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The Contralto

Rev. Charles Maloy, C. M.
St. Joseph's Parish, Emmitsburg, Md.

Chapter 4 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 1

Waking to a new day affects the human mind variously according to age.

The old are generally depressed, their flow of lively emotions has slowed up, their capacity for happiness has lessened, they live backward in memory recalling the mistakes of the yestertime. The young are jubilant living forward in hope, sensations alone sufficing and succeeding one another rapidly, anticipating pleasures still in the womb of the future. Failures have not yet seared the youthful soul nor brought home to it the transitoriness of all things human. A new sensation is reflected in its joyous outlook as the sun is glassed on the dancing ripples of a breeze fanned lake.

The Professor slept until the sun was high in the heavens and when he awoke was surprised that he had not his customary mal de tete, a new experience of late years. The cold bath prescribed by the nerve specialist was taken with a right good will, the whistling with which it was accompanied reaching the Rector's ears, causing that gentleman to smile knowingly. Breakfast was eaten joyously with many apologies to Bob for the inconvenience to which the Professor's tardiness had put him.

"Do you all want the boss saddled, Professor?" "Not this morning, Robert, I shall give him a day of rest."

"Shall I exercise him in the yard?" wistfully. "How about taking him and Buster for a little run, can you ride?"

"Can I? and I won't ride him hard neither."

"I know you won't, my boy, and when you return rub him down well."

"Thanks, Professor; may I go now?"

"Go ahead, Robert," and the youngster ran off to make ready for a triumph over the budding female hearts of the village. Harry finished his coffee amidst thoughts on the best offering to take to his injured friend. Running over in his mind the topography of the town, he failed to recall a florist shop. Was there one, he pondered. What kind of candy could he buy? There was but one way to find out, go and inquire, so taking his hat he sallied forth to be met at the gate of the parsonage by John Glass, local constable, lamplighter and grave-digger.

"Professor," said John, removing his corduroy Cap.

"Well, sir," touching his own hat," what can I do for you?"

"It's this way, Professor," still holding the cap. "Put on your hat."

"Well, you see we always keeps off our hats talkin' to the college men," doing as ordered.

"I am not a college man," with special emphasis on the last two words, "so you need not stand bare-headed in my presence. What can I do for you?"

"Well, sir, you see I'm constable in this town."

"You have a warrant for my arrest?" laughing.

"Oh, no sir, nothin' like that, but it's this way. My boy stole my hoss last night, tied him outside the Splangler, went in and got drunk. Somebody seen the boss standin' so long they told me and I went down and 'rested it. I put it in Jim Morris's stable and hired Jim for a dollar to watch it 'feared somebody would take it away.

This mornin' I made a complaint to Squire Rowe, then I found out it was my own hoss, and my boy's a minor and I have to pay everything."

"That was hard luck, Mr. Glass," smothering his merriment, "now what can I do to help you?"

"Well, it's this way, I thought as mebbe you might lend me the three-eighty until I get paid."

"Certainly; here are four dollars, I haven't the exact change. Where is that boy of yours now?"

"He's down home asleep, and thank you, Professor."

Ascertaining the whereabouts of the house he went there. At first, the object of his solicitude resented the intrusion, but softening under the charm of the Professor's geniality, told the whole story of his debauch. After feeling the boy's pulse, and looking at his tongue, he left saying he would return in a few minutes. The watchers at Peter's were astonished to see him walk into the bar of the Spangler, from where he emerged later with a package under his arm wrapped in newspaper.

Zimmerman's Drug Store ~ 1915

Thence he went to Zimmerman's drug store, and in a few minutes passed again down Main street. The boy's mother supplied a glass and spoon.

"How much do you take as a drink?"

"I don't know, but Jim Kellner asks me if I'm goin' to take a bath whenever I pour a swig."

"That will hold you for a while," laughing as he poured four fingers into the old-fashioned tumbler.

"It ain't doped is it, Professor?" taking the glass in his trembling hand.

"No, the dope comes later."

The drink was swallowed, the boy lay back on the settee, shutting his eyes while Harry busied himself mixing a powder and colorless fluid. This he presented with orders that it be taken quickly. It was down with much subsequent sputtering, at which the Professor grinned. Telling the mother the boy must not be disturbed for several hours, he withdrew. Walking back to the parsonage, the morning sun appeared to have lost some of its warmth and his step some of its elasticity.

The run with Bob had by no means satisfied, Buster and when his master came out about three in the afternoon he was wailing. Spying a cat in the graveyard the collie manifested his exuberance of spirit by giving chase, the feline fortunately putting a fence between itself and danger. He took his defeat gracefully, trotting along in search of new adventure. Their way led past the church tower out of which came Uncle Bennett locking the door behind him.

"Just been up winding the clock, Professor." "Yes, is that one of your duties?"

"Hardest job in town, all on account of people who think they got standard time," with sarcastic emphasis.

"Isn't your clock correct?"

"Ain't one in the state does better; I set it by my sun-dial and the Hagerstown Almanac, and I know it's always right. Now, you see according to the Almanac this month, the sun is five minutes lateó"

"Yes," interrupted the other, not wishing to show his ignorance of Astronomy.

"And," continued the old fellow with warmth," that's just what that clock says. The yaps around this town are always talking standard time, what they get by telegraph from Washin'ton, and telling me I'm fast or slow. When we got that clock there was the darndest resurrection of old turnips you ever seen, and Davy Ruff had to get Tate Hoke to help him polish 'em up. Since, they're all toting dog-chains and small-sized alarm clocks."

"I should think a few minutes one way or the other would not make much difference to the people of this village; time is the only thing of which they appear to have plenty to spend."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Bennett, expectorating from his toothless gums," gosh! that's a good one. 'Minds me of what I told the Rector when we were dickering about having that clock. He wanted glass dials, but they was mighty expensive, so I says, `What do you need glass dials for? There ain't nobody awake after dark in this town who wants to know the time.' So I made them wooden ones and they're all right."

Moving along, the Professor thought he had found a pragmatist who had never heard of William James. "Is there a florist in the village?" he inquired. "A florist, a fellow that sells flowers?"

"Yes, a greenhouse, where I could purchase a bouquet."

"Gosh! no, don't have no call for cultivated flowers hereabouts. If you want a bouquet though, we have plenty in our back yard, come right in and help yourself."

"Thank you very much, but that would be an imposition."

"Imposition fiddlesticks! Come right in," and before he could offer effectual resistance, he found himself in Uncle Bennett's yard. He used his best judgment in the selection, while the old man expressed regret that the season was too late for the prettiest blooms. Managing to gather a bouquet which was a credit to his artistic sense and with profuse words of gratitude to the carpenter, who reiterated his invitations to call again, he left the garden.

Walking down the street he felt much as a small boy contemplating a misdemeanor. Self-consciousness caused him to blush as though he were doing something shameful, and his toes cramped up in his shoes giving his walk a peculiar gait. He laughed in an effort to compose himself, at his regard for the opinion of Emmitsburg, but his self-control cultivated for years would not come back, and when he rang the bell at the Tyson home he was decidedly flustered. Inquiring of the maid for the young lady, he and the dog were ushered in with that easy familiarity which characterizes the servants in a village house.

"Miss Marion will be glad to see you, sir, and your pretty dog," she said leading the way to a piazza facing the west. Here he found the girl seated in conversation with an elderly man. She beamed with pleasure at his approach, answered lightly his inquiries about her injury, thanked him for his flowers, and presented her companion, Mr. Halm, a retired musician, who had chosen Emmitsburg as the haven of his declining years.

"We were just talking about you, Professor," said Halm as they took their seats. "Miss Marion was telling me of yesterday's accident and the romantic ending."

"Romance tinctured with painful reality as life generally is," he answered with uneasy formality and the remark sounded banal to his own ears.

"Let us hope that the painful element is past and the romantic is only beginning," continued Halm, with the freedom of an old acquaintance, while the two young people studiously avoided each other's gaze. Formality could not long resist his chatter, he ranged from baseball to music without the least apology except what might be contained in his invariable introduction, "What I was going to say was." In the midst of remarks about flowers he interjected:

"What I was going to say was, Professor, did you ever hear Miss Marion sing?"

"I have never had that pleasure."

"Then, my dear," addressing the girl," you must give him the pleasure immediately. Stay right where you are, I shall accompany you from the library."

Soon the notes of a piano floated out of the windows, and Halm's voice inquiring what it should be, suggesting several classic selections much to the consternation of the younger man whose limits in music were fully realized by himself. The girl negatived each choice of the musician, finally saying: "Please play Nevin's lullaby: 'Mighty Lak a Rose.' "

"Good!" broke from the Professor involuntarily, and the piano sounding the opening bars, the young lady's rich contralto softly crooned the weird strains of the masterpiece, for such it is. The soft drawl of the colored race was reproduced in the girl's enunciation of the words, and visions of southern camps and steamboat wharves rose before the Professor's fancy. The short, all too short, lullaby was ended before he came back to present surroundings. Halm stood at the window enjoying his triumph while the young man with perfect simplicity arose and offered his hand to the singer adding words of congratulation.

"Don't you sing, Professor?" she asked.

"Sing, I? no, though I love music."

"There are strange stories about a knight-errant singing up in the mountains."

"I yell some old college songs with the Admiral and Buster there, for an audience; they are very gentle critics."

He was too well aware of his lack of musical development to risk comparison with the voice he had just heard, and also too young not to fear making a ridiculous impression. He was spared further argument, for Mr. Halm recalling that his wife had sent him for medicine an hour before made a hasty exit. He showed a slight inclination to follow the retreating musician, but Marion pleaded a little that he stay, as it was rather boring for her to sit alone. Harry required no urging and took a seat nearer to her.

"Do you read much, Miss Tyson?"

"Yes, but one tires of it."

"I have a rather interesting novel at the rectory, `The Fighting Chance.' You have read it?"

"Yes, but I cannot say I found it altogether admirable."

"There was a personal appeal in it for me."

"A friend of mine, Miss Seabold, called it the 'Kissing Bug,' rather appropriate, ne c'est pas?"

"That was not the element which struck me," he said a little taken aback by her use of the French interrogative.

"You love music?" switched the young woman, perfectly conscious that she had startled him.

"When I can understand it, but my capacity to appreciate is decidedly limited."

"Do you attend the operas at home?"

"Not unless I be compelled to do so, which happens now and then."

"I have heard a few while at school and on rare visits to New York, but have never had a full season of it, I long for an opportunity to hear all the classics."

"I am sure you would enjoy them, but their beauties are lost on me. I like Faust because of the opening march to Sieble's return; we had a parody to the air in college entitled, 'Oh Byes! Have Yez Ever Met McGlynn?' I always associate the Toreador Song, from Carmen, with the jail scene in the 'Man from Mexico,' while II Trovatore recalls Gilmore's Band. As for Wagner I take him as pentitential discipline, though I find myself interestedly watching the man with the bass drum and cymbals, gambling on how soon he is going to fetch 'em another wallop, and when he does I feel like shouting bravo."

"You are teasing," said the girl, laughing heartily, "and you are positively irreverent towards the great masters."

"Honor bright!" he protested, "and believe me, I am no less intelligent than the majority in Metropolitan audiences."

"Why do they go, then?"

"The women that they may see and be seen, the men because they must. I once accepted an invitation to an all-star production of Lea Huguenots, and before the first act was over every man in the party was across the street in a Rathskellar listening to an orchestra discourse ragtime."

Both were now thoroughly at their ease and conversation flowed freely, Miss Tyson marveling at his ready command of slang, finding this hard to reconcile with the traditional opinion anent pedagogues. She was not aware that the American teacher today is a master of every accomplishment which will bring him nearer to the heart of his pupil, and slang is magna pars in this.

Tea was served faithfully in the better class houses and Mrs. Tyson partook of it with Marion and her visitor as they sat on the piazza. Here shortly they were joined by Miss Seabold who dropped in to make inquiries about her injured friend. She was the opposite to Marion in every physical aspect. Tall, willowy, languid, with blue eyes and an abundance of light hair, there was a moiety of the southern drawl which made her conversation harmonize with her manner. Nature could not have made two beautiful creatures with less overlapping of charms and less material basis for jealousy. Marion dark, flashing black eyes, athletic figure, slightly nervous in her manner of talking.

They were friends from natural impulse and from the common ground of being out of tune with their environment. They served as subjects of comparative study to the egoistic Professor, who felt perfectly safe in his armor of experience and resolution. Many another young man has trod the same way with the same assurance only to find that the primrose path leads to but one terminus.

As they strolled home in the descending dusk, Miss Seabold and the Professor attracted almost as much attention as the scene of the day before, Marion's ride, had done, and several of the females declared he was fallen in with the society gang. Behind Peter's closed door Dr. Brawner and Whitmore wondered what he had done with the whiskey he purchased at Jim's.

Chapter 5

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