Sunday, July 4, 2010


Many years previous to this time, a sister of Cyrus’ Grandmother Elder had married David Marple, who resided in Licking County, Ohio. He was a prosperous farmer, owning a number of fine improved farms, and also conducting a distillery.

This relationship had turned Cyrus’ father’s thoughts toward Ohio after he had been burned out in Somerset. So he migrated there, to Ohio, when Cyrus was little more than a year old, and settled in the town of Utica, Licking County, about four miles from the residence of his Uncle Marple.

He built a house and shop in which he carried on the business of tin and coppersmith. He had not learned this trade, but took it up, and with the help of journeymen, carried it on with some success.

Cyrus’ early recollections of this region were very vivid, as Cyrus’ boyhood to the age of thirteen years was spent in this little village and along the banks of the Licking Creek, which was the resort for fishing, swimming, and. skating.

The village had but three or four hundred inhabitants, and. as it was situated, in a very rich agricultural region, one would suppose that life would, be easy, but this was not the case. Of course, being far from markets, all food products were very cheap, and were always very plentiful, eggs selling, when there was a sale for them, at three cents a dozen, chickens at a fip, or six and one quarter cents apiece, pork at a cent and a half a pound, and other things in like proportion.

There were, however, cases of distressing poverty in the village, and families to whom Cyrus carried food from his family’s own table.

There were in the village four churches, the Methodist, and Presbyterian, Covenanter, and. Episcopalian. The Episcopalian congregation was the smallest, and the Methodist was the largest. The Covenanter church was made up largely of farmers, who drove to church on Sunday morning with their families, bringing along their dinner and horse feed. They would have a meeting in the forenoon of Sunday, and then, after eating their picnic dinner, they would have another long session in the afternoon. Cyrus attended this church when still a very little fellow, how dreadfully tired he became, standing up during the long prayer.

Cyrus’ parents were Methodists, and Cyrus’ father’s house was the stopping place for the traveling Methodist ministers, so that it happened that they were rarely without a ministerial guest. There would arrive the circuit rider, who came in often out of the night and storm, with his leggings or galligaskins, and his saddle bags, for all his traveling was done on horseback.

These men were interesting and indeed heroic figures to the boy.

Cyrus’ father had a small library of standard works, and Cyrus read Rollins’ Ancient History, Pilgrim’s Progress, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and the Bible. Other works, such as Clark’s Commentaries, were too heavy for Cyrus’ childish taste. He read early for his years, reading books that were too heavy for him to hold, so that book and boy were both down on the floor. There were at the time no children’s books and no children’s newspapers, and as a consequence children read much more solid works than they do now. Cyrus read through Paradise Lost, when about eight years of age.

The life of a growing boy, with a brother old enough to be his companion in this comparatively new country of Central Ohio, was very pleasant. Both dress and manners were primitive, the summer costume consisting merely of a pair of trousers and a shirts.

The Licking Creek, which flowed past the village, was full of a great variety of fish, and fishing with a hook and line for catfish, chub, silvers ides, sunfish, suckers, etc., was a great enjoyment for the youth. The hills around the village and in the country were largely clad with the primitive forests, and these woods were filled with wild fruit, and there was a great plentifulness of game, especially squirrels.

Cyrus would go out with hunting parties. It was a pretty difficult sort of problem to manage carrying the game. When Cyrus would be loaded up with a string of grey squirrels, he generally wished that he was back at home. All the hunting was done with rifles, not shotguns. It was essential that a squirrel should be shot through the head, and if it was not, it was no use taking it home, for the women would not cook it.

When visiting Uncle Marple’s farm, if the women folk wanted chicken to cook, they did not chase the chickens around and catch them, but one of the boys took his rifle and shot their heads off. This farm was a very interesting place; and. Cyrus’ father often took the family there on a visit. There was one very long hill where he always got out of the wagon and walked to relieve the horse, and on one occasion when Cyrus’ younger brother Virgil and Cyrus were going to Uncle Marple’s, riding double on a big horse bareback, they dismounted when they came to this hill and very tenderly led the horse to the top, where they had great difficulty in getting on again, but accomplished it by the aid of a stake and rider fence.

The farm-house was very liberal in size, and it had great fireplaces in its rooms, where wood was burned, and the slate hearths being useful for the roasting of apples. The bread was baked in an out-door oven in great loaves. It was not unusual to find bits of the charred coal, used in the heating of the ovens, sticking in the bottom crust of the loaf. The distillery was an interesting place: the power needed in its operation was furnished by a treadmill operated by an ox, and there were great droves of hogs that were fattened upon the offal of the distillery. It did not have the approval of Cyrus’ father, who was a total abstainer, and a very earnest advocate of temperance.

As a very small boy, Cyrus was sent along to attend select school for girls, the only one in the area. Afterwards he attended some sessions of the public school in Utica. While spending a year of Cyrus’ boyhood in Somerset, Pennsylvania, Cyrus attended a public school there, and after Cyrus’ return home to Utica, Cyrus was for a year or more in a select school. There, he had instruction in reading, writing, and mental arithmetic, grammar, and geography, but Cyrus’ schooling ended when he was but thirteen years of age.

The town of Utica was situated in a tract of country that was ravaged by consumption. When Cyrus lived there, there was always two or three people dying of consumption in the little village. Cyrus’ father contracted the disease, and died of it in 1843. He was buried in the Methodist graveyard near Licking creek, the grave being marked by a stone which is still standing. He had been man of singularly kindly nature and exceedingly benevolent, and part of his ancestral estate that was not lost in the Somerset fire was mainly expended in charities and church work, so that at his death he left no estate other than his village home. Cyrus was the oldest of seven children, one of whom, Cyrus’ sister Mary, was a posthumous child.

* * * * *

A number of months, perhaps a year after the death of Cyrus’ father, Cyrus’ Grandfather Benford drove from Somerset, Pennsylvania, out to Utica, with a carriage and pair of horses, and moved the whole family to Somerset.
This journey was made by comparatively short stages, their stopping places being always at some farmhouse in the country. On arriving in Somerset, Cyrus was placed with an uncle, Elias Benford, who had a farm and country store, and a saddler shop at Snydersville, a little place four miles from Somerset, where Cyrus remained for a year or more, working on the farm and tending store.
Cyrus’ Uncle Cyrus Benford was a merchant in the town of Somerset, who went twice a year to Philadelphia to buy goods: he dealt there with the jobbing dry goods house of Bunn, Regel & Company, and he interested the head of this firm, Mr. Solomon N. Bunn, in Cyrus’ case, inducing him to employ him in the business.
Cyrus learned that Mr. Bunn would probably take him, and that he was expected on a business visit to Somerset. One day Cyrus was standing in the store door, dressed in his usual costume of trousers and shirt, and Cyrus saw a horse and buggy, driven from the direction of Somerset, come up to the store and stop, and the driver, looking him over, said he wanted to see a boy named Cyrus Elder.

“That is my name, sir,” Cyrus told him.

The man adjusted his glasses and looked him over more carefully, and appeared at a loss. Cyrus was also quite at a loss.

The man then asked him for a specimen of his handwriting. Cyrus went to the desk and wrote off something, handing it to him. He looked at it and made no remark.

Cyrus knew that his penmanship was not good; in fact, it was very bad. Without saying anything further the man drove off in the direction of Stoyestown.

Cyrus heard nothing further in the matter for some months, when he was given notice that he would be taken on in Philadelphia, and was to make the journey there under the convoy of his Aunt Sarah Elder, who, with her daughter Jessie, had been visiting Grandmother Elder at Indian Creek.

This journey was accordingly made, and Cyrus arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1848, and was taken as a boy of all-work by the firm of Bunn, Regel & Company, whose place of business was then in an old building at the corner of Third and Cherry Streets. Cyrus entered the business upon a contract to work for three years for his board and clothing.

This contract was honestly carried out by the firm. During those three years, when Cyrus got board and clothing, they never gave him a penny. Cyrus did not, during that time, have any spending money, except one dollar that was sent to him from home. Of course, Cyrus would have liked to have had some things that other boys enjoyed, as for instance, a pair of skates, but really he had no sense of privation, no envious feeling for other boys who were better placed, and certainly Cyrus was not socially at any disadvantage whatever.

Cyrus’ boy and girl friends were all of well-to-do families, indeed what might be called rich for that day, and it never appeared to make any difference in any way. Cyrus was socially as much regarded as they were, and was really leader in all their youthful occupations and ad ventures.
In those days, there was no one-price system in the mercantile business, neither wholesale nor retail. In the retail business there was an asking price and a selling price. Nobody paid the price that was marked or asked, and shopping consisted in bargaining down the price.

As the business was then conducted, each salesman had his customers of whom he kept track, and when they arrived in the city, he met them promptly, charged himself with their amusement, and brought them to the store, where he sold them personally the line of goods they required. These sales were made by taking the customer from room to room, and from one department to another, the articles selected being placed in a bin or receptacle, marked with the customer’s name. The salesmen and members of the firm were busy with this work all day during the season, at night the salesmen and boys who assisted gathered together the customer’s goods and sent them by the hatchway in large crates down to the basement, where there were long tables provided with desks for the entry clerks. Each customer’s goods would be arranged here, on a table or tables, and then would be charged by the salesmen, calling off each article for entry by the clerk, this being verified by calling back, sometimes to the member of the firm; the salesmen, with the assistance of the boys, packing the goods in pine boxes, there being a large standard size box known as the “W” box.

The boxes were nailed up and marked for shipment with the customer’s name and residence of the purchaser. This sort of work often lasted beyond midnight, sometimes as late as two o’clock in the morning. Of course Cyrus was in the different branches of this work and had the longest hours. In fact, Cyrus sometimes carried the mail to the post-office, which was then in the Old Exchange Building on Dock Street, after the store had been closed and locked.

In the seven years which Cyrus spent in the city and in this business, Cyrus had, from time to time, experience in every department of the business, from errand boy to salesman. Cyrus was, during pretty much the whole time, in charge of the banking business, and daily the cashier would give to him the currency that had been paid in, together with a memorandum of the notes of the firm falling due that day.

Cyrus would take the currency to a broker on Third Street, and exchange it with him for bankable funds, he deducting a discount ranging from a quarter of one percent to five percent; depositing this money, and, having checks to meet the firm’s notes falling due, Cyrus drew the money upon each of the checks, and took it to the bank that held the note of the firm which was to be paid.

This is the business in which Cyrus was employed in the year 1848, and in which Cyrus continued until 1855. Removal to Philadelphia opened an entirely new chapter in Cyrus’ history.
Cyrus was not very large but was very hearty and was seldom sick, He had but a very defective education, though he was fond of reading and had naturally good taste in literature. Cyrus had always been very fond of poetry, and even at this early age Cyrus wrote verse that was accepted and published.

Having been brought up in a Methodist family, Cyrus was a firm believer in the essential truths of the Christian religion, though Cyrus’ faith was not at all Orthodox. Take it all in all, the boy was rather poorly equipped for the struggle of life in a large city. He was fortunate in having at all time the respect of Cyrus’ employers, and Cyrus was also fortunate in practically making his home with his Uncle, Dr. Elder and Dr. Pythian. While living in Philadelphia Cyrus was part of these families.

* * * * *

Philadelphia (1848-1855)

From 1848 until 1855, the City of Brotherly Love would be his home.

One evening as they were seated round the hearth, Cyrus spied an article in the newspaper that caught his imagination.
“Look at this,” said Cyrus, pointing to a notice in the “Inquirer.” “Barnum Offers Prize of $200” the headline stated. In anticipation of Jenny Lind’s American Tour, impresario Phineas T. Barnum offered a prize of two hundred dollars for the best ode, to be set to music and sung by
her at her first concert. Its topic was to be, "Greeting to America."
“You ought to write something, Cyrus,” his cousin Johnny Pythian said. “I’d wager you would win the prize.”
“I might just do that,” Cyrus answered. “I wonder what I would want to say, if I were a famous singer, greeting America for the first time?”

“How about, ‘Come and listen; pay a lot’?” Johnny teased.
“Oh, that would be sure to win the two hundred,” Cyrus answered, ironically. “And wouldn’t Miss Lind sound so sublime singing about the ticket sales?”
“Wouldn’t she just?” Johnny continued. “I can hear the chorus: ‘Dollars, dollars waft to me; whilst I venture cross the sea!’”

“I think you should be the one to compose that ode,” said Cyrus, wryly, “Obviously you have more of a feeling for the delicacies of the situation than I have. Perhaps you can find something that rhymes with nickels and dimes?”

“Why bother with small change when there are greenbacks to be had!” answered Johnny gleefully.

“I think you fellows are being much too crass,” Aunt Anne said, “from all I have read, I am sure that Miss Lind would never agree to such a thing. Her disposition is widely reported to be as sweet as her voice. She has given up the theatre because of its low associations and will only sing in oratorios or concerts that ennoble men’s minds. I believe she comes to America to give us joy, not to give herself riches.”

“You’re entirely correct, Aunt Anne,” Cyrus said. “And we will stop our jesting. Even so, I may try my hand at a real tribute to her, in verse.”

“You should, Cy,” Mrs. Pythian answered. “Even if it doesn’t win, I am sure it will be lovely.”
So it was that in-between his work and his studies, Cyrus set aside time to scratch some lines on paper. It was not easy. So many wonderful things had been written about Mademoiselle Lind already. He had to put all of those ideas out of his mind in order to find new words to say.
Nothing about flutes. Everyone compared her voice to a flute. But Cyrus thought flutes a bit too jarring in their higher registers. Were he a soprano he would not want to be likened to a flute. A clarinet, perhaps. But what in the word rhymed with clarinet? No use asking Johnny, he
would probably say, ‘Win the bet.’ No, this, Cyrus had to do solitarily.

So, when he had time alone, to think, Cyrus began to picture himself a stranger on a strange shore. What would Miss Lind see, and say? More importantly, what might she feel? After much thought along these lines, Cyrus completed his poem:

Greetings to America!
By Cyrus Elder

To stand upon the ocean’s shore,
and mark the crossing of the sea
is thrilling; but the wonders, more,
are greetings that you give to me!

For you have held me in your heart;
You say the song I sing is fine,
You hear my blend of skill and art,
And welcome me with care divine.

America! With open arms,
You bid me greet you with my song.
Here I behold your freedom’s charms;
and your embrace, my joys prolong!

When songs are done, faint the refrains,
of art and skill that we employ,
These vanish too, but what remains,
Are echoes of unending joy!

Cyrus put the poem away, carefully, in his desk and resolved to leave it there unread for three days. He felt certain that if there were any flaws in it, he would see them immediately, after he had put the details of the composition out of his mind for a period of time. So for the next three days, he tried to forget what he had written. Instead, he concentrated on his studies and by prodigious effort, kept from his thoughts the rhymes for Mademoiselle Lind.
When the three days were over, he opened the drawer with eager anticipation. He read the poem through, only once. And then said to himself, “Why take any further pains? I like it. Whether the luminaries who make the selection approve of it or not.” So he copied it out without his name and placed it with the other requirements in an envelope and sent it off to the offices of
Mr. Phineas T. Barnum, with a wish and a prayer.

The newspapers kept the competition in everyone’s mind. It was reported that in response to Mr. Barnum’s search for a new ode, several hundred poems were sent in for consideration. Several hundred! The thought struck Cyrus like a blow to the stomach. Nothing more was said directly—the competition was after all to occur in secret and the verses to be judged by a panel of worthies—but it was intimated that such notables as Stephen Collins Foster had condescended to submit verses for consideration. Cyrus, although pleased with his own creation, felt his heart sink when he saw the name of the nation’s leading songwriter among his competitors.

After the announced closing of the competition, Barnum and his worthy judges gathered at his New York office to sift through the submissions and select the winning entry. Barnum had prevailed upon a clergyman, a newspaper editor and a fashionable society hostess to help in the
daunting task; he set the tone of the judging by urging them to look not only for tenderness of expression but also marketability.

“After all,” said Barnum, “Jenny Lind has caught the imagination of the world—there are Jenny Lind beds and Jenny Lind bonnets, Jenny Lind hatpins and Jenny Lind toothpowder. Why shouldn’t her new American song be just as much a sensation as these?”

The entries were mostly pretty poor fare; many did not even rhyme or follow a recognizable meter. Barnum ruled many of these out immediately, “I would not ask the washerwoman to sing them, let alone the world’s greatest soprano! They are fluff and stuff.”

The other judges agreed with Barnum, and so the pile of submissions was whittled down, like a sequoia destined for a toothpick. Finally, a dozen of the submissions were judged by one and all to be very good. These entries were narrowed down to three fine works, one by one they were read and reread until the judges were weary from the mental concentration needed to select the winner.
After a great deal of hard work in reading and considering them, the Prize Committee selected as the best the one—as it turned out once the author’s names were known—offered by the unconventional and peripatetic traveler writer, Bayard Taylor. It was duly set to music by Jules Benedict, and was marked for its debut at the New York concert of Miss Lind.

The poem’s author was a wildly popular, if notably eccentric travel writer, who affected the flamboyant attire of the exotic lands he visited once he returned to civilized society. It was not unusual to see Bayard Taylor bedecked as a glamorous Arab pasha or in the gleaming silks of a Chinese mandarin, making his sportive way about New York. Heads turned first to his gaudy costumes and then to the colorful output of his pen.

By 1850, Taylor had already produced a succession of popular chronicles of his journeys, including many articles for “The Saturday Evening Post” and a travel journal, “Views Afoot,” which he had brought out in 1848. Whatever he wrote was exotic and redolent of mysterious places. After he went West for the “Tribune” to cover the 1849 Gold Rush, Taylor brought out his book “Eldorado” to tell of the wonders to be had in California, the popularity of his book adding to the phenomenal growth of that region. His trips to the Middle East, India, China, and Japan were ahead of him in 1850, and the prize money would come in handy to help fund his next adventure. Also ahead of him were the resulting records of his globetrotting, including The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily, and Spain (1855), as well as a popular translation of the Russian folk tale, Beauty and the Beast. So, too, a few years to the future, was the painting of Taylor by his friend, artist Thomas Hicks. In the painting, Taylor is swathed in clothing he acquired in Egypt. He is seen posed under an open archway, on colorful cushions, along with Achmet, his manservant on his Middle East travels, with the ancient city of Damascus in the background. Heady stuff for a poet from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, as painted by a Quaker artist.

A second submission that the Prize Committee felt nearly as laudatory fell somehow into the hands of the press and was reproduced for those eager for any news of the competition, it having been written by the illustrious Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney of Hartford, Connecticut. Mrs. Sigourney was somewhat the senior of Bayard, having been born in the waning days of the Eighteenth Century. Her “Letter to Mothers” (1838) a paean to motherhood combing sentiment and practicality, helped usher in the Victorian era’s adulation of children. The redoubtable Mrs. Sigourney was a sometime contributor to the Philadelphia journal edited by fellow poet Edgar Allen Poe. Celebrated for her poem “Washington’s Tomb: An Ode to the Memory of Washington” (1837) and “Pocahontas and other Poems” (1841); Mrs. Sigourney was at her best when expressing the heart and mind of the woman of her era. Although its title reflected a healthy dose of poetic license for a long-in-the-tooth author of fifty-five, her “The Young Ladies’ Offering, or Gems of Prose and Poetry” enjoyed brisk sales the year before the Lind competition.

The selection of Bayard Taylor’s poem met with general public satisfaction, although a few of the disappointed competitors complained publicly and offered their work for publication as proof of the Prize Committee’s incompetence. No matter, Taylor was the winner and he received his two hundred dollars with considerable aplomb. As he accepted the “Greeting to America” prize, the ostentatious author, never at a loss for words, intoned in a measured manner, “Fame is what you have taken, character is what you give. When to this truth you awaken, then you begin to live!”

Upon hearing this, showman P. T. Barnum, no shrinking violet himself when it came to milking the publicity of any given occasion, felt that he had nearly met his match.
Cyrus, who was quite familiar with the output of both Bayard Taylor and Mrs. Sigourney, felt gratified to receive a kind letter from the secretary of the prize committee stating that his poem had reached the final phase of the judging and in the opinion of some, could have served well as the winning selection. The combination of judges had placed it “third” after the words of Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Sigourney. Cyrus said nothing of the competition, or his contribution to it, feeling that any discussion before, during or after might unnerve him unnecessarily.

Mademoiselle Jenny Lind sailed for America on Wednesday morning, August 21, 1850, onboard the steamship “Atlantic”. On her American tour, the celebrated soprano was accompanied by her conductor, Jules Benedict and Signor Belletti, the Italian baritone. With Miss Lind as well were Mr. Wilton, her two cousins, and three or four servants. She also brought along with her a piano for her use. Mr. Barnum had engaged the necessary accommodations for the company on the steamship Atlantic, and every aspect of their journey, from their departure to their arrival in New York was reported in great detail. In the United States, Jenny Lind’s arrival was as anticipated as a royal visit.

The Philadelphia newspapers told their readers how, on Sunday, September 1st. just before noon, the “Atlantic” was sighted in New York harbor; how Mr. Barnum then went out to the arriving steamer by launch, and met Miss Lind for the first time, there on the deck; how, when they had greeted each other and shared a few pleasantries, Miss Lind inquired of Mr. Barnum when and where he had heard her sing.

Cyrus read the charming details of their ensuing conversation along with the rest of America.

"I never had the pleasure of seeing you before in my life," Barnum told Miss Lind.

"How is it possible that you dared risk so much money on a person whom you never heard sing?" she asked in great surprise.

"I risked it," answered Barnum, "on your reputation, which in musical matters I would much rather trust than my own judgment."

“Isn’t that grand?” Cyrus said, as he read the account aloud to the Pythians.

“Yes,” agreed the doctor, “I believe we should make plans to hear Miss Lind when she comes to our city.”

Cyrus thought it a wonderful plan and kept the idea before the family as the great day approached. But first she sang in New York, exceeding all expectations of ticket sales and critical acclaim. By this time, the seats for her Philadelphia concert were hard to come by.

The shop-keepers of every city she visited showered their attentions upon Jenny Lind, gift upon gift was sent to her seeking only her acceptance and her autograph acknowledgment. Cunning new styles of everything from gloves to gowns appeared in the stores and were named in her honor.

Chairs, carriages, beds and pianos were all dubbed “Jenny Lind”. A veritable Niagara of songs were brought out in her honor, and reams of poems dedicated to her. The public never tired of her doings, and bought anything that bore her name. Barnum himself was so pleased with her popular success that he changed his financial agreement in her favor, and she, in turn, assured him that she would sing for him whenever, wherever he requested. Moreover, she vowed to donate her extra income to a variety of American charities, further endearing herself to the public.

In Philadelphia at last, and with Cyrus and his Pythian relations ensconced in the crowd at the Music Fund Hall, the Swedish Nightingale appeared to wild enthusiasm. In a moment of breathless expectation, Jenny Lind, clad in a white gown that matched the sincerity of her face, came forward through the orchestra. Her conductor Mr. Jules Benedict led her towards the footlights, as the entire audience rose to their feet and welcomed her with cheers and by waving thousands of hats and handkerchiefs. She opened with "Casta Diva," poised and lovely; her voice and presence creating a serenity in the hall as other-worldly as it was remarkable.
The audience was so completely carried away by their feelings, that the conclusion of the aria was drenched by a wonderful hurricane of applause. At the close of the concert Miss Lind was called for three times, singing encores of the “Swedish Herdsman’s Song” and the National Prize Song by Bayard Taylor, before the throng could be contented. Taylor, who was in the box to the right, dressed as an exceptionally well-tailored Swedish Herdsman for the occasion, stood and shared in the cheers for his work.
Then they called enthusiastically for "Barnum," and he "grudgingly" responded to their demand. He came forward with some theatrical posturing and hushed the crowd sufficiently, then said. 'My friends,' said he, 'you have often heard it asked, 'Where's Barnum?" Amid the cheers and laughter which followed, the clever showman could be heard quipping, “Henceforth, you may say, 'Barnum's nowhere!”

It was a splendid ending to a brilliant evening. Cyrus laughed and cheered along with the rest of the audience. Johnny Pythian clapped him on the back repeatedly and said, “You were right, Cy; she’s a gem!”

Cyrus’ girl cousins trembled with excitement. Dr. Pythian nodded and waved affectionately toward the diva in the spotlight, as if Miss Lind were his dearest friend in all the world. Aunt Annie, in her new Jenny Lind bonnet, smiled and smiled. They were caught up in the moment and so, it was rather astonishing to them all that a small envelope was handed to Cyrus by an usher, as the echoes of the crowd’s approval still rang in their ears.

Cyrus opened it quickly.

“Maestro Jules Benedict” the engraved card read. Penciled on the card was this notation, “The pleasure of your company is requested following the performance in Dressing Room A.” What could it mean?

“Is there a reply?” asked the usher, correctly.
“Yes,” said Cyrus, “please tell Maestro Benedict yes.”

“Very good, sir,” answered the usher. “In that case, if you would, please follow me? At once, before the crowd begins to leave the theatre.”

The little party followed the usher through a maze of passages, stairways and turnings, until they found themselves in the vast nether reaches of the theatre, and brought through a door which opened into a room of considerable size, furnished as a large salon, with divans and chairs, brocaded draperies and a rosewood piano. In the room were masses of flowers at the center of which they found themselves face to face with Maestro Benedict and Signor Belletti.

“Ah, you are here, splendid, splendid!” said Benedict, introducing himself and Signor Belletti. "We have a small surprise in store for you but first, please, come and sit down and have some champagne.”

Champagne? Flowers? Famous musicians? Cyrus felt it must all be a dream. On a large table there appeared a dozen crystal glasses and a silver bucket filled with ice and several bottles, which Maestro Benedict himself opened and poured with a flourish. As he passed the glasses round (here, Dr. Pythian nodded his approval and whispered to the girls “special occasion”) a soft rustling sound was heard and before they realized what was happening, into the room from some heretofore unnoticed anteroom came Miss Lind.

“Jenny, these are the Pythians, and of course, Mr. Cyrus Elder,” said Benedict warmly. Then, without hesitation, Jenny Lind crossed the room, extending her hand to Cyrus.

“Mr. Elder,” she said softly, “this is a moment I have long anticipated. How glad I am to see that you are just as young and charming as I had hoped.”

Cyrus, showing remarkable control under the circumstances, said, “Miss Lind, I never dreamed of this!”

“I don’t see why not, Mr. Elder,” said the soprano with a smile, “your words have proceeded you, and their kind introduction has made the dream a reality.”

“Your words?” asked Aunt Annie, Uncle John, the girls and Johnny all at once.

“Ah, I see you are a man of humility as well as talent,” Jenny Lind observed. “Do you mean to say you have not told your family about your poem ‘Greeting from America’?”

Cyrus shook his head solemnly.

“A pity. Well, no matter! They shall hear it now!” Miss Lind replied. “Jules?”

Maestro Benedict nodded and sat down at the piano. “Mr. Elder,” he said, “I happened to see a copy of your words. Even though they were not chosen by the Prize Committee, both Miss Lind and I felt that they were without a doubt the most splendid sentiments and worthy of a soft, lilting air. And so, ladies and gentlemen, if you will please indulge us, Miss Lind, Signor Belletti and I would like to offer you, for the very first time, our interpretation of this duet for soprano and baritone, by Mssrs. Elder and Benedict, which we like to call, “To Stand Upon the Ocean’s Shore.”

Then, Maestro Benedict placed his hands upon the keys, Miss Lind took her place at its side, and Signor Belletti took one of her hands in his own. The music began, and it was as if a wisp of a breeze had flown into the room, the piano’s notes wafting to them from afar. The sound intensified. Miss Lind smiled at Cyrus, and began with a sustained, ethereal note, like an echo of the vast sea itself. The piano sounded the crashing breakers and the trills of the ocean’s mists and spray. Miss Lind’s voice seemed to twine in and out of the piano’s accompaniment, until the “ooh” that she sang formed itself into a word, and then a phrase, “To stand upon the ocean’s shore…”

As she finished the first thought of the poem, Signor Belletti joined his voice to Miss Lind’s, and together, they sang a duet, haunting and romantic. Just as they reached the words “echoes” it seemed as if there were ten or twenty singers, not two, as the sense of overlapping echoes filled the room. Then, as softly as it began, the song was ended on a note that did not resolve, but simply drifted away.

Cyrus sat there, transfixed. He knew he had found his life’s love—the writing of poetry. Not as a way to make a living, but as a way to express the deepest feelings of his soul.

The reader is invited to check this blog often to be able to read the next chapters as they are posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment