The Choirmaster

from Another Forty Fables

In a green and pleasant land there stood an ancient boys’ boarding school of very great repute, with a chapel with a vaulted roof and coloured windows. And from this chapel there issued the enchanting voices of its famous choir – who were coached and trained and led by their remarkable choirmaster.

And it happened that this choir and its master were sent on a great expedition, to sing in a distant land – and to return with honours and prizes, it was hoped. But alas, upon their way their ship sank in a storm; and the boys were miraculously swept on to a tropic island.

They awoke upon a golden beach – no crew, and no possessions – but were heartened to find that they were not entirely alone; for the Lord in his mercy had saved the life of their trusted choirmaster, and saved them from the perils of their own devices.

“Well, I don’t doubt that if you chaps were left to fend for yourselves you’d make a right mess of it!” laughed the choirmaster. “But fortunately, an adult is present. Moreover, I have done a course, and been camping a fair bit, so we shall pull through this crisis with flying colours.”

“But what are we to eat sir?” the boys all asked him.

“There is food upon this island in plenty,” he assured them. “There is banana, coconut, cassava from which sago can be made, fish, crustaceans, birds’ eggs and the tracks of wild pig. I therefore deem that the younger boys go forage for this bounty – while myself, and some of the older boys, go and find the pig.”

The younger boys were quick to act and soon assembled a larder of delicious island provender, and they found a spring of fresh water and established a camp. While the older boys and the choirmaster whittled saplings into bows and arrows – and spent whole days and nights out in search of the pig.

“Sing up!” the choirmaster told them – for they rehearsed every evening at dusk. “Sing up and thank the Lord that an adult is present!”

Now upon this island there blew eight winds, one of which they noticed was cold and carried rain which fell at night.

“Where are we to shelter sir?” the choirboys asked the choirmaster.

“You younger boys must go in search of bamboo stalks and palm fronds,” the choirmaster ordered. “From these you can wattle screens and weave a roof. Myself and the older boys, however, will keep a lookout for a cave, we’re bound to find one while we’re searching for that pig.”

“Louder!” he cried at choir practice that evening. “And let’s see if we can’t flush that little bastard out of his hiding place!”

In the weeks that followed the younger boys constructed a comfortable home, with grass beds, and a bath of running water where they could wash. And they washed and played and pursued their studies while the older boys and choirmaster crept around the island in a camouflage of mud, leaves and feather headdresses.

“But sir,” asked one of the younger and more intelligent boys – one evening, after quite some time had passed – “should we not send a signal for help?”

“Impossible,” answered the choirmaster.

“Could we not light a beacon on a hilltop?” suggested the boy. “Or use the transmitter?”

“Of course not,” growled the choirmaster. “The only ones who can save us now are the gods that inhabit this island, the spirits of the dead, and the will of this invincible pig.”

“Not so gentle! Not so sweet!” he cried at choir practice that evening. “Chant! Chant from your bellies! Like you mean it!”

In the following months the lives of the younger boys and those of the older boys seemed to diverge. For the younger boys stayed in their house and made pottery and sago; and established a signalling beacon on a hilltop, with a fire ingeniously started with a spectacle lens – and also a little parliament which would gather at the sounding of a hollow shell.

But the older boys and the choirmaster found themselves a cave, and professed no need of parliaments, fire, choir practice or rescue. So, though the tropic sunsets rang with unsupervised glorias and hosannas, the long nights throbbed with the base grunting and drumming of the pig hunters.

A year or more elapsed before the hunters nailed their quarry; they whooped and stole fire and roasted him on a spit. And when they discovered, after they had eaten, that it was not a pig at all, but one of the younger boys, they were terribly amused.

And when rescue came, a good while later, the rescuers were appalled to find the choirmaster in his cave with his favourite older boy; and the skulls of all the other boys arranged decoratively around the entrance on posts.

“I’m afraid we’ve had a bit of trouble,” confessed the choirmaster. “But fortunately, an adult was present.”

Moral: Bloody choirs. Who needs em?

© Adam Acidophilus 2011