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Just David by Eleanor H. Porter

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Mrs. James Harness





Far up on the mountain-side stood alone in the clearing. It was
roughly yet warmly built. Behind it jagged cliffs broke the north
wind, and towered gray-white in the sunshine. Before it a tiny
expanse of green sloped gently away to a point where the mountain
dropped in another sharp descent, wooded with scrubby firs and
pines. At the left a footpath led into the cool depths of the
forest. But at the right the mountain fell away again and
disclosed to view the picture David loved the best of all: the
far-reaching valley; the silver pool of the lake with its ribbon
of a river flung far out; and above it the grays and greens and
purples of the mountains that climbed one upon another's
shoulders until the topmost thrust their heads into the wide dome
of the sky itself.

There was no road, apparently, leading away from the cabin. There
was only the footpath that disappeared into the forest. Neither,
anywhere, was there a house in sight nearer than the white specks
far down in the valley by the river.

Within the shack a wide fireplace dominated one side of the main
room. It was June now, and the ashes lay cold on the hearth; but
from the tiny lean-to in the rear came the smell and the sputter
of bacon sizzling over a blaze. The furnishings of the room were
simple, yet, in a way, out of the common. There were two bunks, a
few rude but comfortable chairs, a table, two music-racks, two
violins with their cases, and everywhere books, and scattered
sheets of music. Nowhere was there cushion, curtain, or
knickknack that told of a woman's taste or touch. On the other
hand, neither was there anywhere gun, pelt, or antlered head that
spoke of a man's strength and skill. For decoration there were a
beautiful copy of the Sistine Madonna, several photographs signed
with names well known out in the great world beyond the
mountains, and a festoon of pine cones such as a child might
gather and hang.

From the little lean-to kitchen the sound of the sputtering
suddenly ceased, and at the door appeared a pair of dark, wistful

"Daddy!" called the owner of the eyes.

There was no answer.

"Father, are you there?" called the voice, more insistently.

From one of the bunks came a slight stir and a murmured word. At
the sound the boy at the door leaped softly into the room and
hurried to the bunk in the corner. He was a slender lad with
short, crisp curls at his ears, and the red of perfect health in
his cheeks. His hands, slim, long, and with tapering fingers like
a girl's, reached forward eagerly.

"Daddy, come! I've done the bacon all myself, and the potatoes
and the coffee, too. Quick, it's all getting cold!"

Slowly, with the aid of the boy's firm hands, the man pulled
himself half to a sitting posture. His cheeks, like the boy's,
were red--but not with health. His eyes were a little wild, but
his voice was low and very tender, like a caress.

"David--it's my little son David!"

"Of course it's David! Who else should it be?" laughed the boy.
"Come!" And he tugged at the man's hands.

The man rose then, unsteadily, and by sheer will forced himself
to stand upright. The wild look left his eyes, and the flush his
cheeks. His face looked suddenly old and haggard. Yet with fairly
sure steps he crossed the room and entered the little kitchen.

Half of the bacon was black; the other half was transparent and
like tough jelly. The potatoes were soggy, and had the
unmistakable taste that comes from a dish that has boiled dry.
The coffee was lukewarm and muddy. Even the milk was sour.

David laughed a little ruefully.

"Things aren't so nice as yours, father," he apologized. "I'm
afraid I'm nothing but a discord in that orchestra to-day!
Somehow, some of the stove was hotter than the rest, and burnt up
the bacon in spots; and all the water got out of the potatoes,
too,--though THAT didn't matter, for I just put more cold in. I
forgot and left the milk in the sun, and it tastes bad now; but
I'm sure next time it'll be better--all of it."

The man smiled, but he shook his head sadly.

"But there ought not to be any 'next time,' David."

"Why not? What do you mean? Aren't you ever going to let me try
again, father?" There was real distress in the boy's voice.

The man hesitated. His lips parted with an indrawn breath, as if
behind them lay a rush of words. But they closed abruptly, the
words still unsaid. Then, very lightly, came these others:--

"Well, son, this isn't a very nice way to treat your supper, is
it? Now, if you please, I'll take some of that bacon. I think I
feel my appetite coming back."

If the truant appetite "came back," however, it could not have
stayed; for the man ate but little. He frowned, too, as he saw
how little the boy ate. He sat silent while his son cleared the
food and dishes away, and he was still silent when, with the boy,
he passed out of the house and walked to the little bench facing
the west.

Unless it stormed very hard, David never went to bed without this
last look at his "Silver Lake," as he called the little sheet of
water far down in the valley.

"Daddy, it's gold to-night--all gold with the sun!" he cried
rapturously, as his eyes fell upon his treasure. "Oh, daddy!"

It was a long-drawn cry of ecstasy, and hearing it, the man
winced, as with sudden pain.

'Daddy, I'm going to play it--I've got to play it!" cried the
boy, bounding toward the cabin. In a moment he had returned,
violin at his chin.

The man watched and listened; and as he watched and listened, his
face became a battle-ground whereon pride and fear, hope and
despair, joy and sorrow, fought for the mastery.

It was no new thing for David to "play" the sunset. Always, when
he was moved, David turned to his violin. Always in its quivering
strings he found the means to say that which his tongue could not

Across the valley the grays and blues of the mountains had become
all purples now. Above, the sky in one vast flame of crimson and
gold, was a molten sea on which floated rose-pink cloud-boats.
Below, the valley with its lake and river picked out in rose and
gold against the shadowy greens of field and forest, seemed like
some enchanted fairyland of loveliness.

And all this was in David's violin, and all this, too, was on
David's uplifted, rapturous face.

As the last rose-glow turned to gray and the last strain quivered
into silence, the man spoke. His voice was almost harsh with

"David, the time has come. We'll have to give it up--you and I."

The boy turned wonderingly, his face still softly luminous.

"Give what up?"

"This--all this."

"This! Why, father, what do you mean? This is home!"

The man nodded wearily.

"I know. It has been home; but, David, you didn't think we could
always live here, like this, did you?"

David laughed softly, and turned his eyes once more to the
distant sky-line.

Why not?" he asked dreamily. "What better place could there be? I
like it, daddy."

The man drew a troubled breath, and stirred restlessly. The
teasing pain in his side was very bad to-night, and no change of
position eased it. He was ill, very ill; and he knew it. Yet he
also knew that, to David, sickness, pain, and death meant
nothing--or, at most, words that had always been lightly, almost
unconsciously passed over. For the first time he wondered if,
after all, his training--some of it--had been wise.

For six years he had had the boy under his exclusive care and
guidance. For six years the boy had eaten the food, worn the
clothing, and studied the books of his father's choosing. For six
years that father had thought, planned, breathed, moved, lived
for his son. There had been no others in the little cabin. There
had been only the occasional trips through the woods to the
little town on the mountain-side for food and clothing, to break
the days of close companionship.

All this the man had planned carefully. He had meant that only
the good and beautiful should have place in David's youth. It was
not that he intended that evil, unhappiness, and death should
lack definition, only definiteness, in the boy's mind. It should
be a case where the good and the beautiful should so fill the
thoughts that there would be no room for anything else. This had
been his plan. And thus far he had succeeded--succeeded so
wonderfully that he began now, in the face of his own illness,
and of what he feared would come of it, to doubt the wisdom of
that planning.

As he looked at the boy's rapt face, he remembered David's
surprised questioning at the first dead squirrel he had found in
the woods. David was six then.

"Why, daddy, he's asleep, and he won't wake up!" he had cried.
Then, after a gentle touch: "And he's cold--oh, so cold!"

The father had hurried his son away at the time, and had evaded
his questions; and David had seemed content. But the next day the
boy had gone back to the subject. His eyes were wide then, and a
little frightened.

"Father, what is it to be--dead?"

"What do you mean, David?"

"The boy who brings the milk--he had the squirrel this morning.
He said it was not asleep. It was--dead."

"It means that the squirrel, the real squirrel under the fur, has
gone away, David."


"To a far country, perhaps."

"Will he come back?"


"Did he want to go?"

"We'll hope so."

"But he left his--his fur coat behind him. Didn't he

"No, or he'd have taken it with him."

David had fallen silent at this. He had remained strangely silent
indeed for some days; then, out in the woods with his father one
morning, he gave a joyous shout. He was standing by the
ice-covered brook, and looking at a little black hole through
which the hurrying water could be plainly seen.

"Daddy, oh, daddy, I know now how it is, about being--dead."


"It's like the water in the brook, you know; THAT'S going to a
far country, and it isn't coming back. And it leaves its little
cold ice-coat behind it just as the squirrel did, too. It does
n't need it. It can go without it. Don't you see? And it's
singing--listen!--it's singing as it goes. It WANTS to go!"

"Yes, David." And David's father had sighed with relief that his
son had found his own explanation of the mystery, and one that

Later, in his books, David found death again. It was a man, this
time. The boy had looked up with startled eyes.

"Do people, real people, like you and me, be dead, father? Do
they go to a far country?

"Yes, son in time--to a far country ruled over by a great and
good King they tell us.

David's father had trembled as he said it, and had waited
fearfully for the result. But David had only smiled happily as he

"But they go singing, father, like the little brook. You know I
heard it!"

And there the matter had ended. David was ten now, and not yet
for him did death spell terror. Because of this David's father
was relieved; and yet--still because of this--he was afraid.

"David," he said gently. "Listen to me."

The boy turned with a long sigh.

"Yes, father."

"We must go away. Out in the great world there are men and women
and children waiting for you. You've a beautiful work to do; and
one can't do one's work on a mountain-top."

"Why not? I like it here, and I've always been here."

"Not always, David; six years. You were four when I brought you
here. You don't remember, perhaps."

David shook his head. His eyes were again dreamily fixed on the

"I think I'd like it--to go--if I could sail away on that little
cloud-boat up there," he murmured.

The man sighed and shook his head.

"We can't go on cloud-boats. We must walk, David, for a way--and
we must go soon--soon," he added feverishly. "I must get you
back--back among friends, before--"

He rose unsteadily, and tried to walk erect. His limbs shook, and
the blood throbbed at his temples. He was appalled at his
weakness. With a fierceness born of his terror he turned sharply
to the boy at his side.

"David, we've got to go! We've got to go--TO-MORROW!"


"Yes, yes, come!" He stumbled blindly, yet in some way he reached
the cabin door.

Behind him David still sat, inert, staring. The next minute the
boy had sprung to his feet and was hurrying after his father.



A curious strength seemed to have come to the man. With almost
steady hands he took down the photographs and the Sistine
Madonna, packing them neatly away in a box to be left. From
beneath his bunk he dragged a large, dusty traveling-bag, and in
this he stowed a little food, a few garments, and a great deal of
the music scattered about the room.

David, in the doorway, stared in dazed wonder. Gradually into his
eyes crept a look never seen there before.

"Father, where are we going?" he asked at last in a shaking
voice, as he came slowly into the room.

"Back, son; we're going back."

"To the village, where we get our eggs and bacon?"

"No, no, lad, not there. The other way. We go down into the
valley this time."

"The valley--MY valley, with the Silver Lake?"

"Yes, my son; and beyond--far beyond." The man spoke dreamily. He
was looking at a photograph in his hand. It had slipped in among
the loose sheets of music, and had not been put away with the
others. It was the likeness of a beautiful woman.

For a moment David eyed him uncertainly; then he spoke.

"Daddy, who is that? Who are all these people in the pictures?
You've never told me about any of them except the little round
one that you wear in your pocket. Who are they?"

Instead of answering, the man turned faraway eyes on the boy and
smiled wistfully.

"Ah, David, lad, how they'll love you! How they will love you!
But you mustn't let them spoil you, son. You must
remember--remember all I've told you."

Once again David asked his question, but this time the man only
turned back to the photograph, muttering something the boy could
not understand.

After that David did not question any more. He was too amazed,
too distressed. He had never before seen his father like this.
With nervous haste the man was setting the little room to rights,
crowding things into the bag, and packing other things away in an
old trunk. His cheeks were very red, and his eyes very bright. He
talked, too, almost constantly, though David could understand
scarcely a word of what was said. Later, the man caught up his
violin and played; and never before had David heard his father
play like that. The boy's eyes filled, and his heart ached with a
pain that choked and numbed--though why, David could not have
told. Still later, the man dropped his violin and sank exhausted
into a chair; and then David, worn and frightened with it all,
crept to his bunk and fell asleep.

In the gray dawn of the morning David awoke to a different world.
His father, white-faced and gentle, was calling him to get ready
for breakfast. The little room, dismantled of its decorations,
was bare and cold. The bag, closed and strapped, rested on the
floor by the door, together with the two violins in their cases,
ready to carry.

"We must hurry, son. It's a long tramp before we take the cars."

"The cars--the real cars? Do we go in those?" David was fully
awake now.


"And is that all we're to carry?"

"Yes. Hurry, son."

"But we come back--sometime?"

There was no answer.

"Father, we're coming back--sometime?" David's voice was
insistent now.

The man stooped and tightened a strap that was already quite
tight enough. Then he laughed lightly.

"Why, of course you're coming back sometime, David. Only think of
all these things we're leaving!"

When the last dish was put away, the last garment adjusted, and
the last look given to the little room, the travelers picked up
the bag and the violins, and went out into the sweet freshness of
the morning. As he fastened the door the man sighed profoundly;
but David did not notice this. His face was turned toward the
east--always David looked toward the sun.

"Daddy, let's not go, after all! Let's stay here," he cried
ardently, drinking in the beauty of the morning.

"We must go, David. Come, son." And the man led the way across
the green slope to the west.

It was a scarcely perceptible trail, but the man found it, and
followed it with evident confidence. There was only the pause now
and then to steady his none-too-sure step, or to ease the burden
of the bag. Very soon the forest lay all about them, with the
birds singing over their heads, and with numberless tiny feet
scurrying through the underbrush on all sides. Just out of sight
a brook babbled noisily of its delight in being alive; and away
up in the treetops the morning sun played hide-and-seek among the
dancing leaves.

And David leaped, and laughed, and loved it all, nor was any of
it strange to him. The birds, the trees, the sun, the brook, the
scurrying little creatures of the forest, all were friends of
his. But the man--the man did not leap or laugh, though he, too,
loved it all. The man was afraid.

He knew now that he had undertaken more than he could carry out.
Step by step the bag had grown heavier, and hour by hour the
insistent, teasing pain in his side had increased until now it
was a torture. He had forgotten that the way to the valley was so
long; he had not realized how nearly spent was his strength
before he even started down the trail. Throbbing through his
brain was the question, what if, after all, he could not--but
even to himself he would not say the words.

At noon they paused for luncheon, and at night they camped where
the chattering brook had stopped to rest in a still, black pool.
The next morning the man and the boy picked up the trail again,
but without the bag. Under some leaves in a little hollow, the
man had hidden the bag, and had then said, as if casually:--

"I believe, after all, I won't carry this along. There's nothing
in it that we really need, you know, now that I've taken out the
luncheon box, and by night we'll be down in the valley."

"Of course!" laughed David. "We don't need that." And he laughed
again, for pure joy. Little use had David for bags or baggage!

They were more than halfway down the mountain now, and soon they
reached a grass-grown road, little traveled, but yet a road.
Still later they came to where four ways crossed, and two of them
bore the marks of many wheels. By sundown the little brook at
their side murmured softly of quiet fields and meadows, and David
knew that the valley was reached.

David was not laughing now. He was watching his father with
startled eyes. David had not known what anxiety was. He was
finding out now--though he but vaguely realized that something
was not right. For some time his father had said but little, and
that little had been in a voice that was thick and
unnatural-sounding. He was walking fast, yet David noticed that
every step seemed an effort, and that every breath came in short
gasps. His eyes were very bright, and were fixedly bent on the
road ahead, as if even the haste he was making was not haste
enough. Twice David spoke to him, but he did not answer; and the
boy could only trudge along on his weary little feet and sigh for
the dear home on the mountain-top which they had left behind them
the morning before.

They met few fellow travelers, and those they did meet paid scant
attention to the man and the boy carrying the violins. As it
chanced, there was no one in sight when the man, walking in the
grass at the side of the road, stumbled and fell heavily to the

David sprang quickly forward.

"Father, what is it? WHAT IS IT?"

There was no answer.

"Daddy, why don't you speak to me? See, it's David!"

With a painful effort the man roused himself and sat up. For a
moment he gazed dully into the boy's face; then a half-forgotten
something seemed to stir him into feverish action. With shaking
fingers he handed David his watch and a small ivory miniature.
Then he searched his pockets until on the ground before him lay a
shining pile of gold-pieces--to David there seemed to be a
hundred of them.

"Take them--hide them--keep them. David, until you--need them,"
panted the man. "Then go--go on. I can't."

"Alone? Without you?" demurred the boy, aghast. "Why, father, I
couldn't! I don't know the way. Besides, I'd rather stay with
you," he added soothingly, as he slipped the watch and the
miniature into his pocket; "then we can both go." And he dropped
himself down at his father's side.

The man shook his head feebly, and pointed again to the

"Take them, David,--hide them," he chattered with pale lips.

Almost impatiently the boy began picking up the money and tucking
it into his pockets.

"But, father, I'm not going without you," he declared stoutly, as
the last bit of gold slipped out of sight, and a horse and wagon
rattled around the turn of the road above.

The driver of the horse glanced disapprovingly at the man and the
boy by the roadside; but he did not stop. After he had passed,
the boy turned again to his father. The man was fumbling once
more in his pockets. This time from his coat he produced a pencil
and a small notebook from which he tore a page, and began to
write, laboriously, painfully.

David sighed and looked about him. He was tired and hungry, and
he did not understand things at all. Something very wrong, very
terrible, must be the matter with his father. Here it was almost
dark, yet they had no place to go, no supper to eat, while far,
far up on the mountain-side was their own dear home sad and
lonely without them. Up there, too, the sun still shone,
doubtless,--at least there were the rose-glow and the Silver Lake
to look at, while down here there was nothing, nothing but gray
shadows, a long dreary road, and a straggling house or two in
sight. From above, the valley might look to be a fairyland of
loveliness, but in reality it was nothing but a dismal waste of
gloom, decided David.

David's father had torn a second page from his book and was
beginning another note, when the boy suddenly jumped to his feet.
One of the straggling houses was near the road where they sat,
and its presence had given David an idea. With swift steps he
hurried to the front door and knocked upon it. In answer a tall,
unsmiling woman appeared, and said, "Well?"

David removed his cap as his father had taught him to do when one
of the mountain women spoke to him.

"Good evening, lady; I'm David," he began frankly. "My father is
so tired he fell down back there, and we should like very much to
stay with you all night, if you don't mind."

The woman in the doorway stared. For a moment she was dumb with
amazement. Her eyes swept the plain, rather rough garments of the
boy, then sought the half-recumbent figure of the man by the
roadside. Her chin came up angrily.

"Oh, would you, indeed! Well, upon my word!" she scouted. "Humph!
We don't accommodate tramps, little boy." And she shut the door

It was David's turn to stare. Just what a tramp might be, he did
not know; but never before had a request of his been so angrily
refused. He knew that. A fierce something rose within him--a
fierce new something that sent the swift red to his neck and
brow. He raised a determined hand to the doorknob--he had
something to say to that woman!--when the door suddenly opened
again from the inside.

"See here, boy," began the woman, looking out at him a little
less unkindly, "if you're hungry I'll give you some milk and
bread. Go around to the back porch and I'll get it for you." And
she shut the door again.

David's hand dropped to his side. The red still stayed on his
face and neck, however, and that fierce new something within him
bade him refuse to take food from this woman.... But there was
his father--his poor father, who was so tired; and there was his
own stomach clamoring to be fed. No, he could not refuse. And
with slow steps and hanging head David went around the corner of
the house to the rear.

As the half-loaf of bread and the pail of milk were placed in his
hands, David remembered suddenly that in the village store on the
mountain, his father paid money for his food. David was glad,
now, that he had those gold-pieces in his pocket, for he could
pay money. Instantly his head came up. Once more erect with
self-respect, he shifted his burdens to one hand and thrust the
other into his pocket. A moment later he presented on his
outstretched palm a shining disk of gold.

"Will you take this, to pay, please, for the bread and milk?" he
asked proudly.

The woman began to shake her head; but, as her eyes fell on the
money, she started, and bent closer to examine it. The next
instant she jerked herself upright with an angry exclamation.

"It's gold! A ten-dollar gold-piece! So you're a thief, too, are
you, as well as a tramp? Humph! Well, I guess you don't need this
then," she finished sharply, snatching the bread and the pail of
milk from the boy's hand.

The next moment David stood alone on the doorstep, with the sound
of a quickly thrown bolt in his ears.

A thief! David knew little of thieves, but he knew what they
were. Only a month before a man had tried to steal the violins
from the cabin; and he was a thief, the milk-boy said. David
flushed now again, angrily, as he faced the closed door. But he
did not tarry. He turned and ran to his father.

"Father, come away, quick! You must come away," he choked.

So urgent was the boy's voice that almost unconsciously the sick
man got to his feet. With shaking hands he thrust the notes he
had been writing into his pocket. The little book, from which he
had torn the leaves for this purpose, had already dropped
unheeded into the grass at his feet.

"Yes, son, yes, we'll go," muttered the man. "I feel better now.
I can--walk."

And he did walk, though very slowly, ten, a dozen, twenty steps.
From behind came the sound of wheels that stopped close beside

"Hullo, there! Going to the village?" called a voice.

"Yes, sir." David's answer was unhesitating. Where "the village"
was, he did not know; he knew only that it must be somewhere away
from the woman who had called him a thief. And that was all he
cared to know.

"I'm going 'most there myself. Want a lift?" asked the man, still

"Yes, sir. Thank you!" cried the boy joyfully. And together they
aided his father to climb into the roomy wagon-body.

There were few words said. The man at the reins drove rapidly,
and paid little attention to anything but his horses. The sick
man dozed and rested. The boy sat, wistful-eyed and silent,
watching the trees and houses flit by. The sun had long ago set,
but it was not dark, for the moon was round and bright, and the
sky was cloudless. Where the road forked sharply the man drew his
horses to a stop.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I guess I'll have to drop you here,
friends. I turn off to the right; but 't ain't more 'n a quarter
of a mile for you, now" he finished cheerily, pointing with his
whip to a cluster of twinkling lights.

"Thank you, sir, thank you," breathed David gratefully, steadying
his father's steps. "You've helped us lots. Thank you!"

In David's heart was a wild desire to lay at his good man's feet
all of his shining gold-pieces as payment for this timely aid.
But caution held him back: it seemed that only in stores did
money pay; outside it branded one as a thief!

Alone with his father, David faced once more his problem. Where
should they go for the night? Plainly his father could not walk
far. He had begun to talk again, too,--low, half-finished
sentences that David could not understand, and that vaguely
troubled him. There was a house near by, and several others down
the road toward the village; but David had had all the experience
he wanted that night with strange houses, and strange women.
There was a barn, a big one, which was nearest of all; and it was
toward this barn that David finally turned his father's steps.

"We'll go there, daddy, if we can get in," he proposed softly.
"And we'll stay all night and rest."



The long twilight of the June day had changed into a night that
was scarcely darker, so bright was the moonlight. Seen from the
house, the barn and the low buildings beyond loomed shadowy and
unreal, yet very beautiful. On the side porch of the house sat
Simeon Holly and his wife, content to rest mind and body only
because a full day's work lay well done behind them.

It was just as Simeon rose to his feet to go indoors that a long
note from a violin reached their ears.

"Simeon!" cried the woman. "What was that?"

The man did not answer. His eyes were fixed on the barn.

"Simeon, it's a fiddle!" exclaimed Mrs. Holly, as a second tone
quivered on the air "And it's in our barn!"

Simeon's jaw set. With a stern ejaculation he crossed the porch
and entered the kitchen.

In another minute he had returned, a lighted lantern in his hand.

"Simeon, d--don't go," begged the woman, tremulously. "You--you
don't know what's there."

"Fiddles are not played without hands, Ellen," retorted the man
severely. "Would you have me go to bed and leave a half-drunken,
ungodly minstrel fellow in possession of our barn? To-night, on
my way home, I passed a pretty pair of them lying by the
roadside--a man and a boy with two violins. They're the culprits,
likely,--though how they got this far, I don't see. Do you think
I want to leave my barn to tramps like them?"

"N--no, I suppose not," faltered the woman, as she rose
tremblingly to her feet, and followed her husband's shadow across
the yard.

Once inside the barn Simeon Holly and his wife paused
involuntarily. The music was all about them now, filling the air
with runs and trills and rollicking bits of melody. Giving an
angry exclamation, the man turned then to the narrow stairway and
climbed to the hayloft above. At his heels came his wife, and so
her eyes, almost as soon as his fell upon the man lying back on
the hay with the moonlight full upon his face.
Instantly the music dropped to a whisper, and a low voice came
out of the gloom beyond the square of moonlight which came from
the window in the roof.

"If you'll please be as still as you can, sir. You see he's
asleep and he's so tired," said the voice.

For a moment the man and the woman on the stairway paused in
amazement, then the man lifted his lantern and strode toward the

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" he demanded sharply.

A boy's face, round, tanned, and just now a bit anxious, flashed
out of the dark.

"Oh, please, sir, if you would speak lower," pleaded the boy.
"He's so tired! I'm David, sir, and that's father. We came in
here to rest and sleep."

Simeon Holly's unrelenting gaze left the boy's face and swept
that of the man lying back on the hay. The next instant he
lowered the lantern and leaned nearer, putting forth a cautious
hand. At once he straightened himself, muttering a brusque word
under his breath. Then he turned with the angry question:--

"Boy, what do you mean by playing a jig on your fiddle at such a
time as this?"

"Why, father asked me to play" returned the boy cheerily. "He
said he could walk through green forests then, with the ripple of
brooks in his ears, and that the birds and the squirrels--"

"See here, boy, who are you?" cut in Simeon Holly sternly. "Where
did you come from?"

"From home, sir."

"Where is that?"

"Why, home, sir, where I live. In the mountains, 'way up, up,
up--oh, so far up! And there's such a big, big sky, so much nicer
than down here." The boy's voice quivered, and almost broke, and
his eyes constantly sought the white face on the hay.

It was then that Simeon Holly awoke to the sudden realization
that it was time for action. He turned to his wife.

"Take the boy to the house," he directed incisively. "We'll have
to keep him to-night, I suppose. I'll go for Higgins. Of course
the whole thing will have to be put in his hands at once. You
can't do anything here," he added, as he caught her questioning
glance. "Leave everything just as it is. The man is dead."

"Dead?" It was a sharp cry from the boy, yet there was more of
wonder than of terror in it. "Do you mean that he has gone--like
the water in the brook--to the far country?" he faltered.

Simeon Holly stared. Then he said more distinctly:--

"Your father is dead, boy."

"And he won't come back any more?" David's voice broke now.

There was no answer. Mrs. Holly caught her breath convulsively
and looked away. Even Simeon Holly refused to meet the boy's
pleading eyes.

With a quick cry David sprang to his father's side.

"But he's here--right here," he challenged shrilly. "Daddy,
daddy, speak to me! It's David!" Reaching out his hand, he gently
touched his father's face. He drew back then, at once, his eyes
distended with terror. "He isn't! He is--gone," he chattered
frenziedly. "This isn't the father-part that KNOWS. It's the
other--that they leave. He's left it behind him--like the
squirrel, and the water in the brook."

Suddenly the boy's face changed. It grew rapt and luminous as he
leaped to his feet, crying joyously: "But he asked me to play, so
he went singing--singing just as he said that they did. And I
made him walk through green forests with the ripple of the brooks
in his ears! Listen--like this!" And once more the boy raised the
violin to his chin, and once more the music trilled and rippled
about the shocked, amazed ears of Simeon Holly and his wife.

For a time neither the man nor the woman could speak. There was
nothing in their humdrum, habit-smoothed tilling of the soil and
washing of pots and pans to prepare them for a scene like this--a
moonlit barn, a strange dead man, and that dead man's son
babbling of brooks and squirrels, and playing jigs on a fiddle
for a dirge. At last, however, Simeon found his voice.

"Boy, boy, stop that!" he thundered. "Are you mad--clean mad? Go
into the house, I say!" And the boy, dazed but obedient, put up
his violin, and followed the woman, who, with tear-blinded eyes,
was leading the way down the stairs.

Mrs. Holly was frightened, but she was also strangely moved. From
the long ago the sound of another violin had come to her--a
violin, too, played by a boy's hands. But of this, all this, Mrs.
Holly did not like to think.

In the kitchen now she turned and faced her young guest.

"Are you hungry, little boy?"

David hesitated; he had not forgotten the woman, the milk, and
the gold-piece.

"Are you hungry--dear?" stammered Mrs. Holly again; and this time
David's clamorous stomach forced a "yes" from his unwilling lips;
which sent Mrs. Holly at once into the pantry for bread and milk
and a heaped-up plate of doughnuts such as David had never seen

Like any hungry boy David ate his supper; and Mrs. Holly, in the
face of this very ordinary sight of hunger being appeased at her
table, breathed more freely, and ventured to think that perhaps
this strange little boy was not so very strange, after all.

"What is your name?" she found courage to ask then.


"David what?"

"Just David."

"But your father's name?" Mrs. Holly had almost asked, but
stopped in time. She did not want to speak of him. "Where do you
live?" she asked instead.

"On the mountain, 'way up, up on the mountain where I can see my
Silver Lake every day, you know."

"But you didn't live there alone?"

"Oh, no; with father--before he--went away" faltered the boy.

The woman flushed red and bit her lip.

"No, no, I mean--were there no other houses but yours?" she

"No, ma'am."

"But, wasn't your mother--anywhere?"

"Oh, yes, in father's pocket."

"Your MOTHER--in your father's POCKET!"

So plainly aghast was the questioner that David looked not a
little surprised as he explained.

"You don't understand. She is an angel-mother, and angel-mothers
don't have anything only their pictures down here with us. And
that's what we have, and father always carried it in his pocket."

"Oh----h," murmured Mrs. Holly, a quick mist in her eyes. Then,
gently: "And did you always live there--on the mountain?"

"Six years, father said."

"But what did you do all day? Weren't you ever--lonesome?"

"Lonesome?" The boy's eyes were puzzled.

"Yes. Didn't you miss things--people, other houses, boys of your
own age, and--and such things?"

David's eyes widened.

"Why, how could I?" he cried. "When I had daddy, and my violin,
and my Silver Lake, and the whole of the great big woods with
everything in them to talk to, and to talk to me?"

"Woods, and things in them to--to TALK to you!"

"Why, yes. It was the little brook, you know, after the squirrel,
that told me about being dead, and--"

"Yes, yes; but never mind, dear, now," stammered the woman,
rising hurriedly to her feet--the boy was a little wild, after
all, she thought. "You--you should go to bed. Haven't you a--a
bag, or--or anything?"

"No, ma'am; we left it," smiled David apologetically. "You see,
we had so much in it that it got too heavy to carry. So we did
n't bring it."

"So much in it you didn't bring it, indeed!" repeated Mrs.
Holly, under her breath, throwing up her hands with a gesture of
despair. "Boy, what are you, anyway?"

It was not meant for a question, but, to the woman's surprise,
the boy answered, frankly, simply:--

"Father says that I'm one little instrument in the great
Orchestra of Life, and that I must see to it that I'm always in
tune, and don't drag or hit false notes."

"My land!" breathed the woman, dropping back in her chair, her
eyes fixed on the boy. Then, with an effort, she got to her feet.

"Come, you must go to bed," she stammered. "I'm sure bed is--is
the best place you. I think I can find what--what you need," she
finished feebly.

In a snug little room over the kitchen some minutes later, David
found himself at last alone. The room, though it had once
belonged to a boy of his own age, looked very strange to David.
On the floor was a rag-carpet rug, the first he had ever seen. On
the walls were a fishing-rod, a toy shotgun, and a case full of
bugs and moths, each little body impaled on a pin, to David's
shuddering horror. The bed had four tall posts at the corners,
and a very puffy top that filled David with wonder as to how he
was to reach it, or stay there if he did gain it. Across a chair
lay a boy's long yellow-white nightshirt that the kind lady had
left, after hurriedly wiping her eyes with the edge of its hem.
In all the circle of the candlelight there was just one familiar
object to David's homesick eyes--the long black violin case which
he had brought in himself, and which held his beloved violin.

With his back carefully turned toward the impaled bugs and moths
on the wall, David undressed himself and slipped into the
yellow-white nightshirt, which he sniffed at gratefully, so like
pine woods was the perfume that hung about its folds. Then he
blew out the candle and groped his way to the one window the
little room contained.

The moon still shone, but little could be seen through the thick
green branches of the tree outside. From the yard below came the
sound of wheels, and of men's excited voices. There came also the
twinkle of lanterns borne by hurrying hands, and the tramp of
shuffling feet. In the window David shivered. There were no wide
sweep of mountain, hill, and valley, no Silver Lake, no restful
hush, no daddy,--no beautiful Things that Were. There was only
the dreary, hollow mockery of the Things they had Become.

Long minutes later, David, with the violin in his arms, lay down
upon the rug, and, for the first time since babyhood, sobbed
himself to sleep--but it was a sleep that brought no rest; for in
it he dreamed that he was a big, white-winged moth pinned with a
star to an ink-black sky.



In the early gray dawn David awoke. His first sensation was the
physical numbness and stiffness that came from his hard bed on
the floor.

"Why, daddy," he began, pulling himself half-erect, "I slept all
night on--" He stopped suddenly, brushing his eyes with the backs
of his hands. "Why, daddy, where--" Then full consciousness came
to him.

With a low cry he sprang to his feet and ran to the window.
Through the trees he could see the sunrise glow of the eastern
sky. Down in the yard no one was in sight; but the barn door was
open, and, with a quick indrawing of his breath, David turned
back into the room and began to thrust himself into his clothing.

The gold in his sagging pockets clinked and jingled musically;
and once half a dozen pieces rolled out upon the floor. For a
moment the boy looked as if he were going to let them remain
where they were. But the next minute, with an impatient gesture,
he had picked them up and thrust them deep into one of his
pockets, silencing their jingling with his handkerchief.

Once dressed, David picked up his violin and stepped softly into
the hall. At first no sound reached his ears; then from the
kitchen below came the clatter of brisk feet and the rattle of
tins and crockery. Tightening his clasp on the violin, David
slipped quietly down the back stairs and out to the yard. It was
only a few seconds then before he was hurrying through the open
doorway of the barn and up the narrow stairway to the loft above.

At the top, however, he came to a sharp pause, with a low cry.
The next moment he turned to see a kindly-faced man looking up at
him from the foot of the stairs.

"Oh, sir, please--please, where is he? What have you done with
him?" appealed the boy, almost plunging headlong down the stairs
in his haste to reach the bottom.

Into the man's weather-beaten face came a look of sincere but
awkward sympathy.

"Oh, hullo, sonny! So you're the boy, are ye?" he began

"Yes, yes, I'm David. But where is he-- my father, you know? I
mean the--the part he--he left behind him?" choked the boy. "The
part like--the ice-coat?"

The man stared. Then, involuntarily, he began to back away.

"Well, ye see, I--I--"

"But, maybe you don't know," interrupted David feverishly. "You
aren't the man I saw last night. Who are you? Where is he--the
other one, please?"

"No, I--I wa'n't here--that is, not at the first," spoke up the
man quickly, still unconsciously backing away. "Me--I'm only
Larson, Perry Larson, ye know. 'T was Mr. Holly you see last
night--him that I works for."

"Then, where is Mr. Holly, please?" faltered the boy, hurrying
toward the barn door. "Maybe he would know--about father. Oh,
there he is!" And David ran out of the barn and across the yard
to the kitchen porch.

It was an unhappy ten minutes that David spent then. Besides Mr.
Holly, there were Mrs. Holly, and the man, Perry Larson. And they
all talked. But little of what they said could David understand.
To none of his questions could he obtain an answer that

Neither, on his part, could he seem to reply to their questions
in a way that pleased them.

They went in to breakfast then, Mr. and Mrs. Holly, and the man,
Perry Larson. They asked David to go--at least, Mrs. Holly asked
him. But David shook his head and said "No, no, thank you very
much; I'd rather not, if you please--not now." Then he dropped
himself down on the steps to think. As if he could EAT--with that
great choking lump in his throat that refused to be swallowed!

David was thoroughly dazed, frightened, and dismayed. He knew now
that never again in this world would he see his dear father, or
hear him speak. This much had been made very clear to him during
the last ten minutes. Why this should be so, or what his father
would want him to do, he could not seem to find out. Not until
now had he realized at all what this going away of his father was
to mean to him. And he told himself frantically that he could not
have it so. HE COULD NOT HAVE IT SO! But even as he said the
words, he knew that it was so--irrevocably so.

David began then to long for his mountain home. There at least
he would have his dear forest all about him, with the birds and
the squirrels and the friendly little brooks. There he would have
his Silver Lake to look at, too, and all of them would speak to
him of his father. He believed, indeed, that up there it would
almost seem as if his father were really with him. And, anyway,
if his father ever should come back, it would be there that he
would be sure to seek him--up there in the little mountain home
so dear to them both. Back to the cabin he would go now, then.
Yes; indeed he would!

With a low word and a passionately intent expression, David got
to his feet, picked up his violin, and hurried, firm-footed, down
the driveway and out upon the main highway, turning in the
direction from whence he had come with his father the night

The Hollys had just finished breakfast when Higgins, the coroner,
drove into the yard accompanied by William Streeter, the town's
most prominent farmer,--and the most miserly one, if report was
to be credited.

"Well, could you get anything out of the boy? " demanded Higgins,
without ceremony, as Simeon Holly and Larson appeared on the
kitchen porch.

"Very little. Really nothing of importance," answered Simeon

"Where is he now?"

"Why, he was here on the steps a few minutes ago." Simeon Holly
looked about him a bit impatiently.

"Well, I want to see him. I've got a letter for him."

"A letter!" exclaimed Simeon Holly and Larson in amazed unison.

"Yes. Found it in his father's pocket," nodded the coroner, with
all the tantalizing brevity of a man who knows he has a choice
morsel of information that is eagerly awaited. "It's addressed to
'My boy David,' so I calculated we'd better give it to him first
without reading it, seeing it's his. After he reads it, though, I
want to see it. I want to see if what it says is any nearer being
horse-sense than the other one is."

"The other one!" exclaimed the amazed chorus again.

"Oh, yes, there's another one," spoke up William Streeter
tersely. "And I've read it-- all but the scrawl at the end. There
couldn't anybody read that!" Higgins laughed.

"Well, I'm free to confess 't is a sticker--that name," he
admitted." And it's the name we want, of course, to tell us who
they are--since it seems the boy don't know, from what you said
last night. I was in hopes, by this morning, you'd have found out
more from him."

Simeon Holly shook his head.

"'T was impossible."

"Gosh! I should say 't was," cut in Perry Larson, with emphasis.
"An' queer ain't no name for it. One minute he'd be talkin' good
common sense like anybody: an' the next he'd be chatterin' of
coats made o' ice, an' birds an' squirrels an' babbling brooks.
He sure is dippy! Listen. He actually don't seem ter know the
diff'rence between himself an' his fiddle. We was tryin' ter find
out this mornin' what he could do, an' what he wanted ter do,
when if he didn't up an' say that his father told him it didn't
make so much diff'rence WHAT he did so long as he kept hisself in
tune an' didn't strike false notes. Now, what do yer think o'

"Yes, I, know" nodded Higgins musingly. "There WAS something
queer about them, and they weren't just ordinary tramps. Did I
tell you? I overtook them last night away up on the Fairbanks
road by the Taylor place, and I gave 'em a lift. I particularly
noticed what a decent sort they were. They were clean and
quiet-spoken, and their clothes were good, even if they were
rough. Yet they didn't have any baggage but them fiddles."

"But what was that second letter you mentioned?" asked Simeon

Higgins smiled oddly, and reached into his pocket.

"The letter? Oh, you're welcome to read the letter," he said, as
he handed over a bit of folded paper.

Simeon took it gingerly and examined it.

It was a leaf torn apparently from a note book. It was folded
three times, and bore on the outside the superscription "To whom
it may concern." The handwriting was peculiar, irregular, and not
very legible. But as near as it could be deciphered, the note ran

Now that the time has come when I must give David back to the
world, I have set out for that purpose.

But I am ill--very ill, and should Death have swifter feet than
I, I must leave my task for others to complete. Deal gently with
him. He knows only that which is good and beautiful. He knows
nothing of sin nor evil.

Then followed the signature--a thing of scrawls and flourishes
that conveyed no sort of meaning to Simeon Holly's puzzled eyes.

"Well?" prompted Higgins expectantly.

Simeon Holly shook his head.

"I can make little of it. It certainly is a most remarkable

"Could you read the name?"


"Well, I couldn't. Neither could half a dozen others that's seen
it. But where's the boy? Mebbe his note'll talk sense."

"I'll go find him," volunteered Larson. "He must be somewheres

But David was very evidently not "somewheres'round." At least he
was not in the barn, the shed, the kitchen bedroom, nor anywhere
else that Larson looked; and the man was just coming back with a
crestfallen, perplexed frown, when Mrs. Holly hurried out on to
the porch.

"Mr. Higgins," she cried, in obvious excitement, "your wife has
just telephoned that her sister Mollie has just telephoned HER
that that little tramp boy with the violin is at her house."

"At Mollie's!" exclaimed Higgins. "Why, that's a mile or more
from here."

"So that's where he is!" interposed Larson, hurrying forward.
"Doggone the little rascal! He must 'a' slipped away while we was
eatin breakfast."

"Yes. But, Simeon,--Mr. Higgins,--we hadn't ought to let him go
like that," appealed Mrs. Holly tremulously. "Your wife said
Mollie said she found him crying at the crossroads, because he
didn't know which way to take. He said he was going back home.
He means to that wretched cabin on the mountain, you know; and we
can't let him do that alone--a child like that!"

"Where is he now?" demanded Higgins.

"In Mollie's kitchen eating bread and milk; but she said she had
an awful time getting him to eat. And she wants to know what to
do with him. That's why she telephoned your wife. She thought you
ought to know he was there."

"Yes, of course. Well, tell her to tell him to come back."

"Mollie said she tried to have him come back, but that he said,
no, thank you, he'd rather not. He was going home where his
father could find him if he should ever want him. Mr. Higgins,
we--we CAN'T let him go off like that. Why, the child would die
up there alone in those dreadful woods, even if he could get
there in the first place--which I very much doubt."

"Yes, of course, of course," muttered Higgins, with a thoughtful
frown. "There's his letter, too. Say!" he added, brightening,
"what'll you bet that letter won't fetch him? He seems to think
the world and all of his daddy. Here," he directed, turning to
Mrs. Holly, "you tell my wife to tell--better yet, you telephone
Mollie yourself, please, and tell her to tell the boy we've got a
letter here for him from his father, and he can have it if he'll
come back.".

"I will, I will," called Mrs. Holly, over her shoulder, as she
hurried into the house. In an unbelievably short time she was
back, her face beaming.

"He's started, so soon," she nodded. "He's crazy with joy, Mollie
said. He even left part of his breakfast, he was in such a hurry.
So I guess we'll see him all right."

"Oh, yes, we'll see him all right," echoed Simeon Holly grimly.
"But that isn't telling what we'll do with him when we do see

"Oh, well, maybe this letter of his will help us out on that,"
suggested Higgins soothingly. "Anyhow, even if it doesn't, I'm
not worrying any. I guess some one will want him--a good healthy
boy like that."

"Did you find any money on the body?" asked Streeter.

"A little change--a few cents. Nothing to count. If the boy's
letter doesn't tell us where any of their folks are, it'll be up
to the town to bury him all right."

"He had a fiddle, didn't he? And the boy had one, too. Wouldn't
they bring anything?" Streeter's round blue eyes gleamed

Higgins gave a slow shake of his head.

"Maybe--if there was a market for 'em. But who'd buy 'em? There
ain't a soul in town plays but Jack Gurnsey; and he's got one.
Besides, he's sick, and got all he can do to buy bread and butter
for him and his sister without taking in more fiddles, I guess.
HE wouldn't buy 'em."

"Hm--m; maybe not, maybe not," grunted Streeter. "An', as you
say, he's the only one that's got any use for 'em here; an' like
enough they ain't worth much, anyway. So I guess 't is up to the
town all right."

"Yes; but--if yer'll take it from me,"--interrupted
Larson,--"you'll be wise if ye keep still before the boy. It's no
use ASKIN' him anythin'. We've proved that fast enough. An' if he
once turns 'round an' begins ter ask YOU questions, yer done

"I guess you're right," nodded Higgins, with a quizzical smile.
"And as long as questioning CAN'T do any good, why, we'll just
keep whist before the boy. Meanwhile I wish the little rascal
would hurry up and get here. I want to see the inside of that
letter to HIM. I'm relying on that being some help to unsnarl
this tangle of telling who they are."

"Well, he's started," reiterated Mrs. Holly, as she turned back
into the house; "so I guess he'll get here if you wait long

"Oh, yes, he'll get here if we wait long enough," echoed Simeon
Holly again, crustily.

The two men in the wagon settled themselves more comfortably in
their seats, and Perry Larson, after a half-uneasy,
half-apologetic glance at his employer, dropped himself onto the
bottom step. Simeon Holly had already sat down stiffly in one of
the porch chairs. Simeon Holly never "dropped himself" anywhere.
Indeed, according to Perry Larson, if there were a hard way to do
a thing, Simeon Holly found it--and did it. The fact that, this
morning, he had allowed, and was still allowing, the sacred
routine of the day's work to be thus interrupted, for nothing
more important than the expected arrival of a strolling urchin,
was something Larson would not have believed had he not seen it.
Even now he was conscious once or twice of an involuntary desire
to rub his eyes to make sure they were not deceiving him.

Impatient as the waiting men were for the arrival of David, they
were yet almost surprised, so soon did he appear, running up the

"Oh, where is it, please?" he panted. "They said you had a letter
for me from daddy!"

"You're right, sonny; we have. And here it is," answered Higgins
promptly, holding out the folded paper.

Plainly eager as he was, David did not open the note till he had
first carefully set down the case holding his violin; then he
devoured it with eager eyes.

As he read, the four men watched his face. They saw first the
quick tears that had to be blinked away. Then they saw the
radiant glow that grew and deepened until the whole boyish face
was aflame with the splendor of it. They saw the shining wonder
of his eyes, too, as he looked up from the letter.

"And daddy wrote this to me from the far country?" he breathed.

Simeon Holly scowled. Larson choked over a stifled chuckle.
William Streeter stared and shrugged his shoulders; but Higgins
flushed a dull red.

"No, sonny," he stammered. "We found it on the--er--I mean,
it--er--your father left it in his pocket for you," finished the
man, a little explosively.

A swift shadow crossed the boy's face.

"Oh, I hoped I'd heard--" he began. Then suddenly he stopped, his
face once more alight. "But it's 'most the same as if he wrote it
from there, isn't it? He left it for me, and he told me what to

"What's that, what's that?" cried Higgins, instantly alert. "DID
he tell you what to do? Then, let's have it, so WE'LL know. You
will let us read it, won't you, boy?"

"Why, y--yes," stammered David, holding it out politely, but with
evident reluctance.

"Thank you," nodded Higgins, as he reached for the note.

David's letter was very different from the other one. It was
longer, but it did not help much, though it was easily read. In
his letter, in spite of the wavering lines, each word was formed
with a care that told of a father's thought for the young eyes
that would read it. It was written on two of the notebook's
leaves, and at the end came the single word "Daddy."

David, my boy [read Higgins aloud], in the far country I am
waiting for you. Do not grieve, for that will grieve me. I shall
not return, but some day you will come to me, your violin at your
chin, and the bow drawn across the strings to greet me. See that
it tells me of the beautiful world you have left--for it is a
beautiful world, David; never forget that. And if sometime you
are tempted to think it is not a beautiful world, just remember
that you yourself can make it beautiful if you will.

You are among new faces, surrounded by things and people that are
strange to you. Some of them you will not understand; some of
them you may not like. But do not fear, David, and do not plead
to go back to the hills. Remember this, my boy,--in your violin
lie all the things you long for. You have only to play, and the
broad skies of your mountain home will be over you, and the dear
friends and comrades of your mountain forests will be about you.


"Gorry! that's worse than the other," groaned Higgins, when he
had finished the note. "There's actually nothing in it! Wouldn't
you think--if a man wrote anything at such a time--that he'd 'a'
wrote something that had some sense to it--something that one
could get hold of, and find out who the boy is?"

There was no answering this. The assembled men could only grunt
and nod in agreement, which, after all, was no real help.



The dead man found in Farmer Holly's barn created a decided stir
in the village of Hinsdale. The case was a peculiar one for many
reasons. First, because of the boy--Hinsdale supposed it knew
boys, but it felt inclined to change its mind after seeing this
one. Second, because of the circumstances. The boy and his father
had entered the town like tramps, yet Higgins, who talked freely
of his having given the pair a "lift" on that very evening, did
not hesitate to declare that he did not believe them to be
ordinary tramps at all.

As there had been little found in the dead man's pockets, save
the two notes, and as nobody could be found who wanted the
violins, there seemed to be nothing to do but to turn the body
over to the town for burial. Nothing was said of this to David;
indeed, as little as possible was said to David about anything
after that morning when Higgins had given him his father's
letter. At that time the men had made one more effort to "get
track of SOMETHING," as Higgins had despairingly put it. But the
boy's answers to their questions were anything but satisfying,
anything but helpful, and were often most disconcerting. The boy
was, in fact, regarded by most of the men, after that morning, as
being "a little off"; and was hence let severely alone.

Who the man was the town authorities certainly did not know,
neither could they apparently find out. His name, as written by
himself, was unreadable. His notes told nothing; his son could
tell little more--of consequence. A report, to be sure, did come
from the village, far up the mountain, that such a man and boy
had lived in a hut that was almost inaccessible; but even this
did not help solve the mystery.

David was left at the Holly farmhouse, though Simeon Holly
mentally declared that he should lose no time in looking about
for some one to take the boy away.

On that first day Higgins, picking up the reins preparatory to
driving from the yard, had said, with a nod of his head toward

"Well, how about it, Holly? Shall we leave him here till we find
somebody that wants him?"

"Why, y--yes, I suppose so," hesitated Simeon Holly, with
uncordial accent.

But his wife, hovering in the background, hastened forward at

"Oh, yes; yes, indeed," she urged. "I'm sure he--he won't be a
mite of trouble, Simeon."

"Perhaps not," conceded Simeon Holly darkly. "Neither, it is safe
to say, will he be anything else--worth anything."

"That's it exactly," spoke up Streeter, from his seat in the
wagon. "If I thought he'd be worth his salt, now, I'd take him
myself; but--well, look at him this minute," he finished, with a
disdainful shrug.

David, on the lowest step, was very evidently not hearing a word
of what was being said. With his sensitive face illumined, he was
again poring over his father's letter.

Something in the sudden quiet cut through his absorption as the
noisy hum of voices had not been able to do, and he raised his
head. His eyes were starlike.

"I'm so glad father told me what to do," he breathed. "It'll be
easier now."

Receiving no answer from the somewhat awkwardly silent men, he
went on, as if in explanation:--

"You know he's waiting for me--in the far country, I mean. He
said he was. And when you've got somebody waiting, you don't mind
staying behind yourself for a little while. Besides, I've GOT to
stay to find out about the beautiful world, you know, so I can
tell him, when _I_ go. That's the way I used to do back home on
the mountain, you see,--tell him about things. Lots of days we'd
go to walk; then, when we got home, he'd have me tell him, with
my violin, what I'd seen. And now he says I'm to stay here."

"Here!" It was the quick, stern voice of Simeon Holly.

"Yes," nodded David earnestly; "to learn about the beautiful
world. Don't you remember? And he said I was not to want to go
back to my mountains; that I would not need to, anyway, because
the mountains, and the sky, and the birds and squirrels and
brooks are really in my violin, you know. And--" But with an
angry frown Simeon Holly stalked away, motioning Larson
to follow him; and with a merry glance and a low chuckle Higgins
turned his horse about and drove from the yard. A moment later
David found himself alone with Mrs. Holly, who was looking at him
with wistful, though slightly fearful eyes.

"Did you have all the breakfast you wanted?" she asked timidly,
resorting, as she had resorted the night before, to the everyday
things of her world in the hope that they might make this strange
little boy seem less wild, and more nearly human.

"Oh, yes, thank you." David's eyes had strayed back to the note
in his hand. Suddenly he looked up, a new something in his eyes.
"What is it to be a--a tramp?" he asked. "Those men said daddy
and I were tramps."

"A tramp? Oh--er--why, just a--a tramp," stammered Mrs. Holly.
"But never mind that, David. I--I wouldn't think any more about

"But what is a tramp?" persisted David, a smouldering fire
beginning to show in his eyes. "Because if they meant THIEVES--"

"No, no, David," interrupted Mrs. Holly soothingly. "They never
meant thieves at all."

"Then, what is it to be a tramp?"

"Why, it's just to--to tramp," explained Mrs. Holly
desperately;--"walk along the road from one town to another,
and--and not live in a house at all."

"Oh!" David's face cleared. "That's all right, then. I'd love to
be a tramp, and so'd father. And we were tramps, sometimes, too,
'cause lots of times, in the summer, we didn't stay in the cabin
hardly any--just lived out of doors all day and all night. Why, I
never knew really what the pine trees were saying till I heard
them at night, lying under them. You know what I mean. You've
heard them, haven't you?"

"At night? Pine trees?" stammered Mrs. Holly helplessly.

"Yes. Oh, haven't you ever heard them at night?" cried the boy,
in his voice a very genuine sympathy as for a grievous loss.
"Why, then, if you've only heard them daytimes, you don't know a
bit what pine trees really are. But I can tell you. Listen! This
is what they say," finished the boy, whipping his violin from its
case, and, after a swift testing of the strings, plunging into a
weird, haunting little melody.

In the doorway, Mrs. Holly, bewildered, yet bewitched, stood
motionless, her eyes half-fearfully, half-longingly fixed on
David's glorified face. She was still in the same position when
Simeon Holly came around the corner of the house.

"Well, Ellen," he began, with quiet scorn, after a moment's stern
watching of the scene before him, "have you nothing better to do
this morning than to listen to this minstrel fellow?"

"Oh, Simeon! Why, yes, of course. I--I forgot--what I was doing,"
faltered Mrs. Holly, flushing guiltily from neck to brow as she
turned and hurried into the house.

David, on the porch steps, seemed to have heard nothing. He was
still playing, his rapt gaze on the distant sky-line, when Simeon
Holly turned upon him with disapproving eyes.

"See here, boy, can't you do anything but fiddle?" he demanded.
Then, as David still continued to play, he added sharply: "Did
n't you hear me, boy?"

The music stopped abruptly. David looked up with the slightly
dazed air of one who has been summoned as from another world.

"Did you speak to me, sir?" he asked.

"I did--twice. I asked if you never did anything but play that

"You mean at home?" David's face expressed mild wonder without a
trace of anger or resentment. "Why, yes, of course. I couldn't
play ALL the time, you know. I had to eat and sleep and study my
books; and every day we went to walk--like tramps, as you call
them," he elucidated, his face brightening with obvious delight
at being able, for once, to explain matters in terms that he felt
sure would be understood.

"Tramps, indeed!" muttered Simeon Holly, under his breath. Then,
sharply: "Did you never perform any useful labor, boy? Were your
days always spent in this ungodly idleness?"

Again David frowned in mild wonder.

"Oh, I wasn't idle, sir. Father said I must never be that. He
said every instrument was needed in the great Orchestra of Life;
and that I was one, you know, even if I was only a little boy.
And he said if I kept still and didn't do my part, the harmony
wouldn't be complete, and--"

"Yes, yes, but never mind that now, boy," interrupted Simeon
Holly, with harsh impatience. "I mean, did he never set you to
work--real work?"

"Work?" David meditated again. Then suddenly his face cleared.
"Oh, yes, sir, he said I had a beautiful work to do, and that it
was waiting for me out in the world. That's why we came down from
the mountain, you know, to find it. Is that what you mean?"

"Well, no," retorted the man, "I can't say that it was. I was
referring to work--real work about the house. Did you never do
any of that?"

David gave a relieved laugh.

"Oh, you mean getting the meals and tidying up the house," he
replied. "Oh, yes, I did that with father, only"--his face grew
wistful--"I'm afraid I didn't do it very well. My bacon was
never as nice and crisp as father's, and the fire was always
spoiling my potatoes."

"Humph! bacon and potatoes, indeed!" scorned Simeon Holly. "Well,
boy, we call that women's work down here. We set men to something
else. Do you see that woodpile by the shed door?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. In the kitchen you'll find an empty woodbox. Do you
think you could fill it with wood from that woodpile? You'll find
plenty of short, small sticks already chopped."

"Oh, yes, sir, I'd like to," nodded David, hastily but carefully
tucking his violin into its case. A minute later he had attacked
the woodpile with a will; and Simeon Holly, after a sharply
watchful glance, had turned away.

But the woodbox, after all, was not filled. At least, it was not
filled immediately. for at the very beginning of gathering the
second armful of wood, David picked up a stick that had long
lain in one position on the ground, thereby disclosing sundry and
diverse crawling things of many legs, which filled David's soul
with delight, and drove away every thought of the empty woodbox.

It was only a matter of some strength and more patience, and
still more time, to overturn other and bigger sticks, to find
other and bigger of the many-legged, many-jointed creatures. One,
indeed, was so very wonderful that David, with a whoop of glee,
summoned Mrs. Holly from the shed doorway to come and see.

So urgent was his plea that Mrs. Holly came with hurried
steps--but she went away with steps even more hurried; and David,
sitting back on his woodpile seat, was left to wonder why she
should scream and shudder and say "Ugh-h-h!" at such a beautiful,
interesting thing as was this little creature who lived in her

Even then David did not think of that empty woodbox waiting
behind the kitchen stove. This time it was a butterfly, a big
black butterfly banded with gold; and it danced and fluttered all
through the back yard and out into the garden, David delightedly
following with soft-treading steps, and movements that would not
startle. From the garden to the orchard, and from the orchard
back to the garden danced the butterfly--and David; and in the
garden, near the house, David came upon Mrs. Holly's pansy-bed.
Even the butterfly was forgotten then, for down in the path by
the pansy-bed David dropped to his knees in veritable worship.

"Why, you're just like little people," he cried softly. "You've
got faces; and some of you are happy, and some of you are sad.
And you--you big spotted yellow one--you're laughing at me. Oh,
I'm going to play you--all of you. You'll make such a pretty
song, you're so different from each other!" And David leaped
lightly to his feet and ran around to the side porch for his

Five minutes later, Simeon Holly, coming into the kitchen, heard
the sound of a violin through the open window. At the same moment
his eyes fell on the woodbox, empty save for a few small sticks
at the bottom. With an angry frown he strode through the outer
door and around the corner of the house to the garden. At once
then he came upon David, sitting Turk-fashion in the middle of
the path before the pansy-bed, his violin at his chin, and his
whole face aglow.

"Well, boy, is this the way you fill the woodbox?" demanded the
man crisply.

David shook his head.

"Oh, no, sir, this isn't filling the woodbox," he laughed,
softening his music, but not stopping it. "Did you think that was
what I was playing? It's the flowers here that I'm playing--the
little faces, like people, you know. See, this is that big yellow
one over there that's laughing," he finished, letting the music
under his fingers burst into a gay little melody.

Simeon Holly raised an imperious hand; and at the gesture David
stopped his melody in the middle of a run, his eyes flying wide
open in plain wonderment.

"You mean--I'm not playing--right?" he asked.

"I'm not talking of your playing," retorted Simeon Holly
severely. "I'm talking of that woodbox I asked you to fill."

David's face cleared.

"Oh, yes, sir. I'll go and do it," he nodded, getting cheerfully
to his feet.

"But I told you to do it before."

David's eyes grew puzzled again.

"I know, sir, and I started to," he answered, with the obvious
patience of one who finds himself obliged to explain what should
be a self-evident fact; "but I saw so many beautiful things, one
after another, and when I found these funny little flower-people
I just had to play them. Don't you see?"

"No, I can't say that I do, when I'd already told you to fill the
woodbox," rejoined the man, with uncompromising coldness.

"You mean--even then that I ought to have filled the woodbox

"I certainly do."

David's eyes flew wide open again.

"But my song--I'd have lost it!" he exclaimed. "And father said
always when a song came to me to play it at once. Songs are like
the mists of the morning and the rainbows, you know, and they
don't stay with you long. You just have to catch them quick,
before they go. Now, don't you see?"

But Simeon Holly, with a despairingly scornful gesture, had
turned away; and David, after a moment's following him with
wistful eyes, soberly walked toward the kitchen door. Two minutes
later he was industriously working at his task of filling the

That for David the affair was not satisfactorily settled was
evidenced by his thoughtful countenance and preoccupied air,
however; nor were matters helped any by the question David put to
Mr. Holly just before dinner.

"Do you mean," he asked, "that because I didn't fill the woodbox
right away, I was being a discord?"

"You were what?" demanded the amazed Simeon Holly.

"Being a discord--playing out of tune, you know," explained
David, with patient earnestness. "Father said--" But again Simeon
Holly had turned irritably away; and David was left with his
perplexed questions still unanswered.



For some time after dinner, that first day, David watched Mrs.
Holly in silence while she cleared the table and began to wash
the dishes.

"Do you want me to--help?" he asked at last, a little wistfully.

Mrs. Holly, with a dubious glance at the boy's brown little
hands, shook her head.

"No, I don't. No, thank you," she amended her answer.

For another sixty seconds David was silent; then, still more
wistfully, he asked:--

"Are all these things you've been doing all day 'useful labor'?"

Mrs. Holly lifted dripping hands from the dishpan and held them
suspended for an amazed instant.

"Are they--Why, of course they are! What a silly question! What
put that idea into your head, child?"

"Mr. Holly; and you see it's so different from what father used
to call them."


"Yes. He said they were a necessary nuisance,--dishes, and
getting meals, and clearing up,--and he didn't do half as many
of them as you do, either."

"Nuisance, indeed!" Mrs. Holly resumed her dishwashing with some
asperity. "Well, I should think that might have been just about
like him."

"Yes, it was. He was always that way," nodded David pleasantly.
Then, after a moment, he queried: "But aren't you going to walk
at all to-day?"

"To walk? Where?"

"Why, through the woods and fields--anywhere."

"Walking in the woods, NOW--JUST WALKING? Land's sake, boy, I've
got something else to do!"

"Oh, that's too bad, isn't it?" David's face expressed
sympathetic regret." And it's such a nice day! Maybe it'll rain
by tomorrow."

"Maybe it will," retorted Mrs. Holly, with slightly uplifted
eyebrows and an expressive glance. "But whether it does or does
n't won't make any difference in my going to walk, I guess."

"Oh, won't it?" beamed David, his face changing. "I'm so glad! I
don't mind the rain, either. Father and I used to go in the rain
lots of times, only, of course, we couldn't take our violins
then, so we used to like the pleasant days better. But there are
some things you find on rainy days that you couldn't find any
other time, aren't there? The dance of the drops on the leaves,
and the rush of the rain when the wind gets behind it. Don't you
love to feel it, out in the open spaces, where the wind just gets
a good chance to push?"

Mrs. Holly stared. Then she shivered and threw up her hands with
a gesture of hopeless abandonment.

"Land's sake, boy!" she ejaculated feebly, as she turned back to
her work.

From dishes to sweeping, and from sweeping to dusting, hurried
Mrs. Holly, going at last into the somber parlor, always
carefully guarded from sun and air. Watching her, mutely, David
trailed behind, his eyes staring a little as they fell upon the
multitude of objects that parlor contained: the haircloth chairs,
the long sofa, the marble-topped table, the curtains,
cushions, spreads, and "throws," the innumerable mats and tidies,
the hair-wreath, the wax flowers under their glass dome, the
dried grasses, the marvelous bouquets of scarlet, green, and
purple everlastings, the stones and shells and many-sized,
many-shaped vases arranged as if in line of battle along the
corner shelves.

"Y--yes, you may come in," called Mrs. Holly, glancing back at
the hesitating boy in the doorway. "But you mustn't touch
anything. I'm going to dust."

"But I haven't seen this room before," ruminated David.

"Well, no," deigned Mrs. Holly, with just a touch of superiority.
"We don't use this room common, little boy, nor the bedroom
there, either. This is the company room, for ministers and
funerals, and--" She stopped hastily, with a quick look at David;
but the boy did not seem to have heard.

"And doesn't anybody live here in this house, but just you and
Mr. Holly, and Mr. Perry Larson?" he asked, still looking
wonderingly about him.

"No, not--now." Mrs. Holly drew in her breath with a little
catch, and glanced at the framed portrait of a little boy on the

"But you've got such a lot of rooms and--and things," remarked
David. "Why, daddy and I only had two rooms, and not hardly any
THINGS. It was so--different, you know, in my home."

"I should say it might have been!" Mrs. Holly began to dust
hurriedly, but carefully. Her voice still carried its hint of

"Oh, yes," smiled David. "But you say you don't use this room
much, so that helps."

"Helps!" In her stupefaction Mrs. Holly stopped her work and

"Why, yes. I mean, you've got so many other rooms you can live in
those. You don't HAVE to live in here."

" 'Have to live in here'!" ejaculated the woman, still too
uncomprehending to be anything but amazed.

"Yes. But do you have to KEEP all these things, and clean them
and clean them, like this, every day? Couldn't you give them to
somebody, or throw them away?"

"Throw--these--things--away!" With a wild sweep of her arms, the
horrified woman seemed to be trying to encompass in a protective
embrace each last endangered treasure of mat and tidy. "Boy, are
you crazy? These things are--are valuable. They cost money, and
time and--and labor. Don't you know beautiful things when you see

"Oh, yes, I love BEAUTIFUL things," smiled David, with
unconsciously rude emphasis. "And up on the mountain I had them
always. There was the sunrise, and the sunset, and the moon and
the stars, and my Silver Lake, and the cloud-boats that sailed--"

But Mrs. Holly, with a vexed gesture, stopped him.

"Never mind, little boy. I might have known--brought up as you
have been. Of course you could not appreciate such things as
these. Throw them away, indeed!" And she fell to work again; but
this time her fingers carried a something in their touch that was
almost like the caress a mother might bestow upon an aggrieved

David, vaguely disturbed and uncomfortable, watched her with
troubled eyes; then, apologetically, he explained:--

"It was only that I thought if you didn't have to clean so many
of these things, you could maybe go to walk more--to-day, and
other days, you know. You said--you didn't have time," he
reminded her.

But Mrs. Holly only shook her head and sighed:--

"Well, well, never mind, little boy. I dare say you meant all
right. You couldn't understand, of course."

And David, after another moment's wistful eyeing of the caressing
fingers, turned about and wandered out onto the side porch. A
minute later, having seated himself on the porch steps, he had
taken from his pocket two small pieces of folded paper. And then,
through tear-dimmed eyes, he read once more his father's letter.

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