The Fifth String

by John Philip Sousa

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Chapter II

THE intangible something that places the stamp of popular approval on one musical enterprise, while another equally artistic and as cleverly managed languishes in a condition of unendorsed greatness, remains one of the unsolved mysteries.

When a worker in the vineyard of music or the drama offers his choicest tokay to the public, that fickle coquette may turn to the more ordinary and less succulent concord. And the worker and the public itself know not why.

It is true, Diotti's fame had preceded him, but fame has preceded others and has not always been proof against financial disaster. All this preliminary,—and it is but necessary to recall that on the evening of December the twelfth Diotti made his initial bow in New York, to an audience that completely filled every available space in the Academy of Music—a representative audience, distinguished alike for beauty, wealth and discernment.

When the violinist appeared for his solo, he quietly acknowledged the cordial reception of the audience, and immediately proceeded with the business of the evening. At a slight nod from him the conductor rapped attention, then launched the orchestra into the introduction of the concerto, Diotti's favorite, selected for the first number. As the violinist turned to the conductor he faced slightly to the left and in a direct line with the second proscenium box. His poise was admirable. He was handsome, with the olive-tinted warmth of his southern home—fairly tall, straight-limbed and lithe—a picture of poetic grace. His was the face of a man who trusted without reserve, the manner of one who believed implicitly, feeling that good was universal and evil accidental.

As the music grew louder and the orchestra approached the peroration of the preface of the coming solo, the violinist raised his head slowly. Suddenly his eyes met the gaze of the solitary occupant of the second proscenium box. His face flushed. He looked inquiringly, almost appealingly, at her. She sat immovable and serene, a lace-framed vision in white.

It was she who, since he had met her, only the night before, held his very soul in thraldom.

He lifted his bow, tenderly placing it on the strings. Faintly came the first measures of the theme. The melody, noble, limpid and beautiful, floated in dreamy sway over the vast auditorium, and seemed to cast a mystic glamour over the player. As the final note of the first movement was dying away, the audience, awakening from its delicious trance, broke forth into spontaneous bravos.

Mildred Wallace, scrutinizing the program, merely drew her wrap closer about her shoulders and sat more erect. At the end of the concerto the applause was generous enough to satisfy the most exacting virtuoso. Diotti unquestionably had scored the greatest triumph of his career. But the lady in the box had remained silent and unaffected throughout.

The poor fellow had seen only her during the time he played, and the mighty cheers that came from floor and galleries struck upon his ear like the echoes of mocking demons. Leaving the stage he hurried to his dressing-room and sank into a chair. He had persuaded himself she should not be insensible to his genius, but the dying ashes of his hopes, his dreams, were smouldering, and in his despair came the thought: "I am not great enough for her. I am but a man; her consort should be a god. Her soul, untouched by human passion or human skill, demands the power of god-like genius to arouse it."

Music lovers crowded into his dressing-room, enthusiastic in their praises. Cards conveying delicate compliments written in delicate chirography poured in upon him, but in vain he looked for some sign, some word from her.

Quickly he left the theater and sought his hotel.

A menacing cloud obscured the wintry moon. A clock sounded the midnight hour.

He threw himself upon the bed and almost sobbed his thoughts, and their burden was:

"I am not great enough for her. I am but a man, I am but a man!"

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