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Just David by  Eleanor H. Porter





[176] IT is not to be expected that when one's thoughts lead so persistently to a certain place, one's feet will not follow, if they can; and David's could—so he went to seek his Lady of the Roses.

At four o'clock one afternoon, with his violin under his arm, he traveled the firm white road until he came to the shadowed path that led to the garden. He had decided that he would go exactly as he went before. He expected, in consequence, to find his Lady exactly as he had found her before, sitting reading under the roses. Great was his surprise and disappointment, therefore, to find the garden with no one in it.

He had told himself that it was the sundial, the roses, the shimmering pool, the garden itself that he wanted to see; but he knew now that it was the lady—his Lady of the Roses. He did not even care to play, though all around him was the beauty that had at first so charmed [177] his eye. Very slowly he walked across the sunlit, empty space, and entered the path that led to the house. In his mind was no definite plan; yet he walked on and on, until he came to the wide lawns surrounding the house itself. He stopped then, entranced.

Stone upon stone the majestic pile raised itself until it was etched, clean-cut, against the deep blue of the sky. The towers—his towers—brought to David's lips a cry of delight. They were even more enchanting here than when seen from afar over the tree-tops, and David gazed up at them in awed wonder. From somewhere came the sound of music—a curious sort of music that David had never heard before. He listened intently, trying to place it; then slowly he crossed the lawn, ascended the imposing stone steps, and softly opened one of the narrow screen doors before the wide-open French window.

Once within the room David drew a long breath of ecstasy. Beneath his feet he felt the velvet softness of the green moss of the woods. Above his head he saw a sky-like canopy of blue carrying fleecy clouds on which floated little pink-and-white children with wings, just [178] as David himself had so often wished that he could float. On all sides silken hangings, like the green of swaying vines, half-hid other hangings of feathery, snowflake lace. Everywhere mirrored walls caught the light and reflected the potted ferns and palms so that David looked down endless vistas of loveliness that seemed for all the world like the long sunflecked aisles beneath the tall pines of his mountain home.

The music that David had heard at first had long since stopped; but David had not noticed that. He stood now in the center of the room, awed, and trembling, but enraptured. Then from somewhere came a voice—a voice so cold that it sounded as if it had swept across a field of ice.

"Well, boy, when you have quite finished your inspection, perhaps you will tell me to what I am indebted for this visit," it said.

David turned abruptly.

"O Lady of the Roses, why did n't you tell me it was like this—in here?" he breathed.

"Well, really," murmured the lady in the doorway, stiffly, "it had not occurred to me that that was hardly—necessary."

[179] "But it was!—don't you see? This is new, all new. I never saw anything like it before; and I do so love new things. It gives me something new to play; don't you understand?"

"New—to play?"

"Yes—on my violin," explained David, a little breathlessly, softly testing his violin. "There's always something new in this, you know," he hurried on, as he tightened one of the strings, "when there's anything new outside. Now, listen! You see I don't know myself just how it's going to sound, and I'm always so anxious to find out." And with a joyously rapt face he began to play.

"But, see here, boy,—you must n't! You—" The words died on her lips; and, to her unbounded amazement, Miss Barbara Holbrook, who had intended peremptorily to send this persistent little tramp boy about his business, found herself listening to a melody so compelling in its sonorous beauty that she was left almost speechless at its close. It was the boy who spoke.

"There, I told you my violin would know what to say!"

" 'What to say'!—well, that's more than I [180] do," laughed Miss Holbrook, a little hysterically. "Boy, come here and tell me who you are." And she led the way to a low divan that stood near a harp at the far end of the room.

It was the same story, told as David had told it to Jack and Jill a few days before, only this time David's eyes were roving admiringly all about the room, resting oftenest on the harp so near him.

"Did that make the music that I heard?" he asked eagerly, as soon as Miss Holbrook's questions gave him opportunity. "It's got strings."

"Yes. I was playing when you came in. I saw you enter the window. Really, David, are you in the habit of walking into people's houses like this? It is most disconcerting—to their owners."

"Yes—no—well, sometimes." David's eyes were still on the harp. "Lady of the Roses, won't you please play again—on that?"

"David, you are incorrigible! Why did you come into my house like this?"

"The music said 'come'; and the towers, too. You see, I know the towers."

"You know them!"

"Yes. I can see them from so many places, and I always watch [181] for them. They show best of anywhere, though, from Jack and Jill's. And now won't you play?"

Miss Holbrook had almost risen to her feet when she turned abruptly.

"From—where?" she asked.

"From Jack and Jill's—the House that Jack Built, you know."

"You mean—Mr. John Gurnsey's house?" A deeper color had come into Miss Holbrook's cheeks.

"Yes. Over there at the top of the little hill across the brook, you know. You can't see their house from here, but from over there we can see the towers finely, and the little window—Oh, Lady of the Roses," he broke off excitedly, at the new thought that had come to him, "if we, now, were in that little window, we could see their house. Let's go up. Can't we?"

Explicit as this was, Miss Holbrook evidently did not hear, or at least did not understand, this request. She settled back on the divan, indeed, almost determinedly. Her cheeks were very red now.

[182] "And do you know—this Mr. Jack?" she asked lightly.

"Yes, and Jill, too. Don't you? I like them, too. Do you know them?"

Again Miss Holbrook ignored the question put to her.

"And did you walk into their house, unannounced and uninvited, like this?" she queried.

"No. He asked me. You see he wanted to get off some of the dirt and blood before other folks saw me."

"The dirt and—and—why, David, what do you mean? What was it—an accident?"

David frowned and reflected a moment.

"No. I did it on purpose. I had to, you see," he finally elucidated. "But there were six of them, and I got the worst of it."

"David!" Miss Holbrook's voice was horrified. "You don't mean—a fight!"

"Yes'm. I wanted the cat—and I got it, but I would n't have if Mr. Jack had n't come to help me."

"Oh! So Mr. Jack—fought, too?"

"Well, he pulled the others off, and of course that helped me," explained David truthfully. "And then he took me home—he and Jill."

[183] "Jill! Was she in it?"

"No, only her cat. They had tied a bag over its head and a tin can to its tail, and of course I could n't let them do that. They were hurting her. And now, Lady of the Roses, won't you please play?"

For a moment Miss Holbrook did not speak. She was gazing at David with an odd look in her eyes. At last she drew a long sigh.

"David, you are the—the limit!" she breathed, as she rose and seated herself at the harp.

David was manifestly delighted with her playing, and begged for more when she had finished; but Miss Holbrook shook her head. She seemed to have grown suddenly restless, and she moved about the room calling David's attention to something new each moment. Then, very abruptly, she suggested that they go upstairs. From room to room she hurried the boy, scarcely listening to his ardent comments, or answering his still more ardent questions. Not until they reached the highest tower room, indeed, did she sink wearily into a chair, and seem for a moment at rest.

David looked about him in surprise. Even [184] his untrained eye could see that he had entered a different world. There were no sumptuous rugs, no silken hangings; no mirrors, no snowflake curtains. There were books, to be sure, but besides those there were only a plain low table, a work-basket, and three or four wooden-seated though comfortable chairs. With increasing wonder he looked into Miss Holbrook's eyes.

"Is it here that you stay—all day?" he asked diffidently.

Miss Holbrook's face turned a vivid scarlet.

"Why, David, what a question! Of course not! Why should you think I did?"

"Nothing; only I've been wondering all the time I've been here how you could—with all those beautiful things around you downstairs—say what you did."

"Say what?—when?"

"That other day in the garden—about all your hours being cloudy ones. So I did n't know to-day but what you lived up here, same as Mrs. Holly does n't use her best rooms; and that was why your hours were all cloudy ones."

With a sudden movement Miss Holbrook rose to her feet.

[185] "Nonsense, David! You should n't always remember everything that people say to you. Come, you have n't seen one of the views from the windows yet. We are in the larger tower, you know. You can see Hinsdale village on this side, and there's a fine view of the mountains over there. Oh yes, and from the other side there's your friend's house—Mr. Jack's. By the way, how is Mr. Jack these days?" Miss Holbrook stooped as she asked the question and picked up a bit of thread from the rug.

David ran at once to the window that looked toward the House that Jack Built. From the tower the little house appeared to be smaller than ever. It was in the shadow, too, and looked strangely alone and forlorn. Unconsciously, as he gazed at it, David compared it with the magnificence he had just seen. His voice choked as he answered.

"He is n't well, Lady of the Roses, and he's unhappy. He's awfully unhappy."

Miss Holbrook's slender figure came up with a jerk.

"What do you mean, boy? How do you know he's unhappy? Has he said so?"

"No; but Mrs. Holly told me about him. [186] He's sick; and he'd just found his work to do out in the world when he had to stop and come home. But—oh, quick, there he is! See?"

Instead of coming nearer Miss Holbrook fell back to the center of the room; but her eyes were still turned toward the little house.

"Yes, I see," she murmured. The next instant she had snatched a handkerchief from David's outstretched hand. "No—no—I would n't wave," she remonstrated hurriedly. "Come—come downstairs with me."

"But I thought—I was sure he was looking this way," asserted David, turning reluctantly from the window. "And if he had seen me wave to him, he'd have been so glad; now, would n't he?"

There was no answer. The Lady of the Roses did not apparently hear. She had gone on down the stairway.

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