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The Old Chorister

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N this 'c o mercial age there can be no good r e a s o n 'why Tilbury village should 'have been placed so near the suramit of the hill, but so it is, and all but a few of the farmers around about have to toi] upwards in order to reach the half dazen stores there and the three churches. Perhaps the original settlers of western Massachusetts had an e3'e, or two, for the beautiful, for there is not a habitation in Berkshire county that commands a more extensive or picturesque view. The naties of Tilbury seldora raention the scenery, but not many years ago it attracted the admiration of wealthy peopla from a distance, and Üiey set up their summer homes there. It made a marked change in the villago, the more because a portion of the new corners fouud it pleasureable to remain througu the winter. It was Oxv that evil entered and brought unhappiness to Hezekiah Martin. My mind wanders back to that time wnen as a child I listened to his stentorian tenor voice leading the singing from the choir loft of the ancient Congregationalist church. There were two long services every Sunday tben, and I recall that when the new preacher joined in the movement to abolish the afternoon sermón Hezekiah was one of those who stood hardest for the old custom, and when the inevitable reform was finally accomplished, the sturdy chorister never looked upon his minister in the same light that be had before. He was more faithful than ever and sung all the louder as if to make up in fervor for lack of opportunity ; but when the daring divine finally went his way, and another preacher took the pulpit, the chorister feit as if a great burden had been lifted; as if the parish had escaped a most dangerous affliction. „ The years turned steadily along and Hezeklah overéame every difficulty that choir leaders are subject to. He pacified the jealous sopranos, raised up new bassos, sung four consecutivo Sundays all alone when the choir deserted himinjgsh dudgeon because he refused to approve ot a new anthem book, and in many other ways demonstrated his fitness f or the work until prospenty in tne ihape of suramer visitors feil upon Tilbury. Then began a quiet, insidious trouble, as imperceptible at first as the approach of old age, that eventually overéame him. The first manifestation of revolution came in a división of opinión in the parish over the cboice of a new preacher, for old Mr. Spooner had begun to feel that he was somehow in the way, and he resigned before the people wero fu jy aware that tbey wanted to hear a new voice. There wero two leading candidatos for his place, a young and eloquent preacher and a zealous worker, and an elderly man aqainst whom not a word could besaid. Tl.e newcomers in Tilbury, joining hands with the younger membere of the churcb, elected the young man, and as the contest had uot been long or determined, there was a speedy healing of differenees and no lack of harmony. Even then Hezekiah feit a vague presentiment that all would not be well with him, but several months passed before he received any direct intimation that the parish would appreciate a change in the choir loft. The flrst he heard of it was in a discussion among his singers at a Saturday evening rehearsal. It was not meant that he should huar, but he entered the vestry unexpectedly. Saín Hinekley, one of those very bassós who had been patieutly trained by the chorister, was saying: "Wall, I shall be sorry to see the old man's feeliugs hurt, but he can't expect to lead singin' forcver." And pretty Maria Jasper, tacitly understood to be Sam's sweetheart, responded sharply: 'Buc I tbink ifs just too mean, and ir 'Kiah lms to go I follow. Thafs all !" And Uien they all saw the chorister coming down the aiflte, and a painful liush feil upou them. llczekiah bowed gravely as he approached the group and said: "üocxl evening, neighbors." That was the way he ui way s addressed the ehoir at rehearsals. lVrhaps he avoided a greetingto each individual trom fear oï arousing jealousy by Beeming partiality. At nal evento I never Ueord oL lúa varyinj; tin; ioir.inla. Ha conu: raferred to a Mnall slip of paper ia hi hand: "Whcn Cie Lord wills we will all go, and not till tlien. It is not our part to meddla with what is in His hands. The minister has chosen liyinu '2J7 for the first piece. Wo will sing it to" tlio tune of 'Cambridge.' " At that rehearsal and durin service ncrt day everythins went as usual, but report of the talk that liezokiah had ueard üew about the parish quickly, and not a few remarked that the chorister looked unusually grave. "I calíate," remarked Mr. Davis, the sheep raiser frobi Ram's Hill, to his wife as they drove home after meeting; "I cal'late 'Kiah Martin feels his years a growing on him ; hay f' "And I caríate, Philander Davis," returued Mrs. Davis, with significant emphasis, "that It ain't so much h3 nateral years he feels as the loss of his friends." "Sho! Mai-thy, he ain't lost no friends, 'Kiah haiu't ; I think ges' 's much of him :9 ever I did, an' yit I'm 'bleeged to admit that when a man gits along in years it's time for him to let stouter men hold the plough. HayP Ñow, the fact was that Philander Davis was one of the few among the older heads in the parish who sHed with the reforming element. Mr. Davis was ambitious for Tilbury and all in it, aud he prided himself somewhat on belng able to entertain new ideas after having passed the age of 50. At the last chuich meeting his support had been recognized by his election to membership of the parish eommittee, and he, therefore, was well informed on the restlessness of the younger members regarding the matter of music. It was the one point of serious difference between him and his wife, and she was not to be hoodwinked by his sophistry. "Don't teil me. Philander," she replied in answer to his last expression, "I know just how you feel. You want to please the smart folks on the hill, and I haven't got a word to say against them. cept it does seem's if they needn't come to Tilbury and expect to run things in city style. They want a quartet, now, don't they? and they want to interduce new rnusie, don't they ? and not let the congregation join in, 'cept on one hymn, don't they? and they're goin' to try to make Hezekiah step down on account of his age, and he beeu chorister for fifty yearj, don't they? aint they, Ishoukl say!"' 'Git up, there, Jim, g'long with ye!" exclaimed Mr. Davis. "You're putty sharp, Marthy; ef you was to look through the hole in one of my milistones and see the other a grindin' you'd think you saw clean through both, wouldu't ye? hayi but I don't think you'd make much of a hand to run a church, Marthy. Hay?" And so, with good-natured obstinacy the discussion was continued until Mr. Davis helped his wife out and led the horse into the barn to unhiteh. Now that the choristor knew that there was a feel ing that his services were not required, the parish eommittee hoped that he would relievo them of discomfort by resigning voluutarily; but weeks passed and Hezekiah retained his place without a word. So at last it was determined that he must be approached in a Christian, neighborly spirit, and indueed to consider the matter in tbe right light. As the oldest member of the eommittee, Philander Davis was deputed to do the talking, but though he had accepted the appoiutment with a cheerful sense of its importance, his confidenee failed him when he faced the old ehorister one October evening in Hezekiah's little parlor. The other members of the eommittee sat looking at their hats while Mr. Davis coughed awkwardly and began: "Feelin' tolerable well these days, 'Kiah? Hay?" 'Tve been enioyin' good health all mer, Mr. Davis.f. responded Hezekiah with dignilïed asperity. "Wall," said Mr. Davis, after a wretched pause aud another cough, "we've come up to talk about the music." Mr. Davis waited for the chorister to lead the way to what must follow, but Hezekiah kept silent. So the spokesman continued: "You see, 'Kiah, the parish thinks they'd ought to be something of a change." Hezekiah could hold out no lougor. "Neighbors," he said with a trembling voice, "I can't make no change. l've stood up in the loft there more'n fiity years and baven't missed but two Sundays. l've sung the good old nmsic that you and I, Philander, was brought up on, and I can't sing mueh else. l've kcpt the choir together for you, and if the money stood in the way (Hezekiah receive .1 $50 a year) I'd keep it up for nothing. No, don't say 'taint money; I know that; I know you want a high toned quartet and that you're willing to pay. But- l've done my best, neighbors." The old chorister bowed his head upon his hands, and the parish committeemen wished they had iiot come. Mr. Davis rubbed the back of his head and his colleagues looked sternly at him. "We hato worse'n thunder to hurt your feelin's, 'Kiah, hayi" ha began agaiu, when the chorister stood up and interrupted him. "I know," he said; "you don't want to teil ma I'm too old. But, praise the Lord! I'll not stand in the way of tho parisu's good. I resignrighthere." But the committee was not wholly lacking in human sympatby, and it was agreed that Hezekiah sliould sing until tho ei;d of the year, and the chorister conseuted, though with less nijpreciation of tbe favor extended to him thaii moit of tho committee had expected. "Blessod if I didn't feel sorry for the old man," said young Deacou Goodsioed, speaking of the -.nutter several days later. 80 did a good inany others, but as the end of the year approached the sympathy lost its keenuess, aud in the samo degree the ambition of the younger members increased, so that eventually the desire tohavo a. ig display of musie on Christmas led to another cali on Hezekiah, the result of which was that tho old chorister yielded his place at once without a word of protest. The cclebration of the kindly festival began with a musical service on Christmas ero. Tho new quartet was in place and Hezekiah ■at with tho audience. Iu deferenco to old time custom sonie of the hymns wero sung by the entiro congregation. The old chorister tried to sing with the others, but after a few bars tho tears somehow got entangled in his voice, and, as he could not sing and weep too, he stopped singing. When it was all over several of his neighbors approached him to say that they didn't think there'd been any improvement, and Hezekiah shook each ons by the hand and answered nothing. The last gossiping couple had left tho hurch, tbe sexton bad blown out tbe light nd locked tbe heavy doors behind him. sleigh bells jingled faintly away out of hearng, and tho slow footsteps of the sexton runcbing on the half trodden snow mingled with the tones of the clock ir the high tower triking ten. Then a door inside tbe vestry pened, and out of a closet where brooma nd dust pans were kept au oíd man carne lesitatingly. He made his way very slowly up the broad stairs to tbe main meeting oom. At the door leading to the choir loft ie paused a moment. His hand was on the nob, but he turned it not. More slowly than efore he went down the aisle and dropped nto a pew. He sat there in the darkness a ong time, his head sunk forward on his breast. A half hour, may be, passed, before he rose and marched with determined step to the choir door, and up the stairs to the familiar loft. He found a match in his ocket and Ut the lamp that hung ïear the beneh, where Hezekiah for more han fifty years had sung God's praises and carried the voices and spirits of the congregatiou with bim. The dim yellow ray threw gloomy shadows of the pew backs i nto relief, just disclosed the pulpit at the f urther end of the church, gave faint hints of evergreen festoons on the walls, and here and there the laurel worked words "Emanuel," "Glory to God in the bighest," and so on, that had been placed tbere with great toil by the young men and women of the parish in honor of tbe day so near at hand; but had you been there you would have seen only the patriarchal form of the chorister with a sadly bitter look on his face gazing at the glooni about the pulpit. Was he thinking how often he had stood solemnly thus while the minister was praving? Perhaps so, for after a moment his lips parted, and a tremulous "Amen!' uttered softly on a high note, sung to the evergreens and the shadows. Tben Hezekiah looked about the beuch in front of lnm. He picked up one of the new anthem books brought in by the quartet. He glanced at the cover and let it fall. Taking the lamp from its socket he held it so that he could see, and presently drew forth the ancient collection of anthems, every tune in which he knew by heart, so sacred to him. and yet so speedily hiddeu away where it should serve nobody. He replaced the lamp and turned the pages to "Corouation," the firs piece sung by a choir under his direction more than a lifetime ago. Fondly he looked at the familiar notes and then, his chest thrown out and his head held up, he sung the grand old tune and its magnificent words with all the fervor and all the power that his voice ever had commanded. From beginning to end the hymu rang through the deserted gloomy church, and Dr. Williams, driving by in haste to attend the ills of a far off patiënt, wondered that the rehearsal should have been continued so late. When the last noto had ceased Hezekiah stood with the book still open and his head still up, but the tears were coursing down his face in steady streann. At last be sank into a chair, and with a great pang at the heart he saw upon the bench beside thf volume of newfangled tunes a littlebook of manuscript music. When he was a young man of not more than 50 Hezekiah had takeii it into his head that he would write music, and the several anthems that he had composed in pure harmony, but with ernde progressions, had been laboriously copied into books, and had beeu used occasionally ever since in church service. What had they been doing with his musici Was it not enough that they should discard him in his oíd age, and his ways and his books, without hunting up his feeble but earnest compositions to laugh at them? That could uot be forgivenl With melancholy fingers he turned the leaves. His inspection stopped at an anthem for Christmas, composed on words taken literally from th Scriptures. ïhere it was, with its introductory recitativo for bass, and a doublé fugue, as he called it, when the angels' chorus was reached. His wife had sung the treble beforeshe left the choir, and when with patiënt resignation he had laid her in the grave, his daughter had perf ormed her part, and since she married and moved away the anthem had not been sung. With what grand emo tion he had heard the voices begin the first f ugal rao vement : Arul now it was all held up for the smilesof a modern quartetl The old chorister's head sank npon the bench, and his tears blurred the notes on the ancient page. "Gracious massyl Hezekiah, wake up! wakeun'Kiah; youli ketcb your death of cold? Come!" It wns Peter Stone, the sexton, dumfounded by surprise, shaking the old chorister violéntly by the shoulder. Painfully Hezekiah raised his head. "Merry Christmas, Peter; I'd rather stay here," ho said feebly when ho saw where he was. Peter langbed almost bysterieally ana togged mvay persistently at tho old mau'i shoulders. "Como down to the fire," he exclaimed; "the choir ■ UI bo hre right away to rehearse ior tho service." "Yes, ril go," answered Hezekiab, and with great difflculty he drarged his stiffened limbs down the stairs into the vcstry, whero the furnace WM already roaring with a íreshly made Cre. Ha submitted rubbed and slapped by Peter to induce a quicker cireulatioii of his blood, but ho gave no clear answer to the wondering inquiries as to how he carne to be locked into the church over night. Presentlv the organ npstairs began to sound. Hezekiah shivered and Peter rubbed him the harder. Then the voice of the bas in tho new quartet was IiPinl reciting: "And there were diepteitls in the field." The old chorister listened with staring eyes. Could it be? The long recitativa carne to an end, and then all the voices took up in proper order the angels' chorus. "What does tbat mean, Peterf' exclaimed Hezekiah, starting up. "Why, 'twas meant as a Chiistmas prfse in your honor. They're goin' to slng your piece. '' The old ehorister broke away from tho sexton and hobblid up the stairs. When h reached thu organ loft they were singing "And on earth peace, good wil] to men." Hezekiah waited until they were done, and then in a low, grave tone that startled tha singers, he said: "I wish you all a merry Christmas, neighbors. I've had hard feelings against you, and I pray that God will forgive me aüd cause you not to look unkiudly on an old man. Tbis is more than I deserve.""


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Ann Arbor Register