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From TWO ON A TOWER by Thomas Hardy

The parson announced Psalm fifty-third to the tune 'Devizes', and his voice burst forth with;

    'The Lord look'd down from Heav'n's high tower
    The sons of men to view',

in notes of rigid cheerfulness.

In this start, however, he was joined only by the girls and boys, the men furnishing but an accompaniment of ahas and hems. Mr Torkingham stopped, and Sammy Blore spoke: "Beg your pardon, sir - if you'll deal mild with us a moment. What with the wind and walking, my throat's as rough as a grater; and not knowing you were going to hit up that minute, I hadn't hawked, and I don't think Hezzy and Nat had, either, - had ye, souls?

"I hadn't got thorough ready, that's true," said Hezekiah.

"Quite right of you, then, to speak," said Mr Torkingham. "Don't mind explaining; we are here for practice. Now clear your throats, then, and at it again."

There was a noise as of atmospheric hoes and scrapers, and the bass contingent at last got under way with a time of its own:
"The Lard looked down vrom Heav'n's high tower!"
"Ah, that's where we are so defective - the pronunciation," interrupted the parson. "Now repeat after me: "The Lord look'd down from Heav'n's high tower."

The choir repeated like an exaggerated echo: "The Lawd look'd daown from Heav'n's high towah!" "Better!" said the parson, in the strenuously sanguine tones of a man who got his living by discovering a bright side in things where it was not very perceptible to other people.. "But it should not be given with quite so extreme an accent; or we may be called affected by other parishes. And, Nathaniel Chapman, there's a jauntiness in your manner of singing which is not quite becoming. Why don't you sing more earnestly?"

"My conscience won't let me, sir. They say every man for himself but thank God, I'm not so mean as to lessen old fokes' chances by being earnest at my time o' life, and they so much nearer the need o't."

"It's bad reasoning, Nat, I fear. Now, perhaps we had better sol-fa the tune. Eyes on your books, please. Doe! doe-ray-mee --"

"I can't sing like that, not I." said Sammy Blore, with condemnatory astonishment. "I can sing genuine music, like F and G; but not anything so much out of the order of nater as that."

"Perhaps you've brought the wrong book, sir?" chimed in Haymoss, kindly. "I've knowed music early in life and late, - in short, ever since Luke Sneap broke his new fiddle-bow in the wedding psalm, when Pa'son Wilton brought home his bride (you can mind the tune, Sammy? - when we sung 'His wife, like a fair fertile vine, her lovely fruit shall bring', when the young woman turned as red as a rose, not knowing 'twas coming. I've knowed music ever since then, I say, sir, and never heard the like o' that. Every martel note had his name of A, B, C, at that time."

"Yes, yes, men; but this is a more recent system!"

"Still, you can't alter the old-established note that's A or B by nater," rejoined Haymoss, with yet deeper conviction that Mr Torkingham was getting off his head. "Now sound A, neighbour Sammy, and let's have a slap at Heav'n's high tower again, and show the Pa'son the true way!"

Sammy produced a private tuning-fork, black and grimy, which, being about seventy years of age, and wrought before the pianoforte builders had set up the pitch to make their instruments brilliant, was nearly a note flatter than the parson's. While an argument as to the true pitch was in progress there came a knock from without.

"Somebody's at the door!" said a little treble girl.

"Thought I heard a knock before!" said the relieved choir.

The latch lifted, and a man asked from the darkness, "Is Mr Torkingham here?"

"Yes, Mills. What do you want?" It was the parson's man.

"O, if you please," said Mills, showing an advanced margin of himself round the door, "Lady Constantine wants to see you very particular, sir, and could you call on her after dinner, if you ben't engaged with poor folks? She's just had a letter, - so they say, - and it's about that, I believe."

Finding, on looking at his watch, that it was necessary to start at once if he meant to see her that night, the parson cut short the practising, and, naming another night for meeting, he withdrew. All the singers assisted him on his cob, and watched him till he disappeared over the edge of the Bottom.



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