Partager l'article ! SEARCHING FOR HILDA DOOLITTLE: Old Tommy, by H.D. (as Edith Gray) "There never is anything a boy ...
"There never is anything a boy can do!" David pressed his nose close to the pane and scowled disapprovingly at the rain which beat against the window and in the deserted little courtyard just without.
"There never is anything a boy can do when he's not allowed to go out because it rains. There never is anything a boy can do!"
He turned into the warm, fire-lit room with a disgusted little sniff. "Such a tiny house, and crowded up so close against other tiny houses that there's hardly room to breathe. Can't play Indians or herding cattle here; it's too crowded with furniture. And there's no room for anything in the hall," he scolded in contempt, "but a dolls' house. Everything indoors seems for girls." He glanced disapprovingly about the room. "Cathie's flowers in the window, and her books on the floor, and the cat! Why couldn't I have a dog? Cats are girls' animals."
Old Tommy was asleep by the fire. David stalked across the room, contemplated him reflectively, considered tweaking his tail, decided, second thought, on nobler restraint, and then sat down, his arms about his knees, his eyes following the glimmer of up-drifting sparks and the coiled whiffs of blue- gray smoke behind the shining andirons.
There was no sound in the little room save the tick, tick of the great clock in the corner, the comfortable purr-rr of old Tommy and the beating of the rain against the window. Just outside the door his sister Cathie and a little friend were playing contentedly, wholly satisfied with so silly and meaningless a toy as a dolls' house. Occasionally, he caught the drift of their contented chatter.
"O Ann, Ann, it's such fun to have someone to play with! See how the little door opens! O Ann, and there are green trees just outside in the garden! My brother hates my house, but, oh, I love it so! He once stepped on a tree, but he's so big, of course" --
The loyal little sister! But David smiled in scorn. "Stepped on a tree, guess I did. I'd step on another if it got in my way. I wonder how girls get such fun out of nothing!"
He dropped his chin on his knees, and his eyes, half closed, dreamed into the fire light. "I have no patience with these foolish little things. I want to be something great and build big houses and sail ships to far countries, or write a thousand books. I want to be something great" --
"Something great?" He turned in surprise. Tommy was sitting up, licking his fat, white paw. "Something great? Well, young man, if I'm not much mistaken, you'll have to begin at the beginning, if ever you want to get to the end. That's a platitude, if you know what that means. That means that it's seven times seven times true, if you know how true that is. And I'll tell you this, you'd better hurry and begin at the beginning, or you can be quite sure you'll be pretty well forgotten at the end."
David was on the point of answering disdainfully; but old Tommy began stroking his whiskers in such a knowing manner that he was awed, instead, into profound respect.
"A girls' animal, yes," old Tommy continued, "when girls are very wise and know how to make-believe as well as a certain little Miss Cathie, with whom, in times past, I have had the honor of some learned conversation." Old Tommy puffed out his chest. He seemed to be growing larger and wiser and more completely all- knowing every minute. "Girls' animal, yes. But, of course, if you want to be something great all at once, without knowing in the least how to go about it, I really mustn't bore you with further advice. Good-bye; it's time I leave you."
"Oh, no, stay for just one minute," David implored. "I never knew before that cats could talk. Tell me what you mean."
Old Tommy grew bigger and bigger and wiser and wiser, and more and more all-knowing. Then he raised his fat, white paw and gave David a little cuff behind his left ear. "That is what I mean," he said.
Suddenly David seemed to be standing on a great wharf that reached far out into the ocean. Around and about there were strange voices and merchants in red robes and sailors with gold and silver earrings and great knives in their belts. Everyone was hurrying and jostling, and black slaves carried heavy boxes and rugs and great clusters of strange fruits, piling them high on the decks of the white-sailed ships. They seemed in a great hurry and David was quite bewildered by all the running about and shouting and calling. Then there were strange trumpet notes, as one by one, the great sails flapped, and the ships prepared to depart.
"Oh," thought David. "All the wonderful boats are going. I must ask where they are sailing, and, oh, they mustn't leave me here alone."
The wharf was almost deserted now except for a few sailors, who were untying the ropes from about the wharf piles. David walked up to one who wore a yellow sash and had a kind look about him.
"O Mr. Sailor," he said, "where are the ships going, and will they take me with them?"
The sailor with the yellow sash paused for a moment and looked at David. "Why," he said, "the ships are sailing to the wonderful land where the sun sets in the morning and rises in the evening. Didn't you know? It's the land of make-believe."
"And may I go with you?" asked David. "Oh, may I go with you? I never saw such beautiful lights on the water, and I've always wanted to sail away in a ship!"
The sailor pondered a moment and seemed about to consent. Then he called to another with a blue handkerchief twisted about his head. "What do you think?" he asked. "This boy wants to set sail with us. He says that the lights on the water are beautiful. Do you think that he's ready to go?"
The blue sailor eyed David suspiciously. "Certainly not." he said. "Don't you remember? This is the boy who thinks that doll houses are silly, and mopes indoors on a rainy day. He knows nothing of the beginning of make-believe, and this is very near the end. If he can't be happy in his own house, he won't be any more so on the far seas. He's not half ready for us. Throw down the ropes, the captain's calling!"
In a trice the sailors had jumped from the wharf into the rocking boats, and the fresh winds had blown the ships out and away, over across the sea; and David was quite alone on the deserted wharf.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" he cried. "They've left me and I wanted so to go with them!" He turned and stumbled blindly along the empty quay, back to the solid land. The country was harsh and dark and gray, and he walked and walked, blinded with disappointment. Then--he couldn't tell just how it happened--he was standing outside a strange garden, peering in through a green, latched gateway, down long, flower-lined pathways. There were white and pink flowers along the walks, and among the soft grass there were frail gold and lavender ones. David pressed his face close to the latched gate and peered, eagerly stretching his hands through the bars.
"O beautiful garden," he said, "I never knew that flowers could smell so sweetly. How wonderful it all is! And the winding paths seem to go on forever into the forests. I never saw anything so beautiful. Is there no one to let me in?"
All at once a little old lady stepped from behind a great rose tree. Her hands were filled with tiny yellow rosebuds, and her cheeks were pink as seashells, though her hair was silver white.
"Well, boy," she said. "Why don't you come in? Everyone's welcome! "
David jerked at the gate expectantly; but it was locked and he couldn't budge it. "I can't," he said. "The gate is locked. I can't get in!"
"True," said the little old lady; "but you brought your key, of course."
"Why, no," said David, "I haven't any key."
The little lady, gasped and looked quite terrified. "No key?" she said. "Oh, go away. I remember now. You're the boy who thinks that flowers belong only to girls. Oh, go away; this is the garden of make-believe and you can't enter here unless you have the key. You never once looked at the yellow crocuses that your sister planted along the window ledge indoors. The key to the garden of make-believe flowers is the love of real flowers. Go away, you don't belong here at all."
And the garden was gone and the old lady was gone and David was again alone upon the hard, gray road, wandering and lost. He seemed to have walked, footsore and dejected, for hours and hours. The path invariably twisted when he thought that he had reached the end, and seemed never to get anywhere at all, no matter how far and how fast he traveled.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said David. He sat down upon the dry, parched grass, utterly disconsolate. "How dreadful this all is after the ships and flowers. Is there never any way out?"
"Why certainly." It was old Tommy, sitting on a dry stump at the edge of the gray road. "Why certainly. Just wish to be where you'd like to be, and I'll see that you get there. You want to be great. Wish yourself in a wonderful castle, writing a thousand books, or in a splendid city, building a thousand palaces. Wish-- "
"Oh, stop!" cried David. "I'm tired. I'm tired, old Tommy. I wish that I were at home and had a chance to mend the doll-house trees!"
"Purr-rr," said old Tommy, asleep by the fire. David rubbed his eyes. "Why, where am I?" he questioned. "This isn't a cold, gray road at all." Then he jumped up, suddenly remembering, "Oh, it's home," he said. "How beautiful the flowers are in the window, and how warm it is! And, O Cathie, Cathie!" he ran out into the hall. "O little sister Cathie! I have a wonderful new plan for making doll-house gardens!"
First published in The Comrade. Philadelphia, Pa. : Presbyterian Church, Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. Vol. 3, no. 18 (April 30, 1911), p.70.
I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest--
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
I have had enough--
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
O for some sharp swish of a branch--
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light--
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit--
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
With a russet coat.
Or the melon--
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste--
it is better to taste of frost--
the exquisite frost--
than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves--
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince--
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
Can we believe -- by an effort
comfort our hearts:
it is not waste all this,
not placed here in disgust,
street after street,
each patterned alike,
no grace to lighten
a single house of the hundred
crowded into one garden-space.
Crowded -- can we believe,
not in utter disgust,
in ironical play --
but the maker of cities grew faint
with the beauty of temple
and space before temple,
arch upon perfect arch,
of pillars and corridors that led out
to strange court-yards and porches
where sun-light stamped
black on the pavement.
That the maker of cities grew faint
with the splendour of palaces,
paused while the incense-flowers
from the incense-trees
dropped on the marble-walk,
thought anew, fashioned this --
street after street alike.
he had crowded the city so full
that men could not grasp beauty,
beauty was over them,
through them, about them,
no crevice unpacked with the honey,
So he built a new city,
ah can we believe, not ironically
but for new splendour
constructed new people
to lift through slow growth
to a beauty unrivalled yet --
and created new cells,
hideous first, hideous now --
spread larve across them,
not honey but seething life.
And in these dark cells,
packed street after street,
souls live, hideous yet --
O disfigured, defaced,
with no trace of the beauty
men once held so light.
Can we think a few old cells
were left -- we are left --
grains of honey,
old dust of stray pollen
dull on our torn wings,
we are left to recall the old streets?
Is our task the less sweet
that the larve still sleep in their cells?
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength:
You are useless. We live.
We await great events.
We are spread through this earth.
We protect our strong race.
You are useless.
Your cell takes the place
of our young future strength.
Though they sleep or wake to torment
and wish to displace our old cells --
thin rare gold --
that their larve grow fat --
is our task the less sweet?
Though we wander about,
find no honey of flowers in this waste,
is our task the less sweet --
who recall the old splendour,
await the new beauty of cities?
The city is peopled
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:
Though they crowded between
and usurped the kiss of my mouth
their breath was your gift,
their beauty, your life.
"What a little girl she is," thought David. "What a little girl she is, to be sure."
She was propped up in bed, her pink wrapper thrown about her shoulders, her eyes, big and dark, looking wistfully at her brother, her fragile little fingers clinging to David's square-set, boyish palm.
"What a little girl she is!" And he was glad for many things as he looked at her lying there so tired and white -- chiefly that once he had dreamed a strange dream about girls and the things girls love -- that was long ago when they lived in the city. Since that he had learned more and more of this little sister, Ann, and the things she loved. He was proud enough of her now. He was glad that they had called him from the yard where he was coasting with Bert and Harry Weston. He was glad even to leave the joy and the stinging cold, the tingling of it all, to come and sit here and talk to Ann, who was such a very little sister.
The doctor had met David in the hall, put his two hands on his shoulders and looked down at him from his great height, and said: "David, you're a brave lad. Go tell your little sister what a beautiful world it is and how good it seems just to be alive."
So David went clattering up the steps. He wondered why his mother turned away her face as he passed her on the landing.
"It's this way," said David, "it's this way, Ann. You're tired, and you've forgotten how the trees look, and that's the reason that you don't want to get up and run outdoors. Don't you remember how you loved it all when we first came? Don't you remember the white petals on the cherry trees and the pink ones on the peach trees in Weston's yard? Don't you remember how we found violets in the Lynn meadow along the brook, and how Mary Lynn laughed because you asked if you might pick one? Don't you remember it, Ann?
Ann's little head drooped languidly. "Oh yes," she said, "I remember, David, but that was so long ago and it's all spoiled now, there are no flowers--in--the--woods."
"O Ann, Ann," he said, "look at me, Ann." He had slipped down now, kneeling on the floor, his arms reaching about her shoulders. "O Ann, Ann, look at me!" Something seemed to catch in his throat. He became strangely terrified. "The woods are full of beautiful things now--beautiful things!" He was glad that he had walked home from school that very afternoon with Jim Daly--funny Jim Daly who never knew his lessons but could tell the name and history of every field and tree for miles around. It was Jim who had shown him the rabbit track that cut across the meadow-hill field, twisted among the birches and finally disappeared behind the great, gray bowlder [sic] above the mill-creek swimming hole.
"O Ann," said David, "the woods are full of beautiful things. Ann, Ann, look at me! Do you know how a rabbit hops across the snow? Look! He puts his two hind feet forward, and then comes down with his front feet, and on the snow it looks as if he were running the other way. You'd never know unless someone told you." David was demonstrating his point by punching little hollows in the white counterpane. Ann's tired head lifted a moment, her eyes forgot to droop.
"So, he goes, on into his burrow under the gray rock," and David's fingers journeyed across Ann's little knee and, for a moment, snuggled under the pillow by her shoulder, "so he goes, and when you get well, I'll take you out and show you, or he'll tell you, or we can pretend that he'll tell you of all the things one finds in winter woods."
"What things?" asked Ann. There was a faint touch of color in her cheeks; her eyes sought his wonderingly.
"Why, leaves under the snow. You remember the hepaticas, Ann, how blue they were, and how you bunched the dark green leaves about them? Well, those leaves that were so strong and bright and shining last spring were left over from the year before. So, don't you see, they'd be there all the time, hidden underneath the snow. And, oh, the fir trees are as green as ever--greener, it seems, for there's nothing else to hide them.
"Ann, there are brown leaves, too, as fresh and crisp as when they fell. I'll bring some home to-morrow, and you shall tell me which is oak and elm and chestnut, and which is from the little dogwood tree. We'll spread them on the bed. You can pretend they're fairies--all with the newest thing in wood-style wings! I'll bring some roots home, too. We'll plant them in a pot and put them in the window--some bloodroot and some wee anemonies [sic]. Their roots are round, you know--anemonies [sic]--like little acorns or brown chestnuts. I'll have to look hard for them in the winter woods. Ann, are you listening to me?"
"Yes," said Ann, "tell me about the leaves."
"The leaves," said David, "are wrapped tight in their buds now. I think that the horse-chestnut buds are the largest. They're covered on the outside with thick, brown scales, to keep them warm, you know. They're very happy in their tight, little houses, and none of them complain because the woods are empty." Then, seeing that his little sister's head was drooping, David added quickly, "All except one, perhaps."
"Tell me about him, David."
"He was anxious for spring, you see, that leaf. He wanted so to come out. He couldn't wait quietly as the others did, he wanted so to see the flowers again. The great horse-chestnut tree,--she knew each tiny leaf, because she was their mother. She said: 'You must rest quietly here, my little leaf. It won't be spring, you know, until I call you.' But the little leaf grew more and more impatient, and one day he felt the warm sun through his coat, and he whispered to the twig, 'O twig, spring's come and mother doesn't know it.' But the twig said, 'I'm bigger than you, and I know it isn't spring until our mother tells us. Why, even the great branch wouldn't say the spring had come before our mother told him.' The little leaf didn't answer back because he knew he could never convince the stubborn twig, but he thought and thought. And, finally, because the sunlight was so warm, he pushed open the door of his house--forbidden though it was--and poked out his little head.
"All about, the sun fell soft on the leaves. They were gold-brown and fresh, for the snow had just melted away, and, down in the little hollow, the brook ran free, unbound and joyous. The little leaf laughed to himself and quivered in the sunlight. That night he could scarcely sleep for joy, and the next day, early in the morning, he was out again, venturing even farther. But"--David paused impressively and was rewarded by an eager little clutch about his arm: "Go on, go on, what happened? Tell me, David."
"The frost came back that night. It was February still, you see, and he shook the great trees and the small trees and tried each branch and twig. But all the doors were locked, tight locked, all except one, and he laughed and he tossed the brown leaves with joy as he found the tiny little green leaf peering out. 'O mother horse-chestnut, mother horse-chestnut,' he shouted in his triumph, 'you're the only mother in the winter woods that dares neglect her children. Ho! Ho!' And he was about to clutch with his cruel pointed fingers and crush the life out of the little leaf, when suddenly"--
"Yes, David, suddenly"--
"The great mother horse-chestnut woke from her night's sleep and saw the little leaf that had so disobeyed her. And then, what did she do? Instead of saying, 'Well, it served you right,' she sent her warm heart's blood, the sap, and wrapped her warmth round and round the leaf and covered him again in his warm bud. So he was none the worse for his naughtiness except for a nipped nose and a resolve to wait after that in patience for spring. So, shall we look for that very little bud when you are better?"
"Oh, yes, yes," she said, and her head rested against his shoulder, all contentment. "Oh, yes--yes," and Ann was asleep, but smiling, warm and safe like the wee, winter bud.
"It was the boy who called her back to life. It was the boy who broke that treacherous languor. You're a good lad, David!"
David turned from the window as the doctor touched his shoulder. "A good lad." That was just the doctor's way. He knew that he was not a good lad--he never seemed to get all his lessons at school, and he was always forgetting to wipe his feet on the mat at the front door.
The doctor was down the path and away with a whir of his big machine. "A good lad." No, David knew that he wasn't really that, but what did it matter, after all, since his mother was kneeling on the floor beside him, her arms about his neck, sobbing quietly against his shoulder.
David patted her hair softly, and stood patient and unquestioning, though he wondered why she should be crying now. Ann was going to get well!
First published in The Comrade. Philadelphia, Pa. : Presbyterian Church, Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. Vol. 4, no. 9 (March 2, 1912), p.34.