Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part II.--His Youth
Chapter XXIII. Robert Finds a New Instrument.
At length the vessel lay alongside the quay, and as Mysie stepped from its side the skipper found an opportunity of giving her Robert's letter. It was the poorest of chances, but Robert could think of no other. She started on receiving it, but regarding the skipper's significant gestures put it quietly away. She looked anything but happy, for her illness had deprived her of courage, and probably roused her conscience. Robert followed the pair, saw them enter The Great Labourer--what could the name mean? could it mean The Good Shepherd?--and turned away helpless, objectless indeed, for he had done all that he could, and that all was of no potency. A world of innocence and beauty was about to be hurled from its orbit of light into the blackness of outer chaos; he knew it, and was unable to speak word or do deed that should frustrate the power of a devil who so loved himself that he counted it an honour to a girl to have him for her ruin. Her after life had no significance for him, save as a trophy of his victory. He never perceived that such victory was not yielded to him; that he gained it by putting on the garments of light; that if his inward form had appeared in its own ugliness, not one of the women whose admiration he had secured would not have turned from him as from the monster of an old tale.
Robert wandered about till he was so weary that his head ached with weariness. At length he came upon the open space before the cathedral, whence the poplar-spire rose aloft into a blue sky flecked with white clouds. It was near sunset, and he could not see the sun, but the upper half of the spire shone glorious in its radiance. From the top his eye sank to the base. In the base was a little door half open. Might not that be the lowly narrow entrance through the shadow up to the sun-filled air? He drew near with a kind of tremor, for never before had he gazed upon visible grandeur growing out of the human soul, in the majesty of everlastingness--a tree of the Lord's planting. Where had been but an empty space of air and light and darkness, had risen, and had stood for ages, a mighty wonder awful to the eye, solid to the hand. He peeped through the opening of the door: there was the foot of a stair--marvellous as the ladder of Jacob's dream--turning away towards the unknown. He pushed the door and entered. A man appeared and barred his advance. Robert put his hand in his pocket and drew out some silver. The man took one piece--looked at it--turned it over--put it in his pocket, and led the way up the stair. Robert followed and followed and followed.
He came out of stone walls upon an airy platform whence the spire ascended heavenwards. His conductor led upward still, and he followed, winding within a spiral network of stone, through which all the world looked in. Another platform, and yet another spire springing from its basement. Still up they went, and at length stood on a circle of stone surrounding like a coronet the last base of the spire which lifted its apex untrodden. Then Robert turned and looked below. He grasped the stones before him. The loneliness was awful.
There was nothing between him and the roofs of the houses, four hundred feet below, but the spot where he stood. The whole city, with its red roofs, lay under him. He stood uplifted on the genius of the builder, and the town beneath him was a toy. The all but featureless flat spread forty miles on every side, and the roofs of the largest buildings below were as dovecots. But the space between was alive with awe--so vast, so real!
He turned and descended, winding through the network of stone which was all between him and space. The object of the architect must have been to melt away the material from before the eyes of the spirit. He hung in the air in a cloud of stone. As he came in his descent within the ornaments of one of the basements, he found himself looking through two thicknesses of stone lace on the nearing city. Down there was the beast of prey and his victim; but for the moment he was above the region of sorrow. His weariness and his headache had vanished utterly. With his mind tossed on its own speechless delight, he was slowly descending still, when he saw on his left hand a door ajar. He would look what mystery lay within. A push opened it. He discovered only a little chamber lined with wood. In the centre stood something--a bench-like piece of furniture, plain and worn. He advanced a step; peered over the top of it; saw keys, white and black; saw pedals below: it was an organ! Two strides brought him in front of it. A wooden stool, polished and hollowed with centuries of use, was before it. But where was the bellows? That might be down hundreds of steps below, for he was half-way only to the ground. He seated himself musingly, and struck, as he thought, a dumb chord. Responded, up in the air, far overhead, a mighty booming clang. Startled, almost frightened, even as if Mary St. John had said she loved him, Robert sprung from the stool, and, without knowing why, moved only by the chastity of delight, flung the door to the post. It banged and clicked. Almost mad with the joy of the titanic instrument, he seated himself again at the keys, and plunged into a tempest of clanging harmony. One hundred bells hang in that tower of wonder, an instrument for a city, nay, for a kingdom. Often had Robert dreamed that he was the galvanic centre of a thunder-cloud of harmony, flashing off from every finger the willed lightning tone: such was the unexpected scale of this instrument--so far aloft in the sunny air rang the responsive notes, that his dream appeared almost realized. The music, like a fountain bursting upwards, drew him up and bore him aloft. From the resounding cone of bells overhead he no longer heard their tones proceed, but saw level-winged forms of light speeding off with a message to the nations. It was only his roused phantasy; but a sweet tone is nevertheless a messenger of God; and a right harmony and sequence of such tones is a little gospel.
At length he found himself following, till that moment unconsciously, the chain of tunes he well remembered having played on his violin the night he went first with Ericson to see Mysie, ending with his strange chant about the witch lady and the dead man's hand.
Ere he had finished the last, his passion had begun to fold its wings, and he grew dimly aware of a beating at the door of the solitary chamber in which he sat. He knew nothing of the enormity of which he was guilty--presenting unsought the city of Antwerp with a glorious phantasia. He did not know that only upon grand, solemn, world-wide occasions, such as a king's birthday or a ball at the Hôtel de Ville, was such music on the card. When he flung the door to, it had closed with a spring lock, and for the last quarter of an hour three gens-d'arme, commanded by the sacristan of the tower, had been thundering thereat. He waited only to finish the last notes of the wild Orcadian chant, and opened the door. He was seized by the collar, dragged down the stair into the street, and through a crowd of wondering faces--poor unconscious dreamer! it will not do to think on the house-top even, and you had been dreaming very loud indeed in the church spire--away to the bureau of the police.