Chapter XXIII. Puzzles - Just David by Eleanor Porter

David's convalescence was picturesque, in a way. As soon as he was able, like a king he sat upon his throne and received his subjects; and a very gracious king he was, indeed. His room overflowed with flowers and fruit, and his bed quite groaned with the toys and books and games brought for his diversion, each one of which he hailed with delight, from Miss Holbrook's sumptuously bound "Waverley Novels" to little crippled Jimmy Clark's bag of marbles.

Only two things puzzled David: one was why everybody was so good to him; and the other was why he never could have the pleasure of both Mr. Jack's and Miss Holbrook's company at the same time.

David discovered this last curious circumstance concerning Mr. Jack and Miss Holbrook very early in his convalescence. It was on the second afternoon that Mr. Jack had been admitted to the sick-room. David had been hearing all the latest news of Jill and Joe, when suddenly he noticed an odd change come to his visitor's face.

The windows of the Holly "parlor bedroom" commanded a fine view of the road, and it was toward one of these windows that Mr. Jack's eyes were directed. David, sitting up in bed, saw then that down the road was approaching very swiftly a handsome span of black horses and an open carriage which he had come to recognize as belonging to Miss Holbrook. He watched it eagerly now till he saw the horses turn in at the Holly driveway. Then he gave a low cry of delight.

"It's my Lady of the Roses! She's coming to see me. Look! Oh, I'm so glad! Now you'll see her, and just know how lovely she is. Why, Mr. Jack, you aren't going now!" he broke off in manifest disappointment, as Mr. Jack leaped to his feet.

"I think I'll have to, if you don't mind, David," returned the man, an oddly nervous haste in his manner. "And you won't mind, now that you'll have Miss Holbrook. I want to speak to Larson. I saw him in the field out there a minute ago. And I guess I'll slip right through this window here, too, David. I don't want to lose him; and I can catch him quicker this way than any other," he finished, throwing up the sash.

"Oh, but Mr. Jack, please just wait a minute," begged David. "I wanted you to see my Lady of the Roses, and--" But Mr. Jack was already on the ground outside the low window, and the next minute, with a merry nod and smile, he had pulled the sash down after him and was hurrying away.

Almost at once, then, Miss Holbrook appeared at the bedroom door.

"Mrs. Holly said I was to walk right in, David, so here I am," she began, in a cheery voice. "Oh, you're looking lots better than when I saw you Monday, young man!"

"I am better," caroled David; "and to-day I'm 'specially better, because Mr. Jack has been here."

"Oh, has Mr. Jack been to see you to-day?" There was an indefinable change in Miss Holbrook's voice.

"Yes, right now. Why, he was here when you were driving into the yard."

Miss Holbrook gave a perceptible start and looked about her a little wildly.

"Here when--But I didn't meet him anywhere--in the hall."

"He didn't go through the hall," laughed David gleefully. "He went right through that window there."

"The window!" An angry flush mounted to Miss Holbrook's forehead. "Indeed, did he have to resort to that to escape--" She bit her lip and stopped abruptly.

David's eyes widened a little.

"Escape? Oh, he wasn't the one that was escaping. It was Perry. Mr. Jack was afraid he'd lose him. He saw him out the window there, right after he'd seen you, and he said he wanted to speak to him and he was afraid he'd get away. So he jumped right through that window there. See?"

"Oh, yes, I--see," murmured Miss Holbrook, in a voice David thought was a little queer.

"I wanted him to stay," frowned David uncertainly. "I wanted him to see you."

"Dear me, David, I hope you didn't tell him so."

"Oh, yes, I did. But he couldn't stay, even then. You see, he wanted to catch Perry Larson."

"I've no doubt of it," retorted Miss Holbrook, with so much emphasis that David again looked at her with a slightly disturbed frown.

"But he'll come again soon, I'm sure, and then maybe you'll be here, too. I do so want him to see you, Lady of the Roses!"

"Nonsense, David!" laughed Miss Holbrook alittle nervously. "Mr.--Mr. Gurnsey doesn't want to see me. He's seen me dozens of times."

"Oh, yes, he told me he'd seen you long ago," nodded David gravely; "but he didn't act as if he remembered it much."

"Didn't he, indeed!" laughed Miss Holbrook, again flushing a little. "Well, I'm sure, dear, we wouldn't want to tax the poor gentleman's memory too much, you know. Come, suppose you see what I've brought you," she finished gayly.

"Oh, what is it?" cried David, as, under Miss Holbrook's swift fingers, the wrappings fell away and disclosed a box which, upon being opened, was found to be filled with quantities of oddly shaped bits of pictured wood--a jumble of confusion.

"It's a jig-saw puzzle, David. All these little pieces fitted together make a picture, you see. I tried last night and I could n't do it. I brought it down to see if you could."

"Oh, thank you! I'd love to," rejoiced the boy. And in the fascination of the marvel of finding one fantastic bit that fitted another, David apparently forgot all about Mr. Jack--which seemed not unpleasing to his Lady of the Roses.

It was not until nearly a week later that David had his wish of seeing his Mr. Jack and his Lady of the Roses meet at his bedside. It was the day Miss Holbrook brought to him the wonderful set of handsomely bound "Waverley Novels." He was still glorying in his new possession, in fact, when Mr. Jack appeared suddenly in the doorway.

"Hullo my boy, I just--Oh, I beg your pardon. I supposed you were--alone," he stammered, looking very red indeed.

"He is--that is, he will be, soon--except for you, Mr. Gurnsey," smiled Miss Holbrook, very brightly. She was already on her feet.

"No, no, I beg of you," stammered Mr. Jack, growing still more red. "Don't let me drive--that is, I mean, don't go, please. I didn't know. I had no warning--I didn't see--Your carriage was not at the door to-day."

Miss Holbrook's eyebrows rose the fraction of an inch.

"I sent it home. I am planning to walk back. I have several calls to make on the way; and it's high time I was starting. Good-bye, David."

"But, Lady, of the Roses, please, please, don't go," besought David, who had been looking from one to the other in worried dismay. "Why, you've just come!"

But neither coaxing nor argument availed; and before David really knew just what had happened, he found himself alone with Mr. Jack.

Even then disappointment was piled on disappointment, for Mr. Jack's visit was not the unalloyed happiness it usually was. Mr. Jack himself was almost cross at first, and then he was silent and restless, moving jerkily about the room in a way that disturbed David very much.

Mr. Jack had brought with him a book; but even that only made matters worse, for when he saw the beautifully bound volumes that Miss Holbrook had just left, he frowned, and told David that he guessed he did not need his gift at all, with all those other fine books. And David could not seem to make him understand that the one book from him was just exactly as dear as were the whole set of books that his Lady of the Roses brought.

Certainly it was not a satisfactory visit at all, and for the first time David was almost glad to have Mr. Jack go and leave him with his books. The books, David told himself, he could understand; Mr. Jack he could not--to-day.

Several times after this David's Lady of the Roses and Mr. Jack happened to call at the same hour; but never could David persuade these two friends of his to stay together. Always, if one came and the other was there, the other went away, in spite of David's protestations that two people did not tire him at all and his assertions that he often entertained as many as that at once. Tractable as they were in all other ways, anxious as they seemed to please him, on this one point they were obdurate: never would they stay together.

They were not angry with each other--David was sure of that, for they were always very especially polite, and rose, and stood, and bowed in a most delightful fashion. Still, he sometimes thought that they did not quite like each other, for always, after the one went away, the other, left behind, was silent and almost stern--if it was Mr. Jack; and flushed-faced and nervous--if it was Miss Holbrook. But why this was so David could not understand.

The span of handsome black horses came very frequently to the Holly farmhouse now, and as time passed they often bore away behind them a white-faced but happy-eyed boy on the seat beside Miss Holbrook.

"My, but I don't see how every one can be so good to me!" exclaimed the boy, one day, to his Lady of the Roses.

"Oh, that's easy, David," she smiled. "The only trouble is to find out what you want--you ask for so little."

"But I don't need to ask--you do it all beforehand," asserted the, boy. "you and Mr. Jack, and everybody."

"Really? That's good." For a brief moment Miss Holbrook hesitated; then, as if casually, she asked: "And he tells you stories, too, I suppose,--this Mr. Jack,--just as he used to, doesn't he?"

"Well, he never did tell me but one, you know, before; but he's told me more now, since I've been sick."

"Oh, yes, I remember, and that one was 'The Princess and the Pauper,' wasn't it? Well, has he told you any more--like--that?"

The boy shook his head with decision.

"No, he doesn't tell me any more like that, and--and I don't want him to, either."

Miss Holbrook laughed a little oddly.

"Why, David, what is the matter with that?" she queried.

"The ending; it wasn't nice, you know."

"Oh, yes, I--I remember."

"I've asked him to change it," went on David, in a grieved voice. "I asked him just the other day, but he wouldn't."

"Perhaps he--he didn't want to." Miss Holbrook spoke very quickly, but so low that David barely heard the words.

"Didn't want to? Oh, yes, he did! He looked awful sober, and as if he really cared, you know. And he said he'd give all he had in the world if he really could change it, but he couldn't."

"Did he say--just that?" Miss Holbrook was leaning forward a little breathlessly now.

"Yes--just that; and that's the part I couldn't understand," commented David. "For I don't see why a story--just a story made up out of somebody's head--can't be changed any way you want it. And I told him so."

"Well, and what did he say to that?"

"He didn't say anything for a minute, and I had to ask him again. Then he sat up suddenly, just as if he'd been asleep, you know, and said, 'Eh, what, David?' And then I told him again what I'd said. This time he shook his head, and smiled that kind of a smile that isn't really a smile, you know, and said something about a real, true-to-life story's never having but one ending, and that was a logical ending. Lady of the Roses, what is a logical ending?"

The Lady of the Roses laughed unexpectedly. The two little red spots, that David always loved to see, flamed into her cheeks, and her eyes showed a sudden sparkle. When she answered, her words came disconnectedly, with little laughing breaths between.

"Well, David, I--I'm not sure I can--tell you. But perhaps I--can find out. This much, however, I am sure of: Mr. Jack's logical ending wouldn't be--mine!"

What she meant David did not know; nor would she tell him when he asked; but a few days later she sent for him, and very gladly David--able now to go where he pleased--obeyed the summons.

It was November, and the garden was bleak and cold; but in the library a bright fire danced on the hearth, and before this Miss Holbrook drew up two low chairs.

She looked particularly pretty, David thought. The rich red of her dress had apparently brought out an answering red in her cheeks. Her eyes were very bright and her lips smiled; yet she seemed oddly nervous and restless. She sewed a little, with a bit of yellow silk on white--but not for long. She knitted with two long ivory needles flashing in and out of a silky mesh of blue--but this, too, she soon ceased doing. On a low stand at David's side she had placed books and pictures, and for a time she talked of those. Then very abruptly she asked:--

"David, when will you see--Mr. Jack again--do you suppose?"

"Tomorrow. I'm going up to the House that Jack Built to tea, and I'm to stay all night. It's Halloween--that is, it isn't really Halloween, because it's too late. I lost that, being sick, you know. So we're going to pretend, and Mr. Jack is going to show me what it is like. That is what Mr. Jack and Jill always do; when something ails the real thing, they just pretend with the make-believe one. He's planned lots of things for Jill and me to do; with nuts and apples and candles, you know. It's to-morrow night. so I'll see him then."

"To-morrow? So--so soon?" faltered Miss Holbrook. And to David, gazing at her with wondering eyes, it seemed for a moment almost as if she were looking about for a place to which she might run and hide. Then determinedly, as if she were taking hold of something with both hands, she leaned forward, looked David squarely in the eyes, and began to talk hurriedly, yet very distinctly.

"David, listen. I've something I want you to say to Mr. Jack, and I want you to be sure and get it just right. It's about the--the story, 'The Princess and the Pauper,' you know. You can remember, I think, for you remembered that so well. Will you say it to him--what I'm going to tell you--just as I say it?"

"Why, of course I will!" David's promise was unhesitating, though his eyes were still puzzled.

"It's about the--the ending," stammered Miss Holbrook. "That is, it may--it may have something to do with the ending--perhaps," she finished lamely. And again David noticed that odd shifting of Miss Holbrook's gaze as if she were searching for some means of escape. Then, as before, he saw her chin lift determinedly, as she began to talk faster than ever.

"Now, listen," she admonished him, earnestly.

And David listened.