Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A Rolling Stone Vol.III

Chapter II

page break

Chapter II.

‘Where rose the mountains there to him were friends;
Where rolled the ocean thereon was his home;
Where a blue sky and glowing clime extends
He had the passion and the power to roam.’

There were other conferences with Mr. Philimore, and with Mrs. Philimore also, for she was generally present. Mrs. Philimore was the only person for whom Philimore would readily change an opinion. Anything warmly advocated by that lady was sure, sooner or later, to find some kind of a reception in his mind; although he might not approve of it, he would not oppose it. Mrs. Philimore had not only friendly remembrances of Randall—she had been much attached to his sister, and thus, she assured her husband, they were constrained by every feeling that can spring from the bond of old comradeship to do what they could for their friend. Meanwhile Philimore occupied himself with looking at the question from every point of view.

‘It's impossible to tell how it might turn out,’ he said. ‘A good speculation might be made of the affair; stranger things have happened, but it's not safe to reckon on improbabilities.’

page 19

‘You look at it in such a mercenary spirit,’ said Mrs. Philimore.

‘Precisely, Myra. What is the good of doing it on any but mercenary principles? If nothing can be made out of it, both Randall and I had better leave it alone. I don't want him to throw away the little money he has, any more than I wish to throw away my own to no purpose.’

‘He is terribly poor, I suppose,’ said Mrs. Philimore compassionately.

‘Well, really he ought not to be so poor. No man ought who has a fair amount of ability. I wonder if he has ever done his best. Some of us have a way of working with a lukewarm sort of zeal, and then wondering why we don't get on.’

‘He is sure to succeed in this if he will persevere,’ said Mrs. Philimore. ‘Every one said he was marvellous, even as a boy, and he has advanced more than I expected.’

This was after Randall had spent an evening with his friends, and at their request had played to them. Philimore had listened with the air of a critic, and (first premising that his opinion was of no value, as he could never understand music) had confessed that he thought Randall's style would be a popular one. ‘You have animation,’ he said, ‘and that was where Virchow failed; he was often very flat and lifeless. I don't know, though, whether you are noisy enough. The public, as a whole, like bang page 20 and crash. Concert music is an effective kind of uproar rather than melody’

‘Oh, don't let us always be thinking of that tiresome public!’ said Mrs. Philimore.

‘We have to study it,’ said Philimore, ‘and I know nothing which pays better for study.’

By this time it was understood that Randall was to accompany them to Melbourne. Philimore professed to be glad to leave New Zealand. ‘I've had bad luck here more than once,’ he said. ‘The finest time I ever had—I had Loftus with me, lecturing on his theory of the universe—was cut short by the appearance of Pablovsky, a fire-eating, sword-swallowing, spirit-raising fellow, who called himself the great Russian necromancer. He was a Cockney, and a clever one in his way. I find that a great deal of foreign talent is born within the sound of Bow Bells. He spoilt our success; the people went to see his tricks, and my man, who had no wizardry about him, and only told them what he believed to be true, was left to lecture to empty benches.’

The passage down the New Zealand coast and to Australia was a fine one. It would have made no difference to the agent, however, had the weather been bad. ‘Blow high, blow low,’ he was always at his ease; he had never known the agonies of mal de mer. Had it been otherwise, perhaps he would not have prosecuted his enterprises in foreign countries with such boldness.

page 21

He was eminently sociable when travelling. It was part of his policy to make himself popular wherever he might be, and also not to allow the gifted being or beings under his charge to fall into that familiarity with the crowd which has destroyed many reputations. It was not to be suffered that public interest in such persons should wane and expire from people getting to know all about them before they had appeared in public. He gave Randall some hints on the subject.

‘It doesn't matter much this time,’ he said, ‘for no one knows why you're going over, or that there is any connection between us; but should we travel together again I shall advise you to be more careful not to be intimate with the other passengers.’


‘Well, it takes time to explain; but it's wisest to avoid close contact with the general public, if you wish them to esteem you.’

‘That doesn't seem flattering advice,’ said Randall, laughing. ‘Evidently I cannot bear close inspection.’

‘Nobody can. I had to be especially careful with Virchow, who had a natural propensity (alas! poor fellow) to associate with those whom he ought to have kept at a distance. I was worn out with watching him. If people only knew what poor stuff most of their idols are made of they'd be more likely to tear them from their shrines than to fall down before them. However admirable you might be, I'd page 22 still say, keep all besides the few friends you know well at arm's length, if you wish to succeed in one of the higher or more conspicuous professions. By all means, Randall—and this is advice for the present—don't touch that piano; don't play a note.’

‘I have not offended in that way yet, and have no desire; but again, why not?’

‘One may have too much of the best of things, and when a talent is always being displayed, it is all the more likely to be depreciated. Some one will be picking holes in it, and pointing them out to others. Keep up your reputation, my dear fellow, by keeping it high above people's heads, not opposite their eyes. No member of your profession should be given to tinkling semi-privately. Let people go to his concerts if they want to hear him. They'll be disposed to praise what they've paid for. If he's always doing it in a gratuitous kind of way, they'll soon begin to despise him.’

‘Then I'm not to play, but to keep myself as quiet as possible?’

‘Most certainly. I am your agent; I do all the talking, and attend to all the drudgery of business. Consider that excellent man, the sum of whose good works was to stand on a pillar. He knew he would be a nobody amongst his fellow-creatures if he were to come down, and place himself in the rank with them, shoulder to shoulder. Ah, he knew how to comport himself towards the public!’

page 23

‘The public—always the public!’ cried Mrs. Philimore, in a tone of distress.

‘We must talk of our business, Myra,’ said Philimore apologetically.

Philimore followed out his tactics in the manner in which he entered the premier city of Australia. The newspapers heralded his approach; he always managed to be on friendly terms with the press, and he believed in advertising. He had been known to fill the smallest of towns with his bills and posters. He advertised his protege until that person almost blushed at the extravagance with which he was hurled at the public; but he kept him in the background. He must burst upon the expectant city like a meteor.

It was blazoned about, as soon as they had come to town, that Philimore had with him a new light that was likely to surpass in brilliancy all whom he had ever guided thither for the delectation of Australians. It was averred that he had mysteriously hinted as much. This was a remarkable thing; on all other occasions he had maintained a provoking as well as discreet silence respecting his charges. What he had said in this case was very little, and very uncertain in its nature: so much the better; it would bear magnifying, and it was magnified. That the musician was a man of whom no one had ever heard, and that Philimore hardly allowed him to be seen, made people all the more curious. Those who had been so fortunate as to see him persuaded page 24 themselves they had seen something out of the common way. His name was English; but no one believed he was English; it is a settled article of faith with many people that no Englishman can be a genius. By different voices he was declared to be of almost every nationality, till some one finally decided that he was of the Hebrew race. And Philimore would tell no one who he was, or whence he had come; but one thing was certain, he was no ordinary man, or the agent would not have brought him out. As Randall was aware, it was Philimore's reputation, and not his own, which was likely to secure him a favourable reception.

The opening night came. He had waited for it with a feverish anxiety; he had prepared himself for it with a diligence that found no labour too great, and spurned the thought of weariness. He had thought too much of it, and had worked too unremittingly; so, as a natural result, it found him nervous and depressed. He believed that all depended on this first trial. Philimore, more sagaciously, said that first nights were not everything, and that a break-down was sometimes useful. Kind little Philimore! it was something better than mercenary principles which made him work so hard for his friend's success.

‘You and Myra make too much of it,’ he said. ‘Even if it should be a regular fiasco, it won't end everything. Take things coolly.’

Randall replied that he would, although conscious page 25 that he was too excited for such advice to be of any use. As he waited for his time to go on the platform, he knew by the sounds of feet hurrying on the galleries and the stairs that the hall was filling fast. It was ridiculous, he knew, but he felt as if he could not play a note. He had often played in public before, at concerts, and twice or thrice at different musical festivals he had attended with his father. But then he had not been so insanely anxious to please as he was this night. It felt like making a plunge, as he stepped forward before all those expectant faces. All kinds of faces, every variety of expression, every type of humanity seemed to be represented in that house—and all were strangers. It was distracting to think that about fifteen hundred people were expecting that he should instantaneously produce something brilliant, strange, or delightful. What if he did not?

He was expected to begin, and he did not begin. What a silence! He had an irritating consciousness that a bland old gentleman and a bespectacled lady in the front seats were saying to each other that he was in a pitiable state of nervousness. He thought all the faces began to look colder; they were already disappointed, before he had struck a note. But suddenly he saw one face that he knew. Mrs. Philimore was looking directly at him, with an anxious, beseeching expression. If she had cried out, she could not have spoken plainer than her look told him, that another moment of irresolution and page 26 he was lost. She actually smiled at him when he began to play.

And then, at once, his nervousness was gone. He saw no one, and it would have mattered less than nothing if the large hall had expanded to ten times its original size, and if ten times as many faces had ranged themselves within it, tier above tier. He felt that his hand was firm enough now, and that his face was hot and flushed. But he soon forgot himself altogether, and though the piece he played had been his study till he knew it note by note, for the first time he felt that he understood it. Hitherto he had played it as one who was repeating words spoken in a foreign language; but now it seemed as if it might have been his own, and its melody had come fresh to his imagination that very night.

Surely that fearful uproar was not meant for applause! He could see Mrs. Philimore again now; she was calmly smiling; had she not known how it would be? her look seemed to say. Philimore was far too sensible and cautious to keep his eye on Randall. If he had forebodings, no one knew of them. All through he had preserved a careless composure of manner which gave every one to understand that failures and break-downs entered not into his thoughts. But he had listened intently, and while the bland old gentleman in the front seat was shouting ‘Encore’ with an h to it, and while the bespectacled lady was wiping away her tears, he page 27 found time to send a little note to Mrs. Philimore which contained one word—‘Glorious!’

It was over at last. The musician was in his own room again, glad to be free of the glare of gas light and the noisy plaudits of his audience. This, then, was success. He had tasted it for the first time. When it has become a thing of everyday life; when he is wearied of loud acclamations, and disgusted with the adulation of a public that will not let its favourites have a private life,—then perhaps he will call it vulgar, common, mean; but now he is enthralled by it. To-night, as he listens to the warm praise of the friends who have made his cause their own, and as hope after hope which had been crushed down rises again, brighter, fairer than ever, he is so intoxicated with his happiness that he can scarcely believe in its reality. This is a wine the first draught of which steals away the senses; over those who drink deeply it has but little power. There are other triumphs in his way—greater ones than this—but none will ever be so dear.

But all this is only as the opening of a door. Night after night the crowd comes to hear him—not the same crowd, but one like it, only larger. The first night there had been some empty seats in the hall. It was hard to find a vacant place the second night; harder still—impossible—on the third. The public are here. They crush, crowd, squeeze, push one another; they submit to unheard-of inconveniences rather than be turned from the doors, and yet every page 28 night hundreds are turned away. It is a rush such as Philimore has never known. The agent expands; he seems to grow; his face is nothing but a pair of large beaming eyes and a smile.

All Melbourne has heard Randall at last; but there is the country. There are the people amongst the mines, the sheep-runs, the farms, the vineyards. There are the villages that will be towns five years hence; the towns that will be cities in ten years' time. This is a country where distance is set at naught; from ten, twenty, thirty miles the people will come into the towns to hear him. Crowds again, but different from the Melbourne crowd. Shepherds and stockmen; miners and traders; squatters and free selectors jumbled together. No marvel if the squatters, some of them, have once been shepherds and shearers, and the shepherds have once been gentlemen—here, as much as in any other country, the battle is to the strong, and the weakest must go to the wall.

Many amongst these mixed audiences had once known him who now drew them from all quarters. They remembered him as a harmless person, a sort of wandering troubadour, industrious in so much that he earned his own living, and was chargeable to no one, but not content to sit down in one place, and wait for a fortune. He had charmed them even then with his music. Often when he had come at sunset to a homestead, and, according to the custom of the country, had been welcomed kindly, though page 29 an unbidden guest, he had played to them for hours, whatever they could ask him, all the old, sweet tunes which had been woven into their memory long ago, in the home of their early life. They had not forgotten his songs, his stories of the mysterious deserts of the interior, many miles of which he had traversed on foot and oftentimes alone. Some of them recognised him, and came to say how pleased they were to find him in prosperity, they who had shown him friendship when he was poor. A generous people, they could not make too much of him. Philimore was dismayed; his charge was taken out of his hands. People would have him; would haul them both from house to house. They hardly knew how they broke away at last.

The agent's eye was already darting its glances far beyond the horizon. They had not yet exhausted the galaxy of Australian colonies. And after Australia, was there not India—America—the World? There was no country to which Philimore would not go if he saw his way clear to a profit. All countries were pretty much alike to him. Climate he cared nothing about, the peculiarities of different nations had been lessened in his eyes by much travelling, and, moreover, he was a consummate linguist. Those who maintain that the English do not readily master foreign languages say so because, in so many cases, languages are stupidly taught in English schools. Philimore's tutors had declared him to be hopelessly dull in the study of languages, page 30 because he had hated his Greek and made Latin verses which were the horror of the masters and the derision of the whole school. But, in after life, he had managed to pick up such a knowledge of tongues as would have enabled him to acquit himself with credit at the building of Babel. He was a proud man on the day that an enraptured Frenchman rushed to embrace him, in the mistaken idea that he was greeting a compatriot. Though he had forgotten his school Latin he spoke good Italian, and, though the Greek of Homer had fled from his mind, he could haggle with any modern Greek, and deceive him too, with flattering words of his own tongue. And, if we mention that he had more than a slight acquaintance with three or four other languages, not omitting even Russ, that most disheartening of all, it should be granted that Mr. Philimore had been slandered when his teachers had called him dull.

So he was not slack in pointing out new openings and avenues, all leading to the goal he as well as Randall had in view. He had been much surprised at the sudden success of his friend. No one knew better than himself the time it takes to build up a reputation; no one knew better also how often heart-sickening disappointment and neglect fill up all but the last years of those who are striving for fortune and fame in some branch of art. Yet he had known instances also of men who had found a royal road to success. He considered that, without being so intended, Randall's whole education had page 31 fitted him for this, and that for years past he had been unconsciously learning the profession he had now adopted. Even now he seemed to study laboriously. He was not dazzled by his wonderful good fortune into believing that he could afford to be idle. He gave himself too little rest, his friends thought and said, and he would reply, there was no time for it. There was much to be done yet, and the hour-glass of time never stops running.

They went from city to city. The agent found no cause to regret his bargain, and his friend soon lost his morbid fear of a failure. Not that they met with no reverses, however. Sometimes an ebb tide would bear away their luck; sometimes they would come to a place where people were chary of spending money on sweet sounds only. But generally their sails did not flap idly against the mast, but were filled with the fair breezes of popularity. The musician grew to make a business of his art, and became habituated to applause and the giddy whirl of excitement. There was no pause—no rest in this life: once he had longed to ‘get at’ the public; now the public had captured him. But the months flow swiftly into years—it will soon be over.