The characters and story line in this work reach back to the very beginnings of the author's writings in the fifties and his novel manuscript The Cruise of the Ballerina which underwent numerous rewrites and publisher's rejection slips. He later referred to it as the Yacht Novel. It was in the late seventies that he began his major work Contemplatives.
His later studies of music instruction for beginners found its way into this unfinished novel which takes up the threads of the Yacht novel, weaves in the characters from Contemplatives, and sets down in fictional form his musical theories for beginners. It recreates, for the reader, the many music lessons and students he loved to teach and inspire over many years.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
They had come to play basketball, in spite of the heat of that especially warm day at the end of August, in spite of the fact that the place where they chose to scrabble around each other and dunk their baskets as best as they could was the blacktop yard of the school that was about to swallow them up in a few days, reclaiming them for months from the halcyon hours of the summer holidays.
They could have gone to the beach to loll about on the sand in the sun, and swim as the mood took them, but they had gathered in the school yard, the six of them, to throw around a basketball. They were too young to hold down regular summer jobs, but one of them came from a family of means, as her father headed up the town’s main industry, the lumber mill and the woods operation that supplied it, so they might have cadged a boat and gone fishing, or simply messed about like Ratty and Mole in the waters off the island, talking about the nothing that was everything and counting down the days until they returned to the questionable business of acquiring an education. But they had decided on basketball.
Ratty and Mole were big that summer with Deirdre Blakeley, the daughter of the manager, and of a mother who had always read to her when she was small, and encouraged her reading when she became skillful in the art in her own right; and so was Roderick Haig-Brown, who was still alive and writing not too far north of their own town on that literately blessed shore, so a boat out on the water came under the heading of inspiration and adventure that had been much acknowledged in the greatest written works imaginable. Not dealing with girls in his stories for youngsters, Haig Brown was not quite Arthur Ransome, with his pairs of brothers and sisters in Swallows and Amazons, but he was local. Wildcat Island never smelled like the shores Deirdre was used to, with their salt and seaweed and ever changing tides that in some places she knew left huge reaches of sand or mud.
And yet Deirdre and her friends had chosen basketball, and that of the most nonchalant variety, half-a-dozen youngsters in their ordinary summer togs all horsing about a single basket, with no particular ambitions to excel physically, so they could spend a maximum of energy simply talking, prudently getting ready, had they been willing to acknowledge anything so adult as prudence, for another long run at the books and the desks and the teachers that would not know a decent break until Christmas.
They had arrived not long after lunch, contemptuous of the mid-day heat, determined to make all the use they could of the last days and hours of their unsupervised existence, and within half-an-hour had come to many grand conclusions, socially speaking, and not a few excellent plays and nicely sunk shots, some from occasionally battling off interference close under the basket, others from well placed, deliciously suspenseful, long tossed drifters. Of the two boys present, one was destined for remarkable glories on an Island already famous for its basketball players.
In those days there was not the hockey there is now, and basketball, under roofs shielding them from the omnipresent winter rain, was big. He was also a generous lad, destined to become after basketball a teacher, and he always took pains to show the rest of them how to dribble properly, that is, without looking at the ball. The afternoon had begun well and no one saw any reason why it should not continue in just this manner until it was time to think about supper and drift off home, probably by way of an intervening corner store and a few bottles of pop. In the holidays, basketball could go on forever, with neither classes nor homework looming in its way. All that leisure was a lovely thing to hold on to.
And then had came the music.
Via a long-standing tradition, there were two pianos in Saint Bridget’s school, one in the ample space that doubled as gymnasium and auditorium, one in the grade eight classroom, which happened to be right beside the playground, because in the history of the religious order that had taken care of the souls of the young in the Catholic school in Blackfish Bay, the teacher in charge of the grade eights, the oldest class, was usually musical. And this year to come, so the news that spreads from convent to town as quick as can be had told it, the custom was not to be broken except in the vocation and sex of the grade eight teacher, who was to be a young man, not a nun and not a religious brother. And yet the news held it to be – and Deirdre had this on good authority from her mother – that the young man was nonetheless no duffer on the subject of the Faith, coming from a family famous for it in many ways, and also, apparently, a considerable musician and singer. It seemed that he played all sorts of instruments and knew all sorts of well-placed musicians and artists of other skills, and could teach art himself. It also happened that of the six youngsters playing basketball on that warm afternoon, five would find themselves in the grade eight class room.
None of this was very exciting to the boys, especially when they heard that the new teacher was supposed to be very knowledgeable in classical music. It would all be so much better for them if he knew something about sports. And then there was the thought that if he were only a layman, he might not be as strict as the sisters, and they could get away with murder, maybe run the classroom themselves. They were even talking along those lines, the two boys among the four girls, as they thumped the ball on the ground and alternately hit or missed the basket, and chortling over the possibilities. The boys had never known any males teaching in public schools..
And then, as I say, came the music, floating out of the grade room beside the playground, and although their individual skills and taste and understanding varied – Deirdre was the most accomplished – they all understood that it was music, summoned out of the piano with an amazing combination of vigour and lyricism, not quite like anything they had ever heard before. Perhaps floating is not the right word, considering the energy that brought forth the sound.
The boys tried to keep the game going, but all the girls wavered and Deirdre most of all came to a full stop. As Aristotle said, a musician, when he hears music, can think of nothing else. “Would you listen to that?” she said. “Who is it? It can’t be Sister Barbara. She went off at the end of June and no one’s seen her around since. Besides, she never played like that. That’s really loud, sort of like dance music. Almost rock and roll. Anybody know the tune?”
They all shook their heads, but the boys gave up bouncing the ball.
“Actually, I don’t think it is a tune. I think that’s some kind of scale practice, although it doesn’t sound like any of the scale practices I’ve had to do. It’s not at all boring. Just listen to it!”
On the subject of music, there was little point in arguing with Deirdre, and they listened. And, to tell the truth, it was not difficult, for there was indeed a mighty sweep of sounds pouring through the open windows, powerfully and consistently rhythmical, and yet at the same time there was no shortage of a very melodic emphasis. Very tuneful, yet not a tune, for the performer – or student, it was not easy to decide which – now and again inserted lengthy repetitions of one chord, or two or three in a repetitive pattern.
“Do you know what?” Deirdre said, “That person is practicing and having an awfully good time doing it.”
“Do you recognize it yet?” asked one of the girls.
“No. Like I said, I can’t make it out. He – or she – is mixing up major and minor like I’ve never heard before, I think. At the beginning it was just major chords, I think, and yet not in any scale that I could recognize. And yet it’s not a tune, which is the only place I’ve ever heard major and minor mixed up like that. Well, that person, whoever it is, is playing little tune passages in a way, but I bet it’s just some kind of exercise in which he’s having a lot of fun. That doesn’t sound like any of my exercises. I hate my exercises and now Mrs. McCallum is telling me I have to do even more exercises and scales when I go back in the fall. It’s enough to make me think of giving up the piano!”
“Oh, no!” said the same girl. “You’re too good a it to quit. Besides, your Mom would never let you.”
“The thing is, she would. She quit, you know, at just the age I am now. She had a great row with her parents, but in the end she won, and she quit. She said it didn’t make any sense that there were some subjects she loved, like history and home economics, and literature, and some she’d started to hate, like the piano. We’ve been talking about it, and if I don’t want to go back, I don’t have to. Would you listen to that? How is he using his left hand? It’s got to be a man! It’s so strong! That left hand is incredible!” For a moment, she danced a few lively steps. But her musician’s curiosity suffocated her desire to perform and she became still again to listen. How was the player doing what he was doing? “Oh, I can’t stand it,” Deirdre said. “I’ve got to go in there and see what’s going on! Who’s coming with me?”
“ Not me,” said the taller of the two boys, the one who made the best shots, especially the long ones. “I’m not going into that building until I absolutely have to. Music or no music. School starts too soon as it is.”
Deirdre looked around the group. None of them looked eager, and except for the girl who’d told her she had to keep studying, there was a uniform shuffling of feet and then a starting drift back to playing positions. Who in their right mind wanted to deal with a teacher in these last hours of the holidays? “Maggie,” Deirdre implored, “You’ll come, won’t you? I’ve got to see what’s going on! I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t find out!”
The tall boy thumped the basketball on the blacktop. “Women!” he said.
“No,” said Deirdre. “Not women. Artists. I have to know what’s going on in there. I have to know. I’ve never heard it before and it sounds really good. If some great basketball player came to town and from watching him you thought you could double your accuracy from the court you’d ask him to show you how it’s done. C’mon, Maggie. Let’s leave these jocks to their fate.”
All the way to the front of the school building, Deirdre was terrified that the front door would be locked. It was one thing to go right up to the door of the classroom and humbly ask to come in and inquire about the magic; it was something much different to bang on a locked main door, interrupting the pianist in the midst of his flight. But the door was open, wonderfully open, and inside the building the music for some reason sounded even better, even more inviting, bouncing off the empty walls that would soon be full again. Nor did there seem to be anyone else in the school, and the door to the grade eight room was also open. There would not even be the sensitive moment of wondering if they should turn the handle. They peered in.
It was a man, as she had suspected, and therefore he had to be their new teacher. What was his name again? K something. Ketchum? Cartwright? These were two names she knew from her Dad’s business. No. Cameron. Mr. Cameron. That was it. But she’d forgotten his first name. Well, what did that matter? Students didn’t call their teachers by their first names anyway.
The music stopped, and for a second the girls both expected a scolding for their boldness, for causing an interruption, but the man only grinned and said, “Aha! An audience. And a generous one, too, for I’m only working on scale patterns. No tunes today, I’m afraid. No tunes until school starts, and then of course you’ll have the bother of having to learn them. That is, if you’re in my class.”
“But that’s why we’re here,” Deirdre said. “I knew you were doing exercises. I study the piano too, and I never heard anything before like what you were doing so we came in to see if you’d show me. I mean, they may have only been studies, but they were beautiful, and I wanted to see if I could catch on to your method. Mrs. McCallum really pitched into me at the end of the year and threatened me with a whole book of scales. You must know Hanon?”
The young man chuckled one of the warmest chuckles Deirdre had ever heard, and it was at that moment that both girls understood that this was not only a musician who could do things they had not been aware of, but that he had an amazing ability to make them feel utterly at home, and Deirdre, being a generous soul, suddenly felt sorry for the children who had stayed on the playground. But it was all right. They’d have him next week.
“Only as the enemy,” Mr. Cameron said. “He and his like are no friends of mine. Nor of yours, I suspect. I take it that Mrs. McCallum is your piano teacher?”
“Yes. Oh, she’s very nice. But she’s . . . .”
“Ambitious for you. She wants you to get your grade ten with the Conservatory and all that.”
“Yes. And I love the piano and I love to play and both my parents are very encouraging in all the right ways but I know I hate scales. They seem stupid and boring and unmusical.” She had never put her attitude into just these words before, so thoroughly categorical, but there was something about the presence of this dark haired new teacher of theirs that made it possible, no necessary, that she say what had lain in the bottom of her heart. “And I think I’m starting to hate the conservatory.”
“And so you should,” Mr. Cameron said, still grinning, but both girls knew he was looking them over thoroughly. In fact they felt that he was somehow looking right through them. “The conservatories, all of them as far as I know, are great victims of eighteenth century philosophy and worse, of the neglect of Aristotle and sensible metaphysics, to say nothing of metaphysical sensibility.”
He kept grinning. “Do you know what I’m talking about?
“Not really,” Maggie finally spoke up. “But it sounds very interesting. Is this something we have to study this year?”
“Oh, yes. But it’s not as hard as it sounds. You do know who Saint Thomas Aquinas was?”
“Yes,” said Deirdre. “His feast day was in March. We had a special mass, and Sister Principal said a few words. She was our teacher last year and we learned a lot about the middle ages and how Saint Thomas baptized Aristotle so the Church could stay sensible. But what’s that go to do with piano studies? My Mom talks about Saint Thomas sometimes too. She told me that your grandfather is a great expert on his writing. And some other saint whose name I can’t remember.”
“Ah. It’s a wise mother who understands her daughter’s teacher. But right now the only thing we need to know about Thomas or Aristotle is that a philosopher in the seventeen hundreds decided to ignore both of them and came up with his own version of Plato just in time to confuse piano teachers, so that they ran away from common sense and forgot what Aristotle said about music being a branch of arithmetic. You see, what you heard me doing, and seemed to be charmed by, was merely the use of numbers as applied to the keyboard. Numbers and common sense, along with the ears God gave you and some attention to all the possibilities of fingering, but also with some attention to some rules.”
As he had begun to talk, Mr. Cameron had gestured with his hands, inviting them to come right up to him, so that they were now in full view of the front of the piano, and from that vantage point, Deirdre could plainly see that the shelf where one usually found printed music was totally bare. Not a book, not a sheet.
“Good heavens! What you were playing you were playing from out of your own head, weren’t you? You don’t have any written music in front of you.”
“Not a jot. Of course. When you know the math, you don’t need written music for these exercises. In fact, you don’t want it. It would just get in the way. Kant came along just as printing was about to get cheaper, so some people grabbed at the opportunity to make money by making it seem like students couldn’t get along without books full of stupid studies. I’m not talking about real compositions. For the classic stuff, printing is both necessary and very democratic. It saves us from the tyrannies of the oral tradition.”
“Who was Kant? What did he compose?”
“He didn’t compose anything. He was a philosopher. But philosophers have a way of affecting art and the way that art is taught.”
“You must have been really smart to figure all this out,” Maggie said.
“Not me. My grandfather. He only played the violin, and he could read music to sing with too. But when my mother wanted to study the piano he started to figure out the stuff she didn’t like and found a better way. She taught me.”
“Is that the same grandfather that knew about Aquinas?” Deirdre asked.
“Yep. That’s how he knew what was wrong with the teaching methods. Finally. It took him a while.”
Well, Deirdre thought, it’s now or never. He can only say no. Maybe it’s a secret he’s not allowed to share, even if he looks so nice. And sounds so nice. But I have to ask, or I’ll die. She gathered her courage, again. “Will you show us? Will you show us what you were doing, and explain it? I’m pretty good at math, and so is Maggie, and Maggie has started studying the piano too. A couple of years ago.”
“ Same teacher?”
“Yes,” said Maggie.
“Ah. So eventually more Hanon, or at least the watered down versions. Hang ‘em all. Sure I’ll show you. But what about the game? You guys were doing some good stuff. That tall boy is a great shooter. And he was teaching you some drills. Seems like a nice lad.”
“That’s Andy. Andrew Johnson. I tried to get them all to come in with us, but they don’t want school to start yet. They’re not musicians.”
“To a degree at least, they will be. But all in due time. For the moment, let us seize the day and get you started.”
“Really. What else are teachers for, but to teach? In the key of C major, to begin with, only forget that the letters are the most important names for the notes and start to believe, for now and forever that it is the numbers that give us the dynamics and therefore the meaning. Can you sing?
Of course you can. Whoever heard of girls who couldn’t sing?”
“Of course we can sing, especially after Sister Barbara. But what’s singing got to do with piano?”
“Everything, as you shall see. Think of it as a conversion experience.”
“Teacher’s joke. Never mind. Try this.” He poked middle C and sang out in a perfectly resonant voice: “One”. Only he held the syllable for a very long time, longer than they had ever heard anyone hold a note, including Sister Barbara. They were both so shocked by the power of Mr. Cameron’s voice that they couldn’t sing a note themselves.
Deirdre finally spoke up. “Do we have to sing like that?”
“No. Of course not. I was just using up some of the energy I picked up when I was rolling on my chords. You sing as quietly as you like, so long as I can hear you get the numbers right. Okay? ‘One, two, three’ and so on. After all, you wouldn’t want the others to hear you. Let’s go.” Thus they started, with four slow beats on each note, as he took them up the octave. He did not sing loudly this time, but he surprised them by using “one” for the top note. “You could say ‘eight’, because it’s the same thing, but the vowel for ‘one’ is a back vowel and easier to sing than the front vowel that does for ‘eight’, when you get to the high notes. For some people the upper C is getting high. All right? Take a deep breath and we’ll go down. Going down is easier by the way. The Greeks liked to sing their scales downward.”
They did as they were told, but Deirdre had another question at the bottom of the scale. “Do you teach singing too?”
“Fraid so. It’s a family disease. We will do a lot of it, but I think you’ll all have a good time. Singing is very good for you, especially when you do it right.”
“Do you know more about singing than Sister Barbara did?”
“At the moment, I have no idea, although if Sister Barbara did not study with my mother, I just might. But do you know what? I’ve been incredibly rude. I haven’t even asked you your names.”
“Of course not,” Deirdre said. “You were waiting to see if we could sing. This is Maggie – Margaret – Schlegel – and I’m Deirdre Blakeley.”
“ Irish. Ah. I know lots of Irish and Celtic songs. And Schlegel! German! The greatest heritage in classical music. Maggie, it will be up to you to become my protector when I start your classmates on Bach’s Variations. That’s where the numbers really strut their stuff. My first name is Paul, by the way, but things being what they are, you have to use my surname. At least in public.”
But the impelling curiosity that had summoned Deirdre into the school in the first place had not been satisfied. “That’s neat about the singing, Sir. But what were you doing with the piano keys? That was unbelievable, and I have no idea what it was!”
Paul studied her with mock ferocity. “Ah. So you want me to reveal the family secret, do you? Give away the treasures of the guild? It might cost you supper, now that I know who you are. I was chatting with Father McKeon, inasmuch as I’m staying with him for the moment and he told me how involved your mother was with the arts around here. Well, it would cost your mother supper, although not necessarily tonight.”
“Really? Tonight would be great. I know things are quiet at the house. Maggie is staying overnight anyway and we can just bring you home and tell Mom we need another plate. I know she’s got a whole bunch of cold salmon in the fridge. Or did Father have you lined up with someone else? Or maybe he’s expecting to talk more with you?” From what had been said at home about the new teacher, Deirdre had got it into her head that for all his youth, Mr. Paul Cameron knew so much about the Church that he would be the sort the priest would want to be talking to all the time, so much so that he might even live at the rectory. The religious elements had seemed to be the predominant subjects, her mother speaking to her father in quite amazing tones, actually, and the artistic elements had not had quite as much attention. So if the music was any sign of his abilities with religion, he must be really something. It also hit her, with no little force, that this was the first time she would have a man for a teacher. As young as he was – what, twenty-three, twenty-four? – he was not unlike Father McKeon, and yet he was also, somehow, different.
“It all sounds very organized then, almost ordained. Therefore, I am under obligation to let the cat out of the bag. So be it. Smarter than any of the Bachs, and even smarter than Beethoven and Mozart, shall you be, courtesy of Aristotle and my Grandpere.” He paused. “That is, if you practice. Do you know the joke about the little boy with the violin who asked the old man the way to Carnegie Hall?”
They did not, so Paul told them: Practice, son, practice, and then began to show them the major and minor triads for each degree of the scale, with the appropriate left hand notes. He made them do a little more singing of the numbers as well, and both girls knew they had never had so much fun around a piano before.
The salmon was good, and so were the potato salad, the green salad, and the wine that Deirdre’s father kept pouring, mostly for the adults, but also with a modest quantity for the girls. And as soon as supper was over, the girls left the dining room for the piano, to keep on at the drills Paul had begun to show them. “You don’t have to sing all the time,” Paul said. “In fact as soon as something is either too stressful or boring you stop and go looking for the heart of the matter again. But sing the numbers some of the time. And slowly, so they start sticking in your head.”
“They’re so eager!” Sadie Blakeley said. “You’d really think they were headed for the beach, or off to catch the ferry at Nanaimo for a week in Vancouver. How do you do it? What do you know that Iris McCallum doesn’t know? You should have heard the pair of them going on when they were helping me with supper. At first when Deirdre started singing your praises I was afraid it might be just because you were a man, and after their years with the nuns they were just being swept along by the novelty. But then she started explaining your method – including the singing, which I’d never heard of – so I settled down and started to think you must be for real in your own right, in spite of the fact that Iris is thought of as as good as you can get north of Victoria. But Deirdre insists she won’t go on without you, and only you. She says your teaching styles are too different and she’s not interested in shuttling back and forth. And I have a feeling that she’s right. Iris does have an imperious streak, not without justice either, because she does know a great deal. And plays very well herself. But if you take her you’ll have to take Maggie too. They’re quite inseparable these days and you know what girls are at that age. It would break both their hearts to know that Deirdre was having the time of her life and Maggie was in some sort of sweat shop. Their language, not mine. Will you take them both? We’ll certainly make it worth your while. You should have heard them! It’s almost too bad that Adam was home early, so you weren’t sitting with us.” She laughed. “Or maybe it’s just as well. Do you have trouble with your ego?”
“Not on the subject of music,” Paul said. “ It’s so much a third and fourth generation thing in our family, and then there’s the influence of friends of the family. And my grandfather really did make some great discoveries as to method. He’s devoted to philosophy as well as music, and he had been a school teacher, so he was habitually thinking out teaching problems in reference to the lowest common denominator on a blackboard in front of a bunch of kids he would have to keep interested.”
“Yes, but I don’t think Iris has ever heard of your grandfather. And neither had I as far as the music is concerned. Did he ever publish a music text? I actually have some of his other work, his books on Our Lady in particular, but I didn’t know about the music. How am I going to break the news to Iris? She’s always had such great hopes for Deirdre making it right through the conservatory schedule. Maggie’s not been at it so long.” She looked at her husband. “Adam, how am I going to do it?” She looked back at Paul, across the table and on her husband’s right. “I hate hurting people’s feelings.”
“The conservatories are part of the problem,” Paul said. “My mother has to deal with this all the time. And it’s a vicious circle, all kept whirling twenty feet off the ground by masses of paperwork. Paper music, paper tests, paper accreditation by paper happy adjudicators, and all of this because the world hates Thomas Aquinas, so it doesn’t read what he says, and Kant and the Enlightenment came along just as printing started to get cheaper, thus mass produced, therefore profitable. What my grandfather realized – and your Deirdre just as quickly when she heard the results floating out over the playground this afternoon – was that the sound of music and the head and heart can all work together very well, thank you, without any need of print. And it makes very good sense, of course. Once upon a time there was no paper and no alphabet either, but there was still music, handed on through the oral tradition. In the cave, around the campfire, out on the hillside from shepherd man to shepherd boy. But once paper and schools came into it, then the teachers had something on paper to show the parents and the parents had something on paper to relate to and the kids were stupefied by a system. It’s not all bad, of course, because the child and the piano and sound are all realities, and a certain degree of perseverance gets you somewhere. Tell Iris I found Deirdre wonderfully prepared, so well set up that I can consider her qualified to start apprenticing to Maman, and that can lead her to connections in the musical world that cannot possibly come from a mere conservatory. I’m talking impresarios, record companies, film producers. And not just in Canada. Britain, the States, Europe. But the people I know won’t touch her if she doesn’t know how to operate away from the book. I don’t think Mrs. McCallum would want to interfere with anyone’s opportunity to better herself. And that Maggie should tag along has to be assumed. Iris McCallum was a young girl once.” He sighed. “But of course adults do have a way of forgetting their childhood. Pity, but it does happen.”
“What did Aquinas say?” asked Adam Blakeley. He poured more wine all around as he spoke. "By the way, if you ever get tired of teaching, our sales department could use a man like you. You could sell lumber to the Swedes. Sadie had me waffling there for a moment, because we’re very fond of Iris and grateful for her efforts so far. I can’t imagine Deirdre without the music training she’s acquired to this point. But what did Aquinas say and why is he ignored, especially when the better mouse trap rule must apply to the music publishing industry?”
“It might apply if Grandpere had put all his method down on paper. But he never has, so far at least. He just talks to whomever listens to him, but as he’s such a mystic not everyone, even artists and teachers, maybe especially artists and teachers, can hang in there that long for a full explanation. Aquinas said, right at the beginning of the Summa, that music is a branch of arithmetic. I don’t think this was at all original, I think he was simply following the Greeks and the oral tradition of music since. But the principle, saith Philippe, got lost after Kant. Neo-Platonism, you see, the will to create a system, a model, which is too much in the mind and not enough in the more difficult – but more rewarding – complexities of reality. Things look good on paper, especially for people who’ve never completely learned to trust reality, who’ve never had the intuition of being. Kant didn’t, saith Maritain, thus the trouble. That’s a very short digest, of course, but it’s a very big part of the heart of the problem. But your daughter is very real. You should have seen her marching in, with an ally, mind you, to find out what was going on in her classroom-to-be. She’d obviously had her intuition firing on all cylinders. I take it she must be one of the class leaders?”
“Yes,” Sadie said. “Sometimes I think the nuns put too much on her shoulders in just that way.”
“It’s a temptation. I especially watched my older brother have to deal with it. Same sort of fallacy in leadership of the adults. Looking for a system instead of dealing with each individual. People were always trying to get Jacob to lead. And then when he really comes up with something genuinely worth following, they turn away. But those are other stories for other times. At hand, if Deirdre likes my system, that should go a long way with the rest of the class, to say nothing of the staff, especially if they think so much of her. Anything new is always a hard sell, and the more valuable it is, the stronger the opposition. I won’t mind the help.”
“Oh, there are all sorts of good kids in her class. A teacher with your energy and intelligence should have an excellent time. But who does your mother know?”
“All sorts of people. Peers, here and back east. Old friends, old students. Her first love and sense of responsibility is the liturgy. She’d aim Deirdre at the Church first of all, and that’s what should cut the ice with Iris McCallum, but I never presume the liturgy as the carrot, so I threw in the other professional world. But I’m not bluffing. I know one very rising producer and one very talented composer in more or less my generation. A little older, but close enough to be persuaded to take a look at her. If Iris gets sticky, just drop the name of Michael Thurman on her If she considers herself at all on the cultural cutting edge she should know who he is. He filmed Glenn Gould for the CBC the last time he was in Vancouver.”
"Good heavens!” Sadie said. “I know that name. You know him?” She stared at him more closely. “You’re a friend of his?”
“He use to stick his long legs under our dinner table on a regular basis when he was a student and best chums with my older brother. All the most significant things he knows about music he learned in and through our household. Same with Nick Taylor, the composer, amidst other responsibilities. Michael would like Deirdre’s energy very much. I mean, she’ll possibly decide she wants to become a bush pilot, or a fashion designer. Who knows what kids are going to grow up to be? But you go with the energy of the moment, so long as it isn’t destructive, and for the moment her energy for what I happen to know, rather uniquely, unfortunately, is worth looking after. And, fortunately, I do know how to do it.”
Adam spoke up. “Did I not read, or see something from Toronto with Thurman’s name on it, that tells me he’s in Toronto?”
“Yes. That should impress Iris all the more. And he may be leaving there for bigger pastures not too long from now. And wherever Michael goes, so goes the best in music. He has that kind of understanding of what it’s all about, no matter where it came from and where it’s going. His problem is that he can’t get that many musicians who understand as he does. Maman has never had a lot of students that turn pro. Happy housewives are her priority. And now and again a church organist.”
“Then there’s no problem,” Sadie said happily. “I’ll simply drop her a note, thanking her for the past and explaining the present. I can hear my brain ticking creatively as I speak. But she will be disappointed. I hope we haven’t made an enemy.”
“Every teacher has to try to qualify herself as much as possible. It was when my grandfather realized that Maman - her name is Yvonne – would probably become a music teacher that he got concerned about her qualifications. I mean the real qualifications, not just the paper certificates. He’d been very happy and useful as a classroom teacher himself, so he had a pretty good idea for spotting the false pedagogy, the busywork and so on. He didn’t want her caught up in that, so she became something of a guinea pig, you could say, and they learned how to do it right together. Basically she’d tell him what she didn’t like about her assignments, or what she was being taught, and he found ways to make things make sense. Or cut them out altogether.”
“Did he make enemies of her teachers?”
Paul chuckled, a touch grimly. “In a sense, my grandfather was always making enemies, in his own quiet way. He simply always knew the right way to go about something. Or if he didn’t know he damn well soon find out. He loves the truth. And in fact he can’t really do otherwise, because he’s a mystic. He’s always had a real backbone, and no one ever gets to bend it out of shape. But his enemies have always had a hell of a problem, because he sang so well in Church, and anywhere else he might perform, and played the violin so beautifully, that it’s hard to hate him. You really have to be quite perverse.”
“From what the girls were saying,” Adam said, “It sounds like those qualities have trickled down.”
“I’ve just been well trained.” Paul laughed again. “I can never get Maman’s face out of my mind when I’m doing music. Or hearing the things she says. Music is like that. In spite of all the feeling that’s in good music, the whole business relies so much on technique that you realize it really is a very conservative art, for all that you might dig jazz or Schoenberg. Fingering is utterly mathematical, voice culture is pure physiology and sound frequency. Assuming, of course, that you actually can love what you’re studying. The horrors happen when teachers and performers forget the math and the physics. To the modern beginner this probably sounds very dull and pedantic, until they hear it work. Like the girls did. Of course I was having a good time. I never do not have a good time. I play what I like and I like what I play. But I can only say that because I was so well schooled and I know what it takes, all it takes, to approach something new.”
“Blackfish Bay must be something new for you, if you have always spent so much time in the city,” Adam said. “Growing up, university and all that.”
“I was a little fellow in a smaller place, and I spent my student summers on the tugs. I know how to survive in small numbers.”
Sadie looked at him thoughtfully. “Interesting that you say that, Paul, because I’ve been wondering about you surviving all by yourself in that house the parish owns. I don’t know why I’ve been minding your business, but it has crossed my mind several times since I heard of your appointment that I did not seem happy to think of your living by yourself. The only tug boats I know of that have just one man aboard are those little fellows that bump and bash and herd their way around the booms. All the hauling boats have a crew as far as I know.”
“Yes, they do. In fact I was for a time on a tug so big it had a mess room with a piano in it. I’ve thought of that problem myself. I’m not sure that I’m a hermit, but I suppose I’ll get a chance to find out. It’ll give me lots of time for reading and painting. And it saves the parish money if I don’t have to pay rent elsewhere.”
“Actually, that’s not necessarily so,” said Adam. Knowing his wife, he also had a pretty good idea of where her thoughts were taking her. “If the parish rented the house to the current market it could make a little money for itself, so long as you weren’t in it, of course.”
Paul could see that Sadie looked pleased with her husband. “Exactly,” she said. “If you stayed with us, the parish could rent the cabin out. Deirdre would have you for a few essential moments every day – if that was all right with you – and I wouldn’t have to worry about you being all by yourself down on the shore below the highway.”
Paul looked carefully at both of them. “You’re inviting me to live here?”
“Why not, unless you don’t think we’d be good company? The older kids re scattering, so you would actually have a choice of rooms. And we hardly need to charge you for your keep so you could make something of the little salary that Father is paying you. We know what it is, Paul. Even from the little we heard about you from Father and the sisters we knew you were worth at least as much as the government pays public school teachers, if not more. We’re not quite the household that you’ve come from, I’m sure, but we would love to have you with us if that’s all right with you.”
From the living room came some very respectable interpretation, on the resident piano, of the afternoon’s lesson. Three, five one; three, five, one; then, three, six, one; three, six, one. The tonic major triad, then the relative minor triad. Well, minor according to the sixth. “Hmm.” Paul said. “There is a problem with the cabin on the beach, as romantic as it may sound. It doesn’t have a piano. Your house does. But that might make me a pest.”
“I don’t think so,” Sadie said. “I’m quite used to children practicing. Almost a couple of decades of it, actually. And from what I hear, your method would be quite worth listening to. What the girls are doing now: I take it that’s a part of it? I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a thing before. Have you talked with Father McKeon about the cabin? You must have. By the way, when did you get here?”
“Yesterday afternoon. My father drove me over. He hasn’t been on the Island for a while,nor had he and my mother been off by themselves for a while. I assume they had a nice trip home. Father McKeon and I had dinner together last night and I stayed at the rectory, as the cabin was not to be available until the beginning of September. Father thinks I can become a kind of catechism centre for the working youth of Blackfish Bay, and that would solve any problems of loneliness, but I’m actually quite fond of my own company and grab all the time for painting that I can, so the cabin seemed ideal at first glance. But I’d actually started to get second thoughts, oddly enough turning around the keyboard, although of course there is one at the school. Right in my classroom in fact. But there’s also one here, and a very eager student of it in Deirdre. It’s an ideal situation for both of us. Makes me feel like an old fashioned governess, who gave lessons every day. I suspect, however, that few governesses had as students such enthusiastic performers as those two. You were mentioning ego. They would be very good for it, on those days when I felt that the class as a whole was going nowhere.”
"You speak like a veteran."
“Not at all, but I come from a family of teachers, and not only in the blood line. I expect I’ll have a bad day or two. Teaching, after all, is an art, and every artist knows his bleak and failing periods. Certainly I’ve had my share. And will no doubt have some more.” “Right!” Sadie said. “You are also a painter, I have been told. That’s very exciting, especially if you paint as well as you teach music.”
“I honestly hope that I will be able to paint – eventually – better than I teach music. I suppose that now they’re about equal. No, music’s better, because I’ve simply been taught all the rudiments and I think I can make them work. What I am, or will be, as a painter, remains to be seen. And I’m not really in any hurry to find my true depth. In art, I mean. The depth of musical theory I have. It’s really a science more than an art in so many ways, although of course you have to feel a certain degree of inspiration to make study a pleasant experience. Deirdre seems to have the inspiration. Now we just have to make sure she gets the science. And if I’m living under the same roof that really should happen, via the little bit every day that she needs to learn. That’s exactly what happened to Nick Taylor, you know. He moved in with us when he came back from the bush, so my mother could show him day by day as fast as he could learn. It was quite astounding how quickly he absorbed it all. But of course it was all part of a providential plot, to add that much motivation to his being willing to take on my brother’s pet project. As a writer, I mean, not as a musician.”
“And what was that? And what brother? How many do you have?”
“My oldest brother. Jacob. Actually, he was adopted. But that’s another story. I have younger blood brothers. Jacob was adopted into the family when he was an adolescent. His parents were killed in a car accident when they were visiting, from Ontario. My father knew his father from the war, and my parents could see that Jacob was very much taken by the household. He already had an unusually strong interest in religion, in spite of, or maybe because of, his own family. He was a natural for the spiritual life, although that always surprised people because he was also had a lot of natural gifts. My Dad always said he was a lot like Father de Smet, the Jesuit missionary in Oregon Territory, as it used to be called. Very strong physically, but also a hell of a mind. Anyway, Jake was always immensely grateful for his new home, and always seemed to have a good sense at what lay at the heart of it. And he also had a great sense of our grandfather. He soaked up his writing as well as a young fellow could, even in high school, and then began to dream of finding someone to write the stories of Philippe’s life, so it could be studied as literature, which was the subject he assumed he would teach, as our father did. Of course he teaches philosophy now, and is very happy with that, and awfully good at it, but literature was the hope of his youth and the dream of a biographer for Grandpere led him to Nick Taylor, who was, is, the natural . . . .”
“So when are these stories coming out? Are any published yet? I would love to read them, as I already have some of Philippe”s books.”
“Ah. You and how many others. Well, you might have to wait a while. Getting the life of a mystic down on paper as close as paper can get it is not an easy task. And I don’t think it ever occurred to Jacob when he began to envision his chronicles that in order to do the real job the author would have to go through the same experiences as Philippe had. And that takes time. Years of time. So Nick just has to putter along with the natural or the ordinary events of grace as best he can. But that’s not to be sneezed at. The last time I heard from him he was writing a hymn which I just might be trying out with Deirdre’s class, once they get the hang of a few fundamentals. He composes quite well, actually, so you want to get it right.”
“You won’t be disappointed if I admit that I don’t really know what a mystic is, and I know that I don’t understand everything, or perhaps even very much of what your grandfather says? But I always feel better, I feel I’ve come closer to God, when I am in one of his books. I always feel . . . oh, an immense trust that he knows what he’s talking about.”
“He would be delighted to know just that. I must admit that I have a certain sense of what a mystic is because I’ve lived with some. But it’s an outside view, not something I understand from within. What you see from the outside is something that is completely natural, so natural you sometimes wonder if religion is an element in their lives, in the way that so many people try to be religious, and then other times there’s something away more significant than mere nature, if only because it seems to have so much certainty, so much authority. The Sanhedrin hated Jesus, and I’ve known professors – and students – who were not very fond of my father. Priests, too, sadly enough . . .
And Grandpere always has enemies in the highest places. So many people have authority problems, or want to wallow in doubt. And my mother is an incredible music teacher. She’s always pulling people out of the most ridiculous holes. But every once in a while someone will simply refuse to realize that music is a science as well as an art and just can’t accept her authority in the matter. To tell you the truth, I often wonder if Nick might not have missed the cut if he hadn’t been so well prepared by Jacob and Mike Thurman. Nick’s said that himself, too, but maybe he was just having a kind of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ realizations. He was enormously lucky, actually, but of course God did give him a good deal of raw talent that I suppose He felt he had to look after, so Providence stuck our family in his path.”
“And now Providence has stuck you in our path,” Adam said.
At that point there came a sound from the living room so arresting that the adults all stopped talking to listen. The girls had discovered how to sing a scale in thirds using numbers. The force of the simplicity, combined with their unmistakable confidence, was as overwhelming to the sensitive heart as good children’s music can be. Both parents beamed with delight at the quality of the sound, and as if sensing the approval – or perhaps they heard the dinner table go quiet – and screened by the invisibility behind the wall, the girls swanked out their new skill profoundly
It was a full minute before Sadie asked Paul if he knew exactly what they were doing.
“I think they’ve taken out a scale book, and they’re doing the double thirds on the treble staff. It's a good exercise as they're doing it but it will be better once they here it integrated in a way the scale books do not seem to have thought of. They just have to change three of those thirds to fourths. Then the exercise will really make sense."
“But they’re so confident! Maggie actually has a lovely voice - very clear, light, and high - but she’s usually quite shy. It takes a lot to bring her out. Deirdre of course is rather like a cart horse, like me. She just charges ahead so things get done.”
“Yes, like insisting I come home with them for supper. But of course McKeon had already told me a lot about this house, so I knew another plate when the entré had already been decided on would as easy as in our house. Besides, the Blakeley’s were somewhat known to me I think before McKeon. Through my oldest sister, Celine. Or Catherine as she’s known in the order. She’s the reason I’m here. Well, the connection. Moving Sister Barbara was such an event that the whole order knew about it, even the juniors.”
“So that’s how you got here,” Adam said. “It was your sister who knew we were all quite perturbed to be losing the music and so she knew you could be useful in Blackfish Bay."
When it was time to go back to the rectory, Adam insisted on driving Paul there. Paul, not insistently, said he wouldn’t mind the walk, but Adam, quite firmly, said that he had something for Father McKeon that was overdue delivery, so Paul acquiesced. It had been agreed that Paul would move in sometime during the following day, later rather than sooner, giving Sadie time to prepare his room.
She was still somewhat in shock from the sudden turn of events, and asked Paul one last time if he were sure he wanted to stay with two old adults and an overly lively adolescent.
“Why should I not? I’ve never minded living at home with my parents and the siblings. Deirdre could hardly be more of a bouncing kangaroo than my three younger brothers. And I must be a real teacher, I guess, because already I’m anxious about her progress. Hers and Maggie’s too. My grandpere’s method is so radically different than what they’ve been used to that I’m somewhat afraid that they’ll need pretty much a daily dose to not get discouraged or confused and thus fall back on their old system, at least until they’re well started.” He grinned. “I think that even if you were both ogres I’d take the offer just for the kids’ sake. And my curiosity about the efficiency of the system in my hands. I grew up with Maman’s genius. I took in the system with mother’s milk and bedtime stories. I’ve taught bits and pieces to a few of my peers, but I’ve not really had the responsibility that I’ve got now. To tell you the truth, it’s not something I would have asked for, probably. But as you said, Deirdre has a way of taking the nearest bull by the horns and walking him around the ring.”
“But you must have some musical plans for the class?”
“Yes, but that is entirely vocal, as far as I can see at the moment. Voice work and scale study, which is part of any complete course of vocal training. There are some instrumental things you can do, but I’d have to talk that over with the kids themselves, and probably Sister Principal. But there’s no rush with that, as making that operation go as it should depends on how well they do with the first part. The blackboard, their voices, my voices, and the classroom piano and my guitar, depending on whichever works best for a given section of the science.”
“You play the guitar too?” Adam said.
“As well as we’ve been told you play the piano? Keep in mind that the girls said they’d never heard a piano played like you play it."
“In our household it’s been difficult to have an excuse for playing badly. There are different levels of interest, and different kinds of interest, but the techniques, the sheer science of music, let alone the art, have all been made so affable, so accessible, that our minds just naturally gravitated to trying to do it right.”
“Then I can presume you can teach guitar, and probably as well as you teach the keyboard.”
“It’s actually the fretted stringed instruments I’ve mostly helped my friends with. Are you telling me that Deirdre is also interested in the guitar or mandolin or something of that sort? That’s perfectly natural in someone who loves to sing.”
“Actually, she has mentioned it a few times, but invariably came around to deciding she wouldn’t be able to keep up as well with the piano. That sounded odd to me, and the more I listen to you the more I feel that I’m right, but it’s not my business to push her. I simply like her to be happy with what she does and insist that she do it for her own satisfaction. My father kept trying to tell me I should be a doctor. I kept trying to tell him I simply loved the smell of fresh sawdust, like the farmer loves the smell of new cut hay.”
Paul laughed. “And tow boaters love the smell of salt water and diesel!”
“I wasn’t asking for Deirdre’s sake. I had someone else in mind. But we’ll talk about it in the car.”
Sadie stared at her husband for a moment. It was the first time Paul had seen her face blank with ignorance of the moment. The working mind finally took over, she smiled, as happily as she was honestly curious, and said, “Are you thinking of Ian McCallum?”
Adam sent Paul ahead to the car in the driveway, saying that his route lay through the basement. When he emerged, he was carrying a bottle under his arm. “Scotch,” he said as they got into the car. He showed Paul the label. “Single malt. For the good pastor. I’ll tell you the tale. It’s not unconnected with Ian McCallum, as it partially concerns his father. If it hadn’t been for Tom - that’s Ian’s Dad, and of course Iris McCallum’s husband – I would never have had the pleasure of a sharing in the excitement of the good old days of the rum runners.” Adam was grinning from ear to ear. “Everyone should have some little caper in his life by which he shares in the Lord’s reputation as an enemy of organized society.”
“Sounds like an intriguing story.” He was by now very curious about Ian, but they had, considering the future, nothing but time. And the night was now fine, with the temperature coming down to a comfortable level. He had been contentedly staring at the stars when Adam came out, listening to the sounds of a town at night..
“How do you like our little burg?”
“Very much, I think. For one thing, I’m very grateful to be able to go on living by the water. When we were going by on the tugs I used to look at the different places and wonder if I’d wind up living somewhere along the Strait. And Father gave a very lively account of the opportunities I might be interested in.”
“Do you play golf?”
“Not much. I’ve puttered at it, if you’ll pardon the pun. But tennis and basketball have been my main passions and in our family there’s quite an understanding of overall fitness that’s pretty much guided by yoga. My grandfather started studying the East in his Twenties, after he ran into an old Jesuit missionary who had come back to Quebec.”
“You can come to the course with me if you like, but I won’t push you. I have a feeling that you are going to be pretty much in demand all over the place and you’ll have to be careful about not trying to do too much. I really only mention the golf because that’s where the tale of the Scotch begins. There was a bunch of us went straight from the golf course to McKeon’s rectory to settle an argument. It was negotiation time, with the union, so I was in the pack, with my aids, and McCallum as head of the local at that time with his boys from Vancouver, and we have had the custom around here of the warring factions going out for a little golf the afternoon before we start swearing at each other for a week. It works well, but this time there arose a pretty good argument about the social teachings of the Church. It happens that I like history, as you will see from our household library, and I found myself having to play the professor on the subject of Leo XIII’s encyclical on the rights of labour. One of Tom’s people didn’t know I was a Catholic and made some crack about the Church’s wealth and supposed custom of fagging for the rich and wouldn’t believe my rebuttal. So I challenged the bunch of them to come with me to the rectory and get Father to trot us out a copy of “Rerum Novarum”. I honestly had no idea they would take me up on it, I simply felt like I had to defend the existence of the encyclical and make the point that the Pope had done something about the condition of the workers. The odd thing was, it was really Tom McCallum who insisted we go. Heaven knows why, because up to that point that last man on earth he wanted anything to do with was McKeon, because of the school.”
“Because he’d lost face with the building trades unions over the building of it. The whole thing was almost a miracle in its coming together. There was simply good break after good break. All the right coincidences at the right time that made it happen. Without all of them I don’t see how we could have got it done. McKeon was our new pastor, succeeding a priest who had become an alcoholic, so he was in favour with most of the parish and also a good part of the town, so that stirred up a lot of positive energy, and it also happened that our mill had to undergo some major expansion that brought over the Catholic partner of the contracting firm. And then our outfit had recently acquired a new chairman of the board, an Evangelical Lutheran, who believed in a tax share for confessional schools. He was mad at the government for stalling on the issue, so when he heard of the breeze that was rising in Blackfish Bay he called me up and said I was to be as generous on truckloads of lumber as I possibly could without getting rung in for defrauding the stockholders. It was amazing how it came together. But of course there had to be a fly in the ointment. So much of a triumph as to build a Catholic school this far up the Island was not going to go down well in the halls of Hell.”
“The fly was McCallum?”
“Right. You see, it’s Mrs. that is the Catholic. And the children. Tom has the Irish spelling in his surname, but somewhere back in the bogs his ancestors went the other way. And I gather with a strong attitude about it. But Iris is a strong woman – as you might find out – and she wouldn’t marry him unless he made all the promises. And to give him credit, he kept them faithfully, until the school started to happen.”
“Annoying, isn’t it, how quickly the tests turn up?”
“And there was another fly. There’d been a slump in the local construction scene. There’d been a nice little development, about sixty new homes and a supermarket and hardware store, and then nothing. Some of the builders had decided to stay, bought homes and settled in. We were able to put some of them to work on the new part of the mill, but most of the mill features were too big for the ordinary hammer and saw. Welkin had to bring in their specialists. Then when the carpenters heard about the school, they seemed to assume that Rome was going to pay for it. All that wealth, right? Or maybe the diocese of Victoria. It must have been, I have to admit, a hell of a blow when they heard that the parish could only afford it if more than half the labour was volunteer. And of course Saint Bridget’s was well populated with those kinds of skills. Who ever heard of a logger or a fisherman who wasn’t good with a hammer? By that time, Tom McCallum was making his way as a union leader. With good reason. I know from experience that he was an excellent shop steward at that time. He’s committed to his cause, and I’ve never had any trouble respecting him for it. But he also became committed to the carpenters, which was not quite his business, and claimed he could stop the volunteer work on the school. Either that, or shut the whole thing down. To some degree at least, it was a beer parlour boast. Tom likes his booze, but from time to time he lets it go to his head. And again, to ease his good name, by that time he was not without what he assumed were well placed allies. The public school teachers’ union got into the act as well, because of course they were going to lose students. Two hundred of them in fact. It all boiled up quite nicely for a few weeks, became the talk of the town. But McKeon was a rock in the pulpit and on the streets and for some reason which can only be explained to people who understand that nothing goes really well without prayer both our companies had a very good feeling about what were doing right down to the guys who pulled the boards off the green chain and drove the heavy equipment Welkin lent as much as possible. They too were a force in the beer parlours of Blackfish Bay.”
“Ah,” said Paul. “And to all this drama I owe a job. Thanks, guys.”
“Oh, I think you could probably find a job without any help. But yes, I know what you mean. We need to think gratefully. Anyway, back to my story, because we’ll be there in a second or two. I’ll never know what made Tom decide we should go to the rectory. By then, the school was a done deal, scheduled to open in the fall, and it was known publicly that he was not going to let his children go. Ian would have gone into grade two, the same as Deirdre, and there were two others older. Maybe he’d had a lot of talk from his cronies, about eventually being pushed around by his wife and the priest, and wanted to show the world he wasn’t afraid of the cassock. God knows what goes on in people’s minds.
Whatever it was, he was the leader of the pack and off we went. I was naturally apprehensive, because I had known both McKeon and McCallum long enough to know their tempers were as similar to my own. But it was actually a very happy hour. Father was his usual completely centered self and right off said it was all a wonderful coincidence because he had been browsing the social encyclicals earlier in the day. He got off into the history of the Knights of Labour and its battle with some of the hierarchy, talked about his father and various union tales from the Atlantic coast and we pretty well clobbered two bottles of whiskey he had picked up earlier in the day for his upcoming deanery meeting. I’m the optimistic type and when I came home I told Sadie that I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom changed his mind and let his kids go to the school, simply because we’d all had such a good time together. That didn’t happen, of course, because old habits die hard and God can take forever. Still, it was disappointing. Nor was it the end of the story. The next sad thing that happened was at the liquor store. Father dropped in the next day to replenish his supplies for the deanery meeting. He told me afterward, after the foofoorah, that having a certain degree of care for his reputation, he had thought of saying something to the clerk, the same man as had served him the day before, but he was interrupted by a couple of parish ladies asking questions about the school – fees, or something like that – and did not explain the situation.”
“Exactly. The clerk was also an enemy of the school project, although I don’t think his being a member of the government employees’ union had anything to do with it. He was of the ‘we musn’t divide the community’ frame of mind, and possibly had other issues, as far as I understand. So he wrote a letter to the bishop, and of course Father was upset when he heard from the chancery, not for himself, but because of any harm that might be done to the mindset necessary for bringing the kids into the school. It happened, fortunately, that he spoke to me about it, and I had no hesitation about throwing my weight around. Sometimes being part of management has its advantages. I phoned the bishop and also wrote a very full letter on the subject. And then I undertook the pleasant task of becoming the keeper of the McKeon liquor cabinet, such as it is in all its modesty, and have the added pleasure of making sure he gets to drink single malt as his evening dram, not blends. We had to drink blends at the infamous conference on the rights of labour. I can’t stand the thought that I get to sip at the real thing and the pastor, whose soul works much harder than mine, should have to do with the lesser stuff. Especially when you know that all those clerics in the Vatican can buy the best booze the world has to offer without paying such huge tax markups. I have this funny feeling that the liquor store clerk thinks he’s saved the parish from two alcoholic priests in succession, but I don’t know the man well enough to be able to claim that as a scientific fact.”
“What’s his name? As I’ll be doing my own rum running I’m sure to meet him.”
“Gibbling. Morton Gibbling.”
“Sounds appropriate. Someone should make him a literary character and from henceforth his surname would become the phrase for exalting yourself unto a Supreme Court bench. I wonder what apparent wrongful tendencies of mine he’ll find to comment on.”
The car came to a halt, Adam tucked the bottle under his nylon shell, and they walked up the stairs to the rectory porch. McKeon was quick to answer the bell.
“Ah! Here you are, Paul. Good. Excellent. It’s your mother on the phone. She needs an address. Something about some music someone wants to send you. I was just about to give her the number of the cottage, but I saw the lights of the car and heard the footsteps and I was sure it was you coming back. Evening, Adam. I trust he meets the approval of the Blakeleys.” He showed Paul around the hall corner to the phone table in the living room.
“More than meets, Father, more than meets. So much so that I’m afraid we’ve already stolen him from you. Or rather from the cottage. He’s going to live with us. Deirdre and Maggie Schlegel found him in the classroom, playing the piano as they’d never imagined that a teacher could play, so they insisted that he come home with them for supper and things went on from there. He’s really quite incredible, in other areas as well as music, but he’ll be taking over Deirdre and Maggie’s piano instruction, sort of on a daily basis from what I gather. You’ll be able to rent out the cottage, which is good for the parish finances, and he won’t have to cook for himself. Sadie was all very insistent about it, and I’d get him to teach me the banjo if I thought he knew that too and I had one. Thank heaven he has a sister in the order, so that we got him. I find it hard to understand why the Vancouver archdiocese doesn’t have him contracted for the rest of his life . . . .”
McKeon looked pleased, but a little confused. “He . . . he played for you?”
“Heavens, no, He’s not a trained monkey, or a hired entertainer. It was how the kids were about him. The girls went off to the piano after supper, while the adults talked. There’s a great mind in there. He’s obviously an artist but he’s also as solid as a rock, and as set in the Faith as the best of us. I have to admit I’ve had my doubts over the summer, but now that he’s put his feet under my table and drunk my wine I have to say that I’m only sorry for those who swore that the order was letting us down by taking Sister Barbara away. You should have heard the girls singing, and they were only doing some drill they’d already learned from him, not an actual song. But there is a problem, and of course Sadie is worried sick about it. Iris is not going to be pleased to lose two of her most promising students to a perfect stranger, and Tom will think it’s my decision because of that row we had over one of the boom men in June.”
“Johannsen? I heard about that. Of course you were right. He drinks too much, especially first thing in the morning before he went to work. I got the details from a friend of his sister-in-law’s. He was a drowning looking for a pool, and I was honestly afraid the compensation board was going to be down your neck if you didn’t move him. Our friend Gibbling can be useful at times, and I heard him – in the supermarket, not the liquor store – asking someone where he worked because he knew how much liquor he bought. If he could write to the bishop about me nothing he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to write to Victoria. Besides, he’d probably like to get back at you, just because he suspects you’re up to something. Don’t forget, Adam, it takes all kinds.”
“Not at all.” He took the Scotch from his rum runner. “I now get to drink a better malt than I would have allowed myself to, thanks to him, and furthermore you and I get to meet on terms somewhat more regular than otherwise, so we can discuss the problems of the community as frequently as we should, like the wise men in the psalms, sitting at the gates of the city.”
Paul returned to the entrance hall of the rectory. “Thank you for holding the line, Father. Maman had most interesting news. My little brother – one of my little brothers – has come home with my banjo, and my friend Nick Taylor has a tune he wants me to try out on the kids. It fits with the novel they’ll be studying this year. It’s a Kipling poem he set to music a couple of years ago when he was teaching in Skeena. It really works with boys, he said. Maman needed your address for sending the banjo and Nick needs an address for sending the score. He says if the class gets the song up to scratch he can send a recording crew. Michael Thurman might use it on the CBC, in a special series on music.” He grinned at Adam. “My mother sends your wife a special note of affection and gratitude. And she'd like to talk to you. She said she was finding it very difficult to think of me living by myself in a cottage on the beach.” He turned to Father McKeon. “I take it that Adam has explained the new arrangements to you by now?”
“Yes. The Blakeleys, as usual, going the extra mile.”
“I can’t believe it,” Adam said. “You play the banjo too? I was just saying to Father that if I thought you knew how to teach that instrument I’d hire you to teach me. It’s a little thought I’ve had in my mind for years, and all the while thinking I was being ridiculous.”
“She’s putting it on the bus tomorrow. You’ll be walking the D string by this time next week, unless you chicken out. Father knew your address, of course, so I could give it to her."
“Where is Nick now? You mentioned him at supper.” Adam started for the phone.
“In Sterling. In the Kootenays. With a prince among bishops. So much different than the man my grandfather had to live with in his younger years. I’m serious about the recording crew. Meinred Schwartz is possibly the only bishop in the world who truly understands the import of Vatican Two. Nick is teaching music - including Gregorian chant --and contemplation there. The bishop has been after him for years and my uncle, my mother’s younger brother, is president of their little university.”
“Well," McKeon said, you’re moving quickly. I’m not surprised, actually. And speaking of things moving swiftly, the good sisters will be back tomorrow. Sister Teresa wants to see you as soon as it’s convenient. How did you wind up with the Blakeley’s so quickly? I’m delighted, of course.”
“You went off, and I went into the school to try out the piano in my classroom. There were a bunch of kids playing basketball, and when Deirdre and her friend heard me getting up my chops they came bursting in. One thing led to another and they insisted I go home with them for supper right then. I knew you had a long list of calls, so I was pliable. The girls were quite wonderful, took to everything I showed them, and the Blakeleys are born hosts. But of course a solid marriage between nature and grace always takes a toll somewhere, and I gather we will have a problem with the McCallum family. What’s this Iris like? I’m not particularly worried about the man, and anyway I gather I’m not teaching his kid, although I probably should be.”
“She’s a very good woman in many ways. In fact if you decide to attend the ten o’clock Mass on Sunday, which is the one the Blakeleys usually attend, you will hear Iris at the organ. We stand down for the summer, but with the peculiar custom of starting our music up again the Sunday before the school opens. I would have thought they’d wait until after Labour Day, but the earlier start was in place long before I came here, and so I didn’t see any point in interfering with the custom. Mind you, it’s just the organ. We don’t have any pretensions of a choir for that Sunday. What’s the problem with Iris?” McKeon had heard from Adam, but he wanted to hear again from Paul.
“Deirdre Blakeley and Maggie Schlegel and I actually had a very real little lesson. I think Maman would have been quite proud of me. And they've learned some things with Iris very well. The end result was that I have taken over the musical education of the girls, at their insistence. But Sadie is a sensitive soul, and she’s concerned about Iris’ feelings. I gather that the girls are already quite good. But of course my grandfather’s methods are incomparable, and them as get to luck into the heart of them, if they’re real musicians in the Aristotelean sense, cannot resist the greater wisdom.”
“My God! What did you do?”
“Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Just triad and bass practise according to the Philippean grasp of the rule that music is a branch of arithmetic. Thomas Aquinas, first page of the Summa. Or maybe the second page. I’m not my older brother Jacob. It’s an amazing trick, in the hands of those who appreciate it. I appreciate it, and the kids heard it. Basketball and the boys were suddenly last week’s dishwater. I didn’t plan it that way, I’m just the anxious schoolteacher trying to be as well prepared as he can. For a while, it will be an uphill battle. Or I thought it would be, until the girls showed up. With them on the point of the spear, the opposition may melt before our eyes. I’ve already begun to think about a Christmas concert that will knock the socks off the most Philistine of your parents. Nobody will have to design it, it will just arise out of the processes of the properly organized classroom.”
“'Philistine’. You sound like Matthew Arnold.”
“I should. Arnold was the subject of the my father’s first published academic essay."
Adam returned. “Your mother is an utterly wonderful woman. Now I see where you get it. Don’t expect another compliment from me for the duration of our relationship. I will only mention your Maman, as you call her, when you do something properly. But she has a compliment for you. She says your work of the summer, not always as sweet as the song of the hedge sparrow, has obviously paid off early. She also coughed up that you’re a very good cook and might occasionally give Sadie the night off. Or show Deirdre how to make something called ‘Harry Macklin’s hamburger dinner’? Can you explain what she meant by all that?”
“Harry Macklin was a friend of Nick Taylor’s. A roommate, in the months before he ran into my brother Jacob. And my work of the summer, getting my chops up on the keyboard with a grade eight class in mind, was sometimes rather noisy. Even through the door that shuts off the basement piano. Maman has said for some time that if I weren’t so keen on painting I’d probably be playing keyboard for a dance band.”
“You weren’t out on the tugs this summer?” Adam said.
“Oh, no. Once Father and I had been on the phone to each other, I thought I’d better get ready. And it was a good summer to be around the family farm. There was a lot happening. That’s normal, of course, but ever since I graduated from high school I hadn’t been present for much of it. Too much time on the briny deep of the Inside Passage. And I wanted to paint. And play a little tennis.”
“No wonder you’re so stoked! Well, your mother has your new address for all these shipments and I’ve delivered the single malt, and the new teacher, so I’m off. I’ll leave you two to solve the problems of the diocese. Make sure you break the seal on that scotch and confirm that it’s the real thing. Real single malt, right to the bottom of the bottle, although not all in one night.” Adam had put in his time at the evening bedside, reading A.A. Milne to his bairns.