forward to my next visit with
her as a benighted traveler looks forward to the glowing window that
promises rest and shelter: only in my case the light illuminated my
whole pathway and made the progress toward its source a constant delight
instead of a perfunctory labor. But this is the common story of a man
in love, and stands without telling. Suffice it that before our
acquaintance was a month old I had got upon the most intimate terms with
Mr. Tikulski and Veronika, spending not only every Wednesday evening
at their house but also each Sunday afternoon, and accompanying her to
Hoboken as regularly as she had to go. Never was there a prouder man
than I at those junctures when, with her hand pressed tightly under my
arm, I felt that she was trusting herself entirely to my charge and that
I was answerable for her safety and well-being. The Hoboken ferry-boats
became to my thinking vastly more interesting than the most romantic of
Venetian gondolas; and to this day I can not sniff the peculiar stuffy
odor that always pervades a ferry-boat cabin without being transported
back across the years to that happy, happy time. I actually blessed the
necessity that forced her to journey so far for her livelihood; and it
was with an emphatic pang that I listened to the plans which she
and Tikulski were prone to discuss whereby she was shortly to get
an engagement nearer home: though the sight of her pale, tired cheek
reproached me the moment after. On her side she made no concealment of
a most cordial regard for me. Her face always lighted up at my arrival;
she was always eager to share her ideas with me and to call forth my
opinion of her work, appearing pleased by my praise and impressed by my
criticism. She set me an admirable example of frankness. She would say
precisely what she thought of my renditions, sparing not their blemishes
and indicating how an effective point might be improved.

But as yet I had not dared to hope that she loved, or was even in train
to love me. So as yet I had not intended to speak of love at all.

But one day—one Sunday late in June—she proposed to sing me a song
she had just been learning.

“What is it?” I asked.

“From Le Désert of Felicien David,” she said, handing me the
music.

It was the “O, belle nuit, O, sois plus lente,” originally written
for tenor.

“I should hardly think it would suit your voice,” I said, running
over the music.

“Neither did I, at first; but listen, anyway.” And she began.

Her voice had never been in better order, had never been more resonant,
never more electric. Contrary to my misgivings, the song suited it
perfectly, afforded its ‘cello quality full scope. She sang with an
enthusiasm, a precision, a delicacy of shading, that carried me away.
As the last tender note melted on her lips, she swung around on the
piano-stool and looked a question with her great, dark, serious eyes.
I know not what possessed me. A blindness fell upon my sight. My heart
gave a mighty bound. In another instant I was at her side and had caught
her—my darling—in my arms. In another instant she was sobbing her
life out upon my shoulder.

By and by, after the first stress of our emotion had subsided, I
mustered voice to say, “Then, Veronika, you love me?”

Her hand nestled in mine by way of answer.

I told her as well I could how I had loved her from the first.

“It is strange,” she said, “when you turned to me there on the
terrace and spoke, it was as if a light broke into my life. And it has
been the same ever since—my heart has been full of light. Oh, I have
wanted you so much! I was afraid you did not care for me. Why have you
waited so long?”

No need of putting down my answer nor the rest of our dialogue. When
Mr. Tikulski came back I confessed every thing. He asked but a single
question, imposed but a single condition.

I replied that I earned enough by my teaching to support him and her
comfortably and to contribute toward the maintenance of the widow and
her brood in Germany. Furthermore, I had solid grounds for expecting to
earn more next winter. There would be an opening for me in the Symphony
and Philharmonic Societies, and as I was gaining something of a
reputation I might reasonably demand a higher price for my lessons. It
was arranged that we should be married the first week in August.

Our journey to Hoboken was all too short that night. Never had horse-car
or ferry-boat advanced with such velocity before. As we left the church
she asked, “Did you notice how my voice trembled in my solo?

“It only added to its effect,” I answered. “Were you nervous?”

“Oh, no, I was happy, so happy that I could not control my voice.”

Ah, but I had a full heart as I walked home that night. The future was
all radiant radiant beyond my wildest dream. It frightened me. Such
perfect bliss seemed scarcely possible, seemed too great and glorious to
last. And yet had not Veronika’s own lips promised it? and sealed the
promise with a kiss that burned still where she had placed it? It was
useless for me to go to bed; it was useless for me to stay in the house.
I put on my hat and went out and spent the night pacing up and down
before her door. And as soon as the morning was far enough advanced
I rang the bell and invited myself to breakfast with her; and after
breakfast I helped her to wash the dishes, to Mr. Tikulski’s
unutterable disapproval—it was “unteeknified,” he said—and after
that I accompanied her as far as the first house where she had to give a
lesson.

While writing the above I had almost forgotten. Now I remember. I must
stop for a space to get used to remembering again that she is dead.



III.

YES, she is dead. That is the truth. If truth is good, as men proclaim
it to be, then goodness is intrinsically cruel. That Veronika is dead is
the truth which lies like a hot coal upon my consciousness, and goads
me along as I tell this tale. And the manner of her death and the
speediness of it—I must tell all.

And yet, although I know her to be dead, although I repeat to myself a
hundred times a day, “She is dead, dead, dead,” and although, God
help me, I think I realize too well that she is dead, yet to this day I
can scarcely bring myself to believe it. Truth as it is, it seems to
be in utter contradiction to the rest of truth. Even those who have
abandoned faith in Religion, still profess faith in Nature, saying,
“Nature is provident, beneficent, and wise; Nature is alive with
beauty.” And at most times, it seems as if these assertions were not
to be contested. Yet, how can they be true when Nature contained the
possibility of Veronika’s death? How can Nature be wise, and yet have
permitted that maiden life to be destroyed?—provident, and yet have
flung away her finest product?—beneficent, and yet have torn bleeding
from my life all that made my life worth living?—beautiful, and yet
have quenched the beautifying light of Veronika’s presence, and hushed
the voice that made the world musical? The mere fact that Veronika could
die gives the lie to the Nature-worshipers. In the light of that fact,
or rather in the darkness of it, it is mockery to sing songs of praise
to Nature.—That is why it is so hard for me to believe—to believe a
thing which annihilates the harmony of the universe, and proclaims the
optimism of the philosophers to be a delusion, a superstition. How could
I believe my senses if I should hear Christine Nilsson utter a hideous
false note? So is it hard for me to believe that Nature has allowed
Veronika to die. And yet it is the truth, the unmistakable, irrevocable,
relentless truth.

I suppose all lovers are happy: but it does not seem possible that
other lovers can ever have had such unmitigated happiness as ours
was—happiness so keen as almost to be a pain. The light of love
that burst suddenly into our lives, and filled each cranny full to
overflowing, was so pure and bright as almost to blind us. The happiness
was all the keener, the light all the brighter, because of the hardship
and the monotony of our daily tasks. If we had been rich, if we had had
leisure and friends and many resources for diversion, then most likely
our delight in each other would not have been so great. But as we
were—poor, hard worked, and alone in the world—we found all the
happiness we had, in ourselves, in communing together; and happiness
concentrated, was proportionately more intense. The few hours in the
week which we were permitted to spend side by side glittered like
diamonds against the dull background of the rest. And we improved them
to the full. We called upon each fleeting moment to stay and perpetuate
itself; and we could not understand how Faust had had to wait so many
years before he could do the same. The season was divine, clear skies
and balmy weather day after day, and the Park being easily accessible,
we could imagine ourselves among the green fields of the country
whenever the fancy seized us. I believe that as a matter of fact the
turf of the common was sadly parched and brown; but we were not critical
so long as we could wander over it hand in hand. Then, our characters
were perfectly accorded; their unison was faultless. Each called for the
other, needed the other, as the dominant chord calls for and needs its
tonic. We had not a hope, a fear, an ambition, an aspiration, but it was
shared equally between us. Our art was a mutual passion which we pursued
together. When Veronika was seated at the piano and I stood at her side
with my violin at my shoulder, our cup of contentment was full to the
brim. Nothing more was wanting. I remember, one evening, in the middle
of a phrase, her fingers faltered and she wheeled around and lifted her
eyes upon my face.—“What is the matter, darling?” I asked.—“I
only want to look at you to realize that it isn’t a dream,” she
answered.—And yet she is dead.

June and half July had wound away; in little more than a fortnight our
wedding would be celebrated. The night was sultry, and she and I sat
together by an open window. Her uncle was absent: an idea had come to
him just before dinner, she explained, and according to his custom he
had gone out to walk the streets until he had mastered it. We were by no
means sorry to be alone. We had plenty to talk about; but even without
talking it was marvelously pleasant to sit together and think the happy
thoughts that filled our minds and listen to the subdued sounds of human
life that came in by the window.

Veronika had shown me some of her bridal outfit, telling how she had
worked at it in her short snatches of leisure. We took as much pleasure
in the contemplation of this modest little trousseau as though it had
boasted all the rubies and silken fabrics of the Indies. This set us to
talking of the future and making plans. And afterward we talked of the
past. We spoke of how strange it was that we should have come together
in the way we had—by the merest accident, as it seemed; and we doubted
if it was indeed an accident, if destiny had not purposely guided our
footsteps that memorable night.—“Why,” she exclaimed, “if uncle
and I had been but a few moments earlier or later, we never should have
seen each other at all. Think of the terrible risk we ran! Think if we
had never known each other!” and her fingers tightened around mine.

“And then,” I went on, “that I should have spoken to you, a
strange lady, and that you should have answered!”

“It seemed perfectly natural for me to answer; I had done so before
I stopped to think. But afterward I was ashamed; I was afraid you might
think it indelicate. But, somehow, the words spoke themselves. I am glad
of it now.”

“I do believe God’s hand was in it! I do believe it was all
pre-ordained in heaven. I believe that our Guardian Angel prompted me to
speak and you to answer. It can’t be that we, who were made for each
other, were left to find it out by a mere perilous chance—it isn’t
credible.”

“But nobody except myself—not even you, can understand how like a
miracle it all is to me, because nobody else can know how much I needed
you. Nobody else can know how dreary and empty my life was before you
came, or how completely you have filled it and gladdened it.”

Here we stopped talking for a while.

By and by she resumed, “I think that music differs from the other
arts. I think the musician instinctively needs a companion worker. I
know that in the old days when I would play or sing, my heart seemed to
cry out continually for some one to come and share its feeling. Perhaps
this was because music is the most emotional of the arts, the most
sympathetic. Really, sometimes I could not bear to touch the piano,
the pain of being alone was so acute. Of course I had my uncle, a most
thorough musician; but I wanted somebody who would feel precisely as I
did, and he did not. He always analyzed and criticised, never allowed
himself to be carried away, never forgot the intellectual side of the
things I would play. But now—now that you are with me, my music is a
constant source of joy. And then, the thought that we are going to work
together all our lives, the thought of the music we are going to make
together—oh, it is too great, it takes my breath away! I don’t dare
to believe it. I am afraid all the time that something will happen to
prevent it coming true.”

Again for a while we did not speak.

Again by and by she resumed, “And then you can not know how lonely
I was in other ways, how I longed for a little affection, a little
tenderness. Of course uncle is very good, has always been very good
to me; but do you think it was ungrateful for me to want a little more
affection than he gave me? I mean a little more manifest affection;
because I know that in the bottom of his heart he loves me very warmly.
But I longed for somebody to show a little care for me, and uncle is
very undemonstrative—he is so absorbed in his symphony, and then
sometimes he is exceedingly severe. When I would get home at night it
was so dreary not to have any one to speak to about the trials of the
day—not to have any one who would sympathize and understand. You
see, other girls have their mothers or their brothers and sisters and
friends: but I had nobody except my uncle; and he was so much older, and
regarded things so differently, that I do not think it was unnatural for
me to wish for some one else. Besides, I had so much responsibility; I
felt so weak and helpless. I thought, what if something should happen to
my uncle! or what if I should get sick and be unable to teach! Oh, the
rest and security that you brought to me!”

What I replied—a mass of broken sentences—was too incoherent to bear
recording.

“And then, the mere physical fatigue—day after day, work, work,
work, and never any respite. Of course, every body has to work, but
almost every body has a holiday now and then; and I never had a single
day that I could call all my own. In winter it was hardest. No matter
how tired I was, I had to be up and off giving lessons even if the snow
was ankle deep. And the ice in the river made it such hard work getting
to Hoboken, made the journey so very long. I had to do the housework
too, you know. We couldn’t afford to keep a servant, on account of the
money we had to send abroad. When I would come home all fagged out I
had to clean the rooms and cook the dinner; though I am afraid that
sometimes I did not more than half do my duty. Sometimes I would let the
dust lie for a week on the mantle-piece. And every day was just the same
as the day that had gone before. It was like traveling in a circle. When
I would go to bed at night my weariness would be all the harder because
of the thought, ‘To-morrow will be just the same, the same round
of lessons, the same dead fatigue, the same monotonous drudgery from
beginning to end.’ And as I saw no promise of change, as I thought it
would be the same all my life, I could not help asking what the use was
of having been born. Wasn’t I a dreadful grumbler? Yet, what could
I do? I think it is natural when one is young to long for something
to look forward to, for just a little pleasure and just a little
companionship. But then you came, and every thing was altered. Do you
remember in the Creation the wonderful awakening one feels when they
sing, ‘And the Lord said, Let there be light,’ very low, and then
with a mighty burst of sound, ‘And there was LIGHT?’ Do you remember
how one’s heart leaps and seems to grow big in one’s breast? It
was like that when you came to me. I used to wonder why I had ever felt
unhappy or discontented. The mere prospect of seeing you at the week’s
end made my heart sing from morning to night. It gave a motive, an
object, to my life—made me feel that I was working to a purpose, that
I should have my reward. I had been growing hard and indifferent, even
indifferent to music. But now I began to love my music more than ever:
and no matter how tired I might be, when I had a moment of leisure I
would sit down and practice so as to be able to play well for you. Music
seemed to express all the unutterable feeling that you inspired me with.
One day I had sung the Ave Maria of Cherubini to you, and you said,
‘It is so religious—it expresses precisely the emotions one
experiences in a church.’ But for me it expressed rather the emotions
a woman has when she is in the presence of the man she loves. All the
time I had no idea that you would ever feel in the same way toward
me.”

My kisses silenced her. Afterward she sang from Pergolese’s Stabat
Mater, and played a medley of bits from Chopin: until, looking at my
watch, I saw it was nearing midnight. Time for me to go away. But her
uncle had not yet come home. I did not like to leave her alone. I said
so.

“Oh, that is nothing,” she explained. “It always happens when he
has one of his ideas. Very likely he won’t come in till morning. I am
quite accustomed to it, and not a bit afraid.”

“In that event,” I thought, “I certainly ought to go. It may
embarrass her, my staying so late; and besides, she needs the sleep.”

I started to say good-by. Our parting was hard. Again and again, as
I reached the door, I turned back and began anew. But at last I found
myself in the street. I looked up at the parlor window, and remained on
the curbstone until I saw her close the sash and pull the shade, and the
light being extinguished, knew that she had gone to her bedroom. Then I
set my face toward home.

I had never loved her as I loved her now. Every lover will understand
that what she had said during the evening had added fuel to the fire.
My tenderness for her had increased a hundredfold. All my life should
be dedicated to soothing her and protecting her and making her glad. The
tired child should find rest and peace in my arms. To think of how she
had been exposed to the noise and the heat and the glare of the fierce
work-a-day world! Ah, Veronika, Veronika, I wanted, late as it was, to
return and pour out the yearning of my spirit at your feet. Why had I
left her at all? Each heart-beat seemed to speak her name. And when the
knowledge that in a fortnight we were really going to be married, that
I was really going to have the right to be to her what I wished—when
that knowledge flashed in upon me, I had to turn away lest it should
overwhelm me. I could not contemplate it any more than I could have
gazed straight upon the sun.—Finally I fell asleep and dreamed that I
was seated at her side, caressing her brow and emptying my life into her
eyes.

I awoke next morning with a start. My first sensation was one of anxiety
and unrest. As I dressed, this feeling intensified. I had a presentiment
that something had gone wrong. I tried to reason it away. The more I
reasoned, the stronger it waxed. I wanted to see her and satisfy myself
that every thing was right. It was eight o’clock. She would leave for
her lessons in half an hour. Luckily to-day my own engagements did not
begin till ten. If I hurried, I should be in time to catch her. I put on
my hat and walked at top-speed toward Fifty-first street.

Arrived at the door of the apartment-house, my worry subsided as
abruptly and with as little provocation as it had sprung up. Indeed, I
laughed as I remembered it. “Of course,” I said, “nothing is the
matter. Still I am not sorry to have come.”

“Has Miss Pathzuol gone out yet?” I asked the janitress who let me
in.

“I have not seen her,” she answered. “But she may have done so
without my noticing.”

I ran up the stairs and rang Veronika’s bell.—No response.—I rang
again.—Again no response.—A third ring, with waning hope of success:
and, “So,” I thought, “I am too late.”

Disappointed, I was retracing my steps down the staircase. I stood aside
to let some one pass.

“Ah, how do you do?” exclaimed Mr. Tikulski. “What brings you out
so early?”

I explained.

“Never mind,” he said, “but come back with me and have a cup of
coffee. I have been out all night, struggling with an obstinate little
aria. I will play it for you.”

He unlocked the door. The parlor was dark. The shades had not yet been
drawn. As he sent them flying up with a screech, my heart sank. Every
thing was just as we had left it last night; but it was cheerless and
empty with her away. There lay the Chopin still open on the music rest.
There were our two chairs still close together as we had placed them.

Tikulski went after the coffee apparatus; presently returned, arranged
it on the table, and applied a match to the lamp.

“While we wait for the water to boil,” he said, “I will give you
the result of my night’s labor. I composed it walking up and down
under the trees in the park, so that they—the trees—might claim it
for their fruit! Ha-ha! A heavenly night: the sky could scarcely hold
the stars, there were so many; but terribly warm.”

Again he went away—to fetch his instrument.

He was gone a long while. The water began to boil—boiled loudly and
more loudly. A dense stream of vapor gushed from the nozzle of the pot.
Still he remained.

At last I lost patience. Stepping to the threshold, I called his name.
At first he did not answer.

“Mr. Tikulski!” I repeated.

I seemed to hear—no, certainly did hear—his voice, low,
inarticulate, down at the other end of the hallway. It alarmed me.
Had he met with an accident? hurt himself? fainted after the night’s
vigil? paralysis? apoplexy? I hastened toward him, entered the room
whence his voice had sounded. There he stood. He stood in the center of
the floor, immobile as a statue, his face livid, his attitude that of a
man who has seen a ghost.

“For God’s sake, what has happened?” I cried.

He appeared not to hear. I repeated my question.

He roused himself. A tremor swept over him. A painful rattling
was audible in his throat. He raised his arm heavily and pointed.
“L-look,” he gasped.

I looked. How can I tell what I saw?



IV.

AND yet I must tell it, though the telling consume me like a flame. I
saw a bed and Veronika lying on it, face downward. She was dressed in
her customary black gown. I supposed she was asleep. I supposed she was
asleep, for one short moment. That was the last moment of my life. For
then the truth burst upon me, fell upon me like a shaft from out the
skies and hurled me into hell. I saw—not that she was dead only. If
she had only died it would be different. I saw—merciful God!—I saw
that she was murdered.

Oh, of course I would not, could not, believe it. Of course it was a
dream, a nightmare, an hallucination, from which I should presently
awake. Of course the thing was impossible, could not be. Of course I
flung myself upon the bed at her side and crushed her between my arms
and covered her with kisses and called and cried to her to move, to
speak, to come back to life. And although her hands were icy cold and
her body rigid and her face as white as marble, and although—ah, no!
I may leave out the horrible detail—still I could not believe. I could
not believe—yet how could I deny? There she lay, my sweetheart, my
promised bride, deaf to my voice, blind to my presence, unmoved by my
despair, beyond the reach of my strongest love, never to care for me
again—Veronika, my tender, sad Veronika—oh, she lay there, dead,
murdered! And still, with the knife-hilt staring at me like the face of
Satan, still I could not believe. It was the fact, the unalterable fact,
the fact that extinguished the light of the sun and stars and flooded
the universe with blackness: and still, in spite of it, I called to her
and crushed her in my embrace and kissed her and caressed her and was
sure it could not be true. And meantime people came and filled the room.

I did not see the people. Only in a vague way I knew that they were
there, heard the murmur of their voices, as if they were a long distance
off. I had no senses left. I could neither see nor hear distinctly. My
eyes were burned by a fierce red fire. My ears were full of the uproar
of a thousand devils. But I knew that people had intruded upon us. I
knew that I hated them because they would not leave us two alone. I
remember I rose and faced them and cursed them and told them to be gone.
And then I took her in my arms again and pressed her hard to me and
forgot every thing but that she would not answer.

Gradually, however, nature was coming to my rescue. Gradually I seemed
to be sinking into a stupor—had no sensation left except a numb,
bruised feeling from head to foot—forgot what the matter was, forgot
even Veronika, simply existed in a state of half conscious wretchedness.
The first frenzy of grief had spent itself. The very immensity of
the pain I had suffered acted as an opiate, exhausted and rendered me
insensible. I heard the voices of the people as a soldier who is wounded
may still hear something of the din of battle.

I don’t know how long I had lain thus when I became aware that a hand
was placed upon my shoulder. Some one shook me roughly and said, “Get
up and come away.” Passively, I obeyed. “Sit down,” said the same
person, pushing me into a chair. I sat down and relapsed into my stupor.

Again I don’t know how long it was before they disturbed me for a
second time. Two or three men were standing in front of me. One of them
was in uniform. Slowly I recognized that he was an officer, a captain of
police. He spoke. I heard what he said without understanding, as one
who is half asleep hears what is said at his bedside. This much only
I gathered, that he wanted me to go with him somewhere. I was too much
dazed to care what I did or what was done with me. He took my arm and
led me away. He led me into the street. There was a a great crowd.
I shut my eyes and tottered along at his side. We entered a house.
Somebody asked me a lot of questions—my name and where I lived and
so forth—to which my lips framed mechanical answers. I can remember
nothing more.

When consciousness revived I was made to understand that I had fainted.

“But where am I? What has happened?” I asked, trying to remember.

The police-captain explained. “Mr. Neuman,” he said, “I have made
all the inquiry that is as yet possible, and the result is that I deem
it my duty to take you in custody. I prefer no charge, but I believe I
am bound to hold you for the inquest. The hour of your leaving her last
night, the time that Miss Pathzuol has apparently been dead, and the
fact that you were the last person known to have been in her company,
make it incumbent upon me to place you under arrest.”

I pondered his words. Every thing came back. I was accused, or at least
suspected, of having murdered Veronika—I!

I felt no emotion. I was stunned as yet, like a man who has received a
blow between the eyes. My brain had turned to stone. I repeated over to
myself all that the captain had said. The words wrought no effect. I did
not even experience pain as I thought of her. She is dead? I queried.
They were three vapid syllables. My senses I had recovered—I could
see and hear plainly now—could remember the events of the morning in
detail and in their correct order. But somehow I had lost all capacity
for feeling.



V.

AND so it continued throughout the inquest and throughout the
trial—for, yes, they tried me for my sweetheart’s murder. I ate,
drank, slept, and answered the questions that were put to me, all in a
dazed, dull way, but suffered no pain, no surprise, no indignation, had
no more sensation than a dead man. That Veronika had been killed, and
that I was accused of having killed her, were the facts which I heard
told and told again from morning till night each day; yet I had not the
least conception of what they signified. I was too stunned and benumbed
to realize.

The first day passed by, and the second and the third, every one of them
busy with events that meant life or death for me: yet I took no notice.
When left to myself, invariably I closed my eyes, and the stupor settled
over my senses like a cloud of smoke. When aroused, I did whatever was
required as passively as an automaton. I remember those first few days
as one remembers a hateful dream. I remember being driven in a dark,
noisy vehicle from the station-house to the city prison, and having in
the latter place a cell assigned to me which was destined to serve as my
home for many weeks. I remember making several trips, handcuffed to my
custodian, from the jail to the office where the inquest was held and
back: but my only recollection of the inquest itself is a confused
one—a crowded, foul-smelling room, a chaos of faces and voices,
endless talking, endless questioning of myself by men who were strangers
to me. I remember that by and by these journeys came to an end: but
what the verdict of the inquest was I do not remember—I do not think I
troubled myself to ask at the time. Then I remember that after some days
spent alone in my cell one of the keepers said, “You are indicted,”
and inquired whether I wished to communicate with my attorney. Indicted?
My attorney? I did not comprehend. I do not remember what I answered.

Once the door of my cell opened, and they brought in a trunk and a
violin-case and placed them on the floor at the foot of my cot.

I recognized these for my own property. Mechanically I took out my
violin and drew forth one long, clear note. That note was like a sudden
flash of light. For a single instant the desolation to which my world
had been reduced became visible in all its ghastliness. For a single
instant I realized my position, realized that Veronika was dead, and the
rest. The truth pierced my consciousness like an arrow and made my body
quake with pain. But immediately the darkness settled over me again, the
stupor returned.

Slowly, however, this stupor was changing its character. By degrees,
so far as my mere thinking faculties were involved, it began to be
dissipated. By degrees my mind struggled out of it. I began to notice
and to understand things, and was able to converse and to appreciate
what was said. But over my feelings it retained its sway. Although I
was quite competent now to follow the explanations of my lawyer—how
Veronika had been murdered and how and why I was suspected as the
murderer—still I had no feeling of any sort about the matter. I might
have been a log of wood.

My lawyer had presented himself one day and volunteered his services. I
had accepted them without even inquiring his name.

“Don’t you remember me?” he asked.

I looked at his face but could not recall having seen it before.

“My name is Epstein,” he said. “We went to school together.”

“Oh, yes; I remember,” I replied.

Regularly each day he came and reported the progress of affairs.

“They are building up a strong case against you,” he said. “Our
only hope lies in an alibi.”

“What is that?” I inquired dully.

He explained; and continued, “Of course the prosecution won’t tell
me what tack they mean to pursue, but from several little things that
have leaked out I infer that they have a pretty strong case. Now, at
what hour did you leave Miss Pathzuol that night?”

“At about midnight.”

“And went directly home?”

“Directly home.”

“After entering your house did you meet any of the other occupants?
any of your fellow-lodgers?”

“I don’t remember.”

“But you must make an effort to remember. Try.”

“I tell you, I don’t remember,” I repeated. His persistence
irritated me.

“You appear to take as little interest in this case as though it were
the life of a dog hanging in the scales instead of your own,” he said,
and that was the truth.

Next day his face wore a somber expression.

“This is too bad,” he cried. “I have interviewed your landlady and
your fellow-lodgers, and not one of them can swear to your alibi. I know
you are innocent, but I don t see how I am to prove it.”

At last the trial began.

I sat through that trial, the most indifferent person in the court-room.
I heard the testimony of the witnesses and the speeches of the lawyers
simply because I was close at hand and could not help it. But I was
the least interested of the many auditors, the least curious as to the
result. Yet, stolid, indifferent, inattentive as I was, every detail of
the trial is stamped upon my memory in indelible hues. Here is the story
of it.

The first day was used in securing a jury.

The second day commenced with an address—an “opening” they called
it—by the counsel for the prosecution. He told quietly who Veronika
was, how she had lived alone with her uncle, and how on the morning of
the 13th July they had found her, murdered. He said that a remarkable
train of circumstantial evidence pointed to one man as the murderer.
Then he raised his voice and dwelt upon the blackness of that man’s
soul. Then he faced around and bade the prisoner stand up. Shaking his
finger at me, “Gentlemen of the jury,” he thundered, “there is the
man.”

The first witness was Tikulski. He testified to the discovery of the
murder in the manner already known; told how he had been absent all
night that night; and explained the nature of the relations that
subsisted between Veronika and myself.

“When you got home on the morning of the 13th in what condition was
the door of your apartment?” asked the district-attorney.

“In its usual condition.”

“That is to say, locked?”

“Precisely.”

“It had not been broken open or tampered with?”

“Not so far as I could see.”

“That’s all.”

On cross-examination he said that he had never heard a harsh word pass
between Veronika and myself, that on the contrary I had given him every
reason for considering me a most tender and devoted lover.

“And when made aware of the death of his betrothed,” pursued my
lawyer, “how did Mr. Neuman conduct himself?”

“He acted like a crazy man—like one paralyzed by a tremendous
blow.”

“You can go, Mr. Tikulski,” said my lawyer. “But I wish to say,”
began Tikulski, “that I do not believe——”

“Stop,” cried the prosecutor. “Your honor, I object to any
expression of opinion by the witness.”

“No matter about what you don’t believe,” said the Judge to
Tikulski.

“But——-”

“But you must hold your tongue,” imperiously. “You can go.”

The old man left the stand and elbowed his way to my side.

“What I wished to say was,” he whispered into my ear, “that I
believe you are as innocent as I myself. It is outrageous, this trial.
They compelled me to testify. But you must understand that I am sure of
your innocence. I don’t know why they hushed me up.”

Meanwhile the captain of police had succeeded him, and sworn to having
visited the scene of the crime and to having placed the prisoner under
arrest.

“Captain,” said the district-attorney, “here is a key. Have you
seen it before?” handing a key to the witness.

“I have,” was the reply.

“Tell us when and where.”

“I took it from the prisoner on the morning of his arrest.”

“What further can you say about it?”

“Subsequently it was identified as a key to the apartments occupied by
the deceased.”

“Did you try it yourself?”

“I did. It fitted the lock.”

“How is this?” Epstein asked me. “How did you come by that key?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” I answered. “I don’t remember ever
having had it in my possession.”

“But it is an ugly circumstance, and must be accounted for.”

“Oh, what difference does it make?” I retorted petulantly. “Leave
me alone.”

“A few little trifles like this may make the difference of your
neck,” muttered Epstein, and he looked disturbed.

“Captain,” continued the district-attorney, “just one thing more.
Do you recognize this handkerchief?”

“Yes; it was found in the pocket of the prisoner when he was searched
at the station-house.”

My lawyer got hold of the handkerchief and exhibited it to me. It
was stained dull brown. “This is blood,” he said. “How did it
happen?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t an idea,” was the utmost I could
respond. Epstein looked more uneasy than before.

“That’s enough, Captain,” said the prosecutor.

“But before you leave the stand,” put in Epstein, “kindly tell us
what the prisoner’s conduct was from the time you took charge of the
premises down to the time you locked him up.”

“At first he acted as though he was crazy; raved and carried on like a
madman. Afterward he became quiet and sort of dull. At the station-house
he fainted away.”

“Didn’t act as though he liked it—as though the death of Miss
Pathzuol was a thing that pleased him?”

“No, sir; on the contrary. He acted as though it had been a great
shock to him.”

“You can go.”

Next came a physician.

He said he was a police-surgeon. At about nine o’clock on the morning
of July 13th he had been summoned to the house of the decedent; had
examined the body and satisfied himself as to the mode of death. There
were three separate knife-wounds. These he proceeded to describe in
technical language. Not one of them could have been self-inflicted; any
one of them was sufficient to have caused immediate death.

“Dr. Merrill,” inquired the prosecutor, “how long—how many
hours—prior to your arrival must the crime have been perpetrated?”

“From seven to ten hours.”

“So that—?”

“So that the crime must have been perpetrated between eleven and two
o’clock.”

“Good.—Now, Doctor, here is a handkerchief which the captain says
he took from the prisoner on the morning of his arrest. Do you recognize
it?”

“I do.”

“Go on—what about it?”

“It was submitted to me for chemical analysis—to analyze the
substance, with which it is discolored.”

“And you found?”

“I found that it was stained with blood,”

“Human blood?”

“Precisely.”

“About how long had it been shed? Did its condition indicate?”

“From its condition when submitted to me—that is, at about noon on
the 13th—I inferred that it had been shed not much less nor much more
than twelve hours.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” said the lawyer. To Epstein, “Your
witness.”

“One moment, Doctor,” said Epstein. Turning to me, “You can give
no explanation of this circumstance?” he whispered.—“None,” I
answered.—To the witness, “Doctor, blood may be shed in divers ways,
may it not? This blood on the handkerchief, for instance—it might have
come from—say, a nose-bleed, eh?”

The surgeon smiled, hesitated, then replied, “Possibly, though not
probably. Its quality is rather that of blood from a wound than that of
blood from congested capillaries. But it is quite possible.”

“You can go, Doctor.”—To me, “Are you sure you didn’t have a
nose-bleed on the night in question?”

“I know nothing at all about it.”

The next witness was a woman.

She said she was the janitress of the apartment-house, No.—East
Fifty-first street. It was a portion of her duty as such to open the
street-door when the bell was rung. On the evening of July 12th, she
had opened the door and admitted the prisoner between seven and eight
o’clock.

“Can you say at what hour the prisoner left the house?”

“Yes, sir, I can. It was a warm night, and me and my husband were
seated out on the stoop for the sake of the breeze till late. Mr. Neuman
went out a little before twelve o’clock.”

“He entered between seven and eight. He left at about midnight. Now,
meanwhile, whom else did you admit?”

“No one at all. From half past seven until midnight no one went in
except Mr. Neuman.”

“Was not that a somewhat unusual circumstance?”

“Most extraordinary. Me and my husband spoke about it at the time.”

“You can swear positively on this score?”

“Yes, because we staid on the stoop the whole evening and not a soul
could have passed us without our seeing.”

“Are there any other means of ingress to the house of which you have
charge than the street door?”

“Yes, sir; the basement-door and the scuttle-door in the roof.”

“What was their condition on the night of the 12th of July?”

“They were locked and bolted.”

“What was their condition on the morning of the 13th?”

“At six o’clock when I opened the house they were still locked and
bolted.”

“Meantime could they have been unlocked?”

“No, because I carried the keys in my pocket.”

“Now, what are the means of ingress to the flat occupied by Mr.
Tikulski?”

“The door that opens from his private hall into the outer hall of the
house.”

“Any other?”

“No, your honor.”

“Do you recognize this key?” handing to the witness the key that the
officer had identified.

“I do, sir.”

“Well?”

“It’s a key to Mr. Tikulski’s door?”

Here befell a pause, during which the jurymen shifted in their seats and
the prosecutor consulted with his colleague. In a moment he resumed.

“Now, Mrs. Marshall, you have testified that the prisoner at the bar,
Ernest Neuman, left the house, No.—East Fifty-first street, shortly
before midnight on the 12th of July. Your memory on this point is
entirely trustworthy?”

“It is, sir.”

“Very well. Did you notice his movements after that?”

“I did, sir.”

“Tell us what they were.”

“Well, sir, he crossed over the street and stood on the sidewalk under
a lamp-post looking up at the front of the house toward Mr. Tikulski’s
windows, and then—”

“For how long?”

“I couldn’t tell exactly, but maybe for the time it would take you
to walk around the block.”

“For five minutes?”

“Yes, or more likely for ten.”

“And then—?”

“Well, and then, as I was saying, he marched straight away toward the
avenue.”

“Toward what avenue?”

“Toward Second avenue.”

“And disappeared?”

“And disappeared.”

“Did you see any thing more of him that night?”

“I did, sir.”

“When and under what circumstances?”

“In about a quarter of an hour, your honor, Mr. Neuman he comes back
and stands leaning up against the railing across the way; and pretty
soon crosses over and goes past us without speaking a word and enters
the house, the door being open, and goes up the stairs.” My lawyer
turned sharply to me. “Is this true?” he whispered. “No, it is
entirely false,” I answered. But I did not care.

“This,” resumed the district-attorney, “was at about what hour?”

“Sure, you can reckon it for yourself, sir. It was a little after
twelve.”

“Very good. Now, at what hour did you shut up the house?”

“It was after one o’clock.”

“Had the prisoner meantime gone out?”

“He had not.”

“So that consecutively from the moment of his reëntrance to the
hour of your closing up, he was in the house?”

“He was, sir.”

“Meanwhile, who else had entered?”

“Two of the tenants, Mr. and Mrs.————, the tenants of the
first flat.”

“Any one else?”

“No one else.”

“That will do, Mrs. Marshall.”

My lawyer cross-questioned her for an hour. His utmost art was powerless
to shake her. She reiterated absolutely and word for word what she had
already sworn to.

“John Marshall!” called the prosecutor.

It was the husband of the janitress. He confirmed her story, and like
her, was impregnable to Epstein’s assaults.

“That’s our case, your honor,” said the district-attorney to the
judge.

“Then we will adjourn until to-morrow,” replied the latter.

I was handcuffed and led back to the Tombs, a crowd following. Epstein
joined me in my cell.

“How about that key?” he demanded.

“I know nothing about it.”

“How about the blood on your handkerchief?”

“I don’t remember. Perhaps, as you suggested, I had a nose-bleed.”

“You are sure you did not reenter the house?”

“Yes, I am sure of that. I went straight home and to bed.”

“Then the Marshalls have lied out and out?”

“They have.”

“Will you take the stand?”

“What for?”

“Why, to defend, to exonerate yourself.”

“No.”

“I feared as much. My friend, your life depends upon it.”

“What do I care for my life?”

“But your good name—you cherish your good name, do you not?’

“No,” I replied, stubbornly.

He attempted to plead, to reason with me. “No, no, no,” I insisted.
He went his way.

“Your honor,” he said next day in court, “I ask that the jury
be directed to render a verdict of not guilty, on the ground that the
prosecution has failed to show any motive on the part of my client
for the crime of which he is accused. Where the evidence is wholly
circumstantial, as in the present case, a failure to show motive is
fatal.”

“I shall not hamper the jury,” said the judge. “They must decide
the case on its merits.” Epstein called, “Mrs. Burrows.” My
landlady took the witness-chair and testified to my excellent character.
He called a handful more to testify to the same thing; then said, “I
am ready to sum up, your honor.”

“Do so,” replied the Court.

Epstein spoke shortly and quietly. I remember his argument word for
word; yet I was not conscious of attending to it at the time.

He said, “We are not prepared to contest the matters of fact alleged
by the prosecution, nor to deny that their bearing is against my client.
That Mr. Neuman was in Miss Pathzuol’s company on the night of July
12th, and that the next morning a blood-stained handkerchief and a key
to Mr. Tikulski’s door were taken from his pocket, we admit. We will
even admit that these circumstances are of a sort to cast suspicion upon
him: all that we claim is that they are not sufficient to confirm that
suspicion and make it certainty. It is the liberty, perhaps the life,
of a human being which you have at your disposal. No matter how dark the
shadow over him may be, if you can entertain a reasonable doubt of his
guilt, you must acquit. And, putting it to you in all simplicity and
sincerity, I ask: Does not the evidence offered by the prosecution leave
room for a reasonable doubt? Is it not possible that some other hand
than Neuman’s dealt the blows by which Veronika Pathzuol met her
death? If such a possibility exists, you must give Neuman the benefit of
it; you must acquit. Consider his good character; consider that he was
the betrothed of the lady whose murderer they would make him out to be;
consider that absolutely no trace of motive has been brought home to
him; consider that on the contrary he was the one man who above all
others most desired that she might live; consider these matters,
and then decide whether in reasonableness his guilt is not in doubt.
Remember that it is not sufficient that there should be a presumption
against him. Remember that there must be proof. Remember also what a
grave duty yours is, and how grave the consequences, should you send an
innocent man to the gallows.

“Only one word more. I had naturally intended to place my client upon
the stand, and let him justify himself by his own word of mouth. But,
unfortunately, I am not able to do so, because morally and physically he
is prostrated and unfitted for sustaining the strain of an examination.
But after all, if you will for a moment imagine yourselves in Mr.
Neuman’s position, you can conceive that his defense must necessarily
be of a passive, not of an active, kind. In his position what could
you say? Why, only that you were ignorant of the whole transaction, and
innocent despite appearances, and as much at loss for a solution of the
mystery involving it as his honor himself. This is what Neuman would say
were he able to go upon the stand. But one thing more he would say. He
would impugn the veracity of the Marshalls. He would maintain that they
lied in toto when they swore to his second entrance. He would tell you
that when he left the house in Fifty-first street at midnight, he went
directly home and to his bed, and that he returned no more until the
next morning. And he would leave you to choose between his story and
that of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. My opponent will ask, ‘Why not prove an
alibi, then?’ Because, when Mr. Neuman returned to his lodging-house
late that night, every body, as might have been expected, was asleep. He
encountered no one in the hall or on the stairs. He mounted straight to
his own bed-chamber and went to bed.

“I trust the matter to your discretion. I am sure that you will weigh
it carefully and conscientiously. You will realize that the life of a
fellow man hangs upon your verdict, and you will deliberate well, if
there be not, on the whole, a reasonable doubt in his favor. You will, I
am confident, in no uncertain mind consign Ernest Neuman to the grave of
a felon.” The district-attorney’s address was florid and rhetorical.
It lasted about two hours. He resumed the evidence. He said that an
ordinary process of elimination would suffice to fasten the guilt upon
the prisoner at the bar. The gist of his argument was that as Neuman
had been the only person in the victim’s company at the time of the
commission of the crime, he was consequently the only person who by
a physical possibility could be guilty. He warned the jury against
allowing their sympathies to interfere with their judgment, and read at
length from a law book respecting the value of circumstantial proof. He
ridiculed Epstein’s impeachment of the Marshalls, and added that even
without their testimony the doctor’s story and the police-captain’s
story, coupled with my own “eloquent silence,” were conclusive. It
was the obvious duty of the jury to convict.

The judge delivered his charge, dealing with the legal aspect of the
case.

Epstein rose again. “I request your honor,” he said, “to charge
that in the event of the jurymen finding that there is a reasonable
doubt in Neuman’s favor, they must acquit.”

“I so charge,” assented the judge.

“I request your honor,” Epstein continued, “to charge that if the
jurymen consider the fact of no motive having been shown, sufficient
to establish a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt, they must
acquit.”

“I so charge you, gentlemen,” said the judge.

The jurymen filed out of the room. The judge left the bench. It was now
about four in the afternoon. Half an hour passed. The court-room began
to empty. Another half hour passed. Only the court attendants, Epstein,
the district-attorney’s colleague, and the prisoner remained. One of
the attendants held a whispered conference with Epstein: then said to
me, “There is no prospect of a speedy agreement. Come.” I rose,
followed him to the rear of the room, and was locked up in the
prisoner’s pen.

It got dark. I sat still in the dark and waited. The stupor bound my
faculties like a frost.

It had been dark many hours when the door of the pen swung open. The
same attendant again said, “Come.”

The court-room was lighted by a few feeble gas jets. The judge sat on
the bench. The district-attorney was laughing and chatting with him.
Epstein said, “For God’s sake, summon all your strength. They have
agreed.”

The jurymen entered in single file, took their places, settled
themselves in their chairs. The judge and the prosecutor suspended their
pleasantries. The clerk cleared his throat. There was a second of dead
silence. Then, “Prisoner, stand up,” called the clerk.

I stood up.

“Prisoner, look you upon the jury. Jury, look you upon the
prisoner,” the clerk cried, machine-like.

In the murky light of the gas I could have gathered nothing from the
faces of the jurymen, even had I been concerned to do so.

“Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?” the
metallic voice of the clerk rang out.

The foreman rose. “We have,” he answered.

“How say you, do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty
of the offense for which he stands indicted?”

“Not guilty,” said the foreman.

Epstein grasped my hand and crunched it hard. His own was clammy. He did
not speak.

“Gentlemen of the jury, you say you find the prisoner at the bar
not guilty of homicide in the first degree, and so your verdict stands
recorded. Neuman, you are discharged.” It was the clerk’s last word.

I quitted the court-room, a free man. I was as indifferent to my freedom
as I had been to my peril. There was no consciousness of relief in my
breast.

Epstein stood at my elbow. “You must be weak and faint,” he said.
“Come with me.”

He led me through the silent streets and into a restaurant.

“This is an all-night place,” he said, with an attempt at
cheerfulness, “and much frequented by journalists. What will you
have?”

“I am not hungry,” I answered.

“Oh, but you must take something,” he urged with a touch of
ruefulness, “just a bite to celebrate our victory.”

I drank a cup of coffee. When we were again out-doors, Epstein cried,
“Why, see; it is beginning to get light. Morning already.” A fresh
wind blew in our faces, and the blackness of the sky was giving place to
gray. “I must leave you now,” said Epstein, “and hurry home. Where
will you go?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ll stroll about for a while.
Good-by.”

“Good-by.”



VI.

I WALKED along aimlessly, recounting all the happenings of the last few
weeks. I was astonished at my own blank insensibility. “Why, Veronika,
the Veronika you loved, is dead, murdered,” I said to myself, “and
you, you who loved her, have been in prison and on trial for the crime.
They have outraged you. They have sworn falsely against you. And the
very core of your life has been torn out. Yet you—what has come over
you? Are you heartless, have you no capacity for grief or indignation?
Oris it that you are still half stunned? And that presently you will
come to and begin to feel?” I strode on and on. It was broad day now.
By and by I looked around.

I was in Second avenue, near its southern extremity. I was standing in
front of a large red brick house. A white placard nailed to the door
caught my eye. “Room to let,” it said in big black letters.

“Room to let?” I repeated. “Why, I am in need of a room.” And
I entered the house and engaged the room. The landlady asked my name.
I told her it was Lexow, that having been the maiden-name of my mother.
Neuman had acquired too unpleasant a notoriety through the published
accounts of the trial. As Lexow I have been known ever since.

I employed an express agent to go to the Tombs and bring back my
luggage.

Then I sat at my window and watched the people pass in the street. I
sat there stockstill all day. I was aware of a vague feeling of
wretchedness, of a vague craving for a relief which I could not name.
As dusk gathered, a lump grew bigger and bigger in my throat. “I
am beginning to be unhappy,” I thought. “It is high time.” My
insensibility had frightened as well as puzzled me. Instinctively, I
knew it could not last forever, knew it for the calm that precedes
the storm. I was anxious that the storm should break while I was still
strong enough to cope with its fury. Waiting weakened me. Besides, I
was ashamed of myself, hated myself as one shallow and disloyal. That I
could be indifferent to Veronika’s death! I, who had called myself her
lover!

But now, as the lump grew in my throat, now, I thought, perhaps the hour
has come. I sat still in my chair, fanning this forlorn spark of hope.

In the end, by imperceptible degrees, sleep stole upon me. It was
natural. I had been up for more than six-and-thirty hours.

When I awoke a singular thing happened. Memory played me a singular
trick.

I awoke, conscious of a great luminous joy in my heart. It was full
morning. “Ah,” I thought, “how bright the sunshine is! how sweet
the air! To-day I will go to Veronika to-day, after my lessons—and
spend the lest of the afternoon and the evening at her side!” My heart
leaped at this prospect of happiness in store: and I commenced to plan
the afternoon and evening in detail. At last I jumped up, eager to begin
the delicious day.

The trick that memory played me was a simple one, after all. The recent
past had simply for the moment been obliterated, and I transported back
for a moment into the old time. As I stood now in the middle of the
floor, my eye was struck by the strangeness of my surroundings.

“Why, how is this?” I questioned. “Where am I?”

For a trice I was bewildered, but only for a trice. The truth reasserted
itself all at once—rose up and faced me with its grim, deathly visage,
as if cleared by a stroke of lightning. All at once I remembered; and
what is more, all at once the stupor that had hung like a cloud between
me and the facts, rolled away. I looked at my world. It was dust and
ashes, a waste space, peopled by ghosts. My heart recoiled, sickened,
horrified; then began to throb with the pain that had been ripening in
its womb ever since the morning when Tikulski pointed to her, stretched
murdered upon the bed.

Well, at last the storm had broken; at last I realized. At last I could
no longer reproach myself for a want of sensibility. At last I had my
desire. I yielded myself to the enjoyment of it for the remainder of the
day.

For weeks afterward I lay at the point of death. The slow convalescence
that ensued afforded me plenty of time to examine my position from every
point of view, and to get accustomed to understanding that the light
had gone out of my sky. Of course I hated the fate that condemned me to
regain my health. The thought that I should have to drag out years and
years of blank, aimless, joyless life, appalled me. The future was
a night through which I should be compelled to toil with no hope of
morning. Strangely enough, the idea of suicide never once suggested
itself.

When I was able to go out, I repaired to Epstein’s office. Several
little matters remained to be settled with him. As I was about to leave,
he said, “Neuman, do you propose to take any steps toward finding the
murderer?”

“Toward finding the murderer? Why, no; I had not thought of doing
so.”

“But of course you will. You won’t allow the affair to rest in statu
quo?”

“Why not?”

“Why, considering your relations to Miss Pathzuol, I should think your
motive would be plain. Don’t you want to see her murderer punished,
her death atoned for?”

“Her death atoned for! Her death can never be atoned for. And the
punishment of her murderer—would that restore her to me? Would that
undo the fact that she is dead? Else, why should I bestir myself about
it?”

“Common human nature ought to be enough; the natural wish to square
accounts with him.”

“Do you fancy, Epstein, that such an account as this can be squared?
Suppose we had him here now at our mercy, what could we do by way of
squaring accounts? Put him to death? Would that square the account? To
say so would be to compare his miserable life to hers.—But besides, he
is not at our mercy. We have no clew to him.”

“Yes, on the contrary, we have.”

“Indeed? What is it?”

“Why, the most apparent one. You are sure the Marshalls lied?”

“Oh yes; I am sure of that.”

“Well, what earthly inducement could they have had for lying—for
perjuring themselves, mind you, and running the risk of being caught and
sent to prison—what earthly inducement, unless thereby they hoped to
cover up their own guilt by throwing suspicion upon another man?”

“Yes; that is so. I had not thought of that.”

“Well, now, if you and I are sure that the Marshalls participated in
that crime, there is a solid starting-point. Now, will you not join me
and help to fasten the guilt upon them?”

“What good would it do? I say again, would that give her back to
me?”

“But, my dear fellow, even if you have no desire to see the murderer
punished, you must at least wish to retaliate upon the wretches who
jeopardized your life by their false swearing, who sought to thrust upon
your innocent shoulders the brunt of their own offending.”

“No; I confess, I have no such wish.”

“But—but you amaze me. Have you not the ordinary instincts of a man?

“It is the business of the police, any how. Let them move in the
matter. You ought to understand that I am sick and tired, that all I
wish for is to be left alone. No, no; if the Marshalls should ever be
brought to justice it will not be by my efforts. The police can manage
it for themselves.”

“But there is just the point.” Epstein hesitated; at length went on,
“There is just the point I wanted to bring to your notice. It will
be hard for you to hear, but you ought to understand—it is only right
that I should tell you—that—that—why, hang it, the police
will remain idle because they suppose they have already finished the
business, already put their finger on the—the man.”

“Well, why should they remain idle on that account? Why don’t they
arrest him and try him, as they did me, before a jury?”

“You don’t comprehend, Neuman. The fact of the matter is—you must
pardon me for saying so—the fact is, they still suspect you.”

“Suspect me? What, after the very jury has acquitted me? I thought the
verdict of the jury was conclusive.”

“So it is, in one sense. They can’t put you in jeopardy again. But
this is the way they stand. They say, ‘We haven’t sufficient legal
evidence to warrant a conviction, but we feel morally certain, all the
same, and so there’s no use prying further.’ That is my reason for
broaching the subject and for urging you so strongly. You ought to clear
your character, vindicate your innocence, by proving to the police
that they are wrong, that the guilt rests with their own witnesses, the
Marshalls.

“I thank you, Epstein, for telling me this. I am glad to realize just
what my status is. But let me cherish no misconception. Is this theory
of the police—is it held by others?”

“To be frank, I am afraid it is. The newspapers took it up and—and
I’m afraid it s the opinion of the public generally.”

“Then the verdict did not signify?”

“Well, at least not so far as public opinion is concerned.”

“So that I am to rest under this stigma all my life?”

“Why, no—not if you choose to exonerate yourself, as I have
indicated.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that. I don’t care to exonerate myself.
What difference would it make? Would it make the fact that she is lost
to me forever one shade less true? Only, it is well that I should have
a clear understanding of my position, and I thank you for giving it to
me.”

“You don’t mean to say that you are going to drop the case there?”
Epstein demanded. “I assure you, I never should have opened my mouth
about it, had I foreseen this.”

“Don’t reproach yourself. You have simply done your duty. It was
my right to hear this from you.—Yes, of course I shall drop the case.
Good-by.”

“You will think better of it; you will reconsider it; you will come
back to-morrow in a wiser frame of mind. Good-by.”

As I reentered my lodging-house the landlady met me; thrust an envelope
into my hand; and vanished.

I was surprised to see that the envelope was addressed to “E. Neuman,
Esquire.” It will be remembered that I had introduced myself as Mr.
Lexow. I tore it open. It inclosed a memorandum of my arrears of rent
and a notice to quit, the latter couched thus: “Mr. Neuman’s real
name having been learned during his sickness, please move out as soon as
you have paid up.”

I caught sight of myself in the glass. “So,” I said, “you are the
person whom people suspect as a murderer! and it is thus that you are to
be regarded all the rest of your life as one touched with the plague.”

I counted my ready money and paid the landlady her due.

“I am very sorry,” she began, “but the reputation of my
house—but the other lodgers—but—”

“You needn’t apologize,” I interposed, and left the house.

It occurred to me that it would be necessary to find work whereby to
earn my livelihood. I had quite forgotten that I was poor. What should I
do?

The notion of giving music lessons again I could not entertain. Music
had become hateful to me. I could not touch my violin. I could not
even unlock the case and look at the instrument. It was too closely
associated with the cause of my sorrow. The mere memory of a strain
of music, drifting through my mind, was enough to cut my heart like a
knife. Music was out of the question.

I had had a little money in the Savings Bank. With this sum I had
intended to furnish the rooms which she and I were to have occupied!
Now it was all spent; three-quarters swallowed up by the expenses of my
trial, the residue by the expenses of my illness and the landlady’s
score for rent. I opened my purse. I had less than a dollar left. So it
behooved me to lose no time. I must find a means of support at once.

But music apart, what remained?—My wits were sluggish. Revolving
the problem over and over as I walked along, they could arrive at no
solution.

We were in December. The day was bitter cold. I had not proceeded a
great distance before the cold began to tell upon me. “I must step in
somewhere and warm myself,” I said. I was still feeble. I could not
endure the stress of the weather as I might have done formerly. I made
for the first shop I saw.

It was a wine-shop, kept by a German, as the name above the door
denoted. I took a table near the stove and asked for a glass of wine.
As my senses thawed, I became aware that a quarrel was going on in the
room—angry voices penetrated my hearing.

The proprietor, a fat man in his shirt-sleeves, stood behind the bar.
His face was very red! In his native tongue loudly and volubly he was
berating one of his assistants—a waiter with a scared face.

“Go, go at once. You are a rascal, a good-for-naught,” he was
saying; “here is your money. Clear out, before I hurt you.”

The culprit was nervously untying his apron strings. “Yes, sir,
at once, at once,” he stammered. In the end he put on his hat and
accomplished a frightened exit. His confreres watched his decapitation
with repressed sympathy.

After he had gone, the proprietor’s wrath began perceptibly to
mitigate. He settled down in his chair. The tint of his skin gradually
cooled. He lighted a cigar. He picked up a newspaper.

I had taken in these various proceedings mechanically, without bestowing
upon them any special attention. But now an idea, prompted by them,
began to fructify. By and by I approached the counter and ventured a
timid, “I beg your pardon.”

The proprietor glanced up.

“I beg your pardon,” I continued in German, “but you have
discharged a waiter!”

“Well?” he responded.

“Well, you will probably need somebody to take his place?”

“Well? What of it?”

“I—I—that is, if you think I would do, I should like the
employment.”

The proprietor looked thoughtful. He scratched his chin, puffed
vigorously at his cigar, and asked my name. He shook his head when
I confessed that I had had no experience of the business; but seemed
impressed by my remark that on that account I would be willing to serve
for smaller wages. He mentioned a stipend. It was ridiculously slender;
but what cared I? It would keep body and soul together. I desired
nothing more.

“What references can you give?” he inquired.

I mentioned Epstein.

“All right,” he said. “You can go to work at once. To-morrow I
will look up your reference. If it be satisfactory, I will keep you.”

The Oberkellner provided me with an apron and a short alpaca jacket;
and in this garb Ernest Neuman, musician, merged his identity, as he
supposed for good and all, into that of Ernest Lexow, waiter.



VII.

TWO years elapsed. Their history is easily told. I lived and moved and
had my being in a profound apathy to all that passed around me. The
material conditions of my existence caused me no distress. I dwelt in a
dingy room in a dirty house; ate poor food, wore poor clothing, worked
long hours; was treated as a menial and had to put up with a hundred
indignities every day; but I was wholly indifferent, had other things
to think of. My thoughts and my feelings were concentrated upon my one
great grief. My heart had no room left in it for pettier troubles. I do
not believe that there was a waking moment in those two years’ when I
was unconscious of my love and my loss. Veronika abode with me morning,
noon, and night. My memory of her and my unutterable sorrow for her
engrossed me to the exclusion of all else.

My violin I did not unlock from year’s end to year’s end. I could
not get over my hatred for the bare idea of music. Music recalled the
past too vividly. I had not the fortitude to endure it. The sound of a
hand-organ in the street was enough to cause me a twinge like that of a
nerve touched by steel.

As the winter leaped into spring, and days came which were the
duplicates of those I had spent with her, of course my pain grew more
acute. The murmur of out-door life and the warmth and perfume of the
spring air, penetrated to the very quick of memory and made it quiver.
But at about this time I began to taste an unexpected pleasure. It was
an odd one. Of old, during our betrothal, I had been tormented almost
nightly by bad dreams. As surely as I laid my head upon its pillow, so
surely would I be wafted off into an ugly nightmare—she and I were
separated—we had quarreled—she had ceased to love me. But now that
my worst dream had been excelled by the reality, I began to have dreams
of quite another sort. As soon as sleep closed upon me, the truth was
annihilated, Veronika came back. All night long we were supremely happy;
we played and sang and talked together, just as we had been used to do.
These dreams were astonishingly life-like. Indeed, in the morning after
one, I would wonder which was the very fact, the dream or the waking. My
nightly dream got to be a goal to look forward to during the day. But as
the summer deepened, I dreamed less and less frequently, and at length
ceased altogether.

Autumn returned, and winter; and my life did not vary. Time was slow
about healing my wounds, if time meant to heal them at all. But time did
not mean to heal them at all, as ere long became apparent.

One afternoon in November, a month or so before the two years would
have terminated, a young man entered the shop and ensconced himself at a
table in the corner. Having delivered his order and lighted a cigarette,
he pulled out a yellow covered French book from the pocket of his coat,
and speedily became immersed in its perusal. I don’t know what it was
in the appearance of this young man that attracted my attention. Almost
from the moment of his advent my eyes kept going back to him. His own
eyes being fastened upon his book, I could stare at him without giving
offense. And stare at him I did to my heart’s content.

He was a tall young fellow and wore his hair a trifle longer than the
fashion is. He was dressed rather carelessly; he knocked his cigarette
ashes about so that they soiled his clothes. He had a dark skin, and, in
singular contrast to it, a pair of large blue eyes. His forehead, nose,
and chin were strongly modeled and expressed force of character
without pretending to conventional beauty. He was not a handsome, but
a distinguished looking man. The absence of beard and mustache lent him
somewhat of the aspect of a Catholic priest. His big blue eyes were full
of good-nature and intelligence. He had a quick, energetic way of moving
which announced plenty of dash within. He had entered the shop like a
gust of wind, had shot across the floor and taken his seat at the table
as if impelled by the force of gunpowder, and now he turned the pages
of his book with the air of a man whose life depended upon what he was
doing. No sooner had he consumed one of his cigarettes than he applied a
match to its successor.

I stared at him mercilessly and wondered what manner of individual he
was.

“He is not a business-man,” I said, “nor a lawyer nor a doctor:
that is evident from his whole bearing; and besides, what would he be
doing in a wine-shop at this hour of the afternoon? I don’t think
he is a musician, either—he hasn’t the musician’s eyes or mouth.
Possibly he is a school-teacher, or it may be—yes, I should say most
certainly, he is an artist of some sort, a painter or sculptor, or
perhaps a writer.”

My speculations had proceeded thus far when in the quick, energetic way
above alluded to the young man looked at his watch, slammed to his book,
shoved back his chair, and commenced hammering upon the table with the
bottom of his empty beer-mug.

“Yes, sir,” I said, responding to his summons.

“Check,” he demanded laconically.

I handed him his check. He thrust his fingers into his waistcoat-pocket
for the money. They roamed about, apparently unrewarded.

A puzzled expression came upon his face. The fingers paused in their
occupation; presently emerged and dived into another pocket and then
into another. The puzzled expression deepened: at last changed its
character, became an expression of intense annoyance. He knitted his
brows and bit his lip. Glancing up, he said, “This is really very
awkward. I—I find I haven’t a sou about me. It’s—bother it
all, I suppose you’ll take me for a beat. But—here, I can leave my
watch.”

“Oh, that’s entirely unnecessary,” I hastened to put in.
“Don’t let it distress you. Tomorrow, or any other day you happen to
be passing, will do as well.”

He looked at the same time surprised and relieved. “That’s not a
conservative way of doing business,” he said. “How do you know I may
not take advantage of you?”

“Oh, I’m quite at rest about that. You need not be disturbed.”

“Well, such faith in human nature is stimulating,” he answered. “I
should hate to imperil it. So you may be sure I’ll turn up to-morrow.
Meanwhile I’m awfully obliged.”

Thereat he went away.

I paid his reckoning from my own purse, and immediately fell again to
wondering about him.

By and by it occurred to me, “Why, that is the first human being who
has taken you out of yourself for the last two years!” And thereupon I
transferred my wonder to the interest he had managed to arouse in my
own preoccupied mind. Then gradually my thoughts flowed back into their
customary channels.

But early the next day I caught myself asking, “Will he return?”
and devoutly hoping that he would. Not on account of the money; I had no
anxiety about the money. But somehow, self-centered as I was, I had felt
drawn toward this blue-eyed young man, and anticipated seeing him again
with an approach to genuine pleasure.

Surely enough, in the course of the afternoon the door opened and he
entered.

“Ah,” he said, “you see, I am faithful to my trust. Here is the
lucre: count it and be satisfied that the sum is just. Really,” he
added, dropping the mock theatrical manner he had assumed, “really,
it was frightfully embarrassing yesterday. But I’m a victim of
absentmindedness, and in changing my clothes I had omitted to transfer
my pocket-book from the one suit to the other. I can’t tell you how
much indebted I am for your considerateness. I suppose you are overrun
with dead-beats who play that dodge regularly—eh?”

I gave him the answer his question called for, served him with the
drinkables he ordered, and stationed, myself at a respectful distance.

He lighted his inevitable cigarette and produced his book. He read and
smoked for a few moments in silence. Suddenly he flung the book
angrily upon the table, pushed back his glass, and uttered an audible
“Confound it!”

I hastened forward to learn the subject of his discomposure and to
supply what remedy I might.

“I beg your pardon,” I ventured, “is there any thing wrong with
the wine?”

“Eh—what?” he queried. “With the wine? Any thing wrong? Oh—I
perceive. Oh, no—the wine s all right. It’s this beastly pedantic
author. He is describing the Jewish ritual, and now just observe
his idiocy. He goes on at a great rate about the beauty of a certain
prayer—gets the reader’s curiosity all screwed up—and then—fancy
his airs!—and then quotes the stuff in the original Hebrew! It’s
ridiculous. He doesn’t even condescend to affix a translation in a
foot-note. Look.”

He opened the book and pointed, with a finger dyed brown by
tobacco-smoke, to the troublesome passage.

Now I, having been brought up as an orthodox Jew, had a smattering of
Hebrew, and at a glance I saw that I could easily translate the few
sentences in question. So, impulsively and without stopping to reflect
that my conduct might seem officious, I said, “If you would like, I
think perhaps I may be able to aid you.”

“What!” he exclaimed, fixing a pair of wide open eyes upon my face.

“Yes, I think I can translate it.”

“The deuce!” he cried. “I didn’t suspect you were a scholar. How
in the name of goodness did you learn Hebrew?”

“A scholar I am not, surely enough: but I am a Jew, and like the rest
of my faith I studied Hebrew as a boy.”

“Ah, I understand. Well, fire away.”

I took the book and read the Hebrew aloud. It was a prayer, which, when
a child, I had known by heart. Afterward I explained its sense while my
friend jotted it down with a pencil upon the margin.

“Thanks,” he was good enough to say. “I don’t know what I should
have done without your help.—And so you are a Jew? You don’t look
it. You look like a full-blown Teuton. But I congratulate you all the
same.”

“Congratulate me for looking like a Teuton?” The shop being empty,
there was no harm in my joining in conversation with a client. Besides,
I did not stop to think whether there was harm in it or not. I yielded
to the attraction which this young man exerted over me.

“No—for belonging to the ancient and honorable race of Jews,” he
answered. “Your ancestors were civilized and dwelt in cities and wrote
poems, thousands of years ago: whereas mine at that epoch inhabited
caves and dressed in bearskins and occasionally dined on a roasted
neighbor. I should be proud of my lineage, were I a Jew.”

“But it is the fashion for the Gentiles to despise us.”

“Oh, bosh! It is the fashion for a certain ignorant, stupid set of
Philistines to do so—but those who pretend to the least enlightenment,
on the contrary, regard the Jews as a most enviable people. They envy
your history, they envy the success that waits upon your enterprises.
For my part, I believe the whole future of America depends upon the
Jews.”

“Indeed, how is that?”

“Why, look here. What is the American people to-day? There is no
American people—or rather there are twenty American peoples—the
Irish, the German, the Jewish, the English, and the Negro elements—all
existing independently at the same time, and each as truly American as
any of the others. Good! But in the future, after emigration has ceased,
these elements will begin to amalgamate. A single people of homogeneous
blood will be the consequence. Do you follow?”

“I think I follow. But the Jews?”

“But the Jews—precisely, the Jews. It is the Jewish element that is
to leaven the whole lump—color the whole mixture. The English element
alone is, so to speak, one portion of pure water; the German element,
one portion of eau sucrée; now add the Jewish—it is a dose of rich
strong wine. It will give fire and flavor to the decoction. The future
Americans, thanks to the Jew in them, will have passions, enthusiasms.
They will paint great pictures, compose great music, write great poems,
be capable of great heroism. Have I said enough?”

The result was that we chatted together for half an hour with the
freedom of old acquaintances. He quite made me forget that I was his
servant for the time, and led me to speak out my mind with the unreserve
of equal to equal. I enjoyed a peculiar sense of exhilaration that
lasted even after he had gone away. In spite of myself I could not help
relishing this contact with a superior man. Again I fell to wondering
about his occupation. I was more and more persuaded that he must be an
artist of some sort, or a writer.

The next day he came again, and the next, and the next, and regularly
every day at about the same hour for a fortnight. As surely as he seated
himself at the corner table, so surely would he beckon to me and begin
to talk. In these dialogues he afforded me no end of entertainment,
touching in a racy way upon a score of topics. He had resided abroad for
some years—seemed equally at home in Paris, Rome, and Munich—and his
anecdotes of foreign life were like glimpses into dream-land for me. He
had the faculty of making me forget myself, and for that reason, if for
no other, I should have valued his friendliness. Our interviews occurred
as bright spots in the sad gray monotone of my daily life.



VIII.

BUT one day, the fortnight having passed, he failed to put in an
appearance. I was heartily disappointed. I spent the rest of the
afternoon fathoms down in the blues—like an opium eater deprived of
his daily portion. It was Saturday, and as usual at nightfall the shop
filled up and the staff of waiters was kept busy. Toward ten o’clock,
long before which hour I had ceased altogether to expect him, the door
opened and my friend came in. He squeezed up between a couple of Germans
at one of the tables, and sat there smoking and reading an evening
paper. I had no opportunity to do more than acknowledge the smile of
greeting with which he favored me; and it chanced that the table at
which he was established fell under the jurisdiction of another waiter.
He consumed cigarette after cigarette and read his paper through to the
very advertisements on the last page; and still, while the other guests
came and went, he staid on. At the hour for shutting up he had not yet
shown any disposition to depart. His attendant carried off his empty
glass and hovered uneasily around his chair; but he failed to take the
hint. At length the proprietor began to turn out the lights. At this he
got up, buttoned his overcoat, waved a farewell at me, and passed beyond
the door.

I followed soon after. Turning up Second avenue, I felt a hand laid
gently upon my shoulder. “I have been waiting for you,” said my
friend. “Which way do you walk?” Without pausing for a reply, “You
won’t mind my walking with you?” and he linked his arm in mine.

“I was afraid I had seen the last of you for the day,” I answered.
“This is a pleasant surprise, I assure you.”

After a few yards in silence he resumed, “I say—oh, by the way, you
have never told me your name?”

“My name is Lexow.”

“What? Lexow?—Well, I say, Lexow, without being indiscreet, I should
like to ask how under the sun you ever came to be employed as you are
around in Herr Schwartz’s saloon.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Oh come now; yes, you do understand, too,” he rejoined. “Don’t
take offense and be dignified—We’re both young men, and there’s no
use in trying to mystify each other. You needn’t tell me that you have
always been a waiter. You’re too intelligent, too much of a gentleman
in every way. I’m not blind; and it doesn’t require especially long
spectacles to perceive that you are something different from what you
would havens believe. I’ve seen a good deal of the world and I’m not
prone to romancing. So I don’t fancy that you’re a king in exile or
a Russian nobleman or any thing of that sort. But at the same time I’m
sure you’re capable of better things than waiting, and I want to know
what the trouble is, so that I can help to set you back on the right
track.”

“One confidence deserves another. I have told you my name, tell me
yours.”

“My name is Merivale, Daniel.—But don’t change the subject.”

“Well, Mr. Merivale, I will say then, that if any other man had spoken
to me as you have just done, I should certainly have been offended. I
say this not to reproach you, but to show by the fact that I’m not
offended how much I think of you. So you mustn’t take offense either
when I add that I should prefer to speak of other things.”

“After that I suppose I ought to consider myself snubbed. But, I
sha’n’., notwithstanding. I shall simply take the whole confession
for granted. Now, Mr. Mysterious, I will venture to make three
allegations of fact about you. Promise to set me right if I am wrong. I
assure you I am actuated by disinterested motives. All you will have to
do will be to say yes or no. Promise.”

“I can’t pledge myself blindfold. But if the ‘allegations of
fact’ are within certain limits, I will satisfy you—although I
repeat I would prefer a different subject.”

“Capital! Well, then, for a beginner: You are or were or have at some
time hoped to be, an artist of some sort—eh?”

“How did you find that out?”—The query escaped involuntarily.
For a moment a dread lest he might have discovered my true identity,
darkened my mind: but it was transitory.

“You indorse allegation number one! No matter how I found it out.
I don’t really know myself—unless it was by that instinct which
kindred spirits have for recognizing one another. But now for allegation
number two. Its form shall be negative. You are not a painter, a
sculptor, an actor, or a poet.”

“No, neither of them.”

“Brava! I could have sworn to it. Therefore you are a musician. And I
will have the hardihood to guess that your instrument is the violin.”

“I confess, Mr. Merivale, that you surprise me. You have divined the
truth, but for the life of me, I don’t see how.”

“Why, by the simplest of possible means. If one is only observing and
has a knack of putting two and two together, most riddles can easily
be undone. After our first interview I said, That fellow is above his
station; after our second, That fellow is an artist; after our third,
I’ll bet my head he is a musician. I have told you it was partly
instinct, that made me set you down for an artist. It was partly the
tone of your conversation—your tendency to warm up over matters
pertaining to the arts, and to cool down when our talk verged the other
way. Then a—a certain ignorance that you betrayed about pictures and
books and statuary helped on the process of elimination. I concluded
that you were a musician—which conclusion was strengthened by the fact
of your being a Jew. Music is the art in which the Jews excel. And one
day a chance attitude that you assumed, a twist of the neck, a hitch
of the shoulder, cried out Violin! as clearly as if by word of
mouth—though no doubt the wish fostered the thought, for I have always
had a predilection for violinists. Now I will go further and declare
that a chagrin of one kind or another is accountable for your present
mode of life. A few years ago I should have said: A woman in the
case—disappointment in love—and so forth. Now, having become more
worldly, I say: Fear of failure, lack of self-confidence. Answer.”

“Since you are such an adept at clairvoyance, I need not answer. But
don’t let this thing become one-sided. You too are an artist, as you
have hinted and as I had fancied. And your art is?”

“Guess. I’ll wager you’ll never guess.”

“No; I confess I am at a loss. You seem equally familiar with all the
arts. One moment I think you are a painter; the next, a sculptor. I’m
sure you’re not a musician. And on the whole it seems most probable
that you are in some way connected with literature. I don’t know
why.”

“Good! You have hit the nail on the head! In spite of my slangy speech
and my worldly wisdom, learn that I aspire to become a poet! the poet of
the practical, of the every day, of the passions of modern life. As yet,
however, I am, as the French put it, inédit. The magazines repudiate
me. I am too downright, too careless of euphemism, to suit their dainty
pages. But this is aside from the point. The point is that I want to
hear you play.”

“Impossible. For me music is a thing of the past. I haven’t touched
a violin these two years. I shall never touch one again.

“Bah, bah! Excuse my frankness, but don’t be a child. If you
haven’t touched your violin for two years, you have allowed two
precious years to leak away. All the more reason for stopping the leak
at once. Come in.”

“We had arrived in front of an English-basement house in Seventeenth
street.

“Come in,” he repeated. “This is where I live.”

“It is too late,” I said.

“Nonsense,” he retorted. “It is never too late. Advance!”

I followed him into the house.

The room to which he conducted me was precisely the sort of room one
would have expected. It was chock-full of odds and ends, piled about
in hopeless confusion. The walls were hung with a reddish paper, and
freckled with framed and unframed pictures—etchings, engravings,
water-colors, charcoals, some suspended correctly by wires from the
cornice, others pinned up loosely by their corners. The ceiling was
tinted to harmonize with the walls. The floor was carpetless, of hard
wood, waxed to a high degree of slipperiness, and relieved by a sporadic
rug or two. Bits of porcelain and metal ware, specimens of old Italian
carving, Chinese sculptures in ivory, rich tapestries, bronze and
plaster reproductions of antique statuary, and books of all sizes and
descriptions and in all stages of decay, were scattered hither and
thither without a pretense to order. On the whole the effect of the
room was pleasant, though it resembled somewhat closely that of a
curiosity-shop gone mad. My host informed me that it was Liberty Hall
and bade me make myself at home. Producing a flagon of Benedictine, he
said laconically, “Drink.”

We drank together in silence. Turning his emptied glass upside down,
“Now,” he cried, “now for the music. Now you are going to play.”

“Oh, I thought you had forgotten about that,” I answered.

“‘Tis not among my talents to forget,” he declaimed, theatrically.
“You must prepare to limber up your fingers.”

“Really, Mr. Merivale,” I insisted, “you don’t know what you
are asking. I should no more think of touching a violin to-night than,
than—no need of a comparison. The long and short of the matter is that
I have the best of reasons for not wanting to play, and that the most
you can urge to the contrary won’t alter my resolution. I hate to
seem boorish or disobliging, but really I can’t help it. Besides, my
instrument is a mile away and unstrung, and it is so late that the
other occupants of this house would be annoyed. And as the subject is
extremely painful to me, I wish you would let it drop.”

“Oh, if you are going to treat the matter au grand sérieux,”
said Merivale, “I suppose I must give in. But you have no idea of how
disappointed I shall be. As for an instrument, I’ve a fiddle of my own
in the next room—one that I scrape on now and then myself. As for the
other occupants of this house, I pay double rent on the condition that
my quarters are to be my castle, and that I can create as much rumpus in
them, day and night, as I desire. If I were disposed to do so, I could
make this a broad proposition of ethics, and maintain that as an artist
you have no right to decline to exercise your skill. Your talent is
given you in trust—a trust which you violate when you bury the talent
in the ground. But I won’t go so far as that. I’ll simply ask you
as a favor to play for me, and, if after that you are still obstinate,
I’ll hold my peace.”

“Well, I am forced to be obstinate. Now let’s change the subject.”

“I bow my head. Only, perhaps you will make a single concession. As
I have said, I am the possessor of a fiddle. It is one I picked up in
Rome. I bought it of a seedy Italian nobleman; and he claimed it for
a rare one—a Stradivari, in fact. I’m no judge of such things,
and most likely was taken in. Will you look at it and give me your
opinion?”

“Oh, yes, I have no objection to doing that,”

I said, glad to prove myself not altogether churlish.

“Here it is,” he continued, putting the violin into my hands.

It was a beautiful instrument from an optical standpoint. What remained
of the varnish was ruddy and crystalline, and as smooth as amber.

The curves were exquisite. It was also either genuinely old or a
marvelous imitation. Its interior was dark and dirty—an excellent
condition. I could descry no label there—another favorable sign. Was
it indeed a Stradivari? Formerly it had been an ambition of mine to
play upon a Stradivari; an ambition which I had never had a chance to
gratify, because among the dozen so-called Stradivaris that I had come
upon here and there, I had found not one but betrayed its fraudulent
origin from the instant the bow was drawn across the strings. Something
of the old feeling revived in me as I held this instrument in my hands,
and before I had thought, my finger mechanically picked the A string.
The clear, bell-like tone that responded, caused me to start. I had
never heard such a tone as this produced before by the mere picking of a
string.

“I believe you have a treasure here,” I exclaimed. “I’m not
connoisseur enough to say whether it is a Stradivari; but whoever its
maker was, it’s a superb instrument.”

“Do you really think so?” cried Merivale. “Try it with the bow.”

He thrust the bow upon me. Without allowing myself time to hesitate, I
touched the bow to the strings: the result was a voice from heaven, so
clear, so broad, so sweet, of such magnetic quality, that it actually
frightened me, made my heart palpitate, summoned a myriad dead emotions
back to life. And yet I felt an irresistible temptation to continue, to
push the experiment at least a trifle further.

“Tune it up,” said Merivale.

I complied. That was the final stroke. After I had drawn the bow for
a second time across the cat-gut, there was no resisting. I lost
possession of myself: ere I knew it, I was pouring my life out through
the wonderful voice of the Stradivari.

I don’t remember what I played. Most probably it was a medley of
reminiscences. I only remember that for the first few minutes I suffered
the tortures of the damned—an army of devils were tugging at my
heart-strings—and withal I had no power to restrain the motion of
my arm and lay the violin aside. Then, I remember, the pain gradually
turned to pleasure, to an immense sense of relief, as though all the woe
pent up in the recesses of my soul had suddenly found an outlet and was
gushing forth in a tremendous flood of sound. As I felt it ebbing away,
like a poison let loose from my veins, somehow time and space were
annihilated, facts were undone, truth changed to falsehood. Veronika and
I were alone together in the pure realm of spirit while I told her in
the million tempestuous variations of my music the whole story of my
sorrow and my adoration. I listened to the music precisely as though it
had been played by another person; I heard it grow soft and softer and
melt into a scarcely audible whisper; I heard it soar away into mighty,
passionate crescendi; I heard it modulate swiftly from prayerful minor
to triumphant, defiant major; I heard it laugh like a child, plead like
a lover, sob like Mary at the tomb of Christ; I heard it wax wrathful
like a God in anger. And I—I was caught up and borne away and tossed
from high to low by it like a leaf on the bosom of the ocean. And at
last I heard the sharp retort of a breaking string; and I sank into a
chair, exhausted.

I think I must have come very near to fainting. When I gathered together
my senses and opened my eyes I was weak, nerveless, bewildered. Merivale
stood in front of me, his gaze fixed upon my face.

“In God’s name,” I heard him say, “tell me what you are. Such
music as you have played upsets all my established notions, undermines
my philosophy, forces me back in spite of myself to a belief in
witchcraft and magic. Are you a Merlin? Have you indeed the secret of
enchantment? It is hardly credible that simple human genius wove that
wonderful web of melody—which has at last come to an end, thank
heaven! If I had had to listen a moment longer, I should have broken
down. The strain was too intense. You have taken me with you through
hell and heaven.”

Still weak and nerveless, I could not command my voice.

“You are faint,” he exclaimed. “The effort has tired you out. No
wonder: here—drink this.” He held a glass to my lips. I drank its
contents. Presently I felt a glow of warmth radiating through my limbs.
Then I was able to stir and to speak.

“Through hell and heaven,” I repeated, echoing his words. “Yes, we
have been through hell and heaven.”

“It was a frightful experience,” he added, “more than I bargained
for when I asked you to play.”

“You must forgive me; I was carried away; I had no intention of
harrowing you, but I had not played for so long a time that my emotions
got the best of me.”

“Oh, don’t talk like that,” he protested. “It was a frightful
experience, but it was one I would not have missed. I had never dreamed
that music could work such an effect upon me; but now I can understand
the ardor with which musicians love their art; I can understand the
claims they make in its behalf. It is indeed the most powerful influence
that can be brought to bear upon the feelings. For my part I never was
so deeply moved before—not even by Dante. But tell me, how did you
acquire your wonderful skill? What must your life have been in order
that you should play like that?”

“Of ‘wonderful skill’ I have little enough. Tonight perhaps
I played with a certain enthusiasm because I was excited. But you
attribute too much to me. A musician would have descried a score of
faults. My technique has deserted me; but even when I used to practice
regularly, I occupied a very low grade in my profession.”

“I care not how you used to play, nor how you were rated, nor how
faulty your technique may be. You play now with a force that is more
than human. I am not given either to flattery or to exaggeration, and I
am not easily stirred up. But you have stirred me up, clear down to
the marrow of my bones. Perhaps these two years of abstinence have but
ripened the genius that was already in you—allowed it time to ferment.
Tell me, what depths of joy and sorrow have you sounded to gather the
secrets you have just revealed with your violin? What has your life
been?”

“My life has been a very simple one, and for the most part very
prosaic.”

“You might as well call the sun cold, the sea motionless, as pretend
that your life has been prosaic. Friend, the only element that gives
life and magnetism to art is profound, human truth That which touches us
in a picture, a poem, or a symphony, is its likeness to the truth, its
nature, especially its human nature. That is what makes Wilhelm Meister
a powerful book, because each page is written, so to speak, in human
blood. That is what makes Titian’s Assumption a great picture, because
the agony in the Madonna’s face is true human agony. And that is what
gave your music of a moment since the power to pierce the very innermost
of my heart-because it was true music the expression of true human
passion. Tell me, what manner of life have you lived, to learn so much
of the deep things of human experience?”

I looked into his clear, earnest eyes. They shone with a sympathy that
fell as balm upon my wounds. An impulse that I could not battle with
unsealed my lips. I told him my whole story from first to last.

Some of the time, as I was speaking, he sat motionless with his brow
buried in his hands. Some of the time he paced up and down the floor. He
smoked constantly. Twice or thrice he extended his palm to bid me pause,
indicating by nodding his head when he wished me to go on. Not once
did he verbally interrupt, nor for a long while after I had done did he
speak.

By and by he grasped my hand and wrenched it hard and said,
“Will—will you understand by my silence what I feel? It would be
sacrilege for me to talk about this thing. I—I—oh, what a fool I am
to open my mouth!”

But presently he cried, “The injustice, the humiliation, that you have
been put to! It is shameful. To think that they dared to try you, as
though the mere sight of your face was not sufficient to prove you
incapable of the first thought of crime! But I can understand your
motive for not wishing to hunt the Marshalls down. Only of this I am
sure, that if there is any such thing as equity in this world, some day
their guilt will be made manifest and they will receive the chastisement
which they deserve. Oh, how you have suffered! I tell you, it sobers a
man, it reminds him of the seriousness of things, the spectacle of such
a colossal sorrow as yours has been.”

Again silence. Eventually he crossed over to the window and sent the
curtains rattling across their pole. It was getting light outside. I
pulled myself together. Rising, “Well,” I said, “good-by. My visit
to you has been like a sojourn in another world. Now, I must return to
my own dreary sphere. Forgive me if I have wearied you with all this
talk about myself. I seemed to speak without meaning to—involuntarily.
Once started, I could not have stopped myself, had I tried.”

“Don’t speak like that,” he rejoined hastily and with a look of
reproach. “Don’t make me feel that you repent your confidence. It
was only right, only natural, that you should unbosom yourself to me.
It was the consecration of our friendship. Friendship is never complete
until it has been tested in the fire of sorrow. Mere companionship in
pleasure is not friendship. No matter how intimately we might have seen
each other, we should never have been friends until you had told me
this.—Moreover, don’t get up. You must not think of going away as
yet.”

“As yet? Why, I have outstaid the night itself. I must make haste or I
shall be behindhand at the shop.”

“You must not think of returning to the shop to-day. You must go to
bed and have some sleep. When you awake again I shall have a proposition
to lay before you. For the present follow me—”

“But Mr. Merivale—”

“But I anticipate your objections. But they are worthless. But
the shop may, and I devoutly hope it will, be struck by lightning.
Furthermore, if you are anxious about it, I’ll send word around to the
effect that you’re unwell and not able to report for duty. That’s
the truth. But any how I have a particular reason for wanting to
keep possession of you for a while longer. Now, be tractable—as an
indulgence, do what I ask.”

There was no resisting the appeal in Merivale’s big blue eyes. I
followed him as he desired. He led me into the adjoining room, where
there were two narrow brass bedsteads side by side.

“You see,” he said, “I was prepared for you. Here is your couch,
ready for your reception. It’s rather odd about this. I’m a great
hand for presentiments: and experience has taught me to believe in their
coming true. When I took these quarters I said to myself, ‘Pythias,
the Damon you have been waiting for all these years will arrive while
you are bivouacked here. Be therefore in a condition to welcome him
properly.’ I don’t know why, but I was thoroughly persuaded, I felt
in my bones, that Damon’s advent would occur during my occupancy of
these rooms. So I bought two bedsteads and two dressing-stands instead
of one. I have got the heroes of the old legend somewhat mixed up;
can’t remember which was which: but I trust I’m not egotistic in
assigning the part of Damon to you and keeping that of Pythias for
myself. At any rate, it’s a mere figure of speech, and as such must
be taken. Now, Damon or Pythias, whichever you may be, in begging you to
make yourself comfortable here, I am simply inviting you to partake of
your own.”

As he rattled on thus, he had produced sheets and blankets from a chest
of drawers near at hand, and now was making the bed with the deftness of
an expert.

“There,” he exclaimed, bestowing a farewell poke upon the pillow,
“now go to bed with a clear conscience and a mind at peace. I shall
speedily follow. In the morning—I mean in the afternoon—we will
resume our session.”

He had the delicacy to leave me alone. I was too fatigued to reason
about what I was doing. I undressed quickly, got into bed, and fell
sound asleep.

The sunlight was streaming through the window when I awoke. Merivale was
seated upon the foot of the bed.

“Ah,” he cried, as I opened my eyes, “welcome back!”

“Eh, how?” I queried, perplexed for the moment. “Oh yes; I
remember. Have I been asleep long?”

“So long that I thought you were never going to wake up. It’s past
four in the afternoon, and you have been sleeping steadily since six
this morning. I had the utmost hardship in subduing my impatience. Ten
solid hours of sleep! You must have been thoroughly exhausted.”

“You ought to have roused me. One can gorge one’s system with sleep
as easily as with food. I have slept too much. But—but how shall I
ever make amends at the shop?”

“Bother the shop! The shop no longer exists. I have caused its
annihilation during the day.”

“Have you Aladdin’s lamp?

“I have a substitute for it, at least. The shop has been transported
to Alaska.”

“That was unkind of you. Now I shall have to undergo the expense of
a journey thither. Besides, I prefer a more temperate climate.—But
seriously, did you send word as you agreed to?”

“I saw Herr Schwartz personally.”

“Ah, that was very thoughtful. Did you succeed in appeasing him?”

“I told him that you wished to resign your position; and when he began
to splutter, I added that in consideration of the trouble he would be
put to, you were willing to forgive him whatever back pay he owed you;
and when he declared that he owed you no back pay at all, I said you
would be willing to forgive him any way on general principles, and think
no more about it. Then I ordered beer and cigars and pronounced
the magic syllable ‘selbst’ and in the end he appeared quite
reconciled.”

“Nonsense. Be serious. What did you say?”

“I am serious. That is what I said precisely.”

“What, you—oh come, you can’t be in earnest.”

“But I assure you I am in earnest, never was more in earnest in my
life. You don’t really imagine that I am going to let you ‘stand and
wait’ any longer, do you?”

“I don’t very clearly see how you are going to prevent it. I have
my livelihood to earn. I can’t afford to throw up my employment in the
cavalier manner you propose. It’s ridiculous.”

“I can prevent it and I will prevent it. How? By the power of
friendship, by appealing to your heart and to your reason. As for your
livelihood, I have found you a new occupation, one more befitting your
character. Henceforward you are to be a private secretary.”

“Whose private secretary?”

“Never mind whose—or rather, you will learn whose, presently. First,
accustom your mind to the abstract idea.”

“Really, Merivale, you are outrageous. I don’t know why I’m not
indignant. You meddle with my affairs as if they were your own. You have
no right to do so. And yet I am not angry. I must be totally devoid of
spunk. But nevertheless I shan’t abide by your proceedings. As soon as
I am dressed I shall return to the shop and beg Herr Schwartz to take me
back.”

“I forbid it.”

“I am sorry, but I must defy your prohibition. By the way, may I
inquire your authority?”

“Certainly. It is every man’s authority to restrain a lunatic. Your
notion of returning to that wine-shop is downright lunacy. Besides, have
I not provided you with new employment?”

“But it is a sort of employment which I don’t wish to undertake. I
prefer work that will leave my mind disengaged. You ought to understand
that in my position one has no heart for any but manual labor.”

“I think I understand perfectly, better indeed than you yourself.
I understand that while the first shock of your grief lasted it was
natural for you to take up the first employment that you chanced upon,
no matter what it was. But I understand now that it is high time for you
to come back to your proper level. An occupation which leaves your
mind disengaged is precisely the very worst you could have. With
all appreciation of the magnitude of your bereavement, and with all
reverence for your fidelity to your betrothed, I say that it is wrong of
you to brood over your troubles. I am not brute enough to advise you
to court oblivion; but a grief loses its dignity, becomes a species of
egotism, by constantly brooding over it. It is our duty in this world
to accept the inevitable with the best grace possible, and to make
ourselves as comfortable as under the circumstances we can. But over and
above that consideration there is this, that no man has a right to do
work that is unworthy of him. It degrades himself and it robs society.
Every man is bound to do his best work, to accomplish his highest
usefulness. What would you say of a Newton who had abandoned mathematics
to drive a plow? You are as much subject to the general moral law as the
rest of us. You were sent into this world to contribute your quota to
the sum of human happiness; and your art was permitted you only on the
condition that you should cultivate it for the benefit of your fellow
creatures. And yet, you propose to do the business of a common waiter in
a wretched little brasserie. Now, I won’t urge you to return to music
forthwith, because I know you suffer too keenly while you are playing.
But I will say: Remember that you are a gentleman and that you are
actually stealing from society by doing that which your inferiors could
do as well. For the present, accept the situation of private secretary
that I have procured for you. It will be a stepping-stone toward your
proper place. You see, I can be a preacher on occasions.

“And your sermon, I confess, is a wholesome one.”

“Then you will consider the secretaryship?

“I will consider whatever you wish me to. I will be guided by your
common sense.”

“Good! Now get up and dress.”

He left the room. As I dressed I thought over the sermon he had
preached. I could not gainsay its truth. Yet on the other hand I could
not contemplate a changed mode of life without flinching. Two years of
moral illness had undermined my moral courage. I wondered who my new
employer was to be. I dreaded meeting him not a little. Thinking over
the confidences of the night, I experienced no regret. Indeed I was glad
to realize that I was no longer altogether alone in the world. Merivale
had inspired me with an enthusiasm.

“What a splendid fellow he is!” I exclaimed.

“If he and I could only remain together I believe I should find my
life worth living. It is marvelous, the faculty he has for making me
forget myself. I suppose it is due to his animal spirits, his healthy
temperament. He is as vigorous and bracing as a whiff of the west wind
full in one’s face.”

I had never had a friend before. I relished my first taste of
friendship.

Meantime I was preparing my toilet. In the midst of it Merivale came
into the room.

“I suppose you know who your future master is to be?” he asked.

“No—how should I know?”

“Oh, you obtuse blockhead! You————”

“It isn’t—you don’t mean to say—” I began, a suspicion of
the truth dawning upon me.

“Exactly! That is the precise sum and substance of what I mean to say.
I mean to say that I’m in need of somebody to help me in certain work
that I’m doing. The need is a real one, not an artificial one trumped
up for the occasion. I have plenty of cash and am ready to pay what is
just for my assistant’s time. You on the other hand are looking about
fora means of subsistence. At the same time, luckily, you are just the
person to suit my purpose. Hence, as a pure matter of business, I say,
Shall we strike a bargain? You are going to be sensible and answer, Yes.
Wherefore it only remains for me to explain the nature of the work and
thus to convince you that you are not going to draw the salary of a
sinecure.”

“If this is really true,” I said, “I can’t help telling you that
nothing could make me happier. If I can really be of service to you, and
if we can really arrange to keep as closely together as such work would
bring us, why, my contentment will be greater than I can say.”

“Then come into the next room and judge for yourself.”

We passed into the sitting-room. Merivale drew up to a table near the
window and taking a pen in his hand said, “Look.”

He tried the pen’s nib upon the nail of his thumb, dipped it into an
inkstand, and applied it to a blank sheet of paper. Then his fingers
began to work laboriously to and fro, with the result of tracing a
scarcely legible scrawl. One could, however, by dint of taxing the
imagination, make out these words: “Good friend, to end all doubt
about the present matter, learn by this that a penman’s palsy shakes
my fist, and furthermore, that I inherit a lamentable tendency to gout
in the wrist.”

“Scrivener’s palsy and gout combined,” he added verbally, “and
yet I am going to publish a volume of poems in the spring. They’re
all down on paper, but no one can decipher them except myself; and if I
should be carried off some day unexpectedly, think what the world would
lose! My idea is to dictate them to you. We will work from nine till one
every day, and devote the rest of our time to relaxation.”

“But you take my handwriting for granted,” I interposed.

“I think I am safe in doing so,” he replied. “But give me a
sample.”

I wrote off a few words.

“Capital!” was his comment. “Now about the compensation.”

I had to haggle with my generous friend and to beat him down half of his
original offer. My stipend settled, “I admit,” said he, “that I am
ravenously hungry. Suppose we dine?”

We adjourned to Moretti’s. During the dinner we discussed our future.
He said he was constantly writing new matter and therefore our contract
would not terminate with the completion of the particular MS. in
question. “Ah, what good times we are going to enjoy!” he cried.
“We are perfectly companionable! There is nothing so satisfactory,
nothing so productive of bien être, as friendship, after all.”

Dinner over, we strolled arm in arm through the streets. For the first
time in two years I began to feel that the world was not quite a ruin.
At home we talked till late into the night. And when I went to bed it
was to lie awake for hours and hours, congratulating myself upon my
newly discovered friend.



IX.

ON the morrow morning our régime was inaugurated: and thenceforward
we kept it up regularly. From nine till one I wrote at his dictation.
The task was by no means irksome.

I enjoyed my friend’s poetry: and besides, we varied the business with
frequent interruptions for conversation and cigarettes. Merivale taught
me to smoke—a vice, if it be a vice, from which I have since derived
no little solace. At one o’clock our luncheon was served up to us by
the lady of the house: and the remainder of the day we employed as best
suited our fancy. Sometimes we would take turns at reading aloud. In
this way we read much of Browning and Rossetti, two poets till then
total strangers to me. Sometimes we would saunter about the lower
quarters of the city. Merivale never tired of the glimpses these
excursions afforded into the life of the common people. He maintained
that New York was the most picturesque city in the world, “thanks,”
he said, “to the presence of your people, the Jews.” Sometimes we
would visit the picture galleries, where my friend initiated me into the
enjoyment of a new art. Musician-like, I had theretofore cared little
and understood nothing about painting. Merivale was fond of quoting the
German dictum, “Das Sehen mussgelernt sein!”—it was all the German
he knew—and now he taught me to see.

I was in precisely the mood to appreciate this altered mode of existence
to the utmost. At Merivale’s touch the pain that for two years had
been as a lump in my throat was dissolved and diffused, tinging my life
with melancholy instead of consuming it with sullen, unremitting fever.

“The scowl,” declared my friend, “the scowl is merging into a
smile of sadness. ‘Tis a hopeful sign. By and by your cure will be
established. You have had a cancer, as it were. We have succeeded in
scattering the virus through the system. Now we will proceed to its
total eradication. I don’t know whether that is the course medical men
in general pursue: but it sounds plausible, and I’m sure it’s the
proper one for the present instance. Of course I don’t expect you ever
to rejoice in that unalloyed buoyancy of spirits which distinguishes
your servant: but you will become cheerful and contented; and the
Italians say, ‘Whoso is contented is happy.’.rdquo;

It seemed as if his predictions were being verified. Though at no
time did I cease to think of Veronika, though at no time did I become
insensible of the loss I had sustained, still the fact was that I
commenced to take an interest in what went on around me, commenced in a
certain sense to extract pleasure from my circumstances.

“You have been a dreadful egotist,” said Merivale, “profoundly
self-absorbed. It was inevitable that you should be for a while. But
there is no excuse for you to be so any longer. A purely selfish sorrow
is as much a self-indulgence as a purely selfish joy, and has as little
dignity. It dwarfs, enervates, demoralizes the soul: a platitude which
you would do well to memorize.”

At first I had hesitated to try a second experiment with the violin:
yet the very motive of my hesitancy—namely, the recollection of how
my feelings had got the best of me the last time—acted also as a
temptation. One day while Merivale was absent I tuned his Stradivari,
and with much the sensation of a fledgling launched upon a perilous
and uncertain flight, let my right arm have its way. The result was
encouraging. I determined that henceforward I should practice regularly.
The music brought me near to Veronika, and now I could endure this
nearness without quailing. Though it was by no means destitute of pain,
somehow the very pain was a luxury. Henceforth not a day passed without
my dedicating several hours to the violin. Merivale, as he had put
it, “scraped a little.” He had put it too modestly. He had already
learned to read with remarkable facility; and instruction profited
him to such a degree that he was soon able to sustain a very accurate
second. So when we were at loss for another occupation we would while
the hours away with Schubert’s songs.

We spent most of our evenings in-doors, chatting at the fireside.
Sometimes Merivale would take himself off to pay a visit in the town.
Then I would invariably fall to marveling at the change he had wrought
in my life. “It is certain,” I said, “that Destiny holds some
happiness still in store for you.” I was mistaken. Destiny was simply
granting me a momentary respite—drawing off, preparatory to delivering
her final culminating blow.

One night Merivale came home late. I, indeed, had already gone to bed.
He roused me by lighting the gas and crying, “Wake up, wake up; I have
something of the utmost importance to communicate.”

“Is the house afire?” I demanded, startled. “No; the house is all
right. But rub your eyes and open your ears. Do you know Dr. Rodolph?”

“The musical director?”

“The same.”

“Of course I know him by reputation. Do you mean personally? Why do
you ask?”

“Because—but that’s the point. First you must hear my story.
It’s the greatest stroke of luck that mortal ever had.”

“Well, go ahead.”

“I’m going ahead as rapidly as I can; only I’m so excited I hardly
know where to begin. I’ve actually run on foot all the way home. I
couldn’t wait for the horse-car, I was in such a hurry to announce
your good fortune. I’m rather out of breath.”

“Take your time, then. I possess my soul in patience.”

“Well, here’s the amount of it.—You see, Dr. Rodolph is a friend
of mine, and this evening I thought I would call upon him. The thought
proved to be a happy one, a veritable inspiration. I arrived just in the
nick of time. We hadn’t more than seated ourselves in the drawing-room
when the door-bell rang. Martha, the doctor’s daughter, went to answer
it; and presently back she came bearing a note for her father. The
doctor took it and asked permission to read it and broke it open. You
know what a nervous little man he is. Well, the next moment he began to
grow red, and his nostrils dilated, and his eyes flashed fire, and then
he crumpled up the paper and stamped his foot and uttered a tremendous
imprecation.”

“Oh, pray, don’t stop,” I said, as he paused for breath. “Your
narrative becomes thrilling.”

“Well, sir,” resumed Merivale, “I got quite alarmed. I rushed
up to the doctor’s side and ‘For mercy’s sake, what’s the
matter—no bad news, I hope,’ said I. ‘Bad news?’ says he, ‘I
should think it was bad news,’ giving his mane a toss. ‘To-day is
Friday, isn’t it? To-day we had our public rehearsal. To-morrow night
we have our concert. Good. Well, now at the eleventh hour what happens?
Why, the soloist sends word that “a sudden indisposition will make
it impossible for him to keep his engagement.” Ugh! I hope it is an
apoplexy, but I’m afraid it s nothing more nor less than rum. The
advertisements are all in the papers; the programme is arranged on the
assumption that he is to play; and now, late as it is, I shall have to
start out in search of a substitute.’ ‘Hold on a minute, doctor,’
said I. ‘What instrument did your soloist intend to play?’ ‘The
violin,’ says the doctor. ‘Hurrah!’ I rejoined, ‘then you need
seek no further!’ ‘What do you mean?’ asked he. ‘This,’ said
I, ‘that I will supply a substitute who can take the wind all out
of your delinquent’s sails.’ The doctor raised his eyebrows.
‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘It isn’t nonsense,’ I replied, and
thereupon I told him about you—that is about your wonderful skill as
a fiddler. Well, of course the doctor was disinclined to believe in
you; said that excellence was not enough; the public would tolerate
mere excellence in a singer or in a pianist, but when it came to violin
solos, the public demanded something superlative or nothing at all; it
wasn’t possible that you could be up to the mark, because he had never
heard of you. Of course, if I said so, he had no doubt that you were a
good musician, but he had twenty good musicians in his orchestra. A good
musician wasn’t enough.—But I didn’t mean to be turned aside by
this sort of obstacle. I insisted. I said I had heard Joachim and all
the best players on the other side, and that you were able to give them
lessons. The doctor pooh-poohed me. ‘Don’t,’ he said, ‘don’t
damage your friend’s chances by exaggeration. I should be only too
much pleased if he should turn out to be a competent man; but you add
to my incredulity when you measure him with a giant like Joachim. At
any rate, I am willing to give him a trial. Bring him here to-morrow
morning.’ So to-morrow morning, bright and early, we will call upon
the doctor, and—and your fortune’s made!”

It required no little strength of mind to answer Merivale as I now had
to.

“You’re awfully kind, old boy,” I said. “It’s extremely hard
to be obliged to say no. But really, you don’t understand the level
of violin playing which a soloist must come up to. And you don’t
understand either what a mediocre executant I am. My technique is such
that I could barely pass muster among the second violinists in Doctor
Rodolph’s orchestra. It would be the height of effrontery for me to
present myself before him as a would-be soloist.”

“That is a matter for the doctor, and not for you, to decide. No man
can correctly estimate his own powers: you not more than the rest. All
I say is, come with me to call upon him to-morrow morning and leave the
consequences to his judgment.”

“You would not submit me to the humiliation of such a trial. After the
extravagances you have uttered concerning me, to show myself in my
own humble colors—the drop would be too great. But I may as well be
entirely candid. There are other reasons, final ones. I may as well
say right out that it will never be possible for me to play my violin
anywhere except here, between you and me: you know why.”

The light faded from Merivale’s eyes.

“Oh, don’t say that,” he pleaded. “After the trouble I’ve
taken, and after the promise I’ve made, and after the pleasure I’ve
had in picturing your delight, don’t say you won’t even go to see
the Doctor and give him a specimen. Don’t disappoint a fellow like
that.”

I stuck out obdurately. Merivale shifted from the attitude of one who
begs a favor to that of one who imposes a duty.

“Come,” he cried, “it is simply the old egotism reasserting
itself. You won’t play, forsooth, because it doesn’t suit your
humor. That, I say, is egotism of the worst sort. You—positively, you
make me ashamed for you. It is the part of a man to perform his task
manfully. What right have you, I’d like to know, what right have you
to hide your light under a bushel, more than another? Simply because the
practice of your art entails pain upon you, are you justified in resting
idle? Why, all great work entails pain upon the worker. Raphael never
would have painted his pictures, Dante never would have written his
Inferno, women would never bring children into the world, if the dread
of pain were sufficient to subdue courage and the sense of obligation.
It is the pain which makes the endeavor heroic. I have all due respect
for your feelings, Lexow; but I respect them only in so far as I believe
that you are able to master them. When I see them get the upper hand and
sap your manhood, then I counsel you to a serious battle with them.
The excuse you offer for not wishing to play to-morrow night is a puny
excuse. I will have none of it. To-morrow morning you will go with me
to Doctor Rodolph’s: and if after this homily you persist in your
refusal—well, you’ll know my opinion of you.”

Merivale would not listen to my protests. He got into bed and said,
“Good-night. Go to sleep. No use for you to talk. I’m deaf.
I’m implacable also; and to-morrow morning I shall lead you to
the slaughter. Prepare to trot along becomingly at my side, lambkin.
Goodnight.”

My efforts to beg off next morning were ineffectual.

“If you desire to forfeit my respect entirely,” he warned me,
“persist in this sort of thing.”

I permitted myself to be dragged by the arm through the streets to
Doctor Rodolph’s house.

The Doctor accorded me a skeptical welcome. Producing a composition
quite unfamiliar to me, he bade me read it at sight. I made up my mind
to do my best. The doctor sat in an easy chair during the first dozen
bars. Then he began to move nervously about the loom. Then, before I had
half finished, he cried out, “Stop—enough, enough.”

Disconcerted, I brought my bow to a standstill and exchanged a forlorn
glance with Merivale.

The doctor approached and looked me quizzically over from head to foot.
“Where did you study?” he inquired.

“In New York,” I answered.

“Have you ever played in public?”

“Not at any large affairs.”

“Do you teach?”

“I used to.”

“What—what did you say your name was?”

“Lexow.”

“Hum, it is odd I haven’t heard of you. Have you been in New York
long?”

“All my life.”

“Oh, yes; you said you studied here. Who were your masters?”

I named them.

The doctor’s face had been inscrutable. Merivale and I had sat on pins
during the inquisition. Now the doctor’s face lighted up with a genial
smile.

“You will do, Mr. Lexow,” he said. “I don’t know whom to thank
the more, you or Mr. Merivale. You have relieved me in a very
trying emergency. Your playing is fine, though perhaps a trifle too
independent, a trifle too individual, and the least tone too florid. It
is odd, most odd that I should never have heard of you; but we shall all
hear of you in the future.”

We agreed upon the selections for the evening. I ran them through in the
doctor’s presence and listened to his suggestions. Then we bade him
good-by.

That day was a trying one. It would be bootless to catalogue the
conflicting thoughts and emotions that preyed upon me. I practiced my
pieces thoroughly. Merivale busied himself procuring what he styled a
“rig.” The rig consisted of an evening suit and its accessories.
He rented one at a costumer’s on Union square. As the day drew to
a close, I worried more and more. “Brace up,” cried Merivale.
“Where’s your stamina? And here, swallow a glass of brandy.”

We waited in the ante-room till it was my turn to go upon the platform.

I was conscious of a glow of light and a sea of faces and a mortal
stage-fright, and of little else, when finally I had taken my position.
The orchestra played the preliminary bars. I had to begin. I got through
the first phrase and the second. The voice of my instrument reassured
me. “After all you will not make a dead failure,” I thought, and
ventured to lift my eyes. Not two yards distant from me, to my right,
among the first violins, sat Mr. Tikulski. His gaze was riveted upon my
face.

I had anticipated about every catastrophe that could possibly befall,
but strangely enough I had not anticipated this. And it was so sudden,
and the emotions it occasioned were so powerful, and I was so nervous
and unstrung—well, the floor gave a lurch, like the deck of a vessel
in a storm; the lights dashed backward and forward before my sight;
a deathly sickness overspread my senses; the accompaniment of the
orchestra became harsh and incoherent; my violin dropped with a crash
upon the boards; and the next thing I was aware of, I lay at full
length on a sofa in the retiring-room, and Merivale was holding a
smelling-bottle to my nostrils. I could hear the orchestra beyond the
partition industriously winding off the Tannhauser march.

“How do you feel?” asked Merivale, as I opened my eyes.

“I feel as though I should like to annihilate myself,” I answered,
as memory cleared up. “I have permanently disgraced us both.”

“But what was the trouble? You were doing nobly, splendidly, when
all of a sudden you collapsed like that,” clapping his hands. “The
doctor is furious, says it was all my fault.” “No, it wasn’t your
fault,” I hastened to put in. “I should have pulled through after
a fashion, only unluckily I caught sight of Tikulski—her uncle, you
know—in the orchestra; and, well, I—I suppose—well, you see it was
so unexpected that it rather undid me.”

“Oh, yes; I understand,” said he.

We kept silence all the way home in the carriage.

Next morning, as I entered the sitting-room, Merivale tried to hide a
newspaper under his coat.

“Oh, don’t bother to do that,” I said. “Of course it is all in
print?”

Possessing myself of the newspaper, I had the satisfaction of reading a
sensational account of my fiasco. But what I had most dreaded from the
quarter of the newspapers had not come to pass. None of them identified
me as the Ernest Neuman who, rather more than two years since, had been
tried for murder.



X.

MY encounter with Tikulski was bound to have consequences, practical as
well as moral. All day Sunday a legion of blue devils were my comrades.
Late Monday afternoon I received by the post a letter and a package,
each addressed to “E. Lexow, in care of D. Merivale, Esq.” The
penmanship was the same on both—a stiff European hand which I could
not recognize. I began with the letter. It read thus:—

“Mr. E. Lexow,

“Dear Sir:

“I should have forwarded this to you before, but not apprised of
the alteration of your name, I was unable to discover your address. I
dispatch this to the address indicated by Dr. Rodolph, who informs me
that you are to be reached through D. Merivale, Esquire, as he is
not advised of your private residence. I found it in a pawnbroking
establishment (No.—————-street, kept by one M. Arkush) now
more than a year, and purchased it with the intention of restoring it to
you, because I suppose that it must be of some value to you as a family
memento, and that you would not have disposed of it except needing
money. Hoping that this letter may find you in the enjoyment of good
health, I am

“Respectfully yours,

“B. Tikulski.”

What could Tikulski’s letter mean? What could “it” be? I puzzled
over these questions for a long while before it occurred to me to unseal
the package.

There was an outer wrapper of stout brown paper. Beneath this, an inner
wrapper of tissue paper. Both removed, I beheld an oval case of red
leather, considerably the worse for wear. What did it contain? I pressed
the clasp and raised the lid. It contained a miniature painted on ivory,
the likeness of a man. The faded colors and the old-fashioned collar and
cravat showed that it dated from some years back. But of whom was it a
picture?

Why had Tikulski posted it to me? And what did he mean by supposing that
I should value it as a family memento and that I would not have parted
with it—I, who had never owned it,—“except needing money?” I was
thoroughly mystified.

“Merivale,” I said, “can you make any thing out of this?”

I tossed him the letter and the portrait.

Presently he muttered, “Pretty good, by Jove.”

“Well?” I questioned.

“Well, what?” he returned.

“Well, what do you make of it? What does it mean?”

“Why, that the likeness is striking, what else? Your father, eh?”

“My father? I confess I am in the dark.”

“And you have the faculty of dragging me in after you. What are you
trying to get at?”

“I am trying to get at Mr. Tikulski’s idea. Why should he send me
that miniature? Whom does it represent?”

“You don’t mean to say that you haven’t recognized it?”

“Most certainly I do.”

“Man alive, look in the glass.—Here.” Merivale held up the
miniature in one hand and a pocket-mirror in the other. As closely as it
is possible for one human countenance to resemble another, the face of
the picture resembled my reflection in the glass.

“Are you satisfied?” demanded Merivale.—“Why, what ails you?”
he continued presently, as I did not answer. “You look as if you had
seen a ghost. Are you ill?”

“It has caused me quite a turn,” I replied. “It must indeed be
a portrait of my father. But do you know—wait—let me tell you
something.”

What I told Merivale I shall have also to tell the reader.

I could remember neither of my parents. As a child, I had lived in a
dark old house with a good old rabbi and his wife—Dr. and Mrs. Hirsch.
I had never stopped to ask whether or not they were my father and mother
until I was eleven or twelve years of age. Then, the question having
been suggested by a schoolmate, I had said, “Dr. Lesser”—Lesser
being the rabbi’s given name—“are you my father?” To which the
doctor, beaming at me over the rim of his spectacles, had responded,
“No, my child: you are an orphan.”—“An orphan? That means?”
I pursued. “That your papa and mamma are dead,” said he.—“Have
they been dead long?” I asked indifferently. “Ever since you were
the tiniest little tot,” he replied. And thereupon, as the subject did
not prove especially interesting, I had let it drop.

Time went on. I was perfectly contented. The doctor and his wife were
kindness personified. The present occupied me so pleasantly that I
forgot to be curious about the past. But at length, when I was fifteen,
the question of my parentage was again brought to my mind—this time
by a lad with whom I had had a quarrel and who as a parting thrust had
inquired significantly whether I knew the definition of the Hebrew noun
Mamzer. Highly incensed, I ran home and burst into the doctor’s
study. “Doctor,” I demanded, without ceremony, “am I a
Mamzer?”—“What a notion! Of course you are not,” replied the
rabbi.—“Then,” I continued, “what am I? Tell me all about my
father and mother.”

The doctor said there was nothing to tell except that my mother had
died when I was less than two years old, and my father not a great while
after her. They had been members of his (the doctor’s) congregation;
and rather than see me sent to an orphan asylum, he and his wife had
taken me to live with them.—“But what sort of people were they,
my parents?” I insisted. “Give me some particulars about
them.”—“They were very respectable, and by their neighbors
generally esteemed well off. Your father had been a merchant; but for
the last year his health was such as to confine him to his bedroom. It
was quite a surprise to every body to find on his death that very little
property was left. That little was gobbled up by his creditors. So that
you have no legacy to expect except——”

“Except?” I queried as the doctor hesitated. “There is no
exception. You have no legacy to expect at all.”—“But,” I
resumed, “had my parents no relations? Have I no uncles or aunts? Am I
altogether without kindred?”—“So far as I know, you are.”

Your father came originally from Breslau. It is possible that he had
relatives there; but he had none in this country—at least I never
heard him speak of any. He was a good man, a pious man. It was sad
that he should die so young, but it was the will of Adonai—“And my
mother, had she no brother or sister?”—“About your mother I
can tell you very little. She came from Savannah. Whether she has
connections there still, I can not say.”—“Doctor,” I asked,
after a moment’s silence, “what did you mean by that ‘except’
you used a while ago, speaking of legacies?”

“I meant nothing. I was thinking of a few family relics, papers and
what-not, which you are to receive when you become of age.”—“Why
not till then?”—“No reason, save that such was your father’s
wish, expressed on his death-bed. He said, ‘Don’t let my son have
these until he is grown to be a man.’.—“Can you tell me definitely
what they are?”—“I can not. I have never seen them. They
are locked up in a box; and the box I am not at liberty to
open.”—“Doctor, what was my mother’s maiden-name?”

“Bertha, Bertha Lexow.”—“Did you marry her and my father?”

“Oh, no; they were married in the South at Savannah. I think they
had been married about five years when your father died.”—I went on
quizzing the doctor until he declined to answer another question. “Go
away, gad-fly,” he cried. “You are worse than the inquisition.”

In my eighteenth year the doctor died suddenly, having survived his wife
by a six-month only. He was stricken down by paralysis while intoning
the Kadesh song in the synagogue. In him I lost my only friend. I had
loved him precisely as though he had been my father. His death was an
immense affliction. It took me a long while to gather my wits together
and realize my position.

A week or two after the funeral a man came to me and said, “I
represent the Public Administrator, charged with settling up Dr.
Hirsch’s concerns. He leaves nothing except household furniture and a
few dollars in bank—all of which goes to his next-of-kin in Germany.
You will have to find other quarters. These are to be vacated and the
goods sold at auction in a few days.”—“Ah,” I said, “if you
are his administrator, that reminds me. I beg that you will deliver over
the things the doctor had belonging to me—a box containing papers.”

“Identify your property and prove your title,” he replied.

Strangers came and went in and out of the house for several days. But
in the inventory which they prepared no such box as the doctor had
described was mentioned. Furthermore, a thorough search failed to bring
it to light. The auction was held. The last fork was knocked down to the
highest bidder. And I had to go about my business with the unpleasant
conviction that owing to some slip-up somewhere my inheritance had
either been lost or stolen. Gradually I reconciled myself to this idea,
concluding that what I already knew about my parents was the most I ever
should know; and thus matters had remained ever since.

“But now,” I added, my recital wound up, “now perhaps in this
miniature I have a clew. It must be a portrait of my father: and very
likely it was part of the contents of that box. I suppose, if I were
clever, I should see a way of following it up.”

“I am consoled,” said Merivale, drawing a deep breath.

“Consoled?” I queried.

“Yes, consoled for my obstinacy in making you play at the concert.
You see, it was an inspiration after all. If you had not chanced upon
Tikulski—what a blood-curdling name! fit for a tragedy villain—if
you hadn’t chanced upon him as you did, why you never would have
received the picture, and so the mystery which envelops my hero s
antecedents would never have been dispelled. Now we must go to work in a
systematic way.

“Exactly; but how begin?”

“Let me see Tikulski’s letter again.”—After he had read the
letter, “Begin, he said, by paying a visit to the pawn-shop where
he got it. Luckily he had the presence of mind to mention its
whereabouts.”

“Good,” I assented. “But will you go with me?”

“Do you imagine I would allow you to go alone, you unfledged gosling?
I shall not only go with you, but by your permission I shall manage the
whole transaction. I fancy I surpass you in respect of savoir faire.”

“It is now past four. Shall we start at once?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Don’t be too hopeful,” he warned me, as we approached the
pawnbroker’s door. “Most likely we shall run against a dead wall.”

The shop was empty. A bell tinkled as we opened the door. In response, a
young fellow in his shirt-sleeves emerged from a dark back room.

“Is Mr. Arkush in?” demanded Merivale, with an air of friendliness.

“Do you want to see him personally?” returned the young man, not
over politely.

“You have fathomed my purpose,” said Merivale with mock gravity.

“What about?”

Merivale drew near to the young man and shielding his mouth with his
hand whispered, “Business,” accompanying his utterance with a
knowing glance.

“Well, you can see me about business,” rejoined his interlocutor,
surlily.

“Impossible. Here, take my card to Mr. Arkush and say I am pressed.”

“Mr. Arkush can’t see nobody. He’s sick.

“Sick? Ah, indeed?” cried Merivale. “Has he been sick long? I hope
it is nothing serious. Pray tell me what the trouble is?”

The young man looked surprised. “Oh, it’s only rheumatism,” he
said. “You ain’t a friend of his, are you?”

“Why, my dear fellow, of course I am. By the very nature of his
profession Mr. Arkush is the friend of every body; and I am the friend
of every friend of mine. Consequently but the deduction is too obvious.
Here, take him my card and say that if he is not too ill I shall hope to
be admitted.’

“Well, perhaps I’d better,” said the young man,
reflectively.—“Becky,” he called, raising his voice.

Becky appeared.

“Good-afternoon, Miss Rebecca,” said Merivale, lifting his hat.

“Mind the shop,” said the young man to Becky, and thereat vanished.

“Come this way,” he said to us, presently returning.

He conducted us into the cavernous back room. The atmosphere was heavy
with the scent of stale cookery. The walls were lined with shelves,
bearing mysterious parcels done up in paper winding-sheets. Under a
grimy window at the further end an old man sat in an easy chair, a
patch-work quilt infolding his legs. Bald, beardless, with sharply
accentuated features and a yellow skin, he looked like a Midas whose
magic was beginning to operate upon himself.

“Dear me!” cried Merivale, advancing toward him. “I’m shocked
to find you suffering like this, Mr. Arkush. Do the legs give you much
pain? You must try petroleum liniment. I’ll send you a bottle. They
say it’s the best remedy in the world.—But tell me, how are you
getting on? Do you notice any improvement?”

The old man’s face wore a puzzled expression. “What was the business
you wanted to see me about?” he inquired.

“Oh, never mind about business till you have quieted my anxiety
regarding your health. Besides, are you sure you will be able to
attend?”

The mask of Midas betrayed a tendency to smile. “Come, time is money;
hurry up,” said its owner. He had a strong Jewish accent, thus:
“Dime iss money.”

“Oh, well,” said Merivale, “if you don’t think it will disturb
you, I’ll come to the point. But let me disarm beforehand any
suspicion which the nature of my errand may be calculated to inspire. I
am not a detective. I am not on the track of stolen goods. I am simply
a private individual desirous of gaining certain information for certain
strictly legitimate ends. So you need have no fear of compromising
yourself by speaking with entire unreserve. Shall I proceed?”

“My Gott, what are you talking about? Don’t make foolishness any
longer,” exclaimed Mr. Arkush with some degree of vivacity.

“Mr. Arkush,” said Merivale in his most solemn tones, “do you
remember this?” extracting the miniature from his pocket and handing
it to the pawnbroker.

The latter donned a pair of spectacles and holding the picture off at
arm’s length, scrutinized it in silence.

“Yes, I remember it,” he replied finally, “I sold it to a
gentleman some time ago. What of it?”

“You did. You sold it about a year ago to a gentleman with a white
beard. Recollect?”

“Ah, yes, yes: you are right. He had a white beard. He was also a Jew.
We spoke in Judisch. I remember.”

“By Jove, hasn’t Mr. Arkusha wonderful memory?” cried Merivale,
turning to me.

“I happen to remember,” volunteered Mr. Arkush, unperturbed by the
compliment, “because when I put that article into the window I said
to myself, ‘You won’t get no customer for that. What good is it to
anyone? You made a mistake to lend your money on it. That was a loss.’
But the very same day the old gentleman came in and bought it, which was
a surprise.”

“Ah, I see. Could you tell me, Mr. Arkush, of whom you got it
originally—who pledged it with you?”

“Du lieber Gott! how should I remember that? It was two years ago
already.”

“True, but—but your books would show.”

“Yes, my books would show the name the person gave.”

“Well, will you kindly refer to your books?”

“Ach, you make me much trouble!—Yakub,” he called.

The young man came.

Arkush told Yakub to get him the ledger for 18—. It was a ponderous
and dingy volume. Yakub held it open while his employer turned the
pages, running his finger from the top to the bottom of each. At length
the finger reached a stand-still. Mr. Arkush said, “Yes, I have found
it. It was pawned with me by a man calling himself Joseph White.”

“The date?”

“The 16th January.”

“Have you any means of recalling what sort of looking individual
Joseph White was? And, by the way, is his residence given?”

“‘Residence, Harlem,’ it says. That’s all. How should I remember
his looks?”

“Of course—you see so many people in the course of a year, it is not
wonderful that you should forget.—But tell me, did White put any thing
else in pawn that day?”

“No, sir; nothing else.”

“He simply pawned this one article and went away; that’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“Hum!”

Merivale reflected. At length he resumed. “But at any other
time—that is, does White’s name appear on your ledger under any
other date?”

“Do you expect me to read through the book?” inquired Arkush, with
the tone of protestation. “That is too much.”

“I’m awfully sorry to annoy you, but this information I am
seeking is of such great importance—you understand—it’s worth a
consideration.”

“Oh, well, that’s different,” said Arkush. “What will you
give?”

“I’ll give twenty-five cents for each month that you go over—is it
enough?”

“Here, Yakub,” cried Arkush. “Run back from January 16th, and see
if you find the name of Joseph White again.”

Yakub carried the ledger to a desk hard by, and began his task.

“Do you smoke?” Merivale asked the old man, offering him a cigar.
Presently the air became blue with aromatic vapor.

“Here you are!” called Yakub from his stool. He proceeded to read
aloud, “‘December 7th—one onyx seal ring—amount, one dollar and
a quarter—to Joseph White—residence, Leonard street—ticket-number,
15,672. Same date—one ornamented wooden box—amount, fifteen
cents—to Joseph White—residence, as above—ticket-number,
15,67.’.rdquo;

“Keep still,” said Merivale in an aside, as he saw my lips open.
“I’ll do the talking.—I’m infinitely obliged to you, Mr. Arkush.
Now, if I may trespass just a little further upon your indulgence, can
you tell me whether you still have either of those articles in stock?
If so, I should be glad to see them—with a view to purchasing, of
course.”

“Look, Yakub,” said Arkush. “Was those goods redeemed?”

Yakub returned the ledger to the shelf whence he had taken it, and
produced another book of similar proportions in its stead. Presently
he said, “Number 15,672, sold August 20, 18—; Number 15,673—see
profit and loss.”

“Number 15,672 was the ring, was it not?” asked Merivale. “Number
15,673 is referred to the account of profit and loss—will you kindly
turn to it under that head, Mr. Yakub?”

Yakub possessed himself of a third volume, and in due time read,
“‘Number 15,673—July, 18—, given to R.—Amount of loss, fifteen
cents.’.rdquo;

“Let me see that entry,” said Arkush.

After he had scrutinized it, “Oh yes,” he continued, “I recollect.
White was a colored man. I recollect all about it. That ring and that
box were the first things he brought here; that picture was the last.
I happen to recollect because I gave that box to my daughter, Rebecca,
instead of offering it for sale.”

“Ah,” said Merivale, “then I suppose Miss Rebecca has it still.
Could she be persuaded to show it to us?”

“I don’t know. I will ask her.”

He sent Yakub into the front room with instructions for Rebecca to
present herself.

On her arrival, they held a brief conference together in Judisch. Then
Rebecca went away, and Arkush said to us, “Yes, she has got it yet.
She has gone to fetch it.”

During her absence Merivale resumed, “You are quite sure that it
is useless to go further back in your books—that the name of White
doesn’t occur in any other place?”

“Oh, yes; I am sure. I recollect perfectly. He was a colored man. He
only came twice.”

“I notice that on one occasion his address is given as Harlem, on
another as Leonard street. How is that?”

“How do I know? Maybe he moved. Maybe neither address was his true
one. These people very often give false names and addresses.”

“I suppose they do,” Merivale assented, and thereafter held his
peace, chewing his nether lip as his habit was when engrossed in
thought.

For my part I could not see that we had made much progress. I was
beginning to get impatient.

Becky reappeared, bearing the box.

The box was about ten inches square by four or five in depth. It was
empty. Merivale did not allow me to examine it. “Wait,” he said, as
I reached out my hand to take it.

“Would you mind very much parting with this box, Miss Arkush?” he
asked, fixing a pair of languishing eyes upon Rebecca’s face.

“What will you give me for it?” the business-like young lady
inquired.

“What will you accept?”

“What’s it worth, father?”

“That box is worth two dollars any how,” replied the shameless old
usurer, regardless of the fact that we knew to a mill what he had paid
for it.

“Then certainly this will be enough,” said Merivale, and he slipped
a five-dollar gold piece into Rebecca’s palm. Then he settled with
Arkush, bestowed a gratuity upon Yakub, and bidding an affable good-by
to every body, led me out through the shop into the street.

“Well,” I said, “we have run against the dead wall that you
foresaw.”

“So it appears,” said he.

“The picture was pawned by a colored man only two years ago—that is,
four-and-twenty years after my father’s death. We don’t know of any
means by which to reach that colored man; but even if we did—”

“It would be a forlorn hope.”

“Exactly. So that we stand just as we did before we left home, do
we not? Except that you are by five dollars a poorer man. It was sheer
extravagance, your purchasing that box. I suppose your imagination
connected it with the box—the box that Dr. Hirsch told me of. But the
probabilities are overwhelmingly against that contingency. Then, why
did you waste your money, buying it? Intrinsically, it isn’t worth
carrying away.”

“Hush, hush,” interposed my friend. “Don’t talk to me. I have an
idea—an idea for a story—Ã propos of Arkush and his daughter.
Bless me with silence until I have meditated it to my soul’s
satisfaction.”

At home he began, “Yes, as you have said, our interview with Arkush
was not fruitful. We have simply learned the name—or the assumed
name—of the last owner of your father’s picture—for, that it is
your father’s picture I have no sort of doubt. The next step would
logically be to find Mr. White and question him. It is possible that a
tempting advertisement in the newspaper might fetch him; but it is
not probable. Very likely, he would never see it. Very likely, he is a
thief, and even if he did see it, would be restrained by caution from
replying to it. So that the outlook is not hopeful. As for this box
being the box—why, the hypothesis is absurd. It was not on that
supposition that I bought it. And even if it were the box, it would
be of little consequence, empty as it is. I trust you are not too much
disappointed.”

“By no means. I have managed to live for a considerable number of
years in my present state of ignorance about my vanished legacy, and
doubtless I shall pull through a few years more. Only, of course I was
bound to follow the clew that this picture seemed to furnish, as far as
it would lead; and having done so I am contented. I was not very hopeful
when we started out, wherefore I am not very disappointed at the result.
Let’s think no more about it.”

“Good! Your mind is imbued with a sound philosophy. But now—”

“But now, tell me why in the name of common sense you invested five
dollars in that box?”

“Precisely what I was driving at. Now you are going to have a
practical illustration of the value of experience.”

He took the box up from the table where he had laid it.

“You think that ‘intrinsically, this wasn’t worth carrying
away,’ and that my expenditure of half an eagle was a reckless waste
of good material. To an inexperienced observer your view would certainly
seem the correct one. The box is scarcely beautiful. The wood is oak.
The metal with which its surface is so profusely ornamented looks
like copper. The thing as a whole appears to have been designed for a
cheapish jewel-case, now in the last stage of decrepitude. Do I express
your sentiments?”

“Eloquently and with precision.”

“But you, my dear Lexow, are not a connoisseur. I, as chance would
have it, have seen a box of this description before; saw one in France,
the property of a lady of high degree; and, strange as it may seem,
I don’t believe a hundred bright gold pieces such as the one I gave
Rebecca, could have induced my French lady friend to part with it. Guess
why.”

“Why? Oh, I suppose it had certain associations that made her want to
keep it. We often prize things quite irrespective of their market value.
But go on: don’t be so roundabout.”

“Well, the reason—at least one reason—for her setting such
store by the box in question—which, I must remind you, was the very
duplicate of the one we have here—the reason, I say, was that she
knew enough about such matters to recognize that box for a specimen of
cinque-cento—a specimen of cinque-cento! Now do you begin to realize
that the paltry five dollars were not exorbitant?”

“Oh, from the standpoint of an antiquary, an amateur of bric-a-brac, I
suppose it was not.”

“Excellent! No, sir; on the contrary, it was an immense bargain, a
thorough-going stroke of luck. But now please take the box into your own
hands, treat it gingerly, inspect it carefully, and tell me whether you
remark any thing extraordinary about it.”

“Nothing, except that it is extraordinarily ugly and doesn’t speak
well for cinque-cento,” I replied, after the requisite examination.

“Another proof that das Sehen muss gelernt sein! Here, I will
enlighten you.—You behold this metal work which a moment since we
disposed of as copper; learn that it is bronze; and not cast bronze,
either, but wrought bronze, bronze shaped with hammer and chisel. Look
closely at it; note the forms into which it has been modeled. See these
roses, these lilies, these lotus leaves; see how exquisitely they are
fashioned; see how they are massed together into a harmonious ensemble.
Now hold it close to your eyes: see—do you see?—this serpent twined
among the flowers! The artist must have worked from life—the very
texture of the skin is reproduced—it makes one shudder.”

“Yes,” I said, “I admit it is a fine piece of work.”

“But we have not yet exhausted the list of its virtues by any means.
Now open it and look at the interior.”

“I see nothing remarkable about the interior,” I replied, “nothing
but bare wood.”

“That is all you see; but watch.”

He applied the point of a pencil to one of the series of nail-heads
with which the top of the lid was studded. It appeared to sink a
hair’s-breadth into the wood. Thereat the lower surface of the lid
dropped down, disclosing a hollow space between it and the upper.—“A
double cover,” he said, “a place for hiding things and—hello! it
isn’t empty!”

No, it wasn’t empty. It contained a large, square envelope. Merivale
hastily made a grab for it, and crossed over to the gas-fixture. “Have
we stumbled upon a romance?” he cried. Holding it up to the light,
presently he said: “Come hither, Lexow. The writing is German script.
I can’t read it. Come and help.”

He put the envelope into my hands. I ran my eyes over the writing. Next
moment the envelope fluttered to the floor. I grasped Merivale’s
arm to support myself. My breath became short and quick. “I was not
prepared for this,” I gasped.

“For what? What is the trouble?” he asked.

I sank into a chair. Merivale picked up the envelope and studied it
intently. “I can make nothing out of it,” he said.

“Give it to me—I will read it to you,” I rejoined.

This is what I read:—

“To be delivered to my son, Ernest Neuman, upon his attaining the age
of one-and-twenty years. Let there be no failure, as the will of a
dying man is honored.—To my son: Open and read on your twenty-first
birthday. Be alone when you read.—Your father, Ernest Neuman.”

Neither of us broke silence for some minutes afterward.

At last, “I guess I’d better clear out,” said Merivale. “This is
considerably more than we had bargained for. I suppose you’d like to
be alone. I’ll remain in the next room. Call, if you want me.”

“Yes,” I returned, “I may as well read it at once. But do you
know—it’s quite natural, doubtless—I really dread opening it? Who
can tell what its contents may be? Who can tell what information it may
convey, to the detriment of that ignorance which is bliss? Who can tell
what duty it may impose—what change it may make necessary in my
mode of life? I—I am really afraid of it. The superscription is not
reassuring—and then, this strange accident by which it has reached its
destination after so many years! It is like a fatality.”

“It is inevitable that you should feel this way. The suddenness of the
business was enough to shatter your self-possession. At the same time
you would best not delay about reading it. You won’t be able to
rest until you’ve done so, you know.—Yes, indeed, it is like a
fatality—like an incident in a novel—one of those happenings that
we never expect to see occur in real life. I’ll wait in the next room
till you call.”

My heart stood still as I broke the seal. Four double sheets of thin
glazed paper, covered with minute German script. The ink was faded, and
there were a good many blots and interlineations; so that it was only
by dint of straining my eyesight to the utmost that I could decipher my
father’s message. But screwing up my courage, I attacked it, nor did I
pause till I had read the last word.



XI.

H ERE is a translation:—

“In the name of God, Amen!

“To my son:

“You are a little less than two years old; I, your father, am dying. I
shall be dead before your birthday. That will be the 6th Cheshvan. It
is now the 2nd Ellul The physician gives me till some time in Tishri
to keep possession of my faculties. I am dying before my time. I
have something yet to accomplish in this world. has willed that it be
accomplished. He has willed that you accomplish it in my stead. I am in
my bed as I write this, in the bed from which I shall not rise again.
Through the open door of my room I can hear you crowing in your
nurse’s arms. Ah, would that you could understand by word of mouth
from me now, what I am compelled to write. There is so much that a man
can not but forget to put down, when he is writing. Yet will illumine my
mind and strengthen my trembling fingers. It will not allow me to forget
any thing that is essential. When this is completed, I shall put it into
safe hands, that it may be delivered to you at the proper time. I have
no fear. I am sure it will reach you. It will reach you sooner or later,
though all men conspire to the contrary. has promised it. He will render
this writing indelible, this paper indestructible. He will guide this
to you, even as He guides the river to the sea, the star to the zenith.
Blessed be the name of forever.

“My son, before you read further, cover your head and pray. Pray to
for strength. Pray that the will of your father may be done. Pray that
you may be directed aright for the fulfillment of this errand of justice
with which I charge you.

“You have prayed. I also have laid aside my pen for a moment, and,
summoning your nurse to bring you to my bedside, have prayed with my
hand upon your head. will be with you as you read. Read on.

“My son, you do not, you will never know your mother. You do not love
her; you hear not the sound of her voice; it is forbidden you to gaze
into the lustrous depths of her eyes. Ah, my son, you little guess how
much you lost when you lost your mother. But you must learn the truth.

“Your mother was younger than I by seven years. I am thirty. Your
mother would be three-and-twenty had she lived. She was nineteen when I
married her. It was in Savannah, Georgia, going on five years ago. Ah,
my Ernest, I can not tell you how beautiful your mother appeared to me
when I saw her first. I can not tell you with what great love I loved
her. Suppose that you had never seen a stone more precious than a pebble
such as may be picked up in our back garden, and that all at once a
diamond were shown to you, a diamond of the purest water: would you
not distrust your eyes, crying, ‘Ah, so fine, so wonderful! Can it
be?—So was it when I saw your mother. I had seen pebbles innumerable,
ay, and mock diamonds too. She was the first true diamond I had ever
seen. I loved her at the first glance.—How long, after the sun
has risen, does it take the waters of the earth to sparkle with the
sunlight? So long it took my heart to love, after my eyes for the first
time had met your mother’s. But how much I loved her, how every drop
of my life was sucked up and absorbed into my love of her, it would be
useless for me to try to make you understand.

“And yet, loving her as I did, I hesitated to bespeak her for my wife.
Why?

“In my eighteenth year my own father—your grandfather, of holy
memory—had died. On his death-bed he called me to him. He said:
‘When you have become a man you will meet many women. To one of them
your heart will go out in love. You will desire her for your wife. But I
say to you here on my death-bed, beware! Do not marry, though your love
be greater than your life.

“‘In the fourth generation back of me our ancestor was betrayed by
the wife of his choice. So great was his hatred of her on this account,
that he wished his seed, contaminated as it was by having taken root in
her womb, to become extinct. Therefore he forbade his son to marry. And
to this prohibition he attached a penalty.

“If, in defiance of his wish, his son should take unto himself a
woman, then should he too taste the bitterness of infidelity within the
household, then should he too be betrayed and dishonored by his
wife. And this penalty he made to extend to the seventh and eighth
generations. Whosoever of his progeny should enter into the wedded state
should enter by the same step into the antechamber of hell.

“‘But his son laughed as he listened; and within two years he was
married. But within two years also the laughter froze upon his lips. For
behold, the curse of his father had come to pass!

“‘Thus ever since. Each of our ancestors, despite his father’s
caution, has taken a wife. He has been betrayed and dishonored by her
even as I have been betrayed and dishonored by your mother. He has
repeated to his own son the family malediction even as I am now
repeating it to you.—Let that malediction then go down into the grave
with me. Do not marry, as you wish for peace now and hereafter.’

“It was in this wise that on his death-bed my father had spoken to me.
I remembered his words when I found that I had begun to love a woman.
It was for this reason that I hesitated to ask your mother to become my
wife.

“Ah, but, my son, of what avail is hesitation at such a moment?—when
you are gazing into the eyes of the woman you love? With sails set and
a strong wind behind it, can the ship hesitate to speed across the sea?
Thrust into a bed of live coals, can the wood hesitate to kindle and
burn? With the sun beating hot upon the earth above it, can the seed
hesitate to sprout and send forth rootlets? How long then could I, with
the light of your mother’s face shining upon my pathway, how long
could I hesitate to say, ‘I love you. Be my wife’.—We were
married.

“You, my son, will never know how happy it is possible for a man to
be. A woman such as your mother is born only once in all time. You will
never meet with her like. You will never know the supreme joy of having
her for your wife. Her breath was sweeter than the fragrance of the
sweetest flower. The song of the nightingale was less musical than her
simplest word. All the light of heaven was eclipsed by the light that
glowed far down in her eyes. Her presence at my side was a foretaste of
paradise. Only to take her hand into my own and stroke its warm, satiny
skin, was an ecstasy which I can not describe, which I can not remember
even at this extreme moment without a quickening of the pulse. For
three, yes, for four years after our marriage we were so happy that we
cried each morning and each evening at our prayers, ‘Lord, what have
we done to merit such happiness?’—I, my son, laughed as I recalled
the dying words of my father. ‘The family curse in my case,’ I
said, ‘has gone astray. I have no fear.’—Alas! I took too much for
granted. I congratulated myself too soon. Our happiness was doomed to be
burst like a bubble at a touch. The family curse had perhaps gone astray
for a little while: it was bound to find its way back before the end.
The will of our ancestor could not be thwarted.

“The first three years of our married life we passed at Savannah,
dwelling with the parents of your mother. There you were born—as it
seemed, in order to consummate and seal with the seal of our perfect
joy. Then, when you were still but three months old, it became necessary
that I should return and take up my residence again in New York. We were
not sorry to come to New York.

“Nicholas had been my closest friend for many years. Boys together at
Breslau, we had crossed the sea together, and had started our new life
together here in America. Before our wedding I had described Nicholas to
your mother, saying, ‘Him also must you love;’ and to Nicholas I had
written, bidding him include my wife in his love of me.—This was
why we were not sorry to leave Savannah and come to New York:
because Nicholas was here, because we wanted to be near to our best
friend.—Nicholas met us as we disembarked from the sailing vessel that
had brought us hither. It made my heart warm to greet my old comrade and
to present to him my wife and my son.

“I was a true friend to Nicholas. After your mother and you, he was
first in my heart. I would have shared with him my last drop of water,
my last crumb of bread; and he, I believed, would have done the same by
me. My purse was always open for Nicholas to put in his hand and take
out what he would, even to the last penny. I thought Nicholas was pure
gold. I trusted him as I trusted myself. I said to your mother, ‘No
evil can betide you so long as Nicholas is alive. If any thing should
happen to me, in him you will have a brother, in him our Ernest will
have a second father.’ It gave me a sense of perfect security, made
me feel that the strength of my own right arm was doubled, the fact that
Nicholas was my friend.

“Good. After my return to New York the intimacy between Nicholas and
myself increased. He was constantly at our house. We were always glad
to see him. A place was always laid for him at our table; it made our
hearts light to have him with us, so bright, so gay, withal so good,
so sterling, such a trusty friend was he. I delighted to witness the
friendship that rapidly sprang up between your mother and Nicholas. He
entertained her, told her stories, made her laugh.—She would often
exclaim, ‘Dear, good Nicholas! What should we do without him?’ I
replied, ‘That is right. Let him be next to your son and your husband
in your affection.’ I do not think it is common for one man to love
another as I loved Nicholas.

“But after we had been in New York a little more than two months,
your mother’s manner toward Nicholas began to change. She was cold
and formal to him; when he would arrive, instead of running up with
outstretched hands and crying, ‘Ah, it is you!’ she would courtesy
to him and say without smiling, ‘How do you do?’—She laughed no
more at his stories, she appeared to avoid him when she could; when she
could not, she was silent and morose. I could see no reason for this.
I was pained. I said, ‘Bertha, why do you behave so toward our best
friend?’ Your mother pretended not to understand. ‘Don’t deny
it,’ I insisted. ‘You are as distant, as polite to him, as if he
were a mere acquaintance.’ Your mother answered, ‘I am sorry to
distress you. I don’t know what you mean. I was not aware that I
had been discourteous to your friend.’—’Has Nicholas done any
thing?’ I asked.—’No, he has done nothing.’—I blamed your
mother severely. I besought her to subdue what I took for her caprice.
Yet every day her conduct toward Nicholas grew colder and more formal.
Every day I reproved her more and more earnestly. This was the nearest
approach to a quarrel that your mother and I had ever had. It grieved me
deeply that she should adopt such a manner toward my friend. I was all
the more cordial to him in consequence. I hoped that he would not notice
the turn affairs had taken.

“Thus till almost a year ago. You lacked but a fortnight of being one
year old.

“Business had kept me down town till late. At last I made up my
mind that I should not be able to go home at all that night. So I told
Nicholas to visit Bertha and let her know. ‘Spend the evening with
her,’ I said. ‘Explain how it is that I am compelled to remain here.
Tell her that I will come home to breakfast. Be sure to entertain her. I
don’t want to think of her as lonesome.’

“Next morning I hurried home. I stole softly into the house, to
surprise your mother. Ah, my son, my son, I need not give you the
details.—The house was empty. There was a brief letter from your
mother. As I read it, my head swam, a mortal weakness overpowered me, I
sank in a swoon upon the floor.

“When I recovered from my swoon, I was lying undressed in bed. There
were people round about. I remembered every thing. What! I was lying
idle in bed, and Nicholas still alive? I started up to be upon his
track. I fell back, impotent. ‘What has befallen me?’ I asked. I was
informed that I had had a hemorrhage of the lungs.

“I need not tell you what I suffered. My suffering was great in
proportion to my love. The shame, the disgrace, were nothing. But at one
blow to be deprived of wife, child, friend; to have my love and my faith
and my happiness shattered at one stroke: it was too much. Yet, let this
be impressed upon you, that not for one instant did I blame your mother.
I realized that she, like myself, was but the helpless victim of the
family curse. It was my fault. I had defied the inevitable. The keenest
agony of all was to lie there, unable to rise, and think of Nicholas.
Ah, a thousand times in imagination I tore his heart bleeding from his
breast! I hated him now, as much as I had formerly cherished him. And
yet, I believe I could in the end have forgiven him, if—ah, but of
what use to say, ‘If’. Listen to the truth.

“It was a short four months afterward—four months that had seemed,
however, a thousand years to me—and I still lay here dead in life,
when the good Dr. Hirsch, (to whom now in my dying hours I commend you,
my son), came to my bedside and said that he had seen your mother. He
believed that if I would take her back, she would be glad. If I would
take her back! ‘Bring her to me,’ I cried. And I thanked for this
manifestation of his mercy. ‘You must prepare for a sad change
in her,’ said Dr. Hirsch.—’Bring her, bring her,’ I cried
impatiently.

“Not even to you, my son, can I reveal the secret of that first hour,
of that deep hour, when your mother sat again at my side and received
my pardon—nay, not my pardon, for it was her place to pardon me. If
before that it had been possible for me to forgive Nicholas, it was so
no longer. For your mother’s face was deathly pale, her cheek hollow,
her eye bright with fever. Nicholas had—what? Petted her for a month;
for a month, ignored her; for another month, ill treated her; in the
end, abandoned her, it might be to starve. Nicholas had done this
Nicholas whom I had loved and trusted. As I saw your mother pine away,
grow paler and more feeble beneath my sight, my hatred of that man
intensified. On the day your mother died, I promised her that I would
get well and live and force him to atone for his offense in blood. My
great hatred seemed to endow me with strength. I believed that would not
let me die until I had once again met Nicholas face to face.

“But this delusion was short-lived. A second hemorrhage threw me
back, weaker than ever, upon my bed. The physician told me that I had
absolutely no ground for hope. It was evident that had willed that the
chastisement of my enemy should not be wrought out by my hand. ‘But’
is just,’ I said. ‘He will not allow a crime like this to go
unavenged.’

“It was then that my thought turned to you. And all this time, what of
you? You too were lying at the point of death. Of you too the physician
said, ‘He can not survive the winter.’ You, my single hope,
threatened at any moment to breathe your last. ‘But no,’ I cried,
‘it shall not be so. My Ernest must live. As is both just and
merciful, Ernest will live.’

“I watched the fluctuations of your illness, divided between hope and
fear, between faith in the goodness of and doubt lest the worst might
come to pass. Ah, that was a breathless period. Day after day passed
by, and there was no certainty. Constantly the doctor said, ‘Death is
merely a question of a few days, more or less.’ Constantly my heart
replied, ‘No, no, he will not die.” has decreed that he shall
live.’ I prayed that your life might be spared, morning, noon, and
night. My own strength was ebbing away. But that was of little matter. I
wanted to hold out only until I should know for good and all whether my
son was to survive.

“Blessed be the name of forever! At the moment when the physician
said, ‘He will die within an hour,’ lo! the God of our fathers
touched your body with his healing wand. There was a change for the
better. The physician himself could not deny it. He maintained that it
was but transitory. ‘Nothing short of a miracle,’ said he, ‘can
save this baby’s life.’

“‘We will see,’ said I aloud. To myself I said, ‘The miracle has
been performed.’

“I was right. Two days later the physician confessed that your chances
of recovery were good. Two days later still you were out of danger.
had heard my prayers. The God of Israel is a righteous God! Oh, for the
tongue of the prophets to sing a sufficient song of thanksgiving to . He
has snatched you from the clutch of death for a purpose. He will see to
it that you fulfill that purpose, though your heart be burned to ashes
in the task. He will make you to be great like Ephraim and Manasseh. (Y
si me ha Elohim k’.phraim v’chi Manasseh!)

“Again I have summoned your nurse, to bring you to my bedside. Again I
have laid down my pen, to place my hand upon your head and bless you in
the name of Again, before reading further, pause for a space and pray
that the breath of God may make strong your heart.”



“My son, I allow you one-and-twenty years to become a man,
one-and-twenty years to gain strength of arm and firmness of will. I
allow you one-and-twenty years of youth, one-and-twenty years in which
to enjoy life, free of care. On your twenty-first birthday, if the good
and reverend Dr. Hirsch live, he will put this writing into your
hands. Should he be dead, others will see that you receive it. On your
twenty-first birthday you will be a boy no longer. You will recognize
yourself for a man. You will ask, ‘What is to be the aim, the
occupation of my life?’ You will read this writing, and your question
will be answered. Your father on the brink of the grave pauses to speak
to you as follows:—

“In the name of , who in response to my prayers has saved your life,
who created you out of the dust and the ashes, who tore you from the
embrace of death and restored health to your shattered body for one
sole purpose, in Ins name I charge you: Find my enemy out and put him to
death. He is still a young man. He will scarcely be an old man when you
have become of age. It is a long time to wait, a long time to defer my
vengeance, one-and-twenty years, but so I believe has willed it. After
you have reached the age of one-and-twenty years, let that be the single
motive and object of your days: to find him out and put him to death by
the most painful mode of death you can devise. Do not strike him down
with one blow. Torture him to death. Pluck his flesh from his bones
shred by shred. Prolong his agony to the utmost. Thus shall you
compensate in some measure for the one-and-twenty years of delay. And
again and again as he is writhing under your heel, cry out to him,
‘Remember, remember the friend who loved you and whom you betrayed,
whose honey you turned to gall and wormwood.’ But, if meanwhile from
other causes death should have overtaken him, then shall you transfer
your anger to his next-of-kin; then, I charge you, visit the penalty
of his sin upon his children and his children’s children. For has not
decreed that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children
even unto the third and fourth generations? The blood of Nicholas must
be spilled, whether it courses in his veins or in the veins of his
posterity. The race of Nicholas must be exterminated, obliterated from
the face of the earth. As you honor the wish of a dying father, as you
dread the wrath of , falter not in this that I command. Search the four
corners of the world until you have unearthed my enemy or his kindred.
Empty his blood upon the sand as you would the blood of swine. And
think, as he is calling out to you for mercy, think, ‘At last my
father’s revenge is wreaked! At last my father’s spirit can rest
content. Even now my father is in transports of delight as he witnesses
this fruition of his hope. At each thrust of my knife into our enemy’s
flesh, the heart of my father leaps with satisfaction. At each scream
of pain that escapes from our enemy’s throat, the voice of my father
waxes great with joy.’

“Ah, my son, at that mighty hour, whether I be confined in the bottom
fastnesses of hell or exalted to the mountain tops of paradise, I shall
know what is happening, I shall fling myself upon my face and sing a
song of praise to for the unspeakable rapture which he has permitted me
to enjoy.

“My son, I trust you. You will not falter. You will remember that has
saved you from death for this solitary purpose, that you have no right
to your own life except as you employ it for the chastisement of my foe.
I have no fear. You will hate him with a hatred equal to my own. You
will wreak that hatred as I should have wreaked it, had my life been
spared.

“I have no fear, no distrust, and yet—all things are possible. My
son, I warn you. In case you be faint-hearted, in case you recoil from
this mission you are charged with, or in case by any accident—though
will allow no such accident to happen—in case by any accident this
writing should fail to reach you, I shall be prepared. From my grave I
shall watch over you. From my grave I shall guide you. From my grave I
shall see to it that you do not neglect the duty of your life. Though
seas roll between you and him, I shall see to it that you two meet.

“Though your heart be bound to him as to your own flesh and blood, I
shall see to it that you swerve not. And if he be dead, I shall see to
it that you are brought face to face with his kindred. Man, woman, or
child, spare neither. Young or old, able or feeble-bodied, let it matter
not. In case your strength desert you, in case your courage weaken, I
shall be at your side, I shall nerve your arm. If you hesitate, remember
that my spirit will possess your body and do what must be done in spite
of your hesitation. There will be no escape for you. As certainly as
the moon must follow the earth, so certainly will and must you, my son,
accomplish the purpose for which your life is given.—But falter not,
as you cherish the fair name of your mother, as you honor the desire,
as you fear the curse, of a dying father, as you hope for peace for your
own soul.

“I have done. I think I have made every thing clear. Farewell.

“Your father, Ernest Neuman.

“I have written the above during my moments of strength for the last
four days. Now I have just read it over. I find that it but feebly
expresses all that I mean and feel. But will enlighten you as you read.
It is enough. I find also that I have omitted to mention his full name.
His name is Nicholas Pathzuol.”



XII.

THE emotions that grew upon me, as I read my father’s message, need
not be detailed. How, as I painfully deciphered it, word following upon
word added steadily to the weight of those emotions, until at length it
seemed as though the burden was greater than I could bear, I need not
tell. Indeed, so engrossed had I become by what had gone before, that
the sense of the last line did not penetrate my mind. I leaned back in
my chair and drew a long breath like one exhausted by an effort beyond
his strength. I waited for the commotion of thought and feeling to quiet
a little. I was completely horror-stricken and tired out and bewildered.

But by and by it occurred to me, “What did he say the man’s name
was?” And languidly I picked up the paper and read the postscript for
a second time. The next instant I was on my feet, rigid, aghast, for
consternation. What!

Pathzuol! The name of Veronika! My head swam. It was as if I had
sustained a terrific blow between the eyes. Could it be that this
Pathzuol, the man who had dishonored my mother, the man whom my father
had commissioned me to murder, was her father? the father of her who had
indeed been murdered, and of whose murder I had been accused? The mere
possibility stunned and sickened me. It was the straw that broke the
camel’s back. I had been under a pretty tense nervous strain ever
since the reception of Tikulski’s letter in the afternoon. This last
utterly undid me. My muscles relaxed, my knees knocked together, the
perspiration trickled down my forehead. I went off into a regular fit of
weeping, like a woman.

It was not long before Merivale entered. I looked up and saw him
standing over me, with a physiognomy divided between astonishment and
contempt.

“Ah, Lexow,” he said, shaking his head, “I am surprised at you.”
Then his eyes grew stern, and he continued sharply, “Stop! Stop your
crying. You ought to be ashamed. Whatever new misfortune has befallen
you, you have no right to act like this. It is a man’s part to bear
misfortune silently. It is a school-girl’s or a baby’s to take on
in this fashion. Stop your crying, dry your eyes, and show what you are
made of. Grit your teeth and clench your fists and don’t open your
mouth till you are ready to behave like a reasonable being.”

His words sobered me to some extent.

“Well,” I said, “I am calm now. What do you want?”

“If I should do what I want,” he answered, “you would not speedily
forget it. I should—but never mind that. What I want you to do is
to speak up like a man and explain the occasion of this rumpus, if you
can.”

“Here, read this,” I said, offering him the paper.

He took it, glanced at it, turned it this way and that, handed it
back. “How can I read it?” he said. “It’s German. Read it to
me.—Come, read it to me,” he repeated, as I hesitated.

I gulped down my reluctance and read the whole thing through as rapidly
as I could in English. He sat across the table, smoking and drawing
figures in the ash-pan with the ashes of his cigarette. Once in a while
I heard him whistle softly to himself. He had thrown his last cigarette
aside and was biting his fingernails when the reading drew to a close.

“No more?” he asked.

“Isn’t that enough?” I rejoined.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that. Oh, yes; that’s enough; and it’s pretty
bad too. But I expected something worse from the rough way you cut
up.”

“Worse? In heaven’s name what could be worse? My mother dishonored,
my father broken hearted, and I marked out for a murderer, even from my
cradle? And then—”

“I say it’s hard, deucedly hard. But inasmuch as you’re not a
murderer, you know, I wouldn’t let that side of the matter bother
me, if I were you. The bad part of the business is to think of how your
father’s happiness, your mother’s innocence, were destroyed. Think
how he must have suffered!”

“But you haven’t listened, you haven’t understood the worst, yet.
Here, see his name—Pathzuol.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Why, don’t you remember? It is the same name as
hers—Veronika’s—my sweetheart’s.”

“Decidedly!” exclaimed Merivale. “That is a startling coincidence,
I admit.”

“Couple that with—with the rest of my father’s story and
with—with the—well, with all the facts—and I think you’ll
confess that it was sufficient to shake me up a bit. To come upon that
name at the end of such a letter, it was like being knocked down. I lost
my self-possession. Think! if he was her father! But, oh no; it isn’t
credible. It’s sheer accident, of course.”

“Of course it is. The letter doesn’t say that he was even married.
I suppose there’s more than one Pathzuol in the world as well as more
than one Merivale. But all the same, it’s a coincidence of a sort to
stir a fellow up. I don’t wonder you lost your balance. Only, the
idea of boohooing like a woman! That’s inexcusable. Mercy! what a good
hater your father was! And what an unspeakable wretch, Nicholas!”

“Yes,” I went on, “it gave me a pretty severe jolt, the sight of
that name; and I can’t seem to get over it. I don’t know why, but I
can’t help feeling as though there were more in this than either you
or I perceive, as though there were some deduction or other to be drawn
from it which is right within arm’s reach and yet which I can’t
grasp—some horrible corollary, you know. My brain is in a whirl,
I—I—”

“You are quite unstrung, as it is natural you should be. But you
must exert your reason and put the stopper upon your imagination. Let
deductions and corollaries take care of themselves. Confine yourself to
the facts, and you’ll see that they’re not as bad as they might be,
after all. For example—”

“But it is just the facts that perplex and horrify me. My father
destines me to be the murderer of Nicholas Pathzuol or of his next of
kin. All ignorant of this destiny, I meet and love a lady whose name is
Pathzuol—a name so rare that I had never heard it before, and have not
since, except in this writing to-day. My lady is murdered; and I,
though innocent, am suspected and accused of the crime. Add to this
my father’s threat to come back from the grave and use me as his
instrument, in case I hesitate or in case I never receive his letter;
and—well, it is like a problem in mathematics—given this and that,
to determine so and so. No, no, there’s no use denying it, this
strange combination of facts must have some awful meaning. It seems as
though each minute I was just on the point of catching it, and then as I
tighten my fingers around it, it escapes again and eludes me.”

“Nonsense, man. You are yielding to your fancy, like a child who,
because he feels oppressed in the dark, conjures up ghosts and goblins,
and can not be persuaded that there are none about, till you light the
gas and show him that the room is empty. Come, light the gas of your
common sense! Recognize that your problem has no solution, none because
it is not a true problem, but merely a fortuitous arrangement of
circumstances which chances to bear a superficial resemblance to one.
Reduce your quasi problem to its simplest terms: thus, given x and y
and z, to find the value of b. Don’t you see that there’s no
connection?”

“Oh, of course, I acknowledge that I can’t see any connection.
That’s just the trouble. I feel that there must be a connection—one
that I can’t see. If I could only see it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But
this perplexity, this——”

“This fiddle-stick! You are resolved to distress yourself, and I
suppose it’s useless for me to labor with you. Only this much I will
say, that if you should bestow a little of the energy you are expending
in the effort to catch hold of a non-existent inference, upon sympathy
with your father’s unhappiness, I should have more respect for you.
They talk about suffering ennobling and chastening men, forsooth! So
far as you are concerned, suffering has done nothing but intensify
your natural egotism. For instance, after reading that letter of your
father’s, the first idea that strikes you is, ‘How does it affect
me, how am I concerned by it?’ whereas the spectacle of your father s
immense grief ought to have absorbed you to the exclusion of every thing
else, ought to have left no room in your mind for any other thought.”

But for all Merivale could say by way either of appeal or of reprimand,
I was powerless to subdue that feeling which had begun to stir in my
breast. I recognized that I was unreasonable and selfish, but I was
also helpless. I could not get over the shock I had sustained when
Pathzuol’s name first took shape before my eyes. Every time I
remembered that moment—and it kept recurring to me in spite of
myself—my heart sank and my breath became spasmodic, as if I had been
confronted by a ghost. And then ensued that sensation of groping in
the dark after something invisible, unknown, yet surely there, hovering
within arm’s reach, but as elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp. I
struggled with this sensation, tried my utmost to shake it off, but it
sat like a monster on my heart. Its weight was deadly, its touch was
icy; it would not be dislodged.

“It is true, all that you say, Merivale,” I returned at length.
“But the question is not one of what I ought to do; it is one of what
I can do. I know I ought to regard this matter in the same collected
spirit that you display; but it concerns me so intimately, you see, that
I can’t resist being somewhat perturbed. My wits, so to speak, have
been scattered by an unexpected blow. I shan’t be able to emulate your
sang-froid until they have got back to their proper places. I’m so
heated and upset that I don’t really know what I think or what I feel.
I guess perhaps I’d better go for a walk and cool off, and arrive at
an understanding with myself.”

“The very worst thing you could possibly do—go away by yourself and
brood and get more and more morbid every minute. What you want is to
think of something else for a while, and then when you come back to this
subject you’ll be in a condition to regard it in its correct light.
Let’s—let’s play a game of cribbage, or read some Rossetti; or
suppose you fiddle a little?”

“No, I feel the need of air and exercise. I’ll go out and take
a walk. I sha’n’. brood, I’ll reflect on the sensible things
you’ve said. Good-by.”

I walked briskly through the streets, striving to collect my faculties,
striving to regain sufficient mental tranquillity to comprehend exactly
what the long and short of the whole business was. But the feeling that
there was something more in it than I could make out, intensified. It
would not be dispelled. The oftener I went over the circumstances,
the more significant they seemed.—Significant of what? Precisely the
question that I could not answer. The longer I allowed my mind to dwell
upon them, the more acute became that sensation of wrestling with a
problem, of groping for a something suspended near to me in the dark. My
father had destined me to be a murderer; the name of my intended victim
was Pathzuol; I had been engaged to a young lady of the same name,
very possibly the daughter of my father’s foe; she had indeed been
murdered, though not by my hand; and yet I, despite my innocence, had
been deemed guilty of the crime: this chain of facts kept passing over
and over before me. I felt that it must mean something; it could not be
purely fortuitous; there was a break, a missing link, which, if I could
but supply it, would make the hidden meaning clear. I walked the streets
all night, unable to fix my thoughts on any thing else. I said, “You
are merely wearing yourself out and getting your brains into a tangle:
try to divert your attention. Count up to a thousand. See how much you
can remember of the Moonlight Sonata. Conjugate a Hebrew verb. Do what
you will, only stop puzzling over this matter. As Merivale says,
when you have thought of something else for a while, you will be in a
condition to return to it with refreshed intelligence, and view it in
the right light.” But the next moment I was at it again, in greater
perplexity than ever. Of course, I succeeded in working myself up to
a high degree of nervousness: was as exhausted and as exasperated as
though I had spent an hour in futile attempts to thread a needle.

But now it began to get light. The stillness of the night was broken, my
solitude was disturbed.

Hosts of sparrows began to congregate upon the window sills, and their
busy twittering filled the air. First one steam-whistle blew in the
distance, then another nearer by, then another, and finally a chorus of
them: bells began to ring, wagons rattled over the pavement, the shrill
whoo-hoop of the milk-man resounded through the streets. The clatter of
footsteps became audible upon the sidewalk.

People began to walk abroad. The sky turned from black to gray, from
gray to blue. Shutters were banged, doors slammed, windows thrown open:
housemaids with brooms and buckets appeared upon the stoops. Dawn had
arrived from across the Ocean with the smell of the sea-breeze still
clinging to her skirts. The city was waking to its feverish multifarious
life.—And the result was that I forgot myself—was penetrated and
exalted by that vague tremulous exhilaration which always accompanies
the first breath of morning. I expanded my lungs and inhaled the fresh
air and felt a glow of warmth and animation shoot through my limbs.

“Ah,” I cried, “a truce to the blue devils! I will go home and
take up my regular life again, just as though this interruption had not
occurred.”

I hurried back to our lodgings. Merivale was already up and dressed,
smoking a cigarette over the newspaper.

“Hail!” I exclaimed. “I am glad to see you out of bed so early!”

“I have not been abed since you left,” he answered.

“Why not? What have you been doing?”

“Thinking about you—about what can be done to make a man of you.”

“Oh, you needn’t worry about that. I’m all right now. I
sha’n’. play the fool again, I promise you. I propose that we
sink the last four-and-twenty hours into eternal oblivion. What do you
say?”

“Nothing would more delight me.”

“Good! Let’s begin at the first cause. Where’s the manuscript?
We’ll set fire to it, and agree to believe that it never really
existed.”

“No,” said Merivale, “I wouldn’t set fire to it—at least not
till it is manifest whether your present mood is merely a reaction from
your late one, or whether it is going to last. I will dispose of the
manuscript—see.”

He found it on the table, opened the double cover of the box, restored
the papers to the place they had occupied formerly, and locked the box
up in the closet of his writing-desk.

“There,” he said, “that’s the best thing to do. I’ll take care
of it. Some day you may have a little sympathy to waste on your father,
and then you’ll be glad this writing was not destroyed.”

We had breakfast, and after the cups and saucers were cleared away,
applied ourselves to our ordinary forenoon occupation. It turned out
indeed that my good spirits were, as Merivale had suspected, to some
extent reactionary: but they left me sober rather than sad. I was
absent-minded and committed numberless blunders while my friend dictated
his poems: but I did not let my thoughts settle down again upon the
matters that had engaged them during the night. They simply wandered
about in a random way from one indifferent topic to another, as it is
the habit of thoughts to do when the thinker has not had his customary
allotment of sleep. Presently Merivale suspended his dictation, and
I waited passively for him to resume, supposing that he had reached a
point where reflection was necessary to further progress. His silence
continued. Pretty soon my eyelids dropped like leaden curtains over my
eyes, and my chin sank upon my breast. I was actually nodding. I started
up and pinched myself, ashamed of appearing drowsy.

Lo! I perceived that my friend had met with the same mishap. He too was
nodding in his chair. For a moment we eyed each other sheepishly, each
endeavoring to feign wide wakefulness. Then Merivale rose and stretched
himself and laughed.

“For my part I cast off the mask,” he cried. “I am sleepy and I am
going to bed. You’d better follow suit.”

I needed no urging. We retired to our dormitory, and as speedily as was
practicable one of us at least fell into an unfathomable slumber.



XIII.

I DON’. know how many hours afterward I awoke. Gradually, as
consciousness asserted itself, I realized that somebody was playing a
violin in the adjacent room: and at length it struck me that it must be
Merivale practicing. I pricked up my ears and hearkened. Oh, yes; he was
running over his part of the last new composition we had studied. The
clock-like tick-tack of his metronome marked the rhythm. I lay still and
listened till he had repeated the same phrase some twenty times. Finally
I got up and crossed the threshold that divided us.

Merivale kept on playing for a minute or two, unaware of my intrusion.
Not till it behooved him to turn the page did he lift his eyes. Then,
encountering my night-robed figure,they lighted up with merriment. Their
owner lowered his instrument, remained silent for a moment, in the end
gave vent to an uproarious peal of laughter.

“What are you laughing at?” I stammered.

When he had got his hilarity somewhat under control he replied: “At
you. Come and gaze upon yourself.” And conducting me to a mirror he
said, pointing, “There, isn’t that a funny sight?”

I looked sleepy, that was all. My hair was awry, and my eyes were heavy,
and my costume was a trifle wrinkled. Still, I suppose, my general
appearance was sufficiently ludicrous. Be that as it may, I could not
help joining in Merivale’s laughter: and, thus put into good humor at
the outset, I cheerfully complied with his request to hasten through my
toilet and “come and fiddle with him.”

“Let’s start here,” he said, opening the book.

We read for a while in concert. As usual my arm seemed to swing of its
separate will, I myself becoming all but comatose. By and by I perceived
that Merivale had discontinued and was seated at one side with his
instrument upon his knees. Then I perceived that I was no longer
following the book. I closed my eyes and listened. As usual I heard the
voice of my violin very much as though some other person had been the
performer.

I found that I was playing a lot of bits from memory. I heard the light,
quick tread of a gavotte which I had learned as a boy and meantime
almost forgotten; I heard snatches from the chants the Chazzan sings in
the synagogue; I heard the Flower Song from Faust mixing itself up with
a recitative from Lohengrin. Then I heard the passionate wail of Chopin
become predominant: the exquisite melody of the Berceuse, motives from
Les Polonaises, and at length the impromptu in C-sharp minor—that to
which I have alluded in the early part of this narrative, as descriptive
of Veronika. Following it, came the songs that Veronika herself had been
most prone to sing, Bizet, Pergolese, Schumann, morsels of German folk
liede, old French romances. And ever and anon that phrase from the
impromptu kept recurring. Every thing else seemed to lead up to it. It
terminated a brilliant passage by Liszt. It cropped out in the middle of
a theme from the Meistersinger. And with its every new recurrence, the
picture of Veronika which it pre sented to my imagination grew more
life-like and palpable, until ere long it was almost as though I saw
her standing near me in substantial objective form. As I have said, I
scarcely realized that it was I who played. Except for the sensation
along my wrist as the bow bit the catgut, I believe I should have quite
forgotten it. But now abruptly, without the least volition upon my
part, my arm acquired a fresh vigor. The voice of my violin increased in
volume. The character of the music underwent a change. From a medley of
fragments it turned to a coherent, continuous whole. Note succeeded
note in natural and inevitable sequence. I tried to recognize the
composition. I could not. It was quite unfamiliar to me. Odd, because of
course at some time I must have practiced it again and again. Otherwise
how had I been able to play it now? It flowed from the strings without
hitch or hesitancy. Yet my best efforts to place it were ineffectual.
Doubly odd, because it was no ordinary composition. It had a striking
individuality of its own.

It began with laughter-provoking scherzo, as dainty as the pattering
of April rain-drops, as riotous as the frolicking of children let loose
from school; which, by degrees tempering to a quieter allegro, presently
modulated into the minor, and necessarily, therefore, became plaintive
and sentimental. For a while bar succeeded bar, fitful and undetermined,
as if groping blindly for a climax. Next, a quick, fluttering crescendo,
and an exultant major chord. This completed the first movement. The
second began pianissimo upon the A and E strings, an allegretto full of
placid contentment; again, a minor modulation; again, blind groping for
a climax, this time more strenuous than before, tinged by a passion,
impelled by an insatiable desire; adagio on G and D, still minor; then
a swift return to major, a leap of the bow and fingers back to A and E,
and on these latter strings a rhapsody expressive of the utmost possible
human joy. Third movement andante, sober but still joyous; the music,
which hitherto had been restless and destitute of an apparent aim,
seemed to have caught a purpose, to have gained substance and confidence
in itself.

It proceeded in this wise for several periods, when sharply, without
the faintest warning, it broke into a discordant shriek of laughter, the
laughter of a demon whose evil designs had triumphed.

Though I had not recognized the composition, up to this point I had
understood it perfectly. Its intrinsic lucidity carried the intelligence
along. But henceforward I was mystified. The reason for the violent
change of theme, time, and quality, I could not divine; nor could I
appreciate, either, how the subsequent effects were produced or what
they were meant to signify. My impression was, as I have said, that the
laughter which my violin seemed to be echoing was demoniac laughter, the
outburst of a Satan over his success, of a Succubus fastening upon his
prey. Yet the next instant I was doubtful whether it was indeed laughter
at all? Was it not perhaps the hysterical sobbing of a human being
frenzied by grief? And again the next instant neither of these
conceptions appeared to be the correct one. Was it not rather
a chorus?—a chorus of witches?—plotting some fiendish
atrocity?—chuckling over a vicious pleasantry?—now, whispering
amicably together, now wrangling ferociously, now uniting in
blood-curdling screams of delight? Whatever it might be, I could not
penetrate its sense. I listened with deepening perplexity. I wished it
would come to an end. But it did not occur to me to stop my arm and lay
aside my bow. The music went on and on—until Merivale caught me by the
shoulder and snatched my violin from my grasp. He was speaking.

The descent back to earth was too abrupt. It took me some time to gather
myself together. “Eh—what were you saying?” I asked at last.

“I was saying, stop! Consider a fellow’s nervous system. Where in
the name of Lucifer did you learn that infernal music? Whom is it by?”

“Oh,” I answered, “oh, I don’t know whom it is by.”

“It out-Berliozes Berlioz,” he added. “Is it his?”

“Perhaps. I don’t remember. I am tired. Let me rest a moment without
talking.”

“Well,” he continued, “it was a terrible strain to listen to it. I
am quite played out—feel as if—forgive the comparison—as if I
had spent the last hour in a dentist’s chair. However, for relief’s
sake, let’s go to dinner. Are you aware that we haven’t eaten any
thing since early morning?”

After dinner Merivale insisted that we should take a long walk “to
shake out the kinks,” and after the long walk we were tired enough to
return to our pillows.

I went straight to sleep; but my sleep was troubled. As soon as Merivale
had said goodnight and extinguished the gas, memory began to repeat the
music I had played. I heard it throughout my sleep. Every little while
I would wake up and try to banish it by fixing my attention on other
matters. But it kept thrumming away in my brain despite myself. I could
not silence it. Merivale’s reference to a dentist’s chair was, if
inelegant, at least a graphic one. I got as hopelessly irritated as I
could have done with a score of dentists simultaneously grinding at my
teeth. My very arteries seemed to be beating to its rhythm.

In one fit of wakefulness, that lasted longer than its predecessors
had done, I found myself unconsciously tattooing it upon the wall at my
bed’s head.

“Is that you?” Merivale’s voice demanded from out of the darkness.

“Yes,” I replied. “Aren’t you asleep?”

“Mercy, no. That music you played—or rather, stray fragments of it,
keep running through my brain. I haven’t been able to sleep for a long
while.”

“That’s singular. It affects me the same way. I was just drumming it
on the wall. I’ve been trying to get rid of it all night.”

“It has wonderful staying powers, for a fact. I’m glad you’re
awake, though. Companionship in misery is sweet.”

“Yes, I also feel rather more comfortable now that you have spoken. Do
you know, it’s an immense puzzle to me, that music? I can’t imagine
where or when I ever learned it. And yet it is not the sort of thing one
would be apt to forget. I can’t recognize the style even, can’t get
a clew to the composer.”

“The style is emphatically that of Berlioz.”

“Perhaps so. But it can’t be by Berlioz, because I never learned any
thing by Berlioz at all.”

“Hum!” A pause. Then, “Say, Lexow—”

“Well?”

“It isn’t possible that it’s original, is it?”

“Original? How do you mean?”

“Why, an improvisation—a little thing of your own.”

“Oh, no; oh, no, I never improvise—at least an entire composition,
like that. Nobody does. It bears all the marks of careful workmanship.
It must be something well-known that has temporarily slipped from my
memory. It’s too striking not to be well-known. Tomorrow I’ll go
through my music and find it; and I’ll wager it will turn out to be
quite familiar. Only, it’s extremely odd that I can’t place it.”

“Why wait till to-morrow?”

“Why, we can’t begin to-night, can we?”

“Why not? I say, let’s begin right off. The cursed thing is keeping
us awake, and there doesn’t seem to be any escape from it. We may as
well utilize our wakefulness, as lie here doing nothing but toss about.
I say, let’s light the gas and go to work.”

“Oh, well, I’m agreeable. The sooner the better as far as I’m
concerned.”

“Good,” cried Merivale.

He sprang out of bed and lighted the gas.

“Shall Mahomet go to the mountain or shall the mountain come to
Mahomet?” he inquired, blinking his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean shall we dress and adjourn to the other room? Or shall I bring
your musical library in here, so that we can conduct our investigation
without getting up?”

“Just as you please,” I answered.

“Well, we’ll move the mountain, then,” he said, and left the room.

He made two or three trips, back and forth, bearing an armful of music
as the fruit of each. The last folios deposited on the floor, “Now, as
to method,” he inquired, “how shall we start? It will occupy us till
doom’s-day if we undertake to go through the whole of this. I suppose
there are some composers we can eliminate à priori, eh?”

“Oh, yes; Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt, in particular, we
needn’t trouble with. I’d keep an especially sharp eye out for
Ruben-stein and Dvorak and Winiauski. It’s fortunate that I’ve
preserved all the music I’ve ever owned. We can’t miss it if we’re
only patient enough.”

“Well, here goes,” he cried, thrusting a thick pile of music into my
hands, and apportioning an equal amount to himself.

We were industrious. It is needless that I should tarry with the
incidents of our search. At daybreak we had not yet quite finished, and
we had not yet struck any thing that bore the slightest resemblance to
the composition in question.

“But little remains,” said Merivale. “In another five minutes we
will have found it; or my first hypothesis was true.”

“Your first hypothesis?” I inquired.

“Yes—that it was original—a lucubration of your own.”

“Oh, that, I tell you, isn’t possible. I’m not vain enough to
imagine that I could improvise in such style, thank you.”

“Well, we won’t enter into a dispute, at any rate not till our
present line of investigation is exhausted. Back to the saddle!”

For a space we were silent.

“Eh bien, mon brave!” cried Merivale at length. “There goes the
last of my half,” and he sent a sheet of music fluttering through the
air.

“And here is the last of mine,” I responded, laying down
Schumann’s Warum.

“And we are still in the dark.”

“Still in the dark.”

“It isn’t possible that we have overlooked it?”

“I’m sure I haven’t. I took pains with each separate page.”

“Likewise, I! Therefore. I congratulate you. I’ll order a laurel
wreath at the florist’s, the first thing after breakfast.”

“Nonsense! How many times need I tell you that I could not by hook or
crook have made it up as I went along? The mere notion is ridiculous. It
must have got lost, that’s all.”

“On the contrary, the notion that you once learned it, then forgot
it, then played it off without a fault from beginning to end, is trebly
ridiculous. It was ridiculous of us to waste our time hunting for it,
also. I am entirely convinced that it is yours. Why not? Ideas have come
to other people—why not to you? Yesterday while you played, you were
excited and wrought up, and the result was that you had an inspiration.
By Jove, you’re lucky! It’s enough to make you famous.”

“But, Merivale, fancy the absurdities you are uttering. Do you
seriously suppose anybody—even a regular composer—could take up his
fiddle and reel off a complicated thing like that without once halting?
Why, man, there are four or five distinct movements. You might as well
pretend that a mere elocutionist could write an intricate epic poem
without once pausing to make an erasure or find a rhyme, as that I, a
simple instrumentalist, could have done this.”

“Well, there’s only oneway of settling the matter. We’ll refer it
to an authority. You jot down a few specimen bars on paper, and I’ll
submit it to your friend, Dr. Rodolph. Of course he will identify it at
once, if it isn’t yours.”

“If that will satisfy you, well and good,” I assented.

In the course of the forenoon, Merivale, having procured a stock of
music-paper at a shop in the neighborhood, said, “I don’t know how
rapidly a man can write music, but if it isn’t too slow work, I’d
seriously counsel you to put down the whole thing, while you’re about
it. In fact I’d counsel you to do so any how. If by hazard it is
original, you know, you’d better make a memorandum of it while it’s
still fresh in your mind. Otherwise you might forget it. That often
happens to me. A bright idea, a felicitous turn of phraseology, occurs
to me when I’m away somewhere—in the horse-cars, at the theater,
paying a call, or what-not—and if I don’t make an instant minute
of it in my note-book, it’s sure to fly off and never be heard from
again.”

“We’ll see,” I returned. “I haven’t written a bar of music for
such a long while that I don’t know how hard I shall find it. But
I used to make a daily practice of writing from memory, because it
increases one’s facility for sight-reading.”

I hummed the first two or three phrases softly to myself, beating time
with my fingers; then drew up to the writing-table and commenced to set
them down. At the outset I had considerable difficulty, was obliged,
so to speak, to spell my way along note by note, and committed several
blunders which I had to go back to and correct. But gradually my path
grew smoother and smoother, until I was no longer conscious of effort;
and at last I became so much absorbed and so much interested by what I
was doing, that my hand sped across the paper like a machine performing
the regular function for which it was contrived. I suppose mental
activity always begets mental exhilaration; and that mental exhilaration
in turn, when allowed to attain too high a pitch, always approaches the
borderland of its antipode, on the principle that extremes meet. At any
rate such was my experience in the present instance. At first, both
mind and fingers were sluggish and moved laboriously. Then mind got into
running order, and fingers lagged behind; then fingers caught up with
mind, and for a while the two kept pace; then, finally, fingers spurted
ahead and it was mind’s turn to acknowledge itself left in the rear.
Mental exhilaration gave place to bewilderment, as I saw that my hand
was forging along faster than my thought could dictate, in apparent
obedience to an independent will of its own—which bewilderment ripened
into thoroughgoing mystification, as the hand dashed forward and
back like a shuttle in a loom, with a velocity that seemed ever to be
increasing. I had precisely the sensation of a man who has started to
run down a hill, and whose legs have acquired such a momentum that
he can not stop them: on and on he must submit to be borne until some
outside obstacle interferes, even though a yawning chasm await him
at the bottom. Toward the end I scarcely saw the paper on which I was
writing; I am sure I saw nothing of the matter that I wrote. I said to
myself, “Of course you will find that all this stuff is incoherent and
meaningless when you get through.” But I waited passively till my hand
should get through of its own accord, I made no endeavor to draw the
rein upon it. Eventually it came to a standstill with a round turn. I
was quite winded. I needed leisure in which to recover my equilibrium.

Merivale—of whose presence I had become oblivious—crossed over and
began gathering the scattered sheets of paper from the table. The sight
of him helped to bring me to myself.

“Well,” I said, “there it is. I don’t suppose you can read it. I
got so excited I hardly knew what I was about.”

“That’s all right,” he answered reassuringly. “I’m much
obliged to you for the trouble you’ve taken. But what,” he added
abruptly, “but what is all this that you have written?”

“Why, what do you fancy? The music, of course, that you asked me
to.”

“No, no; I mean this writing, this text, with which you have wound
up?”

“Writing? Text? What are you driving at?”

“Why, here—this,” he said handing me the paper.

“Mercy upon me!” I exclaimed, thoroughly amazed. “I was not aware
that I had written any thing.”

The last half dozen pages were covered with written words—blotted,
scrawling, scarcely decipherable, but unmistakably written words.

“Well, certainly, this is most astonishing. Whatever it is, I have
written it unawares.”

I dropped the manuscript and leaned back in my chair, dumbfounded by
this latest development.

“Here,” said Merivale, “is the point where the music ends and the
words begin.”

The music ended, the words began, just at that point where last night
the shriek of malevolent laughter had interfered with the current of
melody. From that point to the bottom of the last page not another bar
of music was discernible—not a note of the incomprehensible witches’
chorus—simply words, words that I dared not read.

“This is magic, this is ghost-work,” I said. “It appalls me.
Look at it, Merivale. Does it make sense? Or is it simply a mass of
scribbling without rhyme or reason?”

“Ye-es,” rejoined Merivale slowly, “it seems to make sense. The
penmanship is pretty blind, but the words appear to hang together. It
begins, ‘I walked re—re—reluctantly’—next word very
bad—’I walked reluctantly—reluctantly—away’—oh yes, that’s
it—’away—from the house. By Jove, this is singular! Shall I go
on?”

“Yes, go on,” I said faintly. There was panic in my heart.

Merivale continued, picking his way laboriously. The following is what
he read.



XIV.

I WALKED reluctantly away from the house after I saw her light put out.
I hated so to leave her that it was as if a chain and ball had been
attached to my ankle. I had reached a point on Second avenue about half
the distance home when I halted. I had begun to feel sick. Suddenly my
ears had begun to ring, my head to swim. I clutched at a lamppost to
keep from falling. The ringing in my ears became louder and louder—a
roar like that of a strong wind. A deathly nausea overcame me. I thought
I was going to faint, perhaps to die. I held on to the lamp-post and
tried to call out for help. I could not utter the slightest sound; my
tongue clove to the roof of my mouth as it does in nightmare. I seemed
to be growing weaker with every breath. The noise in my ears was like an
unbroken peal of thunder. My brain went spinning around and around as if
it had been caught in a whirlpool. Then all at once my breath began to
come in quick short gasps like the breath of a panting dog or like the
breath of a person who has taken laughing-gas. I closed my eyes and for
how long I know not clung to the lamp-post, waiting for this internal
upheaval to reach its climax. By degrees my breath returned to its
normal state; the uproar in my ears subsided; my brain got quiet again.
I felt as well as ever, only a bit startled, a bit shaky in the legs. I
thought, ‘You have had an attack of vertigo, a half fainting-fit. Now
you would best hurry home.’ But—but to my unmingled consternation
my body refused to act in response to my will. I was puzzled. I tried
again. Useless.

I had absolutely no control over my muscles. Experiment proved that I
could not move a finger; experiment proved that I could not put forth my
foot and take a step. I was horrified. Ah, I thought, this is a stroke
of paralysis. For a second time I attempted to summon help. For a second
time my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth.

But if all this horrified me, how much more horrified was I the moment
after, when, in entire independence of my will, that body of mine which
I had fancied paralyzed began to act of its own accord! began to march
briskly off in a direction exactly opposite to that which I wished to
follow! If I had been puzzled before, how much more hopelessly puzzled
was I now! Experiment proved that I was as powerless to stop myself at
present, as an instant since I had been to set myself in motion. I was
appalled. I knew not what this phenomenon was due to or what it might
lead to. It seemed precisely as though the chords connecting my mind and
body had been severed, as though the will of another person had become
the reigning occupant of my frame. A thousand frightful possibilities
flashed upon my imagination. With this utter incompetency to govern my
own movements, God knew what might happen. I might walk into the river;
or I might—I might commit some irretrievable wrong. Helpless and
irresponsible as I was, I might accomplish that which all the rest of my
days I should repent.

Meanwhile I had moved on, until now I halted again. I looked around. I
was in front of Veronika’s house. I crossed the street, picked my
way through the people who were seated upon the stoop, mounted the
staircase, and rang Veronika’s bell, wondering constantly what the
cause and what the upshot of this adventure might be, and powerless to
assert the least influence over my physical acts.

“Veronika’s voice sounded from behind the door, ‘Is that you,
uncle?’

“‘No, it is I, my tongue replied of its own volition.

“The door opened. I saw Veronika with the knob in her hand. She looked
surprised. My impulse was to take her in my arms and explain to her
the strange accident that had befallen me. I could not. I had no more
control over my body than I had over hers.

“Veronika closed the door. She glanced up at my face. Her eyes filled
with fear.

“‘Why, Ernest,’ she cried, ‘what is it? What is the matter? Why
do you look like this?’

“I paused to collect my utmost strength, then tried to speak. Total
failure. Tried to reassure her with my eyes. Total failure: eyes as
uncontrollable as the rest of my person. But impelled by that other will
which had usurped the place of mine, I approached her and asked, ‘What
is your name?’ It was my voice, but it was not I, that asked the
question.

“‘Oh, for the love of God,’ Veronika besought, ‘don’t act like
this. Oh, my Ernest, what terrible joke are you playing? Don t make me
think that you have gone mad.’

“‘What is your name?’ my voice repeated, stonily.

“‘My name? What can you mean? Oh God, what has come over my
beloved?’

“Her face was pale, her eyes were full of anguish. And I—I was
impotent to comfort her. My heart went out to her with a great bound of
love; but I was in irons, chained down, compelled to witness, forbidden
to interfere with the action of this awful drama. For a third time my
tongue repeated, ‘Your name—tell me your name.’

“‘My name?’ she gasped. ‘You know my name—Veronika. See,
don’t you recognize me, Ernest? I am Veronika, whom you are going to
marry. Oh, my loved one, you are ill. What can I do to make you well?’

“‘Tell me your surname,’ I said.

“‘My surname—why, Pathzuol. Oh, Ernest, say you know me.’

“‘And your father’s name?’

“‘My father—his name was Nicholas—but he is dead—died when I
was a little girl. Oh, God, what does this mean?’

“‘Enough; come with me,’ said the devil whose victim I had become.

“I grasped her wrist and led her down the hallway. If Veronika was
terrified, her terror could not have equaled mine. What deed was I now
bent upon committing? She followed me passively. The expression of
her eyes made my soul ache within me. How I longed to speak to her and
soothe her. How I longed to step between her and myself, to protect her
from this maniac in whose power she was. To be obliged to stand by and
see this thing enacted—imagine the agony I suffered.

“I led her down the hallway and into the dining-room. Then I released
her wrist, and crossed over to the sideboard. I opened the sideboard
drawer and took out a long, keen knife. I tried the point and the edge
of the knife upon my thumb.

“‘Are you—are you going to kill me, Ernest?’ I heard Veronika
ask, very low.

“‘Yes, I am going to kill you. Lead the way to your bed-chamber.’

“Veronika’s hand clutched convulsively at her breast. She said
nothing. She moved slowly back into the hall and thence into her
bedroom, I following.

“‘Oh, for God’s sake, stop and think what you are doing,’ she
cried out suddenly, turning and facing me at the threshold of her room.
‘Think, Ernest, that it is I, Veronika, whom you are going to kill.
Think, oh my loved one, think how you will suffer if ever you come to
and realize what you have done. Oh, is there no way for me to bring him
to himself!’

“Presently she continued, ‘But tell me first what I have done.—Oh,
I can not bear to die until I know that you don’t suspect me of having
wronged you in any way. Oh, Ernest, oh, if you would only speak one
word. Oh, my darling, do not kill me without speaking to me. Oh God, oh
God! Oh, there, there, he is going to kill me; he will not speak to me.
Oh, what have I done? Ernest, Ernest! Wake up—stop your arm—don’t
strike me. Oh God, God, God!’

“After it was over I dried my hands upon my handkerchief, turned out
the gas in the hall, locked the door on the outside, put the key into my
pocket, and went away.”

What remains for me to tell? The above is what Merivale read to me. The
above is what I had written. Could I doubt its truth? I did not, I do
not, at any rate.

I am informed that a man once tried for murder and acquitted can not, as
the lawyers put it, can not be placed in jeopardy again. But I am enough
of a Jew to believe in eye for eye and tooth for tooth. I shall see to
it that I do not escape that penalty which the law would have imposed
upon me, had the facts I am now aware of come out at my trial. I
shall see to it that the murderer of Veronika Pathzuol meets with the
punishment which his crime demands.

It has taken me a week to write out this account. I want the public to
have it. No need to analyze the motives that prompt this wish. I
shall confide the MS. to my friend Merivale with directions that it be
printed.

I do not think of any thing more that needs to be said.


THE END.





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