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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter


 

 

DAVID TO THE RESCUE

[225] IT was a beautiful moonlight night, but for once David was not thinking of the moon. All the way to the Holly farmhouse he was thinking of Mr. Jack's story, "The Princess and the Pauper." It held him strangely. He felt that he never could forget it. For some reason that he could not have explained, it made him sad, too, and his step was very quiet as he went up the walk toward the kitchen door.

It was after eight o'clock. David had taken supper with Mr. Jack and Jill, and not for some hours had he been at the farmhouse. In the doorway now he stopped short; then instinctively he stepped back into the shadow. In the kitchen a kerosene light was burning. It showed Mrs. Holly crying at the table, and Mr. Holly, white-faced and stern-lipped, staring at nothing. Then Mrs. Holly raised her face, drawn and tear-stained, and asked a trembling question.

"Simeon, have you thought? We might go—to John—for—help."

[226] David was frightened then, so angry was the look that came into Simeon Holly's face.

"Ellen, we'll have no more of this," said the man harshly. "Understand, I'd rather lose the whole thing and—and starve, than go to—John."

David fled then. Up the back stairs he crept to his room and left his violin. A moment later he stole down again and sought Perry Larson whom he had seen smoking in the barn doorway.

"Perry, what is it?" he asked in a trembling voice. "What has happened—in there?" He pointed toward the house.

The man puffed for a moment in silence before he took his pipe from his mouth.

"Well, sonny, I s'pose I may as well tell ye. You'll have ter know it sometime, seein' as 't won't be no secret long. They've had a stroke o' bad luck—Mr. an' Mis' Holly has."

"What is it?"

The man hitched in his seat.

"By sugar, boy, I s'pose if I tell ye, there ain't no sartinty that you'll sense it at all. I reckon it ain't in your class."

"But what is it?"

"Well, it's money—and one might as well [227] talk moonshine to you as money, I s'pose; but here goes it. It's a thousand dollars, boy, that they owed. Here, like this," he explained, rummaging his pockets until he had found a silver dollar to lay on his open palm. "Now, jest imagine a thousand of them; that's heaps an' heaps—more 'n I ever see in my life."

"Like the stars?" guessed David.

The man nodded.

"Ex-actly! Well, they owed this—Mr. an' Mis' Holly did—and they had agreed ter pay it next Sat'day. And they was all right, too. They had it plum saved in the bank, an' was goin' ter draw it Thursday, ter make sure. An' they was feelin' mighty pert over it, too, when ter-day along comes the news that somethin's broke kersmash in that bank, an' they've shet it up. An' nary a cent can the Hollys git now—an' maybe never. Anyhow, not 'fore it's too late for this job."

"But won't he wait?—that man they owe it to? I should think he'd have to, if they did n't have it to pay."

"Not much he will, when it's old Streeter that's got the mortgage on a good fat farm like this!"

[228] David drew his brows together perplexedly.

"What is a—a mortgage?" he asked. "Is it anything like a porte-cochère? I know what that is, 'cause my Lady of the Roses has one; but we have n't got that—down here."

Perry Larson sighed in exasperation.

"Gosh, if that ain't 'bout what I expected of ye! No, it ain't even second cousin to a—a—that thing you're a-talkin' of. In plain wordin', it's jest this: Mr. Holly, he says ter Streeter: 'You give me a thousand dollars and I'll pay ye back on a sartin day; if I don't pay, you can sell my farm fur what it'll bring, an' take yer pay. Well, now here 't is. Mr. Holly can't pay, an' so Streeter will put up the farm fur sale."

"What, with Mr. and Mrs. Holly living here?"

"Sure! Only they'll have ter git out, ye know."

"Where'll they go?"

"The Lord knows; I don't."

"And is that what they're crying for—in there?—because they've got to go?"

"Sure!"

"But is n't there anything, anywhere, that can be done to—stop it?"

[229] "I don't see how, kid,—not unless some one ponies up with the money 'fore next Sat'day,—an' a thousand o' them things don't grow on ev'ry bush," he finished, gently patting the coin in his hand.

At the words a swift change came to David's face. His cheeks paled and his eyes dilated in terror. It was as if ahead of him he saw a yawning abyss, eager to engulf him.

"And you say—money would—fix it?" he asked thickly.

"Ex-act-ly!—a thousand o' them, though, 't would take."

A dawning relief came into David's eyes—it was as if he saw a bridge across the abyss.

"You mean—that there would n't anything do, only silver pieces—like those?" he questioned hopefully.

"Sugar, kid, 'course there would! Gosh, but you be a checkerboard o' sense an' nonsense, an' no mistake! Any money would do the job—any money! Don't ye see? Anything that's money."

"Would g-gold do it?" David's voice was very faint now.

"Sure!—gold, or silver, or greenbacks, or—or a check, if it had the dough behind it."

[230] David did not appear to hear the last. With an oddly strained look he had hung upon the man's first words; but at the end of the sentence he only murmured, "Oh, thank you," and turned away. He was walking slowly now toward the house. His head was bowed. His step lagged.

"Now, ain't that jest like that chap," muttered the man, "ter slink off like that as if he was a whipped cur. I'll bet two cents an' a doughnut, too, that in five minutes he'll be what he calls 'playin' it' on that 'ere fiddle o' his. An' I'll be derned, too, if I ain't curious ter see what he will make of it. It strikes me this ought ter fetch somethin' first cousin to a dirge!"

On the porch steps David paused a breathless instant. From the kitchen came the sound of Mrs. Holly's sobs and of a stern voice praying. With a shudder and a little choking cry the boy turned then and crept softly upstairs to his room.

He played, too, as Perry Larson had wagered. But it was not the tragedy of the closed bank, nor the honor of the threatened farm-selling that fell from his violin. It was, instead, the swan song of a little pile of gold—gold which [231] lay now in a chimney cupboard, but which was soon to be placed at the feet of the mourning man and woman downstairs. And in the song was the sob of a boy who sees his house of dreams burn to ashes; who sees his wonderful life and work out in the wide world turn to endless days of weed-pulling and dirt-digging in a narrow valley. There was in the song, too, something of the struggle, the fierce yea and nay of the conflict. But, at the end, there was the wild burst of exaltation of renunciation, so that the man in the barn door below fairly sprang to his feet with an angry:—

"Gosh! if he hain't turned the thing into a jig—durn him! Don't he know more'n that at such a time as this?"

Later, a very little later, the shadowy figure of the boy stood before him.

"I've been thinking," stammered David, "that maybe I—could help, about that money, you know."

"Now, look a-here, boy," exploded Perry, in open exasperation, "as I said in the first place, this ain't in your class. 'T ain't no pink cloud sailin' in the sky, nor a bluebird singin' in a blackb'rry bush. An' you might 'play it'—as [232] you call it—till doomsday, an' 't would n't do no good—though I'm free ter confess that your playin' of them 'ere other things sounds real pert an' chirky at times; but 't won't do no good here."

David stepped forward, bringing his small, anxious face full into the moonlight.

"But 't was the money, Perry; I meant about, the money," he explained. "They were good to me and wanted me when there was n't any one else that did; and now I'd like to do something for them. There are n't so many pieces, and they are n't silver. There's only one hundred and six of them; I counted. But maybe they 'd help some. It—it would be a—start." His voice broke over the once beloved word, then went on with renewed strength. "There, see! Would these do?" And with both hands he held up to view his cap sagging under its weight of gold.

Perry Larson's jaw fell open. His eyes bulged. Dazedly he reached out and touched with trembling fingers the heap of shining disks that seemed in the mellow light like little earth-born children of the moon itself. The next instant he recoiled sharply.

[233] "Great snakes, boy, where'd you git that money?" he demanded.

"Of father. He went to the far country, you know."

Perry Larson snorted angrily.

"See here, boy, for once, if ye can, talk horse-sense! Surely, even you don't expect me ter believe that he's sent you that money from—from where he's gone to!"

"Oh, no. He left it."

"Left it! Why, boy, you know better! There wa'n't a cent—hardly—found on him."

"He gave it to me before—by the roadside."

"Gave it to you! Where in the name of goodness has it been since?"

"In the little cupboard in my room, behind the books."

"Great snakes!" muttered Perry Larson, reaching out his hand and gingerly picking up one of the gold-pieces.

David eyed him anxiously.

"Won't they—do?" he faltered. "There are n't a thousand; there's only a hundred and six; but—"

"Do!" cut in the man, excitedly. He had [234] been examining the gold-piece at close range. "Do! Well, I reckon they'll do. By Jiminy!—and ter think you've had this up yer sleeve all this time! Well, I'll believe anythin' of yer now—anythin'! You can't stump me with nuthin'! Come on." And he hurriedly led the way toward the house.

"But they were n't up my sleeve," corrected David, as he tried to keep up with the long strides of the man. "I said they were in the cupboard in my room."

There was no answer. Larson had reached the porch steps, and had paused there hesitatingly. From the kitchen still came the sound of sobs. Aside from that there was silence. The boy, however, did not hesitate. He went straight up the steps and through the open kitchen door. At the table sat the man and the woman, their eyes covered with their hands.

With a swift overturning of his cap, David dumped his burden onto the table, and stepped back respectfully.

"If you please, sir, would this—help any?" he asked.

At the jingle of the coins Simeon Holly and his wife lifted their heads abruptly. A half-uttered [235] sob died on the woman's lips. A quick cry came from the man's. He reached forth an eager hand and had almost clutched the gold when a sudden change came to his face. With a stern ejaculation he drew back.

"Boy, where did that money come from?" he challenged.

David sighed in a discouraged way. It seemed that, always, the showing of this gold meant questioning—eternal questioning.

"Surely," continued Simeon Holly, "you did not—" With the boy's frank gaze upturned to his, the man could not finish his sentence.

Before David could answer came the voice of Perry Larson from the kitchen doorway.

"No, sir, he did n't, Mr. Holly; an' it's all straight, I'm thinkin'—though I'm free ter confess it does sound nutty. His dad give it to him."

"His—father! But where—where has it been ever since?"

"In the chimney cupboard in his room, he says, sir."

Simeon Holly turned in frowning amazement.

"David, what does this mean? Why have you kept this gold in a place like that?"

[236] "Why, there was n't anything else to do wiih it," answered the boy perplexedly. "I had n't any use for it, you know, and father said to keep it till I needed it."

" 'Had n't any use for it'!" blustered Larson from the doorway. "Jiminy! Now, ain't that jest like that boy?"

But David hurried on with his explanation.

"We never used to use them—father and I—except to buy things to eat and wear; and down here you give me those, you know."

"Gorry!" interjected Perry Larson. "Do you reckon, boy, that Mr. Holly himself was give them things he gives ter you?"

The boy turned sharply, a startled question in his eyes.

"What do you mean? Do you mean that—" His face changed suddenly. His cheeks turned a shamed red. "Why, he did—he did have to buy them, of course, just as father did. And I never even thought of it before! Then, it's yours, anyway—it belongs to you," he argued, turning to Farmer Holly, and shoving the gold nearer to his hands. "There is n't enough, maybe—but 't will help!"

"They're ten-dollar gold pieces, sir," spoke [237] up Larson importantly; "an' there's a hundred an' six of them. That's jest one thousand an' sixty dollars, as I make it."

Simeon Holly, self-controlled man that he was, almost leaped from his chair.

"One thousand and sixty dollars!" he gasped. Then, to David: "Boy, in Heaven's name, who are you?"

"I don't know—only David." The boy spoke wearily, with a grieved sob in his voice. He was very tired, a good deal perplexed, and a little angry. He wished, if no one wanted this gold, that he could take it upstairs again to the chimney cupboard; or, if they objected to that, that they would at least give it to him, and let him go away now to that beautiful music he was to hear, and to those kind people who were always to understand what he said when he played.

"Of course," ventured Perry Larson diffidently, "I ain't professin' ter know any great shakes about the hand of the Lord, Mr. Holly, but it do strike me that this 'ere gold comes mighty near bein' proverdential—fur you."

Simeon Holly fell back in his seat. His eyes clung to the gold, but his lips set into rigid lines.

[238] "That money is the boy's, Larson. It is n't mine," he said.

"He's give it to ye."

Simeon Holly shook his head.

"David is nothing but a child, Perry. He does n't realize at all what he is doing, nor how valuable his gift is."

"I know, sir, but you did take him in, when there would n't nobody else do it," argued Larson. "An', anyhow, could n't you make a kind of an I O U of it, even if he is a kid? Then, some day you could pay him back. Meanwhile you'd be a-keepin' him, an' a-schoolin' him; an' that's somethin'."

"I know, I know," nodded Simeon Holly thoughtfully, his eyes going from the gold to David's face. Then, aloud, yet as if to himself, he breathed: "Boy, boy, who was your father? How came he by all that gold—and he—a tramp!"

David drew himself suddenly erect. His eyes flashed.

"I don't know, sir. But I do know this: he did n't steal it!"

Across the table Mrs. Holly drew a quick breath, but she did not speak—save with her [239] pleading eyes. Mrs. Holly seldom spoke—save with her eyes—when her husband was solving a knotty problem. She was dumfounded now that he should listen so patiently to the man, Larson,—though she was not more surprised than was Larson himself. For both of them, however, there came at this moment a still greater surprise. Simeon Holly leaned forward suddenly, the stern lines quite gone from his lips, and his face working with emotion as he drew David toward him.

"You're a good son, boy,—a good loyal son; and—and I wish you were mine! I believe you. He did n't steal it, and I won't steal it, either. But I will use it, since you are so good as to offer it. But it shall be a loan, David, and some day, God helping me, you shall have it back. Meanwhile, you're my boy, David,—my boy!"

"Oh, thank you, sir," rejoiced David. "And, really, you know, being wanted like that is better than the start would be, is n't it?"

"Better than—what?"

David shifted his position. He had not meant to say just that.

"N—nothing," he stammered, looking about [240] for a means of quick escape. "I—I was just talking," he finished. And he was immeasurably relieved to find that Mr. Holly did not press the matter further.


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