A table of contents was added for the reader's convenience.
HEART OF GOLD
RUTH ALBERTA BROWN
Author of "At the Little Brown House," "The Lilac Lady," "Tabitha at Ivy Hall," "Tabitha's Vacation," "Tabitha's Glory," Etc.
The Saalfield Publishing Company Chicago Akron, Ohio New York
Made in U. S. A.
Copyright, MCMXV by The Saalfield Publishing Company
CHAPTER I. THE GIRL WHO TOOK A DARE CHAPTER II. THE SCRAP-BOOK BRIGADE CHAPTER III. GUSSIE'S NEW PLAY CHAPTER IV. PEACE LEARNS THE BITTER TRUTH CHAPTER V. THE LILAC LADY'S MESSAGE CHAPTER VI. THE PARSONAGE TWINS CHAPTER VII. AN ENDLESS CHAIN OF LETTERS CHAPTER VIII. ALLEE'S ALBUM CHAPTER IX. PEACE INTERVIEWS THE BISHOP CHAPTER X. THE NEW PASTOR OF SOUTH AVENUE CHURCH CHAPTER XI. DOCTOR DICK CHAPTER XII. MISS WAYNE CHAPTER XIII. THE LITTLE AUTHOR LADY CHAPTER XIV. KETURAH AND BILLY BOLEE CHAPTER XV. THE RING THAT BUILT A HOSPITAL CHAPTER XVI. PEACE DISCOVERS SOME SECRETS CHAPTER XVII. A HOSPITAL WEDDING CHAPTER XVIII. THE SEVEN MCGEES CHAPTER XIX. WONDERFUL TIDINGS
Heart of Gold
THE GIRL WHO TOOK A DARE
"Attention, children! Close copy books and pass them to the right. Monitors, collect."
Tired Miss Phelps laid down her crayon, with one sweep of her arm erased the letter exercises she had so laboriously traced on the blackboard for her fifty pupils to copy, wiped the clinging chalk from her dry, chapped hands, and sank wearily into her chair beside the littered desk, as she issued her commands in sharp, almost impatient tones. Her head ached fiercely, her brain seemed on fire, the subdued scratching of scores of pens in unskilled fingers set her nerves on edge, and she was ready to collapse with the strain of the day. Yet another hour remained before the afternoon session would draw to a close. How was she ever to hear the stupid geography recitation, or listen to the halting, singsong voices stumble through pages of a Reader too old for their understanding?
Again she glanced at the clock. A full hour of torture, and she was simply longing for bed! A sudden determination seized her. She would read to her scholars instead of listening to the lessons they had prepared to recite! So, selecting a book from the row on her desk, she waited until the blotted, inky copy books had been gleefully whisked shut by their owners, passed across the aisle and gathered in neat piles by the monitors, who creaked solemnly up to the corner table and laid them beside the day's written exercises for the teacher's inspection later. Then they clattered back to their seats and waited with expectant eyes fixed upon Miss Phelps for the next command.
"Take rest position!"
There was a brisk scraping of feet, a rustling of dresses, and fifty active bodies sat stiffly erect with hands clasped on the desk-tops in front of them. No,—not fifty. One child, a brown-eyed girl with short, riotous curls tumbling about her round, animated face, sat heedless of her surroundings, staring out of the window near her into the bright Spring sunshine, and from her rapt expression it was evident that her thoughts were far away from school and lessons.
Miss Phelps waited an instant, but the child was lost in her dreams and did not feel the unusual silence of the room. Following the gaze of the intent brown eyes, the teacher glanced out of the window and saw a flock of pigeons disporting themselves on the barn roof across the road; and as they fluttered and strutted, scolded and cooed, the little watcher at her desk unconsciously imitated their movements, thrusting out her chest, cocking her head pertly on one side and nodding and pecking at imaginary birds, just as her pretty feathered friends were doing as they basked in the warm sunshine. Involuntarily the woman smiled. Then, as the girl continued to mimic the doves, she tapped her foot impatiently on the floor and repeated emphatically, "Children, take rest position!"
Stealthily the other pupils let their eyes rove about the room in search of the guilty member, for it was very plain from the teacher's manner that someone was out of order. Instantly a pencil rapped sharply on the desk, and forty-nine pair of inquisitive eyes jerked quickly to the front again. But the fiftieth pair continued to stare out of the window, until in exasperation the woman's voice rasped out, "Peace Greenfield, will you please give me your undivided attention?"
With a start of horrified surprise the culprit awoke from her daydreams, to discover that she was flapping her outstretched arms in either aisle like some exultant cockerel just ready to crow. Abashed and dismayed at having been caught napping, she thrust her hands hastily into her desk, seized her geography, and scrambling to her feet, started for the front of the room, remembering that her class was the next to recite. The children tittered, and Peace, much amazed to find that no one followed, paused uncertainly, searched her brain desperately to recall the teacher's command, and then glibly recited, "Brazil is bounded on the north by—"
The scholars burst into a howl of derision, and poor Peace slumped into her seat, covered with confusion. Even the tired teacher smiled at the child's discomfort, but immediately rapped for order, and said sternly, "Rest position, please! The geography and reading classes will not recite this afternoon. I shall read to you from our book of mythology, and when I have finished, I shall expect you to repeat the story. What was the last we read about?"
"The wooden horse in the siege of Troy," shouted a score of voices.
"Correct," smiled the teacher faintly. "And today I shall tell you about Ganymede and how he was connected with the other characters we have been studying. Ganymede—repeat the name after me."
"Ganymede," roared the obedient scholars.
"Ganymede," whispered Peace to herself. "Ganymede—what a funny name! I wonder if he was any relation to those folks Hope was talking about last night. They were Medes and—and Persians. I d'clare, I 'most forgot that word. Hist'ry like Hope's must be int'resting. I'll be glad when I get big enough to study about the Goffs and Salts and—and Sandals and the rest of that bunch." She meant Goths and Celts and Vandals, but somehow words had a bad habit of getting sadly mixed up in that active brain which tried to absorb all it heard; and she was always making outrageous speeches in consequence.
"I don't like mythology. What do we care about Herc'les and his sore heel, or Helen or Hector?—I wonder if that's the man Hec Abbott was named after? I'd rather—My! what a lovely day it is for March! No wonder the doves are talking. Wouldn't I like to be up on that barn roof in the sun! Bet I'd do some talking too. S'posing I was a really dove. What fun it would be to fly away, away up in the blue sky. I wonder if they ever bump into the clouds. There goes a white cloud skimming right over the sun. Now it's gone and we're in the shine once more. Queer how it can shine in spots and be cloudy in spots at the same time. That's like laughing with one eye and bawling with the other. I don't b'lieve a body could ever do that. Wish I could, just to see what it would feel like.
"'Twon't take many days like this 'fore the grass begins to grow and the leaves to come. The trees are budded big now. I am crazy wild for the cowslips and vi'lets to get here. Hicks promised to help us plant some flowers on our Lilac Lady's grave. It looks so bare and lonely now with the snow all gone, and only that tall white stone to tell where she is. I know where the loveliest yellow vi'lets grow."
Again Peace came to the earth with an abruptness that left her breathless and quaking. "Yes, ma'am," she responded meekly.
"You weren't paying attention, were you?" demanded the long-suffering teacher.
Peace pondered. She could scarcely say "yes" truthfully, and yet her intentions were good. She had not meant to lose herself again, nor did realize how very little she had heard of the story which the teacher had been reading.
"Were you?" repeated Miss Phelps relentlessly.
"Partly," Peace responded haughtily.
The woman gasped; then as the scholars giggled, she said sternly, "Tell us what the story was about."
Peace opened her mouth. "Gan—" she began and halted. What had the story been about? Rapidly she searched through her memory. It was such a funny word. How could she have forgotten it?
The children sniggered audibly.
"Gan—what?" urged the weary teacher sarcastically.
O, yes, now she remembered it! "Gandermeats and pigeons," triumphantly finished Peace, with a saucy toss of her head.
There was a moment of dead silence in the room; then a jeering shout rose from forty-nine throats. But it was instantly quelled by a sharp rap on the desk, and when order was restored, Miss Phelps said encouragingly, "Ganymede and what, Peace? Surely not pigeon! You didn't mean that, now did you?"
But Peace had come to the end of her resources. If it wasn't pigeons, what was it?
"Tell her, children," prompted Miss Phelps, as Peace floundered helplessly.
"An eagle," yelled the chorus of eager voices.
An eagle! Queer, but she had heard no mention made of an eagle; and she trembled in her shoes for fear the teacher would ask still more embarrassing questions.
Fortunately, however, Miss Phelps turned to the lad across the aisle, and said, "Johnny, you may tell us the story of Ganymede."
Johnny was nearly bursting his jacket in his eagerness to publish his knowledge; so to Peace's immense gratification and relief, he gabbled off his version of Ganymede's experience with Jupiter's eagle. And Peace breathed more freely when he sat down puffing with pride at the teacher's, "Well told, Johnny."
"Mercy! I'm glad she didn't ask me any more about the old fellow," Peace sighed. "I—I guess I didn't hear much she said, but that horrid mythology is so dry. I don't see why she keeps reading the stuff to us. I'd a sight rather study about physiology and cardrack valves and oil-factory nerves in the nose like Cherry does; though I don't see how she ever remembers those long words and what part of the body they b'long to. I'd—yes, I'd rather have mental 'rithmetic every day of the week than mythology about old gods that never lived, and did only mean things to everybody when they b'lieved they lived."
"Peace Greenfield!" sounded an exasperated voice in her ear. "If you would rather watch those pigeons across the street than to pay attention to your lessons, we will just excuse you and let you stand by the window until—"
"I wasn't watching a single pigeon that time," Peace broke in hotly. "I was only thinking about those hateful gods folks used to b'lieve in, and wondering why the School Board makes us study about them when they were just clear fakes—every one of 'em—'nstead of learning things that really did happen at some time. There's enough true, int'resting things going on around us to keep us busy without studying fakes, seems to me."
Now it happened that the mythological tales with which Miss Phelps regaled her small charges from time to time were not a part of the regular course of study laid out for her grade, and at this pupil's blunt criticism, the teacher's face became scarlet; but she quickly regained her poise, and turning to the school, asked, "How many of you enjoy listening to these myths which I have been reading?"
A dozen wavering, uncertain hands went up. The rest remained clasped on their desks.
The woman was astounded. "What kind of stories do you like best?" she faltered.
"Those in the new Readers," responded the pupils as with one voice.
Mechanically Miss Phelps reached for one of the volumes, and opening it at random, read the New England tale of the Pine-tree Shillings to her delighted audience.
Peace tried to center her thoughts upon what was being read, but the lure of the Spring sunshine and blue sky was too great to be resisted; and before the story was ended, she was again wandering in realms of her own. Down by the river where the pussy willows grew, out in the marshland where the cowslips soon would blow, up the gently sloping hillside, far up where the tall shaft of marble stood sentinel over the grave of her beloved Lilac Lady, she wandered, planning, planning what she would do when the warm Spring sunshine had chased away the Frost King for another year.
The book closed with a sudden snap, and the teacher demanded crisply, "All who think they can tell the story as well as Johnny told us about Ganymede, raise your hands."
Vaguely aware that Miss Phelps had told them to raise their hands, Peace quickly shot one plump arm into the air and waved it frantically.
"Very well, Peace, you may begin."
Peace bounced to her feet. What was expected of her? Why had she raised her hand?
"Aw, tell her about the pine-tree shillings," prompted boastful Johnny in a whisper, and Peace plunged boldly into the half-heard story, wondering within herself how she was going to end it respectably when she did not know the true ending because her mind had been wool-gathering.
"Once there was a man—a man—a man—" blundered the girl, trying in vain to remember whether or not he had a name.
"Yes, a man," repeated the teacher impatiently. "Go on. Where did he live and what did he do?"
"He lived in olden times," replied Peace, grasping eagerly at the suggestion.
"Well, but in what country? Asia or Africa?"
"Neither. He lived in the New England,"—the New England chanced to be Martindale's largest furniture store,—"and he was very rich and had a buckskin maiden."
"A what?" gasped the astonished woman, dropping her book to the floor with a bang.
"A—a buckskin maiden," repeated the child slowly, realizing that she had made some mistake, but not knowing where.
"Buxom," whispered Johnny frantically.
"A—a bucksin maiden," corrected Peace.
"Buxom!" snapped the teacher irritably.
"Bucksome," repeated Peace, with the picture of a bucking billy goat uppermost in her mind, and wondering how a maiden could be bucksome.
"Go on," sharply.
"Well, this bucksome maiden wanted awful bad to get married, like all other women do, and so her father found a man for her, but she had to have a dairy—"
"Dowry," corrected the teacher. "What is a dowry, Peace?"
"A place where they keep cows," responded the child, sure of herself this time; but to her amazement, the rest of the scholars hooted derisively, and Miss Phelps said wearily, "Peace was evidently asleep when I explained the meaning of that word. Alfred, you may tell her what a dowry is."
"A dowry is the money and jew'ls and things a girl gets from her father to keep for her very own when she marries."
"Oh," breathed Peace, suddenly enlightened. "Well, her father stood her in a pair of scales and weighed her with shingles—"
"With—?" Miss Phelps fortunately had not caught the word.
"Pine-tree shillings," prompted Johnny under his breath. "He had a chest full of 'em."
"Pine-tree shingles," answered Peace dutifully. "He had a chest made of them."
"Peace Greenfield!" Miss Phelps' patience had come to an end. Sometimes it seemed to her as if this solemn-eyed child purposely misunderstood, and mocked at her attempts to lead unwilling feet along the path of learning, and she was at a loss to know how to deal with the sprightly elf who danced and flitted about like an elusive will-o'-wisp. The fact that she was the University President's granddaughter was the only thing that had saved her thus far from utter disfavor in the eyes of her teacher; but now even that fact was lost sight of in face of the child's repeated misdemeanors and flagrant inattention. She should be punished. It was the only way out.
Drawing her thin lips into a straight, grim line to express her disapproval, Miss Phelps repeated, "Peace Greenfield, you may remain after school."
The gong rang at that instant, the notes of the piano echoed through the building, and surprised, dismayed Peace, after one searching look at her teacher's face and a longing glance out into the bright sunlight, sank into her seat and watched her comrades march gleefully down the hall and scatter along the street. It was too bad to be kept in on such a beautiful day! O, dear, what a queer world it was and how many queer people in it! There was Miss Phelps for one. She was so strict and stern and sarcastic,—almost as sharp and harsh as Miss Peyton, who had made life so miserable for poor Peace in Chestnut School the year before. But Miss Peyton did begin to understand at last, while Miss Phelps—
"Peace, come here."
Peace roused from her bitter revery with a start. She had not observed the teacher's noiseless return to the room after conducting her pupils down the hall, and was astonished to find the stiff figure sitting in its accustomed place behind the desk which had once more been whisked into spick and span order for another day.
Peace scuttled spryly down the aisle, casting one final wistful glance over her shoulder at the doves across the street. How delightful it must be to be a bird! The teacher saw the glance, and putting on her severest expression, demanded sternly, "What is the matter with you, child? Have you lost your wits entirely, or—"
"O, teacher," the eager voice burst forth, as Peace pointed rapturously out of the window, "isn't this the elegantest day? Seems 's if Winter had stayed twice as long this year as it ought to, and it's been an awful trial to everyone, with its blizzards and drifts. I like winter, too. It's such fun coasting and skating and sleighing and snow-balling. But I've got enough for once. I'm glad Spring is here at last." Her voice sent a responding joyous thrill through the woman's cold heart in spite of herself. "The ice in the river is 'most all gone, the pussy willows by the boathouse are peeking out their queer little jackets, and the robins are beginning to build their nests in the trees. Grandpa says when the birds commence to build, Spring is here to stay; and I'm so glad. I've just been aching to go hunting vi'lets and cowslips and 'nemones. We are going to plant a heap of wild flowers on her grave—"
"Whose grave?" the amazed teacher heard herself asking.
"My Lilac Lady's. It's so bare now. The grass was all dead when she fell asleep last Fall, and only the ugly ground shows now—just the size of the bed they laid her in. We're going to cover it with the flowers she liked best, first the wild ones from the woods, and then the garden blossoms—pansies and forget-me-nots and English daisies. I know where the prettiest vi'lets grow,—just scads and oodles of 'em—down by the stone bridge over Bartlett's Creek in Parker; and Hicks is going to help us transplant them. Only it's too early yet. They aren't even up through the ground now. But it won't take long, with days like this. It's hard to study with Spring smelling so d'licious right under your nose. Doesn't it make you want to get out and jump rope and play marbles and leap-frog, and—and just jump and skip and yell? I can pretty near fly with gladness!"
Peace turned a radiant face toward the silent woman, and was dismayed to find tears glistening in the cold gray eyes. "Oh!" she exclaimed in deep contrition, "what is the matter? Did I—what have I said now to make you squall?"
"Nothing, dear," smiled the teacher, wiping away the telltale drops with a hasty whisk of her handkerchief. "I—I just saw in my mind a picture of the little old cottage where I used to live, and it made me homesick, I think. My head aches, too,—"
"Then you mustn't let me keep you here," cried the child, forgetting that she had been bidden to remain after school as a punishment for inattention. "You better go right home, drink a cup of good, hot tea, and go to bed. That'll make you feel all right by morning, I know, 'cause that's the way we fix Grandpa up when his head bothers. Here's your hat and coat. Just breathe in lots of air, too. It's pretty muddy under foot to walk very far, but the fresh air will do you good."
Before the woman could realize how it happened, Peace had coaxed her into her wraps, slipped on her own, and hand in hand with the astounded teacher was walking demurely down the muddy street, still chattering gayly. At the corner, faithful Allee awaited the coming of her unfortunate sister, and Peace, seeing the yellow curls bobbing under the blue stocking cap, gave the teacher's hand a parting squeeze, waved a smiling good-bye, and skipped off beside the younger child as if there were no such a thing as being kept in after school.
"O, Allee," Miss Phelps heard her say as they pelted down the avenue, "do you s'pose Grandma'll let us go over to Evelyn's to play? It's dry enough, I'm sure."
"Cherry's gone on ahead to find out," Allee panted. "They are going to play anti-over,—Ted and Johnny and all the rest."
"Goody! I just know Grandma won't put her foot down. It's such a lovely day! Hear that robin say, 'Spring is here, Spring is here!' S'posin' we were robins, Allee, and had to hunt up horse-hair and hay to build our nests of—"
"Peace! Allee! Hurry up. We are already to play," screamed Evelyn Smiley, leaning over her gate and beckoning wildly to the racing girls. "Your grandmother says you can stay till five o'clock. Ted's 'it' this time. Johnny has a dandy ball, and we are going to play over the house."
"Oh!" cried Peace incredulously, "that's so high!"
"All the more fun," answered Ted, joining them at the gate.
"But we might break some windows."
"Fiddlesticks! Our ball is big and soft Couldn't break anything with it. 'Tain't like Fred's hard rubber one. Come on. This is my side of the house. You take the other."
The rest of the dozen children gathered on the front lawn scuttled away to the place designated, and the game was on. Such laughing and shouting, such running and dodging! Once Edith Smiley, Evelyn's aunt, beloved of all the children, came to the window and watched the boisterous, exhilarating frolic with an anxious pucker between her brows. "I am afraid someone will get hurt, Mother," she said in answer to the white-haired grandmother's questioning glance.
"How can they? Seems to me they are playing a very harmless game."
"But the house is too high for 'anti-over.' They should have taken the garage."
"Nonsense! They are developing muscle. Watch that Peace fling the ball. She can throw almost as well as a boy."
"The lawn is so slippery—"
"They are nimble on their feet, and the ground is soft."
Edith retired to her piano practise and the mother resumed her knitting with her usual tranquillity. Suddenly above the soft strains of music that filled the house, rose a yell of dismay from a dozen throats outside.
"What's happened?" Edith glanced apprehensively toward the door.
"Their ball is caught on the roof," answered her mother, still smiling placidly. "Guess their game is over for tonight. Well, it is time. The clock is just ready to strike five."
Edith turned back to the piano, but before her hands had touched the ivory keys, there was a wild, excited, protesting shout from outside that brought her to her feet and sent her flying for the door.
"Peace, Peace! Come down. You'll fall! You'll fall!"
"Johnny Gates, take that back! She's not a coward! She couldn't keep the ball from catching in that corner."
"Oh, Peace, never mind the ball. It's Johnny who's the coward."
"Hush! You will confuse her!" Edith's voice was low but vibrant, and the screams from the terrified watchers below abruptly ceased.
Peace had reached the ball wedged in a hollow by the chimney, and with accurate aim, sent it spinning down to its white-faced, tearful owner; but as she turned to crawl back the way she had come, her foot slipped, she wavered uncertainly, and fell with a crash to the roof, rolling over and over in a vain endeavor to stop her mad career, till, with the horrified eyes of the stricken audience glued upon her, she slid over the coping and landed in a crumpled heap on the sodden turf below.
Then pandemonium broke loose. Evelyn burst into uncontrollable sobs, Fanny toppled over in blissful unconsciousness, Cherry, beside herself with grief, tore down the street to break the direful news to those at home; and the boys danced and pranced in their terror, as they screamed, "She's dead, she's dead! Peace Greenfield's dead!"
For a brief instant, which seemed like eternity to Edith Smiley, she stood rooted to the spot, transfixed by the very horror of it all. Then loyal Allee's frenzied scream brought her to her senses, and she saw the golden head bending over the disheveled form in the mud, as the child repeated again and again, "She's not dead! She can't be dead! I won't let her be dead!" Swiftly Edith knelt beside the pair and sought to lift the older child to carry her into the house. But at her first touch, the brown eyes unclosed, and a roguish smile broke over the white face, as Peace looked up at the frightened figures above her and giggled hysterically, "I've often wondered what it would feel like to fly. Do you s'pose it makes the birds sick and dizzy every time they make a swoop?"
"Peace!" gasped Edith, "are you hurt?"
"No, only things look kind of tipsy 'round here, and my breath has got St. Vitas Dance." Slowly she stretched out her arms and legs that they might see that none of her limbs were broken; but when she attempted to sit up, her lips went white and she fell back on the trampled grass with a stifled groan.
"You are hurt, Peace Greenfield," declared anxious Allee, hovering over her like a mother bird over her young.
"There's a place in my back," whispered the injured girl faintly. "I guess maybe one of my ribs is cracked."
At this moment the distracted President and wild-eyed Gail pushed through the knot of children huddled about the fallen heroine, and demanded huskily, "How is she? Not dead? Thank God! Any bones broken?"
"Nope, Grandpa," smiled Peace cheerfully. "I just got a cricket in my back, so it hurts a little when I wiggle; but I got Johnny's ball, too, didn't I?"
"I'm afraid there is something wrong," whispered Edith Smiley, with a worried look in her eyes, as she made way for the President. "She can't move without groaning."
The stalwart man stooped over the outstretched figure and gathered it in his arms, but as he lifted her from the ground she screamed in agony and fainted quite away. Thus they bore her home—the President with the still form on his bosom, Gail bearing the muddy red stocking cap, Cherry and Allee bringing up the rear, while a hushed, scared-faced throng of playmates followed at some distance.
The next morning the corner seat by the window in Miss Phelps' room was vacant for the first time that year, and the teacher looked up in surprise when no familiar voice answered, "Present," when she called Peace Greenfield's name.
"She fell off the roof of Smiley's house," volunteered one scholar.
"And broke her back," supplemented another.
"What!" shrieked the horrified teacher, with a strange, sickening fear clutching at her heart.
The door opened, and the school principal entered the room, looking worn and distraught.
"Miss Lisk," cried the teacher, turning eagerly to her superior, "the children tell me that Peace Greenfield has fallen from some roof and broken her back."
"O, it's not as bad as that," responded the older woman promptly. "She has had a nasty fall and is—hurt. How badly, the doctor is unable yet to say, but we hope she will soon be with us again." Lowering her voice so none but the teacher could hear, she added, "The physician is afraid that her spine is injured."
"Oh!" cried Miss Phelps, too shocked for further words.
"It is too bad such a thing should happen to her," continued Miss Lisk sadly. "She is such a lovable child, the life of her home."
Had anyone paid such a tribute to the lively Peace on the previous day, her teacher would merely have raised her eyebrows doubtfully; but with the memory of that flushed, joyous face still so vividly before her, and with the sound of the eager, childish prattle still ringing in her ears, she nodded her head in assent, and turned back to the day's duties with a heaviness of heart that was overwhelming. With that restless, active figure gone from its accustomed corner, the sun seemed to have set in mid-day and left the whole world in darkness.
THE SCRAP-BOOK BRIGADE
When Peace awoke to her surroundings again, she was lying in the gorgeously draped bed of the Flag Room with old Dr. Coates bending over her, and she startled the worthy gentleman by asking in sprightly tones, "Well, Doctor, how are you? It's been a long time since you've been to call on me, isn't it? Do you think I have cracked a rib?"
"No, little girl," he answered soberly, but his wrinkled old face brightened visibly at the sound of her cheery voice. "I think you have put a kink in your back."
"Will it be all right soon?"
"We hope so, curly pate."
"O, dear, no! Not for—days." He could not bring himself to tell her that it might be weeks before he could even determine how badly the little back was hurt.
"Mercy!" she wailed in consternation, for bed held no charms for that active body. "And must I stay in bed all that while?"
"My dear child," he answered gravely, "do you realize that you are the luckiest girl in seven counties tonight?"
"How?" she asked curiously, forgetting her lament in her wonder at his words.
"It's a miracle that you were not killed outright."
"Well, Johnny dared me."
"And you couldn't pass up a dare?"
She shook her head.
"Well, now my girlie must take her medicine."
Peace looked startled. "I didn't 'xpect to fall," she murmured, and two tears glistened in her big brown eyes.
The doctor relented. "There, there, little one," he comforted, "don't feel badly. We'll soon have you up and about—perhaps," he added under his breath.
So he left her smiling and cheerful, but his own heart was heavy as he descended the stairs after the long examination was ended, a pall of anxiety hung over the whole household when the door closed behind his broad back. Peace crippled perhaps for life, perhaps never to walk without crutches again! It was too dreadful to be true. Peace,—their gay little butterfly! Peace, whose feet seemed like wings! They never walked, but danced along with the lightness of a fairy, tripping, flitting, never still. What a calamity!
"But Dr. Coates says it is too soon to know for certain yet," Hope reminded them, trying to find a ray of encouragement to cheer the anxious household, and they seized upon that straw with desperation, gradually taking heart once more, and trying to shake off the dreadful fear that Peace would never romp or dance about the house again.
And it really seemed as if the white-haired physician's fears were groundless; for after the first few days when the slightest touch made the little sufferer whimper with pain, she seemed to get better. The soreness wore away, the drawn lines around the mouth smoothed themselves out, the rosy color came back to the round cheeks and the sound of the well-known laughter floated from room to room. Peace was undoubtedly better, and even Dr. Coates forgot to look grave as he came and went on his professional calls.
"She is doing nicely?" the worried President asked him anxiously two weeks after the accident.
"Splendidly!" the doctor answered with his bluff heartiness. "Far better than I had dared hope. If she continues to improve as rapidly as she has been doing, we will have her on her feet again in a month or two."
"A month or two!" gasped Peace, when Allee, who had chanced to overhear the old physician's words, repeated them to the restless invalid. "Why, I 'xpected he'd let me up next week anyway!"
"The back is a very delicate organism," quoted Cherry grandly, always ready to display her small store of knowledge, though she really meant to bring comfort to this dismayed sister. "When it is once injured, it requires a long time to grow strong again. Wouldn't you rather spend two or three months in bed than to hobble about on crutches all the rest of your life?"
"Yes, of course, but—"
"Well, Doctor thought at first that you would never be able to walk without 'em." Now that Peace seemed well on the road to recovery, the secret fear which had haunted the household ever since the night of the accident took shape in words, and for the first time the invalid learned what a fate had been prophesied for her.
"Without crutches?" she half whispered.
Peace lay silent for a long moment while the awfulness of those words burned themselves into her brain. Then with a shudder she said aloud, "That's a mighty big thankful, ain't it?—To think I don't have to limp along with crutches! But, oh dear, two months in bed is such a long time to wait! Whatever will I do with myself? My feet are just itching to wiggle. I've been here two weeks now, and it seems two years. Two months means eight whole weeks!"
The voice rose to a tragic wail, and Grandma Campbell, hearing the commotion, hurried across the hall to discover the cause. She glanced reprovingly at the two culprits when the tale of woe had been poured into her ears with fresh laments from the small victims; but instead of scolding, as remorseful Cherry and Allee expected her to do, she smiled sympathetically, even cheerfully at the tragic face on the pillow, and asked, "Supposing you were a little tenement-house girl, cooped up in a tiny, stifling kitchen, with the steamy smell of hot soapsuds always in the air, and you had to lie all day, week in and week out, with not a book nor a toy to help while away the long hours. With not even a glimpse of the world outside to make you forget for a time the cruelly aching back—"
"O, Grandma, not really?" interrupted Peace, for something in the sound of the gentle voice told her that this was no imaginary picture which was being drawn. "Is there such a little girl?"
The white head nodded soberly.
"Isn't there even any sunshine there?" The brown eyes glanced wistfully out of the window, beside which the swan bed had been drawn, and gloated in the beautiful April sunlight which was already coaxing the grass into its brilliant green dress.
"Not a gleam," answered the woman sadly. "The buildings are jammed so closely together, and the windows are so small that not a ray of sunlight can penetrate a quarter part of the musty, dingy little rooms."
"Is that here—in Martindale?" inquired Cherry in shocked tones.
"Yes, on the North Side."
"What is the little girl's name?" asked Allee, awed into whispers by this sad recital.
"How old is she?" was the next question.
"Just the age of Peace."
"O, a little girl!" exclaimed Cherry. "Will she ever get well again?"
The sweet-faced woman hesitated an instant. How could she tell the eager listeners that long neglect had made poor Sadie's case well-nigh hopeless? Then she answered slowly, "We are giving her every possible chance now, dearies. The Aid Society found her by accident, and got her into the Children's Ward of the City Hospital. She cried with happiness because the bed was so soft and white and clean; and when the nurse carries up her breakfast or dinner, it is hard to persuade the little thing to eat,—she is so charmed with the dainty appearance of the tray."
"Oh-h!" whispered the three voices in awed chorus.
"Didn't she have anything to eat in her own house?" ventured Allee.
"Nothing but dry bread and greasy soup all the five years she has laid there—"
"Five years!" repeated Peace in horrified accents. "Without any sunshine and green grass and flowers! O, I sh'd think she'd have died before this! Didn't she ever go to school and play with other children?"
"Before she fell from the fire-escape—"
"Was she hurt in a fire?" interrupted Cherry with interest.
"No, there was no fire, but the fire-escape was her only playground, for her mother would not let her run the streets with the other ragamuffins of the tenements; and one day she fell and crushed her hip. But before that, she had attended a free kindergarten around the corner and learned her alphabet. Her mother has a little education, and she has managed to find time to teach Sadie how to read, but that is all the child knows of school."
"O," sighed Peace, with a sudden yearning for the rambling old school-house, the high-ceilinged rooms, her low seat by the window, and even stern Miss Phelps, "what a lot she has missed! Here I'm feeling bad 'cause school will be out 'fore I am up again, if I have to stay in bed two months longer, and I'll be way behind my classes. But Sadie has never had a chance to go to school at all."
"Yes, dearie, you see how much you have to be thankful for, even if it is two months before you can get out of doors again by yourself. Until now, Sadie never knew what flowers looked like growing in the ground. I sent her a pot of your hyacinths when the Aid made their monthly visit to the Hospital, and Mrs. Cheever was just telling me that the child could not believe they were really alive. It is so sad to find one cheated out of so much in life."
"Isn't there something else I can send her of mine?" Peace anxiously inquired. "I've got so much and she hasn't anything. These puzzles are so stale I don't want to see 'em again and those books—"
"Suppose you make some scrapbooks to amuse her with at first," suggested Mrs. Campbell hastily, for when the missionary spirit seized this restless, active body, it never ceased working until she had given away not only all her own treasures, but all those belonging to her sisters which chanced to fall into her hands.
"Scrapbooks!" cried Peace scornfully. "No one but babies cares for them. Why, even Allee hasn't been int'rested in such things for ages."
Mrs. Campbell smiled inwardly at Peace's contempt, but gently persisted, "Sadie is too weak to hold heavy books yet, dearie. The puzzles might amuse her, but she tires so easily that I know some small cambric scrapbooks would prove a boon to her just now. I agree with you that she would soon grow weary of looking at mere pictures; but I found some very unique and helpful little books in the attic the other day which might give you some ideas. Ned Meadows made them one summer for his own amusement while he was confined to his bed with a broken leg. He cut up a lot of old magazines and pasted the articles which interested him into some ancient notebooks Grandpa Campbell had lying around the house. He was always on the lookout for items concerning electricity, and one book was filled from cover to cover with bits of such news. Another contained nothing but jokes which had helped him laugh away a good many minutes; and still another was used for anecdotes of famous men, with perhaps a photograph or caricature to illustrate the little stories. He spent hours cutting and pasting just for his own pleasure and amusement; but without realizing it, he also stored away much useful knowledge in his brain while he was waiting impatiently for the leg to mend. Don't you think that would make an interesting play for you?"
"Ye—s," replied Peace dutifully but doubtfully. She was not as fond of reading as were her sisters, and though her grandmother's plan sounded interesting when it concerned someone else, she had her misgivings as to its success when applied to herself.
"Then let's begin at once," cried Mrs. Campbell, trying to look intensely eager, as she noted the lack of enthusiasm in the round, cherubic face on the pillow. "We will make our books of cambric, because that will be of lighter weight than paper, and I have stacks of old magazines filled with short stories and bright sayings. Cherry, will you please bring me my scissors from the work-basket and that roll of colored cambric on the top shelf in the hall closet? Allee, wouldn't you like to run down to the barn and ask Jud to bring us those old 'Companions' from the loft? Here comes Hope. Just in time, dearie, to fetch us the paste from the library and the pinking iron which Gussie was using last evening. We probably won't get as far as pasting anything today, as it is so nearly night now, but we will have everything ready for the time we shall need it."
Mrs. Campbell bustled briskly about, settling the invalid in a more comfortable position, arranging the light bed table where it would be most convenient for Peace to reach, and collecting the other necessary material for the "scrapbook brigade," as she laughingly called it, when Cherry, Hope, Allee and Jud came marching upstairs again, each bringing a contribution to aid in the good cause. All looked so eagerly enthusiastic and anxious to lend a hand that in spite of herself, Peace began to feel a thrill of interest tingle through her veins, and promptly began snipping up the pages which Jud dumped on a chair beside her bed. Mrs. Campbell cut the colored cloth into neat squares, Allee pinked the edges, and Cherry stitched them into tiny books with card-board covers to protect the pictures and stories so soon to be pasted on their pages. Everyone had a task of her own, and the dinner-bell rang before anyone had tired of this new play. Indeed, it was with actual reluctance that Peace surrendered her shears and saw her cluttered table cleared away for the night.
"If it would only last!" sighed Mrs. Campbell, as she related the day's events to the little family gathered around the table for the evening meal. "But she is not contented with anything long, and will soon weary of this as she has of everything else."
"Then we must get our heads together and be ready with something new just as soon as we see her interest is flagging. Gail, you are the oldest. We will let you have the honor of first turn."
"All right, Grandpa," smiled Gail. "I will do my best." But it was really Gussie who accidentally found the next diversion after an unexpected and tragic ending of the scrapbook brigade.
Cutting, sorting, arranging and pasting proved an amusing occupation for several days, owing to the contagious enthusiasm of the other members of the household, who were constantly bringing in some bright little story, quaint anecdote or interesting bit of information to add to Peace's rapidly growing collection. At one time Mrs. Campbell would suddenly appear on the threshold with her hands filled with colored plates from some magazine article relating to birds or bees, plants or other nature study. Again Faith would bring in a bundle of laughable incidents gleaned from the "funny" pages of popular magazines; or Allee would lay a carefully trimmed bunch of short poems gathered from children's publications upon the white counterpane of Peace's bed. And once Hope triumphantly displayed a thick package of beautiful illustrations for articles already clipped out for pasting.
"Where did you get them?" Peace demanded.
"Miss Page gave them to me when I happened to mention what you were doing," answered Hope, her face glowing with animation as she tenderly turned the pictures one by one for Peace to see.
"How did she happen to have so many?"
"She used them in her English classes when they were studying about Lowell and Hawthorne and Longfellow. See, here is one that illustrates 'The Children's Hour,' and here is another of 'Snow Bound.' This is a beautiful picture of Hawthorne's birthplace, and here is 'Old Ironsides.' You don't know much about some of the men yet because you haven't had their poems in school; but you've got stories about everyone of them for your scrapbooks, and if the pictures don't fit, we will hunt up some other articles that will go with them."
Peace sighed, opened her mouth as if to protest, then closed it again; but a rebellious look crept into the brown eyes; and had Hope been less enthusiastic over her latest contribution to the scrapbook fund, she might have noticed the determined set of the expressive mouth, and suspected that something unusual was brewing under the brown curls.
As it was, no one but Peace was prepared for the host of children that marched up the President's front door steps the following afternoon, armed with paste-pots, brushes and scissors, and wearing big pinafores over their school dresses. Each demanded to see the invalid, and when ushered into the Flag Room was promptly set to work sticking pictures onto cambric pages.
"This can hardly be a coincidence," thought Mrs. Campbell, assailed by a sudden suspicion when patient Marie had shown the tenth visitor up the winding stairs. "Here come three in one bunch. Yes, they are turning in at the gate. Peace—"
The brown eyes glanced up from under their long lashes, and reading in the gentle, old face the unspoken question, Peace calmly announced, "Grandma, these are the Gleaners and their friends. They've come to help me stick scrapbooks. You 'member you said they might have their next meeting at our house?"
"But—but that's more than a week off yet," stammered the amazed lady.
"The reg'lar meeting day is," Peace agreed, "but I was just swamped under with work, so I coaxed Miss Edith to call a special meeting just a-purpose to stick. They've all brung their own glue and stuff. All we need now is more tables. I was awfully afraid there wouldn't be many come, and I'm so deathly tired of hacking and reading and sorting and pasting all by my lonesome, that for two cents I'd dump the whole business right into the river, Sadie Wenzell or no Sadie Wenzell."
"Why, Peace!" murmured the surprised woman in shocked tones.
"Well, I would," the small rebel persisted. "Just as soon as I get one bunch of papers snipped up, in comes Jud with a bigger pile, or the girls lug up a lot of truck. I've read till I'm dizzy and cross-eyed, and my wits are worn out trying to 'member all they've seen and heard. I've learned so much inflammation that it will be months before there's any space for any more to sink in. What do you s'pose Sadie's going to do with it all? There are a dozen scrapbooks all made and enough stuff cut to fill a dozen more. There goes the bell again. That must be Miss Edith. I know her ring."
Abashed at this unlooked-for outbreak, and musing over the abrupt ending of her cherished plans, Mrs. Campbell hastily withdrew and went to meet the superintendent, whose voice could be heard in cheery greeting from the hall below.
Just fifteen girls put in appearance at the President's house that afternoon, and for two hours they worked like beavers under the direction of the small tyrant in bed. Then Peace abruptly commanded, "Lay down your brushes now and clear up. It's most dinner time and this room must look all right when Grandpa gets here. Grandma, will you please bring in the prize?"
"The prize?" echoed Mrs. Campbell in bewilderment.
"Why, yes. It's that box of bonbons on your shelf. I asked Grandpa to get it for me two days ago."
"Did—did he know what you wanted it for?" she queried.
"I don't s'pose he did ezackly," the child confessed. "But I was so afraid no one would want to paste pictures bad enough to come out today, that I promised 'freshments for all and a prize for the one who made the best book and Evelyn's got it. Evelyn, you better open up the box and treat the rest of us. A choc'lit drop would taste pretty good after working so hard. Gussie'll be up d'reckly with the 'reshments. I told her to make a whale of a batch of cookies and gallons of lemonade. We need something after finishing that job. But we've got most of the stuff stuck in somewhere and the books are plumb full. I'm so glad!"
And indeed Peace was right. Scarcely a scrap remained of the huge pile of pictures and clippings which had littered table, dresser and bed a few moments before the scrapbook brigade began to congregate; but more than twenty neatly pasted scrapbooks stood stacked in the corner to dry, and Peace was content.
GUSSIE'S NEW PLAY
The day following this unexpected meeting of the Gleaners, the invalid spent in slumber, so exhausted was she by her efforts to get the obnoxious books completed and out of the way; but the second day she was herself again and restlessly eager for some new diversion; and here it was that Gussie came to the rescue. It had been a hard day for them all. Outside the rain poured down in torrents, driven by a cold, fitful wind which seemed more like the blast of winter than the herald of returning spring; and inside even the cheerful glow of the open fires could not dispel the gloom and dampness of the storm without. It is just such a day as makes well folks cross and disgusted, and the poor, unwilling prisoner in the Flag Room upstairs felt forlorn indeed as she gazed down the deserted, flooded streets and across the soaked, sodden lawns which only yesterday had whispered of the coming of summer.
She was tired of reading,—the mere thought of it made her sick—the geographical puzzles which Allee and Cherry had laboriously cut out for her amusement quacked of school and duty; she could not play games all by herself and Grandma was too busy; dolls long since had lost their charm; it was too stormy for callers; and altogether world seemed a dull and cheerless place. Even when the girls returned from school the atmosphere did not clear. Peace was plainly out of sorts, and it was with a sigh of thanksgiving that the household saw the dismal day draw to a close.
The dinner-bell pealed out its summons, and half-heartedly Allee pulled out the invalid's little table, covered it with a snowy cloth and sat down beside the bed. It was her turn to eat dinner in the Flag Room that night. Such occasions were usually regarded as a great privilege by this golden-haired fairy, who was a willing slave to every caprice of the brown-haired sister; but tonight she did not care much. Peace was so sulky,—not at all her sprightly, cheerful self,—and Allee felt out of sorts in sympathy.
Marie did not at once put in appearance with the usual covered tray, and Peace had just reached out an impatient hand to ring the bell when there was a sound of light steps on the stairs, and Gussie's smiling face bobbed around the corner.
"Good evening," she laughed, courtesying so low that the tray she bore tripped threateningly.
"What's happened to Marie?" demanded Peace, ungraciously. Then catching sight of the quaint garb the new waitress was wearing, her face lighted expectantly, and she cried in delight, "O, Gussie, how'd you come to think of that? Ain't that Swede dress pretty, Allee? 'Tis Swede, isn't it?"
"Yes," laughed Gussie, perfectly satisfied with the reception of her little surprise. "This is the way women dress in Sweden where I was born."
"And I'll bet you've got something nice under that napkin, too," Peace hazarded, her eyes dancing with their old roguish gleam.
"I shouldn't wonder a bit," Gussie retorted, setting down the tray before the eager duet and carefully lifting off the white towel which covered it. The girls looked mystified,—a trifle disappointed, it seemed to the watchful cook,—and she hastily explained, "I've brought you a Swedish supper."
"A—what?" gasped Peace, still studying the queer dishes on the tray.
"A supper like the boys and girls in Sweden eat."
"Oh-h!" cried both girls in unison. "What fun!"
"Do they have this every night?" asked Allee, privately thinking that if they did she was glad she was an American.
"Oh, no, not always. This is just a—a sample supper. We have different dishes in Sweden just as you do here or in France or England."
"Then make us another Swede supper tomorrow night,—and every night until we've et up all your Swede dishes. Will you, Gussie?" wheedled Peace.
The older girl hesitated, frowned and said thoughtfully, "You would get tired of them very soon, girlie. Lots you would not touch at all. For instance, sour milk and sugar."
"No, I shouldn't like that," Peace confessed, with an expressive shrug of her shoulders, "but—"
"I'll tell you what I'll do," the obliging Gussie interrupted. "Tomorrow night we will have a French dinner, and you must tell everything you know about France."
"Oh, how splendid!" Both children clapped their hands gleefully. "And next night we'll have a German dinner, and then an Italian and a Spanish and a Denmarkish and a Swiss, and a—a—"
Peace paused to think of some other countries, while Gussie stood appalled at the result of her suggestion. But a glance at the glowing face on the pillow was ample reward, and suddenly realizing that she had given the weary prisoner a new and profitable play to occupy the long hours while the girls were away at school, she recklessly promised, "Dinners for every country in the world, if we can find out what each nation eats. But mind, you must learn all you can about the people and their land."
"It'll be fun to do that," Peace answered readily. "I wonder why they don't teach g'ography that way in school. It would be a heap more interesting."
Thus the long weeks rolled by, and unknown to Peace herself, she was not only keeping abreast of her classes in school, but forging ahead in her studies as she had never done before.
"It's so int'resting to learn that way," sighed the little prisoner blissfully, after a particularly impressive lesson supper one night. "The only thing is, we're going to run out of countries pretty soon, and then what will we do? Already we've reached Asia. I ate China last night and India tonight. Tomorrow 'twill be Japan, and then there is only Africa and South America left before we get around the world. They have all been such fun! Some countries know how to cook lots better than others. Now, I really dreaded getting to China, 'cause the books say Chinamen eat roasted rats, and I couldn't bear to think of Gussie's dishing up such horrible things as that; but the slop chewey and rice she cooked were simply deelicious. I've always heard a lot about the India folks eating curry, too, and I thought it meant the hair they scratched off their horses with a curry-comb; so I was much surprised when Gussie made some for my dinner tonight. It's only soup with some stuff in it that makes it 'most too hot to eat.
"I can't imagine what she will give me in Africa, 'cause we ain't cannibals, and she never will even hint what's coming next, but I guess she will get around it some way. Why, in some countries the people eat horrible things! In West Indies they bake snakes and fry palm worms! Think of it! Ugh, it makes me shiver! The folks in Brazil eat ants, and in New Caledonia it's spiders. The Mexicans cook parrots and eat dynamite. Do you s'pose they ever 'xplode? And in France where Marie was born they just love snails—raw! I'd as soon eat angleworms myself. My! I'm glad I'm a civilised huming being. Course Gussie hasn't fed me any of that junk, and it's been lots of fun traveling this way. I wish the world wasn't round, but just stretched away and away. Then there'd be room for more countries."
"Maybe Gussie will take you around the world again," suggested Allee comfortingly.
"You'd better take a trip through the United States next," said Cherry, who privately thought Peace was having the most wonderful experiences that ever befell mortal man, and rather envied the invalid her easy lot,—for such it really seemed to her.
"Why, I never thought of that," cried Peace, enchanted with the idea. "But how could I, so's it would be as interesting as eating in other countries? We are all Americans here and cook the same things."
"O, there's lots of difference between our own states," Cherry stoutly maintained. "In Florida they raise oranges mostly, and cotton in Louisiana—"
"A person can't eat cotton," Peace broke in scornfully.
"I didn't say they could," replied Cherry as indignantly. "But they grow other things, too. Maine has the best apples in the country, Grandpa says; and Michigan the best peaches. Georgia grows sweet potatoes—"
"And peanuts," Peace interrupted, aglow with animation.
"Yes, and peanuts," Cherry repeated. "California is noted for its grapes, and—oh, every state has something it raises 'specially. It would be as interesting traveling in the United States as in Europe, I think."
"So do I,—now," Peace conceded. "And Gussie does make such a splendid teacher! That's what she ought to be all right, 'stead of a cook, though she does know how to cook wonderful things. But I'm glad she has got 'most enough money saved up to take her through Normal College. She can poke more real education into a fellow's head in a minute than Miss Phelps can in a day."
So the unique lessons continued, and Peace almost forgot at times that she was a prisoner unable to romp and play in the sunshiny out-of-doors which she loved so well. She even whistled occasionally when the play was most interesting; and the members of the household, watching so anxiously over their idol, rejoiced that the color still bloomed in the round cheeks, and the merry sparkle so often danced in the big brown eyes.
PEACE LEARNS THE BITTER TRUTH
The school year came to a close, the days grew hotter, the nights brought no relief, and Dr. Coates, still a daily visitor at the big house, began to look grave again.
"What is it?" asked the President, feeling intuitively that something was wrong. "She is not doing as well?"
"No." The old doctor shook his head.
"Possibly,—possibly. But she had stopped mending before the hot wave struck us."
"Then you think—"
"I'm afraid it means that operation I mentioned when she was first hurt."
The President turned on his heel and strode over to the window where he stood looking out into the warm, breathless evening twilight. When he wheeled about again, the doctor saw that the strong face was set and white, and great beads of perspiration stood on his forehead. "I—I trust you will not be offended, doctor," he said with a catch in his voice, "but I should like the opinion of other physicians—specialists— before taking that step. You say—it is—a very delicate operation?"
"Yes," the doctor admitted. "But I am afraid now that it is her only chance. However, it is perfectly agreeable to me if you wish to consult other authorities. I myself would be glad to hear the opinions of specialists."
So it happened that a few days later a strange doctor bent over the white bed in the Flag Room, and when he had punched and poked to his heart's content and Peace's abject misery, another physician took his place.
"Dr. Coates said I hadn't cracked a rib," moaned the unhappy victim tearfully, as she saw the second unfamiliar face above her, "but I'll bet that man who just went out has cracked the whole bunch for me. Is that your business, too?"
"No, my dear," tenderly answered the big, burly specialist, beginning his examination with such a gentle, practised touch that Peace scarcely winced throughout the long ordeal. "My business is to mend cracked ribs—also cracked backs. Does yours feel very badly cracked?"
"All splintered up sometimes," the child promptly admitted. "It gets so bad in the night when there's no one here to rub it that I can't help crying once in a while. I tried to rub it myself the other night, but it took all my breath away and I could hardly get it back again. The bed is so hot! Dr. Coates said ages ago that I could get up in two months, but it's more'n that now and he shakes his head every time I ask him."
"Are you then so anxious to get out of this dear little crib?"
Peace stared hard at the kindly face so near her own, and then ejaculated, "'Cause it's a dear little crib doesn't make it any cooler nor any easier to stay tucked in when you are just crazy to be dancing about. Why, it's June now! They told me I'd be well so's I could plant the pansies on my Lilac Lady's grave, seeing as Allee had to set out all the vi'lets without any of my help. And now Hicks has had to transplant the pansies 'cause they will soon be too big."
"Tell me all about it," urged the specialist, as if every minute of his time was not worth dollars to him; and Peace poured her heart full of woe into his sympathetic ears. When she had finished he abruptly asked, "Supposing Dr. Coates told you that an operation would be necessary before you could get well, would you let him perform it?"
"What's a noperation?" asked Peace inquisitively.
"There is something out of place in your back, caused by your fall. It is pressing against the spine and must be lifted up where it belongs before—you can ever—get well."
"And can Dr. Coates lift it up where it b'longs?" Peace was breathlessly interested.
"Yes,—we think so,—we hope so," stammered the doctor, startled by the eager tone of her voice and the quick light in her big eyes.
"All right then, we'll have the noperation. I'd most begun to think I was going to be like my Lilac Lady. My legs don't feel any more, and she said hers didn't."
"God forbid," muttered the man, who had already lost his heart to the little invalid, and was deeply touched by the pathos of the case; and gathering up his glittering instruments, he hurried from the room.
That night a cooling rain washed the fever from the air and the world awoke refreshed from its bath. The hot wave had broken, but to poor Peace the cool atmosphere brought little relief. The injured back hurt her cruelly and she could not keep the tears from her eyes.
"I knew that first doctor would crack a rib," she sobbed wildly, as the distracted President strove in vain to ease her pain. "Why doesn't Dr. Coates come and noperate? O, it does hurt me so bad, Grandpa!"
Laying the child back among her pillows, the stalwart man hastily fled down the stairway, and when he came back Dr. Coates and a sweet-faced, white-capped nurse were with him. The room across the hall was stripped of its furnishings and scrubbed with some evil-smelling stuff until the whole house reeked with it. Then the walls were draped with spotless sheets, and the next morning Peace was borne away to the improvised operating room, where only Dr. Coates, the kindly-faced stranger physician, their young assistant and the nurse were allowed to remain.
Peace looked about her curiously, murmured drowsily "I can't say I admire your dec'rations," and fell asleep under the gentle fumes of the ether.
It seemed hours later when she awakened to consciousness and saw about her the white, drawn, anxious faces of her loved ones. "Then I'm not dead yet," she exclaimed with satisfaction. "That's good. Did you get my back patched up, Dr. Coates?"
The horrible strain was broken. With stifled, hysterical sobs, the family hurriedly withdrew, and the nurse bent over the bed with her finger on her lips as she gently commanded, "Hush, childie, you mustn't talk now. We want you to get some sleep so the little back will have a chance to heal."
"Can I talk when I wake up?" Peace demanded weakly.
"Yes, if you are very good."
"All right. You can go now. I don't like folks to stare at me when I'm asleep. It d'sturbs my slumber." Closing her eyes once more, she fell into a dreamless sleep, and the doctors departed, much pleased with the result of their operation.
The days of convalescence were busy ones in the Campbell household, for it required the combined efforts of family, nurse, doctor and friends to keep the restless patient's attention occupied. St. John and Elizabeth came often to the big house, bringing Glen or Guiseppe or Lottie to amuse the prisoner; Miss Edith laughingly declared that she was more frequently found in the Flag Room than in her own home; Ted and Evelyn vied with each other to see which could run the most errands, read the most stories, or propose the most new plays during the long vacation hours; and even busy Aunt Pen found opportunity occasionally to steal away for a brief visit with the brown-haired sprite who had brought so much joy into her own heart and life.
For a time the operation seemed a decided success, the back appeared to be stronger, the pain almost disappeared, and the nurse was no longer needed in the sick room. One day a wheel-chair was substituted for the bed where Peace had lain so many weeks; and for the first time since the accident, she was carried out under her beloved trees, where she could watch the flowers bud and blossom, smell their perfume on each passing breeze, and listen to the nesting birds in the branches overhead. But the crutches she had so fondly dreamed of, which were to teach her to walk again, were not forthcoming, and with alarm she saw the summer slip rapidly by while she lay among the pillows in the garden.
When she spoke of it to the older sisters, they answered cheerily, "Be patient, girlie, it takes a long time for such a hurt to heal," and turned their heads away lest she should read the growing conviction in their eyes.
"It's so hard to be patient," she protested mournfully. "You bet I'll never climb another roof."
"No," they sighed sadly to themselves, "I am afraid you never will."
But the cruel truth of the matter was broken to poor Peace at a most unexpected moment. She was resting under her favorite oak, close to the library window, one warm afternoon, planning as usual for the day when she could walk again; and lulled by the drowsy hum of the bees and the soft swish of the leaves above her, she drifted off to slumberland. A slanting beam of the setting sun waked her as it fell across her face, and she sat up abruptly, hardly realizing what had roused her. Then she became aware of voices issuing from the library beyond, and Allee's agonized voice cried out, "O, Grandpa, you don't mean that she will never, never walk again? Must she lie there all the rest of her life like the Lilac Lady and Sadie Wenzell until the angels come and get her? Grandpa, must she die like they did?"
With a startled gasp, Peace leaned forward in her chair, then sank back among the pillows with a dreadful, sickening sensation gripping at her heart. They were talking about her! She strained her ears to catch the President's reply, but could hear only an indistinct rumble of voices mingled with Allee's sharp sobs. So the angels had carried Sadie Wenzell to her home beyond the Gates! Idly she wondered when it had happened and why she had not been told. It had been one of her dearest plans to visit Sadie some day and see for herself how she enjoyed the scrapbooks which had cost Peace so much labor and lament. Now Sadie was gone.
"Grandpa, Grandpa, why couldn't I have been the one to fall and hurt my back?" wailed the shrill voice from the open window. "'Twouldn't have made so much difference then, but Peace!—O, Grandpa, I can't bear to think of her lying there all the long years—"
Again the voice trailed away into silence, and Peace lay stunned by the significance of the words. All her life chained to a chair! All her life a helpless invalid like the Lilac Lady! The black night of despair descended about her and swallowed her up.
They thought her asleep when they came to wheel her into the house before the dew should fall; and as she did not stir when they laid her in the white swan bed, they stole softly away and left her in the grip of the demon Despair.
So this was what the Lilac Lady had meant when she had said so bitterly, "You will turn your face to the wall, say good-bye to those who you thought were your friends, build a high fence around you and hide—hide from the world and everything!" The words came back to her with a startling distinctness and a great sob rose in her throat.
"What is it, darling?" asked a gentle voice from the darkness, and Peace, clutching wildly for some human support in her hour of anguish, threw her arms about the figure kneeling at her bedside, and cried in terror, "O, Grandma, I can't, I can't!"
"Can't what?" asked the sweet voice, thinking the child was a victim of some bad dream, for she never suspected that Peace could know the dreadful truth.
"I can't stay here all the rest of my life! I wasn't made for the bed. My feet won't keep still. I must run and shout. O, Grandma, tell me it isn't true!"
But the gentle voice was silent, and the woman's tears mingling with those of the grief-stricken child told the story. Clasping the quivering little body more tightly in her arms, the silvery-haired grandmother sobbed without restraint until the child's grief was spent, and from sheer exhaustion Peace fell asleep.
Then, loosing the grip of the slender hands, now grown so thin and white, she laid her burden back on the bed, and as she kissed the wet cheeks and left the weary slumberer to her troubled dreams, she whispered sadly, "Good-night, little Peace,—and good-bye. We have lost our merry little sprite. It will be a different Peace who wakens with the morrow."
THE LILAC LADY'S MESSAGE
Mercifully, Peace slept long the next morning, and it was not until the sun was high in the sky that she opened her eyes to her surroundings. Then it was with a heavy sense of something wrong, and she stared uneasily about her, trying to remember what was the trouble.
"I feel as if I'd done something bad," she said half aloud, "but I can't think of a thing."
The sound of Allee's footsteps creeping softly along the hall and a glimpse of an awed, tear-stained face peering at her from the doorway suddenly recalled to her mind the scene of yesterday, and the bitter truth rushed over her with agonizing keenness. She could never walk again! All her days must be spent in a wheel-chair, a helpless prisoner! The Lilac Lady was right,—she wanted to turn her face to the wall, to say good-bye to her friends and hide,—hide from the world and everything!
"Peace," whispered a timid voice from the doorway, where Allee had paused, uncertain whether to stay or to depart.
The invalid stiffened.
"Peace, are you awake?" persisted the pleading voice, for the brown eyes stared unblinkingly straight ahead of her, and not a muscle of her tense body moved. "May I come in and sit beside you?"
"No!" screamed Peace in sudden frenzy, almost paralyzing the little petitioner on the threshold. "Go away! You can walk and run and jump, and I never can again. You've got two whole legs to amuse yourself with and mine are no good. Get out of here! I don't want to see anyone with legs today—or tomorrow—or ever again!" Jerking the pillow slip over her eyes she sobbed convulsively, and Allee, with one terrified look at the quivering heap under the bed-clothes, rushed pellmell from the room, blinded by scalding tears.
Peace had sent her away! Peace did not want her,—would not have her any more! It was the greatest catastrophe of her short life to be banished by Peace; and stumbling with unseeing eyes down the hall, she ran headlong into the arms of someone just coming up the stairs.
"Why—" began a husky, rumbling voice, and Allee, thinking it was the President on his way to the sick-room, sobbed out, "O, Grandpa, she sent me away! She says she never wants to see a pair of good legs again. You better—"
"It's not Grandpa, little one," interrupted the other voice. "It's I,—St. John. Do you think she will let me in? Because I have come especially to see her."
But a sharp, imperative voice from the Flag Room answered them. "Come back, Allee, I'm sorry I don't like the looks of legs today, but I want you just the same,—legs and all."
For an instant Allee looked unbelievingly up into Mr. Strong's eyes, as if doubtful that she had heard aright; then as the minister gave her a gentle push toward the door, she bounded lightly away, and when the Hill Street pastor reached the threshold the two sisters were locked fast in each other's arms.
All at once, through the tangle of Allee's curls, the brown eyes spied the form of her beloved friend hesitating in the doorway; but instead of looking surprised at his presence, Peace pushed the little sister from her and demanded fiercely, as if his being there were the most natural thing in the world, "Make faces at me, St. John,—the very worst you know how."
"Why, my dear—" stammered the young minister, as much amazed at his reception as he could have been had she dashed a cup of water in his face. "Why, Peace, I don't believe—"
"Of course you know how to make faces!" she interrupted scornfully. "Do you s'pose I've forgotten that day in Parker down by the barn? Make some now,—the most hijious ones you can think of."
There was nothing to do but to comply with her strange whim; so, rumpling up his thick, shining black hair, he proceeded to distort his comely features into the most surprising contortions imaginable. But with the heavy ache in his heart and a growing lump in his throat at the pitifulness of her plight, he was not real successful in diverting her unhappy thoughts, and with a mournful wail of woe she burst into tears.
"My child!" he cried contritely, and in an instant his strong arms closed about the huddled figure, and he held her fast, crooning softly in her ear as a mother might over her babe, until at length the convulsive gasps eased, grew less frequent, and finally ceased.
There was a long-drawn, quivering sigh, a last gulp or two and Peace hiccoughed, "It's no use, St. John. I can't coax up a ghost of a smile from anywhere. I've thunk of all the funniest things that ever happened to me or anyone else; I've scratched my brains to 'member the funny stories I s'lected for Sadie Wenzell's bunch of scrapbooks; I've even pretended the funniest things I could imagine, but it won't work. I knew if there was a sign of a laugh left inside of me, your horrible faces would bring it out. It did in Parker, when I thought I never could smile again. But this time—get your legs out of sight,—under the bed,—anywhere so's I can't see them. I don't like their looks!"
Had the situation been less tragic, he could not have refrained from laughing at the ludicrous way she bristled up and snapped out her command; but mindful only of the great trouble which had suddenly overshadowed the young life, he hastily tucked his long limbs out of sight under the edge of the bed, slumped as far down in his chair as he possibly could, and fell to energetically stroking the brown curls tumbled about the hot, flushed face, as he vainly tried to think of some comforting words with which to soothe the rebellious, sorrowful child.
From below came the sound of a voice singing softly, and though the words were indistinguishable, the three occupants of the Flag Room caught snatches of the tune Peace loved so well, the Gleaners' Motto Song. Recalling the days when the brown-eyed child had made the little Hill Street parsonage ring with this very melody, the preacher unconsciously began to chant,
"'When the days are gloomy, Sing some happy song, Meet the world's repining With a courage strong; Go with faith undaunted Through the ills of life, Scatter smiles and sunshine O'er its toil and strife.'"
"Well, don't it beat all?" exclaimed Peace wearily.
"Doesn't what beat all?" mildly inquired the pastor, as she made no effort to explain her words.
"How some folks will wear a tune to a frazzle," was the disconcerting reply. "There's Faith, now, she hasn't played anything for days 'xcept 'Carve-a-leery-rusty-canner!' And when it ain't that it's 'Nose-arts Snorter,' or those wretched archipelagoes. I'm so sick of 'em all that I could shout when she touches the piano. As for that song you were just droning,—why, everyone in this house seems to think it's the only thing going. There is nothing left of it now but tatters."
The preacher had abruptly ceased his humming, and as Allee crept quietly from the room to hush the singer below, he suddenly remembered a commission given him by his wife; and fumbling in his pocket, he drew out a small book, daintily bound in white and gold. "Elspeth sent you this booklet, dear," he ventured, somewhat timidly, for after two such rebuffs as he had received in his endeavor to cheer the sufferer, he was at a loss to know what to say or do next. "She could not come today herself, but she thought this little story might please you."
"Thanks," replied Peace, dropping the volume on the pillow without a spark of interest in face or voice. "I'd rather have seen her. She has got some sense. Books haven't. I've been stuffed so full of stories, I am ready to bu'st." Then, as if fearing that she had been rude to this dearest of friends, she added hastily, "But I s'pose there is room for one more. It must be good or Elspeth wouldn't have sent it. What is it about?"
"It's the story of a little girl named Gwen, who fell from—"
Peace stopped him with a peremptory wave of her hand. "That will do for the present," she said coldly, in such exact imitation of Miss Phelps that no one who had ever met the teacher could possibly mistake her tone. "I don't like the name. It sounds like 'grin'."
The minister rubbed his head in perplexity. Never in all his acquaintance with Peace had he seen her in such a mood. Was this child among the pillows really Peace, the sunbeam of this home, the sunbeam of every home she chanced to enter? Poor little girl! What a pity such a terrible misfortune should have befallen her! She stirred uneasily, and he hurriedly asked, "Would you rather I should go away and leave you alone?"
"No! O, no!" She clutched one big hand closer with both of hers, and a look of alarm leaped into her eyes, so heavy with weeping. "It's easier—the pain here," laying one thin hand over her heart, "it's easier with you here. I wish you had brought Elspeth."
"She will come some other day," he answered gently, glad to see a more natural expression creep over the white face, though his heart ached at the sorrowful tone of her voice. "What would you like to have me do? Talk?"
"Yes, if you've anything int'resting to say," she murmured drowsily.
"And if not?" For he saw that it would be only a matter of minutes before she would be in the Land of Nod again.
"Then just hold me. I'm tired," she answered wearily.
So he sat and held her on her pillows until her regular breathing told him that she was fast asleep, when, laying her back upon the bed, he left her with a heavy heart.
"I never dreamed that a child so young could take it so hard," he confided to his wife in troubled tones when he had told her the whole sad story. "She seems to have grown old in a night."
"Poor little birdie," Elizabeth tenderly murmured, stroking the dark hair from her sleeping son's forehead as she laid him in his crib for his nap. "Why did they tell her so soon? The family themselves haven't grown accustomed to the meaning of it yet."
"No one knows how she learned it, Elspeth. She was asleep under the trees when the President came home with the sad news. He had been to consult that famous specialist about the child's condition when the surgeon told him that the case was hopeless, so far as her walking again is concerned. He was so unmanned by the verdict that he blurted it out to Mrs. Campbell immediately upon his return home, and the girls overheard it. But Peace was out-of-doors all the while. She didn't waken for dinner; but when everyone was in bed, Mrs. Campbell heard her crying, and went to discover what was the matter. They are terribly broken up about the whole affair. It seems wicked to say so, but had the accident happened to any other of the sisters, it would not have seemed so dreadful. What is Peace ever going to do without those nimble, dancing feet?"
"Our Peace will surprise us yet," prophesied the little wife hopefully. "This experience won't down her, hard as it seems now, if she is made of the stuff I think she is."
But as the days rolled by in that afflicted household, it really seemed as if they had lost their engaging, winsome little Peace for all time, so changed did the invalid grow. Nothing suited her, everything annoyed. The girls talked too much or were too silent; the servants were too noisy or too obviously quiet; the President's shoes clumped and his slippers squeaked; Mrs. Campbell always pulled the curtains too low or not low enough. The dogs' barking fretted her, the singing of the canary made her peevish, even the cat's purring brought forth a protest; but as soon as the unreasonable patient discovered that all the pets had been banished on her account, she demanded them back. However, the long-suffering members of the family could not find it in their hearts to chide, and they redoubled their efforts to make their little favorite forget. Those were gloomy days in the Campbell household, for they sadly missed the merry laughter, the gay whistle, the unexpected pranks and frank speeches of this child of the sunshine and out-of-doors. At first they had tried to be cheerful and full of fun in the sick-room, hoping to win back the merry smile to the white lips; but Peace resented this attitude, and straightway they ceased their songs and laughter, only to have her demand them again. Unhappy, capricious Peace!
"Why don't you play on the piano any more?" she inquired of Faith one afternoon, when it was that sister's turn to amuse the invalid for an hour or two.
"Do you want me to?" cried Faith eagerly, for her fingers were just itching to glide over the ivory keys.
"Of course,—s'posing you play something pretty."
So Faith took her place at her beloved instrument and dashed into a brilliant, rattling jig which had always been a favorite of the brown-haired sister.
But she had played scarcely a dozen measures when a shrill, imperious voice from above shrieked, "Don't play that! O, stop, stop! Can't you see it's got legs?"
"Legs?" wondered Faith, her hands poised in mid air, so abruptly had she ceased her playing.
"There's a million pair of legs to that tune and every one of 'em can dance. Play something without legs."
The utter ridiculousness of the complaint did not occur to Faith, but with an unusual display of patience, she tried air after air, hoping to find something which might satisfy the childish whim of the lame sister, only to be rewarded at last by a peevish call, "You may as well give it up, Faith. They've all got legs."
The entire family was at their wits' end. No one had a sane suggestion to offer, and their hosts of friends were in the same predicament. When it seemed as if something must surely give way under the strain, Peace suddenly subsided into a state of utter indifference to her surroundings, more alarming to her loved ones than had been her peevish, unreasonable demands. Nothing interested her, books she loathed, conversation bored her, neighborly calls from her dearest friends wearied her, she no longer yearned for the sunshine and flowers of the garden; indeed, she showed no desire to be out-of-doors at all, but lay day after day in the wheel-chair by the balcony window, staring with somber, unseeing eyes out over the river. Nothing family or friends could do roused her from her apathy, and despair descended upon the household. Must this little life which they loved so dearly fade away before their eyes, and they helpless to prevent?
"O, Donald," sobbed Mrs. Campbell, clinging desperately to her husband's strong arm, "I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it! She takes it so hard! It is torture to watch her suffer so. Our precious Peace!"
"If only her St. Elizabeth could come to her!" sighed the baffled President.
But it was not her beloved saint of the parsonage who saved the day. It was her Lilac Lady, now sleeping under the sod of the wind-kissed hillside, and Aunt Pen was her messenger.
It was a breathless, sultry afternoon in late summer when the sweet-faced matron of Oak Knoll turned in at the President's gate and sought out the invalid lying motionless under the oak trees where the fierce heat had driven her. The little face among the pillows was no longer rosy and round; blue veins showed at the temples, the lips were colorless, the eyes hollow; the hands, once so brown and strong, were thin and waxy-white; the whole body lay inert,—lifeless, it seemed; and a pang of fear gripped the gentle heart brooding so tenderly over the poor wrecked life.
"Are you asleep, darling?" she whispered softly, touching with light fingers the clustering rings of dark brown which covered the shapely head.
The mournful eyes opened dully, and Peace murmured parrot fashion, "Good afternoon, Aunt Pen. I hope you keep well these hot days. You must take care of yourself, you know."
Secretly amazed, the woman merely stooped and kissed the white face, as she settled herself comfortably in a nearby chair and cheerily answered, "Yes, I am well, dear, and all the little birdlings are, too. I intended to bring Giuseppe and his violin this afternoon, but—"
"It's just as well you didn't," interrupted the other voice in lifeless tones. "Prob'ly his music has legs, too, and I haven't any use for such things these days."
"But he had promised to play for a dear old lady at the Home," continued Aunt Pen, as if she had not noticed the interruption. "So I brought you—"
"Some more magazines," again broke in Peace, perceiving the gay covers in the woman's hand.
"That was very kind of you I'm sure, but I have a whole libr'y at my—at my de-mand. So you put yourself to a lot of trouble all for nothing."
"This is a different kind of magazine from any you have," replied the woman soberly, though sorely tempted to smile at the stilted, unnatural tones of her little favorite.
"Is it?" Just a spark of interest flickered in the somber eyes. "Why, I thought I had the whole c'lection already. Folks seem to think I don't want to do anything but read, and they keep the house pretty well filled up with magazines, old and new. Last week I had Allee telephone to the Salvation Army to come and get them. But it didn't do any good,—we've had as many more brought in since."
"This is the one your Lilac Lady was reading when she—fell asleep," said Aunt Pen gently, a little catch in her voice as she thought of Peace, doomed to spend the rest of her days in a wheel-chair, just as that other girl, the Lilac Lady, had done.
"Oh! And you brought it to me! I sh'd think you would want to keep it yourself."
"I did, dearie. I laid it away among my treasures, but today I chanced upon it, and in turning the pages, I caught a glimpse of a slip of paper written on, in her handwriting. I had not examined the book since the day I picked it up from the floor beside her chair; but this morning I drew out the scrap she had written and found a little message for you—"
"For me?" Incredulous surprise animated the white face.
"Yes, dear. Some verses she had written that last hour,—not even complete. I know she intended them for you. Perhaps she felt that she would be—asleep—before you came, so she wrote a little message for you, Peace, but I never found it until today. Would you care to have me read it to you?"
"Let me read it, please." Peace snatched the paper eagerly and with jealous eyes scanned the simple stanzas penned so many months ago for just that very moment.
"Up the garden pathway, Light as the morning air, Singing and laughing gayly, A child with face so fair Dances with arms outreaching, Her eyes ashine with glee, Nor pauses until she reaches The chair 'neath the old oak tree, Where, chained by mortal weaknesses, I lie from day to day Waiting my darling's coming.— Ah! could I keep her alway!—
Child of flowers and sunshine, Child of laughter and love, Peace,—a God-given blessing, Straight from the heavens above, Bringing the breath of the woodland, The perfume of sun-kissed flowers, The freshness of vagrant breezes, The sweetness of cooling showers; Bringing the thrilling music Of skylarks and forest birds, Heart-healing, soul-cheering measures, Wondrous songs without words.
Peace,—oh, how can I tell it?— The marvelous peace you have brought, The wonderful lessons of living Your generous spirit has taught, Easing the burden of sorrow, Soothing the sharp sting of pain, Bringing fresh aspirations,— My Peace gives me hope again!"
Once, twice, three times she read the lines. Then turning puzzled, wondering eyes upon Aunt Pen, she whispered eagerly, "What does it all mean, please? Did she really feel that way, Aunt Pen? Did I scatter sunshine after all? Was she happier when I was with her? O, did I—make her—forget?"
"More than you will ever know," answered the woman warmly, squeezing the thin fingers lying across her knee. "You brought back the sunshine she thought had gone out of her life forever. You gave her something to live for, something to do, made life seem worth while. O, my little Peace, it is just as the poem tells you,—you gave her hope!"
For a long time the child lay lost in thought, and only the faint rustling of the leaves overhead broke the stillness. Then she said sadly, glancing down at the useless feet in their gay slippers, "But I had my legs then."
"You have your smile now. A happy heart is worth more than a dozen pair of legs, dear. It was your merry voice, your gay laughter, your joyous nature that cheered your Lilac Lady. Surely you didn't lose all those when you lost the use of your feet!"
Peace smiled ruefully. "You'd have thought so if you had lived with me since I got hurt," she confessed.
"I don't believe it," Aunt Pen vigorously contradicted. "Our real Peace, our little sunbeam has just been hiding under a dark cloud all this while. She is coming back to us her own gay self some day,—soon, we hope."
"Do you b'lieve that?" Peace eagerly demanded.
"I know it," the woman answered with conviction.
"But s'posing I have really forgotten how to laugh and—and whistle, and be nice?"
"Pshaw! As if you could have forgotten all that, dear! But even then, it is never too late to learn, you know."
"That's so. And maybe after a bit it would be easier. I—guess I'll—try to learn—again, Aunt Pen. May I keep this little poem so's I won't forget any more? It's really mine, for she wrote it for me, didn't she?"
"Yes, indeed, darling. That's your message. You helped your Lilac Lady, and now she is going to help you."
THE PARSONAGE TWINS
"Peace, Peace, guess what's happened!"
Allee tore across the smooth, green lawn as if racing for her life; and Cherry, following hard upon her heels, panted protestingly, "I'm going to tell her. It's my right. I heard what he said first."
"I don't care if you did," retorted Allee. "I reached her chair first. So now!"
It was just a week since Aunt Pen's visit to the President's house, but already a remarkable change had come over the little invalid in her wheel-chair prison. The dull indifference had disappeared from the thin face, the hopeless look from the somber eyes; and though there was still a sadly pathetic droop to the once merry mouth, she seemed to have shaken off the deadly apathy which had gripped her for so long, and to have taken a fresh hold upon life again. True, it was hard work to smile and look happy with the dreadful knowledge tugging at one's heart that one must be a helpless cripple for the rest of her days, but the first smile had made it easier for the second to come, and gradually the old merry disposition came creeping back. Aunt Pen was right,—her real self had only been in hiding, and with the lifting of the cloud the sunshine of that gay spirit burst forth again.
She was tired of being idle, and with characteristic energy that very morning had surprised and delighted the whole household by demanding something to do,—some real work with which to fill the long hours. And Miss Smiley had promptly suggested Indian baskets, spending many precious minutes of a busy forenoon teaching the weak fingers how to weave. Peace was a-tingle with pride over her accomplishment, especially when she was told of its possibilities and scope; and straightway began planning to send her first finished product to the State Fair which was to open its gates soon.
So as she wrestled with the damp raffia sad willow sticks after Miss Edith had left her, she so far forgot her trouble that the old, familiar laugh bubbled up to her lips, and once she paused in her work to answer a trilling bird in the branches overhead. She was all alone on the wide, shady lawn, and so engrossed in her own thoughts that she never heard the chug-chug of a motor-car gliding up the river road, nor saw the black-frocked figure leap nimbly from the machine and scurry up the walk to the kitchen door, as if in too big a hurry to enter the house in the proper manner. But she did hear the boisterous shouts of Cherry and Allee a few moments later, as they burst through the screen door and raced through the short, sweet clover toward her, each clamoring to tell her the news which stuck out all over them.
"I reached her first!" Allee repeated, waving the older sister off.
"Pig!" returned Cherry. "You always—"
"Tut, tut," interrupted a voice from behind, in tones of mock severity. "Are you girls quarreling? I'm ashamed of you. Peace, what is it all about?"
Mr. Strong, light of step and radiant of face, appeared on the scene by another path; and Peace, flinging down the raffia basket which her busy fingers were weaving, stretched out eager arms in welcome. "It's something they both wanted to tell me, St. John, but they stopped to scrap about it, and I hain't heard what it is yet."
"Bet you meant to steal my thunder, didn't you?" He turned merry, accusing eyes upon the pair of culprits, and they flushed guiltily. "But you just aren't going to do it this time. I shall tell her myself. It is my news, you know."
Both heads bobbed solemnly, and Peace, excited and not understanding, cried imperiously, "Tell me quick. I'm half dead with curiosity. Has old Tortoise-shell got some more kittens or—Say, you haven't put Glen in pants yet?"
"No," he laughed delightedly and the two sisters giggled in glee. "Guess again. It happened last night."
"Somebody sent you a present?"
"The most wonderful gift!"
"Two of 'em," put in impatient Allee, but the minister held up a warning finger, and she quickly subsided.
"Two!" repeated Peace, much mystified. "What can they be? Oh, I know—monkeys!" For ever since the day that Peace had brought the sick, half-dead monkey home to the parsonage, it had been Glen's fondest dream to own one himself.
"No!" Mr. Strong and the other two girls exploded in a gale of laughter.
"Give it up then," Peace promptly retorted. "I mightn't guess in a hundred years and I'm fairly bu'sting to know."
"Well, girlie, the angels brought us two little babies last night for our very own. Two! Think of it!"
"Twins!" gurgled Allee, ecstatically hopping from one foot to the other.
"Both girls!" added Cherry, hugging herself from sheer joy at being part bearer of the glad tidings.
"Truly, St. John?" asked Peace, almost too amazed for words.
"Truly, my lady."
"Well, what do you think of that! I bet you were s'prised. Now weren't you? What do they look like? Are they pretty?"
"I can't say they are very beautiful to look at yet," admitted the fond father. "They resemble scraps of wrinkled red flannel more than anything else just now. But they will improve. Glen did, and he was a caution to took at when he was a day old."
"Are they big or little?"
"Neither is very large, but one is tinier than the other,—weighs only four pounds. She isn't such a brilliant scarlet as her sister, and we think she will have dark eyes and black hair. The reddest one has blue eyes now, is bald-headed, and possesses a most excellent pair of lungs. The Tiniest One has cried only once so far, but its twin makes up for it."