Sim Buzzard, Music Maker
Sim Buzzard stood at the fringe of the crowd, engrossed in the symphony of the auction. There was the rhymic chant of the auctioneer, shrill bursts of childish voices at play, women murmuring discrete comments, and gruff laughter from the men. Over and under all of those sounds wove the drone of bees busy at the spring flowers under a warm sun and the whisper of soft, scented wind. To Sim, this made music which reached and stirred his soul.
He had always heard music in the sounds of everyday life. He could even coax a tune out of the bucket at milking time. He made willow whistles and even grass blades became reed flutes in his hands on which he reproduced the melodies ringing in his head.
Ox and Clorinda had come to the auction to buy two or three fresh cows and Sim was to drive them home. He felt a twinge of pity for the farmer's widow who sat watching all her worldly goods being held up to the critical view of her neighbors. A slight rustle among the crowd drew his attention. Old Fiddler, who had just arrived, leaned against a wagon, his fiddle in its rough box tied on his back.
If Old Fiddler was here there might be music later and music was meat and drink to SIm. Quietly he moved to stand at Old Fiddler's elbow. The man's face looked ancient beneath his crown of snowy hair, but his eyes were young though filled with sadness. He had seen Sim's silent approach and, knowing of the boy's love of music, welcomed him.
"There's a fiddle to be sold here, boy. You got any silver?" The old man's soft words brought the blood flooding to Sim's face. A fiddle! His hand stole to the knotted kerchief in his pocket where several pieces of silver lay, payment for work he had done over and above his chores. Ox was a generous father.
"Some. How much will it cost?"
"Ain't nobody but you and me interested in it. If you want it, I won't bid. Ought to give a dollar. It's a good violin, an old one. I saw it once. All wrapped in silk it is and in a real case. Can you bid a dollar, boy?"
Sim nodded and then stood quietly by Old Fiddler, trembling with anticipation as they waited. Finally the sleek black case was handed up and the auctioneer opened it. From it he lifted the violin and held it in one hand, the green silk wrapping flowing behind it. The sun striking the mellow varnish lit a rosy glow in its glossy wood.
"What am I bid?"
"Now, folks, this is a beauty. What do I hear?"
Sim's mouth opened and closed soundlessly. Old Fiddler rasped out "one dollar." The auctioneer's chant began, the crowd murmured but made no bids. Finally Sim heard, "Sold to Old Fiddler for one dollar." He felt sick. The prize was lost. Then a sharp elbow in his ribs caught his attention.
"Go get your violin, boy. Saw you gaping like a fish, figured one of us ought to say something. Now, you got the cash?"
Sim gulped and nodded.
"Go get your fiddle then. Bring it back to me and I'll show you how to tune it."
Sim's feet came to life and he sped to the table where the cashbox stood. Oblivious to the by-play between the cashier and Old Fiddler, he laid down four silver quarters and, receiving the violin case, hurried back to the old man. Together they walked away to the lot where horses grazed, still harnessed to wagons and buggies.
Old Fiddler lifted the violin from it's wrappings and tuned it, softly naming the strings as they spoke. Then Sim's fingers curved around the graceful neck and he listened intently as the old man explained how to move them, how to draw the bow. Opening his own case, Old Fiddler fitted his violin under his chin and they began.
First a scale. Sim's fingers moved slowly but the tones were true. The key changed, the tones came faster, Old Fiddler broke into "Pop Goes The Weasel." Sim followed him. They played tune after tune, Sim matching every note, his whole face aglow. It was as though he had played violin all his life.
Finally Clorinda's hand on his shoulder withdrew Sim from his Elysian Fields to the reality of a walk home behind three reluctant, bewildered cows. But the violin was his, the music he heard and whistled could now sing out with its sweet voice.
Every moment he could find, Sim spent playing. Teacher let him bring a songbook home from school and he borrowed a hymnal from church, teaching himself to read music from them. The violin's long silent voice grew and ripened as his fingers became more skillful.
Sim found Old Fiddler in the woods one day and they played till dark. He learned to play two strings at once and to pluck them with his fingers. Old Fiddler reached back into some dim recess of his mind to recall finger exercises and correct Sim's hand position. When darkness settled over them, Sim thanked Old Fiddler and started for home, walking in a dream of glorious sound.
The old man stood looking at the blackness where the boy had disappeared. There were tears on his cheeks. That night Old Fiddler wrote a letter, something he had not done in many a year.
Some weeks later a knock on the Buzzard's door interrupted an after-supper frolic. Sim's violin still sang a gay folksong as Clorinda ushered Old Fiddler into the kitchen. Under his arm he carried a bundle wrapped snugly against the damp and his fiddle, as always, was strapped to his back.
Sitting uneasily on the settle across from Ox's big chair beside the fireplace, the old man plunged into his story. He had, after watching Sim's determined mastering of the violin, written to a former fellow-student who had become a great teacher of the instrument. The man had sent music for Sim and the assurance that if he could learn it to Old Fiddler's satisfaction, he would take the boy into his home as a pupil.
Ox sat stunned in amazement. Sim clutched his violin tightly and prayed wordlessly as Old Fiddler unwrapped the music. It looked black with notes and there were strange words and markings Sim had never seen before. He wanted desperately to know what they meant, to hear his violin sing those melodies in its rich voice.
Softly Clorinda's words droped into the pool of silence.
"Sim can do it. My Paw was like you, Old Fiddler. He played for hoedowns and weddin's but he went off by hisself and played strange music. He knew how to read music-writing and the foreign words on it, too. Let Sim try it, Ox. I think he's got to try it."
So Sim went to Old Fiddler's every day after school. His brothers willingly took on his chores and his father listened with unending surprise to the magic the boy wove with his bow. Sim worked hard. The strange words became clear to him; notes which had looked so black became ringing melodies; his fingers grew nimble as spring lambs; and with his head held high, he played from memory page after page without one false note.
Old Fiddler drove the boy hard but no harder than Sim drove himself. Finally the Herculean task was done. Dressed in their best clothes, Old Fiddler with his violin strapped to his back and Sim with a knapsack filled with a change of clothes and carrying his beloved violin, the odd pair boarded a train for the city. Ox had given Sim a roll of bills, more money than the boy had ever seen, the proceeds of the sale of two fine draying horses. He need not be a charity pupil.
So began Sim's years of study, not only of the violin but also in school. His master took him abroad, taught him to develop and write down the music he heard in his mind. One day orchestras all over the world would be playing the lovely themes Sim had first whistled while cleaning the stalls in his father's barn.