His Father’s Son
By Ivy Williams Stone
Life in a city apartment house was vastly different from that of the Haven Farms. Kareen hunted about until she found one with the “Bohemian air,” as the landlord laughingly explained. All of his tenants were artists, and if the musicians did not object to the occasional odor of turpentine paints, the painters did not mind the continuous practicing. Their first purchase was a second hand baby grand piano, delivered with a small “down payment.” This was a wonderful way of securing what you needed, while you needed it, and Kareen blissfully signed the contract papers without reading it.
“Father would never have done it that way,” expostulated Richard. “Father always said to go without things until you could afford to pay for them.”
“But Richard, it would be months before I could save up enough to buy the piano outright, and during that time you can practice. You are going to study in earnest now, with no outside work to distract your attention, or to stiffen your hands. You won’t have to touch a thing but your piano, and in time, a violin!
“How I wish I could buy you a Stradivari violin to begin on! When you are of age, and we sell the farm, the very first thing we shall buy, or try to buy, will be a Stradivari violin!”
Kareen threw herself into the duties of this new life with increased animation. She kept her word, and never asked Richard to perform any task, no matter how trivial. She did all the house work and marketing. The piano nearly filled the tiny living room; two small bedrooms, a bath and the combination kitchen-dining room completed their tiny home.
“This whole place isn’t as large as our dairy,” complained Richard, stretching his constantly increasing frame until the frail couch creaked dangerously under his weight. “I feel cooped up, and shut in. I’m going home weekends. This milk doesn’t taste right.”
“Oh, Richard,” Kareen sought to conceal her true alarm with a forced laugh. “Don’t you know the difference between raw and pasteurized milk? In cities milk has to be treated by heating, to kill possible germs that might creep in. This milk is much safer for you to drink.”
“No milk on earth could be better or cleaner than that produced on the Haven Farms,” scoffed Richard. “I like to drink it fresh – while it is still warm. And the radishes you brought home today are pithy and the lettuce stalks wilted.”
“Perhaps I have been working you too hard,” parried Kareen. “We will plan to walk in the park every evening and reduce your practicing to five hours per day. And your teacher says you may now safely start real work on the violin. We will buy one tomorrow.”
With Kareen’s enthusiasm making up for Richard’s indifference, they shopped in all the music stores of the city, hunting the violin whose tone would most inspire the youthful musician to greater effort. “Do you happen to have a ‘Stradivari’ that I might look at?” was her unvarying question. “They are distinctive from all other makes. The bodies are larger and broader and the varnish is a creation in itself.” Music dealers came to know this strange, eager-eyed woman with a discerning ear for musical tones, and the tall, over-grown boy who trailed her, noncommital and reserved.
“Perhaps this would suit you,” offered one dealer more kindly than others had been. “It is not a Stradivari – but patterned after his style. It is not new; but as you must know, old violins are usually better.” The dealer ran an experienced bow over the strings and even Richard seemed interested. The tones were beautiful and Kareen seized upon this find eagerly. On the inside of the violin the word “Stradivari” was plainly visible; by turning the instrument sidewise in a good light the word “after” could be discerned printed above it, in small, inconspicuous letters. “After Stradivari,” laughed Kareen; “naturally it would not be real. But some day, Richard, when we have sold the farm, and you are famous for your playing, then no matter what the price, we will buy a genuine Stradivari!”
The months slipped by with the determination of the mother really making the boy a good player. Every night Kareen massaged his hands and soaked them in hot water. Every night as she worked, her tongue kept up a rapid recital of the achievements of great musicians.
“Beethoven wrote his ‘Moonlight sonata’ after being inspired by hearing a blind girl play one of his earlier compositions. Johann Strauss wrote over four hundred waltzes. He became the court conductor at St. Petersburg. Think of it, Richard, he played before kings! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Kings have to eat,” responded Richard. “I read in a book at the library yesterday that Mr. Burbank worked twenty-five years to perfect a strawberry he named ‘The Patagonia.’”
“Bach composed music for the organ, piano, cello and violin,” Kareen would hasten to disregard all references to the farm. “He had eleven sons, all of whom were musicians. Fifty of his descendants were music performers.”
“Uncle Oliver has a wonderfully fine mother,” Richard announced one evening coming home exceedingly late. “I don’t suppose you would understand just what it means, but Burbank speaks of such things as ‘sports.’ One of the apple trees on the farm had a branch with different blossoms and the apples were different from the others. They were larger and sort of pointed on the end, and each apple had five little bumps near the blossom end. A nurseryman got to hear of it and came out. What do you think, Mother, that one apple tree sold for three thousand dollars!”
“Where was it growing?” queried Kareen with sudden interest.
“On the Haven Farms,” responded Richard, as though the question were superfluous.
“Oh, I mean, exactly where was it growing? Was it on Oliver’s homestead or in Father Haven’s orchard, or was it on our land?”
“It is one of the trees father planted just north of our house.”
“Then it is ours, ours,” cried Kareen exultantly, “and we can have that extra money. It could, it will be used to buy your Stradivari!”
Richard Haven the III rose to his full height, and never before had Kareen realized how he had become a counterpart of his father. In spite of the curling blond hair and the tapering fingers, Richard Haven II stood before her as though he were still alive.
“We get only a hundred dollars a month, Mother, until I am twenty-one,” he reminded her. “Uncle Oliver is investing part of this money in a tractor. It plows ten times as much land as horses can, and the trouble over in Europe is creating a great demand for American wheat. Uncle Oliver is planting an extra hundred acres to wheat this fall. Do you know, Mother, I have a queer feeling about that war across the pond. It’s going to reach out farther and farther. Already there has been a revolution in Russia, and a lot of the exiled political prisoners who had been banished by the Czar have gained their freedom.”
“How terrible, Richard, for people to fight when they might play,” cried Kareen. “How much better to expend our energies in cultivating the fine arts than to learn how to kill! Think of Niccolo Paganini, Richard. He fought against poverty all through his childhood, in order to secure good instructions from the masters. Finally he managed to get a hearing from the famous teacher Signor Rollo who was so impressed with his genius that he gave Niccolo the beautiful blue cloak that had been presented to him at his last concert!”
“If this war keeps up,” Richard spoke in slow prophetic tones, exactly as his father always had done, “the world will need farmers more than it needs violinists with blue cloaks. We have to raise things to eat, Mother! Wheat, barley, oats, corn, rye! We will need large stores of meat to ship to Europe! This means lucern, timothy; even the thornless cactus which Mr. Burbank has developed will come into great use. The world needs farmers – not violinists!”
Kareen saw his smouldering resentment and hastened to divert his attention. “Listen,” she suggested. “The last few nights beautiful strains of music have been coming from below. Somewhere in the building there is a wonderful violinist. I have never seen him, or her,” she parried, “but whoever it is, plays with the genius of a master!”
“Oh, I know him,” answered Richard. “He’s a queer old codger. His shoulders are stooped and his face is awful white. He makes me think of the seedlings out on the farm that have been shut away from the light. Like a plant that has grown in a dark cellar. He claims he once owned a Stradivari, but it was stolen.”
Kareen stood by the window and presently the strains of music, unquestionably from the fingers of a master, floated out upon the night air. Her features became radiant with the joy of appreciation. Her eyes gleamed with anticipated achievement; the apartment house seemed to fade into an opera house; to her the scene became a concert hall, with Richard the performer.
“Ah, my son,” she cried, “when you can play like that, you shall have achieved the goal I have set for you! Soon you are to have your first recital. Your teacher has promised me if you keep on practicing for another month or so, he will feature you alone. We will invite Father and Mother Haven, Esther and Oliver, too. They won’t come, I guess, they never mix with people. You will play MacDowell’s ‘To a Wild Rose’; and Humoresque; and ‘Sextette from Lucia,’ and –”
“Uncle Oliver told me that men are being mutilated by the thousands over in Europe; so many that the demand has created an incentive for greater study of plastic surgery. He thinks doctors will soon be good enough that he can go East for his operation. It will take a long time, maybe more than a year. Aunt Esther will go with him, to get a real perfect glass eye. Last week, I saw him at the market, for a few minutes, and I sort of promised him, when he is ready to go, I’ll go out and tend the farm while he’s gone. Grandfather is getting too old for hard work.”
This announcement was terrifying to Kareen, but she dared not betray her real emotions. “That day is perhaps far distant, son,” she forced a brave smile; “Oliver would be taking a grave hazard to have a part of the leg bone removed unless he is very sure of the results. The thing for us, right now, is to massage and soak your hands. Remember, your recital!”
Kareen’s indomitable determination made malleable the soul of the boy. She gave him little supervised time; almost no leisure. Hour after hour the boy rehearsed. The first appearance of the promising young violinist was much publicized.
“I’m going for a long walk before the concert, Mother,” Richard announced, standing for her inspection of his first dress suit. He looked thirty years old, the blue of his eyes, the gold of his hair, accentuated by the black broadcloth.
“O, Richard, you may get dust upon your shoes! Or you will wander through the park and get your fingers soiled, or you will wrinkle your coat!”
“I will not walk in the park,” he replied gravely. “You go to the theatre and take my violin with you. I need a long walk to sort of quiet my nerves.”
“There will be flowers,” smiled Kareen happily. “Remember to be there not later than seven-thirty.”
The hall was filled with spectators. In the music loving community people gladly came to such concerts. Eight o’clock came, and a frantic teacher and white-faced mother were distracted over the non-appearance of Richard Haven. At eight-thirty a white haired, slightly built man came forward to Kareen. “If madame will permit, I will play the numbers of the concert. I know them well.” While Kareen, shedding the first tears of her life, watched the long, agile fingers of a master violinist play as Richard had never played, her son lay flat on his back under an auto truck in the city market. Oblivious to time and dress suits and concerts, Richard Haven was helping his Uncle Oliver change a tire on an auto marked “Haven Farms, Incorporated.”