"Oh, wait!" she cried breathlessly, but at the sound of her voice both children started guiltily, and with a snarl of anger and defiance, plunged boldly into the flood, not even glancing behind them at the flying, gray-coated figure in pursuit. However, the water was swift in the gutter, the mud very slippery, and the little tots in too great a hurry. So without any warning, two pair of feet shot out from under their owners, two frightened babies plumped flat in the dirty stream, and two voices rose in protest against such an unhappy fate. Nevertheless, when Peace waded in to their rescue, they fought and bit like wild-cats, till she dragged them howling back to the sidewalk and safety. Then abruptly the wails ceased, two pair of round gray eyes stared blankly up at their rescuer, and two voices demanded aggressively, "Who's you?"
"Are you twins?" asked Peace in turn, noticing for the first time how very much alike were the small, snub-nosed, freckled faces of the dirty duet.
"What are your names?"
"Lewie and Loie."
"Lewie and Loie what?"
"Oh, but you must have another name."
"That's all," they stubbornly insisted.
"Where do you live?"
"Haven't you any mamma?"
"But who takes care of you?"
"Nobody," gulped the one called Loie.
"Mittie did, but she runned away and lef' us," added Lewie.
"Where are you going now?"
"To fin' mamma."
"But you said she was dead."
"She just goned away and lef' us, too," murmured Loie, looking very much puzzled.
Peace was delighted. Years and years ago, when her grandfather was a boy, he had adopted a little, homeless orphan and kept him from being taken to the poor-farm. Here were two waifs needing love and care. Who had a better right to adopt them than she who had found them? Grandpa Campbell surely would not turn them away, for did he not know what it was to be homeless and friendless? But she could not take them home while Allee was in bed with scarlet fever, and perhaps the Strongs would not feel that they could open the parsonage doors to two more children, seeing that the house was so very tiny. What could she do with her charges?
There was a rush of feet on the walk behind her, someone gave her a violent push, and she sprawled full length in the gutter. Surprised, drenched to the skin and dazed by her fall, she staggered to her feet only to be knocked down the second time, while a jeering, mocking voice from the sidewalk taunted, "You're a pretty sight now, you nigger-wool kidnapper! Get up and take another dose! I'll teach you to steal children!"
Blind with rage and half choked with mud, Peace shook the water from her eyes and flew at her assailant with vengeance in her heart, pounding right and left with relentless fists wherever she could hit. But the enemy was a larger and stronger child, and it would have gone hard with the brown-eyed maid had not the minister himself arrived unexpectedly upon the scene and separated the two young pugilists, demanding in shocked tones, "Why, Peace, what does this mean? I thought you were above fighting."
"She hit me first!" sputtered Peace, trying to wipe the blood from a long scratch on her cheek.
"She stole my kids!"
"They are orphans, Saint John, and I was going to adopt them like my grandfather did Grandpa Campbell."
"They ain't either orphans!" shouted the other.
"They said their mother was dead and they had no home."
"Mamma goned away and locked up the house," volunteered Lewie from the parsonage porch where he had taken refuge with his twin sister at the first sign of the fray.
"Are you their sister?" sternly demanded Mr. Strong of the older girl.
"No, I ain't! They live next door and Mrs. Hoyt left the kids with me till she got back."
"Where is your house?"
"On top of the hill," she muttered sullenly.
"Then how does it come they are so far from home?"
"They ran away."
"She shut us out of hern house," said Loie, "and we went to fin' mamma."
Just at this moment the parsonage door opened, and Elizabeth's visitor stepped out on the piazza, almost stumbling over the crouching twins; and at sight of them she exclaimed in surprise, "Why, Lewis and Lois Hoyt, what are you doing down here? Does your mother know where you are?"
"Ah, Mrs. Lane, how do you do?" said the minister, extending his hand in greeting. "Are these tots neighbors of yours?"
"They live just across the street from us. I often take care of them when the mother is away." Then her eye chanced to fall upon the shrinking figure of Mittie, and she demanded wrathfully, "Have you been up to your tricks again, Mittie Cole? I shall certainly report you to your father this time sure. I will take the twins home, Mr. Strong. It is too bad your little guest has been hurt, but you can mark my words, she was not to blame. There is trouble wherever Mittie goes. I don't see why Mrs. Hoyt ever left the children with her in the first place. She might have known what would happen."
Shooing the little brood ahead of her, she marched out of sight up the hill, and Peace followed the minister into the house, wailing disconsolately, "I thought they were orphans and I could adopt them like grandpa did."
"But think how nice it is that they have a mother and father and a nice home of their own. Aren't you glad they are not friendless waifs?"
It was a new thought. Peace paused in her lament, and then with a bright smile answered, "It is nicer that way, ain't it? 'Cause even if they had been orphans, maybe grandpa would think he had his hands full with the six of us, and couldn't make room for any more. Lewie can bite like a badger and I 'magine grandpa wouldn't stand for much of that. Anyway I wouldn't. When I grow bigger and have a house of my own, then I can adopt all the children I want to, can't I? Just like that lady that was here a minute ago."
"Mrs. Lane? Why, she has no adopted children!" exclaimed Elizabeth, who had been a silent spectator of part of the scene.
"But I heard her tell you so myself," insisted Peace.
"This afternoon while I was writing in my book. She said they decided to adopt Resol—Resol—something."
Fortunately the minister was lighting the fire in the kitchen stove, so Peace could not see the laughter in his face, and Elizabeth had long since learned to hide her mirth from the keen childish eyes, so she explained, "It was not a child, Peace, which she was talking about. Doesn't your Missionary Band ever adopt resolutions of any sort in their business meetings?"
"I never saw any they adopted, though we're s'porting two orphan heathen in India."
Elizabeth could not refrain from smiling slightly, but she carefully explained to Peace the meaning of the perplexing phrase, as she bustled about her preparations for supper, and the incident was apparently forgotten.
While she was putting things to rights for the night, long after the children had been tucked away in their beds, she found the preacher seated by her desk chuckling over a little book among the papers before him, and peeping over his shoulder she saw it was the brown and gold volume which she had given Peace that afternoon. On the fly-leaf, just above the quaint brownie chorus, in straggling inky letters, Peace had penned the title, "Glimmers of Gladness," this being as near as she could recall the name Elizabeth had suggested. Then followed the most extraordinarily original diary the woman had ever seen, and she laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks, as she read the words written with such painstaking care and plenty of ink:
"This is the first dairy I ever kept. Saint Elspeth gave me the book which she ment for Jasper Strong, St. John's brother who wood rather be a writer than a huming boy. He ought to change places with me, cause I'd rather be a live girl any day than a norther which is what Gale wants to be and that is one reason I am going to keep a dairy as she may find it usful when she gets to be famus like St. Elspeth's sister Ester. I should not want to keep a dairy if I had to tend to it every day, but St. Elspeth says just to rite when I feel like it which I don't s'pose will be offen as there is usuly something to do which I like better. I am riting today becaus it rains and I cant go out doors.
"The sparrow is playing in the mud Don't I wish I could, too. He don't need rubbers on his feet, Behind the clouds it's blue. He wears feathers stead of close And to him the rain aint wet. I wisht that I wore feathers, too, Then I'd stay out doors you bet.
"The raindrop fairy is my newest fairy. I'll tell Allee all about it when she gets well enough so's I can go home. They are very wet but it aint their fault. If they wuz dry they wouldnt be water. They go about doing lots of good to the trees and flowers which couldnt grow without water, and we mustn't fuss cause there is always sun somewhere and its a cumfert to no it wont rain all the time. When the storm is over the raindrop faries strech a net of red and blue and green and yellow &C akros the sky which means it wont rain any more until the next time. Thats the way with huming beings. If we skowl and growl we're making a huming thunder-storm, but just as soon as the smile comes out thats the rainbow and shows the sun is shining, 'cause there is never a rainbow without the sun is in the clouds behind it. I'm going to smile and smile after this and be a reglar sunflour all myself."
"Dear little Peace," murmured Elizabeth, as she closed the book and laid it back on the desk. "It's mean to laugh at her precious diary, particularly when she has taken such pains with it and tried her best to please."
"She'll make an author yet," chuckled the minister. "I am proud of our little philosopher. She is scattering more sunshine than she dreams of, and some day will harvest a big crop of sunflowers."
A VOICE FROM THE LILAC BUSHES
It was a glorious morning in May. Spring had really come at last with its warm, life-giving sunshine, and the air was heavy with the smell of growing things. Overhead the blue sky was clear and cloudless, underfoot the new grass made a thick carpet invitingly cool and refreshing. The trees were sporting fresh garlands of leaves, and in woods and gardens the bright-colored blossoms glowed and blushed. How beautiful it all was!
Peace paused at Elizabeth's side in the open doorway to drink in the rich fragrance of the lilacs, whose purple plumes nodded so temptingly from the hedge across the way. For days it had been part of her morning program to rush out of doors as soon as she was dressed to sniff hungrily at the lilac-laden air, but never before had they smelled so sweet nor looked so beautiful and feathery as they did this morning, for now they had reached the height of their perfection. Tomorrow some of their beauty would be gone; they would be growing old.
"Oh, Elspeth, ain't they lovely?" she sighed. "Don't they make you feel like heaven? Wouldn't you like a great, big bunch of them under your nose always? I wonder why the folks who live there don't give them away. I should if they b'longed to me. Think how many people would be glad to get them. May I go over in the field to play? I won't break one of Saint John's plants or touch a single lilac, truly, if I can just play where I can smell their smell as it comes fresh from the bush. We only get the wee, ragged edges of it over here."
Elizabeth came out of her own revery at the sound of Peace's gusty sigh of longing, and readily gave her consent, as this was Saturday morning and school did not keep. So, like a bird trying its wings after a long imprisonment, the brown-eyed maid with arms flapping and curls bobbing, skipped happily across the road to the field where she had helped the minister plant a little vegetable garden, and which already was lined with irregular rows of pale green shoots where beans and potatoes, turnips and cabbages, had pushed their way up through the black earth.
Peace was even prouder of the small truck patch than the preacher himself, if such a thing were possible, and it was a favorite pastime of both these gardeners to walk back and forth between the rows each day and count the tender sprouts which had appeared during the night. So this morning from force of habit, Peace strolled up and down the length of the garden, counting in a sing-song fashion as she greedily filled nostrils and lungs with the sweet scent of the lilac bushes just beyond, drawing nearer and nearer the hedge with its delicate, dainty sprays.
Unconsciously her counting changed into the humming refrain of the Gleaner's motto song, and she danced lightly down the last row of crisp cornblades, joyously chanting words which fitted into the happy music: "Oh, you pretty lilacs, growing by the wall! How I'd like to have you for my very own. I would pick your blossoms, lavender and white, and give them all to sick folks, shut in from the light.—Why, that rhymed all of its own self!"
She paused abruptly beside the lilac bushes, her arms still uplifted and fingers outstretched as if beckoning to the plumy sprays above her Head. "Isn't it queer how such things will happen when if I'd been trying to make poetry in my dairy I couldn't have thought of those words for an hour? I guess it was the lilacs that did it. Oh, you are so beautiful! You'd make anything rhyme, wouldn't you? What is it that gives you your sweetness? I wish you could tell me the secret. Oh, you lovely lilacs, growing up so high; swinging in the sunshine—" Again her made-up words came to a sudden end, and she stood motionless, her head cocked to one side, listening intently to a brilliant trill of melody from the other side of the hedge.
"There goes my bird again! Saint John says it must be a canary which b'longs to the stone house that owns these lilacs, but I don't b'lieve it would sing like that if it was shut up in a cage."
She held her breath again to harken to the music, then puckered her lips and mocked its song. The feathered musician broke off in the midst of his rhapsody, surprised at the strange echo of his own notes. There was a moment of silence; then he began again, and once more Peace mimicked the warbler. This time there was a stir on the other side of the bushes, and the purple-tasseled branches were cautiously parted where the foliage was thinnest, but Peace was too much absorbed in watching the topmost boughs—for the music seemed to come from overhead somewhere—to see the startled eyes looking at her through the tangle of leaves and blossoms. All unconscious of her hidden audience, she joyously trilled the canary bird's chorus.
Then miracle of miracles—or so it seemed to Peace—there was a whir of wings, and a bright-eyed, yellow-coated, saucy, little bird perched on a twig just above her head. Peace gasped and was silent.
The bird chirped a note of defiance and hopped to the branch below. Peace advanced a cautious step; the canary did not retreat, but tipped its dainty head sidewise and eyed the child curiously. A small brown hand shot out unexpectedly, dexterously, and the yellow songster found itself a helpless prisoner in the child's tight grasp.
Peace was almost as surprised as the bird. She had not really thought to capture the creature so easily, and to find it in her hand sent a thrill of delight through her whole being. She snuggled it close in her neck and crooned:
"You little darling! Saint John was right, you are a canary! But I was right, too. You ain't caged. I'm mighty glad I've caught you. I always did like pets. I wonder what you will think of Muffet, grandma's canary? If I just had these lovely lilacs now, little birdie, I'd be perfectly happy. But a bird in the hand is worth—a whole bushel of blossoms. I guess I'll take you home to Elspeth—"
"Oh, you mustn't!" cried a distressed voice behind the purple tassels. "That is my bird, Gypsy. I just let him loose to see if it was really you mocking him. Bring him home, won't you? And I'll give you all the lilacs you want."
Startled at the sound of a human voice almost at her elbow when she could see no sign of the speaker, Peace let go her hold on the frightened captive, and with a relieved chirp, it flew out of sight among the thick branches. But she made no attempt to follow its flight, she was too scared. "Are—are—was it a real woman which did that talking?" chattered Peace, wetting her lips with her tongue.
"Yes," answered the voice, with just the tinge of a laugh in it. "I live in the stone house this side of the lilac bushes. I saw you through the leaves and heard what you said, but won't you please bring my little Gypsy home? I'll give you all the flowers you want. Go down to the road and come in through the front gate. I am here in my chair."
"Your bird has gone home already," Peace answered, reassured by this explanation. "But I'll come and get those lilacs you spoke about."
She ran nimbly down the length of the lilac hedge, dodged out of sight around the corner, and appeared the next moment at the iron gate which shut out the street from the grand stone house with its wide lawns, great oaks, smooth, flower-bordered walks, and splashing fountain.
"Oh, how beau-ti-ful!" cried the child in delight, as the gate swung shut behind her. "I've always wanted to know what this place looked like, but the tall hedge all along the fence is too thick to see through and one can get only a teenty peek through the gate. There is your bird on top of its cage now. See, I didn't keep him, though I'd like to. He is a splendid singer. I sh'd think you'd be the happiest lady in the whole world with all these lovely flowers and—are you a lady?"
For the first time since entering the great gate, Peace turned her big, brown eyes full upon the occupant of the reclining chair in the shade of the lilac bushes, and her lively chatter faltered, for the face pillowed among the silken cushions seemed neither a child's nor yet a woman's. The eyes, intensely blue and clear, the broad, high forehead, the thin cheeks and colorless lips, even the heavy braids of brown hair with their auburn lights, did not seem to belong to a mere mortal. And yet she could not be an angel, for even Peace's youthful, untrained mind swiftly read the bitterness and rebellion which lurked in those deep, wonderful eyes. It was as if some doomed soul were looking out through the bars of a prison fortress, without a single ray of hope to break the gloom, without a single thought to cheer or comfort. And so Peace, in her childish ignorance, asked, "Are you a lady?"
"A woman grown," the sweet voice answered, and a faint smile of amusement flitted across the marble-white face.
"Your—your hair is in braids," stammered Peace, unable to put her subtle feelings into words.
"It is more restful that way," the speaker sighed; then again that fleeting smile lighted up the beautiful features, and holding out her hand to the puzzled child, she said coaxingly, "Tell me about yourself. Is it really you who whistles so divinely in the garden each morning? I have heard it so often but never could locate it before. Aunt Pen thought it must be another canary at the parsonage. It always seemed to come from that direction."
"That's 'cause Saint John and I live there. He whistles, too, though I do it the best."
"Saint John?" The flicker of amusement became a genuine smile.
"That's the new preacher of Hill Street Church. He used to be our minister in Parker and he lets me call him by his front name when we are alone, but it was so easy to forget and do it when we weren't alone that I named him Saint John, 'cause Faith says he is my pattern—no patron saint. I call Elizabeth Saint Elspeth, too, for the same reason. She is his wife."
"But I thought you were their little girl."
"Mercy, no! They ain't old enough to have a little girl my age yet. Glen is their only children. I'm just visiting."
"You have been with them ever since they came here, haven't you?"
"Almost. They were a week ahead of me. They moved in from Parker last March, the very week before our spring vacation from school, and they begged grandpa so hard to let me come and help them settle that he said I might. Then Allee got the scarlet fever, so I had to stay for a time. Just as she was getting well so they 'xpected to fumergate 'most any day, Cherry went to work and caught it, and now Hope is in bed. There are two more yet to have it, 'nless you count me, and I ain't going to get it. I don't think Gail and Faith will, either, 'cause they have been staying with Frances Sherrar ever since the doctor decided he knew what ailed Allee. Anyway, they had it when they were little."
"What quaint names!" murmured the lady, softly repeating them one by one.
"Yes, they are, but as it ain't our fault, we've quit fretting about 'em. Our grandfather was a minister, and he named us—all but Gail and Allee. Papa named the oldest, and mamma named the youngest. Grandpa fixed up all the rest."
The ludicrous look of resignation in the small round face was too much for the questioner, and she burst into a rippling peal of laughter, so hearty that a much older woman popped a surprised face out of the door to see what was the matter. Peace caught a glimpse of her as she vanished within doors once more, and demanded, "Who is that?"
"That's a quaint name, too. I'd as soon be called 'pencil'," she retaliated.
"It isn't very common these days," smiled the woman. "The real name is Penelope, but I shortened it to 'Pen.' Poor Aunt Pen, she has a hard time of it."
"Why? I sh'd think it would be easy work living in such a beautiful place as this."
"A beautiful place isn't everything in life," came the bitter retort, and the rebellious look clouded the lovely eyes once more.
"No, it ain't," Peace acknowledged; "but it's a whole lot. Just s'posing you had to live in a mite of an ugly house without nice things to eat or wear and with no father or mother to take care of you, and a mortgage you couldn't pay, and an old skinflint of a man ready to slam you outdoors and gobble up the farm, furniture and everything, the minute the mortgage was due. How'd you like that?"
"Have you no father or mother?" The voice was very soft and sweet again, and the blue eyes glowed tenderly.
Peace shook her head. "They are both inside the gates."
"Then who takes care of you?"
"Grandpa Campbell, what was adopted by my own grandpa when he was a boy."
"Tell me about it, won't you, dear?"
So Peace related the pathetic story of the two souls who had gone into the Great Beyond, leaving the helpless orphan band to battle by themselves; of the struggle the little brown house had witnessed; of the tramp who came begging his breakfast, and afterwards proved to be the beloved President of the University; and of the beautiful change which had come in their fortunes when he had adopted the whole flock.
When she had finished her recital there were tears in the blue eyes, and the white-faced lady murmured compassionately, "Poor little sisters! There are so many orphans in this big world."
Something in her tone and the far-away expression of her eyes impelled Peace to say with conviction, "You are an orphan, too."
"Since you were a little girl?"
"Since I was five years old."
"Oh, as little as Allee when mamma died! Wasn't there anyone to take care of you? Did your Aunt Pen adopt you?"
"Aunt Pen has always lived with us. I don't remember any other mother."
"And did you always live here?"
"Yes, I was born here. It wasn't part of the city then."
"But you don't look real old."
"I am not real old. I was twenty-four last November."
"And Gail was nineteen the same month! You're only four, five years older than she is. That's not much—but there's a bigger difference."
"Oh, she looks 'sif she liked to live better'n you do."
The woman drew a long, shivering breath and closed her eyes as if a spasm of pain had seized her; and Peace, frightened at the death-like pallor of the face, quavered, "Oh, don't faint! What is the matter? Are you sick? Or is it just a chill? Maybe you better run around a bit until you get warm."
The deep, unfathomable blue eyes opened, and the voice said bitterly, "I can never run again. I must lie in this chair all the rest of my life with nothing to do but think, think, think! Do you wonder now that I am not happy? Do you understand now why Aunt Pen has a hard time? Do you see the reason for that tall, thick hedge all around the yard?"
"No," Peace replied bluntly. "I can't see a mite of sense in it! If I had to live in a chair all my days, I'd want it where I could watch the world go by. I'd cut down all the hedges and let the sun shine in. If I couldn't run about myself, I'd just watch the folks that did have good feet. I'd wave my hands at the children and give 'em flowers, and they'd come and talk to me when I was tired of reading. I'd have a bird like you've got, and I'd make a pet of it, too. I'd have more'n one; I'd have a whole m'nagerie of dogs and cats and rabbits and squirrels and—and ponies, maybe, and a monkey or two. And I'd teach them to do tricks, and then I'd call all the poor little children who can't go to the circus to see my animals perform. I'd have gardens of flowers for the sick people and vegetables for those who haven't any place to raise their own and no money to buy them. That's what Saint John is going to do with all they don't use at the parsonage. I'd make a park of my back yard and let dirty children play there so's they would not get run over in the street; I'd—oh, there are so many things I'd do to enjoy myself!"
Peace paused for breath, the well of her imagination run dry, but her face was so radiant that instinctively her listener knew these were not idle words, though she could not keep the hard tone out of her voice as she answered, "Ah, that is easy enough to say, but—wait until you are where I am now, and I think you will find it lots harder to practice what you preach. You will turn your face to the wall, say good-bye to those who you thought were your friends, build a high fence around yourself and hide—hide from the world and everything!"
"Oh, no," Peace protested, shuddering at the picture she had drawn. "I should die if I couldn't see the sun and flowers and kind faces of the folks I love. But—it—would be—awfully hard never to walk again."
"Hard? It is torture!" She had forgotten that she was talking to a mere child, one who could not understand what it was to have dearest ambitions thwarted, one who could not even know yet what it was to have ambitions. "I had dreamed of being a great singer some day—"
"Oh, do you sing?" cried Peace, who was passionately fond of music in whatever guise it came.
"Masters said I could—"
"Then please sing for me. I can only whistle, and then folks say,
"'Whistling girls and crowing hens Always come to some bad ends.'
"I'd like awfully much to hear you sing."
"Oh, I don't sing any more! That is all past now; but oh, how I loved it! We were going to Europe, Aunt Pen and I, and when we came back after months and years of study, I thought I should be a—Jenny Lind, perhaps. I thought of it by day, I dreamed of it by night. It was everything to me. And then—my horse fell—and here I am."
"Was it long ago?" whispered Peace, strangely stirred by the passionate words of the girl before her.
"And you've been here ever since?"
Oh, the hopelessness of the words, the bitterness of the face!
Involuntarily Peace turned her eyes away, and as her glance fell upon the delicate bloom of the lilac bushes beside her, she began to hum under her breath, "Oh, you lovely lilacs, growing up so high."
"Sing to me," commanded the lame girl imperiously.
"Sing? I can't sing! All I can do is whistle."
"But you were singing just now."
"I was humming."
"Don't quibble!" A faint smile smoothed away the hard lines about the young mouth. "Please sing that little tune for me. I have heard you so often in the garden and that seems quite a favorite of yours, but I can never make out the words."
"That's 'cause the words ain't usu'ly alike."
"Why, Allee and me have always fitted talking words into our song music and—"
"I don't understand, I am afraid."
"Why, we just sing things instead of talking them like other folks would. They don't rhyme, but they fit into tunes which we like, and our Gleaners' motto song is our favorite, so that's the one we usu'ly hum, and that's how you hear it so much."
"Then sing the motto song. The tune is very pretty."
"Yes, it is pretty, but the reason we like it so well is 'cause it sounds glad. We never can sing it when we're cross or bad. It's made just for sunshine."
Softly she began to chant the words:
"'In a world where sorrow Ever will be known Where are found the needy And the sad and lone.'"
Peace was right in saying that she could not sing, and yet her happy voice, warbling out those joyous words, made very sweet music that bright May morning. The lines of weariness gradually left the invalid's face, a feeling of rest stole over her, and with a tired little sigh, she closed her eyes.
"'When the days are gloomy, Sing some happy song, Meet the world's repining With a courage strong;
"'Go with faith undaunted Thro' the ills of life, Scatter smiles and sunshine O'er its toil and strife,'"
piped Peace, staring at the waving plumes of lavender above her head.
"'Sca-atter sunshine all along your wa-ay, Cheer and bless and bri-ighten—'"
The song ceased in the midst of the chorus.
The big blue eyes flashed open and the lame girl demanded in surprise. "Why did you stop?"
"Oh," breathed Peace, a look of great relief passing over her face, "I thought sure you'd gone to sleep and I wouldn't get my lilacs after all."
"You little goosie! I don't go to sleep that easily. Sing the chorus again for me, and then Hicks shall cut all the flowers you can carry."
"He better begin now, then, 'cause the chorus ain't long and it sounds 'sif Elspeth was calling me. I've been out of sight from the parsonage quite a spell and likely she's getting anxious. Besides, Glen may be awake and wanting me."
"Very well," she laughed. "Hicks shall begin right away. See, there he comes with his basket and scissors. Now sing."
So Peace repeated the sprightly chorus with a vim, and was rewarded with such a huge bouquet of the fragrant blossoms that she was almost hidden from sight as she stood clasping them tightly in her arms, and exclaiming in rapture, "All for me? Oh, dear Lilac Lady, I didn't 'xpect that many! You better have Aunt Pen put some of these in the house for you."
"No, I don't want them in my house!" exclaimed the girl fiercely. "They are all for you—and Saint Elspeth."
"Oh, she'll love you for sending them. Can I bring her over to see you? Her and Saint John?"
"No, I don't care to meet them. Saint John has already called, but—I sent him away again."
"Then—I s'pose—you won't care to have me call again either."
This beautiful garden seemed like the Promised Land to Peace's childish eyes, and the thought of never being allowed to enter it again was dreadful.
"Oh, yes, do come again! You must come again! Come every day. No, not every day, some days I couldn't see you if you came. I will hang a white cloth on the lilac bushes—see,—on the other side, where you can see it from the parsonage, and you will come then, won't you?"
"Yes, if Elspeth doesn't need me and Glen is asleep. He likes flowers, too, even if he is just a baby, and he never tears them to pieces."
"I'll have Hicks cut you some tulips—"
"You better not today. I'll get them next time I come. These are all I can carry now, and they are a lot too many for our little parsonage. But I'm awful glad you gave me such a big bunch, 'cause there are ever so many of the church people sick, and Elspeth will be so pleased to have me distribit bouquets amongst 'em. Some of 'em it will be like slinging coals of fire at their heads, too. There's old Deacon Hopper for one. He doesn't like Saint John and calls him a meddlesome monkey of a minister. Now he's sick, I'll take him a bunch of lilacs and tell him the meddlesome monkey's minister has sent him some flowers and hopes he soon gets onto his feet again.
"Mittie Cole is another that needs some fire on her head. She pushed me into the gutter three times the day I tried to adopt the runaway twins, and we'd have had a grand scrimmage if Saint John hadn't happened along to stop it. But she's got lung fever now, and there was days the doctor said she wouldn't live. I reckon she doesn't feel much like fighting any more, but likely she'll enjoy the smell of these lovely lilacs. She seemed awful glad to see me the day I carried her some chicken broth.
"The Foster baby is sick, and Grandma Deane, and little Freddie James, and Mrs. Hoover, and Dan'l Fielding. You see that's quite a bunch, and it will take a big lot of flowers to go around. I'll tell 'em all that you sent 'em—"
"No, indeed!" There was real alarm in her voice. "Because I did not send them. I gave them to you."
"But if you hadn't given them to me, I couldn't share 'em with other folks, so it's really you who is to blame. You—you don't care if I give some away, do you?"
"Certainly not, dear. You may give them all away if it will make you any happier."
"Oh, it does! I just love to see sick faces smile when someone brings in flowers to smell or nice things to eat. Miss Edith sometimes takes us to the hospital with bouquets to distribit, and my! how glad the patients are to get them. They say it is almost as good as a breath of real, genuine air. I'm going with Saint Elspeth tomorrow afternoon—"
"Then you must come over here and get some more lilacs. Hicks will cut all you can carry."
"Oh, do you mean it? You darling Lilac Lady—that's what I mean to call you always, 'cause you give away so many lilacs to make other folks happy. I'll bring the biggest basket I can find. There is Elspeth calling again. I must hurry home."
"You haven't told me your name yet. I forgot to ask it before, but if I am to be your Lilac Lady, I must know what to call you, too."
"Peace—Peace Greenfield. Good-bye. I'll be here tomorrow just the minute dinner is over."
The blue eyes followed her longingly as she danced away through the fresh clover and disappeared beyond the heavy gates. Then the lame girl turned in her chair,—almost against her will, it seemed—and looked up at the fragrant purple plumes nodding above her head. "Peace," she murmured. "How odd! 'The peace which passeth understanding.'"
A PICNIC IN THE ENCHANTED GARDEN
After that Peace came often to the handsome stone house, half hidden from the road by its thick hedges and giant trees. Almost daily the white cloth fluttered its summons from the lilac bushes, and Elizabeth, having heard the sad story of the young girl mistress, rejoiced that the tumble-haired, merry-hearted little romp could bring even a gleam of sunshine into that darkened life.
At first it was the great, beautiful gardens which lured the child through the iron gates, for she could not understand the different moods of the imperious young invalid, and secretly stood somewhat in awe of her. But gradually the natural childish vivacity and quaint philosophy of the smaller maid tore down the barriers behind which the older girl had so long screened herself, and Peace found to her great amazement that the white-faced invalid, who could never leave her chair again, was a wonderful story-teller and a perfect witch at inventing new games and planning delightful surprises to make each visit a real event for this guest. So the calls grew more and more frequent and the chance acquaintance blossomed into a deep, tender friendship.
Of course, Peace did not realize how much sweetness and sunshine she was bringing into the garden with her, but in her ignorance supposed that the many visits were all for her own happiness. How could she know that her lively prattle was making the weary days bearable for the frail sufferer? And had anyone tried to tell her what an important part she was playing in that life drama, she would not have believed it. Perhaps it was the very unconsciousness of her power which made her such a beautiful comrade for the aching heart imprisoned in the garden. At any rate, Peace not only made friends with the lonely Lilac Lady, but she also captivated gentle Aunt Pen and the adoring Hicks, who met her with beaming faces whenever she entered the garden, and sighed when the brief hours were over. But none of them would listen to her bringing Elspeth or the minister, much to her bewilderment.
"It isn't because I don't want them," explained Aunt Pen one day when Peace had pleaded with her and had been grieved at her refusal. "Your Lilac Lady isn't ready to receive other callers yet. You can't understand now, dearie. God grant you may never understand. She shut herself up four years ago when she found out that she would never get well enough to walk again, and you are the first person she has ever seen since that time, except her own household and the physician. Perhaps you are the opening wedge, child. Oh, I trust it may be so!"
Peace did not understand what an opening wedge was, but it did not sound very appetizing, and she had grave doubts as to whether she had better continue her visits under such conditions. But when she went to Elizabeth with the story, that wise little woman answered her by singing:
"'Slightest actions often Meet the sorest needs, For the world wants daily, Little kindly deeds; Oh, what care and sorrow You may help remove, With your songs and courage, Sympathy and love.'"
Peace was comforted and went back to the shady garden with a deeper desire to brighten the long, dreary, aimless days of the helpless invalid. She said no more about introducing her beloved minister's family, but in secret she still mourned because the lame girl so steadfastly refused to welcome her dearest friends.
So the days flew swiftly by and the month of May was gone. Summer was early that year, and the first day of June dawned sultry and still over the sweltering city. It was a half-holiday at the Chestnut School, so Peace returned home at noon, hot, perspiring, but radiant at the thought of no more lessons till the morrow. She came a round-about way in order to pass the great gates of the stone mansion, hoping to catch a glimpse of the well-known chair under the lilac bushes; but the lawn was deserted, and she was disappointed, for she had counted much on spending these unexpected leisure hours in the cool garden with the lame girl.
To add to her woe, she found Elizabeth lying on the couch in the darkened study, suffering from a nerve-racking headache, and the preacher, looking very droll togged out in his little wife's kitchen-apron, was flying about serving up the scorched, unseasoned dinner for the forlorn family. He was too much concerned over the illness of the mistress and the unfinished condition of his next Sunday's sermon to sample his own cooking, and as Glen fell asleep over his bowl of bread and milk, Peace was left entirely to her own devices when the meal was ended.
It was too hot to romp, it was too hot to read, and there was no one to play with. She swung idly in the hammock until the very motion was maddening. She prowled through the grove behind the church, she dug industriously in the small flower garden under the east window, she did everything she could think of to make the time pass quickly, but at length threw herself once more into the hammock with a discouraged sigh.
"School might better have kept all day. It is horrid to stay home with nothing to do that's int'resting. I've watched all the afternoon for the Lilac Lady's table-cloth and haven't had a peek of it yet. But there—I don't s'pose she'd know there was only one session today, so she ain't apt to hang it out until time for school to let out, like she usu'ly does. Guess I'll just walk over in that d'rection and see if she ain't under the trees yet. It's been two days since I've seen a glimpse of her. Hicks says she's been dreadful bad again. P'raps I better take her some flowers this time—and there is that little strawberry pie Elspeth made for my very own. I might take her some sandwiches, too,—yes, I'll do it!"
She tiptoed softly into the house, so as not to disturb the two slumberers, and went in search of the minister in order to lay her plan before him; but he, too, had fallen asleep and lay sprawled full length by the open window, beside his half-written manuscript.
"If that ain't just the way!" spluttered Peace under her breath. "I never did go to tell anyone nice plans but they went to sleep or were too busy to be disturbed. Well, I'll do it anyway. I know they won't care a single speck. I'll ask 'em when I get home and they are awake."
Back to the kitchen she stole, and into the tiny pantry, where for the next few minutes she industriously cut and buttered bread, made sandwiches, sliced cake and packed lunch enough for a dozen in the picnic hamper which she found hanging on a nail in the shed. With this on her arm, she returned to the little garden under the window and dug up her choicest flowers, stacked them in an old shoe-box with plenty of black dirt, as she had often seen Hicks do, and departed with her luggage for the stone house across the corner.
She paused at the heavy gates, wondering for the first time whether or not she would be welcome at this time, when no signal had fluttered from the lilac bushes, but at sight of the motionless figure under the largest oak, her doubts vanished, and, boldly opening the gate, she marched up the gravel path and across the lawn toward the familiar chair, bearing the lunch-basket on one arm and a huge box of cheerful-faced pansies on the other.
Hearing the click of the latch and the sound of steps on the walk, the lame girl frowned impatiently, and without opening her eyes, said peevishly, "If you have any errand here, go on to the house. I won't be bothered."
"Oh, I'm sorry," cried Peace in mournful tones. "I brought a picnic with me, but—"
The big blue eyes flashed wide in surprise, and their owner demanded sharply, "Why did you come this time of day? I have not sent for you."
"I didn't say you had. I came 'cause I thought you'd be glad to see me, but if you ain't, I'll go straight home again and eat my picnic all alone, and plant my flowers in my garden again. You don't have to have them if you don't want 'em."
She whirled on her heel and stamped angrily across the grass toward the gate, too hurt to keep the tears from her eyes, and too proud to let her companion see how deeply wounded she was.
Astonished at this flash of gunpowder, the lame girl cried contritely, "Oh, don't go away, Peace! I didn't mean to be cross to you. This has been such a hard week, dear, I hardly know what I am doing half the time."
"Is the pain so bad?" whispered Peace tenderly, dropping on her knees before the sufferer, having already forgotten her own grievance in her longing to ease and comfort the poor, aching back.
"It is better now," answered the girl, smiling wanly at the sympathetic face bending over her. "The heat always makes it worse, but I do believe it is growing cooler now. Feel the breeze? What have you brought me? A picnic lunch!"
"Yes—my strawberry pie—"
"Did Mrs. Strong know?"
"She made the pie all for my very own self to do just what I please with. Don't you like strawberry pie?" Peace paused in her task of unpacking the basket to look up questioningly at the face among the pillows.
"Oh, yes, dear, I am very fond of it, and it is sweet of you to share yours with me. I shall put my half away for tea."
"Oh, you mustn't do that," protested the ardent little picnicker, passing her a plate of generously thick, ragged looking sandwiches, spread with great chunks of butter fresh from the ice-box, and filled with delicate slices of pink ham. "I want you to eat it with me. This is a 'specially good pie, and Elspeth can 'most beat Faith when it comes to dough. Mrs. Deacon Hopper sent us the ham—a whole one, all boiled and baked with sugar and cloves. It's simply fine! The lilacs I took the deacon did the work all right. He was so tickled that he got over being grumpy, and calls Saint John a promising preacher now. Please taste the sandwiches. I know you'll like them even if I didn't get the bread cut real even and nice. Then after we get through eating, I'll plant the pansies."
"Pansies!" She stared past the brown head bobbing over the hamper, to the box of nodding blossoms in the grass. "What made you bring me pansies?"
"'Cause you ain't got any, and no garden looks quite finished without some of those flowers in it. Don't you think so?"
"I de-spise pansies!"
Peace eyed her in horrified amazement an instant, then swept the rejected blossoms out of sight beneath the basket cover, saying tartly, "You needn't be ugly about it! I can take them home again. I s'posed of course you liked them. I didn't know the garden was empty of them 'cause you wouldn't have them. I think they are the prettiest flower growing, next to lilacs and roses."
"Those mocking little faces?"
"Those darling, giggly smiles!"
"Didn't you ever see a giggling pansy?"
"No, I can't say I ever did." A faint trace of amusement stole around the corners of the white lips.
"Well, here's one. Oh, I forgot! You de-spise them!" She had half lifted a gorgeous yellow blossom from the hidden box, but at second thought dropped it back in the loose earth.
"Let me see it!" The Lilac Lady extended one blue-veined hand with the imperious gesture which Peace had learned to know and obey. Silently she thrust the moist plant into the outstretched fingers, and gravely watched while the keen blue eyes studied the golden petals which, as Peace had declared, seemed fairly teeming with sunshine and laughter. "It does—look rather—cheerful," she conceded at length.
"That is just what I thought. I named it Hope."
"Hope! The name is appropriate."
"Yes, it is very 'propriate. Hope is always so sunshiny and smily—"
"Oh, you named it for your sister."
"Who did you think it was named for?"
"I didn't understand. Is it a habit of yours to name all your flowers?"
"N-o, not all. But we gener'ly name our pansies, Allee and me. See, this beautiful white one with just a tiny speck of yellow in the middle I called my Lilac Lady."
"Why?" A queer little choke came in her throat at these unexpected words, and she turned her eyes away that Peace might not see the tears which dimmed her sight.
"You looked so sweet and like a nangel the first time I saw you, and this pansy has a reg'lar angel face."
"Don't I look sweet and like an angel any more?"
"Some days—whenever you want to. But lots of times I guess you don't care how you look," was the reply, as the busy fingers sorted out the different colored blossoms from the box, all unconscious of the stinging arrow she had just shot into the heart of her friend. "This blue one's Allee. Blue means truth, grandma says, and Allee is true blue. Red in our flag stands for valor. Cherry ain't very brave, but I named this for her anyway, in hopes she'd ask why and I could tell her. Then maybe when she found out that folks thought she was a 'fraid cat, she'd get over it. Don't you think she would?"
"Perhaps—if you were her teacher," the older girl answered absently. "Who is the black one?"
"Grandpa. Isn't it a whopper? He is real tall but not fat like the flower. He always wears black at the University—that's why I picked that one for him. This one is grandma and here is Gail. The striped one is Faith. She is good in streaks, but she can be awful cross sometimes, too,—like you. This tiny one is Glen, and the big, brown, spotted feller is Aunt Pen. It makes me think of old Cockletop, a mother hen we used to have in Parker, which 'dopted everything it could find wandering around loose. That's what Aunt Pen looks as if she'd like to do."
This was too much for the lame girl's risibles, and she laughed outright, long and loud, to Peace's secret delight, for when the Lilac Lady laughed it was a sure sign that she was feeling better.
When she had recovered her composure, she said gravely, "Speaking of Aunt Pen reminds me that she told me this morning the cook had made some chicken patties for my special benefit and was hurt to think I refused them. You might run up to the house and ask for them now to go with our picnic lunch. Minnie will give them to you—cold, please. Some lemonade would taste good, too. Aunt Pen knows how to make it to perfection."
Peace was gone almost before she had finished giving her directions, and as she watched the nimble feet skimming through the clover, she smiled tenderly, then sighed and looked sadly down at her own useless limbs which would never bear her weight again. How many years of existence must she endure in her crippled helplessness? Oh, the bitterness of it! And yet as she gazed at the slippers which never wore out, and compared her lot with that of the dancing, curly-haired sprite, tumbling eagerly up the kitchen steps after the promised goodies, the old, weary look of utter despair did not quite come back into the deep blue eyes; but through the bitterness of her rebellion flashed a faint gleam of something akin to hope. She was thinking of Peace's latest sunshine quotation which had been laboriously entered in the little brown and gold volume and brought to her for her inspection:
"'To live in hope, to trust in right, To smile when shadows start, To walk through darkness as through light, With sunshine in the heart.'"
Below the little stanza, Peace had penned her own version of the words in her quaint language: "This means to smile no matter how bad the world goes round and to keep on smiling till the hurt is gone. It don't cost any more to smile than it does to be uggly, and it pays a heep site better."
What a dear little philosopher the child was! A sudden desire to meet the other sisters of that happy family sprang up within her heart. Why should she stay shut away from the world like a nun in her cloister? What had she gained by it? Nothing but bitterness! And think of the joys she had missed!
An insistent rustling of the lilac bushes behind her caught her attention, and by carefully raising her head she could see the thick branches close to the ground bending and giving, as a small, dark object twisted and grunted and wriggled its way through the tiny opening it had managed to find in the hedge.
The girl's first impulse was to scream for help, but a second glance told her that it was not an animal pushing its way through the twigs, for animals do not wear blue gingham rompers. So she held her breath and waited, and at last she was rewarded by seeing a round, flushed, inquisitive baby face peeping through the leaves at her. She smiled and held out her hands, and with a gurgle of gladness, the little fellow gave a final struggle, scrambled to his feet and toddled unsteadily across the lawn to her chair, jabbering baby lingo, the only word of which she could understand was, "Peace."
"Are you Glen?" she demanded, smoothing the soft black hair so like his father's.
"G'en," he repeated, parrot fashion.
"Where is your mamma?"
"Mamma." He pointed in the direction he had come, and gurgled, "S'eep. Papa s'eep. All gone."
The baby himself looked as if he had just awakened from a nap. One cheek was rosier than the other, his hair lay in damp rings all over his head, and his feet were bare and earth-stained from his scramble through the vegetable garden on the other side of the hedge.
A sudden gust of cool wind blew through the trees overhead, a rattling peal of thunder jarred the earth, a blinding flash of lightning startled both girl and baby, and before either knew what had happened, a torrent of rain dashed down upon them. The storm which had been brewing all that sultry day broke in its fury. Hicks came running from the stable to the rescue of his helpless young mistress, Aunt Pen flew out of the house like a distracted hen, and Peace rushed frantically to the garden to save the precious picnic lunch and the box of pansies which were to be planted under the gnarled old oak nearest the lame girl's window.
So it happened that baby Glen was borne away into the great house to wait until the deluge of rain and hail should cease. In the flurry of getting everything under shelter, no one thought of the mother at home, crazed with anxiety and fright; and the whole group was startled a few moments later to behold a bare-headed, wild-eyed woman, drenched to the skin, dash through the iron gates, up the walk, and straight into the house itself, without ever stopping to knock.
"It's Elspeth!" cried Peace, first to find her voice.
"Glen, where's Glen?" was all the frantic mother could gasp as she stood tottering and dripping in the doorway.
"Ma-ma," lisped the little runaway, struggling down from Aunt Pen's lap, where he had been cuddling, and running into Elizabeth's arms.
"Peace, why did you take him without saying a word?" she reproached, sinking into the nearest chair, and hugging her small son close to her breast.
"I didn't—" Peace began.
"I think he must have run away," volunteered the Lilac Lady, staring fixedly at Elizabeth's face with almost frightened eyes. "He squirmed through the hedge while I was alone in the garden. I had not seen the storm approaching, and it broke before I could call Peace or—"
At the sound of the sweet voice, Elizabeth had abruptly risen to her feet, and after one searching glance at the white face among the cushions, cried out with girlish glee, "Myra! Can it be that Peace's Lilac Lady is my dear old chum?"
"You are the same darling Beth!" cried the lame girl hysterically, clinging to the wet hand outstretched to hers. "Why didn't I guess it before? Oh, I have wanted you so often—but I never dreamed of finding you here. And to think I have refused all this while to let Peace bring you!"
"No, don't think about that. Her desire is accomplished, however it came about—and you are going to let me stay?"
"I would keep you with me always if I could. I have been learning Peace's philosophy and find it very—"
"Peaceful?" They laughed together, and in that laugh sounded the doom of the hedges which Peace had lamented so long.
GIUSEPPE NICOLI AND THE MONKEY
The next morning dawned bright and clear and cool, and Peace, hurrying to school with her nose buried in a great bunch of early roses from the stone house, pranced gaily down the hill chanting under her breath, "Roses, roses, yellow, red and white, you are surely lovely, sweet and bright—another rhyme! They always come when I ain't trying to make 'em. I wonder if I'll ever be a big poet like Longfellow was. It must be nice to have folks learn the things you write and speak 'em at concerts and school exercises like I'm going to do his 'Children's Hour' next Friday. I've got it so I can say it backwards almost. Elizabeth says I know it perfectly. I hope Miss Peyton will think the same way. She is lots harder to please and I 'most never can do anything to suit her."
She sighed dolefully, for her ludicrous mistakes and blunt remarks were the bane of her new teacher's methodical life, and many an hour she had been kept after school as a punishment for her unruly tongue.
Unfortunately, Miss Peyton belonged to that great army of teachers who teach because they must, and not because they love the work. To be sure, she was most just and impartial in her treatment of the fifty scholars under her supervision, but, possessed of about as much imagination as a cat, she failed to analyze or understand the dispositions of her charges; and well-meaning Peace was usually in disgrace.
But her sunny nature could not stay unhappy long, and as she thrust her small nose deeper among the fragrant blossoms, she smilingly added, "I guess she'll like these roses, anyway. They are the prettiest I ever saw, even in greenhouses. There goes the first bell. I 'xpected to be there early this morning, but likely Annie Simms has beat me again. Well, I don't care, there is only one more week of school and then vacation—and p'raps I can go home. Why, what a crowd there is on the walk! I wonder if someone is hurt again. Where can the principal be?"
She broke into a run, forgetful of her cherished bouquet, and dashed heedlessly across the school-grounds to the group of excited, shouting boys and girls, gathered around the tallest linden, throwing stones and missiles of all sorts up into the branches at some object which Peace could not see. But as she drew near, she could hear a queer, distressed chattering, which reminded her of the monkeys in the park zoo, and turning to one of her mates, she demanded, "What is it the boys have got treed there?"
"A monkey?" shrieked Peace in real surprise. "Where did they get him?"
"I guess he b'longs to a hand-organ man. He's dressed in funny little pants and a red cap. Thad DePugh found him on his way to school and tried to catch him, but he run up the tree."
"And you stand there without saying a word and let them stone a poor little helpless monkey!"
"It don't b'long to me," muttered the child, angered by the indignant flash of the brown eyes and the scathing rebuke which seemed directed against her alone. "Anyway, I ain't stoning it."
"You ain't helping, either. Let me through here!" She pushed and elbowed her way into the midst of the throng and boldly confronted the ringleaders of the tormentors, screaming in protest, "Don't you throw another stone, you big bullies! Ain't you ashamed of yourself, trying to kill that poor little thing!"
"We ain't trying to kill it," retorted the nearest chap, pausing with his arm uplifted ready to pitch another pebble.
"You mind your own business!" growled another. "This monkey isn't yours. We're trying to make it come down so we can catch it."
"You'll quit throwing things at it, or I'll tell Miss Curtis."
"Tattle-tale, tattle-tale!" mocked the throng, and another handful of rocks flew up among the branches.
"O-h-h-h-h!" shrieked Peace, beside herself with rage. "You d'serve to have the stuffing whaled out of you for that!"
Flinging aside the treasured roses, she seized the biggest boy by the hair and jerked him mercilessly back and forth across the yard, while he sought in vain to loosen the supple fingers, and bawled loudly for help.
"Teacher, teacher! Miss Curtis, oh teacher!" shouted the excited children; and at these sounds of strife from the playgrounds, the principal and half a dozen of her staff rushed out of the building to quell the riot. But even then Peace did not release her grip on the lad's thick topknot.
Pulled forcibly from her victim by the long-suffering Miss Peyton, she collapsed in the middle of the walk and sobbed convulsively, while the rest of the scholars huddled around in scared silence, eager to see what punishment was to be meted out to this small offender, for it was a great disgrace at Chestnut School to be caught fighting.
The grave-faced principal looked from the pitiful heap of misery at her feet to the blubbering bully who had retreated to a safe distance and stood ruefully rubbing his smarting cranium, minus several tufts of hair; and though inwardly smiling at the spectacle, she demanded sternly, "Peace Greenfield, aren't you ashamed of yourself for fighting Thad—"
"Yes," hiccoughed Peace with amazing promptness and candor; "I'm terribly ashamed to think I touched him—he's so dirty. But I ain't half as ashamed of myself as I am of him."
Even Miss Peyton caught her breath in dismay. But the principal had not forgotten her own childhood days, and being still a girl at heart, and secretly in sympathy with the small maid on the ground, she only said, "Explain yourself, Peace."
"It ain't half as bad for a little girl like me to fight a big bully like him, as it is for a big bully like him to fight a little monkey—"
"I wasn't fighting the monkey," sullenly muttered the boy, hanging his head in shame.
"You were stoning him, and he couldn't hit back, so there!"
"What monkey?" demanded the principal, glancing swiftly around the yard for any evidence of such a creature.
A dozen hands pointed toward the linden tree, and one small voice piped, "He's up there!"
"A real monkey?"
"Yes, dressed up in hand-organ pants," Peace explained, scrambling to her feet and peering up among the thick leaves for a glimpse of the frightened animal, which had ceased its wild chattering and sat huddled close against the tree trunk almost within reach. "See it? Poor little Jocko, I won't hurt you!" She stretched out her hands at the same moment that unknowingly she had spoken its name, and to the intense amazement of teachers and pupils, the tiny, trembling creature unhesitatingly dropped upon her shoulder, threw its claw-like arms about her neck and hid its face in her curls.
"Whose monkey is it?" gently asked Miss Curtis, breaking the silence which fell upon the group watching the strange sight.
"I never saw it before," Peace answered.
"But you called it by name," chorused the children, crowding closer about her.
"That was just a guess. There's a story in our reader about Jocko, and I happened to think of it. I didn't know it was this monkey's name."
"How odd!" murmured the primary teacher.
"She's the queerest child I ever saw," confided Miss Peyton; but the principal had seen the janitor approaching the open door to ring the last bell, and being at loss to know what to do with the unwelcome little animal in Peace's arms, she suggested that the child take it home and put it in a box until the owner could be found. This Peace was only too delighted to do, for as no one in the neighborhood seemed to know where it came from or whose it was, she had fond hopes that no one would inquire for it, and that she might keep it for a pet.
So she joyfully carried it back to the parsonage, and burst in upon the little household with the jumbled explanation, "Here's a stone I found monkeying up a tree and Miss Curtis asked me to bring it home and box it till the owner comes around after it. And if he doesn't come, I can keep it myself, can't I, Saint John? He jumped right into my arms and won't let go, but just shakes and shakes 'sif he was still getting hit by those rocks. I pulled Thad DePugh 'most bald headed, and didn't get scolded a bit hardly. She made him go to the office, though, and I hope he gets licked the way I couldn't do but wanted to."
"Here, here," laughed the minister, looking much bewildered at the twisted story. "Just say that again, please, and say it straight. I haven't the faintest idea yet how you got hold of that little reptile or what Thad's hair had to do with it."
"It isn't a reptile!" Peace indignantly denied. "It's a monkey which hid in the linden tree at the schoolhouse to get away from the boys and they stoned it."
Little by little the story was untangled, while the monkey still tenaciously clung to Peace's neck and wide-eyed Glen hung onto her skirts.
"So you think there is a chance of your keeping him for a pet?" said the preacher, when at length the tale was ended.
"You are hoping too much, little girl. If this animal belongs to an organ-grinder, he will be around for him very soon, you may be sure. It is the monkey's antics that bring in the pennies. He can't afford to lose such a valuable. Besides, Peace, the poor little thing is almost dead now."
"Oh, Saint John, he is only scared. S'posing you were a monkey and hateful boys stoned you, wouldn't you tremble and shake?"
"I don't doubt it, girlie, but it isn't only fear that ails that animal. Look here at his back—just a solid mass of sores. Elizabeth, isn't that shocking? This is surely a case for the Humane Society. It is a shame to let the creature live, suffering as it must be suffering from those cruel wounds. His owner ought to be jailed."
"Oh, Saint John, you aren't going to kill Jocko, are you?"
"No, dear, he is not my property, and I have no legal right to put him out of his misery, but we must call up the Humane Society and notify them at once. They will be merciful. It is better to have him die now than live and suffer at the hands of a brutal owner, Peace. You must not cry."
For great tears of pity were coursing down the rosy cheeks, and Glen was trying his best to wipe them away with his fat little fists. Elizabeth supplied the missing handkerchief, and as Peace raised it to her face, the monkey gave a sudden convulsive shudder, the tiny paws loosed their grasp about the warm neck, and Jocko lay dead in the child's arms.
For a full moment she stared at the pitiful form, and Elizabeth expected a storm of grief and protest; but instead, the little maid drew a long, deep breath as of relief, and said soberly, "Saint John is right. Jocko is better off dead, but I'm glad he died in my arms, knowing I was good to him, 'stead of being stoned to death by those cruel boys in the tree. Where is Saint John? Has he already gone to telephone the Human Society? He needn't to now. The monkey is dead. I'll run and catch him on my way back to school. Good-bye."
She was off like a flash down the hill once more, but the preacher had either taken a different route or already reached his goal, for he was nowhere in sight. So Peace continued her way to the schoolhouse, racing like mad to make up lost time. As she panted up the steps into the dimness of the cool hall, she stumbled over a trembling figure crouching in the darkest corner by the stairway, and drew back with a startled cry, which was echoed by her victim, a frail, ragged, young urchin with a thatch of jet black curls and great, hollow, dusky eyes.
"Who are you?" demanded Peace, not recognizing him as one of the regular pupils at Chestnut School. "And what are you doing here?"
"Giuseppe Nicoli," answered the elf, looking terribly frightened and shrinking further into his corner. "Me losa monk'. He come here but gona way. W'en Petri fin', he keel me." The thin face worked pathetically as the little fellow bravely tried to stifle the sobs which shook his feeble body; and Peace, with childish instinct, understood what the waif's queer, broken English failed to tell her.
"Is Petri your father?" she asked.
"No, no, no!" He shook his head vehemently to emphasize his words.
"Then why are you afraid of him?"
"He playa de organ, me seeng, me feedle, de monk' he dance and bring in mon'. Monk' los', Petri keel me."
"The monkey is dead." The words escaped her lips before she thought, but the frozen horror on the boy's face brought her to her senses, and she hastily cried, "But he was so sick and hurt! His back was just a mess of solid sores. It is better that he is dead!"
"Oh, but Petri keel me!"
"Sh! The teachers will hear you if you screech so loud. Come upstairs with me. Miss Curtis will know what to do. She won't let Petri get you. Don't be afraid, Jessup. I wouldn't hurt you for the world."
He did not understand half that she said, but the great brown eyes were filled with sympathy, and with the same instinct which had led the monkey to leap into her arms a few moments before, the ragamuffin laid his grimy fists into hers, and she led him up the winding stairs to the principal's office.
When the worthy lady had heard the queer story, she could only stare from one child to the other and gasp for breath. Peace was noted for finding all sorts of maimed birds or sick animals on her way to school, but never before had she appeared with a human being, and Miss Curtis almost doubted now that little Giuseppe was a real human. He looked so pitifully like a scarecrow. What could she do with him? It would be criminal to let the brutal organ-player get him again if the lad's story were true, and she did not doubt its truth after the waif had slipped back his ragged sleeves and showed great, ugly, purple welts across his naked arms.
"Poor little chap," she murmured. "Poor little chap!" As she gingerly touched the bony hands, she was seized with a happy inspiration, and bidding the children sit down till she returned, she entered a little inner office, and Peace heard her at the telephone. "Give me 9275."
There was a pause; then the child grew rigid with horror. The voice from the adjoining room was saying, "Is this the Humane Society?"
It was to the Humane Society that Saint John had intended telephoning, in order that they might come up and kill the poor monkey. Was Miss Curtis a murderer? Surely Giuseppe was not to be killed, too. Then why had she telephoned the Humane Society?
Tiptoeing across the floor to the Italian waif's chair, she clutched him by the hand, dragged him to his feet, and signalling him to be quiet, she stole cautiously from the room with him in tow. Down the long stairs they hurried, and out into the bright sunshine, though poor, frightened Giuseppe protested volubly in his own tongue and the little broken English which he knew, for once on the streets, he feared that the bold, bad Petri would find him and drag him away to dreadful punishments again. But the harder he protested, the faster Peace jerked him along, repeating over and over in her frantic efforts to make him understand, "Petri shan't get you, Jessup. But if we stay there the Human Society will, and that's just as bad. They killed Deacon Skinner's old horse in Parker, and Tim Shandy's lame cow, and were coming to finish Jocko when he died of his own self. You don't want to go the same way, do you?"
Poor Peace did not know the real mission of the Humane Society, or she would not have been so shocked at the idea of little Giuseppe's falling into their hands; but her fear had its effect upon the struggling urchin, and his feet fairly flew over the ground, as he tried to keep pace with his leader. When only half a block from the parsonage, Peace abruptly halted, and the boy's dark eyes looked into hers inquiringly, fearfully. What was the matter now? This was certainly a queer child at his side. Perhaps it would have been wiser had he stayed with the gentle-faced lady in the schoolhouse.
"Run," he urged, tugging at her hand when she continued to stand motionless in the middle of the walk. "Petri geta me."
"No, no, Petri shan't have you, I say!" Peace declared savagely. "But if I take you home to Saint Elspeth, like as not the Human Society will be right there to nab you; and if they ain't now, Miss Curtis will send 'em along as soon as she finds we've run away. Where can I take you?"
Anxiously she looked about her for a hiding place, and as if in answer to her question, her glance rested upon the stone house, surrounded by its tall hedges. "Sure enough! Why didn't I think of that before? My Lilac Lady will take care of you, I know, until Saint John can find some nice place for you to live always. Come on this way."
She whisked around the corner, threw open the gate, and ushered the trembling waif into the splendid garden, with the announcement, "Here is the place I mean, and there is the Lilac Lady under the trees."
The boy surveyed the masses of brilliant flowers, the sparkling fountain, the shifting shadows of the great oaks above him where birds were singing. Then he turned and scanned the white, sweet face among the pillows, and clasping his thin hands in rapture, he breathed, "Italy! Oh, eet iss Paradise!" And as if unable to restrain his joy any longer, he burst into a wild, plaintive song, with a voice silvery toned and clear as a bell. Peace paused in the midst of a turbulent explanation to listen; Aunt Pen came to the door with her sewing in her hand; Hicks stole around the corner of the house, thinking perhaps the young mistress had broken her long silence; and the lame girl herself lay with parted lips, charmed by the glorious burst of melody.
The song won her heart, even before she heard the pitiful story of the wretched little musician, and when Peace had finished recounting the morning's events, the mistress of the stone house turned toward her aunt with blazing, wrathful eyes, exclaiming impetuously, "Isn't that shocking? Oh, how dreadful! We must help him, Aunt Pen. Poor little Giuseppe! See the Humane Society about him at once—Now don't look so horrified, Peace. They don't kill little boys and girls. They take good care of just such waifs as this, and provide nice homes for them. Even if Giuseppe were related to Petri, the Humane Society would take the child away from him on account of his brutality. He is worse than a beast to treat the boy so, and Giuseppe shall never go back to him as long as I can do anything. He shall go to school like other children and get an education. Then we'll make a splendid musician of him; and who knows, Peace, but some day he will be a second Campanini?"
Peace had not the faintest idea of what a Campanini was, but she did understand that Giuseppe Nicoli had found a home and friends, and she was content.
THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL
Peace was panic stricken. Almost at the last minute Miss Peyton had changed her mind about the poem which she was to speak, and had given her instead of "The Children's Hour" which she had so carefully learned, those other lines called "Children"; and there were only five days in which to learn them. Memorizing poetry, particularly when she could not quite understand its meaning, was not Peace's strong forte, and it was small wonder that she was dismayed at this change of program; but it was useless to protest. When Miss Peyton decided to do a certain thing, "all the king's horses and all the king's men" could not alter her decision. Peace had learned this from bitter experience and many hours in the dark closet behind the teacher's desk. So, inwardly raging, though outwardly calm, she accepted her fate, and marched home to air her outraged sense of justice before the little parsonage family, sure of sympathy and help in that quarter. Nor was she disappointed.
Elizabeth recognized the small maid's failings as a student, and was much provoked at Miss Peyton's want of understanding, but very wisely kept these sentiments to herself, and set about to help Peace in her difficult task. At her suggestion, the young elocutionist waited until the following morning before beginning her study of the new lines, and with the teacher's copied words in her hand, went out to the hammock under the trees to be alone with her work. There she sat swinging violently to and fro, gabbling the stanzas line by line, while she ferociously jerked the short curls on her forehead and frowned so fiercely that Elizabeth, busy with her Saturday baking, could not resist smiling whenever she chanced to pass the door, through which she could see the familiar figure.
Slower and slower the red lips moved, lower and lower the hammock swung, and finally with a gesture of utter despair, Peace cast the paper from her, and dropped her head dejectedly into her hands.
"Poor youngster," murmured the flushed cook from the window where she sat picking over berries. "John, have you a minute to spare? Peace is in trouble—Oh, nothing but that new poem, but I thought perhaps you might invent some easy way for her to memorize it. You were always good at such things, and I can't stop until my cake is out of the oven and the pies are made."
He assented promptly, and strolling out of the door as if for a breath of fresh air, wandered across the grass to the motionless figure in the hammock. "What seems to be the matter, chick?" he inquired cheerfully, rescuing the discarded paper from the dirt and handing it back to its owner.
"Oh, Saint John, this is a perfectly dreadful poem! I don't b'lieve Longfellow ever wrote it, and even if he did, I know I can never learn it. The verses haven't any sense at all. Just listen to this!" She seized the sheet with an angry little flirt, and read to the amazed man:
"'Ye open the eastern windows, That look toward the sun, Where shots are stinging swallows And the brooks in mourning run.
"'What the leaves are to the forest, Where light and air are stewed, Ere their feet and slender juices Have been buttoned into food,—
"'That to the world are children; Through them it feels the glow Of a brighter and stunnier slimate Than scratches the trunks below.
"'Ye are better than all the ballots That ever were snug and dead; For ye are living poets, And all the blest ate bread.'"
With difficulty the preacher controlled his desire to shout, and mutely held out his hand for the paper, which he studied long and carefully, for even to his experienced eyes, the hastily scribbled words were hard to decipher. But when he had finished, all he said was, "You have misread the lines, Peace. Wait and I will get you the book from the library. Then you will see your mistake."
Shaking with suppressed mirth he went back to his study, found the volume in question, and returned to the discouraged student with it open in his hands. Half-heartedly Peace reached up for it, but he shook his head, knowing how easy it was for her to misread even printed words and what ludicrous blunders it often led to, and gravely suggested, "Suppose I read it to you first. Then if there is anything you do not understand, perhaps I can explain it so it will be easier to memorize."
"Oh, if you just would!" Peace exclaimed gratefully. "I never could read Miss Peyton's writing, and then she marks me down for her own mistakes."
So in sonorous tones, the preacher read the poet's beautiful tribute to childhood:
"'Come to me, O ye children! For I hear you at your play, And the questions that perplexed me Have vanished quite away.
"'Ye open the eastern windows, That look towards the sun, Where thoughts are singing swallows And the brooks of morning run.
"'In your hearts are the birds and the sunshine, In your thoughts the brooklet's flow, But in mine is the wind of Autumn And the first fall of the snow.
"'Ah! what would the world be to us If the children were no more? We should dread the desert behind us Worse than the dark before.
"'What the leaves are to the forest, With light and air for food, Ere their sweet and tender juices Have been hardened into wood,—
"'That to the world are children; Through them it feels the glow Of a brighter and sunnier climate Than reaches the trunks below.
"'Come to me, O ye children! And whisper in my ear What the birds and the winds are singing In your sunny atmosphere.
"'For what are all our contrivings, And the wisdom of our books, When compared with your caresses, And the gladness of your looks?
"'Ye are better than all the ballads That ever were sung or said; For ye are living poems, And all the rest are dead.'"
"Well," breathed Peace in evident relief, as he lingeringly repeated the last stanza, "that sounds a little more like it. Maybe with that book I can learn her old poem now."
"Those are beautiful verses, Peace," he rebuked her.
"Yes, I 'xpect they are. I haven't got any grudge against the verses, but it takes a beautifully long time for me to learn anything like that, too." She seized the fat volume with both hands, tipped back among the hammock cushions, and with her feet swinging idly back and forth, began an animated study of the right version of the words, while the minister strolled back to the house to enjoy the joke with Elizabeth.
But though Peace studied industriously and faithfully during the remaining days, she could not seem to master the lines in spite of all the minister's coaching, and in spite of Miss Peyton's struggle with her after school each day.
"There is no sense in making such hard work of a simple little poem like that," declared the teacher, closing her lips in a straight line and looking very much exasperated after an hour's battle with the child Tuesday afternoon. "You have just made up your mind that you will learn it, and that is where the whole trouble lies."
"That's where you are mistaken," sobbed Peace forlornly, though her eyes flashed with indignation as she wiped away her tears. "It's you which has got her mind made up, and you and me ain't the same people. I just can't seem to make those words stick, and I might as well give up trying right now."
"You will have that poem perfectly learned tomorrow afternoon, or I shall know the reason why."
"Then I 'xpect you'll have to know the reason why," gulped the unhappy little scholar, who found the hill of knowledge very steep to climb. "You can't make a frog fly if you tried all your life. It takes me a month to learn as big a poem as that, and you never gave it to me until Friday afternoon."
"Nine four-line stanzas!" snapped the weary instructor, privately thinking Peace the greatest, trial she had ever had to endure.
"It might as well be ninety," sighed the child. "If Elizabeth was my teacher, or the Lilac Lady, I could get it in no time, but I never could learn anything for some people. Just the sight of them knocks everything I know clean out of my head."
Longfellow slammed shut with a terrific bang, and Miss Peyton rose from her chair, choking with indignation. "You may go now, Peace Greenfield," she said icily, "but that poem must be perfect by tomorrow afternoon, remember."
So with a heavy heart Peace trudged home and took up her struggle once more in the hammock; but was at last rewarded by being able to say every line perfectly and without much hesitation. Elizabeth and her spouse both heard her repeat it many times that evening and again the next morning, and sent her on her way rejoicing to think the task was conquered.
But when it came to the afternoon's rehearsal, poor Peace could only stare at the ceiling, and open and shut her lips in agony, waiting for the words which would not come, while Miss Peyton impatiently tapped the floor with her slippered toe and frowned angrily at the miserable figure. Finally Peace blurted out, "P'raps if you'd go out of the room, I could say it all right."
"You will say it all right with me in the room!" retorted the woman grimly.
"Then s'posing you look out of the window and quit staring so hard at me. All I can think of is that scowl, and it doesn't help a bit."
The dazed teacher shifted her gaze, and Peace slowly began, "'Come to me, O ye children!'" speaking very distinctly and with more expression than Miss Peyton had thought possible.
"There!" exclaimed the woman, much mollified, when the child had finished. "I knew you could say it if you wanted to. Now try it again."
So with the teacher staring out of the window, and Peace gazing at the ceiling, the poem was recited without a flaw six times in succession, and she was finally excused to put in some more practice at home.
Elizabeth thought the day was won, but poor Peace took little comfort in the knowledge that she had acquitted herself creditably at the last rehearsal. "It would be different if that was tomorrow afternoon," she sighed. "But I just know she'll look at me when I get up to speak, and with her eyes boring holes through me, I'll be sure to forget some part of it. None of my other teachers were like her a bit. Miss Truesdale and Miss Olney and Miss Allen all liked children; but I don't b'lieve Miss Peyton does. There's lots of the scholars that she ain't going to let pass, and the only reason they didn't have better lessons is 'cause she scares it out of 'em. Oh, dear, school is such a funny thing!"
"Would you like to have me come to visit you tomorrow?" suggested Elizabeth, who dreaded the ordeal almost as much as did Peace.
"No, you needn't mind. S'posing I should make a frizzle of everything, you'd feel just terribly, I know, and I should, too. I guess it will be bad enough with all the other mothers there. But I wish there wasn't going to be any exercises. I'm sick of 'em already. And what do you think now! She told us only this afternoon that we must all have an antidote for some of the Presidents to tell tomorrow for General Lesson."