The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part IV: Thorpe's Dream Girl
Thorpe returned to Camp One shortly after dark. He found there Scotty Parsons, who had come up to take charge of the crew engaged in clearing French Creek. The man brought him a number of letters sent on by Collins, among which was one from Wallace Carpenter.
After commending the camping party to his companion's care, and giving minute directions as to how and where to meet it, the young fellow went on to say that affairs were going badly on the Board.
"Some interest that I haven't been able to make out yet has been hammering our stocks down day after day," he wrote. "I don't understand it, for the stocks are good--they rest on a solid foundation of value and intrinsically are worth more than is bid for them right now. Some powerful concern is beating them down for a purpose of its own. Sooner or later they will let up, and then we'll get things back in good shape. I am amply protected now, thanks to you, and am not at all afraid of losing my holdings. The only difficulty is that I am unable to predict exactly when the other fellows will decide that they have accomplished whatever they are about, and let up. It may not be before next year. In that case I couldn't help you out on those notes when they come due. So put in your best licks, old man. You may have to pony up for a little while, though of course sooner or later I can put it all back. Then, you bet your life, I keep out of it. Lumbering's good enough for yours truly.
"By the way, you might shine up to Hilda Farrand and join the rest of the fortune-hunters. She's got it to throw to the birds, and in her own right. Seriously, old fellow, don't put yourself into a false position through ignorance. Not that there is any danger to a hardened old woodsman like you."
Thorpe went to the group of pines by the pole trail the following afternoon because he had said he would, but with a new attitude of mind. He had come into contact with the artificiality of conventional relations, and it stiffened him. No wonder she had made him keep silence the afternoon before! She had done it gently and nicely, to be sure, but that was part of her good-breeding. Hilda found him formal, reserved, polite; and marvelled at it. In her was no coquetry. She was as straightforward and sincere as the look of her eyes.
They sat down on a log. Hilda turned to him with her graceful air of confidence.
"Now talk to me," said she.
"Certainly," replied Thorpe in a practical tone of voice, "what do you want me to talk about?"
She shot a swift, troubled glance at him, concluded herself mistaken, and said:
"Tell me about what you do up here--your life--all about it."
"Well--" replied Thorpe formally, "we haven't much to interest a girl like you. It is a question of saw logs with us"--and he went on in his dryest, most technical manner to detail the process of manufacture. It might as well have been bricks.
The girl did not understand. She was hurt. As surely as the sun tangled in the distant pine frond, she had seen in his eyes a great passion. Now it was coldly withdrawn.
"What has happened to you?" she asked finally out of her great sincerity.
"Me? Nothing," replied Thorpe.
A forced silence fell upon him. Hilda seemed gradually to lose herself in reverie. After a time she said softly.
"Don't you love this woods?"
"It's an excellent bunch of pine," replied Thorpe bluntly. "It'll cut three million at least."
"Oh!" she cried drawing back, her hands pressed against the log either side of her, her eyes wide.
After a moment she caught her breath convulsively, and Thorpe became conscious that she was studying him furtively with a quickening doubt.
After that, by the mercy of God, there was no more talk between them. She was too hurt and shocked and disillusioned to make the necessary effort to go away. He was too proud to put an end to the position. They sat there apparently absorbed in thought, while all about them the accustomed life of the woods drew nearer and nearer to them, as the splash of their entrance into it died away.
A red squirrel poised thirty feet above them, leaped, and clung swaying to a sapling-top a dozen yards from the tree he had quitted. Two chickadees upside down uttering liquid undertones, searched busily for insects next their heads. Wilson's warblers, pine creepers, black-throats, myrtle and magnolia warblers, oven birds, peewits, blue jays, purple finches, passed silently or noisily, each according to his kind. Once a lone spruce hen dusted herself in a stray patch of sunlight until it shimmered on a tree trunk, raised upward, and disappeared, to give place to long level dusty shafts that shot here and there through the pines laying the spell of sunset on the noisy woods brawlers.
Unconsciously the first strain of opposition and of hurt surprise had relaxed. Each thought vaguely his thoughts. Then in the depths of the forest, perhaps near at hand, perhaps far away, a single hermit thrush began to sing. His song was of three solemn deep liquid notes; followed by a slight rhetorical pause as of contemplation; and then, deliberately, three notes more on a different key--and so on without haste and without pause. It is the most dignified, the most spiritual, the holiest of woods utterances. Combined with the evening shadows and the warm soft air, it offered to the heart an almost irresistible appeal. The man's artificial antagonism modified; the woman's disenchantment began to seem unreal.
Then subtly over and through the bird-song another sound became audible. At first it merely repeated the three notes faintly, like an echo, but with a rich, sad undertone that brought tears. Then, timidly and still softly, it elaborated the theme, weaving in and out through the original three the glitter and shimmer of a splendid web of sound, spreading before the awakened imagination a broad river of woods-imagery that reflected on its surface all the subtler moods of the forest. The pine shadows, the calls of the wild creatures, the flow of the brook, the splashes of sunlight through the trees, the sigh of the wind, the shout of the rapid,-- all these were there, distinctly to be felt in their most ethereal and beautiful forms. And yet it was all slight and tenuous as though the crack of a twig would break it through--so that over it continually like a grand full organ-tone repeated the notes of the bird itself.
With the first sigh of the wonder-music the girl had started and caught her breath in the exquisite pleasure of it. As it went on they both forgot everything but the harmony and each other.
"Ah, beautiful!" she murmured.
"What is it?" he whispered marvelling.
"A violin,--played by a master."
The bird suddenly hushed, and at once the strain abandoned the woods-note and took another motif. At first it played softly in the higher notes, a tinkling, lightsome little melody that stirred a kindly surface-smile over a full heart. Then suddenly, without transition, it dropped to the lower register, and began to sob and wail in the full vibrating power of a great passion.
And the theme it treated was love. It spoke solemnly, fearfully of the greatness of it, the glory. These as abstractions it amplified in fine full-breathed chords that swept the spirit up and up as on the waves of a mighty organ. Then one by one the voices of other things were heard,--the tinkling of laughter, the roar of a city, the sob of a grief, a cry of pain suddenly shooting across the sound, the clank of a machine, the tumult of a river, the puff of a steamboat, the murmuring of a vast crowd,--and one by one, without seeming in the least to change their character, they merged imperceptibly into, and were part of the grand-breathed chords, so that at last all the fames and ambitions and passions of the world came, in their apotheosis, to be only parts of the master- passion of them all.
And while the echoes of the greater glory still swept beneath their uplifted souls like ebbing waves, so that they still sat rigid and staring with the majesty of it, the violin softly began to whisper. Beautiful it was as a spirit, beautiful beyond words, beautiful beyond thought. Its beauty struck sharp at the heart. And they two sat there hand in hand dreaming--dreaming--dreaming---
At last the poignant ecstacy seemed slowly, slowly to die. Fainter and fainter ebbed the music. Through it as through a mist the solemn aloof forest began to show to the consciousness of the two. They sought each other's eyes gently smiling. The music was very soft and dim and sad. They leaned to each other with a sob. Their lips met. The music ceased.
Alone in the forest side by side they looked out together for a moment into that eternal vision which lovers only are permitted to see. The shadows fell. About them brooded the inscrutable pines stretching a canopy over them enthroned. A single last shaft of the sun struck full upon them, a single light-spot in the gathering gloom. They were beautiful.
And over behind the trees, out of the light and the love and the beauty, little Phil huddled, his great shaggy head bowed in his arms. Beside him lay his violin, and beside that his bow, broken. He had snapped it across his knee. That day he had heard at last the Heart Song of the Violin, and uttering it, had bestowed love. But in accordance with his prophecy he had that day lost what he cared for most in all the world, his friend.