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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