ELEANOR H. (HODGMAN) PORTER
AUTHOR POLLYANNA, MISS BILLY MARRIED, ETC.
TO MY FRIEND Mrs. James Harness
I. THE MOUNTAIN HOME II. THE TRAIL III. THE VALLEY IV. TWO LETTERS V. DISCORDS VI. NUISANCES, NECESSARY AND OTHERWISE VII. "YOU'RE WANTED—YOU'RE WANTED!" VIII. THE PUZZLING "DOS" AND "DON'TS" IX. JOE X. THE LADY OF THE ROSES XI. JACK AND JILL XII. ANSWERS THAT DID NOT ANSWER XIII. A SURPRISE FOR MR. JACK XIV. THE TOWER WINDOW XV. SECRETS XVI. DAVID'S CASTLE IN SPAIN XVII. "THE PRINCESS AND THE PAUPER" XVIII. DAVID TO THE RESCUE XIX. THE UNBEAUTIFUL WORLD XX. THE UNFAMILIAR WAY XXI. HEAVY HEARTS XXII. AS PERRY SAW IT XXIII. PUZZLES XXIV. A STORY REMODELED XXV. THE BEAUTIFUL WORLD
THE MOUNTAIN HOME
Far up on the mountain-side stood alone in the clearing. It was roughly yet warmly built. Behind it jagged cliffs broke the north wind, and towered gray-white in the sunshine. Before it a tiny expanse of green sloped gently away to a point where the mountain dropped in another sharp descent, wooded with scrubby firs and pines. At the left a footpath led into the cool depths of the forest. But at the right the mountain fell away again and disclosed to view the picture David loved the best of all: the far-reaching valley; the silver pool of the lake with its ribbon of a river flung far out; and above it the grays and greens and purples of the mountains that climbed one upon another's shoulders until the topmost thrust their heads into the wide dome of the sky itself.
There was no road, apparently, leading away from the cabin. There was only the footpath that disappeared into the forest. Neither, anywhere, was there a house in sight nearer than the white specks far down in the valley by the river.
Within the shack a wide fireplace dominated one side of the main room. It was June now, and the ashes lay cold on the hearth; but from the tiny lean-to in the rear came the smell and the sputter of bacon sizzling over a blaze. The furnishings of the room were simple, yet, in a way, out of the common. There were two bunks, a few rude but comfortable chairs, a table, two music-racks, two violins with their cases, and everywhere books, and scattered sheets of music. Nowhere was there cushion, curtain, or knickknack that told of a woman's taste or touch. On the other hand, neither was there anywhere gun, pelt, or antlered head that spoke of a man's strength and skill. For decoration there were a beautiful copy of the Sistine Madonna, several photographs signed with names well known out in the great world beyond the mountains, and a festoon of pine cones such as a child might gather and hang.
From the little lean-to kitchen the sound of the sputtering suddenly ceased, and at the door appeared a pair of dark, wistful eyes.
"Daddy!" called the owner of the eyes.
There was no answer.
"Father, are you there?" called the voice, more insistently.
From one of the bunks came a slight stir and a murmured word. At the sound the boy at the door leaped softly into the room and hurried to the bunk in the corner. He was a slender lad with short, crisp curls at his ears, and the red of perfect health in his cheeks. His hands, slim, long, and with tapering fingers like a girl's, reached forward eagerly.
"Daddy, come! I've done the bacon all myself, and the potatoes and the coffee, too. Quick, it's all getting cold!"
Slowly, with the aid of the boy's firm hands, the man pulled himself half to a sitting posture. His cheeks, like the boy's, were red—but not with health. His eyes were a little wild, but his voice was low and very tender, like a caress.
"David—it's my little son David!"
"Of course it's David! Who else should it be?" laughed the boy. "Come!" And he tugged at the man's hands.
The man rose then, unsteadily, and by sheer will forced himself to stand upright. The wild look left his eyes, and the flush his cheeks. His face looked suddenly old and haggard. Yet with fairly sure steps he crossed the room and entered the little kitchen.
Half of the bacon was black; the other half was transparent and like tough jelly. The potatoes were soggy, and had the unmistakable taste that comes from a dish that has boiled dry. The coffee was lukewarm and muddy. Even the milk was sour.
David laughed a little ruefully.
"Things aren't so nice as yours, father," he apologized. "I'm afraid I'm nothing but a discord in that orchestra to-day! Somehow, some of the stove was hotter than the rest, and burnt up the bacon in spots; and all the water got out of the potatoes, too,—though THAT didn't matter, for I just put more cold in. I forgot and left the milk in the sun, and it tastes bad now; but I'm sure next time it'll be better—all of it."
The man smiled, but he shook his head sadly.
"But there ought not to be any 'next time,' David."
"Why not? What do you mean? Aren't you ever going to let me try again, father?" There was real distress in the boy's voice.
The man hesitated. His lips parted with an indrawn breath, as if behind them lay a rush of words. But they closed abruptly, the words still unsaid. Then, very lightly, came these others:—
"Well, son, this isn't a very nice way to treat your supper, is it? Now, if you please, I'll take some of that bacon. I think I feel my appetite coming back."
If the truant appetite "came back," however, it could not have stayed; for the man ate but little. He frowned, too, as he saw how little the boy ate. He sat silent while his son cleared the food and dishes away, and he was still silent when, with the boy, he passed out of the house and walked to the little bench facing the west.
Unless it stormed very hard, David never went to bed without this last look at his "Silver Lake," as he called the little sheet of water far down in the valley.
"Daddy, it's gold to-night—all gold with the sun!" he cried rapturously, as his eyes fell upon his treasure. "Oh, daddy!"
It was a long-drawn cry of ecstasy, and hearing it, the man winced, as with sudden pain.
"Daddy, I'm going to play it—I've got to play it!" cried the boy, bounding toward the cabin. In a moment he had returned, violin at his chin.
The man watched and listened; and as he watched and listened, his face became a battle-ground whereon pride and fear, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, fought for the mastery.
It was no new thing for David to "play" the sunset. Always, when he was moved, David turned to his violin. Always in its quivering strings he found the means to say that which his tongue could not express.
Across the valley the grays and blues of the mountains had become all purples now. Above, the sky in one vast flame of crimson and gold, was a molten sea on which floated rose-pink cloud-boats. Below, the valley with its lake and river picked out in rose and gold against the shadowy greens of field and forest, seemed like some enchanted fairyland of loveliness.
And all this was in David's violin, and all this, too, was on David's uplifted, rapturous face.
As the last rose-glow turned to gray and the last strain quivered into silence, the man spoke. His voice was almost harsh with self-control.
"David, the time has come. We'll have to give it up—you and I."
The boy turned wonderingly, his face still softly luminous.
"Give what up?"
"This! Why, father, what do you mean? This is home!"
The man nodded wearily.
"I know. It has been home; but, David, you didn't think we could always live here, like this, did you?"
David laughed softly, and turned his eyes once more to the distant sky-line.
"Why not?" he asked dreamily. "What better place could there be? I like it, daddy."
The man drew a troubled breath, and stirred restlessly. The teasing pain in his side was very bad to-night, and no change of position eased it. He was ill, very ill; and he knew it. Yet he also knew that, to David, sickness, pain, and death meant nothing—or, at most, words that had always been lightly, almost unconsciously passed over. For the first time he wondered if, after all, his training—some of it—had been wise.
For six years he had had the boy under his exclusive care and guidance. For six years the boy had eaten the food, worn the clothing, and studied the books of his father's choosing. For six years that father had thought, planned, breathed, moved, lived for his son. There had been no others in the little cabin. There had been only the occasional trips through the woods to the little town on the mountain-side for food and clothing, to break the days of close companionship.
All this the man had planned carefully. He had meant that only the good and beautiful should have place in David's youth. It was not that he intended that evil, unhappiness, and death should lack definition, only definiteness, in the boy's mind. It should be a case where the good and the beautiful should so fill the thoughts that there would be no room for anything else. This had been his plan. And thus far he had succeeded—succeeded so wonderfully that he began now, in the face of his own illness, and of what he feared would come of it, to doubt the wisdom of that planning.
As he looked at the boy's rapt face, he remembered David's surprised questioning at the first dead squirrel he had found in the woods. David was six then.
"Why, daddy, he's asleep, and he won't wake up!" he had cried. Then, after a gentle touch: "And he's cold—oh, so cold!"
The father had hurried his son away at the time, and had evaded his questions; and David had seemed content. But the next day the boy had gone back to the subject. His eyes were wide then, and a little frightened.
"Father, what is it to be—dead?"
"What do you mean, David?"
"The boy who brings the milk—he had the squirrel this morning. He said it was not asleep. It was—dead."
"It means that the squirrel, the real squirrel under the fur, has gone away, David."
"To a far country, perhaps."
"Will he come back?"
"Did he want to go?"
"We'll hope so."
"But he left his—his fur coat behind him. Didn't he need—that?"
"No, or he'd have taken it with him."
David had fallen silent at this. He had remained strangely silent indeed for some days; then, out in the woods with his father one morning, he gave a joyous shout. He was standing by the ice-covered brook, and looking at a little black hole through which the hurrying water could be plainly seen.
"Daddy, oh, daddy, I know now how it is, about being—dead."
"It's like the water in the brook, you know; THAT'S going to a far country, and it isn't coming back. And it leaves its little cold ice-coat behind it just as the squirrel did, too. It does n't need it. It can go without it. Don't you see? And it's singing—listen!—it's singing as it goes. It WANTS to go!"
"Yes, David." And David's father had sighed with relief that his son had found his own explanation of the mystery, and one that satisfied.
Later, in his books, David found death again. It was a man, this time. The boy had looked up with startled eyes.
"Do people, real people, like you and me, be dead, father? Do they go to a far country?
"Yes, son in time—to a far country ruled over by a great and good King they tell us."
David's father had trembled as he said it, and had waited fearfully for the result. But David had only smiled happily as he answered:
"But they go singing, father, like the little brook. You know I heard it!"
And there the matter had ended. David was ten now, and not yet for him did death spell terror. Because of this David's father was relieved; and yet—still because of this—he was afraid.
"David," he said gently. "Listen to me."
The boy turned with a long sigh.
"We must go away. Out in the great world there are men and women and children waiting for you. You've a beautiful work to do; and one can't do one's work on a mountain-top."
"Why not? I like it here, and I've always been here."
"Not always, David; six years. You were four when I brought you here. You don't remember, perhaps."
David shook his head. His eyes were again dreamily fixed on the sky.
"I think I'd like it—to go—if I could sail away on that little cloud-boat up there," he murmured.
The man sighed and shook his head.
"We can't go on cloud-boats. We must walk, David, for a way—and we must go soon—soon," he added feverishly. "I must get you back—back among friends, before—"
He rose unsteadily, and tried to walk erect. His limbs shook, and the blood throbbed at his temples. He was appalled at his weakness. With a fierceness born of his terror he turned sharply to the boy at his side.
"David, we've got to go! We've got to go—TO-MORROW!"
"Yes, yes, come!" He stumbled blindly, yet in some way he reached the cabin door.
Behind him David still sat, inert, staring. The next minute the boy had sprung to his feet and was hurrying after his father.
A curious strength seemed to have come to the man. With almost steady hands he took down the photographs and the Sistine Madonna, packing them neatly away in a box to be left. From beneath his bunk he dragged a large, dusty traveling-bag, and in this he stowed a little food, a few garments, and a great deal of the music scattered about the room.
David, in the doorway, stared in dazed wonder. Gradually into his eyes crept a look never seen there before.
"Father, where are we going?" he asked at last in a shaking voice, as he came slowly into the room.
"Back, son; we're going back."
"To the village, where we get our eggs and bacon?"
"No, no, lad, not there. The other way. We go down into the valley this time."
"The valley—MY valley, with the Silver Lake?"
"Yes, my son; and beyond—far beyond." The man spoke dreamily. He was looking at a photograph in his hand. It had slipped in among the loose sheets of music, and had not been put away with the others. It was the likeness of a beautiful woman.
For a moment David eyed him uncertainly; then he spoke.
"Daddy, who is that? Who are all these people in the pictures? You've never told me about any of them except the little round one that you wear in your pocket. Who are they?"
Instead of answering, the man turned faraway eyes on the boy and smiled wistfully.
"Ah, David, lad, how they'll love you! How they will love you! But you mustn't let them spoil you, son. You must remember—remember all I've told you."
Once again David asked his question, but this time the man only turned back to the photograph, muttering something the boy could not understand.
After that David did not question any more. He was too amazed, too distressed. He had never before seen his father like this. With nervous haste the man was setting the little room to rights, crowding things into the bag, and packing other things away in an old trunk. His cheeks were very red, and his eyes very bright. He talked, too, almost constantly, though David could understand scarcely a word of what was said. Later, the man caught up his violin and played; and never before had David heard his father play like that. The boy's eyes filled, and his heart ached with a pain that choked and numbed—though why, David could not have told. Still later, the man dropped his violin and sank exhausted into a chair; and then David, worn and frightened with it all, crept to his bunk and fell asleep.
In the gray dawn of the morning David awoke to a different world. His father, white-faced and gentle, was calling him to get ready for breakfast. The little room, dismantled of its decorations, was bare and cold. The bag, closed and strapped, rested on the floor by the door, together with the two violins in their cases, ready to carry.
"We must hurry, son. It's a long tramp before we take the cars."
"The cars—the real cars? Do we go in those?" David was fully awake now.
"And is that all we're to carry?"
"Yes. Hurry, son."
"But we come back—sometime?"
There was no answer.
"Father, we're coming back—sometime?" David's voice was insistent now.
The man stooped and tightened a strap that was already quite tight enough. Then he laughed lightly.
"Why, of course you're coming back sometime, David. Only think of all these things we're leaving!"
When the last dish was put away, the last garment adjusted, and the last look given to the little room, the travelers picked up the bag and the violins, and went out into the sweet freshness of the morning. As he fastened the door the man sighed profoundly; but David did not notice this. His face was turned toward the east—always David looked toward the sun.
"Daddy, let's not go, after all! Let's stay here," he cried ardently, drinking in the beauty of the morning.
"We must go, David. Come, son." And the man led the way across the green slope to the west.
It was a scarcely perceptible trail, but the man found it, and followed it with evident confidence. There was only the pause now and then to steady his none-too-sure step, or to ease the burden of the bag. Very soon the forest lay all about them, with the birds singing over their heads, and with numberless tiny feet scurrying through the underbrush on all sides. Just out of sight a brook babbled noisily of its delight in being alive; and away up in the treetops the morning sun played hide-and-seek among the dancing leaves.
And David leaped, and laughed, and loved it all, nor was any of it strange to him. The birds, the trees, the sun, the brook, the scurrying little creatures of the forest, all were friends of his. But the man—the man did not leap or laugh, though he, too, loved it all. The man was afraid.
He knew now that he had undertaken more than he could carry out. Step by step the bag had grown heavier, and hour by hour the insistent, teasing pain in his side had increased until now it was a torture. He had forgotten that the way to the valley was so long; he had not realized how nearly spent was his strength before he even started down the trail. Throbbing through his brain was the question, what if, after all, he could not—but even to himself he would not say the words.
At noon they paused for luncheon, and at night they camped where the chattering brook had stopped to rest in a still, black pool. The next morning the man and the boy picked up the trail again, but without the bag. Under some leaves in a little hollow, the man had hidden the bag, and had then said, as if casually:—
"I believe, after all, I won't carry this along. There's nothing in it that we really need, you know, now that I've taken out the luncheon box, and by night we'll be down in the valley."
"Of course!" laughed David. "We don't need that." And he laughed again, for pure joy. Little use had David for bags or baggage!
They were more than halfway down the mountain now, and soon they reached a grass-grown road, little traveled, but yet a road. Still later they came to where four ways crossed, and two of them bore the marks of many wheels. By sundown the little brook at their side murmured softly of quiet fields and meadows, and David knew that the valley was reached.
David was not laughing now. He was watching his father with startled eyes. David had not known what anxiety was. He was finding out now—though he but vaguely realized that something was not right. For some time his father had said but little, and that little had been in a voice that was thick and unnatural-sounding. He was walking fast, yet David noticed that every step seemed an effort, and that every breath came in short gasps. His eyes were very bright, and were fixedly bent on the road ahead, as if even the haste he was making was not haste enough. Twice David spoke to him, but he did not answer; and the boy could only trudge along on his weary little feet and sigh for the dear home on the mountain-top which they had left behind them the morning before.
They met few fellow travelers, and those they did meet paid scant attention to the man and the boy carrying the violins. As it chanced, there was no one in sight when the man, walking in the grass at the side of the road, stumbled and fell heavily to the ground.
David sprang quickly forward.
"Father, what is it? WHAT IS IT?"
There was no answer.
"Daddy, why don't you speak to me? See, it's David!"
With a painful effort the man roused himself and sat up. For a moment he gazed dully into the boy's face; then a half-forgotten something seemed to stir him into feverish action. With shaking fingers he handed David his watch and a small ivory miniature. Then he searched his pockets until on the ground before him lay a shining pile of gold-pieces—to David there seemed to be a hundred of them.
"Take them—hide them—keep them. David, until you—need them," panted the man. "Then go—go on. I can't."
"Alone? Without you?" demurred the boy, aghast. "Why, father, I couldn't! I don't know the way. Besides, I'd rather stay with you," he added soothingly, as he slipped the watch and the miniature into his pocket; "then we can both go." And he dropped himself down at his father's side.
The man shook his head feebly, and pointed again to the gold-pieces.
"Take them, David,—hide them," he chattered with pale lips.
Almost impatiently the boy began picking up the money and tucking it into his pockets.
"But, father, I'm not going without you," he declared stoutly, as the last bit of gold slipped out of sight, and a horse and wagon rattled around the turn of the road above.
The driver of the horse glanced disapprovingly at the man and the boy by the roadside; but he did not stop. After he had passed, the boy turned again to his father. The man was fumbling once more in his pockets. This time from his coat he produced a pencil and a small notebook from which he tore a page, and began to write, laboriously, painfully.
David sighed and looked about him. He was tired and hungry, and he did not understand things at all. Something very wrong, very terrible, must be the matter with his father. Here it was almost dark, yet they had no place to go, no supper to eat, while far, far up on the mountain-side was their own dear home sad and lonely without them. Up there, too, the sun still shone, doubtless,—at least there were the rose-glow and the Silver Lake to look at, while down here there was nothing, nothing but gray shadows, a long dreary road, and a straggling house or two in sight. From above, the valley might look to be a fairyland of loveliness, but in reality it was nothing but a dismal waste of gloom, decided David.
David's father had torn a second page from his book and was beginning another note, when the boy suddenly jumped to his feet. One of the straggling houses was near the road where they sat, and its presence had given David an idea. With swift steps he hurried to the front door and knocked upon it. In answer a tall, unsmiling woman appeared, and said, "Well?"
David removed his cap as his father had taught him to do when one of the mountain women spoke to him.
"Good evening, lady; I'm David," he began frankly. "My father is so tired he fell down back there, and we should like very much to stay with you all night, if you don't mind."
The woman in the doorway stared. For a moment she was dumb with amazement. Her eyes swept the plain, rather rough garments of the boy, then sought the half-recumbent figure of the man by the roadside. Her chin came up angrily.
"Oh, would you, indeed! Well, upon my word!" she scouted. "Humph! We don't accommodate tramps, little boy." And she shut the door hard.
It was David's turn to stare. Just what a tramp might be, he did not know; but never before had a request of his been so angrily refused. He knew that. A fierce something rose within him—a fierce new something that sent the swift red to his neck and brow. He raised a determined hand to the doorknob—he had something to say to that woman!—when the door suddenly opened again from the inside.
"See here, boy," began the woman, looking out at him a little less unkindly, "if you're hungry I'll give you some milk and bread. Go around to the back porch and I'll get it for you." And she shut the door again.
David's hand dropped to his side. The red still stayed on his face and neck, however, and that fierce new something within him bade him refuse to take food from this woman.... But there was his father—his poor father, who was so tired; and there was his own stomach clamoring to be fed. No, he could not refuse. And with slow steps and hanging head David went around the corner of the house to the rear.
As the half-loaf of bread and the pail of milk were placed in his hands, David remembered suddenly that in the village store on the mountain, his father paid money for his food. David was glad, now, that he had those gold-pieces in his pocket, for he could pay money. Instantly his head came up. Once more erect with self-respect, he shifted his burdens to one hand and thrust the other into his pocket. A moment later he presented on his outstretched palm a shining disk of gold.
"Will you take this, to pay, please, for the bread and milk?" he asked proudly.
The woman began to shake her head; but, as her eyes fell on the money, she started, and bent closer to examine it. The next instant she jerked herself upright with an angry exclamation.
"It's gold! A ten-dollar gold-piece! So you're a thief, too, are you, as well as a tramp? Humph! Well, I guess you don't need this then," she finished sharply, snatching the bread and the pail of milk from the boy's hand.
The next moment David stood alone on the doorstep, with the sound of a quickly thrown bolt in his ears.
A thief! David knew little of thieves, but he knew what they were. Only a month before a man had tried to steal the violins from the cabin; and he was a thief, the milk-boy said. David flushed now again, angrily, as he faced the closed door. But he did not tarry. He turned and ran to his father.
"Father, come away, quick! You must come away," he choked.
So urgent was the boy's voice that almost unconsciously the sick man got to his feet. With shaking hands he thrust the notes he had been writing into his pocket. The little book, from which he had torn the leaves for this purpose, had already dropped unheeded into the grass at his feet.
"Yes, son, yes, we'll go," muttered the man. "I feel better now. I can—walk."
And he did walk, though very slowly, ten, a dozen, twenty steps. From behind came the sound of wheels that stopped close beside them.
"Hullo, there! Going to the village?" called a voice.
"Yes, sir." David's answer was unhesitating. Where "the village" was, he did not know; he knew only that it must be somewhere away from the woman who had called him a thief. And that was all he cared to know.
"I'm going 'most there myself. Want a lift?" asked the man, still kindly.
"Yes, sir. Thank you!" cried the boy joyfully. And together they aided his father to climb into the roomy wagon-body.
There were few words said. The man at the reins drove rapidly, and paid little attention to anything but his horses. The sick man dozed and rested. The boy sat, wistful-eyed and silent, watching the trees and houses flit by. The sun had long ago set, but it was not dark, for the moon was round and bright, and the sky was cloudless. Where the road forked sharply the man drew his horses to a stop.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I guess I'll have to drop you here, friends. I turn off to the right; but 't ain't more 'n a quarter of a mile for you, now" he finished cheerily, pointing with his whip to a cluster of twinkling lights.
"Thank you, sir, thank you," breathed David gratefully, steadying his father's steps. "You've helped us lots. Thank you!"
In David's heart was a wild desire to lay at his good man's feet all of his shining gold-pieces as payment for this timely aid. But caution held him back: it seemed that only in stores did money pay; outside it branded one as a thief!
Alone with his father, David faced once more his problem. Where should they go for the night? Plainly his father could not walk far. He had begun to talk again, too,—low, half-finished sentences that David could not understand, and that vaguely troubled him. There was a house near by, and several others down the road toward the village; but David had had all the experience he wanted that night with strange houses, and strange women. There was a barn, a big one, which was nearest of all; and it was toward this barn that David finally turned his father's steps.
"We'll go there, daddy, if we can get in," he proposed softly. "And we'll stay all night and rest."
The long twilight of the June day had changed into a night that was scarcely darker, so bright was the moonlight. Seen from the house, the barn and the low buildings beyond loomed shadowy and unreal, yet very beautiful. On the side porch of the house sat Simeon Holly and his wife, content to rest mind and body only because a full day's work lay well done behind them.
It was just as Simeon rose to his feet to go indoors that a long note from a violin reached their ears.
"Simeon!" cried the woman. "What was that?"
The man did not answer. His eyes were fixed on the barn.
"Simeon, it's a fiddle!" exclaimed Mrs. Holly, as a second tone quivered on the air "And it's in our barn!"
Simeon's jaw set. With a stern ejaculation he crossed the porch and entered the kitchen.
In another minute he had returned, a lighted lantern in his hand.
"Simeon, d—don't go," begged the woman, tremulously. "You—you don't know what's there."
"Fiddles are not played without hands, Ellen," retorted the man severely. "Would you have me go to bed and leave a half-drunken, ungodly minstrel fellow in possession of our barn? To-night, on my way home, I passed a pretty pair of them lying by the roadside—a man and a boy with two violins. They're the culprits, likely,—though how they got this far, I don't see. Do you think I want to leave my barn to tramps like them?"
"N—no, I suppose not," faltered the woman, as she rose tremblingly to her feet, and followed her husband's shadow across the yard.
Once inside the barn Simeon Holly and his wife paused involuntarily. The music was all about them now, filling the air with runs and trills and rollicking bits of melody. Giving an angry exclamation, the man turned then to the narrow stairway and climbed to the hayloft above. At his heels came his wife, and so her eyes, almost as soon as his fell upon the man lying back on the hay with the moonlight full upon his face. Instantly the music dropped to a whisper, and a low voice came out of the gloom beyond the square of moonlight which came from the window in the roof.
"If you'll please be as still as you can, sir. You see he's asleep and he's so tired," said the voice.
For a moment the man and the woman on the stairway paused in amazement, then the man lifted his lantern and strode toward the voice.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" he demanded sharply.
A boy's face, round, tanned, and just now a bit anxious, flashed out of the dark.
"Oh, please, sir, if you would speak lower," pleaded the boy. "He's so tired! I'm David, sir, and that's father. We came in here to rest and sleep."
Simeon Holly's unrelenting gaze left the boy's face and swept that of the man lying back on the hay. The next instant he lowered the lantern and leaned nearer, putting forth a cautious hand. At once he straightened himself, muttering a brusque word under his breath. Then he turned with the angry question:—
"Boy, what do you mean by playing a jig on your fiddle at such a time as this?"
"Why, father asked me to play" returned the boy cheerily. "He said he could walk through green forests then, with the ripple of brooks in his ears, and that the birds and the squirrels—"
"See here, boy, who are you?" cut in Simeon Holly sternly. "Where did you come from?"
"From home, sir."
"Where is that?"
"Why, home, sir, where I live. In the mountains, 'way up, up, up—oh, so far up! And there's such a big, big sky, so much nicer than down here." The boy's voice quivered, and almost broke, and his eyes constantly sought the white face on the hay.
It was then that Simeon Holly awoke to the sudden realization that it was time for action. He turned to his wife.
"Take the boy to the house," he directed incisively. "We'll have to keep him to-night, I suppose. I'll go for Higgins. Of course the whole thing will have to be put in his hands at once. You can't do anything here," he added, as he caught her questioning glance. "Leave everything just as it is. The man is dead."
"Dead?" It was a sharp cry from the boy, yet there was more of wonder than of terror in it. "Do you mean that he has gone—like the water in the brook—to the far country?" he faltered.
Simeon Holly stared. Then he said more distinctly:—
"Your father is dead, boy."
"And he won't come back any more?" David's voice broke now.
There was no answer. Mrs. Holly caught her breath convulsively and looked away. Even Simeon Holly refused to meet the boy's pleading eyes.
With a quick cry David sprang to his father's side.
"But he's here—right here," he challenged shrilly. "Daddy, daddy, speak to me! It's David!" Reaching out his hand, he gently touched his father's face. He drew back then, at once, his eyes distended with terror. "He isn't! He is—gone," he chattered frenziedly. "This isn't the father-part that KNOWS. It's the other—that they leave. He's left it behind him—like the squirrel, and the water in the brook."
Suddenly the boy's face changed. It grew rapt and luminous as he leaped to his feet, crying joyously: "But he asked me to play, so he went singing—singing just as he said that they did. And I made him walk through green forests with the ripple of the brooks in his ears! Listen—like this!" And once more the boy raised the violin to his chin, and once more the music trilled and rippled about the shocked, amazed ears of Simeon Holly and his wife.
For a time neither the man nor the woman could speak. There was nothing in their humdrum, habit-smoothed tilling of the soil and washing of pots and pans to prepare them for a scene like this—a moonlit barn, a strange dead man, and that dead man's son babbling of brooks and squirrels, and playing jigs on a fiddle for a dirge. At last, however, Simeon found his voice.
"Boy, boy, stop that!" he thundered. "Are you mad—clean mad? Go into the house, I say!" And the boy, dazed but obedient, put up his violin, and followed the woman, who, with tear-blinded eyes, was leading the way down the stairs.
Mrs. Holly was frightened, but she was also strangely moved. From the long ago the sound of another violin had come to her—a violin, too, played by a boy's hands. But of this, all this, Mrs. Holly did not like to think.
In the kitchen now she turned and faced her young guest.
"Are you hungry, little boy?"
David hesitated; he had not forgotten the woman, the milk, and the gold-piece.
"Are you hungry—dear?" stammered Mrs. Holly again; and this time David's clamorous stomach forced a "yes" from his unwilling lips; which sent Mrs. Holly at once into the pantry for bread and milk and a heaped-up plate of doughnuts such as David had never seen before.
Like any hungry boy David ate his supper; and Mrs. Holly, in the face of this very ordinary sight of hunger being appeased at her table, breathed more freely, and ventured to think that perhaps this strange little boy was not so very strange, after all.
"What is your name?" she found courage to ask then.
"But your father's name?" Mrs. Holly had almost asked, but stopped in time. She did not want to speak of him. "Where do you live?" she asked instead.
"On the mountain, 'way up, up on the mountain where I can see my Silver Lake every day, you know."
"But you didn't live there alone?"
"Oh, no; with father—before he—went away" faltered the boy.
The woman flushed red and bit her lip.
"No, no, I mean—were there no other houses but yours?" she stammered.
"But, wasn't your mother—anywhere?"
"Oh, yes, in father's pocket."
"Your MOTHER—in your father's POCKET!"
So plainly aghast was the questioner that David looked not a little surprised as he explained.
"You don't understand. She is an angel-mother, and angel-mothers don't have anything only their pictures down here with us. And that's what we have, and father always carried it in his pocket."
"Oh——h," murmured Mrs. Holly, a quick mist in her eyes. Then, gently: "And did you always live there—on the mountain?"
"Six years, father said."
"But what did you do all day? Weren't you ever—lonesome?"
"Lonesome?" The boy's eyes were puzzled.
"Yes. Didn't you miss things—people, other houses, boys of your own age, and—and such things?"
David's eyes widened.
"Why, how could I?" he cried. "When I had daddy, and my violin, and my Silver Lake, and the whole of the great big woods with everything in them to talk to, and to talk to me?"
"Woods, and things in them to—to TALK to you!"
"Why, yes. It was the little brook, you know, after the squirrel, that told me about being dead, and—"
"Yes, yes; but never mind, dear, now," stammered the woman, rising hurriedly to her feet—the boy was a little wild, after all, she thought. "You—you should go to bed. Haven't you a—a bag, or—or anything?"
"No, ma'am; we left it," smiled David apologetically. "You see, we had so much in it that it got too heavy to carry. So we did n't bring it."
"So much in it you didn't bring it, indeed!" repeated Mrs. Holly, under her breath, throwing up her hands with a gesture of despair. "Boy, what are you, anyway?"
It was not meant for a question, but, to the woman's surprise, the boy answered, frankly, simply:—
"Father says that I'm one little instrument in the great Orchestra of Life, and that I must see to it that I'm always in tune, and don't drag or hit false notes."
"My land!" breathed the woman, dropping back in her chair, her eyes fixed on the boy. Then, with an effort, she got to her feet.
"Come, you must go to bed," she stammered. "I'm sure bed is—is the best place you. I think I can find what—what you need," she finished feebly.
In a snug little room over the kitchen some minutes later, David found himself at last alone. The room, though it had once belonged to a boy of his own age, looked very strange to David. On the floor was a rag-carpet rug, the first he had ever seen. On the walls were a fishing-rod, a toy shotgun, and a case full of bugs and moths, each little body impaled on a pin, to David's shuddering horror. The bed had four tall posts at the corners, and a very puffy top that filled David with wonder as to how he was to reach it, or stay there if he did gain it. Across a chair lay a boy's long yellow-white nightshirt that the kind lady had left, after hurriedly wiping her eyes with the edge of its hem. In all the circle of the candlelight there was just one familiar object to David's homesick eyes—the long black violin case which he had brought in himself, and which held his beloved violin.
With his back carefully turned toward the impaled bugs and moths on the wall, David undressed himself and slipped into the yellow-white nightshirt, which he sniffed at gratefully, so like pine woods was the perfume that hung about its folds. Then he blew out the candle and groped his way to the one window the little room contained.
The moon still shone, but little could be seen through the thick green branches of the tree outside. From the yard below came the sound of wheels, and of men's excited voices. There came also the twinkle of lanterns borne by hurrying hands, and the tramp of shuffling feet. In the window David shivered. There were no wide sweep of mountain, hill, and valley, no Silver Lake, no restful hush, no daddy,—no beautiful Things that Were. There was only the dreary, hollow mockery of the Things they had Become.
Long minutes later, David, with the violin in his arms, lay down upon the rug, and, for the first time since babyhood, sobbed himself to sleep—but it was a sleep that brought no rest; for in it he dreamed that he was a big, white-winged moth pinned with a star to an ink-black sky.
In the early gray dawn David awoke. His first sensation was the physical numbness and stiffness that came from his hard bed on the floor.
"Why, daddy," he began, pulling himself half-erect, "I slept all night on—" He stopped suddenly, brushing his eyes with the backs of his hands. "Why, daddy, where—" Then full consciousness came to him.
With a low cry he sprang to his feet and ran to the window. Through the trees he could see the sunrise glow of the eastern sky. Down in the yard no one was in sight; but the barn door was open, and, with a quick indrawing of his breath, David turned back into the room and began to thrust himself into his clothing.
The gold in his sagging pockets clinked and jingled musically; and once half a dozen pieces rolled out upon the floor. For a moment the boy looked as if he were going to let them remain where they were. But the next minute, with an impatient gesture, he had picked them up and thrust them deep into one of his pockets, silencing their jingling with his handkerchief.
Once dressed, David picked up his violin and stepped softly into the hall. At first no sound reached his ears; then from the kitchen below came the clatter of brisk feet and the rattle of tins and crockery. Tightening his clasp on the violin, David slipped quietly down the back stairs and out to the yard. It was only a few seconds then before he was hurrying through the open doorway of the barn and up the narrow stairway to the loft above.
At the top, however, he came to a sharp pause, with a low cry. The next moment he turned to see a kindly-faced man looking up at him from the foot of the stairs.
"Oh, sir, please—please, where is he? What have you done with him?" appealed the boy, almost plunging headlong down the stairs in his haste to reach the bottom.
Into the man's weather-beaten face came a look of sincere but awkward sympathy.
"Oh, hullo, sonny! So you're the boy, are ye?" he began diffidently.
"Yes, yes, I'm David. But where is he—my father, you know? I mean the—the part he—he left behind him?" choked the boy. "The part like—the ice-coat?"
The man stared. Then, involuntarily, he began to back away.
"Well, ye see, I—I—"
"But, maybe you don't know," interrupted David feverishly. "You aren't the man I saw last night. Who are you? Where is he—the other one, please?"
"No, I—I wa'n't here—that is, not at the first," spoke up the man quickly, still unconsciously backing away. "Me—I'm only Larson, Perry Larson, ye know. 'T was Mr. Holly you see last night—him that I works for."
"Then, where is Mr. Holly, please?" faltered the boy, hurrying toward the barn door. "Maybe he would know—about father. Oh, there he is!" And David ran out of the barn and across the yard to the kitchen porch.
It was an unhappy ten minutes that David spent then. Besides Mr. Holly, there were Mrs. Holly, and the man, Perry Larson. And they all talked. But little of what they said could David understand. To none of his questions could he obtain an answer that satisfied.
Neither, on his part, could he seem to reply to their questions in a way that pleased them.
They went in to breakfast then, Mr. and Mrs. Holly, and the man, Perry Larson. They asked David to go—at least, Mrs. Holly asked him. But David shook his head and said "No, no, thank you very much; I'd rather not, if you please—not now." Then he dropped himself down on the steps to think. As if he could EAT—with that great choking lump in his throat that refused to be swallowed!
David was thoroughly dazed, frightened, and dismayed. He knew now that never again in this world would he see his dear father, or hear him speak. This much had been made very clear to him during the last ten minutes. Why this should be so, or what his father would want him to do, he could not seem to find out. Not until now had he realized at all what this going away of his father was to mean to him. And he told himself frantically that he could not have it so. HE COULD NOT HAVE IT SO! But even as he said the words, he knew that it was so—irrevocably so.
David began then to long for his mountain home. There at least he would have his dear forest all about him, with the birds and the squirrels and the friendly little brooks. There he would have his Silver Lake to look at, too, and all of them would speak to him of his father. He believed, indeed, that up there it would almost seem as if his father were really with him. And, anyway, if his father ever should come back, it would be there that he would be sure to seek him—up there in the little mountain home so dear to them both. Back to the cabin he would go now, then. Yes; indeed he would!
With a low word and a passionately intent expression, David got to his feet, picked up his violin, and hurried, firm-footed, down the driveway and out upon the main highway, turning in the direction from whence he had come with his father the night before.
The Hollys had just finished breakfast when Higgins, the coroner, drove into the yard accompanied by William Streeter, the town's most prominent farmer,—and the most miserly one, if report was to be credited.
"Well, could you get anything out of the boy?" demanded Higgins, without ceremony, as Simeon Holly and Larson appeared on the kitchen porch.
"Very little. Really nothing of importance," answered Simeon Holly.
"Where is he now?"
"Why, he was here on the steps a few minutes ago." Simeon Holly looked about him a bit impatiently.
"Well, I want to see him. I've got a letter for him."
"A letter!" exclaimed Simeon Holly and Larson in amazed unison.
"Yes. Found it in his father's pocket," nodded the coroner, with all the tantalizing brevity of a man who knows he has a choice morsel of information that is eagerly awaited. "It's addressed to 'My boy David,' so I calculated we'd better give it to him first without reading it, seeing it's his. After he reads it, though, I want to see it. I want to see if what it says is any nearer being horse-sense than the other one is."
"The other one!" exclaimed the amazed chorus again.
"Oh, yes, there's another one," spoke up William Streeter tersely. "And I've read it—all but the scrawl at the end. There couldn't anybody read that!" Higgins laughed.
"Well, I'm free to confess 't is a sticker—that name," he admitted. "And it's the name we want, of course, to tell us who they are—since it seems the boy don't know, from what you said last night. I was in hopes, by this morning, you'd have found out more from him."
Simeon Holly shook his head.
"'T was impossible."
"Gosh! I should say 't was," cut in Perry Larson, with emphasis. "An' queer ain't no name for it. One minute he'd be talkin' good common sense like anybody: an' the next he'd be chatterin' of coats made o' ice, an' birds an' squirrels an' babbling brooks. He sure is dippy! Listen. He actually don't seem ter know the diff'rence between himself an' his fiddle. We was tryin' ter find out this mornin' what he could do, an' what he wanted ter do, when if he didn't up an' say that his father told him it didn't make so much diff'rence WHAT he did so long as he kept hisself in tune an' didn't strike false notes. Now, what do yer think o' that?"
"Yes, I, know" nodded Higgins musingly. "There WAS something queer about them, and they weren't just ordinary tramps. Did I tell you? I overtook them last night away up on the Fairbanks road by the Taylor place, and I gave 'em a lift. I particularly noticed what a decent sort they were. They were clean and quiet-spoken, and their clothes were good, even if they were rough. Yet they didn't have any baggage but them fiddles."
"But what was that second letter you mentioned?" asked Simeon Holly.
Higgins smiled oddly, and reached into his pocket.
"The letter? Oh, you're welcome to read the letter," he said, as he handed over a bit of folded paper.
Simeon took it gingerly and examined it.
It was a leaf torn apparently from a note book. It was folded three times, and bore on the outside the superscription "To whom it may concern." The handwriting was peculiar, irregular, and not very legible. But as near as it could be deciphered, the note ran thus:—
Now that the time has come when I must give David back to the world, I have set out for that purpose.
But I am ill—very ill, and should Death have swifter feet than I, I must leave my task for others to complete. Deal gently with him. He knows only that which is good and beautiful. He knows nothing of sin nor evil.
Then followed the signature—a thing of scrawls and flourishes that conveyed no sort of meaning to Simeon Holly's puzzled eyes.
"Well?" prompted Higgins expectantly.
Simeon Holly shook his head.
"I can make little of it. It certainly is a most remarkable note."
"Could you read the name?"
"Well, I couldn't. Neither could half a dozen others that's seen it. But where's the boy? Mebbe his note'll talk sense."
"I'll go find him," volunteered Larson. "He must be somewheres 'round."
But David was very evidently not "somewheres 'round." At least he was not in the barn, the shed, the kitchen bedroom, nor anywhere else that Larson looked; and the man was just coming back with a crestfallen, perplexed frown, when Mrs. Holly hurried out on to the porch.
"Mr. Higgins," she cried, in obvious excitement, "your wife has just telephoned that her sister Mollie has just telephoned HER that that little tramp boy with the violin is at her house."
"At Mollie's!" exclaimed Higgins. "Why, that's a mile or more from here."
"So that's where he is!" interposed Larson, hurrying forward. "Doggone the little rascal! He must 'a' slipped away while we was eatin' breakfast."
"Yes. But, Simeon,—Mr. Higgins,—we hadn't ought to let him go like that," appealed Mrs. Holly tremulously. "Your wife said Mollie said she found him crying at the crossroads, because he didn't know which way to take. He said he was going back home. He means to that wretched cabin on the mountain, you know; and we can't let him do that alone—a child like that!"
"Where is he now?" demanded Higgins.
"In Mollie's kitchen eating bread and milk; but she said she had an awful time getting him to eat. And she wants to know what to do with him. That's why she telephoned your wife. She thought you ought to know he was there."
"Yes, of course. Well, tell her to tell him to come back."
"Mollie said she tried to have him come back, but that he said, no, thank you, he'd rather not. He was going home where his father could find him if he should ever want him. Mr. Higgins, we—we CAN'T let him go off like that. Why, the child would die up there alone in those dreadful woods, even if he could get there in the first place—which I very much doubt."
"Yes, of course, of course," muttered Higgins, with a thoughtful frown. "There's his letter, too. Say!" he added, brightening, "what'll you bet that letter won't fetch him? He seems to think the world and all of his daddy. Here," he directed, turning to Mrs. Holly, "you tell my wife to tell—better yet, you telephone Mollie yourself, please, and tell her to tell the boy we've got a letter here for him from his father, and he can have it if he'll come back.".
"I will, I will," called Mrs. Holly, over her shoulder, as she hurried into the house. In an unbelievably short time she was back, her face beaming.
"He's started, so soon," she nodded. "He's crazy with joy, Mollie said. He even left part of his breakfast, he was in such a hurry. So I guess we'll see him all right."
"Oh, yes, we'll see him all right," echoed Simeon Holly grimly. "But that isn't telling what we'll do with him when we do see him."
"Oh, well, maybe this letter of his will help us out on that," suggested Higgins soothingly. "Anyhow, even if it doesn't, I'm not worrying any. I guess some one will want him—a good healthy boy like that."
"Did you find any money on the body?" asked Streeter.
"A little change—a few cents. Nothing to count. If the boy's letter doesn't tell us where any of their folks are, it'll be up to the town to bury him all right."
"He had a fiddle, didn't he? And the boy had one, too. Wouldn't they bring anything?" Streeter's round blue eyes gleamed shrewdly.
Higgins gave a slow shake of his head.
"Maybe—if there was a market for 'em. But who'd buy 'em? There ain't a soul in town plays but Jack Gurnsey; and he's got one. Besides, he's sick, and got all he can do to buy bread and butter for him and his sister without taking in more fiddles, I guess. HE wouldn't buy 'em."
"Hm—m; maybe not, maybe not," grunted Streeter. "An', as you say, he's the only one that's got any use for 'em here; an' like enough they ain't worth much, anyway. So I guess 't is up to the town all right."
"Yes; but—if yer'll take it from me,"—interrupted Larson,—"you'll be wise if ye keep still before the boy. It's no use ASKIN' him anythin'. We've proved that fast enough. An' if he once turns 'round an' begins ter ask YOU questions, yer done for!"
"I guess you're right," nodded Higgins, with a quizzical smile. "And as long as questioning CAN'T do any good, why, we'll just keep whist before the boy. Meanwhile I wish the little rascal would hurry up and get here. I want to see the inside of that letter to HIM. I'm relying on that being some help to unsnarl this tangle of telling who they are."
"Well, he's started," reiterated Mrs. Holly, as she turned back into the house; "so I guess he'll get here if you wait long enough."
"Oh, yes, he'll get here if we wait long enough," echoed Simeon Holly again, crustily.
The two men in the wagon settled themselves more comfortably in their seats, and Perry Larson, after a half-uneasy, half-apologetic glance at his employer, dropped himself onto the bottom step. Simeon Holly had already sat down stiffly in one of the porch chairs. Simeon Holly never "dropped himself" anywhere. Indeed, according to Perry Larson, if there were a hard way to do a thing, Simeon Holly found it—and did it. The fact that, this morning, he had allowed, and was still allowing, the sacred routine of the day's work to be thus interrupted, for nothing more important than the expected arrival of a strolling urchin, was something Larson would not have believed had he not seen it. Even now he was conscious once or twice of an involuntary desire to rub his eyes to make sure they were not deceiving him.
Impatient as the waiting men were for the arrival of David, they were yet almost surprised, so soon did he appear, running up the driveway.
"Oh, where is it, please?" he panted. "They said you had a letter for me from daddy!"
"You're right, sonny; we have. And here it is," answered Higgins promptly, holding out the folded paper.
Plainly eager as he was, David did not open the note till he had first carefully set down the case holding his violin; then he devoured it with eager eyes.
As he read, the four men watched his face. They saw first the quick tears that had to be blinked away. Then they saw the radiant glow that grew and deepened until the whole boyish face was aflame with the splendor of it. They saw the shining wonder of his eyes, too, as he looked up from the letter.
"And daddy wrote this to me from the far country?" he breathed.
Simeon Holly scowled. Larson choked over a stifled chuckle. William Streeter stared and shrugged his shoulders; but Higgins flushed a dull red.
"No, sonny," he stammered. "We found it on the—er—I mean, it—er—your father left it in his pocket for you," finished the man, a little explosively.
A swift shadow crossed the boy's face.
"Oh, I hoped I'd heard—" he began. Then suddenly he stopped, his face once more alight. "But it's 'most the same as if he wrote it from there, isn't it? He left it for me, and he told me what to do."
"What's that, what's that?" cried Higgins, instantly alert. "DID he tell you what to do? Then, let's have it, so WE'LL know. You will let us read it, won't you, boy?"
"Why, y—yes," stammered David, holding it out politely, but with evident reluctance.
"Thank you," nodded Higgins, as he reached for the note.
David's letter was very different from the other one. It was longer, but it did not help much, though it was easily read. In his letter, in spite of the wavering lines, each word was formed with a care that told of a father's thought for the young eyes that would read it. It was written on two of the notebook's leaves, and at the end came the single word "Daddy."
David, my boy [read Higgins aloud], in the far country I am waiting for you. Do not grieve, for that will grieve me. I shall not return, but some day you will come to me, your violin at your chin, and the bow drawn across the strings to greet me. See that it tells me of the beautiful world you have left—for it is a beautiful world, David; never forget that. And if sometime you are tempted to think it is not a beautiful world, just remember that you yourself can make it beautiful if you will.
You are among new faces, surrounded by things and people that are strange to you. Some of them you will not understand; some of them you may not like. But do not fear, David, and do not plead to go back to the hills. Remember this, my boy,—in your violin lie all the things you long for. You have only to play, and the broad skies of your mountain home will be over you, and the dear friends and comrades of your mountain forests will be about you.
"Gorry! that's worse than the other," groaned Higgins, when he had finished the note. "There's actually nothing in it! Wouldn't you think—if a man wrote anything at such a time—that he'd 'a' wrote something that had some sense to it—something that one could get hold of, and find out who the boy is?"
There was no answering this. The assembled men could only grunt and nod in agreement, which, after all, was no real help.
The dead man found in Farmer Holly's barn created a decided stir in the village of Hinsdale. The case was a peculiar one for many reasons. First, because of the boy—Hinsdale supposed it knew boys, but it felt inclined to change its mind after seeing this one. Second, because of the circumstances. The boy and his father had entered the town like tramps, yet Higgins, who talked freely of his having given the pair a "lift" on that very evening, did not hesitate to declare that he did not believe them to be ordinary tramps at all.
As there had been little found in the dead man's pockets, save the two notes, and as nobody could be found who wanted the violins, there seemed to be nothing to do but to turn the body over to the town for burial. Nothing was said of this to David; indeed, as little as possible was said to David about anything after that morning when Higgins had given him his father's letter. At that time the men had made one more effort to "get track of SOMETHING," as Higgins had despairingly put it. But the boy's answers to their questions were anything but satisfying, anything but helpful, and were often most disconcerting. The boy was, in fact, regarded by most of the men, after that morning, as being "a little off"; and was hence let severely alone.
Who the man was the town authorities certainly did not know, neither could they apparently find out. His name, as written by himself, was unreadable. His notes told nothing; his son could tell little more—of consequence. A report, to be sure, did come from the village, far up the mountain, that such a man and boy had lived in a hut that was almost inaccessible; but even this did not help solve the mystery.
David was left at the Holly farmhouse, though Simeon Holly mentally declared that he should lose no time in looking about for some one to take the boy away.
On that first day Higgins, picking up the reins preparatory to driving from the yard, had said, with a nod of his head toward David:—
"Well, how about it, Holly? Shall we leave him here till we find somebody that wants him?"
"Why, y—yes, I suppose so," hesitated Simeon Holly, with uncordial accent.
But his wife, hovering in the background, hastened forward at once.
"Oh, yes; yes, indeed," she urged. "I'm sure he—he won't be a mite of trouble, Simeon."
"Perhaps not," conceded Simeon Holly darkly. "Neither, it is safe to say, will he be anything else—worth anything."
"That's it exactly," spoke up Streeter, from his seat in the wagon. "If I thought he'd be worth his salt, now, I'd take him myself; but—well, look at him this minute," he finished, with a disdainful shrug.
David, on the lowest step, was very evidently not hearing a word of what was being said. With his sensitive face illumined, he was again poring over his father's letter.
Something in the sudden quiet cut through his absorption as the noisy hum of voices had not been able to do, and he raised his head. His eyes were starlike.
"I'm so glad father told me what to do," he breathed. "It'll be easier now."
Receiving no answer from the somewhat awkwardly silent men, he went on, as if in explanation:—
"You know he's waiting for me—in the far country, I mean. He said he was. And when you've got somebody waiting, you don't mind staying behind yourself for a little while. Besides, I've GOT to stay to find out about the beautiful world, you know, so I can tell him, when I go. That's the way I used to do back home on the mountain, you see,—tell him about things. Lots of days we'd go to walk; then, when we got home, he'd have me tell him, with my violin, what I'd seen. And now he says I'm to stay here."
"Here!" It was the quick, stern voice of Simeon Holly.
"Yes," nodded David earnestly; "to learn about the beautiful world. Don't you remember? And he said I was not to want to go back to my mountains; that I would not need to, anyway, because the mountains, and the sky, and the birds and squirrels and brooks are really in my violin, you know. And—" But with an angry frown Simeon Holly stalked away, motioning Larson to follow him; and with a merry glance and a low chuckle Higgins turned his horse about and drove from the yard. A moment later David found himself alone with Mrs. Holly, who was looking at him with wistful, though slightly fearful eyes.
"Did you have all the breakfast you wanted?" she asked timidly, resorting, as she had resorted the night before, to the everyday things of her world in the hope that they might make this strange little boy seem less wild, and more nearly human.
"Oh, yes, thank you." David's eyes had strayed back to the note in his hand. Suddenly he looked up, a new something in his eyes. "What is it to be a—a tramp?" he asked. "Those men said daddy and I were tramps."
"A tramp? Oh—er—why, just a—a tramp," stammered Mrs. Holly. "But never mind that, David. I—I wouldn't think any more about it."
"But what is a tramp?" persisted David, a smouldering fire beginning to show in his eyes. "Because if they meant THIEVES—"
"No, no, David," interrupted Mrs. Holly soothingly. "They never meant thieves at all."
"Then, what is it to be a tramp?"
"Why, it's just to—to tramp," explained Mrs. Holly desperately;—"walk along the road from one town to another, and—and not live in a house at all."
"Oh!" David's face cleared. "That's all right, then. I'd love to be a tramp, and so'd father. And we were tramps, sometimes, too, 'cause lots of times, in the summer, we didn't stay in the cabin hardly any—just lived out of doors all day and all night. Why, I never knew really what the pine trees were saying till I heard them at night, lying under them. You know what I mean. You've heard them, haven't you?"
"At night? Pine trees?" stammered Mrs. Holly helplessly.
"Yes. Oh, haven't you ever heard them at night?" cried the boy, in his voice a very genuine sympathy as for a grievous loss. "Why, then, if you've only heard them daytimes, you don't know a bit what pine trees really are. But I can tell you. Listen! This is what they say," finished the boy, whipping his violin from its case, and, after a swift testing of the strings, plunging into a weird, haunting little melody.
In the doorway, Mrs. Holly, bewildered, yet bewitched, stood motionless, her eyes half-fearfully, half-longingly fixed on David's glorified face. She was still in the same position when Simeon Holly came around the corner of the house.
"Well, Ellen," he began, with quiet scorn, after a moment's stern watching of the scene before him, "have you nothing better to do this morning than to listen to this minstrel fellow?"
"Oh, Simeon! Why, yes, of course. I—I forgot—what I was doing," faltered Mrs. Holly, flushing guiltily from neck to brow as she turned and hurried into the house.
David, on the porch steps, seemed to have heard nothing. He was still playing, his rapt gaze on the distant sky-line, when Simeon Holly turned upon him with disapproving eyes.
"See here, boy, can't you do anything but fiddle?" he demanded. Then, as David still continued to play, he added sharply: "Did n't you hear me, boy?"
The music stopped abruptly. David looked up with the slightly dazed air of one who has been summoned as from another world.
"Did you speak to me, sir?" he asked.
"I did—twice. I asked if you never did anything but play that fiddle."
"You mean at home?" David's face expressed mild wonder without a trace of anger or resentment. "Why, yes, of course. I couldn't play ALL the time, you know. I had to eat and sleep and study my books; and every day we went to walk—like tramps, as you call them," he elucidated, his face brightening with obvious delight at being able, for once, to explain matters in terms that he felt sure would be understood.
"Tramps, indeed!" muttered Simeon Holly, under his breath. Then, sharply: "Did you never perform any useful labor, boy? Were your days always spent in this ungodly idleness?"
Again David frowned in mild wonder.
"Oh, I wasn't idle, sir. Father said I must never be that. He said every instrument was needed in the great Orchestra of Life; and that I was one, you know, even if I was only a little boy. And he said if I kept still and didn't do my part, the harmony wouldn't be complete, and—"
"Yes, yes, but never mind that now, boy," interrupted Simeon Holly, with harsh impatience. "I mean, did he never set you to work—real work?"
"Work?" David meditated again. Then suddenly his face cleared. "Oh, yes, sir, he said I had a beautiful work to do, and that it was waiting for me out in the world. That's why we came down from the mountain, you know, to find it. Is that what you mean?"
"Well, no," retorted the man, "I can't say that it was. I was referring to work—real work about the house. Did you never do any of that?"
David gave a relieved laugh.
"Oh, you mean getting the meals and tidying up the house," he replied. "Oh, yes, I did that with father, only"—his face grew wistful—"I'm afraid I didn't do it very well. My bacon was never as nice and crisp as father's, and the fire was always spoiling my potatoes."
"Humph! bacon and potatoes, indeed!" scorned Simeon Holly. "Well, boy, we call that women's work down here. We set men to something else. Do you see that woodpile by the shed door?"
"Very good. In the kitchen you'll find an empty woodbox. Do you think you could fill it with wood from that woodpile? You'll find plenty of short, small sticks already chopped."
"Oh, yes, sir, I'd like to," nodded David, hastily but carefully tucking his violin into its case. A minute later he had attacked the woodpile with a will; and Simeon Holly, after a sharply watchful glance, had turned away.
But the woodbox, after all, was not filled. At least, it was not filled immediately, for at the very beginning of gathering the second armful of wood, David picked up a stick that had long lain in one position on the ground, thereby disclosing sundry and diverse crawling things of many legs, which filled David's soul with delight, and drove away every thought of the empty woodbox.
It was only a matter of some strength and more patience, and still more time, to overturn other and bigger sticks, to find other and bigger of the many-legged, many-jointed creatures. One, indeed, was so very wonderful that David, with a whoop of glee, summoned Mrs. Holly from the shed doorway to come and see.
So urgent was his plea that Mrs. Holly came with hurried steps—but she went away with steps even more hurried; and David, sitting back on his woodpile seat, was left to wonder why she should scream and shudder and say "Ugh-h-h!" at such a beautiful, interesting thing as was this little creature who lived in her woodpile.
Even then David did not think of that empty woodbox waiting behind the kitchen stove. This time it was a butterfly, a big black butterfly banded with gold; and it danced and fluttered all through the back yard and out into the garden, David delightedly following with soft-treading steps, and movements that would not startle. From the garden to the orchard, and from the orchard back to the garden danced the butterfly—and David; and in the garden, near the house, David came upon Mrs. Holly's pansy-bed. Even the butterfly was forgotten then, for down in the path by the pansy-bed David dropped to his knees in veritable worship.
"Why, you're just like little people," he cried softly. "You've got faces; and some of you are happy, and some of you are sad. And you—you big spotted yellow one—you're laughing at me. Oh, I'm going to play you—all of you. You'll make such a pretty song, you're so different from each other!" And David leaped lightly to his feet and ran around to the side porch for his violin.
Five minutes later, Simeon Holly, coming into the kitchen, heard the sound of a violin through the open window. At the same moment his eyes fell on the woodbox, empty save for a few small sticks at the bottom. With an angry frown he strode through the outer door and around the corner of the house to the garden. At once then he came upon David, sitting Turk-fashion in the middle of the path before the pansy-bed, his violin at his chin, and his whole face aglow.
"Well, boy, is this the way you fill the woodbox?" demanded the man crisply.
David shook his head.
"Oh, no, sir, this isn't filling the woodbox," he laughed, softening his music, but not stopping it. "Did you think that was what I was playing? It's the flowers here that I'm playing—the little faces, like people, you know. See, this is that big yellow one over there that's laughing," he finished, letting the music under his fingers burst into a gay little melody.
Simeon Holly raised an imperious hand; and at the gesture David stopped his melody in the middle of a run, his eyes flying wide open in plain wonderment.
"You mean—I'm not playing—right?" he asked.
"I'm not talking of your playing," retorted Simeon Holly severely. "I'm talking of that woodbox I asked you to fill."
David's face cleared.
"Oh, yes, sir. I'll go and do it," he nodded, getting cheerfully to his feet.
"But I told you to do it before."
David's eyes grew puzzled again.
"I know, sir, and I started to," he answered, with the obvious patience of one who finds himself obliged to explain what should be a self-evident fact; "but I saw so many beautiful things, one after another, and when I found these funny little flower-people I just had to play them. Don't you see?"
"No, I can't say that I do, when I'd already told you to fill the woodbox," rejoined the man, with uncompromising coldness.
"You mean—even then that I ought to have filled the woodbox first?"
"I certainly do."
David's eyes flew wide open again.
"But my song—I'd have lost it!" he exclaimed. "And father said always when a song came to me to play it at once. Songs are like the mists of the morning and the rainbows, you know, and they don't stay with you long. You just have to catch them quick, before they go. Now, don't you see?"
But Simeon Holly, with a despairingly scornful gesture, had turned away; and David, after a moment's following him with wistful eyes, soberly walked toward the kitchen door. Two minutes later he was industriously working at his task of filling the woodbox.
That for David the affair was not satisfactorily settled was evidenced by his thoughtful countenance and preoccupied air, however; nor were matters helped any by the question David put to Mr. Holly just before dinner.
"Do you mean," he asked, "that because I didn't fill the woodbox right away, I was being a discord?"
"You were what?" demanded the amazed Simeon Holly.
"Being a discord—playing out of tune, you know," explained David, with patient earnestness. "Father said—" But again Simeon Holly had turned irritably away; and David was left with his perplexed questions still unanswered.
NUISANCES, NECESSARY AND OTHERWISE
For some time after dinner, that first day, David watched Mrs. Holly in silence while she cleared the table and began to wash the dishes.
"Do you want me to—help?" he asked at last, a little wistfully.
Mrs. Holly, with a dubious glance at the boy's brown little hands, shook her head.
"No, I don't. No, thank you," she amended her answer.
For another sixty seconds David was silent; then, still more wistfully, he asked:—
"Are all these things you've been doing all day 'useful labor'?"
Mrs. Holly lifted dripping hands from the dishpan and held them suspended for an amazed instant.
"Are they—Why, of course they are! What a silly question! What put that idea into your head, child?"
"Mr. Holly; and you see it's so different from what father used to call them."
"Yes. He said they were a necessary nuisance,—dishes, and getting meals, and clearing up,—and he didn't do half as many of them as you do, either."
"Nuisance, indeed!" Mrs. Holly resumed her dishwashing with some asperity. "Well, I should think that might have been just about like him."
"Yes, it was. He was always that way," nodded David pleasantly. Then, after a moment, he queried: "But aren't you going to walk at all to-day?"
"To walk? Where?"
"Why, through the woods and fields—anywhere."
"Walking in the woods, NOW—JUST WALKING? Land's sake, boy, I've got something else to do!"
"Oh, that's too bad, isn't it?" David's face expressed sympathetic regret. "And it's such a nice day! Maybe it'll rain by tomorrow."
"Maybe it will," retorted Mrs. Holly, with slightly uplifted eyebrows and an expressive glance. "But whether it does or does n't won't make any difference in my going to walk, I guess."
"Oh, won't it?" beamed David, his face changing. "I'm so glad! I don't mind the rain, either. Father and I used to go in the rain lots of times, only, of course, we couldn't take our violins then, so we used to like the pleasant days better. But there are some things you find on rainy days that you couldn't find any other time, aren't there? The dance of the drops on the leaves, and the rush of the rain when the wind gets behind it. Don't you love to feel it, out in the open spaces, where the wind just gets a good chance to push?"
Mrs. Holly stared. Then she shivered and threw up her hands with a gesture of hopeless abandonment.
"Land's sake, boy!" she ejaculated feebly, as she turned back to her work.
From dishes to sweeping, and from sweeping to dusting, hurried Mrs. Holly, going at last into the somber parlor, always carefully guarded from sun and air. Watching her, mutely, David trailed behind, his eyes staring a little as they fell upon the multitude of objects that parlor contained: the haircloth chairs, the long sofa, the marble-topped table, the curtains, cushions, spreads, and "throws," the innumerable mats and tidies, the hair-wreath, the wax flowers under their glass dome, the dried grasses, the marvelous bouquets of scarlet, green, and purple everlastings, the stones and shells and many-sized, many-shaped vases arranged as if in line of battle along the corner shelves.
"Y—yes, you may come in," called Mrs. Holly, glancing back at the hesitating boy in the doorway. "But you mustn't touch anything. I'm going to dust."
"But I haven't seen this room before," ruminated David.
"Well, no," deigned Mrs. Holly, with just a touch of superiority. "We don't use this room common, little boy, nor the bedroom there, either. This is the company room, for ministers and funerals, and—" She stopped hastily, with a quick look at David; but the boy did not seem to have heard.
"And doesn't anybody live here in this house, but just you and Mr. Holly, and Mr. Perry Larson?" he asked, still looking wonderingly about him.
"No, not—now." Mrs. Holly drew in her breath with a little catch, and glanced at the framed portrait of a little boy on the wall.
"But you've got such a lot of rooms and—and things," remarked David. "Why, daddy and I only had two rooms, and not hardly any THINGS. It was so—different, you know, in my home."
"I should say it might have been!" Mrs. Holly began to dust hurriedly, but carefully. Her voice still carried its hint of superiority.
"Oh, yes," smiled David. "But you say you don't use this room much, so that helps."
"Helps!" In her stupefaction Mrs. Holly stopped her work and stared.
"Why, yes. I mean, you've got so many other rooms you can live in those. You don't HAVE to live in here."
"'Have to live in here'!" ejaculated the woman, still too uncomprehending to be anything but amazed.
"Yes. But do you have to KEEP all these things, and clean them and clean them, like this, every day? Couldn't you give them to somebody, or throw them away?"
"Throw—these—things—away!" With a wild sweep of her arms, the horrified woman seemed to be trying to encompass in a protective embrace each last endangered treasure of mat and tidy. "Boy, are you crazy? These things are—are valuable. They cost money, and time and—and labor. Don't you know beautiful things when you see them?"
"Oh, yes, I love BEAUTIFUL things," smiled David, with unconsciously rude emphasis. "And up on the mountain I had them always. There was the sunrise, and the sunset, and the moon and the stars, and my Silver Lake, and the cloud-boats that sailed—"
But Mrs. Holly, with a vexed gesture, stopped him.
"Never mind, little boy. I might have known—brought up as you have been. Of course you could not appreciate such things as these. Throw them away, indeed!" And she fell to work again; but this time her fingers carried a something in their touch that was almost like the caress a mother might bestow upon an aggrieved child.
David, vaguely disturbed and uncomfortable, watched her with troubled eyes; then, apologetically, he explained:—
"It was only that I thought if you didn't have to clean so many of these things, you could maybe go to walk more—to-day, and other days, you know. You said—you didn't have time," he reminded her.
But Mrs. Holly only shook her head and sighed:—
"Well, well, never mind, little boy. I dare say you meant all right. You couldn't understand, of course."
And David, after another moment's wistful eyeing of the caressing fingers, turned about and wandered out onto the side porch. A minute later, having seated himself on the porch steps, he had taken from his pocket two small pieces of folded paper. And then, through tear-dimmed eyes, he read once more his father's letter.
"He said I mustn't grieve, for that would grieve him," murmured the boy, after a time, his eyes on the far-away hills. "And he said if I'd play, my mountains would come to me here, and I'd really be at home up there. He said in my violin were all those things I'm wanting—so bad!"
With a little choking breath, David tucked the note back into his pocket and reached for his violin.
Some time later, Mrs. Holly, dusting the chairs in the parlor, stopped her work, tiptoed to the door, and listened breathlessly. When she turned back, still later, to her work, her eyes were wet.
"I wonder why, when he plays, I always get to thinking of—John," she sighed to herself, as she picked up her dusting-cloth.
After supper that night, Simeon Holly and his wife again sat on the kitchen porch, resting from the labor of the day. Simeon's eyes were closed. His wife's were on the dim outlines of the shed, the barn, the road, or a passing horse and wagon. David, sitting on the steps, was watching the moon climb higher and higher above the tree-tops. After a time he slipped into the house and came out with his violin.
At the first long-drawn note of sweetness, Simeon Holly opened his eyes and sat up, stern-lipped. But his wife laid a timid hand on his arm.
"Don't say anything, please," she entreated softly. "Let him play, just for to-night. He's lonesome—poor little fellow." And Simeon Holly, with a frowning shrug of his shoulders, sat back in his chair.
Later, it was Mrs. Holly herself who stopped the music by saying: "Come, David, it's bedtime for little boys. I'll go upstairs with you." And she led the way into the house and lighted the candle for him.
Upstairs, in the little room over the kitchen, David found himself once more alone. As before, the little yellow-white nightshirt lay over the chair-back; and as before, Mrs. Holly had brushed away a tear as she had placed it there. As before, too, the big four-posted bed loomed tall and formidable in the corner. But this time the coverlet and sheet were turned back invitingly—Mrs. Holly had been much disturbed to find that David had slept on the floor the night before.
Once more, with his back carefully turned toward the impaled bugs and moths on the wall, David undressed himself. Then, before blowing out the candle, he went to the window kneeled down, and looked up at the moon through the trees.
David was sorely puzzled. He was beginning to wonder just what was to become of himself.
His father had said that out in the world there was a beautiful work for him to do; but what was it? How was he to find it? Or how was he to do it if he did find it? And another thing; where was he to live? Could he stay where he was? It was not home, to be sure; but there was the little room over the kitchen where he might sleep, and there was the kind woman who smiled at him sometimes with the sad, far-away look in her eyes that somehow hurt. He would not like, now, to leave her—with daddy gone.
There were the gold-pieces, too; and concerning these David was equally puzzled. What should he do with them? He did not need them—the kind woman was giving him plenty of food, so that he did not have to go to the store and buy; and there was nothing else, apparently, that he could use them for. They were heavy, and disagreeable to carry; yet he did not like to throw them away, nor to let anybody know that he had them: he had been called a thief just for one little piece, and what would they say if they knew he had all those others?
David remembered now, suddenly, that his father had said to hide them—to hide them until he needed them. David was relieved at once. Why had he not thought of it before? He knew just the place, too,—the little cupboard behind the chimney there in this very room! And with a satisfied sigh, David got to his feet, gathered all the little yellow disks from his pockets, and tucked them well out of sight behind the piles of books on the cupboard shelves. There, too, he hid the watch; but the little miniature of the angel-mother he slipped back into one of his pockets.
David's second morning at the farmhouse was not unlike the first, except that this time, when Simeon Holly asked him to fill the woodbox, David resolutely ignored every enticing bug and butterfly, and kept rigorously to the task before him until it was done.
He was in the kitchen when, just before dinner, Perry Larson came into the room with a worried frown on his face.
"Mis' Holly, would ye mind just steppin' to the side door? There's a woman an' a little boy there, an' somethin' ails 'em. She can't talk English, an' I'm blest if I can make head nor tail out of the lingo she DOES talk. But maybe you can."
"Why, Perry, I don't know—" began Mrs. Holly. But she turned at once toward the door.
On the porch steps stood a very pretty, but frightened-looking young woman with a boy perhaps ten years old at her side. Upon catching sight of Mrs. Holly she burst into a torrent of unintelligible words, supplemented by numerous and vehement gestures.
Mrs. Holly shrank back, and cast appealing eyes toward her husband who at that moment had come across the yard from the barn.
"Simeon, can you tell what she wants?"
At sight of the newcomer on the scene, the strange woman began again, with even more volubility.
"No," said Simeon Holly, after a moment's scowling scrutiny of the gesticulating woman. "She's talking French, I think. And she wants—something."
"Gosh! I should say she did," muttered Perry Larson. "An' whatever 't is, she wants it powerful bad."
"Are you hungry?" questioned Mrs. Holly timidly.
"Can't you speak English at all?" demanded Simeon Holly.
The woman looked from one to the other with the piteous, pleading eyes of the stranger in the strange land who cannot understand or make others understand. She had turned away with a despairing shake of her head, when suddenly she gave a wild cry of joy and wheeled about, her whole face alight.
The Hollys and Perry Larson saw then that David had come out onto the porch and was speaking to the woman—and his words were just as unintelligible as the woman's had been.
Mrs. Holly and Perry Larson stared. Simeon Holly interrupted David with a sharp:—
"Do you, then, understand this woman, boy?"
"Why, yes! Didn't you? She's lost her way, and—" But the woman had hurried forward and was pouring her story into David's ears.
At its conclusion David turned to find the look of stupefaction still on the others' faces.
"Well, what does she want?" asked Simeon Holly crisply.
"She wants to find the way to Francois Lavelle's house. He's her husband's brother. She came in on the train this morning. Her husband stopped off a minute somewhere, she says, and got left behind. He could talk English, but she can't. She's only been in this country a week. She came from France."
"Gorry! Won't ye listen ter that, now?" cried Perry Larson admiringly. "Reads her just like a book, don't he? There's a French family over in West Hinsdale—two of 'em, I think. What'll ye bet 't ain't one o' them?"
"Very likely," acceded Simeon Holly, his eyes bent disapprovingly on David's face. It was plain to be seen that Simeon Holly's attention was occupied by David, not the woman.
"An', say, Mr. Holly," resumed Perry Larson, a little excitedly, "you know I was goin' over ter West Hinsdale in a day or two ter see Harlow about them steers. Why can't I go this afternoon an' tote her an' the kid along?"
"Very well," nodded Simeon Holly curtly, his eyes still on David's face.
Perry Larson turned to the woman, and by a flourish of his arms and a jumble of broken English attempted to make her understand that he was to take her where she undoubtedly wished to go. The woman still looked uncomprehending, however, and David promptly came to the rescue, saying a few rapid words that quickly brought a flood of delighted understanding to the woman's face.
"Can't you ask her if she's hungry?" ventured Mrs. Holly, then.
"She says no, thank you," translated David, with a smile, when he had received his answer. "But the boy says he is, if you please."
"Then, tell them to come into the kitchen," directed Mrs. Holly, hurrying into the house.
"So you're French, are you?" said Simeon Holly to David.
"French? Oh, no, sir," smiled David, proudly. "I'm an American. Father said I was. He said I was born in this country."
"But how comes it you can speak French like that?"
"Why, I learned it." Then, divining that his words were still unconvincing, he added: "Same as I learned German and other things with father, out of books, you know. Didn't you learn French when you were a little boy?"
"Humph!" vouchsafed Simeon Holly, stalking away without answering the question.
Immediately after dinner Perry Larson drove away with the woman and the little boy. The woman's face was wreathed with smiles, and her last adoring glance was for David, waving his hand to her from the porch steps.
In the afternoon David took his violin and went off toward the hill behind the house for a walk. He had asked Mrs. Holly to accompany him, but she had refused, though she was not sweeping or dusting at the time. She was doing nothing more important, apparently, than making holes in a piece of white cloth, and sewing them up again with a needle and thread.
David had then asked Mr. Holly to go; but his refusal was even more strangely impatient than his wife's had been.
"And why, pray, should I go for a useless walk now—or any time, for that matter?" he demanded sharply.
David had shrunk back unconsciously, though he had still smiled.
"Oh, but it wouldn't be a useless walk, sir. Father said nothing was useless that helped to keep us in tune, you know."
"I mean, you looked as father used to look sometimes, when he felt out of tune. And he always said there was nothing like a walk to put him back again. I—I was feeling a little out of tune myself to-day, and I thought, by the way you looked, that you were, too. So I asked you to go to walk."
"Humph! Well, I—That will do, boy. No impertinence, you understand!" And he had turned away in very obvious anger.
David, with a puzzled sorrow in his heart had started alone then, on his walk.
"YOU'RE WANTED—YOU'RE WANTED!"
It was Saturday night, and the end of David's third day at the farmhouse. Upstairs, in the hot little room over the kitchen, the boy knelt at the window and tried to find a breath of cool air from the hills. Downstairs on the porch Simeon Holly and his wife discussed the events of the past few days, and talked of what should be done with David.
"But what shall we do with him?" moaned Mrs. Holly at last, breaking a long silence that had fallen between them. "What can we do with him? Doesn't anybody want him?"
"No, of course, nobody wants him," retorted her husband relentlessly.
And at the words a small figure in a yellow-white nightshirt stopped short. David, violin in hand, had fled from the little hot room, and stood now just inside the kitchen door.
"Who can want a child that has been brought up in that heathenish fashion?" continued Simeon Holly. "According to his own story, even his father did nothing but play the fiddle and tramp through the woods day in and day out, with an occasional trip to the mountain village to get food and clothing when they had absolutely nothing to eat and wear. Of course nobody wants him!"
David, at the kitchen door, caught his breath chokingly. Then he sped across the floor to the back hall, and on through the long sheds to the hayloft in the barn—the place where his father seemed always nearest.
David was frightened and heartsick. NOBODY WANTED HIM. He had heard it with his own ears, so there was no mistake. What now about all those long days and nights ahead before he might go, violin in hand, to meet his father in that far-away country? How was he to live those days and nights if nobody wanted him? How was his violin to speak in a voice that was true and pure and full, and tell of the beautiful world, as his father had said that it must do? David quite cried aloud at the thought. Then he thought of something else that his father had said: "Remember this, my boy,—in your violin lie all the things you long for. You have only to play, and the broad skies of your mountain home will be over you, and the dear friends and comrades of your mountain forests will be all about you." With a quick cry David raised his violin and drew the bow across the strings.
Back on the porch at that moment Mrs. Holly was saying:—
"Of course there's the orphan asylum, or maybe the poorhouse—if they'd take him; but—Simeon," she broke off sharply, "where's that child playing now?"
Simeon listened with intent ears.
"In the barn, I should say."
"But he'd gone to bed!"
"And he'll go to bed again," asserted Simeon Holly grimly, as he rose to his feet and stalked across the moonlit yard to the barn.
As before, Mrs. Holly followed him, and as before, both involuntarily paused just inside the barn door to listen. No runs and trills and rollicking bits of melody floated down the stairway to-night. The notes were long-drawn, and plaintively sweet; and they rose and swelled and died almost into silence while the man and the woman by the door stood listening.
They were back in the long ago—Simeon Holly and his wife—back with a boy of their own who had made those same rafters ring with shouts of laughter, and who, also, had played the violin—though not like this; and the same thought had come to each: "What if, after all, it were John playing all alone in the moonlight!"
It had not been the violin, in the end, that had driven John Holly from home. It had been the possibilities in a piece of crayon. All through childhood the boy had drawn his beloved "pictures" on every inviting space that offered,—whether it were the "best-room" wall-paper, or the fly leaf of the big plush album,—and at eighteen he had announced his determination to be an artist. For a year after that Simeon Holly fought with all the strength of a stubborn will, banished chalk and crayon from the house, and set the boy to homely tasks that left no time for anything but food and sleep—then John ran away.
That was fifteen years ago, and they had not seen him since; though two unanswered letters in Simeon Holly's desk testified that perhaps this, at least, was not the boy's fault.
It was not of the grown-up John, the willful boy and runaway son, however, that Simeon Holly and his wife were thinking, as they stood just inside the barn door; it was of Baby John, the little curly-headed fellow that had played at their knees, frolicked in this very barn, and nestled in their arms when the day was done.