The Fifth String

by John Philip Sousa

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Chapter V

MY DEAREST SISTER: You doubtless were exceedingly mys tified and troubled over the report that was flashed to Europe regarding my sudden disappearance on the eve of my second concert in New York.

Fearing, sweet Francesca, that you might mourn me as dead, I sent the cablegram you received some weeks since, telling you to be of good heart and await my letter. To make my action thoroughly understood I must give you a record of what happened to me from the first day I arrived in America. I found a great interest manifested in my première, and socially everything was done to make me happy.

Mrs. James Llewellyn, whom, you no doubt remember, we met in Florence the winter of 18—, immediately after I reached New York arranged a reception for me, which was elegant in the extreme. But from that night dates my misery.

You ask her name?—Mildred Wallace. Tell me what she is like, I hear you say. Of graceful height, willowy and exquisitely molded, not over twenty-four, with the face of a Madonna; wondrous eyes of darkest blue, hair indescribable in its maze of tawny color—in a word, the perfection of womanhood. In half an hour I was her abject slave, and proud in my serfdom. When I returned to the hotel that evening I could not sleep. Her image ever was before me, elusive and shadowy. And yet we seemed to grow farther and farther apart—she nearer heaven, I nearer earth.

The next evening I gave my first and what I fear may prove my last concert in America. The vision of my dreams was there, radiant in rarest beauty. Singularly enough, she was in the direct line of my vision while I played. I saw only her, played but for her, and cast my soul at her feet. She sat indifferent and silent. "Cold?" you say. No! No! Francesca, not cold; superior to my poor efforts. I realized my limitations. I questioned my genius. When I returned to bow my acknowledgments for the most generous applause I have ever received, there was no sign on her part that I had interested her, either through my talent or by appeal to her curiosity. I hoped against hope that some word might come from her, but I was doomed to disappointment. The critics were fulsome in their praise and the public was lavish with its plaudits, but I was abjectly miserable. Another sleepless night and I was determined to see her. She received me most graciously, although I fear she thought my visit one of vanity—wounded vanity—and me petulant because of her lack of appreciation.

Oh, sister mine, I knew better. I knew my heart craved one word, however matter-of-fact, that would rekindle the hope that was dying within me.

Hesitatingly, and like a clumsy yokel, I blurted: "I have been wondering whether you cared for the performance I gave?"

"It certainly ought to make little difference to you," she replied; "the public was enthusiastic enough in its endorsement."

"But I want your opinion," I pleaded.

"My opinion would not at all affect the almost unanimous verdict," she replied calmly.

"And," I urged desperately, "you were not affected in the least?"

Very coldly she answered, "Not in the least;" and then fearlessly, like a princess in the Palace of Truth: "If ever a man comes who can awaken my heart, frankly and honestly I will confess it."

"Perhaps such a one lives," I said, "but has yet to reach the height to win you—your—"

"Speak it," she said, "to win my love!"

"Yes," I cried, startled at her candor, "to win your love." Hope slowly rekindled within my breast, and then with half-closed eyes, and wooingly, she said:

"No drooping Clytie could be more constant than I to him who strikes the chord that is responsive in my soul."

Her emotion must have surprised her, but immediately she regained her placidity and reverted no more to the subject.

I went out into the gathering gloom. Her words haunted me. A strange feeling came over me. A voice within me cried: "Do not play to-night. Study! study! Perhaps in the full fruition of your genius your music, like the warm western wind to the harp, may bring life to her soul."

I fled, and I am here. I am delving deeper and deeper into the mysteries of my art, and I pray God each hour that He may place within my grasp the wondrous music His blessed angels sing, for the soul of her I love is at tuned to the harmonies of heaven.

Your affectionate brother,


Island of Bahama, January 2.

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