The Abbey Recital

Now that Ingred had at last made friends with Bess, she found they had innumerable subjects of interest in common. They were both keen tennis players, dabbled a little in art, pursued Nature study, liked acting, when they had any opportunity of showing their talents in that line, and were enthusiastic over music. Bess was making as good progress on the violin as Ingred on the piano, so there seemed great possibilities of playing together. Sometimes when Bess brought her instrument to school for her lesson, she and Ingred would try over a few pieces, and other girls who chanced to be near would collect and act audience.

“I vote we get up a musical society next year,” suggested Ingred. “It’s impossible this term⁠—we’ve too much on our hands already⁠—but if the societies are rearranged in September, we’ll agitate to let music take a much bigger place than it has done so far.”

“Yes, that would be glorious!” agreed Bess, with visions of a school choir, and even a school orchestra, dancing before her eyes. “Signor Chianti is leaving Grovebury, so if we have a new violin master next term, I hope it will be somebody who’s enthusiastic and able and willing to organize things.”

“That’s the point, of course. Dr. Linton is very able, but not willing to bother with us beyond our lessons⁠—he’s so frightfully busy. I suppose he feels that after training the Abbey choir, and conducting choral societies to sing his cantatas, he doesn’t care to trouble himself over schoolgirls.”

“He’s a real musician, though. I often wish I could study under him. I’d love to play something with him, just once, to see how it feels to have him accompany me. I think it would be so inspiring, it would just make one let oneself go! I stay every Sunday evening after service at the Abbey to hear his recitals. Occasionally somebody plays the violin, and his accompaniment is simply gorgeous. He manages to make it sound like a whole orchestra. I’ve never played with an organ. It’s so much fuller than a piano.”

“Yes,” agreed Ingred contemplatively.

Bess’s remarks had given her an idea, but she did not want to communicate it at once to her friend. It was nothing more or less than that she should ask Dr. Linton to allow Bess to play with him some time in the Abbey. She wondered whether she dared. His temper was still decidedly irritable, and it was quite uncertain whether he would receive the suggestion graciously, or snap her head off. She thought, however, it was worth venturing.

“I’ll try to catch him in an amiable mood,” she decided.

In order not to arouse any grounds for irritation, she practiced particularly well, and took her next work to him at a high stage of excellence.

“Bravo!” he said, when she had finished her “Serenade.” “I believe you’ve really got some music in you! You brought out that crescendo passage very well indeed. We want a little more delicacy in these arpeggios, and then it will do. Your touch has improved very much lately.”

It was so seldom that her master launched forth into praise, that Ingred colored with pleasure. Now certainly seemed the time, if ever⁠—to put in a word for Bess.

“Oh, Dr. Linton, may I ask you to do something for me?” she blurted out.

He thrust back his hair with a mock-pathetic gesture.

“What is it?” he inquired humorously. “Another autograph album? Or a subscription? I’ve grown cautious by experience, and I don’t answer ‘Yes, thou shalt have it to the half of my kingdom!’ I never give blind promises.”

“It isn’t an autograph album (though I’d be glad to have your name in mine, all the same, if I may bring it some day), it is this: I’ve a friend at school, Bess Haselford, who plays the violin very well. She has lessons from Signor Chianti. She goes to all your recitals, and she would so love some time to try a piece over with the organ. Do you think, some day when you are in the Abbey, you could let her? I know it’s fearful cheek to ask you!”

“Why, bring her by all means,” said Dr. Linton heartily. “Let me see, I have an organ pupil tomorrow at 3:30. Suppose you come at half-past four, and I’ll give her ten minutes with pleasure. I can fit it in before the choir practice, I dare say.”

“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed Ingred. “We can come straight on from school.”

It was delightful to have caught Dr. Linton in such an amiable mood. Ingred hastened to tell the good news to Bess, and also to beg the necessary permission from Miss Burd.

Bess, greatly thrilled, turned up next afternoon with her violin and music-case, and when classes were over they walked across to the Abbey. The pupil was just finishing his lesson, and some rather extraordinary sounds were palpitating among the arches and pillars of the old Minster.

“It must take ages to learn to manage all those stops and pedals properly,” commented Bess. “I’m glad a violin has only four strings⁠—they’re quite enough!”

They sat in a pew, and waited till the lesson was over, then ventured into the chancel. Dr. Linton saw them in the looking-glass which hung over his seat, and turning round beckoned them to him.

“So you want to hear what it’s like to play with an organ?” he said kindly to Bess, sounding the notes for her to tune her violin, and at the same time turning over her music. “What have we got here? It must be something I know, so that I can improvise an accompaniment. Let us try this Impromptu. Don’t be afraid of your instrument, and bring the tone well out. Remember, you’re in a church, and not in a drawing-room.”

Bess, fluttered, nervous, but fearfully excited and pleased, declared herself ready, and launched into the Impromptu. Dr. Linton accompanied her with the finished skill of a clever musician. He subdued the organ just sufficiently to allow the violin to lead, but brought in such a beautiful range of harmonies that the piece really became a duet.

“Why, that’s capital!” he declared at the conclusion. “What else have you inside that case? We’ll have this Prelude now; it’s rather a favorite of mine. The Bourrée? Oh, we’ll take that afterwards!”

Ingred had only expected Dr. Linton to play one piece with Bess, but he went on and on, and even kept the choir waiting while he made her try the Prelude over again.

“I’ve had quite an enjoyable half-hour,” he said, shutting the books at last. “You’re a sympathetic little player! Look here, the lady who was to have helped me with my recital on Sunday week has failed me. Suppose you take her place, and play the Prelude. It would go very well if we practiced it a few times together.”

“Play at the recital!” gasped Bess.

“Why not? Ask your father when you go home, and send me a note tomorrow, for I want to get the thing fixed up. These boys are waiting for me now. I have to train them for an anthem. You can come and practice with me on Friday at the same time, 4:30.”

Dr. Linton dismissed the girls as if he took it entirely for granted that the matter was settled. Bess was almost overwhelmed by the proposal. It was considered a great honor to play in the Abbey, and she had never dreamed that it could fall to her lot to be asked to take part in the Sunday recital. She was not sure how her father and mother would view the idea, but rather to her surprise they both readily acquiesced.

“We shall have to get your grandfather to come over and hear you,” said Mr. Haselford.

“Oh yes! And may I ask Ingred to stay with us for the weekend? You see, she can’t come all the way from Wynch-on-the-Wold for Sunday recitals, and it’s entirely owing to her that I’m playing. I should so like her to be there.”

Ingred accepted the invitation with alacrity. She had grown very fond of Bess lately⁠—so fond, indeed, that Verity’s nose was put considerably out of joint. Verity, though an amusing school comrade, was not a “home” friend. Apart from fun in their dormitory, she and Ingred had little in common, and had never arranged to spend a holiday together. She was a jolly enough girl, but so fond of “ragging” that it was impossible to do anything but joke with her. Bess, on the contrary, was a real confidante who could be trusted with secrets. The two friends spent an idyllic Saturday together. Mr. Haselford motored over to Birkshaw to fetch his father, and took the girls with him in the car. Mr. Haselford the elder proved a delightful old gentleman, deeply interested in music, and much gratified that his granddaughter was to play at the Abbey.

“It was a happy thought of yours, my dear!” he said to Ingred. “Why, I’ve often attended those recitals, and never guessed little Bess would be asked to take part in one! I sang in Grovebury Abbey choir when I was a boy, and I’ve always had a tender spot in my heart for the old town.”

“And you’re not going to forget it, are you, Grandfather?” said Bess pointedly.

“Well, well, we shall see,” he evaded, stroking her brown hair.

Even poor delicate Mrs. Haselford made a supreme effort and went to church on Sunday evening. It was a beautiful service, and the old Minster looked lovely with the late sunshine streaming through its gorgeous west window. Some of the congregation went away after the sermon and concluding hymn were over, but a large number stayed to hear the recital. Bess, horribly nervous, went with Ingred to the choir, where she had left her violin. There were to be two organ solos, and her piece was to separate them. She was thankful she had not to play first. She sat on one of the old carved Miserere seats, and listened as Dr. Linton’s subtle fingers touched the keys, and flooded the church with the rich tones of Bach’s Toccata in F Major. She wished it had been five times as long, so as to delay her own turn. But a solo cannot last forever, and much too soon the last notes died away. There was a pause while the verger fetched a music stand and placed it close to the chancel steps. Dr. Linton was looking in her direction, and sounding the A for her. With her usually rosy face almost pale, Bess walked to the organ, tuned her violin, then took her place at the music stand. It was seldom that so young a girl had played in the Abbey, and everybody looked sympathetically at the palpably frightened little figure. It was the feeling of standing there facing all eyes that unnerved poor Bess. For a second or two her hand trembled so greatly that she could scarcely hold her bow. Then by a sudden inspiration she looked over the heads of the congregation to the west window, where the sunset light was gleaming through figures of crimson and blue and gold. Down all the centuries music had played a part in the service of the Minster. She would not remember that people were there to listen to her, but would let her violin give its praise to God alone. She did not need to look at her notes, for she knew the piece by heart, and with her eyes fixed on the west window she began the “Prelude.”

Once the first notes were started, her courage returned, and she brought out her tone with a firm bow. The splendid harmonies of the organ supported her and she seemed spurred along in an impulse to do her very best. Ingred, listening in the choir, was sure her friend had never played so well, or put such depth of feeling into her music before. It was over at last, and in the hush of the church, Bess stole back to her seat, while Dr. Linton plunged into the fantasies of a “Triumphal March.”

“I’m proud of you!” whispered Ingred, as they walked down the aisle together afterwards.

“Oh, don’t! I felt as if it wasn’t half good enough,” answered Bess, giving a nervous little shiver now that the ordeal was over.

When Ingred returned to Wynch-on-the-Wold next Friday afternoon she found the family had some news for her. Old Mr. Haselford had been to Mr. Saxon’s office, and had confided to him a scheme that lay very near to his heart. He had prospered exceedingly in his business affairs at Birkshaw, and he was anxious to do something for his native town of Grovebury, where he had been born and had spent his boyhood. He asked Mr. Saxon to prepare designs for a combined museum and art gallery, which he proposed to build and present to the public.

“I can trust the architect of ‘Rotherwood’ to give us something in the best possible taste,” he had remarked. “I want the place to be an object of beauty, not the blot on the landscape that such buildings often prove. Fortunately I have the offer of a splendid site, so the plans need not be hampered by lack of space. I think we shall be able to show that the twentieth century can produce work of merit on its own lines, without slavishly copying either the classical or the medieval style of architecture.”

Old Mr. Haselford had even gone further.

“My son’s part of the business is now entirely at Grovebury,” he continued. “And I feel I should like him to have a house of his own. I have bought five acres of land above the river at Trenton, on the hill, where there is a glorious view of the valley. I don’t ask you to copy ‘Rotherwood,’ for I know no architect cares to repeat himself, but a place in the same style and with equal conveniences would suit us very well. My daughter-in-law could talk over the details. It would make a fresh interest for her. We are all tremendously keen about it.”

The new schemes which occupied the minds of the Haselfords brought great rejoicings to the Bungalow.

“Why, it will almost make Father’s fortune!” triumphed Ingred, still in a state of delighted bewilderment.

“It will certainly be an immense pull to him professionally to have the designing of an important public building,” smiled Mother. “And I think he will be able to plan a house to satisfy Mr. and Mrs. Haselford. It’s just the kind of work he likes.”

“Mother, when they leave Rotherwood, shall we have to let it to anyone else, or would it be possible⁠—” Ingred hesitated, with the wish that for nearly a year she had put resolutely away from her trembling on her lips.

“To go back there ourselves?” finished Mother. “If Father’s affairs prosper, as they seem likely to do at present, I think we may safely say ‘yes.’ It never rains but it pours, and just as his profession has suddenly taken a leap forward, his private investments have picked up. Colonial mines, that he thought utterly done for, have begun to work again, and pay dividends. Our prospects now are very different indeed from what they were a few months ago. Don’t look too excited, Ingred! Houses take a long time to build, nowadays, and it may be years before Mr. Haselford’s new place is finished, and we can get repossession of Rotherwood.”

“I don’t care, so long as there’s hope of ever having it again!”

“It’s our own home, and naturally we love it, but we must not forget what a debt of gratitude we owe to the Bungalow. We have been very happy here, and I think we have been thrown together, and have learnt to know one another in a way we should never have done at Rotherwood. All the sacrifices we have made for each other have drawn us far closer as a family, and linked us up so that we ought never to be able to drift apart now, which might have happened if we had all been able just to pursue our own line. We have learnt the value here of simple pleasures, we’ve enjoyed the moors and the flowers and the birds and the stars and all the beautiful things that Nature can give us. The realization of them is worth far more than anything that money can buy, for it’s the ‘joy that no man taketh from you.’ I have grown to love Wynch-on-the-Wold so dearly that I shall beg Father to keep on the Bungalow as a country cottage, and I shall run out here for holidays when I feel Rotherwood is too much for me, and I want to be alone for a while with Nature.”

“I expect we’ll all want to do just the same!” said Quenrede, looking from the gay flowerbeds, which her own hands had planted, over the hedge to where the brown moors stretched away into the dim gray of the distance. “I thought it was going to be hateful when I came here, but, Muvvie, I think it’s been the happiest year of my life! The country may be quiet, but it has its compensation. We’ll walk to the Whistling Stones again, Ingred, as soon as you break up!”

“And that will be exactly a week next Friday!” rejoiced Ingred.

The school was busy with all the usual activities that seem to happen at the end of the summer term. There was a successful cricket match with the Girls’ High School from Birkshaw, a tennis tournament where Nora and Susie took part after all, and won laurels for the College, a Nature Notebook Competition in which Linda, to everyone’s amazement, bore off the first prize against all other schools in the town.

Then there was the annual function, when parents were invited to see a display of Swedish Drill, listen to three-part songs given by the singing class, admire the drawings and clay models exhibited in the studio, and watch a French play acted by the Sixth. It was at the close of this performance that (when friends had taken their departure, and Dr. Linton, who had conducted the singing class, had closed the grand piano and had hurried across to the Abbey to keep an appointment with an organ pupil) a certain piece of news leaked out, and began to circulate round the school. Verity had the proud importance of carrying it into the hostel.

“Do you know,” she announced, “that Miss Strong is engaged to Dr. Linton, and they’re to be married in the holidays?”

Nora, who was changing a crêpe de chine dress for a serviceable tennis costume, collapsed on to her bed.

“Hold me up!” she murmured dramatically. “Why, I didn’t know he was a widower!”

“Of course he is,” endorsed Ingred, “and a most uncomfortable one, I should say. I went to his house once for a music lesson, and it looked in a fearful muddle. Good old Bantam! We must give her congrats! She’ll soon get things into order there! I believe she adores little Kenneth. I’ve often seen her taking him about the town. She shall have my blessing, by all means!”

“We might give her something more substantial than congrats and blessings!” suggested Verity. “I vote we get up a subscription in the form for a decent wedding present!”

“Oh yes! Think of Sarkie as Mrs. Linton! They’ll be the oddest couple! I wonder if she’ll get tired of perpetual music, and if he’ll rage round his own drawing-room and ruffle his hair when he feels annoyed, like he does with his pupils!”

“Perhaps she’ll break him off bad habits! I could trust her to hold her own.”

“Oh, she’ll be the gray mare, don’t you fear! But honestly I’m glad! She has her points, and I hope she’ll be happy.”

“I wonder who’ll have her form next term?”

“That doesn’t concern us, for we shall probably be in the Sixth.”

“Help! So we shall! I can’t bring my mind to it yet. It gives me spasms!”

“Quite a blossomy prospect, though!”

On the afternoon before breaking-up day, the School Parliament met for the last time. Lispeth, rather sad, and inclined to be sentimental, reviewed from The Chair the events of the past year.

“It has been pioneer work,” she said. “I dare say we might have done it better, but at least we’ve tried. We laid ourselves out to set a standard for the tone of the school, and I think it has kept up fairly well on the whole. The Rainbow League seems thoroughly established, and likely to go on. May I read you some of the things it has done during the year? We made four pounds for the ‘War-Orphans Fund,’ and sent ninety-seven homemade toys to poor children’s treats. The Posy Union gave nine pots of crocuses and fifty-six bunches of flowers to cripples and invalids; the penny-a-week subscriptions have kept two little girls all the summer at the children’s camp, and the Needlework Guild has made thirty-seven garments. It doesn’t sound much when you put it all in hard black and white like that! I hate reports and statistics of societies, they always sound to me somehow so pharisaical, as if we were saying: ‘Look how good we are!’ You know I don’t mean that. What I do mean, though, is that we’ve tried not to run everything entirely for ourselves. A rainbow shines when the world is clearing up, and perhaps our little efforts, small as they are, show that things are moving in the right direction. Next term all of us girls in the Sixth will have left, and a new set will take the lead. I can’t say yet who will be Head of the school, but I don’t fancy there’s very much doubt about it. I hope whoever has the reins will keep up what we have worked so hard for this year.”

Lispeth was looking straight at Ingred as she spoke; her meaning was unmistakable. Ingred blushed a faint rosy pink. It had only just dawned upon her that next term would possibly bring her the greatest honor that the College had to confer.

“Whoever is chosen for head-girl,” she stammered bashfully, “I’m sure will try her very best to work for the good of the school. She couldn’t do more than you’ve done⁠—probably she won’t do half so well⁠—but she’ll make an enormous effort to⁠—shall we say⁠—just ‘carry on’!”