A Village Stradivarius by Kate Douglas Wiggin
"He shall daily joy dispense
Lyddy had very few callers during her first month as a property owner in Edgewood. Her appearance would have been against her winning friends easily in any case, even if she had not acquired the habits of a recluse. It took a certain amount of time, too, for the community to get used to the fact that old Mrs. Butterfield was dead, and her niece Lyddy Ann living in the cottage on the river road. There were numbers of people who had not yet heard that old Mrs. Butterfield had bought the house from the Thatcher boys, and that was fifteen years ago; but this was not strange, for, notwithstanding Aunt Hitty's valuable services in disseminating general information, there was a man living on the Bonny Eagle road who was surprised to hear that Daniel Webster was dead, and complained that folks were not so long-lived as they used to be.
Aunt Hitty thought Lyddy a Goth and a Vandal because she took down the twenty silver coffin-plates and laid them reverently away. "Mis' Butterfield would turn in her grave," she said, "if she could see her niece. She ain't much of a housekeeper, I guess," she went on, as she cut over Dr. Berry's old trousers into briefer ones for Tommy Berry. "She gives considerable stuff to her hens that she'd a sight better heat over and eat herself, in these hard times, when the missionary societies can't hardly keep the heathen fed and clothed and warmed--no, I don't mean warmed, for most o' the heathens live in hot climates, somehow or 'nother. My back door's jest opposite hers; it's across the river, to be sure, but it's the narrer part, and I can see everything she does as plain as daylight. She washed a Monday, and she ain't taken her clothes in yet, and it's Thursday. She may be bleachin' of 'em out, but it looks slack. I said to Si last night I should stand it till 'bout Friday--seein' 'em lay on the grass there--but if she didn't take 'em in then, I should go over and offer to help her. She has a fire in the settin'-room 'most every night, though we ain't had a frost yet; and as near's I can make out, she's got full red curtains hangin' up to her windows. I ain't sure, for she don't open the blinds in that room till I get away in the morning, and she shuts 'em before I get back at night. Si don't know red from green, so he's useless in such matters. I'm going home late to-night, and walk down on that side o' the river, so 't I can call in after dark and see what makes her house light up as if the sun was settin' inside of it."
As a matter of fact, Lyddy was revelling in house-furnishing of a humble sort. She had a passion for colour. There was a red-and- white straw matting on the sitting-room floor. Reckless in the certain possession of twenty dollars a month, she purchased yards upon yards of turkey red cotton; enough to cover a mattress for the high-backed settle, for long curtains at the windows, and for cushions to the rocking-chairs. She knotted white fringes for the table-covers and curtains, painted the inside of the fireplace red, put some pots of scarlet geraniums on the window-sills, filled a wall-pocket with ferns and tacked it over an ugly spot in the plastering, edged her work-basket with a tufted trimming of scarlet wool, and made an elaborate photograph case of white crash and red cotton that stretched the entire length of the old-fashioned mantelshelf, and held pictures of Mr. Reynolds, Miss Elvira Reynolds, George, Susy, Anna, John, Hazel, Ella, and Rufus Reynolds, her former charges. When all this was done, she lighted a little blaze on the hearth, took the red curtains from their bands, let them fall gracefully to the floor, and sat down in her rocking-chair, reconciled to her existence for absolutely the first time in her forty years.
I hope Mrs. Butterfield was happy enough in Paradise to appreciate and feel Lyddy's joy. I can even believe she was glad to have died, since her dying could bring such content to any wretched living human soul. As Lydia sat in the firelight, the left side of her poor face in shadow, you saw that she was distinctly harmonious. Her figure, clad in a plain black-and-white print dress, was a graceful, womanly one. She had beautifully sloping shoulders and a sweet waist.
Her hair was soft and plentiful, and her hands were fine, strong, and sensitive. This possibility of rare beauty made her scars and burns more pitiful, for if a cheap chromo has a smirch across its face, we think it a matter of no moment, but we deplore the smallest scratch or blur on any work of real art.
Lydia felt a little less bitter and hopeless about life when she sat in front of her own open fire, after her usual twilight walk. It was her habit to wander down the wooded road after her simple five- o'clock supper, gathering ferns or goldenrod or frost flowers for her vases; and one night she heard, above the rippling of the river, the strange, sweet, piercing sound of Anthony Croft's violin.
She drew nearer, and saw a middle-aged man sitting in the kitchen doorway, with a lad of ten or twelve years leaning against his knees. She could tell little of his appearance, save that he had a fine forehead, and hair that waved well back from it in rather an unusual fashion. He was in his shirt-sleeves, but the gingham was scrupulously clean, and he had the uncommon refinement of a collar and necktie. Out of sight herself, Lyddy drew near enough to hear; and this she did every night without recognising that the musician was blind. The music had a curious effect upon her. It was a hitherto unknown influence in her life, and it interpreted her, so to speak, to herself. As she sat on the bed of brown pine needles, under a friendly tree, her head resting against its trunk, her eyes half closed, the tone of Anthony's violin came like a heavenly message to a tired, despairing soul. Remember that in her secluded existence she had heard only such harmony as Elvira Reynolds evoked from her piano or George Reynolds from his flute, and the Reynolds temperament was distinctly inartistic.
Lyddy lived through a lifetime of emotion in these twilight concerts. Sometimes she was filled with an exquisite melancholy from which there was no escape; at others, the ethereal purity of the strain stirred her heart with a strange, sweet vision of mysterious joy; joy that she had never possessed, would never possess; joy whose bare existence she never before realised. When the low notes sank lower and lower with their soft wail of delicious woe, she bent forward into the dark, dreading that something would be lost in the very struggle of listening; then, after a pause, a pure human tone would break the stillness, and soaring, birdlike, higher and higher, seem to mount to heaven itself, and, "piercing its starry floors," lift poor scarred Lydia's soul to the very gates of infinite bliss. In the gentle moods that stole upon her in those summer twilights she became a different woman, softer in her prosperity than she had ever been in her adversity; for some plants only blossom in sunshine. What wonder if to her the music and the musician became one? It is sometimes a dangerous thing to fuse the man and his talents in this way; but it did no harm here, for Anthony Croft was his music, and the music was Anthony Croft. When he played on his violin, it was as if the miracle of its fashioning were again enacted; as if the bird on the quivering bough, the mellow sunshine streaming through the lattice of green leaves, the tinkle of the woodland stream, spoke in every tone; and more than this, the hearth-glow in whose light the patient hands had worked, the breath of the soul bending itself in passionate prayer for perfection, these, too, seemed to have wrought their blessed influence on the willing strings until the tone was laden with spiritual harmony. One might indeed have sung of this little red violin--that looked to Lyddy, in the sunset glow, as if it were veneered with rubies--all that Shelley sang of another perfect instrument:
"The artist who this viol wrought
The viol "whispers in enamoured tone":
"Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
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.