The last of my advocates brought my hammered dulcimer and set it up and seated me before it. Then he mounted the pulpit and said, “He is reputed to be something of a musician, Your Honor.”
At the sight of my instrument my spirits rose unexpectedly. I picked up the hammers and with them lightly touched the silver strings. In the loft I saw O’ Carolan’s face brighten as he turned blind eyes toward the enchanting sound.
“The timpan!” he whispered with a smile. Then he took up his harp once more and began to play “O’ Carolan’s Concerto.” I was familiar with the tune, and began to play with him, strong and confident at first, as the combined sounds of the two instruments floated and flew around the length and breadth of the sanctuary and swept upward to the ceiling like two butterflies in bright flight. But halfway into the second section of the tune I lost my place. I could not keep up with the furious pace he set. I faltered, fumbled, and paused; then struck a series of blaringly wrong notes in a desperate attempt to save myself; then stopped dead. O’ Carolan stopped too, and turned a blank, bewildered face in my direction.
“Please, sir,” I said after an awkward silence, “that’s a tune I don’t know well. Can we try another?”
George MacDonald leaned forward in his seat. “‘The Flooers o’ the Forest!’” he eagerly suggested. “Can ye play ‘The Flooers o’ the Forest,’ laddie?”
“N-no, sir,” I stammered, much embarrassed. “I’m afraid I don’t know that one either. But I have been working awfully hard on ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh.’”
“Then play it, by all means!” the old Scotsman said enthusiastically.
So I lifted my hammers once again, and once again let them fall. But though I had practiced it untold times, this time I could not play ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh’ – no, not to save my life. My hands forgot what little skill they had. All the wrong notes rang out strong and clear. The few that were right struck dead as wood on wood. I laid the hammers down and looked up in time to see MacDonald bow his head in dismay.
* * * * * * * *