Miss Evelina sat alone, in her house, at peace with Anthony Dexter and with all the world. The surging flood of forgiveness and compassion which had swept over her as she gazed at his dead face, had broken down all barriers, abrogated all reserves. She saw that Piper Tom was right; had she forgiven him, she would have been free long ago.
She shrank no longer from her kind, but yearned, instead, for friendly companionship. Once she had taken off her veil and started down the road to Miss Mehitable's, but the habit of the years was strong upon her, and she turned back, affrighted, when she came within sight of the house.
Since she left the hospital, no human being had seen her face, save Anthony Dexter and his son. She had crept, nun-like, into the shelter of her chiffon, dimly taking note of a world which could not, in turn, look upon her. She clung to it still, yet perceived that it was a lie.
She studied herself in the mirror, no longer hating the sight of her own face. She was not now blind to her own beauty, nor did she fail to see that transfiguring touch of sorrow and peace. These two are sculptors, one working both from within and without, and the other only from within.
Why should she not put her veil forever away from her now? Why should she not meet the world face to face, as frankly as the world met her? Why should she delay?
She had questioned herself continually, but found no answer. Since she came back to her old home, she had been mysteriously led. Perhaps she was to be led further through the deep mazes of life--it was not only possible, but probable.
"I'll wait," she said to herself, "for a sign."
She had not seen the Piper since the day they met so strangely, with Anthony Dexter lying dead between them. Quite often, however, she had heard the flute, usually at sunrise or sunset, afar off in the hills. Once, at the hour of the turning night, the melody had come to her on the first grey winds of dawn.
A robin had waked to answer it, for the Piper's fluting was wondrously like his own voice.
Contrasting her present peace with her days of torment. Miss Evelina thrilled with gratitude to Piper Tom, who had taken the weeds out of her garden in more senses than one. His hand had guided her, slowly, yet surely, to the heights of calm. She saw her life now as a desolate valley lying between two peaks. One was sunlit, yet opaline with the mists of morning; the other was scarcely a peak, but merely a high and grassy plain upon which the afternoon shadows lay long.
Ah, but there were terrors in the dark valley which lay between! Sharp crags and treeless wastes, tortuous paths and abysmal depths, with never a rest for the wayfarer who struggled blindly on. She was not yet so secure upon the height that she could contemplate the valley unmoved.
Her house was immaculate, now, and was kept so by her own hands. At first, she had not cared, and the dust and the cobwebs had not mattered at all. Miss Mehitable, in the beginning, had inspired her to housewifely effort, and Doctor Ralph's personal neatness had made her ashamed. She worked in the garden, too, keeping the brick-bordered paths free from weeds, and faithfully attending to every plant.
Yet life seemed strangely empty, lifted above its all-embracing pain. The house and garden did not occupy her fully, and she had few books. These were all old ones, and she knew them by heart, though she had found some pleasure in reading again the well-thumbed fairy books of her childhood.
She had read the book which Ralph had brought Araminta, and thought of asking him to lend her more--if she ever saw him again. She knew that he was very busy, but she felt that, surely, he would come again before long.
Araminta danced up the path, singing, and rapped at Miss Evelina's door. When she came in, it was like a ray of sunlight in a gloomy place.
"Miss Evelina!" she cried; "Oh, Miss Evelina! I'm going to be married!"
"I'm glad," said Evelina, tenderly, yet with a certain wistfulness. Once the joy of it had been in her feet, too, and the dread valley of desolation had opened before her.
"See!" cried Araminta, extending a dimpled hand. "See my ring! It's my engagement ring," she added, proudly.
Miss Evelina winced a little behind her veil, for the ring was the one Anthony Dexter had given her soon after their betrothal. Fearing gossip, she had refused to wear it until after they were married. So he had taken it, to have it engraved, but, evidently, the engraving had never been done. Otherwise Ralph would not have given it to Araminta--she was sure of that.
"It was his mother's ring, Miss Evelina, and now it's mine. His father loved his mother just as Ralph loves me. It's so funny not to have to say 'Doctor Ralph.' Oh, I'm so glad I broke my ankle! He's coming, but I wanted to come first by myself. I made him wait for five minutes down under the elm because I wanted to tell you first. I told Aunt Hitty, all alone, and I wasn't a bit afraid. Oh, Miss Evelina, I wish you had somebody to love you as he loves me!"
"So do I," murmured Evelina, grateful for the chiffon that hid her tears.
"Wasn't there ever anybody?"
"I knew it--you're so sweet nobody could help loving you. Did he die?"
"It was that way with Mr. Thorpe," mused Araminta, reminiscently. "They loved each other and were going to be married, but she died. He said, though, that death didn't make any difference with loving. There's Ralph, now."
"Little witch," said the boy, fondly, as she met him at the door; "did you think I could wait a whole five minutes?"
They sat in the parlour for half an hour or more, and during this time it was not necessary for their hostess to say a single word. They were quite unaware that they were not properly conducting a three-sided conversation, and Miss Evelina made no effort to enlighten them. Youth and laughter and love had not been in her house before for a quarter of a century.
"Come again," she begged, when they started home. Joy incarnate was a welcome guest--it did not mock her now.
Half-way down the path, Ralph turned back to the veiled woman who stood wistfully in the doorway. Araminta was swinging, in childish fashion, upon the gate. Ralph took Miss Evelina's hand in his.
"I wish I could say all I feel," he began, awkwardly, "but I can't. With all my heart, I wish I could give some of my happiness to you!"
"I am content--since I have forgiven."
"If you had not, I could never have been happy again, and even now, I still feel the shame of it. Are you going to wear that--veil--always?"
"No," she whispered, shrinking back into the shelter of it, "but I am waiting for a sign."
"May it soon come," said Ralph, earnestly.
"I am used to waiting. My life has been made up of waiting. God bless you," she concluded, impulsively.
"And you," he answered, touching his lips to her hand. He started away, but she held him back. "Ralph," she said, passionately, "be true to her, be good to her, and never let her doubt you. Teach her to trust you, and make yourself worthy of her trust. Never break a promise made to her, though it cost you everything else you have in the world. I am old, and I know that, at the end, nothing counts for an instant beside the love of two. Remember that keeping faith with her is keeping faith with God!"
"I will," returned Ralph, his voice low and uneven. "It is what my own mother would have said to me had she been alive to-day. I thank you."
The house was very lonely after they had gone, though the echoes of love and laughter seemed to have come back to a place where they once held full sway. The afternoon wore to its longest shadows and the dense shade of the cypress was thrown upon the garden. Evelina smiled to herself, for it was only a shadow.
The mignonette breathed fragrance into the dusk. Scent of lavender and rosemary filled the stillness with balm. Drowsy birds chirped sleepily in their swaying nests, and the fairy folk of field and meadow set up a whirr of melodious wings. White, ghostly moths fluttered, cloud-like, over the quiet garden, and here and there a tiny lamp-bearer starred the night. A flaming meteor sped across the uncharted dark of the heavens, where only the love-star shone. The moon had not yet risen.
From within, Evelina recognised the sturdy figure of Piper Tom, and went out to meet him as he approached. She had drawn down her veil, but her heart was strangely glad.
"Shall we sit in the garden?" she asked.
"Aye, in the garden," answered the Piper, "since 't is for the last time."
His voice was sad, and Evelina yearned to help him, even as he had helped her. "What is it?" she asked. "Is it anything you can tell me?"
"Only that I'll be trudging on to-morrow. My work here is done. I can do no more."
"Then let me tell you how grateful I am for all you have done for me. You made me see things in their true relation and taught me how to forgive. I was in bondage, and you made me free."
The Piper sprang to his feet. "Spinner in the Sun," he cried, "is it true? Just as I thought your night was endless, has the light come? Tell me again," he pleaded, "ah, tell me 't is true!"
"It is true," said Evelina, with solemn joy. "In all my heart there is nothing but forgiveness. The anger and resentment are gone--all gone."
"Spinner in the Sun!" breathed the Piper, scarcely conscious that he spoke the words aloud. "My Spinner in the Sun!"
Slowly the moon climbed toward the zenith, and still, because there was no need, they spoke no word. Dew rose whitely from the clover fields beyond, veiling them as with white chiffon. It was the Piper, at last, who broke the silence.
"When I trudge on to-morrow," he said, "'t will be with a glad heart, even though the little chap is no longer with me. 'T is a fair, brave world, I'm thinking, since I've set your threads to going right again. I called you," he added, softly, "and you came."
"Yes," said Evelina, happily, "you called me, and I came."
"Spinner in the Sun," said the Piper, tenderly, "have you guessed my work?"
"Why, keeping the shop, isn't it?" asked Evelina, wonderingly; "the needles and thread and pins and buttons and all the little trifles that women need? A pedler's pack, set up in a house?"
The Piper laughed. "No," he replied, "I'm thinking that is not my work, nor yet the music that has no tune, which I'm for ever playing on my flute. Lady, I have travelled far, and seen much, and always there has been one thing that is strangest of all. In every place that I have been in yet, there has been a church and a minister, whose business was to watch over human souls.
"He's told them what was right according to his own thinking, which I'm far from saying isn't true for him, and never minded anything more. In spite of blood and tears and agony, he's always held up the one standard, and, I'm thinking, has always pointed to the hardest way to reach it. The way has been so hard that many have never reached it at all, and those who have--I've not seen that they are the happiest or the kindest, nor that they are loved the most.
"In the same place, too, there is always a doctor, whose business it is to watch over the body. If you have a broken leg or a broken arm, or a fever, he can set you right again. Blind eyes can be made to see, and deaf ears made to hear, but, Lady, who is there to care about a broken heart?
"I have taken in my pedler's pack the things that women need, because 't is women, mostly, who bear the heartaches of the world, and I come closer to them so. What you say I have done for you, I have done for many more. I'm trying to make the world a bit easier for all women because a woman gave me life. And because I love another woman in another way," he added, his voice breaking, "I'll be trudging on to-morrow alone, though 't would be easier, I'm thinking, to linger here."
Evelina's heart leaped with a throb of the old pain. "Tell me about her," she said, because it seemed the only thing to say.
"The woman I love," answered the Piper, "is not for me. She'd never be thinking of stooping to such as I, and I'd not be insulting her by asking. She's very proud, but she could be tender if she chose, and she's the bravest soul I ever knew--so brave that she fears neither death nor life, though life itself has not been kind.
"Her little feet have been set upon the rough pathways, almost since the beginning, and her hands catch at my heart-strings, they are so frail. They're fluttering always like frightened birds, and the fluttering is in her voice, too."
"And her face?"
"Ah, but I've dreamed of her face! I've thought it was noble beyond all words, with eyes like the first deep violets of Spring, but filled with compassion for all the world. So brave, so true, so tender it might be that I'm thinking if I could see it once, with love on it for me, that I'd never be asking more."
"Why haven't you seen her face?" asked Evelina, idly, to relieve an awkward pause. "Is she only a dream-woman?"
"Nay, she's not a dream-woman. She lives and breathes as dreams never do, but she hides her face because she is so beautiful. She veils her face from me as once she veiled her soul."
Then, at last, Evelina understood. She felt the hot blood mantling her face, and was thankful, once more, for the shelter of her chiffon.
"Spinner in the Sun," said the Piper, with suppressed tenderness, "were you thinking I could see you more than once or twice and not be caring? Were you thinking I could have the inmost soul of me torn because you'd been hurt, and never be knowing what lay beyond it, for me? Were you thinking I could be talking to you day after day, without having the longing to talk with you always? And now that I've done my best for you, and given you all that rests with me for giving, do you see why I'll be trudging on to-morrow, alone?
"'T is not for me to be asking it, for God knows I could never be worthy, but I've thought of Heaven as a place where you and I might fare together always, with me to heal your wounds, help you over the rough places, and guide you through the dark. That part of it, I'm to have, I'm thinking, for God has been very good to me. I'm to know that wherever you are, you re happy at last, because it's been given me to lead you into the light. I called you, and you came."
"Yes," said Evelina, her voice lingering upon the words, "you called me and I came, and was redeemed. Tell me, in your thought of Heaven, have you ever asked to see my face?"
"Nay," cried the Piper, "do you think I'd be asking for what you hide from me? I know that 't is because you are so beautiful, and such beauty is not for my eyes to see."
"Piper Tom," she answered; "dear Piper Tom! I told you once that I had been terribly burned. I was hurt so badly that when the man I was pledged to marry, and whose life I had saved, was told that every feature of mine was destroyed except my sight, he went away, and never came back any more."
"The brute who hurt Laddie," he said, in a low tone. "I told him then that a man who would torture a dog would torture a woman, too. I'd not be minding the scars," he added, "since they're brave scars, and not the marks of sin or shame. I'm thinking that 't is the brave scars that have made you so beautiful--so beautiful," he repeated, "that you hide your face."
Into Evelina's heart came something new and sweet--that perfect, absolute, unwavering trust which a woman has but once in her life and of which Anthony Dexter had never given her the faintest hint. All at once, she knew that she could not let him go; that he must either stay, or take her, too.
She leaned forward. "Piper Tom," she said, unashamed, "when you go, will you take me with you? I think we belong together--you and I."
"Belong together?" he repeated, incredulously. "Ah, 't is your pleasure to mock me. Oh, my Spinner in the Sun, why would you wish to hurt me so?"
Tears blinded Evelina so that, through her veil, and in the night, she could not see at all. When the mists cleared, he was gone.
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