Streams of iridescent twilight streaked the sky above Gothic towers.
Soft pink and blue melted into a deep, star-flecked purple in the east.
The spires of Prague's Hradcany Castle blended into the darkness, and
lights in the castle windows shone like evening stars not yet risen to their
places in the heavens. The tall bell tower of Hradcany and the greenish
cupola of some lesser-known spire held the broad canopy of evening
suspended just above the hundred towers of the city.
Elisa Linder and Leah Goldblatt slowly crossed the ancient Old
Town Square as others hurried home from work. Set in the cobbles, flat
stone crosses marked the places where the noblemen of King Wenceslas
had died as martyrs for the sake of a cause almost forgotten. Elisa's father
had told her all about it. When she had come to Prague with him as a
child, she had stepped around the crosses as though the blood of the
martyrs were still wet and fresh on the ground. She was nearly twenty-three
now, and still she watched the cobblestones carefully. In the half-light,
she felt the presence of a million vanished souls, four hundred
years of history crowded into this one moment.
"You know," Leah said warily, "we're the only two left in the orchestra
still trying to see the sights." She flipped through the small, red Baedeker's
guidebook. "Everyone else wore out after Paris."
"And think what they missed."
"Sore feet." Leah looked up at the sky. "After this, tonight's performance
will be a relief. At least we'll get to sit down. Are you ready to quit
for the day?" It was getting colder, and a wind had sprung up almost as
soon as the sun disappeared.
"One more thing." Elisa took Leah's arm and pulled her toward the
window of a dark shop. W. Hainz-Clockmaker was stenciled in a faded
gold arch across the glass. Inside was a large clock surrounded by gold
cherubs, each pointing to the time in London, Paris, New York, and St.
Petersburg. St. Petersburg was now Leningrad in Bolshevik Russia, but
the old clock had obviously paid no attention to the politics of passing
time. "You see," Elisa said with the same awe she had felt as a girl, "with
a clock like that you could get up whenever you wanted. In New York
there are people who haven't even had breakfast yet."
Leah was manifestly uninterested. "Look," she replied with a stern
poke to Elisa's ribs, "the only thing I care about now is a few minutes'
rest, five minutes to change, and a minute and a half to make it to the
Elisa stood for a moment more, still seeing the reflection of a six-year-old
girl with thick blond braids standing beside her father. She
turned to Leah and said quietly, "At home we have a clock that was made
here one hundred years ago. You see? Some places don't change at all.
Prague will always be Prague."
"Fine." Leah sounded rushed. "Well, someone better tell the old
clockmaker that it's 1936. St. Petersburg isn't St. Petersburg anymore,
and Germany is now the Third Reich. Everything changes, Elisa. Except
the time the concert begins. So, do you mind terribly? It might be breakfast
in New York, but in Prague all the barons and baronesses are already
in their satin."
* * *
Elisa and Leah made their way upstream through the throngs of
concertgoers who moved toward the wide doors of the theatre in Prague.
Elisa clutched her violin case and looked back over her shoulder as little
Leah struggled to heft her cello against the tide of silks and furs and top
hats. For a moment Leah's determined young face was almost lost from
view; then up came the top of the cello case like a shield before her, parting
"Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me, please!" Leah's soft Viennese accent
rose above the hum of the crowd. Elisa laughed, thankful that her
instrument was no larger than a baby and much easier to carry than
Leah's unwieldy cello. In restaurants and on trains, Leah was forever asking
for another seat for her "mummy."
"Leah?" Elisa called, unable to conceal her amusement that the
principal cellist had to battle the audience to get backstage. "Are you all
"Excuse me, bitte. Pardon." Leah's voice took on an edge of irritation.
"Maybe we should go in the front entrance with them." Elisa stood
on tiptoe. She was a full head taller than Leah and still could only see the
Suddenly Leah's soft voice turned harsh. "If you wish to hear the concert
tonight, you will let me pass, please!"
In an instant top hats doffed and mumbled replies of apology were
heard; then the human sea parted for Leah and her cello. Her face was
flushed from the effort, but with the utmost dignity she dropped the
case to her side and walked deliberately to where Elisa waited near the
corner of the huge stone building.
Elisa nodded regally. "Well done, Your Highness."
"They could have killed me-or worse, broken Vitorio to pieces."
Leah patted the cello case affectionately. "Cattle." She straightened her
coat and ran her fingers through her bobbed hair. "I hope they don't
overrun the stage tonight."
"We should have just gone in the front entrance with them." Elisa
picked a few tufts of fur off Leah's shoulder, compliments of a patron's
"They wouldn't have let us in." Leah grimaced. "We don't have tickets."
She surveyed her appearance. "I look as if I have been in a catfight."
She brushed her coat, then sized Elisa up and down in mock disdain.
"And look at you!" She sniffed. "Perfect. Perfect. I tell you, it's disgusting.
Didn't we just walk through the same crowd?"
Elisa tossed her long blond hair and blinked innocently at Leah. "It
would be easier to walk, Leah, if you played a nice little fiddle instead of
strumming a mummy. I told you that in Salzburg four years ago." She
took Leah's arm, and they walked together down the darkened alley to
the stage door.
"By then it was too late, anyway. You should have told my mother
when I was four." Leah shifted the weight of the cello, leaning slightly to
the left in her awkward, familiar stance. "My father was hoping I would
be a boy and grow up to be a bellman. This is as close as I could get.
Schlepping a cello case all over Europe."
Elisa laughed at Leah and nudged her slightly when Rudy
Dorbransky ran toward the stage door and scrambled up the steps as
though he were being pursued. He did not notice either of the young
women in the alleyway.
"What's wrong with him?" The door opened and a wave of sound escaped
as musicians warmed up backstage. With a soft click the door shut
as Rudy slipped inside.
"He probably got into another card game." Leah rolled her eyes.
Rudy was famous for his ability to find a card game in a strange city.
"Well, if he's just now here, we must be late. You know he's always
"Unless someone is chasing him." Leah gathered her coat more
tightly around her.
"You aren't late until the houselights go down." Elisa stepped aside,
giving Leah room to lug the cello up the steps. "Besides," she giggled
conspiratorially, "did you see the conductor last night?" She opened the
heavy steel door and they were immediately assaulted by a deafening cacophony
of instruments hooting and wailing. "Five minutes before the
performance, he wasn't even dressed!"
Leah waved a hand in disinterest. "I keep expecting him to come out
on stage without his pants some night." She tapped her temple lightly
and crossed her eyes. "Yes?"
Elisa nodded broadly. The roar of practicing musicians made conversation
in a normal tone of voice impossible. Members of the orchestra
were everywhere, each playing particularly difficult passages of the symphony.
Unwinding their scarves and flinging their coats onto a long
wooden bench stacked with other coats, Leah and Elisa uncased their instruments
and joined the noisy ritual.
In twelve days they had traveled to a dozen cities in Europe, playing
the same program in each place. Tonight's appearance at the German
Theatre in Prague marked the end of the exhausting tour and, appropriately,
they were playing Mozart's Prague Symphony in the city where it
had first been introduced. It was sure to please the crowds of isolated
Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia and clamored for tickets to every
performance. Elisa knew that the local German newspaper reported
every musical event in faraway Vienna, while it totally ignored the opening
of a new play in the Czech National Theatre. The Czechs and the Germans
maintained separate theatres, churches, and universities. Tonight
the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra belonged to the German-speaking
residents of Prague. This possessive sense of ownership by the audience
would make them wild with joy and appreciation, even if the musicians
themselves were bored with the program they were about to play.
After the concert, while the rest of the orchestra climbed wearily
onboard the train back to Vienna, Elisa would catch the train north to
her home in Berlin for the Christmas holidays. The thought of seeing her
family again so soon filled Elisa with a sense of excitement. Tonight she
played for her mother and father, even though they were in Berlin.
As though reading Elisa's mind, Leah nudged her. "Did you have any
trouble getting your ticket?"
Elisa shook her head. "No. I'm the only person who wants to go into
Germany." She laughed. "Everyone else wants out!"
Leah smiled, then hefted her cello and scurried off to find a place to
"Full house!" Shimon Feldstein boomed over the din. As the percussionist,
Shimon had little to do until they were actually onstage, where he
could stand beside his great "kettles of thunder." Always before a performance
he released his excess energy by prowling through the halls backstage
and announcing the condition of the evening's audience-who was
there and whether they were subdued or excited, sober or drunk.
Elisa did not need Shimon to know the condition of tonight's audience.
She had played in this theatre half a dozen times. The orchestra had
always been received more warmly here than anywhere else in Europe, it
seemed-including their home base at the Musikverein in Vienna. She
had come to love the ancient city with its hundred church spires, the Old
Town Hall, the mysterious streets and delicious food. Mozart had loved
Prague, and in the beginning that had been enough for Elisa. She never
had enough of exploring forgotten corners of the city.
Today she and Leah had enjoyed a picnic out on Charles Bridge and
had eaten a pleasant lunch as the murky Moldau River swirled below
their perch. Leah had taken her into the dark interior of the Old-New
Synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery where headstones leaned on
one another for centuries of musty companionship. Elisa had then spirited
Leah away to the church of Jan Hus, who had been martyred as a
heretic for his part in the Reformation. Every corner of the city was a history
Even though Elisa was from Berlin, her father had arranged for her to
carry the passport of a Czech citizen, of German Aryan background. Not
even her closest friends in the orchestra realized that she was the daughter
of Theo Lindheim, the well-known Jewish department store owner in
Berlin. Her mother actually was Aryan, but to be half Jewish in Germany
was more than enough. And so her stage name was Elisa Linder, a slight
deception that made it possible for her to play professionally in Germany,
though Jewish musicians had been banned from performing in
public for over a year. Only now, as a private citizen, would she return to
Germany. For two weeks she would be Elisa Lindheim again. Her violin
would return to Vienna under Leah's watchful eye.
Twice Elisa had nearly told Leah about the passport and the fact that
her real name was different from the one Leah knew her by. Often she
had suggested that the cellist take an Aryan stage name just in case the
Austrians imitated the actions of their powerful German neighbor. Already
in Vienna there was talk-quiet murmurs that Austria would be
better off joining Hitler's Reich.
But Leah simply would not hear of it. She was Jewish, and she was
Austrian, she claimed. Everyone in Vienna knew that. Vienna was her
hometown, and never would Austria be subject to what happened in
Germany! So the issue had been settled. In spite of the fact that Leah
Goldblatt was the most talented cellist in Austria, Hungary, and Poland,
she had to remain home whenever the orchestra toured Germany. Her
only comment was "Their ears are not worthy anyway!"
Elisa's crisp Berliner accent was immediately recognized by any who
heard her speak, but she simply explained that she had moved from
Berlin at an early age. She had been quite young, after all, when she had
gone to Austria to study at the Mozarteum. Hitler had not even been in
power then, and her Berlin home had been an exciting, open place to
live where little thought was given to a person's heritage.
But now, when the tour scheduled concerts in Berlin, she gracefully
bowed out. In Berlin, she was Elisa Lindheim. A hundred friends would
recognize her instantly. Over the course of the last two years, her father
had managed to send her considerable sums of money, nearly all of
which was safely tucked away in a Swiss account. And Elisa, to the
amazement of her struggling musician friends, lived quite well in her little
flat two blocks from the concert hall in Vienna. Life was good; even
now she did not feel the shadow of Hitler's growing power in Germany.
"Five minutes!" called Shimon loudly as he passed Elisa. With more
intensity she played a difficult bar in the second movement. Perhaps, she
thought wistfully, someday I will be Elisa Lindheim again and play this in
Berlin. In spite of the noise around her, she heard only the sound of her
own instrument. She stopped and began again, letting her fingers fly
over the fingerboards. She felt a soft tap on her shoulder.
Elisa opened her eyes to the handsome, worried face of Rudy
Dorbransky. His thick dark hair tumbled down over his forehead; frightened
eyes gazed down at Elisa. He was undoubtedly the most handsome
of the single men in the orchestra and had talent as a violinist to match
his good looks. There had been a moment two years ago when his strong
hand on her shoulder might have caused her heart to skip a beat. But
other women in the first violin section had warned her about him, and
she had listened. Now she looked at his bloodshot eyes with disapproval,
and she continued to practice.
"Rudy," she said almost maternally, "go look in the mirror. Comb
your hair and straighten your tie. Did you shave today?"
He ignored her comments. "Elisa-" He mopped his brow and attempted
a charming smile. "I ran into a bit of difficulty today, dearest-"
She held her bow poised for an instant.