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"The Tragedy of Toto" from New York Times

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from New York Times
The Tragedy of Toto
by Ellis Parker Butler

When Kubelefsky had visited every part of the ship and convinced himself that it had been deserted and that only Toto remained to keep him company, he seated himself on one of the steamer chairs that had not been swept overboard during the gale and gazed out over the sea.

"It is bad, bad!" he said, more to himself than to Toto, and then his irrepressible optimism asserted itself, and he added. "But things are not as bad as they might be."

It was indeed bad. To be adrift in mid-Atlantic on an abandoned steamer. It was terrible! It was donnerblitzlich! And the ship all mussed up and broken by the storm! But on the other hand there were endless quantities of food, the ship did not seem to be sinking, there was still Toto, and there was still his violin. Things were really not as bad as they might be.

All the world knew Kubelefsky, the magician of the violin. All America remembers his hair, his art, his eccentricities, his triumphs, and his Toto. His tour was one grand ovation, one round of tears, cheers, and kisses. Musical womanhood knelt in rapture before his hair, throbbed with his art, but above all talked about his Toto. But every genius has his eccentricities, and Kubelefsky would not be Kubelefsky without his Toto. Some said he affected Toto for her advertising value, but we who knew him best did him no such injustice. He loved her. He loved her as only those great souls that are set high above the world by their surpassing genius can love that which is lowly and soulless and animal.

How Kubelefsky and Toto happened to be overlooked when the ship was abandoned I cannot pretend to say. Kubelefsky had been unutterably sick; sick as only the great genius can be, and as he always was when the sea was rough, and they may have left him thinking him dead. But Toto had not been seasick. She was a splendid sailor. All cats are.

Yes, Toto was a cat; but she was more than a cat, she was a friend, a companion, almost a lover, and in the weary weeks that followed the storm she was Kubelefsky's refuge from solitude. She was his audience, his plaudit, his appreciator, and appreciation is demanded by genius. Genius lives on appreciation.

For weeks, as the derelict floated on the Summer sea, Kubelefsky lived on Toto's appreciation and canned goods. It is such occasions as these that bring out the noblest qualities. They are, as the advertisements of certain liniments say, "good for man and beast."

Things were truly not as bad as they might be. Kubelefsky had his violin and he had Toto, and he drew great solace from each. When he pressed his chin against the vibrant wood of the violin and drew the living bow over its speaking strings he forgot the world in an ecstasy of joy, and when he glanced down at Toto, sitting sedately and watching his eyes for the smallest token of love, his soul was filled with contentment.

They had always been good friends, had Toto and Kubelefsky, but they became more than that as week followed week. In all his walkings to and fro she followed at his heels, and when he paused she would rub against his shins and purr with delight. He talked to her as one would talk to a sweetheart. He fondled her, and held her in his arms, and when he was weary after playing a difficult rhapsody, he would bury his hot face in her soft fur and gain new strength.

Sometimes he would vainly speculate whether he loved his violin or Toto the better, but he quickly put such thoughts aside, for why should he think of distressful possibilities? He lived for his violin, but Toto lived for him.

It was an odd companionship, these three; Toto, with her dove-colored coat; the violin, in its rich, reddish brown, and Kubelefsky, pale, with long raven locks. These three alone in the midst of the boundless, desolate ocean.

It was the 15th of August that the first break came to mar the happiness of the trio, and it was a violin string that broke. As the sickening "snap" of the string interrupted the obligato that Kubelefsky was executing, he paused, and tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Poor thing! Poor thing!" he murmured, as he stroked the mutilated violin, and Toto, seeing his grief, came and laid her head gently on his foot.

"Thanks, Toto, sweetheart," he said, "you teach me to endure, to be brave, to be a man," and he dashed aside the tears.

It was soul-trying to play with one string missing, but Kubelefsky was a wizard, and none but he would have known the loss, so sweet were the tones he drew from the remaining strings. But the loss had taught him a lesson, and he used the violin less and gave Toto more attention.

But why should I prolong this tale, or render it one anguish long drawn out? It is pleasant, I admit, to tell of this trinity of dependence and love, but my heart is pained as I write, for I cannot forget the sadness of the climax, and I must hasten on.

One by one the strings of Kubelefsky's violin snapped, and each catastrophe seemed like a snapping of his heartstring. When but one string was left he confined his violin exercises to a few short minutes each evening, playing the "Carnival of Venice" without variations, as arranged for one string by Bounod. It was not much, but it was something, and without his violin Kubelefsky would have been lost.

And then one evening the last string broke!

The moon was nearing the western horizon; and dark clouds were crowding up from the east, but a flood of silver light still suffused the sea and the ship. Kubelefsky was leaning with his back against a funnel, and Toto was sitting in the steamer chair.

When the last string snapped, Kubelefsky let his hands fall to his side, and a depth of woe and horror passed over his face so great that Toto, knowing something was amiss, sprang from her chair and ran to him, mewing piteously.

As the first paroxysms of his grief passed, Kubelefsky burst into tears, and, bending down, seized Toto and pressed her to his heart and walked back and forth.

"You are my all now, Toto," he cried, "my last hope, my only friend! You will not desert me, sweetheart. You will not fail me. In you I can trust."

His cries were more like those of one seeking assurance than of one speaking a fact, and Toto licked his hand and put a soft paw against his cheek and sought in every way a cat can to reassure him, and this gave him great comfort. Presently he became quieter and seated himself, and while Toto lay in her customary place on his lap he fondled his mute violin as a mother might fondle her dead babe.

Occasionally a tear would well in his eye, but he would dash it aside, crying:

"No! I will be brave! I have my Toto."

Again he would sway his body to and fro, crying:

"My poor violin! My poor Strad! So dead, so silent! Oh, I am bereft, I am undone!"

Thus he passed the night, without sleep, and all the next day he walked the deck constantly. He would not allow Toto out of his sight an instant. As the evening drew near he became even more restless, and when the hour arrived at which he was wont to play his daily "carnival," he felt under a cloud of melancholy. The longing to hear the voice of his violin rent him in a thousand ways. He craved it as an opium eater craves the drug, as a drinker craves alcohol. His nerves were unstrung, his hands trembled.

"And this!" he cried. "All this because I have not one poor little string, one piece of cat --"

He did not complete the word, for his eye fell upon Toto sitting at his feet gazing up at him with trustful, confiding eyes. Did she tremble as he began the word, or was it his imagination that deceived him? He tried to put aside the thought that had flashed across his mind. He struggled with himself. But a power greater than himself seemed to urge him on. His poor, mute violin seemed to cry out to him. His fingers seemed to plead for the touch of the strings. All the musician, all the artist, urged him on. But when he glanced at Toto -- his friend, his companion, his sweetheart -- he paused.

It was midnight before the struggle was ended, and through it all Toto sat patiently at his feet in perfect trustfulness, purring a love song. When at last he moved his body swayed and he staggered like one drunk with wine, and for the first time he shut Toto out as he entered the cabin. When he came on deck again he carried a bottle in his hand, and the label bore the legend, "Chloroform!"

Toto had wandered away, but as Kubelefsky's foot touched the deck she came running toward him.

"Come, Toto," he said. They entered the dark cabin together, and he closed the door.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:21:27am USA Central
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