His name was Amos Clark, 75 years old if a day, and on one of those days at the little decrepit house where the dowser used to live, this kind-looking man with a beard came carrying all he owned on an A-frame on his back. He set his A-frame on the ground and looked at the small house needing much work on the outside and quickly imagined what the inside of the house looked like. Old muscles, in a twist of memory, began to move under his shirt.
“Whose house is this?” Amos said to a group of children playing at the edge of a field. This was the place, for your information, where the mountain came to a rest, but the river had not been found as yet.
One of the boys said, “This old house used to belong to the dowser, but he ran away.” The boy used a stick to walk with, as his left leg was slightly crooked and made him lean to one side.
“Why did he go away?” Amos said, looking closely at the stick the boy had to use.
“People laughed at him,” the boy replied. When he looked at his friends, some of them began to chuckle and grin.
“Don’t,” the boy said. His sandy hair caught the wind; his eyes were hazel and steady and blue as a good-day sky.
“If I want to fix this house up and live here,” Amos said, “tell me who I have to see.” The children could see some of the tools hanging on his A-frame. On edges, where the sun touched them, the tools shone brightly, glistened, as if they had been polished with a rubbing gem.
“See Mayor Macklow. He lives down there where those walls meet.” The boy pointed across wide fields. “He’ll be on his porch listening to birds of the fields. My name is Max. What’s your name?”
Amos, the man of the tools, smiled at Max’s description of the mayor. “My name is Amos, not that it counts, but only what I do counts.”
Amos then walked across the fields made a deal and soon had the house to work on. At first, it was just the children who watched him fix doors and steps and windows, but soon other people, including Macklow the Mayor, came to watch. All the time he used tools, he whistled different tunes, which told everybody he was a happy man.
The house was soon a sparkling and cozy place with no lopsided boards and no broken steps and no windows free to the air. When Amos needed wood, he put the empty A-frame across his shoulders and walked off toward the mountain and the forests. In the evening, he returned with a pile of wood of all lengths sitting across the back of his shoulders.
“Someday, perhaps soon,” he said one day to the children watching him, and a few of the older people, “I will have a surprise for you.” As usual, just at dusk, the man took some of his wood he had been working with and brought it inside the little house. The light went on inside so they knew he was still working.
Nobody knew what Amos was working on. But the light burned long into many nights.
And soon, to everyone’s surprise, a garden was also blooming behind the house. Macklow was really surprised because his own fields were slow. Nobody had seen the kindly man walk out of his little house at night, time after time, and put buckets of water on his little garden. The dowser’s well was right inside the little house and those who had laughed at the dowser never knew about the well and the sweet water it provided as if it ought to be bottled and put on the market.
One morning, Amos came out of his house and gave a new stick to Max. It was much better than Max’s old stick and was smooth and polished and very strong. Max was proud of his new stick and could walk faster with it. Over his head he waved it, showing it off to his friends.
On each morning from then on, Amos began to build a fence around the house and the garden. At first, he put up strong posts, then mounted stringers between the posts. When all the posts and stringers were mounted and connected, he began to place upright pickets on the stringers.
Now and then one of the pickets would cause someone to laugh and titter about its strange shape. Some of the pickets were not as pretty and straight as other pickets. Some, indeed, looked odd and out of place. But Amos kept adding both straight and odd-looking pickets to the fence.
“See,” Macklow said one day when village people were talking about the fence, “he brings out what he brought into the house the night before. What he does to it is a mystery, but let us not laugh at him. We laughed at the dowser and he went away in the night. This man is a kind man and has promised us a surprise. Do not laugh at him, no matter what his fence looks like.” When he looked at little Max with the new stick, Max and Macklow swapped nods, as if they shared a secret.
But laughter, though, did come each day, at the way the fence looked, at crooked or bent pickets, at the weird shapes of some of the pickets.
Then the day came when all the vegetables in the garden were ripe and the bizarre fence circled the house. The man seemed pleased and put his tools down except for one knife and walked off toward the forest. He came back with one small piece of wood. From that piece of wood, he whittled a small whistle. When he blew into the whistle, he found only one note, a pure note, but only one note.
There was more small laughter and chuckling, but Macklow, remembering the dowser, thinking about the new ripe garden and his own slow crops, would not laugh. Nor would Max with his new walking stick
One morning Amos spoke to some people looking at his crop and studying what he had done to fix the house and the fence he had placed all around it. “I have hidden music here. Music is a part of the soul. Music is part of the water, too. And water is part of the soul. Whoever finds the music I have hidden, can have this house, for Macklow says it is mine to give.”
Macklow nodded his head.
In the morning Amos Clark was gone. The tools were gone. The A-frame was gone.
People pored over the house trying to find the music. They did not know what they were looking for. But they found the dowser’s well at the back end of the house and wondered at that. Macklow marveled at the well. However, he made sure none of them disturbed the things Amos Clark had done to fix the house.
It was curious. Nobody could find the music. None of them knew what they were looking for. But Max kept playing the whistle and kept hearing the note. He would sit on the porch and blow the whistle until people began to be bothered by it and asked him to stop.
But Max also knew that note deep inside his head.
For weeks people looked for the music. But they did not know what they were looking for.
And then, one morning as he walked past the house, Max hit one of the pickets with his stick.
Oh, how his heart pounded in his chest. It grew as if it might explode.
It was the same note from the whistle. The exact same, beautiful note.
Back to the gate he went, at the same note-sounding picket and began to walk around the house, his stick slapping against each picket in turn, the way boys have done ever since going by church and schoolyard fences.
And Macklow looked and the people looked and they all heard the music coming from the fence pickets as Max, walking without his stick support for the first time in his life, played elegant music on the ugly looking pickets with the stick Amos Clark had carved. The circled fence played out a whole lovely tune.
And Macklow saw to it that Max and his mother had themselves a new house to live in, at the place where the mountain comes to rest and the river is not yet found.