A Few Crusted Characters, by Thomas Hardy

Old Andrey’s experience as a musician

‘I was one of the choir-boys at that time, and we and the players were to appear at the manor-house as usual that Christmas week, to play and sing in the hall to the squire’s people and visitors (among ’em being the archdeacon, Lord and Lady Baxby, and I don’t know who); afterwards going, as we always did, to have a good supper in the servants’ hall. Andrew knew this was the custom, and meeting us when we were starting to go, he said to us: “Lord, how I should like to join in that meal of beef, and turkey, and plum-pudding, and ale, that you happy ones be going to just now! One more or less will make no difference to the squire. I am too old to pass as a singing boy, and too bearded to pass as a singing girl; can ye lend me a fiddle, neighbours, that I may come with ye as a bandsman?”

‘Well, we didn’t like to be hard upon him, and lent him an old one, though Andrew knew no more of music than the Cerne Giant; and armed with the instrument he walked up to the squire’s house with the others of us at the time appointed, and went in boldly, his fiddle under his arm. He made himself as natural as he could in opening the music-books and moving the candles to the best points for throwing light upon the notes; and all went well till we had played and sung “While shepherds watch,” and “Star, arise,” and “Hark the glad sound.” Then the squire’s mother, a tall gruff old lady, who was much interested in church-music, said quite unexpectedly to Andrew: “My man, I see you don’t play your instrument with the rest. How is that?”

‘Every one of the choir was ready to sink into the earth with concern at the fix Andrew was in. We could see that he had fallen into a cold sweat, and how he would get out of it we did not know.

‘“I’ve had a misfortune, mem,” he says, bowing as meek as a child. “Coming along the road I fell down and broke my bow.”

‘“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” says she. “Can’t it be mended?”

‘“Oh no, mem,” says Andrew. “’Twas broke all to splinters.”

‘“I’ll see what I can do for you,” says she.

‘And then it seemed all over, and we played “Rejoice, ye drowsy mortals all,” in D and two sharps. But no sooner had we got through it than she says to Andrew,

‘“I’ve sent up into the attic, where we have some old musical instruments, and found a bow for you.” And she hands the bow to poor wretched Andrew, who didn’t even know which end to take hold of. “Now we shall have the full accompaniment,” says she.

‘Andrew’s face looked as if it were made of rotten apple as he stood in the circle of players in front of his book; for if there was one person in the parish that everybody was afraid of, ’twas this hook-nosed old lady. However, by keeping a little behind the next man he managed to make pretence of beginning, sawing away with his bow without letting it touch the strings, so that it looked as if he were driving into the tune with heart and soul. ’Tis a question if he wouldn’t have got through all right if one of the squire’s visitors (no other than the archdeacon) hadn’t noticed that he held the fiddle upside down, the nut under his chin, and the tail-piece in his hand; and they began to crowd round him, thinking ’twas some new way of performing.

‘This revealed everything; the squire’s mother had Andrew turned out of the house as a vile impostor, and there was great interruption to the harmony of the proceedings, the squire declaring he should have notice to leave his cottage that day fortnight. However, when we got to the servants’ hall there sat Andrew, who had been let in at the back door by the orders of the squire’s wife, after being turned out at the front by the orders of the squire, and nothing more was heard about his leaving his cottage. But Andrew never performed in public as a musician after that night; and now he’s dead and gone, poor man, as we all shall be!’

‘I had quite forgotten the old choir, with their fiddles and bass-viols,’ said the home-comer, musingly. ‘Are they still going on the same as of old?’

‘Bless the man!’ said Christopher Twink, the master-thatcher; ‘why, they’ve been done away with these twenty year. A young teetotaler plays the organ in church now, and plays it very well; though ’tis not quite such good music as in old times, because the organ is one of them that go with a winch, and the young teetotaler says he can’t always throw the proper feeling into the tune without wellnigh working his arms off.’

‘Why did they make the change, then?’

‘Well, partly because of fashion, partly because the old musicians got into a sort of scrape. A terrible scrape ’twas too — wasn’t it, John? I shall never forget it — never! They lost their character as officers of the church as complete as if they’d never had any character at all.’

‘That was very bad for them.’

‘Yes.’ The master-thatcher attentively regarded past times as if they lay about a mile off, and went on:—

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22