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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter

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CHAPTER IX

JOE

[116] DAY by day, however, as time passed, David diligently tried to perform the "dos" and avoid the "don'ts"; and day by day he came to realize how important weeds and woodboxes were, if he were to conform to what was evidently Farmer Holly's idea of "playing in tune," in this strange new Orchestra of Life in which he found himself.

But, try as he would, there was yet an unreality about it all, a persistent feeling of uselessness and waste, that would not be set aside. So that, after all, the only part of this strange new life of his that seemed real to him was the time that came after four o'clock each day, when he was released from work.

And how full he filled those hours! There was so much to see, so much to do. For sunny days there were field and stream and pasture land and the whole wide town to explore. For rainy days, if he did not care to go to walk, there was his room with the books in the chimney [117] cupboard. Some of them David had read before, but many of them he had not. One or two were old friends; but not so "Dare Devil Dick," and "The Pirates of Pigeon Cove" (which he found hidden in an obscure corner behind a loose board). Side by side stood "The Lady of the Lake," "Treasure Island," and "David Copperfield"; and coverless and dogeared lay "Robinson Crusoe," "The Arabian Nights," and "Grimm's Fairy Tales." There were more, many more, and David devoured them all with eager eyes. The good in them he absorbed as he absorbed the sunshine; the evil he cast aside unconsciously—it rolled off, indeed, like the proverbial water from the duck's back.

David hardly knew sometimes which he liked the better, his imaginative adventures between the covers of his books or his real adventures in his daily strolls. True, it was not his mountain home—this place in which he found himself; neither was there anywhere his Silver Lake with its far, far-reaching sky above. More deplorable yet, nowhere was there the dear father he loved so well. But the sun still set in rose and gold, and the sky, though small, still carried [118] the snowy sails of its cloud-boats; while as to his father—his father had told him not to grieve, and David was trying very hard to obey.

With his violin for company David started out each day, unless he elected to stay indoors with his books. Sometimes it was toward the village that he turned his steps; sometimes it was toward the hills back of the town. Whichever way it was, there was always sure to be something waiting at the end for him and his violin to discover, if it was nothing more than a big white rose in bloom, or a squirrel sitting by the roadside.

Very soon, however, David discovered that there was something to be found in his wanderings besides squirrels and roses; and that was—people. In spite of the strangeness of these people, they were wonderfully interesting, David thought. And after that he turned his steps more and more frequently toward the village when four o'clock released him from the day's work.

At first David did not talk much to these people. He shrank sensitively from their bold stares and unpleasantly audible comments. He [119] watched them with round eyes of wonder and interest, however,—when he did not think they were watching him. And in time he came to know not a little about them and about the strange ways in which they passed their time.

There was the greenhouse man. It would be pleasant to spend one's day growing plants and flowers—but not under that hot, stifling glass roof, decided David. Besides, he would not want always to pick and send away the very prettiest ones to the city every morning, as the greenhouse man did.

There was the doctor who rode all day long behind the gray mare, making sick folks well. David liked him, and mentally vowed that he himself would be a doctor sometime. Still, there was the stage-driver—David was not sure but he would prefer to follow this man's profession for a life-work; for in his, one could still have the freedom of long days in the open, and yet not be saddened by the sight of the sick before they had been made well—which was where the stage-driver had the better of the doctor, in David's opinion. There were the blacksmith and the storekeepers, too, but to these David gave little thought or attention. [120] Though he might not know what he did want to do, he knew very well what he did not. All of which merely goes to prove that David was still on the lookout for that great work which his father had said was waiting for him out in the world.

Meanwhile David played his violin. If he found a crimson rambler in bloom in a dooryard, he put it into a little melody of pure delight—that a woman in the house behind the rambler heard the music and was cheered at her task, David did not know. If he found a kitten at play in the sunshine, he put it into a riotous abandonment of tumbling turns and trills—that a fretful baby heard and stopped its wailing, David also did not know. And once, just because the sky was blue and the air was sweet, and it was so good to be alive, David lifted his bow and put it all into a rapturous pæan of ringing exultation—that a sick man in a darkened chamber above the street lifted his head, drew in his breath, and took suddenly a new lease of life, David still again did not know. All of which merely goes to prove that David had perhaps found his work and was doing it—although yet still again David did not know.

[121] It was in the cemetery one afternoon that David came upon the Lady in Black. She was on her knees putting flowers on a little mound before her. She looked up as David approached. For a moment she gazed wistfully at him; then as if impelled by a hidden force, she spoke.

"Little boy, who are you?"

"I'm David."

"David! David who? Do you live here? I've seen you here before."

"Oh, yes, I've been here quite a lot of times." Purposely the boy evaded the questions. David was getting tired of questions—especially these questions.

"And have you—lost one dear to you, little boy?"

"Lost some one?"

"I mean—is your father or mother—here?"

"Here? Oh, no, they are n't here. My mother is an angel-mother, and my father has gone to the far country. He is waiting for me there, you know."

"But, that's the same—that is—" She stopped helplessly, bewildered eyes on David's serene face. Then suddenly a great light came to her own. "Oh, little boy, I wish I could understand [122] that—just that," she breathed. "It would make it so much easier—if I could just remember that they are n't here—that they're waiting—over there!"

But David apparently did not hear. He had turned and was playing softly as he walked away. Silently the Lady in Black knelt, listening, looking after him. When she rose some time later and left the cemetery, the light on her face was still there, deeper, more glorified.

Toward boys and girls—especially boys—of his own age, David frequently turned wistful eyes. David wanted a friend, a friend who would know and understand; a friend who would see things as he saw them, who would understand what he was saying when he played. It seemed to David that in some boy of his own age he ought to find such a friend. He had seen many boys—but he had not yet found the friend. David had begun to think, indeed, that of all these strange beings in this new life of his, boys were the strangest.

They stared and nudged each other unpleasantly when they came upon him playing. They jeered when he tried to tell them what he had been playing. They had never heard of the [123] great Orchestra of Life, and they fell into most disconcerting fits of laughter, or else backed away as if afraid, when he told them that they themselves were instruments in it, and that if they did not keep themselves in tune, there was sure to be a discord somewhere.

Then there were their games and frolics. Such as were played with balls, bats, and bags of beans, David thought he would like very much. But the boys only scoffed when he asked them to teach him how to play. They laughed when a dog chased a cat, and they thought it very, very funny when Tony, the old black man, tripped on the string they drew across his path. They liked to throw stones and shoot guns, and the more creeping, crawling, or flying creatures that they could send to the far country, the happier they were, apparently. Nor did they like it at all when he asked them if they were sure all these creeping, crawling, flying creatures wanted to leave this beautiful world and to be made dead. They sneered and called him a sissy. David did not know what a sissy was; but from the way they said it, he judged it must be even worse to be a sissy than to be a thief.

[124] And then he discovered Joe.

David had found himself in a very strange, very unlovely neighborhood that afternoon. The street was full of papers and tin cans, the houses were unspeakably forlorn with sagging blinds and lack of paint. Untidy women and blear-eyed men leaned over the dilapidated fences, or lolled on mud-tracked doorsteps. David, his shrinking eyes turning from one side to the other, passed slowly through the street, his violin under his arm. Nowhere could David find here the tiniest spot of beauty to "play." He had reached quite the most forlorn little shanty on the street when the promise in his father's letter occurred to him. With a suddenly illumined face, he raised his violin to position and plunged into a veritable whirl of trills and runs and tripping melodies.

"If I did n't just entirely forget that I did n't need to see anything beautiful to play," laughed David softly to himself. "Why, it's already right here in my violin!"

David had passed the tumble-down shanty, and was hesitating where two streets crossed, when he felt a light touch on his arm. He turned to confront a small girl in a patched and [125] faded calico dress, obviously outgrown. Her eyes were wide and frightened. In the middle of her outstretched dirty little palm was a copper cent.

"If you please, Joe sent this—to you," she faltered.

"To me? What for?" David stopped playing and lowered his violin.

The little girl backed away perceptibly, though she still held out the coin.

"He wanted you to stay and play some more. He said to tell you he'd 'a' sent more money if he could. But he did n't have it. He just had this cent."

David's eyes flew wide open.

"You mean he wants me to play? He likes it?" he asked joyfully.

"Yes. He said he knew 't wa'n't much—the cent. But he thought maybe you'd play a little for it."

"Play? Of course I'll play," cried David. "Oh, no, I don't want the money," he added, waving the again-proffered coin aside. "I don't need money where I'm living now. Where is he—the one that wanted me to play?" he finished eagerly.

[126] "In there by the window. It's Joe. He's my brother." The little girl, in spite of her evident satisfaction at the accomplishment of her purpose, yet kept quite aloof from the boy. Nor did the fact that he refused the money appear to bring her anything but uneasy surprise.

In the window David saw a boy apparently about his own age, a boy with sandy hair, pale cheeks, and wide-open, curiously intent blue eyes.

"Is he coming? Did you get him? Will he play?" called the boy at the window eagerly.

"Yes, I'm right here. I'm the one. Can't you see the violin? Shall I play here or come in?" answered David, not one whit less eagerly.

The small girl opened her lips as if to explain something; but the boy in the window did not wait.

"Oh, come in. Will you come in?" he cried unbelievingly. "And will you just let me touch it—the fiddle? Come! You will come? See, there is n't anybody home, only just Betty and me."

"Of course I will!" David fairly stumbled up the broken steps in his impatience to reach the wide-open door. "Did you like it—what [127] I played? And did you know what I was playing? Did you understand? Could you see the cloud-boats up in the sky, and my Silver Lake down in the valley? And could you hear the birds, and the winds in the trees, and the little brooks? Could you? Oh, did you understand? I've so wanted to find some one that could! But I would n't think that youhere—" With a gesture, and an expression on his face that were unmistakable, David came to a helpless pause.

"There, Joe, what'd I tell you," cried the little girl, in a husky whisper, darting to her brother's side. "Oh, why did you make me get him here? Everybody says he's crazy as a loon, and—"

But the boy reached out a quickly silencing hand. His face was curiously alight, as if from an inward glow. His eyes, still widely intent, were staring straight ahead.

"Stop, Betty, wait," he hushed her. "Maybe—I think I do understand. Boy, you mean—inside of you, you see those things, and then you try to make your fiddle tell what you are seeing. Is that it?"

"Yes, yes," cried David. "Oh, you do understand. [128] And I never thought you could. I never thought that anybody could that did n't have anything to look at but him—but these things."

" 'Anything but these to look at'!" echoed the boy, with a sudden anguish in his voice. "Anything but these! I guess if I could see anything, I would n't mind what I see! An' you would n't, neither, if you was—blind, like me."

"Blind!" David fell back. Face and voice were full of horror. "You mean you can't see—anything, with your eyes?"

"Nothin'."

"Oh! I never saw any one blind before. There was one in a book—but father took it away. Since then, in books down here, I've found others—but—"

"Yes, yes. Well, never mind that," cut in the blind boy, growing restive under the pity in the other's voice. "Play. Won't you?"

"But how are you ever going to know what a beautiful world it is?" shuddered David. "How can you know? And how can you ever play in tune? You're one of the instruments. Father said everybody was. And he said everybody was playing something all the time; and if you did n't play in tune—"

[129] "Joe, Joe, please," begged the little girl, "Won't you let him go? I'm afraid. I told you—"

"Shucks, Betty! He won't hurt ye," laughed Joe, a little irritably. Then to David he turned again with some sharpness.

"Play, won't ye? You said you'd play!"

"Yes, oh, yes, I'll play," faltered David, bringing his violin hastily to position, and testing the strings with fingers that shook a little.

"There!" breathed Joe, settling back in his chair with a contented sigh. "Now, play it again—what you did before."

But David did not play what he did before—at first. There were no airy cloud-boats, no far-reaching sky, no birds, or murmuring forest brooks in his music this time. There were only the poverty-stricken room, the dirty street, the boy alone at the window, with his sightless eyes—the boy who never, never would know what a beautiful world he lived in.

Then suddenly to David came a new thought. This boy, Joe, had said before that he understood. He had seemed to know that he was being told of the sunny skies and the forest winds, the singing birds and the babbling [130] brooks. Perhaps again now he would understand.

What if, for those sightless eyes, one could create a world?

Possibly never before had David played as he played then. It was as if upon those four quivering strings, he was laying the purple and gold of a thousand sunsets, the rose and amber of a thousand sunrises, the green of a boundless earth, the blue of a sky that reached to heaven itself—to make Joe understand.

"Gee!" breathed Joe, when the music came to an end with a crashing chord. "Say, wa'n't that just great? Won't you let me, please, just touch that fiddle?" And David, looking into the blind boy's exalted face, knew that Joe had indeed—understood.


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