Monday, December 28, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, part 9 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

"Oh, you've got to play Home, Sweet Home! shouted a middle-aged man down in front and the whole house echoed him. "Yes! Home, Sweet Home! You've got to play that!" She smiled at them and touched the bow to the strings.

"Mid pleasure and palaces-" the simple strain of the music flowed from her violin, and then "Home! Home! Sweet, Sweet Home," and so on to the finish of the melody. Obeying a warm, inward impulse she repeated the refrain, the bow wandering in soft harmonies and variations. A sob rose in her heart. The old song was right! There was "no place on Earth" quite like home. And to her, this little theater, with the people who knew her best with John Higgins and his sister, was home to her. They loved her! There was not one of them that wore perfectly correct evening dress; they might not understand her more difficult musical themes. But they loved her! She was one of them. After the last high, sweet note died, she took no bows, she had to hide the free-running tears. She stumbled to the little dressing-room and dropped to a chair. They were real people, her own folk. And in the world beyond lay-what? Success? Money? Yes, but here were men and woman who had driven miles through frosty air to hear her. After all, hearts were more than money, friendship more than fame.

There was a knock at her door. It was John Higgins. She smiled at him through her tears.

"Crying? What's up! You were more wonderful than ever," he said. "I don't wonder the big world calls you. When you played that Holy Night piece, I almost cried--and--"

He stopped abruptly. "What's up--dear?"

"It's nothing," she smiled wanly. "I'm just tired."

"That's all? Sure?"

"They all love me so, John! It's been wonderful playing in the big cities but--'there is no place like home,'" and she sobbed outright.

He dropped to his knees beside her chair. He took her hands in his. "You don't have to be tired any more, Mary. You don't have to fiddle for city folks. You'll never have to work again, but just play when you will for the folks that love you best. Why--" he stopped.

She knew what he meant. That the big farm and the theater could keep them. That he wanted to marry her. That she never again need eat another lonely Christmas dinner. The thought was as the sweetest music that filled her soul. It soothed the ache in her heart.

"Holy Night!" she breathed softly, almost as if in prayer and leaned closer to him.

John Higgins understood. Through the silence of the little, barn-like room came to him the glorious message that Mary's heart had won home--she was giving him the best
Christmas gift in his life, a true woman's love.

The End.

Friday, December 25, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, part 8 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

She dressed herself more than carefully that night and the mirror reflected her image as a handsome woman in startling raiment. She had not seen Higgins. She wondered if he were avoiding her. She hoped not, for after all, she liked John. He had been very, very kind to her and with him, friendship had blossomed into love. She smiled when she realized that if she had wished, she might be Mrs. John Higgins of Thompsonville, instead of Mary Jennings with the sure prospects of a glorious career before her.

As she stepped on to the stage that night, a chorus of "Oh's!" mingled with the thunder of applause. She checked it, almost imperiously, and played. First, there was a lilting waltz which showed all the fire of her art. Then, scarcely waiting for the silence, she played the ever-beloved Christmas lullaby, Silent Night, Holy Night. The hush of a great peace was over the house. A woman muffled a sob. Mary Jennings felt the spirit of her own music as if she were hearing another. It seemed to exalt her, to carry her above smallness and unrest. At their insistent demand she played the Christmas favorites they called for: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and Good King Wenceslas. A child in front started to sing familiar words. Mary Jennings nodded joyously to the little girl and called "Sing out, dear! Everyone sing!" And they did! "Come all Ye Faithful" someone called and the words were repeated from parquet and box and gallery. They sang the melody, quietly at first but in growing volume as the Christmas spirit that was in their hearts overwhelmed them.

"Come All Ye Faithful!" A thought filled the brain of the "Princess." How faithful they were, these "common people"--in their daily lives--in their love for her. She turned suddenly weary. After all, she had had but little sleep in the past ten days. It was hard to rest even when one traveled in luxury. She would play no more tonight.

She walked toward the side of the stage and bowed, as if to end her program.

To be continued...

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, part 7 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

Thompsonville! Suddenly she almost hated the name. For ten days she had traveled in luxury and lived at the best hotels. She had been playing before audiences who wore evening clothes, who applauded correctly, who understood her music. Of course, the small town folk had been fond of her, and John Higgins loved her. But everything was changed now and surely it was a right change.

She found that Helm had gone West but had left an order for her. As she feared, he had not been able to break the Thompsonville engagement. She was to keep it and then report back to Springfield. He would be back the day after Christmas and then the contract for the long tour could be signed.

She was disappointed, so much so that she considered playing sick and so cheating Higgins after all. She shivered at her smallness but argued with herself that she was right. For a whole day she moped about her hotel, one minute deciding that she might as well go, the next determining that she would never play in Tompsonville again.

In the end, however, duty won, duty plus a queer feeling of resentment. She would go down to Tompsonville! She would play as she had never played before! She would wear the gorgeous gown that she had bought with the thought of her Chicago engagement in mind. She would show Tompsonville what it would be missing in the years that were coming!

It was after noon when she arrived, and she went at once to the theater to find what part she was scheduled to play in Higgins' gala program. She found the lobby trimmed with evergreen and in a frame of holly has her name with the familiar Princess of the Violin heading. The stage, too, was gaily decorated. A piano was on the stage and the organist of the Methodist Church, the best local musician, was engaged especially to play her accompaniments. She found too to her surprise, that there was to be no afternoon performance, and only one that evening. Higgins, so the man at the box office told her, had gone to his sister's to eat Christmas dinner but would be back about seven. Her accompanist would meet her at four to practice.

There seemed to be nothing else to do but go back to her hotel room and the hotel proprietor asked her if he could serve her Christmas dinner, assuring her that there was plenty left.

It was a lonely meal! Other years she had been the guest of friends, and last year, she too, had dined at John Higgins' sister's. But now a change had come. She had begun that change herself.

At four she returned to the theater to rehearse, then back to the hotel, for another lonely meal and the dragging hours until the evening engagement.

To be continued...

Friday, December 18, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, Part 6 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

"I guess you can do it!" Helm said bluntly. "Goodnight! I'll call you in the morning."

It was several minutes before she moved. She stood there, thinking, thinking, her brain almost numbed by the glory that had befallen her. This had been her day of days!

When she went back to her hotel she sent half a dozen telegrams, each one cancelling an engagement to play in a small town. Mary Jennings told herself that these telegrams were the knives that cut her free for a wonderful world wide experience.

It was hours before she slept and from a fitful slumber her telephone rudely aroused her. It was a telegram from John Higgins.

Cannot release you from engagement Christmas Day. Have made all preparations for gala performance. Will release you all the rest of the week.

The message angered her. How dare he! When Helm later called her on the telephone, she told him of Higgins' message.

"Did you sign any kind of contract with him?"

"Yes, a little slip of paper."

"H-m! That probably constitutes a contract. Perhaps I can buy him off."

Mary Jennings said that she hoped that it would be possible.

"Well, don't worry about it," Helm assured her. "I've got a lot of work for you to do. I've just had word that Albrie, who's been playing in a concert town with a pianist, and Madame Shavet, the soprano, has been taken sick. I want you to fill in his dates for a few days. Can you start this afternoon?

Could she start? She could have been ready in twenty minutes!

It was ten days before she returned to Springfield and Carl Helm's office. She had not heard from him for several days and was anxious as to whether she was to start for Chicago at once, or if by any strange chance, she would be forced to play the Christmas date at Thompsonville.

To be continued...

Monday, December 14, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, Part 5 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

She had only been in her dressing-room a minute before Helm knocked.

"I was out front," he said quickly. "You made good."

"Do you really think so?"

"Sure--you'll do. I'm not going to hand you any bunk that you're great but you've got something that gets them and that's what counts."

"Then you really think that I could play for big audiences--in big cities?"

He nodded emphatically.

"I have always wondered," she said quietly, "and now--" her eyes sparkled.

"Well, you've had your answer. You got across. You're staying at the Palace Hotel, aren't you? I'll call you up in the morning and we'll talk contracts."

He turned and started from the room but suddenly stopped.

"Say, by the way, I've a couple of open concert dates that I've got to have someone to fill. There's one in Hartford next week, another in Pittsburgh, and--" he stopped, looking at her keenly as if weighing his own wisdom. "Then there's the big Christmas festival in Chicago on the 25th. Say!" he was suddenly enthusiastic. "You can play the kind of stuff that the mob likes to hear and you play it well. I'll put you on at the Christmas festival. That'll make every paper in the country mention your name."

The little woman clasped her hands before her. To play at the Christmas festival in Chicago was a dream that few ever realized. Her eyes were wide as a child seeing its first Christmas tree. A tear of happiness glistened on her lashes. Yes! She would play to them the "kind of stuff" that they liked to hear. She would make every newspaper man mention her name. This meant success, the will-of-the-wisp that she had been blindly pursing for nearly ten years.

"How wonderful!" she breathed.

To be continued...

Friday, December 11, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, Part 4 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

The man nodded but had no word for reply.

It seemed to Mary Jennings as she entered the taxi-cab at the Springfield Union depot the following Sunday, that she had never been more calm. And she should have been excited! At her feet was a bag containing the handsomest dress she had ever owned. On the seat beside her was her violin, a valuable instrument, bought after years of saving and self-denial. With these as her allies she was going to face her first metropolitan audience.

The rehearsal that afternoon was of little importance. She talked with the orchestra leader and the pianist. Carlos Helm, darting here and there about the dim auditorium, had greeted her pleasantly and promptly ignored her after that. About five she returned to the hotel and lay down to rest. She would not be needed until nine.

The orchestra had concluded its first number and an ex-president of the United States was speaking when she came from her dressing room, violin in hand, to stand near the wings. It was almost time for her to play. Helm, seeing her standing there, came forward, smiling.

"Play like a million dollars tonight and that contract will be ready in the morning. And don't be afraid."

She nodded. She was not afraid. If anything, she was too unafraid!

She went slowly forward. There was a sprinkling of applause and she lifted her bow to play. She went through the four numbers, two programmed numbers and their encores, playing with all the skill that had made her a favorite in the rural districts that hailed her as a princess. The audience, used to greater violinists perhaps, but unable to resist the emotion in her music, gave her a more than hearty welcome and a most hearty recall.

To be continued...

Monday, December 7, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, part 3 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

He was gone from the room before she could really answer him. She sat there on the trunk, wide-eyed, but blind to the things about her, until the call for her second performance roused her.

The applause was as generous as usual but it had lost flavor. Springfield! A world tour! Was she dreaming?

When she went back to her dressing room, John Higgins was waiting.

"What did he want, Mary?" he asked quickly. "He said that he was a concert manager. Does he want you to work for him?"

She nodded.

"Yes, he said that I was a good player. He said that I might have an engagement with one of his bands, making a world tour. I'm going to play at a concert for him next Sunday, the twelfth--to try me out.

For a minute the man did not answer. From out of doors came the faint sound of sleighbells as some of the audience drove homeward.

It--it's mighty fine for you, Mary," he said slowly, "but you'll never get any better friends--any folks that like you more than we do."

"I know," she answered him quickly, still it's my chance, and after all, I'd never get any more money than I'm earning now as long as I play in these small towns."

"Money! It don't seem right for you to have to be earning money--why--"

"I know," she interrupted him, "I know that you have this theater and there's the farm that has been such a paying proposition but, John!" a sudden tenderness came into her voice, "I love to play. When I came past the front of the theater tonight and saw that billing, The Princess of the Violin, it seemed to have made up for all the rough places I have traveled. I've been very happy playing here in the small towns but now I want my chance to be great. We can always be wonderful friends, can't we John?"

To be continued...

Friday, December 4, 2009

THE PRINCESS OF THE VIOLIN, part 2 of 9; by C. Courtenay Savage (1920)

I'm pleased to meet you, Miss Jennings," Helm said cordially. He was a large man and by his general appearance, a man of success.

"Yes, he's been waiting to see you--says that he has something very important to say." Higgins spoke almost eagerly. "Then--I guess you folks can get on without me. You played wonderfully tonight, Miss Mary, better than ever!"

"Thank you," Mary Jennings said, smiling, and the stranger, noting the light in her eyes, concluded that the violinist and the theatre proprietor must be more than mere business friends.

"I understand that there are always great houses when you play," Helm said as the door closed.

"Yes, they seem to like my playing." The woman motioned her visitor to a chair and seated herself on the top of her trunk. She was very curious and slightly awed.

"That's what I came about--your playing. One of my advance men heard you in Grafton City last week. He sent word to me and I followed you here. I heard you play this afternoon."

"Yes--?" she asked uneasily.

"And I'll hand it to you--you can play."

"Thank you," she smiled again. There was a long pause. Each was thinking.

"You don't know who I am, do you?" he asked presently. "You don't place me?"

No, she did not place him.

"I'm Carlos Helm, the concert manager. I'm getting ready a big world tour for one of the bands that I send out. We're looking for soloists. I think you'd do for one of them---"

"I? For a world tour?"

"Maybe. I'd like to try you out." He was abruptly business-like.

"I don't know---" she said softly.

"No, neither do I. But I could soon find out. Suppose you plan to come into Springfield next Sunday. We're having a big concert there in connection with a religious drive they are holding. I'm going to have four or five big musical numbers and they're providing the speakers. There's sure to be a crowd and if you get across with that crowd--well, you'll be able to go with any crowd."

The woman's eyes sparkled but she did not speak.

"Now about money. I'm not going to drag you before the public and then have some rival manager grab you up if you make a big hit. How much do you make playing around at these small town theaters? Not much, I'll wager."

"I average a hundred dollars a week, though, of course, I seldom get an engagement in the summer--that is July and August."

"A hundred a week, And you're paying your own expenses," the man smiled. He had an easy task before him.

I'll give you fifty dollars and expenses to play in Springfield. You'll only have to do four pieces. If you go over right, I'll give you a hundred and fifty a week and traveling expenses to begin with. Afterward you'll have more."

"I'll have to think about it," she said softly. "I--it sounds wonderful!"

"Yes, that's right--it sounds wonderful!" Show up at the Auditorium in Springfield about three o'clock on the twelfth. That will give you time for a rehearsal. I've got to run now for my train. Goodbye!"

To be continued...