The Bee-Man of Orn and Other Fanciful Tales HTML version

Old Pipes And The Dryad
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
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.