Page images
PDF
EPUB

ruined, the Paris Conservatoire was established in 1826, and attempts were made elsewhere to place the Maîtrises on their former footing. The cathedral of Rouen was too rich in musical traditions to be overlooked by those who had at heart the renovation of choral science, and by degrees, with effort, the old institution was once more established. To endow its purpose with vigour, restrictions were set aside, and instruction was not confined to any religious denomination.

Of all people in the world a musical enthusiast is the one who considers the end more than the means by which it is accomplished, and amongst musical enthusiasts, Monsieur Cantagrel of Rouen held a very high place. He was an intimate friend of the Abbé Ramier, and it so happened that he was with him one day, when he suddenly stopped in the midst of an animated conversation on the subject of his darling Maîtrise to listen to some sounds which proceeded from the court-yard below. They were the words of a song in a foreign language, and the singer was Walter.

He had gone that morning to see the abbé, as was his frequent custom, but access had been denied by Madame Gembloux, who said her master was too busy to be disturbed, and desired him to go away. Walter had no greater liking for the old gouvernante than she for all his family, and coolly told her that, as his time was of no consequence, he would wait till the abbé was disengaged. So he sat himself down on the brink of the old well in the court-yard, and amused himself as well as he was able. He would willingly have pelted Bijou, who held as small a place in his regard as Madame Gembloux, and she, for her part, would not have minded tumbling Walter into the well, if she could have done so with impunity; but as both the belligerent parties had their hands tied, they only sat and looked askance at each other, Madame Gembloux occupying the doorway of the house with her knitting, and thus effectually preventing Walter from gaining admission without her leave.

When a boy is balked of his purpose, and can't do the thing he wishes, he usually has recourse to whistling or singing. Walter beguiled the moments by an effort in the last-named department of art, his theme being the adventures of an elderly female whose reputation for tractability did not stand very high amongst her neighbours. That Walter applied the song to Madame Gembloux was plain enough, and though she could not by any possibility understand a word of it, he looked her full in the face while he sang, beginning in a very low key, and, as he grew bolder, gradually rising to the very top of his voice, for the amiable purpose of irritating her-a design in which he was quite successful. I wish, for the muse's sake, that Walter had selected a nobler specimen of the British ballad, but, to say the truth, his repertory was limited; moreover, he had learnt it from Rachel, which was quite enough to make it a favourite with him. So he began, with a running accompaniment of colloquy, in an under tone:

[ocr errors]

There was an old woman, and what do you Yes, you may look, Madame Gembloux

think?

What do you think?

She liv'd upon nothing but victuals and drink,
Victuals and drink-

Frogs and soupe maigre, Madame Gembloux,

were the chief of her dietthough I don't think you'd stick at roast beef and plum-pudding, if they came in your way, Madame Gembloux

Frogs and soupe maigre were the chief of her diet,
And yet this old woman"-

here he began to quaver in famous style

"would never-ne-ver, Never, never, never, ne-ve-e-e-r be quiet!

And that's what you never will be, old Madame Gembloux-ne-ver,

""

ne-ver-n-e-e

"Mon Dieu!" what a delicious organ," exclaimed Monsieur Cantagrel, who had placed himself at the abbe's window to listen, and was able no longer to control his admiration. "What a charming voice; but how very ill-regulated!"

Walter looked up and stopped, blushing all crimson to the very roots of his hair.

"Ill-regulated-ah," muttered Madame Gembloux-"not the voice only, but the good-for-nothing singer into the bargain."

This compliment, however, did not reach the ears of Monsieur Cantagrel.

"Who are you?" he called out.

But by this time the Abbé Ramier had also approached the window. "I can tell you," he said; "he is the son of my friend and neighbour, Monsieur Perrotin. What are you doing there, my little friend-why don't you come up ?"

"I wanted to do so, sir," replied Walter, "but Madame Gembloux said I couldn't."

"Madame Gembloux has no taste for singing, then," said Monsieur Cantagrel. "But never mind, give me that lovely song again in the open air."

In the presence of any one he knew, Walter could have sung all day unbidden, but when a stranger asked him he became dumb.

"Ah," said Monsieur Cantagrel, laughing, "he suffers from the usual malady: modesty, like the sight of a wolf, has taken away his voice. But you must sing again, and to me only. First of all, come here."

Walter did not refuse this request, but almost hustling Madame Gembloux, and literally treading on Bijou's tail, who began yelping, he ran up-stairs.

"And pray, my friend," said Monsieur Cantagrel, when the abbé had patted Walter on the head and presented him-" pray who taught you -I won't say to sing, for you know nothing about that-but to use your voice in that extraordinary manner?"

"I don't know, sir," answered Walter, as red as before-" I think I taught myself."

66

Ah, we must give you a better teacher. Should you like to learn?" "Very much, sir."

"And sing here, in our cathedral ?"

Walter hesitated. "I can only sing two or three English songs, sir. They won't do for the cathedral."

"Pardieu!" returned Monsieur Cantagrel, laughing again; "I should think not. You shall be accommodated with something better."

"Our little friend," said the abbé, aside, "is not of our Church. Monsieur Perrotin is a good Catholic, but the boy and his mother are Protestants."

"N'importe," was the rejoinder of the musical enthusiast. "He has the finest voice I ever heard at his age. We must have him in the Maîtrise."

Monsieur Perrotin and Rachel were forthwith consulted. It was stipulated at her earnest desire-indeed, without that she would not have consented that the teaching was to be purely secular, and' that being freely conceded by Monsieur Cantagrel, Walter forthwith became his pupil.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XVI.

THE ANGEL-CHORISTER.

A YEAR has gone by since the scene in the abbe's court-yard, and the most exulting individual in all Rouen is Monsieur Cantagrel. He has a threefold reason for rejoicing: in the first place, he was right about Walter's voice-nothing, people say, can compare with it; in the next, the praise bestowed on the singer is reflected on the teacher; and finally, there is the melody itself, which he enjoys as only a musical enthusiast

can.

Monsieur Perrotin, though he does not know a note of music, and cannot even sing through his nose-like the generality of his countrymen-takes great pride in Walter's newly developed accomplishment; Rachel is proud, too-at the same time she doubts whether she ought to let them make a chorister of Edith's son; the Abbé Ramier is glad, according to his custom, at all that gives pleasure to his friends; but Madame Gembloux, who understands nothing of philanthropy, puts up a secret prayer-for the five hundredth time-that the boy may break down on some very signal occasion.

That possible occasion at last presents itself.

It is the day of the Assumption of the Virgin, the most honoured festival of the Roman Catholic Church, and all the Faithful in Rouen crowd to the cathedral to witness the ceremonies which attend it: some, also, are there who cannot lay claim to that distinctive epithet, but belong as it were-to the Heathen.

Amongst the latter is a group of strangers, consisting of a gentleman of middle age, a lady in the prime of life, and a very beautiful girl, whose extremely youthful aspect, contrasting with her height, shows that she cannot yet be in her teens; these three are seated, and standing beside them is a man whose marked air of deference when he speaks betokens the valet de place of a very rich Englishman. The principal persons of the party are, indeed, English, not new to the Continent, but returning home from a long sojourn in Italy. To them a religious procession or a highly adorned festival are no novelty, but the lady has a passion for sacred music, and is piqued by what they have told her at her hotel of the wonders which have been wrought by the Maîtrise. "After the

Sistine Chapel!" she says, with a compassionate smile; "but no matter, we will go, Sir James." The gentleman thus appealed to, if left to the exercise of his own free will, would have taken post-horses for Dieppe or the steam-boat to Havre-whichever gave him the chance of reaching England soonest for the sights and sounds of Italy have been to him an infliction, and much rather would he have been on the moors with his setters than listening to the Miserere of Allegri beneath the dome of St. Peter's. In fact, although he has taken a long lease of one of the finest palaces in Rome, and has bought a villa at Frascati, he always comes home for his grouse, leaving his family in villeggiatura. He inwardly chafes now at the thoughts of having lost a whole week's shooting-it being already the 15th of August-but Miladi is of a somewhat imperious character, and what she wishes is always done; so, instead of pushing on, Sir James takes his hat and accompanies his wife and daughter to Rouen cathedral.

After all, no matter where you have been or whatever you may have seen or heard, that cathedral is worth the visit, whether pacing the aisles alone in the dim, religious, evening light, or standing amid the thronging multitude in the full blaze of the noontide sun as it streams through the coloured panes, with the censers swinging perfume on the air, and the vaulted roof echoing to the organ's solemn peal.

The strangers of whom we have spoken are so placed in one of the transepts that even if they cannot see beyond the screen of the choir, they are able to hear every note of the melody within, and critically Miladi addresses herself to the task of comparison. At first her acquiescence is placid yes, the maestro di capella understands his métier; the solo parts are very fairly executed; the ensemble is good; but to think of comparing the service with-Stay, what is that? Why does it seem as if a wave of sound, such as never had been heard before, floated alone somewhere beneath the vaulted canopy towards which every eye is now turned? Why does every one hold his breath to listen, mute rapture on every face? Hark, it rises-clear, sweet, and soul-sustaining-the hymn to the Virgin:

Ave maris stella,

Dei mater alma,

Atque semper virgo,
Felix cœli porta.

Surely that voice descends from heaven!

Again it fills the vault, and the golden motes in the sunbeams tremble with harmony.

It dies away, so softly, distantly, that "nothing lives 'twixt it and

silence !"

Mary Tunstall looks up with streaming eyes.

"That must be an angel, mamma!" she whispers.

Her mother does not answer: her own cheeks are wet.

Sir James, I am sorry to say, is thinking of the grouse: music always has the effect of directing his thoughts to the subject that, for the time, interests him most. If he had been hungry, he would have thought of his dinner.

Lady Tunstall makes no confession of her impressions, but when her handkerchief has performed its office she turns to the valet de place, who is greatly attendri by what he has witnessed, having a perfect command

of countenance, and asks him who it is to whom she has just been listening? As fifty priests, like so many bulls of Basan, are now striving to roar down the organ, private conversation may safely be resumed. The valet de place informs Miladi that it is a young pupil of Monsieur Cantagrel, the director of the Maîtrise-he reproaches himself for having forgotten the name (which he never knew) but he tells her, what is even more astonishing, that the singer is an English boy. Madame, besides, will be surprised to learn that he does not stand amongst the regular singers. No-he is up there-where everybody can see him! And the valet de place points to the triforium gallery above the choir, where Monsieur Cantagrel has hidden his pupil behind a richly-carved projection. More he cannot relate, for the deep diapason ceases, and again the thrilling melody of the angel-chorister awakens all to rapt attention.

Thus the service proceeds to its close, and but for the conduct of two of the congregation, I should have said the delight was universal. These two were Sir James Tunstall, who kept yawning, furtively, behind his hat, and Madame Gembloux, whose grim expression of countenance plainly declared that Walter's success was wormwood to her feelingsfigurative wormwood, not the preparation of absinthe which gave the suspicious tint to the tip of her nose.

Once in the cathedral, it could not, of course, be quitted without a complete examination. Indeed, the sacristain had kept too watchful an eye on the strangers ever since they entered the building, to allow them to depart without a taste of his quality as cicerone, and the moment the mass was ended and the celebrants were scudding away to change their garments, he presented himself and his keys. With this official character on the right, and the valet de place on the left, Lady Tunstall led the way -full of rapid inquiry, which was her habit everywhere--at a pace which soon left her husband and daughter far behind. They had just lost sight of her, and were looking about them to find where she had gone, when from a narrow doorway between two pillars, close to where they were standing, issued an elderly man and a handsome boy of about thirteen years old, who, seeing strangers so near, paused to let them pass.

As the boy wore a chorister's dress, and evidently came from the upper part of the building, it struck Mary Tunstall, who had heard the information given to her mother, that in him she beheld the unseen singer of the triforium gallery. With the impulse natural to her age she immediately spoke to him.

"It was you," she said, "who sang so beautifully during the mass! Tell me, if you please, what is your name ?"

The boy, as we have already seen, had a habit of blushing, and this sudden question, coupled with the excessive beauty of the girlish speaker, sent the crimson tide at once to his cheeks.

"My name," he returned, after a little hesitation, "is-Walter. What is yours ?"

“Oh, mine,” said Mary Tunstall, laughing-"mine is of no consequence; I can't sing the least in the world."

"I wish I couldn't," was Walter's quick reply, "if it prevents me from knowing who you are.

""

She blushed in her turn, as she answered:

« PreviousContinue »