Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

But the bass-viol, with four sharp fifths, breaks in imperative, interrupts the babblers, and severely calls them back to a sense of duty and responsibility. The drowsy double bass, in lazy mood, as he leans against the wall, begins to clear his throat. The lugubrious bassoon gurgles twenty times over his one poor little part, making the most of himself, like an old operasinger. The trumpet, not having to tune himself, is doing his best to put all his neighbors out of tune. But softly, softly! There sits yonder, by those two brazen bowls, stretched over with dusky parchment, one who seems the master wizard of this wondrous sorcery. His brow is wrinkled into music-scores; his sunken eyes are like two hollow breves; his hair is white and thin. Softly, softly! he taps with muffled wand at the door of the unknown world. And now, sharp through the tuneless tumult, as with a will and a meaning of its own, strikes the shrill, clear, longdrawn, silvery note of the hautboy. Keen-edged and incisive the long note streams, like a sunbeam across the dark, through some chink of a broken wall. And as the dancing motes of golden dust rush into sudden revelation, and begin to waver softly up and down that slant, thin, shining track of light, so now the multitude of foolish notes, smitten by the shrill high note of the hautboy, forthwith enter into the strange significance of that sound, and assume a movement and a meaning not their own.

Reader, this digression is not idle. It closely concerns every incident of this history, throughout which, if you have a musical ear, you who read will recognize again and again, as I who write have been made

to recognize it, that particular, unmistakable note of the hautboy. Certainly the conversation to which I am about to refer was to the full as senseless, and far more insipid, than the fitful sounds from my imaginary orchestra; but throughout every phase of it, constantly recurring, dominating all, giving to words insignificant and idle a singular and sinister significance, clear, cold, uncomfortable, premonitory of things to come, I distinctly distinguished that long sharp note. of the hautboy.

For years, too, I have been haunted by the sound of it. For years I have heard it, after long intervals of forgetfulness, at moments when I least expected, and was least prepared to hear it. I hear it now as my memory reverts to past events. Perhaps I shall continue to hear it till I have closed this narrative, which, by its restless recurrence, like an unlaid ghost, it has compelled me to commence.

In the present instance it was but a single word that thus impressed me-a word, too, so hackneyed and familiar that I can not account for the strangely unfamiliar sensation with which it affected me.

And what was that word, do you ask?
It was the name of the Loreley.

CHAPTER II.

THE LORELEY.-STRANGE CONDUCT OF A GENTLEMAN IN BLACK.

THE two small cannons with which, soon after starting, we had saluted the Rheinstein, had long since been charged again, and we were now approaching the spot where they were to enable our little craft to do due honor to her mysterious godmother, the celebrated Loreley. The prospect of so soon passing the abode of that famous enchantress had probably led my fellow-travelers into a discussion of the peculiar character assigned to her by the various legends of which she is the heroine.

A sentimental young lady with a fat waxen face and flat flaxen hair, whose affected accent was of pure Berlin quality, had enthusiastically undertaken (no doubt in the conviction that she was thereby vindicating the cause of sentiment and sensibility) the defense of those anthropophagal tendencies attributed to that melodious Lady Witch, who, to the great detriment of the musical public of former times, is well known to have been in the habit of terminating her concerts by drowning her auditory. This romantic young lady expatiated with so much gusto upon the exquisite poetry and refinement of those very objectionable proceedings on the part of the Loreley, that we all felt persuaded, if she could have sat upon a rock and sung

Kuken* songs, that the whole of the Prussian army would be forced to take swimming lessons. A slim sub-lieutentant, however, who was there on the way to his garrison at Cologne, appeared to be greatly scandalized by the thought of the disadvantageous and ungraceful position in which the lords of the creation would be placed when thus compelled to become the ungainly imitators of the four-handed frog. He vehemently objected to the conduct of the Loreley in former times. For his part, he avowed, he had no taste for that antiquated ballad-singer, whose behavior had been simply abominable, and could only have been tolerated under a very imperfect state of the criminal code. Such things were, happily, nowadays quite impossible. He could see in them nothing at all poetical, but much that infringed the police regulations. Any person capable of calmly contemplating the agonies of a drowning man was neither more nor less than a criminal of the worst description, who ought to be-not applauded, but hanged.

Here the conversation was suddenly interrupted by a loud clatter. We all turned round, startled and annoyed. Close to the last speaker, a table, before which had been seated a gentleman dressed in black, and of such unobtrusive appearance that, although every body had seen, nobody had noticed him, was now violently overturned and thrown to the ground. It was impossible to suppose, however, that it had been upset by the stranger, who was at that moment walking away with such profound composure that he did not even appear to have noticed the noise which so much * A once popular composer of sentimental songs in Germany. B

disturbed us. There was, moreover, an indescribable dignity and grace in the appearance and movement of this personage, which rendered it perfectly incredible that he should, under any circumstances, be capable of an awkward action. His countenance was of that kind which at once compels deference and inspires respect. The bearing and aspect of the whole man were what you would emphatically distinguish as unexceptionably thoroughbred. There was nothing in his features or his manners which repelled, but, on looking at him, you instinctively felt that it would be impossible to be familiar with him unless he gracious

permitted you to be so. A vulgar or insolent fellow would not, you felt sure, be able to insult that man. As all that is vulgar and mean eludes and escapes the presence of an elevated and select nature so completely that such a nature can not even take cognizance of the existence of what is ignoble, so I suppose there is in the perfect manners of the great, and the habitual consciousness of an unapproachably high social position, something which enables the few who possess it to pass through the crowd without ever coming into contact with it. This man was not only unapproachable, he was almost invisible. He was the image of plastic repose. Nothing about him was restless, or fidgety, or ill at ease. It was only by the indirect contrast of this extreme tranquillity both in dress and manner that you unconsciously distinguished him from the ordinary mass of vulgar people who can not ever sit still or keep themselves quiet. His features were singularly faultless, but nobody would have ever thought of calling him a handsome

« AnteriorContinuar »