THE LOST SONG.
It was my grandmother’s story, and this how she came to tell it to me:
I, Annie Rae, had come down to spend Christmas at “Raeburn,” the old family homestead. My grandmother and grand-father had been abroad for years, and this being the first Christmas for so long that the old house was opened, they wanted to fill it with bright young faces and merry laughter, to crowd out the voiceless memories which lurked in every corner, and so a whole party of us had come–cousins, first, second and third, in fact of all degrees. Speaking of cousins, isn’t it strange that very often the further removed the nearer they seem? At least George Stewart was only my third cousin by blood, and yet he always assumed more on the strength of our relationship than any of my first cousins, and somehow, in my own heart I did not mind it at all, though I did tease him so.
But I must go on with my story. It was Christmas Eve, and the old house was quiet at last. We girls had all gone to our rooms after a merry evening together. Fannie and Rose had the room near grandma’s, while Kate and Lillie were just opposite. Some one had to sleep alone at the other of the hall, and after long consultation, it was decided that I should go, for I had rashly boasted of never being afraid. I will confess to feeling a little lonely when all was quiet, and the deep shadows in the corners of the room seemed very dark, for the light of my candle did not reach far. There were three doors in my room, and fastening securely the one leading into the entry, I merely turned the handles of the others, and finding them locked inside, did not care to explore any further just then. I must have been a long time undressing, for the clock struck the hour of midnight as I put my light out. Even then I could not sleep, but found myself wondering what was behind those doors that I had not opened, and I determined to have a regular exploring expedition the next day. There were so many romantic stories to this old house. I had even heard hints of staircases, shut up rooms, &c., and had always delighted in mysteries.
I think I must have been asleep for a short time, when I suddenly found myself awake with a start, and a curious impression that I was listening for something. There certainly was a sound overhead, but what was it? It came more clearly, and I distinguished a faint, broken melody, and yet imperfect, like some one playing a long forgotten air on a piano where some of the strings were broken. Three times it came like the verses of a song, and though there were no words, it seemed to speak to my very heart, and I thought of George, and how sorrowfully he had looked at me that evening as I had passed him without saying “good night.” It was only to tease him, I had pretended not to see his proffered hand, but had taken Willie Thorne’s instead, and we had walked up the broad staircase together.
Again all was still, only a long drawn sigh seemed to echo my own through the room, and came from the direction of the furthest door. Without a sensation of fear, only an ill-defined feeling of pain and regret, I sank to sleep, and when I woke the morning sun was shining brightly enough to dispel illusions. I resolved to say nothing to the girls, but quietly to explore and see what was to be found, for I knew perfectly well that what I had heard was no dream. So I got up long before breakfast, and after completing my toilet, threw wide the shutters and opened the first door nearest the entry. Only an empty closet! Disappointed but slightly relieved, I closed it and went over to the other. The key turned hard in the lock as if it had not been opened for a long time. Then the door stood wide open, and I saw a flight of stairs but only prosaic wooden steps, like those leading to any garret. I started bravely up and soon found myself in a large loft attic, with odds and ends. First, an old spinning wheel caught my eye, relic of our most industrious great grandmothers. Then a stack of old fire- arms, with which our ancestors, the bold Races, may have shed the blood of daring foes, or, perhaps, and I am afraid more likely, have only done damage among the crows that came to steal from their spacious cornfields. Lastly, beyond these, and behind a pile of mattings and boxes, I came upon an old piano. It quite startled me at first but then the broad daylight was very reassuring, and I am not nervous. It was very old and of a most curious shape, and evidently had been very elegant in its day. I tried to lift the lid, and found it locked, but as I touched it a shiver ran through me, for I was convinced now that this was what my ghostly music had come from last night, and I am determined to find out before another day had passed who it had belonged to, and what restless spirits still haunted its worn strings.
So after breakfast, when all the others gone to church, I went into my grandmother’s room to sit with her, for she was not very strong, dear old lady, and rarely went out of the house in winter.
After we were nicely settled and had got through our morning’s reading, I told her of my last night’s adventure, and my subsequent researches, and begged her to tell me all about the old piano I had found in the attic. She smiled at my eagerness, but did not seem at all surprised or incredulous, for though she herself had never heard the music I spoke of, there had been others long ago, she said, who, sleeping in that room on Christmas Eve, had been known to hear faint sounds, coming as if from the old piano above, though it was locked, and the key had been lost. The coincidence, at least, was very strange, taken in connection with the history attached to it, and which my grandmother then proceeded to relate to me.
“Many years ago,” said my grandmother, “when your great-great-great-grandfather was alive, this house was full of life and merriment; for your Aunt Annie–your great-great-aunt for whom you are named, child—lived here with her father and brothers. She was as bright and funny as the day was long, but so full of mischief and coquetry that she gave the heartache to all the young men, far and near and yet had suffered never a pang herself. I am afraid that a spice of her coquetry has descended to this generation too, my dear,” said the lady gazing fondly, but reproachfully at me. “I felt sorry to see the look in poor George’s eyes, last night, as you turned from him on the stairs–”
“Oh I please go on, grandmother dear,” said I, ”I am so much interested in the story.” But in my own wicked little heart I was sorry too, and inwardly resolved to make up for it to him on the first opportunity. “Well your Aunt Annie always had the house full, and some of her cousins and young friends were always staying there. Among the gentlemen who were their frequent visitors was a young naval officer, Robert Carrol, whom they inspected Annie of preferring. Of course, as girls will, they teased her most unmercifully about him and consequently she would hardly speak to him sometimes, and just because in her own heart she knew that to talk with him just one hour was better to her than a whole day with the others.
“The poor fellow evidently had no eyes for any one else, but he was very reserved and sensitive, and did not go in boldly and make love to her, as any other man would done, but stood and worshiped afar off. They say he was very fine musician, and sang beautifully, and not only that but he composed a song for Annie to sing; for she had a lovely voice, and would sing lovely old ballads for us in the long summer evenings with wonderful pathos and feeling.
“As the days went by the time drew near for Robert to join his ship. Early in December his orders came, and he was to leave the day after Christmas.
“He loved Annie so dearly that he felt he could not go away from her so long without asking for some assurance that his love was returned, and yet he could not bear to think of hearing her say she could never love him. Sometimes she treated him so coldly, almost rudely, and yet again, when they were alone, he could have sworn her eyes spoke a different language.
“The day before Christmas came and still no word had been spoken. On the morning of that day Robert wrote a note to her and inclosed in it a little song he had written and in the note he said,–“But stay,” said my grandmother, “I think I can show you the very note itself,” and going to her desk she took from it an old yellow piece of manuscript music, so faded as to be illegible and a little sheet of paper. “These,” she said, “were found up in the attic among other old letters and private family papers when we came back, and though I destroyed the rest I kept these,” and taking up the note she read it aloud. It was very short, and ran thus:
Annie, darling will you be my wife? And may I go away with hope warm at my heart that when I come back I may claim you as my own? Little one if it is to be, and can love me, will you sing my song for me to-night when I come. If there is no hope for me you will sing something else, and I will know my fate at once, and it will be better to learn it so than to give you pain of telling me. But somehow I feel hopeful, and shall come with a brave heart in spite of the fate which your sweet voice is to sing me into life or death.
Forever yours, in this world and the next.
“He sealed the note inclosing the song and sent it over by his servant. As the man was going into the gate he met Annie’s youngest brother, Harry, a little fellow of ten years old, who snatched the note from him, and said, ‘Oh! I’ll take it to Annie, Tom,’ and ran off. So Thomas walked away with an easy conscience, thinking he had delivered the note safely at least to a ‘member of the family.’
“Harry trotted off toward the house with the best intentions in the world, but was diverted on the way by some important business with a small boy of his own age, who suddenly turned up, so by the time he did go home all memory of the note had vanished from his youthful mind.
“Evening came and the younger children were all in bed, and Harry lay sound asleep, while on a chair hung his little jacket, and in the pocket still, poor Robert’s note undelivered. Annie, with ‘cheeks like twin roses,’ and’ eyes bright with love and hope was waiting for the company.
All the young people were coming from neighborhood to have a frolic, but she only thought of Robert. ‘He must speak to me to-night,’ she said to herself. ‘I am sure he loves me, and in spite of my bad behaviour to him sometimes he must know my heart.’
“Early in the evening Annie’s father according to his custom, asked her for a song and as she rose and went to the piano she caught sight of Robert’s pale handsome face. He was near the door, where he had just entered standing with his arms folded and his eyes fixed upon her with a look that to her dying day she never forgot. As she sat down to the instrument an unaccountable feeling of depression came over her, some unseen influence seemed to hold her hands so that she could scarcely strike the notes, but with an impulse she threw it off and dashed into some gay and nonsensical song that was popular at the time, and sang it through to the very end.
“When she looked up Robert was gone, and she never saw him again in this world. He left home that night and never returned, for his ship, with all on board was lost on the way out; and he went to his grave thinking her cold and heartless. And she–all the next day she waited for him, wondering that he did not come. That night as she was wearily going to her room a little voice from the nursery called her, and going in she found Harry wide awake.
“Oh! sister Annie,’ said he ‘don’t scold me, but I forgot your note yesterday, and there it is still in my pocket.’ And he pointed to the jacket which hung on a chair. Mechanically, she reached and took it, but when she saw the address in his hand, she grew as pale as death. She only stopped and kissed the little fellow, who was sobbing bitterly, and no word of reproach passed her lips.
“From that day she was a different being. Her whole life seemed to be a period of waiting; waiting for news of him.
“You must remember, my dear,” added grandmother, “that in those times there were no such conveniences for communications as we have now-a-days, when lovers can change their minds two or three times a day by mail, and can telegraph ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sixty times a minute (more or less) if they please.
“And when at last the news of Robert’s death came, it was as if some blight had fallen on her, for she seemed to fade away, and grew weaker and weaker, until it got to be so that she never left her room. Then her piano was moved up there, the room you were in last night–for her music seemed the only thing left in which she took any interest, and often at night when all was still they would hear her playing, for she had never been known to sing since that time when, with her own sweet voice, she had smilingly sounded the death knell of two hearts.”
“On Christmas morning, just one year after, when they came to her room they found her seated at her piano, with his song before her, and her white hands cold and stiff resting on the keys. She had gone to meet him, and her weary waiting was over at last.”
“This was my grandmother’s story of the piano–and that evening as George and I were sitting together on the board staircase, while the others were dancing in the parlor, I told it all over to him, and would you believe it? when I came to the part about poor Robert’s last letter, George actually said it served him right for not being man enough to ask for what he wanted when he had the chance, “as I intended to ask you right here, little Annie,” said he, and then–well, somehow I did not finish the story that evening.
Since then, however, we have often talked it over since, but George always smiles when I tell him of the ghostly music I heard on Christmas eve in the old house, and suggests though the piano was locked, yet the back had fallen out from old age, and there was room enough for a whole regiment of mice to creep in and run over the rusty strings, and he further says that I was sleepy and troubled in my mind for treating him so badly, and thought it was my aunt’s ghost come to warn me. But that is nonsense, of course, and I shall always believe that it was poor Robert’s last song that I heard.
The Indiana [PA] Democrat 14 November 1872: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It seems to Mrs Daffodil that there is blame enough to go around, with some to spare. Coquettes! Thoughtless younger brothers! Timid suitors! One wonders how, without the spur of “on-line” dating and “swiping,” the species ever propagated itself.
Still, it was curious that the mice, if mice there were, only came out to run over the piano’s strings on Christmas eve.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.