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THE

RING OF AMASIS.

CHAPTER I.

THE TUNING OF THE INSTRUMENTS.

THE first of that series of events, under the strong impression of which I am impelled to write this book, occurred during the month of July, in the year 1834; a year memorable, among wine-bibbers at least, for the excellence of its vintage. As this book is not a biography, and my part in the events I am about to record is only that of a witness, I am anxious to obtrude my own personality as little as possible upon the attention of my reader. It will suffice for the present, at any rate, if he will allow me to introduce myself to his acquaintance in no more important capacity than that of a young German doctor, and request him to accompany me on board the "Loreley" steamer from Mainz to Köln, whither, on a bright July morning in the above-mentioned year, I happened to be proceeding on my way to Paris, many reasons, hereafter to be mentioned, having induced me to seek the French capital with a view to establishing myself there as a physician.

Of the small social phenomena of every-day life,

few are more strange than that which takes place on the deck of a passenger steamer. It is a miracle, and yet a commonplace. Railway travelers are merely isolated nomads. Steam-boat travelers, on the contrary, though they may have nothing in common, are nevertheless a community. Gathered together by the drift of accident from the four corners of the earth

"Dropped down from heaven or cast up from hell"

-each having suddenly emerged into sight from an utterly impenetrable Past, and soon about to pass out of sight into an equally incalculable Future, it is probable that no two units of this incongruous aggregate ever met before, or will ever meet again; yet here in this particular "confluence of two eternities" they do meet, and there is the wonder of it. They are near neighbors and yet utter strangers. How curiously, yet how cautiously, does each scrutinize the other, as he inwardly considers the important question, "Do I like the look of him? Shall I speak to him? or shall it be with us as though he were from Nova Zembla, and I from Timbuctoo?" All this while, however, the mysterious process of amalgamation is going on, just as surely and methodically as if it were concerned with nothing less than the consolidation of a planetary system, or the development of European civilization from the migration of the races. The scattered atoms begin to cohere; the chaos to grow into a cosmos; the crowd into a society-a society in which both freedom of discussion and public opinion exist. National characteristics, too, become distinctly apparent to the studious eye. Yonder group of stalwart English,

pillared in Scotch plaid, and with remarkably windylooking whiskers, that seem to have contracted in some violent climate a permanent inclination to blow away in opposite directions, are sternly consulting their Murrays, and checking off in a sharp, businesslike manner the various "beauties of the Rhine." They look like notaries taking inventory of the effects of a fraudulent bankrupt. My more expansive fellow-countrymen have already established terms of intimacy with each other. Presently all this will cease. Before nightfall we shall be parceled off to our different destinations; and the lean gentleman in spectacles, to whom the fat gentleman in gaiters is just now confiding an interesting family secret, will then only be remembered by his confidential and communicative friend as "a person with whom I traveled from Mainz to Köln."

As soon as I had finally lost sight of the three gray towers of the old cathedral, I seated myself on an uncomfortable green bench near an uncomfortable green table; ordered a glass of punch-stiff, to keep out the morning chill; buttoned my coat across my chest; lighted my cigar, and so pertinaciously followed the bent of my own reflections, that I think I must have been for nearly an hour quite unconscious of the animated conversation which was being carried on within my hearing by a little group of travelers who had established themselves by degrees about the bench on which I was seated. Gradually, however, and quite involuntarily, my attention was attracted to their discussion by the frequent repetition of a single word, which created upon me an impression such as I can

only convey to the mind of the reader by a digression, for which I hope, on that account, to be pardoned.

Most gentle reader, have you ever listened to the tuning of the instruments in a great orchestra? It has no connection whatever with the overture, yet, in my mind, it is so inseparably associated with the overture, that I confess I miss a certain sense of satisfaction from those concerts to which the musicians enter with their instruments already tuned.

Oh thou dim, mysterious, narrow border-land of the wonderful world of sounds and dreams! Homely old orchestra, dear hast thou ever been to my heart! thou, the single homely, honest thing amid all the gilding and the gewgaws, the flare and glare, of many a splendid theatre!

It is but a meagre strip of dingy space, yet beyond it lies the limitless realm of Faëry. And over that dull-lighted frontier wall, as over a golden causeway bridging the starry splendors, and spanning the infinite spaces, does this poor soul of ours often mount up from all she is, and all she must remain, upon the fretful nether earth, to all she would be, all she trusts to become, in the serene completion of some much-needed world beyond. This is no rhapsody. I feel and believe what I say; and I avow that it is with reluctance, almost with loathing, that I ever look up from the lowly barriers of the orchestra to those sumptuous boxes above it, where the same bloated cherubs eternally leer at each other across the same insipid arabesque. In those boxes sit the victims of the great world's great ennui. Fine ladies and gentlemen, who

come late," like Count Isolani in the play; but not

like Isolani, who, at least, did not come with empty hands. These come, for the most part, with empty hearts and empty heads. What is Hecuba to them, or they to Hecuba? Far dearer to me, I confess, is that dingy orchestra, behind whose smoky lamps, among whose greasy pulpits, smudged and soiled with the long, long labor of how many an arduous rehearsal, I recognize the great workshop-the strong furnace, wherein the mighty forces of Music toil and toss, and seethe and heave, till, glowing as with strenuous heat, the molten melodies of golden sound flow smooth into the sweet and stately mould of the Master's noble Thought.

How softly, one by one, and with what thoughtful faces, made melancholy by so much loving labor, enter, each to his nightly station behind his dusky music-desk, the gentle makers of sweet sounds! With what tender care the violin is lifted from its little case! Doubtless the poor fiddler's wife has no such showy satin robe as that from which he fondly unfolds his cherished Cremonese. It must be an Amati. But, soft you! what is that wandering tone, pathetic and yet glad, like the sound of some old fable which we loved to hear when we were children? It is the horn. Thank heaven! the true Waldhorn-no newfangled mechanical cornet-à-pistons. Now the sounds seem straining into unison. You half distinguish faint indications of a coming harmony. Now they fall asunder. All All is discord and objurgation. The violin, upon its highest chord, is beginning to confide to the English horn strange news which it has just received under seal of strictest secrecy from the clarionet.

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