The Two Musicians
by Inspector F.

I WAS once hurried off to Bath, during the season in that city, with directions to engage apartments for myself at a second class lodging house, but in a fashionable street. My especial mission was to sedulously watch, and report to headquarters, the movements of a certain foreigner who had taken up his abode there, and who was supposed to be plotting, with influential countrymen of his, temporarily domiciled in this country, to disturb the peace—whether justifiably I neither know nor care—of their native land. How I sped in that mission, whether I succeeded or failed, or neither quite succeeded nor altogether failed, I am not, at least just now, about to tell. This brief experience refers solely to two musicians who lodged in the same house, and a young girl in the service of the invalid mistress of the establishment. Alice Black was rather the companion than servant of Mrs. Clarke, and acted as a sort of second and more active mistress of the establishment. Everybody liked, everybody respected, more than one or two, to my knowledge, loved Alice Black. I should have thought it almost impossible for a young man of ordinary sensibility to avoid doing so, there was such a sweetness in her charming face, such a sunniness in her smile, such grace in every motion of her lithe, sylph-like, yet beautifully rounded figure, and, above all, such a pervading candour, guileless simplicity in all she said and looked. She had, that I could see, but one fault—a grievous one: she was a poor dependent orphan, utterly alone in the world, and having no expectations whatever, great or small.

This interesting young person I before long observed to be an object of peculiar solicitude to Signor Zara and to Mr. Benedick. The purely accidental service I was enabled to render the latter, to be briefly narrated in this experience, made him my fast friend for life.

Signor Zara was, I believe, a Spaniard; at all events, he was a swarthy-faced, handsome man, with “Murillo,” darkly-bright gleaming eyes, and the pride of a dozen grandees. He loved himself and himself only, and that with a fervid constancy which knew no coldness nor retiring ebb. His solicitude concerning Alice Black was not prompted by love for her, and yet it was sincere and ardent. This supreme man was a fine musician, played several wind and stringed instruments admirably, and obtained a very handsome income by teaching. But the art upon which he especially—I may say exclusively—plumed himself, was that of playing on the violoncello. I myself have heard him say, Dragonetti had never learned the alphabet of the art. Signor Zara had in early life lived much in France. One consequence was, that he hated France and Frenchmen with a deadliness of hate, which could only be surpassed by the fire seven times heated, of burning rage which a successful rival on the violoncello would excite—did excite—as two amiable persons narrow1y escaped carrying an agonizing memory of to their graves.
 
Mr. Benedick—Felix Benedick—resembled the fierce Don only in this,—that he was an admirable violoncello player, and was gaining a handsome income by teaching. Now, Mr. Benedick did love Alice Black ardently, yet hesitatingly, if one may say so. I never saw so sensible a young man, before or since, who more dreaded the laugh of the shallowest fools. Alice would sometimes, if the proper servant were out of the way, answer a bell-summons and receive a message herself. More than once I have seen Benedick, when he chanced to be present when she happened to do so, blush crimson, fiery red, and avert his eyes from the poor girl, though he would watch through hours to see her pass and repass when the exigencies of his arduous profession did not compel him to concentrate his energies of mind and body on that. Ay, and it was chiefly for her, too, that he so enthusiastically devoted himself to his art, as to be fast converting Zara into his deadly, pitiless foe. The Spaniard saw, as I saw, a truth of which Benedick was in some degree unconscious, at all events only latently conscious, that Alice Black had become a necessity of his being, of his healthful life,—that had she withdrawn irrevocably from him, that life would be a blank. And this was the reason why Zara watched Alice Black with such untiring solicitude,—first to discover if she reciprocated Benedick’s passion, and if she did, to dash the cup of bliss from Benedick’s lips at any risk, by any crime,—if Benedick surpassed or kept pace with him in the race for the palm of superior violoncello playing. Should he lag behind, yield himself vanquished, ah! Signor Zara would freely bestow on him a score of Alice Blacks if they were in his gift to bestow. The maniacal jealousy of musicians is often altogether ludicrous in its extravagance.

I was watching that curious, and to me, novel game of inimical, antagonistic purposes, with considerable interest and some anxiety, for I greatly liked and esteemed both Alice Black and Felix Benedick, and I almost hoped Benedick would, comparatively, break down in the violoncello solos, he was to play at half a dozen grand concerts, in emulation, it was said, of Zara’s wonderful solo playing. At any rate till after the wedding was over—that would not be long first, as Felix Benedick, catching suddenly hold of and embracing me one day, as if we were both filthy foreigners, and sobbing out that—he—her—had proposed—was accepted—and the happy day fixed. But, then, people in love will be people in love to the end of the chapter.
 
I, myself, one day, and quite by accident, was within an ace of incurring the dread wrath of the redoubtable Don. There was nothing he so peremptorily, fiercely insisted upon as that no one should, upon any pretence, enter his apartments without a special invitation. His nephew, as he called Carlo Zavier—slave would have been more appropriate—was subject to the same rigorous interdict. The offence was quite unintentional on my part. I had but a few moments before left the foreign officer to whom I have alluded at the beginning of this paper. I had promised to return in a few minutes with a particular document, and thinking to do so, bedad, I mistook the door, and sharply turning the handle, found myself in Zara’s dressing room. The weather was tremendously hot, and the Don, whilst apparently only about half through his ablutions, for his neck and part of his shoulders were bare, had sunk upon a couch, overcome by lassitude, and was fast asleep. That was fortunate; and I withdrew on tiptoe unobserved, unheard.
 
The great concerts came off with great èclat as a whole, and by almost unanimous consent the palm of superiority as a solo violoncello player was awarded to Felix Benedick. It was really fearful to mark the swelling tide of rage gathering in volume and violence in Signor Zara’s breast. The man seemed to be possessed of the furies. One day—evening, I mean—Felix Benedick and Alice Black were seated folded unperceived in one another’s arms, dallying in the innocence of love, a privilege given but once in man or woman’s life. They believed themselves, as they had a right to believe, alone, shielded from prying eyes by the broad, high curtain which shut out the corridor from which alone the room they sat in could be overlooked. Zara, whom I caught sight of, and stole softly towards in order to more closely observe, was watching them. Positively it almost made one’s hair stand on end to look at him. The demon of hate, vengeance, and fury, seemed to convulse, rend him. Suddenly he withdrew, and to the last moment that it was visible, his flaming eyes were fixed upon the pure scene of happiness which I was sure he had an oath in hell to destroy. He could only mortally stab his successful rival in violoncello playing, through Alice Black, and he would do it, I felt certain, if it were possible to be done.

The next day I received a letter commanding my immediate presence in London. I exchanged sympathetic adieus with Felix Benedick and Alice Black, the latter of whom promised to be sure not to forget to send me a piece of bride cake—and in a few minutes afterwards I was on the iron road to town.
 
I had been in London just one week when a paragraph appeared in Keene’s Bath Journal, giving an account of an incident that had occurred at the lodging house in which I had for six or seven weeks resided. Signor Zara had missed from off his dressing table a diamond ring, a diamond pin, a ruby ring, and one set with pearls and emeralds, the value of which articles exceeded one hundred and twenty pound. There was a great hubbub of course when the discovery was made, a rigorous search was made, and finally the jewels were found, to the horror and astonishment of everybody present, and to none more than Signor Zara himself, artfully concealed in a valuable tortoiseshell work box belonging to Miss Alice Black, a young lady hitherto of unblemished character. Signor Zara would have instantly hushed up the affair, but the inculpated person would not hear of it, and the case was heard before the magistrates. The evidence appeared so conclusive that the bench were about to fully commit the accused for trial, when the solicitor who appeared for her requested an adjournment for a few days. The reason he assigned was that a gentleman who had been staying a certain number of weeks at the lodging house, and had left for London but a few days since, had told Mr. Felix Benedick that if either he or Miss Black should get into any serious difficulty with Signor Zara, to lose not a moment in sending for him. An adjournment of four days was agreed to, but bail was peremptorily refused.

The following scrawl was on my table from poor Benedick:—
 
“MY DEAR, DEAR FRIEND—You are our only hope. My God, it will kill Alice—and, with her, me. Come, for God’s sake, at once. You alone can save us. I feel it. Come at once. Yours, in the depths of despair,                            “F. B.”
 
I was in Bath, face to face with Signor Zara, four hours after receiving that letter. My interview with the Signor was a brief one, but it was to the purpose.
 
The Court was crowded to suffocation the next day. Poor Alice, already looking the ghost of her sweet self, was brought in, and the case was called. I managed to catch her eye, and my confident look brought back colour to her cheek, the light of a trembling hope to her eyes. As for Felix Benedick he could not, or at least did not, take his eyes off my face. The instant the case was called, Signor Zara stepped forward, and claimed leave to address the Bench. He, too, was deadly pale. Leave granted.
 
Signor Zara had a solemn reparation to make to the young and amiable lady, Miss Alice Black, “who was as innocent of the robbery as the babe unborn.”
 
It is impossible to depict, at least I cannot, the effect which this little exordium produced. Court and crowd seemed alike bewildered, and, with their eyes, asked each other what could be coming next.

Signor Zara went on to say “that his nephew, Carlo Zavier, had conceived a violent passion for Miss Black; that, maddened by jealousy, he had wickedly resolved to frustrate her approaching marriage with Mr. Benedick, by proving her to appear guilty of a disgraceful crime. It was he stole the rings and the pin, and hid them in the work-box. Tortured by remorse he had confessed his guilt in the presence of three respectable witnesses in Court, and affixed his signature to that confession.”
 
A deep silence followed: Signor Zara handed the written confession to the clerk.

“Where is now your nephew, Carlo Zavier?” asked the Chairman; “fled, I suppose?”
 
Signor shrugged his shoulders affirmatively.
 
“It is impossible to go on with the case against the prisoner under these circumstances. It is very extraordinary—”
 
“Permit me,” said I, “to say that I think the case ought to go on. Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,—I contend that pretended confession is a lie wrung by threats from a young man, as innocent of the crime as any of the Magistrates on the Bench. Carlo Zavier did not place the jewels in Miss Black’s work-box. The villain who placed them there was Signor Zara himself, for the base, cowardly, infamous purpose of striking at a successful rival in his profession through the woman he loved.”
 
The excitement caused by these words was extraordinary.

“Your proofs, sir, your proofs,” said the Chairman. “This is altogether irregular.”
 
“He will furnish the proofs himself. Signor Zara, look at me, if you can, and remember you are not obliged to criminate yourself; that every word you say may be, and I trust will be, used against you at a future day. Now, bearing that in mind, say, Did you, or did you not, with your hand, place the jewels in Miss Black’s work-box, for the base, the wicked purpose of revenging yourself upon your successful rival, by striking at his peace through his affianced bride? Deliberate, take time to consider thine answer.”

“I did,” said Signor Zara, “place the jewels in the young lady’s box with my own hand, for the purpose of revenging myself upon him, through her shame. It is true: so help me God.”
 
That said, the miserable man fell down in a fit, and was carried out.
 
The truth was, that when I unintentionally entered Signor Zara’s dressing room, I saw the letters “T. F.” branded on his shoulder. He had been convicted in France, and condemned to the galleys for life. He had contrived to escape to England, and might have been at any moment sent back. There lay the secret of my power; and to that mistake about the doors Felix Benedick owes it that he is now one of the happiest of husbands and fathers; Alice, one of the happiest of wives and mothers.

From Experiences of a Real Detective by Inspector F.
Edited by “Waters,” author of Recollections of a Police Officer, Leonard Harlowe, etc.
London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler, 1862. 220-8.