David found many new songs in his violin those early winter days, and they were very beautiful ones. To begin with, there were all the kindly looks and deeds that were showered upon him from every side. There was the first snowstorm, too, with the feathery flakes turning all the world to fairy whiteness. This song David played to Mr. Streeter, one day, and great was his disappointment that the man could not seem to understand what the song said.
"But don't you see?" pleaded David. "I'm telling you that it's your pear-tree blossoms come back to say how glad they are that you did n't kill them that day."
"Pear-tree blossoms—come back!" ejaculated the old man. "Well, no, I can't see. Where's yer pear-tree blossoms?"
"Why, there—out of the window—everywhere," urged the boy.
"There! By ginger! boy—ye don't mean—ye can't mean the snow!"
"Of course I do! Now, can't you see it? Why, the whole tree was just a great big cloud of snowflakes. Don't you remember? Well, now it's gone away and got a whole lot more trees, and all the little white petals have come dancing down to celebrate, and to tell you they sure are coming back next year."
"Well, by ginger!" exclaimed the man again. Then, suddenly, he threw back his head with a hearty laugh. David did not quite like the laugh, neither did he care for the five-cent piece that the man thrust into his fingers a little later; though—had David but known it—both the laugh and the five-cent piece gift were—for the uncomprehending man who gave them—white milestones along an unfamiliar way.
It was soon after this that there came to David the great surprise—his beloved Lady of the Roses and his no less beloved Mr. Jack were to be married at the beginning of the New Year. So very surprised, indeed, was David at this, that even his violin was mute, and had nothing, at first, to say about it. But to Mr. Jack, as man to man, David said one day:—
"I thought men, when they married women, went courting. In story-books they do. And you—you hardly ever said a word to my beautiful Lady of the Roses; and you spoke once—long ago—as if you scarcely remembered her at all. Now, what do you mean by that?"
And Mr. Jack laughed, but he grew red, too,—and then he told it all,—that it was just the story of "The Princess and the Pauper," and that he, David, had been the one, as it happened, to do part of their courting for them.
And how David had laughed then, and how he had fairly hugged himself for joy! And when next he had picked up his violin, what a beautiful, beautiful song he had found about it in the vibrant strings!
It was this same song, as it chanced, that he was playing in his room that Saturday afternoon when the letter from Simeon Holly's long-lost son John came to the Holly farmhouse.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Simeon Holly stood, with the letter in his hand.
"Ellen, we've got a letter from—John," he said. That Simeon Holly spoke of it at all showed how very far along his unfamiliar way he had come since the last letter from John had arrived.
"From—John? Oh, Simeon! From John?"
Simeon sat down and tried to hide the shaking of his hand as he ran the point of his knife under the flap of the envelope. "We'll see what—he says." And to hear him, one might have thought that letters from John were everyday occurrences.
Twice before I have written [ran the letter], and received no answer. But I'm going to make one more effort for forgiveness. May I not come to you this Christmas? I have a little boy of my own now, and my heart aches for you. I know how I should feel, should he, in years to come, do as I did.
I'll not deceive you—I have not given up my art. You told me once to choose between you and it—and I chose, I suppose; at least, I ran away. Yet in the face of all that, I ask you again, may I not come to you at Christmas? I want you, father, and I want mother. And I want you to see my boy.
"Well?" said Simeon Holly, trying to speak with a steady coldness that would not show how deeply moved he was. "Well, Ellen?"
"Yes, Simeon, yes!" choked his wife, a world of mother-love and longing in her pleading eyes and voice. "Yes—you'll let it be—'Yes'!"
"Uncle Simeon, Aunt Ellen," called David, clattering down the stairs from his room, "I've found such a beautiful song in my violin, and I'm going to play it over and over so as to be sure and remember it for father—for it is a beautiful world, Uncle Simeon, is n't it? Now, listen!"
And Simeon Holly listened—but it was not the violin that he heard. It was the voice of a little curly-headed boy out of the past.
When David stopped playing some time later, only the woman sat watching him—the man was over at his desk, pen in hand.
John, John's wife, and John's boy came the day before Christmas, and great was the excitement in the Holly farmhouse. John was found to be big, strong, and bronzed with the outdoor life of many a sketching trip—a son to be proud of, and to be leaned upon in one's old age. Mrs. John, according to Perry Larson, was "the slickest little woman goin'." According to John's mother, she was an almost unbelievable incarnation of a long-dreamed-of, long-despaired-of daughter—sweet, lovable, and charmingly beautiful. Little John—little John was himself; and he could not have been more had he been an angel-cherub straight from heaven—which, in fact, he was, in his doting grandparents' eyes.
John Holly had been at his old home less than four hours when he chanced upon David's violin. He was with his father and mother at the time. There was no one else in the room. With a sidelong glance at his parents, he picked up the instrument—John Holly had not forgotten his own youth. His violin-playing in the old days had not been welcome, he remembered.
"A fiddle! Who plays?" he asked.
"Oh, the boy. You say you—took him in? By the way, what an odd little shaver he is! Never did I see a boy like him."
Simeon Holly's head came up almost aggressively.
"David is a good boy—a very good boy, indeed, John. We think a great deal of him."
John Holly laughed lightly, yet his brow carried a puzzled frown. Two things John Holly had not been able thus far to understand: an indefinable change in his father, and the position of the boy David, in the household— John Holly was still remembering his own repressed youth.
"Hm-m," he murmured, softly picking the strings, then drawing across them a tentative bow. "I've a fiddle at home that I play sometimes. Do you mind if I—tune her up?"
A flicker of something that was very near to humor flashed from his father's eyes.
"Oh, no. We are used to that—now." And again John Holly remembered his youth.
"Jove! but he's got the dandy instrument here," cried the player, dropping his bow after the first half-dozen superbly vibrant tones, and carrying the violin to the window. A moment later he gave an amazed ejaculation and turned on his father a dumfounded face.
"Great Scott, father! Where did that boy get this instrument? I know something of violins, if I can't play them much; and this—! Where did he get it?"
"Of his father, I suppose. He had it when he came here, anyway."
" 'Had it when he came'! But, father, you said he was a tramp, and—oh, come, tell me, what is the secret behind this? Here I come home and find calmly reposing on my father's sitting-room table a violin that's priceless, for all I know. Anyhow, I do know that its value is reckoned in the thousands, not hundreds: and yet you, with equal calmness, tell me it's owned by this boy who, it's safe to say, does n't know how to play sixteen notes on it correctly, to say nothing of appreciating those he does play; and who, by your own account, is nothing but—" A swiftly uplifted hand of warning stayed the words on his lips. He turned to see David himself in the doorway.
"Come in, David," said Simeon Holly quietly. "My son wants to hear you play. I don't think he has heard you." And again there flashed from Simeon Holly's eyes a something very much like humor.
With obvious hesitation John Holly relinquished the violin. From the expression on his face it was plain to be seen the sort of torture he deemed was before him. But, as if constrained to ask the question, he did say:—
"Where did you get this violin, boy?"
"I don't know. We've always had it, ever since I could remember—this and the other one."
"The other one!"
"Oh!" He hesitated; then, a little severely, he observed: "This is a fine instrument, boy,—a very fine instrument."
"Yes," nodded David, with a cheerful smile. "Father said it was. I like it, too. This is an Amati, but the other is a Stradivarius. I don't know which I do like best, sometimes, only this is mine."
With a half-smothered ejaculation John Holly fell back limply.
"Then you—do—know?" he challenged.
"The value of that violin in your hands."
There was no answer. The boy's eyes were questioning.
"The worth, I mean,—what it's worth."
"Why, no—yes—that is, it's worth everything—to me," answered David, in a puzzled voice.
With an impatient gesture John Holly brushed this aside.
"But the other one—where is that?"
"At Joe Glaspell's. I gave it to him to play on, because he had n't any, and he liked to play so well."
"You gave it to him—a Stradivarius!"
"I loaned it to him," corrected David, in a troubled voice. "Being father's, I could n't bear to give it away. But Joe—Joe had to have something to play on."
" 'Something to play on'! Father, he does n't mean the River Street Glaspells?" cried John Holly.
"I think he does. Joe is old Peleg Glaspell's grandson." John Holly threw up both his hands.
"A Stradivarius—to old Peleg's grandson! Oh, ye gods!" he muttered. "Well, I'll be—" He did not finish his sentence. At another word from Simeon Holly, David had begun to play.
From his seat by the stove Simeon Holly watched his son's face—and smiled. He saw amazement, unbelief, and delight struggle for the mastery; but before the playing had ceased, he was summoned by Perry Larson to the kitchen on a matter of business. So it was into the kitchen that John Holly burst a little later, eyes and cheek aflame.
"Father, where in Heaven's name did you get that boy?" he demanded. "Who taught him to play like that? I've been trying to find out from him, but I'd defy Sherlock Holmes himself to make head or tail of the sort of lingo he talks, about mountain homes and the Orchestra of Life! Father, what does it mean?"
Obediently Simeon Holly told the story then, more fully than he had told it before. He brought forward the letter, too, with its mysterious signature.
"Perhaps you can make it out, son," he laughed. "None of the rest of us can, though I have n't shown it to anybody now for a long time. I got discouraged long ago of anybody's ever making it out."
"Make it out—make it out!" cried John Holly excitedly; "I should say I could! It's a name known the world over. It's the name of one of the greatest violinists that ever lived."
"But how—what—how came he in my barn?" demanded Simeon Holly.
"Easily guessed, from the letter, and from what the world knows," returned John, his voice still shaking with excitement. "He was always a queer chap, they say, and full of his notions. Six or eight years ago his wife died. They say he worshiped her, and for weeks refused even to touch his violin. Then, very suddenly, he, with his four-year-old son, disappeared—dropped quite out of sight. Some people guessed the reason. I knew a man who was well acquainted with him, and at the time of the disappearance he told me quite a lot about him. He said he was n't a bit surprised at what had happened. That already half a dozen relatives were interfering with the way he wanted to bring the boy up, and that David was in a fair way to be spoiled, even then, with so much attention and flattery. The father had determined to make a wonderful artist of his son, and he was known to have said that he believed—as do so many others—that the first dozen years of a child's life are the making of the man, and that if he could have the boy to himself that long he would risk the rest. So it seems he carried out his notion until he was taken sick, and had to quit—poor chap!"
"But why did n't he tell us plainly in that note who he was, then?" fumed Simeon Holly, in manifest irritation.
"He did, he thought," laughed the other. "He signed his name, and he supposed that was so well known that just to mention it would be enough. That's why he kept it so secret while he was living on the mountain, you see, and that's why even David himself did n't know it. Of course, if anybody found out who he was, that ended his scheme, and he knew it. So he supposed all he had to do at the last was to sign his name to that note, and everybody would know who he was, and David would at once be sent to his own people. (There's an aunt and some cousins, I believe.) You see he did n't reckon on nobody's being able to read his name! Besides, being so ill, he probably was n't quite sane, anyway."
"I see, I see," nodded Simeon Holly, frowning a little. "And of course if we had made it out, some of us here would have known it, probably. Now that you call it to mind I think I have heard it myself in days gone by—though such names mean little to me. But doubtless somebody would have known. However, that is all past and gone now."
"Oh, yes, and no harm done. He fell into good hands, luckily. You'll soon see the last of him now, of course."
"Last of him? Oh, no, I shall keep David," said Simeon Holly, with decision.
"Keep him! Why, father, you forget who he is! There are friends, relatives, an adoring public, and a mint of money awaiting that boy. You can't keep him. You could never have kept him this long if this little town of yours had n't been buried in this forgotten valley up among these hills. You'll have the whole world at your doors the minute they find out he is here—hills or no hills! Besides, there are his people; they have some claim."
There was no answer. With a suddenly old, drawn look on his face, the elder man had turned away.
Half an hour later Simeon Holly climbed the stairs to David's room, and as gently and plainly as he could told the boy of this great, good thing that had come to him.
David was amazed, but overjoyed. That he was found to be the son of a famous man affected him not at all, only so far as it seemed to set his father right in other eyes—in David's own, the man had always been supreme. But the going away—the marvelous going away—filled him with excited wonder.
"You mean, I shall go away and study—practice—learn more of my violin?"
"And hear beautiful music like the organ in church, only more—bigger—better?"
"I suppose so."
"And know people—dear people—who will understand what I say when I play?"
Simeon Holly's face paled a little; still, he knew David had not meant to make it so hard.
"Why, it's my 'start'—just what I was going to have with the gold-pieces," cried David joyously. Then, uttering a sharp cry of consternation, he clapped his fingers to his lips.
"Your—what?" asked the man.
"N—nothing, really, Mr. Holly,—Uncle Simeon,—n—nothing."
Something, either the boy's agitation, or the luckless mention of the gold-pieces sent a sudden dismayed suspicion into Simeon Holly's eyes. "Your 'start'?—the 'gold-pieces'? David, what do you mean?"
David shook his head. He did not intend to tell. But gently, persistently, Simeon Holly questioned until the whole piteous little tale lay bare before him: the hopes, the house of dreams, the sacrifice.
David saw then what it means when a strong man is shaken by an emotion that has mastered him; and the sight awed and frightened the boy.
"Mr. Holly, is it because I'm—going—that you care—so much? I never thought—or supposed—you'd—care," he faltered.
There was no answer. Simeon Holly's eyes were turned quite away.
"Uncle Simeon—please! I—I think I don't want to go, anyway. I—I'm sure I don't want to go—and leave you!"
Simeon Holly turned then, and spoke.
"Go? Of course you'll go, David. Do you think I'd tie you here to me—now?" he choked. "What don't I owe to you—home, son, happiness! Go?—of course you'll go. I wonder if you really think I'd let you stay! Come, we'll go down to mother and tell her. I suspect she'll want to start in to-night to get your socks all mended up!" And with head erect and a determined step, Simeon Holly faced the mighty sacrifice in his turn, and led the way downstairs.
The friends, the relatives, the adoring public, the mint of money—they are all David's now. But once each year, man grown though he is, he picks up his violin and journeys to a little village far up among the hills. There in a quiet kitchen he plays to an old man and an old woman; and always to himself he says that he is practicing against the time when, his violin at his chin and the bow drawn across the strings, he shall go to meet his father in the far-away land, and tell him of the beautiful world he has left.