This is the mournful tale of one, Victor McSweeny. He was a
simple young man - a musician, in fact - who loved, and who lost.
His compositions were known throughout London at that time, and
he was the pride of his home village in Ireland as he told his
parents of his endeavors and successes. To fully understand this
sorry story, we must first turn back the hands of time to the
fourteenth of December in the year of 1877.
He was but an eighteen year old boy at this time,
tinkling the keys of the piano and screeching the strings on the
violin, straining himself for a song to write. During the days he
occupied himself on the streets, tooling Mozart and Beethoven out
of his violin for the amusement of passersby and the hope of some
sympathetic coins. One rainy morning, few pedestrians were
wandering the damp streets. Victor saw this as an opportunity for
practice. He began shakily drawing the bow across the strings,
placing his fingers in a pattern of his own design. He knew not
what he was doing, or whether it sounded melodic. He did not see
the carriage come to a halt in front of meager bandstand.
He glanced at the cart and quickly recognized the
purple lion painted on the door. He must have been mistaken,
though. Surly the De Lacy family would want nothing to do with
him. But no, a voice commanded him from come to the carriage. He
peered inside the window, gazing in disbelief at the only true
Gregory De Lacy. The nobleman did not look at Victor when he
"What song was that you were playing, boy?"
"One of my own design, sir" Victor replied nervously,
attempting to avert his gaze from the man's dazzling jewelry and
fine garments. "I was improvising as I played".
De Lacy turned his head ever so slightly, just enough to exam
Victor with apparent disinterest.
"What's your name, boy?"
"Victor McSweeny, sir."
"Yes, sir. My parents and twin sister, Sinead, still
reside in Ireland. My mother is English. She met my father when
he came to London to find work. They married and moved back to
Ireland, where they raised me and my sister."
"Hm. So you were born and raised in Ireland?"
"Yes, sir. I came to London only but three years ago
as a boy with the same intentions as my father."
"You have no accent."
"No, sir. I worked hard to lose it."
"I see. Tell me, do you play the piano as well as the
"Why, of course, sir! The piano is my area of
expertise." Victor felt very foolish after saying this; he had no
right to be calling himself and expert.
"Excellent! I am holding my annual Christmas Ball and
am desperate for entertainment". Di Lacy had heavily emphasized
the word 'desperate', but his desperation was apparent as he was
searching the streets for musicians. "Might you be interested? I
assure you that the pay will be generous". De Lacy chuckled; his
idea of 'generous' was probably very different from this
impecunious young man's.
Victor accepted without hesitation. He was told to be
at the De Lacy manor at eight o'clock in the morning on the
twentieth to rehearse. Gregory De Lacy would accept nothing but
perfection for his annual Christmas Ball, so the entertainment
had better deliver just that. De Lacy required that Victor be at
his house for at least three hours every day practicing until the
Ball. He spent the rest of that week gathering all of the festive
Yule-tide music he could find. He arrived at the De Lacy manor on
the twentieth at seven forty-five in the morning, his satchel
bulging with sheets of holiday music. He was ushered by a
comically stuffy butler to the Grand Ball Room. There De Lacy
waited for him with his glamorous wife, Lydia. He was leaning
carelessly on the most beautiful grand piano, Lydia standing
obediently at his side.
"McSweeny! Why, you're almost fifteen minutes early.
Very good, I can already see that I've made a wise choice. Lydia,
my dear, this is the boy I told you about. The one who hears
music in his head and plays it free-willingly."
Victor kissed the overly dressed woman's hand, struggling to find
a spot to place his lips through the jewelry.
"Charmed" she said in an uncharming voice.
"What have you there?" De Lacy inquired, pointing to
the overflowing satchel Victor carried.
"Christmas music, sir. For your ball. I intend to . .
"No, no, no. that won't do, McSweeny! I hired you to
play out of your head! Like I heard you doing on the street."
Victor felt the request hit him hard in the stomach. Surly, such
a distinguished man like Gregory De Lacy, did not wish to have an
amateur plunk away nonsensical tunes during his Christmas Ball!
Victor was convinced that he had been set up as a part of some
"Well?" De Lacy demanded, inviting him to sit on the
piano bench upholstered in deep crimson velvet. Victor sat down
mechanically. He told himself to think festive, think holiday,
think Christmas, snow, candles, family . . . family. How he
missed his. Ireland seemed so far off. His parents aging, long
past the peak of their health. His sister growing, though they
were the same age he hated to see her mature. His fingers began
to move fluidly over the keys, striking notes that made him long
for the cold harsh winters of Ireland, the bitterness eased by
the blazing fire in his parent's cottage. He mixed in the notes
that floated through the air during the holidays; the music that
nobody could hear, but that everybody felt. He played to a slow,
larghetto rhythm that was ideal for waltzes. He held the last
note until the piano grew tired and the sound faded.
As the room grew silent, someone applauded from the
entrance of the Ball Room. They all turned to see a lovely girl
standing there. Victor was dumbfounded. He'd never seen such
beauty. She looked like music sounded; she was indescribable
sound described and visualized. If composers were painters, they
would paint her. She was what all music tried to capture and she
was standing right there in front of him. Who was she?
"Rose!" shouted Gregory as he threw his arms open and
walked towards the girl. "Your mother and I weren't expecting you
home for at least two more nights." He embraced the girl and
kissed her soft pale check. She smiled a smile that made Victor
want to cry.
"I decided to leave early and surprise you" she said
in a delicate voice that made Victor want to sing.
"You certainly surprised us" said her mother drily.
The girl turned vaguely toward the piano. Victor looked excitedly
into her eyes only to find, to his shock, that the girl could not
gaze back into his eyes; she was blind. That made her all the
more beautiful to him.
"That music was so very lovely" she sang to him,
"Like nothing I've ever heard."
Victor was slow to react, and could not speak to the girl before
De Lacy chimed in.
"That's because it was an original, my dear. This boy
played it out of his head as he thought of it."
"That's incredible!" said the girl, smiling an even
broader smile. She took a few steps closer to where she knew the
piano was. "I'm Rose De Lacy" she said gently in the direction of
"I'm Victor McSweeny" he replied. He took her hand
and kissed it softly, secretly glad she was unable to see how red
his face had grown. She slid her palm out of his tender grip and
put it to his face. She felt his high forehead and round nose,
working her way over his warm cheeks and down to his strong jaw.
She placed her fingers on his lips and blushed, removing her soft
white hand from his face.
"Are you the musician my father hired for the Ball?"
"Yes, I am. I'm very much looking forward to
"And I am very much looking forward to your
performance." She smiled again at him, and then turned to her
father. "I am very tired from my trip. I think I'll go refresh
myself before I tell you of my time at school, as I am certain
you wish to hear of it."
"Indeed we do" said Gregory, although Lydia appeared
to have the most extreme disinterest of the subject.
Rose excused herself and Victor tried his
very hardest not to star as she left the room, escorted by a
cheery plump maid. De Lacy looked to him, his eyes filled with
"Seeing as how Lydia and I have business to attend
to, we will have to cancel today's rehearsal. You are expected to
be here tomorrow at eight o'clock sharp." With this, he dismissed
Victor. He found himself standing outside the De Lacy gates all
too quickly. He went home and sat at his meager piano and thought
of the girl. Rose De Lacy inspired him beyond the point of
expression. There was no sound on earth that could convey the
feelings the sight of her instilled within him. He would hope
that tomorrow the opportunity for conversation with her would
The next day came and, when conversation was offered,
Victor found himself speechless. The same thing was so of the
next day, and the day after, and the day after that. With only
three days left until the Ball, Victor had said little more than
'good morning, Miss De Lacy' to Rose. She sat in the
Ball Room and listened to him play. Gregory De Lacy was ever
present to be sure that he was practicing festive music. Then, on
that lucky day, he was called to business in another part of the
Manor. A florist had arrived to discuss the decorations. Victor
was left alone at his piano with Rose.
She looked at him in anticipation of music. He
grinned slowly and began a playful tune that had nothing to do
with Christmas, but the music was as charming as he wished to be
in conversation. Rose smiled as she realized this was a private
concert for her. He played the jaunty song and she blushed as he
struck certain notes or played certain rhythms. He slid his
fingers up and down the keyboard in a playful glissando, which
made her giggled aloud. He stopped playing and joined her in
"That was wonderful!" she said, walking over to the
piano and sitting next to him on the bench.
"Thank you," he said with confidence, "I'm very happy
you enjoyed it. It means a lot to me that you liked that piece in
"Why is that, mister McSweeny?"
"Because it was for you."
She smiled at him with a smile that he had not seen before but
wished to see every day for the rest of his life.
The day of the Ball finally came. He pressed his best
suit and combed his dark hair out of his face. He arrived at De
Lacy Manor at five o'clock in the evening, one hour before the
Ball began. He was to play as the guests arrived, then he could
take a break at eight o'clock during dinner, and then he was to
play dance music during the Ball from nine o'clock until
midnight. He cracked his knuckles as he sat down at the piano
bench. He limbered his fingers on the key board, playing simple
tunes that he knew from his childhood. The De Lacy's came into
the Grand Ball Room, looking at the recently completed
At ten-to-six, they took their positions by the doors
to greet their guests as they entered. Rose looked anxious to
have the Ball be done with. The guests all arrived in the most
glamorous and elegant clothing, yet everyone looked the same to
Victor. He played his music until the head chef entered the room
at eight o'clock sharp, announcing that dinner was served. The
guests filed out into the Dining Room, leaving Victor alone at
his Piano save a few waiters. He went outside into the garden and
sank down on the edge of a fountain. He watched the crystal blue
water pour from the stone jar of an exotic woman into the base
that he was perched on. He hear someone approaching and stood up
quickly. Rose appeared from behind a bush.
"Miss De Lacy!" he exclaimed. "How did you find me?"
"I asked one of the waiters who said you went into
the garden. I came to this fountain because this is where I come
to sit. It sounds more pleasant than all of the other fountains,
though I don't know why."
He helped her to sit on the edge of the fountain and the joined
her. They looked together into the night (though only one of them
could do so in reality). Rose turned in his direction.
"If you are willing to share your secret, I must
know. How do you think of such wonderful music, and then simply
just play it?"
"It's simple, really" Victor said, looking her in her
sightless eyes, "Everything you see or experience creates
emotions. Emotions are all of your senses simultaneously
experiencing the same thing. Even if you only see it, you
subconsciously hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch it. I just
isolate the sound part of it in my head, and then reenact it on
an instrument. I know it must sound very strange to you, but it
really isn't hard once you figure it out."
"You're very insightful. My father made a wise choice
in entertainment this year. It is a shame he is so stubborn. He
hires a different musician every year because he doesn't want the
Ball to ever be the same. He's very stubborn on a lot of things."
"So, this is the last time I will see you" Victor
blurted out blankly.
"No, we will meet again, Victor McSweeny. As you hear
unheard emotions, I see unseen sights. But, at this moment, I
must return to the feast before my absence is noticed. Until next
time, Victor." She kissed him softly on the cheek and then
disappeared behind the same bush. Victor sat in wonderment until
one of the waiters came out and told him that dinner would be
over in ten minutes, so he'd better get back to that piano. He
had only one song to play, and he played it all night.