“That is no one, David. What you hear is an echo.”
“Why can’t I see Echo?”
“One never does see him.”
“Is he a fairy?”
Here ended the conversation. And now, as Mother and Son trudged onward in silence, a strange feeling came upon the little boy, for the world at this hour was so new to him. A distant milk wagon, resembling a block of shadow on wheels, went clattering over the pavement, and from time to time a man smoking a pipe and carrying a tin pail would pass by with long, swinging strides.
The upper air looked different, too. At one place a tall church spire, topped by a copper cross, was blazing with sunshine, and certain windows of the high buildings also began to flame. A pink cloud lay asleep in the blue lap of heaven, and there was a single star, like a pale drop of fire, that trembled up there as though it were about to fall.
“What is that for?” asked David.
“What do you mean, my son?”
“Up there, Mother—see! It is a queer eye. It winks at us.”
“One of the flowers of heaven, little boy; that’s what it is.”
“Did you ever have any?”
“Oh, no, David, because they are so hard to get.”
Miss Eastman felt that in the serene beauty of the morning there was something vaguely troubling. To think that all this loveliness of the clear dawn, all this freshness of the sweet air which to her and to David meant the joy of an exquisite fairyland, could yet mean to others only the beginning of another day of sorrow, of death, and squalid misery! How could it be possible that the children of Duck Town, those who should be as happy to-day and as full of health as this little boy of hers, were still held fast in the grip of terrifying disease?
All the same, it was not a pleasant prospect to think of leaving David with Dr. Redfield’s housekeeper. As Miss Eastman considered the situation she was suddenly seized with cowardice. She did not want to go on to assist in the fight against contagion; she wanted to turn back, and she began to walk more slowly, loitering, regretting her resolution and seeking a pretext to retreat.
For all that, she presently arrived at the Doctor’s house, and at the door-step she was greeted by Mrs. Botz, who appeared with a gay shawl over her head and a letter in her hand.
“Zo early yet!” the housekeeper exclaimed. “You yust save me some troubles. Herr Doctor say I am pleased to take you his letter.”
“He wasn’t expecting me, then?”
“Ich weiss nicht.”
“He’s waiting, isn’t he? He hasn’t gone, I hope.”
“Ja, Herr Doctor he iss vendt.”
“Oh, that is too bad!” Miss Eastman exclaimed with outward regret, with inward gratification. Her heroic purpose to help in the routing of disease from Duck Town had at least been postponed.
She tore open the envelope which Mrs. Botz had given her, as she began to read the brief communication, a slight puff of wind stirred the wet maple boughs overhead. From the drenched leaves a wee shower of liquid sparks came flashing down about her and the little boy. Some of these pattering drops were caught in the soft mesh of Miss Eastman’s hair, where they trembled like rare jewels and scattered the morning sunlight into rainbow gleams.