“C’mon Stevie!” Colin shouted over his shoulder at his little brother, “you know what Ol’ Waggy’s like if we’re late.”
“I’m going as fast as I c…” the last of Stevie’s reply turned into a yelp as he slid and skidded on the icy path, arms and legs widely windmilling but all in vain as he tumbled into a heap into the snow.
At the sound of his cry, Colin turned and ran back to rescue Stevie, offering his hand to pull him up. Colin looked around cautiously and seeing none of his friends, kept a firm grip on Stevie’s hand and hurried him along the path up to the church.
Ol’ Waggy, or Philip Wagstaff to give him his proper name and who was in fact quite young, was gazing out of the church window, watching the brothers as they made their way to choir practice, laughing gently at Stevie’s comic tumble. Philip sighed; he was destined for greater things than choir master at the village church waiting for all the members of the choir to muster. Wasn’t he? How on earth did he end up in this back water? Again, Philip ran through the events that had brought him here, simply not understanding how it had all happened.
Philip was a very young child when he realised that the black and white dots on and between the five lines of the pages on the hymn book he was holding corresponded to the sounds made by the organ played in the cathedral and the voices singing to the organ. And when he broached this revelation with his mother, she was delighted to think she might have a musical prodigy on her hands. Mama even let the little boy into that sacrosanct room, The Parlour, where her piano was kept and started to teach Philip how to play.
To say Philip was enchanted was no exaggeration, and music and composition filled his mind and brought him immense joy and satisfaction. Philip quickly realised that music was all he wanted in life; to play, to sing, to be the best he could.
As he grew older and music became more and more of an obsession, Philip asked around and was delighted to find that the best place to study was at The Conservatorium in the city not far from the town where he currently resided with his family. From then on Philip’s sole objective was to gain a coveted place there and he diligently studied and played in order to achieve his goal. His long term dreams were to play at Covent Garden and at the Royal Albert Hall, but first he needed to get the necessary qualifications.
When all his hard work paid off, Philip’s parents were only too happy for him to accept the prestigious position, but Mrs Wagstaff was concerned about Philip living on campus; she knew only too well that it was difficult to get Philip to the dining room and she feared that if he lived in student accommodations he would forget to eat and stay up far too late. Luckily Papa had a second cousin living in the city not far from The Conservatorium. This second cousin was in fact the mayor of the city and his cousin’s request was greeted warmly. It would do his standing in the community no harm to provide a home for an upcoming musical talent.
So the day arrived when Philip took the train to the city and caught a cab to his new abode. He had arrived early to settle in and become accustomed to living with this new family. Mayor Simpson, his wife and two daughters were pleased to welcome this handsome young man into their home. Mr Wagstaff had sent a letter to Mayor Simpson enduring him to apply a firm hand to Philip to ensure he regularly attended meals, and had similarly exhorted Philip to bring his head out of his music while he was in the dining room, to make conversation and behave politely. Philip promised to do his best, which was all that could be hoped for.
Philip’s rooms at the Mayor’s fine house were on the top floor, and had in fact been the nursery for the Mayors two daughters. Having recently been converted, they contained a bedroom and sitting room with piano which suited Philip’s needs. At first a maid was sent to request Philip’s presence for meals. When this meek mannered girl struggled to gain Philip’s attention an older footman was sent forth and Reed brooked no delay and Philip was summarily propelled down to the Dining Room. With difficulty Philip listened to the family’s small talk and they made sure to included Philip in their conversations. It was with relief that Philip was able to leave the table at the end of the meals and head back to his room.
After a few days Mayor Simpson requested Philip’s presence in the Library. Having been bade to enter after his knock, Philip found himself in front of Mayor Simpson’s desk.
“Just checking that you’re settling in well with us, m’boy,” the affable Mayor said. Philip replied that all was well and, remembering his father’s admonitions, thanked the Mayor for his hospitality and generosity. “Well, well, that’s all to the good” replied the Mayor and waved Philip away, both satisfied that all was going well.
As a young boy, Mrs Wagstaff had encouraged her son to take walks as a means of getting him some exercise and of getting him out of the house. Initially this had proved problematic, but Philip soon realised that walking exercised his brain as well and difficult harmonies and problematic chords could be solved and resolved in his head out in the open air. Philip was usually accompanied by his older brother Ian, partly to ensure that Philip was not harmed when crossing roads, but also because the boys had always gotten on well together and Ian was able to tease and cajole Philip out of his “music thinking” and converse on other topics.
The day of Philip’s first class soon arrived and Miss Adelaide, Mayor and Mrs Simpson’s elder daughter, offered to walk with Philip to The Conservatorium as she herself was learning the violin at the music college nearby. Miss Adelaide was a pretty girl, not that Philip noticed, and was happy to be seen walking with this good looking music protégé, and as they walked Adelaide chatted inconsequentially. Philip’s mind was busy with what lay ahead and he barely noticed Adelaide. He did remember to thank her politely for showing him the way as she stopped at the door of her college, then he walked on to The Conservatorium.
From the moment of entering the doors of The Conservatorium on that first day, Philip felt totally at home. He revelled in his classes and found like-minded souls in other students. A pattern for the days quickly emerged, with Adelaide accompanying Philip to and from their respective schools, Adelaide chattering away, Philip offering the occasional “yes” or “no” and vaguely hoping the right response was said in the right place, but all his attention was on upcoming classes, lectures and musical works. He barely noticed when, after a few weeks, Adelaide tucked her arm in his and smiled up at him.
At the end of first term, Philip headed home for the holidays leaving the Simpsons behind without a backward glance, and certainly not seeing the yearning on Adelaide’s delicate face. He and Ian had much to talk about, Ian teasing him about the Simpson girls, Philip dismissing them and more eager to hear about his brother’s news.
Too quickly it was back to The Conservatorium and the year rolled on, the days following their pattern and Philip learning more and more, becoming more adept with his playing and showing great promise with composing, and Adelaide by his side on the walks to and fro her chatter floating over his head and his replies not of any consequence to him.
Before long Philip’s first year was over, then the second, and then his final year before deciding on a fourth where he would be specialising. In what, he wasn’t quite sure; he could go the path of piano, or follow his other love of composing.
As his last days grew closer, Mayor Simpson once again called Philip into his Library.
“Well, m’boy, I believe you have something to ask me,” said the Mayor with a broad smile on his congenial face.
At a loss, Philip wasn’t sure how to respond. Eventually he thought it best to ask outright. “Um, I’m not sure I understand what that would be, sir”.
“You and Adelaide, young Philip” replied the Mayor. “I must say, her mother and I are delighted at the prospect of having you for a son-in-law.”
“A….a….son-in-law?” Philip stuttered somewhat bewildered. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
By now, the Mayor was starting to sense something was amiss. “You and Adelaide have been discussing marriage…..between the two of you.”
“I can assure you, sir, I have had no such discussions, with Miss Adelaide or anyone.”
“Well, this is not what Adelaide has said. She told her mother and me just this evening that you’d proposed on the way home this afternoon.”
“I’d what?” exclaimed Philip. “No, no sir. No such proposal has ever been made.”
“But you’ve been walking out these last few years. A proposal was bound to come of it.”
“Are you going to repeat everything I say, young man?” The Mayor’s once affable face was now suffused with red and he was clearly getting quite angry.
“No, no…..” stuttered Philip, “I…..” Philip cleared his throat; this was bad, very bad. “Sir, all we have done is accompany one another to our respective schools. I have never spoken more than a dozen words to your daughter on any of these occasions. I really don’t know where…..” Philip suddenly realised that he should have been paying more, no should have been paying all his attention to Adelaide’s chatter. “I am at a loss, sir, as to where Miss Adelaide derived the notion that I had given her any idea that a marriage proposal could have been offered……as it most certainly hasn’t.”
“I see,” said Mayor Simpson, “or rather, I don’t really. Let us get Adelaide in here to see if we can clear up this ‘misunderstanding’.”
From there matters only worsened as Adelaide insisted that they had discussed marriage, where they were to buy a house and when they would be starting a family. All of which, needless to say, Philip had no recollection, far too engrossed in his music to be listening to what he considered idle chatter.
Totally dissolutioned, Adelaide broke down declaring that she would be made a laughing stock as all her friends were expecting the big announcement imminently. Shattered, Philip could hardly believe what he was hearing, and again expressed his disbelief that these conversations had ever taken place. By this stage Adelaide was hysterical and a doctor had to be called to calm the girl.
“I think it best, young Philip,” declared the Mayor, “that you pack your bags and leave first thing in the morning. We can’t have you here with Adelaide in this state.” Philip could only agree, and he quickly packed his bags, spent a restless night trying to recall any of the so-called conversations he and Adelaide were meant to have had. At first light he took his leave, only saying his goodbyes to Mayor Simpson and expressing apologies, for what he wasn’t quite sure, but felt it the right thing to do. On the train journey back to his family home, Philip could only wonder at the last 24 hours, and question what should become of the rest of his schooling and his career. His dreams of playing the Royal Albert Hall all but lay shattered at his feet.
His family were dismayed at all the news, Ian declaring that Adelaide must be very silly indeed, and Mrs Wagstaff secretly thinking that the poor girl had had her head turned by her handsome son, but a little cross that Philip had not been paying attention and that he could have nipped this in the bud.
“Well, lad,” asked Mr Wagstaff, “where to now?”
“That I don’t know, Papa, I really don’t,” replied his forlorn son.
Phillip spent the next few days trying to finalise his end of year work, but found for the first time in his life, that he lacked concentration and instead spent more time out walking, hoping this would bring some solace as his playing did not.
Ian sidled up to him on one of his walks and nudged his brother gently to let him know he was there. “Don’t think I’ll ever understand women, Ian” Philip tried to smile. “That one’s beyond understanding,” said Ian, “wouldn’t even try.” They walked on in comfortable silence.
It was Mrs Wagstaff who found a solution of sorts, hearing through a friend that a nearby village needed a new choir master, the village being well known for its choral activities in the area. So Philip dutifully applied, and the village elders quickly snapped up this well accredited young man, and Philip found himself on a different train, heading to a very different life than the one he’d mapped out for himself.
The church door banged open putting paid to Philip’s reverie and Colin and Stevie flew down the aisle.
“Sorry, sir” they both apologised and quickly made their ways into the choir stalls.
Philip smiled at them, raised his baton, the choir stood. He nodded to Miss Taylor at the organ and she played the first chord.
Choir practice had begun.
© Pomegranate and Chintz 2017