There were many applicants for the position, and by ten o’clock when a youth with a red face and a hoarse voice appeared behind the wicket at the side of the main entrance, peered out curiously at the shabby, anxious crowd and winked derisively before he let the door swing inwards, Herr Kreutzer was as weary as he well could be and keep upright upon his feet; but, notwithstanding this, he had not given ground and still held first place in the line. He had arrived at a decision which filled his soul with dread. If he failed to get this place he would apply to one of the great orchestras! This possibility he thought of with a desperate dismay, for, playing thus before the prosperous public, some traveler would be sure to see him, recognize him, send word back to Germany and then—ah, then the deluge! He had been sadly disappointed when he had discovered that New York is not remote from Europe, but as cosmopolitan, almost, as London. Here, as there, asylum only could be found in the remote resorts, unfrequented by those with means, by travelers, by those who know good music. Ah! he shuddered at the thought of what might happen if, some night, forgetting his surroundings, he should play as he could play in hearing of a connoisseur. Then, certainly, discovery.
So he was very anxious to obtain this small position in the little, far beer-garden. He was sorry for the others, but they could not have necessities the least bit greater than his own. He must not yield to them, so, in the eager crowd, he pushed and scrambled as the others did, and always kept in front.
“What kin yer play?” the fat and blear-eyed manager asked gruffly.
“I play the flute.”
“Bring it along?”
“Let ’er go, then. Give us something good and lively.”
With nervous hands Herr Kreutzer raised the old flute to his lips, with fingers which put tremolos where none were written in the score; but he made many of the notes dance joyously. Through anxious lips he blew his soul into the instrument—his love of the pre-eminent composer who had sung the song he played, his love of his sweet daughter for whose sake he played—his love of her and fear for her if he should fail to win the favor of his burly listener. The great “Spring Song” of Mendelssohn has never been played on a flute as Kreutzer played it, in the grey light of that morning in the cheerless, bare beer-garden. When he had finished there was silence in the crowd behind him. Not a man among the applicants for the position was a real musician, but all knew, instinctively, that they had been listening to a veritable artist. Then, after an awed moment, there came a little spatter of applause. All these men were seeking for a chance to earn the mere necessities of life; every one of them was more than anxious, was pitifully eager for the small position which was open; but, having heard Herr Kreutzer play, they hoped no longer—and were generous.