Through this wee aperture the organ-music, reduced and mellowed by distance, came to him again with that same curious, intimate, personal relation which had so moved him at the start, before the doctor closed the window. It was as if it was being played for him alone.
He paused for a doubting minute or two, with bowed head, listening to the exquisite harmony which floated out to caress and soothe and enfold him. There was no spiritual, or at least pious, effect in it now. He fancied that it must be secular music, or, if not, then something adapted to marriage ceremonies—rich, vivid, passionate, a celebration of beauty and the glory of possession, with its ruling note of joy only heightened by soft, wooing interludes, and here and there the tremor of a fond, timid little sob.
Theron turned away irresolutely, half frightened at the undreamt-of impression this music was making upon him. Then, all at once, he wheeled and stepped boldly into the porch, pushing the inner door open and hearing it rustle against its leathern frame as it swung to behind him.
He had never been inside a Catholic church before.
Jeremiah Madden was supposed to be probably the richest man in Octavius. There was no doubt at all about his being its least pretentious citizen.
The huge and ornate modern mansion which he had built, putting to shame every other house in the place, gave an effect of ostentation to the Maddens as a family; it seemed only to accentuate the air of humility which enveloped Jeremiah as with a garment. Everybody knew some version of the many tales afloat which, in a kindly spirit, illustrated the incongruity between him and his splendid habitation. Some had it that he slept in the shed. Others told whimsical stories of his sitting alone in the kitchen evenings, smoking his old clay pipe, and sorrowing because the second Mrs. Madden would not suffer the pigs and chickens to come in and bear him company. But no matter how comic the exaggeration, these legends were invariably amiable. It lay in no man’s mouth to speak harshly of Jeremiah Madden.
He had been born a Connemara peasant, and he would die one. When he was ten years old he had seen some of his own family, and most of his neighbors, starve to death. He could remember looking at the stiffened figure of a woman stretched on the stones by the roadside, with the green stain of nettles on her white lips. A girl five years or so older than himself, also a Madden and distantly related, had started in despair off across the mountains to the town where it was said the poor-law officers were dealing out food. He could recall her coming back next day, wild-eyed with hunger and the fever; the officers had refused her relief because her bare legs were not wholly shrunken to the bone. “While there’s a calf on the shank, there’s no starvation,” they had explained to her. The girl died without profiting by this official apothegm. The boy found it burned ineffaceably upon his brain. Now, after a lapse of more than forty years, it seemed the thing that he remembered best about Ireland.