Mr. Blastion continued his edifying remarks: “Yes, I studied very hard. I was born in the Southwest, and went to Paris quite young. I had good fingers and was deft at sleight-of-hand tricks. I could steal a handkerchief from a rabbi—which is saying volumes—and I played all the Chopin etudes before I was fifteen. At twenty-one I knew twenty-five concertos from memory, and my great piece was the Don Juan Fantasy. Oh, I was a wonder! When Liszt paid his last visit to Paris I played before him at the warerooms of the Pleyels.
“Monsieur Theodore Ritter was anxious for his old master to hear such a pupil. I assure you there must be some congenital twist of evil in me, for I couldn’t for the life of me forbear picking the old fellow’s pockets and lifting his watch. Now don’t look scandalized, Mr. —— eh? Oh! thank you very much, Mr. Pinton. If you are born that way, all the punishments and preachments—excuse the alliteration—will not stand in your way as a warning. I have done time—I mean I have served several terms of imprisonment, but luckily not for a long period. I suffered most by my incarceration in not having a piano. Not even a dumb keyboard was allowed, and I practised the Jackson finger exercises in the air and thus kept my fingers limber. On Saturdays the warden allowed me, as a special favour, to practise on the cabinet organ—an odious instrument—so as to enable me to play on Sundays in chapel. Of course no practice was needed for the wretched music we poor devils howled once a week, but I gained one afternoon in seven for study by my ruse.
“Oh, the joy of feeling the ivory—or bone—under my expectant fingers! I played all the Chopin, Henselt, and Liszt etudes on the miserable keyboard of the organ. Yes, of course, without wind. It was, I assure you, a truly spiritual consolation. You can readily imagine if a man has been in the habit of practising all day, even if he does ‘burgle’ at night, that to be suddenly deprived of all instrumental resources is a bitter blow.”
Pinton stuttered out an affirmative response. Then both arose after paying their checks, and the organist shook the burglar’s hand at the corner, after first exacting a promise that Blastion should play for him some morning.
“With pleasure, my boy. You’re a gentleman and an artist, and I trust you absolutely.” And he walked away, whistling with rare skill the D flat valse of Chopin.
“You can trust me, I swear!” Pinton called after him, and then went unsteadily homeward, full of generous resolves and pianistic ambitions. As he intermittently undressed he discovered, to his rage and amazement, that both his purse and watch had disappeared. The one was well filled; the other, gold. Blastion’s technic had proved unimpeachable.
AN IRON FAN