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Authors: Louise Marley

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BOOK: The Brahms Deception
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“We'll give you the two-minute warning before we reverse the transfer. It will feel sort of like someone pushed you, or like you turned your head quickly. That's what we've been told.”
“Got it.” Kristian's heart began to thud, and he gripped the sheets that covered the cot's foam mattress. He took a slow breath, and forced himself to relax his hands, to let the tension in his thighs melt away, the panic in his brain subside.
Chiara said, “Are you all right? Your heart rate—”
“I'm fine,” he said, a little roughly. And, suddenly, he was. Despite his fatigue and the strangeness of the situation, the unfamiliar faces around him, his courage returned, and with it his hopes. This was worth the risk—any risk.
It's a hell of a lot better than spending my life playing piano at Angel's
And yearning for a girl I can't have.
He closed his eyes, and felt the world tilt and disappear.
Kristian closed his eyes on the transfer clinic's white walls and gray tiles, banks of blinking lights and web of tubes and wires and cords. He opened them a heartbeat later on a world of primary colors. He gazed up into a sky of vivid blue. He looked down and found bright green grass, starred with wildflowers of white and yellow and sprigs of darker green herbs. Around him the twelve narrow houses of Castagno leaned toward one another over a street of multihued cobblestones. The hillside dropped steeply beyond the houses to the valley below, where the scattered buildings of the village of San Felice dotted the landscape. A river, shining blue in the sunlight, wound between them. In his time, the town filled the valley, houses and shops and factories replacing the woods and fields. He had seen it only in starlight, but still he doubted that contemporary San Felice could be so bright, so clean, so . . . fresh.
Even as he thought this, a dark, thickset woman with gray hair pinned up under a cotton cap emerged from the house in front of him. Despite her plumpness, she trod quickly across the patch of grass to a cultivated bed, where she bent to snip some green herb and tuck it into the pocket of her printed apron. She crouched, and began pulling weeds here and there, tossing them over the gray stone garden wall into the meadow beyond. Enchanted, Kristian took in her plain, shapeless dress, her blunt-toed boots, her thick eyebrows, and the patch of mustache that darkened her upper lip. She hummed to herself, some tune he didn't recognize. Folk tune, probably. He wished he had score paper, to note it down—but that was foolish. He had no hands, no physical presence at all. He was only eyes and ears. An observer, just as they said. But it was all so intense, so rich and detailed—so incredibly
The house drowsed in the May sunshine, shaded only by a thick-trunked olive tree. Roses drooped over the wall, and long, thin curtains belled charmingly in the breeze. He wished he could feel it. He could have stood there for ages, gazing at the aproned woman, the kitchen garden, the vista of hills and fields. It didn't seem possible this woman had been gone for more than a century. In this moment, at this point on the continuum, she was more alive than he was himself.
But they had given him only an hour. He had to move quickly to try to discover what had become of Frederica Bannister. Before he moved, he assessed the house and garden to mark the perimeter. He didn't want to make the same mistake as the researcher who had visited the Continental Congress. In his eagerness to follow Franklin to a secret meeting he had moved beyond the zone, and been jarred instantly out of the transfer. He had persuaded the tech to send him right back, and had suffered serious time lag afterward, though it was not as bad as it was for the researcher who had gone to Versailles three times.
The researcher who had transferred to Dallas in 1963 had described the sensation of movement in the past as being like dream motion, finding yourself where you wanted to be—or avoiding where you didn't—without conscious volition. Another researcher, from Magna Carta, reported that it was like driving a car, steering yourself this way and that.
Kristian didn't want to think of driving a car, or of dreaming. Instead, he tried simply taking a step. It worked for him, in sensation if not in fact. He drifted forward a stride's length, then another. When he reached the stone wall with its crown of roses, he imagined jumping over it, lifting his feet high enough to miss the blooms on top of the neatly set stones. Effortlessly, he sailed above it. He could have stayed in the air if he wanted to, and that was tempting. Instead, he brought himself to ground, liking the impression of walking on the grass. He wished he could actually walk on it. He longed to smell the roses, greet the aproned woman, sniff the herbs she was weeding.
He grinned at her, and waved, though of course she had no idea he was there. He turned himself toward the front door of Casa Agosto. He had only to think of going in and he was through, poised in the foyer. To his left was a charming little salon, carpeted in some rough fabric over a wooden floor. Its tall windows stood open to the summer air. To his right, a long stone-flagged kitchen stretched into dimness. He glimpsed an enormous black woodstove and a stone sink. Ahead of him, a narrow set of worn stairs with a simple banister led to the second story.
Kristian moved to his left, into the salon. When he spied the fortepiano, he almost lost his concentration again. Juilliard had a reproduction instrument, but he had never seen the real thing outside of a museum. He caught his breath at the grace and delicacy of it. It was square, in the Viennese style, not the English. It could even possibly be a Stein, although that would make it at least fifty years old in 1861. It had six legs carved with leaves and vines, a rosewood veneer, and a parchment nameplate. He floated closer, his fingers itching to touch the keys, to hear the tone of the leather-bound hammers striking its slender strings.
And there was music on the stand, a manuscript! He moved closer. Was it Brahms who had been composing here at this lovely old instrument? No! His breath caught, and he supposed, on the cot in the clinic, that his heart rate jumped again.
He would not want to worry Chiara and the others, but his heart
beat faster! This was
manuscript. He recognized it from the facsimiles he had spent so much time with, and he found himself reaching toward it, trying to touch the pages she had written in her own graceful hand.
Clara Schumann! She must have sent one of her compositions to her young friend Brahms. It was a little song, with the text written out in her own hand beneath the staves. “Das Mädchen auf einer Schaukel.” “The Girl on a Swing.” He knew this song! It wouldn't be published for some years, but Catherine had sung it as an encore for her senior recital. He wished he could see behind it, find a letter, some note or comment or request that would tell him something no historian had yet discovered.
He had tried, as he studied Clara's music, to imagine what her own playing must have been like. She must have been a stunning performer, even as a small girl, when she caused the great Goethe to say that she “played with the strength of six boys.” She concertized for more than sixty years, to rapturous audiences. Even at the age of seventy, surely an advanced age for her century, the critics had praised her. Stockhausen had written that her playing had “the stamp of a divine summons.”
Looking at her manuscript, Kristian regretted once again that he had been forced to give up his first dissertation topic. She fascinated him. It seemed impossible that here, in Castagno, he would be reminded of his lost passion.
Reluctantly, Kristian turned away from the fortepiano and the alluring foolscap pages. He moved to the window, where the gauze curtains fluttered, and looked out over the village. Clothes hung from lines strung between houses, and roses flourished everywhere, along with sunflowers and geraniums and lilies. An old man in a black coat and trousers ambled down the cobbled lane, leaning on a cane. A dog taking shade in a doorway rose as he passed, wagging its stub of tail. The man bent to pat it before he hobbled on. A trio of boys in short pants came boiling out of one of the houses. They chased one another down the lane, shouting something in Italian that Kristian couldn't catch. The old man flattened himself against the side of a building as they raced by him. He admonished them in a gravelly voice as he resumed his slow progress.
Kristian smiled at this tableau, wishing he could follow the boys, listen to what they said to one another, see the expression on the old man's face. They were too far away. The perimeter wouldn't extend much past the garden of Casa Agosto. He would have to restrict himself to the house, the lawn, perhaps a step or two past the stone wall.
It was no different for Frederica. She couldn't have gone beyond the zone. She had to be somewhere in Casa Agosto or its garden.
Kristian looked into the kitchen, on the other side of the little hallway. He inspected every corner, looking behind the stove, up at the cracked and stained ceiling, down beneath a stack of copper pots and nested baskets.
Frederica, where are you?
The pressure of time passing drove him back toward the foyer. He would have to look upstairs, check the balcony, make a circuit of the garden. There would be a privy somewhere. She would have no need of it, of course, but he would look.
Kristian stopped where he was when he heard voices from the stairwell. One was deep, a man's. Was it Brahms? The other was a treble voice, light and clear in timbre. Could the woman in the printed apron have come in from the garden, moved past him without him noticing? Or perhaps there was a maid. But Brahms, at last!
Kristian backed into the little salon, past the fortepiano, and halted beside the French windows. He heard one heavy step, one light. Instinctively, he hid himself behind the curtains. The wooden stairs creaked. There was a hearty jaw-cracking yawn as someone stretched, someone who must have just risen from bed. Kristian tensed behind his meager haven of white gauze. He forgot Frederica, the transfer clinic, and everything else in the thrill of this moment, this suspended instant before his first, long-delayed glimpse of Johannes Brahms.
But it was not the Master who appeared, who stepped down from the last stair and passed through the foyer into the kitchen. It was a woman, slender and sad looking, with thick dark hair caught back with tortoiseshell combs. Kristian had only the briefest glimpse of her profile, her long neck, a flash of her slim white fingers as they slid from the banister. She wore a simple sort of dark gown, fitted on the top, with a wide skirt and a scarf at the neckline. He caught a glimpse of a gray underskirt as she disappeared around the corner. Small black slippers flashed beneath the hem of the long dress.
Kristian stared after her, awestruck. He didn't know if his heart still beat, or if he remembered to breathe. She was
For a moment, he couldn't take it in. For the first time, the images and the people of 1861 seemed unreal. It was as if he was imagining the scene to satisfy his own longing.
She was
. Clara Schumann. He had spent an entire year studying her. He had read her letters, devoured her music, pored over her portraits. He knew every detail of her biography, everything she had done and all that had happened to her. He had pored over her diaries, the youthful one filled in mostly by her father, the one she wrote with Robert, and the sad and lonely one after she was widowed. There had been no mention, anywhere, of Italy in the spring of 1861. She had concertized in countries as far away as Russia and England, frequently appeared in Belgium and Holland and Switzerland, but never in Italy. There had been some talk, some wish for an Italian vacation in her letters, but it had never come to pass. Not even when her daughter Julie married an Italian count had Clara gone to Torino to visit. To find Clara Schumann here, in Castagno, was to discover something more fantastic than any historian's conjecture.
Erika said once that Kristian had fallen in love with Catherine because she looked like Clara Schumann. Kristian had laughed at the idea, but he hadn't denied his attachment to the idea of Clara Schumann, the nobility and grace and beauty that were hers. He played her music. He framed a copy of her lithograph, taken when she was a girl of fifteen, a dramatic picture of a girl with enormous eyes in a pretty gown with the fashionable mutton sleeves of the day, one delicate hand in her lap, the other on the keyboard of a piano. Her own concerto, Opus 7, was on the music stand, a piece Kristian knew well. He kept the picture on a shelf where he could see it from his desk. He made a special trip to Leipzig to see the house where she grew up, and the
where she made her debut. He went to her grave in Bonn. One of his treasures was a copy of the last program she played, at the age of seventy-two, when—incredibly—she played Brahms's fiercely difficult Variations on a Theme by Haydn, for two pianos.
Her presence in Castagno was beyond belief. She had been a famous woman, her movements and activities followed by the press, reported by her friends in their diaries and correspondence. She had hidden this from her children, from her friends, from her agents, from her publishers. She had not written letters from here, as far as he knew. She had certainly not played a concert here, though she had made nearly fifty concert tours abroad during her long career. What could it mean?
His mystification lasted only a moment. Behind Clara, in a moment that struck Kristian now as anticlimactic, came Johannes Brahms. He followed Clara into the kitchen, and Kristian, heart pounding so it sounded like a bass drum in his ears, gaped after him.
Brahms was as blond as Clara was dark, and at least a head taller. He wore a long coat of brown wool, with a vest and a high collar beneath it. His tie was some loose affair, and his trousers were narrow, dramatizing the length of his legs.
Kristian left the French windows and slipped forward to a vantage point in the foyer. The aproned woman appeared with a pot in her hands, and bustled to the table.
Clara and Brahms sat down across from each other, and the cook poured coffee into simple pottery cups. A basket of flat bread already lay on the table, and a pitcher of milk steamed gently in a shaft of golden sunlight. The cook went to her counter, and came back with a bowl of apricots. She pushed the basket of bread toward Clara, and set the apricots in the center of the table. She said something in Italian, and Clara answered her.
BOOK: The Brahms Deception
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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