Ole could not sleep for joy, that first night of ownership; and, when the house was wrapped in slumber, he got up and stole on tiptoe to the room where his treasure lay. The bow seemed to beckon to him, the pretty pearl screws to smile at him out of their red setting. “I pinched the strings just a little,” he said. “It smiled at me ever more and more. I took up the bow and looked at it. It said to me it would be pleasant to try it across the strings. So I did try it just a very, very little, and it did sing to me so sweetly. At first I did play very soft. But presently I did begin a capriccio, which I like very much, and it did go ever louder and louder; and I forgot that it was midnight and that everybody was asleep. Presently I hear something crack; and the next minute I feel my father’s whip across my shoulders. My little red violin dropped on the floor, and was broken. I weep much for it, but it did no good. They did have a doctor to it next day, but it never recovered its health.”
He was given another violin, however, and, when only ten, he would wander into the fields and woods, and spend hours playing his own improvisations, echoing the song of the birds, the murmur of the brook, the thunder of the waterfall, the soughing of the wind among the trees, the roar of the storm.
But childhood’s days are short. The years fly by. The little Ole is eighteen, a student in the University of Christiana, preparing for the ministry. His brother students beg him to play for a charitable association. He remembers his father’s request that he yield not to his passion for music, but being urged for “sweet charity’s sake,” he consents.
The youth’s struggle between the soul’s imperative demand and the equally imperative parental dictate was pathetic. Meanwhile the position of musical director of the Philharmonic and Dramatic Societies becoming vacant, Ole was appointed to the office; and, seeing that it was useless to contend longer against the genius of his son, the disappointed father allowed him to accept the directorship.
When fairly launched on a musical career, his trials and disappointments began. Wishing to assure himself whether he had genius or not, he traveled five hundred miles to see and hear the celebrated Louis Spohr, who received the tremulous youth coldly, and gave him no encouragement. No matter, he would go to the city of art. In Paris he heard Berlioz and other great musicians. Entranced he listened, in his high seat at the top of the house, to the exquisite notes of Malibran.
His soul feasted on music, but his money was fast dwindling away, and the body could not be sustained by sweet sounds. But the poor unknown violinist, who was only another atom in the surging life of the great city, could earn nothing. He was on the verge of starvation, but he would not go back to Christiana. He must still struggle and study. He became ill of brain fever, and was tenderly nursed back to life by the granddaughter of his kind landlady, pretty little Felicie Villeminot, who afterward became his wife. He had drained the cup of poverty and disappointment to the dregs, but the tide was about to turn.