As he turned from closing the door of the Bledsoe and Riebeck workshop, Franz Sylwester found several pairs of eyes focused on him. "Well?" his friend Friedrich Braun asked expectantly. "What did the nurse say?"
Franz struggled to keep his expression solemn as he took his jacket off. He heaved a sigh and turned to hang it on a peg by the door. As he faced the others again, Marla moved closer and placed a hand on his arm.
"Franz," she started softly, obviously ready to comfort. He couldn't hold it in any longer, and broke out in a smile, then laughed.
"Frau Musgrove declares that my hand is good, is healed." He held his left hand up and flexed his fingers. The thumb, index and middle fingers moved easily. The ring and little fingers were still frozen in the same curved shape they had healed in after the knuckles were crushed in Heydrich's assault, but even those fingertips flexed a little. "So, I now have enough of a hand to hold things."
"Franz!" Marla squealed. She grabbed him and swung him around. "That's great news!" Friedrich, Anna and Thomas crowded around to slap him on his back in congratulations.
Ingram Bledsoe came in from a door at the back of the workshop. "What's the occasion?" Marla bounced over to him and gave him a swift hug, leaving him looking a little surprised but smiling nonetheless.
The others stepped back from Franz, who lifted up his hand again and flexed the fingers, smiling. "Nurse Musgrove says I am not to come back, that I am healed."
"Congratulations!" Ingram stepped forward to shake hands. "That's great news!"
Franz held up his good hand for quiet, reached into his pocket and dug out a three-inch rubber ball. "Marla," tossing the ball to her, "please give this instrument of torture back to your niece. Tell her I thank her with all my heart for the loan of it, and that I never want to see it again!" Everyone laughed with him again, but they were all aware of how hard he had worked the last few months with that ball to rehabilitate his hand . . . squeezing it over and over and over again in every unoccupied moment . . . squeezing it until his arm ached to the elbow with the effort. They knew what drove him—the determination that he would not be a cripple, that in some way he would again be able to support himself.
Marla moved up and took his arm in both her hands.
"Franz," she said, "to celebrate this occasion, we've got a gift for you." He looked at her quizzically. "Anna, the first part's yours." Franz looked at his friend, wondering what was going on, while everyone else shifted around like young children trying to stifle exclamations. Anna walked over to a chest against the far wall, a chest that had come with them from Mainz, opened it up and took out a bundle wrapped in burgundy velvet. She handed it to Thomas, who passed it to Friedrich, who unwrapped the cloth to display a violin. As he held it out toward Franz, Marla felt him stiffen.
"That . . . that is . . . my violin," he stuttered.
"Yes," from Friedrich.
"How . . . how . . . " he stopped, swallowed, and forced himself to composure. "How is this possible? I smashed it . . . did I not?"
"No," Anna stepped up, smiling, "no, you did not. You did smash your bow that night, and you endeavored to likewise destroy your violin. You did indeed throw it at the wall that night, in your fever and your anger, but you ran out the door before you could see that although the scroll hit the wall above the bench, the body hit a cushion instead."
"The scroll was scraped," Friedrich added, angling the instrument to show the traces of the mar, "but I was able to smooth it down and apply new finish to it. And so," pressing the violin into his friend's hands, "it returns to you. Both are somewhat older, both are somewhat stressed by your experiences, but you still suit one another very well. We kept it safe until you were ready to hold it again." He stepped back, leaving Franz to clasp the instrument he thought he had destroyed—to hold it gently and pass one hand in a caress over its top.
Still staring at the violin—his violin—Franz said, "Never has a man had friends such as you. When I regained my senses, in my wanderings after I left Mainz, I grieved over this, grieved most sorely. The thought that I had wantonly destroyed my violin, made solely for the creation of beauty in a world that has not enough of it, did try my soul indeed." He looked up, blinking, eyes bright with unshed tears. "And today you have restored it to me. I have not words to thank you as you deserve." He looked back down at it as the tears spilled over, caressed it again, then embraced it for a long moment, his cheek leaning against the scroll.
The room was quiet, everyone respecting Franz's emotions. He finally looked up again, smiled a little, and said, "Thank you. I thank God for you, my friends, who have saved me, and now have saved my violin as well. Now I am free of that guilt, and I am free to find someone who will take it from my hands to love it as I do and to play it as I no longer can."
Marla took his arm again and turned him to face her. "Now for my gift. Franz, you don't have to give it up. You can play."
Franz was shocked that she would say such a thing, and a flash of anger and sorrow went through him. "Do not mock me, Marla." Holding up his left hand, he said, "Even with the healing that has been done, I cannot finger the neck I cannot play."
"Maybe you can't finger the neck with that hand, but I'll bet you can hold a bow with it now! Switch hands! Learn to play with switched hands!" Marla was grinning with delight and bouncing slightly in her excitement. Franz felt stunned. Was it possible? Could he do it? He felt dazed, as if he had been hit in the head. He saw Marla put her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling, so he was sure he looked as amazed as he felt.
"It's true," Ingram said, grinning himself. "I knew a mountain fiddler once who had an accident that left his left hand like yours. He just taught himself how to finger the neck with the right and learned to bow with his left. Last time I saw him, he was just as good that way as he was 'tother."
Franz shuddered, and his jaw snapped shut. He felt an excitement building in him, and his eyebrows climbed to meet his hairline, causing Marla to giggle. He looked at her, and asked, "Do you think I can do this?"
"I know you can."
Taking a deep breath, Franz turned to Friedrich and said, "My friend, how long until you can make me a bow to grace the violin you have restored to me?"
"As it happens," Ingram interrupted, "that's my gift to you." He brought his hand out from behind his back, and presented a bow to Franz. "I always seem to end up with odds and ends of musical stuff. I've had this bow for ten years, never had a fiddle to go with it, never could bring myself to get rid of it. Now I know why. I was savin' it for you. It's made in the up-time style, not like the ones you're used to, but I believe you'll actually find it easier to hold with your hand the way it is."
"So," Marla spoke again, "you have your violin, you have your bow, you have your hand, and you have your friends. What more do you need?"
Franz looked around at the smiling faces, and smiled back. "Nothing."
"Then get started."
"As you wish, Mistress Marla," and he danced away from the jab she aimed at his ribs.
As he was giving the tuning knob a final twist, Franz heard the door open.
"So, have you decided yet?"
Franz looked up from his violin to see his friend Isaac Fremdling entering the choir room. "Have I decided what?"
"How you will string your violin, of course? Will you string it in the usual manner, or will you reverse the order of the strings?" Isaac pulled one of the chairs around and sat down.
"What do you think I should do?" Isaac fingered his moustache, and after a moment of contemplation said, "'Twould perhaps be best to keep the usual order of the strings. In that manner you and another could play each other's instruments with no difficulty."
"An advantage, to be sure," Franz replied. "Yet think of this, if you will: it will likely be easier to learn to play again if each right finger will move in the same manner and in the same relationship to the strings as the left does—if to play an 'F' the related finger makes the same motion, only mirror reversed, if you will."
"A point," nodded Isaac.
"And then consider the bow. Would it not be easier to train myself to reproduce the position of the bow as in a mirror, rather than in a totally different angle and position?"
"Aye," Isaac nodded again.
"Well, then, Isaac, you have answered the question, have you not?"
"It seems that I have, at that," his friend laughed. " So you have decided, then?"
Franz chuckled, and held up his violin. "Friedrich has moved the sound post inside and made a new bridge. I just now finished the stringing and tuning. Behold, a mirror violin." He handed the instrument to Isaac, who examined it closely, tested the tuning, then attempted to place it under his chin.
"Pfaugh! It feels most unnatural to try to hold it under the right chin. But if anyone can do this, Franz," he handed the violin back, "'tis you."
"My thanks. I've no choice, you see, for now that I see a glimmering of light in the night, I will pursue it with all my heart."
Isaac looked at his friend, his expression sobered, and he said quietly, "I grieved for you when I heard of the attack."
Franz looked down, uncomfortable as always when offered sympathy. "I thank you, but as you are so fond of saying, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' My pride needed curbing, I freely admit. I could wish that the manner of that curbing had not been so severe, and that I had been calmer and wiser and more considerate of my friends afterward. But it took long months of being alone before I began to slowly grow wise, and it was not until I found my way here to Grantville that I could begin to understand how and why you would say that. The Lord gave, the Lord took away, the Lord gave again, and I have learned to bless Him no matter my circumstance."
"Then you are indeed wise, my friend, for there are few enough even of gray-hairs who possess wisdom that equals what you have just shared." Isaac paused for a moment, then chuckled.
Franz raised an eyebrow.
"My initial reaction to your misfortune was grief indeed," Isaac said, "but hard on its heels came indignation in harness with rage. I must admit that the thought of applying the consequences of the Golden Rule to Heydrich did cross my mind more than once or twice."
"Surely you did not . . . "
"No, I could not bring myself to do it in cold blood. But there were others of like mind, and I doubt not that their conversations did find their ways to Rupert's itching ears, there to alarm rather than soothe. In truth, he began to company with various fellows, brutes from low taverns, in fear of what had been rumored. And he found no ease in that none of the rest of us would be alone with him thereafter. All of us found it to be most humorous."
"Well, I am not saintly enough to not find some small pleasure in hearing of his discomfort," Franz smiled.
"Oh, aye, before we left Mainz he had become almost two men, one moment the loudest of braggarts, the next like a nervous hind when the hounds bell out. I have seen the man's head almost swivel completely in a circle as he tried to watch his own back."
"The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth," Franz chuckled. "It is perhaps the best vengeance. He will torment himself more than I could or would, and my hands and heart are clean."
"Indeed." There was another moment of quiet before Isaac continued, "As I said, I grieved when I heard. Of all my friends and fellow musicians, your love of the art is most like my own, and I knew well how I felt when someone attempted to take it from me."
Franz raised an eyebrow again.
Isaac made a hand motion as if brushing off a table top. "You know that I am out of the Jews, but I say nothing of my life before Mainz. I knew, however, what you would feel. I was born Isaac Levin. My father is—I trust he still lives—a rabbi in Aschenhausen, where our forebears settled when the elector expelled the Jews from Saxony. Early in my years I showed promise of music, and he desired me to become a cantor. But other music enticed me, that which I heard from the taverns, through the windows of the merchants' houses and the doorways of the salons. I hungered for more than the Psalms, for more than the music of our traditions. The wealth that was to be heard away from the synagogue filled my heart. I could not see how beauty such as that could not exist in God's presence, but my father rejected it. He forbade me, he lectured me; as I grew older he reasoned with me. He even took a rod to me more than once.
"Finally, in my sixteenth year, he caught me once again slipping away from the door of a salon, and dragged me in front of the elders of our congregation. Right soundly he berated me, and demanded of me a solemn oath by the name of God that I would abandon foolishness and obey him in this. He ended by saying to me that if I would not, then I would no longer be his son. I would be dead to him."
"Aye. I was stunned indeed, as were the elders. They argued with him that he was being too harsh, that he should not emulate Saul who drove away David, but to no avail. And all the while I tried to think of life without the music that was so much a part of me. He withstood them all, seeming to grow ever more rigid, and when they were finally silenced he turned to me and demanded my answer.
"I grappled my wits together, and gave the only answer I could give. I still remember every word. 'Papa, I have tried to do as you say, but you were the one who instructed me that the Holy One, blessed be He, created music, that His very spirit guided David when he invented the lyre. Do not now blame me if that music calls me. Some men are called to trading; some men are called to farming; some men are called to the working of metal; some men are called to the study of Torah; and men such as I are called to music. If I do not swear, I am dead to you; yet if I do, I will be dead inside. You force me to judge between two evils, to cause a death either way. But in truth, it seems to me that the greater evil would be to forswear what the Holy One above has placed in me. Papa, it will be as you will it, but I cannot swear.'"
"A grievous choice, indeed, for a youth to have to make." Franz placed a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"But the tale is not finished. I saw at that moment that my father had never truly understood me, for all his wisdom in Torah and Talmud. I saw that he had fully believed that I would swear, for the shock of my choice well-nigh shattered him. A proud, upright man he was, but he turned away from me gray and old. It was as if a tall and vital oak in the full bloom of summer in an eye-blink turned to a dead and hollow husk. The light in his eyes died, for he had made his command in public in front of the elders of the congregation, and his own pride and authority would not let him recant. His face turned to stone, his very voice turned to gravel as he said, 'Thou art dead to me; Thou art dead to me; Thou art dead to me.' He turned away, and trudged out of the court and into the house. The elders followed him, silently, except that for a moment old Joachim Arst, a man I had never before cared for, came to me. As tears coursed my cheeks, he placed a purse in my hands, saying, 'I believe that I have lost some coins in the streets today.' Then he took my face between his hands, and said, 'Always remember, young Isaac who is now a stranger, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' And so I am now Isaac Fremdling, Isaac the stranger."
Isaac brushed a hand across his eyes, looked at Isaac and said gently, "And so I know somewhat of how you felt after Heydrich mauled you, for I know how I felt when I thought I would not have the music, and I know how high a price I paid to have it."
"Indeed," Franz said, aching in his heart for his friend, knowing the kind of desolation that had been dealt him. "How is it I never heard this, from you or one of the others?"
"Because I have not shared it these last five years; before now there was none who would understand, none who could know what I felt then."
Two young men—of different heritage, yet brothers in their love of music and the prices they had paid to have it—sat together in silence, contemplating things lost and things gained, and likewise contemplating the ancient wisdom of a man named Job.
The door to the choir room crashed open, startling Franz and Isaac both. They had been wrapped so deeply in their thoughts they had not heard anyone approach. As the door panel bounced off the doorstop, a group of young men of an age with themselves broke into the room, arguing at the top of their lungs. They threw their books down on the tables at the head of the room and carried on with their heated discussion. Two of them in particular stood almost toe-to-toe, arms waving frantically. German epithets were bouncing from the walls and ceiling, the mildest of which were "Fool!" and "Imbecile!" The others quickly turned to egging their champions on, and if the volume did not decrease, at least the mass confusion did. Franz began to chuckle. They were such a sight: faces red, veins bulging on their foreheads, hair dancing wildly. He leaned over to Isaac, who was grinning broadly, and near-shouted in his ear, "I wonder how long Thomas and Hermann have been at it this time?" Isaac shrugged, but didn't try to shout over the din.
For a moment there was quiet, as both men ran out of breath at the same time. Chests heaving, sweat running down their faces, they stood glaring at each other. Nothing was settled, though—this wasn't even a truce. It was more in the way of a pause for breath in a long-fought duel between two very evenly matched opponents. That last thought caused Franz to laugh out loud, for although the two champions might have been evenly matched with their chosen weapons of words, little else about them was.
Thomas Schwarzberg, one of Franz's closest friends, was a very tall man. Even among the giants of Grantville he stood out; among the native down-timers he was more than the Biblical head and shoulders taller. On the other hand, Hermann Katzberg was short, even for a down-timer. Franz doubted if he was five feet tall, especially if he took off his boots with the built-up heels. He was stocky, though not misshapen, and reasonably handsome with dark hair. In Franz's mind, Hermann was more than a bit pugnacious, as he had just been demonstrating—possibly an in-born temperament, but just as likely an attitude adopted to keep the taller world in which he dwelt from overlooking him. It obviously irked Hermann just now that as much as he wanted to be nose-to-nose with Thomas, he was actually more like nose-to-navel.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff