Read Chapter Ten of The Music Master Novelized from the Play , free online book, by Charles Klein, on

The winter had now fairly set in and it was remembered by New Yorkers as the hardest in many years. Miss Husted declared it was the coldest in her experience, for the plumber’s presence was constantly required to thaw out the frozen pipes. Certainly Von Barwig remembered it because he had to wrap blankets around him to keep warm while he was copying music at a few cents a page. He had other uses for the money that coal would cost; besides it was very expensive. So he preferred to write in bed rather than spend money for fuel, until one day some sixty odd pages of music were returned to him, because they were so badly written as to be almost illegible. The fact is, the old man’s hands trembled so with the cold that he could not hold his pen tightly. After this loss he gave up copying music, and so even this last meagre means of getting money was denied him.

As he walked up and down his room, feeling intuitively that it was breakfast time, he became really angry with himself for his repeated failures. Lately he had been thinking of his wife and child; but fourteen years had somewhat benumbed his memory. When he thought of the happiness of his life with them, it was more as a happy dream that he delighted to ponder over than a tangible something of which he had been robbed. The wound was there but the pain had ceased.

“Are you coming out to breakfast?” said Pinac’s voice outside.

“Come on, Anton,” shouted Fico, “it’s late!”

“I’ve had my breakfast,” said Von Barwig, and he felt that he was lying in a good cause. The men would have torn down the door and carried him over to the restaurant by main force had they guessed the truth. “Thank God it hasn’t come to that,” he thought.

“He is an early bird,” commented Pinac, and he went out humming the latest music-hall ditty which he was playing nightly to the patrons of the cafe. Poons went along; he had no more idea of his benefactor’s condition than the man in the moon. The three men had not seen much of him lately, for they always left him to himself when he signified by his silence that he wanted to be alone. They respected his dignity, his slightest suggestion was law to them; they loved him, so they left him alone.

“Come on, you wretch,” said Von Barwig to his violin, after the men had gone, “you are the last of the Mohicans!” and, polishing it, he put it in its case, having determined to sell it.

“This will be the first meal with which you have provided me,” he said, shaking his fist at it, “so at last you are going to accomplish something, you cheap wooden cigar-box of a fiddle! I cannot play you to advantage but I can eat you. That’s all you are good for-a few dinners and breakfasts!” He went out into the street with the violin under his cloak, and from Houston Street he turned into the Bowery. There was no elevated road at that time and the thundering, ear-splitting, overhead noises heard nowadays were not yet in existence. Still it was noisy, a perfect bedlam of jabbering foreigners, who crowded this busiest of busy streets as they crowded no other section of this cosmopolitan city. Von Barwig, usually so sensitive to noises, apparently did not notice this babel. Curiously enough his thoughts were miles away from New York, and the idea that he was going to sell his violin to buy a breakfast was not borne in upon him with sufficient force to prevent his thinking of something else. Although it was very cold he did not notice the weather, so he did not walk fast. His progress was a mechanical movement, for in fancy he was in Leipsic again, walking down the August Platz. It was a pleasant day dream, one from which Von Barwig did not like to awaken himself. He pictured to himself the joy, the happiness of his loved ones when they saw him, and thus he felt the reflex of this joy. These mental pictures were almost real to him, and he enjoyed them while they lasted, though he knew that they were not real.

“It is better to dream than to think of the present,” he said to himself. “What is there going on about me but misery and starvation and folly? Why should I focus my mind on the evils of existence, analyse them, make them my bosom companions to the exclusion of all joy? No, I will think of those things that make for happiness. Little Helene shall be my companion. These shadows” (and he looked at the people who passed him), “these caricatures of life shall not find a place in my mind. I will shut them out and in that way they shall cease to exist for me; since what we do not know cannot make us suffer.”

Von Barwig walked down the crowded thoroughfare, barely conscious that he was dreaming, yet in his dreams finding peace. The old man knew that there was a musical instrument shop somewhere in the neighbourhood, but it is quite possible that he would have passed it by had not the sound of a loud, roaring voice, accompanied by the banging of a big drum, attracted, or rather demanded his attention and aroused him from his day dream.

“Eat ’em alive, eat ’em alive!” bellowed the voice. Bang! bang! went the drum. “Bosco, Bosco, the armless wonder,” bang! bang! “bites their heads off and eats their bodies; eats ’em alive, eats ’em alive!” Bang! bang! “Bosco, Bosco!” the drum punctuating each phrase, making a hideous, ear-splitting duet.

“What hellish syncopation!” thought poor Von Barwig mechanically, as he looked at the individual from whom issued the voice that sounded so like the bellowing of a bull.

The owner of this extraordinary vocal organ was a big, fat, florid-faced individual with a dark, bluish-red complexion. He wore a flaring diamond ring around a glaring red necktie; and a loud checked suit that matched his voice perfectly. In fact, his whole make-up harmonised remarkably with the unearthly noise that issued from his throat. He was standing before a flashy-fronted building, on which was painted in large yellow letters, intended to be gold, the legend “Dime Museum.” In the front entrance were several cheap wax figures of a theatrical nature, and some still cheaper scenes, showing the figure of a nude savage without arms, biting the head off a huge fish and eating it alive apparently. On the canvas were also painted pictures of a wild man from Bornéo, a tattooed man, a skeleton, numerous fat ladies, mermaids, sylphs, and fauns; the whole forming a group of pictures and figures calculated to arrest the attention of the passers-by and attract them into the “theatretorium,” as he of the loud voice called it.

It was not the paintings that caught Von Barwig’s attention; it was the voice that offended his sensitive ear. He looked at the man in astonishment; never in his life had he heard such an utter lack of music in a human voice, such volume of tone, such a surplusage of quantity and an absence of quality. Barwig was fascinated and wondered how it could be possible. At this moment he caught the man’s eye, and then a strange thing happened. The man stopped roaring, and, looking over at Von Barwig, in a more natural tone called out:

“Say, professor, I want to see you.”

“Are you speaking to me?” said Von Barwig; his voice faltering.

“Yes,” replied the showman, “that’s just what I am.” Coming over to Von Barwig he took him by the arm and led him almost by force into the entrance of the Museum. “Say, professor,” he asked, “how would you like a job?”

“A job?” Von Barwig repeated helplessly, trying to realise the meaning of the man’s words.

“A job; yes, to be sure. Can you thump the ivories?”

“Thump the ivories?” Von Barwig looked so mystified that the man volunteered an explanation.

“Play the pianner,” and suiting the action to the word he perforated the air with ten large fingers.

“I play-yes. I-I play a little-not well -”

“Well, do you want the job? We’ve got a day professor, but we need a night professor. Day professor plays from eight till eight; night professor from eight till two or three. Depends on the crowds. Come on, now; I like your looks. Say the word and the job is yours.”

It was not pride that made Von Barwig silent when he wanted to speak; he simply did not grasp the man’s meaning.

“I see you’ve got your fiddle there. You can play the incidental music for the dramas with that; and you can play the pianner for the curios and the intermissions. Dollar a night; what do you say?”

“A dollar a night!” Von Barwig at last caught the man’s meaning. He wanted him to play for that amount, at night, and it would not interfere with his teaching in the daytime.

“I only play a very little, just enough to show my pupils,” he said deprecatingly.

“Oh, you’re all right! You can read music, can’t you?”

Von Barwig smiled. “Yes,” he replied simply.

“Well, you’ll get on to it.”

But Von Barwig still held back.

“What’s the matter, ain’t it enough?”

Von Barwig was silent.

“Damn it all,” the showman blurted out. “I’ll risk it; a dollar and a half a night. Your long hair is worth that; you look the goods. I’ll make a special feature of you-a real professor. Come on inside and take a look at the place. A dollar and a half a night, eight till three; is it a bargain?”

Von Barwig paused, then drew a long deep breath and nodded affirmatively.

“You’ll be fine-fine,” said he of the big voice. “I can see it in your eye; you ain’t one of them smart felleys.”

He grabbed the hand of his new attraction and shook it heartily. “Say, George,” he roared, “come here! This is the new night professor.”

George, the young man who was beating the drum, ceased that occupation and came over to the showman and Von Barwig.

“What’s your name?” the showman suddenly asked Von Barwig.

“Anton Von Barwig,” came the reply in a low tone.

“Well, Anton, my name is Costello, Al Costello.” Then with dignity, “Professor Anton, shake hands with George Pike-he’s my assistant. This is the new night professor, George.”

“Happy to meet you, professor,” said that individual, grasping Von Barwig’s hand and shaking it effusively. This hand-shaking process seemed a part of the theatrical trade.

“Say, George, take him inside and introduce him to the curios and just tell ’em from me that if they don’t treat him better than they did the other night professor, by the eternal jumpin’ Jerusalem, I’ll fire the whole bunch!” With that Mr. Costello slapped Von Barwig on the back, and resumed his occupation of attracting public attention.

As George and Von Barwig passed the turnstile and went up the passage that led into the main hall, the huge voice outside continued to roar.

“Bosco, Bosco, the armless wonder! Bites their heads off and eats their bodies; eats them alive, eats them alive!” And so Anton Von Barwig became the night professor in a dime museum on the Bowery.

It astonished even Von Barwig himself, when he found how easily he adapted himself to his new position. In a very short time he found his occupation far less irksome and tedious than he had expected. As to the disgrace of appearing nightly in a dime museum, Von Barwig felt it keenly enough, but he preferred to pay his way and suffer himself, rather than to make others suffer through his inability to make sufficient money to meet his expenses. Not a word escaped him as to his new engagement, for he was determined not to parade his shame before his friends’ eyes until it became absolutely necessary for them to know.

His duties were simple enough in their way; he extemporised incidental music on the piano or violin while the curios were being exhibited, and during the progress of the little abbreviated dramas that were played by the troupe of actors in the theatre upstairs. It did not add to Von Barwig’s happiness that Mr. Costello always insisted upon calling the attention of the audience to the special music as played by “Professor An-tone of Germany, Europe,” and would point at him and start clapping until the audience gave him the round of applause that he felt the professor was entitled to. To Von Barwig’s astonishment and embarrassment, Costello took a violent fancy to him, and would talk to him whenever a chance offered itself.

“Professor,” he would say, “you’re different from the gang that hangs around here. I like to talk to you; it does me good. You don’t never try to give me no songs and dances about how much more you’re worth than I’m paying you, and how much more you know than the day professor. You ain’t forever talkin’ about yourself.”

Von Barwig accepted this praise philosophically. He didn’t in the least understand it, but he felt that Mr. Costello intended to be complimentary. He was grateful to him, too, for the man had raised his salary to two dollars a night without being asked, and on several occasions had let him go home early. Besides that, he treated Von Barwig with far more consideration and respect than he did any one else, even his own wife. The latter liked the professor and told her husband she was sure he had seen better days.

This deference made things much easier for the night professor, who otherwise would have suffered many an indignity. Indeed the position seemed to call for special insult from any one who chose to bestow it. He heard the day professor roundly abused on several occasions because he did not play to suit the performers. Not only insults, but cushions were flung at him, and Von Barwig determined if ever this happened to him he would leave at once. He was willing to sacrifice his dignity and his pride, but not his self-respect. Thanks to Mr. Costello nothing happened to mar the harmony of his existence there. The curios were very fond of Von Barwig, and he took quite an interest in them. Poor, crippled human beings, the sadness of their existence aroused his sympathy; their very affliction earning a livelihood for them. Was life not a living hell for them?

He found on closer intimacy with them that it was not, for they enjoyed life after their own manner and were capable of real affection. The midgets always shook hands with him every evening when he came to play. They were a loving little pair, brother, and sister, and they grew quite fond of him. Von Barwig, for his part, used to look upon them as children, although they were both well past forty years of age. Once he saluted the “little girl,” as he called her, with a kiss, and he was quite astonished when she blushed. Her brother clapped his hands and enjoyed what he called the fun. But it was the untoward affection of the fat lady that nearly brought about a catastrophe, for her constant smile at the professor aroused the jealousy of the living skeleton and brought about an ultimatum from that gentleman in the shape of a challenge to fight a duel to the death. The fat lady was an agreeable individual. She seemed to have one occupation only, that of sitting in a rocking chair and rocking and fanning herself by the hour. The skeleton was quite sure that the professor was trying to win her affections, but as a matter of fact, Von Barwig was so fascinated by her constant rocking and fanning that he simply could not help looking at her, and she evidently could not help smiling. As he explained to the skeleton, her tempo was against the beat, or in other words, the rhythm of her rocking and fanning conflicted with the rhythm of the music he was playing. The skeleton did not altogether understand Von Barwig’s explanation, but he accepted it willingly, for it was clear that the professor had withdrawn from the candidacy for the fat lady’s affections!

It must by no means be understood, however, that Von Barwig liked his new occupation. On the contrary, it grieved his very soul; but it was far less painful than he had anticipated. Mr. Costello seemed to realise that his night professor was not in his element and he made it as easy for him as possible. The weary months went on, and Von Barwig by teaching during the day and working at night just barely made ends meet.

“I am getting thinner and thinner,” thought he as a ring slipped from his finger and rolled under the old sofa which had been in his room for a long time. In looking for it he came across an old portmanteau which had been slipped under the sofa and had entirely escaped his memory during his residence in Miss Husted’s house. He opened it and his heart beat rapidly as he saw the case of pistols he had brought from Leipsic intending to force Ahlmann to fight a duel. He looked at them-there they lay, old-fashioned, duelling pistols-weapons for the shedding of blood. He had found no use for them in all these years and now he would not use them if he could, so he gently laid them down on the piano and looked further into the portmanteau.

Within its depths, among many relics of the past he found one or two of his compositions, pieces for the piano. He lifted them up and underneath lay the symphony played by his orchestra the night she left him-the symphony that had never been heard in its entirety. He let the lid of the portmanteau fall. The dust flew up in his face, but he did not notice it, for memories of that fatal night came thronging into his brain and he could think of nothing but that never-to-be-forgotten scene. A great longing to hear that music again came upon him, a longing he could not resist. It was dusk and the gas lamps were being lit when he sat down at the piano. How long he played he never knew, for when they found him several hours later, it was quite dark and the old man was completely unconscious; his head had fallen on his arm which rested on the keyboard of the piano.

Mr. Costello was quite disturbed at the absence of “Professor Antone of Germany” that night, and when, the next night, Von Barwig walked into the Museum, his violin under his arm as usual, he was greeted quite effusively.

“Well, well, well, profess’! So you didn’t give us the shake after all! Say, George, he’s come back!” bawled Costello at the top of his voice.

“Yes,” said Von Barwig simply, “I’ve come back.”

The midgets laughed, the skeleton scowled, the fat lady smiled; and the old man took out his violin and prepared to go to work.