BY MARGARITA SPALDING GERRY
" WHY! He must mean my rose," said Dave Tennant. "But how in the kingdom did Jepsom ever think of it!"
He was sitting in a wooden armchair before his greenhouse door. The Weekly Bugle, which a neighbor brought over from the post-office, interrupted him in the midst of morning rounds.
He looked helplessly up from staring head-lines, and down the straggling village street. From one end to the other it was ablaze with blossoms. It was not hard to see why the bees loved it so; long before a wayfarer came within sight of it he threw back his head and drew in the perfume. But although, with the bees, the flowers had drawn Dave to Deering, at this moment he hardly saw them. His eyes went back to the paper.
"Munificence of Adams County's Millionaire!" it said, in the largest type the Bugle possessed. "Prize Offered to Horticulturists! County Fair Next Summer! One Thousand Dollars for a White Rose With Jacqueminot Perfume!"
Dave raised his near-sighted blue eyes from the paper.
"Now that really is a lucky thing for me—I suppose I ought to have been thinking about money long before this. I wonder what made me try just that experiment—it isn't like me to do anything that has money in it. I have been careless—must have thought something would feed me—don't believe I thought much about it. And here I am, sixty-odd, and beginning to be stiff with the rheumatism. And nobody belonging to me. Then—after all these years—comes this thing! Never thought of it before, but I wonder what would have been ahead of me if I gave out. Makes you think about the man that the ravens fed in the wilderness, or falling manna— Come to think of it, ravens are more in order. Old Jepsom isn't unlike one—in features. Must be pretty decent inside. Who would ever have thought he cared anything about flowers?"
Tennant rose slowly to the full height of his spare figure and tossed back white locks with a gallant motion of his head. He looked down the village street again.
"It never seems to grow old to me," he murmured.—Much solitude had given Dave the habit of thinking aloud. Then, with the smile that made a gentle nut-cracker of his face:
"I ought to like it—it's what brought me here. Wasn't it just like me to leave Danforth, where I was laying up money, and come here, just because the people knew how to raise flowers—and didn't need me?" He stood still and looked.
Nasturtiums overflowed all bound of window-box or sweet-alyssum bordered walks; they nodded bright heads from the tops of stone walls and peeped around trellises. Sweet-peas threw prodigal color and sweetness into the air. Garden beds blazed with delicately flaunting poppies, were gorgeous with geraniums or starred with eschscholtzia. Hose hedges, still fragrant, led from white doorsteps to green garden gates; petunias, fuchsias, sweet-williams, four-o'clocks, filled in every crevice.
"I hardly know a man or woman in this place," thought Dave, as, paper in hand, he turned to go into his greenhouse, "but I know their gardens."
Automatically his deft fingers broke a dead leaf from a thrifty carnation.
"I had neighbors back in Danforth. But they let even their geraniums die in winter." He straightened a pink rosebud that had become entangled with its own foliage.
"We couldn't live in a place like that, could we, Beauty?" he queried aloud. It would have been hard to persuade Dave that his flowers did not understand him. "We gave them ten years' trial!"
Tennant came to a halt before a tall, slender rose bush. Weighting down the delicate stem was a white rose. He looked at it almost reverently. Then he buried his face in its petals.
"That's the Jacqueminot Enchantment; there's no doubt of that. What was it I used to call it when I was a child?— Sugar and spice and all things nice.' Are you going to make a thousand dollars for your daddy, girl, to take care of him in the old age he ought to have been thinking about himself?" He raised the paper to his eyes. "But they say Jepsom wants a strong, healthy plant." His face clouded. Dave was subject to shifting moods. "That's the trouble. That's what I haven't been able to maintain yet. Every time I tried to bud or graft her on to a stouter stock I failed. If the bees hadn't been such rowdies, some of her brothers or sisters might have turned out better. Well, I've got a year to work in."
His eyes fell again on the paper.
" 'Adams County Horticulturists,' " he read, and chuckled. "I'd like to know who they are, unless they call me one. Old Gundlach, perhaps, or McClane in Wells. Raising corn is more in their line." He turned to the rose again. "Got to find out what fare agrees with you, girl, to make you strong and stout to please old Jepsom. Have to raise some daughters, too, to keep your daddie company—"
An uncertain sound at the door made him look up. A child stood there, a thin, pale boy, whose head drooped on the slender neck. He was not looking at Dave. His dilated eyes were fixed on the flowers.
"What is it, sonny?" asked the florist, professionally. He did not recognize the child; he was accustomed not to know his customers.
The child did not answer, but looked at Dave dumbly. It was as if he were asking the old man to discover for him what he wanted. As he stood beside the flower, his face was not unlike the white rose drooping on its stem. Tennant noticed that in spite of his evident sickliness the child had a certain pale beauty.
"Who are you? What's your name?" tried the florist again. This time the child answered readily enough.
"Well, Jeremy, what does your mother want?"
There was a pause. The boy stared at Dave with blue eyes, pale from lack of vitality. His gaze was disconcerting. He made no effort to answer.
"How is your mother?" essayed Tennant, wondering what was the matter with the child, and not understanding why he should care to find out. He knew very little about children, except that they were apt to break panes of glass and trample flower beds. He had never before observed that they were backward about speaking.
"I don't know," said Jeremy, monotonously. "My mother's just gone to heaven."
"Gone to heaven!"
With the shock of the words an indistinct picture came to Dave's mind of a tall, sombre woman he had once seen. Some one had told him she was a Mrs. Hartwell. She had come, with her child, to take a little house at the very end of the village, the only house without a garden. That was after Dave himself had driven his load of flowers, nodding their greetings, all the way down the street.
He looked at the child curiously.
"He doesn't seem to be grieving much," he thought. And then something in the wide eyes gave him a quick pang of sympathy.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"I'm four years and a half old," replied Jeremy, his eyes turning again to the flowers.
"Poor little baby!" thought the man. "He's nothing more than a baby. He can't know anything more about it than my white rose that he's looking at. He's just saying what some one has told him."
"Mrs. Eliot said my mother had gone to heaven," began Jeremy again. "She said the dip—diph—what I had—" he stumbled and stopped. Then he went on. "It took her. I didn't see her go." A look of puzzled fear came in his eyes.
"Didn't Eliot say there was diphtheria in the village? Must have been a funeral those flowers were for the other day." Dave searched his memory. "Afraid I forget most things they tell me." Then he grew uneasy before the small impassive face. "Do you want to stay here with me a little while?" he asked, awkwardly. To himself he murmured apologetically, "He seems like a sickly little plant that some one ought to nurse."
Jeremy came to his side and put his hand in Dave's suddenly. There was something in the desperate grip of the thin little fingers that brought an uncomfortable feeling to Dave's throat. All the time the child's eyes were on the flowers. Their brightness drew him; he was himself singularly colorless; even his hair was silvery rather than golden. He made a little groping motion with his hand. Tennant understood. He knew the feeling.
"Want some posies, child?" he asked, softly.
"That's why I came. I saw them," said Jeremy, raising his eyes to the man's face.
"Well, here, Jeremy." The florist, followed by the child, went down the greenhouse, picking carnations and heliotropes and rosebuds. As each blossom was cut, the little fingers closed upon it tightly.
"Seems as if he just had to have something with some color in it," said Dave to himself.
At last the hands were full. Still the child stood silent, with his eyes fastened on the man. Tennant was uncomfortable.
"Don't know anything else to do," he muttered, apologetically—to something, not to Jeremy.
He went back to his interrupted morning duties, finished watering his roses, and then began to pot some plants that he had been raising from seeds. Jeremy watched him. Something in the child's face—or in the depths of his own nature— made Dave say,
"Would you like to plant some flowers, Jeremy?"
"Oh yes," said the boy, almost before the man had finished speaking.
Dave felt flattered that he could guess what a child wanted.
"Must be different from other children," he thought, while he was putting Jeremy's flowers in water. "More like the flowers. They know what they want—and want the right things." He brought out some small flower-pots. Then he took Jeremy outside to show him two piles of earth.
"You take some of this kind and some of that and put them together." Then he showed the boy how to sift the earth to make it fine enough. Jeremy's eyes were fixed on his instructor. At last Tennant got out a drawer full of seed envelopes. There were crudely colored pictures of mammoth blossoms on the envelopes. The child followed him into the greenhouse.
"Can I—choose—the ones—with pictures I like best?" he whispered.
"Yes," nodded Dave.
The eagerness with which an extraordinarily red phlox and an equally vivid hollyhock were seized brought the uncomfortable feeling again to Dave's throat. A recollection of the austere-looking mother came into his mind.
"I wonder if she ever let him have anything bright?" he muttered. "Now, Jeremy," he said, "take your pots and seeds out-of-doors. Right into the sunshine. Child has not had sunlight enough. Plants need all they can get of it—children can't be very different; anyway, he makes me think of a little, spindling seedling."
A few minutes later, as Dave passed him, Jeremy spoke. The child was sitting on the ground in a patch of sunshine, his flowers in an old pitcher beside him. A tinge of color had come into his face, but he was looking at smudges that had occurred upon his cotton tunic and small hands. He looked at them shrinkingly.
"I'm getting dirty," he said. The dreary resignation of his voice showed that he felt sure his treasures would be taken from him. Still he confessed.
"Isn't any more deceit in him than there is in a—pansy," Dave said to himself. Then, aloud, "All right, boy,—can't work with plants and keep clean."
A flash of joy passed over the small face.
"Looks as if he never was allowed to play in the dirt in all his life," Tennant thought. "Didn't I like to grub in the dirt—just? Don't mind it much now. My mother used to be afraid, too, of having me get my clothes dirty. I believe children have to have dirt to grow in just as much as plants." And he looked at Jeremy with new sympathy.
Jeremy had six of his ten flower pots filled with fascinating black earth, and each artistically smoothed down, when a tall, thin woman slammed the gate. She was dressed in black of a painful neatness. Her gloomy face was set in lines of unwilling obligation. When Jeremy saw her he got up from the ground, tried anxiously to wipe some of the dirt from his hands, and retreated toward Dave.
"That's my aunt from Greenacre," he said, softly.
The florist took off his black skull-cap and came forward to meet the woman with a stateliness that was very becoming.
"Good morning, madam," he said.
She did not stop for any reply to his greeting.
"I've come for Jeremy," she said. "Mrs. Eliot said she saw him come in here. I'm his aunt and only living relative. I will have to take care of him now—"
She stopped and sighed with resignation. Tennant felt awkward.
"I'm sure Jeremy is a very nice child," he said, with polite intention. The woman looked at him blankly.
"I don't see how I am going to do it, but I suppose it will have to be done. I can't have my sister's child go on the town—"
Dave looked at her. He had such difficulty understanding people.
The woman turned to Jeremy, who stood trying to hide his hands under his tunic.
"I didn't expect to find you playing, and your mother not even laid away in her grave," she said, tartly. Then she caught sight of the hands. "Jeremy! Wash your hands right away!" The child, confused, brushed against her as he looked around to find water. "Don't touch!" Her voice sounded almost hysterical as she shrank away. "Such an unnatural child!"
To his own great surprise Dave felt impelled to interfere.
"Let the child be happy while he can," he said. His voice amazed him; it sounded so indignant. "What does he know of it all? It doesn't seem to me that it's anything that will do him good to have forced on him. He can't know anything more about death than those poppies over there—even if they do drop their petals in a day. They just know they miss the sunshine—and so does Jeremy."
"Sunshine!" The woman smiled grimly. "Are you talking about my sister? You may be sure she didn't teach him anything like this—or let him litter things up with plants. A widow has too much to do to clean up after a child all the time. Come, Jeremy. I will have to get you ready to-day; there won't be time after the funeral to-morrow. We will have to start right after it is over. I've got my week's cleaning at home to do yet."
Jeremy started to her. He had been trained to obey. But the sight of his pots and seeds and of Dave's battalions of flowers made him stop.
Tennant felt gloomy. He looked at the woman and then at the child—at his blooming family and back to Jeremy's white face and wistful mouth. He looked again at the woman.
"I wouldn't sell a plant to her, no matter what she paid for it," he thought. "She would kill it before she got home."
"What are you waiting for, Jeremy?" demanded the aunt from Greenacre. And again Dave had the curious sensation of speaking before he knew what he was going to say.
"Would you like to stay here with me?" he asked the child.
"All the time?" replied Jeremy, promptly.
That wasn't what Dave had meant at all. He was sure it wasn't. All that he had intended was that the boy could stay with him—well, until the funeral was over—or until some one appeared who was—different from this woman. But how could he bring a shadow to the little, joyous face? Dave was accustomed to the bright faces of his flowers.
"Yes, Jeremy, all the time." There was too much of the Tennant blood in the old florist for him to allow his misgivings to creep into his voice; but the woman expressed it for him.
"But—you have no wife."
"Good Lord, no, madam!" burst out Dave, with so much eagerness to disclaim that the aunt smiled.
"Went to see a girl once." Tennant felt that his heat had been ungallant. "Her name was—well, never mind her name. But one day I came to see her when she was picking flowers in her front garden. She was looking prettier than I had ever seen her. But—she picked almost as many buds as flowers!" There could be no doubt that he felt this was a full explanation. Nothing but the feeling that he had been rude would have drawn from Tennant so much of his personal history.
"But if you have no one to clean and cook for you, how can you manage with a child? You know my sister left no money," she added, suspiciously.
"Oh, I can get along very well. I have a competence coming to me soon," he said, grandly, the thought of the prize that would surely be his a warm undercurrent in his mind. "And I've managed without a housekeeper all these years—I ought to be able to do it a little longer. And Jeremy won't be any trouble."
The aunt had felt that it was only honest to put the objections before him. She did not feel it necessary to insist that a child of four would be some trouble. Instead she heaved a great sigh of relief.
"Well, we will let it go that way for a little while," she said, weakly. Then she walked away around the greenhouse, keeping her black skirts well out of the way of possible dust.
The pair she had left looked at each other. The old man's gaze was, in spite of himself, a little dubious. But there was no misgiving in Jeremy's acceptance of things as they were.
It was a long, bright morning, filled with the hum of bees, with darting butterflies, and with the mingled scent of flowers and the good brown earth. Dave weeded, pruned, watered his beds of outside plants. As he deftly worked over the earth around the roots of his white rose, mixing in heavier soil, he talked uninterruptedly to Jeremy about the prize that Jepsom had offered and of all that the rose was going to accomplish for him. The big eyes of the child fastened themselves on the slender bush with solemnity.
"Just smell it." Dave was beginning to have the sense of another auditor, of different quality from his flower companions. He held the rose where Jeremy's small nose could reach it. "If that isn't the real Jacqueminot compound, I don't know what it is——"
"What's that?" asked Jeremy.
"Oh—'wine and spice and all things nice,' " chuckled Dave. "That's what I used to call it when I was a boy."
Jeremy appreciated the jingle.
" 'Wine and spice and all things nice,' " he repeated, nodding his head gravely.
"Did you ever see a white rose that had a perfume like that before? No, you never did," he answered for the child.
Dave was so accustomed to his floral family that the lack of response didn't worry him at all. Yet, when the child, in the companionship of labor, began to forget his shyness and to chatter, partly to himself, partly to Dave, but most of all to the pots and seeds that occupied him, the sound was a pleasant one to the old man, used to fragrant silences.
"Won't I just be glad when they all begin to come up!" Jeremy burst out on one occasion. "And they'll all be so s'prised. And they'll all talk to each other when they get through the ground—"
"Sure they will," Dave nodded. "I've often heard them."
" 'Cause, you know, everything talks." Jeremy became more expansive. He was not accustomed to having his statements accepted. "The door talks when it squeaks—and when it thunders the sky's talking—"
"But what will the flowers say?" prompted Dave.
"The hollyhocks will say, 'I'm up.' And the morning-glories will say, 'I am too.' And the phlox 'll say, 'I got through first.' And the hollyhock will say, 'No, I did.' And then the pansy will say, 'Well, anyway, this is the nicest place I ever saw—' "
Off in the distance a bell began to ring clamorously.
"That's the schoolhouse bell. But it can't be noon already." Dave took a big silver watch from his pocket. "Sure enough it is. Somehow I'm 'way behind this morning. Suppose I'll have to be thinking about dinner. You'd better come up to the house with me."
Jeremy arose with alacrity. His social instincts had not often been gratified. He had not realized all that staying with the flowers meant. Taking dinner at some one else's house, and that some one this mysteriously rich man who had nothing to do but play with flowers, and who wasn't worried by having company to dinner—this was a prospect that could not be dallied with. If he wasn't quick in saying he would, perhaps it would be taken away.
Dave looked at his willing guest meditatively.
"Don't know one thing about feeding a child," he thought. "Queer thing my having to think about it at my time of life. But I fancy if I've been able to feed plants all my life—when they can't tell what they want—until after- ward—I ought to be able to find something for him. It does seem as if the earth ought to know how to nourish a growing thing better than has been done for that child."
The dinner was a feast to Jeremy. Dave had filled a big bowl in the middle of the table with roses. There was so little sale for them at this time of the year with the frugal Deering folks that he could indulge himself with a clear conscience. The tints of the flowers were reflected dully in the satiny lustre of the mahogany table that had been willed to him by his grandfather. Tennant put before his guest the simplest things of his simple larder. There were thin slices of ham and fresh-picked pease, bread and butter which he bought from Mrs. Eliot, creamy milk, and a glass bowl heaped with red raspberries, which were almost as fragrant as the roses.
Later on Jeremy would miss his mother in the dumb, puzzled acceptance with which grief comes home to babies. Now he was conscious that instead of a nervously anxious, sombre woman opposite him, there was a smiling old man with sunny blue eyes who seemed interested in his remarks. Moreover, since there was no cloth on the table—a point for which, had Dave known it, Deering found it difficult to pardon him—it did not seem at all a serious matter when he had an accident with food on its way to his mouth.
Late that night Tennant had still not finished his work. The child had hindered him. The florist was pottering about the greenhouse in the moonlight doing some belated tasks. He passed the white rose. The flower was drooping on its stem, more, it seemed to Dave, than it had done during the daytime. It made him think of the way Jeremy had looked when he had last seen him, after the supper dishes were done, playing languidly with his pots outside the greenhouse door. The old man drew out his watch,
"Ten o'clock!" he cried, guiltily. "I've forgotten him. I'm sure he ought to be in bed!"
When he found Jeremy, the child was lying, crumpled up, on the ground, asleep. His clothes and hair were damp with the heavy dew. Dave picked him up hurriedly and took him to the house. At the threshold he stood in bewilderment.
"Why! Where am I going to put him—there's no place but my bed!"
At the word the child wakened.
"Don't want to—go—bed," he murmured, sleepily. "Haven't any nightie."
Dave smiled ruefully.
"Hadn't thought of that, either," he said. "I'm afraid aunt wouldn't approve of me. Well, we'll have to manage for to-night with an old undershirt of mine."
When Jeremy was finally placed in the midst of Dave's big feather-bed, the man stooped clumsily to tuck the child in—as he remembered his mother used to do for him. Jeremy opened his eyes half way—he was almost asleep again.
"Mother—" he said, comfortably, and turned on his side.
Outside everything was white in the moonlight. Dave sat down heavily in his old rocking-chair on the porch. He was very tired. The "Mother" of the forlorn child up-stairs had brought the tears to his eyes. It made him humble.
"Must have been demented to think I could take the place of any woman, much less a mother—or even a mother's sister. For a man sixty-odd who can hardly take care of himself, and who never had anything more to do with a child before than to give him the flowers his mother sent him for—"
He left the sentence unfinished and sat for a time in troubled silence. The peace of the night had begun to rest him when he started up.
"If I haven't forgotten the greenhouse!" he groaned. "The boy drove everything else out of my head!"
"A child can do more unexpected things than a hybrid plant," said Dave, with rueful emphasis.
It was a week since Jeremy had come to the greenhouse.
"Strange how steady a plant is, compared with a baby. Once you get her fixed, when you look for pink you find it, and when you expect red, there it is. But a boy—"
He went back into the tool house to get his shears.
"Got to start those cuttings to-day, no matter how queer I feel," he said. "Wonder what makes me so tired and gives me such a headache? Throat's sore, too. Must have caught cold—it's a miracle that Jeremy didn't, that night I forgot him. But I've lost so much time getting the boy's room fixed and learning to 'do his back buttons,' as he says—" Tennant stopped to chuckle, but the sound was a hoarse one. He went into the tool house to get some pots.
"What an impatient fellow I am!" he said, bringing the white rose out to his working-table. The second rose had opened; there were no more buds on the plant. "Here men cleverer than I am have been at work for generations growing the stock that I'm trying to play pranks with now. "Wonder how many hundreds of years it is, girl, since one of your forebears was a hedge rose. Suppose I don't need to have my feelings hurt because a four-year-old looked cross when I told him to pull up weeds instead of planting seeds in his flower bed. I thought this morning would be a good time for him to learn that there is such a thing as work. That poppy bed ought to bring him out of his little temper; I never can look at them without wanting to dance—that is, when I don't feel as spineless as I do this morning. I don't know any way to teach humans but the way we train plants: put them where good things can pour in on them, and they can't help drinking them in—crowds the ugly things out, I fancy."
He sat down heavily on a wooden bench.
"I wonder if old age can strike one all at once this way—that's a bad outlook with a boy to bring up. I can't let him go now; it wouldn't be fair."
Mrs. Eliot appeared at the door. Dave got up to meet her, and then instinctively stepped aside to make way for her. No one needed to be told that Mrs. Eliot was a managing woman.
"I've come to see about Jeremy's schooling," she began, briskly. "The school board is making out the lists for next year, and they want all the names. You are going to send him, I suppose—that is, if you keep him," she added, doubtfully.
"Why, I hadn't thought of it, madam. Jeremy is only four years old."
"That's quite old enough. It will take him out of your way. And then he will want to get through earlier than most. You'll want him to be learning a trade."
"The child is happy out-of-doors, madam. He needs the air and the sunlight. He is growing stronger already. And as for a trade," he smiled slightly, "perhaps I can teach him one."
"To grow flowers?" demanded Mrs. Eliot, sceptically. Something in the glance of her keen eyes convinced Dave that she saw clear through his pocket to his old leather wallet, and knew that he had begun to draw on the little surplus he had brought from Danforth. He dropped the subject and steadied himself against the door.
"I don't think Jeremy wants to go to school—"
"Nonsense! Boys never want to go to school. If you don't start them early, they'll be at a disadvantage later on."
Tennant didn't reply for a moment. He was feeling curiously weak. Then he looked at Mrs. Eliot with his gentle nut-cracker smile.
"In plants, madam, precocity is a disease."
"Plants don't have to earn their living," snapped the capable lady.
Tennant passed his hand over his forehead; he never could understand his neighbors. He smiled guiltily as he thought of some of his methods with Jeremy. What, he wondered, would Mrs. Eliot think if she could see, from her closed evening shutters, a small faun capering about on the cool wet grass, the spray from a garden hose playing deliciously upon its glistening white skin?
Mrs. Eliot recalled him to proper attention.
"Another thing I wanted to see about was Jeremy's clothes. What are you going to do about them?"
"His poor mother left him with—things," he said, vaguely. "His aunt brought them over after the funeral."
"Summer things," replied Mrs. Eliot, promptly. "They'll never do for winter in this climate."
"Well—I guess they'll come—" Tennant's eyes wandered over the green and blooming earth, and he smiled in response to his thought.
"Not unless somebody makes them." Mrs. Eliot's black eyes snapped energetically. "I have taken the matter up with the Dorcas Society. If you give me the money, I will get some serge and flannel over to the Centre to-day. Then we can go to work on them the next meeting. Ten dollars will do—underwear and all. It's best to be forehanded."
Dave looked bewildered, but he mechanically extracted ten dollars from the diminishing surplus. After Mrs. Eliot had gone he sank back on the bench.
"Lilies-of-the-valley aren't modern in their tailor. Well, well, we'll take the Dorcas Society as a substitute. The idea!" he burst out, indignantly. "As if I would send the boy away to school! When I haven't found out yet how to answer his questions about his mother!—Well, boy?" as Jeremy came running in breathlessly.
"Oh, Dad-Dave"—this name was Jeremy's own invention, bestowed upon the old man after he had apparently thought the matter over for four days,—"you said you were going to make pieces of the white rose grow to-day. May I watch you? I've pulled all the weeds up."
"I believe he is going to love them as much as I do," thought Tennant, feeling better. "The poppies did their work."
"You see, Jeremy," he said, going back to his work-table again, "I want to make as many plants from the bush as I can. It's the only way to fix this kind of a rose, to establish it. That's because it has come from cross-fertilization—but, of course, you can't understand that. Now, she won't stand much cutting." He cut off four pieces. "One of these I am going to graft on to a stouter bush; one I am going to bud. The other two I am going to put into strong earth and root."
Jeremy's eager little hands were darting out, fingering, touching, with swift humming-bird motions.
"How many times have I told you not to touch things?" said Dave, sharply. "I tell you over and over and it does no good."
Jeremy's quick motion as he shrank back touched an empty flower pot. It rolled to the floor and broke. "If it had been the rose itself that you touched, the same thing would have happened!" Suddenly he perceived that he was trembling with impatience and that the child was looking at him fearfully, all the gladness gone from his face.
"I wonder what is the matter with me?" thought Dave. "I never was like this before. So foolish, too. As if we didn't have to make a plant do the same thing for generations before it is taught. And then, if we leave them to their own way, they go back. I surely ought to have learned to be patient."
He went on with his work, and Jeremy watched him. But while Dave was preparing the stocky bush to receive the cutting the child grew tired; he wanted his own cuttings to graft and slip. The florist good-naturedly stopped his task to clip some pieces from other roses, which the child arranged beside Dad-Dave's cuttings. For a few minutes he was happily busy sticking rose sprays into flower pots. Then a new idea came to him, and he ran in and out on mysterious errands of his own.
Dave succeeded in setting the precious graft. When he had finished, he looked at it in perplexity.
"It doesn't look right," he said. He was oddly disconcerted. His head was queer and hot and his throat ached. He was uncertain from dizziness. "I feel ill. If I hadn't begun, I wouldn't do anything more to-day." He selected a plant for the budding. As he crossed the room he staggered. At that moment Jeremy ran in.
"I found a nice garden for the rosie," he said, and stopped, looking at the old man with wonder.
"I will have to—stop a little and—rest," he said to Jeremy. "Come with me—boy."
Jeremy put his hand in Dave's. When they were outside the door—
"Wait a minute," Tennant said, anxiously. "I must—put—the girl away." He went back into the greenhouse. When he came out again he walked with still greater difficulty.
"I'm—tired," Dave said, thickly. "I'l1 come—back after I have rested a few—minutes."
By the time Dave had partly dragged himself, partly been pushed by Jeremy, on to his high old bed, he looked at the child so wildly and spoke in such a queer choked voice and had such a red face that Jeremy was frightened and ran for Mrs. Eliot. That was the way his mother had looked before she went to heaven.
When the doctor came he said Tennant had diphtheria. Mrs. Eliot told him of Jeremy's clothes, and the doctor said that undoubtedly the disease had been brought to the old florist by poor little Jeremy. Hearing this was the last thing that Dave was conscious of for a long time.
When, after an interval which he could not have defined, but which seemed to him a chasm filled with choking, burning vapor, the haze at last cleared away, Mrs. Eliot was sitting by the bed.
"Jeremy?" whispered the old man.
Mrs. Eliot smiled and pointed to the corner of the room, where the child sat playing quietly. There seemed something strange to Tennant, but he was too weak to think.
"Too white,"—he spoke again, with a motion of his eyelids toward the boy. This again made him think of something, but he couldn't quite get hold of it.
"Yes, Jeremy would stay in the room with you," Mrs. Eliot nodded. "He's bleached out."
Jeremy, awestruck, came toward the bed. Then Dave knew what it was that had seemed strange: the child was playing with blocks. He had never before seen him with any plaything but the flowers. He had a thrill of close, warm happiness when it grew clear to him that Jeremy had stayed with him rather than go outdoors. It made the world different somehow. Could it be that the child was really fond of him?
Jeremy spoke solemnly, as he felt it was right to do.
"I planted the pieces, Dad-Dave."
Dave raised himself, gasping, on his arm. "The white rose!" he cried, wondering that he could for a minute have forgotten.
"All your plants are safe," said Mrs. Eliot, in the indulgent voice she knew was the right thing to use with sick people. "Mr. Eliot watered them and took care of them for you."
Dave sank back on his pillows, exhausted.
"I don't know what Jeremy means," Mrs. Eliot continued. "When Mr. Eliot was gathering up some rubbish to be burned, Jeremy rushed up and said that Dad-Dave didn't want him to burn it; Dad-Dave wanted to plant it. So Mr. Eliot let him take what he wanted."
"I couldn't find the nice garden I put the rosie in," said Jeremy, wisely nodding his head. "So I put the pieces in flower pots, just the way Dad-Dave does."
Tennant shook his head.
"I'm afraid—" he said, weakly. "Did they take root, boy?—But of course you can't tell. How soon can I get up?"
"Not for two weeks, Mr. Tennant. You have been very ill."
Dave closed his eyes wearily. When he opened them, Jeremy had run out of the room. Tennant turned over on his side. He felt suddenly very lonely.
"Couldn't expect him to stay shut up here," he thought—"two weeks. Well,"—as he steadied his quivering lips—"I suppose Mr. Eliot will take care of them. Don't see but I've got to think so. Perhaps one of the boy's slips may have taken root." But he knew he did not really hope. "If anything has happened to the white rose!—Can't seem to remember just where I left her." He trembled. "Don't see how I am going to stand—not knowing. "No use to ask Eliot. She has stopped blooming by this time, and no one but myself would know her." He closed his eyes again.
Jeremy crept quietly into the room. His hands were full of flowers—roses, heliotropes, carnations. He laid them on the bed.
"Well, if the boy hasn't cut long stems!" Dave raised himself on his elbow and examined them. "And not a bud. I believe you're going to be Dad's own boy. Come to see your sick daddy, girls?" He buried his face in the sweetness. "Knew just what I wanted," he said, softly. Then, after a pause, "I'm sure the white rose is safe."
He fell asleep, as never since his childhood he had fallen asleep before, the childish figure beside him trying desperately hard to keep still.
When at last Dave was allowed to crawl over to the greenhouse, Jeremy by his side, the man's heart beat tumultuously. A rush of perfume greeted him from the open door. He went breathlessly in.
On the table, in front of the door, were the flower pots, each with a withered slip in it. Jeremy watched the florist's face. He felt that the slips were not altogether satisfactory. Dave gave no sign, but set his lips tighter while he hunted for the plant he had grafted. He found the bush among the others. The plant was flourishing, but the cutting he had bound on hung forlornly, quite dead.
"Why couldn't I have waited an hour longer to be sick? We'll have to get along with the mother. Perhaps I can strengthen her somehow. Perhaps Jepsom will give her the prize—if there are no others competing." While he was speaking, his eyes were searching the greenhouse.
He looked first at the place on the shelves where the plant was accustomed to be. It was not there. Then he sought the table where he had last been working with her. The table was bare and clean. Row after row of plants he scanned, his eyes growing terrified as he did not find the thing he sought. At last he gave a cry.
"Oh!—I remember. I put her in the tool house—had an idea she would be safer there! Went back to do it, the last thing!"
He was at the tool-house door. The door was locked, but the key hung on a nail beside it. Dave opened the door. Jeremy kept close to his side. The child heard him cry out and saw his face. He shrank from it. The old man looked at him fiercely. He pointed wildly to the spot where he had put the white rose.
There it was—a white rose no longer. Jeremy saw a tall stalk, dead and dry and bearing a cluster of yellowed petals. In place of the perfume it gave out a dusty smell.
"You did it. I took you in. You brought the sickness with you; the doctor said so. That's why I forgot her, and she's dead!"
Jeremy stood quiet—so quiet that that of itself forced itself on Dave's despair. Tennant checked himself. The child was watching him with the same look of dumb terror in his eyes as had been there when he fled from the Silence that had been his mother.
The old man tried to control himself. It took some minutes, for he was shattered.
"What am I doing to the child?" he said to himself. "After I've been saying he needed happiness and love—the kind of sunshine growing things can't be without. The flowers won't do their best unless you love them. I won't starve this one—even if the other is gone."
He took the boy into his arms. The little, warm, clinging body, which he had meant to comfort, comforted him. He forced his stiffened face to smile. The smile was so instantly reflected back by the little watching face that it seemed to have originated with Jeremy, not Dave. "We'll manage," said Dave, turning his back on the rose bush and its dead hopes. "There's work in Dave yet, years of work. I'll think of something. I can take care of you for a while yet—until—the thought was still so dark a one that it was hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice—"until somebody has to take care of me—"
It was just at that moment that something prompted Jeremy to squeeze Dave's fingers!
Dave dropped the handle of his cultivator and drew the Bugle out of his pocket. He made his way cautiously between his rows of early potatoes and out to where a fallen log" promised a comfortable seat. He had turned his poppy field into a truck patch.
He unfolded the sheet and turned to the place he was looking for.
" 'Jepsom's Thousand Going Begging!' " he read. "Adams County Florists Can't Master Hybridization! No One To Claim Prize! County Fair Next Week!' "
Dave raised his eyes from the paper.
"The fair's a week earlier this year than it was last," he said, listlessly. Then a rather grim smile brought his nose and chin almost together.
"I knew Gundlach couldn't do it"I believe my boy, Jeremy, could beat him. Could in a few years, anyway," he said, defensively. "Wonder how I ever got along without him."
There was silence for a moment while Tennant's eyes were fixed hungrily on the flowers.
"I wish I could stop and work over there the rest of the day. Seems as if pease and beans and things take more time than they're worth. Only time I was really interested in them was when they were in bloom. All I can do to keep myself from stopping everything to see what I can do with potato flowers." He chuckled as he put the paper back into his pocket.
When he had risen he hesitated a moment, his eyes wavering between the greenhouse and the truck patch. At last, shaking his head at his own wavering, he started virtuously back to his rows of potatoes.
"Wish I had more time to work with Jeremy over the flowers," he thought. Then he laughed shortly.
"Fancy it's more important that the boy should have something to eat and shoes to wear—on Sunday, anyway." He took hold of the handle of the deserted cultivator again and finished the row. He stooped stiffly to pull up a weed that had escaped upturning.
"It's queer how much rather people would buy vegetables than flowers," he thought.
There was a sound of little bare feet paddling the walk. As he heard it, Dave's smile drove every hint of bitterness from his face. Jeremy burst into view. His face was flushed, his eyes shining.
"Come with me, Dad-Dave," he panted. "I've found her. You know I told you I found a nice garden for my rosie. Don't you remember? I told you the day the dip—diph—it came. I lost her. I couldn't find the place—"
"Found something else, boy?" laughed Dave. "Your garden must be full now." Jeremy had a special plot for the waifs he brought in from the woods and fields. He was indignant when any one called them weeds. They were flowers, every one. "And it really is wonderful," Dave was beginning to boast—when he found any one who would listen to him. "It is wonderful what he has accomplished with some of them. He'll go far some day, that boy of mine."
"Yes, do come with me, Dad-Dave. I've found the rosie I want to show you. She's in bloom!"
Dave dropped the handle of the cultivator. "All right; we'll go to see her," he said, with a humorous backward glance at his unfinished work. Dave never allowed himself not to be interested in Jeremy's enthusiasms.
"But take a trowel, Dad-Dave," went on the insistent little voice. "We want to take her home."
Dave meekly hobbled into the tool house to get the trowel. When he got back, Jeremy was tugging at a big flower pot.
"This is too heaby for you, Dad-Dave," he said, protestingly, as Dave tried to take it. "I'll carry it for you."
Dave laughed in pure delight.
"Too heaby for me, is it, boy?" he demanded.
"Yes," Jeremy answered, tersely. There were one or two consonants which he was uncertain about. He usually slurred them over, his eyes fixed suspiciously on his auditor. Pushed to the wall, he refused to repeat the word.
"All right, Jeremy," said Dave, gravely. "I'm afraid it is too much for me. You shall carry it."
Proudly bearing the flower pot, Jeremy led the way to the wood that skirted the edge of Dave's clearing. When they had walked a few rods they came to a little hollow where there was a break in the thick undergrowth. Trees roofed it; the soil was black with the richness of fallen leaves.
Jeremy left the path and, putting down his flower pot, crawled behind a screening clump of bushes. Dave followed with some difficulty.
Rising vigorously out of the earth was a little rose bush. The flower was a warm, pure white; there were petals still screening, with their delicious curving, the heart. It seemed so marvellous a thing for a rose to be blooming so far from cultivation that Dave for the moment could feel nothing but wonder. It was as if the forest in its old age brought forward a miracle of youth.
As he looked he became conscious of a familiar, unmistakable perfume. He stared around.
"Jacqueminot?" he said, vaguely. "Where does that come from?"
"Why, it's the rosie," said Jeremy, triumphantly. "Wine and spice and—all things—nice.' Don't you remember? I planted her."
Dave stared at him.
"When did you plant it?" he demanded.
"The day the dip—diph—the day it came. You were putting some pieces in a pot and you gave me some. I found this garden that was prettier than the pots. And afterward I put the others in pots. But they got all dry."
Slowly Dave went back over the scene—the child playing—the slips he had cut for him—put beside the others.
"Why!" he cried, still hardly believing. "It's the white rose." He flung himself beside it. "It is Jepsom's rose— And the fair is only a week off. There's still time for the prize!" He jumped to his feet and shouted, waving his trowel madly around his head.
The next instant the wonder of the thing had sobered him. It seemed too marvellous—the flower waiting hidden—the rose in bloom to show him what it was—the bud that would be just in bloom at fair-time—all so strangely opportune.
"It's a—miracle," thought Tennant, dazed. "It's one of the fairy books come true. It's—ridiculous!"
Trowel in hand, he knelt down beside the plant. He began mechanically to test the earth around the roots. The fortune that would surely be his began to fill his consciousness,—all that it meant of release from work, when work would be too heavy—it all surged over him, a warm, comfortable flood.
"Dad-Dave!" said an impatient little voice. "Isn't this the rosie you wanted? Haven't I found it for you?"
"Yes, dear boy," said Dave, gently. "You have found it—for me."
" 'Wine and spice and all things nice,' " chanted Jeremy, capering beside the rose bush.
In a dream, Dave looked at child and plant. From the heart of the crowning flower the fragrance poured forth that was the very soul of it. He drew it in, filling his lungs with the essence of delight. Dave turned toward the child and smiled. At the smile Jeremy's face broke into a sunburst of joy. From his eyes, it seemed to Tennant, streamed a radiance that was the soul of the child. It held him. He could feel his heart swell as he drew it in. He could not think of the rose. He wanted to know what the child's eyes were saying.
" 'Wine and spice and all things nice,' " Jeremy sang, waiting, impatiently now, for Dave to begin to transplant the rose bush.
" 'Wine and spice and all things nice,' " Dave took up the jingle in wonder. "It's that. You're that to me—the very sweetness of life itself. For, Jeremy, you are—Love. No one has ever given—that to Dave Tennant—since his mother tucked him into bed—the last time."
As Dave and Jeremy worked happily, taking up the white rose bush, Dave's tongue ran garrulously on—it seemed that he could not stop talking.
"And, Jeremy," he babbled, "you'll have such a greenhouse as there isn't in this State. But first we'll have the truck patch turned into a rose garden. You'll have a wing built on just for the white roses—for we'll ask Jepsom to let us make cuttings, And people will come from all over the State. You'll have an experimental greenhouse. No," he broke off to say—" we don't want any earth but this—the forest knew better than I did. And the house will be made into an office. And over the door of it will be—I'm going to take out papers when we take the rose to the fair—over the door will be, 'David Tennant and Son'."