The Fifth String

by John Philip Sousa

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Chapter XII

A TIPSY man is never interesting, and Sanders in that condition was no exception. The old man arose with some effort, walked toward the window and, shading his eyes, looked out. The snow was drifting, swept hither and thither by the cutting wind that came through the streets in great gusts. Turning to the violinist, he said, "It's an awful night; better remain here until morning. You'll not find a cab; in fact, I will not let you go while this storm continues," and the old man raised the window, thrusting his head out for an instant. As he did so the icy blast that came in settled any doubt in the young man's mind and he concluded to stop over night.

It was nearly two o'clock; Sanders showed him to his room and then returned down stairs to see that everything was snug and secure. After changing his heavy shoes for a pair of old slippers and wrapping a dressing gown around him, the old man stretched his legs toward the fire and sipped his toddy.

"He isn't a bad sort for a violinist," mused the old man; "if he were worth a million, I believe I'd advise Wallace to let him marry her. A fiddler! A million! Sounds funny," and he laughed shrilly.

He turned his head and his eyes caught sight of Diotti's violin case resting on the center table. He staggered from the chair and went toward it; opening the lid softly, he lifted the silken coverlet placed over the instrument and examined the strings intently. "I am right," he said; "it is wrapped with hair, and no doubt from a woman's head. Eureka!" and the old man, happy in the discovery that his surmises were correct, returned to his chair and his toddy.

He sat looking into the fire. The violin had brought back memories of the past and its dead. He mumbled, as if to the fire, "she loved me; she loved my violin. I was a devil; my violin was a devil," and the shadows on the wall swayed like accusing spirits. He buried his face in his hands and cried piteously, "I was so young; too young to know." He spoke as if he would conciliate the ghastly shades that moved restlessly up and down, when suddenly—"Sanders, don't be a fool!"

He ambled toward the table again. "I wonder who made the violin? He would not tell me when I asked him to-night; thank you for your pains, but I will find out myself," and he took the violin from the case. Holding it with the light slanting over it, he peered inside, but found no inscription. "No maker's name—strange," he said. He tiptoed to the foot of the stairs and listened intently; "he must be asleep; he won't hear me," and noiselessly he closed the door. "I guess if I play a tune on it he won't know."

He took the bow from its place in the case and tightened it. He listened again. "He is fast asleep," he whispered. "I'll play the song I always played for her—until," and the old man repeated the words of the refrain:

"Fair as a lily, joyous and free, Light of the prairie home was she; Every one who knew her felt the gentle power Of Rosalie, the Prairie Flower."

He sat again in the arm-chair and placed the violin under his chin. Tremulously he drew the bow across the middle string, his bloodless fingers moving slowly up and down.

The theme he played was the melody to the verse he had just repeated, but the expression was remorse.


Diotti sat upright in bed. "I am positive I heard a violin!" he said, holding one hand toward his head in an attitude of listening. He was wide awake. The drifting snow beat against the window panes and the wind without shrieked like a thousand demons of the night. He could sleep no more. He arose and hastily dressed. The room was bitterly cold; he was shivering. He thought of the crackling logs in the fire-place below. He groped his way along the darkened staircase. As he opened the door leading into the sitting-room the fitful gleam of the dying embers cast a ghastly light over the face of a corpse.

Diotti stood a moment, his eyes transfixed with horror. The violin and bow still in the hands of the dead man told him plainer than words what had happened. He went toward the chair, took the instrument from old Sanders hands and laid it on the table. Then he knelt beside the body, and placing his ear close over the heart, listened for some sign of life, but the old man was beyond human aid.

He wheeled the chair to the side of the room and moved the body to the sofa. Gently he covered it with a robe. The awfulness of the situation forced itself upon him, and bitterly he blamed himself. The terrible power of the instrument dawned upon him in all its force. Often he had played on the strings telling of pity, hope, love and joy, but now, for the first time, he realized what that fifth string meant.

"I must give it back to its owner."

"If you do you can never regain it," whispered a voice within.

"I do not need it," said the violinist, almost audibly.

"Perhaps not," said the voice, "but if her love should wane how would you rekindle it? Without the violin you would be helpless."

"Is it not possible that, in this old man's death, all its fatal power has been expended?"

He went to the table and took the instrument from its place. "You won her for me; you have brought happiness and sunshine into my life. No! No! I can not, will not give you up," then placing the violin and bow in its case he locked it.

The day was breaking. In an hour the baker's boy came. Diotti went to the door, gave him a note addressed to Mr. Wallace and asked him to deliver it at once. The boy consented and drove rapidly away.

Within an hour Mr. Wallace arrived; Diotti told the story of the night. After the undertaker had taken charge of the body he found on the dead man's neck, just to the left of the chin, a dullish, black bruise which might have been caused by the pressing of some blunt instrument, or by a man's thumb. Considering it of much importance, he notified the coroner, who ordered an inquest.

At six o'clock that evening a jury was impaneled, and two hours later its verdict was reported.

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