It had almost been a relief to see the Piper, Walter thought as he sealed his letter to Rilla. Since coming over here, he had forced himself not to give his imagination free reign, not to make it worse. Reality was harsh enough. Walter could bear the miserable physical conditions of warfare as well as the next man, but he missed being able to escape into another world – a world of dreams, of fine images and words, of peace and kindness and beauty. It had been out of reach since the first miserable night in the trenches, since the first time he had seen one of his brothers in arms die.
But tonight he had seen the Piper again, that shadowy figure trailed by young men in khaki – young men like him. He had heard the strange music. It was not a tune that he knew, but one that made Walter need to follow so that he could hear the next notes, until the song played itself out. He knew it was his fate to join the Piper’s train. As he had told Rilla in his letter, he did not fear what was coming. He had proven all those who had called him a coward wrong.
Tonight he had seen that the Piper almost smiled as he played. Surely, he didn’t seem like a vengeful spirit determined to punish the townspeople who had tried to cheat him. Instead, he seemed almost friendly, as if he had been patiently waiting for Walter to find him again.
Part of him knew he would never return to his beloved Island, never again relax in a sun-washed Rainbow Valley, never again hear the music of his mother and sisters laughing.
Walter regretted all of those things, but he had been honest with Rilla in his letter. He had come to France and won his freedom, and knew what he could handle now. Somehow, the idea of death did not frighten him. The prospect of living with memories of his time here in his head, forever and always, did.
It was not up to him. Let the Piper play his music, and Walter would follow wherever it led.