“Good!” he said, at the first turn; and at the last, “Very good! Sing,” he said, as abruptly as he had issued his former order.
In the after years she was given to making light of her choice, but the command was scarcely spoken before she began, in her lovely, sonorous voice, the song which it was her heritage to sing well:
“’Tis the most
distressful country that ever I have seen,
They’re hanging men and women there for wearing of the green.”
As she sang the three great stanzas, Josef stood motionless, his lips drawn, his eyes half shut, his face like a wooden man’s; but his hands trembled, and as she ended her singing he opened the piano and seated himself in front of it. “Take the notes I strike,” he said, “little—very little—so—so—so!” he sang.
Up and down, over and over, listening with his head turned to one side like a dog, he had her sing the tones, saying only, “Once more!” and “yet again!” and “over—over—over!” At last, with a sigh, he closed the instrument. “I am not one given to extravagance in language,” he said, “but you have the greatest natural voice I have ever heard. It is almost placed. Sit down a minute, I want to talk to you. Two kinds of pupils I have had in my life: those with voice and no temperament, and those with temperament and no voice. God seldom gives both; if He does, it is the great artist that may be made. To be great one must have both. But even with both given, one must have the ability to work, to work like a galley-slave, to work when all the world is resting, at the dead of night, in the small hours of the morning. When all the others have let go, you must hold on, till your head is tired and your body aches and you faint by the wayside; but you must never let go, you must learn to endure to the end. You will understand me. It is the mental part of which I speak. I do not mean that you are to wear your voice or your body out practising. It’s something far harder. You must learn to surrender yourself, to lose your life to have it!” He looked at her keenly. She was drinking his words in, as it were, and the expression on her face assured even him. “Do you want me,” he said, suddenly coming nearer, “to tell you about yourself; what I see in you?”
She bent her head, quivering from head to foot, before the power of this man, who seemed uncanny in his knowledge.
“You have had some great sorrow. It is an unhappy love-affair. I understand.” Here he smiled his critical, unfathomable, remote smile. “You are not yet eighteen, and have been capable of a great sorrow! Child,” he said, “thank God for it! You have a voice of gold. We will make of that sorrow diamonds and rubies and pearls to set in the voice, so that the world will stand at gaze before you. When you have real insight you will know that nothing was ever taken from us that more was not put in its place.”