Story type: Literature
THE Wise homestead dated back more than a century, yet it had nothing imposing about it except its site. It was a simple, glaringly white cottage. There was a center front door with two windows on each side; there was a low slant of roof, pierced by unpicturesque dormers. On the left of the house was an ell, which had formerly been used as a shoemaker’s shop, but now served as a kitchen. In the low attic of the ell was stored the shoemaker’s bench, whereon David Wise’s grandfather had sat for nearly eighty years of working days; after him his eldest son, Daniel’s father, had occupied the same hollow seat of patient toil. Daniel had sat there for twenty-odd years, then had suddenly realized both the lack of necessity and the lack of customers, since the great shoe-plant had been built down in the village. Then Daniel had retired — although he did not use that expression. Daniel said to his friends and his niece Dora that he had “quit work.” But he told himself, without the least bitterness, that work had quit him.
After Daniel had retired, his one physiological peculiarity assumed enormous proportions. It had always been with him, but steady work had held it, to a great extent, at bay. Daniel was a moral coward before physical conditions. He was as one who suffers, not so much from agony of the flesh as from agony of the mind induced thereby. Daniel was a coward before one of the simplest, most inevitable happenings of earthly life. He was a coward before summer heat. All winter he dreaded summer. Summer poisoned the spring for him. Only during the autumn did he experience anything of peace. Summer was then over, and between him and another summer stretched the blessed perspective of winter. Then Daniel Wise drew a long breath and looked about him, and spelled out the beauty of the earth in his simple primer of understanding. Daniel had in his garden behind the house a prolific grape-vine. He ate the grapes, full of the savor of the dead summer, with the gusto of a poet who can at last enjoy triumph over his enemy.
Possibly it was the vein of poetry in Daniel which made him a coward — which made him so vulnerable. During the autumn he reveled in the tints of the landscape which his sitting-room windows commanded. There were many maples and oaks. Day by day the roofs of the houses in the village became more evident, as the maples shed their crimson and gold and purple rags of summer. The oaks remained, great shaggy masses of dark gold and burning russet; later they took on soft hues, making clearer the blue firmament between the boughs. Daniel watched the autumn trees with pure delight. “He will go to-day,” he said of a flaming maple after a night of frost which had crisped the white arches of the grass in his dooryard. All day he sat and watched the maple cast its glory, and did not bother much with his simple meals. The Wise house was erected on three terraces. Always through the dry summer the grass was burned to an ugly negation of color. Later, when rain came, the grass was a brilliant green, patched with rosy sorrel and golden stars of arnica. Then later still came the diamond brilliance of the frost. So dry were the terraces in summer-time that no flowers would flourish. When Daniel’s mother had come to the house as a bride she had planted under a window a blush-rose bush, but always the blush-roses were few and covered with insects. It was not until the autumn, when it was time for the flowers to die, that the sorrel blessing of waste lands flushed rosily and the arnica showed its stars of slender threads of gold, and there might even be a slight glimpse of purple aster and a dusty spray or two of goldenrod. Then Daniel did not shrink from the sight of the terraces. In summer-time the awful negative glare of them under the afternoon sun maddened him.
In winter he often visited his brother John in the village. He was very fond of John, and John’s wife, and their only daughter, Dora. When John died, and later his wife, he would have gone to live with Dora, but she married. Then her husband also died, and Dora took up dressmaking, supporting herself and her delicate little girl-baby. Daniel adored this child. She had been named for him, although her mother had been aghast before the proposition. “Name a girl Daniel, uncle!” she had cried.
“She is going to have what I own after I have done with it, anyway,” declared Daniel, gazing with awe and rapture at the tiny flannel bundle in his niece’s arms. “That won’t make any difference, but I do wish you could make up your mind to call her after me, Dora.”
Dora Lee was soft-hearted. She named her girl-baby Daniel, and called her Danny, which was not, after all, so bad, and her old uncle loved the child as if she had been his own. Little Daniel — he always called her Daniel, or, rather, “Dan’l” — was the only reason for his descending into the village on summer days when the weather was hot. Daniel, when he visited the village in summer-time, wore always a green leaf inside his hat and carried an umbrella and a palm-leaf fan. This caused the village boys to shout, “Hullo, grandma!” after him. Daniel, being a little hard of hearing, was oblivious, but he would have been in any case. His whole mind was concentrated in getting along that dusty glare of street, stopping at the store for a paper bag of candy, and finally ending in Dora’s little dark parlor, holding his beloved namesake on his knee, watching her blissfully suck a barley stick while he waved his palm-leaf fan. Dora would be fitting gowns in the next room. He would hear the hum of feminine chatter over strictly feminine topics. He felt very much aloof, even while holding the little girl on his knee. Daniel had never married — had never even h ad a sweetheart. The marriageable women he had seen had not been of the type to attract a dreamer like Daniel Wise. Many of those women thought him “a little off.”
Dora Lee, his niece, privately wondered if her uncle had his full allotment of understanding. He seemed much more at home with her little daughter than with herself, and Dora considered herself a very good business woman, with possibly an unusual endowment of common sense. She was such a good business woman that when she died suddenly she left her child with quite a sum in the bank, besides the house. Daniel did not hesitate for a moment. He engaged Miss Sarah Dean for a housekeeper, and took the little girl (hardly more than a baby) to his own home. Dora had left a will, in which she appointed Daniel guardian in spite of her doubt concerning his measure of understanding. There was much comment in the village when Daniel took his little namesake to live in his lonely house on the terrace. “A man and an old maid to bring up that poor child!” they said. But Daniel called Dr. Trumbull to his support. “It is much better for that delicate child to be out of this village, which drains the south hill,” Dr. Trumbull declared. “That child needs pure air. It is hot enough in summer all around here, and hot enough at Daniel’s, but the air is pure there.”
There was no gossip about Daniel and Miss Sarah Dean. Gossip would have seemed about as foolish concerning him and a dry blade of field-grass. Sarah Dean looked like that. She wore rusty black gowns, and her gray-blond hair was swept curtain-wise over her ears on either side of her very thin, mildly severe wedge of a face. Sarah was a notable housekeeper and a good cook. She could make an endless variety of cakes and puddings and pies, and her biscuits were marvels. Daniel had long catered for himself, and a rasher of bacon, with an egg, suited him much better for supper than hot biscuits, preserves, and five kinds of cake. Still, he did not complain, and did not understand that Sarah’s fare was not suitable for the child, until Dr. Trumbull told him so.
“Don’t you let that child live on that kind of food if you want her to live at all,” said Dr. Trumbull. “Lord! what are the women made of, and the men they feed, for that matter? Why, Daniel, there are many people in this place, and hard-working people, too, who eat a quantity of food, yet don’t get enough nourishment for a litter of kittens.”
“What shall I do?” asked Daniel in a puzzled way.
“Do? You can cook a beefsteak yourself, can’t you? Sarah Dean would fry one as hard as sole-leather.”
“Yes, I can cook a beefsteak real nice,” said Daniel.
“Do it, then; and cook some chops, too, and plenty of eggs.”
“I don’t exactly hanker after quite so much sweet stuff,” said Daniel. “I wonder if Sarah’s feelings will be hurt.”
“It is much better for feelings to be hurt than stomachs,” declared Dr. Trumbull, “but Sarah’s feelings will not be hurt. I know her. She is a wiry woman. Give her a knock and she springs back into place. Don’t worry about her, Daniel.”
When Daniel went home that night he carried a juicy steak, and he cooked it, and he and little Dan’1 had a square meal. Sarah refused the steak with a slight air of hauteur, but she behaved very well. When she set away her untasted layer-cakes and pies and cookies, she eyed them somewhat anxiously. Her standard of values seemed toppling before her mental vision. “They will starve to death if they live on such victuals as beefsteak, instead of good nourishing hot biscuits and cake,” she thought. After the supper dishes were cleared away she went into the sitting-room where Daniel Wise sat beside a window, waiting in a sort of stern patience for a whiff of air. It was a very close evening. The sun was red in the low west, but a heaving sea of mist was rising over the lowlands.
Sarah sat down opposite Daniel. “Close, ain’t it?” said she. She began knitting her lace edging.
“Pretty close,” replied Daniel. He spoke with an effect of forced politeness. Although he had such a horror of extreme heat, he was always chary of boldly expressing his mind concerning it, for he had a feeling that he might be guilty of blasphemy, since he regarded the weather as being due to an Almighty mandate. Therefore, although he suffered, he was extremely polite.
“It is awful up-stairs in little Dan’l’s room,” said Sarah. “I have got all the windows open except the one that’s right on the bed, and I told her she needn’t keep more than the sheet and one comfortable over her.”
Daniel looked anxious. “Children ain’t ever overcome when they are in bed, in the house, are they?”
“Land, no! I never heard of such a thing. And, anyway, little Dan’l’s so thin it ain’t likely she feels the heat as much as some.”
“I hope she don’t.”
Daniel continued to sit hunched up on himself, gazing with a sort of mournful irritation out of the window upon the landscape over which the misty shadows vaguely wavered.
Sarah knitted. She could knit in the dark. After a while she rose and said she guessed she would go to bed, as to-morrow was her sweeping-day.
Sarah went, and Daniel sat alone.
Presently a little pale figure stole to him through the dusk — the child, in her straight white night-gown, padding softly on tiny naked feet.
“Is that you, Dan’l?”
“Yes, Uncle Dan’l.”
“Is it too hot to sleep up in your room?”
“I didn’t feel so very hot, Uncle Dan’l, but skeeters were biting me, and a great big black thing just flew in my window!”
“A bat, most likely.”
“A bat!” Little Dan’l shuddered. She began a little stifled wail. “I’m afeard of bats,” she lamented.
Daniel gathered the tiny creature up. “You can jest set here with Uncle Dan’l,” said he. “It is jest a little cooler here, I guess. Once in a while there comes a little whiff of wind.”
“Won’t any bats come?”
“Lord, no! Your Uncle Dan’l won’t let any bats come within a gun-shot.”
The little creature settled down contentedly in the old man’s lap. Her fair, thin locks fell over his shirt-sleeved arm, her upturned profile was sweetly pure and clear even in the dusk. She was so delicately small that he might have been holding a fairy, from the slight roundness of the childish limbs and figure. Poor little girl! — Dan’1 was much too small and thin. Old man Daniel gazed down at her anxiously.
“Jest as soon as the nice fall weather comes,” said he, “uncle is going to take you down to the village real often, and you can get acquainted with some other nice little girls and play with them, and that will do uncle’s little Dan’l good.”
“I saw little Lucy Rose,” piped the child, “and she looked at me real pleasant, and Lily Jennings wore a pretty dress. Would they play with me, uncle?”
“Of course they would. You don’t feel quite so hot, here, do you?”
“I wasn’t so hot, anyway; I was afeard of bats.”
“There ain’t any bats here.”
“Uncle don’t believe there’s any skeeters, neither.”
“I don’t hear any sing,” agreed little Dan’l in a weak voice. Very soon she was fast asleep. The old man sat holding her, and loving her with a simple crystalline intensity which was fairly heavenly. He himself almost disregarded the heat, being raised above it by sheer exaltation of spirit. All the love which had lain latent in his heart leaped to life before the helplessness of this little child in his arms. He realized himself as much greater and of more importance upon the face of the earth than he had ever been before. He became paternity incarnate and superblessed. It was a long time before he carried the little child back to her room and laid her, still as inert with sleep as a lily, upon her bed. He bent over her with a curious waving motion of his old shoulders as if they bore wings of love and protection; then he crept back down-stairs.
On nights like that he did not go to bed. All the bedrooms were under the slant of the roof and were hot. He preferred to sit until dawn beside his open window, and doze when he could, and wait with despairing patience for the infrequent puffs of cool air breathing blessedly of wet swamp places, which, even when the burning sun arose, would only show dewy eyes of cool reflection. Daniel Wise, as he sat there through the sultry night, even prayed for courage, as a devout sentinel might have prayed at his post. The imagination of the deserter was not in the man. He never even dreamed of appropriating to his own needs any portion of his savings, and going for a brief respite to the deep shadows of mountainous places, or to a cool coast, where the great waves broke in foam upon the sand, breathing out the mighty saving breath of the sea. It never occurred to him that he could do anything but remain at his post and suffer in body and soul and mind, and not complain.
The next morning was terrible. The summer had been one of unusually fervid heat, but that one day was its climax. David went panting up-stairs to his room at dawn. He did not wish Sarah Dean to know that he had sat up all night. He opened his bed, tidily, as was his wont. Through living alone he had acquired many of the habits of an orderly housewife. He went down-stairs, and Sarah was in the kitchen.
“It is a dreadful hot day,” said she as Daniel approached the sink to wash his face and hands.
“It does seem a little warm,” admitted Daniel, with his studied air of politeness with respect to the weather as an ordinance of God.
“Warm!” echoed Sarah Dean. Her thin face blazed a scarlet wedge between the sleek curtains of her dank hair; perspiration stood on her triangle of forehead. “It is the hottest day I ever knew!” she said, defiantly, and there was open rebellion in her tone.
“It IS sort of warmish, I rather guess,” said Daniel.
After breakfast, old Daniel announced his intention of taking little Dan’l out for a walk.
At that Sarah Dean fairly exploded. “Be you gone clean daft, Dan’l?” said she. “Don’t you know that it actually ain’t safe to take out such a delicate little thing as that on such a day?”
“Dr. Trumbull said to take her outdoors for a walk every day, rain or shine,” returned Daniel, obstinately.
“But Dr. Trumbull didn’t say to take her out if it rained fire and brimstone, I suppose,” said Sarah Dean, viciously.
Daniel looked at her with mild astonishment.
“It is as much as that child’s life is worth to take her out such a day as this,” declared Sarah, viciously.
“Dr. Trumbull said to take no account of the weather,” said Daniel with stubborn patience, “and we will walk on the shady side of the road, and go to Bradley’s Brook. It’s always a little cool there.”
“If she faints away before you get there, you bring her right home,” said Sarah. She was almost ferocious. “Just because YOU don’t feel the heat, to take out that little pindlin’ girl such a day!” she exclaimed.
“Dr. Trumbull said to,” persisted Daniel, although he looked a little troubled. Sarah Dean did not dream that, for himself, Daniel Wise would have preferred facing an army with banners to going out under that terrible fusillade of sun-rays. She did not dream of the actual heroism which actuated him when he set out with little Dan’l, holding his big umbrella over her little sunbonneted head and waving in his other hand a palm-leaf fan.
Little Dan’l danced with glee as she went out of the yard. The small, anemic creature did not feel the heat except as a stimulant. Daniel had to keep charging her to walk slowly. “Don’t go so fast, little Dan’l, or you’ll get overhet, and then what will Mis’ Dean say?” he continually repeated.
Little Dan’l’s thin, pretty face peeped up at him from between the sides of her green sunbonnet. She pointed one dainty finger at a cloud of pale yellow butterflies in the field beside which they were walking. “Want to chase flutterbies,” she chirped. Little Dan’l had a fascinating way of misplacing her consonants in long words.
“No; you’ll get overhet. You just walk along slow with Uncle Dan’l, and pretty soon we’ll come to the pretty brook,” said Daniel.
“Where the lagon-dries live?” asked little Dan’l, meaning dragon-flies.
“Yes,” said Daniel. He was conscious, as he spoke, of increasing waves of thready black floating before his eyes. They had floated since dawn, but now they were increasing. Some of the time he could hardly see the narrow sidewalk path between the dusty meadowsweet and hardhack bushes, since those floating black threads wove together into a veritable veil before him. At such times he walked unsteadily, and little Dan’l eyed him curiously.
“Why don’t you walk the way you always do?” she queried.
“Uncle Dan’l can’t see jest straight, somehow,” replied the old man; “guess it’s because it’s rather warm.”
It was in truth a day of terror because of the heat. It was one of those days which break records, which live in men’s memories as great catastrophes, which furnish head-lines for newspapers, and are alluded to with shudders at past sufferings. It was one of those days which seem to forecast the Dreadful Day of Revelation wherein no shelter may be found from the judgment of the fiery firmament. On that day men fell in their tracks and died, or were rushed to hospitals to be succored as by a miracle. And on that day the poor old man who had all his life feared and dreaded the heat as the most loathly happening of earth, walked afield for love of the little child. As Daniel went on the heat seemed to become palpable — something which could actually be seen. There was now a thin, gaseous horror over the blazing sky, which did not temper the heat, but increased it, giving it the added torment of steam. The clogging moisture seemed to brood over the accursed earth, like some foul bird with deadly menace in wings and beak.
Daniel walked more and more unsteadily. Once he might have fallen had not the child thrown one little arm around a bending knee. “You ‘most tumbled down. Uncle Dan’l,” said she. Her little voice had a surprised and frightened note in it.
“Don’t you be scared,” gasped Daniel; “we have got ‘most to the brook; then we’ll be all right. Don’t you be scared, and — you walk real slow and not get overhet.”
The brook was near, and it was time. Daniel staggered under the trees beside which the little stream trickled over its bed of stones. It was not much of a brook at best, and the drought had caused it to lose much of its life. However, it was still there, and there were delicious little hollows of coolness between the stones over which it flowed, and large trees stood about with their feet rooted in the blessed damp. Then Daniel sank down. He tried to reach a hand to the water, but could not. The black veil had woven a compact mass before his eyes. There was a terrible throbbing in his head, but his arms were numb.
Little Dan’l stood looking at him, and her lip quivered. With a mighty effort Daniel cleared away the veil and saw the piteous baby face. “Take — Uncle Dan’l’s hat and — fetch him — some water,” he gasped. “Don’t go too — close and — tumble in.”
The child obeyed. Daniel tried to take the dripping hat, but failed. Little Dan’l was wise enough to pour the water over the old man’s head, but she commenced to weep, the pitiful, despairing wail of a child who sees failing that upon which she has leaned for support.
Daniel rallied again. The water on his head gave him momentary relief, but more than anything else his love for the child nerved him to effort.
“Listen, little Dan’l,” he said, and his voice sounded in his own ears like a small voice of a soul thousands of miles away. “You take the — umbrella, and — you take the fan, and you go real slow, so you don’t get overhet, and you tell Mis’ Dean, and –“
Then old Daniel’s tremendous nerve, that he had summoned for the sake of love, failed him, and he sank back. He was quite unconscious — his face, staring blindly up at the terrible sky between the trees, was to little Dan’l like the face of a stranger. She gave one cry, more like the yelp of a trodden animal than a child’s voice. Then she took the open umbrella and sped away. The umbrella bobbed wildly — nothing could be seen of poor little Dan’l but her small, speeding feet. She wailed loudly all the way.
She was half-way home when, plodding along in a cloud of brown dust, a horse appeared in the road. The horse wore a straw bonnet and advanced very slowly. He drew a buggy, and in the buggy were Dr. Trumbull and Johnny, his son. He had called at Daniel’s to see the little girl, and, on being told that they had gone to walk, had said something under his breath and turned his horse’s head down the road.
“When we meet them, you must get out, Johnny,” he said, “and I will take in that poor old man and that baby. I wish I could put common sense in every bottle of medicine. A day like this!”
Dr. Trumbull exclaimed when he saw the great bobbing black umbrella and heard the wails. The straw-bonneted horse stopped abruptly. Dr. Trumbull leaned out of the buggy. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Uncle Dan’l is gone,” shrieked the child.
“Gone where? What do you mean?”
“He — tumbled right down, and then he was — somebody else. He ain’t there.”
“Where is ‘there’? Speak up quick!”
“The brook — Uncle Dan’l went away at the brook.”
Dr. Trumbull acted swiftly. He gave Johnny a push. “Get out,” he said. “Take that baby into Jim Mann’s house there, and tell Mrs. Mann to keep her in the shade and look out for her, and you tell Jim, if he hasn’t got his horse in his farm-wagon, to look lively and harness her in and put all the ice they’ve got in the house in the wagon. Hurry!”
Johnny was over the wheel before his father had finished speaking, and Jim Mann just then drew up alongside in his farm-wagon.
“What’s to pay?” he inquired, breathless. He was a thin, sinewy man, scantily clad in cotton trousers and a shirt wide open at the breast. Green leaves protruded from under the brim of his tilted straw hat.
“Old Daniel Wise is overcome by the heat,” answered Dr. Trumbull. “Put all the ice you have in the house in your wagon, and come along. I’ll leave my horse and buggy here. Your horse is faster.”
Presently the farm-wagon clattered down the road, dust-hidden behind a galloping horse. Mrs. Jim Mann, who was a loving mother of children, was soothing little Dan’l. Johnny Trumbull watched at the gate. When the wagon returned he ran out and hung on behind, while the strong, ungainly farm-horse galloped to the house set high on the sun-baked terraces.
When old Daniel revived he found himself in the best parlor, with ice all about him. Thunder was rolling overhead and hail clattered on the windows. A sudden storm, the heat-breaker, had come up and the dreadful day was vanquished. Daniel looked up and smiled a vague smile of astonishment at Dr. Trumbull and Sarah Dean; then his eyes wandered anxiously about.
“The child is all right,” said Dr. Trumbull; “don’t you worry, Daniel. Mrs. Jim Mann is taking care of her. Don’t you try to talk. You didn’t exactly have a sunstroke, but the heat was too much for you.”
But Daniel spoke, in spite of the doctor’s mandate. “The heat,” said he, in a curiously clear voice,” ain’t never goin’ to be too much for me again.”
“Don’t you talk, Daniel,” repeated Dr. Trumbull. “You’ve always been nervous about the heat. Maybe you won’t be again, but keep still. When I told you to take that child out every day I didn’t mean when the world was like Sodom and Gomorrah. Thank God, it will be cooler now.”
Sarah Dean stood beside the doctor. She looked pale and severe, but adequate. She did not even state that she had urged old Daniel not to go out. There was true character in Sarah Dean.
The weather that summer was an unexpected quantity. Instead of the day after the storm being cool, it was hot. However, old Daniel, after his recovery, insisted on going out of doors with little Dan’l after breakfast. The only concession which he would make to Sarah Dean, who was fairly frantic with anxiety, was that he would merely go down the road as far as the big elm-tree, that he would sit down there, and let the child play about within sight.
“You’ll be brought home agin, sure as preachin’,” said Sarah Dean, “and if you’re brought home ag’in, you won’t get up ag’in.”
Old Daniel laughed. “Now don’t you worry, Sarah,” said he. “I’ll set down under that big ellum and keep cool.”
Old Daniel, at Sarah’s earnest entreaties, took a palm-leaf fan. But he did not use it. He sat peacefully under the cool trail of the great elm all the forenoon, while little Dan’l played with her doll. The child was rather languid after her shock of the day before, and not disposed to run about. Also, she had a great sense of responsibility about the old man. Sarah Dean had privately charged her not to let Uncle Daniel get “overhet.” She continually glanced up at him with loving, anxious, baby eyes.
“Be you overhet. Uncle Dan’l?” she would ask.
“No, little Dan’l, uncle ain’t a mite overhet,” the old man would assure her. Now and then little Dan’l left her doll, climbed into the old man’s lap, and waved the palm-leaf fan before his face.
Old Daniel Wise loved her so that he seemed, to himself, fairly alight with happiness. He made up his mind that he would find some little girl in the village to come now and then and play with little Dan’l. In the cool of that evening he stole out of the back door, covertly, lest Sarah Dean discover him, and walked slowly to the rector’s house in the village. The rector’s wife was sitting on her cool, vine-shaded veranda. She was alone, and Daniel was glad. He asked her if the little girl who had come to live with her, Content Adams, could not come the next afternoon and see little Dan’l. “Little Dan’l had ought to see other children once in a while, and Sarah Dean makes real nice cookies,” he stated, pleadingly.
Sally Patterson laughed good-naturedly. “Of course she can, Mr. Wise,” she said.
The next afternoon Sally herself drove the rector’s horse, and brought Content to pay a call on little Dan’l. Sally and Sarah Dean visited in the sitting-room, and left the little girls alone in the parlor with a plate of cookies, to get acquainted. They sat in solemn silence and stared at each other. Neither spoke. Neither ate a cooky. When Sally took her leave, she asked little Dan’l if she had had a nice time with Content, and little Dan’l said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Sarah insisted upon Content’s carrying the cookies home in the dish with a napkin over it.
“When can I go again to see that other little girl?” asked Content as she and Sally were jogging home.
“Oh, almost any time. I will drive you over — because it is rather a lonesome walk for you. Did you like the little girl? She is younger than you.”
Also little Dan’l inquired of old Daniel when the other little girl was coming again, and nodded emphatically when asked if she had had a nice time. Evidently both had enjoyed, after the inscrutable fashion of childhood, their silent session with each other. Content came generally once a week, and old Daniel was invited to take little Dan’l to the rector’s. On that occasion Lucy Rose was present, and Lily Jennings. The four little girls had tea together at a little table set on the porch, and only Lily Jennings talked. The rector drove old Daniel and the child home, and after they had arrived the child’s tongue was loosened and she chattered. She had seen everything there was to be seen at the rector’s. She told of it in her little silver pipe of a voice. She had to be checked and put to bed, lest she be tired out.
“I never knew that child could talk so much,” Sarah said to Daniel, after the little girl had gone up-stairs.
“She talks quite some when she’s alone with me.”
“And she seems to see everything.”
“Ain’t much that child don’t see,” said Daniel, proudly.
The summer continued unusually hot, but Daniel never again succumbed. When autumn came, for the first time in his old life old Daniel Wise was sorrowful. He dreaded the effect of the frost and the winter upon his precious little Dan’l, whom he put before himself as fondly as any father could have done, and as the season progressed his dread seemed justified. Poor little Dan’l had cold after cold. Content Adams and Lucy Rose came to see her. The rector’s wife and the doctor’s sent dainties. But the child coughed and pined, and old Daniel began to look forward to spring and summer — the seasons which had been his bugaboos through life — as if they were angels. When the February thaw came, he told little Dan’l, “Jest look at the snow meltin’ and the drops hangin’ on the trees; that is a sign of summer.”
Old Daniel watched for the first green light along the fences and the meadow hollows. When the trees began to cast slightly blurred shadows, because of budding leaves, and the robins hopped over the terraces, and now and then the air was cleft with blue wings, he became jubilant. “Spring is jest about here, and then uncle’s little Dan’l will stop coughin’, and run out of doors and pick flowers,” he told the child beside the window.
Spring came that year with a riotous rush. Blossoms, leaves, birds, and flowers — all arrived pellmell, fairly smothering the world with sweetness and music. In May, about the first of the month, there was an intensely hot day. It was as hot as midsummer. Old Daniel with little Dan’l went afield. It was, to both, as if they fairly saw the carnival-arrival of flowers, of green garlands upon treebranches, of birds and butterflies. “Spring is right here!” said old Daniel. “Summer is right here! Pick them vilets in that holler, little Dan’l.” The old man sat on a stone in the meadowland, and watched the child in the blue-gleaming hollow gather up violets in her little hands as if they were jewels. The sun beat upon his head, the air was heavy with fragrance, laden with moisture. Old Daniel wiped his forehead. He was heated, but so happy that he was not aware of it. He saw wonderful new lights over everything. He had wielded love, the one invincible weapon of the whole earth, and had conquered his intangible and dreadful enemy. When, for the sake of that little beloved life, his own life had become as nothing, old Daniel found himself superior to it. He sat there in the tumultuous heat of the May day, watching the child picking violets and gathering strength with every breath of the young air of the year, and he realized that the fear of his whole life was overcome for ever. He realized that never again, though they might bring suffering, even death, would he dread the summers with their torrid winds and their burning lights, since, through love, he had become under-lord of all the conditions of his life upon earth.