THE BLIND ORGANIST

“Naught have I seen of the earth, for mine eyes have been darkened
Since I was born to this life, with its toils and vexations,
Yet hath the Maker, in mercy, bestowed compensation,
Music, and love of sweet singing to lighten the burden.
Here, at the loud-swelling organ, my soul is responsive
To passion and grandeur of music, and sighings melodious,
It bursts from its prison of gloom, soaring upward rejoicing,
Borne on the stormy, majestical breath of the organ.”

As a rule, the conversations of lovers are hardly worth recording,
consisting, as they mostly do, of incoherent rhapsodies of love and
devotion, with very little of that useful quality called common sense.
But Reginald and Una were the most sedate of sweethearts, and talked
of other things besides the ardour of their passion. In this instance
they were discussing their future and the chances of their marriage.

It would have been difficult to find a handsomer pair as they walked
along; she fair and slender, with a charming smile on her face; he
tall and dark, with a touch of haughtiness in his manly dignity. They
looked like two lovers who had strayed from the enchanted garden of
Boccaccio, with nothing to talk about but the pains and passions of
Eros, but, alas, such thoughts are impossible, save under the magic
influence of twilight; and this youthful pair, who seemed the
incarnation of romance, were talking in a most prosaic fashion.

“You see, dear,” said Reginald, after he had explained everything to
Una, “it is not the slightest use my depending on my relations, even
if I were to find them out.”

“I don’t think it’s much use in any case,” replied Una decisively.
“It’s far better for you to depend upon yourself. But how do you
intend to proceed?”

“It’s rather difficult to say. I have no money and no chance of
obtaining any. Patience had a certain sum which she paid to Doctor
Larcher for my education. I believe,” said the young man, somewhat
bitterly, “that I’ve been mostly brought up by the vicar out of
charity.”

“Doctor Larcher has never said so.”

“No, he is too kind-hearted and generous for that, but I feel sure
that such is the case. Never mind; should it ever lie in my power I
will repay his charity a thousand fold.”

“Do you think he will like you becoming a singer?” asked Una
apprehensively.

“I don’t fancy he’ll approve of it–at first,” said Reginald bluntly,
“but what else can I do? The law, the church and medicine all require
money to make a start, and even then it is a difficult game to play. I
know a good deal about music, and, according to Beaumont, who is
certainly no flatterer, I have an excellent voice. So it is my only
chance.”

“If the vicar approves, what will you do?”

“I’ll ask him to lend me some money. I shall then go to London and
place myself under a good master, and if my voice is good, with hard
work I’ll soon be able to do something.”

“It seems very risky,” said Una, with a sigh. “Many fail.”

“And many succeed. If a man be sober, industrious and observant, he
can hardly help succeeding. Beggars must not be choosers, and if I
don’t use the only talent I’ve got, what else is there for me to do? I
cannot remain here all my life on the bounty of Dr. Larcher. If I did,
there would be small chance of our marriage.”

“I have a little money,” she began timidly.

“Yes, I know,” he answered hastily, “but I’m not the man to live on my
wife. It is your dear self I want, not your money; though, as the
squire’s heiress, you are far above me.”

Una laughed.

“I’m very doubtful about my being an heiress,” she said gaily. “It is
true I am the squire’s next-of-kin, and should inherit, but you know
how eccentric he is. The property is not entailed, so he can do as he
likes.”

“You mean he is going to leave it to his other self. Nonsense! That is
the phantasy of a madman’s brain. No court of law would uphold such a
will. How he is going to leave it to himself when his _alter ego_ is
not in existence, I don’t know.”

“Nor I,” replied Una frankly. “I know, of course, he is mad, quite
mad, and that any will made on the principle of his hallucination
would be set aside, but lately he has dropped hints about a son.”

“A son? Why he was never married.”

“No; but he says he has a son who is somewhere about, and he intends
to leave the property to him.”

“Indeed. Then what becomes of his great scheme of enjoying the money
in his re-incarnated body?”

“It’s a mystery,” said Miss Challoner, laughing.

“I should think it was, and whatever will he makes now, leaving the
property away from you, would not hold good, for he certainly is not
in his right senses. You could claim as next-of-kin.”

“And I certainly should do so,” replied Una, with decision. “But it is
my opinion he’ll live for a good long time yet.”

“Humph! He’s very ill.”

“Creaking doors hang longest. But do not let us speculate on his
death. I would rather we made our own fortune.”

The use of the plural member had a delicious sound for Reginald, and
he felt strongly tempted to there and then kiss his lady-love, but as
they were now crossing the bridge and several people were about, he
restrained himself until a more convenient season.

“Never mind the Squire and his money, dear,” he said fondly, “for your
sake I am going to be the Mario of the future.”

“I’m sure you will,” replied Una with the trustfulness of love, “you
know I lived a long time in Germany and heard a number of good
singers–your voice is quite as good as any, if not better.”

“Flatterer!”

“Well, we’ll see, Signor Reginald Mario,” she said gaily, as they
entered the churchyard, “when you are enchanting London audiences you
will remember my prediction. You should cross the poor gipsy’s hand
with silver.”

“Can’t, mum,” he retorted laughing; “I’m stone broke. However, there’s
no one about, so I’ll do better–cross the gipsy’s lips with kisses,”
and before she could draw back, this audacious young man put his words
into action.

“Oh, Reginald!”

“Oh, Una,” he mimicked lightly, “don’t say a word or I’ll take
another. Come along, here’s the church, and by Jove,” as the sound of
music broke on their ears, “there’s Cecilia at the organ.”

“And she’s playing the Wedding March,” cried Una blushing.

“It’s a good omen, dear,” he whispered, as they walked up the aisle,
“this is like a rehearsal of marriage, isn’t it?”

They both laughed gaily, and as their young voices rang through the
empty church the organist turned round on her seat rapidly to the
direction from whence the sound proceeded.

Cecilia Mosser was one of those light-coloured women who bear the same
relation to a full-coloured blonde as a fireless opal does to the same
stone with the red spark glowing under its opaque whiteness. While Una
had all the characteristics of a true blonde, flushed with the roseate
hue of a strong vitality, these same characteristics were reproduced
in Cecilia with a distinct want of colour and of life. She had the
same pale complexion, the same golden hair and the same blue eyes,
but the complexion was a dead white, and lacked the opalescent
transparency of Una’s, the golden hair was dull in appearance, without
any lustre, and the azure eyes were coldly blue, though in this latter
case, being sightless, they naturally did not reflect the soul within,
having therefore a lifeless appearance. A sad, patient face it was,
stamped with that expression of mute appeal so common to the faces of
the blind. She was dressed in a dark gown, with a collar and cuffs of
white linen, her bleached-looking hair being coiled smoothly at the
back of her head.

“How are you, Cecilia?” asked Una, ascending the chancel steps. “I
have come to see about the concert.”

“Yes, I was expecting you, Miss,” answered the blind girl in a soft,
fluty voice which, though low, was distinct and clear. “Is Mr. Blake
with you? I thought I heard his step.”

“Oh, I’m here,” said Blake, advancing towards the organ. “What is the
matter–eh?”

“I want you to sing at the concert,” replied Cecilia, lightly touching
the yellow keys of the organ; “Miss Una, of course, also.”

“Let us sing a duet,” suggested Una; “‘Oh, that we two were Maying,’
or something of Mendelssohn’s.”

“The first is the best,” said Reginald quickly. “I think every one
will like that. Who else is going to perform, Cecilia?”

“Miss Cassandra and Mr. Priggs,” she replied, touching off the names
on her fingers. “Mr.—-”

“What! Is Priggs going to sing?” interrupted Blake laughing.

“No; recite a piece of his own.”

“I hope it will be intelligible.”

“How severe you are,” said Una smiling.

“Ah! you don’t know Ferdinand’s poetry,” replied Reginald
pathetically; “I do. It’s a mixture of Keats, Thompson, Browning,
Shakespeare—-”

“And Priggs,” finished Una.

“No, by Jove–that’s the only thing it doesn’t contain, unless you
call halting verse and interminable poems Priggian,” said the young
man gaily. “Well, go on with the list, Cecilia.”

“Dr. Larcher is going to give us a reading,” said Cecilia, who had
been listening to the analysis with a quiet smile, “and Mr. Pemberton
sings a sea song; I think that’s all, except Miss Busky and Simon
Ruller.”

“Last, but not least,” remarked Una lightly. “The programme is
excellent–let us hope the performers will be as good. It’s next week,
isn’t it?”

“No; on Thursday fortnight,” answered Cecilia. “Oh, I forgot, the
choir sings a glee.”

“And you play a piece, of course,” said Reginald gravely. “This is
capital. Well, now we’ve finished business, let us go in for pleasure.
I want you to play me the ‘Cujus animam.'”

“What for?” asked Una.

“I’m anxious to try my voice,” said Blake to her in a low tone, while
Miss Mosser turned to the organ. “You know why–you must give me your
candid opinion about it–so go down to the end of the church and tell
me what you think.”

“I’ll be a very severe critic,” observed Una, as she went away.

“The more so the better,” called out Blake; “don’t spare me–imagine
you’re the _Musical Times_.”

Una laughed, and ensconced herself in a comfortable pew at the far
end of the church just near the white marble font.

The quaint old church, with its high oaken roof and narrow,
stained-glass windows with their vivid tints, was filled with great
masses of shadow, which produced a faint, misty twilight, eminently
suited to the sacred character of the place. At intervals on either
side of the wide nave arose the heavy, grey stone pillars, their
elaborately carved entablatures being hardly apparent in the
semi-gloom overhead.

The flags of the centre aisle, worn by the feet of pious generations,
made a broad path of whitish tint leading up to the chancel, ending at
a flight of long, shallow steps, in the centre of which stood the
brass lectern, in the form of an eagle. Between the nave and the
chancel was a lance-shaped arch, on which gleamed a slender ribbon of
gold, inscribed with a biblical text in vermillion. The sombre
appearance of the choir seats, with their overhanging canopies, was
somewhat relieved by the white glimmer of the communion table carved
out of pure marble, on which stood a large crucifix of ebony, looking
black and sharply defined against the great painted window at the
back. Through the fantastically painted windows, with their bizarre
figures of red, yellow and green, crept the grey light of the day, but
suddenly a shaft of sunshine burst into the church, touching the tomb
of a crusader with rainbow tints, while from the tall organ-pipes
flashed gleams of golden fire. All was faint and shadowy, like the
confusion of a dream, and the dusky atmosphere seemed to be filled
with the subtle perfume of the incense which had curled up from silver
censers in the old Romish days.

Through the sombre shadows stole the rich, swelling notes of the organ
which woke to life under the skilful fingers of the blind girl. A few
great notes pealed from the mighty mouths of the pipes–Cecilia played
the majestic melody, which floated grandly through the church–and
then the volume of melodious sound sank downward to a low-breathed
whisper as Blake began the “Cujus animam” with one resonant note which
rang out like the sound of a silver trumpet.

“Cujus animam gementem
Contristantur et dolentem
Pertransivit gladius.”

The voice of the singer seemed to float high in the air like that of
some unseen angel hidden in the golden clouds, while far below the
roll and thunder of the organ seemed to rise and fall like sullen
surges beating upon a lonely shore. Una closed her eyes as that superb
voice with its penetrating sweetness rang out the mournful words with
an intensity of dramatic feeling which went to her very soul with its
strong religious fervour. As the last note died away Una heard a voice
behind her say “Bravo,” and on turning her head saw Dr. Nestley
standing close to her accompanied by a tall dark man whom she
recognized at once as Basil Beaumont.