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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter

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CHAPTER VIII

THE PUZZLING "DOS" AND "DON'TS"

[102] WITH the coming of Monday arrived a new life for David—a curious life full of "don'ts" and "dos." David wondered sometimes why all the pleasant things were "don'ts" and all the unpleasant ones "dos." Corn to be hoed, weeds to be pulled, woodboxes to be filled; with all these it was "do this, do this, do this." But when it came to lying under the apple trees, exploring the brook that ran by the field, or even watching the bugs and worms that one found in the earth—all these were "don'ts."

As to Farmer Holly—Farmer Holly himself awoke to some new experiences that Monday morning. One of them was the difficulty in successfully combating the cheerfully expressed opinion that weeds were so pretty growing that it was a pity to pull them up and let them all wither and die. Another was the equally great difficulty of keeping a small boy at useful labor [103] of any sort in the face of the attractions displayed by a passing cloud, a blossoming shrub, or a bird singing on a tree-branch.

In spite of all this, however, David so evidently did his best to carry out the "dos" and avoid the "don'ts," that at four o'clock that first Monday he won from the stern but would-be-just Farmer Holly his freedom for the rest of the day; and very gayly he set off for a walk. He went without his violin, as there was the smell of rain in the air; but his face and his step and the very swing of his arms were singing (to David) the joyous song of the morning before. Even yet, in spite of the vicissitudes of the day's work, the whole world, to David's homesick, lonely little heart, was still caroling that blessed "You're wanted, you're wanted, you're wanted!"

And then he saw the crow.

David knew crows. In his home on the mountain he had had several of them for friends. He had learned to know and answer their calls. He had learned to admire their wisdom and to respect their moods and tempers. He loved to watch them. Especially he loved to see the great birds cut through the air [104] with a wide sweep of wings, so alive, so gloriously free!

But this crow—

This crow was not cutting through the air with a wide sweep of wing. It was in the middle of a cornfield, and it was rising and falling and flopping about in a most extraordinary fashion. Very soon David, running toward it, saw why. By a long leather strip it was fastened securely to a stake in the ground.

"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed David, in sympathetic consternation. "Here, you just wait a minute. I'll fix it."

With confident celerity David whipped out his jackknife to cut the thong; but he found then that to "fix it" and to say he would "fix it" were two different matters.

The crow did not seem to recognize in David a friend. He saw in him, apparently, but another of the stone-throwing, gun-shooting, torturing humans who were responsible for his present hateful captivity. With beak and claw and wing, therefore, he fought this new evil that had come presumedly to torment; and not until David had hit upon the expedient of taking off his blouse, and throwing it over the angry [105] bird, could the boy get near enough to accomplish his purpose. Even then David had to leave upon the slender leg a twist of leather.

A moment later, with a whir of wings and a frightened squawk that quickly turned into a surprised caw of triumphant rejoicing, the crow soared into the air and made straight for a distant tree-top. David, after a minute's glad surveying of his work, donned his blouse again and resumed his walk.

It was almost six o'clock when David got back to the Holly farmhouse. In the barn doorway sat Perry Larson.

"Well, sonny," the man greeted him cheerily, "did ye get yer weedin' done?"

"Y—yes," hesitated David. "I got it done; but I did n't like it."

" 'T is kinder hot work."

"Oh, I did n't mind that part," returned David. "What I did n't like was pulling up all those pretty little plants and letting them die."

"Weeds—'pretty little plants'!" ejaculated the man. "Well, I'll be jiggered!"

"But they were pretty," defended David, reading aright the scorn in Perry Larson's voice. "The very prettiest and biggest there [106] were, always. Mr. Holly showed me, you know,—and I had to pull them up."

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" muttered Perry Larson again.

"But I've been to walk since. I feel better now."

"Oh, ye do!"

"Oh, yes. I had a splendid walk. I went 'way up in the woods on the hill there. I was singing all the time—inside, you know. I was so glad Mrs. Holly—wanted me. You know what it is, when you sing inside."

Perry Larson scratched his head.

"Well, no, sonny, I can't really say I do," he retorted. "I ain't much on singin'."

"Oh, but I don't mean aloud. I mean inside. When you're happy, you know."

"When I'm—oh!" The man stopped and stared, his mouth falling open. Suddenly his face changed, and he grinned appreciatively. "Well, if you ain't the beat 'em, boy! 'T is kinder like singin'—the way ye feel inside, when yer 'specially happy, ain't it? But I never thought of it before."

"Oh, yes. Why, that's where I get my songs—inside of me, you know—that I play [107] on my violin. And I made a crow sing, too. Only he sang outside."

"Singa crow!" scoffed the man. "Shucks! It'll take more 'n you ter make me think a crow can sing, my lad."

"But they do, when they're happy," maintained the boy. "Anyhow, it does n't sound the same as it does when they're cross, or plagued over something. You ought to have heard this one to-day. He sang. He was so glad to get away. I let him loose, you see."

"You mean, you caught a crow up there in them woods?" The man's voice was skeptical.

"Oh, no, I did n't catch it. But somebody had, and tied him up. And he was so unhappy!"

"A crow tied up in the woods!"

"Oh, I did n't find that in the woods. It was before I went up the hill at all."

"A crow tied up—Look a-here, boy, what are you talkin' about? Where was that crow?" Perry Larson's whole self had become suddenly alert.

"In the field 'way over there. And somebody—"

[108] "The cornfield! Jingo! Boy, you don't mean you touched that crow?"

"Well, he would n't let me touch him," half-apologized David. "He was so afraid, you see. Why, I had to put my blouse over his head before he'd let me cut him loose at all."

"Cut him loose!" Perry Larson sprang to his feet. "You did n't—you did n't let that crow go!"

David shrank back.

"Why, yes; he wanted to go. He—" But the man before him had fallen back despairingly to his old position.

"Well, sir, you've done it now. What the boss'll say, I don't know; but I know what I'd like ter say to ye. I was a whole week, off an' on, gettin' hold of that crow, an' I would n't have got him at all if I had n't hid half the night an' all the mornin' in that clump o' bushes, watchin' a chance ter wing him, jest enough an' not too much. An' even then the job wa'n't done. Let me tell yer, 't wa'n't no small thing ter get him hitched. I'm wearin' the marks of the rascal's beak yet. An' now you've gone an' let him go—just like that," he finished, snapping his fingers angrily.

[109] In David's face there was no contrition. There was only incredulous horror.

"You mean, you tied him there, on purpose?"

"Sure I did!"

"But he did n't like it. Could n't you see he did n't like it?" cried David.

"Like it! What if he did n't? I did n't like ter have my corn pulled up, either. See here, sonny, you no need ter look at me in that tone o' voice. I did n't hurt the varmint none ter speak of—ye see he could fly, did n't ye?—an' he wa'n't starvin'. I saw to it that he had enough ter eat an' a dish o' water handy. An' if he did n't flop an' pull an' try ter get away he need n't 'a' hurt hisself never. I ain't ter blame for what pullin' he done."

"But would n't you pull if you had two big wings that could carry you to the top of that big tree there, and away up, up in the sky, where you could talk to the stars?—would n't you pull if somebody a hundred times bigger'n you came along and tied your leg to that post there?"

The man, Perry, flushed an angry red.

"See here, sonny, I wa'n't askin' you ter do no preachin'. What I did ain't no more'n any [110] man 'round here does—if he's smart enough ter catch one. Rigged-up broomsticks ain't in it with a live bird when it comes ter drivin' away them pesky, thievin' crows. There ain't a farmer 'round here that hain't been green with envy, ever since I caught the critter. An' now ter have you come along an' with one flip o' yer knife spile it all, I—Well, it jest makes me mad, clean through! That's all."

"You mean, you tied him there to frighten away the other crows?"

"Sure! There ain't nothin' like it."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!"

"Well, you'd better be. But that won't bring back my crow!"

David's face brightened.

"No, that's so, is n't it? I'm glad of that. I was thinking of the crows, you see. I'm so sorry for them! Only think how we'd hate to be tied like that—" But Perry Larson, with a stare and an indignant snort, had got to his feet, and was rapidly walking toward the house.

Very plainly, that evening, David was in disgrace, and it took all of Mrs. Holly's tact and patience, and some private pleading, to keep a general explosion from wrecking all [111] chances of his staying longer at the farmhouse. Even as it was, David was sorrowfully aware that he was proving to be a great disappointment so soon, and his violin playing that evening carried a moaning plaintiveness that would have been very significant to one who knew David well.

Very faithfully, the next day, the boy tried to carry out all the "dos," and though he did not always succeed, yet his efforts were so obvious, that even the indignant owner of the liberated crow was somewhat mollified; and again Simeon Holly released David from work at four o'clock.

Alas, for David's peace of mind, however; for on his walk to-day, though he found no captive crow to demand his sympathy, he found something else quite as heartrending, and as incomprehensible.

It was on the edge of the woods that he came upon two boys, each carrying a rifle, a dead squirrel, and a dead rabbit. The threatened rain of the day before had not materialized, and David had his violin. He had been playing softly when he came upon the boys where the path entered the woods.

[112] "Oh!" At sight of the boys and their burden David gave an involuntary cry, and stopped playing.

The boys, scarcely less surprised at sight of David and his violin, paused and stared frankly.

"It's the tramp kid with his fiddle," whispered one to the other huskily.

David, his grieved eyes on the motionless little bodies in the boys' hands, shuddered.

"Are they—dead, too?"

The bigger boy nodded self-importantly.

"Sure. We just shot 'em—the squirrels. Ben here trapped the rabbits." He paused, manifestly waiting for the proper awed admiration to come into David's face.

But in David's startled eyes there was no awed admiration, there was only disbelieving horror.

"You mean, you sent them to the far country?"

"We—what?"

"Sent them. Made them go yourselves—to the far country?"

The younger boy still stared. The older one grinned disagreeably.

"Sure," he answered with laconic indifference. [113] "We sent 'em to the far country, all right."

"But—how did you know they wanted to go?"

"Wanted—Eh?" exploded the big boy. Then he grinned again, still more disagreeably. "Well, you see, my dear, we did n't ask 'em," he gibed.

Real distress came into David's face.

"Then you don't know at all. And maybe they did n't want to go. And if they did n't, how could they go singing, as father said? Father was n't sent. He went. And he went singing. He said he did. But these—How would you like to have somebody come along and send you to the far country, without even knowing if you wanted to go?"

There was no answer. The boys, with a growing fear in their eyes, as at sight of something inexplicable and uncanny, were sidling away; and in a moment they were hurrying down the hill, not, however, without a backward glance or two, of something very like terror.

David, left alone, went on his way with troubled eyes and a thoughtful frown.

[114] David often wore, during those first few days at the Holly farmhouse, a thoughtful face and a troubled frown. There were so many, many things that were different from his mountain home. Over and over, as those first long days passed, he read his letter until he knew it by heart—and he had need to. Was he not already surrounded by things and people that were strange to him?

And they were so very strange—these people! There were the boys and men who rose at dawn—yet never paused to watch the sun flood the world with light; who stayed in the fields all day—yet never raised their eyes to the big fleecy clouds overhead; who knew birds only as thieves after fruit and grain, and squirrels and rabbits only as creatures to be trapped or shot. The women—they were even more incomprehensible. They spent the long hours behind screened doors and windows, washing the same dishes and sweeping the same floors day after day. They, too, never raised their eyes to the blue sky outside, nor even to the crimson roses that peeped in at the window. They seemed rather to be looking always for dirt, yet not pleased when they found it—especially if it had been tracked in on the heel of a small boy's shoe!

More extraordinary than all this to David, however, was the fact that these people regarded him, not themselves, as being strange. As if it were not the most natural thing in the world to live with one's father in one's home on the mountain-top, and spend one's days trailing through the forest paths, or lying with a book beside some babbling little stream! As if it were not equally natural to take one's violin with one at times, and learn to catch upon the quivering strings the whisper of the winds through the trees! Even in winter, when the clouds themselves came down from the sky and covered the earth with their soft whiteness,—even then the forest was beautiful; and the song of the brook under its icy coat carried a charm and mystery that were quite wanting in the chattering freedom of summer. Surely there was nothing strange in all this, and yet these people seemed to think there was!


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