"What's the matter with them?" murmured Allee, too confused and sleepy to know what her companion was saying.
"We were going out to hear them talk at midnight."
"So we were! Well, I guess they'll have to talk all to themselves again tonight."
"What? Ain't you going out with me to listen?"
"We'd freeze in our nightgowns and we dahsent take those pussy-cat coats to the barn," protested the younger sister, aroused by Peace's surprised exclamation.
"Oh, Peace, and then have the fun of taking our clothes off again?"
"We'll put on our stockings and overshoes and bundle up in grandma's shawls. How'll that do? But first, we better light that candle I told you about to let the angels know where we are tonight. There—I guess they'll see it, even if it isn't as big as a lamp. Come on, I heard the clock strike a long time ago."
If Allee had not been so sleepy she might have remembered one other time just a year before when Peace had heard the clock strike; but being too near the land of Nod to realize anything but that Peace was calling her, she stumbled out of bed once more and allowed herself to be bundled up in wraps of all sorts until she was as shapeless as a mummy. In this fashion they slipped down the back stairs and out to the barn without betraying their presence, though the steps creaked under their weight, and every door they opened squeaked so alarmingly that Peace held her breath more than once for fear someone had heard.
Once inside the dark barn, they had to feel their way about, for not a ray of light penetrated the blackness of the stormy night, and the grim silence of the place filled them with nameless terror. It was not so bad when they had finally found their way into Marmaduke's stall and cuddled close to the friendly beast, who nosed them inquiringly, but even there they did not dare speak above a whisper; and so they waited breathlessly for the mystic midnight hour when the animals should break their silence and talk, each secretly wishing she were safely back in bed again.
Up at the house the merry evening had at length drawn to a close, and the guests had reluctantly departed. The President, returning from the gate where he had escorted the last guest to her sleigh, made a harrowing discovery. There was a light in the balcony window! Could it be that burglars had entered the house during the merrymaking and were even now ransacking the rooms? He looked again. It was such a tiny, steady light. Was it possible that one of the children was sick and Gussie had not told him? The last thought sent him flying up the stairs three steps at a time, and he reached the flag room door so breathless that he could scarcely turn the knob. The bed was empty. Only a wee taper from the Christmas tree burned faintly on the window sill.
In frantic haste he called the family and they searched the house from garret to cellar, but the missing children were not to be found.
"Do you suppose the tableau scared them to death?" asked Hope.
"Maybe they tried to see if Santa Claus really came down the chimney and got stuck there themselves," suggested Henderson, who regarded the disappearance of the duet as something of a lark.
"Wake Jud," commanded Mrs. Campbell, and the worried Doctor hastily lighted a lantern and went down to the barn to rouse the man of all work, wondering as he did so what good that would do. The horses whinnied as he entered the stable, and in the dim light that flooded the place, the President saw that the door of Marmaduke's stall stood open.
"What can Jud be thinking of?" he muttered somewhat testily, stepping along to slip the bolt in its place, but the next instant his eyes fell upon two dark bundles huddled at the horse's feet, and with a startled exclamation he bent over to examine his find, just as Faith burst in through the door behind him, crying, "They must have left the house, grandpa, because the back hall door is unlocked and the storm-door is swinging."
"Yes, Faith, and here they are," he answered, tenderly lifting the smaller warm bundle and depositing it in the girl's arms. "What in creation do you suppose they were doing here?"
As if in answer to his question, the brown eyes of the child he was just lifting fluttered slowly open, and Peace drowsily drawled, "We fed the Swede birds for Gussie, and got French forgiveness from grandpa for doing so, and had a German Christmas tree, and lots of Hung'ry company, and 'Merican stockings and a 'Merican Santa Claus, but we didn't hear the Irish horses talk, and I b'lieve it's all a joke."
In spite of their anxiety, Faith and the President gave a boisterous shout, and Peace heard as in a dream her sister's voice saying, "It is Christmas Eve that the animals are supposed to talk. Poor Peace!"
A ZEALOUS LITTLE MISSIONARY
Strange as it may seem, neither child felt any ill effects from that midnight escapade, but the next morning they awoke as chipper and gay as if there were no such thing as after-Christmas feelings. They even forgot the lonely vigil in the stable in their dismay at the discovery that Lorene had slept all night with Cherry instead of returning to their room as she had promised to do. An after-breakfast summons to the President's study brought their pranks vividly to mind again, however, and with considerable trepidation they saw the heavy door close behind them, shutting them in alone with the grave-eyed man, for they stood much in awe of the learned Doctor when that stern look replaced the usual bluff kindliness of his face.
The conference was exceedingly brief and to the point, judging from the sober, wilted little culprits who pattered up the stairway a few minutes later and silently sought the flag room. Henderson and the girls were consumed with curiosity to know the result of the interview, and their amazement knew no bounds when the disgraced duet vanished within their quiet retreat and turned the key in the lock. After waiting in vain fifteen minutes for them to reappear Lorene crossed the hall and knocked timidly at the closed door. There was no answer. She tried again, this time with more vim, but with no better success. Then she called, but not a sound from within greeted her straining ear. Cherry and Hope each took a turn, and Henderson pounded his fists sore without receiving a single word of reply from the prisoners.
"I believe they have climbed out of the window," he cried at last in exasperation.
"No, they promised grandpa not to. I guess maybe they've been sent to bed," said Cherry, inwardly thankful that she had not been in the latest scrapes.
Neither was right. But after a time, tiring of their efforts to get some sign from the culprits, the quartette in the hall dispersed to amuse themselves in some more entertaining manner. No sooner had their footsteps died away on the stairs, and Peace was convinced in her own mind that they had really gone for good, than a change came over her. She was sitting erect in a stiff-backed chair in one corner of the room, while her companion in misery sat huddled in the opposite corner, staring at the fresco of flags above her head. Both looked dreadfully woe-begone, and as if the tears were very near the surface, for punishment sat heavily upon these two light-hearted spirits, particularly as such severe measures did not seem necessary or just to them in view of the smallness of their sin. However, when the racket outside their door finally fell away into silence, Peace suddenly gave a little jump of inspiration, twisted her feet about the legs of her chair, and began a slow, laborious hitching process across the red rug toward the tiny dresser. Reaching this goal, she jerked open a drawer, rummaged out paper and pencil and began a furious scratching.
Allee watched with fascinated eyes, but true to her promise to the President in the den below, she never said a word, though she was nearly bursting with curiosity and it was so hard to keep still. After a few moments of rapid scribbling on a page of vivid pink stationery, the brown-eyed plotter again commenced her queer march across the room until she had reached the door, unlocked it, and after a hard struggle managed to pin the slip to the outside panel. Then with a sigh of mingled relief at having accomplished her object and resignation at her unjust fate, she closed the door once more, and wriggled back to her place opposite Allee, never so much as looking at the eager face questioning hers so mutely.
Again silence reigned in the pretty room, and both girls fell to wondering what the other members of the household were doing. Suppose Cherry had taken Lorene down to the pond to skate. That was what Peace herself had been planning on ever since she had looked into the small dark face of the child who was only six weeks and two days younger than she was. Suppose Hope had gone with Henderson to coast on the hill. He had promised Allee the first ride just the night before. Suppose Jud should choose this morning to take the girls sleighing as he had said he would do when the first heavy snow fell.
It had stormed all night and the deep mantle of white lay tempting and inviting in the bright winter sunshine. Oh, dear, what a queer world it seemed! Some people were in trouble all the time and some were never bothered with scrapes and punishments. There was Hope. Why was it Hope never did such outlandish things to cause anxiety and dismay to those around her? Hope never even thought of the freakish pranks that were constantly getting Peace into trouble.
What was it grandma was always quoting? "Thoughtfulness seeks never to add to another's burdens, never to make extra work or care, but always to lighten loads." She said it was because Hope was always thinking of beautiful things that made folks love to have her near; that it was the mischievous thoughts which cause the misery of the world. She said—what did she say? The brown eyes winked slower and slower, the brown head bent lower and lower. Peace was asleep.
An hour passed,—two. The luncheon bell tinkled, the family gathered about the table for the mid-day meal, but the chairs on either side of the President's place were vacant. Glances of inquiry flashed from face to face. Were the children to be kept in their room all day?
"Where are Peace and Allee?" asked the Doctor, very much surprised at their absence.
"I haven't seen them since you sent them upstairs this morning," answered Mrs. Campbell, who had been occupied all the forenoon writing a paper for the Home Missionary Society which was to meet at the parsonage that afternoon.
A guilty flush overspread the President's fine face, and forgetting to excuse himself from the table, he abruptly pushed back his chair and strode from the room, muttering remorsefully, "I deserve to be licked! That was three hours ago and I promised to call them in an hour." He returned shortly alone, looking very foolish, and holding in his hand a square of brilliant pink.
"What is it?" asked his wife, surprised at the look on his face. "Where are the little folks?"
"Asleep. They looked so worn out that I put them on the bed and left them to have their nap out. This is what I found on the door."
He dropped the slip of paper into her hands as he resumed his seat, and she read in tipsy, scrawling letters Peace's poster: "It won't do enny good to raket or holler to us. We can't talk for an hour. If you want to ask queshuns go to grandpa he is boss of this roost."
She smiled a little tremulously as she passed the pathetic scribble to Henderson, sitting at her right, but he, being a boy, saw only the funny side of the situation, and let out a lusty howl of joy as he read aloud the words with much gusto to his delighted audience.
When the laughter had subsided somewhat, the President asked ruefully, "How can I make my peace with them? I sent them to their room for an hour and promptly forgot all about the affair."
"I'll take them to the Missionary Meeting with me this afternoon," suggested Mrs. Campbell, "and you can come for us with the sleigh. Peace has begged to go over ever since she has been here. It seems that Mrs. Strong is an enthusiastic missionary worker, and Peace's greatest ambition is to be like her Saint Elspeth."
"So she can find another St. John and marry him," giggled Faith.
"Yes. I guess it is hard to decide which one of her saints she thinks the most of," Mrs. Campbell agreed; "but I am so glad she has chosen such a beautiful couple to pattern her own ideals after. Their friendship will do much for our little—" she intended to say "mischief-maker," but this white-haired woman with her mother instincts seemed to understand that Peace's mischief was never done for mischief's sake, so she changed the word to "sunshine-maker."
Thus it happened that when the brown eyes and the blue unclosed after their long nap, they looked up into the dear face of their grandmother-by-adoption, and saw by her tender smile that their punishment was ended. They were surprised to find how long they had slept, but the delight at being allowed to attend a grown-up missionary meeting, as Allee called it, overshadowed whatever resentment they might have felt at having been forgotten for so long a time, and they danced away through the snow beside Mrs. Campbell as happy and carefree as the little birds which they had fed yesterday.
The meeting was not as exciting as Peace had been led to expect from Mrs. Strong's enthusiastic recitals regarding missionary work, but some of the words spoken by the different ladies sank very deeply into the children's fertile brains, and both were so silent on the homeward journey behind the flying horses that finally Mrs. Campbell ventured to ask, "Are you tired, girlies? Was the meeting a disappointment to you?"
"Oh, no," Peace hastened to assure her. "I liked it lots, and Allee likes the same things I do, don't you, Allee? The women were pretty slow about doing things—they talked so long each time before they could make up their minds about anything. But it's int'resting to know that at last they decided to send some barrels to the poor ministers in the little places who don't get enough to live on. 'Twould have been better if they had done it before Christmas, though, so's the children wouldn't have thought Santa Claus had forgotten them. Do—do you think like Mrs. McGowan—that if we have two coats and someone else hasn't any, we ought to give away one of ours? That's what she said, isn't it?"
"Yes, that is what she said," Mrs. Campbell agreed; "and in a large measure I believe her doctrine, too. If we have more than we need and there are others less fortunate, I think we ought to share our blessings. But it takes a lot of good sense and tact to do this judicially."
"I think so, too," answered Peace with such a peculiar thrill in her voice that the President, at whose side she was sitting, turned and looked quizzically at the rapt face. "I don't b'lieve in talking a lot about giving and then when it comes to really doing it, to give just the left-over things that ain't any good to us any longer, and wouldn't be to anyone else, either."
"Why, what do you mean, child?" the woman asked, taken by surprise at such quaint observations from the fly-away little maid, whose serious thoughts were regarded as jokes even by her own family.
"Well, there was Mrs. Waddler in Parker. She always talked so big that folks who didn't know her thought she must have millions of money; but when she came to giving, it was usu'ly skim milk or some of her husband's worn-out pants."
Here the President exploded, but at the same instant the horses turned in at the driveway; and in scrambling down from the sleigh Peace forgot to press her argument any further. Nor did the older folks remember it again for some days. Then Mrs. Campbell entered the doctor's study one afternoon with a deep frown on her forehead, and a little note in her hand.
At the sound of her voice, the busy man paused in his writing and glanced up hastily, asking, "What seems to be the difficulty?"
"This letter. I don't understand it. Mrs. Scofield writes a note of regrets because I found it impossible to be with them at the last missionary meeting, and closes by thanking me for my generous donation. Now, it happens that just before Christmas, I carefully went through all the closets of the house, sorted out and hunted up all the good, half-worn clothing that we could spare, and sent it to the Danbury Hospital for distribution among their poor families; so I simply had nothing of value to add to the barrels intended for the frontier ministers—"
"Why didn't you buy something?"
"I did; or, rather, I thought the poor preacher might find the money more acceptable than anything I could purchase, so I selected the family of Brother Bennet of Idaho, and sent him a check. I mailed it to him direct, not wanting to run the risk of the barrel being delayed or destroyed. I also neglected to inform the ladies of what I had done; so I am sure they know nothing about it, for it is yet too early to hear from Mr. Bennet himself."
"Maybe it is a case of a little bird's having told the story," laughed the doctor, taking up his pen to resume his writing, and his wife, still musing over the strange occurrence, went away to receive a caller who had just been announced.
An hour later she returned to the study looking more perplexed than when she had left him before, and the President banteringly asked, "Haven't you found out yet about that generous donation?"
"Yes, Donald. Mrs. Haynes has just told me the whole story. It was not my donation at all."
"Ah, the worthy ladies just got mixed in their thanks—"
"Not at all! It was Peace's work, and naturally they thought I had authorized it. That little rascal picked up about half her wardrobe, her Christmas doll, several games and story books, and goodness knows what all, and took them over to Mrs. Scofield's house to be packed in the missionary barrels. Not only that, she persuaded Allee to do the same with her treasures."
"The little sinner!" ejaculated the startled President. "Without saying a word to anyone about her intentions?"
"She never consulted me."
"Nor me. Well, we must just send her back after them, and make her understand she must ask us when she wants to dispose of her belongings."
"That is just the trouble. The barrels have already gone."
"You don't say so! The monkey! Send Peace to me when she comes in, Dora. We must curb these philanthropic tendencies in their infancy and direct them in the right channels. There is the making of a wonderful woman in that small body."
"With the right training."
"Yes. God grant that we may be able to give her the right training."
Peace came radiantly in response to the message, dancing lightly down the hall as a hummingbird might flutter along, and the mere sight of her merry face as it popped through the study doorway was like a sudden shaft of sunlight in the great room. The President had determined to meet her gravely, even sternly, and show her that her uncalled-for generosity had displeased them, but in spite of himself, his eyes softened as they rested upon the sweet, round face upturned for a kiss, and he gently drew her into his lap before telling her why he had sent for her.
"Why, yes, grandpa," she readily confessed. "I did give away some of my clothes and other things, and so did Allee, 'cause the children of the ministers on the frontier need them so much more than we do. Why, we're rich now and can have anything we want! You said so yourself, you know. We couldn't give the things we didn't want ourselves, grandpa, 'cause that wouldn't be a sacrilege; and the pretty lady who talked at the missionary meeting that day said it was the sacrileges we made in this world that put stars in our crowns in the next world."
"Sacrifice, dear, not sacrilege."
"Is it? Well, I knew it was some kind of a sack. I want lots of stars in my crown when I get to heaven. Just think how terrible you'd feel s'posing when St. Peter let you inside the Gates, he handed you just a plain, blank crown. Mercy! I know I'd bawl my eyes out even if it does say there aren't any tears in heaven. So I picked out the things I liked the very best of all I got on Christmas—that is, most of them were. I don't care much for dolls, so that wasn't any sacri-fice for me; but Allee likes them awfully much yet, and it was a big sacri-fice for her to let hers go. But I sent my dear, beautiful plaid dress that I thought was the prettiest of the bunch, though I let Allee keep the one she liked best, seeing she cried so hard about Queen Helen. She didn't seem to enjoy thinking about the big star she'll get in its place, so I told her I thought likely you or grandma would give her even a prettier doll for her birthday, which isn't very far off now. I sent the book which tells all about the way little children in other lands spend Christmas day, but it was pretty hard work to give that one up. I pulled it out of the heap three times, and fin'ly had to run like wild up to Mrs. Scofield's house with it, so's I wouldn't take it out and put it on the shelf to stay."
"But why did you take so many things?" asked the Doctor lamely.
"There are five children in the family we sent our stuff to, and three of them are girls. There are six girls in our family, and when we lived all alone in the little brown house with just ragged, faded dresses to wear and only plain things to eat, holidays and all, we'd have been tickled to death if someone had given us such pretty things all for our very own. Oh, wouldn't it have made you happy if you had been a little girl?"
The great, brown eyes shone with such a glorified light and the small, round face looked so blissfully happy that the Doctor's lecture was wholly forgotten, and for a long time he held the little form close in his arms while his mind went backward over the long years to the time when he was a homeless orphan and Hi Allen—Hi Greenfield—had shared his treasures with him. They made a beautiful picture sitting there in the gathering dusk, the white head bending low over the riotous brown curls, the strong hands intertwined with the supple, childish fingers; and so completely had she captured the great heart of the man that when at length he set her on the floor and sent her away with a kiss, he spoke no chiding word. And Peace skipped off well content with the results of her first missionary efforts.
A few days later she danced into the house one afternoon from school, wet from head to foot with a damp, clinging snow which was falling, and at sight of her, Mrs. Campbell threw up her hands and exclaimed, "Peace, my child, what have you been doing?"
"Ted and Evelyn Smiley and Allee and me and some others had a snow-ball battle."
"That is expressly forbidden by the school board—" began the gentle little grandmother reprovingly.
"Oh, we didn't battle with the school board, grandma! We waited until we reached Evelyn's house and had it in their back yard. The snow is just right for dandy balls."
"I should think as much. Come here!"
Peace obeyed, glancing hastily at her feet as she guiltily remembered a certain pair of new shoes which she was wearing and saw the sharp, black eyes fixed searchingly upon them.
"Peace Greenfield, what have you on your feet?"
"Your new strapped shoes—slippers—for summer wear?"
"After I told you not to wear them until warmer weather!"
"You didn't say that, grandma," Peace expostulated. "You said as long as I had any others, you guessed I had better put these away for party wear until it got warmer."
As a rule, Peace's excuses rather amused the mistress of the house, but this time she looked sternly at the little culprit, and briefly commanded, "Go to your room and put on your other shoes immediately."
"I haven't got any others."
"No others? What do you mean?"
"I—I—gave mine all away."
"To whom did you give them?" asked the President, who had entered the room unnoticed.
"To a little girl I met on the hill yesterday. Her toes were sticking through hers and she looked dreadfully cold, and kept stamping her feet to keep them from freezing."
The President swallowed a lump in his throat.
"She did not need two pair to keep her feet warm, did she?"
"She was twins."
Peace jumped. "Well, she said she had a sister just her same age at home, who hadn't any shoes at all."
He took her by the hand, led her to her room, and after seeing that the wet shoes and stockings were replaced with dry ones, he lectured her kindly about giving away her belongings in such a promiscuous manner without first consulting her elders. And having won her promise for future good behavior, he went down town to purchase new shoes for the shoeless culprit, satisfied that Peace would remember his words of caution, and that they should not again be disturbed by the too generous acts of this zealous little home missionary.
And Peace did remember for a long time, but one day when the two younger children had been left alone with the servants, temptation again invaded this little Garden of Eden, and the brown-haired Eve yielded.
It was late in the afternoon and Peace and Allee were standing by the window watching the sinking sun, when a ragged, stooped, old man trailed down the quiet street with a battered, wheezy, old hand-organ strapped to his back and a wizened, wistful-eyed, peaked-faced child at his heels. Seeing the two bright faces in the window and concluding that money was plentiful in that home, the vagabond slipped the organ from its supports, and began grinding out a discordant tune from the protesting instrument, sending the ragged, weary, little girl to the door with her tin cup for contributions.
Peace saw her approaching, and opened the door before she had a chance to ring the bell, surprising the tiny ragamuffin so completely that she could only stand and mutely hold out her appealing dipper, having forgotten entirely the words she had been taught to speak on such occasions.
"You're cold," said Peace, a great pity surging through her breast as she saw the swollen, purple hands trying to hide under ragged sleeves of a pitifully thin coat.
"Ver' col'," repeated the beggar, finding her tongue.
"Not'ing to eat today."
Peace made a sudden dive at the dirty, unkempt creature, jerked her into the warm hall, and calling over her shoulder to the organ-grinder on the walk, "Go on playing, old man, she'll be back pretty soon!" she slammed the door shut, pushed the child into a chair by the glowing grate, and turned to Allee with the command, "Go ask Gussie for something to eat. Tell her a lunch in a bag will do. She's always good to beggars."
"No beggar," remonstrated the little foreigner. "Earn money. Some days much. Little this day. It so col'."
"Is that all the coat you have?" Peace demanded, eyeing the scant attire with horrified eyes.
"All," answered the child simply, and she sighed heavily.
"I've got two. You can have one of mine," cried Peace, forgetting wisdom, discretion, everything, in her great pity for this hapless bit of humanity.
"You mean it? No, you fool," was the disconcerting reply.
"I'm not a fool!"
"No, no, not a fool. You jus' fool,—joke. You no mean it."
"I do, too! Wait a minute till I get it, and see if it fits. You're thinner'n me, but you're about as tall."
She rushed eagerly up the stairway, and soon returned with the pretty, brown coat which she had found on her bed Christmas morning. Into this she bundled the surprised beggar child, pleased to think it fitted so well, and explained rapidly, "I got two new coats for Christmas. Grandma said the red one was for best, so I kept that one, but you can have this. Keep it on outside your old rag. It will be just that much warmer, and tonight is awfully cold. Here's a pair of mittens, too. Wear 'em; they're nice and warm."
Thrusting Allee's bag of lunch into the blue-mittened hands, Peace opened the door and let the newly-cloaked figure run down the walk to the impatient man stamping back and forth in the street. They watched him minutely examining the child's new treasures, but they could not see the avaricious gleam in his ugly eyes, nor did they dream that the precious brown coat would be stripped off the shivering little form just as soon as they were out of sight around the corner, and bartered for whiskey at the nearest saloon.
So happy was Peace in thinking of this other child's happiness that she never once thought of her promise made to her grandfather until she saw Jud drive up the avenue and help the rest of the family out of the big sleigh. At sight of the erect figure striding up the walk with the gentle little grandmother on one arm and sister Gail on the other, she suddenly remembered that he had told her when she gave away her shoes that she must ask permission before disposing of her belongings, or he should be compelled to use drastic measures. "Brass-stick" measures, she called it, and visions of a certain brass rule on the desk in the library rose before her in a most disquieting fashion as she recalled that impressive interview.
"Don't tell him what you have done," whispered a little evil voice in her ear.
"Tell him at once," commanded her conscience; and acting upon the impulse of the moment, she flew into the old gentleman's arms almost before he had crossed the threshold and panted out, "I 'xpect you'll be compendled to use your brass-stick measures on me this time sure. I guv away my coat!"
"You did what?" he cried, pushing her from him that he might look into her face.
"Gave, I mean. I gave away my brown coat."
The sorrowful tone of his voice cut her to the heart, but she flew to her own defense with oddly distorted words, "I couldn't help it, grandpa! She was so ragged and cold. S'posing you had to go around begging hand-organs for a squeaky old penny, without anything to eat on your back or vittles to wear. Wouldn't you like to have someone with two coats give you one?"
"Very likely I should, my child. I am not blaming you for the unselfish feeling which prompted you to give away your coat to one more unfortunate than yourself, but you are not yet old enough to know how to give wisely. You will do more harm than good by such giving. No doubt your little brown coat is in the pawn-shop by this time."
"But grandpa, she was in rags!"
"Yes, and that is the way that brute of a man will keep her. Do you suppose he would get any money for his playing if he sent around a well-dressed child to collect the pennies? No, indeed! That is why he makes her wear rags. He will sell or pawn your coat for liquor, and neither you nor the beggar child will have it to wear."
"But I have my red one."
"You can't wear that to school."
"It is not suitable."
"Then you'll get me another."
"You won't?" Her grieved surprise almost unmanned him.
"But you've got plenty of money!"
"I will not have it long if you are going to give it all away."
"You bought me some more shoes."
"That took money."
"I—I thought you'd give us anything we wanted."
"I have tried to, dear."
"But I shall want another coat."
He shook his head. "You deliberately gave away the one you had without asking permission. I can't supply you with new clothes continually if that is what you intend to do with them."
"Then how will I go to school any more?"
"You must wear the coat you had when you came here to live."
"So you hung onto that old gray Parker coat, did you?" she said bitterly.
"Yes, and now you will have to wear it until spring comes."
She was silent a moment, then shrugged her shoulders and airily retorted, "I s'pose you know! But, anyway, it was worth giving the new coat away just to see how glad the Dago was to get it."
It was the President's turn to look surprised, and for an instant he was at a loss to know what to say; then he took her hand and led her away to the study, with the grave command, "Come, Peace, I think we will have to see this out by ourselves."
She caught her breath sharply, but never having questioned his authority since the days of the little brown house were over, she obediently followed him into the dim library and heard the door click behind them. As the gas flared up when he touched a match to the jet, she looked apprehensively about the room, and shuddered as she saw the brass ruler lying on top of a pile of papers on the desk. He even picked it up and toyed with it for a moment, and she thought her hour of reckoning had surely come. And it had, but not in the way she expected.
Dropping the ruler at length, he abruptly ordered, "Sit down in my lap, Peace."
Usually he lifted her to that throne of honor himself, but this time he made no effort to help her, and when she was seated with her face lifted expectantly toward his, he disengaged the warm arms from about his neck and turned her around on his knee until she was looking at the desk straight in front of them. Then he picked up a book and began reading silently.
Peace was plainly puzzled, for each time she turned her head to look at him, he gently but firmly wheeled her about and went on reading. At last she could be patient no longer, and with an angry little hop, she demanded, "What's the fuss about, grandpa? What are you going to do?"
Without looking up from his book he laid one finger on his lips and remained silent.
"Can't I talk?"
It was a terrible punishment for Peace to keep still, and knowing this, just the faintest glimmer of a smile twitched at his lips, but he merely nodded gravely.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
Gravely he shook his head.
Peace stared at the chandelier, then surreptitiously stole a peep at the face behind her. A big hand turned the curly head gently from him.
She studied the green walls with their delicate frescoing, then cautiously leaned back against the President's broadcloth vest. Firmly he righted her. Dismay took possession of her. This was the worst punishment that ever had befallen her,—that ever could.
She gulped down the big lump which was growing in her throat, and counted the books on the highest shelf around the wall. Fifty—sixty—seventy—her heart burst, and with a wail of anguish she kicked the book out of the President's hand and clutched him about the neck with a grip that nearly choked him, as she sobbed, "Oh, grandpa, I'll never, never, never forget again! I'll be the most un-missionary person you ever knew,—yes, I'll be a reg'lar heathen if you'll just speak to me! I didn't think I was being bad in trying to help others—"
"My precious darling! I don't want you to be a heathen," he cried, straining her to his heart. "I want you to be the best and most enthusiastic little missionary it is possible for you to be, but in order to be a good missionary, one must first learn obedience, and cultivate good judgment. I wouldn't for all the world have my little girl grow up a stingy, miserly woman. I am proud of the sweet, generous, unselfish spirit which prompts you to try to make the burdens of others lighter, but you are too little a girl yet to know how and where to give money and clothes and such things so they will do good and not harm."
"I see now what you mean, grandpa. I thought when I gave my coat to the little hand-organ beggar that she would keep it and use it. I never s'posed her father wouldn't let her have it, and now when he takes it away from her she will be sorrier'n she would have been if she had never had it."
"Yes, dear; and the money the old fellow gets from selling it will undoubtedly be spent for drink, or something equally as bad for him. Just out of curiosity, I traced the shoes you gave to the child on the hill not long ago, and I found that she had not told you the truth at all. She had no twin sister, nor did she even need the shoes herself."
"Is—is—there no one that really is hungry and cold and needs things?" gulped the unhappy child after a long pause of serious thought.
"Oh, yes, my dear! Thousands and thousands of them," he sighed sorrowfully; "and I am deeply thankful that my little girlie wants to make the old world happier. But after all, dear, the greatest need of this world of ours is love. It is not the money we give away which counts; it is the love we have for other people. I remember well a little couplet your great-grandmother was fond of quoting—and she practiced it every day of her life, too,—
'Give, if thou canst, an alms; if not, afford Instead of that, a sweet and gentle word.'
"She had little of this world's goods to give away, but she was one of the greatest sunshine missionaries I ever knew. My, how every one loved her. And her son, Hi, was just like her—one of the biggest-hearted, most lovable people God ever created. He was certainly a power for good during his life, but his only riches were a great love for his fellowmen and his warm, sunny smile."
Again a deep silence fell over the room, for Peace, cuddled in the strong man's arms, with the tears still glistening on the long, curved lashes, was thinking as she had never thought before. Suddenly the dinner bell pealed out its summons, and as the President stirred in his chair, the child lifted her head from his shoulder, and looking squarely into the strong, kindly face, she said simply, "I'm going to be like them and you, so's folks will love me, too. And I'm not going to give away any more coats or shoes without you say I can, until I am big enough to grow some sense. I'm just going to smile and talk."
He did not laugh at her quaint phrasing of her intentions, but tightening his clasp upon the small body nestling within the circle of his arms, he quoted,
"'Work a little, sing a little, Whistle and be gay; Read a little, play a little, Busy every day. Talk a little, laugh a little, Don't forget to pray; Be a bit of merry sunshine All the blessed way.'"
AN UNEXPECTED INVITATION
Having a naturally light-hearted, merry disposition, Peace did not find it hard work to "smile and talk," but it was hard, very hard, to restrain her generous impulses to give away everything she possessed to those less fortunate than herself, and it soon became a familiar sight to see her fly excitedly into the house straight to the study where the busy President spent many hours each day, exclaiming breathlessly as she ran, "Oh, grandpa, there is a little beggar at the door in perfect rags and tatters! Just come and look if she doesn't need some clothes. And she is so cold and pinched up with being empty. Gussie has fed her, but can't I give her some things to wear? I've more than I need, truly!"
Then the good man with a patient sigh would leave his work to investigate the case, spending many minutes of his precious time in satisfying himself as to whether or not Peace's newly found beggar was genuine and really in need of relief,—for this small maid's thirst for discovering vagabonds seemed insatiable, and the string of tramps which haunted the President's doorstep led poor Gussie a strenuous life for a time. But relief came from an unexpected source at length.
Late one dull spring afternoon, as Gail sat with her chum, Frances Sherrar, in the cosy window-seat of the reception-hall, studying the next day's Latin lesson, a shadow fell across the page. Looking up in surprise, for neither girl had heard the sound of approaching footsteps, they beheld on the piazza the bent, shriveled, ragged form of what appeared to be a tiny, deformed, old woman. An ancient, faded shawl, patched and darned until it had almost lost its identity, enveloped her from head to foot, and she looked more like an Indian squaw than like a civilized white being. Her head and hands shook ceaselessly as with the palsy, and the way she tottered about made one fearful every minute last she fall.
"Oh," cried Gail in quick sympathy, "what a feeble old creature! It is a shame she has to beg her living. Where is my purse?"
"Are you going to give her money?" asked Frances in surprise.
"Doesn't she look as if she needed it?"
"She is a fake. I've seen her ever since I can remember—always just like this. She wouldn't dare beg in town, but we are so far out—well, if you are really determined to do it, here's a quarter."
Gail took the proffered coin, added a shining dollar to it, and stepping to the door where the palsied beggar stood mumbling and whining a pitiful hard luck tale, she pressed the silver into the leathery, claw-like hand, smiled a sympathetic smile and bade the old woman a God-speed.
Frances stayed for dinner that evening, and as the family gathered around the table for this, the merriest hour of the whole day, the President suddenly clapped his hand against his pockets, searched rapidly through them, and finally brought forth a crumpled sheet of paper, daubed with many ink blots and tipsy hieroglyphics, which read, "No more beggars, tramps and vagabuns allowed on these promises. We have already given away enuf to keep a army. There are two dogs and two men in this family—so bewair!"
Even the presence of Peace, the author, did not prevent an explosion of delighted shrieks from the little company, but the child merely fixed her brown eyes, somber with reproof, upon the perfectly grave face of the Doctor of Laws, and demanded, "Now, grandpa, what made you take it down?"
"I didn't, child," he defended. "It had blown down, I think, and lodged about the door-knob. I thought it was a hand-bill, and rescued it as I came in."
"Where had you put it?" asked Cherry, grinning superciliously at the distorted characters on the soiled paper.
"On the side of the house by the front door," she confessed. "That's where I put that one."
"That one! Are there more?" laughed Frances, whose affection for this original bit of femininity had only increased with the months of their acquaintance.
"Of course! There had to be one for each door, 'cause the beggars don't all go the back way, and to be sure everyone saw the tag, I stuck one on the corner of the barn nearest the road, and another on each gate. That surely ought' to be enough, oughtn't it?"
"I should think so," Mrs. Campbell agreed, making a wry face at thought of the queer-looking signs scattered so liberally about the property "How did you come to make them?"
"'Cause of that beggar at the front door this afternoon," Allee volunteered unexpectedly.
"What beggar?" asked the President with interest, while Gail and Frances exchanged knowing glances.
"A teenty, crooked, old woman came to the house while grandma was out this afternoon," Peace began. "She looked as if she might be a witch or old Grandmother, Tipsy-toe—I never did like that game—"
"We thought she was a witch," again Allee spoke up, unmindful of the frown on her older sister's face; "and we hid."
"But we watched her," Peace continued hastily, "and saw Gail give her some money. She did look awful forlorny and squizzled up as if she never had enough to eat to make any meat on her bones, and she nearly tumbled over, trying to kiss Gail's hand 'cause she gave her some money. So after she was gone, we ran down to the gate to watch her, and what do you think? Just as she turned the corner, there was a cop—"
"A what, Peace?"
"I mean a p'liceman, coming along with his club swinging around his hand, and when the beggar woman saw him, she straightened up as stiff and starchy as anybody could be, and hustled off down the street 'most as quick as I can walk. She was a—a fraud, and Gail got cheated just like I did when I gave that hole-y shoed girl on the hill my shoes." Here Frances shot a look of triumph at discomfited Gail. "So I made up my mind that grandpa is right—they are all frauds."
"Why, Peace, child, I never said that in the world," the President disclaimed, surprised out of his usual serenity by her words.
"That's so,—you said only half were frauds. Well, I guess it's the fraud half that come here to beg of us. Gussie is tired of feeding them, Jud's getting ugly, and if they keep on coming I'm 'fraid they'll really eat grandpa out of house and home. Jud says they will. There were seven tramps last week, and already we have had two this week, and one beggar. So I made these signs and stuck them up where everybody'd see them and know they meant business, w'thout Jud's having to turn the dogs loose or get his shotgun like he said he ought to. He told me that all hoboes have some way of letting other hoboes know where they can get a square meal, and that's why we have so many. He says they never used to bother so until I came here to tow them along by coaxing Gussie to feed 'em. I thought I was being good to 'em. S'posing we had sent grandpa away when he came tramping around to our house in Parker—Faith wanted to—where would we be now? Still grubbing in Parker trying to get enough to eat, 'most likely; or maybe in the poorhouse, for 'twas grandpa who paid the mortgage on the farm. I guess I must wait till I'm grown way up to have any missionary sense."
She spoke so dejectedly and her face looked so pathetic and utterly discouraged that no one had the heart to laugh, but a sudden feeling of restraint fell upon the group. Even the President had no words in which to answer the poor, disheartened little missionary.
"Do you belong to Miss Smiley's Gleaners?" It was Frances who spoke, and though the words themselves signified little, her tone of voice was like an electric thrill, and the faces of the whole company turned expectantly toward her as she waited for Peace's answer.
"No, not yet. Evelyn has been after us ever since we came here to join them, but something has always kept us away from the meetings each month, so we haven't been 'lected yet. Evelyn says they don't do much but have a good time, anyway, though it is a missionary society. That's about all our Sunshine Club in Parker ever did, too, 'xcept make comfort powders for the sick and mained in the hospital."
"Evelyn is right about what the Gleaners used to be, but since her aunt has taken up the work, they are doing lots of real missionary work. Why, since Christmas they have raised enough money to take care of two orphans in India for a year. Edith Smiley is such a beautiful girl—"
"Ain't she, though!" Peace burst out with customary impetuosity. "I've wanted her for my Sunday School teacher ever since we began to go to South Avenue Church, but she's got a class of boys."
"And don't they adore her!"
"No more'n I would."
"It is easier to get teachers for girls' classes; and besides, Miss Edith has had these boys from the time she started to teach. She certainly has her hands full with her Sunday School class, the Gleaners Missionary Band and the Young People's Society, for she is our president this term. There is no lag about her. She is always planning something beautiful for somebody. Everyone loves her. When Victor was in the hospital the time he was hurt by the runaway, Miss Edith took him flowers several times; and the nurse told us that she visits the children's ward twice a month regularly and takes them fruit or flowers or scrap-books or something nice. They always know when to expect her, and she never disappoints them."
"She certainly knows how to make sunshine for those around her," said Mrs. Campbell warmly. "I am so pleased to think she could take charge of the Gleaners. We ladies were really afraid the society must die. Miss Hilliker had neither strength, time nor talent to do justice to the work; but, poor soul, she did try so hard, and she did give the children a good time, whether or not they ever accomplished anything else."
"I am glad Miss Smiley has taken the Gleaners, too," said Peace meditatively. "Me and Allee 'xpect to join at next meeting. I guess maybe Cherry and Hope will, too, though I haven't asked them yet."
"I think you have headed them in the right direction, Frances," whispered the President in grateful tones, when at last the dinner was ended and the chattering group were filing out of the dining-room. "I was beginning to wonder what in the world to do with our little Peace, but I think perhaps Miss Smiley will help solve the problem for us."
"I know she will," Frances replied confidently. "I can understand how discouraged poor Peace must feel. I've been there myself, only instead of giving away my own things as she does, I gave away other people's belongings. I can never forget the seance I had with mother the day I handed over father's best, go-to-meeting overcoat to a dirty, evil-looking tramp, and gave away Victor's velocipede to the ash-man's little boy. I came to the conclusion that the whole world was just a sham and all men—yes, and women—were liars. Mrs. Smiley came to my rescue, and what missionary spirit there is left in me is due to her good work and untiring efforts. Edith is a second edition of her mother."
"And I think Frances must be second cousin at heart," said the Doctor, gently pressing her hand.
"I don't deserve such praise," she protested, blushing with pleasure at his compliment. "I have only tried to make the most of the best in me, remembering the little verse we had for a motto:
'No robin but may thrill some heart, His dawnlight gladness voicing. God gives us all some small sweet way To set the world rejoicing.'
"We were only children when we took that as our class motto, but we have kept it all these years, and I know there is not one of the girls who considers it childish sentiment even yet."
"That is why I am particularly thankful for your words at the table tonight. I want my girls to meet and mingle with and be influenced by such people as Miss Edith and her mother—and Miss Frances!"
"I shall work hard to keep the reputation you have given me," she laughed gayly, flitting away to join Gail in the Grove, as the pink and green and brown room was called; but she was secretly much touched and helped by the President's words, and rejoiced openly when a few days later the four younger Greenfield girls really did join the Gleaners Missionary Band and became active workers in that field.
"It is kind of a queer missionary society," Peace reported after one of the meetings. "Sometimes we don't say hardly a word about heathen or poor ministers on the frontier all the time we are at the church. We talk about how we can help each other and our families and folks who live close by us. Miss Edith says first and foremost a good missionary must be cheerful and sunshiny. Our motto is "Scatter Sunshine," and our song is the prettiest music I ever heard. She says it isn't the music that counts, it's the words, but just s'posing we sang:
'In a world where sorrow Ever will be known, Where are found the needy, And the sad and lone; How much joy and comfort You can all bestow, If you scatter sunshine Everywhere you go.'
to the tune of 'Go tell Aunt Rhody,' it wouldn't cheer me up very much. "Would it you?"
"No," laughed Mrs. Campbell, who chanced to be her confidante on this particular occasion, "I don't think it would; but on the other hand, meaningless words would not cheer anyone, either, no matter how pretty the tune. Is that not so?"
"Yes, I s'pose it is. I guess it takes both together to do the work. This week our verse is:
'Can I help another By some word or deed? Can I scatter blessings O'er a soul's sore need? If I can, then let me Now, within today, Help the one who needs me On a little way.'
"The next time we tell if we remembered the verse and worked it."
"Worked it?" Mrs. Campbell was not yet accustomed to Peace's queer speeches, and often did not understand her meaning.
"Yes. Miss Edith says just helping Gussie carry the dishes away nights, or buttoning Marie's dress when she is cross and in a hurry, or getting grandpa's slippers ready for him when he comes home from the University all cold and tired, or holding that squirmy yarn for you when you knit those ugly shawls, or talking nice to Jud when he makes me mad, is being a missionary. She says it is the little, everyday things that count; for some of us may never get a chance to do anything real big and splendid, and if we wait all our lives for such a time to come along, we will be just wasting our talents. But all of us have hundreds of little things each day to do, and if we do them cheerfully and sweetly, we are being sunshine missionaries and are making others happier all the time. She says Abr'am Lincoln's greatest wish was to have it said of him when he died that he had always tried to pull up a thistle and plant a flower wherever he got a chance. Thistles mean hard feelings and mean acts, and the flowers are kind words and deeds."
"Miss Edith has found the key to true happiness," murmured Mrs. Campbell, glancing out of the window at a tall, slender, gray-eyed young lady hurrying down the street, surrounded by a bevy of bright-faced, adoring boys and girls.
"Yes, she's another Saint Elspeth, isn't she? How nice it is to have her here as long as I can't have my dear Mrs. Strong! And do you know, grandma, she and Mrs. Strong were chums when they went to college? Isn't that queer?"
"How did you happen to find that out?"
"'Cause on my list of missionary doings this week I had 'not getting mad when Gray chawed up St. Elspeth's letter 'fore I had read it more'n three times.' And she asked me who Saint Elspeth was."
"Do you make out a list of missionary doings each week?" asked Mrs. Campbell, amused at Peace's version of the occurrence, for the child had been so angry at the destruction of the letter from this beloved friend that she had seized a heavy club and rushed at the cowering pup as if bent on crushing its skull. Before the blow descended, however, she dropped her weapon, bounced into a nearby chair, and glared wrathfully at poor Gray until he shrank from her almost as if she had struck him. Then suddenly the anger died from her eyes, and clutching the surprised animal about the neck she fell to petting him energetically, exclaiming in pitying tones, "Poor Gray, I don't s'pose you know how near I came to knocking your head off any more'n you know how much I wanted that letter you've just swallowed, but I'm sorry just the same. Shake hands and be friends!"
Peace, not understanding the smile that crept over the gentle face of the dear old lady, hastened to explain, "We write them so's folks won't laugh. We don't mean to laugh at each other, but sometimes children do say the funniest things. There is Bernice Platte for one. She can't say anything the way she wants to, and it makes her feel bad when we giggle. So Miss Edith took to having us write our lists. I don't care how much they laugh at me, I get so much of that at home that I am used to it, but some folks ain't brought up that way and I s'pose it hurts."
Mrs. Campbell caught her breath sharply. It had never occurred to her before that Peace was sensitive, but the gusty sigh with which these words were spoken told her companion much, and slipping her arm about the little figure crouched at her side, the woman said gently, "Would you mind telling grandma some of the bits of sunshine you have been scattering this week?"
The wistful round face brightened quickly. "Would you care to hear?"
"I should love to, dearie."
"I didn't make much sunshine, I guess, 'nless 'twas here at home where folks know me, but I tried. You know Hope has been taking flowers to one of her teachers at High School, and the other day Miss Pope told her that she gave them all to her brother who is lame and can't walk, and he spends all his days drawing and painting the pretty things he sees. Well, there is a teacher in our school who looks awful turned-down at the mouth, and kind of sour like, and last week Minnie Herbert told me that it was 'cause the woman had lost her brother in a wreck. So I thought maybe she'd like some flowers, and I took her some. I didn't know her name, but she was sitting in the hall to keep order during recess time, and I carried the bouquet right up to her and laid them in her lap. I 'xpected to see her smile, but instead, she picked them up and looked kind of red as she asked me what made me bring them to her. I meant to tell her I was sorry she looked so lonely and sad, but what I really said was 'homely and bad.' I don't see why it is I always twist things up so, but that made her mad and I couldn't explain it so's she would take the flowers again, and I had to give them to one of the girls whose mother has delirious tremors."
"Oh, Peace, you have made a mistake."
"What is it, then?"
"I presume the poor woman is delirious with a fever of some sort."
"Tryfoid," supplied Peace. "Stella told teacher so. That same day on my way home from school I saw a little girl lugging a heavy pail, and the handle kept cutting her hands, so she had to set it down every few steps and change to the other side. When I asked her to let me help, she gave me hold, and we carried the bucket down the alley to a chicken-coop, where it had to be dumped, 'cause it was slops for the hens. There was a big box there to stand on, and I lifted the pail to the top of the fence and emptied it, but the woman which owns the chickens was right under where the stuff fell, and she didn't like it a bit, and scolded us both good.
"Then there was Birdie Holden who wanted a bite of my apple, and when I turned it around to give her a good chance at it, she bit straight into a worm, and said I did it on purpose, though I never knew the worm was there any more'n she did.
"But the worst of all was the day teacher sent me to the office for thumb tacks to fasten up our drawings around the room. She told me to see how quick I could get back, but she never counted on the principal's not being there, which she wasn't. So I had to wait. Then all at once I saw a big sign on the wall which said if Miss Lisk wasn't in and folks were in a hurry, to ring the bell twice.
"I was in a big hurry for I had waited so long already that I thought sure Miss Allen would be after me in a minute to see if I was making the tacks; so I grabbed the cord and jerked the bell hard twice, and then twice again, and then twice the third time. I 'xpected she'd come a-running at that, but what do you think, grandma? Everyone in that schoolhouse just got up and hustled out of doors as fast as they could march. We never used to have fire drill in Parker and I hadn't heard of such a thing here, either, so I was dreadfully s'prised to find what my gong-ringing had done. Maybe Miss Lisk wasn't mad for a minute, when she saw me hanging out of the window yelling to know what was the matter, 'cause I was in a hurry for my thumb-tacks! But afterwards she laughed like anything and said the children made record time in getting out, 'cause no one, not even she herself, knew whether it was just a fire drill or whether the janitor had rung the gong on account of the school's really being burned up."
No one could blame the good dame for smiling at the vivid pictures Peace had painted of her missionary efforts, but Mrs. Campbell knew how sore the little heart must be over these seeming failures, so she pressed the nestling head closer to her shoulder and said comfortingly, "But think of all the smiles you have won from the washerwoman. When I paid her last night, she showed me the big bunch of flowers you had cut from your hyacinths and lilies in the conservatory, and told me how eagerly her poor, sick little girl watched for her home-coming the days she washed here, knowing that you would never forget to send her something. And Jud was telling your grandpa only this morning how the ash-man's horse always whinnies when the team stops in the alley, because you never fail to be there with a lump of sugar or a handful of oats. Mrs. Dodds says it is a real pleasure to make dresses for you, just to hear you praise her work. I was in the kitchen this morning when the grocer brought our order, and after he was gone, Gussie showed me a sack of candy he had slipped in for you, because you are so kind to his little girl at school. I don't need Jud's words to tell me how the horses and other animals on the place love you. And why? Because you love them and never hurt them."
"But, grandma," interrupted Peace, her eyes wide with amazement at this recital; "you don't call those things scattering sunshine, do you?"
"What would you call it, dear?"
"But—but—I didn't do those things on purpose, grandma. They—they just did themselves. I like to see Mrs. O'Flaherty's eyes shine and hear her say, 'May the saints in Hivin bliss ye, darlint,' when I give her anything for Maggie; and the ash-man's horse doesn't get enough to eat—really, it is 'most starved, I guess; and Mrs. Dodds does look so tickled when I say anything she makes is pretty. They are pretty, too. And the grocer's little girl is so scared if anyone speaks to her that a lot of the bigger girls got to teasing her dreadfully and I couldn't help lighting into them and telling them they ought to be ashamed of themselves; and—"
"That is what I call scattering sunshine, dear. It is these little acts of ours which count, these acts done unconsciously, without any thought of others seeing, done simply because our hearts are so full of love and sympathy that they bubble over without our knowing it, and others are made happy because of our unselfishness."
"I guess you're right," said Peace thoughtfully; "'cause when folks are watching and I want to be 'specially sweet and nice and helpful, I just make a dreadful bungle of it, and everyone laughs. It's the things we do without thinking that make folks happiest. That is what Saint Elspeth used to tell me. Some way I could understand her better than Miss Edith, I guess; but maybe it was 'cause I knew her better. When do you s'pose we can go to see her, grandma? Saint Elspeth, I mean. It has been such a long time since—"
"She wants you next week, you and Allee."
It was the President who spoke, and with a startled cry, Peace leaped up to find him in the doorway behind them. "Why, Grandpa Campbell, how did you sneak in here so softly? I never heard you at all, you came so catty. Did you hear what we were talking about?"
"Not much of it. I arrived just in time to catch your remarks about Mrs. Strong, and as I happen to have a note in my pocket this minute from your Saint John, I spoke right out without thinking. I was intending to make you and grandma jump a little."
"You made me jump a lot," she retorted, throwing her arms about him and giving him a rapturous hug. "Did you really mean that Mrs. Strong wants me next week? That is our spring vacation here in Martindale."
"Yes, so the letter said. You see, the Strongs are living in Martindale now, too."
"Grandpa! You're fooling!"
"Not this time. I have known for a whole month that there was some prospect of their coming to the city, but I waited until I was sure before saying anything, because I knew you girls would be disappointed if they did not get the place."
"What place? How did it happen? What will Parker do without him? Will he live near us? Can we see them often? Where did you get the note?"
"One question at a time, please," he cried laughingly. "Mr. Strong dropped in at the University a minute this afternoon. He has been called to fill the vacancy at Hill Street Church, and has accepted, but as his pastorate is about three miles from this part of the city, he will not live very close to us. However, it will be possible for you to see each other more frequently than if they had remained at Parker. They moved yesterday into the new parsonage, and Mrs. Strong wants to borrow our two youngest next week to help her with the baby while they are getting settled. Do you want to go?"
"Oh, I can hardly wait! Can we really stay the whole week?"
"You ungrateful little vagabond!" he thundered in pretended anger. "You want to leave your old grandpa for a whole week, do you?"
"Yes," she giggled. "A change would do us both good. Besides, we live with you all the time, and I don't get a chance to see Saint Elspeth and Glen very often—but I'd lots rather have my home with you, though I do like to go visiting once in a while, same as you do."
"Teaser! Well, if grandma thinks it wise, you and Allee may go next week to visit your patron saints—What is the matter, Dora? Doesn't the plan please you?"
For grandma looked unusually grave and thoughtful, but at his question she merely answered, "Peace may accept if she wishes, but unless Allee's cold is much better by Monday, I don't think it best for her to go. I kept her home from school today."
For a moment the brown-haired child stood silent and hesitating on one foot in the middle of the floor. It would be hard to be separated from this golden-haired sister for a whole week, but—it had been such a long time since she had seen these other precious friends; and anyway, Elspeth needed someone to help her. Besides, Allee might be well enough to go by Monday, or perhaps she could come later in the week. It would be wisest to accept the invitation at once, so with a little hop of decision, she announced serenely, "Tell Saint John I'll come, and prob'ly Allee will, too. Her colds don't usu'ly last long, and she'll be all right by Monday."
PEACE'S SPRING VACATION
Allee's cold was no better Monday morning, but it was decided that Peace should go alone to the new parsonage on Hill Street, with the promise that if possible the younger child should join her before the week's visit was ended. So Peace departed. But it was with a heavy heart that she went, for, much as she wanted to see her former pastor's family, she dreaded being separated from this dearest of sisters even for seven days; nor could she shake off the vague feeling of unrest which had gripped her when she saw the sick, sorrowful look in Allee's great blue eyes as they said good-bye.
"Get well quick, dear," she whispered tenderly, holding the tiny, hot hand against her cheek after a quaint fashion they had of saying good-night to each other. "I can't have a good time even with Saint Elspeth and Glen if you are at home sick. Take your med'cine like a good girl, and about Wednesday I 'xpect Saint John will be coming after you if grandpa hasn't brought you before."
And Allee had promised to do her best, but Peace could not forget her last glimpse of the wistful, flushed face, pressed against the window-pane to watch her out of sight around the corner. And so sober was she that Jud, who was driving her to the dovecote on the hill, looked around inquiringly more than once, and finally ventured to ask, "Have you caught cold, too?"
"No, indeed!" she flung back at him. "I'm never sick. Why?"
"Your eyes look pretty red."
His ruse was effective, for in trying to see herself in a tiny scrap of a mirror which she carried in her satchel, she forgot her desire to cry, and looked as gay and chipper as usual when the carriage drew up at the parsonage curbing and Mr. Strong bounded boyishly down the walk to meet her, holding his beautiful year-old boy on one arm, and dragging the sweet girl wife by the other.
"Oh, but it's good to see you again!" cried Peace, vaulting over the wheels to the ground before either Jud or the minister could lift her down. "It doesn't seem 'sif you'd really moved to Martindale to live. How did it happen? Grandpa couldn't make me understand about bishops and preachers and congregations, but I'm glad you've come. Did you have a hard time getting out of Parker and was there a farewell reception? Ain't it too bad Faith wasn't there to make you another cake? Mercy! How the baby has grown! Why, I b'lieve he knows me. He wants to come. Oh, he ain't too heavy and I won't break his precious neck, will I, Glen? How do you like my new dress and did you get my hand-satchel 'fore Jud drove off? I forgot all about it the minute I saw the baby. Grandpa was going to bring me, but the faculty had to plan a meeting for this morning, of course, and grandma couldn't come on account of Allee's cold. What a cute little house you've got! It looks wholer than the Parker parsonage. I'm just dying to see all the little cubby-holes and closets. How many rooms are there?"
"It is the same old Peace, Elizabeth," laughed Mr. Strong, rescuing his boy and leading the way to the house. "Prosperity has not changed her a whit. She has hundreds of questions stored up under that curly wig waiting to be asked. I can see them sticking out all over her. My dear, you are here for a week's visit. Don't choke yourself trying to ask everything in one breath, but 'walk into our parlor' and we will show you all we have, and let you rummage to your heart's content."
So they initiated her into the mysteries of the new parsonage with its pretty, cheerful rooms, unexpected cosy corners, tiny kitchen and cunning little cupboard, and for a week she fairly revelled in the playhouse, as she immediately named the spandy new cottage, amusing the baby, who promptly attached himself to her with the devotion of a lap-dog, dusting furniture, washing dishes, and causing her usual commotion trying to help where her presence was only a hindrance. But they enjoyed it! Oh, dear, yes! Her quaint speeches were a constant delight to them, and the sight of her somber brown eyes, so at odds with her merry disposition, and the sound of her gay whistle or rippling little giggle were like the breath of spring to these homesick hearts.
So the days slipped happily by in the dovecote on the hill, in spite of Peace's vague fears for the little sister at home who did not get well enough to join them; and before anyone was aware of it, the whole week was gone and Sunday night had arrived. The evening service was over, Peace had said good-night to the pastor and his wife, and the house was in darkness when suddenly there was the sound of hurried steps on the walk, the door-bell jangled harshly, and the brown eyes in the room across the hall flew open just as the front door closed with a bang, and Mrs. Strong's frightened voice called through the darkness, "What is it, John? A telegram?"
"A messenger boy."
"Oh, what is the trouble? Someone hurt or sick at home? Here is a light, dear."
Flickering shadows danced across the walls of Peace's room, she heard the tearing of paper, and then Mr. Strong's quick exclamation, "Elizabeth! It is Allee!" "What is Allee?" A white gown shot out of the door opposite them, and terrified Peace threw herself into the woman's arms, demanding again, "What is Allee? Is she—dead?"
"No, dear," he hastily assured her, provoked to think he had frightened the child so badly; "only ill—quarantined for scarlet fever."
"Scarlet fever!" gasped the girl. "That's what killed Myrtle Perry. Oh, will Allee die, too? Why didn't I stay at home with her?"
"There, there, little girlie, you mustn't cry about it like that," said Mrs. Strong, stroking the brown head in her arms with comforting touches. "Lots of people have scarlet fever and get over it. The letter says Allee's case is not at all severe, but she will be quarantined for some weeks and you can't go home until the house has been fumigated. You must be our girl for a month or two longer. Will that be hard work?"
"N-o, but s'posing she should die! I ought to be there to have it, too."
"No, indeed! That would make it only harder for Grandma Campbell. You must stay here and keep well so they won't be worrying about you, too. Allee isn't going to die, but in a few weeks will be as well as ever."
"S'posing I've caught it already and give it to Glen?"
"Dr. Coates thinks you would have been sick by this time if you were going to have the disease, but he is taking no chances, and has sent some medicine as a preventive."
"What about school?" The case was becoming interesting to Peace, now that she was assured that Allee would not die.
"Oh, you can have another week of vacation from lessons, and then if everything is all right, you can finish your term at Chestnut School. That is only four blocks from here, and Miss Curtis is a splendid principal. I knew her when I went to college, and I am sure you will like her."
This was not exactly what Peace had expected or hoped for. She would have preferred no more school at all, as long as the sisters at home were to have an enforced vacation of several weeks, and her face clouded again as she heard Elizabeth's plan. "But—I can't—I don't want—I would rather—" she stammered.
"Remember your motto and 'scatter sunshine,' dear. It will help the home folks to know you are cheerful and happy here, and it will help us, too."
She had touched the right chord. Peace slowly dried her tears, gave a final gulp or two, and lifted her face once more smiling and serene, saying gravely, "You can bet on me! I won't bawl any more. You folks better get to bed now and not stand here shivering until you catch cold. Good-night again!" With a hearty kiss for each, she trailed away to her tiny room and was soon fast asleep among the pillows.
In spite of her determination to be brave, however, she often found it hard to wear a smiling face during the week which followed the messenger's coming, for much as she wanted a vacation from her books, time hung heavily on her hands. She could not help fretting about Allee lying ill at home, Glen took a sleepy spell and spent many hours each day napping when she wanted to play with him, the little house had soon been put in order, everything was unpacked and in its place, the minister and Elizabeth were compelled to devote much of their time to making the acquaintance of their new parishioners and becoming familiar with this new field of labor; so Peace was necessarily left to her own devices more than was good for her.
To make a bad situation worse, a drizzly spring rain set in, which lasted for days and kept the freedom-loving child a prisoner indoors, when she longed to be dancing in the fresh air and exploring a certain inviting grove which she had discovered on the hillside behind the church.
"I b'lieve it's raining just to spite me," she exclaimed crossly one afternoon as she stood drumming on the window-sill and watching the pearly drops course down the pane in zigzag rivulets. "It just knows how bad I want to get out to play."
Elizabeth looked up from a tiny dress which she was mending carefully, and said in sprightly tones,
"'Is it raining, little flower? Be glad of rain. Too much sun would wither thee, 'Twill shine again. The sky is very black, 'tis true, But just behind it shines the blue.'"
"Oh, yes, you can say that all right," Peace snapped, "cause you ain't just a-dying to get out and dig. Why, Saint Elspeth, the air just fairly smells of angleworms and birds' nests, and I do want to make a garden so bad!"
"Poor girlie," smiled the woman to herself, "what a hard time she would have in life if she could not run and romp all she wanted." But aloud she merely said, "It is too early to make a garden yet, dear. The ground is so cold that the seeds would rot instead of sprouting, and if any little shoots were brave enough to climb through the soil into open air, they probably would get frozen for their trouble. We are apt to have some hard frosts yet this spring. See, the leaves on the trees have scarcely begun to swell yet. They know it isn't time. Be patient a little longer; it can't rain forever."
"It's hard to be patient with nothing to do," sighed the child, pressing her nose flatter and flatter against the glass as she looked up and down the dreary, deserted street, vainly hoping for something to distract her dismal thoughts.
"Have you finished dressing the paper dolls for Allee?"
"Yes, I made ten different suits for every single doll, and there were fifteen, counting in the father and mother and grandma. Saint John has already mailed them. I've read till I'm tired and the back fell off of the book—it wasn't a nice story anyway, 'cause the good girl was always getting whaled for what the bad one did. I whistled Glen to sleep before I knew it and then couldn't wake him up, though I shook and shook him. I've sewed up all today's squares of patch-work and two of tomorrow's; but it isn't int'resting work when you ain't there to tell me stories about them. And anyway, I hate sewing—patch-work 'specially! When I grow up and get married, my husband will have to buy our quilts already made. I'll never waste my time sewing on little snips to hatch up some bed-clothes. They're always covered up with spreads anyway. Rainy days are the dismalest things I know!"
"That is very true if we let it rain inside, too," Elizabeth agreed quietly.
"Let it rain inside! Whoever heard tell of such a thing—'nless the roof was leaky." Peace giggled in spite of her gloom.
"You are letting it rain inside now when you frown and sigh instead of trying to be cheerful and happy in spite of the storm outside. One of our poets says:
"'Whatever the weather may be,' says he, 'Whatever the weather may be, It's the songs ye sing, and the smiles ye wear That's a-making the sunshine everywhere!'"
Peace abruptly ceased her drumming on the window-sill and stared thoughtfully through the wet pane at a row of draggled sparrows chirping blithely on a fence across the muddy street. Then she remarked, "What a lot of poetry you know! Seems 'sif I'd struck a poetic bunch since we left Parker. Grandma and grandpa and Miss Edith and Frances, and now you have taken to talking in rhymes—and they are mostly about sunshine, too."
"'When the days are gloomy Sing some happy song,'"
hummed Elizabeth, leaning suddenly forward and drawing out a drawer in her desk close by. She rummaged through its contents for a moment, and then laid a dainty brown and gold book in the girl's hands, saying, "That reminds me. When I was a little girl not much older than you are now, my mother was very ill for a long time, and my sister Esther and I were sent away from home to live with a lame old aunt in a lonely little house about a mile from the nearest neighbor's. Needless to say, we got very homesick with no one to play with or amuse us, and the days were often so long that we were glad when night came so we could sleep and forget our childish troubles. Though Aunt Nancy was not accustomed to children, she soon discovered our loneliness and set about to mend matters as best she could. But the old house had very little in it for us to play with, the books were all too old for us to understand, and like you, we were not overly fond of sewing. So poor old auntie was at her wit's end to know what to do with us when she happened to think of her diary."
"Did she have many cows?"
"In her diary."
"Oh, child, that is dairy you mean. A diary is a record of each day's events—all the little things that happen from week to week—sort of a written history of one's life."
"H'm, I shouldn't think that would be fun," Peace commented candidly, still holding the unopened volume in her hand, thinking it was another uninteresting story-book. "I don't like writing any better than I do sewing."
"Neither did I, but Esther was rather fond of scribbling, and Aunt Nancy's diary was one of the brightest, sprightliest histories of common, everyday affairs that we ever read, and we were both greatly amused over it. She had kept a faithful record for years—not every day, or even every week, but just when she happened to feel like writing, so it was no drudgery.
"She was quite given to making rhymes, as you call it, and we were astonished to find several very beautiful little poems and stories that she had written just for her own enjoyment; for she had always lived alone a great deal, and these little blank books of hers held the thoughts that she could not speak to other folks because there were no folks to talk with. Esther was several years older than I, and she knew a lady who wrote for magazines. So, unbeknown to Aunt Nancy, she copied a number of the prettiest verses and sent them to this author, who not only had them printed, but begged for more. I never shall forget how pleased Aunt Nancy was, and I think it was that which decided us girls to try keeping a diary, too. We raced each other good-naturedly, to see who could write the queerest fancies or longest rhymes, and many an hour have we whiled away, scribbling in the dusty attic."
"Did you ever get anything printed?" Peace was becoming interested, for Gail had secret ambitions along this line, and such matters as poems, stories and publishers were often discussed in the home circle.
"No," sighed Elizabeth, a trifle wistfully, perhaps, as she thought of that dear dream of her girlhood days. "I soon came to the conclusion that poets are born and not made. But Esther has been quite successful in writing short stories for magazines, and she lays it all to the summer we spent with Aunt Nancy on that dreary farm."
"How long did you write your dairy?"
"Diary, Peace. I am still writing it—"
"Ain't that book full yet?"
"Oh, yes, a dozen or more, but most of them were burned up in the fire at—"
"I thought maybe this was one of them." She held up the brown and gold volume, much disappointed to think it did not contain the record of those early attempts which Elizabeth had so charmingly described.
"No, dear, that is a notebook which I was intending to send John's youngest brother, Jasper, who thinks he wants to be an author, so he might jot down bits of information or interesting anecdotes to help him in his work. However, it just occurred to me that perhaps Peace Greenfield would like such a book to gather up sunbeams in."
"To gather up sunbeams?"
"Yes, dear. Don't you think it would be a nice plan these rainy, dreary days to write down all the cheerful bits of poetry you know or happy thoughts that come to you, or the pretty little fairy tales you and Allee love to make up about the moon lady and the brownies in the dell? You see, I have painted little brownies all along the margins of the various pages—"
"And they are carrying sunflowers," Peace interrupted.
"Sun-flowers if you wish," and Elizabeth made a wry face at her reflection in the mirror. "I called them black-eyed Susans, but sun-flower is a better name for them, because this is to be a sunshine book. Another coincidence—I have written on the fly-leaf the very verse I just quoted:
"It's the songs ye sing, and the smiles ye wear That's a-makin' the sunshine everywhere!'"
"And ain't the fly's leaf dec'rations cute!" Peace pointed a stubby forefinger at the painted brownie chorus, armed with open song-books and broad grins, who seemed waiting only for the signal of the leader facing them with baton raised and arms extended, to burst into rollicking melody. "I think it's a splendid book and you're a nangel to give it to me when you meant it for someone else. But it ought to have a name. Just dairy sounds so milky and barnlike; and I don't like 'sunbeam book' real well, either. What did you call yours?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Esther's was 'Happy Moments,' but I was more ambitious, and called mine 'Golden Thoughts.' How would 'Sunbeams,' or 'Gleams of Sunshine' do for yours?"
"Oh, I like that last one! That's what I'll call it, and I'll begin writing now. Shall I use pen and ink?"
"Ink would be best, wouldn't it? Pencil marks soon get rubbed and dingy."
"That's what I was thinking," Peace answered promptly, for the possibilities of the ink-pot always had held a great charm for her, and at home her privileges in this direction were considerably curtailed, ever since she had dyed Tabby's white kittens black to match their mother. So she drew up her chair before the orderly desk, and began her first literary efforts, having first sorted out five blotters, six pen-holders, two erasers, a knife and a whole box of pen-points to assist her.
It was a little hard at first to know just what to write, but after a few nibbles at the end of her pen, she seemed to collect her thoughts, and commenced scratching away so busily on the clean, white page that Elizabeth smiled and congratulated herself on having so easily solved the problem of what to do with the restless, little chatter-box until she could go back to school the following Monday. There were only three days of that week remaining, and if the book would just hold the child's attention until these were ended, she should count her scheme successful, even though she did have to find another present for Jasper's birthday.
So she smiled with satisfaction, for Peace had become so engrossed with her new amusement that she never heard the door-bell ring, nor the voice of the visitor in the adjoining room, but scribbled away energetically until words failed her, and she paused to think of something to rhyme with "bird." Then her revery came to a sudden end, for through the open door of the parlor floated the words, "And so we decided to adopt her resolutions."
"Poor thing," murmured Peace under her breath. "I s'pose it's another orphan. Beats all how many there are in this world! I am glad she's going to be adopted, though; but if she was mine, I'd change her name to something besides Resolutions. That's a whole lot worse'n Peace. It sounds like war."
She glanced out of the window, and with a subdued shout dropped her pen and rushed for her coat and rubbers. The rain had ceased and the sun was shining! Not only that, but trudging down the muddy hill, hand-in-hand and tearful, were two small, fat cherubs, the first children Peace had seen while she had been visiting the parsonage, except as she met the boys and girls of the Sunday School. Elizabeth had told her that this part of the city was still new, and consequently few families had settled there as yet; but she had longed for other companionship than Glen could give her, and this was too good an opportunity to miss. So, flinging on her wraps, she hurried out of the back door, so as not to disturb Elizabeth and her caller, and ran after the children already at the street crossing, preparing to wade into the rushing torrent of muddy water coursing down the hillside.