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´╗┐Title: A Melody in Silver
Author: Abbott, Keene, 1876-1941
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Melody in Silver" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A MELODY IN SILVER


By KEENE ABBOTT



BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
1911



COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY KEENE ABBOTT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Published April 1911_



CONTENTS


I. THE LOST CAUSE                                          1

II. RUE AND ROSEMARY                                      14

III. THE WORLD'S END                                      20

IV. DEAD SEA FRUIT                                        30

V. THE MUG OF WOE                                         43

VI. "FAV-VER"                                             52

VII. AS A FOUNTAIN IN THE DESERT                          66

VIII. THE GONE-AWAY LADY                                  75

IX. THE CRIME OF DAVID                                    86

X. THE NIP OF GUILT                                       97

XI. APOTHEOSIS                                           104

XII. LIGHT                                               113

XIII. THE SUBSTITUTE                                     125

XIV. SKY BLOSSOMS                                        142



A MELODY IN SILVER


CHAPTER I

THE LOST CAUSE


David had a suspicion. He did not know it was that, but that is
what it was. He suspected that Mother thought he was a good
little boy, and he suspected that she thought Mitchell Horrigan
was a bad little boy. Perhaps Mother had a suspicion, too; she
might have suspected that it was Mitch who had put a certain
notion into David's head--a notion which had to do with pants.
Only you must not call them pants; they are "trouvers."

But it doesn't really matter in the least what they are called.
Mitch had them. He also had the measles once. David did not know
whether it was the measles part or the pants part that made Mitch
a bad little boy. All David knew about it was that if he invited
Mitch into the yard to climb trees and give swimming lessons in
the high grass, it usually happened that Mother could think of
some important business for her little boy to do in the house. It
was surprising how many important matters there were for David to
do in the house every time Mitch came into the yard to play. She
might want to show him something, and perhaps it would be a
turn-over that she wanted to show him, a delicious little
half-grown pie stuffed with strawberries or with cherries.

If Mitch were waiting out under the trees, the toothsome bit of
pastry was always a very peculiar kind. Mother believed in
generosity, but generosity with limitations. Strawberry turn-over
was not good for Mitch. Mother was positive that it was not good
for him. That seemed a little singular to David, for he had never
noticed anything wrong with Mitch. It does not seem credible that
a boy who owns a real Indian bow 'n' arrow, which shoots so high
he can knock the eye out of an angel with it, should yet be so
foolish as to have a bad stomach.

David had never seen any of the one-eyed angels that Mitch had
knocked down out of heaven with his Indian bow 'n' arrow. Mitch
was not the kind to show all of his treasures. He didn't even
show his bow 'n' arrow. He kept it hid, so that if the police
ever found out about it they could not get it away from him. If
they wanted to arrest him for having it, that would be all
right, but they should not get hold of his Indian bow 'n' arrow.

The thing you liked about Mitch was that he was so reasonable.
One's faith in him would never be shaken unless one were to try
his recipe for getting trouvers. In theory it was a sound recipe.
Mitch, who had reached trouvers and understood the mightiness of
the achievement, could vouch for the sure result of his
prescription. It was guaranteed to cure the dress-habit in seven
days. At first, though, Mitch would not tell how the great honor
of pants had been bestowed upon him. He was then too important
even to say, "Hello, kid!" For a time he did not deign to notice
anybody, and when he did notice anybody it was only to pretend
that David was nothing but a little girl.

"I am not, neither."

David filed his protest between the palings of the fence. But it
was no use. He might protest, he might cross his heart and hope
to die, but still the boy on the other side of the fence would
not believe.

"Are, too," Mitch would say.

Then a startled look, an appealing, hopeless fear suddenly
abashed the little boy in the dainty white dress. As he shook the
ringlets out of his eyes he asked, earnestly:

"Why, then, am I a girl?"

Here, you see, was another case like the bow 'n' arrow. Mitch did
not have to tell all he knew. He only got proud and spat through
his teeth and said, "Why?" right back at David.

Such a question, you must agree, may be illuminating, but is not
satisfying. The meaning of it seems a bit indefinite and
lonesome, but if you are a little boy with ringlets it has
meaning enough. It hurts mightily. But Mitch was still not
satisfied.

"Dear Little Curly Locks," he said with contemptible sweetness,
"oo mustn't get oo dress dirty."

Then did David's fists clench defiantly, and he said an awful
swear.

"Dresses!" he exclaimed derisively; "that's all you know about
it. They're kilts!"

This defense was not convincing, for there is no good way, once
you think of it, to prove that a dress is a dress and that a kilt
is a kilt. The only way, I fear, to settle such a controversy is
to hit the other boy with a brick. Only David did not have a
brick. What he did have was a confused feeling that Mitch was
right. For might it not be true, this horrible thing about being
a girl? What if David was that, and couldn't ever get over it?

Now, Mitch, since you are at last in trouvers, here is the time
to prove to this ignominious comrade of yours that in you are the
instincts of a gentleman. Why don't you show David that there may
be a chance for him after all? It would be proper for you to
remind him that you yourself used to wear dresses, but of course
you will make sure to speak of the disgrace as a thing of many
years ago.

But there is no need, Mitch, in counseling David to go to
extremes. It is quite unnecessary to inform him that the way to
pants is a very simple matter. I dread to think that you are
telling him to tear his kilts "all to splinters." Of course that
can be done. You hook the skirt over a paling in the fence; then
you jump, and sometimes, David, it hurts when you hit the ground.
But what matter? You are fighting in a noble cause. Mother will
be so astonished! She will see how desperately you have outgrown
your kilts.

Only she did not see it. She picked the splinters out of David's
hands--cruel splinters from the fence--and she was very sorry for
her little boy. And as for the dresses, it was no great matter
about them. She would make other dresses for her David.

And that is why Mitchell Horrigan's recipe for pants is not a
good recipe. Even at the end of a week David could not report
much progress. Finally he had to acknowledge himself defeated. He
then bore the dishonor of kilts with what manfulness he could and
with a creed which was recited something like this:

"We don't care to play with Mitch any more, do we, Mother?"

Or again:

"We don't care nothing about trouvers, do we, Mother?"

Sometimes David would ask with husky heroism:

"Curls is all right for little boys, is they not?"

David was angry with Mitch; David was never going to speak to
Mitchell Horrigan any more. His resolution was so strong that he
hurried away to tell Mitch about it, but when the boy actually
appeared, it was hard to remember why one should be angry with
him. His brown feet came flapping along the stone walk, and in
his hand was a freshly whittled stick that made an animated
clatter when he drew it along the fence. There was that in the
reckless abandonment of Mitch which did not help David to tell
him that he was too mean and disgraceful to be spoken to. And
besides, his feelings might be hurt if one were to tell him that.
So, as Mitch came nearer and nearer, David felt guiltier and
guiltier, and presently he was surprised to hear himself asking
rather abjectly:

"You isn't mad at me, is you, Mitch?"

Trouvers ignored the humble salutation. He took out his knife and
began to whittle ceremoniously upon the stick.

"What you making?" David asked tentatively.

"Nothin' much," said Mitch, with the air of a man who has
invented steamships and flying machines. "Only a tiger trap."

David knew better. David knew that Mitch, in his insufferable
conceit, was merely whittling to show off his new knife. So,
pressing his red mouth between two white palings of the fence,
David declared in a strong voice:

"I have a bigger knife than that."

The assertion was boldly made, but when Mitch asked to see the
knife, David decided not to show it.

"Bigness don't count," said Mitch. "It's the steel."

He breathed upon the blade to test its quality. Every boy knows
that if the film of moisture is quick to vanish, there can be no
question about the superlative merit of the knife.

"Where did you get it?"

David was eager to know that, but Mitch decided that he must be
going. He hadn't time to stay here any longer. He intimated that
he had important business to look after. He was going to make a
kite ten feet tall, and, with the snobbishness of a plutocrat, he
went strutting away. He was almost beyond earshot when he
volunteered this brief information:

"My father, he guv it to me."

Had David heard correctly? Did Mitch say "father"? The little boy
had never thought of such an article as a father except as
something which belongs to a story book. Fathers were common
enough in the story books; they were men, but until this moment
David had never thought of them as being desirable. It now
appeared that they were good for something. Mitch Horrigan had
one. He actually kept a father, and the father gave him fine
presents.

Reflecting upon all this, David became a very quiet little boy.
There seemed to be nothing interesting for him to do. He had no
appetite for supper, and in his face was the look of one who
dreams of such mighty things as trouvers, and a hair-cut, and a
brand-new knife. And when, at last, it came time to kiss Mother
good-night, he turned appealing eyes upon her, and asked with
trembling lips:

"Why don't _I_ never have no fav-ver?"



CHAPTER II

RUE AND ROSEMARY


They are not easy to take, siestas aren't. They are the word for
going to sleep in the daytime when you would rather not.
Sometimes you have to take medicine with them, and nearly always
you feel that you must have a drink of milk. It is so easy to
discover that you are thirsty, and besides, it usually gives you
a chance to stay awake a little while longer. Frequently you find
that you don't care as much for the milk as you thought you did,
but in one way there is always a satisfaction in it. If you have
a looking-glass, you can see the white mustache the drink has
left on your lip. Another satisfaction is that if Mother forgets
to bring your milk in the mug you like best, you can send her
right back for it.

If David wants to be particularly polite he sometimes asks Mother
to tell him her story about the young man with the mustache. She
has one that is tremendous dull because there are so many
thinking places in it. "And then--and then--" Mother will say,
and after that the story doesn't get on worth anything. The worst
about it is that it always takes such a long while for her to
reach the part which tells of the time when the young man started
to raise a mustache.

"How did he start?" David never fails to ask.

"By not shaving his lip."

It is now that David feels of his white lip with the tip of his
red tongue and then stoutly declares:

"I have not shaved _my_ lip."

"It was brown, like your hair," says Mother, "and when it was
about half-grown it began to curl up at the ends. The boys made
fun of it, but it was very beautiful and ever so soft and fine."

"Truly, was it?" asks David, and then something blooms pink in
Mother's cheeks. That is the one interesting thing about her
story, and up to that point he can always stand her narrative very
well; for he is always watching for the pretty pinkness. But when
that is gone, his interest goes too. It seems very ordinary to him
that this young man should have studied mechanics and become a
great engineer and invented things, and made discoveries.

Now, if he had ever been shipwrecked, or if he had ever been
eaten up by bears, or if he had fought Indians, or done some
other notable thing with a scare in it, why, _that_ would be
worth talking about. But why tell so much about a young man who
had done none of these things? Why speak of the way she had
encouraged him and helped him and studied with him? You can see
for yourself that it was a very stupid tale.

It was clever of David, though, to have her tell him the story,
for then she would sometimes forget that her little boy was not
having his siesta. To show her that he was trying to keep up an
interest he would now and then ask a question, as, for example,
when she spoke of the honors the young man had won at college.

"Could he spit through his teeth?" David would inquire, and it
was always a sad thing to him that this was not one of the young
man's accomplishments. A very disappointing chap, to be sure.

"Do you know, my little boy," Mother would say in a strange, soft
voice, "do you know that your eyes are as bright as his eyes used
to be, and that--"

"It's a nice story," David would say courageously, and like as
not, while Mother was still talking about the handsome young man
with the mustache, her little boy would fall fast asleep.

It is good, David, that you do not hear the story that is hid
away in the thinking places; it is good that you do not know the
worn look which sometimes comes into Mother's face and crowds
from it all the pretty pinkness that you love to see. You will
never know that other look which was often in Mother's face
before you came to nestle in her arms and frighten it away. You
have done well, brave soldier-man, for now I am right sure she
does not wonder any more why the day should have come when the
one she had helped so much should have forgotten the help and
been thankless for all the love that she had given him.



CHAPTER III

THE WORLD'S END


Sometimes, when David was working hard on his siesta, Mother
would tell him that he was to whistle as soon as the Sand Man
came. But even that doesn't always help. You have to ask so many
times to make sure that the Sand Man _hasn't_ come, and after you
have been told repeatedly that you are not yet asleep it makes
you discouraged. You know, too, that you mustn't cheat; it's not
fair to whistle until you actually see the Sand Man.

Hardly anything is so wearing on a little boy as to wait. This is
especially true of siesta-time, when there are always such a
number of interesting things going on outside. Through the
shutter's chink the yellow sunshine comes squirting into the
room--such amazing sunshine, just as it is on circus day! Only to
think of what great events must be in progress while you and
Mother lie here together in the darkened room, and toss
hopelessly in the dreadful throes of trying to get through with
your siesta!

One of the mean things about it is that neither side of the
pillow has any cool spot. You turn it over once more and once
more, and yet once more again, but it is no use. It is utterly
impossible to cuddle down and obey orders and go to sleep like a
brave soldier-man. The more you try it the more squirmy and itchy
you feel; for at such a time one is usually fretted by the
repeated ticklings of some bothersome fly. He will sneak along
the edge of the pillow and rub his hands together in front of
him, and then he's ready. Down he swoops upon your nose, hitting
it precisely in the same place where he lit before.

It is easy for Mother to say, "Go to sleep, now," but what bad
shift a little boy will sometimes make of his siesta!

There came a day in June when David believed he never in this
world could get through with it. He heard the chuck and drowsy
clack of the sprinkling-wagon as it ponderously advanced upon its
lazy way; he heard the almost whispered clucking of a mother-hen
who was calling her chicks to come shuffle with her in the cool
loose earth under the shade of the crooked old apple-tree, and
presently there came a time when the out-of-doors was all so
still that even the falling of a shadow would have made a sound.

David was right sure of that. There was such mystery, such an
unwonted sense of unreality a-quiver in this silence, that he
wanted, very much, to learn what it was all about. Then, ever and
ever so cautiously, he slipped down off the bed. His dimpled toes
went patting daintily across the polished floor, and presently he
had stolen forth upon a great adventure. His eyes narrowed; he
winked rapidly; so dazed he was with the sunshine and the
strangeness of a world that had never looked like this before.

He had found out where summer is. It was here in Mother's garden,
and you knew it was, for you could feel it in the stillness, and
you could see it in the sleepiness of blossoms that drowsed and
drooped and hung their lazy heads in the languishing sweetness of
good air and golden sunshine. It was all very strange and very
dear to David. The sky had never before been so blue, and never
so big nor deep nor cool, and the ground was pleasantly warm and
nice. As the seeded grass touched his ankles he could feel warm
shivers run over his legs, delightful thrills which came to him
this day for the first time. He had found out where summer is.

David paused, and listened, and heard nothing. The whole world
was listening. By and by a honey-burdened bumblebee began talking
to himself; you couldn't quite understand what he said because he
mumbled and bumbled so. David knew he was such a very tired and
sleepy bumblebee that nobody could understand what he was talking
about; and besides, he wasn't nearly so wonderful as a big
butterfly that balanced with blazing wings upon a nodding rose.

He was too heavy for the wee, sweet flower. David was right sure
the butterfly should have rested less heavily there, for pretty
soon the bonnie bloom came all apart and began to fall. One after
another the crimson petals slipped away, and dipped and floated
and came falling and falling down. David was confident that he
could hear the warm whisper of them as they fell, so in tune he
was with the summer and the sunshine, out here in Mother's
garden.

It was good he had stolen forth into the ardent glory of the
noon-time, for if he had not he never would have learned about
the place where the world stops. Only a few of us have found out
about that place. You don't think about it at all, and then,
pretty soon, you _do_ think about it. The way David learned of
it was a new way. He laid him down upon the petunia bed--dear,
old-fashioned flowers, lavender and pink and white, that peeped
between the palings of the white fence--he laid him down and
smelled deep the good, queer smell of them, and like the flowers
themselves, he, too, peeped between the bars into the vast world
which lay beyond. And that is how he learned of the place where
the world stops.

Down a long, long lane--down there, a little way past the
cottonwood tree, where the lane quits going on, that is where the
world stops. You know that is the place because of the awesomeness
that comes to you. The old cottonwood stands sentinel over that
region of the Great Beyond. So tall and big and still he is that
if you look at him awhile you will get the strange feeling of
things. High up in the glossy leaves one can sometimes hear a
little pattery sound, finer than the crinkle of tissue paper--a
pretty little sound like a quiet sprinkle of cooling rain. When he
does that he is whispering to the clouds that bring the freshness
of the summer shower.

Beyond him, down there where the world stops, is the place where
the clouds go to sleep after their long, slow journeyings across
the deep, sweet blue of the sky.

"What does my little boy see with his two big, shining eyes? And
what does my little boy hear?"

It was Mother's voice above him that was thus humbly asking
admission into the strange world he had found, and so well she
knew it was marvelous fine, this world of his, that she snuggled
his cheek against _her_ cheek, and tried and tried, in her poor,
grown-up way, to understand all the pretty things the great
silent tree was whispering to the clouds.

"Is it there?" she asked very softly and very earnestly. "Is it
down there that the clouds go to sleep?"

And they remained together, these two, side by side, thinking
about the sweet go-to-bed place of the clouds. A silence which
was new to them, a cool and reposeful silence, had come upon them
and held them. They were conversing in a language which has no
words. It was a melody in silver--the spirit of motherhood, the
soul of childhood blending into music, bringing them nearer,
deepening their love and making it more dear to them.

They understood each other, that woman and that little boy. They
did not move. David had taken hold of Mother's hand, and he held
to it while they kept on looking down there, afar off, where the
great silent tree was softly whispering to the summer clouds.



CHAPTER IV

DEAD SEA FRUIT


"Why don't I never have no fav-ver?"

Often David asked that question; upon awakening and upon going to
bed he was pretty sure to make inquiries that were never
satisfactorily answered. And now, one morning, it was a decided
relief to Mother to have him ask something else. With eager
questioning he said:

"Am I?"

Early, very early, he had awakened her to ask her that, for he
had been told, on going to bed, that when the day should come
again he would be four years old. Twice in the night he had
asked if he was It; so when the dawn at last showed with a
lovely pinkness in the lacy folds of the curtains, and the note
of a far-away meadow-lark called him into the glory of birthday
happiness, he wanted to be very certain that this famous period
of his life had actually come.

Before demanding if it were quite true, he lay still awhile and
thought about it. He looked at Mother's face, and snuggled his
fingers into the fairy foam of her nightgown, but the face and
the fairy foam at her throat had not changed in the least. They
were just the same as they had been yesterday and the day before
and the day before that.

It was very strange. He had supposed that when a little boy is
four years old, his life would be somehow--different. That is why
he was still in doubt; he was not at all sure about being four
years old. He would wake up Mother and then, if he _was_ It, she
would make him feel that he was.

Her reassurance, though, was not nearly so satisfying as he had
hoped.

"Yes, dear; it's your birthday. Now go to sleep awhile, my
pretty."

David lay very still, but he did not go to sleep. By and by he
asked rather uneasily:

"What do you do first?"

"What do you mean, little boy?"

"Little? _Am_ I little?"

"Of course you're growing," Mother told him.

But David would not be deceived. Already the suspicion had come
to him that there was nothing grand about being four years old.
It was not a success; it was a failure, and his one hope now
rested in Dr. Redfield, for this was the morning when the Doctor
had promised to waylay the little boy.

"How does _that_ begin?" David asked. He could not think what it
was that began.

"How does _what_ begin?" Mother inquired.

And that was not nice nor reasonable of her. Mothers are made to
answer questions, not to ask questions, and they are so
discouraging when they can't understand about being waylaid!
David felt abused, but he decided to have one more try at her.
Then, if she didn't give him satisfaction, he would know that
Four Years Old was all a humbug. As he looked longingly into her
face, his words faltered, as though he were again expecting
disappointment.

"Will he--will he wear his big, shiny hat when he does it?"

Into Mother's face came a puzzled, half knowing look. She
recalled the admiration inspired in a certain little boy by a
certain abominable top hat that a certain doctor had once worn to
a certain annual meeting of the State Medical Society. But this
was the extent of her knowledge.

"When he does what?" she asked.

The little boy's lip trembled, and he turned away his face. He
saw it wasn't any use. Mother didn't understand; she evidently
hadn't tried. It was plain that he was not four years old; he was
only three. It is very hard on little boys to be only that old
when they have made up their minds to be four. So, when David was
being dressed, he suffered all the while with a severe case of
what is commonly called pouts, but which in reality is something
much sadder.

"My, my!" said Mother, as she drew a stocking over the pink toes
of his right foot, "one mustn't look like that on his birthday."

"It is not my birthday," he said, not impertinently, but politely
and woefully.

Even a pair of new shoes did not prove that this was his
birthday, and yet they helped to prove it. One gets them at such
times as Christmas and birthdays, and such a delightful squeak
was in these shoes that David could scarcely eat his breakfast
for wanting to walk about in them. If a circus should come to
town, he would now be ready for it; he had the shoes. And
besides, there were tassels on them--wonderful tassels. It is
much easier to be a brave soldier-man if they have tassels.

Do you know what it is to be a brave soldier-man? Well, to be
that, one must be kind and sweet and unselfish and do right. And
doing right is doing mostly what you don't want to do. To wash a
lot--that is right; to keep your fingers out of the pie--that is
right; to keep your hands from spilling mucilage on the cat's
back--that is right. If you make dents with a tack-hammer in
Mother's piano, that is not right; that is a surprise.

The only safe way of doing right is to think of what you would
rather do, and then do something else. But often this is such
hard work that sometimes one doesn't care much about being a
brave soldier-man.

For all that, it's jolly fine to have soldier shoes. They came to
David in time to save his faith in the business of being four
years old. It now began to have a glad feel about it, and he
walked perkily to the garden's edge, and like a new Columbus
about to discover a fresh world, climbed up experimentally and
sat on the gate-post.

He was not at all sure that this was a proper place to get
waylaid, but something monstrous fine would of course happen
before long; there could be no doubt about that. How people would
be astonished when they came along and found that he had grown to
be four years old!

Who would be the first, he wondered, to be shocked and surprised
at him? While he was thinking of that, his eyes suddenly
brightened with excitement. The street-sprinkler, the dear old
street-sprinkler, was coming! David's heart beat faster as he
listened to the slow creak and clacking oscillation of the heavy
wheels. Then came the damp, dusty, good smell which always
brought to him such a sense of mysterious romance! No prince out
of a fairy story could be more marvelous to him than the coatless
driver up there on the seat under his great canvas umbrella that
had advertisements printed on it. Always when the street-sprinkler
passed, David had watched it covetously, and now was his chance.
He would proclaim himself. He would not have to wish--and
wish--and wish any more about it. That proud place up there by the
driver was for him. He didn't doubt it in the least; he called; he
called lustily; he kicked his new shoes against the fence-post and
called:

"Here I am! See, right down here!"

But will you believe it, now? The driver didn't look at him.
Perhaps the lazy clamor of the wagon and the hissing sound of
the steadily gushing water made too big a noise for the voice of
such a little boy to be heard.

Do you call that any way for the street-sprinkler man to act? But
of course there might be some good reason for such criminal
behavior. David remembered that he hadn't consulted any fairy
godmother about it; long since he would have done so, only he
could never catch any fairy godmothers hanging around. They were
always busy somewhere else. Even Mother herself had failed to
introduce him to any competent, respectable fairy godmothers. She
was all right on telling about them; she was strong on that, but
somehow they never seemed to know when they were wanted. That is
their great fault; they are so unreliable. Once let them get
loose from a Cinderella book, and their business system is
always defective.

How, then, can a little boy expect to accomplish any miracles
like riding on the street-sprinkler? It is not reasonable; David
himself decided that it wasn't, and he concluded to try something
more feasible, something that looked simple and easy and more
natural. Next time he would do better. Why shouldn't he? When one
is four years old, nearly anything ought to be possible. All he
had to do was to await another opportunity, and then pounce down
on it.

This time, though, it was slow in coming, and when it did come it
didn't look much like an opportunity. It was too easy. In shape
it was a very ragged man with a very dirty face and a very red
nose and a very greasy hat. He came by, a-munching on an apple, a
big apple, a crispy-sounding apple, a shiny ripe and luscious
apple. How cool it would feel in a little boy's hands if he were
to hold it tight and then take a big, sweet, juicy bite out of
it!

Should David accept the remainder of the man's apple? No, that
would not be right; little boys must not be greedy. Just the
teeniest, weeniest, wee bite would be quite sufficient for him.

But, heigh-ho and alack-aday! the dirty-faced man and the
red-nosed man and the man with the greasy hat passed slouchily
on, a-munching and a-crunching of his apple.

That was enough. David cast himself down from the fence-post of
deception and was off for the house, his arm before his eyes, and
his new shoes creaking dolorously. He must find refuge in
Mother's lap; she must help him to soothe away his hurt; he must
have solace for this wretched failure of great hopes.

But before reaching her, David suddenly found himself seized by
some mysterious force which sent him floating into space. Back
and forth he swam like, a pendulum, and when he alighted, it was
on a man's shoulder, and the man was Dr. Redfield.

"You're not hurt, are you?" he asked.

David would not be comforted. He struggled to the ground.

"What's the use?" he demanded between sobs. "What's the use of
being four years old?"



CHAPTER V

THE MUG OF WOE


"New shoes! Where in the world did we get new shoes?"

Dr. Redfield was the first to rightly appreciate the grandeur of
them, and he was delighted to hear how they could squeak. Land
sakes! but they were wonderful. Greatly astonished he was, and so
swollen with pride was the little boy that he didn't care--not so
very much--even if his old friend had failed to put on his top
hat.

"Are you going to do it?"

That was David's first question. He was rather anxious, because
he did not believe that this big comrade of his had come
properly attired to waylay anybody.

"Surely I am."

The Doctor was prompt, but puzzled. He didn't know _what_ he was
going to do. Then, for a space, man and boy looked at each other
inquiringly. They were both waiting and they were both wondering.

"Has it begun to start yet?"

There was expectancy in David's voice.

"You mean, I suppose--that is--"

"Yes, yes! _You_ know!" David gravely wagged his head.

The Doctor took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief.

"If you were a little more definite--not quite so vague and
uncertain," he hopelessly suggested.

It was then that a sudden inspiration saved the day for him. He
began to talk in a big and solemn voice.

"I perceive, sir," he said, "that you have reached the age for
being waylaid. You are four years old, and by an ancient decree
of all the Medes and Persians, that makes you my prisoner, to
hold in hostage until that ungracious dame, your mother, shall
subscribe unto me suitable and sufficient ransom."

David clapped his hands gleefully.

"Go on!" he demanded. "Go on! Now what?"

"Well, when you have all that said to you, it means that if you
find a doctor skulking about within ten feet of you, it is then
your perfect right to press him into your service. If you command
him to give you a ride on his back, he will have to do it. It's
undignified and he doesn't believe in it, but that's where you
have him at your mercy. He _has_ to obey; he has to go any place
you tell him to go. If you say he must take you to a toy shop,
that settles it. He has no choice in the matter. He _has_ to do
it. That is always the rule when a little boy is four years old."

David also learned that there is another peculiar thing about it.
In circumstances like this a little boy has the right, when he
arrives at the toy shop, to choose for himself the thing he wants
to buy. No grown-up will interfere with his judgment; the law
won't allow it. The trouble is that it is pretty hard for him to
make up his mind. When there is such a great array of drums and
swords and soldiers' caps and guns and bears that jump, it is not
an easy thing to select the toy that will please him most of
all.

Why not buy a train of cars and a track to run it on? But if he
bought that, then how could he get along without a jumping-jack
that threw up its arms and legs when you pulled the string? And
if he took the jumping-jack, then what about an iron savings bank
with a monkey on top that shook his head with thanks when you
dropped the money in? Lovely things, all of them, but David put
them from him. He did it with decision, but with a nervous haste
which told of wavering courage.

Such things were not for him. They are only for boys who are not
soldier-men. And besides, they might cost too much. If the price
went higher than five cents David would be lost, for many
precepts had been forced upon him in regard to the waste of
money, and the value people put on it, and the way they have to
work for it. So thus far the nickel had marked the very summit of
his financial transactions.

All the same, a strange wistfulness came into David's eyes when
he put aside poor jumping-jack. Such a dear of a jumping-jack he
was! You could have kissed the jolly red paint of him, and the
pretty toy bank was a thing to hug tight under your arm. That is
why the little boy's voice was such a weak and far-away voice
when he presently asked:--

"Would two five centses get him, do you think?"

"When it's your birthday," said the Doctor, "it's all right to
spend three five centses."

Here, then, was David's chance. The jumping-jack was almost his,
when his shoes squeaked a warning. Thus suddenly was he reminded
that he was a brave little soldier-man. He now saw that such a
purchase would be ridiculous. Something serviceable is what he
must have, something that Mother would like and want him to keep.
No silly toys for him! But, oh, if only the Doctor would insist a
little on the jumping-jack!

David turned reluctantly away; he choked down the queerness in
his throat and firmly laid hands on a gilt-rimmed mustache cup.
His lips twitched and his eyes winked, but the look in his face
was the look of a soldier-man. No intervention from the Doctor
could shake his determination.

With coaxing insinuation the Doctor said, "We haven't seen all
the things, you know."

Hope kindled in David's eyes.

"Maybe," he said with enthusiasm, "maybe this costs more than
three five centses. Does it?"

"Wouldn't you rather have a drum?" asked the salesman.

No, indeed; David would not have a drum.

"Or a sword?" asked the Doctor.

"No, thanks," the words came with husky politeness.

The cup was the thing for him; it would please Mother. She would
be so glad about the cup!

Here, again, was disappointment. She didn't seem pleased with
it--not nearly so pleased as she should have been. But never
mind, little boy; every generous heart is quick to forget the
unselfish kindness that is in it, and you yourself will not be
slow to forget this foolish sacrifice you have made for love of
one who has made many a sacrifice for you. She has made them,
little boy, in love, and forgotten them in love, and that, David,
is the beautiful thing in loving.



CHAPTER VI

"FAV-VER"


When David is an early bird it is great fun to show Mother what a
sluggard she is. He calls to her to let her know it is getting-up
time, and then she is _so_ amazed! She cannot understand how it
is possible for her little boy to get awake almost as soon as the
robins do. Sometimes she asks if he is sure he is awake, and he
tells her he is sure of it, and then she believes him.

Only this morning she did not ask that, and this morning there
was no smile in her eyes. A strange intentness had taken all the
summer look out of her face, and there were no kisses on her
lips; for he had troubled her with that repeated demand of his to
be supplied with a father.

"Whose boy," she asked hesitatingly, "whose boy are you?"

David returned her steadfast gaze with a queer, impish wisdom. He
sat up in bed and fixed his eyes upon her.

"Whose boy?" he slowly repeated. "Why, I'm fav-ver's boy."

"Have you a father?" asked the woman.

"If you get one for me I have."

"David," she said, more serious than was usual with her, "if you
had one I should want him to look like you.... Here, little boy,
here, in your face I see your father."

The woman had moulded her cool hands to David's smooth, soft
cheeks, and was looking wistfully into the eyes of her little
boy. But abruptly he struggled free from her; he slipped to the
floor, mounted on a chair in front of the chiffonier and peeped
excitedly into the mirror. A long time he looked at the
tousle-headed reflection that looked earnestly back at him. He
frowned, and the boy in the glass frowned, too. He was a great
disappointment, that boy; he wasn't the teeniest bit like any
father that ever was. He was only a child in a white nighty.

David faced about; he got down off the chair, and he turned his
accusing eyes upon Mother. She had fooled her little boy; she had
told him a wrong story, and it was woful disillusionment.

"You cannot see him, David," she said, "because you have no
picture of him in your heart."

Well, then, did Mother have such a picture? If she did, why
could she not show him that picture? And please, Mother, where
did she keep that heart where the picture was?

Yes, to be sure, she had such a picture, but it was not of
David's father; it was of someone else, for she had never seen
David's father. In her heart was still another picture: it was a
memory which had to do with the sad nativity of her little boy.
So sad an event it was that she had left off being a head nurse
at the hospital, in order to become a mother by proxy.

David might some day come to know that there was a fogyish,
bachelor doctor who was almost a father in the same sort of
way--almost, but not quite, for the child had been left not to
him, but to her. A home, likewise, was her inheritance, a very
pretty little home and all else that had once belonged to the
real mother of the little boy.

A brave death she had died, that kinless widow at the hospital.
And how could it have been otherwise, when so large a faith was
hers in the nurse whose arm had gone lovingly around her, and
whose voice, many and many a time, had given comfort and had
known finally how to smooth the way to death?

But it was the Doctor's hand, not the hand of the nurse, that had
gently closed the mother's eyes upon her last long sleep; and it
was he, not the nurse, who had turned wofully away, and stared
and stared and stared out of the window.

Grave pictures were these that Mother kept in her heart, and
David was not to know how much he troubled her when he fell to
questioning; and that is why, in the midst of his endless
inquiries, he was wont to encounter the Great Never Mind.

Do you know what that is? It is a condition of soul common to all
mothers who have little boys that want to know things.

The worst of it is that one is expected to understand when he is
never to mind and when he _is_ to mind. They are not the same
thing; they are twins, and they are so hard to tell apart, and so
disagreeable, and act so much alike that only an expert can tell
which is which.

But Mother was an expert. She knew when you must and when you
mustn't; she had a talent for it. She also had a gift for telling
David that she would see. If he wanted to go swimming with Mitch
Horrigan in the creek near town, she said she would see about it,
but somehow she never did get it seen about.

That was one great difference between her and Dr. Redfield. He
did not say he would see; if given half a chance he always _did_
see, and there was something so magical about him that one felt
he was good for a miracle most any time. For all that, it was
hard to ask him for anything, for when in his presence one always
felt so queer and bashful and overpowered with the strange
medicine smells which were such a big part of him. Yet David now
felt that no boy has any right to hope for a father if he hasn't
spirit enough to ask for one. So firmly convinced of this was the
little boy that early in the morning he made up his mind as to
what he would do. It was something very daring and very naughty.
He was going to run away.

He did it, too, and the awfulness of it got into his throat; for
the Doctor lives farther away from David's house than China is.
It is almost at the end of things, and the little boy did not
know whether he could find it. What was even worse, he presently
did not know whether he could get back home again. He had crept
through the fence and run and run, and then walked and walked,
and now he had decided that he didn't care much about going on.
Some other time would do as well; to-morrow would be all right.
This did not feel like a lucky day; some other day would be
luckier.

David felt very virtuous. It seemed to him that he had not meant
to run away at all. He was not a bad little boy; he was a good
little boy, but he soon began to feel annoyed; for the way home
didn't have any straightness to it; the way home began to get
more and more crooked, and the houses began to seem strange and
unfriendly; they stared at him rudely, and none of them looked
either like home or like the Doctor's house.

The sad thing was that he had only one way to tell which was the
Doctor's house, and that was a wrong way. He was looking for a
yellow dog that scratched his head with his toenails and knocked
his elbow on the board-walk when he did it. Such a dog once lay
in front of the Doctor's house. So now, as David kept going and
going on, he was looking out for a yellow dog that should knock
with his elbow when he scratched his head with his toenails. Once
a black dog did it, but that was stupid of him; he needn't try to
fool David.

After a long, long while a great tiredness came upon the little
boy, and there was such a grinding ache in him that he knew
hungry-time had come. He passed a bakeshop that breathed out a
warm, steamy fragrance, and in the window there was a great pan
of red-brown doughnuts dusted over with powdered sugar. As the
smell was like the smell of the bakeshop near home, and as the
doughnuts looked the same, David instantly plucked up courage. He
hurried on, confident that he would soon be climbing up into
Mother's lap. It was some time, though, before he found a house
with a white paling, and he was distrustful of the house; it had
no curtains, and it scowled so. He decided to experiment first
with the fence-post. Maybe the house would look more reasonable,
and maybe things would feel different if he were to climb up on
the fence-post. So presently, when he was perched above the gate,
he closed his eyes and began kicking his heels as he did when at
home.

This was another experiment; for every boy knows that you cannot
hope to see any fairies or any fairy godmothers unless you take
them by surprise. David, for his part, frequently gave them to
understand that he wasn't looking. He would shut his eyes tight
and kick his feet to prove that he was minding his own business.
If they saw him like that, maybe they wouldn't care if he was so
close to them. After convincing them that his intentions were
honorable, he would suddenly pop open his eyes to catch them at
their tricks.

Once he almost saw them. The tulip bed had seemed to dance in the
sunlight like a whirlpool of scarlet and yellow fire; then it
stopped abruptly, but the blossoms still nodded and stirred, even
after the wild dance was done. He was confident that he had come
very near to seeing the fairies, but now he did not want to see
them. They had done something to the house where Mother lived,
and he wanted them to undo it. He would not look. They would
please understand that this time he did not mean to deceive them.

"Cross my heart," he murmured very solemnly, and gave the pledge.

But it did no good. They would not undo the queer things they had
done to the house. They were spiteful and mean, and not to be
trusted. The house remained without trees and vines, a scowling,
ugly thing. The garden had no shrubs; the seeded grass was matted
down and yellow, like hay, and there were bald places where the
gray ground was showing through.

They did not know, those foolish fairy folk, of the courage and
the faith that may be in the heart of a little boy. They might be
stubborn if they chose; they might keep him waiting, but in the
end they would not abuse his patience. All would come right. Only
it did take such a long, long while for it to get that way!
Hungry-time is very hard on little boys when they are waiting for
things to come right, and it was so hard on David that twice he
called aloud for Mother. A wooden echo, sent back from barns and
sheds, dolefully repeated the last syllable of his cry. It was
sad mockery, but David held doggedly to his belief that finally
things would come right. His hands closed rigidly upon the sides
of the fence-post, and from beneath the tight-shut eyelids slow
tear-drops were squeezing out.

It was so that Dr. Redfield found him. With medicine-case in
hand, the physician had come down the walk from the desolate,
scowling house. As he seized the child in his arms, and as he
felt the small arms of David go about his neck, the word that
greeted him was "Fav-ver!"



CHAPTER VII

AS A FOUNTAIN IN THE DESERT


The magic that is in the touch of a little boy! There is nothing
like it to drive out the weariness from a heart that knows it
must not grow too tired. So now, when Dr. Redfield left the house
where he had been, it meant much to him that there should be such
a welcome awaiting him at the gate. It was a gray and worn smile,
but still a smile that answered the child's unexpected greeting,
and as the wee arms went tight about the man's neck he asked no
questions; he merely said:--

"I wish I were, little boy--I wish I were your father. We would
have a rest, wouldn't we? We would take time to know each
other."

As he said this there came into the Doctor's face the same look
which he had just seen in the eyes of the father and mother who
were trusting to him to save their little boy. Many times other
fathers and other mothers had made that mute appeal to him, and
he had done what he could for them. He had done all that could be
done. He was doing it to-day, and he had been doing it every day
these past eight weeks that had been as twenty years to him.

For a scourge had come, and the city was trembling in the fear of
it. Again Duck Town was responsible. Duck Town always was
responsible. Every spring when the floods came, and Mud Creek
spread itself out over the prairie, only the ducks of Duck Town
were secure. Then, when the waters subsided, there came malaria,
or perhaps something worse, from the musty cellars that could not
be drained. The settlement lay in the bottoms, where the wretched
dwellings of the poor stood huddled together as if in whispered
conspiracy about some black contagion of a deadlier malice than
any that had yet struck terror to the hearts of men.

Several years ago it was typhoid fever that had helped many
people to move out of Duck Town. A very badly behaved disease it
was. It came right up into the city and went stalking brazenly
into the most stately homes along the wooded avenues and
beautiful boulevards.

Next after the ravages of typhoid came diphtheria in its most
malignant form, and this time--Heaven help us!--this time scarlet
fever had come. And this time, as before, there were competent
physicians to receive the plague; there were specialists and
careful nurses with snowy aprons and pretty caps.

But not in Duck Town. Down there the people knew a man whom they
called the Old Doctor. He was not old, not really; it was merely
that he had the manner of a veteran. He browbeat them shamefully,
as was perfectly proper for an old doctor; he bullied them a
great deal, and scolded, and called names, and worked for them,
and did not know how to sleep. That made them fear and respect
him, but goodness knows what made them love him. They did,
though--feared, respected, and loved the man.

Only he could not teach them to be sanitary. He knew their names,
their silly Russian names and their silly Polish names; he knew
their Slavic and their Bohemian names, but their language he did
not know, and all the hygiene they could learn was to call for
him when sickness and trouble came to them.

"Keep clean," he would say. "Drain your cellars; air out and keep
clean; do try to keep clean!"

But how could they do that? Four big families in one small house
do not help much to keep one small house both clean and sanitary.
Dr. Redfield knew that, and he swore at Duck Town for a vile and
filthy hole. So did the people swear at Duck Town, and many of
them suddenly stopped living there. For, despite the strength and
courage of their champion; despite the potency of drugs; despite
the sleepless nights and days spent in fighting disease, the
deadly contagion grew and spread.

Dr. Redfield had gone through epidemics before, but never one
like this, and now his energy was gone. For the first time in his
life the impulse had come upon him to own defeat and surrender.
Other men, younger doctors than he, should take up the fight. As
for him, he could not battle against such odds. He would give it
up; he would go away. He would take this little boy with him and
begin to live.

"I'll do it," he said, pressing David's face against his hollow
and unshaven cheek. "I'll do it, little boy; I will be your
father."

Then David asked encouragingly:

"Is it your picture that Mother keeps in her heart?"

"No, David; not mine, I'm afraid."

This was a sad blow to the little boy. A very solemn look came
into his face.

"You won't do," he said, "unless you can get your picture into
Mother's heart."

For a second time Dr. Redfield smiled, and then he asked:

"How did you get here?"

David did not answer the question; perhaps he did not hear what
was said to him. A thoughtful look had come into his face, and
presently he was asking, with great earnestness in his voice:

"Why have I got curls for? Why don't I have trouvers? Why don't I
have warts on me?"

Dr. Redfield was walking hand in hand with the little boy at his
side. They were going toward the place where the horse and buggy
stood waiting, and as they strode along the little boy kept
falling over his chubby legs. It was hard for him to go so fast,
for he was very tired, and besides, he was looking up into the
man's face.

"Warts aren't nice for little boys," said Dr. Redfield. "You and
I don't want them on _us_, do we?"

"Don't I, please?" said David, very earnestly. Then he wanted to
know if he could not be born in Indiana. That is where Mitch
Horrigan had been born, and he was always bragging about it. But
the Doctor didn't seem to be in a conversational humor. He made
no reply to David's request, and that vexed the little boy. He
suddenly let go of the man's hand and stood still. Then the
Doctor stopped, too, and asked what was wrong. It was now that
David closed his fist upon his thumbs and frowned savagely.

"I am not," he declared; "I am not neither a girl, am I?"

The reply of his big friend was consoling, but not satisfying,
and it was some time before the man again felt the little, soft
fist in his hand and saw the little boy looking wistfully up into
his face.

"If only I had a few of them, Fav-ver Doctor," said David, "only
just a few little warts!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE GONE-AWAY LADY


Proud business for David! Sitting on the edge of the seat of the
buggy, he was holding the reins very tight. One must always do
that if he does not want the horse to kick and run away. Not
knowing that the horse was tied to the hitching-post, David was
fulfilling his mission with ceremony, and when Dr. Redfield
appeared from the door of a drug shop across the way, the little
boy called to him gayly:--

"He didn't run away, did he? I held him all right, didn't I?"

Dr. Redfield had been absent long enough to use the telephone in
notifying Miss Eastman, whom David knew only by the sweeter name
of Mother, that her little boy had been waylaid and would
probably not be home to luncheon. She was not permitted to know
that the pretty rogue had run away, but the man himself strongly
suspected the truth. For some time, though, he charitably
refrained from speaking of the matter. In fact, three important
events in David's life took place before the painful subject was
broached.

To eat at the Doctor's table, and wholly without the assistance
of a high chair--that was one of the events; another was a
hair-cut, and the third--Everybody, salute! David is in trouvers!

He and his big friend both admired them immensely, and it was in
the little shabby, out-at-the-elbow doctor's office that David
had been helped to put them on. After he had strutted for a
while his Fav-ver said to him:--

"What fun, David; what fun you must have had in running away!"

"Oh," the little boy replied, "I didn't go far. I got scart and
hurried back to Mother."

The Doctor looked wryly at his guest. He knew David had not gone
home after running away.

"Did you see Mother after you went back?" he asked.

"No, I didn't see her."

"But you are sure you went back?"

"It didn't _feel_ back," said David.

"You couldn't have been mistaken about going back?"

"No."

"In what part of town were you when I found you on the
fence-post?"

"Home," said David.

"Why were you crying?"

"I was feeling bad."

"And why was that?"

"I was scart."

"Of what?"

"Everything was so mixed up."

"You ran away, though, didn't you? And you did not see Mother
after you went back?"

David nodded, and the Doctor got to his feet with a suddenness
that knocked over his chair.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed, consulting his watch. "It's been
four hours since you saw Mother, and she may think something has
happened to you. She may think you have been run over by
horses--that you have been hurt and can never come home to her
any more."

What was to be done about it? Dr. Redfield wanted to know that;
David wanted to know that. The man crinkled up his forehead: he
rose and began to walk the floor, and David's eyes did not leave
his face.

"What are we to do?" the Doctor asked, and by and by he added,
"If you see a policeman I hope you will tell him you are not lost
and that you did not think of making so much trouble when you ran
away. But what about Mother? Maybe she, too, has been looking
everywhere for you."

The Doctor sat down and wiped his face, and then got up and began
to walk about once more. You could see that he was very much
distressed, but not more distressed than David. In sad perplexity
they stared at each other. After everything had grown very still
in the room, the little boy suddenly exclaimed in an awed
voice:--

"Let's go home!"

"Well said!" the Doctor called out, and David flew for his hat;
they started for the stairs, the little boy clinging desperately
to the man's hand.

"Wait!" the Doctor exclaimed. They had stopped abruptly before
reaching the steps. "Why don't we telephone? If we do that, it
won't keep Mother waiting so long."

It was now that David's eyes began to gleam. He clapped his
hands; he laughed and he danced. He was going to put Mother's
heart at rest about him. She would not be troubled any more. She
would know he was safe.

After the message had gone, it was easy to see in David's face
that he was glad he had not run away very far. Fav-ver Doctor had
not blamed him, but Fav-ver Doctor had made him understand how
much trouble it makes when little boys run away.

"That's what it was all about," said David.

"You mean, I suppose--"

"Fairies don't like it if I run off. That's why they changed
things around so. I hardly knew the house; it was fixed so
queer."

"Yes," the Doctor assented, "it looked shocking queer. How did
you ever know the place?"

"They didn't change the fence much," said David, and the man now
recognized the one point of similitude between that desolate home
down in Duck Town and the House of Joy where David lived.

So grim was the contrast that the Doctor winked uneasily, for it
brought him back to a problem he had thought settled. He had
really meant to take a vacation. He was so tired; no one knew
quite, how very tired he was, and he had thought that for a brief
while he was justified in leaving the fight to some one else. He
only wanted a week or so--a little chance to live, to play with
this little boy, and perhaps be happy! Yet, after all, dared he
leave those people to other hands when they were counting so on
him, and had so little else to count upon? What, he asked, would
she, the Gone-Away Lady, have counseled him to do?

Rather nervously he sought the eyes of a miniature on top of his
desk, and as he looked into the eyes of that sweet-faced woman,
the old comfort he always used to see in them when he had stood
most in need of strength, was no longer there. "In the face of so
much misery," they seemed to say, "how can you think of
forsaking the field?"

It was not a picture of David's mother; no, it was a likeness
that had ever kept the Doctor's heart alive to gracious thoughts
and gentle ways; it was the portrait of her who had not lived to
be his wife, and a habit had come to him of fancying in the eyes
of his patients something of the same beautiful look that was in
the miniature. Particularly he had done so when David's mother
was struggling hard not to go away from her little boy, and
often, since then, the Doctor had compared the face of the
picture with that of the child; and to-day, as he was wont to do,
he took the dainty bit of porcelain in his hand to see if he
could not trace, feature by feature, the likeness he so loved to
imagine.

The way of this was very interesting to David. He stood by the
Doctor's chair and leaned his elbows on the knees of his friend,
with his plump chin in the wee, white hands.

"Is it your mother?" he questioned.

The Doctor smiled.

"No, David, but she would have been a good mother."

"Who is it?"

"It is some one," the Doctor slowly replied, "who would have
loved you very, very much."

"Where is she now?"

"She went away, little boy; years ago, David, she went away from
me."

"_I_ never saw her," said the child.

"No, David, we cannot see her, but if we keep our hearts open and
our lives all sweet and clean, we can be sure she is not far
away."

The little boy had listened attentively, but he could not
understand, and after careful examination of the picture, he
presently asked:

"When is she coming back again?"

Dr. Redfield had nothing further to tell. He crossed the room,
and hastily replaced the miniature upon the top of the high
desk.



CHAPTER IX

THE CRIME OF DAVID


It is not pleasant to be a criminal; it hurts. David knew he was
one, and although he did not know what crime he had committed, he
imagined that he was now being punished for it. The idea came to
him on account of the way the Doctor was acting. The man had
gently replaced the miniature upon the top of the desk, and
afterward he stood motionless, sunk deep in revery. The little
boy was trying to guess what he had done. It must be very, very
wrong, or else Fav-ver Doctor wouldn't be standing there like
that. He would talk and take notice. David knew this was so,
but, try as he might, he could not think what sin he was guilty
of. It was a great puzzle, and, in truth, David was frequently
puzzled in the same way. For the laws which grown-ups have for
little boys are so much like any other kind of laws that it is
hard to get any justice out of them.

Without knowing what it was, David keenly felt his disgrace. The
glory of being in the Doctor's house; the glory of sitting at
table in an ordinary chair; the glory of a hair-cut, and even the
glory of trouvers--each of these mighty events was now shorn of
its charm. Everything had grown sadly commonplace; for there can
be no satisfaction in achieving greatness, if one is so soon to
be forgotten. So now, with the passing of every instant, things
were growing more and more solemn.

Doubtless the chair on which David was sitting was partly to
blame. It was such a slippery seat that if one didn't hold on
tight he would be sure to slide right off. There were stickery
things in it, too, for the hair-cloth was getting all worn out.

The little boy sat politely on the stickery things and waited. If
he waited long enough, maybe Fav-ver Doctor would smile at him as
Mother always did. At the present time, though, one could hardly
believe that there were ever any smiles in Fav-ver Doctor's
face--he was looking so hard and so long at nothing at all.

Everything in the room was feeling lonesome and guilty and bad;
and worst of all was the clock. It was a big, upright, colonial
clock, and its counting of time was done with deep and stately
deliberation. If he would only strike the hour, that would help.
David remembered with what dignity the clock could strike. The
brazen reverberations of each stroke always lingered awhile
before the next one came, and then, when all of them had been
struck, and the last ringing beat had throbbed and swooned into a
whisper, and died, one always felt that other strokes would
follow. One looked for them, and waited for them, but they did
not come. To-day nothing seemed to come but the regular, echoing,
church-like tick-tock, and to-day there was no diversion of any
kind; there was only a large, dark, depressing awesomeness.

It is very scareful for a little boy when he feels himself grown
to be such a criminal. Immense periods of time seem to be
slipping away, but he doesn't know at all whether he is getting
to be really and truly a man, or whether he is getting littler
and littler. There is always the fear of diminishing, because one
would so like to be grown up, and when one is such a bad little
boy, how can he expect ever to be grown up? David felt himself
slipping and slipping. He was slipping back into three-years-old.
From that he would go into two-years-old, and before very long he
would be only one. He knew it was coming on. There was a tingling
flush going down his back, a cold current, like ants with frozen
feet. Maybe it was only perspiration, but how was a little boy to
know that? He was gasping with excitement when he suddenly called
out: "Here I am!"

The idea was that the Doctor should instantly seize him and save
him from being dissolved into empty air. But no sooner had David
called than he was overcome with shame. At first he was
astonished that his voice should really be _his_ voice. There was
no change in it--not the slightest--and he now saw that he had
only fooled himself. That is why he was ashamed. He was so
ashamed that he began to cry.

That would not do at all. Fav-ver Doctor said it wouldn't, and he
was so distressed about it that he offered David the rare
privilege of wearing his watch. At any other time the little boy
would have been mightily set up over the honor, but at such a
time as this no distinction of any sort was for him. He did not
deserve it. He had disgraced himself too much for that, and he
pushed the watch from him. He kicked his feet against the chair
and rudely exclaimed:

"Don't want your watch!"

In some ways Dr. Redfield was not different from most of us. So
many years had passed since he was a little boy that he had
forgotten that what appears to be only sullenness may in reality
be something quite different. Perhaps if he had been more like
his normal self instead of being a very tired and a very
irritable doctor he would not have considered it necessary to
regard David with the eye of stern discipline. But however that
may be, the man pivoted suddenly upon his heel and marched out of
the room, leaving the little boy alone to brood at his leisure
upon the sad impropriety of being rude.

David wanted to go with the Doctor, but the man would have
nothing to do with any little boy who cries without any reason
for crying and is saucy besides. David could not go. David must
sit still on that chair and must not get up.

"I don't like you," the child called out.

Then, as soon as the door was shut upon him, he became a very
angry little boy. He pounced from his seat and began to walk
heavily up and down the room. He stamped his feet; he shut his
teeth together and he kicked the chair where he had been sitting.
He had not been fairly dealt with, and now, as Mitch Horrigan
would say, he was going to be just as rotten bad as ever he
could.

But it was useless to stamp so loud and clench his fists. There
was no one to hear him and there was no one to see him. Neither
was there any satisfaction in knocking over a chair. The outlook
was utterly hopeless. There didn't seem to be any good way of
being bad.

Presently, though, David had an inspiration. He would get hold of
the picture the Doctor had talked about so foolishly. David would
get it and have a look at it. Surely that would be very naughty
indeed. David was confident of that, for the Doctor had been so
extremely nice in handling the little miniature.

Only there was one great difficulty which stood in the way of
this famous campaign of badness. David encountered this
difficulty when he had dragged a chair in front of the high desk.
Even by standing on the chair he was not tall enough to reach the
picture; even by standing tippy-toe he could not reach it. There
was left but the one alternative--he must jump for it, but when
he did that he knocked it off. It fell with a loud clack to the
floor and broke in two.

Then terror seized the heart of David. He did not mean to break
the lady; honestly he did not, and now--oh, oh!--what was to
be done? The little boy did not have much time to think about it.
He heard a heavy tread on the stairs and knew the Doctor was
coming.

Perhaps it would do to say that the picture had fallen off itself
and got broken, or maybe it would be better to say that the
fairies had done it, or maybe--

Now, at last, David knew the thing to do, and did it. When the
Doctor came into the room the little boy was sweetly but not
serenely in his place. He was sitting upright in his chair, as
though he had not stirred a hair's breadth during the man's
absence, but in the eyes of David was a feverish lustre, and the
little body of him was all of a tremble.

"I didn't understand about the crying," Dr. Redfield announced,
and he was very humble. It did not seem odd to him that he should
come to confessional before this little boy. He believed that he
had judged too hastily, and he was come to make it right. "Maybe
you were lonesome," he said. "Maybe you wanted Mother."

David said nothing, and the Doctor went on with that wistful
tenderness which comes to us when we feel we have not been just
with those we love.

"You _do_ like me, don't you, David?"

But the little boy could not answer; he was crying so.



CHAPTER X

THE NIP OF GUILT


Little David was not well; little David was hot and red.

After he had been gently laid in the crib he turned restlessly,
and from time to time a gasping sob shook his whole body, for he
had cried himself to sleep. He had fallen into a fitful slumber
while in the Doctor's buggy, and had not awakened when carried
into the house.

"A little feverish," said Mother, as she pressed her cool hand
upon his forehead.

The Doctor said nothing, but in his eyes, as he bent over the
little boy, there was something sinister. It was his fighting
face, and it was saying to David:

"You shall not be sick, little boy. I won't have it."

All the weariness of the man was gone; all his dreary
discouragement was gone. He stood erect, a soldier ready to do
battle against disease which for these past weeks had been
choking out the life of little children.

As the Doctor hurried away he was upbraiding himself for having
been absent from his patients not less than three whole hours.
Gross negligence, this! He had no right to play so long with
David, and now he would not take the time to tell Miss Eastman of
all the great things they had been doing.

But indeed no words of explanation were required to tell her of
one thing that had been done. Without any assistance she soon
discovered a substantial reason why her little boy was so
restless, and this reason proved to be a miniature. She found
the two pieces of it hid away in his blouse at the very place
where they would be most uncomfortable to lie upon. But even
after she had relieved David of this source of trouble, he still
turned and tossed and talked in his sleep.

She could not understand what he was saying, but the face painted
on porcelain seemed easily understood. How, Miss Eastman asked
herself, had he come by that picture? Who had given it to her
little boy, and what had he been told about the beautiful face?

An impulse had suddenly come upon the woman to hide it away, or
better yet, to destroy it utterly. But there was no time for
that. As if from an electric shock, David had flounced over on
his side, and now he sprung bolt upright. Confused emotions
struggled in his face; his hands searched his blouse, and as they
failed to find what they were searching for, there came such a
look of terror into his eyes that Mother instantly produced the
miniature.

"Who is it, dear?" she asked.

With the same sort of agility which had come to him when he had
heard the Doctor's footstep on the stair, David seized the pieces
of porcelain, and with fumbling eagerness he slipped them back
into his blouse.

"It's mine!" he called out. He scowled fiercely, as though
expecting some one to dispute his claim.

"Where did you get it?"

"Up there," he said.

"Up where?"

Again the little boy was silent, but Mother insisted on more
definite information. Three times she asked how he had come into
possession of the picture before he would speak again. When he
did so he scowled more heavily than at first, and exclaimed:

"I won't not tell you!"

"But why, David; why not tell Mother about it?"

The child evaded a direct reply.

"Doctor will be mad at me," he said.

"Did he give it to you?"

The little boy nodded.

"Did he say you were not to tell me?"

Again the little boy nodded.

"Did he tell you who it was?"

Now that the wrong story was so well started, David was inspired
to make it a good one. To do that he would use part of the truth,
but unfortunately he could not recall much of what Dr. Redfield
had said about the picture. There was but one word that had stood
out prominently in the talk, and that was the word "Mother." It
was a relief to David to remember that, and he blurted out his
information with cruel finality.

"This," he said, holding the pieces of the miniature together,
"is mother."

"But how can you have two mothers?" Miss Eastman inquired, with a
smile that was not a good smile. "Tell me, David, tell me whose
mother am I?"

"You?" he asked with puzzled anxiety. Then he stopped short. It
is not easy to steal pictures and tell wrong stories about them.
He did not know what to do. Everything was against him, and he
began to cry again.

It was now that Miss Eastman passionately seized the little boy
in her arms.

"Don't you believe that!" she exclaimed, her words throbbing with
the hurt he had given her. "I am your mother, David--I!"



CHAPTER XI

APOTHEOSIS


After declaring that she alone was David's mother, Miss Eastman
was called away to the telephone. It was Dr. Redfield inquiring
anxiously about the little boy. Pulse normal, temperature normal,
no symptoms of any sort, she told the physician, but she could
scarcely control her voice to answer his questions. There was a
tightness in her throat, and she spoke with crisp brevity,
instead of detailing anything of what had passed between her and
David.

When she had hung up the receiver and gone back to the child, she
took him in her lap and tried to entertain him with a book of
"Mother Goose" jingles, turning the pages slowly and concealing
her emotion under the silliness of the nursery rhymes. In the
midst of her comical recital about Jack and Jill who went up the
hill, she suddenly exclaimed:

"What great fun it was to be with Doctor!"

No matter how much she might try to divert her little boy, he was
only indifferently amused; but presently he remembered something
which, for the time being, caused him to forget the broken and
pilfered miniature.

"Mother," he exulted, "Mother, I got 'em! They have pockets--deep
pockets. You don't hardly know me, do you?"

David began strutting up and down the room; he stood still, with
legs wide apart, and then dug his fists deep into his pockets.

Of course mother was astounded. It required only a little
make-believe on her part to indicate that this was some strange
boy whom she had never seen before. The surprising change in him
had impressed her so disagreeably that she had been in no mood to
speak of it. Even as she had taken off the wide-brimmed sailor
hat, when David reached the house in Dr. Redfield's arms, she had
made no comment on the close-cropped, flaxen head. She had of
course remarked each detail of the little boy's altered
appearance, but what she had seen even more clearly was the look
in the man's face when he had told her that her little boy was
not well. It was this that she had seen at a glance, and it was
this that she had taken deeply to heart, but now she diligently
tried to enter into the spirit of trouvers.

All of a sudden the earnest look in David's face was swept away
by a smile. His little legs began to dance; his hands danced, and
his piping laughter danced best of all. Making a prancing dash
for Mother's skirts, he demanded that she smell the good, barber
smell of his hair. But she laughed such a queer laugh, as she
gathered him up in her arms, that the gleefulness suddenly went
out of him.

"I'm afraid," she said, "I'm afraid there's not enough left of
your hair to smell."

The suspicion came to David that Mother was not glad. Instead of
applauding his fine hair-cut, she had a silly way of asking what
had been done with the curls.

This is the way mothers act sometimes when they want to be
downright discouraging. David showed how he felt about it by
asking if supper wouldn't soon be ready, and throughout the meal
he bore himself with dignity. Although it is not easy to pass the
rolls when one's arms are so short and the plate is so large and
wobbly, the little boy was sure that to-night he was reaching a
surprising distance across the table. Surely Mother must have
been impressed with this new and astonishing length of arm.

When it came bed-time, David felt it would be weakness on his
part, now that he was almost grown to be a man, to allow Mother
to continue her absurd habit of sitting beside him while he went
to sleep. He told her very delicately that in the future she need
not go to so much trouble. He was resolved not to be such a
nuisance. Hereafter he would always go to sleep all by himself.

But in beginning this practice he did not think it advisable to
take off his trousers. Perhaps he would not feel so man-grown if
he took them off; perhaps the kilts-and-blouse feeling would come
on him in the night, unless he were consciously secure in
knickerbockers.

"I--I couldn't keep them on, could I, Mother?" The question came
plaintively, from the very depths of his desire.

"But, David," said Mother, "if you wear them out by sleeping in
them, then how are you to get any more? And besides, don't you
think they need a rest as well as you?"

Anybody could see the logic of that. David reluctantly permitted
his trousers to be taken off, and he was particularly eager to
see that they should have honorable treatment. He had a
misgiving that Mother did not know where they should properly be
stowed for the night, and his doubt thus found expression:

"Where does Doctor put his?"

The result of the question was not satisfying. David found that
he had brought up suddenly at the never-mind period. But his
close-cropped head leaned out over the edge of the crib; and his
eager eyes attentively regarded the floppy little legs of
trouvers as they were folded over the back of a chair. Then came
a sigh of resignation, and the shorn head was plumped down
resolutely upon the pillow.

For the first time in many months he forgot to make a little
smacky sound with his lips as a suggestion to Mother that she
might have a kiss. Evidently such a matter was now of no
importance, nor did he hold out his arms to her. All such
childish ways as that had been put aside, and perhaps that is why
a wistful look came into Mother's face.

After she had left David in the big, dark room, she took up some
dull-blue linen from her sewing-table. Only a short while ago she
had been stitching upon this apparel for her baby--a foolish
little dress, all edged about with a narrow lace braid.

Mother sat down by the shaded lamp and slipped a finger into her
thimble. But her needle, which in the afternoon had glanced and
glinted swiftly, as the dainty braid was being fastened into
place, somehow refused to do its work. The little blue suit fell
from her hands; the thimble rolled across the floor.

Hers was the bereavement which comes to every mother. It comes
upon her suddenly, leaving her surprised, wondering, and full of
foolish little fears that in the boyhood of her boy she may not
hold so big a place as was given her to hold through all his
babyhood.

Where was the child of yesterday? Who had stolen from Mother and
her little boy the elfin charm and the sweet wonderland which,
for so long a time, had been his and hers together? Gone, as it
must always go, when the little one of to-day goes speeding on
and still on into the dust and weary prose of the hurrying
years.



CHAPTER XII

LIGHT


Leaving Mrs. Wilson, a neighbor and friend, in care of the house
while David slept, Miss Eastman set out for Dr. Redfield's
office. In her face was determination; in her hand a broken
miniature. The gentleman was to be called upon to explain, if he
could, why he had given that picture to her little boy.

"I have been his mother now for four years," she meant to tell
the Doctor. "I have tried to be a good mother; I have tried my
best. Why, then, should you even suggest to him that I am not
really his mother? If you have done that I must tell you that I
do not think it just. And, besides, I must ask you to make no
further additions to his wardrobe without first consulting me. He
does not look like my little boy any more. You have cut off his
curls. You said nothing to me about it; you merely cut them off.
I did not want you to do that. I would not have consented to it,
and I should like you to understand that hereafter he is to be
solely in my care, or not at all."

As she rehearsed these words in her mind, Miss Eastman went
hurrying through the streets. Twilight had set in, close and
sultry, with low grumblings of thunder, and there was that
stillness in the air, that strange sense of waiting, which
precedes the storm. Gray, scarf-like films were speeding across
the black-purple sky, and were suddenly rent by a zig-zag quiver
of blue-white fire. The trees along the walk flamed green, and
then were dark again, and overhead a flight of pigeons clove the
air with a rushing of swift wings. An instant later a whirling
litter of straws, flapping newspapers, and dust came swishing
down the pavement, and with the coming of this first strong gust
of wind was a noise of slamming doors and the sound of windows
being quickly lowered. With the swift and vigorous whiff of storm
came the good, cooling smell of rain.

Miss Eastman paid no heed. She was too indignant and too hurt to
think much about so trifling a matter as a shower, and when she
reached the house of Dr. Redfield it further exasperated her that
she should be kept waiting upon his doorstep. Twice, and a third
time, she gave the bell an energetic pull, but no one answered.
The gush of water from the roof tinkled loudly in the tin
drain-pipes, but throughout the dwelling there was a tomb-like
silence. Presently, though, Miss Eastman heard a "squadgy" tread
that was steadily drawing nearer. When the door was at last
cautiously opened she caught a glimpse of the housekeeper, the
discreet and red-faced Mrs. Botz. As the shiny countenance
leisurely appeared, the woman revealed two flour-coated fingers
pressed upon her heavy lips.

"Herr Doctor iss maybe gone to sleep already," she whispered;
then she laughed a wheezy chuckle that shook her ponderous bust.
She pointed up the hallway to something under the light of the
oil lamp which much resembled a fat rag doll. The queer object
was shaking with strange contortions in the place where the
hall-bell should have hung. "I play him one good trick, ain't
it?" she added. "Mit a towel I tie up the bell-knocker--zo!" She
illustrated with her flour-dusted hands. "Den I wrap him round
like one sore foot. _Hoffentlich_, nopody vill vake him up if he
iss sleeping."

"But why, Mary, why should he be asleep? Is he so tired, then?"

"Ach, mein lieber Gott! Do you not know? It iss Duck Town. Vonce
more yet a funeral. I know from his face it is this time maybe
one little schildt. He carry them in his eyes, the little
schildren, unt he is coming home, unt he say nudding; he cannot
eat, unt zo I know vot iss it."

Although this announcement went to Miss Eastman's heart, it was
not sufficient to outweigh her resolution. She would speak
plainly to him. Glancing toward the office, she saw that a dim
light was shining from an open door into the hallway.

"I think I shall have to go in," she said to Mrs. Botz, and
started for the office.

Miss Eastman's determination was firmly fixed. Dr. Redfield must
understand once for all that hers was the exclusive guardianship
over David, and with that unwavering idea in her mind she looked
into the room. She saw him seated under the shade of the lamp in
his faded green house-robe, his shoulders more stooped than
formerly, his shaggy head sunk forward, and a greater weariness
in his face than she had ever seen in it before.

All at once, as she stood looking at him, her grievances dwindled
into pettiness. The words she had come to speak were dumb upon
her lips, forgotten in a womanly impulse to go to him, to put her
arms about that tired head, and to hold it as though he were
nothing more than a little boy. So, presently, when he glanced
up, it did not seem at all strange that she should be asking:--

"How is it down there? Very bad?"

One would have thought she had accused him of surrender. He
turned upon her with fierce irritability.

"Who says we're not getting on?" he demanded. "Who says--who says
nothing can do any good?"

He grasped the sides of the chair and struggled to his feet. He
stood erect like a general, his eyes suddenly lighting up with
the fire of inflexible will. Then he was seized with a trembling
fit, and sank back in his chair. He rubbed his hands over his
gray face; he clenched his fingers, and the knuckle of his thumb
went to his eye and got wet in doing it. And it was all so
awkward, and so boyish, and so funny, this movement of his fist
and the tear-drop on his thumb, that Miss Eastman would have
laughed if she had not been crying.

"Who was it, Doctor--who was it that died to-day?"

He told her who it was, and she could not believe him.

"Jim Lehman's child? Not Emma--surely not little Emma Lehman? How
is that possible? Such a very short time ago it seems since I was
lending her story-books! She couldn't speak English at all when
she first came to school."

"You knew her, then?"

"Knew her? She was the only one who cried when I told them I
would not teach school any more. She gave me a present once--a
woeful, comical Christmas present, a big, clean-washed, smooth
potato. That was all she had to give, and she had tied colored
strips of tissue paper about it to make it good enough."

Miss Eastman inquired about other children, one by one, as though
calling the roll. At first he evaded her questioning, giving such
vague and equivocal replies that presently she clearly understood
the situation.

"It is epidemic," she said, "and you have been keeping this from
me. How long since it began?"

"The worst is over," he answered, with something of the old
heartiness that made the sick take courage even in their hour of
darkest trial. But he was reluctant to talk much of conditions
in Duck Town; and presently, during a lull in the conversation,
Miss Eastman laid the pieces of the broken miniature on the table
before him.

"Was this David's mother?" she asked.

As the man took up the two parts of the broken portrait he
glanced apprehensively toward the top of his desk. The picture
which used to stand there was gone.

"Where did you get this?" he questioned.

"As soon as they get into trousers they get into mischief," she
replied, and again she asked whether that was a picture of the
little boy's mother.

With gentle fingers Dr. Redfield fitted the parts of the picture
together, sorrowfully shook his head over them, and then, as a
wan smile creased his tired face, he said:--

"David asked me if she was _my_ mother. Has the little rogue been
claiming her for _his_?"

Miss Eastman slowly answered: "She does look a little like--"

"Yes," the doctor interrupted, "more than that, I should
say--more than a little like David's mother. From the first time
I saw that poor dear woman I thought so, and yet I was never
quite sure that my fancy had not created the resemblance. It was
an unaccountable likeness, and yet so strong a one that it meant
much, very much to me."

"I must take this home again," she said, "for to-morrow David is
to bring it back to you. He must tell you all about it--how he
got into trouble. We shall come early in the morning, and he will
stay here with Mrs. Botz, while I go with you."

"Go with me?" The bushy eyebrows of Dr. Redfield raised with
inquiring astonishment.

"You cannot go on forever like this," she replied. "You must let
others help. I think I can be rather useful down there in Duck
Town. I shall be here early in the morning to go with you."

The Doctor said nothing. He merely clasped the woman's hand in
his two hands, and the look in his face was the look of that
little boy called David, when somebody has been good to him.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SUBSTITUTE


To Mrs. Wilson, the neighbor who had spent the better part of two
hours with David, Miss Eastman was saying, "_Must_ you go?"

Surely it is conclusive proof of superior intelligence in
womankind that any of the sex can understand when she is wanted
and when she is not wanted, although the idea in either case is
conveyed in precisely the same words.

Miss Eastman, for her part, was honestly grateful to Mrs. Wilson
for having remained with David during the early part of the
evening, but now Mrs. Wilson could go home and come again
another day. Miss Eastman did not say that; of course not! What
she did say was, "_Must_ you go?"

Mrs. Wilson saw she must. This, however, did not prevent her from
apologizing for her departure, and on the door-step still another
important subject was to be considered: the kindness of Mrs.
Wilson in staying with David. Mrs. Wilson averred that such
trifles were not to be spoken of. It was nothing at all. It had
been no trouble, indeed it had not; it had been a pleasure. Mrs.
Wilson said she believed in being neighborly.

Finally, when the merits of being neighborly had been
exhaustively commented upon, the women again made preparation to
bid each other good-evening.

"Come over and see us."

"Yes, thank you, I shall."

"Come over any time."

"Yes, I shall, thank you, and _you_ come over. Don't wait for me.
I hardly go any place."

Mrs. Wilson was moving her broad and well-intentioned person
sidewise down the porch steps, which still shone wet in the broad
white light of the moon, already looking serenely out through the
changeful interstices of the breaking storm clouds. Miss Eastman
watched her safely to the bottom step, but I regret to say that
she went into the house even before her neighbor had disappeared
down the glistening front walk.

Alone at last! She sighed with relief, and in the darkness of the
silent house she stole to the door of David's room that she might
listen there with some slight motherly apprehension, and then
peep in at the little white figure on the bed, where the
moonlight lay asleep.

Behold David, not greatly changed in looks. The cutting away of
his curls did not make such a difference in him as Mother had
supposed. He was as charming to her; he was as much her own
little boy as though no meddlesome hands had even been laid upon
him. In size he was quite the same, and, as Mother stood peering
in at him, she presently heard a small, far-away voice. In it was
the whispered awe of a child who feels the bigness of the night
about him and the strangeness of silvery moonbeams on his face.

"Mother!"

The queerness of everything was so very big that the little boy's
voice almost got lost in it.

"Yes, David, Mother is here."

"Are you coming to bed?"

"Do you want me to come?"

"I got trouvers," he said. But there was no pride in this
announcement; there was a touch of disappointment. For how is it
possible to have trouvers and at the same time to call babyishly
for your mother?

"Yes, David, you have them." A pause. The little boy was sitting
up, with a bare foot held meditatively in his hand. A wee, forlorn
figure of a child he was, who seemed to be listening to the
silence of the room. And by and by he was asking dispiritedly:--

"You aren't--you aren't afraid, are you, Mother?"

"How can I be afraid when I have a soldier-man to look out for
me? Are you afraid?"

No, indeed; David was not afraid. He flopped suddenly back upon
the bed, and resolutely turned his face to the wall. Mother need
not sit by him.

So she went back to her chair and rocked quietly, and thought of
a little child who was struggling hard to be more than a little
child. Later, as she was preparing to go to bed, she heard the
wee, sweet voice of him asking ruefully if she were not--maybe--a
little lonesome.

"I'm afraid so, dear," she reluctantly admitted.

One could see that this made a difference. If she was really
lonesome she might now come into the bedroom; she might sit by
David; she might even tell him a story if she wanted to.

"If you do," he said, "it won't matter to-night. It will help you
to get use-ter to having me all grown up."

In the trail of soft radiance across the pillow Mother could see
how wide open were the eyes of her little boy, but not long after
she had drawn a chair to the bedside the drowsy lids began to
droop.

"If you're real lonesome I'll hold your hand," said David, and he
went to sleep still holding her hand.

Before he was awake the next day she stood looking at her little
boy in the darkness of early morning, and she lighted the gas in
order to have a better look at him. According to an unvarying
custom, there was one wee fist cuddled under his cheek--a
wretched insurgent of a fist that had ever disdained all orders
to abide under the coverlet. Often in the night Mother had bowed
over the tiny sleeper to press her lips upon the plump, smooth
wrist before lifting the pretty arm to tuck it softly away into
the quilted warmth of the bed. And during such a time it was her
wont to listen, in the fear that is never far away from the heart
of motherhood, to know if his breathing was quite regular and
sweet. It sometimes happened, when she felt the tickling thrill
of his ringlets against her cheek, that she would want to wake
him up instantly to ask if he was not a dear.

But now had come a time when she felt no impulse to rouse him. The
touch of curls upon her cheek she would not feel any more. They
were gone, and that baby of hers was gone. When he presently
awoke, his greeting was characteristic of his altered condition.
He did not call to her, he did not crow with laughter of good
feeling and fine health. He merely sat up and solemnly whispered:--

"Trouvers!"

Mother assured him that they were not a dream. He could get up
now and put them on, for presently he and she would be setting
out to see their old friend, Dr. Redfield.

Little David did not instantly hop out of bed, as she had
supposed he would. Little David sat very still. He looked at
Mother and at the floor. Then he suddenly lay down again and
turned his face to the wall.

"You want to put them on, don't you?"

Mother seemed greatly puzzled. She waited, but David did not
move. He said nothing. It was as though he had grown suddenly
deaf.

"You had a fine time yesterday, didn't you?" she asked, but David
did not reply. He flattened himself against the wall. And Mother
added: "It was great fun, wasn't it?--to go to the barber shop
with Doctor and afterward to get trouvers?"

There was no sign of life in the little boy, until presently his
foot began to wiggle. By degrees he turned over and slowly sat
up.

Mother did not seem to see him; she was seated at a low table
strewn with toilet articles that sparkled under the rays of the
gas-jet. She was dressing her hair, and her arm swung in long,
even strokes; from time to time she paused to wind something from
the teeth of the white comb about her fingers, which she
afterwards tucked deftly into a small wicker box beneath the
tilted mirror. In the meantime David was looking at her with a
very long face, and by and by he slid quietly off the bed and
went to her, pressing himself against her knees.

"What else," she inquired, "did Dr. Redfield give you?"

David did not answer. He pushed his face deep into Mother's lap.

"Didn't Doctor give you something else?"

"No."

The word came with smothered indistinctness, but its meaning was
unmistakable.

"What, nothing?"

David raised his head and caught hold of Mother's hand. He had
grown very red in the face.

"Then what about the picture?" she asked, giving no heed to his
embarrassment. "Where did you get that?"

Both of David's fists were now clinging fast to the woman's
hand.

"Mother," he said, "I just tooked it."

"Oh, dear me!"

"Mother, I knocked it down. It broke. I tooked it."

A sudden silence had got hold of the room. The little boy's head
sank once more into Mother's lap and he shook with silent sobs. A
moist warmth went through her skirt and was felt upon her knee.

"This is hard on the Doctor," she said, and her voice was firm,
but her hand gently stroked her little boy's hair. "He let you
look at the picture, and now it is spoiled. He had only the one,
and can never get another like it. You broke it, and you took it
from him. We cannot mend it; it is done for. My, my! what are we
to do?"

David's arms went tight about Mother's knees. In mute anguish he
clung to her, pleading for help without saying a word.

"If only we had another picture!" Mother suggested.

Would--would that do?

All of a sudden David had stopped crying. With the wet, shiny,
tear-trails across his cheeks he looked up.

"Mother!" His eyes were wide open. "In your drawer," he said, but
his voice was so small he could hardly make himself heard, "in
your drawer there is one--a fine picture!"

"Is there?" Eagerness was in Mother's tone; hopefulness was in
Mother's look, but the look vanished and left nothing but
disappointment in her eyes. She had remembered a little golden
locket in a drawer of the chiffonier, a locket that held the
handsome face of a young man. She had never shown the picture to
her little boy, and was not aware that he knew anything about it.

"That will never do," she told David. "It does not belong to you,
and it cannot be given away. It must be kept always. People care
a great deal for--some pictures. They have a meaning which is
often one of the very best things life can ever have. If you
should be taken from me, and if I should still have your picture,
that would be almost the best thing I could have. You see how it
is. If some one should take the picture, I could never get
another that would mean so much to me."

They began to walk up and down the room. The little boy was
clinging to Mother's hand and he kept tangling his pink feet in
the folds of his night dress, while his tearful eyes were fixed
steadfastly upon the earnest face above him.

"Mother!" he suddenly called out, "where's my scrap-book?"

David had found a way. He and Mother hurried to the bookcase. In
great haste they rummaged the shelves; magazines were pushed
aside; pamphlets and papers were pushed aside--Good! Here it was,
that scrapbook. Wild with excitement David began thumbing the
pages; he laughed; he tore some of the leaves. Then he pounced
down upon his chief treasure, a picture which Mitch Horrigan had
wanted to buy with some strips of tin, a broken Jew's harp, and a
wad of shoemaker's wax.

A great masterpiece, this. To the eyes of childhood nothing could
be more beautiful. It was a pink and pensive cow with a slight
clerical expression, a very dignified animal, caught in the act
of sedately skipping the rope.

"Splendid!" Mother exclaimed.

"Yes," David answered, gasping with relief. Then he chuckled in
triumph, and Mother did, too. When the picture had been detached
from the page the little boy held it tenderly in his hands.
Nothing must happen to it until it could be used in making things
right with the Doctor.

There had been so much excitement over the cow, so much delight
over securing a sacrifice to take the place of the Broken Lady,
that when Mother began to dress her little boy she imagined that
all thought of trousers had gone from him. But it was not so.
With prompt disfavor he regarded the blue suit of kilts edged
with lacy braid, and although there was reluctance in Mother's
heart, she began to look for the missing knickerbockers.

Every mother must come to it. She must help us tug and pull at
the clumsy things even if there comes something to tug and pull
at her heart. What matter if there be a voice within her that is
crying out to the child of yesterday to linger yet a little
longer in the dear winsomeness that will so soon be gone? Call as
you will, poor mother; your boy will not heed you now, for the
way to manhood is long to travel, and we men-children cannot wait
until you, with your pretty dreams, are willing to have us go.



CHAPTER XIV

SKY BLOSSOMS


David had learned a trick of loudly clacking his heels upon the
walk to make it seem that he was no longer a little boy. With the
picture held firmly in his hands he went strutting proudly at
Mother's side when they fared forth this early morning for the
Doctor's house.

The street was very still and smelled of yesterday's rain. In the
moist hush and semi-darkness which precedes the dawn, the
buildings were all silent and buried in mystery, and they gave
back a distinct replication of David's footstep. In response to
his question as to what other little boy was out of bed so
early, Mother answered:--

"That is no one, David. What you hear is an echo."

"Why can't I see Echo?"

"One never does see him."

"Is he a fairy?"

"Rather."

Here ended the conversation. And now, as Mother and Son trudged
onward in silence, a strange feeling came upon the little boy,
for the world at this hour was so new to him. A distant milk
wagon, resembling a block of shadow on wheels, went clattering
over the pavement, and from time to time a man smoking a pipe and
carrying a tin pail would pass by with long, swinging strides.

The upper air looked different, too. At one place a tall church
spire, topped by a copper cross, was blazing with sunshine, and
certain windows of the high buildings also began to flame. A pink
cloud lay asleep in the blue lap of heaven, and there was a
single star, like a pale drop of fire, that trembled up there as
though it were about to fall.

"What is that for?" asked David.

"What do you mean, my son?"

"Up there, Mother--see! It is a queer eye. It winks at us."

"One of the flowers of heaven, little boy; that's what it is."

"Did you ever have any?"

"Oh, no, David, because they are so hard to get."

Miss Eastman felt that in the serene beauty of the morning there
was something vaguely troubling. To think that all this
loveliness of the clear dawn, all this freshness of the sweet air
which to her and to David meant the joy of an exquisite
fairyland, could yet mean to others only the beginning of another
day of sorrow, of death, and squalid misery! How could it be
possible that the children of Duck Town, those who should be as
happy to-day and as full of health as this little boy of hers,
were still held fast in the grip of terrifying disease?

All the same, it was not a pleasant prospect to think of leaving
David with Dr. Redfield's housekeeper. As Miss Eastman considered
the situation she was suddenly seized with cowardice. She did not
want to go on to assist in the fight against contagion; she
wanted to turn back, and she began to walk more slowly,
loitering, regretting her resolution and seeking a pretext to
retreat.

For all that, she presently arrived at the Doctor's house, and
at the door-step she was greeted by Mrs. Botz, who appeared with
a gay shawl over her head and a letter in her hand.

"Zo early yet!" the housekeeper exclaimed. "You yust save me some
troubles. Herr Doctor say I am pleased to take you his letter."

"He wasn't expecting me, then?"

"_Ich weiss nicht._"

"He's waiting, isn't he? He hasn't gone, I hope."

"Ja, Herr Doctor he iss vendt."

"Oh, that is too bad!" Miss Eastman exclaimed with outward
regret, with inward gratification. Her heroic purpose to help in
the routing of disease from Duck Town had at least been
postponed.

She tore open the envelope which Mrs. Botz had given her, as she
began to read the brief communication, a slight puff of wind
stirred the wet maple boughs overhead. From the drenched leaves a
wee shower of liquid sparks came flashing down about her and the
little boy. Some of these pattering drops were caught in the soft
mesh of Miss Eastman's hair, where they trembled like rare jewels
and scattered the morning sunlight into rainbow gleams.

"There they are Mother--sky-blossoms!" David called out. He
clapped his hands gayly; he was greatly excited. "They have
fallen down out of heaven, and you have caught some of them."

Mother said not a word. She seized David in her arms. Her eyes
were wide open; they were as bright as the raindrops, and she was
breathing ever so fast.

"This letter," she said, "this letter, little boy, is for you.
Listen, David, only listen.... No; let us wait until we get home
before we read our letters."

When, presently, they were safely back in the House of Happiness,
this is what Mother read to her little boy on her lap:--

"'_To Mr. David Eastman_.

"'ESTEEMED SIR:--If you are in need of a father, I would like the
job. Will you please file my application? And will you please ask
your mother if you may have me? Ask her, David, if I may not live
at your house. Tell her, David--tell her, my little boy, that I
will be a good husband to her, and love her always.'"

The child took the written page from Mother's hand and looked at
it knowingly.

"I have a letter too," she said, but she could scarcely speak;
she was trembling so, and it seemed ever so hard for her to
breathe.

But indeed and indeed, hers was not a letter to be proud of. It
glowered; it smelled like a drug shop; it told her plainly that
Duck Town was no business of hers; it told her to stay at home,
to mind her own affairs and to go on being a good mother to her
little boy. But one sentence, the one at the end, was quite
different.

"Tell me," it said, "for I need very much to know; tell me
whether David has not put my picture into your heart."



The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
U.S.A.

       *       *       *       *       *





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