Just David by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XII. Answers That Did Not Answer
"Jack and Jill," it appeared, were a brother and sister who lived in a tiny house on a hill directly across the creek from Sunnycrest. Beyond this David learned little until after bumps and bruises and dirt had been carefully attended to. He had then, too, some questions to answer concerning himself.
"And now, if you please," began the man smilingly, as he surveyed the boy with an eye that could see no further service to be rendered, "do you mind telling me who you are, and how you came to be the center of attraction for the blows and cuffs of six boys?"
"I'm David, and I wanted the cat," returned the boy simply.
"Well, that's direct and to the point, to say the least," laughed the man. "Evidently, however, you're in the habit of being that. But, David, there were six of them,--those boys,--and some of them were larger than you."
"And they were so bad and cruel," chimed in the little girl.
The man hesitated, then questioned slowly.
"And may I ask you where you--er--learned to--fight like that?"
"I used to box with father. He said I must first be well and strong. He taught me jiujitsu, too, a little; but I couldn't make it work very well--with so many"
"I should say not," adjudged the man grimly. "But you gave them a surprise or two, I'll warrant," he added, his eyes on the cause of the trouble, now curled in a little gray bunch of content on the window sill. "But I don't know yet who you are. Who is your father? Where does he live?"
David shook his head. As was always the case when his father was mentioned, his face grew wistful and his eyes dreamy.
"He doesn't live here anywhere," murmured the boy. "In the far country he is waiting for me to come to him and tell him of the beautiful world I have found, you know."
"Eh? What?" stammered the man, not knowing whether to believe his eyes, or his ears. This boy who fought like a demon and talked like a saint, and who, though battered and bruised, prattled of the "beautiful world" he had found, was most disconcerting.
"Why, Jack, don't you know?" whispered the little girl agitatedly. "He's the boy at Mr. Holly's that they took." Then, still more softly: "He's the little tramp boy. His father died in the barn."
"Oh," said the man, his face clearing, and his eyes showing a quick sympathy. "You're the boy at the Holly farmhouse, are you?"
"And he plays the fiddle everywhere," volunteered the little girl, with ardent admiration. "If you hadn't been shut up sick just now, you'd have heard him yourself. He plays everywhere--everywhere he goes."
"Is that so?" murmured Jack politely, shuddering a little at what he fancied would come from a violin played by a boy like the one before him. (Jack could play the violin himself a little--enough to know it some, and love it more.) "Hm-m; well, and what else do you do? "
"Nothing, except to go for walks and read."
"Nothing!--a big boy like you--and on Simeon Holly's farm?" Voice and manner showed that Jack was not unacquainted with Simeon Holly and his methods and opinions.
David laughed gleefully.
"Oh, of course, really I do lots of things, only I don't count those any more. 'Horas non numero nisi serenas,' you knew," he quoted pleasantly, smiling into the man's astonished eyes.
"Jack, what was that--what he said?" whispered the little girl. "It sounded foreign. Is he foreign?"
"You've got me, Jill," retorted the man, with a laughing grimace. "Heaven only knows what he is--I don't. What he said was Latin; I do happen to know that. Still"--he turned to the boy ironically--"of course you know the translation of that," he said.
"Oh, yes. 'I count no hours but unclouded ones'--and I liked that. 'T was on a sundial, you know; and I'M going to be a sundial, and not count, the hours I don't like--while I'm pulling up weeds, and hoeing potatoes, and picking up stones, and all that. Don't you see?"
For a moment the man stared dumbly. Then he threw back his head and laughed.
"Well, by George!" he muttered. "By George!" And he laughed again. Then: "And did your father teach you that, too?" he asked.
"Oh, no,--well, he taught me Latin, and so of course I could read it when I found it. But those 'special words I got off the sundial where my Lady of the Roses lives."
"Your--Lady of the Roses! And who is she?"
"Why, don't you know? You live right in sight of her house," cried David, pointing to the towers of Sunnycrest that showed above the trees. "It's over there she lives. I know those towers now, and I look for them wherever I go. I love them. It makes me see all over again the roses--and her."
"You mean--Miss Holbrook?"
The voice was so different from the genial tones that he had heard before that David looked up in surprise.
"Yes; she said that was her name," he answered, wondering at the indefinable change that had come to the man's face.
There was a moment's pause, then the man rose to his feet.
"How's your head? Does it ache?" he asked briskly.
"Not much--some. I--I think I'll be going," replied David, a little awkwardly, reaching for his violin, and unconsciously showing by his manner the sudden chill in the atmosphere.
The little girl spoke then. She overwhelmed him again with thanks, and pointed to the contented kitten on the window sill. True, she did not tell him this time that she would love, love, love him always; but she beamed upon him gratefully and she urged him to come soon again, and often.
David bowed himself off, with many a backward wave of the hand, and many a promise to come again. Not until he had quite reached the bottom of the hill did he remember that the man, "Jack," had said almost nothing at the last. As David recollected him, indeed, he had last been seen standing beside one of the veranda posts, with gloomy eyes fixed on the towers of Sunnycrest that showed red-gold above the tree-tops in the last rays of the setting sun.
It was a bad half-hour that David spent at the Holly farmhouse in explanation of his torn blouse and bruised face. Farmer Holly did not approve of fights, and he said so, very sternly indeed. Even Mrs. Holly, who was usually so kind to him, let David understand that he was in deep disgrace, though she was very tender to his wounds.
David did venture to ask her, however, before he went upstairs to bed:--
"Mrs. Holly, who are those people--Jack and Jill--that were so good to me this afternoon?"
"They are John Gurnsey and his sister, Julia; but the whole town knows them by the names they long ago gave themselves, 'Jack' and 'Jill.' "
"And do they live all alone in the little house?"
"Yes, except for the Widow Glaspell, who comes in several times a week, I believe, to cook and wash and sweep. They aren't very happy, I'm afraid, David, and I'm glad you could rescue the little girl's kitten for her--but you mustn't fight. No good can come of fighting!"
"I got the cat--by fighting."
"Yes, yes, I know; but--" She did not finish her sentence, and David was only waiting for a pause to ask another question.
"Why aren't they happy, Mrs. Holly?"
"Tut, tut, David, it's a long story, and you wouldn't understand it if I told it. It's only that they're all alone in the world, and Jack Gurnsey isn't well. He must be thirty years old now. He had bright hopes not so long ago studying law, or something of the sort, in the city. Then his father died, and his mother, and he lost his health. Something ails his lungs, and the doctors sent him here to be out of doors. He even sleeps out of doors, they say. Anyway, he's here, and he's making a home for his sister; but, of course, with his hopes and ambitions--But there, David, you don't understand, of course!"
"Oh, yes, I do," breathed David, his eyes pensively turned toward a shadowy corner. "He found his work out in the world, and then he had to stop and couldn't do it. Poor Mr. Jack!"