Prologue to my new novel - "Ludwig's Hi-fi"
Vienna – March 1827
The grey-haired, emaciated figure awoke gently and surveyed the room slowly. They had left, thank goodness. He knew they meant well, Herrs Schindler and Hutenbrenner, but the effort to accommodate their presence in his mind was physically exhausting, painful even. There had been someone with them, a mysterious looking gentleman, very quiet and unassuming. He was short and stout with curly hair and glasses. Was he imagining it or had he remembered his friend Schindler introducing him? If so, he had not caught his name. He recalled this strange fellow nodding to him nervously whilst he placed a portfolio on the far corner of his bed. Was he another of those confounded lawyers coming to meddle in his affairs? His affairs were sorted, thank you very much, no more portfolios. His latest annuity would keep him until the very end, so that his nephew might inherit his estate.
His breathing became more shallow to avoid the pain of coughing as he tried to shift his shoulders up against the bedstead. All of his body was wracked by a dull persistent aching as the cirrhosis affected the surrounding muscle tissue. When he finally managed to sit up, he turned slowly to the cabinet on the right side and reached for the bottle of imported laudanum that Herr Hutenbrenner had kindly brought with him. He raised it to his lips and drank a small mouthful of the soothing liquid, slowly swilling it around his mouth before swallowing. Was that enough? he wondered. He examined the bottle carefully but could not find any instructions. He took another drink, screwed the lid back on and placed the bottle back on the cabinet and waited. Fifteen minutes later a warm glow began to engulf him as the opium and alcohol took effect. He lay back and drank in the comforting sensation, almost floating. He was ready now.
He gently rose, gripping the bedside cabinet for support. When he was upright he stood firm, waiting for any sign that he might either fall or faint. The laudanum made him feel pleasant but weak and slightly giddy and he knew he couldn’t afford the chance that he might fall. He slowly raised both hands and reached for the large oak beam on the sloped ceiling, carefully avoiding possible splinters, and started to walk towards the commode past the foot of the bed. He knew that once he had finished his business he could relax more, maybe take another drink of that glorious beverage. As he sat above the basin, he noticed rhythmic vibrations in the wooden door as someone knocked. He desperately wished it was the maid and not more visitors.
“Nicht jetzt! Ich benutze die Toilette,“ he cried.
The door stopped vibrating.
When he had finished, he washed himself in the porcelain dish that had been left there by his maid and made his way back to bed. Once he was sitting up comfortably he took a large slug of the laudanum and reached for the portfolio that Schindler’s friend had brought. I might as well have a look at it, he thought. Not that it’s much use to me now.
Upon opening it, he was annoyed. Why, why, why, he thought, looking down at the handwritten music, must I spend my final hours looking at people’s work for them?
After five minutes of reading he understood everything, and a smile erupted as he thought of his dear friend Schindler. The mysterious bespectacled gentleman had not presented his work for mere proof-reading. Oh no, these fine songs had been given to him for his own pure and personal pleasure.
“Ah Herr Schubert, besitzen Sie den göttlichen Funken,” he said aloud.
Yes indeed, he thought. Schubert, you have the divine spark, my gifted friend. He continued to read.