The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XXX. Another Match-Maker
"Music waves eternal wands."
The days went by pleasantly for the school-master, who became more and more interested in Martha's struggle for an education. He spent many of his evenings in directing her studies or in reading to her, and Martha showed her gratitude in a score of ways. Pearl was delighted with the turn events had taken, and before the month of January had gone declared that she could see results. Martha was learning.
There was one other person in the neighbourhood who was taking an interest in Martha's case and was determined to help it along, and that was Dr. Emeritus Emory, the music-teacher of the Souris valley.
Dr. Emory was a mystery, a real, live, undiscoverable mystery. All that was really known of him was that he had come from England several years before and worked as an ordinary farm-hand with a farmer at the Brandon Hills. He was a steady, reliable man, very quiet and reticent. That he knew anything about music was discovered quite by accident one day when the family for whom he worked were all away to a picnic and "Emer" was left to mind the house. One of the neighbour's boys came over to borrow a neck-yoke. "Emer," glad to be alone in the house, was in the parlour playing the piano. The neighbour's boy knocked and knocked at the back door, but got no response. Finally he went around to the front and looked in the window to see who was playing the piano, and there sat "Emer" "ripplin' it off by the yard," the boy said afterward, "the smashin'est band music you ever heard."
Soon after that "Emer" left the plough, and Dr Emeritus Emory began to teach music to the young people of the neighbourhood and of the neighbourhoods beyond, for he was fond of long walks and thought nothing of twenty miles in a day. His home was where night found him, and, being of a genial, kindly nature, he was a welcome guest at many a fireside.
The music-teacher's reticence regarding his own affairs exasperated some of the women. There was no human way of finding out who he was or why he left home. Mrs. George Steadman once indignantly exclaimed, speaking of Dr. Emory,--"You can't even tell if he's married, or if she's livin'. Maybe she is, for all we know. He never gets no mail. George went and asked."
Dr. Emory was equally silent on the happenings at the houses at which he stayed. Mrs. Steadman pointed out to Mrs. Motherwell that "if the old lad wanted he could be real chatty, instead of sittin' around singin' his little fiddlin' toons. Here last week when he came to give Maudie her lesson he came straight from Slater's, and I was just dyin' to know if they was gettin' ready for Edith's weddin'. We heard it had been put off, and so I asked him out straight if he saw much sewin' around. 'They were sewin' onion seed,' says he. He seems kinda stoopid sometimes. But I says to him, makin' it as plain as I could, 'I mean, did ye see any sewin' around the house, did ye see anything in the line of sewin?' because I know people often put it away, but if he was half smart he'd see the bastin' threads or somethin', so I says, 'Did you see anythin' like sewin?' 'Just the sewin'-machine,' says he, thinkin' hard. 'I remember distinctly seein' it.' Then I just got my dander up, for I was determined to know about it, and I knew very well he c'ud tell me if he'd a mind to. I says, 'Do ye think Edith is gittin' ready to be married?' and says he, real solemn like--I thought for sure he was goin' to tell me somethin'--says he, 'Mrs. Steadman, I believe every girl is gittin' ready for her weddin' sometime. Maudie here is doin' an ocean-wave huckaback cushion now, I see. What's that for, I wonder? I suppose Edith Slater is gittin' ready. I don't see why she shouldn't,' and then he began to lilt a little foreign toon, and I was good and mad, I can tell ye; but ye can't get nothin' out, of him. He gits his livin' pretty easy, too, and he ought to be a little chatty, I think."
Dr. Emeritus Emory was not so engrossed in his profession as to be insensible to a good square meal and a well-kept room to sleep in, and so a chart of his peregrinations through the neighbourhood, with the meal-stations starred, would have been a surer guide to the good bread and butter makers than the findings of the Agricultural Society which presumed every year at the "Show Fair" to pick the winners, and any young man looking for a wife would make no mistake if he "followed the stars."
Dr. Emory seldom passed the Perkins home without stopping, and although he had no pupil there since Edith left, he almost invariably planned his pilgrimage so as to be there about nightfall, for a good supper, bed, and breakfast and a warm welcome were not to be passed by.
If the music-teacher's way of getting his board and lodging was unique, he had also his own system of getting his laundry work done. Like all systems, it had its limitations; it required a certain understanding on the part of the lady of the house. This sometimes did not exist, and so it happened that the pair of stockings or the underwear that he left, quite by accident, in the room he had occupied were returned to him on his next visit, neatly wrapped in newspaper, but otherwise unchanged in condition.
But Martha Perkins never failed him. On his next visit the articles he had left were always returned to him, washed, ironed, and oven mended, and Martha always asked, as if there were some chance of doubt, if they were his.
Although he had never thanked Martha for her kindness, Dr. Emory was deeply sensible of it, an many a time as he came walking down the river-bank and saw the Perkins home, with its friendly, smoke curling up through the trees, a lively feeling of gratitude stirred in him. He had a habit of talking to him-self--gossiping, indeed, for it was only to himself that he discussed neighbourhood matters or his own affairs.
"Martha's a good girl," he said to himself one night as he came down the long Souris hill, "a very good girl. She puts a conscientious darn on the heel of a sock, quiet, unobtrusive, like herself. Martha should marry. Twenty years from now if Martha's not married she will be lonesome ... and gray and sad. I can see her, bent a little--good still, and patient, but when all alone ... quite sad. It is well to live alone and be free when one is young ... the world is wide ... but the time comes when one would like ...company--all one's own ...some one who ... cares."
The old man suddenly came to himself and looked around suspiciously at the bare oaks and willows that fringed the road. Not even to them would he impart the secret of his heart. But some vision of the past seemed to trouble him for he walked more slowly and seemed to be quite insensible of the beauty of the scene around him.
The setting, sun threw long shafts of crimson light across the snowbound valley and lit the windows of the distant farmhouse into flame. A white rabbit flashed across the road and disappeared in the brown scrub. The wind, which had blown all day, had ceased as evening approached, and now not a branch stirred in the quiet valley, over which the purple shades of the winter evening were creeping.
"It's a good world," he said at last, as if trying to convince himself--"it is full of beauty and music. I think there must be another world . . . over beyond the edge of things . . . a world that is perhaps a little kinder and more just--it must be. I think it will be--"
A flock of prairie chickens rose out of the snow almost at his feet and flew rapidly across the river and up over the other hill. His eye followed their flight--he loved those brave birds, who stay with us through the longest winter and whose stout hearts no storm can daunt.
Then softly he began to sing, a brave song of love and pain and enduring, a song that helped him to believe that:
"Good will fall, At last, far off, at last--to all, And every winter change to spring."
His voice wavered and trembled at first, as if it, too, felt the weariness of the years, but by the time he had sung the first verse all trace of sadness had vanished, and he went up the other, bank walking briskly and singing almost gaily.
Thomas Perkins, doing his evening chores, stopped to listen at the stable door as the old doctor came across the white field, then he shook his head and said. "By George, it's well to be him, not a blessed thing to bother him. It's great how easy some people get through the world."
That night, after a warm supper, the old doctor sat in the cheerful kitchen of the Perkins home and watched Martha quickly and deftly clearing away the dishes. Humming to himself an air from "Faust" no one would have thought that he was deliberately contemplating doing a match-making turn, but certain it is that his brain was busy devising means of suggesting to Arthur what a splendid girl Martha was. There was this difference between Dr. Emory and Pearl Watson as match-makers,--Pearl played the game perfectly fair, calling to her aid such honest helps as the spelling-book and the pages of the Woman's Magazine. The doctor, who knew more of the devious paths of the human heart, chose other weapons for his warfare.
Arthur came over for his bread that evening also, and when Dr. Emory went to the organ in the parlour and began to play, every one in the house went in to listen. He did not often play without being asked, but to-night he suggested it himself. The parlour lamp was lighted, a gorgeous affair with a large pink globe on which a stalwart deer, poised on a rock, was about to spring across a rushing stream. But the parlour lamp seemed to expend all its energy lighting up, the deer and stream and the wreath of wild roses on the other side, and have very little left for the room. The doctor silently commended its dim light, for it suited his purpose better.
At Mr. Perkins's request he played Irish reels and jigs. Mrs. Perkins had only one favourite, "Home, Sweet Home," with variations; that was the only tune she was real sure of. When the Doctor got these two orders filled he began the real business of the evening with Handel's "Largo." Mr. Perkins began to yawn and soon took his departure, closely followed by Mrs. Perkins. They unitedly declared that they "didn't like a die-away ducky piece like that that hadn't any swing to it."
The Doctor's fine old eyes were shining with a real purpose as he played. "I'll suggest their thoughts for them," the old man was chuckling to himself. "Who can resist these dreamy love-songs?"--he was playing Schubert's "Serenade." "Twilight and music! If the moon would only show her face at the window! I'm letting loose a whole flock of cupids. Oh, I know, I know, I've heard their whispers--they tell you there is no death or loneliness--or separation--lying little rascals! But sweet, oh, wondrously sweet to listen to. Listen to this, Arthur--it's all yours--Martha's just as true and pure and sweet as all this--and she loves you, man alive, think of that. Sorrow and evil days and death itself will never change Martha--she's a solid rock for you to build your soul's happiness on. Dream on now, Arthur, as millions have dreamed before you; let your dreams keep pace with this--it will carry you on its strong tide--it will land you safe on the rainbow shore. It carries me even, and I am old and full of evil days. What must it be to you, Arthur, for you are young and can easily believe, and the girl who loves you is right beside you. Take the thought--it's bright with promise--it's full of love and comfort and home for you."
The schoolmaster stole away to his room upstairs and took a faded photograph from an old portfolio and kissed it tenderly.
* * *
Behind the lace curtains the full moon, with a golden mist around her face, shone softly into the dimly-lighted room, and still the old man played on, the deathless songs of youth and love--the sweet, changeless melodies which have come down the ages to remind us of the love that still lives, glorious and triumphant, though the hearts that loved are dust.