Chapter 21: Christmas Unto New Year's: The Breath of Zephyr-
The Tree House Revealed
A day or so later, me and Hucky was hanging out under the Christmas tree-just takin' a rest you might say from all our new found duties. Course we was lookin at what was still left under there and I had found a itty bitty sweater box and when I got the top knocked off it to scrunch myself inside, I found there was the added bonus of a real cashmere sweater-which made that box a kind of Christmas gift in itself. There ain't nothin like cashemere for linin a box to lay up in. It was prime. Hucky he'd found a piece of ribbon what got overlooked in the wreckage, and he commenced to chewin and swallowin on it-which I have told him time and again, only means lots of trouble in the litter box, and it's best to nip through it so's it's in small pieces, but never mind-he was havin fun.
I was done entertainin myself by chewin through the lowest strand of lights on the tree, so we warn't bothered no more with those hot little bulbs diggin into our eyes and ears and all. But by and by, I thought I'd take a nip from the other end of Huck's ribbon.
"Leave off, Tom-this here's my ribbon."
"I only want to chomp it a little," I said.
"What about the tissue paper that's around that there sweater, then?"
"It's all to flinders. C'mon, Huck, let me have just a little of it…"
"I tell you what," I said, thinkin back to that time in the school room me and Joe Harper worried and drove a beetle with pins on my writin slate. "You chaw from that end, an I'll chaw from this one, and we can have us a tug of war game."
It was at least a yard long and Hucky trotted off with the end securely in his teeth whilst I got a hold of my end and we both started in chewin and pullin with a will. It was as good as one of those fraternity games where evrybody starts yankin and the losers get jerked into a creek. In fact, I thought about witchin an itty bitty creek between me and Huck, which would have given the contest some real flavor, but Lady had already lit into me about water and electricity and I didn't want to fry my own twin brother.
Huck let go of his end suddenly and I fell back, naturally; and then he sprang from where he was, feet out front, and landed on me and we was exchanging rights and lefts and I got in a good one and he yelped, and then he tussled some more and I was underneath him and he got in a good one and I yewwweed! And we was generally having a grand old roughhousin match, but Lady came in just then and even though she knowed our fightin was play fightin it made her nervous, so we had to quit. "You was gonna lose anyhow in a bout three seconds, Tom Sawyer," Hucky said and gave me a sideways swat into my right ear. "Huh!" I countered-
"What have you boys been up to?" Lady said.
"Well 'nothin' looks like something if you ask me." She was stooping right over the box with the sweater in it and even I could see there was a drift of white fur pilin up in there. Peter would buy black…I sighed inwardly.
"This is no place to play," she said. But I saw her mind was fixed on somethin else, and she was rummaging through the stack of boxes till she dug out the big one with the Aeolian Harp in it. "This is very expensive, and not only could you damage it, you could get hurt…"
"What is that thing, anyhow?" Huck put his nose out and sniffed an edge. The harp-a big rectangle--was about three feet long and there was a cover you slid aside. Under that, it was lined with strings and there was a hole like on a acoustic guitar in the middle.
"How do you play it?" I have to admit I was itchin to run a paw across the strings.
"Then what do you do with it? Hang it up on the wall and dust it once a year?" Huck looked irritated.
"No. You lay it in a window and the breeze moves over it and the wind plays it."
"Well, since it's the dead of winter, I guess this here is a gift what has to wait till Spring time, and meanwhile, it will have to hang someplace and me and Hucky will have to dust it and maybe even polish it an all," I said.
"We can keep it in the box," she said patting my head. "But right now, I have to admit, I want to hear it sing."
There was a little brass key for tuning and she plucked a few strings and adjusted a coupla pegs and got it ready for its debut performance and then went into the sunporch and opened the northwest window-which was the biggest one in there, anyhow-and laid the harp onto the sill. Then she lowered the window to just above the strings.
"That funnels the air across the harp and helps it 'play,'" Lady explained.
"Now what?" Huck said. It was pretty-a nice mahogany wood with a lighter color for the sounding board and all decorated up and down the length of it with very pretty flowers that was painted on and a line from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem was inscribed around the hole. "We just sit in front of it, like it was a concert pianist about to perform an-"
"Sssh, Huck. You'll see."
Well, you have probably noticed that when you are waiting and wanting somethin to happen it never does. And this here instrument was a prime example of passive aggression-it was just a stone gargoyle, you may say, for all the noise that came out of its throat -which was none.
"Sounds like a angel," Huck said to me laughin under his breath. And I knew he meant that angels-like this here wind harp-was silent as the tomb.
"What will it play next, I wonder?" I said. And Huck gave me a push in the chest with his paw and a big smirk. " 'Sonata for a Stone Post,' perhaps," and Hucky let out a yelp of laughter.
"Or, 'Concerto for Clams in C Minor,'" he whooped.
"Oh I think I hear somethin," I said placing one paw alongside my ear.
"You'll see," Lady said. She was less than enthralled with our impatience and sarcasm.
"Well, while we're waitin for the orhestra to tune up, I think I'll take a bath and a nap." Huck gave a long yawn and trotted back towards the cashmere sweater box under the tree. "Wake me when the musician's strike is over," he said sleepily. I stayed sittin on the rug in the playroom and keepin an eye on Lady, who was deep into the set of bookshelves tucked along the wall, and lookin, she explained, for a book of poems by good old Samuel T.
"Here it is," she said, and started thumbin through to find "The Eolian Harp."
A coupla seconds later, the wind gusted up outside. I saw the bare tree limbs shiverin and they made that clicking sound they do when the branches and twigs are clotty with ice. It's an eerie sound-but it warn't nothin to the sound of the harp.
The wind seemed to find it and-like a spirit drawn to a weak soul it wants to possess-it just laced into the thing and out come a sound that was like the howling of the damned.
Hucky near about jumped out of his skin. "What the hell is that!" And I knowed if we wasn't in the room with the harp, Hucky never would have come in-he'd a headed for the cellar, the attic or any place else out of the sound of that thing. But he did sort of slink along till he was back hangin in the door to the sunporch, his face lookin tense.
ZzzzzzZzzzZZZZZzzzzz, the harp sang. Well, it was unearthly, I'll give you that. Not like a zither and not like the wind screamin around a chimney of a freezin night, but some weird atonal song-it was pretty much the way I imagined the wind sounded in the polar regions when the monster is chasing Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's book. I figured Mary had heard her share of Aeolian Harps, too.
"Listen," Lady said. "Isn't it something?" The look on her face was like Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Colerdige had both just descended from the aether and lit down here in her sunporch in Rhinebeck, New York.
It started up again with a sound that was like to make a corpse's flesh melt faster. MmmmmmmMMMMMMMmmmmmmMMMMMMMzzzzzzzzzahhhhhhmmmmmmm.
" 'And that simplest Lute, Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark! How by the desultory breeze caress'd, Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,' Lady read from the poem.
Well I was astonished. "Coy maid!"
"Sounds like that old emergency broadcast test they used to do on cheap TV stations," Huck said. "It'll keep dogs off the lawn-I'll say that in its favor."
"Hah, you boys don't know what good is," Lady said. Her face was rapt, and now and again she shut her eyes to hear the harp shriek, then fell back to readin on the poem.
Don't humans beat all?
Here was somethin in my day, people would a hove shoes outtta the window at to shut it up from screamin all night like like ruttin alley cats--and Peter Bennett had paid good money for it and Lady looked like she just won the New Jersey state lottery and a Speed Queen Automatic Washer to boot.