“The Unknown Masterpiece” by Frederick Irving Anderson

The most talented pianist in the world faces an enchanting obstacle on the day of a big performance.

A man confesses to a woman.

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On the first Thursday in November, as was his custom, Jacoby did not rise until one hour after noon. He had passed the night in his own bed. It stood on the meridional line, backed against the jambs of two windows screened with heavy brocade lined with green silk from ceiling to floor; these windows faced north. There were two other windows in the room, facing east; these, too, were hung with heavy brocade lined with green silk from ceiling to floor. The doors were hung likewise — for silence. No sound penetrated here except the indefinite, inextinguishable overtone of the city — which seemed miles and miles away, like the surge of the sea in a conch shell.

The walls and the ceiling were of vellum, which soothed the gaze with fine lines of beauty that might have been etched with a dry point. The hangings were familiar everyday things to him, as were the walls and ceiling; the old furniture, smoky and translucent like wild honey, was his own. The bed, a gorgeous contraption fit for the accouchement of a queen, the carpets on which his feet must rest, the chair with the wry arm that gave under his exploring fingers — all were intimate parts of his life. But the room was not his own. Jacoby’s room was miles and miles away. Once a year, on the first Thursday in November, he woke in this room; and it was always dressed with his personal belongings for the occasion. That was his clock on the chimney piece; those were his pictures on the wall; his mute clavier stood in the shadow; his bell cord hung at the head of the bed.

The clock whispered the hour in mellow tones. The curtains parted, and Rosa, his wife, appeared, as though she had been waiting for this moment. She set slippers, so that his feet might find and welcome their pleasing warmth. She was tall and willowy, and clothed in soft laces. Jacoby opened his eyes, closed them again, and languidly permitted himself to be drawn into his dressing gown — an eccentric creation.

“This is your day, Ernest,” she said as she helped him to rise. “Your good friends will be waiting for you.”

Deliberately — almost like a blind man to whom all familiar things are charted soundings — he paced to one of the east windows and drew aside the hangings. The sight that met his eyes should have been a dun-colored lawn splashed with dry leaves and edged with bare thickets; in the middle distance the Hudson rolling to the tide; and beyond, through the mist of the river, the yellow Palisades of the Jersey shore as a falling sky line. Within were his familiar surroundings, a room dressed to be in perfect tune with the man and the day. Outside was a city street filled with life — cars, motors and pedestrians; an occasional hansom, or a hostler’s boy parading a stylish blanketed hunter.

Jacoby raised his eyes to the opposite wall, which shut out the sky like a curtain. It was of soiled terra cotta, blank and stolid, almost devoid of architectural adornment to relieve its plainness — merely a blank wall separating the street from something within that rose scores on scores of feet from the ground. On the street level at one corner was a door, little more than a crevice in the huge barrier.

A handful of workmen in gingham blouses were erecting an iron framework that extended from the arch of this door to the edge of the curb. They were drawing over the framework an awning of weather-stained canvas, striped red and white like a flag. It transformed the entrance into a tunnel, shutting out the sky, which promised for this afternoon to take on that rare tint of Italian blue sometimes seen in this latitude. The sides, of canvas, which were securely buttoned to the pavement, cut off the view of curious passers-by.

Now they were laying a strip of carpet; and, this done, the handful of workmen vanished — all except one who, industriously plying a broom, shunted pedestrians into the gutter if they would pass at all. The strip of carpet was of soft nap, fit for a lady’s slipper.

For whom was the awning spread — the carpet laid? The little tunnel attacked the great brick wall like a mousehole at the foot of a mountain. It was obviously designed for somebody who would avoid the out-of-doors and the public gaze. Passers-by smiled indulgently. Evidently musicians, like laying hens, stopped functioning if their sensitive feet touched the cold, bare earth. They had their answer at the other corner. It was a large white poster in a gilt frame nailed fast to the wall. It announced in large letters:

JACOBY

Below, in smaller letters were the words:

 

ANNUAL RECITAL — MANAGEMENT OF ORSON MERLIN.

 

If you had stepped up to the box-office window and offered your money for tickets, they would have been profoundly shocked at your presumption. The poster was not to attract business to the box office; it was to warn it away. On the first Thursday in November of each year Jacoby — the great Jacoby; the master of masters of the pianoforte — the same yellow-skinned, somewhat frowsy looking person who was at this moment peering out into the street with a wry face — came like a comet in its predestined course, flashed into perihelion for his brief hour on earth — and then was gone.

There are comets that, even in perihelion, are beyond the range of ordinary telescopes. Therefore, for the multitude, they do not exist. So with Jacoby; for lesser mortals he did not exist — except possibly as an incredible myth. Jacoby was an artist only for artists — and for a fringe of elite Pharisees who arduously sought to attune their understanding to his close harmonies. Of all masters, he alone had succeeded in surmounting the pitiful mathematical imperfections of the pianoforte. Others might be content to accept the tempered harmonies of the keyboard with a grain of salt. Not so Jacoby! He had contrived a double keyboard to overcome the divergent intervals in the ascending and the descending chromatic scales. His tones were as pure as those of a violin or the human voice; his sonatas became symphonies, singing with a hundred strings.

In front, a camera man and a moving-picture operator were setting up their machines behind carefully prepared blinds to catch the image of celebrities who would shortly begin to arrive in humble procession at the shrine of the first Thursday in November. Inside, in a little cubby-hole off stage, specialists in the art of imprisoning the image of sound, and preserving it for future generations, were surreptitiously preparing their properties for a rash adventure — to bottle in wax the melody and harmony of Jacoby.

Orson Merlin, the impresario, had an eye to both sides of the medallion of art — especially to the obverse side, stamped with the dollar sign. If, with wile or guile, he could procure a Jacoby record — speculation carried him afar in the realms of space! He had even dared to erect a special sounding board for this occasion, cleverly masking it. Jacoby played in a dim light; this would aid materially.

Jacoby dropped the brocade on the unfamiliar street scene. Felipe, his man, took the maestro in hand, laid him out on a marble bath slab as gingerly as though those precious bones were a basket of eggs. Jacoby’s back was plaited with quivering little knots of muscle; his brawny arms were woven of thongs fit to play at an anvil. Every muscle, every tendon, every cord, must be picked out from its fellows by the shuttlecock fingers of Felipe — thumped and kneaded, made free and pliable, after the torpor of sleep. It was no simple task to be a Jacoby! After the kneading and thumping, the maestro was put through waters and vapors, and dried with a care usually bestowed only on a pet dog. When he had been drawn into silks and fresh linen he was conveyed to his armchair, the chair with the creaky arm, which he tested to reassure himself.

Then Rosa came with a tray on which lay a single thin wafer and a bowl of broth. Of the wafer he might nibble one corner; and of the broth a few drops in the heel of the spoon was his portion. He was hungry, very hungry; but this was to be a day of fasting — that was his edict in the sanity of yesterday. He might choke her now, but Rosa would not yield; should she yield, tomorrow he would beat her.

Toward three o’clock that afternoon a procession of gorgeous equipages began forming a line at the Fifty-seventh Street portico — sedans, berlins, coupes, victorias, limousines, betraying an extravagance of design and variegation of hue fit to grace the remote though no less spendthrift period of a Louis Quatorze levee.

As though actuated by some unseen mechanism the line moved forward notch by notch to deposit its burden. This spectacle would unroll itself like an endless film for another hour. There was Viliska, whose fingers, it is said, are listed on the Bourse and traded in as shares; Wenceslaus, whose leonine mane is famous through a Burne-Jones portrait; Max Arnult, who in one brief season had become all American — even to his hair and shoes; Flora Cameron; Webber; John Darling; Solveja — looking like a bank clerk on a holiday; the brothers Capelli — everybody!

Cameras and picture machines, from their machine-gun embrasures, clicked and whirred. Merlin, beaming, was returning salutes in a dozen tongues and dialects as he stood at the brass rail inside, checking off the twenty-four carat names on his list. Tonight he would begin putting together another list for the forthcoming first Thursday in November, twelve months away. This was a sorry occasion for the speculators, who stood outside in the front ranks of the gaping street crowd, assuring each other confidently that Paradise itself would never house such a sublimated essence of genius as Carnegie Hall this day.

Merlin had a special reason to be happy. These, his children, with whose petulances he was schooled to struggle, were for today humble, almost timid, simple souls coming into their heart’s desire. They were so much easier to manage when they came in by the Fifty-seventh Street portico than when the little mousehole awning was laid especially for them.

The house was seating itself. It was filling from pit to dome, with its dull half circle of boxes and loges. Virtuosi who would shrug their shoulders at the command of a potentate were climbing the alpine heights to the top gallery, with light hearts, content — because they must be today — with a place on a hard bench in that remote region, so far removed from the pit that they seemed to be looking at the stage through the wrong end of a telescope. Groups were passing back and forth, embracing, whispering — the air was filled with the murmur of these thousands of suppressed voices, a sound like waves breaking over a flat beach.

As the hour of four approached, Merlin left his place by the rail, giving his precious list to the care of an underling. He went behind the stage. In passing he opened the door of the cubby-hole on a crack and looked in, inquiring whether all went well — significantly. There must not be so much as a mote of dust to mar the records; the diamond pointed needles must be highly polished.

All was in readiness for the maestro’s appearance. At his desk Merlin picked up his telephone. Jacoby’s man Felipe answered his ring.

“Prepare him! I come!” said Merlin in a manner which suggested that Jacoby was to be hermetically sealed for the journey across the avenue.

“The master will not play this afternoon,” said Felipe.

“Prepare him! I come!” repeated the impresario in the same tone as before, without altering a muscle. He was accustomed to mercurial humors of these great ones of the earth.

“The master will not play this afternoon,” persisted Felipe’s soft monotone.

Merlin hung up the receiver as tenderly as though it bristled with fulminating caps that might detonate in his very fingers. He drew a deep sigh. He reached into the corner for his walking stick — a very cudgel — and shook it at an imaginary adversary. If these wax disks, so surreptitiously preparing, proved even passable records, most assuredly he would retire from this despicable profession of cajolery on the profits.

A Jacoby record! It would be worth an annuity. Merlin had bullied and fawned on them all in his time. He knew when to lash or cringe — none better. He adjusted his hat and rose. On the way out he stopped at the cubbyhole and whispered through the crack of the door:

“That diamond point is going to be too hard, I am afraid. Better try what a blunt point on Number Two machine will do.”

A few seconds later he was in the elevator on his way to Jacoby’s apartments. As he entered he pricked up his ears and permitted himself a smile. A familiar patter struck his ear. Jacoby was at his clavier, the mute keyboard on which the master limbered up his rare fingers and his fidgety soul. The dull thudding of the felted hammers in their voiceless sockets sounded like raindrops on a leaden ocean.

Merlin drew a huge sigh of relief. Cats and dogs! To gather such a house as he had boxed up across the street, from the ends of the earth, only to walk out and tell them to disperse quietly and go home! He began to sweat at the thought of the averted catastrophe.

Rosa was kneeling on a chair in the anteroom, peering through the curtains at her lord and master. So intent was she that she did not hear the soft-stepping Merlin enter; nor did she realize his presence until he was at her very shoulder, peering through the opening in the brocade with her.

There sat Jacoby at his clavier, his lithe, graceful body swaying; his head slightly inclined; his eyes fixed on some remote point in outer space. His fingers — which could span fourteen full intervals in a contortion that seemed fairly to dislocate them — were falling on the keys as lightly as dry leaves dancing in the breeze. They were weaving the closest harmonies — harmonies unheard by all ears except his own.

Merlin caught the picture in a fluttering glimpse. The next instant the fingers of Rosa crushed the curtains together. Her quick movement suggested that she was prepared to bar his passage into the room if he attempted to enter.

“Ah, Merlin! What shall we do? What shall we do?” she cried passionately.

Merlin’s look said as plainly as words that she was talking one of the very few languages extant with which he was not familiar. Evidently it was Rosa and not the master himself who was struggling with an attack of nerves. He smiled reassuringly and said soothingly:

“It’s all right, child — it’s all right. They are waiting for him. Never — never has there been such a house before! They are waiting for him. Come!”

He reached out to part the curtains and enter; but she thrust him fiercely back. He stared at her in astonishment.

“Hush! He is asleep!” she said. “Sound asleep!”

“Asleep?” repeated Merlin incredulously. “Asleep! Bah! What folly is this, Rosa?” He pushed her roughly aside and strode in through the hangings. He came to a halt at the clavier. “Ernest!” he cried sharply.

Jacoby gave no sign. The head inclined lower; he was smiling, as though enthralled with the ghostly harmonies his flying fingers were fabricating. His dull eyes were still staring into the same uncertain distance. Merlin bent over the clavier, brought his face directly into the line of sight of the performer — but the eyes did not see him. On this day of days, the first Thursday in November, the soul of the master was a million miles away.

The impresario, aghast at the situation, fell back slowly, his eyes glued to the figure at the instrument.

“But he plays — he plays!” he said, unbelieving; and then sharply, and with a note of irritation in his voice: “Ernest! Ernest!” he cried. But the automaton at the keys gave no heed. His phantom music held the dreamer fast. For a moment Merlin was overpowered by the strangeness of the situation. “But he plays — he plays!” he insisted; and then, turning on the woman, who had now fallen limply into a chair, his eyes gleaming, he demanded: “What does he play? What does he play, Rosa? Tell me that!”

“It is — it is the sonata,” she whispered.

Now the great Merlin fairly rose on his toes, his eyes blazing.

“The sonata! The sonata?” he repeated.

And, without a second glance at the limp figure of poor Rosa, he went back to the clavier. There was a tradition about this sonata — the sonata of Jacoby. This was its only title — the sonata. That described better than anything else the awe and reverence in which this master of masters was held by his following. No one had ever heard it. It existed only in Jacoby’s brain — the brain in his head and the brain in his fingertips. No one who ever saw him play would deny that his fingers were capable of cerebration. And now the sonata was being played before the very eyes of Merlin! But not before his ears. Merlin was clever at the keys. Now he was studying those flying fingers like a hawk. Cats and dogs! What sprite of the devil had contrived this outlandish keyboard, with its pure intervals! Even to the trained eyes of the impresario, these interpretative fingers spoke only in cryptograms. Merlin could decipher the tempo — even something of the phrasing.

“How long will this go on?” asked Merlin, finally going back to Rosa. He shook her roughly, made her sit erect and listen to him. “They are waiting for him. It is rank idiocy! How long will it go on?”

“For hours and hours — till finally he is exhausted.”

“Felipe! Go to my office. Tell my secretary to bring Doctor Vossberg. Take care! No word of this — remember!”

Thus dispatching the valet, Merlin went back to the clavier. He rested his elbows on the case, as his hawklike eyes resumed their study of the fingers.

Doctor Vossberg might have been a virtuoso had he not chosen medicine instead. Now, in his advanced years, he consorted with the people who lived the profession he had denied himself. He was sitting silent in his box when they found him; and, with practiced dissimulation — lest the impatient house catch the infection of alarm — he rose after a few seconds and followed them out. When he entered the anteroom Merlin acquainted him with the circumstances; they whispered together for some time; later they took Rosa aside. Steadied by the presence of the old physician she grew more coherent.

“It is not sleep,” she cried, much moved. “It is — as though he were translated — by this strange music. It carries him far from us — he is no longer here.”

“No,” said the old doctor, studying the performer narrowly; “it is not sleep. It is an amazing form of psychosis.”

“He will tear his soul to rags if this goes on,” began Merlin. “If we could get him over there — to his own piano — the sound of the strings might cause him to come back quite naturally, without shock.”

Strive as he would, Merlin could not mask the excitement and eagerness in his tones; the others, however, were too absorbed to note this. As they talked together in hushed voices at his very elbow, the unconscious pianist, with unseeing eyes, continued to pursue his theme.

“Rosa, think!” commanded the physician. “Let us seek some impulse stronger than all else. It may be the key to unlock his senses. A great grief — a great happiness! Is there not some all-powerful emotion in his life that you can call back by some simple act?”

Rosa suddenly sat erect, her eyes bedewed with happy tears. She drew them to her and whispered.

It was an intimate confidence.

“Do you remember, at his first Thursday, years and years ago, I had to come to lead him off — he was so overcome with the ovation? He has never forgotten the scent of the violets I wore. Could that not rouse him now?”

It was a desperate expedient, fantastic at the best. The doctor nodded eagerly. There is nothing more powerfully hypnotic than a perfume to awaken recollection. The invasion of the physical sense reacts on the mental; the association of ideas is immediate.

“Violets!” commanded the doctor; but Merlin was already at the door. When Felipe returned with a great bunch of the purple flowers the doctor ruthlessly crushed them in his hand until the air was heavy with the scent. He thrust them into the lace of the woman’s dress.

The dreamer at the clavier was now beating the keys with arms that swung like flails. Suddenly his hands fell to his side. He sat back, staring at the wall, his lips moving as though he were counting. It was the pause between movements of the ghostly sonata.

“Quick, Rosa! Now! Before he begins again!” cried Vossberg. “Put your arms about him; speak to him — as though he were awake — gently. Take his hand as you did on that first Thursday long ago.”

And Rosa, her lips quivering, tears coursing down her cheeks, gently took him in her arms.

“How your friends love you, Ernest! We will go now! Come!” she whispered softly, as she put his head to her breast.

A slight shiver ran through the frame of the musician. She took his hand and he rose, with the simple obedience of a child. The old physician was now at his other hand. And Jacoby, yielding to the tender urging of familiar hands, started forward.

 

The auditorium was booming like a hive of angry bees when Merlin walked out on the stage. At his appearance the hum of impatient voices ceased and he was greeted with applause. He raised a hand for silence; then he said haltingly as he sought to control his breath:

“Good friends, we must crave your utmost indulgence. Let me ask of you one great favor: When the maestro comes out let there be no demonstration. As you love him, be silent — be as silent as death itself. It is imperative. Let there be no sound, I beg of you!”

A murmur of surprise followed the strange words of the impresario. To the true virtuoso the tone of his house is almost as vital as the tone of his instrument. And they were asked, in all earnestness, to sit mute before their master!

The clusters of lights illuminating the vast auditorium disappeared one by one until there remained only the tiny red bulbs at the emergency exits to spot the darkness. The murmur faded into absolute silence. The pendent chandelier on the stage, its scores of glowing bulbs screened with yellow silk, was dimmed to twilight; so that even the great piano itself loomed misty and indistinct.

The house took to watching the small door on the left through which the great man must enter. Shortly the door opened; and against the light from within appeared the silhouetted figures of Jacoby and Rosa his wife. The musician was leaning heavily on her arm and she was helping him up the short flight of steps to the stage. He walked like a blind man. As the little door closed behind them the hush of the house became tense. Now — if ever — these three thousand throats should acclaim him; but they kept their faith with Merlin and sat rigid.

The two people advancing on the stage seemed like pygmy creatures lost in the vast defiles of some enchanted island, so oddly did the dim lights dwarf them in the broad setting. They moved slowly, the maestro once or twice putting out a hand, as though to pierce the darkness.

Finally, they reached the piano; his wife seated him on the bench and laid his hand on the keys. Then she did a very odd thing — she turned to the great house and laid a warning finger on her lips; then stole away.

The house settled itself. This was the first Thursday in November! Jacoby sat motionless. His eyes were fixed on some indefinite spot in the shadows. He sat thus for a full minute — an eternity to the house, which began shifting uneasily; and, most of all, an eternity to the three who watched him off stage. Jacoby had permitted himself to be brought across the street like one under a spell — physically obedient but, to all appearances, with his mind still in the abyss.

“We have lost!” murmured Rosa despairingly. Merlin tore his eyes loose from the odd figure on the stage, as though to make sure that he himself was not dreaming. Cats and dogs! Had they succeeded in rousing the dreamer, only to lose him again in full view of this staring throng? They were not here to exhibit a somnambulist. An idea arrested him.

“Georges!” he cried and his secretary — faithful shadow — was at his elbow. “In my office, on the safe, is Richard Spurling’s violin. Bring it to me!” And when it was brought he said: “Open it! What! What! Locked! Smash the lock — so! Now — Georges! Severine is out in front — the aisle seat, fourth row, left center. Bring him to me.”

In a trice little Severine, the violinist, had been dragged from his seat and taken behind the stage.

“He is asleep — in a trance?” said the little man as he came in.

Merlin, at the table, was scribbling on a scrap of paper. Over his shoulder he growled:

“Yes — asleep! And you are to waken him. Play this!”

Merlin thrust the violin into Severine’s hands and held up the sheet of paper, on which were half a dozen bars of a strange melody.

“Here is the tempo — so!” Merlin was saying as, with his hand, he swung an imaginary baton. “Do you get it? Now play!”

“But —” began the puzzled violinist.

“But nothing! Play, you fool! So — take it slowly to the rise — the merest hum — so! Now begin!”

He opened the door to the stage a little wider and motioned for the lights to be extinguished behind him so that he might not make himself conspicuous to the audience. This audience, if he knew it, was dangerously near the exploding point.

“Once more — a little louder — more free — so! Gad! Vossberg, look!”

Jacoby was bending forward, searching the uncertain depths of the stage as though seeking to surprise the echo of some familiar cadence. The violin sang though its half dozen bars as softly as a breath of air. Jacoby was smiling now. He began to caress the keys with his fingers — to explore them.

Then suddenly the air began to vibrate. So gently did the felted hammers fall on the tense strings of his instrument that, for a moment, the sustained tone seemed to come less from the piano itself than from the very atmosphere. The air became saturated with throbbing sound — hung heavy under it, as under the stress of distant thunder on a summer day. The tone became more firm; it divided itself into inarticulate phrases. Through it there came a voice, calling. It was trying to speak, to sing — the voice grew, faltered, was gone — came again; until finally it found itself, burst crystal clear on the ears, singing the song that the violin in the trembling fingers of Severine had been whispering.

No sooner did the theme burst forth than it seemed to be taken up by scores of voices near and far — calling, answering each other, laughing, echoing; twisting and turning the thin little motif into myriad fantastic shapes. The musician at the keys began to sway from side to side with the rhythm — for there was rhythm, in spite of the inextricable tangle of counterpoint.

The song of the multitude grew faster and faster; the volume of tone rose measure by measure, until it became a mighty, sustained diapason which swept the whole instrument. And then, like a rocket curving through its zenith, the thing burst into a shower of glittering sparks, which glowed for a moment and died away.

The silence was so abrupt that it left the house fairly gasping for breath. Little Severine was listening, almost terrified; it was beyond his power to conceive what the master had done with that ragged little theme he had scraped off on the strings. Rosa was silent, her head buried in her arms.

Merlin threw open the door and was on the stage in one bound. He sprang forward on tiptoe, waving his arms wildly in the air, his face going through the most grotesque contortions. There was no sound from his lips; but with all his might he was impressing silence — silence! — silence! — before the storm should break. The performer at the keys had let his hands fall; his head moved and he seemed to be counting.

The youthful violinist stole away and found his place again, out in front.

“He is in a dream!” he whispered to his neighbor; and, like a spark in tinder, the whisper flashed across the house from row to row, from tier to tier — to the very topmost gallery.

The master was playing in a dream! Hush! Not a sound! What does he play? They looked at each other timidly. What does he play? Could there be any question? What should Jacoby — their great Jacoby — play when he dreamed? The sonata — the sonata!

Jacoby raised his hands again. The fingers fell on the keys. The allegro movement began. It was like the opening of a flower, its lifetime of color and fragrance compressed into a few precious moments.

“Cats and dogs! They are under the spell — every mother’s son of them!” muttered Merlin to himself.

He was staring out at the house. The impresario was not insensible to the wizardry of sound the master was weaving on his amazing instrument, with its pure intervals; but, like the sailors of Ulysses, he was stopping his ears to it lest he fall under its magic and forget the business at hand.

With a conscious effort he tore himself loose; he tiptoed cautiously to the rear door, making a passing appraisal of Rosa, who was watching the maestro in awed reverence. Merlin slid down the corridor to the little cubby-hole, opened the door and thrust in his head.

“How goes it?” he cried in a half whisper.

The two mechanicians did not take their eyes from the revolving disks which were imprisoning the exquisite vagaries of the unconscious musician. They nodded their heads impatiently, waving their hands in mute answer; they were blowing industriously on their needles, so that not so much as a fleck of dust, not a mote, should mar the project of stealing the tangible image of the unknown sonata.

It might very well have been that those three thousand listeners were asleep. When the allegro ended there was just the suggestion of a drawn breath of relief among them; and in another moment the deep, sonorous chords of an andante, introducing a variant theme, began to pervade their senses. Merlin did not know which fascinated him more — the dreaming performer or the house struggling under the spell he cast. It was well, thought he, that he had provided for this windfall. Never again would such music be heard from human hands.

The new theme, translating itself from key to key with uncanny modulations, sounded the depths of pain as the tempo slackened to the largo, like a chant through an echoing cathedral. Then, silence. Blank silence! And the scherzo broke like the rays of warm sunlight through the clouds.

Faster and faster the fingers flew, weaving together the two themes that had gone before. A moment ago and the house seemed dissociated from its body; now the physical predominated. The deathly stillness was gone. It was as though a magician with mere facile fingers had steeped their senses in every phase of emotion — love, beauty, sorrow — leading them down into the depths step by step until it became numb pain to listen.

Then, with a wave of the wand — the wand of the sprightly, capricious scherzo — Jacoby was saying:

“See! It is all a trick — I do it with my fingers; I do it with my piano — my wonderful piano, with its two sets of black keys! Pain and sorrow, love and beauty — they reside in my fingertips, not in my soul! There is nothing not subject to motion and number. Mind is mathematics — tone is merely the sums and divisions on a child’s slate! It is I — I — I — Jacoby! Not Jacoby’s heart, but his fingers, his piano!”

Merlin was conscious of a strange pricking sensation in the back of his neck. An electric thrill was in the air. The thing outside ended in a wild, shrieking crash. Then silence.

Then the storm broke. The vast auditorium became a hollow cone, within the imprisoning sides of which bedlam broke loose. Every man of the three thousand was on his feet now — waving his hands, tearing his hair, stamping his feet, clapping, shouting — anything to make noise; noise that battered itself back and forth between the walls, which seemed to shake the very rafters of the edifice.

Cries of Bravo! Bravo! and Jacoby! Jacoby! rent the air. They were crowding into the aisles, surging in struggling lines toward the stage. They banked themselves just beyond the rail, the din becoming louder and louder as they gave way more and more to their exultation.

“Fools! What becomes of the finale? Cats and dogs! Why couldn’t they be still to the end!” Merlin was snarling as he rushed to the front.

He started out on the stage again, imploring them to be still — to return to their chairs. He signaled frantically. The crowd neither saw nor heard him. Another thing had checked them. The tumult of acclaim ceased as suddenly as though choked by some gigantic hand. Jacoby had raised his head and was looking about him in a dazed way. His querulous voice broke the taut silence.

“Rosa! Rosa!” he was calling. Rosa was by his side in an instant, her hand on his “What is it? Who are all these people?” And he indicated with a wave of his hand the bank of upstaring faces.

Merlin was equal to the occasion. He sprang forward.

“This is your day, Ernest! Have you forgotten? These are all your good friends — who love you. This is the first Thursday in November.”

Merlin waved the house back to their chairs. Jacoby rose. He gently pushed his wife aside.

“Am I a child, that you must lead me? Begone!”

He bowed stiffly to the house; then he began to play. It was a rhapsody of insurmountable technical difficulties — the first number on his program for the afternoon. He blazed through it like a skyrocket. It was six o’clock when the house emptied itself into the street. He had played through his set program, denying, as was his custom, all encores.

 

Merlin some time later took his priceless master record from its fireproof vault and presented himself in Jacoby’s drawing room. Rosa was frightened at his advent, for he had confessed to her the existence of this record and that it awaited only the master’s signature and approval to be given to the world.

Everything was arranged with the utmost care. The machine was started when Jacoby was in conversation with Doctor Vossberg and Severine, the violinist. The maestro looked up quickly.

“Who plays Jacoby’s piano?” he demanded in the middle of that wonderful introduction.

Merlin came forward.

“Who should play your piano — who but Jacoby?” said he, eying the musician sharply.

The master listened through to the end of the third movement of the unfinished masterpiece. He clapped his hands in ecstasy and cried:

“Again! Again! Once more, Merlin! ‘Tis wonderful!”

Merlin chuckled and went back to the beginning. The musician sat spellbound.

“Who plays?” he asked when it was finished.

“Who but Jacoby?” answered Merlin.

“I? Jacoby? Do you laugh at Jacoby, Merlin? Eh, Merlin? At last we have somebody greater than Jacoby! This man is as much greater than Jacoby — as Jacoby is above the rest of the world. Who is it, I say?”

The little group looked at Jacoby, dashed.

“But, maestro,” persisted Merlin, who was breaking into a sweat, “this is your sonata — the sonata — your unpublished masterpiece! — with which you began your day — your first Thursday. They went mad! Listen! You can hear them calling your name at the end of the scherzo.”

“Silence!” cried Jacoby. “My sonata? You blaspheme! This is the music of a prophet. Here are such close harmonies as I have dreamed of, but never attained.”

“But there are millions in it — for you and me, Jacoby!” cried Merlin, aghast as he saw a fortune slipping through his fingers. “Here are millions — if you will only sign the record!”

“Millions to steal!” thundered Jacoby. Then suddenly, his face changing: “You have been imposed on, my good Merlin. That is not my sonata — the sonata. I have never played it. No one has heard it. The sonata” — he whispered with a rapt look as he tapped his forehead — “it is still here.”

 

There the matter rests. The priceless record of the unknown masterpiece still remains in Merlin’s safe.

 

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Read “The Unknown Masterpiece” by Frederick Irving Anderson. Published June 5, 1915, in the Post.

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