Laura E. Richards
Juliet Sutherland, Charlz Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
LAURA E. RICHARDS
THE LOVELY MEMORY
JULIA ROMANA ANAGNOS.
I. THE CHILD
II. THE DOCTOR
III. ON THE ROAD
IV. ROSIN THE BEAU
V. IN THE CHURCHYARD
VI. THE SERPENT
"_Minded of nought but peace, and of a child_."
"Well, there!" said Miss Vesta. "The child has a wonderful gift, that
is certain. Just listen to her, Rejoice! You never heard our canary
sing like that!"
Miss Vesta put back the shutters as she spoke, and let a flood of
light into the room where Miss Rejoice lay. The window was open, and
Melody's voice came in like a wave of sound, filling the room with
sweetness and life and joy.
"It's like the foreign birds they tell about!" said Miss Rejoice,
folding her thin hands, and settling herself on the pillow with an air
of perfect content,--"nightingales, and skylarks, and all the birds in
the poetry-books. What is she doing, Vesta?"
Miss Rejoice could see part of the yard from her bed. She could see
the white lilac-bush, now a mass of snowy plumes, waving in the June
breeze; she could see the road, and knew when any of the neighbors
went to town or to meeting; but the corner from which the wonderful
voice came thrilling and soaring was hidden from her.
Miss Vesta peered out between the muslin curtains. "She's sitting on
the steps," she said, "feeding the hens. It is wonderful, the way the
creatures know her! That old top-knot hen, that never has a good word
for anybody, is sitting in her lap almost. She says she understands
their talk, and I really believe she does. 'Tis certain none of them
cluck, not a sound, while she's singing. 'Tis a manner of marvel, to
"It is so," assented Miss Rejoice, mildly. "There, sister! you said
you had never heard her sing 'Tara's Harp.' Do listen now!"
Both sisters were silent in delight. Miss Vesta stood at the window,
leaning against the frame. She was tall, and straight as an arrow,
though she was fifty years old. Her snow-white hair was brushed
straight up from her broad forehead; her blue eyes were keen and
bright as a sword. She wore a black dress and a white apron; her hands
showed the marks of years of serving, and of hard work of all kinds.
No one would have thought that she and Miss Rejoice were sisters,
unless he had surprised one of the loving looks that sometimes passed
between them when they were alone together. The face that lay on the
pillow was white and withered, like a crumpled white rose. The dark
eyes had a pleading, wistful look, and were wonderfully soft withal.
Miss Rejoice had white hair too, but it had a warm yellowish tinge,
very different from the clear white of Miss Vesta's. It curled, too,
in little ringlets round her beautiful old face. In short, Miss Vesta
was splendidly handsome, while no one would think of calling Miss
Rejoice anything but lovely. The younger sister lay always in bed. It
was some thirty years since she met with the accident which changed
her from a rosy, laughing girl into a helpless cripple. A party of
pleasure,--gay lads and lasses riding together, careless of anything
save the delight of the moment; a sudden leap of the horse, frightened
at some obstacle; a fall, striking on a sharp stone,--this was Miss
Rejoice's little story. People in the village had forgotten that there
was any story; even her own contemporaries almost forgot that Rejoice
had ever been other than she was now. But Miss Vesta never forgot. She
left her position in the neighboring town, broke off her engagement to
the man she loved, and came home to her sister; and they had never
been separated for a day since. Once, when the bitter pain began to
abate, and the sufferer could realize that she was still a living
creature and not a condemned spirit, suffering for the sins of some
one else (she had thought of all her own, and could not feel that they
were bad enough to merit such suffering, if God was the person she
supposed),--in those first days Miss Rejoice ventured to question her
sister about her engagement. She was afraid--she did hope the breaking
of it had nothing to do with her. "It has to do with myself!" said
Miss Vesta, briefly, and nothing more was said. The sisters had lived
their life together, without a thought save for each other, till
Melody came into their world.
But here is Melody at the door; she shall introduce herself. A girl of
twelve years old, with a face like a flower. A broad white forehead,
with dark hair curling round it in rings and tendrils as delicate as
those of a vine; a sweet, steadfast mouth, large blue eyes, clear and
calm under the long dark lashes, but with a something in them which
makes the stranger turn to look at them again. He may look several
times before he discovers the reason of their fixed, unchanging calm.
The lovely mouth smiles, the exquisite face lights up with gladness or
softens into sympathy or pity; but the blue eyes do not flash or
soften, for Melody is blind.
She came into the room, walking lightly, with a firm, assured tread,
which gave no hint of hesitation or uncertainty.
"See, Aunt Joy," she said brightly, "here is the first rose. You were
saying yesterday that it was time for cinnamon-roses; now here is one
for you." She stooped to kiss the sweet white face, and laid the
glowing blossom beside it.
"Thank you, dear," said Miss Rejoice; "I might have known you would
find the first blossom, wherever it was. Where was this, now? On the
old bush behind the barn?"
"Not in our yard at all," replied the child, laughing. "The smell came
to me a few minutes ago, and I went hunting for it. It was in Mrs.
Penny's yard, right down by the fence, close, so you could hardly see
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Miss Vesta. "And she let you have it?"
"Of course," said the child. "I told her it was for Aunt Joy."
"H'm!" said Miss Vesta. "Martha Penny doesn't suffer much from giving,
as a rule, to Aunt Joy or anybody else. Did she give it to you at the
first asking, hey?"
"Now, Vesta!" remonstrated Miss Rejoice, gently.
"Well, I want to know," persisted the elder sister.
Melody laughed softly. "Not quite the first asking," she said. "She
wanted to know if I thought she had no nose of her own. 'I didn't mean
that,' said I; 'but I thought perhaps you wouldn't care for it quite
as much as Aunt Joy would.' And when she asked why, I said, 'You don't
sound as if you would.' Was that rude, Aunt Vesta?"
"Humph!" said Miss Vesta, smiling grimly. "I don't know whether it was
exactly polite, but Martha Penny wouldn't know the difference."
The child looked distressed, and so did Miss Rejoice.
"I am sorry," said Melody. "But then Mrs. Penny said something so
funny. 'Well, gaffle onto it! I s'pose you're one of them kind as must
always have what they want in this world. Gaffle onto your rose, and
go 'long! Guess I might be sick enough before anybody 'ud get roses
for me!' So I told her I would bring her a whole bunch of our white
ones as soon as they were out, and told her how I always tried to get
the first cinnamon-rose for Aunt Joy. She said, 'She ain't your aunt,
nor mine either.' But she spoke kinder, and didn't seem cross any
more; so I took the rose, and here it is."
Miss Vesta was angry. A bright spot burned in her cheeks, and she was
about to speak hastily; but Miss Rejoice raised a gentle hand, and
motioned her to be silent.
"Martha Penny has a sharp way, Melody," said Miss Rejoice; "but she
meant no unkindness, I think. The rose is very sweet," she added;
"there are no other roses so sweet, to my mind. And how are the hens
this morning, dearie?"
The child clapped her hands, and laughed aloud. "Oh, we have had such
fun!" she cried. "Top-knot was very cross at first, and would not let
the young speckled hen eat out of the dish with her. So I took one
under each arm, and sang and talked to them till they were both in a
good humor. That made the Plymouth rooster jealous, and he came and
drove them both away, and had to have a petting all by himself. He is
such a dear!"
"You do spoil those hens, Melody," said Miss Vesta, with an
affectionate grumble. "Do you suppose they'll eat any better for being
talked to and sung to as if they were persons?"
"Poor dears!" said the child; "they ought to be happy while they do
live, oughtn't they, Auntie? Is it time to make the cake now, Aunt
Vesta, or shall I get my knitting, and sing to Auntie Joy a little?"
At that moment a clear whistle was heard outside the house. "The
doctor!" cried Melody, her sightless face lighting up with a flash of
joy. "I must go," and she ran quickly out to the gate.
"Now he'll carry her off," said Miss Vesta, "and we sha'n't see her
again till dinner-time. You'd think she was his child, not ours. But
so it is, in this world."
"What has crossed you this morning, Sister?" asked Miss Rejoice,
mildly. "You seem put about."
"Oh, the cat got into the tea-kettle." replied the elder sister.
"Don't fret your blessed self if I am cross. I can't stand Martha
Penny, that's all,--speaking so to that blessed child! I wish I had
her here; she'd soon find out whether she had a nose or not. Dear
knows it's long enough! It isn't the first time I've had four parts of
a mind to pull it for her."
"Why, Vesta Dale, how you do talk!" said Miss Rejoice, and then they
both laughed, and Miss Vesta went out to scold the doctor.
The doctor sat in his buggy, leaning forward, and talking to the
child. A florid, jovial-looking man, bright-eyed and deep-chested,
with a voice like a trumpet, and a general air of being the West Wind
in person. He was not alone this time: another doctor sat beside him;
and Miss Vesta smoothed her ruffled front at sight of the stranger.
"Good-morning, Vesta," shouted the doctor, cheerily. "You came out to
shoot me, because you thought I was coming to carry off Melody, eh?
You needn't say no, for I know your musket-shot expression. Dr.
Anthony, let me present you to Miss Vesta Dale,--a woman who has never
had the grace to have a day's sickness since I have known her, and
that's forty years at least."
"Miss Dale is a fortunate woman," said Dr. Anthony, smiling. "Have you
many such constitutions in your practice, Brown?"
"I am fool enough to wish I had," growled Dr Brown. "That woman, sir,
is enough to ruin any practice, with her pernicious example of
disgusting health. How is Rejoice this morning, Vesta? Does she want
to see me?"
Miss Vesta thought not, to-day; then followed questions and answers,
searching on one side, careful and exact on the other; and then--
"I should like it if you could spare Melody for half an hour this
morning," said the doctor. "I want her to go down to Phoebe Jackson's
to see little Ned."
"Oh, what is the matter with Ned?" cried Melody, with a quick look of
"Tomfoolery is the principal matter with him, my dear," said Dr.
Brown, grimly. "His eyes have been troubling him, you know, ever since
he had the measles in the winter. I've kept one eye on the child,
knowing that his mother was a perfect idiot, or rather, an imperfect
one, which is worse. Yesterday she sent for me in hot haste: Ned was
going blind, and would I please come that minute, and save the
precious child, and oh, dear me, what should she do, and all the rest
of it. I went down mad enough, I can tell you; found the child's eyes
looking like a ploughed field. 'What have you been doing to this
child, Phffibe?' 'We-ell, Doctor, his eyes has been kind o' bad along
back, the last week. I did cal'late to send for you before; but one o'
the neighbors was in, and she said to put molasses and tobacco-juice
in them.' 'Thunder and turf!' says I. 'What sa-ay?' says Phoebe. ''N'
then old Mis' Barker come in last night. You know she's had
consid'able experi'nce with eyes, her own having been weakly, and all
her children's after her. And _she_ said to try vitriol; but I kind o'
thought I'd ask you first, Doctor, so I waited till morning. And now
his eyes look terrible, and he seems dretful 'pindlin'; oh, dear me,
what shall I do if my poor little Neddy goes blind?' 'Do, Madam?' I
said. 'You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you and your
tobacco-juice and molasses have made him blind. That's what you will
do, and much good may it do you.'"
"Oh, Doctor," cried Melody, shrinking as if the words had been
addressed to her, "how could you say that? But you don't think--you
don't think Ned will really be blind?" The child had grown very pale,
and she leaned over the gate with clasped hands, in painful suspense.
"No, I don't," replied the doctor. "I think he will come out all
right; no thanks to his mother if he does. But it was necessary to
frighten the woman, Melody, for fright is the only thing that makes an
impression on a fool. Now, I want you to run down there, like a good
child; that is, if your aunts can spare you. Run down and comfort the
little fellow, who has been badly scared by the clack of tongues and
the smarting of the tobacco-juice. Imbeciles! cods' heads! scooped-out
pumpkins!" exclaimed the doctor, in a sudden frenzy. "A--I don't mean
that. Comfort him up, child, and sing to him and tell him about
Jack-and-the-Beanstalk. You'll soon bring him round, I'll warrant.
But stop," he added, as the child, after touching Miss Vesta's hand
lightly, and making and receiving I know not what silent
communication, turned toward the house,--"stop a moment, Melody. My
friend Dr. Anthony here is very fond of music, and he would like to
hear you sing just one song. Are you in singing trim this morning?"
The child laughed. "I can always sing, of course," she said simply.
"What song would you like, Doctor?"
"Oh, the best," said Dr. Brown. "Give us 'Annie Laurie.'"
The child sat down on a great stone that stood beside the gate. It was
just under the white lilac-bush, and the white clusters bent lovingly
down over her, and seemed to murmur with pleasure as the wind swept
them lightly to and fro. Miss Vesta said something about her bread,
and gave an uneasy glance toward the house, but she did not go in; the
window was open, and Rejoice could hear; and after all, bread was not
worth so much as "Annie Laurie." Melody folded her hands lightly on
her lap, and sang.
Dr. Brown thought "Annie Laurie" the most beautiful song in the world;
certainly it is one of the best beloved. Ever since it was first
written and sung (who knows just when that was? "Anonymous" is the
legend that stands in the song-books beside this familiar title. We do
not know the man's name, cannot visit the place where he wrote and
sang, and made music for all coming generations of English-speaking
people; can only think of him as a kind friend, a man of heart and
genius as surely as if his name stood at the head of unnumbered
symphonies and fugues),--ever since it was first sung, I say, men and
women and children have loved this song. We hear of its being sung by
camp-fires, on ships at sea, at gay parties of pleasure. Was it not at
the siege of Lucknow that it floated like a breath from home through
the city hell-beset, and brought cheer and hope and comfort to all who
heard it? The cotter's wife croons it over her sleeping baby; the
lover sings it to his sweetheart; the child runs, carolling it,
through the summer fields; finally, some world-honored prima-donna,
some Patti or Nilsson, sings it as the final touch of perfection to a
great feast of music, and hearts swell and eyes overflow to find that
the nursery song of our childhood is a world-song, immortal in
freshness and beauty. But I am apt to think that no lover, no tender
mother, no splendid Italian or noble Swede, could sing "Annie Laurie"
as Melody sang it. Sitting there in her simple cotton dress, her head
thrown slightly back, her hands folded, her eyes fixed in their
unchanging calm, she made a picture that the stranger never forgot. He
started as the first notes of her voice stole forth, and hung
quivering on the air,--
"Maxwellton braes are bonnie,
Where early fa's the dew."
What wonder was this? Dr. Anthony had come prepared to hear, he quite
knew what,--a child's voice, pretty, perhaps, thin and reedy, nasal,
of course. His good friend Brown was an excellent physician, but with
no knowledge of music; how should he have any, living buried in the
country, twenty miles from a railway, forty miles from a concert?
Brown had said so much about the blind child that it would have been
discourteous for him, Dr. Anthony, to refuse to see and hear her when
he came to pass a night with his old college chum; but his assent had
been rather wearily given: Dr. Anthony detested juvenile prodigies.
But what was this? A voice full and round as the voices of Italy;
clear as a bird's; swelling ever richer, fuller, rising in tones so
pure, so noble, that the heart of the listener ached, as the poet's
heart at hearing the nightingale, with almost painful pleasure.
Amazement and delight made Dr. Anthony's face a study, which his
friend perused with keen enjoyment. He knew, good Dr. Brown, that he
himself was a musical nobody; he knew pretty well (what does a doctor
not know?) what Anthony was thinking as they drove along. But he knew
Melody too; and he rubbed his hands, and chuckled inwardly at the
discomfiture of his knowing friend.
The song died away; and the last notes were like those of the skylark
when she sinks into her nest at sunset. The listeners drew breath, and
looked at each other.
There was a brief silence, and then, "Thank you, Melody," said Dr.
Brown. "That's the finest song in the world, I don't care what the
next is. Now run along, like my good maid, and sing it to Neddy
Jackson, and he will forget all about his eyes, and turn into a great
pair of ears."
The child laughed. "Neddy will want 'The British Grenadier,'" she
said. "That is _his_ greatest song." She ran into the house to kiss
Miss Rejoice, came out with her sun-bonnet tied under her chin, and
lifted her face to kiss Miss Vesta. "I sha'n't be gone long, Auntie,"
she said brightly. "There'll be plenty of time to make the cake after
Miss Vesta smoothed the dark hair with a motherly touch. "Doctor
doesn't care anything about our cake," she said; "he isn't coming to
tea to-night. I suppose you'd better stay as long as you're needed. I
should not want the child to fret."
"Good-by, Doctor," cried the child, joyously, turning her bright face
toward the buggy. "Good-by, sir," making a little courtesy to Dr.
Anthony, who gravely took off his hat and bowed as if to a duchess.
"Good-by again, dear auntie;" and singing softly to herself, she
walked quickly away.
Dr. Anthony looked after her, silent for a while. "Blind from birth?"
he asked presently.
"From birth," replied Dr. Brown. "No hope; I've had Strong down to see
her. But she's the happiest creature in the world, I do believe. How
does she sing?" he asked with ill-concealed triumph. "Pretty well for
a country child, eh?"
"She sings like an angel," said Dr. Anthony,--"like an angel from
"She has a right to, sir," said Miss Vesta, gravely. "She is a child
of God, who has never forgotten her Father."
Dr. Anthony turned toward the speaker, whom he had almost forgotten in
his intense interest in the child. "This lovely child is your own
niece, Madam?" he inquired. "She must be unspeakably dear to you."
Miss Vesta flushed. She did not often speak as she had just done,
being a New England woman; but "Annie Laurie" always carried her out
of herself, she declared. The answer to the gentleman's question was
one she never liked to make. "She is not my niece in blood," she said
slowly. "We are single women, my sister and I; but she is like our own
daughter to us."
"Twelve years this very month, Vesta, isn't it," said Dr. Brown,
kindly, "since the little one came to you? Do you remember what a wild
night it was?"
Miss Vesta nodded. "I hear the wind now when I think of it," she said.
"The child is an orphan," the doctor continued, turning to his friend.
"Her mother was a young Irish woman, who came here looking for work.
She was poor, her husband dead, consumption on her, and so on, and so
on. She died at the poorhouse, and left this blind baby. Tell Dr.
Anthony how it happened, Vesta."
Miss Vesta frowned and blushed. She wished Doctor would remember that
his friend was a stranger to her. But in a moment she raised her head.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of, after all," she said, a little
proudly. "I don't know why I should not tell you, sir. I went up to
the poor-farm one evening, to carry a basket of strawberries. We had a
great quantity, and I thought some of the people up there might like
them, for they had few luxuries, though I don't believe they ever went
hungry. And when I came there, Mrs. Green, who kept the farm then,
came out looking all in a maze. 'Did you ever hear of such a thing in
your life?' she cried out, the minute she set eyes on me. 'I don't
know, I'm sure,' said I. 'Perhaps I did, and perhaps I didn't. How's
the baby that poor soul left?' I said. It was two weeks since the
mother died; and to tell the truth, I went up about as much to see how
the child was getting on as to take the strawberries, though I don't
know that I realized it till this very minute." She smiled grimly, and
went on. "'That's just it,' Mrs. Green screams out, right in my face.
'Dr. Brown has just been here, and he says the child is blind, and
will be blind all her days, and we've got to bring her up; and I'd
like to know if I haven't got enough to do without feedin' blind
children?' I just looked at her. 'I don't know that a deaf woman would
be much better than a blind child,' said I; 'so I'll thank you to
speak like a human being, Liza Green, and not scream at me. Aren't you
ashamed?' I said. 'The child can't help being blind, I suppose. Poor
little lamb! as if it hadn't enough, with no father nor mother in the
world.' 'I don't care,' says Liza, crazy as ever; 'I can't stand it.
I've got all I can stand now, with a feeble-minded boy and two so old
they can't feed themselves. That Polly is as crazy as a loon, and the
rest is so shif'less it loosens all my j'ints to look at 'em. I won't
stand no more, for Dr. Brown nor anybody else.' And she set her hands
on her hips and stared at me as if she'd like to eat me, sun-bonnet
and all. 'Let me see the child,' I said. I went in, and there it
lay,--the prettiest creature you ever saw in your life, with its eyes
wide open, just as they are now, and the sweetest look on its little
face. Well, there, you'd know it came straight from heaven, if you saw
it in--Well, I don't know exactly what I'm saying. You must excuse me,
sir!" and Miss Vesta paused in some confusion. "'Somebody ought to
adopt it,' said I. 'It's a beautiful child; any one might be proud of
it when it grew up.' 'I guess when you find anybody that would adopt a
blind child, you'll find the cat settin' on hen's eggs,' said Liza
Green. I sat and held the child a little while, trying to think of
some one who would be likely to take care of it; but I couldn't think
of any one, for as she said, so it was. By and by I kissed the poor
little pretty thing, and laid it back in its cradle, and tucked it up
well, though it was a warm night. 'You'll take care of that child,
Liza,' I said, 'as long as it stays with you, or I'll know the reason
why. There are plenty of people who would like the work here, if
you're tired of it,' I said. She quieted down at that, for she knew
that a word from me would set the doctor to thinking, and he wasn't
going to have that blind child slighted, well I knew. Well, sir, I
came home, and told Rejoice."
"Her sister," put in Dr. Brown,--"a crippled saint, been in her bed
thirty years. She and Melody keep a small private heaven, and Vesta is
the only sinner admitted."
"Doctor, you're very profane," said Miss Vesta, reprovingly. "I've
never seen my sister Rejoice angry, sir, except that one time, when I
told her. 'Where is the child?' she says. 'Why, where do you suppose?'
said I. 'In its cradle, of course. I tucked it up well before I came
away, and she won't dare to mistreat it for one while,' I said. 'Go
and get it!' says my sister Rejoice. 'How dared you come home without
it? Go and get it this minute, do you hear?' I stared as if I had seen
a vision. 'Rejoice, what are you thinking of?' I asked. 'Bring that
child here? Why, what should we do with it? I can't take care of it,
nor you either.' My sister turned the color of fire. 'No one else
shall take care of it,' she says, as if she was Bunker Hill Monument
on a pillow. 'Go and get it this minute, Vesta. Don't wait; the Lord
must not be kept waiting. Go, I tell you!' She looked so wild I was
fairly frightened; so I tried to quiet her. I thought her mind was
touched, some way. 'Well, I'll go to-morrow,' says I, soothing her; 'I
couldn't go now, anyhow, Rejoice. Just hear it rain and blow! It came
on just as I stepped inside the door, and it's a regular storm now. Be
quiet,' I said, 'and I'll go up in the morning and see about it.' My
sister sat right up in the bed. 'You'll go now,' she says, 'or I'll go
myself. Now, this living minute! Quick!' I went, sir. The fire in her
eyes would have scorched me if I had looked at it a minute longer. I
thought she was coming out of the bed after me,--she, who had not
stirred for twenty years. I caught up a shawl, threw another over my
shoulders, and ran for the poor-farm. 'T was a perfect tempest, but I
never felt it. Something seemed to drive me, as if it was a whip laid
across my shoulders. I thought it was my sister's eyes, that had never
looked hard at me since she was born; but maybe it was something else
besides. They say there are no miracles in these days, but we don't
know everything yet. I ran in at the farm, before them all, dripping,
looking like a maniac, I don't doubt. I caught up the child out of the
cradle, and wrapped it in the shawl I'd brought, and ran off again
before they'd got their eyes shut from staring at me as if I was a
spirit of evil. How my breath held out, don't ask me; but I got home,
and ran into the chamber, and laid the child down by the side of my
Miss Vesta paused, and the shadow of a great awe crept into her keen
blue eyes. "The poor-farm was struck by lightning that night!" she
said. "The cradle where that baby was lying was shattered into
kindling-wood, and Liza Green has never been the same woman from that
day to this."
ON THE ROAD.
Melody went singing down the road. She walked quickly, with a light
swaying motion, graceful as a bird. Her hands were held before her,
not, it seemed, from timidity, but rather as a butterfly stretches out
its delicate antennae, touching, feeling, trying its way, as it goes
from flower to flower. Truly, the child's light fingers were like
butterflies, as she walked beside the road, reaching up to touch the
hanging sprays of its bordering willows, or caressing the tiny flowers
that sprang up along the footpath. She sang, too, as she went, a song
the doctor had taught her:--
"Who is Silvia, and what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she;
The heavens such grace did lend her,
That adored she might be."
One might have thought that Silvia was not far to seek, on looking
into the fair face of the child. Now she stopped, and stood for a
moment with head thrown back, and nostrils slightly distended.
"Meadow-sweet!" she said softly to herself. "Isn't it out early? the
dear. I must find it for Aunt Joy." She stooped, and passed her light,
quick hands over the wayside grasses. Every blade and leaf was a
familiar friend, and she greeted them as she touched them, weaving
their names into her song in childish fashion,--
"Buttercup and daisy dear, sorrel for her eating,
Mint and rose to please the nose of my pretty sweeting."
Then she laughed outright. "When I grow up, I will make songs, too,"
she said, as she stooped to pick the meadow-sweet. "I will make the
words, and Rosin shall make the music; and we will go through the
village singing, till everybody comes out of the houses to listen:--
Meadow-sweet is a treat;
Columbine's a fairy;
Mallow's fine, sweet as wine,--
What rhymes with fairy, I wonder. Dairy; but that won't come right.
Airy, hairy,--yes, now I have it!--
Mallow's fine, sweet as wine,
To feed my pet canary.
I'll sing that to Neddy," said Melody, laughing to herself as she went
along. "I can sing it to the tune of 'Lightly Row.' Dear little boy!"
she added, after a silence. "Think, if he had been blind, how dreadful
it would have been! Of course it doesn't matter when you have never
seen at all, because you know how to get on all right; but to have it,
and then lose it--oh dear! but then,"--and her face brightened
again,--"he _isn't_ going to be blind, you see, so what's the use of
worrying about it?
The worry cow
Might have lived till now,
If she'd only saved her breath.
She thought the hay
Wouldn't last all day,
So she choked herself to death."
Presently the child stopped again, and listened. The sound of wheels
was faintly audible. No one else could have heard it but Melody, whose
ears were like those of a fox. "Whose wagon squeaks like that?" she
said, as she listened. "The horse interferes, too. Oh, of course; it's
Eben Loomis. He'll pick me up and give me a ride, and then it won't
take so long." She walked along, turning back every now and then, as
the sound of wheels came nearer and nearer. At last, "Good-morning,
Eben!" she cried, smiling as the wagon drove up; "will you take me on
a piece, please?"
"Wal, I might, perhaps," admitted the driver, cautiously, "if I was
sure you was all right, Mel'dy. How d'you know't was me comin', I'd
like to know? I never said a word, nor so much as whistled, since I
come in sight of ye." The man, a wiry, yellow-haired Yankee, bent down
as he spoke, and taking the child's hand, swung her lightly up to the
seat beside him.
Melody laughed joyously. "I should know your wagon if I heard it in
Russia, Eben," she said. "Besides, poor old Jerry knocks his hind feet
together so, I heard him clicking along even before I heard the wagon
squeak. How's Mandy, Eben?"
"Mandy, she ain't very well," replied the countryman. "She's ben
havin' them weakly spells right along lately. Seems though she was
failin' up sometimes, but I dono."
"Oh, no, she isn't, Eben," answered Melody, cheerfully. "You said that
six years ago, do you know it? and Mandy isn't a bit worse than she
"Well, that's so," assented the man, after a thoughtful pause. "That
is so, Mel'dy, though how you come to-know it is a myst'ry to me. Come
to think of it, I dono but she's a leetle mite better than she was six
years ago. Wal! now it's surprising ain't it, that you should know
that, you child, without the use of your eyes, and I shouldn't, seein'
her every day and all day? How do you account for that, now, hey?" He
turned on his seat, and looked keenly at the child, as if half
expecting her to meet his gaze.
"It's easy enough!" said Melody, with her quiet smile. "It's just
because you see her so much, Eben. that you can't tell. Besides, I can
tell from Mandy's voice. Her voice used to go down when she stopped
speaking, like this, 'How do you _do_?' [with a falling inflection
which was the very essence of melancholy]; and now her voice goes up
cheerfully, at the end, 'How do you do?' Don't you see the difference,
Eben?--so of course I know she must be a great deal better."
"I swan!" replied Eben Loomis, simply. "'How do you _do_?' '_How_ do
you do?' so that's the way you find out things, is it, Mel'dy? Well,
you're a curus child, that's what's the matter with you.--Where d'you
say you was goin'?" he added, after a pause.
"I didn't say," said Melody. "But I'm going to Mrs. Jackson's, to see
"Want to know," said her companion. "Goin'--Hevin' some kind o'
trouble with his eyes, ain't he?" He stopped short, with a glance at
the child's clear eyes. It was impossible not to expect to find some
answering look in them.
"They thought he was going blind," said Melody; "but it is all right
now. I do wish people wouldn't tell Mrs. Jackson to keep putting
things in his eyes. Why can't they let her do what the doctor tells
her, and not keep wanting her to try all kinds of nonsense?"
"Wal, that's so," assented Eben,--"that's so, every time. I was down
there a spell back, and I says, 'Phoebe,' I says, 'don't you do a
thing folks tells you,' says I. 'Dr. Brown knows what he's about, and
don't you do a thing but what he says, unless it's jest to wet his
eyes up with a drop o' tobacco-juice,' says I. 'There's nothin' like
tobacco-juice for weakly eyes, that's sure;' and of course I knew
Doctor would ha' said so himself ef he'd ha' been there. Wal, here we
be to Jackson's now," added the good man, pulling up his horse. "Hold
on a minute, and I'll help ye down. Wal, there!" as Melody sprang
lightly from the wagon, just touching his hand by way of greeting as
she went, "if you ain't the spryest ever I see!"
"Good-by, Eben, and thank you ever so much," said the child. "Good-by,
"Come down an' see us, Mel'dy!" Eben called after her, as she turned
toward-the house with unfaltering step. "T'would do Mandy a sight o'
good. Come down and stop to supper. You ain't took a meal o' victuals
with us I don't know when."
Melody promised to come soon, and took her way up the grassy path,
while the countryman gazed after her with a look of wondering
"That child knows more than most folks that hev their sight!" he
soliloquized. "What's she doin' now? Oh, stoppin' to pick a posy, for
the child, likely. Now they'll all swaller her alive. Yes; thar they
come. Look at the way she takes that child up, now, will ye? He's e'en
a'most as big as she is; but you'd say she was his mother ten times
over, from the way she handles him. Look at her set down on the
doorstep, tellin' him a story, I'll bet. I tell ye! hear that little
feller laugh, and he was cryin' all last night, Mandy says. I wouldn't
mind hearin' that story myself. Faculty, that gal has; that's the name
for it, sir. Git up, Jerry! this won't buy the child a cake;" and with
many a glance over his shoulder, the good man drove on.
ROSIN THE BEAU.
The afternoon light was falling soft and sweet, as an old man came
slowly along the road that led to the village. He was tall and thin,
and he stooped as he walked,--not with the ordinary round-shouldered
slouch, but with a one-sided droop, as if he had a habit of bending
over something. His white hair was fancifully arranged, with a curl
over the forehead such as little boys used to wear; his brown eyes
were bright and quick as a bird's, and like a bird's, they glanced
from side to side, taking in everything. He carried an oblong black
box, evidently a violin-case, at which he cast an affectionate look
from time to time. As he approached the village, his glances became
more and more keenly intelligent. He seemed to be greeting a friend in
every tree, in every straggling rose-bush along the roadside; he
nodded his head, and spoke softly from time to time.
"Getting on now," he said to himself. "Here's the big rose-bush she
was sitting under, the last time I came along. Nobody here now; but
she'll be coming directly, up from the ground or down from the sky, or
through a hole in the sunset. Do you remember how she caught her
little gown on that fence-rail?" He bent over, and seemed to address
his violin. "Sat down and took out her needle and thread, and mended
it as neat as any woman; and then ran her butterfly hands over me, and
found the hole in my coat, and called me careless boy, and mended
that. Yes, yes; Rosin remembers every place where he saw his girl. Old
Rosin remembers. There's the turn; now it's getting time for to be
playing our tune, sending our letter of introduction along the road
before us. Hey?"
He sat down under a spreading elder-bush, and proceeded to open his
violin-case. Drawing out the instrument with as much care as if he
were a mother taking her babe from the cradle, he looked it all over
with anxious scrutiny, scanning every line and crack, as the mother
scans face and hands and tiny curled-up feet. Finding all in order, he
wiped it with a silk handkerchief (the special property of the
instrument; a cotton one did duty for himself), polished it, and tuned
it, and polished again. "Must look well, my beauty," he murmured;
"must look well. Not a speck of dust but she'd feel it with those
little fingers, you know. Ready now? Well, then, speak up for your
master; speak, voice of my heart! 'A welcome for Rosin the Beau.' Ask
for it, Music!"
Do people still play "Rosin the Beau," I wonder? I asked a violinist
to play it to me the other day, and he had never heard of the tune. He
played me something else, which he said was very fine,--a fantasia in
E flat, I think it was; but I did not care for it. I wanted to hear
"Rosin the Beau," the cradle-song of the fiddle,--the sweet, simple,
foolish old song, which every "blind crowder" who could handle a
fiddle-bow could play in his sleep fifty years ago, and which is now
wellnigh forgotten. It is not a beautiful air; it may have no merit at
all, musically speaking; but I love it well, and wish I might hear it
occasionally instead of the odious "Carnival of Venice," which
tortures my ears and wastes my nervous system at every concert where
the Queen of Instruments holds her court.
The old man took up his fiddle, and laid his cheek lovingly against
it. A moment he stood still, as if holding silent commune with the
spirit of music, the tricksy Ariel imprisoned in the old wooden case;
then he began to play "Rosin the Beau." As he played, he kept his eyes
fixed on the bend of the road some rods ahead, as if expecting every
moment to see some one appear from the direction of the village.
"I've travelled this country all over,
And now to the next I must go;
But I know that good quarters await me,
And a welcome for Rosin the Beau."
As he played, with bold but tender touch, the touch of a master, round
the corner a figure came flying,--a child's figure, with hair all
afloat, and arms wide-opened. The old man's face lightened, softened,
became transfigured with joy and love; but he said no word, only
played steadily on.
"Rosin!" cried Melody, stopping close before him, with outstretched
arms. "Stop, Rosin; I want to kiss you, and I am afraid of hurting
her. Put her down, do you hear?" She stamped her foot imperiously, and
the old man laid the fiddle down and held out his arms in turn.
"Melody," he said tenderly, taking the child on his knee,--"little
Melody, how are you? So you heard old Rosin, did you? You knew the old
man was here, waiting for his little maid to come and meet him, as she
always has. Where were you, Melody? Tell me, now. I didn't seem to
hear you till just as you came to the corner; I didn't, now."
"I was down by the heater-piece," said the child. "I went to look for
wild strawberries, with Aunt Vesta. I heard you, Rosin, the moment you
laid your bow across her; but Aunt Vesta said no, she knew it was all
nonsense, and we'd better finish our strawberries, anyhow. And then I
heard that you wondered why I didn't come, and that you wanted me, and
I kissed Auntie, and just flew. You heard how fast I was coming, when
you did hear me; didn't you, Rosin dear?"
"I heard," said the old man, smoothing her curls back. "I knew you'd
come, you see, jewel, soon as you could get here. And how are the good
ladies, hey; and how are you yourself?--though I can tell that by
looking at you, sure enough."
"Do I look well?" asked the child, with much interest. "Is my hair
very nice and curly, Rosin, and do my eyes still look as if they were
real eyes?" She looked up so brightly that any stranger would have
been startled into thinking that she could really see.
"Bright as dollars, they are," assented the old man. "Dollars? no,
that's no name for it. The stars are nearest it, Melody. And your
"My hair is like sweet Alice's," said the child, confidently,--"sweet
Alice, whose hair was so brown. I promised Auntie Joy we would sing
that for her, the very next time you came, but I never thought you
would be here to-day, Rosin.
'Where have you been, my long, long love, this seven long years and
That's a ballad, Rosin; Doctor taught it to me. It is a beauty, and
you must make me a tune for it. But where _have_ you been?"
"I've been up and down the earth," the old man replied,--"up and down
the earth, Melody. Sometimes here and sometimes there. I'd feel a call
here, and I'd feel a call there; and I seemed to be wanted, generally,
just in those very places I'd felt called to. Do you believe in calls,
"Of course I do," replied the child, promptly. "Only all the people
who call you can't get you, Rosin, 'cause you'd be in fifty pieces if
they did." She laughed joyously, throwing her head back with the
birdlike, rapturous motion which seemed the very expression of her
The old fiddler watched her with delight. "You shall hear all my
stories," he said; "everything you shall hear, little Melody; but here
we are at the house now, and I must make my manners to the ladies."
He paused, and looked critically at his blue coat, which, though
threadbare, was scrupulously clean. He flecked some imaginary dust
from his trousers, and ran his hand lightly through his hair, bringing
the snowy curl which was the pride of his heart a little farther over
his forehead. "Now I'll do, maybe," he said cheerfully. "And sure
enough, there's Miss Vesta in the doorway, looking like a China rose
in full bloom." He advanced, hat in hand, with a peculiar sliding
step, which instantly suggested "chassez across to partners."
"Miss Vesta, I hope your health's good?"
Miss Vesta held out her hand cordially. "Why, Mr. De Arthenay,
[Footnote: Pronounced Dee arthenay] is this you?" she cried. "This is
a pleasure! Melody was sure it was you, and she ran off like a
will-o'-the-wisp, when I could not hear a sound. But I'm very glad to
see you. We were saying only yesterday how long a time it was since
you'd been here. Now you must sit down, and tell us all the news.
Stop, though," she added, with a glance at the vine-clad window;
"Rejoice would like to see you, and hear the news too. Wait a moment,
Mr. De Arthenay! I'll go in and move her up by the window, so that she
can hear you."
She hastened into the house; and in a few minutes the blinds were
thrown back, and Miss Rejoice's sweet voice was heard, saying,
"Good-day, Mr. De Arthenay. It is always a good day that brings you."
The old man sprang up from his seat in the porch, and made a low bow
to the window. "It's a treat to hear your voice, Miss Rejoice, so it
is," he said heartily. "I hope your health's been pretty good lately?
It seems to me your voice sounds stronger than it did the last time I
"Oh, I'm very well," responded the invalid, cheerfully. "Very well, I
feel this summer; don't I, Vesta? And where have you been, Mr. De
Arthenay, all this time? I'm sure you have a great deal to tell us.
It's as good as a newspaper when you come along, we always say."
The old fiddler cleared his throat, and settled himself comfortably in
a corner of the porch, with Melody's hand in his. Miss Vesta produced
her knitting; Melody gave a little sigh of perfect content, and
nestled up to her friend's side, leaning her head against his
"Begin to tell now, Rosin," she said. "Tell us all that you know."
"Tell you everything," he repeated thoughtfully. "Not all, little
Melody. I've seen some things that you wouldn't like to hear
about,--things that would grieve your tender heart more than a little.
We will not talk about those; but I have seen bright things too, sure
enough. Why, only day before yesterday I was at a wedding, over in
Pegrum; a pretty wedding it was too. You remember Myra Bassett, Miss
"To be sure I do," replied Miss Vesta. "She married John Andrews, her
father's second cousin once removed. Don't tell me that Myra has a
daughter old enough to be married: Or is it a son? either way, it is
"A daughter!" said the old man,--"the prettiest girl in Pegrum. Like a
ripe chestnut, more than anything. Two lads were in love with her;
there may have been a dozen, but these two I know about. One of
them--I'll name no names, 'tis kinder not--found that she wanted to
marry a hero (what girl does not?), so he thought he would try his
hand at heroism. There was a picnic this spring, and he hired a boy
(or so the boy says--it may be wicked gossip) to upset the boat she
was in, so that he, the lover, might save her life. But, lo and
behold! he was taken with a cramp in the water, and was almost
drowned, and the second lover jumped in, and saved them both. So she
married the second (whom she had liked all along), and then the boy
told his story."
"Miserable sneak!" ejaculated Miss Vesta. "To risk the life of the
woman he pretended to love, just to show himself off."
"Still, I am sorry for him!" said Miss Rejoice, through the window.
(Miss Rejoice was always sorry for wrongdoers, much sorrier than for
the righteous who suffered. _They_ would be sure to get good out of
it, she said, but the poor sinners generally didn't know how.) "What
did he do, poor soul?"
"He went away!" replied the fiddler. "Pegrum wouldn't hold him; and
the other lad was a good shot, and went about with a shot-gun. But I
was going to tell you about the wedding."
"Of course!" cried Melody. "What did the bride wear? That is the most
De Arthenay cleared his throat, and looked grave. He always made a
point of remembering the dresses at weddings, and was proud of the
accomplishment,--a rare one in his sex.
"Miss Andrews--I beg her pardon, Mrs. Nelson--had on a white muslin
gown, made quite full, with three ruffles round the skirt. There was
lace round the neck, but I cannot tell you what kind, except that it
was very soft and fine. She had white roses on the front of her gown,
and in her hair, and pink ones in her cheeks; her eyes were like brown
diamonds, and she had little white satin slippers, for all the world
like Cinderella. They were a present from her Grandmother Anstey, over
at Bow Mills. Her other grandmother, Mrs. Bowen, gave her the dress,
so her father and mother could lay out all they wanted to on the
supper; and a handsome supper it was. Then after supper they danced.
It would have done your heart good, Miss Vesta, to see that little
bride dance. Ah! she is a pretty creature. There was another young
woman, too, who played the piano. Kate, they called her, but I don't
know what her other name was. Anyway, she had an eye like black
lightning stirred up with a laugh, and a voice like the 'Fisherman's
He took up his fiddle, and softly, delicately, played a few bars of
that immortal dance. It rippled like a woman's laugh, and Melody
smiled in instant sympathy.
"I wish I had seen her," she cried. "Did she play well, Rosin?"
"She played so that I knew she must be either French or Irish!" the
fiddler replied. "No Yankee ever played dance-music in that fashion; I
made bold to say to her, as we were playing together, 'Etes-vous
"'More power to your elbow,' said she, with a twinkle of her eye, and
she struck into 'Saint Patrick's Day in the Morning.' I took it up,
and played the 'Marseillaise,' over it and under it, and round
it,--for an accompaniment, you understand, Melody; and I can tell you,
we made the folks open their eyes. Yes; she was a fine young lady, and
it was a fine wedding altogether.
"But I am forgetting a message I have for you, ladies. Last week I was
passing through New Joppa, and I stopped to call on Miss Lovina Green;
I always stop there when I go through that region. Miss Lovina asked
me to tell you--let me see! what was it?" He paused, to disentangle
this particular message from the many he always carried, in his
journeyings from one town to another. "Oh, yes, I remember. She wanted
you to know that her Uncle Reuel was dead, and had left her a thousand
dollars, so she should be comfortable the rest of her days. She
thought you'd be glad to know it."
"That is good news!" exclaimed Miss Vesta, heartily. "Poor Lovina! she
has been so straitened all these years, and saw no prospect of
anything better. The best day's work Reuel Green has ever done was to
die and leave that money to Lovina."
"Why, Vesta!" said Miss Rejoice's soft voice; "how you do talk!"
"Well, it's true!" Miss Vesta replied. "And you know it, Rejoice, my
dear, as well as I do. Any other news in Joppa, Mr. De Arthenay? I
haven't heard from over there for a long time."
"Why, they've been having some robberies in Joppa," the old man
said,--"regular burglaries. There's been a great excitement about it.
Several houses have been entered and robbed, some of money, others of
what little silver there was, though I don't suppose there is enough
silver in all New Joppa to support a good, healthy burglar for more
than a few days. The funny part of it is that though I have no house,
I came very near being robbed myself."
"You, Mr. De Arthenay? Do tell us!"
Melody passed her hand rapidly over the old man's face, and then
settled back with her former air of content, knowing that all was
"You shall hear my story," the old man said, drawing himself up, and
giving his curl a toss. "It was the night I came away from Joppa. I
had been taking tea with William Bradwell's folks, and stayed rather
late in the evening, playing for the young folks, singing old songs,
and one thing and another. It was ten o'clock when I said good-night
and stepped out of the house and along the road. 'T was a fine night,
bright moonlight, and everything shining like silver. I'd had a
pleasant evening, and I felt right cheered up as I passed along,
sometimes talking a bit to the Lady, and sometimes she to me; for I'd
left her case at the house, seeing I should pass by again in the
morning, when I took my way out of the place.
"Well, sir,--I beg your pardon; _ladies_, I should say,--as I came
along a strip of the road with the moon full on it, but bordered with
willow scrub,--as I came along, sudden a man stepped out of those
bushes, and told me to stand and throw up my hands.--Don't be
frightened, Melody," for the child had taken his hand with a quick,
frightened motion; "have no fear at all! I had none. I saw, or felt,
perhaps it was, that he had no pistols; that he was only a poor sneak
and bully. So I said, 'Stand yourself!' I stepped clear out, so that
the light fell full on my face, and I looked him in the eye, and
pointed my bow at him. 'My name is De Arthenay,' I said. 'I am of
French extraction, but I hail from the Androscoggin. I am known in
this country. This is my fiddle-bow; and if you are not gone before I
can count three, I'll shoot you with it. One!' I said; but I didn't
need to count further. He turned and ran, as if the--as if a regiment
was after him; and as soon as I had done laughing, I went on my way to
All laughed heartily at the old man's story; but when the laughter
subsided, Melody begged him to take "the Lady," and play for her. "I
have not heard you play for so long, Rosin, except just when you
"Yes, Mr. De Arthenay," said Miss Vesta. "do play a little for us,
while I get supper. Suppose I bring the table out here, Melody; how
would you like that?"
"Oh, so much!" cried the child, clapping her hands. "So very much! Let
She started up; and while the fiddler played, old sweet melodies, such
as Miss Rejoice loved, there was a pleasant, subdued bustle of coming
and going, clinking and rustling, as the little table was brought out
and set in the vine-wreathed porch, the snowy cloth laid, and the
simple feast set forth. There were wild strawberries, fresh and
glowing, laid on vine-leaves; there were biscuits so light it seemed
as if a puff of wind might blow them away; there were twisted
doughnuts, and coffee brown and as clear as a mountain brook. It was a
pleasant little feast; and the old fiddler glanced with cheerful
approval over the table as he sat down.
"Ah, Miss Vesta," he said, as he handed the biscuits gallantly to his
hostess, "there's no such table as this for me to sit down to,
wherever I go, far or near. Look at the biscuit, now,--moulded snow, I
call them. Take one, Melody, my dear. You'll never get anything better
to eat in this world."
The child flushed with pleasure.
"You're praising her too much to herself," said Miss Vesta, with a
pleased smile. "Melody made those biscuit, all herself, without any
help. She's getting to be such a good housekeeper, Mr. De Arthenay,
you would not believe it."
"You don't tell me that she made these biscuit!" cried the old man.
"Why, Melody, I shall be frightened at you if you go on at this rate.
You are not growing up, are you, little Melody?"
"No! no! no!" cried the child, vehemently. "I am _not_ growing up,
Rosin. I don't want to grow up, ever, at all."
"I should like to know what you can do about it," said Miss Vesta,
smiling grimly. "You'll have to stop pretty short if you are not going
to grow up, Melody. If I have let your dresses down once this spring,
I've let them down three times. You're going to be a tall woman, I
should say, and you've a right good start toward it now."
A shade stole over the child's bright face, and she was
silent,--seeming only half to listen while the others chatted, yet
never forgetting to serve them, and seeming, by a touch on the hand
of either friend, to know what was wanted.
When the meal was over, and the tea-things put away, Melody came out
again into the porch, where the fiddler sat smoking his pipe, and
leaning against one of the supports, felt among the leaves which hid
it. "Here is the mark!" she said. "Am I really taller, Rosin? Really
"What troubles the child?" the old man asked gently. "She does not
want to grow? The bud must open, Melody, my dear! the bud must open!"
"But it's so unreasonable," cried Melody, as she stood holding by the
old man's hand, swaying lightly to and fro, as if the wind moved her
with the vines and flowers. "Why can't I stay a little girl? A little
girl is needed here, isn't she? And there is no need at all of another
woman. I can't be like Aunt Vesta or Auntie Joy; so I think I might
stay just Melody." Then shaking her curls back, she cried, "Well,
anyhow, I am just Melody now, and nothing more; and I mean to make the
most of it. Come, Rosin, come! I am ready for music. The dishes are
all washed, and there's nothing more to do, is there, Auntie? It is so
long since Rosin has been here; now let us have a good time, a perfect
De Arthenay took up his fiddle once more, and caressed its shining
curves. "She's in perfect trim," he said tenderly. "She's fit to play
with you to-night, Melody. Come, I am ready; what shall we have?"
Melody sat down on the little green bench which was her own particular
seat. She folded her hands lightly on her lap, and threw her head back
with her own birdlike gesture. One would have said that she was
calling the spirit of song, which might descend on rainbow wings, and
fold her in his arms. The old man drew the bow softly, and the fiddle
gave out a low, brooding note,--a note of invitation.
"Oh, don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown?
She wept with delight when you gave her a smile,
And trembled with fear at your frown."
Softly the old man played, keeping his eyes fixed on the child, whose
glorious voice floated out on the evening air, filling the whole world
with sweetest melody. Miss Vesta dropped her knitting and folded her
hands, while a peaceful, dreamy look stole into her fine face,--a face
whose only fault was the too eager look which a New England woman must
so often gain, whether she will or no. In the quiet chamber, the
bedridden woman lay back on her pillows smiling, with a face as the
face of an angel. Her thoughts were lifted up on the wings of the
music, and borne--who shall say where, to what high and holy presence?
Perhaps--who can tell?--the eyes of her soul looked in at the gate of
heaven itself; if it were so, be sure they saw nothing within that
white portal more pure and clear than their own gaze.
And still the song flowed on. Presently doors began to open along the
village street. People came softly out, came on tiptoe toward the
cottage, and with a silent greeting to its owner sat down beside the
road to listen. Children came dancing, with feet almost as light as
Melody's own, and curled themselves up beside her on the grass.
Tired-looking mothers came, with their babies in their arms; and the
weary wrinkles faded from their faces, and they listened in silent
content, while the little ones, who perhaps had been fretting and
complaining a moment before, nestled now quietly against the
mother-breast, and felt that no one wanted to tease or ill-treat them,
but that the world was all full of Mother, who loved them. Beside one
of these women a man came and sat him down, as if from habit; but he
did not look at her. His face wore a weary, moody frown, and he stared
at the ground sullenly, taking no note of any one. The others looked
at one another and nodded, and thought of the things they knew; the
woman cast a sidelong glance at him, half hopeful, half fearful, but
made no motion.
"Oh, don't you remember the school, Ben Bolt,
And the master so kind and so true;
And the little nook by the clear running brook,
Where we gathered the flowers as they grew?"
The dark-browed man listened, and thought. Her name was Alice, this
woman by his side. They had been schoolmates together, had gathered
flowers, oh, how many times, by brook-side and hill. They had grown up
to be lovers, and she was his wife, sitting here now beside him,--his
wife, with his baby in her arms; and he had not spoken to her for a
week. What began it all? He hardly knew; but she had been provoking,
and he had been tired, impatient; there had been a great scene, and
then this silence, which he swore he would not break. How sad she
looked! he thought, as he stole a glance at the face bending over the
"Oh, don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,
Sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown?"
Was she singing about them, this child? She had sung at their wedding,
a little thing of seven years old; and old De Arthenay had played, and
wished them happiness, and said they were the handsomest couple he had
played for that year. Now she looked so tired: how was it that he had
never seen how tired she looked? Perhaps she was only sick or nervous
that day when she spoke so. The child stirred in its mother's arms,
and she gave a low sigh of weariness, and shifted the weight to the
other arm. The young man bent forward and took the baby, and felt how
heavy it had grown since last he held it. He had not said anything, he
would not say anything--just yet; but his wife turned to him with such
a smile, such a flash of love and joy, imploring, promising, that his
heart leaped, and then beat peacefully, happily, as it had not beaten
for many days. All was over; and Alice leaned against his arm with a
little movement of content, and the good neighbors looked at one
another again, and smiled this time to know that all was well.
What is the song now? The blind child turns slightly, so that she
faces Miss Vesta Dale, whose favorite song this is,--
"All in the merry month of May,
When green buds were a-swellin",
Young Jemmy Grove on his death-hed lay,
For love of Barbara Allan."
Why is Miss Vesta so fond of the grim old ballad? Perhaps she could
hardly tell, if she would. She looks very stately as she leans against
the wall, close by the room where her sister Rejoice is lying. Does a
thought come to her mind of the youth who loved her so, or thought he
loved her, long and long ago? Does she see his look of dismay, of
incredulous anger, when she told him that her life must be given to
her crippled sister, and that if he would share it he must take
Rejoice too, to love and to cherish as dearly as he would cherish her?
He could not bear the test; he was a good young fellow enough, but
there was nothing of the hero about him, and he thought that crippled
folk should be taken care of in hospitals, where they belonged.
"'Oh, dinna ye mind, young man,' she said,
'When the red wine was a-fillin',
Ye bade the healths gae round an' round,
And slighted Barbara Allan?'"
If the cruel Barbara had not repented, and "laid her down in sorrow,"
she might well have grown to look like this handsome, white-haired
woman, with her keen blue eyes and queenly bearing.
Miss Vesta had never for an instant regretted the disposition of her
life, never even in the shadow of a thought; but this was the song she
used to sing in those old days, and somehow she always felt a thrill
(was it of pleasure or pain? she could not have told you) when the
child sang it.
But there may have been a "call," as Rosin the Beau would have said,
for some one else beside Vesta Dale; for a tall, pale girl, who has
been leaning against the wall pulling off the gray lichens as she
listened, now slips away, and goes home and writes a letter; and
to-morrow morning, when the mail goes to the next village, two people
will be happy in God's world instead of being miserable. And now? Oh,
now it is a merry song; for, after all, Melody is a child, and a happy
child; and though she loves the sad songs dearly, still she generally
likes to end up with a "dancy one."
"'Come boat me o'er,
Come row me o'er,
Come boat me o'er to Charlie;
I'll gi'e John Ross anither bawbee
To boat me o'er to Charlie.
We'll o'er the water an' o'er the sea,
We'll o'er the water to Charlie,
Come weal, come woe, we'll gather and go,
And live and die wi' Charlie.'"
And now Rosin the Beau proves the good right he has to his name. Trill
and quavers and roulades are shaken from his bow as lightly as foam
from the prow of a ship. The music leaps rollicking up and down, here
and there, till the air is all a-quiver with merriment. The old man
draws himself up to his full height, all save that loving bend of the
head over the beloved instrument. His long slender foot, in its quaint
"Congress" shoe, beats time like a mill-clapper,--tap, tap, tap; his
snowy curl dances over his forehead, his brown eyes twinkle with pride
and pleasure. Other feet beside his began to pat the ground; heads
were lifted, eyes looked invitation and response. At length the child
Melody, with one superb outburst of song, lifted her hands above her
head, and springing out into the road cried, "A dance! a dance!"
Instantly the quiet road was alive with dancers. Old and young sprang
to their feet in joyful response. The fiddle struck into "The Irish
Washerwoman," and the people danced. Children joined hands and jumped
up and down, knowing no steps save Nature's leaps of joy; youths and
maidens flew in graceful measures together; last, but not least, old
Simon Parker the postmaster seized Mrs. Martha Penny by both hands,
and regardless of her breathless shrieks whirled her round and round
till the poor old dame had no breath left to scream with. Alone in the
midst of the gay throng (as strange a one, surely, as ever disturbed
the quiet of a New England country road) danced the blind child, a
figure of perfect grace. Who taught Melody to dance? Surely it was the
wind, the swaying birch-tree, the slender grasses that nod and wave by
the brookside. Light as air she floated in and out among the motley
groups, never jostling or touching any one. Her slender arms waved in
time to the music; her beautiful hair floated over her shoulders. Her
whole face glowed with light and joy, while only her eyes, steadfast
and unchanging, struck the one grave note in the symphony of joy and
From time to time the old fiddler stole a glance at Miss Vesta Dale,
as she sat erect and stately, leaning against the wall of the house.
She was beginning to grow uneasy. Her foot also began to pat the
ground. She moved slightly, swayed on her seat; her fingers beat time,
as did the slender, well-shaped foot which peeped from under her scant
blue skirt. Suddenly De Arthenay stopped short, and tapped sharply on
his fiddle, while the dancers, breathless and exhausted, fell back by
the roadside again. Stepping out from the porch, he made a low bow to
Miss Vesta. "Chorus Jig!" he cried, and struck up the air of that
time-honored dance. Miss Vesta frowned, shook her head resolutely,--
rose, and standing opposite the old fiddler, began to dance.
Here was a new marvel, no less strange in its way than Melody's wild
grace of movement, or the sudden madness of the village crowd. The
stately white-haired woman moved slowly forward; the old man bowed
again; she courtesied as became a duchess of Nature's own making.
Their bodies erect and motionless, their heads held high, their feet
went twinkling through a series of evolutions which the keenest eye
could hardly follow. "Pigeon-wings?" Whole flocks of pigeons took
flight from under that scant blue skirt, from those wonderful shrunken
trousers of yellow nankeen. They moved forward, back, forward again,
as smoothly as a wave glides up the shore. They twinkled round and
round each other, now back to back, now face to face. They chassed
into corners, and displayed a whirlwind of delicately pointed toes;
they retired as if to quarrel; they floated back to make it up again.
All the while not a muscle of their faces moved, not a gleam of fun
disturbed the tranquil sternness of their look; for dancing was a
serious business thirty years ago, when they were young, and they had
no idea of lowering its dignity by any "quips and cranks and wanton
wiles," such as young folks nowadays indulge in. Briefly, it was a
work of art; and when it was over, and the sweeping courtesy and
splendid bow had restored the old-time dancers to their places, a
shout of applause went up, and the air rang with such a tumult as had
never before, perhaps, disturbed the tranquillity of the country road.
IN THE CHURCHYARD.
God's Acre! A New England burying-ground,--who does not know the
aspect of the place? A savage plot of ground, where nothing else would
grow save this crop of gray stones, and other gray stones formless and
grim, thrusting their rugged faces out here and there through the
scanty soil. Other stones, again, enclosing the whole with a grim,
protecting arm, a ragged wall, all jagged, formless, rough. The grass
is long and yet sparse; here and there a few flowers cling, hardy
geraniums, lychnis, and the like, but they seem strangely out of
place. The stones are fallen awry, and lean toward each other as if
they exchanged confidences, and speculated on the probable spiritual
whereabouts of the souls whose former bodies they guard. Most of these
stones are gray slate, carved with old-fashioned letters, round and
long-tailed; but there are a few slabs of white marble, and in one
corner is a marble lamb, looking singularly like the woolly lambs one
buys for children, standing stiff and solemn on his four straight
legs. This is not the "cemetery," be it understood. That is close by
the village, and is the favorite walk and place of Sunday resort for
its inhabitants. It is trim and well-kept, with gravel paths and
flower-beds, and store of urns and images in "white bronze," for the
people are proud of their cemetery, as well-regulated New England
people should be, and there is a proper feeling of rivalry in the
matter of "moniments."
But Melody cares nothing whatever about the fine cemetery. It is in
the old "berrin'-groun'" that her mother lies,--indeed, she was the
last person buried in it; and it is here that the child loves to
linger and dream the sweet, sad, purposeless dreams of childhood. She
knows nothing of "Old Mortality," yet she is his childish imitator in
this lonely spot. She keeps the weeds in some sort of subjection; she
pulls away the moss and lichens from head and foot stones,--not so
much with any idea of reverence as that she likes to read the
inscriptions, and feel the quaint flourishes and curlicues of the
older gravestones. She has a sense of personal acquaintance with all
the dwellers on this hillside; talks to them and sings to them in her
happy fashion, as she pulls away the witch-grass and sorrel. See her
now, sitting on that low green mound, her white dress gleaming against
the dusky gray of the stone on which she leans. Melody is very fond of
white. It feels smoother than colors, she always says; and she would
wear it constantly if it did not make too much washing. One arm is
thrown over the curve of the headstone, while with the other hand she
follows the worn letters of the inscription, which surely no other
fingers were fine enough to trace.
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
TRUE TO HER NAME,
She died Aug. 10th, 1814,
In the 19th year of her age.
The soul of my Susan is gone
To heighten the triumphs above;
Exalted to Jesus's throne
And clasped in the arms of his love.
Melody read the words aloud, smiling as she read. "Susan," she said,
"I wonder who wrote your verses. I wonder if you were pretty, dear,
and if you liked to be alive, and were sorry to be dead. But you must
be used to it by this time, anyhow. I wonder if you 'shout redeeming
love,' like your cousin (I suppose she is your cousin) Sophia Dyer,
over in the corner there. I never liked Sophia, Susan dear. I seem to
think she shouted here too, and snubbed you, because you were gentle
and shy. See how her stone perks up, making every inch it can of
itself, while yours tries to sink away and hide itself in the good
green grass. I think we liked the same things a good deal, Susan,
don't you? And I think you would like me to go and see the old
gentleman now, because he has so many dandelions; and I really must
pull them up. You know I am never sure that he isn't your grandfather.
So many of you are related here, it is a regular family party.
Good-by, Susan dear."
She bent over, and touched the stone lightly with her lips, then
passed on to another which was half buried in the earth, the last
letters of the inscription being barely discernible.
"How do you do, Mr. Bascom?" said this singular child, laying her hand
respectfully on the venerable headstone. "Are your dandelions very
troublesome this morning, dear sir?"
Her light fingers hovered over the mound like butterflies, and she
began pulling up the dandelion roots, and smoothing down the grass
over the bare places. Then she fell to work on the inscription, which
was an elaborate one, surmounted by two cherubs' heads, one resting on
an hour-glass, the other on a pair of cross-bones. Along every line
she passed her delicate fingers, not because she did not know every
line, but that she might trace any new growth of moss or lichen.
"Farewell this flesh, these ears, these eyes,
Those snares and fetters of the mind
My God, nor let this frame arise
Till every dust be well refined."
"You were very particular, Mr. Bascom, weren't you?" inquired Melody.
"You were a very neat old gentleman, with white hair always brushed
just so, and a high collar. You didn't like dust, unless it was well
refined. I shouldn't wonder if you washed your walking-stick every
time you came home, like Mr. Cuter, over at the Corners. Here's
something growing in the tail of your last _y_. Never mind, Mr.
Bascom, I'll get it out with a pin. There, now you are quite
respectable, and you look very nice indeed. Good-by, and do try not to
fret more than you can help about the dandelions. They will grow, no
matter how often I come."
Melody, in common with most blind persons, always spoke of seeing, of
looking at things, precisely as if she had the full use of her eyes.
Indeed, I question whether those wonderful fingers of hers were not as
good as many pairs of eyes we see. How many people go half-blind
through the world, just for want of the habit of looking at things!
How many plod onward, with eyes fixed on the ground, when they might
be raised to the skies, seeing the glory of the Lord, which He has
spread abroad over hill and meadow, for all eyes to behold! How many
walk with introverted gaze, seeing only themselves, while their
neighbor walks beside them, unseen, and needing their ministration!
The blind child touched life with her hand, and knew it. Every leaf
was her acquaintance, every flower her friend and gossip. She knew
every tree of the forest by its bark; knew when it blossomed, and how.
More than this,--some subtle sense for which we have no name gave her
the power of reading with a touch the mood and humor of those she was
with; and when her hand rested in that of a friend, she knew whether
the friend were glad or gay, before hearing the sound of his voice.
Another power she had,--that of attracting to her "all creatures
living beneath the sun, that creep or swim or fly or run." Not a cat
or dog in the village but would leave his own master or mistress at a
single call from Melody. She could imitate every bird-call with her
wonderful voice; and one day she had come home and told Miss Rejoice
quietly that she had been making a concert with a wood-thrush, and
that the red squirrels had sat on the branches to listen. Miss Vesta
said, "Nonsense, child! you fell asleep, and had a pretty dream." But
Miss Rejoice believed every word, and Melody knew she did by the touch
of her thin, kind old hand.
It might well have been true; for now, as the child sat down beside a
small white stone, which evidently marked a child's grave, she gave a
low call, and in a moment a gray squirrel came running from the stone
wall (he had been sitting there, watching her with his bright black
eyes, looking so like a bit of the wall itself that the sharpest eyes
would hardly have noticed him), and leaped into her lap.
"Brother Gray-frock, how do you do?" cried the child, joyously,
caressing the pretty creature with light touches. "I wondered if I
should see you to-day, brother. The last time I came you were off
hunting somewhere, and I called and called, but no gray brother came.
How is the wife, and the children, and how is the stout young man?"
The "stout young man" lay buried at the farther end of the ground,
under the tree in which the squirrel lived. The inscription on his
tombstone was a perpetual amusement to Melody, and she could not help
feeling as if the squirrel must know that it was funny too, though
they had never exchanged remarks about it. This was the inscription:
"I was a stout young man
As you would find in ten;
And when on this I think,
I take in hand my pen
And write it plainly out,
That all the world may see
How I was cut down like
A blossom from a tree.
The Lord rest my soul."
The young man's name was Faithful Parker. Melody liked him well
enough, though she never felt intimate with him, as she did with Susan
Dyer and the dear child Love Good, who slept beneath this low white
stone. This was Melody's favorite grave. It was such a dear quaint
little name,--Love Good. "Good" had been a common name in the village
seventy years ago, when this little Love lived and died; many graves
bore the name, though no living person now claimed it.
FOUR YEARS OLD.
Our white rose withered in the bud.
This was all; and somehow Melody felt that she knew and cared for
these parents much more than for those who put their sorrow into
rhyme, and mourned in despairing doggerel.
Melody laid her soft warm cheek against the little white stone, and
murmured loving words to it. The squirrel sat still in her lap,
content to nestle under her hand, and bask in the light and warmth of
the summer day: the sunlight streamed with tempered glow through the
branches of an old cedar that grew beside the little grave; peace and
silence brooded like a dove over the holy place.
A flutter of wings, a rustle of leaves,--was it a fairy alighting on
the old cedar-tree? No, only an oriole; though some have said that
this bird is a fairy prince in disguise, and that if he can win the
love of a pure maiden the spell will be loosed, and he will regain his
own form. This cannot be true, however; for Melody knows Golden Robin
well, and loves him well, and he loves her in his own way, yet has
never changed a feather at sight of her. He will sing for her, though;
and sing he does, shaking and trilling and quivering, pouring his
little soul out in melody for joy of the summer day, and of the sweet,
quiet place, and of the child who never scares or startles him, only
smiles, and sings to him in return. They are singing together now, the
child and the bird. It is a very wonderful thing, if there were any
one by to hear. The gray squirrel crouches motionless in the child's
lap, with half-shut eyes; the quiet dead sleep on unmoved: who else
should be near to listen to such music as this?
Nay, but who is this, leaning over the old stone-wall, listening with
keenest interest,--this man with the dark, eager face and bold black
eyes? His eyes are fixed on the child; his face is aglow with wonder
and delight, but with something else too,--some passion which strikes
a jarring note through the harmony of the summer idyl. What is this
man doing here? Why does he eye the blind child so strangely, with
looks of power, almost of possession?
Cease, cease your song, Melody! Fly, bird and tiny beast, to your
shelter in the dark tree-tops; and fly you also, gentlest child, to
the home where is love and protection and tender care! For the charm
is broken, and your paradise is invaded.
"But I'm sure you will listen to reason, ma'am."
The stranger spoke in a low, persuasive tone; his eyes glanced rapidly
hither and thither as he spoke, taking the bearings of house and
garden, noting the turn of the road, the distance of the neighboring
houses. One would have said he was a surveyor, only he had no
instruments with him.
"I am sure you will listen to reason,--a fine, intelligent lady like
yourself. Think of it: there is a fortune in this child's voice. There
hasn't been such a voice--there's never been such a voice in this
country, I'll be bold to say. I know something about voices, ma'am.
I've been in the concert business twenty years, and I do assure you I
have never heard such a natural voice as this child has. She has a
great career before her, I tell you. Money, ma'am! there's thousands
in that voice! It sings bank-notes and gold-pieces, every note of it.
You'll be a rich woman, and she will be a great singer,--one of the
very greatest. Her being blind makes it all the better. I wouldn't
have her like other people, not for anything. The blind prima-donna,--
my stars! wouldn't it draw? I see the posters now. 'Nature's greatest
marvel, the blind singer! Splendid talent enveloped in darkness.' She
will be the success of the day, ma'am. Lord, and to think of my
chancing on her here, of all the little out-of-the-way places in the
world! Why, three hours ago I was cursing my luck, when my horse lost
a shoe and went lame, just outside your pleasant little town here. And
now, ma'am, now I count this the most fortunate day of my life! Is the
little lady in the house, ma'am? I'd like to have a little talk with
her; kind o' open her eyes to what's before her,--her mind's eye,
Horatio, eh? Know anything of Shakspeare, ma'am? Is she in the house,
"She is not," said Miss Vesta Dale, finding her voice at last. "The
child is away, and you should not see her if she were here. She is not
meant for the sort of thing you talk about. She--she is the same as
our own child, my sister's and mine. We mean to keep her by us as long
as we live. I thank you," she added, with stately courtesy. "I don't
doubt that many might be glad of such a chance, but we are not that
kind, my sister and I."
The man's face fell; but the next moment he looked incredulous. "You
don't mean what you say, ma'am!" he cried; "you can't mean it! To keep
a voice like that shut up in a God-forsaken little hole like
this,--oh, you don't know what you're talking about, really you
don't.' And think of the advantage to the child herself!" He saw the
woman's face change at this, saw that he had made a point, and
hastened to pursue it. "What can the child have, if she spends her
life here? No education, no pleasure,--nothing. Nice little place, no
doubt, for those that are used to it, but--Lord! a child that has the
whole world before her, to pick and choose! She must go to Europe,
ma'am! She will sing before crowned heads; go to Russia, and be
decorated by the Czar. She'll have horses and carriages, jewels,
dresses finer than any queen! Patti spends three fortunes a year on
her clothes, and this girl has as good a voice as Patti, any day. Why,
you have to support her, don't you?--and hard work, too, sometimes,
perhaps--her and maybe others?"
Miss Vesta winced; and he saw it. Oh, Rejoice! it was a joy to save
and spare, to deny herself any little luxury, that the beloved sister
might have everything she fancied. But did she have everything? Was
it, could it be possible that this should be done for her sister's
The man pursued his advantage relentlessly. "You are a fine woman,
ma'am, if you'll allow me to say so,--a remarkably fine woman. But you
are getting on in life, as we all are. This child will support you,
ma'am, instead of your supporting her. Support you, do I say? Why,
you'll be rolling in wealth in a few years! You spoke of a sister,
ma'am. Is she in good health, may I ask?" His quick eye had spied the
white-curtained bed through the vine-clad window, and his ear had
caught the tender tone of her voice when she said, "my sister."
"My sister is an invalid," said Miss Vesta, coldly.
"Another point!" exclaimed the impresario. "You will be able to have
every luxury for your sister,--wines, fruits, travelling, the best
medical aid the country affords. You are the--a--the steward, I may
say, ma'am,"--with subtle intuition, the man assumed a tone of moral
loftiness, as if calling Miss Vesta to account for all delinquencies,
past and future,--"the steward, or even the stewardess, of this great
treasure. It means everything for you and her, and for your invalid
sister as well. Think of it, think of it well! I am so confident of
your answer that I can well afford to wait a little. Take a few
minutes, ma'am, and think it over."
He leaned against the house in an easy attitude, with his hands in his
pockets, and his mouth pursed up for a whistle. He did not feel as
confident as he looked, perhaps, but Miss Vesta did not know that. She
also leaned against the house, her head resting among the vines that
screened Miss Rejoice's window, and thought intensely. What was right?
What should she do? Half an hour ago life lay so clear and plain
before her; the line of happy duties, simple pleasures, was so
straight, leading from the cottage door to that quiet spot in the old
burying-ground where she and Rejoice would one day rest side by side.
They had taught Melody what they could. She had books in raised print,
sent regularly from the institution where she had learned to read and
write. She was happy; no child could ever have been happier, Miss
Vesta thought, if she had had three pairs of eyes. She was the heart
of the village, its pride, its wonder. They had looked forward to a
life of simple usefulness and kindliness for her, tending the sick
with that marvellous skill which seemed a special gift from Heaven;
cheering, comforting, delighting old and young, by the magic of her
voice and the gentle spell of her looks and ways. A quiet life, a
simple, humdrum life, it might be: they had never thought of that. But
now, what picture was this that the stranger had conjured up?
As in a glass, Miss Vesta seemed to see the whole thing. Melody a
woman, a great singer, courted, caressed, living like a queen, with
everything rich and beautiful about her; jewels in her shining hair,
splendid dresses, furs and laces, such as even elderly country women
love to dream about sometimes. She saw this; and she saw something
else besides. The walls of the little room within seemed to part, to
extend; it was no longer a tiny whitewashed closet, but stretched wide
and long, rose lofty and airy. There were couches, wheeled chairs,
great sunny windows, through which one looked out over lovely gardens;
there were pictures, the most beautiful in the world, for those dear
eyes to rest on; banks of flowers, costly ornaments, everything that
luxury could devise or heart desire. And on one of these splendid
couches (oh, she could move as she pleased from one to the other,
instead of lying always in the one narrow white bed!),--on one of them
lay her sister Rejoice, in a lace wrapper, such as Miss Vesta had read
about once in a fashion magazine; all lace, creamy and soft, with
delicate ribbons here and there. There she lay; and yet--was it she?
Miss Vesta tried hard to give life to this image, to make it smile
with her sister's eyes, and speak with her sister's voice; but it had
a strange, shadowy look all the time, and whenever she forced the
likeness of Rejoice into her mind, somehow it came with the old
surroundings, the little white bed, the yellow-washed walls, the old
green flag-bottomed chair on which the medicine-cups always stood. But
all the other things might be hers, just by Melody's singing. By
Melody's singing! Miss Vesta stood very still, her face quiet and
stern, as it always was in thought, no sign of the struggle going on
within. The stranger was very still too, biding his time, stealing an
occasional glance at her face, feeling tolerably sure of success, yet
wishing she had not quite such a set look about the mouth.
All by Melody's singing! No effort, no exertion for the child, only
the thing she loved best in the world,--the thing she did every day
and all day. And all for Rejoice, for Rejoice, whom Melody loved so;
for whom the child would count any toil, any privation, merely an
added pleasure, even as Vesta herself would. Miss Vesta held her
breath, and prayed. Would not God answer for her? She was only a
woman, and very weak, though she had never guessed it till now. God
knew what the right thing was: would He not speak for her?
She looked up, and saw Melody coming down the road, leading a child in
each hand. She was smiling, and the children were laughing, though
there were traces of tears on their cheeks; for they had been
quarrelling when Melody found them in the fields and brought them
away. It was a pretty picture; the stranger's eyes brightened as he
gazed at it. But for the first time in her life Miss Vesta was not
glad to see Melody. The child began to sing, and the woman listened
for the words, with a vague trouble darkening over her perturbed
spirit as a thunder-cloud comes blackening a gray sky, filling it with
angry mutterings, with quick flashes. What if the child should sing
the wrong words, she thought! What were the wrong words, and how
should she know whether they were of God or the Devil?
It was an old song that Melody was singing; she knew few others,
indeed,--only the last verse of an old song, which Vesta Dale had
heard all her life, and had never thought much about, save that it was
a good song, one of the kind Rejoice liked.
"There's a place that is better than this, Robin Ruff,
And I hope in my heart you'll go there;
Where the poor man's as great,
Though he hath no estate,
Ay, as though he'd a thousand a year, Robin Ruff,
As though he'd a thousand a year'"
"So you see," said Melody to the children, as they paced along, "it
doesn't make any real difference whether we have things or don't have
them. It's inside that one has to be happy; one can't be happy from
the outside, ever. I should think it would be harder if one had lots
of things that one must think about, and take care of, and perhaps
worry over. I often am so glad I haven't many things."
They passed on, going down into the little meadow where the sweet
rushes grew, for Melody knew that no child could stay cross when it
had sweet rushes to play with; and Miss Vesta turned to the stranger
with a quick, fierce movement. "Go away!" she cried. "You have your
answer. Not for fifty thousand fortunes should you have the child! Go,
and never come here again!"
* * * * *
It was two or three days after this that Dr. Brown was driving rapidly
home toward the village. He had had a tiresome day, and he meant to
have a cup of Vesta Dale's good tea and a song from Melody to smooth
down his ruffled plumage, and to put him into good-humor again. His
patients had been very trying, especially the last one he had
visited,--an old lady who sent for him from ten miles' distance, and
then told him she had taken seventy-five bottles of Vegetine without
benefit, and wanted to know what she should do next. "I really do not
know, Madam," the doctor replied, "unless you should pound up the
seventy-five bottles with their labels, and take those." Whereupon he
got into his buggy and drove off without another word.
But the Dale girls and Melody--bless them all for a set of
angels!--would soon put him to rights again, thought the doctor, and
he would send old Mrs. Prabbles some pills in the morning. There was
nothing whatever the matter with the old harridan. Here was the turn;
now in a moment he would see Vesta sitting in the doorway at her
knitting, or looking out of Rejoice's window; and she would call the
child whom his heart loved, and then for a happy, peaceful evening,
and all vexations forgotten!
But what was this? Instead of the trim, staid figure he looked to see,
who was this frantic woman who came running toward him from the little
house, with white hair flying on the wind, with wild looks? Her dress
was disordered; her eyes stared in anguish; her lips stammered, making
confused sounds, which at first had no meaning to the startled hearer.
But he heard--oh, he heard and understood, when the distracted woman
grasped his arm, and cried,--
"Melody is stolen! stolen! and Rejoice is dead!"
Miss Rejoice was not dead; though the doctor had a moment of dreadful
fright when he saw her lying all crumpled up on the floor, her eyes
closed, her face like wrinkled wax. Between them, the doctor and Miss
Vesta got her back into bed, and rubbed her hands, and put stimulants
between her closed lips. At last her breath began to flutter, and then
came back steadily. She opened her eyes; at first they were soft and
mild as usual, but presently a wild look stole into them.
"The child!" she whispered; "the child is gone!"
"We know it," said Dr. Brown, quietly. "We shall find her, Rejoice,
never fear. Now you must rest a few minutes, and then you shall tell
us how it happened. Why, we found you on the floor, my child,"--Miss
Rejoice was older than the doctor, but it seemed natural to call her
by any term of endearment,--"how upon earth did you get there?"
Slowly, with many pauses for breath and composure, Miss Rejoice told
her story. It was short enough. Melody had been sitting with her,
reading aloud from the great book which now lay face downward on the
floor by the window. Milton's "Paradise Lost" it was, and Rejoice Dale
could never bear to hear the book named in her life after this time. A
carriage drove up and stopped at the door, and Melody went out to see
who had come. As she went, she said, "It is a strange wagon; I have
never heard it before." They both supposed it some stranger who had
stopped to ask for a glass of water, as people often did, driving
through the village on their way to the mountains. The sick woman
heard a man speaking, in smooth, soft tones; she caught the words: "A
little drive--fine afternoon;" and Melody's clear voice replying, "No,
thank you, sir; you are very kind, but my aunt and I are alone, and I
could not leave her. Shall I bring you a glass of water?" Then--oh,
then--there was a sound of steps, a startled murmur in the beloved
voice, and then a scream. Oh, such a scream! Rejoice Dale shrank down
in her bed, and cried out herself in agony at the memory of it. She
had called, she had shrieked aloud, the helpless creature, and her
only answer was another cry of anguish: "Help! help! Auntie! Doctor!
Rosin! Oh, Rosin, Rosin, help!" Then the cry was muffled, stifled,
sank away into dreadful silence; the wagon drove off, and all was
over. Rejoice Dale found herself on the floor, dragging herself along
on her elbows. Paralyzed from the waist down, the body was a weary
weight to drag, but she clutched at a chair, a table; gained a little
way at each movement; thought she was nearly at the door, when sense
and strength failed, and she knew nothing more till she saw her sister
and the doctor bending over her.
Then Miss Vesta, very pale, with lips that trembled, and voice that
would not obey her will, but broke and quavered, and failed at times,
like a strange instrument one has not learned how to master,--Miss
Vesta told her story, of the dark stranger who had come three days
before and taken her up to a pinnacle, and showed her the kingdoms of
"I did not tell you, Rejoice," she cried, holding her sister's hand,
and gazing into her face in an agony of self-reproach; "I did not tell
you, because I was really tempted,--not for myself, I do believe; I am
permitted to believe, and it is the one comfort I have,--but for you,
Rejoice, my dear, and for the child herself. But mostly for you, oh,
my God! mostly for you. And when I came to myself and knew you would
rather die ten times over than have luxuries bought with the child's
happy, innocent life,--when I came to myself, I was ashamed, and did
not tell you, for I did not want you to think badly of me. If I had
told you, you would have been on your guard, and have put me on mine;
and I should never have left you, blind fool that I was, for you would
have showed me the danger. Doctor, we are two weak women,--she in
body, I in mind and heart. Tell us what we shall do, or I think we
must both die!"
Dr. Brown hardly heard her appeal, so deeply was he thinking,
wondering, casting about in his mind for counsel. But Rejoice Dale
took her sister's hand in hers.
"'Though a thousand fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right
hand, yet it shall not come nigh thee,'" she said steadfastly. "Our
blind child is in her Father's hand, Sister; He leads her, and she can
go nowhere without Him. Go you now, and seek for her."
"I cannot!" cried Vesta Dale, wringing her hands and weeping. "I
cannot leave you, Rejoice. You know I cannot leave you."
Both women felt for the first time, with a pang unspeakable, the
burden of restraint. The strong woman wrung her hands again, and
moaned like a dumb creature in pain; the helpless body of the cripple
quivered and shrank away from itself, but the soul within was firm.
"You must go," said Miss Rejoice, quietly. "Neither of us could bear
it if you stayed. If I know you are searching, I can be patient; and I
shall have help."
"Amanda Loomis could come," said Miss Vesta, misunderstanding her.
"Yes," said Rejoice, with a faint smile; "Amanda can come, and I shall
do very well indeed till you come back with the child. Go at once,
Vesta; don't lose a moment. Put on your bonnet and shawl, and Doctor
will drive you over to the Corners. The stage goes by in an hour's
time, and you have none too long to reach it."
Dr. Brown seemed to wake suddenly from the distressful dream in which
he had been plunged. "Yes, I will drive you over to the stage, Vesta,"
he said. "God help me! it is all I can do. I have an operation to
perform at noon. It is a case of life and death, and I have no right
to leave it. The man's whole life is not worth one hour of Melody's,"
he added with some bitterness; "but that makes no difference, I
suppose. I have no choice in the matter. Girls!" he cried, "you know
well enough that if it were my own life, I would throw it down the
well to give the child an hour's pleasure, let alone saving her from
misery,--and perhaps from death!" he added to himself; for only he and
the famous physician who had examined Melody at his instance knew that
under all the joy and vigor of the child's simple, healthy life lay
dormant a trouble of the heart, which would make any life of
excitement or fatigue fatal to her in short space, though she might
live in quiet many happy years. Yes, one other person knew this,--his
friend Dr. Anthony, whose remonstrances against the wickedness of
hiding this rare jewel from a world of appreciation and of fame could
only be silenced by showing him the bitter drop which lay at the heart
of the rose.
Rejoice Dale reassured him by a tender pressure of the hand, and a few
soothing words. They had known each other ever since their pinafore
days, these three people. He was younger than Miss Rejoice, and he had
been deeply in love with her when he was an awkward boy of fifteen,
and she a lovely seventeen-year-old girl. They had called him "doctor"
at first in sport, when he came home to practise in his native
village; but soon he had so fully shown his claim to the grave title
that "the girls" and every one else had forgotten the fact that he had
once been "Jack" to the whole village.
"Doctor," said the sick woman, "try not to think about it more than
you can help! There are all the sick people looking to you as next to
the hand of God; your path is clear before you."
Dr. Brown groaned. He wished his path were not so clear, that he might
in some way make excuse to turn aside from it. "I will give Vesta a
note to Dr. Anthony," he said, brightening a little at the thought.
"He will do anything in his power to help us. There are other people,
too, who will be kind. Yes, yes; we shall have plenty of help."
He fidgeted about the room, restless and uneasy, till Miss Vesta came
in, in her bonnet and shawl. "I have no choice," he repeated doggedly,
hugging his duty close, as if to dull the pressure of the pain within.
"But how can you go alone, Vesta, my poor girl? You are not fit; you
are trembling all over. God help us!" cried Dr. Brown, again.
For a moment the two strong ones stood irresolute, feeling themselves
like little children in the grasp of a fate too big for them to
grapple. The sick woman closed her eyes, and waited. God would help,
in His good way. She knew no more, and no more was needed. There were
a few moments of silence, as if all were waiting for something, they
knew not what,--a sign, perhaps, that they were not forgotten,
forsaken, on the sea of this great trouble.
Suddenly through the open window stole a breath of sound. Faint and
far, it seemed at first only a note of the summer breeze, taking a
deeper tone than its usual soft murmur. It deepened still; took form,
rhythm; made itself a body of sound, sweet, piercing, thrilling on the
ear. And at the sound of it, Vesta Dale fell away again into helpless
weeping, like a frightened child; for it was the tune of "Rosin the
"Who shall tell him?" she moaned, covering her face with her hands,
and rocking to and fro,--"oh, who shall tell him that the light of our
life and his is gone out?"
How did the time pass with the sick woman, waiting in the little
chamber, listening day by day and hour by hour for the steps, the
voices, which did not come? Miss Rejoice was very peaceful, very
quiet,--too quiet, thought Mandy Loomis, the good neighbor who watched
by her, fulfilling her little needs, and longing with a thirsty soul
for a good dish of gossip. If Rejoice would only "open her mind!" it
would be better for her, and such a relief to poor Mandy, unused to
silent people who bore their troubles with a smile.
"Where do you s'pose she is, Rejoice?" Mrs. Loomis would cry, twenty
times a day. "Where do you s'pose she is? Ef we only knew, 't would be
easier to bear, seems 's though. Don't you think so, Rejoice?"
But Rejoice only shook her head, and said, "She is cared for, Mandy,
we must believe. All we have to do is to be quiet, and wait for the
"Dear to goodness! She can wait!" exclaimed Mrs. Loomis to Mrs. Penny,
when the latter came in one evening to see if any news had come. "She
ain't done anything but wait, you may say, ever sence time was,
Rejoice ain't. But I do find it dretful tryin' now, Mis' Penny, now I
tell ye. Settin' here with my hands in my lap, and she so quiet in
there, well, I do want to fly sometimes, seems 's though. Well, I am
glad to see you, to be sure. The' ain't a soul ben by this day. Set
down, do. You want to go in 'n' see Rejoice? Jest in a minute. I do
think I shall have a sickness if I don't have some one to open my mind
to. Now, Mis' Penny, where do you s'pose, where do you s'pose that
child is?" Then, without waiting for a reply, she plunged headlong
into the stream of talk.
"No, we ain't heard a word. Vesta went off a week ago, and Mr. De
Arthenay with her. Providential, wasn't it, his happenin' along just
in the nick o' time? I do get out of patience with Rejoice sometimes,
takin' the Lord quite so much for granted as she doos; for, after all,
the child was stole, you can't get over that, and seems's though if
there'd ben such a good lookout as she thinks,--well, there! I don't
want to be profane; but I will say 'twas a providence, Mr. De Arthenay
happenin' along. Well, they went, and not a word have we heard sence
but just one letter from Vesta, sayin' they hadn't found no trace yet,
but they hoped to every day,--and land sakes, we knew that, I should
hope. Dr. Brown comes in every day to cheer her up, though I do
declare I need it more than she doos, seems's though. He's as close as
an oyster, Dr. Brown is; I can't even get the news out of him, most
times. How's that boy of 'Bind Parker's,--him that fell and hurt his
leg so bad? Gettin' well, is he?"
"No, he isn't," said Mrs. Penny, stepping in quickly on the question,
as her first chance of getting in a word. "He's terrible slim; I heard
Doctor say so. They're afraid of the kangaroo settin' in in the j'int,
and you know that means death, sartin sure."
Both women nodded, drawing in their breath with an awful relish.
"'T will be a terrible loss to his mother," said Mandy Loomis. "Such a
likely boy as he was gettin' to be, and 'Bind so little good, one way
"Do you think they'll hear news of Melody?" asked Mrs. Penny, changing
the subject abruptly.
Amanda Loomis plumped her hands down on her knees, and leaned forward;
it was good to listen, but, oh, how much better it was to speak!
"I don't," she said, with gloomy emphasis. "If you ask me what I
reelly think, Mis' Penny, it's that. I don't think we shall ever set
eyes on that blessed child again. Rejoice is so sartin sure, sometimes
my hopes get away with me, and I forgit my jedgment for a spell. But
there! see how it is! Now, mind, what I say is for this room only."
She spread her hands abroad, as if warning the air around to secrecy,
and lowered her voice to an awestruck whisper. "I've ben here a week
now, Mis' Penny. Every night the death-watch has ticked in Mel'dy's
room the endurin' night. I don't sleep, you know, fit to support a
flea. I hear every hour strike right straight along, and I know things
that's hid from others, Mis' Penny, though I do say it. Last night as
ever was I heard a sobbin' and a sighin' goin' round the house, as
plain as I hear you this minute. Some might ha' said't was the wind,
but there's other things besides wind, Mis' Penny; and I solemnly
believe that was Mel'dy's sperrit, and the child is dead. It ain't my
interest to say it," she cried, with a sudden change of tone, putting
her apron to her eyes: "goodness knows it ain't my interest to say it.
What that child has been to me nobody knows. When I've had them weakly
spells, the' warn't nobody but Mel'dy could ha' brought me out of 'em
alive, well I know. She tended me and sung to me like all the angels
in heaven, and when she'd lay her hand on me--well, there! seems's
though my narves 'ud quiet right down, and blow away like smoke. I've
ben a well woman--that is to say, for one that's always enjoyed poor
health--sence Dr. Brown sent that blessed child to me. She has a gift,
if ever any one had. Dr. Brown had ought to give her half of what he
makes doctorin'; she's more help than all the medicine ever _he_
gives. I never saw a doctor so dretful stingy with his stuff. Why,
I've ben perishin' sometimes for want o' doctorin', and all he'd give
me was a little pepsin, or tell me to take as much sody as would lay
on the p'int of a penknife, or some such thing,--not so much as you'd
give to a canary-bird. I do sometimes wish we had a doctor who knew
the use o' medicine, 'stead of everlastin'ly talkin' about the laws o'
health, and hulsome food, and all them notions. Why, there's old Dr.
Jalap, over to the Corners. He give Beulah Pegrum seven Liver Pills at
one dose, and only charged her fifty cents, over 'n' above the cost of
the pills. Now _that's_ what I call doctorin',--not but what I like
Dr. Brown well enough. But Mel'dy--well, there! and now to have her
took off so suddin, and never to know whether she's buried
respectable, or buried at all! You hear awful stories of city ways,
these times. Now, this is for this room only, and don't you ever tell
a soul! It's as true as I live, they have a furnace where they burn
folks' bodies, for all the world as if they was hick'ry lawgs. My
cousin Salome's nephew that lives in the city saw one once. He thought
it was connected with the gas-works, but he didn't know for sure. Mis'
Penny, if Rejoice Dale was to know that Mel'dy was made into gas--"
Martha Penny clutched the speaker's arm, and laid her hand over her
mouth, with a scared look. The door of the bedroom had swung open in
the breeze, and in the stress of feeling Mandy Loomis had raised her
voice higher and higher, till the last words rang through the house
like the wail of a sibyl. But above the wail another sound was now
rising, the voice of Rejoice Dale,--not calm and gentle, as they had
always heard it, but high-pitched, quivering with intense feeling.
"I see her!" cried the sick woman. "I see the child! Lord, save her!
Lord, save her!"
The two women hurried in, and found her sitting up in bed, her eyes
wide, her arm outstretched, pointing--at what? Involuntarily they
turned to follow the pointing finger, and saw the yellow-washed wall,
and the wreath of autumn leaves that always hung there.
"What is it, Rejoice?" cried Mandy, terrified. "What do you see? Is it
a spirit? Tell us, for pity's sake!"
But even at that moment a change came. The rigid muscles relaxed, the
whole face softened to its usual peaceful look; the arm dropped
gently, and Rejoice Dale sank back upon her pillow and smiled.
"Thy rod and thy staff!" she said. "Thy rod and thy staff! they
comfort me." And for the first time since Melody was lost, she fell
asleep, and slept like a little child.
Noontide in the great city! The July sun blazes down upon the brick
sidewalks, heating them through and through, till they scorch the bare
toes of the little street children, who creep about, sheltering their
eyes with their hands, and keeping in the shade when it is possible.
The apple-women crouch close to the wall, under their green umbrellas;
the banana-sellers look yellow and wilted as their own wares. Men pass
along, hurrying, because they are Americans, and business must go on
whether it be hot or cold; but they move in a dogged jog-trot,
expressive of weariness and disgust, and wipe their brows as they go,
muttering anathemas under their breath on the whole summer season.
Most of the men are in linen coats, some in no coats at all; all wear
straw hats, and there is a great display of palm-leaf fans, waving in
all degrees of energy. Here and there is seen an umbrella, but these
are not frequent, for it seems to the American a strange and womanish
thing to carry an umbrella except for rain; it also requires
attention, and takes a man's mind off his business. Each man of all
the hurrying thousands is shut up in himself, carrying his little
world, which is all the world there is, about with him, seeing the
other hurrying mites only "as trees walking," with no thought or note
of them. Who cares about anybody else when it is so hot? Get through
the day's work, and away to the wife and children in the cool by the
sea-shore, or in the comfortable green suburb, where, if one must
still be hot, one can at least suffer decently, and not "like a
running river be,"--with apologies to the boy Chatterton.
Among all these hurrying motes in the broad, fierce stream of
sunshine, one figure moves slowly, without haste. Nobody looks at
anybody else, or this figure might attract some attention, even in the
streets of the great city. An old man, tall and slender, with snowy
hair falling in a single curl over his forehead; with brown eyes which
glance birdlike here and there, seeing everything, taking in every
face, every shadow of a vanishing form that hurries along and away
from him; with fiddle-bow in hand, and fiddle held close and tenderly
against his shoulder. De Arthenay, looking for his little girl!
Not content with scanning every face as it passes, he looks up at the
houses, searching with eager eye their blank, close-shuttered walls,
as if in hope of seeing through the barriers of brick and stone, and
surprising the secrets that may lurk within. Now and then a house
seems to take his fancy, for he stops, and still looking up at the
windows, plays a tune. It is generally the same tune,--a simple,
homely old air, which the street-boys can readily take up and whistle,
though they do not hear it in the music-halls or on the hand-organs. A
languid crowd gathers round him when he pauses thus, for street-boys
know a good fiddler when they hear him; and this is a good fiddler.
When a crowd has collected, the old man turns his attention from the
silent windows (they are generally silent; or if a face looks out, it
is not the beloved one which is in his mind night and day, day and
night) and scans the faces around him, with sad, eager eyes. Then,
stopping short in his playing, he taps sharply on his fiddle, and asks
in a clear voice if any one has seen or heard of a blind child, with
beautiful brown hair, clear blue eyes, and the most wonderful voice in
No one has heard of such a child; but one tells him of a blind negro
who can play the trombone, and another knows of a blind woman who
tells fortunes "equal to the best mejums;" and so on, and so on. He
shakes his head with a patient look, makes his grand bow, and passes
on to the next street, the next wondering crowd, the next
disappointment. Sometimes he is hailed by some music-hall keeper who
hears him play, and knows a good thing when he hears it, and who
engages the old fiddler to play for an evening or two. He goes readily
enough; for there is no knowing where the dark stranger may have taken
the child, and where no clew is, one may follow any track that
presents itself. So the old man goes, and sits patiently in the hot,
noisy place. At first the merry-makers, who are not of a high degree
of refinement, make fun of him, and cut many a joke at the expense of
his blue coat and brass buttons, his nankeen trousers and
old-fashioned stock. But he heeds them not; and once he begins to
play, they forget all about his looks, and only want to dance, dance,
and say there never was such music for dancing. When a pleasant-
looking girl comes near him, or pauses in the dance, he calls her to
him, and asks her in a low tone the usual question: has she seen or
heard of a blind child, with the most beautiful hair, etc. He is
careful whom he asks, however; he would not insult Melody by asking
for her of some of these young women, with bold eyes, with loose hair
and disordered looks. So he sits and plays, a quaint, old-world
figure, among the laughing, dancing, foolish crowd. Old De Arthenay,
from the Androscoggin,--what would his ancestor, the gallant Marquis
who came over with Baron Castine to America, what would the whole line
of ancestors, from the crusaders down, say to see their descendant in
such a place as this? He has always held his head high, though he has
earned his bread by fiddling, varied by shoemaking in the winter-time.
He has always kept good company, he would tell you, and would rather
go hungry any day than earn a dinner among people who do not regard
the decencies of life. Even in this place, people come to feel the
quality of the old man, somehow, and no one speaks rudely to him; and
voices are even lowered as they pass him, sitting grave and erect on
his stool, his magic bow flying, his foot keeping time to the music.
All the old tunes he plays, "Money Musk," and "Portland Fancy," and
"Lady of the Lake." Now he quavers into the "Chorus Jig;" but no one
here knows enough to dance that, so he comes back to the simpler airs
again. And as he plays, the whole tawdry, glaring scene drops away
from the old man's eyes, and instead of vulgar gaslight he sees the
soft glow of the afternoon sun on the country road, and the graceful
elms bending in an arch overhead, as if to watch the child Melody as
she dances. The slender figure swaying hither and thither, with its
gentle, wind-blown motion, the exquisite face alight with happiness,
the floating tendrils of hair, the most beautiful hair in the world;
then the dear, homely country folks sitting by the roadside, watching
with breathless interest his darling, their darling, the flower of the
whole country-side; Miss Vesta's tall, stately figure in the doorway;
the vine-clad window, behind which Rejoice lies, unseen, yet sharing
all the sweet, simple pleasure with heartfelt enjoyment,--all this the
old fiddler sees, set plain before him. The "lady" on his arm (for De
Arthenay's fiddle is a lady as surely as he is a gentleman),--the lady
feels it too, perhaps, for she thrills to his touch, as the bow goes
leaping over the strings; and more than one wild girl and rough fellow
feels a touch of something that has not been felt mayhap for many a
day, and goes home to stuffy garret or squalid cellar the better for
that night's music. And when it is over, De Arthenay makes his stately
bow once more, and walks round the room, asking his question in low
tones of such as seem worthy of it; and then home, patient, undaunted,
to the quiet lodging where Vesta Dale is sitting up for him, weary
after her day's search in other quarters of the city, hoping little
from his coming, yet unwilling to lie down without a sight of his
face, always cheery when it meets hers, and the sound of his voice
"Better luck to-morrow, Miss Vesta! better luck tomorrow! There's One
has her in charge, and He didn't need us to-day; that's all, my dear."
God help thee, De Arthenay! God speed and prosper thee, Rosin the
But is not another name more fitting even than the fantastic one of
his adoption? Is not this Blondel, faithful, patient, undaunted,
wandering by tower and town, singing his song of love and hope and
undying loyalty under every window, till it shall one day fall like a
breath from heaven on the ear of the prisoner, sitting in darkness and
the shadow of death?
"And how's our sweet little lady to-day? She's looking as pretty as a
picture, so it's a pleasure to look at her. How are you feeling,
It was a woman's voice that spoke, soft and wheedling, yet with a
certain unpleasant twang in it. She spoke to Melody, who sat still,
with folded hands, and head bowed as if in a dream.
"I am well, thank you," answered the child; and she was silent again.
The woman glanced over her shoulder at a man who had followed her into
the room,--a dark man with an eager face and restless, discontented
eyes; the same man who had watched Melody over the wall of the old
burying-ground, and heard her sing. He had never heard her sing since,
save for that little snatch of "Robin Ruff," which she had sung to the
children the day when he stood and pleaded with Vesta Dale to sell her
soul for her sister's comfort.
"And here's Mr. Anderson come to see you, according to custom," said
the woman; "and I hope you are glad to see him, I'm sure, for he's
your best friend, dearie, and he does love you so; it would be quite
surprising, if you weren't the sweet lamb you are, sitting there like
a flower all in the dark."
She paused, and waited for a reply; but none came. The two exchanged a
glance of exasperation, and the woman shook her fist at the child; but
her voice was still soft and smooth as she resumed her speech.
"And you'll sing us a little song now, dearie, won't you? To think
that you've been here near a week now, and I haven't heard the sound
of that wonderful voice yet, only in speaking. It's sweet as an
angel's then, to be sure; but dear me! if you knew what Mr. Anderson
has told me about his hearing you sing that day! Such a particular
gentleman as he is, too, anybody would tell you! Why, I've seen girls
with voices as they thought the wonder of the world, and their friends
with them, and Mr. Anderson would no more listen to them than the dirt
under his feet; no, indeed, he wouldn't. And you that he thinks so
much of! why, it makes me feel real bad to see you not take that
comfort in him as you might. Why, he wants to be a father to you,
dearie. He hasn't got any little girl of his own, and he will give you
everything that's nice, that he will, just as soon as you begin to get
a little fond of him, and realize all he's doing for you. Why, most
young ladies would give their two eyes for your chance, I can tell
She was growing angry in spite of herself, and the man Anderson pulled
"It's no use," he said. "We shall just have to wait. You know, my
dear," he continued, addressing the child, "you know that you will
never see your aunts again unless you _do_ sing. You sense that, do
No reply. Melody shivered a little, then drew herself together and was
still,--the stillest figure that ever breathed and lived. Anderson
clenched his hands and fairly trembled with rage and with the effort
to conceal it. He must not frighten the child too much. He could not
punish her, hurt her in any way; for any shock might injure the
precious voice which was to make his fortune. He was no fool, this
man. He had some knowledge, more ambition. He had been unsuccessful on
the whole, had been disappointed in several ventures; now he had found
a treasure, a veritable gold-mine, and-he could not work it! Could
anything be more exasperating? This child, whose voice could rouse a
whole city--a city! could rouse the world to rapture, absolutely
refused to sing a note! He had tried cajolery, pathos, threats; he had
called together a chosen company of critics to hear the future
Catalani, and had been forced to send them home empty, having heard no
note of the marvellous voice! The child would not sing, she would not
even speak, save in the briefest possible fashion, little beyond "yes"
What was a poor impresario to do? He longed to grasp her by the
shoulders and shake the voice out of her; his hands fairly itched to
get hold of the obstinate little piece of humanity, who, in her
childishness, her helplessness, her blindness, thus defied him, and
set all his cherished plans at nought.
And yet he would not have shaken her probably, even had he dared to do
so. He was not a violent man, nor a wholly bad one. He could steal a
child, and convince himself that it was for the child's good as well
as his own; but he could not hurt a child. He had once had a little
girl of his own; it was quite true that he had intended to play a
father's part to Melody, if she would only have behaved herself. In
the grand drama of success that he had arranged so carefully, it was a
most charming role that he had laid out for himself. Anderson the
benefactor, Anderson the discoverer, the adopted father of the
prodigy, the patron of music. Crowds hailing him with rapturous
gratitude; the wonder-child kneeling and presenting him with a laurel
crown, which had been thrown to her, but which she rightly felt to be
his due, who had given her all, and brought her from darkness into
light! Instead of this, what part was this he was really playing?
Anderson the kidnapper; Anderson the villain, the ruffian, the invader
of peaceful homes, the bogy to scare naughty children with. He did not
say all this to himself, perhaps, because he was not, save when
carried away by professional enthusiasm, an imaginative man; but he
felt thoroughly uncomfortable, and, above all, absolutely at sea, not
knowing which way to turn. As he stood thus, irresolute, the woman by
his side eying him furtively from time to time, Melody turned her face
toward him and spoke.
"If you will take me home," she said, "I will sing to you. I will sing
all day, if you like. But here I will never sing. It would not be
possible for you to make me do it, so why do you try? You made a
mistake, that is all."
"Oh, that's all, is it?" repeated Anderson.
"Yes, truly," the child went on. "Perhaps you do not mean to be
unkind,--Mrs. Brown says you do not; but then why _are_ you unkind,
and why will you not take me home?"
"It is for your own good, child," repeated Anderson, doggedly. "You
know that well enough. I have told you how it will all be, a hundred
times. You were not meant for a little village, and a few dull old
people; you are for the world, the great world of wealth and fashion
and power. If you were not either a fool or--or--I don't know what,
you would see the matter as it really is. Mrs. Brown is right: most
girls would give their eyes, and their ears too, for such a chance as
you have. You are only a child, and a very foolish child; and you
don't know what is good for you. Some day you will be thankful to me
for making you sing."
Melody smiled, and her smile said much, for Anderson turned red, and
clenched his hands fiercely.
"You belong to the world, I tell you!" he cried again. "The world has
a right to you."
"To the world?" the child repeated softly. "Yes, it is true; I do
belong to the world,--to God's world of beauty, to the woods and
fields, the flowers and grasses, and to the people who love me. When
the birds sing to me I can answer them, and they know that my song is
as sweet as their own. The brook tells me its story, and I tell it
again, and every ripple sounds in my voice; and I know that I please
the brook, and all who hear me,--little beasts, and flowers that nod
on their stems to hear, and trees that bend down to touch me, and tell
me by their touch that they are well pleased. And children love to
hear me sing, and I can fill their little hearts with joy. I sing to
sick people, and they are easier of their pain, and perhaps they may
sleep, when they have not been able to sleep for long nights. This is
my life, my work. I am God's child; and do you think I do not know the
work my Father has given me to do?" With a sudden movement she stepped
forward, and laid her hand lightly on the man's breast. "You are God's
child, too!" she said, in a low voice. "Are you doing His work now?"
There was silence in the room. Anderson was as if spellbound, his eyes
fixed on the child, who stood like a youthful prophetess, her head
thrown back, her beautiful face full of solemn light, her arm raised
in awful appeal. The woman threw her apron over her head and began to
cry. The man moistened his lips twice or thrice, trying to speak, but
no words came. At length he made a sign of despair to his accomplice;
moved back from that questioning, warning hand, whose light touch
seemed to burn through and through him,--moved away, groping for the
door, his eyes still fixed on the child's face; stole out finally, as
a thief steals, and closed the door softly behind him.
Melody stood still, looking up to heaven. A great peace filled her
heart, which had been so torn and tortured these many days past, ever
since the dreadful moment when she had been forced away from her home,
from her life, and brought into bondage and the shadow of death. She
had thought till to-day that she should die. Not that she was
deserted, not that God had forgotten,--oh, no; but that He did not
need her any longer here, that she had not been worthy of the work she
had thought to be hers, and that now she was to be taken elsewhere to
some other task. She was only a child; her life was strong in every
limb; but God could not mean her to live here, in this way,--that
would not be merciful, and His property was always to have mercy. So
death would come,--death as a friend, just as Auntie Joy had always
described him; and she would go hence, led by her Father's hand.
But now, what change was coming over her? The air seemed lighter,
clearer, since Anderson had left the room. A new hope entered her
heart, coming she knew not whence, filling it with pulses and waves of
joy. She thought of her home; and it seemed to grow nearer, more
distinct, at every moment. She saw (as blind people see) the face of
Rejoice Dale, beaming with joy and peace; she felt the strong clasp of
Miss Vesta's hand. She smelt the lilacs, the white lilacs beneath
which she loved to sit and sing. She heard--oh, God! what did she
hear? What sound was this in her ears? Was it still the dream, the
lovely dream of home, or was a real sound thrilling in her ears,
beating in her heart, filling the whole world with the voice of
hope,--of hope fulfilled, of life and love?
"I've travelled this country all over,
And now to the next I must go;
But I know that good quarters await me,
And a welcome to Rosin the Beau."
Oh, Father of mercy! never doubted, always near in sorrow and in joy!
oh, holy angels, who have held my hands and lifted me up, lest I dash
my foot against a stone! A welcome,--oh, on my knees, in humble
thanksgiving, in endless love and praise,--a welcome to Rosin the
* * * * *
An hour later Mrs. Brown stood before her employer, flushed and
disordered, making her defence.
"I couldn't have helped it, not if I had died for it, Mr. Anderson.
You couldn't have helped it yourself, if you had been there. When she
heard that fiddle, the child dropped on her knees as if she had been
shot, and I thought she was going to faint. But the next minute she
was at the window, and such a cry as she gave! the sound of it is in
my bones yet, and will be till I die."
She paused, and wiped her fiery face, for she had run bareheaded
through the blazing streets.
"Then he came in,--the old man. He was plain dressed, but he came in
like a king to his throne; and the child drifted into his arms like a
flake of snow, and there she lay. Mr. Anderson, when he held her there
on his breast, and turned and looked at me, with his eyes like two
black coals, all power was taken from me, and I couldn't have moved if
it had been to save my own life. He pointed at me with his fiddle-bow,
but it might have been a sword for all the difference I knew; anyway,
his voice went through and through me like something sharp and bright.
'You cannot move,' he said; 'you have no power to move hand or foot
till I have taken my child away. I bid you be still!' Mr. Anderson,
sir, I _had_ no power! I stood still, and they went away. They seemed
to melt away together,--he with his arm round her waist, holding her
up like; and she with her face turned up to his, and a look like
heaven, if I ever hope to see heaven. The next minute they was gone,
and still I hadn't never moved. And now I've come to tell you, sir,"
cried Mrs. Brown, smoothing down her ruffled hair in great agitation;"
and to tell you something else too, as I would burst if I didn't. I am
glad he has got her! If I was to lose my place fifty times over, as
you've always been good pay and a kind gentleman too, still I say it,
I'm glad he has got her. She wasn't of your kind, sir, nor of mine
neither. And--and I've never been a professor," cried the woman, with
her apron at her eyes, "but I hope I know an angel when I see one, and
I mean to be a better woman from this day, so I do. And she asked God
to bless me, Mr. Anderson, she did, as she went away, because I meant
to be kind to her; and I did mean it, the blessed creature! And she
said good-by to you too, sir; and she knew you thought it was for her
good, only you didn't know what God meant. And I'm so glad, I'm so
She stopped short, more surprised than she had ever been in her life;
for Edward Anderson was shaking her hand violently, and telling her
that she was a good woman, a very good woman indeed, and that he
thought the better of her, and had been thinking for some time of
raising her salary.
I love the morning light,--the freshness, the pearls and diamonds, the
fairy linen spread on the grass to bleach (there be those who call it
spider-web, but to such I speak not), the silver fog curling up from
river and valley. I love it so much that I am loath to confess that
sometimes the evening light is even more beautiful. Yet is there a
softness that comes with the close of day, a glorification of common
things, a drawing of purple shadows over all that is rough or
unsightly, which makes the early evening perhaps the most perfect time
of all the perfect hours.
It was such an hour that now brooded over the little village, when the
people came out from their houses to watch for Melody's coming. It is
a pretty little village at all times, very small and straggling, but
lovely with flowers and vines and dear, homely old houses, which have
not found out that they are again in the fashion out of which they
were driven many years ago, but still hold themselves humbly, with a
respect for the brick and stucco of which they have heard from time to
time. It is always pretty, I say, but this evening it had received
some fresh baptism of beauty, as if the Day knew what was coming, and
had pranked herself in her very best for the festival. The sunbeams
slanted down the straggling, grass-grown road, and straightway it
became an avenue of wonder, with gold-dust under foot, flecked here
and there with emerald. The elms met over head in triumphal arches;
the creepers on the low houses hung out wonderful scarfs and banners
of welcome, which swung gold and purple in the joyous light. And as
the people came out of their houses, now that the time was drawing
near, lo! the light was on their faces too; and the plain New England
men and women, in their prints and jeans, shone like the figures in a
Venetian picture, and were all a-glitter with gold and precious stones
for once in their lives, though they knew it not.
But not all of this light came from the setting sun; on every face was
the glow of a great joy, and every voice was soft with happiness, and
the laughter was all a-tremble with the tears that were so near it.
They were talking about the child who was coming back to them, whom
they had mourned as lost. They were telling of her gracious words and
ways, so different from anything else they had known,--her smiles, and
the way she held her head when she sang; and the way she found things
out, without ever any one telling her. Wonderful, was it not? Why, one
dared not have ugly thoughts in her presence; or if they came, one
tried to hide them away, deep down, so that Melody should not see them
with her blind eyes. Do you remember how Joel Pottle took too much one
day (nobody knows to this day where he got it, and his folks all
temperance people), and how he stood out in the road and swore at the
folks coming out of meeting, and how Melody came along and took him by
the hand, and led him away down by the brook, and never left him till
he was a sober man again? And every one knew Joel had never touched a
drop of liquor from that day on.
Again, could they ever forget how she saved the baby,--Jane Pegrum's
baby,--that had been forgotten by its frantic mother in the burning
house? They shuddered as they recalled the scene: the writhing,
hissing flames, the charred rafters threatening every moment to fall;
and the blind child walking calmly along the one safe beam, unmoved
above the pit of fire which none of them could bear to look on,
catching the baby from its cradle ("and it all of a smoulder, just
ready to burst out in another minute") and bringing it safe to the
woman who lay fainting on the grass below! Vesta had never forgiven
them for that, for letting the child go: she was away at the time, and
when she came back and found Melody's eyebrows all singed off, it did
seem as though the village wouldn't hold her, didn't it? And Doctor
was just as bad. But, there! they couldn't have held her back, once
she knew the child was there; and Rejoice was purely thankful. Melody
seemed to favor Rejoice, almost as if she might be her own child.
Vesta had more of this world in her, sure enough.
Isn't it about time for them to be coming? Doctor won't waste time on
the road, you may be sure. Dreadful crusty he was this morning, if any
one tried to speak to him. Miss Meechin came along just as he was
harnessing up, and asked if he couldn't give her something to ease up
her sciatica a little mite, and what do you think he said? "Take it to
the Guinea Coast and drown it!" Not another word could she get out of
him. Now, that's no way to talk to a patient. But Doctor hasn't been
himself since Melody was stole; anybody could see that with his mouth.
Look at how he's treated that man with the operation, that kept him
from going to find the child himself! He never said a word to him,
they say, and tended him as careful as a woman, every day since he got
hurt; but just as soon as he got through with him, he'd go out in the
yard, they say, and swear at the pump, till it would turn your blood
cold to hear him. It's gospel truth, for I had it from the nurse, and
she said it chilled her marrow. Yes, a violent man, Doctor always was;
and, too, he was dreadful put out at the way the man got hurt,--
reaching out of his buggy to slat his neighbor's cow, just because he
had a spite against him. Seemed trifling, some thought, but he's like
to pay for it. Did you hear the sound of wheels?
Look at Alice and Alfred, over there with the baby; bound to have the
first sight of them, aren't they, standing on the wall like that? They
are as happy as two birds, ever since they made up that time. Yes,
Melody's doing too, that was. She didn't know it; but she doesn't know
the tenth of what she does. Just the sight of her coming along the
road--hark! surely I heard the click of the doctor's mare. Does seem
hard to wait, doesn't it? But Rejoice,--what do you suppose it is for
Rejoice? only she's used to it, as you may say.
Yes, Rejoice is used to waiting, surely; what else is her life? In the
little white cottage now, Mandy Loomis, in a fever of excitement, is
running from door to window, flapping out flies with her apron,
opening the oven door, fidgeting here and there like a distracted
creature; but in the quiet room, where Rejoice lies with folded hands,
all is peace, brooding peace and calm and blessedness. The sick woman
does not even turn her head on the pillow; you would think she slept,
if she did not now and again raise the soft brown eyes,--the most
patient eyes in the world,--and turn them toward the window. Yes,
Rejoice is used to waiting; yet it is she who first catches the
far-off sound of wheels, the faint click of the brown mare's hoofs.
With her bodily ears she hears it, though so still is she one might
think the poor withered body deserted, and the joyous soul away on the
road, hovering round the returning travellers as they make their
For all can see them now. First the brown mare's head, with sharp ears
pricked, coming round the bend; then a gleam of white, a vision of
waving hair, a light form bending forward. Melody! Melody has come
back to us! They shout and laugh and cry, these quiet people. Alfred
and Alice his wife have run forward, and are caressing the brown mare
with tears of joy, holding the baby up for Melody to feel and kiss,
because it has grown so wonderfully in this week of her absence. Mrs.
Penny is weeping down behind the hedge; Mandy Loomis is hurling
herself out of the window as if bent on suicide; Dr. Brown pishes and
pshaws, and blows his nose, and says they are a pack of ridiculous
noodles, and he must give them a dose of salts all round to-morrow, as
sure as his name is John Brown. On the seat behind him sits Melody,
with Miss Vesta and the old fiddler on either side, holding a hand of
each. She has hardly dared yet to loose her hold on these faithful
hands; all the way from the city she has held them, with almost
convulsive pressure. Very high De Arthenay holds his head, be sure! No
marquis of all the line ever was prouder than he is this day. He
kisses the child's little hand when he hears the people shout, and
then shakes his snowy curl, and looks about him like a king. Vesta
Dale has lost something of her stately carriage. Her face is softer
than people remember it, and one sees for the first time a resemblance
to her sister. And Dr. Brown--oh, he fumes and storms at the people,
and calls them a pack of noodles; but for all that, he cannot drive
ten paces without turning round to make sure that it is all
true,--that here is Melody on the back seat, come home again, home,
never to leave them again.
But, hush, hush, dear children, running beside the wagon with cries of
joy and happy laughter! Quiet, all voices of welcome, ringing out from
every throat, making the little street echo from end to end! Quiet
all, for Melody is singing! Standing up, held fast by those faithful
hands on either side, the child lifts her face to heaven, lifts her
heart to God, lifts up her voice in the evening hymn,--
The people stand with bowed heads, with hands folded as if in prayer.
What is prayer, if this be not it? The evening light streams down,
warm, airy gold; the clouds press near in pomp of crimson and purple.
The sick woman holds her peace, and sees the angels of God ascending
and descending, ministering to her. Put off thy shoes from thy feet,
for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
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