"Yes," said the doctor, somewhat disconcerted by her lack of interest. "I dreamed it was you. How do you think you would like to make the dream come true?"
"How?" she asked, a little startled at the suggestion.
"By going to the hospital and having another operation—"
"O, I'm tired of being cut up," she interrupted wearily. "I had one operation already, and the pain came back just the same, even if we did hire some old doctors which had been in the business for ages and ages."
"Well, I am not a graybeard," Dr. Shumway assented, "but I think I could help the little back some, anyway."
"Would you do the operating?" The big brown eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Sure. Why not?"
"Yon don't look as if you knew enough."
The doctor gasped.
"Well, I mean you haven't got any white hair and wrinkles," Peace explained, perceiving that she had said something amiss. "You look as if you hadn't been a man for a very long time. But p'r'aps you know more than folks would think. Have you talked to Grandpa about it?"
"Yes, and he is willing to take the chance if you are."
"Well, that's something,—from him. It was ever so long before he would let Dr. Coates operate. You must know your business or he'd never have said yes. When will it happen?" she asked.
"In a couple of days or so—"
"The sooner the better. Well leave here tomorrow for Fairview—"
"O, do I have to go away for it?" The great eyes looked startled and half fearful.
"Yes, to Danbury Hospital in Fairview, and—"
"O, then I'll go, sure!" She clapped her thin hands gleefully. "I always did want to see the insides of a hospital. I've often visited one, but never had to live there a day, for they operated on me at home before. Mercy, I'm having a lot of 'xperiences, ain't I? Here comes Grandpa now, and the rest of the bunch. Hello, folkses! Guess what's going to happen! I'm going to Fairview Hospital tomorrow in Danbury, and be cut to pieces again. Dr. Dick is to do the operation. I b'lieve he knows enough, even if he ain't a gray-back; and he thinks he can stop the hurting, so it won't come back any more. That's worth trying for, ain't it?"
"But tomorrow—" gasped the girls. "Is it to be that soon?"
"We ought to leave here tomorrow," explained Dr. Shumway. "The operation will take place as soon after that as we can get her rested up for it."
"Then it is all settled!" sighed the President in relief, and a great burden seemed lifted from his shoulders. Somehow, the strong, earnest face of the young doctor inspired confidence and courage in the hearts of others, and they could not but feel that all would go well with their little invalid.
So they departed the next day for Fairview,—the President and his wife, Dr. Shumway and his patient,—and a few days later Peace found herself lying on the operating table in a great, white room of the hospital, with white-capped nurses flitting noiselessly about, and white-gowned doctors passing to and fro.
"It's like my dream," she whispered. "Only there aren't any shelves filled with goods and bads.—Well, Dr. Dick, if you aren't a fright! I never should have known you if you hadn't spoken. You look like the pictures in our Sunday School lessons of how they used to bury folks in the Bible, with that nightgown on and all that white stuff over your head. It's rather 'propriate, though, for this room looks like a car-slop-egus. Isn't that what you call the graves they used to put people in?"
"Sarcophagus," suggested the doctor, only the twinkle of his deep blue eyes betraying his amusement. "That is a casket of stone. Is that what you mean?"
"Yes, I guess so, though I thought it was a room hacked out of the side of a hill where they stuck folks when they died, instead of putting them in graves like we do. Where is the man which is going to give me the antiseptic?"
"Right here, my girl," chuckled a deep voice on the other side of her, and she looked up into the eyes of a second white-swathed figure, already beginning to adjust the anaesthetizer over her head. "Now don't be afraid. Just take a deep, deep breath—"
"I know all about it," she interrupted. "I've been through this same performance once before. That stuff hasn't changed its smell a bit, either. Are you all ready? Well, then, good-night. If Dr. Dick don't know his business, I 'xpect I'm a goner."
The bright eyes drooped shut, the childish voice trailed off into silence, and the little patient slept while the skillful surgeons mended the bruised back and useless limbs.
Peace awoke to find herself lying in a narrow iron bed, drawn close beside a window, through which she could see clouds of great, feathery snow-flakes swirling lazily, softly downwards; and not remembering where she was or how she came to be there, she murmured half aloud, "The angels seem to be shedding their feathers pretty lively today, don't they?"
"What did you say?" asked a strange voice from somewhere in the background, and a sweet face framed in glossy black hair bent over her.
"Maybe it's heaven after all," mused Peace to herself, "though I should think they would have dec'rations on the walls of heaven, 'nstead of leaving 'em naked." Then she spoke aloud, surprised at the effort it cost her, "Are you a dead nurse?"
"Do I look very dead?" questioned the strange voice again, and the face above her broke into a rare smile.
"Well, then, how did you get to heaven?"
"This isn't heaven, dear. You are in Danbury Hospital. Have you forgotten?"
"O, that's so. I remember now. It's nice to know you ain't an angel."
The nurse laughed outright. "Yes, I'm glad, too, for I want to live a long time. The world is full of so many things I want to see."
"That's me, too, but I thought I was dead sure this time."
"No, dear, you are very much alive and are going to get well."
"That's good, but what's the matter? I can't get my breath."
"It's the ether, childie. You will be all right soon, but you must not talk now. Just rest. Sleep if you can, so you can visit with Grandfather and Grandmother Campbell. They are anxious to see you."
Meanwhile, downstairs in the office of the great hospital, the President and his wife had sat like statues through all those interminable minutes which were to tell the story of whether the little life was to be spared or sacrificed. Vaguely they heard the bustle of busy nurses, vaguely they saw the doctors hurrying in and out about their duties; but not once did either man or woman move from the great chairs in which they sat. Sometimes it seemed to the matron and head-nurse, who occasionally passed that way, as if both had been turned to stone, so fixed was their gaze, so rigid their bodies. But in reality neither had ever been more keenly alive. Each heart was reviewing with painful accuracy the two short years that had gone since the little band of orphans had come to live with them. How much had happened in that time, and how dearly they had come to love each one of the sisters!
"I could not care more for them if they were my own," whispered Mrs. Campbell to herself.
"They are like my own flesh and blood," thought the President.
"I know a mother is not supposed to have favorites among her children," mused Mrs. Campbell, half guiltily, "but there is something about Peace which makes her seem just a little the dearest to me."
"They are all such lovable girls," the President told himself, "but somehow I can't help liking Peace a little the best. Everyone does. I wonder why."
So they sat there side by side in the great hospital and pondered, waiting for the verdict from the white room above them.
Suddenly Dr. Shumway stood before them. "It is all over," he began, smiling cheerfully. "She will—"
"All over," whispered Mrs. Campbell, and fainted quite away.
When she opened her eyes again, the young doctor was bending over her, chafing her hands, and she heard his remorseful voice saying, "My dear Mrs. Campbell, you misunderstood me. The operation was successful. The little one will live."
"Ah, yes, I know," sighed the woman. "But it was such a relief to know the ordeal was ended that I couldn't bear the joy of the news. I am all right now. When can we see our girl?"
Quickly the good news was flashed over the wires to the anxious hearts in Martindale, "Operation successful. Peace will walk again." And great was the rejoicing everywhere.
Only Peace herself seemed undisturbed, taking everything as a matter of course, obeying the nurse's orders, and asking no questions concerning her own welfare, though she asked enough about other people's affairs to make up, and soon became a source of unending amusement to the hospital attendants, who made every excuse imaginable to talk with this dear little, queer little patient in her room.
Peace was in her element. Nothing suited her quite so well as to make new friends, and she was delighted at the interest the busy nurses and doctors displayed in her case. "Why, Miss Wayne," she sighed ecstatically one day when she had been in the hospital for a month, "I know the name of every nurse and doctor in this building, and pretty near all the patients. The only trouble with them is they change so often I really can't get much acquainted before they go home. I'm just wild to get into that wheel-chair which Dr. Dick has promised me as soon as I get strong enough; for then I can go visiting the other sick folks, can't I? Dr. Dick says I can, and I'm crazy to see what they look like. I can't tell very well from what the nurses say about their patients just what they look like. I try to 'magine while I'm lying here all day, but you know how 'tis,—the ones who have the prettiest names are as homely as sin usually; and the pretty ones have the homely names.
"There's the little lady down the hall who keeps sending me jelly and things she can't eat. The head nurse, Miss Gee,—ain't that an awful funny name? I call her Skew Gee, because her first name is Sue. Well, she told me that this lady has been in the hospital four years. Four years! Think of it! And that she never says a cross word to anyone, but when the pain gets bad she sings until it's better. No wonder that man loved her and wanted to marry her even if she will always be an invalid."
"What do you know about love and marriage?" teased the nurse, laying out fresh linen and testing the water in a huge bowl by the bed.
"I know I'd have married her, too, if I'd been in his shoes. She must be a darling. I'm very anxious to see if she is pretty. Miss Gee says she is. She says that typhoid girl is pretty, too. The one who has been here ten weeks now and is still so sick. I don't s'pose they'd let me see her yet. She calls one of her legs Isaiah and the other Jeremiah, 'cause one of 'em doesn't bother her and the other does. Isaiah in the Bible told about the good things that were going to happen, and Jeremiah was always growling about the bad things that had happened. She must be a funny girl to figure all that out, don't you think? Then there are those two little girls in the Children's Ward,—the one with the hip disease that's been here two whole years, and the other that's got pugnacious aenemia. I'd like awful well to see them, 'cause neither one has a mother. And there's the weenty, weenty woman with nervous prospertation, but I'm most p'ticularly interested in Billy Bolee.
"Nurse Redfern brought him in to see me a few minutes ago, while you were eating your breakfast. Isn't he the prettiest little fellow you ever saw, and hasn't he got the worst name? I don't see what his mother could be thinking about to call him that."
"But that isn't his real name, dear," answered the nurse, busy at making her talkative little patient comfortable for the day.
"Then why do they call him that?"
"Because we don't know his real name. His mother died here in the hospital weeks ago without telling us who she was or anything about her history. The baby talked nothing but Dutch, and though Dr. Kruger, of the hospital staff, is Dutch, he could not make out from the child's baby-talk what his name is."
"And so they picked out that horrid Billy-Bolee name," exclaimed Peace disgustedly.
"That was because he kept saying something which sounded like Billy Bolee. We didn't know what he meant, but began to refer to him in that manner, and the name stuck."
"Does he talk American now?"
"A little, but of course it is like learning to talk again, and we often have to get Dr. Kruger to interpret his wants even yet. I'll never forget one of the first nights he was here. He cried and cried until the whole staff of nurses was nearly frantic, because we could find nothing to soothe him. He kept repeating some strange words, as if he was trying to tell us what he wanted, but none of us understood. At that time we didn't even know his nationality, but while he was still howling lustily, Dr. Kruger came upstairs on his evening round of calls, and he stopped to see what was the trouble with Miss Redfern's charge. Then how he laughed! Poor Billy Bolee was begging to be put in bed, and here we'd been trying for an hour to find out what was the matter."
Peace laughed heartily. "That was a good joke on the nurses, wasn't it?" she remarked, when her merriment had subsided. "But why do you keep him here now if his mother is dead?"
"The doctors are endeavoring to cure his little foot so he can walk all right again. He was hurt in the same railroad accident which killed his mother, and the injury has made one leg shorter than the other."
"O," cried Peace in horror. "And he hasn't any relations to take care of him after he gets well?"
"Not that we know of."
"Then what will you do with him? He can't live here always, can he?"
"No. Some day he will have to be sent to a Children's Home or some such institution where homeless waifs are cared for, until some kind heart adopts him."
"But no one wants lame children to adopt," Peace protested. "Do you s'pose Billy Bolee will ever get adopted?"
"We hope so."
Peace was silent a moment, then thoughtfully remarked, "There was a fat old hen in our church—there! I didn't mean to say fat, 'cause I wouldn't hurt your feelings for the world,—but Mrs. Burns was fat, and she used to come over to our house after I got hurt and tell me how thankful I ought to be. It made me awful mad at first, but I b'lieve I know now what she meant. Now there's my Lilac Lady,—she had heaps of money, and a great, splendid house to live in, and Aunt Pen to take care of her; so even if she never could walk again, 'twasn't as bad as it would have been s'posing she was poor and didn't have anything of her own. Then there's me. If I had fallen off a roof in Parker and cracked my back, 'twould have been perfectly awful, 'cause there would have been no money for doctors and such like, and I guess it costs heaps to get operated on. But as it is now, I've got Grandpa and Grandma Campbell to take care of me, and there ain't any danger of my being sent to a Children's Home or the poor farm. There are a pile of thankfuls in this world, ain't there?"
"Yes indeed," answered the nurse warmly. "This world is a pretty good old world, and no matter what happens, there is always something left for every one to be thankful about. Isn't that so?"
"Uh-huh. That's what Papa used to tell us, and before every Thanksgiving dinner we had to think up some p'tic'lar big thankful that had happened to us that year. Even after he and Mamma had gone to Heaven, Gail made us do the same thing, and you'd be s'prised to see the things we dug up to be thankful about even if we were orphants, and poorer than mice. One year I managed to kill a turkey that b'longed to another man; so we had some meat for dinner when we hadn't really expected any. 'Twasn't often we got turkey, either,—not even when Papa was alive. But we always have it at Grandpa's on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm very fond of turkey, ain't you?"
"Yes, I am quite partial to Mr. Gobbler, too," smiled Miss Wayne reminiscently, "but we nurses don't always get a taste of it on Thanksgiving Day, either."
"Can't the hospital afford turkeys once a year?" asked Peace in shocked surprise.
"But a nurse doesn't live at the hospital always, you know. After she graduates, most of her cases are in private homes, and it all depends upon where she is on the holidays as to what she gets to eat or how she amuses herself. Now, Christmas Day this year I spent with my married brother on his farm near St. Cloud, but it is the first time I have been with any of my own people for a holiday during the last four years. On Thanksgiving I was taking care of a little girl who had diphtheria, and we were shut off upstairs all by ourselves, seeing no one but the doctor from one day's end to the next. Poor Zella was too sick to know what day it was, and I was too anxious about her to care, so neither of us got any turkey.
"One year I was miles out in the country, nursing a worn-out mother, who had seven children, all younger than you. She was a farmer's wife, and they were huddled in the dirtiest bit of a hovel that I ever saw. The hogs and chickens used to come into the kitchen whenever the door was opened, and no one ever thought of driving them out. They didn't know what it meant to be clean, and were shocked almost to death when I tried to give the latest baby a bath. There wasn't a broom in the house and no one knew what I wanted when I asked for a mop. We had literally to shovel the dirt off those floors.
"The children had never been taught to pray, they knew absolutely nothing about the Bible, had never even heard the name of Jesus except in swearing. Christmas Day was unheard of, and Thanksgiving a riddle; and when I asked the father if we might not have a hen for dinner on that occasion, he said there were none to spare for such nonsensical purposes."
"But you got one anyway, didn't you?" Peace eagerly asked, for she had learned to love Miss Wayne dearly, and seemed to think that the earnest, whole-hearted, sympathizing woman was capable of anything.
"No, not from him," the nurse replied, knitting her brows as if the thought still made her angry. "But his answer got my dander up, and the children were so disappointed, for I had told them all about our Thanksgiving Day, that I determined to cook them a sure-enough Thanksgiving dinner if I could manage it. There was one girl in the family,—little five-year-old Essie,—and I gave her a half dollar and sent her over to their nearest neighbor to see if he would sell us a small turkey. He had already disposed of his turkeys, however, and had no hens for sale either; but he gave Essie a big duck and a handful of silver in exchange for the money she had given him, and she came back as proud as a peacock to display her wares. I saw at once when she passed me the change that he had not charged her a cent for the duck, so I put the money back into her little hand and told her that she was to keep it. At first she was reluctant, though her big, eager eyes showed how much she really wanted it; and after a while I made her understand that I actually meant to give it to her for her very own. But when she took it to her mother, the little woman called me to the bed and explained that it would do the child no good in that form, because the lazy, shiftless, good-for-nothing father would take it to buy tobacco. 'The children can't save a penny,' she said sadly. 'When once he gets his hands on it, they never see it again. But if you really want Essie to have the money, won't you take it and buy her a doll? She has never had one of her own, and it would please her more than anything you could do.'
"So I put the money back into my purse and promised Essie a doll instead, which should open and shut its eyes and have real hair. Christmas was near at hand, and I made up my mind that I would dress the doll as daintily as possible and send it to her in time for Christmas Eve, so the mother could put it in her little stocking, for all the children had expressed a determination to hang up their stockings that year like the children in the stories I had told them. So, when about a week before Christmas, I was able to leave the dirty little hovel, I searched the stores through for the kind of a doll Essie wanted, and made it a beautiful set of lace-trimmed clothes which really buttoned up. My mother and sisters were greatly interested in the story of this neglected family, and they decided that we must pack a box for all the children, so none of the little stockings would be empty on Christmas morn. Accordingly, we picked up some old clothing, whole and serviceable—"
"Just like the ladies do each year for the missionaries on the frontier," Peace interrupted with breathless interest.
"Very much, only on a smaller scale. We didn't try to outfit the whole family, but included something for each member,—except the father,—and filled up the corners with candy and nuts. Poor Mrs. Martin had been so interested in the Bible stories which she had heard me telling the children that I got her a nicely bound Bible, marking the passages which she had liked the best; and she really seemed delighted to get it. She could write a little, and she sent me a very grateful little letter of thanks when the box arrived, telling me how much the children had enjoyed their share of the good things, and particularly how pleased Essie was with her doll.
"When I first went to care for Mrs. Martin on the worthless little farm, there was only one stove in the ramshackle house and that was in the kitchen. It was positively necessary to have her bed-room warm and comfortable, so I made Mr. Martin get another stove for that purpose. There was no chimney in that part of the house, however, and he cut a hole through the ceiling and stuck the stove-pipe through that into a big chamber above, where, by some means or other, he connected it up with the kitchen chimney. It was very unsafe, of course, and I protested against it, but he would not listen to me; so all the while I was under that roof, I watched the stove every minute, for fear it would set the house afire. But it didn't, and he laughed at my worry, but not long after I had left there while it was still very cold weather, the old place did burn down one night. The family was rescued by their neighbors, but they lost everything they had. Mrs. Martin wrote me about the disaster, telling how sorry she was to lose her Bible, and how terribly grieved Essie was over the loss of her treasure. Naturally I was sorry, too, and when Christmas came again, I dressed another doll for Essie, bought another Bible for Mrs. Martin, and packed another box for the whole family. Again the mother wrote me a letter of thanks, but it didn't sound sincere to me this time, and when in closing she said that Jerry, her husband, thought I might at least have included a plug of tobacco for him, I made up my mind that all they wanted was what they could get out of me."
"So you didn't send them any more dolls and Bibles," Peace soliloquized, when the nurse paused in her narrative.
"They didn't appreciate them," Miss Wayne answered wistfully. "One doesn't enjoy being liked for one's money. I want folks to like me."
The little invalid lay with intent eyes fixed upon the ceiling while she reviewed the story she had just heard; then she said gravely, "I think it was Jerry who wrote for the plug of tobacco."
"Well, Mr. Martin, I mean."
"But Mrs. Martin wrote the letter."
"I'll bet he was peeking over her shoulder and made her put in about that plug of tobacco, just the same," Peace persisted. "I b'lieve Essie and her mother really cared. 'Twas him that wanted just your money. Some women get married to some awful mean men."
"Yes," sighed the nurse, more to herself than for Peace's benefit. "That is very true, and Jerry was one of them."
"There are lots of nice men, though," Peace hastened to add, for Miss Wayne's face looked so unusually grave and sad. "There's Grandpa and St. John, and—and Dr. Dick. He isn't married yet, either. Neither is Dr. Race, is he? When I was in the sun parlor yesterday afternoon, I heard one of the nurses tell that new special that Miss Swift had set her trap for Dr. Race. What did she mean? It sounded like they thought he was a mouse—"
"Hush! O, Peace! You misunderstood. You mustn't repeat such things. It—I—oh, dear, what can I say?"
"Well, I 'xpect they meant that Miss Swift is trying to marry Dr. Race, and I s'pose the rest are jealous. Frances Sherrar is going to be married to one of the professors at the University, and I heard Gail telling Grandma how jealous some of the girls are. I s'pose it's the same with the nurses. Only I sh'd hate to see Dr. Race marry Miss Swift 'cause I don't like her. She's too snippy. Why didn't you ever get married? You're so nice and—and—"
Miss Wayne's face had flushed a brilliant crimson, and hastily gathering up soap and towels, she made ready for a hurried flight, but found her way blocked by a stalwart figure in the doorway, whose twinkling eyes and smiling lips betrayed the fact that he had overheard at least part of their conversation.
Embarrassed, the nurse set down the bowl of water poised perilously on one arm, and stammered, "I—I beg your pardon, Dr. Shumway. You are rather late this morning, or am I early? I mean, you—I—we—"
"There, there. Miss Wayne, don't get excited," a laughing voice said teasingly. "Take heart. Remember, 'the Race is not always to the Swift.'"
"O, Dr. Dick!" Peace interrupted from the little cot by the window. "Is that you at last? I've been watching hours for you to come. I've got the splendidest news to tell. Gail is here,—my sister Gail. I know you will like her." Then, as her eyes fell upon the great wicker chair which the doctor was dragging behind him, she straightway forgot all else, and shrieked ecstatically, "Dr. Dick, what have you got there? Is it for me? A wheel-chair? Oh, oh, oh! Put me in it right away. Now I can go and see some of the other sick folks, can't I?"
THE LITTLE AUTHOR LADY
"Well, Peace, my dear little Peace, I am afraid the time has come for me to leave you."
Miss Wayne had entered the sick room noiselessly, and, pausing beside the wheel-chair, stood looking with tenderly wistful eyes down at the face of her small charge, who, propped up among her pillows, was animatedly watching the traffic in the street below.
"O, Miss Wayne," Peace, so engrossed with what she had seen that she did not catch the significance of the nurse's remark, lifted her bright shining eyes to the face above her and giggled, "why didn't you come sooner? You missed the biggest sight of your life. It was so funny! There was a runaway, and the horse chased across our lawn just as Dr. Canfield came up the walk. He had his med'cine case in one hand and an umbrella in the other, and he let out a big yell and began to wave them both around his head while he danced up and down in front of the horse. I guess he was trying to keep it out of a garden in the middle of the yard, but the old beast didn't shoo worth a cent, and the doctor had to do some lively dodging to get out of its way. He is so short and fat and pudgy that he did look too funny for anything, hopping around like a rubber ball and squealing like a pig. He kept a-hollering, 'O, my cannons, oh, my cannons!' But the horse went straight through the garden just the same, and now the doctor's down on his knees in the mud digging up some onions and looking 'em all over carefully."
Miss Wayne's merry laugh joined in with that of her patient, and following Peace's example, she pressed her face against the window pane and looked down at the panting, puffing figure on the muddy, trampled turf below. "It's his cannas," she explained. "He always has an immense bed of red canna lilies in the center of the lawn every summer. They are the pride of his heart, and I can imagine what he felt like to have a team plough through his precious garden. Fortunately, it is so early in the Spring that the bulbs have not yet sprouted, so I guess there is not much damage done. 'Canfield's Cannas' is a hospital joke. I wish I could have seen his encounter with that runaway."
Wiping the mirthful tears from her eyes, she turned to the tiny closet in the corner of the room, dragged forth a suitcase, and began to take down some garments from the hooks, preparatory to packing.
"Why, Miss Wayne," cried Peace, her attention attracted by the sound of the valise on the floor. "Whatever are you doing?"
"Gathering up my scattered belongings ready for departure—"
"Departure!" echoed the child in great dismay. "Why, where are you going?"
"I have another case, my dear, which needs my attention."
"But you can't go now! You've got me to look after."
"My dear child!" cried the woman in shocked surprise. "Do you mean to say that no one has told you that I must go?"
"I hain't heard a word about it before," declared the distressed Peace. "Why do you have to go?"
"You don't need me any longer—"
"But I want you. Please don't go!"
"I must, childie. It is no longer necessary for you to have a special nurse. Your sister is here almost all the daytime, and you are getting around splendidly in your wheel-chair."
"But can't folks have special nurses when they don't need them, but just want them?"
"O, yes, if they have plenty of money so they can afford it, but it is a needless expense, and as you will have to stay here for many weeks yet, you surely don't want to make your grandfather pay extra for a special nurse whose work is done, do you?"
"N—o," Peace reluctantly replied. "But I like you. I—I don't want you to go—yet."
"I am very glad you feel that way, girlie, but you see how it is, don't you? Of course, Dr. Campbell won't listen to my going if you insist upon my staying, but you don't mean to be selfish, I know."
"I don't b'lieve you care," pouted Peace.
"Ah, my child, you can never know how much!" answered the woman with unexpected warmth; and Peace, convinced, cried contritely, "I didn't mean that, Miss Wayne, truly. But, oh, how I hate to have you go! It'll be so lonesome!"
"O, no. You are progressing famously in the handling of your chair, and now you can carry a little sunshine into the other sick rooms. Lots of patients will be delighted to see our little canary,—you know that is what the little lady down the hall has called you ever since she heard you whistling so merrily the other day."
The thin face brightened. "Yes, it will be lovely to get acquainted with all these sick folks," she acknowledged, "but that won't make up for losing you."
Miss Wayne smiled her appreciation of the compliment, as she replied, "You won't lose me entirely yet. My new case is to be here in the hospital, too. The ambulance will bring him in this afternoon; so perhaps you will see quite a little of me for some weeks—days to come."
"O, goody! That will be nice, if I must give you up, to have you still in the hospital. Who is your new patient?"
"An old, old gentleman who fell on the pavement yesterday and fractured his hip."
"Does Dr. Dick take care of him?"
"No, he is Dr. Race's patient."
"O, dear! S'posing Dr. Race won't let you come and see me sometimes?"
"Then you come and see me."
"That's so. I can go in my chair, can't I? How nice it is to be able to get about by yourself again, when it's been so you couldn't for such a long time!" And Peace rolled the light chair across the floor to watch the brief process of packing, while she laid eager plans for seeing her beloved nurse each day.
But she did miss the dear woman very much at first. Being cared for by general nurses, who must be summoned by bell every time they are needed, is vastly different from having one special nurse constantly within call; and Peace felt this difference keenly in spite of Gail's daily presence. But as Miss Wayne had predicted, she found her wheel-chair a great diversion and a source of much amusement. It was such fun to be able to propel one's self along the wide corridors and Peace's natural curiosity and investigative habit were never so well satisfied as when she was poking about to see for herself what was happening around her.
Her reputation had preceded her all over the great building, and as soon as the other invalids learned that she had graduated to a wheel-chair, they were one and all eager to make her acquaintance; so Peace spent many happy hours forming friendships among the inmates of Danbury Hospital. Her sunny disposition seemed contagious, and the nurses welcomed the sight of her bright face, knowing that she would bring cheer into their domains if anyone could; for, in spite of her amazing frankness, there was something quaintly attractive in her speech and manner that was irresistible, and every heart felt better for having known her.
One day, as she was gliding noiselessly down the deserted corridor, the elevator stopped at that floor and another wheel-chair patient rolled out into view.
"Now why didn't I think of that before," exclaimed Peace to herself. "The wards are on the third floor and I've never seen them yet. I'm going up."
To think was to act, and when next the lift stood still at the second floor, Peace rolled her chair into the iron cage and said in matter-of-fact tones, "Three."
The operator glared at her suspiciously, but she seemed so cheerfully unconcerned that he decided she must have permission to visit the wards; so he closed the iron gate with a clang, and the elevator rose slowly to the floor above.
As the wheel-chair glided out into the upper corridor, Peace glanced curiously about her, marvelling to see so many doors closed. Then, as her sharp eyes spied one door standing open far down the hall, she started in that direction, but halted at the sound of a stifled sob, seemingly almost beside her.
Peering into a dim recess by the elevator shaft, which had at one time evidently been used for a store-room, Peace discovered a figure huddled forlornly in the corner, weeping disconsolately.
"Why, what's the matter?" cried the brown-eyed girl, her mind flying back to school days and punishments. "Have you been bad and got stood in a corner?"
The weeper started violently, dropped her bandaged hands and stared in frightened wonder at the child before her, but she made no reply, and again Peace demanded, "What seems to be the trouble?"
"Sh!" hissed the stranger. "Don't yell like that. Come inside if you are bound to stop. I've run away from my nurse."
"Can you run?"
"Well, walked, then. She left me in the sun-parlor, b—but I can't s—stay there with everyone staring and asking q—questions." And again the tears began to fall.
"Shall I call your nurse?" Peace inquired, uneasy and alarmed at the vehemence of the older girl's grief.
"No! No! For goodness' sake, no! She won't let me cry, and I've got to, or—or—"
"Bu'st," suggested Peace, nodding her head sympathetically. "Yes, I know how 'tis. The nurse I had the first time after I was hurt wouldn't let me cry, either. But this time Miss Wayne never said 'boo,' when I couldn't hold in any longer. She'd let me have it all out by myself and then she'd come and tell me a funny story. She had sense."
"I wish Miss Pierson had some. She's always preaching sunshine and smiles. It's no wonder that girl downstairs can whistle and laugh. She's got folks to look after her all her life, and money to buy anything she wants."
"What girl?" asked Peace, with a curious sinking of heart.
"They call her Peace—"
"That's me, I thought 'twas. The d'scription seemed to fit so well."
The stranger drew back aghast, then said bitterly, "I might have known it."
"Don't you like me?" pleaded the child, feeling that her companion had grown suddenly antagonistic.
"I—I hate you!"
"But—but—why?" stammered Peace, thunder-struck by this uncompromising declaration.
"Because you have everything I need, and I can't have anything."
"You have good legs," Peace wistfully whispered.
"And you have good hands," her companion shot forth.
"Hands!" Peace all at once became aware of the bandages which hid that other pair of hands from sight. "Wh—hat's the matter with yours? Did you hurt them? Have you got any?"
"Apologies!" Her voice was harsh with intense bitterness, her eyes were dull with despair.
"Apologies?" Peace failed to understand.
"They are useless. I burned them," explained the other hopelessly.
"But won't they ever be any good?" Peace persisted, her eyes wide with horror.
"No, I can never write again."
"I write stories for a living. It's all I can do when I have to stay at home with Mother and Benny. And now—God! what is there left for me to do?"
"I did not."
"Then maybe you prayed. Was it a prayer?"
"I can't pray. It's useless to pray. Those two hands brought in my bread and butter,—the bread and butter for us three. And now they are hopelessly crippled. What can I pray for?"
"Your bread and butter."
"Pshaw!" The girl laughed derisively, then broke off abruptly. "You don't understand," she said in lifeless tones.
"No," Peace agreed, "p'r'aps I don't. 'Twas my feet. How did you come to burn your hands?"
"Benny upset a lamp, and—I had to put out the fire. He can't run, either. He is a cripple."
"Oh!" the voice was sharp with distress, and in spite of herself, the older girl's face softened. "You—you care?" she whispered.
"Of course I care," cried Peace warmly. "Poor little Benny! He is little, ain't he? He sounds little. Can't you have him cured?"
"Perhaps, if there was any money to pay the bills. But so far, it has taken every cent I could earn to keep us in food and clothes. I had hoped my book would be successful and that the royalties would be enough to take care of us, so the short story money could pay for an operation. But now I can never finish the book."
"Can't you get a typewriter? You could use one of those, couldn't you? Grandpa has one for his work at home, and he thumps it with only one finger on each hand."
"Do you know how much a typewriter costs?" she asked.
"No. Very much?"
"More than I could ever spend for one."
"And there's no one else to help?"
"No one. My father is dead. Benny's mother,—my sister,—is dead. Her husband is a drunken sot. We turned him out long ago. It was he who crippled Benny. Poor little Benny! He's only three, and he will never have a chance with the other boys and girls."
"I've got five dollars," Peace shyly confided. "It's all my own to do as I please with. I want you to take it. Will it buy a typewriter?"
"O, my, no! They cost heaps of money,—a hundred dollars for a brand new one of the kind I want. But—but it's real dear of you to offer me your money. I can't take it, child. I'm not a beggar."
"We weren't beggars in Parker, either; but it came in mighty handy sometimes to have folks give us things. Course we always tried to earn them if we could, and if you want to earn this money, you might write me five dollars' worth of stories. Oh, I forgot!" She glanced hastily at the crippled hands, then averted her eyes. "Truly I did. But you needn't be snippy about my money. I know what 'tis to be poor."
"You! Why, your grandfather is President of the State University, Miss Pierson says."
"That's my make-believe grandfather. My truly real one has been dead for ages. Then papa died, and fin'ly mother, which left us to dig for ourselves. We were worse off than you, 'cause there were six of us and not one knew how to write stories for money. I guess we'd all have starved to death or gone to the poor farm if Grandpa hadn't come along just about that time." Before Peace was aware of it, she had poured out the whole history of the little brown house in Parker, while the other crippled girl listened spellbound.
"What a plot for a book!" she sighed ecstatically when the narrator had finished. "And what a picture for one of the characters!" She fell to studying Peace with a new interest in her heart.
"O, do you mean to write us up in a book?" cried Peace, fascinated with the idea. "That's what Gail has always threatened to do, but I don't expect she ever really will. Wouldn't it be splendid to have a story written all about ourselves? What shall you call it? Will you let me know when it is done so I can read it and see what kind of stuff you write?"
But a shadow had fallen across her companion's face, so bright and animated a moment before, and again she glanced involuntarily at the bandaged hands which both in their eagerness had forgotten. But before either could speak, there was a rustling sound of stiffly starched skirts behind them, and Miss Keith, from the floor below, stepped around the corner.
"Why, Peace Greenfield!" she exclaimed at sight of them. "What a start you gave us! Don't you know you must never leave your own floor without permission? If the elevator boy hadn't put us wise, we probably would be phoning to the police by this time. Come downstairs now. Your sister is waiting for you in your room."
So Peace departed, but not until she trundled through the doorway of her room did she remember that the stranger had not told her name.
"O, dear," she greeted Gail. "I do show the least sense of anyone I know."
"What seems to be the matter?" asked the big sister, amused at the look of disgust on the small, thin face.
"I've just been gabbing with a real author lady, who has burned her hands 'most off, so she can't write any more, and I forgot to ask her name."
"Why, what are you talking about?" inquired Gail, amazed at the unexpected answer.
"The author lady I just found crying in a corner upstairs because she can't write stories any more. That's the way she's been earning the bread and butter for her family, and she don't know what will happen to them now. I thought maybe a typewriter would do the work, but she says it costs a hundred dollars to buy the kind she wants, and she wouldn't take my five. There's a baby boy, too, who can never walk unless there is an operation and of course it takes slathers of money for that."
"Whose baby boy are you interested in now?" asked a deep bass voice from the doorway, and Peace whirled about to confront young Dr. Shumway just entering the room.
"His name is Benny, and he b'longs to the little author lady upstairs who got burned 'most to death trying to put out the lamp which he tipped over. His mother is dead, and the little author lady has to take care of him and her own mother. I plumb forgot to ask what her name is, but I 'member now that she called her nurse Miss Piercing."
"Oh!" Dr. Shumway seemed more enlightened with that scrap of information than with all the rest of the story, and he stood stroking his chin thoughtfully, as he gazed absently at Gail seated by the window.
"Do you know her?" asked the small patient when he made no further comment.
"I know whom you mean," he answered slowly. "But she is not my patient. Dr. Rosencrans has that case. Where did you find out about her?"
Peace again recounted the history of her recent adventure, and the story lost nothing in its telling, for the child was profoundly impressed, and she had the knack of making her listeners feel with her.
"I recall now," he said, turning to Gail when the tale was ended, "there was some talk of amputating the hands at first,—they were so dreadfully burned,—but the little lady would not permit it. She has suffered tortures with them, but I understand that they are healing nicely now, though they will probably always be crippled, and many months must elapse before she can use them again. She is a game little woman, but very close-mouthed,—almost morose. She seemed simply overwhelmed by her catastrophe and none of the staff could get anything out of her." He glanced significantly down at Peace, but she was apparently unconscious of what she had accomplished, and the conversation turned to other channels.
There was a very homesick little girl in one of the rooms across the hallway, who had done nothing but cry since the ambulance had brought her to the hospital, and the doctor wanted Peace to make her a little visit. So for the next few days the brown-haired elf was so absorbed in this new task of cheering unhappy Gertrude that she had little time to think of the author lady on the floor above; and Gail was not prepared for the tragic face that greeted her when she made her usual call at Peace's room one day about a week later.
"Why, what has happened?" demanded the older sister, glancing about her in alarm.
"Miss Wayne's gone away without ever saying good-bye to me," gulped the child in grieved accents. "Her patient with the fractious hip died and she had a case somewhere in the country which she had to go to, but she never told me a word about it. I didn't think she was that kind. I liked her so much, and now—"
"But, Peace," interrupted Gail tenderly, "she came to say good-bye last evening and you were asleep. I had gone home and there was no time to write a note as she had planned to do, so she told Dick—er, I mean Dr. Shumway. But he forgot to deliver the message this morning when he came in to see you, and just now met me with the request that I tell you, with his apologies. Miss Wayne will be back here at the hospital before you go home undoubtedly, for she is a very popular nurse, not only with her patients, but with the doctors who send their cases here for treatment. So you mustn't fret. She did not forget,—she never can,—for I am sure she loves you dearly, and if you had been awake she would have said good-bye in person."
"Well, I'm glad of that," said Peace, much mollified at the explanation. "But anyway, my author lady is gone, and I don't even know her name."
"Yes," answered Gail brightly, "the little author lady has gone home, but Benny is here."
"The crippled baby she told you about. Surely you remember."
"Course I remember. But how did he get here when there wasn't any money?"
"Dic—Dr. Shumway investigated the case, and found it was even more pitiful than the little author lady had pictured it; so he persuaded them to let him operate on the baby for nothing, and he thinks Benny's little crooked back can be made entirely well. He left some medicine for the poor, patient invalid mother, and she is going to get better, too. Isn't it all lovely?"
Peace's brown eyes were shining like stars, but all she said was, "What did he do with the author lady?"
"O, that came out beautifully, too. Dick—er, Dr. Shumway told Dr. Rosencrans her story in the office downstairs, and it happened there was a real rich author lady there waiting for her automobile to come and take her home. Her name is Mrs. Selwyn, and she has been very sick, too, and must not try to write any more for a long time yet. But she became so interested in this poor little Miss Garland, that she insisted upon having her taken to her big, beautiful house for a few weeks. Mrs. Selwyn employs a secretary to do much of her typewriting, and this secretary is now to help Miss Garland get her book finished, so it can go to the publishers as soon as possible."
"Is Miss Garland my author lady?"
"Then she won't need a typewriter herself now."
"O, yes, for this arrangement is only for a little while,—until Mrs. Selwyn is well again. So some of us,—Dr. Rosencrans, Dr. Race, Dr. Shumway, Dr. Crandall, Miss Pierson, Miss Wayne, and oh, a whole bunch of nurses and friends, got up a collection and bought her a splendid new machine like she wanted, and when she goes home she will find it waiting for her."
"Doesn't she know?"
"Not a whisper. It's always to be a secret who gave it to her. We feared that she might feel as if we thought she had been begging, if she knew the names of the senders,—she is so extremely sensitive. So we just tied a card to the case, and wrote on it, 'From your loving friends.'"
"That's reg'lar splendid, and I want my five dollars to help pay for it, too."
"But, Peace,—" Gail began.
"There ain't any 'but' to it," declared the small sister with determination. "I was the one who found her, and I mean to help."
"Very well," sighed Gail, studying the stubborn little chin and knowing that Peace would gain her point in some way, even if denied the privilege of contributing her one gold piece. "You surely did set the ball rolling, for Mrs. Selwyn says your little author lady will make her mark in the world before many years."
"Yes, I guess she will make a mark on the world, too," Peace agreed complacently, "for now Benny's going to be like other children, and the mother won't be so sick any more. Doesn't everything end just splendid?"
"Yes, my darling," whispered Gail to herself, "when you are around."
KETURAH AND BILLY BOLEE
"Well, Kitty, I am awful sorry, but it can't be helped now. It won't take me more than half an hour or so in all probability, but will you care to wait for me?"
Peace, dozing in her wheel-chair in a little, sheltered niche at the end of the corridor, awoke with a start. Was that Dr. Dick speaking, or had those words been part of a dream?
Another voice, unfamiliar to her, and sounding weary, indifferent and pathetically mournful, answered, "Tomorrow will be the same."
"Yes," Dr. Shumway laughed apologetically, "I suppose it will. Physicians can hardly claim a minute of their time for themselves."
"Then I might as well wait for you now."
"Very well. Shall I send you down to the Library in the auto,—or to one of the stores? Or will you stay here? I'm afraid you won't find much to amuse yourself with in this place."
"Nevertheless I'll stay," answered the world-weary voice again. "But please hurry. I don't like the smell of lysol and ether."
"I'll be back as soon as I can, Kit. You'll find a pretty view from that bay window if you care to look at our scenery." The busy doctor was gone, and the black-clad figure, left to her own devices for the next thirty minutes, turned with a heavy sigh toward the window her companion had indicated, but paused at sight of a bright, alert little face, peeping around the back of an invalid's chair which she had not noticed before.
The rosy lips parted in a smile, and before the startled woman could regain her composure, the child spoke. "So this is Catarrhar, is it?"
"My name is Mrs. Wood," answered the woman, dumbfounded by her salutation.
"But your first name?" persisted the brown-eyed sprite.
"What does it matter?" The woman's voice was cold and crisp.
"Aren't you Dr. Dick's sister?"
"Dr. Dickson Shumway is my brother, if that is what you mean."
"I thought so. Well, he's got better manners than you have."
The woman gasped. Who in the world was this frank, friendly creature? No one had ever dared to speak like that to her before. Flushed with anger, she turned to seek another retreat, but Peace forestalled her. "Your father said you weren't as homely as he is, and that's so. You'd be real pretty if you just looked a little more human."
"Human!" The exclamation burst from her involuntarily, as the woman sank limply into the nearest chair and stared in utter surprise at her tormentor.
"Yes. You look so scowly and—and—oh, so frosty. I like warm faces that smile and look happy, like Dr. Dick's, you know. Your sister Penelope has the smile but not the good looks. Pansy has neither, but I don't blame her. Having such a name and being so fat is enough to make anyone cross. Her waist tapers in the wrong direction. I've never seen Carrie, so I don't know what she is like. But you—"
"Who—who are you?" the black-clad figure found voice to stammer.
"Me? I'm Peace—"
"Seems to me that name doesn't fit very well, either," said the other sarcastically, for Peace's candid criticisms had wounded her pride.
"It's perfectly awful, ain't it?" Peace serenely admitted. "But though I can't help my name, I I can help being ugly about it. There's nothing at all peaceful about me, I know. Grandma says she thinks I must be strung on wires, for I can't keep still. There's always a commotion when I'm around. I've tried and tried to be sweet and quiet like Gail and Hope and Allee, but it's no use. So now I just try to be happy and cheerful. That doesn't always work, either. Sometimes I get in an awful stew about having to sit in a chair day after day, but then I 'member what my Lilac Lady wrote, and I try to be good again."
"Your Lilac Lady?"
"She was lame like me," the child explained, and promptly regaled her visitor with the history of the dear friend who had slipped out from her prison house of pain not two years before, while the icy Mrs. Wood sat listening with real interest in her heart.
When the tale was ended, the woman whispered, "And now you—"
"Yes," interrupted the child calmly. "I thought for a while I'd be like her, but Dr. Dick says before many more weeks he thinks I may be strong enough to try crutches. You see, my legs didn't use to have any life in 'em. I could stick 'em with pins and never feel it, but I can't do that now. They feel just like they did before I was hurt, but they are too weak yet to hold me up. I tried it one day just after Miss Wayne left, and I slumped right flat on the floor. I was scared for fear I'd have to call Miss Keith to help me onto the couch, and then she would scold; but after I rested a bit, I lifted myself easy."
"What would the doctor say if he knew you did that?"
"O, he knows. I told him. He never scolds. He just said that I mustn't do it again until he let me himself, and I haven't. He's an awful nice doctor. He's always playing jokes, ain't he? When I first woke up from the antiseptic, I wanted a drink awfully bad, but Miss Wayne wouldn't let me have a drop of cold water; so when he came in to see me, I asked him for just a swallow, and what do you s'pose he did?"
"I don't know," murmured her companion, still interested in the small patient's prattle in spite of herself.
"Well, he wrote in big letters on a card, 'When you want a drink, remember there is a spring in your bed.' And then he hitched it to the foot-rail where I couldn't help seeing it every time I looked that way. Wasn't that hateful? Of course it made me laugh, and it did help me think of something else when I was so thirsty that it seemed as if I'd dry up if they didn't give me a teenty drink. He knows how to make sick folks well."
"He couldn't make my baby well," the woman blurted out with such bitterness that Peace recoiled, shocked.
"I'll bet he could have, if anyone could," she declared staunchly after her first start of surprise.
"Yes, I suppose so. That is what Ed said," answered the bereft mother more quietly.
"Is Ed your husband?"
"I thought he was dead!"
"Ed? Why, no! What put that idea into your head?"
"You are all rigged out in black—"
"My baby is dead."
"So is Elspeth's, but she never wears black. St. John likes to see her in blue, so she wears that color lots. It just matches her eyes. St. John is a perfectly good husband—"
"So is Ed," interrupted Mrs. Wood, with a passion that surprised her. "No one can say one word against Ed. He is as good as gold."
"Does he like black on you?"
"Why—er—I don't know."
"I never saw a man yet that did," Peace commented sagely. "Grandpa has fits when Grandma gets into an all-black rig. He says it looks too gloomy. That's what St. John and Elspeth think, too, so she never wears it."
"Who are they?" asked Mrs. Wood, for want of anything else to say, because the child's criticism of her attire had sharply reminded her of her own husband's frank disapproval.
"St. John was our minister in Parker, but now he has the Hill Street Church in Martindale, where I live. Elspeth is his wife. They let me name their twins, but the Tiniest One died before I could find a pretty enough name for it."
"Ah! She still has something to live for. No wonder she can dress in blue. She didn't lose her only child."
"'Twouldn't have made any difference if she had lost her whole family," Peace replied, unconsciously pushing the sharp arrow deeper and deeper into her unwilling visitor's heart. "She'd have gone to work and adopted some to raise. That's what Grandpa and Grandma did."
"I thought you said your grandfather was President of the State University."
"I did. But he ain't our real grandfather. His only two children died when they were little, and 'cause my own Grandpa had adopted him when they were boys, Grandpa Campbell adopted the whole kit of us when he found out who we were and that we were orphants. There are six of us, but he said he'd have taken the whole bunch if there'd been a dozen. That's the kind of a fellow he is, and Elspeth is just like him. Why don't you adopt a baby?"
"Would Ed kick?"
"No, Ed never kicks. He lets me do anything I please."
Mrs. Wood, with a curious, baffled feeling in her heart, wondered why she sat there listening to a spoiled child's silly chatter when every word stung her to the quick, and yet she made no effort to change her position.
"Well, if my husband would let me adopt a baby, I tell you it wouldn't take me long to find one."
"Yes, s'posing I had one."
"You are but a child. You don't know what you are talking about. You cannot understand. An adopted baby never can fill the place of one's own lost one."
"How do you know? You never did it, either. Babies are such cunning things. No one can help loving them if they've got any kind of a heart. There is poor little Billy Bolee. He is just as pretty as he can be, but he's lame. Dr. Dick says one leg will always be shorter than the other, and he hasn't anyone to take care of him now, nor any home to go to. His mother was killed in a railroad accident. They are going to ship him off to the orphant asylum next week, Miss Keith says. If he was only a girl, Aunt Pen would take him to raise, but they've decided not to have any boys at Oak Knoll. Guiseppe and Rivers were the only ones ever there, and now Rivers' mother can take him again, and Aunt Pen has sent Guiseppe across the ocean to study music. 'F I was bigger I'd adopt Billy myself. I just love babies. When I grow up I'm going to be mother of forty girls, like Aunt Pen is."
Amused, shocked, scandalized, the young woman in black listened to the strange prattle of the child, who spoke as she thought; but when the busy tongue momentarily ceased its chatter, and Peace sat gazing thoughtfully out across the green fields where already the grain grew thick and tall, Mrs. Wood timidly ventured the question, "How old is Billy Bolee?"
"O, he's a little fellow. Dr. Dick says he prob'ly wasn't more'n two years old when he first came to the hospital, but he has been here as much as six months now. He couldn't talk American at first, and Dr. Kruger had to tell the nurses what he said. But even Dr. Kruger couldn't understand what his name was, so they took to calling him Billy Bolee. He's Dutch, you know. They let him run all around the place now, and he is the dearest little fellow!"
"Where is he now?"
"O, I expect he's in the office. Miss Murch tries to keep him there as much as she can, so's they will know where he is, I guess. Sometimes he gets pretty noisy and the sick folks don't like to have him running up and down the halls."
"By the way, I meant to have spoken to Miss Murch about some supplies our Aid Society wants to purchase for the hospital. I think I'll just slip downstairs now and attend to it while I am waiting for Dickson. If he comes before I get back, tell him that I am in the office." Almost before Peace realized it, she was gone, and the invalid was left to her own devices once more.
When the busy doctor, detained longer than he had expected to be, returned for his sister, she was nowhere in sight, and Peace lay fast asleep in her wheel-chair by the window.
"Guess Kit got tired of waiting for me and went home," he mused. So he hurried down the stairway and was about to step out of the great front doors, when a familiar, ringing laugh from the office close by made him pause and open his eyes in wonder, as he ejaculated under his breath, "If that isn't Kit, I'll eat my hat!"
Before he could retrace his steps, however, a flushed, radiant figure flashed into the hallway, and Keturah—a rejuvenated Kit with a crimson carnation in her belt and another tucked in the coils of her glossy hair—exclaimed, "O, Dick, come see what this little rogue has done!"
Then he noticed what had escaped his attention before,—she was leading little lame Billy Bolee by the hand. Puzzled, yet strangely relieved at the vision, the doctor followed her into the office, where she pointed at scores of little red and green patches plastered hit or miss on the smooth walls.
"Why, what—?" he began.
"See what they are?" asked the amused sister.
He looked more closely at the haphazard decorations, then exclaimed, "Postage stamps, I'll be bound!"
"Yes. Five dollars' worth," laughed Keturah infectiously. "And the worst of it is, most of them will have to be soaked off with water. Billy Bolee did his job well. Do you suppose the mucilage will make him sick? By the way, Dickson, I am going to take Billy home with me. It won't be too cool in the auto for him without any wraps, will it? He has nothing but a heavy winter coat, and he will roast in that."
Slowly the doctor turned and looked searchingly at his sister. She flushed under his gaze, but did not flinch.
"I have been talking to Dr. Kruger," she said, as if in answer to his unspoken question, "and he thinks there will be no difficulty about our securing adoption papers,—if we decide to keep him."
"But, Kit," stammered the mystified man, "how—why—what?"
"O," she laughed a little sheepishly, "that rude, out-spoken creature in the wheel-chair by the window where you left me told me that I ought to adopt him, and I'm not sure but that she is right."
"She is not rude," the doctor suddenly contradicted, a vision of the brown-eyed idol of the hospital flashing up before him. "She merely believes in voicing her thoughts; but she is the essence of compassion and love. She would not want to wound another's feelings for anything in the world."
"Well, anyway, she certainly can wake folks up," the woman insisted.
"Thank God for that," said the man under his breath, and leaving the nurses to rescue what of the luckless postage stamps they could, he conducted Keturah and happy little Billy Bolee to his car, waiting at the curb.
THE RING THAT BUILT A HOSPITAL
It was a hot June night. Not a breath of air was stirring, and in the great Danbury Hospital every window was opened its widest. Yet the patients lay panting and sweltering on their cots. Peace, in her room, tossed and turned restlessly, dozed a few minutes, then wakened, changed her position, trying to find a cooler spot, and finally in desperation, raised her hand and jerked the bell-cord dangling at the head of her bed. She could hear the answering whir in the hall outside, but no one came to minister to her wants, and after an impatient wait of a few seconds, she repeated the summons.
Still no one came.
"What in creation can be the matter with Miss Hays, I wonder," she muttered, and savagely pulled the cord for the third time.
There was a faint patter of rapid steps through the corridor, and the night nurse, flushed and perspiring, flew into the room. "What is it?" she asked crisply, mopping her warm face after a hasty survey of the small patient.
"O," exclaimed Peace in relief. "It's you at last! I thought you were never coming. Is it hot outside tonight, or is it just me that's hot?"
Poor, hurried, steaming Miss Hays glared down at the tumbled figure on the bed, and snapped, "It's me that's hot! Did you chase me clear down two flights of stairs just to ask that question?"
"You do look warm," said Peace in conciliatory tones, not quite understanding the cause of Miss Hays' evident wrath.
"I am warm,—decidedly warm under the collar!" Suddenly the funny side of the situation burst upon her, and she laughed hysterically. It was utterly ridiculous to think of the haste she had made to answer the frantic summons of that bell!
Then, with an effort she controlled her merriment, and asked soberly, "Was there anything you wanted?"
"No—that is—Hark! What is that noise? It sounds like a little baby crying. That's the third time tonight I've heard it squall."
Miss Hays obediently strained her ears to listen. "It does sound like a child, doesn't it?" she admitted, as the plaintive wail was repeated. "Who can it be?"
"Seems as if it came from the other part of the building," said Peace, peering across the moonlit court toward the windows of the opposite wing.
"But there are no babies over there," the nurse objected. "Nearly all the patients in that section are old men, and the nurses' rooms are on the top floor."
"Well, that's where the crying comes from anyway," Peace insisted, as another low, persistent wail rose on the midnight air. "Are you sure there ain't any babies over there?"
"None that I know of. I'll go investigate. It's queer that Miss Gee did not mention it to me if any new patients were brought in there today."
Puzzled Miss Hays turned to go when Peace stopped her with an imperative, "Wait! There's a nightcap sticking out of a topfloor window. I guess it's going to holler."
"Nightcap? Where?" demanded the nurse, again staring out over the court toward the other wing of the hospital.
"It looked like one, but it's gone in out of sight. O, I know I saw it. There! What did I tell you!"
Peace was right. From an open window in the nurses' quarters a white-capped head slowly protruded, followed by a huge pitcher. There was a sound of splashing water, a startled caterwaul from the lawn below, some excited spitting and scratching, and two black shapes streaked across the court to the street. The wailing ceased. Silence reigned.
"Cats!" exclaimed Miss Hays in disgust.
"Making that crying noise?" demanded incredulous Peace.
"Not babies at all?"
"Well, I'll—Say, that water splashed in through the window of the room below. Listen to that man—swear! He's saying dreadful things! Can't you hear him?"
"I must go," the nurse ejaculated, when a swift survey of the windows opposite had proved that the child's observations were correct; but even as she darted through the doorway, the buzzer in the hall whirred viciously, and Peace heard her mutter, "My sakes! but the old gentleman is mad!"
Once more quiet descended over the great building, and for a long time Peace lay chuckling over the night's unusual adventure. Then in spite of the heat she at length fell asleep. Nor did she waken until the sun was high in the sky and the bustle of the busy city floated up through the open window.
The first thing she was conscious of was the sound of Dr. Shumway's voice sharp with bitter disappointment, and by craning her neck almost to breaking point, she could catch a glimpse of his coat-tails through the open door, as he said to some invisible audience, "No, we can hope for absolutely nothing from that source now, and we do need that addition so badly. Why, man alive it would mean a chance for hundreds of helpless babies. We simply haven't the room to accept charity cases now. Every bed in the institution filled this morning! What a record! But we have had to turn away ten cases this past month because we were too crowded to take charity patients."
"What did the old codger have to say to the committee?" asked another voice, which Peace recognized as that of Dr. Race, though she could not see him.
"He wasn't even decent about it. Said if his father had seen fit to spend half his fortune erecting this hospital, it was no sign that he intended to follow his example. What is more, he declared that we never would see another red cent of Danbury money if he could help it. Called his father an old fool and every other uncomplimentary name he could think of."
"Did you remind him that his father had intended to build this addition that we are so anxious for?"
"Yes, and got laughed at for my pains. If only old John Danbury could have lived to see his building completed! He used to say he cared for no other monument than Danbury Hospital."
"Do you know," said a new voice thoughtfully, "I think he recognized the worthlessness of his profligate son, and planned to sink his whole fortune in this institution? Money has been the curse of Robson Danbury's life, and his father knew that the only hope of making anything like a man out of him was the cutting him off without a cent, but the Death Angel claimed him before he had finished his plans."
"Well, that doesn't help us out of our predicament," said Dr. Race in his crisp, curt tones. "How are we to get our addition built?"
"Go to the Church for it,—that's our only course now," suggested Dr. Shumway resignedly.
"The Church! Good gracious, man! The church is bled to death now with its collections for this and subscriptions for that," declared Dr. Rosencrans impatiently. "They won't listen to our cry for help. I'm sorry this hospital is a denominational institution. It is a serious handicap."
"It ought not to be," said Dr. Shumway stoutly. "Our people should be proud of the chance to give to such a cause."
"But the fact still remains that they raise a howl or have a fit every time they are asked for a copper," returned Dr. Rosencrans pessimistically.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" demanded Dr. Race briskly. "Got anything tangible to work upon?"
"I happen to know that the bishop will give us his heartiest co-operation," Dr. Shumway answered. "We must confer with him and plan a state-wide campaign. We've simply got to have that addition."
"Then it's to be the same old song and dance?" inquired Dr. Rosencrans in deep disgust. "We'll send out a professional beggar to the different churches of the state, and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in?"
"What is your plan?" quietly asked Dr. Shumway, but in such a tone that Peace, straining to catch every word, fairly jumped from her cot, and wondered whether there was to be a fight.
"I have none," was the sulky reply, "but I'm tired of this lemon-squeezing farce. We can never raise a thousand dollars, let alone seventy-five thousand."
"I suggest that we take twenty-four hours to think on this thing before we make any decisions," suggested Dr. Race in soothing tones. "It is too important a question to settle without considerable thought."
"Good idea," seconded another voice, and after a brief parley as to their next meeting, the group of physicians just outside Peace's door dispersed about their various duties.
But they had left the brown-eyed maid much food for thought. Some of their conversation had puzzled her, but she gathered from their remarks that an addition to the hospital had become necessary, and for some reason seemed unobtainable, except by appealing to the churches for the money to build, which the doctors seemed loath to do.
"I'll ask Gail, she'll know," Peace promised herself, when she found that she could not untangle the puzzling questions without further explanation.
So when Gail entered the white room that afternoon, the small sister was ready with an avalanche of queries. "Why ain't the hospital big enough as 'tis? What do they need an edition for? Why won't Robinson Danbury give them any money, and why do they think he ought to? What's the matter with the churches and how do they bleed to death?"
Gail stopped short in her tracks. "Why, girlie!" she cried apprehensively, noting the scarlet flush on the thin cheeks, "what do you mean? What is the matter? Have you been dreaming? What are you talking about?"
So Peace told her of the conference held that morning just outside her door, and Gail listened attentively, surprised that the small maid should display such interest in a question supposed to concern only her elders.
"What's all the fuss about?" Peace asked a second time before Gail could decide whether or not it would be advisable to try to explain.
"Well," she said at length, "it happens that this is the only hospital in the state which belongs to our church,—that is, to our denomination, you understand. A man by the name of John Danbury planned and built it with his own money, and gave it to the church with the understanding that it was to be supported by our people. His plan was to have the hospital take only poor patients, but even with the church's help they couldn't anywhere nearly pay their way when they did that, and they have had to accept pay patients almost entirely. So rather than give up this pet idea of his, Mr. Danbury decided to build an addition just for charity cases. But he died without a will,—that is, without anything to show how he wanted his money spent, and his son, Robson, got it all. The son was hurt in a railroad accident about a month ago, and was brought here to be treated. Up to that time, he had absolutely refused to give the Hospital Board a dollar toward carrying out his father's wishes, although he himself knew what the plans had been. But while he was here, he sort of changed his mind. I suppose he had never before realized how many people a hospital reaches; and he hinted that perhaps after all he might do a little to help the Board build its addition. The committee was to visit him this morning and get his definite answer, but last night some cats got to squalling in the court under his window, and—"
"I know," Peace interrupted. "It sounded, like a baby. I started Miss Hays off to find out who it was."
"Well, it bothered the nurses who were off duty, too, and finally Miss Gee could stand it no longer, so she deluged the cats with a pitcher of water,—"
"Yes, and some of it landed on the sill just under her window, and spattered a sick man inside. Mercy! how he swore!"
"And that sick man was Robson Danbury."
"Goodness gracious!" gasped Peace. "No wonder he won't build any more hospital."
"It is such a pity to act so childish about it."
"I s'pose it does seem so to everyone else, but just s'posing you had got settled comfortable on a boiling hot night, and someone spilled water all over you. How would you like it?"
"But it was purely an accident, Peace."
"Accidents don't always make a fellow feel nice," the child asserted. "And the committee oughtn't to have visited him just after he got half drowned. They might have known he'd be ugly."
"They knew nothing whatever of the accident until he told them. It seems that even Miss Gee herself did not realize that anything but the cats had been soaked, He was so angry that he refused to stay here any longer, and as soon as he could get his clothes on, the ambulance took him home. It is such a shame, for the hospital does need more room so badly, and now—"
"'F I was the hospital, I'd just show him that I could build all the rooms I wanted to without any of his old money."
"O, they intend to try to raise seventy-five thousand dollars by subscriptions from the churches. That was decided today. But it will be a hard job."
"Who's going to do it?"
"Why, the work, of course. You said it would be a hard job."
"O, they mean to open the campaign next Sunday in Martindale, and the bishop is to preach the first sermon. After that, Rev. Mr. Murdock will do most of the preaching. He is secretary of the Hospital Association, you know."
"Is the bishop to preach in our church?"
"And take up a collection?"
"A subscription one."
"And I won't be there! Why couldn't they wait till I got home?"
"They must begin at once, dear, if they hope to raise such a great sum before Conference."
"What's the difference between a collection and a perscription?"
"Subscription, child. Well—er—we take up collections every Sunday in our regular services, but a subscription gives the people a longer time to pay what they have promised."
The conversation turned to other subjects, but had Gail only known it, the busy brain under the curly brown thatch was puzzling over ways and means of taking part in that important subscription when she was miles away and absolutely bankrupt. She had given her last mite to help purchase a typewriter for her little author lady.
But while the nurse was making her ready for the night, a sudden thought came to her, and holding up the slender finger on which gleamed her birthday ring, one of her most prized possessions, she asked, "How much do rings cost, Miss Keith?"
"Rings like yours?"
"Well, I'm not much of a judge of jewelry, but I should say that was worth maybe ten or fifteen dollars. That stone looks like a real ruby."
"'Tis a real ruby, though 'tain't very big."
"I never owned but one ring in my life, and that was a plain band. I don't know anything about precious stones, but no doubt your ring cost a pretty penny."
When she had gone on to her next charge, Peace sat warily up in bed, snatched paper and pencil from the stand close by and scribbled a brief and hurried note, which read:
"Deer Bishup,—I can't be at church Sunday when you take up a subscription to build some more Danbury Hospittle, cause I am in the hospittle myself, and I have spent all my money. Nurse says my ruby ring which Grandpa gave me on my last birthday cost as much as 10 or 15 dolars; so I am sending my ring for your collection. You can sell it to some honest jueler and give the Money to the hospittle. It has been worn only a little while for my birthday was New Years, and I've been in the hospittle ever since, so the ring is reely as good as new. I would sell it myself if I could get out but I can't. Yours truly, PEACE GREENFIELD."
When the bishop rose to face the select and fashionable audience in the South Avenue Church the following Sabbath Day, his heart misgave him. What message could he bring to this people which would open their hearts and pocketbooks to help in the Lord's great work? He had prepared a most careful and elaborate sermon for the occasion, but as he stood looking down into that sea of critical faces before him, he realized that here was a people who needed a soul's awakening, and with a sudden determination he cast aside his scholarly efforts, and drawing from his pocket a hastily scrawled letter and a small, ruby ring, he told their simple story so beautifully and so well that purse-strings, as well as heart-strings, responded instantly, and the following day a telegram reached Danbury Hospital which read, "Fifteen thousand dollars subscribed at South Avenue Church. Thank God for our 'Peace which passeth understanding.'"
The hospital staff was at a loss to explain these strange words until a visit from the bishop himself made everything clear. Then great was the rejoicing, for instinctively each heart knew that the simple little ring had won the fight. The story of its giving was an "open Sesame" wherever it was told, and the much needed addition to Danbury Hospital was made possible through the sacrifice of one childish heart's dearest treasure.
Verily, "A little child shall lead them."
PEACE DISCOVERS SOME SECRETS
Peace was on crutches! And her delight knew no bounds.
"Why, I didn't s'pose I'd ever really come to use them!" she exclaimed in breathless wonder while the doctor was adjusting the pads to her arms and showing her how to manage them.
"Didn't I tell you that some fine day you would be walking again?" he demanded.
"O, yes, but I thought that was just so I'd keep on hoping for something which never could happen."
The doctor glanced in surprise over the brown head at the big sister Gail, who was watching proceedings with interest, and his lips formed the question, "Doesn't she know the whole truth?"
"No, I think not," Gail whispered back.
"Then let's not tell her. She will enjoy it more if she finds it out herself."
Gail nodded brightly; and as the little sister hopped nimbly out into the hallway, anxious to display her new accomplishment to other patients and nurses, the two grown-ups fell into a confidential chat, and Peace was for the moment forgotten. That just suited the small maid, eager to try her wings by herself, and finding that neither doctor nor sister followed her, she tapped her way down the corridor to the broad stairway leading to the first floor, and began a laborious descent, fearful every moment lest someone should hear and prevent her from carrying out her daring plan. But no one came to stop her, and with much resting and readjusting of the awkward crutches, Peace managed to reach the bottom of the flight without serious mishap.
"Mercy! but that's hard work!" she panted, pausing to get her breath before resuming her journey. "Now where, I wonder? O, there's the office. I'll go call on Miss Murch first. She hasn't been up to see me for days. I guess she must be sick herself."
Softly, slowly, she tapped across the hallway to the office door, but stopped on the threshold. The room was empty. That is, Miss Murch was not there; but at the sound of her crutches, a coarsely clad, uncouth giant rose from the dimmest corner and shuffled toward her, twirling a greasy felt hat in his ham-like hands, and looking decidedly ill at ease. For once Peace was at a loss for a word of greeting, but stood with mouth open surveying him much as if he had been an ogre, until finally he growled out, "Well, d'you b'long to this shebang?"
"Well, where the deuce is the head mogul? I've been waiting here 'most an hour and not a soul has hove in sight. I came to see about Essie Martin."
"Essie Martin!" Peace was awake at once. That was the name of the little girl whom Miss Wayne had told her about long ago. "Where is Essie Martin?"
"In this building?"
"When did she come?"
"A fortnight ago."
"What's the matter with her?"
"Darned nonsense. The doctor calls it appendiceetis."
"Are you her father?"
He had turned so the light from a nearby window fell full upon his face, and Peace deliberately surveyed him from head to heels; then calmly, as if speaking to herself, she remarked, "Well, Miss Wayne was right. You do look like a hog, don't you? Only the hogs I know are some cleaner."