By Laura E. Richards
Public Domain Books
Chapter III. On the Road
Melody went singing down the road. She walked quickly, with a light swaying motion, graceful as a bird. Her hands were held before her, not, it seemed, from timidity, but rather as a butterfly stretches out its delicate antennae, touching, feeling, trying its way, as it goes from flower to flower. Truly, the child’s light fingers were like butterflies, as she walked beside the road, reaching up to touch the hanging sprays of its bordering willows, or caressing the tiny flowers that sprang up along the footpath. She sang, too, as she went, a song the doctor had taught her:–
“Who is Silvia, and what is she, That all our swains commend her? Holy, fair, and wise is she; The heavens such grace did lend her, That adored she might be.”
One might have thought that Silvia was not far to seek, on looking into the fair face of the child. Now she stopped, and stood for a moment with head thrown back, and nostrils slightly distended. “Meadow-sweet!” she said softly to herself. “Isn’t it out early? the dear. I must find it for Aunt Joy.” She stooped, and passed her light, quick hands over the wayside grasses. Every blade and leaf was a familiar friend, and she greeted them as she touched them, weaving their names into her song in childish fashion,–
“Buttercup and daisy dear, sorrel for her eating, Mint and rose to please the nose of my pretty sweeting.”
Then she laughed outright. “When I grow up, I will make songs, too," she said, as she stooped to pick the meadow-sweet. “I will make the words, and Rosin shall make the music; and we will go through the village singing, till everybody comes out of the houses to listen:–
Meadow-sweet is a treat; Columbine’s a fairy; Mallow’s fine, sweet as wine,–
What rhymes with fairy, I wonder. Dairy; but that won’t come right. Airy, hairy,–yes, now I have it!–
Mallow’s fine, sweet as wine, To feed my pet canary.
I’ll sing that to Neddy,” said Melody, laughing to herself as she went along. “I can sing it to the tune of ’Lightly Row.’ Dear little boy!" she added, after a silence. “Think, if he had been blind, how dreadful it would have been! Of course it doesn’t matter when you have never seen at all, because you know how to get on all right; but to have it, and then lose it–oh dear! but then,"–and her face brightened again,–"he isn’t going to be blind, you see, so what’s the use of worrying about it?
The worry cow Might have lived till now, If she’d only saved her breath. She thought the hay Wouldn’t last all day, So she choked herself to death.”
Presently the child stopped again, and listened. The sound of wheels was faintly audible. No one else could have heard it but Melody, whose ears were like those of a fox. “Whose wagon squeaks like that?” she said, as she listened. “The horse interferes, too. Oh, of course; it’s Eben Loomis. He’ll pick me up and give me a ride, and then it won’t take so long.” She walked along, turning back every now and then, as the sound of wheels came nearer and nearer. At last, “Good-morning, Eben!” she cried, smiling as the wagon drove up; “will you take me on a piece, please?”
“Wal, I might, perhaps,” admitted the driver, cautiously, “if I was sure you was all right, Mel’dy. How d’you know’t was me comin’, I’d like to know? I never said a word, nor so much as whistled, since I come in sight of ye.” The man, a wiry, yellow-haired Yankee, bent down as he spoke, and taking the child’s hand, swung her lightly up to the seat beside him.
Melody laughed joyously. “I should know your wagon if I heard it in Russia, Eben,” she said. “Besides, poor old Jerry knocks his hind feet together so, I heard him clicking along even before I heard the wagon squeak. How’s Mandy, Eben?”
“Mandy, she ain’t very well,” replied the countryman. “She’s ben havin’ them weakly spells right along lately. Seems though she was failin’ up sometimes, but I dono.”
“Oh, no, she isn’t, Eben,” answered Melody, cheerfully. “You said that six years ago, do you know it? and Mandy isn’t a bit worse than she was then.”
“Well, that’s so,” assented the man, after a thoughtful pause. “That is so, Mel’dy, though how you come to-know it is a myst’ry to me. Come to think of it, I dono but she’s a leetle mite better than she was six years ago. Wal! now it’s surprising ain’t it, that you should know that, you child, without the use of your eyes, and I shouldn’t, seein’ her every day and all day? How do you account for that, now, hey?” He turned on his seat, and looked keenly at the child, as if half expecting her to meet his gaze.
“It’s easy enough!” said Melody, with her quiet smile. “It’s just because you see her so much, Eben. that you can’t tell. Besides, I can tell from Mandy’s voice. Her voice used to go down when she stopped speaking, like this, ’How do you do_?’ [with a falling inflection which was the very essence of melancholy]; and now her voice goes up cheerfully, at the end, ’How do you do?’ Don’t you see the difference, Eben?–so of course I know she must be a great deal better.”
“I swan!” replied Eben Loomis, simply. “’How do you do_?’ ’How do you do?’ so that’s the way you find out things, is it, Mel’dy? Well, you’re a curus child, that’s what’s the matter with you.–Where d’you say you was goin’?” he added, after a pause.
“I didn’t say,” said Melody. “But I’m going to Mrs. Jackson’s, to see Neddy.”
“Want to know,” said her companion. “Goin’–Hevin’ some kind o’ trouble with his eyes, ain’t he?” He stopped short, with a glance at the child’s clear eyes. It was impossible not to expect to find some answering look in them.
“They thought he was going blind,” said Melody; “but it is all right now. I do wish people wouldn’t tell Mrs. Jackson to keep putting things in his eyes. Why can’t they let her do what the doctor tells her, and not keep wanting her to try all kinds of nonsense?”
“Wal, that’s so,” assented Eben,–"that’s so, every time. I was down there a spell back, and I says, ’Phoebe,’ I says, ’don’t you do a thing folks tells you,’ says I. ’Dr. Brown knows what he’s about, and don’t you do a thing but what he says, unless it’s jest to wet his eyes up with a drop o’ tobacco-juice,’ says I. ’There’s nothin’ like tobacco-juice for weakly eyes, that’s sure;’ and of course I knew Doctor would ha’ said so himself ef he’d ha’ been there. Wal, here we be to Jackson’s now,” added the good man, pulling up his horse. “Hold on a minute, and I’ll help ye down. Wal, there!” as Melody sprang lightly from the wagon, just touching his hand by way of greeting as she went, “if you ain’t the spryest ever I see!”
“Good-by, Eben, and thank you ever so much,” said the child. “Good-by, Jerry.”
“Come down an’ see us, Mel’dy!” Eben called after her, as she turned toward-the house with unfaltering step. “T’would do Mandy a sight o’ good. Come down and stop to supper. You ain’t took a meal o’ victuals with us I don’t know when.”
Melody promised to come soon, and took her way up the grassy path, while the countryman gazed after her with a look of wondering admiration.
“That child knows more than most folks that hev their sight!” he soliloquized. “What’s she doin’ now? Oh, stoppin’ to pick a posy, for the child, likely. Now they’ll all swaller her alive. Yes; thar they come. Look at the way she takes that child up, now, will ye? He’s e’en a’most as big as she is; but you’d say she was his mother ten times over, from the way she handles him. Look at her set down on the doorstep, tellin’ him a story, I’ll bet. I tell ye! hear that little feller laugh, and he was cryin’ all last night, Mandy says. I wouldn’t mind hearin’ that story myself. Faculty, that gal has; that’s the name for it, sir. Git up, Jerry! this won’t buy the child a cake;” and with many a glance over his shoulder, the good man drove on.