As ever the characters are not mine but those of L. M.and those which are not hers are inspired by her.
They had not talked much to begin with, only being formally introduced under the inauspicious circumstances coffee morning at All Saints Episcopal church, and only then because there was such a paucity of tables that the two families had been obliged to sit together. They would not have gone at all but for the fact of their mother having offered to manage the bric-a-brac table and the suspicion it would have looked odd if she had gone on her own. To which end they had made an outing of it and they had all refrained from mentioning that they would only going to be going back again for the sung Mass next morning, that there hardly seemed sense in their coming home between trips. It was for this reason that he subsequently said to her, 'I am indebted to your mother, I shouldn't have got to know you otherwise.'
Possibly there was truth in this; he had been one of the church choristers and they were not given to mixing with the other, less musical churchgoers after the service, by design or otherwise even they could not have said. It was simply a fact of church life; the choir kept to itself and the servers bridged the gap between congregation and priest. That afternoon though, the closeness of the card-table had necessitated that someone say something and so his mother, or possibly hers when she had been prised away from the bric-a-brac –which really was awful –had seized upon their shared musicality as a topic of conversation. At any rate she did not willingly part with the information of her piano playing, it would have seemed too much like boasting, though Ellen insisted it was a worse thing to downplay a skill when you had it, and had mother's bible to back her up, with its verses about candles and bushels.
'You sing a little to, don't you?' Ellen had said, more than a little pointedly, though even she could not have said it was understating anything when Rosemary said to her teacup, 'only a very little and not nearly well enough for the choir.'
All the same, Ellen had not given it up. Quite what she had been trying to do or achieve that morning was something Rosemary never quite stopped wondering.
'Well, you have top G and have it securely, which is more than can be said of most people,' she had said stoutly.
'No choir anywhere, Ellen, is ever in need of sopranos,' she had said, because it was by far easier than trying to explain what it was about the prospect of being conscripted into the choir that was so terrifying.
'We're always wanting more members,' he had said graciously, though to the checked tablecloth more than to either of them. 'And good sopranos –ones that are sopranos rather than uncertain contraltos that want to have the melody, are a rarity.'
They weren't all that much of a rarity because the choir, such as it was, was possessed of six such sopranos, which was at least treble the number of singers in every other section except the basses. There was no sense in saying so, though they all appreciated this.
'I would miss listening to the motet,' Rosemary said, almost firmly, and mercifully there was no arguing with that. No one said anything more about it and they dissected that week's lectionary. It was the sort of thing you could talk about safely and respectably, without being accused of anything other than sociability with one's neighbours. The blessing there, really, Rosemary always thought afterwards, was that Ellen had had so many opinions to give on the book of Esther. Even if she had had any preconceived ideas of her own, she thought it was unlikely she could have given them without betraying her own nervousness. It was only later, in the cover of the crowd and absorbed in looking critically at a cushion-cover of lilies and blue irises that an unmistakable tenor recalled her from thoughts of dangerously Marian sewing by saying, 'you must promise to play for me sometime, at any rate.'
Embedded somewhere in an innocuous observation about the perils of satin stitch was the promise he succeeded at extracting from her, if anyone had cared to be listening. But the bric-a-brac had reclaimed her mother's attention and Ellen was away inspecting the baking, as though doing so would yield the secret of how to make a sponge that did not sink, and consequently it was only Martin Crawford who heard.
It was a promise that was made good months later, because it would have taken more boldness than he was possessed of to call so pointedly at such an out-of-the-way house as the Wests' was, even if the closeness of its inhabitants had not been nearly claustrophobic. They, for their part, did not go out often; the coffee morning had been a notable aberration from their usual pattern and so it was not until she was recruited to fill the breech left by the Sunday school teacher and play for the children at the Sunday school concert that the fact of her playing became a reality for him.
If the coffee morning had been an inauspicious beginning, then the Sunday School concert was an opportunity presented by God on a silver platter as a means of getting to know one another. Ellen and her mother were resolutely not going; her mother out of a fear she would be recruited onto the rota for the Sunday School, Ellen because it did not interest her; she was going because she had been pressed into playing for the children, and so had walked the six miles in to Lowbridge on her own, taking in a sunset that was Coleridgean in its yellow-greenness. The weather, it would later transpire, was another thing you could talk about without drawing notice, when she remarked on the sky's curious colouration later in the evening, as the infants, their treat of the concert over, were gathered out of the sanctuary by parents anxious to get away. Besides, she did not dare ask what had brought him to hear the children's concert.
The priest was standing at the doorway meting out greetings and goodbyes to the flock that had assembled. Just then he was cornered by the woman responsible for the produce stall and was likely to be so for some time yet, as she was in a quandary as to whether or not they ought to miss it out the first Sunday of next month. It was under this cover that Martin had turned to her and said, 'will you play properly for me? I couldn't nearly listen before, for trying to work out the programme and the words.'
They were then quite alone in the church, bar the priest at the door and the chattering Mrs. McDougall. The sensible thing would have been to protest propriety and get on with closing up the piano and settling it under wraps again. No one though, could be sensible all of the time, and so she acquiesced and played 'All in a Garden Green,' that being the piece foremost in her mind at that moment from having worked it over at the drawing room of the house on the hill all that month. She never gave a thought to the lyrics, not realizing it had any, and nor did anyone but Martin. Father Andrews, meeting her at the door as she came away, said only, 'you play very well –I hadn't realized how well. If I were to ask you to sometimes take the piano over on the days when the conductor cannot come, or when the organist is on holiday, what would you tell me?'
'Only sometimes,' Rosemary had said, tentatively, 'I'd miss listening to the choir otherwise.'
'Ah,' said Father Andrews knowingly, 'but there will be no choir to listen to if there is no one in the wings to take over from Richard when he can't make it. What do you think?'
'I think I know nothing about managing a choir,' Rosemary said, even then beginning to relent. It would give her a reason to redouble the regularity with which her family attended All Saints', if she needed to be there for the safe-keeping of the choir as it were.
'I do though,' said Martin helpfully, from where he had been hovering in the recess of the door, waiting for her to finish with the priest before coming properly forward, 'and so do lots of the others, especially the basses. You would think some of them were in charge to hear them talk, not Richard.'
'There you are then,' said the priest happily, 'that settles that. You need only worry about the piano. Tell me, how are you getting home? It is getting dark.'
There was no 'getting' about it. The days were drawing out but not by so much that it was still light at half-eight in the evening. She had walked to Lowbridge in the last of the daylight, but she said quite without concern that it was a very little thing to walk back again.
'Not like this, not in the dark,' protested that well-meaning clergyman. 'I wonder,' he said meditatively and looked hopefully at Martin.
'I know it's rather out of your way towards the end, but I would feel so much better if…'
'Of course,' Martin had said, nearly before the request had been made, 'of course. Six miles in the dark is a long way,' and he offered Rosemary his arm, saying apologetically, 'I'm afraid I walked in too, it was such a lovely evening and I had the time to spare. I never gave a thought to the light. But let me see you home.'
'Is it really very out of your way,' Rosemary had asked anxiously when they were safely beyond the church courtyard.
'Not very much, I'd be walking back along the shore road anyway, though going to Harbour Mouth nearer the end so it's really –'
'It's really quite a ways out of your way,' Rosemary had said before he could finish.
'Not altogether, and I shouldn't have had the luxury of good company,' Martin had said, more than half-seriously.
What was properly out of the way of both of them was the walk through the valley, rather than along the road, to gain the house on the hill. More out of the way still was the hollow therein with the spring, that sang over the sound of the crickets at a pitch impossible to tune or place. They had lingered there only long enough to talk fleetingly something of the language of music, and that mostly about the children's performance that evening, but it was long enough that coming back into the house, Ellen had said, 'you were a long while getting home.'
'It's six miles away,' Rosemary had said, unfastening the pin holding her shawl secure and placing her hat on a hook.
'You've walked it often enough to know the way I should have thought,' said Ellen, with more interest, perhaps than was really called for, but she had her own reasons for pressing her sister into talking. If Rosemary began the talk of wishes, then she could offer up her own in return and it was the right sort of evening for that. But she was out of luck.
'You know what the children's concerts are like; no one was in a hurry to get away and everyone had a word for the priest at the door.'
'Ah yes, the children,' said Ellen, as though she had only just remembered what it was that had called her sister out of the house in the first place. By now they had gained the stairs and begun to ascend them.
'It was –a good concert was it?' she asked, pausing for a moment and looking over her shoulder, the better to catch the way the question took her sister by candlelight.
'Yes, quite good, though they were a bit flat. They were always going to be, though, weren't they?'
'You might tell me, you know,' said Ellen, on the landing now, 'when you took to noticing the tuning of the choir.'
'I was playing, wasn't I? It would have been hard not to notice. And it was only the children singing, Ellen, not the choir. I wouldn't dare to judge the merits or otherwise of our choir.'
The veracity of this sentiment was a thing often tested in the weeks that followed, when Ellen found her sister could retain almost effortlessly the music of the choir but very little of the sermon –and even Rosemary , who had long protested an indifference to any explanation of the doctrines she subscribed to, had been usually able to follow Father Andrews' clearly structured Biblical exegesis. What was certainly true was that in the days that elapsed between Sundays, she was often to be found at the tucked-away spring in Rainbow Valley, summoned thence by the treble whistle of the opening bars to 'All In A Garden Green,' with it's cut time and dotted rhythm in the region between D and G on the higher portion of the staff. Always it came, carried on the sound of the wind, up the hill while the sun was still within the sky, though it was never again the Coleridgean green of that first evening of import. Still, those moments and minutes together were nearly sacred, the ground by the spring consecrated by the very thing of which love is supposed to be wary, the habit of meeting there. They talked often, though hardly exclusively of music, it being often enough to sit together in spun out silence, and the very silence hallowed that trysting-place twice over and shimmered before them almost as something to be touched if only one could get near enough, a kind of rood-screen to love.
Sometimes she might take a bit of work and stork-bill scissors and begin to render in silk and linen those things she had yet to find a use for, that the house on the hill was not wanting. He might bring netting that wanted mending, some infinitely more earth-bound thing always, even than a good wicker hoop and the pictures traceable with a good sharp or in-between, and it was on those evenings that what-ifs built themselves up most and the screen shifted just enough for Rosemary to catch half a glimpse of what could be, before turning again to the complexities of unbuckled satin stitch and an even tension. It was on these evenings too, that they tended to talk of more commonplace things, of life at Harbour Mouth, his work, some domestic quandary that had been visited upon either herself, Ellen or else their mother; how the cat called Mable got onto the gable window and demanded to be let in that way when the sun had only just come up, the death of the canary she had loved, the trouble they had had over finding the books to run back to the library. In their own right they were unmemorable things that might have been said to anyone, but said as they were in this place, to Martin Crawford, they took on an import all their own.
It should not therefore, have surprised her when in the glow of a reddening sunset, he had reached for the very tips of her hands and said, 'if I were to go away, would you wait?'
'Always,' she had said, and she had gone away with the sensation of his kiss and the hymn about the sea on her lips.
What with one thing and another that had been the last of those meetings; he had gone away soon after on a red-skied morning, and she watched the boat's going at a distance and knew, or almost knew, because sitting at the bedroom window and looking out at the sky, the words of 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save' had been halfway to her lips before she checked them for fear of waking anyone. Long afterwards she worried out the implications of not singing it, of tentatively humming instead those first dotted and pentatonic bars to 'All in A Garden Green,' and wondering if the hymn might not have had the effect of a caul not to be found in the other melody, when inevitably the news came back to his family and to All Saints' about the untimely intervention of the Magdelens and the unseasonably cold water.
The others must have had a similar sort of conviction, the verger, the conductor and organist called Richard, well-meaning Father Andrews who celebrated the mass, because it was after this that the vestry had Sea Sunday instated and they had that caul-like hymn and all the ones that had the sea in them to safeguard the rest of the congregation and choir. They were sent away after the Benediction with strains of 'Never Weather-Beaten Sail' still resonating high overhead, and none of them, Rosemary, Ellen, nor any of All Saints' regular congregants would be able to hear it quite the same way again. And yet, it was always the secular melody that came back and haunted Rosemary when in after years she stole a moment aside in that place where they had met and talked and worked and loved. The trees thereby throbbed with the sound of it, all in a garden green two lovers sat at ease, and would do until a chance meeting and the fashioning of a birch cup should displace it and, witnessing a curious kind of communion, take up another, different strain, that was quite as without guile as the first had been.