Beatrice Harraden.

Thirteen all told online

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me to Christmas. What ? Ye'll not give it me ? Fie,
fie, curmudgeon ! "

But though she had teased him well, she believed in him,
and had ever defended him staunchly when others laughed
at him and thought he was a fool for putting all his spare
time from cabinet-making into the fashioning of fiddles.

" Leave the lad alone, Tom Sears," he heard her say-
ing. " Jonathan's got something in him you hasn't got
and I hasn't got, nor no one else in this village. He'll be
having a gran' name of his own some day when you and
I be forgotten."

Once she had even brought him a bit of wood, part of


a worm-eaten old oaken beam from one of the ancient barns
belonging to her own farm home.

" Look what I've brought ye, Jonathan," he heard her
saying triumphantly. " Ye can make a just lovely fiddle
out of this rubbage. Now, don't ye go putting on any of
those airs of your'n. Don't ye be a-telling me 'tis no use."

" It is no use," he had said contemptuously. " Oak
be no good for fiddles.'*

" Curmudgeon, curmudgeon, curmudgeon ! " he heard
her calling out as she ran off, and laughing light-heartedly
as alone Nance could laugh.

Fifty years ago and the laughter that was only hers
ringing clear and fresh across the moors and the belief that
was alone hers stealing out of the past to support the falling
structure of his own.

The storm broke loose and raged around him. Battling
with wind and rain, and baffled in the darkness, he lost
his way, and wandered dazed and bewildered over the
moors, as many another has wandered and perished on
those wild and lonely heights sucked in by the treacherous
bog. But no such sad fate awaited the fiddle-maker.
He stumbled across a cattle-barn, one of the many
scattered about the uplands ; and there he took shelter and
waited for the tempest to die down and the darkness to
fade into the dawn. And even there, thoughts and
memories of Nance encompassed him. It was as though
she had cast a protecting mantle over him and held him
safe. Her belief in him- began to wage silent battle with
the paralysing indifference which had settled on his artist's
soul. Over and over again he said aloud :

" Nance believed in me."

Then a very strange and wonderful thing happened.

The wind ceased suddenly, and strains of music
reached him, faint at first, and then growing in tone and

It was the voice of a violin. It held the fiddle-maker
in an ecstasy of wonder and delight. Listlessness and
gloom of spirit were dispelled as if by magic. The myster-
ious music thrilled through him, quickening his pulses, rous-
ing in him renewed pride in the work of his hands, renewed


faith in the worth of his great idea, renewed hope that
his days had not been vainly spent in striving to fashion
sweet-toned instruments to carry messages of music
into the world music breaking in like radiant light on
the darkness of the spirit, in the blackness of the night,
in the desolation of lonely space, in the wilderness of

" Not in vain, not in vain ! " he cried aloud.

And then, the first excitation of spirit over, he began to
wonder where the music came from ; and ghostly legends
of the countryside which had borne no meaning to him,
now crept into his remembrance. There was a story of
lights seen at certain times in a lonely half-ruined house
in a deserted hamlet, and of a fiddler making wild, tumul-
tuous music or soft caressing melody. And here was the music
yes, and yonder were the lights . He must seek the fiddler
out earthly or unearthly, he must meet him face to face.

He started, guided by the light which shone afar bright
and steady, and by the music which seemed to be filling the
very universe. The way was long, but he felt neither
fatigue nor doubt, and only knew that he must reach that
beacon for which he was steering. But when at last
he was near it, the light was extinguished and the violin

Was it true, then, that he had been listening to music
not of this world fleeting, elusive, inaudible at close
range ? He knew not nor cared. It was all one to him
whether the marvellous player with the master touch
were angel or devil or human being, if only he were able
to recapture some of the entrancing strains which had
lured him thither.

He waited with trembling eagerness. And suddenly
a welcome sound of tuning reached him, and the light
shone again, trebled in brightness. He saw then that
he had wandered far away from Nance's home, and was
outside the grim and ill-omened " Herders' Inn," an old
house of call which had been shut up and deserted since
a foul murder had been perpetrated there many years
previously. Living apart from outside circumstances
and wholly absorbed in his work, news had never reached


him that it had been opened again. But it was obviously
tenanted now. The sign showed distinct and new, caught
by a shaft of light from the illumination within. The
beacon, then, was earthly, and the musician of divine
powers, belonged to this world. The certainty brought
a feeling of relief to the fiddle-maker, and an anticipation
of joyous encounter.

He knocked. No one answered, and the tuning went
on apace, and was followed by wild arpeggios and dashings
up and down the finger-board which made his very heart
stand still from wonder and expectancy. And what a
tone ! God, God, what a tone ! As he stood waiting
on the threshold, he said to himself, with an intensity of
passionate fervour, that if he could make a fiddle to sing
with that rich, soft, permeating mellowness of tone, he
would die a thousand deaths, make any and every sacri-
fice, pass through any suffering of body or soul.

He knocked once more, louder this time, and after a
pause, which seemed to him centuries, the door was opened
on the chain, and a man's voice said :

" Who is it ? What do you want ? "

" I am a lover of music," was the answer. " I have
been wandering over the moors and lost my way in the
storm. I heard wonderful music which guided me here."

The chain was dropped and the door opened wide. The
light revealed a man, short and slight, with bushy hair
and rather wild in appearance, but of friendliest, kind-
liest countenance. His violin was tucked under his left

" Come in, come in," he said gaily, " whoever you are,
come in. But if you are a lover of music, you're doubly

He glanced at the old man's fine face, caught the keen-
ness and vision in his eyes, and, artist as he was, sensitive
in all his fibres, knew instinctively that he had before
him someone who counted.

" You're drenched through and through ! " he said,
with impulsive concern. " Never mind. I'll put you right.
Slip off your coat and slip into my overcoat here it is.
And come into the kitchen. I've just piled on some more


logs, and I'll give you a hot drink of coffee. Then you
won't take any harm from the storm."

Jonathan Hunt smiled his thanks to his new friend,
followed him into the kitchen, and sank down gratefully
into the lang settle. The fire was burning merrily, the
kettle was already boiling industriously, and a coffee-
pot was warming on the hob signs of cheer and comfort
which heartened the tired old man now come into a haven.
He glanced around with quiet content, saw that the violin-
player had placed his fiddle on the window-sill, and that
his bow was lying on the dresser, and that he
had rigged up a desk on the kitchen table with books
and a pas try -board, and scattered his music on the floor
in happy disorder. He had evidently been spreading
himself in that kitchen and reigning supreme. And mean-
while he flitted about joyously, making preparations to
entertain his unknown guest. All his quick movements
were graceful and easy. Kettle, coffee-pot, cups, saucers,
milk- jug, cheese and bread floated in the air as consecu-
tively as the notes of a glissando passage, melting imper-
ceptibly one into the other. Only when he was satisfied
that he had done everything to make the old man com-
fortable arid warm, did he seize his fiddle and tune up afresh.
He nodded at him, a most winning smile on his face and in
his manner all the charm of a gracious personality.

" I couldn't sleep to-night," he said. " I went to bed
at the same time as the old people of the house. I tossed
and tossed, and then came down, and have been fiddling
away like one possessed. In a mood for it, you know.
Worked up by the storm, I suppose. Restless and excited,
as one is when there is a huge, enthusiastic audience hang-
ing on one's every note."

" I thought at first you were a spirit," the fiddle-maker
said in a low voice. " You may perhaps know of the
legend of the fiddler heard sometimes at night in these
parts, and of lights seen in a lonely house. When the
music ceased and the light went out, I believed the legend
was true."

" Well, it may be true," the violin player said. " Why
not ? But in my case, I was suddenly seized with remorse


lest I should be disturbing the old couple who keep this
inn. And so I put down my fiddle and blew out the lamp.
But I'd no sooner done that when I felt that even if I
frightened them out of their wits, I should have to go on
all the same. Mercifully, they are as deaf as posts. But
anyway, I couldn't stop. So I lit up trebly and
tuned up again ! I think the loneliness and weirdness of
the place seized hold of me. I couldn't have borne it
without my fiddle. But directly the fiddle shared it with
me, then things began to happen to me big things, huge

" Born of loneliness," the old man murmured. " They
can only happen in loneliness and through distress of spirit."

" Ah, you, too, know that," the violin player cried
eagerly ; and he glanced at the fiddle-maker as if he half
wished to question him about himself. But the impulse
died, and his thoughts returned to his own mentality.

" Yes," he said, his eyes flashing with excitement,
11 big things, huge things happened to me. I tell you,
that to-night I have soared to heights I have never reached
before. Because of to-night I pass to a higher plane I
know it, I feel it and the world will know it, too."

He raised his bow arm, held it suspended for one moment
in the air, stared at the old man with eyes that saw not,
struck a few full- toned chords, and began.

How long did he play ? What did he play ? Who was
he ? Was it a man playing, a soul throbbing ? What
did it matter ? All that the fiddle-maker knew, was that
heaven and earth passed away. Nothing survived except
a world of sound. Out into the wild and stormy night
music had sent her mystic message to him and guided
him to the safety of her magic realms. And now she cast
fresh spells about him and unveiled to him new visions
of glorious fulfilment. Old memories, old regrets fled
even as ghosts fading before the break of dawn. Nance
vanished last of all, but left her laughter and her belief
interwoven with the harmonies and the echo of her words :
" A gran' name a gran' name when you and I be for-

The last lingering notes died into silence. The fiddle-


maker sprang up, his face aglow, his trembling arms
stretched out before him.

" Ah ! " he cried, " that is what I have striven for all
my life to make instruments with voices fit and worthy
to speak the divine language of music. The goal may have
been distant, and distant it may remain, but I have never
lost sight of it until to-night, and to-night I have found it
again helped by an old memory yes, helped by an old
memory found it again for evermore."

" A maker of instruments ? " the violin player exclaimed,
clutching at his arm in his intensity. "Ah, I knew you
were a poet. When I opened the door to you, instinct
told me that you were a poet of some kind, someone that
knew the heart of hidden things. Then you have been the
vast audience, invisible, pressing round me, lifting me,
inspiring me so that I have been able to pour out all the
best in my soul and nature. A maker of instruments.
Well, well, we are in very truth comrades. Here, my friend,
take this violin and look at it well. A beauty, isn't it ?
You've heard its voice ; now observe its faultless curves.
Did you ever see a more lovely back ? What do you think
of the noble scroll ? No, no, don't ask if it is a Stradivar-
ius or a Guarnerius or an Amati, or any of those wonder-
ful old artists of the past. It is the work of someone un-
known to fame now, but destined to be honoured in the years
to come. Of that I am absolutely sure. I'd stake my repu-
tation on this belief. I prize this violin above all others.
I adore it. It is part of me. With it I have spoken to
thousands in many countries moved thousands. I owe
it untold gratitude. Here, take it in your hands and
see for yourself."

The fiddle-maker took it, turned it over knew it.

" My God ! My God ! " he said, almost in a whisper.
" It is mine ! " *

He clasped it to his breast. His head bent over it.

The violin player, famous in many lands, turned aside
in reverent understanding.


IT was on a February morning, 1918, that Helen Cress-
well, a learned lecturer well known in educational
circles, was interrupted in her library whilst she was
deeply immersed in the preparation of an address on
" The Springs of Romance in the Literature of Europe."
The maid, with obvious reluctance and definite doubts
as to her reception, brought in a card.

" I had to bring it," she explained. !i The lady wouldn't
take any refusal. She sat down on the hall chair, opened
her little dispatch case and made herself at home, and
said she'd wait till you were free. When I told her you
were busy with your books in your library and mustn't
be disturbed, she only laughed and said books didn't
matter and she'd got to see you."

Helen Cresswell frowned and looked as if she could
have annihilated both Doris and the insistent stranger on the
hall chair ; for she considered that she was in the midst
of a most eloquent and original summing up of Eliza-
bethan influence on literature, and it was aggravating
beyond words to be put off it. She glanced impatiently
at the card, which was marked Urgent. It bore the
words, " Gertrude Lin ton, Friends' Society for Belief
of War Victims. Dutch Red Cross. Member of British
Committee for Repatriation of British Wounded, etc."

Her expression changed, and also her attitude of mind.

" I can well imagine that engaged on such work, she
would think books don't matter," she said half to herself.
" They don't. Ask her in at once, Doris."



A bright, engaging woman of about thirty-six years
stepped into the room and seemed to bring sunshine and
good cheer and dash, and all those electric attributes which
go to make that magic quality called resilience.

" Miss Cresswell," she began, without any prelimin-
aries, " I come on a rather curious mission on behalf
of a German woman."

Miss CresswelTs face fell. She stiffened up at once and
succeeded in looking the picture of implacable hostility.

" I don't think I want to hear anything about German
women," she said severely, but not disagreeably. There
was something about her visitor's presence which dispelled
any real inclination to truculence.

" No, I don't suppose you do," said Gertrude Linton,
smiling. " Not one of us does, if it comes to that. I'm sure
I don't. So please don't imagine I'm a pro-German. I'm
nothing of the kind. I'm entirely British by birth and
sentiment. Disgustingly so, I think sometimes. I won-
der whether it is an incurable illness. I suppose it is."

Miss Cresswell laughed softly.

" I don't know," she said. " Anyway, it will take
a long time to cure. Well, tell me about your German
woman. I had hoped when I glanced at your card, that
you had come on behalf of one of our wounded soldiers."

" She isn't my German woman," returned the other
gaily. " I won't have her at any price. She is yours
yours entirely. And I have come on behalf of one of our
soldiers one of our wounded boys repatriated from prison
in Germany. He entrusted me with a message from your
old school friend Leonora von Blumenstein-Erzbach."

" Leonora ! " exclaimed Miss Cresswell, her face lighting
up at the sound of that name. " Tell me what you know qf
her. I have longed for news of her through all these dread-
ful years, though I have tried to put the thought of her
from my mind as of one with whom I'd no more concern."

" I can only tell you what I have learnt from Private
Jenkins," Gertrude Linton said. " I have been stationed
at Rosendaal, the Dutch frontier, meeting the exchanged
wounded prisoners from the German Red Cross trains ;
and Private Jenkins was one of them. And in this particu-


lar instance I was in charge of him and several others on
the boat home. I wish you could have seen the look of
wonder and happiness on their faces as we neared shore.
It was unforgettable."

She paused a moment as the memory of the scene
held her.

Then she went on :

" Private Jenkins had been very badly wounded and
gassed, and had been a long time in hospital in Germany.
Your friend was one of the nurses there. You know
you cannot get many details out of them about their experi-
ences either at the Front or in the German prison camps
and hospitals. But I gathered that, as far as she could, your
friend with the awful name which I should tell you
nearly did for his poor brain had been very kind to him,
and he had promised to try and deliver a message to you.
It was troubling him very greatly, and he was awfully
relieved to get it off his chest. The message was that her
son Berthold had died and was buried at Vimy. She
would probably never know nor see his resting-place, she
said. But if by chance you went there when the war
was over, she begged you to try and find his grave and kneel
beside it for the sake of old times. She thought you
could not refuse, because of all the fun and laughter and
happiness you had had together as young girls and young

'' Yes, yes, we had great fun together," Miss Cresswell
murmured " happy, happy times."

" I suppose she had pitched on Private Jenkins because
he was one of the best hearted and that's saying a good
deal, you know," continued Gertrude Linton. " And
also he had come from Oxfordshire, where she had often

stayed at Wroxton, not far from his native village, H .

But he was not highly endowed with brains ; and it must
have been a tremendous mental effort to him to remember
all the details of her message. I wish you could have heard
him telling it all to me. I half laughed and half cried
because it was really so comic and so pathetic. He was
so anxious and conscientious about it. He said :

" ' And she kep' on saying, she did, that yon English


friend of hers couldn't say no, not she, them being kiddies
together in the parst and them laughing and skylarking
same as all kiddies do. I got that right enough. But
her name did me in, it fair did, until one of the chaps
told me to remember something about bloomin' stone
hurt yer back. Near enough, too. Her son's name was
easy Berthold. For you see I've got a brother Bert,
twelve years old come Michaelmas, and I kep' on saying :
' Bert ain't old Bert getting old Bert old see ? ' So
you see, Miss Cresswell, Private Jenkins tried his very
best to be a scholar in order to do a good turn to the enemy."

She took from her letter case a dirty and crumpled
piece of paper and handed it to Miss Cresswell with a
marked reluctance.

" I hate parting from it," she said, " but of course
it is yours. You see Tommy has written down, to the
best of his ability, the German names, and your name and
address, and a few particulars about the probable situa-
tion of the grave. Did you ever see such a wonderful
document ? Well, I give it up to you. I shall never
forget his look of relief when he shed his responsibility !
But he was quite firm and fierce with me, and made me
swear to play the game, find you out, dead or alive, and
let him know I had not failed him. So to-day I shall send
him a line to his home ; and then his mind will be at rest."

Helen Cresswell was deeply moved by the story. All
her sternness had gone.

" I shall go and see Private Jenkins," she said. " It
is the least I can do."

" That would be ripping of you," Gertrude Linton said,
hugely delighted. " He is, or was, a farm labourer at

H , near Banbury. He won't do much farm work

again, poor boy, and not much thatching either, at which
he was an expert, so he told me with pride. But you'll
find him cheery and uncomplaining and unbitter a
lesson to me and you and everyone like they all are. And
now I'll be off, having discharged my errand and disturbed
you long enough from your books."

But Miss Cresswell would not let her go ; and for a long
time Gertrude Linton lingered and told her eager listener


something about her life in Holland and the scenes at
the Dutch frontiers, stories grave and gay of refugees
and interned soldiers and escaped prisoners and spies, and
pitiful tales of our repatriated wounded.

And when at last she took her leave, dull and unprofit-
able seemed Miss Cresswell's books to her, flat and unin-
teresting her carefully prepared lecture on the Springs of
Romance in the Literature of Europe. Living facts had
entered the study and driven out literature.

She sat thinking of the scenes which had been conjured
up for her, and of Private Jenkins and his intellectual
feat undertaken on behalf of the enemy, and of Leonora,
friend of her childhood and girlhood, with whom she had
never lost touch until a few years before the war. All
the memories of happy companionship came back to Helen
Cresswell. She saw Leonora as she knew her first, at the
Hohe Schule in Dresden, fat and flabby, with coils of splen-
did fair hair and a tremendous appetite for nut tarts, and
an easy good nature which survived all attacks of chaff
and teasing. She recalled all their fun and mischief, all
their confidences, flirtations and rivalries.

Almost she heard her saying :

" Na, na, Helen, I give you the geography master for a
Schwdrmerei. He is too ugly for me, but he's good enough
for a pig of an English girl ! Take him ! "

A thousand wars could not blot out those memories.
She smiled and held out her hands to the past.


A FEW days afterwards Miss Cresswell journeyed to Ban-
bury, and thence took a trap which landed her at the

tiny hamlet of H . She made inquiries at the one shop

of this metropolis, and learnt that Private Jenkins's home
was but a step away, the last cottage " down- street " on
the left, with the fresh patch on the thatch, and a queer
little window at the top, like an eyebrow presiding over
half an eye. Here she found him, disabled of one arm and
one leg, and still suffering from the effects of gas, and very
frail- looking, thin and worn, but extraordinarily cheerful


in spite of all he had gone through, and with no trace
of bitterness or anger in his heart. On the contrary,
he thought himself very lucky to be in his own surround-
ings again, and only said he didn't want to go to that 'ere

France or that 'ere Germany again. H was a good

enough place for him.

You know where you are here," he said quaintly.

Like many another soldier, he had nothing to say about
nis experiences. He was just one of the many thousands
of lads caught in a net, and caring for and understanding
nothing of the purpose for which they were caught, in
spite of all the grandiose newspaper talk about enthusiasm
and patriotism and noble idealism. Miss Cresswell could
not get much information from him either about her old
friend or about conditions in a German prison hospital.

" It might have been worse," he said. " It were all

" And was she really good to you, Private Jenkins ? "
asked Miss Cresswell eagerly.

" She were all right," he nodded. " Her did what her

But by patience and perseverance and Woodbines
she managed to drag a few details out of him. She was
fat. Miss Cresswell laughed at that. She spoke Eng-
lish same as he did, but thick like. She was fond of her
son same as his mother was of him. She was always
a-grieving over him and looking at a photo of his bullet
head same as all the Fritzes had.

" I was fair sorry for she," he concluded. " I thought
it were just like my old mother a-grieving over my corpse,
and so I promised she I'd take her message."

That was all. But there was no mistaking his satisfac-

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Online LibraryBeatrice HarradenThirteen all told → online text (page 16 of 23)