O VER the old church-tower passed the rooks, on their way from the neighboring trees, cawing into the fresh morning air as they went. Dew hung yet upon every stone of the building,—on the bits of moss and grass which time had suffered to creep over or between them, here and there,—on the edges of the tombs below. There was no one astir at this early hour of an autumn day to speak to or interrupt the dark-eyed Geronimo, as he strode hurriedly up the pathway to the porch, the church-keys dangling from his hand, and slightly clanking against each other as he stepped.
Behind him followed a rough-haired country lad, but at a little distance, and silent. He had a stick in his hand, however, with which he began to whisk off the wet from the grass-blades of the graves on each side the path; but at one turn and glance from Geronimo, he desisted.
Soon the key was in the lock, the bolt had turned, grating, back; the heavy door was pushed open, the shock echoing through the building; and Geronimo and little Roger, the mason's son, his companion, were walking up the aisle; on one side of which, at the upper end, in a small transept, stood the organ and choir-seats.
Let me recall that lonely village, nestling in a narrow valley on the borders of Southern Wales, traversed by a rapid streamlet, which ran through it like a silver thread; rich in orchards, embosomed in ancient trees, where rooks had built their nests for generations; where the cuckoo's voice reverberated from surrounding hills.
At one extremity was the church, at the other the quiet vicarage; so that the flock were wont to watch about their doorways for the passing by of the Pastor to his sacred office, that they might follow and enter with him into the ark of the visible church on earth, he leading them on their way. It was a pretty custom and a pleasant sight; there was a tone of loyal respect and trust about it, which social progress has, it is to be feared, some tendency to disturb.
Let me recall the old Pastor himself, in his happy, scholarly simplicity; the serenity of submission on his face, for he had undergone a life's long grief. Let me recall him in the days when the time was drawing near for the silver chord to be broken, and when his visions brought him closer and closer to the day of reunion with his dearly beloved Italian wife, who had died when their only child, Geronimo, was but five years old.
And Geronimo was now his father's curate; a youth fresh from the schools; energetic, enthusiastic, determined even to self-will, a worshipper of system and order; one who had taken for his motto the words of the poet:
The father, on the other hand, past middle-age, was old for his years; for the fire of his spirit had died out, but the power of his intellect remained unaltered, as is often the case in fine natures; and an originally widely educated judgment grew wider and gentler as the river of his life widened out to the everlasting sea.
He doubted about his son's motto, therefore, as a universal rule of life. It had to be considered, said he, whether the "right" you followed, or the "consequence" you scorned, was of the greater vital importance. There was a right and a wrong—he once added as a homely illustration—in the way of cutting a pencil; but if you have to deal with a weak-leaded one, which would not bear long shoulders without breaking, it was better to cut it with short shoulders than waste it altogether. If he had to choose a motto himself, it must be from the broader teaching of St. Paul.
Geronimo listened in impatience. He thought his father's argument a letting down of principle, the homely illustration trivial, and with regard to St. Paul, everybody knew that texts could be found to support most anything.
It stood thus, then, that the father admired the son for his strength of purpose and purity of intention, yet sometimes wondered what his future would be; but that the son never properly appreciated the father, except for his amiability to himself. He thought him a kind but feeble old man, behindhand in the lights of the day.
And it was true that while Geronimo had passed from school to college, his father had remained in the narrow valley; and while the kaleidoscope of public opinion was presenting fresh combinations of thought and feeling to the gaze and admiration of the ardent young, the old man was out of the circle of their influence, and judged of them afar off with the mind of a philosopher.
It was, perhaps, a rash arrangement that Geronimo should have come to be his father's curate; but he had made the offer, and the old man had accepted it with tears of joy. There was, in fact, between them a strong natural affection, overruling all theoretical differences of opinion, as well as a strong sense of parental and filial duty. There was also, perhaps, some hope on both sides of influencing each other for good; and there was, moreover, the unspoken bond of common interest in one grave.
The triangular white marble slab on the chancel-wall of the church bore upon it a name which to both father and son was still the dearest name upon earth, "Maria Maddalena:"—to the old man naturally so, who through so many years had lifted up weary, loving eyes to the golden letters in which it was traced, travelling in spirit to that heaven of heavens whither the taper central angle of the tablet continually pointed.
And the son had his own recollections—dim ones of old embraces from that mother who had so soon passed away—vivid ones of looking upwards to that tablet from his seat in church ever since he was a child—of gazing on the shining words, and the shining emblems above them, the palm branches, the cross, and the star, until their glitter first dazzled and then brought tears to his eyes. Had he tried, by gazing, to get nearer to the bearer of that golden name—the mother, whom every motherless child feels to want so much? Had he hoped to charm her back, he knew not whence, to comfort him, he knew not how?
He could not have answered himself. Children do and feel many things of which they can give no account, and the why, matters so little in comparison with the fact.
Enough that the long-cherished habit of love to the pure white marble slab remained as firm in Geronimo's heart, as if he had been able to reason about its propriety, and justify it by argument.
Judge, then, what he must have suffered, when, on his first coming to the place, as curate, he felt it his duty to ask permission of his father to have that tablet removed to some other part of the church!
Let us go back to that time, some nine months before that of my story, for it was the beginning of Geronimo's practical troubles.
It was a painful scene that took place; Geronimo's voice trembled as he made the request, and his father's heart-wrung "Never!" was followed by a silence equally distressing to both. Then the old man asked for reasons, and the young one gave them. The kaleidoscope had brought certain proprieties into full observation which had for some time been unnoticed—there was no doubt about that. The tablet was on a wall within the communion rails; it would have been better elsewhere. Private memorials were inappropriate there. Geronimo thought them inappropriate in the church anywhere—the father disputed this—it was the ark of the dead as well as of the living; but were the matter to be done over again, he would place the stone without the rails in preference; as it was, there was no vital principle involved—no sufficient reason, therefore, for the desecrating act of removal.
The son returned to the argument. His father had admitted the objection; was it not then clearly an act of duty to sacrifice personal feeling to the example of right—whether the right were small or great?
"Measure me the measure of right," cried the troubled father, "as compared with the impressions it will cause. You cannot drive straight lines through life without knocking over good feelings as well as bad ones, and woe to those who knock down what little there is of good in the world!"
"The right way is a narrow way," replied the son; "to trim to the prejudices of the ignorant is to sacrifice principle to man-pleasing." There was more said in the shape of argument than needs to be repeated here—let every one fight the matter out as he will. On the following day, the father had come to a resolution.
"When I am gone," said he to his son, "and my name is added to hers on the tablet, you may remove it to where you will; and even now, if, on hearing this, you remain offended, you may remove it at once. I warn you, however, that it is my belief your doing so will cause evil rather than good among those whose souls' health you are bound to consider. You cannot get them to understand your motives, and they will abominate the act. What you lose will be far more, therefore, than what you will gain. Of my personal feelings I say nothing. On that point I suspect we suffer together. Now, then, do as you please."
If the father hoped, by yielding a point so trying to himself, to set Geronimo an example of giving way, he deceived himself. Geronimo did not accept what he said as an example, but as an acknowledgment of an error that needed rectifying. About any consequences to other people he refused to think at all. Consequences were nothing in matters of duty and principle.
So he went to Roger, the village-mason, explained what he wanted, and gave his orders, announcing his intention of coming himself to assist. But the man stared in astonishment. "You ben't in earnest surely, sir?" said he. "Surely you're never going to pull down your own mother's tombstone? Why, it'll break the old gentleman's heart—and she such a woman as she was!"
"My father has given his consent," said Geronimo, annoyed, but not betraying the smallest impatience.
Roger the mason shook his head, and took up a tool he had laid down, as if intending to return to his work.
"You'll excuse me, Mr. Geronimo; you've, maybe, persuaded him to it. Young people will be young people, I know," remarked Roger; "though it's a downright miracle to me why you should want to do it—you, the lady's only son; and such a lady as she was!"
"It's out of no disrespect to my mother, I assure you," expostulated Geronimo.
"I should think not, indeed!" interrupted the mason.
"But," continued Geronimo, "we have all to sacrifice personal feelings, you know, in matters of right and wrong."
Geronimo paused; but the mason was silent—he had no idea what was meant.
"Or where there is a question of propriety in the treatment of holy places," continued the youth; but still the mason stared at him in silence.
"You don't understand me, I think," said Geronimo.
"I'm free to own I don't," answered the mason.
"Will you let me come in and explain myself?" asked the young man.
"Your father's son is welcome in my house at any time!" cried Roger, who had at last got hold of an idea he could fully understand; and leading the way along a narrow passage, he ushered his guest into a small parlour, to which he presently called his wife down, having asked permission for her to share in what Mr. Geronimo was going to say.
But let Mr. Geronimo say what he would, neither of his hearers succeeded in comprehending him, though, to do them justice, they tried. There they sat, the mason holding his cap in both hands between his knees, slightly stooping, but looking up at Geronimo from time to time; his wife bolt upright, and never taking her eyes off him for a second. And still they didn't understand!
They had two or three ideas of their own in their heads, it is true, which were adverse to Mr. Geronimo's arguments, and perhaps darkened their powers of comprehension. "The Mrs.," as they called her, had been an angel on earth, if ever there was one, and no place could be too good for her stone, they were sure, for wasn't she herself in heaven?—at least, who would ever get there if she wasn't there? And the poor dear gentleman had stood under it every Sunday ever since she was taken, and who'd have the heart to deprive him of the comfort of feeling her so near? If that stone were to be taken away, they shouldn't have him there much longer—Mr. Geronimo might depend upon that!
Roger's good woman declared she wouldn't see the poor gentleman standing there alone, as if he'd never had a wife, for all the world, if she could help it. Take down his own mother's tombstone! as if her name wasn't a credit anywhere, and a good example into the bargain—Mr. Geronimo couldn't be thinking of what he was saying! And Roger protested that if he never had another job in all his life, he wouldn't have this. But Mr. Geronimo was young, put in the wife, and hadn't come to his feelings; he would think better of it presently. They wished him a very good morning, and hoped he would call again.
Mr. Geronimo bit his lips as he left the house. Learning!—authority!—what had become of them? What had he done with them? What could he have done with them against such stolid country heads? Entirely spoilt into the bargain, thought he—the fruit of taking things easy. There was but one hope of cure—to go the way you thought right, and leave such people to get reconciled to it as they could. Explanation and reasoning!—he was ashamed of having tried them. The people had treated him like a child.
So he crossed the hills next morning, and rode ten miles, to the nearest town, where he engaged a marble-mason to come over and remove the tablet. But Sunday intervened, and as it chanced, his father was ill, and he had to stand in his place under the tablet in the chancel.
And all at once, while there, there flashed into his mind one, at any rate, of the words which Roger the mason had spoken—quite an unreasonable word, be it granted, but reason, even in the most reasoning men, is not always a match for feeling, and Geronimo was suddenly unnerved.
The Gospel for the day contained the brief, pathetic history of the widow of Nain; and crossed as all the incidents were—for he was the only son of a yet living father, and it was the mother who was dead—every word seemed to touch his case, and he had a sensation as if the Maria Maddalena of his childhood was looking down over his head from the tablet he was preparing to remove. He actually shuddered. What if his father were about to die too?
Yet, what really overwhelmed him, little as he knew it, was the contrast which made itself felt between the hardness of his own attempted system and the sympathy which breathed out of the Gospel page. The Saviour had driven the money-changers from the temple, it is true, with the hand of indignant power; but there was no question of the world's vile desecrating traffic in that still marble monument on the wall.
Geronimo did not think it all out then, nor till long afterwards, but in steeling himself to set a point of—let it be granted—ecclesiastical propriety above the much weightier matter of human sympathy, and a regard for moral results on others, he had followed the Pharisees of old, rather than Him who imposed none but necessary burdens on the tremulous human mind.
Nevertheless his resolution had received a shock, and he was up betimes next morning to meet the marble-mason on his way. He had altered his intentions, he told him, with respect to the tablet, but there was another little matter of restoration in the church which he wished him to undertake.
And now Geronimo breathed freely again, and met his father at breakfast with an easy mind. He therefore spoke quite cheerfully of the proposed restoration of a Knight Templar's tomb, which had long been in disorder, and alluded to the marble-mason from the town as being there.
A cry from his father interrupted him.
"Geronimo!—that marble-mason!—have you really had the heart to——" Here breath failed the old man, and he turned very pale.
"No, no!" cried Geronimo, passionately, for he knew what was meant.
"It is well," murmured the father. "I gave you leave, I know; but, Geronimo, I doubt if I could have borne it. One gets weaker as one gets older; and, with weak people as with ignorant ones, the grasshopper is sometimes a burden."
If Geronimo could but have recollected this! But he had seen so little of life and the world himself, that he could scarcely help being one-sided and narrow-minded; and as he would not avail himself of his father's wider knowledge, what remained but to make mistakes?
So, priding himself on an inflexible firmness in matters of "principle," however small, he confounded together things indifferent and important; did even wise ones foolishly; and attempted others which were neither wise, nor worth a hundredth part of the offence they created.
"We are to 'be hated of all men for His name's sake,' " quoted he, in justification of the course he was pursuing.
"His name's sake!" I dare not record the trivialities he dignified upon that sacred ground.
But on one or two points the father interfered authoritatively, and then domestic disagreement arose. Now Geronimo had thought scorn of Roger the mason for not yielding to his better knowledge and authoritative position, as a matter of course. Yet here, where to the counsellor was added father as well as priest, and to the knowledge of the schools the broader experiences of a long and varied life, it came quite natural to this mere lad by comparison, to think, and betray the thought, that he knew a thousand times the better of the two. Verily, if a little of the old heathen respect for the wisdom of grey hairs had been added to his theological dogmas, Geronimo's Christianity would not have suffered.
"And a man's foes shall be they of his own household," murmured the old man to himself in the bitterness of his heart, as he wondered whether it would not soon be his duty to send this his only son from his side. For how could he be justified in letting the clouds of miserable parties and party feelings gather into a storm?
But now Geronimo, too, awoke to the fact that such a storm threatened. The gossip spread on every side that father and son did not always agree, and the flock were not likely to be unanimous. The wicked natural man loves contest; the weak natural man loves excitement.
An expression of partizanship to himself, coupled with disrespect for his father, awoke Geronimo to a sense of his position, if it did not explain his mistake. And on looking further round, his tender conscience was grieved. The old confidence was broken up, the old love was failing—whether with or without a reason was not the question now. What could be the cause? What was the remedy? Perhaps he had been too busy with his plans and changes to have made himself as much a personal friend as was desirable.
He redoubled his exertions and visits, endeavoured to conciliate on all sides; but, somehow, something was wanting. If from long habit a good many still came out to follow himself and his father to church, they did so at a greater and greater distance. Only a few came up now to claim the friendly greeting, which he remembered as part of the Sunday's intercourse in the days of his childhood. Geronimo was puzzled.
Yet, if the kaleidoscope had but turned round for contemplation that crystal from the wisdom of St. Paul, "Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died," he would have known the cause of estrangement, and how to apply a cure. As it was, an idea at once bright and kind struck him, and he lost no time in carrying it out with zeal.
Geronimo was musical—he had been so from childhood upwards—had introduced better music as well as greater beauty into the venerable old church; and for both these things the people were grateful, as they ought to be.
He would make use of this happily universal feeling; he would give a treat to high and low—would have a festival; they should keep holiday with singing and gladness and feasting; and the day should be his father's birthday. He would dispel the dreadful and mischievous idea that the house to which all the parish looked for example, was divided against itself!
Never was a happier thought struck out! It furnished occupation for hearts, and minds, and hands; and the old folks, who could do nothing but talk, had a harmless subject of conversation. Eh dear, then, Mr. Geronimo and his father were as friendly as ever! It had all been a mistake about their not agreeing. Eh! how pleased the old gentleman looked, to be sure, when he called, here and there, to ask them if they were going to get ready! Why, he was helping everybody to trim themselves up in their best for the grand supper there was to be at the end. And on the old gentleman's birthday, and all! It was something to think of ! They were glad!"
And so they were; but so also, only more deeply so, were father and son, for they felt reunited.
And now the time drew near, and only one small contradiction had arisen. The organ was not so perfectly in tune as to please Geronimo's delicate ear; and when, nearly at the last moment, he wrote over for the one organ-builder of the distant town, he found, to his dismay, that the man was absent, and would be so till the day after the festival.
The evil was slight, and the father entreated Geronimo to be satisfied: so few would discover the imperfection. But Geronimo could not rest; his passionate love of order was offended; and it must be owned that the instinct is a good one. "In the beginning," the will of God brought an organised world out of elemental confusion. In the end, we hope He will bring harmony into the discordant world of spirits.
And in the present life men may, each one in his degree, labour to the same good end. It is both their privilege and their duty to do so. Lawyers, physicians, statesmen, men of science, and, above all, divines, undertake to do it by their very professions. Entangled claims, diseased bodies, disturbed nations, complicated physical laws and distressed souls, all need the peace that comes with being ordered aright. In Geronimo the instinct was almost a passion; but of the judicious application of means to the blessed end, he did not know a great deal more than of how to bring the organ of the village church into the desired perfection of tune.
Nevertheless, he knew something of that, for he had been present when the organ-builder had tuned the instrument before, had observed the process of widening or narrowing the mouths of the pipes in order to change their tone, and had since ventured on correcting a defective note or two himself.
What was to hinder him from tuning the whole of them now, if he could but ascertain the order in which the guiding scale of notes was made perfect? To bring all the rest into unison with that would be no difficulty, for he could perfectly trust his ear. The difficulty was, to get at the first principles of the matter. The youth who played the organ when Geronimo's duties precluded his assistance, knew nothing of the subject.
But Geronimo would not be baffled. The day before the festival he crossed the hills to the town, and called at a musical-instrument maker's shop. Could they give him, he asked, the succession of notes by which organs were tuned?
Mr. Somebody asked Mr. Somebody else, and there was a reference to an authority through a door. The shopman, who was left behind, eyed Geronimo askance. Was he in their line of business? he wondered. Presently the other man returned, and presented him with a bit of music-paper, on which twenty notes were marked down.
"These are the notes, sir," said he, rather coolly as if he, too, half suspected a rival. "The same as for a pianoforte—as, of course, you know," he added, with a half-enquiring look.
Geronimo disliked familiarity, and gave a half-impatient nod.
"Mr. —— desired me to say, with his compliments, sir," continued the messenger, "he supposed you're aware it's a difficult business, organ-tuning, to any one that hasn't practised it."
"Has your master practised it?" enquired Geronimo, with a new hope.
"Oh, no, sir," replied the man, who himself did duty as master on the other side of the door; "we're pianoforte-tuners only, sir."
"What does the fool mean?" thought Geronimo, as he walked away. "A difficult business it may be to the man without an ear, but easy enough otherwise, with the clue in his hand. Thank Heaven, there is the comfort of certainty in dealing with material things! Fixed laws, and fixed results! Not that everlasting trimming and yielding, which leaves every work one undertakes imperfect at last!"
As Geronimo mused thus, and read over the clearly-defined system by which his organ was to be brought into that harmonious order which we call "being in tune," he almost felt that an organ-builder's business was a more satisfactory one than a clergyman's.
There was still the little brass cone, used for widening or contracting the pipes, to be obtained; but this he asked for at the organ-builder's establishment—no remark passing there on what it was wanted for; and then Geronimo hurried home.
And now it will be understood what took the young curate to the church so early, on the morning of that autumn festival-day. He had begun, but not nearly completed, the tuning of the organ the evening before, having gone to it as soon as he could make an excuse to leave his father again; for the bold feat was to be kept secret till its successful accomplishment proved how wisely it had been undertaken. And now it must be finished before breakfast; for the decorations were to be brought in afterwards, and he himself had a thousand other things to do.
For two hours and upwards therefore, did he persevere in his anxious work; his greatest trouble being the special care required in the mechanical part, inasmuch as a hasty or too heavy insertion of the cone into the mouths of the pipes was liable to split the metal and do mischief. But Geronimo kept every faculty on the full stretch of attention, and his perfect ear made the bringing of the notes into correct harmony a matter of no trouble at all, but, on the contrary, of the keenest pleasure.
And the instrument was more glaringly out of order than he had supposed. His father had fancied it was only a little out of tune, and he himself had not thought the disorder very great. But now that he tested it by the scale, almost every note was wrong, and must be altered. A few of the octaves harmonised together, it is true; but all the fifths were either too flat or too sharp. That not one should have remained perfect by accident, as several of the octaves had done, puzzled him not a little; but the fact of their all being imperfect, more or less, was undeniable. What a blessing he had it in his power to remedy the evil!
Yes; for two hours and upwards did the work go on; the occasional drone of the pipes vibrating drearily through the aisles, and almost causing little Roger to fall asleep at his post of the blower. At last, however, every octave had been gone through, had been brought into perfect unison with the perfected scale of the twenty notes, and Geronimo's labours were over!
"Roger," cried he to the child, whose blowing efforts were perceptibly failing.
"Blow steadily and strongly now, for ten minutes more, and you shall go home to breakfast. Fill the bellows, there's a good lad."
Roger worked his arms vigorously, and the bellows were soon full.
"It's all right now, please, sir," said he.
Geronimo had his eyes on a piece of music open on the desk before him. It was Haydn's Mass in five flats—his dream of beauty among all the classical music of the world. As Roger spoke, the young curate bent forward, and struck down the full magnificent chords of the key.
But almost as he struck them, he uttered a cry, which it was well the louder organ sounds drowned, or Roger would have thought Geronimo mad—a cry of both despair and physical distress. As it was, something startled the lad, and he let go the blowing handle with a jerk. It ran up at once, and the organ notes died out in a mournful squeal.
As to Geronimo, it would be difficult to describe what he did. He was off the stool in an instant, shouting to Roger to know if he had broken the bellows; then back again to retouch the expiring notes, and see if he had been under a delusion, or if he had struck the instrument at random. But no, no, no! Then how—by what miracle—could he account for the fact that his touch upon that chord had filled the air with dissonant vibrations—horrible to the most untutored ear, but to his refined one absolutely insufferable? Chord indeed! the very word was a mockery; what he had struck was a clash of discords.
Human nature itself had never puzzled Geronimo half as much!
After the first agony was over, he examined the matter with all the calmness and care he could command—made Roger blow again—tried other chords in succession—but in all cases with the same result, in a greater or less degree. Once more, then, he got out the tuning-scale—once more ran over the guiding twenty notes: there was not a single flaw, not one; not a varying vibration could be heard; and all the others were in unison with those. And then again he struck a chord, and the chord was no chord at all.
He next examined the pipes: perhaps he had cracked all their mouths with his cone. But no, there was not a split in any one of them; he had been far too careful for that. And now time was getting on, and Roger was half starved. A knocking had already been heard at one of the doors. The decorators must be let in, and he must go home to his breakfast and his father. Geronimo's face, as he locked up the organ and put the keys in his pocket, looked ten years older than it had done before he had begun his work. He gave Roger half-a-crown, as a treat for the day, and hastened home.
It is difficult to reckon on the conduct of any one under the trial of having made a great mistake. Some people fight meanly to get out of a little fault, as if self-conceit was the leading principle of their lives, but humble themselves nobly under a great one; and this was the case with Geronimo.
He went at once to his father, and told him all he had done, blaming himself more bitterly than his father would allow he deserved. But he did more than that; he stepped into many houses that morning, both of farmers and shopkeepers, and told them they must forgive him for being the cause of what he feared would be a great disappointment. He had wanted to make the organ better, and he had, unfortunately, done something to it which had made it worse; and as he could not find out what was amiss, it couldn't be remedied. He would get the choir to make amends by singing their very best, and he would help them all he could himself. He begged that the blunder might not be allowed to spoil the pleasure of the day.
Unaccountable human race! we ought indeed to be patient, one with the other! Geronimo had not received so many smiles in all the time he had been curate as now, when he was carrying round the painful message of his own defeat.
It was wonderful! Kind words were on every lip; not a reproach was heard. It had been so good of Mr. Geronimo to try. They were sure it couldn't have been his fault, but something had gone wrong of itself. Anyhow, they didn't mind at all, and hoped he wouldn't trouble himself. They should hear him sing all the plainer for there being no music besides; and, as for that piece the old Master had talked about so much, they hoped he'd be so good as to play it to them some other day. They begged he wouldn't mind—that was all!
Geronimo felt crowned with roses, for his frankness, if not for the error he had committed; and service, feast, and festival were kept with unclouded comfort, bringing a promise of further comfort in store—a better understanding of what was meant on all sides.
And now for the explanation. Neither father nor son could unravel the mystery. The only guess even that they could make was, that the man at the music-shop might have given them a wrong scale to work by. It was not a bad idea, and it served to keep them quiet till the organ-builder, whom they sent for at once, came over. He was an odd, sententious old man, with a good deal of dry humour. So when he got into the church, and touched the fatal organ, he first chuckled and then laughed outright.
Were the bellows out of order? Were the pipes injured? Was the scale incorrect? Was the tuning imperfect? Geronimo's questions fell thick and fast.
"Nothing of the sort, young gentleman," said the organ-builder to every suggestion. "There's only one thing the matter—but it's everything—the tuning's too perfect by half!"
Both Geronimo and his father stared, to the organ-builder's great delight.
"You don't seem to have heard of this before, gentlemen," observed he; "but it's a fact, nevertheless. The scale's all right; the system's perfect: but if you stick too close to it, it sets you wrong. The organ won't bear it, that's the fact."
"Not bear being put into perfect tune?" asked Geronimo, really astonished. "How is that possible?"
"Because it's an imperfect instrument, sir," answered the organ-builder; "and that being the case, you have to make the best you can of it, and not expect to get it perfect, for that's not possible."
Here he took up the scale paper, and went on to explain that most of the fifths must be left somewhat flat, and the few others made somewhat sharp; the octaves alone being tuned in perfect unison. And this was the best plan, he assured them, of getting a harmonious whole—"not perfect, I grant, even then," added he, "but pretty fair for this present life, gentlemen, you see."
Geronimo listened in silence. A system of expediency in the material world, and in music especially, seemed to him monstrous. He sat silently by, too, while the organ-builder made his preparations for repairing the mischief that had been done. He father slipt away, as silent as himself, though possibly he made his own reflections before he went.
But Geronimo sat silently on, till at last the organ-builder began to tune the fifths, leaving each one flat in succession; and then he could contain himself no longer. He got up, but only to sit down again, and then rose once more.
"This is most trying!" he exclaimed. "As unsatisfactory to the mind as the ear! To have a perfect system to go by" (here he pointed to the scale of twenty notes) "and not be allowed to carry it perfectly out, though ear and heart rebel against the disorder! To have an evil under your very hand to be remedied, and be obliged to suffer it still. I call this dreadful!"
The organ-builder stopped his work, to listen and reply:—
"It's not very pleasant, I admit," said he, "but there's one thing worse—to find you've worked so hard for the system, that you've missed the end it was made for."
"A perfect system ought to work out a perfect end," murmured Geronimo.
But the organ-builder shook his head. "Not if the instrument isn't perfect too," persisted he; "there's sure to be a cross somewhere."
Drone went another pipe, another imperfect fifth was tuned, and the organ-builder made another pause. He was a very sententious man and liked to explain all round his subject.
"It's the same all through life," observed he; "the best rules, even, short of Gospel rules, of course, mustn't be pressed too close; neither man nor organ can bear it. If we were all up in heaven it might be different."
In spite of himself Geronimo smiled, and the smile did him good. "What a choice of evils!" said he.
"Can't be otherwise," remarked his companion, "so long as things are all imperfect together—men and organs—and perhaps even rules too, sometimes."
Geronimo shook his head, but the organ-builder did not notice it, and went back to his tuning as cheerful as if no such thing as a sad necessity existed in the world. And Geronimo went on listening to the unsatisfactory sounds, musing the while thereupon.
. . . Irregularity—inconsistency—contradictions even—were as rife then in the material world as in the spiritual—must be borne with—allowed for—made the best of—in the one case as in the other. The organ-builder's business was not so much more satisfactory than a clergyman's, after all! . . .
"Now, sir, you may play Haydn's Mass in five flats for as long as you please," observed the organ-builder, as he concluded the tuning, striking down the full chord of the key in proof of the fact: "the organ goes sweetly enough now."
And so it did—"sweetly enough," if not as perfectly as Geronimo could have desired; but he had had his lesson, and must henceforth be contented with something short of his ideal.
Nowhere in the lower nature, at least; and for the full development of the higher, he must wait in patience. But patience is the philosophy of experience: and even Geronimo attained it at last.