The White Shield
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"Oh, yes," she responded brightly, "sometimes. The points of the setting catch in my glove though, and I am afraid of loosening the stone."
"Marian, don't you care for me?"
"As much as you care for me, I think, don't you?"
He went over and put his arm around her. She shrank a little at his touch, but he pulled her down on the sofa beside him.
"Marian, darling, tell me what the matter is. I know I don't deserve you, and I'll go, if you say I must. Has that fellow Jackson come between us?"
Marian disregarded one of Edith's injunctions. "Perhaps it's Miss Perkins."
Tom said a very emphatic swear word, which does not look well in print, then buried his head in one of the sofa cushions. She was frightened and sank down on her knees beside him, her armor of self-defence vanishing in womanly pity. "Tom, dear Tom! What is it? Tell me!"
He straightened up and lifted her to the sofa beside him.
"I see, sweetheart, I've been a fool and a great deal worse than that. Can you ever forgive me?"
"One thing first, Tom, do you love me?"
"Marian, dear, I never knew until this last wretched week, just how much you meant to me. I am yours, body and soul, to do with what you will. I have no right to insult you, Marian, but will you take me back?" His voice trembled with the agony of love and pain, as she drew the solitaire out of the chatelaine bag at her belt. She held it silently toward him.
"Darling, is it good-bye?"
"No, dear, I want you to put it back."
And that evening, in accordance with instructions, the servant said to Mr. Sterling Jackson, "Miss Reynolds is out."
He stood at the side of the brilliantly lighted opera-house with a note-book and pencil in his hand. Would that interminable symphony never be finished? The audience listened breathlessly, but he, the musical critic of a thriving daily paper, only drummed idly with his fingers and stared vacantly at the people near him.
There was a momentary hush, the orchestra leader waved his baton, and the trained musicians, with perfect precision began the brilliant finale. The audience was unusually sympathetic, and for an instant after the closing passage all was still; then came a great burst of applause.
The leader bowed his acknowledgment, but the clamour only increased. The critic sank wearily into an empty seat and looked across the house. He started and grew pale, as among the throng of fashionables he saw a face that he knew – that he had known.
A sweet face it was too; not beautiful, but full of subtle charm and a haunting tenderness that he had tried to forget. He sat like one in a dream, and did not know that the orchestra was about to play the next number till its opening measures woke him from his abstraction.
Tr?umerei! Anything but that! Oh, God, this needless pain! And he thought he had forgotten!
He stood again in a little room which the autumn moonlight made as bright as day.Down below on the rocks was the far-off sound of the sea, and she, with his roses on her breast, sat before the piano and played dreamily, tenderly, yes, this same Tr?umerei that was now breaking his heart.
He had stood behind her, with his arms around her, his dark, eager face down close to hers, and whispered huskily: "Sweetheart, I love you."
And she had turned her face up to his and said, softly, "I love – you – too – dear;" and he had hugged her tightly to him and covered her face with burning kisses that were almost pain. And – that – had – been – their – betrothal. Then for a little while there was happiness – then there was a misunderstanding – and there – she was – and —
Up through those arches of light the clear, sweet melody stole. Had he forgotten? Had she? He seized his opera-glass and a quick turn of the screw brought her again close to him.
Yes, there were tears in her eyes; he could see the white lids quiver, and her lips trembled and —
With a deeper throb of pain than any he yet had known, the buried love came back, strong and sweet, as in those dear days when the whole world seemed aglow with love of her.
He rose and walked nervously around the shining circle and down the aisle to where she sat. His breath came quick and fast, he hardly dared trust himself to speak, but with a great effort he commanded himself and bent over her chair.
She looked up and her tear-wet eyes met his own. He whispered, hoarsely, "Forgive me – come out a minute – I want to speak to you."
Hardly knowing what she did, she followed him into the dimly lighted, deserted foyer.
With the last strain of that wordless love-sweet song, the dear old dream came back and, unrebuked, he put his arm about her once more.
"Sweetheart," he said, "I love you."
A soft arm stole round his neck, and she answered as of old,
"I love you, too, dear."
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
Down in the negro quarters on a Georgia plantation stood a quaint little log cabin overlooking cotton fields that were white with their snowy fruit. Born in slavery, living in slavery and apparently destined to die in slavery, yet old Joe was happy; for to him slavery was not bondage – only a pleasant way of being cared for.
His days of active usefulness were over. He had served long and faithfully in those same cotton fields, then as a house servant and later as a coachman. Now on account of age and the "misery" in his back, he spent his days in mending harness, telling stories to the children and making playthings out of the odd bits of rubbish they brought him.
His wife, Sally, was head cook at the mansion which stood in another part of the plantation, in the midst of trees and flowers. Down a little farther was a tiny brook that sang all the livelong day and turned back, regretfully perhaps, to wind by the window of old Joe's cabin.
"The Pines" was a most hospitable house and usually thronged with guests, for its young mistress had an indulgent husband and money sufficient to gratify every possible whim. Mrs. Langley she was now, but to old Joe she would be "Miss Eunice" always. He had carried her when she was a baby, watched over her when she was ill, and once when a pair of maddened horses dashed down the drive, utterly beyond their owner's control, he had snatched the unconscious child from almost under the wild feet, and – saved her life, they said, but the brave fellow had received internal injuries and had not been able to do much since.
"Yes," he said one afternoon, to an appreciative audience of pickaninnies and white children who sat together around his feet in a truly democratic fashion, "dat ar day war a great time fo ol Joe. I war jes agwine to de house wen I see dese yer hosses comin ker-blip! right whar Miss Eunice war a playin wid her doll-buggy. Dere wasn't no time to call her, so I jes grab her and run, an my foot ketch in de doll-buggy an I trow Miss Eunice ober my haid in some soft grass an den de hosses tram on me an I kinder lost my 'membunce. Pretty soon I fin mysel in de house an de doctor an ol Missis war a standin ober me. Doctor say, 'he come to all right,' an ol Missis, she jes stoop down an kiss ol Joe! Tink ob dat!"
"Den Miss Eunice come in, an ol Missis say 'come here dear, and see Uncle Joe. He done sabe yo life.' An den I lose my 'membunce again. One day Mas'r walk in an he say, 'Joe, here's yo papers, yo's free now, jus ez free ez I is.' I say Mas'r, I don't want to go away from you an Missis an Miss Eunice. I want to stay here on de ol plantation, along 'o my ol woman. And den he wipe is eyes an say, 'I'll gib Sally papers too' an Sally say, 'No Mas'r, me an Joe don't want to be free; we wants to stay here where we's happies' an Mas'r say he keep dose yer papers for us till we done want em. Dose was mighty fine times for ol Joe!" and he beamed at the children around his feet who had been listening with ever-fresh delight to the old, old story.
"Now play something, Uncle," the children cried, and Tommy Langley brought the fiddle that always hung in one corner of the cabin. His eyes brightened at the sight of the old brown thing, but he gently put the eager child away, saying, "No, honey, not dis time. I got de misery in my back wuss en eber. Go way, chillens, ol Joe's – so tired!"
They obediently trooped out of the cabin and the old man's head dropped on his breast. The gaunt grey figure twisted with pain, and he did not move until Sally came in to get his supper.
"Well, honey," she said cheerily, "how's yo back to-day?"
"Pears like de pain gets wuss, Sally," he replied.
"Nebber yo min, yo'll get better byme by." Coming closer she dropped a bundle of illustrated papers into his lap. "See wat Miss Eunice send yo, an look here!" She pointed proudly to her stooped shoulders, where a scarlet kerchief shone like a ray of light in the dim cabin.
Joe tried to smile, then said feebly, "Miss Eunice mighty good to us, Sally."
Sally assented, and moving quickly about the cabin, soon had the evening meal on the table.
"Come, Joe, move up yo cheer. Dis yere hoe cake done to de tu'n!"
"Pears like I couldn't eat no supper," he said, then gave a half-suppressed groan that betokened an extra twinge of the "misery."
"Po ol man," said Sally sympathetically, and she ate in silence, watching the kindly pain-drawn face, with ever-increasing anxiety.
As twilight fell, the sufferer sought his couch, where he moaned and tossed restlessly, and the pitying Sally, stretched wearily on a faded rug near the door was soon fast asleep.
Up at "The Pines" all was light and laughter and music, for a crowd of young folks were gathered 'neath its hospitable roof and guitars and mandolins made the whole house ring with melody of a more or less penetrating quality. In the midst of the gaiety, Tommy stole up to his mother with a troubled look on his usually merry little face.
"What is it, dearie?" she asked, putting her arm about him.
"Mamma, I'm afraid Uncle Joe is going to die. His 'misery' hurts him awful."
"Is Uncle Joe very sick, dear? I knew he was not well, but he has always been ailing, you know. I'll have the doctor see him to-morrow."
"All right, mamma," and the little face grew bright again.
She kissed him tenderly and said: "Run away to bed, little son, the birds went long ago."
Tommy went off obediently, but Mrs. Langley felt worried about the faithful old fellow who had saved her life. "I'll see to him to-morrow," she thought and began to plan various things for his comfort and happiness.
A little later a pretty girl with a mandolin, said: "Do you know I feel like having a lark. Excuse the slang, please, but there's no other word that will express my meaning."
"Try a swallow," suggested a young man in a way that was meant to be funny. "There's lots of lemonade left in the pitcher."
She scorned the interruption. "I want a lark, a regular lark!"
"How would a serenade do?"
"Capital!" she laughed. "Just the thing! We'll take our mandolins and guitars into the moonlight and make things pleasant generally."
"But," said a maid with a practical turn of mind, "who is there to serenade? There aren't any neighbours, are there?"
"Give it up!"
"Ask Mrs. Langley – she'll know," and a smiling ambassador from the merry group, Mrs. Langley's own nephew, went to the fair-haired hostess who sat with her husband in the library.
"Aunty, who is there in this charming spot whom we can serenade? The girls think it would be fun, but we don't know where to find a victim in this isolated Eden."
Mrs. Langley rose quickly, and going to the little party, told them of old Joe and how she owed her life to those strong arms. She finished the story with an eloquent gesture that brought tears to the eyes of many, and added: "Go down to the old man's cabin and sing the quaint negro melodies he loves so well – that he used to sing to me when I was a little child. And take these roses with you; he used to love them so; you can throw them in at the open window."
As she spoke, she took a great handful of white roses from a vase and with a little pearl-handled knife, dextrously removed the thorns, then handed them to her nephew.
"How do we get there, Aunty?" he asked, with something like a tremor in his voice.
"Follow the brook," she replied. "It flows right under his window, and you cannot miss the place. I'd go with you, only I can't sing, and wouldn't be of any use." She smiled brightly at them as they went down among the shadows, then to the tiny brook that seemed like a musical stream of silver in the moonlight.
The party was strangely silent for one bound for a "lark," and by much crossing of the little stream that wound its tortuous way through the grounds, they came to Uncle Joe's tiny cabin in an unseen nook of the plantation. They grouped themselves under the window in silence.
"Now then!" whispered one of them. The mandolins and guitars played the opening strains of the sweet old melody, then their fresh young voices rose high and clear:
The old grey head turned feebly on its hard pillow, and Sally stirred restlessly.
Above the song of the brook that seemed like a tender accompaniment to the tinkle of the mandolins the music rose, and old Joe woke from his dream of pain.
Oh, light of the angels! Oh, rapture of the song! The familiar words brought back so much to the old man's listening soul!
The fragrant shower fell around him. He grasped a great white rose that was within reach of his hand and pressed it to his parched lips.
Out of the clouds was the chariot coming for him? Yes – wrapt in celestial glory.
The song died away, and the singers heard no sound within.
But the tired head fell back upon its pillow with a sigh of infinite content, the chariot came, and Uncle Joe forgot the "misery" and the roses alike in passing from supreme shadow to supreme dawn.
The Face of the Master
In a little town in Italy, there once lived an old violin maker, whose sole pride and happiness was in the perfect instruments which he had made. He had, indeed, a son, or rather a stepson, for his wife had been a pretty widow with this one child when he married her a year before.
Pedro was a dark little fellow, with great deep eyes which seemed to hold a world of feeling and sometimes sadness. He idolised his mother, but shrank from his father with a feeling of instinctive dislike. Perhaps the old man noticed this, though he was so absorbed in his work and in directing his careless assistants that he seemed entirely oblivious to his surroundings.
The child was errand-boy for the little shop, and all his tasks were patiently and cheerfully done. Occasionally, one of the workmen would pat him on the head, and he distinctly remembered one day when the lady next door, gave him a piece of candy.
Before he and his mother came to live in the little shop, he had never seen a violin, and even now he could not be said to have heard one, for neither his father nor any of the workmen knew how to play; – they were quite content with putting the bridge in place, leaving the strings to be adjusted in the neighbouring town where the instruments found a ready sale.
One day, the last touch was given to an unusually fine instrument, and in a moment of pride, the old man fitted it with strings. He placed it under his chin and touched the strings softly with the bow. Faulty though the touch was, the answer was melody – a long sweet chord.
Pedro's eyes grew darker, and his little face was fearlessly upturned to the man who held the singer of that wonderful song. In the ecstasy of the moment, his foot touched a valuable piece of wood upon the floor.
Crack! It became two pieces instead of one, and with a curse and a blow, the trembling child was pushed, head foremost, into his own little room. A moment later he heard the key turn in the lock. Pale and frightened, he sank into a corner, but the memory of the sweetness was with him still and in his soul was the dawn of unspeakable light.
All was silent in the shop now, but shortly he heard the busy hum of voices and the old confused sound. Then above the din, the violin sounded again. He listened in wonder. That single chord had been a revelation, and as a sculptor sees in a formless stone the future realisation of a marble dream, so Pedro, guided unerringly by that faulty strain, saw through break and discord, the promise of a symphony.
He fell asleep that night haunted still by that strange sweet sound, and dreamed that it had been his fingers to which the strings had answered. His fingers? He awoke with an intense longing in his childish breast. Oh, to touch that dear brown thing! Oh, to hear again the whisper of the music!
Though the sun had risen he was still in a dream, and, mingled with the notes of the lark above his window, was the voice of the violin.
Presently his stepfather appeared in the doorway, and with more than usual unkindness in his tone ordered him away on an errand. Pedro gladly went, and all that day tried ineffectually to conciliate the angry man by patience, gentleness, and obedience. Night came, and though weary, he was sent on a still longer journey. He started with an important message from his father to the home of the man who was to furnish wood for a lot of new violins. He had often been to the shop, but it was late now, the man must have gone home, and his house was much farther away.
He dared not complain, however, and trudged wearily on. But with all his fatigue, his heart was light, for he fancied there might be music in the home toward which he was hastening. Some day, perhaps, he might hear the blessed chords again! He would wait. Through his childish fancy flitted a dream of a symphony – the unthought melody which might be sleeping in those broken chords.
He delivered his message safely, and the man kindly showed him a short cut home. It was very late, and the streets were still, but he was not afraid. He passed house after house that was gayly lighted, and looked longingly at the revelry within, but he hurried onward till he came to a little house in a side street.
Hark! He stopped suddenly. Out of the darkness came the sound of music – was it a violin? Yes, no, it could not be. He crept closer to the cottage. Then a burst of harmony came into his consciousness – long, sweet, silvery notes; a glad rush of sound that brought tears to his eyes – a delicate half hushed whisper, and then the twinkle of a brook, with the twilight gentleness of a shadow. Clearer and stronger the music grew, and the child's breath came in quick, short gasps. The brook was a river now, he could hear the swaying of the trees in the forest; the heart of the wind was in the music, and on it swept in glad resistless cadence, from the brook to the river, then down to the sea. A pause, a long low note, then a glorious vision of blue, as into the rush of the song, there came the sweet, unutterable harmonies of the ocean.
He was in ecstasy; he scarcely dared to move. Oh, could he but see whence the music came! Could he look for a moment only, upon the face of the master! The moon came out from behind a cloud, and the child looked up. At the open window he saw an old man with deep-set eyes, a kindly smile, and long white hair that hung down to his shoulders. He held a violin in his hand, but the picture needed not this touch to tell the child who it was that had made this wonderful music, for he felt that he now looked upon the face of the master.
With a sigh, the old man again placed the instrument in position, and drew the bow across the strings. The boy trembled. In slow, measured sweetness the music came – a deep wonderful harmony that held him spellbound. There was a tender cadence that swayed the player's soul, and into the theme crept the passionate pain of one who had loved and lost.
The child knew that the man was suffering – that music like that could only come from an aching heart. With double notes, in a minor key, the master played on; then the violin slipped to the floor unheeded, and the old man laid his head on the window sill, and wept like a child.
Pedro crept away; he could bear no more. The glory had entered into his soul. He went noiselessly to bed, but he heard still that marvellous music and saw again the pain-shadowed face of the master.
Oh, could he but touch the magic strings! Could he but play one note of the wondrous song! An idea seized him – he would try sometime. In a transport of joy he fell asleep, and dreamed all night long of the heavenly strains. He saw the clear deep blue of the ocean, he heard the wind symphonies in the forest, and always, too, before him was that white suffering face.
The next day he was scarcely himself. He moved about as if he still slept, while his eyes were unusually sad and thoughtful. At night he could not sleep, and after making sure that every one else was in deep slumber, he slipped quietly out into the shop. The moon showed him where to go, and at length he picked up the new violin which had taken so long to finish, and which was the finest his father had ever made. Where should he go? Outdoors, assuredly. He went softly out into the moonlight and down to the brook which was some distance from the house.
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