"There never is anything a boy can do when he's not allowed to go out because it rains. There never is anything a boy can do!"
He turned into the warm, fire-lit room with a disgusted little sniff. "Such a tiny house, and crowded up so close against other tiny houses that there's hardly room to breathe. Can't play Indians or herding cattle here; it's too crowded with furniture. And there's no room for anything in the hall," he scolded in contempt, "but a dolls' house. Everything indoors seems for girls." He glanced disapprovingly about the room. "Cathie's flowers in the window, and her books on the floor, and the cat! Why couldn't I have a dog? Cats are girls' animals."
Old Tommy was asleep by the fire. David stalked across the room, contemplated him reflectively, considered tweaking his tail, decided, second thought, on nobler restraint, and then sat down, his arms about his knees, his eyes following the glimmer of up-drifting sparks and the coiled whiffs of blue- gray smoke behind the shining andirons.
There was no sound in the little room save the tick, tick of the great clock in the corner, the comfortable purr-rr of old Tommy and the beating of the rain against the window. Just outside the door his sister Cathie and a little friend were playing contentedly, wholly satisfied with so silly and meaningless a toy as a dolls' house. Occasionally, he caught the drift of their contented chatter.
"O Ann, Ann, it's such fun to have someone to play with! See how the little door opens! O Ann, and there are green trees just outside in the garden! My brother hates my house, but, oh, I love it so! He once stepped on a tree, but he's so big, of course" --
The loyal little sister! But David smiled in scorn. "Stepped on a tree, guess I did. I'd step on another if it got in my way. I wonder how girls get such fun out of nothing!"
He dropped his chin on his knees, and his eyes, half closed, dreamed into the fire light. "I have no patience with these foolish little things. I want to be something great and build big houses and sail ships to far countries, or write a thousand books. I want to be something great" --
"Something great?" He turned in surprise. Tommy was sitting up, licking his fat, white paw. "Something great? Well, young man, if I'm not much mistaken, you'll have to begin at the beginning, if ever you want to get to the end. That's a platitude, if you know what that means. That means that it's seven times seven times true, if you know how true that is. And I'll tell you this, you'd better hurry and begin at the beginning, or you can be quite sure you'll be pretty well forgotten at the end."
David was on the point of answering disdainfully; but old Tommy began stroking his whiskers in such a knowing manner that he was awed, instead, into profound respect.
"A girls' animal, yes," old Tommy continued, "when girls are very wise and know how to make-believe as well as a certain little Miss Cathie, with whom, in times past, I have had the honor of some learned conversation." Old Tommy puffed out his chest. He seemed to be growing larger and wiser and more completely all- knowing every minute. "Girls' animal, yes. But, of course, if you want to be something great all at once, without knowing in the least how to go about it, I really mustn't bore you with further advice. Good-bye; it's time I leave you."
"Oh, no, stay for just one minute," David implored. "I never knew before that cats could talk. Tell me what you mean."
Old Tommy grew bigger and bigger and wiser and wiser, and more and more all-knowing. Then he raised his fat, white paw and gave David a little cuff behind his left ear. "That is what I mean," he said.
Suddenly David seemed to be standing on a great wharf that reached far out into the ocean. Around and about there were strange voices and merchants in red robes and sailors with gold and silver earrings and great knives in their belts. Everyone was hurrying and jostling, and black slaves carried heavy boxes and rugs and great clusters of strange fruits, piling them high on the decks of the white-sailed ships. They seemed in a great hurry and David was quite bewildered by all the running about and shouting and calling. Then there were strange trumpet notes, as one by one, the great sails flapped, and the ships prepared to depart.
"Oh," thought David. "All the wonderful boats are going. I must ask where they are sailing, and, oh, they mustn't leave me here alone."
The wharf was almost deserted now except for a few sailors, who were untying the ropes from about the wharf piles. David walked up to one who wore a yellow sash and had a kind look about him.
"O Mr. Sailor," he said, "where are the ships going, and will they take me with them?"
The sailor with the yellow sash paused for a moment and looked at David. "Why," he said, "the ships are sailing to the wonderful land where the sun sets in the morning and rises in the evening. Didn't you know? It's the land of make-believe."
"And may I go with you?" asked David. "Oh, may I go with you? I never saw such beautiful lights on the water, and I've always wanted to sail away in a ship!"
The sailor pondered a moment and seemed about to consent. Then he called to another with a blue handkerchief twisted about his head. "What do you think?" he asked. "This boy wants to set sail with us. He says that the lights on the water are beautiful. Do you think that he's ready to go?"
The blue sailor eyed David suspiciously. "Certainly not." he said. "Don't you remember? This is the boy who thinks that doll houses are silly, and mopes indoors on a rainy day. He knows nothing of the beginning of make-believe, and this is very near the end. If he can't be happy in his own house, he won't be any more so on the far seas. He's not half ready for us. Throw down the ropes, the captain's calling!"
In a trice the sailors had jumped from the wharf into the rocking boats, and the fresh winds had blown the ships out and away, over across the sea; and David was quite alone on the deserted wharf.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" he cried. "They've left me and I wanted so to go with them!" He turned and stumbled blindly along the empty quay, back to the solid land. The country was harsh and dark and gray, and he walked and walked, blinded with disappointment. Then--he couldn't tell just how it happened--he was standing outside a strange garden, peering in through a green, latched gateway, down long, flower-lined pathways. There were white and pink flowers along the walks, and among the soft grass there were frail gold and lavender ones. David pressed his face close to the latched gate and peered, eagerly stretching his hands through the bars.
"O beautiful garden," he said, "I never knew that flowers could smell so sweetly. How wonderful it all is! And the winding paths seem to go on forever into the forests. I never saw anything so beautiful. Is there no one to let me in?"
All at once a little old lady stepped from behind a great rose tree. Her hands were filled with tiny yellow rosebuds, and her cheeks were pink as seashells, though her hair was silver white.
"Well, boy," she said. "Why don't you come in? Everyone's welcome! "
David jerked at the gate expectantly; but it was locked and he couldn't budge it. "I can't," he said. "The gate is locked. I can't get in!"
"True," said the little old lady; "but you brought your key, of course."
"Why, no," said David, "I haven't any key."
The little lady, gasped and looked quite terrified. "No key?" she said. "Oh, go away. I remember now. You're the boy who thinks that flowers belong only to girls. Oh, go away; this is the garden of make-believe and you can't enter here unless you have the key. You never once looked at the yellow crocuses that your sister planted along the window ledge indoors. The key to the garden of make-believe flowers is the love of real flowers. Go away, you don't belong here at all."
And the garden was gone and the old lady was gone and David was again alone upon the hard, gray road, wandering and lost. He seemed to have walked, footsore and dejected, for hours and hours. The path invariably twisted when he thought that he had reached the end, and seemed never to get anywhere at all, no matter how far and how fast he traveled.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said David. He sat down upon the dry, parched grass, utterly disconsolate. "How dreadful this all is after the ships and flowers. Is there never any way out?"
"Why certainly." It was old Tommy, sitting on a dry stump at the edge of the gray road. "Why certainly. Just wish to be where you'd like to be, and I'll see that you get there. You want to be great. Wish yourself in a wonderful castle, writing a thousand books, or in a splendid city, building a thousand palaces. Wish-- "
"Oh, stop!" cried David. "I'm tired. I'm tired, old Tommy. I wish that I were at home and had a chance to mend the doll-house trees!"
"Purr-rr," said old Tommy, asleep by the fire. David rubbed his eyes. "Why, where am I?" he questioned. "This isn't a cold, gray road at all." Then he jumped up, suddenly remembering, "Oh, it's home," he said. "How beautiful the flowers are in the window, and how warm it is! And, O Cathie, Cathie!" he ran out into the hall. "O little sister Cathie! I have a wonderful new plan for making doll-house gardens!"
First published in The Comrade. Philadelphia, Pa. : Presbyterian Church, Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. Vol. 3, no. 18 (April 30, 1911), p.70.