The Organist

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The trials and tribulations of an organist.

Submitted: September 28, 2014

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Submitted: September 28, 2014

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THE ORGANIST

The music that the organ emitted was heard all over the small village and caused no concern to anyone. Every evening, as the sun was setting, ever since his wife’s tragic death, Algar Montrose sat down in front of the organ and played for hours on end, until the verger indicated that it was time to go home and sleep. Algar was a late-middle-aged man, who was very tall and slim. In his youth, he had been extraordinarily handsome and had been the focus of many a young girl’s interest, until one day after being away working for some time, he arrived back with a lovely wife called Delma. She was as good as she was pretty, and he was besotted with her. They had a daughter they called Elissa, who was her father’s joy. Algar was a businessman, and played the organ on Sundays in church. The little family had the respect of the whole village, till the night of the fatal accident that took Delma’s life, and left him without a wife and his daughter without a mother. The police made every effort to try and find out what had caused the accident, but their investigations proved to be fruitless. The big scandal was that Delma was in Esmond Wynne’s car, and nobody could find an explanation for it. Algar was not only beside himself with grief, but wondered what on earth Delma had been doing in Esmond’s car when the two couples weren’t even friends.

Geraldine, Esmond’s wife, never directed a word to Algar after the accident, as if he were to blame for her husband’s being killed with Delma. There was certainly a frosty atmosphere whenever Geraldine was present. Delma had loved listening to Algar play the church organ, and he once promised her that he would do so until the day he died. There he was, every evening, playing the music she had loved so much, and trying to make some sense out of her untimely death. Elissa had become her father’s reason for living, as well as his wanting to find out the truth about why they had died, and if there had been any witnesses.

 

The gothic spires were silhouetted against the dark red of sunset, which created the illusion of warmth, but there was no warmth that evening, it was December and the weather forecast was that snow would fall that night. The colours of the stained-glass windows added to the deceptive atmosphere of warmth, and the churchgoers appeared not to notice the cold as they made their way along the ancient stone path to the large wooden door, that was left slightly open to enable the weaker and older parishioners to enter without having to tug on such a weight. Algar was sitting on his seat in front of the organ, well aware of Elissa sitting where her mother used to sit when she was alive, to turn the music pages for him.

For reasons he was unable to understand, some of the parishioners used to leave him money in a box. One day he asked the vicar why they did so, and the vicar answered, “They feel sorry for you and your motherless child, and hope it’s a help.”

Algar’s reply was, “I’m grateful for the gesture, but I’m sure that some of them may need the money more than I and my daughter do.”

“That may well be, but they appreciate your playing the organ so much, which means that the church is always open, which is as it should be.”

“Thank you, Herbert. This village always surprises me with its kindness. I wish someone would come forward and tell me that they were witness to that accident. There are still lots of holes in the story and I need to fill them in, not only for me but for Elissa too.”

The tall, erect man stepped outside onto the path, and walked down the road to the small cottage he shared with Elissa and her pets. He didn’t feel sorry for himself any more, he had got over the fact she had been with Geraldine’s husband. Life had to go on somehow or other. Algar wore a long, black coat over his indoor clothing. Seen from afar, he was a gothic-looking figure that matched the church perfectly. The organist’s cottage was set on land that belonged to the church, and every organist who had played in the church had lived there. It was not a common arrangement, but long ago a vicar had dedicated a cottage to the incumbent organist. There were other small cottages that were inhabited by the sexton, the verger, and the head grave-digger. It proved an easy and comfortable situation for all those who had to be on call, as it were, for something involving the church.

 

The day came when the organ needed repairing. Herbert told Algar, “The organ is old and has to be repaired and improved, so we’ll have to use a piano or get the local music society to play in the church while the work is in process.”

“I suppose it might be better for me to go and play in another church till then. I’ll ask Elissa how she feels about moving away till the organ can be used again.”

Herbert thought it might not be such a bad thing for Algar and his daughter to be absent from the village for some weeks or months. He had noticed how Algar was aging rapidly and had thought that his old friend might actually be ill. The only illness that Algar was suffering from was grief accompanied by frustration.

That evening, Algar approached the subject of leaving the village and going to live in another till the organ business was solved.

“I think it’s all right for us to leave here for whatever time it takes for them to see what they can afford and what they want to do.” Elissa told her father.

 

The next days before father and daughter left the village, Algar spent even more time playing the organ. At times, tears filled his eyes on thinking that somehow he was abandoning the place where his wife was buried. Nevertheless, he packed up their necessary possessions and arranged for the rest to be sent later.

Algar and Elissa drove past Geraldine’s house on their way out of the village. There was a slight movement of a fine, white curtain at one of the upper windows as they went by, but neither father nor daughter was aware of it. The road snaked its way out of the village and the surrounding woods, and then passed by the spot where the accident had taken place. Algar had driven by many times, as a way of freeing himself of Delma’s ghost, and moving on. The car had been found lying on its side in an enormous water-filled ditch. The autopsy revealed that the two had been drowned, and had suffered blows to the head as a result of the vehicle going off the road and falling downwards. It had been night time, and the only lights on the road would have been from other cars.

A steady rain had been pouring down all day and the leaves made the surface as slippery as a skating rink. So, once more, Algar got out of his car and walked to the accident spot. Elissa sat in the car till she thought he had stayed out in the cold air long enough, and then went to get him back inside the vehicle.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve driven up here and tried to make sense of it. I don’t for one minute think your mother was having an affair with Esmond, we had no social contact with them. No, Elissa, there has to be another reason why it happened.”

“Dad, have you ever thought we might never know the truth about the accident? I understand you need to know, but the truth might hurt you more than losing her did.”

“I can take what is necessary, but I really don’t want to be breathing my last still asking the question - why?”

 

They arrived at another village where an old friend of theirs called Joseph Johnson, an ex-policeman, had resided since his retirement from the force. Joseph had been after Algar and Elissa to visit him for ages, and at last his dream was to come true. He had convinced the local vicar to let Algar play on the organ if he, Algar, wanted to.

“It was about time you honoured me with a visit. I’ve been living here for almost ten years now. What took you so long?” Joseph asked his friend.

“He’s always playing the organ in the church, and only comes home when it’s time to eat or sleep,” Elissa interrupted.

“I hadn’t realized how much time had passed. I was in a very bad way for ages after Delma’s death. Now I have improved a lot, as Elissa keeps nagging me,” Algar explained

“Elissa, don’t go sacrificing your life for your father. You have the right to live your own life and do what you want,” the old policemen said, as he showed them into his cottage.

“After I finished college, going out into the big wide world of London or any other large city held no attraction for me, and so I returned home. I like it that way. Everyone knows us and we know everyone else,” Elissa told Joseph.

Joseph had children who lived very far away from him, and he was just a little bit jealous of Algar for having Elissa still in his life. Joseph was a widower, but his wife had died from natural causes and he had none of the pain that Algar was still suffering. Joseph had a lady friend who went round to play cards with him and a few others, a couple of times a week, which helped to alleviate his loneliness. Joseph’s back garden was full of greenhouses full of vegetables and plants. It was those vegetables he had prepared for his visitors for dinner that first night in his house.

“You never said anything about being a gardener. When did all this happen?” Algar asked.

“On coming here and being left by myself. By the way, I have a few friends round tonight - if that’s all right with you.”

“Yes, of course. We don’t have much of a social life, do we?”

“Dad, you mean you don’t have much of a social life,” Elissa said.

 

When all the dinner things had been cleared away, Joseph pulled out a green baize cloth and covered the dining table with it. Then he took out a pack of cards, a chess set, and other games. The main lights were switched down and the three waited for the guests to make their appearance. At eight o’clock the front doorbell rang, and four elderly people entered Joseph’s cottage, and were introduced to Algar and his daughter. There was one elderly lady whose eyes didn’t miss a thing. She said very little, but when she did she made more sense than the men. Her name was Rose, the three men were: Anthony an ex-seaman, Henley a retired engineer, and Wilfred who used to play the organ. When the introductions had been made, they all sat down to play cards.

“It’s very pleasant to have a young lady joining us old fogies,” Anthony commented.

“What’s that supposed to mean? I can still beat you at Bridge any day,” Rose declared. The others laughed, because they were all used to the banter between Anthony and Rose.

The evening went off quite well, and Elissa was very aware of Rose’s eyes on her and her father all the time, so much so, that she played badly. Joseph upbraided her about the shoddy way she was ‘laying her cards’, as he put it, “I don’t understand you tonight, Rose, your playing is dreadful, your heart isn’t in it at all.”

“I may be catching a cold, you never know at our age how health can let you down in a moment,” declared Rose.

 

Just before midnight the quartet decided to leave Joseph’s cottage, then Rose looked at Algar and said, “How would you and Elissa like to come round for lunch tomorrow?”

Algar, who wasn’t used to having much to do with women, stared at Elissa before replying, “Thank you very much, but what about Joseph, we’re his guests?”

“I know that, but I’d like to talk to you,” Rose said.

“My father and I will be only too happy to see you tomorrow at your house. Goodnight, Rose, and thanks for the invitation.” Elissa had taken over, on seeing her father’s hesitation.

 

Algar felt strange. For the first time in years he was in a house that he wasn’t used to, and in some ways he wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation. If it had been left to him, he would have made an excuse not to go to Rose’s for lunch. Joseph and his guests went up to their separate bedrooms after saying goodnight.

 

Alone in his unknown bedroom, Algar lay down on top of the bed, reluctant to put on his pyjamas. For some hours he thought of Delma, and fancied he saw her shape in the shadows formed through the curtains by the street light outside. Eventually, he put on his pyjamas and fell asleep, just as he was on the point of saying how much he missed her.

 

The following day after breakfast, Algar and Elissa walked to Rose’s cottage, that had a garden full of rose bushes that were rose-free. The garden must be perfect in the summer when all the flowers are out, and the perfume of the roses must be out of this world, thought Algar.

Rose answered the front door, and they went into a cosy cottage full of furniture. Elissa thought it reminiscent of a dolls-house. Elissa remembered that Rose wanted to speak to her father, so she asked if she could step outside into the garden to look at the plants and bushes.

Rose and Algar sat down on a sofa, with cups of coffee in front of them.

“What is it you wish to speak to me about?” Algar asked.

“What do you know about Esmond’s wife, Geraldine?”

Algar stared and stared, “Why have you asked me such a thing after all these years? I don’t know anything about her, we never speak, we avoid each other like the plague.”

“It was discovered that it was she who was having an affair, and not Esmond, and certainly not your wife.”

“I don’t understand why you are telling me all this.”

“I thought you should know.”

Algar put his coffee cup and saucer onto the table and stood up, “Is it necessary to bring it all back up again?”

“Please don’t go. You don’t know enough about me yet. The accident report in the newspapers had too many holes in it, and although it happened a long time ago, for you it’s like it was yesterday. A dark car was present at the accident, but the driver never came forward. Now, why do you think that was?”

Algar sat down, “How am I supposed to know?”

“I’m at the end of my life, and that’s another thing. Will you, please, play the organ at my funeral?”

“Yes, gladly, but we’re talking about the accident. Who do you think was in the car that didn’t stop?”

“I was.”

Algar sat back, and had trouble in catching his breath. They both turned as the door opened and Elissa entered. Obviously, Elissa had been eavesdropping. She sat down beside her father and said, “Rose, are you just saying this, or is it true, and how are you going to prove it?”

Rose took a deep breath, and said, “I was into smuggling precious stones with a man that I was on my way to meet at the airport. I was in a hurry to get to the airport in time for the man to hand the stones over to me. The rain was incessant and the surface was slippery. I was belting along, when I saw a car propel itself off the road, turn over on its side, and slide into the water. I didn’t stop, but just went on, not even thinking. I wasn’t prepared to stop and offer whoever was inside assistance, because it would have meant rescuing people who were drowning, and getting involved with the police, and I didn’t want that because of awkward questions that might have been asked. So I continued on my way. In fact, when I got to the airport I discovered my partner had been apprehended by the airport police, and was being led off. Now I realize, in retrospect, I could have saved their lives, as I’d had nothing to do at the airport.”

“How long have you got left?” Algar asked Rose.

“Not long. Weeks, I’ve been told.”

“Why did you never come forward, or at least ring for an ambulance?” Elissa asked her.

“I was thinking of myself and my safety. How was I to explain what I was doing there that night?”

“And why was my wife in Esmond’s car? Do you know anything?”

“Esmond’s wife, Geraldine, said in her statement to the police, that Delma was at their house delivering some papers to do with the church, and that he was simply giving your wife a lift home because of the heavy rain. And that must be the truth.”

“Geraldine has never spoken to either of us since that night, and it made me wonder if there was something else going on that we had no knowledge of,” Algar said sadly.

“Are you going to stay for lunch?”

“Yes, we might as well, although I don’t have any appetite after what you have told us,” Algar said. “You’re the friend of an ex-policeman, and it makes me wonder if you have ever told him about what happened.”

“I knew he was an acquaintance of yours, and as the years passed by, I often thought of inviting you here to tell you. Joseph jumped the gun and got in first. That was better for me, because it meant that the responsibility for telling you was taken out of my hands.”

“Have you ever thought that, if you had stopped they might have survived?” Elissa asked.

“Many times. And now I’m on my way out, I have nothing to lose.”

“What happened to your business partner?” Algar asked her.

“He did quite a long stretch in jail, and when he came out he met another woman, and they went to live in the Canary Islands. He had plenty of money stashed away from previous jobs.”

 

After her confession, Rose didn’t take long in departing this world for the next. Joseph also heard of it, and said it was too late to change things. “What’s done is done,” he told her, a few days before she breathed her last. Algar, played the organ at her funeral, with the permission of Wilfred, the official organist of Joseph and Rose’s church.

 

Father and daughter stayed with Joseph till he received the good news that the organ had been successfully repaired, and that the entire village was anxiously waiting to hear him play once more.

 

Algar had felt better living with his daughter and Joseph, away from the sad loss of Delma, than he had done for ages. Therefore it was no surprise to him when, on going back to the village and entering the cottage near the church, which he had shared with Delma, and Elissa, he fell into a depression. To all outward appearances his life was back in its old routine. The organ sounded better than ever, and there he was to be found every evening, sitting in front of it, with Elissa turning the pages. It was at those moments he remembered Delma, and the depression began to consume him. The fact that she might have survived the accident, had Rose stopped to help, was an ever present anger eating away at him. Algar never spoke to Elissa about his feelings, but she saw that in a very short time he had become gaunt and bent over. The tall, straight man was doubling over, as if suffering from a terrible pain. Elissa worried about Algar’s health, but he said he felt fine.

 

 The years went by and with them Algar’s appearance worsened, but he still went on playing the organ every evening, in spite of how bad his health was.

 

One night, when the snow had started falling, Algar had spent a difficult day obsessed with Delma’s memory. He couldn’t get her out of his head. The walk to her grave wasn’t far, and he fell on his knees and spoke to her. For a few seconds he saw an apparition of Delma, and he called her name. Then he fell on top of the cross that was at the head of her grave stone. Algar was crying, and continued calling her name.

 

Next morning, the verger was walking to the vicarage when he perceived a tall, dark figure draped over a grave stone. He saw it was Algar, and ran to tell the vicar, who rang for an ambulance and the police, and then he rang Elissa. Algar was disengaged from the cross and taken to the hospital.

 

Herbert officiated at his old friend’s funeral, and had him buried beside Delma, in the same plot.

 

Many years later, when all those who had known Algar personally were dead - Elissa included - and there was a new vicar and a new organist, on certain evenings of the year, Algar’s music could be heard, and his tall, long-legged dark-coated figure was seen making its way along the path to the church, and as he entered, the villagers who heard the ghostly music, said on such evenings, “Algar’s back,” and they stopped what they were doing, to listen to his wonderful musical interpretations. 


© Copyright 2018 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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