So once more when we got to the place we all knelt down, in the face of death again, as all men everywhere have always done, and said our prayers each one according to his way, for the lamb of thine own flock, the creature of thine own redeeming.
The tremendous-throated pipes roared their defiance which was brave, but we were only on our knees and we were silent. We got up and the procession entered from the north transept without any sound at all.
The cross and the torches, the choir of boys, all mute, and they got to the rood screen and passed through but we stood on the other side in the big stone nave where we belonged.
"Out of the depths," the human voice began, "have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord hear the voice of my supplication."
The music began and the boys sang.
When the Black Prince died, who had been the great English model of knighthood, he wanted to be buried in the church basement, beneath the choir, where forever the boys would sing above, but his fellows wouldn't hear of it and buried him up by the altar, which was not what he wanted at all. But over the centuries so many people touched and wore away his tomb and his trophies in Kent that they had to move him back down to the crypt, and there he is till now, where he wanted to be, and the choristers still sing above his stone.
Well, anybody who ever heard them sing can comprehend the prince's wish, to have that music envelop his very skeleton always.
But on the day this week that I speak of, it was not the Black Prince but our friend Frances, and I would not dream of mentioning a private thing, except it is not private or particular but is common to all. Nobody ever lived long enough to read this who did not have a friend die, someone (as George C. McGhee said in an appropriate and beautiful short talk) remarkable and joyous, and now dead.
In pastures green (the kids sang on) he leadeth me, the quiet waters by.
Everything depends, in these matters, on singing right. It has to be full without being pompous, full of decent pride without being vainglorious, full of tenderness without being false; and I marveled that mere boys could do it.
The woman whose life we had got together to praise God for had a soft voice and tended her household. She cooked a dish she called Spaghetti Bolognese which she had adapted to the English palate. On the other hand (she was endlessly domestical, and it is right to mention the food she served) she was beyond compare with little half-dollar meringues glued together, flat side to flat side, with Devonshire cream. I wonder how many men fell forever in love with her for these.
Well. This was in Washington, the organ and the choir, and she is in the earth near Winchester, near the River Itchen along which she and her husband so often walked like silly lovers, and not far from the old cottage where they lived, with the yellow rose around the door.
She had lived for a while in Washington and made a great warmth among those who knew her. How many do this in this capital for a little while, some with circles of friends far smaller than hers, some with perhaps even more, and when it touches you it is irrelevant what her influence is or what her station is. A good woman is above rubies, whether her life touches three or three million.
Themistocles once observed there are those who have no memorial except the air we breathe. Socrates used to say a woman needs no perfume, she herself smells sweet.
Thy servant Frances whom we commit. All the day long till the shadows, and peace at the last.
My car was way outside the church by the gnarled old Glastonbury thorn that has grown there for a long time and I poked about, minding the thorns which are surprisingly efficient, to see if it was in bloom. It often is in winter, long before spring, and at first I couldn't find any flowers on it, then I did, just two, and they were as good as an April floraison. So I got in my car and slammed the door and usual-life began again.
The bells in the tower rang but were muffled, the louvers closed, lest they upset the neighbors of the church who, no doubt, would all drop dead if they had to hear a true bronze voice above a tin racket of the streets.
So now it's dark and time for supper once again. And I'm glad I went to the place where they sang in the day. And I'm glad I knew her in clear days and I thank God every man is born into the net of affection and happiness in a human world, no matter what ever comes, no matter how short the term of summer's lease.
O Israel (as the chaplain so wisely put it) trust. And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins. And as the kids sang--not even being men, how can they know the sharp knife of what they sing?--My head dost thou with oil anoint, and my cup overflows. Comfort is not far from taunting, as affection is not far from teasing.
It's good when the 32-foot pipes of the organ (that's four stories nowadays) snarl in defiant volume against every insult to mortal breathing. Even if you're on your knees. For this purpose music came into the world, to fight what we cannot. And it's good, softer, when it's less inflamed and more like the comfort you once heard as a little kid and got hurt. I know, I know, poor tiger, and it's going to be all right, and you believed it then and still do now.