Chapter XX. The Unfamiliar Way - Just David by Eleanor Porter

In September David entered the village school. School and David did not assimilate at once. Very confidently the teacher set to work to grade her new pupil; but she was not so confident when she found that while in Latin he was perilously near herself (and in French--which she was not required to teach--disastrously beyond her!), in United States history he knew only the barest outlines of certain portions, and could not name a single battle in any of its wars. In most studies he was far beyond boys of his own age, yet at every turn she encountered these puzzling spots of discrepancy, which rendered grading in the ordinary way out of the question.

David's methods of recitation, too, were peculiar, and somewhat disconcerting. He also did not hesitate to speak aloud when he chose, nor to rise from his seat and move to any part of the room as the whim seized him. In time, of course, all this was changed; but it was several days before the boy learned so to conduct himself that he did not shatter to atoms the peace and propriety of the schoolroom.

Outside of school David had little work to do now, though there were still left a few light tasks about the house. Home life at the Holly farmhouse was the same for David, yet with a difference--the difference that comes from being really wanted instead of being merely dutifully kept. There were other differences, too, subtle differences that did not show, perhaps, but that still were there.

Mr. and Mrs. Holly, more than ever now, were learning to look at the world through David's eyes. One day--one wonderful day--they even went to walk in the woods with the boy; and whenever before had Simeon Holly left his work for so frivolous a thing as a walk in the woods!

It was not accomplished, however, without a struggle, as David could have told. The day was a Saturday, clear, crisp, and beautiful, with a promise of October in the air; and David fairly tingled to be free and away. Mrs. Holly was baking--and the birds sang unheard outside her pantry window. Mr. Holly was digging potatoes--and the clouds sailed unnoticed above his head.

All the morning David urged and begged. If for once, just this once, they would leave everything and come, they would not regret it, he was sure. But they shook their heads and said, "No, no, impossible!" In the afternoon the pies were done and the potatoes dug, and David urged and pleaded again. If once, only this once, they would go to walk with him in the woods, he would be so happy, so very happy! And to please the boy--they went.

It was a curious walk. Ellen Holly trod softly, with timid feet. She threw hurried, frightened glances from side to side. It was plain that Ellen Holly did not know how to play. Simeon Holly stalked at her elbow, stern, silent, and preoccupied. It was plain that Simeon Holly not only did not know how to play, but did not even care to find out.

The boy tripped ahead and talked. He had the air of a monarch displaying his kingdom. On one side was a bit of moss worthy of the closest attention; on another, a vine that carried allurement in every tendril. Here was a flower that was like a story for interest, and there was a bush that bore a secret worth the telling. Even Simeon Holly glowed into a semblance of life when David had unerringly picked out and called by name the spruce, and fir, and pine, and larch, and then, in answer to Mrs. Holly's murmured: "But, David, where's the difference? They look so much alike!" he had said:--

"Oh, but they aren't, you know. Just see how much more pointed at the top that fir is than that spruce back there; and the branches grow straight out, too, like arms, and they're all smooth and tapering at the ends like a pussy-cat's tail. But the spruce back there--its branches turned down and out--didn't you notice?--and they're all bushy at the ends like a squirrel's tail. Oh, they're lots different! That's a larch 'way ahead--that one with the branches all scraggly and close down to the ground. I could start to climb that easy; but I couldn't that pine over there. See, it's 'way up, up, before there's a place for your foot! But I love pines. Up there on the mountains where I lived, the pines were so tall that it seemed as if God used them sometimes to hold up the sky."

And Simeon Holly heard, and said nothing; and that he did say nothing--especially nothing in answer to David's confident assertions concerning celestial and terrestrial architecture--only goes to show how well, indeed, the man was learning to look at the world through David's eyes.

Nor were these all of David's friends to whom Mr. and Mrs. Holly were introduced on that memorable walk. There were the birds, and the squirrels, and, in fact, everything that had life. And each one he greeted joyously by name, as he would greet a friend whose home and habits he knew. Here was a wonderful woodpecker, there was a beautiful bluejay. Ahead, that brilliant bit of color that flashed across their path was a tanager. Once, far up in the sky, as they crossed an open space, David spied a long black streak moving southward.

"Oh, see!" he exclaimed. "The crows! See them?--'way up there? Wouldn't it be fun if we could do that, and fly hundreds and hundreds of miles, maybe a thousand?"

"Oh, David," remonstrated Mrs. Holly, unbelievingly.

"But they do! These look as if they'd started on their winter journey South, too; but if they have, they're early. Most of them don't go till October. They come back in March, you know. Though I've had them, on the mountain, that stayed all the year with me."

"My! but I love to watch them go," murmured David, his eyes following the rapidly disappearing blackline. "Lots of birds you can't see, you know, when they start for the South. They fly at night--the woodpeckers and orioles and cuckoos, and lots of others. They're afraid, I guess, don't you? But I've seen them. I've watched them. They tell each other when they're going to start."

"Oh, David," remonstrated Mrs. Holly, again, her eyes reproving, but plainly enthralled.

"But they do tell each other," claimed the boy, with sparkling eyes. "They must! For, all of a sudden, some night, you'll hear the signal, and then they'll begin to gather from all directions. I've seen them. Then, suddenly, they're all up and off to the South--not in one big flock, but broken up into little flocks, following one after another, with such a beautiful whir of wings. Oof--oof--oof!--and they're gone! And I don't see them again till next year. But you've seen the swallows, haven't you? They go in the daytime, and they're the easiest to tell of any of them. They fly so swift and straight. Haven't you seen the swallows go?"

"Why, I--I don't know, David," murmured Mrs. Holly, with a helpless glance at her husband stalking on ahead. "I--I didn't know there were such things to--to know."

There was more, much more, that David said before the walk came to an end. And though, when it did end, neither Simeon Holly nor his wife said a word of its having been a pleasure or a profit, there was yet on their faces something of the peace and rest and quietness that belonged to the woods they had left.

It was a beautiful month--that September, and David made the most of it. Out of school meant out of doors for him. He saw Mr. Jack and Jill often. He spent much time, too, with the Lady of the Roses. She was still the Lady of the Roses to David, though in the garden now were the purple and scarlet and yellow of the asters, salvia, and golden glow, instead of the blush and perfume of the roses.

David was very much at home at Sunnycrest. He was welcome, he knew, to go where he pleased. Even the servants were kind to him, as well as was the elderly cousin whom he seldom saw, but who, he knew, lived there as company for his Lady of the Roses.

Perhaps best, next to the garden, David loved the tower room; possibly because Miss Holbrook herself so often suggested that they go there. And it was there that they were when he said, dreamily, one day:--

"I like this place--up here so high, only sometimes it does make me think of that Princess, because it was in a tower like this that she was, you know."

"Fairy stories, David?" asked Miss Holbrook lightly.

"No, not exactly, though there was a Princess in it. Mr. Jack told it." David's eyes were still out of the window.

"Oh, Mr. Jack! And does Mr. Jack often tell you stories?"

"No. He never told only this one--and maybe that's why I remember it so."

"Well, and what did the Princess do?" Miss Holbrook's voice was still light, still carelessly preoccupied. Her attention, plainly, was given to the sewing in her hand.

"She didn't do and that's what was the trouble," sighed I David. "She didn't wave, you know."

The needle in Miss Holbrook's fingers stopped short in mid-air, the thread half-drawn.

"Didn't--wave!" she stammered. "What do you--mean?"

"Nothing," laughed the boy, turning away from the window. "I forgot that you didn't know the story."

"But maybe I do--that is--what was the story?" asked Miss Holbrook, wetting her lips as if they had grown suddenly very dry.

"Oh, do you? I wonder now! It wasn't 'The Prince and the Pauper,' but the Princess and the Pauper," cited David; "and they used to wave signals, and answer with flags. Do you know the story?"

There was no answer. Miss Holbrook was putting away her work, hurriedly, and with hands that shook. David noticed that she even pricked herself in her anxiety to get the needle tucked away. Then she drew him to a low stool at her side.

"David, I want you to tell me that story, please," she said, "just as Mr. Jack told it to you. Now, be careful and put it all in, because I--I want to hear it," she finished, with an odd little laugh that seemed to bring two bright red spots to her cheeks.

"Oh, do you want to hear it? Then I will tell it," cried David joyfully. To David, almost as delightful as to hear a story was to tell one himself. "You see, first--" And he plunged headlong into the introduction.

David knew it well--that story: and there was, perhaps, little that he forgot. It might not have been always told in Mr. Jack's language; but his meaning was there, and very intently Miss Holbrook listened while David told of the boy and the girl, the wavings, and the flags that were blue, black, and red. She laughed once,--that was at the little joke with the bells that the girl played,--but she did not speak until sometime later when David was telling of the first home-coming of the Princess, and of the time when the boy on his tiny piazza watched and watched in vain for a waving white signal from the tower.

"Do you mean to say," interposed Miss Holbrook then, almost starting to her feet, "that that boy expected--" She stopped suddenly, and fell back in her chair. The two red spots on her cheeks had become a rosy glow now, all over her face.

"Expected what?" asked David.

"N--nothing. Go on. I was so--so interested," explained Miss Holbrook faintly. "Go on."

And David did go on; nor did the story lose by his telling. It gained, indeed, something, for now it had woven through it the very strong sympathy of a boy who loved the Pauper for his sorrow and hated the Princess for causing that sorrow.

"And so," he concluded mournfully, "you see it isn't a very nice story, after all, for it didn't end well a bit. They ought to have got married and lived happy ever after. But they didn't."

Miss Holbrook drew in her breath a little uncertainly, and put her hand to her throat. Her face now, instead of being red, was very white.

"But, David," she faltered, after a moment, "perhaps he--the--Pauper--did not--not love the Princess any longer."

"Mr. Jack said that he did."

The white face went suddenly pink again.

"Then, why didn't he go to her and--and--tell her?"

David lifted his chin. With all his dignity he answered, and his words and accent were Mr. Jack's.

"Paupers don't go to Princesses, and say "I love you.'"

"But perhaps if they did--that is--if--" Miss Holbrook bit her lips and did not finish her sentence. She did not, indeed, say anything more for a long time. But she had not forgotten the story. David knew that, because later she began to question him carefully about many little points--points that he was very sure he had already made quite plain. She talked about it, indeed, until he wondered if perhaps she were going to tell it to some one else sometime. He asked her if she were; but she only shook her head. And after that she did not question him any more. And a little later David went home.