The door of Blizzard’s house was opened for them by Kid Shannon.
“Why, Mr. Shannon,” exclaimed Barbara, “I blew your whistle, and you never came.”
“And wasn’t the whistling enough?”
He smiled the smile of a general who knows that his troops are in a state of perfect discipline. “The boss is expecting you,” he said. “Please step right in.”
A faint odor of roses greeted them.
One light, not strong, illuminated the legless man’s face. Barbara and her friends sat in half-darkness. Kid Shannon went out of the room on tiptoe, closing the door softly behind him. Of Rose, crouched under the key-board of the grand piano, her hands on the pedals, nothing could be seen, owing to a grouping of small palms and flowers in pots. The stump of Blizzard’s right leg touched her shoulder. She was trembling. So was Blizzard. He was trembling with stage fright; she with Blizzard fright. His hands, thick with agile muscles and heavy as hams, though he had just been soaking them in hot water, seemed powerless to him, and stiff.
He struck a chord, and it sounded to him not like the voices of a musical instrument, but like a clattering together of tin dishes. This enraged him. His self-consciousness vanished. Those ivory keys and well-tempered wires had fooled him. He hated his piano. And he began to punish it. The heavy hands, rising and falling with the speed and strength of lightning strokes, produced a volume of tone which perhaps no other player in the world could have equalled.
Blythe, a great amateur of music, had come in a sceptical mood. He now sat more erect, his face, eyebrows raised, turned to Blizzard, his ears recalling to him certain moments of Rubinstein’s playing.
But Blizzard no longer hated his piano. It had stood up nobly to his assault. It was a brave instrument, well-bred, a friend full of rare qualities—for a friend to show off. And, the swollen veins in his forehead flattening, he began to make his peace with his piano. It could do more than shout and rage. It could sing like an angel in all languages; it could be witty, humorous, heart-rending, heart-healing, chaste, passionate, helpful, mischievous. And it could be wise and eloquent. It could stand up for a friend, and explain his sins away, and get him forgiven in high places.
And even as Blizzard thought, so he played. He was no longer conscious of himself or his guests, not even of Barbara. As for Rose, she was merely a set of pedals in perfect mechanical adjustment. He was not even conscious of his thoughts. They came and went without deliberation, and were expressed as they came and dismissed as they went in the terms of his extraordinary improvisation.
But it came to this at last, that he thought only of beautiful things, so that even his face was stripped of wickedness, and his fingers loosed one by one the voices of angels, until it seemed as if the whole room was full of them—all singing. And the singing died away to silence.