Chapter XXI. Heavy Hearts
 

For a week David had not been near the House that Jack Built, and that, too, when Jill had been confined within doors for several days with a cold. Jill, indeed, was inclined to be grieved at this apparent lack of interest on the part of her favorite playfellow; but upon her return from her first day of school, after her recovery, she met her brother with startled eyes.

"Jack, it hasn't been David's fault at all," she cried remorsefully. "He's sick."

"Sick!"

"Yes; awfully sick. They've had to send away for doctors and everything."

"Why, Jill, are you sure? Where did you hear this?"

"At school to-day. Every one was talking about it."

"But what is the matter?"

"Fever--some sort. Some say it's typhoid, and some scarlet, and some say another kind that I can't remember; but everybody says he's awfully sick. He got it down to Glaspell's, some say,--and some say he didn't. But, anyhow, Betty Glaspell has been sick with something, and they haven't let folks in there this week," finished Jill, her eyes big with terror.

"The Glaspells? But what was David doing down there?"

"Why, you know,--he told us once,--teaching Joe to play. He's been there lots. Joe is blind, you know, and can't see, but he just loves music, and was crazy over David's violin; so David took down his other one--the one that was his father's, you know--and showed him how to pick out little tunes, just to take up his time so he wouldn't mind so much that he couldn't see. Now, Jack, wasn't that just like David? Jack, I can't have anything happen to David!"

"No, dear, no; of course not! I'm afraid we can't any of us, for that matter," sighed Jack, his forehead drawn into anxious lines. "I'll go down to the Hollys', Jill, the first thing tomorrow morning, and see how he is and if there's anything we can do. Meanwhile, don't take it too much to heart, dear. It may not be half so bad as you think. School-children always get things like that exaggerated, you must remember," he finished, speaking with a lightness that he did not feel.

To himself the man owned that he was troubled, seriously troubled. He had to admit that Jill's story bore the earmarks of truth; and overwhelmingly he realized now just how big a place this somewhat puzzling small boy had come to fill in his own heart. He did not need Jill's anxious "Now, hurry, Jack," the next morning to start him off in all haste for the Holly farmhouse. A dozen rods from the driveway he met Perry Larson and stopped him abruptly.

"Good morning, Larson; I hope this isn't true--what I hear--that David is very ill."

Larson pulled off his hat and with his free hand sought the one particular spot on his head to which he always appealed when he was very much troubled.

"Well, yes, sir, I'm afraid 't is, Mr. Jack--er--Mr. Gurnsey, I mean. He is turrible sick, poor little chap, an' it's too bad--that's what it is--too bad!"

"Oh, I'm sorry! I hoped the report was exaggerated. I came down to see if--if there wasn't something I could do."

"Well, 'course you can ask--there ain't no law ag'in' that; an' ye needn't be afraid, neither. The report has got 'round that it's ketchin'--what he's got, and that he got it down to the Glaspells'; but 't ain't so. The doctor says he didn't ketch nothin', an' he can't give nothin'. It's his head an' brain that ain't right, an' he's got a mighty bad fever. He's been kind of flighty an' nervous, anyhow, lately.

"As I was sayin', 'course you can ask, but I'm thinkin' there won't be nothin' you can do ter help. Ev'rythin' that can be done is bein' done. In fact, there ain't much of anythin' else that is bein' done down there jest now but, tendin' ter him. They've got one o' them 'ere edyercated nurses from the Junction--what wears caps, ye know, an' makes yer feel as if they knew it all, an' you didn't know nothin'. An' then there's Mr. an' Mis' Holly besides. If they had their way, there wouldn't neither of, em let him out o' their sight fur a minute, they're that cut up about it."

"I fancy they think a good deal of the boy--as we all do," murmured the younger man, a little unsteadily.

Larson winkled his forehead in deep thought.

"Yes; an' that's what beats me," he answered slowly; " 'bout him,--Mr. Holly, I mean. 'Course we'd 'a' expected it of her--losin' her own boy as she did, an' bein' jest naturally so sweet an' lovin'-hearted. But him--that's diff'rent. Now, you know jest as well as I do what Mr. Holly is--every one does, so I ain't sayin' nothin' sland'rous. He's a good man--a powerful good man; an' there ain't a squarer man goin' ter work fur. But the fact is, he was made up wrong side out, an' the seams has always showed bad--turrible bad, with ravelin's all stickin' out every which way ter ketch an' pull. But, gosh! I'm blamed if that, ere boy ain't got him so smoothed down, you wouldn't know, scursely, that he had a seam on him, sometimes; though how he's done it beats me. Now, there's Mis' Holly--she's tried ter smooth 'em, I'll warrant, lots of times. But I'm free ter say she hain't never so much as clipped a ravelin' in all them forty years they've lived tergether. Fact is, it's worked the other way with her. All that her rubbin' up ag'in' them seams has amounted to is ter git herself so smoothed down that she don't never dare ter say her soul's her own, most generally,--anyhow, not if he happens ter intermate it belongs ter anybody else!"

Jack Gurnsey suddenly choked over a cough.

"I wish I could--do something," he murmured uncertainly.

"'T ain't likely ye can--not so long as Mr. an' Mis' Holly is on their two feet. Why, there ain't nothin' they won't do, an' you'll believe it, maybe, when I tell you that yesterday Mr. Holly, he tramped all through Sawyer's woods in the rain, jest ter find a little bit of moss that the boy was callin' for. Think o' that, will ye? Simeon Holly huntin' moss! An' he got it, too, an' brung it home, an' they say it cut him up somethin' turrible when the boy jest turned away, and didn't take no notice. You understand, 'course, sir, the little chap ain't right in his head, an' so half the time he don't know what he says."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sorry!" exclaimed Gurnsey, as he turned away, and hurried toward the farmhouse.

Mrs. Holly herself answered his low knock. She looked worn and pale.

"Thank you, sir," she said gratefully, in reply to his offer of assistance, "but there isn't anything you can do, Mr. Gurnsey. We're having everything done that can be, and every one is very kind. We have a very good nurse, and Dr. Kennedy has had consultation with Dr. Benson from the Junction. They are doing all in their power, of course, but they say that--that it's going to be the nursing that will count now."

"Then I don't fear for him, surely" declared the man, with fervor.

"I know, but--well, he shall have the very best possible--of that."

"I know he will; but isn't there anything--anything that I can do?"

She shook her head.

"No. Of course, if he gets better--" She hesitated; then lifted her chin a little higher; "when he gets better," she corrected with courageous emphasis, "he will want to see you."

"And he shall see me," asserted Gurnsey. "And he will be better, Mrs. Holly,--I'm sure he will."

"Yes, yes, of course, only--oh, Mr. Jack, he's so sick--so very sick! The doctor says he's a peculiarly sensitive nature, and that he thinks something's been troubling him lately." Her voice broke.

"Poor little chap!" Mr. Jack's voice, too, was husky.

She looked up with swift gratefulness for his sympathy.

"And you loved him, too, I know" she choked. "He talks of you often--very often."

"Indeed I love him! Who could help it?"

"There couldn't anybody, Mr. Jack,--and that's just it. Now, since he's been sick, we've wondered more than ever who he is. You see, I can't help thinking that somewhere he's got friends who ought to know about him--now."

"Yes, I see," nodded the man.

"He isn't an ordinary boy, Mr. Jack. He's been trained in lots of ways--about his manners, and at the table, and all that. And lots of things his father has told him are beautiful, just beautiful! He isn't a tramp. He never was one. And there's his playing. You know how he can play."

"Indeed I do! You must miss his playing, too."

"I do; he talks of that, also," she hurried on, working her fingers nervously together; "but oftenest he--he speaks of singing, and I can't quite understand that, for he didn't ever sing, you know."

"Singing? What does he say?" The man asked the question because he saw that it was affording the overwrought little woman real relief to free her mind; but at the first words of her reply he became suddenly alert.

"It's 'his song,' as he calls it, that he talks about, always. It isn't much--what he says--but I noticed it because he always says the same thing, like this: I'll just hold up my chin and march straight on and on, and I'll sing it with all my might and main.' And when I ask him what he's going to sing, he always says, 'My song--my song,' just like that. Do you think, Mr. Jack, he did have--a song?"

For a moment the man did not answer. Something in his throat tightened, and held the words. Then, in a low voice he managed to stammer:--

"I think he did, Mrs. Holly, and--I think he sang it, too." The next moment, with a quick lifting of his hat and a murmured "I'll call again soon," he turned and walked swiftly down the driveway.

So very swiftly, indeed, was Mr. Jack walking, and so self-absorbed was he, that he did not see the carriage until it was almost upon him; then he stepped aside to let it pass. What he saw as he gravely raised his hat was a handsome span of black horses, a liveried coachman, and a pair of startled eyes looking straight into his. What he did not see was the quick gesture with which Miss Holbrook almost ordered her carriage stopped the minute it had passed him by.