No Naked Ads -> Here!
No Naked Ads -> Here! $urlZ
Weird tales vol i (of.., p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Weird Tales. Vol. I (of 2), p.1

         Part #I of Weird Tales series by E. T. A. Hoffmann
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Weird Tales. Vol. I (of 2)

  Produced by Charles Bowen, from scans obtained from TheInternet Archive.

  Web Archive:

















  Councillor Krespel was one of the strangest, oddest men I ever met within my life. When I went to live in H---- for a time the whole town wasfull of talk about him, as he happened to be just then in the midst ofone of the very craziest of his schemes. Krespel had the reputationof being both a clever, learn lawyer and a skilful diplomatist. One ofthe reigning princes of Germany--not, however, one of the mostpowerful--had appealed to him for assistance in drawing up a memorial,which he was desirous of presenting at the Imperial Court with the viewof furthering his legitimate claims upon a certain strip of territory.The project was crowned with the happiest success; and as Krespel hadonce complained that he could never find a dwelling sufficientlycomfortable to suit him, the prince, to reward him for the memorial,undertook to defray the cost of building a house which Krespel mighterect just as he pleased. Moreover, the prince was willing to purchaseany site that he should fancy. This offer, however, the Councillorwould not accept; he insisted that the house should be built in hisgarden, situated in a very beautiful neighbourhood outside thetown-walls. So he bought all kinds of materials and had them cartedout. Then he might have been seen day after day, attired in his curiousgarments (which he had made himself according to certain fixed rules ofhis own), slacking the lime, riddling the sand, packing up the bricksand stones in regular heaps, and so on. All this he did without onceconsulting an architect or thinking about a plan. One fine day,however, he went to an experienced builder of the town and requestedhim to be in his garden at daybreak the next morning, with all hisjourneymen and apprentices, and a large body of labourers, &c., tobuild him his house. Naturally the builder asked for the architect'splan, and was not a little astonished when Krespel replied that nonewas needed, and that things would turn out all right in the end, justas he wanted them. Next morning, when the builder and his men came tothe place, they found a trench drawn out in the shape of an exactsquare; and Krespel said, "Here's where you must lay the foundations;then carry up the walls until I say they are high enough." "Withoutwindows and doors, and without partition walls?" broke in the builder,as if alarmed at Krespel's mad folly. "Do what I tell you, my dearsir," replied the Councillor quite calmly; "leave the rest to me; itwill be all right." It was only the promise of high pay that couldinduce the builder to proceed with the ridiculous building; but nonehas ever been erected under merrier circumstances. As there was anabundant supply of food and drink, the workmen never left their work;and amidst their continuous laughter the four walls were run up withincredible quickness, until one day Krespel cried, "Stop!" Then theworkmen, laying down trowel and hammer, came down from the scaffoldingsand gathered round Krespel in a circle, whilst every laughing face wasasking, "Well, and what now?" "Make way!" cried Krespel; and thenrunning to one end of the garden, he strode slowly towards the squareof brick-work. When he came close to the wall he shook his head in adissatisfied manner, ran to the other end of the garden, again strodeslowly towards the brick-work square, and proceeded to act as before.These tactics he pursued several times, until at length, running hissharp nose hard against the wall, he cried, "Come here, come here, men!break me a door in here! Here's where I want a door made!" He gave theexact dimensions in feet and inches, and they did as he bid them. Thenhe stepped inside the structure, and smiled with satisfaction as thebuilder remarked that the walls were just the height of a goodtwo-storeyed house. Krespel walked thoughtfully backwards and forwardsacross the space within, the bricklayers behind him with hammers andpicks, and wherever he cried, "Make a window here, six feet high byfour feet broad!" "There a little window, three feet by two!" a holewas made in a trice.

  It was at this stage of the proceedings that I came to H----; and itwas highly amusing to see how hundreds of people stood round about thegarden and raised a loud shout whenever the stones flew out and a newwindow appeared where nobody had for a moment expected it. And in thesame manner Krespel proceeded with the buildings and fittings of therest of the house, and with all the work necessary to that end;everything had to be done on the spot in accordance with theinstructions which the Councillor gave from time to time. However, theabsurdity of the whole business, the growing conviction that thingswould in the end turn out better than might have been expected, butabove all, Krespel's generosity--which indeed cost him nothing--keptthem all in good-humour. Thus were the difficulties overcome whichnecessarily arose out of this eccentric way of building, and in a shorttime there was a completely finished house, its outside, indeed,presenting a most extraordinary appearance, no two windows, &c., beingalike, but on the other hand the interior arrangements suggested apeculiar feeling of comfort. All who entered the house bore witness tothe truth of this; and I too experienced it myself when I was taken inby Krespel after I had become more intimate with him. For hitherto Ihad not exchanged a word with this eccentric man; his building hadoccupied him so much that he had not even once been to ProfessorM----'s to dinner, as he was in the habit of going on Tuesdays. Indeed,in reply to a special invitation, he sent word that he should not setfoot over the threshold before the house-warming of his new buildingtook place. All his friends and acquaintances, therefore, confidentlylooked forward to a great banquet; but Krespel invited nobody exceptthe masters, journeymen, apprentices, and labourers who had built thehouse. He entertained them with the choicest viands: bricklayer'sapprentices devoured partridge pies regardless of consequences; youngjoiners polished off roast pheasants with the greatest success; whilsthungry labourers helped themselves for once to the choicest morsels of_truffes fricassees_. In the evening their wives and daughters came,and there was a great ball. After waltzing a short while with the wivesof the masters, Krespel sat down amongst the town-musicians, took aviolin in his hand, and directed the orchestra until daylight.

  On the Tuesday after this festival, which exhibited Councillor Krespelin the character of a friend of the people, I at length saw him appear,to my no little joy, at Professor M----'s. Anything more strange andfantastic than Krespel's behaviour it would be impossible to find. Hewas so stiff and awkward in his movements, that he looked every momentas if he would run up against something or do some damage. But he didnot; and the lady of the house seemed to be well aware that he wouldnot, for she did not grow a shade paler when he rushed with heavy stepsround a table crowded with beautiful cups, or when he man[oe]uvred neara large mirror that reached down
to the floor, or even when he seized aflower-pot of beautifully painted porcelain and swung it round in theair as if desirous of making its colours play. Moreover, before dinnerhe subjected everything in the Professor's room to a most minuteexamination; he also took down a picture from the wall and hung it upagain, standing on one of the cushioned chairs to do so. At the sametime he talked a good deal and vehemently; at one time his thoughtskept leaping, as it were, from one subject to another (this was mostconspicuous during dinner); at another, he was unable to have done withan idea; seizing upon it again and again, he gave it all sorts ofwonderful twists and turns, and couldn't get back into the ordinarytrack until something else took hold of his fancy. Sometimes his voicewas rough and harsh and screeching, and sometimes it was low anddrawling and singing; but at no time did it harmonize with what he wastalking about. Music was the subject of conversation; the praises of anew composer were being sung, when Krespel, smiling, said in his lowsinging tones, "I wish the devil with his pitchfork would hurl thatatrocious garbler of music millions of fathoms down to the bottomlesspit of hell!" Then he burst out passionately and wildly, "She is anangel of heaven, nothing but pure God-given music!--the paragon andqueen of song!"--and tears stood in his eyes. To understand this, wehad to go back to a celebrated _artiste_, who had been the subject ofconversation an hour before.

  Just at this time a roast hare was on the table; I noticed that Krespelcarefully removed every particle of meat from the bones on his plate,and was most particular in his inquiries after the hare's feet; thesethe Professor's little five-year-old daughter now brought to him with avery pretty smile. Besides, the children had cast many friendly glancestowards Krespel during dinner; now they rose and drew nearer to him,but not without signs of timorous awe. What's the meaning of that?thought I to myself. Dessert was brought in; then the Councillor took alittle box from his pocket, in which he had a miniature lathe of steel.This he immediately screwed fast to the table, and turning the boneswith incredible skill and rapidity, he made all sorts of little fancyboxes and balls, which the children received with cries of delight.Just as we were rising from table, the Professor's niece asked, "Andwhat is our Antonia doing?" Krespel's face was like that of one who hasbitten of a sour orange and wants to look as if it were a sweet one;but this expression soon changed into the likeness of a hideous mask,whilst he laughed behind it with downright bitter, fierce, and as itseemed to me, satanic scorn. "Our Antonia? our dear Antonia?" he askedin his drawling, disagreeable singing way. The Professor hastened tointervene; in the reproving glance which he gave his niece I read thatshe had touched a point likely to stir up unpleasant memories inKrespel's heart. "How are you getting on with your violins?" interposedthe Professor in a jovial manner, taking the Councillor by both hands.Then Krespel's countenance cleared up, and with a firm voice hereplied, "Capitally, Professor; you recollect my telling you of thelucky chance which threw that splendid Amati[1] into my hands. Well,I've only cut it open to-day--not before to-day. I hope Antonia hascarefully taken the rest of it to pieces." "Antonia is a good child,"remarked the Professor. "Yes, indeed, that she is," cried theCouncillor, whisking himself round; then, seizing his hat and stick, hehastily rushed out of the room. I saw in the mirror how that tears werestanding in his eyes.

  As soon as the Councillor was gone, I at once urged the Professor toexplain to me what Krespel had to do with violins, and particularlywith Antonia. "Well," replied the Professor, "not only is theCouncillor a remarkably eccentric fellow altogether, but he practisesviolin-making in his own crack-brained way." "Violin-making!" Iexclaimed, perfectly astonished. "Yes," continued the Professor,"according to the judgment of men who understand the thing, Krespelmakes the very best violins that can be found nowadays; formerly hewould frequently let other people play on those in which he had beenespecially successful, but that's been all over and done with now for along time. As soon as he has finished a violin he plays on it himselffor one or two hours, with very remarkable power and with the mostexquisite expression, then he hangs it up beside the rest, and nevertouches it again or suffers anybody else to touch it. If a violin byany of the eminent old masters is hunted up anywhere, the Councillorbuys it immediately, no matter what the price put upon it. But he playsit as he does his own violins, only once; then he takes it to pieces inorder to examine closely its inner structure, and should he fancy hehasn't found exactly what he sought for, he in a pet throws the piecesinto a big chest, which is already full of the remains of brokenviolins." "But who and what is Antonia?" I inquired, hastily andimpetuously. "Well, now, that," continued the Professor, "that is athing which might very well make me conceive an unconquerable aversionto the Councillor, were I not convinced that there is some peculiarsecret behind it, for he is such a good-natured fellow at bottom as tobe sometimes guilty of weakness. When he came to H---- several yearsago, he led the life of an anchorite, along with an old housekeeper, in---- Street. Soon, by his oddities, he excited the curiosity of hisneighbours; and immediately he became aware of this, he sought and madeacquaintances. Not only in my house but everywhere we became soaccustomed to him that he grew to be indispensable. In spite of hisrude exterior, even the children liked him, without ever proving anuisance to him; for notwithstanding all their friendly passagestogether, they always retained a certain timorous awe of him, whichsecured him against all over-familiarity. You have to-day had anexample of the way in which he wins their hearts by his ready skill invarious things. We all took him at first for a crusty old bachelor, andhe never contradicted us. After he had been living here some time, hewent away, nobody knew where, and returned at the end of some months.The evening following his return his windows were lit up to an unusualextent! this alone was sufficient to arouse his neighbours' attention,and they soon heard the surpassingly beautiful voice of a femalesinging to the accompaniment of a piano. Then the music of a violin washeard chiming in and entering upon a keen ardent contest with thevoice. They knew at once that the player was the Councillor. I myselfmixed in the large crowd which had gathered in front of his house tolisten to this extraordinary concert; and I must confess that, besidethis voice and the peculiar, deep, soul-stirring impression which theexecution made upon me, the singing of the most celebrated _artistes_whom I had ever heard seemed to me feeble and void of expression. Untilthen I had had no conception of such long-sustained notes, of suchnightingale trills, of such undulations of musical sound, of suchswelling up to the strength of organ-notes, of such dying away to thefaintest whisper. There was not one whom the sweet witchery did notenthral; and when the singer ceased, nothing but soft sighs broke theimpressive silence. Somewhere about midnight the Councillor was heardtalking violently, and another male voice seemed, to judge from thetones, to be reproaching him, whilst at intervals the broken words of asobbing girl could be detected. The Councillor continued to shout withincreasing violence, until he fell into that drawling, singing way thatyou know. He was interrupted by a loud scream from the girl, and thenall was as still as death. Suddenly a loud racket was heard on thestairs; a young man rushed out sobbing, threw himself into apost-chaise which stood below, and drove rapidly away. The next day theCouncillor was very cheerful, and nobody had the courage to questionhim about the events of the previous night. But on inquiring of thehousekeeper, we gathered that the Councillor had brought home with himan extraordinarily pretty young lady whom he called Antonia, and she itwas who had sung so beautifully. A young man also had come along withthem; he had treated Antonia very tenderly, and must evidently havebeen her betrothed. But he, since the Councillor peremptorily insistedon it, had had to go away again in a hurry. What the relations betweenAntonia and the Councillor are has remained until now a secret, butthis much is certain, that he tyrannises over the poor girl in the mosthateful fashion. He watches her as Doctor Bartholo watches his ward inthe _Barber of Seville_; she hardly dare show herself at the window;and if, yielding now and again to her earnest entreaties, he takes herinto society, he follows her with Argus' eyes, and will on no accountsuffer a musical
note to be sounded, far less let Antonia sing--indeed,she is not permitted to sing in his own house. Antonia's singing onthat memorable night, has, therefore, come to be regarded by thetownspeople in the light of a tradition of some marvellous wonder thatsuffices to stir the heart and the fancy; and even those who did nothear it often exclaim, whenever any other singer attempts to displayher powers in the place, 'What sort of a wretched squeaking do you callthat? Nobody but Antonia knows how to sing.'"

  Having a singular weakness for such like fantastic histories, I foundit necessary, as may easily be imagined, to make Antonia'sacquaintance. I had myself often enough heard the popular sayings abouther singing, but had never imagined that that exquisite _artiste_ wasliving in the place, held a captive in the bonds of this eccentricKrespel like the victim of a tyrannous sorcerer. Naturally enough Iheard in my dreams on the following night Antonia's marvellous voice,and as she besought me in the most touching manner in a glorious_adagio_ movement (very ridiculously it seemed to me, as if I hadcomposed it myself) to save her, I soon resolved, like a secondAstolpho,[2] to penetrate into Krespel's house, as if into anotherAlcina's magic castle, and deliver the queen of song from herignominious fetters.

  It all came about in a different way from what I had expected; I hadseen the Councillor scarcely more than two or three times, and eagerlydiscussed with him the best method of constructing violins, when heinvited me to call and see him. I did so; and he showed me histreasures of violins. There were fully thirty of them hanging up in acloset; one amongst them bore conspicuously all the marks of greatantiquity (a carved lion's head, &c.), and, hung up higher than therest and surmounted by a crown of flowers, it seemed to exercise aqueenly supremacy over them. "This violin," said Krespel, on my makingsome inquiry relative to it, "this violin is a very remarkable andcurious specimen of the work of some unknown master, probably ofTartini's[3] age. I am perfectly convinced that there is somethingespecially exceptional in its inner construction, and that, if I tookit to pieces, a secret would be revealed to me which I have long beenseeking to discover, but--laugh at me if you like--this senseless thingwhich only gives signs of life and sound as I make it, often speaks tome in a strange way of itself. The first time I played upon it Isomehow fancied that I was only the magnetiser who has the power ofmoving his subject to reveal of his own accord in words the visions ofhis inner nature. Don't go away with the belief that I am such a foolas to attach even the slightest importance to such fantastic notions,and yet it's certainly strange that I could never prevail upon myselfto cut open that dumb lifeless thing there. I am very pleased now thatI have not cut it open, for since Antonia has been with me I sometimesplay to her upon this violin. For Antonia is fond of it--very fond ofit." As the Councillor uttered these words with visible signs ofemotion, I felt encouraged to hazard the question, "Will you not playit to me, Councillor." Krespel made a wry face, and falling into hisdrawling, singing way, said, "No, my good sir!" and that was an end ofthe matter. Then I had to look at all sorts of rare curiosities, thegreater part of them childish trifles; at last thrusting his arm into achest, he brought out a folded piece of paper, which he pressed into myhand, adding solemnly, "You are a lover of art; take this present as apriceless memento, which you must value at all times above everythingelse." Therewith he took me by the shoulders and gently pushed metowards the door, embracing me on the threshold. That is to say, I wasin a symbolical manner virtually kicked out of doors. Unfolding thepaper, I found a piece of a first string of a violin about an eighth ofan inch in length, with the words, "A piece of the treble string withwhich the deceased Staraitz[4] strung his violin for the last concertat which he ever played."

  This summary dismissal at mention of Antonia's name led me to inferthat I should never see her; but I was mistaken, for on my second visitto the Councillor's I found her in his room, assisting him to put aviolin together. At first sight Antonia did not make a strongimpression; but soon I found it impossible to tear myself away from herblue eyes, her sweet rosy lips, her uncommonly graceful, lovely form.She was very pale; but a shrewd remark or a merry sally would call up awinning smile on her face and suffuse her cheeks with a deep burningflush, which, however, soon faded away to a faint rosy glow. Myconversation with her was quite unconstrained, and yet I saw nothingwhatever of the Argus-like watchings on Krespel's part which theProfessor had imputed to him; on the contrary, his behaviour movedalong the customary lines, nay, he even seemed to approve of myconversation with Antonia. So I often stepped in to see the Councillor;and as we became accustomed to each other's society, a singular feelingof homeliness, taking possession of our little circle of three, filledour hearts with inward happiness. I still continued to derive exquisiteenjoyment from the Councillor's strange crotchets and oddities; but itwas of course Antonia's irresistible charms alone which attracted me,and led me to put up with a good deal which I should otherwise, in theframe of mind in which I then was, have impatiently shunned. For itonly too often happened that in the Councillor's characteristicextravagance there was mingled much that was dull and tiresome; and itwas in a special degree irritating to me that, as often as I turned theconversation upon music, and particularly upon singing, he was sure tointerrupt me, with that sardonic smile upon his face and thoserepulsive singing tones of his, by some remark of a quite oppositetendency, very often of a commonplace character. From the greatdistress which at such times Antonia's glances betrayed, I perceivedthat he only did it to deprive me of a pretext for calling upon her fora song. But I didn't relinquish my design. The hindrances which theCouncillor threw in my way only strengthened my resolution to overcomethem; I must hear Antonia sing if I was not to pine away in reveriesand dim aspirations for want of hearing her.

  One evening Krespel was in an uncommonly good humour; he had beentaking an old Cremona violin to pieces, and had discovered that thesound-post was fixed half a line more obliquely than usual--animportant discovery! one of incalculable advantage in the practicalwork of making violins! I succeeded in setting him off at full speed onhis hobby of the true art of violin-playing. Mention of the way inwhich the old masters picked up their dexterity in execution fromreally great singers (which was what Krespel happened just then to beexpatiating upon), naturally paved the way for the remark that now thepractice was the exact opposite of this, the vocal score erroneouslyfollowing the affected and abrupt transitions and rapid scaling of theinstrumentalists. "What is more nonsensical," I cried, leaping from mychair, running to the piano, and opening it quickly, "what is morenonsensical than such an execrable style as this, which, far from beingmusic, is much more like the noise of peas rolling across the floor?"At the same time I sang several of the modern _fermatas_, which rush upand down and hum like a well-spun peg-top, striking a few villanouschords by way of accompaniment Krespel laughed outrageously andscreamed, "Ha! ha! methinks I hear our German-Italians or ourItalian-Germans struggling with an aria from Pucitta,[5] orPortogallo,[6] or some other _Maestro di capella_, or rather _schiavod'un primo uomo_."[7] Now, thought I, now's the time; so turning toAntonia, I remarked, "Antonia knows nothing of such singing as that, Ibelieve?" At the same time I struck up one of old Leonardo Leo's[8]beautiful soul-stirring songs. Then Antonia's cheeks glowed; heavenlyradiance sparkled in her eyes, which grew full of reawakenedinspiration; she hastened to the piano; she opened her lips; but atthat very moment Krespel pushed her away, grasped me by the shoulders,and with a shriek that rose up to a tenor pitch, cried, "My son--myson--my son!" And then he immediately went on, singing very softly, andgrasping my hand with a bow that was the pink of politeness, "In verytruth, my esteemed and honourable student-friend, in very truth itwould be a violation of the codes of social intercourse, as well as ofall good manners, were I to express aloud and in a stirring way my wishthat here, on this very spot, the devil from hell would softly breakyour neck with his burning claws, and so in a sense make short work ofyou; but, setting that aside, you must acknowledge, my dearest friend,that it is rapidly growing dark, and there are no lamps burningto-night
so that, even though I did not kick you downstairs at once,your darling limbs might still run a risk of suffering damage. Go homeby all means; and cherish a kind remembrance of your faithful friend,if it should happen that you never,--pray, understand me,--if youshould never see him in his own house again." Therewith he embracedme, and, still keeping fast hold of me, turned with me slowly towardsthe door, so that I could not get another single look at Antonia. Ofcourse it is plain enough that in my position I couldn't thrash theCouncillor, though that is what he really deserved. The Professorenjoyed a good laugh at my expense, and assured me that I had ruinedfor ever all hopes of retaining the Councillor's friendship. Antoniawas too dear to me, I might say too holy, for me to go and play thepart of the languishing lover and stand gazing up at her window, or tofill the _role_ of the lovesick adventurer. Completely upset, I wentaway from H----; but, as is usual in such cases, the brilliant coloursof the picture of my fancy faded, and the recollection of Antonia, aswell as of Antonia's singing (which I had never heard), often fell uponmy heart like a soft faint trembling light, comforting me.

  Two years afterwards I received an appointment in B----, and set out ona journey to the south of Germany. The towers of M---- rose before mein the red vaporous glow of the evening; the nearer I came the more wasI oppressed by an indescribable feeling of the most agonising distress;it lay upon me like a heavy burden; I could not breathe; I was obligedto get out of my carriage into the open air. But my anguish continuedto increase until it became actual physical pain. Soon I seemed to hearthe strains of a solemn chorale floating in the air; the soundscontinued to grow more distinct; I realised the fact that they weremen's voices chanting a church chorale. "What's that? what's that?" Icried, a burning stab darting as it were through my breast "Don't yousee?" replied the coachman, who was driving along beside me, "why,don't you see? they're burying somebody up yonder in yon churchyard."And indeed we were near the churchyard; I saw a circle of men clothedin black standing round a grave, which was on the point of beingclosed. Tears started to my eyes; I somehow fancied they were buryingthere all the joy and all the happiness of life. Moving on rapidly downthe hill, I was no longer able to see into the churchyard; the choralecame to an end, and I perceived not far distant from the gate some ofthe mourners returning from the funeral. The Professor, with his nieceon his arm, both in deep mourning, went close past me without noticingme. The young lady had her handkerchief pressed close to her eyes, andwas weeping bitterly. In the frame of mind in which I then was I couldnot possibly go into the town, so I sent on my servant with thecarriage to the hotel where I usually put up, whilst I took a turn inthe familiar neighbourhood, to get rid of a mood that was possibly onlydue to physical causes, such as heating on the journey, &c. On arrivingat a well-known avenue, which leads to a pleasure resort, I came upon amost extraordinary spectacle. Councillor Krespel was being conducted bytwo mourners, from whom he appeared to be endeavouring to make hisescape by all sorts of strange twists and turns. As usual, he wasdressed in his own curious home-made grey coat; but from his littlecocked-hat, which he wore perched over one ear in military fashion, along narrow ribbon of black crape fluttered backwards and forwards inthe wind. Around his waist he had buckled a black sword-belt; butinstead of a sword he had stuck a long fiddle-bow into it. A creepyshudder ran through my limbs: "He's insane," thought I, as I slowlyfollowed them. The Councillor's companions led him as far as his house,where he embraced them, laughing loudly. They left him; and thenhis glance fell upon me, for I now stood near him. He stared at mefixedly for some time; then he cried in a hollow voice, "Welcome, mystudent-friend! you also understand it!" Therewith he took me by thearm and pulled me into the house, up the steps, into the room where theviolins hung. They were all draped in black crape; the violin of theold master was missing; in its place was a cypress wreath. I knew whathad happened. "Antonia! Antonia!" I cried in inconsolable grief. TheCouncillor, with his arms crossed on his breast, stood beside me, as ifturned into stone. I pointed to the cypress wreath. "When she died,"said he in a very hoarse solemn voice, "when she died, the soundpost ofthat violin broke into pieces with a ringing crack, and the sound-boardwas split from end to end. The faithful instrument could only live withher and in her; it lies beside her in the coffin, it has been buriedwith her." Deeply agitated, I sank down upon a chair, whilst theCouncillor began to sing a gay song in a husky voice; it was trulyhorrible to see him hopping about on one foot, and the crape strings(he still had his hat on) flying about the room and up to the violinshanging on the walls. Indeed, I could not repress a loud cry that roseto my lips when, on the Councillor making an abrupt turn, the crapecame all over me; I fancied he wanted to envelop me in it and drag medown into the horrible dark depths of insanity. Suddenly he stood stilland addressed me in his singing way, "My son! my son! why do you callout? Have you espied the angel of death? That always precedes theceremony." Stepping into the middle of the room, he took the violin-bowout of his sword-belt and, holding it over his head with both hands,broke it into a thousand pieces. Then, with a loud laugh, he cried,"Now you imagine my sentence is pronounced, don't you, my son? but it'snothing of the kind--not at all! not at all! Now I'm free--free--free--hurrah! I'm free! Now I shall make no more violins--no moreviolins--Hurrah! no more violins!" This he sang to a horrible mirthfultune, again spinning round on one foot. Perfectly aghast, I was makingthe best of my way to the door, when he held me fast, saying quitecalmly, "Stay, my student friend, pray don't think from this outbreakof grief, which is torturing me as if with the agonies of death, thatI am insane; I only do it because a short time ago I made myself adressing-gown in which I wanted to look like Fate or like God!" TheCouncillor then went on with a medley of silly and awful rubbish, untilhe fell down utterly exhausted; I called up the old housekeeper, andwas very pleased to find myself in the open air again.

  I never doubted for a moment that Krespel had become insane; theProfessor, however, asserted the contrary. "There are men," heremarked, "from whom nature or a special destiny has taken away thecover behind which the mad folly of the rest of us runs its courseunobserved. They are like thin-skinned insects, which, as we watch therestless play of their muscles, seem to be misshapen, whilenevertheless everything soon comes back into its proper form again. Allthat with us remains thought, passes over with Krespel into action.That bitter scorn which the spirit that is wrapped up in the doings anddealings of the earth often has at hand, Krespel gives vent to inoutrageous gestures and agile caprioles. But these are his lightningconductor. What comes up out of the earth he gives again to the earth,but what is divine, that he keeps; and so I believe that his innerconsciousness, in spite of the apparent madness which springs from itto the surface, is as right as a trivet. To be sure, Antonia's suddendeath grieves him sore, but I warrant that tomorrow will see him goingalong in his old jog-trot way as usual." And the Professor's predictionwas almost literally filled. Next day the Councillor appeared to bejust as he formerly was, only he averred that he would never makeanother violin, nor yet ever play on another. And, as I learned later,he kept his word.

  Hints which the Professor let fall confirmed my own private convictionthat the so carefully guarded secret of the Councillor's relations toAntonia, nay, that even her death, was a crime which must weigh heavilyupon him, a crime that could not be atoned for. I determined that Iwould not leave H---- without taxing him with the offence which Iconceived him to be guilty of; I determined to shake his heart down toits very roots, and so compel him to make open confession of theterrible deed. The more I reflected upon the matter the clearer it grewin my own mind that Krespel must be a villain, and in the sameproportion did my intended reproach, which assumed of itself the formof a real rhetorical masterpiece, wax more fiery and more impressive.Thus equipped and mightily incensed, I hurried to his house. I foundhim with a calm smiling countenance making playthings. "How can peace,"I burst out, "how can peace find lodgment even for a single moment inyour breast, so long as the memory of your horrible deed preys like aserpent upon you?
" He gazed at me in amazement, and laid his chiselaside. "What do you mean, my dear sir?" he asked; "pray take a seat."But my indignation chafing me more and more, I went on to accuse himdirectly of having murdered Antonia, and to threaten him with thevengeance of the Eternal.

  Further, as a newly full-fledged lawyer, full of my profession, I wentso far as to give him to understand that I would leave no stoneunturned to get a clue to the business, and so deliver him here in thisworld into the hands of an earthly judge. I must confess that I wasconsiderably disconcerted when, at the conclusion of my violent andpompous harangue, the Councillor, without answering so much as asingle word, calmly fixed his eyes upon me as though expecting meto go on again. And this I did indeed attempt to do, but it sounded soill-founded and so stupid as well that I soon grew silent again.Krespel gloated over my embarrassment, whilst a malicious ironicalsmile flitted across his face. Then he grew very grave, and addressedme in solemn tones. "Young man, no doubt you think I am foolish,insane; that I can pardon you, since we are both confined in the samemadhouse; and you only blame me for deluding myself with the idea thatI am God the Father because you imagine yourself to be God the Son. Buthow do you dare desire to insinuate yourself into the secrets and laybare the hidden motives of a life that is strange to you and that mustcontinue so? She has gone and the mystery is solved." He ceasedspeaking, rose, and traversed the room backwards and forwards severaltimes. I ventured to ask for an explanation; he fixed his eyes upon me,grasped me by the hand, and led me to the window, which he threw wideopen. Propping himself upon his arms, he leaned out, and, looking downinto the garden, told me the history of his life. When he finished Ileft him, touched and ashamed.

  In a few words, his relations with Antonia rose in the following way.Twenty years before, the Councillor had been led into Italy by hisfavourite engrossing passion of hunting up and buying the best violinsof the old masters. At that time he had not yet begun to make themhimself, and so of course he had not begun to take to pieces thosewhich he bought. In Venice he heard the celebrated singer Angela ----i,who at that time was playing with splendid success as _prima donna_ atSt. Benedict's Theatre. His enthusiasm was awakened, not only in herart--which Signora Angela had indeed brought to a high pitch ofperfection--but in her angelic beauty as well. He sought heracquaintance; and in spite of all his rugged manners he succeeded inwinning her heart, principally through his bold and yet at the sametime masterly violin-playing. Close intimacy led in a few weeks tomarriage, which, however, was kept a secret, because Angela wasunwilling to sever her connection with the theatre, neither did shewish to part with her professional name, that by which she wascelebrated, nor to add to it the cacophonous "Krespel." With the mostextravagant irony he described to me what a strange life of worry andtorture Angela led him as soon as she became his wife. Krespel was ofopinion that more capriciousness and waywardness were concentrated inAngela's little person than in all the rest of the _prima donnas_ inthe world put together. If he now and again presumed to stand up in hisown defence, she let loose a whole army of abbots, musical composers,and students upon him, who, ignorant of his true connection withAngela, soundly rated him as a most intolerable, ungallant lover fornot submitting to all the Signora's caprices. It was just after one ofthese stormy scenes that Krespel fled to Angela's country seat to tryand forget in playing fantasias on his Cremona, violin the annoyancesof the day. But he had not been there long before the Signora, who hadfollowed hard after him, stepped into the room. She was in anaffectionate humour; she embraced her husband, overwhelmed him withsweet and languishing glances, and rested her pretty head on hisshoulder. But Krespel, carried away into the world of music, continuedto play on until the walls echoed again; thus he chanced to touch theSignora somewhat ungently with his arm and the fiddle-bow. She leaptback full of fury, shrieking that he was a "German brute," snatched theviolin from his hands, and dashed it on the marble table into athousand pieces. Krespel stood like a statue of stone before her; butthen, as if awakening out of a dream, he seized her with the strengthof a giant and threw her out of the window of her own house, and,without troubling himself about anything more, fled back to Venice--toGermany. It was not, however, until some time had elapsed that he had aclear recollection of what he had done; although he knew that thewindow was scarcely five feet from the ground, and although he wasfully cognisant of the necessity, under the above-mentionedcircumstances, of throwing the Signora out of the window, he yet felttroubled by a sense of painful uneasiness, and the more so since shehad imparted to him in no ambiguous terms an interesting secret as toher condition. He hardly dared to make inquiries; and he was not alittle surprised about eight months afterwards at receiving a tenderletter from his beloved wife, in which she made not the slightestallusion to what had taken place in her country house, only adding tothe intelligence that she had been safely delivered of a sweet littledaughter the heartfelt prayer that her dear husband and now a happyfather would come at once to Venice. That however Krespel did not do;rather he appealed to a confidential friend for a more circumstantialaccount of the details, and learned that the Signora had alighted uponthe soft grass as lightly as a bird, and that the sole consequences ofthe fall or shock had been psychic. That is to say, after Krespel'sheroic deed she had become completely altered; she never showed a traceof caprice, of her former freaks, or of her teasing habits; and thecomposer who wrote for the next carnival was the happiest fellow underthe sun, since the Signora was willing to sing his music without thescores and hundreds of changes which she at other times had insistedupon. "To be sure," added his friend, "there was every reason forpreserving the secret of Angela's cure, else every day would see ladysingers flying through windows." The Councillor was not a littleexcited at this news; he engaged horses; he took his seat in thecarriage. "Stop!" he cried suddenly. "Why, there's not a shadow ofdoubt," he murmured to himself, "that as soon as Angela sets eyes uponme again the evil spirit will recover his power and once more takepossession of her. And since I have already thrown her out of thewindow, what could I do if a similar case were to occur again? Whatwould there be left for me to do?" He got out of the carriage, andwrote an affectionate letter to his wife, making graceful allusion toher tenderness in especially dwelling upon the fact that his tinydaughter had like him a little mole behind the ear, and--remained inGermany. Now ensued an active correspondence between them. Assurancesof unchanged affection--invitations--laments over the absence of thebeloved one--thwarted wishes--hopes, &c.--flew backwards and forwardsfrom Venice to H----, from H---- to Venice. At length Angela came toGermany, and, as is well known, sang with brilliant success as _primadonna_ at the great theatre in F----. Despite the fact that she was nolonger young, she won all hearts by the irresistible charm of herwonderfully splendid singing. At that time she had not lost her voicein the least degree. Meanwhile, Antonia had been growing up; and hermother never tired of writing to tell her father how that a singer ofthe first rank was developing in her. Krespel's friends in F---- alsoconfirmed this intelligence, and urged him to come for once to F---- tosee and admire this uncommon sight of two such glorious singers. Theyhad not the slightest suspicion of the close relations in which Krespelstood to the pair. Willingly would he have seen with his own eyes thedaughter who occupied so large a place in his heart, and who moreoveroften appeared to him in his dreams; but as often as he thought uponhis wife he felt very uncomfortable, and so he remained at home amongsthis broken violins. There was a certain promising young composer,B---- of F----, who was found to have suddenly disappeared, nobody knewwhere. This young man fell so deeply in love with Antonia that, as shereturned his love, he earnestly besought her mother to consent to animmediate union, sanctified as it would further be by art. Angela hadnothing to urge against his suit; and the Councillor the more readilygave his consent that the young composer's productions had foundfavour before his rigorous critical judgment. Krespel was expectingto hear of the consummation of the marriage, when he receivedinstead a black-sealed envelope addressed in a strange hand. Do
ctorR---- conveyed to the Councillor the sad intelligence that Angela hadfallen seriously ill in consequence of a cold caught at the theatre,and that during the night immediately preceding what was to have beenAntonia's wedding-day, she had died. To him, the Doctor, Angela haddisclosed the fact that she was Krespel's wife, and that Antonia washis daughter; he, Krespel, had better hasten therefore to take chargeof the orphan. Notwithstanding that the Councillor was a good dealupset by this news of Angela's death, he soon began to feel that anantipathetic, disturbing influence had departed out of his life, andthat now for the first time he could begin to breathe freely. The verysame day he set out for F----. You could not credit how heartrendingwas the Councillor's description of the moment when he first sawAntonia. Even in the fantastic oddities of his expression there wassuch a marvellous power of description that I am unable to give even somuch as a faint indication of it. Antonia inherited all her mother'samiability and all her mother's charms, but not the repellent reverseof the medal. There was no chronic moral ulcer, which might break outfrom time to time. Antonia's betrothed put in an appearance, whilstAntonia herself, fathoming with happy instinct the deeper-lyingcharacter of her wonderful father, sang one of old Padre Martini's[9]motets, which, she knew, Krespel in the heyday of his courtship hadnever grown tired of hearing her mother sing. The tears ran in streamsdown Krespel's cheeks; even Angela he had never heard sing like that.Antonia's voice was of a very remarkable and altogether peculiartimbre, at one time it was like the sighing of an AEolian harp, atanother like the warbled gush of the nightingale. It seemed as if therewas not room for such notes in the human breast. Antonia, blushing withjoy and happiness, sang on and on--all her most beautiful songs,B---- playing between whiles as only enthusiasm that is intoxicatedwith delight can play. Krespel was at first transported with rapture,then he grew thoughtful--still--absorbed in reflection. At lengthhe leapt to his feet, pressed Antonia to his heart, and beggedher in a low husky voice, "Sing no more if you love me--my heartis bursting--I fear--I fear--don't sing again."

  "No!" remarked the Councillor next day to Doctor R----, "when, as shesang, her blushes gathered into two dark red spots on her pale cheeks,I knew it had nothing to do with your nonsensical family likenesses, Iknew it was what I dreaded." The Doctor, whose countenance had shownsigns of deep distress from the very beginning of the conversation,replied, "Whether it arises from a too early taxing of her powers ofsong, or whether the fault is Nature's--enough, Antonia labours underan organic failure in the chest, while it is from it too that her voicederives its wonderful power and its singular timbre, which I mightalmost say transcend the limits of human capabilities of song. But itbears the announcement of her early death; for, if she continues tosing, I wouldn't give her at the most more than six months longer tolive." Krespel's heart was lacerated as if by the stabs of hundreds ofstinging knives. It was as though his life had been for the first timeovershadowed by a beautiful tree full of the most magnificent blossoms,and now it was to be sawn to pieces at the roots, so that it could notgrow green and blossom any more. His resolution was taken. He toldAntonia all; he put the alternatives before her--whether she wouldfollow her betrothed and yield to his and the world's seductions, butwith the certainty of dying early, or whether she would spread roundher father in his old days that joy and peace which had hitherto beenunknown to him, and so secure a long life. She threw herself sobbinginto his arms, and he, knowing the heartrending trial that was beforeher, did not press for a more explicit declaration. He talked thematter over with her betrothed; but, notwithstanding that the latteraverred that no note should ever cross Antonia's lips, the Councillorwas only too well aware that even B---- could not resist the temptationof hearing her sing, at any rate arias of his own composition. And theworld, the musical public, even though acquainted with the nature ofthe singer's affliction, would certainly not relinquish its claims tohear her, for in cases where pleasure is concerned people of this classare very selfish and cruel. The Councillor disappeared from F---- alongwith Antonia, and came to H----. B---- was in despair when he learntthat they had gone. He set out on their track, overtook them, andarrived at H---- at the same time that they did. "Let me see him onlyonce, and then die!" entreated Antonia "Die! die!" cried Krespel, wildwith anger, an icy shudder running through him. His daughter, the onlycreature in the wide world who had awakened in him the springs ofunknown joy, who alone had reconciled him to life, tore herself awayfrom his heart, and he--he suffered the terrible trial to take place.B---- sat down to the piano; Antonia sang; Krespel fiddled awaymerrily, until the two red spots showed themselves on Antonia's cheeks.Then he bade her stop; and as B was taking leave of his betrothed, shesuddenly fell to the floor with a loud scream. "I thought," continuedKrespel in his narration, "I thought that she was, as I hadanticipated, really dead; but as I had prepared myself for the worst,my calmness did not leave me, nor my self-command desert me. I graspedB----, who stood like a silly sheep in his dismay, by the shoulders,and said (here the Councillor fell into his singing tone), 'Now thatyou, my estimable pianoforte-player, have, as you wished and desired,really murdered your betrothed, you may quietly take your departure; atleast have the goodness to make yourself scarce before I run my brighthanger through your heart. My daughter, who, as you see, is ratherpale, could very well do with some colour from your precious blood.Make haste and run, for I might also hurl a nimble knife or two afteryou.' I must, I suppose, have looked rather formidable as I utteredthese words, for, with a cry of the greatest terror, B---- tore himselfloose from my grasp, rushed out of the room, and down the steps."Directly after B---- was gone, when the Councillor tried to lift up hisdaughter, who lay unconscious on the floor, she opened her eyes with adeep sigh, but soon closed them again as if about to die. ThenKrespel's grief found vent aloud, and would not be comforted. TheDoctor, whom the old housekeeper had called in, pronounced Antonia'scase a somewhat serious but by no means dangerous attack; and she didindeed recover more quickly than her father had dared to hope. She nowclung to him with the most confiding childlike affection; she enteredinto his favourite hobbies--into his mad schemes and whims. She helpedhim take old violins to pieces and glue new ones together. "I won'tsing again any more, but live for you," she often said, sweetly smilingupon him, after she had been asked to sing and had refused. Suchappeals however the Councillor was anxious to spare her as much aspossible; therefore it was that he was unwilling to take her intosociety, and solicitously shunned all music. He well understood howpainful it must be for her to forego altogether the exercise of thatart which she had brought to such a pitch of perfection. When theCouncillor bought the wonderful violin that he had buried with Antonia,and was about to take it to pieces, she met him with such sadness inher face and softly breathed the petition, "What! this as well?" Bysome power, which he could not explain, he felt impelled to leave thisparticular instrument unbroken, and to play upon it. Scarcely had hedrawn the first few notes from it than Antonia cried aloud with joy,"Why, that's me!--now I shall sing again." And, in truth, there wassomething remarkably striking about the clear, silvery, bell-like tonesof the violin; they seemed to have been engendered in the human soul.Krespel's heart was deeply moved; he played, too, better than ever. Ashe ran up and down the scale, playing bold passages with consummatepower and expression, she clapped her hands together and cried withdelight, "I did that well! I did that well!"

  From this time onwards her life was filled with peace and cheerfulness.She often said to the Councillor, "I should like to sing something,father." Then Krespel would take his violin down from the wall and playher most beautiful songs, and her heart was right glad and happy.Shortly before my arrival in H----, the Councillor fancied one nightthat he heard somebody playing the piano in the adjoining room, and hesoon made out distinctly that B---- was flourishing on the instrumentin his usual style. He wished to get up, but felt himself held down asif by a dead weight, and lying as if fettered in iron bonds; he wasutterly unable to move an inch. Then Antonia's voice was heard singinglow and soft; so
on, however, it began to rise and rise in volume untilit became an ear-splitting fortissimo; and at length she passed overinto a powerfully impressive song which B---- had once composed for herin the devotional style of the old masters. Krespel described hiscondition as being incomprehensible, for terrible anguish was mingledwith a delight he had never experienced before. All at once he wassurrounded by a dazzling brightness, in which he beheld B---- andAntonia locked in a close embrace, and gazing at each other in arapture of ecstasy. The music of the song and of the pianoforteaccompanying it went on without any visible signs that Antonia sang orthat B---- touched the instrument. Then the Councillor fell into a sortof dead faint, whilst the images vanished away. On awakening he stillfelt the terrible anguish of his dream. He rushed into Antonia's room.She lay on the sofa, her eyes closed, a sweet angelic smile on herface, her hands devoutly folded, and looking as if asleep and dreamingof the joys and raptures of heaven. But she was--dead.

  * * * * * * *


  [Footnote 1: The Amati were a celebrated family of violin-makers ofthe sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, belonging to Cremona in Italy.They form the connecting-link between the Brescian school of makers andthe greatest of all makers, Straduarius and Guanerius.]

  [Footnote 2: A reference to Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_. Astolpho, anEnglish cousin of Orlando, was a great boaster, but generous,courteous, gay, and remarkably handsome; he was carried to Alcina'sisland on the back of a whale.]

  [Footnote 3: Giuseppe Tartini, born in 1692, died in 1770; was one ofthe most celebrated violinists of the eighteenth century, and thediscoverer (in 1714) of "resultant tones," or "Tartini's tones" as theyare frequently called. Most of his life was spent at Padua. He did muchto advance the art of the violinist, both by his compositions for thatinstrument as well as by his treatise on its capabilities.]

  [Footnote 4: This was the name of a well-known musical family fromBohemia. Karl Stamitz is the one here possibly meant, since he diedabout eighteen or twenty years previous to the publication of thistale.]

  [Footnote 5: Vincenzo Pucitta (1778-1861) was an Italian operacomposer, whose music "shows great facility, but no invention." He alsowrote several songs.]

  [Footnote 6: Il Portogallo was the Italian sobriquet of a Portuguesemusician named Mark Anthony Simao (1763-1829). He lived alternately inItaly and Portugal, and wrote several operas.]

  [Footnote 7: Literally, "The slave of a _primo uomo_," _primo uomo_being the masculine form corresponding to _prima donna_, that is, asinger of hero's parts in operatic music. At one time also female partswere sung and acted by men or boys.]

  [Footnote 8: Leonardo Leo, the chief Neapolitan representative ofItalian music in the first part of the eighteenth century, and authorof more than forty operas and nearly one hundred compositions for theChurch.]

  [Footnote 9: Giambattista Martini, more commonly called Padre Martini,of Bologna, formed an influential school of music there in the latterhalf of the eighteenth century. He wrote vocal and instrumental piecesboth for the church and for the theatre. He was also a learnedhistorian of music. He has the merit of having discerned and encouragedthe genius of Mozart when, a boy of fourteen, he visited Bologna in1770.]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment