"Huntford's Fair Nihiist" by Howard Pyle. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.
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THE romantic episode of the fair Nihilist occurred in that period of Huntford's life before he began painting great mural paintings and while he was as yet merely in repute as a clever painter of illustrations for the magazines of the day.
It was in the fall of '81, and at that time he occupied a rather large but dingy studio, with a bedroom adjoining, in a lean and ugly four-story brick building on Thirteenth Street, just off Broadway. He had come to New York from a provincial city two years before, with a great deal of talent and some excellent letters of introduction.
His talents found him plenty of work, his letters of introduction admitted him into pleasant homes, and his poverty spurred him on to those vehement efforts that were afterward crowned with so great a success.
Huntford used to breakfast and lunch at the old Budapest Bakery, where they had the best coffee and rolls in New York. He dined at a cellar restaurant on Broadway, just below Fortieth Street. It was a great resort, that cellar restaurant, where the younger artists of the day, and some of the older fellows also, used to dine. A long table was provided for the artist patrons, and anybody could sit where he pleased—only that old Bowles, the sculptor, always sat at one end, and McClafferty, the landscape-painter, at the other.
That was a democratic table where those young fellows sat and dined. They all talked Art; they argued with loud voices; they interrupted one another; they disputed and contradicted—sometimes with loud shoutings at one another. Each man was sure that his own opinions were perfectly correct, and that his neighbor was, to state it mildly, altogether mistaken in his views.
Such was the free-and-easy life that Huntford led in those green and salad days of his beginnings. It was upon this life that the personality of Fraülein Victoria, the fair Nihilist, was suddenly projected, changing the entire color and flavor of his after existence.
Huntford's studio was on the second floor of the building which he occupied, and just over the frame-maker's shop. On the third floor back was a smaller suite of rooms, consisting of a studio, a little reception-room, and a bedchamber; all of which overlooked the quadrangular well of a big brick building in the rear. Old Blount, the marine-painter, occupied those rooms when Huntford first came to New York, but in the fall of '81 he moved out. Shortly afterward the apartment was taken by an elderly German, and the words "Frederick Vollmer—Heraldic Designer" appeared upon the the sign tacked upon the door.
Herr Vollmer was established in his studio for nearly two weeks before Huntford became really acquainted with him. He used to hear the old fellow sometimes going down-stairs. This was always after dark—for he never came out of his room during the daytime. His step, though firm, was very light and soft, and he would always hesitate at the bottom landing for a moment or two before passing out into the lamplit street. No one ever entered his studio, and no one, so far as Huntford could learn, ever spoke to him. At intervals Huntford could hear the notes of a piano, beautifully played, sounding from his studio, but beyond these he made no other sign of life. The young fellow came to feel very sorry for the old German gentleman in his loneliness and solitude.
One evening, just after the dusk of twilight had fallen, Huntford left his studio with intent to take a little walk up-town before his dinner. He lingered for a while upon the landing and listened, for Herr Vollmer was playing Chopin very beautifully in his studio upon the floor above. A sudden resolution seized upon Huntford to call upon him. He ascended the stairs, instinctively walking upon tiptoe; he hesitated for a moment or two upon the landing before the door, and then tapped lightly upon the panel.
Instantly the music ceased, and there was a pause of dead silence. Huntford stood patiently in the lamplit dusk, and presently he heard Herr Vollmer moving softly within. Then the door was opened very slowly to the width of an inch or so, and one eye and a section of Herr Vollmer's face appeared at the narrow crack.
"I hope I don't intrude," said Huntford, "but it seemed to me that such near neighbors as we are ought to be better acquainted with each other. The fact is," he added, "I am ashamed of myself that I have not called upon you before."
"Ach, ja!" said Herr Vollmer. "Dot is so! Come in! Come in!" He stood aside and Huntford entered. Herr Vollmer motioned him to a sofa or lounge beneath the studio window, and as Huntford sat himself down upon the soft—the luxuriously soft—seat, he was impressed (although he could see but indistinctly in the rapidly gathering darkness) with the elegance, it may even be said with the sumptuousness, of Herr Vollmer's surroundings. The only signs of Herr Vollmer's particular craft was a partly finished heraldic design pinned to a drawing-table with thumb-tacks, and a large colored drawing of a coat of arms, finished, framed, and hung against the wall beside the floor.
"Do you speak German?" said Herr Vollmer, turning from the lamp which he had just lighted.
"No," said Huntford. "I wish I did."
"Do you speak French?" Herr Vollmer asked again.
"Not very well," Huntford acknowledged. "Indeed," he added, "I should make a poor fist at it if I tried."
"Ach, ja!" said Herr Yollmer. "Dot is a pity."
"You speak beautiful English, sir," said Huntford.
"You think so?" said Herr Vollmer, with a pleased smile.
Then there was a pause of silence, in which Herr Vollmer smoked contentedly, as though relegating it to Huntford to carry on the conversation.
"You were playing very beautifully upon the piano just now when I came in," said Huntford.
"Ah?" said Herr Vollmer. "You like my playing?"
"Indeed I did," said Huntford, and he added, crudely: "Chopin is my favorite. I wish you would play some more."
"To be sure! To be sure!" said the old gentleman. He instantly arose and went to the piano and began playing. Huntford knew but little of music, but he was conscious that Herr Vollmer indeed played very remarkably. He sat partly listening, partly thinking—speculating and guessing—about the old gentleman and his surroundings: Who and what was he? Whence did he come? Why did he live so luxuriously in so poor a neighborhood? He could then evolve no theory to fit the facts as they appeared before him.
Such was the beginning of an acquaintance which, if it may be said to have matured, did so entirely through Huntford's own efforts. For Herr Vollmer, though he was always pleased, kind, cordial, made no advances upon his own part. Nevertheless he accepted all Huntford's civilities with an urbane and very gentlemanly good-humor.
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