Hede: Part Two

[WHEN the great Nolte came to America to give master classes for students of the violin, Hede’s mother knew that the child must go to him, for Hede was a genius. But when, six months before the début which Nolte and Fräulein Wiener, his assistant, were preparing for her, her parents wrote that they had no more money — nothing — to send her, Hede knew that she must return to them, taking with her the letter of recommendation which was the crown of her achievement and of their sacrifice. —THE EDITORS]

I

HEDE never saw Nolte again, nor heard from him directly, nor ever got in touch with him herself. From time to time, after his return to Europe, there would come a letter from Wiener — a sad sort of letter, full of forced cheer and hopeful in a weak way, that baffled Hede. It was the friendliness of these letters more than anything else in them that baffled her. Hede had never had a friend who had been only that and nothing more. Her friends had always been something to her besides, like her mother and father and brother, or her teachers. She did not quite know what to do about a friend who was just a friend. Faithfully she answered the letters, but her replies were but brief and perfunctory. And with all her acumen, Wiener, from the great distance that separated her from Hede, could not construe them. Thus, fewer and fewer were the messages that passed between them, until at last they ceased altogether, regretfully yet with a certain relief from helpless strain. Something had ended, and, albeit unwillingly, Hede and Wiener sensed it.

Once back at home, Hede was all eagerness to begin work, to turn her long training to account. It was her idea to have the old piano tuned, to advertise a few times in the daily papers, and to set up shop at once in the front room — that same front room where for so many years she had done all of her practising and hard work. Her father would not hear of it.

‘But, Hede,’ he remonstrated, ‘that you cannot do! You must have a studio downtown and everything fine so the people, they will know you are the best.’

With a kind of fierce pride Hede tossed her head.

’Just let them hear me once!’

Her father shook a finger at her wisely and smiled.

‘Don’t be too sure, Hede. No, you got to tell ’em, — these people, — they ain’t so much on hearing all by themselves.’

‘But, Pop, how can we do it? We’ve got nothing to start on.’

Hede’s voice was anxious and unhappy. Adam rose and patted her kindly on one shoulder.

‘ Wait only, Liebchen,’ he said. ‘ That you leave to Mama and me.’

Before a week was up, Hede had her studio. It was in one of the fine old residences on upper Main Street from which the occupants had fled before an expanding business section and which now housed the town’s most fashionable enterprises. It comprised two great rooms, high-ceiled, with marble mantels and large mirrors, gilt-framed. A piano, a Steinway concert grand, was rented, and heavy, luxurious furnishings were purchased on the installment plan. Outside in the street from a wrought-iron bracket hung a neat sign, gold-lettered on a black ground. ‘ Hede,’ it said on top in simple, clear-cut lettering six inches tall, and under that, ‘Frey.’ At the bottom in smaller script it said, ‘The Violin.’ That was all.

Hede was aghast at the thought of the expenditure which these preparations implied. She took Adam and Lise to task for it.

‘You should n’t ’ve,’ she said, ‘no, you should n’t. How are you going to pay for it? And suppose — suppose I can’t make a go of it?’

Her father and mother smiled indulgently upon her and with faint mischief at each other.

’Ach,‘ replied Adam confidently, ‘we risk it, Hede. For you, Liebling, for you we risk it.’

There was no use talking more with them. Gayly and competently they continued their careful preparations. Hede must have her picture taken, a good one, at Friedel’s — the kind they called a ‘studio portrait.’ That must go in the papers with a long account of her and with Nolte’s wonderful letter. When Adam saw that letter, he was so proud he would not entrust it any longer to Hede, but kept it locked securely in his strong box. It was he, too, who decided on her fees. Hede herself would have been content with two or three dollars for a full hour. Five, at least, Adam decreed, and that for a half hour only. Hede was frantic.

‘But, Pop,’ she argued, ‘you’ll drive them away yet with all your fine notions. Even Erhardt gets only twofifty for half an hour and nobody ever got more here.’

Erhardt had been her local teacher.

‘Erhardt!’ sniffed Adam. ‘Ja, who is Erhardt! Did he have a letter like you? Did somebody tell him he was a genius? Bah, Hede, you — you are the best this place has ever seen.’

And so, when Hede advertised, her fee was five dollars for half an hour. By the end of a second week, more than forty pupils had registered with her for a term of ten weeks. Over two hundred dollars a week Hede would earn, and this at the beginning only. She could scarcely believe it. Happy and proud were Adam and Lise with their achievement, but from the start they had known it could not come out otherwise. How else indeed could they have mortgaged everything to their last possession to bring it about?

II

When the confusion of making things ready had worn off, Hede began to enjoy her new life. For her, who had always been humble and self-effacing, it was a rich and satisfying experience just to walk into her studio of a morning, past the swaying wooden square that bore her name so simply and proudly, into the tall, cool rooms that were more elegant than anything Nolte had ever had when she knew him. She liked, loo, the new sensation of teaching, of loosening the tight and cunning knot of much learning within herself and of giving to another.

Little by little, as Hede saved, repaying her long indebtedness, Lise worked less and Adam no longer cheated his union. Happy for them were these times, full to the brim with affirmation and much justifying. Yet they sometimes worried about Hede, wondering whether behind her stoic silence there was resentment or bitterness for her sacrifice. Nor could Adam at last resist trying to find out.

‘Hede, Kind,’ he said to her one evening when she had played to him and Lise for a long time, ‘how is it with you now? This being here, does it make you glad?’

Hede looked shyly down over her ruddy violin, and Lise, leaning forward, plied her needle quickly.

‘And you, Pop,’ she answered, ‘how do you feel about it?’

The old man glanced hastily at his wife’s bent head.

‘Ach, me,’ he said, wanting to be casual, ‘me, I don’t matter. Mama and me, we only want to see you glad.’

Hede laughed her deep laughter, looking out at the darkness beyond the windows.

‘Well, that’s all I want for you, too, I guess.’

Adam said nothing, nor did Lise, and Hede put her violin carefully away.

‘I guess I’ll go to bed now,’ she said then. ‘Good night.’

For almost as long as she could remember, Hede had not kissed her mother or father good-night. It was not her nature to show her feelings in any way. But to-night, despite herself, she paused in the doorway and came back into the room and kissed them, shyly and swiftly — her mother on one cheek, her father on the forehead. When she had gone they sat on quietly, avoiding each other’s eyes, but in their hearts they were troubled a little, telling themselves that something about all this was not quite just.

III

A year passed, and Hede had grown used to her new living. But no longer did it fill her, keeping her content. In her prosperous quiet she began to feel herself losing ground, and, perplexed, her silence grew upon her. At times a strange bitterness rent her and hot tears, never easy for Hede, rushed into her eyes, her round face flushing from the great strain of checking them. Nolte had been right, she could not go on without him. In the first place, there was not time enough. At the beginning she had kept the mornings open for herself, since most of her pupils were at school and could come only in the afternoon. That, she was to find, spent her energies too greatly and left her unprepared for the long following hours of listening and teaching. It made her neglect things, too, and postpone them until a sense of guilt came over her, telling her that here was no fair exchange, but a kind of robbery. She was only using her pupils.

Then she would rebel against this feeling of guilt, saying to herself that after all they were not worth the effort — so slight was their talent, so halfhearted and false their wish to learn. Could she be sure, though? A great teacher, like Nolte, was one to whom nothing mattered save this giving. Yet Nolte was only a teacher; he aspired to nothing higher, as did she. She began to be remorseful that she had refused his offer to seek out for her a patron, and through her playing there seemed to come upon her hearing a vast, harsh note of defeat.

The life at home, too, now irked her, and she kept more and more to herself again, securing herself within long, impregnable silences as of old. When, night after night in the summer, Wolfgang came with his wife and children and Tina’s girl, who now lived with them, she found excuses to stay alone in her room or to be at her studio working. But what tortured her most was the growing sadness that her own unspoken suffering had willed upon Adam and Lise, for they knew, if only from seeing her, that all was no longer well with her. Silent and slow the days passed for the three of them, and their pent-up, stifled sorrow told on each, in the changing mould of their faces and in their weary movements.

As if all this were not enough to bear, Hede began to envy her pupils whose parents were rich or near rich. Each show of wealth she saw in the street or in shop windows, like a glistening fine motor or a jewel or a string of sleek furs, she came to hate with a fierce rage. Then her hatred and envy would give way to loathing, for herself — that she, who was worth in her genius so much more than all these, should stoop to envy them, and then, like a child denied, yet further stoop and hate them! Hede was beside herself with conflict and the fear of that madness which haunts more than one face that is free in the streets — the madness of failure.

IV

It was one morning early in the second year of Hede’s teaching that she found a note waiting for her at her studio. A Mrs. Maxwell Sondern wished to bring her small daughter for an audition. The child had shown indications ever since babyhood of a marked talent for music, and more recently for the violin. Her mother was eager for the opinion of an expert. If Hede found her worth developing, Mrs. Sondern would be more than delighted to place the child under her instruction.

Hede reread the note. The pomp and pretentiousness of its expression irritated her, and at once she knew that she would dislike Mrs. Sondern. But she got in touch with her and arranged an appointment for the following morning.

Mrs. Sondern was a large, flashy woman with dark, arrogant features, and used to having her own way. She did not conceal her surprise at Hede’s plainness and at once sought to impress her with her own contrasting sparkle. Hede ignored her from the start.

The child, like her mother, was dark and strong, but with a restraint and self-possession odd in one so very young. She was four. Her great eyes took in everything and gave out nothing. Her name was Ruth.

‘You see, Miss Frey,’ said the mother, ‘she’s never had a lesson in her whole life!’

‘But does she play, then?’ asked Hede in some surprise.

‘Does she play!‘ Mrs. Sondern drew herself up proudly. ‘Just wait till you hear her! Get out your violin, dear.’

The child began to remove a tiny instrument from its case.

Hede nodded. ‘Then she plays by ear?’

’Of course!‘ affirmed Mrs. Sondern, adding, somewhat sardonically, ‘How else should she?’

Hede shook her head and thrust out her lower lip.

‘That proves nothing,’ she said quietly.

The child moved unselfconsciously toward the piano to tune up. The conversation might have been about someone else.

‘I’ll help you,’ said Hede, following her.

The child turned and smiled up at her, a strange smile that was appealing and shy.

‘Oh, thank you,’ she said sincerely, ‘it’s hard to do it alone sometimes.’

Hede was curious. She had never cared much for children and so had rarely noticed them. There was something, though, in this little one’s simplicity and sureness that stirred her. The child tuned the instrument efficiently.

‘What are you going to play for me?’ asked Hede gently.

‘I shall try to play the Minuet in G,’ answered the child modestly. ‘That is by Beethoven, you know.’

Hede smiled, and a tender feeling, unaccountable and vague, filled her. The child raised her violin and began to play. The small, clear tones stole through the still, dim room. It was almost as if Hede heard the old music for the first time. When she had finished, the child lowered her instrument and stood waiting, avoiding Hede’s eyes.

‘Well, Miss Frey,’ — Mrs. Sondern shattered the soft silence between them, — ‘now what do you think?’

Hede started; she had forgotten all about Mrs. Sondern. Then, from afar, she heard a voice raised sharply — a voice that came, too, from herself.

‘I would like to be with the child, alone.’

Mrs. Sondern rose, switching her furs.

‘Oh!’ she said icily. ‘I beg your pardon! ’

When she had left the room, Hede leaned forward and took the child’s hand, loosely. Looking at her, the little girl smiled again her rare smile.

‘Would you like very much to take lessons of me, Ruth?’

The child drew nearer and pressed Hede’s stubby fingers in her moist, small hand.

‘Oh, very much, Miss Frey!’ she answered.

V

That very morning Ruth Sondern took the first of her many lessons from Hede. It was arranged that thereafter she should come twice a week to the studio, on Monday and Thursday mornings. But before a fortnight had passed Hede saw that that would not do. The child’s talent was so fine, and her years so few, that she must be watched and guided more closely now at the beginning, and Hede asked that she might be brought to her each day for a time. The mother was delighted, and when Hede offered to take her so often for no additional fee she was almost violent in her refusal. Now that her own conviction of Ruth’s genius had been confirmed by Hede’s evident enthusiasm, no expense was too great to realize the child’s powers. Blissfully she began to dream of the future and of her little one’s name linked with Mozart’s and the names of the world’s great prodigies.

Promptly at ten the chauffeur would bring her to Hede, returning for her in half an hour. More often than not, however, he waited until noon and after for her. To this little one Hede had given all of her mornings, and for days on end she played no more herself. Nearly without her own knowing she slowly abandoned her old dreams for newer ones that were yet undefined, seen but dimly. She knew only that in this child’s genius she had found something rare, and that, with her finding, upon her had been laid that choicest burden of all, whose bearing is a privilege — upon her another’s dream depended.

Close and secret the bond between them grew, and from their long, frequent meetings sprang a strange, quiet love. Suddenly Hede changed and her plain face altered. Where once a stolid mask had been, there inhabited now a free mobility, rich and human. She was no less silent, though, and Adam and Lise knew little of this new thing that had come to her, but in their own way they had learned enough to be cheered once more. From now on, they felt, and for always, Hede must go forward in the way that was right for her.

VI

For eight years they worked together, Ruth and Hede, and in that time much came to pass for both of them. Adam and Lise had died, and from the papers Hede learned that Nolte, too, was dead. Greatly she mourned them, and, to still her grief, worked more and more with Ruth. Wolfgang and his family she saw little of, for the old home had been sold and her little flat was far for them to get to often. Sometimes Tina’s child would come and spend the night with her, but they had little in common. Whatever passed between them now was but a duty enforced by the long ties with those who were dead.

To Ruth, Hede had come to mean everything. Her own family made little claim upon her deepest feelings. Their dream for her she pitied, that dream of fame and riches, for from Hede she had learned a wider dreaming that stirs the soul and restores it. Not that she did not recognize her good fortune in having behind her the open sesame of wealth; Hede had impressed it hard upon her how grateful for that she must be. But Hede had taught her, too, a truer striving than theirs, and, young as she was still, she knew it to be beyond their understanding. So, like Hede, she was silent, cherishing her joy.

Knowing somewhat of Hede’s great skill and training, the child was often perplexed that her teacher so rarely played herself. It was one day when they were construing a difficult passage together that Ruth questioned her.

‘ You play it for me,’ she said finally, in desperation.

Hede shrugged her shoulders.

‘But what good can that do you?‘

The child lowered her instrument.

‘Miss Frey,’ she began hesitantly, ‘why don’t you ever play any more?‘

‘Why,’ said Hede in some surprise, ‘I do — for myself.’

‘But why don’t you ever do it so we can hear you?’

Hede passed one hand wearily across her glasses, straightening them.

’Oh, I ’m not good enough any more. I don’t have the time to practise and—’She stopped short. ‘Oh, what does it matter?’

Ruth looked at her with a shy kindness.

‘It’s because you give it all to us now, — to your pupils, — is n’t it?’

Hede looked suddenly away and then back at her angrily.

‘Come!’ she said harshly. ‘We’re wasting time.’

VII

One day, toward the summer, after Ruth’s lesson, Hede was mildly surprised to find Mrs. Sondern waiting to see her. She had seen little of Mrs. Sondern through these eight years; there had been no reason for them to meet often. Ruth’s progress had been proof enough of Hede’s skillful teaching and she had been paid by mail. If anything, Mrs. Sondern was more imposing than ever.

‘You run along, dear, and get into the car,’ she said to Ruth. ‘I’ll be out presently. I want to talk to Miss Frey.’

A look, at once frightened and rebellious, came into the child’s eyes, but she obeyed. When the door had closed behind her, Mrs. Sondern turned to Hede, a little nervously.

‘Now — ah — Miss Frey,’ she began impressively, ‘ we — ah — we feel, my husband and I, that you have done winders for Ruth, just wonders—’

Hede sat on the arm of a chair, biting her lip from embarrassment.

‘That’s very good of you,’ she murmured.

‘But — ah,’ Mrs. Sondern laughed nervously, ‘it’s very hard, what I have to say, Miss Frey.’

Hede paled.

‘You — you don’t moan — that you’re thinking — of taking her — away from me?’

Her voice was hoarse and the words came hard. Mrs. Sondern stood up, towering over Hede.

‘I know, my dear,’ she began breathlessly, ‘I know it’s hard, but—’

She walked to the mirror over the mantel, peering deeply into it. Hede watched her closely with dry, parted lips.

‘Yes, go on,’ she muttered, ‘please go on.’

Mrs. Sondern looked at her in the great glass.

‘Well, to say it briefly, we think Ruth’s about ready for a debut, and,’ the words came now in a breathless rush, ‘and we feel that she needs the prestige of a great teacher, of a name.’

There was a silence between them. Somewhere out in the street a stone crusher grated faintly. Adjusting her fur, Mrs. Sondern moved toward the door.

‘There’ll be a check in the mail to-morrow,’ she forced herself to say.

Hede sat on motionless, her eyes dry and starting behind the thick lenses of her glasses. Looking helplessly about her, Mrs. Sondern hurried from the room. As with a click the door caught, Hede’s eyes turned slowly toward the mirror and her lips moved stiffly. Under her breath she was cursing, strangled curses, all she had ever heard and remembered., Then, reaching slowly for one of a pair of bronze book-ends that stood on the table before her, she flung it with all her strength against the glass. Its shivered fragments shot far across the room and its gilded frame enclosed a wide, ugly scar.

VIII

Eight months later, in February, Ruth made her début in Carnegie Hall. Weeks before that day Hede had an invitation in the mail, and two tickets. It was an engraved invitation, quite impersonal save for the careful handwriting on the envelope. Rudely, on reading it, she tore it once across and tossed the tickets aside. But on the day of the début she suddenly canceled her appointments and took the train to New York.

She was early for the concert. There were scarcely more than a hundred people scattered through the great auditorium. There would be a full house, though, llede was sure. The publicity had been enormous and Keller’s renown would do the rest. Keller had never had a failure, or none, at least, that anyone had heard of, and lately he had been much acclaimed as Nolte’s successor. Bitterly Hede wondered what he had done for the child in these last months and glanced down over the programme in her hand. It was, of course, stupendous — the Kreutzer Sonata, a solo partita of Bach, something of Lalo, the Devil’s Trill, and a few modern things. All of them Ruth had done first with Hede.

Suddenly, on the facing page, Hede marked a short biographical sketch. She skimmed it swiftly. ‘Born in Naples, New York . . . nineteen hundred and nineteen . . . parents not musical but sympathetic ... at the age of four placed under a local teacher — ’

The words tipped before Hede’s eyes and ran together on the page. ‘A local teacher’ — that was all. Clearly, then, through Hede’s mind rang her name on Nolte’s lips and on her father’s. ‘Hede Frey.’ Before her she saw it, written in Nolte’s hand, printed in tall, gold characters on black and swinging to and fro in a wind, gently. ‘A local teacher.’ She turned her head and tried hard to focus her nearsighted eyes on those about her and on those who straggled in. Straining her ears, she sought to hear their voices, catching now and again a single word or phrase. If only she could do that long enough, she would be safe.

The hall began to fill more quickly. Hede’s seats were good ones, in the centre and midway back on the floor. Until now she had sat alone in that space; it was the balconies and rear seats that had been filling. About her now she caught the varied scents of costly perfumes and of rare flowers. She saw carefully dressed heads, rich furs, the quick flash of jewels, and heard the soft sound of fine fabrics in movement. She saw the splendid monotone of black and white among the men, heard the vague, dark purr of remote voices. Looking down over the front of her own simple dress to the shapeless bell of felt that lay in her lap, she smiled wryly to herself. All of a sudden, with a child’s fierceness in wishing, Hede wanted to be beautiful, too, to be dressed richly, with someone at her side — not bitterly wanting it, but simply, with an aching, empty yearning for a magic word that would change poor fare to plenty.

She looked beside her at the empty seat, fumbling in her pockets the while for the unused ticket. Soon it would be the only unfilled scat about her, perhaps the only one in the whole hall. She fell to wondering then who it was that should be with her. Nolte, maybe, or her father, or Lise. They were all dead, though. Could it be that her poor life yielded no living friend or companion? Between her fingers inside her pocket she passed and repassed the smooth, stiff paper card. Wiener might have liked to come, she told herself. Yes, Wiener was the one, for she, too, must have known well — better than herself even — the hurt of sacrifice. Swiftly Hede’s deepest feeling surged toward Wiener and she was fortified, believing herself no longer alone.

Through the concert she could not see Ruth plainly because of her bad sight. It was only from the whispered comment on every side of her that she learned how pretty she looked, and how disarming her manner was. She dared not listen too closely to the music, for when she did a stifling force beat in her throat and eyes, choking and blinding her. She wanted to spring up then and scream harshly, to shout that she it was who had done this, that hers was this stolen dream. But she sat on through it all, trying to think of many things — of things that had n’t mattered and of times spent and far away.

Encore followed encore at the end of the programme. The crowd left their seats, they stood in the aisles and packed the space before the stage. Their shouting and applause, their whistling and stamping, made only a slow drone in Hede’s ears and she did not move. Presently there was a silence and Hede heard a small voice, not quite familiar for being high and straining to be heard.

’I am going to play for you now,’it shrilled, ‘the first piece I ever knew — the Minuet in G, by Beethoven.‘

The spurt of applause and the murmured exclamations of delight greeting the child’s announcement were cut suddenly short as she lifted her hand once more for silence.

‘I play it for all of you to hear,’ she went on, more quietly now, ‘but I play it really to only one — to my great teacher, Miss Hede Frey! I hope she is out there listening with you, but if she is n’t, I play it to her just the same.’

A soft mumble broke out through the crowd, while here and there a programme was consulted.

‘I play it,’ she finished, and her voice rang with a moving sincerity, ‘with all my thanks and love!’

When it was over, Hede rose and hurried out, pulling on her shapeless hat, dragging her dark coat behind her. As she plunged through the crowd unseeing, a few turned and watched her, for she made an unpleasant sound with her breathing.

IX

In the street Hede looked wildly about her, slipping into her coat, and then walked quickly eastward with her head bent against the wind. She knew that presently she must come to water and an open space. At each street corner the wind buffeted her, driving her back a step and taking her breath. In her ears there gasped a short unrelenting cry, forlorn and pitiful, but she knew not that it came from her own lips. She felt nothing beyond the tearing rage of her anguish and her joy.

She walked thus for a long time until, tiring, she went more slowly and raised her head. The cries had mercifully ceased, and over her body she felt the glow and tingle of wet warmth. Before her she saw a small open square, snow-covered, and beyond it water that danced with many lights. The gusty wind flung cold, sharp needles of fine snow against her face. Overhead the stars were close between racing, ragged clouds — close enough for plucking. Seeing a parapet, she leaned heavily against it.

By degrees within her the tumult grew quiet, as if she were giving her strife to the wind. She grew wideawake and alert with the sharpness that comes from sheer fatigue. Inside her mind the space of her memories began to be ordered and she saw before her the time of her living ranged in a sequence, laid slowly open, like a many-petaled blossom that at last reveals its tender, secret heart. She searched it long, but nowhere therein could she find what she sought, — the stigma of failure or the canker of defeat, — yet she knew that now at last she was not blinded, nor was she seeing imperfectly. All was only complete, a joining of ends to encircle her safely and to endure above change.

Strange in Hede’s sight was this new vision, strange for the facts that seemed at first to belie it. She had done all the things she had set herself to do, and yet not done them. The core of her dream she had fulfilled, but its fringe had been sheared away. To put it simply, to-night had been hers, even without the acclaim, and in the days of her own playing she had stirred the vast souls of the great and of the lowly — of Nolte and Wiener, of her faithful parents. Most and best of all, she had been true for herself to an old covenant and had learned the quiet wisdom that is brave.

She looked about her toward the empty streets that ran westward. She would go home now, back to quiet things. With a light step she walked away from the parapet and the lapping water into the lonely sound that the wind made.

(The End)