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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter





[298] THE pretended Halloween was a great success. So very excited, indeed, did David become over the swinging apples and popping nuts that he quite forgot to tell Mr. Jack what the Lady of the Roses had said until Jill had gone up to bed and he himself was about to take from Mr. Jack's hand the little lighted lamp.

"Oh, Mr. Jack, I forgot," he cried then. "There was something I was going to tell you."

"Never mind to-night, David; it's so late. Suppose we leave it until to-morrow," suggested Mr. Jack, still with the lamp extended in his hand.

"But I promised the Lady of the Roses that I'd say it to-night," demurred the boy, in a troubled voice.

The man drew his lamp halfway back suddenly.

"The Lady of the Roses! Do you mean—she sent a message—to me?" he demanded.

[299] "Yes; about the story, 'The Princess and the Pauper,' you know."

With an abrupt exclamation Mr. Jack set the lamp on the table and turned to a chair. He had apparently lost his haste to go to bed.

"See here, David, suppose you come and sit down, and tell me just what you're talking about. And first—just what does the Lady of the Roses know about that—that 'Princess and the Pauper'?"

"Why, she knows it all, of course," returned the boy in surprise. "I told it to her."

"You—told—it—to her!" Mr. Jack relaxed in his chair. "David!"

"Yes. And she was just as interested as could be."

"I don't doubt it!" Mr. Jack's lips snapped together a little grimly.

"Only she did n't like the ending, either."

Mr. Jack sat up suddenly.

"She did n't like—David, are you sure? Did she say that?"

David frowned in thought.

"Well, I don't know as I can tell, exactly, but I'm sure she did n't like it, because just before she told me what to say to you, she said [300] that—that what she was going to say would probably have something to do with the ending, anyway. Still—" David paused in yet deeper thought. "Come to think of it, there really is n't anything—not in what she said—that changed that ending, as I can see. They did n't get married and live happy ever after, anyhow."

"Yes, but what did she say?" asked Mr. Jack in a voice that was not quite steady. "Now, be careful, David, and tell it just as she said it."

"Oh, I will," nodded David. "She said to do that, too."

"Did she?" Mr. Jack leaned farther forward in his chair. "But tell me, how did she happen to—to say anything about it? Suppose you begin at the beginning—away back, David. I want to hear it all—all!"

David gave a contented sigh, and settled himself more comfortably.

"Well, to begin with, you see, I told her the story long ago, before I was sick, and she was ever so interested then, and asked lots of questions. Then the other day something came up—I've forgotten how—about the ending, and I told her how hard I'd tried to have you [301] change it, but you would n't. And she spoke right up quick and said probably you did n't want to change it, anyhow. But of course I settled that question without any trouble," went on David confidently, "by just telling her how you said you'd give anything in the world to change it."

"And you told her that—just that, David?" cried the man.

"Why, yes, I had to," answered David, in surprise, "else she would n't have known that you did want to change it. Don't you see?"

"Oh, yes! I—see—a good deal that I'm thinking you don't," muttered Mr. Jack, falling back in his chair.

"Well, then is when I told her about the logical ending—what you said, you know,—oh, yes! and that was when I found out she did n't like the ending, because she laughed such a funny little laugh and colored up, and said that she was n't sure she could tell me what a logical ending was, but that she would try to find out, and that, anyhow, your ending would n't be hers—she was sure of that."

"David, did she say that—really?" Mr. Jack was on his feet now.

[302] "She did; and then yesterday she asked me to come over, and she said some more things,—about the story, I mean,—but she did n't say another thing about the ending. She did n't ever say anything about that except that little bit I told you of a minute ago."

"Yes, yes, but what did she say?" demanded Mr. Jack, stopping short in his walk up and down the room.

"She said: 'You tell Mr. Jack that I know something about that story of his that perhaps he does n't. In the first place, I know the Princess a lot better than he does, and she is n't a bit the kind of girl he's pictured her."

"Yes! Go on—go on!"

" 'Now, for instance,' she says, 'when the boy made that call, after the girl first came back, and when the boy did n't like it because they talked of colleges and travels, and such things, you tell him that I happen to know that that girl was just hoping and hoping he'd speak of the old days and games; but that she could n't speak, of course, when he had n't been even once to see her during all those weeks, and when he'd acted in every way just as if he'd forgotten.' "

[303] "But she had n't waved—that Princess had n't waved—once!" argued Mr. Jack; "and he looked and looked for it."

"Yes, she spoke of that," returned David. "But she said she should n't think the Princess would have waved, when she'd got to be such a great big girl as that—waving to a boy! She said that for her part she should have been ashamed of her if she had!"

"Oh, did she!" murmured Mr. Jack blankly, dropping suddenly into his chair.

"Yes, she did," repeated David, with a little virtuous uplifting of his chin.

It was plain to be seen that David's sympathies had unaccountably met with a change of heart.

"But—the Pauper—"

"Oh, yes, and that's another thing," interrupted David. "The Lady of the Roses said that she did n't like that name one bit; that it was n't true, anyway, because he was n't a pauper. And she said, too, that as for his picturing the Princess as being perfectly happy in all that magnificence, he did n't get it right at all. For she knew that the Princess was n't one bit happy, because she was so lonesome [304] for things and people she had known when she was just the girl."

Again Mr. Jack sprang to his feet. For a minute he strode up and down the room in silence; then in a shaking voice he asked:—

"David, you—you are n't making all this up, are you? You're saying just what—what Miss Holbrook told you to?"

"Why, of course, I'm not making it up," protested the boy aggrievedly. "This is the Lady of the Roses' story—she made it up—only she talked it as if 't was real, of course, just as you did. She said another thing, too. She said that she happened to know that the Princess had got all that magnificence around her in the first place just to see if it would n't make her happy, but that it had n't, and that now she had one place—a little room—that was left just as it used to be when she was the girl, and that she went there and sat very often. And she said it was right in sight of where the boy lived, too, where he could see it every day; and that if he had n't been so blind he could have looked right through those gray walls and seen that, and seen lots of other things. And what did she mean by that, Mr. Jack?"

[305] "I don't know—I don't know, David," half-groaned Mr. Jack. "Sometimes I think she means—and then I think that can't be—true."

"But do you think it's helped it any—the story?" persisted the boy. "She's only talked a little about the Princess. She did n't really change things any—not the ending."

"But she said it might, David—she said it might! Don't you remember?" cried the man eagerly. And to David, his eagerness did not seem at all strange. Mr. Jack had said before—long ago—that he would be very glad indeed to have a happier ending to this tale. "Think now," continued the man. "Perhaps she said something else, too. Did she say anything else, David?"

David shook his head slowly.

"No, only—yes, there was a little something, but it does n't change things any, for it was only a 'supposing.' She said: 'Just supposing, after long years, that the Princess found out about how the boy felt long ago, and suppose he should look up at the tower some day, at the old time, and see a onetwo wave, which meant, "Come over to see me." Just what do [306] you suppose he would do?' But of course, that can't do any good," finished David gloomily, as he rose to go to bed, "for that was only a 'supposing.' "

"Of course," agreed Mr. Jack steadily; and David did not know that only stern self-control had forced the steadiness into that voice, nor that, for Mr. Jack, the whole world had burst suddenly into song.

Neither did David, the next morning, know that long before eight o'clock Mr. Jack stood at a certain window, his eyes unswervingly fixed on the gray towers of Sunnycrest. What David did know, however, was that just after eight, Mr. Jack strode through the room where he and Jill were playing checkers, flung himself into his hat and coat, and then fairly leaped down the steps toward the path that led to the footbridge at the bottom of the hill.

"Why, whatever in the world ails Jack?" gasped Jill. Then, after a startled pause, she asked. "David, do folks ever go crazy for joy? Yesterday, you see, Jack got two splendid pieces of news. One was from his doctor. He was examined, and he's fine, the doctor says; all well, so he can go back now, any time, to the city [307] and work. I shall go to school then, you know,—a young ladies' school," she finished, a little importantly.

"He's well? How splendid! But what was the other news? You said there were two; only it could n't have been nicer than that was; to be well—all well!"

"The other? Well, that was only that his old place in the city was waiting for him. He was with a firm of big lawyers, you know, and of course it is nice to have a place all waiting. But I can't see anything in those things to make him act like this, now. Can you?"

"Why, yes, maybe," declared David. "He's found his work—don't you see?—out in the world, and he's going to do it. I know how I'd feel if I had found mine that father told me of! Only what I can't understand is, if Mr. Jack knew all this yesterday, why did n't he act like this then, instead of waiting till to-day?"

"I wonder," said Jill.

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