The Lane that had No Turning/Parables of a Province/The Golden Pipes

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THEY hung all bronzed and shining, on the side of Margath Mountain—the tall and perfect pipes of the organ which was played by some son of God when the world was young. At least Hepnon the cripple said this was so, when he was but a child, and when he got older he said that even now a golden music came from the pipes at sunrise and sunset. And no one laughed at Hepnon, for you could not look into the dark warm eyes, dilating with his fancies, or see the transparent temper of his face, the look of the dreamer over all, without believing him, and reproving your own judgment. You felt that he had travelled ways you could never travel, that he had had dreams beyond you, that his fanciful spirit had had adventures you would give years of your dull life to know.

And yet he was not made only as women are made, fragile and trembling in his nerves. For he was strong of arm, and there was no place in the hills to be climbed by venturesome man, which he could not climb with crutch and shrivelled leg. Also, he was a gallant horseman, riding with his knees and one foot in stirrup, his crutch slung behind him. It may be that was why rough men listened to his fancies about the Golden Pipes. Indeed they would go out at sunrise and look across to where the pipes hung, taking the rosy glory of the morning, and steal away alone at sunset, and in some lonely spot lean out towards the flaming instrument to hear if any music rose from them. The legend that one of the Mighty Men of the Kimash Hills came here to play, with invisible hands, the music of the first years of the world, became a truth, though a truth that none could prove. And by-and-by, no man ever travelled the valley without taking off his hat as he passed the Golden Pipes—so had a cripple with his whimsies worked upon the land.

Then, too, perhaps his music had to do with it. As a child he had only a poor concertina, but by it he drew the traveller and the mountaineer and the worker in the valley to him like a magnet. Some touch of the mysterious, some sweet fantastical melody in all he played, charmed them, even when he gave them old familiar airs. From the concertina he passed to the violin, and his skill and mastery over his followers grew; and then there came a notable day when up over a thousand miles of country a melodeon was brought him. Then a wanderer, a minstrel outcast from a far country, taking refuge in those hills, taught him, and there was one long year of loving labour together, and merry whisperings between the two, and secret drawings, and worship of the Golden Pipes; and then the minstrel died, and left Hepnon alone.

And now they said that Hepnon tried to coax out of the old melodeon the music of the Golden Pipes. But a look of sorrow grew upon his face, and stayed for many months. Then there came a change, and he went into the woods, and began working there in the perfect summer weather; and the tale went abroad that he was building an organ, so that he might play for all who came, the music he heard on the Golden Pipes—for they had ravished his ear since childhood, and now he must know the wonderful melodies all by heart, they said.

With consummate patience Hepnon dried the wood and fashioned it into long tuneful tubes, beating out soft metal got from the forge in the valley to case the lips of them, tanning the leather for the bellows, stretching it, and exposing all his work to the sun of early morning, which gave every fibre and valve a rich sweetness, like a sound fruit of autumn. People also said that he set all the pieces out at sunrise and sunset that the tone of the Golden Pipes might pass into them, so that when the organ was built, each part should be saturated with such melody as it had drawn in, according to its temper and its fibre.

So the building of the organ went on, and a year passed, and then another, and it was summer again; and soon Hepnon began to build also—while yet it was sweet weather—a home for his organ, a tall nest of cedar added to his father’s house. And in it every piece of wood, and every board had been made ready by his own hands, and set in the sun and dried slowly to a healthy soundness; and he used no nails of metal, but wooden pins of the ironwood or hickory tree, and it was all polished, and there was no paint or varnish anywhere; and when you spoke in this nest your voice sounded pure and strong.

At last the time came when, piece by piece, the organ was set up in its home; and as the days and weeks went by, and autumn drew to winter, and the music of the Golden Pipes stole down the flumes of snow to their ardent lover, and spring came with its sap, and small purple blossoms, and yellow apples of mandrake, and summer stole on luxurious and dry; the face of Hepnon became thinner and thinner, a strange deep light shone in his eyes, and all his person seemed to exhale a kind of glow. He ceased to ride, to climb, to lift weights with his strong arms, as he had—poor cripple—been once so proud to do. A delicacy came upon him, and more and more he withdrew himself to his organ, and to those lofty and lonely places where he could see—and hear—the Golden Pipes boom softly over the valley.

At last it all was done, even to the fine-carved stool of cedar whereon he should sit when he played his organ. Never yet had he done more than sound each note as he made it, trying it, softening it by tender devices with the wood; but now the hour was come when he should gather down the soul of the Golden Pipes to his fingers, and give to the ears of the world the song of the morning stars, the music of Jubal and his comrades, the affluent melody to which the sons of men, in the first days, paced the world in time with the thoughts of God. For days he lived alone in the cedar-house—and who may know what he was doing: dreaming, listening, or praying? Then the word went through the valley and the hills, that one evening he would play for all who came;—and that day was "Toussaint," or the Feast of All Souls.

So they came both old and young, and they did not enter the house, but waited outside, upon the mossy rocks, or sat among the trees, and watched the heavy sun roll down and the Golden Pipes flame in the light of evening. Far beneath in the valley the water ran lightly on, but there came no sound from it, none from anywhere; only a general pervasive murmur quieting to the heart.

Now they heard a note come from the organ—a soft low sound that seemed to rise out of the good earth and mingle with the vibrant air, the song of birds, the whisper of trees, and the murmuring water. Then came another, and another note, then chords, and chords upon these, and by-and-by, rolling tides of melody, until, as it seemed to the listeners, the air ached with the incomparable song; and men and women wept, and children hid their heads in the laps of their mothers, and young men and maidens dreamed dreams never to be forgotten. For one short hour the music went on, then twilight came. Presently the sounds grew fainter, and exquisitely painful, and now a low sob seemed to pass through all the heart of the organ, and then silence fell, and in the sacred pause, Hepnon came out among them all, pale and desolate. He looked at them a minute most sadly, and then lifting up his arms towards the Golden Pipes, now hidden in the dusk, he cried low and brokenly:

"O my God, give me back my dream!"

Then his crutch seemed to give way beneath him, and he sank upon the ground, faint and gasping.

They raised him up, and women and men whispered in his ear

"Ah, the beautiful, beautiful music, Hepnon!"

But he only said:

"Oh my God, Oh my God, give me back my dream!"

When he had said it thrice, he turned his face to where his organ was in the cedar-house, and then his eyes closed, and he fell asleep. And they could not wake him. But at sunrise the next morning a shiver passed through him, and then a cold quiet stole over him, and Hepnon and the music of the Golden Pipes departed from the Voshti Hills, and came again no more.