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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter

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CHAPTER X

THE LADY OF THE ROSES

[131] IT was a new world, indeed, that David created for Joe after that—a world that had to do with entrancing music where once was silence; delightful companionship where once was loneliness; and toothsome cookies and doughnuts where once was hunger.

The Widow Glaspell, Joe's mother, worked out by the day, scrubbing and washing; and Joe, perforce, was left to the somewhat erratic and decidedly unskillful ministrations of Betty. Betty was no worse, and no better, than any other untaught, irresponsible twelve-year-old girl, and it was not to be expected, perhaps, that she would care to spend all the bright sunny hours shut up with her sorely afflicted and somewhat fretful brother. True, at noon she never failed to appear and prepare something that passed for a dinner for herself and Joe. But the Glaspell larder was frequently almost as empty as were the hungry stomachs that looked to it for refreshment; and it would have [132] taken a far more skillful cook than was the fly-away Betty to evolve anything from it that was either palatable or satisfying.

With the coming of David into Joe's life all this was changed. First, there were the music and the companionship. Joe's father had "played in the band" in his youth, and (according to the Widow Glaspell) had been a "powerful hand for music." It was from him, presumably, that Joe had inherited his passion for melody and harmony; and it was no wonder that David recognized so soon in the blind boy the spirit that made them kin. At the first stroke of David's bow, indeed, the dingy walls about them would crumble into nothingness, and together the two boys were off in a fairy world of loveliness and joy.

Nor was listening always Joe's part. From "just touching" the violin—his first longing plea—he came to drawing a timid bow across the strings. In an incredibly short time, then, he was picking out bits of melody; and by the end of a fortnight David had brought his father's violin for Joe to practice on.

"I can't give it to you—not for keeps," David had explained, a bit tremulously, "because [133] it was daddy's, you know; and when I see it, it seems almost as if I was seeing him. But you may take it. Then you can have it here to play on whenever you like."

After that, in Joe's own hands lay the power to transport himself into another world, for with the violin for company he knew no loneliness.

Nor was the violin all that David brought to the house. There were the doughnuts and the cookies. Very early in his visits David had discovered, much to his surprise, that Joe and Betty were often hungry.

"But why don't you go down to the store and buy something?" he had queried at once.

Upon being told that there was no money to buy with, David's first impulse had been to bring several of the gold-pieces the next time he came; but upon second thoughts David decided that he did not dare. He was not wishing to be called a thief a second time. It would be better, he concluded, to bring some food from the house instead.

In his mountain home everything the house afforded in the way of food had always been freely given to the few strangers that found their way to the cabin door. So now David [134] had no hesitation in going to Mrs. Holly's pantry for supplies, upon the occasion of his next visit to Joe Glaspell's.

Mrs. Holly, coming into the kitchen, found him emerging from the pantry with both hands full of cookies and doughnuts.

"Why, David, what in the world does this mean?" she demanded.

"They're for Joe and Betty," smiled David happily.

"For Joe and—But those doughnuts and cookies don't belong to you. They're mine!"

"Yes, I know they are. I told them you had plenty," nodded David.

"Plenty! What if I have?" remonstrated Mrs. Holly, in growing indignation. "That does n't mean that you can take—" Something in David's face stopped the words half-spoken.

"You don't mean that I can't take them to Joe and Betty, do you? Why, Mrs. Holly, they're hungry! Joe and Betty are. They don't have half enough to eat. Betty said so. And we've got more than we want. There's food left on the table every day. Why, if you were hungry, would n't you want somebody to bring—"

[135] But Mrs. Holly stopped him with a despairing gesture.

"There, there, never mind. Run along. Of course you can take them. I'm—I'm glad to have you," she finished, in a desperate attempt to drive from David's face that look of shocked incredulity with which he was still regarding her.

Never again did Mrs. Holly attempt to thwart David's generosity to the Glaspells; but she did try to regulate it. She saw to it that thereafter, upon his visits to the house, he took only certain things and a certain amount, and invariably things of her own choosing.

But not always toward the Glaspell shanty did David turn his steps. Very frequently it was in quite another direction. He had been at the Holly farmhouse three weeks when he found his Lady of the Roses.

He had passed quite through the village that day, and had come to a road that was new to him. It was a beautiful road, smooth, white, and firm. Two huge granite posts topped with flaming nasturtiums marked the point where it turned off from the main highway. Beyond these, as David soon found, it ran between [136] wide-spreading lawns and flowering shrubs, leading up the gentle slope of a hill. Where it led to, David did not know, but he proceeded unhesitatingly to try to find out. For some time he climbed the slope in silence, his violin, mute, under his arm; but the white road still lay in tantalizing mystery before him when a by-path offered the greater temptation, and lured him to explore its cool shadowy depths instead.

Had David but known it, he was at Sunnycrest, Hinsdale's one "show place," the country home of its one really rich resident, Miss Barbara Holbrook. Had he also but known it, Miss Holbrook was not celebrated for her graciousness to any visitors, certainly not to those who ventured to approach her otherwise than by a conventional ring at her front doorbell. But David did not know all this; and he therefore very happily followed the shady path until he came to the Wonder at the end of it.

The Wonder, in Hinsdale parlance, was only Miss Holbrook's garden, but in David's eyes it was fairyland come true. For one whole minute he could only stand like a very ordinary little boy and stare. At the end of the minute he became himself once more; and being himself, [137] he expressed his delight at once in the only way he knew how to do—by raising his violin and beginning to play.

He had meant to tell of the limpid pool and of the arch of the bridge it reflected; of the terraced lawns and marble steps, and of the gleaming white of the sculptured nymphs and fauns; of the splashes of glorious crimson, yellow, blush-pink, and snowy white against the green, where the roses rioted in luxurious bloom. He had meant, also, to tell of the Queen Rose of them all—the beauteous lady with hair like the gold of sunrise, and a gown like the shimmer of the moon on water—of all this he had meant to tell; but he had scarcely begun to tell it at all when the Beauteous Lady of the Roses sprang to her feet and became so very much like an angry young woman who is seriously displeased that David could only lower his violin in dismay.

"Why, boy, what does this mean?" she demanded.

David sighed a little impatiently as he came forward into the sunlight.

"But I was just telling you," he remonstrated, "and you would not let me finish."

[138] "Telling me!"

"Yes, with my violin. Could n't you understand?" appealed the boy wistfully. "You looked as if you could!"

"Looked as if I could!"

"Yes. Joe understood, you see, and I was surprised when he did. But I was just sure you could—with all this to look at."

The lady frowned. Half-unconsciously she glanced about her as if contemplating flight. Then she turned back to the boy.

"But how came you here? Who are you?" she cried.

"I'm David. I walked here through the little path back there. I did n't know where it went to, but I'm so glad now I found out!"

"Oh, are you!" murmured the lady, with slightly uplifted brows.

She was about to tell him very coldly that now that he had found his way there he might occupy himself in finding it home again, when the boy interposed rapturously, his eyes sweeping the scene before him:—

"Yes. I did n't suppose, anywhere, down here, there was a place one half so beautiful!"

[139] An odd feeling of uncanniness sent a swift exclamation to the lady's lips.

" 'Down here'! What do you mean by that? You speak as if you came from—above," she almost laughed.

"I did," returned David simply. "But even up there I never found anything quite like this,"—with a sweep of his hands,—"nor like you, O Lady of the Roses," he finished with an admiration that was as open as it was ardent.

This time the lady laughed outright. She even blushed a little.

"Very prettily put, Sir Flatterer," she retorted; "but when you are older, young man, you won't make your compliments quite so broad. I am no Lady of the Roses. I am Miss Holbrook; and—and I am not in the habit of receiving gentlemen callers who are uninvited and—unannounced," she concluded, a little sharply.

Pointless the shaft fell at David's feet. He had turned again to the beauties about him, and at that moment he spied the sundial—something he had never seen before.

"What is it?" he cried eagerly, hurrying [140] forward. "It isn 't exactly pretty, and yet it looks as if 't were meant for—something."

"It is. It is a sundial. It marks the time by the sun."

Even as she spoke, Miss Holbrook wondered why she answered the question at all; why she did not send this small piece of nonchalant impertinence about his business, as he so richly deserved. The next instant she found herself staring at the boy in amazement. With unmistakable ease, and with the trained accent of the scholar, he was reading aloud the Latin inscription on the dial: " 'Horas non numero nisi serenas,'  'I count—no—hours but—unclouded ones,' " he translated then, slowly, though with confidence. "That's pretty; but what does it mean—about 'counting'?"

Miss Holbrook rose to her feet.

"For Heaven's sake, boy, who, and what are you?" she demanded. "Can you read Latin?"

"Why, of course! Can't you?"

With a disdainful gesture Miss Holbrook swept this aside.

"Boy, who are you?" she demanded again imperatively.

"I'm David. I told you."

[141] "But David who? Where do you live?"

The boy's face clouded.

"I'm David—just David. I live at Farmer Holly's now; but I did live on the mountain with—father, you know."

A great light of understanding broke over Miss Holbrook's face. She dropped back into her seat.

"Oh, I remember," she murmured. "You're the little—er—boy whom he took. I have heard the story. So that is who you are," she added, the old look of aversion coming back to her eyes. She had almost said "the little tramp boy"—but she had stopped in time.

"Yes. And now what do they mean, please,—those words,— 'I count no hours but unclouded ones'?"

Miss Holbrook stirred in her seat and frowned.

"Why, it means what it says, of course, boy. A sundial counts its hours by the shadow the sun throws, and when there is no sun there is no shadow; hence it's only the sunny hours that are counted by the dial," she explained a little fretfully.

David's face radiated delight.

[142] "Oh, but I like that!" he exclaimed.

"You like it!"

"Yes. I should like to be one myself, you know."

"Well, really! And how, pray?" In spite of herself a faint gleam of interest came into Miss Holbrook's eyes.

David laughed and dropped himself easily to the ground at her feet. He was holding his violin on his knees now.

"Why, it would be such fun," he chuckled, "to just forget all about the hours when the sun did n't shine, and remember only the nice, pleasant ones. Now for me, there would n't be any hours, really, until after four o'clock, except little specks of minutes that I'd get in between when I did see something interesting."

Miss Holbrook stared frankly.

"What an extraordinary boy you are, to be sure," she murmured. "And what, may I ask, is it that you do every day until four o'clock, that you wish to forget?"

David sighed.

"Well, there are lots of things. I hoed potatoes and corn, first, but they're too big now, mostly; and I pulled up weeds, too, till they [143] were gone. I've been picking up stones, lately, and clearing up the yard. Then, of course, there's always the woodbox to fill, and the eggs to hunt, besides the chickens to feed,—though I don't mind them so much; but I do the other things, 'specially the weeds. They were so much prettier than the things I had to let grow, 'most always."

Miss Holbrook laughed.

"Well, they were; and, really," persisted the boy, in answer to the merriment in her eyes; "now would n't it be nice to be like the sundial, and forget everything the sun did n't shine on? Would n't you like it? Is n't there anything you want to forget?"

Miss Holbrook sobered instantly. The change in her face was so very marked, indeed, that involuntarily David looked about for something that might have cast upon it so great a shadow. For a long minute she did not speak; then very slowly, very bitterly, she said aloud—yet as if to herself:—

"Yes. If I had my way I'd forget them every one—these hours; every single one!"

"Oh, Lady of the Roses!" expostulated David in a voice quivering with shocked [144] dismay. "You don't mean—you can't mean that you don't have any—sun!"

"I mean just that," bowed Miss Holbrook wearily, her eyes on the somber shadows of the pool; "just that!"

David sat stunned, confounded. Across the marble steps and the terraces the shadows lengthened, and David watched them as the sun dipped behind the tree-tops. They seemed to make more vivid the chill and the gloom of the lady's words—more real the day that had no sun. After a time the boy picked up his violin and began to play, softly, and at first with evident hesitation. Even when his touch became more confident, there was still in the music a questioning appeal that seemed to find no answer—an appeal that even the player himself could not have explained.

For long minutes the young woman and the boy sat thus in the twilight. Then suddenly the woman got to her feet.

"Come, come, boy, what can I be thinking of?" she cried sharply. "I must go in and you must go home. Good-night." And she swept across the grass to the path that led toward the house.


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