XIX. In the Shadow of the Cypress
 

The house seemed lonely without Araminta. Miss Evelina missed the child more than she had supposed she could ever miss any one. She had grown to love her, and, too, she missed the work.

Miss Evelina's house was clean, now, and most of the necessary labour had been performed by her own frail hands. The care of Araminta had been an added burden, which she had borne because it had been forced upon her. Slowly, but surely, she had been compelled to take thought for others.

The promise of Spring had come to beautiful fulfilment, and the world was all abloom. Faint mists of May were rising from the earth, and filmy clouds half veiled the moon. The loneliness of the house was unbearable, so Miss Evelina went out into the garden, her veil fluttering, moth-like, about her head.

The old pain was still at her heart, yet, in a way, it was changed. She had come again into the field of service. Miss Mehitable had been kind to her, indeed, more than kind. The Piper had made her a garden, and she had taken care of Araminta. Doctor Ralph, meaning to be wholly kind, had offered to help her, if he could, and she had been on the point of doing a small service for him, when Fate, in the person of Miss Mehitable, intervened. And over and above and beyond all, Anthony Dexter had come back, to offer her tardy reparation.

That hour was continually present with her. She could not forget his tortured face when she had thrown back her veil. What if she had taken him at his word, and gone with him, to be, as he said, a mother to his son? Miss Evelina laughed bitterly.

The beauty of the night brought her no peace as she wandered about the garden. Without knowing it, she longed for human companionship. Piper Tom had finished his work. Doctor Ralph would come no more, Araminta had gone, and Miss Mehitable offered little comfort.

She went to the gate and leaned upon it, looking down the road. Thus she had watched for Anthony Dexter in years gone by. Memories, mercilessly keen, returned to her. As though it were yesterday, she remembered the moonlit night of their betrothal, felt his eager arms about her and his bearded cheek pressed close to hers. She heard again the music of his voice as he whispered, passionately: "I love you, oh, I love you--for life, for death, for all eternity!"

The rose-bush had been carefully pruned and tied up, but it promised little, at best. The cypress had grown steadily, and, at times, its long shadow reached through the door and into the house. Heavily, too, upon her heart, the shadow of the cypress lay, for sorrow seems so much deeper than joy.

A figure came up the road, and she turned away, intending to go into the house. Then she perceived that it was Piper Tom, and, drawing down her veil, turned back to wait for him. He had never come at night before.

Even in the darkness, she noted a change in him; the atmosphere of youth was all gone. He walked slowly, as though he had aged, and the red feather no longer bobbed in his hat.

He went past her silently, and sat down on the steps.

"Will you come in?" asked Evelina.

"No," answered the Piper, sadly, "I'll not be coming in. 'T is selfish of me, perhaps, but I came to you because I had sorrow of my own."

Miss Evelina sat down on the step beside him, and waited for him to speak.

"'T is a small sorrow, perhaps, you'll be thinking," he said, at last. "I'm not knowing what great ones you have seen, face to face, but 't is so ordered That all sorrows are not the same. 'T is all in the heart that bears them. I told you I had known them all, and at the time, I was thinking I spoke the truth. A woman never loved me, and so I have lost the love of no woman, but," he went on with difficulty, "no one had ever killed my dog."

"How?" asked Miss Evelina, dully. It seemed a matter of small moment to her.

"I'll not be paining you with that," the Piper answered, "At the last, 't was I who killed him to save him from further hurt. 'T was the best I could do for the little lad, and I'm thinking he'd take it from me rather than from any one else. I'm missing his cheerful bark and his pleasant ways, but I've taken him away for ever from Doctor Dexter and his kind."

"Doctor Dexter!" Evelina sprang to her feet, her body tense and quivering.

"Aye, Doctor Dexter--not the young man, but the old one."

A deep-drawn breath was her only answer, but the Piper looked up, startled. Slowly he rose to his feet and leaned toward her intently, as though to see her face behind her veil.

"Spinner in the Shadow," he said, with infinite tenderness, "I'm thinking 't was he who hurt you, too!"

Evelina's head drooped, she swayed, and would have fallen, had he not put his arm around her. She sat down on the step again, and hid her veiled face in her hands.

"'T was that, I'm thinking, that brought me to you," he went on. "I knew you did not care much for the little lad--he was naught to any one but me. 'T is this that binds us together--you and I."

The moon climbed higher into the heavens and the clouds were blown away. The shadow of the cypress was thrown toward them, and the dense night of it concealed the half-open door.

"See," breathed Evelina, "the shadow of the cypress is long."

"Aye," answered Piper Tom, "the shadow of the cypress is long and the rose blooms but once a year. 'T is the way of the world."

He loosened his flute from the cord by which it was slung over his shoulder. "I was going to the woods," he said, "but at the last, I could not, for the little lad always fared with me when I went out to play. He would sit quite still when I made the music, so still that he never frightened even the birds. The birds came, too.

"'T is a way I've had for long," he continued. "I never could be learning the printed music, so I made music of my own. So many laughed at it, not hearing any tune, that I've always played by myself. 'T was my own soul breathing into it--perhaps I'm not to blame that it never made a tune.

"Sometimes I'm thinking that there may be tunes and tunes. I was once in a place where there were many instruments, all playing at once, and there was nothing came from it that one could call a tune. But 't was great and beautiful beyond any words of mine to tell you, and the master of them all, standing up in front, knew just when each must play.

"Most, of course, I watched the one who played the flute and listened to the voice of it. 'T is strange how, if you listen, you can pick out one instrument from all the rest. I saw that sometimes he did not play at all, and yet the music went on. Sometimes, again, he was privileged to play just a note or two--not at all like a tune.

"'T was just his part, and, by itself, it would have sounded queer. I might have laughed at it myself if I did not know, and was listening for a tune. But the master of them all was pleased, because the man with the flute made his few notes to sing rightly when they should sing and because he kept still when there was no need of his instrument.

"So I'm thinking," concluded the Piper, humbly, "that these few notes of mine may belong to something I cannot hear, and that the Master himself leads me, when 't is time to play."

He put the instrument to his lips and began to play softly. The low, sweet notes were, as he said, no evident part of a tune, yet they were not without a deep and tender appeal.

Evelina listened, her head still bowed. It did not sound like the pipes o' Pan, but rather like some fragment of a mysterious, heart-breaking melody. Faint, far echoes rang back from the surrounding hills, as though in a distant forest cathedral another Piper sat enthroned.

The sound of singing waters murmured through the night as the Piper's flute breathed of stream and sea. There was the rush of a Summer wind through swaying branches, the tinkle of raindrops, the deep notes of rising storm. Moonlight shimmered through it, birds sang in green silences, and there was scent of birch and pine.

Then swiftly the music changed. Through the utter sadness of it came also a hint of peace, as though one had planted a garden of roses and instead there had come up herbs and balm. In the passionate pain, there was also uplifting--a flight on broken wings. Above and beyond all there was a haunting question, to which the answer seemed lost.

At length the Piper laid down his flute. "You do not laugh," he said, "and yet I'm thinking you may not care for music that has no tune."

"I do care," returned Evelina.

"I remember," he answered, slowly. "It was the day in the woods, when I called you and you came."

"I was hurt," she said. "I had been terribly hurt, only that morning,"

"Yes, many have come to me so. Often when I have played in the woods the music that has no tune, some one who was very sad has come to me. I saw you that day from far and I felt you were sad, so I called you. I called you," he repeated, lingering on the words, "and you came."

"I do not so much care for the printed music," he went on, after an interval, "unless it might be the great, beautiful music which takes so many to play. I have often thought of it and wondered what might happen if the players were not willing to follow the master--if one should play a tune where no tune was written, and he who has the violin should insist on playing the flute.

"I would not want the violin, for I think the flute is best of all. It is made from the trees on the mountains and the silver hidden within, and so is best fitted for the message of the mountains--the great, high music.

"I'm thinking that the life we live is not unlike the players. We have each our own instrument, but we are not content to follow as the Master leads. We do not like the low, long notes that mean sadness; we will not take what is meant for us, but insist on the dancing tunes and the light music of pleasure. It is this that makes the discord and all the confusion. The Master knows his meaning and could we each play our part well, at the right time, there would be nothing wrong in all the world."

Miss Evelina sighed, deeply, and the Piper put his hand on hers.

"I'm not meaning to reproach you," he said, kindly, "though, truly, I do think you have played wrong. In any music I have heard, there has never been any one instrument that has played all the time and sadly. When there is sadness, there is always rest, and you have had no rest."

"No," said Evelina, her voice breaking, "I have had no rest--God knows that!"

"Then do you not see," asked the Piper very gently, "that you cannot help but make the music wrong? The Master gives you one deep note to play, and you hold it, always the same note, till the music is at an end.

"'T is something wrong, I'm thinking, that has made you hold it so. I'm not asking you to tell me, but I think that one day I shall see. Together we shall find what makes the music wrong, and together we shall make it right again."

"Together," repeated Evelina, unconsciously. Once the word had been sweet to her, but now it brought only bitterness.

"Aye, together. 'T is for that I stayed. Laddie and I were going on, that very day we saw you in the wood--the day I called you, and you came. I shall see, some day, what has made it wrong--yes. Spinner in the Shadow, I shall see. I'm grieving now for Laddie and my heart is sore, but when I have forgiven him, I shall be at rest."

"Forgiven who?" queried Evelina.

"Why, the man who hurt Laddie--the same, I'm thinking, who hurt you. But your hurt was worse than Laddie's, I take it, and so 't is harder to forgive."

Evelina's heart beat hard. Never before had she thought of forgiving Anthony Dexter. She put it aside quickly as altogether impossible. Moreover, he had not asked.

"What is it to forgive?" she questioned, curiously.

"The word is not made right," answered the Piper, "I'm thinking 't is wrong end to, as many things in this world are until we move and look at them from another way. It's giving for, that's all. When you have put self so wholly aside that you can be sorry for him because he has wronged you, why, then, you have forgiven."

"I shall never be able to do that," she returned. "Why, I should not even try."

"Ah," cried the Piper, "I knew that some day I should find what was wrong, but I did not think it would be now. 'T is because you have not forgiven that you have been sad for so long. When you have forgiven, you will be free."

"He never asked," muttered Evelina.

"No; 't is very strange, I'm thinking, but those who most need to be forgiven are those who never ask. 'T is hard, I know, for I cannot yet be sorry for him because he hurt Laddie--I can only be sorry for Laddie, who was hurt. But the great truth is there. When I have grown to where I can be sorry for him as well as for Laddie, why, my grieving will be done.

"The little chap," mused the Piper, fondly, "he was a faithful comrade. 'T was a true heart that the brute--ah, what am I saying! I'll not be forgetting how he fared with me in sun and storm, sharing a crust with me, often, as man to man, and not complaining, because we were together. A woman never loved me but a dog has, and I'm thinking that some day I may have the greater love because I've been worthy of the less.

"My mother died when I was born and, because of that, I've tried to make the world easier for all women. I'm not thinking I have wholly failed, yet the great love has not come. I've often thought," went on Piper Tom, simply, "that if a woman waited for me at night when I went home, with love on her face, and if a woman's hand might be in mine when the Master tells me that I am no longer needed for the music, 't would make the leaving very easy, and I should not ask for Heaven.

"I've seen, so often, the precious jewel of a woman's love cast aside by a man who did not know what he had, having blinded himself with tinsel until his true knowledge was lost. You'll forgive me for my rambling talk, I'm thinking, for I'm still grieving for the little chap, and I cannot say yet that I have forgiven."

He rose, slung his flute over his shoulder again, and went slowly toward the gate. Evelina followed him, to the cypress tree.

"See," he said, turning, "the shadow of the cypress is long. 'T is because you have not forgiven. I'm thinking it may be easier for us to forgive together, since it is the same man."

"Yes," returned Evelina, steadily, "the shadow of the cypress is long, and I never shall forgive."

"Aye," said the Piper, "we'll forgive him together--you and I. I'll help you, since your hurt is greater than mine. You have veiled your soul as you have veiled your face, but, through forgiveness, the beauty of the one will shine out again, and, I'm thinking, through love, the other may shine out, too. You have hidden your face because you are so beautiful; you have hidden your soul because you are so sad. I called you in the woods, and I call you now. I shall never cease calling, until you come."

He went out of the gate, and did not answer her faint "good-night." Was it true, as he said, that he should never cease calling her? Something in her spirit stirred strangely at his appeal, as a far, celestial trumpet blown from on high might summon the valiant soul of a warrior who had died in the charge.