Chapter V. Discords - Just David by Eleanor Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again David frowned in mild wonder.

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

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

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

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

David gave a relieved laugh.

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

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

"Yes, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David shook his head.

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

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

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

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

David's face cleared.

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

"But I told you to do it before."

David's eyes grew puzzled again.

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

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

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

"I certainly do."

David's eyes flew wide open again.

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

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

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

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

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

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