The Fifth String

by John Philip Sousa

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Chapter IV

IT was the evening of the fourteenth. In front of the Academy a strong-lunged and insistent tribe of gentry, known as ticket speculators, were reaping a rich harvest. They represented a beacon light of hope to many tardy patrons of the evening's entertainment, especially to the man who had forgotten his wife's injunction "to be sure to buy the tickets on the way down town, dear, and get them in the family circle, not too far back." This man's intentions were sincere, but his newspaper was unusually interesting that morning. He was deeply engrossed in an article on the causes leading to matrimonial infelicities when his 'bus passed the Academy box-office.

He was six blocks farther down town when he finished the article, only to find that it was a carefully worded advertisement for a new patent medicine, and of course he had not time to return. "Oh, well," said he, "I'll get them when I go up town to-night."

But he did not. So with fear in his heart and a red-faced woman on his arm he approached the box-office. "Not a seat left," sounded to his hen-pecked ears like the concluding words of the black-robed judge: "and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul." But a reprieve came, for one of the aforesaid beacon lights of hope rushed forward, saying: "I have two good seats, not far back, and only ten apiece." And the gentleman with fear in his heart and the red-faced woman on his arm passed in.

They saw the largest crowd in the history of the Academy. Every seat was occupied, every foot of standing room taken. Chairs were placed in the side aisles. The programs announced that it was the second appearance in America of Angelo Diotti, the renowed Tuscan violinist.

The orchestra had perfunctorily ground out the overture to "Der Freischuetz," the baritone had stentorianly emitted "Dio Possente," the soprano was working her way through the closing measures of the mad scene from "Lucia," and Diotti was number four on the program. The conductor stood be side his platform, ready to ascend as Diotti appeared.

The audience, ever ready to act when those on the stage cease that occupation, gave a splendid imitation of the historic last scene at the Tower of Babel. Having accomplished this to its evident satisfaction, the audience proceeded, like the closing phrase of the "Goetterdaemmerung" Dead March, to become exceedingly quiet—then expectant.

This expectancy lasted fully three minutes. Then there were some impatient handclappings. A few persons whispered: "Why is he late?" "Why doesn't he come?" "I wonder where Diotti is," and then came unmistakable signs of impatience. At its height Perkins appeared, hesitatingly. Nervous and jerky he walked to the center of the stage, and raised his hand begging silence. The audience was stilled.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he falteringly said, "Signor Diotti left his hotel at seven o'clock and was driven to the Academy. The call-boy rapped at his dressing-room, and not receiving a reply, opened the door to find the room empty. We have despatched searchers in every direction and have sent out a police alarm. We fear some accident has befallen the Signor. We ask your indulgence for the keen disappointment, and beg to say that your money will be refunded at the box-office."

Diotti had disappeared as completely as though the earth had swallowed him.

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