Chapter XIII. A Surprise for Mr. Jack
 

Life at the Holly farmhouse was not what it had been. The coming of David had introduced new elements that promised complications. Not because he was another mouth to feed--Simeon Holly was not worrying about that part any longer. Crops showed good promise, and all ready in the bank even now was the necessary money to cover the dreaded note, due the last of August. The complicating elements in regard to David were of quite another nature.

To Simeon Holly the boy was a riddle to be sternly solved. To Ellen Holly he was an everpresent reminder of the little boy of long ago, and as such was to be loved and trained into a semblance of what that boy might have become. To Perry Larson, David was the "derndest checkerboard of sense an' nonsense goin'"--a game over which to chuckle.

At the Holly farmhouse they could not understand a boy who would leave a supper for a sunset, or who preferred a book to a toy pistol--as Perry Larson found out was the case on the Fourth of July; who picked flowers, like a girl, for the table, yet who unhesitatingly struck the first blow in a fight with six antagonists: who would not go fishing because the fishes would not like it, nor hunting for any sort of wild thing that had life; who hung entranced for an hour over the "millions of lovely striped bugs" in a field of early potatoes, and who promptly and stubbornly refused to sprinkle those same "lovely bugs" with Paris green when discovered at his worship. All this was most perplexing, to say the least.

Yet David worked, and worked well, and in most cases he obeyed orders willingly. He learned much, too, that was interesting and profitable; nor was he the only one that made strange discoveries during those July days. The Hollys themselves learned much. They learned that the rose of sunset and the gold of sunrise were worth looking at; and that the massing of the thunderheads in the west meant more than just a shower. They learned, too, that the green of the hilltop and of the far-reaching meadow was more than grass, and that the purple haze along the horizon was more than the mountains that lay between them and the next State. They were beginning to see the world with David's eyes.

There were, too, the long twilights and evenings when David, on the wings of his violin, would speed away to his mountain home, leaving behind him a man and a woman who seemed to themselves to be listening to the voice of a curly-headed, rosy-cheeked lad who once played at their knees and nestled in their arms when the day was done. And here, too, the Hollys were learning; though the thing thus learned was hidden deep in their hearts.

It was not long after David's first visit that the boy went again to "The House that Jack Built," as the Gurnseys called their tiny home. (Though in reality it had been Jack's father who had built the house. Jack and Jill, however, did not always deal with realities.) It was not a pleasant afternoon. There was a light mist in the air, and David was without his violin.

"I came to--to inquire for the cat--Juliette," he began, a little bashfully. "I thought I'd rather do that than read to-day," he explained to Jill in the doorway.

"Good! I'm so glad! I hoped you'd come," the little girl welcomed him. "Come in and--and see Juliette," she added hastily, remembering at the last moment that her brother had not looked with entire favor on her avowed admiration for this strange little boy.

Juliette, roused from her nap, was at first inclined to resent her visitor's presence. In five minutes, however, she was purring in his lap.

The conquest of the kitten once accomplished, David looked about him a little restlessly. He began to wonder why he had come. He wished he had gone to see Joe Glaspell instead. He wished that Jill would not sit and stare at him like that. He wished that she would say something--anything. But Jill, apparently struck dumb with embarrassment, was nervously twisting the corner of her apron into a little knot. David tried to recollect what he had talked about a few days before, and he wondered why he had so enjoyed himself then. He wished that something would happen--anything!--and then from an inner room came the sound of a violin.

David raised his head.

"It's Jack," stammered the little girl--who also had been wishing something would happen. "He plays, same as you do, on the violin."

"Does he?" beamed David. "But--" He paused, listening, a quick frown on his face.

Over and over the violin was playing a single phrase--and the variations in the phrase showed the indecision of the fingers and of the mind that controlled them. Again and again with irritating sameness, yet with a still more irritating difference, came the succession of notes. And then David sprang to his feet, placing Juliette somewhat unceremoniously on the floor, much to that petted young autocrat's disgust.

"Here, where is he? Let me show him," cried the boy, and at the note of command in his voice, Jill involuntarily rose and opened the door to Jack's den.

"Oh, please, Mr. Jack," burst out David, hurrying into the room. "Don't you see? You don't go at that thing right. If you'll just let me show you a minute, we'll have it fixed in no time!"

The man with the violin stared, and lowered his bow. A slow red came to his face. The phrase was peculiarly a difficult one, and beyond him, as he knew; but that did not make the present intrusion into his privacy any the more welcome.

"Oh, will we, indeed!" he retorted, a little sharply. "Don't trouble yourself, I beg of you, boy."

"But it isn't a mite of trouble, truly," urged David, with an ardor that ignored the sarcasm in the other's words. "I want to do it."

Despite his annoyance, the man gave a short laugh.

"Well, David, I believe you. And I'll warrant you'd tackle this Brahms concerto as nonchalantly as you did those six hoodlums with the cat the other day--and expect to win out, too!"

"But, truly, this is easy, when you know how," laughed the boy. "See!"

To his surprise, the man found himself relinquishing the violin and bow into the slim, eager hands that reached for them. The next moment he fell back in amazement. Clear, distinct, yet connected like a string of rounded pearls fell the troublesome notes from David's bow. "You see," smiled the boy again, and played the phrase a second time, more slowly, and with deliberate emphasis at the difficult part. Then, as if in answer to some irresistible summons within him, he dashed into the next phrase and, with marvelous technique, played quite through the rippling cadenza that completed the movement.

"Well, by George!" breathed the man dazedly, as he took the offered violin. The next moment he had demanded vehemently: "For Heaven's sake, who are you, boy?"

David's face wrinkled in grieved surprise.

"Why, I'm David. Don't you remember? I was here just the other day!"

"Yes, yes; but who taught you to play like that?"

"Father."

" 'Father'!" The man echoed the word with a gesture of comic despair. "First Latin, then jiujitsu, and now the violin! Boy, who was your father?"

David lifted his head and frowned a little. He had been questioned so often, and so unsympathetically, about his father that he was beginning to resent it.

"He was daddy--just daddy; and I loved him dearly."

"But what was his name?"

"I don't know. We didn't seem to have a name like--like yours down here. Anyway, if we did, I didn't know what it was."

"But, David,"--the man was speaking very gently now. He had motioned the boy to a low seat by his side. The little girl was standing near, her eyes alight with wondering interest. "He must have had a name, you know, just the same. Didn't you ever hear any one call him anything? Think, now."

"No." David said the single word, and turned his eyes away. It had occurred to him, since he had come to live in the valley, that perhaps his father did not want to have his name known. He remembered that once the milk-and-eggs boy had asked what to call him; and his father had laughed and answered: "I don't see but you'll have to call me 'The Old Man of the Mountain,' as they do down in the village." That was the only time David could recollect hearing his father say anything about his name. At the time David had not thought much about it. But since then, down here where they appeared to think a name was so important, he had wondered if possibly his father had not preferred to keep his to himself. If such were the case, he was glad now that he did not know this name, so that he might not have to tell all these inquisitive people who asked so many questions about it. He was glad, too, that those men had not been able to read his father's name at the end of his other note that first morning--if his father really did not wish his name to be known.

"But, David, think. Where you lived, wasn't there ever anybody who called him by name?"

David shook his head.

"I told you. We were all alone, father and I, in the little house far up on the mountain."

"And--your mother?" Again David shook his head.

"She is an angel-mother, and angel-mothers don't live in houses, you know."

There was a moment's pause; then gently the man asked:--

"And you always lived there?"

"Six years, father said."

"And before that?"

"I don't remember." There was a touch of injured reserve in the boy's voice which the man was quick to perceive. He took the hint at once.

"He must have been a wonderful man--your father!" he exclaimed.

The boy turned, his eyes luminous with feeling.

"He was--he was perfect! But they--down here--don't seem to know--or care," he choked.

"Oh, but that's because they don't understand," soothed the man. "Now, tell me--you must have practiced a lot to play like that."

"I did--but I liked it."

"And what else did you do? and how did you happen to come--down here?"

Once again David told his story, more fully, perhaps, this time than ever before, because of the sympathetic ears that were listening.

"But now" he finished wistfully, "it's all, so different, and I'm down here alone. Daddy went, you know, to the far country; and he can't come back from there."

"Who told you--that?"

"Daddy himself. He wrote it to me."

"Wrote it to you!" cried the man, sitting suddenly erect.

"Yes. It was in his pocket, you see. They--found it." David's voice was very low, and not quite steady.

"David, may I see--that letter?"

The boy hesitated; then slowly he drew it from his pocket.

"Yes, Mr. Jack. I'll let you see it."

Reverently, tenderly, but very eagerly the man took the note and read it through, hoping somewhere to find a name that would help solve the mystery. With a sigh he handed it back. His eyes were wet.

"Thank you, David. That is a beautiful letter," he said softly. "And I believe you'll do it some day, too. You'll go to him with your violin at your chin and the bow drawn across the strings to tell him of the beautiful world you have found."

"Yes, sir," said David simply. Then, with a suddenly radiant smile: "And now I can't help finding it a beautiful world, you know, 'cause I don't count the hours I don't like."

"You don't what?--oh, I remember," returned Mr. Jack, a quick change coming to his face.

"Yes, the sundial, you know, where my Lady of the Roses lives."

"Jack, what is a sundial?" broke in Jill eagerly.

Jack turned, as if in relief.

"Hullo, girlie, you there?--and so still all this time? Ask David. He'll tell you what a sundial is. Suppose, anyhow, that you two go out on the piazza now. I've got--er-some work to do. And the sun itself is out; see?--through the trees there. It came out just to say 'good-night,' I'm sure. Run along, quick!" And he playfully drove them from the room.

Alone, he turned and sat down at his desk. His work was before him, but he did not do it. His eyes were out of the window on the golden tops of the towers of Sunnycrest. Motionless, he watched them until they turned gray-white in the twilight. Then he picked up his pencil and began to write feverishly. He went to the window, however, as David stepped off the veranda, and called merrily:--

"Remember, boy, that when there's another note that baffles me, I'm going to send for you."

"He's coming anyhow. I asked him," announced Jill.

And David laughed back a happy "Of course I am!"