Helen Verrey had come to London to make her fortune. That is to say, she had decided to stay on in London after her course of studies at the Musical College was completed.
She had won awards, and fancied that the praises of the men-students, and the half-jealous, congratulations of the girls represented the opinion of society—of the world; and, eager to exercise her gifts and to earn her own living, Helen refused all offers of help. It was little indeed in a monetary way that her old parents could give, for they had pinched and strained for years, even giving up what most of us would consider necessaries in order to keep their clever daughter at her lessons. Full of the hope of youth and pride of talent, Helen scarcely understood the tremendous sacrifice that was daily made for her; the stinted meals, the pains of rheumatism through walking in worn-out shoes, the patched and darned garments, the mother's old bonnet with ribbons washed and turned, and the distress when their one wealth, the rich blossoms from the loved little garden had all to be sold and sent away. The father aged quickly and became helpless with rheumatism, while the mother, with nursing and gardening lost strength herself; but knowledge of the worst was carefully kept from Helen, for they knew that she was working hard. Suddenly in one of her letters Helen told them that all examinations were over, and she had passed with flying colors, having received every honor the College could grant its students. Henceforth she would not be any burden upon them but would rather strive to repay something of what they had borne for her, and finally that she was soon coming home for a short holiday.
Joy came to the hearts of her parents, the severe tension was relaxed, and things got brighter. The old father took a turn for the better and was sitting up in bed to welcome Helen when she arrived. Her mother bustled about and Helen helped to prepare their simple evening meal, and afterwards went into the garden. It was near the end of July, and a few roses were still abloom. Helen stood by a tall bush of crimson blossoms and said to herself that the scent of them was like a prayer. The strength of their sweetness, the tranquil colors of the twilight sky, the young moon with her pallid attendant, calm with the wisdom of everlasting ages, together created an atmosphere wherein Helen's fancy bathed as it were in the deeps of a shoreless sea. In the ecstasy of the hour her willing consciousness floated, unknowing of the necessary ballast supplied by disappointment which serves to steady more experienced voyagers across the ocean of imagination. How long she stood there dreaming Helen neither knew nor cared; but all the following week she lived in the glamour of the garden, in which the thing most alive to her was the scent of the roses.
Only a few days longer, then the willful girl packed her boxes, kissed her parents "good-bye," and took train for London again. Her poor fond father and mother she never saw again for they died in the following winter, and then she was indeed alone, excepting for her acquaintances and friends in town. She continued to give lessons, to play at receptions and "at homes," but the life was at best a precarious one, and there was always the strong feeling that if she took but a few weeks' rest others would rush in and seize her work and place. When asked why she did not go abroad to give recitals and concerts as so many violinists less gifted than herself did, her answer always was "Because my niche here will be taken by others, it is hard enough now to keep it to myself."
Her career was full of ups and downs, and after a time, in spite of her efforts the "downs" predominated. Others were preferred before her; she was no longer the newest performer, or the latest sensation. Things got worse and worse, and after a time she was glad enough to take work of a kind that she would have sneered at a few years before. After all she was only one of the many thousands of young people all having started confidently to make name and fame for themselves, now reduced to penury and want, and only too grateful for work in the humblest walks of their several professions. London is full of such at this moment—girls and boys who have grown grey and haggard in their never-ending and frantic struggles to make both ends meet; pathetically careful at the same time to keep up appearances and to "look prosperous" upon empty stomachs and purses. God help them!
Through all this nightmare time the scent of the roses in the dear garden at home called to Helen till she was sick with longing. Peace, if not prosperity, seemed to be the message borne to her, and one summer's day she packed her dwindled possessions and went down to the old village. The sight of the straggling street where she had played as a child brought the stinging tears to her eyes; she was weak with long poverty, and was glad to rest in the tiny room she had engaged. Exhausted, she lay upon the bed and slept and dreamed. And all the time the roses called, and presently the souls that dwell in every flower came to her until the room was full of them. The mean little place expanded and became a palace, and space beyond space, and height above height were peopled with the angels of the flowers. They sang to her in heavenly harmonies, and the song was of peace; and then, as the music breathed its burden, a second theme wove in and out of the first; a quiet, elusive thing, difficult to follow, that anon got lost in the swelling chorus, but stole forth again and again with larger and larger certainty until the dreamer learnt its name—Humility. And then it became more strenuous and resolute, until both motives were as one, and the triumph of the music culminated in the equal blending of the two. The flower-souls floated near to Helen and all the air was burdened with their scent. They raised her and led her forth by the hand out into the quiet night till they brought her to her old home; there, with lingering spirit-kisses they left her. All nature was breathless, listening to the voice of a nightingale that gave its life in melody, and there was the dear remembered rose tree full of heavy crimson blossoms. Helen laid her face to them, and she caught amid their fragrance the echoed refrain of the dream-music and knew that they were trying to tell her that in this life peace cannot be gained save at the price of pride. The portal of peace opens only to the meek hand of humility. Then and there she resolved to accept certain lowly work that a friend had offered. It had nothing to do with music, and so all her expensive training, and the time and strength she had spent in study were to be as nothing; wasted and useless. Her talent and knowledge would be as if they did not exist; the sensitive delicacy and hard, clean strength of her hands; the disciplined muscles of her fingers, palms and wrists; the perfect localization she had acquired which enabled her to centre the strength of the whole hand in one small joint, or to concentrate it in the pressure of a single fingertip, were all to be given up. The control of the hands—a musician's most valued possession, retained only by daily, nay hourly, attentive practice, was what Helen sacrificed.
She determined to forego the joy of using music as a constant medium for self-expression, and resolved to manifest her ideals and find mental satisfaction, only in her everyday occupation, to do her duty, and leave the rest to God. She was blessed in so doing, for having made a start, she went on from strength to strength, and developed a nobility of spirit which gave her a larger insight into the meanings of life; and always she kept the sweet humility that the angels of the roses taught her. After a time the opportunity came to continue her music, and her playing, instead of having suffered, gained in sublimity and breadth of expression, because of the vision and the lesson that had been vouchsafed to her.
Lies in thy power, its secrets are thine own.
There's not a task that thou canst not fulfill,
Strong in the thought—As thou thyself shalt will."
—Clara B. Beatley