The Haunted Organist of Hurly Burly by Rosa Mulholland
There had been a thunderstorm in the village of Hurly Burly. Every
door was shut, every dog in his kennel, every rut and gutter a flowing
river after the deluge of rain that had fallen. Up at the great house,
a mile from the town, the rooks were calling to one another about the
fright they had been in, the fawns in the deer-park were venturing
their timid heads from behind the trunks of trees, and the old woman at
the gate-lodge had risen from her knees, and was putting back her
prayer-book on the shelf In the garden, July roses, unwieldy with their
full-blown richness, and saturated with rain, hung their heads heavily
to the earth; others, already fallen, lay flat upon their blooming
faces on the path, where Bess, Mistress Hurly's maid, would find them,
when going on her morning quest of rose-leaves for her lady's
pot-pourri. Ranks of white lilies, just brought to perfection by
today's sun, lay dabbled in the mire of flooded mould. Tears ran down
the amber cheeks of the plums on the south wall, and not a bee had
ventured out of the hives, though the scent of the air was sweet enough
to tempt the laziest drone. The sky was still lurid behind the boles of
the upland oaks, but the birds had begun to dive in and out of the ivy
that wrapped up the home of the Hurlys of Hurly Burly.
This thunderstorm took place more than half a century ago, and we
must remember that Mistress Hurly was dressed in the fashion of that
time as she crept out from behind the squire's chair, now that the
lightning was over, and, with many nervous glances towards the window,
sat down before her husband, the tea-urn, and the muffins. We can
picture her fine lace cap, with its peachy ribbons, the frill on the
hem of her cambric gown just touching her ankles, the embroidered
clocks on her stockings, the rosettes on her shoes, but not so easily
the lilac shade of her mild eyes, the satin skin, which still kept its
delicate bloom, though wrinkled with advancing age, and the pale,
sweet, puckered mouth, that time and sorrow had made angelic while
trying vainly to deface its beauty.
The squire was as rugged as his wife was gentle, his skin as brown
as hers was white, his grey hair as bristling as hers was glossed; the
years had ploughed his face into ruts and channels; a bluff, choleric,
noisy man he had been; but of late a dimness had come on his eyes, a
hush on his loud voice, and a check on the spring of his hale step. He
looked at his wife often, and very often she looked at him. She was not
a tall woman, and he was only a head higher. They were a quaintly
well-matched couple, despite their differences. She turned to you with
nervous sharpness and revealed her tender voice and eye; he spoke and
glanced roughly, but the turn of his head was courteous. Of late they
fitted one another better than they had ever done in the heyday of
their youthful love. A common sorrow had developed a singular likeness
between them. In former years the cry from the wife had been, 'Don't
curb my son too much!' and from the husband, 'You ruin the lad with
softness.' But now the idol that had stood between them was removed,
and they saw each other better.
The room in which they sat was a pleasant old-fashioned
drawing-room, with a general spider-legged character about the
fittings; spinnet and guitar in their places, with a great deal of
copied music beside them; carpet, tawny wreaths on the pale blue; blue
flutings on the walls, and faint gilding on the furniture. A huge urn,
crammed with roses, in the open bay-window, through which came
delicious airs from the garden, the twittering of birds settling to
sleep in the ivy close by, and occasionally the pattering of a flight
of rain-drops, swept to the ground as a bough.bent in the breeze. The
urn on the table was ancient silver, and the china rare. There was
nothing in the room for luxurious ease of the body, but everything of
delicate refinement for the eye.
There was a great hush all over Hurly Burly, except in the
neighbourhood of the rooks. Every living thing had suffered from heat
for the past month, and now, in common with all Nature, was receiving
the boon of refreshed air in silent peace. The mistress and master of
Hurly Burly shared the general spirit that was abroad, and were not
talkative over their tea.
'Do you know,' said Mistress Hurly, at last, 'when I heard the first
of the thunder beginning I thought it was--it was--'
The lady broke down, her lips trembling, and the peachy ribbons of
her cap stirring with great agitation.
'Pshaw!' cried the old squire, making his cup suddenly ring upon the
saucer, 'we ought to have forgotten that. Nothing has been heard for
At this moment a rolling sound struck upon the ears of both. The
lady rose from her seat trembling, and folded her hands together, while
the tea-urn flooded the tray.
'Nonsense, my love,' said the squire; 'that is the noise of wheels.
Who can be arriving?'
'Who, indeed?' murmured the lady, reseating herself in
Presently pretty Bess of the rose-leaves appeared at the door in a
flutter of blue ribbons.
'Please, madam, a lady has arrived, and says she is expected. She
asked for her apartment, and I put her into the room that was got ready
for Miss Calderwood. And she sends her respects to you, madam, and
she'll be down with you presently.'
The squire looked at his wife, and his wife looked at the
'It is some mistake,' murmured madam. 'Some visitor for Calderwood
or the Grange. It is very singular.'
Hardly had she spoken when the door again opened, and the stranger
appeared--a small creature, whether girl or woman it would be hard to
say--dressed in a scanty black silk dress, her narrow shoulders covered
with a white muslin pelerine. Her hair was swept up to the crown of her
head, all but a little fringe hanging over her low forehead within an
inch of her brows. Her face was brown and thin, eyes black and long,
with blacker settings, mouth large, sweet, and melancholy. She was all
head, mouth, and eyes; her nose and chin were nothing.
This visitor crossed the floor hastily, dropped a courtesy in the
middle of the room, and approached the table, saying abruptly, with a
soft Italian accent:
'Sir and madam, I am here. I am come to play your organ.'
'The organ!' gasped Mistress Hurly.
'The organ!' stammered the squire.
'Yes, the organ,' said the little stranger lady, playing on the back
of a chair with her fingers, as if she felt notes under them. 'It was
but last week that the handsome signor, your son, came to my little
house, where I have lived teaching music since my English father and my
Italian mother and brothers and sisters died and left me so
Here the fingers left off drumming, and two great tears were brushed
off, one from each eye with each hand, child's fashion. But the next
moment the fingers were at work again, as if only whilst they were
moving the tongue could speak.
'The noble signor, your son,' said the little woman, looking
trustfully from one to the other of the old couple, while a bright
blush shone through her brown skin, 'he often came to see me before
that, always in the evening, when the sun was warm and yellow all
through my little studio, and the music was swelling my heart, and I
could play out grand with all my soul; then he used to come and say,
"Hurry, little Lisa, and play better, better still. I have work for you
to do.by-and-by." Sometimes he said, "Brava!" and sometimes he said
"Eccellentissima!" but one night last week he came to me and said, "It
is enough. Will you swear to do my bidding, whatever it may be?" Here
the black eyes fell. And I said, "Yes". And he said, "Now you are my
betrothed". And I said, "Yes". And he said, "Pack up your music, little
Lisa, and go off to England to my English father and mother, who have
an organ in their house which must be played upon. If they refuse to
let you play, tell them I sent you, and they will give you leave. You
must play all day, and you must get up in the night and play. You must
never tire. You are my betrothed, and you have sworn to do my work." I
said, "Shall I see you there, signor?" And he said, "Yes, you shall see
me there." I said, "I will keep my vow, Signor." And so, sir and madam,
I am come.'
The soft foreign voice left off talking, the fingers left off
thrumming on the chair, and the little stranger gazcd in dismay at her
auditors, both pale with agitation.
'You are deceived. You make a mistake,' said they in one breath.
'Our son--' began Mistress Hurly, but her mouth twitched, her voice
broke, and she looked piteously towards her husband.
'Our son,' said the squire, making an effort to conquer the
quavering in his voice, 'our son is long dead.'
'Nay, nay,' said the little foreigner. 'If you have thought him dead
have good cheer, dear sir and madam. He is alive; he is well, and
strong, and handsome. But one, two, three, four, five' (on the fingers)
'days ago he stood by my side.'
'It is some strange mistake, some wonderful coincidence!' said the
mistress and master of Hurly Burly.
'Let us take her to the gallery,' murmured the mother of this son
who was thus dead and alive.
'There is yet light to see the pictures. She will not know his
The bewildered wife and husband led their strange visitor away to a
long gloomy room at the west side of the house, where the faint gleams
from the darkening sky still lingered on the portraits of the Hurly
'Doubtless he is like this,' said the squire, pointing to a
fair-haired young man with a mild face, a brother of his own who had
been lost at sea.
But Lisa shook her head, and went softly on tiptoe from one picture
to another, peering into the canvas, and still turning away troubled.
But at last a shriek of delight startled the shadowy chamber.
'Ah, here he is! See, here he is, the noble signor, the beautiful
signor, not half so handsome as he looked five days ago, when talking
to poor little Lisa! Dear sir and madam, you are now content. Now take
me to the organ, that I may commence to do his bidding at once.'
The mistress of Hurly Burly clung fast by her husband's arm. 'How
old are you, girl?' she said faintly.
'Eighteen,' said the visitor impatiently, moving towards the
'And my son has been dead for twenty years!' said his mother, and
swooned on her husband's breast.
'Order the carriage at once,' said Mistress Hurly, recovering from
her swoon; 'I will take her to Margaret Calderwood. Margaret will tell
her the story. Margaret will bring her to reason. No, not tomorrow; I
cannot bear tomorrow, it is so far away. We must go tonight.'
The little signora thought the old lady mad, but she put on her
cloak again obediently, and took her seat beside Mistress Hurly in the
Hurly family coach. The moon that looked in at them through the pane as
they lumbered along was not whiter than the aged face of the squire's
wife, whose dim faded eyes were fixed upon it in doubt and awe too
great for tears or words. Lisa, too, from her corner gloated upon the
moon, her black eyes shining with passionate dreams.
A carriage rolled away from the Calderwood door as the Hurly coach
drew up at the steps.
Margaret Calderwood had just returned from a dinner-party, and at
the open door a splendid figure was standing, a tall woman dressed in
brown velvet, the diamonds on her bosom glistening in the moonlight
that revealed her, pouring, as it did, over the house from eaves to
basement. Mistress Hurly fell into her outstretched arms with a groan,
and the strong woman carried her aged friend, like a baby, into the
house. Little Lisa was overlooked, and sat down contentedly on the
threshold to gloat awhile longer on the moon, and to thrum imaginary
sonatas on the doorstep.
There were tears and sobs in the dusk, moonlit room into which
Margaret Calderwood carried her friend. There was a long consultation,
and then Margaret, having hushed away the grieving woman into some
quiet corner, came forth to look for the little dark-faced stranger,
who had arrived, so unwelcome, from beyond the seas, with such wild
communication from the dead.
Up the grand staircase of handsome Calderwood the little woman
followed the tall one into a large chamber where a lamp burned, showing
Lisa, if she cared to see it, that this mansion of Calderwood was
fitted with much greater luxury and richness than was that of Hurly
Burly. The appointments of this room announced it the sanctum of a
woman who depended for the interest of her life upon resources of
intellect and taste. Lisa noticed nothing but a morsel of biscuit that
was lying on a plate.
'May I have it?' said she eagerly. 'It is so long since I have
eaten. I am hungry.'
Margaret Calderwood gazed at her with a sorrowful, motherly look,
and, parting the fringing hair on her forehead, kissed her. Lisa,
staring at her in wonder, returned the caress with ardour.
Margaret's large fair shoulders, Madonna face, and yellow braided
hair, excited a rapture within her. But when food was brought her, she
flew to it and ate.
'It is better than I have ever eaten at home!' she said gratefully.
And Margaret Calderwood murmured, 'She is physically healthy, at
'And now, Lisa,' said Margaret Calderwood, 'come and tell me the
whole history of the grand signor who sent you to England to play the
Then Lisa crept in behind a chair, and her eyes began to bum and her
fingers to thrum, and she repeated word for word her story as she had
told it at Hurly Burly.
When she had finished, Margaret Calderwood began to pace up and down
the floor with a very troubled face. Lisa watched her, fascinated, and,
when she bade her listen to a story which she would relate to her,
folded her restless hands together meekly, and listened.
'Twenty years ago, Lisa, Mr and Mrs Hurly had a son. He was
handsome, like that portrait you saw in the gallery, and he had
brilliant talents. He was idolized by his father and mother, and all
who knew him felt obliged to love him. I was then a happy girl of
twenty. I was an orphan, and Mrs Hurly, who had been my mother's
friend, was like a mother to me. I, too, was petted and caressed by all
my friends, and I was very wealthy; but I only valued admiration,
riches--every good gift that fell to my share--just in proportion as
they seemed of worth in the eyes of Lewis Hurly. I was his affianced
wife, and I loved him well.
'All the fondness and pride that were lavished on him could not keep
him from falling into evil ways, nor from becoming rapidly more and
more abandoned to wickedness, till even those who loved him best
despaired of seeing his reformation. I prayed him with tears, for my
sake, if not for that of his grieving mother, to save himself before it
was too late. But to my horror I found that my power was gone, my words
did not even move him; he loved me no more. I tried to think that this
was some fit of madness that would pass, and still clung to hope. At
last his own mother forbade me to see him.'
Here Margaret Calderwood paused, seemingly in bitter thought, but
'He and a party of his boon companions, named by themselves the
"Devil's Club", were in the habit of practising all kinds of unholy
pranks in the country. They had midnight carousings on the tomb-stones
in the village graveyard; they carried away helpless old men and
children, whom they tortured by making believe to bury them alive; they
raised the dead and placed them sitting round the tombstones at a mock
feast. On one occasion there was a very sad funeral from the village.
The corpse was carried into the church, and prayers were read over the
coffin, the chief mourner, the aged father of the dead man, standing
weeping by. In the midst of this solemn scene the organ suddenly pealed
forth a profane tune, and a number of voices shouted a drinking chorus.
A groan of execration burst from the crowd, the clergyman turned pale
and closed his book, and the old man, the father of the dead, climbed
the altar steps, and, raising his arms above his head, uttered a
terrible curse. He cursed Lewis Hurly to all eternity, he cursed the
organ he played, that it might be dumb henceforth, except under the
fingers that had now profaned it, which, he prayed, might be forced to
labour upon it till they stiffened in death. And the curse seemed to
work, for the organ stood dumb in the church from that day, except when
touched by Lewis Hurly.
'For a bravado he had the organ taken down and conveyed to his
father's house, where he had it put up in the chamber where it now
stands. It was also for a bravado that he played on it every day. But,
by-and-by, the amount of time which he spent at it daily began to
increase rapidly. We wondered long at this whim, as we called it, and
his poor mother thanked God that he had set his heart upon an
occupation which would keep him out of harm's way. I was the first to
suspect that it was not his own will that kept him hammering at the
organ so many laborious hours, while his boon companions tried vainly
to draw him away. He used to lock himself up in the room with the
organ, but one day I hid myself among the curtains, and saw him
writhing on his seat, and heard him groaning as he strove to wrench his
hands from the keys, to which they flew back like a needle to a magnet.
It was soon plainly to be seen that he was an involuntary slave to the
organ; but whether through a madness that had grown within himself, or
by some supernatural doom, having its cause in the old man's curse, we
did not dare to say. By-and-by there came a time when we were wakened
out of our sleep at nights by the rolling of the organ. He wrought now
night and day. Food and rest were denied him. His face got haggard, his
beard grew long, his eyes started from their sockets. His body became
wasted, and his cramped fingers like the claws of a bird. He groaned
piteously as he stooped over his cruel toil. All save his mother and I
were afraid to go near him. She, poor, tender woman, tried to put wine
and food between his lips, while the tortured fingers crawled over the
keys; but he only gnashed his teeth at her with curses, and she
retreated from him in terror, to pray. At last, one dreadful hour, we
found him a ghastly corpse on the ground before the organ.
'From that hour the organ was dumb to the touch of all human
fingers. Many, unwilling to believe the story, made persevering
endeavours to draw sound from it, in vain. But when the darkened empty
room was locked up and left, we heard as loud as ever the well-known
sounds humming and rolling through the walls. Night and day the tones
of the organ boomed on as before. It seemed that the doom of the
wretched man was not yet fulfilled, although his tortured body had been
worn out in the terrible struggle to accomplish it. Even his own mother
was afraid to go near the room then. So the time went on, and the curse
of this perpetual music was not removed from the house. Servants
refused to stay about the place. Visitors shunned it. The squire and
his wife left their home for years, and returned; left it, and returned
again, to find their ears still tortured and their hearts wrung by the
unceasing persecution of terrible sounds. At last, but a few months
ago, a holy man was found, who locked himself up in the cursed chamber
for many days, praying and wrestling with the demon. After he came
forth and went away the sounds ceased, and the organ was heard no more.
Since then there has been peace in the house. And now, Lisa, your
strange appearance and your strange story convince us that you are a
victim of a ruse of the Evil One. Be warned in time, and place yourself
under the protection of God, that you may be saved from the fearful
influences that are at work upon you. Come--'
Margaret Calderwood turned to the corner where the stranger sat, as
she had supposed, listening intently. Little Lisa was fast asleep, her
hands spread before her as if she played an organ in her dreams.
Margaret took the soft brown face to her motherly breast, and kissed
the swelling temples, too big with wonder and fancy.
'We will save you from a horrible fate!' she murmured, and carried
the girl to bed.
In the morning Lisa was gone. Margaret Calderwood, coming early from
her own chamber, went into the girl's room and found the bed empty.
'She is just such a wild thing,' thought Margaret, 'as would rush
out at sunrise to hear the larks!' and she went forth to look for her
in the meadows, behind the beech hedges and in the home park. Mistress
Hurly, from the breakfast-room window, saw Margaret Calderwood, large
and fair in her white morning gown, coming down the garden-path between
the rose bushes, with her fresh draperies dabbled by the dew, and a
look of trouble on her calm face. Her quest had been unsuccessful. The
little foreigner had vanished.
A second search after breakfast proved also fruitless, and towards
evening the two women drove back to Hurly Burly together. There all was
panic and distress. The squire sat in his study with the doors shut,
and his hands over his ears. The servants, with pale faces, were
huddled together in whispering groups. The haunted organ was pealing
through the house as of old.
Margaret Calderwood hastened to the fatal chamber, and there, sure
enough, was Lisa, perched upon the high seat before the organ, beating
the keys with her small hands, her slight figure swaying, and the
evening sunshine playing about her weird head. Sweet unearthly music
she wrung from the groaning heart of the organ--wild melodies, mounting
to rapturous heights and falling to mournful depths. She wandered from
Mendelssohn to Mozart, and from Mozart to Beethoven. Margaret stood
fascinated awhile by the ravishing beauty of the sounds she heard, but,
rousing herself quickly, put her arms round the musician and forced her
away from the chamber. Lisa returned next day, however, and was not so
easily coaxed from her post again.
Day after day she laboured at the organ, growing paler and thinner
and more weird-looking as time went on.
'I work so hard,' she said to Mrs Hurly. 'The signor, your son, is
he pleased? Ask him to come and tell me himself if he is pleased.'
Mistress Hurly got ill and took to her bed. The squire swore at the
young foreign baggage, and roamed abroad. Margaret Calderwood was the
only one who stood by to watch the fate of the little organist. The
curse of the organ was upon Lisa; it spoke under her hand, and her hand
was its slave.
At last she announced rapturously that she had had a visit from the
brave signor, who had commended her industry, and urged her to work yet
harder. After that she ceased to hold any communication with the
living. Time after time Margaret Calderwood wrapped her arms about the
frail thing, and carried her away by force, locking the door of the
fatal chamber. But locking the chamber and burying the key were of no
avail. The door stood open again, and Lisa was labouring on her
One night, wakened from her sleep by the well-known humming and
moaning of the organ, Margaret dressed hurriedly and hastened to the
unholy room. Moonlight was pouring down the staircase and passages of
Hurly Burly. It shone on the marble bust of the dead Lewis Hurly, that
stood in the niche above his mother's sitting-room door. The organ room
was full of it when Margaret pushed open the door and entered--full of
the pale green moonlight from the window, mingled with another light, a
dull lurid glare which seemed to centre round a dark shadow, like the
figure of a man standing by the organ, and throwing out in fantastic
relief the slight form of Lisa writhing, rather than swaying, back and
forward, as if in agony. The sounds that came from the organ were
broken and meaningless, as if the hands of the player lagged and
stumbled on the keys. Between the intermittent chords low moaning cries
broke from Lisa, and the dark figure bent towards her with menacing
gestures. Trembling with the sickness of supernatural fear, yet strong
of will, Margaret Calderwood crept forward within the lurid light, and
was drawn into its influence. It grew and intensified upon her, it
dazzled and blinded her at first; but presently, by a daring effort of
will, she raised her eyes, and beheld Lisa's face convulsed with
torture in the burning glare, and bending over her the figure and the
features of Lewis Hurly! Smitten with horror, Margaret did not even
then lose her presence of mind. She wound her strong arms around the
wretched girl and dragged her from her seat and out of the influence of
the lurid light, which immediately paled away and vanished. She carried
her to her own bed, where Lisa lay, a wasted wreck, raving about the
cruelty of the pitiless signor who would not see that she was labouring
her best. Her poor cramped hands kept beating the coverlet, as though
she were still at her agonizing task.
Margaret Calderwood bathed her burning temples, and placed fresh
flowers upon her pillow.
She opened the blinds and windows, and let in the sweet morning air
and sunshine, and then, looking up at the newly awakened sky with its
fair promise of hope for the day, and down at the dewy fields, and afar
off at the dark green woods with the purple mists still hovering about
them, she prayed that a way might be shown her by which to put an end
to this curse. She prayed for Lisa, and then, thinking that the girl
rested somewhat, stole from the room. She thought that she had locked
the door behind her.
She went downstairs with a pale, resolved face, and, without
consulting anyone, sent to the village for a bricklayer. Afterwards she
sat by Mistress Hurly's bedside, and explained to her what was to be
done. Presently she went to the door of Lisa's room, and hearing no
sound, thought the girl slept, and stole away. By-and-by she went
downstairs, and found that the bricklayer had arrived and already begun
his task of building up the organ-room door. He was a swift workman,
and the chamber was soon sealed safely with stone and mortar.
Having seen this work finished, Margaret Calderwood went and
listened again at Lisa's door; and still hearing no sound, she
returned, and took her seat at Mrs Hurly's bedside once more. It was
towards evening that she at last entered her room to assure herself of
the comfort of Lisa's sleep. But the bed and room were empty. Lisa had
Then the search began, upstairs and downstairs, in the garden, in
the grounds, in the fields and meadows. No Lisa. Margaret Calderwood
ordered the carriage and drove to Calderwood to see if the strange
little Will-o'-the-wisp might have made her way there; then to the
village, and to many other places in the neighbourhood which it was not
possible she could have reached. She made enquiries everywhere; she
pondered and puzzled over the matter. In the weak, suffering state that
the girl was in, how far could she have crawled?
After two days' search, Margaret returned to Hurly Burly. She was
sad and tired, and the evening was chill. She sat over the fire wrapped
in her shawl when little Bess came to her, weeping behind her muslin
'If you'd speak to Mistress Hurly about it, please, ma'am,' she
said. 'I love her dearly, and it breaks my heart to go away, but the
organ haven't done yet, ma'am, and I'm frightened out of my life, so I
'Who has heard the organ, and when?' asked Margaret Calderwood,
rising to her feet.
'Please, ma'am, I heard it the night you went away--the night after
the door was built up!'
'And not since?'
'No, ma'am,' hesitatingly, 'not since. Hist! hark, ma'am! Is not
that like the sound of it now?'
'No,' said Margaret Calderwood; 'it is only the wind.' But pale as
death she flew down the stairs and laid her ear to the yet damp mortar
of the newly built wall. All was silent. There was no sound but the
monotonous sough of the wind in the trees outside. Then Margaret began
to dash her soft shoulder against the strong wall, and to pick the
mortar away with her white fingers, and to cry out for the bricklayer
who had built up the door.
It was midnight, but the bricklayer left his bed in the village, and
obeyed the summons to Hurly Burly. The pale woman stood by and watched
him undo all his work of three days ago, and the servants gathered
about in trembling groups, wondering what was to happen next.
What happened next was this: When an opening was made the man
entered the room with a light, Margaret Calderwood and others
following. A heap of something dark was lying on the ground at the foot
of the organ. Many groans arose in the fatal chamber. Here was little
When Mistress Hurly was able to move, the squire and his wife went
to live in France, where they remained till their death. Hurly Burly
was shut up and deserted for many years. Lately it has passed into new
hands. The organ has been taken down and banished, and the room is a
bed-chamber, more luxuriously furnished than any in the house. But no
one sleeps in it twice.
Margaret Calderwood was carried to her grave the other day a very