One by one the days passed, and there came from the anxious watchers at David's bedside only the words, "There's very little change." Often Jack Gurnsey went to the farmhouse to inquire for the boy. Often, too, he saw Perry Larson; and Perry was never loath to talk of David. It was from Perry, indeed, that Gurnsey began to learn some things of David that he had never known before.
"It does beat all," Perry Larson said to him one day, "how many folks asks me how that boy is—folks that you'd never think knew him, anyhow, ter say nothin' of carin' whether he lived or died. Now, there's old Mis' Somers, fur instance. You know what she is—sour as a lemon an' puckery as a chokecherry. Well, if she did n't give me yesterday a great bo-kay o' posies she'd growed herself, an' said they was fur him—that they berlonged ter him, anyhow.
" 'Course, I did n't exactly sense what she meant by that, so I asked her straight out; an' it seems that somehow, when the boy first come, he struck her place one day an' spied a great big red rose on one of her bushes. It seems he had his fiddle, an' he, 'played it'—that rose a-growin' (you know his way!), an' she heard an' spoke up pretty sharp an' asked him what in time he was doin'. Well, most kids would 'a' run,—knowin' her temper as they does,—but not much David. He stands up as pert as ye please, an' tells her how happy that red rose must be ter make all that dreary garden look so pretty; an' then he goes on, merry as a lark, a-playin' down the hill.
"Well, Mis' Somers owned up ter me that she was pretty mad at the time, 'cause her garden did look like tunket, an' she knew it. She said she had n't cared ter do a thing with it since her Bessie died that thought so much of it. But after what David had said, even mad as she was, the thing kind o' got on her nerves, an' she could n't see a thing, day or night, but that red rose a-growin' there so pert an' courageous-like, until at last, jest ter quiet herself, she fairly had ter set to an' slick that garden up! She said she raked an' weeded, an' fixed up all the plants there was, in good shape, an' then she sent down to the Junction fur some all growed in pots, 'cause 't was too late ter plant seeds. An, now it's doin' beautiful, so she jest could n't help sendin' them posies ter David. When I told Mis' Holly, she said she was glad it happened, 'cause what Mis' Somers needed was somethin' ter git her out of herself—an' I'm free ter say she did look better-natured, an' no mistake,—kind o' like a chokecherry in blossom, ye might say."
"An' then there's the Widder Glaspell," continued Perry, after a pause. " 'Course, any one would expect she'd feel bad, seein' as how good David was ter her boy—teachin' him ter play, ye know. But Mis' Glaspell says Joe jest does take on somethin' turrible, an' he won't tech the fiddle, though he was plum carried away with it when David was well an' teachin' of him. An' there's the Clark kid. He's lame, ye know, an' he thought the world an' all of David's playin'.
" 'Course, there's you an' Miss Holbrook, always askin' an' sendin' things—but that ain't so strange, 'cause you was 'specially his friends. But it's them others what beats me. Why, some days it's 'most ev'ry soul I meet, jest askin' how he is, an' sayin' they hopes he'll git well. Sometimes it's kids that he's played to, an' I'll be triggered if one of 'em one day did n't have no excuse to offer except that David had fit him—'bout a cat, or somethin'—an' that ever since then he'd thought a heap of him—though he guessed David did n't know it. Listen ter that, will ye!
"An' once a woman held me up, an' took on turrible, but all I could git from her was that he'd sat on her doorstep an' played ter her baby once or twice;—as if that was anythin'! But one of the derndest funny ones was the woman who said she could wash her dishes a sight easier after she'd a-seen him go by playin'. There was Bill Dowd, too. You know he really has got a screw loose in his head somewheres, an' there ain't any one but what says he's the town fool, all right. Well, what do ye think he said?"
Mr. Jack shook his head.
"Well, he said he did hope as how nothin' would happen ter that boy, 'cause he did so like ter see him smile, an' that he always did smile every time he met him! There, what do ye think o' that?"
"Well, I think, Perry," returned.Mr. Jack soberly, "that Bill Dowd was n't playing the fool, when he said that, quite so much as he sometimes is, perhaps."
"Hm-m, maybe not," murmured Perry Larson perplexedly. "Still, I'm free ter say I do think 't was kind o' queer." He paused, then slapped his knee suddenly. "Say, did I tell ye about Streeter—Old Bill Streeter an' the pear tree?"
Again Mr. Jack shook his head.
"Well, then, I'm goin' to," declared the other, with gleeful emphasis. "An', say, I don't believe even you can explain this—I don't! Well, you know Streeter—ev'ry one does, so I ain't sayin' nothin' sland'rous. He was cut on a bias, an' that bias runs ter money every time. You know as well as I do that he won't lift his finger unless there's a dollar stickin' to it, an' that he hain't no use fur anythin' nor anybody unless there's money in it for him. I'm blamed if I don't think that if he ever gits ter heaven, he'll pluck his own wings an' sell the feathers fur what they'll bring."
"Oh, Perry!" remonstrated Mr. Jack, in a half-stifled voice.
Perry Larson only grinned and went on imperturbably.
"Well, seein' as we both understand what he is, I'll tell ye what he done. He called me up ter his fence one day, big as life, an' says he, 'How's the boy?' An' you could 'a' knocked me down with a feather. Streeter—a-askin' how a boy was that was sick! An' he seemed ter care, too. I hain't seen him look so longfaced since—since he was paid up on a sartin note I knows of, jest as he was smackin' his lips over a nice fat farm that was comin' to him!
"Well, I was that plum puzzled that I meant ter find out why Streeter was takin' sech notice, if I hung fur it. So I set to on a little detective work of my own, knowin', of course, that 't wa'n't no use askin' of him himself. Well, an' what do you s'pose I found out? If that little scamp of a boy had n't even got round him—Streeter, the skinflint! He had—an' he went there often, the neighbors said; an' Streeter doted on him. They declared that actually he give him a cent once—though that part I ain't swallerin' yet.
"They said—the neighbors did—that it all started from the pear tree—that big one ter the left of his house. Maybe you remember it. Well, anyhow, it seems that it's old, an' through bearin' any fruit, though it still blossoms fit ter kill, every year, only a little late 'most always, an' the blossoms stay on longer'n common, as if they knew there wa'n't nothin' doin' later. Well, old Streeter said it had got ter come down. I reckon he suspected it of swipin' some of the sunshine, or maybe a little rain that belonged ter the tree t'other side of the road what did bear fruit an' was worth somethin'! Anyhow, he got his man an' his axe, an' was plum ready ter start in when he sees David an' David sees him.
" 'T was when the boy first come. He'd gone ter walk an' had struck this pear tree, all in bloom,—an' 'course, you know how the boy would act—a pear tree, bloomin', is a likely sight, I'll own. He danced and laughed and clapped his hands,—he did n't have his fiddle with him,—an' carried on like all possessed. Then he sees the man with the axe, an' Streeter; an' Streeter sees him.
"They said it was rich then—Bill Warner heard it all from t'other side of the fence. He said that David, when he found out what was goin' ter happen, went clean crazy, an' rampaged on at such a rate that old Streeter could n't do nothin' but stand an' stare, until he finally managed ter growl out: 'But I tell ye, boy, the tree ain't no use no more!'
"Bill says the boy flew all to pieces then. 'No use—no use!' he cries; 'such a perfectly beautiful thing as that no use! Why, it don't have ter be any use when it's so pretty. It's jest ter look at an' love, an' be happy with!' Fancy sayin' that ter old Streeter! I'd like ter seen his face. But Bill says that wa'n't half what the boy said. He declared that 't was God's present, anyhow, that trees was; an' that the things He give us ter look at was jest as much use as the things He give us ter eat; an' that the stars an' the sunsets an' the snowflakes an' the little white cloud-boats, an' I don't know what-all, was jest as important in the Orchestra of Life as turnips an' squashes. An' then, Billy says, he ended by jest flingin' himself on ter Streeter an' beggin' him ter wait till he could go back an' git his fiddle so he could tell him what a beautiful thing that tree was.
"Well, if you'll believe it, old Streeter was so plum befuzzled he sent the man an' the axe away—an' that tree's a-livin' ter-day—'t is!" he finished; then, with a sudden gloom on his face, Larson added, huskily: "An' I only hope I'll be sayin' the same thing of that boy—come next month at this time!"
"We'll hope you will," sighed the other fervently.
And so one by one the days passed, while the whole town waited and while in the great airy "parlor bedroom" of the Holly farmhouse one small boy fought his battle for life. Then came the blackest day and night of all when the town could only wait and watch—it had lost its hope; when the doctors shook their heads and refused to meet Mrs. Holly's eyes; when the pulse in the slim wrist outside the coverlet played hide-and-seek with the cool, persistent fingers that sought so earnestly for it; when Perry Larson sat for uncounted sleepless hours by the kitchen stove, and fearfully listened for a step crossing the hallway; when Mr. Jack on his porch, and Miss Holbrook in her tower window, went with David down into the dark valley, and came so near the rushing river that life, with its petty prides and prejudices, could never seem quite the same to them again.
Then, after that blackest day and night, came the dawn—as the dawns do come after the blackest of days and nights. In the slender wrist outside the coverlet the pulse gained and steadied. On the forehead beneath the nurse's fingers, a moisture came. The doctors nodded their heads now, and looked every one straight in the eye. "He will live," they said. "The crisis is passed." Out by the kitchen stove Perry Larson heard the step cross the hall and sprang upright; but at the first glimpse of Mrs. Holly's tear-wet, yet radiant face, he collapsed limply.
"Gosh!" he muttered. "Say, do you know, I did n't s'pose I did care so much! I reckon I'll go an' tell Mr. Jack. He'll want ter hear."