The Chapel-Organist

(A.D. 185-)

I've been thinking it through, as I play here to-night, to play never again,
By the light of that lowering sun peering in at the window-pane,
And over the back-street roofs, throwing shades from the boys of the chore
In the gallery, right upon me, sitting up to these keys once more. . . .

How I used to hear tongues ask, as I sat here when I was new:
— Who is she playing the organ? She touches it mightily true! —
— She travels from Havenpool Town, — the deacon would softly speak,
— The stipend can hardly cover her fare hither twice in the week. —
(It fell far short of doing, indeed; but I never told,
For I have craved minstrelsy more than lovers, or beauty, or gold.)

'Twas so he answered at first, but the story grew different later:
— It cannot go on much longer, from what we hear of her now! —
At the meaning wheeze in the words the inquirer would shift his place
Till he could see round the curtain that screened me from people below.
— A handsome girl, — he would murmur, upstaring (and so I am).
— But — too much sex in her build; fine eyes, but eyelids too heavy;
A bosom too full for her age; in her lips too voluptuous a dye. —
(It may be. But who put it there? Assuredly it was not I.)

I went on playing and singing when this I had heard, and more,
Though tears half-blinded me; yes, I remained going on and on,
Just as I used me to chord and to sing at the selfsame time! . . .
For it's a contralto — my voice is; they'll hear it again here to-night
In the psalmody notes that I love far beyond every lower delight.
Well, the deacon, in fact, that day had learnt new tidings about me;
They troubled his mind not a little, for he was a worthy man.
(He trades as a chemist in High Street, and during the week he had sought
His fellow-deacon, who throve as a bookbinder over the way.)
— These are strange rumours, — he said. — We must guard the good name of the chapel.
If, sooth, she's of evil report, what else can we do but dismiss her? —
— — But get such another to play here we cannot for double the price! —
It settled the point for the time, and I triumphed awhile in their strait,
And my much-beloved grand semibreves went living on, pending my fate.

At length in the congregation more headshakes and murmurs were rife,
And my dismissal was ruled, though I was not warned of it then.
But a day came when they declared it. The news entered me as a sword;
I was broken; so pallid of face that they thought I should faint, they said.
I rallied. — O, rather than go, I will play you for nothing! — said I.
'Twas in much desperation I spoke it, for bring me to forfeit I could not
Those melodies chorded so richly for which I had laboured and lived.
They paused. And for nothing I played at the chapel through Sundays again,
Upheld by that art which I loved more than blandishments lavished of men.

But it fell that murmurs anew from the flock broke the pastor's peace.
Some member had seen me at Havenpool, comrading close a sea-captain.
(O yes; I was thereto constrained, lacking means for the fare to and fro.)
Yet God knows, if aught He knows ever, I loved the Old-Hundredth, Saint Stephen's,
Mount Zion, New Sabbath, Miles-Lane, Holy Rest, and Arabia, and Eaton,
Above all embraces of body by wooers who sought me and won! . . .
Next week 'twas declared I was seen coming home with a swain ere the sun.

The deacons insisted then, strong; and forgiveness I did not implore.
I saw all was lost for me, quite, but I made a last bid in my throbs.
My bent, finding victual in lust, men's senses had libelled my soul,
But the soul should die game, if I knew it! I turned to my masters and said:
— I yield, Gentlemen, without parlance. But — let me just hymn you once more!
It's a little thing, Sirs, that I ask; and a passion is music with me! —
They saw that consent would cost nothing, and show as good grace, as knew I,
Though tremble I did, and feel sick, as I paused thereat, dumb for their words.
They gloomily nodded assent, saying, — Yes, if you care to. Once more,
And only once more, understand. — To that with a bend I agreed.
— — You've a fixed and a far-reaching look, — spoke one who had eyed me awhile.
— I've a fixed and a far-reaching plan, and my look only showed it, — I smile.

This evening of Sunday is come — the last of my functioning here.
— She plays as if she were possessed! — they exclaim, glancing upward and round.
— Such harmonies I never dreamt the old instrument capable of! —
Meantime the sun lowers and goes; shades deepen; the lights are turned up,
And the people voice out the last singing: tune Tallis: the Evening Hymn.
(I wonder Dissenters sing Ken: it shows them more liberal in spirit
At this little chapel down here than at certain new others I know.)
I sing as I play. Murmurs some one: — No woman's throat richer than hers! —
— True: in these parts, — think I. — But, my man, never more will its richness outspread. —
And I sing with them onward: — The grave dread as little do I as my bed. —

I lift up my feet from the pedals; and then, while my eyes are still wet
From the symphonies born of my fingers, I do that whereon I am set,
And draw from my — full round bosom — (their words; how can I help its heave?)
A bottle blue-coloured and fluted — a vinaigrette, they may conceive —
And before the choir measures my meaning, reads aught in my moves to and fro,
I drink from the phial at a draught, and they think it a pick-me-up; so.
Then I gather my books as to leave, bend over the keys as to pray.
When they come to me motionless, stooping, quick death will have whisked me away.

— Sure, nobody meant her to poison herself in her haste, after all! —
The deacons will say as they carry me down and the night shadows fall,
— Though the charges were true, — they will add. — It's a case red as scarlet withal! —
I have never once minced it. Lived chaste I have not. Heaven knows it above! . . .
But past all the heavings of passion — it's music has been my life-love! . . .
That tune did go well — this last playing! . . . I reckon they'll bury me here. . . .
Not a soul from the seaport my birthplace — will come, or bestow me . . . a tear.
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