Old Pipes & the Dryad

Title:     Old Pipes And The Dryad

Author: Frank R Stockton

 

A mountain brook ran through a little village. Over the brook there was a narrow bridge, and from the bridge a foot-path led out from the village and up the hill-side, to the cottage of Old Pipes and his mother. For many, many years, Old Pipes had been employed by the villagers to pipe the cattle down from the hills. Every afternoon, an hour before sunset, he would sit on a rock in front of his cottage and play on his pipes. Then all the flocks and herds that were grazing on the mountains would hear him, wherever they might happen to be, and would come down to the village–the cows by the easiest paths, the sheep by those not quite so easy, and the goats by the steep and rocky ways that were hardest of all.

 

But now, for a year or more, Old Pipes had not piped the cattle home. It is true that every afternoon he sat upon the rock and played upon his familiar instrument; but the cattle did not hear him. He had grown old, and his breath was feeble. The echoes of his cheerful notes, which used to come from the rocky hill on the other side of the valley, were heard no more; and twenty yards from Old Pipes one could scarcely tell what tune he was playing. He had become somewhat deaf, and did not know that the sound of his pipes was so thin and weak, and that the cattle did not hear him. The cows, the sheep, and the goats came down every afternoon as before, but this was because two boys and a girl were sent up after them. The villagers did not wish the good old man to know that his piping was no longer of any use, so they paid him his little salary every month, and said nothing about the two boys and the girl.

 

Old Pipes’s mother was, of course, a great deal older then he was, and was as deaf as a gate,–posts, latch, hinges, and all,–and she never knew that the sound of her son’s pipe did not spread over all the mountainside, and echo back strong and clear from the opposite hills. She was very fond of Old Pipes, and proud of his piping; and as he was so much younger than she was, she never thought of him as being very old. She cooked for him, and made his bed, and mended his clothes; and they lived very comfortably on his little salary.

 

One afternoon, at the end of the month, when Old Pipes had finished his piping, he took his stout staff and went down the hill to the village to receive the money for his month’s work. The path seemed a great deal steeper and more difficult than it used to be; and Old Pipes thought that it must have been washed by the rains and greatly damaged. He remembered it as a path that was quite easy to traverse either up or down. But Old Pipes had been a very active man, and as his mother was so much older than he was, he never thought of himself as aged and infirm.

 

When the Chief Villager had paid him, and he had talked a little with some of his friends, Old Pipes started to go home. But when he had crossed the bridge over the brook, and gone a short distance up the hill-side, he became very tired, and sat down upon a stone. He had not been sitting there half a minute, when along came two boys and a girl.

 

“Children,” said Old Pipes, “I’m very tired tonight, and I don’t believe I can climb up this steep path to my home. I think I shall have to ask you to help me.”

 

“We will do that,” said the boys and the girl, quite cheerfully; and one boy took him by the right hand, and the other by the left, while the girl pushed him in the back. In this way he went up the hill quite easily, and soon reached his cottage door. Old Pipes gave each of the three children a copper coin, and then they sat down for a few minutes’ rest before starting back to the village.

 

“I’m sorry that I tired you so much,” said Old Pipes.

 

“Oh, that would not have tired us,” said one of the boys, “if we had not been so far to-day after the cows, the sheep, and the goats. They rambled high up on the mountain, and we never before had such a time in finding them.”

 

“Had to go after the cows, the sheep, and the goats!” exclaimed Old Pipes. “What do you mean by that?”

 

The girl, who stood behind the old man, shook her head, put her hand on her mouth, and made all sorts of signs to the boy to stop talking on this subject; but he did not notice her, and promptly answered Old Pipes.

 

“Why, you see, good sir,” said he, “that as the cattle can’t hear your pipes now, somebody has to go after them every evening to drive them down from the mountain, and the Chief Villager has hired us three to do it. Generally it is not very hard work, but to-night the cattle had wandered far.”

 

“How long have you been doing this?” asked the old man.

 

The girl shook her head and clapped her hand on her mouth more vigorously than before, but the boy went on.

 

“I think it is about a year now,” he said, “since the people first felt sure that the cattle could not hear your pipes; and from that time we’ve been driving them down. But we are rested now, and will go home. Good-night, sir.”

 

The three children then went down the hill, the girl scolding the boy all the way home. Old Pipes stood silent a few moments, and then he went into his cottage.

 

“Mother,” he shouted; “did you hear what those children said?”

 

“Children!” exclaimed the old woman; “I did not hear them. I did not know there were any children here.”

 

Then Old Pipes told his mother, shouting very loudly to make her hear, how the two boys and the girl had helped him up the hill, and what he had heard about his piping and the cattle.

 

“They can’t hear you?” cried his mother. “Why, what’s the matter with the cattle?”

 

“Ah, me!” said Old Pipes; “I don’t believe there’s any thing the matter with the cattle. It must be with me and my pipes that there is something the matter. But one thing is certain, if I do not earn the wages the Chief Villager pays me, I shall not take them. I shall go straight down to the village and give back the money I received to-day.”

 

“Nonsense!” cried his mother. “I’m sure you’ve piped as well as you could, and no more can be expected. And what are we to do without the money?”

 

“I don’t know,” said Old Pipes; “but I’m going down to the village to pay it back.”

 

The sun had now set; but the moon was shining very brightly on the hill-side, and Old Pipes could see his way very well. He did not take the same path by which he had gone before, but followed another, which led among the trees upon the hill-side, and, though longer, was not so steep.

 

When he had gone about half-way, the old man sat down to rest, leaning his back against a great oak-tree. As he did so, he heard a sound like knocking inside the tree, and then a voice distinctly said:

 

“Let me out! let me out!”

 

Old Pipes instantly forgot that he was tired, and sprang to his feet. “This must be a Dryad-tree!” he exclaimed. “If it is, I’ll let her out.”

 

Old Pipes had never, to his knowledge, seen a Dryad-tree, but he knew there were such trees on the hill-sides and the mountains, and that Dryads lived in them. He knew, too, that in the summer-time, on those days when the moon rose before the sun went down, a Dryad could come out of her tree if any one could find the key which locked her in, and turn it. Old Pipes closely examined the trunk of the tree, which stood in the full moonlight. “If I see that key,” he said, “I shall surely turn it.” Before long he perceived a piece of bark standing out from the tree, which appeared to him very much like the handle of a key. He took hold of it, and found he could turn it quite around. As he did so, a large part of the side of the tree was pushed open, and a beautiful Dryad stepped quickly out.

 

For a moment she stood motionless, gazing on the scene before her,–the tranquil valley, the hills, the forest, and the mountain-side, all lying in the soft clear light of the moon. “Oh, lovely! lovely!” she exclaimed. “How long it is since I have seen any thing like this!” And then, turning to Old Pipes, she said: “How good of you to let me out! I am so happy and so thankful, that I must kiss you, you dear old man!” And she threw her arms around the neck of Old Pipes, and kissed him on both cheeks. “You don’t know,” she then went on to say, “how doleful it is to be shut up so long in a tree. I don’t mind it in the winter, for then I am glad to be sheltered, but in summer it is a rueful thing not to be able to see all the beauties of the world. And it’s ever so long since I’ve been let out. People so seldom come this way; and when they do come at the right time they either don’t hear me, or they are frightened, and run away. But you, you dear old man, you were not frightened, and you looked and looked for the key, and you let me out, and now I shall not have to go back till winter has come, and the air grows cold. Oh, it is glorious! What can I do for you, to show you how grateful I am?”

 

“I am very glad,” said Old Pipes, “that I let you out, since I see that it makes you so happy; but I must admit that I tried to find the key because I had a great desire to see a Dryad. But if you wish to do something for me, you can, if you happen to be going down toward the village.”

 

“To the village!” exclaimed the Dryad. “I will go anywhere for you, my kind old benefactor.”

 

“Well, then,” said Old Pipes, “I wish you would take this little bag of money to the Chief Villager and tell him that Old Pipes cannot receive pay for the services which he does not perform. It is now more than a year that I have not been able to make the cattle hear me, when I piped to call them home. I did not know this until to-night; but now that I know it, I cannot keep the money, and so I send it back.” And, handing the little bag to the Dryad, he bade her good-night, and turned toward his cottage.

 

“Good-night,” said the Dryad. “And I thank you over, and over, and over again, you good old man!”

 

Old Pipes walked toward his home, very glad to be saved the fatigue of going all the way down to the village and back again. “To be sure,” he said to himself, “this path does not seem at all steep, and I can walk along it very easily; but it would have tired me dreadfully to come up all the way from the village, especially as I could not have expected those children to help me again.” When he reached home, his mother was surprised to see him returning so soon.

 

“What!” she exclaimed; “have you already come back? What did the Chief Villager say? Did he take the money?”

 

Old Pipes was just about to tell her that he had sent the money to the village by a Dryad, when he suddenly reflected that his mother would be sure to disapprove such a proceeding, and so he merely said he had sent it by a person whom he had met.

 

“And how do you know that the person will ever take it to the Chief Villager?” cried his mother. “You will lose it, and the villagers will never get it. Oh, Pipes! Pipes! when will you be old enough to have ordinary common sense?”

 

Old Pipes considered that as he was already seventy years of age he could scarcely expect to grow any wiser, but he made no remark on this subject; and, saying that he doubted not that the money would go safely to its destination, he sat down to his supper. His mother scolded him roundly, but he did not mind it; and after supper he went out and sat on a rustic chair in front of the cottage to look at the moonlit village, and to wonder whether or not the Chief Villager really received the money. While he was doing these two things, he went fast asleep.

 

When Old Pipes left the Dryad, she did not go down to the village with the little bag of money. She held it in her hand, and thought about what she had heard. “This is a good and honest old man,” she said; “and it is a shame that he should lose this money. He looked as if he needed it, and I don’t believe the people in the village will take it from one who has served them so long. Often, when in my tree, have I heard the sweet notes of his pipes. I am going to take the money back to him.” She did not start immediately, because there were so many beautiful things to look at; but after a while she went up to the cottage, and, finding Old Pipes asleep in his chair, she slipped the little bag into his coat-pocket, and silently sped away.

 

The next day, Old Pipes told his mother that he would go up the mountain and cut some wood. He had a right to get wood from the mountain, but for a long time he had been content to pick up the dead branches which lay about his cottage. To-day, however, he felt so strong and vigorous that he thought he would go and cut some fuel that would be better than this. He worked all the morning, and when he came back he did not feel at all tired, and he had a very good appetite for his dinner.

 

Now, Old Pipes knew a good deal about Dryads, but there was one thing which, although he had heard, he had forgotten. This was, that a kiss from a Dryad made a person ten years younger. The people of the village knew this, and they were very careful not to let any child of ten years or younger, go into the woods where the Dryads were supposed to be; for, if they should chance to be kissed by one of these tree-nymphs, they would be set back so far that they would cease to exist. A story was told in the village that a very bad boy of eleven once ran away into the woods, and had an adventure of this kind; and when his mother found him he was a little baby of one year old. Taking advantage of her opportunity, she brought him up more carefully than she had done before; and he grew to be a very good boy indeed.

 

Now, Old Pipes had been kissed twice by the Dryad, once on each cheek, and he therefore felt as vigorous and active as when he was a hale man of fifty. His mother noticed how much work he was doing, and told him that he need not try in that way to make up for the loss of his piping wages; for he would only tire himself out, and get sick. But her son answered that he had not felt so well for years, and that he was quite able to work. In the course of the afternoon, Old Pipes, for the first time that day, put his hand in his coat-pocket, and there, to his amazement, he found the little bag of money. “Well, well!” he exclaimed, “I am stupid, indeed! I really thought that I had seen a Dryad; but when I sat down by that big oak-tree I must have gone to sleep and dreamed it all; and then I came home thinking I had given the money to a Dryad, when it was in my pocket all the time. But the Chief Villager shall have the money. I shall not take it to him to-day, but to-morrow I wish to go to the village to see some of my old friends; and then I shall give up the money.”

 

Toward the close of the afternoon, Old Pipes, as had been his custom for so many years, took his pipes from the shelf on which they lay, and went out to the rock in front of the cottage.

 

“What are you going to do?” cried his mother. “If you will not consent to be paid, why do you pipe?”

 

“I am going to pipe for my own pleasure,” said her son. “I am used to it, and I do not wish to give it up. It does not matter now whether the cattle hear me or not, and I am sure that my piping will injure no one.”

 

When the good man began to play upon his favorite instrument he was astonished at the sound that came from it. The beautiful notes of the pipes sounded clear and strong down into the valley, and spread over the hills, and up the sides of the mountain beyond, while, after a little interval, an echo came back from the rocky hill on the other side of the valley.

 

“Ha! ha!” he cried, “what has happened to my pipes? They must have been stopped up of late, but now they are as clear and good as ever.”

 

Again the merry notes went sounding far and wide. The cattle on the mountain heard them, and those that were old enough remembered how these notes had called them from their pastures every evening, and so they started down the mountain-side, the others following.

 

The merry notes were heard in the village below, and the people were much astonished thereby. “Why, who can be blowing the pipes of Old Pipes?” they said. But, as they were all very busy, no one went up to see. One thing, however, was plain enough: the cattle were coming down the mountain. And so the two boys and the girl did not have to go after them, and had an hour for play, for which they were very glad.

 

The next morning Old Pipes started down to the village with his money, and on the way he met the Dryad. “Oh, ho!” he cried, “is that you? Why, I thought my letting you out of the tree was nothing but a dream.”

 

“A dream!” cried the Dryad; “if you only knew how happy you have made me, you would not think it merely a dream. And has it not benefited you? Do you not feel happier? Yesterday I heard you playing beautifully on your pipes.”

 

“Yes, yes,” cried he. “I did not understand it before, but I see it all now. I have really grown younger. I thank you, I thank you, good Dryad, from the bottom of my heart. It was the finding of the money in my pocket that made me think it was a dream.”

 

“Oh, I put it in when you were asleep,” she said, laughing, “because I thought you ought to keep it. Good-by, kind, honest man. May you live long, and be as happy as I am now.”

 

Old Pipes was greatly delighted when he understood that he was really a younger man; but that made no difference about the money, and he kept on his way to the village. As soon as he reached it, he was eagerly questioned as to who had been playing his pipes the evening before, and when the people heard that it was himself, they were very much surprised. Thereupon, Old Pipes told what had happened to him, and then there was greater wonder, with hearty congratulations and hand-shakes; for Old Pipes was liked by every one. The Chief Villager refused to take his money, and, although Old Pipes said that he had not earned it, every one present insisted that, as he would now play on his pipes as before, he should lose nothing, because, for a time, he was unable to perform his duty.

 

So Old Pipes was obliged to keep his money, and after an hour or two spent in conversation with his friends, he returned to his cottage.

 

There was one individual, however, who was not at all pleased with what had happened to Old Pipes. This was an Echo-dwarf, who lived on the hills on the other side of the valley, and whose duty it was to echo back the notes of the pipes whenever they could be heard. There were a great many other Echo-dwarfs on these hills, some of whom echoed back the songs of maidens, some the shouts of children, and others the music that was often heard in the village. But there was only one who could send back the strong notes of the pipes of Old Pipes, and this had been his sole duty for many years. But when the old man grew feeble, and the notes of his pipes could not be heard on the opposite hills, this Echo-dwarf had nothing to do, and he spent his time in delightful idleness; and he slept so much and grew so fat that it made his companions laugh to see him walk.

 

On the afternoon on which, after so long an interval, the sound of the pipes was heard on the echo hills, this dwarf was fast asleep behind a rock. As soon as the first notes reached them, some of his companions ran to wake him. Rolling to his feet, he echoed back the merry tune of Old Pipes. Naturally, he was very much annoyed and indignant at being thus obliged to give up his life of comfortable leisure, and he hoped very much that this pipe-playing would not occur again. The next afternoon he was awake and listening, and, sure enough, at the usual hour, along came the notes of the pipes as clear and strong as they ever had been; and he was obliged to work as long as Old Pipes played. The Echo-dwarf was very angry. He had supposed, of course, that the pipe-playing had ceased forever, and he felt that he had a right to be indignant at being thus deceived. He was so much disturbed that he made up his mind to go and try to find out whether this was to be a temporary matter or not. He had plenty of time, as the pipes were played but once a day, and he set off early in the morning for the hill on which Old Pipes lived. It was hard work for the fat little fellow, and when he had crossed the valley and had gone some distance into the woods on the hill-side, he stopped to rest, and, in a few minutes, the Dryad came tripping along.

 

“Ho, ho!” exclaimed the dwarf; “what are you doing here? and how did you get out of your tree?”

 

“Doing!” cried the Dryad; “I am being happy; that’s what I am doing. And I was let out of my tree by the good old man who plays the pipes to call the cattle down from the mountain. And it makes me happier to think that I have been of service to him. I gave him two kisses of gratitude, and now he is young enough to play his pipes as well as ever.”

 

The Echo-dwarf stepped forward, his face pale with passion. “Am I to believe,” he said, “that you are the cause of this great evil that has come upon me? and that you are the wicked creature who has again started this old man upon his career of pipe-playing? What have I ever done to you that you should have condemned me for years and years to echo back the notes of those wretched pipes?”

 

At this the Dryad laughed loudly.

 

“What a funny little fellow you are!” she said. “Any one would think you had been condemned to toil from morning till night; while what you really have to do is merely to imitate for half an hour every day the merry notes of Old Pipes’s piping. Fie upon you, Echo-dwarf! You are lazy and selfish; and that is what is the matter with you. Instead of grumbling at being obliged to do a little wholesome work, which is less, I am sure, than that of any other echo-dwarf upon the rocky hill-side, you should rejoice at the good fortune of the old man who has regained so much of his strength and vigor. Go home and learn to be just and generous; and then, perhaps, you may be happy. Good-by.”

 

“Insolent creature!” shouted the dwarf, as he shook his fat little fist at her. “I’ll make you suffer for this. You shall find out what it is to heap injury and insult upon one like me, and to snatch from him the repose that he has earned by long years of toil.” And, shaking his head savagely, he hurried back to the rocky hill-side.

 

Every afternoon the merry notes of the pipes of Old Pipes sounded down into the valley and over the hills and up the mountain-side; and every afternoon when he had echoed them back, the little dwarf grew more and more angry with the Dryad. Each day, from early morning till it was time for him to go back to his duties upon the rocky hill-side, he searched the woods for her. He intended, if he met her, to pretend to be very sorry for what he had said, and he thought he might be able to play a trick upon her which would avenge him well. One day, while thus wandering among the trees, he met Old Pipes. The Echo-dwarf did not generally care to see or speak to ordinary people; but now he was so anxious to find the object of his search, that he stopped and asked Old Pipes if he had seen the Dryad. The piper had not noticed the little fellow, and he looked down on him with some surprise.

 

“No,” he said; “I have not seen her, and I have been looking everywhere for her.”

 

“You!” cried the dwarf, “what do you wish with her?”

 

Old Pipes then sat down on a stone, so that he should be nearer the ear of his small companion, and he told what the Dryad had done for him.

 

When the Echo-dwarf heard that this was the man whose pipes he was obliged to echo back every day, he would have slain him on the spot had he been able; but, as he was not able, he merely ground his teeth and listened to the rest of the story.

 

“I am looking for the Dryad now,” Old Pipes continued, “on account of my aged mother. When I was old myself, I did not notice how very old my mother was; but now it shocks me to see how feeble and decrepit her years have caused her to become; and I am looking for the Dryad to ask her to make my mother younger, as she made me.”

 

The eyes of the Echo-dwarf glistened. Here was a man who might help him in his plans.

 

“Your idea is a good one,” he said to Old Pipes, “and it does you honor. But you should know that a Dryad can make no person younger but one who lets her out of her tree. However, you can manage the affair very easily. All you need do is to find the Dryad, tell her what you want, and request her to step into her tree and be shut up for a short time. Then you will go and bring your mother to the tree; she will open it, and every thing will be as you wish. Is not this a good plan?”

 

“Excellent!” cried Old Pipes; “and I will go instantly and search more diligently for the Dryad.”

 

“Take me with you,” said the Echo-dwarf. “You can easily carry me on your strong shoulders; and I shall be glad to help you in any way that I can.”

 

“Now, then,” said the little fellow to himself, as Old Pipes carried him rapidly along, “if he persuades the Dryad to get into a tree,–and she is quite foolish enough to do it,–and then goes away to bring his mother, I shall take a stone or a club and I will break off the key of that tree, so that nobody can ever turn it again. Then Mistress Dryad will see what she has brought upon herself by her behavior to me.”

 

Before long they came to the great oak-tree in which the Dryad had lived, and, at a distance, they saw that beautiful creature herself coming toward them.

 

“How excellently well every thing happens!” said the dwarf. “Put me down, and I will go. Your business with the Dryad is more important than mine; and you need not say any thing about my having suggested your plan to you. I am willing that you should have all the credit of it yourself.”

 

Old Pipes put the Echo-dwarf upon the ground, but the little rogue did not go away. He concealed himself between some low, mossy rocks, and he was so much of their color that you would not have noticed him if you had been looking straight at him.

 

When the Dryad came up, Old Pipes lost no time in telling her about his mother, and what he wished her to do. At first, the Dryad answered nothing, but stood looking very sadly at Old Pipes.

 

“Do you really wish me to go into my tree again?” she said. “I should dreadfully dislike to do it, for I don’t know what might happen. It is not at all necessary, for I could make your mother younger at any time if she would give me the opportunity. I had already thought of making you still happier in this way, and several times I have waited about your cottage, hoping to meet your aged mother, but she never comes outside, and you know a Dryad cannot enter a house. I cannot imagine what put this idea into your head. Did you think of it yourself?”

 

“No, I cannot say that I did,” answered Old Pipes. “A little dwarf whom I met in the woods proposed it to me.”

 

“Oh!” cried the Dryad; “now I see through it all. It is the scheme of that vile Echo-dwarf–your enemy and mine. Where is he? I should like to see him.”

 

“I think he has gone away,” said Old Pipes.

 

“No he has not,” said the Dryad, whose quick eyes perceived the Echo-dwarf among the rocks. “There he is. Seize him and drag him out, I beg of you.”

 

Old Pipes perceived the dwarf as soon as he was pointed out to him, and, running to the rocks, he caught the little fellow by the arm and pulled him out.

 

“Now, then,” cried the Dryad, who had opened the door of the great oak, “just stick him in there, and we will shut him up. Then I shall be safe from his mischief for the rest of the time I am free.”

 

Old Pipes thrust the Echo-dwarf into the tree; the Dryad pushed the door shut; there was a clicking sound of bark and wood, and no one would have noticed that the big oak had ever had an opening in it.

 

“There,” said the Dryad; “now we need not be afraid of him. And I assure you, my good piper, that I shall be very glad to make your mother younger as soon as I can. Will you not ask her to come out and meet me?”

 

“Of course I will,” cried Old Pipes; “and I will do it without delay.”

 

And then, the Dryad by his side, he hurried to his cottage. But when he mentioned the matter to his mother, the old woman became very angry indeed. She did not believe in Dryads; and, if they really did exist, she knew they must be witches and sorceresses, and she would have nothing to do with them. If her son had ever allowed himself to be kissed by one of them, he ought to be ashamed of himself. As to its doing him the least bit of good, she did not believe a word of it. He felt better than he used to feel, but that was very common. She had sometimes felt that way herself, and she forbade him ever to mention a Dryad to her again.

 

That afternoon, Old Pipes, feeling very sad that his plan in regard to his mother had failed, sat down upon the rock and played upon his pipes. The pleasant sounds went down the valley and up the hills and mountain, but, to the great surprise of some persons who happened to notice the fact, the notes were not echoed back from the rocky hill-side, but from the woods on the side of the valley on which Old Pipes lived. The next day many of the villagers stopped in their work to listen to the echo of the pipes coming from the woods. The sound was not as clear and strong as it used to be when it was sent back from the rocky hill-side, but it certainly came from among the trees. Such a thing as an echo changing its place in this way had never been heard of before, and nobody was able to explain how it could have happened. Old Pipes, however, knew very well that the sound came from the Echo-dwarf shut up in the great oak-tree. The sides of the tree were thin, and the sound of the pipes could be heard through them, and the dwarf was obliged by the laws of his being to echo back those notes whenever they came to him. But Old Pipes thought he might get the Dryad in trouble if he let any one know that the Echo-dwarf was shut up in the tree, and so he wisely said nothing about it.

 

One day the two boys and the girl who had helped Old Pipes up the hill were playing in the woods. Stopping near the great oak-tree, they heard a sound of knocking within it, and then a voice plainly said:

 

“Let me out! let me out!”

 

For a moment the children stood still in astonishment, and then one of the boys exclaimed:

 

“Oh, it is a Dryad, like the one Old Pipes found! Let’s let her out!”

 

“What are you thinking of?” cried the girl. “I am the oldest of all, and I am only thirteen. Do you wish to be turned into crawling babies? Run! run! run!”

 

And the two boys and the girl dashed down into the valley as fast as their legs could carry them. There was no desire in their youthful hearts to be made younger than they were. And for fear that their parents might think it well that they should commence their careers anew, they never said a word about finding the Dryad-tree.

 

As the summer days went on, Old Pipes’s mother grew feebler and feebler. One day when her son was away, for he now frequently went into the woods to hunt or fish, or down into the valley to work, she arose from her knitting to prepare the simple dinner. But she felt so weak and tired that she was not able to do the work to which she had been so long accustomed. “Alas! alas!” she said, “the time has come when I am too old to work. My son will have to hire some one to come here and cook his meals, make his bed, and mend his clothes. Alas! alas! I had hoped that as long as I lived I should be able to do these things. But it is not so. I have grown utterly worthless, and some one else must prepare the dinner for my son. I wonder where he is.” And tottering to the door, she went outside to look for him. She did not feel able to stand, and reaching the rustic chair, she sank into it, quite exhausted, and soon fell asleep.

 

The Dryad, who had often come to the cottage to see if she could find an opportunity of carrying out old Pipes’s affectionate design, now happened by; and seeing that the much-desired occasion had come, she stepped up quietly behind the old woman and gently kissed her on each cheek, and then as quietly disappeared.

 

In a few minutes the mother of old Pipes awoke, and looking up at the sun, she exclaimed: “Why, it is almost dinner-time! My son will be here directly, and I am not ready for him.” And rising to her feet, she hurried into the house, made the fire, set the meat and vegetables to cook, laid the cloth, and by the time her son arrived the meal was on the table.

 

“How a little sleep does refresh one,” she said to herself, as she was bustling about. She was a woman of very vigorous constitution, and at seventy had been a great deal stronger and more active than her son was at that age. The moment Old Pipes saw his mother, he knew that the Dryad had been there; but, while he felt as happy as a king, he was too wise to say any thing about her.

 

“It is astonishing how well I feel to-day,” said his mother; “and either my hearing has improved or you speak much more plainly than you have done of late.”

 

The summer days went on and passed away, the leaves were falling from the trees, and the air was becoming cold.

 

“Nature has ceased to be lovely,” said the Dryad, “and the night-winds chill me. It is time for me to go back into my comfortable quarters in the great oak. But first I must pay another visit to the cottage of Old Pipes.”

 

She found the piper and his mother sitting side by side on the rock in front of the door. The cattle were not to go to the mountain any more that season, and he was piping them down for the last time. Loud and merrily sounded the pipes of Old Pipes, and down the mountain-side came the cattle, the cows by the easiest paths, the sheep by those not quite so easy, and the goats by the most difficult ones among the rocks; while from the great oak-tree were heard the echoes of the cheerful music.

 

“How happy they look, sitting there together,” said the Dryad; “and I don’t believe it will do them a bit of harm to be still younger.” And moving quietly up behind them, she first kissed Old Pipes on his cheek and then his mother.

 

Old Pipes, who had stopped playing, knew what it was, but he did not move, and said nothing. His mother, thinking that her son had kissed her, turned to him with a smile and kissed him in return. And then she arose and went into the cottage, a vigorous woman of sixty, followed by her son, erect and happy, and twenty years younger than herself.

 

The Dryad sped away to the woods, shrugging her shoulders as she felt the cool evening wind.

 

When she reached the great oak, she turned the key and opened the door. “Come out,” she said to the Echo-dwarf, who sat blinking within. “Winter is coming on, and I want the comfortable shelter of my tree for myself. The cattle have come down from the mountain for the last time this year, the pipes will no longer sound, and you can go to your rocks and have a holiday until next spring.”

 

Upon hearing these words the dwarf skipped quickly out, and the Dryad entered the tree and pulled the door shut after her. “Now, then,” she said to herself, “he can break off the key if he likes. It does not matter to me. Another will grow out next spring. And although the good piper made me no promise, I know that when the warm days arrive next year, he will come and let me out again.”

 

The Echo-dwarf did not stop to break the key of the tree. He was too happy to be released to think of any thing else, and he hastened as fast as he could to his home on the rocky hill-side.

 

* * * * *

 

The Dryad was not mistaken when she trusted in the piper. When the warm days came again he went to the oak-tree to let her out. But, to his sorrow and surprise, he found the great tree lying upon the ground. A winter storm had blown it down, and it lay with its trunk shattered and split. And what became of the Dryad, no one ever knew.

 

 

[The end]

Frank R Stockton’s short story: Old Pipes And The Dryad

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