THE David of to-day is a man in middle life, whom you know at once for one of those accustomed to responsibility. Appreciating the value of passing help, from long years of effort made alone, he has befriended where he might, avoiding recognition, seeking no gratitude. As retiringly, without acclaim, he has done, for his community, work the value of which will increase as generations gather. He stands high in an upbuilding profession, among men of achievement and learning. And while yet in the fullness of years, he has entered into success.

But the David with whom this story has to do was a boy upon a mid-western farm. He was the first child, and the only son — though later a sister followed him into the world. It was a serious, work-a-day world as they were shown it. Conditions were hard, much was to be done, and men and women were few. So children were pressed into service, early and of necessity. Fathers whose own youth had been no softer made taskmasters unyielding to sentiment. And if the hearts of mothers longed now and then to see their babies playing careless and happily, as even the babies of the farm beasts might — why, hearts were inimical to labor and utility, and must be brought into subjection.

Yet David’s mother was young in maternity and in discipline, and one cannot but wonder if sometimes there were not a revolt in her breast; for it is remembered as the child’s first waking to consciousness of self, that he had a duty laid upon him, and a burden to be borne.

The burden, to be sure, was only a piece of firewood brought from the pile his father had stacked close by the kitchen door. But David’s two arms could scarcely encircle it, and his feet had to be placed with the utmost care, wide apart, so that he might not tumble. When he came to the bottom of the steps a difficulty all but insurmountable confronted him. He could not cling to the stick of wood and make such an ascent. He recalls now how he stood with aching arms, working out his first problem for himself. And directly it was solved. The stick of wood was laid down upon the first step. He climbed after it, on hands and knees, picked it up, laid it upon the second step, followed, and lifting it once again, with every care and precaution, surmounted the sill of the doorway. It seemed a long journey across the kitchen to the stove. But he drew a steadying breath, and fortified by the knowledge of a duty to be performed, went forward until, when the heavy load slipped from him and fell, it lay at his mother’s feet.

If it were an early entrance, however, upon the serious affairs of life, he was soon to have need of the powers fostered. For when David was twelve years old, his father died. His mother was a woman of energy and resource, reputed to be the most capable housewife of the neighborhood; but the work of the farm was heavy, and a man worthy his hire was not to be had in a district where each might be his own master, with soil enough to till for himself.

So David understood that he had become the head of the house now, and must henceforth do a man’s work. It did not seem to him anything impossible or extraordinary. In the world he knew, girls no older than he were homekeepers of many cares, fostering children younger still; and boys like himself were sometimes the mainstay of a family.

In the lonely quiet of the evening after his father’s burial, the little sister had been put to sleep and David and his mother sat together by the kitchen stove. The inevitable future stretched on ahead. It was full of practical and urgent needs that must perforce be spoken of. ‘There is the ploughing to be done — and the sowing/ David’s mother said. The middle of March was upon them, and winter might be counted as at an end, although there would be more bleak days when the rain would beat down, wind-driven, as it was doing now in the blackness outside the windows.

‘Mr. Morse might be willing to look after it,’ she went on, as she tore strips of old cotton which could yet serve for dishcloths. Morse was their neighbor to the northward; a farmer of skill and repute. ‘He might take it on shares.’ Her tone implied, what both of them understood, that the necessary financial loss of such an arrangement was to be regretted.

‘I can do it myself,’ said David.

It was the speech of one who has pondered aforetime. He too was busying his fingers, — repairing the headstall of a harness, by the aid of jack-knife and leather thongs. Intent as was his mind upon this affair of the moment, it could yet deal with other matters, clearly.

His mother, however, felt doubts

that might be excused. The boy beside her was not very old, to any eyes; but to hers he was younger still from having been carried in her arms and nursed at her bosom in a time which, in these last few days, had seemed so briefly past.

‘I’m afraid it would be too much for you, son.’ She put her discouragement gently.

David bent his red-brown head, as he rounded the strap-edge he had cut. ‘I ploughed last year,’ he recalled.

‘Yes, I know you did. But it was only two acres — there ought to be something like ten or twelve this time.’

‘I can plough’em all right.’

It was not boastful. It was the assertion of one who knows conditions and his own capabilities. And he carried so much conviction to his mother’s mind, that she found herself accepting the possibility. Had not her husband himself said to her that David had done his two acres ‘ as well as anybody ’ and ‘could have tackled the whole job if he had set about it’?

So, as to the ploughing — perhaps. But the sowing? That was another thing. ‘ You never sowed, son,’ she suggested.

‘I can learn how.’

She was silent, yet it was less from conviction than from unwillingness to put objections in the way, to show lack of faith in his powers.

‘Don’t you bother,’he admonished, holding off the battered headstall to survey his work. ‘If you’ll look after the house and them things, mother, I guess I can see to the farm.’

Among the duties of the ‘house and them things’ was that of caring for the chickens; and it was consequently to the surprise of David’s mother that she saw him, early one evening, standing before the coop, feeding the cocks and hens. Their neighbor to the northward was with him. Now and then the latter put his own right hand into the pan and, while the boy followed his every movement with concentrated attention, scattered the grain, wide and evenly. From her place at the kitchen door, she watched for a few minutes. And then she understood. David was learning to sow. It was a man’s affair, between men, and she had not been consulted. She was filled with a yearning pride over the self-reliance of her boy, over the setting of his sturdy little shoulders to bear whatever could be laid upon them. But she was careful to betray none of this to David when he came for his supper, reticent and occupied.

‘I’ll see to feeding the hens for a while,’ he told her.

She accepted it without question, — as she believed he would be best pleased to have a woman take these consciously-new evidences of virility. So far did she carry the policy of non-intervention, that she staid her tongue even when the gorged and glutted fowls seemed upon the verge of suffering gravely from excess. For David practiced upon them at every opportunity. At daylight, in the cold spring mornings, he was already outside the house, the pan beneath his left arm, his right hand swinging. And the chickens coming from the coop, one by one, none too eagerly, found grain already upon the ground. It continued to patter — with the evenness of drops of rain — upon their backs as they gathered. It fell still as, losing interest, they ceased to pick, and wandered off. At evening the downpour of plenty came again.

Morse appeared, now and then, to observe the progress. ‘You ain’t going to get a great many eggs this spring,’ he commented. ‘Them hens’ll be too fat’n lazy to lay.’

With the intensity of his efforts David looked up into the face embellished by a big black moustache which it was his secret wish to emulate at the earliest moment possible. And in his eyes there was an anxious questioning for approval, such as, at no price, would he have let his mother surprise.

‘You hold your fingers too tight,’ his master admonished. ‘And your arm goes jerky. Look a-here — like this.’

David hung on his gestures and sought to reproduce them.

‘That’s right,’ Morse encouraged, ‘that.’s better.’

For it must be understood that to sow is no matter of mere haphazard scattering of the seed. It is a phase of the farmer’s occupation requiring the utmost deftness and skill, an art for which one man is gifted above another. In David’s part of the country there were contests for precedence, and he who was acknowledged the best sower boasted thereof, and was looked up to by his comrades. The honor had latterly been held by Morse.

Among those boys of David’s acquaintance who hoped to follow in the footsteps of their fathers there was ambition to achieve the distinction. And David had long since decided that he would some day learn to sow better than any one roundabout. But that had been mere youthful vanity, and the expression of a character which would have naught of half effort. Now, however, he was confronted with necessity. If he were to take care of his mother and sister he must know how to sow. And if he were going to do it at all, he meant to do it well. The matter was one of absorbing, almost depressing seriousness. During those days of late March and early April the boy had put away childish things. Before dawn he rose, and he worked till after dark. Habit had not yet rendered this easy either to body or to mind. There was the mental effort of adjustment to conditions, of meeting new problems and solving them. And there was the brute physical labor of those who till the ground.

A week after the new responsibility had come upon him, he began to plough. He was helped, to be sure, by horses which his father had left well trained. But it is toil of cruel severity, at the very best, when a boy’s strength must guide the steel blade through acre after acre of ponderous earth. And when the day’s stint had been finished he must still stand practicing his grain-throwing to the hens, his arms almost too weary for the movements. Afterwards there were the horses to care for and stable for the night. It would be well past dark when he could go in for his supper, to sit eating in the silence of exhaustion. Often he dropped asleep where he sat, with his head on his bended arm.

Not until he was deep in the abandonment of slumber would his need of his mother be confessed. She would come beside him then, and put her arms about him, and bow her head upon the close-shorn, low-lying one. And presently she would speak to him.

‘David — son — it is time for bed, dearie. Come with mother.’ Thespeech of other days, when she had taken his little soft hand, and led him, toddling.

And David would stir and rise with her aid. Leaning heavily upon her in unconscious helplessness, he would let. himself be guided to the stairs and up them. And she would undress him and put him to bed, tucking him under the patchwork quilt, and kissing him goodnight. The next morning he would know not hing of it all. But his mother cherished the memories.

To have ploughed and harrowed the twelve acres which it had been decided to cultivate, might have taken less time for a grown man. But David’s utmost exertion could not accomplish it under four weeks. They were ready for planting in good season, however, and on the morning after the last foot of soil had been prepared, he went out by the front gate, and turning northward, trudged along the road. He carried a small canvas sack of grain. And he scattered it to farmer Morse’s chickens, while that past-master stood by, severely critical. It was a rare treat for fowls to whom grain had not become an indifferent thing. But at length Morse spoke the staying word.

’That’ll do,’ he said. ‘I guess you can go ahead and sow your field.’

David returned home.

’I’m going to sow to-morrow,’ he announced for his mother’s information.

And while the light clouds in the sky were just beginning to flush pink, he went forth into the crucial day.

There is no movement among all those needful and wholesome occupations of men from which spring grace, that has a time and rhythm more perfect than sowing. The visible music of great symphonies is in the long forward tread across soft earth, in the dip, spread, sweep and return of the free right arm. The act is one complete and rounded in its symbolism, the primal type of all other acts. The supremely impartial generosity of nature itself is in the loosely opened, curving hand that sends widespread, evenly, its fecund seed. The swing of the spheres through space is in unison with the swinging passage of the man who sows earth’s grains.

But as beautiful acts are oftenest unconscious ones, David was wholly unaware of being anything more than a boy in a big, brown field. He was aware, to be sure, of a certain pride in the fact that the field was anice job of ploughing and harrowing. And as he was young and strong, and as the day was new, he could not but have had a feeling of good exercise in the smooth, repeated gestures, and the long step over the heavy ground. But the matter in hand was work, serious work that had to be done well. It required the whole of his attention.

‘ I ’ll come over before dinner and see how you’re getting on,’ Morse had said. And the one thing of paramount importance in the universe was that he should not stand pulling at the enviable black moustache, frowning disapproval and shaking his head. So David went forward and back, forward and back, dipping his fingers, and spreading the grain. And before he had given a thought to the time, an acre had been sowed. He shifted the strap of his bag and stood surveying it. Then he began to walk along, head down, scrutinizing narrowly. The further he went on and the more closely he looked, the less did he like what he had done. For the first time he felt discouragement, doubt of himself. He had undertaken something he could not do. He was ashamed, sullenly, crossly ashamed. He did not want Morse to come and see this. His taciturn pride, too deep for the surface expression of boasting, was wounded and hurt. He kicked his toe into the earth.

‘ Aw — I ’ve made a darned mess of it.’ He spoke to the field empty of all save eager birds. And then, feeling a presence, he glanced up quickly. Morse had approached.

‘Got about, an acre in? I thought it would be pretty near that by now.' His keen eye was going over the ground, as he began to walk along slowly. David followed at his side, a little behind. His knees were trembling disagreeably, and his hands had grown cold. He felt light-headed, just a little as if he were sick. Morse was ominously silent. He was pulling at his moustache. Not if life had been the price would David have sought to end his anxiety with any question that might break this silence fraught with dread. He was shutting his teeth together, preparing himself to take what was coming without betrayal of feeling.

They made the tour of the acre; and when they had come again to the spot whence they had set forth, Morse stopped. He hooked his thumbs into the belt of his overalls. ‘It’s a good job,’ he said, ‘a first-rate job. I could n’t have done better myself.’

Perhaps it was in recollection of his own boyhood’s fierce detestation of feeling betrayed, that he kept on looking straight across the countryside. ‘You want to get your scarecrows up right soon,’ he casually observed.

The birds in the row of new-leaved pollards were chirping and trilling busily; a crow on a post was resting with wings down-drooped, and a squirrel, quivering with surprise at being unmolested, sat up tentatively, the better to see. David himself stood motionless, watching Morse going away along the edge of the fence. The tall, stooped figure in dingy blue came to a row of bushes, went among them and disappeared.

Then David turned slowly and looked at the field just sown. He drew a long breath — and another, which came unsteadily. His shoulders began to rise and fall, despite the mightiest effort of his will. He tried to hold his lips between his teeth. But the overtaxed powers had given way. In sudden surrender he threw his bent elbow across his eyes and stumbled unseeingly forward to the foot of the great trees. He dropped on his knees there, then at full length on the ground; and with his head pillowed on his arms the stern repression of so many days found relief, as he sobbed in complete abandonment.

He did not know that some of the birds, growing bold, flew down near him for the scattered grain, nor that the crow moved up along the fencerail, hesitating between investigation and flight. Neither did he know that someone was coming through the tall bushes, by the path.

His mother had spoken with Morse as he went out to his wagon in the road, and when he had driven off she had made haste past the houses and barns, and through the truck garden, to the fields. She had wanted to see David in an hour of a pride and satisfaction such as might never again in all his life be so supreme. But he was not standing as she had imagined him, shining-eyed, elaborately unconcerned, looking upon the work that had been called good. Just at first she could not find him. Then she caught a low sound, and glanced whence it came. Beneath the tall pollards, in their narrowing strip of shade, David was prone on the ground.

In the strong impulse of her sympathy, she would have gone and knelt beside him, taking him in her arms. For a moment she paused — uncertainly. Then a love beyond mere motherhood surged within her soul. She turned back along the field-path quickly.

And David was alone.