A Village Stradivarius: In Two Parts. Part Two

IV.

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

EMERSON’S Merlin.

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

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

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

I hope Mrs. Butterfield was happy enough in paradise to appreciate and feel Lyddy’s joy. I can even believe she was glad to have died, since her dying could bring such content to any wretched living human soul. As Lydia sat in the firelight, the left side of her poor face in shadow, you saw that she was distinctly harmonious. Her figure, clad in a plain black-and-white calico dress, was a graceful, womanly one. She had beautifully sloping shoulders and a sweet waist. Her hair was soft and plentiful, and her hands were fine, strong, and sensitive. This possibility of rare beauty made her sears and burns more pitiful; if a cheap chromo has a smirch across its face, we think it a matter of no moment, but we deplore the smallest scratch or blur on any work of real art.

Lydia felt a little less bitter and hopeless about life when she sat in front of her own open fire, after her usual twilight walk. It was her habit to wander down the wooded road after her simple five - o’clock supper, gathering ferns or goldenrod or frost flowers for her vases, and one night she heard, above the rippling of the river, the strange, sweet, piercing sound of Anthony Croft’s violin. She drew nearer, and saw a middleaged man sitting in the kitchen doorway, with a lad of ten or twelve years leaning against his knees. She could tell little of his appearance, save that he had a high forehead, and hair that waved well back from it in rather an unusual fashion. He was in his shirt-sleeves, but the gingham was scrupulously clean, and he had the uncommon refinement of a collar and necktie. Out of sight herself, Lyddy drew near enough to hear; and this she did every night without recognizing that the musician was blind. The music had a curious effect upon her. It was a hitherto unknown influence in her life, and it interpreted her, so to speak, to herself. As she sat on the bed of brown pine needles, under a friendly tree, her head resting against its trunk, her eyes half closed, the tone of Anthony’s violin came like a heavenly message to a tired, despairing soul. Remember that in her secluded life she had heard only such harmony as Elvira Reynolds evoked from her piano or George Reynolds from his flute, and the Reynolds temperament was distinctly inartistic.

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

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

The viol “whispers in enamoured tone : ”

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

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

V.

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

EMERSON’S Saadi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ You are fond of music, then ? ”

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

Now, Lyddy Ann Butterfield had no sooner uttered this commonplace speech than the reflection darted through her mind like a lightning flash that she had never spoken a bit of her heart out like this in all her life before. The reason came to her in the same flash : she was not being looked at; her disfigured face was hidden. This man, at least, could not shrink, turn away, shiver, affect indifference, fix his eyes on hers with a fascinated horror, as others had done.

Her heart was divided between a great throb of pity and sympathy for him and an irresistible sense of gratitude for herself. Sure of protection and comprehension, her lovely soul came out of her poor eyes and sat in the sunshine. She spoke her mind at ease, as we utter sacred things sometimes under cover of darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Davy would n’t have him,” apologized his uncle.

Would n’t he ? “ said Lyddy with cheerful scorn. “ He has you under pretty good control, has n’t he ? But children are unmerciful tyrants.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Was it long ago ? ”

“ Ten years. Is that long ? ”

“ Long to bear a burden.”

“ I hope you know little of burdenbearing ? ”

“ I know little else.”

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

EMERSON’S Celestial Love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and hope had made a poet of Lyddy. “ I think Davy is right,” she said. “ It is a dream of the future, the story of all new and beautiful things growing out of the old. It is full of the sweetness of present joy, but there is promise and hope in it besides. It is like the Spring sitting in the lap of Winter, and holding a baby Summer in her bosom.”

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

Kate Douglas Wiggin.