Word Count: 1410
The grand piano stood in an alcove designed to give resonance and act rather like a stage. The instrument itself was a work of art. The rich color of its polished wood gleamed smoothly as its intricate carvings added texture. Its bench was covered with a floral design in petite point that must have taken a hundred hours to complete. Adam walked over and gave in to the urge to place his fingers on the ivory keys. Even the haphazard blending of the notes produced supplied a richness of tone achieved by no other piano he had ever heard. The sound of footsteps on the marble floor caused Adam to raise his fingers reflexively.
Turning toward the approaching figure of Abraham Augustus Delecorte the Fourth, he gave a slight but apologetic smile. “I. . . I couldn’t resist.”
“No need for you to resist, Adam. First impressions aside, this is not a museum. That piano was meant to be played. Do you. . .”
Adam shook his head. “No, no. I’d love to hear it played, though. You must have . . .”
“Had lessons.” Abe chuckled. “Father paid increasingly extravagant sums to three different teachers before Mother accepted the fact that I had not one musical bone in my body. Mother used to play, of course, but with more perseverance than talent, I’m afraid. She hasn’t in years though. I’m surprised the thing is still in tune.”
Adam ran his fingers lightly over the surface of the dark wood. “It would be a sin if it wasn’t; if an instrument like this was left to . . .”
Abe’s voice interrupted, “I suppose it would.” Adam looked into his friends face and saw sadness flicker in the depths of Abe’s eyes. “There’s no one to play it in the manner it deserves though, not anymore.”
Abe’s last two words were a whispered afterthought. Before Adam could voice a response, a melodious chime filled the air.
“Dinner is announced.” Abe declared cheerfully. Placing a hand on his guest’s arm, he steered Adam toward the dining room.
Adam glanced back at the huge bed with is mound of pillows and velvet coverings and shook his head. He had spent the past half hour lying in its comfort, but sleep had not come, so he had risen and walked to the French doors leading onto the private balcony. He opened the door and stepped outside. Staring up at the stars, he felt melancholy descend upon him. “Homesick. That’s what I am. Lounging in the lap of luxury like some medieval prince, and all I want is to laugh with Hoss at the pictures in the gallery or catch Little Joe as he slides off that banister. I might even risk Pa catching the both of us for a slide on that one.” He wrapped his arms around his chest as the night chill seeped into his bones. Turning and entering the room again, he glanced around. He had finished the book he had brought with him, and despite the lavish furnishings of the room, not a shelf or case for books was in sight. “There’s nearly a thousand volumes in the library.” Mrs. Delecorte had given Adam the grand tour of the house on his arrival and placed all of its offerings at his disposal. Deciding to avail himself of a book and read until sleep came, he put on his robe and slippers and headed downstairs. He was standing in the library scanning titles when he heard the music. “Who? Abe said no one played, and it’s after midnight.”
There was nothing to be done but walk immediately toward the sound. Adam paused as he opened the door to the drawing room. Moonlight came through a dozen windows and seemed to focus on the alcove. There was enough light to discern the figure of a girl seated upon the piano bench.
“Chopin. She’s playing Chopin.” He stood motionless and listened, not wishing to interrupt. As the last notes of the nocturne faded, he took one step forward. The girl at the piano turned her head, looked directly at Adam, but did not speak. As she turned back toward the piano, her fingers moved once more over the keys. The melody was simple and sweet and wrought a gasp from Adam. He felt a lump rise in his throat and fought to keep tears from filling his eyes. “How. . .how could she. . .” The song was a folk tune, a Creole folk tune that Marie had used as a lullaby for Little Joe. He stumbled back and closed the door. He did not run but his return to his room took far less time then had his decent to the library. Closing the door firmly behind him, he went to the crystal decanter beside the bed and poured a glass of water. Downing it in two gulps, he sat down on the bed chiding himself for his foolishness. It was close to two in the morning before sleep overcame him, and he tossed restlessly until morning.
To Adam’s relief, only Abe was in the dining room when Adam went down for breakfast. He greeted his friend and then automatically filled a plate from the chafing dishes on the sideboard.
“Didn’t sleep well.” Abe’s words were an observation not a question.
Adam gave a dismissive shrug. “Your home, my friend, is a bit overwhelming for a country boy like me.”
“I’d invite myself to yours for the next break but for the slight impediment of… how many miles?”
“Too many.” Adam tried for a light, nonchalant smile, but Abe heard something more in his friend’s tone.
Setting down his coffee cup, Abe spoke softly, “I suppose, for you, it truly is too many at times.”
Adam looked at Abe and told himself it really was a good thing that his classmate was a sensitive and perceptive person, but at that moment, he did not believe it. Looking to change the subject, Adam said, “I thought you said that no one in the house played the piano well.”
“No one plays anymore at all.”
“Someone did last night.” Adam took a forkful of eggs.
Adam chewed and swallowed. “I went down late looking for a book in the library. I heard the piano and, well, a girl was playing. She played beautifully.” He took another bite of eggs before his eyes went toward Abe.
“Yes, I didn’t see her very well.” Adam paused, shifted, and then said quickly. “We didn’t speak; I didn’t want to disturb her.”
The sound was strangled, and Adam took a good look at Abe’s face. The blood had drained from it, leaving the young man with a sickly pallor. “Abe? What in the world?” Adam half-rose, but Abe motioned him back into his chair.
“It’s. . .well, the thought of a girl playing; it just. . .”
Abe gave a shake of his head and then sighed. “The only one with any musical talent in the family was my sister Anne.”
“Your sister? I didn’t know; you have a sister?”
“Had. I had a sister. Anne died when I was eleven.”
“I’m. . .I’m sorry.”
Abe gave Adam a weary smile. “It reminds us all of Anne to hear that piano. I don’t think it’s actually been played a dozen times since then.” Abe’s teeth sunk into his lower lip. “You say you heard someone playing it last night.”
Adam wished fervently that he had never mentioned the incident but there was no retracting his account. “Yes.” Abe shuddered, and Adam quickly interjected, “There’s an explanation; I’m sure. One of the servants, I suppose. That’s why she was playing so late; she thought everyone would be asleep upstairs. Anyone who plays would find that piano irresistible.”
Abe answered like a man grabbing a lifeline, “Of course! That’s it, surely.” He pushed the unlikelihood of a housemaid having had piano lessons from his mind.
“And that’s why she didn’t speak. I probably scared the poor girl to death. Would she be in trouble?”
“Mmmm, she would probably think she would be, with the housekeeper, if not with my parents.”
“I wouldn’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
“We’ll just not mention it then.”
“No, no, we won’t. That would be best,” Adam agreed.
They never did mention it again even though Adam often wondered about how a maid would know not only Chopin but a Creole lullaby.