Our university orchestra was composed of faculty, students, and local amateurs, but on these occasions it was so supplemented by Chicago Symphony players that it bore little resemblance to our home variety. The concertmaster or first violinist was a man from a north shore suburb. His brother played cello and was a beau of mine. Some of the music girls had read “The First Violin” and they romantically dubbed Mr. Meister the first violin, and at rehearsals tended to cast languishing glances in his direction. I had been introduced to him and knew from Eddy, my beau, that he had a family so it seemed silly to me to even look in the direction of a man who was completely off the market.
One day Eddy invited me to dinner at his brother’s home. The Meisters had a brood of attractive, stairstep children, fed and sedulously attended by a governess aunt. On this and other occasions the children greeted the guests and their father and withdrew to their own quarters.
We had a simple dinner and at once adjourned to the music room, a long enclosure opening from the dining room. At one end of the room were built-in shelves for music and a Steinway upright piano stood against the wall flanked at the opposite end of the room by a cheerful fireplace. The length of the outer wall was broken by mullioned windows set at regular intervals.
Mr. Meister led the way to the piano and pulled out the bench for me. Then, with a quick nervous step, he hurried over to the shelves and extricated a volume of music which he placed on the rack in front of me. He was over six feet tall with curly blonde hair and very blue eyes, lithe in figure, and occasionally he flashed an ingratiating smile. He was charming and aware of it. He had, also, an adamantine will. That I had discovered when he crisply ordered his children about.
It soon became evident that Eddy, his brother, and I were about to attack a trio and, as the instruments were tuned, neighbours arrived and were comfortably seated by the fireplace. That I learned was the Meister way of doing it.
That dinner initiated a series of musicales for me. Mr. Meister consorted with symphony players, and professional pianists played with him and Eddy more or less regularly. He took me to concerts at the auditorium and, if a program sheet was rustled within his hearing, he reported the offense to the usher and – if they only knew it – the security of every one in his vicinity was in jeopardy. He was a high pressure business man, quick and temperamental – a man who recognized no obstacles. The peaceful atmosphere of my studio was likely to be interrupted at any moment by a Western Union messenger with a telegram. “Meet me on the five-two Northwestern tonight.” Signed Meister. Being interpreted it might mean, “We are giving a program at the So and So’s tonight. Be on hand. Mamá will lend you a gown (mamá being several sizes larger and taller than I.)
The wire frequently arrived on a day when I taught steadily from eight until five with brief time out for luncheon. Nevertheless I toed the mark and was on the five-two train, rain, snow, or fog. Mrs. Meister had given the final touch to these evenings by sending me a check for services, and about once a week I could be found on the piano stool in front of the Steinway, there to remain for several hours. If I rejected Mr. Meister’s plea to stay overnight and let him pedal me on his tandem next day (He had a specially-built bicycle devised for a six-foot man and a small girl) and then I was supposed to sing until train time at eleven-something. Frankly, I didn’t mind at all. My only objection, which I usually sustained, was to remaining overnight. I preferred to start to school each morning from my own home, rested and ready for work.
My intimacy with the Meisters came to an end one night when the message had arrived on a day of hectic situations. However, in spite of exigencies, I was at the five-two and went through the forms with Eddy as my compatriot. It was only when Mr. Meister set down, in front of me, a terrifying score to read at sight, that I demurred. Everything we played was always read without rehearsal for me, but tonight I couldn’t snap into such a pace. “No,” I said. “Something we’ve tried before, first” and I pushed aside the score not dreaming what I was doing. The ingratiating smile was turned on me with a Klieg power that should have warned me but I smiled too and made no move to capitulate. Then something snapped. Mr. Meister threw down his bow, slammed his violin on the table and stormed out of the room. I was too dumbfounded to speak and speech wouldn’t have helped anyway. That evening stands out as a long nightmare through the years, probably because emotional scenes have always been abhorrent to me.
Eddy retrieved the bow and took care of me, explaining that his brother was doing the work of ten men, etc. etc. Meanwhile Mrs. Meister, tactful, sweet and knowing, followed Papá out the door. The guests left early and, when train time rolled around, the host appeared and insisted on walking to the station with Eddy and me. On the way he protested how fond he was of me and how sorry he was, and squeezed my arm in a final farewell. At least I knew that it was final, and when the check for my services arrived, I returned it to the wife of his bosom with a gentle note of apology.
Eddy was embarrassed and troubled. We had been more than ordinary friends and he was immensely proud. He heartily disliked the Rich Young Man and summer was at hand, I left for a vacation without seeing him again and in the fall he left for Princeton. It proved to be a fortuitous break for us both, for Eddy had asked for more than he was entitled to and I was still – or so I thought – fancy free.