The Stradivarius (1)
Thirty years ago there were many places like Minx Mills in the southern United States. People said there was no way to find them except by accident. But it was no accident that brought Jesse McCord to Minx Mills.
When Boone Elliot saw the car stop in front of his house he did not move. People always came to see him when their cars needed to be fixed. They knew that Boone Elliot could repair anything with wheels on it.
A stranger got out of his car slowly. "Are you Boone Elliot, the musician?"
Boone was very pleased to be called a musician instead of a car mechanic. He nodded his head, "Yes."
The stranger smiled and closed his car door. He had blond hair, small blue eyes and a narrow face with a long chin. He wore a thin moustache across his upper lip. Boone thought he must be about fifty years old. Boone walked over to him. The stranger shook Boone's hand.
"I'm Jesse McCord," he said. "I have something I want to show you."
He opened his car door and pulled out a violin case.
"Can we get out of the sun?" he asked.
Boone led the way to the porch. Boone's wife Molly brought them ice tea in tall glasses. McCord drank his tea slowly. Then he wiped his mouth with his fingers.
"Does the name Antonio Stradivarius mean anything to you?" he asked.
"Are you saying that you have a fiddle made by Stradivarius in that case?"
"I'm not saying what I have," McCord said.
Boone Elliot leaned forward in his chair. "Mister, if you have a Stradivarius violin I want to see it."
McCord opened the case and lifted up a violin made of golden red wood. The sunlight slid over the violin like a warm wave.
"Here, take it," McCord said.
Boone tried to reach for the violin but his hands would not move. Boone had always thought he would find a Stradivarius in a museum some day. He never dreamed that he would see one in his own home.
McCord turned the violin so that Boone could read the writing on the back of it. "See that?" he asked. "Antonio Stradivarius. Romona, Italia," he read.
As Boone leaned forward to read the words himself McCord placed the violin in his hands. "Go ahead," he said. "Play something."
Boone put the violin under his chin and picked up the bow. He began to play "The Tennessee Waltz." The violin sounded so good, he began to play faster. Nothing in his life had ever felt so wonderful. Then Boone played "I am Thinking of My Blue Eyes" for Molly. He finished with the religious song "Amazing Grace." As he played the song, McCord and Molly sang the words.
When Boone finished playing McCord shook his head. "Too bad I have to sell this fiddle," he said. "But I have a sick child at home and I need the money."
Boone put the violin back in its case. "How much do you want for it?" he asked.
"Well," McCord said. "I need 1500 dollars to pay the doctor and the hospital."
Boone had expected the violin to cost much more than that. "Maybe, I will buy it myself," he said. "Can you lower the price?"
McCord shook his head, "No. No, I... I need 1500 dollars for my child."
Boone thought for a minute. "All right," he said. "I will buy it. But... I can't give you the money until I go to the bank tomorrow." He handed the violin to McCord.
"No," McCord said. "Keep it, friend. It's yours."
They shook hands, and Molly invited McCord to stay for dinner. After dinner, McCord left and Molly began washing the dishes.
She was very angry. "How could you spend so much money without talking to me about it? Besides, you already have a violin." Molly banged the pots she was washing as she talked.
"I don't believe that story about a sick baby," she said.
"I don't either," Boone said. "In fact, I don't even think McCord is married. But I could not argue about that violin." Boone put his arms around Molly and held her close.
She turned and rested her head on his chest. "I never should've married a musician," she sighed. "There's still some coffee left," she said. "And I saved you a piece of pie."
The next morning McCord came to the house early. And the two men went into town to the bank. Boone had no trouble borrowing the money to buy the violin. He promised Mr. Austin, the banker, that he would work at Sam Boatwright's Garage to pay off the bank loan. After he got the money Boone gave it to McCord who stuffed it in his pocket.
Boone walked across the street to Boatwright's Garage.
It took Boone five years to pay the bank the money he had borrowed to buy the Stradivarius. Then, Boone had more time to play his violin. He played at dances and at funerals; he played in churches and schools. Boone remembered those years as the best in his life. He called them his "golden time." He could tell Molly felt good too. She was very loving and he felt very close to her. Whenever Boone picked up his Stradivarius he felt as if God's spirit had touched his soul.
Then Molly became sick and the golden time ended.
Boone took her to the hospital where the doctors operated on her. For a while Molly felt better. But she had lost a lot of weight and was very weak.
Boone went back to work at Boatwright's Garage to pay Molly's doctors and the hospital. But the money he got from working in the garage was not enough. So, he returned to Mr. Austin at the bank and borrowed several thousand dollars. Even that was not enough. In the end, there was Just one thing left for him to do. The idea was so awful that he put off doing it for as long as he could.
Finally, one day he took the Stradivarius from its case for the last time. He held it in his arms as if it were a baby, but he was too sad to play it.
Then he put the violin in his truck and drove to the city.
The first music store he went to was not interested in the violin. The second store offered him fifty dollars for it. The last store offered him seventy-five dollars.
Boone expected to get at least ten thousand dollars for his violin. After all, it was a Stradivarius! It was clear they did not know how valuable it was.
Finally, he went to the biggest music store in the city.
"I have to sell my fiddle," he told the manager.
The manager opened the case and picked' up the violin.
"Did you get this fiddle from a man named McCord?" he asked.
"How did you know that?"
The manager put the violin back in its case. "Every year we see five or six of these imitation Stradivarius violins," he said. "They all come from this man McCord. This violin of yours, when new, was worth about two hundred dollars. I can only give you about... a hundred dollars for It, though."
Boone could feel his face become hot. "Thank you very much, sir, " he said.
He picked up the violin and left the store. McCord had lied and cheated him. He had taken Boone's 1500 dollars and given him an Imitation Stradivarius. Boone decided that he would look for McCord and punish him. Yes, he promised himself, he would find McCord even if it took him the rest of his life...
Then Boone drove to the hospital to see Molly. But she had died a few minutes before he got there. The doctor said she died peacefully. But Boone did not believe him. For him the whole world was full of liars now. And all the lies began with McCord.
Two days later Boone buried Molly.
Molly's hospital bill was almost 10 thousand dollars. Boone sold his home to pay it. He rented a small room in town and went to work fixing cars in Sam Boatwright's Garage.
When he saved 500 dollars Boone quit his job at the garage. He got into his truck and drove away to look for McCord.
When he came to a town he would ask if anybody there knew Jesse McCord. Near the end of August during the second year of his search he arrived in the town of Merryville, Tennessee. He found a woman there who said she knew Jesse McCord. She told Boone where McCord lived.
He got into his truck and followed a dirt road out of town. He drove for fifteen kilometers to an old farmhouse. The house was so old that it looked ready to fall down.
An old man wearing a dark wool cap and a dirty coat sat in front of the house. He seemed to be sleeping. Boone drove up to the house and got out of his truck. The old man opened his eyes. Boone looked at him closely. The man's skin was gray and dirty. A thick moustache of hair covered his upper up. His face was thin and his chin was pointed.
"Are you Jesse McCord?" Boone asked softly.
"I am what is left of him," the old man said. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Boone Elliot."
The old man stared at him. "Do I know you?"
"You sold me a fiddle."
McCord sighed, "I sold hundreds of fiddles. Have you come to thank me?"
Boone shook his head, "I've come to kill you."
The old man laughed weakly, "You're too late. I'm dead already. If I live through the night, it will be a miracle. I haven't eaten in two days."
Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his thin cheeks. "I've done a lot of bad things in my life," the old man said. "But I don't deserve to die like this. Please, help me, mister."
Boone carried him into the house and tried to find a place to put him down. He walked into the bedroom. There were no sheets on the bed and the mattress was torn. Boone put McCord on the bed.
"I'm going to get some food," he said. "Don't die while I'm gone."
Boone climbed into his truck and drove back to town as fast as he could. He didn't want to help McCord, but once he started he could not stop.
McCord was asleep when he got back to the farm. Boone looked down at him. Suddenly, he became very angry.
"I should've known you wouldn't die!" he yelled.
Boone went into the kitchen and filled some large pots with water. He put the pots on the stove to heat up. When the water was hot he brought one pot into the bedroom. He took off McCord's dirty clothing and washed the old man's body. He looked for clean clothes but there weren't any. So, Boone took some of his own clothing out of his suitcase and put them on McCord.
When he finished he heated some soup and brought it to McCord. The old man was too weak to feed himself. So Boone fed him the soup.
The next morning, McCord was strong enough to sit up and feed himself. After he ate, McCord sat on the porch with Boone.
"How long have you been looking for me?" McCord asked.
Boone shook his head, "I don't remember."
"Have you still got the fiddle?" McCord asked.
Boone looked at the old man.
"Of course, I have it. Who would I sell it to?"
McCord smiled, "Why don't you play me something on that fiddle?"
"I can't," Boone said. "Too much has happened - my wife died, I lost my home and all my money. And it all started because you sold me that fiddle for ten times its real value."