"Day after to-morrow—day after to-morrow," said Old Man Shaw, rubbing his lon_lender hands together gleefully. "I have to keep saying it over and over, s_s to really believe it. It seems far too good to be true that I'm to hav_lossom again. And everything is ready. Yes, I think everything is ready, except a bit of cooking. And won't this orchard be a surprise to her! I'm jus_oing to bring her out here as soon as I can, never saying a word. I'll fetc_er through the spruce lane, and when we come to the end of the path I'll ste_ack casual-like, and let her go out from under the trees alone, neve_uspecting. It'll be worth ten times the trouble to see her big, brown eye_pen wide and hear her say, 'Oh, daddy! Why, daddy!'"
He rubbed his hands again and laughed softly to himself. He was a tall, ben_ld man, whose hair was snow white, but whose face was fresh and rosy. Hi_yes were a boy's eyes, large, blue and merry, and his mouth had never go_ver a youthful trick of smiling at any provocation—and, oft-times, at n_rovocation at all.
To be sure, White Sands people would not have given you the most favourabl_pinion in the world of Old Man Shaw. First and foremost, they would have tol_ou that he was "shiftless," and had let his bit of a farm run out while h_ottered with flowers and bugs, or rambled aimlessly about in the woods, o_ead books along the shore. Perhaps it was true; but the old farm yielded hi_ living, and further than that Old Man Shaw had no ambition. He was as blith_s a pilgrim on a pathway climbing to the west. He had learned the rare secre_hat you must take happiness when you find it—that there is no use in markin_he place and coming back to it at a more convenient season, because it wil_ot be there then. And it is very easy to be happy if you know, as Old Ma_haw most thoroughly knew, how to find pleasure in little things. He enjoye_ife, he had always enjoyed life and helped others to enjoy it; consequentl_is life was a success, whatever White Sands people might think of it. What i_e had not "improved" his farm? There are some people to whom life will neve_e anything more than a kitchen garden; and there are others to whom it wil_lways be a royal palace with domes and minarets of rainbow fancy.
The orchard of which he was so proud was as yet little more than the substanc_f things hoped for—a flourishing plantation of young trees which would amoun_o something later on. Old Man Shaw's house was on the crest of a bare, sunn_ill, with a few staunch old firs and spruces behind it—the only trees tha_ould resist the full sweep of the winds that blew bitterly up from the sea a_imes. Fruit trees would never grow near it, and this had been a great grie_o Sara.
"Oh, daddy, if we could just have an orchard!" she had been wont to sa_istfully, when other farmhouses in White Sands were smothered whitely i_pple bloom. And when she had gone away, and her father had nothing to loo_orward to save her return, he was determined she should find an orchard whe_he came back.
Over the southward hill, warmly sheltered by spruce woods and sloping to th_unshine, was a little field, so fertile that all the slack management of _ife-time had not availed to exhaust it. Here Old Man Shaw set out his orchar_nd saw it flourish, watching and tending it until he came to know each tre_s a child and loved it. His neighbours laughed at him, and said that th_ruit of an orchard so far away from the house would all be stolen. But as ye_here was no fruit, and when the time came for bearing there would be enoug_nd to spare.
"Blossom and me'll get all we want, and the boys can have the rest, if the_ant 'em worse'n they want a good conscience," said that unworldly, unbusinesslike Old Man Shaw.
On his way back home from his darling orchard he found a rare fern in th_oods and dug it up for Sara—she had loved ferns. He planted it at the shady, sheltered side of the house and then sat down on the old bench by the garde_ate to read her last letter—the letter that was only a note, because she wa_oming home soon. He knew every word of it by heart, but that did not spoi_he pleasure of re-reading it every half-hour.
Old Man Shaw had not married until late in life, and had, so White Sand_eople said, selected a wife with his usual judgment—which, being interpreted, meant no judgment at all; otherwise, he would never have married Sara Glover, a mere slip of a girl, with big brown eyes like a frightened wood creature's, and the delicate, fleeting bloom of a spring Mayflower.
"The last woman in the world for a farmer's wife—no strength or get-up abou_er."
Neither could White Sands folk understand what on earth Sara Glover ha_arried him for.
"Well, the fool crop was the only one that never failed."
Old Man Shaw—he was Old Man Shaw even then, although he was only forty—and hi_irl bride had troubled themselves not at all about White Sands opinions. The_ad one year of perfect happiness, which is always worth living for, even i_he rest of life be a dreary pilgrimage, and then Old Man Shaw found himsel_lone again, except for little Blossom. She was christened Sara, after he_ead mother, but she was always Blossom to her father—the precious littl_lossom whose plucking had cost the mother her life.
Sara Glover's people, especially a wealthy aunt in Montreal, had wanted t_ake the child, but Old Man Shaw grew almost fierce over the suggestion. H_ould give his baby to no one. A woman was hired to look after the house, bu_t was the father who cared for the baby in the main. He was as tender an_aithful and deft as a woman. Sara never missed a mother's care, and she gre_p into a creature of life and light and beauty, a constant delight to all wh_new her. She had a way of embroidering life with stars. She was dowered wit_ll the charming characteristics of both parents, with a resilient vitalit_nd activity which had pertained to neither of them. When she was ten year_ld she had packed all hirelings off, and kept house for her father for si_elightful years—years in which they were father and daughter, brother an_ister, and "chums." Sara never went to school, but her father saw to he_ducation after a fashion of his own. When their work was done they lived i_he woods and fields, in the little garden they had made on the sheltered sid_f the house, or on the shore, where sunshine and storm were to them equall_ovely and beloved. Never was comradeship more perfect or more wholl_atisfactory.
"Just wrapped up in each other," said White Sands folk, half-enviously, half- disapprovingly.
When Sara was sixteen Mrs. Adair, the wealthy aunt aforesaid, pounced down o_hite Sands in a glamour of fashion and culture and outer worldliness. Sh_ombarded Old Man Shaw with such arguments that he had to succumb. It was _hame that a girl like Sara should grow up in a place like White Sands, "wit_o advantages and no education," said Mrs. Adair scornfully, not understandin_hat wisdom and knowledge are two entirely different things.
"At least let me give my dear sister's child what I would have given my ow_aughter if I had had one," she pleaded tearfully. "Let me take her with m_nd send her to a good school for a few years. Then, if she wishes, she ma_ome back to you, of course."
Privately, Mrs. Adair did not for a moment believe that Sara would want t_ome back to White Sands, and her queer old father, after three years of th_ife she would give her.
Old Man Shaw yielded, influenced thereto not at all by Mrs. Adair's readil_lowing tears, but greatly by his conviction that justice to Sara demanded it.
Sara herself did not want to go; she protested and pleaded; but her father, having become convinced that it was best for her to go, was inexorable.
Everything, even her own feelings, must give way to that. But she was to com_ack to him without let or hindrance when her "schooling" was done. It wa_nly on having this most clearly understood that Sara would consent to go a_ll. Her last words, called back to her father through her tears as she an_er aunt drove down the lane, were,
"I'll be back, daddy. In three years I'll be back. Don't cry, but just loo_orward to that."
He had looked forward to it through the three long, lonely years tha_ollowed, in all of which he never saw his darling. Half a continent wa_etween them and Mrs. Adair had vetoed vacation visits, under some speciou_retense. But every week brought its letter from Sara. Old Man Shaw had ever_ne of them, tied up with one of her old blue hair ribbons, and kept in he_other's little rose-wood work-box in the parlour. He spent every Sunda_fternoon re-reading them, with her photograph before him. He lived alone, refusing to be pestered with kind help, but he kept the house in beautifu_rder.
"A better housekeeper than farmer," said White Sands people. He would hav_othing altered. When Sara came back she was not to be hurt by changes. I_ever occurred to him that she might be changed herself.
And now those three interminable years were gone, and Sara was coming home.
She wrote him nothing of her aunt's pleadings and reproaches and ready, futil_ears; she wrote only that she would graduate in June and start for home _eek later. Thenceforth Old Man Shaw went about in a state of beatitude, making ready for her homecoming. As he sat on the bench in the sunshine, wit_he blue sea sparkling and crinkling down at the foot of the green slope, h_eflected with satisfaction that all was in perfect order. There was nothin_eft to do save count the hours until that beautiful, longed-for day after to- morrow. He gave himself over to a reverie, as sweet as a day-dream in _aunted valley.
The red roses were out in bloom. Sara had always loved those red roses—the_ere as vivid as herself, with all her own fullness of life and joy of living.
And, besides these, a miracle had happened in Old Man Shaw's garden. In on_orner was a rose-bush which had never bloomed, despite all the coaxing the_ad given it—"the sulky rose-bush," Sara had been wont to call it. Lo! thi_ummer had flung the hoarded sweetness of years into plentiful white blossoms, like shallow ivory cups with a haunting, spicy fragrance. It was in honour o_ara's home-coming—so Old Man Shaw liked to fancy. All things, even the sulk_ose-bush, knew she was coming back, and were making glad because of it.
He was gloating over Sara's letter when Mrs. Peter Blewett came. She told hi_he had run up to see how he was getting on, and if he wanted anything seen t_efore Sara came.
"No'm, thank you, ma'am. Everything is attended to. I couldn't let anyone els_repare for Blossom. Only to think, ma'am, she'll be home the day after to- morrow. I'm just filled clear through, body, soul, and spirit, with joy t_hink of having my little Blossom at home again."
Mrs. Blewett smiled sourly. When Mrs. Blewett smiled it foretokened trouble, and wise people had learned to have sudden business elsewhere before the smil_ould be translated into words. But Old Man Shaw had never learned to be wis_here Mrs. Blewett was concerned, although she had been his nearest neighbou_or years, and had pestered his life out with advice and "neighbourly turns."
Mrs. Blewett was one with whom life had gone awry. The effect on her was t_ender happiness to other people a personal insult. She resented Old Ma_haw's beaming delight in his daughter's return, and she "considered it he_uty" to rub the bloom off straightway.
"Do you think Sary'll be contented in White Sands now?" she asked.
Old Man Shaw looked slightly bewildered.
"Of course she'll be contented," he said slowly. "Isn't it her home? And ain'_ here?"
Mrs. Blewett smiled again, with double distilled contempt for such simplicity.
"Well, it's a good thing you're so sure of it, I suppose. If 'twas my daughte_hat was coming back to White Sands, after three years of fashionable lif_mong rich, stylish folks, and at a swell school, I wouldn't have a minute'_eace of mind. I'd know perfectly well that she'd look down on everythin_ere, and be discontented and miserable."
"YOUR daughter might," said Old Man Shaw, with more sarcasm than he ha_upposed he had possessed, "but Blossom won't."
Mrs. Blewett shrugged her sharp shoulders.
"Maybe not. It's to be hoped not, for both your sakes, I'm sure. But I'd b_orried if 'twas me. Sary's been living among fine folks, and having a gay, exciting time, and it stands to reason she'll think White Sands fearfu_onesome and dull. Look at Lauretta Bradley. She was up in Boston for just _onth last winter and she's never been able to endure White Sands since."
"Lauretta Bradley and Sara Shaw are two different people," said Sara's father, trying to smile.
"And your house, too," pursued Mrs. Blewett ruthlessly. "It's such a queer, little, old place. What'll she think of it after her aunt's? I've heard tel_rs. Adair lives in a perfect palace. I'll just warn you kindly that Sary'l_robably look down on you, and you might as well be prepared for it. O_ourse, I suppose she kind of thinks she has to come back, seeing she promise_ou so solemn she would. But I'm certain she doesn't want to, and I don'_lame her either."
Even Mrs. Blewett had to stop for breath, and Old Man Shaw found hi_pportunity. He had listened, dazed and shrinking, as if she were dealing hi_hysical blows, but now a swift change swept over him. His blue eyes flashe_minously, straight into Mrs. Blewett's straggling, ferrety gray orbs.
"If you're said your say, Martha Blewett, you can go," he said passionately.
"I'm not going to listen to another such word. Take yourself out of my sight, and your malicious tongue out of my hearing!"
Mrs. Blewett went, too dumfounded by such an unheard-of outburst in mild Ol_an Shaw to say a word of defence or attack. When she had gone Old Man Shaw, the fire all faded from his eyes, sank back on his bench. His delight wa_ead; his heart was full of pain and bitterness. Martha Blewett was a warpe_nd ill-natured woman, but he feared there was altogether too much truth i_hat she said. Why had he never thought of it before? Of course White Sand_ould seem dull and lonely to Blossom; of course the little gray house wher_he was born would seem a poor abode after the splendours of her aunt's home.
Old Man Shaw walked through his garden and looked at everything with new eyes.
How poor and simple everything was! How sagging and weather-beaten the ol_ouse! He went in, and up-stairs to Sara's room. It was neat and clean, jus_s she had left it three years ago. But it was small and dark; the ceiling wa_iscoloured, the furniture old-fashioned and shabby; she would think it _oor, mean place. Even the orchard over the hill brought him no comfort now.
Blossom would not care for orchards. She would be ashamed of her stupid ol_ather and the barren farm. She would hate White Sands, and chafe at the dul_xistence, and look down on everything that went to make up his uneventfu_ife.
Old Man Shaw was unhappy enough that night to have satisfied even Mrs. Blewet_ad she known. He saw himself as he thought White Sands folk must see him—_oor, shiftless, foolish old man, who had only one thing in the worl_orthwhile, his little girl, and had not been of enough account to keep her.
"Oh, Blossom, Blossom!" he said, and when he spoke her name it sounded as i_e spoke the name of one dead.
After a little the worst sting passed away. He refused to believe long tha_lossom would be ashamed of him; he knew she would not. Three years could no_o alter her loyal nature—no, nor ten times three years. But she would b_hanged—she would have grown away from him in those three busy, brillian_ears. His companionship could no longer satisfy her. How simple and childis_e had been to expect it! She would be sweet and kind—Blossom could never b_nything else. She would not show open discontent or dissatisfaction; sh_ould not be like Lauretta Bradley; but it would be there, and he would divin_t, and it would break his heart. Mrs. Blewett was right. When he had give_lossom up he should not have made a half-hearted thing of his sacrifice—h_hould not have bound her to come back to him.
He walked about in his little garden until late at night, under the stars, with the sea crooning and calling to him down the slope. When he finally wen_o bed he did not sleep, but lay until morning with tear-wet eyes and despai_n his heart. All the forenoon he went about his usual daily work absently.
Frequently he fell into long reveries, standing motionless wherever h_appened to be, and looking dully before him. Only once did he show an_nimation. When he saw Mrs. Blewett coming up the lane he darted into th_ouse, locked the door, and listened to her knocking in grim silence. Afte_he had gone he went out, and found a plate of fresh doughnuts, covered with _apkin, placed on the bench at the door. Mrs. Blewett meant to indicate thu_hat she bore him no malice for her curt dismissal the day before; possibl_er conscience gave her some twinges also. But her doughnuts could no_inister to the mind she had diseased. Old Man Shaw took them up; carried the_o the pig-pen, and fed them to the pigs. It was the first spiteful thing h_ad done in his life, and he felt a most immoral satisfaction in it.
In mid-afternoon he went out to the garden, finding the new loneliness of th_ittle house unbearable. The old bench was warm in the sunshine. Old Man Sha_at down with a long sigh, and dropped his white head wearily on his breast.
He had decided what he must do. He would tell Blossom that she might go bac_o her aunt and never mind about him—he would do very well by himself and h_id not blame her in the least.
He was still sitting broodingly there when a girl came up the lane. She wa_all and straight, and walked with a kind of uplift in her motion, as if i_ould be rather easier to fly than not. She was dark, with a rich dusky sor_f darkness, suggestive of the bloom on purple plums, or the glow of deep re_pples among bronze leaves. Her big brown eyes lingered on everything i_ight, and little gurgles of sound now and again came through her parted lips, as if inarticulate joy were thus expressing itself.
At the garden gate she saw the bent figure on the old bench, and the nex_inute she was flying along the rose walk.
"Daddy!" she called, "daddy!"
Old Man Shaw stood up in hasty bewilderment; then a pair of girlish arms wer_bout his neck, and a pair of warm red lips were on his; girlish eyes, full o_ove, were looking up into his, and a never-forgotten voice, tingling wit_aughter and tears blended into one delicious chord, was crying,
"Oh, daddy, is it really you? Oh, I can't tell you how good it is to see yo_gain!"
Old Man Shaw held her tightly in a silence of amazement and joy too deep fo_onder. Why, this was his Blossom—the very Blossom who had gone away thre_ears ago! A little taller, a little more womanly, but his own dear Blossom, and no stranger. There was a new heaven and a new earth for him in th_ealization.
"Oh, Baby Blossom!" he murmured, "Little Baby Blossom!"
Sara rubbed her cheek against the faded coat sleeve.
"Daddy darling, this moment makes up for everything, doesn't it?"
"But—but—where did you come from?" he asked, his senses beginning to struggl_ut of their bewilderment of surprise. "I didn't expect you till to-morrow.
You didn't have to walk from the station, did you? And your old daddy no_here to welcome you!"
Sara laughed, swung herself back by the tips of her fingers and danced aroun_im in the childish fashion of long ago.
"I found I could make an earlier connection with the C.P.A. yesterday and ge_o the Island last night. I was in such a fever to get home that I jumped a_he chance. Of course I walked from the station—it's only two miles and ever_tep was a benediction. My trunks are over there. We'll go after them to- morrow, daddy, but just now I want to go straight to every one of the dear ol_ooks and spots at once."
"You must get something to eat first," he urged fondly. "And there ain't muc_n the house, I'm afraid. I was going to bake to-morrow morning. But I guess _an forage you out something, darling."
He was sorely repenting having given Mrs. Blewett's doughnuts to the pigs, bu_ara brushed all such considerations aside with a wave of her hand.
"I don't want anything to eat just now. By and by we'll have a snack; just a_e used to get up for ourselves whenever we felt hungry. Don't you remembe_ow scandalized White Sands folks used to be at our irregular hours? I'_ungry; but it's soul hunger, for a glimpse of all the dear old rooms an_laces. Come—there are four hours yet before sunset, and I want to cram int_hem all I've missed out of these three years. Let us begin right here wit_he garden. Oh, daddy, by what witchcraft have you coaxed that sulky rose-bus_nto bloom?"
"No witchcraft at all—it just bloomed because you were coming home, baby,"
said her father.
They had a glorious afternoon of it, those two children. They explored th_arden and then the house. Sara danced through every room, and then up to he_wn, holding fast to her father's hand.
"Oh, it's lovely to see my little room again, daddy. I'm sure all my old hope_nd dreams are waiting here for me."
She ran to the window and threw it open, leaning out.
"Daddy, there's no view in the world so beautiful as that curve of sea betwee_he headlands. I've looked at magnificent scenery—and then I'd shut my eye_nd conjure up that picture. Oh, listen to the wind keening in the trees! Ho_'ve longed for that music!"
He took her to the orchard and followed out his crafty plan of surpris_erfectly. She rewarded him by doing exactly what he had dreamed of her doing, clapping her hands and crying out:
"Oh, daddy! Why, daddy!"
They finished up with the shore, and then at sunset they came back and sa_own on the old garden bench. Before them a sea of splendour, burning like _reat jewel, stretched to the gateways of the west. The long headlands o_ither side were darkly purple, and the sun left behind him a vast, cloudles_rc of fiery daffodil and elusive rose. Back over the orchard in a cool, gree_ky glimmered a crystal planet, and the night poured over them a clear wine o_ew from her airy chalice. The spruces were rejoicing in the wind, and eve_he battered firs were singing of the sea. Old memories trooped into thei_earts like shining spirits.
"Baby Blossom," said Old Man Shaw falteringly, "are you quite sure you'll b_ontented here? Out there"—with a vague sweep of his hand towards horizon_hat shut out a world far removed from White Sands—"there's pleasure an_xcitement and all that. Won't you miss it? Won't you get tired of your ol_ather and White Sands?"
Sara patted his hand gently.
"The world out there is a good place," she said thoughtfully, "I've had thre_plendid years and I hope they'll enrich my whole life. There are wonderfu_hings out there to see and learn, fine, noble people to meet, beautiful deed_o admire; but," she wound her arm about his neck and laid her cheek agains_is—"there is no daddy!"
And Old Man Shaw looked silently at the sunset—or, rather, through the sunse_o still grander and more radiant splendours beyond, of which the things see_ere only the pale reflections, not worthy of attention from those who had th_ift of further sight.