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CHAPTER VII
Masters were found in a preparatory school for my home education. Happy to escape from the schoolroom, I worked as never maiden worked before, loving my summer desk in the apple tree in the garden, loving my winter desk beside the blazing wood in my uncle's office, passionately loving my music, and interested in the other studies assigned me. With no competitive examinations to stimulate me, I yet made good progress. Before I reached my thirteenth year, I had learned to read French easily. I had wept over the tender story of Picciola and the sorrows of Paul and Virginia. I had sailed with Ulysses and trod the flowery fields with Calypso. My aunt had beguiled me into a course of history by allowing me as reward those romances of Walter Scott which are founded on historical events. My love of music and desire to excel in it made me patient under the eccentric itinerant music teacher, the one pioneer apostle of classic music in all Virginia, who was known, more than once, to arrive at midnight and call me up for my lesson; and who, while other maidens were playing the "Battle of Prague" and "Bonaparte crossing the Rhine," or singing the campaign songs of the hero of the log cabin, taught me to love Beethoven and Liszt, and to discern the answering voices in that genius, then young, whose magic 48music fell not then, nor ever after, upon unheeding ears. I had read with my aunt selections all the way from "The Faerie Queene" through the times of later queens,—Elizabeth and Anne,—and had made a beginning with the queen for whom I had a sentiment, and who has given her name to so fair an age of fancy and of elegant writing. Alas, for the mental training I might have had through the study of mathematics! Were it not that the lack of this training must be apparent to all who are kind enough to listen to my story, I might quote Joseph Jefferson, as Mr. William Winter reports him: "Why, look at me! I seem to have managed pretty well, but I couldn't for the life of me add up a column of figures." The only figures I know anything about are figures of speech. Fortunately, I have had little use for addition. My knowledge has been quite sufficient for my needs.

My French teacher, Mr. Mertons,—a square-shouldered, spectacled German, with an upright shock of coarse black hair, literally pounded the French language into me. With a grammar held aloft in his left hand, he emphasized every rule with his right fist, coming down hard on my aunt's mahogany. If success is to be measured by results, I can only say that, although I perceived some charm in Mme. de Sévigné and in Dumas, I was rather dense with Racine and Molière; and as to the spoken language! I can usually manage to convey, by gesture and deliberate English, a twilight glimmer of my meaning in talking to a polite Frenchman, but blank darkness descends upon him when I speak 49to him in "a French not spoken in France." The gift for "divers kinds of tongues" was not bestowed upon me.

The music teacher deserves more than a passing notice. He was unique. Mr. William C. Rives found him somewhere in France, and promised him a large salary if he would come to America, live near or in Charlottesville, and teach his daughter Amélie. He was the incarnation of thriftlessness; with no polish of manner, no idea of business, or order, or of the necessity of paying a debt, but he was also the incarnation of music! My uncle again and again satisfied the sheriff and released him from bonds. Finally, he could not appear in town at all by daylight, and often arrived at midnight for my lesson. Gladly my aunt would rise and dress to preside over it. My teacher would disappear before the dawn. He owed money all over town which he had not the faintest intention of ever paying. More than once his defenceless back could have borne witness to a creditor's outraged feelings. But he was resourceful. Thereafter he carried all his music, a thick package, in a case sewed to the lining of his coat. His back, rather than his breast, needed a shield. It was amusing to see him pack himself up, as it were, before venturing into the open.

But with all this, we prized him above rubies. He was a brilliant pianist, a great genius; had studied with Liszt, early appreciated Chopin, adored Beethoven. One of his animated lessons would leave me in a state "which fiddle-strings is weakness to express my nerves," and yet no summons to duty 50ever thrilled me with pleasure like his "Koom on ze biahno." Once there, absolute fidelity to the composer's writing and the position of my hands exacted all my attention. The margins of my music were liberally adorned with illustrations of my fist—a clumsy bunch with an outsticking thumb.

I always felt keenly the charm of music, even when it was beyond my comprehension. One day, happening to look up from his own playing, he detected tears in my eyes. He was enraged in three languages. "Himmel! Zis is not bathétique! Zis is scherzo! Eh, bien! I blay him adagio." And under shut teeth a sibilant whisper sounded very much like "imbécile," as he hung his head to one side, arched his brows, and drawled out the theme in a ridiculous manner. Once I was so carried away by a delicious passage I was playing that I diminished the tempo, that the linked sweetness might be long drawn out. He literally danced! He beat time furiously with both hands. "Ach! is it you yourselluf, know bedder zan ze great maestro," and sweeping me from the piano stool he rendered the passage properly.

One summer my aunt, in order that I might have lessons, took board in a country place where he lived. I was pleasing myself one day with a little German song I had smuggled from town:—

"The church bells are ringing, the village is gay,

And Leila is dressed in her bridal array.

She's wooed, and she's won

By a proud Baron's son,

And Leila, Leila, Leila's a Lady!"

51 Proceeding gayly with the chorus, and exulting in Leila's ladyship and good fortune, I was startled by thunderous claps through the house. Mr. Meerbach was fleeing to his own room, slamming the doors between himself and my uneducated voice!

Of course he lost his scholars. At last only Amélie Rives, Jane Page, Eliza Meriwether, and myself remained. We had to make up his salary among us. "I hope you'll study, dear," said my kind uncle; "I am now giving eight dollars apiece for your lessons." Jane Page played magnificently. This rare young genius, a niece of Mrs. William C. Rives, died young. The rest of us played well, too. My teacher wished to take me to Richmond to play for Thalberg his own difficult, florid music, and was terribly chagrined at my aunt's refusal to permit me to go.

The little Episcopal church and rectory were just across the street, and the rector, Mr. Meade, allowed me free access to the gallery, where I delighted to practise on the small pipe organ. I was just tall enough to reach the foot notes. The church was peculiarly interesting from the fact that Thomas Jefferson, who is supposed to have been a free thinker, had insisted upon building it and had furnished the plans for it. Before it was built, services were held in the Court House, which Mr. Jefferson regularly attended, bringing his seat with him on horseback from Monticello, "it being," says Bishop Meade, "of some light machinery which, folded up, was carried under his arm and, 52unfolded, served for a seat on the floor of the Court House."

I was thirteen years old when Mr. Meade sent for me one evening to come to him in his vestry room. He told me that the Episcopal Convention was to meet in his church in two days, and he had just discovered that Miss Willy (the organist) had arranged an entire new service of chants and hymns. He had requested her not to use it, urging that his father the bishop, the clergy, and all his own people knew and loved the old tunes, and could not join in the new. Miss Willy had indignantly resented his interference and threatened to resign, with all her choir, unless he yielded. "I shall certainly not yield," said the rector. "I have told her that I know a little girl who will be glad to help me. Now I wish you to play for the convention, beginning day after to-morrow (Sunday), and every evening during its session. This will give you evening services all the week, beginning with three on Sunday. I will see that familiar hymns are selected, and you need chant none of the Psalms except the Benedictus and Gloria in Excelsis."

I began, "Oh, I'm afraid—" "No," said Mr. Meade, "you're not afraid; you are not going to be afraid. Just be in your place fifteen minutes before the time, and draw the curtain between you and the audience. I shall send you a good choir."

I practised with a will next day. On the great day, when I passed the sable giant, Ossian, pulling away at the rope under the belfry, and heard the solemn bell announcing that my hour had come, my 53heart sank within me. But Ossian gave me a glittering smile which showed all his magnificent ivories. He was grinning because he was going to pump the organ for such a slip of a lass as I!

On arriving at the organ gallery, I found my choir,—several ladies whom I knew, and a group of fine-looking students from the University. They looked down kindly on the small organist, with her hair hanging in two braids down her back. I resolutely kept that small back to the drawn curtain! Only the tip of one of Miss Willy's nodding plumes, and I should have been undone!

All went well. The singing was fine from half a dozen manly throats, supplementing two or three female voices and my own little pipe. I was soon lost to my surroundings in the enjoyment of my work. When, on the last day, the good bishop asked for the grand old hymn, "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord," it thrilled my soul to hear the church fill with the triumphant singing of the congregation, led by little me and my improvised choir.



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