Blasius Bouchalka

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Czech classical violinist and composer from the short story "The Diamond Mine" by Willa Cather, first published in McClure's magazine in October 1916. He was the second husband of soprano Cressida Garnet, but they divorced after he had an affair with the maid.

After supper Cressida told me his story. His parents, both poor musicians—the mother a singer—died while he was yet a baby, and he was left to the care of an arbitrary uncle who resolved to make a priest of him. He was put into a monastery school and kept there. The organist and choir director, fortunately for Blasius, was an excellent musician, a man who had begun his career brilliantly, but who had met with crushing sorrows and disappointments in the world. He devoted himself to his talented pupil, and was the only teacher the young man ever had. At twenty-one, when he was ready for the novitiate, Blasius felt that the call of life was too strong for him, and he ran away out into a world of which he knew nothing. He tramped southward to Vienna, begging and playing his fiddle from town to town. There he fell in with a gipsy band which was being recruited for a Paris restaurant, and went with them to Paris. He played in cafés and in cheap theatres, did transcribing for a musical publisher, tried to get pupils. For four years he was the mouse, and hunger was the cat. She kept him on the jump. When he got work he did not understand why, when he lost a job he did not understand why. During the time when most of us acquire a practical sense, get a half-unconscious knowledge of hard facts and market values, he had been shut away from the world, fed like the pigeons in the bell-tower of his monastery. Bouchalka had now been in New York a year, and for all he knew about it, Cressida said, he might have landed the day before yesterday.

Several weeks went by, and as Bouchalka did not reappear on Tenth Street, Cressida and I went once more to the place where he had played, only to find another violinist leading the orchestra. We summoned the proprietor, a Swiss-Italian, polite and solicitous. He told us the gentleman was not playing there any more, was playing somewhere else, but he had forgotten where. We insisted upon talking to the old pianist, who at last reluctantly admitted that the Bohemian had been dismissed. He had arrived very late one Sunday night three weeks ago, and had hot words with the proprietor. He was a very talented fellow, but wild and not to be depended upon. The old man gave us the address of a French boarding house on Seventh Avenue where Bouchalka used to room. We drove there at once, but the woman who kept the place said he had gone away two weeks before—leaving no address, as he never got letters.

It took us several days to run Bouchalka down, but when we did find him Cressida promptly busied herself in his behalf. She sang his Sarka with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra at a Sunday night concert, she got him a position with the Symphony Orchestra, and persuaded the conservative Hempfstangle Quartette to play one of his chamber compositions from manuscript. She aroused the interest of a publisher in his work, and introduced him to people who were helpful to him.

By the new year Bouchalka was fairly on his feet. He had proper clothes now, and Cressida's friends found him attractive. He was usually at her house on Sunday afternoons; so usually, indeed, that Poppas began pointedly to absent himself. When other guests arrived, the Bohemian and his patroness were always found at the critical point of discussion—at the piano, by the fire, in the alcove at the end of the room—both of them interested and animated. He was invariably respectful and admiring, deferring to her in every tone and gesture, and she was palpably pleased and flattered—as if all this were new to her and she were tasting the sweetness of a first success.

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