THE POOR PLAYER
In Vienna, the Sunday after the full moon in July of every year, together with the following day, is a real popular festival if ever a festival deserved that name. The people attend it and the people give it themselves and if the more elevated classes appear there, they can only do so in their character as members of the people. There is no possibility of separation - at least, a few years ago there was still none.
On this day, St Brigid's Mead, which is linked with Watermeadow Park, Leopoldstown and the Prater in one uninterrupted line of pleasure, celebrates the anniversary of its church's dedication. From St Brigid's Day to St Brigid's Day, the working people count their good days. Long awaited, at last the Saturnalian festival appears. Then uproar arises in the otherwise goodhumouredly tranquil city. A heaving sea of people fills the streets. The patter of footsteps, the mutter of conversations, rent now and then by a loud exclamation. The distinction between classes disappears; citizenry and soldiery are both involved in the movement. Pressure grows at the gates of the city. The way out is fought over, achieved, lost, and finally attained. But the bridge over the Danube occasions new difficulties. Victorious here, too, at last two streams flow on, the Old Danube and the more swollen flood of the people, crossing over one another and under one another, the river returning to its former bed, the stream of the people, released from the damming effect of the bridge, pouring out, a broad and roaring sea, flooding over and covering everything. A new arrival would find that the situation gave cause for concern. But it is the uproar of joy, the unboundedness of pleasure.
Between the city and the bridge, horsedrawn omnibuses have already stationed themselves for the real celebrants of this festival of dedication: the children of service and labour. Filled to bursting yet nonetheles at a gallop, they fly through the mass of people, which opens immediately before them and closes immediately after them, unconcerned and uninjured. In Vienna there is a tacit agreement between vehicles and human beings: not to knock down, however fast they go; and not to be knocked down, however little attention they pay.
From second to second, the distance between vehicle and vehicle grows less. Already, individual carriages of the more elevated classes are mingling with the often interrupted procession. The coaches are no longer flying along. Until at last, five or six hours before the onset of darkness, the individual atoms of horse and carriage coagulate into a compact line which, hindering itself and hindered by those arriving out of all the sidestreets, evidently gives the lie to the old proverb: better ride ill than walk well. Gawped at, pitied and scorned, the ladies decked out in all their finery sit in their apparently stationary coaches. Unused to the constant stopping, the Arab thoroughbred rears up, as if he wanted to continue the path that the omnibus in front denies him by leaping over the same, which the screaming female and infant passengers of the plebeian conveyance evidently also fear to be his intention. The rapidly darting cabbie, for the first time untrue to his nature, calculates resentfully the loss involved in having to spend three hours on a distance that he would otherwise fly over in five minutes. Quarrels, shouting, mutual impugnments of honour by the various coachmen, even an occasional blow with a whip.
Finally, just as in this world even the most stubborn standing-still is really only an unperceived moving-forward, a ray of hope appears even to this status quo. The first trees of Watermeadow Park and St Brigid's Mead become visible. Land in sight! All sufferings are forgotten. Those who have come by coach or omnibus get out and mingle with the pedestrians. The sounds of distant dance-music echo across, answered by the jubilation of the new arrivals. And so on and so forth, until at last the broad haven of pleasure opens up before them, and wood and meadow, music and dance, food and drink, shadow-plays and tight-rope-walkers, bright lights and fireworks all unite in a Land of Cockaigne, an Eldorado, a real Earthly Garden of Delights, which unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you view it, only lasts for this day and the following one, and then disappears, like a midsummer night's dream, remaining only in our memories, and also, of course, in our hopes.
I do not easily miss the chance of attending this festival. As a passionate collector of human beings, particularly among the people, so that for me as a dramatic poet the unrestrained outburst of a packed theatre has always been ten times more interesting, indeed, ten times more instructive than the clever-clever judgement of a literary matador, crippled as he is in body and soul and swollen up like a spider with the blood of the authors he has sucked dry - as a collector of human beings, as I say, especially when, in masses, they forget for a while their individual purposes and feel themselves as parts of the whole, in which, after all, when all is said and done, what is divine, indeed, divinity itself is to be found - as such a person, every popular festival is a real feast for my soul, a pilgrimage, a divine service. As if in an enormous Plutarch, freed from the framework of the book and spread out before me, I piece together for myself from the serene or secretly worried faces, from the lively or depressed gait, from the way that members of families behave towards one another, from their individual half involuntary utterances, the biographies of unknown human beings. And truly - one cannot understand famous people if one has not empathised with obscure ones. From the heated exchanges of barrow-boys in their cups an invisible but unbroken thread leads to the falling out of the sons of the Gods, and in the young maid who, half against her will, follows her insistent lover to one side, away from the jostling throng of dancers, there lies the embryo of all the Juliets, Didos and Medeas.
Two years ago, likewise, I had, as usual, joined the pleasure-seeking attenders of the church's dedicatory festival as a pedestrian. The main difficulties of the passage thither had been overcome and I found myself already at the end of Watermeadow Park, with the longed-for St Brigid's Mead immediately before me. Here there is still however a batle to be fought, albeit the final one. A narrow raised causeway, running between impenetrable enclosures, constitutes the only connection between the two sites of pleasure, whose common boundary is designated by a gate of wooden lattice situated at the midpoint. On ordinary days and for ordinary strollers this connecting path provides more than enough space; at the time of the church's dedicatory festival, however, its width, even quadrupled, would still be too narrow for the endless crowd which, pressing eagerly forward, and threaded through with those returning in the opposite direction, only achieves a tolerable solution thanks to the general goodhumouredness of those who are out for a good time.
I had surrendered myself to the flow of the crowd and found myself in the middle of the causeway, already on classical soil, so to speak, although, alas, constantly and repeatedly obliged to halt, to move to one side, or to wait for others to pass. This gave me time enough to observe what was located to either side of my path. So that the crowd which was hungry for enjoyment should not lack an anticipatory taste of the bliss that was to be expected, individual musicians had positioned themselves along the slopes of the elevated causeway, probably preferring to avoid too much competition, and wanting to harvest the first-fruits of generosity here, at the entrance to the sacred enclave, before the generosity became worn-down with the demands made upon it. A female harpist, with a repulsively fixed stare. An old former soldier with a wooden leg, who, playing an utterly monstrous instrument which he had evidently constructed himself, half zither and half hurdy-gurdy, wished to communicate by analogy the pain of his wound to the sympathy of the generality. A lame, misshapen lad, he and his violin forming a single indivisible tangle, who played an interminable string of waltzes with all the feverish intensity of his distorted body. Finally - and he attracted all my attention - an old man, probably in his seventies, wearing a threadbare but clean overcoat with a smiling expression that suggested he approved of himself. Bareheaded and bald, he stood there, as these people do, with his hat as a collecting box on the ground in front of him, sawing away at an old, cracked violin, marking the beat not by tapping his foot but by a corresponding motion of his whole bent body. But all this effort at unifying what he was producing was fruitless, since what he played seemed to be an incoherent sequence of notes, without rhythm or melody. At the same time, he was completely absorbed in his work: his lips twitched, his eyes were fixed firmly on the musical score in front of him - yes, that's right, score! For while all the other musicians, whose playing was incomparably more grateful to the ear, relied on their memory, the old man had set up, in the midst of all this turmoil, a small easily portable music-stand in front of him, with some dirty and dog-eared sheets of music on it which presumably contained in the finest order what he was reproducing without the slightest sense of coherence. It was precisely this unusual aspect of the way he had equipped himself that had drawn my attention to him, as it also aroused the merriment of the mob that flowed past him and ridiculed him and left the old man's hat, which had been put down to collect money, empty, while the rest of the orchestra was pocketing coppers by the bucketful. In order to consider this original undisturbed, I had stepped on to the side slope of the causeway at some distance from him. He continued playing for a while yet. At last he paused, looked, as if he had come back to himself after a long period away, up at the firmament which was already beginning to show the traces of approaching evening, then he looked down at his hat, found it empty, put it on with unclouded cheerfulness and stuck his bow between the strings of his violin. "Sunt certi denique fines," he said, grasped his music-stand and made his way with effort through the crowd that was streaming towards the festival, going in the opposite direction, as someone who was returning home.
The whole nature of the man was in fact as if made to whet my ravenous anthropological appetite to the utmost. His needy and yet noble form, his indomitable cheerfulness, so much devotion to art combined with so much incompetence: the fact that he was going home precisely at the time when, for others of his kind, the real harvest was just beginning, finally the words of Latin he had spoken, few in number, but uttered with the most accurate intonation and complete fluency. He had clearly enjoyed a proper education, had acquired knowledge, and now - a busker! I trembled with the desire to discover how all this had come about.
But already there was an impenetrable surge of people between him and me. Small as he was, and causing difficulties in every direction because of the music-stand in his hand, one pushed him on to the next, and the lattice-work gate which formed the exit had already swallowed him while I was still in the middle of the causeway, struggling with the waves of people streaming towards me. Thus he vanished from my sight and when I eventually got out into the peaceful open spaces there was no poor player to be seen in any direction far and wide.
The failure of this adventure had taken away any pleasure I might have had in attending the popular festival. I crossed and recrossed Watermeadow Park in every direction and eventually determined to return home.
As I arrived in the vicinity of the little door which leads from Watermeadow Park to Tabor Street, I suddenly heard again the familiar sound of the old violin. I doubled my pace and lo and behold! the object of curiosity stood, playing for all he was worth, surrounded by a circle of boys who were impatiently demanding a waltz from him. "Play a waltz!" they cried. "A waltz, do you hear?" The old man kept on fiddling, apparently without paying heed to them, until the tiny crowd of listeners left him him with words of scorn and contempt, gathering round a hurdy-gurdy man, who had set up his instrument nearby.
"They don't want to dance," said the old man, as if saddened, gathering up his musical paraphernalia. I had approached quite close to him. "The children just don't know any other dance but the waltz," I said. "I was playing a waltz," he replied, indicating with his violin bow the location on his sheet of music of the piece which he had just been playing.
"One has to have that kind of thing in the repertoire, too, because the crowd wants it. But the children have no ear," he said, shaking his head in a melancholy fashion. "Let me at least compensate you for their lack of gratitude," I said, pulling a silver coin out of my pocket and handing it to him. "Please! Please!" the old man cried, making anxious gestures of refusal with both hands, "In the hat! In the hat!" I put the coin into the hat in front of him, from which the old man took it immediately afterwards and put it away with every appearance of contentment. "That means returning home with profit for once," he said, with a smile of satisfaction. "Indeed," I said, "you remind me of a circumstance which aroused my curiosity earlier on. Your takings today do not seem to have been of the best, and yet you are going away at a moment when the real harvest is just beginning. The festival lasts, as you well know, all night, and you could easily earn more at it than in eight ordinary days. How am I to make sense of that?"
"How are you to make sense of that?" replied the old man. "Forgive me, I don't know who you are, but you must be a charitable gentleman and a friend of music," and as he said that he pulled the silver coin out of his pocket again and pressed it between his hands which he lifted up in front of his chest. "Therefore I will tell you the reasons, although I have often been laughed at because of them. Firstly, I have never been a night-owl, and I do not think it right to incite other people through music and song to such reprehensible behaviour; secondly, a human being must fix a certain order for himself in everything, otherwise he finishes up in what is wild and unrestrained. Thirdly and lastly - sir! I play all day for the noisy people and barely earn my scanty bread thereby; but the evening belongs to me and to my poor art. In the evening I stay at home and" - and as he spoke, his voice became softer and softer, he began to blush, his gaze sought the ground - "and then I play out of my own imagination, just for myself, without notes. Fantasizing, I think, is what they call it in the music-books."
We had both fallen completely quiet. He, out of shame at confessing his innermost secret; I, out of astonishment at hearing the man speak of the highest levels of art, when he wasn't capable of reproducing the simplest waltz in a recognisable fashion. In the meantime, he made himself ready to depart.
"Where do you live?" I asked. "I would like to be present at your private exercises on some occasion or other." "Oh," he replied, almost beseechingly, "you know that the prayer is only for its sayer." "Then I shall visit you during the daytime," I said. "During the day," he replied, "I pursue my income among the people." "Then in the morning." "It almost looks," the old man said, smiling, "as if you, respected sir, were the one who had received the gift, and I, if I may put it that way, the benefactor. You are so friendly, and I withdraw in such an unhelpful fashion. Your elevated visit will always be an honour to my abode; only I would request you to fix the day of your coming with me graciously in advance, so that neither you are delayed because things are inconvenient, nor I am compelled to interrupt inappropriately some activity which I may have begun at that time. My mornings, too, have in fact their appointed purpose. I consider it in any case to be my duty to offer my patrons and benefactors a not entirely unworthy gift in return for theirs to me. I do not wish to be a beggar, respected sir. I know very well that the rest of the public musicians are content to keep on rattling off a few popular songs they have learnt by heart, country dance tunes, even the melodies of vulgar ditties, always the same ones, so that people give them money to get rid of them or because their playing revives the memory of pleasurable experiences on the dance-floor or other enjoyments of a dubious kind. Therefore they play by memory and sometimes - indeed frequently - make mistakes. Far be it from me, however, to cheat. That is why - partly because my memory is not of the best, partly because it must be difficult for anyone to retain the complex compositions of respected writers of music note for note - that is why I have made these fair copies myself." And he pointed at his music-book, as he leafed through it, in which, to my horror, I saw, in a careful but unpleasantly stiff hand, monumentally difficult compositions by old and celebrated masters, completely black with passage-work and double-stopping. And this was the kind of thing the old man played with his clumsy fingers! "In playing these pieces," he continued, "I display my respect towards the long dead masters and composers, esteemed in accordance with their status and dignity, I match up to my own expectations and live in the pleasant hope that the most charitable gift I receive does not remain without recompense, through the ennobling of the tastes and hearts of my listeners, who are after all distracted and led astray from so many quarters. Since this kind of thing, however - and that is, after all, what I was talking about - " and a self-satisfied smile crossed his features - "since this kind of thing needs to be practised, my morning hours are exclusively destined to this exercise. The first three hours of the day for practice, the middle to earn my bread, and the evening for me and God, that is not a dishonourable division, I think!" he said, and his eyes shone as he spoke, as if they were moist; but he was smiling.
"Good," I said, "then I will surprise you some time in the morning. Where do you live?" He named Gardeners Lane. "The number?" "Number 34, on the first floor." "Really," I said, "on the first floor where the nobler classes reside?" "The house," he said, "really only has a ground floor; but upstairs there is another little room, beside the attic, and I inhabit that in common with two apprentices." "Three people in one room?" "It is divided," he said, "and I have my own bed."
"It is getting late," I said, "and you want to go home. Goodbye, then!" and I put my hand in my pocket, in order to at least double my earlier monetary gift which had been far too small. But he had grasped the music stand with one hand and his violin with the other and cried hastily, "I am afraid I must most respectfully refuse. The fee for my playing has already been paid in full, and at present I am not aware of any other service which I have rendered." As he spoke he made a rather clumsy bow, with a distorted version of high-class elegance, and scuttled off as fast as his old legs would carry him.
I had, as I said, lost the inclination to attend the popular festival any longer that day, so I went home, taking the path to Leopoldstown, where, exhausted by the dust and the heat, I entered one of the many beer-gardens situated there, which, crowded on ordinary days, had today passed on all their customers to St Brigid's Mead. The silence of the place, in contrast to the noisy crowd of the people, did me good, and abandoning myself to various thoughts, of which the old player did not have the smallest share, it had become night in earnest before I at last thought of going home, laid the amount of my bill on the table and strode towards the city itself.
He lived in Gardeners Lane, the old man had said. "Is there a Gardeners Lane anywhere round here?" I asked a little boy who was running across the road. "Over there, sir!" he replied, pointing to a side-road, which, running away from the mass of houses that formed the suburb, went out towards open fields. I went in that direction. The street consisted of scattered individual houses which, situated between large kitchen gardens, made the occupation of their inhabitants and the origin of the streetname evident enough. In which of these wretched cottages might my original reside? I had happily forgotten the house-number, moreover in the darkness the recognition of any identifying mark was not to be thought of. Then a man heavily laden with household vegetables approached me and walked past me. "The old fellow's scraping again and disturbing respectable folk in their night-time rest." At the same moment, as I strode onwards, the soft, sustained sound of a violin struck my ear - it seemed to be coming from the open attic window of an impoverished house not far away which, low and single-storied like the rest, was distinguished from the others precisely by this window within the roof. I stood still. A soft note, played nonetheless with certainty, swelled up until it became intense, then sank back and died away, only to swell up again until it became extremely loud and shrill, and it was in fact always the same note, repeated with a kind of pleasurable dwelling on it. At last, there came another interval. It was a fourth. If the player had hitherto indulged himself in the sound of the individual note, the (as it were) voluptuous savouring of the harmonic relationship was now incomparably more sensible. Played staccato, at the same time legato, linked by the sequence of notes in between in a very bumpy kind of way, the third accentuated, repeated. The fifth added to it, once with a trembling tone, like quiet sobbing, extended, dying away, then repeated interminably at whirlwind speed, always the same relationships, always the same notes. And that was what the old man called fantasizing! Although at bottom it was, admittedly, fantasizing - for the player, that is, just not for the listener.
I don't know how long it may have lasted and how bad it had become, when suddenly the door of the house opened, a man clad only in a shirt and loosely buttoned trousers stepped from the threshhold into the middle of the street and called up to the attic window, "Is this another day when it's never going to stop?" The tone of the voice saying this was irritated, but not harsh or insulting. The violin fell silent, even before the speech had come to an end. The man went back into the house, the attic window shut and soon the silence of the grave, interrupted by nothing, reigned about me. I struck out for home, finding my way with difficulty in the little streets with which I was unfamiliar, and as I did so, I, too, fantasized, but all to myself, in my head, disturbing no one.
The morning hours have always had a particular value for me. It is as if I had the necessity of, as it were, hallowing the rest of the day by busying myself in the first hours of it with something elevating and significant. It is therefore only with difficulty that I can resolve to leave my room in the early morning, and if, on occasion, I force myself to do so without a fully valid reason, then for the remainder of the day I only have the choice between mindless distraction or self-tormenting melancholy. Thus it happened that for some days I postponed my visit to the old man, which, according to our agreement, was supposed to take place in the morning hours. Finally, impatience overmastered me, and I went. Gardeners Lane was easily found, likewise the house. The sounds of the violin could be heard this time, too, but muffled by the closed window to the point where they could barely be distinguished. I entered the house. A gardener's wife, half-speechless with astonishment, showed me up an attic staircase. I stood before a low door, that only closed halfway, knocked, received no answer, finally pushed down the handle and went in. I found myself in a fairly large but otherwise extremely wretched room, whose walls on all sides followed the contours of the pointed roof. Right beside the door, there was a dirty bed, in a disgusting mess, surrounded by all the attributes of untidiness; opposite me, right beside the narrow window there was a second sleeping place, needy but cleanly, and very carefully made-up and covered. By the window itself a small table with music manuscript paper and writing materials, on the window-ledge a few flowerpots. The middle of the room, from wall to wall, was marked out on the floor by a thick chalk-mark, and one can scarcely conceive of a sharper contrast between filth and cleanliness than obtained between the two sides of this line that had been drawn, this equator of a world in miniature.
The old man had set up his music stand right by this line of latitude and was standing in front of it, dressed fully and with evident care, and - practising. I have already said so much more than anybody would want to hear about the cacophony produced by my favourite violinist (and, I almost fear, only my favourite) that I want to spare the reader the description of this infernal concert. Since the exercise consisted for the greater part of passage-work, there could be no thought of recognising which works were being played, which might not have been easy in any case. A period of listening eventually brought me to perceive the thread that led through this labyrinth, the method, as it were, in the madness. The old man enjoyed playing. However, his view of the matter only distinguished two things: concord and discord, the first of which pleased him, indeed delighted him, while he avoided the latter as far as humanly possible, even when it was justified by the harmony. In a piece of music, instead of giving emphasis according to sense and rhythm, he brought out and extended the notes and intervals which were grateful to the ear, indeed, he had no compunction about repeating them whenever he felt like it, in the course of which his face often assumed an expression of outright ecstasy. Since at the same time he disposed of the dissonances as rapidly as possible, and moreover played the passages that were too difficult for him, but from which, out of conscientiousness, he did not omit a single note, in a tempo that was far too slow compared with the whole, one can readily form a concept of the confusion which resulted. After a while it became too much even for me. To bring him back to himself out of his abstraction, I deliberately dropped my hat, after I had tried several other methods in vain. The old man gave a start, his knees trembled, he could scarcely hold the violin which he had lowered to the floor. I stepped up to him. "Oh! It's you, sir!" he said, as if coming to himself. "I hadn't counted on your fulfilling your gracious promise." He obliged me to take a seat, cleared up a little, put things away, looked round the room a few times in an embarrassed way, then suddenly grabbed hold of a plate that was on a table by the door of the room, and went out with it. I heard him talking with the gardener's wife outside. Soon after he came back in, embarrassed, hiding the plate behind his back and secretly putting it back down again. He had obviously asked for a piece of fruit to offer his guest, but had been unable to obtain it. "You have a very nice place here," I said, so as to put a stop to his embarrassment."Disorder has been banished. It is beating a retreat through the door, even if it is not yet entirely over the threshhold." "My accommodation only goes up to the mark," said the old man, pointing to the chalk line in the middle of the room. "On the other side of it live two apprentices." "And do they respect your division?" "They do not, but I do," he said. "Only the door is in common." "And aren't you disturbed by these very close neighbours of yours?" "Scarcely," he opined. "They come home late at night, and even if they wake me up with a bit of a start in bed, the pleasure of going back to sleep again is all the greater for it. In the morning, though, I wake them, when I tidy up my room. They grumble a bit then, of course, and go off."
I had been observing him in the meantime. He was dressed very cleanly, his body good enough for his years, only the legs somewhat too short. Hands and feet were of remarkable delicacy. "You are looking at me," he said, "and thinking?" "That I have a passionate desire to hear your history." "History?" he repeated. "I have no history. Today like yesterday, and tomorrow like today. The day after tomorrow, of course, and the day after that, who can know? But God will provide, He knows what's going on." - "Your life at present," I continued, "may well be monotonous enough; "but your earlier destinies. How it came about - " - " - that I ended up among the musicians?" he interrupted the pause which I had involuntarily made. I told him how I could not help noticing him at first sight; the impression the words of Latin he spoke had made on me. "Latin," he echoed. "Latin? oh yes, I learnt that once, too, or rather I should have and could have learned it. Loqueris latine?" he turned towards me, "but I couldn't carry on with that sentence. It's far too long ago. That's what you call my history? How it all came about? Well, then! I must admit that all kinds of things happened; nothing special, but all kinds of things. I rather think I'd like to tell it to myself again. If I haven't actually gone and forgotten it all. It's still early in the morning," he continued, reaching into his watch-pocket, in which, of course, there wasn't actually any watch. I pulled out mine. It was barely nine o'clock. "We have time, and I almost feel like having a bit of a chat." He had visibly become more relaxed during these last few moments. He became taller. Without making too much fuss, he took my hat from me and put it on the bed; sitting down, he crossed his legs and assumed the posture of someone sitting comfortably and telling a story.
"No doubt," he began, "you have heard of Councillor - ? And he gave the name of a statesman who, in the second half of the previous century, under the modest title of a departmental head, had exercised enormous influence, almost comparable to that of a minister. I affirmed that I had heard of the man. "He was my father," he continued. - His father? The father of the old player? Of the beggar? That influential and powerful man, his father? The old man seemed not to notice my astonishment, but instead continued spinning the thread of his story with visible pleasure.
"I was the middle one of three brothers who rose high in the service of the state but are now dead; I am the only one still living," he said, plucking at his threadbare trousers, picking single pieces of lint off them with downcast eyes. "My father was ambitious and passionate. My brothers did enough to satisfy him. They said I had a slow brain; and I was slow. If I remember aright," he continued, and as he spoke he turned sideways, as if looking out into a vast distance, and rested his head on his left hand to support it, "if I remember aright, I would have been perfectly capable of learning all kinds of things, if they'd only let me have time and order. My brothers jumped about like mountain-goats from peak to peak in the subjects of study, but I absolutely couldn't leave anything behind me, and even if I was only missing a single word, I had to start again from the beginning. So I was always under pressure. The new was supposed to occupy the place that the old had not yet left, and I began to become stubborn. They had turned music, which is now the joy and at the same time the support of my life, into something that I positively hated. When, of an evening, I picked up my violin in the twilight, in order to enjoy myself in my own way, without written-down music, they took the instrument away from me, and said it would spoil my fingering, complained that I was torturing their ears, and directed me to confine my playing to my violin-lesson, where the torture really began as far as I was concerned. I have never hated anything or anyone in all my life as much as I hated the violin at that time.
My father, who was extremely dissatisfied, often scolded me and threatened to make me learn a trade. I didn't dare to say how happy that would have made me. I would have been all too glad to be a turner, or a typesetter. But he would never have permitted it, out of pride. Eventually, a public examination, which they had persuaded my father to attend in order to appease him, determined the course of events. A dishonest teacher fixed in advance what he was going to ask me, and so everything went splendidly. At last, however, I found I was missing a word in some lines of Horace that I had to recite by heart. My teacher, who had listened while nodding his head and smiling at my father, came to the aid of my hesitation and whispered the word to me. But I, who was looking for the word inside me, and in its relationship to the rest, didn't hear him. He repeated it several times; in vain. Finally my father lost his patience: Cacchinum! (that was the word) he shouted at me in a voice of thunder. That was it. I knew that one thing - but it had made me forget all the rest. All efforts to bring me back on the right track were wasted. I had to stand up with shame and when, according to custom, I went to kiss my father's hand, he pushed me away, stood up, bowed curtly to the assembled company and went. This beggar! was what he called me, which I wasn't then, but am now. Parents prophesy when they speak! But my father was a good man. Just passionate and ambitious.
From that day on he never spoke another word to me. His orders reached me through the other people living in the house. Thus I was informed the very next day that my studies were over. I was deeply shocked, because I knew how bitterly it must hurt my father. The whole day I did nothing except cry and in between recite those lines of Latin poetry which I knew now down to the smallest word with the ones that went before and the ones that came after as well. I promised to make up for my lack of talent through application and industry, if they would allow me to continue attending school, but my father never went back on a decision.
For a while I remained without occupation in my father's house. At last, as an experiment, I was sent to a civil service accounts office, but I had never been any good at arithmetic.The suggestion that I should join the army I rejected with horror. Even now, I still cannot behold a uniform without an internal shudder. Protecting one's nearest and dearest at the risk of one's life is good and comprehensible; but shedding blood and crippling others as a way of life, as a profession. No! No! No!" And as he spoke, he ran his hands over both his arms, as if feeling the pain of his own and others' wounds.
So now I ended up among the copyists in a government office. And that was the right place for me. I had always enjoyed writing, and even now I know of no pleasanter pastime than joining thin strokes and broad strokes, with good ink on good paper, to make words or even just letters. Musical notes, now, are absolutely lovely. But at that time I had no thought of music.
I was a keen worker, but too anxious about things. An incorrect piece of punctuation, a word in the draft that was illegible or missing, even if it could be supplied from the context, caused me bitter hours. In the uncertainty over whether I should keep exactly to the original or add things of my own, time passed in anxiety, and I acquired the reputation of being a slacker, while in truth no one put himself through more torment at work than I did. So I spent a few years, without salary moreover, since whenever it was my turn to be promoted my father voted in council for someone else and the others agreed with him out of deference.
At this time - look!" he interrupted himself, "there really is a kind of history. Let's tell the history, then! At this time, two events occurred: the saddest and the happiest of my life. My removal from my father's house and my return to the gracious art of music, to my violin, which has remained faithful to me up to this very day."
I lived in my father's house, unregarded by my fellow inhabitants, in a little back room that looked out on to the courtyard of the house next door. At the beginning I ate at the family dinner table, where nobody addressed a word to me. However, as my brothers were promoted and transferred away from Vienna and my father was invited out to dine almost every day - my mother had long been dead - it was found to be a nuisance to run a kitchen of our own for my sake alone. The servants were given food-money; so was I, but not cash in hand, it was handed over monthly to the place where I ate. Thus I spent little time in my room apart from the hours of the evening; my father demanded that I should be home no later than half an hour after the office closed. So I sat there without a light, in the half-dark, as it happened, to spare my eyes, which even then were not of the strongest. I thought about this and that and was neither happy nor sad.
As I sat like that, I heard someone singing a song in the courtyard of the neghbouring house. Several songs, that is, but among them there was one which pleased me beyond measure. It was so simple, so moving, and had its emphasis so much in the right place that you didn't need to hear the words at all. As, indeed, I fully believe that words spoil music." Now he opened his mouth and produced a few hoarse sounds. "I have no voice by nature," he said and reached for the violin. He played - and this time, moreover, with correct expression - the melody of a pleasant but in no way remarkable song, while his fingers trembled on the strings and finally single tears ran down his cheeks.
"That was the song," he said, laying down the violin. "I always heard it with new pleasure. However alive it was in my memory, however, I never succeeded in getting even two notes of it right with my voice. Then I noticed my violin, which was hanging unused on the wall like an old piece of armour, a remnant of my youth. I reached it down and - maybe a servant had used it in my absence - it turned out to be correctly tuned. When I ran the bow across the strings, sir, it was as if the finger of God Himself had touched me. The sound penetrated my innermost being and came out again on the other side. The air about me was as if pregnant with intoxication. The song down below in the courtyard, the notes my fingers made at my ear, they were the sharers of my solitude. I fell upon my knees and prayed aloud and could not comprehend that I had once thought slightingly of this gracious essence of divinity, had indeed hated it in my childhood, and I kissed the violin and pressed it to my heart and carried on playing and playing.
The song in the courtyard - it was a woman who was singing - continued sounding meanwhile the whole time without interruption; but playing along with it was not so easy.
You see, I did not have the music for the song. I also noticed all too clearly that I had more or less forgotten what little skill on the violin I had ever possessed. Therefore, I could not play this or that, but just - play. Although, with the exception of that song, exactly what it was that one played had always been more or less a matter of indifference to me, and has remained so to the present day. People play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach, but nobody plays God. The eternal beneficence and grace of the note and its sound, its miraculous agreement with the thirsty ear that yearns to have its thirst slaked, that - " he continued more softly, his face red with embarrassment - "the third note of the scale harmonises with the first and the fifth likewise, and the leading note rises up like a hope fulfilled, the dissonance is averted as a conscious piece of wickedness or presumptuous pride, and the wonders of attachment and inversion, whereby the second, too, achieves grace in the bosom of concord. A musician explained all that to me - a lot later, though. And also those things of which I understand nothing, the fugue and counterpoint and the double canon and treble canon and so forth - a whole celestial edifice, one part fitting into another, linked together without mortar, and held by God's hand. No one wants to know about these things, except for a very few. Rather, they disturb this breathing in and out of souls by adding words that say too much, as the children of God coupled with the daughters of the Earth; so that it can make a cheap effect and get its claws into minds that have become hard and insensitive. Sir," he finished at least, half exhausted, "speech is as necessary to humankind as food is, but we should also keep the drink pure that comes from God."
I scarcely knew my man any more, so lively had he become. He paused for a while. "Where was I in my story?" he said at last. "Oh yes, the song and my attempts to play it. I couldn't, though. I went to the window, in order to hear better. At that moment, the woman who was singing crossed the courtyard. I only saw her from behind, but she struck me as familiar. She was carrying a basket, which, as it seemed, contained raw cakes. She entered a little door in the corner of the courtyard, where there might well have been an oven, since I heard her, while she continued singing, making a noise with some wooden implements, during which her voice sounded sometimes more muffled and sometimes clearer, like the voice of someone who bends over and sings into a hollow space, then stands up again. After a while she came back, and only now did I realise why she had seemed familiar to me before. I had in fact really known her for quite a while. From my workplace, as it happened.
"It was like this. The office-hours started early and ran over lunchtime. Several of the young officials, who either really felt hungry, or wanted to waste half an hour, had the habit of eating a little something around eleven o'clock. Trades-people, who know how to use everything to their advantage, saved these gourmands a journey and brought their wares into the official building, where they set up shop on the staircases and in the corridors. A baker sold little rolls, the fruit-lady sold cherries. Above all, certain cakes were popular that the daughter of a nearby grocer made herself and sold still warm from the oven. Her customers went out to her in the corridor, and only infrequently did she come, when called, into the office itself, where the somewhat grumpy head of department no less infrequently failed to show her the door again, an order which she only obeyed with resentment and while muttering words of defiance.
My fellow-workers did not consider the girl beautiful. They found her too small, they couldn't agree on the colour of her hair. Some did not share the view that she had cat-like eyes, but everybody agreed she was pock-marked. The only thing they all approved of was her body, but they criticised her for being coarse, and one of them told a tale of a box on the ear he had received from her, whose effects he claimed to have still felt a week later.
I was not one of her customers myself. Partly I lacked the money, partly I have always had to recognise food and drink as a necessity - often only too much so - so that it has never occurred to me to seek pleasure and amusement in these things. Thus we never took any notice of one another. Only once, in order to tease me, my colleagues made her believe that I had requested some of her foodstuffs. She came up to my workplace and held out her basket. I'm not buying anything, miss, I said. Then why do you ask people to come to you? she called out angrily. I apologised and as I saw through the trick at once I explained it to her as best I could. Well, give me a sheet of paper then, to put my cakes on, she said. I made it clear to her that that was official paper and didn't belong to me, but that I had some at home which was mine and that I would bring her some. I've got enough at home myself, she said scornfully and gave a little laugh as she went away.
That had happened only a few days before and I thought I could take advantage of this acquaintanceship at once to serve my wishes. Therefore, the following morning, I buttoned a whole ream of paper, of which there was never a shortage in our house, under my coat and went to the office, where, so as not to betray myself, I kept this armour of mine tightly buttoned up against my body until, towards noon, I noticed by the way my colleagues were coming and going and by the noise of their chewing jaws, that the cake-seller had arrived, and I could assume that the major rush of customers was already past. Then I went outside, pulled out my paper, plucked up my courage and went up to the girl, who was standing there quietly humming, her basket in front of her on the ground, while her right foot, supported on the little stool on which she usually sat, was tapping out the beat. She measured me from top to toe as I came closer, which increased my embarrassment. Miss, I eventually began, recently you asked me for some paper, when I didn't have any to hand that belonged to me. Now I've brought some from home and - and I held my paper out to her. I told you at the time, she said, that I had paper of my own at home. But no doubt it'll come in handy. And she took my gift with a slight inclination of the head and put it into her basket. Don't you want any cakes? she said, looking through her wares, the best of them have gone already. I thanked her, but said that I had another request. Well, what is it? she said, putting her arm through the handle of the basket, drawing herself up to her full height and giving me a sharp glance with her aggressive eyes . I rapidly said that I was a music-lover, though I had only recently become so, and that I had heard her singing such lovely songs, one in particular. You? Me? Songs? she exclaimed. Where? I told her that I lived in her neighbourhood and had overheard her in the courtyard when she was working. One of her songs had particularly pleased me, so that I had already tried to play it on the violin. Are you the same one that scratches on the fiddle? she cried out. - I was at the time, as I have already said," the old man interrupted himself, "only a beginner, and it was only later, with a great deal of effort, that I managed to teach my fingers the necessary fluency," and he waved the fingers of his left hand around in the air, like someone playing the violin. "I had gone," he continued his story, "all red in the face, and I could see from the way she looked that she was sorry for her harsh words. "Miss," I said, "the scratching comes about because I don't have the music for the song, which is why I intended to ask politely for a copy of it." "A copy of it?" she said. "The song's printed and sold at street-corners." "The song?" I said. "But that will only be the words." "Yes, well, the words, the song." "But the tune one sings it to." - "Do people write that kind of thing down?" she asked. "Of course!" was my reply. "That's the important thing. And how did you learn it, miss?" "I heard people singing it, and so I sang it." I was amazed by her natural genius; as indeed people who haven't studied often have the greatest abilities. But it's not the right way to do things - it's not real art. I was in despair again. But which of the songs is it then? she said. I know so many. - All of them without any music? Of course; so, which one was it, then? - It's ever so beautiful, I explained. At the very beginning it goes up high, then it returns to its inmost self and gets quiet and stops. It's the one you sing most often. Oh, it'll be that one, then! she said, put the basket down again, put her foot on the little stool and sang now with a quiet but clear voice the song, lowering her head as she did so, singing it so beautifully, so sweetly, that even before she had finished I reached out for her free hand. Oho! she said, pulling back her arm, for she no doubt thought that I intended to grasp her hand in an inappropriate fashion, but no, I wanted to kiss it, although she was only a poor girl. - Well, I'm a poor man now, too.
Since the desire to have the song was making me tug at my hair she consoled me, by saying that the organist of St Peter's often came to her father's shop for nutmeg and she would ask him to write it all down. I would be able to come and pick it up in a few days. Thereupon she picked up her basket and went and I accompanied her to the stairs. As I was bowing to her on the topmost step, the head of the department surprised me, told me to go about my business and criticised the girl in the strongest terms, claiming that she didn't have a good hair on her head. I was extremely annoyed about this and I was about to reply that, with his permission, I was convinced of the exact opposite, when I noticed that he had already gone back into his office, so I got a grip on myself and went back to my desk likewise. But from that time onwards he refused to be convinced that I was not a dishonest official and a dissolute person.
That day and the ones that followed I was really incapable of doing any sensible work, the song was going round in my head so much, and I was as if lost. A few days went by, again I didn't know whether it was already time to go and pick up the music or not. The girl had said, the organist came to her father's shop to buy nutmeg; he could only need it to go with beer. Now the weather had been cool for a while and therefore it was probable that the bold musician had stuck to wine and thus would not have a pressing need for nutmeg. Asking too quickly seemed like impolite importunity, waiting too long could be interpreted as indifference. I didn't dare to speak to the girl in the corridor again, since our first meeting had become notorious among my colleagues and they were burning with desire to play a trick on me.
In the meantime, I had eagerly taken up the violin again and to start with I was thoroughly practising the first rudiments again, also permitting myself from time to time to play whatever came into my head, though I carefully shut the window when I did that, since I knew that my performance did not please. But even when I opened the window, I still didn't get to hear my song again. My neighbour sang partly not at all, and partly behind closed doors and so softly that I could not distinguish two notes.
At last - about three weeks had gone by - I could not stand it any more. I had already stolen out into the street on two evenings - even leaving my hat behind, so that the servants should imagine I was only looking for something in the house - but whenever I came near the grocer's shop such a violent trembling came over me that I had to turn back, whether I wanted to or not. Finally, however, as I said, I could stand it no longer. I plucked up my courage and one evening - this time, too, without my hat - I went out of my room and down the stairs and with a firm step through the street to the grocer's shop, where at first I stood still and considered what I should do next. There was a light in the shop and I heard voices. After some hesitation I bent forward and peeped in from the side. I saw the girl sitting right in front of the counter by the light and sorting out peas and beans in a wooden tub. In front of her there was standing a powerful, active man, his jacket hanging over his shoulder, a kind of ashplant in his hand, more or less like a butcher. The two of them were talking, obviously in a good mood, since the girl laughed out loud several times without however interrupting her work or even looking up from it. Whether it was the awkwardness of my position bending forward or something else entirely, my trembling began to come back again, when I found myself suddenly grabbed from behind by a powerful hand and dragged forward. In a moment I was standing in the shop and when, on being released, I looked round, I saw that it was the owner himself, who, returning home from somewhere else had surprised me in my watching position and apprehended me as being suspicious. Hell and damnation! he cried, now we can see where the plums go to and the handfuls of peas and pearl barley that get pinched from the display-baskets when it's dark! Strike me dead if it isn't so! And he came at me, as he said that, as if it was me that he wanted to strike dead.
I was completely crushed, but the thought that my honesty was being cast into doubt soon brought me back to myself again. So I made a curt bow, and told the impolite man that my visit was not concerned with his plums or his pearl barley, but with his daughter. At this, the butcher standing in the middle of the shop laughed out loud and turned to go, after he had previously whispered a few words softly to the girl which she answered, likewise laughing, with a resounding slap with the palm of her hand on his back. The grocer accompanied the man who was leaving out of the door of the shop. In the meantime I had lost all my courage again and stood facing the girl who was carrying on sorting her peas and beans with indifference, as if the whole affair had nothing to do with her. Then the father came noisily back in. By all that's unholy, sir, he said, what's this got to do with my daughter? I tried to explain the connection to him and the reason for my visit. Song? Song? he said. I'll teach you to sing songs! and he moved his right arm up and down in a suspicious fashion. - It's over there, said the girl, leaning sideways together with her chair and pointing with her hand to the counter, without setting aside the tub with the peas and beans. I hastened across and saw a page of music lying there. It was the song. But the old man had beaten me to it. He was holding the beautiful paper in his hand and crumpling it. I asked, he said, what is all this about? Who is this man? He's a gentleman from the office, she answered, throwing a worm-eaten pea a little further away from the others. A gentleman from the office? he cried. In the dark? Without a hat? I explained the absence of the hat by the fact that I lived just round the corner, and said in which house. I know that house, he shouted. No one lives there except Councillor So and so - he said my father's name - and I know all the servants. I am Councillor So and so's son, I said, softly, as if it were a lie. - I have encountered many changes in my life, but never such a sudden one as occurred in the whole nature of the man at these words. The mouth that had opened to sneer at me remained open, the eyes were still threatening, but a kind of smile began to play about the lower part of the face and then to spread more and more. The girl remained bent over and indifferent, she just pushed the hair that had escaped back behind her ears as she kept on working. The councillor's son? the old man cried out at last, cheerfulness having taken over his face completely. My very good sir, would you like to make yourself comfortable? Barbara, a chair! The girl moved reluctantly on the one that she was sitting on. You just wait! he said, lifting up a basket himself from where it was and cleaning the dust off the chair that had been put underneath it with his neckerchief. Great honour, he continued. Well, Councillor - Mr Councillor Junior, I mean, you also practise music? Sing perhaps, like my daughter, or rather, quite unlike her, from music that's been written down, according to the rules of the art? I explained to him that I had no voice by nature. Or you play upon the keyboard, as distinguished people are wont to do? I said that I played the violin. I used to scratch on the fiddle in my youth, too, he exclaimed. At the word "scratch" I involuntarily looked across at the girl and saw that she was smiling scornfully, which annoyed me very much.
You ought to take the girl in hand, in music that is, he continued. She's got a good voice, has other qualities, too - but the finer side of things - my God, where's it supposed to come from? and he repeatedly rubbed the forefinger and thumb of his right hand together. I was very ashamed that people undeservedly thought I had such significant musical knowledge and I was just about to explain the true state of affairs when somebody passing by outside called into the shop: "A good evening to all of you!" I was terrified, because it was the voice of one of our servants. The grocer had recognised the voice too. With the tip of his tongue projecting and his shoulders raied he whispered: It was one of the servants of your noble father. But he couldn't have recognised you, sir, you were standing with your back to the door. That was in fact the case. But the feeling of having done something secretive and wrong gripped and tormented me. I simply stammered a few words of farewell and went. Indeed, I would even have forgotten my song, if the old man hadn't dashed out after me into the street where he put it into my hand.
Thus I reached home, went to my room and waited for what would happen. And indeed something did happen. The servant had recognised me nevertheless. A few days later, my father's secretary entered my room and informed me that I had to leave the parental home. All my objections were fruitless. A little room had been rented for me in a distant suburb, and thus I was entirely banished from the vicinity of my family. Nor did I get to see my songstress any more. They had stopped her selling cakes in the office, and I could not find the resolution to enter the shop that belonged to her father since I knew that it displeased mine. Indeed, when I met the old grocer by chance in the street, he turned away from me with an angry face, and I was thunderstruck. So, alone for half of every day, I fetched out my violin and played and practised.
But things were destined to get even worse. The fortunes of our house went into a decline. My younger brother, a self-willed man of sudden urges, an officer in the dragoons, had to pay with his life for an ill-considered wager, whereby he swam through the Danube, in the depths of Hungary, on horseback and in full uniform while still hot from riding. The elder brother, the favourite, was employed as a ministerial counsellor in one of the provinces. In constant opposition to his superior, and, as they said, secretly encouraged to be so by our father, he even permitted himself to produce false statistics so as to damage his opponent. There was an investigation and he had to leave the country secretly. Our father's enemies, of which there were many, used this occasion to topple him from his position. Attacked from all sides and infuriated in any case over the decline in his influence, he made the most moving speeches every day in the council sessions. In the middle of one of these he had a stroke. He was brought home incapable of speech. I heard nothing about it. The next day at the office I certainly noticed that they were whispering secretly and pointing at me. But I was already used to that kind of thing and thought nothing of it. The following Friday - this had been Wednesday - a black suit with a crepe mourning sash was suddenly brought to my room. I was astonished and asked and was told. My body is normally strong and resistant, but this was too much for me. I fell unconscious to the floor. They put me to bed where I was delirious and rambled all day and all night. The following morning, nature had re-asserted herself, but by then my father was dead and buried.
I had not been able to talk to him again; had not been able to beg his forgiveness for all the worry I had caused him; had not been able to thank him for the undeserved grace he had shown me - that's right, grace! because he meant well, and I hope to find him again one day, in that place where we are judged by our intentions and not by our achievements.
I remained in my room for several days, scarcely even eating. Finally I went out, but after my meal I came straight home and only in the evening did I wander through the dark streets, like Cain, his brother's murderer. My father's house was an image of horror for me which I avoided with the utmost care. Once, however, staring blankly and without thinking, I found myself suddenly in the vicinity of the house I feared. My knees trembled, so that I had to hold on to something. Grasping at the wall behind me I recognised the door of thegrocer's shop and Barbara sitting there, a letter in her hand, the light on the counter beside her and standing there too her father, who seemed to be encouraging her. Even if it had cost me life, I had to go into the shop. To have no one to whom one can talk about one's sorrow, no one who feels sympathy! I knew very well the old man was annoyed with me, but I thought the girl ought to give me a kind word. It turned out to be the other way round, though. Barbara stood up as I came in, gave me a scornful look and went into the next room, locking the door. But the old man took me by the hand, told me to sit down, consoled me, but also pointed out that I was now a rich man and need no longer worry about anyone else. He asked how much I had inherited. I did not know. He urged me to go the courts, which I promised to do. He reckoned there were no prospects in the civil service. I should invest my inheritance in trade. Fruit and vegetables produced good profits. A partner who knew what he was doing could turn pennies into pounds. He had been deeply involved in that kind of thing in his time. All the while he kept on calling to the girl, who, however, gave no sign of life. But it seemed to me that I could hear a periodic rustling at the door. However, as she still didn't come, and the old man was only talking about money, I finally took my leave and went away, the old man regretting that he couldn't accompany me because he was alone in the shop. I was sad about my disappointed hope and yet miraculously consoled. When I stood still in the street and looked across at my father's house, I suddenly heard a voice behind me which said, in a muffled and angry tone, "Don't be so ready to trust people, they don't want the best for you." Rapidly as I turned round, I saw no one; only the clatter of a ground-floor window, that belonged to the grocer's accommodation, informed me, even if I had not already recognised the voice, that it was Barbara who was giving me this secret warning. So she had heard was being said in the shop. Did she want to warn me against her father? Or had she heard that straight after my father's death colleagues in the office and other people whom I didn't know at all had approached me with requests for support or help in their distress, which I had said I would give when I actually had the money. What I had once promised, I had to do, but I resolved to be more cautious in future. I made an official request for my inheritance. It was less than people had thought, but nevertheless a very large amount, nearly eleven thousand florins. The whole day my room was never empty of people asking for money and seeking help. But I had become almost hard, and I only gave in cases of the greatest need. Barbara's father came, too. He complained that I had not visited them for the past three days, to which I replied truthfully that I was afraid of being a burden to his daughter. He said I shouldn't worry about that, he had sorted her ideas out for her, and he laughed in such a wicked way as he said it that I was frightened. Reminded by this of Barbar's warning, I concealed the amount of my inheritance when we came to it shortly afterwards in our conversation.; I also cleverly evaded his business proposals.
In truth, I already had other prospects in my head. My position in the office, where I had only been suffered because of my father, had already been taken by someone else, which was a matter of little concern to me, as no salary was attached to it. But my father's secretary who had lost his job through these recent events, communicated to me a plan for establishing a bureau for information, copying and translation, to which I would advance the initial setting-up costs, while he himself was prepared to take over the running of it. At my insistence, the copying side of things was extended to include music, and now I was completely happy. I handed over the required money, but having become cautious, I had a contract drawn up. The deposit for the business, which I likewise advanced, seemed, although considerable, scarcely worth mentioning, since it had to be deposited with the courts and there it remained mine, as if I had it in my own safe.
The matter was settled and I felt relieved, above it all, independent for the first time in my life, a man. I scarcely thought about my father. I moved into a better apartment, changed some things in the way I dressed, and when the evening had come I walked through familiar streets to the grocer's shop, almost skipping a little and humming my song between my teeth, although not completely accurately. I have never been able to get the B in the second half with my voice. I arrived happy and in a good mood, but an ice-cold look from Barbara immediately thrust me back into my former timidity. Her father received me in the best possible way, but she behaved as if there was no one there, carried on making little paper funnels and did not take part in our conversation with a single word. Only when my inheritance was mentioned did she half start to her feet and say almost threateningly: Father! whereupon the old man at once changed the subject. Otherwise, she said nothing all evening, gave me no second glance and when at last I took my leave her Good evening! sounded almost like a Thank God!
But I came again and again and she gradually relented. Not as though I had done anything that she approved of. She scolded and criticised me incessantly. Everything was clumsy and wrong about me: God had given me two left hands; my suit fitted me as well as if I were a scarecrow; I walked like a duck, with a strong reminiscence of a rooster. She particularly hated my politeness to the customers. Since I was without empoyment until the opening of the copy-bureau, and reflected that I would have to deal with the public there, I took an active part in the retail sales of the grocer's shop, as practice in advance, which often occupied me for half a day at a time. I weighed out spices, counted out nuts and dried plums for the young boys, gave change; this last not without frequent errors, so that Barbara always intervened, forcibly took away from me what I had in my hands, and treated me with ridicule and scorn in front of the customers. If I made a bow to one of the purchasers or said I hoped to see them again, she said, roughly, even before the people were out of the door: "It's the quality of the goods that brings them back!" and turned her back on me. Sometimes however, she was kindness itself. She listened to me when I told her what was going on in the city; or things about my childhood; or what the civil servants did in the office where we had first got to know one another. But she always let me do all the talking and only indicated her own approval - or, more frequently, disapproval - by single words.
We never talked about music or singing. Firstly, she believed that one should either sing or keep one's mouth shut, there was no place for talking about it. Singing itself was not possible. It was inappropriate in the shop and the back room which she and her father inhabited jointly I was not allowed to enter. Once, however, when I came through the door unobserved, she was standing on tiptoe with her back to me and her hands raised, feeling around on one of the upper shelves, like someone looking for something. And at the same time, she was singing quietly to herself.. - It was the song, my song! - But she was twittering away like a garden-warbler washing its head in the stream and ruffling its feathers and smoothing them out again with its beak. I felt as if I was walking over fresh green fields. I crept closer and closer and was already so near that the song didn't seem to be coming from outside any more, but was sounding right inside me, a song of our souls. Then I couldn't restrain myself and with both hands I grasped her body, which was leaning forward in the middle while her shoulders were pressed back towards me. Then it happened. She spun round like a top. She stood there in front of me, her face flaming red with anger; her hand flashed, and before I could apologise -
As I said before, they had often spoken in the office of a box on the ear which Barbara had given to someone who pestered her when she was still a cake-seller. What they said about the strength of the girl - who was rather to be described as small than as anything else - and the force of her hand seemed highly exaggerated for comic effect. But it really was like that and was quite enormous. I stood there as if thunderstruck. Lights danced in front of my eyes. - But they were the lights of heaven. Like sun, moon and stars. Like the little angels who play hide and seek and sing while they're doing it. I had visions, I was out of this world. But she, scarcely less shocked than I was myself, ran her hand soothingly over the place she had hit. "It was probably a bit harder than I meant," she said and - like a second flash of lightning - I suddenly felt her warm breath on my cheek and her two lips, and she kissed me; only gently, gently; but it was a kiss - on my cheek - here!" As he spoke, the old man tapped his cheek and tears started from his eyes. "What happened next, I don't know," he continued, "just that I dashed at her and she ran into the living room and held the glass door shut, while I pushed from the other side. Resisting with all her might, she was squashed, as it were, against the window in the door, and then I plucked up my courage, respected sir, and gave her a passionate kiss back, through the glass.
"Oho! Here are some jolly goings-on!" I heard someone shout behind me. It was the grocer, who was just coming home. "Well," he said, "where there's teasing there's also pleasing. Come on out, Barbara, and don't be silly! An honest kiss is never amiss." But she didn't come. I went away myself after stammering a few semi-conscious words, and I took the grocer's hat instead of my own, so that he had to change them over in my hand, laughing all the while. That was, as I said before, the happiest day of my life. I almost said: the only happy day in my life, which wouldn't be true, because a man receives many graces from God.
I didn't rightly know how I stood in the girl's opinion. Should I imagine that she was more annoyed or more pacified? The next visit required a difficult decision on my part. But she was fine. Humble and quiet, not irritable as usual, she sat at her work. She nodded to a stool beside her, indicating that I should sit down and help her. So we sat together and worked. The old man wanted to go out. "Stay here, father," she said, "what you wanted to do has already been dealt with." He stamped his foot and stayed. Pacing up and down, he talked about this and that, without my daring to join in the conversation. Then the girl suddenly gave a small cry. While working she had scractched one of her fingers and although she was not otherwise over-sensitive, she flapped her hand to and fro. I wanted to look and see what was the matter, but she indicated that I should just carry on. "All this nonsense!" grumbled the old man and standing in front of his daughter he said in a loud voice: "What had to be done is a long way from being sorted out!" and he stamped off out of the door. I wanted to start apologising for the previous day, but she interrupted me and said, "Let's leave that for now and talk about more sensible things."
She lifted her head, looked me up and down from top to toe and continued in a calm voice: "I can scarcely remember any more how we came to know each other. You have been coming here more and more often for a while now, and we have got used to you. Nobody will deny that you're an honest person, but you're weak and always concerned with side-issues, so that you'd scarcely be able to take charge of your own affairs. So it becomes the duty and responsibility of your friends and acquaintances to show consideration so that you don't come to any harm. You spend half your day sitting here in the shop, counting and weighing things, measuring and selling; but nothing comes of it. What do you intend to do in the future, in order to live?" I mentioned my father's inheritance. "That may well be very large," she said. I named the sum. "That is a little and a lot," she said. "It's a lot, if you used it to start something. It's a little, if you want to live off the interest. My father did make you a proposal, but I advised you against it, since on the one hand he has lost money in the past on such ventures and secondly," she added, lowering her voice, "he is so used to making a profit out of strangers that he might perhaps not behave any better with a friend. You need someone at your side who is honest." - I pointed to her. - "Honest I am," she said, and she put her hand on her heart, and her eyes which were normally greyish, shone bright blue, sky-blue. "But things are a little complicated where I'm concerned. Our business doesn't make very much money and my father is considering opening up a drinking-shop. In which case there would be no place for me. All that would be left for me in that case would be sewing, because I don't want to be a waitress or a servant." And as she said that, she looked like a queen. "I have, admittedly, been made another offer," she continued, pulling a letter out of her apron-pocket and throwing it half-reluctantly on the counter; "but then I would have to go away from here." "Far away?" I asked. "Why? What does that matter to you?" I declared that I wanted to move to the same place. - "You're a child!" she said. "That wouldn't be appropriate, and would be an entirely different matter. But if you trust me and like being near me, then buy the milliner's which is for sale next door. I understand the trade and you wouldn't need to worry about getting a proper return for your money. You would find a proper occupation, too, in writing and calculating. What other things might perhaps result from that, we don't want to talk about at this time. But you would have to change! I hate effeminate men."
I had jumped up and grabbed my hat. "What's the matter? Where are you going?" she asked. "To cancel it all," I said, breathlessly. "What all?" I told her my plan to set up a bureau for copying and information. "That won't bring much," she said. "People can find out information for themselves and everybody learns to write at school, too." I observed that music was going to be copied as well, which wasn't something that everyone could do. "Are you still keeping on with silly things like that?" she snapped at me. "Forget about making music and think about what's needful. You wouldn't be capable of running a business on your own, either." I explained that I had found a partner. "A partner?" she exclaimed. "Then they want to cheat you for sure! You haven't parted with any money yet, have you?" - I was trembling without knowing why. "Have you handed over any money?" she asked once more. I admitted the three thousand florins for the initial costs of setting up. - "Three thousand florins?" she cried. "So much money!" - "The rest," I continued, "has been deposited with the courts and is safe in any event." - "Even more?" she cried. - I told her how much the deposit was. "And you deposited it with the courts yourself?" she asked. - I told her that my partner had done it. "But you have a receipt for it?" I had no receipt. "And what's your honest partner called?" was her next question. I was somewhat reassured by being able to tell her that it was my father's secretary.
"God in Heaven!" she cried, leaping up and clapping her hands together,. "Father! Father!" - The old man came in. "What did you read in the nespapers today?" "About the secretary?" he said. "Yes, yes!" - "Well, he's run away, leaving debt after debt, and having cheated everyone. They're pursuing him with warrants for his arrest!" - "Father," she cried out, "he's cheated this one as well! He trusted him with his money. He's ruined." - "Fools upon fools!" shouted the old man. "Didn't I always say it? But there was always an excuse. One time you'd laugh at him and the next you'd say he was an honest fellow. But now's the time for me to step in. I'll show who's the master in this house. You, Barbara, off you go, into the living room. You, sir, can clear off and spare us your visits in future. Beggars don't get a hand-out in this house." - "Father," said the girl, "don't be hard on him, after all he's unfortunate enough." - "That's precisely why," shouted the old man, "because I don't want to join him in his misfortune. This fellow, sir," he continued, pointing to the letter that Barbara had thrown on the counter earlier, "this fellow is a real man. He's got his head on straight and money in his pocket. He doesn't cheat anybody, but he doesn't let himself be cheated either; and that's the important thing about honesty." - I stammered that the loss of the deposit wasn't yet certain. - "Oh yes," the old man cried out, "he'll have been a fool, the secretary! He's a rogue, but a crafty one. And now, go quickly, perhaps you'll catch up with him!" And as he was speaking he had put his hand palm down on my shoulder and he pushed me towards the door. I moved sideways to avoid the pressure and turned to face the girl who wa standing there with her eyes fixed on the floor, supporting herself on the counter, her chest rising and falling violently. I wanted to approach her, but she stamped her foot angrily on the floor and when I stretched my hand out, she half drew hers back, as if she wanted to hit me again. So I went, and the old man locked the door behind me.
I stumbled through the streets and out of the city gate, into open space. Sometimes despair came over me, but then hope came again. I recalled that I had accompanied the secretary to the commercial court for the handing over of the deposit. There, I had waited under the gateway and he had gone up on his own. When he came down, he said everything had been sorted out, the receipt would be sent to my home. Admittedly, this had not happened, but the possibility was always still there. As day broke, I re-entered the city. The first place I went to was the secretary's lodging. But the people laughed and asked if I hadn't read the newspapers? The commercial court was only a few buildings away. I had them check in their records, but neither his name nor mine were there. No trace of any money having been paid in. So my misfortune was certain. Indeed, things might even have become worse. Since there was a contract of partnership, several of his creditors wanted to extend their demands to me. But the courts did not permit it. I praise them and thank them for that! Although it wouldn't have mattered very much in the end.
Amidst all these dreadful experiences I must confess that the grocer and his daughter retreated right inro the background. Now that things had become calmer and I began to wonder what was going to happen next, the memory of that last evening came back vividly to me. I understood the old man well enough, self-interested as he was, but the girl! Sometimes it came into my head that if I had been able to take care of my own resources and had been able to offer her enough money to live on, she might even have - but she wouldn't have wanted me." - As he said this, he let his hands fall apart and looked at his whole needy figure. - "She could never stand the way I was polite to everyone either."
"Thus I spent whole days thinking and reflecting. One day, in the twilight - it was the time that I had normally been used to spend in the shop - I sat down again and put myself in my thoughts in my accustomed place. I heard her speaking, pouring scorn on me, indeed, it seemed as if she was ridiculing me. Then there was a sudden rustling at the door, it opened and a woman entered. - It was Barbara. - I sat as if nailed to my chair, as if I was seeing a ghost. She was pale and carried a bundle under her arm. She reached the middle of the room, stood still, looked round at the bare walls, then down at the wretched furniture and gave a deep sigh. Then she went to the cupboard which stood on one side against the wall, unwrapped her parcel which contained some shirts and chokers - she had looked after my washing in the last few weeks - pulled out the drawer, clapped her hands together as she saw its scanty contents, but began at once to sort out the clothes and add the things she had brought with her. After that she took a few steps back from the cupboard and with her eyes fixed on me and pointing with her finger at the open drawer she said: "Five shirts and three chokers, that's what I had, that's what I'm bringing back." Then she slowly pushed the drawer shut, supported herself with her hand against the cupboard and began to cry loudly. It almost seemed as though she was feeling ill, because she sat down on a chair beside the cupboard, concealing her face in her shawl, and I heard from the sobbing breaths she drew that she was still carrying on crying. I had quietly gone up close to her and took her hand which she kindly allowed me to hold. But when, in order to make her look at me, I let my hand move up to the elbow of her loosely dangling arm, she stood up quickly, pulled her hand free, and said in a determined tone: "What's the point of all this? That's the way things are. You wanted it that way, you have made yourself and us unhappy; though admittedly you've made yourself unhappiest of all. Really, you don't deserve any sympathy -" at this point she became more and more vehement - "when you're so weak that you can't keep your own affairs in order; so credulous that you trust anyone whether they're a rogue or an honest man. - And yet, I am sorry for you. I have come to take leave of you. Yes, go on, be shocked and frightened. You're the one that's done it, after all. I have to go out now and mix with the coarse people, which I have struggled against doing for so long. But there's no help for it. I've already given you my hand, so farewell - for ever." I could see there were tears in her eyes again, but she shook her head in annoyance and went away. I felt as if my limbs were filled with lead. Having reached the door, she turned round one more time and said, "Your washing's in order now. Take care that nothing goes astray. Hard times are going to come." And then she raised her hand and made a kind of sign of the cross in the air and called out: "God be with you, Jakob! - For all eternity, amen!" she added more softly, and went.
Only now did I have the use of my limbs again. I hurried after her, and standing at the top of the stairs I called after her, "Barbara!" I heard her stop still on the staircase. But as I took the first step down, she said from down below, "Stay where you are!" and she went all the way down the stairs and out through the front door.
I have experienced hard days since then, but none like that one. Even the day after wasn't quite as bad. I didn't really know what was going on, so the following day I crept around in the neighbourhood of the grocer's shop, to see whether I could find anything out. Since nothing was evident, I finally took a sideways glance into the shop and saw a strange woman weighing things out and giving change and adding things up. I dared to go in and asked if she had bought the shop? At the moment, not yet, she said. - And where were the owners? I asked. - They set off early this morning to Langenlebarn - The daughter too? I stammered. - Of course her too, she said, she's getting married there, after all.
The woman may well have told me everything that I discovered afterwards from other people. The butcher from the place she had named - the same one that I met in the shop on the occasion of my first visit - had been making proposals of marriage to the girl for a long time, which she had always avoided, until finally, in the last few days, under pressure from her father, and despairing of everything else, she gave her consent. On that same morning father and daughter had set off and at the very moment we spoke, Barbara was the butcher's wife.
The saleslady may, as I say, have told me all that, but I wasn't listening and I stood there motionless until customers came and pushed me aside, and the woman asked me brusquely whether I wanted anything else, whereupon I went away.
You will think, most respected sir, that I felt myself to be the most miserable of all mortals at this point. And so I did in that very first moment. But as I stepped out of the shop and, turning round, looked back at the small windows where Barbara must often have stood and looked out, a feeling of happiness came over me. That she was now free from all worry, mistress in her own house, and did not need to bear misery and care, as she would have done if she had linked her life to someone without a home or hearth to call his own, that laid itself like a soothing balm on my breast and I blessed her and all the paths she had to tread.
As things went more and more downhill with me, I determined to try and make my living through music; and as long as the remainder of my money lasted, I practised and learnt the works of the great masters, the old ones for preference, which I copied out; and when the last farthing had been spent, I set myself to draw advantage from my knowledge, and at first in closed gatherings, the first occasion for which was a dinner-party given by my landlady. When the compositions I played failed to find any echo there, I set up my music-stand in the courtyards of the apartment houses, since among so many inhabitants there might yet be some who knew the value of serious music. Finally, indeed, I played in public walks, where I really did have the satisfaction of individuals standing still, listening, talking to me and walking on - but not without some involvement. That they put money down for me, I found in no way shaming. Firstly, of course, that was my aim, and then I saw, too, that famous virtuosi, whom I could not flatter myself to have equalled, let themselves be paid fees, and on occasion very high ones, for their achievements. Thus I have supported myself, although quite poorly, at least honestly, to the present day.
After some years, I was to have a stroke of good fortune. Barbara came back. Her husband had earnt money and purchased a butcher's shop in one of the suburbs. She was the mother of two children, the eldest of which is called Jakob, like me. My professional activities and the memory of past times did not permit me to importune them with my presence, but eventually I was summoned to the house in order to teach the older boy the violin. He does not have very much talent, in fact, and can only play on Sundays, but Barbara's song, which I taught him, goes very well now; and when we play and practise, his mother joins in and sings along sometimes. Of course, she's changed a lot over these many years, she's filled out and doesn't care much about music any more, but it still sounds just as beautiful as it did then." And then the old man picked up his violin and began playing the song, and kept on playing and playing, without worrying about me any more in the least. Finally, I'd had enough, I got up, put a few silver coins on the table beside him and went away while the old man eagerly carried on fiddling.
Soon afterwards I went on a trip from which I did not return until the start of winter. New images had supplanted the old ones and my poor player was more or less forgotten. Only on the occasion of the terrible ice on the river in the following spring, and the flooding it caused in the low-lying suburbs did I remember him again. The area around Gardeners Lane had turned into a lake. There seemed no reason to be worried about the old man's life, after all, he lived in an attic, right under the roof, while death had sought out his only too frequent victims among the inhabitants of the ground-floors. But stripped of all help, how great might be his distress! As long as the flooding lasted, there was nothing to be done, moreover the authorities had, as far as was possible, used boats to give aid and food to those who were cut off. When the waters had retreated and the streets had become passable, I determined to deliver my share of the relief funds, which, having once been started, had grown to an incredible sum, personally to the address which was of primary concern to me.
The sight of Leopldstown was terrible. Smashed boats and furniture in the streets, in places water still standing in the ground-floors and personal possessions floating about. When, in the course of avoiding the crowd, I found myself pressed up against the gate into a courtyard which had only been pulled to, this latter gave way and revealed in the gateway a row of corpses, evidently brought together and deposited in a group for the purpose of official inspection; indeed, inside the rooms there were to be seen, here and there, standing upright and still clinging with their clenched hands to the window bars, inhabitants who had met an untimely end, who - well, there had not been enough time or enough officials to carry out the judicial processing of so many deaths.
So I strode on, further and further. On all sides weeping and funeral bells. Mothers and children wandering as if lost. At last I came to Gardeners Lane. There too the black figures who accompany a funeral cortège had drawn themselves up, but, as it seemed, some distance from the house that I was looking for. But when I came closer, I did indeed notice a connection, and people going to and fro between the gardener's house and the funeral cortège. In the gateway there stood an honest looking, elderly, but still robust man. In high boots, yellow leather britches and a long frock-coat he looked like a butcher from the country. He was giving orders, but betweentimes talking fairly indifferently with the people standing around him. I went past him and entered the courtyard of the house. The old gardener's wife came towards me, recognised me again on the spot and greeted me with tears. "Are you honouring us with your presence again?" she said. "Yes, our poor old fellow! He's making music with the sweet angels now, who can't be much better than he was, even while he was still down here. The honest fellow was sitting up there safe in his little room. But when the water came and he heard the children crying out, he rushed down and saved things and people, and carried stuff and made sure it was safe, till his breathing sounded like the bellows in a smithy. Well - you can't have your eyes everywhere - when it turned out in the end that my husband had forgotten his tax accounts and a few florins in paper money down here in the cupboard, the old man took an axe, waded down, broke open the cupboard and brought everything honestly up to us. He must have given himself a chill doing that, and as there was no help to be had at first, he became delirious and got worse and worse, though we did everything for him that was possible, and suffered more in the course of it than he did himself. Because he kept on making music all the time, with his voice, that is, beating time and giving lessons. When the water had fallen a bit and we could fetch the barber-surgeon and the clergyman, he suddenly sat bolt upright in bed and turned his head and his ears to one side, as if he could hear something very beautiful in the distance, smiled, sank back and was dead. Just go up, he often spoke about you. We wanted to pay for his funeral ourselves, but the master-butcher's wife wouldn't permit it."
She pressed me up the steep staircase to the attic room which was open and completely emptied except for the coffin in the middle, which, already closed, was only waiting for the pall-bearers. At its head-end sat a fairly sturdy woman, past her middle years, in a brightly coloured printed cotton skirt, but with a balck neckerchief and a black ribbon on her bonnet. It seemed almost as though she could never have been beautiful. In front of her stood two fairly grown-up children, a boy and a girl, whom she was obviously instructing in how they should behave in the funeral procession. Just as I entered, she was pushing down the arm of the boy, who had rather stupidly leant aginst the coffin, and carefully smoothing the sticking out edges of the cloth draped over it back into place. The gardener's wife introduced me; but in that moment, the trombones downstairs started to play and at the same time the voice of the butcher sounded from the street below: Barbara, it's time!, the pall-bearers appeared , I withdrew, in order to make space. The coffin was lifted up, brought down, and the procession set off. At the front, schoolchildren with a cross and a banner, the clergyman with the sexton. Directly behind the coffin the two children of the butcher and after them the married couple themselves. the man was moving his lips all the time, as if he was saying the litany, but he loooked neither right nor left. The woman was reading eagerly in her prayer-book, but the two children gave her a lot to do, she was always pushing them forward or holding them back, as indeed the order of the funeral procession seemed to be very close to her heart. But she always returned to her book again. So the cortège reached the cemetery. The grave was open. The children threw the first handfuls of earth down into it. The man stood and did the same. The woman knelt down and held her book almost rigt up to her eyes. The gravediggers finished their business, and the funeral procession, half dissolved, retraced its steps. At the door there was a little dispute, since the woman obviously found one of the undertaker's demands too high. Those who had been involved went their separate ways, in all directions. The old violin-player was buried.
A few days later - it was a Sunday - I went, driven by my psychological curiosity, to the butcher's home, on the pretext of wishing to own the old man's violin as a memento. I found the family together without a trace of any particular impression having been left on them. But the violin was hanging on the wall, positioned with a kind of symmetry, beside the mirror and opposite a crucifix. When I explained my request and offered a relatively high price, the man seemed not disinclined to make an advantageous deal. But the woman jumped up from her chair and said: "Not on your life! the fiddle belongs to our Jakob, and a few florins more or less don't matter to us!" And she took the instrument from the wall, looked at it from all sides, blew the dust off it and put it into the drawer, which, as if fearful of a robbery, she closed with vehemence and locked. As she did this, her face was turned away from me, so that I could not see what the expression on it might be. Since the maid came in with the soup at the same time, and the butcher, not letting himself be disturbed by my visit, began in a loud voice to say grace, with which the children joined in shrilly, I wished them a good appetite and went out of the door. My last glance struck the woman. She had turned round and tears were running in streams down her cheeks.
Translation finished 12.30 am June 3rd 2002