XVI. The March of the Days




Out in the garden, the Piper was attending to his belated planting. He had cleared the entire place, repaired the wall, and made flower-beds in fantastic shapes that pleased his own fancy. To-day, he was putting in the seeds, while Laddie played about his feet, and Miss Evelina stood by, timidly watchful.

"I do not see," she said, "why you take so much trouble to make me a garden. Nobody was ever so good to me before."

The Piper laughed and paused a moment to wipe his ruddy face. "Did nobody ever care before whether or not you had a garden?"

"Never," returned Evelina, sadly.

"Then 't is time some one did, so Laddie and I have come to make it for you, but I'm thinking 't is largely for ourselves, too, since the doing is the best part of anything."

Miss Evelina made no answer. Speech did not come easily to her after twenty-five years of habitual repression.

"'T will be a brave garden," continued the Piper, cheerily. "Marigolds and larkspur and mignonette; phlox and lad's love, rosemary, lavender, and verbena, and many another that you'll not guess till the time comes for blossoming."

"Lad's love grew in my garden once," sighed Evelina, after a little. "It was sweet while it lasted--oh, but it was sweet!"

She spoke so passionately that the Piper gathered the underlying significance of her words.

"You're speaking of another garden, I think," he ventured; "the garden in your heart. "'T is meet that lad's love should grow there. Are you sure 't was not a weed?"

"Yes, it was a weed," she replied, bitterly. "The mistake was mine."

The Piper leaned on his rake thoughtfully. "'T is hard, I think," he said, "for us to see that the mistakes are all ours. The Gardener plants rightly, but we are never satisfied. When sweet herbs are meant for us, we ask for roses, and 't is not every garden in which a rose will bloom. If we could keep it clean of weeds, and make it free of all anger and distrust, there'd be heartsease there instead of thorns."

"Heartsease?" asked Evelina, piteously. "I thought there was no more!"

"Lady," said the Piper, "there is heartsease for the asking. I'm thinking 't is you who have spoiled your garden."

"No!" cried Evelina. "Believe me, it was not I!"

"Who else?" queried the Piper, with a look which made her shrink farther back into the shelter of her chiffon. "Ah, I was not asking a question that needed an answer; I do not concern myself with names and things. But ask this of yourself--is there sin on your soul?"

"No," she whispered, "unless it be a sin to suffer for twenty-five years."

"Another's sin, then? You're grieving because another has done wrong?"

"Because another has done wrong to me." The Piper came to her and laid his hand very gently upon hers. There was reassurance in the friendly, human touch. "'T is there," he said, "that the trouble lies. 'T is not for you to suffer because you are wronged, but for the one who has wronged you. He must have been very dear to you, I'm thinking; else you would not hide the beauty of your face."

"Beauty?" repeated Evelina, scornfully. "You do not understand. I was burned--horribly burned."

"Yes," said the Piper, softly, "and what of that? Beauty is of the soul."

He went out to the gate and brought in a small, flat box. "'T is for you," he said. "I got it for you when I went to the city--there was none here."

She opened the box, her fingers trembling, and held up length after length of misty white chiffon. "I ask no questions," said the Piper, proudly, "but I know that because you are so beautiful, you hide your face. Laddie and I, we got more of the white stuff to help you hide it, because you would not let us see how beautiful you are."

The chiffon fluttered in her hand, though there was no wind. "Why?" she asked, in a strange voice; "why did you do this?"

"You gave me a garden," laughed the Piper, "when I had no garden of my own, so why should I not get the white stuff for you? 'T was queer, the day I got it," he went on, chuckling at the recollection, "for I did not know its name. Every place I went, I asked for white stuff, and they showed me many kinds, but nothing like this. At last I said to a young girl: 'What is it that is like a cloud, all white and soft, which one can see through, but through which no one can be seen--the stuff that ladies wear when they are so beautiful that they do not want their faces seen?' She smiled, and told me it was 'chiffon.' And so--" A wave of the hand finished his explanation.

After an interval of silence, the Piper spoke again. "There are chains that bind you," he began, "but they are chains of your own forging. No one else can shackle you--you must always do it yourself. Whatever is past is over, and I'm thinking you have no more to do with it than a butterfly has with the empty chrysalis from which he came. The law of life is growth, and we cannot linger--we must always be going on.

"You stand alone upon a height," he said, dreamily, "like one in a dreary land. Behind you all is darkness, before you all is darkness; there is but one small space of light. In that one space is a day. They come, one at a time, from the night of To-morrow, and vanish into the night of Yesterday.

"I have thought of the days as men and women, for a woman's day is not at all like a man's. For you, I think, they first were children, with laughing eyes and little, dimpled hands. One at a time, they came out of the darkness, and disappeared into the darkness on the other side. Some brought you flowers or new toys and some brought you childish griefs, but none came empty-handed. Each day laid its gift at your feet and went on.

"Some brought their gifts wrapped up, that you might have the surprise of opening them. Many a gift in a bright-hued covering turned out to be far from what you expected when you were opening it. Some of the happiest gifts were hidden in dull coverings you took off slowly, dreading to see the contents. Some days brought many gifts, others only one.

"As the days grew older, some brought you laughter; some gave you light and love. Others came with music and pleasure--and some of them brought pain."

"Yes," sighed Evelina, "some brought pain."

"It is of that," went on the Piper, "that I wished to be speaking. It was one day, was it not, that brought you a long sorrow?"

"Yes."

"Not more than one? Was it only one day?"

"Yes, only one day,"

"See," said The Piper, gently, "the day came with her gift. You would not let her lay it at your feet and pass on into the darkness of Yesterday. You held her by her grey garments and would not let her go. You kept searching her sad eyes to see whether she did not have further pain for you. Why keep her back from her appointed way? Why not let your days go by?"

"The other days," murmured Evelina, "have all been sad."

"Yes, and why? You were holding fast to one day--the one that brought you pain. So, with downcast eyes they passed you, and carried their appointed gifts on into Yesterday, where you can never find them again. Even now, the one day you have been holding is struggling to free herself from the chains you have put upon her. You have no right to keep a day."

"Should I not keep the gifts?" she asked. His fancy pleased her.

"The gifts, yes--even the gifts of tears, but never a day. You cannot hold a happy day, for it goes too quickly. This one sad day that marched so slowly by you is the one you chose to hold. Lady," he pleaded, "let her go!"

"The other days," she whispered, brokenly. "What of them?"

"No man can say. While you have been holding this one, the others have passed you, taking your gifts into Yesterday. Memory guards Yesterday, but there is a veil on the face of To-morrow. Sometimes I think To-morrow is so beautiful that she hides her face."

"God veils her face," cried Evelina, "or else we could not live!"

"Lady," said the Piper, "have you lived so long and never learned this simple thing? Whatever a day may bring you, whatever terrible gifts of woe, if you search her closely, you will always find the strength to meet her face to face. Overshadowed by her burden of bitterness, one fails to find the balm. Concealed within her garments or held loosely in her hand, she always has her bit of consolation; rosemary in the midst of her rue, belief with the doubt, life with the death."

"I found no balm," murmured Evelina, "in the day you say I held."

"Had there been no secret balm, you could never have held her--the thorns would have pierced your hands. Have you not seen that you can never have sorrow until you have first had joy? Happiness is the light and sadness the shade. God sets you right, and you stray from the path, into the shadow of the cypress."

"The cypress casts a long shadow," said Evelina, pointing to the tree at the gate.

The Piper smiled. "The shadow of a sorrow is longer than the sorrow," he answered. "The shadow of one day, with you, has stretched over twenty-five years. 'T is approaching night that makes long shadows; when life is at noon, they are short. When life is at its highest, there are no shadows at all."

Miss Evelina sighed and leaned uneasily against the wall.

"This, I'm thinking," mused the Piper, "is the inmost truth of living--there is always a balance which swings true. A sorrow is precisely equal to a joy, and the shadow can loom no larger unless the light slants. And if you sit always in the sun, the shadow that lies behind a joy can be scarcely seen at all."

A faint breath of Spring stirred Miss Evelina's veil. She caught at it and tied the long floating ends about her neck.

"I would not look," said the Piper, softly. "If your veil should blow away, I would close my eyes and feel my way to the gate. Unless you chose to have me see your beauty, I would never ask, nor take advantage of an accidental opportunity. I'm thinking you are very beautiful, but you need never be afraid of me."

Miss Evelina did not reply; she only leaned more heavily against the wall.

"Lady," he continued, "perhaps you think I do not know. You may think I'm talking blindly, but there are few sorrows in the world that I have not seen face to face. Those I have not had myself, my friends have had, and I have been privileged to share with them. The sorrows of the world are not so many--they are few, and, in essence, the same.

"It's very strange, I'm thinking. The little laughing, creeping days go by us, then the awkward ones that bring us the first footsteps, then childhood comes, and youth, and then maturity. But the days have begun to grow feeble before one learns how to meet them; how to take the gifts humbly, scorning none, and how to make each day give up its secret balm. Memory, the angel who stands at the portal of Yesterday, has always an inscrutable smile. She keeps for us so many things that we would be glad to spare, and pushes headlong into Yesterday so much that we fain would keep. I do not yet know all the ways of Memory--I only know that she means to be kind."

"Kind!" repeated Evelina. Her tone was indescribably bitter.

"Yes," returned the Piper, "Memory means to be kind--she is kind. I have said that I do not know her ways, but of that I am sure. Lady, I would that you could let go of the day you are holding back. Cast her from you, and let her go into the Yesterday from which you have kept her so long. Perhaps Memory will be kinder to you then, for, remember, she stands at the gate."

"I cannot," breathed Evelina. "I have tried and I cannot let her go!"

"Yes," said the Piper, very gently, "you can. 'T is that, I'm thinking, that has set your life all wrong. Unclasp your hands from her rough garments, cease to question her closed eyes. Take her gift and the balm that infallibly comes with it; meet To-day with kindness and To-morrow with a brave heart. Oh, Spinner in the Shadow," he cried, his voice breaking, "I fain would see you a Spinner in the Sun!"

"No," she sighed, "I have been in the dark too long. There is no light for me."

"There is light," he insisted. "When you admit the shadow, you have at the same time acknowledged the light."

Evelina shook her head. "Too late," she said, despairingly; "it is too late."

"Ah," cried the Piper, "if you could only trust me! I have helped many a soul into the sun again."

"I trusted," said Evelina, "and my trust was betrayed."

"Yes," he answered, "I know. I have trusted, too, and I have been betrayed, also, but I know that the one who wronged me must suffer more than I."

She laughed; a wild, fantastic laugh. "The one who wronged me," she said, "has not suffered at all. He married in a year."

"There are different ways of suffering," he explained. "With a woman, it is most often spread out over a long period. The quick, clean-cut stroke is seldom given to a woman--she suffers less and longer than a man. With him, I'm thinking, it has come, or will come, all at once."

"If it does," she cried, her frail body quivering, "what a day for him, oh, what a day!"

Her voice was trembling with the hideous passion for revenge, and the Piper read her, unerringly. "Lady," he said, sadly, "'t is a long way to the light, but I'm here to help | you find it. We'll be going now. Laddie and I, but we'll come back soon."

He whistled to the dog and the two went off downhill together. She watched him from the gate until the bobbing red feather turned a corner at the foot of the hill, and the cheery whistle had ceased.

The stillness was acute, profound. It was so deep that it seemed positive, rather than negative. She went back into the house, her steps dragging painfully.

As in a vision she saw the days passing her while she stood upon a height. All around her were bare rocks and fearful precipices; there was nothing but a narrow path in front. Day by day, they came, peacefully, contentedly; till at last dawned that terrible one which had blasted her life. Was it true that she still held that day by the garment, and could not unclasp her hands?

One by one they had passed her, leaving no gifts, because she still clung to one. If she could let go, what gifts would the others bring? Joy? Never--there was no joy in the world for her.

Sometime that mystical procession must come to an end. When the last day passed on, she would follow, too, and go into the night of Yesterday, where, perhaps, there was peace. As never before, she craved the last gift, praying to see the uplifted head and stately figure of the last Day--grave, silent, unfathomable, tender; the Day with the veiled face, bearing white poppies in her hands.



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