The Serenade (Jennette Lee)
By JENNETTE LEE
" ABOUT so high, I should think," said the girl, with a swift twinkle. She measured off a diminutive man on the huge blue-and-white porcelain stove and stood back to survey it. "And about as big," she added reflectively.
Her sister laughed. The girl nodded again.
"And terribly homely," she said, making a little mouth. Her eyes laughed. She leaned forward with a mysterious air. "And, Marie, his coat is green, and his trousers are—white!"
The two girls giggled in helpless amusement. They had a stolid German air of family resemblance, but the laughing eyes of the younger danced in their round setting, while the sleepy blue ones of the older girl followed the twinkling pantomime with a look of half-protest.
"They were in the big reception-room," went on the girl, "and I bounced in on them. Mama Rosine was giving him the family history—you and me."
They giggled again.
The younger one drew down her face and folded her hands in matronly dignity, gazing pensively at the blue-and-white stove, her head a little to one side.
"My own voice is alto, Herr Schubert, and my daughter Caroline's; but my daughter Marie has a beautiful soprano."
She rolled her eyes, with an air of resigned sentiment, and shook the bobbing black curls gently from side to side. "And he just twiddled his thumbs like this, and grunted." She seized her sister around her plump waist and shook her vigorously. "Don't you see it?" she demanded.
The elder girl laughed hysterically, with disturbed eyes.
"Don't, Cara!" she protested.
The dark eyes bubbled again.
"And his hair curls as tight—" She ran a hand along her rumpled curls, then a look of dismay crossed the laughing face. She subsided into a chair and folded her hands meekly. The little feet, in their stout ankle-ties, swung back and forth beneath the chair, and the round, German face assumed an air of wholesome stupidity.
Her sister, whose slow glance had followed hers, gave a little gasp, and sank into a chair on the opposite side of the stove in a position of duplicate meekness. The door at the other end of the room had swung open, and a tall woman swept in, followed by a diminutive figure in green coat and white trousers. A pair of huge spectacles, mounted on a somewhat stumpy nose, peered absently from side to side as he approached.
"My daughters, Herr Schubert," said the tall lady, with a circumflex wave of her white hand that included the waxlike figures on each side the stove.
They regarded him fixedly and primly.
His glance darted from one to the other, and he smiled broadly.
"I haf seen the young Fräulein before," he said, indicating the younger with his fat hand.
The dark, round eyes gazed at him expressionless. His spectacles returned the gaze and twinkled.
"She has come into the reception-room while you were explaining about the voice of Fräulein Marie," he said, with a glance at the other sister.
The waxlike faces shook a little.
The lady regarded them severely.
"She is only eleven," she murmured apologetically to the little man.
"Yah! So?" he muttered. His glance flashed again at the immovable face.
"Caroline, my child, come here," said her mother.
The child slipped down from the stiff chair and crossed to her mother's side. Her little hands were folded, and her small toes pointed primly ahead.
"My youngest daughter, Herr Schubert," said the lady, slipping an arm around the stiff waist. "Caroline, this is your new music tutor, Herr Schubert."
The child bobbed primly, and lifted a pair of dark, reflective eyes to his face.
His own smiled shrewdly.
"She will be a good pupil," he said; "it is the musical type." The green coat and white trousers bowed circumspectly to the small figure.
"Now, Marie,"—the tall lady shook out her skirts,—"Herr Schubert will try your voice. But first, Herr Schubert, will you not give us the pleasure?" She motioned politely toward the piano, and sank back with an air of fatigued sentiment.
He sat down on the stool and ran his white, fat fingers through his curling hair. It bristled a little. The fingers fell to his knees, and his big head nodded indecisively. Then it was thrown back, and the fingers dropped on the keys: the music of a Beethoven sonata filled the room.
The grand lady forgot her sentiment, and the little waxlike figures gave way. Their eager, tremulous eyes rested wonderingly on the broad back of the player. The white fingers had dropped on the keys with the lightness of a feather. They rose and flashed and twinkled, and ran along the keyboard with swift, steel-like touch. The door at the end of the room opened softly. A tall man entered. He looked inquiringly at the grotesque green-and-white figure seated before the piano, then his glance met his wife's, and he sank into a big chair by the door, a pleased look on his dark face. The younger child glanced at him shyly. He returned the look and smiled. The child's face brightened.
The door opened again, and a slight, figure stood in the doorway. He looked approvingly toward the piano, and dropped into a chair at the other side of the door, twirling his long, light mustaches. The player, wrapped in sound, was oblivious to the world outside. The music enveloped him and rose about him, transfiguring the plain, squat figure, floating above the spectacled face and crisp, curling locks. His hearers glanced approvingly at one another now and then, but no one spoke or moved. Suddenly they were aware that a new mood had crept into the notes. Quick, sharp flashes of fear alternated with passages of clear, sunlit strength, and underneath the changing melody galloping hoof-beats rose and fell.
The dark-eyed child sat poised forward, her hands clasped about her knees, her tremulous gaze fixed on the flying fingers. She started and caught her breath sharply. Faster and faster thudded the hoofs; the note of questioning fear beat louder, and into the sweet, answering melody crept a note of doubt, undefined and terrible, a spirit echo of the flying hoofs. It caught up question and answer, and turned them to sharp, swift flight. The pursuing hoofs struck the sound and broke it; with a cry the child leaped to her feet. Her hands were outstretched, and her face worked. The man by the door turned slightly. He held out a quiet, imperious hand, and the child fled across the room, clasping the hand in both her own and burying her face in his shoulder. The swift sound was upon them, around them, over them, sweeping past, whirling them in its leaping, gigantic grasp. It hesitated a second, grew strangely sweet and hushed, and dropped through a full, clear octave on a low note. It ceased. The air quivered. The player sat motionless, gazing before him.
The dark man sprang to his feet, his face illumined, the child clinging to his hand. He patted the dark curls carelessly as he flashed a smile to the young man at the other side of the room.
"That 's mine, Schönstein," he said exultantly; "your tenor voice won't carry that."
The other nodded half grudgingly.
They were both looking toward the player. He swayed a little on the stool, stared at the ceiling a moment, and swung slowly about, blinking uncertainly.
The older man stepped forward, holding out a quick hand.
"Wunderschön!" he said warmly. "What is it? Are there words to it? Can you get it for me?"
The tiny man seemed to shrink a little. He put out his fat hand and waited a moment before he spoke. The full, thick lips groped at the words.
"It is—it is something—of my own," he said at last.
They crowded about him, questioning and delighted.
"Have you published it? What is it?"
" 'Der Erlkönig,' " said Schubert, shortly. The child's face quivered.
"I know," she said.
Her father glanced down at her, smiling.
"What do you know?" he said gently.
"I read it," said the child, simply. She shivered a little. "The Erlking carried him off," she said. She covered her face, suddenly in tears. She was quivering from head to foot.
The count glanced significantly at his wife. She came forward and laid her hand on the child's shoulder.
"Come, Caroline. Come, Marie," she said. "Later, Herr Schubert, I shall have the pleasure of thanking you." She swept from the room.
The three men remained, looking a little uncomfortably toward the closed door.
The count shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the musician.
"A very impressionable child," he said lightly.
"A very unusual child," returned the small man, gravely. He was blinking absently at the count's dark face. "She has the temperament," he murmured softly; "she will learn."
The count beamed on him.
"We depend on you to teach her," he said suavely. "You will go with us next week to Zelitz?"
The young man bowed uncertainly. His full lips smiled doubtfully. "It is an honor," he said, "but I must work. There is not time to lose. I must work." He moved his big head from side to side and twirled his fingers.
The count smiled genially.
"It shall be arranged—a little house by yourself, apart from the castle; a piano; absolute quiet; lessons only by your own arrangement." He spoke quietly, in the tone of a superior granting terms.
The thick lips opposite him were puckering a little, and the eyes behind the great spectacles blinked mistily.
"I must have time," repeated the little man—"time to think of it."
The count's face clouded a shade.
"We depend on you," he said. The tone had changed subtly. It was less assertive. "With the Baron von Schönstein—" he motioned toward his companion; the two young men bowed slightly—"with the baron we have a fine quartette, and with you to train us—oh, you must come!" His face broke into a winning smile.
The young man smiled in return.
"I will come," he said; "but—free," he added.
"Free as the wind," assented the count, easily. The note of patronage was gone.
A big sunny smile broke over the musician's face. It radiated from the spectacles and broadened the wide mouth.
"Ach! We shall do great things!" he announced proudly.
"Great things," assented the count. "And 'Der Erlkönig'—I must have 'Der Erlkönig.' Bring it with you."
" 'Der Erlkönig' shall be yours," said Schubert, grandly. There was the air of granting a royal favor in the round, green-and-white little figure as it bowed itself from the room.
In the hall he stumbled a little, looking uncertainly about. A small figure glided from a curtained window and approached him timidly.
"Your hat is on the next landing, Herr Schubert," she said.
He looked down at her. His big face flushed with pleasure. "You like my music," he said bluntly.
She shook her head gravely.
"It is terrible," she replied.
The spectacles glared at her.
"It hurts me here." She raised a small, dark hand to her chest.
The musician's eyes lighted.
"That is right," he said simply; "yah, that is right—it hurts."
They stood looking at each other in the dim light. The child's eyes studied the big face wistfully.
"I wish you would never play it again."
"Not play my 'Erlkönig'!" He glared at her.
She nodded slowly.
"Never," she said.
He waited a moment, looking at her sternly. He pushed his spectacles far up on the short curls and rubbed his nose vigorously.
The child's eyes waited on the queer, perturbed face. She gave a quick little sigh. Her lips had parted.
He looked down with a sudden big smile.
"I will never play it for you again," he said grandly. The spectacles descended swiftly, the door banged behind him, and the child was left alone in the great dim hall.
The heat of the day was nearly spent, but the leaves of the oaks hung motionless. The two young men walking beneath them had bared their heads. One of them glanced up now and then, as if looking for coolness in the green canopy.
"It will rain before night," said the baron, casually, noting the glance. His lithe figure, in its white suit and blue tie, showed no sign of heat or fatigue.
The musician, puffing beside him, wiped a handkerchief across his warm face.
"Yah, it will rain," he assented hopefully.
The baron glanced at him, smiling.
"You find ten miles a good stretch," he remarked. "We went too far, perhaps."
"Nein, not too far. We have had great talk," responded Schubert. His face under its mask of perspiration shone gloriously. He glanced down a little ruefully at his short, fat legs in their white casings. "But my legs they do not talk," he announced naïvely. "Yah, they are very weary, perhaps; but my soul is not weary."
He struck his breast a resounding blow with the palm of his hand and straightened his short body.
The baron laughed musically.
A low, sweet sound, stealing among the oaks, answered the laugh. They stopped short, looking at each other. The sound came again, a far-off, haunting peal, with a little catch and sob in its breath.
They stole swiftly forward on tiptoe. Among the trees a roof and the outline of a small building glimmered. It was covered with dark ivy. Smoke came from the chimney, and through the open window drifted the strange, alluring sound.
"The house of the little folk of the wood," whispered Schubert, pressing forward.
"The wash-house," returned the baron, with a laugh.
The sound had ceased. The wood, in the soft heat, was very still.
"It is Marka," said the baron, glancing toward the house. "Marka has charge of the linen. I heard her the other day, in one of the corridors, singing; but Fritz hushed her up before she 'd begun. She 's a Hungarian—"
"Hush!" Schubert lifted a finger.
The music had begun again. The sadness was gone from it. It laughed and smiled to itself, and grew merry in a sweet, shy fashion that set the air about them astir in little rippling runs.
Schubert had started forward.
"I must have it," he said impetuously.
"Take care," warned Schönstein; "she is a witch."
The musician laughed, stealing away among the tree-trunks. He moved softly forward, his short fingers fumbling at his pockets. A torn envelop and the stub of a pencil rewarded the search. His face lighted as he grasped the pencil more firmly in his fingers, moistening it at his thick lips; he approached the open window.
He peered uncertainly into the dim room. By the fireplace stood a lithe, quick figure, sorting the pile of linen at her side. As she lifted each delicate piece she examined it carefully for holes or rents. Careless little snatches of song played about her lips as she worked.
The torn envelop rested on the sill, and the stubby pencil flew across its surface. The big face of the musician, bent above it, was alight with joy. The sound ceased, and he straightened himself, pushing back the hat from his brow and gazing fondly at the little dots on the torn bit of paper.
The girl looked up with a start. The shadow had fallen on her linen. She gazed with open, incredulous lips at the uncouth figure framed in the window.
A broad smile wreathed the big face.
"Go on, Marka," he said. He nodded encouragement.
She looked down at the pillow-slip in her hands, and back again to the face in the window. The linen slip was plaited uncertainly in her fingers.
"Go on," said Schubert, peremptorily. "You were singing. What was it, that tune? Go on."
She looked up again with bold shyness, and shook her head.
The face glared at her.
She smiled saucily, and, putting two plump hands into her apron pockets, advanced toward the window. Her steps danced a little.
Franz stared at the vision. He took off his spectacles and rubbed them, blinking a little.
"Waugh!" he said.
She laughed musically.
He replaced the spectacles, and looked at her more kindly.
She was leaning on the other side of the casing, her arms folded on the sill. Her saucy face was tilted to his.
He bent suddenly, and kissed it full on the mouth.
She started back, fetching him a ringing slap on the cheek.
"You ugly thing!" she said. She laughed.
Franz gazed serenely at the sky, a pleased smile on his lips.
"You 're too ugly to look at," said the girl, promptly.
He looked down at her and smiled.
"That tasted good," he said.
She pouted a little and glanced at the door.
His glance followed hers.
"Sing me some more," he suggested craftily.
She threw back her head, and her lips broke into a strange, sweet sound. The dark eyes were half veiled, and her full throat swelled.
The wood about them darkened as she sang. Swift birds flashed by to their nests, and the green leaves quivered a little. A clash broke among the tree-tops; they swayed and beat heavily, and big drops fell. The girl's eyes flashed wide. The song ceased on her lips. She glanced at the big drops on the sill and then at the open door.
"Come in," she said shyly.
He opened the door and went in.
"We feared that you were not coming, Herr Schubert," said the countess, suavely.
The group that had gathered in the music-room looked up. The storm had ceased, and a cool breeze came through the window. Outside in the castle grounds dim lights glimmered.
The young man advanced into the group a little awkwardly, rubbing his eyes as if waking from a dream.
The baron, standing by the piano, glanced at him sharply under lowered lids. His lips took on a little smile, not unkind, but full of secret amusement.
The musician passed him without a glance, and, seating himself at the piano, threw back his head with an impatient gesture. He turned swiftly the leaves of music that stood on the rack before him.
"Sing this," he said briefly.
He struck a few chords, and they gathered about him, taking up their parts with a careless familiarity and skill. It was Haydn's "Creation." They had sung it many times, but a new power was in it to-night. The music lifted them. The touch on the keys held the sound, and shaped it, and filled it with light.
When it was finished they glanced at one another. They smiled; then they looked at the player. He sat wrapped in thought, his head bowed, his fingers touching the keys with questioning touch. They moved back noiseless and waited. When he was like this, they did not disturb him.
The melody crept out at last, the strange, haunting Hungarian air, with unrest and sadness and passion and sweetness trembling through it.
The baron started as he heard it. He moved carelessly to the window and stood with his back to the room, looking out.
The countess looked up with a startled air. She glanced inquiringly toward her husband. He was leaning forward, a look of interest on the dark face. The child at his knee shrank a little. Her eyes were full of a strange light. On the opposite side of the room her sister Marie sat unmoved, her placid doll eyes resting on the player with a look of gentle content.
The passionate note quickened. Something uncanny and impure had crept into it. It raised its head and hissed a little and was gone, gliding away among the low notes and losing itself in a rustling wave of sound. The music trembled a moment and was still; then the passion burst in a flood upon them. Dark chasms opened; strange, wild fastnesses shut them in; storm and license and evil held them. Blinding flashes fell on them. Slowly the player emerged into a wide sunlit place. The music filled it. Winds blew from the four quarters to meet it, and the air was full of melody.
The count stirred a little as the last notes fell.
"A strange composition," he said briefly.
The child at his knee lifted her head. She raised a tiny hand and brought it down sharply, her small face aglow with suppressed anger.
"It was not good," she said.
The player turned to look at her. His big face worked strangely.
"No, it was not good," he said. "I shall not play that again. But it is great music," he added, with a little laugh.
The count looked at him shrewdly. He patted the child's trembling hand.
"Now," he said soothingly, "something to clear away the mists! 'Der Erlkönig.' We have never had it; bring it out."
Schubert hesitated an instant. He glanced at the child.
"That music—I have it not, Herr Count," he said; "I left it in Vienna."
The count moved impatiently.
"Play it from memory," he said.
The musician turned slowly to the piano.
The child's eyes followed him. She shivered a little.
He swung back with a swift gesture, feeling absently in his pockets.
"A piece of tissue-paper," he murmured. He had extracted a small comb from one of his pockets. He regarded it thoughtfully. "If I had one little piece of paper—" He looked about him helplessly.
"There is some in the music-rack, Marie. Find it for him," said the count.
The girl found it and laid it in his hand.
He turned back to the piano, adjusting and smoothing it. His broad back was an effective screen. The group waited, a look of interest on their faces.
Suddenly he wheeled about, his hands raised to his mouth, the comb, thinly covered with tissue-paper, at his lips, and his fat cheeks distended. His eyes behind the big spectacles glowed portentously.
They gazed at him in astonishment.
He drew a full breath and drove it forth, a lugubrious note. With scowling brows and set face he darted the instrument back and forth across his puckered lips. It wailed and shrieked, and out of the noise and discord emerged, at a galloping trot, "Der Erlkönig!"
The child, who had been regarding him intently, threw back her head, and a little laugh broke from her lips. Her face danced. She came and stood by the player, her hand resting on his knee.
Herr Schubert puffed and blew, and "The Erlking" pranced and thumped. Now and then he stumbled and fell, and the fugitives flew fast ahead.
The player's face was grave beyond belief, filled with a kind of fat melancholy, and tinged with tragic intent.
The faces watching it passed from question to amusement, and from amusement to protest.
"Nein, nein, mein Herr!" said the countess, as she wiped her mild blue eyes and shook her blonde curls. "Nicht mehr! nicht mehr!"
With a deep, snorting sob the sound ceased. The comb dropped from his lips, and the player sat regarding them solemnly. A smile curved his big lips.
"Yah," he said simply, "that was great music. I have made it myself, that music."
With laughter and light words the party broke up. At a touch from the count the musician lingered. The others had left the room.
The count walked to the open window and stood for a moment staring into the darkness. Then he wheeled about.
"What was it you played?" he said swiftly.
"A Hungarian air," replied Schubert, briefly.
The count looked incredulous.
"It was your own," he said.
"Partly," admitted the musician.
The count nodded.
"I thought so." He glanced toward the piano, "it is not too late—"
Schubert shrugged his shoulders.
"I told the child,—you heard,—I cannot play it again, that music."
The count laughed lightly.
"As you like." He held out a hand. "Good night, my friend," he said cordially. "You are a strange man."
The grotesque, sensitive face opposite him quivered. The big lips trembled a little as they opened.
"I am not a strange man," said Schubert, vehemently. "That music—it was—the devil!"
The count laughed again lightly. He held out his hand.
"Good night," he said.
A soft haze hung over Zelitz. The moonlight, filtering through it, touched the paths and shrubs with shifting radiance and lifted them out of shadow. Under the big trees the darkness lay black, but in the open spaces it had given way to a gray, elusive whiteness that came and went like a still breathing of the quiet night.
A young girl, coming down one of the winding paths, paused a moment in the open space to listen. The hand that held her trailing, shimmering skirts away from the gravel was strong and supple, and the face thrown back to the moonlight wore a tense, earnest look; but the dark eyes in their curving lids were like a child's eyes. They seemed to laugh subtly. It may have been that the moonlight shifted across them.
A young man, standing in the shadow of the trees, smiled to himself as he watched her. He stepped from beneath the trees and crossed the open space between them.
The girl watched him come without surprise.
"It is a beautiful night, Herr Schubert," she said quietly as he stood beside her.
"A wonderful night, my Lady," he answered softly.
She looked down at him.
"Why are you not in the castle, playing?" she demanded archly.
"The night called me," he said.
She half turned away.
He started forward.
"Do not go," he breathed.
She paused, looking at him doubtfully.
"I came to walk," she said. She moved away a few steps and paused again, looking back over her shoulder. "You can come—"
He sprang to her side, and they paced on in silence.
She glanced at him from under her lids.
His big face wore a radiant, absent-minded look. The full lips moved softly.
"What are you thinking of?" she said swiftly.
He flushed and came back to her.
"Only a little song; it runs in my head."
"Hum it to me," she commanded.
He flushed again and stammered:
"Nein, nein; it is not yet born."
Her eyes were on the shifting light.
"Will you play it to me when it is done?" she asked softly.
"You know that I will."
She waited a moment.
"You have never dedicated a song to me," she said slowly. "There are the four to my father, but he is the count, and the one last year for Marie,—why to Marie?—and one for them all. But not one least little song for me!" The words had dropped under her breath. Her dark eyes were veiled. No one could say whether they laughed now.
He looked up with a swift, brusque gesture.
"They are all yours; you know it." The low voice rebuked her gently. "For six years they are yours—all that I have done." The face was turned toward her. It was filled with pleading and a kind of gentle beauty, clumsy and sweet.
She did not look at it.
"There is one that I should like to hear," she said musingly, "You played it once, years ago, on a comb. I have not heard it since." She laughed sweetly. Schubert smiled. The hurt look stole from his eyes.
"You will hear it—my 'Erlkönig'?" he demanded.
"I will play it to you when I come hack," he said contentedly.
She stopped short in the path.
"When you come back?" The subtle eyes were wide. They were not laughing.
"Yah, I shall—"
"Where are you going?"
He rubbed his great nose in the moonlight.
"Nein, I know not. I know I must go—"
She stopped him impatiently.
"You will not go!" she said. He turned his eyes and looked at her. After a moment her own fell. "Why will you go?" she asked.
The face with its dumb look was turned toward her.
"That little song—it calls me," he said softly. "When it is done I will come back again—to you."
She smiled under the lids.
"That little song—is it for me?" she asked sweetly.
"Yah, for you," he said. He looked pleadingly at the downcast face. "The song it is very sweet; it teases me."
The lids quivered.
"It comes to me so close, so close!" He was silent, a rapt look of listening in his face. It broke with a swift sigh. "Ach! it is gone!"
She glanced at him swiftly.
"I thought the songs came quickly."
He shook his head.
"The others, yes; but not this one. It is not like the others. It is so sweet and gentle—far away—and pure like the snow. It calls me—" He broke off, gazing earnestly at the beautiful, high-bred face, with its downcast eyes. "Nein! I cannot speak it," he said softly. "But the song it will speak it for me—when I come."
She lifted her head, and held out her hand with a gesture half shy and very sweet. The moonlight veiled her. "I shall wait," she said gently—"for the song."
He held the slender hand for a moment in his own; then it was laid lightly against his lips, and turning, he had disappeared among the shadows.
"Hallo, Franz! Hallo, there!"
Two young men, walking rapidly along the low hedge that shuts in the Zum Biersack from the highway, lifted heated faces and glanced toward the inclosure, where a youth seated at one of the tables had half risen from his place, and was gesticulating with the open book in his hand to vacant seats beside him.
"It is Tieze," said Schubert, with a smile. "Come in."
His companion nodded. The next instant a swift waiter had served them, and three round, smiling faces surveyed one another above the foaming mugs.
"Ach!" said Tieze, looking more critically at the shorter man, "but you have grown thin, my friend. You are not so great."
Schubert smiled complacently. He glanced down at his rotund figure.
"Nein, I am little," he assented affably.
His companions broke into a roar of laughter.
"Drink her down, Franz! drink her down!" said Tieze, lifting the heavy stein.
Schubert wiped the foam from his lips.
"Yah, that is good!" He drew a deep sigh.
He reached out his hand for the open volume that lay by his companion's hand. It was given over in silence, and he dipped into it as he sipped the beer, smiling and scowling and humming softly. Now and then he lifted his head and listened. His eyes looked across the noisy garden into space.
His companions ignored him. They laughed and chatted and sang. Other young men joined the group, and the talk grew loud. It was the Sunday festival of Warseck.
Schubert smiled absently across the babel.
"A pencil—quick!" he said in a low tone to Tieze. His hand holding the open book trembled, and the big eyes glowed with fire.
Tieze fumbled in his pockets and shook his head.
Schubert glared at the careless group.
"A pencil, I tell you!" he said fiercely.
There was a moment's lull. Nobody laughed. Some one thrust a stub of pencil across the table. A fat young man sitting at Schubert's side seized it and, drawing a few music-bars on the back of a program, pushed it on to him.
"Ach," said Schubert, with a grateful sigh, "Goot! goot!" In another moment he was lost.
The talk grew louder. Hurried waiters rushed back and forth behind his chair with foaming mugs and slices of black bread, and gray and brown. Fiddles squeaked, and skittle-players shouted. Now and then the noise broke off and changed to the national air, which the band across the garden played loudly. But through it all Schubert's big head wagged absently, and his short-sighted eyes glared at the barred lines and flying pencil.
Suddenly he raised his head with a snort. His spectacles flew to his forehead, and his round face smiled genially at the laughing group.
"Done?" asked the fat young man with, a smile. He reached out his hand for the scrawled page.
Schubert drew it jealously back.
"Nein," he said quickly.
Tieze, who had come around the table, stood behind them, scanning the barred lines and the scattered shower of notes. He raised a quick hand to the group about the table.
"Gott in Himmel!" he said excitedly. "Listen, you dunderheads!"
Silence fell on the group. Every glance was turned to him. He hummed softly a few bars of sweetest melody under the garden's din. The notes stopped in a choking gasp, Schubert's hand on his throat.
"Stop that!" he said hoarsely. The paper had been thrust loosely into his coat pocket. His face worked fiercely.
Tieze drew back, half laughing, half alarmed.
"Franz! Franz!" he said.
The other brushed his hand across his forehead and drew a deep breath.
"Yah," he said slowly, "I might have killed you."
Tieze nodded. A look of curiosity held his face.
"It is," he said softly.
Schubert turned abruptly.
"It is not for you," he said. "For years I search that song, over mountains, in the storm, in the sunshine; but it has never come—till here." His eye swept the crowded place. "Now I have it"—he patted the rough coat pocket—"now I have it, I go away."
The girl sitting on a rough bench by the low building stirred slightly. She glanced behind her. Deep blackness in the wood, shifting moonshine about her. She breathed a quick sigh. It was like that other night. Ah, he would not come!
Her face fell forward into her slender fingers. She sat immovable. The shadow trembled a little, but the girl by the low house was blind and deaf. Melodies of the past were about her. The shadow moved, but she had no eyes to see; slowly it traveled across the short-cropped grass, mystically green and white in the waning moon. Noiselessly it came; it sank noiselessly into the shadow of the low house. A sound clicked and was still. But the girl had not moved—memory music held her. It moved upon her spirit, low and sweet, and stirred the pulse, and breathed itself away.
She stirred a little, and laid her cheek upon her palm. Her opened eyes rested carelessly on the ground; her look flashed wide and leaped to the lattice window beside her, and back again to the ground. A block of light lay there, clear and defined. It was not moonlight or dream-light. She sprang to her feet and moved a step nearer the window. Then she stopped, her hand at her side, her breath coming quickly. The high, sweet notes were calling from the night. Swiftly she moved. The door gave lightly beneath her touch. She crossed the smooth floor. She was by his side. The music was around them, above them, shimmering. It held them close. Slowly he turned his big, homely face and looked at her, but the music did not cease. It hovered in the air above, high and pure and sweet. The face of the young countess bent lower; a look of tenderness waited in her subtle eyes.
He sprang to his feet, his hands outstretched to ward it off.
"Nein. It is not I It is the music. You shall not be bewitched!" His hands made swift passes, as if he would banish a spell.
She caught them to her and waited.
"Am I bewitched—Franz?" she said at last. The voice was very low. The laughing eyes were looking into his.
"Yah, you are bewitched," he returned stoutly.
"I have only love for you."
"And I have only love for you," she repeated softly. She hummed a bit of the melody and stopped, looking at him sweetly. "It is my song," she questioned—"the song you went to seek for me?"
He lifted his head proudly.
"It came for you."
She nodded with brimming eyes. Her hand's stole softly up to the big face. They framed it in, with its look of pride, and touched it gently. "Dear face!" she breathed, "dear ugly face—my music face!"
They moved swiftly apart. The figure of the count was in the open doorway.
She moved forward serenely and slipped her hand in his.
"I am here, Father Johann," she said quietly.
His fingers closed about the white ones.
"Go outside, Cara. Wait there till I come."
Her dark, troubled eyes looked into his. They were not laughing now.
"Nay, Father," she said gently, "it is you who will wait outside—while we say farewell."
The count regarded her for a long moment, then he turned toward the young musician, his face full of compassion and a kind of envy.
"My friend," he said slowly, "for five minutes I shall leave her with you. You will go away—forever."
Schubert bowed proudly. His eyes were on the girl's face.
As the door closed, she turned to him, holding out her hands.
He took them in his, and they stood silent, looking into each other's eyes.
She drew a long breath.
"What do people say when they are dying?" she asked.
"Nein, I know not." His voice trembled.
"There is so much, and it is nothing," said the girl, dreamily. She moved a step toward the piano, his hands locked fast in hers. "Tell me again you love me!" she whispered.
He took off the great spectacles, and laid them beside the scrawled page.
"Look in my eyes," he said gently. A kind of grandeur had touched the homely features. The soul behind them looked out.
She bent toward him. A little sob broke from her lips. She lifted the hands and moved them swiftly toward the keys.
"Tell me!" she said.
With a smile of sadness, he obeyed the gesture.
Melody filled the room. It flooded the moonlight. The count, pacing back and forth, halted, a look of bewilderment in his face. He stepped swiftly toward the door.
The lights on the piano flared uncertainly. They fell on the figure at the piano. It loomed grotesque and grim, and melted away in flickering shadow. Music played about it. Strains of sadness swept over it in the gloom and drifted by, and the sweet, high notes rose clear. A little distance away the figure of the young countess stood in the shifting light. Her clasped hands hung before her. She swayed and lifted them, groping, and turned. Her father sprang to her. Side by side they passed into the night. The music sounded about them far and sweet.
Franz Schubert, with his youth and his wreaths of fame, his homely face and soul of fire, is dead these many years; but the soul of fire is not dead. The Countess Esterhazy, framed for love, is dust and ashes in her marble house. The night music plays over her tomb. The night music plays wherever night is.