“Wrongly Attributed” by A. A. Milne

You’ve heard of Willy Ferrero, the Boy Conductor? A musical prodigy, seven years old, who will order the fifth oboe out of the Albert Hall as soon as look at him. Well, he has a rival.

Willy, as perhaps you know, does not play any instrument himself; he only conducts. His rival (Johnny, as I think of him) does not conduct as yet; at least, not audibly. His line is the actual manipulation of the pianoforte–the Paderewski touch. Johnny lives in the flat below, and I hear him touching.

On certain mornings in the week–no need to specify them–I enter my library and give myself up to literary composition. On the same mornings little Johnny enters his music-room (underneath) and gives himself up to musical composition. Thus we are at work together.

The worst of literary composition is this: that when you have got hold of what you feel is a really powerful idea, you find suddenly that you have been forestalled by some earlier writer–Sophocles or Shakespeare or George R. Sims. Then you have to think again. This frequently happens to me upstairs; and downstairs poor Johnny will find to his horror one day that his great work has already been given to the world by another–a certain Dr. John Bull.

Johnny, in fact, is discovering “God Save the King” with one finger.

As I dip my pen in the ink and begin to write, Johnny strikes up. On the first day when this happened, some three months ago, I rose from my chair and stood stiffly through the performance–an affair of some minutes, owing to a little difficulty with “Send him victorious,” a line which always bothers Johnny. However, he got right through it at last, after harking back no more than twice, and I sat down to my work again. Generally speaking, “God Save the King” ends a show; it would be disloyal to play any other tune after that. Johnny quite saw this … and so began to play “God Save the King” again.

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I hope that His Majesty, the Lord Chamberlain, the late Dr. Bull, or whoever is most concerned, will sympathize with me when I say that this time I remained seated. I have my living to earn.

From that day Johnny has interpreted Dr. John Bull’s favourite composition nine times every morning. As this has been going on for three months, and as the line I mentioned has two special rehearsals to itself before coming out right, you can easily work out how many send-him-victoriouses Johnny and I have collaborated in. About two thousand.

Very well. Now, you ask yourself, why did I not send a polite note to Johnny’s father asking him to restrain his little boy from over-composition, begging him not to force the child’s musical genius too quickly, imploring him (in short) to lock up the piano and lose the key? What kept me from this course? The answer is “Patriotism.” Those deep feelings for his country which one man will express glibly by rising nine times during the morning at the sound of the National Anthem, another will direct to more solid uses. It was my duty, I felt, not to discourage Johnny. He was showing qualities which could not fail, when he grew up, to be of value to the nation. Loyalty, musical genius, determination, patience, industry–never before have these qualities been so finely united in a child of six. Was I to say a single word to disturb the delicate balance of such a boy’s mind? At six one is extraordinarily susceptible to outside influence. A word from his father to the effect that the gentleman above was getting sick of it, and Johnny’s whole life might be altered.

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No, I would bear it grimly.

And then, yesterday, who should write to me but Johnny’s father himself. This was the letter:

“Dear Sir–I do not wish to interfere unduly in the affairs of the other occupants of these flats, but I feel bound to call your attention to the fact that for many weeks now there has been a flow of water from your bathroom, which has penetrated through the ceiling of my bathroom, particularly after you have been using the room in the mornings. May I therefore beg you to be more careful in future not to splash or spill water on your floor, seeing that it causes inconvenience to the tenants beneath you?

“Yours faithfully, Jno. McAndrew.”

You can understand how I felt about this. For months I had been suffering Johnny in silence; yet, at the first little drop of water from above, Johnny’s father must break out into violent abuse of me. A fine reward! Well, Johnny’s future could look after itself now; anyhow, he was doomed with a selfish father like that.

“Dear Sir,” I answered defiantly, “Now that we are writing to each other I wish to call your attention to the fact that for many months past there has been a constant flow of one-fingered music from your little boy, which penetrates through the floor of my library and makes all work impossible. May I beg you, therefore, to see that your child is taught a new tune immediately, seeing that the National Anthem has lost its first freshness for the tenants above him?”

His reply to this came to-day.

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“Dear Sir,–I have no child.

“Yours faithfully, Jno. McAndrew.”

I was so staggered that I could only think of one adequate retort.

“DEAR SIR,” I wrote,–“I never have a bath.”

* * * * *

So that’s the end of Johnny, my boy prodigy, for whom I have suffered so long. It is not Johnny but Jno. who struggles with the National Anthem. He will give up music now, for he knows I have the bulge on him; I can flood his bathroom whenever I like. Probably he will learn something quieter–like painting. Anyway, Dr. John Bull’s masterpiece will rise no more through the ceiling of the flat below.

On referring to my encyclopedia, I see that, according to some authorities, “God Save the King” is “wrongly attributed” to Dr. Bull. Well, I wrongly attributed it to Johnny. It is easy to make these mistakes.

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