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THE DEMON MUSICIAN.*
"And a maaic voice and vera*
On a calm evening, in the spring of the year 18—, a group of peasants were enjoying themselves in a vineyard on the border of the Black Forest. The toils of the day being over, they had assembled to celebrate the marriage of two young villagers who had long been attached, and were now united. The girl was a sparkling brunette, full of life and gayety; the youth, more sedate, somewhat retired in habits, a great lover of music, and universally considered a most skilful performer. He was an orphan, and derived his chief support from his violin, with which he was wont every night to entertain his neighbours, who, in return, stored his cottage with voluntary contributions; and many of the damsels envied Madeline for her good fortune in winning such a handsome young husband as Ursenstein, the musician.
At a small distance from the rest sat the bridegroom and his bride; it might have been thought that they had thus withdrawn to indulge in their new-licensed love, but it was not so; for though the eyes of the girl were fixed tenderly upon his countenance, he met not their fond expression. He was looking earnestly through the bushes, and listening eagerly for some distant sound. The bride watched him for a time in silence, content with her untold happiness. She was thinking that he was now irrevocably her own, her very own, and that one idea was too exquisite to need the aid of language; but as his abstraction continued unbroken, his every sense seemingly concentrated upon some unseen object, Madeline began to feel that she was neglected, and timidly inquired what attracted his attention. The bridegroom answered not, but he held his head nearer to the ground, and drew in his breath that he might listen more intently. Madeline put up her pretty red lip poutingly, and pulled, with a sudden twitch, a coral blossom from the loaded branches that drooped around her; then, with the tenacity of feminine pride, she stole a cautious glance towards her young friends, as though she
* From 'The Royal Lady's Magazine.'
feared that they should witness her lover's coldness. A smile almost of triumph met her glance—it was on the face of one whose love she had rejected. She coloured, and endeavoured to seem engaged in affixing the flower tastefully to her girdle, but it would not be arranged as she wished, and, with a hand less gentle than usual, she plucked it from her waist, scattering its crimson leaves upon the greensward at her side, and all the while she tried to look as if she were not vexed.
"Enchanting! exquisite!" exclaimed Ursenstein.
The brilliant eyes of the bride flashed, and a smile mantled over her peachy cheek ; but Ursenstein was not thinking of her, and he saw not that witching look. Madeline felt that he did not; her glances fell upon the tattered flower, and a pang darted through her heart, for it seemed, in its scattered loveliness, to be an emblem of herself. A sigh struggled from her lips—it waked Ursenstein into recollection, for he loved the fond girl dearly.
"Why sighs my Madeline upon her bridal day ?" he asked, looking tenderly into her face. With half a tear and half a blush, she answered, " You were not wont, Ursenstein, to be so absent."— "Nor am I absent now, sweetest. But who could listen to sounds so delicious without emotion?"—"Sounds? I heard none!"— "None!"—"No, nor you neither; I do believe that you are dreaming. I ever told you that the violin was my rival, for I have often had cause to be jealous of it; and now see how you behave upon our bridal day. It is not kind, Ursenstein, indeed it is not."— "Be not angry, dearest Madeline," said Ursenstein, putting aside the dark ringlets which played about her brows. "If I love music, I love nothing mortal save thyself; and surely my passion for so sweet an art can never interfere with thy happiness."—" How can I tell that?" retorted the petulant girl. "If on a day like this you give way to such wild fancies, the time may come when music may make thee mad."—" Fancies! dear one; these were no fancied sounds, or if they were, I would that they might last for ever. Oh, Madeline! what so delicious, when the gentle breath of departing day is kissing its farewell upon thy cheek, to listen to the vesper hymn stealing over the valley. Then music is most dearly welcome to the melting heart; even the distant carol of the joyous peasants returning from their daily labour, sounds harmonious then. The evening song of the thankful birds rises sweetly then. But what bliss is it thus to feel thy presence, my own loved Madeline, while listening to such melody as that which even now was issuing from yonder clump of trees."—" I heard no such sounds," said Madeline, angrily; "and if such had been, my ear is as open as your own."— "Not hear it!—why hark!—even now it comes again!—nearer, 3'et nearer."—" I hear it not"—" It must be a wandering spirit from that multitudinous choir who are ever warbling, with tuneful voices, ' Glory to God, and to the Redeemer.'"
Suddenly a loud discordant crash was heard; Madeline shrieked, and put her hands to her ears. Ursenstein sprang from the ground, while a dense cloud seemed to fall around the startled peasants. "I heard it then," whispered Madeline, in low fearful tones. "It was indeed no mortal hand that struck that chord! it was too horrible!"— "Hush!" said Ursenstein, in the same low eager tone. "Hark, again! Is it not glorious? Is it not divine?" A strain of delicious melody swelled upon the breeze; all heard, all with mute attention listened. "It can be nothing good, Ursenstein. Let us go," entreated the bride, "for still in every dying fall I hear again that horrid crash. Well do you know that no holy thing has dwelling within the boundaries of that dreadful forest. Come, love," and she tried to drag him away; "it is not good that we should listen to those magic sounds." "Be it angel or devil, I will know what it is!" exclaimed Ursenstein, breaking from her hold, and dashing desperately among the trees. As he ran, the air grew louder and more gay,—then it sank into scarcely breathing modulation. He could have wept to hear its pathetic wailing—then it was like the chirping of birds, but sweeter than birds ever sang—now it was louder than a full band—martial—exhilarating—now tender—now festive—now murmuring, with a cry more piteous than the complaining of evertortured fiends—now it was the shriek of the maniac—and now the fervent out-pourings of the one universal passion.
Still Ursenstein went on, until he had left the valley far behind; but he knew not that, for he never once looked back, nor saw the last red gleam of the passing twilight fade in the gloom of the black chasm into which he had penetrated. It was a rugged ravine, hollowed out of the solid rock by the force of the torrent. Above, the larch and mountain fir drooped heavily, making there an everlasting night. Reptiles and unclean birds had refuge there, and as Ursenstein entered, a startled owl hooted, and a bat, frightened from its retreat, swept roughly past his face. He felt it, but he scarcely dashed it aside, for now the sounds quivered and thrilled more harmoniously, falling into a tender cadence, and then all was silence.
"Wondrous divinity! sweet wakener of enraptured wood-nymphs, where art thou? Appear, and let me worship thee!" exclaimed Ursenstein, as impatiently he tried to pierce the dim obscurity of that dismal glen. No answer was returned; nor(jould his most searching glances discover aught that bore visible &rn»or feature.
A black pool of stagnant water, half mantled over, stopped Ins furlhcr progress; but Ursenstein flinched not, though adder's eyes were glaring upon him, and serpents were coiling around his feet; while, ever and anon, the melancholy owl hooted, and the silence was sadder for that fearful interruption.
"Where art thou, great musician?" said he. "Thou player upon an instrument unknown to mortal skill! Magician of the soul! I pray to thee—see—on the cold and flinty rock, upon which the sun never shines, and the summer breeze never plays—here, among the abject things of the earth, in the humility of my heart, I adjure thee listen to my supplication. If thou art an angel, waft me into Elysium, and bear me on the wings of the clouds where thou wilt, and whither, so I but learn to create such sweet harmony, and to be like thee a prince of thy divine science! 'Twas bliss to hear thee for a moment; 'twill be heaven to listen to thee for ever. But if—" and his hands compressed so firmly, that the tightened palms flowed blood from under the indenting nails, while cold dews, gathering thickly upon his forehead, streamed slowly over his pale face. "But if thou be a demon, still do I cry to thee. Great sorcerer! Mighty tempter! King of the human heart! Sovereign of the passions! Hail! all hail! Here, beside the lightning-blasted pine—on the corrupt pond's brink—in thine own dark den—I kneel to greet thee! Here, where the owlet's scream mingles with no human sound but my voice only—where the raven looks down from her leafy car, and the eagle's eye gleams on thy toad-slimed throne —I pray to thee, teach me thine art!"—" Thine art!" the rock repeated. "Teach me thine art," echoed the half-frantic enthusiast. "Or at least be visible to thy votary's eyes." He paused—there was a rushing as of wings—and a murmuring like the motion of the waters. "Why bafllest thou thy pupil?" impatiently inquired the youth. "Three nights, as I tried to sleep, thou hast visited me. To me only was it given to hear thy strains. To me is it given to acquire thy excellence. Come, then, spirit of darkness or of light! —whether thoiPhidest in the foldings of the rainbow's many-coloured mantle, or ridest upon the red roaring billows, whence arise the flames of vast Vesuvius!—still do I invoke thee, wonderful spirit!— Great master—learned teacher—appear, appear!"
Scarcely had the words escaped his lips, before there was a low rumbling noise. He bowed his head until his body was prostrate, in his deep reverence. When he looked again, an aged man, clothed in black attire from head to foot, whose long elf-locks protruded partly around and about his head, and partly fell clotted over his shoulders, was seated opposite on a huge block of granite. The hue of his countenance was a greenish yellow. His features famine-struck. His eyes glittered redly a supernatural light, like the spectral sparks that are believed to flash from the bones of the unburied malefactor. His limbs hung loose and limberly one to the other, as though a touch would displace the unknitted joints; and all his movements were singularly uncouth. In his skeleton fingers he held a violin, which he hugged close to his breast—clawing, and scratching, and tugging the while, as if he were torturing a living creature ; and the thing, as he pulled it, sent forth superhuman sounds, now laughing, as with glee; now wailing, as with agony. Ursenstein gazed upon the instrument, and fancied that he saw the sides palpitate with evident pulsation. "Is it a violin, or a creature of life and soul?" gasped Ursenstein. The old man put the instrument into his hands and grinned. Such a grin! "Twelve years have I played the violin," said the youth, "and I love it so dearly that I have spared no labour to learn it well, but nothing could I conceive like what I now have heard." Again the old man grinned, but he uttered not a word. "Make me to know thine art, I entreat thee!"—" What wilt thou give me in return?" inquired the old man; for the first time letting his harsh dissonant voice be heard. "Aught that thou canst ask, which I have the power to bestow." "In truth?"—" In very truth. 'Twere all too little for such ability as thine."—" They who seek knowledge must be bold and courageous," replied the old man, with a sardonic smile. "And lack I either quality?—if you deem so, put me to the proof," said Ursenstein; expanding his brawny chest, and erecting himself into the attitude of a young Hercules. The old man surveyed him from head to foot and sneered ; then he beckoned him nearer and whispered—that whisper,, and what more passed was never known. But Ursenstein returned not that night to his young bride—and when at day-break he entered the cottage where the weeping Madeline sat, her companions started at his appearance, for a blight had fallen upon his ripe manhood, and his strong frame was shrunken and withered—he put aside the questioners with a hurried gesture and took Madeline in his arms, but when she looked to recognise the lover of her youth, she recoiled from the glaring of his wild eyes—and when he pressed a kiss upon her lips, she shrieked with terror, for his were cold as ice.
The winter came, the storm descended, and Madeline, now some months a wife, prepared for the period when other duties should claim her attention, and the smiles of her child repay the many anxious hours caused by its wayward parent.—Lonely she sat listening to the beating of the tempest, wishing for him whose absence was too common to excite surprise. The neat supper was prepared, the hearth clean swept, and the lamp fresh trimmed: while the solitary wife plied her needle for the expected stranger, pausing as often as the hollow blast howled through the unhallowed forest, and