It was Saturday night, and the end of David's third day at the farmhouse. Upstairs, in the hot little room over the kitchen, the boy knelt at the window and tried to find a breath of cool air from the hills. Downstairs on the porch Simeon Holly and his wife discussed the events of the past few days, and talked of what should be done with David.
"But what shall we do with him?" moaned Mrs. Holly at last, breaking a long silence that had fallen between them. "What can we do with him? Does n't anybody want him?"
"No, of course, nobody wants him," retorted her husband relentlessly.
And at the words a small figure in a yellow-white nightshirt stopped short. David, violin in hand, had fled from the little hot room, and stood now just inside the kitchen door.
"Who can want a child that has been brought up in that heathenish fashion?" continued Simeon Holly. "According to his own story, even his father did nothing but play the fiddle and tramp through the woods day in and day out, with an occasional trip to the mountain village to get food and clothing when they had absolutely nothing to eat and wear. Of course nobody wants him!"
David, at the kitchen door, caught his breath chokingly. Then he sped across the floor to the back hall, and on through the long sheds to the hayloft in the barn—the place where his father seemed always nearest.
David was frightened and heartsick. Nobody wanted him. He had heard it with his own ears, so there was no mistake. What now about all those long days and nights ahead before he might go, violin in hand, to meet his father in that far-away country? How was he to live those days and nights if nobody wanted him? How was his violin to speak in a voice that was true and pure and full, and tell of the beautiful world, as his father had said that it must do? David quite cried aloud at the thought. Then he thought of something else that his father had said: "Remember this, my boy,—in your violin lie all the things you long for. You have only to play, and the broad skies of your mountain home will be over you, and the dear friends and comrades of your mountain forests will be all about you." With a quick cry David raised his violin and drew the bow across the strings.
Back on the porch at that moment Mrs. Holly was saying:—
"Of course there's the orphan asylum, or maybe the poorhouse—if they'd take him; but—Simeon," she broke off sharply, "where's that child playing now?"
Simeon listened with intent ears.
"In the barn, I should say."
"But he'd gone to bed!"
"And he'll go to bed again," asserted Simeon Holly grimly, as he rose to his feet and stalked across the moonlit yard to the barn.
As before, Mrs. Holly followed him, and as before, both involuntarily paused just inside the barn door to listen. No runs and trills and rollicking bits of melody floated down the stairway to-night. The notes were long-drawn, and plaintively sweet; and they rose and swelled and died almost into silence while the man and the woman by the door stood listening.
They were back in the long ago—Simeon Holly and his wife—back with a boy of their own who had made those same rafters ring with shouts of laughter, and who, also, had played the violin—though not like this; and the same thought had come to each: "What if, after all, it were John playing all alone in the moonlight!"
It had not been the violin, in the end, that had driven John Holly from home. It had been the possibilities in a piece of crayon. All through childhood the boy had drawn his beloved "pictures" on every inviting space that offered,—whether it were the "best-room" wall-paper, or the fly leaf of the big plush album,—and at eighteen he had announced his determination to be an artist. For a year after that Simeon Holly fought with all the strength of a stubborn will, banished chalk and crayon from the house, and set the boy to homely tasks that left no time for anything but food and sleep—then John ran away.
That was fifteen years ago, and they had not seen him since; though two unanswered letters in Simeon Holly's desk testified that perhaps this, at least, was not the boy's fault.
It was not of the grown-up John, the willful boy and runaway son, however, that Simeon Holly and his wife were thinking, as they stood just inside the barn door; it was of Baby John, the little curly-headed fellow that had played at their knees, frolicked in this very barn, and nestled in their arms when the day was done.
Mrs. Holly spoke first—and it was not as she had spoken on the porch.
"Simeon," she began tremulously, "that dear child must go to bed!" And she hurried across the floor and up the stairs, followed by her husband. "Come, David," she said, as she reached the top; "it's time little boys were asleep! Come!"
Her voice was low, and not quite steady. To David her voice sounded as her eyes looked when there was in them the far-away something that hurt. Very slowly he came forward into the moonlight, his gaze searching the woman's face long and earnestly.
"And do you—want me?" he faltered.
The woman drew in her breath with a little sob. Before her stood the slender figure in the yellow-white gown—John's gown. Into her eyes looked those other eyes, dark and wistful,—like John's eyes. And her arms ached with emptiness.
"Yes, yes, for my very own—and for always!" she cried with sudden passion, clasping the little form close. "For always!"
And David sighed his content.
Simeon Holly's lips parted, but they closed again with no words said. The man turned then, with a curiously baffled look, and stalked down the stairs.
On the porch long minutes later, when once more David had gone to bed, Simeon Holly said coldly to his wife:—
"I suppose you realize, Ellen, just what you've pledged yourself to, by that absurd outburst of yours in the barn to-night—and all because that ungodly music and the moonshine had gone to your head!"
"But I want the boy, Simeon. He—he makes me think of—John."
Harsh lines came to the man's mouth, but there was a perceptible shake in his voice as he answered:—
"We're not talking of John, Ellen. We're talking of this irresponsible, hardly sane boy upstairs. He can work, I suppose, if he's taught, and in that way he won't perhaps be a dead loss. Still, he's another mouth to feed, and that counts now. There's the note, you know,—it's due in August."
"But you say there's money—almost enough for it—in the bank." Mrs. Holly's voice was anxiously apologetic.
"Yes, I know," vouchsafed the man. "But almost enough is not quite enough."
"But there's time—more than two months. It is n't due till the last of August, Simeon."
"I know, I know. Meanwhile, there's the boy. What are you going to do with him?"
"Why, can't you use him—on the farm—a little?"
"Perhaps. I doubt it, though," gloomed the man. "One can't hoe corn nor pull weeds with a fiddle-bow—and that's all he seems to know how to handle."
"But he can learn—and he does play beautifully," murmured the woman; whenever before had Ellen Holly ventured to use words of argument with her husband, and in extenuation, too, of an act of her own!
There was no reply except a muttered "Humph!" under the breath. Then Simeon Holly rose and stalked into the house.
The next day was Sunday, and Sunday at the farmhouse was a thing of stern repression and solemn silence. In Simeon Holly's veins ran the blood of the Puritans, and he was more than strict as to what he considered right and wrong. When half-trained for the ministry, ill-health had forced him to resort to a less confining life, though never had it taken from him the uncompromising rigor of his views. It was a distinct shock to him, therefore, on this Sunday morning to be awakened by a peal of music such as the little house had never known before. All the while that he was thrusting his indignant self into his clothing, the runs and turns and crashing chords whirled about him until it seemed that a whole orchestra must be imprisoned in the little room over the kitchen, so skillful was the boy's double stopping. Simeon Holly was white with anger when he finally hurried down the hall and threw open David's bedroom door.
"Boy, what do you mean by this?" he demanded.
David laughed gleefully.
"And did n't you know?" he asked. "Why, I thought my music would tell you. I was so happy, so glad! The birds in the trees woke me up singing, 'You're wanted—you're wanted;' and the sun came over the hill there and said, 'You're wanted—you're wanted;' and the little tree-branch tapped on my window pane and said 'You're wanted—you're wanted!' And I just had to take up my violin and tell you about it!"
"But it's Sunday—the Lord's Day," remonstrated the man sternly.
David stood motionless, his eyes questioning.
"Are you quite a heathen, then?" catechised the man sharply. "Have they never told you anything about God, boy?"
"Oh, 'God'?—of course," smiled David, in open relief. "God wraps up the buds in their little brown blankets, and covers the roots with—"
"I am not talking about brown blankets nor roots," interrupted the man severely. "This is God's day, and as such should be kept holy."
"Yes. You should not fiddle nor laugh nor sing."
"But those are good things, and beautiful things," defended David, his eyes wide and puzzled.
"In their place, perhaps," conceded the man, stiffly. "but not on God's day."
"You mean—He would n't like them?"
"Oh!"—and David's face cleared. "That's all right, then. Your God is n't the same one, sir, for mine loves all beautiful things every day in the year."
There was a moment's silence. For the first time in his life Simeon Holly found himself without words.
"We won't talk of this any more, David," he said at last; "but we'll put it another way—I don't wish you to play your fiddle on Sunday. Now, put it up till to-morrow." And he turned and went down the hall.
Breakfast was a very quiet meal that morning. Meals were never things of hilarious joy at the Holly farmhouse, as David had already found out; but he had not seen one before quite so somber as this. It was followed immediately by a half-hour of Scripture-reading and prayer, with Mrs. Holly and Perry Larson sitting very stiff and solemn in their chairs, while Mr. Holly read. David tried to sit very stiff and solemn in his chair, also; but the roses at the window were nodding their heads and beckoning; and the birds in the bushes beyond were sending to him coaxing little chirps of "Come out, come out!" And how could one expect to sit stiff and solemn in the face of all that, particularly when one's fingers were tingling to take up the interrupted song of the morning and tell the whole world how beautiful it was to be wanted!
Yet David sat very still,—or as still as he could sit,—and only the tapping of his foot, and the roving of his wistful eyes told that his mind was not with Farmer Holly and the Children of Israel in their wanderings in the wilderness.
After the devotions came an hour of subdued haste and confusion while the family prepared for church. David had never been to church. He asked Perry Larson what it was like; but Perry only shrugged his shoulders and said, to nobody, apparently:—
"Sugar! Won't ye hear that, now?"—which to David was certainly no answer at all.
That one must be spick and span to go to church, David soon found out—never before had he been so scrubbed and brushed and combed. There was, too, brought out for him to wear a little clean white blouse and a red tie, over which Mrs. Holly cried a little as she had over the nightshirt that first evening.
The church was in the village only a quarter of a mile away; and in due time David, open-eyed and interested, was following Mr. and Mrs. Holly down its long center aisle. The Hollys were early as usual, and service had not begun. Even the organist had not taken his seat beneath the great pipes of blue and gold that towered to the ceiling.
It was the pride of the town—that organ. It had been given by a great man (out in the world) whose birthplace the town was. More than that, a yearly donation from this same great man paid for the skilled organist who came every Sunday from the city to play it. To-day, as the organist took his seat, he noticed a new face in the Holly pew, and he almost gave a friendly smile as he met the wondering gaze of the small boy there; then he lost himself, as usual, in the music before him.
Down in the Holly pew the small boy held his breath. A score of violins were singing in his ears; and a score of other instruments that he could not name, crashed over his head, and brought him to his feet in ecstasy. Before a detaining hand could stop him, he was out in the aisle, his eyes on the blue-and-gold pipes from which seemed to come those wondrous sounds. Then his gaze fell on the man and on the banks of keys; and with soft steps he crept along the aisle and up the stairs to the organ-loft.
For long minutes he stood motionless, listening; then the music died into silence and the minister rose for the invocation. It was a boy's voice, and not a man's, however, that broke the pause.
"Oh, sir, please," it said, "would you—could you teach me to do that?"
The organist choked over a cough, and the soprano reached out and drew David to her side, whispering something in his ear. The minister, after a dazed silence, bowed his head; while down in the Holly pew an angry man and a sorely mortified woman vowed that, before David came to church again, he should have learned some things.