But for Dr. Balsam, Keith sometimes thought that he must have died that first winter, and, in fact, the young man did owe a great deal to the tall, slab-sided man, whose clothes hung on him so loosely that he appeared in the distance hardly more than a rack to support them. As he came nearer he was a simple old countryman with a deeply graved face and unkempt air. On nearer view still, you found the deep gray eyes both shrewd and kindly; the mouth under its gray moustache had fine lines, and at times a lurking smile, which yet had in it something grave.
To Dr. Balsam, Keith owed a great deal more than he himself knew at the time. For it is only by looking back that Youth can gauge the steps by which it has climbed.
It is said that in Brazil a small stream which rises under a bank in a gentleman’s garden, after flowing a little distance, encounters a rock and divides into two branches, one of which flows northward and empties into the Amazon, whilst the other, turning to the southward, pours its waters into the Rio del Plata. A very small obstruction caused the divergence and determined the course of those two streams. So it is in life.
One afternoon in the early Spring, Gordon Keith was walking home from school, his books under his arm, when, so to speak, he came on the stone that turned him from his smooth channel and shaped his course in life.
He was going to break a colt for Squire Rawson that afternoon, so he was hurrying; but ever as he strode along down the winding road, the witchery of the tender green leaves and the odors of Spring filled eyes and nostrils, and called to his spirit with that subtle voice which has stirred Youth since Youth’s own Spring awoke amid the leafy trees. In its call were freedom, and the charm of wide spaces, and the unspoken challenge of Youth to the world, and haunting vague memories, and whisperings of unuttered love, and all that makes Youth Youth.
Presently Gordon became aware that a little ahead of him, under the arching boughs, were two children who were hunting for something in the road, and one of them was crying. At the same moment there turned the curve beyond them, coming toward him, a girl on horseback. He watched her with growing interest as she galloped toward him, for he saw that she was young and a stranger. Probably she was from “the Springs,” as she was riding one of Gates’s horses and was riding him hard.
The rider drew in her horse and stopped as she came up to the children. Keith heard her ask what was the matter with the little one, and the older child’s reply that she was crying because she had lost her money. “She was goin’ to buy candy with it at the store, but dropped it.”
The girl sprang from her horse.
“Oh, you poor little thing! Come here, you dear little kitten. I’ll give you some money. Won’t you hold my horse? He won’t hurt you.” This to the elder child.