The Nightingale of St. Petersburg

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Chapters 3-4

Chapter 3

If things had remained as they were, this story would have gotten nowhere. An incident that took place about three weeks later changed everything. It was at the public ball house; we had just finished a long string of music and were taking a precious five minute break before the next dance would be announced. I heard a footsteps walking up to us, from the sound of them I guessed them to be that of a man, a large man at that. His footsteps got very near, then stopped and a deep voice addressed our conductor.

“Do you, among your musicians, have a man who knows how to play the song of my dreams?”

There was an uncomfortable silence and I knew from it that our conductor was very taken back. I think all of us were. The ‘song of my dreams’, I had never heard a piece of music with such a title.

“I don’t believe I have ever heard of such a song, sir,” the conductor said, “why do you ask?”

I heard a deep sigh, and I could tell that this man, with the strong voice and firm step, was tired and disappointed.

“It is my mother,” he explained. “She wants a musician to play this song to her. I have asked just about every musician I can find if he knows it, I have brought several back home to her, but with no success. No one knows what she is talking about. My mother is weak and ill and I do not want her to get excited and fatigued, so I have promised her that I will find her a man who can play this piece of music to her.”

“I am afraid I cannot help you sir,” our conductor replied, “I have never heard of such a song.”

“I’m convinced it doesn’t exist,” the man said, “but I told her I would do my best to find it, and do my best I shall. Oh, if only I could find someone who knows it, I will pay anything just to be able to find one man who can play this mysterious music and make my aging mother glad.”

The words: ‘I will pay anything’ awoke something inside me. Now I do not wish anyone to think me greedy, but I am poor musician struggling to make ends meet who also has an aging woman at home. The pay this month had not been good and I knew that any amount of money would come in handy. So in spur of the moment I decided to take a great risk.

“Good sir,” I called out, for I had heard the shuffling of feet and guessed that he was turning to leave. “Good sir, wait a moment if you will.”

The shuffling of feet stopped and I knew he had halted. The slight scraping of his shoes told me had turned a little.

“I believe I can help you with your mysterious song,” I explained.

“Can you?” he seemed very suspicious, I could tell this by the tone of his voice.

“Yes sir.”

“Why do you were those?” I guessed he was talking about the dark shades I wore over my eyes.

“I am blind, sir.”

“Hah,” his voice was filled with mockery, “you, a blind musician with hardly a kopek to your name can help me?”

“Hear me out, sir, and judge for yourself. Now, it is true that I am blind. and because I am unable to read notes, I must listen to the music before I can play it. I have heard of this ‘song of my dreams’ and it may just be the one that your mother wishes to hear.” To be honest, I had never heard of any such music, but I decided that perhaps I would just make something up. It could be that the lady didn’t even know what she really wanted. Old age could have easily messed with her mind. I didn’t feel completely comfortable telling an honest lie, so decided throw in a little truth.

“If you wish, I can play it for you now and then you can tell me right away if it is the right piece of music. This would save you the trouble of taking me all the way to your home.”

“I am afraid that will do no good. The only person who knows the music is my mother, which means you shall have to play it for her. It is far too late now, and you are needed here. I shall send for you tomorrow, tell me where you live and I will have someone fetch you.”

I gave him my address and from the scratching sound I knew he was writing it down on a piece of paper. “Until tomorrow then,” was all he stated and I heard him turn and leave.

“Do you really know the song of my dreams?” One of my fellow musicians asked me

“I’ll find that out tomorrow,” I replied as we all picked up our instruments and began the merry tune of the dance once more.

Chapter 4

The next day a small carriage came and took me the home of this man. I am afraid I cannot describe how it looked, but I can say that it smelt very clean and something in the air of the house told me this was a man of considerable means. I was led down a corridor and into a room. Once inside I heard the man with the strong voice speak.

 “This is the musician I told you of, mother,” he said. I guessed his mother was sitting somewhere in the room. “He has said that he has heard of a ‘song of my dreams’ and will play it for you and you may tell us if we have at last found someone who can play the music you so long to hear.”

“What is your name, my boy?” a frail voice asked. It was a voice that sounded like it was hanging by a thread that would snap at any given moment. It also was filled with a raspy sort of gentleness and care. I immediately took a liking to this voice.

“Alexander,” I replied.

“Alexander, my name is Margarita Vladimirovna. For many nights I have heard a song in my sleep. I lay down and as I am drifting to sleep, it begins to sing. Only it is always faint and far away. It the most beautiful song I have ever heard, but sad, oh so very sad. I wish to be able to hear it, hear it for real. I don’t care for the words, but I adore the melody. I have searched for many musicians, anyone who will be able to play the tune for me, but I have not been able to find one. Many were honest and told us that they had never heard of it, other tried to deceive us and played other tunes, but they were not the ones. I know the tune very well, I hear it ever night.”

I suddenly felt very ashamed. I did not know the song she wanted and I would give myself a bad name, a name of one who had lied. How I wanted to turn and run, but I didn’t know where I was or where to go, so I stood still. She kept on.

“Sometimes in the night there are several tunes, but the one I am most familiar with is always the first one to be sung. I do not ask for all the tunes, just for the one that was there from the beginning. I do not know the name of the music. I call it the song of my dreams because that is where I hear it, in my dreams; always and only in my dreams,” she broke off here and began to hum the tune. I listened carefully, hoping that perhaps if she hummed enough of it, I would be able to pick it up. She only hummed only a little, breaking off as quickly as she had begun, but that little told me enough. I instantly recognized the melody. It was the same tune of the song that my mysterious voice sang every night. Yes, it was that very song. I knew that song by heart, I knew every note, every twist, every turn, I had heard it so many times and played it to myself on my violin.

“Now, Alexander,” her voice, which had grown distant, became sharp again, “tell me, will you be able to play the song for me, or are you as all the rest?”

“I can play the song for you, ma’am,” I replied with confidence. I felt someone grasp my arm and lead me somewhere. Soon I was made to sit and my hands were put on the keys to a piano.

“What is the matter with him?” I heard the lady say in perhaps what was supposed to be a whisper.

“He is blind,” was the reply.

I played the music with no difficulty and when I was finished there was a silence in the room. Then I heard the slow rising and the swishing of skirts. Frail, painful footsteps came close and close and at last, frail, thin fingers grasp my arm.

“Oh my dear, dear boy,” her voice was filled with tears, “that is it, that is the song! You have played it just as I have heard it every night! It is the same, exactly the same! Tell me; oh tell me, do you know the other one?”

“Yes ma’am, I do,” I said in a gentle voice, “but you must sit back down on the sofa. (I dared to make a wild guess, for I had supposed that she would be sitting on one.) You are weak and must be comfortable.”

“No, no,” she replied, “I want to be close to you, I want to be able to hear ever note that you play.”

“Mother, you must sit down,"the man with the strong voice said. “But if you wish to sit next to him, we can arrange it.”

I heard him clap his hands and then I heard the dragging of furniture and more rustling of skirts and at last they settled her down and I was told to play. I played the second song that the voice sang, and then the third. While I was playing I heard hushed voices footsteps leaving the room and guessed that most everyone had left. When I had finished the third song I once more felt her reach out and touch my arm, “I knew I would find someone who would be able to play the songs to me.” She said. “Tell me, my boy, how old are you?”

“Twenty two, ma’am,” I replied. “I’ll be twenty three in November.”

“You are very young. How long have you been blind?”

“For twenty two years.”

“Oh,” her voice became filled with pity. “And your parents?”

“Both are dead, ma’am.”

“Oh,” she repeated, perhaps not knowing what else to say. “Do you live alone?”

“Not really, I have a kind old woman living with me.”

“But you earn your own living?”

“Yes ma’am, I play at public balls.”

“Do you have enough to live on?”

I was silent for a moment, thinking how best to answer. “I have all that I need,” I stated at last.

There was silence and something told me that she was smiling. “Would you like to earn a little extra money?” she asked at last.

“I would not be against it,” I admitted.

“I thought you wouldn’t be. Listen to me. I would like you to come and play music for me every day. This will be before you must go and play at the balls. You play so wonderfully, you fingers are light and the music comes out so beautiful. I will send a carriage to fetch you so you will not have to walk.”

“If you will give me direct directions ma’am, I can make it on my own. I travel to the public ball house by myself every day.”

“No, no, that is absolutely out of the question,” her voice became firm and I understood there was no changing her mind. “You will be brought here in a carriage, Believe me, I know what it like to be helpless and constantly having to have people doing things for you. I hate the feeling, but now at last I am able to help another and it makes me feel so wonderful. Of course this usefulness does come with a tinge of selfishness, for I want you to play for me, but I suppose it is fair just the same.”

I nodded my head, not knowing what else to do.

“Excellent,” her voice became happy once more, “now then, will you play some more for me?”

“If you please, ma’am,” I said, “but first, would you be very much upset if I were to ask you to allow me to touch your face?”

“To do what?” she sounded surprised.

“To touch your face, I want to know what you look like. A blind’s man fingers are his eyes and the only way for me to see is to touch. You sound like such a kind, dear lady, I want to make a mental picture of your face.”

“Oh, my boy, I assure you that I am not beautiful. Not anymore that is,” she laughed, “though I will admit that in my day I was considered quite the thing. But yes, since you put it that way, you may touch me face.”

I smiled and reaching over felt out until I touched upon her arm. She was dressed in a silk dress; expensive silk at that. I felt up to her shoulder, then I her face. She had a lot of wrinkles; I guessed that meant she was pretty old. Her chin was slightly pointed, and her lips were small as was her nose. Her whole was generally very round. Once in my life I had held a china doll and I pictured her to look something like that; a china doll that had somehow gotten the ability to age. Her hair was gathered in a delicate hairstyle that I was careful not to ruin. Having gotten a clear picture of what she looked like, I returned my fingers to the piano and played different selections of music for her for about an hour. After which she rang a bell and I was taken home.

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