By Laura E. Richards
Public Domain Books
Chapter XI. Light
I love the morning light,–the freshness, the pearls and diamonds, the fairy linen spread on the grass to bleach (there be those who call it spider-web, but to such I speak not), the silver fog curling up from river and valley. I love it so much that I am loath to confess that sometimes the evening light is even more beautiful. Yet is there a softness that comes with the close of day, a glorification of common things, a drawing of purple shadows over all that is rough or unsightly, which makes the early evening perhaps the most perfect time of all the perfect hours.
It was such an hour that now brooded over the little village, when the people came out from their houses to watch for Melody’s coming. It is a pretty little village at all times, very small and straggling, but lovely with flowers and vines and dear, homely old houses, which have not found out that they are again in the fashion out of which they were driven many years ago, but still hold themselves humbly, with a respect for the brick and stucco of which they have heard from time to time. It is always pretty, I say, but this evening it had received some fresh baptism of beauty, as if the Day knew what was coming, and had pranked herself in her very best for the festival. The sunbeams slanted down the straggling, grass-grown road, and straightway it became an avenue of wonder, with gold-dust under foot, flecked here and there with emerald. The elms met over head in triumphal arches; the creepers on the low houses hung out wonderful scarfs and banners of welcome, which swung gold and purple in the joyous light. And as the people came out of their houses, now that the time was drawing near, lo! the light was on their faces too; and the plain New England men and women, in their prints and jeans, shone like the figures in a Venetian picture, and were all a-glitter with gold and precious stones for once in their lives, though they knew it not.
But not all of this light came from the setting sun; on every face was the glow of a great joy, and every voice was soft with happiness, and the laughter was all a-tremble with the tears that were so near it. They were talking about the child who was coming back to them, whom they had mourned as lost. They were telling of her gracious words and ways, so different from anything else they had known,–her smiles, and the way she held her head when she sang; and the way she found things out, without ever any one telling her. Wonderful, was it not? Why, one dared not have ugly thoughts in her presence; or if they came, one tried to hide them away, deep down, so that Melody should not see them with her blind eyes. Do you remember how Joel Pottle took too much one day (nobody knows to this day where he got it, and his folks all temperance people), and how he stood out in the road and swore at the folks coming out of meeting, and how Melody came along and took him by the hand, and led him away down by the brook, and never left him till he was a sober man again? And every one knew Joel had never touched a drop of liquor from that day on.
Again, could they ever forget how she saved the baby,–Jane Pegrum’s baby,–that had been forgotten by its frantic mother in the burning house? They shuddered as they recalled the scene: the writhing, hissing flames, the charred rafters threatening every moment to fall; and the blind child walking calmly along the one safe beam, unmoved above the pit of fire which none of them could bear to look on, catching the baby from its cradle ("and it all of a smoulder, just ready to burst out in another minute”) and bringing it safe to the woman who lay fainting on the grass below! Vesta had never forgiven them for that, for letting the child go: she was away at the time, and when she came back and found Melody’s eyebrows all singed off, it did seem as though the village wouldn’t hold her, didn’t it? And Doctor was just as bad. But, there! they couldn’t have held her back, once she knew the child was there; and Rejoice was purely thankful. Melody seemed to favor Rejoice, almost as if she might be her own child. Vesta had more of this world in her, sure enough.
Isn’t it about time for them to be coming? Doctor won’t waste time on the road, you may be sure. Dreadful crusty he was this morning, if any one tried to speak to him. Miss Meechin came along just as he was harnessing up, and asked if he couldn’t give her something to ease up her sciatica a little mite, and what do you think he said? “Take it to the Guinea Coast and drown it!” Not another word could she get out of him. Now, that’s no way to talk to a patient. But Doctor hasn’t been himself since Melody was stole; anybody could see that with his mouth. Look at how he’s treated that man with the operation, that kept him from going to find the child himself! He never said a word to him, they say, and tended him as careful as a woman, every day since he got hurt; but just as soon as he got through with him, he’d go out in the yard, they say, and swear at the pump, till it would turn your blood cold to hear him. It’s gospel truth, for I had it from the nurse, and she said it chilled her marrow. Yes, a violent man, Doctor always was; and, too, he was dreadful put out at the way the man got hurt,– reaching out of his buggy to slat his neighbor’s cow, just because he had a spite against him. Seemed trifling, some thought, but he’s like to pay for it. Did you hear the sound of wheels?
Look at Alice and Alfred, over there with the baby; bound to have the first sight of them, aren’t they, standing on the wall like that? They are as happy as two birds, ever since they made up that time. Yes, Melody’s doing too, that was. She didn’t know it; but she doesn’t know the tenth of what she does. Just the sight of her coming along the road–hark! surely I heard the click of the doctor’s mare. Does seem hard to wait, doesn’t it? But Rejoice,–what do you suppose it is for Rejoice? only she’s used to it, as you may say.
Yes, Rejoice is used to waiting, surely; what else is her life? In the little white cottage now, Mandy Loomis, in a fever of excitement, is running from door to window, flapping out flies with her apron, opening the oven door, fidgeting here and there like a distracted creature; but in the quiet room, where Rejoice lies with folded hands, all is peace, brooding peace and calm and blessedness. The sick woman does not even turn her head on the pillow; you would think she slept, if she did not now and again raise the soft brown eyes,–the most patient eyes in the world,–and turn them toward the window. Yes, Rejoice is used to waiting; yet it is she who first catches the far-off sound of wheels, the faint click of the brown mare’s hoofs. With her bodily ears she hears it, though so still is she one might think the poor withered body deserted, and the joyous soul away on the road, hovering round the returning travellers as they make their triumphal entry.
For all can see them now. First the brown mare’s head, with sharp ears pricked, coming round the bend; then a gleam of white, a vision of waving hair, a light form bending forward. Melody! Melody has come back to us! They shout and laugh and cry, these quiet people. Alfred and Alice his wife have run forward, and are caressing the brown mare with tears of joy, holding the baby up for Melody to feel and kiss, because it has grown so wonderfully in this week of her absence. Mrs. Penny is weeping down behind the hedge; Mandy Loomis is hurling herself out of the window as if bent on suicide; Dr. Brown pishes and pshaws, and blows his nose, and says they are a pack of ridiculous noodles, and he must give them a dose of salts all round to-morrow, as sure as his name is John Brown. On the seat behind him sits Melody, with Miss Vesta and the old fiddler on either side, holding a hand of each. She has hardly dared yet to loose her hold on these faithful hands; all the way from the city she has held them, with almost convulsive pressure. Very high De Arthenay holds his head, be sure! No marquis of all the line ever was prouder than he is this day. He kisses the child’s little hand when he hears the people shout, and then shakes his snowy curl, and looks about him like a king. Vesta Dale has lost something of her stately carriage. Her face is softer than people remember it, and one sees for the first time a resemblance to her sister. And Dr. Brown–oh, he fumes and storms at the people, and calls them a pack of noodles; but for all that, he cannot drive ten paces without turning round to make sure that it is all true,–that here is Melody on the back seat, come home again, home, never to leave them again.
But, hush, hush, dear children, running beside the wagon with cries of joy and happy laughter! Quiet, all voices of welcome, ringing out from every throat, making the little street echo from end to end! Quiet all, for Melody is singing! Standing up, held fast by those faithful hands on either side, the child lifts her face to heaven, lifts her heart to God, lifts up her voice in the evening hymn,–
“Jubilate, jubilate! Jubilate, amen!”
The people stand with bowed heads, with hands folded as if in prayer. What is prayer, if this be not it? The evening light streams down, warm, airy gold; the clouds press near in pomp of crimson and purple. The sick woman holds her peace, and sees the angels of God ascending and descending, ministering to her. Put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
“Jubilate, jubilate! Jubilate, amen!”