| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
"And others' follies teach us not,
Nor much their wisdom teaches,
And most, of sterling worth, is what
Our own experience preaches."
 OVER the old church-tower passed the rooks, on their
way from the neighboring trees, cawing into the fresh
morning air as they went. Dew hung yet upon every stone
of the building,—on the bits of moss and grass which
time had suffered to creep over or between them, here
and there,—on the edges of the tombs below. There was
no one astir at this early hour of an autumn day to
speak to or interrupt the dark-eyed Geronimo, as he
strode hurriedly up the pathway to the porch, the
church-keys dangling from his hand, and slightly
clanking against each other as he stepped.
Behind him followed a rough-haired country lad, but at
a little distance, and silent. He had a stick in his
hand, however, with which he began to whisk off the wet
from the grass-blades of the graves on each side the
path; but at one turn and glance from Geronimo, he
Soon the key was in the lock, the bolt had
 grating, back; the heavy door was pushed open,
the shock echoing through the building; and Geronimo
and little Roger, the mason's son, his companion, were
walking up the aisle; on one side of which, at the
upper end, in a small transept, stood the organ and
Let me recall that lonely village, nestling in a narrow
valley on the borders of Southern Wales, traversed by a
rapid streamlet, which ran through it like a silver
thread; rich in orchards, embosomed in ancient trees,
where rooks had built their nests for generations;
where the cuckoo's voice reverberated from surrounding
At one extremity was the church, at the other
the quiet vicarage; so that the flock were wont to
watch about their doorways for the passing by of the
Pastor to his sacred office, that they might follow and
enter with him into the ark of the visible church on
earth, he leading them on their way. It was a pretty
custom and a pleasant sight; there was a tone of loyal
respect and trust about it, which social progress has,
it is to be feared, some tendency to disturb.
Let me recall the old Pastor himself, in his happy,
scholarly simplicity; the serenity of submission on his
face, for he had undergone a life's long grief. Let me
recall him in the days when the time was drawing near
for the silver chord to be broken, and when his visions
brought him closer and closer to the day of reunion
with his dearly beloved Italian wife, who had died when
their only child, Geronimo, was but five years old.
And Geronimo was now his father's curate; a youth fresh
from the schools; energetic, enthusiastic, determined
even to self-will, a worshipper of system
 and order;
one who had taken for his motto the words of the poet:
"—because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence."
The father, on the other hand, past middle-age, was old
for his years; for the fire of his spirit had died out,
but the power of his intellect remained unaltered, as
is often the case in fine natures; and an originally
widely educated judgment grew wider and gentler as the
river of his life widened out to the everlasting sea.
He doubted about his son's motto, therefore, as a
universal rule of life. It had to be considered, said
he, whether the "right" you followed, or the
"consequence" you scorned, was of the greater vital
importance. There was a right and a wrong—he once added
as a homely illustration—in the way of cutting a
pencil; but if you have to deal with a weak-leaded one,
which would not bear long shoulders without breaking,
it was better to cut it with short shoulders than waste
it altogether. If he had to choose a motto himself, it
must be from the broader teaching of St. Paul.
Geronimo listened in impatience. He thought his
father's argument a letting down of principle, the
homely illustration trivial, and with regard to St.
Paul, everybody knew that texts could be found to
support most anything.
It stood thus, then, that the father admired the son
for his strength of purpose and purity of intention,
yet sometimes wondered what his future would be; but
that the son never properly appreciated the father,
except for his amiability to himself. He
 thought him a
kind but feeble old man, behindhand in the lights of
And it was true that while Geronimo had passed from
school to college, his father had remained in the
narrow valley; and while the kaleidoscope of public
opinion was presenting fresh combinations of thought
and feeling to the gaze and admiration of the ardent
young, the old man was out of the circle of their
influence, and judged of them afar off with the mind of
It was, perhaps, a rash arrangement that Geronimo
should have come to be his father's curate; but he had
made the offer, and the old man had accepted it with
tears of joy. There was, in fact, between them a strong
natural affection, overruling all theoretical
differences of opinion, as well as a strong sense of
parental and filial duty. There was also, perhaps, some
hope on both sides of influencing each other for good;
and there was, moreover, the unspoken bond of common
interest in one grave.
The triangular white marble slab on the chancel-wall of
the church bore upon it a name which to both father and
son was still the dearest name upon earth, "Maria
Maddalena:"—to the old man naturally so, who through so
many years had lifted up weary, loving eyes to the
golden letters in which it was traced, travelling in
spirit to that heaven of heavens whither the taper
central angle of the tablet continually pointed.
And the son had his own recollections—dim ones of old
embraces from that mother who had so soon passed
away—vivid ones of looking upwards to that tablet from
his seat in church ever since he was a child—of gazing
on the shining words, and the shining emblems above
them, the palm branches, the
 cross, and the star, until
their glitter first dazzled and then brought tears to
his eyes. Had he tried, by gazing, to get nearer to the
bearer of that golden name—the mother, whom every
motherless child feels to want so much? Had he hoped to
charm her back, he knew not whence, to comfort him, he
knew not how?
He could not have answered himself. Children do and
feel many things of which they can give no account, and
the why, matters so little in comparison with the fact.
Enough that the long-cherished habit of love to the
pure white marble slab remained as firm in Geronimo's
heart, as if he had been able to reason about its
propriety, and justify it by argument.
Judge, then, what he must have suffered, when, on his
first coming to the place, as curate, he felt it his
duty to ask permission of his father to have that
tablet removed to some other part of the church!
Let us go back to that time, some nine months before
that of my story, for it was the beginning of
Geronimo's practical troubles.
It was a painful scene that took place; Geronimo's
voice trembled as he made the request, and his father's
heart-wrung "Never!" was followed by a silence equally
distressing to both. Then the old man asked for
reasons, and the young one gave them. The kaleidoscope
had brought certain proprieties into full observation
which had for some time been unnoticed—there was no
doubt about that. The tablet was on a wall within the
communion rails; it would have been better elsewhere.
Private memorials were inappropriate there. Geronimo
thought them inappropriate in the church anywhere—the
father disputed this—it was the ark of the
 dead as well
as of the living; but were the matter to be done over
again, he would place the stone without the rails in
preference; as it was, there was no vital principle
involved—no sufficient reason, therefore, for the
desecrating act of removal.
The son returned to the argument. His father had
admitted the objection; was it not then clearly an act
of duty to sacrifice personal feeling to the example of
right—whether the right were small or great?
"Measure me the measure of right," cried the troubled
father, "as compared with the impressions it will
cause. You cannot drive straight lines through life
without knocking over good feelings as well as bad
ones, and woe to those who knock down what little there
is of good in the world!"
"The right way is a narrow way," replied the son; "to
trim to the prejudices of the ignorant is to sacrifice
principle to man-pleasing." There was more said in the
shape of argument than needs to be repeated here—let
every one fight the matter out as he will. On the
following day, the father had come to a resolution.
"When I am gone," said he to his son, "and my name is
added to hers on the tablet, you may remove it to where
you will; and even now, if, on hearing this, you remain
offended, you may remove it at once. I warn you,
however, that it is my belief your doing so will cause
evil rather than good among those whose souls' health
you are bound to consider. You cannot get them to
understand your motives, and they will abominate the
act. What you lose will be far more, therefore, than
what you will gain. Of my personal feelings I say
nothing. On that point I suspect we suffer together.
Now, then, do as you please."
 If the father hoped, by yielding a point so trying to
himself, to set Geronimo an example of giving way, he
deceived himself. Geronimo did not accept what he said
as an example, but as an acknowledgment of an error
that needed rectifying. About any consequences to other
people he refused to think at all. Consequences were
nothing in matters of duty and principle.
So he went to Roger, the village-mason, explained what
he wanted, and gave his orders, announcing his
intention of coming himself to assist. But the man
stared in astonishment. "You ben't in earnest surely,
sir?" said he. "Surely you're never going to pull down
your own mother's tombstone? Why, it'll break the old
gentleman's heart—and she such a woman as she was!"
"My father has given his consent," said Geronimo,
annoyed, but not betraying the smallest impatience.
Roger the mason shook his head, and took up a tool he
had laid down, as if intending to return to his work.
"You'll excuse me, Mr. Geronimo; you've, maybe,
persuaded him to it. Young people will be young people,
I know," remarked Roger; "though it's a downright
miracle to me why you should want to do it—you, the
lady's only son; and such a lady as she was!"
"It's out of no disrespect to my mother, I assure you,"
"I should think not, indeed!" interrupted the mason.
"But," continued Geronimo, "we have all to sacrifice
personal feelings, you know, in matters of right and
Geronimo paused; but the mason was silent—he had no
idea what was meant.
 "Or where there is a question of propriety in the
treatment of holy places," continued the youth; but
still the mason stared at him in silence.
"You don't understand me, I think," said Geronimo.
"I'm free to own I don't," answered the mason.
"Will you let me come in and explain myself?" asked the
"Your father's son is welcome in my house at any time!"
cried Roger, who had at last got hold of an idea he
could fully understand; and leading the way along a
narrow passage, he ushered his guest into a small
parlour, to which he presently called his wife down,
having asked permission for her to share in what Mr.
Geronimo was going to say.
But let Mr. Geronimo say what he would, neither of his
hearers succeeded in comprehending him, though, to do
them justice, they tried. There they sat, the mason
holding his cap in both hands between his knees,
slightly stooping, but looking up at Geronimo from time
to time; his wife bolt upright, and never taking her
eyes off him for a second. And still they didn't
They had two or three ideas of their own in
their heads, it is true, which were adverse to Mr.
Geronimo's arguments, and perhaps darkened their powers
of comprehension. "The Mrs.," as they called her, had
been an angel on earth, if ever there was one, and no
place could be too good for her stone, they were sure,
for wasn't she herself in heaven?—at least, who would
ever get there if she wasn't there? And the poor dear
gentleman had stood under it every Sunday ever since
she was taken, and who'd have the heart to deprive him
of the comfort of feeling her so near? If that stone
were to be taken away,
 they shouldn't have him there
much longer—Mr. Geronimo might depend upon that!
Roger's good woman declared she wouldn't see the poor
gentleman standing there alone, as if he'd never had a
wife, for all the world, if she could help it. Take
down his own mother's tombstone! as if her name wasn't
a credit anywhere, and a good example into the
bargain—Mr. Geronimo couldn't be thinking of what he
was saying! And Roger protested that if he never had
another job in all his life, he wouldn't have this. But
Mr. Geronimo was young, put in the wife, and hadn't
come to his feelings; he would think better of it
presently. They wished him a very good morning, and
hoped he would call again.
Mr. Geronimo bit his lips as he left the house.
Learning!—authority!—what had become of them? What had
he done with them? What could he have done with them
against such stolid country heads? Entirely spoilt into
the bargain, thought he—the fruit of taking things
easy. There was but one hope of cure—to go the way you
thought right, and leave such people to get reconciled
to it as they could. Explanation and reasoning!—he was
ashamed of having tried them. The people had treated
him like a child.
So he crossed the hills next morning, and rode ten
miles, to the nearest town, where he engaged a
marble-mason to come over and remove the tablet. But
Sunday intervened, and as it chanced, his father was
ill, and he had to stand in his place under the tablet
in the chancel.
And all at once, while there, there
flashed into his mind one, at any rate, of the words
which Roger the mason had spoken—quite an unreasonable
 be it granted, but reason, even in the most
reasoning men, is not always a match for feeling, and
Geronimo was suddenly unnerved.
The Gospel for the day
contained the brief, pathetic history of the widow of
Nain; and crossed as all the incidents were—for
the only son of a yet living father, and it was the
mother who was dead—every word seemed to touch his
case, and he had a sensation as if the Maria Maddalena
of his childhood was looking down over his head from
the tablet he was preparing to remove. He actually
shuddered. What if his father were about to die too?
Yet, what really overwhelmed him, little as he knew it,
was the contrast which made itself felt between the
hardness of his own attempted system and the sympathy
which breathed out of the Gospel page. The Saviour had
driven the money-changers from the temple, it is true,
with the hand of indignant power; but there was no
question of the world's vile desecrating traffic in
that still marble monument on the wall.
not think it all out then, nor till long afterwards,
but in steeling himself to set a point of—let it be
granted—ecclesiastical propriety above the much
weightier matter of human sympathy, and a regard for
moral results on others, he had followed the Pharisees
of old, rather than Him who imposed none but necessary
burdens on the tremulous human mind.
Nevertheless his resolution had received a shock, and
he was up betimes next morning to meet the marble-mason
on his way. He had altered his intentions, he told him,
with respect to the tablet, but there was another
little matter of restoration in the church which he
wished him to undertake.
And now Geronimo breathed
freely again, and met his father at breakfast with an
easy mind. He therefore spoke quite cheerfully of the
proposed restoration of a Knight Templar's tomb, which
had long been in disorder, and alluded to the
marble-mason from the town as being there.
A cry from his father interrupted him.
"Geronimo!—that marble-mason!—have you really had the
heart to——" Here breath failed the old man, and he
turned very pale.
"No, no!" cried Geronimo, passionately, for he knew
what was meant.
"It is well," murmured the father. "I gave you leave, I
know; but, Geronimo, I doubt if I could have borne it.
One gets weaker as one gets older; and, with weak
people as with ignorant ones, the grasshopper is
sometimes a burden."
If Geronimo could but have recollected this! But he had
seen so little of life and the world himself, that he
could scarcely help being one-sided and narrow-minded;
and as he would not avail himself of his father's wider
knowledge, what remained but to make mistakes?
So, priding himself on an inflexible firmness in
matters of "principle," however small, he confounded
together things indifferent and important; did even
wise ones foolishly; and attempted others which were
neither wise, nor worth a hundredth part of the offence
"We are to 'be hated of all men for His name's sake,' "
quoted he, in justification of the course he was
"His name's sake!" I dare not record the trivialities
he dignified upon that sacred ground.
But on one or two points the father interfered
 authoritatively, and then domestic disagreement arose.
Now Geronimo had thought scorn of Roger the mason for
not yielding to his better knowledge and authoritative
position, as a matter of course. Yet here, where to the
counsellor was added father as well as priest, and to
the knowledge of the schools the broader experiences of
a long and varied life, it came quite natural to this
mere lad by comparison, to think, and betray the
thought, that he knew a thousand times the better of
the two. Verily, if a little of the old heathen respect
for the wisdom of grey hairs had been added to his
theological dogmas, Geronimo's Christianity would not
"And a man's foes shall be they of his own household,"
murmured the old man to himself in the bitterness of
his heart, as he wondered whether it would not soon be
his duty to send this his only son from his side. For
how could he be justified in letting the clouds of
miserable parties and party feelings gather into a
But now Geronimo, too, awoke to the fact that such a
storm threatened. The gossip spread on every side that
father and son did not always agree, and the flock were
not likely to be unanimous. The wicked natural man
loves contest; the weak natural man loves excitement.
An expression of partizanship to himself, coupled with
disrespect for his father, awoke Geronimo to a sense of
his position, if it did not explain his mistake. And on
looking further round, his tender conscience was
grieved. The old confidence was broken up, the old love
was failing—whether with or without a reason was not
the question now. What could be the cause? What was the
remedy? Perhaps he had been too busy with his plans and
changes to have
 made himself as much a personal friend
as was desirable.
He redoubled his exertions and
visits, endeavoured to conciliate on all sides; but,
somehow, something was wanting. If from long habit a
good many still came out to follow himself and his
father to church, they did so at a greater and greater
distance. Only a few came up now to claim the friendly
greeting, which he remembered as part of the Sunday's
intercourse in the days of his childhood. Geronimo was
Yet, if the kaleidoscope had but turned round for
contemplation that crystal from the wisdom of St. Paul,
"Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died,"
he would have known the cause of estrangement, and how
to apply a cure. As it was, an idea at once bright and
kind struck him, and he lost no time in carrying it out
Geronimo was musical—he had been so from childhood
upwards—had introduced better music as well as greater
beauty into the venerable old church; and for both
these things the people were grateful, as they ought to
He would make use of this happily universal feeling; he
would give a treat to high and low—would have a
festival; they should keep holiday with singing and
gladness and feasting; and the day should be his
father's birthday. He would dispel the dreadful and
mischievous idea that the house to which all the parish
looked for example, was divided against itself!
Never was a happier thought struck out! It furnished
occupation for hearts, and minds, and hands; and the
old folks, who could do nothing but talk, had a
harmless subject of conversation.
 Eh dear, then, Mr.
Geronimo and his father were as friendly as ever! It
had all been a mistake about their not agreeing. Eh!
how pleased the old gentleman looked, to be sure, when
he called, here and there, to ask them if they were
going to get ready! Why, he was helping everybody to
trim themselves up in their best for the grand supper
there was to be at the end. And on the old gentleman's
birthday, and all! It was something to think of ! They
And so they were; but so also, only more deeply so,
were father and son, for they felt reunited.
And now the time drew near, and only one small
contradiction had arisen. The organ was not so
perfectly in tune as to please Geronimo's delicate ear;
and when, nearly at the last moment, he wrote over for
the one organ-builder of the distant town, he found, to
his dismay, that the man was absent, and would be so
till the day after the festival.
The evil was slight, and the father entreated Geronimo
to be satisfied: so few would discover the
imperfection. But Geronimo could not rest; his
passionate love of order was offended; and it must be
owned that the instinct is a good one. "In the
beginning," the will of God brought an organised world
out of elemental confusion. In the end, we hope He will
bring harmony into the discordant world of spirits.
in the present life men may, each one in his degree,
labour to the same good end. It is both their privilege
and their duty to do so. Lawyers, physicians,
statesmen, men of science, and, above all, divines,
undertake to do it by their very professions. Entangled
claims, diseased bodies, disturbed nations, complicated
physical laws and distressed souls, all
 need the peace
that comes with being ordered aright. In Geronimo the
instinct was almost a passion; but of the judicious
application of means to the blessed end, he did not
know a great deal more than of how to bring the organ
of the village church into the desired perfection of
Nevertheless, he knew something of that, for he
had been present when the organ-builder had tuned the
instrument before, had observed the process of widening
or narrowing the mouths of the pipes in order to change
their tone, and had since ventured on correcting a
defective note or two himself.
What was to hinder him
from tuning the whole of them now, if he could but
ascertain the order in which the guiding scale of notes
was made perfect? To bring all the rest into unison
with that would be no difficulty, for he could
perfectly trust his ear. The difficulty was, to get at
the first principles of the matter. The youth who
played the organ when Geronimo's duties precluded his
assistance, knew nothing of the subject.
But Geronimo would not be baffled. The day before the
festival he crossed the hills to the town, and called
at a musical-instrument maker's shop. Could they give
him, he asked, the succession of notes by which organs
Mr. Somebody asked Mr. Somebody else, and there was a
reference to an authority through a door. The shopman,
who was left behind, eyed Geronimo askance. Was he in
their line of business? he wondered. Presently the
other man returned, and presented him with a bit of
music-paper, on which twenty notes were marked down.
"These are the notes, sir," said he, rather coolly as
if he, too, half suspected a rival. "The same as
 for a
pianoforte—as, of course, you know," he added, with a
Geronimo disliked familiarity, and gave a
"Mr. —— desired me to say, with his compliments, sir,"
continued the messenger, "he supposed you're aware it's
a difficult business, organ-tuning, to any one that
hasn't practised it."
"Has your master practised it?" enquired Geronimo, with
a new hope.
"Oh, no, sir," replied the man, who himself did duty as
master on the other side of the door; "we're
pianoforte-tuners only, sir."
"What does the fool mean?" thought Geronimo, as he
walked away. "A difficult business it may be to the man
without an ear, but easy enough otherwise, with the
clue in his hand. Thank Heaven, there is the comfort of
certainty in dealing with material things! Fixed laws,
and fixed results! Not that everlasting trimming and
yielding, which leaves every work one undertakes
imperfect at last!"
As Geronimo mused thus, and read over the
clearly-defined system by which his organ was to be
brought into that harmonious order which we call "being
in tune," he almost felt that an organ-builder's
business was a more satisfactory one than a clergyman's.
There was still the little brass cone, used for
widening or contracting the pipes, to be obtained; but
this he asked for at the organ-builder's
establishment—no remark passing there on what it was
wanted for; and then Geronimo hurried home.
And now it will be understood what took the young
curate to the church so early, on the morning of that
autumn festival-day. He had begun, but not nearly
completed, the tuning of the organ the evening before,
 having gone to it as soon as he could make an excuse to
leave his father again; for the bold feat was to be
kept secret till its successful accomplishment proved
how wisely it had been undertaken. And now it must be
finished before breakfast; for the decorations were to
be brought in afterwards, and he himself had a thousand
other things to do.
For two hours and upwards therefore, did he persevere
in his anxious work; his greatest trouble being the
special care required in the mechanical part, inasmuch
as a hasty or too heavy insertion of the cone into the
mouths of the pipes was liable to split the metal and
do mischief. But Geronimo kept every faculty on the
full stretch of attention, and his perfect ear made the
bringing of the notes into correct harmony a matter of
no trouble at all, but, on the contrary, of the keenest
And the instrument was more glaringly out of
order than he had supposed. His father had fancied it was
only a little out of tune, and he himself had not
thought the disorder very great. But now that he tested
it by the scale, almost every note was wrong, and must
be altered. A few of the octaves harmonised together,
it is true; but all the fifths were either too flat or
too sharp. That not one should have remained perfect by
accident, as several of the octaves had done, puzzled
him not a little; but the fact of their all being
imperfect, more or less, was undeniable. What a
blessing he had it in his power to remedy the evil!
Yes; for two hours and upwards did the work go on; the
occasional drone of the pipes vibrating drearily
through the aisles, and almost causing little Roger to fall
asleep at his post of the blower. At last, however,
every octave had been gone through, had
 been brought
into perfect unison with the perfected scale of the
twenty notes, and Geronimo's labours were over!
"Roger," cried he to the child, whose blowing efforts
were perceptibly failing.
"Blow steadily and strongly now, for ten minutes more,
and you shall go home to breakfast. Fill the bellows,
there's a good lad."
Roger worked his arms vigorously, and the bellows were
"It's all right now, please, sir," said he.
Geronimo had his eyes on a piece of music open on the
desk before him. It was Haydn's Mass in five flats—his
dream of beauty among all the classical music of the
world. As Roger spoke, the young curate bent forward,
and struck down the full magnificent chords of the key.
But almost as he struck them, he uttered a cry, which
it was well the louder organ sounds drowned, or Roger
would have thought Geronimo mad—a cry of both despair
and physical distress. As it was, something startled
the lad, and he let go the blowing handle with a jerk.
It ran up at once, and the organ notes died out in a
As to Geronimo, it would be difficult to describe what
he did. He was off the stool in an instant, shouting to
Roger to know if he had broken the bellows; then back
again to retouch the expiring notes, and see if he had
been under a delusion, or if he had struck the
instrument at random. But no, no, no! Then how—by what
miracle—could he account for the fact that his touch
upon that chord had filled the air with dissonant
vibrations—horrible to the most untutored ear, but to
his refined one
 absolutely insufferable? Chord indeed!
the very word was a mockery; what he had struck was a
clash of discords.
Human nature itself had never puzzled Geronimo half as
After the first agony was over, he examined the matter
with all the calmness and care he could command—made
Roger blow again—tried other chords in succession—but
in all cases with the same result, in a greater or less
degree. Once more, then, he got out the
tuning-scale—once more ran over the guiding twenty
notes: there was not a single flaw, not one; not a
varying vibration could be heard; and all the others
were in unison with those. And then again he struck a
chord, and the chord was no chord at all.
examined the pipes: perhaps he had cracked all their
mouths with his cone. But no, there was not a split in
any one of them; he had been far too careful for that.
And now time was getting on, and Roger was half
starved. A knocking had already been heard at one of
the doors. The decorators must be let in, and he must
go home to his breakfast and his father. Geronimo's
face, as he locked up the organ and put the keys in his
pocket, looked ten years older than it had done before
he had begun his work. He gave Roger half-a-crown, as a
treat for the day, and hastened home.
It is difficult to reckon on the conduct of any one
under the trial of having made a great mistake. Some
people fight meanly to get out of a little fault, as if
self-conceit was the leading principle of their lives,
but humble themselves nobly under a great one; and this
was the case with Geronimo.
He went at once to his
father, and told him all he
 had done, blaming himself
more bitterly than his father would allow he deserved.
But he did more than that; he stepped into many houses
that morning, both of farmers and shopkeepers, and told
them they must forgive him for being the cause of what
he feared would be a great disappointment. He had
wanted to make the organ better, and he had,
unfortunately, done something to it which had made it
worse; and as he could not find out what was amiss, it
couldn't be remedied. He would get the choir to make
amends by singing their very best, and he would help
them all he could himself. He begged that the blunder
might not be allowed to spoil the pleasure of the day.
Unaccountable human race! we ought indeed to be
patient, one with the other! Geronimo had not received
so many smiles in all the time he had been curate as
now, when he was carrying round the painful message of
his own defeat.
It was wonderful! Kind words were on every lip; not a
reproach was heard. It had been so good of Mr. Geronimo
to try. They were sure it couldn't have been his fault,
but something had gone wrong of itself. Anyhow, they
didn't mind at all, and hoped he wouldn't trouble
himself. They should hear him sing all the plainer for
there being no music besides; and, as for that piece
the old Master had talked about so much, they hoped
he'd be so good as to play it to them some other
day. They begged he wouldn't mind—that was all!
Geronimo felt crowned with roses, for his frankness, if
not for the error he had committed; and service, feast,
and festival were kept with unclouded comfort, bringing
a promise of further comfort in store—a better
understanding of what was meant on all sides.
And now for the explanation. Neither father nor son
could unravel the mystery. The only guess even that
they could make was, that the man at the music-shop
might have given them a wrong scale to work by. It was
not a bad idea, and it served to keep them quiet till
the organ-builder, whom they sent for at once, came
over. He was an odd, sententious old man, with a good
deal of dry humour. So when he got into the church, and
touched the fatal organ, he first chuckled and then
Were the bellows out of order? Were the pipes injured?
Was the scale incorrect? Was the tuning imperfect?
Geronimo's questions fell thick and fast.
"Nothing of the sort, young gentleman," said the
organ-builder to every suggestion. "There's only one
thing the matter—but it's everything—the tuning's too
perfect by half!"
Both Geronimo and his father stared, to the
organ-builder's great delight.
"You don't seem to have heard of this before,
gentlemen," observed he; "but it's a fact,
nevertheless. The scale's all right; the system's
perfect: but if you stick too close to it, it sets you
wrong. The organ won't bear it, that's the fact."
"Not bear being put into perfect tune?" asked Geronimo,
really astonished. "How is that possible?"
"Because it's an imperfect instrument, sir," answered the
organ-builder; "and that being the case, you have to
make the best you can of it, and not expect to get it
perfect, for that's not possible."
Here he took up the scale paper, and went on to explain
that most of the fifths must be left somewhat
 flat, and
the few others made somewhat sharp; the octaves alone
being tuned in perfect unison. And this was the best
plan, he assured them, of getting a harmonious
whole—"not perfect, I grant, even then," added he, "but
pretty fair for this present life, gentlemen, you see."
Geronimo listened in silence. A system of expediency in
the material world, and in music especially, seemed to
him monstrous. He sat silently by, too, while the
organ-builder made his preparations for repairing the
mischief that had been done. He father slipt away, as
silent as himself, though possibly he made his own
reflections before he went.
But Geronimo sat silently on, till at last the
organ-builder began to tune the fifths, leaving each
one flat in succession; and then he could contain
himself no longer. He got up, but only to sit down
again, and then rose once more.
"This is most trying!" he exclaimed. "As unsatisfactory
to the mind as the ear! To have a perfect system to go
by" (here he pointed to the scale of twenty notes)
"and not be allowed to carry it perfectly out, though
ear and heart rebel against the disorder! To have an
evil under your very hand to be remedied, and be
obliged to suffer it still. I call this dreadful!"
The organ-builder stopped his work, to listen and
"It's not very pleasant, I admit," said he, "but
there's one thing worse—to find you've worked so hard
for the system, that you've missed the end it was made
"A perfect system ought to work out a perfect end,"
But the organ-builder shook his head. "Not if
instrument isn't perfect too," persisted he; "there's
sure to be a cross somewhere."
Drone went another pipe, another imperfect fifth was
tuned, and the organ-builder made another pause. He was
a very sententious man and liked to explain all round
"It's the same all through life," observed he; "the
best rules, even, short of Gospel rules, of course,
mustn't be pressed too close; neither man nor organ can
bear it. If we were all up in heaven it might be
In spite of himself Geronimo smiled, and the smile did
him good. "What a choice of evils!" said he.
"Can't be otherwise," remarked his companion, "so long
as things are all imperfect together—men and organs—and
perhaps even rules too, sometimes."
Geronimo shook his head, but the organ-builder did not
notice it, and went back to his tuning as cheerful as
if no such thing as a sad necessity existed in the
world. And Geronimo went on listening to the
unsatisfactory sounds, musing the while thereupon.
. . . Irregularity—inconsistency—contradictions
even—were as rife then in the material world as in the
spiritual—must be borne with—allowed for—made the best
of—in the one case as in the other.
The organ-builder's business
was not so much more satisfactory than a clergyman's,
after all! . . .
"Now, sir, you may play Haydn's Mass in five flats for
as long as you please," observed the organ-builder, as
he concluded the tuning, striking down the full chord
of the key in proof of the fact: "the organ goes
sweetly enough now."
And so it did—"sweetly enough," if not as perfectly as
Geronimo could have desired; but he had had his
and must henceforth be contented with something short
of his ideal.
"That type of Perfect in his mind,
In Nature can he nowhere find."
Nowhere in the lower nature, at least; and for the full
development of the higher, he must wait in patience.
But patience is the philosophy of experience: and even
Geronimo attained it at last.
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