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Title: A Village Stradivarius
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1904 Gay and Bird edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]



                                A VILLAGE
                               STRADIVARIUS


                                    BY
                           KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                  LONDON
                               GAY AND BIRD
                                   1904

                                * * * * *

THIS STORY APPEARS IN
‘THE VILLAGE WATCHTOWER.’

                                * * * * *

                                                     _All rights reserved_



                                    I


    “Goodfellow, Puck and goblins,
    Know more than any book.
    Down with your doleful problems,
    And court the sunny brook.
    The south-winds are quick-witted,
    The schools are sad and slow,
    The masters quite omitted
    The lore we care to know.”

                                                        EMERSON’S _April_.

“FIND the three hundred and seventeenth page, Davy, and begin at the top
of the right-hand column.”

The boy turned the leaves of the old instruction book obediently, and
then began to read in a sing-song, monotonous tone:

“‘One of Pag-pag’”—

“Pag-a-ni-ni’s”

“‘One of Paggernyner’s’ (I wish all the fellers in your stories didn’t
have such tough old names!) ‘most dis-as-ter-ous triumphs he had when
playing at Lord Holland’s.’  (Who was Lord Holland, uncle Tony?)  ‘Some
one asked him to im-provise on the violin the story of a son who kills
his father, runs a-way, becomes a high-way-man, falls in love with a girl
who will not listen to him; so he leads her to a wild country site,
suddenly jumping with her from a rock into an a-b-y-s-s’”

“Abyss.”

“‘—a—rock—into—an—abyss, where they disappear for ever.  Paggernyner
listened quietly, and when the story was at an end he asked that all the
lights should be distinguished.’”

“Look closer, Davy.”

“‘Should be _ex_tinguished.  He then began playing, and so terrible was
the musical in-ter-pre-ta-tion of the idea which had been given him that
several of the ladies fainted, and the sal-salon-s_a_lon, when relighted,
looked like a battle-field.’  Cracky!  Wouldn’t you like to have been
there, uncle Tony?  But I don’t believe anybody ever played that way, do
you?”

“Yes,” said the listener, dreamily raising his sightless eyes to the
elm-tree that grew by the kitchen door.  “I believe it, and I can hear it
myself when you read the story to me.  I feel that the secret of
everything in the world that is beautiful, or true, or terrible, is
hidden in the strings of my violin, Davy, but only a master can draw it
from captivity.”

“You make stories on your violin, too, uncle Tony, even if the ladies
don’t faint away in heaps, and if the kitchen doesn’t look like a
battle-field when you’ve finished.  I’m glad it doesn’t, for my part, for
I should have more housework to do than ever.”

“Poor Davy! you couldn’t hate housework any worse if you were a woman;
but it is all done for to-day.  Now paint me one of your pictures,
laddie; make me see with your eyes.”

The boy put down the book and leaped out of the open door, barely
touching the old millstone that served for a step.  Taking a stand in the
well-worn path, he rested his hands on his hips, swept the landscape with
the glance of an eagle, and began like a young improvisator:

“The sun is just dropping behind Brigadier Hill.”

“What colour is it?”

“Red as fire, and there isn’t anything near it—it’s almost alone in the
sky; there’s only teeny little white feather clouds here and there.  The
bridge looks as if it was a silver string tying the two sides of the
river together.  The water is pink where the sun shines into it.  All the
leaves of the trees are kind of swimming in the red light—I tell you,
nunky, just as if I was looking through red glass.  The weather vane on
Squire Bean’s barn dazzles so the rooster seems to be shooting gold
arrows into the river.  I can see the tip top of Mount Washington where
the peak of its snow-cap touches the pink sky.  The hen-house door is
open.  The chickens are all on their roost, with their heads cuddled
under their wings.”

“Did you feed them?”

The boy clapped his hand over his mouth with a comical gesture of
penitence, and dashed into the shed for a panful of corn, which he
scattered over the ground, enticing the sleepy fowls by insinuating calls
of “Chick, chick, chick, chick!  _Come_, biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy!
_Come_, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick!”

The man in the doorway smiled as over the misdemeanour of somebody very
dear and lovable, and rising from his chair felt his way to a corner
shelf, took down a box, and drew from it a violin swathed in a silk bag.
He removed the covering with reverential hands.  The tenderness of his
face was like that of a young mother dressing or undressing her child.
As he fingered the instrument his hands seemed to have become all eyes.
They wandered caressingly over the polished surface as if enamoured of
the perfect thing that they had created, lingering here and there with
rapturous tenderness on some special beauty—the graceful arch of the
neck, the melting curves of the cheeks, the delicious swell of the
breasts.

When he had satisfied himself for the moment, he took the bow, and
lifting the violin under his chin, inclined his head fondly toward it and
began to play.

The tone at first seemed muffled, but had a curious bite, that began in
distant echoes, but after a few minutes’ playing grew firmer and clearer,
ringing out at last with velvety richness and strength until the
atmosphere was satiated with harmony.  No more ethereal note ever flew
out of a bird’s throat than Anthony Croft set free from this violin, his
_liebling_, his “swan song,” made in the year he had lost his eyesight.

Anthony Croft had been the only son of his mother, and she a widow.  His
boyhood had been exactly like that of all the other boys in Edgewood,
save that he hated school a trifle more, if possible, than any of the
others; though there was a unanimity of aversion in this matter that
surprised and wounded teachers and parents.

The school was the ordinary district school of that time; there were not
enough scholars for what Cyse Higgins called a “degraded” school.  The
difference between Anthony and the other boys lay in the reason for as
well as the degree of his abhorrence.

He had come into the world a naked, starving human soul; he longed to
clothe himself, and he was hungry and ever hungrier for knowledge; but
never within the four walls of the village schoolhouse could he seize
hold of one fact that would yield him its secret sense, one glimpse of
clear light that would shine in upon the darkness of his mind, one
thought or word that would feed his soul.

The only place where his longings were ever stilled, where he seemed at
peace with himself, where he understood what he was made for, was out of
doors in the woods.  When he should have been poring over the sweet,
palpitating mysteries of the multiplication table, his vagrant gaze was
always on the open window near which he sat.  He could never study when a
fly buzzed on the window-pane; he was always standing on the toes of his
bare feet, trying to locate and understand the buzz that puzzled him.
The book was a mute, soulless thing that had no relation to his inner
world of thought and feeling.  He turned ever from the dead
seven-times-six to the mystery of life about him.

He was never a special favourite with his teachers; that was scarcely to
be expected.  In his very early years, his pockets were gone through with
every morning when he entered the school door, and the contents, when
confiscated, would comprise a jew’s-harp, a bit of catgut, screws
whittled out of wood, tacks, spools, pins, and the like.  But when robbed
of all these he could generally secrete a fragment of india-rubber drawn
from an old pair of suspenders, and this, when put between his teeth and
stretched to its utmost capacity, would yield a delightful twang when
played upon with the forefinger.  He could also fashion an interesting
musical instrument in his desk by means of spools and catgut and bits of
broken glass.  The chief joy of his life was an old tuning-fork that the
teacher of the singing-school had given him, but, owing to the degrading
and arbitrary censorship of pockets that prevailed, he never dared bring
it into the schoolroom.  There were ways, however, of evading inexorable
law and circumventing base injustice.  He hid the precious thing under a
thistle just outside the window.  The teacher had sometimes a brief
season of apathy on hot afternoons, when she was hearing the primer class
read, “_I see a pig_.  _The pig is big_.  _The big pig can dig_”; which
stirring phrases were always punctuated by the snores of the Hanks baby,
who kept sinking down on his fat little legs in the line and giving way
to slumber during the lesson.  At such a moment Anthony slipped out of
the window and snapped the tuning-fork several times—just enough to save
his soul from death—and then slipped in again.  He was caught
occasionally, but not often; and even when he was, there were mitigating
circumstances, for he was generally put under the teacher’s desk for
punishment.  It was a dark close, sultry spot, but when he was well
seated, and had grown tired of looking at the triangle of black elastic
in the teacher’s “congress” shoe, and tired of wishing it was his instead
of hers, he would tie one end of a bit of thread to the button of his
gingham shirt, and, carrying it round his left ear several times, make
believe he was Paganini languishing in prison and playing on a violin
with a single string.

As he grew older there was no marked improvement, and Tony Croft was by
general assent counted the laziest boy in the village.  That he was lazy
in certain matters merely because he was in a frenzy of industry to
pursue certain others had nothing to do with the case, of course.

If any one had ever given him a task in which he could have seen cause
working to effect, in which he could have found by personal experiment a
single fact that belonged to him, his own by divine right of discovery,
he would have counted labour or study all joy.

He was one incarnate Why and How; one brooding wonder and interrogation
point.  “Why does the sun drive away the stars?  Why do the leaves turn
red and gold?  What makes the seed swell in the earth?  From whence comes
the life hidden in the egg under the bird’s breast?  What holds the moon
in the sky?  Who regulates her shining?  Who moves the wind?  Who made
me, and what am I?  Who, why, how, whither?  If I came from God but only
lately, teach me his lessons first, put me into vital relation with life
and law, and then give me your dead signs and equivalents for real
things, that I may learn more and more, and ever more and ever more.”
These were the questions his eager soul was always asking of the outer
world.

There was no spirit in Edgewood bold enough to conceive that Tony learned
anything in the woods, but as there was never sufficient school money to
keep the village seat of learning open more than half the year, the boy
educated himself at the fountain head of wisdom and knowledge the other
half.  His mother, who owned him for a duckling hatched from a hen’s egg,
and was never quite sure he would not turn out a black sheep and a
crooked stick to boot, was obliged to confess that Tony had more useless
information than any boy in the village.  He knew just where to find the
first Mayflowers, and would bring home the waxen beauties when other
people had scarcely begun to think about the spring.  He could tell where
to look for the rare fringed gentian, the yellow violet, the Indian pipe.
There were clefts in the high rocks by the river side where, when every
one else failed, he could find harebells and columbines.

When his tasks were done, and the other boys were amusing themselves each
in his own way, you would find Tony lying flat on the pine-needles in the
woods, listening to the notes of the wild birds, and imitating them
patiently, till you could scarcely tell which was boy and which was bird;
and if you could, the birds couldn’t, for many a time he coaxed the
bobolinks and thrushes to perch on the low boughs above his head, where
they chirped to him as if he were a feathered brother.  There was nothing
about the building of nests with which he was not familiar.  He could
have helped in the task, if the birds had not been so shy, and if he had
possessed beak and claw instead of clumsy fingers.  He would sit near a
beehive for hours without moving, or lie prone in the sandy road, under
the full glare of the sun, watching the ants acting out their human
comedy; sometimes surrounding a favourite hill with stones, that the
comedy might not be turned into tragedy by a careless footfall.  The
cottage on the river road grew more and more to resemble a museum and
herbarium as the years went by, and the Widow Croft’s weekly
house-cleaning was a matter that called for the exercise of Christian
grace.

Still, Tony was a good son, affectionate, considerate, and obedient.  His
mother had no idea that he would ever be able, or indeed willing, to make
a living; but there was a forest of young timber growing up, a small hay
farm to depend upon, and a little hoard that would keep him out of the
poorhouse when she died and left him to his own devices.  It never
occurred to her that he was in any way remarkable.  If he were difficult
to understand, it reflected more upon his eccentricity than upon her
density.  What was a woman to do with a boy of twelve who, when she urged
him to drop the old guitar he was taking apart and hurry off to school,
cried, “Oh, mother! when there is so much to learn in this world, it is
wicked, wicked, to waste time in school.”

About this period Tony spent hours in the attic arranging bottles and
tumblers into a musical scale.  He also invented an instrument made of
small and great, long and short pins, driven into soft board to different
depths, and when the widow passed his door on the way to bed she
invariably saw this barbaric thing locked to the boy’s breast, for he
often played himself to sleep with it.

At fifteen he had taken to pieces and put together again, strengthened,
soldered, mended, and braced, every accordion, guitar, melodeon,
dulcimer, and fiddle in Edgewood, Pleasant River, and the neighbouring
villages.  There was a little money to be earned in this way, but very
little, as people in general regarded this “tinkering” as a pleasing
diversion in which they could indulge him without danger.  As an example
of this attitude, Dr. Berry’s wife’s melodeon had lost two stops, the
pedals had severed connection with the rest of the works, it wheezed like
an asthmatic, and two black keys were missing.  Anthony worked more than
a week on its rehabilitation, and received in return Mrs. Berry’s promise
that the doctor would “pull a tooth” for him some time!  This, of course,
was a guerdon for the future, but it seemed pathetically distant to the
lad who had never had a toothache in his life.  He had to plead with Cyse
Higgins for a week before that prudent young farmer would allow him to
touch his five-dollar fiddle.  He obtained permission at last only by
offering to give Cyse his calf in case he spoiled the violin.  “That
seems square,” said Cyse doubtfully, “but after all, you can’t play on a
calf!”  “Neither will your fiddle give milk, if you keep it long enough,”
retorted Tony; and this argument was convincing.

So great was his confidence in Tony’s skill that Squire Bean trusted his
father’s violin to him, one that had been bought in Berlin seventy years
before.  It had been hanging on the attic wall for a half-century, so
that the back was split in twain, the sound-post lost, the neck and the
tailpiece cracked.  The lad took it home, and studied it for two whole
evenings before the open fire.  The problem of restoring it was quite
beyond his abilities.  He finally took the savings of two summers’
“blueberry money” and walked sixteen miles to the nearest town, where he
bought a book called “The Practical Violinist.”  The supplement proved to
be a mine of wealth.  Even the headings appealed to his imagination and
intoxicated him with their suggestions—On Scraping, Splitting, and
Repairing Violins, Violin Players, Great Violinists, Solo Playing, &c.;
and at the very end a Treatise on the Construction, Preservation, Repair,
and Improvement of the Violin, by Jacob Augustus Friedheim, Instrument
Maker to the Court of the Archduke of Weimar.

There was a good deal of moral advice in the preface that sadly puzzled
the boy, who was always in a condition of chronic amazement at the
village disapprobation of his favourite fiddle.  That the violin did not
in some way receive the confidence enjoyed by other musical instruments,
he perceived from various paragraphs written by the worthy author of “The
Practical Violinist,” as for example:

“Some very excellent Christian people hold a strong prejudice against the
violin because they have always known it associated with dancing and
dissipation.  Let it be understood that your violin is ‘converted,’ and
such an objection will no longer lie against it . . . Many delightful
hours may be enjoyed by a young man, if he has obtained a respectable
knowledge of his instrument, who otherwise would find the time hang heavy
on his hands; or, for want of some better amusement, would frequent the
dangerous and destructive paths of vice and be ruined for ever.  I am in
hopes, therefore, my dear young pupil, that your violin will occupy your
attention at just those very times when, if you were immoral or
dissipated, you would be at the grogshop, gaming-table, or among vicious
females.  Such a use of the violin, notwithstanding the prejudices many
hold against it, must contribute to virtue, and furnish abundance of
innocent and entirely unobjectionable amusement.  These are the views
with which I hope you have adopted it, and will continue to cherish and
cultivate it.”



II


    “There is no bard in all the choir,
    . . . . . . .
    Not one of all can put in verse,
    Or to this presence could rehearse
    The sights and voices ravishing
    The boy knew on the hills in spring,
    When pacing through the oaks he heard
    Sharp queries of the sentry-bird,
    The heavy grouse’s sudden whir,
    The rattle of the kingfisher.”

                                                         EMERSON’S _Harp_.

NOW began an era of infinite happiness, of days that were never long
enough, of evenings when bedtime came all too soon.  Oh, that there had
been some good angel who would have taken in hand Anthony Croft the boy,
and, training the powers that pointed so unmistakably in certain
directions, given to the world the genius of Anthony Croft, potential
instrument maker to the court of St. Cecilia; for it was not only that he
had the fingers of a wizard; his ear caught the faintest breath of
harmony or hint of discord, as

    “Fairy folk a-listening
    Hear the seed sprout in the spring,
    And for music to their dance
    Hear the hedge-rows wake from trance;
    Sap that trembles into buds
    Sending little rhythmic floods
    Of fairy sound in fairy ears.
    Thus all beauty that appears
    Has birth as sound to finer sense
    And lighter-clad intelligence.”

As the universe is all mechanism to one man, all form and colour to
another, so to Anthony Croft the world was all melody.  Notwithstanding
these many gifts and possibilities, the doctor’s wife advised the Widow
Croft to make a plumber of him, intimating delicately that these freaks
of nature, while playing no apparent part in the divine economy, could
sometimes be made self-supporting.

The seventeenth year of his life marked a definite epoch in his
development.  He studied Jacob Friedheim’s treatise until he knew the
characteristics of all the great violin models, from the Amatis,
Hieronymus, Antonius, and Nicolas, to those of Stradivarius, Guarnerius,
and Steiner.

It was in this year, also, that he made a very precious discovery.  While
browsing in the rubbish in Squire Bean’s garret to see if he could find
the missing sound-post of the old violin, he came upon a billet of wood
wrapped in cloth and paper.  When unwrapped, it was plainly labelled
“Wood from the Bean Maple at Pleasant Point; the biggest maple in York
County, and believed to be one of the biggest in the State of Maine.”
Anthony found that the oldest inhabitant of Pleasant River remembered the
stump of the tree, and that the boys used to jump over it and admire its
proportions whenever they went fishing at the Point.  The wood,
therefore, was perhaps eighty or ninety years old.  The squire agreed
willingly that it should be used to mend the ancient violin, and told
Tony he should have what was left for himself.  When, by careful
calculation, he found that the remainder would make a whole violin, he
laid it reverently away for another twenty years, so that he should be
sure it had completed its century of patient waiting for service, and
falling on his knees by his bedside said, “I thank Thee, Heavenly Father,
for this precious gift, and I promise from this moment to gather the most
beautiful wood I can find, and lay it by where it can be used some time
to make perfect violins, so that if any creature as poor and as helpless
as I am needs the wherewithal to do good work, I shall have helped him as
Thou hast helped me.”  And according to his promise so he did, and the
pieces of richly curled maple, of sycamore, and of spruce began to
accumulate.  They were cut from the sunny side of the trees, in just the
right season of the year, split so as to have a full inch thickness
towards the bark, and a quarter-inch towards the heart.  They were then
laid for weeks under one of the falls in Wine Brook, where the musical
tinkle, tinkle of the stream fell on the wood already wrought upon by
years of sunshine and choruses of singing birds.

This boy, toiling not alone for himself, but with full and conscious
purpose for posterity also, was he not worthy to wear the mantle of
Antonius Stradivarius?

    “That plain white-aproned man who stood at work
    Patient and accurate full fourscore years,
    Cherished his sight and touch by temperance
    And since keen sense is love of perfectness,
    Made perfect violins, the needed paths
    For inspiration and high mastery.”

And as if the year were not full enough of glory, the school-teacher sent
him a book with a wonderful poem in it.

That summer’s teaching had been the freak of a college student, who had
gone back to his senior year strengthened by his experience of village
life.  Anthony Croft, who was only three or four years his junior, had
been his favourite pupil and companion.

“How does Tony get along?” asked the Widow Croft when the teacher came to
call.

“Tony?  Oh, I can’t teach him anything.”

Tears sprang to the mother’s eyes.

“I know he ain’t much on book learning,” she said apologetically, “but
I’m bound he don’t make you no trouble in deportment.”

“I mean,” said the school-teacher gravely, “that I can show him how to
read a little Latin and do a little geometry, but he knows as much in one
day as I shall ever know in a year.”

Tony crouched by the old fireplace in the winter evenings, dropping his
knife or his compasses a moment to read aloud to his mother, who sat in
the opposite corner knitting:

    “Of old Antonio Stradivari—him
    Who a good century and a half ago
    Put his true work in the brown instrument,
    And by the nice adjustment of its frame
    Gave it responsive life, continuous
    With the master’s finger-tips, and perfected
    Like them by delicate rectitude of use.”

The mother listened with painful intentness.  “I like the sound of it,”
she said, “but I can’t hardly say I take in the full sense.”

“Why, mother,” said the lad, in a rare moment of self-expression, “you
know the poetry says he cherished his sight and touch by temperance; that
an idiot might see a straggling line and be content, but he had an eye
that winced at false work, and loved the true.  When it says his
finger-tips were perfected by delicate rectitude of use, I think it means
doing everything as it is done in heaven, and that anybody who wants to
make a perfect violin must keep his eye open to all the beautiful things
God has made, and his ear open to all the music he has put into the
world, and then never let his hands touch a piece of work that is crooked
or straggling or false, till, after years and years of rightness, they
are fit to make a violin like the squire’s, a violin that can say
everything, a violin that an angel wouldn’t be ashamed to play on.”

Do these words seem likely ones to fall from the lips of a lad who had
been at the tail of his class ever since his primer days?  Well, Anthony
was seventeen now, and he was “educated,” in spite of sorry
recitations—educated, the Lord knows how!  Yes, in point of fact the Lord
does know how!  He knows how the drill and pressure of the daily task,
still more the presence of the high ideal, the inspiration working from
within, how these educate us.

The blind Anthony Croft sitting in the kitchen doorway had seemingly
missed the heights of life he might have trod, and had walked his close
on fifty years through level meadows of mediocrity, a witch in every
finger-tip waiting to be set to work, head among the clouds, feet
stumbling, eyes and ears open to hear God’s secret thought; seeing and
hearing it, too, but lacking force to speak it forth again; for while
imperious genius surmounts all obstacles, brushes laws and formulas from
its horizon, and with its own free soul sees its “path and the outlets of
the sky,” potential genius for ever needs an angel of deliverance to set
it free.

Poor Anthony Croft, or blessed Anthony Croft, I know not which—God knows!
Poor he certainly was, yet blessed after all.  “One thing I do,” said
Paul.  “One thing I do,” said Anthony.  He was not able to realise his
ideals, but he had the angel aim by which he idealised his reals.

O waiting heart of God! how soon would Thy kingdom come if we all did our
allotted tasks, humble or splendid, in this consecrated fashion!



III


    “Therein I hear the Parcæ reel
    The threads of man at their humming wheel,
    The threads of life and power and pain,
    So sweet and mournful falls the strain.”

                                                         EMERSON’S _Harp_.

OLD Mrs. Butterfield had had her third stroke of paralysis, and died of a
Sunday night.  She was all alone in her little cottage on the river bank,
with no neighbour nearer than Croft’s, and nobody there but a blind man
and a small boy.  Everybody had told her it was foolish for a frail old
woman of seventy to live alone in a house on the river road, and
everybody was pleased, in a discreet and chastened fashion of course,
that it had turned out exactly as they had predicted.

Aunt Mehitable Tarbox was walking up to Milliken’s Mills, with her little
black reticule hanging over her arm, and noticing that there was no smoke
coming out of the Butterfield chimney, and that the hens were gathered
about the kitchen door clamouring for their breakfast, she thought it
best to stop and knock.  No response followed the repeated blows from her
hard knuckles.  She then tapped smartly on Mrs. Butterfield’s bedroom
window with her thimble finger.  This proving of no avail, she was
obliged to pry open the kitchen shutter, split open the screen of
mosquito netting with her shears, and crawl into the house over the sink.
This was a considerable feat for a somewhat rheumatic elderly lady, but
this one never grudged trouble when she wanted to find out anything.

When she discovered that her premonitions were correct, and old Mrs.
Butterfield was indeed dead, her grief at losing a pleasant acquaintance
was largely mitigated by her sense of importance at being first on the
spot, and chosen by Providence to take command of the situation.  There
were no relations in the village; there was no woman neighbour within a
mile: it was therefore her obvious Christian duty not only to take charge
of the “remains,” but to conduct such a funeral as the remains would have
wished for herself.

The fortunate Vice-President suddenly called upon by destiny to guide the
ship of state, the soldier who sees a possible Victoria Cross in a
hazardous engagement, can have a faint conception of Aunt Hitty’s feeling
on this momentous occasion.  Funerals were the very breath of her life.
There was no ceremony, either of public or private import, that, to her
mind, approached a funeral in real satisfying interest.  Yet, with
distinct talent in this direction, she had always been “cabined, cribbed,
confined” within hopeless limitations.  She had assisted in a secondary
capacity at funerals in the families of other people, but she would have
revelled in personally conducted ones.  The members of her own family
stubbornly refused to die, however, even the distant connections living
on and on to a ridiculous old age; and if they ever did die, by reason of
a falling roof, shipwreck, or conflagration, they generally died in Texas
or Iowa, or some remote State where Aunt Hitty could not follow the
hearse in the first carriage.  This blighted ambition was a heart-sorrow
of so deep and sacred a character that she did not even confess it to
“Si,” as her appendage of a husband was called.

Now at last her chance for planning a funeral had come.  Mrs. Butterfield
had no kith or kin save her niece, Lyddy Ann, who lived in Andover, or
Lawrence, or Haverhill, Massachusetts—Aunt Hitty couldn’t remember which,
and hoped nobody else could.  The niece would be sent for when they found
out where she lived; meanwhile the funeral could not be put off.

She glanced round the house preparatory to locking it up and starting to
notify Anthony Croft.  She would just run over and talk to him about
ordering the coffin; then she could attend to all other necessary
preliminaries herself.  The remains had been well-to-do, and there was no
occasion for sordid economy, so Aunt Hitty determined in her own mind to
have the latest fashion in everything, including a silver coffin-plate.
The Butterfield coffin-plates were a thing to be proud of.  They had been
sacredly preserved for years and years, and the entire
collection—numbering nineteen in all—had been framed, and adorned the
walls of the deceased lady’s best room.  They were not of solid silver,
it is true, but even so it was a matter of distinction to have belonged
to a family that could afford to have nineteen coffin-plates of any sort.

Aunt Hitty planned certain dramatic details as she walked down the road
to Croft’s.  It came to her in a burst of inspiration that she would have
two ministers: one for the long prayer, and one for the short prayer and
the remarks.  She hoped that Elder Weeks would be adequate in the latter
direction.  She knew she couldn’t for the life of her think of anything
interesting to say about Mrs. Butterfield, save that she possessed
nineteen coffin-plates, and brought her hens to Edgewood every summer for
their health; but she had heard Elder Weeks make a moving discourse out
of less than that.  To be sure, he needed priming, but she would be equal
to the occasion.  There was Ivory Brown’s funeral: how would that have
gone on if it hadn’t been for her?  Wasn’t the elder ten minutes late,
and what would his remarks have amounted to without her suggestions?  You
might almost say she was the author of the discourse, for she gave the
elder all the appropriate ideas.  As she had helped him out of the waggon
she had said: “Are you prepared?  I thought not; but there’s no time to
lose.  Remember there are aged parents; two brothers living—one
railroading in Spokane Falls, the other clerking in Washington, D.C.
Don’t mention the Universalists—there’s be’n two in the fam’ly; nor
insanity—there’s be’n one o’ them.  The girl in the corner is the one
that the remains has be’n keeping comp’ny with.  If you can make some
genteel allusions to her, it’ll be much appreciated by his folks.”

As to the long prayer, she knew that the Rev. Mr. Ford could be relied on
to pray until Aunt Becky Burnham should twitch him by the coat-tails.
She had done it more than once.  She had also, on one occasion, got up
and straightened his ministerial neckerchief, which he had gradually
“prayed” around his saintly neck until it had lodged behind the right
ear.

These plans proved so fascinating to Aunt Hitty that she walked quite
half a mile beyond Croft’s, and was obliged to retrace her steps.
Meantime, she conceived bands of black alpaca for the sleeves and hats of
the pall-bearers, and a festoon of the same over the front gate, if there
should be any left over.  She planned the singing by the choir.  There
had been no real choir-singing at any funeral in Edgewood since the Rev.
Joshua Beckwith had died.  She would ask them to open with—

  [Picture: Music: Rebel mourner, cease your weepin’.  You too must die]

This was a favourite funeral hymn.  The only difficulty would be in
keeping Aunt Becky Burnham from pitching it in a key where nobody but a
soprano skylark, accustomed to warble at a great height, could possibly
sing it.  It was generally given at the grave, when Elder Weeks
officiated; but it never satisfied Aunt Hitty, because the good elder
always looked so unpicturesque when he threw a red bandanna handkerchief
over his head before beginning the twenty-seven verses.  After the long
prayer, she would have Almira Berry give for a solo—

 [Picture: Music: This gro-o-oanin’ world’s too dark and dre-e-ar for the
                         saints’ e-ter-nal rest]

This hymn, if it did not wholly reconcile one to death, enabled one to
look upon life with sufficient solemnity.  It was a thousand pities, she
thought, that the old hearse was so shabby and rickety, and that Gooly
Eldridge, who drove it, would insist on wearing a faded peach-blow
overcoat.  It was exasperating to think of the public spirit at Egypt,
and contrast it with the state of things at Pleasant River.  In Egypt,
they had sold the old hearse-house for a sausage-shop, and now they were
having “hearse sociables” every month to raise money for a new one.

All these details flew through Aunt Hitty’s mind in fascinating
procession.  There shouldn’t be “a hitch” anywhere.  There had been a
hitch at her last funeral, but she had been only an assistant there.
Matt Henderson had been struck by lightning at the foot of Squire Bean’s
old nooning tree, and certain circumstances combined to make the funeral
one of unusual interest, so much so much so that fat old Mrs. Potter from
Deerwander created a sensation at the cemetery.  She was so anxious to
get where she could see everything to the best advantage that she crowded
too near the bier, stepped on the sliding earth, and pitched into the
grave.  As she weighed over two hundred pounds, and was in a position of
some disadvantage, it took five men to extricate her from the dilemma,
and the operation made a long and somewhat awkward break in the religious
services.  Aunt Hitty always said of this catastrophe, “If I’d ’a’ be’n
Mis’ Potter, I’d ’a’ be’n so mortified I believe I’d ’a’ said, ‘I wa’n’t
plannin’ to be buried, but now I’m in here I declare I’ll stop.’”

                                * * * * *

Old Mrs. Butterfield’s funeral was not only voted an entire success by
the villagers, but the seal of professional approval was set upon it by
an undertaker from Saco, who declared that Mrs. Tarbox could make a
handsome living in the funeral line anywhere.  Providence, who always
assists those who assist themselves, decreed that the niece Lyddy Ann
should not arrive until the aunt was safely buried; so, there being none
to resist her right or grudge her the privilege, Aunt Hitty, for the
first time in her life, rode in the next buggy to the hearse.  Si, in his
best suit, a broad weed and weepers, drove Cyse Higgins’ black colt, and
Aunt Hitty was dressed in deep mourning, with the Widow Buzzell’s crape
veil over her face, and in her hand a palm-leaf fan tied with a black
ribbon.  Her comment to Si, as she went to her virtuous couch that night,
was: “It was an awful dry funeral, but that was the only flaw in it.  It
would ’a’ be’n perfect if there’d be’n anybody to shed tears.  I come
pretty nigh it myself, though I ain’t no relation, when Elder Weeks said,
‘You’ll go round the house, my sisters, and Mis’ Butterfield won’t be
there; you’ll go int’ the orchard, and Mis’ Butterfield won’t be there;
you’ll go int’ the barn, and Mis’ Butterfield won’t be there; you’ll go
int’ the shed, and Mis’ Butterfield wont be there; you’ll go int’ the
hencoop, and Mis’ Butterfield won’t be there!’  That would ’a’ draw’d
tears from a stone, ’most, ’specially sence Mis’ Butterfield set such
store by her hens.”

And this is the way that Lyddy Butterfield came into her kingdom, a
little lone brown house on the river’s brim.  She had seen it only once
before when she had drives, out from Portland, years ago, with her aunt.
Mrs. Butterfield lived in Portland, but spent her summers in Edgewood on
account of her chickens.  She always explained that the country was
dreadful dull for her, but good for the hens; they always laid so much
better in the winter time.

Lyddy liked the place all the better for its loneliness.  She had never
had enough of solitude, and this quiet home, with the song of the river
for company, if one needed more company than chickens and a cat,
satisfied all her desires, particularly as it was accompanied by a snug
little income of two hundred dollars a year, a meagre sum that seemed to
open up mysterious avenues of joy to her starved, impatient heart.

When she was a mere infant, her brother was holding her on his knee
before the great old-fashioned fireplace heaped with burning logs.  A
sudden noise startled him, and the crowing, restless baby gave an
unexpected lurch, and slipped, face downward, into the glowing embers.
It was a full minute before the horror-stricken boy could extricate the
little creature from the cruel flame that had already done its fatal
work.  The baby escaped with her life, but was disfigured for ever.  As
she grew older, the gentle hand of time could not entirely efface the
terrible scars.  One cheek was wrinkled and crimson, while one eye and
the mouth were drawn down pathetically.  The accident might have changed
the disposition of any child, but Lyddy chanced to be a sensitive,
introspective bit of feminine humanity, in whose memory the burning flame
was never quenched.  Her mother, partly to conceal her own wounded
vanity, and partly to shield the timid, morbid child, kept her out of
sight as much as possible; so that at sixteen, when she was left an
orphan, she had lived almost entirely in solitude.

She became, in course of time, a kind of general nursery governess in a
large family of motherless children.  The father was almost always away
from home; his sister kept the house, and Lyddy stayed in the nursery,
bathing the babies and putting them to bed, dressing them in the morning,
and playing with them in the safe privacy of the garden or the open
attic.

They loved her, disfigured as she was—for the child despises mere
externals, and explores the heart of things to see whether it be good or
evil—but they could never induce her to see strangers, nor to join any
gathering of people.

The children were grown and married now, and Lyddy was nearly forty when
she came into possession of house and lands and fortune; forty, with
twenty years of unexpended feeling pent within her.  Forty—that is rather
old to be interesting, but age is a relative matter.  Haven’t you seen
girls of four-and-twenty who have nibbled and been nibbled at ever since
they were sixteen, but who have neither caught anything nor been caught?
They are old, if you like, but Lyddy was forty and still young, with her
susceptibilities cherished, not dulled, and with all the “language of
passion fresh and rooted as the lovely leafage about a spring.”



IV


    “He shall daily joy dispense
    Hid in song’s sweet influence.”

                                                       EMERSON’S _Merlin_.

LYDDY had very few callers during her first month as a property owner in
Edgewood.  Her appearance would have been against her winning friends
easily in any case, even if she had not acquired the habits of a recluse.
It took a certain amount of time, too, for the community to get used to
the fact that old Mrs. Butterfield was dead, and her niece Lyddy Ann
living in the cottage on the river road.  There were numbers of people
who had not yet heard that old Mrs. Butterfield had bought the house from
the Thatcher boys, and that was fifteen years ago; but this was not
strange, for, notwithstanding Aunt Hitty’s valuable services in
disseminating general information, there was a man living on the Bonny
Eagle road who was surprised to hear that Daniel Webster was dead, and
complained that folks were not so long-lived as they used to be.

Aunt Hitty thought Lyddy a Goth and a Vandal because she took down the
twenty silver coffin-plates and laid them reverently away.  “Mis’
Butterfield would turn in her grave,” she said, “if she could see her
niece.  She ain’t much of a housekeeper, I guess,” she went on, as she
cut over Dr. Berry’s old trousers into briefer ones for Tommy Berry.
“She gives considerable stuff to her hens that she’d a sight better heat
over and eat herself, in these hard times, when the missionary societies
can’t hardly keep the heathen fed and clothed and warmed—no, I don’t mean
warmed, for most o’ the heathens live in hot climates, somehow or
’nother.  My back door’s jest opposite hers; it’s across the river, to be
sure, but it’s the narrer part, and I can see everything she does as
plain as daylight.  She washed a Monday, and she ain’t taken her clothes
in yet, and it’s Thursday.  She may be bleachin’ of ’em out, but it looks
slack.  I said to Si last night I should stand it till ’bout
Friday—seein’ ’em lay on the grass there—but if she didn’t take ’em in
then, I should go over and offer to help her.  She has a fire in the
settin’-room ’most every night, though we ain’t had a frost yet; and as
near’s I can make out, she’s got full red curtains hangin’ up to her
windows.  I ain’t sure, for she don’t open the blinds in that room till I
get away in the morning, and she shuts ’em before I get back at night.
Si don’t know red from green, so he’s useless in such matters.  I’m going
home late to-night, and walk down on that side o’ the river, so ’t I can
call in after dark and see what makes her house light up as if the sun
was settin’ inside of it.”

As a matter of fact, Lyddy was revelling in house-furnishing of a humble
sort.  She had a passion for colour.  There was a red-and-white straw
matting on the sitting-room floor.  Reckless in the certain possession of
twenty dollars a month, she purchased yards upon yards of turkey red
cotton; enough to cover a mattress for the high-backed settle, for long
curtains at the windows, and for cushions to the rocking-chairs.  She
knotted white fringes for the table-covers and curtains, painted the
inside of the fireplace red, put some pots of scarlet geraniums on the
window-sills, filled a wall-pocket with ferns and tacked it over an ugly
spot in the plastering, edged her work-basket with a tufted trimming of
scarlet wool, and made an elaborate photograph case of white crash and
red cotton that stretched the entire length of the old-fashioned
mantelshelf, and held pictures of Mr. Reynolds, Miss Elvira Reynolds,
George, Susy, Anna, John, Hazel, Ella, and Rufus Reynolds, her former
charges.  When all this was done, she lighted a little blaze on the
hearth, took the red curtains from their bands, let them fall gracefully
to the floor, and sat down in her rocking-chair, reconciled to her
existence for absolutely the first time in her forty years.

I hope Mrs. Butterfield was happy enough in Paradise to appreciate and
feel Lyddy’s joy.  I can even believe she was glad to have died, since
her dying could bring such content to any wretched living human soul.  As
Lydia sat in the firelight, the left side of her poor face in shadow, you
saw that she was distinctly harmonious.  Her figure, clad in a plain
black-and-white print dress, was a graceful, womanly one.  She had
beautifully sloping shoulders and a sweet waist.

Her hair was soft and plentiful, and her hands were fine, strong, and
sensitive.  This possibility of rare beauty made her scars and burns more
pitiful, for if a cheap chromo has a smirch across its face, we think it
a matter of no moment, but we deplore the smallest scratch or blur on any
work of real art.

Lydia felt a little less bitter and hopeless about life when she sat in
front of her own open fire, after her usual twilight walk.  It was her
habit to wander down the wooded road after her simple five-o’clock
supper, gathering ferns or goldenrod or frost flowers for her vases; and
one night she heard, above the rippling of the river, the strange, sweet,
piercing sound of Anthony Croft’s violin.

She drew nearer, and saw a middle-aged man sitting in the kitchen
doorway, with a lad of ten or twelve years leaning against his knees.
She could tell little of his appearance, save that he had a fine
forehead, and hair that waved well back from it in rather an unusual
fashion.  He was in his shirt-sleeves, but the gingham was scrupulously
clean, and he had the uncommon refinement of a collar and necktie.  Out
of sight herself, Lyddy drew near enough to hear; and this she did every
night without recognising that the musician was blind.  The music had a
curious effect upon her.  It was a hitherto unknown influence in her
life, and it interpreted her, so to speak, to herself.  As she sat on the
bed of brown pine needles, under a friendly tree, her head resting
against its trunk, her eyes half closed, the tone of Anthony’s violin
came like a heavenly message to a tired, despairing soul.  Remember that
in her secluded existence she had heard only such harmony as Elvira
Reynolds evoked from her piano or George Reynolds from his flute, and the
Reynolds temperament was distinctly inartistic.

Lyddy lived through a lifetime of emotion in these twilight concerts.
Sometimes she was filled with an exquisite melancholy from which there
was no escape; at others, the ethereal purity of the strain stirred her
heart with a strange, sweet vision of mysterious joy; joy that she had
never possessed, would never possess; joy whose bare existence she never
before realised.  When the low notes sank lower and lower with their soft
wail of delicious woe, she bent forward into the dark, dreading that
something would be lost in the very struggle of listening; then, after a
pause, a pure human tone would break the stillness, and soaring,
birdlike, higher and higher, seem to mount to heaven itself, and,
“piercing its starry floors,” lift poor scarred Lydia’s soul to the very
gates of infinite bliss.  In the gentle moods that stole upon her in
those summer twilights she became a different woman, softer in her
prosperity than she had ever been in her adversity; for some plants only
blossom in sunshine.  What wonder if to her the music and the musician
became one?  It is sometimes a dangerous thing to fuse the man and his
talents in this way; but it did no harm here, for Anthony Croft was his
music, and the music was Anthony Croft.  When he played on his violin, it
was as if the miracle of its fashioning were again enacted; as if the
bird on the quivering bough, the mellow sunshine streaming through the
lattice of green leaves, the tinkle of the woodland stream, spoke in
every tone; and more than this, the hearth-glow in whose light the
patient hands had worked, the breath of the soul bending itself in
passionate prayer for perfection, these, too, seemed to have wrought
their blessed influence on the willing strings until the tone was laden
with spiritual harmony.  One might indeed have sung of this little red
violin—that looked to Lyddy, in the sunset glow, as if it were veneered
with rubies—all that Shelley sang of another perfect instrument:

    “The artist who this viol wrought
    To echo all harmonious thought,
    Fell’d a tree, while on the steep
    The woods were in their winter sleep,
    Rock’d in that repose divine
    Of the wind-swept Apennine;
    And dreaming, some of Autumn past,
    And some of Spring approaching fast,
    And some of April buds and showers,
    And some of songs in July bowers,
    And all of love; and so this tree—
    O that such our death may be!—
    Died in sleep, and felt no pain,
    To live in happier form again.”

The viol “whispers in enamoured tone”:

    “Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
    And summer winds in sylvan cells; . . .
    The clearest echoes of the hills,
    The softest notes of falling rills,
    The melodies of birds and bees,
    The murmuring of summer seas,
    And pattering rain, and breathing dew,
    And airs of evening; all it knew . . .
    —All this it knows, but will not tell
    To those who cannot question well
    The spirit that inhabits it; . . .
    But, sweetly as its answers will
    Flatter hands of perfect skill,
    It keeps its highest, holiest tone
    For one beloved Friend alone.”

Lyddy heard the violin and the man’s voice as he talked to the
child—heard them night after night; and when she went home to the little
brown house to light the fire on the hearth and let down the warm red
curtains, she fell into sweet, sad reveries; and when she blew out her
candle for the night, she fell asleep and dreamed new dreams, and her
heart was stirred with the rustling of new-born hopes that rose and took
wing like birds startled from their nests.



V


    “Nor scour the seas, nor sift mankind,
    A poet or a friend to find:
    Behold, he watches at the door!
    Behold his shadow on the floor!”

                                                        EMERSON’S _Saadi_.

LYDDY BUTTERFIELD’S hen turkey was of a roving disposition.  She had
never appreciated her luxurious country quarters in Edgewood, and was
seemingly anxious to return to the modest back yard in her native city.
At any rate, she was in the habit of straying far from home, and the
habit was growing upon her to such an extent that she would even lead her
docile little gobblers down to visit Anthony Croft’s hens and share their
corn.

Lyddy had caught her at it once, and was now pursuing her to that end for
the second time.  She paused in front of the house, but there were no
turkeys to be seen.  Could they have wandered up the hill road—the
discontented, “traipsing,” exasperating things?  She started in that
direction, when she heard a crash in the Croft kitchen, and then the
sound of a boy’s voice coming from an inner room—a weak and querulous
voice, as if the child were ill.

She drew nearer, in spite of her dread of meeting people, or above all of
intruding, and saw Anthony Croft standing over the stove, with an
expression of utter helplessness on his usually placid face.  She had
never really seen him before in the daylight, and there was something
about his appearance that startled her.  The teakettle was on the floor,
and a sea of water was flooding the man’s feet, yet he seemed to be
gazing into vacancy.  Presently he stooped, and fumbled gropingly for the
kettle.  It was too hot to be touched with impunity, and he finally left
it in a despairing sort of way, and walked in the direction of a shelf,
from under which a row of coats was hanging.  The boy called again in a
louder and more insistent tone, ending in a whimper of restless pain.
This seemed to make the man more nervous than ever.  His hands went
patiently over and over the shelf, then paused at each separate nail.

“Bless the poor dear!” thought Lyddy.  “Is he trying to find his hat, or
what is he trying to do?  I wonder if he is music mad?” and she drew
still nearer the steps.

At this moment he turned and came rapidly toward the door.  She looked
straight in his face.  There was no mistaking it: he was blind.  The
magician who had told her, through his violin, secrets that she had
scarcely dreamed of, the wizard who had set her heart to throbbing and
aching and longing as it had never throbbed and ached and longed before,
the being who had worn a halo of romance and genius to her simple mind,
was stone blind!  A wave of impetuous anguish, as sharp and passionate as
any she had ever felt for her own misfortunes, swept over her soul at the
spectacle of the man’s helplessness.  His sightless eyes struck her like
a blow.  But there was no time to lose.  She was directly in his path: if
she stood still he would certainly walk over her, and if she moved he
would hear her, so, on the spur of the moment, she gave a nervous cough
and said, “Good-morning, Mr. Croft.”

He stopped short.  “Who is it?” he asked.

“I am—it is—I am—your new neighbour,” said Lyddy, with a trembling
attempt at cheerfulness.

“Oh, Miss Butterfield!  I should have called up to see you before this if
it hadn’t been for the boy’s sickness.  But I am a good-for-nothing
neighbour, as you have doubtless heard.  Nobody expects anything of me.”

(“Nobody expects anything of me.”  Her own plaint, uttered in her own
tone!)

“I don’t know about that,” she answered swiftly.  “You’ve given me, for
one, a great deal of pleasure with your wonderful music.  I often hear
you as you play after supper, and it has kept me from being lonesome.
That isn’t very much, to be sure.”

“You are fond of music, then?”

“I didn’t know I was; I never heard any before,” said Lyddy simply; “but
it seems to help people to say things they couldn’t say for themselves,
don’t you think so?  It comforts me even to hear it, and I think it must
be still more beautiful to make it.”

Now, Lyddy Ann Butterfield had no sooner uttered this commonplace speech
than the reflection darted through her mind like a lightning flash that
she had never spoken a bit of her heart out like this in all her life
before.  The reason came to her in the same flash: she was not being
looked at; her disfigured face was hidden.  This man, at least, could not
shrink, turn away, shiver, affect indifference, fix his eyes on hers with
a fascinated horror, as others had done.  Her heart was divided between a
great throb of pity and sympathy for him and an irresistible sense of
gratitude for herself.  Sure of protection and comprehension, her lovely
soul came out of her poor eyes and sat in the sunshine.  She spoke her
mind at ease, as we utter sacred things sometimes under cover of
darkness.

“You seem to have had an accident; what can I do to help you?” she asked.

“Nothing, thank you.  The boy has been sick for some days, but he seems
worse since last night.  Nothing is in its right place in the house, so I
have given up trying to find anything, and am just going to Edgewood to
see if somebody will help me for a few days.”

“Uncle Tony!  Uncle To-ny! where are you?  Do give me another drink, I’m
so hot!” came the boy’s voice from within.

“Coming, laddie!  I don’t believe he ought to drink so much water, but
what can I do?  He is burning up with fever.”

“Now look here, Mr. Croft,” and Lydia’s tone was cheerfully decisive.
“You sit down in that rocker, please, and let me command the ship for a
while.  This is one of the cases where a woman is necessary.  First and
foremost, what were you hunting for?”

“My hat and the butter,” said Anthony meekly, and at this unique
combination they both laughed.  Lyddy’s laugh was particularly fresh,
childlike, and pleased; one that would have astonished the Reynolds
children.  She had seldom laughed heartily since little Rufus had cried
and told her she frightened him when she twisted her face so.

“Your hat is in the wood-box, and I’ll find the butter in the twinkling
of an eye, though why you want it now is more than—My patience, Mr.
Croft, your hand is burned to a blister!”

“Don’t mind me.  Be good enough to look at the boy and tell me what ails
him; nothing else matters much.”

“I will with pleasure, but let me ease you a little first.  Here’s a rag
that will be just the thing,” and Lyddy, suiting the pretty action to the
mendacious word, took a good handkerchief from her pocket and tore it in
three strips, after spreading it with tallow from a candle heated over
the stove.  This done, she bound up the burned hand skilfully, and,
crossing the dining-room, disappeared within the little chamber door
beyond.  She came out presently, and said half hesitatingly, “Would
you—mind—going out in the orchard for an hour or so?  You seem to be
rather in the way here, and I should like the place to myself, if you’ll
excuse me for saying so.  I’m ever so much more capable than Mrs. Buck;
won’t you give me a trial, sir?  Here’s your violin and your hat.  I’ll
call you if you can help or advise me.”

“But I can’t let a stranger come in and do my housework,” he objected.
“I can’t, you know, though I appreciate your kindness all the same.”

“I am your nearest neighbour, and your only one, for that matter,” said
Lyddy firmly; “it’s nothing more than right that I should look after that
sick child, and I must do it.  I haven’t got a thing to do in my own
house.  I am nothing but a poor lonely old maid, who’s been used to
children all her life, and likes nothing better than to work over them.”

A calm settled upon Anthony’s perturbed spirit, as he sat under the
apple-trees and heard Lyddy going to and fro in the cottage.  “She isn’t
any old maid,” he thought; “she doesn’t step like one; she has soft shoes
and a springy walk.  She must be a very handsome woman, with a hand like
that; and such a voice!—I knew the moment she spoke that she didn’t
belong in this village.”

As a matter of fact, his keen ear had caught the melody in Lyddy’s voice,
a voice full of dignity, sweetness, and reserve power.  His sense of
touch, too, had captured the beauty of her hand, and held it in
remembrance—the soft palm, the fine skin, supple fingers, smooth nails,
and firm round wrist.  These charms would never have been noted by any
seeing man in Edgewood, but they were revealed to Anthony Croft while
Lyddy, like the good Samaritan, bound up his wounds.  It is these saving
stars that light the eternal darkness of the blind.

Lyddy thought she had met her Waterloo when, with arms akimbo, she gazed
about the Croft establishment, which was a scene of desolation for the
moment.  Anthony’s cousin from Bridgton was in the habit of visiting him
every two months for a solemn house-cleaning, and Mrs. Buck from Pleasant
River came every Saturday and Monday for baking and washing.  Between
times Davy and his uncle did the housework together; and although it was
respectably done, there was no pink-and-white daintiness about it, you
may be sure.

Lyddy came out to the apple-trees in about an hour, laughing nervously as
she said, “I’m sorry to have taken a mean advantage of you, Mr. Croft,
but I know everything you have in your house, and exactly where it is.  I
couldn’t help it, you see, when I was making things tidy.  It would do
you good to look at the boy.  His room was too light, and the flies were
devouring him.  I swept him and dusted him, put on clean sheets and
pillow-slips, sponged him with bay rum, brushed his hair, drove out the
flies, and tacked a green curtain up to the window.  Fifteen minutes
after he was sleeping like a kitten.  He has a sore throat and
considerable fever.  Could you—can you—at least, will you, go up to my
house on an errand?”

“Certainly I can.  I know it inside and out as well as my own.”

“Very good.  On the clock shelf in the sitting-room there is a bottle of
sweet spirits of nitre; it’s the only bottle there, so you can’t make any
mistake.  It will help until the doctor comes.  I wonder you didn’t send
for him yesterday?”

“Davy wouldn’t have him,” apologised his uncle.

“_Wouldn’t_ he?” inquired Lyddy with cheerful scorn.  “He has you under
pretty good control, hasn’t he?  But children are unmerciful tyrants.”

“Couldn’t you coax him into it before you go home?” asked Anthony in a
wheedling voice.

“I can try; but it isn’t likely I can influence him, if you can’t.
Still, if we both fail, I really don’t see what’s to prevent our sending
for the doctor in spite of him.  He is as weak as a baby, you know, and
can’t sit up in bed: what could he do?  I will risk the consequences, if
you will!”

There was a note of such amiable and winning sarcasm in all this, such a
cheery, invincible courage, such a friendly neighbourliness and
co-operation, above all, such a different tone from any he was accustomed
to hear in Edgewood, that Anthony Croft felt warmed through to the core.

As he walked quickly along the road, he conjured up a vision of autumn
beauty from the few hints nature gave even to her sightless ones on this
glorious morning—the rustle of a few fallen leaves under his feet, the
clear wine of the air, the full rush of the swollen river, the whisking
of the squirrels in the boughs, the crunch of their teeth on the nuts,
the spicy odour of the apples lying under the trees.  He missed his
mother that morning more than he had missed her for years.  How neat she
was, how thrifty, how comfortable, and how comforting!  His life was so
dreary and aimless; and was it the best or the right one for Davy, with
his talent and dawning ambition?  Would it not be better to have Mrs.
Buck live with them altogether, instead of coming twice a week, as
heretofore?  No; he shrank from that with a hopeless aversion born of
Saturday and Monday dinners in her company.  He could hear her pour her
coffee into the saucer; hear the scraping of the cup on the rim, and know
that she was setting it sloppily down on the cloth.  He could remember
her noisy drinking, the weight of her elbow on the table, the creaking of
her dress under the pressure of superabundant flesh.  Besides, she had
tried to scrub his favourite violin with sapolio.  No, anything was
better than Mrs. Buck as a constancy.

He took off his hat unconsciously as he entered Lyddy’s sitting-room.  A
gentle breeze blew one of the full red curtains towards him till it
fluttered about his shoulders like a frolicsome, teasing hand.  There was
a sweet pungent odour of pine-boughs, a canary sang in the window, the
clock was trimmed with a blackberry vine; he knew the prickles, and they
called up to his mind the glowing tints he had loved so well.  His
sensitive hand, that carried a divining rod in every finger-tip, met a
vase on the shelf, and, travelling upward, touched a full branch of alder
berries tied about with a ribbon.  The ribbon would be red; the woman who
arranged this room would make no mistake; for in one morning Anthony
Croft had penetrated the secret of Lyddy’s true personality, and in a
measure had sounded the shallows that led to the depths of her nature.

Lyddy went home at seven o’clock that night rather reluctantly.  The
doctor had said Mr. Croft could sit up with the boy unless he grew much
worse, and there was no propriety in her staying longer unless there was
danger.

“You have been very good to me,” Anthony said gravely, as he shook her
hand at parting—“very good.”

They stood together on the doorstep.  A distant bell called to evening
prayer-meeting; the restless murmur of the river and the whisper of the
wind in the pines broke the twilight stillness.  The long, quiet day
together, part of it spent by the sick child’s bedside, had brought the
two strangers curiously near to each other.

“The house hasn’t seemed so sweet and fresh since my mother died,” he
went on, as he dropped her hand, “and I haven’t had so many flowers and
green things in it since I lost my eyesight.”

“Was it long ago?”

“Ten years.  Is that long?”

“Long to bear a burden.”

“I hope you know little of burden-bearing?”

“I know little else.”

“I might have guessed it from the alacrity with which you took up Davy’s
and mine.  You must be very happy to have the power to make things
straight and sunny and wholesome; to breathe your strength into
helplessness such as mine.  I thank you, and I envy you.  Good-night.”

Lyddy turned on her heel without a word; her mind was beyond and above
words.  The sky seemed to have descended upon, enveloped her, caught her
up into its heaven, as she rose into unaccustomed heights of feeling,
like Elijah in his chariot of fire.  She very happy!  She with
power—power to make things straight and sunny and wholesome!  She able to
breathe strength into helplessness, even a consecrated, God-smitten
helplessness like his!  She not only to be thanked, but envied!

Her house seemed strange to her that night.  She went to bed in the dark,
dreading even the light of a candle; and before she turned down her
counterpane she flung herself on her knees, and poured out her soul in a
prayer that had been growing, waiting, and waited for, perhaps, for
years:

“O Lord, I thank Thee for health and strength and life.  I never could do
it before, but I thank Thee to-night for life on any terms.  I thank Thee
for this home; for the chance of helping another human creature, stricken
like myself; for the privilege of ministering to a motherless child.
Make me to long only for the beauty of holiness, and to be satisfied if I
attain to it.  Wash my soul pure and clean, and let that be the only
mirror in which I see my face.  I have tried to be useful.  Forgive me if
it always seemed so hard and dreary a life.  Forgive me if I am too happy
because for one short day I have really helped in a beautiful way, and
found a friend who saw, because he was blind, the real _me_ underneath;
the me that never was burned by the fire; the me that isn’t disfigured,
unless my wicked discontent has done it; the me that has lived on and on
and on, starving to death for the friendship and sympathy and love that
come to other women.  I have spent my forty years in the wilderness,
feeding on wrath and bitterness and tears.  Forgive me, Lord, and give me
one more vision of the blessed land of Canaan, even if I never dwell
there.”



VI


    “Nor less the eternal poles
    Of tendency distribute souls.
    There need no vows to bind
    Whom not each other seek, but find.”

                                                 EMERSON’S Celestial Love.

DAVY’S sickness was a lingering one.  Mrs. Buck came for two or three
hours a day, but Lyddy was the self-installed angel of the house; and
before a week had passed the boy’s thin arms were around her neck, his
head on her loving shoulder, and his cheek pressed against hers.  Anthony
could hear them talk, as he sat in the kitchen busy at his work.  Musical
instruments were still brought him to repair, though less frequently than
of yore, and he could still make many parts of violins far better than
his seeing competitors.  A friend and pupil sat by his side in the winter
evenings and supplemented his weakness, helping and learning alternately,
while his blind master’s skill filled him with wonder and despair.  The
years of struggle for perfection had not been wasted; and though the eye
that once detected the deviation of a hair’s breadth could no longer tell
the true from the false, yet nature had been busy with her divine work of
compensation.  The one sense stricken with death, she poured floods of
new life and vigour into the others.  Touch became something more than
the stupid, empty grasp of things we seeing mortals know, and in place of
the two eyes he had lost he now had ten in every finger-tip.  As for
odours, let other folk be proud of smelling musk and lavender, but let
him tell you by a quiver of the nostrils the various kinds of so-called
scentless flowers, and let him bend his ear and interpret secrets that
the universe is ever whispering to us who are pent in partial deafness
because, forsooth, we see.

He often paused to hear Lydia’s low, soothing tones and the boy’s weak
treble.  Anthony had said to him once, “Miss Butterfield is very
beautiful, isn’t she, Davy?  You haven’t painted me a picture of her yet.
How does she look?”

Davy was stricken at first with silent embarrassment.  He was a truthful
child, but in this he could no more have told the whole truth than he
could have cut off his hand.  He was knit to Lyddy by every tie of
gratitude and affection.  He would sit for hours with his expectant face
pressed against the window-pane, and when he saw her coming down the
shady road he was filled with a sense of impending comfort and joy.

“No,” he said hesitatingly, “she isn’t pretty, nunky, but she’s sweet and
nice and dear.  Everything on her shines, it’s so clean; and when she
comes through the trees, with her white apron and her purple calico
dress, your heart jumps, because you know she’s going to make everything
pleasant.  Her hair has a pretty wave in it, and her hand is soft on your
forehead; and it’s ’most worth while being sick just to have her in the
house.”

Meanwhile, so truly is “praise our fructifying sun,” Lydia bloomed into a
hundred hitherto unsuspected graces of mind and heart and speech.  A sly
sense of humour woke into life, and a positive talent for conversation,
latent hitherto because she had never known any one who cared to drop a
plummet into the crystal springs of her consciousness.  When the violin
was laid away, she would sit in the twilight, by Davy’s sofa, his thin
hand in hers, and talk with Anthony about books and flowers and music,
and about the meaning of life too—its burdens and mistakes, and joys and
sorrows; groping with him in the darkness to find a clue to God’s
purposes.

Davy had long afternoons at Lyddy’s house as the autumn grew into winter.
He read to her while she sewed rags for a new sitting-room carpet, and
they played dominoes and checkers together in the twilight before
supper-time—suppers that were a feast to the boy, after Mrs. Buck’s
cookery.  Anthony brought his violin sometimes of an evening, and Almira
Berry, the next neighbour on the road to the Mills, would drop in and
join the little party.  Almira used to sing “Auld Robin Gray,” “What Will
You Do, Love,” and “Robin Adair,” to the great enjoyment of everybody;
and she persuaded Lyddy to buy the old church melodeon, and learn to sing
alto in “Oh, Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast,” “Gently, Gently Sighs the
Breeze,” and “I Know a Bank.”  Nobody sighed for the gaieties and
advantages of a great city when, these concerts being over, Lyddy would
pass crisp seedcakes and raspberry shrub, doughnuts and cider, or hot
popped corn and molasses candy.

“But there, she can afford to,” said Aunt Hitty Tarbox; “she’s pretty
middlin’ wealthy for Edgewood.  And it’s lucky she is, for she ’bout
feeds that boy o’ Croft’s.  No wonder he wants her to fill him up, after
six years of the Widder Buck’s victuals.  Aurelia Buck can take good
flour and sugar, sweet butter and fresh eggs, and in ten strokes of her
hand she can make ’em into something the very hogs’ll turn away from.  I
declare, it brings the tears to my eyes sometimes when I see her coming
out of Croft’s Saturday afternoons, and think of the stone crocks full of
nasty messes she’s left behind her for that innocent man and boy to eat
up . . . Anthony goes to see Miss Butterfield consid’able often.  Of
course it’s awstensibly to walk home with Davy, or do an errand or
something, but everybody knows better.  She went down to Croft’s pretty
nearly every day when his cousin Maria from Bridgton come to house-clean.
Maria suspicioned something, I guess.  Anyhow, she asked me if Miss
Butterfield’s two hundred a year was in gov’ment bonds.  Anthony’s
eyesight ain’t good, but I guess he could make out to cut cowpons off . . .
It would be strange if them two left-overs should take an’ marry each
other; though, come to think of it, I don’t know’s ’t would neither.
He’s blind, to be sure, and can’t see her scarred face.  It’s a pity she
ain’t deef, so ’t she can’t hear his everlastin’ fiddle.  She’s lucky to
get any kind of a husband; she’s too humbly to choose.  I declare, she
reminds me of a Jack-o’-lantern, though if you look at the back of her,
or see her in meetin’ with a thick veil on, she’s about the best
appearin’ woman in Edgewood . . . I never seen anybody stiffen up as
Anthony has.  He had me make him three white shirts and three gingham
ones, with collars and cuffs on all of ’em.  It seems as if six shirts at
one time must mean something out o’ the common!”

Aunt Hitty was right; it did mean something out of the common.  It meant
the growth of an all-engrossing, grateful, divinely tender passion
between two love-starved souls.  On the one hand, Lyddy, who though she
had scarcely known the meaning of love in all her dreary life, yet was as
full to the brim of all sweet, womanly possibilities of loving and giving
as any pretty woman; on the other, the blind violin maker, who had never
loved any woman but his mother, and who was in the direst need of womanly
sympathy and affection.

Anthony Croft, being ministered unto by Lyddy’s kind hands, hearing her
sweet voice and her soft footstep, saw her as God sees, knowing the best;
forgiving the worst, like God, and forgetting it, still more like God, I
think.

And Lyddy?  There is no pen worthy to write of Lyddy.  Her joy lay deep
in her heart like a jewel at the bottom of a clear pool; so deep that no
ripple or ruffle on the surface could disturb the hidden treasure.  If
God had smitten these two with one hand, he had held out the other in
tender benediction.

There had been a scene of unspeakable solemnity when Anthony first told
Lyddy that he loved her, and asked her to be his wife.  He had heard all
her sad history by this time, though not from her own lips, and his heart
went out to her all the more for the heavy cross that had been laid upon
her.  He had the wit and wisdom to put her affliction quite out of the
question, and allude only to her sacrifice in marrying a blind man,
hopelessly and helplessly dependent on her sweet offices for the rest of
his life, if she, in her womanly mercy, would love him and help him bear
his burdens.

When his tender words fell upon Lyddy’s dazed brain she sank beside his
chair, and, clasping his knees, sobbed: “I love you, I cannot help loving
you, I cannot help telling you I love you!  But you must hear the truth,
you have heard it from others, but perhaps they softened it.  If I marry
you, people will always blame me and pity you.  You would never ask me to
be your wife if you could see my face; you could not love me an instant
if you were not blind.”

“Then I thank God unceasingly for my infirmity,” said Anthony Croft, as
he raised her to her feet.

                                * * * * *

Anthony and Lyddy Croft sat in the apple orchard, one warm day in late
spring.

Anthony’s work would have puzzled a casual on-looker.  Ten stout wires
were stretched between two trees, fifteen or twenty feet apart, and each
group of five represented the lines of the musical staff.  Wooden bars
crossed the wires at regular intervals, dividing the staff into measures.
A box with many compartments sat on a stool beside him, and this held
bits of wood that looked like pegs, but were in reality whole, half,
quarter, and eighth notes, rests, flats, sharps, and the like.  These
were cleft in such a way that he could fit them on the wires almost as
rapidly as his musical theme came to him, and Lyddy had learned to
transcribe with pen and ink the music she found in wood and wire.  He
could write only simple airs in this way, but when he played them on the
violin they were transported into a loftier region, such genius lay in
the harmony, the arabesque, the delicate lacework of embroidery with
which the tune was inwrought; now high, now low, now major, now minor,
now sad, now gay, with one thrilling, haunting cadence recurring again
and again, to be watched for, longed for, and greeted with a throb of
delight.

Davy was reading at the window, his curly head buried in a well-worn
Shakespeare opened at “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Lyddy was sitting under
her favourite pink apple-tree, a mass of fragrant bloom, more beautiful
than Aurora’s morning gown.  She was sewing; lining with snowy lawn
innumerable pockets in a square basket that she held in her lap.  The
pockets were small, the needles were fine, the thread was a length of
cobweb.  Everything about the basket was small except the hopes that she
was stitching into it; they were so great that her heart could scarcely
hold them.  Nature was stirring everywhere.  The seeds were springing in
the warm earth.  The hens were clucking to their downy chicks just out of
the egg.  The birds were flying hither and thither in the apple-boughs,
and there was one little home of straw so hung that Lyddy could look into
it and see the patient mother brooding her nestlings.  The sight of her
bright eyes, alert for every sign of danger, sent a rush of feeling
through Lyddy’s veins that made her long to clasp the tiny feathered
mother to her own breast.

A sweet gravity and consecration of thought possessed her, and the pink
blossoms falling into her basket were not more delicate than the
rose-coloured dreams that flushed her soul.

Anthony put in the last wooden peg, and taking up his violin called,
“Davy, boy, come out and tell me what this means!”

Davy was used to this; from a wee boy he had been asked to paint the
changing landscape of each day, and to put into words his uncle’s music.

Lyddy dropped her needle; the birds stopped to listen, and Anthony
played.

“It is this apple-orchard in May-time,” said Davy; “it is the song of the
green things growing, isn’t it?”

“What do say, dear?” asked Anthony, turning to his wife.

Love and content had made a poet of Lyddy.  “I think Davy is right,” she
said.  “It is a dream of the future, the story of all new and beautiful
things growing out of the old.  It is full of the sweetness of present
joy, but there is promise and hope in it besides.  It is as if the Spring
was singing softly to herself because she held the baby Summer in her
arms.”

Davy did not quite understand this, though he thought it pretty; but
Lyddy’s husband did, and when the boy went back to his books, he took his
wife in his arms and kissed her twice—once for herself, and then once
again.





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