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- The World For Sale, Volume 2. - 4/28 -
kind of kinship with the roughs, the no-accounts, and the rogues."
"As well as the others--I hope I don't intrude!"
Ingolby laughed. "You? Oh, I wish all the others were like you. It's the highly respectable members of the community I've always had to watch."
The fiddle-song came squeaking out upon the sunny atmosphere. It arrested the attention of a man on the other side of the street-- a stranger in strange Lebanon. He wore a suit of Western clothes as a military man wears mufti, if not awkwardly, yet with a manner not wholly natural--the coat too tight across the chest, too short in the body. However, the man was handsome and unusual in his leopard way, with his brown curling hair and well-cared-for moustache. It was Jethro Fawe.
Attracted by the sound of the violin, he stayed his steps and smiled scornfully. Then his look fell on the two figures at the door of the barber-shop, and his eyes flashed.
Here was the man he wished to see--Max Ingolby, the man who stood between him and his Romany lass. Here was a chance of speaking face to face with the man who was robbing him. What he should do when they met must be according to circumstances. That did not matter. There was the impulse storming in his brain, and it drove him across the street as the Boss Doctor walked away, and Ingolby entered the shop. All Jethro realized was that the man who stood in his way, the big, rich, masterful Gorgio was there.
He entered the shop after Ingolby, and stood for an instant unseen. The old negro barber with his curly white head, slave-black face, and large, shrewd, meditative eyes was standing in a corner with a violin under his chin, his cheek lovingly resting against it, as he drew his bow through the last bars of the melody. He had smiled in welcome as Ingolby entered, instantly rising from his stool, but continuing to play. He would not have stopped in the middle of a tune for an emperor, and he put Ingolby higher than an emperor. For one who had been born a slave, and had still the scars of the overseer's whip on his back, he was very independent. He cut everybody's hair as he wanted to cut it, trimmed each beard as he wished to trim it, regardless of its owner's wishes. If there was dissent, then his customer need not come again, that was all. There were other barbers in the place, but Berry was the master barber. To have your head massaged by him was never to be forgotten, especially if you found your hat too small for your head in the morning. Also he singed the hair with a skill and care, which had filled many a thinly covered scalp with luxuriant growth, and his hair-tonic, known as "Smilax," gave a pleasant odour to every meeting-house or church or public hall where the people gathered. Berry was an institution even in this new Western town. He kept his place and he forced the white man, whoever he was, to keep his place.
When he saw Jethro Fawe enter the shop he did not stop playing, but his eyes searched the newcomer. Following his glance, Ingolby turned round and saw the Romany. His first impression was one of admiration, but suspicion was quickly added. He was a good judge of men, and there was something secluded about the man which repelled him. Yet he was interested. The dark face had a striking racial peculiarity.
The music died away, and old Berry lowered the fiddle from his chin and gave his attention to the Romany.
"Yeth-'ir?" he said questioningly.
For an instant Jethro was confused. When he entered the shop he had not made up his mind what he should do. It had been mere impulse and the fever of his brain. As old Berry spoke, however, his course opened out.
"I heard. I am a stranger. My fiddle is not here. My fingers itch for the cat-gut. Eh?"
The look in old Berry's face softened a little. His instinct had been against his visitor, and he had been prepared to send him to another shop-besides, not every day could he talk to the greatest man in the West.
"If you can play, there it is," he said after a slight pause, and handed the fiddle over.
It was true that Jethro Fawe loved the fiddle. He had played it in many lands. Twice, in order to get inside the palace of a monarch for a purpose--once in Berlin and once in London--he had played the second violin in a Tzigany orchestra. He turned the fiddle slowly round, looking at it with mechanical intentness. Through the passion of emotion the sure sense of the musician was burning. His fingers smoothed the oval brown breast of the instrument with affection. His eyes found joy in the colour of the wood, which had all the graded, merging tints of Autumn leaves.
"It is old--and strange," he said, his eyes going from Berry to Ingolby and back again with a veiled look, as though he had drawn down blinds before his inmost thoughts. "It was not made by a professional."
"It was made in the cotton-field by a slave," observed old Berry sharply, yet with a content which overrode antipathy to his visitor.
Jethro put the fiddle to his chin, and drew the bow twice or thrice sweepingly across the strings. Such a sound had never come from Berry's violin before. It was the touch of a born musician who certainly had skill, but who had infinitely more of musical passion.
"Made by a slave in the cotton-fields!" Jethro said with a veiled look, and as though he was thinking of something else: "'Dordi', I'd like to meet a slave like that!"
At the Romany exclamation Ingolby swept the man with a searching look. He had heard the Romany wife of Ruliff Zaphe use the word many years ago when he and Charley Long visited the big white house on the hill. Was the man a Romany, and, if so, what was he doing here? Had it anything to do with Gabriel Druse and his daughter? But no--what was there strange in the man being a Romany and playing the fiddle? Here and there in the West during the last two years, he had seen what he took to be Romany faces. He looked to see the effect of the stranger's remark on old Berry.
"I was a slave, and I was like that. My father made that fiddle in the cotton-fields of Georgia," the aged barber said.
The son of a race which for centuries had never known country or flag or any habitat, whose freedom was the soul of its existence, if it had a soul; a freedom defying all the usual laws of social order--the son of that race looked at the negro barber with something akin to awe. Here was a man who had lived a life which was the staring antithesis of his own, under the whip as a boy, confined to compounds; whose vision was constricted to the limits of an estate; who was at the will of one man, to be sold and trafficked with like a barrel of herrings, to be worked at another's will--and at no price! This was beyond the understanding of Jethro Fawe. But awe has the outward look of respect, and old Berry who had his own form of vanity, saw that he had had a rare effect on the fellow, who evidently knew all about fiddles. Certainly that was a wonderful sound he had produced from his own cotton-field fiddle.
In the pause Ingolby said to Jethro Fawe, "Play something, won't you? I've got business here with Mr. Berry, but five minutes of good music won't matter. We'd like to hear him play--wouldn't we, Berry?"
The old man nodded assent. "There's plenty of music in the thing," he said, "and a lot could come out in five minutes, if the right man played it."
His words were almost like a challenge, and it reached to Jethro's innermost nature. He would show this Gorgio robber what a Romany could do, and do as easily as the birds sing. The Gorgio was a money-master, they said, but he would find that a Romany was a master, too, in his own way. He thought of one of the first pieces he had ever heard, a rhapsody which had grown and grown, since it was first improvised by a Tzigany in Hungary. He had once played it to an English lady at the Amphitryon Club in London, and she had swooned in the arms of her husband's best friend. He had seen men and women avert their heads when he had played it, daring not to look into each other's eyes. He would play it now--a little of it. He would play it to her--to the girl who had set him free in the Sagalac woods, to the ravishing deserter from her people, to the only woman who had told him the truth in all his life, and who insulated his magnetism as a ground-wire insulates lightning. He would summon her here by his imagination, and tell her to note how his soul had caught the music of the spheres. He would surround himself with an atmosphere of his own. His rage, his love, and his malignant hate, his tenderness and his lust should fill the barber's shop with a flood which would drown the Gorgio raider. He laughed to himself, almost unconsciously. Then suddenly he leaned his cheek to the instrument and drew the bow across the strings with a savage softness. The old cottonfield fiddle cried out with a thrilling, exquisite pain, but muffled, as a hand at the lips turns agony into a tender moan. Some one--some spirit--in the fiddle was calling for its own.
Five minutes later-a five minutes in which people gathered at the door of the shop, and heads were thrust inside in ravished wonder--the palpitating Romany lowered the fiddle from his chin, and stood for a minute looking into space, as though he saw a vision.
He was roused by old Berry's voice. "Das a fiddle I wouldn't sell for a t'ousand dollars. If I could play like dat I wouldn't sell it for ten t'ousand. You kin play a fiddle to make it worth a lot--you."
The Romany handed back the instrument. "It's got something inside it that makes it better than it is. It's not a good fiddle, but it has something--ah, man alive, it has something!" It was as though he was talking to himself.
Berry made a quick, eager gesture. "It's got the cotton-fields and the slave days in it. It's got the whip and the stocks in it; it's got the cry of the old man that'd never see his children ag'in. That's what the fiddle's got in it."
Suddenly, in an apparent outburst of anger, he swept down on the front door and drove the gathering crowd away.
"Dis is a barber-shop," he said with an angry wave of his hand; "it ain't a circuse."
One man protested. "I want a shave," he said. He tried to come inside, but was driven back.
"I ain't got a razor that'd cut the bristle off your face," the old barber declared peremptorily; "and, if I had, it wouldn't be busy on you. I got two customers, and that's all I'm going to take befo' I have my dinner. So you git away. There ain't goin' to be no more music."
The crowd drew off, for none of them cared to offend this autocrat of the shears and razor.
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