By Laura E. Richards
Public Domain Books
Chapter IV. Rosin the Beau
The afternoon light was falling soft and sweet, as an old man came slowly along the road that led to the village. He was tall and thin, and he stooped as he walked,–not with the ordinary round-shouldered slouch, but with a one-sided droop, as if he had a habit of bending over something. His white hair was fancifully arranged, with a curl over the forehead such as little boys used to wear; his brown eyes were bright and quick as a bird’s, and like a bird’s, they glanced from side to side, taking in everything. He carried an oblong black box, evidently a violin-case, at which he cast an affectionate look from time to time. As he approached the village, his glances became more and more keenly intelligent. He seemed to be greeting a friend in every tree, in every straggling rose-bush along the roadside; he nodded his head, and spoke softly from time to time.
“Getting on now,” he said to himself. “Here’s the big rose-bush she was sitting under, the last time I came along. Nobody here now; but she’ll be coming directly, up from the ground or down from the sky, or through a hole in the sunset. Do you remember how she caught her little gown on that fence-rail?” He bent over, and seemed to address his violin. “Sat down and took out her needle and thread, and mended it as neat as any woman; and then ran her butterfly hands over me, and found the hole in my coat, and called me careless boy, and mended that. Yes, yes; Rosin remembers every place where he saw his girl. Old Rosin remembers. There’s the turn; now it’s getting time for to be playing our tune, sending our letter of introduction along the road before us. Hey?”
He sat down under a spreading elder-bush, and proceeded to open his violin-case. Drawing out the instrument with as much care as if he were a mother taking her babe from the cradle, he looked it all over with anxious scrutiny, scanning every line and crack, as the mother scans face and hands and tiny curled-up feet. Finding all in order, he wiped it with a silk handkerchief (the special property of the instrument; a cotton one did duty for himself), polished it, and tuned it, and polished again. “Must look well, my beauty,” he murmured; “must look well. Not a speck of dust but she’d feel it with those little fingers, you know. Ready now? Well, then, speak up for your master; speak, voice of my heart! ’A welcome for Rosin the Beau.’ Ask for it, Music!”
Do people still play “Rosin the Beau,” I wonder? I asked a violinist to play it to me the other day, and he had never heard of the tune. He played me something else, which he said was very fine,–a fantasia in E flat, I think it was; but I did not care for it. I wanted to hear “Rosin the Beau,” the cradle-song of the fiddle,–the sweet, simple, foolish old song, which every “blind crowder” who could handle a fiddle-bow could play in his sleep fifty years ago, and which is now wellnigh forgotten. It is not a beautiful air; it may have no merit at all, musically speaking; but I love it well, and wish I might hear it occasionally instead of the odious “Carnival of Venice,” which tortures my ears and wastes my nervous system at every concert where the Queen of Instruments holds her court.
The old man took up his fiddle, and laid his cheek lovingly against it. A moment he stood still, as if holding silent commune with the spirit of music, the tricksy Ariel imprisoned in the old wooden case; then he began to play “Rosin the Beau.” As he played, he kept his eyes fixed on the bend of the road some rods ahead, as if expecting every moment to see some one appear from the direction of the village.
“I’ve travelled this country all over, And now to the next I must go; But I know that good quarters await me, And a welcome for Rosin the Beau.”
As he played, with bold but tender touch, the touch of a master, round the corner a figure came flying,–a child’s figure, with hair all afloat, and arms wide-opened. The old man’s face lightened, softened, became transfigured with joy and love; but he said no word, only played steadily on.
“Rosin!” cried Melody, stopping close before him, with outstretched arms. “Stop, Rosin; I want to kiss you, and I am afraid of hurting her. Put her down, do you hear?” She stamped her foot imperiously, and the old man laid the fiddle down and held out his arms in turn.
“Melody,” he said tenderly, taking the child on his knee,–"little Melody, how are you? So you heard old Rosin, did you? You knew the old man was here, waiting for his little maid to come and meet him, as she always has. Where were you, Melody? Tell me, now. I didn’t seem to hear you till just as you came to the corner; I didn’t, now.”
“I was down by the heater-piece,” said the child. “I went to look for wild strawberries, with Aunt Vesta. I heard you, Rosin, the moment you laid your bow across her; but Aunt Vesta said no, she knew it was all nonsense, and we’d better finish our strawberries, anyhow. And then I heard that you wondered why I didn’t come, and that you wanted me, and I kissed Auntie, and just flew. You heard how fast I was coming, when you did hear me; didn’t you, Rosin dear?”
“I heard,” said the old man, smoothing her curls back. “I knew you’d come, you see, jewel, soon as you could get here. And how are the good ladies, hey; and how are you yourself?–though I can tell that by looking at you, sure enough.”
“Do I look well?” asked the child, with much interest. “Is my hair very nice and curly, Rosin, and do my eyes still look as if they were real eyes?” She looked up so brightly that any stranger would have been startled into thinking that she could really see.
“Bright as dollars, they are,” assented the old man. “Dollars? no, that’s no name for it. The stars are nearest it, Melody. And your hair–”
“My hair is like sweet Alice’s,” said the child, confidently,–"sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown. I promised Auntie Joy we would sing that for her, the very next time you came, but I never thought you would be here to-day, Rosin.
’Where have you been, my long, long love, this seven long years and more?’
That’s a ballad, Rosin; Doctor taught it to me. It is a beauty, and you must make me a tune for it. But where have you been?”
“I’ve been up and down the earth,” the old man replied,–"up and down the earth, Melody. Sometimes here and sometimes there. I’d feel a call here, and I’d feel a call there; and I seemed to be wanted, generally, just in those very places I’d felt called to. Do you believe in calls, Melody?”
“Of course I do,” replied the child, promptly. “Only all the people who call you can’t get you, Rosin, ’cause you’d be in fifty pieces if they did.” She laughed joyously, throwing her head back with the birdlike, rapturous motion which seemed the very expression of her nature.
The old fiddler watched her with delight. “You shall hear all my stories,” he said; “everything you shall hear, little Melody; but here we are at the house now, and I must make my manners to the ladies.”
He paused, and looked critically at his blue coat, which, though threadbare, was scrupulously clean. He flecked some imaginary dust from his trousers, and ran his hand lightly through his hair, bringing the snowy curl which was the pride of his heart a little farther over his forehead. “Now I’ll do, maybe,” he said cheerfully. “And sure enough, there’s Miss Vesta in the doorway, looking like a China rose in full bloom.” He advanced, hat in hand, with a peculiar sliding step, which instantly suggested “chassez across to partners.”
“Miss Vesta, I hope your health’s good?”
Miss Vesta held out her hand cordially. “Why, Mr. De Arthenay, [Footnote: Pronounced Dee arthenay] is this you?” she cried. “This is a pleasure! Melody was sure it was you, and she ran off like a will-o’-the-wisp, when I could not hear a sound. But I’m very glad to see you. We were saying only yesterday how long a time it was since you’d been here. Now you must sit down, and tell us all the news. Stop, though,” she added, with a glance at the vine-clad window; “Rejoice would like to see you, and hear the news too. Wait a moment, Mr. De Arthenay! I’ll go in and move her up by the window, so that she can hear you.”
She hastened into the house; and in a few minutes the blinds were thrown back, and Miss Rejoice’s sweet voice was heard, saying, “Good-day, Mr. De Arthenay. It is always a good day that brings you.”
The old man sprang up from his seat in the porch, and made a low bow to the window. “It’s a treat to hear your voice, Miss Rejoice, so it is,” he said heartily. “I hope your health’s been pretty good lately? It seems to me your voice sounds stronger than it did the last time I was here.”
“Oh, I’m very well,” responded the invalid, cheerfully. “Very well, I feel this summer; don’t I, Vesta? And where have you been, Mr. De Arthenay, all this time? I’m sure you have a great deal to tell us. It’s as good as a newspaper when you come along, we always say.”
The old fiddler cleared his throat, and settled himself comfortably in a corner of the porch, with Melody’s hand in his. Miss Vesta produced her knitting; Melody gave a little sigh of perfect content, and nestled up to her friend’s side, leaning her head against his shoulder.
“Begin to tell now, Rosin,” she said. “Tell us all that you know.”
“Tell you everything,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Not all, little Melody. I’ve seen some things that you wouldn’t like to hear about,–things that would grieve your tender heart more than a little. We will not talk about those; but I have seen bright things too, sure enough. Why, only day before yesterday I was at a wedding, over in Pegrum; a pretty wedding it was too. You remember Myra Bassett, Miss Vesta?”
“To be sure I do,” replied Miss Vesta. “She married John Andrews, her father’s second cousin once removed. Don’t tell me that Myra has a daughter old enough to be married: Or is it a son? either way, it is ridiculous.”
“A daughter!” said the old man,–"the prettiest girl in Pegrum. Like a ripe chestnut, more than anything. Two lads were in love with her; there may have been a dozen, but these two I know about. One of them–I’ll name no names, ’tis kinder not–found that she wanted to marry a hero (what girl does not?), so he thought he would try his hand at heroism. There was a picnic this spring, and he hired a boy (or so the boy says–it may be wicked gossip) to upset the boat she was in, so that he, the lover, might save her life. But, lo and behold! he was taken with a cramp in the water, and was almost drowned, and the second lover jumped in, and saved them both. So she married the second (whom she had liked all along), and then the boy told his story.”
“Miserable sneak!” ejaculated Miss Vesta. “To risk the life of the woman he pretended to love, just to show himself off.”
“Still, I am sorry for him!” said Miss Rejoice, through the window. (Miss Rejoice was always sorry for wrongdoers, much sorrier than for the righteous who suffered. They would be sure to get good out of it, she said, but the poor sinners generally didn’t know how.) “What did he do, poor soul?”
“He went away!” replied the fiddler. “Pegrum wouldn’t hold him; and the other lad was a good shot, and went about with a shot-gun. But I was going to tell you about the wedding.”
“Of course!” cried Melody. “What did the bride wear? That is the most important part.”
De Arthenay cleared his throat, and looked grave. He always made a point of remembering the dresses at weddings, and was proud of the accomplishment,–a rare one in his sex.
“Miss Andrews–I beg her pardon, Mrs. Nelson–had on a white muslin gown, made quite full, with three ruffles round the skirt. There was lace round the neck, but I cannot tell you what kind, except that it was very soft and fine. She had white roses on the front of her gown, and in her hair, and pink ones in her cheeks; her eyes were like brown diamonds, and she had little white satin slippers, for all the world like Cinderella. They were a present from her Grandmother Anstey, over at Bow Mills. Her other grandmother, Mrs. Bowen, gave her the dress, so her father and mother could lay out all they wanted to on the supper; and a handsome supper it was. Then after supper they danced. It would have done your heart good, Miss Vesta, to see that little bride dance. Ah! she is a pretty creature. There was another young woman, too, who played the piano. Kate, they called her, but I don’t know what her other name was. Anyway, she had an eye like black lightning stirred up with a laugh, and a voice like the ’Fisherman’s Hornpipe.’”
He took up his fiddle, and softly, delicately, played a few bars of that immortal dance. It rippled like a woman’s laugh, and Melody smiled in instant sympathy.
“I wish I had seen her,” she cried. “Did she play well, Rosin?”
“She played so that I knew she must be either French or Irish!” the fiddler replied. “No Yankee ever played dance-music in that fashion; I made bold to say to her, as we were playing together, ’Etes-vous compatriote?’
“’More power to your elbow,’ said she, with a twinkle of her eye, and she struck into ’Saint Patrick’s Day in the Morning.’ I took it up, and played the ’Marseillaise,’ over it and under it, and round it,–for an accompaniment, you understand, Melody; and I can tell you, we made the folks open their eyes. Yes; she was a fine young lady, and it was a fine wedding altogether.
“But I am forgetting a message I have for you, ladies. Last week I was passing through New Joppa, and I stopped to call on Miss Lovina Green; I always stop there when I go through that region. Miss Lovina asked me to tell you–let me see! what was it?” He paused, to disentangle this particular message from the many he always carried, in his journeyings from one town to another. “Oh, yes, I remember. She wanted you to know that her Uncle Reuel was dead, and had left her a thousand dollars, so she should be comfortable the rest of her days. She thought you’d be glad to know it.”
“That is good news!” exclaimed Miss Vesta, heartily. “Poor Lovina! she has been so straitened all these years, and saw no prospect of anything better. The best day’s work Reuel Green has ever done was to die and leave that money to Lovina.”
“Why, Vesta!” said Miss Rejoice’s soft voice; “how you do talk!”
“Well, it’s true!” Miss Vesta replied. “And you know it, Rejoice, my dear, as well as I do. Any other news in Joppa, Mr. De Arthenay? I haven’t heard from over there for a long time.”
“Why, they’ve been having some robberies in Joppa,” the old man said,–"regular burglaries. There’s been a great excitement about it. Several houses have been entered and robbed, some of money, others of what little silver there was, though I don’t suppose there is enough silver in all New Joppa to support a good, healthy burglar for more than a few days. The funny part of it is that though I have no house, I came very near being robbed myself.”
“You, Mr. De Arthenay? Do tell us!”
Melody passed her hand rapidly over the old man’s face, and then settled back with her former air of content, knowing that all was well.
“You shall hear my story,” the old man said, drawing himself up, and giving his curl a toss. “It was the night I came away from Joppa. I had been taking tea with William Bradwell’s folks, and stayed rather late in the evening, playing for the young folks, singing old songs, and one thing and another. It was ten o’clock when I said good-night and stepped out of the house and along the road. ’T was a fine night, bright moonlight, and everything shining like silver. I’d had a pleasant evening, and I felt right cheered up as I passed along, sometimes talking a bit to the Lady, and sometimes she to me; for I’d left her case at the house, seeing I should pass by again in the morning, when I took my way out of the place.
“Well, sir,–I beg your pardon; ladies, I should say,–as I came along a strip of the road with the moon full on it, but bordered with willow scrub,–as I came along, sudden a man stepped out of those bushes, and told me to stand and throw up my hands.–Don’t be frightened, Melody,” for the child had taken his hand with a quick, frightened motion; “have no fear at all! I had none. I saw, or felt, perhaps it was, that he had no pistols; that he was only a poor sneak and bully. So I said, ’Stand yourself!’ I stepped clear out, so that the light fell full on my face, and I looked him in the eye, and pointed my bow at him. ’My name is De Arthenay,’ I said. ’I am of French extraction, but I hail from the Androscoggin. I am known in this country. This is my fiddle-bow; and if you are not gone before I can count three, I’ll shoot you with it. One!’ I said; but I didn’t need to count further. He turned and ran, as if the–as if a regiment was after him; and as soon as I had done laughing, I went on my way to the tavern.”
All laughed heartily at the old man’s story; but when the laughter subsided, Melody begged him to take “the Lady,” and play for her. “I have not heard you play for so long, Rosin, except just when you called me.”
“Yes, Mr. De Arthenay,” said Miss Vesta. “do play a little for us, while I get supper. Suppose I bring the table out here, Melody; how would you like that?”
“Oh, so much!” cried the child, clapping her hands. “So very much! Let me help!”
She started up; and while the fiddler played, old sweet melodies, such as Miss Rejoice loved, there was a pleasant, subdued bustle of coming and going, clinking and rustling, as the little table was brought out and set in the vine-wreathed porch, the snowy cloth laid, and the simple feast set forth. There were wild strawberries, fresh and glowing, laid on vine-leaves; there were biscuits so light it seemed as if a puff of wind might blow them away; there were twisted doughnuts, and coffee brown and as clear as a mountain brook. It was a pleasant little feast; and the old fiddler glanced with cheerful approval over the table as he sat down.
“Ah, Miss Vesta,” he said, as he handed the biscuits gallantly to his hostess, “there’s no such table as this for me to sit down to, wherever I go, far or near. Look at the biscuit, now,–moulded snow, I call them. Take one, Melody, my dear. You’ll never get anything better to eat in this world.”
The child flushed with pleasure.
“You’re praising her too much to herself,” said Miss Vesta, with a pleased smile. “Melody made those biscuit, all herself, without any help. She’s getting to be such a good housekeeper, Mr. De Arthenay, you would not believe it.”
“You don’t tell me that she made these biscuit!” cried the old man. “Why, Melody, I shall be frightened at you if you go on at this rate. You are not growing up, are you, little Melody?”
“No! no! no!” cried the child, vehemently. “I am not growing up, Rosin. I don’t want to grow up, ever, at all.”
“I should like to know what you can do about it,” said Miss Vesta, smiling grimly. “You’ll have to stop pretty short if you are not going to grow up, Melody. If I have let your dresses down once this spring, I’ve let them down three times. You’re going to be a tall woman, I should say, and you’ve a right good start toward it now.”
A shade stole over the child’s bright face, and she was silent,–seeming only half to listen while the others chatted, yet never forgetting to serve them, and seeming, by a touch on the hand of either friend, to know what was wanted.
When the meal was over, and the tea-things put away, Melody came out again into the porch, where the fiddler sat smoking his pipe, and leaning against one of the supports, felt among the leaves which hid it. “Here is the mark!” she said. “Am I really taller, Rosin? Really much taller?”
“What troubles the child?” the old man asked gently. “She does not want to grow? The bud must open, Melody, my dear! the bud must open!”
“But it’s so unreasonable,” cried Melody, as she stood holding by the old man’s hand, swaying lightly to and fro, as if the wind moved her with the vines and flowers. “Why can’t I stay a little girl? A little girl is needed here, isn’t she? And there is no need at all of another woman. I can’t be like Aunt Vesta or Auntie Joy; so I think I might stay just Melody.” Then shaking her curls back, she cried, “Well, anyhow, I am just Melody now, and nothing more; and I mean to make the most of it. Come, Rosin, come! I am ready for music. The dishes are all washed, and there’s nothing more to do, is there, Auntie? It is so long since Rosin has been here; now let us have a good time, a perfect time!”
De Arthenay took up his fiddle once more, and caressed its shining curves. “She’s in perfect trim,” he said tenderly. “She’s fit to play with you to-night, Melody. Come, I am ready; what shall we have?”
Melody sat down on the little green bench which was her own particular seat. She folded her hands lightly on her lap, and threw her head back with her own birdlike gesture. One would have said that she was calling the spirit of song, which might descend on rainbow wings, and fold her in his arms. The old man drew the bow softly, and the fiddle gave out a low, brooding note,–a note of invitation.
“Oh, don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt? Sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown? She wept with delight when you gave her a smile, And trembled with fear at your frown.”
Softly the old man played, keeping his eyes fixed on the child, whose glorious voice floated out on the evening air, filling the whole world with sweetest melody. Miss Vesta dropped her knitting and folded her hands, while a peaceful, dreamy look stole into her fine face,–a face whose only fault was the too eager look which a New England woman must so often gain, whether she will or no. In the quiet chamber, the bedridden woman lay back on her pillows smiling, with a face as the face of an angel. Her thoughts were lifted up on the wings of the music, and borne–who shall say where, to what high and holy presence? Perhaps–who can tell?–the eyes of her soul looked in at the gate of heaven itself; if it were so, be sure they saw nothing within that white portal more pure and clear than their own gaze.
And still the song flowed on. Presently doors began to open along the village street. People came softly out, came on tiptoe toward the cottage, and with a silent greeting to its owner sat down beside the road to listen. Children came dancing, with feet almost as light as Melody’s own, and curled themselves up beside her on the grass. Tired-looking mothers came, with their babies in their arms; and the weary wrinkles faded from their faces, and they listened in silent content, while the little ones, who perhaps had been fretting and complaining a moment before, nestled now quietly against the mother-breast, and felt that no one wanted to tease or ill-treat them, but that the world was all full of Mother, who loved them. Beside one of these women a man came and sat him down, as if from habit; but he did not look at her. His face wore a weary, moody frown, and he stared at the ground sullenly, taking no note of any one. The others looked at one another and nodded, and thought of the things they knew; the woman cast a sidelong glance at him, half hopeful, half fearful, but made no motion.
“Oh, don’t you remember the school, Ben Bolt, And the master so kind and so true; And the little nook by the clear running brook, Where we gathered the flowers as they grew?”
The dark-browed man listened, and thought. Her name was Alice, this woman by his side. They had been schoolmates together, had gathered flowers, oh, how many times, by brook-side and hill. They had grown up to be lovers, and she was his wife, sitting here now beside him,–his wife, with his baby in her arms; and he had not spoken to her for a week. What began it all? He hardly knew; but she had been provoking, and he had been tired, impatient; there had been a great scene, and then this silence, which he swore he would not break. How sad she looked! he thought, as he stole a glance at the face bending over the child.
“Oh, don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt, Sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown?”
Was she singing about them, this child? She had sung at their wedding, a little thing of seven years old; and old De Arthenay had played, and wished them happiness, and said they were the handsomest couple he had played for that year. Now she looked so tired: how was it that he had never seen how tired she looked? Perhaps she was only sick or nervous that day when she spoke so. The child stirred in its mother’s arms, and she gave a low sigh of weariness, and shifted the weight to the other arm. The young man bent forward and took the baby, and felt how heavy it had grown since last he held it. He had not said anything, he would not say anything–just yet; but his wife turned to him with such a smile, such a flash of love and joy, imploring, promising, that his heart leaped, and then beat peacefully, happily, as it had not beaten for many days. All was over; and Alice leaned against his arm with a little movement of content, and the good neighbors looked at one another again, and smiled this time to know that all was well.
What is the song now? The blind child turns slightly, so that she faces Miss Vesta Dale, whose favorite song this is,–
“All in the merry month of May, When green buds were a-swellin”, Young Jemmy Grove on his death-hed lay, For love of Barbara Allan.”
Why is Miss Vesta so fond of the grim old ballad? Perhaps she could hardly tell, if she would. She looks very stately as she leans against the wall, close by the room where her sister Rejoice is lying. Does a thought come to her mind of the youth who loved her so, or thought he loved her, long and long ago? Does she see his look of dismay, of incredulous anger, when she told him that her life must be given to her crippled sister, and that if he would share it he must take Rejoice too, to love and to cherish as dearly as he would cherish her? He could not bear the test; he was a good young fellow enough, but there was nothing of the hero about him, and he thought that crippled folk should be taken care of in hospitals, where they belonged.
“’Oh, dinna ye mind, young man,’ she said, ’When the red wine was a-fillin’, Ye bade the healths gae round an’ round, And slighted Barbara Allan?’”
If the cruel Barbara had not repented, and “laid her down in sorrow," she might well have grown to look like this handsome, white-haired woman, with her keen blue eyes and queenly bearing.
Miss Vesta had never for an instant regretted the disposition of her life, never even in the shadow of a thought; but this was the song she used to sing in those old days, and somehow she always felt a thrill (was it of pleasure or pain? she could not have told you) when the child sang it.
But there may have been a “call,” as Rosin the Beau would have said, for some one else beside Vesta Dale; for a tall, pale girl, who has been leaning against the wall pulling off the gray lichens as she listened, now slips away, and goes home and writes a letter; and to-morrow morning, when the mail goes to the next village, two people will be happy in God’s world instead of being miserable. And now? Oh, now it is a merry song; for, after all, Melody is a child, and a happy child; and though she loves the sad songs dearly, still she generally likes to end up with a “dancy one.”
“’Come boat me o’er, Come row me o’er, Come boat me o’er to Charlie; I’ll gi’e John Ross anither bawbee To boat me o’er to Charlie. We’ll o’er the water an’ o’er the sea, We’ll o’er the water to Charlie, Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go, And live and die wi’ Charlie.’”
And now Rosin the Beau proves the good right he has to his name. Trill and quavers and roulades are shaken from his bow as lightly as foam from the prow of a ship. The music leaps rollicking up and down, here and there, till the air is all a-quiver with merriment. The old man draws himself up to his full height, all save that loving bend of the head over the beloved instrument. His long slender foot, in its quaint “Congress” shoe, beats time like a mill-clapper,–tap, tap, tap; his snowy curl dances over his forehead, his brown eyes twinkle with pride and pleasure. Other feet beside his began to pat the ground; heads were lifted, eyes looked invitation and response. At length the child Melody, with one superb outburst of song, lifted her hands above her head, and springing out into the road cried, “A dance! a dance!”
Instantly the quiet road was alive with dancers. Old and young sprang to their feet in joyful response. The fiddle struck into “The Irish Washerwoman,” and the people danced. Children joined hands and jumped up and down, knowing no steps save Nature’s leaps of joy; youths and maidens flew in graceful measures together; last, but not least, old Simon Parker the postmaster seized Mrs. Martha Penny by both hands, and regardless of her breathless shrieks whirled her round and round till the poor old dame had no breath left to scream with. Alone in the midst of the gay throng (as strange a one, surely, as ever disturbed the quiet of a New England country road) danced the blind child, a figure of perfect grace. Who taught Melody to dance? Surely it was the wind, the swaying birch-tree, the slender grasses that nod and wave by the brookside. Light as air she floated in and out among the motley groups, never jostling or touching any one. Her slender arms waved in time to the music; her beautiful hair floated over her shoulders. Her whole face glowed with light and joy, while only her eyes, steadfast and unchanging, struck the one grave note in the symphony of joy and merriment.
From time to time the old fiddler stole a glance at Miss Vesta Dale, as she sat erect and stately, leaning against the wall of the house. She was beginning to grow uneasy. Her foot also began to pat the ground. She moved slightly, swayed on her seat; her fingers beat time, as did the slender, well-shaped foot which peeped from under her scant blue skirt. Suddenly De Arthenay stopped short, and tapped sharply on his fiddle, while the dancers, breathless and exhausted, fell back by the roadside again. Stepping out from the porch, he made a low bow to Miss Vesta. “Chorus Jig!” he cried, and struck up the air of that time-honored dance. Miss Vesta frowned, shook her head resolutely,– rose, and standing opposite the old fiddler, began to dance.
Here was a new marvel, no less strange in its way than Melody’s wild grace of movement, or the sudden madness of the village crowd. The stately white-haired woman moved slowly forward; the old man bowed again; she courtesied as became a duchess of Nature’s own making. Their bodies erect and motionless, their heads held high, their feet went twinkling through a series of evolutions which the keenest eye could hardly follow. “Pigeon-wings?” Whole flocks of pigeons took flight from under that scant blue skirt, from those wonderful shrunken trousers of yellow nankeen. They moved forward, back, forward again, as smoothly as a wave glides up the shore. They twinkled round and round each other, now back to back, now face to face. They chassÚd into corners, and displayed a whirlwind of delicately pointed toes; they retired as if to quarrel; they floated back to make it up again. All the while not a muscle of their faces moved, not a gleam of fun disturbed the tranquil sternness of their look; for dancing was a serious business thirty years ago, when they were young, and they had no idea of lowering its dignity by any “quips and cranks and wanton wiles,” such as young folks nowadays indulge in. Briefly, it was a work of art; and when it was over, and the sweeping courtesy and splendid bow had restored the old-time dancers to their places, a shout of applause went up, and the air rang with such a tumult as had never before, perhaps, disturbed the tranquillity of the country road.